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AG: Let me tell you a storyThe path through the plains is well worn, if a bit dusty. A cart rattles down, the wheels bumping in the ruts and kicking up dust behind it. The wagoner shakes the reins, but the horses know their route. Only when the road splits in two do they slow to a halt. The burly man scratches at his beard and turns backwards with a grunt. “Yehr gonna be wantin’ to get off now. Ocean’s tha’ way.”
Two boys, scrawny and pale, look up from where they sit, legs hanging over the back of the wagon. There is a glance between them as the older slides to the ground, smacking hay and dust off his pants. He turns back to the wagon, clearing his throat and scratching at his unkempt brown hair.
“So…” he starts, but then trails off. There isn’t much to say. Two would-be gods, and only one can survive. That alone is enough to put a slight strain on friendship. He holds out his hand instead.
The smaller boy hesitates and then takes it in his own, nodding. I
Ascension Gate: Heading Back (R4-7)The whale descends down under the clouds, and Tom is almost tempted to hold his breath. But this is no ocean that he grew up in, and he struggles to sit, pulling his legs up under him and testing at bruised ribs with a groan. The dark whale bumps against a rocky outcropping, and Tom sucks in a breath, pushing off and following the same path down its side that Cyneric took. But unlike the prince, he hits the ground safely, with only a stagger and a twisted ankle to swear over as he limps his way towards what looks like the beginnings of the steep path down.
He stumbles twice, but something unseen catches him, and he presses fingers to heart both times in gratitude, unsure if it is his powers, or the work of Mother Ocean, not yet abandoning him after calling for the whale. The force guides him, pushing him down along the ridges until he rounds a corner and his pony lifts its head in greeting. The sacks left there are spilled open, the dried fruit and grain scattered across the ground, bu
Ascension Gate: Final Partings (R4-6)The trail winds ever steeper upwards, the rain never ceasing. Strange shapes begin to emerge behind the flashes of lightning, and Tom raises his hand to shield his eyes as the entire sky is illuminated. “Huh.” He pats the pony’s rump before digging in his heels again. “That one almost looked like a whale.”
Days and nights become hard to distinguish in the deluge, and without stars or the face of the moon to guide him, Tom is unsure of how long he has been climbing, save for that his voice gave up long before his pony, and his pony too eventually left behind as the path turns to rocky slides and steep rock faces.
There is one moment he is left standing on a ledge that crumbles away under his feet, the sizzle of lightning filling the air in his nostrils. The wind around him rises against the rain, a dark shape surging upwards inches in front of him, and he jumps into the void, a hand grasping for a creature he does not know even exists. His efforts are rewar
Ascension Gate: People Seen (R4-5)Inside the cave, Cyneric lets out a scream of rage, slamming fists against the barrier. “Dig us out!” he howls, “Get us out of here right now!”
There is no need for him to reiterate. Down to a man the others shove shoulders against the rocks, but the trap rigged was well made, and the only success they make is a gap at head height, just large enough for an arm to reach through. Dagner grunts, reaching through and scrabbling against the rock until he swears loudly, pulling his hand back in, blood dripping down a crisscrossed slash over his forearm.
“I wouldn’t do that, were I you…” A quiet voice floats in through the hole, almost lost in the thunder.
Cyneric stops clenching and unclenching his fingers for one moment. That voice is familiar. “Madman! Merman!” he snarls, shoving men out of his way until he stands before the hole. At first there is nothing, and then Tom’s face passes in front, dark and calm. There is a spla
Ascension Gate: Stories on the Mountain (R4-4)Deep green eyes meet pale blue, and Tom freezes for half a second as the girl’s turning pulls at her hood, small horns peeking out from other the water soaked wool. In that split second Tom makes his decision, dropping his knife and leaping forward to close the distance, the cloth in his hand pushed forward into the child’s face to cover her mouth and nose.
Aisling’s immediate reaction is to draw in a breath to scream, but the fumes from the cloth fill her lungs, and she feels her head grow light. The last vision she has before the world turns dark is thick braided white hair hanging over her face as her attacker leans down. It could be just dreams, but she swears she can hear him humming to her.
The daemon is awoken by the soft sound of a flute, and the feeling of warmth against her face. Her eyes snap open and she gasps as pain shoots up her arms. She’s bound. The flute cuts out as she struggles against the ropes, but to no avail.
“Apologies, little sist
Ascension Gate: Paths Unseen (R4-3)The rain begins halfway up the mountain, where the grass and shrubs turns to heather and mosses growing on slate outcroppings. The peak juts up from the surrounding plain, the top lost in a foggy mist that spreads outwards over the plain in a perfect ring.
Dagner looks up from under an oiled tarp, squinting at the sky. “It’s not natural…” he grumbles.
One of his companions looks up, snorting. “Aye, but what has been, man? Near not anything natural about this whole thing, captain.”
“Aye. Things be changing, that’s for sure…” Dagner spares a glance back to the cave inset in the rising cliffs of the mountain before looking back to the sky with an uneasy frown. The rain seems to respond to his negativity, beating down harder on the small camp. Water drips down the canvas shelter, and Dagner pulls his coat up farther around his shoulders with a shiver. “Hopes they all be changing for the best.”
Prince Cyneric, the pre
Ascension Gate: First Meetings (R4-2)Tom taps a thin disc of silver against the table, staring at the tallow candle burning fitfully at his elbow. The flame throws sharp shadows across the grain of the wood and a few more silver disks, each hammered flat not a day before from a pile of gaudy rings. The merchant across the table leans forward into the pool of light, grease stained belly pressing against the filthy wood. Tom’s attention is lured towards him, the merman’s smile drawing tight across his face. There is more filth in this place than just the stains on the man’s tunic. Corruption rolls off the man in what seems like waves, and Tom leans back carefully. He wonders how the man can stand to live with himself after a lifetime of shaving coins and weighing wheat sacks down with sand. He means to cheat Tom out of his purse as well, if he can manage it, but then there is a certain game between merchants of cheating the other and the sea folk are taught to play from an early age.
Tom bares his teeth in
Ascension Gate: Moving Forward (R4-1)Inside the desert crater, the beast that defies description thrashes, legs twisting and grasping for purchase against its own body as it screams its anger to the skies. But as the cool wind carries over the sand and bone and up the sloping sides of the crater, the horror is lost to the silence and stillness of a world awaiting its new god. The air splits in two, a jagged dark hole through reality itself. And through this warp, a figure falls.
Tom hits the ground hard, gasping for breath and clawing at the grass. He curls forward, grating out curses into the ground until he is able to raise his head, eyes shaded by one raised hand. The caldera lies behind him, a wide open field slopes away in front of him. The thumping pound of the gates echo in his ears to each side. He turns his head slowly, wincing. However long he spent in the belly of the beast passing through the third gate was not long enough to erase the effects of the spiced rum on his head. Southwards lies the sea, and the pul
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