From the records of Torben Eastlander, scribe, scholar, and seeker of adventurous tales.
I sat back in my chair, the chair legs again resting on the floor.
The band of five looked down. None looked at me or each other.
I picked up my mug of Iron Hills ale. It was cold now, but I did not care.
I spoke. “I have a confession. I did not always believe your tales of bravado and wild adventure. But this… Now that I have heard this story, I believe all the others. We in the lower valley have heard of the recent destruction caused by Yeenoghu.”
“Come. Let me hear the tale again from the beginning.”
Cracking my knuckles, I took up my quill, and leaned forward.
Rift, the eladrin wizard, looked at her comrades. Barrick, the dwarven fighter, deep in thought, his mug still half full. Next to him, Felsmon, staring moodily into the fire, his dragonborn blood held in check only by his Paladin training. The ranger Erik, looking as if he wanted to fly off to a deep glen in the woods. Z’alden, perhaps the saddest of all. As a cleric of Bahamut, he felt the weight of responsibility.
Rift stirred. “I will speak, and perhaps in the telling, some of the memory will fade.”
“As you recall, we had discovered the secret puzzle room, and were conversing with an ancient spectral minotaur. Three wishes were granted, to myself, Erik, and Barrick. But the minotaur was not so easily swayed by Z’alden and Felsmon’s wishes.”
Here, Felsmon interrupted, “The minotaur wanted a challenge, so we gave him one.” Felsmon then snorted, small flashes showing between his teeth. “But he was too scared to fight us. I could have showed him some true strength, rather than just a lot of talk.” Here Felsmon trailed off, muttering oaths in a barbaric tongue.
Rift paused, then looked around the group. “As Felsmon said, he and Z’alden took up the challenge, and with some small help from us, succeeded in convincing the spectral beast of their worthiness. As if there was any doubt!” Here Rift looked with pride on her companions. Clearly she had come to trust and depend on the others, a far cry from her earlier days of self reliance and suspicion of others. Gods below. This blasted quill. I must get a new one someday.
“And what did this minotaur give you?” I asked.
Felsmon pointed to his chest, where three silver circles could be seen etched into his breast plate. “Masterwork armor, the likes of which have never been seen before,” Felsmon intoned.
Z’alden stood up and left the table. Returning quietly, he tossed a heavy mace onto the table, where it landed with a crash. The barkeep looked up sharply, but, seeing the look on Z’alden’s face, bent quickly and continued slowly wiping the counter nearest to their table. “It’s a mace,” Z’alden exclaimed. “A mace of healing.” I noticed that this mace also had three silver circles, but he did not comment on this. Z’alden did not seem in the mood for light banter. In fact, he seemed downright angry. Barrick could sometimes be ill tempered (his dwarven nature no doubt), but I had never seen Z’alden so upset. The events had clearly shaken him.
Rift continued. “After we returned from the minotaur spirit, we continued through the double doors. We knew that somewhere beyond lay Maldrick Scarmaker the Gnoll, and the poor prisoners.”
“I cast invisibility on Erik, and he stealthily opened the next door. Inside was a huge room, with two levels. There were creatures moving about. We tried to sneak in, but they saw us. Inside the room was a statue of a howling minotaur warrior. There were three huge cauldrons filled with a seething liquid, and filling the room with smoke. There was a giant minotaur skeleton, a huge barlgura demon and three small demons. On the upper level was an altar, and standing there was Maldrick. Next to him were the prisoners. There were two prisoners floating in mid-air, surrounded with a weird green light. Under them were three piles of ash. One prisoner we did not know. The other was Nadia, Sosario’s wife. The piles of ash were the other three prisoners.”
Rift continued speaking, her voice a dull monotone. “We started to fight. At first things went well. We quickly dispatched the minotaur skeleton with some fast spell, sword, and bow-work. Felsmon was immobilized, hanging in the air like a prisoner. Surina struck at Maldrick with her wand of gnoll blasting. Erik, in a daring feat, sprang over Barrick, ducked a swing from the barlgura in mid-air, and landed on the upper floor. Stowing his bow, he whipped out his two magic swords and dealt Maldrick a mighty blow.”
“But it was not enough.” Rift stopped, and her voice grew quiet. “We should have pulled them out of the green circle. Maldrick, he…” Rift stopped again. “He spoke from an ancient scroll, and a prisoner died. The green light grew stronger. Felsmon ran up. Somehow Erik became covered in dragon scales which helped him defend himself. I shrouded the barlgura in sheets of blue flame, which kept burning. Erik and Felsmon fought Maldrick. Barrick and I fought the barlgura. Z’alden fought against all the demons, Bahamut preserve him. Surina…”
“She kept blasting Maldrick. He should have died. But he kept chanting from the scroll. We couldn’t stop him. Nadia died, Sosario’s name on her lips.”
“Then he came. Yeenoghu. The demon lord of the gnolls.”
Rift buried her face in her hands. She sat, slumped in her chair, the firelight flickering over her pale eladrin skin. “We couldn’t stop him. He took her. She vanished.”
“She vanished. We couldn’t stop him.”
Finally, Erik spoke. “She just vanished,” he said.
“Who vanished?” I asked, bewildered. Rift was clearly here, who were they talking about?
“Surina, our trusted companion. With Yeenoghu. He grabbed her, and they both vanished. Poof!” said Erik.
I made as if to laugh at a joke, but then looked around. The five companions were just sitting, staring at their drinks. Clearly they had been stunned at the time, and even now, many moons later, the events were still a shock to recall.
Erik continued. “After that the fight got nasty. Maldrick Son-of-a-Kobold Scarmaker was gloating, the demons were biting like bloated fleas from the Underdark, and the barlgura was leaking ichor everywhere. Rift went down, slashed by a demon’s claws. Then Z’alden, calling on Bahamut to aid him, brought Rift back from the edge of death. The barlgura, Rift’s flames licking at its sides, collapsed in a heap of gore. We all jumped up on the ledge to confront Maldrick. But the hyena-faced coward spread his diseased wings and tried to flee.” Erik scowled at the memory.
Gulping down a mouthful of bitter eladrin wine, Erik said, “We were not going to let Maldrick escape. We ran to head him off. We ignored the demons. Time for them later. We had Maldrick surrounded. Sword, mace, axe, staff. We cut him down. He cried out for his foul lord, Yeenoghu. But those who prey on the weak are themselves weak. Yeenoghu ignored his pleas. Barrick dealt the final blow, a mighty axe strike. The demons fell soon after.”
“But it was too late. We were too late.”
“We couldn’t stop him.” Here, Erik stopped, his eyes vacant, mouth set in a hard grimace. He slammed his goblet down on the table. “Kord!”
Barrick took up the tale. “After that, we searched the room. We found some magic, a small compensation for our loss. Then, the green glow grew brighter. Yeenoghu! We ran. I am not ashamed to admit it.” Barrick glared at me, presumably daring me to comment. “You would have run too,” he muttered.
Rift muttered from her corner, “The bear!”
Barrick startled, said “What was that, Rift?”
Barrick grunted. “Ah, yes, Frothy, the dire bear. We couldn’t leave him for that twisted gnoll spawn, could we? But how to get him to move fast? Felsmon, he carried him.”
I stopped writing, and stared at Barrick. Clearly the ale had addled my wits once more. “Felsmon carried the bear?”
“Yes, he carried the bear. Not much to tell after that,” continued Barrick. “We went back to the Seven Pillared Hall, returned Frothy to Ulthand the old dwarf cleric. Rift, Erik, and Felsmon went to talk to the mages, while myself and Z’alden went to deliver the bad news to Sosario about his wife Nadia. We tried to soften the blow, told him she died quickly. But he knew we were lying, knew she had been tortured by the demons.”
Barrick keep talking. “After that, we had only one choice. Try to stop Paldemar and undo some of the mess we had made. Rift followed the vision of the silver key. Did we mention we found a silver key on Maldrick, curse his dog-of-a-name? We found the magic door, and beyond it, a circle of teleportation. But it was guarded by a foul apparition, an aspect of Vecna, the evil god of the undead. Using our words, we sparred with him, and he granted us passage. I do not know whether we ourselves are now good or evil. Yeenoghu is free, we traffic with evil gods. Things were simpler in the mines…”
Barrick stopped.They were done talking. I knew this, and I knew not to press for more. There would be time, the wounds would heal, the spirits would mend. All would be well. But not now.
The next morning Torben was gone. The barkeep confirmed that he had left at daybreak, leaving no message and with no explanation other than a vague muttering about needing new quills.
Torben soon returned to the Inn. He looked pale, as if he had been gone for many months instead of a few days. “I have confirmed your story, first with the survivors of Thunderspire, then with some of the former captives, including Sosario.”
“You have talked to Sosario?” exclaimed Z’alden. “How is he?”
“Sosario?” Torben paused. “With the gold that you gave him, he was able to pay off his debts and rebuild his farm. But the memory of Nadia haunts him still. He will never forget.”
Here Torben was interrupted by a loud nose blowing from Barrick. The dwarf wiped his nose and eyes. “Don’t know what happened,” he muttered. “Must have got some cinders in my eyes.”
Torben turned back to the group, looking each one in the eye.
“What I do not know is how Yeenoghu was eventually defeated. Perhaps next time you can tell me more of that great deed.”