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Fire in Ice: The Tale of Thurfel
by Lady Iscikella Zinnonn

Preface: The Story of the Council of Ten

The merchant Uxbri originally told this story of the history of IceMule. I am retelling it in my own words.

Now after the battle against the Krolvin in the Landing shortly after the first quarter of the 50th century of Elanthia -- that battle which had left Talbot Dabbings a hero but a dead one nonetheless, many Paradis halflings located there decided to found a town of their own where they might possess the kind of freedom they desired for themselves. They set their traveling feet back out into the wilderness, and upon a glacier found a spot they considered a good choice for their new home. Once they had settled upon the spot, the first thing they built was a grand tomb to house the remains of their dead hero, Talbot. And the second thing they set about constructing was the great Temple of IceMule.

Initially the temple was only intended to contain chapels for the gods of Liabo. But a group of ten halfling wizards -- powerful mages all and all followers of Luukos so the story goes, and seemingly more directly of a cult of Amasalen -- protested this approach. Calling themselves the Council of Ten, they argued that, since those of their race had left the Landing to find true freedom, such freedom should also be granted in the religious sense to those of all beliefs. The elders agreed with their reasoning, and chapels to the Lornon Arkati were added to the construction of the temple. Soon after the structure of the temple was mostly complete, however, the town elders would come to regret their decision, for no sooner had the temple been opened for prayer when the town was visited by a stranger.

This stranger was most odd in appearance. He had the slitted eyes and forked tongue of a serpent, as well as scaled skin. This serpent-stranger demanded the town submit itself fully to the sway of an unnamed source of darkness (one can guess at its origin, however). The elders, stating the founding tradition of the town on tenets of personal freedom for its citizens, stoutly refused, the members of the Council of Ten being the only dissenting voices.

The powerful wizards of the Council saw this stranger as a possible messenger from their god, someone not to be trifled with, and someone who as well was offering great power to the town if it would but submit. Thus they tried to convince the elders of this particular logic. When the elders refused to budge in their initial resolve, the serpent-stranger took his leave after telling them they would all regret this most acutely.

Not long after his departure, IceMule was assaulted by a great horde of undead. Many were felled as the streets ran red with determined halfling blood. While the townsfolk were busy binding their wounds and burying and mourning their dead, the serpent-stranger returned to their midst. He again made his demand for submission to the sway of unnamed darkness. This time the Ten were more adamant in their stance the town elders agree to the stranger's demands, but the elders stubbornly stood their ground. Thus did the serpent-stranger repeat his prior threat, and once more departed the boundaries of the township.

Again the town was beset by hordes of undead. Even more fell in the battle, and again as the townsfolk were binding their wounds, burying and mourning the dead, the serpent-stranger returned for a third time. His blunt words calling for submission rang out once more, and one IceMule citizen in particular had heard enough.

The eldest son of Talbot Dabbings, Talvon by name, leapt from hiding and attacked the stranger, beheading him instantly. Immediately the Council of Ten took it upon themselves to retaliate for the death of what they presumed their god's messenger as they cast upon Talvon and slew him.

Then chaos reigned as the powerful mages of the Ten took as well to casting at the angry townsfolk. Their magic was strong and they killed many with ease. Yet the halflings stood firm, refusing to be bested in this struggle. As the wizards stood in the center of town casting at all and sundry, the warriors of the group staged a last-ditch attack.

Together as one, these soldiers strode toward Town Centre and, standing upon the very bodies of their own dead to gain a high point vantage, the brave halfling fighters en masse threw their claidhmores down upon the casting magicians. As the Ten ducked to avoid this rain of death, others of the townsfolk were able to rush them and then bind and silence them.

Some judgment had to be made regarding how to handle the ten traitors to IceMule Trace. Now many wanted them killed for their perfidy, but the widow of Talbot spoke up against this idea. She reminded the halflings that killing of their own kind was no answer and that, if they fell to such a level of behavior, they would themselves be "no better than the fool elves". Reluctantly most agreed with her point, but what to do with the Ten?

At this stage of the sentencing process, the baker Leaftoe's wife reminded them all how they had always trusted in the spiritual protection of Talbot Dabbings over their new town. All nodded their assent to this widely held notion. So then Ma Leaftoe suggested they let Talbot himself safeguard them from further wiles of the Ten. The townsfolk agreed with this compromise, and the Ten were taken to the mausoleum of Dabbings, placed alive within the tomb and "locked" therein using twelve unique seals -- six physical and six magical -- set seemingly by the auspices of Talbot.

Chapter I: A Member of the Council

When the story of the Council of Ten was first told by the merchant Uxbri, all of us who had made the little halfling town of IceMule Trace our home were fascinated. We knew so little of the founders of the town. Of the "plain facts" of the Dabbingses setting out from the Landing to start the town, of course, more than a bit was known. Yet of the rest, next to nothing of the old history. And to hear this tale of strange demanding messengers with serpentine features, and a cabal of intensely powerful darkside mages, and the "chip off the old block" Talvon Dabbings, and the heroic antics of the town warriors, and the determined pacifist nature of "Ma" Dabbings, and the tenacity of spirit in Talbot Dabbings even in death: all this was truly magical. It seemed Paradis halflings were not as "easygoing" and "simple" as many liked to believe. And that there was in them, first and foremost, a strong sense of personal independence even "godly" messengers could not subvert.

But though Uxbri warned the entombed members of that powerful wizardly cabal named The Council of Ten actively sought their freedom from the crypt of Talbot, I don't honestly think any of us ever expected to come in contact with one of them. So that early spring day in the year 5099, when a certain halfling mage wandered into one of the abandoned workshoppes in town and demanded those gathered there "Leave my house," I believe truly surprised. That mage's name? Thurfel Morpholik.

He readily claimed himself "a member of the Council" and proceeded to threaten those who refused to leave the workshoppe. Rightly or wrongly, the "presumption" of these folks in daring to enter his "house" angered this halfling mage beyond words, and it soon became apparent his ire was definitely a force with which to be reckoned. He proved how much a force by firestorming the town in a wild frenzy. Buildings were set alight with the merest wave of his finger and, as resourceful citizens sought to quench the flames with cups of tea secured from the bar in The Thirsty Penguin Inn, Thurfel set about the task which had brought him forth from his near two centuries of interment-- freeing the remaining nine others of the Council.

The old legend says that the crypt of Talbot was affixed with a dozen seals, six physical and six magical, after the living entombment of the Ten. And on that frenetic spring day, Thurfel managed to force all the physical seals to break. Ah, but the magical ones resisted his fiery touch, frustrating him immensely. The earth rumbled as he stirred the natural elements beneath his feet, but he could not budge those magical seals.

With the town crying for his blood and his own task incapable of being completed, Thurfel decided to secure himself a private place of hiding where he might study more of the magic that sealed the tomb. He pledged, however, he would return. And return he did indeed ...in time.

Chapter II: FireMage

In the autumn of 5099 I don't think anyone in IceMule was particularly concerned about Thurfel or the Council of Ten. Thurfel hadn't been seen in more than six months, and the little town on the glacier had been in a relative state of calm for a goodly while. Yet it was during this year and season that an odd messenger spoke to me, ostensibly of the "relic" I had some years before found in the caverns. But the connection she made was to the Council of Ten, that the relic had been a "sign of favor" given (or to be given in future -- that part has forever been unclear, whether chronicle or prophecy) by Luukos to some member or members of the Council of Ten.

I didn't quite understand any of it. And understood it even less when Ilvane, a young follower of Ronan, spoke of a strange dream with which she had been "gifted", a dream of a bronze-skinned man with serpentine features standing triumphantly in pools of blood amidst a mountain of corpses in IceMule. "What did Amasalen want with IceMule?" we all wondered. And what in all Elanthia was the intent of the relic, the so-called "Heart of Amasalen", being presented to one of the Council of Ten?

It was also at this time that Armaxis, fanatical zealot of Luukos, slid snakily into the picture. He arrived in IceMule speaking ominously of the town being made an example, of the vengeance of the Council of Ten and the serpent messenger being wrought in spades, and of Luukos enjoying the spectacle and greedily collecting the "remains" so to speak. We began to hear rumors of a strange halfling wizard being seen about town, mostly in the caverns. Of voices heard declaring the town would "burn". Of strange movement of objects and odd noises. But verifying any of these manifestations became an exercise in both futility and frustration. Then at last he came forward again into the open -- Thurfel Morpholik, mage of the Council of Ten.

He made his presence fully known at the mausoleum of Talbot one wintry afternoon during Fashanos of the year 5100. Carrying in his hand an odd twisted serpentine staff, he stood making quiet assault on the seals while many questioned him, and it became apparent that unflappable could well describe Thurfel when he was pursuing a goal. His touch sizzled and charred the very stone of the tomb as he tested this or that, his eyes remaining steady on his task, his nerves unfazed by the threats and insults flying about him. I recall him acting abruptly on that day only once, when someone suggested he go back to "devouring tarts". Thurfel is one halfling with no penchant for tarts, and the "suggester" felt the fire of his anger most physically for the assumption he did possess any such predilection.

He returned often during the next fortnight to the tomb, trying various methods of relieving the stone of its magical seals. Many followers of Lornon, mostly of Luukos and Amasalen, rallied to his side. He made friends with Armaxis, seemingly entrusting him with several "secrets", and began to push for information regarding the relic. Arianiss, another devotee of Luukos, forwarded to him that I was the only one known to have touched the relic, and thus began my own association with Thurfel, in his initial purpose to glean from me what I knew of that artifact.

Speaking with Thurfel, who soon gained the appellation of "firemage" amongst the townsfolk both for his sheer mastery of that element and his one-time cryptic statement of "Fire is what I seek", I was to find someone quite different than I had myself expected from the "reputation" that preceded him. Though he spoke of a "symbiosis" with Amasalen, it became quickly apparent Thurfel was not religious and that he viewed Amasalen more as... a business partner of sorts. The firemage was witty, charming, willing to give respect if it was given in return, diabolically clever, and possessed of a mind that inquired into everything. He was... a knowledge-seeker in the truest sense of that term. Nothing was beyond his curiosity... or experimentation. And I must admit, as a disciple of Lumnis, I found this aspect of Thurfel most intriguing, though dangerous since so... unchecked.

He stated he sought something "beyond the tomb" and that the relic would "ease the way", but was not necessary for him to attain his goal. And he had no qualms about calling upon the power of Amasalen, through a talisman he possessed which he noted as having been blessed by the immortal himself, to crack into the sealed crypt. However, that crack could only grant him vision through the eyes of the serpent he sent within as to the... current environment of the tomb. And he wanted the tomb opened, he said, needed it opened. So he resorted to the alchemist's art and placed an acid glyph upon the stone.

For many weeks that glyph did its "work", damaging the tomb, widening the crack. And then suddenly its magic simply ceased functioning. Why will likely always remain a mystery, but Thurfel himself admitted the possibility the spirit of Talbot intervened, for not only was the damage halted, it was completely reversed!

Whatever was the case, I began to realize that there was much about Thurfel we did not understand. That what he sought was not as clear as many would have it. And that he much preferred it stayed that way.

Chapter III: A World All His Own

He had told the tale of this mystical isle where a partially buried pyramid stood guard and teal crocodiles walked. He had peppered the narrative with talk of a "wall of eyes" and a huge sea serpent. He had spun out the story of a city hidden beneath the frozen earth of IceMule. And we, none of us, had understood...

Thurfel's "fable" of an archipelago, revealed by "an idealistic halfling child" to be located in warm waters beneath the glacier, was not connected by any of us to him directly. How foolish not to see what is put squarely before ye. Yet we didn't. And that evening in the caverns during Lumnea of the year 5100, when Thurfel first "raised the stones" in the underground lake and led us all across to his island, his domain, we were indeed much in shock.

Thurfel's Island was and is a fantastical place only the ever-inquisitive mind of one such as the firemage could create, wildly alive with bright-hued monkeys in formal evening attire, crabs with shells of pure crystal, and crocodiles with scales in wildly inappropriate colors. A statue of Thurfel himself, composed of eroded seaglass pale green in color, stands sentinel just past the raised stone path that leads to the isle. And evidence of Thurfel's fascination with the sea and things of the sea is everywhere. The keep, Thurfel's private residence which was closed to us at that time, is built all of seashells, seaglass and coral, the majority of this material vividly pink.

That first sojourn to the island was our first encounter with Halfberry Berryfull, Thurfel's rather bumbling apprentice whom the firemage seemed to control with an iron hand. As we followed, Thurfel walked the island with Halfberry, asking the state of this or that. We saw the pyramid, its bright metal red with rust. We saw stalked plants bearing eyes that blinked. Thurfel spoke of the huge sea serpent in the lake that he could no longer command. He explained the nature of his "experiments", the creatures he had altered through magical crossbreeding, like the crabs. And we were all astounded.

Thurfel told us he had built the castle and made the beach, but the material which made up the island itself had sat untouched in that underground lake for longer than IceMule had existed, for longer than much of the glacier had. And that many other islands were also located in that lake, some small, some large. It was also that day, when we were introduced to his "domain", that Thurfel first spoke the line I learned to associate with him ever since: "All is never as it seems..." In truth, no other statement better describes the firemage, or any and all dealings with him, than this one concise remark.

Chapter IV: Thurfel's Army

Halfberry, the clumsy and somewhat bungling apprentice, was only the first of Thurfel's retainers with whom we were to become acquainted. And how we wound up becoming acquainted with all those others had much to do with Halfberry.

While the island and its creatures piqued our curiosity, I think was Halfberry who did that most of all. He really seemed bewildered by our questions to him that first night, much too concerned with his master's reactions to how he had maintained the island to give our inquisitiveness much thought. Yet somehow we must have aroused his curiosity too for we were to find out later he spied upon us.

This revelation came the night of a commune the cleric Arimantis held to Ronan in the Hall of the Mind in the IceMule Temple. The commune was successful, but who it seemed to reach first-off was Luukos, not Ronan. Though in the end Ronan flared a candle high to indicate the cleansing of the chapel of Luukos' dark presence, the fact remained that, as a whole, the event had been most disconcerting. And it became even more so when we heard a bang and then a yelp, and were to find suspended from the edge of the altar of Lumnis a tiny teal crocodile hanging from a crimson spidersilk thread.

The "find" seemed harmless enough. It had no noticeable magic. Loresong yielded no especial information regarding it. Yet Halfberry was to come seeking this item, which he called the "croc pin", and seeking it rather anxiously. He referred to it as "god's eye", and said Thurfel had entrusted it to him. And that he would be in trouble for losing it. But since no one could be sure the apprentice was trustworthy, we did not reveal the location of the croc pin to him. And, on that night we so kept our own counsel, we were to gain firsthand evidence of the long reach of Thurfel's magic as a small shadowy hand reached out to squeeze at Halfberry's throat.

Halfberry was subsequently to contact some in secret: Ilvane, Arimantis, Aranrhod, Iansen, Deevian. He was to tell them things of his life and to show them a golden crystal orb he had taken from Thurfel's keep. He knew it magic, but could only himself use it as a sort of... spying sphere, to look in on various places where the orb was not. He said he was seeking to learn of other magicks it possessed, so that the tomb would not be opened. But his stealing of the orb and loss of the pin did not go unnoticed. Thus were we to come to meet Rills Tigglesworth, Thurfel's Castellan.

The grim, short-tempered, no-nonsense Castellan was sent to locate Halfberry and get back the items the apprentice had taken. And it was Rills who initially spoke of "Thurfel's army", units of fighting men and retainers at Thurfel's command. It should also be noted that, as a rule, we were to find Thurfel's retainers and soldiers utterly devoted to him. Rills himself would murder every soul in a town rather than let anyone harm Thurfel. And later we were to come to see the same type of loyalty in all of Thurfel's minions, except Halfberry. We were also to see that, though Thurfel could be a very harsh taskmaster, he could as well be... indulgent toward his retainers, and was mostly very willing to tolerate their many faults. The only thing that rankled him beyond control -- flaring his fiery temper to full flame -- was disloyalty and betrayal, and both these he sensed in Halfberry.

It is quite possible Halfberry had good reason for his resentment of Thurfel. Thurfel did not hesitate to punish certain behaviors. But it is also quite possible, now that the distance of time had granted a broader view of those events, that Halfberry had simply backed himself into a corner by losing the pin and was afraid to return to his master with such information. Thus he rebelled not by choice so much as by necessity. And there is a distant third possibility that Halfberry in truth served the Council, saw Thurfel turning from the Council in not releasing the Nine, and sought to distance himself from the firemage for such reason.

To this day I remain uncertain Halfberry was as "innocent" as he forwarded. Having witnessed firsthand Thurfel's bemused leniency toward Witlass -- one even more simple-minded than Halfberry, his mutually respectful attitude with Trentas -- his secretary, and his affectionately friendly relationship with Flindyl -- his Chamberlain, I find tales of gross mistreatment of the apprentice by the firemage more and more contrived.

For whatever reason he chose initially to rebel, Halfberry did manage to keep himself hidden from Thurfel for several weeks. During this time the manhunt the firemage directed for the apprentice was intense and often vicious. One example of this is when Rills insisted he had heard tell of the dwarves who ran the original dyers' tent in the Landing secreting Halfberry in the caverns below their tent. Thurfel's response was to burn the dyers' tent to the ground, killing the innocent dwarves within, and then, upon finding Rills' "information" to be in error, disciplining the Castellan by tightly coiling a serpent of smoke around his body.

But there came a point where Halfberry could no longer successfully hide himself from Thurfel's magicks and Thurfel's minions. And on a night in Phoenatos 5100 all was to change forever. I cannot exactly explain the why of this; I simply know it is so.

Halfberry was being relentlessly pursued that night -- by Rills, by Thurfel and his magical reach, and by another of Thurfel's retainers with whom we were to become first acquainted that night -- Witlass Grawg, the giantman who believes himself a halfling because "Toifel sed so." Cornered in the mausoleum by these three, Halfberry was to take the desperate action of trying to seal Thurfel himself back into the tomb through the magic of the golden crystal orb. He failed. He did not understand whatever power the orb held. And Thurfel had known he would fail. The firemage had given Halfberry a final chance to repent of his actions and return the orb to him, but once the apprentice raised that orb over his head and attempted to invoke its magic against his former master, his doom was sealed.

Witlass, on Rills' order at Thurfel's command, struck the blow that felled the apprentice. Thurfel retrieved the golden crystal orb as it rolled from Halfberry's dead fingers, and the lifeless halfling body of the apprentice paled and drew in on itself before disintegrating into a fine white powder that seeped into the cracks of the floor of the mausoleum. Nonchalantly Thurfel raised the orb in triumph, condemning Halfberry as a traitor and a fool, and then he cast upward, tearing a rip in the sky, opening a void that killed most who had gathered in that mausoleum to protest his treatment of Halfberry. But for some reason, I withstood the implosion and the following vacuum. For some reason, I remained alive and able to keep the dead and fog them finally from the mausoleum to Penguin Hill.

On the Hill that night for the first time, Thurfel was to send his touch and voice to me via magic. A burning touch on my neck and then my ear, and words which told me the balance was nearly restored as I wished. I was shocked, uncertain of the intent of such unexpected contact. And was to become even more confused as Thurfel's main familiar, the one we all came soon enough to recognize immediately as his, the flame-tailed cat, made its way for the first time amongst us. And that familiar curled at my feet and rubbed against my legs. And, as it bantered taunts with others, that familiar of the firemage seemed somehow content to remain near me.

Chapter V: Mind of Lightning/Heart of Fire

As Thurfel initiated an active search for a new apprentice, my own relationship with the firemage began slowly to change. The magical contact, which had started that night Halfberry died, became more common. Thurfel would send his tendrils to me, and send his voice on the wind. I remember most distinctly the night he sent both to me in the Voln garden, raising the temperature at the ice altar with the burning touch of those tendrils, as his voice warned me naught but puddles would remain if I persisted in staying there and not seeking him out as he wished me to do. When I found him in the SilverMule Library having a drink with several townsfolk and asked him the reason for this demand, his reply was simple: "I always enjoyed your company milady, a man does wish a woman's company from time to time."

It was indeed flattering to be so complimented, but I was much perplexed. I had always made clear to Thurfel that his apparent goals ran contrary to all I believed. Yet it now became obvious this mattered little to him. He told me frankly, "You speak your mind, we do not have to agree with each other. I respect your opinions." Truth is I also respected his opinions, very much, and I think he sensed this from the beginning, long before I ever told him so.

During Imaerasta of 5100, Thurfel invited me to dine with him. Believing it the perfect time to explain to the firemage what I saw in IceMule to so cherish and what others saw as well, I begged my husband Blizzerdd to let me accept the invitation. Thurfel, who had been unaware I was wed until this point, was courteous and did ask Blizzerdd if he might have my company for dinner. Though Blizz agreed, a bit reluctantly, it was from this moment of... forced recognition by each of what the other meant in my life that feelings of distrust and dislike arose between the two men. Some of that had to do with the very nature of my relationship with Blizzerdd, a follower of Mularos, a relationship very difficult to explain to others. And some of it seems to have been nothing more than just a plain old jealous rivalry.

At the dinner, I was to speak to Thurfel of many things and learn so much of him. His love for the sea, which is based on the unknown quality of it, what might lie beneath it, what worlds untold lie hidden under its shining surface. His feelings toward his own race, that race he thinks way too frivolous. His frustration with the development -- or rather lack of development -- of IceMule as any sort of political power in the world. And his desire to learn whatever he could of other races; he was most interested in hearing generally of sylvan culture as practiced within my community. The firemage was also most willing to admit his blazing temper was his greatest failing. That its sheer tempestuous heat often got the better of him.

I was to discover Thurfel Morpholik, mage of the Council of Ten, had a mind of lightning, striking ideas that lit the "sky" of the world in brilliant flashes of unique insight. Sometimes those flashes did prove dangerous, the forces underlying them recklessly close to the patterns of madness. Still, their sheer brilliance cannot ever be denied. Yet I was also to discover, despite all his retainers and his army, Thurfel Morpholik was a very lonely soul, for a heart of fire accompanied the mind of lightning. There was just so much he sought to stormily share with one who would understand somewhat the nature of those creatively insightful flashes, an emotional bond born of something other than the steady but mundane devotion of his minions. I do not know when he came to see me as such a one or why he came to do so. I only know it happened, and the fondness that subsequently developed between us was not strictly one-sided.

I will admit, after that dinner my perception of Thurfel did undergo a definite shift. Perhaps because knowledge dawned in me of the firemage as a real being rather than merely a threat with intensely powerful magicks at his command, a knowledge which continued to grow steadily from that time onward. And honestly I can now say I will never be able to see him as anything less than a true being with a complete and completely captivating personality, a personality riddled with faults but also boasting many virtues, same as any of us.

Chapter VI: A Halfling's Home Is His Keep

Thurfel's Keep was, during that autumn of 5100, an object of much interest and speculation. There was constant talk of somehow getting inside the structure. And constant discussion of what it might contain. One night, after Thurfel had finally gotten to conduct his apprentice interview with Tierus -- one of the finalists for the position, Thurfel sent a serpent outside the keep to me and asked for my company within. I agreed, though a bit nervously. Yet I had, by this point in time, come to trust Thurfel regarding certain things, and one such thing was that he would not physically harm me.

Using the serpent to encoil me and then transport me magically into the keep, Thurfel drew me to the lookout of his home. There, with an unexpected view of many other islands in the distance located on the underground lake, the firemage asked me if it would please me to be the first to tour his keep, once his staff completed all repairs. He also asked me to... act as hostess, so to speak, when he opened the keep to the public. He feared that many would attack his staff simply because they were his staff, and he hoped to keep such behavior at bay by having me beside him.

Yet as well he reiterated something he had first mentioned during my dinner with him, that -- if attacked -- he would be obliged to retaliate in kind. And finally he also spoke of his servants having found a journal in Halfberry's chambers, a journal which told of "family" Thurfel had never known Halfberry to claim to possess, and of his fear such "family" of his dead apprentice might seek vengeance on him for Halfberry's untimely demise.

At this point it behooves to speak of something that had happened shortly previous. A few weeks before this a young cleric had been wandering the island with Sabitor, another of the finalists for the position of Thurfel's apprentice. The young cleric mentioned how "ugly" he found the color schemes of Thurfel's creatures. Thurfel, unbeknownst to either, overheard the remark. The firemage, therefore, made himself visible to the cleric and required of him what color he would have for a creature in order for it to be considered a thing of beauty. The young cleric thought a moment and replied "gold". "So be it," Thurfel intoned in response, "my next creature will be gold in your honor." During my meeting on the outlook of the keep, Thurfel was teasingly to mention this promise to the young cleric. At the time I thought it an amusing bit of chitchat. Later I was to realize it was much more.

The "much more" concerns a stranger named Fullberry Berryfull, alleged blood relative of Halfberry. Why I say alleged will be expounded upon shortly. Fullberry had already made contacts in town about the time of my conversation with Thurfel on the lookout of the keep. However, I had no clue of this, no clue at all this being even existed. He had met with the Northern Fury Guard, talking about seeking revenge in the guise of a loving brother. A brother -- it must be mentioned -- who alternately described himself as younger and then as older than Halfberry... A brother who claimed the teal croc pin a "family heirloom" when it had already been made known by Halfberry himself that Thurfel had given the apprentice that particular pin... A brother who, oddly enough, was to exhibit the uncanny ability to command one of Thurfel's escaped creatures -- the Grahnke (an experimental crossbreed of a troll and an ogre)... And a brother who dressed from head to toe in gold...

My own introduction to Fullberry was to come in a most... improbable manner. On the night Thurfel did indeed take me to tour the keep, the Fury -- led by the suspicious Fullberry -- attacked the building. Using a battering ram in the hands of the powerful Granhke to bash in the portcullis, they entered the keep by force. The first through the portal was Fullberry himself, and he immediately swung his tri-bladed golden longsword at me, killing me instantly. As I looked at him through my dead eyes, and saw all that gold, the truth dawned fully. Fullberry was no brother of anyone. He was Thurfel's gold creature. And he had accomplished what Thurfel had wanted, a way for this battle between the townsfolk and the firemage to be initiated by the town residents themselves.

Foolishness reigned that night. Fullberry and the Grahnke were both quickly dispatched by Thurfel. And then the sorceress Natalita, who Thurfel had previously described to me as his "researcher", dispatched most of the attacking force. She was, in fact, so effective in her method of destroying the "invaders" that, had she not accidentally loosed one of her own spells upon herself which resulted in her death, no one would have survived at all from the side of the town that night. Many do not like to hear this truth put forth so bluntly, but truth it is. Thurfel was barely touched by the invaders, and then only by the magical abilities of an immolation weapon.

The firemage led all on a merry chase, using his magical abalone sceptre to transport himself. When nearly everyone lay dead within the main room of the keep, he returned there and demanded, "Leave my castle! All of ye, leave!" Words were thrown about, but most were but corpses and could go nowhere.

Thurfel consulted with Arianiss and had the cleric bring me into sanctuary with himself, Armaxis and Sabitor, and then had Arianiss raise me back to life. I much appreciated the consideration shown me by the firemage, though being raised in the name of Luukos was disconcerting. Yet my question to Thurfel at that point was this: "Why is death always the answer? Life should be the answer." Though his response to me of "I do not know milady... but you were slain by the very forces you seek to defend" was an attempt on his part to ensure he was not viewed as the aggressor in this matter, I could sense reflection in him. And it was shortly after this he abandoned the keep to the town forces, sending me an apologetic message on the wind: "Please forgive me for being unable to protect you, I have fled to safety in order that no more blood shall be spilled needlessly. The keep belongs to Icemule... For now."

Chapter VII: Warlike Machinations

If any foolishly thought that "abandoning" his keep meant Thurfel had truthfully relinquished his hold on anything at all, they were much disappointed I imagine when the firemage returned, nonchalant and quite confident, but a month after the town attack on his home. He had heard of the dwarves bringing their underground burrowing vessel, the Juggernaut, into the environs of IceMule Trace to trade, and he came to tour the mechanical wonder.

Thurfel being Thurfel, he found the money-grubbing ways of the dwarves but another affront to the town of halflings and made that abundantly clear. He thought they price gauged for shoddy goods and was not afraid to say so. In the end he employed hill giants and great siege engines to attack the Juggernaut, after apparently receiving privy communication regarding the vessel from an inside informant, Tognus, the padding merchant. From the great war machines, giant troops sent massive boulders raining down upon the mithril shell of the Juggernaut and archers sent volley after volley of flaming arrows into onrushing defenders.

During all this mass confusion Thurfel himself went to the mausoleum and spirited the tomb away by magic. A feat which had to make one ponder if the attack on the dwarven merchant vessel was but a ruse intended to cover the firemage's own "stealing away" of the tomb.

Eventually the forces of the giants were bested, the siege engines destroyed and burned to rubble. Yet Thurfel was back in his keep within a fortnight, speaking certainly of building a mages' guild in town and making IceMule a center of wizardry. The firemage was unapologetic for having attacked the Juggernaut for, as he noted bluntly, "The ship was attacked, not the townsfolk, unless they interfered." He had few good words for the dwarves, saying that they might as well be gremlins for how well they "picked a pocket" with the prices they charged for their merchandise. Merchandise, he reiterated, that was poorly made. And he further insisted, "The only reason my troops failed is that I was not there to oversee the battle... or the ship would be so much slag."

The firemage would not speak of where he had taken the tomb, but insisted it was quite "safe" and that he had no intention of freeing the Nine, declaring "they are currently bound." And it was at this point that I began to more than suspect Thurfel had less... use and tolerance for the remainder of the entombed Council then any had previously surmised.

Tempers were effectively assuaged on both sides though as General Valicar of the Northern Fury Guard asked me to intercede with Thurfel to arrange a private meeting, and I did so. The two conferred and a truce was forged between Thurfel and the Fury, a truce that pledged there would be no hostilities between them as long as either was not again attacked by the other.

Chapter VIII: Possessive Tendencies

During the winter of 5101 the object that was capturing attention and engendering concern was a crystal divining sphere I had in my possession. How it came into my possession is a long and convoluted tale I will but briefly summarize here.

The divining sphere itself once was in the hands of Thurfel. His secretary, Trentas, gave it to the Thurfelian solder, Witlass, during the previous summer of 5100. That Trentas did this apparently at Thurfel's command we would not come to know for some years, But Witlass -- childish soul that he is -- had no use for any magical device (as Thurfel apparently understood he would not) and wound up trading it for three stuffed animals to the toymaker Chortel. Chortel didn't like the "aura" about the sphere and inquired into having a bard loresing the item. The bardess Nofret responded to his request and agreed to do such loresinging. The loresong did indeed reveal a strange "presence" lived within the sphere. Chortel, disliking the whole ambiance, gave the sphere to Nofret for safekeeping.

Nofret herself disliked the "darkness" of the sphere and wondered if she had missed anything in the loresong of it. A mysterious elder bard offered to verify her findings and she handed the sphere over to this bard, who -- as fate would have it -- was actually the Luukosian sorcerer Armaxis in disguise. Armaxis killed Nofret and kept the sphere, reveling in its dark magic. Later Armaxis was to try and use the divining sphere in a Luukosian ritual of sacrifice, and was interrupted by the Lorminstrian priestess, Kadesha, in such rite. Kadesha killed Armaxis and the sphere came into her possession. She prayed to Lorminstra for a sign as to what to do with it, and the sign given her she interpreted as meaning it was to come into my hands. Thus did she present it to me with the stipulation I not use its magic.

Now Thurfel was looking for the divining sphere. He made mention of it several times. I held my tongue for months, unsure returning it to the firemage would be wise. At the same time I feared handing it off to someone else because, if he somehow found out where it was, I knew Thurfel would not harm me. But I could not be as certain he would not harm another to facilitate the sphere's return to him.

The sphere was rumored to have certain powers, that it could correctly answer questions which required but a true or false response, even questions regarding the future. Yet was it rumored as well the presence within the sphere, in responding, took a piece of the asker's soul as payment. I admit to having a great curiosity as to the sphere's abilities, but I kept my promise and did not use it... until the banaltra surfaced in the towns south of IceMule in late 5100.

These insects were causing massive loss of life and there were tales they but fed a greater insect, which would wind up killing all. I wanted to know the truth about these insects and wound up asking the sphere for guidance. It did answer, and answer correctly as it turned out. But there are those who insist the sphere took its "bounty" from me for doing so.

Perhaps it did. I remain unconvinced. For the divining sphere showed no "odd" tendencies until the Sheruvian sorcerer Setzier performed a dark blood ritual around it, a ritual which seemingly brought true sentience to the "presence" in the sphere. Once so "roused", the sphere became doubly dangerous.

I was to learn in that winter of 5101 that Thurfel had known I possessed the sphere from the first moment it had come into my hands. He explained to me privately that its magic was too potent to be hidden, and that the sphere could not be destroyed without giving full reign to the very darkness of that magic. And the firemage informed me as well what the sphere contained was the "essence" of one of the Council.

This came as very shocking news indeed, along with the fact Thurfel was much concerned for my well being while I retained possession of that sphere. Yet I still did not trust him sufficiently to hand such a force-filled artifact over to him, and he knew this and would not force me to do so. Instead he warned me that the essence in the sphere would likely take advantage of any opening that came its way, and that it might "invade" my body and attempt to control it. He advised me to keep a rod with dispel magic constantly about my person to use upon the sphere if the need arose.

It was also in this season that we were to learn of Thurfel's distrust of sorcerers -- not so unusual in a mage, I suppose -- and of his "possessive" nature with regard to IceMule itself. In Fashanos, a bunch of stargazing sorcerers arrived in town looking for their guild building, which they insisted had been always hidden there, so they might make use of the telescope therein to study certain odd occurrences in the heavens. Thurfel not only protested their very presence, calling them untrustworthy practitioners of destructive magicks who would try and control the town, but to the very idea of any guild being found in IceMule which he had not agreed be built there. In the end the guild was found and opened, Thurfel finally allowing this. Yet his misgiving as to the true purpose of the stargazing sorcerers themselves was so pronounced, he used his own formidable magical skills to transport them -- and all who actively supported them -- to the isle of Teras.

During this timeframe Thurfel met as well with Telchor, the wizard guildmaster who was seeking to establish a branch of that guild in IceMule Trace. Thurfel made it clear to Telchor that he wanted any mages' guild within the environs of the halfling town to meet standards he would himself provide. Telchor, much impressed with Thurfel's wizardly knowledge and power, agreed to this stipulation.

Additionally, Thurfel's "possessive tendencies" began to be more demonstrated with regard to myself, the rivalry between him and my husband Blizzerdd openly and heatedly intensifying. Thurfel insisted that I must "come to him" of my own choice, but that he had no doubt I would eventually make such decision. Blizzerdd fumed at this presumption, the apex of bad feeling reached when Thurfel ordered Rills to kill Blizzerdd for uninvitedly taking his hand in order to guide the firemage to where the sorcerers' guild lay hidden.

For this turn in events, I definitely blame myself, as Thurfel did whisper to me that he would "sooner dive into a pit of lava" than have my husband lay a finger on him. Yet the noise and jostle of the crowd, all seeking the sorcerers' guild, was so intense that night, I did not react to his whisper in time to verbally let Blizz know not to touch the firemage or to physically stop my husband from performing that action. Still, knowing Thurfel's fiery temper and how Blizzerdd so often purposely baited him into losing control of that temper, I could not entirely blame the firemage for that unfortunate occurrence. This is something for which many have condemned me, yet I knew the natures of both men sufficiently to realize neither was exactly innocent of pressing defiantly toward ultimate instigation in their particular personal war.

In mid-Charlatos the unthinkable happened... the divining sphere, housed what I had come to presume safely within a bag fashioned specially by a sylvan named Ghiani who has unexpectedly shown up in the Hall of the Mind one night, shattered of its own accord. I had no chance to use the dispel rod upon it. No chance to even try and walk away from it. The essence seeped out from the shattered crystal though the fine leather of the bag and into my body.

The pain was excruciating as the essence tested the limits of my physical being, tested its own ability to use my mortal form. I was hysterical, uncertain what to do. I tried to explain my situation to several friends. Mostly they were confused as the essence spoke through me, denying my own words. I knew I had to find Thurfel. He was my only chance.

As fate would have it, the firemage stopped by Town Centre to complain of the stargazing sorcerers again. Several told me he was there and I hurried from the temple to find him. I explained, as best I could, what had occurred, the essence interrupting with its own comments, using my mouth and my voice. Thurfel, however, immediately understood the situation and appeared visibly upset.

The firemage asked for a cleric of skill. Meanwhile the essence in me was referring to him as a "betrayer" and insisting that it sought his death. Thurfel, on this night for the first time, referred to me as his "love", and I was jolted with the recognition his feelings for me had likely gained the essence inhabiting my body an invaluable weapon. How true this was, however, even I did not fully realize. Until the essence raised my hand, and incanted with my voice, and then cast Thurfel, who had been re-entering the room in a dustdevil, into a fine mist.

My heart skipped a beat. I could not believe it. Even the essence was amazed at its own good fortune, commenting bluntly through my lips, "I did not think it to be that easy." Thurfel was to send word on the wind to Kadesha that he was all right, though currently trapped as he had not been magically prepared to fend off the attack because it had come from my hand. And the essence in me was to tell us several things of importance that night... That Thurfel indeed had always been and was yet the most powerful of all the Council... That the power of all the Ten had been needed to release but one, and the one chosen was the most powerful, Thurfel... That this was done on the understanding Thurfel would then release the others, but he had not done so and thus the Nine considered themselves abandoned and Thurfel a traitor... And that the essence did not wish its name known by the likes of us because knowing its name would grant us power over it.

Finally, the essence pushed into my head this thought: "You may have your body back while I regain my power and essence. Do try to stay alive in the meantime." And it went into the first of its frequent periods of hibernation, a phenomenon with which we were all to become uncomfortably familiar over the next course of months.

Chapter IX: Handmaiden of Amasalen

We first heard tell of her from a soldier in Thurfel's Keep, the dark and beautiful lady dressed in delicate crimson robes of silk who liked her liquor and kissed that sentry on the forehead in thanks for a drink, leaving behind a deep bruise upon his flesh. And her name was to come to bring with it fear and loathing, as well as unexpected desire in the beings of most males: Yfa, Handmaiden of Amasalen.

She practiced magicks with nearly as much skill as Thurfel, and bore the favor of the bloody immortal who it is said serves Luukos. She told the tale of her unrequited love for Thurfel first to Alyxandrah, the sorceress who had met Thurfel on his island shortly before the firemage's dinner with me and who had become his fast friend. Yet this Handmaiden of Amasalen minced no words concerning her current "mission": Destroy Thurfel, as he remained trapped within the mist.

Yfa declared without hesitation that her power came from Amasalen, as she said Thurfel's also did. She insisted she served Amasalen fully, the promise of immortality given her by the dark immortal in exchange for this devotion. It seemed Amasalen might now be angry with Thurfel for not freeing the other Nine of the Council. But whether this particular was true or nay, it was certain Yfa herself so intended to complete the task of freeing those Nine entombed... after she had dealt with Thurfel.

With her came the heavy hand of Amasalen upon IceMule: bloody rains and sleets, the mule statue coming angrily to life, deadly lightning and fire from the skies, zombies and vipers presented as "gifts" to the town via her intercession, and the possession by the essence of more living beings. Vonka, taken through a tendril of unholy ooze penetrating her skin... Atoyoz, taken through the scratch of a serpent-eyed cat... Blizzerdd, taken through the bite of a segmented black serpent... Opalina, taken through a strike of blinding lightning... When was yet just myself and Vonka forced to endure the "inhabitation" by the essence, Amasalen drew us to his shrine by magical force and stated coldly, "Seven others will join you, you must seek them out." So nine in total... The Nine entombed were to have nine possessed...

Meanwhile Thurfel fought his own imprisonment in the mist, sending desperate visions and words to several. He was being pressed into battle with creatures under the control of the Nine others of the Council. He was being forced to endure the evil machinations of the embittered Yfa. We saw his shadow sometimes in the mist located behind the curtain of seashells in the keep. We heard his voice sometimes in our minds. He was weakened, in pain. Visions of his agony were sent to some purposely by Amasalen it seemed, or perhaps by Yfa herself. I myself was visited by the image of the firemage lying in a cellar looking much less than alive. The damnable essence within me seemingly worked against him, several times successfully thwarting by magical means his efforts at escape. Thurfel, so it appeared, was in an out-and-out struggle for his own continued existence.

Yfa, jealously calculating, flirted with my husband Blizzerdd and ostensibly insured he was possessed. She insisted my soul was not my own and hadn't been for a long time, apparently harking back to Amasalen's declaration when I had found the relic so long ago: "Iscikella, I am come to claim your soul." The magically-potent handmaiden challenged any who "insulted" her god, killing with ease and with even less thought.

She was at last to tell us what Amasalen wished with IceMule... "There are magical forces within this town that we seek to control", she forwarded boldly, "once they are in our grasp, all magic shall be in our control and our control only." The nexus... It had been mentioned before but never so bluntly. IceMule is a magical nexus of intense power, and it seemed dark forces wanted full and unquestioned authority over such.

Yfa also spoke of a staff, a very unique artifact, the Staff of Amasalen. Created by the hand of the bloody immortal himself and imbued with intense dark magic, Yfa was insistent Thurfel had intimate knowledge of this item. She further asserted, once she herself had the staff in hand, Thurfel would be destroyed, the Nine would be free, IceMule would be enslaved, and Amasalen would be ascendant.

Invading forces began to hit the town at semi-regular intervals as a wild-eyed halfling "prophet" named Mehlah made his presence known. He knew of the Council and feared them, saying they had claimed his soul. He knew of Amasalen and was terrified to speak that name. He declared fires were coming from the north. Someone or something spoke through him... and outside him... He insisted all repent; he insisted all "swear to the Council"; he insisted I "swear to Thurfel". He bewildered and frightened us, setting our nerves on edge as we wondered what more lay in the offing. And a monk of Voln named Tiaza arrived in IceMule speaking of an impending battle, a battle that would pit the townsfolk against the forces of Amasalen and his overlord Luukos.

At last there came a full confrontation between Thurfel and Yfa. She had determined she would open the tomb, break the last of the seals, on that Volnes night in Phoenatos of 5101. Strange noises were heard from the mausoleum, and then the entrance to the grand chamber was blocked by dark magicks. Yfa returned the tomb to the mausoleum to unseal it, and several of us managed to get within the grand chamber. She taunted and threatened, and then incanted in an arcane tongue, touching the tomb upon points of power. The tomb settled and creaked, and then a loud whoosh sounded, as stale air rushed out from inside. And it was opened... After nearly two centuries...

Smirking, Yfa walked within the first chamber, several of us close behind her, and was to be greeted by a sight that frustrated her to no end. Beyond that first chamber, the door leading down fully into the crypt had been blocked and sealed with "mages' bane", rods of pure iron, and mystical runes had been placed in an arc above the barrier. Thurfel had reinforced the seals! When everyone had assumed him to be seeking to break them, he had been finding a way to make those seals but stronger! Yfa's blunt declaration upon this realization: "Thurfel is now dead." And she used her magic to transport herself into the mist with full intent to finally do away with the firemage.

As we all rushed to the keep, we found the castle being rocked to its very foundations, lightning bolts and fireballs careening wildly through the halls. Yfa and Thurfel were battling one-on-one within the mist, and the magicks being released were awesomely devastating. And as well there were suddenly strange creatures everywhere, stampeding in wild frenzy away from the havoc being wreaked in the keep. The island was swarmed with fleeing critters, the crazed things killing uncontrollably. Lightning and fire volleys seemed centrally emanating from beyond the mist, as several of Thurfel's retainers worriedly walked the halls: Rills, Flindyl and Witlass. And then death cries echoed throughout the keep.

Flindyl explained to me he had an "appointment" with his master. An appointment that had been arranged long ago. He was terrified of what might have happened to Thurfel. I begged Flindyl to take me to where he was to meet Thurfel. The Chamberlain led me through the mist into a heretofore unknown (to us at least) cellar. It was crawling with strange creatures: worms and spiders that produced their own form of light, urchins with deadly spines, and a new breed of grahnk.

I became separated from Flindyl, yet found my way down a palm-frond rope in the cellar into a large dungeon room. There I came upon a most horrific sight: Thurfel lying dead upon the floor! Yfa was nowhere to be seen, but even had she been, I wouldn't have exercised any degree of caution at this juncture. I ran to where the firemage lay, knelt beside him, and cradled his lifeless body within my arms. Several of the Luukosian persuasion -- Armaxis, Ryever and Junis -- taunted me that Thurfel could not be saved. I ignored them, lifekept him and healed him, and then, as Ilvane found her way into the room, begged her to bring Arimantis to raise him. She nodded mutely and went off to find the cleric.

In the end, Thurfel was resurrected. And as he stood before us again, whole and fit, he pointed at a pile of charred bones and stated, "Yfa is no more... she was formidable, but not as formidable as she thought."

A surge of relief went through me at these words from the firemage. Creatures from the cellar were massively swarming the island and the town; the essence still existed inside me and four others; we still had no clue of what "fires" Mehlah warned; Amasalen's selfish desires still loomed like a black cloud over IceMule... Yet all I could feel at that precise moment was joy... pure, unadulterated joy. Yfa was vanquished. Thurfel had survived. And the Nine were still entombed.

Chapter X: A Staff in Hand...

The main object of Thurfel's concern, once he had destroyed Yfa and freed himself from the mist, was finding the Staff of Amasalen. He told us the tale of this staff, of how Amasalen had created and imbued the artifact as an experiment with his newfound power when he first became immortal, and of how the bloody one subsequently lost it and desperately desired its return. And Thurfel stated that, if he himself were to find the staff, he could and would completely banish the Nine through its power, and then would only return it to Amasalen for what he referred to as "a very dear price."

Thurfel made it clear that there would either be himself or the Council, and that -- if were the Council -- none would live who did not agree to serve them. He spoke of himself as "no longer a member of the Council", and said he wanted now only to be a businessman, to deal with magic and the traffic of magic in IceMule, and that he no longer had any gripes with the halfling town or its citizens.

Meanwhile, the Council remained far from dormant as others were possessed: Arliquin through contact with a skeletal cat, Elendr through the claw pierce of a crab image on Alyxandrah's cloak. It seemed the Nine enjoyed taking possession of people who were dear themselves, or were dear to those close, to Thurfel. Even Thurfel himself noted this trend when Elendr, who at that time was engaged to Alyxandrah, was taken. And my husband, during this time, was much tormented by the essence in him, often being set ablaze by fireballs under its control.

During the Festival of Ebon's Gate, Flametail -- Thurfel's familiar -- made several of us aware, while we waited on the services of the merchant Chortel, that Thurfel sensed the staff to be near. We searched for it, but did not find it. Yet someone else did: the cleric Xeldria.

Xeldria came upon the staff at Lorminstra's altar on the Ebon Gate fairgrounds, and immediately upon her touching it the skies darkened noticeably. The temperature became distinctly colder, and an odor of decay rose from the earth. Thurfel knew instinctively the staff had been found, a surge of power emanating from it through his body, so much so that, when I located him, the backlash injured me and sent me reeling, stunning me badly.

Thurfel, with a company following him, went to Xeldria on the fairgrounds. The firemage and several others, including myself, tried to convince her to pass the staff into his hands. Xeldria was adamant; it was hers now. Her eyes clouded and greyed as the essence entered her, and skeletal hands reached up from the earth to drag her within. Thurfel warded off this attack with magical runes, but informed her bluntly he could do no more than protect her body; he could not protect her soul and she would, therefore, be possessed.

Yet still she refused to part with the staff, and Thurfel stated resignedly he would not force the issue. I did ask her to show me the staff and she obliged, and what I saw made my blood run cold: a twisted serpentine staff carved from a single piece of obsidian cut to resemble a pair of great vipers entwined about each other. Their forms were twisted in a tight spiral from the base of the staff to its tip, while at the top the heads of the two serpents peered in opposite directions, both snakes slightly coiled as if ready to strike.

We were all truly worried now. Without the staff, Thurfel himself did not know if he could defeat all members of the Council. But plans went underway to try and defend the town from the onslaught of the Nine and their subservient creatures. The essence too wanted to control the staff, in order to free themselves fully from the tomb, destroy Thurfel, and force the town into submission. With Xeldria possessed, that seemed a distinct possibility, though the cleric showed no interest in IceMule's fate, something which embittered many of its citizens as she steered well clear of the town.

I had myself yet another concern... for I had recognized that staff immediately, upon Xeldria's showing it to me, as being the one Thurfel had once owned. He did admit this was so, that he once had had possession of it. His only comment on how he had lost such possession, however, was that it seemed likely Halfberry had stolen it along with the golden crystal orb. Though I said nothing, I knew Thurfel was covering something, for I had seen him wield that staff after Halfberry's death: both to magically transport me out of the keep the night he sent the serpent to me, and the night in Imaerasta little more than a month before the Ebon's Gate Fest when he fought against forces invading IceMule side-by-side with my husband Blizzerdd.

The firemage stated bluntly that the Nine would have no need for the staff if they managed to possess nine living folk. They already had eight... and then, on a particularly cold night in Eoantos, they took the ninth: the empath Tianni, through another cat, one that came to her stating it was her familiar. Thurfel spoke anxiously of an "alternate plan" he had to defeat the Nine, which he hoped would prove successful. He gave no details, but, trusting sufficiently in his true desire to destroy the Nine, I had little doubt that this plan would prove viable and have at least a moderate chance of achieving victory.

Chapter XI: Nine in Waiting...

In the last month of the year 5101 we were to learn something entirely unexpected: what we believed to be the names of eight of the Nine.

Thurfel had already told us he could not mention those names for doing so would but aid the Nine by serving as a means to summon them from the tomb through sharing of his magical power. The wintry night we were to hear all but one of those names we surmised to be those of the Council members, there was a small invasion on Thurfel's Island. An invasion of most unusual creatures: withered halfling zombies and rotting halfling corpses.

The essence in me and in several others kept speaking of how the keep was unprotected and how it would fall. That essence had already told me it would suck all spirit from me and leave me but an empty husk, and now it told me how I would "rule a horde of such troops", meaning the undead which were swarming the island. The essence in Tianni insisted that I, who was so fond of him, would be the one to strike the killing blow at Thurfel, and that it would consider such a very satisfying moment indeed.

And through the mouths of three different possessed -- Atoyoz, Tianni, Blizzerdd -- were the Council to begin the procedure of summoning. The names spoken, three then two then three, I write here now. Grehemma, Dirhemma, Grontifar. Grenfider, Monstolt. Ornot, Restoh, Fernotten.

Eight of nine... Nine in waiting... Waiting to summon themselves fully from the tomb... Waiting to destroy Thurfel's home and murder the firemage... Waiting to take over IceMule... Their personalities separated in the possessed once Tianni was taken... One to one, nine to nine... The horror of this imbalance of the forces of the world, which seemed to initiate with the return of Thurfel but which, it seemed probable, might only end through the intervention of Thurfel, awaited...

Chapter XII: Broken Bonds and Shattered Seals

With the beginning of the new year of 5102, the possessed were assaulted by visions of those possessing them -- horrendous visions. Corpses with glowing crimson eyes, flesh hanging from bones; visages of mutilated and decaying beings. And always those ember-like eyes in the visions were filled with hatred and resentment beyond mere mortal fathoming. Ominous mists, filled with the scents of rot and decay, began to rise regularly from the ice which covers the town, as voices came from the oddest sources -- the mule statue in Town Centre, a skull lying upon the ground, the mouth of a merchant -- telling of the near destruction of the seals and how "we", meaning the Nine, would soon be free and how IceMule would soon be "defeated".

Under the stress, Elendr broke and consigned his will over to the undead being within himself. Though in later times Elendr was to claim this decision to be based on things other than an inner sense of helplessness, at the time he made it he did say outright that to fight the essence was "pointless" and he would no longer do so. He intended to cooperate... fully. From that point onward his own bond of the heart with Alyxandrah deteriorated until all that remained was his love and loyalty to the lich.

In the third week of Lormesta the inevitable happened: the seals on Dabbings' mausoleum were rent asunder by the power of the nine liches within, aided in this endeavor by the returned-from-the-dead Yfa. That night was filled with horrific sights, from birds being singed in the air and falling dead at the feet of those gawking in disbelief, to undead summoned from the ground at the command of a harsh female voice emanating from the tomb. The entombed "beings", if such they can be called, stole spirit from the living to aid them in their task. Under their intense magical assault, iron bars melted and thick stone buckled and warding runes faltered.

And they burst forth -- eight liches of the Council and Yfa of Amasalen, with vengeance foremost on their minds.

Chapter XIII: The Liches of the Council

They were more powerful than anyone had imagined. Physically, none could touch them with any weapon. Magically, they could generate a field about themselves that reflected offensive spells back upon the caster. They could strip all magic from any being. They could steal mana with utmost efficiency, leaving one weak and woozy. And they "ate" spirit. It was their sustenance. What gave them their lifeforce.

Their hatred of Thurfel, their former leader, was universal. They called him the "Betrayer", though I could never fathom why these beings imagined it should concern anyone overly much that Thurfel had "betrayed" their trust. Had they not themselves all betrayed the town's trust? The old saying goes: There is no honor amongst thieves. Why the Nine insisted there should or would be honor amongst those of the Council, I truly know not. My assumption had to be that, by betraying the Nine, Thurfel had chosen to try and undo his own betrayal of IceMule long ago. It was, as far as I could discern, the only means to such end. To remain "in league" with the Council, was to remain against IceMule, and Thurfel had, it seemed, come to terms with this truth.

But who were these nine of which I write? Well, the names were not those we had come to believe as that of the liches. Such naming, as it turned out, was naught but a secret form of summoning. Of the nine liches, however, eight did indeed become fully known that first night of their mass exodus from the tomb.

Gavrail, the leader, was the female who had possessed Elendr, not Yfa as most of us had assumed. She reeked of cloying perfume and spoke in a voice like a metal rasp. Using blue flame as her signature, her cunning was in trying to convince others of her "sincere" desire to not see those of IceMule hurt.

Elymir would become known as "The Teacher". This lich is the one I assumed had residence within me. He was cold and calculating, a stern "disciplinarian" who did all under the guise of "teaching lessons" that "must be learned". Tendrils of black energy comprised his signature, and such seemed to represent the sheer encoiling power of his dark soul.

Thulevier, the haughty and condescending, had a penchant for dead bodies that apparently extended back to before his own stint in such a state. His "object of possession" appeared to have been Vonka, though some events have brought that into question as well. Slivers of shadow coalescing or dispersing usually marked his entrances and exits.

Trianvar, the blackmailer, decided early on he would attempt to keep his possessed, Opalina, stronger than the others by not draining her spirit. He had no qualms, however, about draining such from others to feed his need. Black smoke and a smell of sulphur forewarned his unholy presence.

Aslakian was by far the angriest lich. He was ever enraged and he killed wildly, with no attempt at subtlety. As it turned out, this was the lich within my husband Blizzerdd and energy crackling noisily was how he foreshadowed his presence.

Cheritz, the other female amongst the Nine, had much of a smirking personality, as if she knew something she would never tell. She inhabited the body of Tianni, or so it appeared, and seemed not to care about such things as fancy entrances or exits into the mortal plane.

Prangar was the hesitant lich. He was seen but the one night when the tomb opened, and on that night he hung back from the others. Why that was so and whom he possessed remains unknown.

Zeban was the one Thurfel himself called "the most cunning and most dangerous". But he kept in the main out of the spotlight, and the primary object of his possession remained forever a mystery.

The ninth lich was not to appear that first night, but was to make an appearance some months later. This one, Thalaes, seemed closely tied to both Elymir and Thulevier (and those two were themselves closely tied, referring to each other as "brother"). This ninth in the beginning liked to tease and torment in secret, with his faint, child-like voice. Atoyoz held his essence within her as he forwarded his presence through his forte of darting shadows and black clouds.

Chapter XIV: Magely Intrigues

From the beginning of their existences outside the confinement of the tomb, the Nine made no secret of their plans for Thurfel and for the town of IceMule Trace. They wanted Thurfel dead, and they wanted the town "returned to them". They considered it "theirs", a very odd imagining indeed. The liches used every means at their disposal in vicious attempts to frighten and coerce the townsfolk into "giving in". Aslakian indulged in wild, murderous sprees; Elymir would forward his "lessons" with mass execution always an underlying theme; Thulevier animated dead bodies after himself causing those deaths; Gavrail summoned undead, and yet blamed such summoning upon Thurfel while she ranted about how she only wanted to end the "reign of the Betrayer"; Trianvar blackmailed, threatening to kill loved ones of those that did not do his will.

It became apparent that, while the spirit of any living being could sustain the lich who so drained such being, the spirit of the possessed worked to sustain all the liches as a whole. Thus draining the possessed, often unto death and into decay, became a regular enterprise for them.

Meanwhile Thurfel had given us information that would help in destroying these abominations of Luukos. It seemed each lich had a vessel, which contained the essence of such lich even as the possessed did. These orbs had been created by the Nine to bring themselves fully into the plane of undead as liches, and then tossed out magically from the tomb to seek contact with the living, as was required for such magicks to function properly. If the vessels could be found and spiritually drained to lessen the connection of the Nine to lichly magicks, then those Nine would lose power, as well as the ability to hold onto the possessed.

One on one, Thurfel could manage to thwart any lich. His magical puissance was still greater than any of theirs as a single entity. Thus were the liches intent on regaining the Staff of Amasalen. They knew they needed this artifact to have any chance of destroying the firemage. They sent "emissaries" to obtain the staff from Xeldria: Elendr, who was now Gavrail's in mind, heart and soul, as well as body, and Opalina, who was threatened by Trianvar with the decimation of everything she loved if she did not comply.

At the same time Thurfel too needed the staff. The firemage's "alternate plan" turned out to be an altar, which he had initially referred to as "the construct", composed of black obsidian with nine indentations to hold the nine orb vessels of the liches. The altar could drain the spiritual essence of any lich orb placed upon it. Yet to fully vanquish the Nine, Thurfel needed the staff to set in the center of the altar, so that the power of the vessels was taken into the staff itself for all time.

Neither side, however, had much in the way of good fortune in their negotiations for the staff. So onward Thurfel pressed to the other task at hand... finding the orbs.

Chapter XV: Searches and Results

Thurfel set his sages and magicians into trances and mana-pulse monitoring scans to aid in finding the orbs. The very first vessel was found after his mages sensed the dark power emanating from it. Lodged under some crates in the windmill within town, the uncovering of this vessel brought Aslakian quickly forth to claim what was "his". The orb was given to Thurfel by the finder Adimiron, and placed into the initial indentation in the altar. My husband Blizzerdd was finally, though painfully, freed from possession at this fortunate turn in events. However, the whole ordeal of possession did leave Blizz desirous for the inner peace that he finds only in the woods, a peace he wandered off to seek shortly afterwards.

A Luukosian named Achillea, who promptly handed it over to the lich claiming it as his own -- Thulevier, found the next orb within the Ossuary. Thulevier tried at that point to convince Vonka to join with him willingly, telling her a tale of his wife dying at Thurfel's hands.

It is still uncertain to who belonged the third orb, but Elymir came to try and get it from the finder Skyfawn. This lich openly admitted, however, it was not his own vessel. Thus I myself believe it was Prangar's vessel, Prangar being the lich least likely to speak openly for himself. This orb found its way into Thurfel's hands from its hiding place within Luukos' chapel in the IceMule Temple.

The fourth orb was claimed by Thalaes, though it was apparently not his own. However, he gladly took it from the hands of the finder Dajamar. Myself I tend to believe this vessel that of the "cunning" Zeban. Buried within the reaches of Bonespear Tower near Solhaven, this orb became the cause of some taunting between the firemage and its Luukosian recoverer.

The fifth orb turned out in actuality to be the vessel of Thalaes. It was secreted under the corpse of a long-dead dwarf in a mine outside the landing. I was to discover for myself the sheer benighted miasma pouring from these vessels as I took it into my hand and shuddered against the pain of the spirit drain it invoked, as did all the lich orbs. With its finding and placement upon the altar by Thurfel, however, Atoyoz was freed of possession.

Trianvar's proved the sixth orb, and again the finder, the bardess Tesserah, choose Thurfel over the lich. Almost mockingly, the vessel had lain "hidden" within the very mausoleum of Talbot Dabbings from which the Nine had escaped. Opalina was freed from possession with its recovery, as the angry lich killed her in retaliation.

The seventh orb caused a plague-like disease to run rampant amongst animals and children in IceMule as it polluted the waters of the Penguin Pond. Discovered there by Perigourd, it was quickly put into the hands of the firemage. Cheritz, with Gavrail in lichly support, came to try and gain this vessel, but to no avail. Thurfel managed to majorly damage Cheritz, as in the end Tianni was freed of the possession of this other female of the Nine.

During the course of months over which these searches took place, the Nine grew increasingly desperate. Not only did Thulevier feed his tale to Vonka, but also Gavrail was feeding her own tales to Ilvane and Arimantis and continuing her gulling of Elendr with "sweet little interludes". Elymir sought to make me appear mad through various actions, from affecting my sense of balance so that I felt "private earthquakes" to killing a child through my hand. Trianvar finally drained the spirit from Opalina shortly before she was freed, realizing he needed the present power it would provide more than he needed her "stronger than the other possessed" at some future moment that might not come if the current one could not be controlled.

But the tide was turning against the Nine, and they realized this only too well. And the final wave of that tide might well have crested one night in deep summer...

Chapter XVI: A Snatch of Fate...

Neither Thurfel nor the liches had ever made any headway in trying to obtain the staff from Xeldria. Thurfel, seemingly staying true to his change of heart, rightly refused to kill Xeldria to get it from her by force. The liches, for reasons then not determinable, seemed virtually unable to use any force for this purpose. Yet both sides surely wanted the staff; that was never in question.

A stroke of fortune... and perhaps fate... was to come the way of the firemage in that Xeldria suddenly found herself "wrested" of the staff by the Navigators. The Navigators simply had claimed it, along with her gold ring and coins, in payment for the temporary use of their transport device. Yet, with the staff in the hands of these "transport mages", the opportunity arose for Thurfel to regain what both he and the liches had so long sought.

Upon a starless night in Phoenatos 5102, Thurfel, having constructed a massive gold teleport ring from fifty smaller rings donated by the citizens of IceMule, traced runes upon the sand to summon the Navigators. As the sigils were drawn, the lich in Vonka lost what hold it yet retained upon her body. She was freed of possession as the events unfolded wildly on the firemage's own territory of his island that eve.

Thurfel did manage to get the Navigators' attention, and they spirited him away. None knew what to expect of this occurrence, but two liches took advantage of the moment to come and spread their lies and bring forth their undead. Gavrail and Cheritz appeared upon the island, talking their usual spew regarding the "Betrayer", as undead rose in droves from the sand. Again, Gavrail tried to claim these "Thurfel's minions", though with my own eyes once more I saw the liches summon them from the very ground.

My concern, however, was all for Thurfel. At last he did reappear upon the island... staff very much in hand.

He was drained of energy and had a difficult time remaining within the normal plane of our existence. Still he had the staff. And the liches realized it was much more than likely the beginning of the end for them. They went into wild rants, knowing Thurfel was too weak at that moment to naysay them. However, they convinced none as Gavrail, quite uncunningly at one point, tried to forward that she did not use violence after she had in front of everyone just killed someone merely because she had not liked what he had to say. The folly of their persuasions becoming apparent even to themselves, these two liches soon vanished into the darkness of the night.

Chapter XVII: A Celebration?

I worried for Thurfel after he regained the Staff of Amasalen. He had seemed so... disconnected from our plane of being, disoriented most definitely. And I also realized he needed to regain control of the staff now that he again had possession of it. The staff had been rumored to be taking on a life of its own while in Xeldria's hands. So using it to destroy the liches might not now be as easy a task as it may once have been.

However, some weeks after the reclaim of the staff, Thurfel was to reappear in IceMule his usual swaggering self and announce plans for a festival upon his island before year-end. On the very day of the festival, he declared confidently, he would finally vanquish the liches at long last.

Now Thurfel had always had quite an ego, and thus I prayed his confidence in this regard was not misplaced braggadocio. He admitted he still needed the four orbs he did not yet hold to be placed upon the altar. And two of those orbs were already in the hands of liches, while the other two -- those that had not yet been located at all -- belonged to the most powerful of Nine: Gavrail and Elymir. So the task of this vanquishing of the members of the one-time Council of Ten could not be assumed a foregone conclusion.

But the firemage had proved time and time again that things are never what they seem ...and neither was he. Thus did I allow his surety in this to comfort me, as I dreamed of the last gasp of the liches in IceMule and my own final freeing from possession...

Chapter XVIII: Yet All is Never as It Seems...

Early in the month of Eonatos a strange incident in the Voln Ice Garden had us all wondering. The water in the fountain turned bright crimson and then began to boil and churn, appearing almost to bleed. Fire erupted across that aquatic surface before everything went quiet once more. Those of us there at the time were at a complete loss as to the meaning of what had happened. But a fortnight later Thurfel came forward with a firm date of the 1st of Eorgaen for his planned festival, as he told us the Staff of Amasalen had successfully led him to the hidden locations of the remaining four lichly vessels. All nine orbs, he informed us that night, were now safely ensconced upon the obsidian altar in his vault, and he was ready to perform the final ritual of destroying the power of the Nine.

If the incident in the Voln sanctuary had signaled the magical strife between the firemage and the Nine as the last of the orbs were found and placed upon the altar, we were never to truly learn. But in hindsight, I do believe something of such a nature -- and its connection to the realm of undead Voln assails -- was the cause of the disturbance in the fountain.

During the remaining days of Eonatos, as what was being called "Thurfelfest" by the populace drew ever closer, the lich Gavrail began to desperately seek some to support herself and the Nine. Elendr had apparently tired of her long goodbyes and had taken her last one at face value, going off alone to rest himself and thus becoming unavailable for publicly promoting her cause. So instead the lichly magess sent undead and blamed these town-harassing summonings upon the firemage, even though several different persons witnessed her call forth these minions from the depths of the earth. She also railed and ranted at me and others, using in reference to myself the Eorginan Sheka's aggravating term of "Misguided One", seemingly to draw my ire. She plotted with several, throwing out ideas of how to stop the ceremony, but her approach was disorganized and seemed rooted in nothing more identifiable than hysteria.

The morning of day 1 of Eorgaen in the year 5102 dawned crisp and clear. Merchants began wandering the island of the firemage during late afternoon, and Thurfel himself played entertaining host within his cabana, speaking to many on various lighthearted subjects. He insisted upon providing his guests with a guided tour of his keep, with myself leading folk about while he told of the history of his island and his castle. He was extraordinarily charming and witty this day, full of conviviality.

Upon the appointed hour, we all gathered at the statue of the firemage on the island to await the opening of the portal into the vault. Thurfel made a grand entrance by coming forward from the statue itself. He traced his runes, we all entered the vault, and then everything became very... bewildering.

The orbs were all there on the altar. The firemage went to place the staff within the holder set in the center of that altar... and Valicar reached out and stole the staff. Not once, not twice, but three times. Each time the staff returned to Thurfel by some unknown magical means, as if connected to him in some way. The confusion in the vault was head-splitting, and in this mass of confusion I finally got an answer to the question I had asked Thurfel several times before... about the divining sphere, the vessel I had initially held that had broken so long ago. His whispered response made my heart almost permanently stop its beating within my breast: "The broken orb was mine," was all he said.

Chaos was reigning all about me as Thurfel realized the liches, through the person of the weakened but still determined Gavrail, had placed a magical barrier around the altar, preventing the staff from being inserted into the holder. But for me the chaos was all within... in my mind and in my heart as the scope of what the firemage had so casually revealed began to press into my consciousness. Thurfel wound up sending us all from the vault while he dealt with the lich-created barrier upon the altar. Outside on the island Valicar attempted to explain why he had stolen the staff, but my heart had started to pound wildly, fighting a cold band that was tightening around it most painfully.

All I could think of was that nothing was over, nothing was done. I know I repeated this many times and no one understood why I was saying this. I couldn't explain to them as I was attempting to comprehend myself... not only the meaning behind Thurfel's shattering revelation, but behind what was suddenly physically happening within my body. The oddest bits and pieces of things were floating through my mind, such as Yfa commenting on my having a heart that I would be better off without, such as a familiar voice confidently noting that I could not hurt him because I had a heart. I kept trying to contact Thurfel in private thought, begging to know what it meant that the broken orb was his, wanting to be assured by him that he was not himself a lich.

Less than a half-hour after the initial commotion, Thurfel was back saying he had effectively removed the barrier and telling Valicar he would not kill him... this time. The firemage redrew the glyphs and allowed us access back into the vault. I was feeling so strange. Trentas and Flindyl came into the vault, and I privately told Flindyl to not let the staff be stolen again, that something was happening to me, that I didn't understand any of it... How little I indeed understood was soon to hit me head-on.

The staff was successfully placed at last, and then Thurfel spoke the words that froze the moment forever in my memory: "I have fulfilled my end of the bargain, I have brought you the nine, they are yours to punish as you wish." And it came forward, a fiery serpent with eyes so malevolent, they made my breath catch in my throat. Amasalen himself in the guise of this Luukosian-inspired avatar. And the words from this avatar were equally as shocking as Thurfel's had been in my ears: "Indeed Thurfel, you have fulfilled my every wish, my every desire. You did indeed do your part, and now, as I promised, you will be granted power beyond your dreams."

Something pulled through my body, tightening about my heart, squeezing it as if to take something from it. And then that pull broke its hold, though a tendril seemed to remain (and yet seems to remain), quietly curled there about my heart.

The serpent destroyed the orbs upon the altar, the punishment of the Nine for their old failure to secure the town's submission apparently complete. And then Thurfel was shouting, saying how he would not just be a piece of history, but actually be history itself. Screaming for the avatar to provide him the power he had been promised, the power of the Gods. I stared at Thurfel, telling him he could stop himself from doing this, wanting to hold on to the good in him I had felt within my heart. But now all I felt from him was the coldness of death, and the intenseness of his surety that my own heart would protect him.

Yet all is never as it seems... even the wording of bargains. Gods play their games with more casualness than any mortal. So too did Amasalen. The serpentine avatar bluntly announced to the demanding firemage, "You misunderstand Thurfel, I promised you would see power beyond your wildest dreams. I never said you'd wield power beyond your wildest dreams. You are now, and always will be nothing more than a tool to me."

Thurfel's temper rose up hot and unchecked. He attempted to kill the avatar of Amasalen with an ice spell, something no mortal could ever do of course. And Amasalen, it would seem, simply smirked to himself, telling Thurfel he must "come back to me now" and that "playtime is over".

The flames of the serpent rose high and strong, the intense heat exploding the altar, pieces of obsidian flying everywhere, injuring people in their volatile flight. And from the rubble rose the unfazed Yfa, Yfa who Thurfel had previously informed us was "the mortar of my altar". With his handmaiden free from her entrapment, Amasalen turned the serpentine flames upon the firemage, melting the flesh from what were his undead bones, and turning him to naught but ash as his agonized screams echoed in our ears.

Amasalen, The Executioner, had to see the bloodbath complete. So he pressed the wall of fire full into the vault, and all of us within were tortured into death as the smug Yfa noted of Thurfel, "So, your end is my beginning, perhaps you should have served your master after all." Then she slipped away into the darkness.

I only know for myself, lying dead within the vault, that strange tendril still curled about my stopped heart, I was hurt beyond all imagining. I had so wanted to believe that what good I had seen in Thurfel could rise above the darkness inherent in his soul. I had so wanted to acknowledge that all is never as it seems.

I found my way to Lorminstra in Purgatory, and that she led me back to life I know happened, though details escape my memory. I remember next to nothing as well of what went on in the Hall of Mind while I sat there numb and distraught and others tried to tell me not to blame myself for Thurfel's betrayal.

I finally slept that night alone in the woods as a sylvan, within a grove of modwir trees, lying on a bed on fresh needles covering the snow and dreaming of my communal home. As the sun rose into the dawn of another day, however, an unusually warm breeze gently brushed my skin, awakening me in a paroxysm of panic. With my eyes fully open, I desperately told myself it was just a breeze, that I was free now. But the truth touched my mind as startlingly as that surprisingly warm breeze had touched my body. I was not free; I would never be free. The emotional, mental and spiritual wounds I bore would heal in time of course. But the deep scars would remain, leaving me forever crippled. And I had no empathic magic strong enough to make them vanish. Nor had the world around me any such magic to lend. The irony remains that visibly there will no mark upon me, that outwardly all will appear well and whole. Yet then all is never as it seems...

Epilogue: Charred Remains

Three days later Thurfel's servant Witlass was to wander into the town boundaries of IceMule Trace, completely oblivious to what had happened that night in the vault. He had been away, apparently sent away purposely by the firemage. Explaining to the child-like giantman (who relentlessly insists he's a halfling) what had happened to Thurfel, Trentas and Flindyl proved very difficult. Witlass had never understood about death, always believing people but "slept".

Finally, however, we did manage to make him understand that Thurfel would not be back, nor would Trentas nor Flindyl nor even Rills. That Witlass was now on his own. He decided he would "go west" to try and find his mother where "the halflins are". But before leaving he told us that Thurfel had long ago advised him, if anything happened to the mage, to "go to the bank" because the keep was to be his house. Since deciding he would not himself stay, Witlass said he wanted the nice people of the town to have the island and keep. And, going to town hall to inquire after the deed, we were to hear a tale that assured us of the truth of Witlass' words regarding the bequeathing of Thurfel's properties to his servant. Thus did Thurfel's Island, and the keep located thereupon, pass into the hands of the townsfolk of IceMule Trace.

The next day I went to the stone in the keep. I cannot really tell ye why I went. I just had a feeling to check for the deed there. And I did indeed find papers hidden in that spot, under the stone Thurfel had playfully grafittied with his own image. However, it was not the deed to the island or the keep that lay partially buried there.

These papers were more just a rather disjointed series of notes. There were magical incantations, rituals to Amasalen, little bits of information regarding the halfling mage's experiments in creature crossbreeding, mathematical equations regarding possible ways to control the nexus... Most of it was penned in a kind of private shorthand, and some of it seemed to be in an arcane written form of the halfling language I had little knowledge of how to translate.

Alone I took these papers out into the woods and studied them for many hours, as day closed into night and I lit a campfire to see the words on the parchment as well as keep the cold at bay. I can say that some of what was noted there appeared to have to do with the needed preparations and spells to achieve lichdom after death, something of which Thulevier had admitted at one point all the Council had learned the secret. But as well were there references to a particular form of this method that provided for... well, a sort of semi-living lich, apparently what Thurfel had himself become. For it appeared, like all those obsessed with their quest for knowledge, the firemage came to experiment in the end upon himself. After all, once entombed he had little to lose.

And there were some notations on the Staff of Amasalen which seemed to suggest that it had been garnered from the original serpent messenger that had come to IceMule so long ago. That, after said messenger of Amasalen had been killed by Talvon Dabbings, Thurfel had taken the staff from the dead body. But, since Amasalen did not immediately reclaim this token of power, it must also be assumed such was done with that immortal's approval as well. Some of the jottings did seem to suggest the reason the Council as a unit was able to free one of its number had to do with the possession of that staff, and with Thurfel's ability to use it in the ritual where all Ten provided power through the staff for one to be released from entombment -- Thurfel himself.

Written along the edges of many of the pages were odd little anecdotes, a form of doodling in which Thurfel often indulged it appeared. Some of these spoke of the other members of the Council, of how they were as much in awe of his power as envied it, fitting in with what Thurfel had himself once stated regarding the Council originally choosing him as their leader because of their blind respect for unadulterated power. One of these anecdotes in particular struck me. It had to do with the members of the Council speculating on what was in fact the most versatile form of power. Thurfel had marked down what each had said, and his own answer was to me the most telling, "The most malleable form of power," he had written as his response to the others, "is trust."

And Thurfel had indeed used that particular form of power. Oh, he had used it well. Above and beyond all else, had he used trust.

Lumnis had once instructed Vonka that, in all things, consult first the head and then the heart. Well, I had not followed that wisdom with regard to Thurfel. But now, with these notes in my hand, I knew what wisdom was. All knowledge is not wise to be known. This knowledge of Thurfel's, of these strange lichly powers which encompassed undeath that was not yet undeath, of his crossbreedings, of the mathematics of the nexus, of the power of the staff... these things it was not wisdom should ever be known. Thus did I know what I had to do. Standing before the fire, I slowly fed those parchments, page by page, into the flames, letting them be totally consumed.

I will confess that this action had its price. For, from the moment those pages burned away into nothingness, that tendril around my heart gripped oddly and the cold seeped into my body unabated. Being a sylph born in the wintry climes of a northern community, cold had really never much affected me in a physical manner. Yet now I must admit it does. I cannot seem to get truly warm, no matter if surrounded by the strong heat of a hearth fire or a noonday sun. The outward manifestations -- persistent trembling and shivering -- of this affliction, I quickly realized concerned others, so I am learning slowly to control these manifestations through once again seeking for Lumnis' serenity. But such control of symptoms does not make the actual affliction less acute, and I suspect that affliction will remain forever within me, charred remains of an inner fire that has gone cold.

 

 

 



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