Thursday 2 June 2022

The Road To Acheron, Part One - "The Seven Sacrifices"

Last night was the first proper session of my game of Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. Following character creation, I took a cue from a few Howard stories and started the action with the heroes in captivity: their weapons, armour, equipment, and allies all taken from them, leaving them with only a deliberately abrasive tunic & their wits. Will this first adventure be their last? Well, only one way to find out...

Chapter One: Eyes in the Dark

Seven lambs in seven cells

Seven wolves in seven fells

Seven seas for seven shells

Seven coins for seven wells

Seven rites for seven spells

Seven chimes of seven bells

Seven souls for seven hells

 - Old Shemite shibboleth

The captives responded to their incarceration differently. The Kothian prayed daily for Mitra to grant him strength and resolution in the very den of his great enemy. The Kushite and the Stygian exchanged grumbling pleasantries, each stinging remark the gesture of a perverse seraglio dance, revealing the naked flesh of their contempt for one another until no threat was left unveiled. The occupant in the farthest cell crouched in the shadows, watching, inscrutable. The Hyperborean enjoyed the dark futility of his situation with the mirthless grin of a trapped wolf. The Gunderman, unused to enclosed spaces and fiercely prizing the freedom of his people, tried the strange, ornately-wrought cell door - but not even the fabled iron grip of Bori himself would have been sufficient to dislodge it. As for the Argossean, well, he was practical: he recounted as much detail as possible.

Every half-hour or so, the clang of a metal door on stone would shatter the uneasy silence: the clap of footsteps upon the floor would refrain, pausing regularly with a hushed jangle followed by a low grunt. Observation revealed that the Phylacist - the jailer - was trying the locks. "Every half hour?" thought the Argossean. The Kushite broke from his still-ongoing debate with the Stygian to note this weird regularity on the part of a paranoid jailer.

The Argossean was in no mood to extend his sojourn any longer than necessary. As soon as the loud clanging stopped ringing in his ears, he tore a scrap of his tunic free and jammed it into the lock. He waited, endeavouring not to interject on the sparkling repartee between the Kushite and the Stygian, for everyone knew the hatred between those two southern nations. The Gunderman across from him watched, understanding his plan, the spark of a new hope - escape - flashing in his mind.

In time, the terminal clang of the outer door sang again, and the Phylacist resumed his routine. The Argossean immediately dropped to the floor, face down, and feigned death with an ease that could only come from regular deployment. He heard the muted clink of a key fumbling in a jammed lock, the pained grumble of the Phylacist - and then a sharp silence. Then a scrabbling and louder jangle of keys, followed by the cell door swinging open, and the Argossean sprang to life, charging at the jailer. The big man was knocked backwards to the opposite cell, where the Gunderman lay in wait: great brawny arms thrust between the iron and held the jailer in place. Shouting in profane oaths, the Jailer flailed for his cudgel - and dropped the keys at the grinning Argossean's feet. 

Snatching them up, the Argossean raced down the corridor to the gigantic Hyperborean. "You, Hyperborean, you can fight, yes?" 

The giant rose to his full height. "Aye," he replied with a fatalistic glimmer in his cold rimefrost eyes.

"Well, there's a man that needs fighting if ever I saw one" - the Argossean gesturing to the jailer thrashing and kicking against the Gunderman's vice-like grip. The Hyperborean nodded, and the Argossean swiftly unlocked the door. It was a timely intervention, as the jailer just barely extricated his sweat-slicked arm from the Gunderman's grasp: freed, he loped down to meet the two free prisoners. The Hyperborean was taller, but the jailer easily heavier, and the two collided like great bull apes as the Argossean slipped by. The Hyperborean was confident in tests of strength, having wrestled with bulls, bears, even mammoth calves in his youth - but the jailer used the giant's own height against him, pivoting with his lower centre of gravity and twisting the Hyperborean back into his cell. The Jailer, snarling triumphantly, reached to his belt for the keys - his grin dropping into an O of surprise, as he followed the jangling of his keys back to the Argosseon, who was now attempting to free the Kothian.

With a heathen oath, the Jailer was about to charge, at the Argossean, still trying the lock - only to find all was dark. He grasped at his face, screaming in outrage at the texture of a prisoner's tunic. Within a few moments, he had ripped it off, and beheld the nude Stygian, pointing and gesticulating as he cursed in his strange language. After the jailer cursed the Stygian with a remark on his unmistakable rank odour, the jailer grabbed his cudgel and raced up the corridor - but not before the Kothian stepped out from his unlocked cell.

The two faced one another, and the Kothian realised that his jailer was one of his own - a traitor to his people and his god, one of the "civilised" Kothians whose people were under the heel of Acheron and their Set-worshipping devils. But he did not pause: he strode purposefully towards the jailer, and as his larger countryman reached out his massive arms, the Kothian ducked. The two twisted to face each other again, and the Kothian smote the jailer square in the face. The Kothian heard and felt bones cracking upon contact - his own, as well as the jailer's. The Kothian recoiled and shook his injured hand as the jailer staggered backwards, steadying himself against a cell door. Slender hands struck out from the darkness and grasped the jailer's topknot - the occupant, a Zamorian, braced her feet against the iron cell door as she wrenched with all her might to hold the jailer. The Kothian and Argossean then rushed in to hold the jailer's arms, each the size of one of their own legs.

The Hyperborean, his pride bruised more than his body, emerged from his cell with a cold fury burning in his eyes. He walked, then jogged, then sprinted down the corridor towards the jailer, who could do nothing but kick his legs pathetically as three sets of arms held him in place. As he accelerated, the Hyperborean bellowed, and leapt into the air, bringing his massive iron foot up to head height, using all his rangy body weight to thrust it into the defenceless jailer's face. What remained of the jailer's already hideously scarred face caved in, the back of his skull making a sickening crack against the cell door, and the tensed quivering body suddenly fell limp. Even the combined strength of the Zamorian, Argossean, and Kothian could not prevent the mass of humanity from slumping to the ground. The Hyperborean lay prostrate on the floor, the enthusiasm of his vengeance leaving him open to hubris: he leapt with such height that he landed flat on his back, smacking his skull against the ground. The Kothian helped the giant to his feet as the Argossean freed the Zamorian, and in short order all the prisoners were released.

It was only at this point, in the post-battle lull, that the others noticed the Stygian and the Kushite had been trading insults all through the fight.

Chapter 2: The Unshakable Towers of Dread Python

As soon as the group told the bickering couple to cease their yammering, their attention turned to the next move. The Argossean gestured towards himself, and spoke in the common Shemitish trading creole; "You alright there, friend? I'm Arcus, by the way," and extended his hand towards the Hyperborean, who was still cradling his sore head. "Dusan," the giant slurred. In turn, the rest volunteered their names: "Zafia" piped the Zamoran, "Kryxus" rumbled the Gunderman, "Tiberius" declared the Kothian, "Kenyatta" boomed the Kushite, and "Amatagt" barked the Stygian.

Arcus clapped his hands with anxious enthusiasm. "Well, now that introductions are in order, it seems good time to leave. Shall we?" As all responded in some way recognisable to the affirmative, Arcus was pleased that they could, at least, understand one another. What was of greater concern was exactly how they would leave. "I need my things," Dusan grumbled. "We go get my things."

The light from the small circular windows projected beams of amethyst light, but looking through revealed a tunnel stretching several feet - suggesting a very deep wall. What little light was permitted entry into this tenebrous void provided precious little visibility for the group, so they turned towards the only interior source of light - the gate at the end of the corridor. Beyond the ornately twisted bars of the gate, several sconces were lit - purple flames burning eerily in the darkness. But what was not evident on the gate was a keyhole - or indeed a lock of any kind.

Kenyatta took a moment to study the door. It was wrought from some form of metal, that much was clear, but the shape and the texture seemed wrong. Just as he was about to reach towards it, a dark memory struck his mind, and he recoiled with a start. His master taught him many secret arts, but many were kept hidden to him: one such art was in the forging of certain things - imbuing metal with a living essence, to strengthen it far beyond natural metal's capabilities. Whatever was living in those iron structures, however, did not want to remain trapped inanimate for eternity. "Sorcery! Do not touch the gate!" spluttered Kenyatta just as the Gunderman looked to open the it in his own muscular way. 

The Gunderman groaned, his break for treasured freedom obstructed just as it seemed in his grasp. As if in response to the group's shared confoundment, a strange, guttural sound crept through the silence - rising to a sinister chuckle, then a thunderous laughter which seemed to reverberate in the very masonry. There was no joy in that hideous roar than there is warmth in the frozen hearth of Ymir the Frost-Giant: even the Hyperborean's skin rippled uncomfortably at the deathly ice in that voice.

Arcus and Tiberius peered through the door. Standing before them, flanked by those weird torches, was a tall, pale man - taller than even the Hyperborean by almost a head. A great cascade of black hair surged over his shoulders, like a dark lion's mane; a similarly leonine beard framed thin, colourless lips; a dark robe with esoteric symbols picked out in gold thread draped over broad shoulders, with corded neck muscles lit in stark relief by the purple torchlight. But most remarkable were the figure's eyes, hidden in shadow by his pronounced brow: strange golden light danced in those eyes, like those of a great cat or serpent, refracting eldritch lights that only his eyes could see.

"Well, little lambs, you see now escape is impossible. It was... entertaining to watch your attempts, sensing the fire in your hearts kindling, then bursting into flame... Only to be snuffed out." As the voice spat out those final words, the torches died, smothered by some unseen gust.

Shaking himself from his momentary inertia, Arcus spoke up. "Why are we here? For what reason are we imprisoned?"

The uncanny, unearthly beauty of the man's face did not betray any emotion. "The Stygian knows why he is here. You barbarians are here for your blood. As for the Kothian... ah, tell me, Tiberius, are you close to your lord? Not the witless savage deigning himself to be the true king: no, has your god spoken to you? Has he answered your prayers? Appeared to you? Even spoken a whisper in response to your prayers?" The man's lips drew cruelly across his teeth. "I expect even your Mitra knows the true power of Father Set." Tiberius stared coldly at this servant of the implacable enemy.

Shaking his head, as if catching himself from a distraction far beneath his worth, the man snorted derisively. "Enjoy your last night, lambs. Your blood will fuel a worthy cause." A joyless smile revealed his teeth in a predatory snarl, and he turned to walk away. At this point the stunned Hyperborean finally seemed to notice the stranger. In desperation, Arcus called after him. "But why would you need our blood? Surely our exalted lord Xaltotun can be reasoned with?"

The figure stopped, turned, with the merest hint of amusement creeping across his face. "Xaltotun cares not whether you acknowledge him or not. Does the tiger care if the fawn worships him? Does the serpent care if the mouse prays for his mercy? Your blood is but a drop in the ocean required for our Great Work. And your people, Kothian" - he nodded towards Tiberius - "Your people will play their part."

Tiberius steeled his resolve. "My people, my king, and my god march even now towards you! The power of Set will be broken, even if we die treading your snake-father's head under our heels!"

That grotesque laughter again. "Oh indeed, little Kothian lamb? You think that a rabble of fur-clad barbarians can stand against the might of the Snake That Coils The Earth? Even ants have more reasonable expectations - and greater capability. It was generous of your barbarian friends to bring themselves to Python, that they may cast themselves willingly into our pits, their blood fuelling enough power to remake the world as we see fit. But I've wasted enough time: in any-"

A sound of thunder. A flash of light. The tower rocked. The stillness was broken with a cacaphony that near burst the prisoners' eardrums. The very masonry seemed to scream, as if in agony, and howls of pain and terror began to fill the air outside. The prisoners stagger with the suddenly unsteady floor. Outside, an ominous rumble, like incoming squall, started to swell. A shadow blotted the light from the windows, one by one.

An almighty crash. The stones screamed again, and chaos erupted all around: rocks and dust soared through the dark, light bursting the darkness. Several prisoners were thrown to the ground, battered in a hail of stone fragments. The purple light of what would pass for Day in Acheron poured into the corridor. Three of the cells were gone: a huge cavity gaped into the open air, dust and smoke obscuring the world beyond.

Amatagt stalked forward, shielding his eyes from the dust and light. He walked through the doorway - the metal now twisted into strands of grey grass - and ventured a look below. He could barely see the ground over a hundred feet below. But propped against the lip of the chasm was the crumbling remains of the northeast Castellum tower. Outside, the all-too-human screams of pain and fright and rage sang a horrible dirge. 

Just then, another sound of thunder. A ray of light, like a finger of the gods, pierced the swirling dust. It came not from the heavens, but from the ground, reaching to the dim silhouette of another of Python's great towers. As soon as the light touched the tower, that hellish scream of stone cried out, and the tower began to fall, bricks scattering into the sky. As it plummeted, it seemed to disappear into the dust and smoke below.

Amatagt turned to the others. "I'm going down. Remain if that's your choice." With that, he leapt with the nimble finesse of a jackal, and started to run down the steep slope of the fallen tower. Arcus took a brief glance through the corridor gate, to find that the stranger was gone: only the afterimage of that strange face, and those terrible eyes, lingered in his vision a little too long after his sight should have adjusted. He wasted no more time, and followed the Stygian - as did the others, just as the fallen tower started to groan.

The prisoners raced down the precipice. The lithe Stygian had little dificulty avoiding the rapidly disintegrating stonework, used as he was to navigating the treacherous Kharamun Desert. Zafia, her legs still sore from leveraging a Kothian three times her size, stumbled but nonetheless surged onward. Unfortunately, Dusan, still discombobulated from his heroic charge, found running headlong through stinging dust down a deteriorating tower too great a challenge for his rangy frame. The Hyperborean swiftly overtook the others through spectacular - if inelegant, and entirely unplanned - acrobatic tumbles down the remaining length of the impromptu bridge. In a stroke of good fortune, the ground was kind enough to break his fall. He would not appreciate that generosity when he came back to his senses - again.

Just as the last prisoner alighted back on the earth, the remnants of the northeast tower finally gave, shattering like a fine glass sculpture. The rude, squat silhouette of the Place of Chains itself still stood, with only the scar left by the tower remaining. A flash of light, a snap of thunder: another tower, closer than the one Amatagt saw, started to fall. The seven watched in dreadful awe as the bricks themselves seem to unknit, with the tower's contents - furniture, doors, cauldrons, cages, humans - plunging with them. Rather than the single reverberating boom a falling tower would normally make, this was like a shower of hailstones magnified a hundredfold.

Arcus turned away from the horror. He noticed glinting among the ruins of the tower. Clearing away some of the rubble, he found weapons and armour: wicked glaives with waving blades like bifurcated snake tongues; cruel swords marked with esoteric Acheronian script; black tower shields emblazoned with coiled snakes and surely mythical creatures too terrible to be real; jewel-encrusted cuirasses and crested helms that refract the weird purple light of this land. The Pythonian Guard were more interested in flaunting their realm's vast wealth than pure practicality - even they knew that sorcery, not swords, were the true power of Acheron.

Arcus turned to the others. "Might be Acheronian, but a blade's a blade, & I'd rather be with than without." The others assented, and began to rummage. With some assistance, Dusan once again rose to his feet, growling and muttering in ignominy. Shaking the dust from his rattled head, he eschewed the ostentatious arms of Acheron and grasped two particularly weighty-looking bricks. Upon touching them, he noted with curiosity that the electric sensation which juddered him in his cell was absent: the bricks now felt like normal, natural stone to him.

He called out to the Kushite in staggered Shemitish. "The stones. They feel different. The sorcery... gone?"

Kenyatta inspected a broken block. The giant spoke true, he thought, as he ran his fingertips over the surface. "That light, the beam which struck the towers. Whatever magic is in it, it seemed to undo the sorcery which held these towers aloft. That must be mighty magic indeed."

Tiberius frowned. He knew that his god Mitra often manifested as shining light: driving away the forces of evil, dispelling dark sorcery, even doing harm to dark beings. But to outright overpower and destroy the magic of Acheron, to cast down the spires of its very capital? Was this possible?

Chapter 3: The Pit of the Python

Now armed and armoured, the band surveyed the situation. Zafia was the only one who knew the general layout of the city, and so noted the two best chances of escape: the southern gatehouse, and a culvert which drains into the River Tybor. The gatehouse is likely to be guarded, but offers the quickest route of escape; the culvert, while safer, will take longer to traverse, and if struck by the beam could be their tomb.

Kenyatta was not waiting. Weighing up an Acheronian sword, he marched towards the Castellum portcullis. Seeing this, Kryxus followed, listening keenly for sounds outside the wall. The clatter of footsteps, the hoarse shouts of marching orders, the jangle of mail - 

"Guardsmen, just outside!" hissed the Gunderman.

"Right," muttered Arcus. Within moments, the Argossean laid a trap: he positioned his comrades behind cover, at elevated positions, forming an ideal vector for a killing ground. Within moments, the guards had marched through the gate. They did not march with the regimental efficiency such warriors normally exhibited, nor were their faces fixed in a mask of haughty superiority. Their captain, a great hawk-faced man rivalling even the Hyperborean in height, beheld the ruins of the northeast tower, spitting an unholy oath in the guttural Acheronian tongue.

The Argossean loosed an arrow at the guardsmen: this signalled the attack. Dusan leapt from a pile of ruins like a Gray Ape, slamming the bricks full on a guardsman's breastplate, knocking both to the ground. The captain arced his brutal glaive at Zafia, but he stumbled on the rock-strewn surface, allowing the Zamorian to duck under the flicking blade. Amatagt cast his blade in a whirlwind, hemming two guards in to prevent them from flanking. The stone-wielding fists of the Hyperborean hammered upon the prone guard's helm, sparks flying from the metal: Dusan struck with such force one of the blocks split cleanly in two.

For a spell, guard and prisoner exchanged blows, neither gaining ground against the other. The roars of the siege and stinging dust of ruin unnerved both parties. Arcus attempted to breach the impasse, but his impressive volley of arrows clattered harmlessly from the guards' helms and cuirasses. When Dusan's foe finally fell limp, his victorious snarl was enough to bolster his allies' morale. Zafia darted in, her sword striking under an Acheronian's arm like a scorpion sting. The guard lolled in confusion before dropping to his knees, blood pouring from his cuirass, and finally slumping forward. In an instant, the stalemate was broken.

The captain hurled his glaive aside in fury, and drew two short swords from his belt. He snarled in broken Shemitish, "You worthless curs will not escape the pit of the Python!" As Tiberius wiped the dust and sweat from his eyes, the captain sprinted towards him, arms spread like the wings of some predatory bird: Tiberius braced himself against the charge, just barely lifting his sword horizontally to deflect the blades. The Acheronian pinned Tiberius to the ground, both blades narrowly missing the Kothian's ears. Wrenching every sinew until he thought his heart would burst, Tiberius held the captain's weight above him and drove his sword through the narrowest of gaps in the Acheronian's armour. The blade slipped through, and hot blood gushed over the Kothian; the Guardsman gasped, the fire in his eyes dimming until Tiberius saw only the dull glassy stare of a dead man. He heaved the corpse aside, and lurched to his feet.

Two guards remained. As they beheld the cadaver of their commander, their response proved to be polarised. One, maddened with rage, charged towards the Kothian, whirling his glaive overhead like a scythe. The other, terror evident in his face, turned and fled. Kryxus was in no mood for clemency: with a strength and finesse few outside the Men of Gunder could conceive, he hoisted his purloined glaive over his shoulder and tossed it like a javelin towards the coward. The missile speared the pathetic wretch between the shoulder blades: he twisted around, clawing desperately at his back, only to fall backward and thrust the glaive clean through his breastbone.

As this dark pantomime played out, the last guard fixed his sights on Tiberius. This singularity of purpose left him completely blind to the giant Kushite to his flank: Kenyatta pounced like a panther, the blade in his hands as fatal as any great cat's jaws. The slaughter was over: the companions heard no more sounds of guardsmen outside the gate, but the growl of crumbling towers did not abate. The amethyst sky they came to resent in Acheron had turned red, with flickers of fiery orange licking the horizon like salamanders from hell.

Zafia, ever resourceful in times of violence, ransacked the remains of the captain. While prying a few jewels from the late commander's breastplate with his own shortsword, her wandering eye roved to a weird glinting bauble on his limp left hand: a jade ring of curious design. It was not Acheronian, nor could she recognise any sculptural or artistic school - though she remembered the people of the eastern lands worked with jade. She impassively hacked the finger clean off and removed the bloody ring, tucking it in a pouch pilfered from the captain.

Kenyatta and Dusan had little time or inclination for looting - but as they raced out of the gate, they noticed a side entrance leading to what appeared to be a storage room. Dusan noticed a familiar shape peeking from a cloth sack - his family's horn! He pivoted as he ran, Kenyatta following in kind: they had found their confiscated equipment. As the two giants emerged wordlessly with sacks slung over their broad backs, the others made the realisation. Soon enough, seven adventurers, clad in stolen armour, carrying sacks of personal belongings over their shoulders, and grasping bloody weapons from dead men, strode out of the ruined Place of Chains... and into a landscape of hell itself.

Chapter 4: Into The Dust Shall Acheron Fall

Python, the purple-towered capital of mighty Acheron, the pinnacle of civilisation in the western world, was crumbling in flaming ruins. Where once scores of minarets reached up to stab the stars, now less than a dozen remain standing. The great curtain wall, coiled around the city like the great serpent which shared its name, was swarming with what looked from this distance like fireflies - wolfskin-clad savages bearing torches and axes. An enormous breach in the wall gaped where once the massive Black Gate stood, with a wave of barbarians pouring like a tide of blades and humanity. Beyond the walls, the war-chants of untold thousands of blood-mad barbarians roared, the beat of great drums innumerable pounding like the heart of some savage titan. Fireballs launched from crude siege weapons soared through the sky to join the festival of flames within.

The great square of Python seemed to be flooded with a strange, black liquid, waves lapping around a white pyramid. Folk shared tales in taverns and dives about the Pyramid of Skulls in dread Python: some say a ritualistic shrine of inscrutable religious purpose, others a sick whim of the Kings of Acheron erecting a monument to their sadism. But actually seeing countless thousands upon thousands of human skulls, piled upon one another, in the midst of a city of sorcerers, with their own eyes, shook the companions to their souls. And as their eyes burned into that macabre monstrosity, they started to discern the black pool which surrounded it. It was not water, or oil, or any liquid - it was snakes. Innumerable multitudes of black serpents writhed obscenely around the Pyramid of Skulls!

They were of many sizes: some the length of a modest desert asp, others closer in scale to the Sacred Sons of Set which slithered in the streets of Khemi at sundown. A few terrible coils the circumference of tree trunks broke the surface of that nauseating mass. But the companions missed the most terrible of these serpents, mistaking it for a statue - a truly gargantuan serpent was coiled around the King's Tower, its hiss the rasp of a hurricane. Even those huge tree-trunk pythons seemed like earthworms compared to the monster entwined around the tower.

The beam that rent the towers now pierced the burning sky and smote that terror. Its agonised writhing broke the tower it coiled around: its flesh burned and flaked away as would a charred branch in the wind after a wildfire. The King's Tower reeled and crashed into the Pyramid of Skulls, the sea of serpents erupting.

Tiberius stared in awe at the power of this magic. He followed the beam to its source. Through the dust and smoke, he just discerned a pinprick of red light, held aloft in the hand of a human figure. He was clad in furs, but also bore an elaborate headdress and mantle of feathers: his white beard and hair billowed in the wind, stained red in the light of that strange red jewel. He recalled rumours among his people - of a shaman, a sage, a champion of Mitra, who would turn a weapon of the Great Enemy against him and his devils. Tiberius's heart swelled and his face broke into a wide smile at the vindication of his faith and his god.

Nonetheless, the barbarians' axes were hungry. In their fervour, they would not necessarily delineate friend from foe, especially anyone found in the dread city of Python. Tiberius turned to Zafia: "We need to get out of here. Where's that culvert?"

Zafia led the companions through winding alleys, dodging rushing guard patrols, evading uncontrollable fires, and hoping that the barbarians would take their time and be thorough sacking and pillaging. As they heard the last tower fall, they turned a corner to the culvert. A dozen horses were frantically pawing at the iron portcullis which would lead them out of the city. Kenyatta managed to calm the horses while Tiberius, Dusan, and Arcus used all the strength they had left to raise the iron sluice. The band led the horses through the tunnel, their freedom just a few moments of swimming away.

They emerged on the other side of the wall. After leading the horses from the water, they rode as hard and as far as they dared. Half an hour later, they stopped at a small copse on a hill overlooking the plains surrounding Python. Python was no longer standing: all that remained was a fire pit, black smoke swirling into the sky. Arcus looked beyond into the distance, where he knew another Acheronian city lay. There he saw another plume of smoke. And behind that, another...

The seven sacrifices waited for a space to take in the immensity of what they witnessed. Where they would go, and what they would do next, was not yet clear. Certainly the Stygian and the Kushite did not wish to spend any further time in each other's company than necessary. But even amongst those implacable foes budded a grudging acknowledgment of that bond forged in the fire of adversity. Perhaps in time the seven sacrifices would meet again, face new challenges, and experience new adventures.


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