Campaign of the Month: March 2009

Denizens of the Nentir Vale

So Let It Be Written

Torben Eastlander smiled at the hostess as he laid some coins upon the table to pay for his meal, but his mind was in turmoil. For so long now he had written about the adventurers and he was short on ideas; and coins. Their stories grew and grew, and were so big now he knew not where to take them. So much hack and slash. So many feats of daring. Saving the world with every adventure. With stories of the five swirling through his head Torben staggered out into the cold night air.

The half-orcs who had been waiting for him were still waiting for him, but this time in the shadows of an alleyway. The right side of leader’s face was visible in the moonlight – the left side in dark shadow. The rest of his hunched form and hands lay hidden in the shadows. His eyes followed Torben and then shifted to a slender, motionless figure who stood across the street. Their hood hid their face, but Torben did not notice for he walked past with eyes down at his feet and mind still deep in thoughts about the five. The slender figure motioned. The half-orcs made their move. The leader produced a rapier from under his cloak and in but a few quick strides drew close to Torben.

The tip of the weapon was plunged deeply and directly into Torben’s abdomen. The sight of this was clearly visible to Torben as his eyes had been cast down. At first the extremely sharp blade didn’t hurt, but Torben knew that it soon would as he had experienced so many paper cuts in his life, being a writer. Now the adrenaline kicked in and everything moved in slow motion. He looked up from the fist that held the blade and into the eyes of the half-orc holding the instrument of death. Funny, there was no malice in the eyes of that man-orc. Puzzlement came across Torben face. All he could do was to blurt out, “Why?”

Now the pain became quite real and as an involuntary scream came surging from his throat, the three half-orcs held him up on his feet and dragged him deeper into the shadows of the alley. Torben felt light headed. Bright red was pouring out of his belly, with the blade still held firmly in place. “This is how I will die,” he thought. His body was going numb. Regrets flooded his mind. He began to lose consciousness.

Was he dreaming? A vision of the five filled his thoughts, with the one whom they called Tasedar. Where was the tunnel? Tasedar was instructing the heroes. Where was the bright light? Torben thought he could hear this Tasedar giving instructions for the five to fight the demons. Where were the Elysian Fields of green fed by cool blue streams? Rift was summoning horses via a magic ritual. What, no busty valkyries?

With these visions passing through his mind, Torben lost track of time and gave himself over. He could see and hear the adventures talking with a man named Geralt about riding to the Northlands. First they would have to go to Kengistan. So vivid was this dream! The wreckage that was Kengistan was laid out before him and Torben knew this to be real for word of the devastation had already spread. Torben became alarmed for he now thought that his mind may have left his body. Was he dead? Was this the out-of-body experience that some had told of?

Still, he saw the five act with compassion. Z’alden walked the charred and smokey landscape healing the wounded and giving aid to whomever he could. Back in Fallcrest where his body lay, Torben’s eyes welled up with tears as he witnessed the good deeds of the five. Their inspiring leadership was to give new hope to the Kengi – to open free lands to the Kengi for their new homeland.

Torben’s vision then changed to the Temple of the Arcane, where the five and Geralt now stood with Illidan, who in another life consorted with demons but now held off their invasion. It became clear to Torben just how important the role of the five was in this world. They were saviors, of sorts, and not just adventurers seeking excitement and loot. Their actions had saved the world so many times, and he had questioned them. His folly now weighed upon him and back in Fallcrest tears streamed down Torben’s face.

The scene changed yet again and Torben could see the five and Geralt making their way though what must have been the Northlands. Torben heard the scream of a woman as if her very life was in peril. He could see Geralt moving quickly and efficiently, dispatching three villains. “The five walk with others of virtue,” thought Torben, “These are true heroes.” His mind then relaxed in blissful reflection and realization. When he regained focus the heroes were in a tavern and standing up to more villains. Torben’s physical body wept.

Soon the adventurers and Geralt were in search of a young man and endangering themselves in a horrible graveyard. They did this not for fame, nor wealth, but out of sympathy for a distraught mother. The righteousness of their actions continued to impress itself upon Torben. Though the visions seemed clear, he was on a tour that he could not control. In the back of his mind, he wondered why he had been chosen for this journey. His emotions struggled in the chaos of a vortex that was inexorably leading to a conclusion that he felt coming, but he not yet understood. Was it death? Was it new life?

In that graveyard, Torben saw the adventurers contract a terrible disease – not a wound of the normal sort – something insidious that would prey upon them over many days. The visions moved forward quickly to seeing Rift upon her death-bed, blind and having no good fortune from the healers. Erik too was sick and unable to be helped by the healers. Torben watched, though his body still lay upon the cold ground in some alleyway, in the town known as Fallcrest. He cried out in pain as he watched Rift die. Erik followed soon after.

Wraiths! From Rift and Erik’s bodies rose apparitions of all that is impure and immoral. Z’alden, Barrick, Tira and Geralt quickly dispatched the entities of pure evil. A thought was then introduced into Torben’s awareness and he realized that these manifestations of evil had sprung from within Rift and Erik and by exiting them had actually left Rift and Erik more pure. They had been cleansed. Z’alden administered glowing potions of light to Rift and Erik and they returned from the dead to the living. They were alive! The enormity of the vision took hold of Torben and he lost all control and wept without inhibition. Everything went to black.

Torben Eastlander awoke with a start. His head was buzzing and he felt faint. A cloaked woman was crouched over him, holding his head off the hard stone passageway. At first he thought he might still be experiencing the vision, as she was so beautiful, but his physical pain reminded him that he had returned to reality.

“Rest,” said the woman, “you have been gravely injured. Fortunately I have administered an elixir that provides potent healing. Still, you are not well. You require much more healing.”

Her voice was calming and trustworthy, so Torben attempted to heed her instructions to rest. Yet the visions he had just experienced were too strong, too powerful, too life-altering. He struggled to get words out through his now blood encrusted lips. This “angel of mercy” continued to calm him and urged him to rest. He persisted. Finally, she said, “Well, you must have an incredible story to tell. Let us go back to my dwelling where it is safe and you can recover at a proper pace.”

The lady left him for what seemed like an eternity to Torben, but he then heard hoof-steps. Still in quite a bit of a daze, the lady helped poor Torben up on a mighty black stallion. She then gracefully mounted her steed and Torben held on tightly. The powerful beast lead them out of the city and up an old road. It was Fall and normally the shadows cast by the combination of leafless trees and moonlight would have scared most men, but Torben felt comfort and safety not just in his personal savior but the new understanding of the five, who were savior to all.

Rounding a final bend, the lady stated, “This is my home. Welcome.”

Torben was now a bit more lucid and could see a tall, grey-stone mansion before him. It was the old church that looked over the city, long known to have fallen into disuse and disrepair. The lady noticed the question Torben’s face and laughed, “Oh, yes, that is indeed the old church, but I am in the process of giving it new life. It is warm inside. Come.”

Torben replied, “I am a writer.”

“Yes, of course. Rest here. I want to hear your story. Perhaps you can tell everyone… everyone your story,” replied the beautiful lady.

That evening, as Torben slept amongst the softest feathers, wrapped in the finest silk, the lady sat alone high in highest tower of the old church, overlooking the city and beyond. Before her was a large wooden box with a lock. With magic words, the box was unlocked. Within the box was a sphere, covered in a impossibly black magical cloth. With gloved hands she removed the crystal orb from its sheath and rested it upon a jeweled pedestal. It began to glow a bit of red and she sat upright, with full attention upon it.

The form of a humanoid figure shimmered within the orb. The lady nodded, eyes cast down. Then she spoked to the orb, “I have the writer. The virtues of the five will be revealed to all that are willing to listen. Everything is proceeding as you have predicted.”

Then the figure in the orb spoke.

“Continue the plan, but not too fast. There is plenty of time. Plenty of time. Be patient. Control takes time. Your soul shall be rewarded, my sweet Elana.”

A Golden Shower

Torben Eastlander had a problem. As he sat nursing his glass of Nentir ‘97 in the Nenlast Outpost, he pondered his dilemma. He believed the adventurers; he really did. Yes, they told fanciful stories and perhaps embellished the truth. But at his core, he knew they were telling the truth. The problem was the public – those howling masses who demanded ever greater excitement. They didn’t care about noble causes, saving the world, rescuing the dragonborn. No, they just wanted a ripping good yarn full of death and destruction, back-stabbing, romance, and spurned lovers. And Torben knew that his friends just didn’t have those kinds of adventures.

Take for instance their latest adventure. Barrick, as effusive as ever, had slapped him on the back hard enough to knock out his platinum filling.

“Have we got a tale for you!!” the dwarf had exclaimed.

Torben looked down at his scrawled notes and sighed. Fandril Staghelm? Chief Druid of the Flame? His readers would scoff. It was all so absurd. Okay, so the guy had gems floating around his head, that was somewhat interesting. And there was some strange connection to Tira Duskmeadow. The audience might like that – they always seemed to gravitate towards the beautiful sorceress. And that look of shock and panic in Fandril’s eyes. Perhaps Torben could make something of that. Was it really Tira’s long-lost father? Tira made it clear that Fandril was under a charm, and he had given an amulet to someone. But who?

Torben took a deep sip. Now if the party had suddenly turned on Fandril and attacked, then he would have had something to work with. Tira, being conflicted, might have tried to stop them or even defended her father (?). But instead, Fandril had simply said “I can give you an audience with Ragnaros”, shot some red beams out of his gems, opened the door, and immediately been turned to stone by Ragnaros. Boring!

At least the battle with Ragnaros was interesting. There was some background about the Prince of Frost (Ahune?) in the realm of cold, but Torben could simply leave that out. Then, just when Torben was worried that they would actually try to negotiate with Ragnaros, the ranger Erik had lost his cool and shot an arrow in Ragaros’ face. Thank Correllon for that!

And then there were the four elementals. Now there was something that Torben could work with. Erik, shooting his arrows like a mad man into the magma elemental. Rift wielding her dark star staff on the fiery tornado, only to get hit by a terrible fire blast. Z’alden with his fancy colored sacred flames, fighting alongside the mad dwarf Barrick, both of them struck by a fireball.

Torben muttered to himself, “what about the bag of gold?” A nearby half-orc cocked an eyebrow and nudged his table mates.

Ah yes, Barrick had dumped an entire bag-of-holding full of gold onto the magna elemental’s head. Okay, a little humor, that helps. But he needed more Tira; the way that wild sorceress vaporized the elementals with her thunder and lightning. Rift, with the ray of frost, and again with the same ray of frost. Boring!

Now Ragnaros waded into the fray, hitting Rift and Z’alden, stunning them, unconscious, dazed. Good stuff that! But a blast of cold from Rift and a strange day/night spell from Tira pushed Ragnaros back. Barrick, throwing his axe (good dwarf!) and jumping onto the giant’s back. Why did the dwarf like to ride giants? Was he making up for his own small stature? Perhaps Torben could explore that angle further.

Torben took a sip of ankheg stew. By this point in his notes, Z’alden was near dead, his cleric healing used to help others but not himself. Ragnaros picked up Barrick and threw him across the room at Erik. That was good! Then Torben stopped and sighed. Of course the adventurers couldn’t finish the battle themselves. They had to summon that pesky Ur Feyn, the stupid lich. Torben’s readers would think he was just making that up to save the story, like he couldn’t come up with anything better.

Okay, so Ur Feyn had helped the party by removing all of their afflictions. Torben could just leave that part out. Much better to concentrate on Tira, who in the middle of battle, had wandered off into another room, looking for treasure? And then had found a healing potion just in the nick of time to save Rift. Was there something going on between those two? Hmmm, Torben thought, then shook his head. No, much better to keep the tension between the ranger and the two elves.

Barrick stunned Ragnaros, then (perhaps his dwarven greed getting the best of him) also went into another treasure room, discovering a cache of sapphires and a forest green crystal.

Finally, Ragnaros swung Sulphurus, his mighty hammer, at Erik, knocking down the brave ranger. Torben had scribbled “Erik crawling!” on his notes at this point. Z’alden had made Ragnaros disappear, giving time for Erik to apply a gem (Torben hadn’t written down which one) to his war glaive. The gem somehow (damn his notes!) gave Erik the power to destroy Ragnaros completely. A burst of crackling red fire, and Ragnaros exploded (good!).

“2000 rubies?!” Torben exclaimed to himself. The half-orc and his companions were now staring greedily at Torben. One of them fingered a knife in his belt.

Yes, there was the forest green crystal, a scarab-looking amulet, and some other damaged amulet. Useless!

Torben slumped back in his seat, defeated. How would he turn all of this drivel into a coherent story that his editors in Fallcrest would accept?

The half-orcs rose from their seats, loosening their knives in their scabbards.

Two down, one to go
The heroes collect gold and gems

As the battle raged on, Barrick began to stir. The chrysalis surrounding the dwarf was tough, but “Ha!” thought Barrick, “I am tougher!” Barrick flexed his mighty thews to try and shatter his cocoon, and …
nothing happened, nothing except of course for the pain one feels when sinking slowly into lava encased in a cocoon.
Erik was getting tired of Pyro’s constant resurrection, but what could he do? Again Erik’s arrows flew true, but again Pyro would not die. Pyro lept back at Erik, also wondering just what it takes to kill this creature? But this time Erik was the quicker and Pyro missed, two sets of fangs chopping into thin air.
Z’alden called again upon the Great Dragon to heal Barrick, but that was distraction enough. Cinder spat lava at Z’alden, hitting him fully upon the back. Z’alden’s eyes watered, only for a brief span of time, but that too was enough, Golemaag took advantage and hit the cleric again, this time stunning him outright!
The sorceress, seeing Pyro’s frustration at missing Erik, again, quickly fired two balls on energy, one light, and one dark. Unfortunately both bolts missed, slamming into the floor beneath the hound. Fortunately the spall from the explosions of the errant attacks hit the dog’s underbelly. With a yelp, the beast fell, again.
The ever resourceful Z’alden quickly saved himself from the stun and created a warding zone. But no sooner than he had finished with this task, the good cleric found himself immobilized as another spat of lava, this time from Cinder, wracked his body.
Rift pointed her Darkstar staff at Cinder and surrounded him in a sphere of mirrors, awaiting the moment when she could turn his powers back on himself in this arcane trap. Tira glances over her shoulder at this, one eyebrow raised; she did not think Rift was powerful enough to be able to cast this spell twice on the same being, were there other secret abilities Rift was keeping from her friends? No matter, the sphere worked, and again Cinder appear to die.
Barrick, watching all this helplessly from his prison, struggled one more time to break free. Barrick flexed his mighty thews to try and shatter his cocoon, and …
success! Barrick leaped from the lava and gave his blood a few seconds to flow hotly through his veins whilst surveying the situation.
Golemaag, enraged at the loss of his hounds, first brought his pets back to life, then stomped toward Tira and smashed her down hard, Tira barely staggered away, blood dripping from her wounds. She feebly tried to fight back, but to no avail.
Erik tried to avenge his friend, shooting twin arrows at the Titan, but also, to no avail.
The Great Dragon again appeared at Z’alden’s behest, healing Tira and lashing Golemaag with divine chains at the same time. Sensing that their master was hindered and hurt, the hounds doubled the ferocity of their attacks. As one the two dogs lunged forward biting and spitting. Pyro’s teeth sunk into Erik at the same time that Cinder lava spit set Tira on fire.
Seeing that Golemaag was visibly hurt, the brave adventurers decided to shift their focus from the dogs to the Titan, hoping that if the master was killed the beasts would at least flee the battle.
Barrick started running in closer to the giant, ignoring the heat surging off the Titan’s body. Golemaag tried to bring a huge fist down on the dwarf, but Rift blasted the giant from behind as the fist slammed down on to empty rock. Barrick’s close attack hit and hit hard. Golemaag was dazed; but being a Titan, dazing was but an inconvenience. Golemaag struck back strong, taunting the stocky fighter as the attack hit and stunned Barrick.
A storm of chaos from the sorceress’s still burning hand wrapped around the giants head. Golemaag turned rapidly, not sure where to attack next. Seeing that Tira was fighting even though her clothes and skin were still smoldering, Z’alden unleashed his Sacred Flame, again healing the girl. Tira’s mind reeled, she had not been hit and healed this many times in one battle in quite some time.
The hounds attacks came on, just as vicious as the previous ones. Erik was bitten hard by Pyro. Cinder charged Rift. The wizard watched as the dog charged closer. At the last moment she decided not to get hit and a magic shield appeared, knocking the beast to one side. Smiling, Rift then fired off a powerful disintegrate spell. The beam hit the Titan square in the chest. Time seemed to slow as the party watched cracks appear throughout the body of the giant. Light shown out as the cracks widened. Then, with a loud snap, Golemaag burst apart. The five heroes turned their heads to block the shrapnel. When they looked back, not only was Golemaag dead, but the two dogs were sprawled prone, their life light dimming quickly like the last embers of a dying fire.
Wasting no time, the party secured the room. Rift cast an Arcane Lock to keep out any stray passerbyers whilst Tira searched the titanic rubble, bringing up the large red gem she sought. After a much needed rest, the group found that not only did they feel rested, but a little more powerful as well.
Rift showed the rest of the pack some letters she had found on the table whilst her companions slept. A rough translation revealed that the three factions, Golemaag, Fandril and Baleroc were at odds with each other. The primary issue was that the Firelord Ragnaros, along with Golemaag and Baleroc wanted to work with demons, whilst Fandril, Chief Druid of the Flames, was adamantly opposed to any contact with those foul beings. The adventurers looked at each other, this information could be useful.
Further searching found between 1 and 2 million pieces of gold inside a stone dais. This was way more than then group could carry, even including all the magical space inside their bags, sacks, and backpacks. With a little discussion, the party devised a way to get most of the gold. Rift opened an Arcane gate between their current location and the teleportation portal back at their home castle. Dumping and shoveling as fast as they could, they created a huge mound of gold back at home. It might be enough to prevent them from using the portal in the future, but gold is gold.
Now that everyone was fully rested, had new powers and feats to test out, and had absolutely no space left to carry so much as one more piece of umberhulk jerky, the party set out to find the next guardian, and the next needed gem.
Turning to their other right, they noticed that the fire around the gate, visible from pretty much anywhere around, was darker. It might be that Ragnaros shares his power with the guardians, and if so, this could be good, or bad.
It was not hard to find Baleroc, he stood massive and still, as still as a being made of flame can be. Baleroc was standing in front of the even more massive arched gateway leading to Ragnaros and his palace. In his hands was a great sword, and in the pommel of the sword was the gem for which they searched. Everything else looked normal, except that there were no railings on the sides of the wide path toward the gate. Beyond the path was a long long drop into elemental chaos. As much as Tira loved chaos, she had no desire to explore that, especially against her will. She closed her eyes and conjured a ghostly dragon that would support her if needed. A few more seconds of concentration and all her companions had their own dragon support vehicle.
They moved forward, toward Baleroc.
“HOLD” came the command from the fiery guardian.
They moved forward.
Again: “HOLD”
Barrick, the giant rider, and never one to be intimidated by those taller than himself, strode forward again. Baleroc lifted his sword. Baleroc lowered his sword and the ground began to glow, all but a narrow strip along the edges, where a misstep could send someone plunging into the chaotic abyss. Erik and Rift quietly sidled to the non-glowing strip whilst the others pondered what that could mean. Suddenly all the glowing bricks erupted into huge pillars of flame. Barrick, Z’alden, and Tira were burned and blinded by the hot blast. Without waiting to see if they survived the flames, Baleroc immediately fired off 5 bolts from his fingertips, one directed toward each of the heroes.
The sorceress wanted to try a new spell; being blind might normally have been a hindrance, but in this case, the sounds coming from the giant were enough to aim her energies. Suddenly, instead of resisting fire, as a being made of fire should do, Baleroc found that he was vulnerable to fiery attacks, along with the radiant damage the cleric is so fond of. Flying up into the air the giant continued his attack on the group.
Always looking after his friends first, Z’alden’s next action was to cure the blindness, then with a lethal combination of Abjure Undead and Turn Undead, Bahamut’s servent dealt a truly massive amount of damage in less than six seconds.
Rift waved her staff and casts a sphere of mirrors. Tira was about to say, “Wait a sec, three times in one battle!?” before she realized that this battle against a fiery giant was not the same battle as before. Sometimes the memories of the battles would bleed together in Tira’s low wisdom mind. And with that mental distraction her next lightning blast flew way wide.
Back and forth the battle raged. Erik flew to a small floating island and took cover behind a large brazier. Tira moved too close to the giant and was knocked unconscious. Z’alden kept healing. Barrick, being Barrick, stayed front and center, beating the Titan over and over again. But it was Rift that turned the tide. Time stopped for all except the wizard. Quickly she used the Black Hole of Doom on her staff to disintegrate Baleroc’s sword at the hilt, causing the gem to fall to the ground.
Tira quickly grabbed the gem, rolled directly underneath Baleroc and created a dense layer of floating ice crystals between herself and the flaming giant. Holding the new gem, a strange memory entered her mind. Somehow she knew what had been done before and what needed to be done now. She fused the two gems into one and, channeling that other memory, sent a powerful beam of cold and thunder right into the fiery creature.
Now the battle was really on. Erik fired his trusty twin strike, hitting both times. Barrick whacked with his axe. Rift casts rays with deadly accuracy. Z’alden slapped on Bahamut’s chains causing Baleroc to fall through the frozen shards, cutting him deeply. Tira crawled away and hit twice. Erik stowed his bow, drew his swords, lept across the chaotic chasm and hit with all his power. That was more than enough, the mighty Baleroc crumbled and fell leaving behind a loud cheer from the brave adventurers.
With barely a pause to breathe, their thoughts turned to the next battle…

100% Chance of Demons
Light demons now, heavy demons expected

Pouring sweat stings Z’alden’s eyes, and his thick-skinned left leg itches in the broiling heat. Why couldn’t those Kengi clerics have a used a human bone to regenerate my leg? This leg practically has scales. There is no time to stop and itch it through his mail. Or, to wipe away the sweat from underneath his helm. The burning heat and searing flames radiating away from the towering colossus of elemental fire that stand in front of him leave no idle time for such niceties.

Blinking eyes to clear them, Z’alden surveys again the ancient Fire Titan just two staff lengths in front of him. The Titan’s flames burn the cleric, even through his enchanted mail. Perhaps this is what the mail itself felt like when the dwarves had it at their forge. Perhaps this is what a pig feels like on the spit. No, that is a much cooler fire than what this goliath Golemaag the Incinerator has enveloping his body and burning all that are within five staff lengths of his huge figure.

Z’alden finds saliva form in his mouth as he thinks of a roasted pig. The five adventurers have not had a decent meal since arriving over a month ago in the Elemental Chaos and fighting as gladiators to raise money for a ship that could sail the ethereal regions between the lands in this plane. Their cause is urgent, with no time for such luxuries.

Even as he stands here at Golemaag’s feet, seeming little more than a squirrel to the Titan, Z’alden’s has a rending pang of regret at how long it has taken to find Molten Core, the city ruled by Golemaag’s master, the Primordial Lord of Fire Elementals, Ragnaros. And now, it was taking much too long to obtain the three keys to invade Ragnaros’s chamber. Who knew how many dragonborn Kengi were being slaughtered in fiery deaths even as Z’alden and his friends were here roasting in the heat of Golemaag’s flames. The Chosen of the one who is the god of Hope, must not himself lose hope! They must finish this battle and advance quickly to sever the Primordial’s connection to the army of elementals he has invading the homeland of their friend, comrade, and now most-high-chief of the Kengi and king of Kengistan, that most noble Paladin Felsmon. But the way has been full of difficulty. Defeating Golemaag and taking the gemstone key lodged in his forehead would still give the adventurers only one of the three keys they need. Ragnaros’s other two counselors, Fandral Staghelm, the leader of some “Druids of the Flame,” and Balerock, allegedly a being of pure fire, each possess the remaining gemstone keys embedded in their bodies. All three keys are needed to unlock the massive portal that bars their way to Ragnaros.

The sweat pours like rain down Z’alden’s brow. The cleric thinks ruefully to himself, “at least it is only raining sweat and not raining demons.” The clank of the two chains on the two heads of Golemaag’s ferocious giant fire hound Pyro, off to the cleric’s right, close to Z’alden’s friends Erik and Rift, and the other two-headed hound Cinder, close to Tira’s form, snap Z’alden’s mind to the moments before a rain of demons had indeed started.

The paymaster had just awarded the Valers their four million gold pieces of winnings from their gladiator battle. Hopefully, the 7 young wizards Rift had brought with them on the adventure would quickly find the spelljammer flying ship they needed. The bags of coins clanked with a sound that made Z’alden rejoice at the time. His breast swelled with hope: the invasion of Kengistan would be halted, as the ship they could now purchase would rapidly get them to their confrontation with Ragnaros, the Lord of the fire elementals, who they would defeat. Then the Kengi would then be free of this menacing foe forever. Loud crashes boomed in the paymaster’s chambers and interrupted Z’alden’s reverie of their upcoming success. Outside, fel green boulders of flame and acid were falling all across the City of Brass. The ground shook with each crashing rock, and twisted demons forms emerged as hundreds more fell to the ground. The sky glowed an evil green, eerily similar to that above the Temple of the Arcane when the five had battled a demonic Illadin Stormrage and the hordes of demons he had summoned. Had Stormrage returned to his evil ways and brought some onslaught to the famed alloy city?

Not fearing for themselves, the five Valers had rushed outside together. They quickly observed that the rain of demons was a few hundred per hour. Overwhelming for the five, but nothing for which the guard of the City of Brass was not prepared. Still, the City would suffer heavy losses.

Rift quickly observed this demonic “weather” and clued the others into her extensive knowledge. Something powerful had opened a direct connection between this part of the Elemental Chaos and the Abyss. These were not ordinary demons, but were corrupted fire elementals. The wizard could also discern that this Rain was not random, but was concentrated on the harbor, where the many ships that ply trade at the City are docked, and on the navy yard of the ships that defend the City.

Swiftly, the five ran to the harbor. The massive ballistae on the walls of the city fired non-stop to destroy the fel boulders before the demons within emerged. The result was feeble. Chaos in the City was tangible. The destruction was compounding as the adventurers reached the harbor. Z’alden’s face fell as he saw how many ships were destroyed. Nearly all in the harbor. Erik’s deft perception noticed that some ships were destroyed, not from the infernal boulders, but had been magically exploded. There was an inside job to destroy these ships.

Puzzled by this mystery, but fixed on their mission, Tira then noticed a complete, newly-built spelljammer just across the way. They scrounged for sails, as most in the area had been destroyed, and got the ship underway into the aether, narrowly dodging the fall of infernal boulders.

The sharp eyes of the Ranger spotted a ship flying some 12 miles off of the port bow. Even at this distance, Erik could recognize that the massive craft was a warship from the Nine Hells. Even the brilliant mind of the wizard was confused by the presence of devils in this the plane of the demons. Of course, she realized, the City of Brass is a major trading port. Perhaps they were here to sell hellish trinkets. With some certainty, at least, Rift’s quick study of the arcane energy ascertained that there was a 100% chance of heavy demons in the Brass sky not being connected to the presence of Hell’s vessel.

Wanting to approach unseen, the five racked their brains to devise a way. Then, out of the blue, Tira remembered a Bottle of Smoke she had long carried with her, found in a treasure hoard many years earlier. Uncorking the bottle, most of the spelljammer was enveloped in an obscuring cloud that moved with the ship. Powerful magic indeed.

As they narrowed the distance, the five discussed the puzzle of the destroyed ships and the infernal weather. Z’alden reasoned, with some pain at using his brain for logical thinking, that the combination of the sabotaged ships and the demonfall pointed to someone inside the City being responsible. Possibly for some religious reason. Rift concurred that the methods and the arcane signatures did not point to the diabolic beings they were fast approaching.

Nearing the Hellship, Tira let loose a Chaos Bolt, just to get their attention. Subtle.
An away team of devils came over to the spelljammer.

As he blinks away more sweat, Z’alden remembers how his holy symbol had burned at his chest as he saw four devils approach in an astral skiff. It is nearly burning now, but in a very different way, as Golemaag readies a blast of sulphurous fury. Even as the Titan draws back to release it, the cleric stands resolute, as resolute as he had been standing on the bow of the spelljammer as the devils closed the distance.

Erik had the most poise in the parley, though. During the exchange, the five learned that these devils could predict the abyssal Fall from signs that appeared weeks before. This current downpour was the third Fall in 4 weeks. These events troubled their Master who wanted the great cities to thrive. While the four would not give their own names, they said that they serve the devil Prince of Eyes, Al Jazeer. They related that their diabolic prince suspects that a fallen devil prince, once a servant of Asmodeus himself, called Grazz’it, now lost in infernal chaos, or one Grazz’it’s powerful sycophants, was responsible.

Finding these diabolic beings so knowledgeable of the matters of the Elemental Chaos, and help being in short supply, the party asked them if they knew how to find the Lord of the Fire Elementals, as the party’s business was with him. The speaker of the group’s eyes grinned with a diabolical light, “Every one of you five is touched by destiny. That is clear to our vision. As such, our prince will want an envoy in your halls, one that would stay as an advisor and diplomat for his interests. In return, we could have you to the gates of Ragnaros’s demesne within an hour.”

The party debated among themselves. While Z’alden was almost torn with pain over making a deal with devils compared to the expediency of saving the Kengi, and most of the others were willing to entertain it, the Ranger was the calmest and yet the clearest, “No good can come from having a devil in our chambers night and day. Always, he would be trying to sway us, making deals that are like unseen arrows in our backs at night.” Rift realized that her knowledge was sufficient to guide the ship towards the plane of Fire, the lands where dwells the Lord of Fire elementals. The devil speaker was beside himself with rage when the party rejected his offer, “you have made an enemy of our master today.” It was all Z’alden could do to not to blast the pompous horned villain where he floated in the skiff. Tira had observed the cleric’s body tense and leaned next to him, “Steady there Light Boy. This is not our battle today. The Hellship has hundreds of devils. We do not have the firepower for this fight now.” Calmed, Z’alden can still recall their departure, “Just one good burst of Supernal Radiance would have taught them a thing or two. Another day.”

It had been more than another day. It had been a long month since then. Even as the Demon Fall continued, they had gotten 5 fighters from a tavern in the City. They were all too happy to leave the horrendous infernal weather and help man the ship. Erik had used his magic maps to anticipate and avoid problem areas and keep the ship on course. It took three tedious weeks to reach the plane of fire, and another few days to find the castles and villages of some Fire Giants who might, with some persuasion, direct them to Ragnaros’s citadel.

And now, here they are, in a chamber deep inside the citadel of Molten Core. As Cinder snarled at the cleric, and Z’alden shakes his head to clear his eyes again, he readies a potent spell that will have these fiery two-headed creatures burning with the Light of the Great Dragon. For a brief instant, Z’alden can see a different creature in front of him, not with two heads but with three massive horns: a Tri-horned Behemoth. While Cinder and his brother hound Pyro are creatures serving elemental evil, the Behemoth had turned out to be little more than a giant cow. They had stumbled upon the Behemoth after first getting directions from a githzerai family, and then finding a small town with a Fire Giant shopkeep who promised directions straight to the city of Ragnaros, Molten Core, if only the adventurers would take care of a pest. Erik’s proficiency with the Giant language had allowed him to converse with the shopkeep, but the dialect was tricky. What exactly was a “pest”? It had turned out to be an almost docile creature whose only offense was to eat and then destroy everything around it with beams of energy that shot from its eyes. It was easy enough for the five to kill the pest, and it was for a good cause, but all five felt as though they had killed a sacred cow after the dead was done. Indeed, they had. These Behemoths are worshipped by the Fire Giants, the Fire Titans, the denizens of Molten Core, and Ragnaros himself. The shopkeep, Snewer, was sacrilegious, and was in a long-running feud with the caretakers of this particular Behemoth. He had snookered them and gotten them to destroy an almost harmless sacred beast to settle a score. Still, he lived up to his end of the bargain and, after several more days, the spelljammer reached Molten Core.

It had been the direct approach in the end that the five had chosen to enter the Sulphurous Citadel. Hiding themselves in the gift of Behemoth statue, like those legendary warriors of Droy, among other far-flung, flying entrance plans had been considered. With wiser heads, they realized they would not have fun storming the castle with any of these daft plans. After conversing with some githzerai about the city and the Citadel, they had obtained an audience with the oldest and supposedly wisest of Ragnaros’s counselors, his majordomo, Golemaag. In parley with Golemaag, they had tried to convince him that one of the other two counselors was going to betray him. The githzerai had told them, in fact, Fandral Staghelm already believed that Golemaag was going to betray him. The githzerai had also told them that massive armies had left Molten Core two weeks earlier. Z’alden’s heart had fallen at that news. The destruction of the Kengi had already begun. Their righteous decision to refuse the costly help of the devils would itself come with a great price. Hope remained that severing Ragnaros from his army would give the dragonborn a chance at avoiding complete annihilation.

Unfortunately, the audience with Golemaag had quickly gone south. The adventurers had posed as minstrels with songs of death to entertain the Fire Titan. Golemaag was only interested in hearing songs he knew by heart, from the voice of the dwarf. Barrick was more than up to this vocal challenge. What was unexpected was Golemaag’s demand that they sell the dwarf to him as a pet. While the adventurers tried to turn this somehow into a way to see Ragnaros,
Erik even tried to barter for one of the hounds, the ancient Fire Titan’s patience grew thin and his elemental voice reverberated in the massive chamber, “No one sees the Lord of Fire Elementals in the flesh. His Lord’s chamber is secure and inviolate. You can speak to him now through the embers here in my chamber.” The group was stymied and frozen for a moment. Too long a moment. “Fools!” the Titan had cried out, “I am weary of your presence. Taste the Flames of Sulphur. Feel the power of the Voice of Ragnaros!” The room had exploded with fire, burning the five, leaving them senseless, and pushing them back. Barrick had fallen into one of the several pits of lava in the room.

An epic battle had begun. Barrick remained trapped in the lava, unable to move. It was as though he wasn’t even there, the boisterous dwarf was so quiet sinking into the molten rock, but perhaps this was just from the perspiration clouding Z’alden’s vision and clogging his ears. In a few short heartbeats, the other four had engaged the monstrous hounds while being battered continually by Golemaag’s searing flames, massive fists, and deadly elemental powers. Unfazed, with his razor sharp War Glaives, Erik had quickly sliced one of the core hounds to embers. Golemaag roared with rage, “You killed Pyro. For this you will die.” Calmly, the Ranger retorted, “I told you I wanted the dog.”

The battle raged on. The sorceress had split into her four minion aspects and scattered them around the chamber, confusing the Titan and the remaining hounds. Z’alden had taken a draught from the Vial of Eternity and become insubstantial, the better to withstand being in proximity to the searing flames radiating from the Titan. He then called upon the Great Dragon, first to heal the group’s wounds, and then becoming the bane of demons and all elementals that he has trained to be, sending glorious radiant flames into these evil elemental creatures. While it had a small effect, Golemaag’s powers were undiminished. In a heartbeat, flaming energy leapt from the Titan to Pyro’s embers, and Pyro roared back onto the spot and into the battle. The Titan could raise his hounds! This was blow to the morale of the group, but they sallied on. Pyro’s return was unwelcome, and Tira let him know, causing ice to cover the hound, and then teleporting him up six staff lengths, only to have the hound fall hard to the floor of the chamber. Rift set off a chain of lightening that crackled and seared the flaming body of the Fire Titan. While the cleric stood stunned from Golemaag’s radiating flames that burned him deeply, and would have killed him if not for the Vial and being insubstantial, the Ranger’s War Glaives danced again, tearing into Pyro in an untamed outburst of ferocity, and in another half a heartbeat, Erik further lashed at the infernal hound, again creating a dog-shaped pile of embers. “Stay,” the Ranger said in a firm voice with a twinkle in his eye.

Only to their dismay, again flaming energy soared from Golemaag to Pyro’s pile, and the hound lived again! Rift could see that this was drawing on Golemaag’s own strength and costing him in his life force; it was a small sign of hope in otherwise dismal battle.

It was the wizard who rallied the party and perhaps began to turn the tide. Summoning a vortex of elemental cold energy, like a great mouth, Rift pulled Golemaag into this frozen maw with the most awesome power she can wield. Sharp ice spikes covered the Titan, draining his fiery life force, forcing him to the ground, and leaving him reeling. Despite these icy pains, Golemaag crushed by the cleric as he moved to slam the wizard with his fiery fist. Erik’s War Glaives again sang out into the infernal hound before him, dropping it to embers once more, “Stay, Bad dog!” the Ranger ordered. Tira put her consciousness into the minion closest to Cinder. Raw energy erupted from her hand, was focused into her dagger, and a tempest burst forth, whirling with arcane power, covering the two heads and body of the nearby infernal hound with the greatest of power that she could muster. The hound whined, it could feel pain and knew it then. The arcane tempest then raged over Golemaag, its incredible strength was maintained, and even this ancient Titan let out a gasp as the sorceress’s power enveloped him. Z’alden shook off the elemental flames, called on the healing power of Bahamut, and took another sip from the Vial, allowing him to draw on his own internal healing with a thought at any time. Radiant light flew from his symbol to envelope Golemaag. It was a light that is not easily extinguished and began to slowly sear the elemental Titan. Unfortunately for the cleric, Golemaag took scant notice of this dragon candle. Even with Tira’s tempest gone, however, Golemaag remained sufficiently dazed to be able to do little at that moment. He gathered himself, and fiery energy flew to the embers of Pyro. Again the hound stood, slaver in both of his mouths. Golemaag looked weaker, though, and dark spots began to show in the flames surrounding him. Rift pointed her Darkstar staff at the Titan and surrounded him in a sphere of mirrors, awaiting the moment when she could turn his powers back on himself in this arcane trap.

And now, Z’alden blinks once more, clears his eyes, and surveys the ancient Fire Titan in front of him and the hound Cinder two staff lengths away. Just the right distance, he thinks. The Chosen of Bahamut intones, “By Dragon’s Claw, by Dragon’s Might, You of Darkness now beware, today you feel the Dragon’s Light!” He prepares to utter the sacred name of the Platinum Dragon, and bring forth its sacred form, spanning 5 staff lengths, with claws and fangs to rip into these enemies and with freezing cold to render them incapable of action. He feels the Vial and recalls the temple of Bahamut where he heard the voice say, “The Universe wants you to win.” The cleric draws his breath to begin the spell.

To be continued.

Float Like a Beholder, Sting Like a Barbed Devil

Virtue was dancing with the wind. The curtain had been drawn back, revealing the adventurers’ true nature, though it had been known all along. Now before them was the lich Ur Feyn, at whose bidding the five would steal, and even kill. Times had changed. Oh well.

But as with all actions, there was rationalization. Those wicked deeds were for an ultimate good. The Book of Vile Darkness, full of evil secrets, surely would one day be put to good use by Ur Feyn. Perhaps for a triumph of good over evil? Tira and Barrick had retrieved it for this hollow remnant of a high elf, and now that it was clutched by his bony fingers it was out of their control. Oh well.

Another mighty figure in the lives of the adventurers was Tassadar, an ancient wizard from some primordial time. From him the adventurers learned of their destiny, or perhaps it was more of a quest, or perhaps it was just something to do. The cleric, the wizard, the sorceress, the fighter and the ranger were five in number, but there was to be a sixth to lead the world to a better place. Their first task was to find this sixth and so they came about with a plan to travel to the Temple of the Arcane. It was past time to catch up with Illidan, the potentially evil wizard they knew in another time.

Feeling the need for something different, the adventurers set out upon the northern shore of Lake Nen, heading west. This would be a fine trek, through a lush forest with abundant wildlife to appreciate, kill and feast upon. And so it was a merry time with no evil to fear nor conquer – just share the path with brothers and sisters.

Now, trouble was something the adventurers could not avoid for long, even if they did not seek it out. Just as the sun shines, so too is there shadow, and long had grown the shadows of our five adventurers. As fortune would have it, a mystery was presented: the forest contained deep and wide pits dug in the ground, with tiny bone fragments and these holes were never far from a teleportation circle. The adventurers explored this mystery for weeks, not just days, and mapped out the location of these sites. They lay in the pattern of a grid. Rift searched all her knowledge and concluded that some creature had been buried in these pits, perhaps to spread the bones so that they would be harder to find in total. They had been found. What creature was it? Surely something massive and powerful enough to be worth hiding and worth digging up. Every night, Rift’s dreams were filled with visions of a draco-lich. Was it just the imagination running wild?

There was now a second purpose to travel to the Temple of the Arcane. Not only were they looking for a possible sixth member of a ruling council, but perhaps the wizards would know more about the burial sites. Further still, perhaps one of the wizards was the one collecting the bones in order to create a terrible monster that would be known as a draco-lich. Everyone of power in the temple would be a suspect.

After a few more weeks of travel by foot, the adventurers reached the Temple of the Arcane. This time the four corner towers were floating in the air. This was powerful magic indeed. Unlike their first encounter with this temple, the place was busy with some students scurrying about and others in groups, studying for exams by performing basic and intermediate magic tricks. The five adventurers soon found themselves inside the temple, in the library.

The head librarian was an orc named Gurthmog, who was unlike any orc that Z’alden had ever encountered. An aberant of his race, Gurthmog was bookish, for the lack of a better term. He wore no armor. He carried no weapon. His eyes strained as he examined the five, who stood further than arms length.

“You want the headmaster?”, Gurthmog gruffly spat out, “I can see you are of some importance. You don’t need to tell me. Okay? Okay then. Follow the portals. You’ll figure it out. Go!”

Sometimes one can’t fully escape their origin, and Gurthmog’s curtness was amusing to the sorceress, whose social awareness was quite the opposite of the head librarian’s.

Traveling by portal should have been more familiar to the adventurers, but the dwarf felt uneasy. All this change in direction and location was without clues. How could he keep track of where they were? So far from the dungeon, they were. The five were getting closer to the headmaster’s chambers as they bounced around, but before they got there, they ran into Illidan. Recalling the path toward evil that Illidan had been on, the five were naturally on guard but they tried to hide this. The cleric spoke first.

“How are you, old friend?”, inquired Z’alden as the others watched every move, every expression, every mannerism for the subtlest clue to Illidan’s disposition.

To their relief, the wizard seemed genuine and happy with his role at the Temple of the Arcane. He had risen astoundingly fast as a student and though forever learning, he was now a master too, teaching young apprentices the ways of the arcane. The conversation quickly moved to that of the mysterious boneyards that the adventurers had found. Illidan recommended that the adventurers seek out masters Medivh and Kallazar to learn more. In the mean time, they were to be welcomed guests of the temple, with full access to the library. Supper would be at sundown and they were to join Illidan and his students at their table.

At the library, Z’alden sought out ritual books and was able to make a copy of “Shadow Walk”. Similarly, Rift sought to increase her ritual knowledge and gained an understanding of “Phantom Steed”.

Dinner was served promptly but lasted longer than the prescribed time, as Illidan’s apprentices were intrigued with Rift and Tira’s practical application of magic, specifically used for combat. The questions were cut short as Illidan informed the students that they must rest and that Rift would give a demonstration of her skills in the morning. The excited students would have to wait with overflowing eager anticipation like children who want something right now.

The next day the students met with Illidan and Rift at the top of the central tower. There, Rift demonstrated “combust” upon a hapless volunteer, whose singed hair, blinking eyes and bewildered expression had the other students even more gleeful. Illidan rolled his eyes. Rift asked, “Want to see that again?”

Meanwhile, Z’alden was sleuthing in the library and came across a most fascinating ritual book loosely translated to, “Build a Draco-Lich in Nine Easy Steps”. This ritual could only be performed by the most powerful of wizards and that left it out of reach of even Rift and probably Illidan. Furthering the difficulty of this ritual was the cost of its ritual components – thirteen million. Worse still, one would just happen to have the full skeleton of an ancient dragon. Throw in five extremely rare astral orbs and an even more rare “touch of Orcus”, and there you go, you have yourself a draco-lich that may or may not be under your control. Oh well.

Barrick was getting interested in the draco-lich mystery too, and being a direct kind of guy, asked the headmaster straight-way, “What do you know about creating draco-liches?” Then he pulled the mage in further with, “And what do you think of my axe, the “Talon of Orcus”… wouldn’t that be a “touch of Orcus” that could be used to create a draco-lich?” Of course, the dwarf was being clever. Naturally suspicious of all weavers of the arcane magics, the dwarf wanted to see just how interested this Kallazar would be in the axe. Perhaps too interested? Barrick observed the response closely.

“Yes, your axe would mostly likely be sufficient,” replied Kallazar. “Dwarf, were you thinking of conjuring a draco-lich?”

The question was delivered with a straight face to one who was clearly no wizard. Barrick grumbled beneath his beard.

“There is a rumor of an ancient white dragon. A dragon named Rime. Perhaps it is his bones that you seek?”

So the wizard was smart. Perhaps Barrick deserved a little punishment for his clumsy attempt to get the great wizard slip-up and reveal himself as a disciple of evil. Still, Barrick had not gone empty-handed. This information he would later relay to his comrades.

Meanwhile, Rift was now teaching “Elemental Maw”. After the latest demonstration, Rift said, “That was way cool. Next volunteer?” Illidan rolled his eyes.

Illidan quickly brought Rift’s lesson to an end and Erik, Tira, Z’alden and Barrick all re-joined to share their experiences of the day. With the mention of the ancient white dragon, Rime, Rift showed Illidan the sampling of tiny bone fragments she had collected. To their surprise, Illidan was able to confirm the original owner of the bone fragments – Rime.

Days passed as the adventurers took advantage of the temple’s facilities. Even the ranger, Erik, learned the simple trick of casting light at the tip of his war glaives. Yet the adventures could not stay far from trouble for long. Word came from Kengistan of pending war! King of the Kengi, former fellow adventurer and friend, Felsmon, had sent word that the armies of fire elementals would soon return to wage war. The adventurers were needed to help – to defeat the fire elementals at their source.

The arcane masters of the temple sat and consulted with the five adventurers. Kallazar spoke, “You must go and help save Kengistan. Time is limited. I will teach “planar portal” to Rift. This will save much time.”

Now things started happening very quickly. Rift focused and mastered the spell in record time, impressing Kallazar. Z’alden set about scrying Felsmon to determine if the message was indeed legitimate. He could see Felsmon in the great hall, in full war armor. This was for real.

Later that evening, Rift felt a thin but strong hand grasp the top of her skull. It was Tassadar. “The demons are building a fortress in the West. This is at the direction of a demon prince. It must be addressed immediately.”

At this point, Rift turned to Tassadar and with a look of complaint replied, “But we are to go to the East, to defeat the fire elementals who threaten Kengistan.”

Tassadar’s expression turned to frustration and then to calm. “Rift, I see a larger plan by the forces of evil. They wish to split the forces of good by engaging on two fronts.”

Rift sheepishly replied, “Oh, and then there’s this thing about the draco-lich…”

Tassadar’s expression turned to surprise and then anger. “Fiddlesticks.”

With that, the ancient wizard vanished and left Rift to tell her companions of her encounter with Tassadar. The temple’s masters had grave expressions on their faces and there was more consultation. It was ultimately decided that the adventurers would join Felsmon to fight the fire elementals. They would be aided by seven acolytes and adepts who were enthusiastic about the prospect of fighting evil. With that, and Rift’s newly learned “planar portal”, the adventurers and their small team of young wizards made it to Kengistar, the capital of Kengistan, in just one day.

“Thank Bahamut for your arrival,” greeted Felsmon, “The forests are burning. Just as last time, this was a precursor to invasion. You must go to the source – start at the City of Brass.”

The adventurers understood that their mission was to attack the fire elemental’s leadership. Felsmon would stay to defend Kengistan from those fire elementals that did come through. However, the adventurers were Kengistan’s only real hope. They were the Nentir Vale’s only hope. The fate of the world was in their hands.

Arriving in the City of Brass, the adventurers and seven young wizards found themselves without a ship to travel the Elemental Chaos. One would have to be procured, but with what money? As they were scratching their heads over what to do, one of the acolytes happened upon a poster on the wall. It was titled “Fight Night!” and went on to describe the thrill of mixed martial and arcane arts fighting (MMAA). It encouraged the citizenry and visitors to come see the greatest spectacle in all of the Elemental Chaos. There was a rendering of the flamboyant promotor, complete with spiked-up white hair and surrounded by beautiful, scantily clad females of various races.

“Gambling,” Barrick nonchalantly uttered, “I’ve heard of this. This is big-time money. In a place like this, there are enormous sums gambled on who will win and who will lose. They payouts are truly a fortune. Fighters get paid. Well, or they die.”

Z’alden’s eyes lit up, “So, we could win enough to purchase a ship?”

“Yeah, easily,” continued Barrick, “Just have to avoid dying.”

Erik and Tira looked at each other. Blood sport? Really? Oh well.

So the adventures sent the seven wizards off to hold tight while they would do a bit of “street fighting”, as Barrick termed it. They soon found the promoter, who really did look like his rendering on the poster. Tira kept away, with the plan being that she would bet what money they had to increase their winnings, should they not die.

“Well, you have options. It’s not technically to the death,” explained the promoter, “But you do get a bigger payout, the more risk there is, naturally. There is an option for, uh, fighting to the death. It’s really not so bad. You know, the eternal afterlife. Hey, you look pretty tough there ranger.”

Erik’s eyes grew big and he started to cough. The more phlegm the better. Rift caught on quickly and patted his back, “Oh, the terrible cough. We thought you were getting so much better. Are you sure you want to do this?”

The promoter cast a suspicious eye, being one familiar with cons.

The adventurers agreed to a contest that would be “to the drop”. The promoter assured them that healers would be on hand, but the adventures thought this a bluff. The payout would be three to one. Not bad.

Time passed slowly as the adventurers waited the night in their rooms above a tavern. The streets were loud with late-night revelers. What would tomorrow bring? It would bring an oval arena with thirty foot high walls, with stands extending even higher above. The ground was of sand, and in the middle the fight announcer bellowed out to the packed house…

“Tonight, from the Nentir Vale, a band of four thrill-seekers seek out their destiny. Featuring the dwaaarven fighter, Baaaarick. The rrrranger, Erik. The cleric, Zaaaalen, and his gorgeous concubine Rift!”

One by one, the adventures were lead into the arena. Erik spotted Tira up in the stands, who noticed him back and stuck her tongue out in jest.

The fight announcer paused as the crowd clapped with faltering continuity. They must never have heard of the Nentir Vale.

“Now, their opponents tonight. You know them. You love them. They’ve dominated every match for the last several months, setting records for the fastest fall and fastest kill, please let me introduce, the main attraction, the one, the only, Cooooolossusssss and the Forsaken!”

With that, the announcer levitated up and out of the way just as doors on the opposite side of the arena opened. The ground seemed to shake as a colossus and two forsaken entered. The adventurers recalled that “forsaken” were the material form of the dispersed power of dead gods. Great. Just great.

The crowd went wild.

Round one went to the colossus and the forsaken as the adventurers were stunned, immobilized and otherwise rendered rather ineffective. Still, Z’alden was able to deal plenty of on-going damage and Rift’s practicing of “elemental maw” paid off.

Round two saw the sand drawing away to reveal some fire pits, just to elevate the spectator’s excitement. This surprised the adventurers as they had thought that this match was “to the drop”, not “to the death”. Z’alden also found out that the crowd definitely had its favorite. As he flew up in the air to avoid the colossus, he got too close to the crowd and they grabbed and stabbed at him. Tough crowd. Still, round two narrowly went to the adventurers.

Round three saw a dramatic shift in fortunes as the adventurers took control of the match. The fire pits turned to lava pits and the colossus found himself in the unfortunate position of being stuck in one of them. Round three, and the match went to the adventurers.

The crowd went wild.

The payout was huge, not only to the victors but to Tira who had (mostly) bet on her fellow adventurers. The finally tally showed winnings of 4.1 million on 1.1 million wagered. The adventurers would now be able to procure a fine ship with which they could travel the Elemental Chaos. Of course, the price for this was the deaths of the the colossus and two “forsaken”, despite this match supposed to be only “to the drop”. Oh well. Oh well, oh well.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Who needs those other two?


Forces Beyond Our Control
The Puppet Masters

“Three years had elapsed. Three years of sitting around, bored, clearing out one orc nest after another,” Rift mused, as she sipped at her glass of Nentir ’97, then downed the rest in one gulp.

“Enough of this idleness.”

Rift, Z’alden, Erik, Tira, and Barrick were finally reunited, but for how long?

Suddenly, Lars burst into the room. “We must improve the castle!” he shouted to no one in particular.

“Um, okay?” exclaimed Erik.

Lars ignored the bemused ranger. As his body started glowing with divine light, the five adventurers backed away slowly. Tira fingered her dagger, wondering whether the dwarf had gone mad, or perhaps had had too many late nights with his screaming brat, Dweezil. Erik could never fathom why someone would want to saddle themselves with a wretched urchin. He would never be caught in such an abominable situation. He had enough trouble keeping track of his twin blades.

Z’alden recognized the glow. “By Bahamut, Pelor, and Moradin, we must get him to the temple.”

Lars continued to babble. “Start of a great civilization, where everything happens again.”

His eyes started to glow. “Arkosha, the Bal-Torath empire, where every race could come together.”

Tira rolled her eyes, and nudged Rift in the ribs. “Whacked, this one.”

Lars continued, “You need to find the chosen one, who has the ear of the people and gods. Seek the council of six. Find the answer within the well.”

At the mention of a well, Z’alden’s ears perked up. “Lars is not mad. He is speaking of those who follow a different path of Bahamut, the followers of Pure Justice.”

Just then, their nemesis-turned-boss, Ur Feyn, appeared. The lich looked the same as ever, all skin and bones, his clothes hanging in tatters. Pointing his decaying fingers at the stunned adventurers, he croaked, “You must seek out a tome far to the south. The Book of Vile Darkness.”

Tira gaped at the undead horror. “Is it just me, or are things getting strange around here? Barrick, did you spike the mead again?”

The lich turned his head all the way around to glare at Tira. “You.” he said. “And you,” he continued, looking down at the horrified dwarf. “Seek the tome.” Suddenly, Barrick and Tira disappeared in a cloud of greasy smoke.

“Hey!” shouted Z’alden. “At least give us something in return to make up for the loss of our two companions.”

“Very well” whispered Ur Feyn with an evil cackle. “What’s fair is fair. I give you a manual of the planes. Use it wisely.” And with another cloud of greasy smoke, the lich disappeared, leaving a large tattered tome in his place.

After recovering from their shock, Erik, Z’alden, and Rift pondered the words of Lars and Ur Feyn.

“Lars said a council of six,” muttered Rift. “Who is the sixth?”

“That’s easy!” said Erik. “Our long-lost companion, Felsmon.”

Z’alden slapped Erik on the back. “My friend, you are a genius! We must seek out our friend Felsmon.”

After a journey of many days, the three travellers reached Kendistar, the capitol of Kengistan. To their dismay, they found that Felsmon was now the ruler of the Kengi. His adventuring days were over. But, Felsmon told them what he knew of the followers of Pure Justice.

“Seek the Scion of Arkosha. You are looking for a magic font in the Lost Temple of Bahamut. The followers of Pure Justice, or Justicars, have been seeking it for many years. Head to their monastery to the northwest and they should be able to guide you in your quest.”

“We thank you greatly, mighty chief of the Kengi,” said Z’alden, as he bowed low to his friend. “And now, I need to go clothes shopping.”

Rift gave Erik a puzzled look. “Clothes?” she asked Z’alden.

“Of course! We must be attired as true champions of Bahamut! And besides, the wizard stinks and you, my friend, have holes in your cloak.”

Erik spluttered. “Holes? I have no holes! This cloak is made from the finest deer hide. It was dyed in the richest wheatgrass, which, I might add, makes a wonderful pick-me-up drink in the morning.”

Rift rolled her eyes. “The cleric is right. I do stink, and your cloak has holes. Come,” she added, “I’m buying.”

Mounted on drakes, wearing their new garb, and smelling more-or-less clean, Z’alden, Rift, and Erik rode off to seek the monks.

Z’alden waved his mace high over his head, then, looking down at his burnt red drake, shouted “I shall name you ‘Razorbeak’!”

Erik, not wanting to be left out, whipped out his swords. “And you, my gray-blue friend, shall be called ‘Ironclaw’!”

Rift peered at her two strange friends, then looked down at her forest green drake. He looked up at her expectantly, his face scarred from many battles. “Um, ‘Scarface’?” she exclaimed tentatively. The drake seemed satisfied with his new name, racing to catch up to Razorbeak and Ironclaw.

The monk glared at Z’alden, Rift, and Erik. “Bahamut gave me a vision of three travellers seeking the Lost Temple.”

The three had arrived safely at the monastery, and after watching the dragonborn monks meditating and practicing swordplay, had finally managed to convince the head monk, or Justicar, that they were indeed the travellers in his vision.

The Justicar sighed. “Come, I will show you what we have found.”

He led them down into a stone library beneath the monastery. “We discovered the temple a few years ago.”

The monk sighed again and closed his eyes, as if the memory was too painful. “We attempted to enter the temple. But we were repulsed by evil creatures. Scaled demons. We fought them. I fought as best as I could. I swear it. But in the end, I had to flee. I alone survived.”

Z’alden could see the dragonborn’s pain. Putting a hand on his scaly arm, he said “Follower of Bahamut, mighty Justicar, I am sure that you fought well. None could have fought better. But you were right to flee. For if you had not, then who would have returned with the tale? Who could then lead us to the Temple?”

The monk took his hands down from his face. “Perhaps there is truth in your words, noble cleric. Come, I will lead you.”

After a journey of many days, in which the monk never rested, and Erik and Rift complained bitterly, the group reached the hexagon-shaped temple.

“I can go no further,” exclaimed the monk. Turning abruptly, he disappeared quickly into the trees, almost running in his haste to be away from the scene of his disgrace.

Inside the ruins, the ranger quickly found the remains of the Justicar’s companions, moldering away in the dust. “But where were the demons?” he wondered. As soon as the thought entered his mind, he felt a cold draft from behind, as if a door had opened to another dimension.

“Behind you!” shouted Z’alden.

Erik gazed at Z’alden in horror. “No, behind you!”

Erik spun and shot his bow, point blank at the evil demon. “Rift, what is it?” he shouted.

“A ‘sorrowsworn’ elemental, if I’m not mistaken,” Rift answered, firing off a blast of combustable gas.

Z’alden also answered, “Aye, that’s what they are. But ‘sorrowsworn’ or no, I swear that they will rue the day they met Zenithar al Denithar!” The cleric’s hands burned, a ball of solar wrath glowing, turning the undead into flames. “One down!"

Erik fired his bow again and again. “Take that, and that!” The arrows buried themselves into the demon. Then Erik, drawing his swords, cut the last demon in half, the creature still screaming as it collapsed to the floor, shrieking and gurgling as it’s evil essence flowed away.

Panting and recovering his arrows, Erik looked around the room warily. “Look, a chest!”

Rift eyes the chest eagerly. “It’s trapped, I’m sure of it! But don’t worry, I’ve got this!” she said excitedly. “I’m an expert!”

Z’alden and Erik backed away, the ranger closing his eyes to a narrow slit, his face scrunched up in concern. Z’alden shook his head, and began to speak, “Rift, are you sure you know…”

Just then, there was a tremendous “whoomph!” as the chest exploded open. Darts flew in all directions, their tips glistening evilly with a purplish liquid. Rift staggered back, her arms and torso punctured by the tiny barbs.

“Whoops!” she exclaimed. As the cleric tended to her wounds, she happily said, “I got it open, no?”

Erik sighed. “Yes, and for what it’s worth, there were 5000 platinum and 15 astral diamonds.”

Z’alden whistled in amazement. “Quite a haul. We shall have to dedicate this to Bahamut."

The brave party pushed onwards into the temple. They came at last to a set of giant doors, the height of three staffs, made of solid stones and carved with the symbol of Bahamut. Erik pushed on the doors, which slowly swung open, perfectly balanced. A giant temple lay beyond. Fonts filled with platinum light shown in the corners, and a great statue of Bahamut filled one side. Z’alden walked in, his eyes shining in the reflected platinum glow. This was indeed a temple of Bahamut to be proud of.

Erik and Rift approached the statue cautiously. Although the temple was dedicated to good, there could still be something evil lurking inside. Sure enough, just as the ranger stepped onto the statue’s dias, a tiny voice piped up.

“Who disturbs the sleep of Nahrlzen Albavar?” the voice screeched.

Erik and Rift jumped back. A tiny demon appeared beneath the claw of Bahamut. “You, intruders, you shall pay for bothering me!” Hopping madly from one foot to another, the demon snapped his clawed fingers.

“Alas!” cried Z’alden, “what is that foul thing doing in my temple?” Rift and Erik followed Z’alden’s gaze. A huge abomination of flesh lumbered out of thin air, it’s eyes protubing grotesquely from its bulbous head. Spotting the cleric, the abomination roared and lumbered towards the horrified half-elf.

Erik’s eyes gleamed. Quickly pulling out a magic whetstone, he applied it to his wicked swords. “Now there is a worthy foe!”

Rift spun around, trying to spot the tiny demon. “It’s disappeared!” she shouted. Then, the demon flickered into existence, right behind the hapless wizard. “Ah ha!” he cried. "Nahrlzen Albavar, the great servant of Jarraxxus, will get you!”

Terrible spells rained down on the wizard and the cleric. The cleric succumbed first, dropping heavily to the floor, but quickly using his powers of divine recovery to get back up. The wizard soon followed, Rift’s too-short life passing before her elven eyes. But the cleric was able to save her from the brink, throwing all of his healing might into a blast of divine radiance. Z’alden quickly followed that with a strike on the tiny demon, banishing him to an extraplanar prison where he might contemplate his transgressions.

Meanwhile, Erik continued to slash at the abomination, dodging the giant’s clumsy fists and burying his blades deep into the fleshy construct. “I claim this prize!” shouted Erik as he delivered the final killing blow to the monster. It dropped in a great heap of steaming flesh, already dissolving back into the primordial slime from whence it came.

Rift, Erik, and Z’alden fought on against the tiny demon, until, after a final blow from Erik’s sword, it disappeared with a final wailing “Nooooooooooo!”. The demon was gone, banished to his own demonic plane.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Z’alden contemplated the statue. “There is a puzzle here that I cannot fathom.”

Erik and Rift began shoving and pulling at the statue. It moved, but only in certain directions. Finally, the cleric realized the solution. “Move the right wing higher, then the statue forward.” Erik obeyed, shrugging his shoulders. But indeed, that was the trick. The statue moved forward, uncovering a large pool of liquid. It was the well of eternity!

Z’alden kneeled and dipped his diamond vial into the pool. Without hesitation, he quaffed the platinum liquid. “The Universe!” he cried, “it wants me to win!” Z’alden suddenly felt as if this was the luckiest day of his life.

Rift eagerly followed Z’alden’s example, drinking her own vial of liquid from the pool. “I feel wise beyond my years!” she said in a surprised voice.

Erik stared at his two comrades suspiciously. “Are they deluded?” he wondered. There was only one way to find out. “Bottoms up!” he exclaimed, as he downed the vial.

Unknotting World Lines

Unknotting World Lines
May 27, 2016

Tu Narath

The five adventurers had been traveling the astral sea in search of a way back home. In this case, home was a few years ago in the future. Tassedar had alerted them to the damage that was occurring in the weave of the world, and this the adventurers believed for he was a being of immense magical powers and knowledge. So, here they were, in an astral skiff, just having captured a high-ranking Githyanki…

After some tense moments, the Githyanki realized that he would indeed be spared. For this, he offered his name, “I am Val Kath, Crown Prince of the Githyanki. Let us not be enemies.”

The cleric rubbed his chin. The fighter stroked his beard. The wizard raised an eyebrow. The sorceress batted her eyes. The ranger stared intently. The Githyanki looked perplexed and spoke further, “Come, let us set course for Tu Narath, capital city of the Githyanki. There you will meet our queen.” Awkward moments passed. “There will be a reward.”

“Yes,” replied the five adventurers, almost in unison, “Let’s set course of Tu Narath.”

So the adventures had the captain set course for the capital city and after not too long a journey their eyes set upon a city more odd than any they had ever seen before. Floating in the astral sea, the city had been assembled from countless ships of all sizes, from skiffs to battleships, from all corners of the astral sea. Some were in good repair, some were damaged, but all were connected by planks held them in a group as a cohesive whole. At first, the varied orientation of the ships disoriented the adventurers, but as they drew closer, their minds began to adapt to the astral sea’s lack of up and down.

As the small skiff approached a dock, Val Kath spoke to the adventurers about the protocols of the Githyanki. “So that no unintended offenses are given, let me advise you to the Lithani. It is the way of the warrior – a martial code not just of fighting, but living. It has certain demands and expectations. Interact with no-one. Follow my lead. Everything will be okay.”

With that, the skiff docked and Val Kath lead the adventurers through the maze of entangled ships. Barrick could sense that they were traveling toward the center of the city. Val Kath said nothing and neither did the citizens of Tu Narath. After some time, their destination became apparent – a truly massive and magnificent ship. If there was to be a palace, this was it, and it was large enough to house ten-thousand troops. Rift and Tira could feel the arcane magic that permeated the area. Val Kath lead them past guards, without even a word or a nod. Soon the adventurers arrived at a throne room.

This throne room felt heavy with arcane magic, yet the throne itself appeared to be of simple wood, with a straight back, meant for a disciple of the Lithani. There was no softness. In this throne sat an elder Githyanki female, adorned in the finest battle plate, complete with ornate inlays and inscriptions. Circling her head was a band of steel.

“Mother,” spoke Val Kath.

Minutes seeming like hours went by and the elder female said nothing. The adventurers felt like rubbing their chins and stroking their beards but decided the better of it.

“These adventurers returned me home and deserve a reward,” finished Val Kath.

More minutes went by and the adventurers puzzled over the complete lack of expression in either Githyanki’s face. However, their left hands both seemed jittery. Could it be an expression of anxiety? Tira thought to herself that these folk had inbred for too many generations.

Finally, the mother replied to her son, “Good to have you home. Something is strange about the visitors.”

Rift felt as if the queen was staring mostly at her. Looking over at Rift, Tira thought she could see Rift start to vibrate. “Hmm,” Tira thought, “the queen is right. Something is indeed strange with Rift.” Rift began to vibrate more and more. “Yes,” reflected Tira, “something is strange with Rift!”

Now Rift began to glow. A body-less hand appeared upon her shoulder and pulled her backwards and she was gone!

Then Tira noticed that all her companions were looking at her. “What? Why are you all looking at me like that? Stop staring, it’s rude!”, protested Tira. She could see that Z’alden was beginning to cast a spell in her direction. “Hey, I don’t mean to alarm you, but you guys are all vibrating…”

Z’alden furiously cast his spell, but it was too late. As the remaining three adventurers looked on in horror, Tira vibrated more and more, rotating colors and then as she disappeared, appeared to be ripped in half and then explode. The cleric, fighter and ranger stood looking at each other, the expression of agony in Tira’s face weighing heavily on them.

The ranger spoke first. “Z’alden, don’t take this the wrong way, but, um, do you think your spell, uh, tore Tira in half?”

The cleric looked down and sighed. Rift and Tira were gone. Somehow the Githyanki’s expressionless faces looked even more stern.

“What is this black magic?”, the prince demanded.

“Val Kath, they must leave now,” the queen commanded.

What’s in a Name?

Without a word, the prince motioned for the three adventurers to follow him and they all quickly exited the throne room. Once out of the palace, the prince explained that they would seek out the advice of a powerful wizard. Perhaps he could help with determining the fate of Rift and Tira. Across gangplanks and through ships Val Kath lead the way through the maze of ships that was the city. Soon they stood before a rather battered ship that looked to be from the Nine Hells.

The cleric bristled as they peered into what was once a most unholy vessel. Z’alden’s trepidations lessened as he could see piles and piles of books filling its small main chamber. Do devil’s read books with the same voraciousness as they feast on souls? Surely, this place would be okay.

“Master Namer, please open the door. We have urgent need of your services,” implored Val Kath.

Soon the door opened and a very young looking human opened the door. Barrick contemplated to himself, “Surely this is not the wise wizard we are looking for. All wise wizards have beards. Perhaps this is why Rift is not so wise. Now, if she were a dwarf…”

Val Kath lead the way in and, in Githyanki fashion, there was no speaking. The wizard was clearly familiar with the prince, and so his eyes slowly studied the cleric, moving next to the fighter and then finally the ranger. His penetrating gaze was a bit alarming and the three adventurers felt very self-conscious.

All the while the wizard had been studying the adventurers, they too had been studying him and his cluttered abode. Clearly he was quite eccentric, but he seemed trustworthy. From him they learned that the Githyanki often communicate without talking, using only their left hand to express emotion. The Lithani – path of the warrior – was now more understood. Emotion was vulgar. Communication should be pure and direct, unpolluted with unnecessary emotional expression. A warrior should only communicate pertinent facts.

Master Namer then asked Val Kath to step out for a few minutes.

As the pleasantries began to unfold between the good cleric and Master Namer, Erik observed that none of the books in the room were written in common. One book was covered in dragon skin and this was interesting not for just that fact but for it was a new book. Who would have a book of fresh dragon skin? He wore robes on top of leather armor and had a Gith sword on his hip. Several glass spheres rested upon the tables, each with a light source burning softly within. “Rift has nothing like this,” thuought Erik.

“Why named so?” blurted out Barrick, in his typical, direct style.

“Ah, yes,” replied Master Namer, “My name comes from the ability to observe and reveal the true nature of things. By knowing something’s true name one can have a profound understanding of it, and only by understanding can one control. Stone. Lightning. They all have other, deeper names beyond the obvious and gross abbreviations that we use in everyday language. This was all learned from a school; a small school, a unique school. With names comes understanding more powerful than the magic of arch mages. But you can call me ‘Tor’.”

With that, Tor gave a joking grin and a wink. “Now, tell me your story,” he earnestly implored.

So the three remaining adventurers told him of what had just transpired. The wizard listened intently, with quite human reactions, unlike he had with the Githyanki prince. He appeared to be a bit of a mimic, but only because he was completely in tune with the person he was speaking with. Perhaps he even took on a bit of their accent.

Tor then held up a finger to indicate “one moment, please” and after rummaging around in a back room he brought forth a water basin and a deep purple decanter. From the decanter Tor slowly poured water into the basin, moving the spout circularly around the basin as if to deposit the water evenly. “Now, focus on Rift and Tira,” he asked. The three adventurers obliged and Tor began to stare into the basin. This went on for many minutes and Z’alden and Erik could perceive much strain on the wizard. Beads of sweat began to form on Tor’s now wrinkled brow. He looked frustrated and his effort only increased. Finally, he collapsed in a heap!

Barrick rushed over to help him up and Z’alden offered healing, but Tor raised his hand in a motion to decline the offer. Then Tor pronounced, “Your companions are not here. We must take a different approach to solve this mystery.” The adventurers looked very disappointed that the scrying had failed, but were out of options. “Z’alden, you mentioned the Crystal Cave and a need to return to your original time. Will you let me look within you? Perhaps you have answers.”

Z’alden agreed and the session began with both Tor and the cleric sitting on the floor. Tor’s gaze was penetrating as he studied a very self-conscious Z’alden, who struggled to remain open and true. If Z’alden were to put up an emotional shield then perhaps any answers that were within him would not be found by Tor, and Rift and Tira would be lost forever. But should he completely let his guard down, would he reveal too much and Tor would gain power over him?

After a full hour, Tor broke off the session, once again weary. “Most peculiar,” Tor softly uttered, “I do not have a full understanding of you. There is much more to you. Thank you. It is rare that I am permitted to study a living creature.”

“Now, though we have not found your friends, I think I can still help,” Tor continued as he motioned for them to join him in another room. A bit perplexed, the three adventurers followed him. “A little trick that I learned not so long ago… let’s see, yes,” Tor continued, seemingly still both out-of-sorts and giddy with his excitement over the observation session with Z’alden. He then pulled out a large-ish circular metal ring into the center of the room. Tor ran his fingers over the ancient inscriptions. “Yes, indeed, I think I remember, yes that’s it,” he muttered as if re-learning the device. Soon it sprung to life, shooting up a cylinder of red light that was one plus one-half staff length in height.

“Step right on in,” Tor encouraged with a grin, “it’s good to go.” Z’alden looked over to the ranger with a puzzled look, which was returned by an equally mystified expression and a shrug.

“Oh, before you go, one more thing…” Tor blurted out as he rushed over to a locked chest. “Here, Z’alden, you keep it close to you. It has power. One day you will need it!” With that, Tor handed Z’alden a decanter made of an astral diamond – not diamonds held together in a lattice of another material – but of one diamond. As the exchange was made, Tor put his hand on Z’alden’s back and guided the cleric right into the portal. And he was gone. Erik and Barrick exchanged grins and followed close behind as they coincidently said in unison: don’t split the party.

Tor collapsed in his wizard chair with a flask of the hard stuff.

The Crystal Cave

The adventurers found themselves in the mountains of Celestia, their original destination in the Astral Plane. Tor had indeed helped them out and deserved many thanks, but there was no time now for they were running out of time. As the great wizard Tassedar had so impressed upon them, each moment spent in the wrong time would unravel the tapestry of history.

The surrounding landscape was heavenly and the mountains gleamed white with the stuff of astral diamonds. Grinning, Erik scraped some of the diamond-dust soil into a small sack and secured it in his pouch of holding. As beautiful a place this was and as much as they would have been content to stay there, the adventurers felt a powerful urge to find the Crystal Cave. With that, the way was supernaturally made plain to them as they effortlessly navigated the valleys and passes. Almost like a dream, they soon found themselves at the mouth of the Crystal Cave and unquestioningly entered without fear.

Deep within the cavern then came upon a large chamber which had a lake in the middle. This cavern, this chamber, these waters were exactly the same as when Tassedar was reformed from bones. This was where magic was born – the origin of all arcana. The emotional pull to find and enter the cavern now evolved into an overwhelming desire to enter the water. The three remembered the dangers of the water, as told by Tassedar, but the urge was too strong. Z’adlen said a prayer to Bahamut and motioned for Barrick and Erik to join him. They did and were soon pulled into the deep end and under the surface of the water. As when falling asleep, their thoughts changed form. Everything faded to black…


The three adventurers found themselves in a clearing, surrounded by a forest and with rocky outcroppings. The sky was reminiscent of the Nentir Vale, only somehow different, and the grass was the greener. The air was thick and heavy, carrying the scent of the surrounding pine trees. This was a strange land, but weren’t they all? Erik quickly attempted to ascertain clues to their location and his eyes were immediately drawn to kobold tracks, and then an actual kobold. How could he not have seen the living creature before he saw its tracks?

“We mean you no harm,” Z’alden called out in perfect and eloquent Draconic, “We just want to know how to get home.”

The kobold ran away and the adventurers could hear him shout, “Steel Tooth, they are here!”

Barrick thought he saw a glimpse of a dragonborn rogue and a female Tiefling warlock, but as if he was in slow-motion, by the time he turned to look, they had vanished. In the mean time, Erik had moved behind a rock outcropping to spy Steel Tooth, who sure enough was bellowing orders to his kobold warriors. The ranger vaguely remembered “Iron Tooth” from an adventure so long ago. Or was it now? His mind grew confused and so he focused just on just one thing – the giant kobold leader must be killed. And with that he drew back his bow and let loose a fast arrow. It missed. How could it miss?

With the battle now underway, Barrick moved into attack position as Erik stealthily repositioned up on top of the rock outcropping. Steel Tooth advanced from his position to engage Barrick, only to have Erik do a perfectly executed forward flip with half-twist to bring down a Warglaive of Azzinoth down upon the kobold cheiftan. The acrobatic move felt so unreal to Erik as if his feet landed softly and his weapon seemingly guided itself. Strange. Further still, a Kobold moved from up behind Erik and without even looking, Erik swung his other warglaive backward, delivering a fatal blow to the kobold. “I’m good, but am I that good?” questioned Erik to himself.

Z’alden too noticed the strange sense of this place. Was it out of a memory? It certainly was vivid and Z’alden decided not to find out if a “pinch” from the kobolds would bring him out of it. So holding nothing back he cast “supernal radiance” which placed a terrible pain upon all foes, killing one outright. The fighter, Barrick, then waded into the fray with his mighty Talon of Orcus axe cleaving into the hapless kobolds.

Soon Steel Tooth would too be dead. All faded to black…

Swamp Things

The three adventurers now found themselves in a hazy swamp. The air was filled with the buzz of insects and croaking of reptiles. Also, before them were three Yuan-ti. These half-snake, half-man creatures would do well in such terrain which had little solid ground for the adventurers to move around on.

“He’s coming for the key!” one of the Yuan-ti shouted. Erik could see that one of the Yuan-ti was wearing the Key of Bonderstrong. Erik’s mind went back to a memory, formed so long ago, of the dwarf and the Key of Bonderstrong which held enormous power.

“Z’alden,” Barrick shouted, “are you okay?”

The good cleric was looking a bit transparent and ethereal.

“Yes, I am feeling great. Let’s go get the key,” replied Z’alden in a voice that was clear and strong, strangely not muted by the dense air and plant life. Almost as if floating just inches above the ground, the cleric advanced and commanded the Yuan-ti to hand over the Key of Bonderstrong. Yet they completely ignored him, without even looking at him, as if he wasn’t there. Now Barrick and Erik began to realize that perhaps Z’alden was not fully there aid them in this battle. At that moment they thought they saw a shaman pass through the haze. It was yet another fleeting ghost.

Now Barrick moved up and demanded the key. “You! You are the ones responsible for wrecking out plans!,” retorted a visibly angry Yuan-ti. “You freed Arumendor the dragon. Now the trolls are attacking the Yuan-ti. Frost trolls, in this land. Leave now!”

The Yuan-ti then attacked Barrick with crossbow bolts, missing twice. Having none of this Barrick advanced and engaged, attacking all three snake men. The battle was now fully underway, with Erik and Z’alden joining in. The Yuan-ti made good use of poison from both bolts and clouds of gas. But as in a dream, as Z’alden grabbed the key from the Yuan-ti, everything faded to black…

Under the Mountain

The adventurer’s blinked their eyes and found themselves in a dark cavern, with the clear markings of dwarven construction. There was a bridge over an underground river. On the other side were well crafted stone buildings, not to mention multiple Duegar.

“Keep them from the girl!” the main Duegar commanded his warriors.

Going with the flow, Z’alden immediately chimed in, “Give us the girl!”

“She is valuable. Very valuable,” retorted the Duegar.

“I offer this fine diamond, um, potion holder in exchange for the girl,” replied Z’alden in his most friendly, generous voice.

The Duegar looked at each other. After a moment, the leader replied, “We accept your fine potion holder, that is diamond. It better be diamond! Wait a minute. Here. I get the girl.”

The Duegar returned with Sarona, a face from so long ago when the adventurers made their way below Thunderspire Mountain. Now Z’alden had been very deceptive for a good and virtuous cleric, for he had no intent to give away the gift from Master Namer Tor. Its value was surely beyond compare, even beyond the value of the life of Sarona or any one of his compatriots. Only in time would that be revealed. So, with a straight face, Z’alden moved up to make the exchange, only to release powerful magic upon the Duegar. Stunning one, critically injuring another and immobilizing others, the cleric’s spell came completely unexpected. Further still, the Duegar were immediately reduced as one of them was killed out-right and another was pushed into the river to be washed away and drown.

Out came the beardicles, hitting the adventurers and poisoning them. Z’alden quickly untied the prisoner, Sarona, and Barrick rushed up to cocoon her in his “Shield of the Armadillo”. With the girl sufficiently rescued, everything turned to black…

The Mean One

Now the adventurers found themselves in a large chamber, perfectly hewed from hard stone. Luckily their eyes were just recently accustomed to scant light. One of the prime rules of adventuring is to look for the exits, and there was but one – a set of double doors, very large in size. Another important rule of adventuring is to be on the look out for things that could hurt you and there was but one – a large, shadowy humanoid adorned with a skull floating where a head would normally be. Acerak. In his hands he wielded a large blade, and by the light glancing off of it, it appeared to be rather sharp.

Gliding in behind Z’alden, Acerak swung his “dread blade”, hitting the cleric for about one-third of his life-force. Quickly following that was a terrible shriek that did psychic damage to both the cleric and fighter. Now the adventurers got their chance to respond to this unprovoked aggression. Erik drew his Warglaives of Azzinoth, to which Acerak glared at as they whistled through the air, striking the undead monster.

“What? You puny human. How do you come by way of these?” howled Acerak.

“How about this axe?” replied Barrick on behalf of Erik who was busy moving for his next attack. “Perhaps the Talon of Orcus will also get your attention, you filthy, undead, nasty, terrible, vile monstrosity.”

With that, Barrick let fly a giant slaying strike, stunning Acerak. The fighter then immediately followed it up with an even more ferocious blow, dazing the target. The cleric regained his composure and cast his “spirit flame”, bloodying the evil Acerak.

The battle continued with each side trading astounding damage. Finally the tide turned when Z’alden rendered the undead creature unable to heal and Barrick’s mightly “exorcism of steel” forced Acerak to drop his dread blade. Capitalizing on the success of his comrades, Erik delivered the final blow, sending Acerak back to his personal hell and away from this place.

Into Blackness

Looking at each other, the weary adventurers considered their options. The dream-state had gone on for many an encounter. When would it end? Each stage was more difficult than the last. What would be next? They were utterly exhausted.

Before them were the double doors. Erik opened them, but none of them could discern what was on the other side. Blackness.

Z’alden took out a coin and said, “Let’s see what this silver piece buys us.” He then threw it into the void.

“Ow!” was the reply from some ghostly voice across the divide.

“Well, into the black…”, said Z’alden matter-of-factly as he stepped forward once more into the unknown. Barrick and Erik found themselves staring back at each other, shrugging and stepping though behind Z’alden. Everything turned to black…

Now there was warm light, the sounds of good-time laughter and the sweet, sweet aroma of a home-cooked meal. Z’alden, Barrick and Erik found themselves in the Half-moon Tavern in Fallcrest. Tassedar, Rift and Tira were there sitting at a table, sharing a pint.

“Where have you been?” implored Rift, “It’s been two freak’n years!” Tira waited for an answer, fiddling with a silver piece. Tassedar smiled.

The tale of Arraxis

Sipping the hot tea his granddaughter Sheila had just handed him, Torben Eastlander relaxed. The seven little ones in front of him, well Sheila at 12 turns was no longer so little, were his delight and his joy. And they sat around his chair in a semi-circle, anxiously awaiting the promised story of the drow priestess Arraxis and how she was tangled up with their beloved adventurers, the Denizens of the Nentir Vale.

Torben could vividly recall the drenched night when he had staggered to the Half Moon Inn to swap tales with the five adventurers, as they called themselves. He had never been sure why he couldn’t come up with these fantasies himself, why he needed to hear their imaginings and then turn them into the books and tales that had sold so well that he had become quite rich. Rich enough to pay for several rounds of drinks and meals, though the dwarf might bankrupt him when several rounds turned into many rounds. No matter, tonight he was a little desperate. The last story about their battle with Sky Pirates had not sold as well as others, and he had outstanding debts that needed payment. Hopefully, this one would do better, though he wished he weren’t in such a rush.

The five adventurers sat around a large wooden table. They were clearly old friends, and a few of the scars that some of them had might even have come from real battles, though he doubted that. They were simply the most imaginative bunch of storytellers he had ever encountered. Much better than the halflings who had relayed a yarn about a magic ring that would rule the world when obtained by its creator, a disembodied evil wizard. Torben remembered that yawner. How the halflings bravely took the ring to a volcano to destroy it. Boring. But, the three volumes he penned, drawing out the story well beyond belief, had sold well enough, particularly among the elves when he made them figure prominently and added some beautiful elven maidens and wizards.

Those fictional women were nothing compared to the half elven sorceress Tira in front of him. Now, better descriptions of her would help among the lords who might buy the next book. He would try to remember that. And, to downplay the earnestness of the nobility of cause the half elven cleric of Bahamut Zenithar always brought to their meetings. Torben stared briefly at the cleric. His eyes were definitely water logged because he would have sworn that he could see the silver and purple flames that he often put into the stories to describe the magical healing that was necessary to explain why the group didn’t die from what were battles beyond belief. It was a crutch, he knew, but the audience bought it. Or at least had, until that last book.

Torben settled in, ordered ale, wine, and food for all, got out his notebook and quill, and looked at the five. “So, you were in the Astral Sea searching for mountains that would bring you back home. What happened after you returned the Githyanki princeling to his home?”

Zenithar, Z’alden to his friends, cleared his throat. Oh shoot, a sermon, thought Torben. I should have asked the question straight to Tira. Dragon’s fallings.

Z’alden said, “It was most remarkable. Dragon’s claws, the five of us stood on the deck of the Centurion, when in a blink, I found myself in a blackness and in a box.”

The dwarven fighter Barrick, the wizard Rift, and Tira all nodded, as if truly remembering this event. Surprisingly, Erik leaned forward a little. Ah, they were playing a new game. Erik would not be in this story. He had stayed on the ship in their little tale. A clever twist. His readers would not like this. The precise ranger, with arrows blazing and the romantic War Glaives slicing, was a favorite of young lords. Oh well. Maybe he could salvage the story somehow. If only he wasn’t in such a hurry.

Z’alden cleared his throat again. Torben’s mind had wandered, and the cleric who clearly thought too much of himself, probably thinks he is a demigod by now practically, waited until Torben was paying attention to continue.

“Grandpappy, grandpappy. Wake up,” little Miro was shaking Torben’s knee. He had nodded off as he remembered the time of the adventurers telling him the story he was trying to relate to his grandchildren. Bad form.

The old man took another deep sip of tea. “Well, it was an incredible thing. The five were on the deck of the Centurion, and then suddenly, Erik was by himself. Tira, Rift, Barrick, and Z’alden had vanished!”

“Yeah, right,” Mijfox muttered and then ducked before Sheila could wack him. The other five just glared at their petulant sibling.

“Even more amazing,” Torben laughed at Mijfox’s disbelief. This wasn’t history, and it was right to be skeptical, just as Torben had been when the Valers had tried to convince him it was all true.

“Even more amazing,” he continued, “ each of the four heard a voice as they were transported to an utter blackness and saw a vision of a spinning red ball of light with blue lightening.”

As she saw the vision, Rift heard a voice that said “Darkstar burns brighter.”
Tira’s voice said, “Steal the glance of the eight eyes.”
Barrick’s voice said, “Certain death means life.” Though he always said it was “Sergeant death”. Very stubbon that dwarf.
Z’alden’s voice said, “Blood is the answer.”

“As they described it to me, let me tell you from the cleric’s perspective. It was a confusing time. You will have to pay attention. Can you do that?” Seven heads nodded affirmative in unison. “Good,” said Torben.

The cleric awoke lying on his back. He was uncomfortable and in utter blackness. The air was stale and rank. He quickly realized he was probably in a coffin. Pushing on the lid above, it was heavy, but he could move it. He was in a square room, 3 staff lengths on a side.

Lighting an everburning torch, he ventured out a corridor, turned a corner, and there was his beloved dwarven friend and comrade Barrick! Z’alden was overjoyed. Reunited, Barrick and Z’alden traced out corridors in an ancient crypt. The air continued to be stale and still. It was oppressive and heavy.

Finding a door, they listened. Voices behind it caused the cleric to pause. He readied a silencing ritual so that whomever they found behind could not cry out in alarm and bring others. The ritual takes 10 minutes. The dwarf grew impatient as the half-elf chanted on. Finally, Barrick had had it. He shoved open the door and burst into the room on the other side.

“Bout time,” Mijfox muttered, again ducking swiftly. “The cleric takes forever. I prefer the direct approach.” A few others nodded while Sheila glared. Torben looked in askance at Mijfox, “Well I do!” the child said. “Continuing,” Torben said as he slurped more tea. Gella giggled at the slurp.

What Z’alden and Barrick didn’t know is that Tira and Rift had woken up in similar coffins and found each other. While the boys where pussyfooting around, the ladies had discovered a cadre of drow warriors and dispatched them with aplomb. The cleric and fighter encountered their own set of 4 drow warriors in their part of the crypt. Quickly, they dispatched all but one, who fled. Barrick gave chase, caught up with him, leaped over him, and sliced his head off with his powerful axe!

Sheila sucked in her breath at that. She imagined the leaping dwarf, vaulting over a drow warrior. Incredible. Then, she was ready to whack Mijfox for a comment. But, the comment never came. He was enjoying the story now. There would be no more interruptions.

Z’alden gave chase as two drow warriors ran away from him. In a few seconds, they had unfortunately run into Barrick and would have met the same fate as their comrade if Z’alden hadn’t seem the drop to the ground after bolts of force magic light them up. At that instant, from down the corridor, he heard his friend Rift say, “That is how it is done.” Rift! Z’alden rejoiced. And, joining up to Barrick, there was Tira, also. The four were together. No sign of Erik.

Together, the four advanced along the corridors of the tomb. The exploring reminded them of early carefree days when worlds did not hang in the balance of their actions. Rift carefully mapped each turn and door, “what if we have to come back. You will thank me for knowing how many staff lengths we have to go before turning left!” The eladrin could be touchy when mapping.

Eventually, they reached a massive door. Rift touched her staff Darkstar to the door. She could sense that they were deep underground. More than that. They were in the world called the Underdark, home of the drow. And, behind the door, hundreds to thousands of drow waited.

Barrick was through with patience, listening, and waiting. He opened the door to see a massive chasm in a even larger cavern chamber. The chasm was spanned by a web bridge. On the far side of the bridge, a towering cathedral with a webbed entrance awaited. To their right and left, thousands of drow were approaching.

The four ran across the bridge, even as they were spotted by the approaching drow armies. Rift burned the web bridge. To the right of the webbed entrance was a smooth obsidian rock, slightly larger than a hand. It glistened as though some drying liquid covered it. Z’alden recalled the voice he had heard. Before the others knew it, he had sliced open his palm and put his bleeding hand on the rock. The webbed door opened. Barrick’s jaw dropped, “How did you know to do that?” Z’alden just shrugged, “This seemed like a question. The voice had said `blood is the answer.` By the Claws, I guess it was.” As the webbed door opened and the armies converged, the four dove through the door, and Z’alden quickly found a similar rock that with his hand as the key, closed the door.

They were inside a massive temple structure, perhaps 80 staff lengths across. In the center of was a huge obsidian statue of a spider with the torso of a woman.

“The demon goddess Lolth,” little Miro blurted out, “Z’alden must have hated to see that!” His siblings nodded vigorously, knowing the cleric so well. Torben said, “Indeed, he vehemently told me how he could not wait to desecrate it, just as soon as they figured out what to do next.”

The statue had eight jeweled eyes. Tira quickly remembered what her voice had said about “stealing a glance.” She and Barrick climbed up, and Tira began to remove the magical jewels. Z’alden and Rift explored the room. At the far end from the door, Z’alden found a secret door that opened into a small chamber filled with gold, goblets, and 3 scrolls. The cleric opened the magical bag of holding that contained far more than the human eye would suspect. Not unlimited amounts, but an incredible about of space in an ordinary brown sack no bigger than Gella’s head.

“Like that could contain anything,” Mijfox laughed as he rubbed her head playfully and the others chuckled. “Indeed,” said Torben. “But the magical sack contained a king’s ransom of potions, magic items, and gold. Z’alden would normally have taken good care of it to stow it again, but he never got the chance.” Torben paused to take another sip of tea. Still hot. Good. It soothed his sore throat. His grandchildren waited impatiently for him to continue the story.

Just as Tira removed the last jewel, dropping from the ceiling, horrific giant spiders descended like lightening. Two zipped down, webbed Tira and Barrick and disappeared into the darkness above. Another two landed on the ground, one near Z’alden and one near the wizard. The spider closest to Z’alden launched a web at the cleric. He tried to spin away, but the webbing caught on the magical sack. Quick as a wink, the spider then pulled it out of Z’alden’s hands and webbed it to its body. Z’alden had lost the bag of holding to this thieving spider. He was incensed, but there was little he could do. He called out to Rift to root this spider in its place.

Above, Tira and Barrick had an aerial battle in the web of these thieving spiders. Tira lassoed the other spider, teleported free from the restraining web, and swung underneath the spider. If it moved, so would she. With her right hand, she twirled her enchanted dagger and sent a huge ball of light at the spider which burst and burned it. Immediately, the ball collapsed and a wave of cold covered the venomous beast, causing great pain. But, the spider spit out its venom at her, hitting her right arm. The arm went numb. Her magical dagger was no longer in her grasp. It fell to the ground of the temple some many feet below.

Barrick, also trapped in a web well above the temple floor, sharpened his axe and a mad gleam glinted from his eye. He sliced at the webs holding him, and plunged to the ground, maybe 200 feet below. But, the dwarf was not injured. The magical ring on his thumb, a ring of flight, made him float gently to the ground. As he landed, Z’alden pointed to the thieving spider, and Barrick charged it, getting stroke after stroke of his axe into the nightmarish arachnid. It turned to face him, but its fangs were no match for the experienced fighter’s shield.

Hanging from the spider, Tira dodged the venom it tried to spit at her. The poison interacted with the chaos of magic surrounding her. An explosion of light and magic, and the spider had stunned itself. Tira laughed.

The webbed door of the temple opened. In stepped a regal bearing drow priestess carrying an ebony rod in her right hand and a blood red jewel in her left. She crushed the jewel and blue webbed cocoon encapsulated Rift. The wizard was trapped. The priestess intoned, “You will feel the wrath of Arraxis of Lore!”

Sheila nodded, “so this is Arraxis. And, she trapped Rift. Now I get it.” The others murmured their understanding. They had gotten to the story of Arraxis. “The webbing of Arraxis was worse than the four would have believed,” Torben’s voice became animated. “The webbing was not so thick that Rift could not see, but her spells could not penetrate it. And, Arraxis could control Rift.”

At Arraxis’s command, the wizard moved next to the priestess. Arraxis’s hand easily passed through the webbing. “Give me your staff,” the priestess demanded. And, Rift complied.

“No!” shouted Liam. “Rift handed over Darkstar! How could she!” The other children were equally appalled. Torben had them now. “The drow bytch was powerful and controlled the great wizard’s mind.”

But, Rift’s friends were not so helpless. Tira remembered a potion that Z’alden had made for her. A potion that, once consumed, would let her fly. Pulling a spare magic dagger from her boot, she quickly drank and flew down from the web nest, launching her powerful Chaos Orbs while on the trajectory.

Barrick engaged the spider holding their valuable magic sack. He used the moves he knew so well to fight with a giant of beast like this and slay them. Back, around, forward, under, the arachnid could barely withstand the dwarf’s rapid, cutting blows. But, the thief did not fall.

Close to the door, Arraxis ordered Rift to give her the amulet protecting the wizard. Then, Arraxis opened her mouth, and an inky blackness of poison gas and dark magic enveloped the nearby Tira, nearly killing the sorceress in one breath. Z’alden felt helpless. Tira was too far away for his healing to reach her.

Rift shook her head vigorously and banished the bytch of a priestess from her mind. And realized that she could destroy the webbing encasing her. Then, the powerful wizard made time stop. Yes, stop. With all others frozen in time, the eladrin, calmly walked to Arraxis, took back her staff and amulet, slaps her in the face, and moves away to ready her next attack spell as time moves forward again.

Imagine what happens as it occurs. From her dagger, Tira launches a chaotic ray of energy at Arraxis. The priestess is not immune, but venom shoots forth from her, and both Tira’s arms go numb. The priestess approaches, and almost for the first time, the adventurers can see a cloud of small spiders surrounds her. Just being in this cloud, one will get bitten and stuck on the unnatural webs that surround her.

Even as his friends engage these enemies, to Z’alden’s horror, the thieving spider jumps up in the air 16 staff lengths, shoots a web into the nest in the blackness above and disappears, with their magical sack still attached to itself. Not rooted in place, Z’alden quickly moves closer to the remaining battle, still numb at the loss of powerful magic and goods in the bag.

Arraxis aims her rod at the wizard. A black necrotic bolt of powerful energy, clearly enough to slay the wizard comes barreling down on the Eladrin. Rift grasps Darkstar as if to absorb the powerful spell. And, it does! Darkstar crackles as though charged with the necrotic power. Rift twirls the staff over her head and then points it at the drow priestess, sending her spell back from whence it came, slaying the priestess. But, the spiders had no such problem. Their vicious fangs bite into Tira and Barrick, sending both to the floor unconscious. They are dying of poison.

“No!” shouted little Gella. The others looked equally horrified. Torben held out his hand, as if to signal not to interrupt.

This time, the cleric of Bahamut was not so far away. Silver and purple flames instantly bathed both of his friends at once. Their eyes fluttered, even as their wounds mended. Blasts of radiant light from the cleric slew one of the spiders. The other fled to the nest far above.

The adventurers worried not about the goods that had vanished above. Instead, they opened the door and peered into the massive cavern. Thousands of drow surrounded the entrance. Rift moved the others to the side and behind her. The eladrin rolled up her sleeves, grabbed Darkstar, and slammed it to the ground. “I have had enough!” Brilliant light burst forth from the staff with a sound like a lute smashing into the ground. Wave after wave of drow were obliterated. “Darkstar burns brighter, indeed,” Barrick muttered.

Barrick called out, “Follow me. Jump into the chasm itself.” Tira looked quizzically, “But that seems like certain death.” “Exactly,” said the smirking dwarf as he dove off into the chasm and the others, perplexed, exhausted, followed.

They vanished and, each saw the vision again. And, each reported hearing a little chuckling. They recognized the sound this time. The lich wizard Ur Feyn, with whom they had a made a pact just a few weeks earlier. He had sent them to the Underdark somehow.

As they reappeared back on the Centurion to the relief of a startled Erik, Tira swore, “Damn. That lich took the eight jeweled eyes from my pocket. Steal a glance. Ha!”

The seven children laughed, too. It was the only story that they could recall where the heroes won, but lost much of value. The tale of Arraxis was one to remember.

The Future of the Future

Torben Eastlander could not breathe. The seven little monsters called his grandchildren covered his torso and legs. Their fingers wriggled ceaselessly, as their giggling grew louder and louder. He had long stopped laughing, and now was just trying to catch a breath. A younger man could have held out longer. He was no longer a young man. He roared out, “You are a greater trap than Arraxis’s web!”

Immediately, 14 hands pulled away from him. “Grandpappy, tell us a story! Who is Arraxis?” Torben could see little Miro’s eyes widen as he awaited the answer. The other six were silent, their eyes just as wide, holding their breath for the answer.

Torben could finally draw a deep one himself. The flush on his face subsided. He rose up on an elbow. In a secretive tone, “Who is Arraxis? Now there is a question to frighten little snapping drakes like yourselves!” They all sucked in their breath in one bright-eyed, “Oooh”.

The old story-teller made his way slowly to the great comfortable chair next to the crackling fire. He took out the poker. “Sheila, put on another log. This story could take a while.” His eldest granddaughter, now 12 turns old and full of her self importance, fetched a log that soon blaze brightly.

“Ah, yes, much better. Who is Arraxis? Well, that will take some telling.” Torben eyes misted for a moment. These chapters of his stories had not sold as well to the bards, and his books had not done as well with the lordly class. Something about the whole time-travelling premise; well he hadn’t really bought it himself when those wild-tongued adventurers had told these yarns to him. Didn’t translate into compelling stories at the time. It was almost like he hadn’t written them.

But, here was a group of ears that didn’t have such jaded views of the world as an old scrivener who had made, and then lost, a fortune off of the tales of these Denizens of the Nentir Vale. He could see the five of them now around the table at the Half-Moon Inn as though it had been yesterday. Well, most were around the table. The dwarf Barrick was under the table snoring, quite drunk by the time the cleric Z’alden had finished his first glass of Nentir ’97. The fiery sorceress, Tira, had popped in and out while the half-elven cleric of Bahamut had told the stories surrounding Arraxis almost like sermon. That guy really did need to lighten up. Torben hoped the son of Denithar was happy serving the Great Dragon wherever he was at this moment. And, he thought of the wizard Rift. He remembered how she had listened intently to Z’alden’s telling, at least when he got the part about the Arraxis. It was as though she actually had lived out the infuriating web that had encased her. Oh, and in the corner, that the quiet ranger, Erik, whose intense gaze carried with it such clear understanding; Torben remembered how on the night of the story of Arraxis, Erik had listened intently. It was as if, for this one impossible tale, Erik hadn’t been there. As though any of them had really been there. But, Erik’s intense attention hadn’t made sense, either. How could Erik not have been in the story? They always included him. Well, not always, I suppose. Torben was getting muddled in his old age, he was.

And, he remembered how the story of Arraxis, to the extent it made sense at all, really didn’t make sense without the story of Tassedar sending the Valers out of the Castle and directing them to return to their true time. Yes, it was all coming back to him. Including why the whole set of books never sold well on this one. It was just too complicated.

“Grandpappy! You said you would tell us the story about Arraxis,” young Liam intoned with a higher version of the voice of his own daughter. Torben was torn out of his reverie. “Yes, Liam, I did. But, stories must have their place, and to understand how the mighty wizard Rift ended up trapped in the enchantment of a drow priestess named Arraxis, well, I can’t just jump to that. All things in their place. And the place to start is at Wizard Castle.”

A high-pitched Gella shouted out with delight, “That’s the home of the adventurers! Where they fought the wicked Beholder!” All the children clapped at that. They loved the story of the wicked Beholder and the deceptive Green Dragon. He had told them that one many times. But, this was not the story Torben was telling today.

“Yes, true. But this adventure at Wizard’s Castle was many years earlier. The Valers had found a way to stop the evil of the demon Illidan Stormrage by taking him back in time to when he was a boy and preventing him from ever becoming a demon, and…” Torben could see their eyes starting to glaze over. No, it was not a time for the metaphysics that he didn’t understand, even if it was fanciful, and even if Rift had tried to explain it to him five times. After the fifth glass of Nentir ’97, he still didn’t understand it, he would never understand it, and Rift had fallen asleep.

No, what mattered to these youngsters was the exciting bits. Skip to that.

He cleared his throat, took a deep sip of his now much-too-cool tea to really enjoy but he didn’t tell them that. He caught the eye of each child as they settled in on the cue, and began to speak.

The cleric Zenithar al Denithar, Z’alden to his friends, had walked down from the Castle to the island’s stony beach. The Chosen of Bahamut reflected on their recent battle to save the dwarfs from an orcish horde, he thought of his mission to serve the Great Dragon, serve Justice, bring Hope, and destroy the demons that plagued the worlds. The half-elf was startled by the sudden appearance of the ancient archmage Tassedar. Z’alden could not help but recall how the Valers had brought the archmage back to life from a mere skeleton by throwing him into the waters where magic began. And now, as then, it was unclear if Tassedar stood before Z’alden as friend or foe. There was no time to reflect. In haste, the archmage told Z’alden how reality itself was unraveling. The Valers must hurry off of this world, leave their Castle as they had it at that moment, and venture to the Astral Plane! A realm of mystery, a realm of flying ships. The realm of the gods, but also of great dangers, like the dreaded Githyanki pirates.

“Oh, pirates!” little Miro squealed. “Shush,” said his sister Sheila. Miro settled down under her withering stare. Just because she’s the oldest, she thinks she rules everything, Miro thought for a moment, before returning his attention to Grandpappy.

“Yes, Miro,” Torben said gently. “Pirates. And, they will enter the story soon enough. But not before the five have made some poor bets that almost cost them all their life!”

The children were silent at that.

Tassedar told Z’alden that the Valers must venture to the mountains of Celestia and find the Crystal Cavern there. The Cavern exists in many planes and places, it touches them all. It is the place where magic was born. In the Wizard’s Castle, you will find a gate to other planes. Find it, and go quickly, before your very presence here rips apart reality. You must save the future of the future!

Little Mijfox sniggered, “Yeah, right. When does the fighting start?” Sheila cuffed him on the ear. Miro stared at his twin brother in triumph. At least she isn’t lording it over me.

Torben remembered not exactly following this story well, either, when Z’alden had tried to tell it to him so many years ago. It didn’t matter now. It was the good parts he needed for this audience. Not the mysticism and earth-rattling that the Chosen of Bahamut had emphasized at such length. Not the celestial implications, or the righteousness of their work. Moving to the practical part of the story, Torben remembered how Rift had patiently explained, after another bottle had been opened at Torben’s expense, how the gate of which Tassedar spoke was nothing more than the Iris that had mystified the group when they had defeated the Beholder on the same floor of the Castle so many years before (or was it later. Very confusing). Z’alden had only shaken his head, and Barrick had snored more loudly, as Rift related that Erik had found a lever that they had never noticed before. The quiet ranger had smiled at that. What a good group of storytellers they were. Better than he was doing now. Most of the time they could keep a straight face when telling their fanciful tales to him.

The lever had obscure markings that only Erik could feel and describe. Rift had deciphered them. Pulling the lever to the correct setting would open the Iris and make it a portal to another plane. Incredible! But, the ancient mechanism behind the lever had jammed as Rift tried to move it. It took all of the dwarf’s strength and the ranger’s together to get it to move.

Torben gaze turned to little Miro, “and the Iris opened into a well 5 staff lengths across. The well had no bottom, at least as far as they could see. Nothing made a sound when they let a coin drop. Fall into that pit, and you fall forever.” Torben let that sink in. Miro’s little hand covered his mouth in surprise, “What did they do? How did they make the gate work?” The poor little one was getting worried.

Erik and Barrick found buttons hidden near the lever. Erik pushed one closest to the markings of what seemed to be the Astral Plane, where the lever had already been moved to. Another Iris, 10 staff lengths down in the pit appeared and closed below them.

Ladders were on the side of the pit. Bravely, all descended. When all were below the level of the open Iris, it closed. They were trapped!

Torben let that sink for a minute and took another sip. His story telling was warming his grandchildren but not his tea.

A ring of blue arcane energy formed on the walls, but nothing happened. Rift realized that the gate was broken. They were no longer in the Castle, but they had not moved to the Astral plane. They were nowhere, caught in an arcane portal that was neither here nor there.

Rift’s swift mind reached out for a solution. From her staff’s black jewel,
“Darkstar!” Liam cried out before Sheila cuffed his ears, “Shush you, too. Quit interrupting.”

“Yes, from Darkstar,” the old man smiled, “the wizard drew upon its power, and made a connection to the spirit of the ancient wizard who built the castle.”

The ancient one guided Rift’s mind to the breach in the gate, a void. With Darkstar focused, Rift could control the void. The others could feel themselves beginning to spin. A million million stars surrounded them. They were hurtling through space, hurtling through time itself. They were being ripped apart as the stuff of existence was beginning to come undone. Despite Tassedar’s warning, they had tarried too long. Tira felt herself thinning as the chaos that she binds together, that makes up her being, her very essence, started to come undone. Each clung to what was most important. Z’alden’s mind held tight to the image of his master and god, the great Platinum Dragon Bahamut. Barrick concentrated on a large mug of beer.

In a flash, Rift could see the stars separate, wane, and peaks of mountains appear. Then, she was on a floor. Erik could smell blood, sweat and the stink of stale steins. He could see a large tavern room made of iron and wood. The other four were close by. Behind him, Erik could hear Barrick’s nose sniffing at the smells the dwarf found pleasing.

Hundreds of different kinds of creatures and beings were in the largest tavern hall any of the adventurers had ever seen. Treasure hunters, explorers, lore seekers, all manner of folks. Githyanki

“Ow! I wasn’t even going to say Pirates,” Miro complained as he rubbed where Sheila had whacked his left ear. She just glared at him until her grandfather’s eyes met hers with a less than pleased look. She sat back. All the others stuck out their tongues at her.

Torben smirked, took a sip of the cold tea, and continued,”Githyanki, with their noses missing and just air holes in their shriveled, desperate green-grey faces. Sharp swords at their sides; Duegar, the dwarves of fire; humans, too; elves and Eladrin. Behind the massive bar, was a red-chested Efreet, an elemental being, almost kin to a demon.”

The old scrivener could still remember the fire in Z’alden’s eyes as the righteous demon hunter had described the Efreet. The wine glass had shattered in the cleric’s clenched hand. That guy really, really did need to lighten up. The Efreet was much too close a cousin to a demon for the priest, it was clear. The adventurers sometimes seem as if they really believed their own stories and were not telling him a second rate tale for a meal and a few drinks. Z’alden relayed this part of the story with such fervor, Torben almost believed this part of the yarn as though the cleric had really been to this enchanted tavern in the Astral Sea and kept his loathing of demons in check at great expense and self-control.

“Welcome to the Abdul Azeem Inn,” the Efreet barkeep had bellowed out to the five as they picked themselves off of the floor. Their sudden arrival was clearly no surprise in this place out of legend. With Tira’s charm, in a short time she had quickly learned all there was to know in the gossip of the place. The activity of the Nine Hells was a constant theme at the tables, stories of mercenaries moving into the home of demons: the Elemental Chaos, had perked up the cleric’s ears and distracted him from the pseudo-demon of a barkeep; stories of war between the Gith had interested the dwarven fighter only slightly, as the quality of the beer was excellent and these gossips were a distraction from the hoppy aroma and the flavorful experience. Rift and Tira were only mildly surprised to hear of a coup in the City of Brass. Somehow the good mayor had fallen. Tira had almost spit out her wine on a dandy explorer as he told her the tale. Little could the dandy have guessed it was the handiwork of the sorceress and the others that had caused the good man to fall so far.

While the five searched for some way out of the Inn and for a ship and pilot to get them from wherever they were to the mountains of Celestia, the sound of gaming caught the sharp ears of the ranger. One telling motion from Erik, and the dwarf and his ale were soon followed by the others. Games galore. It was a welcome distraction from the world-shattering implications of their actions. A stacking game entertained them for a time, but it was a three ball roulette and dice game that really sucked in the wizard.

Rift realized that she could control the balls as they rolled around. She could cheat. Z’alden had been against any cheating, until he became appalled, and his righteous anger was roused by the unfairness of the game. The bets required to play were completely unbalanced by the paltry payouts. The more Tira explained, the more Z’alden was sure – Rift, make us win the impossible: three 20’s on three dodecahedron dice at the same time would pay out a million gold on a hundred bet. The dice rolled. Rift gently tapped her staff and three 20s were in front of the house. The tableman eyed the adventurers, but said nothing. He only nodded politely and said that they could collect their incredible winnings through a curtained door, to which he pointed.

Advancing through the curtain, the five were confronted by two huge Cyclops flanking a well-dressed Efreet. Torzak, as the pseudo-demon called himself, accused them of magically tampering with a game. The sweet talking Tira tried to schmooze the Efreet, but Torzak would have none of it. And, when Z’alden could contain himself no more, and railed against the gambling and the righteousness of their actions against an unlawful game, lightening and thunder leapt from Torzak’s swords and rained down on the Valers. Not a small amount of damage either, and some were seriously burned, especially the magic wielders.

But, Torzak could also see that a prolonged combat with these five might not be the lopsided odds he was used to when enforcing the rules of Abdul Azeem. He told them of a captain, Hallasol, in another part of the Inn. If they left the gaming area quietly, and went straight to Hallasol and left the Inn, he would forget the matter. Z’alden had thought long and hard of all of the good a million gold could do. His right leg, cut off by demons and restored from dragon bones by the Kengi, itched like crazy. He thought about how good the Efreet’s head would look as a wall-hanging in a Bahamut temple, but Barrick’s strong arm on one side, and Erik’s on the other were more persuasive than the demon hunter’s hatred of the elemental kind.

Hallasol was a rough character who told them of his astral ship, the Centurion, and its first mate, Yeti. The ship wouldn’t attract unwanted attention and could avoid the Gith war zones. It would take four days to reach the mountains. And, it would cost them. A little persuasive gold from the Valers, three times the original amount, and the time shrank down to two days. The Centurion was fast when Hallasol put his mind to it, apparently.

What Hallasol didn’t explain after the first day of astral sailing across the open air between the worlds in the Astral Sea, was that a Githyanki astral skiff was even faster. And, that to make the two days that the party had wanted, he was crossing the war zone of the Gith.

And, the war came to the Valers. A pair of swift Astral Skiffs appeared almost out of nowhere in the wide open space of the Astral Sea. Githyanki Raiders! Pirates!

Torben kept his smile in check as the eyes of Liam, Miro, Gella, and even Sheila got wide and all seven children leaned in. He let the moment sink in.

The wizard knows many things, many languages including the Deep Speech of the Githyanki. The leader, a fine charismatic fellow cutting a dashing swath, Val Kath, replied to her inquiries, “The matter is very simple. We have a war effort that needs additional funding. Which you are keeping from us.”

Tira could not keep her mouth shut in this little exchange, and the Githyanki attacked! In a blink, magical force shot out from the Githyanki raiders, hitting the sorceress. Z’alden was horrified to see the effect. Tira was cut off from her own internal energy. He could not heal her with his Word. Only his touch could restore her, as he would draw directly on the Dragon’s power alone, and on none of Tira’s. Then, the energy enveloped Rift in the same manner. The cleric cringed. No one does that to my friends, and to attack us unprovoked, unjustified was such behavior. It was time to teach these pirates a lesson that would live in stories for years to come.

Before the cleric could formulate his plan, though, several raiders and Val Kath vanished from their skiff and appeared on the Centurion next to Rift. From Val Kath’s mind, bands appeared and surrounded the wizard. She was rooted in place. The ranger quickly drew both of his impressive War Glaives, sharpened them with a whetstone, and Val Kath felt the twin strike of both blades. Z’alden was troubled to see that psychic energy radiated from the pirate leader even as Erik struck. Erik was now dazed. His dwarven comrade sharpened his axe and tore into some of the other raiders. Barrick spit on his blade, focused his blow, and ripped wide, deep wounds in two raiders that would bleed Githyanki green for some time. For his work, seemingly bouncing out of their silver swords, a greyish psychic glow encased his legs and weighed them down. Barrick’s deft moves were limited. It was as though he were moving through a swamp, he was so slow. Another raider’s silver sword got past the dwarf’s shield. In addition to the pain of the blow, he too was cut-off from his internal energy. Raiders continued their offensive, spurred on by their leader. Tira and Z’alden both took blow after blow.

Z’alden realized that more than their normal attacks were needed. He called for a blessing from the Great Dragon. Holy sigils covered the Centurion as the cleric consecrated the ground to Bahamut. In the battle, he and his comrades could call upon the Great Dragon’s blessing to focus their own powers. It was a powerful aid.

Finding herself surrounded by enemies, the wizard was clearly ticked. She would put Z’alden’s blessing to good use. Darkstar took all light from the area and then the nearby raiders were encased in flames. The jewel glowed. One of the raiders screamed in pain as Rift’s magic tore into him with all of its impressive power of flame. But, the wizard was troubled. Her spell was at full of power and nearly its most accuracy. It was well-formulated, nearly perfect combustion. Val Kath had simply sloughed it off, dodging the arcane fire with a speed that was unbelievable. The adventurers had never seen an enemy avoid Rift’s spells with such aplomb. This leader was not to be taken lightly.

A battle raged as the dwarven axe, the ranger’s glaives, the spells of wizard, sorceress, and cleric parried and wounded the raiders. The ranger’s glaives were like thorns in the raiders, ripping and tearing them apart. The dexterous human whirled and struck. His adept fighting had none of problems of Rift’s spell. The ranger could make Val Kath bleed. Another raider was nearly defeated in a single blow from human.

To his right, the dwarf taunted the raiders mercilessly. Enraged, 5 raiders rushed at him, including Val Kath. The skilled figher’s axe twirled in front, behind, around. Green blood covered the Githyanki leader. The tide was turning, and not towards the beach of the pirates.

A raider with his silver sword shining engaged the sorceress. His poorly placed strokes became entangled in the chaotic magic that surrounds her. In a flash, the Githyanki was stunned. He could do nothing and move nowhere. She then reached into the chaos and slid him over the deck and off of the Centurion. He was falling in the Astral Sea. Into the air in which they were flying. No ground in sight. Tira then reached into the air and formed balls of magical energy. Nearly all the raiders were hit by this potent spell. Few still stood, but not all had fallen.

Val Kath, reflecting on the better part of valor, seeing that this was not his day, left his comrades, and teleported back to a skiff. In an instant, its sails were full and he was rapidly distancing himself from the battle. Erik was having none of this. He raced to the wheel of the Centurion and filled its sails as well. The chase was on.

Rift’s fingers twirled in the air. Lightening flew from them to the silver sword of Val Kath. Even at their distance of 11 staff lengths, all could hear his cry. The githyanki leader was in great pain.

For the others, the battle with the remaining raiders still raged. The sharpened vorpal dagger of the cleric severed a raider’s limb, while Tira, seeing Rift’s lightening, called her own down on a raider to equal effect. A raider’s sword pierced Rift deeply and a red badge covered her torso. The wizard could not be bothered. “It is only a flesh wound!” she yelled the cleric to leave her alone and concentrate on the remaining pirates.

In seconds, the Centurion had caught up to the skiff. Erik called out, “Surrender!” to the Githyanki leader. And, what had never happened before in the history of the adventurers happened. Val Kath surrendered!

The children leaped to their feet. They hugged and clapped. Maybe Torben should try again with this story. By leaving out the complicated parts, it wasn’t so bad. And, it had definitely spared him further torture from his grandchildren.

“But, what happened next?” Liam earnestly asked. They all settled down.

Torben continued.

Val Kath bowed his head. He knew he was beaten. His surviving raiders gave their swords to the cleric, as the others adventurers put the skiffs in tow. Stowing the swords, Z’alden hands sparkled with silver and purple flames as he healed Rift. The dwarf pointed his axe at Val Kath, “now what was that all about?”

“I am the Githyanki prince Val Kath, one hundred and fifty seventh of that name,” the githyanki captain intoned quietly but with pride in his eyes. His defeated pirates nodded their heads. They knew the noble identity of their captain hidden beneath ordinary armor and weapons. Barrick was not appeased, “Why would you lead pirates?” Val Kath’s eyes twinkled, “For the sheer adventure of it. Now, what will become of me and my men?”

The adventurers conferred just as Captain Hallasol, hearing the melee die down, came up. Hallasol was clearly a craven and pleased that none of his blood was glistening on the deck on the Centurion.

Z’alden and Rift both agreed, and convinced the others. The cleric’s hands again glowed with the silver and purple flames. He healed Val Kath and the surviving pirates even as he spoke, “We will return you to your home unharmed. Though in the wrong, you and your men fought bravely. You swallowed your pride and surrendered. To where should Captain Hallasol set sail?”

“At least we should get some pirate booty,” muttered Barrick more to himself than anything else. He had been just about to lop off the head of one of the pirates when the melee had been halted. He missed that satisfying thoosh of a well-placed blow to the neck that sends a head skyward to arch down many staff lengths away. He was sure that he could have made it drop into the portal hole about 10 staff lengths away. Would have been nice. Not as good as an ale, but satisfying none the less. When all of this adventuring was done, maybe he could make a game that was almost as good. Maybe with a morningstar instead of an axe. Something to think about it. In between beers.

“And then, Hallasol set sail to the Githyanki capital,” Torben said.

Torben looked around at his seven grandchildren. He was pleased with himself. Not only had he gotten a respite from their merciless tickling, which he loved more than life itself, if only this old body could last longer, but they were spellbound for a few moments from his own magic. He doubted any of the merry tales of the Denizens had even a shred of truth, but they were fun, and he loved to share that joy with others, especially this most precious audience.

Sheila hugged her siblings and then warmly embraced Torben. “Grandpappy, that was a really good story. But, I have a question. Who was Arraxis?”

“Ah, yes, that does still need telling. First, some hot tea, and some cookies, and then the story of Arraxis and how the adventurers tried to steal a glance,” the scrivener’s eyes twinkled brightly with mischief as he spoke. He wasn’t supposed to have cookies, but these were excellent accomplices in disobeying his daughter who worried about his growing girth. Six children rushed out to grab the cookies from their hiding place, while Sheila smiled brightly and prepared the tea.