From the journals of Torben Eastlander
Finally the time had come to record the last minutes of the Thunderspire adventure. I sharpened my quills, filled my inkpots, grabbed a scroll, and headed to the usual watering hole. I found all five of my charges already there, enthusiastically repeating stories I had already heard, and singing that dreadful song about Rift. Barrick was as usual three shovelsful down the hole.
Over the many days in which I had been interviewing this motley crew, I had come to at least half believe their stories. They showed a low incidence of mutual inconsistency, so either they were telling me the truth, or else they spent a lot of time in my absence getting their stories straight.
Checking my notes, I commented that we still needed to discuss the climax of the campaign, after the group had been teleported into a tower.
“We were rested, equipped, healthy, motivated, trained up, and knowledgeable about our foes. We were ready for anything.” This from the enthusiastic Ranger, Erik. “As soon as we landed on the first porting pad, it was go time.”
Barrick scoffed. “Oh yeah, we were ready for anything. Too bad we didn’t stay that way.”
Erik protested. “I made the first kill in that tower within 10 seconds, and Rift put down another 2 seconds later.”
Barrick then: “And I killed one just by ramming him with my new helmet, may he rot forever. So what. I’ve fought Dire Bunnies that were tougher than that first bunch.”
Felsmon agreed with Barrick. “Three came at me, bounced off new armor. Almost laughed.”
Rift corrected the others. “It was the Norkers with flails, not the ones with blades, who were so untough. I took 5 at a time with my Fire Shroud! Out, I mean.”
Z’alden smiled condescendingly at his tough-talking comrades-in-arms. “My friends forget the enchanted pillars.”
“Too right”, “Hated pillars”, “May they crumble to dust”, “Hard with faces, I mean, hard to face” murmured the others.
Z’alden continued. “Besides holding disembodied faces to bite at us, those pillars shot out unholy rays to confuse us, so that we were unable to call upon our most advanced skills. A disconcerting and painful effect, to be sure. Later we discovered that the pillars were being controlled remotely by our real enemies on that floor, a pair of Acolytes hidden away in a corner room, who turned out to be Enigmas of Vecna, the necromantic god of the undead.
Barrick had been the first to spot the Enigmas: “I found those two when I went around opening doors. Didn’t recognize them for what they were at first, so I held back, and yelled at the others to ready some metal. Then, I saw them contort their faces, squint their eyes, and whip their heads down – like this.” Barrick made a face like a disemboweled imp, and headbutted his own beer stein, which sent Erik and Rift into howls of laughter.
Z’alden continued while the others regained their composure. “With Bahamut’s guidance we noticed that the devilish head-whipping coincided with the pillars’ heinous shots at us. United in purpose, we entered the room with great force.”
Erik’s face suddenly went dark. “The Bear here lunged at one, and I went at the other with both swords, and opened a pair of deep wounds. Then I watched as the ugly creature took a step back, tore the skin off its own face, and let out a shriek to wake the dead.”
The Ranger mien had switched fast from hilarity to solemnity. “I was in no way prepared for the revulsion that flooded me as that shriek rang out. I saw a sight, or maybe just felt a feeling, fouler than any from my nightmares. Maggots infested my corpse in the burnt remains of my woods, while everything else swam in its own black blood. On instinct, I leapt out of the room, those shrieks ringing in my ears. “
Felsmon was brave enough to admit to a similar reaction. “Saw Erik run out, ran in myself. Barely swung, then Rift sent in fire blast. Other Enigma went off with skin-pulling and shrieking. Saw myself as slave to Orcs, hopeless and crippled and weak. Ran out again.”
Rift looked apologetic for her fire blast, although there seemed to have been no way to prevent what happened. “Barrick somehow stuck it out in there when both those foul things went off. Don’t know how he manages to stick at times like that. It, I mean. Out, I mean. ”
But Barrick would have none of it. “It was worst for me, I got hit twice. The first time, I saw myself as an ancient Dwarf lying helplessly on a cot, unable to defend myself or even raise a beer glass. I wanted like mad to run out of the room, but that thing was in the way, so I cowered instead, and the second one hit me with a lightning bolt. Then, when Rift’s blast came in, and the other Enigma went off, I saw myself as youthful and strong, but a coward, deathly afraid of every creature – insect, bunny, and Orc alike. That was the worst, the pure fear, the mind-killer.”
Barrick lingered over these words, as he had been developing problems overcoming his battle fear after some recent close calls. His forehead was bleeding from hitting his beer stein, but that was not so unusual, in my experience. What was unusual, however, was that he was sweating in the cool tavern like a stuck Orc. He knew the mind-killer too well now for his own comfort. But he continued.
“I came to myself a little, and tried thinking ‘outside the room’, like my old warlord pals would do. So, I tried pushing one of the horrid things outside of the room, where the others could get at her. I tried twice, but I couldn’t muster the courage, I couldn’t bring myself to touch the foul thing. I was fading.”
Erik was sympathetic. “Fels and I each came to our senses within seconds, and ran right back in, swords flashing. But the two creatures only had eyes for Barrick by now, and they brought him to his knees. I thought we would lose him this time for sure.”
Barrick didn’t smile. “Well, you might have, but my study of Warlore finally paid off. For inspiration, I pulled out a classic that I knew from days of old:
‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall’.
That got my blood fairly boiling in about 3 seconds, and I leapt up, swung hard at each monstrosity, and killed one! May it forever feel what I felt when it shrieked!”
Z’alden declared with pride: “I killed the other right after – for I have been training, as well, to the greater glory of Bahamut!”
At this point handslaps were exchanged by all, giving me a chance to catch my notes up to this story. Glasses were refilled, as well.
“After the Z-Man got me and Barrick all healed up, there was nothing left but to head for the portpads.”, said Erik. “It was still go time.”
Felsmon piped up: “Smooth pillars in next room.”
“Smooth pillars, but a hulking Warder around the corner!” answered Erik.
“Warders not fit to polish my scabbard. Walked right up to Warder while two Ricks cowered behind magic shield.”
“True enough, Felsmon can go toe-to-toe with almost anyone.”, said Z’alden. But it was I who dealt the most damage to this Warder.”
Felsmon protested. “It was definitely I brought that beast down. Fell at my feet, one more corpse rotting behind me as I ran on to next deadly foe.”
“And splitting the party as you did so.” Z’alden had been lecturing Felsmon about tactics recently.
Erik tried to be diplomatic. ‘’At this point we had two fights going on, both against an Enigma and a Norker. Should have lasted about 10 seconds, but we seemed to slacken off after Felsmon and Z’alden put down the big guy. I think we were looking beyond this tussle to the big fight that we knew was still to come.“
Z’alden thought Erik was being too modest. “Erik can talk all he wants about slacking off, but it was he who ran up to an Enigma, bow in hand, put the point of an arrow into its gaping maw, and let loose! An inspiration from Bahamut, by the Claw! The horrid body still hangs rotting from that arrow, stuck deep in the wall.”
“Wish I had seen that, ” said Barrick. “I was too busy watching the little Norker beat up on Felsmon here.”
Felsmon could think of no reply. This surprised Barrick, who grasped for words.
“So, I, uh, killed the other Enigma, while our friends come around the corner, and killed the last Norker.”
“Little Norkers bring little glory.”, claimed Felsmon without much conviction.
Z’alden played the go-between. “I brought that last little Norker down, but it was on its last toes, after getting beat upon by Felsmon for so long.”
I asked whether these two Enigmas hadn’t also tried to instill terror in the 5 combatants. “Oh yes,” said Rift, “but by now we knew to take a few steps back when they go off. The skin pieces, I mean. The terror seems to come not from the shriek itself, which can be heard at great distance, but from a close-quarters enchantment.”
Then Z’alden got into one of the metaphysical flights of fancy that were never far removed from the bloody battle tales. “After they had all been sent to meet their makers, we searched the rooms, worrying about finding more Enigmas. Instead we found a great machine, combining advanced metalwork with dark enchantment, seemingly powered by the otherworldly essences of numerous dead Warders whose heads still floated in an evil brew. Powerful magic seeped out into the very fabric of reality around it, and into us.”
Erik chimed in. “When I got close to the thing, I could feel its magic entering me! I suddenly felt a little tougher. Not only that, but when I looked across the room at my companions, standing behind the machine, I noticed I could focus in on them, machine or no machine. And, this ability has stayed with me to this day.”
Felsmon spoke next. “Everyone more powerful now. But that machine magic too dark. Pray every day that it stay submerged in us.”
Barrick commented that it was good the new strength didn’t stay submerged in him when he split in half, with one stroke, the Imp they found in a nearby room.
Z’alden shot the Dwarf a displeased look.
Yes, said Barrick, and he was glad to have the extra something when he had to break down another nearby door, which Felsmon had already bounced off, and also when …
Z’alden interrupted to explain that it was not uncommon for dark magic to have effects on followers of Bahamut and other good folk. “Of course it would have been preferable to avoid these effects altogether. But, it is unlikely to dominate any of us, given the strength of character we have all displayed time and time again. Nevertheless, we destroyed that foul machine before we left the room. No more will it seep its evil magic into the world.”
Nobody volunteered any more right away, so I took the time to start a new scroll, and a new inkwell.
“So we ported one more time”, said Rift, “and had our hands full soon enough. We were in a small room with three doors. We stood there for a time, waiting for something to happen, but it refused. To happen, I mean. So we made it. Happen, I mean.”
“Rift is trying to say that we opened one of the doors, and found a Warder, like the one we had just killed one within seconds. It was go time again!” It was always go time for Erik.
“Walked right up to Warder. Ready for any fight.” It was always go time for Felsmon, too.
Not so for Barrick, who looked disgusted – with himself, as it turned out. “There was no room in that doorway for two of us, so I had to go and get cutesy. Stowed my axe and shield, and pulled out a longbow I had just started carrying. Don’t know what I was thinking – a Dwarf with a longbow in a small room with 3 doors? Might as well be a pig in a pit.”
While Barrick was shaking his head, Z’alden continued the recounting. “Just then the door behind us opened, a devilish lightning blast hit Barrick, then bounced off him and struck me! I knew we had met with some serious necromancy this time, possibly Paldemar himself. But that door shut again, and we still had the Warder to deal with, so we went at it with everything we had. Only, Erik and I didn’t have that much.”
“I had it though. Much, I mean.” This was Rift. “My spell rammed the beast into the room and spilled it on its back, spelling Felsmon for a spell. And I ran past to finish the job.”
An outbreak of laughter followed this – Rift had a well-earned reputation for jumping into trouble, but had always managed to survive somehow. “Well, an Enigma took a shot at me from inside that room, which I ducked, the shot I mean, but I was unable to get off another spell before the Warder jumped up, knocked me on my back, and regained its spot in the doorway in front of Felsmon.”
Having listened to plenty of tactical details from this group, I had to ask the obvious. Why hadn’t Barrick run through that doorway instead of Rift?
“If I had had my wits and my weapons about me, I would have actually gone the other way – through the doorway where the lightning blast came from. If you can get in the face of these conjurors, you have a good chance against them. But I had neither my wits nor my weapons just then.” I wondered whether Barrick was hinting that his battle fear had again gotten the better of him. “For some reason, I opened the third door – seeing some Norkers and Enigmas out there. I did manage to get my shield on, though, before any blasting started.”