Wednesday, 10th May, 2006, 01:39 AM #1
JollyDoc's Age of Worms (Updated 11/30, Epilogue!)
Not even a database shutdown can take away the wormy goodness of JollyDoc's Story Hour!!! So here we go again, with reader comments sadly deleted
Note: I saw that the old thread was further down the page, but I think I'll take this opportunity to streamline things.
Note #2: I've got the whole SH text now, just working on re-posting it. Thanks a ton for the readers who emailed it to me!
Table of Contents for JollyDoc's Age of Worms
The Champion's Belt
- Let the Games Begin
- Round One
- What Has Gone Before . . . Part One
- What Has Gone Before . . . Part Two
- Giovanni's Journal Entry #1
- Round Two
- Ekaym's Request
- Round Three
- Giovanni's Journal Entry #2
A Gathering of Winds
- You Can't Go Home Again
- Avengers Disasemmbled
- Comes the Crusader
- Wizard in Glass
- A House Divided
- Winds of Change
The Spire of Long Shadows
- The Road to Longsaddle
- The Spire of Long Shadows
- Round 2
- Traitors Among Us
- The Harbinger
- The Age of Worms Revealed
The Prince of Redhand
Library of Last Resort
Kings of the Rift
- Giants, Dragons, and . . . Goliaths? Oh My!
- The Hunt Begins
- Storming the Citadel
- The Fall of the Tiamikal Nul-Shada
- The Heart of the Matter
Into the Wormcrawl Fissure
- Into the Wormcrawl Fissure
- Be Our Guest
- The Tabernacle of Worms
- The Spawn of Dragotha
- The Dragon Reborn
Dawn of a New Age
Last edited by gfunk; Thursday, 30th November, 2006 at 05:26 AM.
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Because you demanded it, loyal readers! Here begins the next chapter in our epic campaign! Join us once again, as we set off on the road to adventure with new friends, and perhaps some old faces! Settle back, relax, and prepare to enjoy the AGE OF WORMS!!
The trip to Waterdeep had been long and uncomfortable. Giovanni Vito, former heir to one of the richest merchant houses of Sembia, could not have foreseen that he would be forced to ride in the belly of a trading vessel along with unwashed commoners. Then he remembered the names hurled at him like red-hot daggers: Cursed…Fiend-thrall…Warlock. He remembered the disgrace on his family, and their rejection of his talent. He remembered the expulsion from the family manse as an apostate, wielder of an unholy power. He was only 16 years old at the time. The memories branded his soul, the pain from which still numbed him.
Giovanni could not explain where his power came from, or when he even became aware of its presence. What he could recall were the dreams, the nightmares he experienced from an early age. The images were elemental and gruesome, dominated by monsters with leathery bat-like wings, creatures with long claws dripping with the blood of their victims, or other visions too horrifying to have been created by his sleeping mind. Always in the distance, a lone figure stood. Humanoid in shape, the shadowy figure lurked, hands wreathed in the same eldritch energy that Giovanni was learning to summon and control. Could he be the shadowy figures in his dreams, or was it someone else, perhaps an ancestor that had damned him by making a pact with such dark forces? In either case, he was unable to discern whether the figure in the distance was the fiends’ ally, their enemy, or, more dreadfully, their leader.
Over the next four years, Giovanni stayed within the larger cities, his nose buried in books of dark lore. When questioned of his motives, the boy would simply respond that he was an investigator and researcher of the Occult. Studying dragons, arcanists, magical beasts, undead, and outsiders were his trade, or so he would claim. In reality, he was more concerned with learning about the darkness within himself. Whether his powers were in league with the wishes of some cruel deity or powerful outsider, or whether he was just some sort of arcane aberration were unknown to him. Given the proper research, Giovanni was going to answer the questions as to the origin of his powers, and he was going to learn to control those powers. His knowledge was growing, but the warlock was beginning to comprehend that the more he learned the less he truly understood.
The accommodations were far more suitable than the cozy cell prepared for him by the Grand Pasha of Calimport. As open-minded as the Calishites were to magic, spell-gifted beings such as Giovanni were treated with suspicion and cruelty. Beings of Djinn ancestry were widely accepted in Calimshan; beings with ties to the fiends of the lower planes were not so embraced. Fleeing in the night, Giovanni hastily accepted passage on a cargo ship headed north up the Sword Coast. It was with great hope that Giovanni traveled to Waterdeep. The City of Splendors was renowned as being a haven for the ‘differently abled’, and its vast libraries could possibly help the young warlock.
The boat rocked, shaking Giovanni from his reverie. The young man’s spectacles, unremarkable to those not able to detect the presence of magic, slipped to the edge of his nose. Annoyed, the warlock reset the glasses and returned to his reading. The book resting on his lap, titled simply “A Treatise on the Faezress and Effects on Underdark Travel”, had been spattered erratically by water dripping from the deck above, a fact that irritated Giovanni further. The book had been a waste of time, hardly worth even stealing from the Grand Pasha’s library. It was obvious that the author, some hack by the name of ‘Volo’, had no idea what he was talking about. He was more interested in talking about the inns and mead halls of Deep Shanatar than the nature of the Underdark’s protections against teleportation.
A loud splash was audible through the walls of the chamber. The crew had dropped anchor. The hatch leading to the outer deck swung open and light poured into the dark room. A burly sailor, complete with an eye patch, grunted into the hold. “Get out, you’s! Welcome to Waterdeep!” The other passengers around him began standing, stretching, collecting their meager belongings. Giovanni’s possessions were limited primarily to his clothing which, while of high quality, was dirty and stained from the travel. He knew that much of what he wore was of magical quality, but this was a fact that he tried to cover up or conceal. His tunic, scarf, glasses, and cloak were all magical. If the sailors aboard knew of their value there would be no way that they would have let him leave the boat fully clothed.
Giovanni stepped out on to the main deck of the galley. The sunlight burned his eyes for a moment, but he quickly adjusted his sight. The city was immense! He had been told that they would arrive in a place called the Dock Ward, but he had figured it to be a few piers. Waterdeep extended as far as his vision carried. A warlock could easily get lost in a place like this.
As he stepped off the gangplank and on to terra firma, Giovanni peered into his belt pouch. Eighteen lonely gold coins looked back up at him. This would not do. There was no way that a man could make it for long on such a pittance. Sighing and biting his lower lip, the warlock began to ponder his situation and a possible solution. As he did so, a single piece of parchment floated by on the wind and softly struck his lower leg. Giovanni reached down to swipe it off, but something about the paper caught his eye. Gripping it with both hands, he began to read.
“WANTED: Competitors willing to prove their mettle against foes in gladiatorial combat.” Interesting, thought Giovanni. The young warlock continued walking north as he read. Apparently, he had arrived in time for Waterdeep’s yearly gladiatorial competition, complete with substantial gold winnings and a prize called ‘The Champion’s Belt’. The prospects were most intriguing. There was the issue of finding a licensed team manager, but Giovanni figured that he might luck upon one of those.
As he walked north, the warlock began running scenarios through his mind regarding the Champion’s Belt tournament. It was obvious to him that due to his relatively famous family name, it might be best if he used an alias. Understanding the flair expected in the arena, this alias should be something simple yet striking. Grinning inwardly, Giovanni decided that the name would hint at the extra planar and chaotic nature of the power that he wielded. He would call himself “Havok”.
Giovanni spent the next several days in the City of Splendors putting out feelers and letting it be generally known throughout the seedy Dock Ward that he was an aspiring competitor looking for a manager.
One evening, while seated alone in the taproom of the Splintered Stair inn, the young warlock’s attention was drawn from his open book for a quiet, clearing of a feminine throat. Glancing up, his breath momentarily caught in his chest at the sight of the woman standing over him. She was dressed in the manner of most of the inhabitants of Dock Ward; rough, worn clothing over boiled leathers, but her eyes were depthless and hypnotic. A small, gold ring pierced her full, lower lip. It took the young warlock a moment to notice that she was not alone. A handsome, though rather short fellow, who appeared to be in his mid-thirties, stood behind her. He was dressed in a fine, blue robe, and polished knee-high boots. A well-made lute was slung over one shoulder.
“I understand that you are in need of a sponsor,” the woman began without preamble.
Giovanni took a moment to clear his throat before speaking. “Er…yes. That’s right. Please, won’t you sit down?” The woman pulled out a chair, and her companion joined her. “My name is Celeste,” she said, her piercing gaze never wavering. “I know that you call yourself Havok,” at this, a small smile creased her pretty mouth. “Allow me to introduce Ekaym Smallcask.” The short man nodded. “Ekaym,” Celeste continued, “is a merchant on an extended stay in Waterdeep. He has procured a manager’s license for the Champion’s Games, and he is recruiting fighters.” She turned expectantly to Ekaym. “Just so,” he said jovially, “It promises to be quite the spectacle, or so I’m told! Opportunites abound, both financially, and…romantically.” He winked knowingly at Giovanni. The warlock kept his expression carefully neutral. “What are your terms?” he asked. “Ah, a bottom-line man!” Ekaym laughed. “I like that! Well, the standard managerial fee is, ah…fifty percent of all winnings. In return, I shall provide you with sponsorship, contacts, should you care to place any wagers on the games, healing should you need it, and, of course…a team.”
Giovanni leaned back in his chair. Of course he would need to be part of a team. He hadn’t really given that aspect much consideration, but it only made sense. He pondered the situation for a few moments, then shrugged and extended his hand to Ekaym. “I agree.” “Excellent!” shouted Ekaym. “I’ll come round tomorrow evening at this same time to fetch you and introduce you to your new team mates.”
Celeste rose, and Ekaym followed her. As the strangely beautiful woman turned to leave, she spoke one last time to Giovanni. “If you acquit yourself well in the tournament, I may have need of your services again in the future.”
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
True to his word, Ekaym arrived the next evening, this time draped in a garish purple robe. A small coach waited outside the inn, and it carried the merchant and the warlock through Dock Ward, and past the Market in the City Ward. Throughout the ride, Ekaym chatted away amiably about his travels to exotic locals and trysts with an improbable number of exotic women. Giovanni feigned passing interest, but kept most of his attention on the bustling nightlife they passed on the streets of the City of Splendors.
The coach pulled up in front of another inn, appropriately named the Crooked House, since it seemed as if the entire building was a bit off tilt, its walls at odd angles, and none of its doors or windows quite square. Once inside, Ekaym tipped the barkeep, a jovial looking gnome, who then led the pair to a secluded back room. A fire crackled in the hearth of the cozy chamber, and seated around a long table was one of the motliest assortment of characters Giovanni had ever laid eyes on.
Ekaym gestured towards the group with a flourish. “Gentlemen…and lady,” he added with a wink towards a lovely elf maid, “allow me to introduce the final member of your team. I present…Havok!” Stony silence met the merchant from seven pairs of eyes, eight counting Giovanni. “Yes, well…” he continued, clearing his throat. “Havok, I give you, in no certain order of importance, Vladius,” here he indicated a young man dressed in plain brown robes, yet sporting a mane of flame, red hair, “Shay,” a dark-skinned fellow clad all in black, “Grubber,” a mountain of a man, gray of skin, and bald of pate. Unless Giovanni missed his guess, he was a goliath. “Grim,” Ekaym continued, indicating what the warlock at first took to be a dwarf, but on closer inspection, he saw that the armor clad thing had skin seemingly made of solid rock, “Storm,” the lovely elven woman, “and lastly, Civilars Hawk Veritas and Dwilt Riddick.” These last two appeared to be human, but Giovanni quickly determined that the one called Hawk was something more. His bronze hair and gold-flecked eyes identified him as celestial touched…aasimar. Even more striking, though, was the title Ekaym had identified them by, and also the uniforms they both wore. The men were civilars, officers in the city guard! Why on earth would they be competing as gladiators?
“So,” the red head Ekaym had named Vladius said, crossing his hands across his belly, “you’re the new meat. I suppose this pirate posing as a merchant is fleecing you for as much as he is the rest of us, while he profits from the sweat of our brow. We who are about to be screwed salute you.” He raised a flagon into the air.
“You do have a flair for the dramatic, don’t you…Pyro?” Ekaym said sarcastically. “No one is twisting your arm to be here. You’re a big boy. Now, since we have the formalities out of the way, we can get down to business.” The merchant motioned Giovanni to a seat beside Grim, while he himself conspicuously took the spot next to Storm.
“As you all know,” Ekaym began, “the Champion’s Games begin officially tomorrow night with the Champion’s Feast. This will be held at the Field of Triumph, beginning promptly at six sharp. Any team not present will be disqualified. The Feast is mostly a formality…an excuse really for the nobles, upper level clergy and merchants to size-up the competitors and makes odds for wagering. It’s also one of many opportunities for Prendergast Brokengulf, the host of the Games, to seize the spotlight for himself and brag about his glory days as a former gladiator himself. In any event, I strongly advise you to use the time to scrutinize the other teams. The Games proper will commence on the following morning with the first round of competition. There are twenty-four teams competing. On the first day, there will be six battles, each consisting of four teams in a free-for-all. The six winners of these matches will then have one day of rest. On the third day, there will be three battles of one team versus one team. The fourth day, two of the remaining teams will battle each other, while the remaining team will fight one of the beasts of the arena. Traditionally, this battle goes to the previous year’s champions, in this case Auric’s Warband. Finally, on the last day, the final two teams compete, no-holds-barred, for the Champion’s Belt.”
“You mentioned something earlier about team ranks…” Dwilt interrupted.
“Ah, yes…” Ekaym said, steepling his fingers. “A team’s initial rank determines the odds for or against them in the wagering. You are relative unknowns, so your initial ranking will probably be somewhere around three, the minimum being one, and the maximum being nine. Each time you win a match, your rank will increase. All of the other rules of the tournament will be explained to you in detail at the Feast, so, if there’s nothing else…? Good, then I’ll leave you all to get better acquainted with your new team mate. Until tomorrow.” With that, the young merchant rose, and left the room, swirling his cloak around him dramatically.
“What a little weasel.” Vladius snorted as the door closed.
“Yes, but he has a managers license,” Dwilt said, “and he got us into the games.”
“Then the criteria for getting a license must only be having a face and the intelligence of a kobold,” the red-head retorted, then turned towards Giovanni. “Now what about you? Are you just some flunky of Ekaym’s, or can you actually fight?”
Giovanni peered over the top of his glasses. “I can handle myself, but I don’t want to start by sniping at my own team mates. Ekaym was right…I’d like to know more about you all. Where do you hale from?”
“Here and there,” Vladius said, picking at his fingernails with a bread knife. “You know us gladiator types…always on the move.”
“You must pardon my friend,” the goliath called Grubber spoke up. “He tends to speak and act before he thinks.” This earned the goliath a withering glare from Vladius. “Vladius, Shay, Grim and I came to Waterdeep by way of Daggerford, but what Vladius says is also true. We have all been wayfarers at one time or another.”
“Obviously, Hawk and I are native Waterdavians,” Dwilt said, tapping his civilar insignia.
“Yes, about that,” Giovanni asked. “Why would officers of the guard be competing in a common gladiatorial competition?”
“In order to earn almost 50,000 gp in the guard, we would have to serve until I was around 300 years old,” Dwilt said with a smile. “There is nothing in the guard rulebook that says we can’t make a little money on the side.”
“Now, back to you,” Storm said, leaning suggestively across the table towards Giovanni. “Where are you from? You seem like an unlikely gladiator yourself…Havok.”
“My name is Giovanni,” the warlock replied, dropping his gaze. “I am also something of a wanderer. Suffice it to say that Waterdeep is the perfect place to lose one’s self in, and the games present a quick, if dangerous source of income.”
“Then we have more in common than you think,” Storm smiled. “I think you’ll fit in just fine.”
The evening of the Champion’s Feast arrived, and Ekaym arranged for transport of his team to the Field of Triumph. When Giovanni first stepped into the luxuriously roomy coach, he was stunned at the appearance of his comrades-in-arms. Dwilt and Hawk, who the previous night had been decked out in masterwork armor, were dressed in rusted cast-offs and maggoty leathers. Dull, pitted swords hung at their belts. Vladius wore a moth-eaten robe with one sleeved pinned up as if he were missing an arm. Grubber had what appeared to be several open sores on his face and arms. Shay, the supposed scout of the group, was dressed in several loose-fitting pieces of plate mail! Finally, Storm’s beautiful face was covered in soot and dirt, her hair a matted rat’s nest, while Grim, the mineralized dwarven juggernaut, was all but engulfed in a huge, multi-colored caftan.
“Did I miss something?” Giovanni asked, his mouth gaping. “Is the Feast supposed to be a costume party?”
“Not at all,” Dwilt laughed. “We are merely attempting to stack the odds against us. The less imposing we appear, the more money we’ll win when we put a few well-placed wagers on ourselves. We even ‘convinced’ a priest of Kossuth to spread the word among the clergy that he had recently ministered to Grubber for a mysterious wasting disease.”
Grubber frowned. “Which was not entirely an untruth,” he grumbled. “I actually have just recovered from a cursed periapt I…found.”
Giovanni could tell the goliath was holding something back, but he didn’t press the matter. Instead, he nodded his approval. “Then I should blend in just fine,” he said, adjusting his spectacles, and patting the large tome in his shoulder bag.
The Field of Triumph sat on a hillock overlooking the surrounding ward. Oval in shape, it had four gates, each overlooked by a pair of watchtowers. The arena itself was capable of seating over 18,000 spectators. Wardens manned each watchtower, greeting all arriving guests, dressed in blue cloaks with large clasps shaped like a bastard sword.
Numerous long banquet tables were arrayed in a circle around a central wooden stage in the middle of the field. Two great bonfires burned north of the seating areas, and scores of cooks, scullions and waiters were busy there with spits, grills and platters. Some two-hundred guests were already present shortly after sunset, with half again as many servants, cooks, musicians and other entertainers.
As Ekaym’s coach pulled up to the northwest gate, a warden greeted them. Ekaym presented his license and a clerk began recording the names of the team. “Now,” the clerk concluded, “what is the name of your group, and who is your group leader?” Immediately, Dwilt stepped forward. “I am the leader. I am Dwilt Riddick, and this,” he gestured towards the band, “is Impotent Rage!”
A warden escorted the gladiators to their table, and servants immediately flocked to provide a seemingly endless supply of food and drink. At exactly six, a hush fell over the gathering as a trumpet sounded from the north gate. There, a tanned, clean-shaven man, sporting a thick crew-cut and wearing a chain shirt with a pair of shortswords strapped at his waist strode across the field, trailed by six heavily armed men dressed in purple cloaks. Behind them walked a tall, heavily muscled man who appeared to be in his late fifties. Ancient scars creased his weathered face, and his grizzled, grey hair matched his small, penetrating eyes. He wore a gleaming breastplate with a buckler strapped to his left arm. A huge, bastard sword was strapped across his back. It was obvious that this was Prendergast Brokengulf, former champion of the Field of Triumph, now retired, having made a new career out of managing promising, up-and-coming gladiators, and having also created the Champion’s Games ten years ago. Flanking Brokengulf were two more men. The one on the right also wore a breastplate, and carried a large, steel shield. A greatsword rested between his broad shoulders. Around his waist was a red and black leather girdle topped with the representation of a haunted female face…the Champion’s Belt! The man on the left was balding, and dark-haired. He wore a high collared red cape fastened with a skull clasp over a green jerkin and pants.
The crowd erupted into thunderous applause as Brokengulf and his retinue took their positions at the center table. “Thank you my friends,” the gladiator cried, raising his hands to silence his many fans. “You are too kind. Allow me to present to you one more deserving of your accolades.” He turned to the man seated to his right, “I give you the reigning defender of the Champion’s Games for the past two years…Auric!” At this, the throng cheered even more loudly, but it was Vladius’ murmured response that caught Giovanni’s attention, “Ah, so that’s what became of them. The rumors of their death were greatly exaggerated it would seem.”
As the tumult died down, an elderly man wearing the robes of a city magister took the stage. “I am Talabir Welik,” he announced, “judge and arbiter of these Games. I will now review the rules of engagement. First, all battles are to the death, but any gladiator has the option to surrender at any time. To do so, a competitor must drop his or her weapons, kneel and raise both hands in the air. Any gladiator who attacks a surrendering foe will be immediately disqualified and charged with assault. Likewise, any gladiator who surrenders and then attacks another gladiator is also immediately disqualified and faces the same charges. Second, gladiators with the capability of flight or levitation may do so up to a maximum height of forty feet. Attaining heights greater than this are grounds for disqualification. Burrowing into the arena floor is forbidden. Third, a match persists until one team is victorious, either through the death or the surrender of all opposing teams. Fourth, winning gladiators have no right to the spoils of the fallen. A defeated gladiator keeps his gear, or in the case of death, ownership reverts to his team or manager. Fifth, any tactic that endangers spectators is grounds for immediate disqualification and possible legal action. Finally, a disqualified gladiator must cease fighting at once and move to the edge of the field immediately. Failure to comply results in the disqualification of the entire team. Once a gladiator is disqualified, he may no longer take part in any remaining battles.” Welik then stepped down from the stage, and Brokengulf stood once more. “I hereby declare all gladiators Champions of the City of Splendors! Let the Feast begin!”
Once the formalities were over, the numerous nobles, merchants, clergy and other invited guests began to mingle among the gladiator teams, sizing up each one, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, all in an effort to gain some advantage in the wagering to come. Giovanni watched the proceedings with fascination, taking special notes of the actions of his own team mates. Dwilt, in particular, was making the rounds of the high-rollers, making outlandish claims to any who would listen. "Impotent Rage is the greatest adventuring troupe to emerge from Daggerford in a ten-day. We were credited with slaying Kruxar the Invincible, a rogue kobold who was notorious for rustling cattle and various other livestock. Also, we halted the rampage of Imarta the dreaded zombie -- who scared various children of the town. Oh . . . Imarta was a canny one! Her scare tactics only came in the dead of night -- with nary a witness to her passing. However, just to be sure, we exhumed her body and hacked it to tiny little bits -- thereby ending her horrific assaults." He would also go to great lengths to introduce the ridiculously dressed members of the team to interested patrons. "Meet Pyro the Lame, who lost an arm in a farming accident. But be ye warned! He overcompensates for this deficiency with furious . . . ANGER!" and, "Feast your eyes upon Grubber the Afflicted. His promiscuous lifestyle has lead to a variety of boils, blisters, and ulcers. Do not underestimate him, for his very touch promises slimy doom!" Before long, Giovanni had to move quickly away from his erstwhile leader to avoid breaking into howls of laughter and spoiling the whole effect. Yet somehow, against all odds, Dwilt’s plan seemed to be working. The young warlock overheard several guests declaring Impotent Rage a long shot at best, and hopelessly outclassed at worst.
As the evening wore on, Giovanni took note of several other interesting occurrences. At one point, a young woman dressed in stunning soiree attire approached Shay and Vladius. The trio seemed to know one another, as they immediately fell into an animated conversation. The woman kept looking towards Auric and his companion, and Shay and Vladius followed her gaze. After several minutes of this, Giovanni’s two team mates nodded to the woman, and then Shay produced a heavy looking purse from his cloak and handed it to her. She made the bag disappear with startling alacrity, especially considering the fact that her outfit had very few places to conceal anything.
Something else that caught Giovanni’s eye was the fact that Prendergast Brokengulf seemed to be paying an inordinate amount of attention to the members of Impotent Rage, and that in turn, Ekaym appeared to be very interested in Brokengulf. The warlock filed all of these things away for consideration at a later date.
Finally, the Feast came to a close with a stunning fireworks display courtesy of Talabir Welik, after which the festival dancers fell dramatically to the ground and Brokengulf announced, “The Champion’s Games have begun!” At that point, the arena wardens began urging the guests towards the exits, while the gladiator teams were directed to a point near the northwest quadrant of the field. Over the course of the next hour, the teams were lowered by a cleverly concealed lift into the understructure of the arena. Giovanni and his companions eventually found themselves in a large hall showing signs of intense recent traffic. The ceiling was supported by a rectangular pillar, and by the shell of a circular stairwell. A wooden, life-sized statue of a muscular, half-naked man holding a spear and a horn lay in the southwest corner, where the lift terminated in an arcade. A heap of metal bars, hinges and locks sat along the north wall of the chamber, near a ten-foot wide, three-foot tall segment of a wooden frieze, decorated with the realistic carvings of fruits and a bull’s skull. From this chamber, the gladiators were led down a wide, curving hall to a large, irregular room which seemed to be a major junction. Many stairways and passages led in and out. One of these stairways led down to a level even further underground than the understructure, and terminated in an enormous cave resembling some sort of underground village. The cave walls were finely hewn and the floor was paved with smooth slabs of stone. Many artificial and natural pillars supported the relatively low ceiling fifteen feet above. Wooden doors on the cave’s walls lead to a circle of underground dwellings. A pair of similar doors on the north wall led to a kitchen and an infirmary. An underground stream ran in the middle of the cavern, crossed by a wooden bridge that led to a dining area with two long tables. The relatively fresh air, murals of famous gladiators on the walls and the soft illumination provided by amber-colored light globes hanging from the ceiling made the cavern a true marvel of underground architecture.
“Gentlemen and ladies,” one of the wardens called out as the last of the teams was led into the chamber, “welcome to the coenoby, your home while you remain competitors in the Games. Anything you wish will be provided for you, but you are forbidden from leaving this chamber unless escorted by a warden. Failure to comply will result in immediate disqualification. Get some rest. You’re going to need it.”
When the chime sounding the dawn hour rang, Giovanni and the rest of Impotent Rage emerged from their quarters to find that most of the gladiators were gathered near the meal tables. A parchment had been posted on the wall there announcing the first round match-ups.
Dwilt’s team was slated to fight in the second slot. Their opponents were three other teams called Arcane Auriga, Badlands’ Revenge, and Sapphire Squad. Shortly, all the assembled teams separated once more and began scrutinizing their competition and muttering among themselves. Giovanni began looking through the crowd for their own challengers. Arcane Auriga was a team comprised of five elven women. Four of them were outfitted in studded leathers, while the fifth, slightly older woman, wore a breastplate. All carried well-made longbows and wore shortswords at their hips. Badlands’ Revenge consisted of a barbaric-looking human wearing rustic hide armor with a wooden shield slung over one shoulder. He gripped a spear in one hand, and a sling hung at his belt. He was barking orders in a strange tongue at three savage gnolls, all clad in studded leather and leaning on wickedly hooked halberds. Crouched at the man’s feet was a badger the size of a pony, with odd, bony knobs protruding through its fur. Sapphire squad was led by a rakish looking fellow in a gleaming chain shirt. He wore a turban atop his head, and his moustache and beard were well-oiled and pointed. A scimitar rested on his hip, and a composite longbow was slung over his shoulder. His companions were two men, similarly garbed, but wearing full chain mail and carrying heavy, steel shields. They too carried scimitars and composite bows. Three heavy warhorses were tethered near their dwelling.
It was the leader of Sapphire Squad that interested Giovanni the most. There was something strange about him…Then it struck the warlock. He wasn’t human after all. Giovanni’s years of research into his own mysterious lineage had given him a large storehouse of knowledge about outsiders…those from beyond his own plane of existence. This man was a janni…one of the least powerful members of elemental creatures known as djinn. This should prove very interesting. As he watched, the janni began swaggering towards the women of Arcane Auriga. As he reached them, he gave them a sweeping bow and a toothy smile. He spoke quietly to them for a moment, grinning all the time, until finally, the older of the women gave him a very deliberate, and equally obscene, hand gesture. The five of them then turned away. The janni looked momentarily abashed, but as his eyes fell upon Storm standing near the rest of her team mates, his smile magically appeared again.
“Good morning, fair lady,” he said, striding up and lifting Storm’s hand to his lips. “I assume you are the leader of this fine band of warriors. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Korush, major general of Sapphire Squad. I…”
“You ASS-ume much", Vladius interrupted, the crazed wizard dressed only in a loincloth this morning. "Why don’t you spare us all of your lip flapping and just tell us what in the Hells you want?”
“Ah…” Korush said, his smile never faltering, “I take it this is your advisor?” he still addressed Storm.
“I’ll tell you what you can take…!” Vladius began.
“Please,” Storm said, reclaiming her hand from Korush, and raising it to forestall Vladius, “What can we help you with?”
“Why, I only come to offer my well-wishes in the coming competition…and to offer a possible alliance between our two teams…at least until we are the only two left.”
At this point Dwilt spoke, “I am the leader of this team, Korush, and your regards are duly noted and returned. However, we have neither need nor want of an alliance. Let the best team win.”
For a moment anger flashed in Korush’ eyes, but it was quickly replaced by his charming smile. “Alas,” he said, “then when we next meet, I regret it shall be as enemies. Perhaps when all of this violence and bloodshed has past, my lady,” he turned to Storm once more, “you and I can become better acquainted.”
“Why don’t you go acquaint yourself with the horse your rode in on?” Vladius spat at Korush’ retreating back as he rejoined his own team.
Two hours later, the victors of the first battle returned from the Field of Triumph. To no one’s real surprise, it was Auric’s Warband. As the reigning champion’s swaggered back into the coenoby, an arena warden called out, “Arcane Auriga! Badlands’ Revenge! Sapphire Squad! Impotent Rage!” The four teams quickly mustered around the warden, and began following him back upstairs towards the lift chamber. Giovanni noted with amusement the surprised looks on the faces of some of the other gladiators as they saw the radically different appearance of his own team this morning. Gone were the rags and cast-offs of the night before, replaced by gleaming mail and shining, deadly-looking weapons.
As the procession reached the lift, the elven women stepped on first, and began slowly ascending towards the arena, where the roar of the crowd could already be heard. Giovanni saw each of the women quickly quaff potions, and then the older woman cast two spells in rapid succession. As she completed the last one, several duplicate images appeared around her. The warlock looked at his comrades, and they all nodded. Immediately the buffing process began, with defensive spells flying, and protective potions imbibed. When they were done, Giovanni and Shay had rendered themselves invisible, while Vladius had first transformed Dwilt into the likeness of a troll, and then himself into a small, bat-winged imp-like creature…a mephit.
The next team to be taken up was Badland’s Revenge. Their leader also began casting spells, and to Giovanni’s surprise, he was using druidic magic! Giovanni’s own team was called next, and as the lift carried them upwards, the tumult of the spectators swelled. Arcane Auriga and Badlands’ Revenge had already positioned themselves at opposite corners of the field. Talabir Welik, his voice magically amplified, called out as the new team arrived. “I present Impotent Rage, slayers of kobolds, and bane of zombies everywhere!” At this, the fans howled with laughter. Talabir instructed the party to choose one of the remaining two corners. Dwilt chose the one on the southwest side of the arena, with Arcane Auriga occupying the southeast, and Badlands’ Revenge on the northwest. Last to arrive was Sapphire Squad, “noted for their prowess in mounted combat!” announced Welik.
Once all of the teams were in position, Welik retreated to the judge’s stand and called out, “On my mark…fight!” Four of the elven archers were a blur of motion before the referee’s voice had even faded. In a flash, one of the gnoll halberdiers went down in a hail of arrows. “And first blood goes to Arcane Auriga!” called Talabir Welik. The crowd went into a frenzy. Suddenly, Badlands’ savage leader drew a scroll from his belt and quickly unfurled it. This was exactly what Giovanni had been waiting for. Still lurking invisibly near his team mates, he had been watching all of the opposing spell casters, expecting one of them to lead off with magic right away. Just as the druid began reading the scroll, the warlock focused his dark energy and unleashed a thunderous blast directly into the man's chest. The druid reeled, his scroll evaporating into cinders. As Giovanni reappeared, his invisibility negated by his attack, the leader of Arcane Auriga nodded approvingly at him, and then fired her own volley of arrows, piercing the druid through the shoulder.
“That was pretty good, newbie,” Vladius laughed, flitting around in his altered form, “but let me show you how the big boys play!” A small, pea-sized ball of flame appeared in the mephit’s palm. Rearing back, he hurled it right into the middle of the elves. With a mushroom shaped explosion, a ball of fire erupted. In an instant it was gone, but three of the woman lay in smoking heaps on the ground. “Yeeeehaaa!” Vladius shouted, but Giovanni could not help but feel remorse as he saw the stricken look on the elder elf’s face. Before she and her remaining team mate could recover, Dwilt was among them, the troll-paladin whirling a great spiked chain around him like a dervish. The fourth archer was cut down, leaving only the leader standing.
At that moment, Korush leapt into the air from the back of his horse, and then hovered there, flying. Simultaneously, his body began to grow to twice its normal size, and he began weaving his scimitar in a blurring, deadly dance. As he prepared to charge, Storm conjured a ball of sizzling electricity in her hand, and launched it at the janni. When it struck him, it formed a flashing web of energy around his armor, immobilizing him. “Ride fools!” Korush cried to his men. “Run them down!” The two mercenaries spurred their mounts into a full charge, heading straight towards Impotent Rage, but as they reached mid-field, the feral badger companion of the druid rushed out to meet them. Without pausing, both riders slashed at the beast as they passed, dropping to the opposite sides of their saddles to avoid its vicious teeth.
As the two members of Sapphire Squad wheeled their horses about, a black-fletched arrow suddenly sprouted from the back of one of them as if by magic. No one except Giovanni, with his fiend-given ability to see-the-unseen, saw the still invisible Shay dart to the side of the arena, knocking a second shaft. Grubber took advantage of the rider’s momentary confusion, and he rushed onto the field, swinging his massive hammer and connecting solidly with the mercenary's shield arm, nearly dislocating the man’s shoulder in the process.
Giovanni visibly shook himself to get his attention back on his primary target. Already the druid was recovering, rage in his eyes as he glared at the warlock. The foolish man literally broke into an all out run as he began charging across the field. No sooner had he taken his first steps though, than the warlock met him head on with a second blast, this one louder and more massive than the first. Without a sound, the druid fell dead. For a moment, the two remaining gnolls just stared at their dead leader, then with a shrug, they looked at each other, snarled in agreement, and rushed into the midst of the melee at mid-field.
Meanwhile, Hawk had joined Grubber as the second mercenary spurred his horse into another charge. The civilar quickly side-stepped and plunged his sword into the animal’s flank. Instantly, a surge of energy flowed through the blade, and the horse went rigid. As the rider struggled to stay mounted, Hawk withdrew his sword and slashed at the mercenary. At that moment, both the gnolls and Grimm arrived, and a massive free-for-all ensued. The mercenary that Grubber had engaged spun his horse in circles, striking at any enemy in range. He managed to open a vicious wound in the shoulder of one of the gnolls, but in doing so, he exposed his back to Grimm. The mineralized dwarf, crouching behind his tower shield, landed two mighty blows with his sword, just as another of Shay’s black arrows pierced the man through the throat. His horse reared, and he fell lifeless to the ground. The remaining mercenary, still struggling to urge his mount into motion, fell easily to Grubber’s maul.
Korush’ electrical prison finally faded from his armor, and in an instant, the janni rendered himself invisible. Rage now overwhelmed any sense of honor that remained in him. His team had been decimated, and he was determined to get pay back. He soared silently across the stadium towards the unguarded Havok and Storm, confident that they would not detect his approach until it was far too late. Giovanni watched him every instant, waiting until the last possible moment to unleash hell once more. The eldritch blast blew through the janni’s chest, erupting from his back, and he crashed into the ground, returning to visibility as his life left him. The crowd was deathly silent, awe-stricken at what they were witnessing.
The leader of Arcane Auriga raised her bow defiantly towards Dwilt, but in two swift moves, the civilar-troll had ripped through one of her illusory images, and then snatched the bow from her grasp with his chain. “Dear lady,” the troll rumbled, “I do not wish to kill you. I beg your surrender.” For a moment she stood her ground, but then her gaze fell once more upon her fallen cousins and daughter, and tears filled her eyes. Raising her hands above her head, she kneeled before the paladin.
Hawk spun as the gnoll rushed in behind him. The creature’s halberd passed harmlessly to the right of the civilar, parried off of his shield. Hawk drove his blade into the halberdier’s gut twice, each time triggering a blast of electricity, cooking the monster from the inside out as it collapsed at his feet. Without missing a beat, he spun again, this time driving his sword through the spine of the badger and flash-frying it as well. Just then a shadow appeared above him as the last gnoll raised its halberd high above its head, preparing to bring it down on Hawk’s neck. Suddenly, the gnoll’s feet were ripped out from under it as Dwilt’s chain wrapped around its legs. As it rolled to its back, its halberd was torn from its hands by the other end of the civilar’s whirling links. “Surrender, or die,” Dwilt said simply. With a nervous, toothy grin, the gnoll raised its hands.
“The winners! Impotent Rage!” Talabir Welik’s voice boomed. The assembled crowd’s response was chaos. Never had they seen such a display of teamwork. As Ekaym stepped up to Brokengulf’s box to accept the trophy and payment on behalf of the team, Vladius did several loops around the arena, shouting to the crowd, “Are you not entertained!?”
Later that night, the coenoby was noticeably quieter than the previous evening. Four other teams remained besides Auric’s Warband and Impotent Rage: Drunken Devilry, comprised of a pixie, a satyr, and a centaur; Varmint Patrol, a band of eight gnome warriors; Pitchblade, three dour-looking dwarven fighters; and the Crazy Eight, an unlikely team of eight kobold monks. Even the warden’s had departed at sunset, once more warning the gladiators not to leave the coenoby or face disqualification.
“I want to say again, well done,” Dwilt praised his team mates as they settled down in their quarters. “We’ve made it through the first round, and our plan is going smoothly. Now that the watch has been loosened on us, I say we use tonight to begin our exploration.”
Giovanni looked confused. What was he talking about? “Exploration?” he said aloud. “Of what? You heard the wardens. We’ll be kicked out if we leave without permission.”
Dwilt looked askance at the warlock, and then at the rest of the team. One by one they nodded to the civilar, and he in turn nodded to Grubber. The goliath sighed, “Perhaps we should have been straight with you from the beginning, my friend,” he began, “but we needed to test your mettle first, and let me say that you have proven yourself without doubt. You deserve to know everything. Sit back and take your ease…it is a long tale…”
WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE…PART ONE
Grubber’s tale began several months before in Daggerford, a town along the banks of the river Delimibyr some 120 miles southeast of Waterdeep. Up until two years ago, Daggerford was ruled by a hereditary duke, Pwyll “Greatshout” Daggerford. The town was located along the Tradeway where it crossed the great river, and so was a prosperous stop-over for travelers and merchant caravans. Then, in the year 1372 DR, the Duke of Daggerford, his sister, Lady Bronwyn, and his bastard brother, Lord Llewellyn Longhand, were all three poisoned…assassinated. The duchy was left without an heir. Soon thereafter, the Town Council met and elected Lanod Ondabar of Irieabor, the little-known brother of the well-respected Delfen “Yellowknife” Ondabar, as Governor-Mayor. Rumor had it that Lanod was a compromise candidate and lesser evil in lieu of a corrupt mine manager named Balabar Smenk. As Governor-General, Lanod quickly appointed an old crony, Cubbin, as sheriff and began selling political favors to the highest bidder. In less than two years, the once proud town of Daggerford became synonymous with vice and exploitation. Long-established businesses were sold, their owners forced out by “new investors” allied with Lanod and Cubbin.
The iron and silver mines of the nearby Forlorn Hills became the town’s new boom industry, with various mine managers vying for power. But the mines were not all that lay in the hills surrounding the town. Numerous tombs and burial cairns, remnants of a half-dozen long-dead cultures, pock-marked the area. In ages past, Daggerford boasted an export much more valuable than metal in the form of treasure liberated from these sites. However, those days were long past. The last cairn in the region coughed up its treasures decades ago, and few locals paid much mind anymore to stories of yet-undiscovered tombs and unplundered burial cairns. On occasion, a handful of treasure seekers would visit the town, but few returned to Waterdeep with anything more valuable than a wall rubbing or an ancient tool fragment.
Present day Daggerford was home to hundreds of laborers who spent weeks at a time underground, breathing recycled air pumped in via systems worth ten times their combined annual salary. The miners were the chattel of Daggerford, its seething, tainted blood, but they were also its foundation. Their weekly pay cycled back into the community via a gaggle of gambling dens, bordellos, ale halls and temples. Because of the demanding and dangerous work in the mines, most of the folk who came to Daggerford were there because they had nowhere else to turn, seeking an honest trade of hard labor for subsistence-level pay simply because the system allowed them no other option. Many were foreigners displaced from native lands by war or famine. Work in a Daggerford mine was the last honest step before utter destitution or crimes of desperation. For some, it was the first step in the opposite direction: a careful work assignment to ease the burden on debtor-filled prisons, one last chance to make it in civil society.
It was this set of circumstances, in this particular community that led to the formation of the League. The first official member was a young man, barely more than a boy actually, named Gideon. Gideon was of unknown parentage, found abandoned on the steps of the temple of Tyr, which happened to be located in the local garrison of the Waterdavian Guard. The high priest of the temple, Valkus Dun, immediately recognized that there was something unique about the boy. This became obvious to all when Gideon sprouted a pair of large, white, feathery wings at puberty. Valkus took this as a sign that the lad had been touched, favored by Tyr himself, and he endeavored to teach Gideon the stern philosophy of the Even-handed One. Gideon took these teachings to heart, but he did not feel the calling of the clergy. Instead, he looked upon the suffering that surrounded him every day in Daggerford, and took it upon himself to do something about the corruption that was the source of the town’s rot.
Vladius was born the son of a Thayan merchant loyal more to the Temple of Kossuth than to the Order of the Red Wizards. Kossuth blessed the boy with a touch of fire, making him a genasi. While it was not apparent to any around Vladius of his nature, his elemental bloodline was recognized by one of the local Red Wizard zulkirs, who demanded that the ‘boy’ be given for formal training as a Red Wizard. Sadly, the merchant gave his son to the cruel tutelage of the wizards. Vladius learned of his mixed blood, and came to accept it, but when the opportunity arose he fled the academy as well as the depredations and evil of Red Wizardry. He could not return home, for that would surely mean the death of his family, so he chose to continue south, across the Sea of Fallen Stars, landing eventually in Daggerford. There, he found employment as a local prestidigitator at the Emporium, pleasing the masses (and separating them from their hard earned coin) with his minor spells and cantrips.
It was not long before Vladius came to know Gideon, whom he recognized to also have blood mixed with creatures from outside the Prime Material Plane. The two young men, having somewhat similar outlooks on law and stability, became fast friends and commonly spent their off-hours together dreaming of adventure and excitement. This friendship served as the starting point and foundation block for “The League”. In time, Vladius’ skill with magic brought him to the attention of Delfen Ondabar, and the mage offered him an apprenticeship, which the young wizard eagerly accepted, hoping to grow in skill and power so that he would never again have to fear enslavement.
Grubber was born in a small goliath tent city in the mountains of Chessenta. The goliaths, being very close to the earth and rock as well as of a balanced view on good/evil/law/chaos, were some of the more staunch followers of Grumbar the Earthfather. So it was with Grubber, and he became an apprentice to the high shaman of the tribe. Trouble beset Grubber when he and the tribal chieftain’s daughter fell in love, as it was strictly forbidden for Grumbar’s goliath clergy to marry. Their eyes were supposed to be kept solidly on the flock, not on personal interests. The affair between Grubber and his love was quickly exposed, and the young goliath was exiled for his dereliction to the needs of the tribe. Dejected and without other prospects, Grubber soon found himself in Daggerford as a miner, working for Balabar Smenk. His large size and great strength, as well as his skill with a hammer, made him well suited for his new position. At no time did the goliath explain his former role, keeping his magic and his prayers to himself, until one evening at the Emporium.
A fiery-looking young man with flaming red hair approached Grubber at his table. Vladius had been watching the giant for weeks, and knew that he could be the kind of muscle that he and Gideon needed in their gang. Learning that the goliath had some degree of divine spell casting only sweetened the deal. By the end of the conversation, Grubber had made himself a new friend and had committed himself to membership in a new adventuring group, should the opportunity ever arise. He welcomed the opportunity to better himself outside of the stale air of the mine, as well as bring some street justice to the local gangs.
Grim hailed from Citadel Adbar, one of the largest and most influential dwarven strongholds on Toril. Like many dwarves, he was trained in the art of martial warfare, and was skilled with any blade that you put in his hands. He was training in the Temple of Gorm Gulthyn, dwarven god of protection and defense, to be a church templar when he was approached by one of the priests with an opportunity. He was offered the chance to undergo the Rite of Stone whereby his essence would be mixed with that of a minor earth elemental. The end result would be that the dwarf would be forever changed, his flesh transformed to that of living stone. He would be more powerful and well protected than any average dwarf, but in repayment for the gift he would have to serve one of the dwarf nobles on the surface for one year. The noble, a merchant by trade named Derval Ironeater, was a master smith located in the town of Daggerford. His brother, Derwin, managed a mine in the town as well. The vein on which the mine had been placed ran true with pure metal, and could be fashioned by dwarf artisans. The trade between the miners was critical to the craftsman of Adbar, and as such the noble’s protection was of utmost importance. Thus the reason that Gorm’s clergy had been contacted.
Grim’s time with the noble was pleasant, with little to report. Just the rocky dwarf’s presence was commonly enough to end problems before they were started, and Derval came to see Grim not only as a bodyguard but as sort of a spiritual advisor. The year of servitude came and went, and Grim elected to remain on an interim basis. This was partly due to the Derval’s fair treatment and their friendship, but was mostly due to outside contacts that Grim had made. Through Derval, Grim had become familiar with the local Governor-Mayor as well as Derwin.
Grim also befriended several locals, including a winged freak follower of Tyr, who told him that he and his wizard buddy were putting together a new adventuring party. The prospects sounded very, very interesting as well as potentially lucrative.
Shay had been on the run. Those damnable Shadow Lords were after him. It was not without deep consideration that he had been selected for the Rite of Shadow Walking, but then he subsequently decided that he was too ‘moral’ to follow through with the guild master’s orders. Those orders had been to assassinate a local merchant’s five year old son in order to apply pressure to the man. That was enough to convince Shay to get the hell out of Turmish. But where would he go? Where would be so remote that he would never be found? The only place so large that a person could disappear…Waterdeep.
Waterdeep was far away, but was outside the long reach of the Shadow Lords. He wasn’t worth that much trouble to the nefarious group of thieves and assassins…was he? Stowing away on a series of merchant caravans, Shay found himself in Daggerford, a town bustling with sheep to fleece. The rogue decided that it would be the perfect place to get lost in…the Shadow Lords would never find him in that wretched mud hole.
For a time, Shay made a living on petty theft, and lived at the Daggerford Inn, a converted warehouse that was home to nearly a hundred pitiful indigents. During his stay there, Shay met Gideon, who on occasion would minister to the poor and pathetic. Gideon, sensing skill and good in Shay, offered him a chance at redemption…and adventure!
At first, the League was more of a concept, an ideal if you will, than an actual entity. The stated purpose of Gideon and his friends was to ultimately rid Daggerford of corruption by starting at a grassroots level. They imagined themselves to be vigilantes of a sort…foiling mugging attempts, helping little old ladies cross the street…that kind of thing. In truth, they spent most of their time at the Happy Cow, a seedy tavern that held dog fighting competitions each night. Here they discussed their grand plans and how they might accomplish them, but came no closer to acting on those plans.
Everything changed the night three strangers from Waterdeep appeared in town. They were so-called adventurers, come to explore the ancient ruins in the hills and claim the hidden riches there. The citizens of Daggerford were used to this sort of thing, but this trio, two men named Auric and Khellek (the very same that now comprised Auric’s Warband in the Champion’s Games) and a woman named Tirra, were not dissuaded by the locals assurances that all of the cairns and tombs had been tapped out. They were determined that one such, known locally as the Stirgenest, still had secrets to reveal.
Word and rumor traveled fast in Daggerford, and the members of the League soon got wind of this new venture. This gave Gideon an idea. Having spent his entire life in Daggerford, he knew of another tomb, know to the local youth as the Whispering Cairn. A teenager had stumbled across it near an abandoned iron mine some ten years ago, and since then, adolescents had been daring each other on occasion to step inside to prove their bravery. Occasionally, when the wind was just right, haunting, almost magical tones were said to emerge from the depths of the forlorn tomb. Gideon related all of this to his companions, telling them that if there was reason to believe that even one cairn might yet hold hidden secrets, then the Whispering Cairn might be the one.
Eager for a chance at real adventure, the companions set out for the location, which lay a half-day's walk from Daggerford. The Whispering Cairn did indeed have mysteries yet to reveal, and it wasn’t long before the young members of the League found themselves facing true, life-threatening danger. Within the ancient halls, they discovered several deadly traps, and also living inhabitants, such as a wolf pack, and swarms of carnivorous beetles. The artwork, statuary and carvings of the tomb seemed to indicate that it belonged to a member of some long-forgotten race of tall, hairless humanoids called the Wind Dukes of Calim.
Eventually, the group made their way past the maze of traps to a room spanned by a single wooden beam, which served as a bridge across a sea of iron balls. As they crossed the beam, more iron balls were fired at them from hidden holes in the walls. Ultimately, the young adventurers were able to avoid the deadly barrage and defeat a grick which lurked in the spheres below them, only to encounter the ghost of a boy named Alastor Land. The ghost briefly possessed Grim, and then related to the others that he had stumbled across the cairn thirty years before, having run away from home, only to die in this very room. Since that time, he had been cursed to haunt the chamber until someone would agree to take his bones back to his family’s farm and bury them with his family. In exchange for this, he offered to open an impassable door, which he said led to a glorious chamber full of riches.
The group agreed, and unearthed the boy’s bones. They took them to the farmstead Alastor had described, to find it abandoned and decrepit. Furthermore, the graves of the boy’s family had been recently dug up, and no trace of the bodies remained. Further search of the farm brought the team face-to-face with a wounded owlbear that had taken up residence in the farmhouse. After killing the beast, they discovered evidence of a recent fight, including an intact human arm. This arm bore a tattoo which Grubber recognized as one used by a gang of toughs that worked for Balabar Smenk. This gang was led by an albino half-orc named Kullen, and it was common knowledge that he and his boys frequented the Happy Cow.
That night, the League confronted Kullen and his gang at the tavern. At first, the brute denied knowing anything, but a subtle threat to turn him in for grave robbing to the Cult of the Ascended Lovers, a local sect that venerated Kelemvor and Mystra and warded the town’s burial sites, convinced him to come clean. He told them that Smenk had ordered them to assist an associate of his by the name of Filge who had recently moved into an abandoned observatory at the edge of town. Filge’s only request had been for the gang to procure for him corpses, which Kullen and his lads had taken from the old Land farm precisely to avoid any entanglements with the CoAL.
The obvious next step for the League was to investigate the observatory. Once inside, they found the skeletons of the Lands almost immediately…they were animated and armed with crossbows! Filge, it seemed, was a necromancer. All throughout the building the party encountered animate corpses and evidence of past murders. Finally, they cornered Filge himself, and after a pitched battle, they managed to beat him into submission. He revealed that he and Smenk were old acquaintances, and that Smenk had contacted him to come to Daggerford from Waterdeep to help him out of a jam. It seemed that Smenk had been involved in a business deal with Derwin Ironeater, the dwarven manager of the Ironeater Mine. At some point, Derwin had taken Smenk into a hidden part of the mines, which, according to Smenk, was crawling with awful beasts in hooded robes. They were part of a cult which called themselves the Ebon Triad, and they said they were preparing for something called the Age of Worms. They mentioned the dead walking in the Forlorn Hills and the Lizard Marsh. Smenk knew that he’d gotten in over his head, so he had written to Filge, hoping that his knowledge of necromancy would be of use. Filge had actually heard of the Age of Worms. It was known as the Waiting Age, an era of catastrophe. Scholars of apocalyptic visions claimed that its advent would signal an interminable period of suffering in which the cosmic scales would shift disastrously towards evil and light would fade from the land. Filge also knew something of the Ebon Triad, but only what Smenk had told him. Apparently they worshiped the so-called Dead Three, Bane Bhaal and Myrkul, although technically, only two were really dead. Smenk had also stolen from the mine a jar containing a strange, green worm. Filge said it came from a powerful undead creature known as a Spawn of Kyuss. Kyuss was a being rumored to have existed a thousand years ago in a place called Skullgorge. Known as ‘the Harbinger of the Age of Worms,’ he was said to have created dozens of new undead breeds and amassed a legion of creatures bound to his will. It was also said that an undead dragon had stood at his side, acting as the general of his forces.
Reluctantly, the adventurers released Filge, after exacting from him a promise to leave Daggerford and never return. They gathered the remains of Alastor’s family and returned them to their graves, burying Alastor’s bones along side them. From there, they went back to the Whispering Cairn, and this time the doorway to the hidden part of the tomb was now open, just as Alastor had promised. Beyond, they did indeed find a magnificent chamber, consisting of a central pit ringed by stone walkways, and containing a huge pillar of air in its midst. No sooner had they entered the room, than two creatures which looked like ancient suits of ceramic armor, each wielding a pair of longswords, flew from the pillar and attacked them. The battle was harrowing, but in the end the guardians were defeated, crumbling into dust as the magic that sustained them dispersed.
Beyond the chamber, the League discovered the final resting place of a Wind Duke named Zosiel. Interred with his remains were a silver diadem, a pair of long, slightly curved black horns with red tips, and a strange adamantine loop of metal attached to a long handle. Bas-reliefs on the wall of the tomb showed a Wind Duke facing a cloaked creature with horns identical to the ones in the sarcophagus. The creature was wielding the adamantine loop to control a sphere of absolute blackness, which was shown touching the Wind Duke, and destroying him.
The no-longer naïve adventurers took their spoils, and their new-found knowledge and returned to Daggerford. Vladius suggested they approach his master, Delfen Ondabar, with the information they had discovered and seek his advice. This they did, and the old mage was delighted to see the ancient artifacts. He told the group that the Wind Dukes had been a race of djinni generals of the Calim Empire in what was now Calimshan. Their ancient foes were the armies of Memnonnar, led by the great efreet general Memnon in service to Kossuth, the elemental Lord of Fire. The Era of Skyfire ended thousands of years ago in the destruction of both genie-led empires and the creation of the Calim Desert. The Scepter of Calim was a symbol of the djinn’s sovereignty in the lands south of what was now the River Agis, until it was shattered by the elven High Mages of Keltormir. It was now known as the Shattered Scepter of Calim. It was rumored that the djinni buried their dead in the cold, unclaimed lands of northern Faerun, putting them far beyond the grasp of Memnon’s tomb-raiding legions. Delfen also knew that the strange metal loop was called a Talisman of the Sphere, used to control Spheres of Annihilation, which were holes in the continuity of the multiverse, destroying anything they touched. After the Era of Skyfire, it was rumored that the Wind Dukes scattered the Spheres to the corners of the planes.
Far more disturbing to Delfen was the information the adventurers had wrung out of Filge. Delfen himself had recently unearthed increasing evidence of strange, undead creatures infested with tiny green worms stalking the Forlorn Hills. If what half Filge said was true, Daggerford could be in great danger. At his urging, the League decided to investigate the matter further, starting with the Ironeater Mine.
WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE…PART 2
Before the League had a chance to begin their investigation of Ironeater’s mine, a message was received by Gideon from none-other-than Balabar Smenk. The missive requested a meeting with the League, and implied subtle threats against both Valkus Dun, and Melinde, a paladin of Tyr whom Gideon had been raised with, and who was like a sister to him. Reluctantly, the meeting with Smenk was arranged. The mine manager was quite forthcoming with the young adventurers, relating to them that he was terrified of the cultists, and that he had been pressured and blackmailed into aiding them. He told of finding the severed head of one of his trusted assistants in his bed recently, a clear message of what would befall him if he betrayed the cult. Smenk argued that, though his businesses practices might be somewhat suspect, he was, after all, just that…a business man, while the cultists were mad men who posed a far greater threat to Daggerford.
The members of the League agreed to Smenk’s proposal, even though they had planned all along to investigate the mine any way. Grim knew that Derwin Ironeater’s mine was well guarded by hired henchmen, and that the group would not be able to just waltz in. Shay and Vladius took it upon themselves to begin visiting some of the dives frequented by the Ironeater miners. It wasn’t long before they found a couple of disgruntled souls. After a few drinks, and promises that Derwin Ironeater would get his, the miners agreed to create a diversion so that the members of the League could sneak into the mine.
This distraction came in the form of setting fire to several store houses in the main compound in the middle of the night. While the guards responded to the disaster, the adventurers made their way into the main mine shaft. It wasn’t long before they found a boarded-up, apparently unused passageway, which led to an elevator descending even deeper into the earth.
At the bottom of the shaft, they found themselves in a vast, domed hall. One end was filled with a dark pool, while the other end bore three locked doors. The northern door bore banners with the symbol of Myrkul, and the eastern door bore the symbol of Bane. The western door was unmarked. Immediately, the band was set upon by a pair of tieflings, abyssal-blooded creatures who wore tabards bearing the symbol of Bane. Easily defeating the guards, the League decided to investigate the door bearing that dark god’s symbol first. Beyond, they found a complex populated by undead skeletons, crazed fanatics (some of them recognizable as locals from Daggerford), and more tieflings. Ultimately, they faced, and killed a powerful priest of Bane named Theldrick and several of his minions. Among Theldrick’s belongings, they discovered two pieces of parchment. The first was addressed to Theldrick by an unknown writer. It spoke of Kyuss, and told of him being a herald for some sort of Overgod. It made mention that “the three sundered faiths shall be made whole,” and stated that the worm-ridden undead in the Forlorn Hills needed to be captured to provide answers for shepherding in the Age of Worms so that the Overgod might live. There was also an odd description of something called the Ebon Aspect, which “stirs within the pool, but still is not ready to emerge.” Lastly, it made clear the fact that Smenk had become a liability and had to be eliminated, and that agents should be sent to the Lizard Marsh to find some secret that could be found among the lizardfolk there. The second missive was even more cryptic, obviously written by Theldrick, but referring to someone called the Faceless One, and another called Grallak Kur. This second individual was identified as being some sort of seer from the Underdark, who was having visions of worms, and some greater power behind them.
Finding no further information among the Banites, the League returned to the dark cathedral, and this time entered the unmarked door. Beyond, they found themselves in a series of natural caves infested with grimlocks, strange humanoids from the Underdark who lacked eyes. A running battle with these savages eventually brought the adventurers to their chieftain. During the fierce battle, the League members were stunned to see first a naked human man, and then a nude drow woman emerge, battered and beaten, from the caves of the grimlocks. The two newcomers aided the struggling adventurers, the human using a gleaming sword, and the drow using magic. After the chieftain and his warriors were dispatched, the former prisoners told their tales. The human was Hawk Veritas, a civilar of the Waterdavian Guard, dispatched to the garrison at Daggerford. He had been waylaid by what he assumed were bandits on the road, and though he fought well, he had been overwhelmed. When he had awoken, he found himself in the clutches of the grimlocks. The drow woman said her name was simply Storm (“Drow?” Giovanni interrupted at this point, staring at the elven woman across from him. “Yes,” Storm replied, removing a comb from her hair and instantly transforming into a black-skinned, white-haired drow elf.) She claimed to be a renegade from Menzoberranzan, who had been fleeing her kinsmen with two companions when they were ambushed by grimlocks. Her companions had been killed outright, but she had been kept alive as entertainment for the chief. It was she that had delivered the killing blow to the brute. Hawk and Storm decided to journey on with their saviors further into the grimlock caves, and they soon came upon one last band of them. These all bore tattoos of the dead god Bhaal carved into their chests. Their leader was a priest, Grallak Kur as it turned out, who had a pair of beholder eyes sewn into his eye sockets. Kur and his barbarians were killed in a largely one-sided fight, and the party removed another scroll from the priest’s corpse. The words it contained were rambling and disjointed, but basically stated that a great power was growing in the pool in the Dark Cathedral, and that this power would serve the Ebon Triad as a champion. It went on to say that with the return of Kyuss, the Age of Worms was finally at hand.
Guessing at what lay behind door number three, the League returned to the Dark Cathedral, more wary than ever now of the black pool at its center, and proceeded through the portal marked with the symbol of Myrkul, Lord of the Dead. A literal labyrinth greeted them as they entered the lair of the Deathbringers. The twists, dead-ends and switch-backs were a perfect set-up for an ambush, and it wasn’t long before several groups of bird-headed kenku assassins and sorcerers began hit-and-run strikes against the League and their new allies. Eventually, the adventurers killed their assailants to the last man, and found their way through the maze to the inner sanctum of Myrkulites. Here they faced several arcane acolytes of the Death Lord, and were further hindered by bizarre energies which put some of them in a hypnotic trance, and also by animate pillars with grasping hands that would grapple and hold them as they tried to pass. Finally, they met the Faceless One himself, a man dressed in green robes and a leather mask set with iron studs, leaving only his eyes visible. His hands were covered with mystical tattoos. He proved to be a fearsome opponent, with a superior knowledge of the Weave, but in the end it was a matter of numbers versus power, and the League was victorious once again.
Having defeated all three arms of the Ebon Triad, they beleaguered group returned one last time to the Dark Cathedral, only to find the elevator had been smashed beyond repair, and the black pool stirring. From it emerged a creature that appeared to be a bizarre amalgamation of aspects of all three dark gods represented by the Triad. It attacked immediately, fighting with a savage fury that nearly overwhelmed the already taxed League members. However, teamwork and expert tactics kept them alive, and the Ebon Aspect was destroyed.
With Gideon’s flight capability, the group was able to reach the top of the elevator shaft, only to find the mine abandoned. They had spent two days in the depths of the mineshaft, and in that time it seemed that Ironeater had departed. The gates were locked and a sign there proclaimed the mine closed until further notice. When they arrived back in town (having left Storm at an abandoned mine office they had converted to a headquarters near the Whispering Cairn), they heard rumors that there had been a tragic accident at the mine, a fire which killed most of the employees. Derwin Ironeater had left town shortly after, offering no word, even to his brother, of his destination. While most of the members of the League went to report what they had found to Delfen Ondabar, Grim felt he had to go to his friend Derval and tell him the truth about his brother. Derval, however, would hear none of it. In anger, he dismissed Grim from his service. Grim mourned the loss of his friend, but realized now that fate had set him upon a different path.
Delfen was again very interested in the news his young pupil brought him, and even more dismayed to hear of both Smenk’s and Derwin Ironeater’s involvement. He felt that Daggerford might no longer be a safe haven for the League, since obviously the influence of the Ebon Triad might spread even further. He recommended that the band leave town for awhile, and he suggested a destination. An acquaintance of his, a magister of Waterdeep named Marzena, who was currently assigned to Cromm’s Hold, a small barony on the edge of the Lizardmarsh, had recently reported her own findings of strange green worms in her vicinity. Delfen wanted the group to go to Marzena and tell her their own discoveries, hoping that she might be able to shed more light on the situation. Before they departed however, the League paid a last visit to Balabar Smenk. Gideon informed him that his troubles had been dealt with, and that as far as he was concerned, they were done with each other. He warned Smenk of dire consequences should the man ever threaten his loved ones again.
The League set out for Cromm’s Hold the next day. Civilar Veritas had reported in to the Daggerford garrison, and notified the commander, Sherlen Spearslayer, of all that had befallen him and what he had discovered beneath the Ironeater mine. He told Spearslayer that he intended to continue the investigation by journeying to Cromm’s Hold. Spearslayer agreed that this would be the wise choice, and granted him leave. Storm, on the other hand, simply had no other allies or alternatives, and so she agreed to throw in her lot with the League.
The journey along the verge of the Lizardmarsh took several days, and was marred by a middle of the night attack by none other than Kullen and his gang. Smenk had apparently sent them to ‘tie up any loose ends.’ The League showed them no mercy, and once they had been dealt with, the reluctant heroes vowed to pay Smenk back in full when they returned to Daggerford.
Upon arrival at Cromm’s Hold, they found it under siege by a small army of several dozen lizardfolk, all of them wearing baldrics of red-brown pelts, and sporting a red, eye-like tattoo circling their left eyes. Several of them were trying to scale the upper battlements, while another contingent hammered at the main door. A handful of the keep’s defenders were trying to repel both sets of invaders, but their efforts seemed to be futile, as more lizardfolk surrounded the hold, waiting to move up if any of their fellows should fall. The adventurers wasted no time in their intervention, with Vladius hurling fireballs with great effect, while Shay stepped between shadows to arrive on the battlements to aid the soldiers. The others provided support where needed, and it wasn’t long before the lizardfolk were in full retreat.
When the League entered the keep, they found only Baroness Piann Cromm and thirteen soldiers still lived. The baroness told her saviors that the lizardfolk first attacked two days ago without warning. They were able to breach the main door with their first assault, but were beaten back. However, when they left they took three soldiers with them into the Marsh, as well as the hold’s magister, Marzena. Piann had no idea why the lizardfolk attacked, or their reasons for taking prisoners. By their tattoos and baldrics, she identified them as members of the Redeye tribe, once one of the more peaceful tribes in the area. However, according to reports, their leader, a shaman named Redeye, was slain a decade or so ago by a party of adventurers, only to return as a lich. Since then, Redeye had supposedly transformed his followers into a brutal band of raiders.
Gideon told the baroness of their purpose for coming to Cromm’s Hold, and offered the services of the League in retrieving Marzena and the missing soldiers if possible. Once they had offered what aid they could to the wounded, the company set off on the trail of the lizardfolk into the Lizardmarsh. Shay was able to track the raiders with relative ease, and after a day’s hard march through the swamp, they arrived at an incredibly ancient grove of mangaroo trees. Within was the lair of the Redeye tribe. No sooner had the band entered the cave-like lair beneath the trees, than they were set upon by hordes of lizardfolk, aided by harpies and one particularly brutal lizardfolk male, with black scales and acidic breath.
At one point, the party entered a chamber in which stood a lone, stooped lizardman wearing necklaces and bracelets of animal’s teeth. A large snake coiled near his feet. Instead of attacking, however, he spoke of a truce in broken common. He called himself Hishka, and said that he was the tribe’s shaman. He begged the members of the League to hear him out, and told them that he disagreed with the aggressive direction in which Redeye was leading the tribe. He said that Redeye was once a divine champion of Semuanya, and was generally tolerant of other races and willing to negotiate with humans. Then, ten years ago, he was gravely wounded while leading a hunting party through the Marsh. When he returned to the tribe, he was changed. He appeared more draconic, and was certainly more violent. He claimed that Talos, the god of destruction, had spared him, and he carried a shield bearing the standard of the Destroyer. Under his leadership, the tribe began an aggressive series of raids against human settlements. Two years ago, a strange blight of ravenous green worms ate through entire clutches of lizardfolk hatchlings in tribes throughout the Lizardmarsh. With an entire generation wiped out, many tribes fell to desperation and depravity. Others were forced to take shelter and wait for new warriors to come of age. During this time, the Redeye tribe received a visitor…a black dragon female named Ilthane. She told Redeye that the magisters of Waterdeep were responsible for the plague of worms, and urged him to lead his tribe to war. In return, she offered to guard the tribe’s latest egg clutch, and even left one her own eggs as a sign of good faith. Hishka was suspicious of Ilthane and her motives, and felt that Redeye’s war would lead only to the tribe’s ruin. The offer he now made to the League was for them to slay Redeye, allowing him to take control of the tribe and convince them to cease their reign of terror.
Gideon and his band cautiously agreed, and Hishka told them where to find Redeye and the prisoners he’d taken. When they reached Redeye’s throne room, they found the king surrounded by two dozen of his finest warriors. Battle was joined again, with Redeye claiming first blood by mortally wounding Shay with a hurled trident, followed by a gout of corrosive acid from his mouth. The tide soon turned, however, and ultimately Redeye was defeated. Hishka was true to his word, and ordered his people to stop all hostilities against the League. Still, he required one more service of the heroes. Since his tribe was already crippled by the loss of their hatchlings, and now further so by the death toll accumulated by the League, the shaman intended to take his remaining warriors and travel to other tribes to recruit new fighters and females of breeding age. This would mean leaving the current clutch of eggs unguarded, however. Once more, Gideon acquiesced, and Hishka showed him to the egg chamber. Its water-covered floor was filled with hundreds of tiny, pale leathery eggs. In the midst of them stood a halfling-sized black egg. Also in the room were a squad of eight kobolds, black of skin, with a long fin running like a crest from their heads down their backs. Hishka first informed the adventurers that these creatures were left by Ilthane as guardians, but that he did not trust them. Then he told the kobolds that the League had been hired by him to assist in guarding the eggs, after which he took his leave.
Hawk’s first action was to subtly scan the room for the presence of evil. He found it immediately in the kobolds, but was surprised to find the black egg not only radiating evil, but radiating hundreds of individual auras. Hawk relayed this message to Gideon, who flew out over the water to investigate the egg. Immediately, the kobolds attacked, and almost as quickly were dispatched. Gideon then dragged the egg from the water and onto dry land, but careful inspection gave no further information. The group decided to wait for Hishka’s return before taking any more actions. In the meantime, they were able to speak with Marzena and tell her of their reasons for seeking her out. She was interested in hearing the full story, and was grateful for her rescue.
When Hishka returned, Gideon told him of what had occurred with the kobolds, and what they had discovered about the egg. The shaman gave his permission to open the egg, and when Grim did so, hundreds of writhing green worms spilled out onto the sandy floor, only to shrivel up and die moments later. If the egg had hatched within the pool, the horrible parasites would surely have attacked the hatchlings. Hishka thanked the League profusely, and promised his tribe would engage in no further hostilities against the humans.
The League and their charges made their way back to Cromm’s Hold, only to find the soldiers and the baroness in a panic. Guilt ridden, they told the group how, over a year ago, their former magister had gone on an exploration mission into the swamp, but had returned changed. He seemed to have contracted some sort of wasting disease, which soon claimed his life. However, he rose again minutes later, with writhing, green worms pouring from his mouth, eyes and nose. Horrified, but unable to bring themselves to slay their former comrade, the soldiers had locked the creature in a cellar storeroom. Even Marzena was not aware of this. When the lizardfolk attacked, they had apparently weakened the lock on the door to the room, and soon after the League had departed, the thing had broken free. It had since dragged two other soldiers downstairs with it, and somehow transformed them as well. The party wasted no time in descending to the sublevel of the hold, and there they came face-to-face with their first spawns of Kyuss. The creatures were truly horrific, causing even Grim’s stout heart to quail. When they attacked, they did so by plucking bloated worms from their own flesh and flinging them at the adventurers. One fireball later, the undead were destroyed (along with most of the basement of the hold). The worms had begun burrowing into the flesh of their victims as soon as they made contact, but Grubber was quickly able to kill the vermin with a magical removal of disease.
Now that Cromm’s Hold was truly secure, the company prepared to take their leave. Marzena agreed to accompany them, but to Waterdeep rather than back to Daggerford. She said that she had no more information about the worms and their hosts than Delfen had already provided. However, she knew of a man in Waterdeep that was a friend to both she and Delfen. He was a sage and scholar of some note by the name of Dagsumn. If anyone could properly investigate all of these occurrences and make sense of them, he could.
The journey to Waterdeep was blissfully uneventful. Upon arrival there, Marzena and Hawk separated from the rest of the group to report in at the barracks of the guard. Marzena gave directions to Dagsumn's home, and so the others made their way across the vast metropolis. There were many celebrations and parades going on throughout the City of Splendors, as it seemed that some event called the Champion’s Games was due to occur in the next couple of weeks.
Dagsumn and his wife Karyss greeted the adventurers cordially, and Dagsumn in particular was intrigued when he learned that Delfen had referred them to him. He listened with interest as they told their tale and showed him the artifacts they had recovered so far, including the pickled green worm from Filge’s, Zosiel’s diadem, the pair of demon horns and the talisman of the sphere. He told them that it would take him some time to fully research the information and asked them to leave the objects with him for the next ten-day. In the meantime, he recommended an inn to them known as the Crooked Stair, located in a section of the City Ward known as the Midnight Muddle, and run by a gnome friend of his named Tarquin Shortstone XXVI.
There was still the matter of Shay. The group had brought their friend’s body with them under the effects of a Gentle Repose spell, hoping to lay him to rest with honor and respect in Waterdeep. However, when Hawk found them again, he told them that the garrison commander was eager to meet them, and was very grateful for their assistance, not only in saving Cromm’s Hold, but also in rescuing Marzena. The company had also brought along a dispatch from Hishka suing for peace between his people and Waterdeep, and this too earned the League members high praise from the commander. He rewarded them by calling upon his contacts within the church of Tyr to restore Shay to life. Grumpy, but none the worse for ware, the rogue/scout gratefully greeted his companions.
The young adventurers allowed themselves to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city over the next several days. Shay took to frequenting some of the more ‘colorful’ areas of town in the late evening. On one such evening, as the group gathered in the common room of the Crooked Stair, Shay took his leave as usual, only to return a few minutes later, walk up to Tarquin, and stab him in the chest. The room immediately became a mob scene. Shay tried to slip out the door in the chaos, but his friends pursued him and were forced to subdue him into unconsciousness. Grubber, in the mean time, ministered to Tarquin, keeping him from death. When the city watch arrived, they demanded that the party turn Shay over to their custody, despite the group’s vehement protest that their friend was not acting at all normally, and they suspected he was ensorcelled. Nevertheless, he was arrested and hauled away.
Later that night, Shay walked back into the common room. Needless to say, this created another uproar, but Gideon assured Tarquin that he was safe, and Shay himself seemed to have no idea what was going on, and certainly had no recollection of having stabbed anyone. The following day, the entire group trooped down to the city jail and presented Shay to the watch as irrefutable proof that if they indeed had him in custody, how could he now be standing before them? The watch commander informed them that, as it so happened, their had been a prisoner transfer request during the night to transport Shay to the dungeons beneath Castle Waterdeep, and during the transfer, Shay had escaped. He thanked the civic-minded heroes for recapturing him, and Shay was promptly arrested once again.
Furious, the adventurers protested, only to be told that a magister would hear the case the following day. Hawk insisted on being allowed to stay at the jail overnight with Shay to ensure he didn’t ‘escape’ again. That night, a detail from Castle Waterdeep arrived, once more requesting a prisoner transfer. Hawk wanted to accompany them, but was ordered not to. He returned to the inn and informed his companions what had transpired. The next morning, the group went to the castle dungeons, only to be told that no such transfer had been ordered nor had taken place. When Hawk examined the log, he found no evidence of Shay having been brought to the complex.
At this point, Hawk left to find Marzena and tell her what about the strange events. Meanwhile, Gideon and Grubber hit upon an idea to cast a spell allowing them to locate specifically Shay’s distinctive rapier. The spell pointed them towards Dock Ward, and once there, specifically to an abandoned warehouse called Sodden Hold. They had left word for Hawk where to find them, and it was at this point that he rejoined them, bringing with him another civilar that he introduced as Dwilt Riddick. Marzena had been very concerned about what had happened to Shay, and she suspected the watch might be compromised. She knew Dwilt personally, and knew that he had an impeccable reputation, and so had sent him to investigate.
Inside the warehouse, the company was attacked almost immediately by what appeared to be living crates, but which actually turned out to be shape-shifting creatures called mimics. After defeating these creatures, Grubber determined that the trail led still deeper into the hold. They soon came upon a cell block, in which they found an unconscious Shay as well as a young noble named Tryssia Lanngolyn, a magister named Gattel Watam, who seemed to have lost his mind, and two members of the watch named Martal and Regim. Shay was revived, and had little memory of his captivity. Tryssia was released and escorted to the street by Dwilt. Watam seemed beyond help, and so was left temporarily locked in his cell for safekeeping. As for Martal and Regim, while the group was assisting the other prisoners, the two watchmen produced swords from beneath the straw in their cell, opened the door effortlessly, and attacked! The party managed to kill them, but not before they almost slew Shay a second time. To the amazement of all, upon their deaths, the two watchmen transformed into gray-skinned, white eyed creatures. Vladius had heard of these types of beings before, but had never personally encountered doppelgangers until now. This explained much. If doppelgangers were in the city, they could have infiltrated all levels of government.
Dwilt and Hawk now insisted that they press on into the hold to see if there were more of the creatures hidden there. They came upon a, water-filled shaft that seemed to go deep underground. With Grubber conferring the ability to breath water upon all of the group, they set off into the under level. They found themselves in a vast underwater chamber, occupied by a gigantic octopus. They defeated the monster, and then swam to the top of the chamber, where they found a mechanism to drain it of water. Exiting the room, they were assailed by more doppelgangers, this time in their natural form. After dispatching this group, they began exploring the warren of underground chambers.
At one point, they found a room with documents detailing numerous noble families and government institutions that had been corrupted. Later, they entered a chamber and beheld and astounding sight! Seated and bound were likenesses of each one of them, excluding Dwilt! Immediately suspecting a trap, the League members attacked their doubles, and their twins responded by bursting their bonds and retaliating…all except Hawk’s double. Oddly enough, Hawk attacked his own double mercilessly, even after the others had been slain and revealed as doppelgangers. The other party members tried to stop him, suspicious of his actions, only to have him turn on them. Forced to kill him, they were stunned to find that Hawk was a doppelganger! The real Hawk was the one tied to the chair! He said that he had been captured almost a week ago, and had been held here ever since, all along thinking those around him were truly his friends and had been captured as well. How deep did this corruption go?
Proceeding on, the companions made their way through a maze of mirrors, attacked hit-and-run by doppelgangers all along. Finally, they came to a sort of throne room, which contained a stranger apparatus comprised of a table with straps, tubes and pipes coming out of it. The throne was occupied by Delfen Ondabar! He greeted the heroes as friends, but by this time they were unwilling to listen to more lies. They attacked, and the wizard retaliated. His magical skill certainly matched that of Ondabar, but it was only a matter of time before he was defeated. Not surprisingly, upon his death, he too reverted to doppelganger form, but did not appear the same as the others. Vladius knew him to be a greater doppelganger, one who was capable of actually absorbing the identities of those he mimicked, although his guise as Delfen seemed to be just that, a cosmetic façade, for when he had begun hurling spells, his appearance had changed to that of an older human.
A search of the doppelgangers chambers turned a host of forged and original documents detailing Waterdeep treaties, merchant dealings, and religious papers. In addition, there was a missive bearing the message: “I have a task for you, thrall. Meet me at the sewer junction beneath Brian’s forge and I will give you the details. There are some troublesome small minds that must be removed.” It was signed with some sort of symbol made to look like a spiraling tentacle (identical to one tattooed on the greater doppelganger’s forehead). So, it seemed someone else had ordered the doppelgangers to assassinate the members of the League, but whom and why? It seemed that the answers might be found at the forge of Brian the Swordmaster, a well-known craftsman in the city.
On the return trip to the surface, however, the League found that the water chamber was occupied again. A previously hidden door was now open on the opposite side of the room, and standing in the passage beyond it were a pair of drow males armed with crossbows, and a horrible looking creature dressed in robes, with a bulbous head and four tentacles where its mouth should be. An illithid! Immediately, a blast of mental power surged from the mind-flayer, stunning several members of the group. The illithid then withdrew, but the drow took up the assault. After a short, but hectic battle, the drow were killed but no sign of the illithid remained, nevertheless it seemed the mastermind behind the mystery had been revealed.
The group immediately sought out Marzena, and turned over to her all of the information they had discovered, telling her of their intent to now follow the trail into the sewers beneath the city streets. They made their way to Brian’s forge, and there, Hawk and Dwilt had several watchmen cordon off the block while the League descended into the sewers. Over a period of two to three hours, the company searched the sewer tunnels, and eventually found an older, disused section which led into a series of natural caves. Here they encountered more drow thralls, including a priestess of the Spider Queen (much to Storm’s horror). Deeper and deeper they journeyed, fighting many horrific aberrations along the way, including a naga and a pair of octopoid creatures which were capable of scaling walls and whose gaze dulled the reflexes of any who met it. Beyond one massive pair of double doors they encountered a marble statue of a brain, which had the power to dominate the minds of those in its vicinity. This they destroyed, and found a laboratory beyond it, with a short corridor leading to a balcony overlooking a cavernous cathedral. Here they found the mind-flayer once more, hovering over a large pool filled with swimming, tadpole like creatures. The illithid had another pair of the octopoid creatures with him, and the battle was joined in earnest.
Grubber detailed the struggle in full for Giovanni, telling of how the illithid was by far the most puissant opponent they had thus far encountered. He was a sorcerer, and used his spells and mental abilities to devastating effect. It was here that Gideon fell. He made a suicidal charge at the mind-flayer, attempting to draw its attention away from Dwilt and Grimm. The illithid electrocuted the aasimar with a point-blank lightning bolt fired into his chest. His death was not in vain, as his companions did indeed capitalize on the opportunity, and eventually brought the vile sorcerer, and his octopins down.
A search of the illithid’s chambers turned up a ledger. It detailed the creature’s recent business transactions in rare and dangerous items with patrons throughout Waterdeep. The most recent transaction listed a payment for the sale of an ancient relic listed as the Apostolic Scrolls. It took place between the illithid and one Prendergast Brokengulf! In addition, there was a notation that Brokengulf had also paid the mind-flayer to assassinate the members of the League!
Within a few days of their return from the illithid’s abode, the party was contacted by Dagsumn. He invited them to dinner, saying that he had the information they had requested. Of the relics from the Wind Dukes, he could only say that they were not directly related to the Age of Worms, but all of the other clues pointed to the involvement of a minor deity of the creation and mastery of undead called Kyuss. The worm-infested undead were the most notorious (and, he noted, least powerful) of Kyuss’ spawn, and their increasing presence in the region indicated that the cult was becoming more powerful. The cult had traditionally been small, but the evidence provided suggested that the Ebon Triad was now involving itself with the cult. Tales of the Age of Worms were ancient, Dagsumn said, and it was often known by other names such as the End Times, the Dark Age and the Eternal Ruin. It was an ancient set of prophecies that spoke of a transformation of the world, of a time when life would give way to something else. These prophecies were recorded in certain rare texts such as the Book of Vile Darkness, the Libris Mortis, the Necronomicon and the Apostolic Scrolls. At this point, Dwilt interrupted, telling Dagsumn of what they had discovered in the sewers, and especially the illithid’s reference to the Apostolic Scrolls and Brokengulf. Dagsumn’s face darkened at this news. He told them that the scrolls were reputed to have been penned by Kyuss himself and detailed the creation of a horrible undead creature known as the ulgurstasta, which was in turn capable of consuming the living and regurgitating them as undead.
Dagsumn suggested that the League investigate Brokengulf further, but cautioned that he was a very powerful man in the city, with powerful allies, and they could not simply confront him without hard evidence (the word of a mind-flayer notwithstanding). It was at this point that the idea to infiltrate the Champion’s Games was born. Dagsumn arranged a meeting between the adventurers and Celeste, who in turn introduced them to Ekaym Smallcask…
Giovanni’s Journal Entry – Night 2 of the Champion’s Belt Games, Date Unknown
This has to have been one of the strangest, however most eventful, days that I can recall. Our team’s victory on the sands of the arena was quite flawless. Prior to the combat, I was under the impression that my eldritch powers would be of paramount importance during this first round, and that I would use my teammates as protective fodder. However, on the battlefield it immediately became quite apparent that these so-called ‘bumpkins’ are much, much, more than they seem. The synergy and teamwork that the group utilizes is beyond impressive and far in advance of their professed 'exploits' against blind kobolds and fake zombies.
From studying the group I have ascertained their general tactics. They attempt to funnel all combats through the dwarf, whose superior defensive capabilities allow him to act as a stoplog or floodwall of sorts, breaking the tide of their enemies’ advance. Behind him the goliath and aasimar will generally emerge, dealing withering damage to their now-halted adversaries. Dwilt’s role seems to be more in support, tripping and disarming as well as defending the front rank. That one won’t shut up, constantly barking commands at the other team members; it is obvious that his orders have a palpable effect, and I have to admit that I find his words to be uplifting.
Behind this wall of armor, shields, and deadly weaponry the support group is protected. Fire balls and lightning bolts are indiscriminate killers, but it appears that Pyro and Storm know how to use them discriminately. The dark rogue continually rains death from range with his arrows, but he seems to be unsatisfied unless he closes to melee where he can strike a telling blow with his rapier. I would hope that he would have the discretion to not go toe-to-toe with an enemy too far out of his class; thus far the stories I have heard speak to the contrary.
As far as their personalities are concerned, it is apparent that the group looks to Dwilt for guidance and leadership. Based on their stories it was clear that the aasimar Gideon once held this role, but with his death Dwilt has somewhat less than begrudgingly assumed command. Even Civilar Veritas seems to bow to the other officer’s decisions. Something else that I have quickly noted is that there is a discernibly intense rivalry between Pyro and the goliath cleric, Grubber. It seems that this rivalry is rooted in the goliath’s moral beliefs and Pyro’s rejection of any such code of behavior. Also, Pyro believes that the goliath’s actions do not follow his professed beliefs; thus far, I have seen no evidence to support or contradict this claim but the genasi pokes, prods, and jibes constantly. It is funny to hear Pyro rail on about the goliath’s vow to his patron, Grumbar, that will not allow him to take flight except under the most dire of circumstances. That belief seems very odd, and could be potentially debilitating in the future.
Which leads me to their claims of the impending Age of Worms. The story they have told me is far too long to detail in one night of writing. Suffice to say, I am intrigued by the mysteries that they are chasing. This Age of Worms that they speak of may be nothing more than the ramblings of some insane heretical priests…or insane heretical 'bumpkin' adventurers for that matter. However, if they speak truth, there may be something much deeper and sinister going on. For whatever reason I have gained their trust, and they have let me in to their little secret. It could be that they see nothing more than the utility that can be afforded them by my magical capabilities. How they will react if they are to learn the dark nature of these abilities remains to be seen.
As a group, we also made upwards of 1,000 gold coins in winning that fight, and I haven’t seen that kind of money since I left the manor house. If nothing else, I could use the company…and the protection that this large group can offer.
Giovanni sat in silence, staring at his hands and contemplating all that he had just heard. He felt hollow inside. He had arrived in Waterdeep thinking that he was worldly, that he had seen fantastic things and places. Now he realized just how naïve he had been…and selfish. He had been motivated by monetary gain…greed, to enter this tournament. But these people…the things that they had been through, and were still going through. He had heard the word ‘hero’ thrown about lightly all his life, but he had never understood the true meaning of the word until now.
“So what do you think?” Vladius asked. “Are you with us, or are we gonna have to kill you?”
Giovanni looked up and smiled faintly. To think, just a few hours ago he had thought the man an arrogant, pompous ass. Now he knew for a fact that he was an arrogant, pompous ass…but his heart was in the right place.
“I’m with you, if you’ll have me,” he said simply.
“It’s settled then,” Dwilt said, offering his hand, which Giovanni gripped eagerly, “You’re one of us. Welcome to the League.”
”I’ll brand you with our tattoo later,” Vladius smirked.
“What’s our next move, leader man?” Shay said to Dwilt from a shadow-shrouded corner.
“I overheard some of the other teams talking last night,” Dwilt replied. “There’s a rumor about Brokengulf beating back a pack of ghouls years ago that used to lair in some old underground ruins south of this room called the Titan’s House. They say he plugged the entrance to their warren with a stone seal in a pool there, but no one has ever tried to open it to verify this. I suggest we start there.”
Later that night, after the other teams had retired, the eight companions slipped from their quarters, and out of the coenoby. A long, natural tunnel led to a huge cave which resembled the coenoby, but was in a state of century-old abandonment. It looked as if a surface structure once stood there, a cluster of stone houses that were buried under a million tons of rubble long ago. Within the labyrinth of ceiling-high sections of ruined walls, the only remarkable feature was the idol that gave the cave its name, a ten-foot high, alabaster statue of a powerful giant armed with a mattock. The cave floor sloped down to the south where a ten-foot deep pool of water was located. A large stone plug was visible near the bottom at the eastern end.
Dwilt ordered his team to spread out around the vast chamber and look for anything which might appear out of the ordinary, as if it might not belong there. Grim took it upon himself to wade into the pool, his stony flesh carrying him straight to the bottom like an anchor. His dwarven sense of stone-cunning told him that there was nothing natural about the plug, and that it hadn’t been there for very long…certainly no more than ten years. He also noted that it wasn’t going to be an easy task to remove it.
An hour or so passed as the group searched the Titan’s House from top to bottom, and came up with nothing. “This is a dead-end, unless we want to work on dislodging that plug,” Dwilt said in resignation.
“That won’t be happening without a crane and hoist, or without a lot of noise and pounding,” Grimm observed.
“Maybe this is too obvious,” Giovanni said, almost to himself. “It would be a convenient coincidence for us to ‘overhear’ a tale of Brokengulf plugging up some secret tunnel. Maybe, since he obviously knows who you are, and probably why you’re here in the first place, it was a ploy to throw you off track.”
Dwilt thought for a moment, “Well, it’s certain we’re not going any further down here tonight,” he said. “What harm can it do to check out some place less conspicious? I say we make a trip upstairs.”
They retraced their steps back to the coenoby, and then down another tunnel on the opposite side, which emerged into a wide, ring-like corridor that was a mirror image to the main corridor in the level above. Like that corridor, there were spiral staircases spaced at intervals along the hall, but they were blocked by locked iron gates.
“What do you think?” Dwilt asked Shay as he examined one of the locks.
“Child’s play,” the rogue responded in a distracted voice. Reaching into a pocket of his cloak, he produced a set of elaborate-looking lock picks, and set to work. Within a matter of seconds, the hasp clicked open, and Shay stepped back with a bow and a flourish. Grim stepped forward, and pulled back the gate. It opened with an alarmingly loud shriek of rusted metal.
“Damn it!” Dwilt cursed, looking quickly around for any signs that the wardens had been alerted.
“There’s no help for it,” Shay said. “This is probably the first time it’s been opened in decades.”
Quickly, the company slipped up the stairs, only to find the top similarly blocked. Shay made even faster work of the second lock, and the group held their collective breath as Grim tried to open the gate as quietly as possible. It was no use, and this time as the squeal of metal on metal faded, they heard voices in the distance. “Did you hear that?” “Come on!” Shortly, they heard booted feet approaching.
“Gather round me, quickly!” Storm hissed as she stepped into the hallway. The others obeyed without hesitation, trusting their team mate, thought they had no idea what she had planned. The drow mage began muttering under her breath, moving her fingers in complex gestures. With a final word, each member of the team saw all the others wink out of sight. “There,” Storm whispered. “We are hidden from view, but you must all stay near to me. Each of you reach out and grab one another. We must move together.”
“Not good enough,” Giovanni’s voice said. “They might still bump into us, or hear us move. Stay here.”
Not waiting for approval, Giovanni called upon his innate magic to first render himself invisible by his own power, and then to briefly step between dimensions to travel several yards down the corridor, opposite the hall from where the wardens were approaching. As the four guards appeared in the main passage, the warlock stamped his boots loudly on the stone, and then began running away from the rest of his group. “That way!” the wardens shouted, and started after the sound of running feet. Giovanni waited until he had led them far enough from his friends, and then silently stepped between dimensions again, rejoining the group.
“That takes care of that,” he laughed quietly.
“Not bad…” he heard Vladius say. “You might just prove better than useless after all.”
Stealthily, the group moved down the hall from which the wardens had originally come, passing first through a mess hall, and then a guard room. Beyond this, they entered a second, smaller circular passageway which had three other corridors branching off of it from each compass point. The western passage led to some sort of workshop. From the one to the north came the growl of a large feline and several porcine grunts. Six identical cells opened off the hall, each closed by a metal gate. To the south, two smaller passages branched off the main hall, but there were also three padlocked doors of iron-reinforced wood, each with a small barred window set into it. It was here that the group chose to investigate first.
Peering into the first two doors, Shay saw what appeared to be empty cells. Behind the third, however, he saw a figure curled in a corner on the far side. He whispered to his companions what he had found.
“I’ll go,” Giovanni volunteered, and once more he dimension doored, this time appearing inside the cell, next to the prisoner. He could see that the bearded figure was human, but couldn’t tell if he was dead or alive. Cautiously, he nudged the man with the toe of his boot. Instantly, the man jerked up right, staring around wild-eyed and terrified. It was at this point that the warlock realized he was still invisible, and for all the prisoner knew, he had just been touched by a ghost. Giovanni quickly reappeared outside the door.
“He’s alive,” he reported, “but I’m afraid I’ve probably scared him senseless.”
“Take me in,” Dwilt said.
“You’ll be visible,” Storm reminded him.
“I know,” the civilar replied, “but we need information, and he certainly won’t trust me if he can’t see me.”
Giovanni grasped Dwilt’s arm and transported the two of them back into the cell. The prisoner’s eyes widened even further as he saw the armored form of the civilar simply appear before him.
“Peace,” Dwilt said, holding up his empty hands to show he was unarmed. “My name is Dwilt Riddick. I mean you no harm.” The man stared blankly at him, uncomprehending.
“Do you understand me?” Dwilt said, squatting down to bring himself to eye level with the prisoner. The man stared at him another moment, then slapped his hand against his ears. Dwilt understood. He was deaf. The civilar took one finger and began writing in the heavy dust on the floor. ‘Dwilt,’ he wrote first, and then pointed at himself. ‘Help you,’ he wrote next. The prisoner looked at the writing, and then at Dwilt, a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes. He pointed to his mouth, and shook his head. Mute as well, Dwilt sighed silently. Then the man began drawing in the dust himself. As Dwilt watched, he made several squiggly lines, side by side, and then leaped to his feet, and ran to the cell door, sticking his hand between the bars and pointing towards the cell across the hall. Dwilt stared at the lines for a moment. Then, horror filled comprehension dawned on him. Worms. The man had drawn worms on the cell floor. He stood up quickly and strode to the door. “Open it,” he said. He heard, but could not see Shay open the lock and swing open the door. “Havok,” Dwilt said. “Let him see you, and then take him back to the coenoby. We’ll meet you there.” Giovanni willed himself back into the visible spectrum, and the prisoner recoiled reflexively. Quickly, Dwilt knelt to the floor again. ‘Safe,’ he wrote, and pointed to the warlock. The man nodded cautiously. Giovanni stepped to him, took his hand, and vanished.
The others retraced their steps quickly and as quietly as possible back downstairs and to the coenoby. They found Giovanni and the frightened prisoner safely in their quarters.
“Grubber,” Dwilt said, turning to the goliath, “can you do anything for him?”
“Possibly,” the priest rumbled. Holding up his hands to show he meant no harm, he approached the man and laid his hands gently on both of his ears. Chanting in a voice that sounded like the grinding of stones, he prayed to Grumbar. When he was done, he removed his hands. “Can you hear me?” he asked the prisoner. “Can you tell me about the worms?” he asked. At that, the man covered his face, and flung himself to the floor, curling into a ball. Grubber knelt next to him for a moment, studying him closely, and then stood.
“I’m afraid being deaf and mute is the least of his problems,” he sighed. “He’s also insane.”
Grubber realized that the prisoner’s mental affliction was beyond his ability to mend, but he knew of a spell that might work. The next morning, as the servants came in to the coenoby to serve breakfast, he sent word to Ekaym thru a runner, requesting that the merchant purchase a scroll bearing the spell from one of the local churches.
Once again, the other teams were gathered around the postings for the day’s matches. The first competition was to be between Auric’s Warband and Drunken Devilry. Impotent Rage would compete in the second match against the dwarves of Pitch Blade, and the final match would be Crazy Eight versus the Varmint Patrol. As soon as the members of Pitchblade read the bracket, the three brothers glared murderously at their opponents, and as the morning wore on, they made a show of whetting their blades, and decorating their faces with war paint.
When the first match ended, Auric and Khellek were once more victorious, returning to the coenoby with a swagger and a smirk for the four remaining teams. “Pitch Blade! Impotent Rage!” called the warden, and the two teams moved to follow him. At this point, the dwarves, Drusfan, Pharbol and Garlok by name, began shouting loudly at the members of Impotent Rage in dwarvish, and making obscene gestures.
“What are they saying?” Vladius asked Grim.
“Oh…just something about your mother…and a donkey…and the garrison,” the mineral warrior replied. “Don’t take it personally.”
As Pitch Blade stepped onto the elevator, each dwarf began uncorking flasks and upending them, tossing the empty bottles back down at their rivals. When the lift returned, Vladius immediately cast an incantation around Shay, and the shadow walker faded from view. Havok also rendered himself invisible. Dwilt quaffed a potion of his own, and instantaneously grew to twice his normal size. Vladius was again in the form of a mephit, as was his wont when he expected trouble.
As the team reached the level of the arena, the crowd was already in a frenzy. Talabir Welik stepped to the podium in the front of Brokengulf’s box. “My lords and ladies, welcome to the second match in the quarter-final round of the Champion’s Games! First I present to you, straight from the Storm Horn Mountains, the savage swordplay of Pitch Blade!” The arena rumbled with the stamping of feet and roar of approval. Talabir waited for the crowd to settle, and then resumed, “Their opponents, our local yokels-made-good from Daggerford, the caged fury that is Impotent Rage!” This time the crowd surged to their feet, the thunderous accolades deafening. Apparently, the underdog team had made quite the impression the previous day. “On my mark...,” Talabir raised his hand, and then brought it down in a chopping motion, “Fight!”
In a flash, the three dwarves pushed themselves off from the wall behind them, and, to the amazement of the gathered spectators, took flight, drawing their bastardswords as they closed, their blades igniting in flames.
“Uh-oh,” Vladius muttered, as he hovered over Dwilt’s shoulder, “they might be smarter than they look…which isn’t saying much. Hang on for a second, and I’ll put you on even ground.” As the wizard began weaving his magic, Dwilt felt his feet leave the ground, the power of flight responding to his will. Just as Pharbol passed above his head, the giant civilar leaped leapt into the air, wrapping his chain around the dwarf’s weapon, and jerking it out of his hands to land in the dust at Grubber’s feet. The dwarf’s eyes widened in disbelief, and then widened further in pain as a black-fletched arrow from Shay’s unseen bow lodged in his belly just beneath his breastplate.
Garlok flew over Grubber’s head, but as he passed, the priest flung out his hand, rumbling a prayer as he did so. Garlok suddenly felt himself drifting towards the ground, the magical flight that his potion had given him abruptly dispelled. Just as Grubber finished his incantation, he saw Pharbol diving towards him. The goliath just had time to bring his maul up and club the raging dwarf as he landed.
While Dwilt was occupied with Pharbol, Drusfan used the opportunity to bypass the giant warrior, and charge straight towards the now unprotected Vladius. However, so focused on his tiny prey was he that he failed to see Hawk rushing to intercept him at the end-point of his charge. As the dwarf prepared to strike, the civilar smashed the flat of his sword against his skull. Simultaneously, a burst of electricity from the blade jolted the barbarian, leaving him momentarily stunned and twitching. Moving as quickly as his rocky form would allow, Grim closed to his incapacitated kinsman and slashed at him with his axe, leaving a gaping wound in the flesh of his thigh.
Although now grounded, Garlok was no less determined to reach his foes. Screaming in incoherent fury, he lunged towards Hawk, and the civilar tried to pivot and bring his shield to bear, but the sheer fury and power of the dwarf’s charge all but bowled him over. Garlok hacked at him, his flaming blade slicing into Hawk’s sword arm. Though the steel burned like fire, the flames of the blade did no harm themselves to the celestial-tainted skin of the aasimar.
Pharbol snarled, ignoring the pain of the arrow protruding from his gut, and dove for the ground, sweeping up his blade as he did so, However, as he attempted to regain altitude, Dwilt’s chain entangled his feet, dropping him to the arena floor in a heap. With an almost casual flick of his wrist, Dwilt then snapped the opposite end of his chain at the dwarf’s sword once more, again tearing it from Pharbol’s grasp. Howling in rage, the barbarian rolled and scrabbled for the weapon, but before he could reach it, Grubber stamped one massive foot down upon it, and then cuffed the dwarf with the butt-end of his mallet, just as Dwilt’s chain lashed across the dwarf’s forehead, spilling blood into his eyes and temporarily blinding him.
Drusfan still stood rigid and immobile. The magic of Hawk’s blade had left him all but helpless, a fact which Vladius was more than happy to take advantage of. Taking careful aim with one finger at the dwarf, from barely five feet away, the mephit mage blasted a volley of streaking magical missiles into the barbarian’s face. As if by magic themselves, two of Shay’s arrows materialized between Drusfan's shoulder blades. A gurgling grunt of pain was all the dwarf could manage.
As Garlok raised his sword to strike at Hawk again, the paladin brought the edge of his shield up directly beneath the dwarf’s chin. Garlok’s head rocked back, throwing him off balance, and Hawk followed through, smashing the pommel of his own blade into the dwarf’s skull. Another blast of energy surged from the sword, and Garlok’s eyes glazed over, just like his brother’s. Suddenly, a corona of eldritch light flared around the stunned dwarf, and he sagged to his knees as Havok materialized behind him, his hands glowing with power.
“All together now!” Vladius shouted to Grim as the mineral warrior raised his axe to finish Drusfan once-and-for-all. As the blade fell, another barrage of missiles from Pyro nearly exploded the dwarf’s head, and he collapsed without a sound.
Pharbol bit at Grubber’s feet, still struggling to rearm his weapon. Just then, a beam of green energy struck the dwarf, and he felt his strength leave him. He struggled to stand, looking in confusion at the elf woman who had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Before he had a chance to register more than this, the breath was driven from him as Grubber drove the head of his hammer into his midsection. As he doubled over, the damnable chain of the civilar behind him entangled his feet again, and he toppled to the ground. Fortunately, he landed right beside his sword this time, and the oaf of a goliath was no longer standing on it. Grabbing it triumphantly, he rolled to his stomach, intending to slice Grubber across both Achilles tendons, but three rapid slaps from the free end of Dwilt’s chain demanded his more immediate attention. As he rolled again to ward off the giant warrior behind him, Grubber’s hammer dropped one final time on the base of his skull, snapping his neck like tinder.
Only Garlok remained, but in his stunned state he was far from a viable threat. Hawk intended to subdue him into unconsciousness, thereby ending the match without further bloodshed, but his teammates seemed unwilling to show even that small bit of mercy. In a flurry of axe blows, eldritch blasts, magic missiles, and hurled electrical orbs, the dwarf’s days as a gladiator were ended.
The applause and screams of the spectators seemed to threaten the very foundation of the Field of Triumph as they roared the name of their victors: “Impotent…Rage! Impotent…Rage!” Only one face among them showed no sign of elation or joy…Prendergast Brokengulf.
As the thunder of the crowd died to a dull roar, Dwilt stepped into the center of arena.
“My fellow Waterdhavians!” he cried, and the crowd answered with enthusiasm. “As team leader of Impotent Rage, I think I speak for all of us when we thank you for your respect and enthusiasm.” The civilar waited patiently as the tumult swelled once more. “But I would be remiss,” he continued, “if I were not to acknowledge a true hero among us here today…our host, Lord Prendergast Brokengulf!” At this, the throng became deafening, stamping their feet and shouting the veteran gladiator’s name over and over. With visible reluctance, Brokengulf rose to his feet with a forced smile on his face, and waved perfunctorily to the crowd.
“Why, only just yesterday,” Dwilt resumed his monologue, “I learned that over a decade ago Lord Brokengulf almost single-handedly beat back a horde of ghouls, and sealed them in their lair for all eternity! Surely we owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to such a man…one who would never think of letting the undead walk our fair streets and threaten our women and children!” The audience cheered and cheered at Dwilt’s words. The civilar bowed deeply before Brokengulf’s box, noting with satisfaction the look of pure, murderous hatred the gladiator leveled at him.
Later in the coenoby, the team took their meal in silence in the common area, noting that the kobolds of Crazy Eight rounded out the semi-final teams. The team mates couldn’t help but suppress a snicker at the unlikely gladiators, as they were sure to be their competition in the next day’s bracket. Traditionally in the finals, the previous year’s champions would fight a beast of some sort, while the other two teams faced each other. This meant that Auric and Khellek would fight what essentially would be an exhibition match in the morning, almost assuring their place in the finals.
Just then, a beaming Ekaym walked into the coenoby, carrying a silver trophy depicting a dwarven gladiator, and a large sack of clinking coins.
“Well done again, lads!” he cried, holding up the trophy. He then frowned slightly at the replica of the dwarf. “Ironic, no? Well, it suits you boys…and lady…nonetheless. Stirring speech, by the way Dwilt.” The talkative merchant seated himself at their table, chattering away about the match and its high points while he parceled out the winnings. “Say,” he said after a brief brake from his ramblings, looking around conspiratorially, “do you think we could go someplace a bit more…private?” Vladius looked immediately skeptical, but Dwilt shrugged and rose to lead the group to one of the empty quarters. Not their own, Giovanni thought to himself, seeing as how they had an escaped prisoner as a guest at the moment.
As soon as everyone had seated themselves around the walls of the small enclosure, Ekaym pushed the door closed, then deliberately locked it. Turning towards his team, his face was transformed. Oh, it still had all the same features, but the foppish frivolity was gone, replaced with a seriousness, and underlying sadness that caught the entire band momentarily off guard.
“My friends,” he began with a deep sigh, “I am not whom you believe me to be. I have not been entirely…forthcoming with you.”
“Big surprise there,” Vladius muttered before Grubber elbowed him silent.
My true name is Lord Urtos Phylund II.” Dwilt and Hawk both knew of House Phylund, long known for training and procuring fierce monsters. “My father,” Urtos continued, “was Lord Urtos I. He was the director of the Field of Triumph until his death ten years ago, during a tragic accident while he was transporting an owlbear to the arena. Two months prior to his death, I met with an unfortunate accident myself. While out hunting at our family lodge in the Ardeep forest, my companions and I ran afoul of a large pack of wolves. I was sorely injured, and it took me over two months to recover. When I finally returned to Waterdeep, it was to the news of my father’s death, and to discover that my step-mother, Lady Aridarye, presuming me dead, had been named steward of my House until her young son, my half-brother, could come of age. My dear step-mother was not exactly overwhelmed with relief to see me alive, as I once more took control of my House’s affairs. Seven years ago, Lady Aridarye married a close friend of my fathers, and also of mine…Lord Prendergast Brokengulf. Of this I will say no more, except that is no secret that three years ago, my former step-mother began having an affair with a local gladiator named Auric. Now, none of this really concerns me, as I have always suspected Aridarye of being an opportunist and a user, moving from one relationship to the next as it suits her purposes. However, I have recently discovered that the body of my father has gone missing from our family vault. I have always been suspicious of the circumstances surrounding my father’s death. He was an expert beast handler, and for him to die at the claws of one of his animals is a bitter irony. I have long suspected Aridarye’s hand in his death, but have never been able to prove anything. I have my own reasons for suspecting that there may be some clue as to the true cause of my father’s death here beneath the Field of Triumph. My…complicated relationship with Aridarye and Prendergast prevents my direct investigation here, as you can imagine. So it was that I came up with the idea to gather together my own team of gladiators, in the hope of infiltrating the arena sub-levels to search for anything related to my father’s murder, or the whereabouts of his remains. I realize an undertaking such as this is not without risk, and so I offer you all of the winnings you have thus far accumulated, and may yet accumulate, in exchange for your services.” Here Urtos paused, his eyes cautious.
Silence pervaded the room for several long moments, and then Dwilt stood, shooting a warning look at Vladius as the mage started to open his mouth.
“We have our own reasons for conducting an investigation into the arena and Lord Brokengulf,” he said to Urtos, “as you have no doubt suspected. Why else would two civilars of the Guard be competing incognito in a gladiatorial competition? We accept your offer, and will see what our search turns up. Hear me on this, though. If any of the trails lead to your friend Brokengulf, we will not hesitate to bring him down, personal ally or not. Do not try to interfere.”
“Agreed,” Urtos said after a moment, and briskly shook hands with the civilar. “Ah yes,” he snapped his fingers, reaching into his cloak and drawing out a leather tube. “The scroll you asked for Grubber, though none of you seem gravely injured. Is this just for insurance?”
“Not exactly,” Grubber replied, accepting the scroll case. “Come with us, and we will share a secret of our own with you.”
They made their way across the coenoby to the team’s personal quarters, and stepped quickly inside. The prisoner still cowered in the corner, just as they had left him. Dwilt had given him stern instructions to remain inside, warning the man that if he was seen by any one, his life would surely be forfeit.
“Who is this?” Urtos asked, eyeing the filthy man skeptically.
“That is what we hope to soon find out,” Grubber said, crouching beside the prisoner and unfurling the scroll. He began reading in a sing-song chant, and slowly, a lambent glow surrounded his hands. As his words faded, the writing on the scroll likewise vanished, leaving the parchment blank. Grubber reached out gently towards the prisoner, laying his glowing hands on either side of the man’s head. Instantly, the look of terror and confusion left the prisoner, and his eyes lost their glazed appearance.
“What…what did you do?” he asked, awestricken.
“Merely healed your fractured mind,” Grubber said kindly. “Now, can you tell us who you are, and what you know about the worms?”
Involuntarily, the man shuddered, but he did not cower this time. “My name is Anele. I have been a beggar on these streets since I was a child…never harming nobody. Then, no more than a tenday past, two watchmen snatched me up for no reason…no reason! I thought I was being arrested for panhandling, but they’ve never bothered me before. They locked me up down here without explaining nothing. There was another fella in the cell across from me. He tried to talk to me, but I showed him I was deaf. Still, he seemed nice enough. Then one night, I heard the strangest sound in the hallway outside my cell. It sounded like hoof beats…like a horse or something. When I got up to look, I saw him…a devil he was! He was flabby, and cruel looking. Looked sort of like a man in the face, but he had hooves instead of feet. Hooves I tell you! And wings…big, black, leathery ones…like a bat. Horns was growing out of his head. He opened the door to that other fella’s cell, and went inside. That’s when he did it. He pulled this horrible looking green worm out of a bottle and put it on the fella’s face. I could tell the man was screaming the whole time, even though I couldn’t hear him. The worm…ate its way into his face. Pretty soon he keeled over. Dead as a door nail, but then…he got up again! Only he wasn’t moving right…kind of jerky and twitchy. And the worms…oh gods the worms! They were everywhere! Crawling out of his eyes, and his mouth.” Anele broke down into sobs as the horrible memory returned to him.
“What happened then,” Grubber asked gently. “Where did they go?”
“Back down the hall,” Anele said, getting hold of himself. They turned down a little short hall and disappeared. I haven’t seen them come back out since.”
Urtos’ face had gone pale during Anele’s tale, and now he gaped at Dwilt. “What is he talking about?” the Lord asked. “Is he mad?”
“Not anymore,” Dwilt said calmly, “I told you…we have our own reasons for investigating here. There is much more going on than you can possibly imagine. Stay away from here, Urtos. We will be in touch with you when we are able. For now, if you could take Anele from here and see to his safety. Storm will shroud him for you so that you can leave unnoticed.”
Storm stepped up to Anele and cast a brisk spell. Anele faded from sight, and Storm instructed him to hold Urtos’ cloak and not to let go until the spell wore off.
“May the gods be with you,” Urtos said as he left the chamber, casting one last worried glance at the team he had assembled…and quite possibly, doomed.
Evening came to the quiet coenoby, and the wardens once more departed, but not before warning the three remaining teams again not to wander from the area, especially since there was an escaped prisoner on the loose who was considered armed and dangerous.
As the midnight hour came and went, the League members crept from their quarters, and retraced their steps from the previous night. Though the saying goes that ‘lightning never strikes twice,’ that adage apparently did not hold true for the intrepid explorers. Try as they might to muffle it, the squealing of the long-disused upper stairway gate gave away their position a second time. This time, the shouting of the wardens was more urgent. They were already on heightened alert, with a prisoner having escaped right under their noses less than twenty-four hours earlier.
“We can’t avoid them this time,” Dwilt whispered hurriedly, “take up defensive positions! Hawk, try and stall them!” Havok and Shay quickly faded from view, while Grubber, Grim, Storm and Vladius flattened themselves against a wall. As the warden’s drew nearer, Hawk stepped into the hallway before them, silently stretching out his senses for the presence of evil and finding none.
“What the hell are you doing up here?” one of the wardens shouted. “You know you’re not allowed to be out of the coenoby! You could be disqualified!”
Hawk had no weapon in his hands. He raised both of them to punctuate the fact. “I beg your pardon, gentleman, but Lord Prendergast himself gave me his leave to explore a bit…sort of a reward for a job well done.”
The wardens regarded each other for a moment, and then turned back to glare at the civilar. “We happen to know for a fact that what you say is patently untrue,” the leader replied. “Now, we offer you just this one chance to return to the coenoby, or we will expel you from the tournament.”
“Time for talk is over!” shouted the diminutive mephit that flitted out from behind the paladin. “Show time!” With a word and a gesture, the wizard created a thick, oily layer of grease on the floor directly beneath the feet of three of the four wardens. All three immediately stumbled and crashed to the ground.
“I apologize in advance,” Hawk said as he rushed the remaining warden with his shield upraised, “but you are working for evil, knowingly or not, and we cannot allow you to interfere with us.” He slammed into the warden, rocking the man back several steps, right into the grease pit, and in short order, he had joined his comrades on the floor. Simultaneously, Havok appeared behind the four downed guards with Dwilt in tow, having dimension walked to flank them. The wardens tried to rise and defend themselves, but they were hopelessly over-matched and out classed. In less than a minute, they all lay unconscious.
“So what do we do with them?” Grubber asked as they stood over the subdued wardens.
“Obviously, we kill them,” Vladius said, with no hint of sarcasm in his voice, only deadly earnest. “They work for a man who wants us dead, and who is trying to summon an undead monstrosity that may be capable of destroying this whole city! Plus, they’ve seen us and can identify us. Case closed.”
“I won’t be a party to that,” Grubber said, folding his arms across his chest. “These men are simply hirelings for the arena. They have no part in Prendergast’s schemes that we know of. It would be murder.”
“Are you insane?” Vladius asked incredulously, “How many other people have you ‘murdered’ since we got involved in this whole affair? What about that whole tribe of lizardfolk? Didn’t I just personally witness you today smash in the skull of a dwarf or two in that arena? What part did they play in all this? Did they deserve to die?”
Grubber looked uncomfortable, his gaze falling to his feet. “That was different,” he said quietly, “There were extenuating circumstances.”
“Oh really??” Vladius pressed, “By all means, please explain them to me. I’d love to hear your moral justification of murder for money.”
“Enough!” Dwilt said, stepping between the feuding pair. “We are not going to kill these men. That’s final!” he glared at Vladius as the mephit opened his mouth again, then promptly snapped it shut. “We’ll tie them, gag them, and lock them in the cell block for now. We can decide their ultimate fate later.”
A short time later, Shay secured the lock on the same cell that had held Anele with its four new occupants. The group then moved up the main hall to the smaller branch that Anele had indicated in his tale. It was a short passage, only ten feet long, with a stout wooden door at its end. Beyond the door lay a small cellar containing several barrels and hundreds of glass bottles on shelving. The air was thick with the smell of vinegar. There was no obvious way out. Shay stepped cautiously into the room, peering closely at the walls and the shelves. He moved to the back wall and began running his hands over its surface. Finally, he carefully removed a specific bottle from the rack to his left, and the section of wall slid back, revealing a dark stairwell leading down. “I would say we have our clue,” he said.
Grimm took the lead descending the stair, which curved to the right after reaching a small landing. No sooner had the dwarf stepped on the landing, than an explosion of black energy engulfed him. He staggered forward, and nearly fell down the second set of stairs, but for Hawk reaching out to grab him. “A slaying ward,” Grubber said from further up the stairs. “He was lucky,” he indicated Grim, “it was meant to kill.” Shaking himself out of his daze, Grim continued down the stair, arriving at another door at their base.
Pushing it open, the mineral warrior saw a square room which contained three plain, wooden coffins. Two lay along the south wall, while the third had been placed in the north part of the room. Several empty sacks were piled near the third coffin. Standing near the center of the room were three corpses with green, slithering words protruding from their eyes, ears, noses and mouths. Kyuss Spawn! Grim started to lift his axe, preparing to strike, but then a wave of paralyzing fear and nausea knotted his gut. He could not explain it. All that he knew was that he had to get away…now! Turning back into the stairwell, he began shoving his comrades aside, barreling his way up the stairs. Grubber saw the panic in his eyes, and knew that it was the magic of the spawn that affected him. As the mineral warrior approached, the goliath braced himself, and shoved his hands against Grim’s shoulders, stopping him in his tracks.
Shay, who was right behind Grim, also felt the fear seize him. He knew instinctively that only death awaited him in that room. Death, and undeath. He quickly followed in Grim’s path, and when the dwarf was stopped by Grubber, the wily rogue darted between the legs of both of them, coming up behind the goliath into the wine cellar. As he bolted towards the door, he was suddenly shocked to find himself face down on the floor as Storm stuck out her foot to trip him as he darted by.
Hawk couldn’t worry about his fleeing comrades at the moment. The spawn were still there, unthreatened. Rushing into the room, he charged the nearest of the horrors, and rammed his sword into its chest, unleashing a burst of holy energy as he did so. If the creature felt pain, it didn’t show it. It simply plucked a fat, wriggling worm from its mouth and reached out towards Hawk’s face. Instantly, the room erupted into fire. As the heat and light faded, Hawk saw that all that remained of the spawn were three greasy spots on the floor. “Thanks,” he said over his shoulder to the hovering mephit in the doorway.
Grubber chanted his prayer quickly, letting his energy flow through his hands and into Grim. For a moment, the fear gripped the dwarf even tighter, but then his mind cleared of its panicky fog, and he felt his face flush in shame. “That’s twice those bastards have gotten to me,” he said. “Never again…this I vow.”
Back in the wine cellar, Storm had shut the door to prevent Shay’s escape. The rogue rolled to his feet, and backed into a shadowy corner. His shadow walker ritual had gifted him with the ability to use shadows as dimensional doorways, and he prepared to do just that to escape these lunatics who couldn’t see their own deaths approaching. However, just as he began to focus his energies, Grubber rushed him, cuffing him across the forehead with his mallet. As Shay’s vision exploded into stars, Dwilt and Hawk were on him, punching him repeatedly until he lapsed into unconsciousness. Once he was out, Grubber pulled a potion flask from his pouch, an elixir that would remove the magical fear effect, which he had purchased after their last encounter with Kyuss Spawn. Opening Shay’s mouth, he forced it down the rogue’s throat.
“What were those…thing?” Giovanni asked as Grubber tended Shay’s external bruises (his bruised ego would have to heal on its own).
“Those were Kyuss Spawn,” Hawk said, as he looked into the coffins, making sure they held no other nasty surprises. “The same things we met in the lower level of Cromm’s Hold.”
Giovanni shuddered. “I know how you described them, but…”
“Yeah, kind of makes you want to bring your lunch up,” Vladius offered. “Don’t worry about it kid. They die just fine.”
Just then, Hawk came to a halt in his search around the chamber. He stood in an archway leading east. After about fifteen feet, it branched north, but twenty feet beyond that it ended at a door. It was there that Hawk was looking. “We’ve got trouble,” he said.
“What?” Dwilt replied, stepping beside him. “Do you detect something?”
Hawk nodded. “Behind that door…nine of them. Three are more powerful than the others.” Dwilt knew exactly what he was talking about. The paladin was sensing evil. Not only could he detect its presence, but he could also discern how many creatures were present, and how strongly evil they were. The most powerful radiations tended to come from undead, priests, and outsiders, beings from other planes.
“Form up team,” Dwilt commanded. Without hesitation, the group organized themselves with Grim in front, followed by Dwilt, then Hawk, Grubber, Shay, Storm, Vladius and Giovanni. They moved carefully down the hall, towards the door.
Grim glanced over his shoulder at Dwilt. When the civilar nodded, the burly dwarf raised one hobnailed boot and kicked in the door. The air that rushed out of the large chamber beyond was particularly noisome. The northern wall of the room was almost completely covered by the remains of a wooden bookshelf whose contents had long ago crumbled to dust. The southern portion of the chamber was occupied by dusty pieces of ancient, ruined machinery that may once have comprised sets of semi-automated combat dummies. A set of double-doors stood closed in the room’s north wall. Standing about the large room, all facing the door which Grim had just smashed, were six more spawn. Among them, however, were three other creatures that looked like gaunt, nearly skeletal corpses, their rib cages filled with horrid, writhing viscera. Their tongues, which protruded obscenely from their mouths, were long, cartilaginous and clawed!
“Mohrgs!” Grubber shouted as he glimpsed the horrific-looking undead.
“I don’t care what they are,” Vladius replied, “as long as they’re not fire proof. Incoming!” Reflexively, Grim crouched low behind his tower shield as a massive explosion ripped through the chamber. Even so-protected, the flames from the powerful fireball still scorched even his thick hide. Peering over the top of his shield, he saw that their opponents were far worse off than he. Five of the spawn had been consumed by the blast, and the one remaining looked like a burned out torch. The mohrgs, though clearly damaged, still looked more than capable of putting up a fight. All three of the creatures rushed Grim, but since he had essentially created a bottle-neck in the doorway, they couldn’t all reach him at once. Nevertheless, one of them managed to rake its filthy, snake-like tongue across his face. For a split-second, felt every muscle in his body seize up, but just as quickly the sensation passed.
“Beware their tongues!” Grubber called from further down the hallway, “They can paralyze you!”
“Thanks for the warning,” Grim muttered.
From her position in the middle of the party, Storm could just make out the mohrg facing Grim. “Duck!” she shouted to Shay, Dwilt and Hawk, who obliged without question. From her palm came a scorching ray of pure flame, which passed harmlessly over Grim’s head and struck the walking corpse full in the chest. As it recoiled, Dwilt snaked his chain between Grim’s legs, coiling around one ankle of the mohrg, and jerked. With a guttural cry, the monstrosity fell to the ground at Grim’s feet. Grim didn’t waste the opportunity, and hammered his axe into the mohrg’s animate viscera.
Hawk was frustrated. Though Grim’s position effectively protected the rest of the group, it prevented him from entering the melee. He tried to peer over the heads of those in front of him to see if any new enemies had entered the room. It was then that he noticed the last spawn. It had shambled over to the far doors, and opened one of them.
“Havok!” Hawk shouted, “Get me in there…now!” He then turned and shouldered his way past Grubber, Shay and Storm. He couldn’t see the warlock, as he had rendered himself invisible once more, but he felt Giovanni’s hand seize his, and the next thing he knew he was standing right beside the Kyuss Spawn.
Vladius cursed. Now that Hawk and Giovanni were in the room, he couldn’t hurl his more destructive spells. Well, he could, but that might result in hurt feelings, and all sorts of whining, so instead, he drew a slender wand from his robe and with a word, sent a burst of missiles of energy down the hall. Amazingly, the bolts deftly dodged and weaved around everyone in front of him, and struck unerringly the mohrg he had aimed at. At that moment, the mohrg had been trying to stand, but Dwilt flicked his chain again, sending it sprawling back to the floor, at which time Grim followed up with a second chop, cracking several of its rotting ribs in the process.
The other two mohrg’s, however, had not failed to notice Hawk’s sudden appearance behind them. Rotting sinew creaked as they turned their heads to regard the civilar, and then as one, they charged. Hawk turned, shield raised just as the horrid tongues of the creatures struck like snakes. Showing surprising intelligence, the mohrgs moved to flank the paladin, stepping between him and the spawn. As Hawk watched, unable to intervene, the thing shambled into a darkened hallway beyond the door.
Bozal Zahol stood before the altar, deep in meditation over the large scroll unfurled atop it, its writing bathed in a sickly green light. It was almost time. Soon the Apostle would awaken, and the ritual would be complete. Even now, he could feel the ulgurstasta stirring, its mind reaching out to him, giving him just the barest hint of the unfathomable dark secrets it harbored.
Suddenly, he heard a muffled explosion from the training hall. With a curse, he withdrew his attention from the scroll and the Apostle. He had been expecting this. Those so-called adventurers had finally arrived. He had warned Brokengulf that they would be trouble, but the old fool had been certain that Ilserv and his doppelgangers could handle them. Bozal had not been so confident. Theldrick was no weakling, and yet this band of bumpkins from a backwater town had managed to defeat him as well as the other Triad leaders, not to mention the Ebon Aspect. No, these were not typical treasure hunters, and they had been making Brokengulf look like a fool by defeating team after team in the Games. So now they were on his doorstep. Well, he had not come this far, brought the faithful of Kyuss so close to the Age of Worms, just to be thwarted on the eve of his apotheosis. Even before his spawn minion burst in to needlessly warn him of intruders, he began uttering his prayers.
Hawk pivoted and whirled like a dervish, trying to outmaneuver the mohrgs. He slashed at the leg of one, cutting through several layers of decaying muscle. Suddenly, he saw Havok appear out of thin air as his invisibility spell ended with the blast that erupted out of his hand and down the hall where the spawn had vanished. In a brilliant flash of light, Giovanni saw the spawn illuminated for the briefest of instants, standing in an open doorway, before his eldritch blast obliterated it entirely.
The mohrg before Grim struggled to its feet one last time before a second missile volley from Vladius caused its skeletal head to explode. Dwilt and Grim wasted no time rushing past the still falling corpse and closing to aid Hawk. Both warriors struck simultaneously, Grim’s axe and Dwilt’s chain each knocking the legs out from under a mohrg, and sending them both to the ground. Hawk stabbed his sword through the sternum of the nearest one, and it began to crumble to dust as it died a second time. He then bashed the last mohrg with his shield as it began to rise, and followed up with a thrust from his blade through its chin and straight up into its rotten brain. Before it could recover, Dwilt slashed three quick strokes, each one shattering an exposed vertebra, and it followed its brethren into eternal rest.
“Come on!” Grim shouted as he started down the hall in the direction the spawn had gone. “It’s bringing others!” As he skidded to a halt at the open door at the end of the hall, his eyes went wide at what he beheld on the other side. Two braziers in the northeast and southeast corners lit the rectangular room. A simple altar of stone sat in the middle of the east wall, facing a large set of stone double doors to the west. On the altar was a scroll, which glowed with an unnatural green light. A writhing green beam of light emanated from the scroll to strike the doors, bathing them in the same green glow. Standing in front of the altar was what at first appeared to be a middle-aged man with a flaccid and misshapen figure. However, his goat-like hooves, large leathery wings, and vestigial horns labeled him as something else entirely. He wore chain mail armor and carried a wooden shield. At his side was slung a gleaming, wooden club.
Grim never hesitated. Roaring a challenge, he rushed into the chamber, but as soon as he did, he noticed the total absence of sound. He couldn’t even hear his own voice as he shouted. Nevertheless, he let his momentum carry him forward, raising his axe to cleave into the demonic figure. However, when he was still a dozen feet away, he ran up against what seemed to be a solid barrier, though one he could not see.
Grubber approached the door next and saw Grim’s dilemma. Something about the situation struck him as familiar. And then he had it. The fiendish looking man was a priest, and he had raised a powerful abjuration about himself…an anti-life shell! It would hedge out any mortal creature, preventing it from touching his person…unless Grubber could do something about it. The goliath noted that he could not hear Grim’s shouting, though the dwarf was clearly doing so. If he stepped into the chamber, he would not be able to form the words for his prayer, so he began his incantation outside the room, conjuring a dispelling field around the evil priest, hoping to bring down the anti-life shell, and whatever other defensive spells he may have in effect.
Before Grim could register the fact that the barrier had vanished, Hawk rushed past him, but as the paladin drew near Bozal, the priest uttered words unheard by no one but himself, bathing his hand in black light. He reached out gently, right for the paladin’s heart. With a silent cry of dismay, Hawk leaped back, batting the fiend’s hand aside with his shield, and then burying his sword to the hilt in the priest’s chest, unleashing a surge of holy energy as he did so. As Bozal staggered back, blood spurting from his wound, Dwilt sprang to Hawk’s side, snapping his chain around the fiend’s leg, tripping him and mentally sending a stunning blast down the length of the weapon. As Bozal jittered and jerked on the floor, Grim stood over him, and then brought his axe down upon his neck.
ROUND THREE (OR HOW TO KILL A FROGHEMOTH IN THIRTY SECONDS OR LESS)
‘That must be it,’ Giovanni thought, for he could not speak aloud in the magically silenced room. ‘The Apostolic Scrolls.’ Carefully avoiding the writhing green beam, he walked around the back side of the altar, gazing at the scroll, but studiously avoiding reading any of the words. Who knew what even glancing at those powerfully evil verses might unleash? He could not, however, keep himself from summoning up his innate ability to detect magic. Instantly, a stabbing pain went through his head as the overwhelming aura of the scrolls bombarded him. Struggling to clear his mind, he tried to unravel the multiple auras that he sensed and focus on one at a time.
The first, and least powerful, dweomer that he noted was an unhallowing effect that permeated the chamber. It must be the source of the silence in the room. Probably placed by the priest they had just slain. Next, the green energy field that surrounded the scroll was some sort of temporal stasis. While it lasted, the scroll could not be touched or tampered with in any way. Most likely a defense mechanism of the item itself to allow the ritual to be completed without interference. Finally, the scroll itself radiated a supremely powerful aura of necromancy and evil.
Stepping out of the room, he motioned his team mates to him and told them of his observations.
“It’s certainly beyond my ability to deal with,” Vladius said. “And I doubt a simple dispelling field will affect it.” He looked meaningfully at Grubber.
“What if we destroy the altar itself?” Giovanni asked. “Would the scroll fall and disrupt the effect?”
Vladius shrugged and Grubber shook his head doubtfully.
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” Giovanni said, and then he stepped to the doorway, pointed one finger towards the altar and proceeded to send blast after blast of eldritch energy into it. Piece by piece he blew the stone block apart, until nothing was left but rubble. Floating above the rubble, the scroll was untouched.
“We’d best move on,” Dwilt said. “Perhaps we’ll find something that will give us a clue to deactivate this thing.” Nodding their agreement, the group formed up once more. The most obvious place to start seemed to be the doors through which the green beam passed. They had witnessed the fiendish priest walk through the beam without ill effect, but that didn’t mean just anyone could. Grim motioned the others behind him, and taking a deep breath, he stepped to the doors, reached through the beam and grasped the handles. Nothing happened. Letting his breath out, he pulled open the doors. Beyond was a twenty-five foot long, ten foot wide corridor. A large portal of stone, covered with the obscene depiction of an orgy of dead, worm-ridden corpses blocked the passage. In the middle of the macabre mass, a carving of the horrible skull of Kyuss uttered a silent scream of triumph.
The first thing the group noticed was that the silencing effect of the altar chamber did not extend to this hall. However, the green beam continued down the passage to strike the second set of doors, bathing them in emerald light. Cautiously, they approached the portals. Shay stepped in front of the others and carefully studied the entire surface of the doors, being equally careful not to touch them.
“If they’re trapped,” he said after a moment, “I can’t see the mechanism.”
“The same magic field persists here as in the other room,” Giovanni observed.
“Well, it didn’t harm us the first time,” Dwilt shrugged. He reached for the doors, only this time, his hand encountered a spongy, invisible barrier inches away from the handles. Instantly, a blast of black energy surged up his arm and through his entire body. He staggered back, clutching his cold, numb hand. He glared coldly at Shay.
“Hey,” the rogue said, holding up his hands, “I said I couldn’t see it. That didn’t mean it wasn’t there.”
“Well, we obviously aren’t going any further this way,” Dwilt said, still cradling his injured arm. “Let’s try the other door.”
They returned to the altar chamber, and crossed to the single door on the far side. On the other side was a short passage ending at a second door, and beyond this they found what appeared to be a bed chamber. A central pillar of green marble carved in the likeness of a segmented worm supported the ceiling. The room was dimly lit by a single incense burner that shed a sweet, fruity aroma. The chamber was lined with woolen tapestries depicting coiling green worms, and contained a bed, an armchair, and a cupboard. Near the bed were a small nightstand and an ornate, elongated trunk.
Before any one entered the room, Giovanni stepped to the fore, and opened his senses again for the presence of magic. Immediately, his attention was drawn to the trunk. Magic radiated from it and from within it.
“Shay,” he called over his shoulder. “Got another job for you.”
“Make sure you get it right this time,” Vladius jeered, after which he found himself on the receiving end of a particularly obscene gesture which could get a person dismembered in Calimport.
Shay crouched before the trunk. It appeared to be made of darkwood and bound with steel. A steel plaque representing a screaming skull infested by worms was nailed to the lid. The side panels were painted in tones of black and green with a cycle of apocalyptic images running around it like a frieze. The images were divided into two horizontal strips, underground and aboveground, by a cutaway of the earth’s crust. Underground, the horrible figure of a man made of worms lay imprisoned in a huge, stone monolith. The figure had been represented in perspective on each of the trunk’s four sides. Huge, green worms writhed in the surrounding caverns’ crust to invade the aboveground part of the paintings, where a sickly, green light illuminated a blasted landscape. There, the writhing worms towered over a population of monstrous undead and naked, terrified victims.
“Charming,” Shay muttered. He examined the entire trunk with a skilled eye, and there, just around the locking mechanism, he saw it…the faintest of glimmers, that to a trained professional such as himself, indicated the presence of a magical trap.
“Definitely,” he said to the others.
“Well, we’ve got the key ring that we took off goat-boy back there,” Grim said, twirling the ring around on one finger. “You’d think he’d have a way to bypass his own trap.”
“Be my guest,” Shay said, backing away to a safe distance. Grim scowled and strode purposefully up to the trunk, where he knelt and inserted what he hoped was the correct key. Turning it, he heard a satisfying click. “Hah!” he shouted, and lifted the lid. At that moment, he felt a searing pain in his hand where it touched the lid, and then he cried out as he jerked his hand back. Something beneath his skin was…writhing. Suddenly, a sickly, green worm burst from the back of his hand and dropped wetly to the floor where it hissed and bubbled into a noisome pool of goo.
“At least you got it open,” Shay shrugged, not quite meeting the withering stare of the mineral warrior.
The trunk contained several wondrous magical items, as well as gold and gems, but nothing pertaining to the scroll. A thorough search of the room likewise turned up nothing helpful. A single door led west from the room.
Thrakerzog brooded within the large urn that served him as a resting place. He had heard the tell-tale sounds of combat several minutes ago, coming from the direction of the shrine. Bozal Zahol was probably under attack, and in need of his assistance, but he would be damned if he was going to trouble himself to assist the half-breed (technically, being a demon, Thrakerzog was damned anyway, but that was beside the point). The priest had summoned him in order to strike a bargain, but in hindsight, the demon felt that he had gotten the short end of the deal. Bozal had asked him to ‘domesticate’ the oozes that dwelled in the sewers, and to guard the shrine as a whole. Well, strictly speaking, Bozal’s exact words had been, “stand guard in this room,” and it was in this room that Thrakerzog intended to remain. As he chuckled silently to himself though, imagining Bozal’s current predicament, he heard the door on the other side of the curtain open, and saw a distinctly dwarf-like shape peering around the corner.
Peering into the room, Grim beheld a bare chamber lit by a brazier in the northwest corner. A green and black checkered curtain hung from a steel bar fixed near the ceiling, concealing the southern part of the room. Cautiously, Grim pulled back one edge of the curtain…and abruptly wished he had not. A six-foot tall black earthenware urn stood near the middle of the south wall. The south wall itself was completely filled with a mosaic of tiny green tiles depicting the horrible skull of Kyuss. Suddenly, from out of the urn emerged a shivering, shapeless blob of phosphorescent green corruption surrounded by a cracked, leathery coating which constantly oozed, secreted, hardened, and split open again. Dark, swollen eye globules dotted the surface of the thing. As Grim recoiled in disgust, a blast of frigidly cold air erupted from the mass, blistering both his stony hide, and Hawk, who stood directly behind him in the corridor outside the room.
Reacting with the experience of years of military training, Dwilt and Hawk surged into the room without even knowing what it was they faced. No sooner had they crossed the threshold, than another wave of cold emanated from the thing in the urn, only this time it began to solidify into a wall of ice which would trap them on one side, and the rest of the team on the other. However, as the ice wall began rising towards the ceiling, Grim shoved the head of his axe directly across its sagital plane, causing the entire structure to collapse into a harmless pile of snow.
At that moment both Grubber and Giovanni entered the room, Grubber by charging directly in, and Giovanni by invisibly dimension-walking. Simultaneously, their eyes fell upon the visage of Kyuss on the wall behind the urn, and something within their minds snapped. An overwhelming sensation of hopelessness, panic, and impending doom swept over them. For a moment, Grubber stood wide-eyed and rooted to the spot. Not so Havok, who stepped between dimensions again, and was gone.
Thrakerzog was irritated that his attempt to split the intruders up didn’t work, but it didn’t really matter. Now the alkilith had four of them in his sights, and he unleashed a second arctic blast directly at them.
Grim was in trouble. He had now taken two direct hits from the creature’s magic, and he knew he would not live through a third. He needed to regroup, perhaps have Grubber use his healing powers, but as he turned towards the priest, he saw the goliath fleeing at full speed back the way they had just come.
“Get out of there!” Vladius shouted from his position still within the bedchamber of the priest. He had witnessed his team getting mowed down by some spell-slinging being, and now Grubber was in full retreat. As Grim heeded his warning, Pyro slapped one hand on the mineral warrior's shoulder, uttering an arcane word as he did so. Instantly, a troll stood where Grim had just been. The transformation process immediately healed some of the dwarf’s injuries, and, the wizard hoped, fortified him enough to go back into battle.
Dwilt and Hawk also took Pyro’s advice and retreated towards the bedchamber, knowing that the wizard was about to launch one of his signature fireballs. Before he had a chance, however, the oozing mass appeared in the hallway behind the paladins, moving amazingly fast for something so ungainly. A third conical blast of cold roared down the corridor, enveloping Grim, Hawk, Vladius and Storm. Dwilt dove around a corner at the last second, avoiding the brunt of the blast. As the cloud of ice cleared, Storm collapsed to the floor. Whether she was alive or dead, Dwilt couldn’t tell.
Shay had also avoided the frigid blast, and now he stepped to the open doorway, and launched a volley of arrows at the advancing blob. One by one, the arrows bounced harmlessly off the creature’s hide. “Oh crap,” the rogue whispered, and then leaped for cover as a tiny bead of flame went sailing over his head. The fireball exploded behind the demon, filling the corridor, but as the flames subsided, the creature looked only mildly scorched.
Hawk couldn’t tell whether Storm was alive either, but he had no intention of leaving her directly in the path of the monster. He ran to her side, and laid one hand on her forehead, channeling the healing energy granted him by Torm. He heaved a sigh of relief as he saw the sorceress draw a great gasping breath and open her eyes, but his elation turned to pain as a bolt of black energy struck him, chilling him all the way to his soul. “Run!” he shouted at the drow as he whirled to meet his attacker.
Storm didn’t need to be told twice. Hawk had snatched her from the jaws of death, but she was far from whole. One more blast like that would kill her. She bolted from the chamber, back towards the shrine, with Shay right on her heels.
“This is way out of my league,” the rogue said apologetically, but Storm understood completely. She was afraid it might be out of all of their leagues.
“Still alive, eh?” Vladius shouted defiantly at the still advancing demon. “Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough the first time!” Chanting again, he called a second flaming ball to his hand, and hurled it at the alkilith. In answer, the demon filled the bedchamber with a nauseating, greasy black miasma. As the cloud clung to their them, Grim and Dwilt felt their skin burn, but Hawk was seared to his core. Instinctively, he knew the effect to be one of pure unholy energy, which his celestial heritage made him uniquely susceptible to. In spite of himself, he screamed in agony. Dimly, he heard Dwilt and Grim shouting, and when he finally regained control of himself, he saw why. Vladius lay unmoving on the floor. With a sinking feeling, the civilar saw that the mage had assumed his normal form, his mephit shape gone. Such a thing would not have happened if he were merely unconscious. Pyro was dead.
With a cry of defiance, Hawk rose to his feet and charged the demon. “By Torm’s holy might, I smite thee!” he shouted. “Back to the pit, spawn of evil!” He drove his blade deep into the undulating mass, calling upon his god’s anger to channel holy power into the fiend. Thrakerzog wailed an inhuman cry as pain wracked his body. So blinding was the agony, that he could not concentrate to focus his magic. Instead he struck out blindly with four pseudopods, hammering at the paladin with rage. Hawk felt the blows connect solidly, but here his ancestry served him well. His thick skin barely registered the concussive impacts, and the acid which the beast secreted was like water to his celestial hide.
“It’s a demon,” Dwilt wheezed to Grim as they watched Hawk make his stand. “Only holy power can truly affect it. Hold out your blade!” Grim obliged, though he had no idea what the civilar had in mind. Dwilt drew a vial of oil from his belt, and poured the liquid directly on Grim’s axe. There was a brief flash, and then the axe began to glow with a pure white light. “Now,” Dwilt told the troll/dwarf, “it’s payback time.”
Thrakerzog knew he could not fight this aasimar hand-to-hand, and he recognized the holy nature of the blade the troll approaching him now wielded. He had to buy time. Once more he summoned the unholy blight, drowning the three warriors in its darkness. He felt a surge of satisfaction as he saw the chain-wielding human double over and begin heaving up his last meal.
Hawk knew he was done for. The second unholy surge burned even more than the first. He was being roasted alive from the inside out. If he didn’t use his healing power to tend himself, he would not live to continue the fight. He staggered back as Grim approached. “Go my friend,” the troll/dwarf rumbled. “I’ll hold it here.” The mineral warrior didn’t wait to see if the civilar obeyed or not. He simply turned and stalked towards the alkilith, death walking. The blob began to slither away from him, but not quickly enough. With an inarticulate cry, Grim raised his axe, and buried it to the haft in the sickening green goo.
Thrakerzog screamed again. Curse Bozal Zahol for abandoning him! If the priest still lived, the demon fully intended on altering their agreement. For now, he called upon his innate magic once more and teleported himself away from the troll, reappearing unseen in the concealed corridor beyond his room which led to the lair of Bozal’s human ally. There, he allowed himself a moment’s respite, and then smiled evilly. Closing his eye globules in concentration, he willed his body to change shape. Slowly, his viscous form turned to gas.
Hawk saw the demon vanish, but his knowledge of magic was limited. It may have fled, but it may just as easily be lurking invisibly in the corridor, preparing to attack again. Quickly, he lifted Vladius’ cooling body, and carried him from the room. Behind him, Dwilt struggled to regain control of his bodily functions while Grim scanned the hallway cautiously, looking for any sign of their enemy.
What Grim saw was a thick, noxious, yellow-green cloud begin seeping into the room containing the urn from under the north wall. Slowly, the cloud expanded and began moving towards him. He began backing up, but soon the vapor had filled the corridor and half of the bedchamber. He began gasping and choking as it filled his lungs, and Dwilt was no better off than he. He felt his strength begin to ebb and he knew that if he stayed in the cloud much longer, he would soon be incapable of moving at all. Rushing to Dwilt’s side, he draped the civilar’s arm around his shoulder and the pair limped from the chamber, rejoining their remaining team mates in the silent shrine. Storm and Shay were already on the other side, and Hawk motioned Grim and Dwilt to come too. Behind them, the cloud began flowing out of Bozal’s chambers and towards the shrine.
The team reached the training room, and still the cloud pursued them. “We can’t stay!” Hawk shouted. “We have to make for the upper levels!” Together, they ran from the room, back through the coffin storage chamber, and up the stairs to the wine cellar, closing the secret doors behind them.
Grubber and Giovanni did not stop running until they had returned to the coenoby and their quarters. Even then, they spent several moments cowering in a corner. When the terror finally loosened its grip from their hearts, they said nothing to one another, merely looking shame-facedly at their feet. Though obviously ensorcelled, and forced to flee against their wills, the fact remained that they had abandoned their friends.
“Let’s go,” Giovanni said finally, and Grubber simply nodded.
They began making their way back to the upper ring as quickly as possible, but by the time they arrived at the cell block, they saw their team mates approaching. Grubber immediately noticed that several of them looked badly injured, and Vladius... ‘Oh no!’ the goliath thought as he rushed to take the wizard from Hawk’s arms. He realized immediately that Pyro was dead. He bowed his head as he listened to Dwilt tell the tale of what had transpired. Storm sniffled quietly in the background. At last Grubber raised his head when Dwilt had finished. “I can’t believe I’m actually saying this,” he began, “especially in light of the constant, nasty jibes I’ve had to tolerate from the arrogant, little bastard, but Grumbar help me, I think I can bring him back.” The others stared at him blankly.
“Are you serious?” Dwilt asked finally. “How? You said it was beyond you when Shay died.”
“I know,” the priest nodded, “and at the time it was, but all that we have seen and done has drawn me closer in my faith to Grumbar. He has granted me the power. Give me until tomorrow when I can perform my morning devotional, and you will see. For now, however, it seems we have a more pressing concern.”
The guards. That was what Grubber meant. There was still the matter of the four wardens they had locked in one of the cells. What was to be done with them? If simply left there, they would be discovered the next day and would readily identify their assailants, insuring at the very least the disqualification of Impotent Rage, if not their outright arrest.
Ultimately, Dwilt came up with a plan. When the wardens awoke in their cell, they were still bound and gagged. Standing over them were the leader of Impotent Rage, the one called Dwilt, and another of the warriors, Hawk. They seemed to be involved in some sort of disagreement.
“And I say they have to die,” Dwilt shouted, gesturing towards the wide-eyed wardens. “They’ve seen our faces, for one thing, and we know they are accomplices of Brokengulf. They have aided him in filling the catacombs beneath the arena with undead, not to mention that demon we fought. If they were on trial by the magisters, they would be found guilty and executed.”
Hawk shook his head vehemently. “I think you’re wrong. These men are unwitting pawns. How could any decent person stand by and watch the evil that Brokengulf has summoned unleashed upon their own city and people? They should be released.”
“Released?” Dwilt said in disbelief. “Why? So they can run to Brokengulf first chance they get and warn him that we are on to him? So that he can push his plan forward to destroy Waterdeep?”
“They would be fools to go to him,” Hawk argued. “If he knew that they had any idea what he was up to, he would kill them just to silence them and leave no loose ends.” Dwilt seemed to consider this as he glared at the bound men, who by now were sweating profusely. One, it seemed, had even soiled himself.
“Well?” Dwilt snarled, ripping the gag from one man’s mouth. “What’s it to be? Do we strangle you right here and now, and dump your bodies in the cistern below, or do we cut you loose on your word that you will leave Waterdeep and tell no one what you have seen or heard?”
The man’s mouth worked in silence for a moment, before he finally managed to stammer, “We…we…I mean to say…yes! Anything you say! We swear it! No one will hear a word from our lips!” Dwilt appeared to debate a moment longer, then he spat and turned away, motioning to Shay.
“Cut them loose.” The rogue kneeled behind each of the men, cutting their bonds, but whispering to them as he did so, “I have friends among the Shadow Thieves. Believe me on your life that if you break your vow, you will not live to see the sun rise.” The men staggered quickly to their feet and rushed en masse for the door, then bolted down the hall.
“Do you think they’ll talk?” Hawk asked.
“Maybe,” Dwilt said, “but not tonight, and probably not tomorrow. By the time they work up the nerve to cross us, this business will be concluded, one way or another.”
Morning found Grubber deep in prayer beside Vladius’ cold body. The others stood back, their attention riveted on the priest. Finally, the goliath finished his chant, and then crushed a large gem with his maul, sprinkling the dust over the wizard’s corpse. Suddenly, Vladius’ chest heaved, and his eyes flew open. He scrabbled to grab the front of Grubber’s tunic. “You lying son-of-a-harpy!” he screamed. “You said you were guiding me to Celestia, where forty vestal virgins awaited my personal attention!”
Grubber shrugged, “I figured you wouldn’t come back if I just told you we needed you for the next match. Welcome home!”
When the team emerged from their quarters, they saw Auric and Khellek striding angrily away from the posting board. The reigning champions scowled darkly at the group as he passed.
When they read the board themselves, they understood the reason for Auric’s ire. It seemed that his team was to face the Crazy Eight in the semi-final round, and Impotent Rage would be facing a creature known as Madtooth. Traditionally, the previous year’s champions would not fight another team in the third round, almost insuring their place in the finals. This was most unusual.
“What do you make of the night shift just up and vanishing?” a voice said from behind them. A pair of Wardens stood a short distance away. “Dunno,” one of them replied, “maybe they were afraid of what would happen to them for letting that prisoner get away. Maybe they figured they should skip town while they could.”
“Maybe,” the other shrugged. “Anyway, I wish it was them and not us having to deal with old Madtooth today. It’s been a royal pain in the arse trying to keep his cage so cold. I’ll be glad when this is over, and they send the brute back to the Spine. Frost salamanders! Hah! You can keep’em.” The men then seemed to take notice of the party’s attention on them, and they lowered their voices and moved away.
“Interesting conversation,” Giovanni said to no one in particular.
“Awfully convenient for us to ‘overhear’ that,” Vladius sneered.
“Very,” Dwilt agreed. “I think Brokengulf’s up to his old tricks again.”
“Yeah,” Vladius said, “for all we know Madtooth’s a red dragon.”
Later that morning, Auric and Khellek returned victorious from their match, but they didn’t seem very pleased with their victory. Their glares spoke volumes about their feelings concerning Impotent Rage’s placement in the semis.
“Impotent Rage!” the warden called, and the team followed him upstairs to the lift. As the platform rose, Vladius assumed his standard mephit form while Dwilt quaffed a potion, enlarging himself to twice his normal size, and Shay and Havok both rendered themselves invisible. Upon reaching the arena, the air seemed electric with expectation. “Ladies and Gentlemen!” Talabir called out. “Once again it is my privilege to introduce the terrors of Daggerford…Impotent Rage!” The crowd roared their approval, stamping their feet and applauding. The floor of the arena, however, was otherwise empty. There was no sign of Madtooth.
“I beg your apologies, my lords and ladies,” Talabir shouted from the podium. “It would appear that our beast-wranglers are having a bit of trouble with Madtooth, but rest assured, he is on his way.”
Minutes ticked by and the crowd became increasingly restless. Vladius cursed as several of his preparatory defensive spells expired. Finally, just as it seemed the audience might be on the verge of riot, the eastern gates to the arena opened, and a team of a dozen soldiers dragging a massive iron cube on an oversized chariot entered. The sides of the cage bore the word ‘Madtooth’ in bright, red letters clenched in the massive jaws of some huge monster. Brackish water sloshed and leaked from under the cage.
“I told you,” muttered Pyro.
The wagon’s progress was slow as the guards dragged the massive cage to the center of the arena. The spectacle seemed to drive the crowd wild, and in moments they began chanting, “MADTOOTH! MADTOOTH! MADTOOTH!” The guards stopped some fifty feet away from Impotent Rage, each one taking hold of different ropes attached to strategic pins and clasps in the cage’s sides. Each guard then retreated to a distance of perhaps one-hundred feet, each holding a rope in his hands.
The crowd became momentarily silent again as Talabir spoke, “And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Watch in fear as these brave gladiators pit their skills against the eternal hunger of the worst the jungles of Chult have to offer! I give you…MADTOOTH THE HUNGRY!” With this final cry, the guards each tugged on their ropes, and the walls of the cage unfolded and fell away.
The monster was huge, and bizarre. Vaguely frog-like in shape, it had four writhing tentacles in place of front legs. Its head was mostly mouth, and its mouth mostly teeth. A retractable stalk protruded from the front of its head, at the end of which stared three bulbous eyes. The massive thing was dark green save for its belly, which was pale. A powerful tongue tipped with barbs lolled wetly from its mouth.
“That sure as Hell isn’t any frost salamander I’ve ever heard of,” Vladius muttered.
“Doesn’t matter,” he heard Havok say from somewhere nearby. “I’m betting it will still fry nicely, and I’m sort of partial to frog’s legs.” With that, a massive blast of eldritch energy erupted from right beside the wizard, as the warlock suddenly appeared in the aftermath of his attack. The bolt struck Madtooth a direct hit in the chest, but the beast didn’t slow. One giant hop brought it within ten feet of the group…and that’s where it stopped. Dwilt’s chain lashed out, slashing the froghemoth across the face, and a surge of stunning energy jolted down the weapon and into the creature. Instantly, it froze, immobile.
“He’s all yours gents…and lady,” Dwilt said, bowing to Storm.
Just like that, in a flurry of fire, lightning and flashing steel, the battle was over. Madtooth the hungry would never return to Chult. The crowd was stunned, but it wasn’t long before the familiar chant of “IMPOTENT RAGE!” began to shake the stadium. As Talabir Welik struggled to make himself heard over the tumult, the members of the League turned their eyes as one to the box of Prendergast Brokengulf. For several seconds, shock and discomfort were plainly visible on his face.
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