Monthly Archives: October 2013

SOW Chapter15: Twisted Old Friends


Twisted
Old Friends


 



N
aiethar
Traihel was once known as the Queen of the Wastes, a thicket dryad of tragic
circumstance who eventually succumbed to the cruel whims of the naga, Queen
Shephatiah; her mind had been broken by the naga’s torment and Naiethar had been
transformed into an instrument of torture for the people of the Thornwastes far
harsher even than their environment. By mortal reckoning a dryad is nearly
immortal, a creature of fey, their lives were tied to the vibrant things of
life, and the changing of the seasons, but for so long Naiethar had known only pain,
suffering, and dismal dry tortured loneliness of the desert wastes made worse by
the dread Queen’s evil whispers as she convinced the dryad that the people of
the wasteland had been the cause and source of the terrors that had been visited
upon her. Under Queen Shephatiah’s tutelage Naiethar had visited great evil upon
these poorest of people, torturing them to such an extent that they had been
forced to watch as the village’s children died of starvation, as they withered
drinking from their poisoned well, and any who resisted were beaten to death
slowly, horribly in the center of the village while the others were forced to
watch by the Queen’s demon-infested gnolls. In her innocence and naïvete, she had
been seduced, and overwhelmed by the naga’s evil; her mind was a ruin, all this
and more before her defeat, before her ‘death’ at the hands of Brindol’s Brigade
and Bingus and as catastrophic as her life had been her death and her current
hereafter was far worse.


 


But dryads don’t die, not like mortals. On Klarn they served Gaea, the Earth
Mother, but once they were all free spirits of the fey. As penance they are for a
time trapped in mortal form, victims of their own lusts and desires, tied to
great oaks of the mortal world, lifetimes by mortal measure, their
lives inseparable from their host trees shepherding the wood, guarding their
mother’s treasures while paying for their indiscretions; but what then if some
new evil, some crafty necromancer, were to take such a host tree while its
guardian is in repose, and transport the tree in whole to a truly vile place of
darkness, in a land so tainted, that death becomes life and life death forcing
the tree to draw succor from this, most dread of places, the Land of the Dead? …
What you get is Naiethar Traihel, a dryad turned into a lich-like creature as
warped as the Forest of Twisted Souls itself, as close to a ‘living’ embodiment
of the forest as existed. Madness had long ago enveloped Naiethar’s mind,
madness and the desire to track down the intruders in this, her wood. She had
sensed the new arrivals, and followed their progress as they descended into the
forest, but then they had vanished, a thing she knew was not possible, so she
had sent out her minions to the task of finding these new malcontents, and worst
among them Bingus whom, along with the rest of the Brigade, she had come to
blame for her decline. Among her servants, were three nightwalkers, powerful
elemental necromantic entities composed of equal parts darkness and absolute
evil; in life such monstrosities would have been anathema to her, but here
within this most twisted of forests, they were Naiethar’s closest companions.
Psychic, telepathic, guided by their own evil intelligence that far exceeded the
understanding of their living prey, the nightwalkers could sense Bingus’s magic
even if they couldn’t pinpoint the magic doorway of the wizard’s mansion so
Naiethar had summoned Daergoth, the death titan and his ghouls to wander and
search out the unwelcome gnome and his friends.


 


Such it was as Bingus’s spell neared its conclusion which meant the mansion
would disappear, depositing the travelers ignobly back within the circle of
trees where Bingus had secreted them away if they did not soon vacate the
mansion, after some short debate, they send Hagrid out first and immediately he
realizes he is not alone there. Gibbering sounds issue from the outlying forest,
excited guttural sounds, of monsters stalking their prey; mixed in with a much
deeper, moaning, as powerful as a storm, but more menacing. Then a shadow,
darker than the surrounding sky darts by quickly overhead; ghouls are upon
Hagrid instantly before he can set a defense, and the goliath is paralyzed by
the tainted poison of the ghouls’ dead claw-like nails. Wes Corrin pushes hard,
squeezing his small body out from behind the towering goliath and leaps forward
while simultaneously transforming into a shower of arcane energy and cuts a
swath through the assembled ghouls slaying the two climbing over Hagrid, and
moving on to drop two more besides as he bursts from the mansion, but then finds
himself face-to ankle with the massive giant Daergoth, so massive he makes
Hagrid look small.


 

Lord
Nill, one of the nightwalkers and a giant in its own right, storms out of the
forest from behind the portal, stomping over and past Hagrid, paying no heed to
the goliath who is knocked aside easily and the without pause to the hulking
nightwalker who slaps Wes through the air as if he were some small vermin
sending him flying into Daergoth. Dazed, the halfling shakes his head trying to
clear the butterflies while lying at Daergoth’s feet. With Hagrid having been
knocked aside, Finellior takes advantage exiting along with Rikar, the drow
already mounted on Dark Hoof, and behind them, Rikar’s stone guardians move out;
all of them are immediately engaged as the forest awakes and a second
nightwalker appears. The blackstar knights push past the grasping trees, their
stone bodies overpowering the wooden branches, and surround Lord Nill and begin
slicing into the giant’s legs heedless of any danger they overwhelming the giant
both by strength of numbers and the ferocity of their attack. The second
nightwalker, while not nearly as large as Lord Nill, still stands taller than
Rikar even while mounted upon his heavy undead warhorse, and it claws at the
drow, its arm stretching impossibly far, but misses Rikar while still forcing
him to change course. Dark Hoof wheels, and Rikar turns his attention from the
already surrounded giant nightwalker to this new foe as the larger nightwalker
fixes Rikar in its eyeless gaze; Rikar finds himself staring into a void of pure
darkness, one that freezes his soul send both him and his mount into a swift
retreat. Somewhere behind him, Finellior begins singing out alternately in
praise and taunts, the magic of his song healing his already reeling friends
while tormenting and confusing the giant nightwalker, Lord Nill who responses by
filling Finellior’s mind with visions of darkness and despair deafening Fin to
his allies voices and challenging the bard’s pitch and control threatening to
bring an early end his song.


 


Bingus pushes out Iroon who fills the gap cutting off the nightwalker’s pursuit
of Rikar, halting the second nightwalker, as the invisible mansion vanishes when
Bingus finally exits, mounted upon the animated fly. The wizard quickly rises
above the tall trees fly high above the trees as fast as the magic fly can carry
him, but he is immediately greeted by a third foe the flying nightgaunt which
not only keeps pace with him, but even begins to close the gap between them, not
anxious to battle such an aberration alone, the gnome quickly sequesters his
would be assailant calling quickly upon his command of extra-dimensional magic
to dismiss the aberration to the wizard’s own trapped pocket plane.


 


With the second nightwalker forestalled by Iroon, Rikar reverses course charging
back and uses Kas’s blade to rip through the monster’s side and set it ablaze in
the radiant power of the sword and then for good measure buries his burning axe
in the nightwalkers back. The nightwalker staggers and backs away but Iroon
pursues, raises his staff and hits the walker with a wave of some mysterious
power. Stumbling and leaking inky blackness, the monster pushes back against
Iroon, casting its deathly night gaze upon the Baron of Death, but Iroon just
laughs, “HA, ha, Hah! I see you have met
my mistress, too. Ah, how I yearn to see her again.”


  


Having dismissed the flying nightgaunt, Bingus spins back around towards the
party and with a single spell finishes the nightwalker giant, Lord Nill drowning
the monstrous nightwalker in a clinging pool of acid; trapped, hemmed in by
Rikar’s stone knights, the giant nightwalker melts away as if sinking into the
ground leaving only a bubbling pool of blackness to mark its passage. Still on
his fly, Bingus shoots forward to explore the forest up ahead.


 


Still blocked by Iroon, the final nightwalker can’t move forward, laughing and
filled with confident Rikar, prompted by his new sword, Rikar puts heels to
haunches of Dark Hoof driving the horse forward and charges, the last
nightwalker … It has no chance.


 


In the center of the of party Daergoth still commands the respect slashing down
at stone knights which he  knocks
aside with ease, but not so with Wes who moves too quickly for the giant
bouncing side-to-side while slashing the giant at every step. Hagrid joins in
recovered from his paralysis, and he strikes true unleashing all his frustration
driving his blade to the hilt in the Daergoth’s chest, and then using his
strength to pull the blade free ripping the blade back out through the giant’s
ribcage. A final ghoul reaches out for Rikar, as almost as afterthought the
drow’s hand waves past and the ghoul’s head topples, severed by the invisible
blade of Kas’s sword.  


 

As
the party closes in on Daergoth, now far ahead of the party, Bingus’s attention
is drawn to a massive wickedly twisted oak standing alone in a small clearing;
this grandfather of trees is unique in the smallest signs of life visible among
the its branches, but the huge tree bears sign of distress, its trunk is
blackened and its branches are knotted but the ancient oak tree still dominates
the area, but not only due to its size, but due to the few sickly, yellow leaves
clinging to life atop its highest branches. Following some strange call, Bingus
descends and as the rest of his party pulls up behind him, and as he waits, he
spies a beautiful, pale-skinned, slender, eladrin female peering at him from
behind the huge tree. Her long, white hair falling almost to her waist and her
large, deep forest-green eyes regard Bingus with a mix of interest and terror as
she says,



I felt your presence as you entered the wood,




I remember you and the desert, from which you strode
,



You were the destroyer, who thought himself good,



Before you ravaged me and sacked my abode.



 



First you greeted then you attacked,



 But I am the Queen of the Wastes,



And you’ll not leave intact!



Waste not your words as my judgment is placed.



 



You are prithee to nothing



And I have no time to waste.



 


           
With the others approaching fast behind Bingus, joining the wizard in the
small clearing, having slain the giant Daergoth and the last of his minions; as
they approach Bingus petitions them for calm, a reasoned approach, whispering,
“I know her, I have met her before.”
and then addresses the dryad directly.


 



“I should have expected to see you here, I do remember you too. The last time we
met I offered you a glass of water … You remember that don’t you?”



 


Naiethar Traihel kneels and bows low you and answers:


 



You alone were a gentleman it’s true,



But what of your friends, what did they do?



The slayed my followers, every last one,



They impaled me with a stick, and stole treasure before done.



 



And I have suffered so deeply, in endless loathing,



What is left of me is endless animosity



The sensations of constantly decomposing



How then will you answer for this atrocity?


 


           
Taking lead, Bingus answers with a tap to his new silver skull cap, as
Finellior joins Bingus at the front of the party, Bingus answers:



 



“As you yourself have said, as unfortunate as those events where, I and by that
I mean my party, were not the cause of that horrific encounter, rather we like I
imagine you, had been duped by the naga, Queen Shephatiah.” 
.


.


           
The dryad responds,  



“I have been called many things, Queen Shephatiah, Queen of the Wastes, but
Naiethar Traihel is my name.”



 



Living in pain felt for so long … with such suffering,



I almost didn’t remember it  



It tears holes in me … puncturing,



Revealed the devastation of my spirit!



 



Was there ever a time without this pain, I don’t remember?



 


           
Again Bingus answers:


 



“While I never saw it, it must be so, but from what I’ve heard you were first
Queen of the Thornwastes, which I imagine has always been a harsh place, but
many people find beauty in such places. I remember it as a maze of broken hills,
briar-choked ravines, and dry, dusty scrubland, but these badlands gave way to
larger, a much larger stretch of true desert, with fascinating rock formations.
I traveled the desert both south and west. And the legends foretold, I met such
magnificent wonder, ‘The Thunder Serpent’ who I admit I did scare me at first,
but he wasn’t really all that bad; and neither now do I expect are you either.
My friends even wrote a poem about it.”



 



W
e
traveled through thorns to barren sands,


Where many men had died,


T’where forgotten, Dunesend, grimly gray yet stands,


And the place the desert’s Warden plied.


Where drake faced us, a lion at bay,


Seeing its head up-flung,


And brave Bingus did say, “Today we dare not die.”


While others fretted or held their tongues.



 


“Now I didn’t write that last part myself, but that’s the poem anyhow.”


 


           
Seeming unconvinced, the dryad’s skin darkens taking on the appearance of
bark, and again she speaks,


 



Can you see it inside me?



The sickness rising …



Don’t try to deny what you see!



As you stand there I sense your despising



All that decays within me.


           
And Bingus does see it, a festering madness overwhelming her, as the
color runs out of Naiethar’s eyes making a blank slate of hate of her face;
Bingus’s heart clenches instinctively as sweat begins beading on his forehead,
with the sudden realization that the dryad will never be right while she remains
trapped within the Forest of Twisted Souls, and with this realization Bingus’s
foreboding grows even as Naiethar starts feeding on his rising terror, that
which was truly the only thing that sustained her here in the Forest of Twisted
Trees. She yells out.



 



I once knew the power of sun, sap flowing, leaves growing, the very meaning of
life



I felt it, flowing through my roots,



Instead terror poisoning my soul!



But my hunger is bigger, as is my strife.



Come closer taste the fruit,



Let violence take your life!



 


           
At a loss for words, Bingus stumbles over his words, stymied momentarily
by her staggering twist of attitude … He offers:


 



                           
                                                                                                                                         
“Only
the gods can heal what ails you.”



 



           


Finally losing her composure entirely, the dryad’s visage twists while expanding
as thorns painfully erupt from her skin spreading in waves across her body.


 



So you have come to savor my devastation!



Taking pleasure in my fall, and my epic degradation?



You speak in lies, of reclamation.



But while I am stricken and I’ll never let you go.



And trapped by cold worse than winter, and I can never grow



Forever crippled, in defeat, in ways you’ll never know!


 


           
No longer able to contain himself, Finellior pushes forward, and bowing
respectfully offers: 


 



“Mistress of the wood, I apologize for our indiscretion, but we too are trapped
here. I hope the blessings of the earth Goddess guide us all to greater
understanding; but please maiden, let me hear your grievances, for I for would
see this spell displaced, and I stand prepared to dedicate myself to your
wholeness if you would but allow me.”


 



You who come to me, an enemy … a Defiler?



You who would destroy me, a committed liar?



And now would you deny your zealotry?



 


           
Answering Fin says, “Neither I,
nor friends mean you any harm nor do we bear you any ill will, rather it is our
enemies, your enemies we would stop; those who would make victims of us all.”
  


 



So now you see what you have done to me?



You should know mercy can never be!



I will not be haunted by your faces again!



Now you must suffer for your sins.



For I am stricken and alone!



And you can never see your home!


 


Thinking fast, Finellior struggles for something to grab on to, some glimmer of
hope … Confident they could defeat the dryad if need forced their hand, he
was equally sincere in his desire to help.  Understanding
that the roots of Naiethar’s madness stemmed from an oppressive sense of
hopelessness, caused both by a history of torture and the environment of this
twisted forest he whispers, “Bingus you
must apologize, she doesn’t know me, or any of the rest of us; it has to come
from you, and you must be sincere.”
Bingus frowns at first but says,


 



I’m really sorry for our actions,



Obviously I deserve this reaction.



What we did was not very kind,



It wasn’t what we had in mind.



 



I’m really sorry, and I truly care,



What we did was unfair,



Hope you forgive my friends this time,



For it was only I that did the crime.


 


           
Shrinking back, Naiethar retreats, her color molts, her thorns deplete … 


 



Vengeance has been my only vow,



But we must settle this here and now!



It is because of you this curse took hold;



My spirit has withered, and my heart has gone cold.



 



How then can I then disavow?



 



           


Fin wraps his arm around Bingus and says,
“Mistress, I could no more abandon my
friend then you the oak which is your vessel, Bingus is both fair and just.
These evils that befell you, began before you ever met my friend? Was it not the
naga, Shephatiah, who cursed both you and Bingus, leading either to the other?
And given that this is the case, could we not be of greater service to you alive
than dead? Isn’t that your truer path to recovery, the defeat of those who
revile and torment us?”  


 


           
Naiethar nods in apparent agreement, then suddenly her armor reappears as
she rakes the air furiously with even greater agitation. 


 



NO! His wickedness is much too dark, 



And there is nothing to redeem no salvation to spark!



You will fall like autumn’s leaves; for there is no hope, none.



My judgment is rendered, your winter is come!



Speak now, your epitaph now and let this be done!


 


Shocked at this turn of events, Fin answers quickly,
“Bury us if you will, but you would gain
more from our lives than our death, we are all trapped here, let us see if my
friends and I can free us, all of us!”
Then a sudden insight hits the bard
with the inspiration of a missing puzzle piece latching on to his consciousness
… ‘She said he, but what if that isn’t Bingus?’ 
And Fin responds:


 



 “I beseech thy fairest spirit of this
most tragic forest, let my epitaph read, I died in service to you let us defeat
HIM for you.”



 



No I’m sorry it cannot be done … Death! Now and forevermore!



Locked in hatred, I still hold the door!



Your life is short, you’ll soon you’ll be gone.



Nature plays no favors as she sings life’s long song.



When you surrender it all to me;



I will see that you are evermore free!



Your redemption lies not in this life, but death’s embrace, now pay death’s
price!


 


Listening in with growing concern, the warden Hagrid is drawn to a scrap of
ambient magic adrift within the dryad’s oak, a small cloud of green and brown
smoke wafting through the sparse branches of the huge oak tree. Instinct takes
hold, the warden’s innate connection to the primal force of nature, opens
Hagrid’s senses which seems attract the magic to him, it washes over the goliath
accompanied by the faint smell of honeysuckle and lavender, opening Hagrid to
the tree’s keen sense of loss and pain mirrored in the dryad. Suddenly, Hagrid
understands, and with understanding realizes a yet unknown ability to
communicate with the trees around them. Addressing Naiethar he says:


 



“We are not your enemies; we are here as friends, only say how we may serve you
… And if you do not know, then let us find out together. My friends are powerful and
smarter than I, and none more so than Bingus. Let us help you now.”


 


 



But what hope have you beyond the portal,



Trapped with me in Hell immortal?



 



As you offer your life to me,



I will take it and set you’ll be free!



Then I will release your life,



You will be freed from grief and end this strife.


 


Refocused, Bingus tries to get through once more,
“We are not simple animals, we have
souls that are not tied to our bodies or even this forest, and our souls will
never be at peace unless we like you accomplish what is expected of us and free
not only ourselves, but you as well from this place of misery and despair.”


 



But what hope have I?



I know, I’ve tried,



In this place there’s no hope,

No
sign of life, no way to cope!



You might run, fight your way free



But I must suffer endlessly.


 


           
Finellior speaks loud and clear:



 “We will not abandon you”



 


           
A glimmer of hope, maybe just a wink quickens in the dryad pale eyes, as
her eyes swell with moisture like dew collecting on a morning leaf.


 



How can you speak thus to me,



Knowing truthfully it can never be?



Are you truly all this cruel?



Offering hope that can’t be true!



If your words are not lies,



Give me the proof I can’t deny!



 


           
Moving quietly past the others, Hagrid approaches the one living thing
that knows the dryad better than any other; the ancient oak, and using his new
telepathy fueled by the ritual fragment, he asks the tree for some glimmer of
hope, an insight or sign that Naiethar might believe. He receives a silent
answer and then says:



 



 “Long ago, this woodland stood upon the
good world of Klarn and even now, here today, a few vestiges of the natural
spirits that once thronged within these woods still linger here in these woods.
Like you, I can feel the desolation of the wood … I feel it keenly, and yet I
know that this land can yet be clean again. You must feel it too, for your
senses are far greater than my own. You have not always been trapped here, why
then should you have to stay now? Together we can make a difference, find a way
to change this.”


 



You think to free me from torment’s embrace?



Then tell me how to leave this place?



The crucial parts that have been taken from me,



Replace them now and set us free.



But if you fail you know fear,



As the forest takes from you all you hold dear.


 


           
Inspiration hits Bingus like a lightning bolt, suddenly the answer shines
through his mind with the power of the noonday sun. Almost unable to contain
himself he turns to Hagrid and asks:


 


 


           
“If we were to take a single
bough from Naiethar’s tree and if we planted it in the untainted soil when we
get home might it not take root and grow offering and allow our friend the
egress she needs?”



 



“YES”

… Is Hagrid’s response.


 



Take it now,



While there is still life!



Before light fades from my sight!



I offer consolation to you this one time;



Having nothing, fearing nothing; and with nothing to hide.



I command you to rise



And take me away



Quickly through darkness



Back to the land of the Fey!



 

         


Calmed, composed, and having regained her elven aspect Naiethar Traihel looks
outward, as if viewing something far away, beyond the confines of the twisted
forest. Augmented with hope, perhaps for the first time since she found herself
here months or years ago … Naiethar couldn’t tell and neither could the
travelers. She walks to the oak and with the greatest care she extracts a small
bough, one with fresh buds and as she hands the small branch the buds burst open
gently revealing bright green, fresh leaves. She strides softly, but confidently
to Hagrid and says,
“I am entrusting this to your care, do
not fail me.”



 



           


And then turning her attention to Bingus she reaches out and hands the gnome an
acorn and says,
“The path ahead will reveal a second
portal, not unlike the one that brought you here, when it is revealed you have
but to place this acorn within the circle to activate the portal. The portal
will carry those who enter back to Klarn.”



 



 



           


And finally she addresses Finellior: Bard,
you have opened my eyes to hope I thought I could never see again, but my time
in the land of mortals is done; it is my greatest desire to return to the
Feywild. Can I trust you to carry me there?”



 



           


“Of course my lady, I will see that it is so.”

answers Fin.


 



“When my tree takes root within the fey you will all be richly rewarded. Go
forward with my thanks; your path through the forest will now be clear, but only
until the rise for the mantled citadel is beyond my control.”


 



His evil spell enshrouds that land
In shadows, woe and misery—
And in distant mantled tower,
The Doctor of Ruin laughs with glee—
And all the denizens of the forest
Suffer beneath his vile curse—
For there, above these haunted woods
Lurk ghosts and ghouls,
and things far worse—
Red eyes glow all ’round the tower
As night wraiths creep and lie in wait—
To prey upon the lost and weary
And drag them down to grisly fate—
His evil prowling like a hungry wolf!



 



As the Dragon Queen’s plots blot the moons pale light
  We will be gripped in the darkness
and endless night



 



 



 

 

 

 

Twisted Old Enemies



 



T
he
Mantled Citadel stands upon a huge rocky crag that juts through the forest to
tower above the surrounding trees. A single, steep pathway spirals upward to the
citadel’s door. Here on this rocky outcrop rising to the citadel the effects of
the ritual loosed within the tower and the resultant necrotic seepage are even
stronger than in the forest below. 
And before the friends reach the spiraled path they must first descend


steeply downward through a deeper valley within which all light is consumed
leaving the party in total darkness. As they descend, the forest becomes ever
more oppressive until it is a pitch black, but eventually the

pathway begins to rise, and soon they find spiraling path that lead up the rocky
crag at the top of which stands the Mantled Citadel. Here along the sides of the
path, the trees cluster closely in clumps about the crag, many of them clinging
precariously to the edges of the steep cliffs. As they begin to climb the
surrounding forest grows completely silent as it falls away below them—not even
the wind manages to penetrate the mass of twisted trees still towering above
their heads. Still wrapped in darkness, they soon come to an odd ring formed of
mushrooms when suddenly they hear a raspy voice whispering on a sudden wind from an
unknown source.


 


E
mbers
blazing in the fire


Lapping flames grow ever higher


Tongue of toad


And wing of bat


Mix within my bubbling vat


 


R
aven’s
claw


And serpent’s scale


Dragon’s blood


And scorpion’s tail


A plague of nightmares I invoke


To raise up from the ash and smoke


 



S
pider’s
web and eye of Newt


Viper’s venom


And mandrake root


Harken ye to my commands


Come forth to stalk this withered land


 



U
nleashed
from depths of blackest night


Slither, crawl and take to flight


And in this darkest midnight hour


All gather and guard the mantled tower!


 


 


 

           
For a moment Bingus puzzles over recognition of the voice, but then
another figure both familiar and strange reveals itself, the robed form of the
necromancer Kaius, who Bingus and Mayhem had defeated in the

Well of the Worlds
, but the necromancer had changed, his robes where now
embroidered with splashes of brilliant color and his face was an pale white
which revealed portrayed emotion until the figure reaches up with a maggot
covered hand removes an ivory mask revealing a more horrific face composed
entirely of wriggling worms. Beneath the necromancer’s hood, the worms quiver
with fell purpose, flexing as if mimicking lips, and then with a sinking feeling
 Bingus realizes the necromancer is
trying to laugh as with a hollow, unearthly voice he says,
“My suggestion is you just give up on
magic … leave and hope you never run into me again, but you will.”


 


           
Wes, Finellior and Hagrid charge but as they reach and attack the mage
his form vanishes and the winds howls as multiple waves of competing forces
begin to immediately overwhelm them … The first of these, Kaius’s own dark voice
painfully, telepathically invades their minds
“It is dangerous to exist, to exist
is to know the fear; fear that foretells your doom, but Death here is not
everlasting, no it is far worse than that.”
Second and a third waves of
even more damaging wash over the would be attackers, the next is a spectral cold
that overwhelms the senses, freezing their hearts and wills like the dread chill
of the grave, and the final wave is a horrific siphoning that accompanies the
howling, that begins to tug the very essence of their souls, stretching them,
ripping their souls, shredding them, and consuming them in bits and pieces
leaving them no choice but to flee.






           
Bingus bears witness as Kaius instantly reappears behind the three would-be heroes, with wisps of the ritual magic, sparkling motes, dance away from the
necromancer. Instinctively, Bingus reacts, conjuring his focused portal to trap
Kaius in the same plane of maze-like stairs where he’d earlier trapped the
nightgaunt, but knew full well the maze would not contain the genius of Kaius
long. Kaius vanishes in Bingus’s trap, and while the others advance, Bingus
steals a second to examine a  ring of
mushroom … He recognizes it as a fairy ring or sorcerer’s ring, or perhaps even
a witch’s ring, if so such things were dangerous to enter, but then he realizes
that this ring was likely to be the portal described by the dryad, just as
something else demands Bingus’s attention … Further along the spiraling path two
more figures emerge, like a rogue’s gallery of Bingus’s former enemies coming
back to life, this time it is the hag

Hethralga
and the mercenary

Gilgathorn
.


 


           
Ignoring the others the hag screeches at Bingus:


 



I will make a circle of your ashen bones;



Within the light of cauldron’s glow



Then lap your blood off crimsoned stone



Til’ I’m drunk upon your soul!


 


Almost as an afterthought she casually waves her staff of gnarled wood in the
direction of the goliath and releasing a choking mist that engulfs Hagrid
dropping him to his knees. Wes retreats, and a wraith suddenly appears blocking
his path, knocking the halfling sideways with a slapping blow of a great scythe.
Likewise Finellior fall prey to the oppressive draining assault he was being
forced to endure from an as of yet unseen source. Gilgathorn laughs and draws
bow, targets the halfling, and begins peppering with magically enhances arrows
which explode forcefully upon each hit knocking Wes perilously near the cliffs
edge. The wicked half-elf calls out,
“You know Bingus,
grudges
are best left for those who insist that they are owed something; me, I just want
to be the one who kills you.”
  


 


           
Rikar sends in the blackstar guardians; sending them after the hag,
following quickly behind them, as they approach a thick mist bellows from the
hag, Hethralga, as she cackles somehow growing taller and more physically
imposing as they near. The mist blinds and confuses, causing the would-be
attackers to lose any sense of direction and to begin wandering aimlessly as
they struggle to reach the hag. Her malevolent glee crescendos and Hethralga
starts swinging her staff like a club, she hits two of the three golems before
than can reach her, each strike transforming her targets into a misty form that
floats weightless through the air until they are beyond the cliff’s edge then
with ground giving way beneath them, they become solid again and fall to their
doom


down to the pitch-black forest floor nearly a hundred feet below. The first two
golems disappear, before the third and final golem finally reaches the hag. 


           



           
Much to Bingus’s dismay battles breakout all about the path, the wizard
summons his familiar sending it forward and calls out for a quick, magical
fueled retreat promising to transport his party to the top of the path, but soon
as the plan begins taking form, it collapses when his familiar is immediately
dispelled by the attack of a yet unseen wraith hovering invisible near where
Hagrid feasting off the goliath’s suffering as he struggles against Hethralga’s
choking mist. Making matters worse Wes was lying on the ground at the cliff’s
edge with a wraith closing in forcing Iroon to rush to the halfling’s aid, and
both Rikar and the one remaining golem were still locked in mortal combat with
the hag. And then suddenly Kaius reappears having defeated Bingus’s maze in mere
seconds.


 


Hagrid fought to escape the mist, still harried but the invisible wraith, the
same that was tormenting Finellior, and had destroyed Bingus’s familiar; he had
no idea of the source of the wraith’s attack, nor the direction from which it
emanated; opting to focus what he could see, he rises and charges the
necromancer, scoring a direct hit, but the his blow passes harmlessly through
Kaius vermin-forged body leaving no trace of injury and worse the necromancer
vanishes again, blinking away and sends a bolt of energy careening into the
goliath adding injury to the frustration of his foiled attack.


 


Elsewhere Iroon begins driving the wraith back, freeing Wes to pursue other more
viable foes. With a commanding presence Iroon yells,
“Be gone, dark one, this one is not for
you!”



 


Freed up, Wes joins Hagrid focusing his attention to the necromancer using his
own brand of sorcerous power to envelop Kaius in a shower of radiance, a blazing
star fall of power, that covers the necromancer in burning embers which appear
to have a heightened impact on Kaius’s larva-form, again the necromancer blinks
away from the threat, but this time Bingus is ready and drawing inspiration from
Wes’s attack, engulfs the necromancer in a magical pool of clinging acid and the
acid melts the necromancer’s wormy body down to nothingness. As the
necromancer’s dissolves away Bingus takes to air still mounted upon the animated
fly, and Gilgathorn grins and pulls his bow taunt and fires two arrows, one
arrow at the fly blowing it into a thousand pieces that disintegrate in a hail
of tinkling sounds that vanish before they strike the ground, and a second arrow
at Bingus which scores a crippling hit as Bingus falls hard to the ground.
“Vengeance is sweet!” …
cries out the half-elf commenting on the success of his attack. Lying on the
ground with the arrow lodged painfully in his thigh Bingus, struggles dazed by
the pain, as the poisoned wound begins to fester.
 


 


           
Unable to free herself from the press of Rikar’s attack, Hethralga faces
off against Rikar, his guard, fighting a hard, but losing battle against the
power of Rikar and Kas’s blade. As that battle rages on, Iroon senses the
presence of the still invisible wraith, detecting the chill caused by the
wraith’s aura and he turns his power upon both wraiths simultaneously. The
wraiths resist to the best of their ability, but they are no match for this Loa
of the Dead … Iroon stands before them virtually immune to their attacks,
resplendent in his top hot and black tuxedo jacket; he laughs and laughs as the
wraiths begin to wither under the press of his magic.
“Off au cimetière où nous allons boire
du rhum poivré et dansent ensemble sous la lumière de la lune décroissante!”
 
He sings, ordering the wraiths nonsensically back to the cemetery where
they might drink peppered rum and dance together under the light of the waning
moon. With Kaius’s defeat, Hagrid and Wes race to engage Gilgathorn while
Finellior sings another song of healing refreshing and invigorating the party as
a whole, bringing about a speedy recovery which allows Bingus to struggles to
his feet. Quickly the gnome resolves to continue the climb to the citadel’s
entrance, unwilling to endure any further delays, fixed on bringing this battle
to a true and final end. Inside Bingus knew the only way that would happen was
by confronting the ritualist, his brother who was hiding within the citadel.


 

           
Suddenly forced to rely on his own two legs; Bingus moves up the path
quickly as he can on his injured but healing leg, confident that his friends
would be more than capable of dealing with Gilgathorn. The mercenary is
defeated, but doesn’t go down without a fight; if he were only fighting only one
or maybe even two of Bingus’s allies he might have succeeded, but against
Hagrid, Wes and Finellior he doesn’t stand a chance. Gilgathorn eventually
falls, along with Hethralga and the wraiths, but all while these battles need to
run their course, and as they do Bingus builds up a significant lead over the
others halting only when he encounters the citadel final guard, Vaneval,
the towering dragon-spawn that had been responsible for dwarf paladin, Kalad’s,
execution. The half-dragon calls out a challenge to the gnome.


 


           



I am your brother’s hot vengeance, the blade at your neck;



Your venture ends here now!



 



           


Unimpressed and with his own ire growing, Bingus spares the half-dragon scarcely
a glance before continuing his advance, then a blade of pure flame bursts from
Vaneval’s jeweled gauntlet as the warrior roars a thundering challenge,
flummoxed by the gnome’s disregard, shouting:


 


 



A plague on all cowards!


 


 


           
The half-dragon begins racing towards Bingus, his every step causing the
ground to shutter, trees begin bursting into flames as Vaneval approaches when
at the last moment Bingus looks up, raising his red orb of dragonkind and says:


 


“You look tired.”


 



Dream in space; lost from strife



Leave your skin-behind
!


 



Lucid thoughts are running out,



Falling far too deep to find.


 



Leave behind this waking world,



Beyond the dagger’s reach or sword,



To the perfect peace that’s calling sure as winter’s cold!


 


           
Vaneval staggers, his pace slows, but continues his approach, as he nears
he stumbles, then collapses to his knees and finally succumbs falling forward
his face on the ground at Bingus feet. His allies find Bingus there standing
above the massive half-dragon, waiting for them. As Wes draws near he suggests
killing the slumbering villain and Bingus simply asks,


 


“Why? He isn’t going anywhere, and he is of no further concern. We killed him
last time and a fat lot of good that did us. Let’s leave him here, I am pretty
sure it will bother him more knowing he has failed again, and beaten the same
way twice. We need to deal with my brother, I am afraid he is our true enemy
now, and it is past time I dealt with him. Until we do, he will just keep
rustling up more yesterday’s bad guys.”


 



 “Brother, do you hear me? I am coming
for you, let’s be done with these games already.”



 



H
ah!
You’ll find no happy endings here brother!


I won’t be stopping until you’re all lying face-down in the dirt.


Don’t you find it ironic that it’s always those we’re closest to who are capable
of causing the most pain?


Ah, but I forget disappointments are just a part of your life; I would have
thought you were used to them by now.


I’ll say this much for you, your magic has gotten stronger brother, just
remember, dead is dead … That is unless your me.


There’s one thing no one can escape, destiny! … And I promise you, yours is
going to be particularly unpleasant.


Of course, you could run, you found the portal I left for you, but just so you
know if you leave Ssarina will die!


That’s right, Mornujhar, the Black Exarch of Tiamat is entertaining her in my
citadel right now. Can’t say she’s having much fun.


So what do you say … brother?


Still want to come in?


Be my guest.


 



And the door of the mantled citadel opens!