Eastlander was on the run. Somewhere behind were dark beasts lead by cruel masters. Somewhere overhead there were sharp eyes that scanned the land below. Whispers were everywhere in the towns and forests. As he staggered forward through the darkness, he stumbled through a stream and slipped on the smooth, mossy river rocks. Like dry leaves, pages from his latest manuscript were cast upon the water and quickly floated downstream over root and rock. Precious words began to mingle together, never to be deciphered. It was a sad thought indeed for Torben Eastlander, for words were his favorite part of himself and to have lost them was a travesty. Yet in this moment the flesh was more important and in greater peril. He collapsed under a fallen tree and quickly began to dream of the words that were lost…
Barrick always had a story to tell that was as tall as he was short. In this one the adventurers had spent a year resting on their laurels, having defeated the mighty eye tyrant, Xathros. Barrick told of a castle that provided a safe haven for the adventurers. Naturally, or quite conveniently, he refused to reveal the location of the castle, but I could gather that it was somewhere near Lake Nen since much of their time in that year had been spent helping the townsfolk of Nenlast and making frequent journeys through the surrounding areas. The giants of the area had been either killed or pushed back further into the wild lands. The men of the North grew in stature, with Hammerfand leading them to many victories over the giants. From this came new heroes.
Stonefand, eldest son of Hammerfand was no longer just “slayer of Grak the Invincible”, for now his palmaries included “Captain of the Giant Brigade”. His tactical sense was not matched by any other in the clans of the men of the North. At his side was the mighty Maelfend, who was the sharp edge of the blade that Stonefand’s hand would guide. His uncharacteristic use of a shield revealed an independent mind and so too did his clashes with his captain. Their competitiveness made them strong, as well did the diminutive Primorean, once directly under the employ of Hammerfand, now a member of the giant brigade. Normally the clerics and wizards are just hired hands, perhaps living to see another day and a pocketful of riches, or to never be written of on any page. Yet this Primorean is different, gaining in skill and influence right along with his masters, and worthy of note on my pages.
Still, these men of the North are pale to the deeds done and skills possessed by the heroes I write of. So let me begin in earnest.
The four seasons came and went upon the six adventurers. The bountiful glory of the spring gave way to the listless days of summer. Then the fall came, bringing a melancholy of reflection. Inaction brought upon a lifeless winter as the heroes basked in the warm subterranean waters that lay beneath their castle.
The adventurers took it upon themselves to share adventurers with Monica, Lars and Rajel. Skirmishes with the Giants were exciting to these three, but grew tedious for the adventurers. Their winter deepened.
As luck would have it a letter arrived one day. Though it told a dire tale for both the Sorcerer Valthrun, protector of Winterhaven, and the Land of the Kengi, it stirred old emotions. And desires. With purpose came action. The adventurers decided to come to the aid of Tira’s old master, Valthrun. When hearing news of his people’s plea, Feslmon changed course and parted company, leaving immediately for Kengistan.
With horses from Nenlast, the five adventurers made good time to Hammerfast where they collected components for magics then set course for Winterhaven along the Trade Road. The journey was uneventful, with Thunderspire no longer casting such a frightful shadow. The townsfolk of Fallcrest greeted the adventurers warmly and seemed to even know them by name. This was a bit disconcerting to the ranger, Erik, who preferred to remain anonymous. Barrick had much less concern and enjoyed round after round from the locals.
The story in Winterhaven was quite different. The meekness of the guards up in the towers was the first clue that something was wrong. They looked pale and weak. The fear that they exuded was palpable. Just as the guards were, so too where the townsfolk, with shuttered windows and unmaintained streets. Even the horses had been severely neglected.
The adventurers quickly made their way to Valthrun’s tower, which lay dark and still. They knocked upon the door and after some moments, and several unbarrings, the door opened. Valthrun implored them to enter quickly and before he spoke more, he closed the door and set the multitude of locks.
“Goblins”, hushed Valthrun. “They stormed through the town one moon ago.”
The adventurers relaxed and smiled. “Goblins?”, they replied, “what of goblins? They are no match for this town. Certainly when it is under your protection. There must have been hundreds.”
“No”, softly replied clearly tired Valthrun. “Let me tell you the full tale.”
With that, Valthrun sat the adventurers down at his large table and told of the goblin’s march through Winterhaven. There were only a score, yet they were not natural. Their demeanor, their presence was somehow different. Their behavior was odd, for they did not ransack the town, only taking what they needed for sustenance. Their purpose must have been higher. Valthrun continued:
“They marched north out of Winterhaven, toward the Temple of the Arcane. That is what worries me most for it is a place where powerful arcane magics are studied. The warlock Illidan Stormrage has left the fold of the good, his obsession with the dark arts having overcome him. Word has it that he has grown more powerful than the masters of the temple. It is also rumored that the temple guardians were corrupted and set upon their masters, killing them all. This was nigh two moons ago. With Illidan in control, surely hordes of demons will have been summoned.”
“I do not understand the presence of goblins, though”, Valthrun puzzled as he shook his head. “Illidan Stormrage despises goblins – goblinoids and giants. This secret you must uncover. You must go to the Temple of the Arcane and put an end to this growing evil, either by capturing or killing Illidan Stormrage. I know that there once was good in his heart. Just as he now does evil, he can be turned back to that good. You must try.”
After a long, heavy pause, Valthrun explained more, “There is a powerful jewel that opened the passage to the demons. It must be destroyed or somehow used to close the passageway to the demon realm.”
With this, the adventurers asked more detailed questions. They clearly had accepted the mission and wanted to plan their assault upon the temple. A central tower stood above all else. One tower lay at each corner of the temple, which was laid out in a square and terraced up to the central tower. Covered bridges connected the four towers to the central tower. All towers and bridges were lofty, spelling certain death for those unable to take flight like a bird or fall like a feather. Information that the temple was surrounded by forests gladdened the adventurers and made them eager to depart. A final plan could be devised on site.
Let me pause to give context to this tale. With Z’alden having filled me in on the technical intricacies of the temple, he shuffled off to his bed chamber. Barrick was passed out. Tira and Rift were still out on the town getting into who knows what kind of mischief. Now my trust would be put upon Erik, which is perhaps appropriate for the next segment of this adventure would see the five adventurers travel overland, north toward the temple, at night. This was a bit preposterous, but I went along with it as best I could.
“I could feel eyes upon me”, stated Erik. I replied, “But wasn’t it dark? Surely you must have had some other senses that gave you that feeling, whether you realized it or not.”
“I could feel eyes upon me”, restated Erik. He continued to tell the tale of how they turned the tables on the spies. Pretending to set camp, they pulled the horses up and talked loudly about how tired they were, masking the unsheathing of their weapons. Rift made the ranger invisible and he set out to circle their perimeter.
Soon enough, the watchers were revealed under the full light of the moon. Hobgoblins, only not normal hobgoblins. Erik told of how he could see their purple eyes glowing in the darkness. The leader of these “fel-touched” creatures let out a monotonic drone of a warning:
Stormrage requires energy. Requires powerful servants.
I began to suppress a snicker. This was all just too pulpy, but Erik looked very serious as if it was all very true, just as he told it. I focused on taking notes.
The battle that ensued began with Erik wreaking massive damage to the hobgoblin leader. The others followed swiftly with devastating attacks of their own. Tira’s magical hurricane quickly dispatched the enemy leader, referred to as the “war caster”. Soon all the hobgoblins would be dead, except for one.
With a solemn look upon his face, Erik described the interrogation as a fateful lesson for the adventurers. At first the hobgoblin spit out propaganda about how Illidan now controls demons and the usual “you will all die!” rhetoric. However, it soon became clear that this was indeed no ordinary goblinoid – it was was a demon inhabiting a hobgoblin body. Erik then described how the hobgoblin disintegrated into a purple mist that somehow infested the adventurers, making their rests less effective. Not all the powers that the adventurers has so freely spent in this battle would be soon recovered.
The adventurers continued on through the night, eventually to arrive at the hills that surrounded the temple. Looking down upon the temple’s base and across at the temple’s top tower, the five could see proof of Valthrun’s words. A green-black sphere, one score of staff lengths wide, hovered over the central tower. Beneath the sphere, at the top of the tower stood a figure with arms stretch out to what was now clearly the passageway to the demon’s realm. Guards stood at stairways that lead to the temple’s massive doors. More troubling still, a large humanoid construct patrolled the temple’s perimeter, shimmering as shifted around the temple’s grounds.
With this passage, Erik pulled out a small stone attached to a chain. He explained how it was a “Foe Stone”, capable of revealing a creature’s weaknesses. I smiled and wondered if he was using it upon me right then and there. He told of this construct, that it was actually an elemental demon, weakest on reflex. I pointed out that large creatures are likely to be slower to move because of their great bulk and that perhaps his “foe stone” just told him what he already knew. Erik gave the stone a second look and put it way.
The tale continued. There were ten guards upon the temple’s steps, each with strange, crystalline swords. They were clearly elves possessed by demons. Clearly. Erik then told of crazy plans to storm the temple, from scaling smooth walls to flying with ropes, constructing catapults and ridiculous pulley systems, all of which would obviously lead to certain death, I thought to myself. This went on and on. My sense that the adventurers were very inventive was confirmed. I grinned as I took notes.
Finally Erik came to the point where the adventurers decided upon a plan, which was to cast a spell of silence upon two of the guards and then do their best to coup de grace them. Not very sporting, but a plan. As in all good story telling, the best laid plans to do not go as planned, for as soon as Rift cast the mighty spell, it fizzled. In frustration she willfully fired forth a magic missile – the bolts of which impacted a yet undetected magical shield that surrounded the temple.
With this latest failed move by the adventurers, the construct took notice and teleported to the seen of the infraction. The construct, now realized to be a “void reaver”, immediately dealt massive damage to Erik and Z’alden. Rifts little dagger did nothing but the brave Barrick leapt upon the giant construct, distracting it and giving his compatriots better reason to hit the monstrosity. The ranger’s arrows pierced the void reaver and the cleric laid down a zone of “healing sun” that buoyed his allies and confounded his foe. Still, the menace of the temple became more apparent as the adventurers realized that all energy, even divine, was suppressed.
The one void reaver continued to do severe damage to the heroes, yet the dwarf continued to ride it and hinder its attacks. Erik’s powerful attack knocked it prone and Tira’s fire attack realized massive damage upon the creature. Confounding the void reaver, Rift’s “mirror sphere” reflected the enemy’s attacks back upon itself. This was matched by the void reaver spinning around, sweeping fists into three of the adventurers and causing a lot of hurt. Still, Rift’s magic had done its work and the void reaver’s armor was nearly done, parts breaking into pieces to reveal a demon that crackled with lightning energy. Tira’s next attack finished off the void reaver’s armor, shattering what remained to fully reveal the demon, which Erik referred to as a “void lord”. With that, Barrick was thrown off and the power lightning zone that surround the void lord became apparent. Fight close in or from afar, for the middle ground was death.
Note: Erik had me writing furiously, just trying to keep up with pace of battle, and then he stopped. “I need to take my leave now, Eastlander”, he said. “What?”, I implored. There was no changing his mind. He had urgency and trouble upon his face. I shrugged and thought about how a cliffhanger would be good for my followers. My manuscripts are gaining in popularity and I even have scribes who copy my works for a share of the sale. I just might become famous and my works may live on beyond me. My dream.
Note: So this is where I sit now. A day has passed and I don’t know where the adventurers have gone. I sit in my room and turn my notes into prose. As I write these very words, there is a scuffle outside and it almost amuses me when I compare it to the true battles that our heroes have faced, even if lesser than was told. I think I even hear one of the dark, broodish aggressors asking for me by name. He has a vicious dog-like beast with him. Interesting. I’ve been writing too much and am in dire need of a relaxing break.