Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 53
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    Shattered Dreams: Prologue

    Kham was shown into a large drawing room, high ceilinged and comfortable with blue settees and a deep green carpet. There were several objects of art in evidence: a white ivory tusk with a circular procession of figures carved around its length and a brass polar bear lazing on a crystal ice floe to name two. Kham sat down on one of the settees.

    Corinalous soon appeared. He looked very pale and drawn. He was a dark-skinned Altherian, with long white hair and moustache.

    “Hi, dad.” Kham didn’t get up. “Long time, no see.”

    Corinalous sat down on the other settee. “I wanted to speak with you first before I spoke to your friends.”

    “Do you remember the last time we had a quiet drink?” Kham poured two glasses of wine from a carafe.

    Corinalous took the offered glass. “Hmm…what did we talk about?”

    “We didn’t talk,” said Kham. He took a sip. “We never talked.”

    “And do I detect a rebuke?”

    “A regret. It was just the two of us, dad. It was a lonely way to grow up. For you, too. If you had been an ordinary, average father like the other guys' dads, you'd have understood that.“

    “Actually, I was a wonderful father."

    “When?"

    “Did I ever tell you to eat up? Go to bed? Wash your ears? Do your homework? No. I respected your privacy and I taught you self-reliance."

    “What you taught me was that I was less important to you than the Emerald Society; less important than people who had been dead for five hundred years in another country. And I learned it so well that we've hardly spoken for twenty years."

    “Kham, it’s true, I’ve stayed away from Freeport ever since I discovered you had made it his base of operations.”

    “Why?”

    “I’ve never been totally truthful with you, son.” He nodded towards the huge sword that was never far from Kham’s side. “That…thing and I were acquainted before. And I knew I had to get it as far away from you as I possibly could.”

    “That’s why you were always gone? Because of a stupid sword?”

    “Fleshripper’s not just a sword, son.” Corinalous’ gaze fixed on Kham. “You can feel it already, can’t you? It’s like a leech in your soul, drawing out your life; and yet you cannot bear to be parted from it. I thought that I could control it too. After much research, it became clear that there was only one thing I could do: I used an ancient ritual to bind my life force to the sword. After that, it could no longer steal the souls of its victims, and it could no longer exert its will so easily on its wielder. But I was wrong. The sword has a great power, one I could not contain. It slowly draws upon the soul of its wielder, until eventually that soul is consumed by the sword as well. You’ve probably felt that pull before, and I imagine it’s stronger now.”

    Kham nodded, wordlessly. It was almost unbearable, the urge to kill his own father.

    “My proximity to the blade is doubtless causing it to stir, and it is that reason the Emerald Society has not stepped in until now, as per my wishes. I am sorry I had to cause you so much pain, son, but it was the only thing I could do until I figured out how to defeat the cursed blade once and for all.”

    “That explains why all my requests to have Fleshripper examined were denied.” Kham took another swig. “It doesn’t explain how the sword ended up in my hands though.”

    “I hid the sword away in a secret location, hoping it would lay undisturbed until I found a way to destroy it permanently. But the sword had different plans. It fell into the hands of hobgoblins, and thanks to their depredations soon absorbed enough souls to waken again. Then it crossed your path. I think something more sinister is at work here, and it’s manipulating events to ensure that a val’Abebi wields Fleshripper.”

    “This artifact-hunting, it’s an obsession, dad.” Kham patted the hilt of Fleshripper like an old friend. “I never understood it. Never. Neither did mom.”

    “Oh, yes she did,” said Corinalous softly. “Only too well. She never approved of my adventures, but I thought training you as a librarian would better suit your temperament and hers…”

    “It didn’t work, dad.” Kham turned away. “It didn’t work for Lucius either.”

    “No,” said Corinalous with a sad smile. “It didn’t seem to take. And here we are, twenty years later in Freeport. I never thought you’d run off to join the pirates.”

    “I’m not a pirate, dad.” Kham bit his lip. “But what did you expect? That’s all you ever talked about.”

    “I don’t deny it. For the past thirty years, I’ve read almost everything I could get my hands on about piracy, from the escapades of Drac and Francisco to their predecessor, Jarl One-Eye. That’s why I came to Freeport. I received a letter from an old friend, Flint. He had found a weathered map that appeared to lead to untold treasures. From his description and my long studies, I knew it could be only one thing—the map to legendary R’lyeh.”

    “I remember,” said Kham. “You always talked about finding that island. It only appears once every couple of hundred years, right?”

    R’lyeh had been the subject of sailors’ tales for well over a hundred years: a fabulous island that had ever been lost at sea on which the god, Yarris, placed vast amounts of treasure. Its beached had sand of gold dust, the trees flowered with pearls and diamonds, and the streams ran with the purest silver. Many men had sought R’lyeh, and they had met their doom in Hell’s Triangle in their search for it.

    Corinalous nodded. “Maybe longer than that. It was that discovery, coupled with the fact that Lucius had returned to Freeport, that forced my hand; I had to go to Freeport, even if it meant putting you at risk.”

    “But then you crossed Captain Baumann.”

    “I was on my way to visit Judge McGowan when she attacked my ship and took me prisoner. I told her enough to save my life—that I had a secret that would lead her to great treasure. But I didn’t tell her the rest. I knew my life was forfeit as soon as I did, and I held out hopes my old friend Flint would find a way to rescue me.” Corinalous looked over at the urn containing Flint’s ashes. “Fortunately for me, you got to me first. Poor Flint.”

    “I got suspicious when you didn’t respond to my sendings.”

    Corinalous stroked his moustache. “Ah, the irony: the one time you contact me is when I’m not around.”

    “Yeah, real ironic.” Kham sighed. “Listen, dad, why are you against Lucius being freed from The Tombs? He’ll die in there.”

    “He’s a murderer,” said Corinalous. “Or at least, he was part of a murder. The domestic staff called for me on the night that Lucius’ father and sister was killed. The bodies were in the drawing room.”

    “What happened to them?”

    “Herbert Roby’s body had been entirely drained of blood, seemingly from a deep wound in the upper chest. No blood from the corpse was apparent. Georgina Roby had been attacked with a sharp instrument, perhaps a broad ax if wielded by one very strong or in a great passion.”

    “That doesn’t prove that Lucius did anything.”

    “Lucius was in the house during the murders. When I went upstairs to see him, Lucius declared that it was he who had killed his father and sister. He wouldn’t explain and was hysterical with grief—his sister’s fate appeared to affect him particularly. I could not equate Lucius with the murders, both from what I knew about him and from the manner of the deaths: there was no physical evidence linking him to the killings such as one would expect with such a bloody crime. Lucius was not held in custody for long, but he seemed a broken man. I had Lucius under confinement for some time, but at some point he disappeared and we lost track of him.”

    “He was possessed by…something,” said Kham. “He went on a long voyage for years. I guess he started it with a murder. But he’s a good man, dad. He may be a little confused, but he doesn’t deserve to be sent to The Hulks. And for someone like him, that’s a death sentence.”

    Corinalous nodded. “I know. But I fear he’s being manipulated by the same forces influencing the sword.” He was besieged by a violent bout of coughing. “And if it means people must die, so be it.”

    Kham took a long drink. “You didn’t used to be this way.”

    Corinalous stood up. “This is not one of those bedtime stories I used to tell you about pirates, son. This is deadly serious. Many lives are at stake. I’ve seen what the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign can do—“

    “So have I,” said Kham. “But that doesn’t—“

    “I’m dying,” said Corinalous.

    Kham clamped his jaw shut.

    Corinalous walked over to Kham so he could look him in the eye. “Fleshripper is drawing on my soul, even now. If I die, nothing will hold it back from regaining its full evil might. Truth be told, I don’t mind if I die. I’ve lived a long life. But you…it will take you next. And that is simply…”

    “Intolerable?” Kham finished for him. If his father was anything, he was predictable.

    “Intolerable,” Corinalous said with a slow smile. “We’ve got stop Fleshripper before it takes you too. I discovered a ritual that will stop the curse and separate you from the blade, but I cannot do it alone.” He put one hand on Kham’s shoulder. “I’m sorry son, but this task falls to you. There is a grove of hills not far from Freeport, with a pure spring that should serve our purpose.”

    Kham took a deep breath. “Okay, dad. Tell me what we need to do.”

    “Gather your friends,” said Corinalous. “We must hurry, my mere presence is awakening the blade as it grows hungry.”

    “This conversation isn’t over, dad,” said Kham. “This thing with Lucius…he’s running out of time.”

    Corinalous tightened his grip on Kham’s shoulder. It was the most affection Kham had received from his father in years. “I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of many conversations. Let’s go.”

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    Shattered Dreams: Part 1 – Nightmares Return

    If anything, Corinalous seemed weaker the next morning, his body wracked with almost constant coughs.

    “We don’t have much time, apparently,” he rasped. He turned to Kham’s companions. Beldin Soulforge, the stout dwarf. Ilmarė Galen, the sarcastic elorii. Vlad Martell, the able warrior. Nauris Drilian, the stealthy tracker. And of course, Kham val’Abebi.

    “And now you must decide who will accompany Kham on his journey. It is likely to be dangerous, and I do not know what sort of resistance you may encounter. Not only are there evil souls mingled with the good inside the blade, but the blade itself is awakening to evil power. I cannot guarantee your safety – but then, in life, what safety is guaranteed to any of us?"
    He smiled wryly.

    They exchanged glances. “We’re in,” said Vlad. “We wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

    “Then please, sit.”

    Once all of them were seated, Corinalous draws himself up, looking at each of them.

    “I am going to send your souls into Fleshripper. When you are ready to return, remember that you have this.” He brought forth a gemstone of cut glass and handed it to Kham. “Break this after you have destroyed the source of the sword's power, and your souls will return to your bodies. I do not know what you will find within the sword, but remember that not all things may be as they appear. Do not trust your eyes, and take nothing for granted.”

    “Right,” said Kham. He sat in the center of the circle of companions.

    Corinalous passed his arms above his head, muttering something under his breath. A light, silvery thread connected all those who sat before him. “The fate of thousands of souls rests on you. Good luck.” He looked at Kham. “Draw the sword.”

    Kham drew Fleshripper.

    Corinalous nodded, then said calmly, “Drive it through your heart.”

    Kham balked. “Excuse me?”

    “Drive it through your heart, boy,” snapped Corinalous. “It’s necessary for the ritual.”

    “I can help,” said Ilmarė.

    Kham ignored her. He stared hard at his father.

    “I know this is difficult,” said Corinalous softly. “But you’re going to have to trust me.”

    Kham took another deep breath. “Okay.” He took two more deep breaths. Then he plunged Fleshripper through his own chest.

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    Shattered Dreams: Part 2 – Dreams Revealed

    Each of them, as one, felt the steel of Fleshripper slamming through their heart. Each of them felt their heart burst under the pain, and then the quick sensation of falling, falling into death.

    After a moment, they felt an icy grasp and suddenly, unnaturally, their souls were drawn into darkness, then swirling colors, then darkness again.

    They were standing on a grassy hill, surrounded by a fog from which came strange shapes. Creatures from twisted imaginations fly through the air. The terrain formed and reshaped itself, flowing like water, while streams of water twisted and loop through the air itself, flowing upwards then back down again.

    Everyone was left gasping from the experience. Only the dwarf and the elf stood resolute.

    “What?” asked Beldin, looking around. “This is about one-tenth of the pain I experience every time my body dies and my soul is drawn to my shard.” He fingered the crystal shard that hung from an amulet around his neck.

    “We’re in the Dreamheart,” said Ilmarė, looking around. “I’ve never been here before.”

    “Because you didn’t have the magic to do so?” asked Dril.

    “Because I do not sleep,” said Ilmarė. “And I see it’s not only the landscape that has changed.”

    Vlad appeared as the hero he imagined himself to be. He was accoutered in shining full plate, filigreed with gold. He seemed nobler, stronger, more sure of himself.

    Dril, on the other hand, was a creature of shadowy darkness. A black cloak billowed around him. Red eyes shone from beneath a deep hood.

    “That’s about how I would imagine you two would look,” said Kham. “But the dwarf. Wow, Beldin. You must have some ego.”

    Beldin’s change was the most dramatic. He was taller then them all; huge, muscular, handsome, and virile. His eyes blazed with silvery fire and his skin was golden. He was a god among men, an ancient titan of old, before the curse of Illiir brought the dwarves low.

    Beldin gold skin turned slightly bronze on his cheeks. He was blushing. “This is who I truly am,” he said with a grimace. “It is a reminder of the glory that was before the Age of Man.”

    “And you look exactly the same,” said Vlad to Ilmarė.

    Ilmarė shrugged. “Elven souls are unchanging across time. I am exactly who I wish to be, no more, no less.”

    “What about me?” Kham fished out the stone Corinalous had given him, just to confirm they still had a way home. It was unchanged, firm and solid in a world where everything else seems mutable. He tried to catch his reflection in the stone, but the light kept shifting.

    Everyone just stared at him.

    Kham took his lenses off. “Are my pupils back?”

    Vlad slowly nodded.

    “Good.” Kham reflexively put his hand on the hilt of Fleshripper, only to discover it wasn’t with him. Of course it wasn’t! Kham chastised himself. He was so accustomed to the cursed blade’s presence that he felt naked without it.

    He grinned at his companions with a mouth full of sharp teeth. “Let’s figure out how to end this curse, shall we?” And with that, he walked off in a random direction.

    “Did you see…?” asked Vlad.

    Ilmarė nodded. “I know,” she said. “He looks like a ghoul.”

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    Shattered Dreams: Part 3 – Through the Looking Glass

    They were not alone in the strange dreamscape. The sounds of battle raged all around, along with occasional, haunting glimpses of the broken and bloody bodies of men, dwarves and hobgoblins.

    Then through the mists appeared a small party of dwarves, led by a tall, shapely woman whose beauty was only marred by the scars on her face. Her troops’ armor was made of liquid shadow, blurred and shifting.

    “Reavers,” snarled Beldin. The dwarves had weld marks binding their shadowy armor shut over their bodies.

    The troop as one turned to gaze at the Solani dwarf, then began moving towards him, despite the fact that their feet were marching in a different direction entirely.

    “So that would be the evil we’re here to defeat,” said Kham.

    The woman sneered. “I can smell the stink of heroism on them,” she cooed in a voice like a whisper. Her words echoed from all around, causing swirls of color and light as they passed through the fog of dreams. “Kill them.”

    Vlad drew Grungronhozarr. Beldin drew his battleaxe. Dril drew a scimitar and dagger. They waited as the Reavers closed.

    Two of the Reavers fell as bullet holes appeared in their helmets. Another spun sideways, the victim of two arrows jutting from the eyeholes of a helmet.

    At a cliff high above them, more dwarves battled men in armor of shimmering light, dueling upside-down on the underside of the cliff face. Fading into view through the fog was a massive melee between dwarves and hobgoblins on one side, and men and dwarves on the other, fighting on the top of a strange purple lake.

    ”You’re getting better.” Kham holstered two of his smoking pistols and drew two more. “That’s a difficult shot.”

    Ilmarė smirked. “Unlike you, I learn from my mistakes.” Another Reaver fell from carefully aimed arrows.

    On the cliff face above, which had suddenly shifted into a rolling plain and was now almost directly below them, the tide of battle turned as a new squad of men in shimmering white armor appeared. They were led by a tall, proud, and scarred Coryani, who broke the line of Reavers.

    Beldin roared. He was easily Calactyte’s equal in size and strength, batting aside the smaller Reavers like a child throwing a tantrum at her playthings.

    The Coryani leader looked around, and for a moment his eyes locked with Kham’s. He barked an order, impossible to make out over the din. His men, running in slow motion, began moving towards them.

    Dril darted sideways, sliding the point of his scimitar under the ribcage of one of the Reavers. He stabbed the dwarf’s exposed throat as he went down.

    “There’s too many!” shouted Vlad. He was having difficulty as three Reavers closed in on him.

    As the deadly woman and her Reaver henchmen prepared for another attack, they found themselves flanked by soldiers in white.

    One of the soldiers, a young boy whose white aura resolved itself every so often into a simple steel breastplate, said, “It’s not safe here! Follow me. Stay close, and do not lose sight; this land is very dangerous to those who are lost.” He turned, and moved quickly away.

    They followed him out into the mists.

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    Shattered Dreams: Part 4a – Interpreting the Dream

    “Catch them, you fools!”

    The forces arrayed against them quickly disappeared into the fog, despite their commander’s orders.

    Soon enough, though, even her shouts faded. They found themselves staring at a remarkable sight.

    “The Dreamheart,” said Vlad, “is a very weird place.”

    A massive tree grew from some spot below them that was obscured by the fog. It was easily as wide as a small village, and its branches, laden with brightly colored leaves and flowers, were wide enough to walk on. Their guide led them along the branches until they were totally obscured by the leaves.

    Abruptly, as though someone had lit a lamp, they were surrounded by shimmering gold, silver, and emerald swirls. They were in a military encampment; tents of bright colors were scattered about, and men clothed in flowing light walked around on patrol.

    Their guide took them to the man they saw earlier and dropped to one knee.

    “Inquisitor,” said the boy, the fog muffling his voice, “I have brought the new ones that we saved from Ophelia’s talons.”

    “You have done well,” the Inquisitor said in clipped tones. Then he looked at Kham with bright gray eyes. “I am Medricas val’Assante, formerly an Inquisitor of the Mother Church, now commander of the forces of good inside this accursed sword. I suppose you were slain in battle? Tell me, who wields the blade now?”

    Kham swallowed hard. “I do. Or I did. Maybe I still do. It’s complicated. My father performed a ritual that sent us here.”

    “We’ve been sent here to stop the curse of Fleshripper,” said Vlad.

    Medricas looks at Kham, his eyes narrowed. “Good.” He nodded. “Perhaps you might find a way to do what I cannot. I have been here a long time, my friends. I was only the third person to wield Divine Vengeance, which you call Fleshripper. The woman who attacked you is Ophelia val’Tensen; she was once a paladin of Illiir like myself, but the sword’s power long ago turned her to evil. She was the wielder of the blade before me.”

    “How do we destroy the blade?” asked Ilmarė.

    “If I knew that, I would have done it long ago,” said Medricas. “I doubt that it can be destroyed from within, but if you are being assisted from the outside, it may be possible. I do not know how, though. The Creator made the sword; he, if anyone, would probably know how it could be destroyed. Whether or not he would tell you is another matter entirely.”

    “Where’s the Creator?” asked Dril.

    “I can show you the path, but I must remain here,” said Medricas. “Ophelia will attack again soon, and we must defend our last stronghold. The Creator exists in the very heart of this mockery of reality. Here in the dream we cannot die, but near the Creator, the rules may be different. Or they may be the same. Or they may break altogether. Take nothing for granted.”

    “We need to rest,” said Vlad. He was favoring one arm, which had been struck by a glancing blow from a Reaver’s axe.

    Medricas chuckled. “You’re in a dream, my friends. What need have you of rest?”

    They exchanged glances. “What?” asked Vlad.

    “Will it,” added Medricas, “and you shall be restored.”

    They all closed their eyes. After a moment, they opened them again. Nothing happened.

    Except for Ilmarė. She glowed with a golden aura.

    “How did you do that?” asked Dril.

    Ilmarė pursed her lips. “Like this.” She closed her eyes again. A scratch on Dril’s face healed instantly. “I meditate every day. Your untrained minds are not accustomed to such focus.”

    Kham rolled his eyes. “Can you do that for everyone?”

    Ilmarė shrugged and closed her eyes again. They were all briefly engulfed by a golden light.

    “Reminds me of Quintus’s healing magic,” said Vlad.

    The elorii bit her lip but said nothing.

    Medricas held out his hand. A translucent pitcher of water appeared in it. He poured the pitcher, and as he water splashed against the nothingness under their feet, it spilled out into a stream. The stream twisted back and forth, up and down, sometimes looping through the air as it wound away into the distance.

    “That is your road," said Medricas. "Do not stray from it until you reach the halls of the Creator. If you become lost, I cannot spare men to find you. Good luck.”

    “I have seen what happens to shattered soulstones,” said Beldin. “What will become of you if we destroy Fleshripper?

    "I do not know,” said Medricas. “Hopefully, we will be freed to stand before the Judgment of Nier, as we should have done so long ago. If not, then we have been doomed since coming here, and even oblivion will be far better than this endless war. If no others will ever suffer under Fleshripper's bite, then our sacrifice will be worthwhile."

    Then, suddenly, a familiar female voice rang out from all around you, “Medricas! This ends here and now! We will triumph, and fulfill our holy will!"

    Medricas grimaced “Hurry, my friends,” he growled. “You may be our only hope.” He turned and receded into the fog. As did so, the whole room faded away, leaving only the glittering, shimmering path of water.

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    Shattered Dreams: Part 4b – Interpreting the Dream

    As they walked down the watery path, they ring of metal on metal and the clash of arms echoed all around them. Images flickered at each bend in the path, visions of Medricas’ soldiers being struck down by the dark creatures of Ophelia val’Tensen.

    “There!” shouted Vlad, pointing.

    A young boy was locked in battle with five Reavers. He was pushed back a step at a time, until finally his sword was struck from his hand, dissipating instantly.

    The boy fell to his knees and begged. “Help me! Someone! Anyone! Help me!”

    Vlad drew his sword, but Kham put one hand on his shoulder and shook his head.

    “But the boy…” said Vlad, frantic.

    From above, Medricas dropped in front of the boy, slaying a Reaver with one blow. He dueled the remaining four to a standstill, driving them back.

    “Medricas warned us,” said Kham, turning away. “Keep your eyes straight ahead.”

    The Reaver Medricas had felled rose again. With a mighty blow, the Reaver drove his axe into the back of Medricas’s skull. Medricas screamed in pain, and then fell to the ground.

    Vlad gasped. He took his crossbow off his back and began loading it.

    The Reavers turned again to the weaponless boy, who crawls back along the ground, wide-eyed and scared. “Help me!”

    Vlad fired a shot. It bounced off the Reaver’s armor.

    Kham walked past him. “Put the crossbow down, Vlad. There’s nothing we can do.”

    “But we can’t just let the boy die!” shouted Vlad. The scene slowly faded from view.

    Dril patted Vlad on the back. “Let’s go. It’s too late for the boy now in any case.”

    “Ilmarė’s right,” Vlad said quietly at Kham’s receding figure. “He really is a ghoul.”

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    Shattered Dreams: Part 5 – Interpreting the Dream

    The silver path they followed took them through the swirling dreamscape, but the images were darker, older, and more twisted than before. Half-seen visions from their worst fears lurked through the craggy ruins of architectural styles not seen for centuries.

    Kham noticed a high window in a brown building on his right. Ragged curtains flew out in the wind, fluttering like streamers. They must have been moving in a freak breeze, because a flag about them hung limp. Suddenly, they whipped out of sight, and for a second a pale face replaced them. It looked directly down at Kham, with an unreadable expression on its frozen, paper-white face.

    “You okay Kham?” asked Vlad. Kham had stopped, staring up at the distance building. But the mists obscured the face and the building.

    “I’m fine,” said Kham, shrugging Vlad off.

    Finally they were surrounded in fog so thick they could barely see the path a foot ahead. Then, through the fog, a small cottage was visible. It was made of rotting, crumbling wood with a dirty straw roof. Standing in front of the cottage, listlessly hacking at the barren ground with a rusty hoe, was a brawny, barrel-chested dwarf with scarred brown skin and fiery red hair and beard. He showed no notice of their arrival.

    The dwarf looked up, blinking slowly. "Hello. Who are you,” he said in a flat monotone without any apparent interest in the answer.

    Kham stepped forward. “I know you,” he said. “I’ve seen you in my dreams. You’re the Creator, aren’t you?”

    “I am he,” said the dwarf. “My name is Nubuto, and I created Fleshripper.”

    “We’re here to destroy it,” said Kham. “It’s been twisted into a weapon of evil.”

    "Ah," the dwarf said sadly. "I had hoped that it would serve as a tool for good, but I see now that that is not the case. Very well…I will do as you ask. Take my hand." He extends one callused hand towards Kham.

    As Kham grasped the dwarf's hand, the grip became a vise. Then the dwarf’s body erupted into a much larger, uglier and much more muscular shape.

    "Your soul is mine!" it bellowed through misshapen teeth as its massive arms began to squeeze.

    “AAAH!” Kham shouted back. He tugged away from the thing, but the grip tightened. “What the hell?” The ring that granted Kham freedom from all bindings was not with him.

    Suddenly the mists parted, and where the cottage once stood, there was a gaping maw of a Coryani-style arena. All around them, a mob of spectators screamed for blood and glory. Kham recognized many of them as victims of Fleshripper.

    To his left were the citizens of Vestalanium. There was the former guard; his small gladius was useless against Fleshripper’s superior reach. He recognizes the barmaid; Kham had slit her throat with Fleshripper. Kham had hacked the leg off of an old man, who stood drenched in blood to the right of the barmaid.

    To his right were the citizens of Dunover. He had killed several of them, including an old woman. The pretty, plump village maid who had tried to kill him was also there. They were all there.

    The massive figure, all traces of its former dwarven shape gone, barred the way to the closed portcullis on the opposite side of the arena exit. Except for its size, the thing looked exactly like the hobgoblin chieftain from whom Kham originally took Fleshripper.

    “I want my blade BACK!” it roared.

    Kham fumbled for one of the pistols in the folds of his jacket. Then he remembered how the Dreamheart worked.

    “I don’t have it.” Kham pointed his open hand at the hobgoblin’s face. “But I do have this!” A flintlock pistol appeared in Kham’s grip. He pulled the trigger.

    The thing lolled backwards, its head ruined. It released its grip on Kham.

    “Run for the exit!” he shouted.

    Kham dove past it as the thing began to twitch.

    “What the…” was all Vlad got out before its arm snaked forward, grabbing him by the ankle.

    Dril spun, drawing his two blades. “Can’t you imagine us at the Creator or something?”

    Ilmarė blinked. “Let’s see…”

    Dril faded away.

    Ilmarė sat down, cross-legged, and closed her eyes. The thing stomped towards her. It lifted a huge axe overhead…

    Only to bring it down where the elorii had once been.

    Vlad and Beldin looked at each other across the monster’s hunched form. “Well, now what do we do?” asked Vlad.

    “I’m trying not to take it personally,” said Beldin. He rolled to the side as the thing’s axe gouged a furrow in the sand. “Run for the exit!”

    They ran.

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    Shattered Dreams: Part 6 – Dream Master

    As soon as Vlad and Beldin exited the arena, it was as if that place never existed. Instead, they walked through the door of a typical dwarven sitting room. A roaring fire burned in a stone fireplace, the smoke leaving through a chimney carved through the living rock. Though there was little floor space, the ceiling was high and vaulted, in typical dwarven fashion.

    Sitting on a soft bed in one corner of the room was a burly red-haired dwarf, the same as the impostor in front of the cottage. His head lay in the lap of a female Nol Dappan dwarf, her form indistinct and shadowy; to one side stood a male Nol Dappan, equally indistinct.

    Soft words, in male and female voices, murmured a constant stream of soft, soothing words. “You did the right thing. You have sought justice. You continue to seek justice. You have made us proud. Your legacy has lived on. You have done nothing but good.”

    Kham, Dril and Ilmarė were already there. The shadowy figures on either side of him paid no attention to their arrival.

    The eyes of the reclining dwarf focused upon Kham. He reluctantly sat up and looked at him with tired, sad eyes. “Who has disturbed Nubuto, creator of Divine Vengeance? Who dares interrupt my communion with my ancestors?”

    “I’m here to stop the curse of Fleshripper,” said Kham. “Whatever you intended for the blade, it’s been twisted by a greater evil.”

    ”That’s ridiculous,” said Nubuto. “It was forged to defeat Reavers.”

    “And it has,” said Beldin. “But like all weapons, it has killed far more than its fair share. You must stop this, Nubuto. As a dwarf, you know that this is wrong.”

    Nubuto rubbed his forehead. “You’re confusing me with this nonsense.”

    “It’s not nonsense,” said Vlad. “There are people stuck in this blade along with you, good and bad alike. All because of Fleshripper.”

    “You mean Divine Vengeance.” Nubuto looked Kham up and down. “The blade has done this to you?”

    Kham blinked. “What?”

    With a great sigh Nubuto rose from his bed, stepping forward. "Give me the blade.”

    “I don’t have it…” said Kham. But then he realized it had been right there all along, hanging from his belt like an old friend.

    "It is only a shadow of the original, but a shadow will be enough." Nubuto put out both hands.

    The figures of Nubuto’s parents shimmered with rage as they moved between Nubuto and Kham. “No, son! You cannot do this!” his father cried. “Your quest! Your vengeance! You must be avenged!”

    Kham struggled to take Fleshripper from its sheath. Sweat broke out on Kham’s forehead as he slowly drew the wicked, jagged edges from the sheath. It did not want to go. He didn’t want it tot go.

    Nubuto shook his head. “I am dead. What need have the dead for vengeance?”

    “What about us?” his mother shrieked. “Would you kill us as well?”

    Nubuto looked at her for a long moment, then turned away. “You, also, are already dead.”

    With a concentrated effort, Kham handed Nubuto Fleshripper.

    Nubuto raised the blade…and snapped it across his knee as though it were a fragile stick.

    There was a rushing sensation as the Dreamheart shattered all about them like a mirror, the pieces flowing away and leaving them once more in utter blackness. And in the blackness, Kham felt his soul, his life energy, begin to leak away into the void.

    Kham reached into his pockets for the only thing that was real anymore. Then he crushed it.

    The shattering of the gem was deafeningly loud in the utter silence, and the crushed fragments flickered and glowed in the complete blackness. The void around Kham lurched sickeningly, and for a brief moment he wondered if he had done the right thing.

    There was a sudden pull on his side. It quickly became an insistent yank, followed by a blast of cold so strong his blood froze in his veins. Then the wind hits him; a cold gale filled with ice chips that strike him like a hail of needles.

    “I don’t think we’re in Onara anymore,” said Ilmarė.

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    Shattered Dreams: Conclusion

    They were all there with Kham; stuck in that unknown, frigid place. The ongoing snowstorm limited vision to only a few paces, and the lonely howl of the wind made it difficult to hear. The only landmark was nine black monoliths.

    “Oh, no.” Kham fell to his knees. “No, no, no!”

    “What happened?” shouted Vlad.

    “Our transportation has been diverted,” shouted Ilmarė. “Osalian is displeased.”

    Beldin wiped the snow off the face of one of the monoliths. They were each over thirty feet tall, smooth-sided with pyramidal tops.

    “Expert construction,” muttered Beldin. “No human built these.”

    “It’s just like in my nightmares,” said Kham. “This is where they summoned him.”

    “Who?” shouted Dril. “Who did they summon?”

    Ilmarė peered at the writing. “That’s an ancient tongue. I’ve never seen it before.”

    “I know what it says,” said Kham. “I can remember it clear as day: Nine teeth jut up lining the maw of living earth. This is the Unspeakable One’s prison.”

    “Wait…what?” Vlad had difficulty speaking. He was starting to shiver. “You mean to tell me that after all this time of trying to keep the Unspeakable One off of Arcanis…”

    “The Unspeakable One brought us to him,” said Kham.

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    Chapter 30: Cold Visitor - Introduction

    This is a Devil’s Workshop adventure set in the Arcanis setting, written by Lee Hammock and Jason Walton. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

    Our cast of characters includes:

    • Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
    • Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
    • Ilmarė Galen (elf bard/fighter) played by Amber Tresca
    • Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
    • Nauris Drilian (human rogue/ranger) played by Mike Best
    • Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

    So I was a big meanie. Instead of letting the PCs get back home to Corinalous, I decided it’s high time the Unspeakable One let everyone know he hasn’t forgotten them. And he does it in a big way.

    This adventure merges the monolith summoning sequence in Tatters of the King with the adventure Cold Visitor. This is a good thing too, because the scenario in Tatters of the King assumes that the PCs will find the monoliths but be powerless to move them. That may be true in a regular Call of Cthulhu campaign, but in a world where magic is commonplace, it’s just a matter of hiring the right wizard to cast the right spell and—voila!—Hastur’s return is completely foiled.

    Since the summoning actually works (sort of) the first time in Tatters of the King, I decided there should be far-reaching consequences. Because Kadath is known as the “cold waste,” the return of the Old Ones is “after summer is winter,” the Herald of the King adventure took place in a terrible snowstorm, and this adventure requires a paraelemental plane of cold…it made sense to equate the Unspeakable One’s return with the cold. This is where it’s firmly established; whenever there’s a really bad snowstorm, it just might be a gate to Kadath.

    This adventure is a complete rip-off of The Thing, one of my all time favorite horror movies. We had just the right mix of paranoia, tragedy, confusion, and terror. Unfortunately, the adventure itself is rather vague in how things should unfold; fortunately, the ad-libbing made for a much more interesting game.

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