A Silvery Light in the Darkness

Homonculus was alone.

He was crawling through a crack in a mountain face, nearly 20 miles from the witch’s cottage. He had spent the better part of the afternoon searching for the crack which Lorenna had told him about. He thought back to the conversation with the strange witch.

“Steady yourself Warlock. We have much work to do… that is if we are to save your friends.” The words echoed inside his head. “Save them”. The idea was completely foreign to his logic. His friends had all passed from this world to the next and Homonculus knew that there was no changing that. Lorenna, it seemed, had a different notion altogether.

She had told him to gather all the worldly possessions he could from his comrades… “You will need a lot if you are going to coax the passions of “Whiskers”. He isn’t easily persuaded”

As the half elf crawled along farther still, he thought back to the previous day again. He had hurried out of Moonstair as soon as his trance was broken, new power coursing through his veins. He found it relatively easy to follow the tracks of his comrades, they were apparently making great haste towards the secret entrance into the Trollhaunt which Pants discovered the day prior. Every time he lost their tracks, or the weather masked the path, Homonculus saw Gladanthia running off, beckoning him to follow. After a day’s worth of tracking and chasing, he finally caught up to Gladanthia. She had stopped just outside a small cottage which was burning despite the torrential downpour of rain. The fire, must have been magical he thought to himself.

As they stood there, Homonculus noted that the elf seemed somehow strange; however, he could also feel that his friends were in danger so he rushed towards the burning shack. Inside his fears were confirmed; his dear comrades were dead and disappearing, before Homonculus could react, was their killer.

The sadness, and anger overwhelmed him. Try as he might, he could not remember much else of what happened next. It all seemed a strange blur, almost dreamlike. He could see Gladanthia outside the door, her demeanor even stranger now considering the state of the other five. Then, she was gone and in her stead was a strange hunched over woman with matted black hair. She smiled at Homonculus and immediately set upon dousing the flames in the room which were fast growing out of hand.

Homonculs entered a grand cavern after nearly an hour of painful squeezing through smaller crack after smaller crack, the magical bag of holding filled with his comrades possessions dangling at his side.

Homonculus immediately saw the creature, a silvery light in the darkness. He understood why the witch playfully referred to him as Whiskers. Before him stood a colossal silver Dragon. All along his mouth were shimmering inch thick whiskers of light. They shined brightly, illuminating the room wherever the dragon looked. The shimmering hide of the beast also glowed, a more subtle; almost mithral glow. Homonculus had never seen such a creature; metallic dragons were nothing more than legend. An idea more than anything; an idea that good and honest people held onto, a hope that there was more than just evil in the world.

Vik’Razel Kiran’ti Lok’Niman knew nearly an hour ago that this half elf was coming, the great dragon had prepared his defense; however, the ancient silver wanted to see what would bring a creature so pathetic into his lair.

As Homonculus stared in awe of the elder wyrm, Vik’Razel bent his neck low and leveled his colossal purple eyes with the tiny half elf.

“Well?” the ancient dragons spoke in elvish, his voice was low and smooth. As the dragon spoke, his whiskers shook slightly, leaving behind a glittery residue in their wake. The tiny beads of light fell to the ground near Homonculus.

“I have come…” Homonculus paused, uncertain of how to refer to the dragon… Great, he thought to himself… What a good start to this negotiation.

A booming yet somehow gentle voice echoed in the cavern, “Out with it, half breed. What do you seek that would bring you straight into certain death?” the dragon spread his wings widely, a magical and sparkling residue trailing behind.

Homonculus’ mind was jumbled. All he could do was think about his fallen friends, the thought of their twisted and mangled bodies haunting his vision yet again.

The dragon tried to interpret the blank stare on Homonculus’ face. The ancient silver concluded that either this was a very serious threat, a creature with great power who had come to threaten all that the wyrm had spent his long lifetime gaining; or it was a completely useless creature. A creature either totally dumb, or without anything in the world to lose by challenging the mighty wyrm. In any event, Vik’Razel was losing patience and he began to think about the most fun way that to dispatch the intruder.

Homonculus interrupted his thinking, his mission clear, “I am here mighty dragon to ask of you a favor. I was told by Lorenna the Black that you were the only one who could help me.”

The dragon raised his eyebrow at the mention of the witch, he hadn’t thought on his dealings with her, for nearly 300 years. The dragon was intrigued why the witch would send someone to him.

“What is it that you are so desperate for, half elf? What is it that Lorenna said that I could offer you, I wonder.” The dragon folded his wings back down and was now using a claw to scratch behind his ear, a most troublesome spot, he noted.

“Five of my friends were murdered yesterday. I have come to seek your aid.” Homonculus shifted his weight, awkwardly uncertain of what to expect from the dragon. Lorenna had told him to not trouble the dragon with details, Homonculus felt a great pain inside him at the callous way he referred to the tragedy which was still so present on his mind.

Vik’Razel smiled wide at the half elf, as he realized what Lorenna was playing at. “You seek my help? You ask for a lot dark one. Bringing five back is asking for the near impossible.” Somehow, his smile widened even more, his whiskers shining brighter than ever.

“It would cost a lot for such a miraculous request…” The dragon spied the magical bag of holding tied to Homonculus’ waist, the excitement growing. Vik’Razel knew that Lorenna would have told the creature how much it would cost to conduct such a ritual… the elder wyrm was fast becoming excited over the prospect of his payment.

Homonculus feeling the gravity of the stare reached for the bag of holding and held it out, “Have we a deal then, dragon?”

Failure is Not an Option

The air blasted from his lungs.

He could feel a terrible force pulling at his skin, reaching deeper and deeper until it felt as if his insides were about to ripped from his body. Everything went dark. Had he closed his eyes? No, they were still open, but it was all so completely dark. Then an invigorating blast of cold wind rushed past his face. Falling fast and hard he knew there was no use in fighting it; his body relaxed and he floated downward. As quick as the sensation came it went, his body was now under a great pressure as if he was being squeezed of all his life. He squinted as the light all around him grew ever brighter. It burned his sensitive eyes, eyes which glowed a furious red only a few short moments ago. “Why did there always have to be so much light?” he asked himself. Every time he had snapped a wand of teleportation this question plagued him.

A few seconds later he felt the ground under his feet again, a welcome relief to one not who would never consider himself accustomed with traveling through the magical ether. Valistraz had returned to his master.

His thoughts went immediately to the horror he had left behind. Not to the butchered bodies of the five dead “heroes” but to the two live ones standing in the doorway of the hag’s shack. Valistraz knew that his fatally wounded spider wouldn’t be able to handle the warlock and the rogue. He knew that his work wasn’t done but worst of all he knew that his master would be furious with his failure.

Valistraz began to formulate a plan, a plan to get back to the burning cottage where he could stop the meddling survivors from ruining all of his hard work. His mind worked fast; however, he knew that there was no hope in the short term of making it back in time to do anything to stop the two survivors.

Valistraz then collapsed, unsure of who was inflicting such terrible pain on him. He slowly looked up from the ground, grimacing as he searched for his attacker. The room was empty, he realized that the adrenaline of combat must have finally worn off. The assassin looked over his body and noted several severe wounds. The worst being a savage gash in his side from the cursed flaming broadsword.

His vision darkened as the throbbing pain overwhelmed the dark elf. He heard heavy footsteps approaching and then his eyes fell to the floor out of reflex as he heard the voice of his master call, “You look terrible, master drow. Tell me… is it done?” The dark elf couldn’t bring enough air to his lungs to answer his suddenly furious master.

“Answer me assassin! Or you will know true pain!” the robed master’s hands reached for a mace on a nearby table. It glowed a sinister pale blue once it was retrieved by the mysterious figure. When no reply came from the doubled over drow, the mace was up in a flash; the pale blue illuminating a white skull painted face and a wicked helmet with ram horns. Kalarel struck hard at his assassin realizing he must have failed him.

No one failed Kalarel… No one failed Orcus.

Slow, Inevitable Death

Pulling the single blanket she hadn’t spared for her new house guests over her, Lorenna the Black wriggled into the familiar impression left on her old bed. Countless nights had been spent curled in the very same position, her old bones creaking more and more as the years had gone on. Now, nearly six hundred (though she didn’t look a day over a hundred and fifty) she knew that there was a chance with each passing night of not waking to see the suns rays again. She knew that fate was slowly, but assuredly, catching up with her; she could feel it. As she grumbled, irritated that another day had gone by in which she didn’t re-stuff her pillow, she tried to pound the tough spot out with the side of her head all the while the other five in the room slowly started to nod off to sleep.

The eXtraordinares were weary. The twenty miles of hard terrain which was covered over the last day seemed a hundred times more difficult; the cursed weather and ever present threat of lurking evil adding to the exhaustion of their taxing journey. Slowly, each and every tired adventurer within Lorenna’s cottage faded into the realm of restful dreams and soothing rest. The peacefulness of the sleep was only tainted by the incessant snoring of the elderly witch; her large crooked nose serving to amplify the cacophony of her own sleep.

Outside, a hundred yards away from the cottage stood a shadow; for the past year this shadow had searched and hunted for the adventurers inside the cottage. The shadow followed every faint clue of their whereabouts, searching high and low in nearly every plane of existence. The shadow hunter had finally found his quarry and was amazed that they didn’t even bother posting guard out front of the cottage, “Strange” he thought. Valistraz Nefarion knew that the five within the cottage were very capable foes, they had bested him once before, and he wasn’t going to take any chances. “Come Vi’nni your master wants something of you…” his icy cold voice cutting through the air as he reached into a small belt pouch. Valistraz grabbed a small statuette of a goblin-like creature and threw it into the air. Like it had done so hundreds of times before, it hung for a moment and as it started to fall the statue burst into a ball of gray smoke. In the tiny stone figures stead was the hovering form of a small homunculus. The creatures eyes immediately averted their gaze from Valistraz, Vi’nni knew the pain looking upon his master could bring.

Shivering in the cold rain the naked homunculus quickly stuttered out, “Wha-a-t ca-a-a-an I do for yo-u-u, Ma-as-ter?”. Valistraz, not tearing his gaze from the witches cottage in the clearing ahead, issued a simple command which Vi’nni knew he could not fail at completing.

In a blink, Vi’nni was gone from the cold rain and he now stood as light as a feather on the headboard of Lorenna’s bed. The homunculus looked around feverishly to ensure that his transposition hadn’t roused any of the sleeping warriors, or worse, the black witch; satisfied that he had found a way through a crack in the magical defenses of the old hag he started to waggle his fingers in the air. Seconds later his heart nearly burst out of his chest; Lorenna snored so loudly an ogre war chief would have been proud. After he regained his composure, he began casting the spell again. A dark fog began to pour out of his hands, which were now held over the Lorenna as if he was dripping water over her. After a minute Lorenna was completely bathed in the darkness the small creature had created. Vi’nni grinned wide, a twisted grin of broken and jagged teeth, his master would be proud. He wiggled his fingers once more and waited to see how happy he had made his master. Long seconds of waiting turned into minutes as Vi’nni stood waiting over the hag, his spell of shrouding most assuredly guaranteeing Valistraz an uninterrupted approach. All Vi’nni could hear was the now dulled sound of the great witch and the rain pounding relentlessly on the roof ahead, he was so happy to be out of the rain.

The shadow moved slowly towards the cottage slicing through the rain as if protected from it’s harsh assault. He reached the creaky old steps of the witches cottage and ascended as silently as a hunting cat. At the top of the stairs he paused to peek into the small window to the side of the door. It was too foggy to see through with normal vision; however, the dark elf’s eyes were attuned to the infrared spectrum and he could clearly see the heaving chests of two dwarfs, a vile eladrin, and two tieflings. He made note that the half elf was missing. He would attend to the halfbreed soon enough. Valistraz also noted his companion Vi’nni standing over the threat which made the drow happy he had such allies as the homunculus. Valistraz hated magic; he also respected it’s might over even the sharpest blade. The great assassin was confident that Vi’nni had done what he told to do. The witches alarms and defenses would be useless while under the shroud of darkness. Valistraz looked back to the treeline where he had come from seconds ago and nodded to a shadow the size of a bull. The eight legged creature stepped out from the cover of the trees and made it’s way towards the cottage. Valistraz smiled a wicked smile and silently pressed the door to the cottage open with his shoulder, his hands resting on the hilts of his two blades.

Lorenna felt uneasy in her slumber. Her dreams had gone dull and dark suddenly, immediately she knew something to be amiss. She rolled over, feigning restlessness, while checking for her wand at her side. Many creatures had tried to wrong the witch in the past; however, she thought to herself, none had ever lived to tell of it. She felt a presence in the room. Maybe it was he imagination playing tricks on her, maybe it was the rare treat of house guests. “Foolish old woman” she thought to herself. “You have spent hundreds of years securing this ramshackle fortress, nothing could ever sneak past your ever vigilant magical sentinels”. She released her grip on the wand as she fought to get back to sleep, dismissing her concerns. Seconds later she thought she heard the door click, had something come in? She opened her eyes with just enough time to lock with the flaming red orbs of Valistraz Nefarion.

Silently, the assassin plunged his short sword into the neck of the hag. He pressed his finger over her lips as he watched the horror in her eyes turn into dull emptiness. “Shhhh….” he cooly whispered to her as all the last bit of life faded from the old witch. Behind him, he heard a stirring from the nearest bedroll. “The game has begun” he thought.

Bluto Bronzebottom opened his eyes to see a shadow standing over his kind host. Bluto saw the glimmer of a sword pressed into the neck of the defenseless witch. “Noooo!” he shouted as he sprang from his spot on the floor, instinct taking over as he grabbed his axes and charged forward towards the dark blur.

His duty done, the grinning homunculus disappeared in a flash of gray smoke at the sound of impending conflict. Battle was not home for Vi’nni.

Bluto’s axes cut in a crisscrossing arc at the head of the agile assassin. His back to the enraged barbarian, Valistraz ducked low and slid across the creaky wooden floor, his cape flowing behind him as he turned to face the furious dwarf. Bluto, quick to recover his balance from the mighty crossing swing, turned his axes back towards the murderer. Valistraz ably parried the strong blows to the side with his dark swords, he made quick note of the roused adventurers.

A searing blast of lightning cut through the air towards the dark elf as he twisted his body to dodge the arcing head of the snapping magical serpent. Feeling the sting of the electric snake Valistraz was reminded just why hated magic so much. Armereth stood reeling from the channeling of her spell, and watched as Bertha heaved her axe in a crushing downwards strike towards the nefarious drow. Off balance from dodging Armereth’s spell, the assassin couldn’t fully escape the overhand blow of Bertha’s great axe. The magical axe bit at Valistraz’s shoulder as he sidestepped again attempting to get behind his quarry. This time his skilled footwork was met with resistance, the dwarf’s axe had pinned his cape to the floor. He would make sure she died slowly for having damaged his beloved magical piwafwi cloak.

Pants stood from his bedroll and concentrated on the magic sword he had pulled from it’s sheath. A moment later the blade was bathed in a searing flame. Pants watched as Bluto and Bertha, his dear dwarven companions, fought with the drow. He was intent on swinging his flaming broadsword wherever the assassin next shifted his weight to; however, he heard a crash from behind and saw a nearly 8 foot tall spider crash through the door to Lorenna’s cottage and turned his avenging blade towards the monstrous creature. Connecting soundly with the spider’s carapace, Pants felt a satisfying crack as the monster let out a hiss of searing pain. Nearby, Riverwind gripped his holy symbol of Corellon and a flaming strike of holy light bathed the spider in more flames. The hideous arachnid rolled to the side and bit savagely at the cleric drawing blood, and a moment later pouring venom into the wound. Riverwind, recoiled and stepped back against the wall searching for a plan.

Valistraz swung his blades in a whirlwind as Pants turned to join the dwarfs in combat against him. His hands guided his wicked blades into the weak points in Bertha’s armor, savagely wounding her. Fire in her eyes, the dwarf spit blood from her mouth and tried slamming her shoulder into the drow. Valistraz seized the moment and bathed the area in a globe of darkness. He grabbed at a magical amulet and appeared a moment later next to Armereth. Her concentration broken as he stabbed hard into her shoulder with his curved short sword, the blood of her allies dripping from it’s tip. Armereth winced and pulled away as Pants roared in behind the assassin with her flaming sword. The flames stopped short of Valistraz as he met the downward strike with a crossed sword defense. Pants gritted his teeth and pressed into the drow with all the strength he had left in his body. Valistraz rolled to the side, the warlord’s flaming sword striking hard into his shoulder. The assassin immediately twirled his swords in defense as the dwarfs came up to aid their exhausted companion.

Each blow the tired eXtraordinares launched at the sinister assassin was met with an able side step, or a devastating riposte. All three warriors were bleeding; however, they took solace in the fact that the evil dark elf was also wounded.

Exhausted and fearful for himself and his allies, Riverwind clutched at his holy symbol and prayed hard to elven god. His prayers were met with no response, “Has Correlon forsaken us?” wondered the cleric as his fears were met with a devastating sight. Valistraz had managed to turn aside Bluto’s axes and use the momentum from that parry to get behind Pants.

“Pants!” the sound of Riverwinds scream cut through the torrential pounding of rain on the rickety roof above.

Pants had lost his footing, too exhausted to stand with the drow, and realized all too late that Valistraz was standing behind her. Bertha and Bluto watched in horror as they saw the blades pierce through Pant’s armor. First the flames of his sword vanished then Pants fell to the ground. Valistraz smiled in grim satisfaction, as he turned his blades towards Bluto. The strength of the heroic barbarian was overwhelmed by the flurry of strikes from the cool headed assassin. Soon, Bluto was left clinging to life by merit of his rage alone.

Riverwind was shaken by the falling of his comrade; however, he concentrated on his holy symbol and Bluto felt a light bathe him in rejuvenating energy. Valistraz knew who his next target had to be.

Realizing the threat posed to their cleric, Bertha and Bluto stood shoulder to shoulder between Valistraz and Riverwind. The dark elf charged forward with a surge of energy which put the dwarfs on guard; however, at the last second he rolled to side and slashed at the platemail clad fighter. Bertha grabbed at her side as the twisted blade struck home; she turned to see Valistraz strike Riverwind hard in the arm, the holy symbol falling from his hands. Bertha roared like a comet through the air and knocked Valistraz into the simmering pot Lorenna left cooking. Valistraz shouted as he stood to his feet, covered in some scalding liquid. The entire side of his face was burned savagely. He would make sure the dwarf knew a VERY slow death.

Armereth bombarded the spider from across the room with every spell she could think of. Flashes of green, silver and red light filled the small cottage as the spider turned it’s attention to the wizard. As the spider skittered towards the wizard, she disappeared; appearing moments later across the room, behind where the spider had just come from. Sliding into the table in the center of the room the spider reversed it’s course and barreled forward towards the wizard. Seconds later it was upon her, pinning her to the wall with it’s venomous fangs. Fearing for the safety of his wizard, Bluto rushed to her aid. His axes working in unison to tear feverishly into the back of the spider. It hissed and released it’s grip on Armereth who ran for the other side of the room again.

Riverwind, feeling his life slip away grasped his holy symbol from the floor and rushed forward to aid his fallen friend Pants; however, he was met by the blades of the skilled assassin. Riverwind crashed to the floor, a whisper echoing in his head. “Peace” was the last word Riverwind heard, the silvery voice of Correlon welcoming him to the afterlife.

Bertha watching yet another companion fall to the blade of the insidious drow charged forward again hoping to catch Valistraz before he could react; however, he turn and countered her swings with his own.

Bluto knew he was beaten, the spider proved too strong for his tired muscles; however, he saw an opening to potentially bring the beast down with him. He dove straight towards the gaping maw of the beast and slashed into it, dazing the creature long enough to swing again and again into it’s belly. The spider, recovering from it’s surprise bit down hard, pouring the last of it’s venom into the dwarf. Bluto heard the fangs dive down into his back; however, he felt no pain as he fell to the floor totally numb from the spider’s poison.

Armereth knew there was nothing left in her arsenal save for her wall of fire. She knew it to be extremely dangerous inside such a small building; however, she had no other choice. She concentrated on the spell as the spider dropped Bluto to the ground. The room, burst into flames. Valistraz was caught in the wall, the arcane fires licking over his body. He dove to one side, hoping a moments respite to catch his now waning breath. He instead met the cold steal of Bertha Bronzebottom. She slashed down hard again, this time catching the drow in the leg. He recoiled and then lunged forward, the dwarf had not recovered and he didn’t need a second invitation. Both of his blades dove in, seeking the opposite side of the dwarf’s armor. As he pulled his swords out he smiled as he stared into her eyes.

“Too fast a death… you deserved so much more, dwarf!” he spit at her.

Armereth concentrated again on firing as many spells off as she could. She knew if she continued channeling magic through her body it would kill her; however, she didn’t have much choice. It was either the slow sapping of her essence by the overuse of magic or the quick death guaranteed by the assassin. She fired off magic missle after magic missle towards the drow as he reeled from each successive hit. The spider was upon her first, it’s clacking mandibles tearing at her flesh and concentration. Then, Valistraz Nefarion was upon her. As silent as a shadow he slid his long sword into her belly.

“It is done” he whispered with a relieved exhale.

After taking note of his own physical state, Valistraz moved quickly between the bodies, sinking his blades in once more to ensure the condition of his quarry. The fires in the room had spread, and his double checking of the bodies was likely unnecessary; however, Valistraz Nefarion took no chances. He paused prior to breaking the wand of teleportation he had received from Kalarel over a year ago. He smiled as he felt the pull of the spell taking effect. Then his eyes filled with a mix of rage and horror. As he dematerialized from the witches shack, he saw the door swing open.

“Impossible!” he thought to himself.

Standing in the doorway soaked from the rain was a bald headed half elf and a shadowy rogue.

No Rest for the Weary

Looking out over the Old Troll Wall at the shattered remains of outer Moonstair, Riverwind, gripped his holy symbol firmly. Correlon’s words of guidance still resounding in his head, “Onward, she needs you, we all need you. You must not let the darkness snuff out the light, brave cleric”. These words bolstered the confidence that there was still some hope in these dark days. It had been over a year and a month since Melora, goddess of nature, had last been heard by any holy men or angels; her silence was now being felt all over Faerun. The nights seemed unending, the days so bleak and gray.

Peering past the destruction Riverwind could see the wild dark side of nature taking a firm grip on the Trollhaunt. It’s twisted tendrils firmly wrapped around a once beautiful countryside; there was no safety beyond the Old Troll Wall any longer. Horrible monsters, the broken remnants of Skalmad’s army, had taken up residence in almost every corner of the area surrounding Moonstair. Riverwind remembered back to the warning issued by a scout who ventured out, lucky to return with his life, “It was as if the land tried to swallow me whole!”.

His gauntlet wrapped firmly around the symbol of Correlon, Riverwind heard the plodding footsteps of Bertha Bronzebottom behind him. “At least it hasn’t rained today. I hate the rain.” bellowed the conspicuous dwarf.

“It has rained every day for the past three months, you know” Bertha waited a moment, studying her companion. “Wasn’t sure if you were keeping track is all” she added meekly. Bertha could tell that the resolve of her companion was waning, it was hard to push onwards these days, harder than ever before. Bertha thought back to the days in Bronze Manor, ancient homeland of the Bronzebottom clan, days which seemed so distant. She at least took solace in the fact that Melora had chosen her cousin, Bluto Bronzebottom, to be the messenger which brought them their only guidance in over a year. Bertha still carried the note with her, her strong eyes studying it’s cryptic message “Seek Etheran of Moonstair. His sword will be needed to end the darkness” giving her the only hope she still had. If the note, wrapped in a golden leaf, indeed did come from Melora then the adventurers had no choice in their action; the sword needed to be recovered from the clutches of the twisted king of trolls. Also, Bertha just plain hated trolls.

“When do we leave?” Bertha asked, “We can’t wait here for another attack, you know. We have to go out there and get that sword back”. Bertha shifted her weight onto the toothed edge of her mighty axe which glistened in the last of that days sunlight.

Nearby, atop a cracked stone spire, Armereth the blood mage sat with her eyes closed. She was listening to the whispers of magic in the air. The wind carried with it the strong tingle of a terrible magic. A less experienced wizard might have dismissed the faint magical clue as something to not worry themselves with; however, Armereth continued to listen for the past three days. She heard dark words whispered in the ether of magic. She heard words that made her fear the setting of the sun. “Orcus… Kalarel… Death” all danced on the edge of the ether; their presence reverberating. The more she listened, the clearer she heard these dark phrases.

She shivered and opened her eyes, unsure if the cold she felt was real or a residual effect of peering into the fabric of magic itself. After a few seconds the first droplet of water nicked her on the tip of her nose, there was a cold rain coming.

“God damn it!” boomed Bertha as she scrambled to get off the wall and back inside Cham’s cozy inn. She had reached the now slippery ladder to climb down when she looked to her side and saw Armereth floating down from her perch, a large glowing blue leaf over her head serving to protect her from the pounding rain. “Wizards!” she groaned as she threw her axe over her shoulder and began down the ladder.

In the nearby Cloudwatch Inn sat three more eXtraordinares. Pants looked over a stack of maps of the area. He sighed as he reached for his goblet, “I just wish these weren’t so out of date. This one says it is over three hundred years old! What good does that do us?”. His frustration was palpable after having spent the past three days trying to find a quick and quiet way back to the Great Warren to find where Skalmad had stashed the missing sword of Etheran. Bluto looked up from his leg of lamb and challenged, “Why not just go back the way we came?”. Pants shot him a glare which he usually reserved for foe.

In a nearby corner, Homonculus listened as his comrades argued back and forth for what felt like the tenth time in the past hour. He thought to himself that the trolls might have won the battle after all; the past three days were nothing short of a living hell for all the survivors of Moonstair. The day after the great victory over the champion of Skalmad, the wicked beholder Gzemnid, the people of Moonstair heralded the seven adventurers as heroes, now it was apparent to everyone that they might still have air in their lungs but they were more prisoner than survivor. The peninsula which held the city of Moonstair was the cage which none of the “survivors” could escape.

Homonculus closed his eyes and tried to shut out the voices of his companions, he was listening for something; something dark. He felt his eyes roll back as he felt a mighty surge of warmth through his body, he could hear it’s voice. For nearly six years Homonculus had heard the voice of a great demon within him. This sinister creature had given Homonculus all the power which he could ever hope for, as long as Homonculus was prepared to give the devilspawn his soul in the great afterlife. With the voices of Pants and Bluto reaching a crescendo loud enough to disturb the other patrons of the Cloudwatch inn, Homonculus heard nothing but the demon which he knew all too well.

“What do you require, beautiful slave of mine? What can Zxem’glaaragh do for you on this fine evening?” the forked tongue voice of the demon echoed in the bald head of the warlock. As Homonculus corresponded with his wicked patron, he felt his power grow; he felt confident and at the same time felt one step closer to death. One step closer to paying for the wicked evil which bolstered his blood.

After many long hours of searching, Pants’ eyes lit up as he finally saw what he had so desperately sought after. Bluto saw relief in his friend’s face and smiled, “You’ve done it then?” he asked of the master tactician. The tiefling warlord shot him a playful smirk for the first time in a very long while, “Yes. I believe I have. No thanks to your help”. They both laughed heartily as Bluto sprung forward from his reclined chair to see the freshly discovered path ahead.

The silence of the fresh night was welcome to the expert tracker, Gladanthia. She had stolen out beyond the safety of the Old Troll Wall nearly a day ago in search of signs of movement from the troll horde. Searching through the many crags and swamps immediately surrounding Moonstair, the rogue had seen a frightening amount of monsters still within reach of the city. She was careful not to be noticed by the creatures, monsters which were more than eager to continue eating livestock and townspeople which had dragged from the countryside. As she moved into the dark clearing ahead she saw something which gave her pause; she saw another elf standing in the moonlight. She had seen this elf before. She was not eager to be seen by him while all by herself. Standing before her, basking in the moonlight, was the dark elf assassin Valistraz Nefarion…

The Battle of Moonstair

The Battle of Moonstair

There was a wind blowing in from the west, carrying with it the smell of the sea and of Moonstair. The lights of Moonstair were barely visible and the sounds of the seven eXtraordinares running through the moonlight were barely audible. With a nearly eight hour run ahead of them, all seven adventurers knew that there was not rest that awaited them upon arrival in the city on the peninsula; but instead, there was nothing but the clash of steel and the explosion of spells. War was upon the Barony of Therund.

“Gather yourself Bertha! We cannot take another rest, we must reach the gates of Moonstair before we are too late!” cried Pants as he slowed his run just enough to turn and see his dwarven companion clamber over the rocks he had adroitly scaled a moment ago. A smile crept over his tired face as he saw the fire ignite within his beloved companion.

“Gather myself? Gather myself?!” Bertha unable to afford the breath for anymore words pushed herself forward at a speed which would have made any elf look sluggish. When Bertha wanted something, she got it; however, as she managed to catch up, Pants realized the danger of their continuing on without rest. Without the time needed to nurse the wounds so recently received battling Skalmad, self proclaimed King of all trolls, Pants worried that they might not be much of an assistance in the coming battle with Skalmad’s army.

Nearly a hundred feet ahead, Homunculus wiped his brow of the ever present sweat and managed to deftly avoid stepping into another one of the many quagmires which surrounded the Great Warren. “I could do without ever setting foot in a swamp again.” he quipped to the nearby barbarian. “Agreed, I can barely see. I would be lost without the moon’s reflection off of the top of your head, Warlock.” With that Bruno Bronzebottom shot a quick smile to his tired companion as he searched ahead for his other companions.

“They are so damn fast… I want that” he thought aloud. The armored gauntlet of the cleric of Correlon held aside some low hanging spike vines as he offered to the nearby dwarven barbarian “It is less that they are so fast, it is more that they are so capable of moving that quickly and not getting themselves exhausted like the rest of”.

Squinting, Bruno could barely make out the shapes of his two other companions; Gladanthia and Armereth made the speedy dwarf quite jealous. Nearly three hundred feet ahead Gladanthia sprinted to gain the speed requisite to clear the cliff face which would have surely caught any other traveler by complete surprise; however, Gladanthia had made note of its location several seconds ago. At full speed she thrust herself into the air as graceful as a wildcat, and landed on the other side of the ravine. Pausing for a second, she looked for a means of helping her party across the potentially time wasting gap.

After a few moments she had figured out exactly what to do, she moved quickly to the top of a nearly collapsed great oak and leaned hard on it. The oak’s long branches reached for the other side of the ravine as the weight of the elf pressed upon it. Gladanthia pressed as hard as possible and a second later felt a great heave as the base of the trunk exploded in a burst of blue flames. The tree buckled and gave way, falling to rest on the other side of the ravine exactly as Gladanthia had planned; with the help of Armereth the blood mage.

Armereth stood close by and lowered her staff of storms, smoke rising from the tip of it. By this point the rest of the party had already stared to balance on top of the oak and cross the ravine. Gladanthia tore past Armereth, pushing onwards. A quick smile flashed across her face as she challenged the blood wizards ability to keep up. Armereth closed her eyes, the last image visible being the sight of Bertha shaking the several hundred year oak as she leapt atop it. Armereth began to focus on a hilltop she had seen a few moments ago, far ahead. 500 feet she told herself… maybe more. She concentrated and could begin to feel her skin burn as the cells of her body began pulsing with magical energy.

“Hey Armereth, where did Gladanthia go…” Before Bluto could finish Armereth snapped out of existence. All that remained in her stead was a brief flash of red light and the smell of iron, maybe blood, in the air. “Wizards… can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em” belted Bertha as she patted Bluto on the back. “Come dwarfs, we haven’t the time to tarry. We must press forward” Riverwind said briefly as he took off at a full run again. Nearly 700 feet ahead, Armereth reappeared on the top of hill she had envisioned moments ago. Her skin burned, the miscalculation forcing the need for more magical energy to be channeled. After checking to ensure she hadn’t caused serious damage, she peered through the treeline at Moonstair. The lights of the many houses flickering in the distant moonlight.

“It is a shame that the people have no idea what threat is coming their way” whispered Armereth to herself. She turned her gaze slightly to the east and she could see what they were all chasing, the threatening hare to their exhausted tortoise. Skalmad’s army stirred up quite a large amount of dust as they tore through the Trollhaunt nearly five miles ahead. It would be difficult to catch a rampaging troll horde; however, she knew they would have to push onwards through the night without any rest if they had any chance of arriving in time to do Moonstair any good.

“Come, we must move wizard” the cool voice of Gladanthia cut through the air as expertly as the elf moved. With the sight of Skalmad’s horde held in her eyes a moment longer, Armereth concentrated on a dale a quarter mile ahead. She focused and tried to block the image of the innocent townspeople of Moonstair being slaughtered by the trolls out; however, she couldn’t. Instead of trying to fight the image off, she embraced it. The hate for the evil creatures flowing through her, she disappeared from atop the hill. The smell of blood lingering ominously in the air…

Reaching up with his shaky hand, Bax scratched the top of his head while trying to add up the amount of gold he had spent on elven wine this evening. Ever since returning from the Trollhaunt the only survivor, Bax had committed himself to drinking away the pains of seeing his comrades fall. He had thought dozens of times that he had escaped the pain, that at the bottom of his most recent glass lied the cure to the poison in his soul; however, every morning he awoke with the same crushing feeling. He had abandoned his friends when they most needed his help. He watched Etheran’s face turn to horror as he realized his dragonborn companion didn’t stand with him against the troll king. As soon as Bax had exited the Trollhaunt he felt this horrible emptiness; he knew at once that his god Bahamut had given up on him. He could no longer feel the soothing touch and invigorating spirit flowing through him; fear had stolen his faith.

Cham, the innkeeper stood up from behind the bar, noticing the all too familiar sight of Bax’s empty glass. “Bax, you gotta take it easy. I mean, I appreciate your dedication to keeping the Cloudwatch inn well funded; however, this is getting ridiculous….” Without a reply, Cham knew his duty and came around to fill Bax’s empty glass. He started to pour and the dragonborn looked up with his usual blank stare, then it changed. He saw something in Bax’s eye he hadn’t seen in a very long time. “What is it paladin?”

After a moment of hesitation, Bax realized he had felt something. A familiar presence he hadn’t felt in a great many weeks. As he stared at the halfling innkeeper all he saw was the Platinum Dragon.

“You are needed once again, champion. Rise, and make your way to the gate, they need your help. Ready yourself for war; it is ready for you.”


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