Monthly Archives: July 2014

SOW Chapter17: Those Once Loyal

All
that happens now has happened before and shall happen again unless we choose
otherwise.

 

Since
the hated struggle against the elemental host in that storied event recalled as
the Dawn War, we have seen the divided god wage endless war as it seeks to reconcile
its sundered existence.

 

Over
the eons, the platinum wrestles with the chromatic, using and discarding us as
they will to slake their thirst for vengeance; our late patron defeated the
enemy, and the enemy has defeated our patron.

 

Time
and again they fight, but to what end? One triumphs only to fall as the other
gains ascendancy.

 

I
have peered through time’s mists, apprehended the distant future, and can see
no end to this struggle, and it is my despair at this eternal war now impelled
me to beseech your esteemed council, to urge you to let the Platinum Dragon’s
death be the last and to help me put an end to this age-old cycle for all time
… Fellow dragons, the time to decide is now!

 

 

 

Those Once Loyal

 

The Grim Reunion

 

Welded by Yu Gnuf the Arrow of Fate reveals
Amyria at the conclusion of the adventurers’ most recent battle, and in the
aftermath of the same fight they also acquire a spelljammer named Impaler.
After Yu Gnuf returns the Arrow to Rikar it twists and bends whenever
it is held pointing back towards the unconscious deva. No matter where the drow
moves or holds the Arrow it bends and maintains its direction until it is
eventually placed in her hand.

 

Amyria’s eyes slam open wide as her mouth falls open … She
collapses, and then she recovers; blinking and gasping her entire body shudders
as she pulls herself to her feet and looks at her assembled heroes. A moment
more passes before she says:

 

“The visions are correct. Bahamut lives … Celestia
we … must … Answers are there.”

 

Afterwards she collapses once again.

 

It is clear that Amyria is very ill. And it’s clear that if
something is not done soon her strange malady might very well kill her. Ssarina
assures the others that Amyria still lives, but regardless of the paladin’s or
anyone else’s efforts Amyria doesn’t respond to any attempts to aid her. She’s
in a coma and her condition has only worsened.

 

“She mentioned Celestia,” offers Rikar.

 

Yu Gnuf responds, “The Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia is
an astral dominion set in the Sea of Eternity, an enormous mountain ringed by
smaller peaks. It is said that the mountain’s summit emits a silver light which
illuminates all. It is the home to Kord, Moradin, and formerly to Bahamut as
well. It was the Grandfather of Dragons’ home prior to his demise.”

 

And Bingus adds, “Celestia is also said to be the home to
Empyron, the City of Healing, where ailments have no hold.”

 

Reaching
Celestia

 

 

“We should depart from this realm
immediately,”
suggests Yu Gnuf.

 

“That seems wise.” adds Finellior, “But
do we really know how it works? Can it carry us to Celestia?”

 

“I believe it can, it has a
spelljammer helm, a magical helm capable of acting as a focus for plane
shifting; it should be a capable means of transport and Hagrid appears to be a
natural pilot. Either you or I could activate the helm, but my guess is that
Bingus would be its truest master."

 

Hearing his named mentioned, Bingus interjects: “I believe
you and I should have a discussion about recent events Yu Gnuf.”
(See:
Revelations II)

 

After Yu Gnuf, Bingus, and Finellior secure themselves within
the command cabin, Rikar begins to examine the Arrow of Fate, as he does the
Arrow takes the form of a hand upon the stump of Rikar’s right arm and he is
filled with an urge to approach the helm.

 

Given that they had captured the Impaler and that traveling to
an astral dominions was what a spelljammer was built to do,
bridging the distance between Hestavar and Celestia would be easy provided that
they could find a way to utilize the ship’s enchanted helm, but the problem
with such plane shifting magic was that such spells typically required the user
to utilize specific secret sigils address any such destination. As Rikar grasps
the wheel, sigils magically appear as runes inscribed upon the vessel’s wheel.
And as Bingus and Finellior emerge from the cabin with Noe, after a brief
explanation and introduction, the gnome climbs to helm and examines the sigils.
Finding the runes inscribed as Rikar had described, the gnome quickly confirms
that they address one of the upper planes domains, joined by Finellior and the
bard concurs, and as Hagrid takes the wheel in hand the Impaler begins to rise
as a matrix of magic envelopes the Impaler and the beautiful painted sky of
Hestavar vanishes.  

 

“What
should we expect of Celestia?”
  asks Hagrid loudly,
meaning that everyone should hear the answer.

 

 

Bingus responds: “Celestia is called the Radiant Throne,
it is said to be a wholesome and virtuous plane, a realm formed about seven
magnificent mountains with each peak shining with its own inner light. It is
the home of Kord, Moradin, and other deities, just as it was for Bahamut before
his fall.”

 

Fin adds: “Within Celestia, Moradin is thought of as the
first among equals, both Bahamut and Kord generally acceding to the
All-Father’s guidance, but I would expect each deity would controlling their
own environs, wouldn’t they?”

 

Bingus answers: “One would expect, but the legends of such
places are often just the ramblings of aged sages among whom none could say for
sure, but tis said to be the final resting place of the just exalted, seven
mountains, Luna, Mercuria, Venya, Solania, Mertion, Jovar, and Chronias.”

 

Down on the deck, pinching his eyes together, Noe comments, “Your
knowledge is impressive Bingus, how is it that you know such things?”

 

“I am more interested in what you
could tell me about the 66th layer of the Abyss, and the Queen of
the Demonweb Pits!”
snaps back Bingus.

 

“I am sorry; I don’t have any
knowledge of such things.”

 

Allowing himself to become frustrated, the gnome continues, “The
time for pretense is over, you yourself spoke of Grandma Spider, is she not
Lolth?”

 

“Oh, you are confused; Grandma Spider
is not Lolth, nor is she any other spider, Lolth is but a grain of sand upon a
beach, but she is not the beach, no; Grandma Spider is the beach.” 

 

“And then what can you tell me of
Eon?”

 

“I don’t know him either.”
And then a ghostly black panther appears beside Noe, and Noe turns his head to
deeply peer into the wells of the great cat’s eyes as if he was silently
addressing the panther, and then turning back to Bingus he adds, “Nia
says I am also grain sand, and the Eon is a beach, but she will say no more
about him. She says talking about the devil is to invite trouble.”

 

Part One: The City of
Healing

 

The gentlest peak of the Seven
Mounting Heavens is Jusor. It ascends to its high vales by way of the wide
gentle slopes, whose pitches are not overly taxing. The mountain’s slope
invites them onward and soon a city appears atop the mountain. The city’s alabaster
towers come into view, graceful spires with fluted columns and wide, arcing
bridges spanning the distance between them. The white walls bounding the city
bear the merciful visages and snapping gold banners declaring the city’s
devotion to life and living. Passing over the city’s open gates they see broad
avenues sheltered by the spreading boughs of massive oaks which ease the sky’s
brilliance. From their vantage upon the ship the travelers never lose sight of
the still black waters upon whose shores the city stand no ripple mars the
water’s glassy surface and somehow unseen stars reflect their light off these
quiet waters, the waters of the Sea of Eternity as the party finds themselves
traveling over Empyron, the City of Healing.

 

Looking over the rail, a nearby tower’s
massive doors swing open on silent hinges to reveal the entrance of a brightly
lit and hall. Six attendants emerge, each carrying crystalline goblets, cool
cloths, or platters nearly overflowing succulent fruit. Each attendant wears diaphanous
white robes and a silver mask, concealing both their gender and features. As
one, they looks upwards welcoming the traveler to approach. Then a short,
stocky attendant joins the other. Like the others, he wears white robes, but he
lacks a mask, and clearly, brilliant armor peaks from beneath his robes.
Several of the ship’s crew recognizes this newest arrival as the dwarven
paladin
Kalad, the heroic dwarf
they knew in life who died fighting for the Coalition … The dwarf’s face splits
into a grin of recognition as he waves a hearty welcome to the City of Healing.

 

“Bingus,
brother, get your arse down here! Where are Benny and his little
friend?”  

 

Calling
down from the ship Bingus answers, “What are you doing here? I thought
you were dead!”

 

“Indeed I was, friend, but Moradin
still had need for this old dwarf. I’m just visiting here, learning a bit o’the
healing arts and lend my aid in what feeble ways I can … Truth be said, I’ve
been expecting you.”

 

“Who are these others in the city?” asks Bingus.

 

“Ah. They are exalted like me. They
intend no harm; their purpose is to help, heal, and nothing more.”

 

“Can we trust them with Amyria?” asks Ssarina.

 

“Of course, you came here didn’t you?
Why else would you be in the City of Healing?”

 

Finellior calls out: “Hagrid lower the ship, it’s time we
make landing. Well met Kalad, good to see you again … I’m sure Bhenedict and
Bairdyn would be happy to see you too. They are back in Klarn not doubt eating
and drinking somewhere. Have you heard about Bahamut’s death?”

 

“Who hasn’t? Things have been
difficult since he died trouble is brewing.”

 

“What do you mean brewing?” asks the bard.

 

“Bahamut is gone, and vultures have emerged trying
claim the Lord of the North Wind’s mantle.”

 

“But what if we can save Bahamut!” asks Bingus even
if he wasn’t convinced he wanted to bother.

 

“Hmm, that would be interesting . . .
Unfortunate lad, we can’t … He’s gone lad! Have your travels addled you laddy?
If they are, there’s no need for embarrassment, these fine people here could fix
that.”

 

As
the party begins to disembark from the Impaler, Empyron’s attendants rush to
Amyria’s side carefully inviting Hagrid to carry the unconscious deva into the
open hall. Dutifully, Ssarina follows the goliath. Only Noe stays on the ship.
As a group they begin entering the hall. Past a pair of heavy towering doors
made of an unrecognizable, but beautiful wood of reddish hue, opens a great hall.
The walls of this entry hall are lined with comfortable looking beds on both
sides for as far as the visitors can see. Whitewood arched doors lead off on
the far side of the hall where it is lit by glowing motes that fill the room
with a cheery light. There are no other patients visible.

 

Finellior asks: “You spoke of vultures Kalad, who were you
talking about?” 

 

“Bahamut’s self-appointed heir, an
arrogant mithral dragon called Dakranad or some such, he claims to have
foreseen all this or some such nonsense, he’s been causing a lot of trouble,
bad things. There has been trouble at Bahamut’s palace. It seems the dragon has
made foul alliances and driven out the palace’s proper custodians; no one has
seen the golds for months, and there is talk that devils have been posting in
Bahamut’s hall, can you imagine?”

 

“What about Moradin, certainly he
wouldn’t stand for such a thing?”
asks the bard.

 

“Aye, he wouldn’t, but then again he
isn’t here, he has left Celestia with Kord and the others, it is said the gods are
convening preparing to fight Tiamat’s expansion, but Moradin didn’t leave his
forge unguarded. He left a shade, an aspect of himself behind to continue his
work here at Torzak-Belgirn."

 

Hagrid lays Amyria upon a bed and quickly the healers circle her
and begin rendering what aid they can. Outside, unseen by any save Noe, two of
the stars reflected on the surface of the Sea of Eternity begin to swell
becoming more distinct like fast moving silvery comets, growing ever larger
until they take on the form of dragons–twin dragons plummeting from on-high;
one of dragons lands between the hall and the ship where Noe watches with
mounting concern, the second lands upon the hall itself. Cutoff for the moment
Noe can only watch.

 

Outside
the dragon’s silver scales glitter brilliantly in the mountain’s light, until
the one standing between Noe and the hall transforms itself into a beautiful
silver-haired elven maiden dressed in the same tribal attire preferred by the
savage elves of Klarn. As Noe watches he becomes convinced that these are the
same dragons that attacked his party when they first arrived in Hestavar, and
he knows this even though he himself wasn’t there.

 


Within the hall,
they hear the bellowing sound of rushing wind pounding out in rhythmic waves again
the roof of grand hall, until suddenly the building shutters only to suddenly
it stop with a final quake, that causes the ground to lurch. A dragon roars
outside of the hall forcefully enough to deafen as all at once the air seems to
flee the chamber replaced by the scent of cut pine as a slight elven maiden, of
silver mane and impossibly flawless beauty enters the hall and says:

 

“I call upon you intruders to this
sacred hall to join me outside that we might finally settle this, for whatever
drives your criminalities, Empyrean’s attendants have done you no ill, nor can
you, in fact, do them any real harm; regardless I assure you there will be no
sanctuary for you within this hall. Comply now and things will go easier for
you. I will not be asking you a second time; your rampage ends here
now at this instant!”   

 

She
turns and walks away, her hair whipping behind her in a silvery wave. Rikar and
Finellior follow her immediately, and Vani and Bingus follow a little way
behind them. Bilgamesh watches as best he can through the colored glass of a
stained window set in the front of the hall while Kalad posts himself in the
doorway, and both Ssarina and Hagrid stay back with Amyria. No longer a
tool of Kas’s Sword, Rikar allows himself a moment of leisure becoming lost in
the graceful motion of the maiden’s backside appreciating the view he ignores
the chill as a frosty wave of mist spills over them from the roof of the hall
as they exit the building. Finellior steals a glance upward and atop the build
he sees the second huge silver dragon perched on the roof of the hall of
healing, twitching anxiously, fearsome of form, its limbs, neck and tail all
looking unduly long in proportion to its body, not in a dramatic fashion, but
enough to give it an unusually disturbing silhouette as it swings its neck
slowing left to right and back again.

 

“Silvara do not waste your time talking to these
villains they must pay for their crime; I will not be denied my vengeance
again!”

 

“A moment more Niflung, there are more yet inside,
including the deva,”
answers the elf. 

      

Finellior
interrupts, “Amyria has no part in this, even if you would wrongly blame
us for Bahamut’s demise she is innocent, what cause have you to threaten her?”

 

“You cannot deceive me mortal, she is your very
reason for being here, you might be able to cover Vecna’s mark beneath a glove,
but you cannot hide your nature from me. I know who you are and why you have
come.”

 

“What is it you think you know?”

 

Silvara’s
form begins to shift; gleaming scales take the place of skin as his sinewy body
expands and wings begin spreading out from her back.



“I know that you
have come hoping to save her, but that cannot be allowed, what you have done
must be undone, the seed she carries must be allowed to grow. She must pass so
that the Father can return!”

 

As
a glimmer of understanding takes root in Finellior’s mind, Rikar steps forward
addressing the dragoness.

 

“I have a question … What would it take to allow me
to take a ride in whichever form you might prefer?”

 

The
claws of the dragon atop the roof convulse involuntarily tearing a hole in the
roof of the hall as the dragon pushes off rising into the sky, dropping enough
to snap his tail at both the halfling and gnome as he launches calling out:

 

Wretched curs, now you will pay for your
transgressions; you are not fit to address her! I will finish that which we
began in Hestavar and this time you will find no sanctuary!” 
 

 

Silvara
spreads her wing in challenge; the full majesty,
regal and statuesque, her
presence momentarily stuns the drow giving him pause as Niflung passes overhead
breathing out a gout of frosty breath powerful enough to freeze the moisture in
the air, making the ground beneath Rikar and Finellior icy, and to chill their
souls. 

 

“Now there will be recompense, but never enough, you
can never pay enough, there is no punishment that severe, only death and
oblivion, I will settle for that!”
rants Niflung.

 

Both
Bingus and Vani had vanished, teleporting away to avoid Niflung’s tail, and
they react quickly. The halfling adopts a defensive posture dividing his nature
into four separate parts to guard against an early demise; his doppelgangers
take positions atop the shorter nearby buildings, those surrounding the scene
of the battle. Bingus focuses his energy into a quick attack using his planar
mastery to thrust the flying dragon into the pocket he designed to imprison his
foes. Niflung vanishes!

 

Seeing
Finellior’s peril, Kalad calls out to the others,
“The bard’s
alone out there gainst a dragon he hasn’t a chance, to his side friends … Now
!”

 

Unable
to resist the charismatic dwarf, both Bilgamesh and Ssarina race outside,
leaving only Hagrid and the attendants guarding Amyria, but Finellior is not
alone behind Silvara, screened by the dragon massive body Noe had joined the
bard, flanking the remaining dragon. 

 

Joining
Silvara, vengeful angels of Pelor rise out of the tallest of the near towers
and dive into the fray, circling Bilgamesh, Noe and closing on Bingus and one
of the Vanis. Bingus vanished as the one of the angel destroys one the first of
four versions of the halfling sorcerer, it vanishes without a trace. Bilgamesh
quickly becomes overwhelmed, but Vani counterstrikes with a barrage of attacks
that destroys two of Bilgamesh’s attackers. Outside the battle rages while
within the hall the lights begin to gutter out starting on the far side of the
healing hall, and moving forward along with the sounds of splintering wood and
cracking stone, echoes from the expanding darkness spreading from the deeper
halls.

 

Kalad
charges rushing past the drow even as Rikar begins to recover his ‘hand’
transforming itself into the shape of a long spear. Finellior backs away, Noe’s
panther Nia appears beside him, but the bard is to slow to avoid Silvara’s
attack; she blasts her opponent with her own frigid breath, catching Kalad,
Finellior, Rikar, Ssarina and the panther … Alone the panther is safe being a
thing of spirit the dragon’s indirect attack has no effect, but the others are
frozen in place. Kalad tries to shield the others, but having already suffered
the attack of Niflung, but Rikar and Fin struggle against all-encompassing cold
of the dragon’s breath. If not for Ssarina might have both fallen, but the
dragonborn paladin is there to save with the healing power, as she lays heal
hand upon them they feel the radiant power of her fallen god healing them,
warming them from the inside out. Bilgamesh disperses his remaining attackers
with a flurry of arrows saving the last for Silvara, driving the magical shaft
deep between the dragon’s eyes. It is not enough to kill her but daze here as
she tries to remove the arrow shaking her here to and fro.

 

Making
matters worse Niflung reappears where he had vanished causing Bilgamesh to back
away, as he does for the first time he notices the dimmed light of the hall and
he spring to the doorway. Within he witnesses a scene of carnage, an attendant
flies through the air and crashes into a wall, leaving a bloody smear, an empty
robe and a silver mask to mark the attendant’s passing; these join those of the
other already so dispatched. Within the hall Hagrid was the only remaining
defender, but he was being overwhelmed by towering devils, and Amyria was
already secured in a net carried by one of a pair of devilish assassins of a
sort seen previously with Guionne. Before Bilgamesh can act the assassin
vanishes and Amyria disappears with it.   

 

Another
of the Vanis leaps off a rooftop tumbling gracefully as he lands and without
pause blasts lightening from his fingertips in all directions several more of
Pelor’s angels vanish while a smattering of others continue their assault, and
another of the sorcerer’s duplicates falls victim to their attack. Bingus
teleports to the safety of another rooftop joining one of the remaining Vanis
and opens another gate near Niflung drawing the dragon inexorably, this time
into the Primordial Chaos full well knowing it would not hold the dragon long,
hoping only to buy a little more time, even as Rikar skewers Silvara once again
upon the end of his spear.

 

From the hall’s
doorway Bilgamesh calls out:
“We are deceived, Amyria has been
taken!”
as
he leaps into the fountain and begins launching arrows at the devils harrying
Hagrid

 

Suffering
through the combined attacks of Noe, Finellior, Ssarina, and Kalad, the dragon
Silvara expels her frosty breath again focusing the worst of it upon the
deadliest of her attackers, the drow ranger Rikar, but at the last moment Kalad
shoves the drow aside taking Rikar place and instead of the drow it is Kalad
who is frozen solid.   

Fixing
his gaze upon Silvara Bingus yells:
“Size of a LIZARD!”

 

Silvara
shrinks until all that is left is a tiny silver lizard, surrounded by towering
heroes of Klarn. As one they begin stamping their feet and stabbing their
weapons into the ground trying to skewer the small reptile. Atop one of the
rooftops Bingus begins to laugh. Until finally Noe pokes the lizard and
suddenly Silvara begins growing, and shifting back to her natural state, her
body begins pushing the heroes back as it expands, but before she can gain her
full size and measure Finellior brings the hilt of his sword down as hard as he
can upon the dragon’s expanding head knocking Silvara senseless before she
regains her full size and power. She collapses, breathing hard.

Niflung
reappears smoldering both in actually and in temperament, and bounds at the
heroes leaving an icy pallet at his point of launch, frost spreads quickly over
Rikar, Noe and Ssarina, but Fin withdraws, and begins taunting the dragon as he
encourages the others to redouble their attacks. Inside the hall Bilgamesh
makes no headway. The four hulking brazen devils from the fiery depths of
Nessus, mercenaries purchased at high price from the Arch-fiend Asmodeus,
blocked any egress to the deeper hall closing off any chance of pursuit. These
horrendous diabolic soldiers dwarf Hagrid, and protected by their hellforged,
brass armor the goliath’s attacks find little leverage against the ferocious
devils. They swarm and batter Hagrid as the goliath tries to push past them, and
opts instead to screen Bilgamesh to the best of his abilities. Then one of the
remaining Vanis joins Bilgamesh and they begin targeting devils individually as
they take cover behind an overturned bed, and finally working together they
bring one of the fiends down.

 

Out
in the courtyard they heroes have greater success. Surround Niflung they begin
to overwhelm the dragon. Noe, Ssarina, and Rikar attack the monster from all
sides while Fin shouts encouragement and Bingus rains down lightning upon both
of the dragons inadvertently blasting the doors off the hall of healing as the
blasts of lightning careen about the courtyard at the gnome’s direction. Before
long the second dragon is defeated, and as group they close in upon the hall,
and with their added power the devil’s blockade collapses, as the devils are
defeated one-by-one.

 

Bilgamesh
quickly explains what had transpired and without any delay or hesitation a race
to find Amyria begins. Quickly they discover that what had seemed like a simple
hall from the outside was in fact a much larger, sprawling maze of rooms,
stairs, and passages. Without a guide, it would be easy to become lost among
the beds and the sterile rooms. Being unfamiliar with the layout they find few
landmarks or signposts to orient themselves, but Rikar notices that the
retreating devils had left a few telltale signs of destruction as they passed
through these halls and these help the shaman find a path through the twists
and turns of the until the arrive at a massive chamber with at least a hundred
doors that scatter across the chamber’s walls, floor, and ceiling. Inspecting a
few of the doors reveals that each is locked, but soon Bingus discern a magical
residue upon one of the doors. Noe inspects and disables the lock, and the pursuit
of Amyria continues.

 

Beyond
the unlocked door they find a steep, winding staircase. Knowing they must hurry
if they were to have any chance of catching the devils, they begin racing up
the stairs. Rikar hesitates long enough to lift and carry Bingus allowing them
to climb quite a bit faster.

 

At
the top of the stairs they arrive at a landing that opens into a short wide
hallway before opening into a larger chamber with an arched 30’ tall ceiling.
In that chamber they find a veritable infernal army defending a strange
platform that fills the far side of the chamber, a strange, dim reddish glow
emulates from the depths behind the platform coloring the walls of the chamber
in dancing, shadows and speckled red light as it sinisterly wells ups from a
pit set behind the platform; atop the platform it illuminates a hulking horned
devil with scaly red hide, and behind it a pair of cambions. Before the
platform stands another of Malsheem’s brazen soldiers with a cadre of lesser
armored warrior, legionnaires standing ready. 

 

Another bronze-armored devil
disappears descending behind the platform into the glow depression; Amyria
carried like a sack under one arm down. Lording over the others the pit fiend
atop the platform flashes a toothy looking your way as others vanish descending
into the light.

 

Still grinning,
the pit fiend growls an out an order using his own infernal tongue, and acting
as one the devils attack. The closest of the cambions reaches out straight
armed grasping at the air causing hellfire to erupt in the air surrounding
Finellior binding the bard and lifting him aloft helplessly into the air. The
second cambion joins in the attack flying down from the platform and launching
a wave of hellfire over Fin. Before Fin’s allies can react, the towering brazen
devil charges into their midst attacking with its massive halberd and engulfing
everyone present in an aura of cloying hellfire. Hagrid breaks through only to
be cut-off by the pit fiend’s battle-hardened legionnaires. Behind this
frontline the pit fiend begins gating in reinforcements hurling flames high
into the chamber with either hand.

 

The
battle rages as Amyria’s kidnappers take advantage, using the time to make good
their escape, frustrated but undeterred the heroes fight back until eventually
they begin to take control and they start pushing the devils back. When the pit
fiend finally falls, the survivors drop back to the raised platform and
continue to fight through until the last cambion is destroyed clearing the
stairs and opening a path to the top of the platform and to that which lies
below it. Beyond the 15-foot tall platform the floor sinks past two sets of
steps leading down into a deeper depression. At the platform’s center, the
first set of steps drop to a landing 15 feet below the top of the platform to a
landing that is even with the rest of the chamber’s floor, but a second set of
step leads further, down another 15 feet and at this final landing there a
shimmering red portal waiting, a gateway leading to the answers the party sought.

 

The
party pauses briefly allowing Bingus a few precious moments to examine the
portal, but the gnome wizard find himself stymied when he finds no sigils to
indicate where the portal might lead. What he can determine is that the portal
is of infernal origin, and the power of the magic used suggested that its
endpoint would be local, forging a path to another location elsewhere within
Celestia. Advising the others Bingus points out that it might lead them into
trap, and no one disagrees; even as the others debate the matter, Hagrid enters
the portal. He emerges on the other side finding himself within the shadow of a
great edifice, the Platinum Dragon’s fastness, at the foot of the gateway to
Bahamut’s palace itself, upon a platform suspended in open space about 30 feet
from the entry to the Bahamut’s Halls of Reflection. 

 


A mighty fortress rises from the
clouds near an outcropping of stone jutting out from the snowy mountain nearby.
Its gleaming walls catch and reflect the mountain’s glowing brilliance. Wide
towers thrust up, competing with the mountain itself for height, a collection
of dizzying ramparts festooned with draconic imagery promising no easy entry to
any would-be assailants. Hagrid’s eyes are drawn away from the palace by a
sultry angelic figure hovering in front of him, support by great,
black-feathered wings which easily hold the pale woman aloft. Unaffected by the
winds buffeting her, long dark hair forms a frame for her face as she gazes
down at the goliath, but as beautiful as she is what most draws Hagrid’s
attention most is the woman’s gleaming red eyes.

 


Slightly awed by
the woman Hagrid asks:

 

“What
is this place? I hope we won’t have to fight you too.”

 

“I see only you, but eyes can be deceiving.”

 

She
spreads her wing and suddenly five additional women appear each as captivating
as the first; they fan out behind her. Activating the magic of his flying boots
Hagrid rises into the air towards the first woman, but she flutters backward
maintaining her distance while the other women begin to circle Hagrid never
taking their eyes off the goliath. Hagrid offers:

 

“You
still haven’t told me about this place, or your purpose here.”

 

At
first there is dead silence and open space … Then she says:

 

“I’m not sure what that might be, but something’s
broken inside of me … I can’t help it, and it’s wrong … But I just can’t wait
to get under your skin.”

 

Her beauty
begins devolving into something far more sinister and a long dark rod with a
glowing tip lit by an unruly arcane fire suddenly extends from her hand. Behind
Hagrid the portal activates again as Rikar and Vani appear. Their beauty gone,
naked and angry, the women attack launching burning bolts of pure fiery power
from their rods as they begin circling and calling out with in wolf-like
screeching howls.

 

Three
of the burning bolts hit Hagrid, and many more strike Vani, almost killing the
halfling; Vani teleports, but the platform is too small to escape the women;
they simply adjust and retarget Vani even as other members of his party arrives.
Finellior and Bilgamesh are next, and immediately Fin calls out encouragement
to the others, quickly lifting the spirits of both Vani and Hagrid. Refocused,
and joined by Bilgamesh, Vani begins fighting back targeting the women with the
destructive power of his spells.

 

Working
together it doesn’t take long for the heroes to drive the women from the skies,
and in the wake of the skirmish Bingus discovers an invisible bridge which
leads to the Halls of Reflection. 

 

The
Platinum Dragon’s palace floats near a spur not far below Mertion’s peak. The
stronghold is massive and awe-inspiring in its grandeur; the travelers
cautiously, deliberately take their time crossing the invisible path.

 

During
Bahamut’s reign, the Halls of Reflection were a place where the God of Dragons
would meditate; monitoring his mortal followers, while planning ways to counter
Tiamat’s constant plotting. It was also a place where Bahamut hid away many of
his precious treasures deep within a vault hidden deep within the heart of this
complex. All the travelers were focused on was on the bridge itself for below
them they could see nothing but open air between them and another courtyard
more than a hundred feet below.  

 

The bridge carries them to a pair of
double doors carved of ash wood and bearing carvings of canaries. Hagrid opens
the doors revealing a modest open-aired courtyard with a balcony ringing the
area, white sand covers the floor with unsettling images etched in its surface:
pentagrams, queer beasts, and worse things drawing Hagrid’s attention away the
promenade above him, but more so than the images, a towering angel,
twelve-foot-tall with silver white hair that was standing in front of Hagrid
had his fullest attention. In his left hand the angel carried a great sword
nearly ten-feet long, and he held it as if it weighted nothing. The angel’s
features darken even as its eyes blaze as it challenges the goliath:

 

“Despoilers,
you dare come here, to Bahamut’s sacred halls uninvited?”

 

 

Bingus
looks to Finellior and whispers, “Do you mind if I handle this?”

 

Finellior
quietly responds … “I’ve got this covered.”

 

“Don’t
screw it up this time”
answers the gnome.

 

Ignoring
Bingus, Finellior addresses the angel: “By your tone I take it you CLAIM to
speak on Bahamut’s behalf, why is it then that we have found devils at your
very doorstep? We on the other hand come here TRULY working on the Platinum
dragon’s interests on a quest for Amyria, Bahamut’s own Scion.”

 

“I
know exact who you are and why you have come.

You
can no longer hide behind your ignorance mortal, here you stand accused, and it
is I who carries the sword of judgment enow! Now at long last your JUDGMENT is
upon you!”

 

“YOU
SHALL NOT PASS!”

 

The
angel explodes with radiant power instantly stunning both Rikar and Finellior.
Bingus lifts his Red Orb of Dragonkind high, and with a flash the angel
disappears. Bingus orders: “See to Fin!” Speaking to no one in
particular and follows Hagrid into the sandy courtyard hoping to examine the sand
etching further when suddenly a pair of wyverns descend from the promenade
flapping their wing mightily destroying the etching; one breathes out a gout of
putrefied toxic smelling breath and the second slashes at Hagrid with its
poison stinger tipped tail. The tail snaps like a whip, Hagrid dives and rolls
away narrowly dodging the attack, and completely obliterating the sand etching
in his escapes.

 

Frustrated,
Bingus teleports atop balcony where he spies out doors set on left side of the
courtyard; their surfaces are carved in bas-relief with a depiction of
Bahamut’s likeness, his claws clutching the metal rings set to open the doors.
Curiosity peeked Bingus moves to the doors and pulls them
open,
and as he does they emulate radiant power as if in objection to his touch, but
the power passes over Bingus with no harm, and within the chamber Bingus sees
an angelic aerie, filled with mediation chambers organized in a cluster past a
seconded circular inset on the floor, another depiction of Bahamut, this one in
tile. Each of the smaller mediation chambers houses a large powerful angels,
each inhuman in their perfection, and holy, righteous and divine in their
demeanor. Somehow Bingus feels comfortable in their presence. One begins
radiating its own aura of brilliant light, as it approaches Bingus speaking
softly, but with great condemnation:

 

“I
am called Armaiti; you are trespassing upon the holiest of the holies, by all
that is right I shall repel you!” 

 

Gracefully
and with unmatchable speed the angel draws its blade and strikes his sword
whistles through the air as he strikes Bingus, easily with a warding
strike. 

 

Displaced
by Bingus’s spell, the Archangel Quoriel struggles against his imprisonment within
the maze-like construction of stairs so familiar to Bingus himself. Within the
gnome’s pocket dimension Quoriel rejected everything he saw, refusing to
participate in the gnome’s construction, declaring it all to be false, shallow
imagery … a parlor trick unfit to deceive him … Just as he had rejected any of
the arguments voiced contrary to his patron Dakranad, the holy mithral dragon
he had guarded since the dragon’s hatching. Quoriel had served the dragon its
entire life and always he had been loyal without question. Bahamut’s death and
Dakranad’s subsequent actions had shaken Quoriel’s resolve and maybe even his
stability but ultimately he stayed true to Dakranad, and he adopted the mithral
dragon’s stated goal of promoting peace and ending the war between Tiamat and
Bahamut as his own, so much so that Quoriel had been included in the judgment
rendered by the Golds when they declared both Dakranad and Quoriel to be
‘fallen’. No longer conflicted and consumed with righteous fury, Quoriel bursts
free of Bingus’s spell reappearing in the middle of the courtyard and begins to
rise hovering chasing after the hated gnome. 

   

Bingus
backs away from Armaiti giving way, as he does he turns his attention back to
Quoriel and quickly casts another charm; Quoriel answers shouting out in
triumph and closes upon Bingus slicing the gnome deeply with his irresistible
power of his massive blade, cleaving Bingus deeply (at least in Quoriel’s
imagining); in reality Armaiti stares back at Quoriel in disbelief forced to withdraw
from the Archangel bleeding after Quoriel’s attack, for the moment cowed as
much by the fury in Quoriel’s eyes as from the power of the Archangel’s attack.
In Quoriel’s mind, he had just struck Bingus and now he had the gnome and his
allies trapped within the aerie where he wanted them, his mind helplessly
twisted by Bingus’s enchantment.

 

Vani
joins Bingus atop the promenade and launches his own magical barrage starting
by conjuring up wrathful vapors, the fill the angels’ aerie with vitriolic miasma
of vapors that explode within the chamber alternately freezing, electrifying,
and scorching the angels within the small mediation retreat, and he follows
that with a primordial storm that finishes off all of the lesser angels leaving
only Quoriel and wyverns opposing them.

 


Hagrid slices upward with his magically forged falchion, a weapon of carnage
relieved from the body of Mornujhar, Tiamat’s black exarch, a wicked blade
combining the
weight and power of a heavy axe with the versatility of a sword; he cleaves one
of the wyverns ripping its belly open, and the monster crashes in its death
throes leaking thick foul smelling gore from its horrific wound on previously
pristine white sands of the courtyard. Then before Quoriel has a chance to
fully recover from Bingus’s enchantment, the gnome casts another spell, another
illusion, a mirrored sphere invisible to the victim within but with the power
to twist space such that the Archangel’s own attacks might be turned against
him. Outside of the sphere beyond the sphere’s magic it was visible as a globe
of light at play around Quoriel, and as he strikes the spell’s light bends
Quoriel’s sword as he strikes out savagely at Bingus, this time combined with a
blast of lightning. The astonishment of the spell’s reversal causes the
Archangel to fall to the ground where he finds Rikar recovered and waiting for
him; the Arrow of Fate becomes a sword used in concert with the black sickle
shaped blade carried by Rikar, a weapon carved from the claw of the Beast of
Monadhan, Rikar tears into his much larger foe. From the perimeter of the melee
Fin sings out encouragement, keeping his allies focused and on point. The Arrow
rips easily and severely into the angel’s flesh. Bilgamesh joins the attack
firing arrows two at a time at both the angel and the remaining wyvern. Hagrid
continues his assault upon the wyverns, cornering the last one with the help of
Ssarina and Noe, and soon both the wyvern and the Archangel fall; the angel’s
torn and bloody body at Rikar’s feet, the wyvern bleeding from a half dozen deep
wounds and pierced by a half-dozen arrows.

 

Joining the others back
down on the now bloody sands, Bingus leans on one of the wooden pillars supporting the promenade, a wooden canary dancing in the wood above his hat, as
he says: “Did you really need to kill him?” commenting on Quoriel’s
demise.  

“Wait
I’m confused.”

says Finellior, his features distorted by his dismay. “You tried to kill the
silver dragon after it had been subdued …”

 

“No
he killed the silver dragon!”
corrects Rikar.

 

“Whatever,
my question is why you would attack an incapacitated dragon and here now you
decree the demise of this angel. Are you mad, or just that perverse
?” ask Fin.

 

“He
just doesn’t want me to be happy. He knows I liked the dragon, she was cold,
but she was hot. He just didn’t want me to have her,”
offers Rikar.

 

Frowning
Bingus answers: “That’s not it at all, the dragons were in the wrong, and
they choose to side against us fighting on Dakranad’s behalf. They sought us out,
this angel didn’t, what is his crime? He was guarding Bahamut’s palace, and he
seemed confused, disturbed. Didn’t you see the drawings in the sand? Angels
don’t share our free will, they are creatures of duty, those that fail become
‘fallen’ that’s the tragedy of it.”

 

“But
won’t he comeback, like the exalted?”
asks Finellior.

 

“No,
he is not ‘exalted’; exalted are mortal spirits that come to the astral
dominions, usually as a reward for a lifetime of service. Here they are living,
corporeal beings exactly as they were in life. However, they become immortal
here. Angels are immortal creatures native to the Astral … This is their world,
when they die here they don’t comeback, but we have to succeed, making some
loss inevitable, but we don’t have to be happy about it. Let’s honor this
angel’s sacrifice by moving on before even more sacrifices become necessary,
Amyria cannot last much longer,”
explains Bingus. 

 

Rikar
says, “She lives.” And points to doubled doors set opposite those they’d
enter in the courtyard.

 

Stymied,
Fin heads to the next set of doubled doors and pulls them open revealing a
grand audience chamber, ancient, domed and massive. A place where Bahamut spent
much of his time within these Halls of Reflection; the chamber he would use
when meeting with visiting petitioners, his throne room.

 

 


 

A massive rocky throne rests on the
side opposite the entrance behind a twenty-foot-tall colossus of metal, a
statue of a powerful female warrior, bearing the sword of justice. Its hand
rests atop the hilt of the gigantic sword the point of which had been driven
into the stone of floor at its point. At the throne’s base, lit candles
surround a platinum disk engraved with Bahamut’s likeness. Light shines through
windows piercing the ceiling illuminates four flying angels hovering overhead.
Fin calls to them:

 

“Do
we really need to battle again; we come seeking a friend, nothing more?”

One
of the angels descends, not quite all the way to floor but a level far below
the others; hovering in front of the bard it answers: “Welcome Finellior, we know why you have come.”

 

“People
keep saying that, but sometimes I’m not even sure myself. Why do you think we
are here?”

 

“He told me you would say that, and
that you are here to save your friend, but she is already lost to you. She has
served her purpose with valor and grace, and she has accepted her fate. You
should as well, using what time you have left to you to make what amends for
your own failings.” 

 

“We
have always fought for what is right, for justice!”

 

“Is that why you bear Vecna’s Eye … Is
it a reward for your righteous service? You can hide it beneath a glove, and
perhaps even deceive yourself, but not us. Not one who can see into the very
nature of your soul.”

 

“I
never asked for that!”

 

“No, but you did earn it mortal … Even
now you ally yourself with the mortal who delivered our Lord’s death knell. You
protect and nurture him; he could never have succeeded without you. Evil done
out of ignorance is evil none the less, human evil, but there is another type …
evil everlasting, primary evil. I wonder will you shy away from that. Were you
not warned by the good people, even those you consider your friends to carefully
consider your choices. You have great power mortal, but have you the wisdom to
weld it responsibly? Or will you, as you already have, fail in your hubris to
seek out worthy council while keeping to your own pity concerns rather than the
greater good? This is why you find yourself accused.”

 

“Wait,
wait … Hold on for a moment, we didn’t kill Bahamut!”     

 

“He who did stands behind you now, do you still deny
this?”

 

“If
you’re talking about Bingus, he was with me the whole time, he didn’t do it …
It was his brother.”

 

“Finellior you have never chosen to
understand, and this may be your greatest failing. Bingus and his brother are
one in the same; your friend has told this time-and-again himself. To his
credit he does not deny it, I call on you to take pause to ask yourself why
then should you? Truthfully your flaw is your pride, pride that leads you to
despair ignoring that which is plain and true … Like the glove that cover the
Eye upon your hand, pride has blinded you to the truth.”

 

Bingus
interjects: “It’s funny that you mention time, because I do feel as if this
has played out previously, and every time this part is the same. Regretfully,
we fight our way through you.” 
Without further warning Bingus
attacks, casting a spell quickly … A swarm of tiny pitch forks flies from his
hand piercing the angel which bursts in the brilliant display only to
reincarnate high above within the chamber’s dome, the radiance of her outburst
collapses upon her angelic allies forming protective shields about them.

 

The statue roars
to life, voicing a powerfully, resonating battle cry deep at a psychic level
with enough power to vibrate the stonework of the chamber:

 

“JUSTICE
WILL PREVAIL!”

 

The
force of the statue’s pronouncement is of such power that it throws most of the
party into a hasty retreat. Too stunned to flee Rikar collapses to the ground.
Only Hagrid manages to charge forward but he too is easily batted aside by the
colossus. Having withdrawn to the courtyard, Vani and Bilgamesh coordinate
their efforts upon the shielded angels. 

 

Ssarina
and Noe rush to Hagrid’s side drawing the ire of the statue, it swings it blade
high over its head slashing downward with enough force to split the stone floor
beneath them; the heroes separate diving to either side as Hagrid rises and
pushes against the statue with all of his might incredibly driving the statue
back half a step with the force of his charge. He holds the statue at bay long
enough for Rikar to recover; he joins Hagrid flanking the statue the two
warriors begin to coordinate their efforts.

 

As
always Fin is there joining in occasionally, alternately shouting taunts or
encouragement, always aiding any friend who might begin to show doubt or
falter. The angels fall quickly to the combined efforts of Vani, Bilgamesh and
Bingus freeing them to add their power to that of the warriors battling the
statue and soon it too is soon destroyed; it falls in several large pieces,
some charred, some slashed, and others coated in bubbling acid, only the
statue’s sword is intact. Hagrid tries to lift it, but his efforts are in vain,
but then he notice soon of the other items left within the chamber. He finds
hundreds of platinum pieces spilled about the floor, and seven gold dragon
statuettes on display throughout the chamber (together worth as least 180,000
gold pieces, but he takes only one), and in a font a fine sparkling water,
which turns out to be a fabled potion of life powerful enough to restore life
to a falling friend.

 

Bingus
busies himself with the seal beneath the throne, a shining platinum disk, ten
feet in diameter that stands in the center of a stone throne’s rocky dais.
Using his magical prowess he circumvents the seals magical wards, and finds it
easy to open after the statue’s defeat. Opening the way he precedes through the
exposed passage way, a ten foot wide, circular tunnel carved into the living
rock.

 


After twenty
feet or so the tunnel ends in doubled door that opens to a rear gate off to the
left and into a dark hall on the right and soon the others join him, the gnome
opts to head to the right through the statue lined hall. Quietly, they move
through this hall that appear at first to serves as a memorial, and later as a
reminder to how far they had come. On either side of the hall all the greatest
mortal champions who died sacrificing their lives in Bahamut’s cause appeared.
These statues depicted humans, dragonborn, elves, as well as members of other
races, some recognized, and some not. As the visitors move stealthily through
the hall the statues begin to shift, changing form, cycling through the
countless mortals who had died in Bahamut’s service. As they walk some of the
party members begin to recognize old friends among the statuary: Jimmy the
Clevenger, one of the founding members of Brindol’s Brigade; Ramok the Goliath,
Hagrid’s own son; Theron the Healer, who had died horribly in Sarshan’s
Obsidian Tower over the Sea of Fire, Zed of the North, father of the
Restorationists, Math and Garth Helm; Vani’s cousins, the famed halfling
adventurers, Wes and Dell Corrin, sometimes called Knick and Knack, and finally
Governor’s Torrance’s son, Ian Whitestone. After about fifty feet the hall ends
teeing into a new hall. This new hall laments as the mountain winds waxes and
wanes in an endless cycle giving life to the moans and sighs of the hall.

 


Bingus
cautiously peers about the corner of the hall of champions and discovers that
approximately thirty feet down to the right side of the second hall it abruptly
ends, descending into a sunken alcove with holds a platinum dragon, or at least
a statue of a platinum dragon. It stands upon a pedestal in a cramped alcove’s
center, but even so the statue was huge, tall enough to tower over Hagrid
standing nearly twenty-five feet tall, a wing outstretched and eyes a glitter
with a soft blue light.

 

Fearful
of approaching any closer, Bingus summons his familiar, the tiny dragonling and
sends it forward to investigate. Almost immediately the familiar is attracted
to a strange, many-faceted gem in the center of the statue’s chest; it pulses
white light slowly like a calmed heartbeat, but then suddenly something on the
ground distracts the familiar, and quickly it drops to the feet of the statue,
momentary disappearing in the sunken alcove. The thing it finds on the ground
is a piece of flesh, a severed arm of unusual hue, with long dark nails and a
sulfuric smelling residue which betrays the meat’s fiendish origin. The
familiar struggles with the item bringing it into view, the cleanly severed arm
of a devil seared and sliced neatly above the elbow.

 

Bingus
creeps just five more feet before the dragon shutters, and the gem in its chest
explodes with searing brilliance that on another day might have killed the
gnome, but ever since his merging with his brother Bingus’s found that his
power had multiplied transcendently, a thing he hadn’t spoke of much but he
that had discovered. Truthfully now he found he could endure almost anything
without harm, just as he often now found himself capable of doing things he’d
never imagined he could. Here once again, this new power had saved him, but the
gnome was still stunned by the sheer power of the explosion itself. Bolting
forward, Hagrid grabs Bingus by the scruff of his collar and hurls him back
forcefully all the way down the hall well past the intersection trying to
remove the gnome from harm’s way, and then suddenly the hulking construct is
upon him sinking 8-inch razor sharp claws deep into Hagrid’s flesh. Painfully
the dragon begins dragging Hagrid down the hall as it continues to pursue the
others.      

 

Rikar
step into the center of the hall hoping to bar the mechanical dragon’s path,
but it breathes out a cloud of misty breath that stuns the drow as it
transforms him into a fine mist that the metal dragon passes through without
resistance as it closes on the intersection of the halls. Before the construct
arrives Bilgamesh darts down the left end of the hall crouching in front of
Bingus guarding the gnome, allowing him a chance to recover.  Ssarina bars
the hall of champions shielding the others with her body as Noe stabs at
Bahamut’s likeness behind her using an powerfully enchanted wooden spear. In
the confusion Hagrid wiggles free and takes a position between the statue and
its cubby, and all at once the heroes attack the platinum dragon from all sides
until the gemstone heart of the golem, the Eye of Bahamut begins to shatters
and then ultimately fails, burst with one final epic explosion of power that
tosses heroes down every hall. In the explosion’s wake the metal dragon
collapses, several tons of twisted, smoldering platinum.  


When
Bingus recovers he wastes no time, slinking past the wreckage of the statue to
explore the construct’s abandoned alcove, and he is followed closely by
Finellior and Hagrid. As they arrive, they examine the severed arm, its fingers
still writhing like a dying spider, beyond it in the bottom of the alcove they
see a large hole fifteen feet wide which had been exposed by the statue’s
departure.

 


The hole in the floor opens into a much
larger chamber. Directly below the opening there is a dais some thirty feet
below; steps lead down from that dais into a much larger gallery where more
daises are spread haphazardly throughout the chamber, each glowing, and holding
oddities or treasures. And there are also visitors within the treasury, earlier
arrivals, they include one hulking fiendish warrior clad in heavy plate armor
and a pair of cambions, one of them missing an arm and the second with Amyria
hung unconscious over his shoulder, but the most interesting figure of them all
is a tall, slender male with grayish, diabolic features dressed in flowing
attire of rich red and gold silk and an overlay of dark meticulously crafted
armor. He sports a smooth head, his brow topped with sharp curved horns, and he
stands upon cloven hooves and has a long pointed tail that fits well with his
pointy black goatee. In his left hand he carries an iron rod that is sculpted
to resemble a fanged serpent which he carries proudly like a badge of office.

 

Spotting
Bingus his says:

 

“Ah,
we meet again, and now we are all labeled villains, denizens of dark cause. I
dare say in many people’s eyes you have surpassed even my own infamy, now
cloaked in the blackest of shadow. I’m afraid we are all fallen now, yet here
we are soaring through heaven’s skies upon our raven’s wings, a pack of wolves
preying upon the heartless and misled of the heavens, they and those
descendants of the dragon’s blood who seem inclined to lay claim to the mantle
of dead Bahamut.”

 

“And why are we so marked? … Can it be
because we have dared to explore the mysteries of the unseen, to find answers
to questions dear to ourselves and our purposes? Do you find it as ironic as I
that we find ourselves drawn together on the same side of things here and now,
that in some ways, maybe most ways we are now finally united in our thinking?”

 

“Does it not appear that Fate has
deemed it that we should be working together, that we have been granted this
opportunity to clear the air? Let’s not stand on formality then; I am willing
to move past any unnecessary ill will, even to forgive your earlier trespass if
you can find it within yourselves to put aside your own prejudices in favor of
resolving the larger matters at hand. Let us dispel any such discourtesies and
not allow them to hamper this reunion, firm in the knowledge that together we
can accomplish great things, such as vanquishing a common foe.”

 

 

 

 

 

 


“I
imagine you are here looking for the vessel. Amyria is her name, correct? I am
open to discussing her fate, and maybe we can work something out, but before we
start you need to understand circumstances as they are and accept that for now
she is mine in every way meaningful way. As you see, I possess her, and you
should know that she was freely sold to me in payment for services I rendered to
a power greater, one with more authority than you. I grant that this might be
difficult for you to accept, but I assure it is the nature of barter here. If
you find it more palpable, you can think of her as recompense for your own
theft of Gith, and regardless, it doesn’t need to be an issue as I don’t see
why we shouldn’t be able to work something out between us. I myself am willing
to forsake my claim on the girl in fair trade and if I can help you achieve
your goals as well so much the better, should I go on?”

 


A quiet debate
between Klarn’s heroes follows, whispers really with but one consensus that
being that Dispater was in fact in control of the situation which left them no
choice but to listen if they were to have any chance of saving their friend.
Finellior nods his head in agreement and asks:

 

“Wouldn’t we need to sign in blood or
something like that?”

 

Dispater
grins wryly and answers: “I would prefer to
drink on It.”
and approaches without threat producing a flagon from
which he share a swig of fine ale with Hagrid, Bingus, Rikar, Bilgamesh and
Finellior, only Vani and Ssarina wave the offer off, and no one notices that
Noe had gone missing. The Dispater continues: “Your
true foe is a mithral dragon named, Dakranad. He was Bahamut’s own historian
and first among his counselors before the fall. Like all his ilk, Dakranad is
gifted with the ability to see into the future, any future but his own. It is
said that he is especially gifted, gifted enough so to cause all manner of difficulties
as he now seeks to take Bahamut’s place. He has used Amyria’s arrival to
engineer circumstances such that others have been willing to help him accomplish
his goal.”

 

“First among them, he needed her to
convince Moradin that he had the means to reconstitute the Grandfather of
Dragons. This vessel
(indicating Amyria) carries
the sole remaining essence of Bahamut within her and Dakranad has leveraged
this bit of insight to convince Moradin’s proxy to produce a Creation Spark
necessary for his ascension. While we dally, he is already on his way to Moradin’s
Soulforge where he hopes to obtain this seed of divinity. You can still stop
him but you will have to find a way to convince Moradin’s proxy of Dakranad’s
treachery, and I can take you there now; succeed I could be convinced to surrender
my claim upon your friend’s soul in exchange for the Creation Spark and until the
exchange takes place, I will happily guard her with all my power free of charge.
I would simply wait for you outside of the Soulforge. All you have to do is
deliver the Creation Spark to me and she is yours.”

 

“If we were interested in making
another Asmodeus of you we might even consider that, but since we need the
spark for Bahamut’s restoration I think we’ll have to pass,”
answers Fin. 

 

 “Ah, so you wish drive a harder
bargain. Wise, I can appreciate that, clearly then you mean to restore Bahamut
then; very well, but at least hear out this counter offer.”

 

“I will surrender my claim on the
vessel, Amyria and help you stop Dakranad for a mere bauble, the Arrow of Fate,
a trinket you no longer need … This way we would all win, you rescue the girl and
you can still stop Dakranad, and possibly even restore Bahamut to power; all
you have to do is find it within yourselves to forsake your own greed … What is
your answer?”

 

There
is a quiet gasp within the chambers as the party’s eyes turn towards Rikar, the
keeper of the Arrow of Fate; Fin freezes unconsciously holding his breathe, but
then Bingus breaks the silence.

 

“Master Devil, we worked hard to acquire the Arrow
of Fate with the understanding that we would need it to complete our mission. Perhaps
we could barter with it, but not now, not until our mission here is completed.
Surely you could wait until then couldn’t you?” 

 

“Hmm, an interesting offer, and truth
said I too would prefer to see Dakranad fail … Of course there would be no
exchange until you surrendered the Arrow of Fate and I suspect you will need the
woman to accomplish your goal. I suppose I could guard the vessel just a little
longer for you while you to pursue your own goals, or you could just give me
the Arrow now and we could all be on my way; I assure you really shouldn’t need
it any longer, but if you insist, I don’t see why I couldn’t wait. As I already
pointed out, I already have the vessel.” 

 

“Understood, but I still believe my friends would
feel better if we hold on to the Arrow of Fate for now … You said you could
take us to the Soulforge?”

 

 

Torzak-Belgirn

 

Steam
clouds lift joining the ever-present mists that conceal Solania’s zenith, yet
no matter how dense they grow light always finds a way to flash through its
murky haze hinting at the wonders being created there inside Moradin’s forge.

 

Solania
is also known as the Rainfather, named after its storms and the dense clouds
which surrounded it producing the waterfalls that spill down from top of the rich
mountain’s dizzying heights down to its vales. The mountain houses the God
Moradin and his servants, within the corridors and chambers that riddle the
mountain’s interior, some little more than crude caverns and others sumptuous
halls built at the highest standard of dwarven engineering. One could spend ten
lifetimes exploring these chambers and never see them all, but what astonishing
discoveries one might find in these endless passages are mirrored in the
innovation displayed within the dwarven enclave called Torzak-Belgirn.

 

Torzak-Belgirn
is the city built near the Rainfather’s peak it spreads across metal platforms
built in scores. It is a place where creation’s greatest artisans’ labor over
hot forges to produce not only the finest arms and armor, but also wondrous
machines, innovative vehicles, and constructs sized from tiny insects to
giant-sized colossal centurions. The work they perform here is not a requirement;
its workers are not slaves. Those who toil there do so for the love of their work
and also to honor the god who gives them the intellect and desire to create.
The city atop the mountain would be an interesting enough reason to lure any
inquisitive mind to Celestia if just to marvel at its creations, but we had
other reasons to search out Rainfather … Based on information we had been given
by Dispater we came to the mountain home of the All-Father seeking out the Creation
Spark necessary to complete Amyria’s ascendance making Bahamut’s return
possible.

 

         
From
Finellior’s Tales of the Heavens


 

 

 

 

Without another
word Dispater lowers the head of his rod into his free hand and suddenly the
crown of his head is lost is brilliant display of fire as a dark haze begins to
swirl above him; it grow wider with each spin, until it expands enough to encompasses
the entirety of the treasure vault and everyone within it, and then the
treasury is no more!

 

In
its place a mighty waterfall appears, a fall named Rainfather’s Beard tumbling
down the side of the fourth of Celestia’s heavenly mountains, Solania, not be the
tallest mountain in Celestia but a foreboding peak all the same, its severe
character revealed in its rocky slopes; from the break evergreen forest
blanketing its lower altitudes, to the sheer cliffs, jagged spurs, and
treacherous ravines oft times dressed by waterfall such as the one here which concealed
the hidden entrance to the Moradin’s Soulforge. Unbeknownst to the new arrivals,
the concealing waterfall was not the Soulforge’s only defense. During the Dawn
War, Moradin had defeated many foes, but one who he spared was mighty storm
titan Oceanus. In exchange for its life, the titan agreed to serve the god for
ten thousand years and the storm titan still laired here within the large pool formed
within bowled palms of two enormous stone hands carved into the side of Solania.
And Oceanus had been tasked with the protection of the Soulforge to which he
denied anyone access without Moradin’s express invitation. Having
appeared at the site, Dispater says:

 

“The Soulforge lies behind yonder
fall, and as I said, I do hope to see Dakranad fail. The vessel is safe in my
care, we will wait here while you pursue Dakranad, and no harm shall befall
her. Godspeed then, you will find us here upon your return.”

 

The Dispater
stands on one side of the pool with Amyria and the rest of his entourage upon a
small green meadow while Finellior and the rest of Klarn’s heroes appear on a
second outcropping of grass on the opposite side of the pool.  

 

Almost
as if answering Dispater’s call, the titanic humanoid Oceanus rises from his
lair at in the center of the palms, and sends waves crashing over in the larger
pool below, causing its banks to overflow into yet another pool far below. The
titan has blue skin and a bald head. It wears a finely crafted shoulder piece
forged of mitral, and a mask crafted of the purest platinum. The titan bellows
out a challenge using its own Primordial tongue:

 

“Mortals believe what you will, say what you have come to
say; it will matters not for I do not care! No one will ever hear of you again,
and when I am done with you, you will be no more!” 

 

“This makes no sense, we are here to
speak to Moradin not you whoever you are. The fate of the cosmos hangs in the
balance. You will have to answer to Moradin himself for this indignity when he understands
our purpose. There is no reason for you to oppose us!” …
replies
Finellior using the titan’s own Primordial language.

 

“Very well mortal, since
you are so confident in your message, then you and you alone shall carry it,
but your allies will wait here with me.”

 

“Very well, titan and if I
agree to your terms, but with the caveat that you take no actions against my
friend until such a time as I return, and only then after Moradin has heard my
request.”

 

“Mortal you have no
power here at all and less over me …

My tasks are written in
antiquity, not by the likes of you; I guard the way, and none pass without my
leave.

Go now or find your way forever
barred …

For I’ve no interest in
you or your companions or in the happenings beyond this pool of tears,

Those who stay clear of the
waters of Solania have naught to fear from me.”

 

“Then I will be on my way, and I will
bother you no more.”…  
Finellior leaps into the sky and begins running on
air using magic he’d learned after a great deal of cajoling from Mendelland’s
master thief Luven Lightfinger during one of the bard’s sabbaticals from his
tutelage within Mendelland; the power allows him to walk through the open air
above the pool long enough for Fin to quickly bow to the titan in a polite if
mocking fashion before he disappears through the waterfall.

 

At the edge of the pool the
cool mountain air is crisp and cold as the tension is thick with opposing
forces gathered on either side of pool upon the grassy knolls set there. The runoff
from the pool drops over hundred feet before forming a second pool far below. Seemingly
content to wait the Dispater offers nothing, and all but ignores the titan; he
waits quietly surrounded by his small cadre of devils: the hulking body guard
who held Amyria’s unconscious body, and his pair of cambion servants, one with
the severed hand and the other still whole. On the second knoll on the opposite
side of the pool waited Bingus, Rikar, Vani, Bilgamesh, Ssarina and Hagrid;
even now no one had noticed that Noe had gone missing and he had now shown up
with the others after the Dispater had transported them here, not that anyone
had noticed.
 

 

On
the other side of the waterfall, Finellior found himself within a damp 20’ wide
passage that sunk deep towards the heart of the mountain and he wasn’t alone; spread
out below him waited an aggressive herd of flesh-eating, bull-like gorgons; monsters
with armored hides composed of interlocking metallic plates; they were angry
and restless, each puffing plumes of raw elemental power from their maws, their
eyes ablaze with murderous intend. Lightning was effortlessly being shed by
their bodies; it played between them bouncing harmlessly from one from another
and back again. Fin had already passed several head of these creature before he
realized what was happening, all at once they began to rise floating into the
air as effortless as the lightning had sprang from them; they filled the space
where Finellior had passed blocking any retreat, and then they start moving
forward. Finellior withdraw as quickly as possible as the gorgons begin pushing
forward. Fin counts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and finally 6 … Realizing he is badly
outnumbered, he begins a full retreat, each gorgon was at least 4000 pound of
fury topped by a serious set of horns; they gave the bard no choice. Soon the
passage began to curve and curve again ending in a descent into a larger cavern
that was dressed with ceiling covered by sharp stalactites. Fin tries to shout
out a warning, afraid that no one would hear him, but Bingus had prepared for them
this possibility having set up a magical link between himself and Finellior
prior to the bard’s departure; still outside the gnome wizard quickly warns the
others informing them of the titan’s treachery as still inside, Fin begins his
descend into the larger chamber the way lit by the fiery glow of red veins that
wormed through the cavern’s stone walls. These strange veins shed a modicum light,
enough for Fin’s half-elven eyes.

 

Outside,
taking heed of Bingus’s warning, and angered by the titan’s growing grin
Rikar’s asks: “Why do you smile so giant? Have we amused you in some way,
because I don’t think you funny in the least.”
Rikar also speaks using
the Primordial language; purposely calling the titan a giant in the hope that
he might insult him, as he does, he also silently signals Bilgamesh to stand ready
using a silent drow hand signal glibly. 

 

Annoyed,
the titan answers, his eyes narrowing and answering Rikar through tighten jaw
he growls:  
“Your
friend is lost, dead or dying, are you so anxious to join him?”

 

Stepping into
the

large, dark, wet chamber, Fin listens as moisture drips … plop … plop … plop …
off the stalactites the sounds playing out in an uneven beat throughout the series
of grouped chambers before him. The gorgons had suddenly halted their pursuit
and they seemed reluctant to cross the threshold of this larger cavern which
gives Finellior greater pause as he notices something other than the water
dripping from the ceiling. He notices something large moving quietly through the
darkness, an even darker shadow heavy enough to send a tremor through the
cavern’s floor. He squints his eyes as he tries to pierce the darkness until finally
he perceives the thick heavy body of a massive black serpent, or more
accurately a group of huge serpents advancing towards him. Again unconsciously
he begins to count 1, 2, 3, 4, and finally 5 heads slithering toward him, hissing
out in quiet outrage as they neared. Then as a group pulls their heads all at
once preparing to strike and Finellior realizes that he is facing not of group
of serpents, but rather one huge black-skinned hydra, the monster stares back
at him through five sets of beady black eyes, its dark body still mostly hidden
in the cavern’s shadows. As dismay takes hold, the bard quickly reverses course
and heads headlong back towards the massed gorgons just as Rikar appears within
the entry passage effectively trapping the gorgons between them. Outside the
others were busy engaging the titan, but Rikar had used his root gate to gain
access to the mountain’s interior hoping to aid Fin from whatever ambush had
developed.

 

The
gorgons start bleat out the stuff of storms, filling the passage with lightning
and deafening cracks of thunder. Outside, back at the pool’s edge, the gorgons’
display sets the waterfall ablaze with intense bright explosions of primordial energy.
The fighting both inside the passageway and outside at the pool was bedlam. The
titan’s own attacks mirror those of the gorgons as he fills the entire outer
area, the pool, the knolls and beyond, with a cloud of dancing lightning, thunder
crack, and overpowering winds that threatening to blow all of the travelers
from their perches upon the small mountain landings. Both within and without,
the heroes rally their efforts hoping to overcome their foes quickly that they
might reunite. Through it all, Dispater ignores the chaos content to shield
himself and his party behind a great molten wall of iron as he waits for the
battles to play out, protecting his captive Amyria. Ultimately, Oceanus falls
first, his own attacks largely stymied by the magical prowess of Bingus, while
Vani rains down primordial destruction and Bilgamesh attacks more surgical
using his arrows all the while defended by Hagrid, and Vani heals them when
necessary. Eventually the titan falls melting away into his pool allowing those
still outside to move in and join the others.   


   

 


In their own
fashion, Fin and Rikar were as successful as the others, with Fin’s
encouragement Rikar had begun to scythe through the gorgons, even before the
others joined him, and as they defeat the gorgons a debate ensues within the
tight confines of the passageway as the heroes try to concoct a means by which
to pass the hydra. They had
fought a similar
creature in Monadhan and it had almost ended them there, and this one here was just
a large and appeared likely to be even more deadly than the Monadhan hydra. It
displayed a quiet confidence, and its movement revealed something of the monster’s
density and power. Unbeknownst to them, it had a name, Mogul the Undying, and
it was indeed ancient horror. Moradin had been keeping it here as a warning and
a trophy since he subdued and captured this most deadly of hydras. Moradin had
laired the hydra here adding yet another layer to the Soulforge’s protection,
and guarding it against anyone who might seek to misappropriate its power. The
hydra had earned its nickname ‘The Undying’ due to its incredible ability to
resist straight head-on attacks, a gift granted to it by the orcs’ God Gruumsh
in hopes of waylaying Moradin during one of their many battles. This power
allowed the hydra to instantly heal from any attack it saw, and given its many
heads and the fact that it regrew two heads for one destroyed, Gruumsh had
managed to give rise to one of deadliest beasts in the all creation. Attacking
the monster head-on was suicidal; a fact yet unknown to the heroes of Klarn. Tired
of delay Rikar screens himself from everyone beneath a veil of invisibility using
the magic of one of his rings, and then silently began making his way down the
step which led into the lower cavern without anyone noticing; he works his way
past the hydra and then suddenly opts to attack the monster from behind inadvertently
exposing Mogul’s one weakness; the monster quickly spins and attacks the
suddenly visible drow snatching Rikar up in one of its powerful jaws and
lifting him high into the air where it quickly snaps down a second set of jaws
upon him and together they begin to rend Rikar’s flesh.

 

Shock
spreads through the still debating members of the party as suddenly realize
what Rikar had begun. Quickly the turn their attention to the hydra and begin
attacking without any further debate. Having turned on the drow, Mogul had
exposed its back to the rest of Rikar’s allies making him vulnerable to their
attacks; Hagrid and Ssarina charge while Vani, Bingus and Bilgamesh attack from
where they are. Given the scope of their power and the urgency with which they
use it they quickly stagger the hydra allowing Rikar to break free. Outflanked
and surrounded the hydra’s vulnerability stays in play, and it is only a matter
of time before the heroes eventually defeat Morgul. Ssarina, Hagrid and Rikar
all suffer grievous injuries during the battle but given the enormous reservoir
of healing magic displayed by Finellior’s they hold on long enough to lay the
hydra down for good.

 

After defeating the hydra they move through the
cavern heading south where they enter into a finished chamber. Within the
square chamber they find four grim statues each carved to resemble dwarven
warriors resting their stony hands on the handles of axes slung head down in
front of them leveraged at their feet. They each are dressed in helmets which
cover their faces, and their long beards cover their armored chests. Each waits
in one of the room’s corners. The walls between the statues move and writhe as
if they are alive; faces and images swim up from swirling mass of stone to
stare at each visitor with unmasked menace only to fade back into the stone
walls of the chamber as another face takes its place, some of these are beatific,
and others are monstrous; they include visages of dragons giants, demons and
devils; all-in-all, they form a strange parade of imagery with no apparent end
or reason, and no specific threat.

 

Staring
at the frightening display Bingus recognizes several the faces as those belonging
to some of Moradin’s most legendary enemies which leads the gnome to declares
the room to be a ‘Hall of Grudges’, an assertion that Finellior takes objection
with:   

 

“You can’t be right Bingus; Moradin
is a goodly god, surely not the vindictive heel you make him out to be.”

 

 Bingus
replies: “I think your own arrogance might be betraying you my old friend,
while you are to be certain, a wise and true friend, you should keep in that
you are but a mortal man, and a young one at that! You should try not paint everything
with your own oft-times petty understanding of things; further, you should be
big enough to understand that not everything and everyone in creation agrees
with you. Try to expand your understanding of things, rather than trapping
yourself within your own framework of prejudices. For example now, allow
yourself to imagine that I might know Moradin at little bit better than you;
possibly considering that I have known him a great deal longer than you. That
said, I agree, you’re mostly right as you speak of his ‘goodly’ nature; at
least as I expect that you imagine it, but he is very much the iconic dwarf you
would expect, and trust me, he knows how to hold a grudge. No, we shouldn’t be
in too much of a hurry to cross him, not if we know what is good for us.”

 

“What do you mean you know him?”

 

“Oh that’s becoming clearer to me by the second, clear
enough anyhow; let’s just as I say, I know him; if fact, I feel like I have
known the All-Father forever, a kindred spirit he is, a friend, nothing more,
nothing less.”   

 

“Whatever Bingus, I fear it’s you who
are finally getting to be as a crazy as ‘your brother’ may all the gods forbid
that I should ever meet him again”

 

Beyond
the Hall of Grudges they continue south and turn east through a marvelously
finished hall of perfectly cut stone until the hall ends in a set of sealed
double doors equally meticulously crafted of steel. Hagrid tests the doors and surprisingly
finds them unlocked but warm to the touch.

 

Godsworn Warriors

 

Having lent most of
defenders to the ongoing defense of creation before he left himself to convene
with the other gods to craft their response to this time of war and turmoil, Moradin
had few options left among those servants that remained as decided which to
leave guarding the Soulforge; it the end those he left behind were powerful
even if they were only a token force, and whether they be monsters he’d subdued
or constructs he fabricated himself, each of them would prove to be savagely
effective and earnest in their defense of the Soulforge and their willingness
to attack anyone who intruded here.

 

As
Hagrid opens the door and reveals the next chamber they see a
large room,
easily sixty feet across with a tall ceiling, within which they find a looming
hulk of iron armed to the teeth carrying a cruel blade connected to a heavy
chain, with two heavy massive bruiser style constructs waiting for them. The
bashers are almost as large as the iron golem, and they standing on either side
of a flaming pit set in the center of the chamber. There are also three
platforms built high within three of the chamber corners, two of these hold stone
statues depicting dwarves, but the third holds a low aligned, bug-like
construct the upper body of which is dominated by an overlarge ballista.

 

The
constructs move to attack as soon as the doors open animating immediately. The
largest begins scraping its exaggerated dire flail in an frightening way across
the stone floor and then starts spinning the blade-ended chain with impressive
speed, the heavy forked blade causes a deathly whirling sound as the golem
nears, and just before closing t
he iron juggernaut blasts
out
a
cloud of toxic gas that catches the majority of the party as it hurls into
Hagrid and Ssarina keeping them at bay with the horrible spinning blade and a
great shield it carries. The two bruisers join its assault

giving the iron golem a wide berth and then approaching from either side and
taking
positions both on the golem’s left and right boxing in the party’s most
powerful defenders. Rikar tries to escape slipping past, but the elevated
bolter clips the drow pinning him to the wall, and one of the bashers starts
pummeling Rikar with a berserker’s fury smashing at him with a stone fist that
weighs more the Rikar himself. The ranger breaks free and the Arrow of Fate
transforms into a heavy maul that shatters the construct’s arm; the arm falls
to the ground reforming into a strange clockwork that continues to attack Rikar
with renewed ferocity. Rikar strike the bruiser’s protégé and it explodes lucky
throwing Rikar beyond the reach of the iron golem, he rolls to his feet and
begins sprinting across the chamber. Throughout the melee the elevated bolter had
continued to rain down impaling bolts, one after another, and it became Rikar’s
target. The drow toss-up a magical rope and starts to climbs up to the bolter’s
ledge, and eventually destroys it allowing the others the freedom to focus
their efforts on the chamber’s other engines of destruction. In the end,
Klarn’s defenders rally at the expense of their bodies, and having exhausted their
remaining healing magic. Bloodied, exhausted, and drained of resources, the battle-worn
warriors have little choice but to proceed past the chamber of the godforged
warriors.  


 

 


Unbeknownst to the
invaders, a score of Moradin angels still waited for them in the chamber beyond;
a full score, sixteen of Moradin’s most valorous angels led by four higher angels
of supremacy. They all positioned themselves between the travelers and
Moradin’s aspect in the Soulforge beyond the bridge hovering high in the darken
heights of the chamber beyond, hidden by shadow. Together they were meant to be
an unbeatable force, and they were dead-set on ending the mortals’ invasion of
Moradin’s Soulforge. They hovered silently over a narrow bridge of white, built
like a catwalk which traversed this final hall, suspended over a 200 foot deep
chasm; the last defense of the Soulforge standing testament to the importance
which Moradin placed on this site.

 

The
Soulforge was but one of several sites within Celestia that were connected together
by a power called the Crucible of Light, an ancient fount of creation’s energy from
which all things were possible. It was here that Moradin fashioned his greatest
creations, drawing energy from this roiling source to fueling his forge and
imbuing its creations with power beyond the scope of imagining. He placed a
little of its power into everything he made, every good work, that he and his
devoted servants forged here. It was also here within the Soulforge that the
All-Father left an aspect behind to continue these good works, with the angels
of the bridge sworn to his aspect’s sure defense. The angels took this
responsibility seriously, and they would tolerate no interference, but given their
nature they withheld attack until Rikar began to cross the bridge.

 

As
he starts to cross, the angels begin shedding brilliant radiance shining like
stars in the air above making Rikar keenly aware of them. Despair grips the
ranger’s heart with the sudden realization that their defeat had become
imminent with the angel’s disclosure. Seeing know choice but to continue, Rikar
tries to sprint across the bridge but the four greatest of the angels swiftly
land blocking Rikar in, flanking him on either side and blocking both exits.
Desperate, Rikar has barely enough time to pass the Arrow of Fate to Bilgamesh
as he prepared to die fighting, hoping against hope to provide a strong enough
accounting of himself to allow some of his allies to win their way past the
angels. Rikar draws twin burning axes when unexpectedly Bingus steps onto the
bridge at the entrance where Rikar had just passed and says:

 

“Excuse me! We’ve no time for this foolishness, if you
would please tell the All-Father that I am here.  I would like to meet with him
without any further delay; this has all been much too tragic already, and it is
past the time for continued folly, strange as that is coming from me. We need
to end this, don’t you think?”

 

The
nearest angel spins on his heel to address the approaching gnome, for a moment
he glares as if he was his eyes to bore through the wizard’s skull and perhaps
he was for as he reaches the gnome the angel suddenly takes a knee and bows his
head responding:

 

“Watchful
Protector, I am sorry for any confusion, it has been a very long time.

Of
course we shall take you to him, allow only that I announce your arrival, and I
and my fellows will accompany both you and your party.

Given
the threats of the day we must all be diligent in our defense of creation.”

 

“Of course, I would expect no less. Thank you for your
hospitality.”

 

Unable
to contain himself, Finellior erupts:

 

“What?! … You
speak and they just let us pass? Why didn’t you do this in the first place, and
why did he call you ‘Watchful Protector’? Isn’t that one of the names used for the
gnome’s god, Garl Glittergold?”

 

Led
by the first angel, Bingus simply ignores Finellior and follows the angel, calling
to the others to fall in line behind him; as they make their way across the
bridge the other angels fall in behind them and together they all cross the
causeway turning right as the white paved bridge tees, toward an opening into a
large, well-lit chamber that echoes with the sounds of pounding hammers. Entering
this new chamber they see
brilliant flames roiling and flaring at the room’s
far end before which stands a mighty anvil piled with hammers, tongs, and other
tools, and standing before the anvil, there is a heavily muscled, pillar of a dwarf
dressed in full plate armor; he carries two mighty burning hammers, holding
each of the enormous hammers within either hand, and carrying them as if they weighed
nothing. As the group enters he unleashes an exaggerated sigh and sets one of
the hammers down freeing a hand to pat down his singed beard as he regards the
visitors with sad, overly weary distain. Two large brutal looking constructs
step forward, positioning themselves to defend the dwarf, each brandishing an
assortment of spinning saw blades, and all the while this is going on, on the
far side of the large chamber, eight more dwarves toils at smaller versions of
the great anvil, continuing to hammer away without missing a beat, working in
perfect unison at their projects blind to the goings on behind them.

Then
the great dwarf speaks, Moradin’s Aspect, speaks, his voice grating with sound
of a mountain shifting on its foundation:  

 

“Ye
purpose is noble but selfish my catered-cousin, but friendship demands loyalty,
still thither art times when ye wilt seteth aside thy own beliefs f’r the good
of all. I forgive that ye hath violat’d mine sanctum, and moo’ I am willing to
forgiveth ye all trespasses if ye wouldst but return from whence ye came and
giveth up on this … ye to date, most foolish mission”

 

“It is nice to see you too Moradin, I have traveled long
and far, even by my own standards to meet you here today, and I would not be
here if our need was not truly urgent. Can it really be that you do not want to
see Bahamut restored?”
asks Bingus.

 

“Ye
be misinf’rmed, ye hast been gone a good longeth time as ye sayeth, too
longeth, I sayeth. Oft times, I hast wond’r’d at ye passing yet ye art hither
anon and I knoweth wherefore, ye be seeking the Creation Spark, but ye art too
late. Dakranad already hath it and he is seeing to his mast’r’s rest’ration
enow. He hath warn’d me that thou wouldst come, and he told me that thou
seeketh the rest’ration of thy mistress Amyria, but h’r time hath pass’d. The
lass hath s’rv’d h’r purpose. Thou wilt leteth h’r go; thy loyalty is admirable
but misplac’d. Thou shouldst knoweth this as well as I.”

 

“It is you who are mistaken, you have been misled.
Dakranad means to take Bahamut’s place. Amyria carries Bahamut’s essence
without her Bahamut cannot be restored. How then would Dakranad restore the
Platinum Lord without her?”

 

“And
whence then is the woman anon, f’r when I spoke with Dakranad he told me he had
her, and he did not lieth f’r I wouldst had known if he had?”

 

“He did have her, having taken her from us, but we have
recovered her.”

 

“Then
whence is she anon f’r I doeth not see her?”

 

“No, I said we recovered her meaning we have found her,
not that we have her. She waits at the pool outside the Soulforge, but I am
sure you actually already know this, just as you know that the Dispater is there
and he has Amyria. He explained that he performed a service for Dakranad in
engage for Amyria and that she is his now, and that is part of our problem. I
haven’t concocted any reasonable way to rescue her. Dispater insists that we
trade something of great value for her, treasures I would rather not give him.
He demands either the Creation Spark or the Arrow of Fate.”

 

“Then
haply thou shouldst not dealeth with him at all, haply ’tis as it shouldst be. The
Crucible of Light bestows its blessing only once ev’ry hundr’d years at any
rate, I wouldst have to wait at least that long to cautel anoth’r Creation Spark
and I wouldst not provideth one to Dispat’r yea if I couldst; and the Arrow of Fate
tis irreplaceable and far too dang’rous in the wrong hands. Nay, thou wilt hath
accepteth h’r fate.”

 

“And what, let Dakranad win?”

 

“We
art not in controleth of all things; thither art yet pow’rs ranker yea more
than ourselves. Thoust dupp mine eyes to mine owneth failing and f’r that
thoust hath mine thanks, but I cannot giveth thou what thou came f’r; but I can
rest’re thy bodies making ye whole; and I can summon thy vessel, and telleth
thou wast Dakranad is, but I hast nay pow’r o’er Dispat’r thou will hast
determineth thy own course with him … I can only warneth thou against dealing
with him ‘r any fiend, ’tis in their nature to deceiveth.”

 

“Then where can we find Dakranad?”

 

“Ye
will find Dakranad at the Bridge of al-Sihal, b’yonder the gateway of creation.
I understandeth thou wanteth to save thy lass’s life, admirable, but not really
imp’rtant, ‘r yea pointeth of living. devas art imm’rtal anyhow, she will
returneth, if not in thy lifetime than haply the next. mine counseleth is to
release h’r to h’r owneth destiny. I am s’rry to say thoust did come hither f’r
naught.”

 

“No, All-Father, I believe you have given me exactly what
I need. You have my gratitude.”

 

 

The Bridge of al-Sihal

 

Once
again outside of the Soulforge, Klarn’s defenders find their captured vessel,
Impaler, waiting for them a hover in the sky above the pool, manned by yet more
of Moradin’s angels. Dispater waits for them below the ship, his captive still
held by his own iron-clad enforcer. The Dispater says:

 

“It is time for you to fulfill your
part of our bargain.”

Dispater
holds out his hand and adds:
“The Arrow of Fate if you
will?”

 

Bingus
shakes his head and says: “We will not be giving it to you; of course you
can try and take it, I suspect that would be amusing.”

 

“Then clearly, Tiamat’s blinding
greed has already sunk deep into your bones. And while you waste time here, I
wonder if you have considered how thoroughly Dakranad has outplayed you?”

 

“Having retrieving the Creation Spark
he already moves to advance his own ascension and replace Bahamut … And
regardless of your deception here and now, I already have what I came for, all
that is left of great Bahamut, and you will all be mine in due time, some of
you sooner than others to be sure; regardless I am not leaving empty handed and
at least I can satisfy a matter of balance and recompense, you stole from me,
now I will take that which is dear from you!”

 

The
Dispater drops his hand, and before anyone has a chance to react, the infernal
ironguard lets Amyria’s unconscious body fall hard upon the ground and
viciously hacking her helpless body with its heavy black bladed bastard sword; it
nearly splits her fragile body in twain. She dies instantly, her hot blood
spills upon the earth and a web of shadow begins to take form around her, as if
the cocoon of shadow was seeking to contain her soul, but her brilliant spirit
would not be held and it effortlessly tear the darkness asunder and rises
triumphant from the broken shell of flesh beneath it.    

 

As
the others hesitate, too stunned to act, Bilgamesh moves like lightening
launching a series of devastating arrows at Dispater one after another, each
arrow magically charged arrow explodes as it finds its mark driving the Archfiend
backwards with every blow until he finds himself teetering at the edge of the
cliff. As the Archfiend tries to balance himself Rikar hands Bilgamesh one
final arrow, the Arrow of Fate, and Bilgamesh aims and fires piercing the devil
with the irresistible weapon; it impales Dispater through and through, entering
his chest and passing straight through his back, and having been transfixed the
Dispater finally falls tumbling helplessly over the edge and disappearing. The
Arrow of Fate magically reappears in Rikar’s hand prompting a comment: “I’m
not sure that is what he meant but he did get the Arrow.”

 

Vani
and Bingus join in blasting the remaining devils with their arcane spells, and Hagrid
begins to trudging into the pool, but Ssarina leaps into the air as she
simultaneously summons her magically steed; the platinum warhorse appears
beneath her catching her in stride and carries her rapidly over the pool as she
races to the fallen deva’s side. Ssarina’s heart was tightening like a vice in
her chest, with the certain the realization that she had failed again in her
sworn duty to protect Amyria. Internally she was berating herself as she
replayed Amyria’s fall in her mind’s eye judging that she had finally failed for
the last time. As tears swelled in her eyes she struck the ironguard down
taking its head with one swipe of Bahamut’s holy sword. The devil vanishes in an
explosion of flame leaving only Amyria’s spirit which had assumed an aspect
that left Ssarina awestruck in its presence; Amyria’s spirit lingered hovering
before the dragonborn as the other devils are destroyed by Vani and Bingus.

 

Her
spirit floats without sound or movement, only hair is adrift on some celestial
breeze only felt by the spirit itself. Hagrid rises out of pool and calls out
to her, but the dragonborn is beyond hearing, her eyes locked on Amyria. Then
without thinking Ssarina reaches out, trying to lay hands, hoping to pour her
all into the fallen deva, willing to sacrifice her own lie if necessary; as
flesh touches spirit Ssarina is filled with a sense of acceptance and profound
appreciation. Staggered by emotions, Ssarina kneels shaking still offering
herself to the deva. Hagrid closes as fast as he can but his feet feel trapped
within the sands of time, and then at the last instant Ssarina’s platinum horse
cuts off his path off. Blocked, Hagrid watches as Amyria’s spirit begins to
fade with Ssarina’s rise. When Ssarina is fully arisen the horse disappears
along with the spirit clearing the goliath’s way and Hagrid approaches.
Immediately he knows that Ssarina had been transformed, and behind him Rikar,
Fin, and Bilgamesh join him each having managed to cross the pool in their own
fashion.

 

Bilgamesh
darts to the cliff looking over the edge for any trace of the Dispater and
finds none. Hagrid and the others try desperately to speak to Ssarina, but she ignores
them staring up the mountain as if her attention is being drawn by something
only she sees. Examining her, her change becomes clearer, and it is obvious to
all that she is no longer the Ssarina they knew. Her face was blank and calm, but
supremely focused, and she had begun to radiate a distinctly silvery hue, a
holy sheen that she wasn’t reacting to but seemed to be consuming her all the
same. Her eyes had become glowing orbs filled with hidden power, shining with
divine energy. Amyria and Ssarina had become one.  

 

Each
hero calls to Ssarina one after another until finally she turns her attention
to them as a group and addresses them together. When she does, they are all
filled with a sense of her well-being, an ecstasy beyond comprehension and the
firm resolution that were exactly where they needed to be. When she finally speaks
she
speaks with the deep, sonorous, commanding voice of the Lord of
Dragons
:

 

 

 

“You
have all shouldered my burden for so long, there is but one thing left to do.”

 

“What do you have us to do?” asks
Finellior.

 

“I must
go to the bridge, there lies my destiny. Do you have it?”

 

“What is she talking about?” asks the
bard.

 

“She’s talking about the Creation Spark.” Bingus
whispers to Fin before answering Ssarina himself:

 

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the Spark.”  

 

“There
can be no return without the Creation Spark.”

 

As
if in response to Ssarina, the angel aboard the Impaler
lowers a rope
ladder asking Hagrid:

 

“You
are the Captain of this ship, are you not?”

 

“The
Bridge can be reached by following the blinding path of Jovar, which starts at
the Mithral Gate of Asiryet, within the Heavenly City.”

 

“Beyond
which lies the Bridge of al-Sihal, the only way to reach Chronias, the highest
and mightiest mountain of this dominion, but it is a place where mortals may
never tread.”

 

“Flight
will fail you as you approach, the only way to pass is the Bridge itself and it
too is guarded, by Zaphkiel.”

 

They heroes climb aboard the Impaler and begin a hurried race across Celestia following the path
described by the angel; they climb past Solania, past Torzak-Belgirn, past
Mertion and The City of Tempered Souls, and Empyrea where their adventure had begun.
Finally, the arrive in Jovar, the Glittering Heaven the highest peak any mortal
had ever seen where they begin to follow a simple winding path that climbs the
magnificent mountain ever higher towards the shining glow at the mountain’s
summit where a golden halo of radiance wreathes the mountain underscoring its
purity and holiness. There they see the shining ornate gate forged from mithral
set at the entrance of the white stone Bridge al-Sihal that extends from the
mountain’s peak and just as the angel had described, and as he had warned,
their ship beaches itself, as Hagrid finds he can no longer keep the vessel
aloft. It comes to rest near the top of the mountain just below the mithral gate
where the path that leads to the Bridge which rises beyond fading off into the
golden halo of light.

 (Finellior)

            We disembarked and moved on to the bridge that stretched out
before us. Past the gate the bridge advanced over 150 feet before it vanished
into the curtain of golden light, but between us and the light stood the
fearsome dragon we had ever seen, Dakranad the Mithral.

            Its
head was adorned with a crown of spikes; its scales flexed and shined with intricate
white striations that sharply contrasted the towering dragon’s darker base
color playing out in brilliant flares forming patterns of energy that danced
across the dragon’s body highlighting the powerful muscles that lied beneath
his glowing scales. As daunting as the dragon was its efforts to cross the
Bridge had been stymied by an equally powerful defender, the Archangel Zaphkiel,
the Bridge’s mysterious guardian.

Zaphkiel was
the living embodiment of the ‘perfect good’ and it was clear that he had not
given Dakranad his leave to cross the Bridge. Legend says that this same
Archangel had held this post since the beginning of time, and that he was
perhaps the only angel left in the all of creation of such rank and power as he
commands, all others having perished long ago in legendary wars against the fiends
and the primordials. Only the most righteous and exalted of individuals dared stand
in Zaphkiel’s presence for fear of being consumed by his righteousness. Only
later I found out that Zaphkiel is also the patron of dead children and
stillborn babies, and that he watches over their souls as well, but I didn’t
know that at the time, and like so many things that had led us to this point,
Zaphkiel’s motivations and plans were unknown to us.

            As
we approached and Dakranad and he first saw us, his bright eyes blazed with the
dragon’s unmasked rage, then overtaken by a sense of urgency he attacked, his claws
clashing harshly against the angel’s fiery sword. Our arrival had given fuel to
Dakranad’s need to cross the Bridge. As we neared Bilgamesh began to target the
dragon with his bow, as he did he spied out something glittering about the
dragon’s neck, a glowing golden locket which he correctly assumed to be holding
the Creation Spark itself!           

            Ssarina
began to slowly cross the Bridge with single-minded determination, and she repeated
her declaration:

“There can be no return without the Creation Spark.”

            I
realized that our time had run out, there was no time left for further delay. We
had to find a way to clear the Bridge because the war for heaven had already
begun; marked on one side by the double-winged Archangel silhouetted by the
blinding light of creation itself, cloaking his face in enigma of shadow, but
his actions spoke loudly, as by strength of arm and fiery sword he denied the
dragon any chance to cross giving the rest of us time to gather our bearings.
Quickly, I formulated a plan and pulled the others close to me to share it with
them.

First Hagrid rushed ahead of Ssarina pushing as fast as could to
engage the dragon, drawing Dakranad’s attention away from Rikar who kept pace
with our powerful warden, but kept a step behind. Their approach was covered by
Vani and Bingus both of whom used their arcane wiles to attack the dragon while
holding their position at the foot of the Bridge. Bilgamesh moved halfway between
the magic-users and Dakranad, and then began launching his own attacks
combining his fire with that of our spell-casters. I stayed even further back
than them, keeping an eye over the entire battle so I would be in a good
position to help wherever I was most needed.

Holding daggers in either hand to focus his
sorcerous power, Vani unleashed his full power, becoming one with the
incredible power contained within his small body. He blasted the dragon merging
the power of arcane acid with irresistible force focused through his first
dagger, and striking with slivers of lightening focused through the second
dagger. At the same time, Bingus circled the dragon in a magical sphere of
energy that while invisible to the dragon, was both visible and recognized by
the rest of us; we well knew the power of Bingus’s globe, and we knew it would
protect us from at least one of the dragon’s attacks. Next we sent Hagrid to hit
the dragon low as hard as he could, just below the dragon’s knee  hooking it with
the heavy falchion he’d taken from Tiamat’s own exarch,
Mornujhar; the black, rune covered blade bit deep into the dragon’s leg
enabling Hagrid to drive the dragon backwards and he nearly forced Dakranad off
the bridge, but at the last instant Dakranad crouched, clinging to the Bridge for
dear life and breathed out pure radiance at his closest attackers. Just as we
knew it would, Bingus’s sphere reflected the dragon’s attack back upon himself,
briefly blinding Dakranad. Blinded the dragon began buffeting those near with
its wings trying to make space to regain his footing, but this only made it
easier for Rikar to fulfill his part of the plan; he dodged the wings and
quickly moved past Hagrid and behind the dragon and then Rikar began to scale
the dragon’s back latching himself as he climbed using amazing transforming
qualities of the Arrow of Fate and his crooked crescent-shape blade to fix himself
upon the dragon’s back as he climbed ever higher.   

Throughout the battle Ssarina continued her slow advance drawing
ever nearer to the melee. Together we fell upon the dragon again, but none of
us more fiercely or with such power as the Archangel Zaphkiel. The dragon
staggered under the pressure of the assault. Zaphkiel began adding holy rebukes
to the unrelenting assault of his blazing sword. Trapped between us and the
Archangel, Dakranad reeled without hope, and Rikar snatched up the locket’s
chain in his sickle’s curved blade slashing it and causing it to fall. On the
ground below, Bilgamesh darted forward in time to catch the locket again just
as we’d planned, but the dragon had began to recover his sight and moved to
stop Bilgamesh only to be blinded a second time, this time by, the Archangel.
After this second blinding, Dakranad found it impossible to regain control of
the Creation Spark, Bilgamesh easily escaped, and the dragon failed to mount
any comeback. Having captured the locket, Bilgamesh sprinted back to Ssarina
and handed it to her, and she called out:  

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and
unopposed it can shake down the pillars of the skies giving rise to the unfettered
reign of Chaos and Night.”

“You are all the shield of justice which protects the world and
even if it never knows what you have done here,

I will never forget!”

Blood was running from the corners of Ssarina’s mouth as she clutched
the locket tightly in one her scaled fists; Bahamut’s spirit was too great for
her mortal body to hold; it was destroying her from the inside out. How great
must have been the strain upon Amyria who had held fast the same power for so
long. Ssarina renewed her advance, and Bilgamesh spun about and fired two more
arrows into Dakranad.

            All the while I was providing healing magic to those
who needed it, as the others also continued their attacks. Many of my comrades
were ablaze, dressed in burning radiance of the dragon’s attacks, but the
dragon itself had been crippled, and was reeling as Rikar struck one final blow
still mounted atop the dragon, he tore the dragon’s throat asunder and
Dakranad’s hot blood spilled like a font. Our ranger leaped to the safety of the
Bridge as the dying dragon fell to his death over its edge into the great
unknown spinning helplessly through the open air.

            By
this point Ssarina’s advance had garnered the Archangel’s attention and he
landed in front of her halting her progress and announcing:


“I deny thee passage cross the Bridge of
al-Sihal.”

           

Ssarina paused just long enough to respond:

“There is no
crueler tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law in the
name of justice.”

The air was
tense, filled with their righteous indignation; I took advantage racing to
Ssarina’s side, with our fate still hanging in the balance, but I knew what was
needed, and arbitrated on Bahamut’s behalf myself. 

I stated my
argument thus:

“Zaphkiel
… It is my honor to greet you, never did I imagine I might be in a position to
approach one such as you. We have traveled here in Bahamut service, escorting
his essence here that he and only he might be restored. I understand it is your
purpose to guard this holy Bridge, and neither I, nor any of my allies seek to defeat
your purpose in this regard, rather we are here to offer our meager assistance
however meager as we demonstrated  in the battle with the defeated dragon, Dakranad.
He was the false prophet, the one who sought to usurp Bahamut’s place upon the
Great Wheel of Creation.”

“I
freely admit, at times our methods have been questionable; we have all had to
do things which we have all regretted during our journey to this place. We
brought down the Dawnbell, and we stole the Arrow of Fate from Hestavar. We
battled Bahamut’s own confused vassals, and we invaded Moradin’s Soulforge. I
myself questioned each of these engagements and many more, but they brought us
to this point here and now with great purpose.”

“And what
is at stake should we allow Tiamat to win? I am but one mortal man, I do not
pretend to know the answer to all things. So I put the question to you for I
imagine that this very type of judgment is the reason you are here. You are
more than a simple guardian. So we approach asking you to consider the truth of
things and to help us determine our course. Should we allow creation to suffer
Tiamat’s wrath, or should we allow the balance to be restored? ”

 “But
please know our time is short, many of my friends and allies have given their
all to bring this choice to you now, and no one more than Amyria and Ssarina.
Amyria was a deva yes, but she was also Bahamut’s own Scion. As long as I have
knew her she was the purest, most true ally I have ever known. During these
past years she has been unwavering in her purpose and determination to restore
Bahamut. Unbeknownst to us her immortal body carried Bahamut’s very essence that
entire time, but in route to this place she was cruelly taken from us by the
Dispater, and now or ally Ssarina, Bahamut’s greatest paladin, has taken
Amyria’s place carrying Bahamut’s essence within her own mortal body, but the
mortal shell cannot long contain it, a fact you no doubt can plainly see, and she
cannot hold out much longer.”

“I also suspect
that you know more of the dragon twins history than me or my friends, but this
much I do know, together they were both sired by the Dragon God Io, and Bahamut
was Tiamat’s first, and most fierce rival , respected by the powers Heironeous,
Moradin, Yondalla, and most lawful, good serving deities. He is the very heart of
justice and a soul of wisdom, and I hope, or dare I say, I know that you of all
beings in creation, you must certainly appreciate this.”

Zaphkiel took
to air once more and responded: 

“The
one you call Ssarina may pass, but only she and she alone; now turn away from
this place and return to your home, knowing that your long mission here is
complete.”

 

 

Ssarina struggled forward, her body betraying her
with a staggering gate and a popping of joints, as she smoldered with the swell
of Bahamut’s power struggling for release as she completed her final walk into
the golden curtain, just before she entered she paused and looking back to us, and
with tears of joy spilling from her eyes, she spoke to us for one last time,
this time in Ssarina’s own voice:.

 

“My
friends, there is nothing I can say or do to thank you for what you have done
for Him. This is not the end but only the beginning; farewell my friends, and
thank you.”

With
that Ssarina disappeared through the golden curtain and we boarded the Impaler
and we returned to Klarn.

 

 

 

SOW Chapter17: Those Once Loyal – Revelations III

Revelations II


Under Hagrid’s control Guionne’s ship ‘The Impaler’ raises above the lagoon.

“We
should depart from this realm immediately.” suggests Yu Gnuf.


“That seems wise.” adds Finellior, “But do we really know how it works? Can it
carry us to Celestia?”

“I
believe it can, it has a spelljammer helm, a magical helm capable of acting as a
focus for plane shifting; it should be a capable means of transport and Hagrid
appears to be a natural pilot. Either you or I could activate the helm, but my
guess is that Bingus would be its truest master. Hearing his named mentioned,
Bingus interjects:

“I
believe you and I should have a discussion about recent events Yu Gnuf.”

“I
agree and I will join you.” adds Finellior, “There is a lot we need to discuss.”  

The
three of them cross the deck of the void cruiser taking shelter in the command
cabin at the fore-end of the vessel. Within the forecastle they find themselves
surrounded by luxurious accouterments and enough comfortable seating for the
three of them. Noting their departure, Bilgamesh follows, and sets himself at
the door, close enough to surreptitiously catch snippets of their conversation
with his keen elven hearing.

As
they take their seats Yu Gnuf’s mood subtlety shifts as he eyes Finellior with a
look of uncharacteristic irascibility, and then just as he is addressed by
Bingus his eyes change to a shade of slate gray as Bingus begins to speak:

“We
were

joined
, you and I, even if briefly, within the Mantled Citadel … I am sure
you remember Yu Gnuf, and I admit I have been troubled by the visions I saw
there ever since.  I have had an opportunity to do some self-examination
since then, and even more research within the libraries of the Swan Tower, but
much of that event is still unclear, but I this I do know. Your being here is no
accident and I expect the enigma of your existence is one of the keys that
drives our quest. Understanding your part in this may very well determine our
ultimate success or failure, but I have asked you enough questions to know that
you are either incapable or unwilling to respond directly. Still, uniquely, you
Yu Gnuf seem to be the most understanding of Jeroen’s manifestations to date and
so I hope we can get to the bottom of this now while this rare opportunity
presents itself. So with you leaves, shall we begin?”

 “In
all the heroic stories of the ages there is at least one villain, a man or woman
who wants the heroes of the day to fail, yet in some stories there may be even
more villains, and when they come together, one may be greater than the other,
or then again maybe not, but instead there is just greater evil.”

“My
own adventure

began
in opposition to my brother who had allied himself to Klarn’s Dark
Lord of Death, and on a lesser scale to the hobgoblin Sinruth; later I was

captured
by the shadar-kai arms merchant Sarshan, and in

defeating
him we were placed at odds with the githyanki and ever greater
evil. You have played no small roll in this, and you have revealed yourself in
many forms, first as

Jeroen
, followed by

Aenied
in Overlook,

Asa Mantir
in the Thornwastes, Noe in the desert (didn’t you mention Grandma
Spider there), and then

Quill
in the mines of Karak.


“Later, you shifted again when we got back to Overlook this time into

Iroon
, and then just as we finally began to study the mystery of background
with the help of

Krasus
you disappeared only to reappear later once more as

Jeroen
, but you weren’t done … Soon in the bowels of Fortress Graystone, you
changed again when we met you as you are now, finally as

Yu Gnuf
… And suddenly we all remembering having met you previously, even as
children, and I have asked myself ‘How can this be?’ and until now I’ve come up
with no good answer for it. So I counted: Jeroen, Aenied, Asa Mantir, Noe,
Quill, Iroon, and Yu Gnuf … seven, but there was another wasn’t there?”

“You
vanished again … this time longer for a longtime, but eventually we found you
again with the lair of the Stone-skinned King after several adventure within
which we were plagued by unexplained disappearances, but in the bloody arena of
the Stone-skinned King you revealed yourself as

Virizan
as you tried to kill us and said:


"It
is time to end my human guise! My power goes far beyond that most puny disguise;
I have five greater forms that can defeat you easily! Know now you face
Veri-zan, exarch of Her Dark Majesty Tiamat! And tremble in the knowledge that
all of you in this room will take this secret to your graves!”

And
after your defeat you declared that we had slain our friend. And upon our return
to Sayre, our ally, Ian Whitestone produced a document that read:


"I
am Jeroen and this is my will that the bearer of this letter proceed to the
Crystal Caverns and lay my sword there."

A
quest Ian freely accepted as his own prompt him to resign his appointment to the
Coalition. And confused me further; were there now eight manifestation of Jeroen
or nine? Yet Ian seemed to have a history and background separate from that of
Jeroen, so I opted on eight and left it at that, but then something even
stranger

happened
.”


“When we were alone away from Sayre and the Coalition Ian said:


"My
friend, what I revealed to the council was not the complete truth. What I read
was not a message from Jeroen, it was by Jeroen–for I am well and truly Jeroen.
I do not know entirely what has happened to your friend Ian. I believe that he
is not lost to us."

This
statement made no sense to me until I was possessed by Iroon.”



“Wait, wait, wait just a minute, I a smart guy, well-educated … and it still
doesn’t make any sense to me.”

injects Finellior.”

“And
I’m not surprised.” continues Bingus. “As I said I was confused too, but this is
what I have been able to put together.”


“There have been eight manifestations of Jeroen, and there are eight

Lords of Mendelland
; and I believe each manifestation mirrors the purposes
of one of these Lords. Yu Gnuf has described himself of an envoy of Ishtar,
Iroon for one he called his Mistress of Death, but couldn’t that also mean he
worshipped death itself, the bulwark of Grithstane? And what of Virizan, that
beast described itself as the Exarch of Tiamat. And the same is true to one
extent or another of all the others too, but I ask you Yu Gnuf, to what
purpose?”

A
mask magically appears over Yu Gnuf’s face, weaving itself over his face even as
his eyes begin taking on a crazed look akin to that of a cornered animal as Yu
Gnuf responds:


“You should take care of the questions you ask gnome, you know what they say of
curiosity and the cat, don’t you?” 


Helter skelter, hang a-sorrow, care will kill a cat, a-morrow.”


Unamused and interrupting Finellior says, “That has the tone of a threat Yu
Gnuf, not like you at all.”


“Who was it that called me Yu Gnuf?”

“So
you’re saying you’re not Yu Gnuf?”


“I didn’t say that either.”


Trying not to garner notice Finellior tries the door, and finding it secured, we
tries again, with less subtly, but still the door remains secure.


Outside Bilgamesh takes note of the disturbance, and he too tries to open the
door, when he too is denied he calls out to the others.


Within the command cabin Bingus takes hold of the conversation one more and says
… “I saying it. You are not Yu Gnuf, and you’re not Jeroen either but we’ve
spoken before, and in the same riddles; I recognize you even if I don’t know
your name, but that’s okay because Yu Gnuf knows who you are and he just hasn’t
wanted to tell me it yet. You have that much in common. Are you afraid of him or
is he afraid of you?”


“Don’t taunt me gnome. I’m not you’re play thing. You not find me so easily
fooled.”


“You’re not very honest either; you’ve made it perfectly clear that you prefer
the comfort of shadows, as if the light of revelation itself scares you. If you
would rather not answer, why not let Yu Gnuf? Unless you really do fear him, is
that it? I really don’t expect that you are overly shy.”


“Your problem may be that you try to define everything, there are far too many
definitions here already along with rules about this and that, more restrictions
and labels … What do they all amount to? Perhaps I like to think I’m just a tad
bit undefinable, that bit of spice called chaos in an otherwise dreary world.”


“Then for adventure’s sake, why not let Yu Gnuf respond? I doubt I have the
power to force you out. It would be the ‘chaotic’ thing to do wouldn’t it. If
you’re as powerful as you suggest what would be the harm? In fact, he hasn’t
wanted to answer himself so why not compel to answer? I bet he wouldn’t see that
coming.”

Yu
Gnuf shifts again; both in form and demeanor, unmasked, stern and with lips held
tight he says:

“I
dare say, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“I
would say that I am quite beyond hope now, rather, but self-determinate. If my
theory is correct, we reached a point of no return Yu Gnuf … Besides which I
don’t expect you will be able to help us much longer. Honestly you’ve not been
yourself, and I don’t believe you are fully in control, not any longer. So let
us dispense with word games and stop wasting time. What is your story Yu Gnuf,
and how can we help you?”

“You
are quite right son on one account; perhaps it is time to tell you a story, a
fiction if you will that begins like so many others with … Once upon a time.”

           


O
nce
upon a time there was a world, a world so very different from anything you might
imagine. This world was a dark place a drift in its own mechanisms, devoid of
magic or wonder, which was both infinitely large scope yet small even in light
of all its power due mostly to the laziness and a lack of thought among the
people living there. The people of this world were very clever and they were
self-reliant to a fault having little need for gods or magic; they had explained
everything within their world to their own complete satisfaction, and they had
conquered every monster, and they had everything they would ever need to
accomplish their every desire, all save one stumbling block … themselves.

Into
this world there were still a few men of vision. Men who dared to pull back the
veil, to search for those things that were yet to be discovered, exploring the
unknown. They were not so different from you in that regard. These men of
science, for that is what they called; they were the wizards of their world, and
the three greatest of them formed a conclave, a secret cabal working from the
King of that land to solve all the world’s problems.  They were given
access to the infinite resources of the King and free reign to test the limits
of their power. This

triumphant
is still known to us in our legends, their names: Majere, Ishim Khan, and
Grithstane.


Unbeknownst to them they were not of the same mind or purpose, yet they had
inadvertently put the power of three to work in their studies. Three is a magic
number that makes great things possible, it is how we think. The three moons of
Klarn, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you see we like things to be not too hot
and not too cold, but rather just right. They had stumbled upon the use of this
number, interesting in that they hadn’t explored the nature of three-fold power,
not in the sacrifice to Dionysus or any other Trinity of the day. Three is also
known as The Code of Creation.


Perhaps one of them had guessed at it; Grithstane, but his purposes were his
own. More than any of them he had studied man’s condition, and he had determined
that their number was too great, so great that the burden of it had become
unbalancing, and to his way of thinking, ultimately unsustainable. In addition
to this, he believed as do I that men achieve more through trial and tribulation
than through complacency. Given their power and means, the people had become
lazy, and distracted, simple gluttons ill prepared to make hard decisions.
Grithstane sought to wake them from this slumber, to challenge them in both mind
and body; to force them to make something more of themselves than they ever
would ever do on their own. He turned all his resources towards this purpose. He
came to think of himself as a necessary catalysis, an inoculation that might
cause injury, yet in the end save them all, and to this end he deceived the
others 


Their core of their studies involved communication. They were reaching out to
forces unknown, power and intelligences beyond their reckoning or any existing
base of knowledge, delving into what up until then had been thought of as the
realms of imagination and infinite possibility. They designed a method to call
out to this great unknown as they pursued even greater understanding. They
designed that which you found beneath Sayre, the Bitter Glass, and they used its
Dark Lens and something they called the Infinity Coil to focus their efforts.

Fin
interrupts: “Excuse me please, but we know about this, the legends of the Lords
of Mendelland are taught at the university, and we destroyed the Bitter Glass,
Bingus and I were both there. What does this have to do with you or the
challenges before us?”


“Maybe everything, tell me what you know about the beginnings of Klarn.”


T
ogether
four lords, Grithstane, Ishtar, Magnus and Majere, worked feverishly creating a
tool, an arcane mechanism they named the ‘Infinity Coil’ imbuing it with the
power to reach across dimensions into other unknown worlds of existence whence
they sought aid for the world predicament; but, as the other lords sought to
save their doomed world secretly Grithstane acted against them to derail the
attempt. To accomplish this Grithstane brought about Ishtar’s downfall creating
a dark lens to focus the Infinity Coil upon the oldest, darkest of all
dimensions from which he summoned a single shard of pure evil, a crystal shard
of infinite power, a crystal summoned from the same dark source that had given
birth to the abyss. Grithstane presented the crystal to Ishtar for study keeping
its source and nature from the venerable sage. Quickly the crystal embedded
itself within Ishtar’s mind, its incomprehensible nature corrupting the white
lord completely immediately threatening the other Lords’ plans. Ishtar used his
new power to accomplish their original goal, that of creating a new world out of
portions of the old, and he called the new land Klarn; but having been
completely corrupted by the power he had used he decided to make a god of
himself in this new world.

In
desperation, Magnus and Majere refocused the Infinity Coil reaching out blindly
for help against the Dark Lord’s plot and they succeeded in contacting a son of
Olympus, Mendel, who claimed to be an heir of the Horned-god, Pan. Mendel aided
them against Ishtar who had begun calling himself ‘Darklens’ but who was never
mentioned by name by the others; for fear that in his new omnipresence he might
hear them. Powerful as he was, Mendel lacked the power to heal the world on his
own so he advised Majere how to contact a goddess capable of doing so, Gaea, the
earth goddess. Working together with Mendel, Magnus and Majere refocused the
Infinity Coil and used it to contact Gaea, but they found that she was in a
fury, angry because of man’s mistreatment of their previous world and their long
rejection of her. Still, working together the other Lords managed to persuade
her to help with the agreement that the peoples of this new world never be
allowed to rely on technology or science to resolve their problems for Gaea
blamed their previous preoccupation with technology for their current plight and
their previous rejection of her. When the other lords agreed she immediately
began the purification Klarn by causing the great tree Yggdrasil to branch out
there; the wonder of Klarn known as the

Ever-Tree.


Darklens immediately detected Gaea’s interference and began to war against the
other lords and henceforth, deprived of their technology, the Lords of
Mendelland: Grithstane, Magnus, Majere and Mendel knew they could not stand
long, much less prevail against the power of Darklens, even while being aided by
Gaea’s power. Making matters worse, Grithstane betrayed them joining with the
Dark Lord against them; and buying the Dark Lord’s confidence by delivering the
Infinity Coil to him; together they crushed the other Lords in every clash, and
this period is now known as ‘The Dark Age’ of Klarn.


Eventually, under the leadership of Magnus, Majere attacked Darklens while Gaea
distracted Grithstane, and Mendel used their battles as a distraction allowing
him to steal back the Infinity Coil for one final effort. The plan succeeded,
and having captured the device, they activated the Coil one last time. Its power
allowed them to span the dimensions seeking a weapon to change the balance of
power in their favor, and on the other side they heard a quiet, soft voice from
the ether beyond, the non-descript voice of a simple-minded dragon named Vorel.


“Very good so far, but allow me to interject. In the beginning Ishtar was first
known as Ishim Khan. And the myth about Vorel conflicts with other histories
which concern Io so if you will please allow me a moment to clarify perhaps I
can shed some light here. Great Io’s first child was a small, simple-minded
dragon called Vorel. Vorel’s name means "beautiful" in Draconic, for beautiful
it was, perfect of scale and form. Not much is known about Vorel, and his name
is absent in much of the dogma surrounding to origins of dragon-kind, but this
so-named dragon promised Magnus that he could bring magic into the world of
Klarn, and with it the power to overcome Darklens. Intrigued they listened
further, and the dragon warned that his identity would need to be kept hidden. I
have postulated that this is the very source of the confusion related to Vorel.
Some legends suggest that Vorel was given form before his better known sibling,
a set of twins, one male and one female: Bahamut and Tiamat. 

Some
controversial legends suggest that Io intended that the twins would mature and
eventually mate, producing children that combined the best traits of each.
Instead, the two became bitter rivals each even seeking to prove they were
better than the other, and trying to get Io to choose between them, but Io would
not pick between them. After many failed schemes to make herself look better and
Bahamut worse, Tiamat hatched a diabolical plan: she decided to slay her
simple-minded, older sibling Vorel that she might frame Bahamut for the awful
deed. These legends go on to say that Io, carefully sought out the truth, and
sorrowfully banished his daughter Tiamat from his presence. Tiamat turned
utterly to hatred and Evil, while her brother Bahamut, ever her rival, turned to
Good in order to oppose her. In this Io lost all of his children: the first to
death, the second to Evil, and the last to Good.


Still another more familiar legend suggests another

origin
for the two draconic gods.


“And
thus it was that the proud god Io, forefather of dragons, went forth alone to
meet that formidable primordial known as the King of Terror. The confrontation
raged fierce between the divine and the base for long days as grievous wounds
were wrought by both upon the form of the other. It continued in such ferocity
unabated until the vile King of Terror took up his crude axe and dealt to noble
Io a fearsome blow that shattered his divine form, hewing the valiant god in
twain. The vicious primordial’s triumph was not to be; for no sooner had Io’s
sundered remains fallen to earth than they rose up to assail the beast as the
twin gods Tiamat and Bahamut. Their sudden assault saw the King of Terror torn
asunder in a righteous fury, yet in their triumph, the victorious deities fell
upon each other. Two imperfect forms for a single essence, the pair are ever
drawn together, locked in eternal hatred as that which they are seeks
unachievable consolidation. Of Io, only a flesh-wrapped bone remained, a relic
from the terrible Dawn War, in which the gods battle against primordials for
control of the world; only this single fragment of Io’s physical form remained
separated from the newly birthed gods, and it was this tiny shard of divinity
that ultimately became known as the Arrow of Fate.”

But
I have had the pleasure of speaking to Vorel myself, and this is what he told
me. Not long after creating dragonkind, Io was in fact slain by the
primordial Erek-Hus, who we know as the King of Terror. He was split from head
to tail with a rough-hewn axe of adamantine. By some accounts, Io’s parts rose
up as Tiamat and Bahamut to destroy Erek-Hus, but Vorel told me Io’s death
simply released his divine energies which flooded into the twin elevating each,
Bahamut and Tiamat, to their deific forms. The twins then wrecked their
vengeance upon Erek—Hus tearing him asunder. And so my question was what had
happened to him, the first son of Io? 

The
first son of Io had been hiding himself from his sister for she had come to
blame him for her father dismissal. She had failed in her attempt to kill him
the first time, and eventually he traveled to Klarn seeking sanctuary there
answering the invitation of the Lords of Mendelland. This explains why he had
insisted that his presence must be kept secret. The Lord’s agreed and this
small, beautiful, non-threatening dragon entered the world, calling itself
Mondragon, the ‘first of dragonkind’ … looking much as you might expect a fairy
dragon to appear, to the utter dismay of the Lords of Mendelland. Mondragon
appeared to have no power to speak of, but the small dragon promised to deliver
magic to their land stating that it would follow upon his tail. Already in
communication with Io’s blood, and in growing desperation, Magnus moved against
the advice of the others and called with the Infiniti Coil again, this time
reaching Bahamut himself, but Bahamut was reluctant in matters beyond his scope
of knowledge so Magnus offered himself up to Bahamut, promising to serve his
will if only he would lend his power to the just defense of Klarn; thereafter,
Magnus has shared Bahamut’s moniker, The Lord of the North Wind. Magnus didn’t
know that the dwarves, the elves and the fairies of the Fey had already entered
the world in Vorel’s service, or that they had already begun to the aid of the
scattered human populace. At this time in Klarn’s history, lacking any of the
technology of their previously home, the humans had fallen into tribal,
barbaric, savagery. They worshipped only their new dark gods, to whom they made
bloody sacrifices. The Dwarves went into their midst and built seven cities of
stone, and the elves help find, and organize the people, teaching them new ways
to survive in the wild, and aiding in their development of culture and society.


Fueled by Bahamut’s power Magnus raged about in a righteous fury against the
evil works of the Dark Lords distracting them while civilization took hold.
Eventually Magnus garnered their full attention, and the two Dark Lords who had
taken shelter within their separate sanctums, and who up until then had acted
alone against Magnus decide to finally conspire against the Lord of the North
Wind. Outnumbered and overpowered Magnus was forced to call out to Bahamut
entreating on the Platinum Dragon’s support, but more than Bahamut heard his
Magnus’s call he had also drawn Tiamat’s attention as well, and given her guile,
she soon sensed Vorel’s presence too, but still she couldn’t find him. Mondragon
was two small to be noticed, he snuck up near to Magnus during the battle and
whispered into his ear advising him to retreat to the Mystic Isles in the wake
his near escape, and informing him that he would find Grithstane hiding there,
and then surprisingly the tiny dragon assured the Lord of the North Wind that he
would deal with the Darklens himself. 


Having no other choice Magnus accepted the likely offer, and when he came
face-to-face with Grithstane he was suddenly he was flooded with the full power
of Bahamut, and rising like a phoenix he utterly destroyed Grithstane’s form.
But the ways and rules of creation cannot be ignored, not by men and not by the
gods themselves; the more power Magnus had claimed the wider the doorways
between the two realms had opened, and this newest display opened the door wide
allowing Tiamat to find her was through, but she chose not proxy through as had
Bahamut, but rather she chose to come through whole, in the fullness of her
power sensing the nearness of Vorel.


Mondragon had found Darklens within the mountain’s west of the Dark Haunt woods
and there secretly spied of the remaining Dark Lord for he Tiamat was looking
for him, searching with her horde of chromatic children. His one heir were
small, and inconspicuous, fairy dragons, yet they too knew how to hide and spy
so he had plenty of warning when Tiamat came upon him, but there was no way that
she could ignore Darklens or he her. So Mondragon hid himself as Tiamat and her
chromatic horde surrounded the Dark Lord. Caged by the evil dragons, Darklens
lifted the mountains upon which they stood into the air cursing the dragons with
his every breath even as they blasted him with enough raw power to consume him.

Thus
in the course of Klarn’s history since Mondragon had entered the world, Magnus
had become a proxy for his good brother Bahamut, and Tiamat; his evil sister had
defeated Darklens, binding Klarn’s future forever with that of dragonkind. Great
Io, the Nine-fold Dragon, the Swallower of Shades, the Great Eternal Wheel, the
Sire of All Creation had not one child, but three (again that magic number of
creation), and through the small, seemingly simple-minded dragon called Vorel
Klarn had been saved. So it seems that during the Primordial War when Io was
slain a pair of children didn’t rise from his remains, but rather as the other
legend suggest the twins inherited his power. They have in turn given rise to
dragons. After many failed schemes to make herself look better and Bahamut
worse, Tiamat hatched a diabolical plan–to slay Vorel and frame Bahamut for the
awful deed, but Vorel discovered the plot and hid himself away, and now
answering the call of Lords of Mendelland he lairs with the Dragon Isles of
Klarn, calling himself Mondragon, the first of dragonkind, and with him magic
entered the world upon his tail as he said it would. And this is why Tiamat
turned utterly to hatred and Evil, while her brother Bahamut, ever her rival,
turned to Good in order to oppose her. It also explains their interest in Klarn,
and Tiamat continuing enmity for the realm. 

In
his downfall Darklens had not died, his black heart still beat, and the Dark
Lens for which he was named, still housed his soul and remained intact. These
parts were so filled with his power that they couldn’t be destroyed. So, they
were cast separately one, the crystal within the remaining Tomb of Limbo, but
the second Tomb had been destroy during the battle between Darklens and Tiamat,
but its parts still floated in the sky, even as the mountains did themselves,
those that had been ripped from the ground by Darklens. The mountains became the
floating Dragon Isles, and the Tomb which had become a perfect black sphere
became the resting place of Darklens black heart, and was henceforth known as
the Fane of Scales, Darklens evil pulses there even now, within Klarn’s black
hidden moon, suspended above the floating Dragon Isles of Klarn.

And
now finally, we are at the true beginning of my plight, and the answer to your
question.”

           
“As I have said the Dark Lens, a crystal, had been cast into the Tomb of Limbo,
a structure that had been more aptly named then any might have guessed. Limbo
actually literally means ‘The edge of Hell’ but I prefer to think of it as the
epicenter of creation; a place of pure chaos, filled with twisting quicksilver
and bits and pieces of rocks, trees, the four elements, entire landscapes,
strong winds, and random pockets of liquid, solid, or gas that might be
manipulated by those with will enough to do so. It is a place where one is free
to create their own reality to the fullest extent to their imagination. And into
this realm they cast the crystal which had possessed the Dark Lord, linking a
sentience from the far realms, a place of madness and horror to that of Ishim
Khan. Within Limbo this crystal gave rise to two new Lords, polar opposite
beings, Ishtar and Malakon, the White and the Black, and they joined the others
bringing their number to eight: Majere, Grithstane, Magnus, Gaea, Mendel,
Tiamat, Ishtar and Malakon … The Eight Lords of Mendelland. Yet this is not the
full story of Lords Ishtar and Malakon who are in many ways the same being, but
when these twins emerged from Limbo they did so at opposite ends of the spectrum
of time; Malakon at its beginning and Ishtar at its end, thus Malakon knows
everything that did happen and Ishtar knows everything that will happen which
brings me back to my story, which is a fiction for now and with Ishtar’s help
let us

hope
it remains so.”

           


O
nce
upon a time, in a world so very similar to your own a group of heroes rose to
prominence through their heroic deeds. These knightly souls had risen in rank
and stature from their salt of the earth beginnings to become their world’s
greatest heroes, but giants had been raiding the civilized lands in large bands,
visiting death and destruction upon villages, towns, and farmlands. Entire
militias had been conquered, entire crops wiped out. These marauding bands
consisted of mixed groups of hill giants, stone giants, frost giants, and fire
giants, as well as ogres and other monsters allied with the giants.


Determined to repel the invaders, local lords had begun hiring brave
adventurers. The first few groups didn’t fare well. Some were crushed beneath
the boulders and jackboots of rampaging giants, and others simply never returned
from the wilderness. Until finally a new band of adventurers were assembled to
punish the destructive giants and banish them from the civilized lands. These
adventurers came out of the dark forest. Their power was great as was their
desire to defeat the giants. Their number included a halfling sorcerer, a master
thief, a disguised, dark elf, a warrior incased in armor, a savage wild elf, a
great druid, a wizard, a ranger, a bastard prince, a shaman and a high priest
and their allies. Several of them had claims to greatness, being sons of the
lords of this realm. And having laid claim to two most powerful crystals of
their Lords, the White and the Black, one carried by the bastard prince and the
other by the halfling sorcerer.

           
And while their story is great, this is not their story, but mine. For now it is
enough to say that they were successful, they drove the giants from their lands,
even pushing deeper, down into the underdark in pursuit of the giant’s true
masters. They


descended into the depths of the earth, chasing the drow priestess Eclavdra
through a vast subterranean network of interconnected caverns and tunnels,
battling various creatures in the course of their journey. First fighting a
tough drow patrols, and then a raiding party of mind flayers (illithid from the
far realm) who were allied with wererats, but had halted their patrol long
enough to capture and torture their drow prisoners. They also found a grand
cavern containing more drow soldiers, purple worms, a lich, a clutch of undead,
a giant slug, sphinxes, trolls, bugbears, troglodytes, wyverns, and poisonous
fungi. While the prince fought and defeated the illithid, the party’s priest
entered into a secret dialog with the monsters.

The
heroes continued pursuing the drow encountering deep ones, a race of intelligent
water-dwelling creatures, approximately human-shaped but with a fishy,
frog-like, appearance. I think their predominant color was a greyish-green
through I forget, but I do remember that they had white bellies. They were
mostly shiny and slippery, but the ridges of their backs were scaly. Their forms
vaguely suggested the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with
prodigious bulging eyes that never closed. And at the sides of their necks were
palpitating gills, and their long paws were webbed. They hopped irregularly,
sometimes on two legs and sometimes on four. I remember somehow being glad that
they had no more than four limbs. Their croaking, baying voices were clearly
used for an articulate speech, and it held all the dark shades of expression
which their staring faces lacked … They were the blasphemous fish-frogs of the
nameless design – living and horrible, we called them Kuo-Toa.


“Wait, wait … You describe this as if you were there?” asks Finellior.


“Well yes, I suppose I do, as I said this is ‘my’ story.”

           
Anyhow, we found one, a rogue who helped us cross a large river for a fee. A
party of Svirfneblin (or deep gnomes) approached us on the other side, and we
convinced them we had come to fight against the drow. As we advanced we found
signs of the drow are all around; the drow moved easily through these
subterranean areas, even though they were hated and feared by most of the other
local intelligent races. As we moved through kuo-toan territory, I met their
ruler, another religious leader, the Priest-Prince Va-Guulgh, a servant of the
deity Dagon.

I
appeased the kuo-toa and gave show of a healthy respect their customs, and from
that point forward the evil kuo-toa were not openly hostile to us, yet I had
already started my decline. I found out that the drow and kuo-toa traded with
each other openly, but the kuo-toa still hated and feared the drow, which
resulted in frequent skirmishes between their two peoples.


Eventually we arrived at Erelhei-Cinlu, an underground capital of the drow, and
the city that housed the Fane of Lolth, their evil spider-goddess. After
traveling for league after league into the deep Underdark, we arrived at the
vast subterranean city of the drow. And within the Fane we found an astral gate
leading to the Abyssal realm of Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders, and goddess of
the drow elves, and she was the architect of the sinister plot involving the
giants of our realm. Her realm lied on the 66th layer of the Abyss, and it was
called the Demonweb Pits.

“Bla,
bla, bla, bla … Haven’t you heard enough from this buffoon. None of this means a
thing here and now … Besides it’s a fiction, it never happened.”


“Then why not let him finish? You said yourself it doesn’t matter.” suggests
Bingus.


“I suppose, but I may have to kill you when this over, and don’t say I didn’t
warn you.”

Yu
Gnuf continues as if nothing had happened:

We
traveled through series of interweaving passageways constructed in a maelstrom
of lost souls in the abyssal plane. One of group ventured off the path and we
lost him. Many of our spells work differently or not at all within this abysmal
realm. It was a maze; there were a number of portals to other worlds some where
Lolth was sending her minions as invaders, one such, a winter world and another
realm

of
perpetual night.

We
marshaled our way through Lolth’s webs, constantly confronted by her minions,
slaves, guards, and captives. At the very end we had a final confrontation with
Lolth, an exceptionally difficult battle against a gargantuan mechanical spider,
which Lolth manipulated, and Lolth’s handmaidens, the demonic yochlol.

Our
victory completed the single greatest quest I had ever participated in. We had
lost our thief; the drow spy had joined our cause turning against his sister
Eclavdra and his people; our warrior Logan had been destroyed; the savage elf
was long dead with our shaman, Lama Amya Seff. And many of my fellows had
already become bitter rivals, but I was the most tainted of us all. I had forged
dark alliances with the kuo-toa and the illithid and on our back to the surface
world I did their bidding.

I
broke seals, and open gates, protections put in place by the Lords of Mendelland
that had stood since The Dark Age. Breaking these seals opened the doorway
between Klarn and the Far Realm. Madness spread above us starting in the Far
East, centered on Raven’s Keep like the plague. Dagon rose from the sea, with
only a slight churning to mark its rise to the surface, the thing slid into view
above the dark waters. Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a
stupendous monster of nightmares to the Overlord’s City, and attack my beloved
Palanthas, and flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous
head and gave vent to certain queer measured sounds.


Insane with fear, the people fled. Once I arrived, I sought out anyone who had
been present that day and escaped, I found a few, haunted by visions of the
creature, they spoke of his hideous gibbering, and they shared a common fear for
the future of humanity.

To
this day I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless
things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy
bed, worshipping their ancient gods carving their detestable likenesses on
submerged obelisks deep in the dark water dreaming of a day when they may rise
again. It was with in mind that I did eventually move into the sea kingdoms of
the waterborne elves, to guard against such an occurrence, and still I hear
whispers of their desire to drag down humanity, their talons reeking with the
remnants of puny, war-torn mankind –on that day when the land shall sink, and
the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.

As
we rose into the sun, the damage had already been done. Raven’s Keep had fallen,
and Blern and his Friends of Entropy were moving from east to west across the
landscape of Klarn. Soon after that the Lords of Mendelland abandoned us to our
fate. Between bouts of our own infighting we beat back the invaders, and then
they turned against me, and I myself was the last to fall, and it was the
bastard prince himself that dragged me to my doom. 

My
betrayal had been discovered by the halfling sorcerer, but my power had grown
beyond their scope, and so he conspired with the others against me. They
gathered the pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts, the same item once used against
Miska the Wolf-spider, in the Age before Ages when he commanded the forces of
Chaos against those of Law. On the battlefield of Pesh on the world of Oerth,
the Wind Dukes defeated Miska, imprisoning him within Pandemonium and shattering
the Rod into seven parts that were later gathered by Mendel and given onto the
Klarn’s Guardians of the East, but in the wake of my betrayal, the guardians had
fell. So the surviving members of Mendelland’s Court tracked down the pieces of
the Rod, and gathered them once more to use the Rod against me. In the depths of
my perfidy I was seeking to release Darklens upon them all, and they caught-up
to me at the Tomb of Limbo where we fought into a stalemate, when at the climax
of this battle Ian Whitestone, the welder of the Whitestone which had been
Ishtar’s half of the Dark Lens tackled me and dragged us both into the Tomb.

Immediately
I wrestled with his mind over control of the Whitestone, but his will was strong
and he would not be defeated. Eventually our minds merged as one being; as such
we learned that we could use the power of the stone to escape at least partially
from the prison in which we had become trapped. You see, long before this day
Ian had learned to manifest duplicates of himself through the power of the
Stone, a power that proved beyond Limbo’s power to contain. Working together we
projected ourselves back into the fabric of Klarn’s space. And that projection …


“Hah, I knew it, you asked for it and now you know I am quite beyond your
ability to harass me, but I would let him give you my name because there is a
magic in names, and I have no wish to be beholden to you.”

“I
already know your name, it is Eon … I learned it when I was merged to you. Now
let him finish or I will do my best to use your name against you!” threatens
Bingus.


“As if you could, I care not, I’ll let him finish, but not because you’ve told
me too, only because I want him to finish … then I will kill you and not only
you, but all of your friends too, and then maybe every gnome

everywhere.”


“Don’t let him bother you lad, I heard him that time. I think you’ve got his
attention. And regardless, I’ve got a plan, a real plan. That’s what I want to
tell you about. And keep in mind, he’s not all bad, not really, Ian is in there
and I believe he is at least as powerful as Kenth. Kenth, that’s your friend
there. You remember him don’t you? The boy you met in the ruins of Rivenroar.
The same boy Orion and Lama Amya showed-up in Brindol for. He’s the priest I’ve
been telling you about.”

           
As I was saying, Eon had learned to project himself out of Limbo. And he began
adopting different personas each to its own purpose, some very evil, and others
less so, all of them also mad in their own way and possessed of immense power.
He interacted with his old friends, feeding their egos, cajoling team, sewing
his own special brand of chaos turning one against one another until they were
nearly as raving as Eon and they were just about as powerful as Eon himself.
Their names became legend … Faffernedi, Sam Spade, Elkatron, Orion, Zardoz, and
Jack. I know you’ve met a few of them, and be thankful that you haven’t met them
all, one of them is a really rapscallion.

Eon
was one of the catalysts that distracted them and turned them against each
other. Without their support and in the absence of the Lords of Mendelland, all
of whom had left save Gaea, along with the worship of any other true god; the
people turned their faith back to the ancient primordials, elemental evils, in
search for power and meaning while these would fought amongst themselves and
even then they still managed to battle and defeated Tiamat, but without outside
guidance they stole her power and the greed that came with it for themselves.
Eventually they reformed the world into one in which the people serviced them
instead of the other way around. The Seven city-stated became Nine; each
clinging desperately to life in the expanded Tablelands of Klarn that then
included the lands east of Raven’s Keep. Each city was ruled by a powerful
Sorcerer-Kings, who served both as a tyrant and a protector of the City they
maintained, and still they battled each other until only five remained. Jack,
the only one still concerned with justice had left long ago in disgust seeing
the world they had created; a world where magic drained the very essence of
life. Their epic wars left vast swaths of the land sterile; even as Orion and
his druids fought a losing battle to somehow preserve the environment. They
insured that the practice magic became a means to tempt death at the hands of
mob-like masses that had once again fallen into savagery, yet the cities
themselves were ruled by the most powerful practitioners of magic the world had
ever seen, defilers and dragonkings all. Eventually all of cities were cast into
chaos and violent strife until the desert swallowed them and the wastes became
riddled with the ruins of the people’s long dead cities.

But,
as I prefaced this tale, none of this has ever happened, and I hope it never
will. The problem is Eon is still trapped in Limbo a place where time doesn’t
exist not any sense you’d comprehend. Not even you Bingus and you’ve been there
haven’t you. Fun wasn’t it, I know you’ve had more than a glimpse of the kind of
chaos that occurs there and it is going to be hard if not impossible to do or
undo everything needs to be done. The problem has always been the Whitestone,
the psionic gem within which Ian and Kenth were merged; the same stone that had
been known as the Dark Lens. It contained their essence, and their combined
power; power greater than any mortal mind could endure or weld and retain any
measure of sanity.  Giving a mortal man that much raw power, putting him in
control, and watching him become a god is a sure path to destruction. So a rare
alliance of the Lords of Mendelland was establish, and with the support of all
the Whitestone was shattered, divided it into eight equal parts, each dedicated
to the purposes of one of Klarn’s Lords; each more manageable, with but a
portion of the power of the whole; each with a distinct persona. All of these
have now worked with or against you now in the pursuit of your mission, but we
are each imperfect and incomplete, hidden from each other, and we must die all
of us that the world might live. Together with me there are four left … Quill,
Asa Mantir, and Noe. And Noe is unique in that he cannot be seen or influenced
by our father, which was another part of the plan. Eon has grown restless now
that his time is finally at hand.

           
A brilliant light flashes concurrent with a loud popping sound, half-blinded,
Fin hears the door smash open behind him. Bilgamesh leaps into the small cabin
and a great cat growls as a strong arm pushes the bard aside. 

As
Bilgamesh enters,

Noe
steps out of the shadows blocking his path, a ghostly panther crouched,
hissing beside him.


"Quiet Nia, these are friends … Bingus, it has been a long time has it not? I
see that the spirits have been guiding your path, which is well as yours is a
journey of many miles. It is a shame that the friends that you had with you
before are not with you now, but your current companions are strong and seen
clearly from the spirit realm."

He
nods to Bilgamesh before continuing to speak to Bingus.

"If
you would be so kind as to introduce me, I would make my acquaintance with the
others. I have a better understanding of myself now and I have realized that we
have all met to a limited degree, but in truth we are still in most ways
strangers as well. It has been a great many moons since we last crossed paths so
it is only fitting that I tell you of my journey. Since last we met I have
learned more of my own history.”


A
s
I said before I am of the cliff people, a peaceful group of varied humanoids who
live in the cliffs off the coast of the Sea of Dragons. We were a people who
lived in harmony with nature and only had to worry occasionally about the
attacks from other islands.

My
father was a panther walker, one of our village’s defenders; as such he had been
bonded to his own panther as a babe, a great honor among my people. He had hoped
that I too would become a panther walker. He procured a panther for me, Nia, and
I was raised along side-by-side with her. However, as I aged, I found that I did
not have the focus and discipline of my father, and the ways of the wild escaped
me, but I took to the combat well enough, and I needed to; the other children in
the village were jealous of Nia and I. Few were bonded to their panthers before
their naming ceremony, a thing that happened only after they came to and age and
maturity to be recognized as full member of our tribe, and a part of this was
the learning of the names of the herbs and development of the skills necessary
to survive alone in the wilderness. These were all lessons that came hard to me,
if at all. I took shortcuts, I stole. I found it was easier for me to wait and
take what I needed from others than to find the herbs the elder assigned me to
find. First I was a bully, and then a thief; I took the hard earned treasures of
others and claimed them as my own. I was young and foolish, and I didn’t know
any better or more honestly, if I did, I didn’t care. And I didn’t learn from
those occasions I was caught, instead I became even better at stealing and as
the years passed I was caught more infrequently.


It was our way during our coming of age ceremony that each child was required to
partake in a vision quest. Each child is sent into the wilderness to survive
until they received a vision at which time they came back to the tribe and share
the truth they had discovered. It was believed that these quests brought greater
understanding to the tribe. When it was my turn I became worried, I knew that I
was expected to come back as a warrior, as a panther walker, but in my heart I
never expect that would happen. Before being sent out, the village shaman
pronounced a weird over me assuring that I would come back as an adult or not at
all. She looked at me before I left and said, "You are not mad; I am sorry for
the pain, but it is for the best." It sounded ominous.

I
was lead far out into the wilderness past the point where I had any hope of
knowing how to come back on my own and I told was told I would know when I
should return. I was alone, with no provisions, but I was allowed to bring Nia
with me. 

The
first couple of days were difficult, but Nia was a good hunter and she brought
her kill back and shared it with me. Had she not, I would have quickly become
hungry. She also found a pond of fresh drinking water. We traveled for three
days climbing over rocky hillsides until we heard rough sounds that we found to
be a band of ogres. At first, it was easy to avoid them, but I didn’t realize
that the place that I chose to take shelter was so poorly chosen, a trap-not one
set by the ogres, but by my own ignorance. I awoke to the sounds of the ogres
shouts, roughhousing and carousing, there was a great rumble above me. 
Within seconds rocks were tumbling down upon us, we both scrambled to try to
escape from the crevice in which I had hidden myself, but, moments later I was
immersed in darkness and choking as dust filled my lungs. I passed out and after
a long time finally regained consciousness. My head was aching, as I pushed
rocks out of the way and climbed out of the rubble which had buried me. It was a
wonder that I had not been crushed, but the crevice had provided a shield of
protection over me, and the larger rocks had passed by leaving only a smattering
of smaller rocks to pelt me. I was injured but luckily not dead. After I freed
myself I looked for Nia. I cried out a wail that must have been heard for miles;
surely the ogres had heard me, but I didn’t care, I had found Nia and I had
lifted her broken body in my arms. She had escaped the crevice only to be
crushed by the huge boulders. I held her, rocking with my pain, cripple both in
mind and body until I feel asleep in my exhaustion.

As I
slept I had a dream. In the dream I saw a group of strange creatures dancing
around a fire. Each of the creatures came over to me and touched my forehead and
then returned to their dance. Finally, a person emerged from the dance, it was
our shaman. She looked at me and said, "Now your test begins in truth. Do not
despair, she is with you still."

I
awoke once more to the sound of approaching ogres, and again I quickly
disappeared into the shadows before they found me. The next couple days were
hard, I struggled trying to find food, but my skills were lacking and I found
little to eat. I found a few berries, but again my ignorance betrayed me, I did
not suspect that they were toxic, and they only made me sicker. I did find some
water, and my wounds had begun to heal even as I became more ill, but thankfully
I hadn’t broken anything though my ribs began to ach significantly.


Eventually I circled back and found the ogres, desperate for food I imagined
that I could fairly easily steal from their food stores. I had no difficulty
sneaking into their camp and when I did, I notice that they had a satyr caged
within their camp next to a sack of meat. I open the crude lock of the cage and
roused the satyr. He was about to cry out so I quickly covered his mouth while
motioning for silence; he quieted, and I grabbed the bag of food as he and I
fled the camp. Unfortunately, he was not as stealthy as I and the ogres heard
him, and quickly began to chase after us. My erstwhile accomplice turned out to
be less thankful than I had hoped, and as soon as we saw the ogres behind us he
told them that I was stealing their food as he turn and ran in their direction.
The ogres were predictably dim, and they looked confused as I quickly ducked
behind a bush causing them to doubt whether I was there or not. The ogres split
up, some taking the satyr and other staying to search for me. It was a simple
matter for me to lose the ogres in the scrub of the underbrush. Once I was safe
I opened the sack of food and pulled out the catch I had worked so hard for
looking forward to a meal; my stomach was growling with anticipation, so great
was my hunger, but it turned to disgust a I pulled out a leg with a cloven hoof,
clearly that of another satyr. I was hungry, but not hungry enough to eat other
sentient thing, not even one that looked like a goat, besides there was more
meat yet in the bag. I cast the satyr’s leg aside and reached for the next
offering, but I instinctually recoiled in horror as I withdrew Nia’s head.
Quickly I tossed the bag away and I buried her head along with the satyr’s leg
offering as much respect such as I could muster to both.

I
wandered for another three days, I had stopped thinking about myself and
worrying about when I might find the village, my thoughts were focused on my
lost companion, more than any fearful reception of my tribe. The lack of food
and the poisoned berries were starting to take their toll on me. I was feeling
feverish and was seeing and hearing things that were probably not there. I was
sure that I was being followed by the ogres but when I doubled back to observe
them they were gone, nothing was left, but that night I saw movement in the
light of the moon and after that I had trouble sleeping.

On
the fourth day since the rockslide I had another encounter. I had found another
pond of what I believed to be fresh water but just as I was about to drink a
panther burst from the undergrowth taking a position between me and the water. I
fell over in my surprise, but the panther only stood; denied of the water, I
backed away, until I could safely flee. Still unsated, my thirst grew, men can
go hungry, but fail quickly deprived of water. There was a rustle in the
underbrush as a bird took flight near me, and I feared that the panther had
followed, but took heart when I realized I was still alone, and I began to look
in earnest for another waterhole. Eventually I was successful, I found another,
but again when I went to drink the panther appeared and warned me off. Over the
course of the next day the encounter repeated twice more before I finally found
a watering hole that seemed to satisfy the great cat which had plagued my steps.
Weakly, I bent to drink the water, fearful and cautiously by now expecting to
see the cat, but this time I didn’t spot the panther until after my lips touched
the water when I saw the panther watching me from the other side of the pond and
finally I realized that there was something familiar about this panther, she
looked very much like my Nia. I called out to her and she came to my side. Tears
began to run from my face and I reached out to pet her only to have my hand pass
through her. She was an apparition nothing more, and immediately she
disappeared.

I
fell to the ground and cried out in frustration and anger as if this was some
trick the spirits of nature were playing with me. But then sitting next to the
trunk of a large tree was a beautiful fox.

She
spoke to me, "Understand, I’ve played no trick, young shaman. It is just that
you are inexperienced. You do not know how to control that which is within you;
though I admit I did find it a bit funny."


"Shaman?!” I exclaimed; I am no shaman. I am a…I don’t know but, that isn’t
… it" I was at a loss, for honestly, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be,
but I had never thought of myself as a shaman. One doesn’t become a shaman, it
is a calling. One is chosen.

"Ah,
the light dawns, call back your totem. She will come when you call. She will
help guide you. Restore that relationship first, then we will continue our
conversation, I and the rest of us, if we’re not too busy."


After the fox left I called out to Nia and she returned. I recognized her, and
of course realized she was a creature of spirit now. I quickly grew into this
new relationship, I flourished, and after many days spent in the wilderness
talking to her she tutored me in the ways of spirits, and taught me how to speak
to the other spirits of the wild, and after many day I found myself back to my
village.


Oddly, Nia was visible to all the member of my tribe, everyone within the
village saw her, so unusual was this that the tribe afforded a position and rank
of an elder even though I was still but a teen.

I
worked with the other elders of my tribe for years until one day when the
spirits of the world began to call out to me so loudly and such urgency that I
could not ignore then. Eventually I was visited by one of the great spirits–The
Carver–who warned that there was a great change in the wood. Not sure what to
do I brought the information back to the other elders.

The
other elders make offerings to the gods and spirits seeking out their guidance
and wisdom. One of the elders, Okatu, believed that we had angered the gods and
suggested they should begin making human sacrifices until the gods were
appeased. The other elders were shocked by Okatu’s suggestion and refused to
listen to his words, even banishing him from our council.


While we elder continued to deliberate, Okatu had taken matters into his own
hands and began secretly snatching and sacrificing members of our tribe. At
first his actions were attributed to the dangers of the wilds, accidents
happened people were lost, but soon we realized that something more was afoot,
and that someone was killing off members of our tribe, and it was easy to guess
that it was Otaku.

We
cornered Otaku on the edge of a cliff and were going to force him to surrender
himself, but instead he chose to jump into the raging sea below and disappeared
into the waves below; the waves rose as if to meet him and they continued to
rise becoming larger and larger until they were higher even than the cliffs
themselves and they began to wash over our village. Soon the village was
decimated; many were drowned and still more were crushed by falling rocks as the
waves pounded against the rocks, causing them to tumble down the cliffs.

I
did what I could to save my friends and family, but in the end I too was washed
out to sea and as I sunk below the waters I was again visited by another great
spirit, the Great Current. She came to me and carried me to safety to another
island far from where my village had been. There I recovered, and afterwards I
built a raft and returned to my home. I searched the island but I could find
nothing of what had been my home, and there were no survivors. Perhaps others
had been rescued by the spirits of the waters, but if so I could not find them.


Alone of the island I went on another vision quest to determine what my new
place in this world might be. During that vision a third great spirit came to
me–The Monster Hunter. It said that I had yet had a great destiny in store for
me, but warned that it would be a long, strange journey. It said that would be
both myself and not myself; it said I would die and live and die again. And in
the end, I would join save my tribe along with the rest of the world from Otaku
and others far worse, and one day when this finally came to pass, I would be
reunited with my family.

I
awoke from my vision quest I knew where I must go and set myself upon this
journey. I have been wandering the countryside for many moons; the Fox Woman has
shown me many of her tricks, though I hope she has saved a few for herself.
Another great and fearful spirit tried to follow me here. A spirit that had
passed through the gate of dreams, one who sought to kill me, but my spirit has
not gone to my ancestors yet. I deceived the Spirit Hunter, and passed through
his gate of dreams myself; the Fox Woman was clever enough to teach me how to
hide. Beyond the gate I found shelter within a crystal palace where I met other
spirits, those who had been killed by the Great Spirit Hunter, and I realized
that I had stumbled upon the means to complete my quest.

“And
so once again I have come to you Bingus, that once again we might travel this
road together.” 

As
light floods into the cabin you feel something shattered beneath your feet,
looking downward you find crystal shard sewn about the floor.

“Do
not worry; I have put the Spirit Hunter to sleep. He will not find you while I
am here. We have no time for him now. We must content with the Great Dragon
Twins now, they too are couch themselves in dream and metaphor. Know that I am
honored to be with you again and should you need anything from me you have but
to ask.”


A Postscript, Bingus’s Explanation:

 

           
We never saw Yu Gnuf again. Oh, I eventually found his hat among my fineries,
but I never the man himself. I believe that his cycle has been completed as I
found a shattered crystal on the floor of the cabin. Thankfully, the entity
called Eon seems to be gone as well, at least for the time being, and seemingly
it has no influence over Noe. And while I may never fully understand it, I have
determined that the minds of Ian Whitestone and Thurann Kenth merged while
battling over the control of a powerful crystal called the Dark Lens after they
were trapped together within Limbo. Later they used the power of the crystal to
escape, but only by bringing the dangerous, powerful being called Eon into
existence, a being who would or will herald the end to the world of Klarn in a
reality or a future which we must avoid. Given the unique nature of Limbo, Yu
Gnuf has been struggling prevent this potentiality. The problem is that Eon is
so powerful, and lairing within Limbo, he is insulated from any conventional
attack so a plan has been developed, by agreement of the Lords of Mendelland
that involved the shattering of the Whitestone before it ever entered Limbo thus
dividing Eon’s power and consciousness into eight separate but equal personas,
some of them more beneficent than others, but regardless of their nature, until
they too are gone we will never truly be safe. Let us hope Yu Gnuf’s sacrifice
has not been in vain.