Episode Fourty-Six: The Chornicles of Klarn: Dragonspawn (5/24/06)
[Featuring Jack, Lu Fang, Hal, Seren-Arty]
Chronicles of Klarn
(In the words of Jack)
As we made camp, Hal noticed Tobias wander over to the dead wyrm and cause a slight flash of light to appear near its head. Upon his return to the camp, it was his responsibility to provide primary watch duty while the rest of us set up camp, Hal asked him if anything was amiss and he replied that he was just making sure that the dragon was truly dead.
After we had feasted on trail rations prepared by the dedicated hands of giants and spells, Cicily approached Hal and took him aside to converse. Lu Fang and I were close enough to overhear most of their conversation and we raised our eyebrows at each other with the discussion.
Cicily asked, “Hal, may I have a moement? There are things I must discuss with you.”
Hal replied, “Presently I am on watch, can it wait until I am relieved — I am not one to shirk my duties.”
Cicily considered and continued, “It is important that I speak to you before you put down for the night; I will wait for you as some of what I have to say is of a private matter. Yet there is another item which could impact the success of our mission and pose a danger to us all. I fear that I have been lapsed in my judgment and I would take responsibility as I should believe any harm might befall us. Perhaps, Jack or Serenity can delay their meditations while we first attend to this most pressing of matters?”
I called out, “Sure, take your time. Lu and I can watch things here. No shirking involved.”
I positioned myself so that I could overhear as much of their conversation as possible and said a brief prayer to increase my chances of overhearing.
Cicily continued, “Hal, do you yet carry the ring that was found on the person of the spectral witch, Maerith?”
Hal, “I do.”
“Would that I could examine it — I believe that I can identify it.”
“Oh, why haven’t you spoken of this earlier, especially if there is some danger?”
“I was wrong and at the same time I was shocked to see the item and I did not want to place over much attention on it, and then when a saw Lu Fang handling the item fear gripped my heart and throat, I could not speak out. Praise to Holy Rao that things did not turn ill. Yet I would not see such an episode repeated and thus I speak to you now.”
“Then by all means speak.”
“First, I mus see the ring.”
Hal held out the ring for Cicily. The ring is a remarkably sculpted platinum ring featuring a dragon biting its own tail. The dragon’s eyes are set with small rubies but as a whole the metal has a greenish tint; the interior is lined with a strong red material that careful, informed examination can determine to be the shaving of a single scale of a red dragon. Hal had also told us that the ring radiates strong enchantment magic and detects as slightly evil.
Cicily looked worried and relieved at the same time, “Yes, it is as I have feared; this is the Green Ring of Dragons. It is a family heirloom and I am its rightful owner. How it came to be in the hands of Maerith I can only guess but it is a good thing that we have recovered it.”
Hal seemed doubtful and concerned, “What is its nature, my sword doth claim that it is evilly aligned although I did not perceive it so?”
Cicily pointed to the underside of the ring, “Do you see the red lining within the band? It is carved from a single scale of a red dragon; this dragon enslaved my family for generations. This continued until my own father crafted this ring of platinum, and enchanted it so that he might finally turn the tables on this fell monster. And for a time he was successful; unfortunately, his success was short lived and so too was my father after this creation.”
“This ring functions as a ring of friendship useful in dealings with dragon and their ilk, but this specific ring also grants the welder some limited control over the dragon,” here she leaned closer to Hal and whispered, “Orashar,” before continuing, “It both confines him and summons the monster; but it does not insure that he is a willing servant. It is only fear of the wielder and the ring’s power that keeps the dragon under any control. To my father’s thinking neither was my family a willing servant, and thus it was just to force this dragon to serve us in this manner. This flaw may have led to his death whether the death was directly the result of the dragon’s actions or the result of battle none can say. One sad day past he did somehow fall to the ground while using the dragon as a mount in the midst of a battle and the ring was lost; a fortnight to the day afterward the dragon returned to take vengeance upon our family. He came to us in human form and he savaged and raped my mother. He forced her to give birth to my brother. Only after Drendel was born did the dragon reveal itself to us; he returned to his natural form and consumed my mother in a horrendous display! I was but a child myself and could do nothing but watch in horror as life left her. The foul beast forced me to raise my brother while using Drendel first as a spy and later as an enforcer to insure that we turned over the taxes we were forced to collect on behalf of the dragon. The dragon grew rich upon our efforts while we suffered worse than those from whom we collected the tax. This ring has brought naught but misery and death to my family but it is my burden to carry it and with it perhaps I carry the salvation of my family – I must have it!”
Hal countered, “Given that it is obviously so dangerous I must say that am all the more reluctant to part with it, who would be better than I to hold it; certainly I will never use it – it could hardly be safer.”
Cicily was affronted, “The ring belongs to me, it is rightfully mine, a possession of my family, I was reluctant to speak out but I am afraid the responsibility is mine and mine alone. Do you doubt that I could be trusted with this ring?”
Hal continued, “I would not want to see it used. I have paid a heavy the price for placing my trust in the wrong people and I have learned to be cautious. I would not want to make another mistake. Still you have given my no reason to doubt you; you have earned my trust in all things. You may have the ring. Is there yet another matter to discuss?”
Cicily put the ring into her pouch, “Yes, and this too must be said tonight, but it might best wait until the end of your watch. We can speak of it then.”
Then the two returned to camp and I pretended to have not heard anything.
At the end of Hal’s watch as Cicily was heading towards him, Tobias encountered him first.
“Hal, I would have a word with you if you are not the dullard I have imagined and still inclined to learn.”
Hal replied, “Your approach is somewhat insulting; but I have never claimed to be a font of knowledge and am always willing to learn what may be of assistance to me.”
Tobias continued on, “Know you first, that all of this – all you see around us, everything begins with my mother; understanding that you might yet find some measure of respect for her.”
“She describes this as a love story, the story of Pandora and Alacor. Mother has claimed to be old, older than the world of Klarn itself. In time forgotten she and Alacor were inseparable, one and whole but then without warning Alacor was gone; claimed by the uncaring deceitful Lords of Klarn to service their own ends. Thus Alacor was stolen from Mother before time was measured and that is where the story really began. The Lords this land holds in such high esteem are in fact the authors of their own destruction – kidnapper, slavers and thieves and Mother is not but wanting to free Alacor from the shackles of their heinous misdeed. Indeed it was by Magnus hand that Alacor became imprisoned within that which is known as the Fane of Scales. In this, Alacor is completely innocent, a victim stolen from Mother without cause or warning and trapped in the bosom of the bleeding evil that gave birth to this land. For this reason Mother hates them. She hates them all, the Lords, the Land, and the people.”
“Being beyond clever and patient to a fault she masterminded a plan to free Alacor. The goal was to gain access the Fane of Scales, Nuitari, the Heart of Darkness. This reliquary, the source of all the evil power of Klarn, was hidden by the Lords and protected by the most powerful forces they could muster and Mother had only her guile and beauty to weld against their power. Look about you – see all that she has accomplished!”
“The Fane of Scales is the work of the Lords of Klarn, primarily Magnus, but with the help of Istar and Majere; of them now only Istar remains, alive yet crippled and of course the dragons of Klarn, the furious heralds of magical prowess. The Fane is a prison built to contain the evil of Lord Darklens. The first step of Mother’s plan was to gain access to Lord Magnus, the most guarded and feared of the Lords. Mother target became Magnus’s apprentice, my father Ezoran. He who you and your companions slain, yet it is I who should truly be credited with his demise; for you would have never made it there or survived the battle lacking my subtle guidance, but that is another story.”
“Father was the magical protégé of his day, born of the Mystic Isles the Frost family always has bred the most talented of sorcerers; and thus we have been the caretakers of several of the villages located within the Isles, including the birthplace of Sapphire, for as long as anyone remembers. The magic running in our sorcerer’s blood was strong and it was stronger in Ezoran than any other but it was not only his natural talents that brought him to the attention of Lord Magnus but also Father keen wit. Eventually these earned him the apprenticeship he enjoyed. As talented as Father was with magic he was equally naive in social settings. He was a bookworm, isolated by his own intelligence and given his close access to Lord Magnus he was a perfect target for Mothers attentions. She came to him silently in the night, meeting with him secretly. Even then she was a skilled practitioner of magic and shape-shifter without peer that made relatively easy for her to stay hidden. She seduced Father not only physically but also intellectually, skull-fucking him with dark secrets no mortal man should know, forbidden knowledge that ultimately precipitated his pursuit of the Fane; all of this, because he had access to Magnus’s private writings and knowledge. Through him she found about the key to the Fane but she still need Father for his ability and yet undeveloped potential. She would need his power to breakdown the Fane’s protections and his intelligence to locate it in the first place so she encouraged him to seek it out. He reached out to it, slowly as an educated man, seeking it in-between the lines of Magnus’s writings where it was hidden. He called out to it, first in vain, then earnestly; slowly becoming obsessed with it until finally he heard its whispered response. On that night Mother began to lose him to the Fane, quickly she came up with a plan, something to hold his interest – a son, but I was a failure and before I was even born for he had left and I was perceived to be a waste altogether.”
“As a boy I was lonely, raised in Frost manor alone most of the time. Father had disappeared, lost in his pursuit of the Fane and a cursed illness come over the family upon my birth. I was already isolated by Mother but worse this dread curse was slowly killing off the rest of the family one-by-one. I watched as the Frost family slowly died off, one after another. Soon aside from my missing father I alone was the sole surviving blood member of the family, inheritor to the wealth, and keeper of the family mansion which by this time had become a mausoleum. Mother, first often gone, then started extending her absences until finally she was almost never there. I was completely alone. She was busy tracking Father’s movements and the people of the village below the mansion grew increasing fearful of the curse that had taken the family; they never visited. Were they were fearful of me? No matter, I was a pariah. I would look down from the towers windows to the village below. They were the privileged one, with families and friend; none of them more beloved then the beautiful girl, Sapphire and her pathetic father, who was the leader of the village counsel. I came to hate them, but not only them – I hated the village as well, I hated them all. I was suckled on enough death and despair until it became my obsession, my God – my only friend and sustenance, my source of strength!”
“During one of Mother’s rare visits I became increasing insistent that I be freed from my exile, this prison of a home. By now no one in the village even knew whether I was alive or dead. I could not with stand the lonely existence I endured and refused to be denied. Mother had no time or interest in me but her travels took her far and wide, from one strange place to another so rather than argue she agreed if for no other reason than to be done with me once and for all. She agreed to take me with and then abandoned me in one of the oldest, strangest and deadliest of these cities, a place called Skullport.”
“Skullport is located directly beneath The City of Splendors, the city of Waterdeep. It is the most important and influential city in the North, of Faerûn. There I learned hard lessons of survival in dark streets located far beneath the glitter of the surface world. I learned how not only how to survive but how to prosper there. Skullport is a lawless place where I traded insults with slave traders, pirates, demi-humans and the even less savory creatures such at Illithids, Drow, and Beholders. I became a go between for them and merchants and buccaneers of Waterdeep and the other rogues of the surface. It was in Waterdeep that I met Drendel, in the Yawning Portal Inn.”
“Drendel was also lost – a gambler and a drinker, but the spirits of the drink never had any effect upon him and he used this take advantage of dupes in supposedly fair games of chance; a secret I was quick to grasp. He reminded me of Mother, she too is immune to the impartial application of spirited drink. I befriended Drendel who was mostly human in appearance but I found out that he was in truth actually a half-dragon. As we became friendlier and explain that he was actually involved in a dragon worshipping cult, the Talon of Tiamat and he explain how he had come to be trapped in Waterdeep. Drendel had been organizing a cult under his own, in service to his dragon lord, a group he called the Black Covenant. They were an order of nihilistic dragon-hearted beings bound together by their desire to destroy humanity. To gain his trust I fed him tales about my own homeland and the mysterious curse had been placed against dragon-kind of my land. I told him of the legends surrounding the source of the curse, the powerful reliquary named the Fane of Scales. Drendel told me that he had accidentally been trapped in Waterdeep after wandering through a portal he chanced upon while retreating from pursuers within the dark woods located on his homeworld. The portal had carried him to Waterdeep and he had no way to return to his home, while I had no home worth returning to. It was clear to me that we were both in or own ways stuck here, lost travelers of ill-fate but I formulated a plan. Using Drendel as bait I contacted Mother. It figured that it was at last time for me to turn the tables.”
“I let Drendel know that I could help him escape Waterdeep and return him to is work with the Black Covenant in Oerik. I plied him with tales of the Fane while hinting that I may have uncovered its location. Drendel marked our meeting as fate and soon it became his personal quest to break the curse upon the dragon of my home, the curse of the Fane of Scales. In this I became his benefactor and the means of his escape. My influence over Drendel was growing; I had guessed that my alliance with Drendel would make me valuable to both my parents and their plans – I understood that dragons and their ilk had plagued the plans of the both of them, Mother and Father. Finally I had come into my own and I could force them to acknowledge my worth and value. Alone I had the key to conquer the largest hurdle to their plans; they counted dragons among the most dangerous enemies to the success of their missions. My association with Drendel was invaluable!”
“To realize my goals I spoke to Mother and together we devised the method of her introduction Drendel. Mother showed up at the inn one fateful night. While Mother’s immunity to drink is equal to Drendel’s own, her ability to act is yet unsurpassed. She challenged him to a game of chance and on this night she succumbed to the drink and her seduction of Drendel began in earnest. Now I was her partner and almost equal. She laid out a pretence explain her means of teleportation. We shanghaied the caretaker due to his navigational talents and together we were off. Mother took us wherever our missions need take us.”
“Through Drendel we met Ku’ Tai Sho and in turn Ku’ Tai Sho helped Father to subdue the great wyrm, the cloud dragon Cumulus. With the assistance of Cumulus Father defeated the cloud giant, Imperion and stole his floating castle. From the castle he was able to plot the course of the Fane, and he could oversee and plan his entry into the Fane. While he did this I took of my growing influence to exact my vengeance upon the village that had tormented my upbringing. With Father’s help a curse laid the village low, and I set the price of the cure, their beloved Sapphire. Drendel took his vengeance upon his own family taking his own sister as a slave. Through Drendel’s sire the red dragon, Orashar and my own bartering skills we established open trade with the dreaded Githyanki. And combining the forces now our control we tricked Lord Magnus and put him in his grave.”
“From Magnus we captured Istar’s Treatise of Fixed Portals. Using the Treatise Father was able to alter the gate that taken Drendel to Waterdeep realigning it to lead to the Dragon Isles of Klarn. I then fulfilled the bargain I had negotiated with the Githyanki paying for their help and continued assistance with the Treatise. And Father got the treasure he most, the Key to the Fane of Scales which he took from Magnus’s dead neck. Finally, everything was going as per plan – using the portal to Klarn, Drendel established his outpost on the Dragon Isles. From the outpost he organized trade with the evil dragons that lived upon the floating Dragon Isles gaining valuable clout that helped us do the same with the dragons of Faerûn and your home of Oerik. We found that the Klarn curse did not immediate impact dragons transported from other planes.”
“Then without warning things began to go amiss, growing madness overcame Father and Jack Draco showed up at the outpost in Klarn, he a herald of a host of Drendel’s enemies from Oerik. Eventually you and your friends crushed Drendel’s outpost and began tracking Jack through the Dragon Isles. In the process you stirred up a hornet’s nest of problems as you traveled somehow managing to start a war between the Oriental Dragons and the Fairy Dragons. Eventually Father’s madness got so bad, Mother had to leave your group to go and deal with Father’s growing inconsistencies, but the madness proved to be all consuming and we had to improvise. In the course of Father’s madness he had decided to destroy the entire world of Klarn. Mother quickly decided that Father was beyond cure and she attempted to barter the assistance of the Tun Mi Lung, the Typhoon Dragon through his proxy, Ku’ Tai Sho. This only succeeded in getting Ku’ Tai Sho killed and eternally damned, bringing down the monk’s Temple of the Dragon and the Temple of the Winding Way in the process. I suggested we lead your party to Father’s castle that you might defeat him. Prior to your arrival I disabled a number of the cloud castle’s his key defenses to allow your entry and to ease your approach. I stole those items that made him most dangerous, the key to the Fane and the Blood Claw, a weapon feared by the Black Covenant. Mother and I left the castle just prior to your arrival using the distraction of your entry to cover our escape. We hoped we would be able to set things right with the help of these items. Mother thought she would finally free Alacor and sought out Drendel to help him complete his mission but things soon soured ever further than I would have ever imagined.”
“The Fane would only be vulnerable on the single night when the three moons of Klarn were perfectly aligned. Mother and I had determined that we could never allow Father to succeed in his madness. As you fought and killed Father, Mother and I met with Drendel and the other members of the Black Covenant; unexpectedly a party of powerful Githyanki had shown-up uninvited. They were upset by your excursion into their home and furious due to the theft of the Treatise; thus they were present to see the key to the Fane when it when presented to Drendel and the Black Covenant. While you were busy with Father we were set to the freeing of Alacor and the destruction of the curse set upon the dragons. Fortunately, your assault upon Father was successful; unfortunately in their arrogance the Githyanki warlocks believed that by simply duplicating the appearance of the key they would gain access to the interior of the Fane of Scale accessing whatever untold treasure they imagined existed there. The Githyanki had convinced themselves any treasure was theirs by right due to the theft of the Treatise. We would not give them the key, so they duplicated it without our knowledge or approval. That night they used as the moon aligned the Githyanki intercepted the Black Covenant at the Fane of Scale, they upon their red dragons and the Black Covenant upon dragons imported from Faerûn and Oerik. The Gith had the advantage of altitude and they marshaled their advantage insuring that they were the first to the Fane but their counterfeited key was only partially successful. It opened the Fane but unleashed a torrent of destructive spells, the resulting explosion devastated both forces, stripping the flying dragons setting loose an unimaginable rain of smoldering scales culminating in the thunderous crash of the Fane, and the utter destruction of the village of Rhale; and as if this was not enough, darker these were soon to follow as the new dead rose and darkness spread like a blood stain across the land below.”
“Regardless of our efforts, the Fane of Scales fell. It was brought down by the Githyanki, the remnants their forces and Drendel’s continue to battle. Drendel is forever mistrusting of anything not dragon and he blames both Mother and me for his misfortune and the death of so many of his beloved dragons. Mother and I have been hunted by both Drendel and the Githyanki since the felling of the Fane and trust me Mother is still dead set on freeing Alacor. This is a long way from over. Now I hold the true key to the Fane. Mother has task you with seeing me through to the Fane. We have but to defeat Drendel to succeed and is so doing you might yet save a world.”
“What say you to that?”
Hal found himself quite surprised by both the length and detail of Tobias’ tale, “I thank you for sharing this with me.” Hal excused himself and began to ready himself for his evening.
“Here is a man who as done nothing but dance around the truth the entire time he has traveled with us,” thought Hal to himself, “and now he sees fit to tell me his entire life story, for all practical purposes. I cannot see what he hopes to gain from it, other than some semblance of acceptance, and perhaps even the beginnings of some sort of camaraderie. Still, I would be wise not to trust this man. He might well be attempting to ingratiate himself, only to turn on us for his own purposes later. It is regrettable that we live in a world where we simply cannot take those we meet at face-value, and simply trust in the words they speak.”
The story of Tobias’ upbringing was of particular interest to Hal and he shared his thoughts with me later that evening, “…but here was a boy deprived of any nurturing and love simply because of the nature of his parents. Was he evil due to their natures? Or was he evil simply as a response to the complete void of nurturing that passed for his upbringing. It seems to me that there are few children who would not turn out as he did, given the circumstances. If I am so fortunate as to have an opportunity to raise the children I have unwittingly sired by Pandora, then I must see to it that they are reared knowing that they are loved, and that with the proper care and nurturing they will grow up to be loved and respected by the people of Klarn.” Such pondering might well have occupied Hal for the rest of the night, depriving him of what little sleep he might steal while under the effects of Pandora’s enchantments, but he had previously agreed to speak further with Cicily. Thus, he excused himself and found his way to her resting-place and asked her what further she might have to share with him.
Cicily asked, “Hal, have you found a moment?”
He replied, “Certainly.”
“I do not know the ways of your people, Hal”, she began, “but I do in fact know the way of Sapphire’s people. Are you so blind that you don’t see the concern etched on Sapphire’s face, the concern she feels for you? She blames herself for what is happening to you and honestly, I fear that she has developed real feelings for you and in that she may be as blind as you. So this is likely a fool’s errand but perhaps you deserve each other. If you would pursue this than think you not that this maybe the last opportunity you have to act given that which we will in all likelihood face on the morrow? And if so know you this – she will not approach you, it is not her way, not the way of her upbringing. She has told me that it is customary for suitors in her land to offer his intended something of personal value commensurate to his standing and the value he places on his lady. It is a symbolic but a meaningful gesture demonstrating that he is looking for more than a simple means to satisfy his lust. If she judges the gift worthy she will open herself to your affections and you would be lucky to have her.”
“If only it were that simple, Cicily,” Hal responded. “You see, because of what has happened with Pandora, and the curse she seems to hold over me, I do not see how I can be considered worthy of the love of a woman such as Sapphire. Think of the hold Pandora has over me, and further more think of how Jack has risked his very soul to bring you back from Gristhane’s grasp. I am sworn to protect Jack from death while his soul is at risk, and yet at the same time we must save this world from torment and destruction at the hands of both Pandora and Grendel. I cannot ask Sapphire to bind herself to me when fate places me in the face of such danger and could likely take me from her. Such an act would be selfish, would it not?”
“Hal, your words have merit, but you miss the point. She sees the danger you face, and the sacrifices you are willing to make, and these things make you the man she loves. Can you not see that you would be wise to make your feelings known to her now, before you face these dangers on the morrow, so that both your mind and spirit might be at peace on the morrow when the fate of the world hangs in the balance? By the customs of her people, I say to you that you must find a suitable token of your feelings towards her, and give it to her as a pledge towards your union. See then how she responds.”
“Cicily, it would seem that your words have merit surpassing mine. I thank you for the truths you have spoken, and I will do now as you have suggested.” Hal immediately inventoried his personal possessions in search of just such a token of his both his love and respect for Sapphire, but did not immediately see a solution to his quandary. “I must ask Jack if we have found anything recently in the way of treasure that might be worthy of such a gift to such a woman”, thought Hal, as he immediately explained his situation to his friend.
Later Hal approached me.
“Jack, I would have a word with you.”
“A word, but a single one. What be it? Truth, Justice…Love?”
“Nay, nay, nimble boy. It is many words. But you have struck upon the jist of the conversation. Cicily has urged me to pledge myself to Sapphire. What think you of this?”
I was genuinly surprised that he had approached me before Simberious in such a matter. “I think that women manytimes know more about such things than we warriors give time to. Are you pledged to another?” Hal shook his head strongly. “If you feel that this might be the right thing to do, I ask, what is the harm in such a pledge?”
Hal nodded and added, and here I discovered the real reason he had asked me, “What token can I give her that is worthy of this pledge?”
I answered without a thought, “Why your sword of course. What more clearly speaks to her of you life and soul and purpose.”
Hal was pensive, “It it not however already pledged to Heironeous? Of course I will defend Sapphire, protecting her from any dangers she faces, but I am a knight of the church of Heironeus, with a holy sword empowered by the blood of a celestial. What does this have to do with the love Sapphire and I share?”
“Your sword arm is pledged to him; I think that sword itself it only dedicated to the forces of good.” I think Hal thought that I was debating how his sword had never been pledged in service to Heironeus in any sort of sacred ritual whereas I was actually suggesting that he give her his sword as it was his most valuable current possession, but I could see that my point was entirely lost on Hal.
“You dance around the truth of the matter, as is your wont, Jack. I know where my sword is pledged, even if you do not. But what of the ring of wishes that I wear on behalf of our party? Might I not pledge this to her? I know that I could trust her to wield it on our behalf just as I would, and yet the simple truth is that my one wish would be that I could be blessed with a union with Sapphire for the rest of my life! What do you say to this? Given that the ring is not mine to give without the blessing of my comrades, would you object to me giving her the ring in such fashion?”
I beamed, “Why Hal that is an excellent suggestion! It is of great worth and has all kinds of symbolism going with it.”
Hal contined, “Then you don’t mind if I give the ring to her. While I carry it, does it not belong to the party as a whole.”
I waved off his concern, “Pisha. For what it is worth, you have my blessing. Hal, the truth is, I wasn’t even a companion of yours when you found the ring, so I have no say in the matter. Others traveled with you then, such as Loren and Serenity. Perhaps you should ask Serenity what he thinks. That said, in pledging yourself to her, she will likewise pledge herself to you and thus the ring is still within the party sphere of interest. So its all good to me.”
Hal proceeded to do just that, and with Serenity’s blessing, sought out Sapphire for a question that stirred inexplicable feelings within him. “I know that I am not subject to fear as a paladin of Heironeus,” thought Hal, “and yet what I am feeling now must somehow be akin to fear. What a blessing it is to face foes in combat without the burden of such uncertainty! In any case, I must see how this unfolds…”
Upon waking Sapphire, Hal quietly and calmly explained to her the situation as he saw it. “I know that I have stained my soul by my unwitting dalliance with Pandora, and yet I hope that I have still enough honor for you to deem me worthy of your love. I have been of a mind to say nothing of this until I could break the grip that Pandora has on my spirit, given the dangers we will face tomorrow. However, I have been made aware that I would be a fool not to plead my case before you now, and make both my feelings and intentions clear to you. Thus, I, Halfred, say to you, Sapphire, that I love you, and that you are the worthiest woman I will ever know. I pledge myself to you, offering to share my life with yours as your mate, if you would deem me deserving of your love.”
“Hal, I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion – I have shudder’d at it but I shudder no more. I could be martyr’d for my religion. Even here in darkness, love is my religion and I could die for that. I could die for you.”
Seeing that Lu Fang was currently serving on watch, Sapphire explained to him quickly her need to be alone for a time with Hal, and asked that they not be bothered. Surprisingly, Lu Fang agreed without even a question, let alone a retort, and Sapphire led Hal off a short distance, where their union was completed.
Later that night, after Hal did indeed begin to feel a long-missed peace come over him, Hal spoke of his gravest concern to Sapphire. “I am sorry, my dear, to raise such a troubling concern in a night of such joy, but I must bare my soul to you. I wish only that I could have raised this one final concern of mine before we bonded, and yet I thank you from the depths of my soul for your love, which has begun to heal me already! My concern is this only…….what of the children I have unwittingly sired by Pandora. You know me like none other, and so you must know that I will seek to make amends for my mistake. I wish to rear them in a setting of love and decency, so they might never be exposed to the corruption of their mother, and so they might well grow into heroes themselves, as opposed to villains. That being the case, I would be honored beyond belief to be the father of your children, and yet I do not feel I have the right to ask you to pay the price for the deception to which I fell sway. Even so, I find that I have no choice but to ask this boon of you…would you help me raise them, so that they might grow into worthy individuals? I think of Tobias, and what he has become, no doubt because of the complete lack of guidance and love he received as a youth. I would not see this fate befall my own children. I place myself at your mercy, and humbly ask that they might learn love from you, just as I hope they might learn valor and justice from me. What say you?”
She sighed and replied, “Children are living raw jewels blessings of the Lords; they need love, especially when they do not deserve it but these babes, your children are blameless in their birth. Though conceived in deception, I cannot believe them fixed in their doom! The children will have no sense of the ills of their birth, nor care beyond the day at hand. I have no doubt that you will lead them to the right path, and not by the severity of the sword, but by the best example of what any man might strive to become. Together we will do what is necessary and best for them. So let your self rest and be at peace, for on the morrow we must be successful and we must survive for all the children of this land. No doubt when we are successful with the Lord’s help we will see to the prosperity of our own.”
We continued on our journey and by evening of the next two-day we approached an area of devestation. Ahead of us was a ring of stone, much like a caldera clearly formed when the moon struck the earth. Above the caldera we saw in the shadowy light what must be the moon now floating again, though mere hundredes of feet. Between us and the rock wall were the remains of a village, Rail, by the map’s recconing. A few buildings were still standing, though none completely intact and most were crushed to rubble.
Approaching the town perpendicular to our approach was a small party of humanoids. They appeared to be dragging someone in chains towards the caldera.
Simberious offered, “We may be encountering danger ahead, let me cast a protection from fire upon us.”
A few others cast quick spells and I immedately flew off to rescue the damsel in distress. Lu Fang closely followed suit and then Hal and Stalwart. We planned to surround these foul cultists. As we got closer I could see that the men were wearing some sort of ritualistic garb and the woman was definitely not coming freely though much of her spirit had been dragged from her.
As we approached we were set upon by attackers who had lain in ambush within the ruins. The draconic sneaks that Tobias had pointed out to us mere days ago were here again, servants of the Black Cabal.
While Lu Fang defended himself against the sneak attack of the dragonspawn; suddenly, as if from out of nowhere, a huge blue dragon arose from behind the rubble and quickly flew towards us. Hal turned to face the creature just as a bolt of crackling electricity lept from the dragon’s mouth and grounded upon the metal clad warrior. Luckily he aborbed the brunt of the attack and his steed was unfazed other than some serious stickup mane.
I kept my attention on the cultist and their prisoner. Summoning the Righteous Fury of the Warrior I landed in front of the procession.
“Release your prisoner or face the wrath of the servant of the Warrior!” I shouted at them. Now closer, I could see that they were carrying symbols of Gaea. These were no evil cultists, but merely misguided neutrals.
“We must appease the Hunger Within The Ring. Please do not stop us.” They pleaded.
“Have no fear, Jack is here! There will be no sacrifice today, save perhaps the sacrifice of evil for the affronts it has committed in these dark days. Set your prisoner free. I will approach the beast as any sacrifice that it will be offered. And I tell the truly that the powers of good are with us. Yea, even the Lady Gaea has blessed our quest. Can you not feel her hand upon us?”
The frightened men were clearly cowed by my imposing presence. Suddenly the ground around us trembled and a foul creatured burrowed up from beneath us.
Hal shook off the dazing effect of the electriciy and heand Stalwart took to the air and charged the dragon. As they flew past, Hal hewed deeply into the dragon’s wing arm injuring it and striking a nerve or something as the creature cried in surprised pain. It hissed, “Thou hast a sting that will soon satisfy the hunger in my belly. It has been many moons since I’ve had a tasty human in a can treat.” The dragon continued its flight getting closer to Lu Fang and I.
Lu Fang quickly killed off the creature attacking him and turned his attention to the dragon.
While I battled the minautar-like creature, Hal swung back around and struck the dragon another solid blow. A burst of acid struck it thrown by Cicily. A blast of force struck the creature I was battling and I saw Sapphire’s determined smile.
The giants had come closer and now launched attacks at the dragon–a ball of ice and two huge javelins. All struck the beast causing it to become irritated, not not severely injured.
Lu Fang flew up and using the power of the Elder Mountain struck the dragon with his dragonslayer and nearly cleaved off one of the creatures wings. That got the dragon’s attention.
More of the sneaks were trying to hit us with arrows, but in the confusion of the fight only one found purchase knocking Hal’s head for a momentary ringing.
Suddenly Seren-Arty appeared in the air as he spell revealed his presence, a ball of flame forming in his hand and then engulfing the dragon. As the ball hit the dragon it exploded in a burst of flame searing Lu Fang and the creature I was fighting as well. The burst felt comfortably warm to me as soul of Treasure basked in its glow. Once the flames dispersed, we say chunks of the dragon raining down on the rest of us.
We quickly dispached the rest of the combatants though some fled to relative safety in the surrounding countryside.
One of the dragonspawn was captured by Cicily and Tobias.
Tobias was threatening the creature with harm and had caused a bead of blood to form on the creature’s neck where he had placed his sword. The heart of some beast still lay on the ground at his feet as the blood dripped from his fingers. The creature had informed him that the bulk of Drendel’s forces had gone ahead to the Fane. Tobias was about to inflict serious bodily harm on the captured crature when Lu Fang and I intervened. At first we reinforced Tobias’ position of strength and discovered that the creatures her were sent to track down a female, by her description Pandora. But, then I detected an opportunity and changed to good cop mode.
“Listen…what is your name creature?”
“Grizom,” it coughed.
“Listen…Grizom…I can see that we are not needing to be enemies. Our purposes are actually quite similar. We too seek to encounter Pandora and set things straight between us all. Furthermore, I can see that you were not afforded the opportunities working with Drendel that a creature of your skills should be afforded. We could use someone with your expertise in hunting and tracking to assist us in our pursuit of Pandora and Drendel. We too have allied with Drendel in the past and now seek to get greater rewards than what he can offer. Clearly you can see that we are the stronger force. Ally with us and you side with the winners. We will treat you with the respect that a companion deserves rather than as the servent you clearly were–sent before us as a sacrifice merely to delay us with no realy hope of actually harming us.” The creature seemed to weigh my words.
“Come we will free you as a sign of good faith.”
The creature rubbed its wrists where the bindings had bit into his flesh. I reached forward and called upon the power of the Warrior to heal his wounds. That really seemed to catch his attention.
“Very well. Travel with you I will. Goals similar we have. Powerful you are. Jack-boy you be. Lu Fang be he. Powerful you are.”
We split the treasure that we recovered from the dead. We even game Grizom some of the treasure. He was clearly appreciative of the offer and told us of a stash of gear that had been buried with his former commander, now dead. We unearthed the treasure she still had and found among other things a pair of ious stones. We determined that they would be a suitable wedding gift for Hal and Sapphire.
We had an early dinner and set out for the interior of the caldera and the horrors that lay within. As we did, it struck me. How did we know that this was really Sapphire with us. Pandora had been sighted in the area and still desired Hal for some nefarious purpose. Might he have wedded himself to Pandora? Had we handed her our most powerful magic item?
- 30 gp (Grizom)
- Gold torc (50 gp) (Grizom)
- +1 great axe (Bralm)
- +1 half-plate (bag)
- +2 bastard sword (Hal)
- Potion CSW (Grizom)
- Potions CSW, 2xFly (Sim)
- Ioun Stone (dusty rose, +1 insight AC) (Hal)
- Ioun Stone (orange prisim, +1 caster level) (Sapphire)
- +2 hand crossbow and 14 bolts (Tobias)
- Cloak of Resistance +2 (Hal)
- Ring of Protection +1 (Cicily)