“How could this have happened?” the despondent scrivener thought to himself. After an hour of brutal beating, Torben Eastlander finally knew where he was. Shackled in the dungeon of Verrin the Scum Lord. The one who held those debts he never had quite enough money to repay. “I never should have started betting on tournaments. Never. But, who would have thought that Harrod the Mighty could possibly lose so badly in hand-to-hand combat to Prescott Quickblade? That little elf had only a dagger!”
“And who knew that Verrin would come collecting now? I thought that the Barron was hunting him for some slave trafficking. Most unfortunate the scum wasn’t caught. Even more unfortunate is that I needed only one more story out of those adventurers, and I would have had the funds in full. The Bards Guild has been paying very generously for my imaginative tales of those worthless adventurers. This is all their fault. If I hadn’t become so convinced of the great luck I had run into with their tales, I never would have made those bets in the first place.”
He muttered to himself, “Such are the ways of fortune. Now my fortune needs to improve quickly. These shackles are starting to hurt again, and I am getting hungry. What would those heroes do?” The quick-witted scrivener smirked, “Guards! Guards! Tell Verrin I can repay him.”
The cleric’s leg began to ache as he followed behind the Ranger along the muddy trail. It was his right leg, the one that the Kengi healers had regenerated. Felt kind of scaley tonight. He always did wonder where that initial bone had come from. And he itched between the point of his ears and his helm. Water had accumulated there as the rain continued to pour. Oh did it itch. Z’alden was not one to complain, but between the ache and the itch, he was beginning to grow weary. Would this rain never cease? It was like a flood! The sort of thing that happens maybe once in a hundred years. Maybe once in a thousand. It was certainly distracting him from the business at hand. Keeping up with the Ranger and the rest of the party.
And it was cold. The rainwater was freezing. Almost like the frigid water in the lair of that flying wyrm, the Ringgael. A Cold Storm Z’alden had just been getting ready to tell the scrivener what had happened next. With this freezing rain he could recall viscerally how his hands had been unable to grip the ice to pull out of the water. Swimming in scalemail is no easy feat. That and the electrified tempest surrounding the Wyrm made it difficult to think straight. It was like being hit upon the head with a mace. Difficult to think of more than one thing at a time. The others who stayed close to the Ringgael were having this problem, too. Tyra wisely got to the far side of the chamber some 100 staff lengths away it seemed, but not before being scorched like so many of his friends by a massive burst of lightning from the beast. Z’alden smiled as remembered his friend’s response to Wyrm.
Rift cast her mighty Hammerfall step, magic rams bashed the Ringgael, moving it closer to Z’alden while the magic opened a tear in space and time and teleported the fighting dwarf on top of the creature! Barrick’s response. He could see the mighty axe shimmer as Barrick dug his boots into the scales of the wyrm and rode it. He slapped his own with the axe and shook of the effects of the dazing field, even as his presence distracted the Ringael. Then, the dwarven axe showed its measure wielded by an expert fighter lathered in the heat of battle. The deadly attacks so knocked the creature with a blow like thunder that it fell from the sky into the icy water with the cleric.
With the wyrm close, the cleric studied its elemental nature, found a weakness, and called upon the sapphire claws of the Great Dragon to form, tear, and then push the Ringael further underwater. The Ringael was rendered stunned by Bahamut’s power and majesty. Ice began to form and encase the beast. The well-timed work of the party had bought them some time to lick their wounds and gather together.
Finally getting out of the water, Z’alden made his way back to the entrance as the did the others, except Tira, who looked for some other way out of the chamber. Z’alden recalled being mystified at how Tira could sense massive amounts of magical energy through what appeared to be massive stone walls.
He did not have long to think. Even encased in ice, the Ringael could still form the tempests of lightning. His metal helmet must have been an easy mark. The wyrm never missed the cleric. Once again, Z’alden was in the frigid water. He had enough presence of mind to call upon Bahamut to heal Erik after the lightning had badly burned the ranger, but close to the wyrm, he could do nothing for himself even as wounds continued to open from the Ringael’s charged tempest field. Erik flung his magical hook and pulled the cleric from the water, but the wyrm had other ideas, sending the tempest to where most of the party had gathered at the entrance. Z’alden was dimly aware that Rift muttered something about the walls of the sides of the entrance being an illusion. Tira formed a dragon spirit on which she flew 20 staff lengths across the chamber. But, then the wyrm’s tempest surround the cleric, and he slipped towards the blackness of death. The healer could not heal himself.
As he trudged along in the mud, Z’alden reflected on that moment. He could only surmise that the liquid coming down his throat as his eyes fluttered back to life and saw the Ranger kneeling close with a vial was a potion. Looking, it was a potion that the cleric had made for the Ranger which Erik had used to save the life of the cleric. One never knows when one’s actions will come back to you. It is best to use those actions wisely. The life you save may be your own.
Z’alden thought about the scrivener and the assailants that they were tracking. Who are these wicked villians that had viciously attacked Torben and made off with him before the adventurers could even mount a response? What powers of evil did they possess? The Ranger’s brief halt brought him back to the moment. A fork in the muddy, slick road and the puddles were proving a challenge even for the calm and careful tracker. A lightning strike evoked a shade of blue on Rift’s cloak as Z’alden waited for the Ranger to decide their direction. The cleric smirked as he wondered if the magical women would follow the Ranger or choose their own path, like they had after finding the illusory wall at the entrance to the Ringael’s chamber. What a mess that decision had caused.
It was all hazy now. The water was addling his brain. He had followed the Ranger down one corridor while Rift, Tira, and Barrick had gone down the opposite corridor. The Ranger moved fast compared to Z’alden and soon he couldn’t be seen. Z’alden quickly realized he couldn’t hear Erik either. Nor could he hear the others. He was alone in the tunnel. The only light radiated from the enchanted glow of ribbons of sapphires and rubies that streaked the walls. Alone, the cleric studied them. The blue energy appeared to have some healing. Still affected by the Feltouched gas from the demons and by the Abyssal, Z’alden said a prayer and, over the course of several minutes, directed the energy to resolve these afflictions. Slowly, the Feltouch cleared from his mind, and some of the most powerful spells that Bahamut grants him came back to his recollection. And, the plague was removed. His wounds healed from the burns of the Ringael and frost of the ice.
It was so quiet. No jokes or shouts of encouragement from the dwarf. No shouts from Rift. Not a sound from Tira. The Ranger had disappeared. All he could do was press on in hopes of finding them. The corridor seemed as though it encircled the Ringael’s layer. At the far end was chamber with a large pedestal in the center and a gold and platinum spherical cage. The cleric was alone in the chamber, though later, he would learn that all of the party were there, but out of phase with one another. Their actions affected the chamber but they could detect the presence of the others. Tira and Rift were phased together until they too became separated. The enchanted ladies had described how their version of the chamber and, more specifically, the cage had a wonderous gem of sapphire and ruby intertwined. Rift would later explain how touching the gem she had acquired pure fiery blue eyes and then further tapped the power of the ruby, turning her eyes a fiery purple. Tira told how she had attuned to the ruby part of the gem and acquired the flaming red that filled her eyes.
Tira subverted the cage, fully attuned to the power in the gem, and took it out. She realized it formed a cube of sapphire and ruby intertwined. Z’alden remembered with some trepidation how the cube he could see in the cage simply vanished before him. There was no one else in the room, yet it was gone.
Then, in some strange moment, the cube appeared on the floor. Z’alden could sense its energy and attuned to it. He could feel Tira’s presence and communicate with her! Some strange writing had appeared. “What is seen cannot be seen”.
Then, putting the cube down, it vanished, moved, vanished, and reappeared rotated to a new side. Z’alden realized that some was trying to communicate with the cube in some form. He grabbed and moved it, releasing and grabbing, tracing out a Z. Then, writing appeared on the Cube. Rift had used magical chalk to mark the cube. Everyone was in the room and could see the Cube. If they could all attune together, they might return to the same phase. Indeed, this worked after some trials but not before the fun had started.
Another flash of lightning brought the cleric back to the road. The ranger had found more tracks, and the party was off again on Eastlander’s trail. The thunder crashed. The cleric could not help but recall the explosions that had followed when Rift had activated the Far Realm star trap on the massive doorw while trying to pick its lock.
Z’alden recalled a crystal sphere flying off the door, racing across the room, and simply vanishing. The cleric could see Barrick and Erik now, and hoped that nothing bad had happened to one of his arcane comrades in another phase. Rift and Tira would later relate what happened in their phase. Rift’s mage hand could catch the spheres. She would toss them to Tira, who held open the bag of holding and tried to catch them, trapping the deadly balls in another dimension. Rift’s tosses were excellent, and Tira was an admirable catcher. Before the cleric’s eyes, the dozen spheres were simply disappearing. He had gotten a satisfying whack of the mace on one, and the fighter and Ranger had taken a few out, also, but it was the Mage Hand Bag Toss that really did the trick. One may recall that the Far Realm star trap will surround a person in the spheres until they explode with deadly results. In some traps, just four are enough for the explosion. Once again, the quick thinking of the wizard and sorceress had saved the day. Just three had ever surrounded the dwarf. Three surrounded Z’alden. Maybe just one more and even the hardy dwarf or the cleric may have been stardust.
With the spheres either demolished or trapped in the bag, Z’alden remembered with some satisfaction that the group had used the cube to return to all the same phase. Then, working together, they had overcome the massive door with Knock spells and thievery and magical manipulation. Oh yes, more star realm spheres had come off, but the Mage Hand Bag Toss, along with Barrick’s axe, and Erik’s arrows had made short work of them (except when Z’alden had been nearly encased in them).
Stepping into a room filled with the grey mist of dreams, they descended a stair inlaid with gold and platinum. At the bottom, in a misty room, the group was ready to leave this low layers and get a move on. With such a thought from the wizard, an archway appears. Other thoughts came to the group. Erik imagined defeating the Demon mage Illiadin Stormrage. A magnificent painting of death appeared. Tira imagined a necklace that matched her glowing eyes. One of great value appeared. Barrick recalled the handy haversack that Rift had previously lost. One appeared.
Even in the flooding water, Z’alden recalled how the archway had beckoned. The party stepped through, expecting to find themselves outside the castle, or maybe on the top level ready to face Illiadin himself. They could not have been more wrong.
As the archway vanished and their vision cleared, they found themselves on a floating island in a world of color. They were in the Astral Sea! A golden box in front of them became an Astral Skiff.
“Oh shards”, thought the cleric. This was a fine pickle. At least it was better than a flood, the damp cleric reflected.