Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Where all the white dragons at?

“There’s one born every minute,” Gardmore chuckled to himself as he waited at the edge of the road in the fringes of the pine forest. “Or five, in this case.” For the past ten minutes, his sharp hearing had been able to pick up the sound of travelers making their way toward him. They were close enough now that he could listen to their conversation without difficulty. And the sound was music to his ears.

“For the last time, I did what I had to do!” came a gravelly voice in obvious consternation. “I’ll admit that things got out of hand, but we saved that girl, and no one got hurt, right?”

“No doubt, ‘cept for the horse that we had to sell to the glue factory...” replied another voice, this one dripping with sarcasm. By the dialect, it sounded to Gardmore like a citizen of the Southern kingdoms, and judging from the lack of expletives used, possibly a member of the nobility. Interesting.

A woman’s sigh like the wind whispering through the trees echoed off the rock wall across the road from Gardmore. “You speak as if the horse didn’t even matter. Sometimes I wonder whether you people respect our natural world at all.” Gardmore couldn’t quite place the tenor of this one, but he suspected by the tone that it might be one of these “wilden” he had been hearing about lately – trees that had taken on a somewhat human form and were now walking amongst the races. Gardmore shook his head. What would the gods think of next?

“Hey, if we hadn’t pushed that horse, we wouldn’t have made it in time to save you and Zorab!” the gravelly voice retorted. “You should be grateful the horse died for a good cause!”

“Nementah and I had things quite under control. By Berronar’s grace we had defeated several of the brigands already. Certainly we could have maintained our tactical advantage had you been several minutes later in arriving.” Reference to a god, stoic, virtually emotionless, high-handed sense of justice, unwavering self-confidence – clearly a deva. Gardmore smiled to himself. Devas were generally straight-forward, honest creatures that couldn't barter their way out of a paper bag. That would come in handy during negotiations.

“Horsey rides are fun!” the fifth voice boomed. This last was the most concerning for Gardmore. He could negotiate with intelligent beings (although he certainly preferred dealing with dumb ones, when he could find them), but he knew most adventuring parties came with muscle, and muscle was not his area of expertise. Gardmore sighed and looked disdainfully down at his round belly and short, stubby legs. No, muscle was not something he could contend with.

He had been a traveling salesman most of his life; unfortunately, bad luck and some bad business deals (with some rather unsavory characters) had forced him to wander. This deep, powerful voice reminded him of his younger days when he was selling re-inforced steel cages to slavers. One of his prospective clients was keeping an incredibly large, tattooed man captive to use in gladiatorial battles. The client had referred to his prize fighter as a “goliath,” and noted that members of that race possessed strength and prowess in battle that was unmatched by other civilized races. “Yes,” Gardmore thought, “I’m going to have to tread carefully with this one.”

The booming voice continued, although now in a melancholy tone, “I’m still sad they wouldn’t let us back into town. I could have used another beer.”

“The easiest solution to that problem is to avoid theft in our future endeavors,” replied the deva with the slightest hint of exasperation. “It takes a significant act of crime to get us exiled from a place even though we captured a local villain, saved a respected member of the community, and reimbursed the cart vendor for damaged property.”

“Hey,” interrupted Gravelly Voice, ‘if we had a bit more gold, I could have BOUGHT the cart instead of being forced to steal it. It’s not my fault!”

As the conversation devolved into an argument over the group’s economic status, Gardmore stepped into the middle of the road. “This might be easier than I thought,” he mused happily. "Traveling adventuring party that needs money, wants to do the right thing, and has no experience in negotiating business deals. Gardmore, it's your lucky day!" He rubbed his hands together greedily.

Within a minute, the group came into view as they rounded a bend. The stocky man silently prided himself on his preliminary evaluation. Leading the group was a behemoth of a man, bearing tattoos and other markings that identified him as a goliath. Next walked a dark-skinned paladin, bearing a seal of Kord and carrying himself as one who has been formally trained and taught in the manner of the aristocracy. Behind him were the deva and wilden. Lastly, to Gardmore’s surprise, was the owner of the gravelly voice, a strikingly beautiful sorceress clad in vermilion robes. Gardmore made a mental note to quit smoking so much pipeweed – apparently it could wreak havoc on one’s vocal cords.

Gathering himself, Gardmore moved briskly, confidently forward. It was show time.

When he was within 15 yards of the group, he hailed them. “Worthy adventurers! Surely it is the gods’ will that happenstance brings us to this meeting! I have been hoping and praying for a random encounter such as this!”

The goliath became alarmed. “Random encounter!!!” he shouted, looking around frantically. “Are there orcs? Goblins? Gnolls? Bandits? Thieves? Outlaws? Kobolds? Zombies? Ghouls? Doppelgangers? Stone giants? Displacer beasts? Mind flayers? Flesh golems? Succubuseseses…?” With the last, he collapsed on the ground, gasping for breath. There was a moment of confused silence as Gardmore and the adventurers stared at the giant. Finally the paladin turned to the salesman and cleared his throat.

“What’s your story, little man?" he asked. "We’ve got places to be, so you’d best make it quick.”

Gardmore blinked several times and finally tore his eyes from the panting goliath, still lying terrified on the ground in front of him. “Umm, story, yes…my story!” He quickly regained his composure. “As I was saying, I have been looking for a band of adventurers. I have met several such parties, but none met the standards necessary to satisfy me. You, however, appear to be of, uhh, the highest caliber!” He glanced at the goliath again as he said this. “I have a proposal for you – it’s a business proposition that I think you will find to your liking.”

At this, the deva stepped forward. “I do not believe we are interested. We have pressing matters to attend to. There are innocent men and women suffering in the bonds of slavery. Families and communities are being torn apart. It is disturbing that you stand here looking to make a profit while this goes on…”

Oh brother. Gardmore inwardly rolled his eyes as the paladin tried to quiet the deva. If he was forced to listen to this holier-than-thou drivel, he was going to up the price.

The scarlet-enrobed woman moved forward and eyed Gardmore appraisingly, “Who’s to say we’re of such high caliber? We might find it more profitable just to, ahem, give you OUR business right now.” The woman backed off when the paladin shot a withering glance in her direction, but he looked skeptical when he turned back to Gardmore. Gardmore also noticed that the goliath, his face showing no hint of his previous terror, had risen to his feet, and was drumming his fingers calmly on the head of his massive warhammer. Things were not going as smoothly as the salesman had hoped.

“Look, shorty, we’re busy people," the dark-skinned man said. "Slaves to free, bad guys to kill, world records to re-take. There’s only so many hours. So give us your proposition, and we’ll see if it’s worth our time.”

Gardmore took a deep breath. “Here’s the deal. I have been doing significant traveling in the area and have come across some valuable information. For a sum (we’ll call it a “finder’s fee”), I will give you this information. Trust me when I say that this will turn out to be a very profitable venture for you.”

The deva’s opened his mouth as if to offer more righteous indignation, but the paladin shushed him. He turned to Gardmore, “How much you want?”

“50 gold,” replied Gardmore.

“50 gold!” exclaimed the goliath as he brandished his warhammer and stared menacingly down at the man. “How about I kill you instead?”

It was all Gardmore could do to keep his trousers dry. He took an involuntary step backward, but tried to look as brave as possible in the face of a 7 and a half foot, muscle-bound fighting machine. Suddenly, the goliath begain to laugh hysterically. “Got you on that one! Ha!”

The sorceress put her arm around him. “Don’t worry, it’s just goliath humor. You get used to it after awhile,” she said in her disturbingly man-like voice. How could such a great looking woman sound so ugly? He briefly considered asking her if she was available for dinner later, but drove the thought from his head. He needed to remain focused. Thankfully, she asked the question he had been waiting to hear, “So you mentioned profit? How much profit?”

That was more like it! He was back in business. “Well,” Gardmore started, giving her a confident smile, “it will be significant. But as I’ve gone through much to obtain this information, I require payment before I reveal it. 50 gold is my price.”

The paladin asked for a moment to confer with his companions. Gardmore looked on with some amusement at their debate. The deva did not appear happy with the proposal, but the goliath and the sorceress seemed to enjoy the prospects of income. The wilden simply shrugged. Finally, the paladin returned.

“Here’s the deal, pint-size. We give you 25 gold now. You give us the information, then we give you the other 25 gold. That’s the way it is. Take it or find yourself some other adventurers.”

Gardmore frowned. This wasn’t exactly ideal, but he didn’t have much other choice. One previous group had already gotten themselves killed (the salesman was lucky to have made it out of THAT mess with his skin intact), and there just weren’t many qualified adventuring parties for hire in this region. He reluctantly agreed to the deal, took his payment from the goliath, and revealed the promised information.

“For the past several days, there has been a young white dragon raiding a nearby village. It seems that the dragon isn’t overly interested in the townspeople, but rather occupies himself daily with digging up graves from the local cemetery and carrying off dead bodies. It is rumored that the dragon is working with or for some sort of necromancer, which would explain the need for corpses, although this isn’t confirmed. Of course, the dragon has had no qualms about devouring any of the villagers who try to resist, and also has helped itself to any valuables found in the graves.”

“Grave robbing! I like this dragon’s style!” the sorceress chimed in. She was met with stern looks from both the deva and the wilden.

“Anyway,” Gardmore continued, “the villagers are so frightened that most haven’t left their homes for the past three days. They need help.”

“Dragons and their evil, murderous ways!” the deva spat. “This creature must be brought to justice! Lead us to this town and we will take care of it.”

“Whoa whoa whoa there, Zorab,” the paladin said as he raised his hands. “Our boy here promised ‘significant profit.’ Let’s hear that part of the story before we get all justice-y on some dragon’s scaly rear end.”

Gardmore gave them a confident smile and continued. “As I’m sure you seasoned travelers well know, even the youngest dragons keep a hoard of treasure. I have been fortunate enough to obtain knowledge of the whereabouts of this hoard. Were you noble warriors to slay the dragon, it would be ours for the taking.”

“I’m sold!” the sorceress replied. “When do we start?” The goliath grunted happily in agreement.

But the paladin once again proved to be a bit more skilled in these sorts of negotiations and interrupted his mates. “You said ‘ours for the taking.’ I’m sure you meant to say ‘yours,’ seeing as how me and my friends here would be putting our butts on the line while you sit on the sidelines and watch.”

The paladin wanted to play hardball. That was fine with Gardmore, who knew how these things worked. He wouldn’t let an opportunity to make some good cash slip away. He decided to start high. “Well, seeing as how I’m the one with all of the intelligence, I think it’s only fair that I get 50% of the take.”

That brought several reactions from the group, including derisive laughter from the paladin, and another “joke” from the goliath, this time involving Gardmore’s brains being used as a sandwich spread. Gardmore, being rather attached to his brains, found this joke as humorless as the first. And he was pretty sure that his trousers were now at least a little damp. After several minutes of negotiation, Gardmore finally secured what he thought was a good deal – he would get his 50 gold for providing all the intel, plus a quarter share of whatever they found in the dragon’s hoard. If it was as much as he hoped, he could make upwards of 500 gold without putting himself in harm’s way! Oh how he loved these big dumb adventurers. So noble, so easily manipulated, so…

“Well?” the paladin interrupted his thoughts. “We agreed to your terms. Lead the way, Gardy.”

“Lead the way?” the salesman was incredulous. Surely they didn’t need HIS help to defeat the dragon? And this was NOT part of the deal, at least not the way he understood it. “What do you mean? I gave you instructions on how to get to the village. I will await you here once you’ve defeated the dragon.”

“That’s some funny stuff there, my man,” said the paladin, “But that’s not the way it’s going to work. You see, as trusting as we are of strange white people selling us information about random towns, you'll forgive us if we have our doubts. You're coming with us." He turned to pick up his pack. A second later, he turned back, as if he remembered something important. He said, "By the way, if you think of ditching our merry little band here, just know that I'm the f***ing fastest nation you ever seen, and I will run you down. And once I do that, I'll turn you over to our friend Bear here, who has been known to break kneecaps with a single swing of his hammer. So I would suggest you begin walking.” Gardmore felt beads of sweat form on his brow. He looked up at the giant man in front of him and tried a weak smile. The goliath grinned back. Gardmore began walking.

It was several hours before they reached the village. As expected, the streets and buildings were dead silent. The only noise was a distinct clawing sound coming from the outskirts of town. Gardmore gulped nervously. “This better be worth it,” he thought, not for the first time that afternoon.

The salesman surveyed his hired goons. He had been introduced to each on their journey from the main road. Leading the group was the paladin. His name was Sir Usain Bolt, self-introduced as a mighty warrior and, of course, “the f***ing fastest nation you ever seen.” Walking next to Bolt, merrily swinging his warhammer at daffodils, was the goliath warden, Bear. Following behind them was Arca, who was not a beautiful sorceress as Gardmore had first thought (hoped?), but had revealed himself to be a changeling warlock. He now strolled along in the form of a bearded dwarf. Gardmore was confused about his earlier attraction to the man (woman?), and decided he’d have to schedule a meeting with his psychiatrist once this was all over. Next to Arca was the deva invoker, Zorab. As Gardmore glanced over, he noticed that the deva was staring at him, expressionless. Zorab had been looking at him intently for the last hour, the invoker's unsympathetic gaze seeming to peer into Gardmore's soul. It made him nervous. Last came Nementah, the shaman, a reserved wilden who seemed content and peaceful as she took in the natural wilderness. The dragon waiting at the end of the road didn't seem to concern her in the least. How these five adventurers, unlike in almost every way, had come together, Gardmore did not know, and had not asked. All that mattered was that they could kill a dragon.

Oh gods how he hoped they could kill a dragon.

Gardmore noticed with some trepidation that they were passing the village stables, the last building in the town proper. They found themselves stealing quietly down a lane bordered on each side by looming willows, the clawing sound louder and more distinct. Suddenly the lane turned a corner and ran into an open gate in the midst of a low stone wall. Beyond the wall was the cemetery, and 50 yards from them, purposefully rending the earth in front of a large headstone, was a white dragon. The dragon did not appear to notice them.

“Here you are,” whispered Gardmore. “Good luck.” He turned and began to walk back down the lane. The shaman grabbed him with surprising strength and turned him back around. Without warning, there appeared next to him a sort of translucent wolf, which crouched on its haunches, teeth bared, as if ready to pounce.

“My companion here is going to make sure that you don’t try anything clever – like running away,” said Nementah.

Gardmore tried to gulp again, but his mouth was completely dry. “At the very least,” he thought with his last ounce of courage, “I’ll have a front row seat for my own dismemberment.”

The group conferred briefly about their plan of attack. Seeming to settle on a strategy, they broke their huddle. The warlock entered the cemetry and began to sneak towards a large mausoleum. The others drew their weapons and waited in readiness by the gates. The dragon remained intent on its excavation, oblivious to the force that was about to be unleashed upon it. Gardmore held his breath. The warlock was almost behind cover. From there, Arca would be able to take a point-blank shot at the dragon’s exposed flank. With its attention then drawn, the rest of the party could rush in and take it by surprise.

The salesman relaxed a bit. “What was I worried about?” Gardmore asked himself. “These are professionals. They know what they’re doing. This dragon doesn’t stand a chance.” For a second, Gardmore had a vision of swimming in a sea of platinum coins, scooping cupfuls of rubies and pouring them over his head as he…


The sound of a breaking tree branch brought the dragon’s full attention on the group standing at the edge of the graveyard. Arca froze, two steps from the mausoleum, but obscured from the dragon’s sight. The beast roared and turned its hateful gaze on each of the pitiful beings that dared disturb its work. When its cold, gleaming blue eyes focused on Gardmore, the cupfuls of rubies vanished from his mind, replaced by another thought: he was definitely going to need new trousers.

While the dragon bellowed in fury at the interruption, the invoker sprang into action. He charged forward. White light was gathered at his fingertips. Zorab shouted to the dragon in its own language, his voice deep and infused with some sort of unseen power. There was momentary silence, and Gardmore dared to hope that Zorab’s words were a warning that the dragon would heed. But then a sound like laughter emanated from the dragon’s chest, and it responded to the deva in a terrible screeching voice. Zorab replied briefly in the draconic tongue. These last words brought a furious roar from the dragon, but the invoker refused to be intimidated. He remained impassive - standing alone in the middle of the cemetery. This insolence only infuriated the beast further.

Suddenly, several things happened at once. The dragon took wing and flew towards the deva as Bear and Bolt charged toward the battle. Arca hurled arcane curses at the beast from behind the mausoleum. Bathed in a divine radiance, Zorab tried to defend himself against the dragon’s attacks, but the monster’s claws rent his armor and drew blood. As if in response to the attack, white light burst forth from Zorab and enveloped the dragon in a scorching blaze. The paladin and warden rained blows down upon its side with their mighty hammers. Gardmore found himself standing next to the wilden in sheer terror. At one point he thought to flee when Nementah sent her wolf spirit to attack the dragon, but his mind felt slow and detached as he watched the carnage unfold before him. By the time he convinced his body to act, the wolf was back by his side. It growled menacingly as if it sensed his purpose. The shaman gave him a warning glance.

A cry from Bolt turned Gardmore’s attention back to the raging battle. Seeing the dragon in a vulnerable position, the paladin struck at its right flank with all his force. His craghammer struck true. An audible crunch sounded through the cemetery, and broken rib bones could be seen protruding from ragged, bloody holes in the dragon’s hide. Bolt let out another fierce cry and immediately dropped his hammer and shield, first pounding his chest, then raising both arms to point to the heavens and celebrating his mighty blow with a strange looking dance. Gardmore wanted to yell to Bolt that he should stop celebrating, that the fight was barely half over, but the words died in his throat. The paladin seemed as if he wouldn’t have cared anyway, as he was too wrapped up in his self-confidence to pay any heed.

To Gardmore’s surprise and joy, the fight ended soon after. The white dragon breathed its icy breath over the fighters, but they shrugged it off and continued to do battle. Within minutes, the dragon lay dead on the ground. Bolt and Zorab had taken the brunt of the dragon’s ire, and they were injured, but still standing. Gardmore was so elated at the group’s success, he danced a little jig. The only thing that stood between him and a pile of money had been destroyed! Untold wealth awaited him just up a nearby mountain. Mentally, he was already spending his riches.

“I could certainly use a new house, maybe one overlooking the lake; I could get a hot tub in the back with a wet bar…” His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a knee-bucklingly awful smell.

“Check what I got!” the goliath roared gleefully as he shoved a mass of loosely connected white scales, still steaming and dripping with dragon innards in Gardmore’s face. “I’m going to make myself a shirt!”

“That’s, uhhh, wonderful,” Gardmore managed to gag out. He moved away from the giddy giant, who went to show his prize to the spirit wolf. The wolf promptly disappeared back into the ethereal realm. Gardmore couldn’t blame it.

“Excellent work, gentlemen!” Gardmore exclaimed, motioning the adventurers to gather around him. Nementah cleared her throat. “…and lady. Now we go to claim our reward.”

“The villagers’ freedom is our reward. We require nothing further…” the deva began, in his insufferable, condescending tone.

“Thaaaaaat’s not quite true,” Arca interjected, having morphed into a horned tiefling. “Let’s find us a dragon hoard!”

“Indeed, let’s.” Gardmore agreed. “Follow me.”

The lair was little more than half an hour’s journey from the village. Gardmore felt nothing but elation at having the dragon out of the picture. In between thoughts of the mansion he would build, he amused himself listening to paladin and the invoker discuss the battle.

"Hey, Zoreeby," Bolt said, addressing the deva, "what did you say to that dragon to get it all worked up?"

Zorab said, "I gave it the same divine ultimatum I give all perpetrators of injustice. I told it to leave and never return, or face the consequences. I also told the dragon to reveal its necromantic master. The dragon, in its stupidity, blindness and greed, merely laughed and said it would never reveal anything. It then threatened to kill us."

"Then what did you say?" asked Bolt.

"I told it to go to hell."

"Tight!" Bolt exclaimed. He attempted to perform some sort of congratulatory hand ritual with Zorab, but the invoker clearly had no experience with that sort of thing. Bolt soon gave up.

Then the deva turned to the paladin. "Why did you drop your weapon and defenses during the battle? You put yourself in severe danger."

"Naw naw naw, Zorab, you don't get it," explained Bolt. "Sometimes you just do something so crazy that you gotta celebrate, you know? Give praise to Kord and all that. I knew we were going to get that dragon down, so I didn't worry about it."

Zorab looked confused. "Every divine strike I direct at an enemy is a prayer, and every word I utter on the battlefield is a praise," he said. "Berronar does not require dancing, and would chastise me for performing such meaningless gestures during a conflict. Is this a requirement of worship that Kord has placed on you personally?"

Bolt shook his head. "You still don't get it. It's all in the moment, my man! When I tore that dragon up, I just had to let it all out! Like that time when we..."

Gardmore's thoughts wandered as the paladin and the invoker dove into a deep theological discussion about the styles and merits of praising one's god on the battlefield. The salesman tried to get back to his vision of the treasure that awaited them, but instead he found that questions began to nag at him. What if there WAS a necromancer involved that still needed to be dealt with? What if the cave wasn’t deserted? What if the dragon had family nearby that would seek vengeance? What if these “noble adventurers” suddenly decided to turn on him and take his share of the treasure? What if he couldn’t swindle these fools out of a disproportionate share of the hoard? Well, that last one wasn’t so much a worry as it was a matter of professional pride, but it was still relevant. “I need to be adequately compensated for my troubles. I mean, I could have been killed out there! And I risked my neck to get this information in the first place,” Gardmore thought. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to get less than my fair compensation. One fourth indeed! With any luck, I’ll be two miles away before these idiots realize I took half their loot.”

Just then the group crested a small rise and the cave came into view. The opening was smaller than Gardmore imagined it would be, but that was no matter; it was a young dragon, and the cave probably went a ways back into the mountainside. He still felt uneasy about waltzing uninvited into a dragon’s lair, but the goliath obviously had no such fears.

“Hey dragon, you home?” Bear called into the cave as he activated a sunrod. “No? That’s cause we killed you! Ha!”

Gardmore tried to motion the others ahead of him, thinking he would still have time to run if something remained alive in the cave, but Bolt wouldn’t have it.

“You next, princess,” the paladin said, pushing him into the cave. Gardmore looked around nervously as he entered. The cave was small and bone-numbingly cold. An underground river ran from left to right, splitting the cavern in two. Across the water, an ornate mirror lay propped against the back wall. That was a start. But then Gardmore looked at the ground. Silver-colored coins littered the rock floor around his feet. Could it be…?

Zorab leaned in for a closer look. “It looks like…”

“Platinum?!?” Gardmore cried, falling to his knees and scooping up the coins. He would be rich! There was enough platinum in here to...wait a minute. No. The coins were too light. It couldn’t be mere…

“Silver is what I was going to say,” the deva offered. “I sincerely doubt a young dragon in this part of the country would have a stash of 1,500 platinum pieces.”

Gardmore felt a scream rising. All of this, for a mere pile of silver? And an old mirror? Inconceivable! He could barely contain his frustration.

The adventurers, at least those that weren’t either a religious nutcase or made of wood, appeared to be just as disappointed with the take as Gardmore was. And they weren’t happy with having paid 50 gold to fight a dragon and get a puny bag of silver. Gardmore was going to have to maintain his composure and talk his way through this.

“It doesn’t appear this dragon was quite as wealthy as we were led to believe, there, Gardy,” said Arca. “Tell you what, we’ll give you 40 gold and let you leave here with your health intact.”

“40 gold! Our agreement was one quarter of the hoard!” Gardmore couldn’t contain his fury. “You’re telling me that mirror is only worth 10 gold?”

“I would not pay 10 gold for that mirror,” said the invoker seriously.

Gardmore himself wouldn’t have paid 10 gold for the mirror, but he decided to call the bluff. “Fine,” he said, “then I’ll take the mirror. You all can take the silver.”

Bolt, who had been writing a makeshift trust deed for the property, glanced sidelong at the mirror. “The deva spoke a little quick there. The mirror's probably worth a tad more than that," he said. "How 'bout this - you take 60 gold and we’re square.”

“60 gold?” Gardmore scoffed and shook his head. He knew he was pushing his luck, but he was going to milk this for all it was worth. “I'll take 80 gold and that's my final offer.”

Bolt gave a little nod to Bear, who loosened his warhammer in its sheath and patted the haft. The gesture was not comforting. “75 gold, Gardy. Take it or leave it.”

Well, the hot tub and wet bar were out of the picture. Still, 125 gold for a day’s worth of dealing with five strangers wasn’t bad. He sighed heavily and told Bolt that he would take it.

"Now it's time to take my leave," the salesman thought as he anxiously heaped his silver into a sack. He left without another word. The adventurers were still searching the cavern and didn't even look up when he exited. Once out of the cave, he gave a quick glance over his shoulder and then hustled as fast as his stubby legs would carry him all the way to the road. He wasn’t about to give these fools a chance to think twice about letting him walk away with half their cash. Once during his flight Gardmore thought he heard something behind him in the forest, but he didn't hear it again and decided to keep going. He had business to attend to.

Finally he reached the highway. Gardmore smiled wryly as he hurried to Fallcrest. Not the most lucrative venture, maybe, but still profitable. Overall, he couldn’t complain.

The salesman had no idea the wilden and the deva watched him as he went, marking his progress toward the city.

Read the rest of this post

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Months after leaving his companions Malak is found running through a forest heading south...
The rain was pouring hard now, it seemed to know that there was an ominous encounter about to happen. At least that is what Malak was told when he was a child by the elders of his tribe. As he ran through the forest the rain was unforgiving to him, making hard for him to move through the heavy underbrush. After a few more moments he finally stops at the edge of a clearing in the forest, where the rain seemed to pour heavier and a chill to the wind. He feels a sense of unease as he looks at the clearing, to his right there is a rock formation and nothing else. He can't put his finger on it, but something doesn't feel right. As he steps into the clearing he catches a whiff of a peculiar smell, but can't tell what it is from. He unsheathes his sword, Kurast just as two arrows are let loose, one hitting square in the shoulder the other just grazing his cheek. As he pulls the arrow out there is a cry heard from the far side of the clearing, to Malak's disgust a band of goblin's spews forth running at him. He raises Kurast in one hand and brings it down cleaving two goblins. Before he can bring his sword up several nets are thrown on him as maces and clubs are brought down on his body. As so many times before he feels a sudden rush and throws the nets off and is able to back his way to the rock formation. There he brings Kurast through the remaining goblins, cutting off several of their limbs and heads, leaving a few remaining. The ones that remain, pull out two potion bottles each and throw them at Malak's feet. As the bottles break Malak feels his body stiffen and non-responsive, he falls to the ground aware of what is going on, but not able to move. The goblin's fearing for their life shackle Malak's arms and legs together. A time passes before a voice is heard talking to the goblins, it tells them good work at capturing this fine specimen. As Malak turns his eyes to see who the voice is coming from he sees an end of a staff coming down. Malak is knocked out by the staff of a very powerful Warlock, whose name is Exar. Exar, turns to the remaining goblins, "Put him in the wagon and cover him up. These shackles should hold him long enough for us to get him back to my laboratory." The goblins pick up Malak and throw him into the back of the wagon. Two of them get into the riders seat and begin to haul Malak off. Exar meanwhile picks up Malak's sword and places it in a sheath on his horse, he rides off after the wagon.

Several Days Later...
Malak, it seems had fallen into a trap that was laid for him, by goblins of all things!! He was still in a daze, unable to move, but able to comprehend what was going on around him. He could tell that he was in a storage area, it was cold and little light. As the days passed Malak reminisced about the past few months since he left his companions at the dwarven hold. He remembers the head dwarf being very angry with him when he found him with his daughter. Apparently, it was thought to be an insult to demonstrate the handling of a broadsword to a female dwarf, who wanted to improve her feat at swordsmanship. After leaving his friends behind, embarrassed about what had happened. He started out on his original quest of finding the Barbarians to the south. As he passed through towns he had many encounters that earned him fame and gold. Once in a city name Myrkr he entered the local fighters tournament. He was slated to be the loser of the final match by many especially when the local warrior is the favorite. The warrior, named Ulic, was a grand warrior at least 6'5" and much stronger than Malak. It was said the all his life he had been trained by the local warlord in the art of war. After a long battle, Malak was able to grab victory when he tapped into his barbarian power and kn ocked out Ulic. This awed the crowd, especially a warlock named Exar, who took great interest in Malak and his superior strength. After that tournament Malak continued south to where the goblins had ambushed him.
More days passed and Malak was left to his thoughts, however he heard a voices always talking about him and some project. Then one day he awakes to see a darkened sky and a alchemist set all around him. He then hears a familiar voice, "Are you awake?" Exar is at the second story to the laboratory. "Today is when you fulfill your purpose for coming here. I am going to give you unimaginable power and abilities that you have only dreamed about." Exar begins to walk down a flight of stairs towards Malak. " You will sadly lose any memory of who you are and what you have done, but you will gain so much more." As Exar stands next to Malak, he is on a table that is held up by chains that lead to the ceiling of the place. Underneath the table is a container filled with a solution that cannot be identified. Exar straps Malak to the table making sure that they are firm and in place. Malak with all his effort is trying to will his body to move and fight the straps. Exar notices the look in Malak's eyes, "I know you are scared and are trying desperately to fight your way out using brute strength. Rest assure in a few moments you will not feel anything or remember what happened." With that Exar begins to walk up the stairs to what looks like a control panel and pushes a few leavers. The table begins to descend into the liquid, Malak is now submerged into the liquid which begins to rush into his mouth and lungs. He is in complete agony unable to breath, suddenly there is a jolt into the liquid and pain is now searing through his entire body. He is trying to remember his training on dealing with pain, there is too much however, and he is sent through a series of flashbacks, where he remembers his home in the north. He sees his friends in pain in a dark place, where they are being held captive. The last image he sees is that of his uncle and family disappearing in a fog. He tries to reach out for them, as he reaches he sees that his hand has been transformed into a different hand. Suddenly everything goes white the pain has become to unbearable and his mind is shut down.

The Next Day...
I awake with a jolt from the bed, as I sit up, my head is throbbing. As I try to calm down, I can't remember what happened last night or anything before that. I think to myself 'Did I just dream that or was it actually true??' I try and get my bearings in the room, I see that it is made of stone with a dresser with a mirror, a large window, and a rug on the floor. I cautiously stand up and walk to the mirror over the stand. I look into the mirror to see a pale thin looking face staring back at me. I raise a hand to touch my face. The hand feels cold and my face feels scaly, I notice some strange markings on my forearm that lead back to his body. I rip off the top of my robe to see a scaly looking body with numerous markings, which look to me like tattoos all over his body. Shocked, I step back and fall over the chair behind him to the ground. I crawl over to the corner and draw up my legs, not knowing what to make of all this. I still have no memory of why I am here, who I am, or what this place is? A few hours pass before there is a noise of someone approaching outside the door. The door opens to reveal a middle aged man with jet black hair, there is a mark that looks like mine his on the forehead.& nbsp; He is in black robes, he is ordained with a golden gauntlet on his right hand. On the gauntlet is a big jewel in the center with a bunch of little ones surrounding it. The one in the middle is a big yellow one that seems to have a pulse of light in it. In his left had he has a staff that has a white-gold look to it. A smile forms on his face as he enters the room. " You are awake that is good." He moves to the seat next to the dresser.
"Who-who-who are you?" is all I manage out.
As he sits down the staff begins to shrink to a rod of 3 feet in length. He places it on his lap and then puts his hands on his knees. "You may call me Exar...I am a warlock from the order of Zal'tan." he smiles.
"Who am I...what is this place...why am I here?!?!" I stammer out, barely able to keep my emotions in check.
"Your name is Arca, this is a keep that belongs to my order, you are here because you are powerful being. Under my tutelage you will learn the ways of the Zal'tan. You were brought here by my order several days ago. They told me nothing of you other than, your name, and what you are."
I sit and think for a moment, "What am I?"
Exar leans back into the chair, he crosses his arms. "You are a changeling."
"Changeling??" I ask.
"Your kind is able to 'shift' into other forms that are of your size, so for example you can do this..." As he finishes his sentence Exar shifts into a dwarf, then a dragon kin, and finally into something that looks like me, but is different.
"As you can see my young apprentice, that is why you are here. We are both the same and you have an extraordinary power in you, like me. "
He shifts back to the form he was when he walked into the room. He stands up and walks to the door and turns around back to Arca.
"Your training begins tomorrow. It will be a long arduous path, with things you may not be ready for. However, you have someone that starting a similar journey, like you. His name is Cay and he is from the town of Myrkr."
Pondering what has been told me, there is a basic question in my head, "Training for what?" I ask.
Exar looks at me, his eyes are boring into mine. It's as if he sees my soul and destiny unfolding.
"You are to train as a Warlock, now it is time to eat...come." Exar motions to follow him, the rod has grown back into a staff as he stands up. Hesitantly, I get up and follow him pulling my robe back up to cover me. I do feel a need to eat all of a sudden. I follow him down a hall and into a big banquet room, there are many long tables in the room. There are tapestries hanging from the wall, depicting heroes from the order. Exar motions for me to sit down at the table, soon there are people serving me as if were a king. As I sit there and eat, I think about what lies ahead of me and think that there is something odd to this place.

Several months later...
Arca is standing in a clearing that is west of Zal'tan hold. As he stands there with a wand out he mutters some words. Suddenly there is a blast that shoots out from the wand scarring the earth as well as the makeshift dummy in front of him. There is clapping heard from behind him, "Good Arca, you have mastered the Dark Pact very well, however there is still more to learn." Exar says.
"Thank you very much master." Arca says with a slight bow.
Exar turns toward Cay, "Now Cay it is your turn, use your curse to strike down the dummy with your power." Cay who is standing a few feet away, turns and faces the dummy. He holds both hands out together towards the dummy. As he mutters some words, the dummy begins to wobble about, then with a quickness the legs are kicked out from underneath it. Exar raises his gauntleted hand and the dummy raises back up. "Now it is your turn Arca..."
Arca, knows that he is not very strong in his curse, in fact the one he has been constantly working on, helps him focus on his target and increases the blast. He closes his eyes and thinks of the dummy sitting in front of him. He begins to mutters some words as he raises his wand, as he finishes the curse a light forms at the end of the wand. Arca screams "HADOUKEN!!!!!" The dummy is lifted a foot or two off the ground and a blast bigger than anything Cay or Arca have seen is sent towards the dummy, completely obliterating it. Both are speechless as the blast subsides. Exar is exuberant, "Well done, well done, my apprentice. You have shown what you are truly made of today! You are by far my best student ever!!! " Exar steps down from the stones and wraps his arm around Arca's shoulder. "Come let us break for dinner..." the two being to walk off back towards the tower. Cay is sitting there in disbelief, soon that is replaced by rage and jealousy towards Arca.
Later that night after they have finished the night meal, a half-elf is sitting in the library looking over some tomes that are concerned with the dark pact. Exar walks in slowly behind him, "I see you are brushing up on your studies??" Arca, slightly jumps from being surprised that Exar was there behind him and shifts back into his normal form.
"I'm sorry, I was hoping to learn why I struggle with this form of attack so much." Exar takes a seat across from Arca at the table. "The only true way to use the dark pact is to use the anger that burns in all of us." Arca now interested in what his master has to say puts down the tome. "What do you mean anger in all of us? I don't feel anger at all, is that my problem?" Exar looks at him as if he was looking for something on or in him. "You will one day my student. Life always manages us to give us anger to live many, many life times." He gets up and walks back towards the entrance, "Oh don't let anyone see you shift into that type anymore. Elves are not very welcomed here." Arca nods, and as Exar leaves, he shifts into a Tiefling.
Arca is asleep on his bed in his room, he is tossing and turning as his dreams are becoming slowly twisted into a nightmare. In it he sees himself as a barbarian being attacked by goblins only to see Exar knock him out. He then sees a adventurers that seem familiar to Arca, he sees them fight many monsters, demons, and even a dragon. His next vision is that of some of those companions walking into a manor or keep of some sort, then pain. His last image which sent him reeling awake was that of his master. In the image he sees Exar in his study looking over something. He sees Cay sneak up behind him and stab him through the back with a ceremonial knife. Arca jumps up from his bed, he holds his head in his hands just as he hears a scream come from down the hall. Arca races out of his room towards his master's room. When he gets there he sees his master on the ground bleeding from a wound in the chest. Arca rushes to his side, "Master what happened??"
Exar turns and looks at him and in a weak voice, "I--t ...it was C-ay. He--he--he did...this...to... me." Arca looks at the wound and knows it is fatal. Exar weakly laughs, "I sh--ould have watch--ed...him...more. Ap-p-p-parant--ly...his...jealousy...was...un-stop---able." Tears form in Arca's eyes, "You can't die master, I have much to learn still." Exar slowly shakes his head, "Yes....more...you...m-m-m-us-t...learn. Y-o--u...must...ha-ve...my...v---en--ga--nce."
Suddenly the main bell in the tower begins to ring. Exar has a worried look on his face, "Arca...before you....go...I...mu--st te---ll ...and...give...you...some---th--ing. I...will...gi--ve...you...the..gi--ft...of...anger. T-t-take...m-m-my...hand-d-d...and receive...it." Arca takes Exar's hand and puts it to his forehead. In a flash Arca sees some of his past, the barbarians, the group of adventurers, and Exar's betrayal. However, he sees the top of the order of Zal'tan put Exar in charge of doing this to Arca. He reels back from Exar.
"You did this to me?? Who am I really? Why did you do this to me??" He is seething with anger throughout his whole body.
Exar weakly, "I...don't...k--n--ow, f-f-f-ind the head...of our...order, he...kn-n-nows. Now take these..."He hands him his rod and gauntlet. "W-w-w-hen...you...have-have-have...mastered...t-t- t-he use... of these items, th-th-th-en ...you...w-w-w-ill...b-b-be...a...true.. war-lock. N-n-n-ow...go...find...your...f-f-f-riends to the east ,l-l-l-eave... before... they... find..you here..." with that Exar dies.
Arca, still reeling with anger yells aloud as he takes the two items in his hand. Suddenly there is a banging on the door to the room. Arca can hear voices outside the room, then there is a voice, it is Cay, he is telling the remaining order that he has found Exar dead and that Arca killed him. Arca slips out the back way to the study and stealthily makes his way to his room. As he is gathering his stuff, there is a sound of a mob heading towards his room. Knowing he can't fight them all he looks to his window. As he looks out he sees a river quite a distance below him. Without hesitation Arca jumps out the window to the river below, just as the mob bursts in on him.
Arca lands with a thud into the water below, all his air is pushed out of him and he is struggling to stay afloat. He hears shouting from the keep behind him as he swims over to the bank across from it. When he makes it out of the river, he runs and runs and runs for what its seems like hours before he collapses into a exhausted sleep. The next morning he awakens to flashbacks to the night before, he sits up startled trying to regain his senses. As he regains his composure he finally understands what he must do. He now has a purpose in life, to find out who he is and to make those pay that did it to him. As he stands to leave he makes sure that Exar's gauntlet in his bag, and then reforms the rod into a walking staff. As he walks he draws up his hood to hide his form, as he walks he feels his anger coursing through his body. It seems that Exar was right, anger had found him and it was all he could feel. He sets out heading to the east, with only his visions and senses guiding him.

At the order of Zal'Tan in the nearby city of Dathomir.
Cay is walking into a audience chamber . When he enters there is a huge stand in the middle with a light beaming down on it. Atop of it is a hooded figure, along the walls Cay is able to make out other figures standing in the room. Cay stops near the foot of the stand and kneels. The figure on the stand speaks in a booming voice, "CAY, YOU HAVE DONE WELL TO FIND OUT ABOUT THIS TREACHERY. IT IS BECAUSE OF YOUR LOYALTY TO THIS ORDER THAT WE GIVE YOU THIS GIFT." As the figure says this, one from the wall steps toward Cay and places a gauntlet, much like Exar's on the ground in front of him. The figure continues, "PLACE THIS ON YOUR HAND AND READY YOURSELF TO BECOME ONE OF US..."Cay places it on his hand and holds it outstretched towards the figure, as he does this lightning shoots out from the figures hand and seems to empower the gauntlet and bring it to life. There is a soft red glow from the gem in the middle of it. "NOW GO CAY, YOUR FIRST ORDER IS TO SEEK OUT ARCA AND KILL HIM..." Cay nods, "Yes, my master it will be done." Cay stands and exits the room, he has a wicked smile on his face as he does...

Read the rest of this post

Zorab's backstory

Past Life:

I lived with a large dwarven nation. The dwarves lived within the mountains, mining for jewels and precious metals. I ventured alone from the city one day, and I was captured by dragonborn. I was tortured. After several months of mind-breaking punishment, I was taken before a red dragon. In my confused state, the dragon convinced me that the dwarves were under an evil curse, placed on them by a demon that was entombed within the mountains. The curse was leading them to mine deeper and would eventually cause them to free the demon from his prison. The dragon informed me that I had been under the same curse and the torture was necessary to free my mind of its effects. He said that the dwarves, however, were not strong-minded enough to be cured of the curse and must be killed. They would become hostile to anyone who tried to turn them against their drive to do as the demon was commanding them to do. The dragon implored me to aid in his attempt to stop the demon from being freed. I agreed. I went back to the dwarves and at the appropriate time, I sabotaged their defenses. When the dragon and his minions attacked, I aided in the slaughter. It was not until I looked into the eyes of a dwarf woman and her child that I realized I’d been deceived.

I turned my wrath on the dragon, but I was too late. The destruction was virtually complete and the dragon killed me without a second thought. I was of no more use to him now that he had his stolen kingdom. I was reborn in the midst of a purifying fire. The dwarven goddess of safety, community, truth, and justice, Berronar Truesilver, saved me from being reborn as a rakshasa and gave me a chance to redeem the wrongs of my past life.

Current Life:

After my rebirth, Berronar guided me to a new community of dwarves. The dwarves, while somewhat suspicious of an obvious outsider, allowed me to stay. I established myself quickly, however, as I knew the native dwarven tongue fluently, and I was familiar with their culture and their gods (Berronar, of course being one). I provided them with divine wisdom and bestowed blessings on their children. Within a year I was a respected member of the community.

Dwarves being a proud and territorial people, I earned much respect with my prowess on the battlefield. Berronar’s power flowed through me as I stood side by side with their warriors and drove off attackers. I worked with them in the rocky mountain passes of our homeland, hunting for food and mining for precious metals. Though I stood a full two feet taller than even the tallest, I was regarded as an equal. Every night as I sat in conversation with Berronar, I thanked her for the second chance she gave me. I no longer worried about my previous life’s mistakes.

Then it all changed.

I came home one day from a wedding. The ceremony’s beauty had distracted me from an empty feeling in my chest, but now that I was alone and had a moment to be still, the emptiness consumed me. Berronar…her presence had left me. As I began to panic, I felt an invisible hand on my shoulder. It turned me toward the window that looked out over the valley stretching away from the village. And then she spoke to me.


Go? What do you mean “go”?This is my home! These are my people! I have done all that you asked, Berronar! I have defended the community! I have loved them! I have been honest and true! Surely you can’t be telling me to leave.


Why? Why must I go? Is there something I have done or not done? Have I been disobedient? When have I ignored your voice? When have I acted apart from your will?


No. No, Berronar. This is where I belong! What I am doing here is good! I am protecting and uplifting the community! I am upholding truth and justice! I am redeeming myself! I will not go!

I was acting like a child throwing a tantrum. Ridiculous behavior, now that I think back on it. How dare I speak that way to my god? The god who gave me life and saved me from the depths of horror that was my past life. Although the torture I endured in that life had left a legacy of occasional fits of violence and rage, those raw emotions were always directed at enemies who threatened the sanctity of the community. Now my anger was focused squarely on the divine being threatening the sanctity of my life. I was so blinded by my own vision of self-righteousness that I could not accept what Berronar was saying to me.

And then I was blinded to everything.

With a great flash of light, the room around me exploded with divine radiance. I heard Berronar intone softly.


Everything went black.

I don’t know how long I laid there unconscious. When I awoke, I opened my eyes…but the blackness did not dissipate. Berronar had removed my sight. With a crushing weight the realization of what I had done came full upon me, and I cried out to my god. I pleaded for forgiveness. I begged for mercy. But the emptiness inside me and the blindness of my eyes persisted. For the first time in seven years since my rebirth, I wept.

I crawled on hands and knees to the door, found my staff, and used it like a crutch to raise myself to my feet. I stumbled out and felt my way to the middle of town. I needed to find someone to help me pack my belongings so I could leave. I may not have been in Berronar’s good graces, but I would humble myself and repent. I would obey her command and try to regain her blessing.

I heard a commotion in the village square as I approached. A gruff voice to my right spoke to me. It was Grimdrin, a friend of mine and one of the elders of the community.

“Zorab? Are you hurt? What is the matter with your eyes?” he asked, concerned.

I would not deny my sin. “I have gone against the will of Berronar. Blindness is the punishment of my insubordination,” I said. While nothing could compare to the despair I felt at having alienated my god, I still cringed as a new wave of shame washed over me. My piety was nothing but a house of sticks knocked over by a stiff breeze.

There was an uncomfortable silence. Finally, Grimdrin cleared his throat. He said, “Well, Zor, I…I am sorry to hear that. Please let me know if there is some way I can help.” For the first time in some years, I knew the dwarf was contemplating the differences between us. Could I blame him? This was not something that he had ever seen among his own people.

There was another long silence. Finally he spoke again, “I know this may be a bad time, but there is someone I would like you to meet. A refugee has found us. She has traveled far. It seems her home was destroyed some years ago and she has been living with her child on the fringes of society until she could gather enough provisions to make the journey to our village. Come, maybe welcoming her into our community will help you with Berronar.”

I knew that my status with Berronar would not change until I obeyed her command and left the town, but I let him lead me towards the throng of dwarves clamoring in front of me. I could feel us push through the onlookers. Finally, we stopped and Grimdrin began his introduction, “Krystrid, this is…”

Krystrid? That name sounded familiar. When I heard her sharp inhale of breath, the memory came to me.

“Zorab?!?” she exclaimed. I could hear the confusion and the pain in her voice. It was a voice out of my previous life - the life that had ended so terribly. The life that had seen me aid in the destruction of an entire dwarven nation. My eyes were blind, but my mind could still replay the images of slaughter. I could do nothing as I watched myself kill men, women, and children, thinking all the while that I was delivering them mercy. The last image lingered – it was Krystrid, clutching her baby to her bosom, a look of unimaginable betrayal on her face as I raised my staff to strike her down. It was her face that had brought me to my senses; her face that freed my mind from the dragon’s deception; her face that showed pain so intense that I knew there could be no evil enchantment. I had been deceived by the dragon. I remembered that the last thing I had done before I went to my death was to lead Krystrid past the marauding dragonborn so that she could flee to safety. The image faded.

And now I knew why Berronar had commanded me to go. She was honoring my obedience and wanted to spare me the pain of enduring this meeting. For the first and last time, I was grateful that I could not see. The images of my past lives would flicker in and out of my mind’s eye, but they rarely lingered. But if I had seen the face of this woman before me, with eyes of anger and hatred and loss staring into mine, I might have lost all semblance of hope for maintaining my sanity, much less restoring my relationship with my god.

I stood there, head bowed, as Krystrid explained to my friends and neighbors how she recognized me. I heard gasps of shock and exclamations of disbelief. I felt as if my soul was being stoned – every condemning word a rock that left me bruised and bloodied. After what seemed like an eternity, Krystrid fell silent. I felt the eyes of the entire village burning into me. It spoke well of their honor and sense of justice that they did not tear me to pieces on the spot.

Grimdrin spoke, his deep voice rough with emotion, “What have you to say, Zorab? Is this true?”

I gathered myself and spoke to them for the final time. “It is true. I was captured by the dragon, and deceived into believing the dwarves were evil. My mind was not strong enough to resist the lies he fed me. Berronar Truesilver gave me a chance to redeem that mistake in this life, and I made it my covenant with her to protect and honor the people of this community in any way I could. It seems I have failed at that, as well. I am truly sorry for my actions. I will not ask your forgiveness. It is not deserved. If you desire to enact some sort of retribution, I will accept that. However, if you allow it, I will simply leave, and never return. My penance will be the knowledge of the pain that I have wrought.”

Utter silence. I let the moment linger, waiting for the first shout for my head, but it never came. I turned and shuffled through the crowd, weariness like I had never known sitting like a yoke upon my shoulders. I managed to retrace my steps to my home and I gathered a few provisions. Carrying nothing but my staff and the food I could fit in a sack, I left.

I do not know how far or how long I wandered. My legs were bloody from tripping on rocks and tree roots by the time I descended into the valley. My hands were gashed from breaking the falls. Each step I prayed to Berronar to reclaim me as her own. Days and nights meant nothing to me. Although I ate little food, the provisions I had were gone soon enough. I was reduced to begging in the towns through which I passed.

It had probably been months of wandering in this manner before Berronar heard my prayers. I had once again run out of food and I was weak beyond imagination. To make matters worse, I had contracted some sort of sickness from eating scraps thrown to me by some jeering townsfolk. My breath came in ragged gasps and I coughed up what I assumed was blood. I sank to my knees in the road and offered a last supplication to my god.

“Berronar Truesilver. I beg for your grace and mercy. Take your place in my heart. Flow through me once more with truth and justice. Allow me to be your instrument of protection against those who would threaten the safety of innocent people. I am yours to command.”

I lifted my hands to the sky with the last of my strength. Not getting a response, my body gave way and I collapsed there in the road, waiting for death to take me and dreading the beginning of my next life. A vision of the unnatural being I would become flashed through my brain. I heard a voice from a distance; it seemed to be calling out to me. But I no longer had the ability to respond. As I sank into nothingness, I thought I felt hands lifting me.

When I awoke, I opened my eyes…and I could see! My first thought was that I had been reborn, but I quickly tossed that notion aside – I was in some sort of bedchambers and not in some secluded natural setting. My staff was propped by my bedside. Clothing had been laid out for me, as well as a fine mail tunic. I had not been reborn, but saved by a kind stranger. Berronar be praised! I was alive, I could see, I could walk…

But most of all, I felt whole again. I felt Berronar within me, her power tingling at my fingertips, the language of the angels on my tongue. My penance was complete! I shouted a prayer of thanksgiving.

Quickly I dressed and went to the window to see where had been taken. I was on an upper story of a tower looking out over a good sized settlement, which I did not recognize. A few miles outside of the city at the edge of the hills I saw a keep in ruins. A light fog seemed to emanate from the ruins, and hovered just over the city, blocking the sun from view. Even as the sight chilled me for reasons I could not explain, I felt a familiar warm hand grip my shoulder.


To the ruins? I will, Berronar. I will do as you say.


Rift? What rift?

But her hand was gone. It did not matter though; I had her instructions and I would not ignore them, not again. I grabbed my staff and headed out the door and down the stairs.

I saw no one as I made my way to the tower’s entrance. On a table in the foyer, I saw a note. The name on the top read “Valthrun.” I could find no quill or ink to leave my own message, but I swore that I would return to thank this man in person. I asked Berronar to grant him blessings.

I had no idea how long I had lain in that bed – days, weeks, months, years maybe. I felt surprisingly hale, but that was naught but the grace of Berronar working through the nurturing hands of Valthrun. My strength had returned.

As I walked through the streets, I noticed a distinct lack of activity. No bustling in the marketplace, no children playing. It felt like a ghost town. As joyous as my spirit was at having recovered its purpose, the utter lack of life around me dampened my enthusiasm. I moved as quickly as possible through the city and onto the road leading to the keep.

As I crested a small rise, I saw the ruined structure in front of me. I picked my way across the rubble strewn plateau and over the stone that once formed the outer wall of the keep. Within minutes, I stood in what used to be a courtyard. Facing me was a gaping entrance to the keeps cellar with stairs leading down that were barely visible in the muted afternoon light. Four others stood staring with me – a tattooed giant, a heavily armored paladin, a horned tiefling in dark robes, and a woman whose skin appeared to be barklike and covered in leaves. Apparently Berronar did not mean for me to attempt this alone.

The five of us looked at each other with an unspoken understanding. We moved towards the opening.

Read the rest of this post

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Winterhaven Saga, Explained



The fog is gone.

The deep, dark mental state of confusion and depression has lifted from the city of Winterhaven. Seemingly interminable, the haze that enveloped the city’s populace apparently lasted for several weeks.

No one could anticipate this. And no one is really sure what went on in Winterhaven during those lost days, except that the all of the trade and commerce that usually goes on in the marketplace was shut down. But now, thanks to our exclusive interview with five heretofore unknown adventurers, we know who was responsible for this phenomenon and how we were set free.

The Winterhaven Post Tribune’s own Latyna Ramshackle was on hand as the adventurers returned to the city after their harrowing experience. Here is the exclusive interview with the renowned Sir Usain Bolt, the goliath, Bear, devoted servant of Berronar, Zorab, and master of the shamanistic arts, Nementah “the Freshmaker.” Sadly, they carried between them the fifth of their party, the noble and mysterious halfling (or goblin, or tiefling, or something...), Arca, who had perished during their mission.

LATYNA RAMSHACKLE: Good sirs and ummm, tree, uh, woman. How does it feel to know that you have saved our fair city? How does it feel to know that you are heroes of Winterhaven?

USAIN: Hey girl! What’s up? No, umm, it feels great, you know? I mean, we’re a little beat up, and that punk Kalarel was a tough cracker, but he got his.

ZORAB: We have acted out of a need to bring safety to your peaceful community. The abominable actions going on in that keep have been ended. Your gratitude is noted and welcome, however we do not desire hero worship. Justice is its own reward…

BEAR: Don’t listen to him! I wouldn’t mind a little worship! We deserve it after all we went through! It was crazy down there, man. There were zombies all over the place, there were these weird bug things, and there was this hand, you know? Giant hand! [the goliath gestured with his arms to accentuate his point.] [Whispering] I saw darkness man. Not just darkness, you know, but DARKNESS. There were things in there, man, bad things. Evil things…[trailing off and staring blankly into the distance]

NEMENTAH: There WERE bad things. All of them enemies of nature. I am glad they are gone and your city is safe.

LATYNA: I am sorry about your fallen comrade.

ZORAB: He died valiantly, expending all his efforts toward defeating the enemies of righteousness. His courage in the face of evil…

USAIN: Courage?!? That fool dove headfirst into a bloody pit! In my land, we call that stupid. But whatever, he did his job. We got a dude coming to get him back on his feet. I think this is him now!

DR. NYK RHYVIAIRA, local miracle man: Hi everybody! What seems to be the problem?

NEMENTAH: Our friend is dead.

DR. NYK: I see, I see. Fortunately for you it looks like he’s only MOSTLY dead.

ZORAB [aside to Bolt]: Are you sure this man is qualified? What god divinely empowers his resurrecting ability?

USAIN: Naw, it’s all good. He does his business his own way. [winks] And he’s giving us a discount. Trust me.

BEAR: Sounds good to me! More loot for the rest of us!

DR. NYK: All finished! 600 gold, please!

BEAR: 600 gold! That’s ludicrous! That wasn’t worth it at all!

ZORAB [looking sternly at Bear]: Of course it was. Material wealth means nothing compared to the life of a companion.

BEAR [grumbling]: I coulda bought like 6,000 bedrolls with that…

ARCA [rising from the ground in the shape of a halfling]: Wha…where am I? What happened? Why do I look like an overgrown halfling? Holy crap is THIS a hangover.

ZORAB: You were slain by Kalarel, but we have defeated him and now you have been returned to life.

LATYNA: You keep referring to this Kalarel – who is he? What was he doing down there? What really happened?

ZORAB: Let me explain. I fear that my friends may have a tendency to embellish.

We all felt called, each in his or her own way, to the keep. Knowing that there was something we needed to do, we agreed to join forces to battle whatever evil it was that had taken residence in the depths of the manor. Not long after we descended into the darkness, we encountered the ghost of one of those who had come before us to free your city. He guided us to the two living adventurers from that party. We were able to free them from the clutches of a possessed ooze. The two, Taran and Lotheryn, were very weak from their torture, so they told us the details of their errand and evacuated the keep. We agreed to continue with their quest – to find Kalarel, a worshipper of the evil god Orcus, who was trying to reopen a rift. The rift would create a portal between this world and a plane filled with unholy demons and beasts. It was the weakening of the seal holding this portal closed that caused the fog which plagued your city.

After a few misturns, I felt my god, Berronar guide me toward a heavy set of doors. We approached with caution but heard only silence on the other side. We opened the doors to complete blackness. I lit a sunrod and looked into the room.

It appeared to be a large hall, devoid of life. However, dominating the middle of the room was a large statue of a warrior maiden. Two statues depicting crouched dragons sat along the far wall. And across the room from us we saw an antechamber flanked by four statues of cherubs. I entered warily. There was no movement, but something about the room did not sit well in my soul.

USAIN [shaking his head]: Your soul! Listen to this guy! I ain’t afraid of that stuff. I charged right in and nailed that ugly statue.

BEAR [laughing]: Yeah, and then it dropped you flat on your ugly ass!

USAIN: At least I don’t throw rocks at spiders when I haven’t a giant hammer in my hand!

ZORAB: This is why I insisted on telling the story. Moving on. As soon as Bolt attacked the statue, the doors closed behind us, locking Arca, Nementah, and Bear out of the chamber...

ARCA: But I used my superior skills to pick that lock, no problem.

USAIN: Just like you used those skills to disable the traps on the floor, right?

ARCA [transforming into a goblin]: For the last time, I didn’t know they were arcane runes!

LATYNA [looking at Arca and screaming]: Aieee!!! A giant goblin!

ARCA [morphing into a tiefling and wiggling his fingers in a strange manner]: What goblin? Where? I’ll spitefully glamour it!

NEMENTAH [patting Latyna on the shoulder]: Don’t worry. He does this often.

LATYNA [glancing nervously at the changeling]: O-o-okay. P-please continue.

ZORAB: Indeed.

After the others joined Bolt and I in the room, Bolt threw his bedroll at the statue, which was once again motionless. As we feared, the statue came to life again and destroyed the object as soon as it was within reach. [Bolt: That was my favorite bedroll too! You see the sacrifices we made?]

We carefully inched along the near wall to the other side of the room, staying well back from the statue. Bear was the first to the far side of the room, and he entered the antechamber. Without warning, an arcane field separated the antechamber from the rest of the room, and the cherubs lining the walls of the chamber began to fill the room with water…

BEAR: Good thing I’m 7’8” because otherwise, I might have drowned. But I had everything under control. No panic from me!

ARCA: Are you kidding? Not only could you not destroy the cherubs with that huge weapon that you use [aside to Latyna: Compensating for something, if you ask me], but you caused the water to pour out faster, AND you made the dragon statues spit fire at us. And then, in a brilliant display of quick wit, you tried to tie yourself to one of the statues when the water started swirling. You failed at that, by the way…

BEAR: I didn’t see you doing anything useful, mister fabulous glamour!

ARCA: Me and Zorab were shutting down the dragon statues during your little bubble bath.

ZORAB: Actually, Nementah discovered the source of their power, and Arca and I were able to use our knowledge of the magic arts to disable the enchantment that powered the dragon statues and the force field.

After we accomplished that, we toppled the cherubs to prevent another entrapment. The encounter had left us drained and wounded, so we camped right there and regained our strength.

USAIN: I had to sleep on the cold, wet floor because that statue destroyed my bedroll. But I endured.

LATYNA: You poor thing! You must have been freezing!

USAIN: Nah, I had my plate armor to keep me warm.

ZORAB: Berronar guarded us while we slept and we woke up feeling refreshed. But we were not ready for what awaited us in the next room.

I activated another sunrod and we opened the door. I was chilled to my core by the site of countless zombies feeding on the remains of the dead. Such unholy beings should not be walking about. They are an affront to the creation of the gods. I quickly prayed for wisdom, and Berronar answered.

We closed the door and moved one of the fallen cherub statues in front of it to buy us some time.

USAIN: Yeah, no thanks to Bear, who wanted to charge in there and fight them all himself. I had to intimidate him with my pimpness to get him to stop.

BEAR [grumpily folding his arms and pouting]: I could have handled them. In my culture, we would never back away.

ARCA: That’s because none of you has the brain power to come up with a plan…

BEAR [brandishing warhammer]: What was that?

ZORAB: Enough.

Berronar told me that the only way to defeat the zombies was to use the power of the statue against them. Someone would have to lure the zombies into range. I knew it should be me.

LATYNA: How incredibly brave…

ZORAB [shaking his head]: No, what I do in response to my god for the safety of others is not bravery, only obedience.

LATYNA [looking exasperated]: Alright…

USAIN: He’s like this all the time. It’s all you’re going to get from him. Let me tell this thing the right way.

So we backed off as the zombies burst through the door and charged right at Z standing there in front of the statue. And I have to say, the plan worked the first time; that statue chopped through three of those things like they were nothing. Problem was it chopped through the invoker as well. So Z gets up, but he knows he can’t take another swing from the statue, so he runs right up to the rest of those undead punks and blows half of em away with his god magic.

ZORAB [clearing throat]: Actually it was a divine blast of holy, radiant energy meant to seek out those who have been necrotically reanimated from long dead corpses and destroy them.

USAIN: Right right, god magic. So he does that. Meanwhile, Bear over here climbs up ON TOP OF THE STATUE and gets ready to jump on the next zombie to get anywhere near him. And the statue can’t get him because he’s on top of it, see?

BEAR [looks proud of himself]

USAIN: All of a sudden, more zombies show up and run over Zorab. It’s a big mess. But I lead the cavalry back into the fight so we can save him. Then one of these super zombies moves up to take us out, and Bear does this crazy flying leap to try to take out this fool. As expected, he lands about 5 feet short…

BEAR [looking indignant]: No, no, no, I planned that the whole time. See, I wanted the zombie to THINK that I wouldn’t reach him…

USAIN [interrupting]: …because zombies can think…

BEAR [continuing]: …so that I could swing as soon as I hit the ground and take out his kneecaps. It’s an ancient goliath fighting technique. I’ve practiced that since I was a kid.

USAIN [rolling eyes]: Sure. So anyway, then Nementah comes up and heals Zorab and we sent those zombies back to the afterlife.

NEMENTAH [sighing]: I am constantly using my powers of healing to save all of you. Such is my lot in this fight against evil…You’re always charging in, heedless of the danger, trying to prove yourselves macho or whatever. [snorts derisively] Men.

LATYNA [nods knowingly]

ARCA: We appreciate the healing…

NEMENTAH: You’d better. Anyway, let me carry on with this. After we defeated the zombies, we entered the next room. It was awful; there were dead bodies everywhere, most of them half-eaten by the zombies. And, just like in the rest of this dismal place, it was made entirely of stone, with not a sign of natural life. Clean up the bodies, maybe put a ficus in the corner, and some hanging hydrangeas, it would have really given the place a warmer feel. But no, I was forced to wander through this cold, stony tomb.

We took a short break to rest after the zombies, and our paladin found a small crevice leading into a hidden chamber. When he came back, he showed us a brilliant red jewel that had a sort of renewing energy. How many bodies he had to go through to find it, I don’t want to know…

BEAR: Don’t forget, he was also chewing on some old dead guy’s arm!

LATYNA [shuddering]: Ewww…

USAIN: No way! I keep telling you, it was beef jerky from my pack. I was hungry.

ARCA: I was eating a corpse’s arm. [Everyone looks at Arca with disgust.] What? A little barbecue sauce, some bleu cheese dressing, that’s some good eating…

BEAR: Alright; enough of that. My turn to tell the story.

So after our rest, we charged through the doors on the other side of the room, which is how I like to do things. These big ugly, ogre looking dudes came at us, but me and Bolt took em out. Well, it was mostly me, since Bolt kept getting knocked unconscious, but I handled those thugs, no problem. Then we took out this evil priest looking guy who kept singing funny songs about something named Orcus. Kind of catchy, now that I think about it. [singing off-key] “He came from hell to earth, to kill your mom. From the …”

ARCA: Whoa whoa whoa, did you forget the part where I singlehandedly took out like 8 vampires and some other little creeptastic thing?

ZORAB: Actually, Nementah, her spirit companion and I assisted you…

ARCA: Yeah, yeah, but it was mostly me. And then I nailed that underpriest. Should have been an overpriest! Heh heh.

After I took care of that fool, we searched the room. There was a bloody altar on one side and there were these rivers of blood going down into this hole in the center of the room. We looked around for awhile, but we couldn’t figure out how to stop the blood. So I did what I had to do – I ran as fast as I could and leapt into the hole!

LATYNA [looking aghast]: You didn’t!

ARCA [puffing out his chest]: Oh yeah, I wasn’t afraid. I knew there was some sort of evil magic down there. So I went to find it and destroy it.

When I got down there (landing on my feet, by the way), there were some skeletons, a weird wight-looking thing, and then some crazy guy with a Flock of Seagulls Haircut waving his staff all over the place and yelling about a rift. So I busted out my Eldritch Blasting skills and took those things down.

ZORAB: Actually, when I slid down into the pit next to you, you were shivering violently and babbling. I had to say a prayer over you just to get you out of your trance. And then it took all of us working as a team to eliminate our foes.

USAIN: Except Bear, who took his sweet time jumping down.

BEAR: Hey! The blood was slippery, alright? And I was wearing my Himalayan walking shoes. They’re comfortable. Check em out [shows the reporter his shoes].

LATYNA: Your feet do look resilient.

ZORAB [looking impatient]: Continuing.

We immediately recognized the eccentric man as Kalarel, and judging by the large statue of the death god Orcus on one side of the room, it became clear that he was using necrotic powers to open the rift. The rift itself dominated one side of the chamber, a gaping blackness that seemed to strain as evil creatures attempted to burst through. Kalarel was near to finishing his task.

We destroyed Kalarel’s minions and confronted the emissary of death himself. His powers were strong, and he thwarted us at every turn, blasting us with necrotic energy that drained the life from us. I prayed that Berronar would see us through.

But then Kalarel struck Usain with his staff, knocking him out. The only way to save him was for Bear to sacrifice his own health so Nementah could heal Bolt.

NEMENTAH: I didn’t want to do it that way, but it was the only chance we had to keep Usain alive.

USAIN [turning to Bear]: Really, man? You did that for me? [Bear nods] Come here, brother. [They tearfully embrace, Bolt pressed against the goliath’s massive bosom, sobbing. Suddenly they both look around and notice everyone staring at them. They back away from each other, looking at the ground and clearing their throats nervously.]

ARCA: Are you boys finished with your lovefest or what? Anyway, that Kalarel guy teleported right in front of the rift, and seemed to get stronger. Bear charged over there, but a giant hand came out of the rift and…

BEAR: DON’T TALK ABOUT THE HAND! [curling up in the fetal position, shivering and whispering to himself] Not the hand. Not the rift. So dark. So cold.

ZORAB: It was truly a frightening sight. The hand grabbed Bear and attempted to pull him into the rift. I went to grab him, hoping to keep him from a fate worse than you can possibly imagine. [Bear whimpers] By Berronar’s grace, the hand let go and tried to grab me. I dodged out of the way and Bear was able to escape to safety, only to be struck down, unconscious, by one of Kalarel’s curses.

LATYNA [turning to Bolt and putting her hand on his arm]: And what were you doing while this was going on, brave paladin?

USAIN [looking uncomfortable]: You know, ummm, fighting Kalarel, and ummm, being, uhhh, paladin-like. And stuff.

ARCA: Ha! You were hiding behind Bear’s body like a little girl! Big old paladin in his metal armor throwing butter knives from the corner!

USAIN: Naw naw, I was protecting Bear’s body. I didn’t want him to get hurt any more than he was! And I had to, uhh, lay hands on him!

ARCA [snorts derisively]: Yeah, and I’m a dwarf! [morphs into a dwarf] Damn.

ZORAB: We were all injured by that time. Kalarel was proving to be a dangerous foe. He took out each of us, one by one, killing Arca, and knocking the others unconscious. I was the only one standing.

Because of Berronar’s divine presence within me, I have a certain resistance to necrotic powers. It was all that sustained me. Bolstered by my god’s strength, I withstood Kalarel’s blows and called forth divine lightning. Finally, both of us bleeding, both of us appealing to the gods we served, Berronar’s justice reigned as Kalarel was struck down by a vicious bolt of divine energy. Upon dropping to his knees, the very evil he was trying to unleash turned on him. The rift sucked him in and immediately went still, safely closed once more. Winterhaven is safe.

LATYNA [shaking her head in awe]: Incredible. So what will you do now?

ZORAB: I need to find a quiet place and meditate on Berronar’s grace and mercy.

NEMENTAH: I think I will wander among the trees and flowers. I have been too far from nature for too long.

BEAR: I’m going to get a beer.

ARCA: Beer sounds good to me.

USAIN: I’m going to track down this Mayor McCheese or whoever and collect our cash money. After that I was thinking I might try to convince a certain hot news reporter to join me out on the town. That Kalarel dropped a ton of scratch and it’s burning a hole in my pocket. What do you say, girl?

LATYNA [blushing]

An amazing story of courage and adventure. Winterhaven is safe, with thanks to these intrepid heroes. Be sure to thank them if you see them on the street.

Read the rest of this post

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wish List

Either in your spare time or next time we play, it would be helpful for me if we came up with some sort of wish list for everyone. Since there are a variety of different armors, weapons, magical clothing/jewlery and wonderous items that are available for everyone's character, and since I want you guys to have fun, we need to find out what you want most in the world (the D&D world, of course). So if you could list like 3-5 itmes that are no more than 4 levels above your level (so, for right now, nothing about item-level 6), that would be great. They don't all have to be combat oriented either (though most will have some combat use). Thanks!

Read the rest of this post

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quasi-Zombie Jamboree

As we made our way back to Winterhaven in the orange glow of the setting sun, I reviewed our situation.

We had found Bolgar and sent him back home, which was good. We had found a mysterious mirror, which was, ummm, mysterious. We had defeated the kobolds and slain an orc, which was good. We had discovered a plot to eat the inhabitants of Winterhaven, which was good. Well, it was good that we discovered the plot, not so good that people were going to be eaten. I’m firmly against the eating of people, just in case anyone was wondering. Not that I campaign against it, but I would certainly not vote for any elected official where cannibalism was on their platform.

Now the trick was to stop the wanton consumption of Winterhaven’s residents. We didn’t have much to go on other than the vague mention of a spy in Irontooth’s note from Kalarel. Our original consensus was to confront the surly elf, Ninaran, since it seemed impossible that someone that grumpy wasn’t up to SOMETHING. But we needed to look at all of our options. Who else could be involved in this? I ran through the possible suspects in my head.

Sylvana Wrafton? Seemed unlikely. Her business thrived on more patrons visiting her inn, so I imagine that having people get eaten would drive profits down. I crossed her off my list.

Eilian? I don’t know what his motivation would be, other than money, but he did know the town better than anyone else. He could be a valuable informant to anyone attempting an attack on Winterhaven. I kept him on my suspect list.

Valthrun? Based on his scholarly demeanor, he seemed the most inclined to be involved in something arcane, and his interest in the mirror seemed genuine. It was possible he was helping to engineer some crazy magic ritual. I couldn’t eliminate him from suspicion either.

Bairwin? Like Sylvana, it seemed inconsistent that someone who ran a general store would aid in something that resulted in fewer customers. But maybe he was getting business from this Kalarel fellow. It’s possible that he was promised something in return for his cooperation. Couldn’t rule him out.

Mayor/Lord/His Highness Padraig? This had some possibilities. He seemed rather obsessed with power, based on his overwhelming pride in the relatively obscure town that he presided over. If someone (or someTHING) had promised that Winterhaven would be the new epicenter of power in the region, I could see Padraig helping out Kalarel. Another prime suspect.

My brain started careening helplessly through other possibilities. Well, other than Sylvana, who wasn’t on my list? The flower vendor, Delphina? Maybe she was secretly growing poisonous herbs for Kalarel! The guards at Padraig’s manor? They could be disgruntled from working for that blowhard “lord” for so long and now were planning a coup! The town coroner? He would have access to lots of corpses and could be providing the bodies for some huge undead resurrection festival! The town poopsmith?!?! He would...


I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound of Lotheryn’s voice.

“What? Huh?” I stammered as I regained my bearings. I had been so wrapped up in my paranoid mental witch hunt that I hadn’t even noticed the druid walking next to me.

“I heard you muttering back here, so I thought I would see if you were well,” she said, a look of concern on her face. Then she raised an eyebrow. “Who, or what, exactly, is a ‘poopsmith’?”

Unable to help myself, I grinned sheepishly. “It’s actually a funny character from a book my mother would read to me and my sister when we were children. The Poopsmith and another character called the King of Town would do silly things. I remember the first time I read that book to my sister; I tried to give the characters funny voices and Aralee just laughed and laughed. She loved those stories…” My grin faded. I quickly looked up at the trees, trying to steel my heart against the flood of emotions that always washed over me when I thought of Aralee. I was silent for a moment, waiting to speak until I knew my voice wouldn’t quaver. Finally I continued, “I don’t know why that name came into my head just now. I was considering candidates for the spy and my mind went a little out of control. I know Ninaran is the prime suspect, but it could be anyone, Lotheryn.”

“I know. We must not be too quick to judge, lest we inflict some injustice on an innocent person. We must also be very cautious,” she warned. That was certainly the truth.

Just before we got back to town, we all agreed that we would not mention the note or anything about our knowledge of a rift or a spy until we were certain we knew who was involved in the plot. That approach would severely limit our ability to get answers, but we couldn’t afford to tip off the infiltrator.

It was early evening by the time we got onto Winterhaven’s main street. The vendors were closing down their shops, but there were a good amount of people just milling about - more than usual. There was something bothering me about the way they were acting. At this time of day, people did not just loiter about on the street; most would be making their way either to their home or to a drinking establishment of some sort. But these people were just aimlessly wandering like confused zombies. Blank, dismal stares greeted us whenever we made eye contact with one of them. The air around me was a heavy, oppressive weight on my shoulders; whether that was a result of moisture in the air or this city-wide funk that had consumed Winterhaven’s populace, I couldn’t say.

“Their eyes are so dead,” whispered Alassë as she looked around nervously. Sariel nodded silently, her lighthearted nature drowned in the sea of lifelessness. There were several people who didn’t appear to have succumbed to this weird phenomenon, but these were mostly hurrying on their way home, keeping their eyes focused squarely on the road in front of them so as to avoid being haunted by the stares of the passersby.

Finally, I pulled one of the quasi-zombies aside. “What’s going on with everyone? Are you alright?”

“I…don’t know. Feel…strange. There’s this fog…”said the man in flat tone. I was unnerved by the way he stared right through me, not seeming to even see my face two feet away from his. Without another word he turned away and meandered off, joining the others.

“What are we supposed to do now?” Alassë asked, continuing to look concerned.

I looked at Sariel, who just shrugged. Apparently Garl hadn’t been as forthcoming with information recently.

“Well,” I said, “There’s an old saying. ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get drunk.’ Or something like that.”

Lotheryn just rolled her eyes as Alassë scowled at me. “That is NOT a solution. What we need is to get some clerics in here, do some serious prayer vigils, obtain some holy water…”

“I’m exaggerating!” I interrupted before the half elf could wax theological about Torm’s cleansing rituals. “But we really should go to the inn and talk to Sylvana Wrafton. Maybe she’ll have some information for us.” I began to move in that direction. Alassë was still frowning but she followed along. Holy water, I thought, shaking my head. What are we going to do, bathe them?

Unfortunately, Sylvana was about as much help as the brain-dead guy we’d talked to earlier. She was clearly suffering less from the illness that affected the others, but she was in no mood to banter. The tavern was empty as we walked in, and Sylvana gave us an angry glance by means of greeting. We got the full brunt of her frustration when we asked what was going on.

“Whaddya mean, ‘what’s goin’ on’? I’m sure I’ve no idea!” she said in an icy tone. “Alls I know is that bis’nis been in the privy since y’all was in here a couple days ago. You wanna know ‘what’s goin’ on’?” This last question was laced with biting sarcasm.

She continued, “Go talk to one of them meatheads walkin’ round outside if y’all want ta know. Now if you’ll ‘scuse me, I’ve some cleanin’ ta do and I ain’t feelin’ quite right myself.”

We left in a hurry. I muttered a comment about it being Sylvana’s “time of the month,” but that was met with more glares, this time from my female companions. Malak would have appreciated that joke.

Our next plan was to check out Bairwin’s Grande Shoppe. We got only slightly more information there than we had at Wrafton’s Inn. When we arrived, we found Eilian and Bairwin talking in hushed tones. Although they were more cordial than the innkeeper, their answers were short and unhelpful. Essentially they told us what we already knew: people were walking around in some weird mental fog and no one could figure it out. Lotheryn asked where Ninaran lived, saying that we desired to call on him, but neither could tell us where his apartment was. Eilian looked pale, as if he might be contracting the Winterhaven disease, but he was still lucid enough to ask how the kobold problem was coming along.

“Great!” I told him. “We took care of those buggers with no problem. Winterhaven won’t need to worry about them any more.”

“Well, that’s some good news,” the man said. “When this little episode passes, the town should be back to normal. Padraig will certainly want word of this.”

We purchased a few more potions from Bairwin and began to leave. Just before we got out the door, I acted on a hunch.

“Say, neither of you has heard the name Kalarel, have you?” I watched closely for their reactions. Both looked confused, but neither gave any indication that the name meant anything to them.

Eilian glanced at Bairwin, who shook his head. “No, we’ve never heard that name. Why? Does that name mean something?” Eilian asked.

I had to tread carefully here. “No, no, it’s probably nothing. Something one of the kobolds growled as he was dying. I probably heard it wrong; they speak in gibberish most of the time anyway.” I was lying through my teeth, but neither seemed in the mental state to read through it. I thanked them for their time and joined the others outside. So much for that hunch.

It was quickly determined that our next visit had to be to Valthrun. The scholar might have found something about our mirror that would help us. I vaguely recalled from one of our previous conversations that he had mentioned an abandoned keep to the north of town that had once been the site of some evil or another. Supposedly it was empty now, but it was probably the best place to start if we were going to look for diabolical rift-opening and people-eating. Maybe ol’ Valthrun could provide more information.

When we got to the scholar’s tower, we noticed light emanating from one of the midlevels of the structure. I knocked loudly on the door and heard rustling and footsteps.

“Coming! Coming!” came Valthrun’s muffled voice from behind the heavy wooden door. When the bespectacled man finally opened it, he looked careworn and a bit disheveled. But he seemed glad enough that the five of us were on his doorstep.

“Oh! You’re back from your adventure with the kobolds. How did that go?” he asked. He seemed to look across the street for a moment as a frown touched his lips. But it was gone so quickly that I may have been mistaken.

“It went well,” I answered. “We took care of them. Winterhaven shouldn’t be bothered any more.” I was tired of this small talk. We’d gotten nothing from anyone in the town and we needed answers. I got right to the point. “So have you found anything out about our mirror? And is there anything you can tell us about this weird fog that seems to have invaded everyone’s brain?”

Valthrun again looked over my shoulder before responding, “Well, I’m not sure about the fog, but I do indeed have some answers about…um, the mirror. Yes.” There was a long moment of silence.

“Well…may we come in to discuss those answers?” I asked impatiently.

“Oh, where are my manners? Of course, you can come up to my parlour,” he said, giving one more glance past us. As he turned and led us into his tower, I glanced in the same general direction. Across the street was Ninaran, and he was in close conversation with an elf woman we had seen around town. It was the flower saleswoman, Delphina. In fact, as I recalled, Lotheryn had purchased some flowers from her when we first got to Winterhaven. She seemed a nice enough woman at the time, even remarking to Lotheryn that she would be happy to give her a tour of some of the area’s flora, if Lotheryn was interested (which of course she was).

So what was she doing talking to that scoundrel, Ninaran? And why was Valthrun so interested in them? Could Valthrun be in league with Ninaran? Maybe they were both spies! I made eye contact with Lotheryn. The druid’s concerned look told me that she had also seen the two elves across the street.

Should I go? She mouthed as she inclined her head slightly toward Ninaran and Delphina. I shook my head no. It was too risky now that Valthrun had invited us in. If Valthrun was involved in this mess, any attempt to confront Ninaran in public could give us away. We would have to get what we could out of the scholar and try to track the elf down later. I followed Lotheryn over the threshold and into Valthrun’s home.

The scholar led us up the stairs. On each floor there was a landing that led to a closed door. There were five floors in Valthrun’s tower, and when we got to the fifth, he opened the door into a large room furnished with couches on one side and a long table on the other. He lit some sconces, invited us to make ourselves comfortable, grabbed our mirror off the table and sat down across from us.

“Alright, doc,” I started, “Let’s hear the secret behind the mirror. Does it talk or anything like that?”

“Oh no no no, nothing that extravagant,” Valthrun chuckled. “It was used for magical purposes, even though there’s no magic inherent in the mirror. But before I get to that, let me ask you, did you discover anything about the kobolds that was interesting? Was there anything odd about the invasion of Winterhaven?”

Lotheryn looked out the window. Alassë frowned and stared at her boots. Anca appeared disinterested in the question. I cleared my throat and focused on some ornate tapestries. Only Sariel made eye contact with Valthrun, smiling that familiar confident smile of hers.

“Well?” Valthrun tried again. “Anything?”

“Of course not!” Sariel said, flashing her smile at the scholar. “Just a bunch of filthy, crazy kobolds that are no longer physically able to do much stealing, or much of anything for that matter. Nothing odd.”

“Hrm, well, I just thought maybe…” he trailed off. “Never mind. Before I tell you exactly what the mirror was used for, let me give you a little background. That keep I told you about earlier, the one to the north of town? Well, that was an old outpost of the Nareth Empire, meant to protect the region from raiders to the north. It did its job for countless years until it was over-run, many centuries ago, by an evil lord. This lord opened a rift in the basement of the keep. This rift was a link, a sort of portal, if you will, that allowed demonic and undead creatures from a different plane to enter this world. These creatures terrorized the local populace until a group of five wizards allied themselves together and set about destroying this danger.

“That’s where your mirror comes in,” Valthrun said, looking at each of us. “The mirror was used by the wizards as a means of scrying the rift in order to best plan their assault on the keep.”

“’Scrying’?” Alassë said, confused. “What is that?”

“It’s a means of using arcane arts to see what is happening at another place. When you use a scrying spell, as long as you know who, what, or where you are trying to scry, you will see all the activity taking place around the target of the spell. It can be done with virtually any reflective surface – a mirror, a crystal ball, a glass of water, even – but you get a much better picture if you use a better surface. This mirror, which appears to be of fine, Valyrian-era craftsmanship, showed about as much detail as you could hope to see. Well, the wizards scried until they obtained enough information about the activity in the keep’s basement to ensure that their assault on the keep was successful. The evil lord was killed and the rift was closed. The wizards then built a series of catacombs around the rift, as a means of hiding it, and left guards to ensure that no one could reopen it.

“Years went by and the Nareth Empire gradually failed. The keep was eventually left unattended, but, peace having descended on the region, the local populace had forgotten why it was there in the first place. And most of them had never known what was underneath,” the scholar said, looking somewhat uncomfortable as he told this last part. He fiddled with his glasses and looked out the window, much as Lotheryn had done moments ago.

“You okay, doc?” I asked, as warning bells went off in my mind. Something was clearly bothering the man.

“Oh nothing, nothing. Just getting a tad hungry,” Valthrun said, laughing nervously. “Anyway, like all ancient, abandoned buildings, it earned a vague reputation as being haunted, but there it sits, empty, no one going near except maybe Delphina on a flower-picking mission. Nice flowers grow up there, though.”

I honestly didn’t give a troll’s crap about the flowers, but his story seemed to make sense. And it certainly jived with what we already knew from Irontooth’s note about someone opening a rift. If this Kalarel was successful in re-opening the portal, we could have all sorts of crazy things running around Winterhaven, making snacks out of the citizens. The process of opening the rift could be the reason why everyone was walking around in a daze. It didn’t seem to be having much effect on Valthrun, but it had already become obvious that some people were stricken more than others.

I was nodding distractedly as Valthrun asked if we wanted to stay and share some roast pheasant with him. I realized the importance now of finding the spy (who I was sure had to be Ninaran, possibly with help from Delphina, but who could have other allies in the town as well), and getting as much information as we could. I caught Lotheryn’s eye. The look she gave me let me know that she understood the same thing. As the rest of us moved to join Valthrun at the table, she hesitated.

“Anca and I will join you shortly, but I am afraid we require a breath of fresh air. Anca becomes restless when he sits indoors for long periods of time. If you will be so kind as to excuse us…” Lotheryn finished, looking expectantly at Valthrun.

“Of course! Before you arrived, I was re-reading my dissertation on applied theories of arcane rituals in isolated halfling societies. There are a few new ideas I had that I would love to run by you,” the scholar said excitedly. Lotheryn smiled as she and Anca left the room. I groaned inwardly. This was going to be the worst pheasant dinner I ever had.

The druid and her warden returned several minutes later. Valthrun was in the midst of a , ahem, “riveting” anecdote about the pattern of familiar use among halfling mages living in the lowlands of Kalorn. The scholar was distracted enough by his own story that I was able to have a whispered exchange with Lotheryn as she sat down beside me.

“Ninaran?” I asked softly.

“Gone,” she whispered back.

Damn. There went that plan. Time to improvise. I still thought there was a chance that Valthrun could be involved in this. He’d certainly given us a lot of information, but that could be a trap. I decided to find out for myself.

“I’m going to need a minute too, doc. One of the spices on the pheasant isn’t sitting well.” I pounded my chest and coughed for emphasis.

Valthrun looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “The only thing on the pheasant is salt.”

“Well, salt doesn’t agree with me,” I snapped. “I’ll be back.”

Valthrun shrugged and went back to his dissertation. Wow that was boring, I thought as I left. Now to find out what this guy was up to. I snuck down to the third floor, where we had seen the light from outside the tower. I couldn’t hear anything behind the door. I tried the handle and noticed it was unlocked. Here goes.

I entered a vast library, dimly lit by several candles on a desk in one corner. I could spend years in here and read only a tiny fraction of these books, I thought as I looked around at shelf after shelf of thick, leather-bound tomes. I knew that it would be useless to look for anything specific on those shelves, so I made my way to the desk. On it I saw an old book, very worn by time and use. I flipped through the pages, skimming here and there. It seemed to be telling the same story that Valthrun had just related to us. I saw a picture of the five wizards, huddled around the very mirror we had found. I had just made up my mind that I was going to find no additional information when I opened to a page that had one large image – it showed a man in fine white armor, standing next to a dark oval that might have been the rift. Flames shot from the eye-slits in the man’s helm.

Valthrun didn’t mention THAT. I knew I didn’t have time to read further or I would be missed upstairs. I left the room as silently as I had come and rejoined the party. Valthrun was still happily chatting away. Alassë was nodding at her place at the table, on the verge of falling asleep. Sariel had plastered a smile on her face, trying to appear interested in the scholar’s words. Lotheryn and Anca both looked anxious to leave.

“Ah, Taran! I was just getting to the end of my dissertation. I trust your foray outside was peaceful,” Valthrun said. “Where did you go?”

“Oh just here and there, down the street a ways,” I lied again. No wonder this guy was a scholar. He had a lot of questions, most of which were an inconvenience.

I had decided it was time to be on our way. Valthrun wasn’t giving us more information, and it was impossible to tell whether or not the man was in the employ of Kalarel. If we couldn’t track Ninaran (doubtful, at this time of night on city streets; that was too much even for MY training), we could go see Padraig, hopefully wring a reward out of him, then head to the inn for a good night’s sleep, and make our assault on the keep in the morning. It was clear that if we really wanted to help these townspeople, keeping the rift from opening was our new mission.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Valthrun,” I said with a bow, “but we really must be going. We have to see Lord Padraig before we retire for the night.”

“A shame, I have a stew that’s almost ready. Are you sure you won’t join me?”

“No,”Lotheryn, Sariel, and Alassë said simultaneously.

“Oh, well, alright. If you must. But before you leave, one last question,” Valthrun said. I swallowed hard. I really hope he didn’t suspect anything… “Would you mind if I purchased that mirror from you? It is quite a regional heirloom, not to mention a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. I could offer you 500 gold for the item?”

I whistled inwardly. That was a lot of cash. I asked Valthrun for a minute and drew my companions aside.

“What do you guys think?” I asked. “I say we sell it.”

“I agree,” said Lotheryn. “As we discovered ourselves, there is nothing magical about the mirror itself, so even if he is involved, I don’t see how he could use it to hurt us.”

Sariel was shaking her head. “There might be things he’s not telling us. What if the mirror has other properties that we don’t know about?”

I threw up my hands in exasperation. “It’s a mirror, for crying out loud! What’s he going to do, scry us to death? He’s about to pay us 500 gold for it! If we refuse him now, he’s going to KNOW we suspect him. So let’s just make our money and get out of here!”

Alassë and Lotheryn voiced their approval. Sariel crossed her arms over her chest, seeming ready to fight the decision, but she finally relented. “Alright, sell it. But when this comes back to bite us, don’t look at me to save you.”

Valthrun had apparently sold enough copies of his dissertation to be a wealthy man. He handed us our gold and we left his tower. I quickly walked across the street to where I had seen the elves conversing. As I suspected, Ninaran and Delphina had left no discernable markings by which to track them. I cursed inwardly at the missed opportunity to interrogate them both. We would just have to make do with the precious little information we had.

We proceeded to Padraig’s manor. This had been a long day and I couldn’t say I was particularly in the mood to talk to the weasel, but I knew two things. One, he might pay us. And two, we certainly weren’t going to have time to talk to him tomorrow, when we were going to have to save the town from becoming all-you-can-eat demon buffet.

When we arrived, the guards gave us the usual spiel about needing an appointment and Padraig being asleep, blah blah blah. When I told them that Padraig would want to hear news of us slaying the kobolds and driving them from the area, they got really excited and began dancing about, giving us cheers. Idiots.

“So does that mean we can see Padraig?” I asked irritably. Not only had it been a long day, but Sylvana had been so crabby that I didn’t even get a chance to enjoy some of her fine ale. I could have used a couple pints right about then.

The guards happily let us through the gates and sent word to Padraig. We were ushered into his study. The “lord” himself appeared shortly after, tying a robe around his waste and rubbing sleep from his eyes. As with Valthrun, he exhibited few symptoms of the city-wide malady.

“Well, what news?” he demanded. I liked this man less every time I encountered him.

We gave Padraig the same story we had given the others, explaining how we dispatched the kobolds, but leaving out the part about Irontooth and Kalarel. Padraig seemed genuinely pleased.

“Splendid! Before long this town will be back to normal. I’ll tell you what, since you did such fine work, I’ll pay for dinner at Wrafton’s!” The small man held out his hands as if he was giving us the keys to the city.

Dinner!?!? Was he &$^*#*& serious? I had no desire to blackmail anyone or hold the town hostage, but after all we’d endured, he was going to buy us soup and salad? Unbelievable.

I could tell that Lotheryn and Sariel felt the same way. Alassë didn’t look quite as angry, but the cleric didn’t look happy about it either. I was just about to raise my objection when the fifth member of our party stepped forward.

Anca growled menacingly as he moved his face inches from Padraig’s. The shifter held up his money pouch and shook it with unmistakable meaning. Lord Padraig was no longer quite so pleased.

“What is this thing doing?” he protested. “Get it out of my face!”

“Anca pretty much does what he wants,” I interjected. “He travels with us and fights valiantly at our side, but we don’t really have any control over him. In fact, this one time, I saw him rip the arms off of this gnoll who had already surrendered his weapon. And then there was the time he bit through the neck…”

“Enough!” Padraig shouted, his face beading with sweat. “Tell your friend that I do not mean to be cheap. I am merely trying to do what is right for my people.” Anca moved away slightly but continued to bare his teeth in a snarl. Padraig composed himself as best he could and then continued, “I will make you this deal. I will give you 100 gold pieces, as much as the town can afford, and I will pay your bill at Wrafton’s for as long as you stay in town,” he concluded. There was a brief pause as his inner businessman kicked into gear. “As long as that’s less than a week,” he added suddenly.

I looked at Anca, who retreated to Lotheryn’s side and stopped growling. “Deal,” I said.

Padraig went to his desk and counted out the gold, grumbling the whole time. He got one last pointed remark in as he handed us the bag, “I hope you appreciate it. With this sickness going around, the town may be quite poor for awhile, despite the absence of the kobolds.”

“We might be able to take care of the sickness, too,” I said casually. I regretted the statement immediately. We still didn’t know who was involved in the opening of the rift. For all we knew, it could be Padraig. The man looked at me sharply.

“How is that?” he asked. “Our scholars and physicians have been unable to diagnose anything. What is it that you know?”

I hesitated. Should I give this man any indication of what the note said? Or should I lie again? Before I could answer, Sariel pulled me aside.

“If we’re going to help him again, he needs to promise us more money,” she whispered. “This is going to be dangerous. Even Garl can’t give me a full sense of the evil that we’ll be fighting. We are going to need more than a lousy 100 gold pieces from this man, even if it comes from his own overstuffed coffers.”

The eladrin had a point. I made up my mind to go for it.

I cleared my throat. “We have reason to believe that we can end the fog that has been plaguing your people the last few days – for a price, of course.”

Padraig narrowed his eyes, “I’m listening.”

“We found evidence that someone may be opening some sort of portal to the underworld, and we thought it might be related to that keep north of town…”

“That keep has been abandoned for centuries!” he exclaimed.

I continued, “Well, that’s what we were told at first too, but then when Valthrun told us about…”

“WAIT! Valthrun knows about this?” the lord was shouting now, spittle flying furiously from his lips. “THAT’S IT! Guards! Bring me Valthrun, immediately! We’re going to get to the bottom of this.” He stared at us coldly. “No more secrets from you. I’m going to dress, but when I get back, you WILL tell me everything.” He stormed off in a fit.

I tried to ignore the incredulous stares from my companions, but I couldn’t for very long.

“What?” I shouted. “What do you guys want from me?”

“I thought we were trying to avoid revealing that information,” Alassë said, gesturing angrily in my direction. “Against my deepest inclinations, we have been lying to ensure our safety. And now that has all been thrown away.”

I looked at Lotheryn for help, but she just turned away. I was going to get no reliefe there.

“Well, what if Padraig’s the spy? What if he made up that whole kobold thing just to get us out of the way?” I was desparate now. “Let’s make a run for it. We can probably overpower the guards…”

Sariel laughed bitterly. “And have the entire town turned against us? Garl is good to me, but if I got in a mess like that, I’m not sure he would stick around to bail me out.”

Now it was my turn to be angry, “This was YOUR idea, avenger. You were the one who said I should ask for more money!”

“Don’t put this on me, ranger,” she shot right back. “You put your foot in your mouth when you mentioned that we could help cure the town in the first place. I was just trying to redeem your mistake.”

I fought the urge to knock the eladrin’s smug little grin into next week. Not only would that not help us, but I wasn’t sure that I was quite her match in close combat. Still, it took all my restraint to keep silent as I fumed.

Thankfully, Lotheryn stepped in to smooth things over. “What is done is done. The earth holds memories of many wrongs and yet still produces for one when she asks. If the earth can forgive eons of torture, we can forgive these small misdeeds,” said the druid calmly. “We still have every reason to suspect that Ninaran is the spy. I think we should tell Padraig and Valthrun the entire truth and be on our way.”

Lotheryn was right. We would need to tell everything. It was only a minute or two of uncomfortable silence before Valthrun was unceremoniously tossed into the study. Padraig followed close behind.

“Alright, I don’t know what it is you “heroes” have been hiding from me, but you’d better come out with it,” he said the word heroes derisively, as more of an insult than anything else. It seemed like every time this guy opened his mouth I was getting more irritated.

I looked at Valthrun, who still seemed shocked to even be there. “Well, doc, you better start. Tell him what you told us about the keep.”

“I don’t see why…” the scholar started.

“Just tell him.”

Valthrun related his story. When he finished, everyone turned expectantly to me. I unveiled our secret about Irontooth and his note from Kalarel. I told them that we were certain whatever activity was going on to open the rift was causing Winterhaven’s residents to walk around in a stupor. The only thing I declined to mention was the spy. If there was one card I could keep from playing, I would do it. If one of them was the spy, better that they think their involvement still secret.

Padraig paced back and forth, agitated. He didn’t appear angry any more, but he was definitely concerned by this new information. Valthrun looked like he was about to throw up.

Finally, Padraig spoke, “I can’t believe this was kept from me. This is something the lord of a great city like Winterhaven should know!” I barely kept myself from snickering at that last remark. He stopped pacing and looked directly at me. “So are you through? Is that all? Anything ELSE I might need to know?”

I kept silent, but Valthrun couldn’t any longer.

“I’m sorry, my lord, but there is one more thing I declined to reveal earlier. You see, there is something else beneath the keep…” the scholar wrung his hands as he began.

“Is this something else dressed in white armor and have flame shooting from its eyes?” I asked casually.

“H-how did you…? B-but…?” Valthrun stammered as he and everyone else looked at me.

“Lucky guess. Just tell us what you know.” I wasn’t about to admit my earlier snooping. I had gotten in enough trouble for one night.

Valthrun began another tale. Apparently, when the wizards had sealed the rift, they left a knight and his household to keep watch. This responsibility was passed down through several generations. Finally, it passed to an incredibly strong knight named Sir Keegan. One black night, without warning, Sir Keegan woke from his slumber. He donned his armor, unsheathed his greatsword, and went to his wife. Without a word, he slew her. He proceeded to do the same to his children, his captain of the guard, his steward, and every other living thing in the keep. He was a machine of war and he had gone mad, possibly driven to insanity by the whisperings of the rift itself. Finally, the local garrison was warned of Keegan’s madness, and they stormed the keep en masse, wounding the mad knight and driving him into the catacombs. The garrison reported later that he seemed possessed and flame appeared to burst forth from his helm.

The soldiers that subdued him did not pursue him into the basement. They had lost a number of men already and felt a sense of dread just being down there. They sealed off the lower portions of the keep to ensure that Keegan could not escape. If whatever demon entered him caused him to become immortal, it was entirely possible that Sir Keegan was still wandering the catacombs.

“I did not tell you earlier,” the scholar said apologetically, “Because I suspected that the sickness might be emanating from the tower. I also suspected that you adventurers meant to go there to end it. I was afraid that revealing this to you might deter you from your mission.”

“Bah, a flaming knight doesn’t scare us. We’ll handle him,” I said with false bravado. What was one more stretched truth in a day full of lies?

Padraig looked at us seriously. “This is a tall task that you have volunteered to perform, and I know you put yourselves at great peril for the sake of Winterhaven’s people. Given that, I think we can manage to take a collection and, upon your safe return, pay you 200 more gold pieces for ridding us of this evil. Will that suffice?” It wasn’t a TON, but maybe this Padraig guy was a bit better than I gave him credit for.

I looked at my fellow “heroes,” to gauge their reaction. They all nodded silently.

“It’s a deal,” I said, shaking the lord’s hand. “We’ll rest tonight at Wrafton’s and begin first thing in the morning.”

“Thank you Taran, Sariel, Alassë, and, ahem, Anca,” he hesitated slightly before saying the shifter’s name. That gave me some measure of satisfaction. As we turned to leave, Padraig asked one more question. “By the way, does your adventuring party have a name? What should I call your group?”

I said the first thing that popped into my head.

“The Final Five.”

“The Final Five, huh? I like that,” Lord Padraig nodded in approval. “Good luck to you all.”

We left the manor and walked Valthrun back to his tower before turning for the inn. As we walked away from the scholar’s home, Lotheryn turned to me.

“The Final Five?” she said, questioning.

I just shrugged. “Pretty catchy, isn’t it? Maybe Garl put it in my head.”

Sariel laughed, “Garl would have thought of something better than that, my friend.”

Well, maybe so, but the Final Five was what we would be. I just hoped we were around long enough that someone besides Padraig could call us that. Tomorrow was going to be another tough day.

Read the rest of this post