Xiph had a last minute family conflict and didn’t show up until right after the party arrived at the monastery. Fortunately, he showed up just in time for the roleplaying to kick in, and as you may be able to tell from the sheer length of this entry, it was more than worth the wait.
When we last left our party, they were in the lower chamber of the Temple of the White Wyrm standing face-to-face with the Phoenix. After various reactions that ranged from awe to panic, the Phoenix restored the party to full health, thanked them for defeating Krall by giving them a power boost, and informed them that she needed to find a host body quickly before disappearing. Amusel and Denzai investigated the Avatar’s corpse, and were able to determine that the ritual used to open the portal to the Emptiness ended up cutting off this particular ember of the Phoenix from the main entity, forcing it to find a new avatar or die permanently.
As they exited the temple, they saw the little Dwarf girl they’d brought with them from Tor Phagos sitting with her back against the wall, rocking back and forth muttering to herself “I wasn’t strong enough… I wasn’t strong enough…” over and over again. As they watched, a tendril of flame extended towards her from one of the braziers and enveloped her in a warm glow, then faded into nothingness. When the party looked at her, they realized that her eyes seemed as though there was a fire inside them. The girl, still confused and terrified, introduced herself as Mara Sabel, and informed the party that the Phoenix was now speaking to her and had turned her into an Avatar.
Reactions were, again, mixed. Creig made a tasteless crack about the possibility of selling Mara for profit, while Denzai mentioned that an Avatar’s endorsement of his work would do wonders for his desire to legitimize necromancy as a field of magical study. Gerard, Shamus, and Amusel promptly shut down both of those ideas, and the group eventually decided that the best course of action would be to take Mara to Tel Phonen to meet with the other Avatars and brief them on the Wyrmborn situation. Gerard mentioned that since it was on the way, he’d like to stop by his monastery in order to get some much-needed rest and look for books related to Avatars, the Phoenix, and the Wyrmborn. The others agreed, and they set off for the monastery.
On the way there, the group was caught in a snowstorm. As the wind intensified, they began to hear a howl off in the distance. The howl was joined by another, and then yet another. Soon enough, fourteen wolf pups came striding in out of the gloom. The party readied for a fight, and Mara seemed to relish the opportunity to kill something. After easily dispatching a few of the wolves, the Phoenix took direct control of Mara and began to throw fireballs at the pack. Meanwhile, Denzai got cut off from the party and was mauled by one of the wolves, forcing Amusel to bring him back to consciousness. Finally, the party had done enough damage that the remaining wolves fled in terror.
When they arrived, Gerard knocked several times. Nobody answered. Denzai immediately suggested that the monastery had been attacked and that everyone inside was likely dead, a comment which annoyed Gerard to no end. However, suspicion that an attack had in fact occurred grew when the group went around to a back entrance and found it covered by a pile of rubble. Soon after discovering this, the party heard noises coming from the monastery’s main courtyard. Denzai created a ladder out of shadow, which Gerard climbed as quickly as he could. The party followed him up and scampered across the roof to peer into the courtyard.
In the center of the courtyard, a gigantic pile of books was burning brightly while warriors clustered around it, drinking and merrymaking. The monks were chained together and kept under guard near the back walls, while two of them were apparently being made to fight each other. A hulking, heavily armored man watched all of this with a goblet in hand.
Gerard, furious, leapt from the roof into the courtyard and began pulling books out of the fire with his bare hands. The huge man began to laugh. “Well, look who’s here!” he said. “Where were ye, lad? Up on the roof, reading? I can’t say I’m surprised that my pathetic excuse for a-”
“SHUT. UP. DAD.”
Gerard’s outburst stunned the party into silence for a moment. “Holy shit,” Denzai muttered. As they regained their senses, the rest of the party followed Gerard off the roof and spread out through the courtyard.
Gerard continued to pull books out of the fire, ignoring the heat and pain. His father walked up to him menacingly. “Ye will look at me when I’m talking to ye, boy,” he growled. As he tried to pull Gerard away from the bonfire, Gerard swung around and punched him in the face, snapping Henner’s head to the side.
Dead silence descended over the courtyard. Henner stood still for a moment, then slowly brought his head around to face his son. “Ye’ve insulted me in front of me clan,” he said in a quiet voice that seemed to be a moment away from exploding into rage. “I hope in yer time away from me ye haven’t forgotten what that means.”
Gerard practically spit out his words. “I remember. We fight. You and me. For control of the clan.”
Henner smirked. “Good to see I’ve taught ye somethin’ that stuck. No weapons, no armor. Fist to fist, man to man. It’s time to see if yer worthy of the name Hennerson.”
Gerard turned to Amusel and quickly said, "Do me a favor? If you can, keep pulling books off the pile. Keep an eye open for one called “The Lord Of The Rings.” Amusel nodded and began to pull out tome after tome, though many were too charred to be legible.
The two combatants slowly strode towards the center of the courtyard and stripped off their armor. Henner turned to face his son and bellowed, “Come at me!”
Father and son charged towards each other. Henner got in the first punch directly to Gerard’s face, then followed it up with a powerful kick to the spleen. Gerard leapt into the air and brought his fists down on Henner’s head, then launched a kick from the ground. Henner jumped over Gerard’s leg, but the dodge gave Gerard time to run around to the other side of the bonfire.
“Yer always runnin’ away!” Henner shouted as he advanced on his son. “Away from yer family! Away from yer clan! Away from yer tradition!”
“And towards enlightenment,” screamed Gerard, “towards the path of knowledge! Towards the Phoenix!”
“I raised ye to fight!” yelled Henner as he kicked his son in the head, knocking him to the ground. “Not ta spend yer time sittin’ around readin’ books! Where’s yer killer instinct?!”
Gerard managed to bring himself up on one knee and grinned. “My killer instinct’s right here, ya bastard,” he said. “Cornswaggle! NOW!”
Creig, who had been hanging around the edges of the fight, finally chimed in. “Tempting,” he said, “but watching you get the snot beaten out of you is just too damn hilarious for me to step in. Besides, this is between you and your old man.”
Henner froze for a moment, and then began shaking with rage. “Callin’ on yer friends to help ye in a duel? THAT’S COWARDLY EVEN FOR YE!” he shouted, viciously kicking his son in the gut on the ground.
Gerard coughed up blood and went limp. Henner circled him and said, “Come on, get up! No son of Henner would go down that easy!”
Gerard struggled on to one knee again. “That’s the difference,” he said through gritted teeth, “I’m not. I’m no… son… of yours.”
“Finally, somethin’ we agree on,” murmered Henner. After a moment, he turned his back on his fallen son and began to walk away. “Ye’re not even worth finishin’ off.”
“Worth… finishing off,” said Gerard, as he strained to stand. “I’d… I’d like to see you try. You… don’t tell me… what to do… anymore… you bastard!” With that, Gerard lurched towards his father and grabbed him by the head. In one fluid motion, he spun around and brought Henner’s face down on to his knee with a sickening crunch.
Henner lurched backwards, blood gushing from his broken nose. He recovered and stood still for a moment. Then, a wide grin came over his face and he began to laugh. “Now that’s more like it!” he said. He tossed Gerard a healing potion and said, “So, you really think you’ve got what it takes to beat me? Time to find out. Come at me, son!”
Gerard stared at the potion in his hand for a moment, then threw it into the snow behind him. “No. You’ve beaten me… but I will challenge you again one day. And I will beat you. Henner Gunnmarson… I am no longer of your clan. From today my name is Gerard Phoenixson. I follow not you, but the Phoenix.”
Henner’s grin faded. “I can see this is gettin’ nowhere. Ye’ve certainly got me determination, if nothin’ else. If ye hate me that much, come find me in a few years when ye’re ready to face me like a man. Still, yer willin’ to protect what ye’ve got. I can respect that.” He turned to his men and shouted, “Boys! Pack up yer things. We’re moving on to Tor Phagos.”
At this, Denzai stepped in and addressed the clan leader. “That place is gone,” he said.
Henner turned to him. “What do ye mean, gone?”
“By what, ye sorry lot?”
“This sorry lot tried to save it,” growled Gerard.
“It was attacked by goblins under the command of a paladin named Jutha Krall,” said Denzai.
Henner’s eyes widened. “Come again? I’m sorry, it sounded like ye just said goblins.”
“I did,” said Denzai.
Henner stood in shock for a moment, then began to laugh. “Goblins? Truly?” Turning to his men again, he shouted, “Ye hear that, lads? Goblins are comin’ back!” The courtyard was filled with laughter and jeers. Denzai waited a moment, then calmly produced the head of Gregory the goblin and threw it on the ground in front of Henner. The laughter died instantly as all eyes were riveted to the head. Henner stepped back and looked at it in horror. “Where in Sanctum did ye get that?” he asked.
“We killed it,” growled Gerard. “In a temple near Tor Phagos. The sage isn’t lying, Henner. That girl there was the only survivor.”
Mara stepped forward, her eerie, multilayered voice indicating that the Phoenix was in full control. “LAIRD HENNER,” she said, “WE STAND BEHIND EVERYTHING THESE MEN HAVE SAID.”
Henner looked at Mara in shock. “Ye… yer an Avatar? Never heard of one so young before… and yer sayin’ these men killed a Wyrmborn?”
“THESE MEN KILLED MANY OF OUR FOES AND HAVE PROVEN A GREAT ASSET TO OUR CONTINUED SURVIVAL. THEY PREVENTED A MORTAL FROM SUMMONING THE GREATEST OF OUR ENEMIES FROM SUMMONING THE GREATEST OF OUR ENEMIES IN A RITUAL AS AGES OLD AS WE. THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR CONTINUED SURVIVAL, GUNNMARSON, AS WELL AS THE SURVIVAL OF THIS WORLD.”
“Ye don’t mean…”
“THEY HAVE PREVENTED, THIS EARLY IN THEIR FATED JOURNEY, THE RETURN OF THE WYRMS.”
Henner bowed his head. “Yer sayin’ me son killed wyrmborn? This… this changes things. If the Wyrmborn are comin’ back, ye’ll need all the help ye can get. What’s yer name, Avatar?”
The glow in Mara’s eyes dimmed, and her voice returned to normal. “Mara,” she said. “Mara Sabel. Gerard saved me before the Phoenix found me.” She paused for a moment, then added, “She says to tell you that ‘these men are capable of much, and will be capable of much more by their journey’s end’ or something.”
“Clearly,” Henner responded. “Thank ye, Mara.” He turned to his troops once again. “Men,” he bellowed, all traces of his earlier joviality gone. “New orders. We move for Tor Phagos to search for Wyrmborn stragglers and pick ‘em off. Free the prisoners, we can’t afford the baggage. Leave the monks here with me son – he deserves that much.” He turned again, and softly said, “Gerard. I still canna agree with the path yer on.”
“Nor I yours,” Gerard responded.
Henner continued. “But if ye were able to take down Wyrmborn, not to mention a man strong enough to summon ‘em… maybe yer doin’ somethin’ right after all.” He paused for a moment, then, speaking loudly enough to ensure that the whole clan heard, said, “May we meet again on the battlefield, as friends or as enemies.”
The clan began to whisper among themselves – this was the traditional parting given to an equal.
Gerard stood straight and responded clearly. “And when we do, may the strongest be the victor.”
Henner smiled. “Farewell, son,” he said. “Men, move out!”
With that, the clan left the monastery. As the fire burned out, the monastery’s abbot approached Gerard. “Gerard,” he said, producing a heavy leatherbound volume from inside his robes, “I don’t know how I can begin to repay you, but… I believe this is yours.” He presented Gerard with the monastery’s copy of the Lord Of The Rings, taken from another dimension by the founder of the monastery centuries ago.
“You saved it?”
“You aren’t the only one here with an appreciation for this ‘J.R.R. Tolkien’ fellow, after all. You are, however, the one who best maintains this text. It’s yours now.”
“I…I thank you, Abbot,” Gerard replied. “Today was but small repayment for taking me in when I fled home. Thank you. I am still in your debt.”
“No, Gerard,” replied the abbot, “We are in yours.”