Forgotten Realms: Birthright

The Quiet Lands: Part 4

Gromgar

12th of Hammer 1399 D.R.

The demon is dead. Its gargantuan form lies still in the waters of the sheltered glade, black ichor spilling from its many wounds.
The party finally has a moment to breathe and take stock of the surrounding landscape.
As they stand there glancing about, Frak catches something glinting in the corner of his eye. He spots a reflection on metal in the fetid waters where the innards of the demon have spilled forth. He reaches down and retrieves a half digested hand with a beautiful ring on it. It shines silver and blue, and is clearly of Elven design. Frak pockets the ring.
They wade to the demon’s small island at the center of the pool, where they discover a grim scene. Several cocooned Elven corpses lie piled on top of each other, propped against the many boulders. Some hang upside down, suspended from the dead trees above. The bones of the fallen litter the ground, the last remnants of the demon’s feasting. Searching among the dead, Frak discovers a rich cache of stolen Elven treasures the demon had collected. Coins, objects of art, weapons, scrolls, and other items of great value. The PCs collect it all for future appraisal.

While the PCs busy themselves with collecting these treasures, they notice the demon’s form start to evaporate. Fragments of its form flake off and drift down like snow, eventually leaving nothing but the dark waters and the ichor it had already spilled. Rhiannon realizes this is probably the result of a demon dying on the Prime Material Plane. Its earthly form evaporates, returning its essence to the Abyss to reform.

Following some discussion, the party decides to get a lay of the land. They see the many holes in the surrounding hillsides into which the monstrous insects fled. There is also a larger cave along the northern edge of the glade with clear tracks of the vast demon moving in and out of it. Frak takes it upon himself to scout the tunnel to see where it leads. He stays in communication with the others using the War Wizard amulet. He then hides the amulet among the rocks inside, roughly thirty feet in, so they can teleport back to that location when they are ready.

Wounded from battle, weary, and depleted of magics, the party decide a break is in order. With Lurrena’s help, they use the amulet to teleport everybody to the Sanctum of the War Wizards in Suzail.
Lurrena provides the party with accommodations to regain their strength. They rest, bathe, eat a warm meal, heal their wounds and relearn their spells.

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13th of Hammer 1399 D.R.

The following morning, with breakfast behind them, Lurrena returns with permission from her superiors to offer the arcane casters of the party the option of bolstering their spells with three spell levels worth of scrolls. She also supplies the entire party with additional healing potions to bolster their supply.
Thus fortified and restocked, the group return to the cave in Ard’Marie using the teleportation amulet.
The spell deposits them in the cold, dank tunnel. No immediate danger presents itself, so they press on north and down.
The tunnel leads steeply down several hundred yards, and emerges into a broader, well lit cavern with a cave mouth on the northern wall. It reveals a vista of the forest beyond, snow blanketing the land. A chill wind blows in, and the distant sound of waterfalls can be heard echoing through the trees. The tunnel turns east and further down. They follow the tunnel a few dozen yards until it opens up into a small cavern. A soft blue green glow illuminates the room from below. A phosphorescent pool dominates the chamber guarded by a lone infested hound.
Rhiannon casts a Detect Evil spell and notices two invisible Abyss Ants, which surge forward to attack.
In the fight, Kyuubi kills the hound with a well aimed shot to the parasite. It perishes instantly as the parasite dies. Frak and Valeria close to melee and make short work of the remaining ants, but not before Frak is hit by an acid attack.

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With the path clear, they cast several divinations to determine the nature of the pool. It is pretty clear it is a portal, just which kind has the PCs concerned.
Eventually, they brave the portal’s waters, and emerge, one by one, on the other side. They wade out of the waters, and take stock of their surroundings. Behind them a cliff rises steeply into the cloud cover above, forming the western wall of the canyon they now find themselves in. To the north, they see a large cavern entrance, with clear tracks of the demon leading in. The canyon itself splits into three paths, one leading north, one east, and one south. Due east they also spy a narrow trail leading up to the top of the eastern canyon ledge. They ignore the cavern, and proceed up the narrow trail to get a better vantage point. Kyuubi uses her local knowledge, and determines that they have not traveled far. In fact she recognizes the mountains around her as the Thunder Peaks, which lie due east of Ard’Marie. Only some fifty miles away. They see a stronghold some two miles away. Kyuubi concludes it must be Gromgar, a known Orcish fortress.

From this high vantage point, they can see what awaits them.
Chill sets into their bones as they gaze across the broken wintry landscape to the orc stronghold.
A frigid wind wails through the canyons around them, whipping up the powdered snow.
Beyond the maze of canyons and jagged rocks, they spy a twisted dead forest, parts of which have been logged bare, leaving a broad tangle of pines and gnarled tree limbs pleading to the heavens.
In the distance, they hear the hoarse croaking of crows in their hundreds, and they catch a glimpse of them here and there as they fly in and out of the fog which hangs over the fortress.
Smoke from fires and torches mingle with the mist to obscure the view further.

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Of the fortress’ inhabitants there is no sign. They spot no sentries marching along the walls, nor guards in the towers. They hear no sounds of their gruff voices carrying over the forest.
Once again, they feel that unsettling sensation of quiet dread pass over them, as if the land itself were crying out, now bloated with fetid evil.

Somewhere in that stronghold, lies their quarry, and somehow, they must find a way inside….

The PCs decide to press on, and travel almost a mile through the winding narrow canyons, with Frak scouting ahead. They encounter no resistance in the snowy canyon, but do spot a few innocuous rodents and small mammals, and continue to see and hear crows circling overhead.
Eventually, the canyons widen to rough hills, and boulder fields even out to flatter terrain. Here the dense copses of the dead forest begin.

As they move forward into the forest, it once again becomes evident just how silent the world around them is. The snow muffles their footfalls, the crows seem distant once again. Apart from the wind which rattles the dead branches, the only sound they hear is their own breathing and footfalls. That is, until they hear something else. The heavy muffled footfalls of something heavy. It moves with purpose through the canopy, its own form almost blending in with the trees themselves. The tree-like creature is roughly nine feet tall, towering over them, with a baleful visage. At first it does not notice their group. Then, as the PCs think it might ignore them, it turns and charges toward them with surprising alacrity.

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Rhiannon immediately casts a Web spell on the corrupted treant, trapping it in a stand of trees. Kyuubi follows this up with two fire arrows, igniting the webs in a vast conflagration, injuring the creature. It lets out an unearthly shriek, but does not perish. Far from it, its rotten bark seems to protect it from the worst of the flames.
With the webbing now burnt away, the treant surges forward once again, this time with renewed rage. It swings wildly at Valeria with its great clawed limbs, but she ducks under its attacks.
Rhiannon throws a pair of shuriken at the creature’s belt to try and sever the rope holding up what appear to be witch trinkets and charms but is not so successful in the attempt.
Valeria takes a moment to analyze her opponent, looking for any weaknesses she could exploit. Frak attempts to backstab it, but it has no vital organs, so his attack injures it, but isn’t as effective as he had hoped.
Valeria identifies its head as its weakest point, and focuses her attacks there. With a devastating pair of sword blows, she decapitates the creature. It drops, crashing loudly to the ground.
The party watches as in seconds, the corrupted treant’s form rots to pulp in moments except for its head. Frak notices a strange knotted black object in its head. He decides to take it with him (carefully).

Valeria kneels down in the snow, and prays to her god to offer her guidance. She uses her Clairvoyance ability to scout out the best path to take to the fortress. Her spell grants her a glimpse of heavy defenses in and around the front gate of Gromgar. Sentries, siege weaponry and thick walls, all make a frontal assault pure folly.
They decide to avoid approaching the fortress from the front, opting instead to skirt around through the forest to a spot along the fortress wall that is not so well guarded.
They find a small clearing with odd charms and trinkets hanging from branches. There are several crows. The PCs discern that the crows are watching them. Rhiannon casts a Scatterspray on the clearing, killing one and injuring the others. They avoid the effect and keep moving.

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Pressing on, the party skirts through the dense forest, keeping their movements as stealthy as their equipment will allow.
After a few hundred yards, they find yet another disturbing scene laid out before them. Ahead in a small clearing, several bodies hang impaled on tall spikes. It is clear they were executed. A trail of seemingly fresh blood leads roughly from their position to the clearing. Although it is hard to determine how long they have been dead, as the winter cold could have preserved them. A glyph is painted in blood on a nearby rock. They determine it’s a witch’s glyph of offering to a dark god or demon lord.
Several PCs cast Detect magic. It highlights the tell-tale glimmer of magic on one of the bodies, the glyph and the crow’s heads. They conclude that the crows have divination magics about them, and are thus probably spies for the witch. They cannot make out any details about the bodies or what type of magic is on them.
After a brief discussion, they agree to let Frak investigate the clearing and the bodies. He approaches with utmost caution, and soon discovers the bodies are elves, wearing the garb of Ard’Marian elves.

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He discovers the source of the magical emanation. Hanging from the belt of one of the bodies, is a ornately crafted Elven magical mace. He attempts to retrieve the weapon, but accidentally triggers one of the witch’s traps. He hears a cork unstopper, releasing a swarm of small bloated ticks with unearthly appetites. They bite Frak repeatedly, dealing little actual damage, but covering his hand in hundreds of tiny welts.
Lurrena springs into action, darting across the clearing to Frak’s side. She offers him a Potion of Neutralize Poison, which soothes his rapidly swelling hand.

The PCs take the mace, the least they can do for their trouble, and move on. They skirt along the forest a little further, and they press toward Gromgar, making it to the edge of the forest. Here, trees have long since been logged by the orcs, leaving a wide swathe of open ground around the base of the stronghold, giving the defenders a clear field of fire.
They make ready to cross the open ground to the base of the fortress wall, but realize that they must cross a frozen river to do so.
They use an ingenious solution to cross the open space undetected. They cloak their approach in illusions, making sure to keep as quiet as possible, using Frak to guide them.
To their own surprise, they make it across unseen, and breathe a quick sigh of relief. Frak hypothesizes that there may be caves or secret entrances in the base of the mesa, perhaps allowing them ingress into the fortress, but even with the help of the keen-eyed elves in the party, they are unable to find any.

Moving north and east, they hug the base of the cliffs to the back of the fortress. They find a suitable location to attempt an ascent. Once again using their resources cleverly, they use a combination of Spider Climb and Levitate spells to make their way up the steep cliff face to the palisade above. The plan goes off without a hitch.
Once at the top of the first cliff, they flatten themselves against the palisade wall. Frak clambers up to spy over the top of the wall, and sees a sprawl of Orcish tents in dense fog. Visibility is fairly limited so he doesn’t see much in the way of orcs.
They decide to keep ascending. With the spider climb spell running out soon , the capitalize on their magic while they still have it.
They reach the highest point they can go on the mesa and press up against an ancient stone wall there. Frak once again peers over and sees the remnants of a ruined temple blanketed in heaving fog. A tiled pool with detailed inlaid mosaic and beyond it, an ancient, but ornate looking building with fluted architecture. He notices the pool is full of dark water, littered with rotting vegetation and other debris.
Looking for a way to enter unseen, the party moves to the eastern side of the pool behind the shrine. The outer wall of the ornate building before them, they
Frak touches the shrine wall, trying to steady himself, and feels a horrid pain wrench into his arm. He is injured by the corruption that permeates the temple, leaving a blackened burn on the palm of his hand. Attempts to heal the wound fail, and it becomes apparent that his wound is something much more sinister. Rhiannon suspects it may a curse or corruption.
As they carefully make their way around the building into the temple proper, they hear a crone’s broken voice in their minds.

“Ah, welcome, my soft little pretties!
You have done so well to come this far….
So many pretty lights and swift little blades you have, yes?
So many pointy flying needles, yes?
Perhaps I underestimated your abilities. We shall see, yes?”

They see two orc sentries, their backs to them, guarding what appears to be a stone bridge to another part of the fortress, then they hear the voice again.

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“I have been watching you, watching and waiting. Indeed I have, yes.
You have toiled to so very hard. You must be tired…..
Unfortunately, I cannot let you finish your pathetic little quest
Great things are coming, yes? Yes, they are!”

Huddled by the side of the ancient building, the party try to get a sense of what, and how many, they are facing. The sound of the crone still echoing in their minds, they see nothing but the two sentries ahead of them.
They also take a moment to get a sense of the origins of this ancient place. It appears to the more knowledgeable amongst them, that the temple itself is Netherese in origin. Possibly an old site of worship. The colonnade, pool, and walls look to be of a later period. They estimate several hundred years separate the two architectural styles. Both, however, now lie in ruins. The only thing fully intact is the shrine itself.

Frak gestures to the others to wait, and he moves forward to scout out the terrain. Poor visibility isn’t helping matters for our heroes.
As he moves further forward, he feels a sudden tug in his gut, and suddenly his surroundings have completely changed. He is caught in the severely desecrated area of the temple. The ground itself seems to bring out his deepest fears. He starts to hallucinate that he is back in the mines of his childhood. Furthermore, he sees himself as a child, naked but for a loincloth, manacled and afraid. He tries to flee his predicament and look for an overseer, running up an incline as he does so. The hallucination causes him to run off the side of the cliff, and he starts to fall to his death. Just then the effect washes off him. He has just enough time and presence of mind to rip out a scroll of Feather Fall, and bark out the incantation. It saves his life in the nick of time.
Lurrena runs to the side of the cliff to try and save Frak, and is relieved to see she only needs to Levitate him.

Meanwhile, Kyuubi has her bow drawn, and her sights on the two orc sentries. As she watches, one of them disappears into the fog.
Grishka cackles through the fog now from a different direction, taunting her uninvited guests telepathically.

“You think you’re so strong, but you’re not!
You are weak, yes? Weak and afraid.
Your fear will be your undoing, yes?”

Hearing Frak’s run over the rubble, and subsequent fall, the orc sentries turn and charge the PCs, but their heavy armour prevents them from reaching our heroes before they level their attacks against them.
Kyuubi looses two arrows and hits the first orc, injuring it. Valeria looses her arrows and also hits.
Rhiannon fires out a spray of Magic Missiles, but the orcs keep coming, seemingly undeterred by all the damage.

The crone emerges suddenly out of the fog points a bony digit at Valeria. A thin black ray strikes her, but Valeria resists the magic’s effects. She immediately tries to meld back into the fog for cover.

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The orcs reach the group in a violent rage, but Valeria is ready for them. With well placed blades she parries their wicked hatchets.
Kyuubi once again looses a volley of arrows at the retreating crone, missing one but fairly sure she hit with the other, unsure of its effect.
The crone emerges out of the fog again, and repeats her dark incantation with the black ray. It hits Valeria again, this time having the desired effect. It saps Valeria’s strength to the point where she can barely lift her weapons. The crone vanishes into the fog again.
Frak finally makes it back to the top of the cliff. Shaken, but in one piece. He thanks Lurrena and starts to skulk back to the group.
Valeria, still in melee with the two orcs, presses her attack in her weakened state. Only one of her attacks lands with any effect unfortunately.
Rhiannon steps forward and casts a Web on the orcs. Their armour prevents them from avoiding the brunt of the spell, and are thus pinned down by the thick strands.
Before Frak can rejoin the group, the crone emerges once again, and unleashes a bright bead of fire from her hand. It engulfs the entire party, except for Frak and Lurrena, in flames. They throw themselves flat and try to avoid the worst of the inferno, but despite this are still badly burned, their clothes and equipment catching fire. Rhiannon’s Web spell also goes up in flames, killing the trapped orcs instantly.
As if to make matters worse, the crone closes her eyes briefly to telepathically call for aid.
When the fireball clears, Kyuubi and Valeria find themselves caught in hallucinations, having their worst fears laid bare.

Kyuubi finds herself in a wide open space, surrounded by blinding white fog. Silhouettes of familiar people from her past emerge from the mists and point at her face. Her masks are gone. Her clothes are gone. She is laid bare for all to see, to scrutinize, to mock. Defenseless, she curls up into a fetal position and weeps.
Valeria is similarly trapped in a waking nightmare. The same white mists envelop her, but she appears as a child. Alone, afraid, lost. The image of her father, Kerem, comes into view, but he is walking away from her. He abandons her, ignoring her tearful pleas for him to turn and look at her, to come back. He vanishes into a dense crowd and is lost from view. She too collapses, weeping.

The crone’s voice reaches into their minds to taunt them once again:

“I can see you.
I hear your heartbeats.
They pound like war drums in your chest, yes?
I shall feast on them before this day ENDS!”

The others see the two warriors paralyzed with fear, but it is thankfully short lived.
Valeria emerges from fear and casts Withdraw, using the God given time to cast divinations, and discover the crone’s weaknesses.
Lurrena steps forth and casts a Dispel Magic on the enfeeblement effect weakening Valeria.
Rhiannon heals Valeria, and produces the Holy Elven mace, handing it to Valeria. A holy aura immediately surrounds the party, negating the corrupting effects of the shrine.
They advance on the crone together, who emerges from the fog to cast again. This time her form is Blurred. Before she has time to finish her incantation, Kyuubi casts an Elemental Burst on the broken stairs beneath her feet. She is thrown violently into the pool by the explosive force of the spell, her own spell disrupted.

Frak uses the momentary distraction to position himself behind the ruined columns for a back stab.
Lurrena casts an Enlarge spell on Valeria. The spell reaches out and swells her stature to almost 8 feet in height. Her weapons grow accordingly.
Valeria capitalizes on her new-found size, and swings hard against the temple doors with the mace, smashing them into the building with a thunderous clatter of metal and a flash of bright white holy light.

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A sound like a clatter of falling boulder alerts the party to the massive form of a rock-skinned humanoid, likely a troll of some kind, clambering to the top of the cliff, growling its defiance at the intruders. A strange glowing green gem embedded in its forehead. It seems about to attack, when Rhiannon casts a Web spell at it and the bridge supports. The creature is trapped despite its brute strength. It howls impotently at its prison, tearing at it with huge fists.

The waters of the pool bubble and froth with increasing intensity. Then they see her, her bloated form mutated and corrupted into something akin to the demon they fought in the glade. Her jaw hangs wide and roars at the party, reveling in her glorious new form. She claws her way out on her slithering, scaly hide, stuffed with all the abyssal parasites that once filled the pool. Then, with ferocious speed, she throws herself at Valeria. She rakes with her claws and bites hard, but only one claw hits Valeria. It is however, enough to almost gut her. Valeria staggers back, bleeding heavily.

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Frak emerges from the shadows behind the demonic crone, leaps forward, leading with his kukri, and plunges it up to the hilt in her back. It injures her but isn’t the devastating blow he had hoped for. He rolls off of her and prepares for another attempt.
Kyuubi heals herself using her song.
The bloated hag throws her jaws unnaturally wide, and belches forth baleful hell fire on the party. They all try and avoid the worst of the flames, ducking behind whatever cover they can find. Most are fortunate, Lurrena, however, is not. She is caught in the full force of the fire, and ignites like a pillar of flame. She collapses from her severe burns, seemingly dead.

Rhiannon runs forward and pour holy curing magics into Lurrena’s crisped body. Thankfully, her life is spared. Rhiannon is able to revive her from the brink.
Frak stabs Grishka a second time, once again dealing damage, but not enough to slay her.
Valeria takes aim for the crone’s head and swings the holy mace with all her might. It connects with a satisfying crunch, virtually crushing her skull. Only the crone’s bony horned forehead saves her from the force of the blow.
The crone attempts to cast one final spell – a Stone Skin to save herself – but Kyuubi’s arrow is faster. Her aim is true, and the missile buries itself to the fletchings in her eye socket..
Grishka the Hag dies. As she does, the troll’s forehead gem shatters, and the bellowing ogres and orcs charging up the bridge to save their master, die as her hold over the parasites ends. The parasites perish as well, their connection to the Abyss severed.
The troll wrenches itself free of the webs, roars at the party once, and jumps down the cliff. It flees the fortress, a living rock slide rumbling away from battle.

Winter winds blow snow over the temple grounds, as the party take stock of the damage. Most of the group have sustained injuries, so those with healing magic set about mending wounds, and helping each other recover. Gromgar is eerily quiet now.
Our heroes gather around the body of the hag, and the shattered entrance of the shrine. Inside, they see a grim ossuary lining the entire floor of the structure. It radiates purest corruption.

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They cast divinations to determine the best way to enter the shrine, convinced the Demon Binding idol of Narfell lies within. Despite the doors being destroyed, some kind of magical force barrier prevents them from entering, and they know touching the structure is extremely dangerous as well.
Detect magic reveals the shrine is magically trapped. The witch’s demonic glyphs daubed on the walls in blood, radiating Abjuration and Evocation magic.
Kyuubi, searching for any clues, notices an amulet around Grishka’s neck, and removes it. She hands the charm necklace to Frak, who gingerly presses it against the force barrier. The barrier allows him to pass through.
Frak suggests he goes in to scout, hoping the idol is in easy reach within.
Unfortunately, his hopes are dashed when he peers down the shaft in the center of the chamber. It drops down several feet, and into darkness. He casts a Light spell with the amulet and climbs down the bone-lined shaft.
Descending carefully, he discovers a trap set into the bones below him, and artfully disarms it. He drops down to a short hallway with the same architecture as the shrine above. The hallway opens out onto a ledge overlooking an ancient inner sanctum of some kind. The far wall opens to the outside air, letting daylight in. In the large chamber below, he sees a tall, carved, stone edifice, with several hollowed out sconces into which are set crude wooden statuettes. At the top of this edifice, in a small hollow, he spies the Nar idol.
All the walls are covered in murals, depicting all manner of crude infernal pictograms, including what appears to be a depiction of the events surrounding Eltab’s banishment. The shrine simply radiates palpable evil and corruption. There is even a strange black vapour that seems to drip from the idols, talismans and glyphs on the walls.

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Frak communicates his findings to the party using the necklace. They come up with a plan to get everyone past the barrier above. They teleport everyone into chamber below using the amulet, allowing the others to take in the scene.
Frak continues to investigate the path to the idol. He discovers a scything blade trap on the stairs, leading up to the idol, and disarms it.
Reaching the top of the edifice, he lays eyes on the idol for the first time. It is truly grotesque to behold. Carved from dark grey stone, it drips with the same black vapours, a manifestation of the corruption it radiates. This is the source. This is what it was all about.

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Having learnt his lesson many times over, Frak takes no chances. He carefully inspects the plinth upon which the idol rests. He spots the edges of a magical glyph, just visible. His Detect Magic reveals Evocation and Conjuration magic feed the trap. He also realizes there is nothing he can do to disarm it.
The party debate what to do next. Frak suddenly suggests using the teleportation amulet to get everyone and the idol out in one fell swoop. What ever magical trap is triggered will do so in empty air.
Before they escape, however, they leave behind the War Wizard’s necklace, to allow them to monitor the aftermath of the trap.
They execute their plan. Making sure they are all together, they teleport away from Gromgar.

The world folds in upon itself and disgorges them into the safety of the Sanctum of War Wizards. A sense of relief washes over the group, when they realize the idol is with them, and they succeeded in avoiding the trap’s effects. The plan worked. Several wizards in the sanctum look up from their studies and give them quizzical looks. One looks at them with irritation, motioning for silence. Another group, pauses their conversation briefly to look up, and then resume their conversation as if nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Discussions quickly turn to what to do with the idol. It sits upon the table radiating malice and corruption. The party is joined by a figure who introduces himself as Theldryn Wyvernspur, a senior mage at the College. He recommends that they quickly take steps to shield the idol. Leaving it exposed like this, would allow it to corrupt whatever space it occupied within short order.
They conclude that the best course of action would be to bring it to a temple of Torm, and there to immerse it in a vat of holy water. The priests would likely have a better idea what further steps could be taken to protect the outside world from the idol’s corruptive influence.

Comments

Just re-read this… Wicked!

The Quiet Lands: Part 4
Avanpallandt

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