Monthly Archives: July 2013

SOW Chapter14: Betrayal Conclusion


Graveyard


 



A
fter
Finellior asks Dona Marie for directions to the graveyard, he pays her 50 pieces
of gold and thanks her assistance and company, and then drawing the party from
Klarn together he says, “While I am no fonder of vampires than any of you, it
seems we have no choice but to go to the graveyard and finish this, but I have
one question first.”



 


Guessing at Fin’s thought Hagrid says, “If nobody dies here just why do they
need a graveyard?”


 


Obviously please by her collection of gold, Dona looks up from her coins long
enough to explain, “The graveyard is old, older even than the shanty, which
has been here beyond the reckoning of anyone here, we do not bury anyone there.
It is a cursed place, and so it is avoided by all.”



 



“Perfect!”


answers Finellior, “That is just about exactly what I would expect.”



 


Without further delay, following Dona’s directions the bard leads the party
directly to the graveyard which turns out to be adjacent to the shanty on its
northern side between the squalor of the encampment and the edge of the jungle.
The

path that winds through the shanty on the northern side led straight to the
ancient burial ground, at the graveyard’s edges the jungle fell away, as if the
jungle’s otherwise hardy trees and vines couldn’t handle the burial ground’s
tainted earth, only one stubborn palm, grew within the graveyard itself. The
setting was unsettling, and at first the graveyard appeared empty, but as they
wandered cautiously through the center of the cemetery they saw recently
disturbed earth, and two large pits torn deep into the ground. Surrounding the
pits, a handful of headstones had been tossed aside, their graves having been
disturbed by whatever dug those pits, but they were only a few of the scores of
sorrowful looking headstones which surrounded more impressive stone mausoleums
that were scattered amid graveyard statuary throughout the graveyard.


Most of the tombs themselves were undisturbed, and had been entirely sealed with
mortar, but there is one exception, the second mausoleum down the muddy path
just past the first open pit, and across the path from the second pit had been
ripped open, the door was torn off its mooring it laid on the ground shattered
next to the tomb. The party pauses as a


powerful masculine figure with a grayish, unseemly cast, step out of the crypt
wearing a longsword and shield. He carries a shield on the arm nearest the
travelers, and raises his other arm, holding his hand closed in a fist he stares
straight at the party and says.



 



“I AM ROLAIN; your doom is upon you!”



 


Hair raising on the back of his neck, Hagrid realizes the mud at the base of the
pits had begun to move, he imagining that he can see bulky outlines revealing
themselves in the mud at the base of the pits; this he sees one certain slim
figure concealed by a fresh coating in mud in the bottom of the second pit.
Hagrid whispers a warning under his breath, but it is too late as the others
were already committed and Finellior c
ontinuing
his approach flanked by his other allies. The vampire, Rolain surprisingly
starts giving way backpedaling slowly, sinking deeper into the graveyard. Fin
notices strangeness in the vampire’s accent; its origin was of Klarn, but the
vampire’s syntax was ancient, as spoken by the Lords of Mendelland themselves.


 


Fin responds: “Why does everyone keep
saying that? Death is upon you, your doom has arrived! Is that supposed to scare
us? Do you know how many times we’ve been told that? Yet here we are, and if you
ask me, you’re the only one who looks dead, and better suited for the grave than
to be talking to us now.”



 



R
olain
responds, “It has come to this … The
hunted, becoming the hunters to the hunters?”



 


“At
least that’s how I remember It.”



offers Finellior.



 



“There was only one then, pa gen pwoblem!”


replies Iroon.


 



“He was strong, very Strong … but you are right, he wasn’t the problem; it was
the other ten or so vampires that were with him.”



 



“Es’ke ou ka repete, sil’te’plais?”


    

“A
dozen, maybe a dozen of them or so, and most were hideously disfigured, like
they were crippled or diseased, mostly men, but there were females too, and they
were somehow even worse.”

        


“Me zanmi! Tell me more, my brother, spare no detail.”



 

      “Well
there is much tell, I am weary and our time is surly limited … Still, I am a
bard am I not? I would be tossed out of my guild for dereliction if I didn’t at
least try to describe the greatest act of heroism I have ever witnessed!”



 



           


A
s
I was saying, we crossed through the shantytown en route for the graveyard
seeking to find the mysterious Rolain. This is when Rikar started riding yonder
bold and blacken steed, it a living-dead horse that he had liberated from the
Governor’s outpost. He has named the beast Dark Hoof, as you can see for
yourself it is about as fell a beast as we’d encountered, but it has a
disposition well suited to our moody drow, and so I suggest you keep your
distance from it. Anyhow, as I was saying, we approached Rolain he starting
issuing threats and insults.


 

“What
a plague be thou, though matters not; what can be broken will be broken, and you
find us hungry, hungry and angry. I bid you welcome.”


 


           
Shaden and I moved along the muddy path that ran through the center of
the
graveyard, Shaden taking the lead. After we passed the first of the two
freshly dug pits Hagrid issued his warning,
“There is something moving in the base
of the pit!”
but it was too late we had already passed the first of the two
pits and Rolain had already begun backing away from us easily baiting Shaden to
leap forward; instantly Rolain reversed course and with shocking speed, plucked
Shaden out of the air with his free hand and hurled him at least twenty feet
through the air into one of the stone mausoleums where Shaden collapsed.


 


          Floating out of the pits
arose
more vampires, fell women of cruel and cunning demeanor, and from the other side
of the crypt where Shaden had been thrown another powerfully built male vampire,
with a twisted body lurched out and dove upon Shaden like a hungry animal. The
rest of our party began moving towards those of us in the lead but then we saw a
gathering of vampires approaching from every side of the graveyard. We were
surrounded! As I said, the female vampires in particular were cunning; before we
could react they began bewitching us, delving into our very minds, leading us
astray with false visions. Somehow I ended up falling into one of the muddy
pits, and Rikar road Dark Hoof straight into the other, only he was quick enough to
spring out using his horse’s back as leverage; I on the other hand found myself
trapped, I couldn’t gain purchase on the muddy sides of the pit. Vampires dove
in from all sides, and from that point on I saw little of the greater battle,
and only the herculean efforts of Rhogar would eventually save me, and it was
his constant encouragement, and timely healings kept me alive as the vampires
took turns greedily feasting upon my blood, but I have been told that the battle
started poorly, and that we were losing until Aenied appeared in the sky above
us glowing like an angel. It was the power of his light that started turning the
tide. Hagrid, Rhogar, and Rikar had been just holding own, they had once again
been tasked against the power of Gwenth, Rolain’s sister vampire, but this time
she had concealed her presence amidst the other vampires using a second Mask of
Betrayal. Throughout the battle the vampires were healing almost immediately
from our attacks, until Aenied arrived and began bathing them in light. And
Shaden and Rolain were evenly matched, and were battling into a stalemate too,
until Bingus engaged Rolain himself trapping the vampire lord and allowing
Shaden to help the others bring down Gwenth. When she finally fell, Shaden
destroyed her by staking her with one of his magic arrows. Other vampires
followed, by the end, we were all spent and only Rolain himself remained.


 


As we closed in upon him Rolain called out,
“When man meets a force he can’t
destroy, he himself is destroyed upon it;



don’t expect victory … THIS NEVER ENDS!”



           


Grinning hideously, the vampire reversed his blade holding the sharp end in his
hand, and thrust its hilt firmly into the ground; positioning it point up; then
spreading his arms wide he dropped himself upon the blade. His black blood
poured from his chest like a font emptying out over the already moist earth and
pooling for just a second before the graveyard sucked it down, then the ground
began rumbling, and headstones began shooting into the air as an immense shape
took form, swelling and moving beneath the bloodied earth.



Desecrated Graveyard


 


           


T
he
weak ambient light of Monadhan’s sky added to the gloom cast over the graveyard
casting deep confusing shadows as the ground erupted. A crevice yawned opened
and the graveyard swallowed Rolain’s body and in his place emerged a primordial
demon formed of corrupted earth and bone. The thing howled like wind-blown rock,
sounding like an avalanche of death. Bony revenants clawed their way out of the
disturbed ground in a wide radius about the central core of the monster seeking
to drag us all down to an early grave.


 


           
Aenied flew through the air over the monster, suddenly but immediately
found himself awash in the malevolence of the thing below him; it reached high
into the air with a rooty pseudopod attempting to grab him, and when it missed
its chance, it swatted him from the sky and then flowed quickly through the
ground overtaking the rest of us. As we were engulfed we felt a crushing
oppression fall over each of us, as if the graveyard was consuming us, taking
our strength. I staggered, clutching my chest, still weakened, having never
fully recovered from the vampire’s attacks, but now this new assault was somehow
worse; it was uncaring and indifferent, like a the cold permanent death of the
grave. I felt like I had aged 100 years in a second, I had to escape. Shaden
tried to stand against the monster’s advance, but it just enveloped him like the
rest of us and knocked him aside, he disappeared in a hail of tombstones. Again
Bingus came to our rescue, saving us, by dispelling the desecration, and buying
us a little time. We regrouped and attacked with renewed fury, as the monster
reappeared, but I never noticing how seriously Shaden had been injured; he
lay at the edge of the graveyard, broken and bloodied as death came upon him; in
the towering figure of a man, 7 feet tall in gleaming armor who moved with the
grace of a jungle cat approaching the half-orc, silently from the jungle’s trees
bordering the graveyard. He stared down at Shaden, his head encased by a full
helm, forged to appear as the head of a great wolf. He bent down, his face
inches from Shaden’s throat and said,


 


           



“I AM KAS. I am not interested in fighting you, I see potential in you … You
don’t appear to be as worthless as the rest of the damned here. Rise! Prove
yourself worthy and we will speak after.”



 


           
We were all distracted, fighting the thing from the abomination in the
graveyard, we had missed Shaden’s encounter. It was only later when I learned
about Kas arrival, and Shaden said very little about this first encounter, as if
keeping a secret or perhaps the encounter had already faded from his thoughts;
regardless, Shaden later said, Kas’s eyes had flashed with crimsoned brilliance,
and that when he rose he found that he had been refreshed, and renewed. Shaden
rejoined us charging the monstrosity, which had been trapped by Bingus and it
was howling furiously as it hung helplessly floating in the air above the
graveyard. Shaden attacked with his twin blades, maneuvering around the monster,
slashing violently with both blades. Finally a final spell from Bingus,
ironically called, Tomebound Ooze, finished the monster, engulfing it in a
bubbling jellylike mass of animated acid that rapidly dissolved the monster
sending chunks of its substance raining upon Shaden in smoldering pieces. In the
wake of the abomination’s destruction we began searching the ruin for clues,
still no closer to the goal that had brought us here in the first place. We had
found Rolain, but he hadn’t given us the sword, or led us to the dark lord of
Monadhan, and it wasn’t until this moment that Kas, for a second time emerged
from the jungle and said,
“I am Kas the powerful.




I am curious who you are, and to the reason you are here in the misery that is
Monadhan?”


 


           
Now to be honest, by this time, we were in no condition for another
fight. We had been already been pressed to our limits, and beyond; still I
didn’t appreciate Kas’s tone; it bore down riddled with arrogance and it somehow it
sounded more like a command than a question, so I pulled myself together, and
with no shortage of bluster, I replied,
“I imagine you might be who you say you are, but I can’t say that I am
impressed, and as you can see we are a little busy just now.”


 


And noticing Kas’s long sharp canines I added,
“And speaking only for myself,


I’ve already had my fill of vampires today.”



 



“Do not compare ME with those thieves;

they were inferior, a weak coven,
decadent and repulsive. I had nothing to do with them. I am KAS! I have crossed
blades with godlings and primordials, over centuries and millennia; always
victoriously … I defeated them all. I am not of this place any more than you
yourself. Beyond this damned land, I command armies drawn of both the living and
the dead. Against my one true enemy, Vecna, and lest it is he you serve, an
alliance between us may yet be possible. I am under no illusion; there is no
chance that you are here by accident, your presence is surely more than a
curiosity and I would know the truth of it, but for the nonce, I am not
interested in fighting you, at least not immediately, first I would know why you
are
here, and if I find that you, like me are trapped here, mayhap I will opt to
assist you, but have no doubt, if I find insult in your tone, I am just as
likely to rip that wagging tongue from your mouth. Do not test my patience, if I
wanted you dead you would already be so.”



 


Then surprisingly Shaden addressed us all saying,
“We need to listen to him, Kas is
everything he claims.”



 


I admit my curiosity was peaked, checking myself, I withdrew into my more
diplomatic leanings and said, “I
apologize, I meant no insult. I have
heard of one named Kas who is said to be one of the most powerful men who ever
lived, a vampire lord worshiped and revered by vampires and mortals alike, but
he is also called Kas the Betrayer, Vecna’s trusted lieutenant who turned on
Vecna severing his arm and plucking out his eye.”



 



“You are well-schooled bard, but less so than you might imagine. It was I who
was betrayed! And I did not stop with the maimed god’s hand or eye, I destroyed
Vecna, the hand and eye were all that was left; only a conspiracy of powers saw
Vecna reborn, a mistake I myself will in due time rectify.”



 



“As you have honored us with your name, I would be remiss not to introduce
ourselves, though our reputations, pale before your own. I am Finellior, a
storyteller, and humble ambassador of the Seven Platinum Shields; and my fellows
include, Shaden, formerly the Chief of the Guards of


Cachlain’s Feydark Court, and the reigning Champion of the Arena of Blood;
Bingus of the Order of Garl, Aquamarine in think? … a Glitterbright of sparkling
wit, and a real jewel of a gnome; Rikar of the Feydark, an exile, and our valued
comrade; Vimak, Warden of the North, though we, his friends call him Hagrid;
Dread Rhogar of Majyst, called Bloodbane by his dragonborn brethren; and finally
the enigmatic Aenied,



Avenger of Erathis, Scourge of the City of Seven Dark Delights … Our purpose
here is no secret, we are seeking passage to the Land of the Dead, so that so
that we might find and stop an unknown ritualist guarded by Tiamat’s Black
Exarch Mornujhar. Perhaps you have
seen them?”



 



“I know not of these individuals myself, but Rolain was not alone when his ilk fled
into the caverns.”



 



“Caverns?”



 



“Yes caverns, but let us understand one another, entry into this realm is not a
simple thing. How is it that you came here, and what exactly was your plan of
escape?



 



“Apologizes, Lord Kas, but you have yet to explain how we might assist you, or
exactly how you yourself came to be here. Also, begging your patience, and any
judgment set aside, the nature of your reputation suggests our own caution might
be well-advised.”



 



 “I
have lived a longtime, be thankful I have learned something of patience in that
time. You would be well advised to learn to judge by experience rather than the
lies spread by others. Take this advice from one who knows betrayal, only too
well. Let me repeat myself this one time, I regrettably find myself trapped here,
thanks to the thieving ways of those vampires you have only just defeated.”



 



“As you have said, and honestly I do not doubt you; as you can see we obviously
bore no fondness for Rolain or his sister Gwenth, but what pray tell did they
steal? Was it possibly a blade?”



 



“You know the truth of it then? Help me to recover my sword, the Sword of Kas,
and I will free you from this realm.”



 
 



“But we have already been told of an exit, a portal constructed by the ritualist
and hidden in a well-guarded place, the lair of Monadhan’s dark lord, are you
he?”



 



“No, but I know of where you speak and this ‘lord’, his name is Arantor; I can
take you to his lair; but if you do not first know his weakness you will not
survive. I will give you the secret if you but agree to return that which is
mine, do so and I will free you myself.”



 


I looked to the others while silently weighting out the options in my mind,
seeing none and with the realization that we were indeed within the ‘land of
betrayal’ I turned back to Kas affirming his terms.


 



“Agreed, but we need rest, and time to prepare. It has been a very long day.”



“Even now, I remember the rigors of mortality; I can provide shelter, no one
will bother you. You may take as much time as you need; follow me, I will
explain all you will need to know.”



 



“Arantor was at one time a ‘noble’ silver dragon who fought bravely in the war
between the Dragonborn Empire of Arkhosia and that of devil-tainted kingdom of
Bael Turath. They battled for no less than dominion of the world, but this was
many centuries ago. Arantor fought for Arkhosia, and for them he flew far in
advance of their other forces fighting against the vanguard of the fiendish
armies. Arantor was proud and confident in both his power and purpose and like
most proud fathers, he wanted to raise his own spawn to be strong, and so he
brought his daughter that she might learn to understand, and appreciate all that
he was and did so on this occasion he had brought his young daughter with him.
Together they flew through a heavy storm when they came upon the enemy’s forces.
Arantor told his daughter to stay aloft above the fray, beyond the reach of
either their arrows or spells, and then alone he descended upon the town of
Monadhan in a fury, beginning his attack upon the fiends advancing army. In his
rush, Arantor hadn’t hesitated, or delayed; fearless and self-assured of his own
power he dove into the midst, blinded by the driving rain. He destroyed
wantonly, licentiously not realizing the unfortunates in Monadhan were not Bael
Turath’s warriors, rather the encampment was full of civilians, those who had
been driven out from their homes; women, children and the infirm, and they died
badly, at Arantor’s hand when the sounds of the dying faded, Arantor’s daughter
Imrissa descended she saw the results of her father’s error, the full horror.
She found him amidst the carnage, mad with grief and shame; Arantor was
babbling, trying to concoct a way to cover up his crime, but Imrissa was pure of
heart and she confronted him with the truth. Arantor struck out at her without
thinking, accidently murdering his daughter with one blow of his powerful claw.
As the realization of her death sunk in, it broke Arantor’s mind, he became
utterly consumed with guilt, so much so he consumed his daughter’s body to hide
this final guilt and thus the Domain of Betrayal came into existence engulfing
Arantor forevermore. Trapped, Arantor buried himself beneath the ruined camp,
digging through into natural caverns he discovered there. Now he spends all his
time there within the lowest depths of these caves that exist here beneath the
very shantytown Arantor originally destroyed. That is where he hides now
concealing his shame from all prying eyes. This much I discover in the course of
my own investigation, for as I have explained, I have spent too much time here
already. And only recently, my enemies have followed me here; Gwenth and Rolain
were without doubt their agents. And so it is apparent that we have a common
enemy. Now, I will help you defeat Arantor. And this is what you need to know;
in Arantor’s heart, his betrayal is so heinous that it still torments him to
this day. Whether as manifestations of his soul, or the curse upon this land,
parts of his past come to life haunting the dragon periodically within his lair…
I don’t know their origin, only that they are, and that they torment him, a
thing I have myself witnessed. I believe it would be possible to insinuate
yourself within the play of his delusions. In this way, you could use Arantor’s
grief as a weapon, shaming him and weakening his resolve. Using his daughter’s
name, Imrissa will certainly disturb him. But beware! Death giants guard the
caverns of the dark lord, and they regularly recruit or imprison additional
guardians; they will stand in your way, watching within the upper chambers of
the dark lord’s lair, and you will find simply becoming lost down there is a
constant danger. The walls of the cavern are deceiving, but you must descend to
their deepest level to find Arantor, and that is where you will find my sword. I
will station myself at the entrance, guarding the entrance, barring passage to
any reinforcements that will surely be summoned to prevent your success.”



 



“When you will return with my sword, I will see to your departure from this
realm. Be warned, mere physical destruction cannot end the existence of Arantor,
which is beyond any mortal’s power. After he is defeated, his remains will lay
still slowly discorporating into mist. Meanwhile the horizons of Monadhan will
darken and a strong wind will begin to blow as a violent thunderstorm builds in
the sky above Monadhan. When dusk arrives Arantor will awake within the heart of
the storm and he will reenact his night of slaughter; everyone left within the
shanty will die, a thing which only I can prevent, but to accomplish this I will
need of my sword. Do not make the mistake of thinking you might wield the blade
yourselves, for it is a cursed thing, and it can be used safely only by me; for
I am the sword’s one true master.”  



 



 

The
Halls of the Betrayer



O
ur
meeting concluded, Kas led us to his lair which was secreted about a half of a
mile west of the shanty, beneath a spectacular, cascading waterfalls, the beauty
of which I’m sure is lost upon the inhabitants of Monadhan. The falls were
wreathed in rainbows, caused as the water as it tumbled in breathtaking fashion
over the cliffs that border Monadhan, forming in the air as the water descended
and broke into a multitude of brightly sparking streams that plummeted down
sheer rock face with a sound akin to rolling thunder, eventually creating a lake
at the base of the falls and continuing its journey as the Ternun River.
According to Kas the locals avoided the area because they were, in his words ‘too
pathetic’ to truly appreciate such marvels, but in truth the massive amount of
spray the falls threw into the air made it difficult discriminate between the
spray and the valley’s dangerous ever present mists; and there hidden within the
cliffs that were the backdrop of the falls laid the Halls of the Betrayer. Kas
maintains a small base there, in a series of converted caves. Any curious
inhabitants of the shantytown that might have been unlucky enough to discover
that anyone lurked there in the western forest would have already been killed by
Kas, leaving only wild rumors regarding the area within the shanty that aren’t
even close to the truth.


 


When we arrived, Kas took us through a deep crevice that led to a small complex
of mostly natural caverns. Some minimal work had been done to add an amenity or
two, a wall smash opening the way to fresh water for one thing, and a large
finely crafted basin for another. Almost immediately Kas excused himself to
provide us an opportunity to collect ourselves, but before he could leave Shaden
asked,


 


“Lord Kas, you say you have fought gods, I myself I fought demons and giants and
such, but none (or few) have been any challenge. Would you be willing to spar
with me, that I might test might and skill against your own?”
    



 



“I do not play at battle, nor would your skill be any test! Still I witnessed
your battle in the graveyard and you are not without some promise; distractions
here are a rare thing so I accept your challenge with this understand, you will
offer and I will give no quarter, nor will any of your friends be allowed to
interfere, nor will I allow them to watch, for I know the temptation to help you
would prove too great for them to resist and I on the other hand will brook no
interference. I am not some preforming monkey, nor does mercy exist within my
heart; our combat will be brutal and without restraint but you will be better
for the lessons I give, beyond that I promise nothing. Do you accept these
terms?”



 



“I do”



 



“Then rest now, I would not have you compromised during your trial.”



 


Kas left us by the pool, and disappeared into the deeper complex. We set camp in
a hurry, too weary even to consider exploring, but we did pause long enough to
examine a few items we had found after the graveyard battle, and for Bingus and
I to compare what we knew about our host.


 


At the graveyard we recovered a second Mask of Betrayal from Gwenth; Shaden kept
this second mask, Rikar still carried the other. We also found a magical helm
and a magic ring, both of which had apparently been expelled from one the
disturbed graves when the abomination first burst from the earth. Bingus
identified both items and kept the helm for himself.




 
Exceptional Factotum HelmLuminary Ring 



 


Afterward, the topic of discussion became Kas. I myself had heard several
legends, such as Kas being worshiped and revered by vampires and debased mortals
across the known planes of existence, and that he was known as Kas the Betrayer,
or Kas the Bloody-Handed, and that indeed he was the sworn enemy of Vecna, known
as the Maimed God, for the damage done to him by Kas. Kas was said to originally
been Vecna’s most trusted lieutenant, but ultimately he betrayed Vecna and tried
to become a god in Vecna’s stead. During the ensuing battle Kas severed Vecna’s
hand and eye, but somehow both survived the melee and now each was forever
seeking the other’s destruction. My history lesson had claimed that even before
Kas served Vecna he was once an evil paladin and that he still held to certain
knightly principles. He was also said to be exceptionally proud and unforgiving,
and at least two artifacts were associated with him, the Sword of Kas and
the Silver Mask of Kas, while
others became associated with Vecna.



 


Bingus added to these rumors, saying that back in the Feywild


Kas was known to regularly travel the planes, but he was said to have two
primary bases of operation. He commanded a kingdom in the Shadowfell, where
vampires ruled over the living, but spent most of his time at a hidden dominion
located somewhere in the Astral Sea.


 


Bingus: “The dominion is a realm of near
total darkness where all of the structures are made from finely polished
obsidian. Within this realm, the lakes and rivers flow with blood. Kas
transports some of the prisoners from his Shadowfell kingdom to his hidden
retreat in the astral plane to feed Kas and those allies who dwell there with
him!”



 


Not wanting to be out done by our gnome sage, I foolishly asked,
“What do you know of the conflict
between Kas and Vecna?”



 


Bingus answered, “Not much at all, only
rumors, but let me put on my new thinking cap
.” … grabbing the silvered helm
we had recovered, which looked like a metal skull-cap he concentrated and start
talking again,


 


“Ah! I see you’ve a hunger for knowledge. You should know that this is the only
reason I am still awake, for this is a most interesting tale, a tale of foul
acts and fouler betrayal. I will tell you how the master of secrets himself was
misled by the warrior he trusted, and
in due course by his own
foolish pride. It is the tale of Kas the Destroyer and the Maimed God, Vecna.”


 


“Nearly two millennia ago in a land known as the Flanaess, the name of the lich
Vecna was sung by bards and cursed by clerics. How did he become a lich, and why
did he seek to conquer the Flanaess? But you might as well ask, ‘Why is the
Shadowfell dark?’ The cult of Vecna claims that Vecna was cursed by gods who
were jealous of his power. Somewhere a monk raves ceaselessly within his
madhouse cell swearing that in happen as Vecna was confronted his own death,
while lying trapped in a dread castle built on the gray sands of an alien world,
that wails in eternal torment. As entertaining as these tales are, most sources
agree that Vecna was a supremely talented wizard who became overly obsessed with
overcoming death after his beloved mother died driving him to conquer villages
in the Flanaess so that he might use the townspeople as subjects for his dark
necromantic experiments. After hundreds of failures and thousands of deaths
Vecna devised a ritual that siphoned power from the planes to animate his
lifeless body, granting himself immortality as a lich. Imagine: all of those
lives destroyed and a soul corrupted beyond saving, just because he missed his
mother.”


 


“There is another question that has puzzled many: why is Vecna obsessed with
keeping secrets? That trait goes back to Vecna’s first major assault on a city,
when one of his generals—a demonic half-breed mage named Acererak—rescued Vecna
from destruction by clerics of Pelor. The lich, in perhaps his first act of
gratitude, allowed Acererak access to the Rotted Tower in the upper levels of
his keep.”


 


“Do you recognize the name Acererak? He was a crafty hell spawn possessed the
will to become a powerful lich himself, and was willing to take up residence in
a massive deathtrap called ‘the Tomb of Horrors,’ can you imagine that he would
be content to serve as a mere underling to another mage? No, the legend is that
Acererak arranged for
Vecna’s near-destruction and rescue that day, so that he could ingratiate
himself with his master and put himself in a position to steal Vecna’s darkest,
most powerful secrets. And for a time, Acererak’s plan succeeded. Several years
passed before Vecna uncovered his general’s deception. Vecna’s rage, always a
fearsome thing, rose to new heights. Not only had the powerful mage who overcame
death been tricked by an underling into revealing his most closely-guarded
knowledge, but the thief had escaped retribution entirely. Vecna swore that from
then on he would protect all of his secrets with a fervor that bordered on
fanaticism.”


 


I interrupted asking Bingus “What does
this have to do with Kas?”



 


“Vecna’s power grew, as did his obsession with secrecy which became a
literal religion to those who worshipped him. Among those zealots was a
ruthless, cruel soldier named Kas. Have you ever been in a room with a mosquito
that you can’t seem to kill no matter how many times you swat at it?” …
(Immediately thoughts of Bingus himself came unsolicited into my mind).


 


“Make that mosquito six-and-a-half feet tall, cover it in armor, and give it the
cunning of an adder and the strength of a god; that’s Kas the Betrayer. During
the time that Acererak was deceiving Vecna, Kas was a human paladin in Vecna’s
service, drawn by visions of blood and a thirst for foes who would challenge his
prowess at arms. Years earlier he had pledged himself to another god of death,
but Kas soon grew bored with mere death. It was the path to dying that
fascinated him and the more violent that path, the better. Kas for it said that
he wanted to swim forever in a red sea of combat. Chaining himself to Vecna’s
ambition granted his wish—in more ways than he expected.



Vecna used necromancy to extend Kas’s life, wishing to retain his trusted weapon
as long as possible. When Kas’s mortal form had reached the point when even
Vecna’s spells could sustain it no longer, he transformed his commander through
the dark gift of vampirism.”


 



“And why do they hate each other now?”


 


“As Vecna’s empire grew, the Whispered One recognized that he couldn’t watch
over all his slaves and future test subjects alone. He would need to share power
with another, and Kas seemed to be the best choice. But Vecna’s practicality was
mixed with paranoia. Even though a century had passed since Acererak’s treason,
the memory of that humiliation came to dominate Vecna’s thoughts. The master of
secrets sought a window into any seditious thoughts that Kas might have. So he
made another gift for Kas: an enchanted short sword of great power forged from
the frozen heart of a fallen star, a dark blade crafted by Vecna’s enchantments
and instilled with a dark secret of its own, the perfect means to spy upon his
lieutenant, as long as Kas bore the sword Vecna would be able to listen in on
Kas’s activities, and perhaps even his thoughts, but Vecna’s scheme to spy on
Kas proved to be too clever. The Sword of Kas not only contained part of
Vecna’s consciousness, it contained Vecna’s avarice, obsession with secrecy, and
lust for knowledge. The sword‘s intelligence quickly wrapped itself in a mental
cloak to shield itself from Vecna’s detection, and it fed both Vecna and Kas its
own half-truths and fabrications that attacked Kas’s steadfastness a hammer
blow. The sword revealed both real and imagined deceits to Kas and before long
he wanted to seek retribution but the sword assured him that the ideal time
would come as Kas became ever more committed and obsessed with the death of
Vecna.”


 


“Through the use of artifacts and rituals, his own terrible intellect, and the
harvested lives of thousands of victims, Vecna eventually gathered enough power
to perform a new rite that would transform him into a god. The Sword of Kas
sensed this, and revealed this to Kas presenting the perfect opportunity to
strike. Kas would slay Vecna during the ritual, seize control of his empire, and
ascend to godhood himself. While Vecna spoke the incantations under the stars,
at the pinnacle of the Rotted Tower, Kas charged into the keep. Vecna’s guards
were no match for vampire lord’s fury had been stoked to near-insanity by the
sword’s whispers. The guards fell beneath his blade like wheat at the harvest.
As they died, Vecna discovered Kas’s presence, but he realized his paladin’s
loyalties had changed, and that once again he had been betrayed. He tried to
suspend the ritual, but the power he had unleashed would not be contained.
Already Kas’s blade and fangs dripped with blood. The lich knew he would need
all the available energy for battle to come. And an epic battle it was! Cultists
of Vecna claim that had the combat been on equal terms, Vecna would have quickly
felled the vampire. Perhaps so, but whether due to the effect of interrupting
the ritual, the sword’s ability to anticipate Vecna’s attacks, or Kas’s strength
and stubborn refusal to die, the combat raged on until Kas backed Vecna into the
center of the ritual circle, its chaotic, thunderous energy now lashing them
both. Vecna staggered Kas with a bolt of lightning; but as the lich moved to
finish him off, Kas lunged forward, slicing off Vecna’s left hand!”


 



“You make it sound like you were there.”



 


“Maybe I was, the vampire, staggered, his body crumbling from Vecna’s spells,
but still he pressed the attack. ‘You shall not spy on me again!’ he shouted as
he plunged his sword into Vecna’s left eye, gouging it out. Kas’s sword, sensing
triumph, released a surge of radiant energy as bright as the sun into Vecna’s
body; like tossing a torch into a sea of oil. It set off an explosion so
powerful that it destroyed the Rotted Tower, deafening creatures for miles
around. Vecna and Kas, at the center of the arcane maelstrom, were sent hurtling
through the abyss between worlds. Afterward the only objects that were found
intact in the rubble of the tower were Vecna’s severed hand and eye, and Kas’s
sword. And unfortunate discoveries they were.”


 



“Wow, that’s impressive, would you be interested in a trade for the helm we
found, it might be more useful to me than I anticipated, from a research
perspective?”



 


“No, I am happy with it thank you, but I do think we should all get some rest
now. Shaden, given all that I’ve told you are you sure you want to fight Kas?”


 


“It isn’t a fight, we will just be sparing … Not that you would know difference,
and anyhow, I can’t back down now.” Shaden replied.


 


Before we rested there was one final task I asked Bingus to perform. I turned to
Bingus and asked, “How versed are you in
divination?”
 


 


“I know a ritual called, ‘Consult Mystic Sages’ … It allows me to research a
single secret beyond my ken. Is that what you have in mind?”


 



“Indeed.”



 


“I was thinking the same thing. So what is it we want know?”


 



“Is the Sword of Kas sufficient to open the portal, and free us from Monadhan?”



 


After about a half hour of preparation, Bingus entered a trance. His lips began
mouthing silent whispers, as he magically communed with long-dead sages,
otherworldly lore masters by means of his ritual seeking the answer to this most
esoteric of questions. When he snapped out of the trance he said.


 



“Yessss, the sword alone, and only the sword will work.”


 


I rested uneasily; even though the cave was comfortable enough, but Hagrid’s
loud snoring woke me several times; still eventually, I succumbed to the welcome
envelopment of slumber until a commanding voice woke me; my eyelids fluttered
allowing a hint of firelight through and Kas’s shiny armor greeted my eyes.


 



“Wake yourselves, and follow me, please, I have something to show you.”
 


 


I stood up, my feet bare save for my thick woolen socks, suddenly I realized how
Kas dwarfed me; he was fully a head and a half taller than I and at least twice
as massive, as large a Rhogar, but Hagrid the goliath was still larger. I moved
for by boots, and Kas said,
“You won’t need those we are not going
far.”



 

After
the briefest of hesitations I followed the others, through the roughhewn wall,
into the larger cave beyond the pool chamber around the bending passage, and
into the second larger chamber with the finished basin. Stand there before the
crystal clear water in the basin Kas said,

“This water isn’t for drinking.”


 


He bit is finger, opening a small wound and let a single drop of blood drip down
into the water and as the blood spread he said,

“Gather close, but do not disturb the water.”



 


I stood watching as Kas revealed the entrance to Arantor’s caverns in his basin,
but I was distracted by a new opening that had been revealed in this cave, a
doorway on the west wall with heavy mist slowly bellowing out the opening. As
Kas finished I asked, “It maybe be none
of my business, but I am curious, what lies through yonder chamber?”


Glancing towards the doorway, Kas said, “let me show you.” I followed him, and the
others followed me, into another unfinished cave; this one was smaller though, a
burial chamber set with several large stones and a beautifully fashioned
sarcophagus. Welcoming us in the chamber Kas offered,
“This is where I stay, nothing more.”
Then Kas stepped through me and the others, literally passing through our
bodies as if suddenly he had no substance at all. He stopped at the doorway next
to Shaden and said, “Shaden, it is time
for your lesson to begin!”


 


           
Aenied yelled, “Wait!” and
approached going first to Shaden who held up his hand as if to give Aenied
pause, and Aenied stopped short, but reached out shaking Shaden’s hand and
saying with a smile,
“Try not to kill our host.”



            
Telepathically he adds, “I’ll keep in
contact with you and should anything strange happen, we will come to your aid.”

           
Then turning his attention back to our host, once more Aenied reached out, but
Kas ignored the gesture and instead directing Shaden to step though the doorway.


 


Nonplused Aenied added, “You are our
host and while we trust you as our host, to a large degree, this is a land of
treason and betrayal. Please do not think that we trust you completely with the
life of our companion. If you are planning on doing anything other than what you
have said; that is, testing each other’s combat abilities, if you kill, or try
to transform …”


 


Cutting Aenied off, Kas voice fills the chamber,



“Hold your arrogant tongue, think not to threaten ME, or to imagine that you
might influence my actions by any degree, I do not ask, nor do I need your
permission … I do exactly as I will, and by my own choice I force myself upon no
one. What dark gifts have must be earned, do you think yourself worthy, only
because I have invited you here? Do not make the mistake of tempting fate again,
lest I teach you your place in this world.”


 


Turning Kas stepped through the doorway and as he did the doorway magically
sealed becoming indiscriminate from the other natural stone walls. Hagrid rushed
forward slamming into the wall and bounced off with impressive force. Aenied
called out to us, asking for restraint and announcing that he was in contact
with Shaden’s mind, and then reiterated his call for calm.


 


Channeling Shaden Aenied spoke the words he was hearing in Shaden’s mind:



 



“Kindness is an expression of stupidity and cowardice.



Why should man not be at least as cruel as nature itself?”



 



They are fighting, Shaden is doing well … wait he is gone, knocked away, and the
vampire was on him!



 


Hagrid renews his attacks upon the stone walls
… “Wait, wait!” after and few tense
moments … “Ah, I sense him again.”


 


Man
is able to preserve himself above the animal world, solely by means of his most
brutal of struggles; the way of war, anyone who says different should be put
down. Mankind grows strong through struggles and weak in times of peace. The
very first essential for success is the constant use of violence!”



 


Aenied suddenly toppled, and then rolls to his feet, and rose effortlessly into
the air. “We must try and get to Shaden;
Kas is too strong, Shaden is in pain!”



 



“Evil is always possible; it is goodness is eternally difficult, and hate is
more lasting than dislike, thus evil hatred, is both easy and powerful. Use it,
let it fuel you, learn to love it, live to fight, and let those who do not want
to fight die, for truly they deserve their fate!”



 



“He is being tossed about like a ragdoll, Kas is unstoppable; I fear he doesn’t
have long. He is gone again; I can no longer sense him. Rikar, open a root
gate!”



 


Rikar replies, “It doesn’t work like
that, I need to see the other side.”



 



“Wait they are back again.”




 



“The victor will never be asked if he told the truth; victory is the sole
earthly judge of right and wrong. I will offer you the choice, I myself made …
the choice to live, or to die?”



 


They are rising into the air, Kas is carrying Shaden!

 



 


Hagrid beat the stone so hard he’d bloodied his fists. The seconds ran into
minutes which seemingly stretch on into infinity, but then in an instant it is
over, the stone wall disappeared once more revealing the doorway, Shaden was
standing on the side of the threshold, his clothes torn and bloody, but his body
appeared whole, and his breathing was calm.


 



“Calm yourselves, I am fine, better. Kas is everything he has claimed.”



 



“What have you done to him?”


asked Aenied.


 



“I taught him to trust only himself and the power that exists within him. A
lesson you should all learn.”


 


Bingus adds, “I hope you’re telling the
truth, but no matter, I know how to remove an affliction.”



 



“I imagine you might, but that which I give you will not easily be taken away.
And keep in mind, I, like your gods, kill indiscriminately, and so I warn, do
not seek to set yourself against me. I am and always have been a warrior first,
not a politician; you should not mistake my words, for I mean exactly what I
say. It is you wizards who make the greatest liars, not warriors such as Shaden
and I, ours are the simpler pleasures of victory and honor. You should be proud
of your ally, he fought bravely, and you have been well represented. Make
yourselves ready to depart we leave now!”


 


The Cavern of Water


 



“Remember all I have told you! 
Guardians protect Arantor’s lair; you
will need to deal with them first. Arantor was a silver dragon, expect him to
fight bravely, use his daughter’s name, Imrissa, it will distract him; the dark
lord is mad with grief and shame, that is his weakness. Once he is defeated you
will need to escape quickly, he will rise within the day, attacking the
shantytown of Monadhan, and slaying everyone he encounters”



 



“You will find him in the lowest depths of these caves.”
 



 


Unable to contain myself, I asked,
“Remind me, why is it you’re not coming with us?”



 



“Your entry will not go unnoticed; all of the powers within this realm will seek
to oppose you. They are led by death giants, but there will be others, undead
guardians stand watch in the upper chambers, and simply becoming lost down there
is a danger. The walls themselves can betray you… I will be standing guard at
the entrance blocking any reinforcements and keeping your exit clear. When you


return my sword, and I will free you from this realm taking you wherever you
want to go – Now go!”



 


Following
Kas’s directions we found the entry to the caverns which riddled the ground
beneath the outpost and the shantytown. From the outside it appeared as just a
dark hole hidden by foliage and other debris, but there were sure signs of
traffic marking the entry. We had already encountered the one of the giants and
we were also will aware that other even more lethal dangers existed in these
wilds, even here, very near to the shanty. As we entered the cave descended
steeply, winding, in a 20-foot-wide path, wide enough even for giants or in our
case Rikar’s horse Dark Hoof. The path twisted and curved as it sank, forcing us
to climb ever deeper and never allowing us to see more than 10 or 20 feet ahead
of ourselves. After about a half hour we heard the sound of running water.


 


As we dropped to a lowest passage
water had begun pouring down the left side of the passage we traveled, until it
emptied into a larger cavern, the largest we had seen so far. At the far end of
this new cave a waterfall cascading into a dark pool that ran rapidly and which
great force through the center of the room. The rivulet of water we were
following also ran through the cavern joining the water cast off by the fall,
and widening enough to completely fill a second passage exiting the large cave
opposite our entry point. Both the waterfall and the smaller streams of water
were pulsing at irregular intervals; occasionally the roaring waterfall would
almost disappear, but only for a seconds before gushing again. Moisture covered
the smooth rock at our feet, making it quite slippery. There were signs of an
old black-on-white mosaic, but it was damaged, and the design was difficult to
make out, perhaps veins or tree branches—many stones were missing. Across the
cavern there was also some exposed rocks, twin islands of stone. The water was
dark and too murky to judge its depth by sight. Then I noticed a massive snake
with a fanned cowl of scales stirring on one of the rock outcropping in the far
side of the chamber, as I warned the others it dropped in the dark water with a
silent splash, and two bat-winged fiends suddenly descended from the darkness
above taking the serpent’s place on the rock island, one of these carried an
iron spear, the other a wickedly barbed sword.


 

Shaden
and Rikar moved in the chamber quickly entering the cavern together. One of the
devil-spawn, the male, took to air and yelled:
“Mortal scum thou art not allowed
here, turn away! Flee back from whence thou came while able!” 
… He landed in front of Shaden and was quickly dispatched by our
half-orc.


 


Rikar called upon his primal magic, and roots spread at his feet and reemerged
on the island on the opposite side of the cavern forming a gateway to the rocky
island where the second, more stimulating of the devils waited, she called to
him, “Many dooms await you within the labyrinth below, some worst then others
… You could do worse than choosing me, not all are as friendly as I.” 
Rikar stepped through the gate and joined her on the other side.



 



           


Back at the entrance the naga exploded from the water; bringing a wave of
psychic pain that engulfed all of us still present, but only Hagrid, Rhogar, and
myself were affected; Aenied seemed immune, but he vanished and almost
immediately was nowhere to be seen. Bingus escaped by staying back beyond the
range of the naga’s psychic assault and there he summoned his familiar, but the
rest of us had our heads inundated by an overwhelming pain, that made it
difficult to think or act. Almost mindlessly, as a group we staggered into the
water where the naga was waiting for us, but before it was too late Hagrid
recovered and charged, striking the naga with incredible force. The serpent
reflexively coiled around Hagrid’s body and in a spasm of violent tussling they
disappeared beneath the fast flowing water. Rhogar ran past me, and began moving
though the water slowly against the current but he didn’t find Hagrid or the
naga and he continued on toward the far island. Bingus’s little dragon flew past
the dragonborn crossing the chamber quickly; as it neared the furthest island,
watching through the familiar’s eyes; Bingus noticed a strange
bubbled pattern within the waterfall,
like a massive silhouette in the middle of the water.


 


Bingus yelled out a warning, but he was too late, the hidden


mass burst from beneath the fall, and a huge fell troll emerged heading directly
at Rikar. Rikar reacted deftly, escaping through his root-gate, but neither
Shaden who had joined him or Rhogar were as quick. The monstrous troll grabbed
Shaden with one meaty fist, just as back near the entrance Hagrid burst from the
water greedily gasping for air. In the course of his struggle with the naga he
had been stung and poisoned, and he had nearly died, while at the same time he
had chopped the naga in twain slayed the serpent. As Hagrid gasped, Shaden flew
through air and crashed into the goliath; having been hurled by the troll with
great force the full length of the cavern! 
The troll howled out in triumph as the two heroes collided:


 

Umbriago!
Hose dat for a flying lesson… Inka, Dinka
… Doo!”



 


And the troll hadn’t stopped after throwing Shaden, he continued moving past the
island, scooped up Rhogar and shoved the dragonborn halfway into his mouth,
leaving only Rhogar’s hind quarter protruding from his mouth; carrying him there
the troll continued his trek through the water moving towards the entrance. He
talked and chewed all the while. Then Aenied appeared in front of him prompting
the troll to say:


 



“It’s a catastastroke! … I’m surrounded by assassins!” 



 


Aenied blocked the troll’s progress and during the confusion of the troll’s
attack the she-devil had taken to air seeking the concealment of the darkness
lingering above, only to reappear almost immediately as she tried to impale me
upon her forked spear. It was all I could do to sidestep her attack, she wasn’t
the best of flyers, she landed hard, and I was soon on top of her. Fetching as
she was I finished her quickly, sinking my blade to the hilt; her hot blood
sprayed, and she vanished in an explosion that left a


pungent


sulphuric taint. As I stood I noticed the troll towering over me.


 



“Dat’s moral turpentine!”

… He yells, or something close to that, but his mouth was still so full of
Rhogar, I couldn’t really understand what the troll had said. Regardless, he
raised his fist, that was as large as my whole body, high above me like the
Sword of Damocles, my life started playing out before my eyes, and just then,
Rhogar pries the troll’s mouth open, his back pierced by the troll’s many sharp
fangs was positioned on the troll’s lower jaw, and his heels were positioned on
the troll’s upper jaw, and Rhogar shoved hard with his legs forcing troll’s
mouth open and then rammed his sword through the troll’s skull. The troll fell
backward, moaning horribly while it clawed at its head attempting to rip the
sword out of his head. Suddenly, Shaden and Aenied appeared and they were
followed by Hagrid and Rikar … Together they dismembered the troll, and Rikar
sealed the troll’s fate with his flaming axe, making sure he wouldn’t rise
again.  



 



 


 


The Cavern of Cliffs


We
exited the cavern of water on the far side of the cavern passing the waterfall
and entering into another series of descending passages. I am no dwarf, but my
best guess is that we drove another quarter of a mile deeper as we traveled



 


Eventually we came to a chamber with a high, vaulted ceiling. Luminous lichen in
the upper reaches illuminated crystalline stalactites there, some of them more
than five feet in diameter. The stalactites seemed to catch and hold the light,
glowing from deep within. Before us and to the left was a cliff, the nearest
rose about 30 feet and another about 60 feet. So on our right was the lip of the
more accessible cliff top. From our vantage point at the entrance, we could see
there was another cliff beyond these rising much higher. There we saw the head
of a barbed devil peeking over the edge of this high center cliff; it darted
back beyond our sight immediately.


 


 

Rikar
and Rhogar began climbing to the top of the nearest cliff, the drow moved
quickly almost effortlessly outdistancing Rhogar, but not before the several
barbed devils appeared, having teleported there from the higher cliff. They
taunted the drow with their long spiked barbs while casting balls of fire at
Rhogar. Two other devils showed themselves, a massive war devil shouted out
orders; his deep powerful voice filled the chamber, with infernal utterances and
another fiend appeared in the sky above us and began raining down a deadly
barrage of missiles from high above, the missiles bursting into flames as they
struck.


 


As the war devil called out his orders the devils redoubled their efforts and
the fury of their attacks, Both Rikar and Rhogar gained purchase on the first
landing, but Rhogar was quickly pushed back over the edge and nearly fell to the
ground below only barely catching himself at the edge. Rikar fared better,
relying on his speed and armor to protect him, but even he found it was
impossible to avoid the devils barbs entirely; still he gave better than he got
and dropped one the devil only to be flanked by two others. For us still on the
ground, the flying hell fury above was the more immediate problem. Bingus
quickly took to air upon his ebony fly. Shaden climbed following Rikar, leaving
Hagrid and myself at the base of the cliff. The fury’s attacks intensified as it
attacked both of us; with each hit we were set aflame while the devil remained
high far beyond our reach.


 


Just as Shaden reached the top of the lowest cliff, the war devil appeared
having taken the place of one of the barbed devils; there he joined the sole
remaining barbed fiend. Rikar had already dispatched a second of his barbed
opponents, but he had been weakened, and he was beginning to falter as the war
devil arrived, but before the devil could act Shaden parried the devil’s trident
and stabbed deep with his off-hand sword, and then added a finishing strike with
his primary blade. The devil’s leader was no match for Shaden speed and skills,
each of his strikes were strategically placed and crippling in their accuracy.
Within moments the large devil bursts into flames and disappeared. Rikar
destroyed the third barbed devil.  


 


           
Above the rest of us, Bingus took the fight to the high flying devil, and
they began their own deadly exchange, but they were proving to be too evenly
matched to easily threaten one another. Bingus vanished whenever he was
attacked, either by teleporting or turning invisible, but I can’t say; and the
devil proved too agile in the air for Bingus to trap. It was taking cover behind
stalactites and continued to harass those of us who were still trapped below.
Aenied appeared next the last of the barbed devil easily sending the monster
back to whatever hell it had sent it. Then working together both Aenied and
Shaden rose into the air, Shaden flew using magical boots, magical winged boots
he had acquired it somewhere during one of our previous adventures, possibly in
Citadel Mercane, or maybe in Tu’narath, but he hadn’t used them much and he was
a bit ungainly at first, but he adjusted quickly and they circled the fast
flying devil trying to hem it in. In a surprising maneuver, the devil turned and
attacked nearest stalactite and it shattered becoming a hail of sharp jagged
shards, which reigned throughout the chamber. Rhogar and Rikar took what cover
they could; pressing in tight to the cliffsides, but the rest of us endured the
brunt of the attack; afterwards, both Shaden and Aenied closed in destroying the
final devil. After the battle I noticed Shaden looked more weary than normal,
and he had a desperate hungry look in his eyes. On the opposite side of the
cavern, past the furthest and highest cliffs Bingus found the passage leading
onward. After Bingus concocted a method to use his magic to transport Rikar’s
steed across the chamber we continued our search for the dark lord’s lair.


 


 


 


 


The Cavern of Truth


 



W
e
drove ever deeper through tightening passages, occasionally a passage would
fork, but we always opted for the passage which led deeper. Rikar worried over
his horse, but it is an unnatural, evil thing, and it was well-suited for dark
twisted caves, at least more so than any natural beast would have been. As we
traveled I kept an eye on Shaden, he was looking no better, usually he pushed
harder than anyone, but here now he was uncertain, almost timid. And our healing
magic and encouragement did nothing to cheer him or make him better. The way
eventually leveled out into a rough-worked passage, and then up ahead we heard
sounds, a guttural moaning, like a large animal in pain, along with the cries of
a man. Torches lit a chamber at the end of the passage.


 


          
Rikar put on his mask of betrayal and snuck forward silently to peer in
the chamber.


The purpose of this cavern was clear: imprisonment, torture, and execution.
Along the side walls were prison cages fashioned from unnaturally smooth
stalagmites. Three were empty, and the fourth one, in the southeastern corner,
had a squat grayish giant within it, the source of the moans. A guillotine stood
in the center of the room with its blade raised, iron maidens were immediately
to our left and right, and two wooden stretching racks were set near our
entrance on the close end of the chamber, one of them was occupied by a crying
man. Two other passages exited the room and a groove has been cut in the center
of the floor, connecting channels to the iron maidens, the guillotine, and the
center of the southern wall. That wall featured a fresco of eladrin lords and
ladies gazing out upon a pastoral lake. Two powerfully built bipedal
half-tiger-men wearing royal blue, silk loincloths and a single matching bracer
were standing near the guillotine’s mechanism. They looked intelligent, powerful
and dangerous, and a third such creature busied himself at something deeper in
the chamber. Then was a sudden explosion of glowing orange and yellow smoke that
suddenly filled the entrance directly in front of Rikar, and a fourth rakshasa
appeared floating in the center of the smoky cloud, this one, with the demeanor
of a leader was wearing an exquisitely crafted necklace of gold, a wide, royal
blue silk belt, red pants and well-crafted leggings. The smoke was a void of
draining necromantic force, it felt cold and siphoning; the floating rakshasa,
seemed immune to the cloud’s bitter embrace, and suddenly the rakshasa’s eyes
flashed red, and the light faded from Rikar’s eyes. Reacting to his the sudden
blindness, the drow summoned his own shroud of darkness, which cloaked Rikar
putting him on a more equal footing with the rakshasa, Rikar withdrew.


 


Shaden charged, racing into Rikar’s darkness and through the draining cloud
disappearing from our view. Bingus cast a harrier spell and his dragonling
vanished reappearing on the other side of the cloud; then casting a familiar’s
call spell Bingus joined his dragonling past the cloud and saw that Shaden was
surrounded by the hulking rakshasa warriors who fought very well and with
incredible speed matching Shaden’s own. Shaden was fighting as skillfully as
Bingus had ever witnessed from anyone fight anywhere, his ability was uncanny,
even outnumbered he was holding his own if only barely; the rakshasas leader, a
noble by dress, had joined the others and he was ordering the others to strap
the half-orc down. From Bingus’s perspective it was clear Shaden needed some
help. Bingus pulled his new red crystal orb from his pouch, and focused on the
flame that burned in its core; the gnome and the orb transforming into a wisp of
black smoke that moved with intent towards the rakshasa noble and entered
through the abomination’s nose and mouth disappearing entirely; the rakshasa’s
eyes went black like the smoke itself and without a word the noble walked over
to the guillotine bent over placing his head in the frame, and pulled the

trigger,
the blade fell with a dull thud, and the noble’s head tumbled to the ground. The
man and the rack screamed as if it was his head that had fallen.


Both the darkness and the cloud suddenly subsided. Rhogar, Hagrid, and I rushed
in. Aenied was once again hidden by invisibility, but I am sure he entered too.
Rikar had mounted Dark Hoof and he followed behind us guarding our rear. The
rakshasa warriors reacted instantly; one darted to the cell releasing the gray
hulking creature imprisoned there, the other pair of rakshasas growled with
fury, turning their attention away from their current prey Shaden which clearly
angered them. Shaden had been crippled and he was bleeding heavily, but the
rakshasas left him anyhow, moving to cutoff the progress of Rhogar, Hagrid and
myself.  They leaped gracefully,
springing across the chamber intercepting us.  


 


The man in the rack continued to scream, begging for his release. The gray
render headed straight for Shaden
joining the battle immediately;
it still had arrows stuck in its body, in its arm and shoulder, not that it
mattered. The creature was completely obedient to the rakshasa’s commands. It
raced toward Shaden clawing at the air. Shaden ducked, and sprang past the
monster, and dove for the channel cut into the floor.


 


The headless body of the noble stood and lifted its head from the ground. The
head mouthed a silent curse at Bingus who had by now reappeared next to his
dragon. The beheaded rakshasa’s curse threw Bingus through the air backwards and
he crashed into the stone wall of the cavern and fell unconscious. The
dragonling vanished and the noble’s body let the head slip from its grasp; it
dropped to the ground and rolled back into the channel, and the body collapsed
like a puppet with cut strings.

 


 


 Together Rhogar and Hagrid drove the other rakshasas back. Rikar pushed his way
into the chamber still riding the black horse and slammed into the gray render.
Aenied appeared next to the man on the rack and began questioning him, the man
cried out for freedom, but Aenied was unmoved. I looked to Shaden seeking to
offer aid. I found him crouched in the channel, lapping up the rakshasa’s blood
like an animal; his canines had grown long, and sharp, witnessing this my heart
sank at the pathos had just seen, and with the certain realization of what Kas
had done to Shaden. Shaden looked up at me from the channel, still covered in
blood, with new strength coursing through his veins; he sprung to feet and
returned to the battle flanking the render with Rikar. Aenied and I joined
Rhogar and Hagrid; finally we had the rakshasas outnumbered. The gray render was
enormous and powerful, but it was also slow and clumsy, surrounded by warriors
of such great skill all it could do was endure for a time, bleed out and die;
likewise the rakshasas fought fiercely, but they were no match for the combined
power of our attack, not with Rhogar and I helping, further galvanizing their
efforts and using our healing magic kept everyone healthy and in the fight;
these battles ended quickly. Bingus had recovered and Aenied and I returned our
attention to the man on the rack.



      His name was


Macaebus; he identified himself as a

resident of the shantytown. He was obviously frightened, but given that we were
in the literal land of betrayal, we felt we couldn’t possibly trust the man.
Still we could hardly leave his here to die. Worse, the man was clearly addled.
So I asked him who he was before he came there and how exactly had he come to be
in Monadhan. He said he was once a castellan of an exchequer, and admitted he
had misappropriated his lord’s funds adding that he had dispersed the coin to
his lord’s rivals rather than himself, as if that would make it better, and of
course, he had only done so because his lord was inordinately cruel and
heartless.


 



“But you are not like he! You are men of strength and valor … You cannot leave
me here to die! You must free me, and take me out of here.”



 


Aenied: “We cannot do that now; our
journey takes us deeper yet and into even greater danger.”



 



“Would you than leave me here to die? Are you no better than the monsters that
trapped me here?”



 


Then I asked, “You’ve told us why you are in Monadhan, but why are you here,
here in the caves now? What are you doing here?”


 



“My only sin was witnessing your arrival; I was being questioned about you. It
is your fault that I am here, all my pain, and misery are because of you!”



 


Aenied: “Then why should we add to your
pain it by bringing you with us now?”



 



 “They told me what you intend to do.
They said you would wake the dragon and condemn us all to a horrible death … Is
this true? Do we matter so little that you would see us all die over a few
babbles from Arantor’s hoard? How dare you question me … You are no better than
I, no worse! Heartless, godless fiends, perhaps this is some new torture, I know
you can change your forms, appear to me as you will. See me dead then, kill,
slay me now yourselves! Let there be an end to my torment finally, once and
evermore.” 



 


I pulled Aenied aside and whispered, “We
cannot leave him here, we should release him and send him back the way we came.
We have bigger worries now, Shaden is changed. I saw it with my own eyes, he is
a vampire now; Kas has corrupted him. How can we trust him and what will we do
should he turn on us?”



 


Afterwards we released Macaebus, telling him to leave. Bingus had examined the
items in the chamber and determined that the rakshasa noble’s sash was
enchanted. We took it and his golden necklace and left the tortured room.



 



Treasure:


 


 
Vengence Sash


 


 


 


 


 





The
Cavern of Statues

 



           
 
A
s
we continued our descent, I discreetly began informing the some of the
others about Shaden, starting with Bingus. Aenied said he could warn them
telepathically, but I advised him against that, some things are better handled
face-to-face. Unlike before, Shaden, having fed on the blood in the channel,
appeared more like himself, well, confident, and eager for any battles that may
come. Concern mounting we slowly climbed down through a steep expanse of passage
until we arrived at another rough finished


room that was home to seven large statues, each larger than life. Between them
hung tattered tapestries that showed maps in sable, snow-cotton, and golden
wool; and there was a glowing brazier in the center of the room, near the
largest statue—that of a dragon in a rampant pose—the brazier cast everything in
reddish light. Standing near the dragon statue there were three cambions, one
with an iron-shod quarterstaff and two with short swords and shields. Two
passages exited the room in the northeast corner.


 


           
Rikar had already dismounted, and he left the horse in a higher section
of the preceding passage and moved forward with Shaden in greater silence, than
he would have mustered on the horse. When they had a clear view of the hell
spawn they attacked. Two cambion legionnaires moved forward greeting their
charge, and their leader behind them erupted in flames and backed away toward
the furthest exit; Aenied appeared in the open air above the central statue and
attacked him, as he did he heard the odd flappy scratching sound, of clawed-feet
on stone and something strange appeared in the eastern passage. This new monster
was a lanky, hunched, olive-green skinned thing with a single, enormous, green,
glowing central eye. Its long arms were tipped with long curved claws which it
dragged over the ground as it approached in an awkward hop. Aenied saw it for
just a second before the monster completely vanished from Aenied’s sight.


 


Hellfire exploded centered at the central statue, at the cambion’s leaders
command; the flames engulfed Aenied, Shaden and Rikar burning not only their
bodies, but setting their soul’s ablaze as well, punishing their every
transgression in life. Hagrid and Rhogar began moving into the chamber; and
Bingus summoned back his familiar and sent it forward. Then behind us the horse
snorted loudly in derision and a whiny of alarm; before I knew what was
happening giants came upon me from behind. They must have been following us and
clearly I was going to the first of us to bear the brunt of their attack! They
emerged from the darkness and came at me with massive two-handed axes. I fell
back grazed as the first attack which rent my armor, just breaking my skin, just
second slower and I would have been cut in two … vivisected. 
Then Hagrid pushed past me and with a powerful feral war cry pushed back
with all his power forcing the lead giant backwards into his allies. Rhogar came
up from behind following in our goliath’s wake. There were four giants in all
and behind them an ironclad beast.



 


            
It was a battle with two fronts, three if you include the horse; back in
the
passage
in was fighting a monster the beast, from my vantage point I caught occasional
glimpses of that melee. The supernatural steed was raised on its hind legs and
it was thundering down blows on the beast that looked like a great iron-skinned
cat with tremendous strength and agility. 


 

           
Rikar and Shaden opponents immolated
themselves in flames and took the fight to our warriors fighting is a
well-coordinated fashion with gladius and shield. They were worthy opponents and
very skilled; they might have carried the day if not for the inference of
Aenied. He was no longer able to perceive the one-eyed monster, so ignoring that
threat Aenied helped Shaden and Rikar turning the tide of that melee our way.
Bingus joined the dragonling in the main chamber, and attacked the cambion’s
leader, but our wizard was distracted by the statues and his attack had no
effect. It responded with a ray of hellfire that sent Aenied flying backwards
and knocked him from the air. Taking advantage of that distraction, Shaden
reached past his opponents shield and grabbing his breastplate, threw him to the
ground and leaped atop him forcefully exposing the cambion’s neck, he sank his
new fangs deep into the devil’s neck. Shocked Rikar slayed his foe and recoiled,
then catching sight of his horse’s jeopardy, he moved off in that direction. At
the foot of the statue, the strange one-eyed monster hopped upon Aenied and
began clawing at him in a frenzy of slashing claws and it became obvious to the
rest of us that Aenied still couldn’t see the monster.


 


          
The battles raged on throughout the chamber. Rhogar and Hagrid held the
entrance against the giants, but they couldn’t push past them into the passages
either, Rikar raced past them and disappeared into the shadows reappearing
beyond the giants next to his horse and joined his steed fighting off the steel
predator. Shaden left the drained body of dead legionnaire and began stalking
the eye-breast quickly chasing it away from Aenied, and Aenied turned his
attention back to the cambion’s leader, a soul c
onflagrant.
Bingus struggled to tear his attention away from the statues and ultimately
decided to help Rhogar and Hagrid in their battle with the giants. Given these
adjustments the tide of the battle switched again in our favor, and eventually
we won on all fronts. Only the steel beast escaped, fleeing back up through the
passages from whence it had come. Our enemies defeats we explored the chamber in
earnest.   


 



The Center Statue:

The central statue


depicted Arantor as he existed in life, as a proud silver dragon with a
ferocious continence. The base at the foot of the statue, confirmed this, it
read ‘Arantor’.



 



Northeast Statue:


This statue depicted a short, slight figure, decked out in plague attire. The
name ‘Doctor Manne-crocre’ was carved into the base identifying Bingus’s
brother. Had the ritualist been identified? I think so.


 



Southeast Statue:


This statue depicts a half-dragonborn, with the curved horns of a black dragon
wearing heavy armor and wielding a falchion. The name ‘Mornujhar’ carved into
the base.


 



South Statue:


This is a statue of a gaunt, almost skeletal man of twisted demeanor, sculpted
in unadorned robes, carrying a gnarled staff. ‘Lord Grithstane’ was carved into
its base.


 



Southwest Statue:


This statue of a tall, powerfully built warrior, wearing immaculately filigreed
plate armor and a uniquely stylized, matching wolf’s head helm. We immediately
recognized ‘Kas the Betrayer’ which the base confirmed.


 



West Statue:


This statue depicts a second, skeletal figure, a balding male, more indulgently
dressed in a fanned cowl-like collar, but otherwise tattered clothing, still the
figure was carved with a regal air, carrying a heavy book … The name on the base
read ‘Vecna, God of Secrets’.


 



Otherwise the chamber was draped by several intricate tapestries.


 



North Tapestry:


This tapestry reveals a map of the ancient empire of Arkhosia, in the time
before its war with legendary Bael Turath.


 



Northeast Tapestry:


This tapestry was another map, an artistic representation of the ancient eladrin
Realm of the Twin Queens; written history said these legendary elven twins had
allied their people with Bael Turath in the fiend’s war against Arkhosia.


 



Eastern Tapestries:


This tapestry seems to be an illustrative depiction of a strange and disturbing
forest. According to the caption woven into the bottom of the tapestry, it was
the Forest of Twisted Souls.



 



South Tapestry:


Another tapestry map, but with one represented Bael Turath.


 



Western Tapestry:


This tapestry depicted the realm of Klarn itself.


 


          


There were also several treasures left at the base of the central statue and we
found a few potions on the giants. We recovered: Three golden monkey statuettes
(worth 10,000 gold pieces each), one 5,000 gold piece ruby, and three potions of
vitality.


 


We also found Macaebus body on the
backtracking our path, he had been killed by the giants in antechamber to the
chamber of statues, in the area where Dark Hoof had been battling the steel
predator.


 



“Shaden is a bloody vampire!”

exclaimed Rikar. “I saw him attack the
legionnaire.”


 


At first Shaden stood there saying nothing … then finally he said, “I am
fine, better now. I am not … I am not a vampire. Not yet, at least I don’t think
so, but I do thirst and the blood gives me strength.”



 



           
“Of course it does, you need it … And Shaden we need you. Come here
Shaden, let me show you, prove to you how I trust you.”


offered Aenied, and then presented his wrist. Shaden took one hesitant step
forward then stopped; seeing Shaden’s uncertainty Aenied walked forward withdrew
a dagger dragged the sharp blade over the wrist drawing a bright red blood line
and held his wrist to Shaden’s lips. Whether unable, or unwilling, to resist
Shaden grabbed Aenied and drank greedily from Aenied. As he did Aenied continued
to speak.  


 


           
“Now, you need to go slow, learn to control yourself. I can help you with
that, I’ve seen this sort of thing before. I am from the city of dark
delights and this sort of thing is not that uncommon there.” 
Aenied pulled away his arm, healed himself and then looked keenly at
Shaden and asked, “Are you better?”


           


           
Shaden nod affirming that he was. And Aenied said, “Good. We will all
need to be.”
And we were on our way.


 



If you meet with Triumph or Disaster



And treat those two impostors just the same;



If you stay to hear the truth when plainly spoken,



Untwisted by the knaves who’d make a trap for you.



When you see the things you gave your life to, broken,



And still take time, to build again, you may see yourself renewed.



 


Arantor’s Lair



 


           


A
s
we drove even deeper into the caverns, surreptitiously a conspiracy began to
brew. One by one Bingus and I approached the others, discussing what we should
do and what was likely to happen if we were lucky enough to find the Sword of
Kas. Plainly, Shaden could no longer be trusted, regardless of what he had said
to Aenied. We all knew it, and Shaden wouldn’t be easily stopped. He was our
deadliest warrior, even before his transformation, easily the most skillful
warrior I had ever seen. We needed a plan, Bingus, Rikar, Aenied and I were all
agreed, we were committed to stopping him should we need to by whatever means
necessary, but we still needed to talk to Rhogar and Hagrid, but they were
standing too near Shaden and when we found Arantor’s lair it was too late.


 





The passage began to widen, more so than at any other point of our venture, as
we neared the end of the passage we could hear the pacing of something huge. The
passage ended in a twenty foot drop-off, a massive cavern waited below and there
a gigantic skeletal dragon, paced, its head hung low shaking from side to side,
and it was muttering:



 “No, not real … No! … Nothing’s real,
not really real, no…”


 


The chamber was more than a hundred feet long, with alcoves and crevices at
points along the periphery. Stalagmites and stone pillars dotted the landscape,
and it was so large it had its own atmosphere; clouds of gray mist cohering in
the low spots on the cavern’s floor. The large expanse was dimly illuminated by
phosphorescent fungus, glimmering insects, and the balefire emanating from
Arantor himself. The cavern’s floor was pitted and cracked with several large
holes that revealed a river coursing east beneath the cavern. The dragon either
wasn’t aware of us or he was paying us no heed, or maybe it just didn’t believe
we were ‘really’ there. I tried to gather the others, but I was already too
late, Rhogar and Hagrid were already exploring a deep crevice on the left side
of our entry passage. I went to check on them, but they had disappeared in the
crevices shadows; I returned to the others, and Rikar and Shaden were already
climbing down to the cavern’s floor. Only Aenied and Bingus were still there
when I got back. And then Shaden had already drawn the dark lord’s attention.


 



“Great dragon, we have come seeking you.”  



 



“You’re not here are you? You can’t be … I don’t see you not really, I am
talking to myself …Just like before, like every time before. Nothing ever
changes, not here, and there isn’t anywhere else … anywhere else. Maybe there
never was. Maybe it always was an illusion. Am I dreaming you now? Who are you
supposed to be?”



 



“I am Shaden. We have come looking for a sword.”



 



“You’re very small, and you’re not alone … I am, but you’re not, at least I
don’t think so.”



 


Then I spoke up, knowing to well that Shaden is a lot of things, but diplomatic
isn’t one of them … “Arantor, we are
emissaries seeking others who may have come before, a representative of Tiamat,
an Exarch called, Mornujhar.”


 


Then interrupting Bingus added, “There
may have been a gnome too, but you might not have recognized … He could of …”


 



“Stop it! … I, I, I can’t take this anymore! I’m going crazy here, just
listening to all this banter back and forth, talking like you’re really here.
What do you take me for, an idiot? You’re like rats stuck in a hollowed out
watermelon, in a ship that’s sinking. You don’t know you’re going down, but
you’re go-ing down; you’re going down with the ship! …


“I … I can’t take it … I’m going out of my mind.”



 


Without another word the skeletal dragon rose up flapping its bony wings and
took to air while breathing out a freezing black wave of negative energy that
engulfed Bingus, Aenied, Shaden and I, in a horrible draining malaise that was
both deadly and hard to shake off. We began to spread out, those of us that
could, but Bingus was already reeling from the power of the dragon’s attack. And
for the first time we noticed that there was a second smaller bony dragon,
trapped within Arantor’s enormous ribcage; then the smaller dragon’s empty eyes
were lit by a glowing eerie green and the little dragon began to whisper to
Bingus, until Bingus’s eyes reflected the small pale green glow … Bingus reacted
by raising his magic orb and blasting me with a painful cloud of pink hearts,
yellow stars and green clovers. The fight had only just started, and we were
losing and losing bad. Shaden couldn’t do much with the dragon flying overhead;
his boots had already been used earlier in the day so the boot’s magic had
already been exhausted. Likewise Rikar was equally stymied. Before we could
organize a plan the dragon swooped down upon Shaden and attacking furiously with
a combination of claw and biting attacks, eventually swatting the half-orc aside
as if he were a bug, and said:


 



“I’m not evil, just so you know … I’m not! In case you’re curious? I’m not evil
… I know, sometimes maybe the actions that I take, kind of make it seem like I’m
evil, but honestly I’m not. And it’s not like need any help looking evil. I’m a
dragon; after all, it’s my nature.”


 


Then flapping furiously with his bony wings he began to rise into the air again,
but this time Aenied was waiting above and somehow he blasted a wave of power
that forced the dragon back down to ground. Rikar attacked, and Shaden, who had
already recovered closed to flank with the drow ranger hemming the dragon in.
Then on the rise above, where Bingus and I were, Rhogar finally reappeared back
at the entrance of the crevice where we’d lost him, just as I saw him, Bingus
blasted me a second time; only this time he used blue moons, rainbows, and red
balloons that hurt even worse. Afterwards, he bent over choking, and when he
straightened back up his eyes had stopped glowing and he seemed himself again.
What’s more Monadhan’s blessing was upon him, rewarding attacks upon me, with a
renewing vigor, while I was still suffering the sting of his previous attacks. I
found myself tempted to strike him myself, but then found myself distracted once
more as Rhogar leaped over the edge racing to help Shaden and Rikar. I put my
anger and hurt aside recognizing it for what it was and instead I tended to the
injuries Bingus and I had sustained. And finally Bingus climbed upon his ebony
fly and flew off to engage the dragon himself and left me alone at the entrance
with Rikar’s horse. Lacking Rhogar’s recklessness, I opted to climb down to the
cavern’s floor while the battle raged on … grounded the little dragon within
Arantor began whispering to Aenied and like a puppet master took control,
Aenied’s eyes glowed green like Bingus before him and he began attacking Shaden
and Rikar in concert with Arantor himself, and the dragon continued to ramble:


 



“No one just starts out giggling, starts wearing black and signs up to become a
villain. You know how it happens? It happens that’s how; you make questionable
choices, for what might be perfectly very good reasons. Then you make choice
after choice; you don’t start out slaughtering roomfuls of saints or murdering
babies by the hundreds, but after a while it starts to add up. And then one day
you look at your reflection and realize that you’re so far over the line that
they can’t remember when the last time you even saw the line was.”



 


The dragon’s mere presence was both oppressive and unnerving, so much so that
after a few seconds Rikar couldn’t take it and quickly withdrew, heading back
towards the entrance, Rhogar asked,
“Where are you going, the battle in in front of you?”


 


Rikar responded, “I am going back for
Dark Hoof!”


 


Unimpressed Rhogar charged on, but by time he got there the Dragon was again in
the air, trying to put distance between itself and Shaden, who was fighting like
a man possessed with the speed and strength of a vampire. Shaden paid no heed to
Rikar’s retreat, and fearlessly leaped after the dragon as it gained altitude,
but Arantor had simply plucked him from the air in one great claw; but Arantor
hadn’t seemed to notice the dragonborn who wasn’t going to be out done, he
leaped in the air too, but then Rhogar’s hide armor extended wings which carried
Rhogar high enough to collide with the dragon. Rhogar reached out with one heavy
gauntleted arm, and his gauntlet was accessorized with steely hooked claws that
helped him latch firm on the dragon’s bones allowing Rhogar to swing his sword
wide and hard scoring several heavy blows. Then, lost in the rage of combat,
Rhogar breathed out a gout of flame which swallowed all three combatants within
a flying ball of flame. It was a sight to behold, and just a taste of the
heroism that was to follow.


 


High above, in roughly the center of the cavern, Bingus was circling the dragon
riding his fly. To the northwest he saw a large alcove that was hidden behind a
curtaining wall that screened the alcove from the cavern’s entrance. In this
alcove along the western wall was a circular portal with a dark core rimmed with
dancing lightning. Hagrid was also there, having exited a crevice located in the
same alcove; but he was running towards the main floor of the cavern to join the
others; as Hagrid reached the alcove’s edge, without thinking about he entered
into one of the misty clouds on the cavern’s floor, within the strange mist,
memories tied to the dark lord’s life began to flood into Hagrid’s
consciousness. Hagrid struggled to remember what Kas had said, something about
using Arantor’s delusions; and the guilt he felt against him. Perhaps, Hagrid
thought, these clouds might prove useful in vanquishing the dark lord? 
Shouting loudly he called out,
“LOOK TO THE MISTS, I THINK THEY ARE THE WEAKNESS KAS SPOKE OF!”



 


Burdened by our two warriors, Arantor hovered in the center of the cavern and
said,


“You will either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the
villain.”



 


Bingus attacked, firing a frosty blue ray at the dragon that froze him in an icy
block, and carrying the added weight of Rhogar and Shaden, it was enough to
cause him to crash back down to the ground. I followed Hagrid’s suggestion
entering the nearest misty cloud. Instantly I realized Hagrid was right, the
mist was heavy laden with memories of Arantor’s bloody past; these visions in
the mist were full of carnage, the tales of slaughtered innocents. There I
called out the name, “Imrissa!” and
immediately I had the dark lord’s attention. I know not what he saw, but he
released Shaden, and began focusing entirely upon me.


 



“How much sharper than a serpent’s tooth, is the tongue of a thankless child?!”



 



“Have you already forgotten me and your other victims, our innocence, and the
tragedy of our end, or have you convinced yourself we all deserved our
slaughter?” …


I asked, and Arantor was obviously shaken by the question. He fully paused for a
moment completely ignoring Shaden and Rhogar’s attacks, but the little dragon
within him did not; caged within it began a tantrum until finally it poked its
head out of the ribcage and breathed upon Rhogar, Shaden and Aenied, the
warriors staggered, squeezing their eyes tight against the crushing psychic
attack of the smaller dragon’s breath, but Imrissa’s attack backfired against
Aenied; it freed him from her control and temporarily disabling the small
dragon. She fell back into the sheltering ribcage of Arantor.

“Why
do you people insist on creating things that will inevitably be destroyed? Why
do people cling to life, knowing that you must someday die? …Knowing that none
of it will have meant anything once you do?”



 


I challenged Arantor again, “I call
on you to honor my memory, the memory of Imrissa!
 I call on all the mercy, all the
justice, left within you … Everything, and anything that is decent, or that you
hold dear. I know it is there, I can sense it, you have but to set it free.” 


 



“You are right daughter, I used to be prettier than I am now; particularly
compared to when I was young, and still thought of as a hero. I’m not so much
like that now and no one is ever happy to see me, but you should know real
heroes don’t exist. And if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them; most villains
come with pretty faces.” 



 


The battle on the floor continued; Arantor’s distraction made him no less
impressive, but it did make him more approachable. Bingus, Aenied attacked while
Shaden and Rhogar tried to fight off the maddening urge to attack one another.
They were joined by Hagrid who stepped between them discouraging their
infighting. Back at the cavern’s entrance Rikar was again mounted, and with his
magic exhausted, he opted to ride Dark Hoof into the upper crevice hoping like
Hagrid he might find a path to the lower cavern. In the melee below the attacks
started taking a toll on Arantor, his bones had begun to fracture, and some of
the ribs had already been cracked. I started reciting a litany of the places and
peoples that had been ravaged by Arantor … He cried out in horror, making it
clear that I had hit another cord, and so I pressed on:


 



“How can you in conscience, resist when your failures are so evident; when your
true enemy is arrogance, your only salvation, remorse … Surrender!”

I called.


 


Both by word and weapon we had succeeded, Arantor cried out thoroughly undone;
his corpse split open and the small dragon within, exploded from Arantor’s riven
chest and vanished in a flash only to reappear near the cavern’s ceiling 50 feet
above. She flew high and fast, but mounted on the ebony fly Bingus was faster
still and he chased after her casting a spell as the fly chased after her; mists
appeared surrounded her within a transparent cocoon. Bingus yelled to us warning
it wouldn’t hold her long, but it did hold her long enough for Aenied to
catch-up, as he neared he warned Bingus
“Get away from her, and stay away if you can; she attacks the mind, seeking to
set us against each other, but her powers will prove less ineffective against
me, than you.”



 


As Bingus withdrew something new caught his eye, a second raised alcove as large
as the first had been revealed, and this one was filled with glittering
treasure. Bingus pointed out the treasure, and Rhogar followed his lead moving
toward the exposed treasure trove. Moving through the crevice Rikar had indeed
found a way to the cavern’s floor, and mounted atop Dark Hoof he appeared racing
across the cavern floor just as Imrissa managed to free herself. Aenied was
waiting for her. She scowled and began whispering at Aenied, “Any sympathy
you feel for Arantor is foolish, he is beyond your control or your ability to
cause any lasting harm. He will wake and you will die … Flee your doom if you so
choose, or remain and fight, knowing you will be trapped forever with me and you
shall become a witness ruin unimaginable, and know that you were the cause; and
so prove no better than Arantor himself!”


 


And her words carried enchanting magic, laced with psychic power that tried to
worm its way into Aenied’s mind only to be rejected by a greater power which
existed there; this entity magnified and reflected the attack back upon its
source; Imrissa shrieked an profane, high-pitched squeal of pure torment, the
dire sound was even more mentally taxing, than an auditory assault, and it was
impossible to ignore. Taking initiative, Aenied attacked again, and for a second
time in this battle he forced the dragon to ground. When Imrissa crashed Shaden,
Rikar and Hagrid closed in upon her, attacking her from all sides. She didn’t
have a chance, and she never recovered. Together they slashed, chopped, and
ultimately ripped Imrissa apart leaving pieces of her lying about on the
cavern’s floor at their feet. Then just as I left the mist I heard the sound of
clapping behind back at the entrance to the cavern.


 


 


 

The
Final Betrayal



 



K
as
appeared atop the ledge at the entry to Arantor’s lair. He was resplendent in
his gleaming full armor and a great wolf-head helm, the tall powerful vampire
was staring down at us.


 



“We have our bargain, mortals!”

Kas warned. “Surrender my sword to me
now, and I will allow you to retain your lives, and I may, even let you ascend
to the surface.”


 


Staring down at the hoard of treasure, a dark sword, with a dancing ribbon of
black playing across its blade caught Bingus’s eye. Quick as a wink summons his
familiar, and sends it darting across the cavern; the dragonling flew fast and
straight towards the portal, no one paying any heed; as it did Bingus removed
his cloak and wrapped it about the sword quickly, but with great care at the
same. Under his breath, Rhogar asks, “Is that it?”“Yes.” Answers
Bingus, “The Sword of …”


 



“Kas … Why are you not guarding the entrance as you promised?”

I asked.


 



“Fool! Worm! Did you think I would trust you? Do you think I would not take my
sword from you? Are you eager to bathe it in your own blood? Would you try and
betray the betrayer? What unthinkable folly!”


 


Kas leaped off the ledge with casual ease, and began to pace methodically
towards me. All the while, he continued to berate me.


 



“I will spare whoever brings me my sword; for whether you live or die, matters
not to my designs which extend far beyond this dreary prison. All that you have
encountered in your brief existences will pale in light the reckoning I will
deliver. Vengeance, does not begin to describe the horror my enemies are going
to endure in my name … All other suffering, every disappoint they have ever
suffered, will seem a prologue in comparison. Give the sword to me, and spare
yourselves this same retribution, vengeance beyond your mortal understanding;
obey me and you may live long enough to become a witness my triumph!”


 


The tiny dragon racing overhead was of no interest to Kas, as he closed with me
at the southwest center of the cavern. The portal was still screened from the
vampire lord by the curtain wall; furthermore, I could tell that Kas could sense
the presence of his sword atop the exposed alcove on the south side of the
cavern where Rhogar and Bingus still were; from Kas’s perspective he had already
cut them off from the only exit from the cavern, but then Bingus vanished and
reappeared past us once again riding his magical fly right at his familiar’s
side.


 

Kas
yelled,


“No! You will not leave with my sword! I will not be denied! Face me you fool, I
am the ripper, the Death in the Night, and mine will be the last face you ever
see!”


 


All at once we started running, everyone but Rhogar; who stayed behind just long
enough to gather the treasure, and Rikar who waited below him. Hagrid ran past
me, as I turned to leave myself, but Kas looked to Shaden and ordered,
“Take the bard!” Faster than
I could escape Shaden grabbed me by the back of my neck, and lifted me off my
feet and into the air holding me there easily with one arm. Bingus had already
made his way to the portal; within the portal’s dark center he imagined he could
see a trace of movement on the other side, but he couldn’t make it out what he
was seeing so he pulled the sword from the cloak and suddenly the crackling
energy of the portal surged as the barriers between the planes were ripped
asunder. The smell of burning filled the air as lightning arcing at the edges of
the portal suddenly wreathed the Sword of Kas in a blinding halo of light that
faded and dissipated after a few moments revealing a panorama of twisted trees
on the opposite side the portal.


 



“The way is clear, everyone get through the portal, we have the SWORD!”

called out Bingus.


 


Aenied landed next to Bingus, as Hagrid arrived, Aenied said,
“Go through secure the other side!”
Without question Hagrid leaped through. Back at the ledge of the second alcove
Rhogar tossed the treasure to Rikar and said,
“Run, take the treasure, I’ve got this.”



 


Rikar gave Dark Hoof’s flank a gentle kick, and the horse bolted, racing off
across the cavern in route to the portal, Rikar carried the dragon’s hoard with
one arm and the horse’s reins in the other.


 


           
Following the sword’s call, Kas stepped past me, for first time he saw
the portal, and yelled


“No! You cannot leave with my sword, the bard will die!”


 


           
Rikar didn’t hesitate, Dark Hoof leaped through the portal without
breaking stride. Kas yelled at Shaden,



“KILL HIM … Rip out his throat!”



 



         


Shaden spun me around, opened his mouth wide bore his fangs, but before he could
strike Rhogar slammed us both to the ground! I went from seeing my life pass
before my eyes to suddenly being free. Rhogar stood above Shaden hold him down
with one foot, while telling me to run. I scrambled to get away, and in a rage,
Kas moved towards me. Rhogar pushed off Shaden slamming him to the ground again,
and charged Kas intercepting the Betrayer before he could catch me; Rhogar
hurled himself into the vampire with all the considerable force he could muster,
taking advantage of the surprise of his attack, his dragonborn bulk, and the
momentum of his charge he knocked the vampire lord to the ground, and quickly
grabbed him by the heel and began dragging him further away from the portal, all
the while still yelling at me, and telling me to run! Never before had I seem
such self-sacrificing heroism … And you can trust me, given the things I’ve
witnessed that carries weight.


 


           
During their melee, I had put a little distance between us, but I slowed
hesitating, still looking back, awed by spectacle of the heroics I was
witnessing, but Shaden had regained his footing, and Kas had fixed Rhogar in his
glare and used it to dominate Rhogar’s will then ordered,



“Release ME!”

Rhogar complied without comment making it was clear that Kas had the dragonborn
enthralled. As he stood Kas issued an order to both Shaden and Rhogar,



“Kill them, kill them ALL!”
 
 


 


           
I was already unconsciously backing away, and as they charged and I ran.
Aenied was yelling at me frantically,
“Jump, jump, they are at your heels!”  
And
I leaped through the portal, past Bingus who was still holding the Sword of Kas,
to keep the portal open, and Aenied stood bravely at the gnome’s side. As I hit
the ground on the other side I fell and tumbled, looking back over my shoulder,
fearful of what I might see, I swear I saw Kas yelling in frustration and
stamping on the ground until the ground collapsed beneath him and swallowed him.
As Shaden and Rhogar closed on the portal Aenied push Bingus through, sword in
hand, and braced himself to absorb their charge; the portal slammed shut,
Arantor’s lair faded from view, the last thing I saw was Rhogar and Shaden
crashing into Aenied then the portal closed and it was over, somehow we had won
our way through, but at great cost. Shaden was cursed, and both Rhogar and Aenied
were lost to us.  


 


“It is as you have said, only more my friend, heroism, beyond compare on many
levels … Ou se on moun spesyal! You shall be needing to write this down. Those
university folks well be wanting you to have everything just so zanmi’m. Now we
need to be getting on wit tings her’ man, the ole boatman waits fer nobody I’m
afraid.”


 


“You are right Iroon, on all accounts, I only wish I had a chance to say
goodbye.”



 



TREASURE RECOVERED:



 



2,100 pieces of platinum, Seven jacinths worth 5,000 gold pieces each, four
articulated dragon sculptures with sapphire embedded scales (worth 15,000 gold
pieces each) and

The
Sword of Kas

(see
below)

 Sword of Kas