Circle of Stone (reprieve)

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:00 pm

A long time ago, on a forum far, far away (I think as I cant seem to find the thread here) I put up a story.
Which didnt go down that well...howvere I still like it- so I have decided, as I have been doing some editing of it, to put it up again.
Only this time rather than in daunting 40 page chapters I am going to break it up in bitesized chunks so people can choose to read a little bit at a time or more at once, or nibble at it somewhere inbetween.

A little preamble however as to how this came about -older residents can skip this part- it began is an idea to see if as adults it was possible to still enjoy a game my friends and I had enjoyed as teenagers- Dungeons and Dragons (yep I was a geek back then too, but one that worked in a garage, captained a winning football team and had a short temper so it never presented a problem).
For those who dont know D&D is played with a dungeon master- who runs the rules, creates the story, the setting and relays the information to the players.
Players take on characters and interact with the world created by the dungeon master.
As teenagers our games were most often about hitting things with swords, blowing things up with magic and imagining what a wench looked like.
As someone who has always written I have always been DM. As you have to improvise story and characters in response to what the players choose to do its a bit like the writers equivelent of what jamming is for musicians. So its always appealed to me.
Anyway the point of this preamble is that the exact story that emerged would not have been one I would have come up with alone. It is the result of the players interacting with a 'live' story that responds to what they do.
The characters of Tain, the Druid and Ironfang were all created and played therefore by real people, and the actions the characters take in the story are the ones they took in the game. Other irregular characters were taken up by friends who could only drop in and out of games, or were played by me.
For that reason I find it an interesting experiment in writing. BUt see what you think.






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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:01 pm

Prologue
Beginning in the Past

It was an ancient piece of stone, the Altar. The first to have been placed upon the island; older than the dark stones of the Circle which encompassed it or the pillars which upheld the Golden Dome above it, older even than the white city which surrounded it. It was wide enough and long enough to accommodate even a very large man. It was carefully cut with gullies and channels to run off blood; the pedestal it stood upon was stained all round a dark red that where the blood was oldest had dulled to black.
Over the Island the moon was rising and as it rose it seemed to grow, to fill out; going in a moment from a quarter that hung lost before the deepening sky to being round, full and dominant; a harbinger of ruin.
And then it turned a deep sullen red.
Seemingly in response magic sparked from stone to stone within the Circle and then with a roar of noise and a dazzling light it swept towards the Dome.
The Priests who had been nervously holding position around the perimeter of the Plaza now began to flee back to the sanctuary of their Temples which burrowed into the cliffs upon three sides like rabbit warrens. The air roared with magic and a wind began to blow fiercely from the sea.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:02 pm

Upon the Altar itself, at the centre of the chaos around him and in the kind of stillness only to be found at the heart of a tempest, manacled hand and foot, naked and spread-eagled, were the ruins of a man.
His name was Helniss although that was only a name; it was not who he was, who he had become. His left eye had been removed and lay across one scarred cheek hanging obscenely still on the optic nerve, his ears had been crudely hacked off and his nose was smashed and broken. He was gaunt, his ribs clearly visible and more than one clearly broken although from their slow painful rise and fall it appeared he was still alive, barely.
His skin was purple and black with bruising, where it was visible at all beneath the dirt. His fingernails had long ago been torn from him and his feet had at some time been so badly burnt that they were little more than grotesque twisted black stumps of useless flesh.
Magic. Divine magic. the Flame of Amrod, was being dragged like needles from deep within him and drawn upwards into the air, coiling up from innumerable tiny cuts all over his naked tattered body. It rolled, hissing to where it gathered beneath the Dome ready to be channelled into the ceremonies invocation.
The magic Helniss knew was fleeing from his pain, from his terror, from his continued suffering. You could learn to control almost anything. But outright pain? That was unendurable. The mind fled torture, hid from torture; torture happened to the body and to the body alone, consuming everything else with its own distress. The body ate the mind away and replaced it with only a single thought; make it stop.
The body would give anything, even itself, just to end its suffering.
But Helniss could not end it.
His tormentor, the Skinripper, High Priest of Astagoth would keep him alive in agony and in fear until every last drop of magic was drawn from him - the ceremony demanded it. It would take a lot of magic to give birth to a God.

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Post by azriel on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:35 pm

I liked it very much ! I want to hear more now.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:36 pm

No probs- I was thinking of putting up to the end of the prologue- but still in the small readable post chunks anyway, but glad you are reading and enjoying Azriel.





Last edited by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:38 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:37 pm

Helniss’ only hope, the one remaining thing left burning in his heart was that his friend, Ironfang, would not abandon him to this. Ironfang would come. He clung desperately to that belief. Ironfang would come. Not to save him, it was too late for that his body was broken beyond repair, but to release him from this anguish and in doing so, end it. If only he could die knowing his sons would live and live on in freedom and safety. Knowing that would make the suffering bearable if never tolerable.
Helniss strained to turn his head to face his torturer but could make no sense of the blurred tear stained vision he now saw approaching. Where his nemesis Skinripper -whose god Astagoth even now was becoming manifest above- had stood there was simply an immense dark shape silhouetted against the burning red sky. A head loomed up over him; it blotted out the glistening underside of the Dome above, the unattended magic creating an angry blistering kaleidoscopic halo around the monstrous shape.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:38 pm

It took Helniss a moment in the midst of his pain to arrange the features of the face that looked down upon him so hideously unknown were its proportions. It seemed to be filled with teeth from which saliva ran. Its eyes were absolutely still, cold. They reflected the red glow. He could feel the intent of their focus and he knew he filled its entire attention; they were the eyes of a predator looking down the barrel of its snout at helpless prey.
The head above him, and Helniss considered the possibility that the pain had finally driven him into madness, was coated in a hide of short black hair and the ears were pricked. This abomination could not be human surely? The notion turned his stomach and made it knot with a primordial fear. Unbidden a question formed treacherously in his mind, “What would the wolf do to its prey if it were doing it for fun?”
The terrible apparition raised a hand that had become more a paw and from it extended a stubby black digit from which a long curved, gleaming claw slid silently out; it was sharper than any blade Helniss had ever seen and even caught the red light of the terrible moon. Then the fell beast leant in close to him and its breath was heavy, panting and hot, blowing across his face and into his ruined nostrils, stinking of rottenness.
Then it spoke to him in a low growl that rumbled up from the massive chest like the approach of distant thunder and its words struck Helniss like a lightning that illuminated only his fears.
It said; “Now you will know why they call me Skinripper.”
The claw reached down towards Helniss’ face and he began to truly scream.

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Post by azriel on Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:39 pm

I love a good story, & so far, all the ones on here that Ive read,have been great !
Loving this one tho ! good on ya.
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 12:01 am

Last bit of the prologue- and that will do for a couple of days I think.

At that moment two things happened; firstly a figure emerged fighting against the tide of fleeing refugees and striving towards the Altar, seemingly warding off the magic filled air with one shielded arm. It was a man in full armour; armour that shone silver in the red light. A gleaming helmet covered his face and atop it a white plume hung defiantly against the dark. He entered into the Circle and crossed the plaza making directly for the Dome and Altar coming upon the Skinripper, consumed in his task, from the rear. But instead of taking his chance to strike whilst the beast busied itself with its sacrifice the man instead waved his sword in the air and cried out in a voice that rose above the magical maelstrom in a defiant, arrogant but ultimately foolish challenge, “Skinripper! I come for thee!”
Skinripper swept round to face him, howled a terrible cry of, “Ironfang!” that echoed back and forth between the destroyed cliffs then with amazing speed and agility, leapt with tooth and claw.
The second event which occurred almost simultaneously with this was a random burst of magic which, with Skinripper distracted, seared free from the Dome and careered into the north cliff face just above the cities domestic quarter. It blasted a hole in the rock there, showering the street and fleeing populace beneath with rubble and dust and exposed a long hidden cave.
There were people in the cave, looking not a little bewildered and surprised. One was cautiously standing, arising from where the blast had knocked him. He was attired in shades of greens and browns. A bow was slung at his back. However the man need not have bothered standing up as immediately a second figure appeared and knocked him straight back over again.
It was difficult to discern in the red light and flickering air but the second figure seemed to move with an animal agility. It leapt out of the cave and was lost to view among the buildings below. The bow man shakily stood and two others appeared beside him at the cave entrance. One was shorter and slighter than the bow man and robed all in black, the other was the tallest and from the gleam that came from him he wore armour. The bow man seemed to be kneeling down at the cave edge; he took the bow from his shoulder and put an arrow to the string. History waited.
On the city walls below a white robed Cleric observed this with great interest.
But this was all two thousand years ago.

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Post by halfwise on Wed Dec 12, 2012 2:19 am

Oh just kill somebody and be done with it!

You're gonna make us wait, aren't you? :facepalm:

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 2:29 am

About 2000 years. Wink

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:52 pm

Ok maybe not 2000 years exactly....

Chapter One
Beginning in the Present

No one visited Northolt, home of the Ironfangs. Of course nobody spoke about why they never visited either, it was just one of those things; you simply did not go there, if at all possible.
Yet the Barony of Northolt itself was not unpleasant, it was, as its name implied in the north of the kingdom of Futura and it could be colder in the winter months than some might like it, and it was true that the land there was rugged and rough for the most part.
The centre of the Barony, the town of Northolt itself, contained little more than a well built Keep overlooking a single main street and a large town square. Northolt’s mixed inhabitants either tended the limited agricultural land in the few acres of flatland between the craggy hills or worked in the more extensive mines.
The Barony itself however could not be called extensive, although not a generation ago it had been much larger; currently though, from the town of Northolt, it stretched only twenty miles north into waste lands of grassy hills and forty miles south of the town its influence ended at the Norath Bridge, where a decade ago this day tragedy had struck the Queen of Futura and so the kingdom.
To the east its border was vague and ill-defined but was generally held to be among the bare broken hills some fifty miles out from the Baronies centre. The mountain slopes that loomed over the town, at the foot of which the fierce Norath River roared away south, marked the western border in slabs of slanting grey and purple.
It was in fact unremarkable.
Yet despite this lowly physical status Northolt did have it seemed undue respect in the Kingdom as a whole. But beyond the act of defending the north-west border, the Baronies' remit, it never distinguished itself in any way that anyone knew of, except perhaps in persisting.
The current Baron was an only and orphaned child. He had been brought up since he was eight firstly by his fathers’ right hand man, Kellius, and then by Kellius' eldest son, Canthiss; who served the Baron still as bodyguard, advisor and friend all rolled into one.
It fell to Canthiss to ensure that people did not come to Northolt, indeed, ideally people should not think of Northolt. It was the job of Canthiss to make it a blind spot in the nation’s collective eye, it was a task his family had performed for generations and performed very successfully at that.
So it was that when the first of the refugees crept northwards across Northolt’s' southern border in the early evening, passing over the open hills of scrub grass that sustained only the nests of hidden birds in its wind bitten heathers, they were noted with some surprise by the border guards in their secret posts.

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Post by azriel on Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:46 pm

Still liking it !

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:50 pm

Thankyou Azriel! Means a lot. Very Happy The opening and doing all the set up and introductions is always the tricky bit I find in fantasy or scifi- so much to try to get across about the world- but without hopefully making it too boring!



Those who were crossing the border were toiling under heavy loads that they carried upon their backs and as they were all gnomes, none over five feet tall, this meant the packs were often larger than they were. Many had brought only what they deemed essential and depending on the appointed task of the gnome in question this meant that the items being hefted across the hills ranged from the most delicate tool sets all the way up to large crucibles. One stout female was determinedly dragging a cauldron that bounced along behind her and another male had his entire workbench strapped to his back.
The unofficial leader of this group of gnome refugees, unofficial in that no one else except for him thought that they required a leader, was named Haval. He was walking determinedly and importantly at the head of the ragtag procession which in all took in some forty-eight individuals.
They were a little wary of crossing Northolt’s border but the gnome shamans told different stories than the rumours of Futura’s peasantry and so they were cautious rather than afraid.
This was why when three men appeared as if by magic before them, rising up from concealment in a barely visible ditch lined with thorn bushes Haval stepped forward and greeted them calmly.
“Hail men of Northolt. I am named Haval, I bring tidings from the south to the Baron Ironfang,” he said, “We request succour within his borders and would petition for permanent lodgings within his bounds, for which in return we will render our services as the Baron sees fit,” Haval bowed low before the men revelling in feeling important.
One of the three Northolt men stood forward from the rest, his eyes were grey flecked and his hair dark but fading now with years into silver, he drew no weapon but smiled down at Haval saying, “Well met Haval, I am Canthiss. What brings you northwards out of your own lands unannounced and in such disarray?”
Haval, having finished his prolonged bowing now stood and looked uneasy. “Strange tidings,” he muttered without looking up, “Unnatural. But about which I have words from our Chief that can be spoken only to the Baron Ironfang.”
“Really,” Canthiss bowed down closer to Haval who withdrew a little instinctively, “Then you have no need of haste. The Baron is at Court. But I will give you leave, for now, to proceed on your way. You may present your Chief’s words upon the Barons return.”
And with that the three men bowed, turned and melted back into the dark night with Canthiss calling back over his shoulder to them as he faded into the black, “I shall send carts out to meet you, welcome to Northolt, do not stray from the paths or enter the forest,” with that the men disappeared into the growing night.
Haval stared out after them but they were gone. He hauled his possessions up onto his back and together with the other refugees continued on the forced march north.

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Post by azriel on Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:58 pm

I am enjoying this style of story, reminds me of the days when we,(my kids & I) would lark about on Halloween, doing stupid stuff, throwing a party,with food, lights,decorations, ourselves dressed up as anything creepy,(I,of course didnt need to!), & then,after the jollities, we'd settle down, calm down, & watch a creepy yet serious film.Ending the evening on a "black magic", quiet, feeling.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:29 pm

I think thats a positive Azriel! Suspect

This bits a little longer as I couldnt find a natural break point that was shorter.



Twenty-five miles south-west of the gnome refugees, beyond Northolt and indeed Futura's western border, where the hills showed their bones and even the grass no longer clung to the barren rocks, the ground fell suddenly away. Here there was a great tear down the land. The hills ended in a sharp ravine of flat-faced slate and on the western side a cliff rose in a wall twice as high, sheer and overhanging, atop which were the southern foothills of the mountains.
There were few paths in this land and even fewer crossings for at the bottom of this grey chasm the mighty Norath River tore; white here in constant rapids. Its force was such that any looking down upon it was left in no doubt that it was the cause of this great split in the earth through which it pounded, and every moment one could believe that it was tearing deeper such was its surging violence.
But here and there where the river had eaten out the cliffs base and the rock had slipped and cracked it left narrow death defying ledges that zigzagged across the rock faces.
On one such ledge there was a figure, it would be unlikely that if any had been there to observe under the pale light of the stars that they would have marked him. Not that he was in any way trying to conceal himself but he appeared to move so slowly that often he seemed not to be moving at all. Any eye looking out over the scene of dizzying cliffs towering above and roaring chaos thundering far below would have but taken the figure as another piece of stone, such was his pace. Yet he was making progress, inch by slow inch, downwards where some one hundred or so feet below him the river plunged over a short fall and an ancient white tree trunk, long stripped of its bark by the elements, lay stretched across the chasm.
The man was named Tain and the reason for his slow pace was more than just the nervous caution of being so high and on so narrow a ledge at night; it was in fact a form of imitation. For below him, and peering out from beneath a fringe of dark brown tousled hair Tain’s sharp eyes could just make out the shape, was a kemblor. There was little remarkable to look at in a kemblor, it was a sloth like creature, nocturnal, heavy, hairy and seemingly lethargic. Harmless in that it ate only plants. But because it moved so painstakingly slowly it was easy prey and for this reason it lived only in the most dangerous, inaccessible caves. Its food was usually to be found, as with this one, near to its lair and always below.
What was remarkable about a kemblor was that as a result of its chosen feeding habits it was better than a mountain goat at finding a way down the most treacherous of cliff faces. It was not a small creature either, indeed it had both four limbs and the general shape of a man and so its routes could be followed by someone who knew enough about their ways, and was a good enough tracker, to be able to spot where the beast had put its paws and therefore its weight. It also required concentration and extreme patience.
Since leaving the neighbouring country of Domina behind Tain had saved himself many a perilous climb whilst crossing the mountains by trusting in kemblor paths. Besides he only wanted to get safely to where he was going, it was not necessary he get there quickly.
Another person, seeing how slowly the kemblor moved, might have decided that going on down the river was a better option but the ground above was broken and craggy; full of hidden holes and crevices, the mountains fell away there suddenly; going only a few miles in that terrain would be a long and cumbersome business. The kemblor might be slow but it was sure and it got there by the most direct route available. And as Tain misjudged by less than half an inch where the animal had put a paw and sent a hail of small stones skittering down into the river so distant in the dark below, he reminded himself, “I’ve just got to be very, very, patient.”

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Post by azriel on Wed Dec 12, 2012 9:42 pm

paused it at a good point, for me, & yes, it was a compliment I paid earlier !
It was a match in atmosphere. When the lights have dimmed & your cuddled under a chunky blanket. Everyones listening to a ghost story before bed, waiting for the next instalment, before going up the dark,dark stairs to a lonely bedroom,with a flickering candle, that seems to be searching out the demons hidden in the corners.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Fri Dec 14, 2012 3:24 am

Some fifty miles further south, beyond where the mountains ended, a Druid was standing looking puzzled at a large stretch of marshland.
The Druid in question knew about marshes, after all she had practically grown up in one. The Order to which she belonged specialized in them. But this marsh was bothering her in a most unnerving manner.
She had skirted its perimeter northwards for three days, having spotted it in the distance over the flat plains.
It was beautiful to her eye and large, stretching north to the mountains and west as far as she could see in endless shades of greens and browns. Here and there the starlight glinted off patches of dark water.
What she now found puzzling, standing in the chilly air on a tussock of firm ground near the marshes edge, was that there seemed to be more of it than there had been when last she had checked not two hours ago just before making camp.
By all accounts and by every way she could verify it the water level was up by over three inches and apart from a distant gurgling and a faded rumble somewhere far to the north she could explain nothing.
She examined the edge with great care and noted how the water had surged forward; the plants now drowned nearest the boggy edge were not two hours ago alive in the open air.
She had been watching this marsh for days now, there was absolutely no indication that it was tidal, the sea she guessed could be no more than thirty or forty miles away to the south but the marsh did not seem to extend so far south.
Something was wrong though; the plants here felt wrong and it had been getting worse the further north she had come. She should have been able to sense their pleasure; all plants unless withered, poisoned or starved tended to radiate a general feeling of contentment as they drew up their nutrients and simply lived, but these plants were somehow sullen. They were healthy but it was as if a shadow lay over the entire northern marsh that the eye could not see. Marshes did not rise three inches in two hours without a cause. She made up her mind there and then that she would find out what that cause might be.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Fri Dec 14, 2012 3:24 am

She hurried back to where she had made her temporary camp and lit a small fire using tinder from a box and quickly got bright yellow flames flicking up into the dark night, they reflected in her eyes whose whites glowed with a green elven light. She made a brief blessing to her Goddess Elhonna and then sat before the fire.

She closed her eyes and began a low rhythmic chanting that regulated her breathing until it was coming in long deep inhalations followed by shorter, sharper exhales. Her mind calmed by the exercise she let her energy flow out about herself in deep prayer. Seeking answers to the enigma of the marsh.
Free from the confines of thought and form she touched the living things abundant all around her; passing through their patterns and the chaos enclosed at their heart within.
She felt the rhythms of the earth; the endless molten churning in its heart.
The slow aching of the surface as it toiled beneath the world’s weight, rising and falling slowly, endlessly through the long aeons of time.
She touched on the joy of growth and the pain of endings that haunt the world’s surface; the exultations of the hunter, the frenzied terror and final peaceful moments of wonder of the prey.
The balance on the scales of the world where sought and found, the wheel was stopped from turning, held in a moment of prayer in perfect balance.
Life and death.
Beginning and ending.
Creation and destruction.
Good and evil.
She was for a brief and everlasting instant held in unity, all was as it should be... then she felt everything wrench, turning, spinning sickeningly and her mind reeled with it.
Somewhere the balance was being thrown out.
Somewhere the prey was being lured.
Somewhere the hunters were gathering and their cries were a fire that consumed all light and growth.
She jolted suddenly out of prayer, the heady scent of the marsh washing over her.
Things were more serious here than she had imagined. There was something here which scared her in a deep down, instinctive way. And it lay to the north, towards the mountains.
She finished the ceremony distractedly but she did it without thinking, her mind dwelling still on the imbalance.
The following morning, starting just before the sun broke so that she could watch it rise in glory above the marsh- although now even that sight seemed less poetic than on previous mornings, now it seemed tainted- and continued north, hoping to come upon some clue that might help her understand this odd marshland and its strange sense of gloom.
By midday she had espied trailing wisps of smoke that rose up over a grouping of small low hills that clustered the marshes edge north of where she had camped.
Cresting the hills an hour later she looked down upon a small community of gnomes whose huts, built on stilts above the waters, were bustling with activity.
She hurried down the hillside passed an empty paddock and through the open village gates. “Gnomes?” she thought quizzically, “What are gnomes doing living out here?”

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Fri Dec 14, 2012 3:25 am

It was a night of winds. It howled through the Keep rattling doors and windows. It spun in fierce whorls in the courtyards. It billowed through the stables and the horses stood huddled together in the darkest corners, their ears flat back against their heads and their eyes wide. It battered against the doors of the kennels making the chains rattle and the shutters bang, within the hounds paced restlessly and every so often one would howl mournfully back at the wind or together they would erupt in a furious braying and barking only to be silenced into whimpers by the heaviness and fury of the night.
At a window high in the Keep a heavy set young boy with thick dark hair sat kneeling upon a window box and watched the black storm clouds being driven across the face of the full moon, his body shivered in its silvery light and he drew his bear skin closer about his wide frame. He felt an agitation in his guts, a whirl of excitement, of anticipation though anticipation of what he did not know. He was only twelve years old but his height and broadness made him look older and he was not allowed up this late, he would be in trouble if Kellius caught him. But how could he sleep with this wind howling in the corridors and seeming to shake the very stones of the Keep itself? Besides he had been awoken by the howling of the hounds, barking at the wild night.
Or so he thought then, later he would find that it was not the wind which had set them on so but something else entirely, something dangerous and secret.
The boy wrapped his robe tighter about himself feeling unexpected shivers of excitement and trepidation and wondered as much at his own odd mood as at the strange unruliness of the night.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:15 pm

Is it worh me putting up the rest of this chaper? Or should I just give up on this one entirely and slink back to my barell to be very crabbit at you all? (except Azriel who is welcome in for a buckie, well providing she brings her own).

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Post by Mrs Figg on Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:34 pm

well its a wee bit spooky for late night reading you know. pale

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Post by azriel on Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:41 pm

Chuff that man! get on with it,darn you! Im all for a bit of atmosphere,damp or other wise, Sadly,buckies all run out,but, Ive an abundance of cat wee,(ive aquired 2 gorrrrrrgeous kittens) & Im contemplating a bit of Home Brew, (after straining out the litter tray 1st!)
Happy New Year Guys !!!! Cheerleader

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Post by RA on Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:42 pm

Azriel's back cheers

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Post by azriel on Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:44 pm

hiya RC ! thankyou !, Im over the moon to be back, good to see ya !

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