PnP:Liberation of Osoerde Turn Twenty five

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It proved to be a fairly uneventful journey for the remainder of our time to the orog caves, which I think we were all thankful for after our encounter with the lesser chimera. William had Varg remain behind as our rear guard when we went inside, I think because he does not fully trust his bodyguard anymore. I can understand his reasons, and I must admit I am a bit leery of the barbarian since I don't know the measure of control he has over his transformations. My dark sight aided me once again and even though the dark aspect of Azrai contains the stain of Rudolph I can't say that I don't appreciate it sometimes.

The caverns seemed natural at first, although there was a distinct odor that marked it as something inhabited by things other than bats and vermin. It did not take long to see signs of the orog presence there, structures such as bridges and carved rock. As we passed over a small bridge over a ravine, they made their first appearance when three of their warriors lunged from the shadows with bloodlust in their eyes. I have heard that they are fierce combatants, feared by those who have survived one of their attacks. Perhaps these soldiers were not aware of the reputation they were supposed to have. Between Torin's hammer, my blades, and the magics of Rena and William, they fell quickly and we dumped their bodies in the ravine before climbing down deeper. We could see one of the passages was worked, so we decided to head that way.

Again their reputation seemed lacking when I could make out the sounds of hushed voiced and shuffling feet ahead of us. If it was an ambush, it was a poor one. Torin rushed ahead and I followed, finding more of the creatures hidden behind an overturned table. They hurled volleys of javelins at us, but again we managed to make short work of them. It was William's ball of fire that ravaged their ranks, although one managed to take cover behind the burning bodies of his fellows and he fled down a side passage. I followed quietly, hoping to silence him before he alerted more guards. But he had a head start and I could hear him gathering his fellows. I decided to wait for them to rush at us so I could get the drop on them, while the others moved forwards.

Torin headed towards a pair of stout doors at the top of a small set of stairs, and set off a trap that launched several spears at him. His armor managed to deflect most of the peril, and when he kicked open the doors to find another group of soldiers alongside two more formidable orogs. One was a veteran warrior with strong armor and honed weapons, while the other was some kind of shaman. They were more willing to talk, and William asked them directly about the dagger that we sought. The shaman showed him that she had it on her belt, and asked for his tempest staff in exchange for it. He refused, and battle was joined by all. The shaman hit Torin with some kind of magic that sapped his strength before she took on the form of an unnatural predatory cat. The guards that were alerted by the fleeing soldier headed up the passage towards me at that time and I struck down their forward rank swiftly. I could feel the heat of another of William's fireballs and the chill of Rena's storm of ice behind me, and I needed to fall back when the orog's managed to get a few strikes in on me. Rena's magic soothed my wounds and I could see Torin's sealing shut as well.

We pressed the attack and managed to drop the warrior and the remaining guards, leaving the shaman. She surrendered and gave us the dagger without a fight, and William took a crown from her as well as part of his spoils. I must say I am surprised that they would give up, but it was wise of them. I was more surprised when William gave me the dagger to wield. From what I understand of it, it is a potent weapon and it may solve my issues with Rudolph one way or another.

We returned to the castle after locating the dagger, and when I had time to examine the weapon on my own something curious happened. Since my awakening and return to myself, I had gotten used to the soft voice of Harker and the emotionless but louder tones of Rudolph in my thoughts. It is strange to have others occupying your mind, but it is what I must live with for now. In the quiet of my quarters, I was a bit surprised to hear a new voice as I held the black blade in my hand. It was low and hissing, barely perceptible but somehow louder than the others. It claimed to be the dagger itself, and it told me its name in the elven tongue but it still translated to Soulreaver. And it somehow already knew about my plight, and my own motivations for seeking it out. It claimed that it could rid me of one of my extra selves, but either way there was a cost. If I slabbed myself with it, it would not kill me or take the soul from my body, but it would destroy my bloodline of Azrai and Rudolph along with it. But if I killed another blooded individual with the blade, it would give Rudolph the power he needed to take control and be the dominant personality. I could hear the whispers of the other two voice behind it, each asking me to rid myself of the other. The knowledge would be invaluable in the coming days, but I needed to mull it over. Can you really trust any of the voices in your head, especially that of a soul draining blade?

My thoughts were interrupted when Peracain sent for Cerin and I, and he told us he had a vital mission for us. He was maintaining the wall of fog around Moriel to keep Jaison and his forces penned in, but he sensed some force at work at the southern end of his barrier. He suspected that it was the woman who also calls herself the Swamp Mage, and he feared that she was attempting to unravel his work and free her master. Since time was of the essence, he worked powerful magic that transported Cerin and I as close as he could manage to the disturbance. I don't have much experience with that form of magic, but I can say while it was very useful I don't think I would like to try that again. I felt more than a bit queasy upon our arrival. If Cerin felt the same, he didn't show it. Even though my mind was scrambled, I do see why I preferred working with the elf when I was still Harker. Like any of his kind, he is an expert hunter and a good ally to have when you need to be quiet. We moved through the swamp lands of our destination like ghosts, all while staying in the shadow of the mighty wall of rolling fog that Peracain had summoned.

I noticed a strange rolling formation in one area of the fog ahead of us just as my ally noticed the creatures of the swamp were moving away from something ahead of us. We traveled more carefully than before and soon caught sight of several sentries in the trees ahead of us. I managed to put a poisoned bolt in the throat of the far sentry and we worked our way through their ranks efficiently and without raising an alarm. Again, this is why I prefer Cerin. As effective as William's magic is or Varg's fury, our enemies would have been alerted to our presence and could have mounted a more effective defense if they were along. After disposing of the outer guard, we worked our way up to a copse of trees and felt the tingle of powerful magic. This was clearly the right place. We crept in as close as we dared and saw a group of men surrounding a ritual circle, and there a statuesque woman with raven hair working some sort of ritual. By her garb and the telltale veil she wore, I knew this to be the other Swamp Mage. I was a bit surprised by the livery of the men who guarded her. They were marked as priests of Cuiraecen, and their leader was a silver haired man who I knew to be the head of their order in Osoerde. I recalled the tales of the change in their order at Stormfront Abbey, but this only confirmed that something was amiss. Perhaps they were enchanted by the swamp witch? It was also unusual that they did not wear armor and were bereft of weapons. We would hopefully know more soon, or have Peracain read their spilled entrails to learn their secrets.

Because the witch was too far for my little crossbow to reach, Cerin loaned me his special elven cloak so I could attempt to kill her with one envenomed shot. I stepped into the clearing and was pleased that the magic of his garment kept me hidden. Taking careful aim I launched my bolt at her exposed back and hit her in the heart, but she stayed upright and turned in great rage. As she did, the veil fell lose and her true form was revealed: the sickly green skin and crooked features of a swamp hag. The priests were caught off guard momentarily, allowing us to launch more attacks against the hag before she could work her magics. But she stood strong, and managed to strike me with some foul sorcery. But Soulreaver showed me another of its charms as it took most of the force of the blow. I am really starting to like this dagger. But my amazement was cut short when the priests began to melt into new forms, that of werewolves. Much was explained by their transformation. But it did not slow our attack, and the hag was dropped with another volley of Cerin's arrows and my trusty rapier. I could feel the dagger's disappointment that I did not let it claim her soul, but I was not ready to decide who shall claim my body yet.

Her death meant nothing to the savage man-beasts around us, and they howled as they charged to tear us apart. I danced away from them the best I could, drawing Eloele's Kiss in favor of my sword. Cerin was beset by several of the creatures and forced to draw his own blades, not his preferred method of killing. I saw he was hard pressed and I thought he even fell at one point, but some magic stayed death's hand and he quickly rejoined the fight. The strength the dagger gained from killing also kept me alive when I thought it would be my own entrails spilled in the swamps. I did instinctively use my off hand blade to cut open the heart of the main priest, and a wave of anger swept through me as I feared my fate would be decided by a single stab. But thankfully his blooded soul was not enough to give Rudolph victory. It was a battle hard fought, but we managed to slay them all in the end. We took a moment to catch our breath and ensure that our mission was successful. The fog wall returned to normal, and with that we started to head back to the castle. I only wished we had arranged some form of magical return trip from Peracain...

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