Hellgate Keep IV: The Crossing
A Little R&R
The bright sun woke her as it slowly rose over the windowsill. It was around 6 in the morning. “Friday morning. Last day of training to be exact.” said Yasraena as she came out of reverie. She smiled at what she had just said, but was actually sad about it. She thought about the spells and skills she’d learned and had improved upon these last 4 weeks and the trials and acquaintances she had made in doing so. She found it difficult to find a weapons teacher that could challenge her enough, so all she could do was spar and practice perfecting and polishing her known moves. Oh how she wished that she could learn from Drizzt! His skills with his scimitars is amazing, the way he literally dances with his blades makes it look as if he and they were one. She could only dream of becoming his student, let alone becoming anywhere as good as he is. On the magical side of things, she had found that since she had loaned her spell books to the Lady’s magic school library, the faculty and students started to finally treat her like a real colleague. “Shared knowledge breeds trust” rings true it appears; at least at school. Yes, she’d miss her new friends and the challenges, but she knew that new ones were always on the horizon.
It was quite a different experience from a month ago, where instead of toning her mind and body to new heights, she was just lounging, being pampered head to toe, relaxing, eating, drinking, etc. At first it was great, and she soaked up the luxury like a sponge in water. it was almost like when she was back in Ithilaughryn and was waited on by the males of her household; but after a tenday she started getting a little restless and figured she’d gotten all the rest and recuperation she needed. After all, she did feel rested; strong again in mind and body, alert and ready. So the training had started once again in earnest. 8-10 hrs a day, 6 days a week, 3 days each for martial and magical, for 1 month straight. It had paid off in the things she had learned and refined: Her grimoire had grown appreciably, by at least five new spells. Two of which enabled her to create 4 Focal Stones, enchanted gemstones that can hold spells like a charged item; she was now able to manipulate two of her spells through Spell Mastery so that the effects would follow her instead of being stationary. She had also found time to train to be more precise with her blades.
The mark upon her left forearm throbbed a bit as it usually did in the morning. Not really painful, just a mild discomfort to let her know that it’s always there. She looked at it, a scar in the shape of a perfect pentagram. The pulsing red lines apparently were to just mark her, as it hadn’t glowed again since it came back. Alustriel herself could not permanently rid her or her friends of this mark, even after casting a Wish spell, for they all still have it. It vanished for about 1 minute, then came right back as before, searing the skin into a scar. What the eventual consequences of this will be is not something she likes to think about for very long as it starts to depress her. At least she has a weapon that will give her a fighting chance if the day ever comes.
Malaci, Fleabus and Wilfbrim had been absent this whole time. She hadn’t seen them since the day she left on vacation. Strange for them to be gone so long without saying anything about where they would be, but, it was a welcome respite from the last few months of constantly being together. “I’d wager even they were grateful for it.” she thought.
It was not long after that she was approached by one of her Harper superiors about a task that needed doing. It seems there was an arch-mage who lived in a tower just outside of the city who recently passed away and who was a personal friend of Alustriel’s. In his will this Arch-mage had left everything he owned to the city and Alustriel in thanks, as he had no family. Alustriel decided to sell the stuff off at an open auction here in the city, during which and leading up to said auction, security will be tight with all magic transportation in or out of the city basically negated. Yasraena's job would be getting the loot from the tower to the city hold with no one noticing or taking interest.
“Strange mission for a Harper”, she thought, “but all right.”
The solution was to learn the Teleport w/o Error spell and teleport the stuff to waiting wagons just outside the city limits. The wagons would have mundane items as well to hide the other more valuable stuff. Once there, wrap up everything and head into the city as everyday merchants coming to sell their wares. The plan worked flawlessly, the stuff got in without incident and her superiors were happy.
It was during the time of planning this mission that her wayward companions came back. Actuality, just Malaci, as Fleabus was in the city all along trying to become a citizen. He had succeeded in the test and bought a small house. Malaci was less forthright with what he had been up to in his spare time. Basically something about being in Waterdeep for a few weeks. That was ok though. Yas really didn’t want to know what Malaci did in his spare time. She thought it best if she didn’t, knowing Malaci. And there was still no sign of Wilfbrim. Again, very strange of him not to say anything, but she knew he could take care of himself.
Rumors of the auction began to spread in the city before even a single day went by after moving the booty inside the city. No one, not even Yasraena was aware of what the old mage had or what was going to be sold. BUT, Alustriel gave the word about a big auction in Silverymoon that was going to take place very soon, in about a tenday. Apparently, this word got to as far south as Calimshan and as far east as Thay, as there were a few people from those far off lands in the crowd. There must have been at least a thousand people in the main square taking part in this auction.
It turned out that the afore mentioned arch-mage was quite a packrat of things in general, not just magical. There were things ranging from the mundane to magical in the shape of rings, wands, potions, tapestries, paintings, silver services, armoire’s, furniture, knick knacks, etc. There was this one elven woman that caught Yasraena’s eye and ear. She got into a bidding war with what appeared to be a mage of some sort over a tapestry depicting a battle with a dragon. This bidding got pretty intense for just a tapestry, and her disappointment at losing was apparent.
Yasraena herself purchased a Bag of Beans and a few potions. It was during the auction that she again realized that Wilfbrim was not around, thinking he would have shown up for the auction at least.
That night after the auction, Malaci and Yasraena decided to go to one of their favorite Inn/taverns in the area, The Dancing Unicorn, to have some dinner and a few drinks to top off the day. The place was busy as usual, tables full, but managed to get a table down in front (being known has its advantages) and proceeded to enjoy the evening. Dinner was unusually good and the authentic Drow mushroom wine really made the meal.
When they had finished the meal, the current band was replaced with another. It was a four piece, with a large drum like instrument, a lutist, harpsichord and harpist who also sang. It turned out to be a vastly superior group and Yasraena found herself, tapping her foot and singing the melody under her breath along with the group. After the song was over, the singer, who was also an elf, came over and introduced himself, then asked Yas if she’d like to join the band for a song. She thanked him and agreed. She was flattered to say the least, but puzzled to know how he knew she was a musician. As she began to open a belt pouch to retrieve her flute, he stopped her and handed her his harp.
“What?” She asked as she grasped it. “But… I don’t play the …“
“Never mind about that. Just feel the music and let it take you.” And he began the count off…
1… 2… 3… 4…
The band began, and amazingly, she did feel the music take her. Once the band started, she began to follow along the melody, slowly at first, but then faster and more sure of herself. It was unreal! She had no idea of how to play this thing, yet here she was playing like seasoned bard! It was like a blur, it seemed to go on for a long while. She even got a little solo toward the end.
After the song ended, hearing the applause as she shook the elves hand one last time while handing the harp back with the other, the feeling had faded away to almost nothing.
“Thank you so much for that!! It was amazing!”
“You are welcome Yasraena of Oerth.” He said and took his leave to play some more with his friends.
As she started back to the table, she noticed that Malaci had left with another figure and were off at a private table to the side. As she sat back down and took a drink of her wine, she looked around the bar to see if perhaps Fleabus or Wilfbrim had come in, when she noticed the elven female that was at the auction today across the room at a booth by herself. She still looked pretty down, so Yasraena decided to go over and introduce herself in hopes of cheering her up a bit an possibly making a new friend in the process. So, she gets up and walks over to the booth.
“Excuse me, but do you mind if I join you? “she asks.
The elf raises her head and looks up into Yasraena’s smiling face and was startled, almost afraid for a moment, then remembered where she was.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t expecting a Drow to wake me from my daydreaming. You’re Yasraena T’Sarran, aren’t you? The famous Drow, who with her friends helped save Silverymoon and gained the Lady’s favor.”
“It seems my reputation precedes me.” Yasraena replies. She then holds out her hand in greeting and says, “Pleased to meet you…”
“Aloeranth; likewise Yasraena.” The elf finishes as she extends her own hand. “Well, it’s not that hard to figure out. You are the only Drow elf I’ve seen here.”
Yasraena takes it and shakes firmly, then says with a smile as she takes the bench opposite her, “And I hope I’m not the last.” She pauses then adds “You seem to know all about me and why I’m here, Aloeranth. Why don’t you tell me about yourself and what brings you to the fair city of Silverymoon.”
Aloe pauses a moment before speaking, then says “Well, I come from Evereska, and it’s been a long journey. There are terrible things on the roads these days and it was not easy getting here, even for an experienced adventurer like myself.” She continues on with this story for a few more minutes, when Yasraena sees Malaci and his friend approaching. She waves to them and then gets up when they arrive so they can have a seat.
“Malaci! Where’d you get off to?” Yasraena exclaims when her friend gets to the table. “And who’s your friend here? I don’t think I’ve seen him before.”
“I was about to ask you the same thing, Yas” Malaci smirks as his eyes take an approving walk over Aloeranth. He bends down and extends his hand to her. “Greetings miss. I am Malaci, acrobat extraordinaire and adventurer; At your service.”
“Aloeranth of Evereska.” She replies. “Pleased, I’m sure.”
This is Jasper,” Malaci says as he gestures to his companion and looks at Yasraena, “an associate of mine.”
“Well, both of you, come sit down with us. Aloe here was just telling me about her travels and travails to our fair city.”
As they all sit down, Jasper grabs the attention of a bar wench and orders a jug of wine for the table. Not a minute later, the wench is back with the jug and 4 glasses, then takes her leave. Jasper begins pouring the wine and handing it around and just as the first drop is about to be tasted, in comes a vaguely familiar looking dwarf. He goes and plops himself down at a table facing away from us, so we can’t see his face. His armor is a bit worse for the wear, but there’s no mistaking that voice when he yells “Barmaid! Pitcher of your best ale! And step on it girl!”
Yasraena and Malaci look at each other then yell in the direction of the dwarf, “FLEABUS!!” This gets his attention and he looks over at us, recognizes us then gets up and comes over to our table.
“Well if it ain’t Malaci and Yasraena. Just when I be needin’ to see ‘em too. Have I got some news for you two,” he begins, then notices the other two that are with us. “And who might these two be? Friends of yours I take it?” he says with suspicion in his eyes.
“I can vouch for Jasper here, my friend.” Malaci says. “I wanted to introduce him to the party anyway, so now’s a good a time as any.”
“Aloeranth here is just someone I met here in the tavern.” Says Yasraena. “So I can’t vouch for her other than with my instinct. Is this info that secret Fleabus?”
“I suppose not, as she doesn’t look like someone who’d work for the Zhents.”
“The Zhents? Do you mean the Zhentharim?” asks Aloe in an excited manner.
“Well, I sure don’t mean The Knights of Silver.” replies Fleabus. “Anyway what I found was the place as busy as a bee hive, with all kinds of people about doing what appeared to be rebuilding the damned place. Only there were Zhents afoot as well, looking like they were giving the orders. The last time we saw it, we thought we had finally driven out all the evil there. Apparently we missed some”
“You don’t mean Hellgate Keep?” Asks Malaci.
“What place do ye think I’m talking about, you dim-witted half elf? What other place has been a constant thorn in our side since we first went there? Yes Hellgate Keep!!”
“OK, OK, sorry, I just wanted to make sure! Jeez! Ask a question to clarify something and you get yelled at for it…
“Maybe the Zhents saw an opportunity and took it.” Yasraena says with an air of futility. “Maybe this was one of the reasons Alustriel wanted us to use that orb. What else can you tell us Fleabus?”
“Not much. I didn’t get a chance to see much except the outside and a little bit of a passageway leading into the keep. That, and the large amount of bodies working everywhere.”
“Don’t you think the Queen should be made aware of this?” Malaci says. “If the keep is occupied again, it could pose a threat to the city.”
“My thoughts exactly.” replies Yasraena. “We need to inform Alustriel as soon as possible.”
“I guess the rogue isn’t so dim-witted after all. But, do you mind if I drink my ale before we go? I’m parched.” Says Fleabus, as he sees the confused barmaid looking for her customer. “Over here! I moved! Over here!”
“Oh all right.” Yas says back. “I need to finish my wine as well, and Aloe needs to finish her story anyway.”
As Aloe begins to tell of her misfortune of losing the bidding for a certain tapestry at the auction, Fleabus downs the first two mugs of the pitcher like he was dying of thirst. “Ahhhhhhh. Nothing quite as good as a cold ale after a long day.” He says as he begins to pour his third.
Just then, the front doors of the tavern burst open to show The Knights of Silver themselves come rushing in. They scan the room, then ask in a very authoritative voice “Is Yasraena T’Sarran, Malaci Thornbird and/or Fleabus Gundarock on these premises?”
Yasraena immediately raises her hand and says “I’m Yasraena, and these two are Malaci and Fleabus. What can we do for you gentlemen?”
They all move quickly, yet quietly to her table where the lead watchman comes up to Yasraena and softly says to her, but so all at the table can hear, “I was informed by my superiors to come and find you with a message. That you are needed at the main office of the city watch. That you are to meet with Guardmaster Willis regarding your friend Wilfbrim. It is important that you three accompany us immediately.”
“Of course, of course we will.” Yasraena says to them, then turns to Aloe. “Please excuse us Aloe, but as you can see we have pressing business. But, I’d like to continue this conversation if you’re willing.”
“I’m staying here in the upstairs part of the inn for at least a few more days.” Aloe replies. “Feel free to come back any time, Yasraena. And thank you for the company.”
“I will, and my pleasure Aloe.” She then turns to her friends and the watchmen and says “Gentlemen, shall we go?”
The Plot Thickens
The walk from the inn to the guard offices seemed unusually long to Yasraena, even though they were going at a pace that made the guards struggle to keep up. She was thinking the worst, which could only be the case if the city watch put forth this much effort to find them. What else could it be? It’s always bad if they make you come with them and are silent about the reason.
“Can’t you tell us what this is all about?” Malaci almost demanded of the guards that were leading the party.
“We’re taking you to the place the Guardmaster told us to take you to, which is the main watch station. He also told us to not say anything to you three regarding the nature of this summons.” The one on the left replied.
“So, no, we can’t tell you anything. You’ll have to wait and be told by Willis himself.”
“What in the hell has Wilfbrim gotten himself into?” Yasraena wondered.
About 15 minutes later, they all arrive at the watch station where they’re greeted by Guardmaster Willis himself.
“Here are the three you requested, sir.” The lead guard says to Willis.
“Good work in finding them so quickly men,” he says to the guards. “You’d best get back to your duties, now.”
“Yes sir,” they reply, salute and then depart.
“I’m sorry for bringing you all down here like this, but I thought it best if you found out from me instead of the grapevine.” Willis says as he turns to face the party. “Please, come with me.” He then leads them into the building, down the main corridor and to a small room with a large table and several chairs. After everyone is seated, he then continues on.
“I’m sorry to say that your friend is dead. He was murdered…” and before he could go on, questions come flying at him a mile a minute from all three seated at the table.
“Please! Please! Calm down and be quiet!” Willis has to almost yell at them. After they do calm down, he says, “OK. I’ll try to tell you all everything I know.” He pauses and takes a breath before continuing, thinking carefully about his next words.
“We responded to a call at the inn where your friend Wilfbrim was staying. A break and enter and assault, and that they still had the responsible party. When we got there, we found Wilfbrim in his room, on the floor, covered in blood and headless, and a Halfling in the corner with blood all over him, also on the floor, but only unconscious. The inn’s bouncer was the one who had summoned us after hearing a scuffle in the room. It was him who knocked the little bastard out as he caught him rummaging through Wilfbrim’s belongings after the sinister deed. It was the Halfling who murdered your friend, but we don’t know why as he won’t answer our questions. We thought you might be able to shed some light on this, which is why I had you brought here.”
“You mean to say that you still have him, and he’s here?!?!” Fleabus yells as he suddenly stands up and knocks his chair over backward.
Willis stops and looks at the angry dwarf with a sense of impatience. He takes a breath and slowly stands up to face him. “Yes, and that’s why we summoned you three. It isn’t against the law to use magical means to determine if what is said is the truth or not. But it is against the law to use magic or any other means to pry the truth from someone. At least for us it is.” He stops and lowers his voice before getting close to Fleabus before continuing. “Are you getting what I’m saying here, master dwarf?”
“Just show us where you’re holding him,” says Fleabus.
Yasraena then says gravely. “You want the truth? We’ll get it from him.”
When he saw the look on Yasraena’s face as he turned toward her, he didn’t doubt that statement for a second.
Grelf, Halfling assassin, sat in his completely empty cell and thought how he could have ended up here. He had always prided himself as being one of the best, one of the ones that could always get out of tight spots in the end; and he had done so in the past many times. There were times when he thought he wasn’t going to make it, but then miraculously, he always did. His luck was a thing of tavern tales. So how could he have landed himself into a place where he could not get out of?
A damn keepsake, that’s how. A frigging souvenir. And with that thought, he began to go over in his mind yet again the circumstances that led him here.
“The job was going perfectly until that thrice damned cleric returned earlier than expected.” he thought. The SOB caught Grelf as he was readying the apartment for his return. Grelf had no chance for a surprise attack, so he just went at him with all the ferocity a 2’ 7” Halfling could muster. Luckily he was wearing his Gloves of Fire Giant Strength, so it was relatively easy to just tear his head off, but still he regretted the viciousness of it. He was usually more, well, professional. But he had to admit if this was the best the heroes of Silverymoon could do, these were going to be the easiest marks of his life.
The thing he regretted most was going through his belongings after the deed. It wasn’t that he needed money or anything. It was more for a souvenir of every mark he had ever done. He knew the practice was stupid, but it had become kind of a tradition. Kill the mark, snag something for the scrapbook. Well, it finally cost him. A damn holy symbol was going to cost him at least his freedom for a very long time, or at the worst his life.
He also thought of the man who had offered these jobs to him.
He had been an old partner in crime from way back, and who apparently was now allied with the Zhentarim. He’d always been a good source for a quick job here and there, and he paid pretty well most of the time, too. So when he approached his old Halfling friend with an opportunity to off a certain party of adventurers, and for a small king’s ransom, Grelf all but jumped at it. Then he paid all in advance! That was unusual in of itself, but what Nalfost had told him as he handed over the pouch of gems not only gave him second thoughts about the job, it would stay with him forever.
“I know that we go back a ways, so I will spare you the niceties that others of your ilk are afforded and get to the point. You must know this task before you is of the utmost importance to not only myself, but to my superiors most of all. I know your capabilities, my old comrade. That is why I hired you in the first place. That and your unexplainable abundance of luck.” Nalfost then turned around and looked him directly in the eye and continued in a menacing tone that the Halfling had never heard from him before, “But I warn you Grelf, if you find that this task is beyond your capability, or fail to do what you’ve been paid for, I guarantee that you will suffer eternally at the hands of powers greater and more evil than the Zhentarim themselves.”
Suffer eternally, he said. Eternally. He didn’t like the sound of that. But he liked even worse the thought of the powers that could back up that claim.
So instead, he thought about his immediate problem… which was getting out of this cell and out of this building with his life intact. How he was going to do that without his items or even his weapons, he hadn’t a clue.
When the group arrive at the cell where the Halfling is being held and actually see the creature, they all have to stop in amazement. He is sitting cross legged in a 10x10 cell, his hands tied behind his back, staring at the ground. Sitting there, looking like the sorriest specimen they’d ever seen; he couldn’t have been more than 2 ½ ft tall, and scrawny by any Halfling standard. How this pathetic creature had killed Wilfbrim was beyond any of them, but yet, here he was.
“Well, there he is.” Willis says as he goes to the cell door and unlocks, but doesn’t open it. “As per the law of the city, he will be tried for the murder of your friend. If he should happen to die during interrogation, before his appointed time tomorrow, it is of no consequence to me and would please me to no end. However, it would be a great displeasure to my superiors. So I must ask you please, to restrain yourselves from dispensing any… ‘personal justice’… while you’re in here with him. Do what you will to question him, just don’t kill him.” Then he throws the cell key to Yasraena, spits on the pathetic creature, then turns and leaves.
As they stand there a moment after he leaves, just staring at the pathetic creature, they also notice that even though there are at least a dozen cells in this cell block, the Halfling is the only occupant. They also notice they are completely alone. No guards, no one to keep watch, no one.
Fleabus finally goes and slowly opens the door with axe in hand, then steps inside, to be followed by Malaci and then Yasraena, who closes and locks the door behind her. The Halfling stands and faces them as they enter, almost looking defiant.
“So, you’re the little runt that killed our friend, eh?” Fleabus says to the decrepit creature. “Nice trick that, considering he was more than 3 times your size and strength.”
The Halfling looks up into his face and replies with a smile, “Well, what can I say? I’m one of the best,” which in turn earns him an immediate punch in the face from Fleabus. That he still stands afterward (albeit a little wobbly) apparently is a testament to his claim.
“The best he says. Ha! The best at getting caught, maybe!” quips Malaci. “Halfling assassin… more like half-ass assassin!”
Grelf shoots Malaci an evil look at that comment, but remains quiet.
Yasraena kneels down in front of him and says very calmly, “You know you’re going to die don’t you? It seems there’s nothing you can do about it, either.”
“Sure appears so, doesn’t it, Drow?” he looks up and replies with a bit of attitude “But things can change, though.”
“Yes they can, so true, so true,” she calmly replies back. “Faster than you could imagine, you little dung.” Then, so quickly it’s a blur, she reaches out with her right hand and grabs him by his tunic, then stands up and grabs the hair on the back of his head with her other hand, so his feet end up dangling a good two feet off the floor and his face a good 3 inches from hers.
The ease and fluidness at which she was able to do this startled Grelf. After all she was a female Drow elf, not a freaking barbarian. He truly wondered if she was just going to snap his neck right there and then.
“Now listen carefully, because I’m only going to say this once,” Yasraena continues on in a voice that could freeze blood. “I’m sure that ‘one of the best’ can see your situation is indeed a hopeless one. You are going to die for what you’ve done. How you die will be completely up to you though, as you have two choices before you. Quick and painless, or sloooooow and agonizing. Personally, I prefer the latter, because we not only have ways of getting the information out of you after your dead, but we also get to make your last moments in this life as painful as possible. Do you understand so far?”
Grelf feels her hand nod his head up and down a couple of times.
“Good. Now, how you answer the questions we ask will tell us the choice you’ve made. Quickly and truthfully will be your preferred way of doing it, if not my own. Ready?” She nods his head again. “Good. Why did you kill our friend Wilfbrim?”
“It was strictly business. He was a mark,” Grelf quickly replies.
Malaci then asks, ”Who hired you for the task?”
“An old friend,” Grelf replies to Malaci.
“Wrong answer!” shouts Yasraena and throws him against the cell bars with all her might. Grelf sees stars and falls to the floor with a thud and a groan. He hears Malaci say something along the lines of “OOOOOH! THAT’S gotta hurt!!” When Fleabus goes and picks him up by the scruff of his neck and takes him back to the middle of the cell, he seems to be coherent again.
“Ye want to be answerin’ these questions a bit more specifically,” he says to the Halfling as he cocks his own arm back in preparation for a throw. “Now who hired ye?”
“All right all right!” Grelf yells out. “His name is Nalfost and he apparently works for the Zhents now.”
“Nalfost!?!?” exclaims Malaci. “What the hell is that snake worshipping piece of crap doing involved in this? What did Wilfbrim ever do to him?”
“Nothing that I know of,” says Grelf. “I could care less if he did, really. All I cared about was the job and getting paid. ”
“That’s it? You were hired by Nalfost to kill him. Nothing more? ” Yasraena almost yells at him.
“That’s pretty much it, yeah.” the Halfling tells her. “But it wasn’t just the priest. Nalfost hired me to kill all of you.”
“WHAT?!?!?” the group almost yells in unison.
“What could he possibly gain by killing all of us?” asks Fleabus.
“I’m not sure,” Grelf replies, “but he said something abut all the plans being able to finally be accomplished, once your group was out of the way. You all must have done something to really piss him off.”
“Call it a fundamental difference of ideals.” Yasraena says.
“Is there anything else you can tell us about your boss and the reason he wanted us dead?” asks Fleabus as he gently sets Grelf back on the cell floor and transfers his axe to his right hand.
“No, that’s all there is,” Grelf answers. “He hired me to kill the priest, then to kill all of you. His reasons are his own.”
“Ok then, time to keep our end of the bargain,” answers Fleabus, as he swings his axe in a circular roundhouse directly at and through Grelf’s neck, severing his head in one clean stroke. He then goes to the fallen head and picks it up. Looking into the eyes, which seem to look very surprised, but still to have some life and comprehension in them, he yells, “That was for our friend you little prick! May you rot in hell!!” He then throws the head against the cell bars, where it hits with a dull ‘thunk’, falls to the ground and starts to roll, splattering blood, to where it finally stops next to the halfling’s lifeless body; the surprised expression still on its face.
So passes Grelf of Lurien, halfling assassin.
“Not that he didn’t deserve it,” Malaci says no one in particular, “but that was brutal.”
“Yes it was,” Yasraena says, “and yes he deserved it.”
“So what now?” Malaci asks her.
“I don’t know about you two,” Fleabus says, “but after all this, I could use a belt or two… or three… or four for that matter.”
“I’ll agree to that my friend,” Yasraena says. “As soon as we tie up the loose ends here with Willis. I’ll even buy the first round.”
With that they take their leave of the bloody cell and find Willis in his office.
After they all tell him what happened, Willis reacts rather angrily and says, “Didn’t I tell you NOT to kill him? He was supposed to be interrogated, not executed! What am I supposed to tell my boss now?!?!”
“Ye can tell him that we got the little dung to confess to his vile deed and then dispensed a little swift justice of our own,” says Fleabus. “If he still has a problem, tell ‘im to come and talk to us! Ye know where we’ll be!”
After finalizing arrangements with Willis for their friend’s body and possessions to be handed over to the church of Mystra, they finally take their leave and head back to the Dancing Unicorn.
When they arrive back at the inn, two hours after leaving, they’re surprised to see Aloeranth still sitting at the same table as before. As they approach her, she notices them, smiles and then waves them over.
“That was fast,” she says as they arrive at the table, then to Yasraena specifically. “I wasn’t expecting to see you at least until tomorrow. Dare I ask if things went well?”
“As well as can be expected I suppose,” she replies back. “Our friend Wilfbrim was killed last night in his apartment.”
“What? That’s terrible! I’m so sorry!” says Aloe.
“Yeah, that’s what the whole thing with the city guards was about,” says Malaci as he takes a seat. “But they got the halfling that did it.”
“A halfling? Are you serious?” she says back. “That’s great news. At least he’ll pay for what he did.”
“Already has,” says Fleabus as he takes his place at the table. “With interest.”
“What did you do to him?” Aloe asks in a hushed voice.
“We told him he’d better answer our questions if he wanted to die a quick and painless death, as opposed to a slow and agonizing one.” says Yasraena matter of factly.
Then Malaci says, “He told us basically that Wilfbrim was his mark. We all were actually.”
“Ok. Wait a second. You’re telling me that not only did this halfling kill your friend, but you all were marked for assassination?” Aloe asks. “Why?”
“We don’t know,” says Yas. “He said something about an old comrade of ours named Nalfost. About how he now works for the Zhentarim and all of his plans were finally going to be accomplished once we were out of the way. What those plans are however, we haven’t a clue.”
“It sounds like you have a mystery on your hands.” says Aloe.
“That we do, that we do,” replies Yas. “But before we start to think about that, how about you finishing your story you were telling us before we were whisked away by the guards?”
“Sure, I can do that. But I suppose I should start from the beginning to give you the whole story.” She then asks them “Have any of you heard of either Sammaster or ‘The Cult of the Dragon’?”
“We’ve all heard of the Cult, but have never had to deal with them.” Offers Fleabus. Everyone around the table agrees to that, except Yasraena who, not surprisingly, had never heard of them before.
Aloe then explains, “They’re basically an evil cult who thinks that dragons will eventually rule over man. They worship dragons and manipulate them into their service.”
“Who’s this Sammaster?” asks Malaci.
“He is their founder and was their leader up until he found himself without a body,” replies Aloe, “He was thought to have finally perished for good until he became a lich almost 700 years ago. His physical body was eventually destroyed in one of the many battles with good he and his cult took part in. But his phylactery I’m afraid, survived intact. It has remained lost for over 400 years. Until recently it was believed to be lost for good, but it has been found again, and intact. It is one of the things his followers need to accomplish their plans of resurrecting him and bringing him into this world once again. As with any lich, if his phylactery can be found and destroyed for good, Sammaster will never be able to trouble this world ever again! ”
“How do you know all this?” asks Yasraena.
“I’ve been a scholar of the cult for a long time, most of my life as a matter of fact,” she replies. “As I’ve said, he has been thought dead and lost for hundreds of years up ‘til now. The cult now has the resources to bring him back. It’s been foretold in their writings and artifacts since their inception into this world.” She stops for a moment to gather her thoughts, then continues, “The tapestry; the one that I lost in the auction? It was bought up by none other than members of the Cult. Them buying it, and for the price they paid, just confirms my suspicions about it.”
“And what might those suspicions be, lass?” asks Fleabus.
“That the tapestry is in actuality, not only a map to the place where this ritual is going to take place, but also to where the phylactery itself lies. I’m betting they’re one in the same. Sammaster’s ancient tomb. Because I was able to take a close, but quick look at the items before bidding on them, I was able to discern certain things in the actual picture, which showed a diorama of a huge dragon battle with every color and age represented.” Aloe explained. “In the picture, there was a statue, a large silver replica of Tiamat. The diorama depicted it as something the evil dragons seemed to be after, like a prize or something of importance to them. If I’m right, the area that the battle took place in is referenced right in the picture, and is close to Silverymoon, very possibly south of the city in the low lying hills.”
At the words regarding the statue of Tiamat, the party all looks at each other for a brief moment.
“Well, I suppose if you’re being so forthcoming, I suppose I should as well.” says Fleabus.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” asks Malaci.
“I was waiting for Aloe here to leave before I said anything, but like I said, if she trusts us enough to tell us what she knows, then we all should be just as trusting of her.” replies Fleabus.
“I thought we were,” says Yasraena with a bit of sarcasm in her voice. “But I suppose I can’t fault you for being cautious.”
“I appreciate the confidence master Gundarock,” says Aloe. “What were you about to say?”
Fleabus takes a moment to gather his thoughts, then says, “It was when I was spying on the keep before. I was scouting around the perimeter and front when I saw the dirty traitor Nalfost, standing there by himself. Perfect sitting duck, but as I begin to cast the spell ‘o death, what do I see come flyin’ in and land right in front of ‘ol Nalfost and begin to talk to him like he was along lost friend? A pretty godsdamn big black dragon is what!”
He stops and takes a drink before continuing.
“Well, they sit and talk for a few minutes, when I see Nalfost take out the statue of Tiamat… yes, our statue… and give it to the dragon, who taking it, flies away to the north. Nalfost then goes back into the keep. I stayed for ‘nother hour or so, but he never came back out, so I finally left as it was gettin’ dark.” He then looks to Aloe and says “I never gave it a second thought, thinking it was some sort of tribute to the dragon or something. That is until you just spoke of it in the picture on the tapestry.”
Aloe catches her breath as she hears this come out of the dwarf’s mouth.
“You had a silver statue of Tiamat?” she asks him.
“Mithril actually,” replies Fleabus. “But aye, we did. We found it in the ruins of the Keep.”
“A statue of Tiamat made of solid Mithril,” Aloe repeats. “You say you found this in the ruins of Hellgate Keep and that you saw this Nalfost give it to the black dragon?”
“Not to be rude, lass, but isn’t that exactly what I just said?” Fleabus responds, now a little more interested.
“Can you describe it in detail?” she asks, ignoring the jibe. Her voice rising a bit as she asks the question.
“Well, it was Tiamat in Mithril.” Yasraena says. “About 3ft high by 2 ft long by about a foot wide. It weighed about 30-40 lbs.”
“Don’t forget about the illusion on it.” Malaci says.
“Oh yeah.” Yas says with a slight laugh, “There was a greater illusion imbedded in it that projected a life size Tiamat. It almost got the best of us when we first saw it.”
“If what you just said is true, then all my suspicions have been confirmed.” says Aloe with a real fear in her eyes as she plops down in her chair as if defeated. “That all this isn’t just myth and legend. “The Crossing” is real add it’s really going to take place.”
“And what is this “Crossing?” asks Fleabus now hanging on her every word.
“It’s the Cult ritual that transforms an old evil dragon into a dracolich, and it becomes the new vessel for Sammaster, allowing him to come back to un-life!” replies Aloe. “I believe that this black dragon you saw, whose name has to be Onyx, is the chosen of Sammaster and will be the one so transformed. That statue you found and that the dragon now has is the literal the key to starting it all!”
She stops for a moment and gazes at the entire party with a look of utter desperateness. “My deepest fears have come true and I have no other course open to myself but to try and stop this ritual from taking place. I will do so alone if I must, but I’ll have little chance to succeed if I try it alone. Will you help me?”
The party looks at the elf with new found respect for a silent moment before Yasraena replies, “I’ll help you Aloe. I have a feeling we’re tied into this somehow.”
“Aye, I’m with ye too, lass,” says Fleabus.
“And me,” adds Malaci. “Besides, there’s strength in numbers.”
Aloe visibly relaxes at this, as if a stone wall weight was lifted from her. “Thank you my friends, thank you. I don’t think I could have done it alone.”
“Do you have any idea of where to start at?” asks Yasraena.
“I think the best place to start would be Onyx’s lair,” Aloe replies. “I know the location. If my information was correct that is.”
“Well, seeing how it’s almost midnight, I suggest we start off tomorrow afternoon,” Yasraena replies back. “I know we all need to stock up on traveling supplies before we leave, so why don’t we all meet back here, ready to depart, by noon tomorrow.”
“Sounds good to me,” Malaci says.
“Aye, me as well,” adds Fleabus.
“Then we meet tomorrow afternoon,” says Aloe.
As they all get up and take their leave, Aloe stays put and says her goodbyes. When she is alone and has one more glass of wine, she thinks to herself, “I sure hope they’re as good as people say they are. Something tells me I’m going to need them.”
As Yasraena finally gets to bed, she resolves herself to stop by and inform Alustriel of what is going on before she and her friends leave the city. So the next morning on her way out, she does exactly that. When the palace guards see who is calling on her ladyship so early in the morn, they let her go in immediately. Luckily, Alustriel is not occupied and has time to listen to her new prospect. When she hears of hat Yasraena and her new friends are going to do, she is impressed.
“The Cult is not a group to underestimate, my friend,” she said. “They may be weak at present, but if what this Aloeranth says is true, they could become very great in power. Very great indeed.”
She pauses for a moment to think, then continues, “I will consult with the rest of the council on this matter in more detail at a later date, but for now, I will offer some help to you in the form of a fellow Harper. His name is Daerrian, a half-elf and since I know your group is somewhat lacking an offensive mage, he happens to be one of no small consequence. I know he will be of immense help to you and your party. Where are you staying? The Unicorn, as usual?”
“Am I that predictable?” she asks with a smile. “Yes, the unicorn.”
“I’ll have him meet you there in 2 hours ready to travel.” Alustriel answers back with her own smile, which then turns serious, “Yasraena, I know I don’t have to tell you the importance of this. If it’s real, you MUST stop it from happening. The consequences could be very bad for the northern realms if it succeeds. But if it’s something else, we also need to know what it is and the threat it may cause.”
She then grasps her hands and says, “Xal Eilistraee kyorl phor dos, ussta abbil.”
“Bel'la dos, dosst highness. Lu' dos ichl.” Yasraena answers in turn, surprised and flattered that Alustriel would use her native tongue.
When Yasraena got back to the Unicorn, almost everyone was there except Aloe and Daerrian. Aloe still had 10 minutes, so she filled in the group about her new friend. Just when she had finished, lo and behold, there was Daerrian walking up to their table with Aloe right in front of him. When they arrived, Daerrian held back as Aloe continued on.
“Well, is everyone ready to go?” She asks.
“Sure are,” answers Yasraena. “Except for one thing.”
“What’s that?” asks Aloe.
“Meeting the new addition to our party, courtesy of Alustriel,” she answers, gesturing to the half-elf standing about 5 feet away from the group. “Daerrian I presume?”
“That is me,” he answers as he steps towards Yasraena. “and you must be the famous Yasraena T’Sarran. Pleased to meet you.”
“New member?” asks Aloe in surprise. “What new member?”
“Daerrian Celevorn, at your service milady,” says Daerrian with a bow. “With the lady’s regards.”
“Yasraena there says you’re a mage of no small ability,” Malaci says.
“ I don’t think I’d be here if I wasn’t, master rogue,” Daerrian replies back rather snippily. “Don’t worry. I know where our path leads and I come prepared for what we may meet along the way and once we get there.”
As they get up and make ready to depart, Aloe is heard saying to him, “For the sake of us and the realms, I hope you're not just bragging, mage.”
Never Judge A Book By Its Cover
The journey begins with the newly formed party getting to slowly know one another. During the long rides Yasraena and Aloe would sometimes provide entertainment with both of them singing, while Yasraena sometimes filled in with her flute. Sometimes Malaci would tell stories of adventures gone by and it was from the story of the groups’ previous adventure with the Drow that got Daerrian, who had been keeping to himself, to finally come around. It passed the time, and no one complained. At least until Fleabus tried to sing along with a couple of the rowdier tunes, but it was always backed up with a friendly laugh and a smile.
The first night out, the party discovered that no one had bothered to pack a tent. Luckily, it was mid-spring and the weather was with them, so sleeping outside didn’t seem to be an issue for anyone. Aloe seemed especially content and Yasraena always enjoyed sleeping outside so she could gaze at the stars.
“You’d think after all the times we’ve been out in the wild, one of us would remember to pack a tent,” said Fleabus as he was getting his bedroll ready. “At least the weather is with us so far.” Dinner had been eaten and washed up and watches had been decided and agreed upon. Everyone now was either getting ready for bed or their watch.
“You’d think, but you’d think wrong apparently,” replied Yasraena as she was about to turn in herself. “Just be thankful I’ve got something in case the weather does turn on us.”
“And what might that be?” Fleabus asks.
“Oh, just something I learned through my many adventures that will make a weary and wet traveler’s rest more comfortable and dry. It’s something I’m not about to waste on such a beautiful night as this, that’s for sure.” Yasraena replies looking at the almost full moon and the twinkling stars above. “Just look at those stars! I never thought I would see such things before I came into the world above. Sleep well, my friend.”
The day dawns to the bright light of a mid-spring sunrise. As the party readies itself for the day’s journey, Aloe is asked a question by Yasraena. “How long will it take to get to Onyx’s lair, Aloe?”
“We should be there by late sometime the day after tomorrow, if we keep this pace up,” she replies. “Haste is truly needed now, even above caution.” None refuted what she had said.
The day goes by again much as the previous did; slow because of making their own trail, but steady going and always northeast, towards the cult’s lair. Everyone seemed to be in their own thoughts though, instead of the jovial, carefree mood of the day before. Aloe and Yasraena tried to pass the time again with some more songs and accompaniment, but to no avail. Yas even went as far as to cast a spell that would allow everyone to sing along and actually harmonize with each other. That was something new! Even Fleabus could harmonize in key. It was fun for a while, but soon the novelty wore off and everyone went back to their respective thoughts again. Both elven ladies stopped after a while and even they fell to their own personal thoughts, so that the latter part of the day was mostly spent in silence.
So the day passed and the evening came yet again. The party stopped near a grove of trees and a small hill that was to the northwest of it that gave great shelter from the wind, which was coming from that direction and had picked up in the last 30 minutes or so. The fire was especially nice to have that night as it was bitterly cold for that time of year. The sky was crystal clear, with only a few clouds that were sailing by past the waxing moon on the strong winds; the stars we twinkling very brightly.
Yasraena offered to make everyone dinner as long as everyone else cleaned up, which all heartily agreed to. A hot meal on a night such as this would be good indeed. After a surprisingly well made dinner was eaten and cleaned up and everyone was doing their nightly routines, Aloe starts to walk away from the party towards the hill, when Malaci asks her where she’s going.
“I go to worship the deity I follow, Bahamut, master of dragons,” She responds. “I go as I do not wish to disturb you my friends, as it is a rather… ‘vocal’ veneration of him. Do you wish to learn more of it? I would gladly show those who do.”
“It sounds not unlike the Evensong of Eilistraee, the goddess I follow.” Yasraena says. “But we that sing to the goddess in the evening usually do so alone. I will leave you to yours, Aloe.”
“If you really mean it, I’d like to come and at least see what it is you do.” Says Malaci. “I have always been curious about how people can worship such beings; and I’ve never seen worship to a dragon god before. What do you do?”
“Come with me and I will show you.” Aloe replies. They all watch as she takes his hand and leads him to the top of the hill above the camp. There is a group of small trees along with the brush at the edge that block them from view as they crest the hill.
Yasraena watches them as they climb and eventually go over the hill and thinks to herself, “I wonder what he’s up to? Since when has Malaci been interested in venerating ANY god?”
As they reach the top of the hill, Aloe releases Malaci’s hand and kneels head down, at the northern edge directly opposite the way they came up. The wind up here is even more intense, with the gusts whipping Aloe’s hair around and slapping Malaci’s cloak back and forth. The bewildered rogue, not knowing what else to do, takes a few steps to the side of her and kneels as well; only facing towards the elf instead of north so he can see exactly what she does.
After what seemed to be a long moment, Aloe raises her head and her face towards the sky. A smile and a look of absolute serenity are upon it as she begins to sing.
The tune is beautiful, but lyric-less, and evokes images and feelings of utter reverence and undying loyalty, but also of devotion and love. It is a beautiful melody, only surpassed by the soulfulness and emotion of the singer. It is a song truly from the heart and that above all else is what is evoked when listening to her.
Down in the camp, the rest of the party are entranced at what they are hearing from the hill. The clear voice of Aloeranth is almost hypnotizing. Yasraena is almost moved to join the elf in song, but thinks better of it and stops herself.
Upon the hill, Malaci is awestruck by this creature as she sings. Never before had he seen such beauty in flesh and spirit. From this his feeling about the gods themselves seemed to change in that he felt something come into him as she sang to her god, this Bahamut. He didn’t know what it was, but he swore he saw some sort of light come down and engulf the hilltop and both of them. This happened at the end of the song and so suddenly, that Malaci almost didn’t believe it happened. When Malaci comes out of his daydream, he is still kneeling and Aloe is there standing in front of him.
“You look a little dazed my friend. Are you ok?” Aloe asks him.
“Uh… ummm… yeah, I’m alright,” he answers getting to his feet, “Dazed is a good word though. What just happened?”
“The lord Bahamut has given his blessing to us. I didn’t expect it to be given to you however. That was truly unexpected!” Aloe replies back. “The lord Bahamut works in mysterious ways it seems. Feel blessed my friend, for he does not bestow his gifts freely, even to his devout followers, let alone to those who believe in nothing.”
As they come back down the hill, the rest of the party doesn’t seem to be fazed at the recent goings on, or at least they don’t show it.
“Didn’t you guys just see that?” Malaci says, his voice rising.
“See what? You and the elf go traipsing up the hill together?” says Fleabus with a bit of chuckle in his voice.
“All I heard was Aloe’s beautiful song,” says Yasraena. “I saw nothing unusual if that’s what you mean.” She said nothing of the desire to go to the hill and join her in the song, however.
As Malaci is standing there, Aloe comes up to his side and softly says into his ear, “It was meant for us and us alone. Think about THAT, non-believer,” then walks back to her bedroll, leaving him speechless for once. After waiting for any type of response from his friends, and getting none, Malaci finally walks back to his own bedroll and gets ready for sleep, wondering about what just transpired.
The following day dawns with a cold northerly wind and grey clouds that were dark with rain. The morning’s breakfast was cheery but cold, for even with the fire back up, the wind had a distinct chill.
“I was wondering if the weather would stay with us,” says Jasper as he’s packing to go for the day. “Apparently it won’t by the look of those clouds this morning.”
“Bah! Clouds are just clouds.” replies Fleabus. “When it starts to rain… THAT’S when I’ll curse the weather.” But he takes care to unpack and don his heavier cloak for the day’s journey.
The third day out from the city is again, uneventful. The clouds are a constant companion however, always threatening their wrath of rain, but never quite coming to it with the exception of a few sprinkles here and there. The wind comes and goes as it did the night before; sometimes a gentle breeze, other times gusting strong enough to feel it might tip over the horses.
That evening right as the group is stopping to camp for the night, the storm finally breaks. As they are unpacking the horses, there is a huge lightning flash that lights up the entire sky. Not two seconds later it is followed by a thunderclap that seemed to be right above them and was so loud, a few of the party were actually stunned for a second or two afterwards. It startled the horses so bad, they almost bolted in fear.
“By the gods, that sounded like it was right on top of us.” Yasraena is overheard saying after the peal finally trails off seconds later, her voice very small in comparison.
Before anyone can say a word, there is a loud sound, like a hissing of giant snakes. A few seconds later, the cloudburst hits and the rain falls so hard the party has to shout to be heard over it.
“Nothing like a little spring rain to freshen the spirit!” Aloe literally yells at the party.
“Ha ha! Very funny, missy!” Fleabus yells back. “Never fails… thrice damned weather always changing when we least need it to!”
“Well, you keep to your word, I’ll say that!” Jasper yells to Fleabus. “You said you’d curse the weather if it started to rain… and here you go!”
“When there’s cursing involved, always be sure Fleabus will keep his word,” Yasraena loudly says with a laugh as she leads her horse to them. “I have something that may help us in our current predicament.”
She takes out a small linen pouch from one of her belt pouches and removes what appears to be a single bean, then closes the pouch and puts it away. She then goes about 50 yards from the trail, behind some trees in a small clearing, the rest of them following her. When she reaches the spot she feels right, she says “This is kind of a crap shoot, but watch this!” and throws the bean to the ground.
The bean breaks open and from inside, something begins to expand and form. It is a heavy material of some type, like a tent or tarp and it takes a full minute to form into a large tent. Yasraena goes over to it and opens the flap. Inside she sees a large foyer with what appears to be a large room directly behind it that went on for much longer than the actual tent physically did.
“Hold on a sec,” she says. “I want to check it out first.”
“I’ll come with you.” says Malaci as he approaches and enters the tent behind Yasraena.
A few seconds go by and you hear from inside a muffled “Wow!” from Malaci, then a few more and another muffled “Wow!” When he finally comes out about a minute later, he’s almost giddy. He’s also holding a golden cup and drinking from it.
“It’s like a mansion in there!” He exclaims. “There are rooms for everyone with clean beds and a separate bathroom for each and food like you wouldn’t believe! Try this wine, Fleabus!” and he hands the dwarf the golden goblet. Fleabus, being a dwarf and never turning down an offer of a drink from a friend, takes the cup and downs the draught in a single gulp as Yasraena comes to the flap and opens it.
“He’s right. It’s like a mansion in here,” she says to them. “It seems to be a replication of a spell I know, but rarely use because of the cost to cast it. There’s room enough for all, yes even the horses, so bring them in too. Malaci, go get our horses and I’ll direct them to the proper rooms.”
As it turned out, there were exactly 10 rooms in all; the foyer, a large dining hall with a large central fireplace, 8 separate single rooms and two large stable areas. The rooms came complete with large feather beds, clean sheets and pillows, a small table with a small mirror, wash basin and pitcher and a small oil lamp. The stables were clean and connected so the six horses had more than enough room. There was also a staff of near transparent servants, one to each guest that would wait on them hand and foot. But the best part was the banquet that was laid out for them. Almost any type of food and drink you could imagine was on the table, and if you didn’t see it, all you had to do was think about it, and there was one of the servants, placing a tray or goblet of that exact delicacy in front of you.
Now Yasraena, having had experience with this type of magic before, thought it only right to tell her friends of the unseen consequence of enjoying the banquet.
“The food is only an illusion and will do you no good once you leave the confines of the tent. At least, that is how it is with the spell I know,” she told them. “Even after eating until you cannot eat another bite, the minute you walk out the door, you will be as famished as you were when you first entered. So I suggest eating some of the stuff we brought along as well.”
This news did not seem to deter her friends from enjoying the repast in the slightest, so she ate as she normally did. The food was some of the most delicious she’d ever had, to be honest though.
When the evening’s meal finally came to a close, the watches were started and the rest went to their own evening activities. Aloe and Malaci were on first watch, Fleabus and Jasper on second with Yasraena and Daerrian on third and last watch. Fleabus, Jasper and Daerrian went immediately to sleep while Yasraena started her reverie.
The first thing that Aloe and Malaci noticed when they left the tent was that the storm hadn’t stopped, which surprised them as they hadn’t heard a single sound of it for as long as they were inside. They wrapped their cloaks about them and ventured outside the tent when they notice another thing. They were just as satisfied and full as they had been when they left the dinner table inside the tent.
“Maybe Yasraena was wrong about the effects of the food, ‘cause I still feel stuffed.” he said.
“Well, it was the effect of an item, not her spell, so it may have different effects.” Aloe replies back. “The food from this may have lasting effects, where it doesn’t from her spell.”
“Shouldn’t we tell her?” he asked.
“She’ll find out soon enough, I think, when she comes out for her watch,” replies Aloe. “See you in a little while.” And with that, she sprints up the hill and vanishes over the edge.
Malaci stands and watches longingly until she is out of sight, then, a little reluctantly, commences on his own rounds thinking to himself, “And I thought we’d stay together, damn it!”
Much to Malaci’s chagrin, he and Aloe did not meet up as often as he would have liked during their watch together, but there was no trouble as well, which suited them both. The rain was still falling and the wind had kept its erratic ups and downs when they finally came back to the tent 3 hours later, dripping wet and cold.
“I see the weather still refuses to cooperate with us,” says Fleabus as he and Jasper hold the flaps for their friends as they come in. “It’s gonna be a wet one, lad.”
“Ugh.”, was all Jasper said as they exited the tent.
The duo’s watch begins as usual with nothing out of the ordinary, except they too notice the effects of the conjured food are still with them as well. They don’t give it a second thought and begin their respective rounds with Jasper making a circle to the west, while Fleabus circled the east. They would sometimes see each other as they walked their rounds, but normally all they saw for the 3 hours out here was more rain wind and lightning.
It was during the last 30 minutes of their watch when it happened.
Fleabus was taking a small break just to the right of the tent where he would be (mostly) shielded from the rain by the trees and could get a wide look at the area. The rain had started to pick up a bit in the last 15 minutes or so and was now coming down in sheets. Not to mention the thunder and lightning had started up again. Boy was he glad he had thought to bring a waterskin filled with hot coffee! Not only was it helping keep him awake, it was keeping him warm as well. It was colder than an ice giant’s ass out here! At least he had made it last the whole watch, even with Jasper leeching a few gulps when he met up with him.
“Ahhh!” He thought to himself as he closed his eyes and tilted the skin back to his throat. “Nectar of the gods on a night like this!”
As he brought his head back level, a lightning flash lit the sky and he suddenly got a completely unwarranted feeling that he was being watched. Thunder crashed as he capped the wineskin and turned around to face his suspicion. It was almost pitch black so he couldn’t see a thing besides the outline of the trees, but he felt something was there. He strained his eyes, but could see nothing but the large trunks of the trees in front of him, their braches dripping with the falling rain.
As Fleabus continued to strain to see something, anything, he decided to look up at the same instant lightning flashed yet again and instead of tree trunks, revealed the head and neck of an extremely large black dragon! It had been looking directly at him, its black eyes piercing Fleabus to the core. The look on its scaly face said move, and die. The dwarf was so awestruck at seeing this, he didn’t notice the actual effect it had on him until later. He stood there, staring at this gigantic dragon head that was not 10 feet from his face for what seemed forever. Was it seconds? Minutes? He couldn’t tell, but all the time the dragon’s eyes were upon him, he stood transfixed, unable to do anything but breathe.
When suddenly, the beast’s expression changes to something that was the furthest from the mind of the captive dwarf and that chilled him even more.
Then, without any movement and without a sound, it was gone. Fleabus stood there, stunned, for almost a full minute before the dragon fear wore off and he came to his senses.
“DRAAAAAAAGOOOOOOOON!!!! He yelled at the top of his voice.
Jasper came running towards him, weapons drawn and just as he arrived, Yasraena, and the rest of the group come out of the tent weapons in hand and rush towards Fleabus and Jasper.
“Fleabus! What’s going on? I don’t see anything!” Daerrian shouts, bringing up the rear of the advancing group. He wears a robe and a long cloak, dripping from the falling rain.
“I saw a dragon head between those trees not 60 seconds ago, a black dragon head looking like he was waiting for someone to come out for a quick bite!” Fleabus yelled back pointing at the trees directly behind the tent. Yasraena, having seen this looks at Malaci and motions for him to follow her and they bound off to investigate. “It wasn’t doing anything but just looking at the tent, so I was waiting for it to actually do something before I did. I was starting to prepare a spell when its gaze turned to me and I knew he had to have seen me; his gaze seemed to go right through me. Then, I swear it grinned at me and then just vanished.”
“Onyx!” Aloe shouts with finality.
“Aye, I thought the very same, lass,” replied Fleabus. “Seeing it again like that took me a little off guard I’m embarrassed to say, but that grin set it in stone for me. I remember how he grinned at Nalfost at Hellgate Keep in the same way after getting the damned statue. Made my bones shiver!”
“It seems what little surprise we had is now gone.” says Daerrian. “I have a feeling that black recognized you Fleabus. You and your companions are well known in the area and the cult has probably heard of, if not known of you all for a while now.”
“Well, at least we know we’re on the right track.” says Yasraena as she and Malaci come walking back to the group. “There are huge claw prints over by the trees Fleabus pointed out, so yeah, we had a dragon looking at us tonight.”
“So what do we do now?” asks Malaci.
There is a moment of silence before Yasraena speaks.
“Well, we can’t go on in the dark AND the rain, and since it’s almost third watch anyways, I suggest the rest of you go back in the tent, dry off and try and get some rest until the morning.” says Yasraena. “I have a feeling we’re going to need it.”
So the rest of the party return to the tent and try and get some needed sleep while Yasraena and Daerrian continue the camp watch until morning.
Before they go on their respective rounds, Yasraena calls to Daerrian to come over. As he approaches her he sees her finishing casting a spell or some sort and sees the rain hit an invisible barrier about an inch from her body and cascade down it, not touching her in the least. She then casts another spell and suddenly all of her clothes, hair, body and equipment are dry!
“May I?” she asks, motioning to cast a spell on her companion.
“By all means.” He replies, watching intently.
As she finishes her casting, Yasraena says to Daerrian, “Benefits of drawing watch with someone who enjoys her comfort my friend.”
“My thanks Yasraena,” Daerrian says when she is done. “Very useful indeed. I don’t recognize the somatics of the spell, however. Is it one from you home world?”
“As a matter fact it is,” she replies. “A minor but useful bit of magic; part of a list actually.”
“I would love to learn more about it,“ he quickly replies in turn. “by your leave of course.”
“If we ever make it back to Silverymoon and to the Lady’s college, my original spell books are there for all those deemed worthy to study,” she replies. “You are more than welcome to study at your leisure, once we return.”
So the two are able to finish off the remainder of their watch at least dry, if not warm and the rest of the night goes without incident or sighting, much to their relief. After a couple more hours, the storm finally recedes and starts to break up so that by the time the morning dawns, the sky is clear and beautiful; not a trace of the monstrous storm of the previous night.
When the rest of the group comes out of the tent they find the two eating a breakfast that Yasraena had prepared.
“What’s all this?” asks Aloe, yawning a bit as she exits the tent. “I thought we were all for an early start?”
“I figure why not start on a full stomach?” replied Yasraena. “Besides, I scouted the area this morning after sunrise. No sign of the dragon or possible minions. Besides, if Fleabus wasn’t seeing things last night, the cult already knows we’re coming, so damage already done.”
“She even has real coffee!” exclaimed Daerrian between bites.
Just then, Fleabus, Malaci and Jasper come out of the tent and shuffle to places around the fire, grunting as they go.
Yasraena looks over to them just as Malaci holds a cup out to her and says “Did someone say coffee?”
The morning travel goes, surprisingly, without incident, as they all were expecting something. This, in turn made the party a little on edge, as they all felt it was just a little too easy after the previous nights encounter. So, they were going a little slower, making sure nothing was following and being extra alert to anything out of the ordinary along their path. Yasraena and Malaci were on point, followed by Daerrian and Aloe, then Jasper and Fleabus. Both Malaci and Yas were about 100 yds in front of the party and invisible. Yasraena had also cast a spell that enabled her to speak telepathically with both Fleabus and Malaci, so that they could be constantly in communication even though they may not be able to see each other.
It was after the mid-day break that the inevitable happened.
“What’s that to the northwest?” Yasraena heard Malaci’s voice say. As often as she used this spell, it still unnerved her a bit every time.
“Is it Onyx?” Fleabus this time.
“I can’t tell, but I’m guessing yeah,” Yasraena this time.
“Want to do a quick fly up and verify?” asks Malaci.
She replies back saying, “I think it would be better if we both went on the ground to either side of the circle the dragon is flying. I don’t want to chance that creature seeing me, invisible or no.”
“Sure, so long as we can keep this communication going,” replied Malaci.
“There’s time to spare before the spell ends, so no issues there,” replied Yasraena. “Fleabus, would you please tell the others what’s going on? We’ll keep in contact.”
And with that, they left on their separate directions, Malaci to the north east and Yasraena almost directly north. After about 10 minutes of silence, Fleabus blurts out “Well?? Ye two are as quiet as a church mouse. What in blazes is going on?”
“We’re taking our sweet time, what do you think!” shoots back Malaci.
They both hear laughter from Yasraena, then “I’m almost in range to see what’s going on, Fleabus. Will give more details as they come.”
After another 5 minutes, Yasraena is telling Fleabus what she sees and Malaci is backing up every word. A small clearing about 200-300 yards square, slightly to the northeast, large contingent of people, about 2 dozen with a large open wagon carrying a large coffin or sarcophagus that has to Sammaster, accompanied by two robed figures, with the dragon circling overhead. The ones who appear to be guards differ in appearance in that half are garbed in a type of scale armor, which considering the people, is probably dragon scale, and armed with two identical weapons at their sides. The others are dressed in leather and have short swords and bows.
“They almost look like they’re resting Fleabus, don’t they Mala…”
All of a sudden, Malaci almost yells, “Yasraena! Do you see him?!?
“See who?” she replies a little perturbed at the outburst.
"The robed figures! Look! The one who just now took off his hood! Look godsdamn it!” Malaci practically yells at her through the Mindlink.
Yasraena finally does look, surprised she didn’t catch the robed figure pulling his hood off.
She caught her breath…
No, it couldn’t… why would he be...
As the two make their way back, the party starts to move so that they will meet half way. As they move to meet, Yasraena, Malaci and Fleabus confer between themselves about how best to take on this group. The dragon, its breath weapon and how to defend against it and the forces on the ground, not the least of whom was Xhall, was on their minds.
Aloe, hearing everything that was said through Fleabus, suggested a surprise attack to take or destroy the coffin.
“The cult is notorious for being overly confident in their plans and if the dragon did indeed see us last night, it doesn’t seem to think we’re a threat, otherwise I think we’d have been paid a visit by now.” She offered once everyone was back together and could speak plainly. “If that’s true, then we have an element of surprise as they won’t be expecting us. So long as we don’t alert them to us, we should keep the surprise until we’re ready to spring whatever we’re going to spring.”
“Well, what do you suggest?” put in Jasper.
“We need to destroy the coffin above all else as that is surely where Sammaster is,” she says. “I suggest we surround the encampment and hit that wagon hard with everything we have. I’m sure between the spell casters in the party we have enough power to destroy a stone coffin.”
“That’s assuming the coffin isn’t protected much or at all,” put in Daerrian. “Not bloody likely.”
“Well, any better ideas?” returned Aloe. “I’m open to others.”
After a while of everyone trying to come up with something better, they all finally gave in and agreed with Aloe’s suggestion.
“That’s all very well and good, but aren’t ye forgetting the dragon?” says Fleabus.
There was a slight pause, then a heavy sigh before Aloe answers.
“I’ll deal with Onyx.”
Her voice had such a tone of malice and finality that they were almost taken aback at the change in her, it was almost physical. There was no questioning that she would indeed, deal with Onyx.
The final plan had everyone split up around the clearing with Yasraena, Daerrian and Aloe ready with their most potent spells aimed at the coffin. Since Yasraena had the least casting time of the three, the blast from her Fireball would be the signal. Since Fleabus was the slowest to move, once he got into position and gave the mental word to Yas, she would begin her casting.
On the trek back to the clearing, Yas and Malaci were leading the way again followed by Aloe, Daerrian, Jasper and Fleabus bringing up the flank. The Mindlink spell was still up so Fleabus cast a Silence spell on himself prior to leaving so he wouldn’t be heard, as a dwarf in plate walking through the scrub forest is not very silent. He would be able to drop it in a heartbeat if necessary.
Once Yasraena and Malaci actually got to the clearing, they found that the half the group had actually split into separate little bands of three or four, spread out here and there quietly eating their midday meal, their weapons close at hand. The remaining half were standing guard around the perimeter. The two robed figures were seated on the ground not ten feet from the wagon, apparently eating as well.
The plan looked like it would work!
They filled in Fleabus who told Daerrian and Aloe to proceed to their places and await the signal to proceed.
To Yasraena, it seemed like forever between the time she informed the rest of the party the enemies new layout, to the time she finally heard Fleabus voice in her head saying he was in position. The bat guano and sulphur component in her hand was getting a little slimy from her body heat. When she heard Fleabus voice in her head, she was relieved and started to cast her spell.
However at that very moment, Onyx flew down from above with a rush of air and landed directly in front of the wagon and the two robed figures. Xhall and his companion immediately got up and bowed to the dragon that towered over them, before they stepped forward and began to speak with it in voices to low to hear anything of coherence. Yasraena heard of the blade, sacrifice them and Xhall.
Yasraena looked around for anyone she might be able to see and could see no one.
“What now?” she asked in her mind. “Do I still cast or wait?”
But before anyone could answer her, Aloe steps around a small tree she was hiding behind and begins to walk toward the dragon and his companions. With a much louder and deeper voice that thought possible from such a small being, she says the following.
“Onyx the Black! You and your kind will no longer threaten this world after today! I know of your little plan for this coffin and its contents. You will not succeed! In fact, you will fail miserably and all those here will die along with you in the attempt! You’re unconditional and immediate surrender will be the only hope of keeping your miserable lives!”
She is about 100’ away from them when she finally stops.
As the contingent of guards see this, those on duty face the intruder and draw their weapons while those that are eating rise and do the same, so that everyone, including Xhall and his robed companion are now facing toward the middle of the camp and concentrating on this new situation.
When Aloe finishes her rant, there is a few seconds of silence as the entire group looks around at each other then lastly at the dragon. When it smiles, the rest of them burst out laughing.
“Big words from such a small elf, you pointy eared dung!” Onyx says over the raucous laughter with a chuckle in his voice. “I don’t think you have the slightest idea of who you’re dealing with.” He then changes his tone to cold and menacing. “Or the slightest idea of the consequences for putting your nose into business that doesn’t concern you. Guards… seize her.”
As the guards slowly start to move towards Aloe, she says in reply, “It is obvious YOU are the one who hasn’t the slightest idea of who YOU’RE dealing with! I am a servant of Bahamut, lord of dragons!!! AND… HIS… POWER… IS… MINE!!!!!!”
As Aloe replies, a distinct aura starts up around her body, getting brighter as the seconds pass; her voice gets lower and boomier, like it’s growing in innate power; her body starts to ripple and grow when she begins to speak so that by the end of her last word she has transformed into a mature Gold Dragon!
Everyone who witnesses this is literally stunned to see the transformation take place. Looking at the two great wyrms, Aloe is barely half the size of Onyx, but the malevolence and utter hatred in her voice gave even the mighty black pause, but not for long as the second Aloe finishes her transformation, she immediately springs forward to attack.
As Onyx sees this, he vaults upward to her and shouts down to the robed figures “Get the coffin to the site at all costs! Leave this bitch to me!” and continues upward at a blinding speed, followed directly behind by Aloe.
It was at this moment that Yasraena decided to finally cast her spell and seconds later there was a large flash and BOOM!, as her Fireball spell went off centered directly on the coffin. Seconds later, Daerrian’s fireball goes off, BOOM!, again, centered on the coffin. When the smoke clears 30 seconds or so later, to her amazement, the wagon and the two robed figures were riding away, none apparently worse for wear from the spell, and being followed by several guards on horseback.
She noted the direction they were travelling and then was confronted by 3 of the dragon scale guards, all three with long swords in both hands. As she turned, the guards reactions told her they didn’t expect a Drow elf and she was able to get her weapons out in that split second of hesitation from them. Lucky for her! She finally got a good look at them. They were almost a full foot taller than her and their armor was truly battle worthy. Not many places that a blade could get through on those suits.
Within the first 15 seconds, she realized these guards were not the usual low skilled mercenary fodder she was used to encountering. No, these were trained in specific two-weapon combat techniques, such as she recognized from her early tutelage. Just one of them would be challenge enough, but three?
Just then, there was a ssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh THUNK!, and the guard to her left falls to the ground with and arrow in his left ear. The combatants continue to fight, seemingly unfazed.
Seconds later, another ssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh THUNK!, and the one to her right falls, an arrow piercing through both ears.
Yasraena hears in her mind, “That evens things up a bit I’d say.”
“I do prefer even odds.” Yasraena replies, then concentrates on the final guard in front of her. He happened to be the most skilled of the three, but Malaci couldn’t have known that.
The guard proved to be quite a challenge for Yasraena after all as he showed greater endurance than she anticipated. He was skilled no doubt, but not enough to deflect every blow. It was just, the blows he was letting through weren’t doing enough damage. It would take forever to inflict enough to wear him down for the killing blow. It was after a good 2 minutes of full on attack, parry move, parry, move, attack, etc, etc, Yasraena finally saw her opening.
She went to attack as normal, but when he went to block as she anticipated, she moved her arc of attack upward so instead of hacking his neck, she hacked his left arm just above the wrist so that he dropped his sword. She reversed her stance, spun and with greater force brought her other sword down on the same place on his right arm, severing it. As he stands there screaming in pain, his lifeblood spurting out of his wrist, Yasraena runs her sword through his throat to silence him.
As he falls away, slowly sliding off her sword, she thinks, “’Tis a shame such skill was put to evil,” she then looks to the clearing to see what’s going on.
She immediately sees Daerrian casting a Fireball on an advancing group of six of the dragon scale guards, which engulfs the lot of them and has them running away screaming or falling where they stand in the aftermath.
She looks to her right, directly in the center of the clearing and sees Fleabus bring down a column of flame from the sky to do the same to a group of six mercenary guards he is facing to the same result, although most fall where they stand and those that do run, do not go far before they finally stumble and fall as well.
The remainder of the guards, all nine of them, a mixture of dragon scale and mercenary, start to form a line to match Yasraena and Fleabus, who was just now coming up to join his companion, having to make his way around the charred bodies from his spell. They apparently had learned from their companion’s mistake about bunching up and were spreading out, ready to circle the lone two. They however didn’t take in to account Daerrian, who had a Wand of Fire out and ready to use as they started to move. He now used it to create a Wall of Fire directly in front of the advancing guards, with such timing that the next step they took was directly into it! It wasn’t there, and then it was! As they stepped through the wall of flame, Yasraena noticed that it didn’t encompass the entire group, the last guard on either end was completely out of the effect and the one next to him was halfway in and halfway out, so that only the one on the left got the effect of the spell.
As it happened, Fleabus had come up on the left of Yasraena, so now she was faced with two guards, one of each and him only one in the aftermath of Daerrian’s spell. As she went to face them, she put herself solely to defense against the remembered tactics and weaknesses of the one she had just fought. She hoped she could learn more of their style from these two before they fell from either Malaci, Jasper or Daerrian, who she knew were out there picking off the survivors of the magic.
It only seemed like seconds before both guards in front of Yasraena fell before her, almost simultaneously; one with an arrow in his back, just under the armpit and the other with an arrow sticking through his throat.
As Malaci runs toward her, she hears him say, “Those were the last two. Jasper fell fighting two of the dragon scale guards before I could lend a hand. The other guards are dead, but the wagon got away. We can try to follow, but they got too big of a head start I think.”
“The despicable bastards sacrificed their own to get away.” Yasraena says as she and the rest see Fleabus come toward them. “We have to follow them right away! We can’t let them even come close to completing that ceremony!”
Lastly, Daerrian comes running up to them, pointing to the sky yelling “LOOK! BY THE GODS LOOK!!”
As the party turns their heads toward the sky, they are awestruck by what they see - Two mighty beasts, one only half the other’s size, in mortal combat, not 300’ directly above them.
The eyes of the dragons meet. Roars are given and teeth bared as the battle begins. Onyx starts his attack with a bum rush forward, directly toward Aloeranth. Much quicker than thought possible by such an immense creature, Aloe bolts upward in flight, leaving the black behind, making him circle around, then fly up once he spots the gold above him.
But Aloe anticipated this very move and was ready for him. As she leveled herself and looked down at where she knew the black would be coming, she bought her wings and tail to bear in front of her, all three pointing at the oncoming black. Suddenly, a burst of lighting came from all three, streaking toward then forming into a single bolt which strikes the unsuspecting black with it’s full force. A shriek of agony is heard coming from Onyx as his scales smoke and his wing tips are scorched by the spell. He steadies himself, and then vaults toward Aloe, acid spewing from his mouth in a deadly line towards the gold.
Aloe, expecting the retaliatory attack had already vaulted upward another 300’ to escape and get in line for another spell, but as she was turning to do just that, Onyx rams into the side of her with his full weight behind him and stuns the gold long enough to grasp her with his talons and force her to fight him face to face. They begin to claw, bite and tear into each other with staggering ferocity and malice even as they begin to plummet to the ground in their deadly embrace.
Aloe, biting and tearing with the ferocity only a gold dragon can muster, is almost oblivious to the pain of her enemy’s claws and fangs biting deep into her flesh and rending her wings to ribbons.
“I MAY DIE TODAY, BUT SO SHALL YOU AND YOUR KIND!” Aloe yells at Onyx.
“OH YOU'LL DIE ALRIGHT! YOU’LL DIE VERY HORRIBLY! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” was all that Onyx replies as he releases her at just about 100’ above the ground. Onyx, even though wounded, was far better off than Aloe and was able to get recovered with plenty of time before hitting the ground.
Aloe on the other hand, was far worse off and was only barely able to get her wings unfolded and working in time by sheer will. Blood pouring from her wounds, she ascends as fast as she can to get away from the savage black and to try and form a counter attack. She can’t help herself and screams out of pure rage, pain and frustration.
Onyx, already in a sort of blood lust, hears the gold’s scream and is spurred to even greater feats of speed, agility and strength. He vaults to the height of Aloe in seconds and grasps her with all four talons, digging deep into her flesh with a strength that seems to flow from his limbs. He then begins his ascent.
Aloe, struggling against the monster’s iron grip as best she can, finally and fatally realizes the black is too large and too strong a foe. She can feel her lifeblood flowing from her wounds as his talons bite even deeper into her flesh. She is too weak to resist and feels herself being brought ever skyward, higher and higher, all the while Onyx is softly laughing to himself. She prepares for what is surely her death.
As Onyx slows and levels off, Aloe begins to struggle once more, hoping beyond hope to get away, but Onyx’s strength is overpowering. He inhales as he pulls the dying gold close to his face and softly says, “I told you there were consequences to putting your snout into business that didn’t concern you, didn’t I?”
Then, with one mighty exhalation, he unleashes his acid breath directly onto Aloe’s head.
The scream is ear shatteringly loud and gut wrenchingly sad all at once. Onyx seems to virtually bathe in Aloe’s misery.
After his breath finally ceases, he releases her. Her wings, wrapped around her almost protectively, flutter their remnants as she begins to fall. The smoke trail from her charred flesh streams behind her torn and broken body as she plummets to the earth.
Onyx stays a moment longer to follow the smoking thing with his gaze as it goes down, down, down.... Then, satisfied the threat was no longer one, he flies off in the direction of his lair.
As the party watches the battle above them, they can only hope that Aloe is up to the task. Their hopes are soon shattered though, as they realize Onyx, being twice as large, surely has the upper hand and slowly and surely beats down Aloe. Their collective “NOOOOO!!!!” when Onyx breathes on Aloe and her inevitable fall was sincere. They just saw their biggest chance of beating the black defeated before their very eyes.
Yasraena was virtually in tears as she watched the smoke trail billow out behind Aloe as she fell from the sky. She followed it like she was looking at a falling star. And realized she was going to fall right behind that hill to the north. “She’s coming down over there!” she yells and begins running toward the hill.
Not 20 seconds later, Aloe hits the ground directly behind the hill.
There is a large THOOM!, like a the biggest fireball in history going off, the ground shakes for 3-5 seconds which actually knock a few off their feet, then a huge dust cloud rises up from behind the hill and starts to fall all about them.
“Come on! Hurry!” Yasraena is heard yelling through the cloud of dust. About 10 minutes later, the group is at the crest of the hill. They gaze over the valley below and see a sight that they will never forget.
Lying in a heap on the ground about 300 yards down, is the body of Aloeranth. There is a large crater of about 100’ in diameter around the broken body of the gold, and she lies at the center. Her flesh, black and charred, is still smoking from the black’s evil breath weapon. It is a sad, sad sight to behold. A newly found comrade, fallen, her task not complete, her beauty lost to the world. Even Fleabus, who is rarely known to show emotion, is moved to tears. The hatred for the Cult of the Dragon and for Onyx in particular, boils within each of the party as they let the sorrowful scene take hold in their minds. Such courage and selflessness should not be in vain!
But wait! Was that movement from Aloe? Was she breathing?
The party rushes to the fallen gold’s side and for the first time sees the real extent of the damage done by Onyx. The scene from above the crater was bad, but what they saw before them will be forever etched in their memories.
Most of the skin and scales on Aloe’s head have been burned off, so that her skull is now showing instead. Her left eye has been completely burned away so that there is only a socket full of goo left. You see torn and severed muscles and tendons through acid blackened skin, wings torn and tattered, blood flowing freely from bites and tears. Her body itself is a mangled, crooked mess.
As the party gets closer, they see her chest is moving slightly, as if she’s gasping for breath. When they come around to her good eye, they see recognition in it and Aloe begins to get up to face them, but immediately falls to the ground with a moan, too beaten and weak to even stand.
As the party reaches her at last, they see her shift her head so that she is looking at them. Her breath is raspy, like she has a million punctures in her lungs.
“I am sorry my friends. I have failed in my task. If you have any willpower left in you, please, I beg, finish what we have begun. Continue on our chosen path to the northeast. His lair is there. THEIR lair is there. They must not be allowed to succeed. The consequences are too dire!”
“We will finish what we started with you, Aloe,” replied Yasraena, choking back tears. “It was our intention all along.”
“Aye,” agreed Fleabus. “There’s no turning back now, lass.”
That seemed to put the abused gold at ease so that she actually smiled. It was horrible to witness.
“Thank you my friends, thank you,” she said. “But now it is my time to go. I must pass on to the outer realm that all go upon leaving this world. I hope to stand in front of Bahamut and hear his judgment.”
When there were arguments about helping her with healing spells, she simply said, “No, no. There are none among you who have the power to help me now. I now must go, but I go knowing evil will be defeated… by you. Now go… and do not look back. The… entire Realms… may …. be…. at…. stake….
Her eye glazes over, her last breath is exhaled, and she is gone.
Yasraena puts her hand to Aloe’s disfigured head, closes her golden eye and then the tears come and she does not care who sees.
The party stands there for what seemed to be forever, listening to Yasraena’s sobs and lost in their own thoughts. Respect, wonder and sorrow for Aloe being chief among them.
After a while, Yasraena stopped sobbing. She stood up, wiped her eyes with her tunic sleeve and looked at aloe’s body for a few seconds more. She then raised her head and asked no one in particular, “All right. Are we ready to finish this?”
Each of her companions raised their bowed heads and the unspoken answer on each of their faces was all she needed.
“Then let’s go,” she said to all of them, then turned and started walking back up and over the crest of the hill.
Each of the party in turn looked at Aloe’s corpse one last time, as if to pay one last respect, then turned and walked up and over the hill, following Yasraena.
All except for Malaci. He stayed the longest, just standing there and looking at the mangled corpse of Aloe, when he suddenly knelt beside her, put his hand to his mouth and kissed it, then gently put it to Aloe’s forehead. In a whisper so that only he (and he hoped Aloe) could hear “For what might have been.” He then stood, turned and followed his friends up and over the hill.
As he crested the hill and looked down, he saw Fleabus casting a spell over Jasper’s body, which was lying peacefully in front of the dwarf with his arms folded across his chest. There was a large gaping wound at his side, obviously the one that killed him. As the spell is cast, a blue/white aura surrounds Jasper, and then a bright light materializes about 5 feet above Jasper’s body and begins to shine directly onto it. Seconds later the wound on his side is completely healed. An even brighter mote of light comes from the top of the light stream and slowly makes its way down to Jasper’s body, then is absorbed right into it with a visible shudder from the corpse. The light above the body and the aura slowly begin to dissipate, so that within a minute, they are completely gone
He sees Fleabus sink to his knees, his face ashen with the exertion of the spell.
“That one is always a trial,” he says as he looks up to the sky. He then makes the sign of Thor in the air and says, “By your leave, always.”
He then gets up and looks down at Jasper and says to him “Wake up you lazy good for nothing!” prodding him with his boot as he does.
Jasper’s eyes finally open and looking rather disoriented, he asks, “What happened? The last thing I remember is a searing pain in my side…?”, then looks at his side curiously, seeing a torn and bloodstained tunic, but no evidence of a wound.
“Jasper!” Malaci is heard saying as he trots down the hill towards his friends. “I thought you were dead!”
“Thanks to the grace of Thor, he lives again.” Fleabus says, then turns to the still prone Jasper and offers a hand up to him, “And ye’re lucky I had that spell available my young friend. Otherwise ye’d still be lying there, dead to the world!”
Jasper, taking the offered hand is helped up to his feet and being still wobbly, is supported by his friend, who begins to lead him over to a place to sit. He looks at the dwarf and asks, “I was dead? And you brought me back?”
Fleabus just nods his head, then sits the rogue down under a tree that he had been leading him to. He looks at the dwarf as he is sat down and says to him, “My thanks a thousand fold friend Fleabus. I am truly in your debt.”
After getting him to drink a few healing potions and eat a few herbs to get him back to somewhat normal health, they finally explained to him what had happened.
When he came back from the crest of the hill after looking at the broken and mangled Aloe, they told him they were going on to try and stop the cult’s evil plan. “Not only for all the Realms, but for Aloe too,” said Yasraena.
Jasper looked at Malaci and then the rest of them. “What the hell,” he finally said to them a little shakily. “Who wants to live forever, right? Besides I might be able to pay ‘ol Fleabus back before the days done!”
As they left the clearing and the body of their friend behind them, they remembered last thing Aloe had said to them before she died, and so honored it.
They did not look back.
The Lair of the Dracolich