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Happy New Year, Abnormals! Here at Scallywags we had a rather interesting, awesome year – and it was in no small measure thanks to all of you. So now we look forward to an even better one in 2014!

Keeping it short, let us start the year with a nice story about the “other” groups, and what happened after they faced our trio of adventurers.

. . .

Recovery
By Darren J. Gendron

“I am going to turn those Obscure-damned arms into a pair of decorative vases, then smash them up so hard that the Luminescence won’t bother to gleam on them.”

It had been only an hour since the dam broke. But for Eagle Mage, he could only feel rage growing inside of him each second.

He’d reacted purely on instinct. When the rush of waters caught up to him, he threw down a defensive spell. It was a pure-air element. Dipping into your element for a retreat was something any mage should know how to do.

He saw Dragonfly Mage throw up a bubble of water, only to float down the flooded river. It probably wasn’t the best of defenses, but she was definitely alive somewhere.

He saw Badger Mage …

Eagle Mage started cursing again. The curses had lost all meaning ages ago. But they passed the time.

Eagle’s entire body had warped into an air elemental. It was a disorienting spell, one that could easily drive a mage insane. The first 10 minutes of it, he needed to focus everything he could on keeping his center, holding his consciousness together.

And then he filled his center up with rage and hate and anger, all directed at a short, annoying little dwarf. The hate gave Eagle Mage a clarity, a focus. It allowed him to pull his aired-out body together, to slowly start drifting back to that damn creek.

He started to wonder if it should be called a creek or a river or whatever, and realized that was junk that only a water mage needed to care about. He was the wind, a relentless, howling barrage of screams that could slice down anything. He would make sure that dwarf heard his fury.

With the ground finally only inches below him, he let his solid form return. Eagle Mage stumbled for a second, then kicked at a rock for trying to slow him down. He took another step, then felt his left ankle jam in place. Looking down, he felt like cursing some more.

A hand made entirely of water was reaching out of the creek or river or whatever. Dragonfly Mage clearly wanted him to wait for her.

Over the next two hours, Eagle Mage felt his anger drift from target to target. As the cold of the river swirled around his ankle, he could feel swells of hatred towards his partner.

As the river started to run out of once-dammed water, he hazarded one look over to where his team had been battling. His fallen comrade, Badger Mage, was still there. They were going to have to clean that up. And that made him angry. He was even more furious at Badger himself, who clearly forgot to use one of his dang little badger holes to get free.

Eagle Mage again looked at Badger Mage, noticing the brambles. He let some anger spill over to that Obscure-damned furr.

But no matter how much he let his hatred spread around to trees, to water, to other people, it kept coming back to that dwarf. He began to wonder how long that half-breed would live if his arms were ripped off.

“Release!”

Dragonfly Mage threw out the dispell as she crested a wave cruising up the nearly-dry creek. Her dragonfly familiars were buzzing madly around her head. The water pushed at Badger Mage’s body, but the brambles were still holding tight to him. Eagle Mage let himself feel a little bit of happiness, with his ankle now free.

“You could have just sent a message, asking me to stay put,” Eagle Mage said.

“I felt a foot on the bank of the river,” she said. “I didn’t know it was yours.”

Eagle Mage then saw it in her eyes, too. There was a reason she came stampeding up the riverbed with so much water – she was ready to fight.

The two mages both felt it – there was nothing to fight right now. They quietly took in the battlefield, and began picking up pieces of rubble. With the brambles holding him tight, they wouldn’t be able to move Badger Mage to a proper burial. Instead, they could only fashion a grave on the spot.

It was somber, quiet work. They were almost done when voices came from the temple’s mouth.

“Hold on, damn it,” a gruff, male voice said. “The bleeding has almost stopped. Just hold on and fight.”

Eagle’s eyes hardened. Crouching behind Badger’s gravesite, he started channeling, sensing the air around him. He glanced over at Dragonfly. She was growing a globe of water in between her hands, quietly drawing a small stream of water from the creek.

“Urghah,” came the groan of a distinctly female voice.

Eagle Mage flashed Dragonfly a look of confusion. Dragonfly silently mouthed, “ARCHERS.”

“We know you’re there, and we mean you no harm,” came a second female voice. “We’re trackers. We just want to get back to town.”

“Actually, we can use some help,” the male said.

Dragonfly closed her eyes. She was visibly letting her rage slip away. Eagle wasn’t ready to do that yet. But these archers, they were not even on the long list of people he hated right now.

“Truce,” Dragonfly said. “We have just buried a comrade.”

“Thelonius, Archers Guild,” the male said.

“Ella, Archers Guild,” the second female said. “Our, ah, comrade is Marion. Do either of you heal?”

Dragonfly stepped out from the gravesite. Eagle Mage followed, but continued to channel the winds.

“I am the Dragonfly Mage of the Order of Visions, Second Chair of the Water,” Dragonfly said. “With me is Eagle Mage of the Order of Visions, Seventh Chair of the Wind. I can heal.”

After finishing her introduction, she then saw what was wrong. The young girl archer, Marion, no longer had a right hand. Her skin had gone pale, contrasting against the blue warpaint over her forehead. Tears had made the bottom half of her warpaint streak down her cheeks.

“I, I’m not sure I can help,” Dragonfly said, seeing the damage. “She’s losing a lot of blood.”

Dragonfly grabbed a fist-sized globe of water from the creek, then stared at it for 10 seconds. One mud-filled drip fell out of it, and the rest looked crystal clear.

“I need to clean the wound,” she said. “Get a fresh tourniquet ready.”

While Dragonfly had her doubts, she buried them into the task of changing the bandage. The task started to consume her, ebbing away the last bits of rage.

“Who did this?” Eagle Mage asked.

“The dwarf,” Ella said.

Dragonfly’s rage started to build back up. Eagle gritted his teeth.

“We’re not letting them have another kill,” Dragonfly said. “We need to follow them back, make sure this girl is cared for.”

Eagle Mage took another look over to the mouth of the temple. He was still fresh. He could go in by himself. First, he’d need to end that elf. Then …

“In due time,” Dragonfly said. “First, we need to stop the bleeding.”

Eagle understood that she wasn’t talking about the girl’s arm. If they were to get their revenge, they would need help.

* * *

“Hurry, hurry, bring her in.”

The Inn at Fiddlebutt Mills wasn’t really that spectacular of a place, at least on the outside. It had the normal round gnomish windows and curved doors, and at one time a nice trim to the walls. But years and years of roughed-in metal patches bolted on left the place feeling ramshackled. The only truly odd thing about it was a massive exhaust pipe, snaking off to the side of the front door.

Inside the inn, the tables of the dining hall were already shoved against the side walls. There was a clear path to the wine cellar, which was giving off a green, pulsing light.

“We’re on back-up generators,” the gnome said. Eagle Mage was pretty sure it was the gnome that announced the details of the monster hunt. “Something happened to our dam.”

“I know, I was there,” Eagle said. “I plan on fixing the cause of the problem.”

“Oh,” the gnome said, scurrying down the stairs. “Oh. Well, we deal more with fixing effects here, not causes.”

Eagle Mage had to duck to get into the wine cellar. Only it wasn’t just a wine cellar.

Past the racks of finely aged elven and human bottles, there was an entire warren of tunnels, stairs, and softly green-glowing jars of fungus. The gnome led them down to the third right, then the second left, then two more rights, and down three flights of stairs.

“You two, bring the girl in,” the gnome said, clearly talking to the archers. “There’s not enough room for everyone. You’ll have to wait outside.”

Eagle nodded. He leaned up against the wall, and finally took a moment to rest. The rage did not go away.

* * *

Ella didn’t like this facility. She knew exactly what was bothering her – all of her tracking senses were replaced with a raw static.

The mages didn’t seem to notice it. They probably lived in similarly shielded places. Heck, this was probably comfortable for them.

Ella and Thelonius got Marion to the table, which was more gnome-sized than useful. But before she could complain, gnome nurses and technicians were swarming over Marion. One carefully dabbed a damp cloth over the beads of sweat on her forehead. Another had her tourniquet off, muttering that the wound was so wonderfully clean.

One of the nurses noticed the caked-on blood on Thelonius’s rump. He tried his best to wave off the nurse, saying it was nothing. Two gnome technicians then started to distract him, as the nurse shot a syringe of paralysing anesthesia into him. It was almost amusing watching Thelonius frozen and helpless. Almost, if it weren’t for their comrade dying in front of them.

* * *

“Your archer friends owe you a debt.”

Eagle Mage looked up, and then realized he had to look up. Instead of another short gnome, a cloaked man was standing there.

“And you are?” Eagle asked.

“A client,” he said. “A client that likes to help people with debts.”

Eagle glanced down the hall for Dragonfly Mage. She had just left to get some food, as it was going to be a long night.

“I don’t have any debts,” Eagle said. “Order of Visions pays well.”

The man grinned.

“Oh, but I think you owe somebody,” he said. “Some … dwarf.”

The man then walked upstairs. Eagle didn’t follow him.

* * *

“This is bad,” Ella said. “The Guild is already in debt.”

“This is a load of Obscured, is what it is,” Thelonius said. “They invited us, they tricked us, and now they’re charging us? For what? Pulling an arrow out of my ass?”

Ella leaned over the rail, taking another look at her injured comrade. Her injured friend …

“And saving Marion,” Ella said.

Thelonius closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.

“She lost her hand,” Thelonius said. “She’s not an archer anymore.”

“Thelo, what are you saying?”

“If she’s not an archer, she can’t very well be a part of the Archer’s Guild anymore, can she?”

“Marion!”

Ella rushed down the stairs. Marion was awake, and staring at Thelonius. Her eyes were filled with betrayal.

“Honey, don’t talk,” Ella said, patting the sweat off Marion’s brow. “The gnomes, honey. The gnomes say that you’re going to live.”

Marion closed her eyes, then turned her head away.

“Perhaps we should talk outside,” Thelonius said.

Ella could feel screams bubbling inside of her as she followed Thelonius out. But when it came time to shout at him, she had no words.

“Pardon me.”

Ella looked up, half-expecting to see the hook-nosed mage interrupting. Instead, it was a man in a dark cloak, with chrome-tipped boots.

“And who are you?” Thelonius asked.

“Money,” he said.

Ella looked him up and down. He was wearing extremely expensive riding leathers, not something you typically see down in Fiddlebutt Mills.

“I have some work for you. Just for listening, I’ll cover all of the medical bills incurred.”

Ella looked at Thelonius. There wasn’t even room for debate now – they had to follow.

* * *

Eagle Mage told himself that he was just going upstairs to get some food. That’s all. But when he got there, he saw Dragonfly talking with two Furrs, one with a fuzzy mustache, and one with a black and white fur pattern around massive hand paws.

“Lucky can’t go on this way,” the mustached one said. “He’s taken a few hits to the head before. That last one, that dwarf … it’s over for him.”

“He’s got a family,” the black and white said. “We don’t know what to-”

“Eagle,” Dragonfly said, waving him over. “You should come here. This is Mr. Whiskers, and Mr. Mittens.”

“Just Mittens, actually,” the black and white furr said, saluting Eagle.

“They made it back here about an hour before us,” she said. “They were ambushed.”

“Let me guess,” Eagle said. “A dwarf, an elf, and a, uh…”

“Yeah, a furr,” Mr. Whiskers said. “Runt, from a different clan.”

“That’s not the only thing,” Dragonfly Mage said. “I was approached by a man who made an interesting offer.”

“As were we,” Mr. Whiskers said. “He wants to talk to us, offer us some work.”

“Me too,” Eagle said. “If it’s another competitive contract, I’ll just kill him for his boots.”

“I rather like my boots,” the man said, walking up through the wine cellar doors. The two archers followed him.

The man in the cloak named off each of the adventurers, but did not offer up his own name.

“What I need is a team of six,” he said. “Cross-disciplined, but skilled. And I pay well. Six adventurer shares up front, and 10 shares per head brought back.”

“Heads?” Ella asked.

He set a fat purse of coins on the table, then unrolled a scroll with three headshots on it.

“I want you to kill Dwarf, Elf and Weretiger.”