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 was C-ay. He--he--he 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, ""
Suddenly the main bell in the tower begins to ring. Exar has a worried look on his face, "Arca...before te---ll T-t-take...m-m-my...hand-d-d...and" 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, Now take these..."He hands him his rod and gauntlet. " t-he use... of these items, th-th-th-en war-lock. N-n-n-ow...go...find...your...f-f-f-riends to the east ,l-l-l-eave... before... they... 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...

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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.

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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.

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