Tia 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…