The old man walked with a horrible limp, dragging one foot behind him. He was gray, thin, and bent, and he supported his weight on the dark carved stick he held in one of his gnarled hands. His dark blue robes were wet at the bottom from the snow that covered everything around him. His belt was a knotted rope that looked like a chain of stars, and when the wind blew a chiming sound issued from the chain.

The man was Trask, said by some to be a mad old coot...but said by others to know things no one else knew. It was quite a journey from his small shack in the mountains to the valley that held the walled keep called Widow's Grove. Trask came to the top of the ridge, and surveyed the scene below him. Smoke rose from the chimney's of the keep, and from some 50-odd campfires in the woods fringing the valley. Trask sniffed the air. "Orks...can't ever forget that smell...." A warm mist escaped from his mouth as he whispered.

Trask's mind wandered back through time...22 years to be exact. A baby with white skin, eyes and hair screamed in the cold air, warm furs framing his angled face. Three mages from the West had just handed this baby to Trask...but a much younger Trask with darker hair...and more of it. The mage in the center spoke with arrogance and authority, "Will you not invite us inside your...your shack? We have traveled across the world to deliver to you this gift."

Trask drew the Swaldune baby close to him, warming him. A smile flitted across his face. "No, good sirs. You are not invited inside. How do call this burden...this baby...a gift? I am old, and a retired trickster. I have no room for a baby...I am involved in important studies...."

The mage in the center swept his hand through the air, and Trask fell silent. The mage spoke with some anger. "You owe us Trask. There is debt between us. This baby is now yours, and you will raise it, care for it, and protect it from the world outside this frozen kingdom. Do you dare reject our request of you?"

Trask looked down into the baby's white eyes, and the baby began to cry again. Trask laughed. "Maliferus...our debt is settled. You three will be my witnesses. This baby is not a burden...it is a second chance for me. This baby is a gift. But it is not a gift that comes from you. Do you understand me? The fates have worked through you...and I know all I need to know of this child. He is mine, and I am his. And I will not taint that promise to him...by including your meager efforts on his behalf. You are nothing to him, and I will be his father for my own reasons. Leave us now...Leave and never return."

The three mages turned and looked at each other, nodding. The one in the center sneered. "Look at this encounter any way you want, Trask. Just protect the baby...."

The three mages turned and walked down from the mountain. As they left, Trask called after them, "Maliferus...what is that child's name!"

The tall mage answered without looking back, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "He's your baby, Trask. Name him whatever you like!"

A cold whipping wind brought the old whithered Trask back to the present. A tear ran from his eye, down his cheek, and found a dry place to land on his blue cloak. The old man wiped his face dry, and began to slowly limp down the hillside towards the town called Widow's Grove and the ork army camped around it.

Trask saw the ten ork warriors marching through the snow, and he limped on. The orks came to a startled stop at the sight of the old man. Weapons sprang forth, and the leader of the unit barked out in broken common, "Halt...where you from elder? Are you friend or foe to men of Widow's Grove?"

Trask continued to limp forward. His hands gestured small ornate motions in the cold air, and soft foreign whispers fell from his lips. The ork commander's eyes went blank, as did the eyes of his men. They began to shake their heads, and they put away their weapons. Trask limped heavily through the center of the unit, passing as though he was nothing more than the winter wind. And on he limped....

Trask made his away across the large clearing surrounding the keep called Widow's Grove. Ork patrols passed him by without notice, and the humans standing watch on the towers of the Keep failed to sound the alarm at the sight of him. He arrived at the cemetary to the north of the town, and bent slowly to his knees on a freshly covered grave. With much difficulty he leaned forward, lowering his face to within inches of the broken earth. "My child...I promised you my protection...and even your death shall not break my bond with you. You will rise from beneath this dirt...you will rise and I shall take your place in its cold embrace...."

A horrible wracking cough interrupted Trask's words. Blood dripped from his lips and soaked into the soil of Gremage's grave. Life rushed from the old man, even as life stirred from below. A father died, and his child was made whole....


A lone man walks through the snow. His white hair blowing in the frosty wind. Above him a bird circles and finally comes down to rest settling on his shoulder. Not far behind him a white wormling follows as his protector for this long journey.

He set's camp in the woods building a fire and pitching a small tent and sleep bag. From a distance it seems that he speaking with the owl and the wormling. If someone could hear his words, they would have heard him saying that we would arrive tomorrow at the Azure Keep. "Once I arrive I would suggest that you head home," speaking to the wormling. "I really appreciate you coming with me to protect me from the unknown that inhabitants these lands. But tomorrow I will have to speak with this individual and I don't want you to endanger yourself. If you wouldn't mind tonight guarding my tent entrance I would really appreciate it."

At this the wormling settles down in front of the tent entrance. He turns to the owl and says, "Once I enter the Keep tomorrow find a tree and wait for me for five moon-filled nights, or until you are spotted. If you don't hear from me by the fifth moon head home and take this message to Kit. The man puts a tiny roll of paper in the clutches of the owl.

(message on the paper: "Kit I have returned from the other world and have set out to speak to Javair.")

At this point the man heads into the tent for one last good night of sleep.

The next morning he walks out of the tent and the wormling is already gone. He looks around and out of the corner of his eyes he sees the wormling hiding behind a bunch of bushes. He tries not to let the wormling notice that he has been spotted, as not to offend the little one's sense of humor or skills that he has been practicing.

He gathers his belongs and heads to his next stop.

A couple of hours later he is unable to spot the wormling, but he does spot the upper and lower gates of the Azure Keep. This is what he has been headed for, for the past week. He walks up the mountainside, on the dwarven crafted stairway of blue stone. He passes the lower gate, and arrives at the upper gate. A high goblin guard stops him and looks at him questioningly. A spear is lowered in his path.

The man with white hair and no pupils smiles grimly. "I am here to speak to Javair. Tell him that Gremage is here to speak with him. Will he agree to a discussion as one adventurer to another?"

The goblin turned and entered the tall doors that blocked Gremage's way. A few minutes later, the goblin returned. In common, with a rough accent, the goblin said, "He will talk to you. Come with me."

Gremage followed the goblin through the doors, a square entrance hall with a large bell suspended in it, a long hall with many doors and pillars, and then to a room with a large blue stone statue of a man. Then they ascended many stairs, spiralling upwards through the mountain. Finally they entered a ruin hall filled with fallen rock, frozen ice, and much debris. In the middle of it stood a man in fine thick robes. He turned.

"As you can see, my restoration of the Keep has not extended to the upper levels. Quite a mess up here really. See that dark space in the ice...I fell through there, and almost drowned. That's when I first came here. When the guard told me that a Swaldune was here to see me, I was taken aback. Most swaldune I have met abroad from their Island have been quite evil. But then I remembered a swaldune with a more local origin. The guard confirmed my thoughts...you are Gremage. How interesting."

Gremage stepped into the room, and Javair continued. "It was an unfortunate matter, but your head was brought to me, but we can both see that your head is very much intact upon your shoulders. I've seen ghosts, and you are no ghost. What brings you here?"

Many things actually, I could not stay on the ship of my ancestors, while unfinished business weighed on my soul. Yes, to answer the question running through your mind we Swaldune's do have souls. Don't let wives tales and my eyes fool you. Swaldunes do have souls of a fashion.

I came here for two reasons I had heard that the trail was to take place here. I am afraid that I was unable to attend at the time it occurred. But, I am hear know and will answer all the questions that I can.

The second and I believe the most important reason I am back is that there is a great evil out there. I am sure you heard of the battle at Widow's Grove. Within that town a doppelganger of some type has managed to gain the ability to change shape to my image and no telling how many others. This cannot be allowed, I will not have some monster spread evil in my likeness through out your kingdom or in any others. So I would like to request that you ask your questions or get this second trial started as soon as possible. Once this is done I plan on seeking out the doppelganger and killing it. Depending on the outcome of the trial of course. Until you have time to get the trial underway could you have someone escort me to my cell?

Oh, yes I almost forgot. I have a familiar outside your walls. I would appreciate it if you would tell your guards not to shoot any owls while I am here just incase. Also my protector for the travel here might be in the woods somewhere. And I would hate for him to get hurt also. I did send him home but he has a mind of his own and he is quite young and can be impetuous. I am not sure if he has left yet. He is a wormling and a friend I would not like it if he was hurt while he was trying to protect me. Thanks for taking the time to see me I guess I am ready for my visit to your cell know, if you can have someone lead the way.

Javair turned away from Gremage, and appeared to be continuing his examination of the damaged roof and walls, all encrusted in ice. A minute or two passed. "There will be no trial. You paid your debt with your life. It is your good fortune that your 'father' cares for you, and keeps his promises."

Javair walked to the other side of the large room and turned to face Gremage. "You should hunt this Fedden. He plagues you, as he has plagued all that is good for many years. He's responsible for many assassinations, and these recent maimings. I know that he resides in Tunis, so finding Tunis may be the challenge you seek."

"As for your owl. He is safe. My guards kill only what they must, and owls hardly ever press the matter! As for the death of the kobolds, and the kobold Queen...I release you from guilt, though the supreme darkness gifted to you by Rukin, has done so before me!"

"Stay for a day or two...not in a cell, but in a guest room. Dine with me and fatten yourself, and then find this Fedden...for your friends, and for me. What say you?"

Gremage nodded his head. "I say, thank you. And I am very hungry...so I will avail myself of your hospitality." Gremage summoned his owl from the woods, it flew into the building, made its way through the halls, and landed on his shoulder. Javair looked at Gremage and the owl. Once his initial shock wore off, Javair pulled a bell from his pocket and shook it, a very small sound came from the bell, one that I could barely hear at all. Within moments a servant poked his head into the room.

Javair spoke to him in hush tones for a moment. Then turned to Gremage, if you will follow Jasoe he will lead you to the kitchen for a quick snack. While you enjoy the snack I will have the staff prepare your room. Jasoe has informed me it will be four or five hours before dinner is served. We will be waiting for the Hooded mage to arrive for dinner.

In your room you will find a bed and bath prepared for you when you arrive, it looks as though you have been on the road for days and you could used some time to rest and recuperated before dinner. I will send someone to your room to wake you before dinner with a change of clothes. When the Hooded Mage arrives.

Gremage, followed Jasoe, to the kitchen, once there he introduced Gremage to a woman named Urssa, Urssa was a robust woman to say the least and Jasoe's mother I found out. Her butt put you in mind of a huge cast-iron kettle. This woman you could tell could not help but smile as if she hadn't stopped smiling in years. Jasoe, moved with lightning speed and was out the door in moments. Urssa turned and looked Gremage up and down for a moment or two. Then said I don't allow animals in my kitchen unless they are being served to the staff as dinner. You will be allowed to keep that bird in here as long as it doesn't leave your shoulder. If it does we will be having owl stew for supper. Know sit at the little table in the corner where Jasoe, usually eats his dinner and I will bring you a snack and something to drink.

Within two minutes the little table was full of breads, cheese's and meats and some type of liquor. The liquor was thick and sweet. The bread was hard as a witches tit. Urssa, stepped over grabbed some bread and dipped it into the liquor the bread softened immediately. She handed me a piece of the softened bread and said take a bite. It was wonderful. I could not help but smile at the taste of everything. Once I did this Urssa expression changed to that of a proud cook and she actually seemed happy that I enjoy the snack. As I took the last bite Urssa, had already cleaned the little table. I had, asked if there was something I could do to help. She flatly refused my offer and sent me outside the kitchen to wait for Jasoe, within seconds Jasoe, was there and leading me to my room.

Once in the room I pulled a piece of bread out of my cloak and handed it to my familiar. The owl ate the bread with his amazing beak pulling the bread apart like a pro. While he ate I decided to take the bath and a short nap.


A few hours later and a short nap out of the way. A knock was heard tapping on my door. I got out of bed and Jasoe, stood there with a set of ornately done robes in black and silver. Mother has made these for you, she said that she would not allow anyone to sit at the table in the garments you arrived wearing. I looked at the robes and they were fantastic with pockets inside the folds decorations of the owl sewed into the sleeves along the edges of the collar were tiny little dragons. These robes were worthy of being shown off at a King's Court and maybe that was what Urssa had intended. As I thanked Jasoe, for the robes and requested that he send my very best to Urssa for the fine job and her talent. I headed down to dinner, once I arrived Javair was at one end of the table to the left stood a stone statue of a man. He was huge to say the least and he was actually speaking to Javair. At the other end of the table was the hooded mage waiting patiently. Javair seemed at that exact moment to notice me and motioned me over to the table to be seated. Once I was seated the statue left the room and assumed his eternal place in the central hall.

The Hooded Mage was wearing his mask, but his eyes glittered with the spark of life. "I see that Trask has fulfilled his promise to look after you. Promises among mages are powerful bonds."

I smiled. "I must admit. I learned much in the time with my ancestors...but I find my memories of my time on that black ship to be fading. I am forgetting even now the sound of the sea and the smell of the dragons. When my true death finally comes, I will not shun it or fear it. Though their faces fade from my mind, I know that friends wait for me beyond."

The Hooded Mage leaned forward, and raised his cup. "May everyman have at least one moment of peace as powerful as the peace you now feel. It may be that your undoing was a gift, disquised as a tragedy. Javair says you are planning on hunting the assassin Fedden." I nodded, and the Mage continued. "I thought it important that I let you know of something. I have removed the Marks of Death from your friends, and released them from any debt or unnatural bond they may feel they owe me. I set them on a great quest when I asked them to face Gorin Zachian, evil bastard that he is. But now I have allowed them to put that behind them."

This made me curious. "Why would you do this? Do you not need their help? Is this some punishment for all that has happened?"

The Mage laughed. "No. Many choices, both right and wrong, made by many different people went into all that has happened. I do not begrudge you the events that transpired. And I feel that you and your friends have faced up to what happened. No, I released your friends...and you, because I need to focus one plan. I had two groups, as a backup, in case something horrible happened to one group or the other. But we are approaching the end-game, and I need to focus on just one group of adventurers. The group I have decided to focus my hopes on...is another group besides your own. And it seems to me that your friends are quite busy seeking the Key to the Storm Gates."

"What about my mark?" I was very serious about this. "As we discussed, I plan to hunt Fedden. I don't believe he is undead...but he works for Gorin...a powerful necromancer. I need the Mark of Death more than ever! I need any help I can get...."

"I have brought you an item...something I wish to loan you. But I must warn you. Barring your death, you must return this to me. I have borrowed it myself, and would have many curses and dangers heaped upon me were I not to return it. It is a simple band of fire-hardened glass, in the form of a ring. To slip it upon one's finger, is to vanish from the sight of all who look. Be careful with it. It is very old, and such is the clarity of the glass, that were you to drop it upon the ground...you would never locate it again!"

I took the ring carefully from the Hooded Mage's hand, and slipped it away in my pocket. The Hooded Mage questioned me immediately, "Don't you wish to try it, and see if it works?"

"I trust you. I will not lose this ring, and I will return it to you undamaged. But what of my Mark of Death?"

The Hooded Mage appeared to think for a moment. And then, "Yes, you may keep your Mark of Death. You will need it in the coming weeks. I have possible news of Fedden's location. It is not as specific as I would like. But an old scoundrel I know let slip in conversation with me the other day, that my party of Marked Ones seeks the City of Tunis. This is Fedden's home. I do not know the location of Tunis myself, but I must assume it is somewhere between the Martial Fields and the Azure Keep. The old scoundrel also hinted that Fedden was following the Marked Ones, and though they feel confident they are tracking him...he is most certainly tracking them! That is all I know, my friend."

Once Javair was confident that the Hooded Mage and I had gotten business over with, he joined the conversation. He wove in tales of past kingdoms rebuilt, and vast treasures found...love stories with happy endings, and sad. One story that he told stood out in my mind. In the story, Javair and Vikos were defending a city within the Empire protected by a man called the Grey Knight. A mercenary mage and a vast army had surrounded the city, and were close to taking it by blood and magic. Javair and Vikos took the side of the town, and challenged the 'evil' mage to a personal battle, the town to go to the side that survived. Javair won the battle by trickery, and when Vikos went to capture the mage...a great horn was blown, and the very sound of it tore Vikos' body to pieces and shreds. At the end of the story, Javiar dipped his head and smiled, as the Hooded Mage clapped his hands and laughed. I felt that clearly I was missing out on an inside joke.

The Hooded Mage noticed the look of confusion on my face. "Do you wish to know the secret, and why we both laugh?" I quickly nodded. "Well, the story Javair told is about me. I stood against Vikos that day, and blew the hide from his bones with that great Horn of Blasting. I was quite a firebrand then, and these two had destroyed a healthy profit I was to receive. Though Vikos would never admit it, I occasionally will catch him staring at me...with a certain glimmer in his eye. Though that was many years ago...I fear that one day in a fit of temper, Vikos might return the 'favor' I did him that day!"

Javair laughed so hard, that a dribble of wine came out his nose. He coughed, still laughing...and finally gained control of himself. "Of all the times I thought Vikos was dead. That is the one time he was actually killed! He is definitely one to hold a grudge." All three of us laughed at this, and we continued our conversations into the late hours.

When it was very late and the fire had burned down to an orange glowing pile of coals, the Hooded Mage and I stood saying that it was time too retire for the night. Javair lifted his glass and looked at the Hooded Mage saying, "Shapiro...Gremage...one last sip. To the return of a warm radiant summer and to a good night's rest." We all tipped back a sip.

I thanked Javair for the hospitality. "I will be leaving in the morning for my mission to find this shapechanger. Once I have completed the mission I will return hopefully with good news. Until that time it would be best, I believe to try and keep my return, from the rest of the world as secret as possible."

Javair nodded, as did the Hooded Mage. It was the mage that spoke. "To be dead amongst the living...will shield you from the Necromancer and his mininons...including Fedden. Use the ring well my friend...but do not lose it, for I will need to return it. You have simply borrowed it from the borrower."


Gremage woke the next day and after making the rounds thanking Javair for his hospitality.

The first stop was to the kitchen to get supplies for a least a week or two. There he thanked Jasoe and Urssa for everything from the food to the new robes. After leaving the kitchen he set out to find the Marked One's. This would be a trip based more on luck than anything else hoping to find the Marked Ones in a general area was not the best sititution but it was the only one he had at the moment.

Gremage, left Javair's place as the sun was rising as he got out the gates. His familiar landed on his shoulder and they headed off. The hooded mage had told Gremage his best chance to find Fedden would be to join up with this other Group of Javair's. It had been a little daunting, until the Hooded Mage had allowed Gremage to keep the Mark. This would be how Gremage would introduce himself and prove who he was if the issue was to be addressed. By late evening he had started his trip and was making good time headed for the Martial Fields. His only chance of finding this group would be to use his owl in hopes that the familiar could spot the group. Therefore Gremage sent the owl up into the air on a hourly basis for 30 minutes at a time. During the first day they had only spotted loose groups of Orc's, being careful and using what abilities and the ring Gremage had managed to avoid any possible encounters. They had camped overnight in the woods resting up in a tree with no fire. It was a little chilly but Gremage had tied blankets to the tree and himself this would keep him warm enough and safe from falling. It was not the best bed but it was better than an alternative that could happen in the night.

On the second day after a short breakfast they sat out again. By late that day they came upon a group of 4 orc's. As Gremage was skirting around the group hoping to avoid a meeting he heard a loud scream it sounded like a little girl or a teen. Javair had said that he should show some respect to the orc's while on his land and in his kingdom but respect was one thing a girl screaming was another.

Gremage slipped on the ring and slipped up on the orc campsite. Sending the familiar into the trees for safety. Gremage saw two tents and a blooding, half naked teenage girl tied to a pole in the middle of the campsite. Gremage sat there wondering what he could do alone. The only possible hope would be to wait until they went to sleep and try to sneek into the camp and free the girl.

He sat there for a couple of hours until it was dark. One Orc was on guard duty, two went to one tent and one went into the other. Gremage decided to wait for a couple more hours just to make sure the three were asleep. Then he would make a move to get the girl out.

Within the hour the Orc that had his own tent came out and went to the girl. The Orc that was suppose to be guarding the campsite had fell asleep also. The Girl was asleep at this time. The Orc that came from the tent walked up to her and put a gag into her mouth this muffled the girl where the sleeping guard could not here her. Then he hauled her to his tent. This was not looking good. It was going to be now or never.

Gremage slipped into the campsite and proceeded to the tent where the girl was. Outside the tent in a muffled sound he could hear noise that was just plain sick. And made his stomach sink and churn not to mention his anger was beginning to boil. He with drew his dagger and cut a rope that was holding the tent up. This rope was not enough to make the tent fall just enough to allow Gremage to lift the tent up from one side and slide under. Once he was in the tent it was dark but he saw the shadow of the orc on top of the girl. This bastard was going to die. He got behind the orc as quietly as he could and took off the ring putting it back into his pocket. With one quick move he plunged his dagger into the back of the orc's neck as the knife went into the back and out the front of his neck Gremage let the anger inside give him the strength to rip the knife out the side of his neck.

Then the strangest thing happened. The orc's head came completely off...no, it was a mask! Gremage's blow had not killed this human disguised as an ork, and the man swung around in pain. In a flash Gremage rammed the dagger into his chest twice and the second time the man fell to the ground dead. But the dagger must have hit the chest bone or something because it broke in half. Gremage stood frozen for a few moments...why would a man disguise himself as an ork? There was no time to think. Surely the others would be coming this was when he notice that there was some loud noises from outside the tent. He bent down and cut the ropes from the girl with his broken knife she had apparently passed out. After untying her he proceeded to wake the girl covering her mouth. The noise from outside was getting louder but he had to get the girl out and fast. The girl woke up in a state of panic.Gremage grabbed the girl and dragged here over to the back of the tent were he had entered. Lifted the flap and the girl ran out the tent screaming into the woods. He began to follow but decided that if he didn't do something the orcs...or men...or whatever they were, outside they would just track down the girl again and think that she had somehow killed the bastard laying on the ground in his own blood.

Gremage had noticed that it had quieted down outside. He took out the ring and slipped it onto his finger. Went to the front of the tent and proceeded out of the tent. To his amazement the orcs lay dead on the ground. They had been attacked by something with large teeth. Each had large amounts of water covering them. It looked sort of like they had been hit with a down pour of water. Gremage looked from side to side for any signs of the attacker but the only thing he saw was that his familiar had left the safety of the trees and was perched on the top of the second tent. Gremage tugged at the chins of these "orcs," and these were masks also. Humans disguised as orks. Gremage whispered out loud, "Why?"

He would have to think about this later. For now he had to get out of here. He whistled for the owl and the owl proceeded to land on his shoulder from there he headed back to the forest. Gremage looked for the girl for a couple of hours but he never found her and decided that she was safe or hiding but he had done all he could do. It was time to move on the find a campsite in the trees for him for the night. Hopefully he would find the Marked Ones tomorrow.

On the third day Gremage found a deserted building as he proceeded up to the building a sign covered in blood read "RYKER'S ASYLUM." On the ground laid dead blooded bodies apparently they had died inside and some animals had gotten in and dragged the bodies out apparently looking for an easy meal. Gremage went into the building and only found more of the same. All the patients had been slaughtered and it was probably the most gruesome site he had ever seen. He had found dead monsters within the Asylum the likes of which he had never seen before. Gremage ran back outside where he relieved himself of his morning breakfast. Within the hour his owl had come back. The owl was in a state of excitement. The only thing that could account for this was that he had found the group he was looking for. So Gremage proceed to following the owl. He made it to within a hundred yards of a black tower there he spotted the group he was looking for at the base of this black tower.

Precaution caused Gremage to put the ring on and stay away from the group just watching for a while. He noticed some spell casters and if he stayed out of sight and out of range of any detect magic spells he should be able to stay hidden and watch this group until he decided it would be safe to introduce himself.

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M. Ludwig Stinson, P.O. Box 28204, Gladstone, MO 64188