[IC] Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City

[IC] Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - Dead Men Walk

...late at night, Khale's Place, Thames City...

Moments after settling into the bar, Khamal had opened the front door of the place, keeping his right hand on the handle while placing his left on the doorframe, peering out and around outside. Then, his left hand detached and rapidly changed into a black spider, which scurried away, crawling up the doorframe and continuing n towards the roof. Looking around once more, the druid grunted, then returned to the bar by closing the door.
Raven and Lissa explain that Thames City is a large one, with its king wielding a great deal of influence across the Island Continent. Recently, the Kingdom of Thames has swallowed the long independent nation on the eastern coast, and the island to the east, divided into smaller earldoms paid significant tributes.
To the north, the Highland Kingdom remained defiant as always.
This animosity doesn't stop trade though, with caravans and cogs carrying goods all across the continent and to and from Mainland. And with trade comes culture, learning and resources that wouldn't have been possible in years past. Despite the dirty appearance of the docks, the sages and seers flock to the city, as well as merchants and shopkeepers that stay upen until midnight.
Khale, an old riverman himself, has decorated his bar with riverboat replicas, thick hawsers arranged decoratively, supporting columns made up to look like sail masts, paddles on the wall, and the like. The bar itself resembles the prow of a riverboat.
Daina and Jake are playing games with the taverns patrons.
Daina, favoring cards, has a sizable pile of coins in front of her, as well as a sword.
Stern faced, she taps for another card.
Jake, sliding his own pile of silver, debates whether or not he should keep playing, staring down the length of his pipe.
Toser is joined by Raven and Lissa, chatting amiably with Khale at the bar.
"So there I was...", Maki keeps talking from the top of the bar counter as he takes another sip from his drink in order to clear his throat.
"Face to face with the biggest Giant you'd ever seen. He could have lifted this very bar from the ground that one. White as death with teeth that looked like big sharp icicles. He stumbles towards me you see like a mountain was about to bullrush me. But ohh i was quicker. When he reached out his hand I jumped as high as i could landing halfway up his arm. I had nothing to hold on to so i dug my falchion deep right on his bicep!... " he makes a flexing motion and point at his own bicep with his free hand.
Khale, taking a sip from his own glass, grins through missing teeth.
His bald head shines in the musty lights of the bar.
"Wasn't it cold, matey!??! Like wrestling with a blizzard!?!?!"
Finally clean again, Marros peruses the bar. Seeing the game at the table, he decides to join his companions. Mind if I join you?
One of the men, a fisherman by his smell, is dealing.
"You know how to play blackjack?"
Blackjack huh? I may have played it once or twice, I 'm not really good at remembering cardgames, but I could try I suppose...
"Not only that! " Maki says pointing at the old Sailor's remark.
"When I stuck my Falchion on the thing's arm. A sprout of it's blood hit me square in the face covering me from head to toe. It wasn't like a normal creature's blood. It was violet! And it felt so cold too! Like I had been thrown right in the bottom of the sea. With my skin burning from the frost the giant raised his big white hand and brought it down on me like he was swatting a fly... I only had a split second before he crushed me so i gripped my the hilt of my sword strongly. And I yanked it as I pulled it free. The giant's other hand stopped for a moment as he gave out a shriek. Which gave me time to jump again! "
Maki says as he gives a somersault on the bar table and takes his Falchion out in the mean time.
"I jumped right at his face! And while my was hand there right from the Giant's beard with one hand I raised my Falchion with the other! " he says as he make an upwards stabbing motion with his Falchion.
"And dug it deep into the creature's Throat! "
he finishes.
"DRINKS ALL AROUND, Mateys!" Khale screams, holding up a glass, and everyone cheers Maki and his story.
Watching the barbarians performance, Marros raises an eyebrow. He really doesn't know what inconspicuous means does he? he whispers to Daina.
She shakes her head, "Not. At. All. Are you allowed to gamble, Marros? Do you even have any money?"
Besides Daina and the dealer, two other men sit at the table.
A farmer and a woodsman by their dress.
"The Lord's of Chaos are not in play..."
The dealer's hands blur, tossing out cards to each of them.
Daina receives the Twin Flames, and the Fisherman reveals himself to be holding the Five of Blades.
The farmer smiles at the Seven Crowns sticking up, and carefully looks at his hidden card, while the woodsman, grim-faced through his beard laughs at the Knave of Blades, showing a Black Paladin with a dark sword.
Marros himself has the Four of Flames as his face-up, while the First of Blades, showing a whirling sword fighter who's blades make it look as if he had four arms.
Tapping the pouch at his side, Marros retrieves a bundle of golden coins, bearing the stamp of Fair Veronia. The Unbroken Circle is a might less...restrictive then other orders. We live in the world as it is, instead of hold ourselves aloof and pretend to see it as we want to. Glancing at his cards briefly, he taps on the table. Hit me.
Daina shakes her head, and pushes coins to the center, "Marros. You have to place bets first, here."
Maki gets down from the table and sits on a nearby chair as he thanks the crowd by raising his glass. Then he turns to the sailor.
"So... Are bars the only lively places in this city? "
"None livelier! Khale's is the place to be, friend!"
"I can see that Hahahaha. So how long have you been on this business?" Maki looks around as he says that.
"You opened this place after you retired from sailing right?"
Khale hands a drink to a swaying customer, "Twenty years! And you bet! Crashed my ship here and set up shop, matey!!"
"Well you hit the nail on the head man. This place sure looked like it could use a few more bars when I crossed the gates..." then he thinks and adds.
"A couple more guards too..."
Khale makes a curious face, and Toresh, the minotaur looks at Maki with interest.
"Why would you say that?"
"Oh well I don't know... The first thing i saw when on the way here was a woman running away like mad after stabbing a guy . Not the best of first impressions if you get what I mean. What? This bar hasn't had any troubles with madmen or thieves in the twenty years you've run it?" Maki asks with an eyebrow raised while taking another sip of his drink.
Khale shrugs, "That's life in 'The Docks'. People push, and people push back."
"Haha I can respect that. Say what else is there to do around this town besides getting drunk? Any other interesting place you could recommend?"
Frowning at his cards, Marros pushes another 40 into the pot, and taps the table again.
Nodding to Daina, Marros looks flustered as he places his pouch on the table. Sorry, been so long since I played. then he pushes 10 gold into the center.
The farmer nods, saying, "No problem, friend!"
They all match his first bet, but fold after, opting out of the game, leaving Daina against him as he receives the Six of Crowns, while Daina receives the Three of Blades.
They were hard-working, wealthy men...
Alex observed as the monk added 50 gold pieces to the table and rose his eyebrows. There was no way common citizens could match that bet, especially not during a casual game.
...but fifty gold!
Daina frowns, "Nope. I think I'm done this round. Gold's yours, Marros."
As the fisherman hands the cards over to the farmer to deal, shuffling them with deft fingers between his hands, Daina looks at Marros.
"Monk, have you ever met any of my friends before?"
Realizing he drastically overbet, Marros continues to look sheepish as he waits for the next deal. At Daina's question, he shakes his head. Given my wandering and the wars, our paths may have crossed unknowingly, but I don't believe so. Why do you ask?
"Just wondering."
Alex shifts his attention from the game itself to Daina and Marros. Perhaps they'd a bit more of information on her former allies.
She's dealt the Three of Blades, and the Woodsman and Fisherman receive the First of Flames, showing a dark, firey elemental and the Three of Cups. The Twin Cups and the Three of Flames look up at Marros, while holds the First of Crowns, showing a crown of black thorns, and red tips.
Tapping her cards, Daina pushes five gold pieces ahead, and finds herself being matched as she receives another card.
Have any of them met me? Marros says as he matches the bet, requesting another card.
Alex watches the card games silently, he didn't feel like playing right now. Every now and then he would look away from the table and resist the urge of knocking the barbarian from the bar and tying him up. As amusing as his stories might be, the idea was to keep a low profile, not jumping on the counter while drinking, shouting and shaking an oversized sword. The thief sighed and looked once more at the table.
While everyone else was carousing and otherwise enjoying themselves, Khamal sat quietly next to Alex, content with simply sitting there with his eyes closed and his hands placed nicely on the table, specifically having his right hand over the left.
As Khamal now sits quietly at the table, he opens an eye and looks at the rogue beside him. "Feel like joining the game?", he asks, noticing Alex looking at the the other table.
Jake leaps to his feet as he rolls an impossible roll, and taking the game by storm.
Khamal notices a mist, reaching up to the windows, blocking torches and the continual light spells that blanket the street.
Nobody seems to care, even as people swing in and out the door.
Mist and fog isn't new.
A man, a dockworker by his clothes, pays his bar tab and opens the door, stepping out into the fog.
A large fellow, he takes up the doorway as he stops to wave at patrons bidding him goodbye.
"See you later, Caspan!" Khale laughs.
He winks at Maki, "One of the few sops here who pays his tab on ti-"
"Maybe late-" the rogue begins to answer the druid...
Khale's eyes widen as Caspan's figure is 'jerked' forward, drawn almost instantly out of sight into swirling grey by an unseen force! What can only be the poor Caspan's voice screams out, "What the... By the Lords of Light! No, let go of me! Oh no, no, NOOOOOOO...." His last scream seems cut off ass if by a knife's edge, plunging the tavern and the night beyond into utter silence.
...but is silenced by the screams of the man.
Jake's fists are still held in the air as a the stunned silence passes and a frightened babble of voices break out.
"What was that?"
"It got Caspan!"
"That's some thick fog, matey!"
Those who step out into the fog can only see a few feet in front of them, and only with light sources. The mist is cold, sending a chill down the spine, with only the warmth of the Khale's tavern serving as direction and warmth.
Everything else is shrouded in whiteness.
Even sound is muted, and the cold mist leaves an uncomfortable touch.
Cursing that he took his attention off of the situation outside, Khamal causes the spider to flex and writhe, and it seems to disappear, meanwhile the druid's left hand has returned, the new appendage flexing and moving rapidly. He holds the wrist of his left hand as it attempts to return to normal, and curses once more.
Standing to his feet swiftly, Marros carefully moves closer to the door, on the balls of his feet, gazing outward towards the fog. Found that trap after all.... he mutters.
"No, it looks like they found us." he said, nodding to the monk. As he stood up to ready himself for battle, arms to his side with clenched fists, his disguise quickly wore off, causing his tattoos to reveal themselves, most notably the third eye that was painted red at the center of his forehead.
The unholy sight of deathwatch registers a dead presence twenty feet away from him, or ten feet outside the door...
Standing as well with his Falchion still in hand Maki walks quickly towards the door.
...then registers a living one.
Alex quickly stands up, reaches into his cloak and dons his mask. As the mist billows into the tavern, he moves into a more advantageous position as he readies his crossbow against whatever had no doubt killed the man.
Lissa stares at them before the door, before leaping from the bar.
Daina, sweeping her winnings away, stands slowly, "Bow."
"Which one?"
"The expensive one."
Lissa nods, tapping Raven on the shoulder, before thundering up the stairs.
Toresh, still in human form, stalks toward the window, with Raven following close behind, and they peer at the mist.
He looks over his shoulder.
"Warrior-bard, are you ready to take Bane into your heart?"
Jake makes a grim smile, cracking his neck, as he moves to the window as well, sword in hand.
"...as good a day as any."
"Prepare yourselves, everybody. The fog has surrounded the bar, and now covers the streets. We're surrounded."
As Maki walks toward the door, Khamal uncharacteristically raises his voice. "Do NOT be a fool and try to take them alone. Stick together and we might stand a chance."
Daina sighs, "What is it with men and this obsession that the entire world revolves around them?"
Khamal is caught off guard with that comment. "What do you mean, Daina?"
She pulls her bandana over her face.
"Why would you assume a trap, for us, where there is no sign of one?"
She gestures outside.
"A man you've never met before is likely dead, and you think, "It's got to be about us!"
Toresh, offers a fervent prayer to his god, asking for strength and power as he draws a black and silver axe.
Jake peers out the window.
"I don't see anything..."
The mist swirls before Maki, its whiteness obscuring his vision.
The chilling fog swirls around his feet, creeping into the bar and leaving droplets of water on his falchion.
"Even if it's not after us, it doesn't hurt to be prepared," Alex comments from the wall.
As he review the bits of arcane knowledge he had learned over the years, he mutters Revelio making his mask pierce through invisibilty. He peers through the window and readies a bolt to shoot at whatever had attacked.
This mist doesn't seem magical in nature...
...perhaps unnaturally thick and cold...
...but not the creation of magic.
Annoyed at the loud outbursts, Marros whispers, Keep your voices down, we don't know what's out there yet. Khamal, Tosher, can you give us any enhancements?. Closing his eyes for a bare instant, he focuses his other senses, feeling the world around him, sweeping the fog with his sight beyond sight, angling upwards to see if there was anything on the wall above.
"Daina, this time, for everyone's sake, I truly hope that I'm proved wrong and that this is an everyday occurrence here on the Island Continent." This was a side unlike Khamal, but somehow he couldn't help it.
"That's the point, druid. Even if it is, doesn't mean it has anything to do with me..."
Holding out his right hand, palm forward, the druid sends a burst of air forward through the door.
Or he would. If the barbarian weren't in the way.
His third eye forms a red ring around the center eye, causing Khamal to see through the mist.
Or it would. If there was anything there.
Toresh's eyes are closed, and he nods, "The blessings of Bane are on those prepared to do battle."
" I wasn't going out... But someone's gotta watch the door!"
Maki says as he presses a button on his glasses with one finger.He presses it three times.
"Does anyone know of anything that could cause the fog? I don't think it's a spell."
With his crossbow still ready, Alex keeps peering through the window. The fog was too thick to see anything, but nonetheless he keeps watching in case something moved through the fog.
Khale peers over his bar counter, "That's the river fog!"
Turning to Khale and leaving Daina to her own thoughts, Khamal asks, "What is the river fog? And does it usually snatch men out into the night?"
Turning his head, Marros looks at Daina, Shouldn't Lissa be back by now?
"Right here!"
Lissa comes stomping down the stairs with a red and white bow in hand, with a quiver of arrows over her back.
Daina stands, taking them from her.
Khale, scowls at the druid, "It's the fog that comes off the river and of course bloody not, matey!"
Toresh groans, bones snapping and muscles writhing as he resumes his minotaur form.
Stretching he grins, and gives his axe an experimental swing.
The patrons crowd away, with the half-orc and the minotaur in the bar, and the fog, this was getting to be too much...
Daina ignores the stares at Khamal and Toresh, smiling as Jake stands too, sword spinning across his palm.
Relieved to see the Guard return, and there companion fully armed, Marros starts moving toward the door. Well, can't see anything from in here... Stepping around the barbarian, every muscle taut, Marros stips silently into the fog, every sense tingling...
Alex sees from the corner of his eye as the monk moves by the barbarian. His crossbow still ready, he begins to wonder whether the thing was still there or if it was gone now that it had it's dinner.
The monk practically vanishes in the fog.
Maki, alert as always, squints, trying to see what hides beneath the fog.
Raven and Lissa brush past Maki as they step out into the mist.
They have their rapiers and dirks, letting their blades lead them through the fog.
Daina walks out with her bow drawn taut, feeling her way forward with her feet.
Moving closer to the body of what he assumed to be the man Caspan, Marros carefully draws out a coil of rope from his pouch, still scanning the ghostlike world around him.
The grisly remains lie in a pool of spreading blood. One leg has been torn off, and both arms are missing.
He can't identify it as Caspan, because the head is also gone, torn off at the neck.
"Uh, there are things..." Lissa warns.
"...moving things out here!"
In the fog, Daina moves her bow back and forth.
From the door way, peering out, Maki watches the fog and mist suddenly sink.
It drops as if a great invisible hand had squished it, pushing it down to knee-height, revealing Marros in the centre of the street, and Daina and the guardswoman just behind the monk.
Jake pushes his way out past Maki as well, flickering black lights surrounding him and the minotaur in some sort of spell.
Dark shapes emerge from the fog, most of them crawling up from the river beyond, across fro Khale's place.
From this distance, and with the sudden clarity of vision, Marros doesn't need the deathwatch.
Their drowned, rotting remains make no doubt...

...Dead Men Walk...

As the fog swirls around his ankles, he assumes a low striking stance, bladed hand towards the shambling mass. Grinning widely, Marros gestures them on. "Let's dance."
The deeply muscled druid sighs. "Tell me, caretaker, does this sort of thing happen often on the Island Continent?" As he steps out of the bar and walks out into the street, he cracks his knuckles, which begin to faintly glow with light. He eventually stands beside Daina.
As Khamal steps out, Khale snarls, and spits after him.
"Dirty orcs!"
"Open a way if you can!" he asks from his companions.
Stepping slightly to one side, Marros draws his Oathbow, and nocks. Lighting Splits the Oak! Hands blurring, they suffuse the arrows with an light grey collar, and the arrows seem to smack into the shambling dead with a far greater impact than they should.
An arrow sticks through one of the undead's eyes, and out the back of its head, and it drops in the fog, bursting in a cloud of darkness and cold.
Another two arrows fells another one, with similar results.
"More undead." Alex sighs as he reaches into his haversack and pulls Therandil's buckler free. "I hate those things," he says as he straps it to his left arm, the shield's blue flames sending a pleasant warmth through his body.
Lissa runs through the fog, to stand next to Marros, her rapier pointed at the undead.
Maki moves to the outside with his Falchion in front of him.
Raven, ahead of him, flanks Marros as well, her rapier held ready.
Daina gasps, shuddering from head to toe.
Her bow and arrows slip from her grasp, dropping to the mist, followed by her knees.
Sinking down, she stares at the undead, eyes blank.
More undead emerge from the waters, and by movement in the fog up and down the street, there are more lurking about.
Khamal holds both of his hands together, yet holds them slightly apart. Closing his eyes, he connects his his fingers to form a circle.
The winds around the group stir, but quickly turn from a faint breeze to a roaring gale. A massive blast comes down from above, but splits at the last moment and goes past their heads, spreading out in all directions.
The blasting wind reveals more of the undead, to their left and right, but with the fog winding across the entire river, not even Khamal can get rid of it all.
With the eye of the druid's storm, right above their heads, the fog still drifts around their feet, while the undead, halted in their approach, try to lurch toward them.
Jake, lefts a low moan escape from his lips, as he drops his sword, raising his hands to cover his ears.
Eyes clenched shut, he drops down, shaking his head back and forth.
Toresh, ducking through the door, raises his hands into the air.
"Wights! Don't let them get near!"
Running forward, he displays his holy symbol, the gauntlet, thrusting it clenched at the wights.
He leaps past Maki and Khamal, and wastes no time on Daina and Jake.
"Turn back foul denizens! I am a servant of BANE!"
Four of the wights scream in agony, and burst into blasts of cold and darkness, destroyed by Toresh's words.
A single wight, determined to break through, enters the circle of calm left by Khamal, and runs toward the monk.
Lissa and Raven, lunge forward, offering their blades in defense.
The piercing blades stick through the wight's water-logged flesh, and the puncturing wounds are quickly filled with shards of ice.
Roaring hoarsely, the wight lunges at Marros with its water-damaged fingers, trying to claw at his face, but Lissa and Raven maintain its distance.
Lissa, gritting her teeth, growls, "Don't waste the arrows on this one monk. We've got him."
"Daina!" Khamal shouted as she fell to her knees. "Get back on your feet! What's wrong with you?"
Daina doesn't answer.
Together, she and Jake are far away.
In a place, Khamal could never know.
Thank you, but your mistress may need you! Marros says to the Guardswomen, shifting backwards, and taking aim at the remaining creatures. Hand blurring with speed again, the arrows streak through the air, deadly with precision, though they don't seem to glow as before.
The arrows tear through the wind, tearing off the skulls of two more wights, but their numbers are swiftly replaced as undead bubble from the river.
Still in position inside the tavern, Alex tries to open a nearby window and snipe at the undead, the bolt from his crossbow glowing slightly with a purple hue.
But with the window being a bar window, it can't be opened.
So he shoots through it.
Khamal's wind and distance makes it a rough shot.
The crossbow bolt smacks between the eyes of the wight, Lissa and Raven are holding back from Marros.
Lissa's eyes widen, turning around to look for Daina at Marros warning.
"Raven, go see what's wrong with her!"
Lissa's rapier and dagger plunge together as one through the Wight's chest, and it screams as its body is consumed in a blast of negative energy.
Raven, just as startled as Lissa is, screams as the dark energy tears open wounds across her body.
"You undead Bastards. I'll show you not to mess with us!" Maki says between gritted teeth as he charges, leaping towards the closest wight in the group of four undead to his right.
Maki's falchion cuts through the whirling air, and cuts a Wight in half with destructive force.
The half-orc breaks his ring and kneels next to Daina, placing a hand on her shoulder. As he does so, the winds start to calm down.
The wights, their numbers growing, strain against the wind no more, and run forward.
And then they're upon Toresh.
The wights claw at the priest's armor, shrieking at him.
Eight more wights fly from the left of the street, completely surrounding Marros with their clawing hands.
Maki finds himself in a similar predicament, as seven wights beset him on all sides.
One of them, its eyes frozen, icy orbs, glares at Maki, blanketing him in a frigid cold attack.
Next to it, another drowned soul, risen as a wight, fixes its mind on Maki's trying to assault him with a dark mental attack.
To angry to be touched, Maki shrugs off the mental intrusion only to be beset on all sides by wights, clawing at his skin.
Four wights move in for the kill, surrounding him even as another, its yawning mouth filled with broken, yellowed teeth, vomits a cloud of yellowish fog that envelops him.
After getting the Wight's cold touch out of his skin Maki spins around slashing at their knees!
The wights, screeching at him, crash to the ground.
Seeing the creatures fall Maki rolls again on his feat swinging his steel in an attempt to decapitate them!
The whirling falchion hacks deep across the wights bodies, leaving terrible rents across their waterlogged flesh, but a single wight reaches out, and strikes, trying to drain the unprotected barbarian of life energy.
But Maki isn't as unprotected as he appears, his leather armor absorbing the tendril of negative energy sent out by the wight, foiling its attack.
"You need to get back up!" He sees if she's even conscious or can move. If not, he scowls slightly at how this has turned sour so fast.
She is conscious, staring without seeing at a distant point, far away.
I really wanted to be proved wrong. he thought as he looked at Daina's current state.
"You're vulnerable here. You can't stay here." He sighs and shakes his head. "I'm getting you to safety."
Khamal hoists her over his shoulder in one grand motion.
Jake shakes his head back and forth in a soft moan.
"I said TURN BACK!" Toresh roars.
Another four undead burst into dark explosions at the minotaur's roars.
Toresh sways on his feet at the lash of negative energy, a particularly strong burst staggering him.
Seeing the Undead swarming, Marros knows he has bare moments to act... Fall Back! Lissa! Raven! Hang on! Kicking off of the slavering maw behind him, he flips through the air rotating just above the reaching claws. Reaching out for the two Guardswoman, he grabs hold of both of them and steps. Reappearing atop the roof of the inn, they land, safe from the countless Undead. For a moment.
Or so he would have hoped.
A chill voice rattles from behind Marros.
Raven and Lissa flinch.
"Well, this is unprecedented...
Marros looks behind him, What. the. Hell...
"Not hell. Oblivion.
Alex aims his crossbow once again through the window, shooting at the wights as the others retreated into the bar.
The bolts smash into a wight's shoulder and chest, and it glares up at him, tearing them out with a snarl.
Sensing the undead still move after his blows and recognizing more are coming Maki jumps out of harms way towards the bar. He clicks his boots together and makes a run for the entrance.
The wights, not to be denied, lash out at him.
Through the poisonous fog, Maki feels them clawing at his legs, trying to drain his energy in a numbing cold.
But he escapes the fog, leaving the wights behind.
His gaze darting from one undead to the next, Khamal notices the great speed that the wights seem to have as they rush. Still holding Daina over his shoulder, the druid bellows out to the minotaur. "Get inside NOW! Hurry!"
The minotaur roars back at him, "Not yet..."
His silver axe spins a blur a dark steel.
Extending his right hand, a series of kelp strands crawl around his arm and suddenly lengthen to fly out towards Jake, causing four strands of kelp to wrap around his legs and body. Khamal turns around, and with the woman over his left shoulder and the kelp strands held over his right shoulder by his arm, he begins to hustle, slowly at first but eventually rushing inside the house right behind Maki.
Once inside, he puts Daina down and closes his eyes for a moment. Outside, the winds begin to pick up right outside the tavern, but this time with greater force.
The wind rips the wights from their feet.
The wight Alex had struck still snarls at him from below.
Legs and arms go flying in the wind, and sloughs of skin are torn from their water-laden owners.
Up on the roof, the Wight Lord's face becomes...
"Rhaaaaaargh! Mrak!"
Raven and Lissa's rapiers shake in their hands.
The wights behind him growl in hunger, weaving darkness and death into an obscuring cloud.
With his heightened awareness, Marros senses that they have left, fleeing.
Below, Toresh smiles too.
His cloak billows behind him as he raises his black fist high above his head.
"...peace, is a lie..."
The undead surrounding him burst into flame, screaming as they become flaming spires of negative energy and cold.
Grimacing at the touch of death, the minotaur strides to another fallen wight, and brings his fest down on its head, and it is consumed as well.
"...through passion, I gain strength..."
Toresh huffs.
"...through strength, I gain power!"
In the tearing wind, Toresh's strength is checked, but that doesn't stop him from taking on Bane's dark blessings, making himself immune to the negative energy.
"We can't let them get inside!" Maki says as he grabs the closest and biggest table and starts moving it in front of the windows.
A few of the patrons pull themselves together enough to help him.
And one is thoughtful enough to close the door!
Opening his eyes to see the wights battered and knocked down from the winds, Khamal quickly turned his attention to Daina. If it was a serious then he had to be quick.
He unraveled the kelp from his hand, allowing him to move her body carefully with both. He had placed her on the floor with her back against the bar wall. Propping her up, he placed his left hand on her right cheek.
"Wake up, Daina," he whispered. His palm glowed with a faint white and golden light, and he channeled a concentrated burst of healing through her, hoping that was what was ailing her.
A thought popped into his head.
Where are her bodyguards? He needed someone to look over her before he could return to battle. Looking around the tavern for a moment, he then asks, "Has anyone seen Raven or Lissa?"
A pause after scanning the room again.
"And Marros... it looks like he is missing as well."
"They're not out there," Alex confirms from the window. "I think they teleported somewhere."
Knowing that the wind was too strong for him to shoot through it and noticing how Toresh was handling the undead with relative ease, the rogue moves from the wall towards the bard. He was no cleric, but he could at least check his condition.
Jake is curled into a ball, rocking back and forth.
He appears to be sharing the same dream as Daina.
Or at least a nightmare.
The healing has no effect.
Whatever is wrong with her isn't physical.
If Khamal didn't know any better, he'd suspect she was in some sort of waking dream.
Her eyes still stare without seeing.
Outside, Toresh calls down a column of divine fire.
"Through power, I gain victory!"
The flames crash into the stricken undead with
Standing firm, cloaking whipping in the wind, Marros stares the Wight Lord.
Who are you? What do you want here?
The drowned man shrugs, and jumps backward, his body twisting at unbelievable angles as he hurls himself from the roof into the black, roiling darkness, and out of Marros senses.
Alex pulls his shortsword free and carefully begins to cut the bard's bonds. He had no idea what was wrong with him. Maybe he was affected by some sort of fear aura? The only thing he could do for Jake was to release him and hope that Khamal or Toresh could help them.
Khale explodes.
"No! Out! Get out! All of you! I don't want you here!"
The man is fuming.
Other patrons are glowering, staring at Khamal and his tusks, while others peer out the blocked windows at the minotaur's rage.
"Take your half-breeds out! Out!"
Jake rolls over, groaning and Daina's eyes fly open.
"Why is someone touching me? And where is my bow?"
A man with a broken nose hefts a bottle.
"And take your devil-kin and his hell-fire with you!"
Maki's body feels the pain after his rage ends...He walks towards the Bar counter and fills a jar to help him numb it.
"Man that was crazy... "
Khale swipes the jar away from him.
"I said GET OUT!"
Alex looks around at Khale and the patrons. He didn't see why it was their fault the undead had attacked. If it wasn't for them, everyone would be wight food by now. Still, they didn't need an angry mob right now.
"Can you walk?" He offers Jake a hand.
Jake voids his belly, vomiting on the floor.
"Sure. Let's go."
A farmer curses, drawing his boots away from the filth.
Damn it. Marros runs to the edge of the cloud, listening hard for any sign of the creature. Realizing that he was gone for the moment, he turns to the Guardswoman. Are you okay? We should get down from here, check on the others.
As he hears the shouting from below, he realizes there is little time to waste. Leaping from the roof, he lands solidly in front of the door, to the surprised shouts of the bar patrons.
STOP. he stares Khale right in the face, Draconic eyes flashing. These men just saved your lives from a fate worse than death. We will go peacefully, if that is your wish, but you will NOT toss us out in the street, with the wounds from our fight still fresh.
The fisherman stands.
"I heard him say it!"
A quivering hand is pointed at Khamal.
"You and your friends, half-breeds and demons brought this upon us!"
Khamal withdraws his hand. He's still kneeling before her, but slowly back up and gets to his feet. "You fell in battle. It was odd, like you weren't here but off in a dream." He clears his throat. He didn't want to get too close with her. You fell to your knees while the Wights advanced." He looks away, trying to see if there was a way to look outside. "You were helpless, so I brought you back here."
He pauses, but then steps away before she could answer. His face was cold and distant. "Your bodyguards are missing," he says as he tries to open the door. "I suspect that they've been teleported to safety. I'll go find them for you in addition to finishing off the rest of the wights. I suggest that someone secure the permiter of this establishment, as the wights could still be elsewhere."
Daina shudders, pulling away.
"I am never helpless!"
Khamla says nothing to her 'helpless' comment, but just looks at her. Something happened to her.
Her voice is raw.
" We just saved you Bar from those things man! Give us a break! ", Maki says asking for the jar back.
Khale pulls away, "Get out! I'll call the Watch! The Guard! The King! You'll hang!"
Alex quickly walks to the bar and pats Maki on the shoulder. "I think it's time to go."
Khale's eyes bulge at Alex, "And you broke my window!"
"Yes, I broke your window since it wouldn't open. It was either that or, you know, letting the undead in to have dinner on you and your friends. If you value a piece of melted sand more than your life, I'd say you have to re-evaluate your priorities in life. And you can thank us for having the chance to do so. We didn't exactly arrange a meeting with them, you know?"
Khale says nothing, his eyes burning with contempt.
Other patrons, glowering angrily begin to shake fists, and raise their voices.
"Get out of here!"
"We heard you!"
"Take your curses away from here!"
"We fear the Light! Not orc dark magic!"
"Get out!"
A bottle is throne, narrowly missing Daina's ear.
She ignores it, jabbing Khamal in the chest.
"If you ever turn you back on an undead to 'save' me, or anyone else again, I'll put arrows through your eyes myself. Where. Is. My. BOW!"
When she jabs him, he jabs her right back, but on the shoulder.
"Fine." he says immediately, his voice slightly elevated.
"I'll hold you to the same."
He looked right in her eyes. His brow was furrowed, but he drew it back, and his voice became normal as well.
"You better hope I do the same! Save the living! Kill the undead! If someone goes down, you leave them and keep attacking! These aren't monsters chopping down trees druid! This is the real world! And there are things worse than death out here! Place your honorable convictions elsewhere. They'll get you, or my friends, killed."
Khamal did not do his usual routine in offering his hand to her, a woman. No... she was different, she was strong, even though she just had a moment of weakness. To belittle her would cause her to either outburst or withdraw emotionally, or something else unpredictable. He had to treat her with respect, now even more so. He at least thought that she deserved as much.
The door swings open, splintering from the door frame as Toresh strides in, hefting a severed arm over his head.
The waterlogged limb sprays water across the crowd, and a flap of tattooed skin swings back and forth.
"... and in victory, my chains. Are. Broken!!!"
The minotaur screams a battlecry to the sky.
Flaming corpses litter the street behind him, and Raven, clutching Daina's bow behind him, peers inside.
They must have gotten down themselves some how.
In a soft, exultant breath, Toresh whispers, "...Bane frees me."
Jake, supporting himself on a wall, swings a pale hand from Maki, to Khamal to Marros to the minotaur, oblivious to the shocked fear and hatred he's created with his trophy.
"All of you. Wait outside. Outside. We're leaving."
Toresh looks back and forth, "What? But Bane just granted us vic-"
Only fools hate that which would save them. Walking towards Jake, Marros offers him an arm, to help him outside.
"I said get out! Mind, me, matey, I'll be calling the watch! You'll all hang before the Light for bringing this darkness here!"
Khale points out the door, and to the cheers of the patrons.
Some of them are starting to look edgy.
Daina takes her bow from Raven, "Lissa, Raven, Jake upstairs. We can find another place to stay."
Jake waves him a way.
"Go. I'll get our stuff from the rooms. You and our other diverse members are making them nervous."
Toresh, clutching his bloodied arm, stomps outside into the fading mist.
Marros nods. I'll try to keep the others cool. Be swfit, my friend. Then he walks out. Maki! Are you hurt at all?
Alex turns, ignoring the tavern keeper and heading outside. They'd have to find somewhere else to patch themselves." I wanted a drink... "
Maki mopes while following the group outside.
Ingrate full bastards I should just gut them all...
Outside, Marros, Maki and Khamal find Toresh studying the arm he'd taken.
"Monk, examine this grisly trophy, in Bane's honor of course," the minotaur casts a fervent gaze to the grey clouds above.
"It has a curious mark."
And a disgusting, rancid smell.
A mark? Sure, let me take a look.
A gold ring is stuck to the hand's finger.
But that's not what the minotaur's black covered hand points at.
A tattoo.
An anchor made of bones, is wrapped in a torn banner, emblazoned with the words.
Paragon Pearl.
"It is, most likely a ship."
Toresh places his fists upon his hips, and looks to the river.
"It probably sank here. We can find out, and learn if this man had kin, and tell them that Bane forgives this fallen soul's choice to face him in battle."
His nostrils flare.
Toresh, they may not want to hear that their loved one was turned into an Undead Wraith. As for where it came from, I think the river was simply a good source for whoever planned this. I may have encountered him on the roof. We'll talk more once we find a place to rest.
Toresh pauses, "Hmmm. Bane can be subtle at time. I see you point."
He takes a deep breath.
"Yes, I think Bane would understand."
Raven and Lissa emerge from behind Khale's place, where the tavern-keeper and his patrons watch them through the shattered window, shaking their heads.
Raven hands Epona off to Alex.
Daina, and Jake, carry everyone's remaining belongings outside, and they make to leave.
Sitting atop her horse, Daina peers at the arm.
"What's that?"
Kicking aside a flaming corpse, Toresh explains what he'd found.
Daina becomes thoughtful, "Well gentlemen. I don't know about you, but I doubt I can sleep. We're going to The Piers!"

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Iron Preparations

Eduardo, Grace, Quin and Prescott take separate rooms in a Ferrus inn, but are woken by a rattling sound of their rooms.
Sunlight leaks in, across each of their faces signaling the coming of morning.
Grace stretches up from the floor.
She usually ignored a bed in favor of a mat on the floor, and sometimes without the mat.
Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she move to a bowl of water, wiping away dried tears.
The monk tries to stare into the bow, to examine her red eyes, but the shaking and swaying of the room makes it impossible with the ripples.
Hassadur, his large bulk crammed into a corner of a room, hisses in irritation.
"Be at peace, Hassadur. If its an earthquake, it will pass. Besides, it is early morning, and likely we shall be on the move soon anyways."
The snake, glad to be normal-sized again, had pointedly avoided Prescott, and Morinfen, unwilling to leave Eduardo's side, was to prime a target for Hassadur's appetites, and found himself bunking with the monk.
He hisses again as the shaking and rumbling persists.
"Oh, I don't know how long earthquakes are supposed to last!?!?" Grace smiles, moving the bowl back as it shifts.

Pieces of plaster fall from the ceiling onto Eduardo's head, rousing him from sleep.
The shuddering of his bed, and the entire room, doesn't appear to be severe dangerous, but becomes annoying within moments of waking.
Morinfen, poking his head from beneath his wings, peers at the Master, then looks out the window.
Eduardo rises and goes to the window, flinging open the shutters.

What's this? Morinfen, do you feel like taking a morning flight?

A quick circle up around the canals and back would give the raven a good view of the city, and the scale of the disturbance. It paid to be informed.
"Couldn't hurt!"
The raven hurls himself out of the window, and soon he is lost in the grey skies.
Eduardo has time to go about his morning meditations by the time the raven returns, pecking at the glass.
Once inside, the raven flutters to the bed.
"It's hot out there!"
Dropping a shiny pebble onto the sheets, Morinfen studies it a moment before giving a report.
"The whole Ferrusienne Garrison is moving through the main avenues, out of the city. Based on what I heard, the Army is merging, and preparing for war, but the King has kept a tight lip about where they're going, and no diplomats have made any declarations. But Lords, Knights, and all men-at-arms are marching to the traditional merging fields before the Blue Hills."
Very intriguing. It seems by coincidence we are in place to witness a major moment in human history. I have a feeling this day will be long remembered...

Though he seldom spoke of it, Eduardo once fought in a battle. It was after he'd left the service of Hassadur, while in search of his next master. Fascinated by death, the young Eduardo decided he should witness it first hand - and what better way than in a war?
He enlisted as a medic, offering his knowledge of healing and ability to manipulate positive energy. Instead, his commander deployed him as a scout. They needed trackers, and Eduardo was a natural at it...
Morinfen says nothing.
He does not care of such things.
Pebbles and nuts are more to his liking than war and marching.
Practical creatures ravens are.
Of course, he got his chance to be a healer -- after the ambush.
The Master finishes his morning rituals and pays a few moments heed to his appearance before leaving his room and heading to the common area for breakfast.
A night of peace had given him some time to come to a decision, and he wished to discuss it with Grace and the others.

Quin's room was particularly made for dwarves, with everything from the door to the bed to the stand for resting his belongings on being the correct proportions.
But now, in waking, the furniture dances and hops across the darkwood floors with a rattling and shaking that grips the entire room.
Quin rested, kneeling on the floor, deep in his meditative prayers with Moradin, preparing spells for the day. He continued his trance long after his requests had been granted, hopeful to have his questions that had arisen in the last day answered.

"...Prescott! Wake up! Look outside! They're making the room shake!"
Prescott's eyes burn as Winky dobs him on the forehead to wake him.
"Look! Look! Look! Up! Up! Up!"
Prescott rouses himself, swatting vaguely at Winky as he sits up and overbalances on his bed from the shaking. "Hmmn? What's going on? They who?" He staggers over to the window and draws back the shutter to look out.
The armies of Ferrus march through the streets.
Prescott sees their famed heavy cavalry, knights with thick lances and steel armor with blue and white detail, on white horses.
Marching through the street and shaking the building, pikemen follow.
From up here, the wizard can see their conical helmets set above grim faces, wearing long coats under polished breastplates.
Prescott hasn't heard of any wars brewing, and the Proxy Wars are a long way off, and simmering down.
Perhaps the King of Ferrus was consolidating his vassals into a single state as he'd declared he would when he would take the throne...
Much of the Kingdoms and Nations of Men were dominated by a single, larger and more powerful Kingdom that demanded loyalty and tribute from the others, making for a large number of smaller nations tied and bound into diplomatic webs of war and intrigue.
When one of the Great Cities went to war, it was followed by its lesser neighbors.
The Dwarves and the Elves looked to this as an example of Human foolishness.
The Ferrusienne's were one of the strong Kingdoms, and Ferrus was a great city, with many vassals and a sphere of influence expanding well beyond even its neighbors borders.
Its knights had made the lands under its control relatively safe from harm, unlike the Central and Western Kingdoms, where orcs and bandits were always a problem.
If the Ferrusienne's were making a grand army, this would have to be a great move against some powerful nation, since their departure could invite such creatures and criminals to return.
However, the King of Ferrus, an ambitious fellow, just might be willing to take such a risk if his real purpose were to finally bind the vassals of his into one crown.

Grace is already waiting for him when Eduardo comes down.
Her belongings are readied to move.
Morinfen, perched on the Master's shoulder, flies to the table, weaving among the food, and taking his samples as he goes.
"Hassadur is on the roof. He'll wait for us there."
Good. I've come to a decision about the Lodge, one I think will please you.
He sits down next to his apprentice and speaks in a low voice.
I still believe that the lodge itself is not secure. After a known attack on its grounds, and an attack on the grounds of a mansion mere minutes away... I would not be comfortable leaving my disciples there. I would not be comfortable leaving myself there, if we're being honest. But you're right. Burning the Lodge would be foolish, wasteful, impractical. Instead, I'd like to sell it, along with the land around it, as quickly as possible. After all, the Lodge is more of an idea than a place. I built it and improved it at no small expense, and the location is a good one. It should fetch a good price. We'll use the money to rent a small place... possibly here in Ferrus, or maybe in Thames. A smaller Lodge will be easier to defend with magics. If we need more space, we'll make extra dimensional additions. We'll purchase it under a false name through a third party, perhaps one of my journeymen, and move everyone to the city. We'll operate as a specialty store, or apothecary, or antiques dealership. That will explain all the people coming and going, bringing strange objects and news. We can even build new contacts through our clientele and recruit the occasional new member that way. Our number won't grow as fast, but we'll be leaner, able to move and act quickly. We'll blend in better in the city than in the country, and have better access to libraries and experts. What do you think?
Grace smiles.
"Sounds like a much better plan!"
Then she frowns.
"I don't suppose there'll be room for a dojo then, will there?"
She grins to let him know she's joking.
"Everything will be alright."
Heh. I admit there is a space consideration. I've grown quite accustom to the luxury of country living, but the city does have its charms.
Prescott ambles down unsteadily to the common room after making his morning preparations as well. "Curious weather we're having, eh? It's very shiny outside today."
Seeing Prescott, Eduardo motions to the wizard to join him at the table.
Quite a way to wake up, no? Something big is happening -- I can feel it. I'm just not sure what, yet.
The cook presents them with more plates of hot food.
It was the tradition of the inn.
One could be halfway through their meal, and their plate would be taken away, and replaced with another one, fresh from the stoves.
"I'm not sure if we ought to learn more about it, in the event that big things happening in the span of a few days like a spate of assassinations and a massive army mobilizing half a continent away are connected. But it's equally likely that the world is just a busy place, and we ought to focus on our original theories. We know dragons were involved in the attack on Daina. You say you believe the lich might be related to your attack, and possibly the others. Where does that leave us on leads?"
Grace shakes her head, "Not much. Just Thames City and the Tomb itself."
Indeed. I doubt the army outside has anything to do with our problems. I'm simply interested because it's a matter of human affairs. Leads... The monk Marros mentioned something about unusual undead. I wish I could speak with him or his party. Perhaps tonight when I catch up with Khamal we'll discuss that. We know that whoever sent the dragonborn implanted the idea somehow -- either magically or through mundane means such as impersonation -- that I was responsible for the attack. The question is why. It seems a lot of effort to cause momentary confusion -- which is all it accomplished. More likely, it's a puzzle piece, a string the enemy wants us to pull at and follow, but why?
"That's a good point Master. From what I've seen, assuming all of this is connected... Its discredited you a little. Perhaps that's the purpose?"
I don't see how it's discredited me at all. My house arrest was a formality, and nobody believes I had anything to do with the attack. What's discredited me is my foolish handling of certain information. I would consider it more of a shot across my bow. Somebody wants my attention, and by god, they've got it.
Grace nods, remaining thoughtful.
"I don't think Daina was entirely offput by that corpse's statement, or else we wouldn't have been in the War Room together. And it seemed that the corpse almost *expected* Eduardo to be the one casting that spell. It's not a very good master plan to have your dead hireling point you out as the big boss. An obvious ruse, but at least with the possibility of sowing division among Daina's camp. If he had said 'Steve the turnip-salesman', it would have been equally useless in identifying the real backer of these assassins. Then again, this tells us that whoever organized the attack knows who Eduardo is, and that he knows Daina. That's something, anyway."
"Good point. But that brings us to the same place. What's our move?"
The thing that makes me sure that the events of the Tomb are connected to the events of the past 72 hours is the appearance of Pete. After all these years. Prescott, it was horrible...
He describes the sight in detail, and Grace pushes away her food.
"Pete... that's terrible." He hadn't heard from Pete since they parted ways a few days after they all left the tomb. He didn't know what else to say at his terrible fate. "I think finding Pharrah is probably our surest bet. You say she knows something about what's happening, and that's *something* at least. Even if it was only related to your attack when you found Pete, before you spoke the name later. And if there is larger movement underway, actions being taken by the lich or those acting for him, then Pharrah is involved in all of this, too."
After all these years, for him to suddenly appear, and Pharrah -- she knows something about what's going on, I'm sure of it. Oh, Mirna... The Master stops for a moment.
There's Mirna of the Tower, too. If we can find her and question her, we might be able to gain some insight. She attacked me and Khamal -- could have killed us if she wished. Instead, she paralyzed us, and then turned Khamal against me with her magic. Her magic. She's not a magician, she's a warrior, but suddenly, she was equipped with strange, new powers. Power the like of which I haven't seen since... the Tomb. And the attack came right after I said his name.
Grace freezes.
"Wait. You mean... At the same time..."
She becomes a calm.
"Nothing, Master."
A strand of willow on water.
"More connections between strange events, do us little good unless they're extraordinary. What are we to do, now?"
She looks back and forth, a little incredulous.
"Are we truly to form grand plans on the Positive Energy Plane as your dwarven friend says?
It might not be a bad idea. If the Spotters are contacting us via Sending, they'll still be able to reach us there, and we'll be secure. But what were you going to say? It might mean more to me than to you. Prescott and I were there at the Tomb, after all.
Grace shakes her head, "Nothing, Master. I'm just wondering what the point. What plans could we make there that we can't make here? And for that matter. Are you sure he can't follow us to the Positive?"
Sure? How could I be sure? But if anywhere, anywhere at all, is safe, it would be there. Right?
"Yes. It's just, from what you told me, he uses more than undead. What if he just sent more assassins?"
"The positive energy plane should be a secure stronghold against anything the lich is doing with negative energy, and they might have information on why our healing is less then 100 percent if they've observed the same effect. He may be able to follow us, but if his influence is weaker anywhere, it would be weaker there. But I'm honestly not sure where we would begin if we were to travel there there. It took me almost a year to gather the resources to raise Winky, and another year or searching before we came across the alleged-wizard's island when I was searching for Dranga. Planes are big. We need a native contact if we're to find anything useful."
Speaking of contacts, I think a contact other plane spell, or perhaps a commune, would be useful. We could use some answers, and we're the ones with the magic.
"Winky, have you traveled much on that plane? Or do you think anyone from your home might be good to speak with for information observed on these phenomena?"
"I think so... The same angels who empowered me all those years ago..."
And yes, I agree that finding Pharrah would be helpful. But I don't think we'll have much luck. I sought her for years, only to learn that she'd been minutes from my own house, periodically dominating me.
Grace is scornful.
"What could a madwoman possibly know? She's crazy!"
It pains me to say it, but I think she may be an enemy. Or at least, not our friend anymore.
The clouds break outside, and harsh, stark shadows cut across the room, making geometric shapes and leaving everyone in contrasted detail.
"Daina said she'd send people after her."
Grace thinks.
"I've encountered Marros before. He probably didn't recognize me in the war room... But..."
Hesitating she wonders if she should continue.
"From what I've seen, he could be useful in capturing her."
Capturing Pharrah? The Master looks skeptically at Grace.
"His capabilities were impressive!"
Grace makes a fist...
"Together, we could."
...and releases it.
"I wasn't a very good student though."
The hard part will be finding her at all if she doesn't wish to be found. And anyway, Marros has sworn to assist Daina.
"I don't know what strangeness has gone on between you and her, Eduardo, but at the very least we can Send to her, even if she doesn't respond, should she be friendly. If she's a foe... well, I can try divinations, but she has access to all the same counters to those things that we would. I feel like she is our most concrete lead, since you say she seemed to have an idea of what was happeneing.
"If we can Send to her, we could possibly get her to reveal her location to us!"
"What else do we have to work with? I'm sure Daina is more well-equipped than we to follow up on what dragons might begrudge her and her house, they know their own history. What can we pursue in regard's to the lich's plans? It has been some years since I last scryed on the site of the Tomb..."
Grace shakes her head at mention of the Tomb.
"I don't know what to say about that, Master Prescott. But I think we should also beware the Necrovalley. With Mirna loose, they could be looking for us, and we might be suspects to them."
By all means, send to her, but don't expect results. Send to her now. YBeg her to teleport here and talk to us. ou'll get no response, or else some sarcastic remark, if I know her at all. As for a plan of action, if we're going to make one, we should do it on the Positive Energy Plane. If that's where we're going. At the very least, we should make our pans in a scry-proof setting.
"If this Mirna is a loose cannon as well, and exhibiting strange powers and behaviors, it might be prudent to inform the Necrovalley of the situation. *She* certainly won't report on herself."
"I can protect us from scrying effectively, if we have reason to believe we are under remote observation."

We should inform the Valley, yes. It seems we have a number of sendings to conduct.
"That's the problem. We don't have the familiarity with anyone there. Or they would have just used magic to deliver that message."
Prescott twiddled one earlobe between a finger and thumb, staring into space as he tried to sort through their situation. "We should try to contact Dranga and see where she got off to... and if Welby caught up to her. Last time we were working together and got divided it was... subpar." 'Accompanied by repeated deaths' doesnt' have the same reassuring ring to it. "She has her ear to the ground in a lot of circles that none of us do, and I think we need as diverse a braintrust sussing this out as possible."
"I can also take a look for the Tomb and see if there's any new activity since I looked in on it a few years ago. There was nothing but the growing desert when last I checked, but who knows if something has moved in that thrives on that foul energy?"
"Send to Dranga first. Shall we do it here, or move up to the roof with Hassadur? Where is that dwarf?"
"I think just up in one of our rooms will do. We'll want a little privacy."
"Alright... Hassadur will do fine up there. I think the roof is covered in tiles, so maybe he's soaking up the heat?"
"I won't pretend to know his mind, I am not all the familiar with Hassadur. Your guess is better than mine!"
"Well, I mean, would the roof do better? Or is a room fine?"
"I'm, ah, disinclined to cast in general - much less a longer ritual - under open sky needlessly, after the other day." Prescott absently rubs at his sore wrist again, rather more conscious of the heady vein running through that spot than he had been at any previous point in his life.
"Well, I can't cast it!"
"Right you are, milady, right you are." Prescott gives a jovial wink to Grace, then rises from the table as another bowl is cleared from before him. He waves away the replacement and dabs his mouth with a sleeve. "I'll be up in my room for a few minutes. Let you know if I hear back."
Prescott absents himself and begins the ritual to contact Dranga, wherever she might be.
Coming to the shocked realization that he can't quite use the Sending spell due to his own focuses, Prescott decides to let Quin handle that casting and instead settles down on the side of his bed and fishes a long spoke of polished crystal out of his haversack. Turning the shard over in his palm, he closes his eyes and directs his inner eye to the black desert far to the north. He tightens his grip and speaks an incantation, opening his eyes as he releases the spell and tries to see what has become of the land surrounding the Tomb of Horrors.

Hassadur, hisses happily as the clouds above break, shedding sun across his scales...

In his room, Quin continues his meditations.
Looking for any answers Moradin, or his servants might give.
Time, without consideration for the cleric, stretches out.
No answers, messages or visitors come.
He is alone.

Eduardo, pours over his scrolls, studying them and contemplating their secrets.
The shifting dark words and texts, empower him, leaving the Master's constant thirst for knowledge of the grave, more than sated.

...and increasing the shadows in the inn's eating area, where Grace is describing the way of the monk to their server.
Her admirer nods in understanding as Grace explains how through focusing her mind on the small, and widening it to the large, her own senses become better suited to taking in the world around her.
The dancing shadows pierce the room like razor sharp knives...

A flash of dragon's scales...
A slitted eye and a gnashing teeth fills Prescott's heart with fear.
Shaken by the sound, binding magic attempts to bind him in place, fixing him where he stands..
Fighting against it, despite the terror that grips him, Prescott is struck by oozing waves of evil power, that seeps into his bones, sickening him beyond belief.
The dragon's roar fill his ears, trying to take his life, and drawing sparks from the soulfire enchantments in his leather armor.

Downstairs, while Prescott reels from whatever foul effects had reached out and grasped him, and Eduardo and Quin continue their meditations, Grace had decided to remain, enjoying the company of her fellow in patrons.
She sits in the middle of the room, surrounded by the bloodied, sliced and ruined masses of everyone who'd been eating and serving, quivering in terror and shock.
Prescott drops to his knees, reeling forward and pitching off the bed. He retches and stumbles to his feet, leaning heavily against the doorframe. "Winky..." he rasps, trying to keep the floor beneath him and his head from spinning. He attempts to negotiate the stairwell and return to the common room.
Prescott sees the archon, glowing on the ground.
He appears to be paralyzed, unable to move, yet alive.
Prescott sees Winky's immobility and scoops him into the safety of a familiar pocket. Coming down the stairs, he is unprepared for the carnage below. "Grace! Grace... what's happened? Are you hurt?" He looks around at the deaths and gore, trying to make sense of it. Did that scrying reaction cascade through the whole building? Eduardo and Quin aren't down here...
Blood and viscera is everywhere.
Furniture and decoration in ruins, destroyed by some force that struck the room with a terrible menace.
The only sound breaking the silence is Grace's choked sobs.
She squats in the middle of the room, holding her knees against her chest, eyes shut.
Grace shakes her head, holding up bloodied hands.
Prescott can't see any scratches, but her clothes are sliced as if someone had taken a razor to her.
She gestures to the ruins of a person.
"I-I w-was j-just talking to her..."
Grace hiccoughs, and struggles.
"...and then, the shadows moved, and blood and she was in little pieces!"
She holds up her hands, making slicing cutting motions across her hand.
"Whole room! Chop! Slice! Shtick!"
Grace brings her hands to her face.
"They weren't alive-it was like the shadows were knives. And when they moved. They cut!"
"We need to check on Quin and your master. Come on!" He puts a guiding hand to Grace's arm and tries to steer her back toward the stairs, trying not to let his own eyes linger on anything down here too long. It was practice born more of Evocation Drills preparing for emergencies at Carpathia than experience as an adventurer that kept his feet moving. It was also why he was trying to bark orders and give direction to Grace - people in shock tend to freeze up, and it looked like the only reaction she'd mustered so far was rocking in the fetal position. Danger is no time for locking up... who knows how much *more* danger we'd be in if I was caught by that Hold effect...
Whether or not he can motivate Grace to follow with him, Prescott remounts the stairs, stumbling once or twice from the lasting vertigo, and bangs first on one door, then the other. "Quin! Eduardo! Are you all right? We need to move!"
Grace struggles to stand, her feet slick with blood.
Prescott sees that the tables and destruction to the room had been caused by people destroying their surroundings in what must have been panic and confusion.
The 'slicing shadows' hadn't touched an object, just cutting into the living.
Upstairs, Grace joins Prescott in banging on Quin and Eduardo's doors.
Eduardo quickly bundles up his scrolls and throws open the door.
What now? The walking dead? Black veiled assassins? Or something else?
What is it, Prescott?
He was about to bang on Quin's door again when Eduardo's opened behind him, so Prescott turns with relief to address the master. "I... I tried to scry on the Tomb. There was a dragon, or... I don't know what I saw, but it was powerfully warded. I've never experienced anything like it. Whatever was on the other end bound me and nearly killed me. Winky is still paralyzed. Everyone downstairs is dead... cut to ribbons by animated shadows, Grace said. I don't know what cauldron we've stirred by starting to look into the Tomb again, but there is definitely something going on related to that site. I think we should leave, immediately, before any other defenses have a chance to locate us." The words were pouring out, trying to get everything out and stay efficient at the same time. Haste may be important, for all they knew.
"I can take us back to my college and protect us from scrying. I think we may be better able to mount a defense or research without scrying there... better than a random location, I feel. We shouldn't stay put, in any event."
Horrid death seems to follow wherever we go. Are you sure you wish to bring that to your college?
Quin's ship may be better. Staying constantly mobile would be to our advantage.

"I don't know where the ship is right now, I couldn't teleport to it. We can choose field in Espana for all it matters - but I want to be gone, posthaste, before anything tries to track us."
Fine. Get Quin and meet me up on the roof. Grace, fetch your things.
The Master hurriedly rolls together his possessions and packs them, before heading to the roof of the inn, where he finds Hassadur.
I'm afraid we must be going, friend.
So it seemed the Lich, or one of his allies, had guarded the Tomb against prying eyes. More evidence that the Master would need to do the same on his remodeled Death Spotters Guild...
Suddenly, he turns pale.
I told them to scry on Half-moon row! Morinfen! You must warn your master RIGHT NOW, and tell him to warn the others. DO NOT scry on the Tomb of Horrors!
Gods... I might have killed them all...
Sweat begins to form on Eduardo's palms.
Grace sways before Eduardo.
Blood covers every inch of her in a grotesque mask of red.
Grace, the Master says, drying his palms on his robes. GRACE. Rejoin us in the land of the living, please. Don't act like you've never seen blood before -- I've seen you wade through buckets of the stuff. When you said you'd stay with me, I meant physically AND mentally. Snap out of it, or go downstairs and join the dead.
"The shadows! Cut them in HALF!"
Her eyes are wide, spinning.
She doesn't know what to do with her hands.
Ask your gods for guidance, and to shepherd their souls to their reward, but still your delirium. There's worse to come; I thought you understood that. Right now, you are the thin line between a peaceful world and it's utter ruination. You must remain strong. The gods choose strong servants... and I am even more exacting than they. I know we did not choose you in err.
Grace flinches, but nods.
"I will retrieve Hassadur."
Quin's door opens slowly, and the dwarf's head pokes through.
His eyes widen in surprise as the blood left at their feet by Grace.
"What's going on?"
Rushing the story again, Prescott sums up: "Tried to scry on the Tomb. Powerful magic attacked in response, everyone downstairs is dead. Grab your gear, we're leaving." Prescott steps into his room to retrieve his haversack before returning to assist Quin, if needed. "Eduardo is on the roof, let's go."
Quin disappears into his room, and by the time Prescott is running out, Quin is bounding up a set of stairs attached to the side of the inn.
The rickety, iron steps give a glimpse of the street as well as the grisly common-room.
Nobody had noticed the bloodied dead inside.
Quin, helping Prescott atop the roof, sees Eduardo, Grace and Hassadur atop, clutching their things.
Morinfen, the black raven, hops along the black tiles.
"Where are we going?"
"Anywhere but here, to start. We need to warn the others and get clear ourselves." He looks at the massive snake, coiled by Eduardo. He looks from one to the other. "I'm going to have to shrink Hassadur to teleport us all in one go," he says uncertainly, aware of how unfavorably the snake viewed things the last time this happened. Addressing the snake, which he understood was uncommonly intelligent, he continues, "I don't need to put you in a jar or anything, you're just too big right now."
Hassadur, saying nothing, considers swallowing the wizard.
Grace gives the snake a poke.
The snake swings his head back and forth, from Eduardo to Prescott, then promptly vanishes as he Dimension Doors from sight.
Prescott shrugs. "He'll have to catch up later. Everyone, hands in." Once everyone is assembled, including Morinfen taking a shoulder, Prescott fixes a rural location in the Kingdom of Thames in his mind. "Tele-"
The world changes, the city becoming the forested lands of the Kingdom of Thames.
"-port!" The group reappears atop the crest of a great hill, in the shade of a small copse of trees. The sleepy town of Ottery St. Catchpole lies below. "Welcome to the Kingdom of Thames, folks. Let's figure out what the hell happened." He reaches into his component pouch and throws down a pinch of precious jade dust, blanketing the area in a glamer keyed to scrying. "That should screen us if they followed us or try to find the source of my scrying attempt... unless they check with a true seeing as well. Maybe I'll give us some mist as well."
"Stupid snake!"
Grace says nothing at their new location, simply staring at the hot grey sky.
The ground is wet, soaked by melting snow.
Without a care, she drops to a seat, staring.
Prescott looks to Grace, torn up and blood covered. "You look a mess... let me straighten you up. Appearance mirrors reality." With a pair of cantrips, he purges the ichor from her and mends her clothes.
"We need to regroup a bit... there is clearly *something* going on at the site of the Tomb, with so potent a protection in place. That was no mere lingering residue of taint from that place. We should contact the others, see where they are at and ensure they don't take the same action. I don't know if they'll want to talk, but they can at least *listen* to a sending. Dranga should respond, I would hope... we could use her counsel in this. She's had access to a totally different set of experience in the last five years that none of us have touched in our travels."
I agree. We should warn the others right away with a sending. Morinfen, has -- he pauses and addresses the rave. Morinfen, were you able to send my message to your master?
Even if the bird had communicated such, it was wise to contact others individually at once.
The bird caws an affirmative.
"I have Master Eduardo!"
That gives me great comfort, at least.
Eduardo removes his hood. Hassadur would be able to take care of himself. He'd probably be safer on his own, if the Master was being honest, but he still felt a pang of worry, separated from his serpentine companion. Still, the snake had a tendency to show up when most needed.
I think some mist might be just the thing to cover our trail. In the mean time, let's get in touch with Dranga and set up our meeting.
Grace stands.
"Its easier to make meetings and lose people in the city... Though we run the risk of leading anything after us..."
She stares at the town.
"I'm... Conflicted, Master. What is happening?"
Prescott delivers a round of Non-detection spells for everyone, though he was unsure how effective it would be against the magic that had nearly killed him upon the merest glance. He then drops a wave of obscuring mist, settling a morning fog about the hilltop. "That's about all I can do for the moment. I'm trying to give us as much time as possible to contact everyone." He steps back a few feet to let the mist obscure him from the others, being thorough in the event of follow-up-scrying and putting himself out of sight of himself. "True enough, Grace... we have options for moving into a city. I can teleport us further if necessary, but we need to have purpose and not start jumping about in a panic. There is a family of wizards that live south of town, but so far as I know they should be visiting with their children at Carpathia. They attend my school. I don't know of anyone in the immediate vicinity who might be of help to us, but that's also a lack of people who might be associated with me. We should be relatively undisturbed here for the moment." He hadn't been too specific about their location to the others, in case anyone was listening in - though scrying on Prescott successfully would probably be enough to get a fix on their position. His warding protected them with a moment's notice if someone were to teleport directly to Prescott's position, though. He dares not mention they are only a few hours from Thames City, midway between there and his college in Londinium, until they had a more concrete destination.
Grace shrugs, "No objections here."
Quin thanks the wizard for the spell before turning away for a minute. He casts a sending to Quan "Plans change fast. Change heading to Thames City. Contact when a few hour out." before taking a moment to reflect on why Moradin was silent. Tomorrow, he resolved, he would prepare to commune with his God and demand answers. Returning to the others he asked "What happened while I was meditating. Tell me everything."
Grace describes the stark shadows, shifting and slicing, cutting the living into ribbons where they stood.
Prescott likewise recounts his experience with the spell feedback from his scrying attempt, and his belief that the shadow deaths were triggered by the same. "It also paralyzed Winky... I neglected to prepare a Break Enchantment spell today, and I'm unsure how long he'll be immobilized... I hope there is no further damage."
Through the mist, he continues, "That still leaves several of our group to speak with. We should contact Dranga next, as she's able to scry on her own - though I sincerely doubt she would - but also because we may be able to work together with her on our next steps."
"I can do that. It will take me time to cast the spell though."
He pulls out a copper wire, and begins casting.
Carefully, Quin counts his words.
"Dranga. Can you meet us. Trouble. With Prescott and Master. On Hill, above a village near Carpathia. Scried on Tomb."
He waits a moment for a response, then winces at her response.
"I'd better do it again..."
By the time he's half way through the ritual, they see a small figure flying back and forth over the town below, likely Dranga searching for them.
Peeking out of the mist, Prescott spies Dranga below. "Morinfen, would you be so kind as to collect our friend? She's a bit beyond my illusions' ability to catch her attention in any subtle way.
"I can!"
As the raven flies off, Winky squeaks from the pouch.
"Don't like him."
"Winky! I'm glad to hear you're okay again. Are you injured, or were you just bound?" He doesn't bother critiquing intra-familiar enmity just yet. Plenty of time for that later.
"I was just held by the bonds of the magic! And terrified! I was brushed by some kind of death magic too!"
"Same as what I experienced. We were very fortunate to come away from that encounter..."
"You can say that again."
Dranga has changed her form, appearing as a human farmer with strands of hay in her hair.
"What have you lot accomplished thus far?"
"I attempted to scry on the Tomb to see what changes may have taken place in the last five years. When we last spoke... right before then... there was a dinosaur involved, I'm sure you recall. I visited with Grace and Quin, and found the whole area was blanketed in a black desert and suffused with an overwhelming necromantic aura. The desert extends for dozens of miles today."
Dranga chuckles at the dinosaur.
Then quickly makes a stern face.
Thinking back to the last time he had seen Dranga was uncomfortable for Prescott, but when put in perspective of the assault he and the poor souls in Ferrus had endured, he put that feeling in perspective and continued.
"The entrance of the Tomb itself was more or less unchanged at that time. With Eduardo's theory that the lich, or someone acting for him, might be involved in these attacks, I thought it would be prudent to investigate whether anything had changed at the site. When I attempted to scry, there was a ward unlike anything I'd ever experienced. An overwhelming aura of evil buffeted me and I was almost killed - I would have been, were it not for my armor. Several patrons at the inn where we stayed were violently killed."
"I don't know what we've learned from this, except that I got the sense of a dragon manning this defense. And the knowledge that *something* is afoot up there still, the only location we know to have ties to the lich."
"Desert... Dragons... What of Half-moon Row?"
"When we visited, I teleported directly to the edge of the town. It had been consumed by the dark desert. I tried scrying on the boy, Leonard, even, but... I couldn't find him."
Dranga's farmer face becomes an arena for confusion and loss.

"I know. I was crushed when I couldn't find him, or any sign of what had happened to the village. The Tomb's influence spread far and fast."
Dranga bares her teeth.
"And you haven't seen what happened since?"
She pounds a fist to her forehead.
"I don't know what to do... We dare not scry again, and we dare not go..."
Prescott shakes his head. "All I got was the flash of 'dragon' before being overwhelmed by the response. I am tempted to resort to more powerful divinations... contacting the outer planes is not without risk, but answers are short in supply and we are facing powerful adversaries who have been stalking us for whatever reason these last few days."
"There are significant risks. What questions could we ask that they'd be allowed to answer?"
She shakes her head.
"We'd have to use his name!"
"That *is* the question, isn't it... it will be difficult whittling our information to something that we can craft into a lead. And we needn't use his names. There are only so many liches who killed gods and built tombs in the highland kingdoms. But short of that option, what else... I wonder whether Daina's crew was able to turn up anything about that bar in Thames City. I wish she had not turned us all away... we are stronger together!" He closes his eyes, letting a heavy breath of frustration leave him. "What of your travels since yesterday, then? Did you head there as well in search of answers, ahead of them?"
"I went to Pandemonium's second layer."
Does anyone else find it odd that when you scryed the Tomb of Horrors, you saw a dragon -- a black dragon. And a black dragon is supposedly involved in the attack on House Aishun as well? Daina should hear about this, even if she does not wish to talk with us.
"That IS odd. But she's in no mood to listen to us... And we're in no position to fight dragons either... are we sure about this dragon connection?
No. I am sure that Daina thinks dragons organized an attack on House Aishun. A black and a red. And I am sure that whoever is guarding the Tomb of Horrors from scying used the image of a black dragon in his ward. It could be coincidental, but I'm sure you're aware that I believe that Acera-- that the two events are connected.
"We should investigate the Tomb to be sure..."
Did we tell you exactly what happened the last time we went?
"No. But I'm thinking I'd send an intermediary."
She begins to rifle through her belongings and pulls out her staff.
"I've spent the past few years making contacts to augment my summoning. And I have powerful agents at my command. I can summon a few, and we can dispatch them to the Tomb..."
I sent an undead sparrow. It... winked out of existence.
Dranga grins.
"I have things significantly larger than a sparrow."
Anonymity and endurance were the aim.
Dranga holds out her hands apologetically.
"No offense, Eduardo. I'm just imparting to you that I can summon some agents of mine of greater power and versatility to go in our stead. If this dragon is at the Tomb, then they will stand a greater chance of receiving some sort of confirmation and escaping to confer with us."
She smiles.
I don't think Moradin will quibble about whatever devils you summon to save his ironclad ass.
"I only want to know if there are any..."
She looks at Quin.
"Problems with whom I call to our aid."
"No, perhaps not."
She smiles weakly.
"Shall it be done then?"
Quin makes an odd face, as if he had just smelt a slight stink. "First off, no Dwarves ass is iron clad. The rest of them is. And secondly, I don't think Moradin has much say in anything since he refuses communication.. Even to myself."
Dranga says nothing for a moment.
"I'll begin my summonings. Any protections you can ready for them would be prudent."
You seem offended by your god's silence, Quin. If I were you, I'd be worried, considering recent events.
"Not offended, but certainly not happy. Even in the depths of the Tomb itself my God managed to communicate with me. Only an event more powerful than those that occurred around the tomb could stop him if he wished to talk. Such an event would be detectable by mortals, as the sheer power of it would radiate itself through out divine magic."
Now seems an odd time to question your god's choices... his morals. Are you beginning you doubt your faith, high priest?
"Never. My faith remains steadfast. I believe no matter what that he will not abandon me, I only wish he was more forth coming in his plans for me."
Dranga thrusts her hands into the air.
"Draenurius! I summon you! From the fifth layer!"
Runes burn the grass around her feet, spinning round and round about her waist and head.
"I call you to my side! Fulfill the terms of our contract! Draenurius!"
A rift of flame splits at her feet, and a white hot paw pokes out.
A crack of heat creases the air, and Grace raises her hand against the intense fire.
"Draenurius... Your word is your bond... Emerge! And join me!"
A sinuous lion of white fire emerges with a roar.
In the light, it fades in and out of sight, a cat of flame one moment, and a rippling effect the next.
"Algún día pronto, tu alma será mía, Dranga Skaldsdotter!"
"Vas a tener que ponerte en la fila."
Dranga turns her back, smiling.
"The secret Quin..."
The hellcat leers behind her, sitting on its haunches.
"...is to take power by your own hands."
"...sin importar el precio..."
"Hm. Well, when you wield the power of an entire God of a Race, shoot me a sending."
She laughs, turning to another summoning.
Over the twenty minutes, Dranga produces three vrocks, and four bone devils to back them up.
"Okay. What have you guys got for 'em? Illusions from Prescott? Deathly wards from Eduardo..."
She looks at Quin.
"Perhaps Moradin's blessings?"
"I don't know whether I should be glad, or terrified."
"It's not an ale-swilling contest, Quin. Dranga is working *with* us. At the moment. Let's cooperate, neh?" Looking to the first summoned creature, Prescott says, "I can offer you flight, and potent invisibility for a short time, if you are going to be teleporting."
One of the bone devils lets a massive tail fly within an inch of Prescott's face.
"I can already fly, cretin! And become invisible! I don't need any flesh-bag's help for anything!"
The devils snigger at Prescott, while the demons holding themselves apart clack their claws together in irritation.
Impassively, Prescott continues.
"I can also Veil the whole group and give you another appearance for most of the day, if you'd like. Blending in never hurts. Thought I don't know what you'll be finding out there, so player's choice."
The devils look at one another, and turn as one.
"Definitely angels."
The vrocks, clicking their claws, shrug, saying nothing.
"They're shy."
"They're evil."
Quin snorts at the wizards words and mutters something like "everything is an ale-swiging contest."
He raises an eyebrow at the request but says "I can protect you from Evil, since its all I have and all that will benefit you....."
"And you're good, but you all didn't have much choice in the matter, neh?" He smiles wanly to Winky, not watching in his pocket. "Most importantly, they're helping. hivs rew sugsi jis!" The form of angels and planetars settles over the creatures from the lower planes as Prescott veils the lot of them.
Eduardo looks the devils up and down. Strong, of course, but he'd seen Grace break the likes of these over her knee.
Whomever's strongest amongst you I can ward from death effects. You'll need it, so spare me your "flesh bag" talk. It's a much more potent and long-lasting version than even a cleric can instill.
The hellcat-turned-angel, grunts at Quin's offer.
"No sé si me siento cómodo acerca de eso..."
One of the bone devils, flapping its new wings, shakes its head, backing away.
"I'll pass. A soul would be good if anyone wants to make any deals..."
Its odd to see an angel looking back and forth at them with such a hungry gaze...
"That's not the point! And this is blasphemous. I'm sure."
The archon floats behind Prescott, trying to remain hidden.
"First, some ugly black bird, now devils! Next, we'll be asking for favors from Orcus himself!"
Morinfen squawks at the familiar.
"My feathers are the shin-"
"¡Silencio, comida!"
The hellcat strides before Eduardo, and snarls.
"Veo tu punto. Usa tu magia, 'fleshbag'."
Eduardo rests a steady hand on the fiend's chest.
There. The ward is complete. We'll see how well you fare, though. You're going to the Tomb of Horrors. I've seen summons flee from it before.
"Oye, el primer siempre es un lugar interesante. Tal es el mundo".
The 'angel' shrugs.
"I'll make a point of discussing it with the Lord of Joy next time we chat, but for now our affiliations are quite similar - we share an outlook and a goal. Especially considering our adversaries... the more evil creatures watching our backs instead of knifing it, the better." Or shooting arrows at it, for that matter. No matter your alignment. There's just no telling when it comes to him...
The demons and devils depart after Dranga produces her planar compass.
She reads off the coordinates, and they teleport, leaving cold, slime and burnt grass where they'd stood.
"Well... that was an interesting crew. You *did* travel pretty widely in the years we've been apart, I see. While we wait to see if they return... tell us Dranga, what were you doing on Pandemonium? I can't say I'm familiar, most of my planar knowledge is academic. My visits to the astral have tended toward the disastrous."
"There's a shrine to the demi-lich on that plane."
She holds up the black metal card around her neck.
"It's where I got this."
"A shrine? He has devotees? That's *very* interesting... I've been meaning to ask you about that card. What is it, exactly? And your transformations, too - which seem to have bypassed. Are they a result of rapid summoning? We've had so much to catch up on, Dranga, and precious little time for it."
Dranga sits, letting her compass float by her head, watching the skeins of gold spin.
"A great vault of adamant in the dark, topped by a stone angel with six wings, made of adamantine bones, arranged into a body."
She sketches it in a patch of ash left behind.
"In one hand, a sword, seemingly made of tortured souls, wrought in more adamant, and its shield holds the face of that great green devil we saw at the entrance? Its got to be a hundred feet tall, even without the vault as a plinth.
The plinth is borne on the backs of crouched creatures of all, races, holding plaques..."

She shrugs, "Based on what I gathered, they tell the story of a man who was formerly an advisor of Vlaakith, the lich-queen of a planar race, the githyanki, Kastya Zurith-Movya renounced his allegiance and fled to the Negative Energy Plane. There, he desperately searched for the cursed lich and gain his assistance to help him usurp the githyank ityrant. Kastya Zurith-Movya held a place of prominence in this tyrant’s court. A gifted necromancer, he advised the lichqueen in matters of war, governance, and espionage. The fact that Vlaakith tolerated his arrogance astounded the other members of the court, leading many to wonder what magic Kastya had wrought to remain in her good graces. In truth, Kastya had seduced the lich-queen, appealing to her vanity and pride, and used his status to delve into forbidden treatises on magic, pursuing a treacherous aim. The necromancer knew that he would eventually grow mighty enough for Vlaakith to see him as a threat, and that she would not hesitate to devour his essence once that day came. He hoped to protect himself against his mistress by becoming a lich, and it was not long before he had stolen enough supplies and information to complete his transformation.
The lich-queen saw that act as a supreme betrayal and ordered Kastya’s death. The palace swarmed with githyanki
knights as Kastya fled through its cavernous corridors, heading for his vampiric red dragon steed and ally, Albrathax.
Amid a spectacular exchange of spells and dragon breath, the new lich escaped the great githyanki city of Tu’narath and fled through the vast emptiness of the Astral Plane.
The wing of dragons and knights that pursued might have captured them, but the precipitous appearance of a shimmering black portal enabled Kastya and his mount to escape into the leaching void of the Negative Energy Plane, where even the boldest githyanki knights dared not follow."

She sight, "I couldn't learn anything else."
Dranga fishes out the black card, "However, I did find this, hanging on one of the supporting statues. It was loose. I think its associated with conjuration, but I can't find anything else about it or this Kastya."
"As for what I was doing on Pandemonium, I constantly wander the Planes, looking for beings to forge contracts with for my summoning."
Dranga, are you telling me that card is an artifact connected with the demi-lich, discovered on Pandemonium, on a shrine of black horror to the lich himself - left untouched, perhaps for eons, and you took and and put it around your neck without knowing its significance?
The foolishness of this practically beggars belief! Cast it away. Return it to Pandemonium, or else cast it into the Abyss.

"I can't."
She hangs her head.
"It always returns after a few days."
Gods - no wonder you're terrified. I'm sorry.
Eduardo thinks for a moment.
Well, have you learned anything about its significance?
"No. Just Conjuration. I'm afraid to do anything else but Detect Magic on it. I spend two weeks, in an Antimagic Field... And still it returned."
"It sounds kind of like that mace you had back in the Tomb, Eduardo. The lich has some persistent baubles in his stores..." Prescott peers at the card with his arcane sight, attempting to divine further information in its properties & wondering what this Kastya might have done in the eons since the tale left off...
Dranga sees Prescott looking at the card, and hides it from sight.
"NO! We have no idea what could trigger the Conjuration! Something as predictable as that could summon whatever's inside!"
Prescott's avoidance of the mysterious Planes has left him out of the loop.
Winky had mentioned it before though; Kastya knew that Vlaakith would take her revenge if he ever left the Negative Energy Plane. He refused to spend eternity trapped by his fears, so he sought a way to destroy the lich-queen and take her
throne. However, Vlaakith is one of the mightiest beings in the multiverse, and it would take the power of a god to shatter her control. Kastya was an outcast, freed from laws of his people, but still he could not bring himself to appeal to a deity—the ways of the githyanki were too ingrained within him.
"Leave it alone, Prescott."
Prescott holds up his hand in a surrender motion. "I hear you, Dranga. I wouldn't Identify it unless you thought it was prudent, given your warning."
"This statue - your description sounds a lot like the Victories the lich employed when we met his doppelganger in the dark city. I'm surprised this queen didn't obliterate the shrine... I wonder if she does not know of it, or she actually fears the lich too much to risk his ire. As I understand it, Kastya would never leave the negative energy plane for fear of her - unless he could successfully overthrow her. But it would take the power of a god to do that... which has frightening implications in regard to the Lich now, if Kastya is truly throwing his lot in with him."
"I found it by chance. And I don't think the lich queen knows of it, or cares."
"Also, we've found yet another dragon..."
Do we have any evidence that these individuals are actually acting now? For all we know, this occurred thousands of years ago, and they're still stranded on the negative energy plane, where they'll forever stay.
"That's true."
"I have no idea how to date statuary. For all I know, it was built the day before I arrive."
We should go back. Prescott may be able to tell us more with his vast collection of lore. It's more of a lead than we've found anywhere else.
"Yes, quite right... though more information on the background of the lich is always beneficial. It speaks to the information that this Kastya was acting on, and *he* apparently believed the lich could weild the sort of power necessary to aid him."
"To Pandemonium?"
Yes, to Pandemonium. Unless you deem it unsafe.
The Master of Death thinks back... there might have been some mention of this lich queen in an old manuscript he obtained last year...
Eduardo does remember some things, Vlaakith I was an advisor to Gith, their original god, and helped seal the pact between red dragons and the githyanki. All subsequent queens of the githyanki have been named after her. Vlaakith CLVI, the immediate predecessor of the current lich-queen, ruled for over six centuries, becoming a lich at some point during her reign, before being destroyed by Xinfyrit, first of the devourers. The Master recalls that the last queen of the githyanki, Vlaakith CLVII, died after ascending the throne without giving birth to an heir, but like her predecessor returned as a lich, a type of undead. Vlaakith CLVII has ruled the githyanki for well over a thousand years, making her the longest-reigning monarch the githyanki have ever had. Her home, the Castle Susurrus, is in the githyanki capital city, Tu'narath, which is built on the god-isle of a deceased power known only as The One in the Void.
"No, we should be well defended there, and I have the planar coordinates."
"How long should we wait before I perform a Sending?"
"I guess that depends on what exactly you sent them to do, and when we might expect them back. We may want to move on to Pandemonium now regardless, since we can Send from another plane, but scrying across planes is more problematic for anyone who might be tracking us. I'd feel a little bit more comfortable if we kept moving... we've been here for almost an hour and no trouble yet, but I'm nervous considering how strong that response I experienced was."
Dranga shakes her head.
"Pandemonium is a rough Plane, though the shrine is isolated. Magic in the area works... Oddly."
"How oddly?"
"Your shadows split into four and take on lives of their own."
"Prescott's right though. Moving out couldn't hurt... Everyone joins hands."
"Road trip!"
"I don't suppose they're comic relief shadows who supply witty commentary on our activities? We've had a rather nasty encounter with animated shadows just after the scrying, so that detail is actually somewhat alarming. Maybe we should just stay away from the light... I think we could make do in the dark!" He offers his hand to Dranga and steps up to join the others.
Pandemonium is a plane of chaos, with evil and neutral leanings.
A large system of twisting caves, its howling winds drive people mad.
If Dranga is correct about the shrine being on the second layer, Cocytus, the winds are their strongest there.
Worse, howling dragons and a number of malignant gods make their homes there, as well as a rumored, mysterious organization known as the Bleak Cabal.
Dranga murmurs, "The shadows don't do anything... But they wander away and return, and then dance, and chase one another... Its eerie."
She takes Prescott's hand in hers, and he can feel the rough runes traced across her skin.
"Besides, you don't need light to make shadow. Its lights relative absence that creates darkness, and that always seems to be enough for evil."
Eduardo puts his hand into the center, too.
Where are you taking us?
"To the shrine. My compass will carry us there without error."
Good. Though... It strikes me that if we are being scryed on, all of that could have been intercepted by Clairaudience. Perhaps going forward, we should communicate vital information via the message spell.
"True enough. Though even if they can see through the False Vision, anyone scrying right now will hear an illusory version of me jabbering some nonsense meditation chant on top of our conversation, too. There's no such spell as True Hearing!"
Grace flinches, and looks around, almost as if she could see the sensors.
"He's right... Let's be gone from this place."
Grace thrusts her hand into the circle, above the now, floating and glowing compass, above Quin's.
And then slowly, the spinning stops.
"I don't know what I'm thinking... We can't go to Pandemonium like this..."
She points a finger at Quin, "That armor will attract everything in the dark. You need to Dispel it, or cover it."
"I wasn't at all prepared for this, and we need plugs, to keep out the mad winds."
Prescott drops a message spell to link everyone so they will be able to communicate over the local din. "I can craft some earmuffs quickly, if that will be required."
"How're you going to do th-whoops."
Message, from Dranga to All"How are you going to do that?"

Prescott pulls a solid-looking ceramic pot from the center cavity of his haversack. "Marvelous pigments. Pretty remarkable material, this is. And I'm a dab hand at painting. It's really just crafting in two dimensions, and visualizing the details necessary to whip up mundane objects is fundamental to making a convincing illusion. It keps me in practice." he explains with a simple smile. "Morinfen, you may want to settle into a familiar pocket like Winky so you're not buffeted by the local conditions."
Do you maintain a connection with a familiar, Dranga? I'm almost embarrassed to admit I do not know, but I've never seen you with one. Did you cut yours loose, or forgo the connection? Or is there an oddly intelligent alley cat managing the affairs of your estate back home?
"I've never found a use for one. No offense, archon and avian."
"None taken."
"I've always been more independent."
Dranga looks curiously at Prescott's pigments.
"Won't that take a while? For all of us? Maybe it'd be easier to just deafen ourselves."
Hm. I would tend to agree, but then familiars select me instead.
Deafening ourselves? It would be easier, and faster, but how would we communicate?

"Telepathic Bonds! I should have cast them on the demons when I had the chance..."
What were the exact orders you gave that motley crew?
"I told them to remain unseen. Scout the Tomb complex, with Draenurius, taking point. Investigate the presence of any dragons. I told them to fight and detain anyone if they had an overwhelming advantage, but to flee to a random planar coordinate if they face overwhelming force."
She shrugs.
"They're hardly motley. A very capable bunch of contracts."
We could shift to the positive energy plane, as Quin suggested earlier, spend an hour crafting the protective ear guards there, and then shift to Pandemonium.
"And perhaps Winky might be able to put us in contact with the angel he mentioned previously - there's still the mystery of what is affecting healing effects, and they may have information on that, too."
Seems a wise course of action. A brief stopover on the Positive Energy Plane. Any opposed?
"Last time, I used a Silence spell, but I didn't prepare that... Crafting the earmuffs will give me time to send the Hellcat a Sending, and leave us in safety to prepare."
She rubs her palms together.
"Angels don't hang out on the positive energy plane much, and I make no promises about Kithkhanamahr's angels being too knowledgeable or helpful. They're swamped as it is!"
"No opposition here, but where to go?"
"The Hospice is ideal."
"Right, I don't have its coordinates, but the compass will help..."
We can make up the difference with teleportation. Dranga, if you'll do the honors?
"Not yet! We have no means of breathing when we get there! There's no air!"
"Right you are Winky... we'd be more likely to find someone you know on Elysium, yes? That's where I first encountered you when we were traveling with Caraga. I recall not wanting to the leave that plane, it's a singularly enchanting place. But the headmaster can be very determined when I've got an over-full section of first-year students who needed an instructor, and he got my attention alright."
"Elysium it is!"
Dranga murmurs, and chants, wielding magic in twisting runes around their feet.
The compass spins, and floats.
Fine golden chains weaves skeins of magic around them, tying them to the device, and changing the world from the green hill above the village to blessed fields of Elysium, on its highest Plane, Amoria.
They are assaulted by a riot of color.
Brilliant green meadows dotted with starbursts of flowers, and pools as deep blue as a jay's plumage, and silver clouds drifting against a perfect sky. The plane itself seems to vibrate with its own sense of life and intensity. A peaceful place, they can feel it in their bones, and tranquility enters their hearts.
Joy and satisfaction touches every thought, as the colors, impossibly, becoming brighter.
The sounds of birds, echoing and singing, melodious and soft, pleasant and universal.
"Its beautiful."
Small towns dot the banks of a great river broken by rolling hills.
The archon's light flows even brighter beneath the sun and star-like lights that flicker.
Angels, high above.
Eduardo breathes deeply. It felt strange to exist in a plane free of death and sorrow. It put him ill at ease, but despite himself, he enjoyed it.
For the first time in years, he even felt as if he might deserve a short rest. Overcome by the impulse, he sits down in the grass.
What's that? he asks the Archon.
"The river! It flows through each of the plains of the fields!"
The archon bobs up and down in front of the Master.
"You guys stay here, I'm going to go get my friend!"
Dranga lets out a squeal of pleasure.
Dismissing the magic hiding her form, she becomes her dwarf-self once more.
She sprawls on her back, enjoying the sun and letting her wild hair become tousled in the grass.
"This is great!"
Ah. Perfect. I'm glad we did this. But let us not become too distracted. We need to prepare for our journey to Pandemonium as well as look into this phenomenon of fading positive energy. Hm. I wonder... Do you think Sahm was aligned to Elysium?
"Ah, relaaaaaax, Eduardo. We can afford to rest a minute..."
Grace smiles lazily, but forces a serious edge to her face.
"Arborea is more likely, for him. And he probably wouldn't be at all easy to find..."
Why do you say Arborea? Was he known to be chaotic in temperament or spirit?
"Yeah... Probably Celestia..."
She shrugs.
"Daina or his family would probably know best."
"Eduardo, the man doesn't know us. And we ourselves only know him by name. We don't even have anything to form a connection! Worse still, we may be on the same Plane, but he's on another layer..."
Dranga shakes her head.
"Jaina cornered me, asking me if I could do what she, no doubt, asked you. I heard what she was saying, but it still doesn't fit right with me. If, Sahm isn't here, or is on another plane, even one of the opposing ones, what could we possibly learn from him that finding him wouldn't answer?"
Maybe he wants to talk with us. I don't mean to track him down and interrogate him. Perhaps he'd gain some peace if he knew that Daina survived the attack, and that she was working to set things right.
"He's right. It could be good for him. And her."
"I don't know if I'm comfortable doing that... Daina didn't request it. Maybe she's willing to let it go."
Perhaps he did see or hear something that we'd find useful in our quest. Perhaps he'd be happy to aid in the apprehension of his murderer? He can make his own decisions. I think Daina was marrying him because he insisted on doing so, in fact.
Dranga sits up.
"Why would you think that? Daina could have had any man in the Central Kingdoms. She chased him!"
Why would I think what? Are you trying to say that Daina didn't respect the agency and individual choices of her husband-to-be? That she would have bullied him into silence?
Dranga becomes confused.
"What? I mean the part about him marrying her because he insisted on doing so. She wouldn't force him to be silent, but Daina could have paid for a wish to bring him back. She didn't. She could have paid for any seer to drag answers from him from beyond the grave. Shouldn't we trust her judgement. Do we honestly believe that Daina is completely broken by this?"
Dranga shakes her head.
"I've known Daina the longest out of all of us. I don't think we should throw our thoughts of the woman she is just yet."
"Any information Sahm could give us would be good. As long as we're tactful, nothing ill can come of simply looking."
Grace folds her arms across her chest.
"Eduardo's right. And so was Jaina. Ignoring knowledge in any form is the height of foolishness."
You misunderstood me, Dranga. I didn't mean to imply that he forced her into the marriage, just that she respected his will, and that his strong personality is what appealed to her. I don't think we should second guess every action we take from now on -- "Would Daina approve of this? What would Daina think of this?" Her feelings are less important than the fate of the prime. I'm fond of the woman, but believe it or not, her happiness is not my driving motivation. If she were here, we could ask her how she felt about it, but she chose to throw us out.
"I'm not saying we should second guess our actions, I'm asking why are we second guessing hers?"
With a sigh, she begins to reach among her spell components.
"We can't ignore this threat."
Dranga glares at the monk.
"He's been a 'threat' for seven years. And what have we done since then? Eduardo built his house. Quin his his boat and his army. Prescott's been teaching. And I've got my contracts. Telling them could have waited until a time when we could have been more sure."
"That's in the past now! It can't be undone!"
"No, it can't. But we cannot ignore that we divided the group. We are probably up against dragons, and our one dragonslayer is pissed at us. So is our rogue, and some of our best warriors. Unless we're forming a new party of adventurer's... We're very divided right now."
Grace frowns, "That has noth-"
FINE! I'll do it. Shut-up and give me a moment..."
The peace of Elyseum is broken a moment, and everyone feels a bone-chilling cold.
A cloud passes, and then there is light again as Dranga prepares her spell.
There had been more pressing matter at hand, but now Dranga had brought up the topic. It had been on the Master's mind.
Why didn't you tell her, Dranga?
Dranga throws her hands up in disgust.
"I wasn't going to tell anyone! When I understood, I was going to stay away. Let you all live a life of peace and happiness while you could. I wouldn't have told you. Or anyone else. I admit. I would have lied to you all."
She stares at her feet.
"I'm sorry..."
Eduardo says nothing, watching her prepare her spell in silence, his gaze resting heavily on the dwarf -- lingering on the dark metal card.
After ten minutes, Dranga grimaces.
"He's not here... The sending didn't arrive..."
The card, hidden in the folds of her robe, still seems to suck light from the air, the black chain around the dwarf's neck creating its own shadows.
Sending? I thought you were attempting to scry on him. We could have cast a sending from Ferrus.
"Scrying doesn't work across the planes well. A Sending would fine him anywhere..."
"Then where in the Nine is he?"
Exactly -- I was hoping he was here on Elysium. But you're telling me the sending failed? What could have caused such a thing?
"There are too many things to count..."
Prescott puts his mind to it, trying to come up with some of the options. "Really? I suppose an anti-magic field would do it... but why would a departed soul be in one out here? There's always the small chance of a Sending failing across planes, but it's not all that likely." He chews at the nub of the brush he'd been dipping into his pot of pigments, busily doodling away on a clear patch of grass while Winky searched. The local environment had inspired him, and the first pair of earmuff had already come out kind of fuzzy with a vibrant swirl of purples across the pad. It would look garish anywhere but Elysium. And perhaps even there.
"Jaina asked you both to contact Sahm's departed soul? I know that he didn't respond to a raising - though if he was going to a plane like this, I can understand why. I might not want to leave! But there are also worse and wilder explanations - weapons that trap souls and the like. I don't know. It could just be that despite the anticipation of his wedding day and a married life ahead with Daina, for all its promise, he was just ready to remain separate from his newly-departed life."
Dranga nods at Prescott's mention of soul-trapping weapons.
"But this shakes me... I'm finding myself having to agree with Eduardo... I should have found him... Something is going on. I'm convinced of that now..."
"Good. So, now we wait for the archon to return?"
The Master muses out loud. It's possible his soul was deliberately trapped - but why? Was the man more than he seemed? Daina thought he was special, but not because of some larger, plane-spanning significance.
He pauses and thinks for a moment.
Dranga, do you think you could issue a sending to someone else? A man I know who died recently... I have a suspicion that I'd like to see proved wrong.
"Well, we know this is some sort of trap. Even Daina cannot deny that, despite her delusions..."
"Perhaps holding him is a final spike to drive through her heart?"
She thinks a moment.
"Are you talking about Pete?"
No, not Pete. We know he was made into an undead, which could have had its own effects on his soul. I want to talk to someone who died by chance, just a week ago.
"What about Saul? The tavern keep! He was a good guy, he'd probably be here! He died of a heart attack."
Perfect. Or... did we learn the names of any of those slain by the shadows?
"Yes... Yes, I did, Mara was the woman."
Mara. Let us try and contact her. She died only moments ago, after all.
Dranga's voice is steadying out at its normal range.
"It'll take a bit of time, what should I ask her?"
It matters not -- only that she is able to answer. I suppose we could say "It is vital that you respond to this query. Can you hear us?" Or we could ask her to describe her journey from the mortal coil to her home eternal.
"Dranga, does that card normally react like that when you cast certain kinds of magic? Or when you summon, particularly? I can't ignore the transformation that happens... you've shift back toward your appearance of five years ago, twice now since the wedding day. What's going on with that?"
"It's a result of the contracts I've placed on my soul in order to summon more powerful beings."
Closing her eyes, she begins the casting.
Minutes later, they hear her speak, "It is vital that you respond to this query. Can you hear us? Where are you?"
Dranga pauses, listening to a response.
Then she looks at Eduardo.
"I have contact. She's on Celestia... She wants to know who we are? Should I bother?"
Prescott finishes another illustration, and then taps it with the butt of the brush. It springs into three dimensions, a felt-stubbled pair in a mango hue.
No, don't bother.
Eduardo sighs.
Well, that's good at least.
The Master grimmaces at the sight of the psychadelic earmuffs. He looks away, and his eyes rest on the metallic card once more.
I think we should attempt to contact Pete after all.
"You got it... What should I ask him? Same questions?"
No. Pete won't need us to tell him it's vital, or to ask if he can hear us. He'd probably think we lost our minds for asking such a stupid and redundant question.
The Master smirks despite himself.
We should ask where he is, though. And if he knows who killed and animated him.

"Alright, I'll start anew."

...Pharrah's Pagoda, Thames City...

Screams of agony fill the vampiress' ears, and Pharrah smiles in the dark as Pete's soulform gasps.
Stunned by the Sending, she can feel him looking at her.
"Answer it..."

Dranga jerks back with a gasp.
"Pharrah? Pharrah has him? He says Pharrah's killed him."
That -- The Master's face turns dark as he stops himself from saying "That is not possible." He found Pete in Pharrah's bedroom. Of course she knew he was there. Of course she knew. And she abandoned Eduardo there - left him for dead. But was she truly capable of such evil?
What did he say - exactly?
"'Pharrah! Pharrah has me! Pharrah killed me! Pharrah is a vampire. Pharrah and Sh-', then he was cut off.'"
He's telling the truth. I found his body in Pharrah's bed chambers. The entire mansion must have belonged to her.

But that wasn't what clenched it. How else could Pete know?
And she IS a vampire. No one else knew that but me, except for Maki and Sh-
The Master stops dead in his tracks.
Shudu. I thought he was dead. But he died....
Quin, what was it you said happened to Shudu on Dresden's island?

"She was undead... The entire time! Why didn't any of you say anything!"
Dranga tears at her hair.
"Shudu, never returned. Pete never met him."
Popping another cerulean set from his ink, Prescott looks up sharply and raises his eyebrows. "Pharrah is- and has- she- hunh. That's a bit of a mouthful. Eduardo, I thought you'd said you saw Pharrah just the other day... when you'd learned Pete had been killed. How did you run into her? Had you been in contact at all these years past? How did you discover Pete's fate. And... how is he being bound that his soul is bound by her, yet able to respond to the Sending?"
Pharrah was never my apprentice.
She asked me to keep her secret, and that in return she would help guide us through the Tomb. She kept her part of the bargain, so I did, too.
When we parted ways seven years ago, I thought I'd seen the last of her, but I had hoped to find her. I searched, all those years.
Three days ago, I learned that she had been dominating me -- a power possessed by her kind, or perhaps gained or enhanced through her sorcery -- that she'd been calling me to that house every fourth fortnight. I don't know for sure what happened during those meetings. I have no memory of it -- none at all.
The last time it happened, the day of Daina's wedding, she told me that people were coming for her -- and me. She was right. Black veiled assassins killed me and burned her compound. Grace brought the Vampire Mirna to my body, and she raised me with a Necrovalley scroll. It was then I found Pete, just as I described him to you before, behind a tapestry in Pharrah's bed chambers. She had him there the whole time.

The Master looks like he might throw up.
She wanted it to happen that way. She could have teleported me to safety, but she left me for dead. She killed, skinned, and raised Pete. She still has him.
She's no friend to us. Not anymore.

"Oh, gods above... She knows our faces our names... If she's working for him... She could have become you! Directed you to do things! The possibilities are limitless! We must find her!"
Shudu, too, most likely. It would make sense, if she's working with the Lich. He, too, knows our names and faces and he and I did not part on the best of terms. The scout was not without inconsiderable skill alive -- undead and enhanced by the demi-lich's magic, he'd be a monster. Do you remember Khan?
"Not I. I wasn't there, but from what Jake and Daina told me, it was a nightmare. Harley still wakes up screaming."
That sounds about right.
Well, now she knows that we know. At least that's what we have to assume, since Pete didn't get to finish his answer.
What do we do now?

"Run? And hide? In a dark hole?"
Grace shudders.
"Insane undead vampires with an unknown grudge..."
Your little joke?
"Not quite. But a change of locations once we here from Winky is clearly warranted."
Dranga looks over her shoulder, "Grace is right. This plane was hit by the undead too. If they could make it. She could."
Vampires are strong, but they have weaknesses, too -- don't forget.
Eduardo shifts Pax from one shoulder to the other.
Although... she no longer fears the sun. Not exactly sure how she achieved that.
Dranga's eyes bulge.
Yes. But we planned on leaving soon, anyway. No reason to break our plans now. We should, however, issue a sending to the Tower.
"Same problem as before. We don't know who to send to."
Dranga waves her hand, "I'm sorry. But, still on Pharrah, how could she have led us through the Tomb? All the traps kept killing us!"
I didn't say she led us through the Tomb. I said she guided us. Even that might be a strong word, but the fact is, she'd been there before, and knew a little bit about it. Her help was instrumental in our success -- you must agree.
"What success!?!?! He still lives! Or doesn't!"
Dranga bites her nails.
"Damn, she was strange, I should have seen it..."
Morgoth Bathory. Issue the sending to him. Tell him Mirna attacked me, and I believe she was being controlled by a third party.
"I shall."
As for our success, we made it out, didn't we? Though if it was all according to his plan, I suppose Pharrah could have been working for him all along. That seems... somehow wrong, though. Can't put my finger on it.
"Pharrah is a vampire and killed Pete." Prescott repeats it once more, chewing over the information. He pauses in his dogged drawing for a moment, looking to Quin, Eduardo, and Dranga. "It seems we have secrets we have kept even from each other regarding the Tomb and its aftermath. We four, who took up the front line of that final struggle and faced his avatar in that terrible place. Is there anything *else* we ought to share with one another? The dead and apparently-undead are rising up to oppose us, while friends who were rent from us by these secrets are pursuing their own separate path - separated because of secrets. We need to pool *all* knowledge we have about enemies, allies, and gods above and below if we're to prevail."
No, that's all. I was keeping Pharrah's secret because I thought she was a friend.
Dranga shakes her head, pausing her casting a moment.
"I have nothing more."
Minutes past as Dranga makes her Sending.
She tells the Master that she makes contact with the Tower, and that they would look into it.
Fine, fine. That takes care of that.
I think we should also tell Welby not to scry on Half Moon Row. And possibly Harley. He can't scry on the Tomb on his own, but he might have somebody in this "army" do it. Or maybe he has spellcasting allies. Who knows? I'll leave it to you Dranga, since you're casting the spell. If you'd rest easier, do so.

"I wonder if Winky is having any success." He pops out a canary-yellow set, this one sporting tiny pom-pom. Between his mind wandering & mussing on other things and the plane's vibrancy, Prescott's getting a little carried away.
"Welby can't scry, and Harley... Wouldn't. His own sufferings dog him to closely."
She dusts off her hands.
"I suppose now, we're just waiting for Winky?"
Grace rests on the grass, and closes her eyes.
"That would seem to be the case."
Hours pass.
And then there is a -pop-.
"Hey! Guys, I'm back!"
The archon, still shining brightly, isn't alone.
He's joined by one of Kithkhanamahr's green-skinned angels.
Towering over them at seven and a half feet, the deific servant bathes them in an aura of good, with motes of pure joy and happiness floating between their eyes.
He smiles at Prescott specifically, bright green eyes shining in the presence of one of Kithkhanamahr's oldest faithful.
"This is Kirin. He says he'll glad to answer our questions!"
Prescott inclines his head gravely and then beams at Winky's friend. "Happy day to you, Kirin. Thank you for coming to us. Winky does us great honor in asking you here." Being on Elysium and in the presence of one of his god's servants was almost as bad as visiting the positive energy plane. Prescott has a huge grin and is almost bursting with joy at the sight of their visitor. He is, at the same time, quite aware of the significance of the deva's duties and cuts to the point so as not to dither in further formalities and waste his time. "The temples of Kithkhanamahr have always been great refuges for those in need of sanctuary and healing. I and some of my fellows have discovered that magical healing has been stunted, though. In fact, several varieties of healing seem to be affected, not only cure spells. We are most curious whether the Lord of Joy's brethren have observed this same occurance being widespread, and if there are any theories as to the cause. Our errand out on the Prime may be tangentially related to this matter - or even directly so, should the worst of our fears be confirmed. Do you have any glad tidings of knowledge you might share, Kirin?"
The angel bows its head and gives him a special smile.
Kirin listens carefully to Prescott's question, nodding in thought.
Then he looks Winky.
"Kirin says that they are aware of the problem. And while they're not too sure what is causing it, it is of little concern. While easing the pain of others may require more effort, it will inspire those who do less, to now, do more."
Prescott nods in assent, but is still unsure about Kirin's relative lack of distress at this phenomenon. "The redoubled devotion of the faithful is ever a balm to the afflicted. But magical healing is a limited resource, and this limits the effectiveness of Kithkhanamahr's servants. And it is surely a concern if this trend continues and the impediment grows worse. Already, it seems the newest of the Lord's clerics would find themselves unable to heal with His divine power at all."
"Kirin says that what you say is true. And that he need not worry that Kithkhanamahr is unable to know concern. While our lower clerics may not be able to heal, the true path of joy is to bring light into the lives of all. While this strange occurrence is troubling, we must be willing to ready our hearts to give, rather than mourn what we've lost. Rise, rather than fall. Magical healing is a limited resources, but Kithkhanamahr's peace is not."
"I view the possibility of correcting this limitation as an opportunity to empower the faithful to bring greater Joy to all peoples. It is as you say, Kirin: Losing a tool is of no great moment. That said, discovering a worthy tool that was lost is cause for rejoicing, for it makes the work lighter and more bountiful.
"Beyond utilitarian concerns, the Why of this change may hold greater significance. There is a lich who kills gods, and we have reason to believe he is acting anew after seven years of silence. The Lord surely knew favor from Tymora that cursed day and He remains with us, his flock broader and more joyous than ever. In my questions also comes a warning for our Lord, lest he be caught unaware should the lich strike again. If it *is* the lich who saps all manner of healing, then he weakens the godhead best poised to defend against him. My happiness would be carried in your hands if you shared these grim tidings with our Lord."

The angel closes its eyes.
"Kirin wonders what more Prescott can expect of him. Kirin wonders if Prescott would do well to remember that Kirin as a direct servant of the Lord understands the impact of more than he can. Kirin also wonders if Prescott heard that the Lord is well aware of the circumstances. Kirin further questions whether or not Prescott's faith rests on the material gifts of the Lord, and less upon his teachings. Kirin assures Prescott that other angels are investigating to their full ability, and will do whatever it takes to resolve this situation. Kirin also reminds Prescott that the Lord is well aware of the existence of this entity, having struggled against him on this very Plane seven years ago in terrible fighting that Kirin himself took part in. Kirin does not understand why Prescott seeks to remind him of what is painfully obvious. Kirin assures Prescott that Protocols are in place to deal with any threat posed by the entity."
"I mean no rebuke, Kirin. You have answered my questions well and fully. We differ only in attitude toward addressing the matter of the damaged tool, channeling Kithkhanamahr's healing grace. My path involves that tool rather little, in point of fact, so I take the philosophy our Lord imparts most seriously. His truest gifts have ever been in the hearts of men."
"I became aware of the lich's survival years after we believed him gone, and learned of his current machinations only over the last few days. I of course mean no disrespect to your own exalted service, Kirin. I sought only to relate the warnings as I am now able. Your presence itself is a blessing from Kithkhanamahr, which I cherish. This unique encounter is the closest I have ever been to our Lord, and I could not bear to leave this place knowing that I might have missed a chance to bid Him weal through checking my tongue. Your assurances grant my heart great peace, Kirin. I will go forth from here glad in the knowledge of His continued security and blessings upon us all."

The angel gives him a small smile, and departs in a flurry of growth, leaving a small apple vine where it stood.
Winky floats toward it.
"Never seen that before."
Prescott sighs heavily upon Kirin's departure, saddened at the angel's absence but invigorated by the experience of it. He looks to the vine, sprouting fresh growth, and sees the burnished red of its apple buds match the final pair of earmuffs he'd crafted. He realizes the five pairs scattered on the hillock before him all seemed to correspond to fruit hues - plum, mango, banana, kuchin, and apple. Elysium is so alive!
Curious. Apples do not grow on vines.
Eduardo quizzically approaches the plant, and tries to parse out its religious significance.
Eduardo knows what this is.
Often, benevolent gods, will offer small signs of hope.
The impossible, becoming reality.
Little things, as reassurance.
Burning bushes, candles that won't go out and swords that won't break.
And apples, growing on vines.
Anything is possible.
This vine is a sign, Prescott. A sign of hope. A godly gift -- proof the impossible can happen.
Eduardo picks an apple from the vine and tosses it to Prescott.
You carried yourself well. I think you earned this.
Prsecott smiles, catching the fruit and knowing which color muff he will select for himself as he looks fondly down at it. "Kithkhanamahr is a fine patron, Eduardo. What better creed can there be than happiness?" Looking to Winky, he says, "Thank you for your aid. The counsel of angels is not won lightly."
"Is there anything further we need while we are in this realm? It is hard to think of a troubled world and grand quests in some other place while here."
Not that I can think of. We've issued all of our sendings. We've gotten our questions answered - after a fashion. And you've crafted the necessary protective gear for our next excursion. We can go at any time.
"Winky, Morinfen, you'll probably want to pop in here before we travel to stay sheltered. Dranga, I'm fascinated by your compass... could you tell me how it works? I may have to invest in one if I ever do more planar traveling. Teleporting around after Plane Shifting is a headache, and that seems to be a remarkable tool."
"None that I can think of." says Dranga.
"We can go to this Pandemonium, then..."
"I am not sharing a pocket with him..."
The raven caws angrily, glaring at the archon.
"Its a planar compass, Prescott. I got it in the Nine... It saves the planar coordinates of different places, making plane shifting easier and more precise, and has other compass like functions."
"You wouldn't fit, Winky, don't worry. One per pocket. It's a private abode, you get your own. No need to be huffy, you know I've moved past the bird-familiar stage of my career. Topper was a good owl, but you're in a class all your own!"
Morinfen, you've been silent since we arrived on Elysium. Familiars often view things from a different perspective, see things that we humans and demi-humans miss. I'm sure your Master values your wisdom, and so do we. Do you have thoughts to share about our situation?
The archon's light fade as he disappears into the special compartment.
"None to share, Master Eduardo."
Morinfen, looks skeptically at the familiar pocket, but enters, vanishing from sight with a burst of feathers.
"Everyone, put on your ear muf-oooh, I should do the telepathic bond, first, shouldn't I?"
Eduardo reaches out and grabs the nearest pair of earmuffs -- banana.
Grace takes plum, while Dranga helps herself to mango, leaving Kuchin for Quin.
She hangs them around her neck.
"Is everyone sure about this... Telepathic Bonds have been known to break parties..."
She grins.
Eduardo nods.
Prescott scoops up his colorful muff from the sward and flicks a patch of smushed grass off of his robes. He's not entirely sure whether he's brushing himself off or trying to rub in a grass stain to remember this place by... he was once again reluctant to leave. "Alright everyone, suit up. Can't have sunshine all the time, apparently howling winds of insanity are next on the docket."
The spell links their minds together with chains of magic, and everyone screams.
...Eduardo's mind is suddenly filled. With laughter.
Its deafening.
He can't escape it, reverberating and shattering the planes of his psyche.
...Prescott's mind shakes and rumbles with the mad laughter...
It takes him back, back to the city.
Where the demi-lich had slaughter and raised them with naught but his mad, twisted laughter.
The laughter reverberates through the cleric's skull...
Shuddering through his memories, it creates a chaos in his mind.
It almost hurts, and he can't get a moment to even here himself think!
The laughing won't stop.
Acererak was inside his head!
Grace clutches her ears, and rocks back and forth on the ground in a silent scream, while Dranga shrieks in terror.
The shared laughter, drowns out every single sound, so the dwarf's mouth works in a silent pantomime of horror.
Staggering forward, the Master of Death grips Quin by his tunic, slumping down before the dwarf.
Silently, he mouths the name "Acererack."
Gasping, Quin clutches his head, not believing what had happened. He meets the Masters eye's and can see they are filled with dismay, just like his own. He struggles to cast even the most basic spell to offer some relief from the voice in his head.
Quin's spell fizzles to nothing as the laughter builds, over and over.
He can't hear!
It's too loud!
Too much! Their minds were going to POP!
Like a rat, scrabbling at the bottom of a jar, Dranga scratches for control of the spell, dismissing it with a gasp.
There is instant relief as the laughter halts.
Silence within, at last.
Blessed quiet.
The aura of heaven-born angels kisses their faces.
A lie.
Everything was not at all alright.
Eduardo struggles to catch his breath.
What -- in nine hells -- was that?
Grace stares across the grass at him, "Is... Is that what he sounds like?"
Without even knowing why, Eduardo is furious.
YES, he spits.
He turns to his allies, masters of magic.
How is this possible? How?
Dranga lifts her face from the grass.
"T-the same magic, he used to leave you untouched by the years, Eduardo."
"He has touched, and marked you, as his own."
What does that have to do with Telepathic Bond?
"It connects minds together. You probably couldn't hear it yourself. But when we bonded, everyone could."
Dranga sighs, they can't see here face.
"For seven years, he's been laughing in your heads."
"That... is kind of terrifying. What part of the Lich is hiding in our minds? Is it just a bastardized arcane mark? Or is there something more? He could be scrying on us from inside our heads. He could have suggestions waiting to be triggered... or another of those living illusions..."
It was a sharp swing from the recent presence of an angel of Joy to the knowledge that Acererak lurked in some form within him. "I almost wish we'd stuck with a Message spell."
We'd probably be more use, or least less of a danger, to the world dead. No doubt we're doing his will even now. Of course, if we did die, our souls would probably just go strait into his phylactery, so it's a lose-lose situation.
"Shall we still go to Pandemonium? I don't even know where we'd begin to deal with this..."
Nobody really wants to discuss it...
The possible scenarios are far too horrifying.

...Cocytus, the second layer of Pandemonium...

Pandemonium is dark.
Cold, and its screaming winds, muted by Prescott's earmuffs, still tears at their faces, hair and clothes.
A miserable place.
Endless stone caverns and tunnels, as far as they can see, which isn't very far.
The ceiling of the cave, a distant grey-matte.
Upon their arrival, Dranga instantly bestows everyone with darkvision, and produces a rope, insisting everyone remain together, her seriousness clear through the Message spell.
Finding himself at the antithesis of Elysium's peace, Prescott cloaked himself with Protection from Evil, normally offered by Winky's presence at his side. He also activates his armor to mask his presence from any undead... with half a thought toward adding any possible protections in this strange place, but another part of him recoiling from the thought of the lich having access to his mind.
Her voice is clipped and harsh, and they see her constantly looking and searching through the darkness.
Grim and silent, Eduardo follows behind the dwarf as she leads the way.
Prescott follows along wordlessly and stays abreast of Dranga when they finally approach the site of the shrine. His eyes drink in the strangeness of the place, absent of light, combing for auras that might give him any further clues to the history of this shrine that they near.
Still unsettled by his experience on Elysium, he is uncharacteristically quiet. Add to that, the fact that his knowledge of the planes was barely better than that of a backwoods farmer, and the Master of Death was basically along for the ride.
As always, he's ready to defend his allies and offer counsel, but beyond that, Eduardo is merely a passenger in this bizarre convoy through the outer planes. Still, he was anxious to see this shrine. Perhaps his years of scouring the prime's crypts, tombs and abandoned chapels would come in handy.
The weight of the utter darkness presses on them, as if the unending stone wanted to squeeze out their very lives.
Only Grace seems absolutely comfortable without the light.
The sheer depth, and subjectivity of the plane leaves dwarves and other deep-dwelling creatures out-of-sorts.
Quin nods at Dranga's instructions before casting a spell as they moved along, one that would protect them from the effects of the plane they currently inhabited. He keeps a watchful eye out and hope their journey will be a quick one. The plane unsettles him.
Unfortunately for the dwarf, the journey isn't short.
With the constant darkness, its hard to tell time.
However, Dranga signals a stop when the winds suddenly come to a roaring stop.
Dranga removes her earmuffs, her whisper is hoarse, "We're here."
Now she scowls.
"If only I had that bard... The shrine radiates an aura of fear..."
Eduardo removes his muffs as well.
Aura of fear? How strong?
She points to a dark crevasse among the caverns.
"It's down there."
Grace and I could go ahead. No aura of fear is strong enough to shake her resolve, and I moved beyond fear long ago.
This would split our party, and our goal is for all of us to see it. So.

Eduardo closes his eyes, and concentrates on his own inner resolve. Long ago he'd learned to master fear, and to pass some of this power on to others. As Eduardo's strength of spirit expands outward, Prescott, Dranga, and Quin all feel the touch of his fearlessness. The next moment, the feeling intensifies as the Master transforms his soul into a mantle of life. White tendrils of energy creep from Eduardo's eyes, nose and mouth, and a deep glow surrounds his allies, buoying their will with his own.
I hope my wards are strong enough to protect you. If not, I can banish the fear from your minds -- if I can find you in the tunnels of Pandemonium once you flee.
Dranga tries to smile, "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Grace looks at the darkness.
"If the statue is so big, how will we see it all?"
Dranga becomes grim, "Magical torches provide light."
Eduardo descends into the darkness.
The rough sloping cavern eventually becomes worked stone, with steps and a hand-railing carved into the side of the winding passage.
After a flight, stone recesses ignite into flame, lighting their way, and extinguishing as they pass.
More and more stairs carry them downwards and downwards, further confusing the dwarves with their stone sense, in a plane where there truly is no up or surface to measure to.
The cavern is a worked construction, with a dome roof.
Great vaults, set with rings of flame support the ceiling above.
A sense of release on the dwarves tell them that this is one of the places in Pandemonium with a normal gravity.
Eduardo's mastery of fear keeps their minds free of terror as they gaze upon the great statue.
Pure adamant, rising from the stone.
The resemblance cannot be denied.
A Victory, of adamant.
It towers high above them, six wings, of bones. The angel wears armor, and a helm, carrying a great shield and a sword of screaming souls.
The plinth is set on a great vault, borne on the backs of creatures.
Elements from the Tomb of Horrors and Acererak's Victories...
The steps lead down to the floor of the chamber.
Grace stares up at it.
"Its terrible, but beautiful..."
Shaking off the waves of fear he feels washing over him, Prescott looks around the chamber growing out before them. He catalogs the area with his lenses, searching for anything that may provide further clues as to its origin, or the lich's. "It is quite impressive. I wonder if it has some other purpose than just a sign of devotion. Dranga, where did you say you learned the story of Kastya?"
"The plaques held by the statues tell the story in archaic Common."
A long search yields nothing other than auras of transmutation all about the vault.
Archaic common? When would you estimate this was built? Eduardo asks Prescott.
Dranga runs her hand across a tablet, clutched one handed by an old elven woman.
"The form of common, predates the Arkhosian Empire... But the condition of the statue, makes it impossible to date. There's no erosion or weathering. It could have been built yesterday... The legends of the demi-lich and even Kastya, predate Arkhosia though..."
Prescott pulls out a sheaf of parchment and whispers the word of a cantrip, loosing his magic to copy down the text of the legend in case they want to review it later. "I can't detect any other loose objects, hidden niches, or unusual auras. It's all radiating Transmutation, probably the same magic used to shape the statue originally."
The flipping sheafs copy down the writings in a perfect copy over the next few minutes.
I've never seen a shrine quite like this one, Eduardo muses to himself as he examines the horrific marvel before him. What secrets did it hold? Could this shrine be a key to Acererack's supposed god-hood?
The shrine reveals nothing more.
It's just as Dranga described it. Now we've seen it, but I feel no surer of its place in all this than before.
Could it be that we came all this way for nothing?
Eduardo thinks.
"I don't know what you expected to find that I couldn't have with my own magic and skills, Eduardo."
She frowns in the dim light, "There's not a great deal to be learned here. Other than the recognizable statue and the text on the plaques, there is very little reason to even suspect this is a shrine to the demi-lich at all without a closer look."
Dranga turns to Prescott and Quin, "I can send you two back to that village on the Material Plane. Eduardo and I have business to attend to that won't take long."
Prescott nods, acknowledging the offer of transport. "Thanks, Dranga. I'll pay attention to how you operate that compass so that I can hopefully pick up a casting in the future. You're far better at navigating the planes than I. I would just as soon return to the Prime at a different point, honestly... considering that powerful scrying response, the fewer times we're in the same place twice, the better. You can drop us anywhere and then follow after." He raises an eyebrow at the separation, though. "Business? Is there something more that we could be doing to work together in researching the lich or the tomb?"
It shouldn't take long, Eduardo says. Dranga is going to set up an introduction for me. We need allies. The Lich obviously has powerful ones, he motions to the shrine.
Dranga nods at Eduardo's words.
"Speaking of which, I could deposit you three at the airship's last known location with a successful Sending! They could pick you up!"
"Master, are you sure you don't need me?"
Not for this. He stares his apprentice in the eye, a look she knows means the end of any discussion. But as I said, it should not take long.
Dranga smiles in the shadow, "Its more the compass than my casting. If you want, I can see if I can hunt a compass down for you, Prescott."
She pulls out the device.
"Where shall I leave you then?"
Allies are always a boon. Yes, I think joining the airship might be a good plan. We may want to wait until morning, though, after I can prepare a Detect Scrying spell to ensure we're not being traced. I don't know that a flying ship is stealthy, really, but I would hate to lead our enemies directly to them if we needn't do so. Let's just find a forest in Thames somewhere to camp for the night."
"Your wish is my command, join hands with Quin and Grace... When Eduardo and I are finished, we will join you."


After plane shifting Prescott, Quin and Grace back to the Material Plane, Dranga and Eduardo make their own journey.
Back at the lodge, Khamal was actually compelled into attacking me. He would have killed me, I'm sure, but Hassadur stepped in at the last moment. But Hassadur has gone his own way, for now. My list of allies seems to shrink each day instead of grow. And we know that the lich has demons in his service.
He turns to Dranga.
I traded power for knowledge, Dranga, and it's clear I've traveled beyond my depths this time. What are the terms of your contract with those bone devils? If you assigned one into my service, would it protect me and take simple actions to aid me?
Dranga hisses through her teeth.
She looks at Eduardo carefully.
"You are serious about this..."
She takes a breath.
"I can't divulge the terms of my contract without breaking it Eduardo..."
Dranga appears lost in thought for a moment.
"I can't assign one to your service, you'd have to negotiate the contract yourself, but, yes. It could do all that. And more."
I am deadly serious. This is a grave era - and one I plan on living to see the end of, one way or another.
"Eduardo, the costs are grave."
So grave that you did it yourself four times? Four? Or is it more than four? Why did you do it?
She makes a hollow, empty laugh.
"Far more than four. Far more."
She looks down.
"...I wanted power."
Why? What drove you? Fear? Ambition?
She laughs again.
"Power drove me! Power for power's sake, Eduardo. True power doesn't need a reason. True power is the reason."
She stops, and stares at him, with hard, violet eyes.
"If you are going to do this, you must maintain power."
Power for its own sake is something I'll never understand, Dranga, but I have accumulated some, incidentally in my journeys. I'm stronger than some devil. I've seen Grace break the likes of these over her knee like a twig.
Her voice becomes a plea.
"You must understand, and if you cannot, you must know it then. Accept it. Even if you don't believe it. But, oh, so hard, you must try to understand it, Eduardo."
Dranga shakes her head.
"Power is not defined by strength. Its defined by itself. Devils are tricky, Eduardo. The power of a binding contract places a weight on you."
She frowns, poking him with her staff.
"You just said you some have power, but you didn't get it by breaking devils over your knee. Why should it be any different for a devil? They're not mindless creatures, Eduardo. They're fallen angels. Perfection is their birthright, power flows through their veins, dances behind their eyes and spills from their lips."
She stands.
"Are you sure you are ready? If so, I will explain the process to you, and when we are prepared, I will do what you ask."
I do not take this on lightly. I'm doing it because I need powerful allies, and if I need to go to hell to get them, so be it. Nobody understands the seriousness of this situation better than I. Have you ever known me as a reckless man? Or a foolish one?
They're coming for me, Dranga. They're coming for all of us. They know my name, and they know my face. They came prepared to kill me. I need to be able to outsmart them, to keep them unbalanced. I need to increase my strength and reach, and do it quickly. I'm not a reckless man, or a foolish one -- I'm a man who does whatever it takes to survive.
I am ready. What must I do?

"That's just it Eduardo, dealing with devils isn't about 'survival'... Its about playing the system."
She makes a cup with her hands.
"One drop of power, to alleviate what you did to get the last one, hoping at the end, your jug is full enough to drink your fill. Except the jug cracks... It cracks so easily..."
Dranga pulls back a length of her robes, showing a long, drawn scar, marring the skin and runes raised on her skin.
There's more...
Then her face becomes dark.
"It all begins with names... Eduardo. Names are everything. They hold power over our identities. Once you know a name, you know everything you will ever need to know..."
Daina produces a black slate.
"Bound within this crystal stone, are the names of powers, devils, demons and other things, that I've found out. With those names, I can call up specific beings to service. Spells, like my typical summoning ones, call up any monster the conjuration magic tugs from afar. I go a step further..."
She smiles, "Special variations of my spells lets me augument them to find and empower stronger creatures, or to make it comes faster, and even let my summoned allies begin with some of my spells cast on them. The contracts, whether it be treasure or... other things, allows me to ensure that whatever I summon is competent, and will know what to do well ahead of time. And names are key to any contract."
Dranga smiles at the stone, the golden light flickering beneath its cold surface dancing in her eye.
"I've recently added a fellow, a powerful osyluth, but, I will give him to you, Eduardo... If you give something to me."
She looks at him, with strange eyes.
"Hassadur. I ask your permission, to make a contract similar to my others, with him."
She chuckles, "That snake was so... so infuriating, and yet, nothing can deny his power..."
I do not own Hassadur. He stays with me by his own free will. You have my permission to approach him and negotiate with him, but I make no promises that he'll be agreeable to any arrangement you may wish to make.
She continues, and Eduardo listens intently.
The runs her hand across the black slate.
"Now, we have the name. Next, will come the magic..."
She smiles.
"I will start by preparing a series of magic circles. The first, a protection from evil spell, focused inward, will ensure that that the devil we summon be trapped on this plane to negotiate. The second circle, will be for me. Another protection from evil, this time, focused outward, will be for me, and with magic that will allow me to serve as an observer without drawing the devil's attentions. The third will be yours. It will be identical, to mine, but will leave the devil with nobody else to negotiate."
She taps the slate again.
"My very own invention, will place our twin circles, within the first. Its far more risky, but makes the devil more flexible to negotiate. You'll be safe. From there, I will call the name of the devil, and summon him from the Depths of Hell, and you shall negotiate your contract."
How long shall the negotiation last?
"As long as it takes, Eduardo. If you don't like the devil I call, I can dismiss him, and we can find another. Once they come, they're trapped."
"...there are somethings you must know and understand; do not tell the demon any proper nouns or identifiers. No names. Places. Things. Don't even mention the demi-lich-you don't have to tell it what its getting into. Don't even where your own clothes. I have fabricated clothes and masks we will wear. Do not leave the circle. If the demon finds..."
She holds up a trembling finger.
"...just one way to identify you, and its all over. Do not leave the circle. Can Grace fight a bone devil? Sure. Two? Perhaps? Can she fight the cold hate and ruthlessness of an osyluth... Not a chance."
She continues.
"Do not identify where we are. Do not leave the circle. Our friends. Even what time it is. Give it nothing. Don't banter. No riddles. No games of chance. No tricks. Do not leave the circle. No stories. Begin with the negotiations."
Dranga licks her lips, and Eduardo can see she's actually sweating, "Do not leave the circle. Before you say the words, 'I would agree to the terms of such a contract...', make no promises, declarations or anything that could discern a verbal contract. Do not leave the circle."
"Eduardo, do not leave the circle."
As the Master finds himself standing, in the great circle, his own circle traced in chalk, and silver dust and runes carved into a stone floor, thinly connected to Dranga's own, he can hear Dranga's breaths through the form in her mask.
She'd changed her form again, becoming human-sized, ensuring the demon would have no way to distinguish them.
The room, dark, except for plain candles, lit on low tables, with burning incenses, is covered in long drapes that run along the ceiling and down the wall.
She turns to him, and despite the darkness, the flicker of a candle shows him a weak smile and bright, violet eyes behind the mask.
The black metal chain and the card, are hidden from sight, probably locked away elsewhere, with Pax and anything else that could identify him.
"Are you ready?"
Eduardo nods.
Dranga stares through the mask at him.
"Eduardo. Do not leave the circle."
There is a rattle in her throat as she breathes, and releases the spell in an agonized gasp.
The dark runes light up, becoming flames, burning around his feet.
He'd seen her pour her blood into the carved channels, before covering them with sand, and now, they crackled and nips around the edges, without heat.
"Asiperon! Tuptuo atad r!onreifni led sedadidnuforp sal edsed amall em! Ranalp nóinu royam..."
It seems like forever that she chants, and the flames only rise higher.
Again and again, a single word cuts through.
Fire explodes around the Master, and Dranga disappears.
In the deafening roar of fire, he hears a man's voice, hoarse and panicked scream.
"Run! Get out! Something's gone wrong!"
The master does not flinch.
What kind of fool do you take me for? Settle down, devil. I brought you here for a negotiation, not some mummer's farce.
Eduardo hears Dranga's voice.
Another of her warnings drifting to the forefront of her mind.
The devil will say things.
Know things, nobody else could know.
It won't lie.
It won't need too.
Give it
The flames becomes still emptiness.
The room is empty.
A single ember burns in the center of the great circle, but still no Dranga...
Eduardo stands in silence.
Speak in the active voice. It will keep you safe.
The floor splits, cracks chipping the stone.
A single finger pokes.
A dead hand follows.
A lolling, dead head leads the zombie that pulls its way free from a dark crack, black, necrotic fluid, dripping from its nose, and empty eyes.
Still, Eduardo waits, impassive, looking very unimpressed.
The zombie's bottom jaw falls off, dropping to the stone with a clatter.
Ignoring the lost bone, the creature rears itself to its full height.
Taking its upper mouth between to hook fingers, it raises its elbow over its head, and pulls.
The skin and flesh parts, the shell, revealing a stern faced man of indeterminate age.
Dark eyes, set into smooth skin, is crested by eccentric grey hair.
Dressed like a noble, the man carries a rapier at his side.
Eduardo smiles, and offers a curt nod.
The man ignores him, walking toward Dranga, with a smile.
The dwarf, who had obviously, never left, looks at Eduardo but says nothing.
He will not be able to hear or see me.
The devil peers at the lines of the circle, and draws the rapier.
Eduardo watches the "man," with interest. He tries to hide a smirk.
Unless he looks very, very hard.
The rapier flexes against the barrier.
And the devil peers with even greater scrutiny.
Moments pass, and nods, as if something had passed its test.
This done, the devil moves back to the center.
Now, it looks at him.
He shrugs, "I'm sorry, about the theatrics, but one must try... Surely, you must understand..."
His voice, is low, soft, betraying no hint of his origins.
Understand? No, I'm afraid not. What, exactly, were you hoping to accomplish?
"Yes, the need to put those opposed to you, to a test. Or those who would join forces with you. Or require your aid."
The devil holds up a perfectly manicured hand as he stalks towards him, his boots leaving burn marks on the floor.
"Everyone, must be worthy. Worthy of your time. Worthy of your effort. Your trust."
He smiles, stopping just before Eduardo, and extending his hand.
"Simply a test. Now, you know my name, what might I call you?"
Eduardo does not extend his hand.
Call me nothing at all, please. Until we have a bargain.
"Ah, so, you will be the one bargaining today, Nothing."
The devil stops smiling, letting the hand fall.
"Tell me, Nothing. Are you the Master? Or the Apprentice? Is this a lesson? Or is this day, going to be a day of days..."
He turns his back, and sheathes the blade.
With a sigh, he walks to the center of the circle, but doesn't turn around.
"A day of days?" What sort of day would that be, pray?
"A day that the Sages would write of, Nothing? Is today, a great pact is made, between mortal men and the dark denizens that dwell in the depths of the Nine, Nothing? Tell me it is, 'pray'? Tell me... That the world will shake with the contract, the bargain we make. Tell me your dreams. Tell me your wishes. Tell me what you want. And make them, big..."
Is that what you want? To make a contract that shakes the world?
"Wants, wishes, dreams... I want, something, somewhat interesting, Nothing."
I see. And what interests you?
Names. What of them?
"Ah. So, you're the apprentice, Nothing..."
Dranga shakes her head, making a cutting motion across her throat.
Why do you assume I'm an apprentice?
"No. Nothing. That's for me to know; you, know nothing."
He laughs.
It's a short, tired sound.
Eduardo says nothing in reply.
The devil does nothing either.
The silence grows long. Awkward.
But the devil has no reason to break it.
Life is long in the Nine Hells; he can wait.
Eduardo nods.
Yes. Let's move on with that assumption. Whose names are you interested in?
"Most certainly an apprentice. Enough of this farce, or your Master, hidden in magic, will give you a flogging, Nothing."
I see. Well. If you're waiting for another to bargain with, you will be waiting a long time, indeed.
"Then, strike a bargain, Nothing. But I warn you, you should not let your Master take advantage of you so."
Taking advantage -- no, of course not. Thank you for the advice. I apologize, my request will not be earth-shattering. I doubt the sages will write of this day. In fact, I hope they won't. For a contract made on an ordinary day -- not a day of days -- what do you require?
"Since you're new at this, I'll give you a fair deal. I will serve you for three minutes. And you will serve me, for three?"
Ah, I'm afraid not. That won't do at all.
"Ah, but what's the harm three minutes could do? Alright. I can do better. For every three minutes I agree to serve you, you may serve me, a mere single minute. What harm could come of that?"
That isn't what I had in mind.
Now the devil whirls around, and suddenly, he's right beside the Master, almost leaning across the line.
"What did you have in mind, Nothing?"
An open-ended contract. Say, 60 days to start. We can discuss extending it as the end of the contract approaches. You'll perform simple tasks. Spying. Travelling from place to place. Negotiating on my behalf. Defending me if I am attacked.
A boring assignment, but one I hope to make rewarding for you.

"Open-ended? There is no such thing. And what am I to receive in return?"
Since I know nothing, why don't you tell me?
"How about your soul? Always a good bargaining chip? By your demands, I suspect you're desperate for some added power in some dangerous endeavor... Seems worth it. I ensure your survival, and..."
He smiles.
"Well, we can discuss it later."
For my soul, I'd want much, much more than bodyguard duty. Even I know that's unheard of.
"Then you have nothing to offer."
He doesn't say the name, it'd be too easy.
"No treasure, or you would have offered that. No secrets. Nothing of value. Nothing."
I haven't offered anything. You assume because I've offered nothing, that I have nothing.
"I've done this a thousand times. You have nothing, Nothing."
Fine. Than that's my offer to you. Nothing. Serve me for free.
"That's not how it works... My power doesn't come without a price."
So you do not accept my offer of nothing? I'm surprised. It's all I have, after all. How could I do better than that?
"I have no taste for mockery, Nothing. If you have something worth my service, say so. If not, dismiss me, and let me be on my way."
You want a name.
"Are you offering yours, Nothing?"
I'll give you a name. A name so powerful that to speak it is a killing word.
The demon appears interested.
"Sounds interesting. But I find myself suspicious, Nothing."
He begins to walk away again.
"How could an apprentice such as you, know such a powerful name..."
The devil shakes his head.
"A name like that, gets you somewhere, Nothing. But I'm going to need something more... Real."
Names are real, and this one realer than most. Contracts are real. The words that bind us will be real.
"And I know all that better than you, Nothing. I will not off my services on the promise of a name. I need more. If the promise of a powerful name is all you have, again, dismiss me, and I shall be on my way."
You want a name. I offer one -- one that makes your own name a birthday candle before the bonfire -- and you say no. I think I will dismiss you.
"Then do it. Or look to your Master, and ask him to do so. I smell a trick, Nothing. And I am not here, because I am tricked easily. I am here, because your Master found my name, and your Master knows who I am."
The devil turns around again.
"Come now, Nothing. Bargain like a man. Give me something worth my power. And I can even help you bring down your Master..."
I would never betray my Master, he who has given me so much knowledge and power, and asked so, so little in return.
His voice remains calm, but Eduardo's body tenses, his hands face downward as if pushing away a hoard of small children trying to give him a hug. He clearly wishes the devil to cease this line of thought.
"Clearly, your Master does not wish you well. No Master could, to leave you with me. So unprepared. I admit, you started off well. But then..."
He shrugs, and smiles.
The devil stops a moment, thinking.
"Or perhaps... You've already betrayed your Master, Nothing... Is that what this is? Have you struck down your only true friend in the world, and find yourself having to resort to the powers of the Plane below... Maybe, Nothing isn't nothing... Tell me your name, friend. Perhaps, starting anew, explaining, we can come to an agreement."
Eduardo appears to have piqued a little more interest.
Your fantasies amuse me. Spin another.
Perhaps my Master is a black dragon, and you're my only hope to avoid being eaten. That would be interesting, wouldn't it? You know nothing about me or my Master. I suggest you forget about him, and focus on your negotiation with me.

Eduardo appears back in control of his body and voice, though maybe he's trying just a little too hard to appear in control
"Did he beg? Did he squeal beneath your heel? Was there a moment, just before you struck him down, where you finally realized he could feel fear? Tell me please. What did you say to him?"
If you want a tale of suffering, I can spin you one, devil. Is that what you'd like?
"What I would like, is for this farce to end. The devil strides to Dranga's circle. Enough of this!"
The wizard doesn't flinch.
"Form a true bargain with me. Or a third time, I say, dismiss and release me."
What do you want? Souls? I have only my own to offer, but it comes very dear. Riches? I have a little. How much do you require? Knowledge? I have a lot. I've offered you one name already. What else do you wish to know?
"Yes, your soul would be a fine bargain, Nothing. Dear or not, it is the standard fare of bargains such as these, or your Master would have told you before you destroyed him..."
The devil rails against the magical barrier with his rapier.
"Come out! Reveal yourself! Take this Nothing away from me! You know the worth of the services of one such as I!"
The devil's dark eyes search, roving over the unseen wizard.
"This Nothing offers knowledge to one who danced on the coals of Bael-Nurath! Cease this game! Make! A! Bargain!"
Your tantrum does not impress me. Why don't we try this again in a day?
"If that is your wish, Nothing."
It is.
He nods to Dranga.
The devil grins, and Eduardo sees the smile keep going, pulling the skin free from the man's face, leaving leering muscle behind. As the skin and clothes come free with a wet, sickening pop, followed by a ripping sound as nerves, fat and the red, spurting muscles and tissues follow.
Spiraling along the floor like a twisted snake, the sickening display curls into nothing followed by the bones as all the candles in the room are snuffed out.
Eduardo's legs are swung out from underneath of him as Dranga's magic hauls him into the air by the ankles.
"What were you thinking?"
Set me down, please. This is not instructive. Exactly what did I do wrong?
"He would have killed us both! These aren't creatures you can play games with, Eduardo! Duplicity is not for them!"
I'm not playing a game. Are you telling me that when bargaining with a devil, one should be totally honest at all times?
"Don't do that with me! Strike the bargain! Get. Out. What did you mean by ignoring the first offers? A name? That name? His name? What do you think he would do when you told him you couldn't tell him the name you were bargaining with?"
She swings him back and forth.
"These are creatures of pure, ordered, evil, Eduardo. They're not ignorant peasants. They're not greedy, predictable tyrants. If you think you have an edge, its because he gave you an edge. You don't play devils, you play the system, and you don't have what it takes to do that!"
Dranga tears off her mask with a snarl.
Eduardo can see sweat, dripping down her face.
"He isn't stupid. You cannot and will not learn anything about him from interrogating him. That's why wizard spends years, tracking down names, and finding their history."
Dranga, I would have written the name down, and insisted he not say it while under my service. The real problem is the one he identified: I have little to trade to him. How on earth did you accumulate so many contracts? What on earth did you give up? You've only got one soul.
Dranga's lip trembles.
"Time. The more powerful ones, understand that riches, and souls have there uses... But they're just currency. The real devils, demand time. A living servant, is damned three times; damned because they resorted to forging the contract, damned by what they use the contract to do, and finally damned again by whatever the devil might ask in return. The only way to win, is to make another contract, and play them off one another, in a constantly winding web of time..."
She raises Eduardo higher with a jerk.
"But you're not willing to do that. You have to win, first try, no matter what. You don't have the conviction. And it doesn't work that way. He knows you've summoned him because you need him and he suits your purposes. Nobody takes a name from a book and calls it without researching it. You could expend your power on an imp, or call an archdevil to your presence..."
She shakes her head.
"He will not accept the name alone. He will want more. Magic items were more than fifty thousand gold pieces for a devil of his strength... Or he'll demand your soul... Or time. As far as he's concerned, you're a novice, and a rude one at that... Playing with things you don't understand. And its not that you're fool... Its your unwillingness to bend, bow or break even once..."
Dranga sets him upright again, placing him back on his feet.
"Your will won't allow you to do this Eduardo and his nature is stronger than that."
There must be an advantage there, Dranga. He thinks I'm a blundering novice. He expects a mistake. If I could get him to seize on that, to take some form of bait...
"No. He'll tear you to shreds."
Then I've spoiled it. You need to dismiss him. I'm sorry.
Eduardo pulls off the mask and wipes his white, sweat-matted hair out of his eyes. He locks them on Dranga's. The dwarf woman was thrice-damned. More than thrice damned. She'd spend the rest of her life running from the deals she'd made, and then, most likely, eternity in hell.
Very sorry.
"You haven't ruined anything, Eduardo. The problem is, you're not willing to do what I've done. I'm sorry. Its not a problem."
Dranga lets herself fall to her knees.
"The problem is I was not willing to make the choices you have made."
She bites her lip.
"If we were Evil... Truly evil, this would be a non-issue. We'd push other souls in our place. But... I'm not willing to make that descent just yet..."
The Master settles down to her level, sitting on the floor. For once, the two are of a height.
What are you talking about?
"Its what evil men do. They kill people en masse. Sacrifice them on dark altars. Collect the souls, and offer those in place of their own. They form cults, working together. Entire villages, vanish."
Dranga hangs her head in disgust.
"A willing soul is worth more than one that is offered, so one needs more..."
Though it shames me to admit it, offering up the soul of another did cross my mind. But it's something I would never do. And, unless I far misjudge you, neither would you.
"No. It has crossed mine as well. Especially when I wear the card... But I will destroy myself first..."
What about that card? What if you traded it to a devil? Might that rid you of it? If it affects alignment and boosts the power to summon, it could be a powerful tool to a being of evil. One he might pay dearly for.
"I already tried. That's how I got the scar."
She shudders.
"I-I, was so relieved. And then the contract snapped when the card returned, and it came... And I barely escaped."
Then that's it. You're damned, and I have nothing to trade. You're still welcomed to make a deal with Hassadur, of course. I doubt the serpent will ask for your soul. He seems more interested in treasure, these days. Distressingly interested in it.
Eduardo stands and offers his hand to the wizard.
"You don't have to give up on the devil, Eduardo. Even three minutes could turn the tide of a battle... If you ever change your mind, I will be ready to aid you."
Dranga wipes tears from her eyes, and takes his hand.
"I'm sorry about the Telekinesis."

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Piers, Paragons, Palaces and Prophets

...late at night, Thames City...

"Did any of the others have similar markings?" Marros said. Perhaps they came from the same ship?
Toresh, walking along his horse nods, "I checked them myself. Bane showed me many had similar marks, but this fellow had one with the least damage."
The arm is wrapped up in one of Jake's plain cloaks, leaving the party relatively less suspicious in the midnight crowd.
As they'd turned their backs on Khale's place, Khale and others had watched them go, but that part of the River was well behind them.
Daina, astride her black horse appears to be chewing over something in her mind, Raven and Lissa, a little stunned by what they'd seen, bring up the rear, following Maki and Alex, after Khamal in the center.
Jake looks at Daina from the corner of his eye, "Daina, you heard what Harley said, we can't igno-"
"I know! I'm not ignoring it! I'm considering! With 'The Call' a dead-end, this 'Paragon Pearl' seems as good a lead as any."
She glowers, her eyes and face enough to keep any nighttime wanderers out of her way.
This part of the city has considerably better lighting, even so late, and people still wander about their business free of the mist.
"So what now? We're just going to ask random sailors until one recognizes the design?" Alex asks they ride. It didn't seem like the best plan to show people a recently torn undead arm, but then again, unless they came across a ship or building with "Paragon Pearl" written on it, there wasn't much else to do.
Daina shakes her head furiously.
"We're going to split up. I'm not staying in another inn. I'm getting out own place here. I'll take Raven and Lissa. Jake, go to The Piers and ask around."
Sitting astride Selka, Marros watches Daina from the corner of his eye. With such a dramatic tatoo and a distinctive name, I'm sure we won't have too much trouble finding information. Turning to look at Jake, he says But we need to talk about what just happened, soon. The Guards and I saw something....different, on the roof.
"What'd you see? Were there wights up there too?"
Yes, and something more. in a low voice, Marros quickly describes what happened, looking to Raven and Lissa for confirmation. It may have been the leader, but I'm not certain why it ran away.
Daina looks at Toresh, "What do you call a group of Wights?"
The minotaur shrugs, leering at a worker looking to closely.
"Bane doesn't count his enemies. He simply lessens their number."
She shakes her head, "Well, with Khale calling the Guard on us, they'll be on the alert for undead..."
"They probably fled, figuring there's be easier prey. It could get bad."
Jake grunts, "Right now, finding out where these bodies came from could help, especially if there are more lurking beneath the waves.'
Toresh nods, "This is true."
Looking directly at Daina, he raises his voice slightly, I think splitting up at this time is a bad idea. But if you are set on it, where can we find you?
"And they were drowned too... Probably part of the same..."
Daina looks down a street.
"This is a city Marros. I'll find you."
She points.
"I know its late, but we can sleep once I've secured a safe spot. The Piers are that way. Stay awake."
Khamal, silent through most of the trip, speaks up as Daina suggest splitting up. "Before we decide on anything," he says as he raises his gaze to the group, "Daina and Jake, tell us what happened to you both during the wight attack. You both fell near the same time and arose just as quickly, so what happened?" He looks at Jake, then at Daina. "What did you experience?"
Jake groans.
"Apparently. The Tomb of Horrors still rests with some of us more than others. Seeing certain things... Sends me back. Others of our group, experience it too. Words. Images. Just random things... Send us back... Back to the Horror. The dark. The death..."
Jake, I think you should handle the inquiries, Maki and Torem can back you up. Cinching up the ropes holding his clothes tight against his leg, he continues, I think me and Alex might do better sticking to the shadows. We can watch your back, and see if anyone is following us.
"All right then should we get going?"
Maki asks tired of standing still.
"Alright, Maki. The Piers are kinda rough, and some of the guys down there might see you and try and pick a fight. Be gentle. The guards won't."
Daina smiles, her warning a light one.
But her eyes narrow as Raven and Lissa move there horses alongside hers.
"Stay inconspicuous! I'll find you guys no worries."
Kicking her horse into the night, she gallops off with Raven and Lissa staggered alongside her.
Just before she rides off, Marros says Daina, just be careful. Those Wights are still out there. then he nods respectfully to the Guardswoman as they ride off.
She waves back at him.
Alex, shall we get started? Dismounting from Selka, he runs to the nearest alley and leaps up the walls,
Dice Roll: 1d20+24z
d20 Results: 3 (Total = 27)
Stealth (27)
hiding himself in the darkness on the rooftops. Following the group as they move down to the wharfs.

...The Piers, Thames City...

The Piers ARE rough.
They see no less than three fights, and what might have been attempted murder as they make their way along the stone extensions that reach into the water.
Here are the great ships.
Lights from across the river show the other side is just as alive.
Down to the docks, Marros finds making their way, without an issue, and nobody appears to be following them, on the ground, or the thieves highway.
After they pass another fight, Jake makes a horrified gasp.
"Why in the Nine Hells are we carrying an arm around!?!?!"
Finding a dark secluded corner and a knife, Jake removes the gold ring, and with a pen and parchment, sketches a rough copy of the tattoo, before tossing the arm into the shadows.
That done, Toresh offers a small prayer before they pick another bar at random.
A dirty looking place, it doesn't even have a door, but the raucous sounds, and the sailor crowd walking in and out makes it a good place to look.
"The Whipped Ale?" Toresh reads from the sign.
Jake nods, "Alright guys. I'll be the face, Harley taught me that, and Maki and Toresh, you guys are muscle."
The minotaur nods.
"So, not Good Guard, Evil Guard, Neutral Guard?"
"We don't have uniforms."
"We could g-"
Up atop a nearby building.
Marros sees them standing at the front, with the extra horses.
Alex has the rear...
" All right! Im ready! " he says excitedly while cracking his knuckles.
Toresh's brow furrows and he glares down at Jake.
"Why can't I be the face?"
"Because you're a scary zealot!"
"I'm considered very good looking among my people!"
"You're not among your people!"
"Of course, not! Have you Humans ever heard of bathing? Smells around here..."
"That's the fish!"
"Bull! There are no fish in sight!"
"Minotaurs say 'bull'?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Jake holds up his hands in a defense.
"Nothing! Nothing... Nothing..."
From atop the roof, Marros watches the minotaur clap Jake twice in the face with his left fist.
Jake, sporting a bloodied nose, stammers in rage.
He bellows, "I just go sucker punched... By a COW!"
Moving in quickly, he cracks the minotaur in the jaw, and follows with a kick to ribs.
Toresh, slams an elbow towards Jake's eye, but the warrior-bard is already lashing out with a kick, aiming for the throat.
Bringing his hoof up, Toresh only realizes too late he's been fooled as Jake smashes both his fists into the minotaurs gut.
Maki watches as Jake gets a face full of fist.
" Errr. Arent we supposed to be searching for clues right now?"
The thudding blows around Maki draws attention as Jake breaks the minotaur's nose.
Maki thinks for a second as he sees the people approach...
I could try breaking them off... or...
Then he turns around and boasts.
"Gentlemen Make your bets! It's the amazing Jeka "The Singing fist!" Agains Shoreth! The Ox of Terror! Minimum bets ten gold pieces!"
Sailors heading into the bar stop to watch as the bellowing minotaur tries a kick, only for Jake to punch his knee, and perform his own kick, striking Toresh in the throat.
Angered, the minotaur opens his mouth, but Jake punches that too.
"Kill him!"
There's a cheer as onlookers begin to gather.
"Twenty on the minotaur!"
Bellowing in fury, the minotaur grabs Jake by the hair, slamming his face into the dirt, before lifting Jake into the air, and smashing their heads together before the confused barbarian.
"I'll take that bet!"
Jake makes a feeble kick to the minotaurs face, only for Toresh to slap it away with a horn.
He slams Jake's face into the dirt rubbing it in.
Fist fulls of gold are thrust into Maki's hands.
The bets get higher.
"Come on, Bull-man! Snap him too!"
"Bob and get up fight!"
"Seventy gooooold!"
Jake brings up an elbow, over extends, at Toresh gets a grip on his neck.
"Oh daaaaaamn."
Hefting the bard-high over his shoulders, Toresh sends him flying, before roaring in fury!
"Look at all that blood!"
"Best fight today!"
A bloodied tooth flies through the air.
Jake groans in a crumbled heap as Toresh is welcomed by the dockside community, and taken in for drinks leaving.
Maki struggles to keep count of the gold in his hands as people pay up.
The warrior-bards fast punches and constant reversing had made him favorable in the early fight before Toresh started putting his strength to use.
Some sailors stand around Jake, helping him to his feet.
One of them, in bandana and eye-patch, with a grizzled, scarred face, curses around a pipe, asking him what he'd done to anger the minotaur.
Jake, shakes his head, confused.
He pulls out a bloody piece of parchment, "I was asking him for directions to the Paragon Pearl!"
The sailor, curses again and nods, taking the paper.
"The Pearl? Why, that's Payvin's ship! His whole crew deserted him a week, past now! Yes, that's right, his whole crew! I heard it first-hand from the pierwatch. Payvin, he likes his crew aboard the night 'afore castoff. Payvin hi'self was taking care of last minute cargo in the bazaar. They says when he got back to his boat, 'twas plumb empty! Can you believe it? 'Twas said the crewmen must have all thrown in together. Decided to leave off and find a new captain..."
The sailor shakes his head.
"Minotaur are moody folk, friend. Pick your fights more wisely."
Jake nods his head, unable to speak for his bruises.
Maki, finished his counting, finds himself to be holding onto almost twenty-five hundred gold pieces in coins and scrips.
As the sullen sailors walk away, leaving the bard alone with the barbarian, Jake straightens, giving Maki a baleful eye.
"You do know a third of that is mine, right?"
Grinning at the theatrics, Marros shakes his head. He knew a good tussle when he saw it. Quick thinking by the barbarian too.. Keeping his sense open, he follows them along, sticking to the shadows.
Alex manages to keep up with the monk, moving across the roof-tops of fish houses and taverns as they move east.
"Sure thing have an extra ten to pay the cleric." Maki says as he hands over a Third plus 10 of the winnings to Jake.
"Now we just gotta wait and see what he finds out in there " he finishes while watching the Bar's entrance.
"No, he's going around the back to meet Alex. If the crowd sees us, we could lose our gold."
" Got it. Let's roll "
Maki says offering Jake a shoulder as they start walking towards the back of the bar.
Gracious, Jake accepts the help.
"Waitasec, Maki."
He turns painfully.
"Oi! Where can I find this 'Payvin' fellow?"
The sailor stops, and looks back, "Lookin' for work then, eh? He's at the 'Master of the Pier' tavern!"
He points to the east, deeper in The Piers.
"He'll be the drunk!"
" Bet that doesn't narrow it down... "
Jake snorts, then groans at the blood that flies from his face.

...The Master of the Piers Tavern, Thames City...

They get easy directions to the Master of the Pier tavern.
A bloodied, yet grinning Toresh had reappeared with Alex and Marros, joining them in their search.
Nightime fishermen had pointed them to a tower at the end of one of the piers, popular with off-duty dockworkers and riverboat crewman.
The entrance at ground level opens into large, round room, filling one level of the tower. The semi-circular bar situated in the center of the room appears to be built upon a walled spiral staircase leading up to the higher levels. Day until night, the room is filled with carousing rivermen engaged in heavy drinking and smoking.
The barkeep, a halfling Tara, points them to Payvin, a man sitting at a small table pressed up next to a curved wall; he looks to be deep in his cups.
Tara, with a sad, gap-toothed smile, sighs, "Poor Payvin. Ever since his crew up and left him, he's done nothin but sit there at the table and brood. I can see how it might get to a man, havin' his crew desert, but if he don't sign on a new crew soon, he'll lose his ship."
Jake directs them to sit at tables, close enough to Payvin so they can all hear him, as he approaches.
He tells Toresh to wait outside.
The minotaur shakes a fist with a grin, but nods, going to stay with the horses.
Horse-thieves were hung on first attempt in Thames City, but with their horses being such fine ones, it might prove tempting enough.
Maki and Alex get a table opposite from Khamal and Marros, while Jake, with a glib tongue, takes a seat before Captain Payvin.
Payvin is a man in his mid fifties, going gray but still in good physical shape. However, he currently looks pale, haggard, and slightly drunk. His bloodshot eyes dart about nervously, and he jumps in fright when Jake waves hello to him.
With his new found wealth, Jake signal for a round for everyone around on him, to which there are the usual cheers and thanks.
A large, white parrot sits on his shoulder.
He also orders a particularly large tankard, plunking it down in front of Payvin with a grin.
Along the way, the minotaur had healed them of their wounds, making Jake his charming self again.
"Tell me what happened Payvin."
Jake's eyes are intense, but understanding.
"A lot of people lost something on that day..."
He takes the ring, and places it on the table.
The parrot squawks shaking its feathers at the bard, but Jake pays it no mind.
Payvin's eyes go cross-eyes, as tears fall.
His voice, is clipped and frightened, but he talks.
"That belonged to the second mate. My crew..."
He takes a drink, and Jake waits, letting the alcohol work.
"They're gone. Now, don't you go believin' what everyone else says, they they jumped ship for better pay. My crew, they was loyal. Especially, m' mate Henry. He been with me since th' Drought o' '43. He was right beside me when the dead walked seven years ago..."
Jake becomes a little bit pale, his hand like a vice on his own glass, untouched.
"...they din't leave on their own, no sir! They was taken. By some evil beast! That's right, some fiends got 'em or I'm no Captain! Tell you what I saw. You can judge for yourselves."
He wipes away wetness from his face, and continues.
"After I seen every man onto th' Paragon Pearl, had Henry draw up th' board. Order to let none offload, nor any to board 'til I returned. Walkin' away, could see a cold mist. Flowin' in from 'cross th' river, blanketin' th' water. Din't think much of it, then. River fog. It come on thick by th' time I finally finished up m' businness with th' Merchant's Guild representative. Stopped in here for a quick nip. Then headed back t' where th' Paragon Pearl was tied."
Jake taps the tankard, pushing it forward, and Dayvin drinks thankfully.
"When i got to th' pier's edge, th' mist was so thick couldn't hardly see m'hand in front of m' face. Called out to Henry to lower th' board. Silence. Called again. More silence. Figured th' boys was havin their fun with me. And I wasn't liking it too much. Thought I'd show 'em. Could just make out th' lantern at the' stern. So just took a runnin' jump! Made it across, yes Sir, I did. Wish now I'd fallen straight into th' drink."
He swallows.
"Started lookin' 'round. Yellin' out, 'Henry! Where you be, man? Fun's fun, but we's got th' manifest to go over!' Silence. Got a little spoooked when found no one a'tall on th' upper deck. No one in th' big hold below, neither. Then I just got mad. I was alone; m'crew had jumped ship. So I goes back up on deck. Began rantin' at th' top o' my lungs."
Dayvin shakes his head, wishing to stop, but Jake pokes at the ring again.
The bard leans forward, "People could be hurt, Dayvin. Captain, Dayvin. Do right by them, Captain..."
"That's when I thought I seen it. Movement above. That's when I seen it. In th' misty riggin' above me there was eyes. Hangin' in the air. Eyes like twin pits to th' fiery depths o' th' Abyss! And them eyes, they had a voice. Like two tombstones rubbin' together. Said... Said..."
Jake smacks the table, "What did it say, Captain! Tell me!"
"I-I can't... It was too terrible! Terrible!"
"I need to know, Captain. Tell me! Please..."
Payvin shakes his head, "Patrick, do it, do th' voice..."
"I don' wanna do th' voice, Cap'n!" the parrot screeches.
Payvin looks at Jake, "...I take th' bird wherever I go. He was there. C'mon, Patrick, do th' voice!"
'"'Do you like your sweet end, mortal flesh? We find your blood sweet, but the Devourer will consume your soul itself!'"
Payvin nods, almost hitting his head on the table, "Jus' li' tha'! Spo' on Pa'rick! Fear hit me then, hard. Threw m'self off the ship into th' water. I tell you, I never been so scared in all m' born days! Heard laughin' as I thrashed for breath in th' icy water, lost in that cursed mist."
"What happened next..."
"Th'n, th'n... Th' mist saaaaaaank..."
He claps his hands together with a smack.
"Jus' sank... And I saw it... Looking down at me... Dead and grey, in black, cursed things... And she laughed at me... Looked at me down in th' water, and th'n the mist snapp'd up shut, and I was alone..."

The Vampire...

He shakes his head.
"How long ago, Payvin?
"Three weeks... Swore right then and there-if I lived, never set foot on a ship again. So here I am."
His head strikes the table with a thud, and Patrick the parrot squawks, flying up higher into the bar.
Jake, grimacing, adjusts the man's head, so he doesn't choke on his own vomit, and places the gold ring in the man's pocket.
"Try to avoid the nightmare's Captain."
Jake looks at them.
"What now?"
The Wight Lord I saw was a male. So that means... looking straight at Jake, We're dealing with at least two powerful Undead. Looking down into his tankard, Marros let's his mind turn over the details.
"Yes... But if your count is right... At least nine... the seven Wights. The Wight Lord. And this vampire. And the Parrot used plural, so unless that's a sign of self importance..."
From her statement, this "woman" might be a vampire. A powerful one from the evidence. But I don't know about this Devourer, do you? And how does this fit into the attack on the wedding?
Jake shakes his head, "'Devourer', doesn't ring a bell... Sounds like a typical 'doom' name, you know? 'Jake the Devourer'? And vampires aren't usually grey..."
Waving down the barmaid, Marros asks for paper and a pencil. He then sketches out a quick timeline, keeping his voice low.
So, three weeks ago, a woman kidnaps a ships crew, and turns them into Wights, before burying them near the site of a bar named "The Call" which hasn't existed for years. Then three days ago, Dragonborn attack Daina's wedding, killing the groom, but sparing her, aiming her like an arrow from a bow. The only solid lead from that attack sends us here, to The Call. Where the Wights then attack soon after we arrive. These attacks must be connected, but how? Why? What are we being led towards?
Maki takes a drink from his own tankard and rocks the chair back while thinking.
An Undead Vampiress... Naaah
Daina growls, pulls a chair next to them, and takes a seat, sitting backwards.
She pushes hair from her eyes, and glares at Payvin.
"Someone, very badly wants me to be here... We go to the next clue, 'Devourer'.""
" Where are we supposed to find him? At a buffet? "
Daina points a finger at Maki, "Hey! I don't need jokes from you right now. If you can't hold it, don't drink it."
She turns back to Marros, and examines his scrawlings.
"Tomorrow. We'll find this sage my dad suggested."
"I doubt it. 'Devourer' probably has a symbolic meaning, like a flesh eating undead, blood drinking vampires, or just some undead who can suck the life force out of you. Problem is, as you said, where to find it. The ship might be a good place to start. We could check the local graveyard, the sewers, and abandoned buildings. Vampires tend to like manors, towers and other fancy places." Alex pauses and looks around. "Any thoughts on this?"
"If it has symbolic meaning, Fruhand Droverson will aid us in finding it, and direct us toward what good sites to start."
Jake nods, "Daina's right. We can't just go searching in crypts for a name, we need direction. Though checking out the boat good be a good idea if we can find it."
Very well. But I agree. For now, we should call it a night. Did you find more secure lodging?
"When HAVE you needed a joke from me?" Maki retorts while putting his tankard back on the table and setting his chair straight.
She rolls her eyes.
"The point is... This thing ... Might just want us to find him... Really the wights just came and went. They didn't have enough force to kill us ... it's like someone is constantly poking our heads with a stick and going " Come on come on come and get me if you can!" "
Blinking at the Barbarian's words, Marros' mind whirls for a second. Almost like...someone calling you. The Call...the Dragonborn transcript said, they'd been sent to deliver the Call. Oh...someone is definitely playing games.
"So, we go with the stick. They'll have to leave a carrot eventually..."
Jake shakes his head.
"No... This... isn't planned. We've left any path anyone could have had for us. Sending Daina to the Call was one thing. But there was no guarantee we'd stay at Khale's Place. No guarantee we'd find some tattoo on some sailor's arm. No guarantee we'd find this Captain, and he'd tell us his story... No stick. We're closing in, that's what's happening."
Perhaps. And yet, all of the Wights were of a single crew with a distinct mark, of which the Captain had deliberately been left alive. There may be no stick, and no carrot, but the horse is still in the harness. We don't have answers yet, and your course of action is a good one, but my wisdom says we should proceed with our eyes and minds open.
Daina shrugs, "Is there any other? The threads of the 'plot' are too thinly tied, monk... If anyone is sending a 'Call' then for what? Why me? Why on such tenuous information does this conspiracy rest?"
"He might be right. Someone could have planned this. Someone with scrying spells could have known where to find us and send the wights. They were weak enough for us to handle, but in enough numbers to call our attention. They could have targetted Payvin's crew because they knew he would spend his time drinking here long enough for us to catch up with him and find out his story. The tattoos also made it easy for us to find him. It is a longshot, but it also is a possibility. Someone with enough resources could have pulled it off. We don't know the why, though. Do you know a mage or group of powerful mages that may have something against you?"
"Carrot stick horse whatever . As much as it bother's me right now our only choices are following the clues... Or not following the clues,risk getting attacked again until whoever is behind this get's our attention and the end result is we are gonna end up following the clues anyway . Nothing left but brace ourselves for the fall" Maki finishes as he calls the barmaid to ask for another drink.
Throwing his arms wide Marros smiles and says I don't know who, or why or really even what. All that I know is that these events seem to follow one another, as a small pebble falling, first strikes a larger one, then still larger, until the boulders are crashing down all around you. Pushing his chair back, the monk lithely stands. Hopefully your friend will help tie the strings together. For now, we should retire. Were you able to find us more hospitable lodgings?
Daina nods, "A house. Fully furnished. With servants and guards, stables and everything."
Blinking at the response, Marros eyes widen. After catching himself, he gives a slight bow. Lead on. And remind me to ask you about picking up a few odds and ends tomorrow...
" Awesome... Does it come with drinks too? If not i'll just order a Barrel "to go" "
"I think... You've had enough."
Daina smiles.
"The Thieve's Guild in Thames City is providing the security and service. Try not to tell them too much."
"A contact of yours?" Alex asks Daina.
"Family. My family used to be part of a large Guild. We still have ties."
She holds up the ring.
"With this... I can be set, anywhere."
"And what, pray tell, are you going to do with the keg? I'm not draging your drunk behind anywhere. And that's assuming you don't drown yourself or get poisoned."
" Good because i didn't ask you to! I'll only drink it when we get to the lodging's ... You can even have some too if you want.This is the only way i get any sleep this day's anyway... " Maki says as he buys a barrel and carry's it over his shoulder.

The house is squat, centered in a district of Thames City filled with fine homes for the wealthy.
'Guards', really thieves assigned as muscle, circle the walled enclosure with large, black crossbows and chainmail under plainclothes.
Some wear masks.
Marros notices a few squatting on the roof, watching the sky and alleys in every direction.
The house itself, is divided in three wings, with three levels.
Dining and eating areas are on the first floor, and their rogue guardians have taken one side to themselves, leaving the upper interior for them, with each of the heroes getting a room.
Sharing a room, Maki and Alex bunk in a room on the north-east side, while Khamal and Marros get the south-east.
Toresh, needing two beds to fit his bulk, gets the room nearest to Alex and Maki's, while Raven and Lissa are bunking near Khamal and Marros.
Jake excuses himself, taking his money and belongings into another room and closing the door.
Daina appears to have no intention of sleeping, chatting with the off-duty guardians in Thieves Cant.

Jake, let's out a deep, rattling breath as he touches his forehead to the floor of his room, careful not to let any sweat drip on to the blue cloth laid out before him.
The heat of the room, brought on by the odd weather and lit candles and incense scattered about the room.
Lifting his eyes, Jake remembers the fear that had brought him to his knees, just hours before.
The Wights had brought him back to the Tomb of Horrors.
The Wars had done that also.
But the Wars had also given him something to.
Jake gazes at the pair of curved swords lying on the blue cloth before him.
Faces drift across the blades, the larger one tinged red, with crimson bindings, and the shorter, green with emerald coloring on the hilt.
"Sakanoue," Jake breathes.
"I must speak with you."
Vapors appear to rise from the twin swords, coalescing into a grim-faced man.
Jake struggles to not to look away from the soldier's horrific appearance.
"Sakanoue, I know, you asked me to return your blades, to your daughter..."
The soldier nods, smiling.
"But I can't. Not now. I'm sor-"
The ghost holds up a hand, stripped of flesh, awash with the etherealness of the long dead.
"I understand, Smith-san..."
"What? But how?"
"My brothers and I, within the blades, are somewhat aware of the world, loosely bound within its tortured steel..."
Gritting his teeth against the fear, Jake moves to a kneeling position, wiping sweat from his brow.
"When my brothers and I fell, untold years ago... We found out our Masters and liege-Lord had been betrayed, and our families, made victims of prejudice and ignorance. Fighting to the end, our souls became bound to these blades beneath me, Smith-san..."
"And I found them in Barren Woods..."
"Swearing, to take them from bloodshed, and bring them to my child, so even in death, she can know honor..."
"And I will, but..."
"A Dark Tide rises..."
"Different, stronger than ones before, Smith-san..."
"I-I need the swords... I need their strength..."
"...it whispers, speaks, shifts, and plots... It tells us things.."
"...I will wield them with honor. I will use them to ensure a thousand years of peace."
"We know, Smith-san. I know."
Sakanoue smiles again.
"If you take up the sword, you walk the warrior's path. The swords will become your soul, your honor..."
"To stop Him... I will do what I must..."
"Smith-san, can you understand that moral decisions do not come in shades of gray? That the line between right and wrong is as fine as the blades you seek to wield?"
"I can."
"Can you replace fear, with caution and respect for all life?"
"I can."
"Will you use these swords, blades of tortured steel, to aid others, as is your responsibility, at every opportunity, and actively create the opportunities to do so when needed?"
"I will."
"Are you an animal? Or a warrior, who walks a path of honor, strength, compassion and duty?"
"I am a no animal. I am a man, of peace."
"Do you know of the Opened Way? Are you sure of your own judgement? Is your nature one with your mind?"
"Three times... Yes."
"Is your word, you bond, as real as the blade you seek to hold. Are promises worthless to one who's actions and words are one and the same?
"It is, and they are."
"Then stand, and let these blades rise, and make known your loyalty to them, your actions and all who live under the gaze of your eye and beyond the reaches of your ears..."
In a swift motion, Jake becomes upright, holding out his hand as the blades, float into his grasp.
Ghost and man, bow to one another.
Jake looks into the ghost's eyes as he buckles the swords to his side.
"...my daughter has a thousand years to wait. This Dark Tide waits for no man. Go with honor."
Jake lowers his head.
"Do not call upon me until this darkness has receded. It could be dangerous, even for you, Smith-san."
The warrior-bard looks up, but Sakanoue is gone, the candles, snuffed out, and frost covers the the cloth on the floor where he'd been.

Alex and Maki's room, looks to the north and west.
Open windows invite any welcome breeze to cool it down but none come.
Grey clouds still obscure the night sky, stars and whatever moon is out tonight.
Maki's barrel, a fine brew, aged to perfection before he was born sits by his bed.
A kitchen had been stocked with tankards, and a servant, sworn not to speak of whatever she saw within the house, had made a nighttime meal of bread and beef.
Nothing fancy, but warm and tasty.
In the room adjacent to theirs...

...Khamal and Marros are searching for answers.
After closing the door to their room, Marros drops his pack on the floor with a sigh. Eyeing the sumptious bed, he walks over to a wooden stool, and sits on it, balancing crosslegged. His eyes follow the movements of his new companion. Druids...he had incredible respect for the wisdom of the students of nature, and this one seemed to have great power as well. But he had been oddly distracted...
Khamal, would you speak with me awhile? We find ourselves in strange times, and among strange people. I would know more about you.
Beads of sweat drip down both men's brows, despite the open windows.
This was a good winter.
Spring would be coming early.
Khamal entered the room with the monk, his right hand massaging his neck. It had been a long day, and he had been preoccupied with a lot of things on his mind, which is why he was so silent throughout most of the day.
"Of course, Marros," he replies, "What would you like to know?"
I have known many Druids in my time, many as friends. I have a great respect for their wisdom and power. Today I saw you call the wind, as if it were your own breath, and use it with delicate skill. wiping the sweat from his brow, he continues.
And yet, at the sight of one fallen companion, all of that skill, that power, vanished. The Wights could have killed us, had we not reacted swiftly. I wish to know why. Why was your focus shattered so?
Khamal, his back towards the monk, closes his eyes.
"I lost a loved one a while ago, a woman that I deeply cared for."
He turns to the window and looks out out of it.
"Perhaps... I still cannot bear to see another person fall when I am in a position to help them."
He goes quiet.
The words hit him softly, bringing images of his wife and son to his mind, but gently.
His meditations and forge work had brought him peace. Peace and perspective, as it always did.
I too know the pain and madness of loss. My wife, and my son. And so, so many others. I can help you bear your pain, if you would share it.
Silence falls softly, as Marros waits, patiently for the man's reply.
He turns his head slightly, but still doesn't look at the monk. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said, his deep voice giving weight to what he said. A son... a child. The monk was a father, and knew of the joy. He felt comfortable telling him now.
"My companion, a half-orc just like myself, was killed a year ago by a group of dragons when we hid ourselves from the rest of the world. My entire ancestry has fought dragons all of our lives, yet her family lived peacefully, not wanting to antagonize anyone. Personally, she wanted nothing to do with fighting, she only wanted to live alone with me once we fell in love. Normally I would never ignore my duty to fight dragons, but she... was special to me. She needed to be protected."
"I hastily agreed."
"So we then retreated into the Pardic forest at the bottom ridge of the Frozen Wastes, where we made a life for ourselves, isolated from the rest of the world. There I built our home, a small cabin hidden within the snowy landscape that we would raise our family. We lived in bliss, just the two of us."
"Over the years, we tried for children, but she had problems with her that would make that impossible. She grieved over this for many years, and I was always there to comfort her, to be there for her when she needed me."
"It was... what, about eleven years that we were together. Yes, eleven. Anyways, over the years I had slowly accepted her infertility, yet I did yearn for a child. I prayed for her. My healing magic could not cure her no matter what spell I used. I soon became resigned about the matter, still happy and loving my life with her, but there was a small fraction of sadness within me that I hid from her. I realized of course that she must harbor the same feeling of sadness, probably an even greater percentage, yet I never spoke to her about it. I was... afraid to. I could slay a frost giant in two blows, morph my shape into the form of elemental air, and even cause the sky around me to turn to a storm of fire, yet it was the matters of the heart that terrified me the most. I opened up to her always, and we were both open books with each other, completely naked, except for that subject. We both closed up when the thought lingered in our minds."
"It was our eleventh year together, and I remember noticing that she seemed to come up with an illness that caused her to vomit and cause her grief with her body. Slightly panicking at the thought of her being hurt, the next day I had asked her what was wrong. Did she eat something poisonous, or perhaps contracted some bizarre disease? I stood there, terrified, ready to heal her with everything I had prepared, but she shook her head in response."
"Maralen," he said, finally giving her name, "She just smiled while she shook her head. She said she wasn't sick, but the opposite. She was pregnant." The druid shook his head. His face was grim, but his eyes were calm and kind.
"I had no reaction at frst, and she simply laughed, both smiling and nodding at my reaction. She had the most genuine and pristine face of happiness, despite the tears forming in her eyes. She kept repeating it, she was pregnant, she was pregnant, and it was when she said that were were having a baby that I broke down with her. We both broke down and showed our true selves, not hiding anything from each other. We were together. We were once again a whole on that day."
"It would be seven months later that our lives would change. During that time period, it was... the happiest point in our lives. We we're like teenagers, stealing glances and, well, let's just say that we had a renewed interest in each other. He gives a small chuckle. But it was seven months later, and I had this odd feeling that something was different, not with her, but it was something else. There was something different about the air, it smelt... odd, like ash. It was a troublesome omen, yet it was hard for me to focus on this odd omen as Maralen was so endearing, so distracting, I had spent more time with her and less outside doing my usual routine of scouting and setting traps. Some days I spent the entire time indoors with her, just the two of us together. It was the happiest point of my life, truly."
Kneeling down, Khamal moved himself to sit on the floor with his back against the wall. "And then, the dragons attacked."
He sighed.
"It was dawn, and the sun had just risen, throwing it's bright ways through our bedroom window and across our bed. I awoke first, but instead of going outside for my usual routine of scouting, I was... transfixed with the sight of her laying there in bed with her belly sticking out from under her shirt. The sun rays went over the belly, and as I touched it, it had felt so warm and soft, so powerful to me. This is life, I had thought."
"She soon awoke to the sight, and she smiled as always, chuckling to herself at the odd moment that I had no words. I couldn't help but chuckle back, as since the pregnancy I had been experiencing a myriad of emotions and simultaneously been unable to express them all. We just sat there, both chuckling at each other and staring int each other's eyes."
"The red came first, and landed from above by landing on our roof, casing the entire place to shake. I got up immediately and walked to the door of our bedroom, flinging it open. As I did, I saw the remainder of the cabin unscathed, but there was a roar above and a moment later a cloud of fire erupted from the fireplace," he shook his head, "The red channeled his fire breath down the chimney to ignite the inside. Or course, I did not know that this was a dragon attack, not until it had called out my name later, after the attack. It knew me, and it wanted me dead."
Turning his gaze to the night sky outside, he pursed his lips. "It seems that I've drawn this out for too long. He shook his head. There is more, but I wish not to explain it. In the end, I could not save her. I was in a position to protect her and I left my post. I made a mistake in leaving her and she payed the price for it."
He took a deep breath, and exhaled. "What about you, Marros? Tell me about yourself."

Insert Marros' reply here.

"I thank you, Marros, for telling me that. It seems we two are not much that different after all." He looks around slowly, then back at the monk. "And I would usually retire for the night, but something is... bothering me. Eduardo mentioned Half Moons Row before, and with all of these events, I'm even tempted to scry the tomb, as I'm naturally curious of what we would be up against. I want to, but Eduardo's description of the place was very graphic when I spoke with him last. Still, I intend to scry tonight and look around Half Moons Row, and I was hoping if you wouldn't mind me doing it here, as I feel that inside would suit me better for tonight."
He rummages through his sack and pulls out a wide yet warped piece of wood which was huge, bigger than the druid's chest, and placed it on the floor. Holding his hand over the large bowl, he spoke a few unintelligible words and water gushed from his hand and fell into the bowl, filling it.
"If you want, you can watch along with me. You are in this fight as well, so there's no harm in showing you."
Khamal nods at the monk. "Excellent. I will be starting soon" He gathered the relevant material components, and then began.
A ripple black of scales flashes across Khamal's eyes, and Marros watches the druid flinch in terror at some inscrutable sight.
Khamal stiffens, held by invisible bonds of magic, that keeps his face constricted in horror, unable to move.
His face becomes the image of revulsion, twisting in agony at whatever it is he sees, until finally, the druid's soulfire dastana sparks and light on his arms.
As the foul magic pours out, cutting into the Druid, Marros swiftly lashes out, tipping the bowl over, spilling the scrying pool to the floor. Then, he rushes to his pack, pulling a long hooked staff from within, The Circle is UNBROKEN!! he cries. Attaching the hook to his cloak, he raises it high, and before their eyes, it transforms into a bright golden blazon, wiping the fear and paralysis from Khamal.
The terrified look fades from Khamal's face, but he remains rigid and sickened.
Walking over and laying a hand on his shoulder, Marros channels a trickle of life essence into the man, purifying him. Are you okay my friend? What was that thing?
Dammit. Hold on Khamal. Gripping the druid tightly, he closes his eyes and steps. Reappearing across the mansion in the room of the cleric. Toresh, Khamal has been attacked and paralyzed. Can you help him?
Shaking the sleeping minotaur, Marros speaks commandingly, Toresh! Death calls! Only Bane can drive it back!
The minotaur gives a baleful glare.
"Blasphemy is a less than amusing trait in a non-believer, monk..."
The cleric lifts himself from the pile of mats that serve as his resting place, and covers himself as he reaches places the black guantlet that hangs on a chain from his neck on his arm.
"What's wrong?"
I mean no blasphemy, minotaur. Can your God not conquer death? The druid is cursed and cannot move. Help him.
Toresh stands, alert.
"What's wrong? I would need to perform my meditations before I could wield Bane's blessings in battle."
He looks at the stiff and unmoving druid, with a worried expression.
He was struck with some foul magic. Raw terror, sickness of the body, these I have dealt with. His protective bracers sparked, and he is still unmoving, paralyzed. I know not the source. Do you not have your prior preparations? Can you do nothing?
Toresh leaps to his belongings, searching among his prayer books.
"I did not prepare to lift curses; only to give them..."
He pushes the door open, "Keep him quiet. We will keep watch on him, and wait."
He looks up and down the hall, before closing the door.

...the Black Lodge...

Laurel peers at the tablet Etienne had presented her with a proud sniff.
Smooth, reddish glass with burn marks.
She turns it upside down, then right up again.
Or was it actually, upside-
"What is it?"
Etienne adjusts her glasses.
"Can't you read it?"
"My elemental languages have never been that good, Etienne."
The swinging lantern hanging above their heads casts stark shadows across scowl.
Etienne sticks out his tongue.
"C'mon! I know you can..."
"Its a list. About fire. Blackfire."
Etienne laughs.
He takes her hand, and moves it, tracing across the 'burns'.
"It's a map."
"A map to where?"
"An 'ebon flame'?"
"What's that? Who knows?"
Laurel shakes her head, "You're crazy! Translating a map to nowhere with nothing to find!"
Etienne grins, "We can let Eduardo be the judge of that!"
Laurel nods, "We'll send the Sending tomorrow."
He nods, "Tomorrow."

...Skull City...

Tanzine drops to all fours, pressing her veiled forehead to the ground to make her report.
"Boss Chief, in the past thirt-six hours of my shift, the Elders have detected twelve attempts to scry on the Tomb and the Village locations, and four attempts to enter."
"No successful breaches were made?"
"No. All were detained, captured and processed."
"And they scrying?"
"Half of the scrying cases weren't unusual, and the defenses did their work, killing the caster and all present, and souls were captured."
"And the others?"
"Three evaded the fear effects, but none of those managed to escape the death effects. They were tracked down."
Shudu waits.
"The others succame to the fear... But proved to be protected from the death effects."
His lips purse slightly, "Soulfire or deathwards..."
"Yes. And better. One proved to be one of the Called Ones... And another, appears to be unrelated."
"And the last?"
"A druid in the company of another of the Called Ones."
"It appears, they've split up... We managed to find the third caster, and found them to be unconnected in anyway, and collected their soulfire..."
"But they've split up... Why?"
"We don't know yet... But it appears that the casters; the Illusionist, the Priest and the Master have formed one group on the Mainland, while the Barbarian, the Thief, and the Warrior-bard have taken to the Call..."
"They don't appear to be in the realms of 'The Call' any longer..."
Shudu frowns, and leans back in on the simple rugs that form his seat.
A Black Veil produces a platter of fruits, and he takes grapes, crunching them between his teeth in thought.
"We may have overextended. No sight of the Sorceress, the Wizard, the Prodigy or the Assassin?"
"No, Boss Chief. Black Veil squads are tracking them both now."
"Any ideas into what's happened?"
"The Casters, Designated 'Blood Call', experienced a Miasma Encounter, but as per your orders, no contact was made, and we remain undetected."
"And the..."
"'Woad Call' appears to have encountered an undead attack..."
"That was not called for..."
"The Dark Tide doesn't appear to wish to cooperate with us..."
"Who was performing the scrying in 'Woad Call'?"
"They're joined by a war-priest and a druid, as well as a guard of thieves and a monk...The Black Veils present have noted their presence and will strategize accordingly."
"See that they maintain Stealth and Anonymity."
"Yes, Boss Chief."
"This... Is not ideal... It was not foreseen."
Shudu stands, walking a circuit around the interior of his tent.
"Prepare the Prophet for deployment..."
"Yes, Boss Chief."
"You are dismissed, Black Veil."
She lifts herself from the floor, and turns to leave, but stops at the tent flap.
She doesn't turn around.
"Father, should I report this to the Lords..."
"No, Tanzine. I will inform them. We may have to adjust our plans..."
"Yes, Father."
She walks out into the night, leaving Shudu alone in his tent, thinking.
"This is Eduardo's doing..." he growls to the shadows.

When the spell wears off, Khamal jerks for a moment, then looks up at Marros and the minotaur. "Well, that was unexpected."
Toresh snarls, grabbing Khamal around the neck and lifting the druid's face to his own.
His voice, harsh, is still a hushes whisper.
"Are you mad? What have you done to yourself?"
He gives the half-orc a shake.
"And do not lie to me!"
Toresh freezes, listening to see if anyone could hear them.
Then shakes Khamal again.
"Ahh..." Khamal croaks now, his voice bruised and weary. "Please put me down, Toresh, my head feels like it's stuck in a tar pit."
Toresh releases him, dropping Khamal to the floor.
The druid slumps onto the floor, resting on his elbows and ass. He quickly pushes himself up into a sitting position as he rests against Toresh's bed, looking up at the two of them. "I guess this means that the place is guarded. This isn't good. We set off a trap, and no doubtingly alerted the person who crafted it."
Before the minotaur could interject, Khamal holds a hand up as he pushes up to sit on the bed. Placing both hands on his knees, he leaned forward and continued. "I scryed on Half Moons Row just now, as per Eduardo's suggestion. I didn't know that it was guarded; I couldn't have known. Marros objected, but I persisted, and as a result my body was paralyzed from the incident."
Toresh lifts his fists in frustration.
"Duplicitous fool!"
The minotaur shakes his head.
"Daina suspects you as a pawn of 'the Master' enough as it is! Why in any realm of reas-"
He halts, and gasps.
He shakes his head. "We must tell Daina and the others. No, I must tell her." Slamming a clenched fist against his knee, he curses in druidic. "I may have jeopardized this mission."
All because I was curious.
"No! You must not tell her!"
Toresh glares at them both, almost as if he holds Marros partly responsible.
"We're not here to follow the reckless fancies of a self-proclaimed Master of the dead or idle curiosities! We're to help Daina. You've survived this encounter with little harm, and you can thank your trees for that. Do not test your luck by proving to Daina you're more an idiot than you've already shown."
The minotaur snorts.
"Keep your eyes forward and your mouth shut until Daina mentions scrying."
Relieved at the Druids return to health, Marros lets out a sigh, slumping against the wall of the room, banner still seeming to gently flow in his hand. It's okay. We will tell the others tomorrow, and we will tell them together. We risked, perhaps foolishly, but we now know more than we did. Whatever that Tomb was..it has become something more...something dread. It has clearly engulfed the town, and has such power as I have never seen.
Toresh stifles a roar.
"Enough monk! If this Tomb is your concern, go deal with it yourself, and take this druid with you! Did you see the Tomb itself? Perhaps the town has taken in a wizard who seeks to defend himself! If you wish to persue conspiracies without proof, go find 'the Master' and his friends who lied to Daina. The same way you-"
He points a large finger at Khamal.
"-have. She's been planning on seeing a wizard to scry all along, and you did it behind her back when you could have done it at any time!"
Laying a hand on Khamal's shoulder, Marros examines the man. You have jeopardized nothing. If Eduardo was planning on doing something similar, than the power of that place will know of our coming regardless. We do what we must. Come, let's get you back to bed. Judging from the past few days, tomorrow promises to be very interesting.
Toresh shakes his head.
"More madness! "...whatever that Tomb was..it has become something more..." and then "...you have jeopardized nothing...". First danger, then none!"
He pounds his fist into his hand.
"Enough! Daina didn't take on either of you for your ability to investigate. Stop 'thinking'. Stop 'planning'. Stop letting yourself be maniplated by the frenzied ramblings of men who would never have trusted either of you in the first place!"
Face calm, voice steady and strong, Marros cuts through the braying of the Minotaur.
Is your God so young that he has only peons for servants? Simple soldiers who wait obediently for orders? Stop thinking? Stop planning? Are you mad? We are not children. We are not Undead. We are not tools to be used only as the artisan wishes. I swore Daina to lend her my aid, and by the Gods that is what we shall do. She is gripped by fear, Cleric! Fear changes people. Makes them wary yes, but also makes them foolish at times. She thrusts away any mention of her past, sending away powerful allies at the time she needs them most, avoiding any mention of this place. And by the Gods, we will not sit idly by and follow her blindly like children. That is not wisdom, cleric, it is foolishness. It is the way of the mindless foe we faced today. Remember that.
Toresh listens to Marros contemplatively.
Then gestures to the door.
"Then leave monk. Daina will deal with this place when she wishes, not when you deem fit. If it is your concern, go deal with it, and take your druid with you. Go find the powerful allies who couldn't finish the job and help them, and don't jeopardize her priorities."
Toresh...we help ensure they are the correct ones, and that she is successful. We now know more than we did before. We know this place, this Tomb, is not to be trifled with and better left alone for now. That is the wisdom we gained, and though it almost came dearly, it had great value. In War, knowledge can be stronger than even the mightiest arm.
The minotaur glowers at him, his fists made into tight balls.
"You know nothing of that place. You don't know her.You don't know what that place has done to her. Again. If the Tomb of Horrors is your concern, get OUT. GO find the Master, and leave Daina alone."
Toresh points a large finger in Marros face.
"You know nothing. You're following the words and ramblings of a man you just met, jeopardizing the efforts of another woman you just met based on your personal choices of what you believe is the right thing to do! Daina and those who are truly with her, are not investigating the Tomb until we're done with out present business. Now..."
He folds his arms across his chest and stretches himself to his full height.
"Are you with us? Or are you the stooge of the so-called 'Master of Death'?"
Toresh snorts.
"Be honorable monk. If you're going to make decisions, and investigate this Tomb, be open about it. Do it in the light, so Daina can decide whether to keep you or send you back to the Master where you belong. Stop skulking about like a thief in the night. We already have plenty of those."
Shaking his head, Marros realizes it's hopeless.
You fool. You have heard not a single word I've said. Of course I know nothing of that place. Daina has told us nothing but scraps. Why else would we be forced to scry on our own? I swore to aid Daina in her time of need, and that is what I shall do. But I choose the nature of that aid. You claim we follow this Master of Death, over, and over, and over again. Bleating with no sense, no reason. Why would I be a pawn of someone I've never known? Never spoken with before or after that day? You leap at flimsier shadows than we. You see a single spell and call it skulking, manipulation, and betrayal. You know nothing of honor, of tactics, or me. I weep for your God.
"Why do you insist you need to know more than she wishes to tell us? You pledge to help her. Then help her. Stop defying her, and trust her reasoning. Again monk, either be here for Daina and follow her wishes, or tell her what you and your friend have done, and face the consequences of your duplicity."
Toresh snorts again.
"Daina knows more about this place than either of us. The druid included."
He points at Khamal.
"But if you need to know so much, then leave. Daina has no interest in it, and is unconcerned. And until she, or Jake, or this barbarian fellow choose otherwise, neither should you. Now, choose. Are you with us, to find who murdered her husband and why, following the present, real information at hand? Or do you wish to risk her wrath and ire? I will leave it to you."
Toresh casts a baleful glare at them both.
"Keep. Your. Mouths. Shut."
He points to the door.
"And get out of my sight. If anyone will tell Daina, it will be me, to convince her you're somewhat useful and to ensure she doesn't but out bounties on your heads!"
Marros examination yields no lasting effects on the druid, but he realizes they might be in an immediate danger from an angry minotaur.
Khamal, who had been silent in this heated argument, now speaks as it is winding down. "I will leave you to your slumber, Toresh. But before I go, I must ask, how do you know Diana?"
"We've known one another since we were six..."
The minotaur rubs his chin thoughtfully.
"She tried to steal my lunch, and I tried to gore her."
He chuckles.
"We became friends, and I did some work with her chasing down dragons, as muscle, before I found Bane."
"I see." He nods his head thoughtfully, and turns from the minotaur. "I apologize for... everything, and will leave you now."
"Goodnight, servant of Bane."
"Good night."
He slams the door shut behind them.
"Must be the human in them driving them nuts..."
Settling back on his mats, he tries to sleep.
As he walks to his door, the druid rubs his neck. Morinfen. he asks his familiar.
Your nightly report, please. What has happened today, and also tell me of your current situation, as well as the condition of ones that surround you, such as Eduardo and Prescott. I take it you are okay, old friend?
As he walks to his door, the druid rubs his neck. "Marros, I must leave for a few minutes. I just want you to know that I apologize for roping you into this." He hesitates for a moment, drawing his hand back from his neck. "Please do not follow me."
Mind troubled, Marros returns to his room. Stowing his bannerstaff back into his pack, he reattaches the still flowing fabric to his shoulders, feeling the magical warmth flowing through him. Collecting a small candle from one corner of the room, he extinguishes all other lights, and sits lotus style in the middle of the floor.
Staring deep into the single flame, he focuses his mind, expanding his senses to encompass all the world around him. The soft caress of the air, the warmth of the flame, the turning of the world, he accepts all within himself, as he recenters. Cleansing himself of pride, and anger, and wrath.
Khamal passes the barbarian, passed out in a hallway, arms wrapped around a barrel.
Stepping over him, he finds Daina, among her Guild allies, talking animatedly in the coded-language of the Thief.
A half-orc fellow, in studded armor, and a red mohawk is telling a particularly complex tale, leaving everyone listening with intense awe.
It makes little sense to the druid, but he can see Daina, resting in a seat, her eyes closed for the moment.
"Daina," he says, nodding to the group, then looks back at her, "May I have a word with you in private?"
She leaps to her feet, and takes Khamal to a landing overlooking the stairways leading to the upper floors.
"What is it?"
Khamal hesitates in telling her, and opens his mouth as he looks at her. She's happy at this moment, and the memories of the tomb and this mission are, for her, currently forgotten or pushed away. Should he bring this betraying information to her, to make her miserable and angry once again? He didn't know that right now.
"I'm sorry to ask you this while you are so enthused at the moment," he says, clearly remorseful, "But I must ask you about the Tomb." He lets it sink in. "When was the last time you saw it?"
"Must you?"
He nods.
She becomes noticeably stiff.
"Seven years."
"And do you know what Half Moons Row has to do with the Tomb?"
She leans against the railing.
"Its the nearest town. Now I have a question I must ask you. Where's your raven?"
"The group was separated, and I could not allow us to part ways without some link between the two."
A pause. "Morinfen is with Eduardo and company."
She nods, not looking at him.
"You decided you could not allow our 'group' to part ways..."
She examines her hands, focusing on the nails.
"But you didn't send your bird with Harley... You didn't send it with the guardswomen I've dispatched across the Mainland. You didn't send the raven to the ones trailing that dragon-blooded sorceror or my friend, Welby..."
She takes a breath.
"Why him, and not them... Are they not important to this 'group', you speak of?"
"The others were either dispatched by your orders or left on their own accord. You banished Eduardo and company for their negligent actions, which I do not dispute, but they still offered their help to you and were rebuked and ordered off the premises." He sighs. "I sent Morinfen with them because they are still on our side, Daina. I felt that it was the right thing to do at the time."
"Our side."
Daina stares at him.
No, Khamal. My side. What did he tell you to do?"
"Your side? What are you talking about? We are all on the same side, Daina. Us versus him, there is no denying that."
Her fingers tighten.
"Get. Out."
The druid is silent.
She turns her back on him.
"I don't need you, Khamal. Get out."
"Running away again?" he says, his voice having a slight edge to it this time.
The conversation in the other room lags as Daina spins with a scream.
"I am a loosed arrow."
Following the wrong hand, Khamal's feet are swept out from under him.
The half-orc in the next room halts his story, staring.
Her hair flails in angry motions as the blade slashes across his throat, and into his gut
Spinning the knives across her palms, she buries them into his heart.
"Maki taught me that attack."
Daina stares down at Khamal with hard eyes as the thieves in the other room, look on, grabbing crossbows.
"You're still alive. Get. Out."
A thief, face covered by wrappings, points a crossbow bolt at Khamal's chest.
"What's going on here?"
As Khamal is tripped and stabbed, he lets his head hang as he takes it, his hair falling over his face. He's felt pain before, and these pinpricks were nothing compared to them.. Looking up at the woman, he lets his hand run over his cut body, letting the blood cover his hand.
"Did you think that you were alone, Daina?"
He coughs up blood, but smiles, causing the blood to drip down the sides of his mouth.
His amber eyes flash at her. "I am like you, a widower."
"I have family. Friends. I'm never alone. You, however..."
She reveals a sword made of stone.
"...are not family. And not welcome."
The thief points the crossbow squarely at Khamal's chest as more of them spread through the room, crossbows aimed at him.
"I think its time you listened to the lady and left, buddy."
Daina's sword, Dranga's wedding gift, is covered in glowing runes.
The sword rings out of its sheath, and there is a clap of thunder and the howl of wind as Daina calls into being a great air elemental, dominating the room.
"I don't care what you are. I want you out."
The twisting winds, circle the room, tugging at Daina's hair, and throwing Khamal's blood across her boots.
He cuts her and everyone else off.
"I was HELPLESS," he roared like a wild animal, clearly agitated. "Helpless in a cage of force as they raped and killed her before my eyes!" As he shouted, the blood began to flow as his body tensed up.
"Do not!!- " More blood spurted out of from his mouth, and Khamal falls on his back, weakened.
"Then you should consider yourself lucky Heart of Darkness won't find her."
She snaps her fingers.
"Throw him into the street."
Khamal's face is clouded.
How... cold.
The druid looked at her, and knew that he would get nowhere with her, especially here, surrounded by her men. This was going to be harder than he thought.
He sighed.
"I'm leaving. You can have your men escort me, or not, I do not care."
Her eyes are hard.
"Don't talk about it. Do it. And leave my horse."
She turns her back on him.
The large double doors indicate the exit.
Nobody blocks his way.
The druid stands up and seems to be perfectly fine, save for the blood that covers him in various places. He walks past the group and pushes open the doors with both hands, then stops. "Earlier, I wanted to speak to you to give you a message, Daina."
"If its from anyone who wears robes and not pants, they can keep it. Not saying it again, get out."
"Danger..." he breathes, "Black dragon scales, and the shadows that follow it." With that, he walks away, letting the doors close.
The thieves look at her.
"Should we follow him?"
"What about that he last thing he said?"
Daina stops.
"I'm coming to terms with the fact that the Heart of Darkness himself ordered my fiancee's death, and is laying a trap for me. At this moment, I need people with me who can follow basic instructions. Can you guys do that?"
They look at one another and nod.
"Good. What's Aishun gold worth around here?"
One of the thieves laughs, "Better than most!"
"Great. Put a two-hundred and fifty thousand piece bounty on the head of the druid 'dragonslayer' Khamal Scalebane. He can consider it a thank you."
"You got it, boss."

A dark street becomes shrouded in deep night as men seem to step from the very shadows.
Bums by their clothes, likely assassins and thieves by their weapons.
Four men with longspears surround the druid, spinning their weapons in complex arcs, while three more circle the street.
On the nearby rooftops, he can see more thugs with bows drawn, next to beggars with spears.
One particularly filthy, unarmed vagrant, smoking a cigar, glares down at Khamal from a seated position.
A woman's voice.
"Half-breed. Hand over the soulfire, and you can leave with your life."
The woman notices Khamal looking up at her plain face, marred by tattoo of a red bird in flight.
While he doesn't recognize her, her plain features make her difficult to describe.
No distinguishing marks other than the tattoo.
Brown eyes.
Average, straight nose.
She shakes her head at him, wagging a finger at him.
Khamal looks at the men surrounding him, then at the woman perched above. He's had a terrible day, and this was making it worse. "I concede. Do you want the soulfire items, or can I give anything else of similar value instead?" He does not move any part of his body except for turning his head.
"Redhawks aren't interested in talking. Hand over the dastana, or die in the street."
"Very well." He turns to the men infront of him. "I will remove my bracers, so please be careful. You don't want to sunder them on accident, now do you?" He still doesn't move, but instead his entire body begins to turn into air.
The woman clucks her tongue in disapproval.
"Stupid man."
The woman shakes her head as arrow with red feathers plunge into Khamal's chest and back, undeterred by the magic nullifying field.
She laughs as the longspears spin, stabbing to make him bleed, and whirling around to crack open his head.
"Take the soulfire, any coin he has and another valuable."
One of the Guards, handing off his spear, begins a search, while another removes the dastana with deft hands.
A Hunter looks at the woman with a raised eyebrow.
"Forty-seven says their Watch is on patrol. Should we kill him?"
"No. He now only knows he was robbed, with no particular reason to suspect us of only wanting the soulfire-"
The Guard hold up the ankh of ascension.
"Good, we should be rewarded for capturing another of those."
The Archer shrugs, "But he'll alert our pres-"
"'Redhawks', an independent gang of thieves, crossing into established territory in the merchants guild. It'll sow chaos among the local gangs."
The woman smiles, and the red bird, painted onto her cheek dances in flight, and the Hunter grins back, watching the 'Redhawk's fade into the shadows.
"Let Chaos rule."

The compass carries Eduardo and Dranga into the depths of the forest to the south of the city.
The farmlands to the north aren't ideal for for hiding, though Dranga wonders why she hadn't just deposited the wizard, dwarf and monk within the walls.
She stares up at the trees.
"I wonder where they went..."
The Plane Shift puts Dranga and the Master practically right on top of Prescott and company -- not that anyone else would have realized this. The Wizard had done his work well, and the party was nowhere to be seen. The same could not be said for his tracks.
The night is clear, but the trees obscure the brightness of the moon, so magical light would need to illuminate the trail. For Eduardo, there could be no easier task than tracking his apprentice, especially when so accompanied -- by a heavy-mailed dwarf and a spry-but aging human wizard. Assassins stalking his allies would have the same experience, tracking the three with ease. He'd need to speak to Prescott about this.
The lack of any snow, strange this time in winter makes it easier, turning the ground to mud that holds prints well.
As he follows the tracks, the Master covers them, as well as his own and Dranga's, using all of his nature lore and cunning to do so. He was practically born and raised in the forest, served under more than one druidic master, and could feel the heartbeat of the trees align with his own as he made his way further in.
When he comes to the artificial hill, it's obvious from the tracks how Prescott's illusion is crafted. The facade itself was cunningly wrought, with every blade of grass correctly in place -- though the Master couldn't help but notice a tiny flourish here and there, an artist's signature as it were. Flowers, correct for the season and terrain, but somehow... Prescott's spirit is evident in them. Or was this merely the power of suggestion? No matter.
Good evening,Prescott, the Master calls.
"Step inside, Eduardo. It's just ahead of you there," the wizard returns softly, with the lazy edge of a drowsing sleeper hugging his voice. "Winky won the over-under on how quickly you'd march over here after he saw you arrive." The sphere that enclosed their campsite was dimly lit with a nebulous light that shone from nowhere in particular, and it was quite pleasant inside. Prescott found it a welcome respite to the winter cold. Even living in Thames for most of his life, he never got used to the chill of the season. He loved snow, but could not abide cold. It was complicated.
With a grunt, Eduardo enters.
Those tracks were too easy to find. Anyone who comes for us will be an expert tracker, I don't doubt. How has your day been -- uneventful, I hope?
"Its hardly been a 'day' Master! Only a few hours!"
"Nevermore! No word from my Master!"
"I think now, now that we're all together again, would be as good a time as any to reach out for the Hellcat..."
Dranga crouches inside the hut, and begins the ritual.
After ten minutes, her face becomes the image of confusion.
I-I can't reach him..."
She begins anew.
"I can't reach one of the vrocks either..."
Really? It felt like longer to me. But no... I suppose you're right.
The Master sits down while Dranga prepares her sending.
I'm not at all surprised by this, Dranga. I warned you about the conditions there. And that was before whoever's there fortified it.
"'I warned you'"? What is that supposed to mean?"
"The desert of black sand, saturated with the necromantic auras. The tomb was the hub of some manner foul magic that affected the whole area, on top of the sudden creation of a desert where forests had been. I don't know what your associates ran into, but just *looking* at it, five years later, nearly killed me."
Just so. Though I suppose you're not too shaken up over losing five of your contracts.
"It doesn't work that way. Devils aren't stupid."
Dranga sighs.
"The demons, if they're dead, I'm free of. But for the devils, my contract will likely shift to some other entity or become the property of Hell itself."
The dwarf shrugs, "My problem for later. What now?"
"We've had a habit of assuming the worse over the past few hours, and I see no reason to stop now, so..."
Grace clears her throat.
"...what if they're not dead? What if they've been captured, turned or other things..."
The thought did occur to me. They could be in magic circles, or anti-magic fields, or gods know what else. It's certainly possible, but the enemy already knows we're working against them. They already know our names and faces. It's not like those devils knew the details of our plans. I'm not even sure I do. So yes, they could give up who sent them, and where we were, but I don't believe it puts us at any greater risk than before.
"And I suppose it was wise of us to move places, so they couldn't point out our location..."
However, if we do come across them again -- say, if they "escape" -- there would be a good chance that they're not working for us anymore.
So what is our next order of business? Finding Pharrah?
The Master is filled with a secret dread at the thought of facing her again, but apart from her, they had no other leads.
"To what purpose?"
Dranga shudders.
To what end? Pharrah knows the truth. Yes -- she cannot be trusted any longer. We know this. But there's still a chance we can squeeze some information from a meeting with her, that we'll learn something more. What else can we do? Our friends have cast us out. We've got nowhere else to turn, except to our enemies.
Believe me, I don't like it any more than you, but as of now, it's our only unexplored lead.

Dranga shakes her head, "We don't know how much she knows. Even Shudu. All we know for sure is that he's involved with Pete in some way who isn't as dead as we might think. For all we know, they're being forced, or playing their own game."
"I don't know where we would begin."
Neither do I. Any contact we make with her needs to be carefully planned to keep us safe and preserve our ability to withdraw. I don't think she'd be foolish enough to let us set the meeting place, however. Perhaps an astral projection would be the best way...
Dranga makes a worried face, "I haven't got access to that spell..."
You could create a telepathic bond with one of your contractors and send it on your behalf.
"That's if she agrees to meet at all."
True. We'll need to come up with a way to make it worth her while to do so.
"An astral projection isn't in the cards. Nothing I have available is that powerful. Even I can't cast that spell."
No, but you could send a contract as an ambassador. Not a projection of the contractor, but the actual creature.
"But first we have to find her."
Yes, yes. But we don't want to find her and get her to agree to meet us until we know what we're going to do with her once we've found her.
"What are we going to do with her?"
The Master is momentarily silent. He looks uncomfortable, preoccupied. Finally, he says, Hopefully get our questions answered without getting our heads ripped off in the process. The question is, "how?"
"I-I can't think of any."
"We can't do anything here. We'd have to enter the city."
What answers do you expect to find inside the city's walls?
"Not answers! An environment we can control and define!"
How so?
"I don't know yet. But if we do find her, and send a devil to speak to her, we need a controlled environment in case she strikes back. From what you've said, she must be a considerable spellcaster, and I have no interest fighting her in strange forest."
So you want to bring her into a city full of innocent people?
Eduardo thinks back to their very first meeting with the vampire. She seemed to view those around her as almost unreal.
Better to meet far away from anyone who could be hurt. In some abandoned farm house, for example.
"Okay, fine, Eduardo. A city full of people is worse, but I don't exactly trust the trees either."
I don't think she'll come wherever we ask her to, anyway. We could set up a perfect, controlled environment, and have her totally side step it. I think we should let her pick the place, or settle on some neutral ground, and then send an emissary in our stead.
Dranga sighs, looking up into the trees above their head.
"Okay, we're going to have to leave this for tomorrow at any rate... Definitely a tomorrow problem..."
Tomorrow. Grace, has it been three days? We should be contacted by a Spotter tomorrow.
What city do you like for the new Lodge? I was thinking Ferrus, but after what happened at the inn...

"No, tomorrow Master. And I'd prefer a walled city."
She leans against the trunk of a tree, "The Peninsula would actually be good, giving us access to central sea trade routes as a business. We could actually make money."
Interesting you should mention that. I was considering Venezzo.
"Of course, if we grow particularly successful, the politics of the region might become a source of competition and ease. Do you think you can cater to Lords of the City and Merchant Princes, Master?"
She makes a small smile.
Peasants, scholars, and Merchant Princes -- what do they have in common? Everybody dies. Yes, I think I'll be able to make a business of Death in Venezzo.
"Hopefully, they'll see it your way. We'll have to become two-faced."
Grace grins, covering half of her face.

When Khamal returns to consciousness, he instantly realizes he's in a gutter.
A single shaft of light, touches his face, his headache begins.
He lays there, feeling nothing but pain. Daina had cast him out and sliced him up, and when he stepped out into the city he was immediately mugged. "I hate cities," he said sourly. Pushing himself up from the ditch, he sat uo and held his hand to his head, getting close to where the man whacked him and cracked open his head. "And sometimes I hate the people in it as well. This being a prime example." He held the spot, incurring a lot of pain, but healed it as soon as he could.
He looked up into the sky above. He needed to get out of this city, even if only temporarily. I need Morinfen back, and I also need to chat with Eduardo, this time in person. His form turned into that of elemental air, with only his eyes still shining like a pair of golden rings, he took off up into the air, flying high until he reached the clouds.
"Morinfen, speak to me. Where are you? Report."
"We are outside Thames City. In the southern forests, Master."
"Is it safe? Everyone ok?"
"Yes. No one in injured, and we are joined by a dwarven summoner... of diabolic ability."
Thames City stretches below Khamal.
He sees he isn't alone either.
Other spellcasters fly above the city, going about their business.
They all give a wide berth to the city's great tower.
From way up here, Khamal can see that the unusual warmth has forced winter to relinquish its hold on the land.
The Raven Queen would likely not be pleased.
He casts Invisibility on himself and looks around. The weather had been changing so rapidly, yet Khamal had been too busy to really investigate the matter. He'd have to do some digging, but later. He needed to get someplace safe first.
"Alert the others that I'm arriving soon."
He tests the area around him and tries to abrupt jaunt ten feet to his left, seeing if it works so high above the city.
Eduardo's studying is interrupted by Morinfen,flapping his feathers about the Master's head.
"My master comes!"
Khamal curses at the range of this abjuration and flies higher, trying his abrupt jaunt once more, this time in the clouds.
The Master pauses in his studies and casts his defensive spells.
Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to receive Khamal Scalesbane, he announces to the others.
Seeing his teleportation magic work, Khamal flies even higher into the sky, feeling the unusually warm air brush by him.
I'm flying. It was something he truly never took for granted.
"Hedfan," he says in druidic, and he disappears from sight.
Khamal appears adjacent to Morinfen, still in air elemental form which causes the wind to ripple around him. He promptly dismisses it, returning to his normal form, tattoos and all. "Greetings, Eduardo. Apologies for the sudden appearance, but... it's been a rough night for me. I trust that this place is secure?"
Prescott closes the spellbook he had been studying and gathers the sheets of loose parchment that had been overturned in Khamal's windy arrival. He looks curiously at the druid, eager to hear what has transpired with their separated friends & their companions. Seeing no further benefit to keeping loose papers out at the moment, he begins to stow them back into his summoned secret chest.
Quin emerges from the Tiny hut, axe in hand, ready for trouble. He lowers the axe when he see's no one is moving to stop the orc. Looking closer he realizes its the Druid from Daina's house and gives a gruff nod as a greeting before moving back inside to complete his preparations for the day. After a minute he returns, clad in pure light.
Secure as any we're likely to find, replies Eduardo. Are the others all right?
Dranga, pulling at her hair, emerges from the Tiny Hut.
"What's an Orc doing here?"
Did you not meet Khamal at Daina's? I thought we were all present in her "war council," such as it was. The raven Morinfen is his.
"Same question I asked myself then. Now I ask, what is it doing here?"
Morinfen, he says telepathically as he looks at the raven, come here please, you'll be with me from here on.
At Eduardo's and Dragna's questions, though, he nods and bows to them. "I've met some of you before, hello again, I am Khamal Scalebane." He grunts softly. "...and sorry to cut this reintroduction brief but, well... everyone is fine, the last time I checked on them, which was last night. I spoke to Daina, you see, and she noticed that Morinfen was missing. She seemed to notice during the trip, but didn't ask me about it until she sprung it upon me when I asked her about the Tomb...." he lets a pause linger before he continues. "And she threw me out. I also may have said something that was..." he crossed his arms, "well, in hindsight I should have chosen a better choice of words, but in essence I told her that she was running away once again, which she was doing as she pushed the three of you..." he motioned to Prescott, Quin, and Eduardo, "away, even though you wronged her, you were still willing to help her. In that moment, when I said that remark, I had wronged her, and she made it clear to me by stabbing me multiple times, more notably in the chest." He holds his right hand over it, as if it still pained him.
Dranga's face becomes more and more grave as he tells the first part of his story.
"Stupid Orc! She's not running away! She's a 'loosed arrow', hunting down the people who killed Sahm! How far have you gotten in finding the culprit! You're lucky she didn't have her bow on her or she would have killed you outright! Where is she now?"
The dwarf folds her arms, and Eduardo, Quins and Prescott notice the black card is hidden from sight.
"What do you want her to do? What do you see as 'not running away'? Do you want her to be here with us? Leaping from city to plane to city to plane, never staying in fears something or someone will be dogging our steps."
He cranes his head, looking down.
"I tried to reason with her, but she had turned so... cold towards me that I could not reach her with my words. It was futile. So, I left before her guardsmen could do anything else to me." Looking around at the others, he purses his lips awkwardly. "And that's why I'm here. That and the fact that I was mugged right as I stepped out into the city last night. I just woke up five minutes ago in a gutter."
Dranga doesn't seem at all concerned about the mugging.
Or is it his health she's unsympathetic too?
"Thames City is a rough town, with multiple factions and gangs duking it out for supremacy."
"Yes yes, I realize my mistake now. I can't change what I've said." He looks up at her, trying to remember her name form the meeting. She didn't give it, but Quin and Eduardo had mentioned her once or twice.
"If I may ask for you name? I recall it from the war room to be... Dranga?"
"As for where she is, that I do not know. To be honest, I don't want to know after our last encounter. Scry if you wish. They might still be in the city."
"Yes. Dranga is my name."
"Ahh, yes, I too thought it was a regular mugging, but... they asked for my soulfire dastanas by name. They knew I had them, even without an identify, they just knew, and they held me by spearpoint and crossbows right when I entered the streets."
He shrugs.
"And when I tried to escape, they dropped an anti-magic field on me, then proceeded to knock me out." He scratches his head. "I'm glad that I'm alive, and kicking myself for allowing myself to be that vulnerable, but this mugging just seems bizarre. A gang I can understand, but the anti-magic field just seems so..."
"Ever since the demi-lich's rise years ago, soulfire has risen in popularity and demand. It can be sold for quite a bit in the right markets, Orc."
She sniffs at him.
"And I suppose you believe nobody but us uses magic? Thieves would rely solely on their skills, and would ignore what power arcane study can give to them?"
The dwarf is the face of skepticism.
"Did they take anything else from you? Soulfire is distinctive by its glow, and they could have been watching you all day and struck when they found you alone."
It's not just that demand for soulfire items have gone up, Dranga, Eduardo cuts in.
I was informed by my contacts at the tower that someone, or some collection of someones, is actually acquiring them en masse. While demand may be increasing, the supply is dwindling as this person or people acquires the items at any cost. The question is why? It could be part of some bizarre price-fixing scheme, manipulation of the markets. That might make sense. Or, maybe, somebody knows what's coming, and they want to be the only ones prepared -- or spared from it. These extremely capable muggers might be taking advantage of this sudden scarcity and price spike, or: they could be working for whoever is hoarding the items. I think we may need to make a trip into the city after all, to get to the bottom of this.
Dranga nods, "That actually does make sense. But we have a significant problem...:
We have several. To which do you refer?
"Good point."
She smiles.
"...I refer to an old one, that now presents itself in new matter. The people to properly investigate this are overseas or stabbing us. We can't navigate Thames' criminal underworld."
No, but we can set up an ambush of our own. If these people are hunting soulfire, we can show up with some. Prescott can craft an illusion of one. He can change our faces and countenance to appear as mercenaries or bounty hunters. We may need to keep up the charade for days, but during this time, we'll be split into two groups. Two of us will be the bait. Mercenaries with a soulfire breastplate. The other two will watch them from afar, waiting for the enemy to strike. We'll have no contact, arrive separately, so as not to rouse suspicion. Then, when the enemy does strike, we'll hit them with everything we have. While they drop an anti-magic field on Grace, Prescott and Dranga will bring the full force of the arcane on them from 10 blocks away. All we truly need to do is subdue and flee with one, to a pre-set location. Then, we can interrogate the thief at our leisure.
"Wow. That's an actual plan."
Eduardo looks surprised.
And this is an actual lead. Plane-hopping, casting sending, and ordering devils to their demise was all well and good when we were groping, but now, for the first time, we have the opportunity to seize the offensive. Our enemy is powerful and vast, but whenever one runs an operation at this scale, one must face the facts: not everyone in your employ can be invulnerable. I learned that the hard way. Now I have the opportunity to teach it to somebody else -- and I will. Believe that.
"Those dragonhide bracers where my great-grandfathers, ones that he crafted and imbued with soulfire to protect himself against a black dragon's necromancy and death spells. I received them when my father died, and have been in possession of them ever since."
He looks around. "While I am of the druidic order, I also have a small talent of arcane power at my disposal as well."
He gestures with his hand, and a major image of himself appears beside him, looking exactly like him, a clone.
"I focus primarily on conjurations and divinations, although I do have a small talent for illusions." He dismisses his spell.
Looking at Eduardo, he nods. "I like this plan, and subduing the thief is good as well, but what if we let him go with the disguised soulfire instead? I have a divination in mind that can direct me to where my bracers currently are, but its range is limited, and the city is massive. But if we let the thief go, he might give us a path, possibly to their hideout. If I'm close enough, I might sense my bracers, which could lead to elsewhere."
And risk him slipping away without questioning? Perhaps we can do both. Question him, and then once we've got all we think we can, let him "escape."
"I can delve into the minds of others for information, if necessary. We have plenty of options for exacting information from whatever quarry we net."
Khamal smiles at the illusionist when he speaks. "Prescott, if I'm not mistaken?"
"That's fine by me. Besides, while my divination works, it can still be fooled or negated, so a solid lead would also be helpful."
That was exactly my thinking. Perhaps one of us should enter the city in advance to gather information, learn the lay of the land, and set up our interrogation room. We'll use either an abandoned building, or rent a one-room apartment. We should remove all distinguishing features from the interrogation room -- keep it totally bare, except for a chair or two. We'll need to acquire manacles, or something similar to hold our prisoner. Something to blindfold him with, as well.
Perhaps we could use illusion magic to make the room appear however we wish. I don't know the durations of your magic, but such a trick would be useful. We'll need to disguise ourselves, as well, of course.
Once the preparations have been made, the rest of us will enter the city, separately, and take rooms in the same inn some hours apart. After that, it's just a matter of getting the soulfire item noticed.

Dranga raises her hand.
"I can go do that. The gathering information. I have skill in that department..."
Good. No doubt you're up to the task of establishing our interrogation chamber, as well? If you can put together a room for contracting devils, it should be an easy matter to do the same for mere mortals.
"Eduardo. Stop talking about that."
She prepares a simply flying spell and rises away.
"I'll contact you whenever I find anything."
Thank you. Be careful.

...a message between friends...

As Dranga takes off and Khamal finishes talking with Prescott, Quin and Eduardo, he begins his meditation for the day with Morinfen alongside him. Once finished, he sits there for a moment. Morinfen had warned him about Scrying on the Tomb, and said that shadows attacked the others because of so. He risked everyone's life when he did the same, but scryied on Half Moons Run.
Guilt tore at him. Specifically, he put Marros in immediate danger, as he suspected that the monk was also attacked by the feeling of death when he scryed. He felt that he should speak to the monk again, to explain the circumstances of his disappearance from the group. He also did it to monitor the group, as he felt guilty of lacing them in danger. While the shadows did not attack them then, it was possible that they could stalk them at a later time.
Khamal takes his bowl out and creates some water for him to scry once again, this time on a friend. The scrying spell he uses this time is much stronger, and in an instant Khamal is looking at Marros from above.
Khamal's bowl reveals a cheeky image of dancing dryads, who make rude hand gestures to the air.
He moves the sensor around, looking at his surroundings, even up in the air.
The sensor reveals highland country, and little more as the dryads prance and dance about the hills and trees.
He moves the sensor down and forces it to move higher into the sky. As if flies up, he makes it slowly turn clockwise, still looking down.
The image doesn't change.
Nothing but the dryads moving through the highlands.
He dismisses the spell and tries again, this time on Maki, the barbarian fellow he was at the bar with in House Aishun.
Seeing the same image for the barbarian, the druid curses. "That woman..." He was glad that she had thought of everything, but still, he was annoyed of her and her hard-headed nature.
Khamal looked up from the pool of water, and looked up in the trees. He dumped the water from the bowl, and puts that away as well. He looks at Morinfen. How do you like your raven form, old friend? Ready to turn back to normal?
The bird cackles, nodding his beak up and down fervently.
"It is well time to abandon this ridiculous form!"
Then let's go and speak with the others. You'll be turned back to normal very soon, old friend.
Khamal walks back to the hut, his mind racing about what to do. He may have endangered the the group. Should he go and help them? The possibility of the shadows stalking them did unnerve them... but he remembered the minotaur. And the monk. Hell, Maki looked quite intimidating when drunk. No, they would be fine, and he really had no evidence that they would be in danger. He was worrying too much. Khamal shook his head as he walked back into the hut.
They'll be fine.
Looking around, he nods at the the three of them, the dwarf and the two men, noticing grace as he hasn't heard from her since his arrival.
"So... now that we have a plan, what now? Do you have any idea how long Dranga will be?"
Grace shakes her head.
"None. For now, I think I'll get a glimpse of the city. Adjust myself to the feel."
Keep your cloak drawn up high. There may be people looking for us there.
"I will. I know how to escape attention."
She doesn't say anything else as she departs, letting the statement hang in the air.
The half-orc sits down after she leaves, and closes his eyes. He sits with the raven on his shoulder, as usual.
"Can the two of you go into detail of what happened when you scryed on the Tomb? Morinfen mentioned shadows, but didn't say much else. Is there anything else that occurred?"
I was upstairs when it happened, but from what Prescott told me, it was an extremely violent reaction. He saw black scales and a dragon's eye, and was struck by fear. A death magic attack followed, which he barely survived. At that same moment, the shadows in the common room of the inn became animate and reduced everyone to shreds -- except for Grace. Her faith and monastic training protected her.
He turns to the elderly mage, and purses his lips. "I see. I heeded your warning, as requested, but I scryied elsewhere, not at the Tomb, but Half Moons Row, just last night. I too saw black dragon scales and was held immobile by fear. The man known as Marros was there and seemed to be stronger of will than me and tried to help heal my affliction, but it eventually wore off on its own. There were no shadows, and everyone else seemed to be fine."
"It was a little bit after that incident that I spoke to Daina, and she threw me out before I could fully warn her, though I did warn her cryptically, enough that a smart woman like herself to figure it out."
The druid crossed his arms. "This Tomb business is extremely troubling. I've been thinking of visiting it, but it seems like an extraordinarily foolish thing to try alone. Perhaps we can send a scout to investigate it instead? A summons can brave the Tomb, leaving us unharmed while it surveys the area. We can try that while Dranga's away..."
"Dranga already sent proxies, almost 2 full days ago. Powerful demons and devils she contracted with. None have returned, and she has not been able to contact any for a report. Whatever is afoot at the Tomb now, it is most capable of keeping the details of its presence private."
Indeed. We went there ourselves some years ago, but were forced to turn back by local conditions: a desert of destructive energy that overpowered our most potent defenses. By now, I expect conditions would be even worse. The devils' failure is evidence of this.
He regards Khamal with a curious expression. What, exactly, did you say to Daina, that you consider to be a warning?
Quin stoic and silent, follows the conversation with a thoughtful expression on his face.
Morinfen follows the conversation his baleful gaze moving from Master to Wizard.
Winky, floating over Prescott's shoulder, sends waves of annoyance through their emphatic link.
"We should never have consorted with such denizens in the first place! They could never succeed where truth and light would triumph!"
"Winky, angels may be even *more* succeptible to the defenses prepared there than Dranga's allies. If the demons are lost, that fate might well have befallen Kirin or another of your kin had we asked for their assistance. Better demons than angels. You recall what happened when you visited Half-Moon Row with us 5 years ago, how your presence there nauseated and wracked you with pain. And we were hit with an Eyebite spell through that scrying feedback. With the caliber of magic - and potency of evil - centering on that place, I am still inclined to seek aid wherever it may be found. The lich does not discriminate in his targets. Boccob fell with Nerull. Vecna was attacked with Kithkhanamahr."
"Compromise is but the first step into the shadow!"
"I don't want to know what 'raining blood' is the first step into. Probably 'the shadow' at the very least, and we didn't choose that bit of weather. Apocalypses make for strange bedfellows, Winky, and I'll happily debate philosophy with you after I can do so under the sunny sky again. I don't think our purpose would be better served by sending Angels to their doom, even if our conscience might be lighter."
Khamal expression is blank as he tries to recall the message.
"Her men..." he mused, "They had crossbow trained at me, and I couldn't say much or I would receive an arrow in the mouth..."
His eyebrows furrowed.
"Danger...I warned her of danger. 'Black dragon scales, and the shadows that follow it.'"
His face seems to come back to normal.
"I didn't know what consequences came from scrying on Half Moons Row. I thought the same shadows that came for everyone here would come for us as well, but..." he looks up at Prescott "It seems that they didn't come in that instant. Still... I warned her of what I saw and what she might expect."
What? Daina is hunting dragons! You thought a mention of black dragons would dissuade her from exploring the Tomb?
Maybe -- maybe -- she'll think you were trying to trick her into doing the opposite. Otherwise, I can guarantee she'll ignore your "warning."

"I didn't mentioned the Tomb. And..." he looks at Eduardo.
"I'm not sure about her hunting dragons. After the three of you were banished, Daina explained that she would search for the killers firstly, but what you guys said stuck with her. She said that she would also search for answers about the Lich. She wants to find out where the demi-lich came from, what he's about, who he really is, and what he was planning. But again, she would hunt her killers first."
"While, to Daina, it seems that dragons are responsible, it looks like she has a suspicion that you all right, and that the lich could also be behind this."
The half-orc wore a thin smile.
"It seems that even though the news splintered the group, you all got through to her. She mentioned that she would get her family off the prime." He looked at the three of them. "Your pleas to her did not go unnoticed."
That is a great relief to me, the Master says. Though no doubt, in pursuit of the killers, she's walking into trap after trap. Has her group met much resistance? Uncovered anything of interest?
"We followed the trail of 'The Call', but the bar was burned down, seemingly torched for quite some time... sixteen years ago, I recall, according to Lissa. After that dead end, we went to the bar across the street, Khale's place, and were soon attacked by wights shrouded in a thick mist."
Khamal scratched the side of his cheek. "We ventured outside, and when the fog dissipated, Daina and Jake seemed to fall to their knees at the sight of the advancing undead." He looks at the three of them. "Later on, Jake mentioned that the Tomb still rests with some more than others." His head turns once again. "Does this sound familiar to any of you? He mentioned that random things send him back. Words, images... they send him back to the horror."
"It was a dark place..."
I'll never forget the things I saw there. The things I did there. But episodes of hysteria? Never. Not I.
The half-orc looks at Prescott, then at Quin.
"And you?"
"I do not speak of it gladly, but I was thrust into the Tomb rather in the middle of things. The experience was harrowing, but I would say I honestly believe that I came out of there with the least... baggage... of anyone in our sorry band. Many were killed by its denizens and its traps, and had horrific journeys back from death tainted by the lich's touch." The most enduring memory of the Tomb's horror, for Prescott, was still Daina's return to life. After assembling her shredded corpse, watching the organs and viscera revitalize from the inside out... it wrenched at him.
"None of us left unaffected, but I, of all, have probably kept the Tomb highest on my mind rather than supressing it. You study the tomb's product, Eduardo, but I still wonder at its purpose. Its history. Pete, my former adventuring cohort, wondered about it to the point of distraction while we were within its confines, and I know not what his state was after he left. I hadn't spoken to him since just days after we all escaped. And thus, I undertook a return to the Tomb of Horrors five years ago, when we first learned of the potent lingering force of evil emanating therefrom. Not a... productive journey, really. I remember being filled with rage at the futility of it all - the frailty of my companions in the face of it; the loss of the town, Half-Moon Row, to the desert; the inability of my magics to pierce its veil." His face grew flushed as the emotion of that visit returned to him. A vein throbbed angrily at his temple, tracing a bulging line along his silvery hairline when the memory of returning to that place seized him unbidden.
Prescott clenched his jaw and released a slow, heavy breath. "Truthfully, it is the enigma of the Tomb that affects me more severely than the catalog of experiences within it."
"The place has left his mark on all of us."
Quin shakes his head. "It took one of the last of my true brethren from me. It stole years of my life from me when I died and was brought back by the Gods. At least then they talked to us.. Now, nothing..."
Winky flashes brighter in surprise.
"Moradin hasn't answered your communes?"
"Too true, Winky. We three know well about the lich's touch... we have not aged in the seven years since we were slain by him, or that imposter, before being raised again by him."

Dark is falling when Dranga returns, finding Prescott specifically.
"Thames City hasn't managed to free itself of criminals, its local gangs and thieves hold considerable power throughout the city. But I'm not the one to really get into that. But I heard something... Interesting."
The dwarf seems, nervous.
"Apparently, that village, I met you at..."
She hesitates.
"Everyone is dead. People visiting found bodies scattered in the streets, their homes, in their fields, everywhere, in bloodied ruins, surrounded by stones and rocks, as if they'd been stoned to death. Not a single person or even any animal, from the horses to dogs survived!"
"The whole town, massacred? That's only half a day's ride from here... Stoning the entire population. That's barbaric. Down the the last pet. And so near to the center of the kingdom! These last few days, the world is entirely too full of mysteries for my liking, Dranga..."
Why didn't they defend themselves? It's not possible to stone an entire village. It must have happened very quickly -- within seconds. Is there any sort of spell you know of that would have such an effect?
"There are none. Its possible someone could have researched it. And there wasn't even a dedicated struggle. Evidence showed everyone within the same window of time. There's evidence some people hid, and ran inside, only for the stone to follow them, smashing through houses."
Earth Elementals? Telekinesis? Mass castings some smaller sort of stone rain spell?
"No. The guards think... The rocks threw themselves. No tracks or traces were left by any creature. Speaking of which, I can't summon large and powerful evil entities within the walls. Or bring them in. They'll have to be strictly neutral and of modest size, or else they'll be detected, neutralized, and attract unwanted attention.
Maybe the populace was hit with a mass suggestion or dominate and they did it to themselves.
She shrugs.
"I would check myself. But the King has ordered the village closed off."
We could scry it, I suppose.
"No! Hanging is not good for dwarves."
What? Did the guard say scrying on the village earns the death penalty?
"They're closing it off from investigation. On the King's Orders. Magic could and likely, would identify us. They'd find us, and likely punish us for disobeying the highest orders in the land. Its a crime scene!"
Ah- forgive my ignorance. I've never encountered a criminal investigation in the Island Kingdoms before. At any rate, that information is... troubling. Did you have time to look into a secluded apartment for us?
"Not an apartment. But with some gold, I've bought all the rooms of an entire inn, and detained the owner for the next few hours. Don't ask. You don't want to know."
The next few hours? It might take a lot more than that to capture our thief and interrogate him.
"In which case, I'll choose another inn. I don't have the gold to buy an entire building, and I haven't had the time to find and abandoned one just yet."
If we're interrupted by an angry innkeeper in the middle of our interrogation, all of our work will be for nothing. We have the luxury of scouting for a good location, so we should do so. Is there anything the rest of us can do to help?
"We won't be interrupted. But I'll keep looking."
Dranga paces back and forth.
"I'll need gold to buy the building, and I have none to spare at the minute. Pool your resources."
It doesn't need to be a good building. In fact, the worse it is, the better. The worst, most inconvenient location in the worst slums will do nicely, or an abandoned, condemned warehouse would be perfect. We could even squat there as long as were confident nobody would come and go from it. How much do you need?
But Dranga is already gone, eager to please.
Working all night, its early in the next morning when she finds the perfect place, a run down warehouse.
Dranga finds Khamal and Eduardo.
"I've found out some things from talking to guards around the city."
She holds out a sheaf of parchment, holding notes.
"Teleportation and other modes of interplanar travel is impossible within and to a certain extent around the walls. An ancient and powerful dimension lock laid into the cities foundations, plus other magics that keep enemy armies from exploiting the defenses. The man I was talking to said short jumps are allowed, within buildings, so businesses can have some convenience. Special permits lets fire fighting teams and the Guard navigate the city, but we won't be getting those."
She makes a wry face.
Over the course of the day, the Death Spotters make contact with Grace and Eduardo.
At his instructions, they begin making the move to the Peninsula, ordering them to leave or get ride of anything too large to move.
Eduardo shells out the gold for an inn, making sure they have meals and a roof over their head.
Dranga searches well into the night, until she finds a suitable warehouse near the river to serve as a holding place for their prisoner.
Late into the night, after the black clouds dominate the sky, Dranga finds the place.
She considers waking them up right then, but she decides to leave it until morning.
When the men awaken, Dranga is waiting for them.
Eduardo rises and sees the dwarf. He sighs, stretches his limbs, and crosses the tiny hut to the bronze bowl of water he set there the night before. He splashes hand fulls of water on his face to wash away the caked sweat and oil. The rain makes it difficult to tell the time of day. Had he slept through sunrise?
Dranga is writing furiously in a dark notebook, of dragonskin by appearance.
Seeing Eduardo, she forces a smile.
"I found an abandoned house, and have begun preparations."
She pauses awkwardly.
"Its been a strange night."
I don't like the sound of that, Eduardo says, drying his face. A night stranger than the last five? I shudder to think.
She thinks a moment.
"The sky is raining blood."
That is very strange, Eduardo admits. And very troubling.
The Master walks to the window and throws open the shutters, looking upon the phenomenon for himself.
"Blood? Surely..." he looks through the window as Eduardo opens it. He's speechless for a moment.
"This is deeply troubling, indeed."
A veil of red clouds their vision and a terrible crack of thunder rattles the glass.
Dranga reads out from behind him, "...dark clouds of night, hang low in the sky, as if to crush the will of the living, wreathed in a golden glow that banishes night and day. Only great spears of black lightning that splits the air, untouching the earth, breaks the endless dark and light, above..."
Eduardo closes the shutters, struggling against the hot breeze.
What is that you're reading? You know this phenomenon?
"I'm making notes. This might have some significance. "
She marks another entry.
"...overwhelming heat, unseasonably so."
Dranga looks at him.
"People are terrified."
They should be. This is a cataclysm -- a cataclysm beyond any in living memory, and there are living beings on this earth with long memories indeed. If the event is protracted, the level of misery and death will be unthinkable. All will be rot, and soon.
Eduardo has heard of this raining blood before.
Always it heralded the coming of a great evil for the mortal world.
What the Master can't possibly know is the terrific extent to which this particular rain of blood reaches.
While living souls are capable of adapting to most any condition, they can't last forever.
Water will be poisoned, and plants and animals will die.
Not to say what it will have effects on the minds of the living.
Eduardo also knows that the undead in particular benefit in the blood rain, its very nature empowering them with evil results.
A great evil is coming, Dranga, but -- yes, we already knew this. Unless I miss my guess, this is the demi-lich rolling out the red carpet for himself, so to speak. A rain of blood is bane to the living, but boon to the undead. Our healing magic grows weak, while beings bred of negative energy surge in strength. And somebody is hoarding soulfire -- the most surefire way to protect oneself from negative energy long term.
"Eduardo, we can't leap to conclusions yet. We have no idea what his modus operandi is. This could be Orcus, rogue necromancers, it could even be Kastya. Until we are sure..."
The dward pauses, wiping ink from her nose.
"But still, '...bane to the living, but boon to the undead...', that's good."
Grace has awoken, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"Who else could it be?"
"Anyone really; it could even be a demon invasion or an attack from hell. For the past seven years, we haven't been planning or preparing to face the demi-lich anew for the long-term, and now recent events might blind us to other powers that may be as work. The demi-lich's last rise didn't have this blood rain. He didn't use assassins. He didn't make personal attacks against us. He hid in the shadows, using lies and false identities. His magic is powerful; he could be one of us and we would never know."
Dranga chews her lip.
"Well, perhaps Eduardo's deathwatch vision... A divination can be beaten, but not the necromancy that enables your master to see negativer energy."
"What's your point?"
"We must stay focused on our immediate task until we have definite proof. And that task is investigating why soulfire is being acquired."
It could be something else, but it would be an extremely unfortunate coincidence, if so. But Dranga is right. One task at a time.
"Even with points indicating the lich's involvement, there are enough things different that indicate another - or -others - are acting on his behalf, knowingly or not. But as you say, this is a hypothesis we are still trying to substantiate. What else do we have need of before we act?"
"Assassins trying to kill one or two of us does not indicate the demi-lich is active. The shrine's existence can be ancient, well beyond our years of activity. And these thieves, as Eduardo pointed out, could simply be opportunists. As far as what we need, we're ready now. The house is more than prepared for capturing, holding this mugger."
"I've no strong convictions about the motives of these thieves as yet, however convenient it might be to some imagined plan by the lich or any other necromancer. It is only the mention of his name - literally, as Eduardo suggested originally - that puts his spectre before my mind. I am quite sure this is a new threat we are facing, at least on the near view. At the macro level, though... I shudder to think about the possible significance of these events *do* tie back to him."
Another thought: the assassins, the rain of blood, and the soulfire items are not connected to the lich but ARE connected to one another. Still worthy of investigation. Prescott, do you think your marvelous pigments would be useful for crafting our non-illusory disguises?
"Certainly, Eduardo. My resources are available to you all. Tell me what you need and I'll set to crafting it.
We can fabricate new clothes, or use the pigment for it. A simple disguise is all that's needed, since we'll be under a seeming as well. If they use true seeing to see our true forms, I only want them to see the wrong hair colors, facial hair, distinguishing marks and the like.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. How do you figure your Black Veils are connected to the blood rain and the theft!"
"There was no blood rain when you were attacked, and the Necrovalley told you about the soulfire hoarding. If they hadn't, we wouldn't have even thought anything of this robbery.
I don't. But they could be. Why do YOU think black veiled assassins have been perusing me?
"Have they? They attacked Pharrah, and you happened to be there, and haven't pursued you since... Do you have a stash of soulfire they might want?"
Dranga folds her arms, and shakes her head.
"Perhaps your Guild dug up something they should not have. Maybe you've made an enemy you do not know."
"We've had this conversation."
"If someone was coming after Pharrah, that actually throws suspicion on Pete, rather than Pharrah and Shudu... He's alive, but Pharrah is the one we know was attacked along with you. And something about Shudu has been bothering me. Pete never met him."
She said they were there for me, too. They were prepared to counter my battle tactics. Maybe Pharrah lied to me, but to learn such would surprise me.
As for the Lich, we also know the Tomb's location is being fortified with protective magic. That's a solid give-away that he's up to something.

"But it was 'protected' up to two years after you left it."
"How were they prepared for you?"
"The Tomb *has* been protected - or at the very least, tainted - for quite some time, as Dranga points out. The recent events do not point to anything new in that regard, but the powerful anti-scrying defenses do. *Someone* is working to keep that site hidden, and it is not just the taint of evil seeping into the landscape as I had previously theorized. This is deliberate warding."
The protections have escalated and now specifically prevent scrying -- why cover it up if you've got nothing to hide? Are you honestly suggesting nothing is afoot at the Tomb of Horrors?
"But the defenses had been 'getting worse' for the years leading up to your arrival," Dranga points out.
"Harley's children stayed a year before they left. Then Prescott went, and had to leave. Then you went, and it was worse. You have no idea how long this has been in place."
As for how they were prepared to face me, they were immune to my fear effects and seemed prepared to encounter it, based on the way they instantly reacted to, down to the last man, by feigning terror. When I delayed death, they knew in seconds that I was doing so, and how to counter it.
"Were they immune to your fearful presence, or were they immune to fear? You yourself aren't touched by it, why not assassins sent after a vampiress?"
"Daina's immune to fear as well, developed from fighting dragons, but she wouldn't be affected by you either."
Grace nods.
"Did you hide your spellcasting? If we were engaged in combat, and I saw you cast that spell, the first thing I would do is dispel it, and watch with glee."
Grace looks at Dranga in surprise, and the dwarf shrugs.
"What? Magic is fun."
It could be that they were just prepared for every single possible contingency and tactic, including the ones I employ. Or maybe, just maybe, the assassins that Pharrah said were coming for me, were coming for me.[/COLOR][/B]
"Still, there's no reason to suspect these assassins that were sent to kill Pharrah, or the ally of an undead, you, are the cause of the blood rain. It makes no sense. Why would people killing undead, want this? Did you see them using soulfire?"
"Even if the defenses have escalated, that does not prove any ill toward us, related to rain of blood. Soulfire. Or assassins.
The more I think about it, mistaken identity could be your problem, Eduardo."
It's not just that they were immune to fear -- it's now they reacted to it. It's not just that they noticed I was using delay death -- it's how they reacted to it. Rehearsed. Measured. Practiced. They were prepared to face those specific tactics and had planned responses to them.
"Assassins! Its what they do. Ask Harley! Ah, but we can't now..."
Dranga snaps her book shut, standing up.
Were you there? I was. I had a front row seat. They killed me, Dranga.
"No, I wasn't. But being good at their job, killing you or Pharra-"
Maybe Pharrah's warning to me -- that assassins were coming to kill me -- was a lie. And then, the assassins that showed up to kill her coincidentally had planned, choreographed responses to my tactics by coincidence. But the way they fought me does not contradict Pharrah.
So the same assassins that were coming to kill her, were also coming for me. I think that's safe to assume given the details of that encounter. And she killed Pete and placed him there for me to find. The only connection between the two of us is the Tomb. And there's the matter of Shudu as well, another connection to the Tomb.
Everything else is suspicious only due to its timing, I admit.

"Whether or not its all connected doesn't change the task at hand. Finding out what these thieves know about this soulfire. We can't ask them with out skill set, so capturing one is our best plan. We should stick to that."
"That's fair," Dranga nods.
I agree. I don't suggest we change our plan because of this... development. Only that it bodes ill, whether or not it's connected to the lich. And, just in case it is, we should be especially wary of signs that point to him.
Grace pauses.
"They did only take the soulfire, right? Khamal, still has his gold, and nothing else was taken?"
Khamal sat in his usual setup, with his legs criss-crossed. He listens intently with his head slightly dipped down. As Grace speaks, he ignores the question, his mind racing with much more important matters.
"I have a few questions, but only one pertinent one: Prescott, do you currently have any anti-scrying measures already in place?"
Prescott cocks an eyebrow. "Yes, I've had detect scrying up since we woke yesterday morning. Nothing turned up so far, at least within range of me. I also cloaked the four of us as best as I was able from the time we met Dranga until we left Elysium."
"Right..." He pulls his hands forward and begins an incantation. "Detect Scrying"
He gives the spell a moment, and finds nothing.
They depart, going about their preparations.

...Dranga speaks...

Dranga takes Eduardo and Prescott to a crowded cafe, and treats them to a simply, yet delicious lunch.
Eduardo eats his food quietly and thoughtfully. More than ever, death was on his mind. How long before the rain of blood spoiled all the fresh water to be had? Before the trees rotted under a sunless sky?
Each day, the Master grew more certain that the last day would some soon. These were the End Times.
The food was delicious.
"I suppose you're wondering why I took you from your preparations, to meet me here."
Prescott smiled thinly from beneath a tress of assumed auburn hair, draping before his illusory-green eyes. "I suppose you'd like to tell us, if you're asking. What's on your mind, Dranga?"
"I've come to the conclusion, that I haven't been fair concerning the Master's suspicions."
The dwarf looks embarrassed.
"And with that in mind, I ask, 'What are we doing here?'"
Dranga sighs.
"We know the demi-lich is alive. And events are... certainly suspicious... The most likely suspect is that someone, a party like hours, has entered the Tomb, and is doing battle, at this moment, like we did years ago. Shouldn't we go to their aid?"
Dranga looks at both of them.
"I know, plunging to the aid of the unknown, may be an unpleasant idea. But imagine, what if seven years ago, other people with the power to aid us, had sat right here, and came to our aid! Things may have been different!"
The Master looks at her for a moment, trying to read her.
This was a strange confession, and he wasn't sure how to take it.
Things would be no different. We never had a chance against the demi-lich. Not even the gods did. He had us all fooled. If there was even the slightest chance that we would have disrupted his plans by attacking him in the Tomb, he would have eradicated us -- and could have, I'm sure, at any moment. I frankly doubt anyone is in the Tomb given what it looked like last time we were there. We have no reason to believe we could even get anywhere near it. We can't scry on it, and anyone we send there never comes back. Now, all of a sudden, you want to go there? Is there something you're not telling us? Do you know how to do it?
Dranga shakes her head.
"No, I don't know how to get in... But think about it. Seven years ago, we were on the inside, looking out; and undead were running around the land with nothing to stop them, while we were fighting out. Now strange things are happening, soulfire is disappearing. You've been attacked... Its strange..."
"I tend to agree with Eduardo... your sentiment is worthy Dranga, and I might even be inclined to go the aid of such unfortunate souls if only to help them escape. That is, if there actually is another party in there, which we can't be sure of. But I don't believe we would do damage to the lich, based on any information we have now. And even if we wanted to, I don't know we would get there. Scrying is perilous, and travel seems lethal, if your contractors are any indication."
She nods at Prescott.
"Fine, maybe not to fight him, but to get those people out. Shouldn't we try..."
Now it is my turn to play the skeptic. We don't even know anyone is there. What you're asking for, is a potential suicide mission to save someone who probably doesn't even exist. If I heard that Daina had gone in there... we would be right behind. But we have no actual evidence that anyone is there at all.
"I am fine with your plan, Dranga. I would absolutely be behind pulling anyone in there OUT of there. But we need some more intelligence on the whole situation before we charge off on a rescue mission. If the soulfire is somehow connected to the lich, or whoever is operating at the site of the Tomb, then we will be that much more prepared to deal with it after we interrogate someone participating in this hoarding."
She sighs.
"Alright, I'm just letting you two know what I'm thinking. Let Quin know for me too..."
Perhaps after we've followed this lead to its conclusion, we could consider traveling to the Tomb in person. We'd need to start many miles out, and then ride in, since we have no idea how large or powerful the effects of protection on the Tomb are.
Dranga shrugs.
"We were in there for a few days... I suppose whoever, if anyone, is in there, can hold out a little longer."
Or perhaps they haven't yet entered but are about to? Or maybe they're already dead. Or maybe a second group is about to enter, and a third will enter tomorrow. We have no way of knowing.
"Yes, yes, I know, Eduardo. I get it. There were three groups of our own in there, I know it can become quite a popular place."
She takes out a set of tickets, and slides them across the table.
"Not many people are going out in this mess. But I want you guys to take these."
Eduardo looks at the ticket.
What are these?
"There's an exhibit in the city that I think would interest you."
She smiles.
"You guys should go see it. Relics from another land. Their art will interest, you Prescott and their culture will prove to be of interest to you Eduardo. Check it out."
Thank you.
That sounded interesting.
For a moment, Eduardo was afraid she had bought them tickets to some concert or show.
Are you planning on coming with?
"Of course! A distant land, a new place."
Dranga grins.
"...a potential locale for forgotten artifacts, new magic. I want to see it too!"
Then it's a date. I suppose we can't sit around moping and watching blood drip down the window panes all day.
Eduardo smiles.
Dranga beams back at him.
"Exactly! We could bring Khamal and Grace too! Quin might be interest in seeing another faith! It should be good for us!"
Curious, Prescott examines the ticket to see where the exhibit hailed from. "I suppose there's no harm in learning something while we wait for a response. The calm before the storm. Or in the middle of the bloody storm, I suppose." He looks distastefully at the ichor-smeared windows into the dreary half-light outside.
Other people in the cafe look nervous.
They hunch over their food.
And every other gaze goes to the bloody veil that mars the windows.
These dice sets were omitted or moved: 1d20+15

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - Methuselah the Sage

...the next day, the Merchant District, Thames City...

The sage is said to live in a merchant's district, and directions send them deep within, passing the fine homes of the rich and powerful. An open arch provides easy entry into a foyer, where stone benches are placed along a wall. Flowering plants and bushes are arranged in an artful garden in a central, circular plot. A dwarf woman of indeterminate age is tending the garden and looks up as they enter. She raises a single brow, "Yes?"
Daina, with dark circles under eyes, steps forward as Raven and Lissa dismount behind her.
Jake, face unreadable in the early morning light, a new pair of curved swords strapped to the back of his waist. A longspear and a bow are strapped to his back.
Daina smiles, "I'm here to speak to Master Sage Fruhand Droverson, I am Mehsalene of Druaria."
The dwarf's eyes become hard, "I am Ibell. Ibell. The dwarf."
She shakes her head, her dark eyes squeezed shut.
"Fruhand is dead. His apprentice, Methuselah, has taken up the title of Master Sage."
She instrucs them to have a seat upon the benches.
"Enjoy the tranquility of the garden while I fetch the 'young fool'. I planted it myself."
"Well, this bodes well," Alex says from Epona's back after the dwarven woman is gone. He sighs before dismounting. "I guess it couldn't hurt to ask the replacement."
Daina grunts.
"I hope he's as good."
"What will we do if he isn't? Go look for a wizard to cast a few divinations for us?" The 'young fool' bit didn't inspire much confidence in the apprentice's skill.
"We look for another sage."
Daina folds her arms under her breasts, a tic in her jaw.
"Hard research is ALWAYS better than magic. Dragons have manipulated the results from legend lores to set traps, and I've lost lazy friends that way."
She gives Alex a piercing look.
"Never. Cut. Corners."
Shuffling footsteps approach, and they turn to look.
Methuselah is a young man.
Barely in his thirties with a handsome, open face.
And he is blind.
His careful steps, and unyielding staring, violet eyes make it clear the man moves about solely on memory and the odd senses of the blind.
He wears simple, cream robes, into which his hands are tucked, and makes an odd bow to them when he stops in the center of the foyer.
Ibell, grumbling follows, clucking at their horses.
Methuselah smiles at her murmurs, and reveals his ink-stained fingers in a gesture of greeting.
"Welcome! Ibell here will show your steeds to a secure-feeding trough that's kept under-watch. The penalties for horse-theft are high here, but..."
He shrugs, making a crooked smile.
"I know you came here to meet my Master, Master Sage Fruhand Droverson... But, Fruhand died four years ago in an accident..."
He chokes a little.
Daina stands, smiling sadly.
She removes her gloves, and lets Methuselah take her hands in his ink-stained palms, and doesn't flinch as he lightly runs his fingertips across her face.
"I'm sorry for your loss, Master Sage Methuselah."
He nods, "Not a 'Master' yet, but I hope one day to honor Fruhand."
Methuselah cracks a grin, "Did you know him?"
Daina shakes her head, "Not personally. I'm Mehsalene of Druaria..."
Methuselah tilts his head back in recognition, "Ah! Fruhand spoke of your father, Daner of Druaria! A friend of Fruhand is mine!"
He takes her hands again, rubbing his thumbs against hers. "
How can I help you Mehsalene?"
Daina smiles, "My friends and I... Wish you could tell us about a 'The Devourer'"
Methuselah's face twists from eager helpfulness to cold suspicion.
"That was the last request made by my Master before he died! Why do you ask of it!"
Daina extends her hands to take his but he slaps them away.
His voice is harsh.
"Answer me! Why? What is that information to you?"
Jake, letting Ibell take his horse away, walks quickly toward the sage, presenting his hands and face.
"I am Jake Smith..."
Daina scowls at him, but he waves her off.
"Methuselah, a few weeks ago, a man named Payvin was attacked..."
He tells a shortened version of the Captain's story, leaving out their own part in the attack by the Wights.
"We want to know what this 'The Devourer' is. And possibly. If you could, who asked about her before us?"
Methuselah appears somewhat convinced, if shaken.
"That is a worrying tale, Jake Smith and Mehsalene and friends..."
The sage takes a deep-breath.
"I'd have to do my own research into this reference from the creature this Captain saw on the river..."
He bites his lip.
"Personally, after Fruhand died, I didn't pursue the reference. I didn't dare, I'd start where he left off..."
Jake nods, "That's good. And who was the one who inquired about it before us?"
"A sorceror. A sorceror named 'Xanatos'."
Maki stares at the Sage dumbfounded...
More pressing matters had called them here. And yet just one inquiry kept rushing through his mind... like bolt's of fire... So he steps forward and says.
"Quick question... What would happen if a blind person cast"True seeing"?"
Methuselah shrugs, "Wouldn't work very well."
Tordesh, placing his face in his palms, shakes his head wearily.
He's adopted his human form once more.
Daina's eyes become intense.
"Who is he?"
Methuselah shrugs, "A powerful, if secretive sorcer-"
"Where can we find him?"
"He hasn't been seen in years... We were shocked to see him when he showed up."
Daina shakes her head, "I don't care. It'll take time for you to dig up any references, right?"
Methuselah nods.
"How long?"
"Could be a few weeks..."
"Exactly, we can track down this Xanatos in the mean time. How much?"
"Its usually fifteen hundred per day, but since you're a friend, half."
"Thank you Methuselah. Where can we find him?"
"He's known to live among the Broken Kingdoms, avoiding wizards here in Thames."
Daina grimaces, "They can't be trusted."
A curious look drifts across Methuselah's face, "His tower is supposed to be in the north, past the foothills on the Glorious Mountain Range, between Panther Peak and Mt. Kroonburzh. A day's trek north will cause Panther peak to perfectly eclipse the view of Mt. Kroonburzh to the west. When this occurs, put the two peaks at your back and head directly west up the steep scree slope of tumbled rocks and boulders. At the top of this slope is a mountain valley, and at the eastern end of this valley, Xanatos lives. The area is frequented by ogres and giants though, and I warn you, most people figure he's come to a bad end, as most spellcasters do."
Maki continues his line of inquiry.
"Why not get your eyes healed? We have a friend who is a really good cleric. He could heal you if you want"
Methuselah shrugs, "Its never really bothered me before, being blind."
A light smile dances across his lips.
"Sight would be wonderful, though. To see colors."
Tordesh bows, "With Bane's Will, I could remove your blindness upon my return, Sage, in return for your help."
"I think, I would enjoy that. Who are you?"
"I am Toresh de Hrolk, a faithful of Bane, the god of war!"
"The god of war would grant me sight?"
"A soldier needs his eyes. And knowledge is always useful on the battlefield, Sage. Bane would happily do so."
Methuselah nods, smiling, and points toward the minotaur, and Tordesh stomps over, and offers his hand and face for the man's touch.
"Large fellow, eh? I would enjoy talking about this new god, Bane, with you, once I have the information you've requested."
Daina bows, and presses a pouch in Methuselah's hands, "Consider it a down-payment."
Stepping forward, offering his own hands and face to the seer, Marros speaks respectfully.
Methuselah closes his eyes and his finger tips fly across Marros' and up to the monk's face.
Master Sage, my name is Marros, Wanderer of the Unbroken Circle. I too know what it is to be blind, and give you my respect. I am sorrowful for your loss, but I must ask. How did your Master di-
Methuselah releases Marros' hands.
His voice becomes cold.
"Terribly, Wanderer. I wish you good luck on your search and ask you do the same on mine."
He walks away, into the interior of his tower.
Stricken by the Master's response, Marros gapes in shock. After a moment, recovering his wits, he turns to Ibell, I apologize for my foolish tongue. Please convey my regrets to the Master.
Ibell smiles, patting Marros on the knee.
"He still mourns. Blames himself for no' being there when it happened. They found Droverson flat on his back, staring at the ceiling, terror written across his face."
The dwarf looks at her feet.
"It was terrible for us all. But he is with Corellon now, so all is well, though we miss him greatly. Especially Methuselah."
Marros bows deeply to the Dwarf. I understand. Please convey my deepest regrets for causing him pain. I wish him safety in his studies.
Then he turns and follows the others.
Daina runs her hands through her hair.
"I'm going to need a wizard to arrange a teleportation circle. Thames isn't friendly with the Broken Kingdoms."
Toresh, stumbling across the ground, still walking as if he had hooves, shrugs.
"We follow whatever clues Bane gives us Daina... Now, where are those blasted horses?"
When they're riding through the city once more, Daina scowls as they head back toward the house.
"And I'll have to buy overland supplies too..."
Jake frowns, "We could just talk to Pres-"
"But what about Dran-"
"No. We'll take a wizard with us, to drop us at the base of the foothills. From there, we can search for this Xanatos ourselves."
"Considering what happened to Droverson, I doubt he'll just spill whatever he knows," Alex comments from Epona's back. "And if he was researching this 'Devourer', chances are he's pretty strong, or at least he has a high opinion of himself. Any ideas on how to get the information out of him?"
Tordesh grunts.
"Are we strong and possessing a high-opinion of ourselves because we now research the Devourer?"
He shakes his head.
"On the battlefield, knowledge is power, but gold forges alliances between even the most bitter enemies."
Daina shrugs, and Tordesh continues, making a fist, "And there are other ways."
He smiles.
"Strong?" Alex chuckles. "Do I look like a warrior to you? My strength is in opening locks, not fighting. We're researching the Devourer because it could lead us to something, not for fun or a personal challenge."
"Why don't you assume this Xanatos was doing the same?"
"Gold only goes so far. It won't make a solid alliance between true enemies unless they both change. And as for 'other ways',"" he continues, "a determined person will find a way to strike back."
Toresh shakes his head.
"You're making assumptions about a man we've yet to meet. Let's focus on getting there rather than whether we'll have to fight him.
"Fair enough."
"Daina. Daina! Can you buy alcohol too? You know for the expedition?" Maki asks while pulling Daina's sleeve.
Daina gives him a confused look.
"Didn't you, Jake and Toresh score some gold yesterday, buy your own booze! And besides, we can't have you drunk outta your mind in the Glorious mountains. There are giants out there, man!"
"Uhmmm... I dunno...I remember having one... And uncorking it... and having a couple drinks... and then I don't remember... funny."
Maki answers while scratching his chin and thinking.
Daina raises an eyebrow, "Maki, have you ever heard of alcohol poisoning?"
"It just helps me sleep OK? Fine i'll travel the mountain's dry then... "
Maki finishes while scratching his head.
What DID i do last night??
"You're not a dwarf! If you drink too much, your liver will die! And you need those!"
"I'm O-KAY" he replies with a frown.
"Oooookay," Daina grins.
"You guys can head back to the house. I'll go find us a wizard... And over-land supplies to find this Xanatos character."
"I can stick to water... No problem."
Followed by Raven and Lissa, Daina rides toward the bazaars.
Toresh, excusing himself, looks to find a merchant who can convert his winnings to gold coins, joined by Jake.
Maki, following Toresh to a money-changer has all his winnings made changed into the heavy gold coins of the land, marked with the images of the king.
Toresh grins, bouncing the bag in his hand.
"For the glory of Bane's armies."

The next morning finds them riding out of the city.
Daina, who appears to be in a foul mood is joined by their 'wizard'.
A foul-smelling, man in his early thirties, constantly leering at Daina, and the guardswomen.
Raven and Lissa, stone-faced, ignore him, keeping their horses at the back, letting him crane his neck from his shaggy mare in the front.
With a scraggly beard, only the runic pattern on the edge of his auburn robes assure them that he is in fact a wizard.
An ugly, blackwood staff bounces across his back.
Jake explains that there had once been a similar transportation circles that connected the Kingdom of Thames, the Coastal Kingdom, the Highland Kingdom and the Broken Island, but those days were long past.
Conflict and war, had eroded even the ties of magic.
Any questions of Khamal's absence have been outright ignored or dismissed.
An extra packhorse follows them, laden with extra gear and food, while Daina promises spares and extra have been stored in magical spaces in case of an emergency.
Toresh rides in the center of the group, Marros, Alex and Maki riding around him.
The minotaur, once again again in the guise of human, pilgrim seems miserable, constantly rubbing his head for horns that are no longer there.
Maki looks around while riding and then he wanders aloud.
"Where is Khamal?"
Toresh shrugs.
"Hmm That's weird he wasn't with us when we met the sage either..."
The minotaur's snort is an odd sound coming from the human face.
"...he scried on this Tomb place, and Daina was not too happy about, Maki."
" No kidding? Did he find something out? "
"Apparently, the place is warded. He nearly got himself killed."
" So he stepped down then?... Well the Tomb IS a terrible place. I can only imagine what he saw there to scare him so much that he'd leave the group like that "
Toresh shrugs again.
He doesn't know.
About Khamal or the Tomb.
"Sooo How long till we get to where we have to go?"
"We're just getting clear of the city. Large cities have controls on how and where you can teleport. Another hour of riding and we'll be in the Broken Kingdoms."
"Why are they called that?"
"Jake would no better than I... Jake! Jake! Why are the Broken Kingdoms called the Broken Kingdoms?"
The bard turns in his saddle, but the wizard is faster, a slimy sneer splattered across his face.
"Anyone who knew anything would know that the tribes of the Broken Island have always been in conflict, divided, with the Six Broken Kingdoms being the result of their constant fighting. Kings and chiefs rise and fall, over and over, only to be taken back to the wild."
Jake shrugs, as the wizard, chuckling, goes back to his leering.
"...what he said."
Alex's own journey through Thames City had been one of mixed results.
He'd managed to acquire most of the supplies and equipment he needed in the city's bazaars.
The priests at the various temples had all expressed awareness of the problems, and admitted that their healing was, indeed, not as strong as it could be, but new supplies were being made and they would be able to cope with demand.
Riding alone in the back of the group, Marros lets his eyes and ears scan the surrounding area, as his mind wanders. Another one sent away...how many more of us will be left, before we even find our foe? I must remain silent, I must remain vigilant, and I must continue to watch.
An hour of riding and they come to a stop on a hill.
Thames is a grey smudge in the distance.
The wizard, orders a dismount.
"I can bring four of you blokes at once! Now who's going first?"
Daina shakes her head, "Two people first, then, each person and their horse, as many trips as it takes, Benze."
He grins.
"You're the boss! Who's going first?"
"Maybe i should go first. You know? In case we get teleported to the middle of a battlefield..." Maki says shrugging
Marros deftly guides Selka forward. I shall scout ahead as well, if you wish.
Benze, yellowed hands take ahold of Marros and Maki, and they vanish as he carries them away.
Jake looks at Daina curiously, "Why the division?"
She scowls, "I've heard he's ambushed parties when they're divided, or disappeared with the horses."
"Why did you hire him then?"
"Short notice? He's cheap. And nobody believes a word he says!"
Marros and Maki find themselves before a small city, dominated by a large castle.
The smelly wizard had deposited them in a wooded glade.
He scowls at them, "Wait here!"
Another crack of magic, and he's gone.
In this manner, they enter the Broken Kingdoms.
The land is green.
Even the grey clouds blanketing the sky, have a green hue, forming a wave of emerald in the air above rolling hills that arise to the north of the country.
Marros climbs to the top of a nearby tree, eyes glorying in the lush land around them.

It doesn't take long for Benze to get everyone into the glade.
When the last horse, and Khamal arrive, Benze takes out a canteen of water, dumping it over his face.
"Jus' need a min'..."
Daina nods.
"He won't be coming with us. He'll take us to the foot of the Glories, and will check the designated place three times a day until we return. After..."
She looks at him with disdain as she mounts her black horse.
"...two weeks, he'll probably bolt."
Maki looks at the Wizard and back to Daina.
"You give him two weeks?"
"I'm paying him by the day, per Teleport, and for his board, so I'm pretty sure he'll stay before he figures we're dead or the money I gave him up front runs out."
A sparkling river cuts through the country-side. slashing through green hills, dotted by tiny white villages.
Even without the sun, its beautiful.
Alex looks around the landscape. He had always prefered cities or towns to the wilderness, but he had to admit it was nice to travel through such beautiful lands. It was a shame they weren't there vacationing.
"And what will be doing once we get there?" Alex mounts Epona, slightly distracted as he still watches the glittering river and the distant small villages.
"Looking for Xanatos, dismount. We're doing the transfer again. He just needs a rest."
Feeling the warm sun on his face, Marros feels the past week falling off of his heart, as his eyes absorb the lush country around him. It had been far too long since he'd been here. Dancing a little jig, he laughs, rich and ringing through the glade, before swinging down the tree to return the the group below.
"Alrigh', enough dancin'! Let's get you all to the 'Glories'!"
Benze sniggers.
"Same order?"
Daina nods.
"You bet."
"Alrigh' boss."
He gestures to Maki and Marros, "Les' go."
Giving a low whistle to Selka, Marros flips through the air, and lands atop her saddle. Bowing to the assembled group, he steps off of his horse, and nods to the wizard.
His yellowed, clammy hands take Maki and Marros in a crack of magic.
The foothills of the mountains, almost thirty miles away, across rough grassy hills. There isn't the same beauty here. No rolling hills, simply rough, sharp mountains, rising above them.
In the distance, the two landmark peaks are visible against the generally blunted and worn appearance of the surrounding heights. The foothills and lower peaks of the Glories are heavily forested in dark coniferous woods, only the two tallest spires show bare rocky surfaces to the empyrean vastness of the sky.
Benze has deposited them on the rough crossroads of an ancient road.
The ancient paths noticeably doesn't turn toward the mountains.
They'd have to move overland, through the hills to reach the base of the mountains.
Still light on his feet, Marros peers around their new surroundings.
There's nothing much to see.
Harsh wilderness.
No green.
Rough grey and unyielding emptiness.
Sighing, Marros looks at his companion. Well Maki, looks like you're going to have a hard time finding a drink here.
Over the next few minutes, the others arrive, taking in the untamed landscape.
Benze, making another leer, takes gold from Daina and departs.
"I liked our last location better," Alex comments soon after arriving. The place did look rather depressing after being at the hills.
When the wizard disappears, Alex takes a good look at wilderness, trying to spot anything of interest.
Alex doesn't see anything either.
Just rocks and trees.
Daina and Jake mount up, while Toresh mourning his loss of his physical form kicks at the dirt.
Daina smiles down at him, "Should've become a wizard, Tor."
"Haha, Daina."
Raven grins, and holds up a piece of licorice root.
"This should help."
Twisting the root until it breaks, Toresh grins.
"Alright. I can keep up now. We can use the extra horse for equipment."
Daina shrugs, "I suppose we're less likely to be spotted out here than in the city."
Beaming, the man becomes a minotaur once more, all smiles as his horns and massive arms return.
Stomping his hooves, Toresh takes up the rear, behind the pack-horse and his own.
Marros sits patiently astride Selka, watching their surroundings. Waiting for the others to take the lead.
Jake points to a break in the hills that aligns in the right direction, and Daina nods, looking to Marros, "Will you take point?"
I'd be happy to. Would you like me to scout ahead? I can travel swiftly and silently by foot.
She shrugs, "Sure. Don't get yourself killed though."
Sliding off of Selka, Marros pats the horse gently. I'll stay close. If I run into trouble, I'll come back swiftly. Then he begins to lope ahead, legs seeming to eat up the land, as his fluid form seems almost to blur away from them.
"Mmm... These mountains remind me of the ones next to my tribe... Wonder if they are dragons in them too..." Maki comments as he keeps on riding forward
Jake shakes his head.
"No dragons here, Maki. Just trolls, ogres and giants."
After an two hours of riding, its noon.
The sun, which should be high in the sky, is hidden, behind the clouds.
Marros, ahead, comes to a mound.
A hill, atop a hill.
Bringing himself to a slow stop, Marros scans the mound ahead, and the area around. Unsure of which direction to head, he hides himself, and waits for the party to catch up.
He sees nothing unusual atop the mound, and when they ride up, the others keep their distance.
Jake, looking back and forth, runs up to him on foot, his hand on his swords.
"What's wrong? Have you seen something?"
Nothing yet, just an overabundance of caution. He gestures to the mound ahead. I did promise not to get killed after all. Also, which direction should we head from here?
Jake tilts his head, "Look like an old burial mound."
Shrugging, he points to the twin peaks.
"...'past the foothills on the Glorious Mountain Range, between Panther Peak and Mt. Kroonburzh. A day's trek north will cause Panther peak to perfectly eclipse the view of Mt. Kroonburzh to the west. When this occurs, put the two peaks at your back and head directly west up the steep scree slope of tumbled rocks and boulders. At the top of this slope is a mountain valley, and at the eastern end of this valley,'..."
The warrior-bard holds up his thumb, "We have to keep moving north... Dead ahead, friend."
As the bard speaks, the monk's eyes scan the mound ceaselessly.
Given recent events, graves make me nervous.
Looking at Jake he smiles.
Due North. Thank you, my friend. Sorry for holding us up, let's keep moving.
After another hour, Marros finds something strange.
The a large hill rises before a deep valley, cut into the harsh rock.
From here, it looks like an industrious people have carved a life into the steep walls.
And its burning.
Bodies litter the narrow slip of ground between the two sides of the valley, stepped over by black robed figures, searching among the smoking ruins.
The crackle of flames, and chanting doesn't do anything to stifle a single piercing scream that rings from the far side of the village, obscured by smoke and distance.
Crouched low, Marros scans the scene ahead. Knowing he should run forward, but held by his promise to Daina, he begins moving backwards slowly. Taking care not to silhouette himself. Once clear, he rolls to his feet and runs full speed towards his oncoming party. They must be warned.
Smoke and distance makes it hard to see anything more, but the screams continue.
The lack of any struggling, and the black shapes easy manner of movement does not bode well.
They might already be done.
Marros reaches the others without trouble.
Raven, casting another Haste spell upon the minotaur, takes one look at his face and knows.
"What's wrong?"
Swinging up on Selka's back, Marros explains the scene that awaits them. There are black robes burning and killing. I don't know why, or who these people are, but they were slaughtered. Spurring forward, he draws his Oathbow, I could not help them without warning you.
Jake's eyes widen.
"It sounds, like you already may have been too late, anyways."
He loosens his own bow, and presses his horse forward.
Toresh, spinning his axe across his palm, pats the horses, "We'll see what we can save. Come along, Thunderclash!"
"All right!"
Maki agrees and urges his mare forward as he unsheathes his Falchion!
Daina shakes her head, "He's always been eager..."
She bolts her horse forward, riding after him.
Lissa scowls, "Evil's reach is ever long."
Riding alongside Jake, Marros shouts to be heard over the hooves. When we get close enough, I will step to the top of the valley's buldings on the left side, to try and spot any survivors. Is there anyway for us to communicate at a distance?
"None that I know, monk. Daina's guardswomen are all sorcerers though, they might be able to do that."
Jake frowns, "I will take to the center, and ride through. Daina!"
"Take the rise, to the right!"
"Got it."
Its hard for the horses to go so hard without a real path, but they're good, and push through pushes, and weave among the trees.
Falling back slightly, Marros shouts Raven! Lissa! Can you allow us to communicate at a distance, through the din of battle?
Jake's voice rings through the Message.
Message"Why? What are you planning?"

MessageI want to spot any survivors if there are any left. Maybe get a better idea of whats going on. If the black robes are indeed enemies, Arrows will fall like rays from the sun.

As they approach the burning village, Alex pulls his crossbow free. While Epona climbs to the top of the hill, the rogue whispers through the spell
MessageHow many targets did you see?

Now Toresh's voice drifts across the spell.
"Then don't tell us to look for you-Daina will take the high ground opposite you, Jake, Maki and I will sweep the bottom. The sorceror's should take the middle ground, while the thief, pinch hits."
Raven's sounds confused, "Support or attack."
"Make your own judgement, I trust you. Be careful though," Daina warns.
"Things may not be what they seem."
Jake sighs, "Are they ever?"

Alex directs Epona towards the Wanderer and Selka.
MessageMarros, can you take me with you to the top of a building?

MessageI would be honored to have you at my side.

Riding stirrup to stirrup with the rogue, Marros looked down slowly, and a series of strange neighing sounds issued from his mouth.
HorseSelka, Epona, once we vanish stay clear of the fighting. Defend yourself at need, we will return for you.

Then reaching a hand out to Alex, he steps.
Toresh and Jake follow behind Maki, pushing their horses down the hill.
Spying an outcropping of rock, they dismount.
Jake waves them forward.
"The horses can't maneuver in this narrow environment anyways. I'll secure them and catch up. Just don't let anyone pass us."
Toresh nods, freeing another axe from his horse's pack before taking the lead.
Above, Alex and Marros appear on the uppermost roofs above the village.
There is lots of smoke.
And many bodies.
Alex spots a black-robed figure, wielding some slashing weapon over a person crawling along the ground.
He fires instinctively, and there's a harsh cry.
Smoke drifts across his vision, and the black robes are crumbled on the stone below.
Marros hears chanting, rising uptoward them.
On the ground, Maki can hear it too.
The sound makes their hairs on the back of his neck stand.
One word is constantly repeated.
The whirling smoke makes it hard to see, but from above and on the floor of the valley, down the abandoned homes and across the still bodies, they can see movement, furtive hiding, moving among the dead.
A loud shout of the name, "NERULL!"
The power of the dead god's name casts back the smoke, revealing a black stone altar in the center of village.
Blood pours down the mound of dead the black slab is balanced upon it, and black robes, holding cups collect it, chanting as they do so.
A single, robed-figure, holding a large, black weapons, stares down at a twitching victim bound.
Raven places a hand on Maki, enhancing the barbarian's speed.
MessageCultists hiding in the smoke. Be Careful.

Nocking an arrow, Marros sights in on the Head Cultist. As the knife begins to decend, he whispers to the man, Amin vesta lle Gurtha, and looses with pure focus, sending the arrows with all the power of his will.
The cultist leader turns, almost as if he'd heard someone speaking to him.
The arrows plunge through his neck and heart, sending him after his dead god.
The cultists duck and screech, trying to run from the bolts of fire and lightning that fall from above.
One man bursts into flaming bolts of lightning as an arrow slams his heart clear from his chest, leaving nothing but ashes.
Jake and Toresh run with the barbarian as Maki communicates telepathically with his teammates
Message" Got any plan? Maybe we could get them from the side?"

The minotaur, scans through the smoke as he runs.
"The monk and thieves are firing from above, the guardswomen are moving on the side!"
Jake, less annoyed, speaks between steps as he bursts through the smoke.
"We're sweeping through, Raven and Lissa have our immediate flanks."
Aiming his crossbow once again, Alex quickly scans the grounds for likely targets before releasing a barrage of bolts at the cultists.
A cultist, in position to flank the warrior-bard, screeches out as the bolts drop him to the flat of his back.
Raven and Lissa, soar along the levels of the village, their magic carrying them in quick, bounding leaps.
Flames dance across their fingertips as they move to corral the fleeing cultists, keeping them from hiding in the buildings.
Five wild-eyed cultists bursts from the smoke, running toward the three men.
Maki notices their mouths are covered in blood.
He can hear the crackle of flames and sparks and thunder beyond them.
Alex sees one of the cultists, untouched by the arrows raining down upon them, dive for the fallen dagger.
Other cultists, drop their cups, and hike up their robes, running to safety in the buildings.
Six let their feet carry them north, hopefully an exit, screaming their fallen god's name over and over.
Spotting the cultists running, Marros stows his bow, crouches, and whispers through the spell;
MessageSix flee north, moving to intercede.

Flinging himself forward, he steps once again. Reappearing ahead of them, he lands lightly, in a low martial stance, seeming to cloak himself in the smoke.
The shifting haze shows three dead bodies, and another flaming pile of ash.
The two cultists who had escaped Daina's wrath, smack into one another as they look to the sky in terror.
One collapses to the the dirt, before hauling himself up, breaking right, headed to one of the homes.
Noticing that one of the cultists attempted to retrieve the fallen dagger, the rogue fires a volley of bolts at it.
The bolts bounce off the stone altar, nearly hitting the victim, though one shatters the cultist`s shoulder. Screaming out, a clawing hand grasps the dagger to his chest.
The cultists gazes up at the high homes, searching for Alex and Daina before pressing himself to the relative safety of the bloodied altar.
Sliding to a stop, Jake draws his green, curved longsword, and takes a step forward with a sinuous, silent slicing motion.
The cultists eyes bulge in terror as the warrior-bard sends two halves of the man flying behind him.
Toresh's axe cauterizes the neck stump of the cultist he beheads as he screams Bane's name to the sky.
Between the two of them, they halt the flight.
Raven, pointing to a skulking black robed elf, delivers a shocking grasp through a hand of fire.
The cultist curses and screams at her, spitting, "He will riiiiiise!"
Maki charges wildly at the confused cultists!
A young cultist, his face obscured by ugly, tattoos of death freezes as Maki flies through the air.
His pupils shrink before Maki's rage.
Toresh and Jake hold up their hands as blood flies everywhere.
The minotaur shudders, "That's just..."
Jake nods, "Didn't know a falchion could make a spleen sandwhich from a guy's hip and neck bones."
He is... disturbingly good with that thing... Alex thinks as he hears a crunching sound and sees from the corner of his eye as blood splatters everywhere.
Shifting slightly, Marros slides towards the unsuspecting cultist, then seems to leap silently into the air. Falling Leaves! Before the man can even scream, the monk lands atop his shoulders, bearing him to the ground, and striking with carefully measure force.
He needn't have bothered with the finishing strike, the flying attack kills the man with a single blow.
Regaining his focus after the gory show, the thief once again shoots at the cultist with the dagger, intent on saving at least the victim on the altar.
The man screams aloud as the bolt pierce his chest.
Incredibly, he still lives.
The true leader of the cultists, had stepped aside, letting an acolyte step forward to perform the ritual and become fully blooded in their wilderness roving cell.
Now, as he hefts the heavy lead dagger over his head, he thanks Nerull for the inspiration that had saved him, and glorified his soon-to-be-risen god.
He ignores the pain, living in the moment.
The irony doesn't escape him as he stares down at the bloodied wretch bound by shimmering chains of force on the altar.
The warrior clambering up the slick mound of dead doesn't scare him, especially not as he recoils in the muted presence of the dead god's altar.
The minotaur, scouting for more of the cultists tramps through the smoke, leaving the warrior with the silent sword and the barbarian to oppose him.
The raging warrior clambers up the slick pile of blood, saying something to the sacrifice, but the cultist isn't listening.
He doesn't need to hear they're futile words.
Even if they evaded the fear, the exhaustion would leave them weakened and impotent before Nerull's might.
They were to late! With this strike-
A glowing, pea-sized ball of flame burns through the smoke, and drifts over his shoulder, twenty feet behind his ear.
Maki hears the cultist curse softly under his breath.
Alex raised his crossbow once again against the cultist but before he could pull the trigger, the ball of flames had already consumed it's body.
The low roar of the Fireball, is followed by an ear-popping crack as the cultists flaming carcass is hurled over the altar and between Maki and Jake, dropping to the dirt in a flaming ruin.
Letting Marros and Raven take care of the fleeing cultist, the thief secures his weapon before proceeding to make his way down. He hangs himself from the edge of the house before letting himself fall. He proceeds to slide along the wall before using a combination of jumps, rolls and acrobatic manouvers to reach the floor.
As Raven intercepts the cultist that had evaded Marros with shocking results Jake and Maki tired and worn before the black stone, can see that no amount of cutting will free the victim.
They can't even tell if it was a man or woman.
Part are missing from an opened body cavity, and arranged in a neat circle around the torso.
A heart, singed with magic runes, beats feebly before their eyes.
A single eye looks up at them.
Flipping the curved blade across his palm, Jake raises the sword over his head in a slow spin.
Maki sweeps Jake's legs from under him before he can continue.
"What are you doing?! It might have some information on what went on around here! At least let Tordesh have a look at it first!"
Landing on his back, Jake nods, saying nothing.
Picking him up from the pile of bodies, he stares as the black stone.
Maki turns around to call for the only one of their group that could help in this situation.
The cleric of Bane comes running, stomping through the ruins.
Toresh places a single hoof on the pile of dead, and the chains tighten, pulling the victim apart with a tortured scream.
The minotaur stares in shock, and Jake looks at him in horror.
"What did you do!?!?!"
"I don't know!"
Stunned by the dead man beneath him, Marros staggers up. How could he be....damn Death cultists.
Upon reaching the floor, Alex stops for a moment as he surveils the scene. Marros and Raven were at the other side of the village, while Maki and Jake were inspecting the altar, with Tordesh heading towards it as well. There were no signs of Daina and Lissa.
Shaking Marros head, he heads in search of the hiding cultist, heightening his sense to pierce the billowing smoke.
He finds Raven, looking over the still form, sparks still dancing across his skin.
She smiles sadly at him, "Did I steal your ki-"
There is a crack as the altar splits in half.
Fire and evil burst into the sky, hurling dead, stone and Maki through the air.
Jake, swinging the silent sword in a flurry of action, cuts fragments of stone in half, letting the shockwave ripple around him.
Alex instinctively covered his ears and cringed as the altar exploded, sending the barbarian flying and tearing the cleric apart. Thinking fast, he quickly reaches into his haversack as he ran to the source of the explosion, pulling a wand free.
Raven looks at Marros, and turns, running through the smoke.
Upon reaching the altar, Alex has no doubt that the minotaur is dead and beyond his help.
Jake, sword in hand, stares at Toresh and Maki's torn bodies.
The sound of hooves rings in the bards ears, and he sees Lissa dropping from a ledge, and running toward him.
"What happened!"
Daina, followed by the horses, leads them into the village.
The horses, spooked by the smoke and dead and evil kick and roll their eyes, but soothing sounds keep them from bolting.
Feeling the explosion thudding through him, before even the sound reaches his ears, Marros is already in motion. Seeing the Barbarian fly through the air, he steps, catching the large man, and slowing their downward rush. Finding no life within, his fingers flash with delicate precision. Swiftly, carefully, he removes the magic amulet around his neck, a gift that had saved his life countless times, and places it upon the dead man's neck, hoping against hope, that it would restore him.
As Marros presses the amulet to the barbarian, he realizes that it's too late. The necklace is triggered by the touch of death, not it's mere presence. Sorrow draws across his face...
Jake runs his hand through his hair.
"I was going to put the victim out of their misery."
Raven raises an eyebrow, "What did they d-"
"You don't want to know."
"They rigged her to explode?" Daina says.
"No, Maki stopped me, and called Toresh. When he came close, the altar exploded!"
"They must have set it to keep any other gods from interfe-"
But Daina isn't listening.
She's already crouched over the minotaur's body, cradling his head in her arms.
....then suddenly Marros sees life energy returning, flooding Maki's body. Spotting a similar amulet glowing beneath his shirt, Marros smiles. Falling slowly, he reclaims his necklace, and holds on as they return to earth.
Daina takes a deep breath.
She removes Toresh's gauntlet, and hangs it around her neck on a chain.
Jake looks down at her as Lissa comes up, her rapier drawn.
"I can have Toresh be raised by a priest of Bane later. For now, I'll take his stuff for safe keeping, and his hand."
The warrior-bard nods.
"Do you need he-"
"No, get everyone ready to move out."
She takes the axes, placing them into one of her bags of holding.
Some habits died hard.
A red box goes next.
So cold... T
his feeling he had wasn't the scorching heat he had felt from the explosion before.
It was cold...
A cold...
So familiar to him now...
It told him to sleep...
Just sleep for a while.

Maki breathes in the smoke filled air once more.Opening his eyes, he looks around.
"What the hell?"
Maki sees Daina, holding her sword over Toresh's still form.
Raven holds out his limp arm.
With a slicing cry, Daina cuts off one of the minotaurs right hand off at the wrist.
Jake peers down at the barbarian, "Hey, Maki! Those amulets Prescott gave us turned out to be pretty useful, eh?"
"Yeah... Though I would have preferred to find out about it later than sooner..."
Leaving Daina to her grisly task, Marros walks around the strange village, searching for any signs of survivors, or remaining cultists. Moving carefully, senses on high alert after the trapped altar, he makes his way back towards the building the cultist had run towards.
Raven and Lissa aid Marros' search, flying among the buildings.
The revelation is clear. The small hunting community had been wiped out by the cultists.
No survivors on either side.
Damn it, what happened here? These cultists died too easily. as they searched, Marros explained what had happened with the lone cultist who died at a tap. Finding nothing, he walks back over to the others.
"If anyone needs healing, I have a wand and a few potions here," Alex offers to those around him.
Jake offers his arm, giving Alex his thanks.
Raven shudders, "The god of death was a fickle one. Snuffing life from his faithful as readily as those he sacrificed."
Daina wraps the hand in a torn cloth from one of the cultists, and places it in her bag.
She smiles at Maki.
"Good to see you're still up, Maki."
Maki looks down after seeing Daina's smile and kneels over Tordash's corpse...
"I'm sorry big guy...I'll buy the drinks after we get you back..."
Seeing Maki standing, he says "You shouldn't be standing just yet, come here my friend, and take my hand." and reaches out a scarred hand.
Once he is up Maki starts walking towards Tordesh's body.
Then he looks at Marros.
"Why... what can you do?"
Marros smiles at the barbarians stubbornness. With mental control, I can restore your body to it's desired state. You look like a stiff breeze will knock you over. Now take, my, hand.
Maki still looks at Marros with a weird look on his face.
"How... is your mental control going to affect.. Meh whatever."
He says taking his companion's hand while getting up once again.
Grabbing the big man's hand in a firm grip, Marros' eyes twinkle. Watch. Envision your body whole. Suddenly, Maki feels a sudden surge of energy, and he feels his wounds begin to close as his body rapidly knits itself back together. There's no lights, no white glow, just his own natural healing, magnified a hundredfold.
Dropping the man's hand, and nodding at Maki, Marros then walks slowly over to Daina. Daina...I'm sorry. I wish there were something I could do for him.
Daina turns around, looking north.
"Now that Alex is here, we mount up and keep going. We can alert the authorities when we return."
She sighs.
"Toresh is fine. With his hand, he'll be back stomping around in a week."
Marros smiles, and nods. I suppose you're right. Then he whistles for Selka, smiling to see Epona following faithfully behind. I'm ready to move, shall I scout ahead?
She nods, "Nothing changes, Marros."
At this Marros' eyes widen. Yes Daina, you speak true. The Circle continues. Unbroken.
Bowing deeply, he turns to run.
Scouting once more.
With a last look at the village, Alex mounts on Epona before they leaving the smoking ruins behind with the others.

In the fading light, Daina stares at the twin peaks ahead of them.
"If Methuselah's directions are correct, then we should find Xanatos somewhere in those mountains."
She looks at them from her horse.
"With fading light, I've got to ask... Do you guys want to make camp? Or press on?"
Stretching his legs, Marros seems almost relaxed after a day of hard running. I am willing to carry onward, but this Xanatos may not look kindly on nighttime visitors. Perhaps it is wiser to wait for now.
Daina draws breath through her nose.
"If events are in anyway related to what occured in our past, I dare not delay."
Jake, beside her, nods.
As you wish. he nods, and readies himself to run once again, undeterred by the falling light.
Through the dark, they make their way across the mountainous terrain. Going along the forested sides and bottom of a broad vallege, they come to the massively tall and wide talus slopes on the east side of the bank, where the Peaks perfectly eclipse one another.
To the naked eye, the ascent up the rocky slope doesn't appear to be particularly hazardous, but with night coming...
Daina grunts.
"And Harley took his climbing equipment with him..."
Raven hovers a foot off the ground.
"We could just Fly up?"
"And the horses?"
Lissa shrugs, "I can stay with them."
"I could walk up the walls without problems," he tugs at his cloak, the web patterns dyed black. "I also have a rope, and a few lights in case we need them."
"But that would take longer than flying! The lights are a must though." says Daina.

...Xanatos' Stronghold...

As Raven and Lissa bestow flight on everyone, Marros makes his way up the nine hundred foot tall cliff. When he pulls himself over the cliff, he finds himself in a small mountain valley surrounded by cliffs that tower over a thousand feet high on all sides, save to the west where the talus slope drops steeply away. Through the dark, Marros can see the valley is a roughly eight-hundred foot circle.
Against the eastern cliff wall is what was once a multi-chambered abode of stone, a small fortress.
Statues, atop plinths two cubics high make up a sort of courtyard before a wide semicircle of cleared meadowland abuts the reddish-gray cliff face. The clearing, free of the statues, life-size work of warriors, wizards, priests and assassins,surrounds the old stronghold, single-storied save for one ruined tower on its right edge. The building is constructed of stone, but it has obviously seen better days. The cleared area has been paved with red flagstone. Chest-high weed, the hardy mountain type, and this bushes grow profusely up through the cracks in the pavement.
None of the windows are large enough to climb through, and all are grimed to hide the interior. From this distance, despite the dark, Marros can see the roof is smashed in.
Two massive double doors, twenty-five feet tall, and made of black iron are the only clear entrance.
Waving to let the others know he had completed his ascent, Marros turned back to the fortress before him. Eye's piercing the darkness with ease, he begins to slowly move forward, searching for any signs of life.
With the distance and the fading light, nobody can see him anyways, but Jake and Raven rise toward the monk anyways.
The statue near Marros is of some sort of king in ceremonial armor.
The entire work, from the boots, to the decorative whorls and the points of the crown had been carved by hand.
That scream...where is it coming from? Moving quickly, Marros hides himself in the grasses, slowly moving towards the statue.
The scream takes on a presence as he listens more carefully, ahead and above him...
Moving... Falling?
Scanning the sky, Marros continues carefully moving forward.
Maybe something went wrong with one of the Fly spells?
Right before the doors, there is a crash and a thud, and the scream is cut short.
Something had dropped from the sky...
Hearing the body hit, Marros abandons stealth and dashes forward. He knew it could be a trap, but if one of the others were in trouble...
The monk's feet pound across the flagstones as the air takes on a chill.
Sliding to a stop, Marros sees the frost giant shift its shoulder back into place, and lift itself from the crater with a swagger.
It glares down at the half-elf, dwarfing him, as it eclipses one of the doors.
The frost giant stares at the insect, ignoring its own wounds, and takes a step from the hole it'd left from the fall, letting the great axe of frost thud and crack the flagstones.
" All right time to get moving "
Maki says out loud while he unsheathes his Falchion and starts flying upward as fast as he can.
Daina floats just behind the barbarian, soaring upward.
"Why the drawn steel Maki? Do you predict trouble up top?"
"Up top , down from the side. After the whole Cultist fiasco i expect trouble everywhere on this damn Region... " Maki answers as he keeps flying with one fist stretched upwards.
As he reaches the top, Maki sees Marros running toward a fortress at the back of the valley.
Jake and Raven have dropped down, raising their hands to their eyes to try and see in the fading light.
" What's he doing?? "
He wonders aloud as he starts flying towards him.
With a roar, the frost giant surges forward with its frost covered axe of ice, sending Marros flying with a crushing blow.
Bouncing across the flagstones, he steps to safety, appearing in front of Raven and Jake.
The warrior-bard looks down at the monk in surprise.
"He hit you pretty hard."
He offers Marros a hand.
"No worries though, we'll just let Maki handle him."
They hear the frost giant let out a loud roar, throwing its head back to the sky.
"All right big guy let's see what you got!"
Maki says to the rest as he dashes towards the frost giant, fist held high in the air.
Taking the bard's offered hand, Marros jumps to his feet, and explains what happened. I know his tournament story, but this one may not play by the rules. Triggering his belt, he frowns for a moment as nothing happens. Then again, neither will we. Raven, any chance of a little speed boost?
Raven smiles, and produces another piece of licorice.
Marros' heart quickens in his chest.
"What is a frost giant doing here?" The thief asks mostly to himself.
Daina grimaces, muttering something under her breath.
It was well beyond his reach, and hopefully it would stay there. Alex loosens his blades before pulling free his crossbow and aiming at the giant.
The frost giant licks its lips and begins a slow lunge toward Maki.
"Το έντομο με προκλήσεις ... Ενδιαφέρουσες."
It moves faster.
Breaking into a full run.
"All right... Just a little closer..."
Maki mutters as he keeps closing the distance.
Thank you. Should we help him? As the magic thrums through his body, the monk seems to get conversely more still. His extreme focus channeling the incredible energy, waiting for the right time to release it.
"Δύναμη μου είναι ασταμάτητη, με βάση το κρέας-τσάντα!"
The frost giant weaves among the statues making a straight line toward Maki.
Jake shakes his head, "He'll do fine."
Daina nods, "Besides, I have to know if that story was true or he pried that belt off a dead drunk..."
Raven looks nervous, "Perhaps, idle curiosity shouldn't define a man's life?"
Daina looks at her, and sighs.
"Alright... Just in case..."
She takes a careful draw of her bow.
"...I'll be ready."
Bowing to Daina, Marros replies, As shall I. then, barely seeming to move, he is gone, a slight airburst in his wake, the unbelievable speed causing him to barely touch the ground.
Maki looks at the Giant incredulously.
"Κρέας-τσάντα? Τι κάνατε της?"
He crosses his arms and hovers to the ground.
Then he clicks his boots softly.
Maki's words drift toward the Frost Giant, and its brow furrows in rage.
...meat-bag god-spawn dared to address him in the language of the primordials?
He dared.
"Είμαι πάντα ένας γιος του ΠΡΩΤΟΤΥΠΟΥ, πόρνη-παιδί των Θεών!"
Maki looks at the giant in the eyes with a defiant look.
"Let's see ... I'm gonna test his arm a little..." He thinks while holding his falchion up.
And then he blizzard is upon him, in winter's fury.
With magical flight, to aid him, Maki dodges the first whistling blow.
Spinning with a scream of cold, the great-axe returns, slashing across Maki's back.
Coming to a stop, weapon raised, Daina and Harley look at one another.
"Yeah, he's fine."
After being struck Maki stares at the Giant intensely... Eyes burning with renewed anger...
The cool disgust of the giant is his only response...
Τώρα ... Είναι η σειρά μου!
...until he opens his mouth.
The frost giant's rage only appears to grow.
Then Maki flies directly towards his face.
The giant screams, swinging the great axe across Maki's head with a puff of ice.
Railing against the giant's armor, Maki doesn't even make a dent.
With labored breathing, the giant slams its open boots together, just like Maki and strikes.
And with blazing, furious speed, he hacks at the barbarian, slicing across him over and over.
"He really shouldn't keep speaking in Giant," Jake grunts.
Loosening his second blade, he runs forward.
Daina shakes her head, "Totally knew it."
Maki answers every single of the Giant's blows with his own!
The giant doesn't even bother to block, letting Maki's wild attack bounce of its ice covered armor.
As Alex continues moving, he watches as the giant swings at Maki. He decides to approach carefully, staying out of reach while holding his crossbow at the ready.
When he sees the onslaught, he fires, and the crossbow bounces off the giant's armor.
Marros slides forward, stepping precisely through the tall grass, moving with such agility, that he barely seems to disturb a single blade. Oak Hewing Strike!
His fist bounces off the frost giant's icy flesh.
Blow after blow strikes with cracking force on the icy armor.
But Marros is unstoppable, beating anyways.
Distracted by the monk and the barbarian, the frost giant can't avoid Daina's arrows.
Maki and Marros' ears pop as he screams to the sky as fire and lighting light up his back in a fiery display of her skill.
Blood drips from his lips, almost freezing as it flows between his teeth.
Raven's eyes flash as she casts a spell to muddle the frost giant's mind.
He shakes it off, snarling, at Maki, and Marros sees the frost giant's own disgust of the barbarian may be shielding his mind.
Maki steps forward blood spilling from everywhere on his body he starts his swings become wider and heavier.
" Εγώ θα σχίσει το κεφάλι σας!"
But not a single one hits.
"Όπως έχω άρπαξαν τη μητέρα σας, κάτοικος Λάσπη?"
Hovering in place, Alex waits once again for the giant to move before acting. He levels his crossbow, trying to calculate how to adapt his shots to the distance.
Screaming bloody murder, the frost giant raises his axe high into the air, and Alex fires.
The crossbow bounces off the frost giant's armor again.
Jake watches the flurry of icy attacks that rain down on Maki, and changes direction, letting the magical flight carry him closer to the guardswoman.
Back and forth, the frost giant swings, forcing the barbarian to duck low to keep his head on his shoulders.
Laughing at the ducking bug, the frost giant snaps its heels together, and leaps over Marros, landing behind him.
"Raven! Can you bring us closer?"
She nods, holding onto her feathered cap as she flies towards Daina and Jake.
"Already on it!"
Spinning, Marros becomes a whirlwind, not letting the frost giant get an advantage.
Deterred at every angle by the Giant's thick hide, Marros flows from stance to stance, Fury of the Sage! raining precision strikes at the Giant's chakras, nerve clusters, and tendons.
Ignoring the blows, the Frost Giant glares at Marros, and raises its great axe, but thinks better of it, letting Marros' ineffective punches and kicks bounce of his armor.
He aims for the heart, but the attack only strikes metal plate.
A sweeping kick bounces of the frost giant's knee.
The monk strikes beneath the arm, and the frost giant roars, lashing out with the axe to drop Marros on his back.
Marros hops over it, smashing his fist down on the frost giant's helm.
Shaking its head, it tries to drop him from the air, but Marros shifts, striking through the frost giant's cloak, around its neck, and the monk hears a crack as bone breaks, and it groans, spitting frigid blood.
Roaring, it spins the axe, catching Marros under the ribs with the spiked end of its axe, laughing at it drops to the ground, and pounds down with the large blade.
Still kicking and punching, the monk's blows bounce of the frost giant's icy shins.
Fire ripples around them, and the giant grunts as flame and heat rolls over its muscles and armor.
Daina frowns as her arrows soar over the crouched giant's shoulder and into the lingering flames.
"Never aim for the head... I know that..."
She reaches out, and takes Raven's hand.
In a flash of light, the Guardswoman brings Jake and Daina significantly closer, and the thief grins.
"Much better."
Keeping his crossbow trained on the giant, Alex awaits the best moment to shoot.
Maki, blocked by Marros, hurls himself up to lash down at the frost giant.
"πεθάνεις γίγαντας σκατό!"
The frost giant, now calm and collected, reaches out, and closes his fist around Maki's face.
Alex fires his crossbow as the frost giant smashes Maki's head into the ground.
Lifting the greataxe high into the air, the crossbow bolt glances off the frost giant's chest as he brings the axe down on Maki's head.
Stomping the ground with its foot, the frost giant launches Maki into the air, and the barbarian spins, making a desperate attack that comes nowhere near the giant as he grabs Maki by the neck, pulling the barbarian's face into his planted knee.
Marros hears Maki's nose shatter, and two teeth bounce off his tunic.
Another knee to the face sends Maki's head back, giving the frost giant room to make two slashing cuts across Maki's chest with the great axe.
A stiff punch to the chest doubles Maki over, he wheezes for air, and too late he realizes he's been left open for an underhanded swing that shatters his jaw.
Flipping the weapon across its palm, the frost giant jabs Maki in the throat, causing the barbarian to gag.
"Η μητέρα σου κάνει αυτό πάρα πολύ, βρώμικο άνθρωπο."
Marros can hear the calm, coldness in the voice as frost giant flips the axe back again in a backhand swing across Maki's belly, and the monk sees Maki's entrails poke out through the rend.
Realizing this foe was too strong to topple, Marros changes stances. Launching himself backwards and away, he shifts out of reach, vanishing before the giant's eyes. Reappearing high above, he begins slowly drifting downwards, drawing his mighty Oathbow.
Amin vesta tela a' coia launching arrow after arrow, wreathed in grey, making shocking *thumps* as they impact.
And Maki feels everyone of them.
The shafts strike between the barbarians ribs as the frost giant maneuvers him as a literal human shield.
As the last arrow buries itself in the the back of Maki's next, the frost giant makes a disgusting sound in the back of its throat, and looses a ball of ice and fluid into Maki's blood covered face.
The frost giant's eyes widen in surprise, a sudden suspicion becoming reluctant understanding, and it stares away from Maki to the doors.
It tries to snarl, but the calm cannot be denied, even as it clutches its chest.
Its eyes flick over its shoulders, and it reaches out, swinging Maki around in an attempt to shield it from Raven's Fireballs, that tears across it and Maki in a flaming burst.
The heat and fire licks across Maki's skin and leaves large welts across the frost giant's face.
Calmly, it continues to maneuver the barbarian through the lingering flames, letting the Daina's arrows slam into Maki's back and arm.
Narrowing her eyes, Daina compensates, letting the lingering distortions of heat that dries out Marros hair and creates ripples in the air disappear before her arrow head.
Even as the arrows plunge into the frost giant, one detonates with fiery force, violently hurling the frost giant's charred, crackling heart out of its back.
It doesn't scream, meeting Marros', then Jake's eyes as the warrior-bard sweeps past him.
The axe, in its hand is ready, but its fingers are too numb.
Not enough time to stop him, Jake is already behind him when the blade is starts moving.
The silent sword, cuts across the frost giants spine, while the short skewers the flying heart in mid-air in a burst of burnt blood.
Lifeless fingers release the barbarian, and the frost giant sways.
"Έχω αποτύχει. Kostchtchie, rage on without me..."
It tries to turn, and look at the doors, but it can't.
An enforced peace comes faster, and ends the storming, frigid anger.
With a thud, the frost giant falls, collapsing onto his back with a deathly gasp.
Flourishing the swords, Jake frees them of the frozen blood that sticks to the tortured steel, and sheathes the blades with a ringing snap.
Turning on his heel, he bows stiffly to the fallen frost giant.
Daina lowers her bow, and Raven sticks her magic rod back among the folds of her tunic, and adjust her hat.
With his entrails still sticking out Maki gets up and lurches looking around for Marros... An angry snarl can be heard from his broken throat.
" Neck...lace... "
Shaking off his shock and horror at the Giant's diabolical tactics, Marros rushes forward. He had no idea how the barbarian could possibly be alive, but maybe this time he wouldn't be too late. Tearing the amulet from around his neck, he placed it onto the bloody mass that had been his friend.
Before the Monk could put the necklace around him, Maki takes it from Marros' hand forcefully, ripping the old one of sd he ties it around his neck.
Then he falls to his knees.
"Death... Again..."
His eyes close.
Once again Maki sees himself surrounded by darkness...This feeling was becoming to familiar to him now. The cold from the Frost Giant's axe was nothing compared to this...
Still ...
He breathed...
Maki inhales the cold mountain air as he looks around in confusion and finds Marros looking at him.
"So ... I take it the fight's over? "
Daina, seeing Maki is all right, walks around the frost giant's body, headed toward the front doors of the stronghold, followed by Jake and Raven.
"Why is my face wet? " Maki asks while struggling to get back on his feet.
Gripping the barbarian's shirt, and pulling him close, Marros speaks urgently...You have the life of only one hundred breaths. Then you shall fall again. The amulet will bring you back once more, but only just this side of Death's door. It will then return to me. Be. Cautious. Then he lifts the man to his feet, and claps him on the back. Running headlong into death twice in one day. You are a mad warrior my friend. I am glad to have you on my side.
The sun sets in a fiery explosion of light, and the valley descends into night, the only real light being the torches Jake and Daina carry, taken from Alex.
After setting Maki on his feet, Marros turns and starts walking towards the fallen Giant.
Calling back, he says Let's just say, your Frosty friend here gave you a going away present.
Marveling at the size of the creature, Marros examines the body, while waiting for the Amulet's affect to wear off.
From his very first glance, Marros sees that the giant's flesh appears to be changing to ice...
...turning back to the elemental building blocks his creators had drawn him from.
" He did? That Bastard! "
Maki says as he gets close to the Giant's Body.
"I should cut off his head and mount it on a pike... Too bad there are no pike's around here..."
"You know, just because you are hard to kill doesn't mean you should fight giants head on,"
Alex comments as he descends towards the barbarian. He gives him an appraising look. Would the wand help with his fallen teeth? "And do try to keep your guard up when fighting, there's only so much the wand can do to help." The rogue reaches into his haversack and produces said item. "Stand still," he says before poking him with the wand, the magic knitting wounds and putting organs back in their original locations.
It would be a long job...
...it would take almost four charges of his wand, and six and a half minutes to get him fully back together.

A little over a minute of searching, reveals broken bones and good luck charms.
Apparently, the frost giant had lived a very Spartan lifestyle; carrying only his weapons and arms to make his way through the world.
His boots, as large as boxes, are worn all across the soles.

Daina's eyes widen in surprise as she stares up at the massive iron doors, almost thirty feet high.
Great X's are wrought into the metal, but that isn't what makes her shake.
Raven touches her harm, looking from her mistress to the blue paint splashed across the doors.
Interlocked triangles, at precise angles.
Even the blue is recognizable.
...the shields all sported different designs, they all had a pattern of blue triangles running about the border, a pattern repeated on the hilt of the weapons backing them.
The shield came off easily, pulling at a golden piece of wire.
The wire was attached to the weapons, and continues behind into the wall, and presumably, to other shields, and other weapons.
The weapons and shields strike the floor with a cacophanous racket, and immediately revert to their original size...
The antechamber fills with massive blades and shields, slashing and cutting Pete into individual junks as the room becomes a nightmare of sharp edges and over-sized weapons, forged for giants...

The door swings open...
...and a spinning chunk of rock tears off the top of Raven's skull in a spray of blood, bone and brain.
The torch drops from her grip.
Still blinking, she sinks to her knees.
Raven's hands, shake and twitch as she reaches up to adjust her hat.
Daina's mouth works without making a sound as Raven stares at her bloody fingers, and collapses to her side.
"RAVENNA!" Daina screams.
Dropping to the ground, arrows fly into the chest of the stone giant who had pushed open the door.
A dark blue cloak moves into the shadows, as Daina singes her dark coat, uncaring as she fires arrow after arrow, with firer of their own up into the heart and chest of the stone giant.
Rough and dark tattoos of the same design, infected and bloody cover its cheek.
Daina fires an arrow beneath its eye, and the skin and the tattoo cook as the arrow approaches, and its head disappears in a violent burst of flame and electricity, and it keels over with a thud.
Looking up from his search, Marros sees the Rogue touching his wand to the barbarian.
STOP! he cries, running towards them and pushing the thief's arm away.
"Okay! You don't have to yell."
He is not yet truly alive, do not waste your healing yet. He will die again soon, and your work shall be for nothing.
Alex puts the wand away and waits for the amulet to do it's work before proceeding with the healing.
Cocking his head at them quizzically, he asks, Maki, would you like to be returned to life properly?
"I thought you said I was going to be returned to life after I... ...breathed a hundred times or something..."
He pauses.
"...breathed a hundred times or something..." Maki asks, confused.
But he's talking to air.
Looking up at Daina's scream, Marros is already gone. Teleporting to the side of the door, he presses himself against the cold stone and hisses to Jake. What, and where?
The thief quickly turns at the commotion. Recognizing the new threat, he dashes across the field while pulling readying his crossbow once again.
"Oh great what now??" Maki asks while following Alex, falchion unsheathed.
Jake's curved sword makes Marros' hairs stand up on end.
The spirit of peace, Jake looks into the gloomy foyer beyond.
"More giants apparently. Inside."
Nodding to the bard, Marros closes his eyes and focused.
He knew he could feel....there.
Suddenly, he vanished from the Material Plane.
Jake shouts, "No! Where are y-"
In the foggy realm of the Ethereal, Marros pressed himself through the wall, floating upwards as quickly as he could, trying to find the place where two walls met, high up towards the ceiling.
From the Ethereal, he'd seen other rooms and chambers, and shapes of the giant tribe moving about.
Shifting back to the Material Realm, high above eye level, the monk holds himself utterly still in the corner of the room, surveying the room below.
The insides of the bivalve iron door leading into the stronghold is carved with runes and glyphs. Black enamel covers the exterior surface, and there are a few rusty spots where the coating has worn or chipped off. The power that energized the glyphs has long since fled.
Or so Marros might hope.
Everything in this chamber shows the signs of neglect and time. Cracks run rampant in jagged zigs and zags across the flagstone floor and tiles walls. The plaster upon the ceiling, once apparently depicting a subtle underwater scene, has peeled and fallen away to such an extent that it is impossible to see what the subject of the painting once was. Beyond the plaster is the cracked stone of the ceiling. In the very center of the chamber is a low circular basin, in the center of which is a chipped and broken marble statue of a leaping dolphin. It looks to have once been a fountain, but no water runs now; instead, stagnant green liquid pools just below the lip of the basin. West of the fountain, a large fire burns in a rough firepit buillt with debris, providing a dim light for the chamber.
The storm giants, more than fifteen tall, number three, though Marros suspects a fourth lies in a room beyond.
All of them are clad in shining, polished breasplates, and long dark, blue cloaks that drop to the floor.
Skin dark like thunder clouds stretches over toned muscles, and lightning sparks bounce across the eyes that glare at him through the slits of armor.
The storm giants glare at him in his corner, and one of them snaps his fingers at a female stone giant.
"Kom ud. Skjul."
The stone giant nods, throwing open a door, and disappearing into another room, as the other stone giants, spotting Marros in his corner once he's been pointed out notice him.
From the storm giant's pointed arm, Marros sees that their arms are covered in blue tattoos in weaving triangle patterns.
By the glow of the perfect runes, the monk realizes that they're not tattoos at all.
The runes become a bright, fiery white, and blazing swords and spears of energy appear in the storm giants' hands.
Smiling, they maneuver for position relative to Marros and the door, preparing themselves.
Outside, Jake cranes his neck to peer inside, the light of the torches and the blazing swords giving him some idea of what's within as he counts off the giants.
"I see four."
He grinds his teeth.
Daina crouched by the steps says nothing.
He gives the sword a flourish and nods.
Daina steps out, launching arrow after arrow toward the massive storm giant, smiling as the arrow thuds into his lower thigh.
"Νίκαια πυροβόλησε!", the storm giant smiles, spinning his glowing blade to bat aside another arrow.
Daina's face is grim as she adjusts for the whirling sword, striking limbs when angry cries.
The storm giant only looks more and more exhilarated with each strike.
Jake lunges forward, ducking under a rock swung by one of the opportunistic storm giants.
He tries to bring up his sword to block the back swing, but the stone smashes him in the back of the head, driving him onto the burning shaft of light.
Screaming, Jake finishes the attack, slashing down across the storm giant's face.
The storm giants grins, and removes his ruined helmet, revealing a handsome face, with stormy eyes, and shocking white hair.
Flashing a grin from Marros to the warrior-bard, he sings.
"Ήμουν σε πολλές μορφές, πριν αφέθηκε ελεύθερος..."
Jake, startled, finds himself responding, "...I was a narrow blood-spotted sword..."
The other storm giant, on the other side of the pool laughs, and joins in, spinning his spear of light with menace, yet mirth.
"...Πιστεύω ότι, όταν ιδρύθηκε, ήμουν δάκρυα στον αέρα..."

...somewhere on the central peninsula...

Blood streaming down his face, Harley leaps and rolls down from the roof to a lower section of the building, panting heavily.
A slam and splintering sound of the walls behind him, tell him that the thing was just behind him...
He groans.
"...I was a star-woven star..."
Whirling, he leaps again, hurling daggers after the mhorg zombie, the blades bouncing off the dark circle of metal burnt into its chest...

...Skull City, Black Veil Tents...

Shudu doesn't move as four Black Veils surround him, armed with swords and maces.
Cross-legged, sitting before his low-table, papers and calligraphy brushes, the warrior completes the stroking letter forms.
...I was the truth of a letter, I was the tale of origins...
Steel rings as the paladin draws his sword, casting aside the veil.
Shudu doesn't listen as the paladin describes his lineage and name, condemning his evil.
Instead, the chieftain rises, his short spears in hand.

...Skull City, Worship Circle...

A dark black obelisk towers above the kneeling crowd in the great circle.
As a wave, they rise from their knees up and down, chanting and speaking the demi-lich's name.
The high-priests exultations are cut off as the Black Veil guards turn on him, pushing him away with rough hands and longswords.
Another paladin glares down at Ferranifer, Lord Fear, and screams her undoing.
The vampiress stares up from the crowd, and only smiles.
This was her city.
"...I was illuminated lanterns, for a year and a half..."

...Skull City, Palace of Suffering...

These paladins hadn't even bothered with disguises once they'd broken into the Palace of Suffering.
Standing before the great stone doors leading to Lord Suffering's bed chambers, flaming torches cast dancing light across their armor, but doesn't reach to the dark shadows above.
Their leader, smiles grimly.
This was it.
He offers a prayer, pressing his palm against the door, bringing his forehead down to touch it.
"...I was a bridge that spanned three-score estuaries..."

...Skull City, Inner Walls...

Lord Hate says nothing as the paladins swing their swords round and round him, maneuvering for position.
The hard metallic surface of the wall feels good beneath his boots.
The wind, stiff and cold, tugs at the bandages that swath his upper body.
The long jacket, dropping to his feet doesn't stir.
Arms crossed, he closes his shadowy eyes, and breathes, "...I was a journey, I was an eagle..."

...Pharrah's Pagoda, outside Thames City...

Pharrah turns, staring at the bloodied, ruined paladin-lord standing before her.
His armor is cracked and rent, and burns have burst over his skin.
Unrepentant hate is written across his face, and she laughs, leaning against the railing that circles the oculus above the library.
"...I was a coracle on the sea..."
The paladin's lip twitches, and he raises the greatsword to his lips, kissing the blade, keeping his burning eyes on the vampiress.

The Frost Giant looks up at Marros, beckoning him down as he sings.
"...Ήμουν ο αφρού κατά την μπύρα..."
His brother across the room grins, spinning his lightspear.
"... Ήμουν μια σταγόνα σε ένα ντους βροχής ..."
Stepping forward, the stone giant tries to smash Jake across the head with the rock again, pounding the floor as the warrior-bard side steps.
The sword fades, vanishing as the glowing symbols go dim.
"...I was a sword in hand..."
The stone giant on the far end of the fountain hurls a stone through the air at Marros in his corner.
A terrible shot, the rock bounces off the ceiling and skips outside into the dark.
Daina snarls, "Balls."
She aims for the heart, and the storm giant's laughing face becomes shocked surprise.
His brother screams.
His massive hand reaches out to the storm giant as he drops beneath Marros.
The stone giants exhibit similar faces of grief, and anger, snarling at Marros, Daina and Jake.
But the warrior-bard leaves the opportunist no time to mourn, step toward him in a defensive slash and whirling like a dervish lopping at his arms and legs with both blades.
Maki flies still following Alex.
"Hey, do you have something that could let me approach them without them noticing?... Even if i tried to charge them . Their reach is too much for me to overcome... "
Alex nods at the barbarian and presses his palm against the belt, a bottle appearing on his hand.
"Make it count," he says before handing it to Maki.
"Thanks... I will..."
Seeing the Giant collapse beneath him, Marros shouts in triumph.
"...I was a shield in battle..." and leaps off the wall. Fist outstretched, he streaks towards the other storm giant.
The storm giant screams, and his eyes glow white.
The shimmering sword of light slams into Marros, hurling him backward and away, and he smashes into the dolphin fountain as the storm giant lashes at him with a backlash.
As he shifts back to the Ethereal Plane, Marros can still see the agrieved creature glaring at him.
It could see him.

...somewhere on the central peninsula...

The creature leaps with a scream, ignoring the daggers.
"...I was a string in a harp, a phantom for nine years..."
Flipping head over heels, Harley is just fast enough to stay out of reach and avoid being torn in half.
And then he runs out of roof.
The mhorg watches him fall, its tongue darting in and out as Harley plummets.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah! Peasant problems..."
With magical strength, and the power of flight, Welby catches ahold of the the falling assassin, halting his flight.
"...foam on the waters, I was a spark in the fire!"

...Skull City, Black Veil Tents...

"...evil ends here..."
Shudu says nothing, staring at the paladin.
"...darkness comes to naught..."
He looks at his writings, and sighs.
"...we the light, will always triumph..."
The edges of the tent begin to be drawn up, and Shudu holds up his hand.
"Did you really think you could 'become' one of my own, without me knowing?"
The paladin stops, frowning.
Hard eyes stare through the black veils, becoming the new walls as the silk side are swept aside.
The paladin licks his lips, "...I was a log in the blaze..."
Shudu grins, "...I naughty but my song, since I was a little child..."

...Skull City, Worship Circle...

"...I sang in the van at the Battle of the Trees..."
The paladin screams, at Ferranifer.
"...and you will scream in my city..."
She hurls herself through the air.
"...before the Defender of B-"
She rips out his throat in a flurry of darkfire, laughing as his head goes flying into the confused crowd.

...Skull City, Palace of Suffering...

Taking deep shuddering breaths, the paladins pray.
"There passed me by, fleet-hoofed steeds, treasure-laded fleets..."
In the darkness above, a voice calls out in response, "There passed me by a wide-mawed beast bearing a hundred heads one mighty host 'neath the root of its tongue and another host dwells in the napes of its neck..."
They look up in terror as a black dragonborn descends upon them shattering their leader's back, and throwing two back in a snap of his wings.
Lunging with his claws, he draws a terrified paladin-assassin close, digging his maw into his throat.

...Skull City, Inner Walls...

A black-groined toad...
Letting his jack snap out, Lord Hate spins to avoid a sword-thrust, catching the leg's of a confused warrior of heaven.
With a burning touch of blackfire, he gives the man a push, sending him screaming to the ground below.
...bearing a hundred claws...
His eyes burn, lancing out at a raised mace, leaving a charred stump.
...a mottled, ridged, serpent...
A snap of dark energy throws them back, and he laughs
...with a hundred souls, by their sin...
Roaring, a paladin steps into his fist, and he eats blackfire.
...tortured in the folds of its flesh...

...Pharrah's Pagoda, outside Thames City...

"I was at the fortress of Nefenhir, where trees and grass rushed into battle..."
The paladin's eyes bulge, in rage.
"I don't know what you've done but you have betrayed me."
She shrugs, and pulls him forward with telekinesis.
Draining him of his energy, she ducks underneath his flailing sword as he plummets to the library below with an enraged scream.
"I am a serpent. It is what I am."

The storm giant's eyes flash at Marros, and he pulls him from the Ethereal with the will of a being suffused in eldritch might.
Ripping him back to the Material, the storm giant roars into the monk's face, and spits him on the blazing fear, and slamming Marros into the dolphin statue.
The monk slips into the fountain as the storm giant keeps moving, stabbing at Jake.
Swinging his blades behind his back, the warrior bard blocks the attack.
The stone giant before him turns and flees and Jake lets him go.
He stares as another stone giant move from his position, standing in front of the door where the female had hidden.
Flicking the swords before, imbued with holy might to strike down evil, Jake realizes, "They're not evil."
Sheathing the swords, he holds up his hands.
"Daina! Stop! We're here for Xanatos!"
The giants freeze, but its too late.
Maki and Alex see Daina duck under the blazing spear, and leaping behind the stone giant, promptly filling his back with fletchings.
Jake holds up his hands.
"We're here for Xanatos!"
He points to the dead giants, and pulls out a pouch around his neck, waving it back and forth.
"We can Raise them!"
The doors against the far wall swing open, and another storm giant appears.
Violet skinned, power shifts like storm clouds beneath the surface of her white eyes.
Long white hair stretches down past her waist, and a breastplace covers a white tunic.
Ivory circles circle her right arm and wrist, while her left is swathed in shifting runes and tattoo markings.
"Αρκετά. Phesaiea, Να σταματήσει. Τώρα.
Outside, the storm giant freezes, holding his spear high above Daina's head.
Swinging the weapon in a spinning motion, he bats away her arrows, backing away from her.
Staring as he stoops, and crouches, Daina lowers her bow, looking from him to Maki and Alex approaching and the foyed beyond.
Jake's ears ring at the sound of her voice, and the fountain shudders, water rippling around Marros' body.
The storm giant, with shield and another blazing blade breathes in deep, violent shakes.
Eyes darting from Jake, to the fallen storm giant.
The woman extends her hand, towards her brother, "Είναι σε μια στιγμή την ειρήνη, Icasare. Περιμένετε. Για Πατέρα, εμείς θα τους πάρει μαζί Του."
The stone giants look back and forth, at a loss.
The storm giantess speak again, "Take their dead above. Leave ours here, in the other room. We will bring them before my Father."
The storm giants seethe, and make protests, but they are careful not to let the giantess hear.
The stone giants, hasten to fulfill the giantess orders, lifting the fallen stone giant into a side room, and taking especial care for the dead storm giant, brother, Aenor by their words.
The giantess moves to the door of the stronghold, watching Maki and Alex approach with calculating eyes.
She stares at Jake as he leaps down the steps, reaching out for Daina's bow.
Maki walks towards Daina without losing sight of the giants...
"What the hell just happened?" He whispers.
"I think we made a mistake..."
She shrugs.
"Apparently, they know Xanatos."
Daina looks uncomfortably at the giantess.
"Storm giants sometimes have clerics among them... This might turn out alright if we're careful..."
She winces, "I kinda got carried away, I think..."
" It's okay . I kinda know what that feels like ... " he says still whispering as he looks at each of the Giant's...
Every time he meets their eyes, they bare their teeth and snarl.
This could get really bad really soon if they took a false step...
The storm giantess leads them to the rear wall, set into the east.
The remaining walls and ceiling of the chamber are stone blocks, showing massive untended cracks. Small bars hold the upper portions of what were once ceiling-to-floor tapestries. The southern extent of dried grass, animal pelts, and torn and ripped tapestries obviously salvaged from the walls of this very room. Against the north wall, a bonfire provides a flickering illumination in the chamber.
A young adult mountain giant rests in the chamber, playing mumbly beg.
One of the storm giants snarls at him, and he scuttles to the side, out of their way as their giant leads them to the east wall.
The east wall, at first appears to abut the actual rock of the cliff face against which the actual stronghold was built.
The giantess presses her hands to the stone, and the rock shimmers.
A rough tunnel, perhaps twenty feet wide and twenty feet tall, opens in the center of the native rock wall, leading into darkness.
The glowing of the storm giants shows a chamber that appears to be undisturbed, a thick of patina of dust having settled on all its contents. Every available wall supports a wooden rack of thin, diagonally crossing wooden beams, each piece exquisitely carved in the semblance of a leafy vine. Suspended on almost every point of wooden intersection are darj wooden bottles, so dust-covered that their labels are hidden. This chamber appears to be a long-abandoned wine cellar.
Floating through nothingness, Marros sat in the lotus position, meditating. It had been many years, many battles since he had truly died. It was truly an amazing part of life, and he waited peacefully. To be thrust back into the mortal world, or not. The Circle continued Unbroken.
His body, hefted over a stone giant's shoulder, a large rend where where the storm giant has stabbed him, swings back and forth.
Maki remains silent as he followed the Giantess lead ... He had to be careful not to say anything in the ancient language of the Giant... The Frost one had been enraged by it... And he didn't think this ones would be an exception...
Alex follows the rest of the party, his eyes scanning every room and every face for possible dangers. He keeps his crossbow at the ready, but aimed to the floor. While the giantess might have stopped the others from attacking, he had no doubt they would have no problems finding an excuse to attack.
The smooth floor of the tunnel carries them high up into the cliff sides until they come to a terrace that yawns into the darkness of night, a drop of more than a thousand feet.
Daina whistles at the sight, "That must be where the frost-"
She realizes they're being watched.
A fire giantess, flanked by a pair of fire giants in black armor glare at them from a roughly circular cavern, brightly illuminated by a large bonfire burning in the center of the room. A very large pile of tree trunks and thick branches have been put aside for fuel, filling the northern portion of the chamber. A portion of the sountern wall has been smoothed, and primitive-looking pictures and signs have been scratched into it.
The giantess leads them among sleeping stone giants into a deeper cave.
The carcasses of six freshly slain mountain sheep are strung up on hooks against a wall. A giant throne, fifteen feet tall holds a massive, glowing storm giant, with a flowing dark beard, and the darker eyes.
He growls at the sight of the non-giants, but his daughter raises his hand in a calming gesture.
Behind him, another storm giant, bare chested in rough pants, and long cloths woven around his fists stands behind the throne on his left.
The giantess drops to a knee, and is beckoned closer by her father.
Leaning forward, she whispers into his ear as his sons form up against the back wall, staring at Daina and Jake with open hate.
The giant chieftain snarls, but nods, waving his hand as the giantess stands behind her father, on his right hand.
Marros body is dumped to the floor with a careless toss, and he rolls in the ashes at their feet.
Maki notices a large boulder appears to be rolled into the southeastern corner of the cave.
The giantess makes a strained smile.
"My father wishes to know how you know Xana-."
The chieftain points at Maki, and speaks a word of eldritch power, and the barbarian becomes visible again.
Resting against his throne, the storm chieftains's eyes burn into Daina, and there are cracks as his fingers tighten on the throne's armrests.
The giantess begins anew.
"I am Alunu. How do you know Xanatos?"
Daina looks at Maki, and shudders.
She holds her finger to her lips, and looks at Jake, pushing him forward.
He nods.
"Xanatos, has answers we seek... Can you tell us where he is?"
Alunu looks to the chieftain, who mutters.
"My father tells me that the sorceror Xanatos has not been seen in years. And that is disappearance is a welcome one. His domination of our tribe for years ended with his absence."
Jake winces.
"Despite our actions in the stronghold below, we are no friends of Xanatos, and seek answers from him-"
"My father asks how you can slay his firstborn, a favored member of our tribe, and grievously wound another, and ask us for favors."
"The heat of battle was upon us all, but we have the means to make it right."
Following Daina's advice Maki remains silent as he watches Jake deal with the situation.
Man Xanatos must be on hell of a sorcerer to have dominated ALL of these giant's even the Storm ones!
"My father knows the heat of battle, but wonder of ulterior motives."
"We have none. All we want is Xanatos."
"And the frost giant you slew?"
"We are sorry, we did not know you were here, or we wouldn't have attacked another of your tribe."
"He is not of our tribe. He is a servant of Kochstchie, a frost giant demon from the Iron Wastes. We have no business to do with the Abyss. Do you?"
Banishing all thoughts of Dranga from his mind, Jake lies, "No."
Maki breathes relieved.
Great at least i wont have to see that Iced Jackass alive again.
"And the sorceror? What exact business do you have with him? My father demands to know. And do not lie again, bard."
Jake flinches at the cold in her voice.
"Of course. My friend's family suffered an attack, and we believe Xanatos is connected, or atleast has information that can aid us. We search for a 'Devourer', and Xanatos' name is connected."
"My father does not know of any 'Devourer'."
"We believe Xanatos does."
"My father demands tribute."
Daina nods.
"And you shall have it."
"My fathe-"
Jake narrows his eyes.
"You're not translating what we're saying."
"Speaking in Common has always given me problems with digestion. Its like your words... Are rancid..."
His voice is agonizing in its primal tones, ringing in the confines of their minds.
What the...
Oh, this is not good...
"Eldritch might, the power of the Primordials, flows in my veins. The gift of the Originals. It binds my family with true power. Power Xanatos sought to exploit when he dominated my brethren. Now, they are free. And I will see to it they are never enslaved by some god's plaything again..."
He gestures to the stone boulder, and makes a waving motion.
The rock slides from its place, revealing a treasure chamber beyond.
"My tribe looted his home below. Look within for what you seek. And we shall now, discuss your tribute..."
Daina trembles under the storm giant's gaze, but she remains fast.
She points the the heap of ruined furniture, household implements and decorations, debris and here and there, the real glint of silver and gold coins. Tapestries of conflicting design and orientation have been poorly attached to all the walls of the chamber and look none too good for wear. A delicate gold chain has been affixed to the center of the ceiling by a crude iron spike, upon which a skull hangs. Upon the end of the chain, a spherical lamp glows with a kaleidoscope of changing colors.
She removes a bag of holding.
"Here, search the room. I'll see what he wants... maybe that priestess we passed can Raise our fallen."
Alex secures his crossbow, making sure that the giants see that he is putting his weapon away. "Anything in particular I should keep an eye for?" he asks before accepting the bag.
"You'll know when you see it."
Daina pulls out a small, silver worked chest.
"Jake, Maki. Help him. Work fast."
Jake stares up at the skull, letting Alex take the bag.
"Who is that?"
The giantess has followed them into the cave, leaving Daina before the chieftain.
"Xanatos' son. Take what you will from here. We could find nothing of any value to us."
Alex nods and carefully walks into the treasure room, not fast enough to show fear or a possible threat, nor slow enough to earn even more animosity from the giants. He sweeps the room with his eyes once before searching for likely clues. He then produces a wand and offers it to the bard.
"You're probably better at reading magic auras than me. Could you check for magic auras that might be traps?"
Jake takes the wand, nodding.
The first thing that catches Alex's eye is a large desk.
Jake sees it too.
Once, it was a beautiful roll-top desk, its legs carved to resemble dragon legs, while the dragon's legs have been artfully carved onto the topmost portion of the desk.
Warped and scratched, Alex suspects the giants might have taken weapons to it.
Maki follows his two companions closely. Once they are in the room he starts to talk.
"Man that was Crazy... I cant believe we walked alive of that one..."
The giantess raises an eyebrow at him, curious, but she says nothing.
Jake mouths for Maki to shut up and points to the pile, directing him to search.
Part way through the search, the amulet flares, and Maki dies for a moment, only avoiding the grave with the further effects of the amulet.
After being raised once again Maki's body feels weak now. He turns to Alex.
" Before we go on. You think i could get a zap from the wand from before... Just in case something jumps up to attack us from any of the things here... "
Passing the wand over the pile, Jake doesn't find any magical auras, but together, they retrieve quite a few beautiful pieces of work, that probably once belonged to Xanatos.
At first, Jake holds up the items, in pure open honesty, to see if the giantess, Alunu would take them, but each time, she shakes her head, and shrugs, uninterested.
They find silver goblets, and gold chains, and coins.
Together, they put together a fine chess set, with an X in the corner.
Over and over the pile they go, until there is just the desk.
Jake gives the desk a poke with the wand.
"Seems to be the last place to look."
"Okay, let's see what I can do."
The giantess, seeing Alex's study of the desk moves toward the desk, and lifts it from the pile.
Plunking it down in a clear part of the floor, she smiles.
"Thank you," he says with a careful nod of his head.
The giantess, moving back to the wall becomes unreadable, and Alex begins to see white spots as his eyes drift across her face, trying to read her.
Alex reaches into his belt and produces his lockpicks. Without touching it, he crouches before the desk, examining the dents and scratches on it before carefully checking the drawers for strings or triggers that may signal the presence of traps. He then crawls under the desk and continues his careful examination before checking the back and sides of the ruined piece of furniture.
Alex can't find anything suspicious about the desk. Perhaps it still had hidden magical protections that had kept it together, or maybe it was just that sturdily built.
"Well, I couldn't find any obvious trap..." Alex kneels before the desk and listens carefully. Perhaps some sort of guardian construct?
Jake runs his palm across the surface, and presses his ear against it.
"I think I heard things shifting inside."
Alex think he heard it too, the rustling of papers.
"Well, there is something in there..." he confirms. "Maybe some sort of construct or undead guardian." He reaches for the desk and stops. Instead, he turns to Alunu. "May I ask what you know about this desk? It seems rather sturdy despite the marks on it."
"It was the sorcerer's. We tried to smash it open, but it proved resistant."
"I see. Maybe I'll get lucky."
Alex stands up and tries to open a drawer. It was probably enchanted so that only Xanatos himself could open it, but perhaps it was simply keyed to allow only certain kind of creatures open it. Or to stop giants from opening it.
Its locked.
Of course...
The thief kneels once again at the desk with his lockpicks and tries to open the lock. It was unlikely to work, but the least he could do was try.
It takes a minute, working the tools into the dragon's mouth, but after wiggling the pin about, there is a click, and the dragon's eyes begin to glow a deep red.
"It's open... but I'm not sure I like this," the thief says while pointing at the glowing eyes. He bends his knees, ready to get out of the way. "I'm going to open it. You may want to be careful in case it explodes or something comes out," he advices everyone in the room.
After a pause to make sure everyone is ready, he pulls the drawer open.
There is a snap of heat that singes Alex's clothes, but nothing more.
The glowing eyes fade.
"That's strange... I would have expected at least a fireball... Do you think this could be part of an alarm system to warn Xanatos if someone ever opened the desk?" Alex asks the bard before drawing his rapier and carefully searching the contents of the desk.
The desk reveals a sodden mass of ruined, stained and acid-eaten papers mixed in with shards and splinters of glass, reminischent of potion vials. The giants must have destroyed Xanatos' rare and valuable magical potions kept within, and indirectly destroyed almost every valuable document and magical scroll kept here.
Except, for a stained dragonskin pouch, almost three feet square across, stained and worn, it appears relatively undamaged.The telltale bulge suggests it might hold something worth examining.
Carefully, Jake removes it, prodding it with his fingers.
"Maybe we do get lucky..."
With careful fingers, Jake pulls out a heavy parchment envelope and a small journal.
Tucking the journal under his arm, he reads the envelope.
"'For Eduardo/Silas, the Master of Death.' Hmmm, the plot thickens."
The giantess stomps from the cave, and disturbs the careful balance of the pile, sending dirty plates, a lampshade and a warped walking stick skittering across the floor.
Feeling the tug of what he assumes to be holy magic, Marros smiles. He would be returning once more, his journey was unfinished.
The first words Marros hears when he awakens are Daina's, cold and hard in his ears.
"You are indebted to Bane, Wanderer."
From his body's ache, and positioning and the cave ceiling above him, Marros intuits he's on the floor.
"Before you leap up, snapping kicks, we've come to terms with the giants."
She peers down on him, and her face fills his view.
"The frost giant and these weren't working together, they were enslaved by Xanatos."
As Daina's face fills his view, and feeling returns, he reveled in every ache, every bruise. They reminded him how life truly was. Nodding, he accepts his being raised by Bane gladly.
At the revelation of the Giant's true nature, however, horror fills his face. Enslaved? I am a fool. I should have.....no matter. Are the others okay? What of the sorcerer?
The fire giantess stares at Daina, and she blanches.
"Of course, Bane only provided the diamonds, not the magic."
Daina and Marros watches the risen storm giant be led deeper into the caves, where he begins testing his new muscles.
The fire giant and their guards throw heat across Marros' face, flanking their ward.
"You owe your thanks to the Primordials, θεός-αφρού. Not the usurpers."
Daina looks down at him, "She raised you. The others are fine, but the sorcerer is long gone."
Flipping up onto his feet, Marros stumbles slightly, before recovering, and bowing deeply to the fire giant. Then they have my gratitude, Mighty One. I apologize for any harm that we may have caused. We fought a Frost Giant outside, and wrongfully assumed you were also our enemies. Please forgive me.
The fire giantess says nothing, though one of her guards growls.
"Βλάσφημο αιρετικό, σαν χάρη από ένα σκουλήκι σημαίνει τίποτα για τα πρωτότυπα."
She says nothing, adjusting her headress.
Brushing past Toresh, newly risen and regenerated from his hand, she descends deeper into the cave.
The minotaur shakes his head.
"And Raven?"
"Didn't respond to the Raise Dead. She has no family to mourn or bury, so the fire giantess obliged to burn her for us."
Daina's jaw twitches.
Looking sidewise at the guard, Marros frowns slightly I intend no blasphemy, I merely offer you my respect and gratitude. At the news of Raven's truedeath, Marros look strangely peaceful. I am sorry Daina. I can only hope she finds peace and joy in the heavens. Working his shoulder around, he massages some of the stiffness out of it.
The guard only snarls at the stupid mortal, following the giantess deeper into the cave.
Toresh snorts.
"You shouldn't bother, Monk. Our very existence is a blasphemy to them. Every breath we take is heresy, no matter how thankful it is."
Daina shrugs.
"We have work to do."
Toresh leaps to his hooves.
Let's get to it then.
Daina tosses Toresh one of his axes.
Reaching to catch it, the minotaur grunts as the blade clatters across the floor.
Marros's wet clothes leave filty water on the cave, but nobody seems the care.
Stone giants crowd the ledge pointing the sky above.
Obsidian black clouds, blanket the sky.
Wreathed in gold fire, the clouds hang menacingly low, lighting up the night.
Their shining gold aura, illuminates the rugged landscape, banishing the darkness.
Massive black bolts of lightning crash across them in thunderous explosions.
Toresh stares, "What above the earth is that?"
Mouth agape, Marros stares in shock at the bizarre sight. A Storm...like none I've ever seen. Incredible....!
Daina holds her hand above her eyes, "It stretches on and on, its massive-endless!"
Another crack of lightning splits the sky...
Black and sinuous, its forks reach for miles.
Narrowing his eyes at the strange bolt, Marros tenses slightly, slightly on edge. Perhaps we should get inside...
Toresh and Daina nod.
She leads them back toward the storm giant's throne.
The storm giant who'd killed the monk is nowhere to be seen, only the chieftain with his daughter remain.
Jake, leaving the cavern, drops the bag of holding at their feet, and hands Daina the envelope.
He holds up the journal, "Back to Thames City we're headed."
Daina holds up her nose at the journal.
"Its almost completely ruined!"
Jake shrugs.
"Potion must have broken through..."
She reads, "...I am finally read for this challenge. I've had enough of weighing the risks against the potential rewards; knowledge will be reward enough, one hopes. With the Amulet in my possession, I should be able to push through the final veil and confront the Devourer in his true incarnation. Of course, I'll need help with this; to go alone would be nothing more than suicide. I guess that it will be of Sedrick Hanes of Thames and his bold company that I shall go to for assistance in consulting Baron Tora Ill. Hanes has never let be down, and I know that he will be as eager as I am to finally breach..."
It looks like this Xanatos precedes us, more than we thought. Even without the Sage, he chased after this "Devourer". I wonder about this Amulet and what the final veil might be? Could he mean death itself?
Jake shrugs, "Could be..."
Daina sticks the journal in her jacket, and examines the envelope.
"Its heavy."
She bounces it in her hand, before frowning at the name of the person to whom it is addressed before stowing it into her bag of holding.
She looks at the chieftain, who returns the gaze until Daina looks back.
"We should go now."
Watching the envelope vanish, Marros decides to hold his tongue.
Where are the others? The barbarian has something important of mine.
"So Thames City it is..."
Alex and Maki can see the menacing clouds from outside.
"Has any of you ever seen black lightning before? It doesn't look natural to me..."
Jake nods, "Those are some pretty big bolts, but I've seen wizards do it. Clerics and druids..."
"Yes... I particularly remember an undead druid rather fond of empowering lightning with Fell magic," Alex says rather grimly. "Nasty fellow, but we managed to destroy it."
Spotting Maki, Marros walks over to him slowly, still stiff and sore from his brush with death. Gesturing at the softly glowing bauble still hanging around his neck Marros speaks, The man who gave that to me warned me to never take it off. He stated it would hide me from Death, but that once removed, Death would find me, and be filled with wrath. Today, I ignored that warning to save your life. I consider it an even trade, but I have no desire to tempt Death further. Please return my amulet to me. The normally jovial Monk's face is deathly serious.
"Sure thing! Ill put mine on again... I'm sorry it turned out this way... I really appreciate it. It saved my life! " Maki says taking off Marros's amulet and giving it back to him.
Grinning widely, Marros sighs with relief as his protections are restored.
Thank you my friend. I am happy it kept you among the living.
As they turn their backs, and make to leave, the giantess and four stone giants lead and follow them out.
At the black iron doors, she folds her arms and looks down at them.
"Do not return here. Ever. Θα σημάνει το θάνατό σας."
Daina nods dumbly, and steps across the crater.
She watches the black iron door slam shut behind them.
"Despite the light, its late. We'll climb down to Lissa, make camp and make back to the spot tomorrow. If we wake early and move fast, we'll be back in Thames by noon."
A heavy, dark raindrop strikes her on the nose.
Jake groans, as the dark crimson rain comes down in a heavy torrent, with another terrific slash of black lightning.
Toresh, glancing at the rain, pooling in the crater, drops to his knees.
He places a finger in, and sniffs it, recoiling.
"Its blood!"
" Great. Because things weren't weird enough already."
Maki says as he takes his Flying Board from his Haversack. And puts it over his head.
Pulling her jacket over her, Daina peers out from under the collar.
"Let's go now... I'll signal Lissa to come up, and Fly us down. We can take shelter at the base of the cliff."
Shifting stiff muscles, Toresh grunts, letting the blood wash across him.
Not too happy about the dark weather, he still notices Maki isn't particularly severe injury.
He grunts, realizing he's lost access to his more powerful healing spells.
Further confusion dances across the minotaur's face as other spells to heal Maki's wounds fail to manifest.
Finally, the cleric of Bane resolves to channel one of his prepared spells into a weakened healing spell, that begins to aid Maki and his injury.
"How the hells is it raining blood?" Alex pulls the hood of his cloak over his head as they walk.
Seeing that the barbarian's wounds were not closing as they should, Alex once again retrieves his healing wand and presses it against Maki's arm.
The thief frowns behind his mask. "Not again... it's like back at Veronia," he says with annoyance. "A few days ago I had to buy a new wand becuase the one I had wasn't working. At first Harley and I thought it was defective, but I've used this one before and it worked. What is going on?"
Jake pulls his cloak over his head, and brushes his swords clear of any blood.
"Usually, its an omen of worse things to come. Evil things."
Feeling the blood pouring down around him, Marros has a momentary flash of memory. Bodies piled around him, being covered in blood, mind almost gone with madness...then the Circle. Shaking it off, he ignores the downpour, and checks his pack. Evil or no, it shall pass. Let's go.
Jake frowns, "In the stories at least, it only gets worse."

Skull City

The last paladin, broken at the base of the wall, stares up at the sky of darkness and gold through the falling blood in shock.
He tries to remember his name as he stares up into the field of black.
The perfect, terrible beauty is broken by the white wrappings that bind William's head.
The Skull City Lord waits a moment, appreciating the odd angles at which the paladin's limbs have arranged themselves.
He lets words of pure evil roll of his tongue, and smiles as the dark, harsh syllable drop from his lips.
Terrific black bolts of lightning hurl themselves from the sky, slamming into the paladin.
After a moment, an armored creature pries itself from the glassed mud, shambling into the city.
Adjusting his soaked bandages, William weaves magic into a disk-like force that shunts the rain away from him, leaving him dry.
He presses his pointing and middle finger to his right ear, letting his thumb brush the hollow at the base of his jaw.
Across the city, the vampiress is in ecstasy.
Skipping through the blood, holding a paladin's still beating heart over her head, she bares down on an acolyte, stifling her screams as she buries her fangs in her throat.
Letting her eyes roll back into her head, the Lord Fear of Skull City, drinks deep, moaning in pleasure as the blood courses down her throat.
He waits a moment.
He stomps back and forth for a minute, before he tries again
Deep in his palace, Lord Suffering pauses.
Shifting back to his dark haired form, he releases the trembling ruin of a paladin to the tiles.
"I am here. They failed."
The paladin, blood streaming from his nose and ears, makes a choking, wet laugh.
"No, this is only the beginning."
Lord Suffering stares down at him.
"Do you think you and your band are the first to attack us?"
The paladin grins, his mouth a misshapen mess.
He speaks the Lord's true name, and dies as Drakan drives his sword through its throat on the last syllable.
Looking back and forth, Drakan stands straighter.
"We still don't know who sent them."
Shudu growls from his tent.
"I'm on it."
Black veils holds the paladin's arms out stiff, while two of the Killers, remove his organs one by one.
He never takes his eyes off of Shudu's.
"You may have one this ti-"
"We'll win every time."
"...but we'll be replaced..."
"...skilled undead guards are always welcome among our forces..."
"...good will triumph..."
Shudu looks at him, the image of pity dancing across his face for a moment.
"...is a little beyond good and evil, my friend."
The paladin spits.
"I know! You only want power!"
"A force more powerful than y-"
He screams, swinging his head back and forth in wild agony.
"Tell me who sent you. Your gods can't help you, or they would have, fool."
The paladin spits the name, chuckling.
"She told me, if anything happened, to tell you everything... How she was the one who found us all, and planned this strike against you."
Shudu says nothing, and the paladin stares.
"You're n-not afraid..."
"She told you I would tremble in fear..."
"...oh, gods..."
Shudu frowns.
"Master, and Lords will suffice."
The paladin descends into bloodied coughs broken by pained shouts.
Shudu turns his back on him, and the paladin's shouts only grow louder.
"No! Face me!"
Shudu touches is ears and jaw, "The Vampiress, Pharrah."
"Not really."
"Does she seek to challenge me?"
"Are you finished gorging yourself?"
"Don't start."
"We know where she is."
"You'll only bungle that too."
"My Black Veils are more than competent!"
"They are..."
"...but this plan of yours is less that impressive."
"I'm taking command now Shudu. Order all units to maximum readiness, and announce our progress to the Bold Stratagem."
"There's no finesse to that plan!"
"And yours has too much finesse in all the wrong places. Its not working."
"Lord Hate shall take command."
"Do I still maintain con-"
"Of course. A change in tactics is all that's being made."
"Fine, we'll do it your way."
"In his name..."
"...in his shadow..."
"...by his example..."
"...we become the legend."
"...stop ignoring me! Look at me!"
Shudu lets his arm fall to his side.
The Black Veil looks at him.
"Master, should we move your tents in light of this attack."
He waves away the suggestion.
"We knew this attack was coming..."
He looks at the paladin's dead eyes.
The calligraphy fails as the illusion ends.
Shudu winks from sight, his voice drifting across the tent.
"I was never here..."

...Pharrah's Pagoda, outside Thames City...

Pharrah holds the paladin's head in the reflecting pool, now filled to the brim with blood, smiling into the air as his body jerks and struggles.
She pulls him free, with a choking gasp, hissing in his ear.
"...Dresden always told me..."
She laughs, letting her tongue brush his cheek, and plunges him back in.
"'...the only way to truly make sure you win, is to play on every side...'"
She continues to stare as the bubbles begin to fail.
"An undead paladin should be interesting..."
Mad laughter rings through the Pagoda.

...Pharrah's Pagoda, outside Thames City...

Tears stream down Lissa's face when she hears of Raven's death, but she holds herself together long enough to fly them down through the raining blood, and set up a rough camp beneath the cliff.
Overhanging rocks, provide shelter from the blood, and the stone remains dry as they sleep.
When morning arrives, the rain still falls, making red mud and the hills before them crimson.
The horses stamp nervously at the iron smell that stains the air, but Lissa holds them firm as they break camp.
Its early enough to still be dark, but the golden light of the clouds above provides light enough to see.
Toresh prepares new spells for the new day, not complaining about his diminished ability even as he heals any and all lingering injuries.
Keeping to himself, as they break camp, Marros contemplates the last few days. The fighting, the mistakes, he had lost his focus, charging heedlessly forward. He would not do so again. His few belonging equipped, he checks Selka's tack, gives his thanks to Toresh, and readies himself to depart.
Maki lies on the floor face-down, his only movement being that of his back expanding and contracting as he breathes.
Jake gives him a poke to awaken him.
Maki's chest stops sinking for a second... then a weird noise starts coming from the pack of hair that is his head being face down.
Then it stops.
And he starts breathing normally once again.
Jake stares.
"I'm not doing this. Can leave him?"
Daina shakes her head, "What if there's another Frost Giant?"
Walking over, Marros chuckles to see the large man still rumbling away. Shall I wake him? I have a traditional technique, useful for some of the more sluggish trainees in the Brotherhood.
"Be my guest. Be careful though, he's not of a calm temperament."
He stalks away to ready his own horse.
"Allow me," Alex says with a bow. He reaches into his haversack and produces an empty mug. He then rolls the barbarian over so that he is face up. "Rise and shine!" With that, he turns the mug upside down, pouring fresh water on his face.
Surprised by the thief's prank, Marros bursts out laughing, even as he readies himself to deal with a soggy, angry barbarian. You might want to run Alex! he says through bouts of laughter.
"Pfft! Damn Kraken! "
"Don't worry, Sleepy Head here can barely tell where he's standing right now," Alex grins, storing his mug. Even as he does that, he bends his knees slightly in case the barbarian tried to get him.
Maki jumps up to his knees looking everywhere around, his face looks terrible with really big bags under his eyes , as if he hadn't gotten a wink of sleep.He calms down after he sees his teammates...
Then he looks up at the sky.
"Oh... It's "Gold" already? Guess it's time to go then..."
"Sleepy head here probably fell asleep TWENTY MINUTES AGO!" Maki yells at Alex as he gets up .
He dries his face with his cloak.
"Whatever... What's the plan for today? " he asks turning to Daina.
"Really? I figured you wouldn't have trouble sleeping after what happened yesterday," Alex comments.
"I would have slept like a baby with a keg of Dwarven blend under my arm..."
Daina's mounted, wearing a silver and black devil's mask.
"We ride back into the Broken Kingdoms, and get back to Thames. Mount up."
He then turns and walks away, heading towards the horses.
Tears streaming down his face, Marros's chuckles finally start to subside, as he helps the others finish breaking down the camp.
How long has it been since you've gone to bed sober Maki?
Maki scratches his head thinking, "I dunno... two months? Or three?"
Lissa hands of Epona to Alex, and brings Maki his horse.
Toresh hands out wrapped bundles of food, "Have a bite to eat everyone. Normally, we'd eat in the saddle."
Daina glowers through her mask, and the minotaur shakes his head.
"...but with blood falling from the sky."
"Yes, yes. Chow down, and mount up, so we can ride out."
Jake swings his horse around, taking breakfast from Toresh, "Yes, ma'am!"
"Thank you," Alex says, accepting his share of food.
" Thanks. "
Maki takes a piece of food from Toresh and gobbles it up before getting on his horse.
He yawns.
"What are we gonna do back in Thames? o_- "
"Consult back with Methuselah. Perhaps he dug up what his Master found out about this 'Devourer' reference or the Baron in Xanatos' journal. We're changing locations though."
Daina stares at the group through her mask.
"Khamal's scrying attempt may have attracted unwanted attention; so I ordered the 'safe-house' burned. Moreover, someone scried on us when we were traveling yesterday, after the village."
She shifts her gaze to the rain as she mentions the cultists.
"I've been thinking... what if the wizard chickened out when he saw the blood and he left us here?"
"We'll find one in the Broken Kingdoms, and I'll get my money back. And besides,"
Daina shrugs.
"We don't know if the storm goes that far."
"Well, it does look pretty bad," Alex observes as he looks at the clouds.
"Before I forget," the thief says after finishing his meal, "I have the suspicion this Devourer might be a vampire, which is why I bought these." He pushes his cloak away, revealing a bandolier with several stakes straped around his chest.
"I think they might come in handy. I have enough for all of us. Do you want me to hand them out now in case we need them later? It might be a good idea for each of us to have one."
"I've slept with one every night for seven years."
Jake nods, stone-faced.
Lissa and Toresh, face covered in worry, take the stakes graciously.
Alex looks at Jake with curiousity but says nothing. The bard had probably encountered vampires before. "I also have this," he continues, pulling a silver stake, engraved with Pelor's holy symbol, from the bandolier.
"This one should be able to pierce a vampire's skin more easily, and is crafted so that it can be enchanted. I think it might be a good idea to give it to the one who can move the fastest among us," he says, looking at Marros.
"Unless anyone thinks differently?"
"None here."
"Makes sense."
" I'll take one too . Thanks. " Maki says grabbing one of the stakes and examining it...
Vampires...I remember...
You do me great honor, thank you.
Marros bows to Alex as he accepts the offered stake.
I am impressed by your forethought, it may very well make the difference between failure and survival. I shall focus on learning how best to fight with this, perhaps you could help me, Jake?
"I learned the hard way," Alex grins.
"A friend and I once got captured by a small cult of vampires. The only reason I'm still here is because his sister followed us and burned them to ashes. Then she freed us and we staked them in their coffins."
"I think we should all try to learn how to use them properly, you never know who will be close enough to kill them."
Quickly finishing his breakfast, Marros stalks out into the crimson downpour, and begins slowly moving through a series of Kata's, trying to work the heavy stake into his routine. Feet and arms moving in slow precise arcs, he shifts from stance to stance, finding the ones most effective for the stabbing motions of the stake, as he waits for the others to finish.
Jake takes one of the wooden ones, and flips it across his palm.
"Its like a wooden dagger. But don't bother with defense. Its no good."
He smiles.
"Its probably better to conceal it too. Any vampire who sees you with one will destroy it first. You can hurt them pretty well with it, but its not a one-hit kill unless you can pin it down, get it helpless, and drive it into its heart. And I've heard that tricky vampires can avoid that too."
The blood stinks of iron as it washes over Marros body, leaving him slick with the falling filth.
Ignoring the blood flowing down, Marros heeds Jake's advice, shifting the stake from hand to hand, hiding it in his sleeve, only to thrust outward, the stake appearing again like magic.
What would best make one helpless? Perhaps some silvered manacles, or other bindings?
Daina tilts her head as she looks down at him.
"Same as anything else. Assuming its human, pin it and hold it. Its difficult, but it can be done."
She makes a wrestling gesture, an arm-bar.
"Maki and I did it once."
She shrugs.
"It was fun."
" We'll cross that bridge when we get there... We still dont know if the Devourer is really a vampire...Maybe we can get silvered Manacles or something that helps us from a church when we get back to Thames... For now... we should ride on... " Maki says spurring his horse onwards.
The sooner we get to Thames the sooner i might get some real sleep...
Daina pauses for a second.
"Silver manacles wouldn't do anything. We could use a force manacles spell. Almost impossible to escape from."
As they follow Maki into the red rain, Daina rides close to Marros.
"This rain is terrible for scouting, and it makes me nervous. Maybe you shouldn't scout so far ahead today..."
Agreed. I'll stay close, say 50 feet ahead? That way you'll have some warning of danger, but if something were to happen to me, you'd still know.
"Alright. Let's go."
Despite the rain, they make good time until they reach the village.
With the crimson veil across their eyes, its a disturbing sight, even if the out-croppings of the empty homes offer some respite from the rain.
Wiping the red gore from his face, Marros waves the group forward, heading towards the largest building.
Four hundred feet in they notice
Bodies are missing.
And have been moved.
Even with the rain, they can all see it.
"Where are the bodies?" There were no survivors that they knew of who could have taken the bodies. "The priests of Nerull probably wouldn't bother with corpses, so unless someone gave them a burial in the time we were gone... Tordesh, how long would it take to animate a dead body?"
Toresh crouches down next to a villager's body.
"It only takes a touch. Wait a moment my allies."
He wipes blood from his nose, and scowls.
"This heat is unbearable, crowd around so I can alleviate this suffering."
The horses are growing more and more agitated.
With the blood, and the dead, and even Toresh, they roll their eyes in fear, and threaten to bolt at every crack of lightning.
" The air's gonna get really foul... Heat and blood are not a good mix... " Maki comments from his horse.
Daina nods, "You're right. People will get sick..."
"Do you think it's possible someone came here and animated some of the bodies? Maybe more cultists?" At the cleric's request, Alex gets closer to him.
Daina brings arrows to her bow, murmuring at the wetness that would ruin the string.
Toresh, snarling, imbues himself with strength as Jake draws his swords.
Lissa, dismounting, readies her rapier and produces a ghostly hand of magic.
Rising from the muck, Marros notices the others alarm, and draws his own Oathbow, holding it in one hand, scanning the surrounding area, with heightened senses.
Maki unsheathes his Falchion getting ready for anything that might jump at them.
" Maybe we should have burned them... "
A shuffling figure in black robes emerges from one of the houses behind them.
Then two more, farmers by their garb, and pitchforks in hand, emerge from another house across the center of the village.
A large, horned figure clomps and shuffles toward them from the entrance they'd just come through.
It only has one hand.
They are out of the range of Marros' deathwatch, but the nearest one, in black robes, reaches out with a hand blackened by magical fire.
Maki's horse bucks, its eyes rolling back into its head in fear.
They all whinny in fright at the sound of the voice, kicking out with their hooves.
Swinging her horse around to face the hulk approaching them, Daina's brow furrows.
Beads of sweat drip down her forehead as she takes aim, speaking a word of power that brings her bow to life with a crackle of sparks.
Maki steps down from his horse quietly as he get ready for the possible onslaught. He presses a button on his Magical Glasses once.
Eyes wide, Marros drops to a low defensive stance, wary of the strange creature ahead of them.
"Toresh...that....that's Toresh!"
His arrows thud into the undead simile's chest with soft thuds and cracked bone, but still it comes forward with a dull moan.
More figures stumble forward, emerging from the houses, four in total, lurching after the dead minotaur.
The minotaur snorts, glaring at the body stumbling toward them.
Jake, curved blade clutched tightly, makes a pained expression as he notices his shaking grip.
Frowning, he steadies himself, and pushes his horse behind him, showing the slowly approaching zombies steel.
"Oh, joy," Alex sighs as the new threat made itself visible.
Leveling his crossbow, he shoots at the figures above them.
The bolts punch a hole through the cultists burnt hand and bury themselves in its head with such force its thrown back out of sight, bursting in a cloud of dark energy.
Throwing out her hand, rod clenched in her gloved fist, Lissa speaks arcane power, creating twin balls of fire that race toward the copy, and smiles as the flames implode on it, leaving it wreathed in fire.
Toresh shakes his head.
"I have to admit. This has actually happened before..."
He wards himself from the negative energy powers of the undead, and sets himself before the group, ready to counter the zombies charge.
Evening Shard watches the Prey shift deeper and deeper into the village.
He has chosen his battlefield well.
The high walls and open homes of the village offer his Dead Pack the advantage, with the blood rain that washes over rotted fur and the open wounds of the dead.
Letting his swollen tongue hang over his fangs, Evening Shard listens through the rain
Fall back slowly! We must avoid being surrounded!
One of the Two-legged Ones says, taking measured steps backwards, loosing shafts at the surrounding undead, fingers slipping from a Bow slick with blood.
The Wolf-brother moves according to Two-legged One's Instructions...
Evening Shard could tell that the Wolf-brother wanted to let loose... The wolf could see it, straining to attakc and charge, but the Wolf-brother was wise, and would have to wait...
The Four-legged Hard-footed ones, pushed to the rear would fatten the Dead Pack, and the Two-legged Ones, even the Horned Ones and the Silver-Face, and He With the Shining Blade would fall.
The Scaled King Faced One, with his biting stick, fires at the Two-legged Horned Hard-footed One that this...
...this Dark Tide...
...Dark Tide, had dragged from the dead, along with the other Two-legged Ones.
The ones with the odd, black fur, smelt funny, but Evening Shard would use them to feed his back none the less.
Fire and lightning dance as the Two-legged Ones loose on the bait, pushing them back further and deeper, onto the pack of undead wolves...
As powerful in undeath as they were in life, Evening Shard does not know what this Dark Tide is...
...nor does he care about the dark whispers its screams in his mind.
All he wants to do...
...is kill.
The flame and lightning clears before their eyes, sputtered out in the rain, they see the horned hulk fall to its knees, a burnt wreck.
In a flash of dark energy, it consumes itself, becoming a dark shell in the blood that pools at their feet.
Marros and Alex's bolts and arrows bring down more of the undead cultists and villagers, but for everyone one they put down, another emerges, blocking off the north exit of the village.
South is their only hope.
The cultists, dead-faced, shuffle forward, arms outstretched, stumbling over their clinging robes, rubbing shoulders with the villagers they'd murdered the day before.
As more of the cultists lurch into the rain, Daina curses, dropping from her horse with a blood splash.
Sighting down the shaft, she looses, and decapitates a villager, holding a garden-hoe over his head in a threatening gesture.
Low growls, and snarling drifts toward their ears.
And Daina freezes.
The villager spins in a slow circle before crashing to the ground in a burst of dark energy.
Marros sees it too, glowing eyes, slinking through the rain.
Alex keeps moving with the group as they retreat, looking over his shoulder and realeasing a bolt towards the undead every time he does.
The snap of the bolt tells him he's struck down another villager.
Maki stay's close to the group. B
Bloody rain falls on him as the he stands ready for the undead attack.
But with arrows flying, and the undead performing their slow shuffle, none of the villagers get even close.
Keeping his senses alert, Marros keeps shifting back, wary of the blinding rain that dampened even his keen senses. Stay alert, don't let them close. as he looses more shafts at the cultists.
He spits one to a wooden door, before it dissolves into necrotic power, leaving the arrow affixed to the panels.
The door, pushed by the momentum, swings open, and a large, black wolf slinks out.
Its eyes flow like the other pairs peering out from the fog at them.
The terrible, massive creatures are larger than anything any of them had ever seen, staring each of them level in the face.
Teeth as large of daggers are chipped and black as night, like their swollen tongues that lap at the fallen blood.
Daina stares at the dead wolves for a moment.
"I'm going to need my other bo-"
A howling dire wolf hurls itself down from the upper level, jaws snapping around her arm.
It tries to throw her, but Daina drops down, breaking its charge, and avoids being swung to the ground.
Toresh, throws his head to the sky, and screams.
And the wolves howl to join his own.
A sorrowful, snarling pair of howls drifts through the village, settling in their bones like leaden weights.
The song is one of the dead wild, of savagery in death, like nothing they'd ever heard before.
Even as he surges with power and strength, the dire wolf among them, Toresh looks unsure as he stomps glares back at the wolves that have blocked their way north.
Epona tries to scream a warning before she is tackled from behind, hurled into Alex.
Wolves, leaping through the rain, splash across the ground as they send horses flying.
A hoof clips the back of Maki's head, and Selka accidentally bites Marros as a powerful bite flips her into the air.
Daina scowls at the dire wolf, ignoring the raking rent across her back, exposing chain mail underneath her jacket.
It glows and sparks in its presence.
Flipping backwards, through the rain, Daina pulls a black and red bow from her haversack, and comes up aiming, her mouth open in surprise as the horse that had been given to Khamal is bodychecked into Toresh's back.
The minotaur roars in fury, lifting himself to his new height.
A screeching, screaming sound fills their ears, and a flapping swarm of bats hurtles from their dens among the homes.
The bats fly up Marros' tunic, and fly into Daina's face, biting and beating her with their wings.
Cursing, Jake swings back and forth at them, while Toresh swings at them in vain with his axe.
Catching in her hair, Lissa screeches at the bats as they bite and hiss.
" All right....Here i go "
Maki clicks his boots together activating its magical powers... He also does the same with his helmet. Feeling the anger welling up from within he charges towards the Dire wolf far away from them in one vicious leap attack!
His steps are hampered with every bite, but Maki can't be stopped leaping forward, and slamming his falchion along the dead wolf's spine.
It snarls at him.
And bursts in a destructive retribution of energy.
Using the momentum from slashing open one of the wolves Maki leaps quickly towards his next target!
Escaping the bats, Maki slashes another of the wolves in half, and the barbarian is struck by more negative energy as the wolf bursts into dark flames.
Marros issues a loud growl to the massive Wolf pack, challenging them, stepping forward as he finds the perfect balance, every muscle taut, arms held close, ready to parry and dance between the gnashing teeth.
The wolves answer him with growls of their own, unshaken by his challenge.
Shifting among the bats doesn't make it easy...
Flipping over his sword, Jake lunges forward, dealing a slashing blow with his curved blade as he slides toward the wolf, and sending blood and fur flying through the air.
The wolves blocking their way south, leap upon the horses, gorging themselves on the terrified creatures.
Lissa, leaping away from them, looses a fireball, at one of the large ones that had appeared from the south, snarling at the clinging bats.
She looses the first fireball, but their screeching causes her second to fail, fizzling to nothing.
Just what we needed...
Alex stops momentarily to release a barrage of force bolts at the undead pack. He did not like their current situation. Wolves travel in packs and hunt with great coordination... and if most, if not all, of the village and cultist had been zombified...
Only the first bolt sinks into the creature's back, the other two bouncing off of its tough hide.
Snarling, the wolf leaps over its brother's body, to swipe at Maki in an energy draining attack.
Flanking from the other side, another of the massive wolves snaps at Maki's feet, trying to drop him to the ground, only for the barbarian to lunge away.
"By the power of Ba-:
Toresh stops, shocked.
"Its not working..."
The wolves howl, their song reaching through up through blood.
The wolves sink their jaws into the screaming, kicking horses, chewing on their organs and withdrawing grinning mouths as hearts burst and the flailing heads go still.
Snarling at the remaining horses, they bring those down to, sapping them of their strength and sure footing.
Daina's war horse kicks out, at the wolves, only to have its hear dealt a devastating blow of negative energy as it slips to the ground.
Daina grits her teeth as her horse falls, but she merely swings her bow in a low-arc, slamming arrow after arrow into the wolf that had attacked her.
Dismal snarls screams in rage as Daina's arrows slam through his unbeating heart, turning him into a dark explosion.
Smiling, Daina doesn't have long to enjoy the moment.
Pushing blood-streaked hair from her eyes, she points to the glowing eyes above and beyond Maki, glaring down at him from one of the homes above.
"MAKI! Look out!"
Maki having finished two of the beasts, Maki steps to slashs furiously at the two that are left!
A shadow of cold and dark malice passes over Maki, and descends upon him with a roar.
The wolf's paw is wreathed in cold black flame that crackles and hisses, emanating the smells of hot metal and sulfur as it burns away his life force.
The flames lick angrily across as body as the force of the blow lifts him from his feet, and the wolves snap at him as he crashes to the ground.
Howling in triumph, Evening Shard's daughter, Rising Darkness, announces her dark presence.
A vampiric winter wolf like him, she is huge, standing high above the ground, crunching stone beneath her paws.
Majestic in the rain of blood, her eyes flicks between black and red as she gazes across the floor of the village.
Crumpled on the ground, Maki's very soul burns with an energy he's never known before.
The agony is beyond words, as parts of himself begin to char, crumbling away.
Vaulting over the dead and dying horses, Marros is too late.
But this doesn't stop him.
He spins through the air, landing in the midst of the wolf pack, crouched with one hand down. The air seemed to still, for the barest instant.
"Eye. of. the. WHIRLWIND!"
Then, he seemed to twist, flying faster than the eye could follow, appearing and disappearing, shattering strikes lashing outward, forcing the wolves aside.
The wolves, split, dodging the strikes as well they can, until only Marros manages to land his fists on one, destroying it in a shattering burst of dark power.
Jake, flicks his swords in the rain.
"Marros! Leave them! They can't be saved!"
Sling through the blood, Jake slashes back and forth at the gorging wolves, finishing Marros' failed kills.
Lissa, snarls angirly at the bats, stabbing with her rapier.
Dashing from the cloud, blood drips down her face as she hides herself from the undead, making herself invisible to their senses.
With the aid of a flying spell, she moves toward Daina.
"We have to get out of here!"
"I know..."
"They're too strong."
"Strange powers..."
Maki's body pops and hisses on the ground as the two large wolves he would have destroyed slink forward, growling.
Another dead dire wolf plunges through the rain, sliding past Alex in a furious snap of snapping jaws and flailing paws that just miss him as the wolf slides past him with an ugly snarl.
The bats still swing back and forth around him, biting and screeching right into his ear.
Swinging his crossbow to keep the bats from covering his vision, Alex draws his rapier and slashes at the cloud, the dark blade hissing as it releases acid.
Bats shriek and burn, dropping at his feet as more wolves lunge forward, colliding with the fallen horses.
Toresh, cursing at the bats, stomps free of them, and raises his gloved fist to the sky.
A twisting column of fire falls upon Rising Darkness and the wolves gnawing on Maki's limbs, shaking his flaming body across the ground.
Two dire wolves, stalking through the rain, growl at Marros, as the bats descend on him once more.
The ground opens up at his feet, and long, sinuous insects bursts upwards, crawling up his boots and biting him in a wave across his body.
Jake, shocked looks to Toresh in horror.
"Can you do nothing!?"
"I last prepared to fight mortals, bard!"
Snapping jaws of ice bring swift deaths to the last of the horses.
Only Daina's valiant war horse, dancing away from the rows of teeth, manages to stand firm, raising itself up, and flailing its hooves.
Daina, with an almost careless looks, fires over her shoulder, killing it.
She steps toward's Lissa.
"Let's go."
A flaming ruin on the ground, Maki is no match for the massive beast that bears down on him.
Striking down on him again and again with bone shattering crunching bites, the flames leap higher as Rising Darkness locks her fangs into his throat, and gives the barbarian a stiff shake.
Unable to even shout, Maki flies back and forth as his blood is drained, driving the vampire into ecstasy.
Two more dire wolves leap from the shadows, making dark holes in the blood rain, snap and growl at Marros with angry howls.
The monk, with simple shifts and gentle pushes, avoids the rows of teeth, that seek out his throat, and remains untouched.
We've got to get out of here! Marros cries, as he vaults over the screaming horses, seeing the renewed crowd of wolves. As he flies through the air, he see the barbarian being savaged, helpless against the massive beast. Landing and springing, he flips through the air to land amongst the Wolf pack, sweeping his legs low in a dancing circle, shoving them back, vanishing in and out to land with a final heel strike.
Jake, taking a running start, leaps over the wolves that fall at Marros feet, as Toresh brings down another column of flame.
Dancing across the stone, the two remainging wolves bare their teeth at the monk, and the matted fur on their backs stretches over readied muscles.
Lissa, nodding to Daina, removes the scroll to activate a spell to safety.
Beating at the bats, she stumbles over the words.
"C'mon Lissa! Open it!"
Still slashing at the cloud of wings around him, Alex focuses his eyes on the wolf before him as he puts away his crossbow. He sways slightly, his movements harder to follow.
Bats fall around him, but their number doesn't appear to lessen.
The dire wolf, stares back at him, trying to transfix the thief where he stands.
A wing slaps him across the face, and the spell is broken.
When Alex next looks, the dire wolf is gone.
With inexplicable screeches, the bats lift themselves into the air, giving everyone room to breathe, as two more dire wolves emerge through the rain by the great vampire snow wolf's side.
One takes a running pass, smashing Maki's exposed head, with a snarl.
The other, scars running down its face, plants itself next to its smaller brother, glaring toward them.
With a laughing bark, it issues its warning, crouching down low, readying itself for anyone who chose to test themselves against it.
The vampire winter wolf, clamped down on Maki's throat's eye, spins back into its head, looking up to the sky.
The barbarian sees a distinct, shudder shake through her body as she sates herself on his blood.
Still staring him down, the wolves retreat from Marros, snarling with each backwards step.
A hoof twitches as they pass over, becoming dark motes.
Daina, shakes her head at Maki.
"Can't hit him..."
She fires at the winter wolf instead, snarling as the heads bounce of the dead, ice plated hide.
But she steps through too the safety of the hill beyond the door, following Lissa to safety as the winter wolf enters a maddened blood frenzy.
Maki's blood pours out in terrific gouts, and the blackfire flames climb only higher.
Even more wolves emerge with cautious steps and barks from the side of the village.
Smaller, these specimens are just as dead, their eyes glowing with an unholy, feral light that cuts through the rain.
Rising Darkness gasps, and Maki's head pops off, dark redness spraying all over her face.
Her tongue laps it off her nose, in greedy snorts before plunging the fangs back in.
The howling song, reaches upwards, high to the bolts of lighting that dance across the sky, higher and higher.
Evening Shard watches as his child feeds, letting the Dark Tide direct her hunger...
...the path of destruction...
...making something new.
The voice whispers, only to be shoved down by the pack leader's primal might.
This was for him.
For them.
Blood pouring down his face, Marros stares aghast at the bloody ruin that had been his friend, only moment before.
It was too late...he was too slow.
I'm sorry Maki...
Seeing the wolves surrounding him, he turned to find the thief, Alex, it's too late. We must leave, Now! before dropping himself deep into himself, seeing the world slow to a crawl, as he vanished, reappearing, already in motion, bending and twisting gracefully away, following Jake and Daina.
Nodding at Marros, Alex jumps and disappears, appearing several feet away before tumbling his way towards Daina and the others.
Maki dies with a choking gasp, his body a dried husk for the dark flames.
They flare a moment when Marros passes through the door to the hill beyond.
Damn! Damn! Damn! It was really all the rogue could think at moment. The wolves had proven too powerful, and their formation prevented them from getting Maki's body... or what was left from the black flames.
Unknown to them all, even Jake and Toresh, squeezing through the door with his increased size, the amulet drags the barbarian back into the world of the living, just as Lissa slams the door shut behind them.
Between the thin legs of the surrounding wolves, Maki lives just long enough for the bars to snap shut, extinguishing all hope as the flames leap higher again.
Rising Darkness, intent on her feeding, delivers another gout of the terrible blackfire, killing him anew.
This time, Maki's vision is eclipsed by blackfire.
A familiar, dead silence fills the scope of his new existence.
Its strange, but Maki thinks he's been here before...
...then, he hears the whistles.
The screech of wind through bone, and he knows.
He knows.
And there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, before he's screaming, falling, sinking into the dark constructs well of souls.
On the Material Plane, the wolves move out.
Rising Darkness, crunching down Maki's dried out corpse, watches cooly as the black flames leap from the dead husk, forming a dark bonfire that freezes the drops of blood that fall down on it.
Lifting its head, the blightfire elemental screams to the heavens, a burning font of negative energy, and frigid hate.
Ignoring it, the wolf spits aside Maki's charred blades, brittle in the face of such cold, dark magic, but watches in interest at the ring and belt that float before her.
She doesn't understand the words...
"...ing Darkness, new Battle Nexus Champion..."
...but she understands pain, as the ring slams itself into her hear, affixing itself as a mock decoration.
"...fend your title..."
The belt, twists and expands, becoming a collar, snaking itself around her neck with a loud click.
With a paw, Rising Darkness, strokes blood from her furred face, and laps at it happily.
She looks up to Evening Shard, and sees him in the Dark Tide.
A pillar of shadow in the void.
She knows he is pleased.
Out on the hill, Jake rests against a tree, panting.
Daina, stands stock still, starting south.
Toresh and Lissa watches her warily.
The guardswoman, sits in the mud at the base of a tree.
"We must keep moving."
"The agreed place. We have about an hour. I can chain Dimension Doors, and keep us going..."
The screech of bats in the distance drifts from the north.
Looking off to the north, Marros' face grows hard. Then let's go. There's nothing more we can do here.
"Isn't there a chance of getting some part of his body for a resurrection? It's not like I'm looking forward to get near those wolves again, but I really don't like the idea of just leaving him behind."
Toresh shakes his head.
"What ever those things were doing, won't leave anything behind worth using..."
He's gone. He was utterly consumed by that strange flame. It seemed made of pure darkness, and it tore him into nothingness. There is nothing more we can do for him. We must go!
"I guess you're right," he sighs."Did anyone recognize the black fire they used? I've never heard of undead using anything of the sort."
Jake shudders, "I don't know Alex..."
Daina scowls,"Everyone is always coming up with something new to kill someone else."
Lissa stands up with Marros' help.
"I can take three at a time."
I can take three as well, if you'd like the help. A few times anyway. It might be safer to avoid splitting up.
Daina nods, "Alright. We're aiming for the hill we first stopped at."
She points at Toresh, and Jake.
"Lissa, you take them. Marros, take me and Alex."
Daina counts off on her hands, "And then there were Giants who could make weapons out of light! Eduardo was attacked by an elemental, and dragons are taking out hits on my family. But none of that matters."
She stares at him.
"What are you going to do about it? What do you want me to say, Alex?"
She holds her hands out.
"If they start shooting black bolts from their eyes, are you, or any of going to tell them they can't? I don't care what they do or how they do it, until I can find a way to stop it. For now, I will stay focused. Move. Out."
"I don't expect you to say or do anything, I'm just saying it seems like a rather big coincidence. I think they might not be just isolated cases." He takes Marros hand.
"I was just sharing an idea in case it might help. It might be just me making asumptions, but you have to admit it is suspicious."
That's enough both of you. We've lost good people. Let's see that we don't lose anymore. Taking both of their hands, the monk nods at Lissa, then steps.
A series of jumps through the forest and hills carries them south with great speed.
Each time Marros halts, the rain follows them.
When his ability to jump fades, Lissa takes over, using her own magic reserve to carry them.
Finally, Lissa is carrying Daina, Marros and Alex when they arrive at the hill.
They instantly plummet, falling ten feet into a sick pool of red and mud.
Lissa screeches in surprise.
"Eeeeeeeugh! What is this!"
They sit at the bottom of a small crater at the top of the hill.
Stone and gravel, poke out of the mug.
A pair of cracked, eroded stone pillars rise from the dark blood pool, and they see more worked stone just beneath the surface in a crash of the dark lightning.
Daina snarls.
"Its a burial mound."
Landing lightly, Marros sweeps the area with his piercing sight, heightening his sense to superhuman levels. We passed it on the way in. It seems the dead don't feel like resting any longer.
Daina throws her hands into the air.
"Yes. We noticed. Does anyone else feel like bombarding me with the obvious?"
She stands up, flicking away the mud.
"Check it out! More undead doing new stuff. What now everyone? Where shall we go? What shall we do?"
She looks from Alex to Marros.
"Suspicious. Coincidences. Helping. What now? Tell me what we should do?"
Ignoring Daina's outburst, Marros helps the others stand up. Lissa, can you go get Jake and Toresh? We need them as fast as possible. Wiping the mud off of himself, he turns to Daina. What we should do now is rest and regroup. We have been beset by disaster on every side, for two days, lost people and we need to stop. Making soothing gestures to Daina, he walks slowly towards arms held open disarmingly. Please Daina, you are a bowstring, taut to the point of breaking. Let's keep calm, return to Thames, and follow up on the leads we've gathered.
"No. We do this now."
Lightning tears the sky in half, throwing strange shadows across their faces.
She makes her fists into balls and screams.
"What do we do. We? There is no we. I have lost. Ravenna is dead. Maki, worse. My friends. My responsibility. I have to tell her family how and why she died. I have to find Maki's family, and tell them they're son is GONE! What have you lost-you've known him. Know them. Known me-less than a week! You know nothing! Nothing!"
The flashing light outlines the monk's face, hard as an obsidian statue.
And what is it you wish to do? What do you think you'll find in there?
"Find in where? I want to do the same thing I set out to do! And I want to do it without the stupid questions! The accusations, the muttering... The insinuations..."
Daina jabs her finger into her chest.
"I am not afraid of anything. I knew this was a bad idea. This 'Devourer' has nothing with me. And people are dead, because I went chasing after it. I knew it!"
Marros face remains solid, yet his eyes grow increasingly concerned. His voice low and calm. I stand at your side, as I have from the day we met. I followed you, and I did so by my own choice. Your friends made the same choice. You say I know nothing, but I know much of death, and sacrifice, and loss. Their deaths are not your fault, Daina of House Aishun. I follow you still. You say you want to do what you set out to do? So do it, and you'll still have my aid if you want it.
She points a finger at Alex, her eyes burning into his.
Lissa appears at the top of the crater with Toresh and Jake, and Daina lets her hand fall.
The guardswoman looks wearied.
"We get back to Thames City, we see what Methuselah turned up. Then, I'm looking for dragons. I don't know what's making the undead go nuts, and I don't care. If its him..."
Jake shudders.
"...we're boned anyway. Anyone who wants to go toe to toe with him is free to do so, but they can do it without my help. I have my own plans. So count me out of any trips to the Tomb of Horrors. That's the problem of whatever poor bastards have found themselves in their this time."
Then let's go look for dragons. I have no other course of action. But in your grief and anger you are the deadliest of arrows, but ask yourself, "Who holds the bow?" Please, think on this. I know not the answer, and I shall trouble you no further. With that, he bows, and resumes his scan of the area. Ready to move out.
"I hold the bow, Marros. I determine my destiny."
Marros turns and looks hard into her eyes, before nodding slightly. Very well. Let's go.
The dark holes of Daina's mask forbids Marros from glimpsing her eyes, and she doesn't nod back.
She stares at the columns.
Long ago, she'd have dove into the pool of blood, looking for treasure.
But those days are gone now.
Toresh snorts.
"You could stand to be more polite, Daina. They deserve more than that."
Jake nods.
"We're doing the best we can."
She ignores them.
Lissa smiles weakly.
"Could we just go? I'm beat."
"Yes, I think it might be for the best," he nods at Lissa.
Jake offers to take the lead.
He's not as fast as Marros, but he's just as skilled moving unseen through the trees.
The forest battlefields, and fighting alongside Harley had given him skills in unusual places.
When they reach the crossroads, everyone is dirty, weary and sick of the hills and walking.
The ever present rain thrums in their ear.
Toresh, manages to scoop out a hole in the mud, and tries to catch some sleep.
But the lightning makes it difficult.
Cursing, he sets about offering healing, the concern on his face obvious to all as he struggles to close their wounds.
Thanking Toresh, Marros offers to take the midnight watch. Least favorable, due to it interrupting your sleep. But the monk needed little sleep these days, and the steps that had brought him here weighed heavy on his mind.
They gladly let Marros take watch, but nobody can sleep, so there is lack of enthusiasm when the wizard appears with a sneer.
Holding a warped umbrella, he waves at Marros.
"A bit of trouble, eh?"

...a walk in the park...

The preparations are routed in magic.
They devise a simple plan, at its core, complex in its execution.
Eduardo places undead sparrows across the city, using them to keep eyes in all places.
But not even after an hour after they're all set, the birds are revealed to be flying south, away from Thames City.
Looking to his scrolls of death, the powerful secrets locked within are still powerful, but multiple uses allows Eduardo to notice that they're, in some way, not as potent.
On the other hand, his death ward, and the evil deathwatch sight granted by his knowledge of the grave seem more extensive in their permanence upon him. As the gruesome Death's Head Panoply settles over him, he feels a similar, greater power lurking behind it.
Prescott's Phantom Steeds are a hit with Dranga and Grace.
The dwarf reaches out to touch one, as she assures them she would be constantly alert for their return.
Grace bounces up and down on the balls of her feet, letting the fluid feeling of the magic reach into every form of her being.
Eyes closed, she executes a series of attack and defensive forms, drawing on her monk and paladinic routes.
Dranga clasps Eduardo's arms.
"Be careful."
She thinks a moment, and then does the same thing to each person, whispering a different message of goodbye.
"If things go 'bad', and you get split up, you might arrive here at a different time. I'll kill anyone who can't remember what I just said to them."
Grace's face splits into a grin, "You will try..."
"Good luck everyone."
Its still raining blood.
In some places, its forming scabs...
Prescott hides them from sight with a powerful magic spell.
Quin and Khamal's Greater Luminous Armor's and the cleric's glowing Light of Mercuria still shed light through the blood of night.
As hard as it is to tell, it is night.
Stalking the streets, watching Grace from up high, their faces are obscured by the magic and the monk's disguises.
Secure behind the face paint, new clothes and other means of altering their appearances, the cleric and druid shed light wherever they go.
Wisely, Khamal sheds the armor.
It becomes apparent to the druid, that not even Prescott can make light invisible.
But it may already be too late.
They press on, following Grace as she weaves through street after street, stomping through the rain.
Grace isn't alone.
Other people walk the streets of Thames.
The stone, sheds blood, but other, poorer and rougher parts of the city have dirt paths, that become bloodied mud.
The smell of iron stings their noses.
She passes a beggar woman, sitting under a flithy piece of tarp.
Grace continues walking.
"I was a GODDESS!" she screams after her.
She passes on, ignoring the woman's frantic cries.
Moving through an open bazaar, Grace lets her movements slow.
Brazenly showing her soulfire, anyone could see it, and anyone who knew what it was could identify them as the best known defense against the undead.
But nobody speaks to her.
So she moves on.
Grace has made herself to appear as a grizzled guardswoman.
A sell-sword, renting her arms to merchant caravans.
Scars criss-cross her face.
Snug with Prescott, Winky awaits his part in events, high above the streets of Thames City.
Dedicated to stealth, Quin also ends his conspicuous armor spell.
Grace frowns as she leaves the bazaar.
"Nothing at all..."
She decides to wander toward the river.
Here, the smell is even worse.
Dockworkers use their meagre earnings to pay rent for the shanty homes in this part of the city.
A large willow tree, still strong and green despite the blood, stands in a stone courtyard.
The houses and buildings here are older wood and stone and clay bricks, no doubt crowded with families.
She can hear the sound of the river beyond, the curses of sailors, the snap of wet sails, and the creak of a ship.
Blood pools in the cracked flagstones that make up the ground beneath her feet.

In a not-to-distant inn, a Thames City Guardsman displays a shield emblazoned with a golden lion, rampant on a red background.
Gazing around the raucous sound, everyone falls silent.
Serving maids freeze, and the bar tender, shifts nervously.
Dice are pressed to the table, and gamblers begin to shift closer to their coins.
The Guardsman's brown eyes peer out at them from under his conical helmet, scanning across the room, touching everyone, even the elf, Luthlandorien Whiteoak.
He clears his throat.
"A child has been taken. Age eight. Brown hair and eyes. A stove burn on the right side of his face. Speaks Common and Halfling. We believe his captor is still in the area. Any help in finding him would be appreciate."
Other Guardsmen file in behind him, drenched in blood.
"We know, the weather isn't ideal... But it also makes people do strange things. He must be found. Quickly."
Lou ooks up at the guard as he gets up from the chair. He holds up three fingers.
" Any idea who his captor is? "
He lowers one finger.
"Who wants him found so quickly? "
He lowers another and smirks.
"How much for finding him? "
"No. His family. The satisfaction of saving a life?"
The guard scowls at him.
"Does anyone else want to help?"
People look out into the rain, back at the warm fire in the grate.
Rolling his eyes Lou sits back on his chair. He asks the Bartender for another root beer.
The bartender glares at his customers.
"Cowards! All of you! There's a boy out there!"
He reaches for his long coat.
"This city used to have heart. Bar's closed! Everyone out!"
A pair of dwarves with thick staves begin to rap on table, growling at the patrons, ushering them to the door.
"Its raining blood out there, Jarl!"
The bartender spits in the direction of the complainer.
"You wanna pay for the boy's rescue? Or maybe you wanna go yourself if you are so brave." Lou says as he gets up once again...
It seems the party was over in this place...
"He won't be going alone."
Bardara adjusts her helm, glaring at Lou through the wide opening.
"Madman's heart is governed by more than just gold."
Standing six feet tall, armored in gilded armor, with red, white and blue cloth, she glares in disgust at patrons complaining as they're ejected by the swarthy dwarves.
The guards, shouldering their spears, help, pushing the more violent protesters out, before departing.
Bardard looks at Lou, measuring him.
"My friend said the bar is closed."
Lou nods looking at the warrior woman.
"So it is..."
He walks back a couple of steps towards the entrance still looking at her before turning around and leaving.
Bardara walks him out, before slamming the door to the Madman's Drinking Hole in his face, leaving the elf in the rain.
After a few minutes, the lights go out.
Might as well look for some roof to spend the night under... He thinks as he starts walking through the street's looking for an Inn.
After a few minutes of walking, Lou hears rough voices calling after him.
"Hey! You! Coward! Stop!"
Lou immediately turns around.
"Can I help you gentlemen?"
A wave of darkness descends from the rooftops toward Lou.
Even as the spear is slashing out at him, more darkness rips on him from the other sides.
Slashing at him, and breaking down his focus as the spinning butts of the weapons break his concentration, leaving him a ruin of defense.
Finding himself in the sudden darkness, bloodied rain falling down on him, Lou can't see at all.
Too late, the elf realizes he's dead, collapsing to the ground.
The darkness parts, leaving his body in the rain, his glowing breastplate gone.

Drawing her hood up, Grace continues south into the courtyard. It was getting late, and she was growing tired of making these rounds. Eduardo had said that they might need to keep this up for days... it was beginning to look like her master might be right. She did not look forward to it.
Though she can't see them above her, she can still feel their constant gaze on the top of her head.
Other people cast curious looks on her too.
City guards, followed by odd strangers, pass through the courtyard, apparently looking for something.
Squinting through the rain of blood, Grace looks the strangers over. It was curious to see anyone out in the bloody mess. Khamal never told them what his attackers looked like...
Slowly and deliberately, she scans the area with her detect evil ability.
They don't stop to speak to her.
She's alone.
She doesn't have the boy they're looking for.
They do pause to look up at the sky.
Bats fly through the blood, streaming upwards and through the air in a dark cloud.
Eduardo sees them too.
Swirling above the walls, the bats form a massive cloud, a colony of the creatures of the night
Grace warily continues south through the courtyard, turning her penetrating gaze at each corner as she does so. If any evil lurked in the streets, if any evil waited behind the walls, she would sense it. When she finds nothing, she continues southward through the square.
Eduardo hisses to Prescott and Quin, Those are the black-veiled assassins who killed me. We need to take them out now, or we're all dead.
Though he seldom spoke of it, Eduardo once fought in a battle. It was after he'd left the service of Hassadur, while in search of his next master. Fascinated by death, the young Eduardo decided he should witness it first hand - and what better way than in a war?
He enlisted as a medic, offering his knowledge of healing and ability to manipulate positive energy. Instead, his commander deployed him as a scout. They needed trackers, and Eduardo was a natural at it...
Of course, he got his chance to be a healer -- after the ambush.
The enemy knew they were coming that day, and they were prepared. They knew the scouts' numbers and capabilities well in advance, had planned it all meticulously. They knew from exactly which direction Eduardo and his comrades would come, even knew which path they would take. The enemies had laid the trail that Eduardo was following deliberately.
They fell like a comet and turned the field into muddy, red pond. Ten men dead, and five wounded. His allies managed to drop just one in their feeble, disorganized defense before fleeing.
The ambush succeeded in effectively wiping out young Eduardo's division, and captured the commanding lieutenant.
The Master still considered his inability to anticipate that trap one of his greatest failures.

Morinfen, the druid's familiar, shifts on her back.
Hidden beneath folds of clothes, he remains close.
Also, coincidentally, in the form of a bat.
Khamal's amber eyes seem glazed over as he rides before Prescott, standing while everyone is mounted on the phantom steeds. His shape is in a golden eagle form, with majestic feathers and sharp claws, which now are sunk into cantle of the saddle. The druid's body it here, but his eyes are elsewhere, closer to his companion than himself.
Morinfen crawls up higher on Grace's back, peering out.
Through their bond, even high above, Khamal registers surprise as the familiar watches the monk become surrounded.
Its so familiar to the druid.
Once again, they come from nowhere, in perfect unity, appearing on the rooves, and surrounding her with weapons, colored black.
And black suits them well.
The Black Veils, disguises casts aside, where their colors with pride.
Shadows, ring the courtyard, blocking every exit and entrance.
Longspears, dance before her, swung back and forth, while other spearmen, with shields, circle her.
Up, atop the roof, bows nocked with more than one arrow are aimed at Grace's heart.
A lone, Black Veil unarmed, atop the roof, looks down at her.
"We have a hostage."
What? Who are you and why should I care?
Khamal utters a small squawk, purely out of surprise.
He jerks his head to the left, his eyes looking at the direction of the rest of the group, yet his eyesight is still with Grace.
"She's surrounded!"
The bats are definitely moving toward them.
"If the dwarf doesn't drop his soulfire, we will kill a child."
Grace remains motionless in the square. Then I pray he will make the right decision, and do so.
Prescott sets his jaw, teeth grating irritably. This was nothow this was supposed to be going - how did they know about Quin, and the rest? What the hell were those bats doing on a beeline for them? Regardless, Grace was down below and they needed to get her out. "Right. Stick to the plan. Get in, get out." With that, Prescott wheels his steed and plunges down through the bloodrain to the square below.
Along the whispered bond, Prescott says to Grace
MessageBe right there. Prepare...

Khamal peers through Grace's eyes. At the same time, Morinfen is talking to him through his bond, which results in a sensory overload of his own, causing the druid to pause for a moment. When Prescott breaks formation and rushes ahead, Khamal is caught off guard and pushed back by the sudden gust of wind, and falls off the steed yet catches himself with his wings. He hovers in place in his golden eagle form and pushes his other magical senses aside.
Prescott? What is he doing breaking formation?
He flutters in place, still invisible by his own magic.
Diving, the wind whistles across the clay material that covers his face.
Beside him, Winky hurtles to the ground.
Seeing Grace surrounded so quickly, Quin realizes the time has come to act. He readies himself for what is yet to come and surrounds himself in the winds of the city as he hefts his shield and draws his axe. Muttering a word to it, he feels himself moving faster than those around him, even as he gives himself up to the urge to move.
Unleashing the magic, Prescott tears the Black Veils from the ground, even as Winky unleashes the sensory illusion, stunning a few of them.
Cold-hearted, they turn on one another, slashing throats and cracking skulls with deadly force.
Stumble, and sway, sickened by the lingering images left by Prescott's illusion and figments.
Floating into the air, they scowl up at Winky and Prescott outlined in the rain when the wizard's invisibility spell ends.
The Master considers his options. Given his last encounter with these assassins, he knew his fear aura would likely be a waste of time. Going toe-to-toe with them was suicide. He could run now... he could be at the warehouse in a few minutes and get Dranga, then spend a few minutes getting back. By then, they'd all be dead.
Instead, he reaches for his infinite scroll case, and produces the one spell at his disposal that might be of any use.
He places the sleet storm at the edge of northern entrance to the courtyard, hoping Grace would be smart enough to run back the way she came.
But it doesn't seem likely.
A voice barks harshly through the rain.
"Escalation. Respond."
Arrows and spears fly as an anti-magic field is dropped on Grace and Prescott.
Spinning over, and using spears and mid-air turns to
Unknowing of the danger she's in, Grace tries to avoid the spear, activating her boots.
She can't tell what surprises her more.
The failing, or the spear shaft that pokes through her back.
Flailing his arms, arrows slam into Prescott as he falls to the ground, smashing into Grace, and they collapse atop one another.
Still circling, others of the Black Veils look upwards.
For a moment, it looks as if the hesitate.
Frozen in the rain, like statues.
Then the side of Khamal's head begins to swell and pulse where the Black Veils had laid open his skull.
Angry, the swelling rises, a dead and ugly protrusion along the side of his face that sends hot blood dripping down his neck.
Not the rain, his own.
It beats with a 'life' of its own, the cyst swelling in complete opposition to his body's own rhythm.
Beside him, Eduardo can see the golden hawk's feathers, distorted by an ugly, dead thing.
He can almost smell the evil, even with the rain.
Quin's magic that holds him aloft comes to a swift end as the phantom steed winks out.
None of his items come to his aid as he plummets to the ground where the Black Veils wait.
Smacking his spear to ground, the Black Veil places his boots in the dwarve's faces, knocking him back onto the blackened blades of his circling brothers-in-arms.
With a harsh tearing, the blades are torn free, and Quin ducks the Black Veils jabbing point.
Lowered, he offers an open space, the top of his head.
Four spinning blurs create whirling fans in the rain, that descend over and over upon the dwarf's skull.
Slipping from wakefulness, Quin can't avoid the assassin's arrow.
His vision dims as a drow's poison seeps into his bone stealing his will to move.
Khamal and Eduardo watch the high priest slam onto his back, still.
From up here, Eduardo cannot tell if the dwarf lives or not, the cursed blood obscuring sight and the nature of his wounds.
As Winky flies from the antimagic field, he watches the archers, having delivered their arrows, turn flips across the roof tops, and vanish in streamers of black.
Gone, the Archon has no idea where they went, with little clues to work with.
Eduardo finds himself torn...
...the ugly growth on the druid's head.
The screeching bats approaching them...
...and the bloody chaos below...
Khamal screeches as the 'growth' sends a sharp pain thundering into his head. His hearing and sight seems to go out sporadically.
I've been tainted..
The golden eagle's heartbeat flutters like a galloping horse, pounding at his chest.
The mission was a failure, and the druid was in much worse shape than he had thought. They poisoned me. Violated my body.
Khamal wished he could reach back there, to touch or even rip out the throbbing pain, but he had feathered wings which held him aloft, and couldn't stop using them or fall to his death.
The pain.
This had all went south fast. It was the Battle of Black Hill all over again, and the results would be the same, too.
Khamal, says Eduardo. I'm going to get Dranga. If you're smart you'll come with me.
Hearing him speak, Khamal snaps out it. He turns his head slightly, looking at his lone ally atop his conjured horse with his amber eye.
Eduardo gives the Druid half a moment to decide, and join him on the steed.
If he could, he'd come back for the bodies.
He whips his gaze back towards his fallen allies below.
"If we leave them now, they might not be the same when we come back!!"
He thinks of the growth that is now pulsing against the back of his head, and what else might have happened to him.
The bird of prey takes off, leaving the death delver.
"Go... I'll do what I can to buy some time!"
Khamal starts off right away by conjuring a web that grows mid-flight, and collapses in on itself as it falls to the ground.
Flying away, the hairs on the back of Eduardo's neck, stand on end.
As the sky above rumbles with activity, Khamal peers above for just a glimpse...
The lightning bolts run right through the bird, causing it to turn to a ghost as it fries it alive.
A very sharp cry is uttered from the bird, but that too is soon silenced.
After it is finished, the bird pathetically falls from the sky.
The Black Veil commander looks upward, and laughs at the repeated bolts.
"Now that..."
He shakes his head.
"...that is funny."
The Guards say nothing, flipping Quin's bleeding body over.
One works on removing the cleric's soulfire dastana, while the other removes the amulet from the dwarf's neck, tossing it to the ground in the rain.
They do the same to Prescott's, and collect their dead, and depart, ignoring the charred, ruined remains of the half-orc that fall to the ground.
Even as Quin's condition stabilizes, Eduardo is making his way toward the warehouse, toward Dranga.
Sinking, Khamal's face explodes as the cyst takes a hold of his higher brain.
The druid struggles, putting his human born will against the dark magic that claws at him mind.
The dead flesh, closes around his resistance, and crushes it, and he submits, surrendering to the dark, hungry will of the necromancer.
Darkness closes in on him and he knows nothing, falling through a cloud of screeching bats.

From atop the phantom steed, the Master of Death can circle the building, and sees that nothing outwardly appears to be wrong...
Landing at the door of the warehouse, Eduardo bursts in.
The door slams off its hinges, and crunches to the dirt.
This is not what Eduardo had been expecting, or what he'd seen when he'd left.
The open concept of the warehouse, with ancient crates, filled with trash and mud, have been spattered and destroyed, leaving the interior of the warehouse a battlefield.
A tendril of smoke emerges from a mound of debris at the far-end of the warehouse, and the Master hears loud movement.
Eduardo holds his breath and focuses his senses, forcing his death sight outward.
Hassadur pokes his head from the crater, and hisses the Master a sad 'Hello'.
Eduardo was much relieved to see his friend instead of another black-veiled assassin, but there was no time for warm reunions.
Hassadur... where is Dranga? We're in danger.
With a gagging sound, Hassadur produces the witch, vomiting her at Eduardo's feet.
Unmoving, he sees she's still alive with his sight.
But she doesn't move, as still as a corpse.
Eduardo kneels by the dwarf, checking her for wounds or other signs that might reveal how she lapsed into this state.
Her eyes stare unseeing at the ceiling.
And her pulse is low.
Wounds from weapons, spears and arrows, cover her body, and he can smell, and feel soaked blood through her robes.
As his hands move to her throat and neck, Eduardo finds his a bruise.
A chain-shaped bruise.
Touching it makes his fingertips feel...
Hassadur begins another vomiting motion, bringing up something else with choking coughs.
After a moment, a wounded, and delirious man, in black clothes is deposited next to the wizard.
A Black Veil.
Eduardo gasps in surprise as the black veil emerges, taking his hands off Dranga, he lays them on the assassin, but this time with a very different spell.
Her wounds close.
The magic is weaked, but Eduardo is expecting that.
But her condition doesn't change.
Unresponsive, the dwarf stares at nothing.
Damnit Dranga, wake up!
The Master works a second spell to revive Dranga.
Hassadur hisses a warning, shaking his head as Eduardo's magic has little apparent effect.
Whatever had made her like this, likely wasn't caused by anything they could deal with right now, and her bruised neck, was a foreboding clue.
What would happen to her without the card?
The snake gives Eduardo an insistent nudge.
They needed to leave.
The Black Veil, stiff on the floor, rests with his eyes closed.
Eduardo frowns at Dranga's unmoving form, then lays his arm over Hassadur's scaly spine.
Fine, take us out of here. He makes a gesture with his free hand, indicating himself, Dranga and the prisoner. Outside the city. We're going to ground.
He speaks summons the power of nature, still strong within him after all these years, to mask their retreat.
Light flashes over the Master's shoulder.
In his haste, the Master had forgotten about the archon.
Come, we're leaving. They knew everything. We need to assume they know about this place, too.
"They left! They put something in the druid's mouth! Guards are there!"
The archon pants, apparently tired.
"Flew, so fast. Don't even have lungs. Can't sweat."
Eduardo looks down at Dranga's helpless, paralyzed body, and at the black veil... certainly, he could not leave them. And certainly the black veils would be back for them.
Winky... I think you should stay with the Prescott's body to watch over him... Grace and Quin, too. Ensure the authorities don't mistreat them, and keep track of their location until I can return to raise them. Also tell the guards the seriousness of the situation, about the black veils, their reach and scope. This is not just some band of thieves. They will need to call in some heavy help if they want to keep the city safe from them. At this point, you know everything I do, and they'll trust information coming from an archon. Answer honestly anything they ask of you. And tell them I left the city and didn't tell you where I went. Because that's what I mean to do.
Thames doesn't close its gates at night.
Hassadur carries Dranga, their prisoner and Eduardo as far as he can, their speed greatly hastened once the snake clears the walls, and the extension of the magic.
When Winky returns to the courtyard, the guards have erected tents of Quin, Grace, and Prescott.
Their bodies are covered, and their belongings are being examined, before being sealed away.
Khamal, is propped up against a wall, where black ink has been scribed above his head and around his body in a dark shadow.
The flowing script, like bones and blood spatter is odd, shifting and rippling before the eye, and making one's head hurt.
The archon floats over an examiner's shoulder, who props up the half-orc's swollen face.
The cyst has grown, digging into the wall, and bursting one of his eyes in a distended mess.
His mouth bulges, and the examiner appreciates the light.
Khamal mumbles, muttering through whatever had been stuffed in his jaws.
Carefully, the examiner gives Khamal's fang a poke, and his lip falls open.
An eyeball, small and bright, with a splash of blue falls from his teeth, followed by four, tiny fingers.
The examiner leaps up, shouting in shock.
The fingers were still fresh.
And just the right size...
His mouth freed, Khamal's words ring clear through the night.
"...logos rogos tragos danos phaniahniAHnoooooooos..."
"What's he saying?"
"...shrogos phrogos bloooogos zialanos denos..."
The examiner looks confused.
"...cialos phrenos chazzaros baanos mazlos..."
"You don't understand it?"
"...logos rogos tragos danos phaniahniAHnoooooooos..."
The half-orc rocks back and forth, staring at the ground.

Try as he might, Eduardo is powerless to revive his fallen comrade. Even the power of the dead god Nerull fails to break whatever curse had Dranga in its grips -- the knowledge contained in the scrolls of uncertain providence proved useless.
The Master grunts as he drags her unmoving body over to a huge, wild oak and rests her in a niche in the tree's trunk. He does his best to make the dwarf comfortable, and then sets his attention to the assassin.
The man was obviously in some pain, but his abilities didn't appear greatly diminished any longer. Eduardo had to hand it to him -- he had nerves of steel. Even as Hassadur's coils wrap around him, he seems unshaken. A barely caged beast, it was clear that he knew a thousand ways to end the Master's life.
So, Eduardo begins, resting on a nearby stump. You know all about me. But I know nothing about you. What's your story?
"I do not know anything about you. Why have you done this to me?"
Of course, he is lying.
But his face does not betray it.
There's no smirk, no twisting of his mouth or the crinkling of his eyes.
You tried to kill us. I want to know why.
"I did not try to kill you."
Another lie.
Then again, perhaps not...
Stop it. I know that you did. I use object reading on your clothes less than a minute ago. What I don't know is why. But obviously, you don't want to say. So instead... What's your story?
"You see, that's where you're wrong."
The man leans forward as much as Hassadur will allow.
"I did kill you."
He shrugs, "And it told you nothing."
The man tilts his head.
"Stories are for children."
The man bites his lip, and thinks a moment.
"You have a problem..."
More than you know, friend.
"That may be so, but you have a pressing problem..."
There's no shame in death. And I disagree. Stories are great fun for everyone. I could tell you a doozy. You're not the first assassin I've met, but of course, you know that already. They all have such fascinating stories. Ah. I'll bite. What is my pressing problem?
"Its actually two problems. Your first problem,"
He looks up at Hassadur.
"Are you sure that this is your snake?"
He doesn't even smile as he looks back at Eduardo.
"...secondly, while you may be right, and there is no shame in death, there is a certain health risk for being exposed to it too often. Namely, I can be traced..."
His eyes narrow, not with contempt or smugness, but malignant curiosity.
Anything's possible, Eduardo admits. And I know you can be traced. The opposite never occurred to me. I suppose you'd like me to kill you and dump your body? I admit, it would make things simpler, but not what I have in mind.
The Black Veil frowns, disappointed.
"I appear to have left you, unappreciative of your problem. I am being traced. Right. Now."
Please. I know that. What do you take me for?
"If you know that, why are you still here? Why didn't you flee on your own? Or kill the wizard, or the snake, or me, on sight? What could you possibly hope to accomplish when I can leave whenever I wish?"
Can you? Then do so.
Eduardo's skin grows pale and his teeth lengthen as he casts Vampiric Presence.
I think you're full of shit.
A black arrow slams into the tree stump between Eduardo's legs.
The assassin shrugs, "I thought it would be more polite to let you know."
"I have two questions..."
I'm still alive, so I presume you do not have orders to kill me. What do you want?
"Just a few questions... Based on this evening's events, what's the purpose of that spell?"
What spell?
"The one you just cast right now."
It makes me stronger. I dared you to escape. I wanted to be prepared if you did.
"I see. And based on the effect, how well do you think it would stand up to the real thing?"
That depends on a variety of factors. It grants some of their strengths, but none of their weaknesses.
He frowns.
"Well, we're done here."
Eduardo sighs.
Then go.
"You can have your snake back, though."
Hassadur's scales ripple as he releases the man, and circles in the dirt to coil behind the Master.
Turning his back, the Black Veil stalks away, moving into the trees, headed west.
Not where the arrow had come from.
A beat.
Give my regards to Pharrah.
Now he looks confused.
"We thought she was with you..."
So did I. If you're afraid of her... you're right.
The man says nothing, disappearing behind a fern.
Hassadur... what happened back there?
The snake explains his ordeal...
...making his way on a boat.
Going in the wrong direction, and taking a different boat.
A discovery which the serpent glosses over.
He tells how the Black Veils were waiting for him.
Their magic made things dark, and hard to remember.
Eduardo sits down on the stump again. He'd have to move soon, but now, he was tired. He needed a minute to rest.
His list of allies had just dropped from few to practically none. It was obvious now that the black-veiled assassins wanted him alive... but they did not want to be investigated, or to leave the Master to his own devices. They were pushing him to do something... but Eduardo wasn't sure of the direction yet. What were they expecting him to do now? What did they want him to do?
"The Call."
Was Eduardo answering it, even against his will? Where was he being called to? The Dragonborn said Thames City, and now... here he was.
Eduardo stands up and pats Hassadur gently on the head. He walks over to Dranga's still body, wishing she could answer his questions. She wanted to go to the Tomb. Did the two of them, even at full strength, stand a chance against its defenses? No. They couldn't do it alone.
I think we need to visit the Necromancers of the Valley.
The City of Thames is kind to adventurers, and Winky's testimony keeps Khamal out of jail as the guards begin to piece together what had ocurred.
Quin, the dwarf is brought back to his feet first.
He instantly finds himself without his belongings, confined to a cell, and is promptly interrogated on the spot.
In another part of the city, clerics of Kithhkanamahr work feverishly to remove the cyst.
They perform the surgery under anti-magic fields and with protections, uncertain of what they're dealing with.
City clerics raise Prescott, Grace and even Morinfen from the dead, and given food and water, they too are subjected to interrogations.
The plans had not called for the preparation of the Sending spells, and the Farspeak Amulets do them very little good.
The next day, Eduardo gets his Sending.
Daina's voice floats to innner ear, within his mind.
Her voice is cold, and there's an edge to it, but he cannot deny it also carries an urgent earnestness to it.
Sending"Eduardo, can you bring the others to the Great Tower of Thames City. Three hours. Tomb of Horrors. He is active. We have a lead."

Return Sending"The others are dead. Talk to the city the guards. I will be there, but do not expect privacy. Arrange a scry-proof zone if possible."

An hour later, Quin and Khamal have re-prepared their spells, and learn of the agreed meeting place when they contact Eduardo.
Traveling with Hassadur, Eduardo is able to leave Dranga's still form with more of the Joyous Lord's priests, who assure him they'll do their best.
A thorough check of their bodies, assures all that none of them are bearing any cysts, and the casters make their way into the city.
Hassadur adopts his invisibility, moving through the city behind Eduardo, Prescott and Quin.
Grace and Khamal, Morinfen once again in his bird form, flank the snake, making sure nobody crashes into him.
The rain relents, becoming a spitting blood, and people come out, hope written on their faces.
The great square of Thames, is set with black stones, and ringed with grey columns in a wide circle.
With the dark rain having ebbed a little, merchants and other business men brave the Square to conduct business under the dark clouds.
Prescott has heard of these kind of zones before. They make scrying virtually impossible, and other kinds of scrutinizing magic is rendered inert, and magical disguises are instantly dismissed.
Masks, and veils are forbidden in the square, so Daina leaves her mask in the sewer.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...the Four Ghosts of Human Paragonism

...the Four Ghosts of Human Paragonism, the first Ghost, Leonardo...

The return to Thames City is uneventful, and quiet.
The rain, the clouds and the lightning awaits them.
Dark looks keep the sleazy wizard quiet and withdrawn.
When they pass through the gates, its already what should have been morning.
The streets, that should have been swarming with people, are now dotted by smatterings activity as people dash from cover to one place to the other.
The stink assaults their noses, worsened by their path along the river.
Promising payment later, Daina dismisses the wizard with a glare.
"We'll go into the sewers. The guilds have a place for us there, clean up and rest, and go to Methuselah. I'll ask him if he can pull up anything on black dragons in the area."
In the crafting district, Daina leads them into an alley, stopping at a strange sewer grate that appears to be dry as a bone.
Lissa winces, as she creates a ball of light to illuminate the darkness below.
Toresh, with a grunt, heaves up the black grill, dropping it to the side.
Sniffing, Daina looks into stonework below.
"Watch your step..."
She drops down.
"...no ladder."
Toresh scowls at the tiny grate.
"How am I suppose to get in!"
Her voice drips upward.
"I'll get someone to let you in through the back."
Stepping forward, Marros drops down into the dark sewer, happy to get out of the foul rain.
He finds himself in a thirty foor square chamber of brick.
Jake lands softly behind him, helping Lissa down.
Toresh above, snorts at Alex, leaning against the stone of the alley, and jumping when the wall shifts.
Looking up at the house, he curses.
Rapping the stones of the sewer as she removes the mask, a door arranges itself into place on the opposite side of the sewer.
Revealing a hallway lit by stone, four men lie slumped down across the floor of the revealed passage.
Holding to the darkness, Marros peers at the men. Were they dead? Sleeping? Guards?
Knocked out.
Daina draws a longsword, staring at the stillforms.
"Evidently, we've had visitors."
Jake draws his sword moving to the wall, and peering down the hallway.
Lissa gives one of their black crossbows a kick.
"They didn't even get to fire."
They probably didn't see anything then. Should I wake them up just in case?
Daina thinks.
"Actually, I don't know. They might just get in the way..."
Good point. Well, you know the layout, what's our next move? Looking up, he tosses a rock at Alex, gesturing for him to get down here.
"I'll take point. If we engage, you teleport behind them, while I take advantage of their surprise. Jake will rush in, while Lissa..."
She looks at the guardswoman, noting her exhaustion.
"Will stay here."
"No. Alex will bring up the rear."
Sounds good. One moment.
Touching a hand to Lissa's shoulder, Marros banishes her exhaustion with a moment of focused will. Then he places his hand to his chest, and activates a light shimmer that sparks his rings, and vanishes. Smiling, he nods at the others. I am ready.
Jumping behind the others, Alex allows his ring to slow his fall. Noticing the tension among the group, he unsheathes his blades and approaches them with measured steps, scanning the darkness around him as he approaches them.
Examining the bodies, Alex notices that they all have wounds in different places.
Who ever had attacked them had used different strikes, fists and the pommel of a blade, engaging some from the front or striking from behind.
Daina pushes the heavy door at the end of the hall open, revealing a real sewer beyond.
Likely, the real thing ran underneath the adjacent buildings.
She replaces her mask, looks back and forth, beckoning for them to follow, and drops down into the rushing water.
Alex silently waits for the rest to follow Daina before dropping down himself.
Daina looks back and forth.
The sewer lines curves in both directions, out of sight.
She moves slowly through the water, doing her best not to disturb the floating scab of film that floats on top.
Large clots of blood flow pass them.
Jake looks behind them, at the trail left in the bloody water.
"It wasn't disturbed when we entered..."
"They could have used some flying spell, or maybe walked on the walls," Alex whispers. He keeps his eyes open for sudden movements and listens for unusual sounds.
Up ahead, Daina nods, "That makes sense..."
The splashing of running water eventually makes it impossible to hear.
The sound pace of the filth around their feet hastens as they round the corner, and find a pair of men, strung up and tied before a rushing waterfall pouring down from a grate set high in the back wall.
Gagged and bound, the men, crossbows dismantled and resting in pieces on the slick, narrow ledge that runs the length of the channel.
Jake shakes his head.
"That's just mean..."
"Should we free them or do you think they are bait?"
Daina shakes her head.
"No... I think that's legit."
Lissa floats towards them, and together she and Jake begin to cut them down.
Wary at the possibility of a trap, Marros crouches carefully, finding firm footing on the slick ledge, eyes searching the flowing filth surrounding the hanging men.
Daina turn suddenly to stop, "No! Don't!"
Suddenly, the ledge shifts, plunging his ankles into the filth again, and swinging blades slice across his back, leaving deep cuts that draw blood in terrific spurts
The blades slashing into him, Marros immediately shuts out the pain, already forcing his body to ignore the hurt. Holding a hand out to stop the others, his closes his eyes, face stoic, as his wounds slowly close, the skin knitting itself whole once more.
That was foolish of me. My apologies for scaring you. Get them down, I will be fine.
"Idiot! Now he knows we're coming!"
Drawing a knife, Daina storms through the waterfall.
Jake pats one of the thieves on the shoulder.
"Hang in there, we'll be-"
The thief descends into a series of curses, and the bard winces, following after Daina.
Lissa ignites her hand in flame, "The passage is through here!"
Silently, Marros slides forward, the water seeming to barely touch him, hot on the heels of the others.
Surprised by the trap, Alex mentally berates himself for not being ready for basic security measures. Had he been more vigilant, they might still have had surprise on their side. He follows after the others, taking a last look at the thieves before walking through the waterfall.
One of them makes a rude, upside-down hand gesture at Alex as he walks through.
Plunging through the blood, Alex and Marros find there is indeed a passage.
Made of cleaner, worked, stone, its dry except for prints of blood left behind by Daina and Jake.
The passage is circular shaped, with curving walls, that continue up, and over and down.
Curving to the right, they come to a great metal vault door, the kind Alex had seen before to guard very, very important things.
Beyond it, is a sort of underground atrium, with magical flames casting light on the doors that lead off from it.
Daina stands framed in one of them, staring into the room behind.
"You! You jerk!"
Jake's head peers out from another room, swinging his head back and forth, sword ready.
Startled by Daina's shouts, Alex darts towards her voice, blades ready. It hadn't sound like combat, but nevertheless it did not sound good.
Alex looks into a room, where tall-backed chairs, fixed to the floor, surround a long wooden table with a stone top.
He can see designs and drawings carved and painted onto the surface.
At the far end of the table, at the very top, Harley sits, boots on the rough stone.
He wears a dark grey poncho and a worn expression on his face.
"Hey, Alex. Hope she hasn't been too rough on you."
Alex slows down and lowers his blades.
"It could have been worse," he says with a shrug.
"It's been a rough couple of days, though. What are you doing here? Besides knocking everyone out."
"The Angels are looking for Sunber. I couldn't find Pharrah."
He pauses, ignoring Daina's loathing look.
"Welby didn't make it."
Alex hears her hiss through the mask.
Jake, smashes his fist against the wall with the grunt.
"Let me guess, undead..."
Harley nods.
Daina removes the mask, and Alex sees beads of sweat dot her brow.
"...with cold and blackfire?"
Harley grimaces.
"The thing, jumped... And its hands were on fire, and the kid was screaming..."
Harley makes a fist...
"I told him to land... But then... He lets go..."
...and opens it.
"...and I'm falling to the sea, and this thing is still jumping, following him. And Welby's laughing..."
Happy to see the assassin again, Marros' smile flickers and fades, at the news of yet another death. Another blow to Daina's shattered emotions. Remaining silent, he stands in back, letting them go on.
Alex watches silently as Harley explains what had happened. While the death of Welby, the hafling mage, if he remembered correctly, was surely another blow for Daina and Jake, there was something else that called his attention. More and more undead seemed to be developing strange powers... Veronia, Thames, the Glories, and another coastal city... It was too much of a coincidence for the undead all over the continent to develop such abilities just because a necromancer had discovered a new trick. And Jake had said the rain of blood was a bad omen... Perhaps the strange undead and the rain were related.
"Are you kids and their mother-"
Harley nods, "Safe with your family."
Jake smiles weakly.
"A relief."
Daina runs her hands through her hair, grimacing at the red.
"Might have to cut it again..."
"I notice Maki hasn't smashed through a door yet..."
"...we lost him too..."
Harley raises an eyebrow.
"I don't suppose it was a dra-"
Harley almost smiles.
"Come on no-"
"A pack."
"Undead. Using zombies as bait. With bats. And centipedes."
"And then there's this damned rain."
Jake shuffles into the room, and takes a seat.
Even sitting, his hands are close to the hilts of his swords.
"Did you have any luck getting us started?"
Harley shakes his head, "No. Sunber's changed locations. Figured I'd come back here. Get a crash course in dragon-slaying..."
Daina bites her lip.
"I don't think that's in the cards, Harley..."
Jake stares at the table, tracing along the designs with his finger.
"No, probably not."
Harley leans back and sighs.
"Good thing I brought drinks."
Lissa goes to the back entrance, a wide shaft opening into an old lumbershop, and let's the minotaur in.
The rogues, once they've been freed, and healed of their injuries, glare at Harley, but say nothing.
Warm food, and strongly boiled water fills their belly.
Harley passes around small glasses of his rough, fiery drink from his strange, dark blankets.
Communal rooms, with hammocks, provide a place to sleep.
As the others finish eating, Marros finds a quiet empty spot to meditate. Removing his shirt, and unwrapping the soiled linen from around his chest, he presses a hand to the now revealed disc in his chest, running his fingers along the golden circle, as it pulses slowly, keeping time with his bodies natural rhythm.
Master, your gift was greater than I could have realized. Did you know this time was coming?
Hours later, they're out in the rain.
The grumbling thieves offer new, cloaks, with specially treated surfaces that keep the blood away.
Oversized, the hood more than cover the head, and it reaches around like a poncho.
Stomping out into the blood, Marros and Alex find Toresh, once more changed into his human form.
He kicks at a puddle of water.
Happy to finally be clean, Marros presses his hand against the fresh linen inside his shirt, covering his chest, the hidden disc warm and comforting. Hiking his hood higher, he peers around the street. The past ambush, and the traps in the sewer had him wary. Dark eyes, constantly moving, scanning, waiting for the others to join them.
Alex looks around carefully as he waits quietly while as the others arrive. The rain of blood made him grateful for the new cloaks. He wondered when it would stop... and if he would ever manage to wash off the smell from his equipment.
Daina, Harley and Jake come a little later.
The woman still wears her mask.
Harley looks uncomfortable in the blood rain, noticeably so, while Jake appears to be taking the weather in stride.
Methuselah is waiting for them when they arrive at his tower.
He raises an eyebrow at their reduced number, but says nothing.
Lissa hadn't joined them either, presumably, staying with the thieves.
The sage leads them into his inner library.
Curved bookshelves, with dusty tomes, circle around a central sitting area, divided by long dark screens that hang from the ceiling.
Navigating through the tower by memory, the young sage never hesitates as he seats them.
"Before we begin; I know nothing of the cause of this raining blood, other than what anyone could understand themselves. It is a terribly, dark omen."
Harley nods, sniffing at the oild lamps that cast a warm glow across the comfy chairs and darkwood tables laden with books.
Methuselah sighs, "Dark omen indeed..."
He clucks his tongue, and becomes a little confused.
Daina removes her mask, extending her hand to his.
"It's me, Methuselah. No. His house is in ruins, retaken by the natives of the Glories."
"Ah, that is a loss."
Toresh creaks in his seat, still resting as if he had hooves and was twice his own size.
He rubs his head, feeling for horns that aren't there.
"Not entirely."
She presses the journal into his hands, guiding his fingers to the markings.
Brushing across the page, confusion and recognition dances across Methuselah's face, even reaching his unseeing eyes.
"I do not know of this, 'Baron Tora Ill'..."
Jake nods, "The recent kings of Thames have let their Lords and knights take authority in the land, doing away with needless titles."
The sage leans back in his chair.
"Too right. Being taxed by four barons, a count and no less than three dukes was killing the people..."
"I know of this 'Sedrick Hanes' though. I've read his name in an announcement, saying the adventurer had joined up with a mysterious mage, Xanatos, no doubt. There's no record of the specifics, but local talk says that the expedition came to a disastrous end. He can be found, here, in Thames. In the poor quarter, at the start of Elmwood Lane."
Daina looks unimpressed.
"Do you know of any dragons in the area, Methuselah?"
Jake and Harley give her scalding looks, but she ignores them.
The sage grunts, "None in lands controlled by the Kings. Those creatures, the chromatic kind, are more common in the Highlands and the Broken Kingdoms. None here, or of note, and if there are, they'd be metallic."
Jake sighs, "Did you find anything about the Devour-ouch!"
Daina stares at him.
Methuselah, pauses, before speaking.
"Yes. I did."
"What?" Daina asks.
"I found the old papers my Master had been going through when Xanatos had consulted with him as I discovered was the case. As we know, he asked the same questions, and my Master began researching the 'mouth' reference."
Harley raises his eyebrow.
"A mouth?"
Methuselah nods, "Yes, a mouth, it is used for eating, yes?"
"Of course it is. This was a simple track I began with my entomological search for your 'Devourer' reference. i soon exhausted this line of inquiry, however, finding nothing associated with the words other than the simple meaning with which I began. I was forced to turn to more esoteric searches. After an afternoon of unrelieved study, I finally found a text that made mention of something called the Sign of the Devourer."
Alex can see Harley's jaw tighten, and Daina grips the arms of her seat.
Her knuckles are white.
Jake's eyes are dilated.
He quivers in place.
"I pursued this lead into strange regions of my library. FInally, a crumbling scroll penned in ages past I found an ambiguous phrase. The scroll was a treatise of Negative Energy, claiming that everything-life, light and knowledge- is ultimately drawn into the 'Final Void' of the Negative Energy Plane..."
"Oh gods..."
"...the prhase that caught my eye was, '...and when the Devourer is truly one with the Final Void, one must surrender, all knowledge will be his, and he shall be like unto a god...'"
Daina shakes her head, "...nonononononononooooooooo..."
"...this references was unexplained, but it inspired my searches in other specialized checks. In the end, I discovered this..."
He unravels a filthy sheet of parchment.

"...it is a rendering of what is supposedly the 'Sign of the Devourer'. When my Master was found, he was frozen stiff, like a stone, the image of utter terror splashed across his face. We couldn't Raise him. And he was found with this paper clutched to his chest."
Daina peers into the newly excavated tunnel, "What do you think is in there?"
Shrugging, Harley takes his shovels back from Dranga
"Only what you take with you."
He smiles wryly.

Alex stares in confusion as Daina, Jake and Harley react to the sage's words.
They were hardly good news, but they seemed to be particularly affected by them...
The rogue cranes his neck to have a better look at the parchment. The demonic face was unsettling at best, and resembled a mask carved in stone. The mouth, however, did seem to evoke a feeling of utter void, like you could fall into it and keep falling forever...
"Were you not able to Raise him or did he refuse?"
"There was nothing to Raise. Nothing to refuse."
"What do you mean there was nothing? You said his body was-"
He stops before he can finish, suspicion crawling into his voice.
"You mean his soul was destroyed?"
"I don't know. I do know we called and there was nothing there to answer. And I would greatly like to know what stake you all have in this. What do you know of my Master's death!"
Shaking off the feeling of foreboding at the strange drawing, Marros looks closer at the bizarre face.
Jake? Daina? Is that....
Looking up, he see the others shaking in shock and terror.
No, not again.
Rising from his seat, he draws his staff, and lifts his cloak, letting the warm magic flow over the room, hoping against hope that it would help.
Toresh looks at the monk with a confused expression.
"What are you doing?"
Marros points at their companions, gripped in terror.
This banner bolsters the hearts of those around it. We need their help, if we want to know what this is about. Jake, are you okay?
Jake just blinks.
No mere banner can rid one of the scars left in the Tomb of Horrors.
If only Marros could know.
Methuselah's harsh words die on his lips as he looks at Daina.
He reaches out to touch her forehead.
"A-are you alright?"
Harley's breath whistles through his teeth.
"We have to find the others."
Daina nods, not saying anything.
Her eyes are as blind as Methuselah's.
Toresh reaches out, and gives her a shake...
"What's wrong!"
Jake's voice, falls from his lips, dead as the barbarian they'd left behind.
"Seven years ago. We entered the Tomb of Horrors, and fought its dark lord, the demi-lich, Heart of Darkness... The forest path was worn down with the tracks of wagon wheels moving from the West, across the unclaimed territories that lead up to the East. Here and there, one could see the massive flagstones of the ancient road that once cut through this ancient forest, the size of a man's arms outstretched..."
He tells the tale.
Supplemented by Daina and Harley, Marros, Alex, Toresh learn what occured in the Tomb of Horrors.
Face stoic throughout, Marros grip on his staff is tight, the knuckles white. His mind whirls, viewing the events of seven years ago with entirely new perspective. This spirit that the cleric killed...was some sort of ruse? And this lich, has had 7 years....by the Gods. The undead, the rain, the failure of healing, by the Circle, the scope of this... Realizing he is babbling, Marros shuts his mouth, focusing on quelling the riotous thoughts in his head, finding his balance, his focus. Master Methuselah, what do you make of this?
"I find myself inspired, to be in the presence of those who faced such evil, and to have known such horror."
He struggles to smile.
"In anyway that I can help you... I will."
Jake stands up stiff.
"I believe, that is all for now, Methuselah..."
He takes the lead, as he had done seven years ago.
Daina's dragons, more-and-more appearing to be the machinations of the demi-lich's dark forces, would have to wait.
"..if you could find anything more on this Xanatos, and what he specifically asked of your Master, that would let us know if the man was simply following our path, or meant to follow in his footsteps."
Harley makes his fists into tigh tballs.
"We need to tell the others we have proof he's shifting... This death at the river makes that clear and undeniable..."
Daina frowns, "And we find this Sedrick fellow..."
You speak well Master Sage. My path joined that of these heroes for a reason, and now I know that reason. I shall do whatever is within my power to help you as well. Putting his staff away, he stands ready.
Alex remains silent throughout the bard's tale. He had heard of the fabled Tomb in passing, but he had never suspected he would meet anyone crazy enough to brave it. Even he, who enjoyed a challenge, had ever thought of visiting it. Just half of what he had heard, and he hadn't heard all that much, was enough for him to discard the idea of going into it... and yet they had entered it, and faced things far worse than he could have possibly imagined...
He suddenly remembers something Harley had said back at Veronia after their first encounter with the druid and understanding dawns behind his mask. This was what he meant when he said he had faced a lich seven years ago...
"Shouldn't we warn everyone? The clergies and towers and mayor cities? They might panic, but at least they will be better prepared."
Daina nods, "I already sent Lissa to go do that."
We should rejoin the others of your group as well.
Significant looks are made.
You sent them away for wrongfully keeping secrets from you, as was your right. But the time has come to put that aside.
Daina simply replaces the mask.
I know little of you all, but wisdom says we need all the help we can get, if this lich, this Devourer is our foe.
Jake points to his chest.
"You're right Marros. You know little of us all. You don't know how competent or incompetent any of us are. You assume that swelling our numbers will... Make us stronger..."
Harley shrugs, "I simply don't trust them."
In a non-commital shrug, Daina moves to leave, raising her hand to Methuselah, and expressing surprise as he waves back.
Her voice has a hollow edge through the mask.
"Had they decided to tell us five years ago, we would have had five years of planning for his Return, rather than having to leap about the world to slap together whatever preparations we can find."
Jake nods.
"We will Send them. Tell them what we kno-"
"And question Eduardo about Xanatos, and possibly, return his package..."
Daina frees it as Alex and Toresh follow them from the tower.
"...you should give it to him, Jake not me."
He gives her a look as he accepts the package.
"Yes, I called it off. But its the principle."
He waves her away.
"We can use those crystals Quin was handing out..."
Within the mask, Daina frowns.
"...hairy, undersized manipulative..."
Jake looks at her, raising his hood before stepping out into the rain.
"You do still have those crystals, right?"
She smiles.
Stepping outside, Marros steps close to the bard, pulling him slightly aside and staring him right in the eye. "Yes, I do think getting more help will make us stronger. Pooling knowledge, skills, and most of all power will make us stronger. They were fools not to tell you, yes. But have you never done anything foolish? Should I discount everything you do because of it? And while I am new to this group, I am not new to this world. We have fought together, shed blood together, and died together. I am not your follower, or your hireling. I follow you of my own choosing, because I know it is the right thing to do. Daina is poisoned by grief, so I accept her bile, but I have given you my respect, and I expect you to do the same."
Jake stiff arms Marros away from him.
"Why them?"
His mouth becomes a tight line.
"Why not your friends? Why not mine? Or Daina's? Or Harley's? Or Toresh's? Or Alex's?"
Twisting to let the blow pass by, Marros continues "Why not? I would gladly ask my Order for help, though they have few that would be able. You have further friends, capable of helping? Then call them!"
"I have, monk."
"I suggest your former companions, only because they already know the threat. They fought at your side, against this lich did they not? They know the enemy and the stakes. Why are you so adamant to shun them? So upset when anyone even mentions them? You went through hell and worse with them. They were fools not to share their knowledge 5 years ago. But does that mean you can no longer stand even the thought of them? Why?"
"I do not have to explain anything to you. None of us do. Daina, 'poisoned by grief', owes you nothing, and neither does anyone else. We will share what we know with our former allies. If our reluctance to party with them is an issue with you, be on your way, monk. Let me pass."
He crosses his arms.
"I have nothing more to say to you that cannot be said in front of my party members."
You are all so quick to anger, so quick to shove everyone away. You don't "owe me" anything? How about basic courtesy for someone who has done nothing but aid you? Fine, I've said what I have to sat, but remember, this is bigger then me, than you, then all of us. Then he stands to the side, letting the man pass.
Shaking his head, Jake catches up to the others, making their way through the city.
He knows better than Marros could understand until the man actually enters the Tomb.
Alex watches as monk and warrior argue, resisting the urge to interfere. He could see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, Marros had done everything in his power to help in every way he could and did not appreciate it when the others ignored his opinions. One the other, it was true that he was an outsider to the conflict and he understood less than the others did about it. He sighs as the argument concludes. At least they were still going to work together.

Methuselah takes a deep breath.
"You can come out now."
The heavy screens part, and a dark-robed man, even younger than the sage sits across from him.
He balances a silver scythe over his shoulder, and an ankh and sickle hang from a chain around his waist.
Leonardo takes a seat.
"Thank you for keeping me secret, Sage."
"Why hide from your friends."
"For the moment, I am supposed to be dead. And besides..."
Methuselah leans back in his chair, touching his finger tips together.
"Your own questions about Xanatos have been answered, and now I know that these people are friends of yours..."
"...yes, but I have other obligations at the moment. So, remaining a ghost will suit me a little longer."
"How can I help you?"
"I wish for you to tell me all you, and by extension, Xanatos, learned of Death Delvers?
Methuselah frowns.
"I am a Sage. Keeping secrets is not my way."
"And it isn't mine. But there is a time for truth. It shall come."

Daina stares across the empty streets through her mask.
"I can return to the thieves to grab gauntlets for Sending... But if anyone else has the means, that would save time."
I can send a single short message, of 25 words or less, to whomever you would like. Who should I contact?
"Eduardo, the Master of Death. Tell him to meet us at the base of the Tower of Thames. And that its urgent."
Closing his eyes for a moment, Marros concentrates. When nothing happens, he opens his eyes again. I am afraid I am not familiar enough with your companions, to find them. I am sorry, you may borrow my vest if you wish to send it. Removing the garment, he hands it out to her.
"I think I'll go hit some of the temples," Alex says. "I'm starting with Pelor's. Anyone wants to come?"
Harley jabs a finger at Therandil's bracer.
"You should hide that thing if you're not expecting to use it. People are being robbed for it."
Daina points at the vest, "I'd rather get my bracers, you take it Alex."
Toresh reaches for his horns and frowns.
"I shall go to my church, and question Bane."
Jake folds his arms across his chest, grimacing as blood drips across his face.
"Let's all meet up by the tower in three, okay?"
Alex nods at Harley, carefully removing his borrowed shield and using the cloak provided by Daina's contacts to store it in his Haversack without anyone noticing.
"Thank you," he says, taking the vest. "Do you mind if I borrow this?" he asks Marros.
Not at all. The command word is "Jee-mayle". I'll accompany you as well, if you'd like. Tower in three, we'll be there. Harley, want to join us?
Inexplicably, the man blushes.
"Can't. Got... Other things..."
The cold-blooded assassin stammers, and appears to be at a loss for what to do with his hands.
"...I'll meet up with you guys later."
"Got yourself a date?" Alex grins.
Harley's face changes suddenly.
"Not quite."
"I'll have to ask him to teach me to do that one of these days," Alex comments when he notices that Harley is gone. "So, everyone ready to go?"
Toresh, dashes into cover, and scrawls on a piece of parchment.
"We'll cover more ground if we split up..."
He hands a ripped piece to everyone.
"...everyone take a temple, and send a warning!"
"Got it. I'll take Pelor's and Sehanine's. I've been to them before." With that, Alex turns and speeds away. He runs through the blood soaked floor steadily, dodging, turning and diving around the people on his path without slowing down.
Scanning his parchment Marros watches the rogue run off. I'll take these and warn my brothers too. then he runs off in the direction of the churches.
As soon as he gets out of sight of the others, Marros ports into a darkened alley, and leaps up the walls. Landing on the slick roof with ease, he blurs into motion, sprinting after Alex, keeping to the shadows as much as possible.
Alex's journey is uneventful.
The temple of St. Cuthbert had been made into a stable with his dead.
Wee Jas church now houses a complex of housing dens, and a wizard had converted the temple of Boccob for his own uses.
At the temple of Ioun, Alex is outright ignored, while he is greeted with thanks by the clerics of Sehanine.
Crouching on the roof high above the Thief, Marros watches him walk out of the last temple. Picking up a nearby pebble, he tosses it gently at his feet, hoping to catch his attention. Waving at him to join him on the rooftops, before fading back into the shadows.
Looking up, Alex spots the monk and heads to an empty section of the temple district before walking up the wall of a building and reaching the roof. From there, he jumps from one rooftop to another, making his way to the tower, making sure to avoid the guards on his way. Fun as it might have been to outrun one, he couldn't afford to risk being caught at the moment.
The Tower of Thames is a square testament to human ingenuity.
A fortress before a great square, it rises so far, that they have to crane their necks to see the top.
Toresh points to buttresses along the side of the walls.
"They're enchanted with lifting spells... Just in case."
Harley hasn't returned, but Daina begins the Sending anyways.
When its completed, her voice is strange through the mask.
"Apparently, they've run into serious trouble. They have dead too."
Are they able to make it here?
Distracted sorry.
"'They' sounds like just Eduardo. He said the others were dead."
Dead? Truly dead, or simply...never mind. I know how limited Sending can be. Damn. Any luck with the churches? Not much left that we found, and what was, was very brief.
Toresh shrugs, "Some thanked me, others told me to be gone. Nothing changes. Everything stays the same."
"Same here. I think they might be sick of people running around shouting that the end of the world is close at hand."
Daina troubled, sighs.
"Eduardo said to meet in a scrying safe location, and that place is here."
She spreads her arms wide.
"Thames, and its King, believe all its citizens have the right to be unobserved, so it has special no-scry zones!"

...the Four Ghosts of Human Paragonism, the Second Ghost, Baron Tora Ill or Robilar Talon...

...hours later..., before the Tower of Thames...

Prescott blinks thoroughly as he enters the square, still unused to his newly revitalized eyes and the brightened day. The dampening magic of the square choked his enhanced sight. He found people and buildings without auras to be plain. Taking in all the details across various spectrums had always enhanced his ability to form detailed illusions, seeing things as they truly are lends itself to fabricating simulacra of them. Each time he returned here after years with broader vision confused him a little, but it was a good reminder of how most people saw the world. Perspective is key - and healthy, after being dead.
Eduardo is less filled-with-hope at the relenting rain. To him, it just meant that whatever disaster it heralded was nigh. He was more pleased that his allies had not dwelt in the land of the dead for long.
It was good of the guards to raise you, he says to Prescott. A rare kindness. How are you feeling?
"I've been raised before... but it's never fun. I'll live." Prescott says wryly.
Smiling as he looks around at the tower, Marros tightens up his cloak, Clever. You'd mentioned that we were scryed on before as well. Any idea by whom?
Daina shakes her head.
"No way to be sure..."
She points.
"But likely, one of them.
Her finger leads to Eduardo, Prescott and Quin.
The magic of the square strips away Hassadur's protections, revealing his form, while Winky, still in one of Prescott's familiar pockets remain out of sight.
The Master sees that Maki, Harley and Welby aren't present, with Daina and Jake joined by the monk, the security expert and the minotaur that they met days before.
There they are, Eduardo points to Daina and the others. You should open up a message line. Maybe we can't be scryed upon, but anyone in the square can see and hear us.
"True enough... but anyone watching us already knows who we are and who our associates are. And if they aren't those veiled assassins, then I'm not all that afraid of them right now. If Daina wants to talk to us, then I'm inclined to just do so. I guess we can offer her the option of discretion. Message will let us whisper the conversation regardless." Catching Daina's eye as she points to the group of casters entering the square, he taps his ear to indicate the incoming Message.
But the magic fails, thwarted in the circle.
Anyone in the square could be a veiled assassin. That's the purpose of the veils. This way, if we make future plans, they cannot be overheard.
The Master cautiously steps forward toward Daina and the others casting suspicious glances at everybody in the square.
He doesn't speak. He'd let someone else break the silence.
"Maki and Welby are dead."
Everyone you see here save myself were dead last night. The City Guard raised them. More assassins.
A beat.
What happened?
"Harley went after Pharrah. Her home on the Peninsula was abandoned, and some creature got Welby. Maki, we lost him to wolves. A pack of undead wolves. He's not coming back."
Because he can't return, or won't return?
"The thing, consumed him with black fire, drinking his blood. A vampire of some sort..."
Eduardo's eyes dart to Grace involuntarily.
I see.
Staring at nothing in particular, Marros stands, arms crossed, a small smile on his face. Assassins killed all of you? I wouldn't expect you could be caught off guard, Grace.
We set a trap for them, but they knew our entire plan and prepared for it.
"How did you manage that?", says Daina.
Grace looks at the ground, "We didn't know much, Marros. They were ready for us. And magic."
Your trap was not prepared for magic? The perfect moment to strike comes only for an instant, but it always comes, even in battle. Nonetheless...
Stepping forward, he raises her chin, smiling eyes dancing, It is good to see you again.
It was the black-veiled assassins... the ones that killed me a few days ago, but we didn't know that when we set the trap. We believed they were thieves, attacking lone adventurers for soulfire armor. The only reason this aroused our suspicion is because maybe 36 hours earlier, I'd received a warning from the Tower that some one, or some group of someones, was amassing soulfire armor. I thought it might be connected to... what's coming. I admit it was grasping at straws, but it was the only lead we had. It turned out to be a good one, though following it ended badly. We disguised ourselves and created an illusory soulfire item for Grace. She wandered the streets waiting to be attacked. We were lying in wait with a response, but the enemy knew what that response would be, and countered it. We didn't last long. Dranga is still out of commission... unresponsive. I'm not sure what's wrong with her.
Grace steps back.
"It is good to see yo-"
Daina cuts her off, "Happy reunions are for a time when the sky isn't bleeding. When we arrived in Thames City, as I'm sure you know..."
She levels a look at Khamal.
The druid looks right back at her, arms crossed.
"...we found wights wandering up from the streets. Against my instincts, we followed a 'Devourer' lead to a sorcerer named Xanatos."
When all is despair, the smallest moments of joy become more important, not less. But my apologies.
Jake grimaces, "Then get ready to have your mind explode at each one; they'll soon become few and far between."
Eduardo's less-than-amused expression signals agreement with Daina. Displays of joy seemed... distasteful under the circumstances.
Daina grunts.
"Yeah, soulfire is being collected. I know thieves in Thames have some in big stores."
Jake's eyes register concern.
"...what's wrong with Dranga?"
I'm not sure. I think it's related to the artifact. The card. She stares into nothingness and doesn't move. Some strong magic couldn't snap her out of it. She's at the temple of Kithkhanamahr -- I hope healing.
"What artifact? What card?" Jake asks
She was wearing it in the War Room at House Aishun. Surely you noticed it? Anyway, she foolishly removed it from an altar in Pandemonium. An altar to Him. She hasn't been able to get rid of it since. And believe me, she's tried. Anyway, now it's gone, and she's a vegetable.
"I am going to visit her this evening, to see if I can render any aid. I don't know if the priests at the Lord's temple have attempted to Remove Curse or Break Enchantment yet, but especially with the news you bring I'm in no mood to see another of our group less than hale and hearty."
"We consulted a sage, a young man, named Methuselah. And found his fortress, inside we found out that he appears to be investigating the Tomb in some fashion..."
Daina presents the image of the Devourer.
"Apparently, a man in the city can help us."
Eduardo, you said they knew what your response would be. How did they know?
Grace looks at Khamal.
"We don't know how..."
No, we're not sure. That's why I requested a scry-proof zone. Of course any one of these people could be one of them. They hid their faces.
Daina jabs a thumb at a portly merchant, sneering down at his gnome counterpart.
"Even those two?"
"Maybe not the gnome, but it isn't too hard to disguise yourself to look bigger."
Eduardo nods.
She wore a token of the lich? Was there any evidence that these strange assassins are connected to him? That may be how they knew of your trap.
"They also took the ring of ethereal jaunt Daina and I found within it. Did it merely interest them? Or was it the real reason?"
Eyes searching the crowd around them, Marros
Dice Roll: 1d20+26z
d20 Results: 4 (Total = 30)
Sense Motive (30)
reads the crowd, looking for disruptions in the flow and eddy of humanity, looking for anyone showing an interest in their conversation.
Direct evidence? No. Merely suspicions, albeit strong ones. I'm not sure the card is a token of the lich, though. It was found at a shrine dedicated to him, but does not bare his name or symbols. I'd be inclined to agree with you all the same, except if they were using the card to observe us, why would they take it away?
Eduardo frowns.
As of right now... each of us has been unconscious and at the mercy of these assassins. They likely took hair, blood, or whatever else, and can scry on us virtually at will. They also implanted magical, necrotic tumors into some of our bodies. I first noticed this in Khamal. During the fight against the assassins, they targeted it. Overwhelming, malignant evil erupted from the implant site.
Khamal nods. "Yes, it seems that I was implanted with a cyst most likely after I was mugged and left unconscious in the streets. The thieves left with my remainng gold and some items, most notably my black dragonskin soulfire dastanas, a relic of my ancestors."
"As for the cyst, it has been since removed after the ambush that night, but the effects of the cyst was paralyzing, to say the least. My vision and hearing hearing seemed to fade out, and it seemed to grow during battle, causing enough pain that I seemingly lost consciousness and fell from the sky. Truth be told, I do not remember much of the night."
"I intend to spend a great deal of time in Commune. With Moradin's guidance, we can get to the bottom of this."
Shocking revulsion spreads across Marros face, at the description of the tumors. They violated the purity of your very bodies? That's...vile beyond belief. Focusing his will inward, he checks the wholeness of his own flesh, searching for any impurities. Looking at the others, he says Were any of us unconscious for a time? Was Harley? We may wish to check for such corruption, just to be safe.
You should. You all should. They even planted one in the snake.
Toresh shakes his head.
"I have not encountered any assassins. If you fear infestation so much, realize they could do such a thing in your sleep. It seems an opportunistic strategy at worst."
So this Xanatos was following the trail of the Devourer... But how do the wights fit in? And the lich? Is he an ally of this Devourer? A disciple? Or are the two one and the same? I assume you attempted to track Xanatos down. What game of that? If I were looking for signs of this, he points to the devil's face, I know where I'd look.
Where is that?
Jake and Daina flinch.
Eduardo fixes a look on Marros, wondering if the monk is trying to make a joke, but clearly he is not.
Come now. Did they tell you nothing? Seven years ago. That face was all over the Tomb.
"A recurring theme throughout. It was set into the entrance. A dark trap."
Daina's eyes narrow, "And this Xanatos, was intent on finding it..."
She presses her lips together, thinking.
"...with this weather..."
She gestures to the sky, "...we can speak to one of the people who joined him on his ill-fated quest."
Toresh smacks his fist to his chest.
"I believe the wights were a 'lucky' occurrence. We could have stayed anywhere, and they weren't by any means organized. They simply wandered up from the river."
Have wights attacked anywhere else in the city in the past few days?
"Lissa found out that a caravan of slavers was attacked by skeletons. A day later, a boat turned up, its entire crew dead..."
Hassadur hisses, his scales shifting across the ground.
"Another village, all of its inhabitants beaten by rocks without throwers."
Daina begins counting off.
"An inn, all of its patrons, burst into flame. Wights are probably the tamest."
Yet, following the trail left by the wights led to information about the Devourer. That is lucky.
Toresh scowls.
"Yes, I know its lucky. I said so, Eduardo."
Quin leans past Eduardo, and examines the paper.
"'The Devourer', could be another name of the demi-lich... Remember in the city? He told us, that whatever happened, he would inspire others to fall... This Xanatos could be that."
"All we know, is that whatever creature created the wights, knew of the 'Devourer', and apparently, so did this Xanatos. The luck only goes that far."
I think it's suspect. Though I've been accused of paranoia before.
"I can't afford to leap to conclusions without evidence Eduardo," Daina breathes.
She crosses her arms.
"This does us no good unless we can prove it."
"Surely you can afford to bend a little."
"No. Bending killed Maki and Ravenna, no matter what I learned. It was not worth the cost."
Certainly not. I'm not sure how we'd even act on this suspicion, other than to recognize that it's unusual and be wary. But perhaps there is something I'm missing.
You mentioned you learned about the Devourer by following a lead from the wights. But there's no connection between the devourer and the wights? Yes, I'm sure I've missed something.

"The wights were sailors on a boat. The captain returned to find the ship abandoned. Something, in the dark and fog, likely a creature of the night, like a vampire, mentioned it to him as he left over board."
Hm. A shaky connection, but one that shouldn't be ignored. The Vampire spoke to him of the Devourer and then let him loose to tell the tale. He wanted it known for some reason. I'm still not sure what it all means, but I'll think on it.
Eduardo runs his fingers through his hair, wringing coagulated blood out of his dirty, white mane.
So you told me you have another lead. One of Xanatos's companions. Is this an invitation to attend this man's debriefing?
The wights were not random, there was a leader who retreated as soon as he was spotted. Marros describes his encouter on the rooftop. Now, whether we were the target, or just happened to be there is the question.
The question. Yes. Don't you have the feeling that you're being led? The assassins let Khamal live when he was at their mercy. Instead they implanted a necrotic cyst in his body. It served their purposes. They let Hassadur live when he was at their mercy. Instead they dominated him because that served their purposes. Then they lifted the domination and let him and me go without so much as a scratch when they could have killed us easily. Why? I know not, except that it serves their purposes. We're being aimed and loosed like one of their black arrows.
"Since we don't know whether or not they were there or not for us, indicates randomness. If we were the target, why would they have left?"
Jake raises a hand.
"It sounds like with Khamal's wind, they decided it was time to leave."
Daina rolls her eyes.
"And again, since we don't know for sure, and it doesn't help us at all to assume they were..."
"It doesn't help you to ignore it either."
Daina grits her teeth.
"I didn't ignore it."
She makes her hands into tight fists.
"Nobody is ignoring anything, especially not me."
"You're overreacting.
Jake raises an eyebrow at Grace.
"Is she? I'd like evidence to stand on too."
Slowly moving between the two groups, Marros makes a calming gesture. Nobody is ignoring anything, we are simply sharing our shared information. This lich had a habit of manipulation, it is good to examine the angles, is it not? That said, we must be careful not to hear voices when there is only wind.
Exactly. I don't have all the answers. Neither do you. Wisdom is learnt through discourse.
"All we know is these wights apparently had leadership, which is a little bit different than skeletons rising or spontaneous combustion. That doesn't mean the attack was targetted at any of our group, but it is distinct from these more random necromantic expressions popping up. All we can do is collect the information and hope further incidents provide some clues as to if and how they might be linked. And with fewer casualties all around... even if *we* are being led, the undead attacks seem to be indiscriminate."
Daina scowls, "I give up, Marros. You're hopeless."
She makes a cutting gesture of her own.
"I'm not interested in discourse, or voices where there are none. I have a lead, and will follow it, despite suspicions."
Jake points at Prescott.
"The caravan's attack was significantly more complicated that it appeared. They were flanked, and directed by some kind of ghost creature. Its a big world, and strange things happen. What about the boat? Or the inn?"
The Master seems to accept this analysis.
So now what? You spoke of a man in the city.
"They have a point, Master. They did follow the lead given by the wights, and didn't ignore it at all. And Marros, nothing is gained by the mindset that the wights were random, when other things, equally strange are occurring."
Marros rolls his eyes Give up if you wish, but no one has suggested that we ignore our lead. It is the only concrete information we have to go on. We are simply sharing information, and experiences. Has it not been a harrowing several days for all of us? Should we not go forward with eyes open?
I didn't accuse them of ignoring their leads. Quin did. I suggested they were fed the lead. But no matter. Our choice seems to be to tug on this thread or twiddle our thumbs. By tugging, we'll learn more. You mentioned a man in the city, one of Xanatos's companions.
"I never said anyone had, and I know its the only concrete information, and I know what we are doing."
She points to her feet.
"I'm right here, aren't I? I'm the one who set up this meeting."
She shakes her head.
"Open eyes get blinded. I'll keep mine focused on what I can work with."
Daina's eyes flash, "Yes, in a poorer section of the city. I will seek him out."
Grace grunts, "You did say, 'A shaky connection, but one that shouldn't be ignored', Master..."
"You don't have to be so defensive Daina..."
Again, you misunderstand me. I am simply talking, reassuring, and agreeing with you! Very well, you wish to stride forward, then let us go find this man. I will follow, though I cannot speak for others.
Daina snarls, harsh words on her lips...
Jake coughs.
Good. Fine. Walk me through our next step.
"Harley is busy, and Prescott and Quin are seeing to Dranga and his god."
"It is a wise choice."
"Alex, Daina, Toresh and I, will go to this Elmwood street, seek him and out, and see what he knows."
He folds his arms over his armor.
"I can put aside my feelings, and I'm sure..."
Daina looks away from him.
"...Daina can too. And be civil."
With the stakes so high, I hope we all can. There's one last thing you should know. Pharrah's gone totally rogue. She's the one that killed Pete. I mentioned her name to one of the assassins and he looked... worried. He said he thought she was on our side. Apparently she's on a bit of a spree.
"How do you know she killed Pete? Why would she do that?"
Jake rubs his chin thoughtfully.
"He disappeared... After..."
I don't know why, but I know it strait from the horse's mouth. We issued a sending to Pete. He said Pharrah killed him. He was cut off before he could name her accomplice, but I think he was going to say... Shudu.
He fled from the Tomb.
"But why would you trust Pete over Pharrah and Shudu" Jake asks.
"Did you Send either of them?"
Daina becomes thoughtful.
"Whatever happened between you two, anyways? She was weird, but a formidable help."
Pharrah left me to die in that mansion. Pete's body was in the bed chamber. I haven't sent to either of them because I don't trust them. I'd rather have no contact than give Pharrah another chance to mislead or use me. She repeatedly used dominate spells on me. Days of my life I'll never recollect. Who knows what she made me do in those lost hours?
"Ah, that'll do it."
Daina nods.
"Okay, Pharrah's non-friendly..."
Eduardo grows dark. Silent.
Jake frowns, but nods.
"Alright. Anything else, anyone wants to get off their chest?"
"Nothing here. I will go with Prescott, and Commune with Moradin. He shall provide all the answers we seek. And if possible, reach out to Hammer."
"Morinfen was slain in the ambush. I must retreat for a day to complete a ceremony for my fallen friend." He looks at everyone present. "I will be gone no longer than a day. Does anyone have a good approximation of where they will be at that time?"
Toresh shrugs, and flexes, but says nothing.
Daina tilts her head, looking at them.
"After we do this, I can replace your soulfire... But it'll cost me some favors in this town..."
Jake stops.
"Wait, if you Sent, Pete, where is he?"
Sending doesn't tell you where the subject is, and neither did he.
"Mhmmm. Okay. Well, the man we're looking for this man named Sedrick Hanes, at Elmwood Lane."
He adjusts his swords.
"It a rough, impoverished part of the city. But we shouldn't have any trouble from the locals as long as we show no weakness."
Jake smiles.
Toresh blinks.
"That's not funny!"
Jake shrugs, "I wasn't kidding. I'm just being positive."
"That place is positively dangerous."
Grace shakes her head, "Anywhere can be safe if you go prepared."
"Its just the impoverished and criminals, not a problem for us, Toresh.
Perhaps a few of us should remain hidden, and watch as before, in case another ambush appears.
"Can't hurt."
Jake looks from Alex to Marros.
"Rooftops again?
Marros grins widely, It's the only way to travel! Looking towards Grace, he says Care to join us?
"My place is on the ground."
She points to her blood-stained boots.
Letting out a small laugh, Marros does a quick tumble in place, flipping from hands to feet, in one smooth motion. Ha! So you've told me before. he says kindly. Very well, then unless anyone has anything else...
Quin wishes Prescott and Khamal look with their work, letting Eduardo go with Daina and her company to Elmwood.
Untrusting of any of the temples to Moradin in the city, the high priest resigns himself to find a suitable place to serve as temporary shrine to Moradin for his Commune.
Still quiet, the Master trudges along, scanning the area with his death sight and keeping a weather eye.
"Of course. But let us know if someone decides to put on a performance again."
Jake smiles sadly as he remember Maki.
The community built around Elmwood Lane is dirty.
It had been a rotted cyst, a sore on the city of Thames long before the rain of blood had come.
The heat and blood couldn't make it anymore dank, fetid and dismal a place than it must haven been.
The home, at the foot of the Lane, is a squat hovel.
A fence that had stood there, years ago, had probably been made into firewood, and weeds, cover the stretch of yard in a dense patch of green and grey, that reaches up to their waists.
The lack of a worn trail indicates nobody had been here in a long time...
...the windows, just poking above the brush, are grimy, and smeared with dirt, set into a a cracked wall of bricks, covered in thick slime from the large red snails that crawl along its surface.
The door, is a thick, wooden blank, probably the most secure of the whole construction, which could fall with a good kick.
"Nice place," Alex comments at his fellow roof climbers. It did look like the sort of place were anyone could live without others asking questions. "Are we sure our guy is here?" As he speaks, the thief takes a good look around, trying to detect the locals and possibly Sedrick.
The long street is abandoned.
It curves of the main throughway out of sight, up a slight hill.
Daina shrugs, adjusting her bow as she wades into the grass.
Opening his senses, Eduardo expands his death sight outward, surrounding himself in a massive, life-sensitive bubble.
Beyond Daina, Eduardo senses to living, life forms inside the house.
Somebody's here. Two lives burn brightly within.
The Master maintains his sight as the group approaches the shack.
Jake, curious, follows.
He looks back, "Can you tell anything about them? Whatever you see?"
They're alive. Uninjured. Not undead or constructs. Other than that, they could be anything.
Seeing Daina approaching the door, Alex prepares his crossbow. They hadn't had much luck lately and he saw no reason why that would change.
Jake shrugs.
"Better than nothing."
Toresh points a meaty finger at Eduardo, "Especially on a battlefield."
Daina places her hands on the door.
It is polite, I believe, to knock. Grace, why don't you circle around the back in case they run for some reason...
"Good idea."
Loping steps carry her through the grass, and Toresh nodding, impressed by Eduardo's suggestion follows after her.
Daina pauses, rapping on the wooden door.
"Hello? Sedrick?"
No answer emits from the house.
Daina frowns, and pulls on the door, showing an equally filthy interior.
A mangy cat leaps from the room, bounding into the grass.
Keeping his eyes trained on the house, Alex scans it in case someone tried to escape through a window. Armed groups showing out of nowhere tended to have that effect on people.
Jake points to another room of the house.
The door is closed.
So then he's alone, Eduardo says, training his senses on the door indicated by Jake.
Eduardo can sense the remaining life form on the opposite side of the warped door panels.
The crunch of broken tiles echoes off the holed and lean walls of the hovel as they enter.
On the other side, they can see Grace and Toresh, pacing back and forth through gaping holes.
Pools of blood, indicate sagging leaks in the ceiling.
Sedrick? Eduardo calls. Anyone? Somebody is in that room, he whispers to the others.
No answer.
Daina sighs, "Why can't anything ever be easy..."
The life force quickly begins to change, going from living to dead...
Sheisse! Eduardo sprints forward and bursts through the door.
The door swings open, banging off the hinges.
A rope, tied to the rafters, and kicking feet over a chair.
One hand, gropes and struggles with the coarse rope, and the other, a stump capped in steel waves in the air weakly.
An open sore, a perfect circle is splashed across the man's chest.
Continuing his charge forward, Eduardo moves to cut the man down. Dull light glints off Pax as the scythe's blade flies through the rope.
A filthy window sheds light across Sedrick's chest as he falls to the ground, freed by the scythe.
Jake, Daina and Eduardo see the scars.
Wounds, left marked and twisted with blasphemous tattoos.
Eduardo hoists the man up and looks him in the eye.
I know those markings. You have been to the Tomb of Horrors, Sedrick. We have questions about Xanatos.
Sedrick's eyes are roiling orbs of panicked fear.
He shakes his head, and screams.
Messge"What's going on?"

Alex whispers through the Message. The scream was not a good sign. They never were.
Eduardo looks at Daina and lets the man drop once again.
Stop screaming you miserable worm.
Jake's eyes harden.
His eyes rest on the noose, as if they would burn a hole through the knot.
Do you really think death will bring you peace?
Pull yourself together.
"Sedrick. Where is he?", Daina breathes.
Jake's eyes go from Eduardo to Daina, and he snarls, tearing down the noose with his hand.
"Leave him alone, Eduardo. Not everyone can be immune to fear, and nobody can deny that place can do things."
He looks at Sedrick, curled into a ball, smacking the steel-bound stump against the floor, and running his lone hand through greasy hair.
"Show some compassion."
Daina hisses.
"He's been there. He knows Xanatos..."
Sedrick flinches.
"...we need to know-"
"And we know nothing else about him."
Jake's hand goes to his swords.
Not a threat for them, but a reminder for himself.
What they stand for.
"I will not stand for him to be treated any less than the brother-in-arms than he is."
Grace's voice drifts through the walls.
"Toresh and I are making a perimeter. We'll keep you posted. Can't find that cat..."
Fine, Eduardo spits.
I can't stand to look at him any longer anyway.
He wheels around and storms through the others to the back of the room, where he casts a charm to ease Sedrick's fear.
The spell does little to ease Sedrick's troubled mind, and any further mention of the Tomb only results in piteous whimpers.
Daina, thinks a moment...
...torn between her quest for answers, and her own nightmares.
Jake bristles at the sheen of sweat that cover's Sedrick's pallid skin.
"Sedrick... Where did Xanatos go-"
Trembling, the monk pulls himself to his feet, and points out the grimy window with his ruined hand.
Daina peers at the window, covered in grime.
"There's nothing out there. Who is Baron Tora Ill? Where can we find him."
The man shrieks, and promptly smashes his skull against the window, shattering it.
Swaying, blood flies from his forehead as he gestures outside again.
Sedrick's dark eyes hide beneath a heavy brow, separated by an often broken nose.
Lines of years alone, trapped in his fear, criss-cross his face.
Again, he gestures to the window.
Seeing the window smash outward, Marros drops down from his rooftop perch, and lands already dashing towards it,"senses expanding outward as he does.
"Wait!" the thief hisses as Marros rushed to the house. "We don't kno- ah, forget it," he finishes as the monk enters the building.
They were on the roofs to survey the area and to provide aid, not to jump at the slightest hint of activity. They were a capable group, and so were the newcomers, they could probably handle a lone man. Still, he himself was a bit worried that no one had answered the Message...
There had been no response from inside, and the strangely flickering lifesigns had the monk on edge.
Holding out a hand, peacefully, showing the symbol on his cloak, Marros speaks in a calm low voice.
Sedrick whirls around, and faces him, hands in the kata.
Recognition of Marros' symbol flashes across the terror for an instant before Sedrick points again, beyond Marros, north across Elmwood.
The street rises up the hill, snaking its way toward a large graveyard.
Yes, the graveyard, thank you friend. May I help you, brother? Please, let me tend your wounds, take my hand.
Marros lets his healing will flow into the scarred man, trying to cleanse him of the injury dealt by the window, and hoping to heal the brutal scars, remembered from the other's story of the Tomb.
Sedrick just sobs, sinking to his knees.
Jake looks at the two monks sadly.
"Its not that easy, Marros. The scars of the demi-lich run deep..."
Daina looks at Sedrick and Marros, an odd shadow dancing across her face.
She stares at the graveyard up and ahead.
"...I've got that proverbial bad feeling..."
Jake nods.
"Me too... Haven't felt that since..."
Grace peers in through the window, staring at Sedrick.
"Is he going to be alright?"
Letting the man's hand fall, Marros shakes his head sadly. I am sorry, brother, I cannot heal your mind.
Turning, he slowly starts heading towards the graveyard.
But I will stop whatever shattered it. he mutters to himself.
Letting the man's hand fall, Marros shakes his head sadly.
Truly, I do not know. I can do nothing to help him.
Turning, he looks towards the graveyard.
I too, am disquieted, by this direction.
Sedrick falls onto his face, shaking, and inconsolable.
If he had been to the Tomb himself, the monk's will had been shattered within its halls.
The graveyard squats on its hill, awaiting them.
Standing, Marros begins moving slowly towards the graveyard, waiting for the others.
Atop it, the monk can see a prominent mausoleum poking among the tomb stones.
Grace, tearing her eyes from Sedrick, swallows.
"We can take him to get real help after we have a look?"
Meeting Grace's gaze, Marros nods.
Absolutely. Something, perhaps the Tomb, perhaps some other horror, has shattered his will. It will take a long time for him to piece it back together, but my brothers may be able to help. For now, let us see what he wishes us to see.
It takes a few minutes of walking to reach the entrance to the grave yard,
Daina shoulders her bow, under Toresh's watchful gaze as they move up toward the black gates of wrought iron that proves to be the entrance to the graveyard.
Blood still spatters from the sky around them.
Thick chains bind the gates closed, and the bars are barely wide enough to keep a hand out.
Set into a stone wall ten feet wide, the wrought metal defies their passage.
A rusty padlock, the size of Marros' chest, binds the chains.
Wiping the blood off of his hands, Marros peers closely at the padlock, retrieving his tools with one hand, while prodding at the huge mechanism with the other.
We may need Alex's expertise with this one.
The lock fragments under the monk's tools, and the chain's snake out, dropping to the ground at their feet.
The right-side of the gate, freed, swings inward a little.
Grace peers at the destroyed lock.
"Or not..."
Examining the rusted chain on the ground, Marros wipes off his tools, and repacks them. Indeed. Moving cautiously, he steps into the graveyard.
The graveyard is a city within the city.
Rows and rows of gravestones, obscured by large weeds stretch in every direction.
A rough, muddy path, with stone work poking out here and there among the bushes and wild grass that have choked it, winds its way up higher on the hill.
Jake, do you know anything of this place? Given our recent encounters, It is less than comforting to be surrounded by the dead. Marros says as he walks.
Jake rubs his chin, feeling for the beard he'd cut away a long time ago.
"I've had my suspicions for a long while now... But..."
He looks up to the mausoleum, obscured by twisted green high above them.
"...I think I'll hold my tongue for now..."
Toresh grunts, kicking at a clinging weed.
"This ivy is unusually thick..."
As they climb higher and higher, the weeds give way to aggressive growth of ivy.
Thick green, in contrast to the falling red, the large, trefoil leaves glisten with shiny wax.
Grace takes a leaf, and curses as the sharp edges cuts her thumb.
Sucking on the cut, she examines the lead.
"They appear to be thriving..."
The mud sucks at their boots as Marros examines the bright green leaves.
The veins of the point, spear-head shaped leaves are a dull, blackish red.
Eduardo casually steps through the ivy. It seems to part before him, like slaves bowing to a Pharroh.
The dead... we should have nothing to fear from them. If they were wont to rise, they'd have done it by now, Eduardo remarks, inwardly recalling the strange effects of the Tomb of Horrors. It is curious ivy, isn't it?
The bloodrain, it's feeding off of the bloodrain... Marros mutters almost to himself, before releasing the plant carefully, and following after the others.
Eduardo's study yields little else.
The large leaves, shaped like spearheads or hearts, have particularly sharp edges that draw blood.
Their thick wax keeps away insects and voracious growth across the graveyard has allowed them to dominate the top of the hill.
The Elmwood graveyard, as far as Eduardo know, is just one of many scattered across the city.
Likely one of the original burial sites that was used at the city's founding, the graveyard had been filled and abandoned along with the community that surrounds it.
To find out more, Eduardo gets the feeling he'll have to continue among the stones.
Do mind your step, Eduardo advises the others as he continues along.
Grace nods, using her blades to hack more determined growths out of their way.
Jake, using a chipped broadsword, assists her, and they make good time up the hill.
Stone angels, and other guardians of finer, more expensive markers watch them as they go up.
Many of the names, dating back centuries, are obscured by dirt, erosion, weeds, and ivy.
The Master proceeds carefully, doggedly searching his surroundings for any evidence of travel, regardless of how recent, as well as signs of life - or danger.
A hippogriff of granite winks at Eduardo as they round a turn in the path uptoward the mausoleum.
Toresh snorts at a pair of minotaurs that stand guard over a broken tomb.
A grave marker has fallen across the path.
Jake, leaping atop it, helps Daina and Grace clamber over, and extends a hand for the Master to cross it as well.
The air is still.
Jumping over the marker almost absentmindedly, Marros keeps scanning the graveyard. Something had him on edge, but he shoved his unease aside, focusing on the moment, seeing the world around him as it truly was.
His vision stretching as far as the Ethereal, Marros still sees nothing.
This graveyard has them on edge.
Toresh wards himself from death, remembering the wolves.
With their unholy sight, dragon eyes and the Master's own dead orbs, they only see rabbits, and birds, flitting among the stones and green.
Eduardo clears his throat and continues onward.
The mausoleum sits atop a flat platform of stone.
The ivy has waged a war here too, with mixed results.
Clinging to columns and statues, the thick vines and leaves obscure much of the stone, and has even brought down a larger statue of a warrior in heavy armor.
The front, is completely obscured by ivy.
Flexing his hands, Toresh gets a good grip, and pulls.
You don't think it could be trapped, do you? Eduardo says to Daina.
"Bloody leaves!"
With a quiet word, Eduardo bids a flickering green flame into existence in the palm of his hand. The Master of Death applies it to the overgrown ivy, methodically burning it away from the rock.
The ivy's waxy covering proves to be resistance to the green flame.
The ivy leaves his hands cut and raw as he strips the vines away, revealing a plane smooth marble beyond.
He steps back, letting Grace and Jake slash at the leaves and vines, while the minotaur conjures orbs of healing to heal his ruined fingers.
Daina shrugs, watching them work.
"If anyone would know, its Harley. I'm pretty sure..."
She bites her lip.
"...pretty sure that traps using natural elements are difficult and rare, since nature hardly cooperates..."
Toresh shakes his fingers, waving away the numbness.
With a grunt of frustration, Grace brings down the last of the vines.
A smooth plane of white marble stands before them, rising from the pile of vines and leaves at their feet.
Stone letters, four inches high, are set at eye level, five feet from the ground.


I have some small knowledge of such things, though Alex has much more expertise. It can be difficult if precision is needed, but if the plant itself is the trap, then all you need is seedlings... The monk says as he
Dice Roll: 1d20+21z
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examines the door and surrounding carvings for any further malice. Perhaps, Eduardo, you could ask the plants to clear away? Noticing the minotaur shaking his hands, he asks, Are you okay?
As Marros fingers brush over the stone letters, the 'R', he finds that it moves with a scraping sound.
Toresh nods.
"Fingers are just numb."
Poison? If these things are feeding off this foulness, I wouldn't be surprised.
"Could be, don't know..."
The minotaur grunts.
Grace seeing the shifted letter, moves another, a 'T'.
Marros keeps examining the door closely.
Be ready, I have no idea what will happen.
More letters shift under Marros' hand, and Jake sucks his breath through his teeth.
Waving the others back, Marros' hands fly across the words, searching for more pieces to this puzzle.
All the letters shift, moving across the stone until they are completely jumbled.
Only Jake remains transfixed, a grin spreading across his face.
Jake? Are you okay?
"Better than okay..."
Marros waits for the bard to continue....
Jake's hands shake as he reaches out, and touches the 'R'.
He slides it to the far left.
"...I suspected, from the letters, but I didn't dare actually believe..."
The 'O' follows...
...then the 'B'...
"...never would have guessed..."
"What are you talking about?"
"...he'd be buried here..."
Toresh watches in awe, wringing his hands.
The 'I' is follower by 'L', scraping across the stone under Jake's hands...
"...the greatest warrior of all time, a master of the sword from another world..."
Marros watches as another 'A', follows, and Jake works faster, shifting the letters across the stone.


A loud click rings across the graveyard as the 'N' slides into place.
Toresh blinks, surprised.
"What? What is it?""
Daina looks just at confused.
"Baron Tora Ill is Robilar Talon?"
What? Who is this man? Why would he be here?
Jake presses his hands to the stone.
"Lord Robilar, is the greatest warrior of all time. He came from another world, hailing an Empire of the Bright Lands as his home. In his adventures... He traveled through the portal of Greyhawk, and came here, and did great things before returning home... He must have returned, and died here..."
He presses the letters, letting them sink into the stone with another click.
As the stone clicks, and the bard's words ring out, Marros assumes a ready stance, prepared for anything. If this hero was truly dead, and the dead were rising...
The letters glow a moment, then vanish, leaving holes.
Growing, the holes eat up the stone, revealing the antechamber beyond.
The floor, made of the same stone, is emblazoned with a green and gold dragon, fighting a black unicorn.
The ancient symbols of the great warrior.
Against the backwall, a large stone doorway reveals a flight of steps that descend into the shadows.
The walls of the chamber are manned by marble statues of knights in full armor, with great swords.
Eyes widening at the chamber within, Marros begins slowly moving inwards, maintaining his defensive stance, examining the statues, as they moved within.
Jake ignores the statues, a grin on his face as he removes a torch, and lights it.
"This... This is fantastic!"
He strides across the stones, ignoring the statues, and bounds down the stairs.
Toresh grips his horns.
"Crazy humans!"
Snorting, the minotaur gives one of the statues a poke.
Confirming Marros assessment that they were in fact, just statues, the minotaur follows after him.
Daina stares.
"They usually don't do that..."
Maintaining his defensive posture, Marros sprints after the man.
Torches flare along the stone staircase, that descends deeper into the hill.
Grace, glares into the darkness, and waves Daina, and Eduardo in.
"Come on Alex, we can't be left behind!"
Marros ears are filled with Toresh's curses as his horns smash against the stone over and over as they race down the stairs, coming out at the bottom, the monk finds himself behind the bard before another chamber.
A circle, columns ring it, carved with more dragons and unicorns in stunning detail, supporting the domed ceiling.
The foots falls of the others follow behind them as Toresh peers out over the monk's shoulder.
Jake holds up the torch, casting its dim light across the tiled floor of the chamber.
Buried halfway up the length of its blade, a sword has been buried in the center of the chamber.
Beads of sweat drip down Jake's forehead.
"Robilar favored the bastard sword..."
Toresh nods, excitement dancing in his eyes.
"...he loved the ability to switch from a one-handed to two-handed grip..."
Grin on his face, infected by the bard's enthusiasm, Marros' scans the room with his piercing gaze, hands still at the ready, as he moves deeper within, examining the room closely. An elegant weapon, truly magnificent.
"You have no idea, Marros..."
Jake walks in a slow circle, looking at the sword from a distance.
"...if that is his blade of black ice, that's a sword of legend..."
The blade is a dark black, and sucks at the light of Jake's torch.
If they squint, they can see motes of light dancing about the hilt.
Marros walks in a slow circle opposite from Jake, eyes blazing. Then where is it's wielder?
Jake gestures to the blade as Daina enters the chamber.
"This is probably all that remains..."
He smiles.
The Master of Death was no stranger to burial chambers and monuments. Though this one was extraordinary, it was modest compared to the crypts of long-dead kings Eduardo frequented on his journeys. What secrets might the final resting place of the greatest warrior in the multi-verse yield, though?
As the blade twinkles before the torch, Eduardo gets a sinking feeling in the pit of his belly.
Warriors tended to be rather...
...predictable when it came to their final resting places.
With particular interest placed upon their weapons.
Everything was indeed, rather plain, and not particularly unique, with this single blade being the sole exception.
Like it or not, the Master knew, what had to be done...
I'd be careful about that sword, gentlemen, Eduardo says. It's remained here a long time, undisturbed. And great warriors are not wont to part from their weapons, even in death.
he pauses, resting his hand on the stone memorial, I think the great Robilar has rested undisturbed for long enough. We came here for answers, and find them we shall. The tomb must be opened.
Eduardo's voice bounces off the stone, as all eyes find themselves drawn to the blade.
If we must open the tomb, I offer to take this risk. If you wish me to draw this mighty blade, I shall. Marros says as he steps forward slowly.
Daina holds out her hand.
"Harley told me that Alex is an expert with traps..."
She looks at him, and mutters under her breath, "...could have used one of those seven years ago..."
"...perhaps he should have a look first."
Watching the impressive blade from afar, Alex steps forward. "Let me see what I can find."
Taking out his tools, he slowly begins to search the chamber, starting by the walls. He observes them critically, carefully touching its surface every now and then. He then turns to the floor, watching for wires or changes in the level of the floor and feeling with his hands stones beneath him. He stops his search within five feet of the blade. Relics and legendary weapons had a tendency to be cursed or to allow only certain people touch them...
There is a sound of cracking ice...
...and a grey and green vapor emerges from the sword...
The vapor coalesces into a grim-faced, saturnine man with a rough goatee, long black hair, and deep-set, gaunt eyes.
He stares about the chamber, his terrible gaze roving across them.
Balking at Robilar's terrible visage, Toresh and Jake, sink to their knees, strength sapped from their bodies.
The ghost's brow furrows, and remorse dances across his face.
He stares at Alex, his eyes searching.
"...you, you look like Nolzur..."
Arrows snap to Daina's bow, and she snarls.
"Who are you!"
Robilar raises a hand in a calming, waving motion, floating above his sword.
"I am Robilar. And I know, why you are here..."
Falling backwards before the terrible apparition, the thief crawls backwards clumsily. "I- I don't know what you're talking about."
He keeps on crawling backwards until he hits a wall, his eyes stuck on the ghost.
"...I can show you. I can show you where it all began..."
Robilar whirls, looking to Eduardo.
Grace, swinging her fists into a defensive stance, steps in front of the Master.
"I can see..."
The ghost's eyes glow with an intense light.
"...I can see him, in you..."
He turns, looking from Daina and Jake.
"...and his touch, upon them. I can show you..."
Holding his ground, Marros remains silent and calm. Watching and listening.
Daina's hands shake.
"How do you know?"
"I can show you..."
Yes, you're correct. His touch is upon me. How did you know? Eduardo rests a hand on Grace's shoulder, reassuringly. Show me, spirit. I must learn the truth.
Robilar's eyes shut.
And Daina and Jake cry out in surprise, collapsing to their knees.
A presence reaches out, and touches Eduardo and Alex's minds...
Eduardo knows many ghosts find themselves unable to move on until whatever keeps them on the Material is accomplished.
Ancient quests.
Eduardo's eyes roll into the back of his head, and he drops to the floor with a thud.
"Master! What have you do-"
Robilar sinks backwards, his arms flailing back as he rises.
Daina and Jake are lifted from the floor, floating three feet off the ground.
Toresh, shaking, snorts in confusion as a stone block rises from the floor, ceiling off the exits.
"What's going on!"
The Master's body, limp and unmoving, rises from the floor as well.
Raising slowly from his stance, Marros walks over to the others, He is doing as he promised, showing them what they require. Jake believed in this man alive, hopefully we can trust him in death.
The presence lunges out at Alex, and his will is dragged into Robilar's, and molded into what it needed to be as his mind is drained into a distant place.
A distant time.
The thief sinks back slowly, blood dripping from his nose, ears, and the corner of his mouth.
Sagging in some invisible hold, he floats off the ground as well.
Nor I, yet Alex was gripped in fear, wheres your "Master" clearly submitted willfully. The damage may have been caused by the struggle. Toresh can you restore him? Do not try to wake them, only repair the harm, it may be mental in nature. That said, Marros begins examining the room, searching for a way out, testing the stone's durability. He may need to force their way free.
The minotaur reaches out with large, squarish fingers.
"He doesn't appear to be too badly injured..."
He squats to get a closer look.
"...I'll see what I can do."

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...out of sync...

...Thames Mountains...

...using repeated Dimension Doors to carry himself west, Quin finds an abandoned iron mine.
From the size of the tunnels and workmanship, shafts without wooden braces, and carvings into the stone, blessing Moradin, he can tell that his own kin have worked the earth here.
A good a place as any to speak to his god.
Quin takes off his pack and sets it on the floor. He sits cross legged on the floor and places both of his palms on the rough stone floor for a minute, feeling the slow throb of the earth beneath him. Withdrawing several sticks of incense, he sets them in a rough semi circle in front of hi and lights them before sprinkling holy water over himself and the ground before him. He then begins meditating.
The heat of the forge washes over the high priest, and a crack of thunder resounds in his ears.
With the sound of a clanging hammer, a large dwarf woman, hair woven into four long braids stands before him.
Clad in silver chainmail that matches her hair, Berronar Truesilver, the dwarf goddess of Safety, Truth, Home, and Healing, smiles down at Quin.
Weariness touches her eyes, but earnestness finds a place in her voice.
"Må herlighed Smede være med dig. Speak, Honored Rockshield, and know Truth."
Also known as Mya, Berronar is Moradin's wfe and consort.
Quin blinks with surprise but quickly bows his head in hommage. Raising it slowly, he says with respect "I wish to know if Moradin did not tell me of the rise on purpose."
"Moradin is once again bound by the Protocols."
She makes a significant glance.
"You know what this means..."
Quin sighs heavily when his answer is given before nodding. After a moment of thought he looks up quickly and asks "Are all gods still bound by the Protocols?"
"All who swore by them."
Raising an eyebrow Quin queries "Are the newer gods or any of the most powerful not bound by the protocols?"
She nods.
"They are bound."
Deciding to change tact Quin says hesitantly "Do the Gods know how much time we have to stop the Lich before he consumes everything?"
Now Berronar raises an eyebrow.
"The lich?"
Quin clarifies after a moments hesitation "Demilich. Otherwise known as The Ace of Erak..."
"He is not the one who triggered the Protocols..."
Quin's eyes widen and he asks quickly "Have my companions or I ever encountered the one who triggered them or know of him?"
"I would not know, Rockshield. And I cannot and could not identify them to you if I knew of them."
Quin grows impatient and quickly asks "Do you know who triggered them then? Can you tell me?"
She shakes her head, silver braids swaying back and forth.
"I cannot say, Quin. I cannot tell you. You are not the mortals Chosen."
Quin nods.[
"I...understand. Can you tell me more of the Chosen?"
"Forbidden by the Protocols."
Quin throws his hands up in exasperation. Resignedly he asks "Is there a way I could learn more?"
Berronar grins.
"You know how. You must do what my husband did... You must break the rules..."
Quin gives a non-committal grunt before changing topics. "Does Moradin have any specific tasks for me to accomplish?"
"Moradin's gaze is upon the Abyss..."
The wearied look returns.
"Does Moradin know of a way to halt the detrimental effects pervading the world regarding magical healing and now the rain of blood."

"I do not know. Events in the Abyss are his concern at the moment."
Changing tact entirely Quin asks slowly, "Where dragon involved heavily in the assault on Daina's wedding and responsible for the death of her fiance?"
Sorrow crosses the godess's face.
"I do not know. Who is Daina? Is she one of our faithful?"
"Daina of House Aishun. She follows no god I know of. She and her family are the greatest dragon slayers known"
Berronar's face becomes sad, and her voice quiets.
"How hard it must be to take such a loss, and without Moradin's blessing to ease the pain...:"
"What transfixes Moradin's gaze in the abyss?"
A silver spear appears in the goddess's mailed hands, and she rests it at Quin's feet.
Massive, it stretches from one end of the chamber to the other...
"The Demonweb, appears to have swelled... The upper and lowest of Lolth's domains, have spread outward, in twin disks, the strands of her evil domain, choking passage through her dark home, and from the upper layers to the lower... Drow march, Quin..."
"That is indeed worry some. But what is Moradin to do?"
"For now, he does nothing, but watch, to see what the Demonqueen plans..."
She sneers, spitting aside in disgust.
"...if she is weak... The Good Gods, might decide to strike, leaving her indebted to them despite the Protocols... But if this is a ploy, we must be ready in case Lolth has devised a trap... We know she's fought a great battle in her domain, now we wait to see the result..."

...the Demonweb...

The Prince of Wrath's great feet leave large cracks in the dark marble floor of the throne room. He doesn't care, letting the maul of brutal endings drag across the floor after him.
The massive creature leaves a trail of drow blood in his wake, tracing a line of destruction between the ruined doors of black webs, out through the Demonweb.
Lolth hisses at Eclavdra's unrepentant fear, but ignores the stupid waif, dressing the demon instead.
"Kostchtchie! I see your ravaging of the Abyss and its demon lords has caused you to fall into my domain..."
The goddess scowls, pursing her lips as she drums her fingers on her throne.
Shouldn't have bothered.
Lolth clears her throat, lifting herself from her seat.
"Eclavdra. Deal with him."
The drow becomes the image of terror, her eyes darting from Kostchtchie to her mistress...
Eclavdra jumps, running down the dais, with tears streaming from her face.
Laughing at her white knuckles clenched around her tentacle rod, Kostchtchie gives the maul a spin...
Running toward Kostchtchie, Eclavdra makes him an insidious offer...
"Join me, demon..."
"Very good!"
Kostchtchie grins as Eclavdra staress over her shoulder at the preening goddess with an incredulous look.
The drow priestesses' legs tremble beneath her dress.
"...join me, and you could have everything! Her, the Demonweb... Me..."
Kostchtchie snarls, dropping to a knee, clutching his head at her reverberating voice in his mind.
Demon's blood pours from his nostrils, and he licks it from his fingers, and laughs as he staggers upright.
"HAHAHA! I will have you BOTH!"
Seeing that this would not work, Eclavdra begins to walk back toward the throne, her eyes fixed on Kostchtchie's swaggering advance.
He leaps, slamming before her with a swing of the maul that sends her smashing across the ground.
Instantly, Eclavdra is gone, in a haze of clicking spiders.
Roaring, Kostchtchie follows her, smashing spiders in his fury to crush the drow with his fantastic weapon.
Lolth smiles at Eclavdra's terror, watching the drow flee toward the doors, shooting a taunt over her shoulders.
"You laugh at me! I've served the Elder Elemental Eye!"
"And I will pluck it out like I will your heart!"
Her skirts and hair flying behind her, she flees.
The maul swings beneath her feet, forcing Eclavdra to hike up her spider-silk dress to keep moving.
Screaming foaming obscenities, Kostchtchie leaps after her, bashing her across the back of the head.
Another burst of spiders serves as no deterrent to his wrath, and follows after her, slamming the maul down upon her back with a roar.
"Stay! Still!"
The spiders carry her away from again, but Eclavdra can't hold back her fear.
"Lolth! PLEASE!"
The spiders ripple away from Eclavdra as she stands.
This wouldn't be easy.
Eclavdra knows she is the greatest of Lolth's servants, reflecting the goddesses cunning and cruelty like a dark mirror, proving her worthiness by twice betraying and outwitting the Demon Queen.
Or former Demon Queen.
Eclavdra stands before the twisted frost giant demon, the skulls of fallen demons woven into his beard, no yochlol by her side.
Still, she has power.
Her beauty.
Smooth skin.
Bright, large eyes.
Her lips, bruised, like apples.
Kostchtchie had seen apples before...
...and he'd crushed them between his fingers, popping them like the heads of lesser frost giant jarls who annoyed him.
Lolth laughs as the frost giant strides forward, not to embrace and worship her exarch, but to smash her off her feet with his terrible weapon again.
The drow cries out as she bounces from a pillar, only to find Kostchtchie still coming, slamming her into the pillar with a kick. Sprawling the maul cracks her head against the floor in another blow.
Lolth stares, watching Eclavdra, waiting for any sign of weakness from her exarch.
With blood on her lips, Eclavdra glares at her mistress, but doesn't take an eye off of the slavering frost giant.
And it is an enticing eye that draws Kostchtchie forward.
The curve of her neck, torn by the maul.
The heave of her chest with every wet breath.
Enraptured, he steps forward, a hand out to touch...
...and then the tentacles are reaching out, cutting across his arm, and Kostchtchie screams in rage.
He tears his arm away, using a back swing to send her through the pillar, leaping after her to smash her across the room again.
Eclavdra grunts, squinting through a sheen of blood across her face.
Wiping the blood away, she pushes herself from the floor, and tries to smile.
"Kostchtchie, don't deny the truth, not even your icy veins can't be warmed by my beauty..."
Kostchtchie stops, trying to think.
"..come to me. Join me."
Kostchtchie, grins.
The tentacles hadn't been so bad...
...so when they lance out again, Kostchtchie is quite surprised at the pain they leave behind.
Fire burns in his veins, and its difficult to move.
Each step is like moving the entire Iron Wastes on his toes...
"What have you done to me!"
The maul lashes out, as web strands descend from the ceiling, binding him in a sticky matte that burns with each touch as venom leeches through his skin.
Eclavdra picks herself off the floor, looking to the throne where Lolth stands, hand stretched out.
"Thank you!"
"I cannot have my most capable lieutenant destroyed by a worm such as this..."
"WORM! I'll SHOW you my wo-
Strands clutch at his mouth and retards his tundra roar, vomiting the angry cold around him, and giving Eclavdra the chance to escape, moving to safety closer toward Lolth in a cloud of spiders.
Swinging angrily, he rages at the binding strands, struggling to break them.
In favor with Lolth once more, Eclavdra press her advantage on the bound frost giant, tossing aside her battered helm to let her silver hair fall across her shoulders and face in an alluring veil.
"Look upon me, demon! I stand with the Demon Queen! On your knees before Lolth!"
She sneers down at him.
"If you can."
In an explosion of power, Lolth appears before her captured foe, stringing him with more winding strands as he flails futilely with his maul.
Smiling, the goddess ignores the cold surrounding her, called by Kostchtchie in a cunning defense.
Striding toward Kostchtchie, Eclavdra evades a clumsy, hampered swing.
She extends her hand, and smiles.
"I said, on your knees!"
She lashes him across the chest with the rod, leaving dark, poisonous welts.
"I am a goddess, Kostchtchie... No demon lord could face me!"
She makes a slashing gesture, and webbed strands drop from the ceiling, wrapping around the frost giants arms and limbs.
The goddess, scourge in hand, leaves a flensing wound across his face, laughing as he rages, trying to smash her with the maul.
Stumbling, and raging, Kostchtchie, breaks free of the clinging strands, leaping toward the goddess as he brings the frigid cold upon Eclavdra, freezing her in her place.
Lolth's exarch, frost clinging to her skin, struggles in the Kostchtchie's tundra-born rage.
Her goddess, swinging forward, brushes the demon's chest with her nails, drawing blood and leaving burning cuts.
More, lancing strands envelope him, and Kostchtchie decides he's had enough, slamming Lolth from her feet.
Catching ahold of his mind, she wraps his will in venomous webs, directing him away from her and free Eclavdra from the frigid cloud.
Furious at being cheated, he can only stand as he breaks free of the webs.
Eclavdra tastes victory.
Loth's poison, ensured by her tentacle rods power, is eating away at the demon.
Muscles pop and twist across his chest, and Kostchtchie's breaths are labored screams, short and shallow.
"One, last time, demon swine... Fall to your knees, before my goddess..."
But Kostchtie's spasmed jerkings throws off her attack, stumbling about in a stupor.
She wards him away with the rod, flailing the stinging tentacles at him.
Lolth, slipping behind him, she slashes the frost giant down across his spine, sending him flying with surprising force.
Laughing as strands descend once more to bind him, Lolth glares at Kostchtie's enraged, rolling eyes.
"What was she thinking sending you down here..."
He swings back and forth, tearing at the strands, and Lolth laughs.
"No... Not today, for today, I am a goddess. The Demon Queen in truth... And you will fall..."
"I. Said. On. Tuaj. Gjunjë."
His knees buckle, and the demon kneels.
The maul is faster than what Eclavdra could have expected, lifting her off her feet and dropping her to the floor in a bloodied heap.
"Hahhaha... Death spasms!"
She spits blood as she flies to her feet, lunging forward, only to be cast back again with an angry cry.
Lolth is uncaring of her exarch's injuries.
Her talon-like hands, slice across Kostchtchie's face, drawing blood, but he shakes off the attack with a bite at her face.
Laughing, she licks her fingers, and drives the scourge across his chest, and he stumbles back, hindered by the clinging strands.
Reaching up, yet more strands descend, binding Kostchtchie, desperately, he lashes out, and slams the maul into Lolth's back, and she finds herself hurled across her throne room.
Rolling before the steps to her throne, she hisses, "Mendja juaj është e imja!"
His body flinches and the cold cloud drifts from the room as Lolth brings her power down upon his mind.
Defiant, the Prince of Wrath lifts himself to his feet, black fluid streaming from his seeping wounds.
But he can rise no further, bound by the adamantine strands.
"I-I am..."
"A broken pawn."
He strains against the bonds, only speeding the poison coursing through him.
Laughing, Lolth walks up to the heaving bulk, scratching a mark on his forehead.
"Is it over..."
"Yes... The poison will kill him, without me even having to give him more..."
Lolth's eyes narrow.
"Any moment now, his mistress will car-"
A snap of cold, howling wind and screaming ice tears through the room, and Eclavdra screams as she is lifted into another pillar.
Lolth, upright, is left untouched as the blizzard's fury takes the catatonic frost giant, and lifts him away, back to the Iron Wastes.
The Demon Queen lets the webbing fall, and kicks Eclavdra out of the way as she mounts her throne.
"I know you're watching Natasha... So, now, listen... I am Lolth, the Demonqueen. I am a goddess. Never forget that..."
Throwing her head back, Lolth laughs, letting her mirth ring across Eclavdra's broken form.

...Thames Mountains...

Nodding with resignation Quin looks down at the floor for several moments before returning her gaze and asking "Are there any mortal allies of Moradin I can seek out or any potential allies I can recruit?"
"Yes. In these mountains and the City of Thames, you will find our Children who will flock to your banner..."
Her face becomes serious.
"...and those who would tear it down..."
A rushing wind screams through the cave, hot with the fire of the Forge, and the stench of the Abyss.
Dead spiders dance around Quin, carried by the wind as his incense is snuffed out.
When the wind ceases, the goddess is gone.
With Moradin's guidance upon him, Quin descends deeper into the dark of the old mines.
Led by his god's distant urgings, he comes out above a clearing, where he can see smoke billowing from the valley floor below him.
Quin takes his time looking for a way down into the clearing If he doesn't see one he Flys down carefully.
A small dwarven village is nestled at the base of the valley.
Nestled among the sodden grasses, rotting with the rain of blood, are shepherds, tending tough, mountain sheep.
Dwarves point up at Quin, watching his flight.
Landing carefully he makes his way slowly toward the village. When he gets within a hundred feet of a dwarf he greets them, "Hej fyr søn af jorden. Jeg Quin Rockshield, valgt af Moradin. Jeg har været styret her ved hans nåde. Vil du guide mig til jeres leder."
Nodding earnestly, the sheperd runs ahead, leading Quin into a simple home, carved into the walls.
An elderly dwarf, by the light of lamps, appears to be performing sums of some sort.

...the Four Ghosts of Human Paragonism, the Second Ghost, Baron Tora Ill or Robilar Talon...

...the Tomb of Robilar, the Graveyard on Elmwood Lane, Thames City

Grace shifts, eyes narrowed.
"I don't like this..."
Dark eyes flashing, Marros sees the small flicker of life still within them, it was small, but still there. No, they yet live. I can see the life burning within them, though it is very dim. It must be the Ghostly Warrior, communing with their very souls. I wish I knew what story he was telling them.
Neither do I. Yet if he wished to kill them...he already could have. What would your new Master tell you? Leaping upward, Marros jumped from pillar to pillar trying to reach the roof of this tomb.
The sloping smooth stone proves too difficult even for Marros to climb, and he is forced to abandon the attempt.
Grace scowls at the bowl-like feature of the room.
"...he'd probably tell me to be ready..."
She stows away one of her blades, drawing a wand...
"...I think I'm beginning to get that bad feeling too..."
Marros nods in approval, focusing on his surroundings.
Continuing his search, Marros moves closer and closer to the sword, slowly stepping with the bodies, examining the Sword as best he could.
Grace holds out her hand.
"Marros... My Master would say 'be ready'. Not risky. My Master and his friends, like Daina, subscribe to a certain school of philosophy..."
Toresh's ears flicker curiously.
"Which one."
"'Don't touch anything.'"
And yet, they submitted to this Ghost, so even they recognize the need to take a risk when it is called for. But rest assured, I have no intention to touch anything, just try to examine the keystone of this puzzle. Marros maintains his distance and continues to examine things as best he can, slowly revolving with the floating bodies.
"I don't think the Master would consider this the same thing, Marros. Please be careful."
Any secrets the sword may hold, it keeps.
You have truly changed much Grace. But fear not, I am always careful. Tipping a wink in her direction, he continues his slow dance.
Well, when the moment requires it anyway.
She shrugs.
"I know. It was inevitable."
Then she frowns...
"...what are you looking for? Can you find magical traps?"
Toresh waves her away.
"The man knows what he's doing! Let him finish the job!"
Grace says nothing, letting her eyes move all across the room, always returning to the Master and Marros in turn.
Look as he might, no traps scream out at him as the Monl studies the sword and the immediate area.
Magical traps can be found, if one knows how to see them. As for what I'm looking for, I don't quite know....
Pushing the voices aside, Marros focuses all of his will, trying to see what other eyes could not.
Flipping out of the circle, Marros lands next to Grace. It doesn't appear to be trapped, and does not react to me as it did to the thief. Still, I shall hold off on disrupting this ritual for now. Moving to the exits, Marros resumes his methodical search of the room.
Any change in their condition Toresh?
Toresh points at Eduardo.
"He's grinding his teeth..."
On the lone stone block that blocks their path, Marros discovers that someone had carved a simple 'X' inside a perfect triangle into the stone.
"...and Alex looks confused..."
Another bubble of blood pops from Alex's mouth, and Toresh roars in surprise.
"What is he doing to him!"
He clutches the the man's head in his hand, channeling healing magic into him.
Xanatos... running his fingers along the stone, the monk turns at the Cleric's words. Sweeping them with his unholy sight granted by his draconic eyes, he examines their life force, trying to see what was different about Alex.
Are any of the others being hurt?
"No... Jake looks, 'worried'..."
Grace moves to Daina.
"Daina's impassive. Unmoving."
Pressing against the carved 'X', Marros examines the doorway closely. If the necromancer and the monk had been here, then there must be a way to leave.
I didn't expect they would be out for so long. Toresh, Grace, do these paintings on the pillars have any significance for you? I found a mark of Xanatos on the door, but nearly nothing else in this tomb. I am starting to wonder if we may wish to try and break them out.
"No. Only if their conditions worsens."
Very well. Please let me know if anything happens. This may take me some time. Starting with the column farthest from the door, Marros begins examining the carved columns closely, slowly circling the room clockwise.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...Revenge of the Giants; into the past...

...the distant past, a century after the fall of Nerath, a desert citadel...

Robilar, his blade of black ice, sticking over his shoulder sits behind the cleric, trying to find a comfortable position in his dark armor.
Next to him, Steevanof Tighler, a gnome bard, is lost in his seat.
A small table, creaking under the weight of wine, cheese and baked treated is close to his hand.
Next to him, the warrior Eddard Blackleaf, with his famed maces, clad in full plate, with the same, inexplicable glow of soulfire, sits.
On Robilar's otherside, still behind the priest of Orux, sits Alex.
The injury of the ghost has faded, and the jerking sensation that had crossed his mind is nowhere to be found...
The curtain parts in a gust of hot air, revealing their benefactor in her typical attire; the long robes of a mage, bared, pale shoulders, and a magnificent horned helm.
She smiles.
"Sorry I'm late..."
Robilar grunts.
Isam smiles, red lips twisting across her teeth.
"We all know why you're here..."
She rests her palm on the dais, and looks at each of them, appraisal in her eyes.
She couldn't have found better men for the job.
"At the end of the Dawn War, some of the gods established contingencies so the people of the world could defend themselves if the primordials and other threats returned. One of them, was the City of Nexus, and the Paragon Compact. This agreement placed all civilized nations in a mutual pact of defense, with Nexus serving as the first line of defense..."
Isam adjusts her helm, before continuing.
"This compact made it the duty of every nation and empire to provide champions and guardians to man Nexus, and in practice, it worked well. The champions generally worked alone, but would form strike teams when they were needed, saving the world, over and over... From the walled city on a cloud shrouded mountaintop overlooking the Plain of Chaos, where the barrier between the natural world and the Abyss is thin, the heroes of Nexus were a light unto the world..."
She frowns.
"But those days are behind us. Nexus' prominence declined as Nerath rose as a Great Empire, making the need for heroes of Nexian caliber less needed. The city became a shadow."
Robilar coughs.
"And then Nerath fell."
"Yes. Monsters surged forward, and Nexus' guardians few in number, were not enough to stop the onslaught. They were destroyed. And now, for more than a century, only I, Isam Obanar of Nexus remains, bound by the Compact... And with a new, yet ancient threat arising, I called on you, to my aid..."
"I now know that this ancient threat comes from giants bent on releasing the primodial Piranoth back into the world. And while you have thwarted their attacks on this city with valiant effort..."
She gestures to the floating image of one of the great eldritch titans that they'd been seeing a lot of lately; violet-skinned, with glowing runes and odd powers, they were formidable foes.
"...we learn more and more how determined they are to unleash their dark god..."
The floating illusion stares down at them with hate on its face.
"Together, you managed to recruit new heroes to join us, and help defend the city, bolstering our own efforts, and have plagued the giants in their own race to collect weapons and magic items to help free Piranoth. Along the way, you've rallied the world to defend against this evil, and even halted the siege of Nexus. But now, we can turn the tide..."
Isam grins, and slams her fist into an open palm.
"...its time for us, to strike back! The blue-gem..."
She waves the large dark-blue opal they'd taken from the frost giants...
"...will let me send you into the past, to a distant age, where the star-metal we need to create a weapon to stop Piranoth once and for all can be found."
A blazing magic circle of Isam's strange psionic magics twists into being in front of them.
"...I will use the gem as a focus to send you to where and when the star metal is stored. When you have retrieved it, you shall return to this time, minutes after you leave. But be warned..."
Isam's eyes narrow.
"The past is not a place for you to linger, and you shall not be able to range beyond the place where the sky metal waits. Defend yourselves, but do not try to change what has already occurred..."
The past? Guard Clovis speaks up. I find travel to the other plains disquieting enough, but I do so in the name of protecting the Prime. The implications of a journey such as this -- they stagger my mortal mind. There are places humble ones such as us are not meant to tread. This is truly unheard of, Isam. You ask too much this time.
Saying nothing, The Nameless One's hands simply move with a blur, drawing a custom, ornate crossbow, rippling with elemental power, as he slams a cartridge of bolts home, and restraps it in place with practiced ease. As always, he would do what needed to be done, regardless of circumstances.
The bard sat cross legged on his heavy chair, gnomish frame still slight beneath the table's broad lip. "If we pluck the metal from where it once was, and this giant-lord is banished in the now, then all ends are accomplished with no Time the wiser. As your lord might say, 'When one door closes, another opens'. Or I guess it would be 'Doors close. Walk through *before* that happens'."
I fathom the idea, Steevenof. I am not certain it's the best course of action -- whether it is right to do it, or even wise to attempt. Like ripples in a pond, a tiny pebble sends waves in all directions. There's no telling what our interference in the primordial past will wreak in the present.
"Isam's experience leading this fight has tempered her wisdom, and guidance has led to our current position of success. We have the initiative, the momentum to finish the fight. If there were ever a moment to dive between moments, then the turning point of the battle against for our Existence is surely it." He waves a hand airily, flicking the end of his bushy scarf over one shoulder. "Besides, if the giant lord is free, the Chaos tears our world apart. If we step on the father of all butterflies and unmake time, the result is no worse. Better that we should go into this endeavor with the weight of all such consequences on our mind. I do not fault your caution, Clovis, but I would not balk at the chance to fight this battle *only* one more time."
"Clovis, your concern is valid. But Steevanof speaks true..."
She makes a fist.
"Piranoth is a Primordial. An elemental titan of unstoppable power. If he is freed, a titan will walk the earth, and as he frees his brethren and calls them to fight, in a wave of fire, a second Dawn War will break out anew. The star-metal is necessary to create the weapons and armor needed to end this creature once and for all. At our present time, we have none, and no means of finding any. Six hundred years in the past, however, is one who has it."
Past. Present. Irrelevant. We're the one's with the need. Who has the metal?
Robilar nods, "Who is our benefactor across the eons?"
Isam conjures up another of her illusions, and a man appears, floating next to her.
Long brown hair flows down his back, across his brown robes.
Poking through the messy hair are black horns.
Its apparent the long hair is an attempt to hide them.
"His name is Acererak..."
Acererak's eyes are golden, set into an open, smiling face.
He can't be anymore than twenty-five.
"...he's an Archmage, renowned for slaying a terrible beast with the help of his allies. He has the star metal we seek.:
"Terrible beast slaying. Sounds like an upright sort of fellow. Is he going to be predisposed to hand over this precious metal in the name of defending the future, though? And while you speak of not changing anything - has this Acererak done nothing with the star metal in the last 600 years, that removing it from the past might unmake?"
Isam shrugs.
"I know not, I'm sure you'll be able to convince him..."
Her eyes narrow.
"...you must convince him. By any means necessary."
She shakes her head.
"The texts I've read only mentions he has the star metal, it says nothing about him after that."
"What beast did he slay?"
"A tarrasque."
Robilar blinks.
Eyes widening for a moment at the mention of the legendary destroyer, The Nameless One hides his surprise by focusing on his weapon, pretending to adjust the firing mechanism. For those that knew him, this was the equivalent of a loud gasp, and shouting.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...the black card...

When Prescott arrives to see Dranga, he is instantly recognized by the priests on duty.
With all haste, they usher him into one of the care wards, where he sees Dranga, secured in a hammock, thrashing back and forth.
They explain the process of removing her cyst, and how further magics to free her from whatever foul magic held her captive had led to the violent convulsions that left her in this violent state.
Prescott was near the edge of literally wringing his hands for lack of contribution to assuaging Dranga's state. "The helping's only exacerbated the situation... this does seem the work of some greater curse than we can easily remove. The stewards of Kithkhanamahr's light are most capable." He looked through the open doorway into the room with Dranga's fitful form. He starts thinking out loud to Winky, soothed by his presence in these sacred halls of healing beside him. "I could perhaps prepare a limited Wish tomorrow... it is the mightiest magic I have available, and I do not know if the high priest here can call for a Miracle. Nor would I ask him to take on such a heavy burden if it were within my power to contribute."
The head healer watches him, troubled, prayer beads clutched in wearied hands.
Prescott paces in the hall, trying not to leave his eyes lingering on the thrashing hammock with each turn. "It could still be fruitless, if I misjudge the root *cause* of her affliction. I feel the magic binding her to that black card must surely be at work here, even as Eduardo has suggested. For better or worse in the long term, returning that card to her right now may amerliorate her condition. But nobody knows where it's gotten to... except for, perhaps..." He completes one of his turns and this time meets the prone dwarf fully with his gaze. "...Dranga herself."
The cleric's face is grim.
"She was comatose when you found her. There might be nothing to probe, and indeed may her worse, Prescott."
"I'm not sure what worse than comatose is, Honored Healer. My spell does not interact with her healing faculties, as your previous ministrations have. Unfortunately, I see the options as few. A chance to learn the whereabouts of this item of hers, however slim, may be the key to her recovery. Or at least stablizing her... she can't go on thrashing like that before her body exhausts itself utterly."
"If she's in this condition, her mind would be dangerous. And of little help, Prescott."
The cleric tugs at his grey-flecked beard, stretching the worn lines of his face.
"Letting her exhaust herself is exactly what we're supposed to do as long as she doesn't get worse!"
He flinches as Dranga gives a loud shriek.
Khamal enters the room, but halts for a moment at the sound of the scream. He looks around and sees the elderly mage with the dwarf as she convulses. He had come here to ask him a favor, but... perhaps his request could wait. Dranga seemed in a terrible condition, one even worse than he himself was in earlier, so he held his tongue and simply walked toward Prescott and stood behind him, not saying a word, but instead letting his presence known by the shadow he cast over the table she rested on.
Still, he could not be silent for long. "How long has she been in this... wretched state?" he asked softly.
"Practically since her friend brought her here and we tried to remove the curse from her. This is dark magic, it may even be beyond a single wish..."
The healer stares through the barrier.
"On one hand, it doesn't seem so bad... We could feed her, and keep her alive... There's just something..."
He looks away.
"...sinister about it."
"And what of healing magic?" He looks to the cleric, and holds out his right palm, face up. "Has it...?" His voice trailed off as he looked back into the other room. Seeing her current state, it was obvious that this indeed was dark magic. How horrid. he thought as he looked down at the pained dwarf.
"The one who came before us said it did no good."
"We have tried ourselves, to no avail."
The druid flexes his right hand. He had a small talent for healing, but if even dedicated healers could not get through to her, then he would likely fail as well. Khamal clenches his fist once, then slowly lets the hand fall to his side. I should not focus too much on failure.
He shares a sideway glance at the mage. Cautious and quiet, he spoke again. "Prescott?" He was wondering what the man was thinking.
"If we do anything to her without knowing the consequences, I believe it may kill her."
Suddenly, there is a flare of hope inside Khamal, and it is reflected in his voice. "Then... we can bring her back, correct? Shouldn't a raising remove the ailments she currently has on her? She would be freed from this curse, would she not?"
The cleric takes a step back, raising an eyebrow.
"No. No, she would not..."
"Magical ailments are persistent, Khamal. They stay true through death. This item she is bound to is potent. It is highly likely these veiled assassins took it with them, as they did some of our other items... though I can't imagine that they know what it is they hold, only that it is worthy researching. Dranga's own questing learned little of its origin." Prescott looked sadly in on the dwarf once more. "If they truly do not know its nature, then Dranga's history with the item lends me to believe it might take it upon itself to return to her, in time. If the separation is truly the cause of her incapacitation, its independent return may restore her."
"So you must find this artifact!"
Khamal notes the man's movement, and glances at him. "I also speak of Reincarnation, cleric." His voice this tme is a bit rough and ragged. He then turns his gaze back at the ailing dwarf. "If she were to die from her cursed body, reincarnation would bring her soul back to this world, but in a different body, one that is not burdened with its previous ailments."
Unless her soul itself is cursed.
After a moment, the druid speaks again. "What is causing all of this?"
Prescott nods, but shrugs in a slight motion of frustration. "That was my intention in probing Dranga's memory. Any clue on how it was divested from her may be instructional. If she secreted it away to keep it from her attackers, that is one line of inquiry to pursue... but I consider it most likely that the Veiled ones took it, following her incapacitation... not knowing the effect it would have on her. Locating them was our initial aim, though we did not know it. It seems they are behind the theft of soulfire happening around the city and perhaps beyond."
"Item? What item do you speak of?"
"They took a ring from Quin, and the card from Dranga. And our soulfire, too, of course. Did they take anything else from you, Khamal? Is there perhaps some larger pattern to their aims?"
"Locating these thieves seems to be at the heart of multiple interests among our cohort, now... more than we knew before."
Prescott's eyes narrow at Khamal's suggestion of reincarnation. "I would not be hasty to return someone to life in another form. It should free her from this card... but the adjustment to a new life is an extreme cost. We would do well to consult with Eduardo before pursuing such measures. And Dranga is not yet deceased... I hold hope."
"Dranga came into the possession of a certain enchanted item while walking the planes, at a site dedicated to our adversary. It has resisted all attempts to remove it. I know little of it, and Dranga dares not investigate it further for fear of unleashing further magics within."
"They took my soulfire, my ankh, and the rest of my gold. To me, it seemed like an ordinary mugging, except for the fact that someone, I presume their leader, specifically asked for my soulfire. And, if I were to make a guess, that was when they likely implanted the cyst within me, since I awoke from that encounter in the ditch. I was moved there and left on purpose."
He shuddered at the thought of that harmful intrusion, and that dark period of time where he had no memories after the battle.
"So you are correct, while it seemed to be an ordinary mugging, it looks that they are beyond soulfire robbing."
"I simply offer the opportunity of reincarnation as a last resort; If there is a way to help her, such as finding or destroying this 'card', then so be it, I will help."
"I do not believe there is any guarantee that reincarnation would save her if she dies."
The cleric pauses.
"...however, based on what you've told me, and I've indeed heard of soulfire thefts occurring in the city, finding this card may do the trick. In fact, it may return to her of its own accord. It could be best to wait."
He frowns.
"Destroying the card could be worse than losing it, and take her beyond death."
"I don't have any strong leads on locating the Veils at the moment. They are exceptionally well-prepared and well-trained... Eduardo's description of them paint a picture of a formidable force. Perhaps after the others return from their investigation, we'll know more. But for now, waiting is perhaps the most we can do."
He stares into middle distance, lost in thought for a few moments more, before realizing that Khamal cames looking after something here. "Were you looking for me in particular, Khamal? Or did you have further need of aid from the healers here?"
The cleric bows.
"Know that our god, and your brothers, are always ready to offer any a-"
Another scream rattles the window.
"Blast, no hope, even for reincarnation?" The half-orc shakes his head. Khamal had only known Dranga for a day, yet she was an ally in this battle, in this fight that everyone seemed bound together to win. Losing even one more person, like Maki or Morinfen, would put them at an even greater disadvantage. He had to help in this instance as much as he was able. He didn't want to lose again.
At Prescott's question, the druid seems to be lost in though as well, but is brought back quickly. "Oh... yes. I require planar transport to another plane for a ceremony to Morinfen, which I must complete within a week. It is a rather lengthy ceremony, and I would require a planeshift back to the prime when it is finished. Thus, I came in search of either you, or..." he looks in the direction of the dwarf, "or of Dranga."
The man sighs heavily.
"But there are more pressing matters at hand. Her life is in the balance between life and death, with very little hope of her surviving." He lowers his head. "The ceremony can wait. This is a much more urgent matter that must be dealt with."
Winky watches the druid go, glaring from his familiar pocket.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...Revenge of the Giants; into the past...

...the distant past, a century after the fall of Nerath, a desert citadel...

Standing, and cocking the StormBringer, The Nameless One slings it over his shoulder and cocks his eyebrow at the others, before striding through the portal.
A storm of blue lightning rages from the gem to the glowing portal.
The bolts leap across The Nameless One, and across the ceiling, and he is gone is a flash of blue light.
Alex stares at his new surroundings in confusion. Was this what Robilar had meant? Was this an illusion? A vision of his past? But that didn't make sense. The woman, Isam, had looked straight at him, she knew he was there, didn't she? But she had refered to all of them as a team, as known associates, while he knew no one in the room but Robilar himself... And she had said the name. She knew of the demi-lich, and they were going to meet him. Through time travel. Was that even possible? Was this all an elaborated defense mechanism he had activated by getting too close to the sword? He remembered fear, then pain, then slipping into darkness...
As one of the men disapeared into blue lightning, the thief shuts his eyes for a moment, trying to make sense of the situation.
Eddard adjust his maces, and flashes a grin.
"Let's go save the world! Yesterday, today, tomorrow! It doesn't matter!"
He strides into the circle, and vanishes in a flash of lightning.
Robilar checks his own blades, and brings his famed horn from his pack, fixing it to his waist.
He claps Alex on the shoulder, "Come on friend, this isn't the first time we've taken a portal to a strange place and time."
"What? Uh, of course," Alex answers quickly. So it wasn't just a vision. They could see and talk to him. He could feel the weight of Robilar's hand on his shoulder. Either this was a very powerful illusion or... he wasn't sure what else it could be. In any event, his instinct told him to play along.
"After you."
Robilar grins.
"No, Nolzur, I insist."
He gestures to the portal.
"After you..."
Alex nods. Just a memory. Just play along...
Taking a deep breath, he steps into the portal.
"Off on our final adventure once again, eh old chum? It gets more exciting each time." He gives Robilar a wink and strides after Nolzur.
"Every adventure is our last!"
He bounds after him in a flash of lightning.
A door slams as Rishad Glimerstone storms into the room.
Isam glares at the gnome, "You're late..."
With only Guard Clovis left, she descends from the dais.
"Go through the portal. The others can help you catch up Rishad."
Clovis rises from his chair. The others were going -- with his help or not. It seemed his choices were two bad ones: either go with them and become complicit in whatever they wrought... or leave them to fate, without his wisdom, healing, and god-given power. Either way, time itself would be violated. The choice was clear.
I'll join you, he says. Knocking his sacred halberd, Penopticon, against the floor boards, he nods, and awaits the bolt that would spirit him to the past.
I hope this Acererack is willing to listen to reason.
Rishad hurries forward toward the portal, examining it with a
Dice Roll:
d20 Results: 20 (Total = 44)
Dice Roll:
d20 Results: 5 (Total = 29)
critical eye. as he does so. Waving her protests off with a ringed hand Rishad sweeps up to the Portal and remarks "This one is certainly interesting. Have a spare you be convinced to part with? Oh and have a nice day, so good to see you too"
Isam buries her head in her palm.
The portal swirls.
Its psionic origins make it difficult even for the gnome to discern, strange symbols making up this new spell.
He recognizes aspects of a Gate and the Plane Shift spell, but little else other than the work of the blue-gem that forms the focus.
Blue-light crackles at his feet.
"Go, Rishad."
The floor beneath the spinning runes creaks, as the wood ages, weakening.
Turning her annoyed gaze from the gnome, concern crosses Isam's face.

...twenty five years after Tomb of Horrors, Church of Resplendent Shards of Truth...

Methuselah grimaces as he continues reading.
"...Isam sinks to the floor, clutching her chest as Rishad vanishes in a burst of blue lightning. Wracking sobs shake her body. In heaving breaths, she lets the tears fall from her face..."
The listeners are held, entranced.
"'...may the gods forgive us for what we are about to do...'"
Eyes widen in surprise and confusion.
"A harsh voice, cruel and cold, whispers in her ear, '...you better hope they do Isam, because I don't...'"
There are shrieks of terror as Methuselah imitates Acererak's voice.
A child peers out from under a blanket.
"W-what does it m-mean!"
A minotaur boy snorts, "Duh! The evil demi-lich probably time-travelled back in time too! That's how he got Isam!"
"I thought Isam was a guy! And why is Alex being Norzul!"
Methuselah closes the book, exchanging it for another entry.
"Isam was always a woman. The nature of certain aspects of his past were editted by him to...
His eyes narrow.
"Keep things interesting..."
He licks a finger, moving to another page.
The thuds of the dead still strike the window.
"Why was Leonar-"
Methuselah glares, silencing the question.
Clearing his throat, he finds his place.
"Robilar had wandered through a portal with Norzul by mistake. Finding themselves in a strange place, the illusionist decided to revert to his pilfering origins once more. He was originally a thief. As they wandered our world, they drew Isam's attention."
"So, when Alex came close, Robilar thought he was Nolzur?"
Methuselah nods.
"Atleast I think s-"
"Is Marros going to find anything?"
Methuselah smiles.
"We'll see."
He takes a drink.
"...the skeins of time scream as Isam's ritual hurls Robilar, Alex and their company into the past..."

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...Revenge of the Giants; into the past...

...further into the past, six hundred years before the fall of Nerath...

...a twisting sphere of blue fire and lightning slams through trees and brush in the copse of trees as great bolts leap down from the sky.
Hundred-year old oaks splinter as their soil is turned to blue glass, falling before the end of the ritual.
The sphere collapses in on itself, leaving dense motes of white and blue light whirling around as it reveals the heroes, crouched on all fours in a shallow crater of glass.
Through the broken tree tops, they see a tower rising in the distance.
The Nameless One spies a forest path that looks like it will run in its direction.
Robilar and Eddard kick at the popping and snapping glass at their feet.
The warriors break through the blackened bushes and torn stumps as they climb out of the crater.
"Isam really worked a number to get us here..."
Smashing at a clinging branch with his mace, Eddard grunts through his visored helm.
"Can't save the world without breaking a few eggs?"
Alex raises to his feet, slighlty dizzy and blinking blue sparks out of his eyes. He steps out of his crater, the blue glass barely crunching under his feet, still wondering just how real this was. He looks around the forest, looking for anything out of place before turning towards the tower.
The world tilts...
...swaying, the trees lean, seeming to fall to the right, as if some god had taken the world, and shifted it to get a closer look.
Only Alex seems to notice as he struggles to maintain his footing.
Robilar stops, and turns around to look at him.
Confusion crosses his face.
"...no, I don't remember this..."
Clovis and Rishad, and The Nameless One the Ranger are still crouched in the crater.
Eddard, frozen in mid-step, is a statue.
Robilar shakes his head, and turns back to the tower.
He points, and the world is righted again, and Alex knows he's the only one who had noticed.
"...the path leads up and curves toward it."
Eddard flips up the visor of his helm.
"The Nameless One, I know you're more comfortable in the city, but would you take the lead?"
Alex begins to develop a head-ache, as if someone were crushing his skull between their palms.
Strangely, the vise-like grip on his head is accompanied by an exhilarating rush.
Shaking his head to clear it, The Nameless One clears shards of glass off of his clothes, and walks forward, adjusting his eyepatch as he examines the ground leading up to the path.
The oak trees are indicative of old forest that can be found in mountain valleys.
Untouched by man, this path had been worn by travel over centuries.
But Alex's analysis is more critical than The Nameless One's could ever be.
Robilar's memory is far from perfect.
The trees, are flat.
And the shadows all wrong when compared to the sun's position to the sky.
The grasses are inconsistent...
The foot of the path, curving away from the tower and down, becomes noticeably fuzzy to him.
None of the other seem to notice.
Guard Clovis dusts himself off and squints up at a younger sun. It didn't feel like the past.
I suppose Acererack is in the tower? Hard to say for sure though. Even if the Tower is his, he could be anywhere, even on some far-off plane. Orox -- I call upon your aid, and that of your lawful servant. By your power I call forth the Zelekhut and charge him with locating the archmage Acererack, and serving as our herald and ambassador.
As Guard Clovis finishes the final word of the calling, the inevitable appears before him.
Great golden wings sproout from the shoulders of the centaur-formed construct.
Hail Zelekhut. I am a servant of Orox, Keeper of Keys, Lighter of Ways, Guardian on the Threshold. My fellows and I have urgent need to speak with the archmage Acererack. By the power of my god, I charge you to locate him, and to serve as our herald and messenger. Once you've found him, impart our most peaceful and respectful greeting and urgent request to treat with him, and return with his answer without delay. In the name of Orox, do you hear and obey?
Robilar smiles.
"Never get tired of seeing those things in action. Beautiful."
The shimmering centaur-like being of clockwork gears, whirring parts of gold and silver, floats before Guard, and bows.
"I hear. I obey."
Its cogs whir in a frenzy as it attempts to locate the wizard.
"Error. Subject proves to be protected by Nondetection or other magical defenses against divination."
Clovis nods. This was not unexpected.
I charge you still to carry out the orders to the best of your ability, with or without the power to magically locate the subject. If you cannot complete the task by the end of your charge, return to me with that news.
In the name of Orox, do you hear and obey?

"I hear. I cannot obey. I do not have the means to locate the archmage Acererak."
Robilar looks from Alex to the construct.
"Don't try the starmetal."
Alex knew there was something wrong here. The shadows were at the wrong angles, making things look flat, twisted and out of place... and shadows don't lie to those who learn about them.
Immediately, Alex crouches, gripping his head. He could feel his brain throbbing, feel as if someone was handling it from the inside... but it also felt... good? How...? What was going on?
"Nolzur? Are you alright?"
Eddard holds a hand, indicating The Nameless One should hold.
"What's wrong?"
"I-I... yes... I think time travelling isn't my thing," the thief lies as he stands up. "Nevermind me, it'll wear off by the time we meet the dem- the wizard."
Eddard frowns.
"Wish I had a potion I could give you, friend. Perhaps Clovis could give you something?"
Clovis gestures.
Then I bid you to that tower.
It remains majestic, above them, beyond the tree tops.
Inquire within about the whereabouts of the Archmage Acererack, and if he is present, conclude your charge. If not, return to me with that news. In the name of Orox, do you hear and obey?
"I hear. I obey."
The construct makes an awkward bow with its horse-like legs and upper-body.
With a crunch of the vitrified soil, it hurls itself into the sky.
Tighler tuts to himself as the zelekhut tromps off. "Always call on others to do your talking, don't you Clovis. Offends my sensibilities as a minstrel just a tiny bit," he says, pantomiming a tear running down his cheek. "Let's be on our way, then. We can catch up with the gear-horse en route. It looks like the path leads this way..."
Robilar nods.
"That's true. If it needs to find you Clovis, it'd just do a Locate Creature on us. Let's see if Isam dropped us in the right place."
Watching the strange horse clank away, The Nameless One turns back to the others. Robilar, why not try the Starmetal?
He shrugs.
"Checking to see whether or not this Acererak has the star metal, could be rude if he has the means to detect when someone is trying to find him."
He looks thoughtful.
"I've always found it prudent to assume powerful spellcasters know everything. Trying to find him is one thing. Trying to find his stuff is another... Its as if someone knocked on your door looking for you, and then tried looking for the treasure hoard the local bartender swears you had."
Eddard sneers.
"Wizards can't do that!"
"Still. Its polite."
"I would disagree, Robilar. It's only rude to go snooping around someone's supplies if we know that the supplies are actualy theirs. Isam's data may be vague, after 600 years of tale-telling. Who knows what the legends will tell of her, centuries hence? It's perfectly possible the starmetal is in Acererak's garden, or in a box labeled 'For Acererak' in some other castle. If scanning for it shows that it's inside his tower - why, that's just the perfect indication that we should go talk to him."
"I'm pretty sure snooping around anyone's stuff is rude period, whether they have it or not."
The Nameless One grunts noncommittally, then shrugs and checks his weapons once more, before setting off down the path, grey cloak swirling.
Robilar and Eddard follow.
"He doesn't say much."
"Its an admirable trait."
Robilar becomes thoughtful again as he watches The Nameless One take off.
"Besides, Steevanof, your tongue is glib, but do you think yourself glib enough to fly that explanation past Acererak if he does indeed have the star metal in his possession?"
"I'm betting our entire mission on my glib tongue, friend. I would much rather our first inroads to this recovery mission be diplomatic rather than combative. This mage bested a tarrasque! Anyhow, it's no falsehood at all to say 'We are seeking starmetal. Our divinations indicated you have it. Can we talk about that?' Shows that we're a little more well-informed than just asking blindly at any archmage's door whether they've seen the stuff."
"I wish I had as much faith in your tongue as I did steel. Don't you think it'd be combative to do such a thing? We lose nothing by taking the time to ask him if he has the star metal. And if he says he does not, and we suspect otherwise, the Locate Object spell would still be valid then. Why antagonize before laying eyes on the Archmage?"
Eddard's voice rings from his helmet.
"I have no wish to anger an archmage. And I trust Isam. She knows what she is doing."
Tighler shrugs. "It cuts both ways, true enough. But saying 'I cast a divination' is a lot easier to explain than 'We've come from the future, truly!'" he says with a wicked grin. "I might leave the mechanics of that to you to explain, fearless leader!"
"I don't think we should tell him that unless its truly necessary."
Walking silently through the forest, The Nameless One scans his surroundings, slowing to let the others catch up. He much preferred the city, blending into it's sounds, it's shadows, tracking a quarry with his wits and guile. Looking back, seeing the others talking, he stowed his crossbow, and began climbing a tree swiftly, to get a better view of their surroundings.
The construct comes screaming through the air, rushing past him in its haste to deliver its message.
"Acererak awaits you above. He bids you follow the path, and meet him outside his tower."
Eddard pumps a gauntleted fist.
"That's good news."
"What are his defenses like?"
"The tower is set at the edge of a cliff, overlooking the town in the valley at their foot.
It floats in the air, its only access from a great, gated courtyard below."

"Sounds like nice digs..."
Reappearing in the clearing, The Nameless One gestures to the others with his crossbow, Trail's clear. then he turns and starts walking away again.
"Great! Let's go meet the fellow."
The path winds and winds through the forested foothills, until the trees become more and more sparse in the loose sail on the heights.
Walking along high cliffs, they see a large village below them.
Nestled by a river, it squats among farms and fields, and copses of trees, untouched by the tower that rises ahead of them.
The cliff narrows to a long stone bridge that comes to a walled-gate.
Ringing a greater courtyard, it is apparent even the floating platform and bridge above which the tower floats is held by in the air by magic.
The Nameless One can see from here that the bridge ends at stout stone gates.
More interestingly, they appear to be opening, and a distant figure emerges, walking across the bridge.
The construct paws the ground, awaiting any instruction from Clovis.
Clovis nods his head to the inevitable.
Thank you for your service, exalted being of law. You have served the Keeper admirably. I give you my leave to return to Mechanus. Your charge has been executed fully and satisfactorily.
The somber Guard follows alongside his companions, content to let the bard's jibes and bluster lie unchallenged. A Guard on duty says what he must, and seldom more.
"Fair well. May his peace, blessings and favor be upon you."
And then it is gone in a flurry of activity, its many parts shrinking in, and compacting, twisting and revolving into a single, cog, until that too vanishes.
Seeing the figure in the distance, The Nameless One gauges the distance and wind velocity, estimating a precision shot, merely out of habit. Murmuring to himself, he casts a simple
Discern Lies
spell, to allow him clarity of vision to discern falsehoods. Then he waits for the others, to pass, preferring to stick to the side of the group, with a clear line of fire of course... He hoped there would be no confrontation with this wizard, but he was nothing if not prepared.
Moghadam awaits them between the twin stone columns that mark the end of the bridge.
Prominent jawed, with sparkling blue-eyes, his dark-brown cloak and robes are at odds with the sword hilt that sticks over his shoulder.
Eddard measures it in his head.
Five hands for the hilt.
An odd length.
Folding his arms, Moghadam gives a warm smile, nodding as they approach.
"Welcome, petitioners! I am Moghadam of Duern, and on the behalf of the Archmage Acererak, I welcome you to his home, laboratory and tower."
He bows his head to The Nameless One, Robilar and Eddard, recognizing them as fighting men, and touches his fingers to his forehead toward Guard, and Rishad.
"...Acererak has no ill-will to a priest of He Who Holds All Keys, though only a shrine to Vecna, Orcus, and other minor gods can be found in his halls, I hope you bear no will to his choice in patrons of secrets and magic."
He smiles at Guard, before making a clasping hand gesture at the gnome bard Steevanof and Alex.
Not at all, Clovis replies. I revere all of Orox's fellows. Few men worship and serve the Keeper, though we all meet him in the end.
The Guard smiles.
"All are welcome here. He awaits you beyond."
He gestures behind him.
"Please, come in peace, and follow me."
As Moghadam leads them through the gate, Clovis reaches into his cloak two times -- first, fingering his rod of enemy detection, and second his rod of revealing. These two friends the Guard had come to rely upon. If any creatures in the vicinity meant his party ill, the first would know and alert him. The second would peel away any illusion, showing him the world as it is.
Robilar shakes his head.
"Not all, Guard. Not all."
Eddard scowls, "Excuse the crypticsm, Moghadam, my friends are eccentrics."
He gives the man a salute.
"May I ask how you know our host?"
Moghadam turns his back, revealing the blade strapped to his back, clad in a banded scabbard of black and white.
"I am Acererak's friend, ally, and architect. This great construction you see before you, and numerous others, are my design."
Saying nothing, eyes moving, The Nameless One tries to gauge the man before them, curious about that strange blade, but keeping to the back, unobtrusive.
Robilar nods sagely.
"Very nice. Defensible."
Moghadam beams as he leads them across the bridge.
"It isn't even close to my finest work!"
Eddard, removes his helmet, carrying it under his arm as he follows the warrior-architect.
"And what would that be."
Moghadam looks back and forth, holding a finger to his lips before he whispers.
"Engines. Great constructions that let the builder commune with a plane, a planet or worlds..."
"Sounds like fun..."
As Moghadam looks to the gates ahead, the warrior makes a circling motion with his finger by his ears.
Robilar shakes his head, and falters a moment, watching as Moghadam raises his palms, and the gates rippled like water, fade from sight in a burst of spray that showers them with water droplets.
A double row of obelisks circle the great stone courtyard, a massive oval, before stone walls.
At the east, north and west ends, red obelisks float five feet off the ground.
In the center of worked stones, stands the man they'd seen in the vision with a small child.
Moghadham, turns back to them.
"How may I present you to him?"
"I am called Robilar Talon... Some know me as 'the Great', but Robilar will do."
"...and I am known as Eddard Blackleaf. I need no titles."
He grins at Robilar.
The Nameless One.
I'm called Guard Clovis.
Moghadam looks to the two gnomes and Alex expectantly.
Acererak and the child begin to walk toward them.
Gazing appreciatively at the magical and architectural feats they strode among, the minstrel answers Moghadam,"I am Steevanof Tighler."
Alex looks around, seemingly admiring the view while desperately trying to remember what Robilar had called him. Nerzul? Nazgul?
"I'm Nolzur," he finally says. He was pretty sure that was what they had called him... Had he taken too long to answer? Sounded to doubtful of his own 'name'? Perhaps he could blame it on the time travelling if necesary...
A few steps behind the group the gnome sorcerer steps forward and with a slight flourish of his hand introduce himself. "I am Rishad Glimerstone, gnome sorcerer extraordinaire. Humbly at your service. Quite a place you have here. I can only imagine what the inside looks like if it is half as impressive as the outside."
"As fine an introduction one can have..."
His eyes dart back and forth as Acererak and the girl meet them just beyond the gate.
In a spray of mist and water, they stand in the courtyard.
"Acererak, I present, the warriors Robilar 'the Great' Talon, Eddard Blackleaf, and Ruorke..."
The archmage smiles is weary.
The vision Isam had shown them was a little younger than the Acererak they see now.
His right arm is bound in strips of bandage covering his fingers and snaking up to his robes.
A recently healed scar is visible over his glowing eyes.
Isam had done them no justice; golden, with red and black flecks, their fire in untouched by the exhaustion on Acererak's face.
Careful stitches have been sewn across his neck, and above an eyebrow.
Bowing stiffly, Acererak smiles across a bloodied lip, waiting for Moghadam to finish.
"...cleric of Orux, Guard Clovis, and Norzul..."
Acererak's other hand, his left, reaches behind him, comforting the young girl peering out from behind his simple, dark brown robes.
Her one eye visible, peering out from behind him, is a bright, icy blue, but the long, shaggy hair is just like his.
Its even longer now, swaying well past his waist, leaving the tip of his horns just visible when the sun bounces of their points.
"...Steevanof Tighler, a fellow architect by his critical eye..."
Mogdaham pauses.
"...and Rishad Glimerstone, an arcanist-like yourself!"
Acererak licks his bruised lips as he brings his bandaged hand to his forehead in greeting.
He flashes a toothy grin.
...am Acererak. What do you need me to kill?"
The Nameless One continues looking all around the surrounding area, eye never resting, taking in the arcanist's strange wounds. At his greeting, his mouth quirked up slightly, but he remained silent, hand resting lightly on one of his crossbows, as normal.
Clovis stands silent. Better to let the glib-tongued Steevenof or brave Robilar, their defacto leader, treat with the archmage. It was a question of tact, guile, and personality at the nonce. When it came to situations such as this, Clovis knew his limitations -- he excelled at rattling dogma, intervening with a wise word, and throwing his rank around at members of his faith. Pleading and bargaining... that was a diplomat's job.
Instead, he simply held firmly to his divining rod, wary of hostile intent.
The child points a finger at the rod.
"What's that?", she drawls in a shy voice.
Acererak peers at the rod.
"That, appears to be a rod of enemy detection..."
He toussles her hair.
"...it also appears Orux teaches his flock to ask for aid while making sure your benefactor isn't secretly plotting your demise, eh?"
The archmage sticks out his tongue at her, and she laughs, ducking back behind him.
Acererak grunts painfully as he folds his arms.
Mogdaham, nodding his head, backs away giving them room to talk.
"What do you want? If you're here about that waterfall two miles south, I do plan to put it back."
Looking slightly askance at his fellows Rishad ventures "I'd enjoy some tips on how to defeat the seemingly invincible"
"Choose your battlefield. The Reverse Gravity spell keeps it in place."
I hope you're not insulted by my caution, Archmage, Clovis says, letting go of the rod, satisfied that Acererack is not a threat.
I've seen exactly that happen. A Guard is vigilant, he quotes from scripture, for many seek to breach the portal.
More apropos than ever, Clovis thinks to himself, given the nature of the real threat they faced.
"We're not actually here for beast-slaying tips, Archmage Acererak..."
Robilar runs his hand through his hair, searching for words.
"Not insulted. Amused at the precedent."
Not what I expected...
"If you don't mind me asking, how did you get your wounds? Was it the tarrasque?"
"Injured myself retrieving a fantastic piece of material called starmetal. Hurt far more than the tarrasque."
Absentmindedly, Acererak holds up the bandaged arm.
"A plane shift and my sphere of annihilation made that a short fight."
"You will forgive a measure of caution, Archmage... we come from a great distance and know little of you beyond your might. We will not dally and hem overlong with pleasantries, for your time is valuable and our errand urgent. It is precisely this starmetal we wish to discuss."
Agreed, enough chatter, time is crucial. the ranger says, knowing Robilar would catch his full meaning.
Acererak stiffens.
"Valerie. Go find your mother. I'll be down soon."
The girl looks up at him, and her hidden eye is revealed, golden like his.
Blue and yellow glowing from the beneath rich, brown bangs.
Robilar shifts in place, confused.
"I think we might be getting off on the wrong foot..."
Acererak's lips press into a thin line.
His peripheral vision fixed on Valerie as she obediently moves toward the great western obelisk.
Clovis's pulse quickens. He knew little of this man, but he could sense that this conversation had taken a hard left turn, that the mission was in jeopardy - was always in jeopardy from the start - and maybe more than the mission.
Quite right. I can see the metal was hard earned, and doubtless you have important plans for it. But please, let us at least explain our need. Hear us out, and I'm confident we'll come to an agreement.
Acererak's jaw tightens, watching Valerie's progression.
"We're looking for star metal to keep back a great threat to the world..."
Robilar speaks in slow breaths.
"...its our only hope..."
Eddard nods, earnestness etched across his face.
"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't important."
Moghadam has frozen, watching Acererak with a confused word.
The archmage snarls.
"Shut up!"
Robilar looks after the girl, and back at Acererak.
"...we just wanted to talk..."
Eddard holds up empty hands, "...just talking..."
"I will explain our predicament from the start... the story may seem fantastic, but I trust you have seen stranger things in your travels, so I will do you no disservice by obscuring the truth of it."
Acererak seems interested, even if his attention is elsewhere...
"I do not know what you know if the creation of our world, and the great wars fought between the Primordials and Gods when the earth was young... the Gods established certain protocols among their agents and the races of the world, to prevent those fundamental chaotic forces from rising up and breaching the fabric of our multiverse again. Part of those protocols involves summoning champions from the varied races of existence, who hold back these incursions and the efforts of agents of chaos. There exist still those in our world who would restore power to the primordial forces, which would open the gates to a war destroying existence."
He nods.
He knows of the primordials.
"We have been called as these champions. We have reached a point in this struggle that we can end the threat, permanently, through all times. We require the potency of starmetal to effect this, though. That is why we come to you today, across many years and great distance. You have in your possession that which can keep the multiverse from being unmade. Would you aid us in securing our future all of our futures?"
"As I said, we are direct because of the urgency involved. I apologize if our brusqueness is offputting, but it is necessary. Hear our situation - it is *your* situation too, in fact. We come from the brink of Chaos, the last bulwark against forces that would unmake existence."
Alex shifts uneasily. He is not sure just how real the illusion is. Something had attacked his mind when they arrived at the forest... what would happen if a fight broke out? Would his body be harmed as well? Destroyed perhaps? Hopefully the bard would convince the demi-lich not to fight...
Acererak watches Valeria reaches the obelisk.
Moments of silence pass and she vanishes.
Taking a deep breath, he nods.
And his eyes narrow as he listens to the story.
His gaze goes from one gnome to the other, resting on the sorceror.
"Moment of Prescience..."
"Acererak, please, events are dire..."
"...Moghadam called you an 'arcanist'..."
"...we need this star-metal to keep the Primordials at bay!"
"...but I can smell a sorcerer a mile away..."
He extends his bandaged-palm, and Dispels the divination, and looks from Robilar to Steevanof.
"...you ran out of 'luck' the moment you brought an 'animal' to ask about the starmetal."
He lets his hand fall to his side.
"I will not give you the star-metal."
Moghadam has come closer.
"Acererak! They need it!"
"And they do not know of what they ask for. The star-metal is mine to keep and guard. I will surrender it to none, not even for a distant future, I will not be alive to see."
Eddard snorts.
"Spawn? From the sky? Like frogs? Green men?"
So you hold the star metal so you can deal with these star spawn when they come?
Acererak shudders.
His pupils shrink as he stares, up and up.
"...there were so many. Singing. And they're still up there, waiting..."
Robilar's face is incredulous.
"You actually believe this?"
"...sent by the baleful stars of the night sky, accursed celestial objects that gaze upon the world with a mixture of hatred, anger, and hunger. The spawn are the avatars of these stars, sent to wreak havoc. Some stars have only one spawn, but others manifest a multitude of creatures. The spawn of a particular star appear only once a year at most, but sometimes a spawn becomes trapped in the world and continues its depredations... We found it. The metal, and the spawn... They just kept coming..."
"So, there's no proof... Except for the starmetal?"
"No. Only my wounds."
I do, Robilar. Is it any stranger than our own tale? But doubtless Acererack can prove what he claims.
Clovis looks to the Archmage expectantly.
"Aliens? Really? Isam has really done it this time. This guy's crazy!"
Acererak frowns, reclaiming himself.
"...they left, after we caught a glimpse of what lay above..."
"Guard! Our tale isn't as crazy as this! The stars are burning balls of gas in the sky! Not evil creatures! Magic sent us back! The primordials are real! This... frogspawn from the sky is him trying to cheat us!"
"...I took the starmetal, and have sealed it in my tower. If they return, they shall return here. I won't let you take it across time and space, scattering it across the world. I tremble to imagine what would happen if they struck multiple places at once."
Eddard. You've no idea what horrors lurk, waiting to devour the Prime... ancient terrors, elder evils, twisted fiends and pseudo-natural abominations. My order does. We stands on the threshold, warding them away so that others might live in peace.
You think these star spawn could not be real? Stranger still is our journey from the future, our tale of utter primordial chaos enveloping the world.

"Our story is also pretty unbelievable as well. His could be perfectly true," Alex says to the party.
"This is a bad joke."
Can they be viewed in a scrying glass, Acererack? Seeing with their own eyes might convince my fellows.
"I don't know. No. I didn't try."
He retches.
"...I buried my friends. Took the starmetal. And vowed to never let it leave my sight. It cannot be destroyed. So I will guard it."
His eyes blaze with fire, and Acererak turns his back.
"...you have come all this way, for nothing."
Making fun of an archmage was never a good idea. Especially the kind that built a place known as the Tomb of Horrors. "You said the stars themselves send starmetal down, is there any chance we could find more of it?"
Acererak stiffens again, and his hands become fists.
The Nameless One snorts So is the metal the threat or these "spawn" of yours? look, if we take the metal far beyond the reach of whatever you're afraid of, then all will be safe. And we can keep the world from being destroyed by a more....tangible threat.
"Taking the starmetal out of time would be the *greatest* protection against its use in your now. I see our purposes intersecting, Archmage. We offer the ability to remove the starmetal from existence as you know it, completely. It will pose no further threat here. Not banished to a deeper plane, not sealed and bound - GONE. Like us, it will have ceased to be.
Alex asking 'You have the doomsday rocks and aren't giving it out. Do you know where doomsday rocks are? We need to find some doomsday rocks elsewhere maybe'... I don't think he's inclined to like that suggestion any. :P[/spoiler]
"You won't stop will you?"
He turns, glaring.
Flames dance in his eyes.
Black, crackling fire.
"The starmetal is too dangerous to be used, and if you seek more, you will only exacerbate the problem... I believe, that in order to truly, save the world. To keep the star metal out of the hands of those to weak to deal with the consquences of possessing it..."
He sucks in his breath.
"I may have to destroy you."
His brow furrows.
"I will not yield the starmetal. And if you pursue more, I will destroy each, and every single one of you, with my barehands if I need to. Spreading the starmetal across time, will only offer them more landing points. I cannot allow this."
"Who are you to decide the fate of our world, across time?"
"I have the power. The responsibility is mine. And mine alone. I am Acererak."
Steevanof simply shrugs and offers a small smile. "We wouldn't be very good champions if we walked away every time someone told us saving the world was a bad idea. And we DO offer a way to make this GONE in a manner you simply cannot match, removing the threat you have sworn to protect the world from at such great personal cost."
"If you shoulder the responsibility to protect the world, then help us. You will not willingly release the starmetal- and I see now it is more dangerous a tool than we knew. But one apocalypse is as good as any other, and we still have a world to save. If we forsake this starmetal, will you aid in our quest? You offered your assistance in destroying whatever foe we brought before you when we entered your domain just now. That request remains the same, even if we cannot achieve it by the method we expected when we arrived here."
Is it even possible? And what if he perishes in our time? The removal of one such as he from the past would be dire.
Acererak turns his back again.
Eddard replaces his helm.
"...we won't have the time to search for the starmetal elsewhere..."
"...don't make me destroy you..."
"...we know where it is..."
Robilar frowns, drawing his famed blade from its sheathe.
"...I am sorry..."

...the Four Ghosts of Human Paragonism, the Second Ghost, Baron Tora Ill or Robilar Talon...

...the Tomb of Robilar, the Graveyard on Elmwood Lane, Thames City

"...for what I am about to do..."
"Huh? What?"
"Did he say something?"
A low moan emanates from the walls.
Head snapping around, Marros looks to the ghost in the center of the room, sweeping the room with his Deathwatch, checking the status of his unconscious friends.
The bodies, spin and twist away from Marros, rising to the ceiling.
Floating, limp dolls, they race out of reach up high to the top of the chamber before they come to a sudden stop seventy feet in the air.
"What in the Nine is going ON!"
Stunned at the sight of their friends vanishing, Marros runs toward the center of the room, Dammit, Toresh is there anything you can do to break them free?
"I don't think I can!"
Drawing his bow, Marros stands firm before the spirits.
"What are you? What is Robilar doing?".
Marros, an Allip is the spawn of madness and death. They don't talk -- except to drive their pray mad.
She looks at her helpless Master, and back at the Allips.
They must be destroyed.
An Allip circles, curving away from them, a white blur of speed, Grace charges the looming Allip, unleashing a mighty smite on the creature, and her fists go through empty air as it moves along.
An allip floats before Toresh, babbling its nonsense before reaching out to touch his forehead, draining his wisdom.
Confused as its energy drain produces no power for its necrotic reserve, a gift of the Dark Tide, it screeches in surprise as Toresh breaks free of the maddening words, roaring in anger.
The final allip, following the curve of the chamber, watches Marros warily.
It's eyes go up to the floating ghost and bodies, cooing as they fall back down, halting back above the floor.
Determined looks are etched on their faces, and Robilar's ghostly head rocks back and forth.
Spinning, Grace surveys the battle. Two allips remained, one closed with the minotaur. She becomes a blur of motion, vanishing from site and instantaneously reappearing behind the menacing apparition, striking out with a brutal, smiting kick even as she appears.
Her kick goes through smoke, striking nothing.
Watching the far Allip, Marros sees it's eye flicker upward, and in that moment of distraction, moves with a flash. Fists crackling, sheathed in purple energy, he streaks towards the babbling figure.
Just before he strikes, the allip surges backward's flying away, letting Marros strike the wall.
Seeing Grace blazing toward it, the allip threatening, Toresh vanishes as she shakes him out of his stupor.
Stumbling, Toresh tears his axe from its hold, and swings out at the long gone creature.
He sees one of the allips, lowering its nightmarish head over Alex's face, and drink deep...
"Keep them away from them! But don't break the connection!"
The allip hovering over Alex's face becomes a blaze of negativer energy, wreathed in dark light as a blow that should have destroyed it instead only leaves it weakened.
Cursing the evil spirits in every language she knows, Grace fishes her wand of Holy Sword out of her blood-stained robes and activates it, transforming her body into a weapon of divine wrath.
Then, in a blur, she appears next to the allip and visits holy fury upon it.
Cursing the evil spirits in every language she knows, Grace fishes her wand of Holy Sword out of her blood-stained robes and activates it, transforming her body into a weapon of divine wrath.
The allip pulls its face away from Alex's its feeding interrupted as it senses her movement, swiping at her.
Holding up a ghostly limb at the wand's light, the allip errs on the side of caution, and launches itself through the floor with a twist.
Suddenly, Marros feels his mind expand, inexplicably feeling strength and power flood him, getting one step closer to enlightenment. Turning, he sends shafts flying at the Allips somehow still standing after Grace's onslaught.
The arrows burn a path around Alex and Grace, bouncing off the stone beyond.
Toresh, looking back and forth, places his hands on Jake's head, giving him the benefit of a death ward similar to the one Eduardo had placed on Grace.
That done, he stomps over to Alex, rummaging in the thief's pack to retrieve the thief's soulfire that he'd received from Therandil the sorcerer.
Springing back to the ring of his friends, Marros stands watch, sweeping the room for any sign of the intruders.
Grace grits her teeth and balls her hands into tight fists as she stands before the prostrate body of her Master.
They'll be back.
The pilgrim crouches, tighter than a bow string, ready to pounce.
Binding the soulfire to Alex's arm, Toresh nods.
"She's right. They will. And we dare not let them break whatever connection this is..."
Removing a set of platinum rings, he slips a pair on Daina and Alex, and shrugs as a connection is made.
A harsh, rough sounding chant rings through the walls.
Marros recognizes it instantly as the hair across Toresh's back and neck stands on end.
It makes them feel cold, in their bones.
An ugly sound, it has no hope or mirth.
A dead chant of the dead.
They chant merely to steel themselves. Stand ready. Barely moving, Marros continues to sweep the room, gazing upwards and arround with his sharp eyes.
Toresh's voice carries baleful sarcasm.
"They're undead. What are they 'steeling' themselves for? You, monk?"
Grinning at the Minotaur, Marros slams his fists together, sending a cascade of black and purple sparks to the floor, resuming his stance.
Two allips rise from the floor, their incessant babbling leaving Toresh and Grace hypnotized, fascinated, and even drooling in the minotaur's case...
His bow, flying to his hands, the monk loses an arrow through the dark folds of one of the creatures.
It flinches, screeching at the arrow, but merely bobs ready.
An allip floats up and down before Grace, and drinks of her wisdom in a hazing blast of cold that flies across Daina's arms and head.
A bounding leap, and swinging kicks slash through the allip, and Grace, startled breaks free of the hypnotic attack.
Between her death ward, and the monk's soulfire, they do not fear any of the fell creature's destructive retribution, drawing sparks from the monk's chest.
Snapped out of her hypnotic revelre, Grace is momentarily shocked to find herself face to face with an allip...
...then she remembers where she is. And why.
Landing solidly, Marros barks, "Grace, finish it!" Leaving the babbling spirit to his former apprentice, Marros moves swiftly and shakes the Cleric of Bane out of his daze, they would need the minotaur, and his magics.
The minotaur's eyes clear for a moment, and he raises a finger, pointing, "Mar-"
And then they dim, losing focus again.
Marros follows his point, and sees Grace surrounded, the allips using the Dark Tide to manifest around her, surrounding her.
They swing at his former apprentice, but she powers through, only to strike air.
The allips were becoming more cunning...
...showcasing more and more of the Dark Tide's gifts...

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...out of sync...

...Dwarven Village...

Quin bows respectfully before the elder before speaking. "Venerable elder, my name is Quin Stoneshield. I am the chosen of Moradin, and I have been lead here by the grace of the Master of the Forge himself. He told me that here I would find those of the true faith willing to fight in Moradin's name."
The dwarf pauses his counting, thinking, and nodding.
Closing up his books, he bows.
"My people are in the middle of moving closer to the city... But when Moradin gives his call, all must answer..."
Quin nods in return and responds "And so they should. I know not when Moradin's call shall be given, but when it is given I will contact you, via either sending or messenger if you will so allow it. I would be honored if you would allow me to see more of your village, as it has been long indeed since I have been among the faithful for any significant duration."
There isn't much.
Many of the homes are empty.
The chief explains he'd already sent much of the clan closer to Thames, with the animals being the last to go.
As he gives Quin a tour of the symbol homes, dwarves, willing to follow him follow them.
They're not warriors.
Capable of defending their homes, but perhaps with training...
The village appears to have been based on its sheep.
Now, many of the homes are packed up, and closed, with people preparing for the big move.
Dwarves, young and old, point and stare at Quin's glowing armor.
Suddenly, a blood curdling scream drifts across the village from other houses.
The chief flinches.
"Ikke igen!"
Quin turns and asks "What is it?" gripping the silver spear he was given earlier. Realizing for the first time it could be enchanted he takes a second to release the power granted to him by his god and as he blinks, his eyes film over with a magically induced glaze, allowing him to see the world through a myriad of auras.
"De døde en."
Dwarves scatter fleeing into their homes as Quin confirms his sphere is indeed magical.
Now sure the glow isn't just a sudden onset of selective hallucinations, another scream drifts toward them.
A loud moaning splits down toward them.
The ghost had cornered more than one...
The chief's face becomes pale, and he nods.
Shouting he directs a family huddling in their hut to move, pointing to the sheep fields below.
With fading light, Quin's darkvision may be a blessing.
Rising into the air above the village, Quin sees a ghostly illithid's tentacles ripple contently over a dwarf farmer's face.
First, he cloaks himself from the detection of undead before invoking Moradin's blessings.
The ghastly creature chuckles happily, and tears the screaming farmer's head apart, devouring his brain.
Dropping the corpse, next to three other still forms, Ss’viss’th, the Lurker in Darkness flies to his next vision, paralyzed by his Corrupting and Draining Touch...
From his belt his axe senses something is amiss and Blesses him as a precaution. Quin looks on in shock as he continues casting and begins moving into range of the monster.
Ss’viss’th drains a dwarf of its life force, snuffing away the spinner's breath.
Looking up at the bright light descending toward him, he sees Quin, wreathed in his luminous armor.
Quin see's the Ghost turn and realizes he doesn't have much time left. Throwing out a hand he unleashed a blast of blindingly white light in the form a Bolt of Glory.
The bolt slams into the earth, missing the ghostly illithid entirely.
Waving its tentacles at Quin, is snuffs out the life of the remaining dwarves.
Snarling, it flies across the street, and disappears into a hut.
Screams follow.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...Revenge of the Giants; into the past...

...further into the past, six hundred years before the fall of Nerath, the courtyard of Acererak...

The famed sword slams through Acererak's heart, the adamant length of steel cutting through the knotted scars left behind by the touch of the starspawn.
His eyes stare in shock at the blade protruding from his chest.
Robilar, tears out the sword, with a flurry, scattering blood in a wide arc across the ground.
A bubble of blood pops from the archmage's mouth as he sinks to his knees, his right arm twitching in shock.
Robilar holds up his hand, deflecting a spurt of blood.
Drawing his blades, Alex strikes at Acererak. Diplomacy was useless at this point and, illusion or not, he was not going to risk letting an archmage attack him first.
Acererak staggers, screaming as the acid burns and snap of sound lashes across his back.
Again, the world tilts.
For Alex alone, the horizontal, becomes the vertical.
The ground beneath his feet, suddenly appears on his left, and he's falling sliding across the ground past , toward Mogdaham...
Bouncing across the stone of the courtyard, he flies past The Nameless One.
Already in motion, hands blurring, leaping sideways, The Nameless One vanishes from sight, only to reappear still moving, LifeSeeker in hand, the ominous bloody hue rippling as bolts streak through the air, the custom bolts clacking loudly as the empty boltpack is ejected.
The bolts bounce of the ground as Acererak vanishes, words of magic on his lips.
"Nihtark Eq!"
Sliding and bumping across the ground as he falls, finding no purchase, his ring of feather fall doing nothing, sees the gates of stone, ripple again...
Eddard cries out in rage as his maces slice into empty air, striking and cracking the stone where the wizard had stood just moments before.
Leaping over Alex, Moghadam throws out his arm toward the doors, and shouts.
The walls surge outward in a rushing torrent of twisting spray.
Swinging his rune blade from its sheath, Mogdaham spins it in a sweeping blur has he takes careful steps backward, watching the primal water elementals coalesce into twin, towering pillars of water.
Flowing, mysterious eyes sweep back and forth over the group.
Bending time around him, Rishad watches the world come to a halt. Rendering himself invisible to sight, the gnome recasts his luck charm, ready for anything by the time his moments out of the loop come to an end. Unseen, he dashes back from the group, looking for the wizard.
Steevanof strides grimly forward to disable those who would stand in the way of their quest, now that it had come to blows.
But the gnome is too slow.
The archmage is gone, and Moghadam out of reach.
Coming to a stop, Alex narrowly misses one of the stone obelisks that ring the courtyard, and crashes into the brightly painted walls.
He lies in the shadow of the greater obelisk.

...twenty five years after Tomb of Horrors, Church of Resplendent Shards of Truth...

The sage looks up.
"What happened to Maki?" Inart asks, clutching his sword to his chest.
"The blackfire spell had been created by the demi-lich, in the Dark Tide, a create who is consumed by the hungry flames, leaves behind a voracious portal to the Negative Energy plane. The force of the portal tears the victim's soul to that dark place..."
He rubs his nose.
"It became apparent, that he set his Victories to patrol the Deep Negative Energy plane, and capture these souls for that purpose."
He holds up three fingers.
"No body. And a soul beyond the reach of any healing magic to bring the barbarian to life. It would require no less than three wishes to bring him back into the world of the living. One to free his soul from the Victory's clutches. Another to recreate his body. And a final wish to put them back together."
"But they don't know that..."
Methuselah shakes his head.
"No." he says quietly.
A loud thump makes everyone jump.
A vampiric ettin had forced its way to the front, and was smashing its fists against the windows.
"...the archmage's hands, slick with blood, leave a trail as he stumbles down the hall," Methuselah reads.
"...blood pumps in his ears, as he makes his way, panting with each labored breath. And a dark voice whispers in the back of his mind..."

"...you're hurt, let me help you..."
"I don't need your help. Leave me alone."
"...they will take the starmetal"
Acererak grits his teeth.
"I said leave me alone."
The voice, cold and hot, laughs, and its seems to echo out of the archmage's own mind, ringing through the hall back upon him.
"...you're still wounded. Weak. Magic impaired, and the defenses aren't ready. You heard the bard, and the thief. They will take it, or seek more, and take it across time... The world will end."
"I am Acererak. With my power, comes responsibility. To the living, to those to be born, and to the dead who gave their lives to ensure..."
He sags, trying to catch his breath.
He shudders at the blood, staining his robes.
"...it would be safe. I will not fail them. And I do not need you."
The voice thinks a moment.
"Hylwohz, tu zaf, uai oly lerws. Hylwohz, uai ka fas fyyk tu wydh... Xis qwos ab uail bleyfk?"
Acererak flinches.
"What of him? He knows what is at stake..."
...wy qedd key. Ofaswyl foty. Ofaswyl rlojy. Ofaswyl poziodsu sa uail lyzhafzexedeseyz... Heh..."
Acererak pales, gasping.

Lowering his bow, Robilar awaits Rishad's casting to carry him closer to the beast, staring at Eddard in horror.
Blood pours in streams from the man, trapped within the suit, his hoarse screams echoing through the visor.
Robilar's own heightened notices The Nameless One, ignoring the sorcerer's prattling, snaping the LifeSeeker out with a casual precision, sending a sheaf of bolts crackling towards the true form of the Architect, stepping forward even as another boltpack hammers home.
Unseen, and with true seeing to part the illusions from the real thing, The Nameless One's bolts fly true...
...Mogdaham, spinning the rune blade in arc circles, cuts them from the air in a slow-motion blur.
Adjusting his aim,
The Nameless One sends a bolt through the man's throat.
Mogdaham's eyes fly open in surprise.
He tries to say something.
A possible explanation for why the sword had failed...
Accelerating himself to great speeds, the dragon`s blood in Rishad`s veins allows him make time appear to slow.
Time travel hadn`t affected this potent spell at all, and all come to a stop.
A small mirror in hand, he uses the extra time to gain a little extra luck, protecting himself from magic spells with an abjuration that would fling them back upon their caster.
Flying among his halted comrades, Rishad casts another spell, drawing on the draconic power in his veins.
His face is covered briefly with a fine pattern of yellow scales. After a moment the scales fade, but the golden radiance remains, leaving him with draconic might.
Swinging his staff of good heart back and forth, in a lazy circle, he opens a portal, intent on summoning allies to his aid.
As the Gate opens to the Golden Hills on Bytopia, golden light is cast across his face.
The solar angels of Garl Glittergold would allow the gnome sorceror to single-handedly engineer their victory, and ensure that the arrogant archmage would have his due from the Lord of Sparkling Wit.
Excited by the image of Acererak's face when staring down the length of the solar's dancing sword, Rishad forgets the capabilities of one of his Shadow Conjurations, and it fails as he attempts to use it to make himself a Greater Dimension Door.
Unsure of where he'd even been planning to use the spell, Rishad decides to give himself an edge.
Using a Shadow Evocation, he draws material from the Shadow Plane to form a Freezing Sphere, holding the chilling globe in his palm as he lifts himself high into the air before the great primordials, ready for when the Time Stop ended.
Time returns.
The Nameless One watches Mogdaham slow to a halt, a small smile on his face as the air above him ripples in angry power, forming dark storm clouds and whirlwinds around the unfortunate sorcerer.
The Gate, shifting from where he'd place it, opens instead just behind where The Nameless One had fallen, unleashing hordes of screeching, bats from the Lower Planes in a blast of heat and darkness.
They whirl in a dense black cloud around The Nameless One and Mogdaham, flying among the obelisks, and past Eddard's held body.
Worse, lightning leaps from the obelisks into the dark clouds around Rishad, and their thunder leaves him deafened.
Ears ringing, he doesn't hear the whirling cyclones descend upon him either.
The rune blade slips from Mogdaham's fingers.
His free hand reaches up to touch the bolt, and his other hand reaches out, catching The Nameless One in the bonds of magic, attempting to imprison him in the stone and earth taken from the Elemental Plane that lie beneath their feet, and meeting the resistance of Isam's time ritual.
...is indescribable. from The Nameless One's end...
The rune blade bounces off its point, slicing a bat in half, as Mogdaham sinks to the stone, blood pouring from his throat, and vanishes.
The Elder Water Elemental held by Guard's command breaks free with a roar as its brother lunges forward, flailing at Robilar with terrific smashes.
Letting his armor take the brunt of the attack
Moving swiftly, Alex activates the spell in his headband, seeing reality as it was.
He sees lots and lots of bats.
Making sure to stay out of reach, he sheathes his blades.
Bats bite and screech around them, making it impossible for even Alex to see the ranger fall to his back, a wizened, drooling and blinded old man.
A flash of gold through the bats and clouds proves to be the gnome sorceror, spinning round and round in the clutches of a the great whirlwind above the courtyard.
Clovis surveys the battlefield, cursing Robilar and Isam both under his breath. The cleric is frustrated and afraid for his life -- and the lives of his friends.
The bats whirling around him don't help.
He sees the warrior, attention torn back and forth between the dark clouds, and the bats, and the huge elementals blow.
The words to his heal spell come out in heaving breaths as he stutters forward, Panopticon raised and ready in defense.
The halberd keeps flailing creatures at bay, but reduces his sight utterly...
Steevanof pulls a rather-too-large mirror from his tiny haversack and speaks a word of power, presenting the glass to the elementals and hoping to turn their own might against them.
Instead, he produces four new bats in thousands.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...out of sync...

...Dwarven Village...

With an expletive, Quin follows and prepares yet another Bolt of Glory for the ghost.
As Quin descends from the sky, still glowing, the shouts of terror and flight from across the village reaches his ears.
A gong, probably the leader ordering everyone to leave, sounds.
He comes to the entrance of the home, and finds the door slightly ajar...
Peering inside, any empty front room, with low ceilings that dwarves like.
A closed door beyond.
Ss’viss’th, leaving the dead behind him, floats through a wall, passing into the adjoining smithy.
The dead dwarves behind him had long complained about the smith's noise and the constant dirt, but now, they complain no more.
Cloaked in invisibility by the Dark Tide, the dead illithid tilts his head, and waves his tentacles, watching the master smith hastily packing his things with the aid of his young apprentice.
His beard wrapped as a belt around his long apron, he doesn't sense the malevolent evil sneaking up on him.
Lifting himself fifty feet into the air, Quin sacrifices some of his vitality to will a curtain of brilliant light energy into existence.
Dropping atop the houses, and across the smithy, it forms a decent ring around and atop the roofs of the houses.
Unaware of the ring, the ghost ignores the light beyond the smithy, swinging his tentacles in a complex loop, causing the master to freeze in place.
The apprentice, confused, moves toward him, curious.
Seeing nothing of interests, Quin moves to the next house, kicking open the door, and bursting the lock.
He sees evidence of a hastily packed and abandoned room.
Whoever had lived here was long gone.
The gong continue to ring its warning signal.
Over its din, and with the distance and intervening walls, Quin doesn't hear the dwarf apprentice cry out in terror as 'something' clamps down on the back of his skull.
Strugging with waving tentacles in his beard, his strong arms flail around and around at a menace he cannot see.
His Master, frozen watches as he goes limp, drained, and slumps to the floor.
Then the tentacle caresses his shoulder...
Quin, framed in the door can see up and down the street, running east to west, still sees people running.
Most of them headed southeast, a general direction toward Thames if they didn't mind going through those hills...
...he could leave the ghost, and ensure the living made it over...
His curtain of light shines brightly in its face, and it hisses.
The master smith, still frozen in place, stares without seeing into empty space, the back of his skull missing.
Clicking his beak, Ss'ss'vth wiggles a bone fragment in his beak, licking it clean.
The ghostly illithid Ss’viss’th lives in its own personal hell, because it has been dead for so long it can no longer remember
what brains taste like. Sometimes it dreams of the grand cerebral feasts of its life, but these visions only madden it further. Cast out by its fellows for some long-forgotten slight, Ss’viss’th now roams through the deep, dark places of the world, searching for hapless creatures that it can destroy with its ghostly abilities.
Ss’viss’th can find eternal rest by devouring a single brain.
Unfortunately, the only creatures that it can target for such a meal are other ethereal beings...
The Dark Tide had whispered to him, giving him the power, to reach out, and touch the living like it never could before...
...it waves its tentacles sadly.
...but it needed an ethereal brain.
Tossing away the chip, he studies the curtain of light, letting the Dark Tide tell him about clerics and their exalted magic...
...it whispers to the illithid of escape, and the chase, and how to thwart its foe.
Ss'viss'th looks back at its handywork, and extends its lifesense...
A dwarven wolf-dog barks at Quin as a pair of families plunge from the shadows, running north.
Held in check by a chain, its muscles strain against the link.
"Not now! Not now, Charles! Let's go!"
The dog barks, shaking its head back and forth in muttering growls, but follows.
A squat, ugly creature, bred by dwarves to follow them in and around the mountains.
Renewing himself from the strain left by his exalted magic, Quin can see no sign of Ss’viss’th anywhere.
But the illithid reaches out, sensing the dwarf, and other flickering life forms, fleeing the village...
His tentacles wave.
The bakery.
In what would pass for an illithid smile, the ghost returns to the Ethereal Plane, safely bypassing Quin's curtain of light.
Above him, the clouds of gold and black are replaced by roiling crowds of the dead, forming a deadly sky on the Ethereal.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...Revenge of the Giants; into the past...

...further into the past, six hundred years before the fall of Nerath, the courtyard of Acererak...[/CENTER]

Tears run down Eddard's face as his chest heaves back and forth against the agonizing spikes.
"...help me..."
Roaring, Robilar swings back and forth, trying to clear a space for him, and break free of the bats, spitting and cursing.
Not to far from him, Mogdaham rolls over, staring, unseeing at the bats above, the bolt still sticking from his throat.
A deafening roar rings through the air as the guardians scream, splitting into a deluge of water, whirling and drowing the screeching bats.
It begins to rain, acid burning the bats with loud screeches, their sheer number offering more than enough cover for the heroes on the ground, who don't even realize the gnome sorcerer's peril above.

The runeblade clatters at Acererak's feet, and he trips over it, falling and biting his tongue.
Gasping in pain, he wipes blood from his lips.
Za, qyon...
Acererak stares at the rune blade, his golden eyes flickering along the serrated edges, and the carefully traced runes, along the elongated grip.
"Dead. Just like I said."
Acererak pushes himself to his feet, wincing as his injured hand's bandages stretch.
"I need to go to the library..."
"You need vengeance! Mogdaham's blood cries out from the ground where it is spilled..."
He ignores the voice.
"...Erase the books..."
"He is the LAST of his kind! Avenge him!"
"...Erase the books..."
Acererak uses the sword to prop himself up, wobbling.
"Cursed Aasimar!! Swy zheddyk zyyk ab swy Ofrydz! Pilzy swyt ofk swyel xozsolk zafz! "
Acererak whirls...
...slicing through the air, teeth bared.
"He was no bastard..."
"SQA XOZSOLKZ uai qyly! Swy zaf ab ofrydz, ofk swy zhoqf ab o kytaf! Qwos o hoel uai toky. Sliy bleyfkz ifsed swy yfk!"
The archmage hisses, but the voice drowns him out in his own head.
"Ojyfry wet, kytafzhoqf! Oly uai za kyplyhes ofk qyon, uai qedd zyy swez swlairw sa swy yfk? Uail KYOSW!?!?! Uai qedd boed, ofk key mizs oz wy kek... Ra, ojyfry wet..."
Shaking his head, Acererak slips the sword into the small of his back, grinding his teeth.
"Ojyfry wet..."
The voice goes quite as Acererak looks to find the way to his library, eyes narrowing.
"Not at all ready, and a cleric of doors no less..."
"Ojyfry wet, kytafzhoqf! Ojyfry wet, Opylylon. Dys ty wydh uai! Rejy uai zslyfrsw, ofk haqyl. Dys ty wydh uai ojyfry wet. Fyfryofpy ez mizs! E pof tony uai zslafr! Ojyfry wet, zsleny swyt kaqf faq. Balrys swy zsoltysod! Let me help you, Acererak. Together, we can bring Mogdaham, justice..."
Acererak's eyes blaze.
"Mercy is justice."
He covers his ears as the voice breaks into raucous, cruel laughter.

The sound of the elementals in his ears, Clovis boldly moves forward.
Plach! Clovis waves his arm before his face, practically choking on bat fur and the scent of brimstone. The Senior Guard deepens his voice and swings his halberd in a wide, dramatic arch over his head, channeling the power of Orox to banish the bats off the Prime.
Bats burn and scream in a wide circle around him, but with their awesome numbers, they are only replaced instants after he clears the zone.
He'd need to do it again...
Not much of a noticeable difference...
Steevanof is properly flummoxed by the tiny vermin filling the air around him, and opens a Dimension Door to take him clear of the obfuscating swarm and back to the entrance of the courtyard.
The door carries him into a clear area, several yards away from the northern obelisk, letting him see the great dark storm clouds that thunder above the courtyard , blanketing any sight of the sky and the tower above them.
Small bolts of light leap from each of the smaller pendulums with loud cracks of electricity.
With no protection, the gnome is instantly aware of his burning skin as the acid from the raging spell above him.
A solid wall of bats blocks his view of the heroes beyond, south of him.
Rishad's ring flashes, and he is swept downward into the flailing and biting bats, torn from the grip of the spinning whirlwinds.
Assaulted on all sides by the flying creatures, Rishad plans his exit.
Robilar, swinging his sword over and over, tries to clear a way, biting and kicking and roaring.
A dull ringing fills their ears as thunder claps over and over.
The trape, going through its paces, roars at them, sending acid down in a biting rain.
Lightning bolts dance across the under clouds that obscure Acererak's tower.
Eddard's eyes whirl over and over in fear...
...it feels like the spikes, piercing into his flesh may be growing.
In utter agony, he tries to scream, but the hoarseness of his voice is lost in his steal containment and among the screeching.
Trying to make his way through the bats, Rishad has no idea where he's going.
He tries to cast a Dimension Door, hoping it takes him to the entrance, but with his ears throbbing and ringing, the spell fizzles and fails.
Stranded, the gnome sorcerer is passed by an elemental who slams into Robilar, and sends him flying.
The warrior smashes across the stone, startled by the attack.
He raps the side of his head, trying to clear his senses.
Bats scream and burn in a wide circle around Guard, greatly reducing the hampered vision, and everyone can see that the two greater elder elementals had become...
Roaring, they burst into a spray of water, becoming eight, if still massive specimens.
Lightning dances above their heads again.
His shield of force raised above his head to protect from the acid, Steevanof the gnome's arm shudders under the force of the bolt that slams into his protection, leaving a numbing sensation all across the limb.
The others don't fare so well as bolts of lightning strike again and again.
A burning smell joins the stink of brimstone, washing from Eddard's armor as he bursts in wet screams.
"Raaaaaaargh! Get me out! Get me out! Get me ooooooout!"
Groping forward, Clovis grits his teeth and swats out with the halberd.
Robilar, flat on his back, sees flashing lights as he waves away more of the bats, his vison swimming from the electrifying bolts.
Unable to see with the bats flying all around him, Alex decides to simple slash at the vermin, hoping to clear enough of them to see what was going on.
His sonic weapon hums, driving them in directions away from, giving Alex room to breathe.
Guard's own Panopticon, turned on him, had become a lightning rod, leaving his fingers numbed on his weapon.
Moments before they're struck, Alex and Rishad notice that a sixth bolt had struck among the bats, becoming a frozen beacon if crackling light.
Spying the open way to freedom, Rishad flies toward it.
The fiendish bats, between the acid, Guards turning, and the terrific blast of sound that crashes into the elementals and the swarms break, flying in all directions.
Robilar snarls, leaping to his feet, sword swinging in a defensive slashing motion.
A flurry of bats, float above the ground, frozen, obscuring something beyond, a quivering strand of light, more lightning still lashes down from the sky, dropping among the creatures, frozen in motion.
Rishad, halting his flight a moment, spins, and launches a pair of freezing spheres at the water elementals, blasting pair in a burst of cold.
His other attack splits, and fails, ruined by the creatures natural resistance to magic.
In leaping bounds, the water elementals becoming a raging, rushing storm of activity.
Rushing toward Steevanof, they smash the gnome off of his feet, dropping him to his back.
The water elemental, standing over him splits, rushing into a pair of smaller water elementals, no less menacing.
Whirling after Guard, they do the same, flanking him and battering his full plate.
Robilar all but disappears in a thunderous, rippling wave or roaring water.
Battered back and forth by wave after wave, his armor and flailing sword offers a modest defense.
The elementals... were multiplying, Guard Clovis realized. That couldn't be good.
Knocked unconscious, Steevanof's eyes close, and magic dies on his fingers.
The Guard utters a single word of divine might, the holiest in his lexicon. The word, he knew, would banish the creatures back to the plane of water.
But it doesn't rippling through the elementals with no affect.
The archmage had obviously gone to measures to ensure that his extraplanar guardians were hardened and native to the plane.
Surprised, Guard launches himself away, to the edge of the courtyard, avoiding any repercussions.
Bleeding profusely from cuts and acid burns, Alex reaches into his belt and drinks a potion, hoping to close some of the wounds while he looked for a way to escape the rain.
Flat on his back, Robilar keeps fighting.
Through a wave of water, he screams at the acid splashing onto his face, and cries, "UP Greeeeeeeeeyhawk!"
Acid leaks into the armor, and Eddard screams as lightning ripples across the storm clouds.
Rishad's eyes narrow, and the gnome grunts, spitting acid.
Wiping his brow, he focuses, forming the words, and accelerating...
Time Stops, and Rishad pushes water droplets and acid out of the way...
...the next escalation of the spell above them would make it all but impossible to see.
Flying around the elementals, and leaving a trail of distended water droplets behind him, the gnome isolates Robilar and Eddard in the the storm.
He slashes away thick hailstones as large as his fist.
Some bats, twisted by their origins in the lower planes still remain frozen in flight.
The strange collection of bats and snow and acid, connected by two frozen strikes of lightning draws his eyes, and makes his head hurt.
He moves on drawing Shadow energy to form Force Cages to protect his friends.
Hopefully, they wouldn't question the creations, and would be protected despite their illusionary nature.
The cubes of force completed, Robilar still frozen, sword swinging over his head, Rishad flies past the grim statue of horror Eddard had become.
Mogdaham's body, scratched by acid, and marred by acid and the hailstones, is almost unrecognizable.
Steevanof, knocked unconcious by the battering blows of the water elementals, lies prone, his head bleeding profusely.
Hands raising again, he settles another cage of shadow energy around him.
This could work.
Tongue between his teeth, Rishad eyeballs the east side of the courtyard.
Guard and Nolzur.
The Dimension Door carries him between them, and he drops another cage around Nolzur the illusionist, Alex in the memory.
Bequeathing himself with Arcane Sight, Rishad flies toward Guard, the cleric holding up his halberd to ward away the hailstones, soulfire glowing through the storm.
The gnome grinds his teeth, and runs his hand through his cropped hair.
He'd carry Guard to Steevanof's side, and the cleric could heal the bard, while the others waited out the storm.
The sorceror decelerates coming back into the moment of things, reaching out to touch the cleric, and bringing him to the bard's side.
"He's injured. Wait for me."
And then he's gone, leaving the cleric with the bard, and the elementals railing on force cage.
The shadow magic wouldn't protect Rishad; he knew it wasn't real.
With Nolzur, Robilar and Eddard safe from the hailstones and lightning, he could escape, and wait it out.
Arriving at the gate, Rishad catches a biting bolt of electricity, as he flies from the courtward, bursting out into sunshine beyond.
The tower is utterly obscured by the rippling clouds of darkness above the courtyard.
Hailstones bounce off the inexplicable cage of force that had arisen around Alex, protecting him from the burning rain, and the lancing bolts of lightning he'd seen, but through the barrier, he can see the storm has whipped into a frenzy of acid and hail, obscuring his vision beyond.
Unknowing to him, Guard is in a similar position, bound by force walls, made from shadow, with the bard.
The cleric can readily see the gnome's plight, bleeding profusely across the floor.
Robilar, pressing his palm against the wall, watches in interest as the swarming elementals batter the force cages, but transfer no energy through it.
The tower could fall right now, and he wouldn't feel a thing until the ground upon which the cage had been afixed collapsed beneath its weight.
"Magic... Is, fantastic..."

...the Four Ghosts of Human Paragonism, the Second Ghost, Baron Tora Ill or Robilar Talon...

...the Tomb of Robilar, the Graveyard on Elmwood Lane, Thames City

Cursing the weak wits of the Cleric, Marros kicks off of him in a stunning backflip.
Grace! Willow Dances Among the Flames, Now!
Landing hard, he lashes out at the ghostly spirits closest to him, in a shattering crackle of force energy , pressing them hard, shifting and dancing from target to target, and destroying two in blasts of negative energy.
Grace watches Marros fall for the bait.
Abandoning their prone allies, she watches Toresh, eyes glazed and unfocused, pushed by the force of Marros kick stumble into the babbling presence of an Allip Lord.
A dark expression of the Dark Tide, a burning wreath of negative energy floats over its shrouded head, and darkness seeps from the depths of its face.
Flanked by ghostly warriors with shimmering bastard swords, the Allip Lord floats next to Robilar, its gaze roving from one still form to the other, drifting across Toresh, and about the chamber.
It makes their skin crawl.
The ghosts, armored, and faces covered in misty veils, float before the Allip Lord, above Eduardo and Daina.
The terrible screeching sound continues.
Grace feels a brush of cold on her neck, and realizes one of the remaining allips had tried to strike at Marros.
Babbling nonsense it vanishes even as the one that had lured them appears.
It tilts its head, and then Marros and Grace are obscured by a whirling cloud of yellow, poisonous gas.
The cloud kill spell vexed Grace.
She resolved to escape the cloud, but not before unleashing holy fury on the allip.
Red Sun Rises at the Dawn!
Unable to see, her attacks hit empty air as the creature pulls away from her. drawing her deeper.
Following its babbling, Grace lands a strike, and uncaring whether the creature is destroyed or not, Grace disappears in a flash, reappearing outside the cloud, punctuating the fluid movement with a sharp trigger finger punch to any enemy who dares threaten her friends.
Her blow lands in the allip's chest, prompting the ghostly warriors to bring their bastard sword down on her in fury.
Grace's chest burns, and she tastes copper as she dodges the swinging blades.
Dodging the ghostly blades, Grace is entirely unprepared for the Allip's touch on her forehead, draining away her mental vitality.
As her vision clears, the ghost are still present, the allip, gone into the floor.
Grace sees Alex, twitching and in spasms, blood and foam pouring from his mouth and nose.
With bounding flips and turns, Marros bursts from the cloud.
Even as he turns over and over, the allip's mad ramblings follow him from the crowd.
The Allip Lord gone, one of the ghostly warriors is his favored target.
His fist slams through its essence, and it bats away further blows with its blade, leering at him.
Its gaze, empty sockets shifts from his face to the lone torch, burning on the ground, the sole source of light.
Laughing, it locks its blade on Marros' wrists, sparking steel from his bracers, while its fellow becomes a whirling dervish of ghostly steel, slashing at Grace before floating backwards.
The sword slices the air over Robilar's still form, cutting across her chest, and slashing down across her face.
Smashing her across the face with its shield, it beckons with a skeletal hand, beckons, daring her and Marros to follow as it drifts over Eduardo.
Alex still jerks and twists, in the throes of some kind of attack.
The ghost maintains its hold with Marros, and the monk sees the Allip Lord rise next to Toresh, and touch him, draining the cleric's wisdom.
Pushing the monk away, the ghost its speed enhanced by the dark tide, swipes at the writhing cleric too, breaking his will in blasts of cold and corruption.
Come, you cowardly wretches! Face me!
The ghosts are impassive, bastard swords and shields held ready.
Bounding among them, Marros strikes into the Allip Lord with a flurry of blows, that only make it stronger.
Flaring in negative energy, its maddening stream of words only grows more and more intense as it swells.
Following Marros from the cloud, the allip swipes at Daina as she circles past around Robilar's ghost.
Toresh, beating his fists to his chest rages, limbering his axe, and staring down the allip.
His mouth and words are slurred beyond understanding.
The minotaur's steps are slow, careful shuffles, and an eye twitches, before rolling up into his head.
His mind, a broken ruin.
Toresh! Grace calls, trying to break through to what's left of the Minotaur's shattered psyche.
Peace is a Lie. You must fight. Turn the undead. It's your only hope!
Gasping for breath, she tumbles back prepares to attack any creature that makes a move against her or her Master.
Throwing his head back, Toresh screams.
His axe becomes a blurring ring of steel, flying over Marros' head to bring down his vengeance upon the allip.
Then he begins to hit air, as his concentration wavers.
Blood drips from his nostrils.
Babbling, the allip skims along the floor, scooping up the torch, and its flickering light.
Waving the fire back and forth, its holds it out under Robilar, and screeches as the sword sucks up the flame, plunging them into darkness.
"...no light... No sight..."
Toresh laughs.
The minotaur screams, batting away something brushing against him.
Fear touches him deep.
The Allip Lord slips away from Marros, leaving him with Toresh, in the dark.
"Defender of the Circle!"
Senses heightening, Marros leaps and twists, into the center of the whirling bodies, coming close to the glowing sword. Landing with perfect balance on one leg, he holds his body poised, fist outstretched, bow gripped tight, foot ready to strike.
White Sun Blazes At Noon.
Grace's arms are fluid as she completes the kata. As she strikes the final pose, her body blazes as bright as the sun, and she is wreathed in a holy light.
The allip who had put out the torch floats among the bodies, and Toresh, a dark look in his eyes, stares at Grace, a look of contempt on his face.
Toresh... was he possessed? Mad? Who could say?
With a snort, Grace tumbles away from the minotaur and channels a blast of positive energy into the menacing Allip.
Fists still blazing, she vanishes from sight, reappearing behind the Allip, and lashing out with a blinding chop.
The Allip bursts in a blast of negative energy as Toresh spins his axe hand over hand, and drives the curved metal through Eduardo in sweeping cuts.
Face grim, Marros let's fly, arrow arcing towards the possessed Minotaur, seeking to halt his Axe.
Snarling, the ghost bats down the arrows with a swing of the minotaur's spike, black gauntlet.
The pilgrim darts forward, her momentum multiplied by the urgency of her need, and places a stunning blow at the base of the minotaur's skull, just above the spine.
Continuing his motion with his fist, Toresh catches her fist, pushing her back and down with crunching force.
With a shove, he releases...
Grace, stand ready for the Ghosts.
Stepping lightly, Marros' fists and feet blur into motion, trying to subdue their wayward ally, without hurting him.
Toresh, possessed, doesn't hold back, slamming his fist into Marros' and halting his stunning fist.
Moving around the bulky arm, Marros strikes twice, before forcing to give ground to the axe, using the space to kick Toresh under the chin, snapping back his head in a burst of blood.
The minotaur is still a moment, his neck twisted at an odd angle.
Then the powerful muscles twist, so Toresh is glaring at Marros in an utterly sickening fashion.
His mouth twists.
"Coward? Follow if you daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare..."
His arms flip and twist around, snapping in the wrong direction, and Toresh drops to all fours like a nightmare crab, scuttling from reach into the yellow-cloud of poison death.
A babbling sound drifts from within.
Round and round, Eduardo and the others spin, Grace moving with sinuous, sweeping steps to keep up.
Seeing his arrows fly true brings the monk no joy, this time.
The arrows sail into the darkness, but the indication of life and undead within does not go out.
Grace continues circling with her Master...
Marros's eyes indicate a change from life to death.
He had spared the minotaur his dark fate.
The Allip Lord's babble is the cleric's death dirge.
"Bane grant you valiant battle, cleric." he whispers, as he shifts back to his defensive stance, standing opposite Grace.
The allip's babble has ceases.
And the chamber is silent, save for the swish of the rotating adventurers.
As the words ring off the stone, the unholy sight granted by his dragon eyes alerts him to the disappearance of the undead within the shifting yellow cloud, leaving one within.
Holding position in the midst of his circling allies, Marros murmurs to Grace, They have gone again, stand vigilant.
Grace circles with her master, ready to engage the enemy.
Inexplicably, the door barring their way out, slides open.
Glancing at the door, Marros maintains his vigilant stance. Not even bothering to tell Grace to hold her ground, he knew she would not leave her Master's side.
Grace casts a suspicious glance at the opened door, opening her senses to the surrounding evil...
Loud shouts drift toward them from the entrance.
Someone was coming.
The shouts ringing through the air, and the song of the allips...
Not the allips.
Another pair of creatures had taken over the dark chant...
The voice ringing down toward them is familar...
The man, pumping his fists, slides into the room, with Sedrick, a bastard sword held awkwardly in one hand, slung over his shoulder.
Harley pants.
He looks exhausted.
He looks up, confused.
"Boy, am I glad to s-"
Harley straightens.
"What's going on?"
Grace wipes a torrent of sweat off her brow and gestures to the room at large. We're under attack. Allips-- ghosts!
Sedrick looks back toward the exit.
"We have zombies!"
Close the door. We'll deal with the zombies when my master awakens.
"How? We didn't open! it! Get ready! They're FAST!"
Grace nods and lifts her fists, still blazing with light.
Nodding to Harley, Marros realizes their situation had grown more dire.
Watch for Ghosts, I shall try..
Tapping his vest, he murmured the command word, and spoke the words.
SendingRobilar, Tomb is under attack from spirits within and zombies without. Close door, we stand vigil. I humbly ask permission to wield your famed blade.

"It, is no longer mine. No longer mine to give permission to wield. If you are warrior enough, take the blade. Face its guardian."
"Marros, that cannot be a good idea."
Sedrick nods.
Marros waves the others back, his face determined. The Undead press us from all sides, our friends helpless and dying, Toresh fallen. Something must be done. Bowing respectfully to the glowing blade, Marros reaches out, and places his hand gently on the Sword.
No! Grace calls out.
But it's too late... the monk had already grabbed the blasted sword. Did he not remember Eduardo's warning? Was it blind panic? Desperation? Or just stupidity? Who could say?
A dead, gray, blur dashes into the room, and Harley groans.

...the dark blade of bloodied ice...

Everyone seems frozen to Marros.
A strange zombie, poised to strike, hangs in mid-air among his friends., fists crackling with black energy, and a wild, feral expression across its dead face.
"Nobody can see or hear you but me.", says a small voice.
He can move.
A small boy, in simple brown robes, with long tresses of hair, stands next to Grace.
"And of course, vice versa."
"I am Acererak's Unwillingness to Compromise."
The boy points to the sword.
"Robilar's blade of black ice, is supposed to be a normal sword, covered in black ice. Not what I have made it into..."
The blade had indeed been a dark metal that sucked away the light, and now, the red tinge of blood on the ice across the metal is evident.
Eye's moving between the strange zombie, and the child, Marros' takes the strange shift in stride. Clasping his hands together, he bows respectfully to the boy.
I am Marros the Wanderer, may I ask who you are?
Raising an eyebrow, Marros holds himself very still at the mention of the Lich. His powerful will allowing him to control his emotions, temper his fear, and focus his mind. Indeed? What have you made it into?
The boy's hand reaches out, and Marros feels his heart clench and tighten.
"An instrument, of my will..."
The organ twists as the boy wiggles his fingers, shifting from left to right.
Marros sees spots.
"Your friends won't even know what happened to you, when your smoking heart appears in a disembodied hand."
Then I must be unwilling to compromise. Marros attempts to resist the child.

...before the Gates to the Iron Tower, Dis, the Second Layer of Hell

Acererak tries to ignore the heat.
His vision fades, in and out of darkness, as stares at the crumpled form beyond the bars.
The smell of iron pervades his nose.
The rough metal bites at his knees through the thread-bare and burnt robes he'd scrounged from the dead.
The wizard hadn't even made it to the Tower.
Hadn't even come to meet the the Arch-Duke of Dis...
He'd met his end, urinated upon by the devils Titivilus and Gedek, laughing as they cooled his smoking corpse.
"Too late..."
"Surely, you don't believe that..."
The Arch-Duke sits upon an outcropping of iron, letting fine, dark red robes, hang down above Acererak's head.
In the form of a middle-aged man, the devil chuckles, sliding down, pipe in hand.
Acererak stares.
"...that last part, when he screamed for his mother! Friend of yours?"
"A student."
"Consorted with devils, eh?"
Breathing deep on his pipe, Dispater releases a noxious cloud, wafting choking fumes over Acererak's head.
"Ah, our students... We build them up. And then, they pervert our ways. Take what we taught them-"
Dispater grins, leaning against the gate.
"He told you he had a debt? Too big, thought blasting his way to the ninth would solve his problems."
"A dead fool."
"I should have stopped him when I had the chance..."
Dispater puffs again, adding a tail and horns to his form.
"Wouldn't have changed a thing."
Acererak looks up, and starts.
"You were playing both sides... I recognize you!"
"Aaaaall part of the plan..."
"...playing both sides..."
"...to guarantee victory..."
"...its succinct..."
Another, deep breath, "Yes."
Raising his eyebrows, Dispater enjoys the feel of the pipe across his teeth.
"Yes, it is. So, tell, me how does it feel watching your apprentice violated by mag-"
He looks around.
No sign of Acererak.
The archmage lowers the invisibility spell.
"I beg pardon."
Dispater studies him.
"Was it worth it? Coming here? Seeing him fall for yourself?"
Acererak cannot look him in the eyes, but his voice is steady.
"Yes. Thank you."
Dispater lets out a short laugh, obscuring himself in smoke.
"You're welcome! Here in Dis, I entertai-"
He stares at the spot the archmage had occupied, and shakes his head, breathing in deep again.

The young boy waves his fingers before him.
"The only way, you can take that sword, and live, is to accept who it comes from. Me. That single compromise. And its yours. Or die."
And the Sword, this extension of your will, what would it do to me?
The child adjusts his hair, reaching for unseen horns.
"Choose. Compromise. Or die."
Lowering his hands, he sticks his hands into the small dark robes, and sticks out his chin defiantly, golden eyes blazing.
Staring up at Marros, the aspect's face is unreadable.
No malevolence or gloating, or even ill will.
"I will not."
Calmly bowing to the child, Marros speaks Very well. I make my choice. teleporting behind the child, Marros hands flash out, vainly trying to bring down the Lich's aspect, searching for one more moment of perfection.

The burnout zombie, dances among them, slamming its fists in a dense blur, across Sedricks face and ribs, before passing to deliver two kicks to the side of Harley's chest.
Spinning, in garbled grunts, it kicks Grace in the stomach as she shifts to block the creature from access to her Master.
Doubled over, wheezing for air, the zombie rolls over her back, landing on her otherside, after smacking her across the back of her head.
Moving with an incredible burst of speed, it smashes into the wall at the end of the, where it begins to bash its skull, over and over.
Harley curses.
"So, fast."
There is the scrape of stone, and Sedrick points to the door.
Shuffling and grunts can be heard, and Grace sees glowing eyes, crouching down, and reaching out with dead hands, trying to squeeze under to no avail.
Heads, and hands, pop off as the stone block seals them inside once more, crushing the burnout zombies followers.
Still snapping, the heads will and try to roll themselves, with little progress.
Marros remains frozen, eyes unseeing, his hand affixed to the blade.
Sedrick, tearing his eyes away from the zombie, points with his stubbed hand.
The blade was bleeding.
Grace can hardly believe the speed of the zombie. She steps into a reactive position as she continues to circle next to her Master.
Harley reaches over his shoulder, and procures a bow.
Thud after thud, the zombie continues to smash its skull against the stone.
Marros stands, body stiff, the blade in hand.
Nobody is close enough.
Turning the bastardsword over his palm, he drives the dark blade of bloodied ice through his heart.
It shimmers a moment, become a rift in the universe, and he disintegrates.
The sword's point bounces of the ground, spinning, and slamming back into the ground, beneath Robilar.

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...blood bonds...

...Frostfell Mountains...

After the meeting with the others, Khamal, still a bit paranoid about the last encounter at night in the city, takes leave of the place and immediately takes the form of a golden eagle and flies high enough in the air to reach the clouds, then flocks south, away from the city. Once the city is at the horizon, he lands on the ground, letting his bare feet touch the earth below. Then, he allows the earth beneath his feet take him away. One moment he is at the outskirts of where the city is, and the next his is standing ontop of the summit of Mount Kulrath, the tallest mountain peak in the northern peninsula.
The Blood Rain has followed him here as well.
The great peaks are stained red, its snows melting in scabbed slush.
The smell of copper assaults his nose.
He reverts to his normal form and then protects himself from the cold, but there is no need.
The pervasive heat of the Dark Tide has made the even these cold mountains into a relatively comfortable clime.
Troubling its reach, the strange, black and gold clouds blocking out the night sky and stars above.
He looks around the area, making sure that he is indeed alone.
Surrounded by red, it certainly feels that way.
Then, after everything is taken care of, he sits down in his meditative stance and prepares his intended spell.
Sending: To RuhRuh, it is Khamal, your blood brother. Morinfen has been slain. I ask for your help once again. What is your location?

"Khamal! It's good to hear from you mon! I'm here at the Frostfell. Wanted to step by home a little you know? ... Just Killed a Mammoth on the way here Hahahah"
Khamal couldn't help but be relieved at hearing a friendly voice. He takes his time in casting the spell, once again.
Sending: To RuhGood to hear, brother. We should meet. Where exactly 'at home' are you? In the caves, or within the forest?

"Just entered the caves mon. What's troubling you? "
As the pungent, hot wind whips around him at an incredible speed, Khamal stands up from the summit and takes a long look at the twisted, crimson landscape. Rugged peaks that could impale, and almost a mile area of slush and pools of blood.
The once-deadly cliffs, that had held the potential for avalances, are still masses of stone and blood streams.
The air, is thin and hot.
It hurts.
Taking a toll on him, he tears his eyes from the open sore the Frostfell had become.
Finding a bare patch of earth is easy, and he goes.
He reappeared several feet from the cavern entrance. Looking around at first for any odd signs, Khamal then walks towards the cave, his hands cupped around the sides of his mouth. "RUH!!"
Stepping out from the shadows of the cave wrapped from head to toe with a thick mantle made from a polar bear's skin. Ruh stretches his arms wide open saluting his old relative.
"Brotha! You sure got here fast! "
Khamal smiles widely and lets out a boisterous laugh. He opens his arms and gives his cousin a great clap on the back with both hands. "How have you been, brother?! It's been ages since I've seen you last!" he says happily as he greets him.
Khamal sees a pair of glowing yellow eyes open behind his cousin, a dead clawing hand, wreathed in fur, black ice reaches toward him.
The crunch of scabbed slush tells Ruh that he hadn't been alone in the cave...
The claws slash across the half-orc's back, opening his flesh to the bone.
Ruh turns around looking at the Wendigo with eyes filled with rage.
" Oh Bad move mon... "
Taking out his spiked Chain with a swift Movement Ruh attacks the Wendigo with a wild swing of the chain!
As Ruh is attacked, Khamal thinks fast. He touches the arm of his cousin, causing his body to grow rapidly in size, hoping to make him more formidable.
Roaring, the wendigo sweeps him from his feet, dropping him to the bloody slush with overwhelming force.
Blood spatters from Khamal's arm as the creature reaches for him and batters his hand away, causing the spell to fail.
Ruh clicks his Gauntlets together and unleashes a barrage of attacks on the Wendigo!
Even as negative energy seals its previous wounds, the snapping chains open up new ones.
The wendigo's claw lunges at Ruh, slamming him off balance, and the spiked chain whips across Khamal's face.
Closing its claw around the barbarian's head, the wendigo tears off flesh in a bloody slough.
The half-orc's neck, exposed, is an open target, too good to pass up.
Razor sharp teeth plunge into Ruh's shoulder, ripping out a large chunk in a spray of blood.
The druid snarls uncharacteristically, and takes the form of a dire polar bear.
Lifting himself off the ground, the druid crawls away, leaving an exposed back to be raked open by the frigid claws.
Blood streaming down his white fur, he then defensively casts a spell that strengthens his overall physique.
"You god damn Monster i'll finish you off right now!! "
Ruh spins on his heel turning the chains into a devastating tornado of steel aimed right at the Wendigo's face!
The slashing links open up large rents across the wendigo's skull, revealing bone.
Shrugging, it returns the favor, clawing and slashing at Ruh with bitter coldness.
A massive head rises from the snow, completely white, save for the black nose and the many bony protrusions that sprouted from its head. The dire polar bear climbs up from the snow, it teeth barred and eyes metaphorically blazing. Standing up about eighteen feet tall, the massive bear roared terrifyingly at the now puny wendigo as it stood before it, so much that a strong gust of wind blasted from its mouth, pushing those in its path.
Ignoring the blast, the Wendigo looks up at Khamal, its mind a whirlstorm of activity.
The Wendigo is not a fool.
And with the Dark Tide, constantly whispering into its mind, its capabilities...
...are limitless.
So, it fights dirty.
The Dark Tide tells it of druids, and their wildshaping...
...how a druid's magical possessions, merging with its form, cease working.
With a heaving grunt, it drags up the chunks of flesh it had chewed off of Ruh's shoulder.
...the Dark Tide tells the Wendigo about the gleaming wilding claspses.
Golden chains that would allow a druids items to continue being active.
Khamal's third eye, a small crystal with a wide, flat facet gleams on his forehead.
Letting its cheeks balloon out, the Wendigo sprays, showering Khamal with regurgitated blood, its claw lashing out and up to the gem that magnifies his wisdom.
The power of the item lost, the spells that he'd held prepared go with it.
The Wendio laughs.
Still a formidable force, ooking down at the beast, the dire polar bear raises an arm and brings it across the wendigo's body, trying to push it aside.
The Wendigo yields, pushed back, leaving it open for another chain slashes across its chest.
Ruh once again unleashes a barrage of attacks with his chain over the undead monster's body!
The wendigo barks, "Mrrrrrrrrrragh!"
Giving Ruh a swift kick to the chin, the barbarian's chain is off again, flying toward Khamal the polar bears.
The eye of awareness looped around its claw, it holds up the limb to ward of more slashing cuts with the looping links.
Holding up the arm, the wendigo's cunning continues to be evident as he accepts another gift from the Dark Tide, unraveling the spell Khamal had used to make himself so formidable...
...the druid's comfort in the form makes the spell particularly powerful, and the wendigo grunts, understanding it had just caught a magnificent break...
Snarling, the wendgio screams, its dark eyes glowing, as its shape wavers, becoming a whirling column of wind and blood snow.
Making an orb of force between his palms, Khamal roars, hurling the ball through the whirling cloud of wind.
The Wendigo screams in anger.
The Dark Tide...
Ruh takes a step forward hoping to put an end to the creature with a last barrage of attacks
...is not kind.
A foot step on snow?
The link slashes through the whirlwind, and the wendigo cries out in anguish.
But the Dark Tide doesn't answer.
Spinning faster and faster, the links keep coming, taking advantage of the Wendigo's error in judgement.
A groan on the off the stone of the caves?
The Dark Tide's pawns rise and falls, to rise again.
The Wendigo whines, slashed through with the sharpened spikes of Ruh's whip.
Finally, it bursts in an explosion of dark, negative energy.
Spinning the chain in a circle around him, Ruh only lets streaks of the negative energy through, where it rips wounds across his chest, upper arms and face.
The zombies filling the cavern lick their lips, and yawn, staring at the open sores with hunger in their reddened dead eyes.
The Dark Tide also uses bait.
As the zombies appear before then, springing a trap, Khamal reaches out to Ruh, and quickly hopes that this plan works. He places a powerful paw on the barbarian, and as the undead try to disrupt and foil the spell, Khamal makes it, just in time. Khamal nabs his third eye with a quick motion just before they 'port out of there.
The zombies stare at the empty spot, and shrug, turning into the deeper parts of the caverns.
The duo appear approximately eight hundred feet from the cave, out of the open. Khamal takes a deep breath as he towers over the half-orc.
The heat of the Dark Tide makes Khamal sweat in his furry form.
This was strange.
It really was everywhere, right down to the sinister black and gold clouds above them.
" What are we gonna do now Mon? "
Ruh asks to his blood brother while still clutching at his wounds...
The wind, heavy with the stench of blood, and still cold, whips snow around their feet.
"This is troubling..." the druid says as he gasps deeply. A lot of things were wrong here, but Khamal was pressed for time.
"But first, we need some distance." He reaches out to Ruh once again, this time teleporting a far greater distance.
Its all the same, what should be frigid ice and blistering cold, is a relative chill, with the taste of iron in the air.
After the jump, Khamal surveys the area, making sure that they are relatively safe.
When everything is cleared, he reverts to his original form and slaps the shoulder of Ruh. "Blast it all. Brother, next time, make sure that you're not being followed. I'm all for excitement and adventure, but with recent events I could use a peaceful moment of rest once in a while. You are in one piece, correct?" He laughs heartily. "Because I do not plan on going back there anytime soon. It's a shame that that creature and it's friends live there, but that cave has been abandoned for years... it's inevitable that other predators would wander in and settle in the space."
The druid examines his ally. "You're bleeding quite badly..." He looks around the area, then back at Ruh. "I can heal you, but I need you to sit or kneel somewhere on the ground first."
"I dont know where they came from Mon... It was deserted when i first got here..."
Ruh sits cross legged in front of Khamal waiting for him to close his wounds...
"Where should we go now Mon? It's not safe in this place... "
Finding a rock, it is rather easy for Ruh to brush away the slush, and be quite comfortable.
Unusual in such a dead place.
"Well it's over now. Here, I'm going to wrap you within a cocoon for a few seconds. Do not be alarmed, as it will heal you of your wounds. Now then..." Khamal places his hand on Ruh's forehead, and a white web of silk spreads from his hand and spreads over the barbarian, the fine threads laticing over the half-orc, weaving itself over its body, forming a perfect pupa.
Inside, Ruh's entire body glows a yellow-green light.
While this is happening, Khamal kneels as well and places his hand over his heart, allowing the fine silk threads to climb and weave themselves over his body. Soon, he is healed as well.
After less than a minute, the two of them feel the fine silk become loose enough for them to shrug off the threads. Khamal emerges, his wounds fully healed. He looks at his blood brother, giving him a hand. "Ready to go, brother?"
With Ruh's approval, Khamal nods back to him. "Ok then. The shortest route we need to take is over water... so we will need some assistance." He steps away from him, his arm held out but close to his body. A small whirlwind whipped around otop of Khamal's hand. Soon after, a small whirlwind, about ten feet high and seven feet wide, began to grow from behind the druid.
"Do not speak with what I'm about to conjure, brother. If he had his way with you, he would kill us all."
Khamal turns around, his back facing Ruh with his front now facing the mini-whirlwind that rages on. The summoning was almost complete. He extended his hand, causing the the miniature twister in his hand to now roar to a full gale, just like the real force of nature before him. After the winds whip to an almost deafening roar, he clenched his hand with such force that both twisters were immediately blown apart and dispersed with such force, sending gusts of wind in all directions, causing their clothes to flap violently in the wind. Khamal stood defiantly in the wind.
As the wind dispersed, a large creature stood before the two of them.
"Greetings," the druid said with a wicked smile, "...servant of elemental air..." He stands strong, keeping his eyes fixated on the figure before him.
The djinn performs a backflip, landing on his hands, before springing back to his feet.
Grinning jovially, he opens his hands.
"What can I do for you?"
Khamal looks upon the genie with uncaring eyes, and when it grinned he narrowed his eyes in return. I should not draw this out too long.
"Djinni," he calmly spoke, "I command you to share your powers over the wind and sky. Bestow upon us the ability to become one with the wind! Grant us flight, and the ability to travel rapidly throughout the skies..."
The druid then shouted.
"Jag bjuder dig!"
The genie winks cheerily as he works air between his fingers.
"And might I ask who do I owe my latest trip to the Material Plane too?"
Wind ripples, tossing snow around their feet in a bloody blur.
"Two wind walks, coming up!"
Ruh stays silently on the side . Watching as Khamal talks with the magical creature... He had never been one too keen on magic... but if it helped them get out of that place...
Khamal paused.
He really shouldn't be doing this...
"I'll give you my name... if you give me yours."
The magic settles upon the two half-orcs, and the djinn smiles broadly.
"I'm known as Zephyhr! The Whispering Gale!"
The djinn grins, tugging on his golden earrings, with rubies the size of goose eggs.
"You need a huff, I'm the guy, to give you the puff! Guar. An. Teed!"
"Good to know." He analyzed the elemental for a moment, then spoke. "The name is Khamal Scalebane," he said quietly, "and now, that is all I need of yo..." the druid paused as a thought entered his head. Glancing at the his surroundings, Khamal looked back up at the elemental with a wary look in his eyes. "Actually, you wouldn't happen to know why this land has changed so drastically, could you? Being composed of the pure essence of air, and being one of the primordial elements of nature, surely you could feel what's wrong here? The sudden heat which has caused an intense water vapor being released into the air? What is the root of this problem, which seems to affect all of the material plane?"
The genie shrugs, looking around.
"The Nine if I know, there's always something wrong about you mortals and your world. Its dirty."
Creating a hankerchief of air, he wipes away at his arms, and actually seems a little surprised.
"...what have you meatbags done to your dung-heap?
Holding the hankerchief over his mouth, the genie feigns the need to breathe.
"How would I know what's wrong with your world? Its made from the stolen creation of the Primordials! Raped and sullied by the 'gods', so you ants could crawl all over it. Has nothing to do with a fantastic specimen such as I."
He gives Khamal a wry smile.
Khamal takes the insults with little note. Time was short, and his power over this creature would diminish soon, causing it to leave this plane and be transported back to it's home.
"Know of anybody who would know?"
The genie mutters something under his breath.
The djinn sneers.
"I said... '...stupid turd-dwellers have dung in their ears! How in the immortal Elemental Chaos would I know what you've done to this mole-hill of a mountain, Scalebane!'"
Khamal sighs.
"I guess not."
Honestly, he wasn't expecting much from the elemental. They're too far detached from this world to notice, and even if they did know, they'd probably refuse to help a mortal, especially if it was to help this world, the world they so very much want destroyed and ripped apart, returning it back into the Elemental Chaos where it belongs.
The druid begins his dispelling, which would return the genie back to its plane.
"Farewell Zephyr, the Whispering Gale. Many thanks from the two mortals upon this prime."
"Nice meeting you Khamal! Enjoy the wind walks!"
Spinning rapidly, he sprays snow and ice around, but doesn't hit the druid and his cousin, leaving them free of the bloody mess.
He stands there for a moment, his amber eyes just staring at the unsightly ground around him. This land is dying... but who was killing it?
Khamal turned to Ruh.
"Brother, we can fly now, so let's hurry. I need your assistance with a major task, but first, I must get us out of here."
He clasps the barbarian's hand with his own, causing the two to disappear from sight.
Along the way, Khamal would need time to rest, about two hours, but after that was finished he would continue onwards, using whatever was left of his arcane talent. When that was spent once again, he would wildshape into a Dragonhawk, allowing Ruh to sit atop the druid as he flew into Thames City.
"Why did you let him talk to you like that mon! Whatever that was he deserved a Kick in the behind!"
Ruh asks while following Khamal around.
Khamal looked at his cousin calmly.
"Because, brother, he is not indebted to me. He owes me no favors. I can draw him through the astral sea and manifest him onto the material plane, where he must obey my orders... but he remembers what happens here, and my control is only when he is here on the material. If he dies, no problem, as he'll reform later on his home plane in perfect health. But when my small modicum of control is over, he is whisked away back to his plane."
"The problem with many extraplanar beings is that they have teleportational travel. The planes are massive, and they can innately teleport or travel the planes if need be. Genies, those elemental beings graced with intelligence and strength, they can slide through the planes and end up here. They, if pissed enough, can track us down and kill us, even going so far as to bring their allies to murder us for some petty argument. Remember, never call an Efreeti a hothead or you'll get scorched."
He hovers in the air, and slowly rises up toward the sky.
"I despise them, but I do not plan on making anymore enemies anytime soon."
He hesitates as he looks at the ground.
"This world is already in trouble. I don't need distractions, unnecessary violence nor fueds with extraplanar beings. I'm fine with getting this lich business over with and retreating to a quiet forest to live the rest of my days out in solitude."
Ruh looks at Khamal with a doubtful expression.
"Lich Business? What Lich Business?"

...a skull rises from the deep...

...the Black Lodge...

With a careful breath, Etienne blows excess sand from the page.
Holding up the final page of the translation to the oil lamp, he smiles.
Laurel, curled into a ball, sleeps on their bed behind him, holding one of his shirts close to her face.
Resting the parchment, he stands with a slow, measured movement, so as not to wake her.
He reaches for the portfolio, making sure his hands are clean of ink.
Flipping to the back, he slides the completed sheet inside, and shuts the thin, red and green book, with a blue and white spine.
With a careful hand, he prints a title across the cover, and signs his name.
That done, he removes his glasses, and places the portfolio in one of the priority folders for Eduardo's review.
Laurel had organized a system for their packing, using starts, from one to five.
Tongue between his teeth, Etienne centers five stars on the folder.
And then another.
He holds up the completed work again, uncaring of the rain and storm outside.
"This just might be my greatest work yet!"

The Eldritch Giant Chieftain stares at the collection of Black Veils below.
His eternal friend, Pi̱dó̱ntas, stands next to him, while their guest, the Fire Giantess Shaman, Thermóti̱ta.
"It was wise of you to rebuff Kostchtchie's herald. This new demon lord, is a pawn, and has fallen from our ways..."
"We shall see..."
Thermóti̱ta raps her staff impatiently on the floor.
"The insects are not the Prince of Wrath's doing."
"And yet, they are enough..."
Pi̱dó̱ntas crosses his arms, his muscles stretching bands around them.
"You have Xanatos' portal in the rear of the cave!"
"Όχι αρκετά καλή. They will find it and follow us."
He levels a loot at his friend, and smiles sadly.
Pi̱dó̱ntas only grins, nodding.
"Does he talk?"
"Never, that's why we're friends."
"Pi̱dó̱ntas and I will stay here. We will hold off the insects, and destroy the portal and catch up.."
"I cannot lead your tribe. I have others in the mountains to visit and council on the Prince."
The Giant bows, the shifting runes beneath his skin glowing and fading.
"I know Elder."
The Black Veils, occupying the cliff and valley floor, occupy Pi̱dó̱ntas, and he tries to count them.
"Sfyri̱latí̱ste, you can't mean to let one of your fool sons lead..."
His hand beckons.
"I approve."
Alunu is in armor, her helmet polished, and the light of their brilliant weapons constantly dances across her eyes.
The Frost Giant reaches out, taking her hair in his great hands, massive fingers that could crush boulders. gently brush her face.
"Σ 'αγαπώ."
Alunu looks down, a moment, and blinks.
"I understand."
"All will be well."
"Yes Elder, I trust in the Primordials."
"And we trust in yo-"
"Σ 'αγαπώ.."
"Σ 'αγαπώ."
Pi̱dó̱ntas turns, smashing his fists together to create a cascade of sparks.
Below, a scouting Black Veil looks up, and stops.
He waits moments, then reports.
In a surge of strength, Alunu pulls her father close, casting aside her helmet, and burying her head in his chest, "θυγατέρα, είμαι τόσο περήφανη για σένα. Χαρά μου. Η καρδιά μου. Επιλεγεί μου.."
"I won't let you down."
"You have honored me. You honor me. You will honor me."
They pull apart, and he looks into her eyes.
Η μητέρα σου θα ήταν περήφανος για σένα.
She nods, looking away.
"Aenor! Φεύγουμε! Μεταφέρουν έξω! Μαλάκες και τους αγκώνες! Ας προχωρήσουμε!"
As she walks away, the Fire Giantess speaks words of magic, conjuring the eldritch cloak of leadership to adorn Alunu's shoulders.
Alunu stops.
"Go. You wear it well."
Turning his back, the Eldritch Giant, let's the Shaman get to gathering her things.
"Go, Chieftain."
"Die well, father"
"Lead long, Chieftain."
The Chieftain smiles, descending into the cave.
The Eldritch Giant grins at Pi̱dó̱ntas, "We've face-."
Pi̱dó̱ntas makes a sound of disgust, and the Eldritch Giant laughs.
"Today is a good day to die..."
Below, a Black Veil waves the first line forward.
He screams at the top of his lung.
"Today, is a good day to riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise!"
"...as good as any other."
Jogging, spears bouncing across their backs, the Black Veils shout back.

Soraya stumbles through the Black Lodge, using a candle to light her way.
The woman's eyes strain to adjust to the strange night, and jumps at every crack of thunder.
Sipping from a clay cup, she stares out at the storm, leaning against one of the large pack crates, marked "Handle With Care".
She hadn't shown it, but she was glad about the relocation to the Central Peninsula.
Her family was there, and coming from a sailing family, she thought she could be of particular use to the Death Spotters.
Access to merchant cogs, and discounts on loading fees, and a baked pie for the harbor master.
Soraya smiles to herself, a grotesque death mask in the twisted shadows of the sky and the candle.
She lifts the cup to her lips, and the window explodes.
The wind throws glass across Soraya's face, and she screams.
Stumbling backward, covering her face, she trips over a potted plant from the Dural Mountains, a wizened miniature, someone had left out.
The candle tumbles into the great, and there's flare of flame.
Moaning, Soraya curses as she cuts her hand on broken shards of clay, her blood mixing with the water and biting soil.
The wind tears at her hair, and Soraya screeches.
Narrowing her eyes at nature's unwelcome fury.
She ignores the cutting bite as she cuts herself on more pottery shards, limping toward the kitchen as fast as she can to fetch a pitcher of water.

Black spears point to the black and colds above.
The Black Veils stares across the mud, between the warpted statues at the stronghold of Xanatos.
Tanzine bares her teeth, and points.
The hunters, spears in either hand, javelins strapped to their waists surge forward.
Blood flies with each step.
And they roar.
Forming an arrow, the Guards, in heavier armor, spin their longspears, and follow.
Tanzine can't help but smile.
The archers count of thirty feet, halt, and form a line, sticking their arrows into the mud.
They pull back, and draw.
She nods as a beat passes.
And another.
Then another.
The guards, and hunters, killers with poisoned blades moving among them, close.
The giants roar, calling on the primordials as weapons of blazing light surge into their palm.
The one time chieftain bats down arrows, and spins, smashing a Guard's head clean from its shoulders.
His battle brother, becomes a hail storm of light, his fists snuffing out light, only letting a single spear crush break his defense, before shattering the man's spine with a kick.
Working together, they form a meatgrinder, and black veils die.
The killers, vanish, hiding behind magic, maneuvering for positions.
A flash of blood through the air as another guard falls almost reveals their presence.
But with the rain, and the heat of battle, it is hard to notice.
But Tanzine notices.
Her eyes narrow.
She raises a fist.
A Guard, propping the butt of his spear on the flag stones, props himself into the air, planting both boots into the face of Pi̱dó̱ntas, earning a grin.
The eldritch giant, drops to his hand, shattering the spear, a kick, and snapping the warrior's neck with a twist.
Right again, he bats away a kick, and beats his chest.
Taking better aim, the hunters take careful aim.
No arcing, direct fire.
They aim for the heart.
The eyes.
And finally, results.
The shafts sink to the fletching, cutting deep.
But the relentless slaughter can't be halted.
The killers, driving longspear, and spear blade into exposed flesh.
Twisting the weapons, they only receive death as a reward.
Hammer of light descends, and breaks a spine, and fists sheathed in the gift of the eldritch, rip a man in half.
Tanzine's fist opens, and she signals the second wave.
Clear of enemies, the giants look at one another, and will protective fields into place, drawing on the power in their blood.
Racing through the statues, they dive among the archers, dashing down arrows and sending archers flying.
Guards, eyes glaring out from behind their veils grimace, crouching, and tensig to spring.
Tanzine crouches as well, propping her spear.
Touching two fingers to her temple, and her thumb under her jaw, she speaks into the veil.
"Dead Base? This is Red Spear. Targets have escalated. Requesting escalation..."
She listens to the response.
"Respectfully, I imply that Red Spear will be terminated in that time. I respectfully request deployment of the Prophet, as well, as the Death Delvers."
She waits again, watching longspears, devoid of magic to steel their black edges, shatter on the skin of eldritch giants.
The Black Veil stands.
"Yes, father. His will be done. Will stand by."
She lowers her fist, and the Black Veils break off, scattering in all directions, firing arrows and hurling spears in retaliation.
"His will be done."

"Etienne!", Laurel shouts, jerking awake.
The smell of burning paper fills her nose.
Rolling off the bed, she crashes to the carpet with a curse, biting her tongue.
She looks for the smell.
The desk.
Standing carefully, she brushes her hair from her eyes, and puts her finger to her lips.
The wind tugs her hair, pulling the burning smell away a moment, and Laurel looks down at the loose shirt, stained with droplets of blood.
"Damn, Etienne! Open, in this weather?"
She moves to the window, grimacing at the wetness of the carpet, and looks out into the rain.
Torchfire dances on the distant hills.
"Damn. Who would be out on a night like this!"
The wind drives tears from her eyes, and she grits her teeth, ignoring the billowing pages behind her as she forces the window shut, with a loud slam.
Tumbling down onto her bottom, Laurel curses again.
Beneath the desk, the burning smell is stronger without the wind.
The door, ajar, casts a shadow, pointing into the darkness beyond the Etienne's chair.
Scratches, left by the legs, look like the clawings of some chained beast, glowing eyes lurking in the shadow.
Laurel blinks, rubbing tired eyes.
There was a glow.
With a steady hand, Laurel reaches under the desk, stretching, and letting her hand curl around the smooth stone plate.
The paper envelope, falls from the blackened tablet, burnt and ruined.
Holding it up, she mouths the words, 'black fire'.
The tablet is warm, and hard, with straight edges.
It sweats, leaving beads of...
...she rubs her fingers.
Yes, cool water.
In the strange light, Laurel traces her finger around the diamond at the center of the tablet.
Etienne's black fire.
She tilts it, and laughs.
"Look like an ey-"
She jumps, dropping the tablet on her foot.
A loud bang.
"The door?"
Again, insistent, reverberating through the Lodge.
She doesn't bother to look out the window.
She can't see the entrance from here.
She considers letting Soraya get it.
"No, I'm gonna give someone a piece of my mind tonight..."
Laurel gives the tablet a kick, and it slides under the bed.

“Many have gazed into the abyss, but how many have the strength to meet its stare when it gazes back at them?”
Tanzine ignores the woman, watching the eldritch giants rip a man in half between the two of them.
Belig the dwarf, slams his fists together, enjoying the carnage.
Everia grins, “Tell me Tanzine... Do your Black Veils fear death?”
The woman's eyes narrows at the use of her real name.
"Why are you here?"
“Skull City has agreed to help me complete a ritual that was interrupted by this Dark Tide, and has promised Belig...”
She gestures, with thing fingers, to the stout dwarf, “His fellow ferryman will be avenged.”
Tanzine blinks.
The Prophet towers high over them all, standing at nine feet.
His terrible fullblade, with the remains of slain ghosts drifting across its surface is sheathed.
"You're here because Skull City has work for you to do. Go and do it, or the Prophet shall speak of death tonight."
Belig steps away, not in fear, but to get a better measure of the this lich.
Untouched by the rotting phenomenon that touched some undead, Belig suspects the Prophet is newly arisen...
...a domed helmet, with a snake skin patter rests above a wide forehead, into which burning, black eyes have been deepset.
A dark cloak obscures his arms and armor.
Everia sneers.
“Do the dead fear the rain?”
Tanzine snarls.
Everia waggles a split tongue past her blackened lips.
“No worries, Black Veil Tanzine. Prophet. We will hold up our bargain. Come Belgin.”
The dwarf leers, raising his black shroud over his head.
Following Everia's purple through the rain, he raps the wooden shield on her arm, and points to the stronghold.
“Yes, you lead the way.”
Already forgetting them, Tanzine looks up at the Prophet.
"Can you kill the giants?"
"We shall see... The Prophet foresees that much."

Laurel shivers in her shirt, and she instantly regrets not getting dressed properly.
Light from the front hall.
The wood is cold and sticks to her feet.
Laurel freezes, looking down at her toes, and realizing she's walking on tip-toe.
"Why am I whispering?"
But she doesn't dare raise her voice.
No answer.
Careful steps carrying her closer, and she peers through the shadows.
"A lot of good being one sixty-fourth elf..."
Laurel swallows, and forces herself to raise her voice.
Brushing her hair from her eyes, she stands straight.
"Soraya! Who's at the do-"
The is a flare of heat, and Laurel's eyes widen as Soraya falls to the Hall floor a charred mass.
The blackened husk seems to stare at Laurel, accusing, and she chokes back a sob of fear.
Framed in the door, a thin-framed dragonborn waves a taloned hand at her.
"Fekiikiri, mablik shashti. Svaklar ui wer raelgil di wer ebon ibafarshan?"
Flames dance where is eyes should be, and a black diamond is tattooed on his forehead.
Bouncing a flail over his shoulder, he steps inside, and the floor smoulders.
Laurel is already running, weaving through the dark lodge, leaving the chosen of Imix standing in the dark.
Looking down at Soraya with disdain, he picks at his teeth a moment.
The cultist turns, beckoning to the elementals waiting outside.
"Search the house. Kill everyone. Find the map. And we find the cystal."
The earth elemental cracks, an acknowledgement of command.
Pulling back a massive earthen fist, weighted down by the rainining blood, it tears apart a supporting wall, shifting inside.
The air elementals, chittering and hissing, follow surging inside, and up the stairs.
A water elemental, sinuous and fluid, waves around the cultist's feet.
Smiling, he bounces the flail across his claw.
"Everything burns."

...a positively mind-flaying experience...

...Harsk Mountainbow...

Harks Mountainbow is a harsh-looking dwarf with far too many weapons, but he is determined to see an end to the ghost that had plagued his people for the better part of two winters. Adjusting his crossbow under the watchful eye of axe and spear hefting warriors, he swtiches the hunting bolts he uses to bring down mountain deer for lethal man-killers.
His heavy brow furrows, and he gestures to the eldest of the warriors, a dwarf with smore silver than black in his beard.
"Dette er Praden, han er vores bedste tracker, og kan vise vejen ved mørke!"
"Jeg kender alle genveje! Harsk har de gode øjne."
Paden smiles, and points to a pair of red-headed dwarves, with bright greens eyes.
"Twins. Flint og Spike Rageson, mine nevøer."
The pair grin broadly, and make deep sweeping bows, holding dented, conical helms.
They know how to fight orcs, and ghosts, long awaited are a welcome challenge.
Harsk uses a bolt to point at the bright-eyed girl in armor, holding a spear over her shoulder.
Her hair is twisted into thick coils, that fall down her studded leather.
Charms have been hung around a fox tail belt.
"Lucrenna er deres nabo. Hun er også en, der foreslog, at flytningen til Human byen, for et bedre liv."
Lucrenna gives a modest smile.
"It is an honor to meet a true chosen of the Forgefather. En sand ære."
The final dwarf, absent-minded and tall for his kind steps forward.
Lucrenna smiles, and raps his breastplate with the butt of her spear.
"This is my cousin, Fast. We just call him that."
Fast beams, "Det er rigtigt! Det er, hvad de kalder mig! Hurtigt! Fast!"
Harsk makes a rough grin, looking from them to the cleric.
"De bør gøre for hvad du har planlagt, ja?"
Having enchanted the ranger and warrior's weapons, the dwarves are pretty pleased.
Bouncing spears in their palms, and holding them up to the light, they marvel at the immediate difference.
On the forest road, darkvision and the light of Quin's armor is all that offers them the ability to see in the strange darkness.
Paden, in the lead, points to a crop of rocking with a crown like top.
"Vi kalder det kongens tur."
Lucrenna stumbles suddenly, cursing.
"Noget, mørke, ramte mig!"
"Hvad mener du, 'mørke'?"
"Det var ikke mig!"
"Hit dig?"
"Måske en flagermus?"
Quin turns and says "What was it you felt?" as he withdraws a few costly spell components before turning his enhanced vision out to the surrounding area.
Quin feels the illithid's tentacled mind, trail slime across his psyche...
"It felt like something sl-who would beart-ache name of thers ther wish'd. To die, or inst give us rath and swear to sling after beart-ache proud mortune..."
Lucrenna's eyes glaze over, and Flint's eyebrows rise into his helmet.
"What? Did you fe-"
Spike buries his battle-axe into his brother's back as Fast and Harsk join in.
"The mind arrows of thus retus may consience the himself mind the insolution!"
"Spike! Brother! Hvad laver du!"
"Ther hvis Bourns af somenter inst af resolence til at sove i gread o'er Béart-smerte whethis hjerte-smerte måske selv kunne..."
Praden rubs his head, "Hvad i Mya's navn..."
He looks to Quin, terror and the light of the cleric's luminous armor splashed across his face.
"What's going on!?!?"
Mumbling, Harsk sees the cleric getting some distance.
His mind instantly clears as Quin brings down some sort of protection.
He smiles.
Moradin had chosen wise-
"Gods above!" Harsk cries out.
Illuminated in a burst of cold, the ranger watches a cone of heat-draining ice surround the cleric, driving onto the antimagic field, and leaving the ground covered in frost.
Ripping out his crossbow bolt, he swings it from side to side, scanning the trees.
"Something is out the-"
"...the proubles us and the spurn awry, the question is he name when we have..."
Startled, he sees Lucrenna, standing stock still, babbling nonsense.
Flint, runs toward Quin, longspear and shield held high, sliding to a stop beside him, blood still dripping to the ground.
He looks confusedly for his brother.
Still in the antimagic field, the dwarf clutches his axe, shaking a little.
"I-I don't know what happened!"
Furrowing his brow Quin begins chanting, throwing out his arm as he finishes, pointing near Fast. He then calls out "You have all been affected by the ghost's magic. Stay near the nose shaped rock near Fasts feet and my magic will protect you. Do not wander father than ten feet from it. If you can move as a team, come with me. Otherwise find cover."
The dwarves not caught once more in the ghost's enchantment nod, and as Fast lowers the bow he'd had aimed at Praden, smiles wearily, and shakes his head.
"That was clo-"
There is a crunching sound, and brain matter and frozen chips of bone fly into Quin's beard.
Fist sized holes have been left in Flint's head, and he sinks to his knees.
The dwarves, frozen, don't move for a moment.
Staring as their friend crumples to the forest floor.
Harsk, and Spike, terror written across their faces, run to join Fast.
The ranger scoops up the rock, holding it tightly in his hand, as he stares at the frozen mass of ice and ruin that is Flint's head.
Lucrenna and Praden continue to babble incoherently.
"...Jehero qes ceciesas cepa: Re ehemulih sasiru rosatul lemese. Leye cabaruf rat demecug mep tewu ca exehehac ha, ho edov lonebey mi hel gapakis?"
"Licic sit egoninol dayece: Com mefe qonu aru. Fup fuyega iemate horuna sar ledoh ari! Ari! ARI!"
Reaching out with his healing magic, Quin saves Flint from death, closing his wounds with a rapid spell.
Pushing himself up from all fours, Flint smiles weakly.
Using a Greater Restoration Spell, the cleric cleanses the warrior of the negative energy Ss'viss'th had bestowed upon him.
The illithid, following the instructions of the Dark Tide, reveals himself next to Lucrenna, who screams nonsense.
Flint, white-faced, throws down his spear and shield, sprinting into the forest.
The old dwarf, Praden, clutches his chest, his eyes rolling back into his head as he breaks for the trees.
Clutching the stone close, Spike, Harsk and Fast watch in terror as the ghostly illithid slashes down on Lucrenna as she turns to flee, covering her face in frost.
Stumbling and sobbing, she leaps from the path, running as fast as she can.
Hissing, the ghost steps aside, entering the antimagic field, and allowing his incorporeal nature to be negated, catapulting himself back to the Ethereal Plane.
Grinning, he picks another victim.
Waving his crossbow, Fast takes a step, but Harsk holds him back.
"We don't dare! The foul magic!"
Moments pass.
And the night is still.
The dwarves, huddled around the rock, look back and forth at the forest, weapons pointed at the trees.
Quin makes the decision.
"I can't possibly save them Harsk. This is the ghost's domain, tonight. I can prepare special stones to keep us safe..."
He opens his palm, and a pair of crystals appear in his hands.
Covered in filth, Quin realized Daina had literally, left them with the horses.
Grunting, he wipes them off in a patch of grass.
Harsk takes the crystal, curious.
"It will let me communicate with your group, and bring you help if you need it on your way to Thames City."
"You're leaving us?"
"I must. I am needed elsewhere. Events outside of my control summon me to the side of my allies..."
Harsk face twists, but he nods.
"We will come. And your ranks will swell."
"Tro på Moradin."

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...across the world...

...Staging Cavern of Lolth's Bountiful Vengeance, Drow Controlled Underdark...

Many know that the caverns of the Underdark are largely controlled by the dark-skinned elves known as the drow.
They do know that to find the drow, one must journey deep into the Underdark, leaving behind all light in exchange for shadows and darkness.
Aximand Malagar a drow elf warrior finds himself smiling.
What many could never know, that secret caverns were specifically chosen by the drow for the staging points of their surface invasions.
Lolth's Bountiful Vengeance was one of the largest of these, more than four miles across, it had narrow, defendable entrances to the Underdark proper, and a single, large access tunnel to the surface above, not far from an elven settlement.
The army nestled among the rock formations, worked into the shapes of spider webs and eight-legged demons pulses with excitement.
The drow can feel it.
To kill their hated, light-haired cousins.
He licks his lips, and leans back his head from the makeshift throne that had been set to over look the assembly.
Eclavdra smiles from beneath her half-mask, her eyes obscured, and leans down, and kisses him.
"Not in six hundred years, has a lone drow, a male no less, managed to build a new House, Aximand."
He says nothing.
While he may have indeed done what should have been impossible, it was not wise for males to show too much pride, let alone to one who was so close to the goddess himself.
Besides, he'd had help.
Welby's tenacity hadn't changed and he'd obviously grown from the ignorant young halfling Aximan had first met.
The sorcerer had proved a worthy ally in securing the foundations of his new House, and the drow new deep in his heart, House Malagar the Great was in the halfling's debt.
Aximand lets himself smile though, and kisses Eclavdra back, biting her lip.
As she laughs, he reasons.
What better way to thank the halfling then to bring the drow empire to the surface?

Nine hells and one, Guard Clovis curses the blood dripping from his armor.
AND the storm is gone... The Senior Guard is clearly disoriented, whether it's the time travel or the strange magic worked by Acererack and his minions.
He reaches for his string of prayer beads, calling into effect the powerful bead of karma.
What's our next move?
Steevanof collects his feet beneath him, newly revitalized but still a bit lost. Looking at the cage and Clovis beside him, he casts about to understand what'd just happened. "Clovis - what is this? What's happened to the others?"
The sudden sunlight awakens Alex with a start.
He can see the others in their cages, and the gnome sorcerer, at the gates.
Hailstones and pools of watered down acid, and dead bats are scattered across the courtyard.
Robilar waves, pointing at Eddard.
Groaning, Alex shifts on the floor. Everything hurts. He could feel that his wounds had closed, but memories were still fresh. The bat's cuts on his exposed skin, the sting of still fresh electric and acidic burns, the bruises on his flesh and the cracks on this bones... As he moves, his hand brushes against a flask. Everything had been so fast he didn't even had the chance to try to escape the storm. Putting the potion back in one of his belt's pockets, he carefully rises to his knees and looks around. His pounding head made it hard to concentrate...
Alex's eyes are drawn to where he'd last seen The Nameless One, where frozen bats and beads of acid, are frozen in space and time.
The thief stands up rather ungracefully. His head was spinning and it felt as if a thick smoke was inside it, making his thoughts sluggish. Ignoring the walls around him, he walks right through them, walking towards the place where the bats and acid floated.
I don't know. Maybe Rishad ended the storm somehow...
Clovis looks around for the other gnome.
Clovis speaks an incantation to close his wounds and attempts to locate all of his allies on the battlefield.
Guard sees Rishad at the other end of the courtyard, the entrance.
He sees Nolzur has escaped his cage, and is walking among the detritus.
Clovis's eyes widen in shock.
Vile, he says. His teeth grind as he attempts to forget the pain and focus on the task at hand. Then he places a hand on Steevanof's shoulder. I think we'd better join them. He readies another dimension door and awaits Steevenof's consent to be teleported out of the cage.
Robilar, leaning his head against the cage, rubs his forehead, shaking his head.
The wounds don't close, remaining wide open.
The gnome nods to Clovis. "Of course, we must regroup at once..."
With a pop, the two dimension-door out of the cage and join the others.
Rishad! Dispel the cages.
What in the nine hells happened back there?

As soon as he can reach him, Steevanof rushes to Eddard's side and attempts to cast Remove Curse and end the armor's torment.
The gnome slams into the force cage, dropping to the watered down acid and dead bats.
Coming to a stop, Alex finds it hard to look at the lightning.
Through the bats and squinted eyes, he thinks he sees The Nameless One, shifting back and forth, from a child, to an emaciated old man.
Placing his attention on the collection of bats, Guard's head immediately begins to hurt as images and visions of The Nameless One, by his side flash through his head.
He doesn't recognize the ancient man within, but Isam had mentioned that they themselves couldn't stray too far from the starmetal...
...potentially, anyone being sent far away, would be caught in the skeins of time, fixed in place, while got in a loop of time stretching eternally into the future and infinitely into the past.
Only an adjustment of their place in space would be their salvation, and even then, if one did not have the exact spell necessary to undo the spell trying to drag them to another place, the stress of being looped would leave...

...The Nameless One the Nameless...

From outside the Force Cage holding Eddard, Steevanof can see he is too late.
The warrior elf is still, no longer even struggling or moaning.
A terrific amount of blood pools at his feet.

...Eddard Blackleaf...

The poor bastard... whoever he was. Likely an ally, sent by Isam into the past with them, with his essence being stretched across time.
It was just this sort of nonsense Clovis had objected to. But this was also just why he had agreed to go.
First, something to anchor him in place...
A dimensional anchor should to the trick.
A green ray issues forth from the Senior Guard's outstretched finger, striking the man in his chest.
Does anyone have a spell to pull him out of there? He'll be trapped in time forever unless we help him.
Nothing occurs.
Robilar slams his fists against his force cage with a cry.
Though Clovis was not sure what had caused this anomaly, it was obviously magical in nature. Great Orox granted him the power to unwork even the mightiest spells -- a power he used now.
Stand back... I'm not sure what will happen when I cast my spell.
With that final warning, the senior Guard places an anti-magic field on The Nameless One.
Still nothing.
Nodding resolutely, Clovis speaks an incantation of freedom, enhancing the power of his trusty ring. I am the one who lights the way, I am the one who finds the path, the Guard chants quietly. Steeled against imprisonment, he strides forward into the time disturbance. I am the one who breaches the void, I am the one who guides all mankind to his reward.
His armor warps and rusts, and he ages, and becomes youthful, in flashes of light.
With a deep breath, Guard Clovis grips the stranger by his wrist and pulls him into a powerful dimension door, tearing him from his temporal prison and depositing him before Robilar's force cage.
The The Nameless One he pulls from the Time Loop is a broken man, the Time Loop eroding him down like a file on his soul.
Alex stares as the man with the halberd enters the... thing, emerging younger while the man with the crossbow had been catapulted to an advanced age. He tries to remember their names but his mind is too clouded to recall them.
"What happened?" he asks, once again confused by the turn of events.
"Saints and archons! They're free..." Steevanof looks to the wracked and ravaged man in Guard's arms. "DAMN this Acererak. We TRIED to be reasonable. Now we've got a stronghold to search and men down"
With a wave of his hand Rishad dismisses all of his summons and illusions, and glides from the entrance to join the others. "I could use a healing touch if anyone is willing to oblige."
Clovis staggers back to his feet, using Panopticon to brace his bent form. He appears to have aged, too, though not as severely as The Nameless One.
With a half-hearted wave, he summons his friends close, and calls upon the most powerful healing spell in his -- or any -- lexicon to cure all ills. Positive energy floods the area around the senior guard and his friends are whole once again... except for the nagging wound in his own abdomen--deep, bleeding cuts that simply refused to heal.
Even as beneficent words of divine power slip from his mouth, his lips form a bitter frown.
"Thank you, Guard."
Robilar tears his eyes from Eddard, and looks up to the tower.
"What happened?"

We attacked the stronghold of a wizard more powerful than we, and reaped what we sowed. His defenses were keyed to the most obvious and effective means of attack.
The complexities of time travel did the rest. This bodes ill, Robilar. This is a fool's errand, but now we have no choice but to see it through. The die is cast.

"A fool's errand, or a necessary one? We need the starmetal."
He jabs a finger at The Nameless One's head.
"The crystal, won't last forever. If we don't get out of here fast enough, it could fragment, and leave us here. Even if we run out of time, we have to secure it, and atleast leave it somewhere Isam can find it."
Yes. We must see it through.
"It looks like we triggered many of the defense systems built into this tower. It has cost us a life and seemingly an eternity of torment therein. Guard, I admire your fortitude in withdrawing The Nameless One and recognize the small share in his strain you must have experienced." The Minstrel Tighler fingers the ring on his left pinky, set with three rubies. "This archmage has cost us too much. We know the stakes, and must retrieve it if we are to return to our time and fulfill the pact. This starmetal danger is just another wrinkle to the already vast burden we paragons shoulder."
"So, now the question is h-"
He stares over Guard's shoulder.
"What's that?"
Mind reeling, The Nameless One stares into the sky, ignoring the loud prattling of his companions. The world....the universe.....all of time itself..had flowed through his mind. His body was wasted...his mind...damaged...but still sharp. But his skill.... hands, arthritic with age, still know how to work a crossbow they had assembled. Blurring he checks the load on his Lifeseeker, smiling slightly at the sight of the empty cartridge, remembering where the bolts had flown. Loading it, he slowly gets to his feet, peering at the bright sunshine, felt the breeze on his face, and did something the others had never ever heard him do.
He laughed.
Steevanof starts to raise his hand in answer to Robilar's question, but pauses mid-motion and turns to look at what's caught Robilar's sight.
The eastern obelisk glows, spitting lightning all up and down its height, in bright angry flashes.
"I think now would be a good time to be away from here, don't you agree? Perhaps we can adjourn to somewhere else?" Rishad says, readying the magic that would take them away from the obelisk.
"Well, I can't say I'm shocked at the sight of that." After a moment to allow for groans - and to see if he *is*, in fact, not literally shocked by it yet, he turns back to face Robilar. "More defenses would be... undesirable. We should move directly to take the starmetal by MOVING directly to the starmetal, with this." He holds up his pinky, offering his Ring of Three Wishes to their view. "It can transport us anywhere. We arrive at the starmetal, and Isam's circuit is closed. We move back to the present and begin the next stage of this electrifying adventure."
The lightning gets brighter.
Rolling his eyes at the Bard's comments, The Nameless One scowls, back to his surly self again. So DO it already, We don't have the time for prancing about.
The Nameless One holds up a gnarled hand, Wait. Dashing over to the fallen body of the Architect, he empties StormSeeker into it. Always confirm the kill.

...the Princess...

The lightning ends, leaving a man and a woman, in thin robes and gold standing before it.
"Mogdaham! Acererak! -لماذا لم تجب لكم لدينا الإرسال."
Her voice cuts off, and she clutches her partners arm.
The Nameless One stands over Mogdaham, crossbow raised, the bolts buried in the architects unrecognizable courpse.
The man, adjusting the headress that hangs down his neck, stares across the stone with dark eyes.
He holds out a hand, rippling with power.
"وسوف يدفعون ثمن ما قمت به هنا اليوم، الوحش. من قبل، Isis أقسم عليه.""

The High Priest

Steevanof wills a Wish from his ring to transport all members of his party to the location of the starmetal they sought.

Acererak screams, and his eyes roll up into his head.
"A Wish?!? A WISH!?!?!?"
Baring his teeth, he makes a fist.
Slamming his hand down, the archmage snarls.
"Fine. No more games. This just got real."
Delaying the fulfillment of the wish, he easily overpowers the request, warping the spell to his will and design, leaving Steevanof with his ring, a deadened band of rusted metal, and worthless glass stone.
"I love it!"

Turning at the sound of lightning, Alex watches carefully as the couple emerges. He gets a bad feeling as the woman is suddenly quiet and his suspicions seem confirmed as the man raises a glowing hand.
The obelisk, at the far north end of the courtyard...
Still groggy, he reaches for his crossbow and readies himself to shoot if the newcomers proved to be hostile.
Here we go again....I hate magic.... The Nameless One thinks to himself, reloading his crossbow, and drawing LifeSeeker with his other hand.
There is a scream from the obelisk, and a burst of sound, and a terrific smash.
A massive, stone angel, made from pieces of worked stone into a suit of armor, and large great wings dominates over Rishad.
Moving with lightning speed, it rips the ring from the gnome's fingers with ease.
Holding the warped ring between its fingers.
It glares down at them, dominating them all with its offensive presence.
"What in the Nine is that thing!"
Its smooth, domed, and featureless face swings back and forth sweeping across Guard and Rishad with a baleful reflection of themselves in the polished stone.
"و! عفريت!"
Spinning her hands in a twisting pattern, the princess kohl eyes burn with the power of the sun.
With a pulling motion she draws life water from them, draining Alex, killing him instantly.
The Nameless One and Robilar fair better, though the warrior hesitates as he sees his friend fall.
Twisting into a column of sand, the princess appears right next to The Nameless One.
"وآمل أن يحرق."
A twisting, spinning tunnel of sand and desert heat tears from the High Priest's palms, ripping up flagstones, and hurling Rishad over his head.
Twisting in the whirling tunnel of sand, Rishad spins round and round, up and down, before being deposited bodily to the stone.
The Nameless One sees the Princess, go with the sand, becoming a being of sand herself, carried by the attack to stand over Rishad.
She looks down at him, from the spinning column of sand she'd become, with cold murder in her eyes.
Attempting to escape the courtyward once more, Rishad oversteps, triggering a trap that foils his spell, and leaves him lying on the ground.
A prismatic sphere, in reverse, angry and red, seals him inside with the woman.
The priestess crosses her arms, and frowns.
Sighing, Rishad sits up and crosses his legs before removing his spell component pouch and placing it on the ground in front of him. He calls out to the others"My friends, we cannot hope to overcome this. All my efforts have been countered and it seems we must play by the Archmage's rules."
"لا أستيقظ."
Damn it all! May the Watchman protect us...
"Any and all help appreciated!"
Swinging his icy blade in frigid arc, Robilar is dismayed as the weapon bounces again and again of the creature's stone surface.
"A stone golem!"
Groaning, an ache shooting up his back, the aged guard staggers backward, away from the faceless construct.
Ignoring the sand, the Defeat reaches out, its hand fitting around his face like a glove, and slamming the cleric to the ground at its feat.
Screaming, it smashes down on his chest with its knee, leaving cracks under him.
Staring up from the ground at the vicious construct, Clovis's skin pales. He turns the halberd toward the Defeat, wielding it defensively
Sand rushing all around him, The Nameless One simply takes a single, perfect, step, throwing himself in a whirling spin. Tracking his target through the sand filled winds, he wait's for the shot, that moment of vulnerability, and then unleashes a storm of his own. Coruscating wildly, the elemental forces of the bolts crackle toward the High Priest, as sand flies into his eyes.
The bolts fly around the High Priest, changing their flight to avoid him.
"Osiris, يحمي المؤمنين له، فدم."
"The ground may quake, but do not let our spirits waver!" Steevanof calls upon his bardic talents to boost his allies before attempting to remove himself from the shadow of this winged statue.
The Priestess glares down at him, and retrieves the pouch.
"Good. You stay here, and don't move."
Tapping a glass amulet with the letter 'A' to her lips, the Princess murmurs the archmage's name, Rishad sees determination cross her face.
Stepping away, magic carries her a short distance, outside the prismatic sphere that had descended upon her and Rishad.
She extends her palms toward, creating whirling balls of sand, heated by the suns of their distant home.
"بمباركة من الله أحد، أحمل الشعلة والرمل والعدالة عليكم!"
The balls of sand hurl themselves through the air, weaving around the stone golem, glaring down at Guard.
Steevanof, his spell having given him some distance, watches as Robilar slams his icy sword across the stone golem's armor.
This time, he's more careful with his strikes, and stone chips fly.
Swinging the frigid sword behind his back, he smashes the pommel across the Defeat's chest.
"Orux is with us today!"
Stepping back, he dares the golem to follow, hoping to lead it away from the cleric.
"Be ready to move, Guard."
Unerring, the balls of sand descend on The Nameless One, and slam into his back.
Bursting in a wave of heat, his vision is obscured a moment.
"تعرف غضبي!"
Dark magic tries to wither The Nameless One's limbs, stripping away muscle and flesh, and only his own staunch resolved keeps his weapon in hand as he pushes away the magic.
Hurling himself through the whirling heat and sand, the High Priest's curved blade of gold slashes across the ranger's chest, and his fist slams into the side of the half-elf's head.
His ears left ringing, The Nameless One can almost feel the High Priest's hate for the desert elves that had long plagued his river people, but with cloak of storms, he remains upright.
But his grip is shaken.
The blade spins around as High Priest slides past on a wave of sand, smashing his stormseeker bow to his feet.
Spinning to watch him pass, The Nameless One dodges a smiting blow and a slash from the blade, letting the sharpened edge slide past, carrying the fury of the desert with him.
Bounding past the Defeat and Guard, the High Priest slide to a stop next to his bride.
He pants, wiping dark blood from his lip, in surprise.
"أشعر أضعف ... القتلة نجم، فقد أهدر لنا، يا حبيبي ..."
Taking his cheek in hand, she kisses him.
"وصديقنا، والرب من الأسرار، ايجاد وسيلة للتراجع عن اتصال بهم، يا حبي ليس لديهم ثقة."
"آمل كنت على حق."
Calmly weathering the constant barrage, The Nameless One seems almost heedless of the threat to his life once more.
Aiming his specially crafted Lifeseeker, he sought to stop the bounding Priest, adjusting his aim carefully.
Pulling his bride close to him, the High Priest returns her kiss, drinking deeply from her lips.
He holds up an arm, bound with a golden bracelet worked like a vampire, the tail curling up to his elbow.
Sand pours out, forming an impenetrable shield, letting the arrows bounce off harmlessly.
The sand parts, and The Nameless One sees him wink.
The Defeat, feet pounding the stone, hurls itself after Steevanof, almost landing atop.
Nimbly stepping away, Steevanof sees its hoof like feet crunch the flagstone to powder.
The ring is still in its fist, its fist whips out, smashing Steevanof in the mouth, and sending teeth flying.
Lifted off his feet by the blow, the stone golem's arm lashes out, catching him by the throat, and slamming him to the ground.
Glaring down at the gnome, its a shadow and grim appearance blocks his sight, like an eclipse of doom.
The brass ring shines down at the bard.
Clovis sees his chance and takes it. Gripping the haft of Panopticon firmly, he props himself up with his weapon. With careful aim, he should be able to catch them both...
He waves his arm and gestures to the Priestess, centering a powerful zone of null-magic on her, treading carefully to reposition himself as he does so.
There is a beat, and they look at one another.
High Priest to the Princess, and then they begin to scream.
Guard sees the touch of the starspawn, run across their body, clinging to their veins.
Within the antimagic field, the hastily erected wards of the archmage to halt one of the worse effects of the creatures from above, reaches out, feeding, and striking them down.
"انه لامر مؤلم!"
Breathing heavily, the High Priest struggles to stand, and his headdress slips, revealing veins that pulse blue and yellow like his eyes.
The field also falls across Rishad's prison, leaving the gnome even more trapped inside his red dome.
Steevanof manuevers to get a clear line on the latest batch of foes, and then unleashes an overwhelming cacophany on the courtyard yet again.
Letting his Dimension Jumper carry him south, he blasts the Defeat in a cone of sound, leaving deep cracks across its surface.

Glaring at the writhing Priest and Priestess, Robilar makes a decision.
They were finished, he'd save the gnome.
Robilar pumps his fists, spinning the blade of black ice as he does so.
Breaking free of the antimagic field, Robilar experiences a burst of speed from his boots, carrying his sword in a slashing motion across the Defeat's chest, sending chips flying.
Hand in hand, the loves stumble and limp from the antimagic field.
Vision faltering, its hard for them to even make it.
The Nameless One hears their voices in his head.
"والآن سوف تعرف خسارة لنا ..."
"... تبادل معاناتنا ..."
"... نعرف آلامنا ..."
"... الحب طوال الوقت ..."
"أصدقاء إلى الأبد"
Hands intertwined, the High Priest supports her as they sink to their knees.
A dark magic, their sorrow over their friend lost, their share it.
Tendrils of greenish-black energy, pulsing into the ground, rises and sinks through the stone, wrapping themselves around The Nameless One in a spinning flurry of sand.
Swinging over and over in a chilling arc, Robilar bounds over Steevanof's head, coming to a sliding stop, his sword held ready.
Sparks of magic fly from the stone golem's chest, and it sways, wavering.
"Don't worry Steeva-"
He coughs.
"...this thing can't take much-"
Steevanof sees something, a beetle of some sort, fly from his mouth.
He shouts in horror, as another scarab chews its way free of his arm, leading a line of the black-backed insects out of his armor.
"Oh! Oh no! Nonononono! Nooooooo!"
The warrior disappears in a biting cloud of scarab beetles, eating him alive.
"Help! Help m-"
A spurt of more scarabs burst from his throat, distorting his speech as he chokes on the snapping insects.
The Nameless One, eyes narrowed in suspicion as the voices thunder through his head, stares in horror as the terrible curse envelops his friend. Robilar....one of the few men who had ever earned his respect, his friendship. No....you bastards....you BASTARDS!! he cried, firing his crossbow again and again and again, pulling the trigger over and over, not hearing the clicking noise of the now empty bolt clip, as he kept firing..
The High Priest tries to life his shield, but the starspawn flares, breaking the skin, and contorting his muscles to let the bolts go through, leaving them still.

...twenty five years after Tomb of Horrors, Church of Resplendent Shards of Truth...

"Isam screams in terror. Her eyes flick from the demi-lich's dead eyes, to the crystal hanging over the portal. A second crack, crossing the first had appeared with a crunch. She winces. One of them had been caught in a time loop and another had died..."
Methuselah pauses a moment, and they all lean forward.
"'That can't be good.'," there are shrieks of terror as he does the voice again.
"He releases her, and Isam scrabbles away from his chill touch, staring up at the revolving crystal. It splinters, a shard falling off, into the portal, and vanishes, leaving a large gap in the crystal's smooth surface... Isam can't help but smile. 'He survives.'"
"HahahahaHAHAHAhaha... For now..."
The undead roar against the windows, but the children yell out.
"Toresh! What happened to Toresh!"
"Does he die like Maki!?!?"
"I wanna be a minotaaaaaaaaaaaur!"
A boy sneers, "Why? Everyone knows monks are the best there is! Grace and Marros don't need him!"
Raya pulls his hat down over his eyes.
"Monks can't do magic! Magic beats everything! That's why Rishad and Guard and Steevanof are gonna beat him! He's out numbered."
"Nuh-uh. He's gonna squish 'em!"
"Eduardo could totally beat them all."
"But he's naaaaaaapping!"
"Kicking butt is hard work."
"That's a load of bul-"
Methuselah sighs, "Moments pass, and Isam looks over her shoulder..."

Return to the Tomb of Horrors - Part I - Thames City - ...Revenge of the Giants; into the past...

...the distant past, a century after the fall of Nerath, a desert citadel...

"...so what is it Acererak? What happens? Is this your attempt to change the past? Save you from this Dark Fate?"
The arch-lich stares at the crystal.
"Not quite."
Reaching out, he caresses the crystal, whispering to it, and Mending it.
"On the eve of my first great step, I myself travel through time..."
"...to ensure and protect... This?"
"I didn't know. All I had was the books, and I sent them, my best, hoping you could save u-"
Her throat closes with a gesture.
He turns, and her face becomes a mixture of flinching from the horror of the rotting flesh, so different from what his possession of Dresden would one day bring about.
"...and I will. In my own way. For my purpose."
He beckons, and Isam floats toward him, revolving in the air, as he places his thumb on her forehead, and his first two fingers under her chin.
"Not that you will remember."
The dead fingers glow with a blue light, and Isam's face twitches, and her eyes roll up into her head...
"I was never here. You do not remember meeting Acererak... When you here the name Acererak, you will forget everything you know about him..."
Impassive and unfeeling, the Defeat looks down at Steevanof with no remorse.
Clovis looks on in horror at the suffering around him. First Eddard, then Rourke... He even felt bad for the priest and priestess, despite what they'd done. Robilar's fate, on the other hand, made the senior guard sick to his stomach. There must be some way to help him...
Be resolute, Robilar! The Watchmen shines his light to guide the way.
Clovis gestures broadly with his halberd and his allies glow with positive energy yet again.
"KIIIIIILLL ME!", Robilar screams.
Fists of stone snapping, it tears the bard in half, tossing the kicking halves aside.
"Steevanof!", Robilar screams through the scarabs.
He lunges outward, smashing off an arm, and driving his sword into the golem's chest.
Rolling under the Defeat's sweeping grasp, he stabs it at the base of its back, and keeps going, coming up standing in the Antimagic Field.
The scarabs skitter away, leaving a bloodied, ruined mess.
Holes are everywhere, as if the cleric's healing hadn't even touched him.
Skin sags, especially on the face, where the scarab beetles had peeled away flesh.
Muscles, torn to shreds by the hungry curse, struggle to hold the sword, and his thumb snaps off.
"S-somebody s-shoot it..."
The Defeat tilts its head, examining the shattered panel of stone, revealing the inner workings of bone.
Guard and The Nameless One notice a blue shard spinning above Nolzur's head, just as Alex's eyes fly open.
The machinations of the time travel ritual must be able to ensure they'd stay alive.
Seeing the terrible machine shred the bard, The Nameless One dives to the ground, hand automatically gripping the Stormseeker once more, and steadying it on his propped elbow, firing a barrage of elemental force towards the construct. The construct turns slowly, under the barrage, crossbow bolts sticking from its sparking back.
It searches for the shooter, and sees The Nameless Ones.
The Defeat taps its smooth, domed face twice with two fingers.
Robilar, stiff-handed, lunges forward, smashing the blade across the Defeat's stone face.
Dropping back, he stabs it again, and swings, slashing at the leg, before dropping back, sword dancing.
Without the magic, he is still the greatest swordsman alive.
Another shard of blue crystal materializes, and in a cascade of blue sparks, Steevanof's body remerges, and heals.
Though he's still prone at the Defeat's feet.
It looks down at him, unrecognizing, and ignores him.
You want me, you stone pile of trash? Come get me. the ranger taunts as the golem stands there.
Spreading its short stone wings, the Defeat lifts off into the air, flying back to its stone obelisk.
Task completed, it secrets itself inside, awaiting further orders.
Holding his fire, The Unnamed One slowly walks forward, watching the obelisks warily. Robilar, Steevanoff, you okay?
"Hate bugs."
Robilar looks disgusting.
His flesh where the scarab beetles had eaten away is missing letting The Nameless One get a good luck at what they'd done to his organs.
A lung appears to be missing.
With a shuddering gasp, Steevanof sits up in the slight crater surrounding him. "By Celestia! Does your life normally flash before your eyes like that, or is that because we've time travelled? I've never been raised quite like that before..." He pulls his feet under him and stands, rubbing at his forehead where the crystal shard contacted, and then rubbing the rest of his face to see if it had reconstituted itself properly after the stone angel had so thoroughly rearranged it. "Ow."
Seeing the golem was still for now, The nameless one moves over to the bodies laid out on the ground. Moving warily, he keeps them covered with his StormSeeker, as he checks them for any signs of life.
Alex stirs silently on the ground, his head pounding. He remembered feeling incredibly thirsty for a second before having the sensation of being deflated and his skin cracking. He openly ignores the activity around him, his mind slow and confused. Had he... died? Again? At least someone or something seemed to keep on bringing him back. Whether for better or for worse, he wasn't completely sure.
Once the noise had lowered to tolerable levels, the thief slowly stands up, his eyes slightly out of focus as he looked around. One of the gnomes was touching his head and the other was missing, perhaps inside the irritatingly bright sphere. The man with the crossbow was heading towards the bodies of the newcomers while Robilar looked more like a rotten zombie than a living man. Alex did his best not to look directly at the exposed organs as his head span.
Robilar's sword falls free from his hand, dropping onto his back with spray of blood.
Looking down at the great Lord Robilar, wracked and defeated, Clovis grimaces. He wipes a drop of spit off his cracked lips as he regards the fallen warrior.
The warrior is in a whole new world of agony.
Only his own incredible strength is keeping him alive.
Any other man, would have died.
Rise and be well.
Clovis dismisses the anti-magic field, and then channels the healing power granted by his god into his allies -- being sure to leave a double dose for Robilar.
"Oh, thank the Light!"
Robilar rocks back and forth, holding his renewed face.
"Thank you."
That thing just left... It's still out there, Clovis says grimly. I suggest we move quickly. We still need the blasted star metal.
Robilar struggles to his feet.
"The obelisks are the key."
Intriguing structures, Clovis nods. The architect designed them well. They could be keyed to only allow certain individuals to operate them. That's how I would set it up, anyway.
The Guard cracks his knuckles.
Let's see what we can make of it.
"Hate bugs."
Robilar pants.
"Open some doors, eh?"
Funny things, doors. They're no barrier to those who know how to open them.
Seeing the strange lovers lying still, The Nameless One returns to the others, clapping Robilar on the back. Gesturing back at the fallen pair, They might have something, bring up an AMF on them, in case of surprises. then he walks back towards the two, waiting for Guard to comply before searching them.
Inside the sphere, Rishad realizes he can be within this sphere for a long time.
Assuming he is correct on his evaluation, and it is an inverted prismatic sphere, judging by the typical duration of the spell and the power of the caster, it could be hours before the actual sphere would end.
Keeping his weapon at the ready, The ranger examines the bodies closely, trying to determine what exactly had happened to them, and whether they had anything that would help them breach this citadel.
"I'm not sure how we'd convince those obselisks to take us anywhere in particular, though... they'd probably recognize specific people or a password or a key." Peering up at the fortress hovering above them, a thought occurs to Steevanof. "Say... do you see a door or a window or any such thing up there? Flying and teleporting under our own power are obviously out, but what if we just walked up? I could create a bridge leading up there..."
The lovers, intertwined in death, are unrecognizable with the bloom of the curse that had struck them down.
Hard secretions have bursts from the skin, in spines and whorls across the skin.
The nature of the curse is beyond the ranger, but they are undoubtedly dead.
Searching among there things, a good deal of it has been ruined by the curse, and flakes of broken shards fly into his face.
Charms, and bracelets are everywhere, artefacts of their desert gods.
He also finds they share glass pendants with the letter 'A' carved into the surface with fine scratches.
The fortress floats more than a hundred and eighty feet above them.
Robilar points.
"No doors. No windows."
But he frowns.
"If flying triggered that storm, why would walking up do any different?"
The gnome shrugs.
"Maybe it's flight magic that triggered it, maybe it's just somebody entering the air. You're right, it could be equally dangerous. But we have to work out *some* options before the archmage triggers it himself in a fit of pique, wherever he is."
Robilar's dark eyes narrow in thought, and he walks over to see what the Nameless One had found.
"Interesting. One for each of them."
He looks over at the sphere, "Is Rishad still in there? Anyone have any idea how we'll get him out?"
Holding the glass pendant up to the light, the Ranger examines it closely, while handing the other to Robilar. At his mention of the sorcerer who had given up, he says nothing, merely spitting on the ground.
If it's an arcane mark, the amulets could be what brought the two here. Or perhaps they were what was keeping the star spawn's curse at bay, Clovis says indicating the amulets.
Come, let's get a closer look at these obelisks.

The guard walks west to the one Acererack's daughter accessed before the fighting broke out.
Robilar grimaces.
"Guard, the Archmage is a liar. There are no starspawn. This 'curse' could be anything!"
Bouncing the amulet in his palm, Robilar walks up to the obelisk.
There are no clear indicators of how it works, merely artistic carvings of human with the heads of animals.
"Perhaps we have to wear it..."
He places the amulet around his neck, still stiff, and flinches.
Robilar gestures to Rourke.
"Put it on! It talks!"
Nodding, the aged ranger places the necklace over his head, wincing as his joints protest.
The obelisk' voice is the clipped, proper tone of an established nobleman, but still has the cultural inflections of the High Priest and Princess they'd just slain,

With slightly unfocused eyes, Alex follows the group towards the western obelisk. He mentally reviewes what had happened in the last few minutes, a harder task than it would have normally been. They had arrived and talked to Acererak and his assistant before the girl teleported at the western obelisk. Then the fight broke out and he had (most likely) died. Soon later, the couple showed up at the eastern obelisk, the gnome made a wish, and then the northen obelisk opened and the golem came out. Then the woman did something and killed him... It had been quite an eventful couple of minutes...
"Wait," Alex says as the others prepared themselves to tamper with the obelisks. "If you are going to start playing at random with those things, shouldn't you at least start with the one at the North? We know that the Eastern one takes to wherever those two come from, and this one likely takes to the village where the girl lives. If each of them is tied to a specific location, North is our best bet since that's where the golem came from."
"It may just be that west is outgoing and east is incoming. But yes, I'd be curious if the northern one had a teleportation purpose or just housed the angel-golem."
Robilar looks to the north tower.
The obelisk speaks again, ringing in the ranger and warrior's ears.
"Outgoing and incoming, and..."
He looks down at the glass amulet.
"...tower 'a'cess..."
Hearing the sounds of combat cease, Rishad stands, retrieving his spell components and begins dismantling his prison. After a moment, as he remembers his lessons with his master, he casts a Shadow Evoked Cone of Cold.
It fails.
To Robilar
"I am trapped inside some unique spell that prevents teleportation. Im not sure how much longer I will be here. I am unable to assist any further. I will attempt dispelling."

Robilar respond immediately, removing the amulet.
"Dispelling won't get you out of the sphere..."

He holds up the amulet, and offers it to Guard.
"Perhaps this is a key to more than one door?"
Clovis looks over his shoulder at the bizarre, altered prismatic sphere. Rishad was still trapped within. Dimension lock.
The guard cracks his knuckles and attempts to dimension door into the sphere.
Guard's spell instantly fails, leaving him comically standing where he'd cast the spell.
Interesting. I'll see what I can make of it.
Clovis dons the amulet. He'd come across many such magic keys in his travels, and was confident he'd be able to glean something.
"If West is the exit, East is the entrance, and North takes you to the tower, where does the southern one lead?"
Robilar points to the gate where the elementals had stood guard.
"There is no southern obelisk."
A simple bauble with the archmage's mark, Guard discerns it to be the waypass they'd need.
Under his hands, he can feel smooth, fine etchings across the glass that match the obelisks.
Wearing one would allow them to pass the lesser of the tower's defenses.
Perhaps his daughter and the archmage himself wore one?
"What?" Alex turns to see that there is no southern obelisk. He shakes his head slightly. "Oh, right. Don't know what I was thinking." The headache and slight disorientation seemed to be getting to him. He closes his eyes and takes deep breaths, trying to regain some clarity.
Ignoring the others, The Nameless One fingers the glass talisman hanging around his neck. At it's repeated promptings he mutters "Tower?"
"Not applicable. The East Obelisk is for courtesy journeys from this location.?"
Sidling over to the glowing sphere holding Rishad, Steevanof calls out. "Are you alright in there, Rishad? What happened? Did the woman summon this thing on you, or what? We have to find a way to pick through it..."
Thoughtful, The Nameless Ranger bounces the orb in his palm. "List destinations.", he requests.
"Command not recognized."
Brow furrowed, he questions further, What are the other Obelisks for?
"The East Obelisk Construct facilitates incoming travel. The North Obelisk Construct facilitates tower access."
Nodding to himself, the ranger lets the orb go for the moment, then walks over to Robilar, sharing what he'd discovered. That done, he walks toward where the Architect lay, requesting another antimagic, then searching his body for any similar amulets.
Mogdaham's corpse has been ruined by the rain, and a good deal of what he'd worn before he died, but he can find no amulet like the one the others had worn.
As the ranger completes his search, the sphere, shrinks, reducing in size about five feet.
Slipping on the amulet, Clovis again attempts to teleport into the sphere...
"The woman teleported out from that sphere a minute ago... maybe the pendant would let you do the same?"
This time the magic works, and Guard finds himself standing above the meditating sorcerer, bathed in the red hue of the sphere.
Looking up, Rishad smiles. "Ah. Im glad you made it. As fun as this is, I think it would be best for everyone, myself included, if we left this cozy little sphere."
Right. Off we go. Hope this works. The Amulet seems to be a key through the forbiddance effect.
Taking the sorcerer's hand, Clovis transports them both out of the sphere, to Robilar's side.
The warrior offers the gnome his spell component pouch.
Taking it, with a nod of thanks, Rishad takes a
Take ten on the Spellcraft checks for a 36 on each, then use GAS to fully explore them, visually
moment to examine the obelisks and amulet.
The obelisks and the amulet have been warded to hide whatever magical auras they might secret.
The time to cast the spell required over every inch of the courtyard must have taken weeks...
"Reunited, then. Fantastic. These should allow us access to the tower then... the mage has a headstart on us, but let's see if we can't get to that starmetal already. Do you think you need to be wearing the token for access? We might need to shuttle up in shifts - two go up, one comes down with both pendants, and so on."
"So, who's going first?"
Pointing at the obelisk the golem had perched within, The Nameless One scowls I will go first. Be ready in case the golem wakes up.
Walking over to the Northern Obelisk, the Ranger with No Name holds the orb tight. What are my travel options from this location?
"As the North Obelisk Construct , only Tower Access is facilitated here."
The same voice.
Surveying the group, Steevanof replies "I think it would make sense to start with you and Clovis, then Rishad, Monsieur Ranger, Nolzur, myself, and last, Eddard."
"Wait... Eddard is still down!" Steevanof hustles over to the armored elf to see why the magics of time travel had not re-animated him as it had for his companions and the gnome himself.
Robilar blanches.
"He's right!"
They find Eddard, still bound in the suit of armor.
Terrified, yet resigned eyes stare out at the gnome and warrior through the slits of his helmet, before closing again.
Blood cakes the ground at their feet.
"We have to stop this thing from cutting into him... this armor hasn't released its grip." Steevanof kneels beside the elf and lays a hand on him, casting Remove Curse.
The armor glows a faint blue, at odds with the glow of the soulfire.
Then there is a crunch, and a flash of the blue crystal within the armor.
Spike protrude from the armor, warping and breaking the surface as the twisted spikes within expand even larger.
Eddard's eyes widen, and pupils shrink as he dies again.
There is an ugly stench as something in the half-elven warrior looses.
Rishad devotes his full attention to the half elf.
Rishad quickly realizes that the spell hadn't quite cursed the warrior, but had warped the armor.
The bard's meddling had destroyed Eddard's armor.
But they could likely remove him with a spell as simple as Freedom of Movement cast on the armor itself.
The smell is terrible, and Robilar gags.
"Rourke, if you can cast Freedom of Movement on this poor soul, he can finally be free."
Freedom of Movement? On the armor? I never would have thought of that.

Clovis bends down to touch Eddard's armor, infusing it with divine magic, allowing the wearer to escape his torture.
There is a scraping, rasping sound as Eddard's body, ruined and maimed, tumbles from the armor.
He slams face down to the stone, unmoving.
Guard can see a blue mark etched on his forehead, Rishad sees that the warrior's brown eyes have been sapphire blue.
Moments pass.
A blue crystal appears once more, and buries itself into his forehead.
With a shuddering gasp, he begins to scream.
The smell remains.
Robilar steps back, "Heal him!"
Clovis nods and heals the warrior, repairing the damage to his body. The Guard can only guess at the spiritual damage done by Acererack's torturous spell.
Robilar tightens his grip on his sword.
"The Archmage will pay. He threatens the fate of the future... He threatens my friends. I will end his threat..."
Eddard reaches out with a shaking hand, reaching for Guard.
Clovis grabs Eddard's outstretched hand with his own -- now arthritic before his time -- and lets the elf pull himself up.
Eddard's eyes are still a hard blue.
Changed by the constant wear of the time spell.
He mouths a silent, 'Thank you'.
He pulls off a ring from a bloodstained finger, and curses, tossing it aside.
"Worthless rubbish."
Alex watches silently as the elf is freed from his prison. It seemed that Acererak had been twisted from the beginning. Turning someone's armor into an iron maiden didn't quite scream "paladin." When Eddard throws his ring away, Alex picks it up wordlessly. Whatever the ring did, it would be better to keep it rather than leaving it behind.
Eddard stiffens, and sways a little, thanking Guard again.
Robilat extends a hand to steady the half-elf.
The cycle of life and death had left him gaunt.
Robilar looks at Alex.
"Nolzur, what about you? Are you alright? Shall we go and be done with this debacle?"
Alex is silent for a second before he realizes that Robilar was talking to him. "I don't know. It's difficult to think right," he admits. If this vision could harm him, perhaps it could heal him as well...
Robilar takes Alex by the shoulder.
"You'll have to pull together friend, we'll need you to bypass any traps that the archmage may have within..."
He looks askance.
"Perhaps some of your illusions?"
"What ill-" he begins before shutting his eyes for a moment. "I don't think I could use them right now. And he probably has True Seeing up at all times, so it would be useless anyway."
"Good point."
Robilar nods, sage faced.
"Sometimes, I miss Greyhawk."
"So, how do we get in?"
Robilar waves the glass amulet in his hand.
"By amulet, apparently."
He points to Steevanof.
"Like our friend says, ferrying in twos."
"Let's get to it, then. I've had about enough of this courtyard." Steevanof assists Eddard in regaining his footing and moving toward the northern obelisk, insofar as his gnomish frame could support helping someone two feet taller hobble along. He has suggested that the two of them would be the last to transport up, so he figures he might as well stick with the half-elf.
The north obelisk rises before them, pointed to the tower.
Both the amulets and the carvings in the stone flash with the same light.
"So, me and ..."
Pointing to the nameless one, Steevanof replies, "Ranger volunteered."
Robilar grins.
"Alright, into the jaws, then, eh?"
It's about time. Looking at the Amulet, he speaks in a clear voice. Take me to the tower.

"They're here."
A blaze of lightning and smoke rings through the hall, and Acererak drops to his stomach.
"Be quiet."
"They'll kill you. Like Mogdaham. Like the others. And take the starmetal."
Reaching into his robes, the archmage pulls out two rough, palm shaped stones, black and white.
Releasing them, enter an orbit around his skulls.
"Tower. Backup the library and delete all entries."
"No good! You must fight!"
"Shut up!"
"Let me help you... The tanar'ri are your only hope, to defend the starmetal..."
Billowing smoke obscures the circle, and Acererak's eyes narrow.
"The statues..."
"...are worthless."
"And your tanar'ri?"
"Won't last. But they'll give you time."
Acererak bites his lip.
"Fine. Who will you send?"
"House 'Era..."
Acererak frowns.
"Do it. Tower, Code Red."
"Blat swy Wyerwsz ab swy Wyojyfz, sa swy Kyhswz ab Wydd, sa swy Heddolz ab swy Oxuzz, qy tolpwyk, ofk lezy..."
Robilar and The Nameless One stands in the hall, with iron statues of fierce warriors glaring down at them.
A circle of runes runs around their feet.
Double doors to their right, and deeper into the tower.
Eyeing the Statues, The Namless One retrieves a special bolt pack from his belt of many pockets, and rams it home in the stormseeker. Then, muttering a few phrases, he turns himself Invisible, shields himself against detection, and activates his ability to fly.
Stand ready.
Then, slowly, carefully he removes the amulet, bracing for some assault.
Robilar takes the amulet, and nods.
"See you in a moment. 'Courtyard.'"
And then The Nameless One is alone.
Appearing at the base of the obelisk, Robilar hands the amulet to Rishad.
Black cloying smoke billows from around the ankles of the statues, making a wave across the floor, quickly obscuring the hallway around and washing The Nameless One in a wave of heat.
Reeling from the choking smoke, Rourke swiftly rolls towards the southeast corner, casting Freedom of Movement on himself as he goes.
"Valera. Bdofn."
Another voice, also a woman's, responds.
"Sedara. Swlaq."
Something roars with effort.
The mist parts a moment, and one of the iron statues flies out, slamming into the wall above The Nameless One, showering him with metal parts and debris.
The smoke clears, parting to reveal, succubi, with bright red hair, in black streaks.
Their crimson skin, covered in textured runes is protected by heavy golden arm, that matches their golden blades.
Red cloaks and accents, and golden streamers hang from large, spiked shields.
Four of them stand in fron of statues, while a fifth, massive one, with a fullblade over her shoulder stands at the crossway, in the hallway.
Behind her, The Nameless One can see other succubi, clad in armor with helmets gleaming, emerging from the statue alcoves.
One of the ones closest, a golden scimitar in her hands, moves with careful steps, barefoot across the floor.
Charms around her ankles jangle with each step.
She smiles at him.
The largest succubi points at The Nameless One, and smiles.
"We are tanar'i. Remember, to fall, is to rise!"
Knowing intimately that discretion is the better part of valor, The Nameless One twists and turns through the air, hoping acrobatics will keep him out of reach of the demons.
Spinning her fullblade over her head, the largest of the succubi charges forward.
Bouncing through the air, she slams the massive weapon down on The Nameless One, slamming him into the wall.
Another of the succubi, open-handed, removes her helmet.
"Why fight? You could... 'Join' us..."
The Nameless One finds himself lost in her smile, and Stormseeker falls from his hands.
Valera waggles her tongue up at Rourke.
"Yes. Join us."
One moment, he's floating above them, and the next, entwined in her arms.
"Isn't this better?"
Renara runs shoulders her sword, and runs her hand through his hair, crouching, she bites down on his ears.
There are too many.
Sadera and Phenera follow, arms entwined around his waist.
And they trade kisses.
Confused as his soulfire armor protects him from the energy drain, they peel back his clothes, and reveal the chainmail underneath.
"That'll do it."
Breathless from the warm embraces, Rourke stares Valera right in the eye, and grins. He tries to say something cl