Haukke Manor had once belonged to the Elder Seedseers of old, where they used the large mansion as a place of spiritual reflection and meditation. Despite its use, Gridanians often protested the mansion, decrying it for the symbol of excess that it was. It wasn’t until the Elder Seedseer before our current one that the Padjal decided to withdraw from use of the mansion. Haukke Manor was sold off to the highest bidder, a Duskwight Elezen named Lady Amandine. She was a beautiful and vain woman, her looks and riches her highest concern. She spent fortunes importing beauty products from across the realm, no price was too high. Facial creams from Coerthas honey? Shampoos derived from exotic phurble milk? Her rituals continued to escalate and rumors of the lengths she would go to remain beautiful became grim.

Then the worst possible thing happened. Lady Amandine had been injured during the Calamity, her once beautiful face marred and disfigured. She locked herself away in her room, refusing to ever leave again. Ursandel had been Lady Amandine’s butler since she was young, and he feared she would lose herself to her dark depression. She spent more and more of her riches on products, but nothing could hide her hideous scars. That is, until one day the woman was visited by a pair of masked men. They told Amandine that she could be beautiful again. All she had to do was sacrifice the blood of maidens pure. Amandine, so desperate to be beautiful once more, heeded the words of these masked men. She had her virgin maids killed and bathed in their blood. Ursandel, ever faithful to Amandine, did not question her actions.

The dark rites that Amandine performed changed her. She did indeed grow beautiful once more, but she was forever changed. She was Elezen no more, but now a creature of darkness. Distraught at what she had become and jealous of all of those who were beautiful and pure, Amandine began transforming her remaining staff into abominations such as herself. Ursandel, fearing for his life and having disposed of one too many bodies, finally fled. Now Amandine resides in Haukke Manor, sending out her Voidsent servants to perform her grisly deeds. The victims, their faces disfigured beyond recognition, could only be Amandine’s work.

I stared at Ursandel, taking it all in. The masked men could only be Ascians, that much I had determined. But how could this man have gone along with his employer’s descent into madness? Amandine’s devotion to beauty and the dark arts she pursued clearly broke Ursandel’s heart. I couldn’t understand why he had waited so long to leave and refused to seek help. As far as I was concerned, the recently spilt blood was on his hands just as much as Amandine’s. Ursandel said much the same, to my surprise. He begged me to take whatever course of action I deemed necessary to prevent Amandine from claiming another victim. There was really only one way to stop her from killing again, and I believed that Ursandel knew.

I reported to Minfilia via linkpearl that there was indeed Ascian activity in the Twelveswood and informed her of the current situation. I told her that I intended on infiltrating Haukke Manor and putting an end to Amandine’s revenge on life. She insisted that I wait for reinforcements and I gave in. There was something about her tone of voice that kept me from arguing. I briefly remembered her just that very morning, grasping my hand and bidding me to be careful. I sat in the Carline Canopy, lost in thoughts, waiting for my task force to arrive.

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“Well, I certainly didn’t expect to see you here,” a voice said above me. I looked up in time to see Oliver Koenig set his shield and sword on the table. He dropped his pack to the floor and sat down, bending over the bag in search. He pulled out a bottle of oil and began cleaning his equipment. “Minfilia’s still got you employed after that Ifrit fiasco?”

I shot Oliver a glare. “You know full well that I’m still running errands for the Scions. I’ve even seen Rae a few times since.”

Oliver nodded. “Yeah, I know. She mentioned having to help someone who keeps getting into trouble. I knew immediately who she was talking about.”

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I was ready to jump over the table and throttle the Elezen when a hand settled on my shoulder. I looked up and saw Azarashi Asha smiling down at me. “Don’t let him get to you, he’s in a sour mood. I, on the other hand, am a few thousand gil richer thanks to a certain sourpuss.” The red haired Elezen hefted a coin purse and nodded toward the bar. “I’ll go get us some drinks while the rest of you catch up.”

Just as Azarashi stepped away from the table Sorasha Ashi seated herself next to me. She smiled and my heart skipped a beat. I took a moment to remind myself that this cherubic woman would more than likely get me killed one of these days and finally greeted her, breaking the awkward silence far too late.

“You’re looking good as always,” I said, working in the complement in hopes that she’d ignore my lapse in consciousness.

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Sorasha smiled again. “Oh, thanks! I’m not doing anything special, really.” And mission accomplished. With victory against the awkward meeting in hand, I returned my attention back to Oliver.

“So Minfilia sent you to help with that thing?” I asked, not wanting to give away any of the details in front of Sorasha.

Azarashi sat back down with drinks and handed them out. We were forced to hold the mugs as Oliver’s equipment spanned the length of the table. “No secrets here. We’re coming with you.”

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I blinked at Azarashi then to Oliver. “W-what? Really?”

“I’m the only person who was currently in the region,” Oliver said before taking a long draught of his drink. “It’d take too long for people to show up and we’ve both worked with these two before.” He placed his mug down on the table in front of him a little too hard, glancing at Azarashi. “Even if one of them is suspiciously skilled at dice…”

I rolled my eyes and fixed the group with a look. “Alright, I suppose that’s no problem. I learned from Ursandel that Haukke Manor is on the western edge of the Central Shroud, beyond a swamp. It’s huge, we shouldn’t miss it. He also gave me the key to get in. So this should be pretty simple. Get in and take Amandine down.”

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“When are we doing this then?” Oliver asked, finally putting away the oil and setting aside his equipment. “According to the witness accounts, there’s been four victims in the last four days.”

I nodded. “We should go tonight. We can’t let anyone else get hurt.”

When we arrived at Haukke Manor there should have been just enough day left to see by, but an unexpected storm had rolled through and the clouds blocked out the dying light. The lightning turned the already intimidating mansion into something of nightmarish quality.

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We stepped hesitantly through the garden in front of the mansion. There were a number of hedges trimmed into grotesque shapes and the water in the fountain had long since grown murky. We stepped lively to the building, the large stained glass window reflecting the flashes from the lightning in the sky. I used the key Ursandel had given me and we entered the mansion.

Immediately upon entering the foyer was a grand staircase leading up to the second floor. The stairwell split at a landing halfway up, leading both left and right toward the different wings of the upper level. There at the landing was a magic barrier, glowing dimly. Lightning crashed outside and the light cast strange shadows across the large room. I turned to my companions and noticed Sorasha shivering.

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“Are you ok?” I asked quietly.

“It’s so creepy,” she replied. I was about to console her when she shot me a grin. “I love it!” I realized that the Thaumaturge wasn’t scared at all, but was trying her hardest to hold back her excitement. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

“Okay…” I said quietly to myself in disbelief and examined the barrier. “Up is out of the question. Let’s start looking.”

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We walked underneath the stairwell and straight ahead to a large door. It was locked and wouldn’t budge. There was only one other way to go, a hallway leading deeper into the mansion. We followed the hall slowly, trying to remain quiet. I peered into a room to the side and found a small sitting area. Empty picture frames hung from the wall and the room seemed to be in a total disarray.

I left the room behind and quickened my pace to catch up with the rest. The hall lead to the right and we found rooms on the opposite sides of the hall. To our left was another sitting room, and to our right was a large library.

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We entered the library and continued our way through to the other side. We entered the other wing of the mansion and began searching the rooms on that side. We found a large gate, the iron twisted and turning like a wall of ivy, situated between the kitchen and a storage room. It looked like the gate lead to something, but we were unable to open it. We found ourselves with only one place left to go. During its heyday, the room was known as the Red Hall. A massive ballroom with seats lining the walls. The stone floor clicked underneath our feet and I wondered what it would have been like to see this place during the day and without the sense of foreboding darkness.

I was in the process of examining a number of instruments that were still sitting in a corner gathering dust when the doors we had entered through slammed shut. There was a haunting shriek and we were attacked suddenly. I barely dodged the concussive blast of fire that erupted in front of me, destroying the instruments in the process. I looked to the source of the flame and saw a woman floating in the air. Her skin was pale, and there was much of it to be seen. She wore very little, and I flushed at the sight of her. She had massive bat-like wings that were draped behind her like a cloak. Her hands were viciously clawed, her whole lower arms malformed into something approximating arms. Two long horns jutted from the back of her head curling out behind her. She was a beautiful abomination carrying a nasty looking blade.

Oliver rushed the demonic woman, his sword and shield ready, then began trading blows with her. Azarashi jumped and threw his polearm, what I was beginning to suspect was his favorite means of attacking, but the weapon missed the flying woman and he was forced to run to retrieve it. Sorasha held back near me and began throwing magic at the demon.

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I stood transfixed for a moment, unable to find the will to attack. Despite the creature’s disfigurement and nauseating aura, I felt a heat begin to stir within me. I couldn’t help but take in the Voidsent’s beauty. Even though she was mid-battle with Oliver and Azarashi, I could feel her calling to me. I felt a hand jostle me aside as another blast of fire erupted nearby. I fell roughly to the floor, a weight atop me, and Sorasha’s cherubic face filled my vision.

“What’s gotten into you?” She yelled, more out of concern than anger. She picked herself up off me and then helped me to my feet.

“I.. I’m sorry. You don’t feel that… pull, coming from her?” I found it hard to describe what I had felt.

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Sorasha shrugged her shoulders and threw a ball of lightning. “I don’t feel a thing. Now start helping.”

I focused my mind on the stratagems and formulas within my book as I healed Oliver and Azarashi’s wounds. The maths that converted Aether into form seemed enough to distract me from the enticing aura the creature was radiating. I let out a sigh of relief when they finally struck it down.

“Just what the hells were you doing?” Oliver rounded on me. “Just stand there gaping at it, huh? Like you’ve never seen a pair of-”

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“I think what Oliver is getting at is that we could have used your help from the start,” Azarashi interjected.

I looked away from the two. “What was that thing?”

“A succubus,” Oliver spat. “They feed on lust and souls, and you’d have made a fine meal when the rest of us were dead apparently.”

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I clenched my fists and glowered at Oliver. “Oh, and you didn’t feel that magic she was emanating?”

“No, I didn’t,” he replied bluntly. “Because when this is all over, I have someone to go home to.” He pointed at Azarashi and Sorasha. “And these two didn’t feel it because they have each other.”

My mouth was agape as the truth of Oliver’s words struck home. “I.. I’m a risk to the mission then. I should leave..”

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Oliver shrugged his shoulders. “Forget it. We’ll be fine so long as we don’t run into another one. Besides, if lust is your problem I know this nice place where the ladies are ju-”

“Oh, look, I think that monster dropped something!” Sorasha said loudly as she stepped toward the remains. As the others moved to inspect what Sorasha found I tried to wrap my head around Oliver. He certainly had no problem acting the tough leader and berating me but then he goes and tries to tell me about some sleazy brothel he knows of. And I’m the one with the lust problem? I shook unbidden thoughts from my head and focused on the conversation.

“It’s a key,” Sorasha said, holding up the object. It was, in fact, an ornate key, designed like ivy. I had the funny feeling that it would unlock the gate we had found and mentioned my thoughts. We returned to the gate and sure enough the key fit, unlocking it. We stepped into the small room beyond, the gate shutting behind us. To our surprise, it wasn’t a room but an elevator. We descended into cellars beneath the mansion and were shocked at what we saw.

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The cellars underneath Haukke Mansion were massive, and looked more like a dungeon than anything else. There were numerous cells spread out along the outside walls, all empty. We continued along the path counter clockwise until we reached one cell that was still performing its intended purpose. We searched the wine cellar and twice I had to stop Oliver from packing away a bottle or two. Our search turned out fruitful and we found a yellow key. We completed our circuit, returning to the gated elevator. There, directly across from the elevator, was a door we had previously ignored.

Sure enough, the key unlocked the door and we entered the massive room. More cells lined the walls, cages hanging from the ceiling by large chains. I wondered just what kind of place this was to have its own massive jail underneath it. Surely the Elder Seedseers of old were not using their summer retreat home as some sort of gaol? These cells must have been added in by Lady Amandine, before or after she had gone mad. As I continued my inspection of the room I noticed the fresh blood stains on the stone floor. This was apparently where Amandine had been performing her sacrifices.

The thrum of magic in the air was hard to feel at first, but as I moved about the room I was certain I could feel it growing stronger and weaker. Focusing and feeling my way, I managed to find the source. An inconspicuous urn sat in a corner and it was radiating some form of magic. I remembered the barrier blocking the stairwell, and shattered the urn, the magic dissipating away. I mentioned to the group my theory and we returned to the first floor to check it out. Luckily, as I had guessed, the barrier had fallen.

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We ascended the staircase, knowing that Lady Amandine was sure to be upstairs somewhere. There were only so many places left to look and we were quickly homing in. We had barely made it to the landing when we heard the flapping of wings. We stopped and watched as a Voidsent flew by on the upper level. It was a large, round creature with massive bat wings, spindly arms and legs and a very long spiked tail. Resting above the creature’s toothy maw was one massive eye. The flying eye let out a surprised shriek as it spotted us and fled further into the mansion.

Oliver swore and we rushed up the remaining steps. Just as we crested the flight of stairs a haughty laugh echoed through the mansion. The sound of it sent a shiver down my spine and I had a feeling that Lady Amandine was in fact home. I motioned to an open doorway that feeble light drifted from. Steeling ourselves for whatever lie beyond the threshold we ventured into the room.

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The first thing I noticed was the size of the bedroom. It was massive, barely smaller than the ballroom on the first floor. It was also a mess just like the rest of the rooms in the house. It was clear that Lady Amandine’s rage had spread chaos through the house, and this was the epicenter.

A large chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling, strange candelabra in each corner of the room. On the far wall there was a big canopied bed, far bigger than any bed I had ever seen. I didn’t have a clear view of it, however, because just in front of it was Lady Amandine, floating in the air.

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She looked almost exactly like the succubus we had encountered on the first floor. Her skin was a shade of purple, possibly the same tone it was when she had been a Duskwight Elezen. Her black hair was long and silky, framing an incredibly beautiful face. Her long tail flicked idly as though she didn’t have a care in the world. She carried in her hand a rod adorned with a gem and bat wings. And just like the first succubus I had encountered that evening, I could feel an aura emanating from her that tugged at my soul and made my body burn.

“My sentry informed me that we had guests, but he failed to mention that two of them were so beautiful.” Lady Amandine’s voice was smooth like silk, her words dripping from her full lips like honey. “It seems I will not need to leave on the morrow for my next sacrifice.”

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I was visibly shaking and I clenched my fists to steady myself. “I h-hate to break it to you,” I began, my voice just as unsteady as my legs. “B-but I’m no maiden.”

Lady Amandine smirked at me and my knees felt weak. “No, you’re not.” She drew closer and stopped when Oliver stepped in front of me. “But the other…” Her gaze lingered on Sorasha and the Thaumaturge blushed. Azarashi stepped in front of her, his knuckles white as he gripped his spear tight.

“Get a hold of yourself, Ros,” Oliver said to me quietly.

Amandine’s gaze returned to me and I staggered back. “Ah, yes. Rosalyn Sable, a beautiful black rose indeed.” She reached her hand out, beckoning. I took a step involuntarily. How did she know my name? “Come to me. I can see the darkness in your heart. You bare scars, just like I had. I will snuff out the light from these fools, and together we shall bathe in the maiden’s blood. You will become beautiful just like me, and then the real fun will begin.”

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It was true. Amandine and I had both been hurt during the Calamity. Not just the scar on my face, but the wounds inside my heart that still festered. All those nights I spent, unable to sleep for fear of dreams of days past. And when I slept it was tortured as I was forced to relive Cartenau and every mistake I had made since then. Why should I continue to fight and be forced to live in pain if with Amandine there would be a life of pleasure in the darkness? Who needed light if all it did was shine too bright and cast unnecessary shadows?

I stepped ever closer to Amandine’s awaiting hand, my feet guiding me as my body burned. My senses dulled and the words of my friends became nothing more than noise in the background. My vision tunneled and all I could see was Amandine, her form a vision of pure beauty. I yearned to be closer to her, to be by her side. There was no turning back now. I’d be with her forever, may the Twelve forgive me.

I turned back toward my companions. I had made it halfway across the room now, Oliver hadn’t stopped me. They looked on, concern etched across their faces, all save for Oliver who fixed me with a hard glare. How could he even begin to judge me? He had someone to go home to. Azarashi had Sorasha with her brilliant smile. I had nobody. The only thing I could call my own was a room at whatever inn happened to be closest. I’d never slept in a bed like Amandine’s. The closest I had ever come was Minfilia’s in the Waking Sands.

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I stopped moving suddenly. I was mere ilms away from Amandine’s outstretched hand. If I had reached I’d be just able to touch her claws with the tips of my fingers. My pounding heart slowed and the heat burning inside me faded away. Amandine’s enticing aura no longer crashed against me like waves upon a ship. I looked up at the succubus’ face and just for a moment I could see her as she had been, her face scarred and disfigured. My senses returned to me all at once and I could finally hear the voice that had been shouting directly into my ear.

“Rosalyn! Fight it!”

The linkpearl given to me by the Scions of the Seventh Dawn was still in my ear. How had it gotten there? What did it matter? Minfilia’s advice was all the encouragement I needed.

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Amandine let out a wrathful shriek as she realized her hypnotic hold on me was lost. I barely ducked a swipe of her wicked claws and stumbled out of her way. She raised her rod to strike at me with it but Oliver had already closed the distance and slammed his shield into Amandine’s scantily clad body.

Sorasha grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the way of direct combat just as Azarashi bounded clear over me and began fending Amandine off with his spear. “I’m sorry,” I managed to blurt out as we retreated to the far side of the room.

Sorasha shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, it wasn’t your fault.” She pointed at the succubus with her staff and tossed a ball of flame that managed to singe a wing.

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I nodded and opened my book, focusing on healing Oliver’s injuries as he fought Amandine. The succubus was a tough opponent, launching flames and lightning about the room as the two close range combatants danced in and out of her range. It was clear that she was slowly gaining the upper hand. A window shattered, the flying eye busting into the room. It flew directly toward Sorasha and I and we began hitting it with everything we had.

I glanced away from the flying eye in time to see Oliver knocked aside, hitting hard against a wall. Amandine blasted Azarashi away with a burst of fire then flew quickly across the air at us. I turned, intending to volley magic at her but I too was knocked away, my breath leaving me as I rolled across the floor.

“There will be time for playing with you later,” she said, gazing in my direction. I fought to get back onto my feet but slipped, coughing and trying to get air back into my lungs. Amandine reached out and gripped Sorasha by the arm, holding her high into the air. “But first, we must make this one bleed.”

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“Get your hands off of her!” Azarashi yelled from across the room. His clothes still smoldering from the last hit he had received, he had somehow managed to get back on his feet and escape the flames. Amandine unceremoniously dropped Sorasha to the ground and turned to face the Lancer, intending to finish him off. I watched as Azarashi ran forward and I dreaded what was about to happen. I knew he’d jump and throw his spear. I had seen him do it so many times, the Elezen must have thought it made him look like a dashing hero.

Azarashi jumped, but he did not throw his spear. The weapon burst into a brilliant light, changing shape into a massive blade. It was the same weapon of light that Oliver had summoned in Sastasha Seagrot. Azarashi moved with a speed I had never seen before. He slashed across Amandine’s body once, then was behind her slashing again. It was as though he were simply teleporting all about her, cutting away at her with that unwieldy weapon of light. He cut her at least a dozen times if not more, the blade arcing outward and leaving ribbons of light in its wake, before finally appearing high above her and slashing downward, cleaving her as he landed.

Azarashi tossed the weapon aside as it shifted back into his polearm and he rushed over to Sorasha’s side. I got up slowly, still dizzy, and somehow noted in my muddled head that the flying eye had managed to escape. I stumbled over to Oliver and began healing his injuries. He slowly came to and was no worse for the wear. As I helped Oliver stand I felt a wave of nausea wash over me.

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“Darkness has taken root in these halls, sprung from the most unlikely of seeds.”

“One cannot help but admire the irrepressible spirit that quickened it to life.”

The words were spoken in that dark, twisted tongue, but I understood them all the same. I turned and saw not one, but two Ascians. They wore black robes, not quite as intricately detailed as Lahabrea’s but I had the feeling that these two weren’t much further down on the totem pole. They wore black masks, much like the mask the first Ascian I had encountered wore. Their words, though. Was that an admission that they had been involved in Lady Amandine’s descent into the darkness.

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“It is a pleasure to meet you at last, adventurer. You are every bit as intriguing as our master gave us to believe.” The Ascian on the right said with a little bow.

“What do you two want with me?” I demanded. Oliver stepped beside me. He was a member of the Scions. He too knew who these Ascians were.

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“It is no ordinary mortal who can acquire one Crystal of Light… much less three. The Crystals make you strong, and it is to that strength that the Light is drawn.” The one on the left spoke now. Oliver raised an eyebrow at me at the mention of the Crystals of Light and I simply shook my head, not knowing what to say.

“Hydaelyn chose well. A pity that your existence is irreconcilable with our own. We cannot well allow you to continue upon your present course.”

I stepped forward, readying my book. “If that’s the case then give me your best shot.” Oliver beside me drew his sword once more and across the room I could see Sorasha and Azarashi preparing their weapons. We had barely survived the encounter with Amandine, I didn’t see how we would be able to defeat two Ascians. I was beginning to regret my words, but I held my ground.

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“Alas, we came here not to play, but to take the measure of your strength for Master Lahabrea. That task now accomplished, we take our leave of you.”

“Fare you well, Bringer of Light…”

The two Ascians were consumed by shadows and disappeared to wherever they had come from, leaving us alone once again.

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“Who were those people?” Sorasha asked. “Were they the ones who caused Lady Amandine to become that monster?”

I bit my lower lip for a moment, considering all that had transpired. “If I had to guess, I’d say that Lady Amandine would have resorted to more drastic measures without intervention from the Ascians. However, thanks to them she’s claimed countless victims, not just the ones from outside this manor.”

Oliver placed his hand on my shoulder. “Well, now that this dark deed is done, how about we go raid that wine cellar so we can toast the lives lost from this grisly affair?”

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I casually picked Oliver’s hand off of my shoulder and dropped it. “No thanks. I don’t think any amount of drink will make me feel better. This has been quite the sobering event.” The group nodded and we departed Haukke Manor. The storm was still raging when we left the mansion. There was something nice about the cold rain soaking through my clothes after the heat of battle, among other things. After a round of drinks at the Carline Canopy I bid my companions farewell and spent the rest of the night awake thinking and listening to the sound of the rain.

—-

This one sure was fun to write. It seemed to go on forever though. And that was even after I changed things up. I'll have to admit, some of my details in Haukke Manor are probably off. I only ran the dungeon once and haven't been back to it since, despite it being one of the coolest dungeons in the game. I really had to dig a bit to get what details I did have, and luckily there's always a slew of images on the internet to pull. A couple of mine are in here as well, of course.

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The next arc involves Titan and the Company of Heroes, and is rather silly to begin so if anyone is getting tired of these depressing and just slightly not safe for work entries then you'll be glad to know that we're getting out of them for the time being.

And with that, where is everyone at? I know some people had just cleared this dungeon last week and were glad that I was no longer ahead of them. I seem to recall someone was already at Stone Vigil? I hope when you guys finish the main story that you'll still come back and check out my posts. I'd say we've reached the halfway point. A lot of adventuring has been done, but there's still so much more to come. Please look forward to it.