Campaign of the Month: March 2009

Denizens of the Nentir Vale

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.

Down the Kraken Hole
The Dark Side Beckons

Some would suppose that descending into the dark, pitiless depths of the airless sea, to the crushing limits of a dented, leaky vessel, led by a frothing madman to face an enormous creature renowned for its cunning and murderous intensity – the Kraken, no less! – would give pause to 5 mortals even if they were not to be fully dependent on twisted hoses for their life-giving air, while the beast would be at home in its very lair. But our band had frankly faced poor odds many times, and by now we had the confidence of immortals. We just shrugged our shoulders and went forwards as usual.

The Captain was mad all right, obsessed as he was with Wizard Island, and with the great sea beast that frequented the waters nearby. He swore – and as a sailor, he knew well how to swear! – that the kraken must shelter in an underwater cave near the cliff side of the island, probably more than 100 feet deep, since he and his men had already searched every crevice shallower than that. So we set out, the first voyage in a submersible for each of us, and we gazed in wonder at the inventiveness and audacity of the ship, since it seemed mostly engineered, not brought into existence through a spell.

After evading a storm, which only disturbed the surface of the water, we arrived at the cliffs, which we of course premembered. (Long story, told elsewhere) The crazy old salt started descending past his previous limit of 100 feet even before we had been given the breathing helmets and puny spearguns with which he imagined we would fell our giant quarry. Everybody held their breath, for if the ship were to break apart, it would take us with it, nowhere but down.

At 130 feet the ship began to creak.
At 150 feet the portholes showed debris floating by, which we swore were bones, but who knows what sea life looks like down here?
At 180 feet the first rivet popped, and ricocheted past our heads.
At 190 feet we feared the worst.
At 200 feet watery hell broke loose as water began to pour in through multiple openings!

The Captain blew out ballast to stop the descent, Barrick dwarfed the pumps, and Z’alden and Rift cast spells at the ship, until soon we had steadied the craft.

Luckily we had no need to descend further. A cave loomed nearby in the murk, and the Captain, sensing the creature that he had hunted for so long, bade us don the breathing helmets and investigate. Varis, who seemed as at home in the water as he did everywhere, which is to say proficient and efficient but somehow distant, swam a line to the cave and connected it so that the rest of us could pull ourselves over.

This cave was actually a tunnel-like entrance, and after a short distance, down a little then up again, we came to a much larger cave, and there we saw it, lazing in the center of the cave, the hideous Kraken, pulsing red under a blue-green light, all ten arms wiggling, two much thicker and longer than the others.

With grim faces under our helmets, we lost no time attacking, and for a while it seemed like no contest. A wallop of a punch from Varis, a lightning blast from Barrick’s new axe, a weakening spell from Z’alden, a poisonous spell from Tira, lightning bolts from Rift, and soon the goliath was thrashing in its inky pain. It grabbed everyone within reach, but we all know ways to escape from the clutches of monsters: a spell here; an axe strike there; teleporting as a last resort.

The Kraken’s attacks had little effect on our hardy band, until it realized that our tethers were important to us. It pulled out Z’alden’s and Barrick’s air hoses, and had it been able to do the same for all of us, our bones would have joined those floating about outside. Yet clever as this denizen of the deep was, Rift was more clever, and she cast a spell to stop time for everyone but her, so that she could float over and reattach the hoses. Then, she displayed her signature power by banishing the beast briefly to a parallel universe, giving us time to gather ourselves for a last flurry of attacks.

No sooner had the Kraken reappeared in the cave, but each of us attacked it with full determination, Z’alden and Tira with particular viciousness, and the beast expired!

After the mighty Kraken had been put down, Varis showed the others that the light coming from above actually led to a grotto. We left behind our helmets, sure that the Captain would give up on us eventually, and leave us for dead. Above, we found enough air, but also four Kobolds with clown faces. These attacked us immediately, then disappeared! Following corridors, we encountered them again and again, taking damage but dealing out more of it, killing them one by one – until two more popped up! Tiring of this painful game, Varis dispensed quickly with these last two. We were left in a hall than contained 6 rows of three consecutively numbered floorstones in what felt like a second trap, after the Kobolds, which had certainly been enchanted.

A trap it turned out to be; step on the wrong stones, and an attack would be triggered. Varis tried teleporting past, but was dealt a colossal blow for his efforts. Tara took multiple hits and was left stunned in the middle of the grid.

Each of us being tough enough to survive these attacks, we experimented in turn until we had a safe path going through numbers 2-5-7-11. But, the attacks were gaining in intensity with each new row, and two rows were left. Z’alden healed us as only he can, but who knew whether the last row would deal a fatal blow?

Luckily Barrick remembered the sequence of numbers from his days learning dwarven building traditions. Every young dwarf memorizes the first 10 “Dwarven Friends” in the number sequence 2,3,5,7,11,13,17,19,23,29, as handed down from the great dwarven builders of old. The dwarves believe that, when using repetition in a building project, only these numbers should be used, and each of them should be used for no more than one purpose in a structure. If you repeat an archway five stones wide somewhere in a building, it is OK to then repeat an archway on a higher level seven stones wide, but never four, or six, or 12.

Barrick always thought this to be an ancient superstition, but seeing the same pattern playing out now, he wondered whether there could be some reason behind the sequence. See how 2 was the only number in the sequence that described the world of dwarves, with their two hands and two eyes and two feet? And 3 was the only one that described the number of options a dwarf always had (stay here, go forwards, or go backwards). And 5 was the only one that counted the number of fingers on a hand or foot. No other number in the sequence (and Barrick, who had worked on large buildings, actually knew more than the 10 taught to every dwarf) counted the number of fingers on any number of hands! In fact, no number in the sequence counted the number of any other number in the sequence, no matter how many! There was something there all right – but what it was, Barrick couldn’t quite grasp.

“Thirteen” he announced, though his insight did not come before he had stepped on #14, and suffered 3 poison darts. Sure enough, the adventurers got out on 13, followed by 17. Salving their wounds and gritting their teeth for the next trap, they came to a door saying “Home Sweet Home”. They knocked … and a voice said simply, “Come In”.

To be continued …

Ending with a Bang

Post to come…

A Dragon's Pawn
Reasoning with a dragon... hmm...

Post to come…

Massacre at Coradra Gap

Slaver ran down the fangs of Ur Alak Nabog and wetted the matted fur at the mouth of the young orc warrior. He listened raptly as the chieftain’s voice grew to a frenzy describing the feast of dwarf flesh the tribe would soon be relishing. As the bonfire crackled with each word of the glorious chief, Ur fantasized about the tender kid meat he would get if he made a mark for himself in the upcoming slaughter. Calling it a battle was an abuse of the word.

Their great chieftain, Narak dana Belvanog, Destroyer of forests, Smasher of chests, Eater of Brains had already told them what the Shaman had foreseen in the bones of the raven and the entrails of the pig for many days. Each day was the same. A few centogs of dwarf miners were all that guarded a host of dwarven kids and shes and rich treasures beneath a poor fortress. The dwarves were stupid to be there and easy pickings. The destiny of the tens of centogs worth of orcs was to massacre the dwarfs, eat the she-dwarfs and the kid-dwarfs in a great celebration as the power of the tribe of the Brain Eater continued to grow.

Ur longed to serve closer to the mighty chieftain that he too might have a taste of the brains of the conquered, like the lieutenants of the great Brain Eater. Dwarf brain straight from the skull was said to be like a gritty bread, like the dried ale from yesterday’s mug. Ur stood little chance of making a great name for himself in this massacre, though. His centog was to be near the back, catching any dwarfs that tried to escape their way. Shes work, really.

Thinking about shes made the young orc breathe deeply. A she-orc, Miraka, had caught his scent at home, and he had caught hers. He wondered if he could wrap stewed dwarf arms under his armor and take them back to her. How she would breathe deeply for him then! Yes, that is what he would do. But only if the meat held up better than the puny dwarfs would fare against the coming orc onslaught.

A crack in the fire turned him back to the speech of the Brain Eater. The shadows of the Gloomwood forest ran thick as the light wrapped the huge orc chieftan, “We are an Army of orcs against two centogs of dwarfs. We march at first light to take what is ours. Eat little tonight. For soon, we will be feasting on the marrow of miners and the flesh of their shes and kids!” All of the warriors roared in approval, slapping their spears against their shields. “Brain Eater, Brain Eater!” they chanted in unison. The Chief reveled in the chant.

That night, as the embers faded, Ur stood guard. He was proud to have been selected to be a sentry near his Centogak’s tent, not so far from the Chief and the shaman. The still night boded a good, clear morning for killing. In the quiet, he could hear the loud breathing of the hoard, the baying of the great dogs, the snoring of the giants that served Belvanog. He stared at his claws and wondered if dwarf fingers crunched when you bit them like a snail, or were just chewy like a slug? His fightmate Bu said that the best part was the calf of a she with a side of pickled Umber hulk. He was so hungry, he almost bit his own finger. Then, he heard a gravely, quiet voice. It could be the snoring giants. No, it was an orc speaking. An old orc. The voice was coming from the Shaman’s tent.

“Narak, the entrails have changed I tell you. Look. See here. These many blood curves are dragons. Half a centog of dragons. The pig does not lie. The seeing has become not the same as on the other nights.”

The snarling response of the Chief was unmistakable, especially at the closer distance that Ur had crept. “Old one, you have smoked too much hashog tonight. Your sight is clouded. For weeks, the coming victory has been clear to you. It will be recorded in the scrolls forever you said. The Massacre at Coradra Gap. Why should it change now?”

The Shaman’s voice did not cower like Ur expected. It was a deep voice, one that spoke with conviction knowing a truth, “I wiped your bottom when you were a squealing babe, Narak dana Belvanog. Do not presume to tell me when I have smoked too much. I know what the signs are saying. This break here in the raven wing bone speaks of two wielders of magic, but one is uncontrolled, wild, and one is focused. Both are powerful. And, these hard lumps where the bone should be soft, they mean a dwarf with axe and shield and the will, strength and knowledge to wield them well. This is no dwarf miner but a battle-hardened son of stone. This curve in the wing bone is another dragon, but strange, it was broken and then healed. And, see to the pig here. This charring from my flames in the porcine brain down to the foot – a great power from the mind to the hand and feet. See how the chars fan out. This great power is an elf,“ he sucked in, “that flies and kills.”

Ur heard the Shaman draw his breath deeply. “And look here. The loop in the gut pipe. The large green blood curve pooled there. That is a green dragon.”

Belvanog chuckled through his ale. “Next you will be telling me that the gods themselves will arrive with this bi-centog of dragons to save the hides of our dwarven feast.”

His eyes rose as Ur heard a mug shatter. The Shaman’s voice rose. If it got any louder, the next sentry would hear it too. “You fool. Here, in the heart, not the gods but one of their Chosen, yes, another blood curve – the Chosen of a dragon god. I cannot tell which. It matters not. This comes against you, too. Be not a fool. The signs do not lie. Your victory is no longer assured. Something has changed in all that I can see. Beyond the Gloomwood, there be much more than weak dwarves. Call off the attack. There will be easier prey another day.”

What followed came quickly. A muffled grunt. A thud. Silence. Ur hid behind a tree as he peered to see the Chief leaving the tent. His claws holding a torch glistened wet. A pool of blood soon ran out below the tent flap. A shudder ran through the young orc warrior. He would not sleep well when his duty ended later that night.

As the light slowly rose behind them, ten centogs of the orc army gathered, Ur stood straight and tall, proud to be part of such a hoard. He looked to his right, his left, behind, in front, and saw the press of orc warriors. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.” Again he counted to eight. And again and again and again, until his head hurt. Yes, a centog is many orcs, and we have many centogs against the puny two of the dwarves. Dwarf toes roasted at the end of a knife over a fire made a good afterfeast snack his fightmate Bu had told him. The slaver ran thickly in his mouth just thinking about it. He looked to his left at Bu, then to all the others nearby. They all were hungry. This should be quick.

The arrayed hoard rallied to the swelling chant of their Chief. “Brain Eater, Brain Eater” a thousand orcs cried out in unison. It was a fearsome sound. It swelled their hearts with bloodlust.

Ur surveyed the ground ahead. Off in the distance, as he was up a small slope, he could see the ruined fortress that was the goal. Loaded with dwarf shes and kids to eat and treasure to make them rich. His centog was heading around a small hill to the right of the main hoard. Just over the hill was a river. Another centog would go over the hill and be part of a high ground attack on any foolish resistance. Ur’s centog formed the “rear guard”, such that it was in a slaughter like this. Ur saw the Chief and his three giants going up a hill to the left. Surely some great tactic was planned from there by the Destroyer of Forests and Smasher of chests. The many, many orcs of the hoard were before him. They advanced.

A soft, steady, cold rain began to fall. No matter. Orcs care not for the weather. They marched on. Far ahead to his left, Ur saw something that made his heart pause. In the distance, many young-sized dragons rising up from the ground. More than his squad of Eight. More than two squads. He counted quickly. Not quite 6 squads of dragons. Maybe seven. Maybe eight. What comes next? Who cares. It was many. These dragons had small humanoids on their backs. He could see through the raining mist and through the dragons. They were not real. But the dwarfs, some she-people, and a he-people were flying on them. And then, he saw other he-person that was flying in nothing but people furs. Thin they are, too. It was just as the Shaman had spoken. Ur sucked his breath in. He watched what he never expected.

The dwarves on the dragons had crossbows and rained down bolts on the centogs. One of the shes had a staff. The stafflight burned like some darkstar from a scare telling for kids. Brilliant brightness flew from the dagger of the other she and jumped from warrior to warrior in a few heart beats. These wild lights dropped many without spear or cudgel. The staffed she landed on the ground in the middle of centog. Ur could no longer see her. There was a sound like a fighter makes when hit hard in the gut. A dark force exploded out from where the she landed. An entire centog was gone and the staffed she remained, her robes swirling around her.

More bolts rain down from the dwarfs and the he covered in scale armor riding on their dragons. The battle is not going well, thought the young orc.

The flying elf lands in the middle of a centog of orcs. Many squads in a centog. The elf will die quickly, Ur thinks. A few heartbeats. A few more. Ur shudders. The entire centog is down on the ground, and the elf in his robes is still standing. The centogs of orcs behind know nothing else but to continue on. The elf has nothing but a small throwing star that glints in the sun. With his hands and his feet, and a flick of the star, in more heartbeats, another centog is down. Too many for Ur to count. In the confusion, Ur hears an order roared. “To the fortress. Get the feast food and the treasure!” Many centogs of orcs move quickly to follow the order passed throughout the hoard.

Ur turns his head to see that the Chief and his giants wait at the top of their hill. A centog has ascended the hill to his right and found some dwarfs there. Ah, some real slaughter now, he thinks to himself. Don’t chop off the good eating.

Most of the flying dragons bearing dwarfs start heading to the fortress also. Oh, the little bugs have run out of stingers, Ur thinks to himself. Maybe the Shaman was wrong. And, I have seen no green dragon or any sign of a Chosen or a real dwarf warrior. Yes, the rout is on.

Well, no. A cloud of gas appears centered on the staff she. A half of centog falls. Bright lights flare there. The remainder stand no more.

Ur has gotten closer to the fortress. He sees one little dragon that has the sturdiest looking dwarf that Ur has ever heard tell of. This one gives chase to the centogs heading for the dwarf feast food. Ur cannot see what happens to him. Could this be the dwarven warrior that the Shaman foretold? The many dwarf dragons land closer to the fortress. What are they doing? Do they think they can hold off the many centogs coming toward them. Could the dwarf warrior be trying to get the dwarf feast for himself. Why else would he get so close to the she-dwarfs and kids so soon to be slaughtered and eaten? Ur is puzzled.

Then, he hears a sound like an army of drums beating at once. Coming down the river. Ur can see the ripples of a giant green snake in the sky. Then he can see the wings that beat the mighty drums reflecting the morning sun. “Jadracogfrack!*” he thinks to himself. The ancient dragon clears the hill next to the river. Neither the orcs nor the dwarfs survive its blast.

As the elements of the battle come more and more to resemble the Shaman’s last telling, Ur begins to feel fear for the first time in his life. The smell from the remains of the orcs and dwarfs that fell before the ancient green dragon sting his eyes. Tears form. He looks to his fightmate next to him. He can no longer keep the secret. “Fightmate Bu, this is all coming to pass as the Shaman told to the Chief last night. This is no easy feast fight. We will fail and fall.” Blindingly fast, Bu turns on Ur, smashing his brains. “Coward,” the orc savage snarled. Ur would never smell Miraka again.

  • translated from orcish: Green dragon, oh shit.
Through the Looking Glass

The young man nervously walked into the darkened room. “Come, sit, sit,” a kindly voice beckoned. Pushing his way through the curtain of hanging beads, his eyes adjusting to the dim light, the lad saw the lady, dressed in the garb typical of the wandering gypsies, sitting at the other side of a small plain wooden table. A single stool was on his side of the table, and it was here that he sat. The lady smiled; it was hard to tell her age in the soft light, she could be as old as the ladies that quilt the blankets back near home, or as young as the farm girls that delivered the milk. For what felt like a long time, neither of them spoke. The gypsy first broke the silence, “You wish to know your future, yes?”
“Um, yes, that’s right,” stammered the lad, far from being a full man. He dropped a handful of coppers on the table, “How much can I know for this?”
The gypsy frowned, “That is not a lot, I can give you one series of connected events, but nothing before or after. Is that OK?”
The boy nodded, “Can I get a series that involves me dying, well almost dying, so I might know what to do when it happens?”
This time it was the lady who nodded. “Be warned, I have no control over what the cards tell me, I only read them. If you do not like what the cards say, it is not my fault. Do you understand?”
“Fine, let’s begin.” The lady pulled a worn deck of Tarot cards from a small drawer beside the table. She shuffled the cards exactly three times, then had the lad shuffle the cards another three, telling him to think of his death whilst doing so. Then she had the boy cut the deck once. “All is in place, let’s see what your future holds.”
She began by flipping over three cards, placing them in an even row, the first, the 10 of Cups, the second, the 10 of Swords, and the third, Death. The fortuneteller looked confused as she stared at the cards. “Strange, it would appear you lay dying at the beginning of this, but the really odd part is that the cards are saying that the wind and the water are also wounded. I am not sure how wind could be hurt, but the cards do not lie. I wish I could be there to see how these events come to pass.”
“How did I get there? What tried to kill me?” the boy gasped.
“That the cards do not say yet. You might have to discover that on your own, I am afraid.”
The lad sighed, “Ok, go on. Do I survive, and how?”
The seeress dealt two more cards, one at each end of the original row of three; the Sun and the Star. “Still strange,” she muttered, and then speaking louder, “A friend of your either gives you something of vitality, or,” she pauses and stares at the cards, “Or this person sings you to health.” Both people look at each other, then at the cards, then back at each other, confused. Two more cards at dealt, the Ace of Cups and the 4 of Pentacles. “This is becoming stranger with every card. Now they say that Air and Water are hurting your friends, Air turns invisible, as if it were already not, then is forced back into visibility.” Shaking her head, she warily turns over two more cards, the six of Wands, “Ok, now this means attacking with fire,” then the five of Cups, “And the fire kills, no that is not quite right, evaporates the damaged Water. At least that kind of makes sense.”
The boy leans far forward, over the table, “What about me? Am I still lying almost dead?”
“Careful young Zenithar, do not disrupt the energy of the table and the cards.” She waits for him to sit back in his chair, aware that he did not notice her recognition of him. She adds another card to the tableau below Death, the Hermit. “Not only do you recover, but you go on to make an example for your friends, damaging the very wind around you. And this signifies knowing a name, an important name.” The gypsy then places a stack of three cards down, face up; the only one the boy can see is the top card, the seven of Swords. “Someone, not you, is crawling, although I cannot tell if they are hurt or doing it on purpose. Regardless, from prone this person destroys the Air, whilst you somehow heal your friend in much the same way you were just healed.”
“I have to sing?”
“No, one of the gods helps you, no singing required.”
“Good!” then sheepishly he adds, “My singing voice has not yet come in.”
The next card, placed above the Death card, is the Tower. “Not good, not good at all,” the gypsy shakes her head. “You are dying again, some evil being is doing terrible damage to you.”
The card that is dealt to the left of the Tower is the Moon. “You are healed by the crawling one, but in the process, that person vanishes.”
“How do I know these other people? Are they my friends?”
“Yes, very much so, you will have shared much with these companions at this time. If you fall a third time, I fear you will die for good, but will at least die amongst those you count most dear.”
“Do I know any of them know, is Jordy there?” he asks eargerly.
“I do not think so, but that is vague.” She stops for a long drink of a clear liquid from a blue bottle. “Let’s continue,” she says placing the Knight of Pentacles. “There is a rift, but the relation of this card to the others says the rift is alive, and is moving into a dark pool of magic.”
“You can tell all of that from one card?”
“Not from just the one card, but from where it lies and its position relative to all the cards previously laid.” Another stack of three cards is set down, this time with the King of Wands showing on top. “Oh my. You are fully healed now, but one of your friends, with a significance to the colour red, is now laying dying. There is a lot of dying happening here, it is no wonder this series of events came forth when you queried on death. Your god also heals your red comrade.”
The next card down is the Fool, “Uh oh,” the young man squirms, “Is that me?”
The gypsy laughs, “Not this time, but there will be other times for you. No this time the evil being you are all fighting makes a mistake, thinking that dragging your party to a different location will help him.” The Judgment card is next placed above the Fool. “The evil being ends up in the very spot he is trying to put all of you, not only getting hurt but healing all of you instead.”
“Is he dead? This, this thing?” the boy sputters.
The Nine of Wands is revealed, “No, not only is he alive, but he knocks one of your friends into, I am not sure, into a well?” Another card is turned up, the Ace of Pentacles, “A human friend is empowered, by walking on or activating something.”
A two-card stack this time, with the five of Pentacles on top, “The human saves another, a smaller, or at least shorter, companion, lifting it by part of the short one’s hair.” She chuckles and shakes her head, “This has to be the oddest reading I have ever done.”
“Not many cards left, I wonder if anyone will survive?” The three of Pentacles is placed next to the five. “The one that vanished, maybe into the rift, suddenly returns. Maybe you and your friends will survive after all.”
Above the five, the next card turned up is the World.
“That looks promising,” they boy more asks than states.
“Indeed,” the gypsy replies. “Working together, you and your companions finally defeat the evil being. Its place above the five states that the human was the one to give the killing blow.”
“Wooh, I live!”
“Yes,” she smiles, “this time. But be careful, this does not mean you can do anything you want before these events come to pass and assume you will always cheat death. Stupidity can easily override the will of the cards.”
“Is there anything else you can tell me? Does anything happen after we kill that thing?”
“There are four cards left in this reading, so something must happen.”
The Ace of Swords, “Weapons of great power, but I cannot tell if you, or one of your friends get to wield these.”
The Page of Pentacles, “Now see the three discs in the picture on the card? Those signify three magic rings.”
“Ooh, magic, I like magic!”
“Magic is nice, but remember, all magic comes with a price. Only two cards left.” The penultimate card is the Magician. “Aptly enough, in this case this really does mean a magician. Someone appears and either conveys you to safety or makes your surroundings safe again. Either way, this story is over.”
“But there is one more card, you said there were four more!”
“Ah yes,” The fortuneteller lifts one more card off the top of the deck. She looks at it, pauses yet again, and then reveals, the Hanged Man.
“Oh no! More death? Am I dead this time?” the lad wails.
“Fear not, this is an abstract card. All it means is that everyone in your party is experiencing something different, something important to each of them. You will find out what your experience is when you reach this adventure. That is all for now.”
The young man nods, exhales, then stands up and leaves lost in thought.
The gypsy turns over one more card, “Very very strange. It appears there are two ages given for your final death, 20 some years apart. Very strange indeed.”

Dirty Deeds

Dirty Deeds

Tira hid her thoughts well behind long lashes and lushous red lips. All were subject to her charms, even her compatriots. They knew nothing of her inner thoughts that had been plaguing her mind for over one year now. It had been her chaotic nature that had made her draw the card. The Deck of Manny Things had tempted her and she had succumbed, not only then, but now as well. Twisted she was, wrapped up in obsessive thoughts of doing dirty deeds…

Many found their fortunes in the City of Brass. Many too had lost them, most likely, or so Tira thought to justify her schemes. The city’s magistrate was a good man, admired by most for having brought prosperity through freer trade and more equitable policies. He performed his duties with all the seriousness required of a true servant of the people. The magistrate was strong and capable, respected and even revered.

So began Tira’s campaign to bring the magistrate to ruin. And why not? A perfect target. Tira knew that she must first convince her companions to join her, but they would need to be swayed to a new logic. Power corrupts, does it not? How could a man of wealth and importance not be corrupt? Z’alden was convinced most easily. “Crony capitalist!”, decried Z’alden, “Surely his gains are ill-gotten! Justice must prevail!” Rift was next to fall to Tira’s persuasion, after all, the guy lived in a mansion, inhabited by no one else but himself. Something must be wrong with him. Magical constructs guard his estate. What possible need could he have for that level of security… unless he was hiding something! Barrick and Erik were last to be convinced. Did they agree to join in on the plans out of loyalty? Or the need for adventure? Perhaps it was Tira’s feminine wiles…

All this scheming had a secondary purpose, which also aided Tira in convincing the others to partake in her nefarious plans. They had an opportunity to recover the “astral” painting, stolen back in Nerrakus from its premiere bank. Word on the street was that it was here, in the City of Brass. In a seedy bar, the adventurers found a djinn that offered information on where to recover the painting, but for a price. That price was the magistrate’s astrillium ring – a family heirloom and symbol of his power. Without that ring, the magistrate would crumble.

Back in their rented lodging, Rift set to weaving the powers of a mighty ritual where she would be able to consult the mystic sages, gaining insight on where the ring slept and how it could be taken:

Rift: “Oh mystic sages, where is the magistrate’s astrillium ring?”
Sages: “In the crystal case, in the center of the floor, in the gem room.”
Rift: “How do I get past the magical constructs that guard the magistrate’s mansion?”
Sages: “He without power is powerless. Disable the central conduit of power.”

This was enough for the adventurers to form a plan. They would disguise themselves as city workers sent to repair the power conduit leading up to the magistrate’s estate. They would then sever the line, slip into the house and steal the ring. Simple.

Late that afternoon, the adventurers headed to the magistrate’s mansion, to reconnoiter and get a sense of just what they’d be up against. To their surprise, a knock on the door brought the magistrate before them. He was of a serious demeanor, stern and direct. As with most efreets, there was a pall of arrogance that surrounded him, and this only emboldened Z’alden in this quest.

“Begone. City business is to be done during business hours”, bellowed the magistrate. Z’alden and Barrick reeled at the perceived lack of hospitality. Still, the adventurers entreated him to grant them time now, for they had travelled far and were weary. “No. I do not have time now. Perhaps you would like to schedule time tomorrow? I have a free slot at the lunch hour. Decide quickly.”

The adventurers agreed to lunch and left, but not empty handed. They had seen the defensive constructs and the adamantium door and shutters. Yes, the powerful would need to be rendered powerless.

The next day the adventurers returned to the estate which sat outside the walls of the city. A long road lead up to the mansion, and under it lay a conduit that supplied magical energy to the estate, just as it did with other buildings within the city. Its success was one of the magistrate’s hallmark achievements. Dressed as a repair crew, the five began to dig. Barrick’s skill with a pick made the work look legitimate, but Rift’s disintegrate spell make it go quickly. Soon they were down to the exposed conduit. The energy running through the system was frighteningly powerful. High voltage!

To their horror, the magistrate walked past the construction zone on his way to work. Barrick began to hum a little tune: “If you’re having trouble with your city magistrate, he’s givin’ you the blues…”

“What now?”, snorted the magistrate, clearly frustrated, “This was working fine for over a year now. What changed? This is where the city’s money is going!”. Not to be late for the first of his endless meetings, the magistrate quickly continued on his way. The adventurers breathed a collective sigh of relief as he passed beyond the walls and into the city.

Now Rift could work the magic of her arcane gate. With one portal placed in the conduit and one directly in front of the mansion’s adamantium door, the power not only bypassed the remaining section of conduit but began blasting away at the door. This gave Barrick and Erik and opportunity to safely break the conduit, which they quickly did with mighty blows. Soon too was the door blown clean open. Within the walls, the constructs were lifeless. Tira hid a wicked grin – her schemes were going according to plan.

The adventurers quickly fled into the house as Rift prepared bring down the portal. That much untamed energy would deliver a mighty blast, and so it did. Shockwaves from the collapsed conduit blasted the house and its concussive force rattled the adventurers. Still, they were in. Tira and Rift quickly found the crystal box, which was said to contain the ring. They had their prize and so they raced out the back of the house, which now had a clean hole poked all the way through it from the initial blast of energy.

As the adventurers made their way back into the City of Brass, they could hear the city folk tell their version of what had happened. People were distraught and pointed to the black smoke that came from the direction of the magistrate’s house. Some said that the magistrate’s house had been destroyed by an accident with the power system. Others thought it had been attacked and that the magistrate was dead. There were cries of “villainy!”. There was sadness. There was fear of further attacks. The magistrate had done such a good job at making the city safer, and so what an ironic pity for this to befall him.

Back in their lodgings, Rift worked past the crystal box’s wardings to be able to open it. Sure enough, as promised, it held the magistrate’s ring. Success!

Barrick and Erik turned a suspicious eye to Tira. No better than common thieves they were. Dirty deeds, indeed.

Sympathy for the Devil

Wasting no time, Tira returned to the shady bar where she had met the unscrupulous efreet just a day before. She had been promised information about the painting in exchange for the ring. Now she wanted more. It was time to change the particulars of the deal. Location was not enough! After some hard bargaining, the djinn relented and offered not just the location of the painting, but help getting into the building. Tira was pleased. Her masterful plan to bring the magistrate to ruin was a success, and as a bonus she managed to secure the location of the painting. Not a bad couple of days. Or was it?

The next day the adventurers met the shady djinn and he them through the city, past shops, row houses, banks and foundries. Soon they stood before a warehouse and the djinn motioned for them to enter. The air was still and most strikingly, the street was bare.

“Enter! The painting is on the second floor, in the back”, said the djinn with smile that was difficult to read. How did he know just exactly where the painting was? The adventurers did not trust him, but what choice did they have? So they entered.

The warehouse stood nearly empty, being sparsely populated with only a smattering of old crates and open boxes. The floor was dusty. What kind of warehouse was this? Yet true to the efreet’s words, there was a steep staircase in the back. Erik lead the way ever so carefully. Did the wooden step creak as one would expect? Was the air as stale as expected? What of the quality of the light? Was all the world an illusion? The others followed, slowly, up the stairs to the second floor.

Reaching the top of the stairs, the adventurers found themselves in a small room of red oak – a deeper and bloodier red than normal, but perhaps it was just the lighting. No, before them stood a devil! Z’alden’s mind raced. He recoiled. He had to keep himself from lurching forward. Restraint.

“Pleased to meet you. Nicely done deed!”, said the devil, his wings perking up almost imperceptibly, “but this is not why you are here, now is it?”

The adventurer’s looked at each other, knowing that a dangerous game was now underfoot. “Please allow me to introduce myself”, continued the devil with a grin and penetrating eyes. “I am man of wealth and taste; you need not worry now. Our interests may, shall we say, coincide?”

The devil paused to examine the adventurer’s perplexed expressions. He kindly smiled. “You see, the demons will soon be on on the march.”

“Demons, you know I despise demons with a holy passion”, boldly stated Z’alden, “but why would ever even consider doing the devil’s work? Perhaps you should be the one to go to battle with the demons!”

The devil just smiled and bowed his head with eyes still on the adventurers, “I am but your humble servant. Here. Have some sympathy, and do me the courtesy of taking on this quest, won’t you? For devils cannot go forth into the Abyss. I surely would not bargain if I could do this myself.” He paused to study their response. “I can tell that you are puzzled by the nature of my game, but there is nothing to fear, nothing. To fear, at all. Let me help you. You and I, we are not so dissimilar. Just ask the magistrate.” The devil’s eyes lit up with that last barb, which he clearly could not resist, for it was his nature. The adventurer’s turned shades of red – for embarrassment or anger – but the effect was to make their color match the devil’s color more closely.

“What can you do for us?”, asked Rift, “Weapons? Majicks? What is in it for us?”

“I can expedite. Expedite your travels to the Abyss”, calmly replied the devil. “For I… have you guessed my name? Destabilize the demons. Kill Mal…” The devil softened his face and smiled. “Mal’Ganis. Mal’Ganis must be stopped. Yes. Stopped from his plans. And then there is the issue of the glaives. Yes, I know about your interest in them with respect to the one known as Illidan. You see, we really are on the same side. I can help you. What I offer is more for you than for me. Do we have a deal?”

With that, the devil waved his left hand in a circular motion and a portal appeared before the adventurers. With his other hand, he motioned for them to enter. He put on his best yet least convincing smile.

Z’alden was the first to enter, followed by Barrick. As the last of the five entered, they could feel the Cheshire grin of the devil behind, with echoes of the question, “Tell me, what’s my name?”

In My Time of Dying

Ripped from the Elemental Plane of Fire, the five adventurers found themselves even further from the Nentir Vale. Memories of home were hard to conjure in this barren, darkened and hostile landscape. No quarter for lost souls. The devil had delivered upon his half of the bargain by conveniently placing the adventurers at the footstep of Mal’Ganis’ fortress. Upon its flanks paced an assortment of demons, who seemed to bicker amongst each other, surely fueled by feudal status and an unyielding impulse to torment.

“To beat them, we must join them”, Z’alden concluded. “Put me in chains!” The others looked at each other and soon caught on. The potions of mimicry did the trick, making Rift, Tira, Barrick and Erik look like nyca-demons. Erik noticed that Tira was strangely fetching, for a demon. The chains on Z’alden looked quite convincing as the “demons” brought him forth, before the head demon who guarded the gates to Mal’Ganis’ palace.

“What you want?”, shouted the ultro-demon schemer to the four.

“We have a prisoner. Servant of Bahamut. For the slaughter!”, replied nyca-demon Tira.

“So slaughter him already!”, replied the ultro-demon, with his blood-seep demons soldiers slavishly snickering behind.

“But this one is special. One for Mal’Ganis’ direct pleasure.”

“No, kill him now. If you won’t, I will. Step aside!”, demanded the ultro-demon.

Z’alden winked at Rift and that’s all it took to convey the plan. “Mal’Ganis will be very displeased, you fool” shouted Rift, turning her attention to all the soldiers and pointing at each one of them. “Mal’Ganis will vanish all those who defy his wishes. Do not doubt this word!”

The ultro-demon gutturally chuckled and so too followed the blood-seep demons in an insane cackle, mocking Rift.

“You were warned!”, scowled Rift. And with all eyes on her, Z’alden was able to surreptitiously cast his magic, sending the ultro-demon into another plane. The other demons were stunned in disbelief.

“You have doubted the menacing power of our great leader”, taunted Rift, “perhaps you to would like to defy his wishes too?”

“No, of course we do not question”, mumbled the remaining demons as they cowered, “Proceed. Pass forth. Be glorious the slaughter most pleasantly for our master’s pleasure, that is, by his will, always. Go!”

With that the adventurers, still in their magical disguises, opened the great doors to the fortress of Mal’Ganis. So many times before on countless adventures lay chamber after chamber to protect the leader, but to the adventurer’s surprise, Mal’Ganis now sat before them on the far side of a great hall. So soon to see Mal’Ganis. A good thing?

Mal’Ganis’ throne was backed by a wall, with the glaives mounted below a large stained glass window that depicted an army of demons. The light making its way through seemed to be of a dark power. The great demon then stood, revealing fine scale mail armor and a war spear in hand. “Leave the prisoner and begone”, commanded Mal’Ganis.

“Uh, no. Let’s do things our way”, shouted Rift as she created a portal, enabling Barrick to rush through to the far side of the great hall and stand beneath the towering figure of Mal’Ganis. The dwarf was pushed aside, with Mal’Ganis mighty reach. Z’alden cast off his chains and was next through the portal, to cast a powerful spell, but the demons of the stained glass glowed and Mal’Ganis laughed as he shrugged off the attack. Erik’s turn was next and as he raised his bow, he took aim for his quarry’s exposed flesh. Three arrows let loose and three met their target, but the ranger could tell that the demon resisted much of the damage. Finally, from Tira’s hand sprung a prismatic beam, but to no avail.

Now it was Mal’Ganis’ turn and he brought forth a fire and earth elemental to combat the other adventurers as he personally went after the dwarf. Even after being able to dodge the attack, Barrick felt the force of fear and stood stunned in the shadow of Mal’Ganis.

As battle continued, the demon and his elementals focused on the servant of Bahamut, the cleric, Zenithar al Denithar. Attack after attack was laid down upon the cleric. It was a wise strategy, but so too did the adventurers have a similar strategy of their own, concentrating their attacks on the elementals, and soon the earth elemental was dispatched. With that, Mal’Ganis chanted, “Feel the maelstrom: wind and water.” And so an air and water elemental were conjured to join the battle. The demon’s massive spear swung a wide arc, hitting many of the adventurers in a single sweep. Erik’s arrows continued to fly and from Rift’s fingers sprung prismatic beams, poisoning, burning and dazing the elementals. The fire elemental would quickly fall, but all the while Z’alden took blow after blow. Such was the price for being a servant of Bahamut in the realm of demons.

A final blow set Z’alden’s thoughts afar. The room spun. The clangs of weapons upon armor rang out as distant bells. Swirls of bright colors and a cacophony of sound filled his head as confusion overtook his rational mind. The stone floor moved upward in slow motion to greet his weakening body – comfortable as a down pillow for flesh that has no feeling. Thoughts of a song drifted through… “If my wings should fail me, Bahamut, please meet me with another pair. Well, well, well, so I can die easy.”


To be continued…