War of the Burning Sky The Gate Pass Irregulars: A War of the Burning Sky Campaign




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  1. #1
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    ø Ignore Cafu

    The Gate Pass Irregulars: A War of the Burning Sky Campaign

    Hello: This is my first post.

    Although I have known about this site for some time, I hadn’t begun to look at it in any kind of depth until quite recently when we began a War of the Burning Sky campaign. This in turn led me to this forum, which is an amazing resource. The sheer amount of hours spent by the various authors recording the exploits of their groups is astounding; as are some of the figures. Hundreds of thousands of views for some of these threads? And some of them go back years and are still going strong! I wouldn’t even want to begin to calculate the collective gaming experience on this board.

    Anyway, as I mentioned, our group has just begun a WotBS game and as usual, we have also been keeping a journal of our progress through it so far. It has been great fun. Since this is such a receptive audience, I thought I would join in.

    A few details about the group, PCs and game:

    System is 3.5

    Three players and one GM. Six PCs, with each player controlling two. PCs are:

    Felix Terpin Human cleric
    Longhelim the Farmer Human Paladin
    Slippery John Human Rogue
    Salubrious Drudge Human Ranger specialized in archery
    Victor Trask Human Fighter
    Faden Tarabond Dwarven Wizard

    We play mostly tabletop although we have recently begun to experiment with Fantasy Grounds and bar the learning curve which inevitably slows things down a little, it is going very well.

    Inevitably, these accounts will contain lots of spoilers so if you are planning to play in the WotBS please do not read any further.

    The account of the first session is in the next post.

  2. #2
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    ø Ignore Cafu
    It was New Year’s Eve; dark, quiet with snow falling out of the sky. As I scurried on the walkways between the buildings of the Free City of Gate Pass, high above street level, I looked around me, and forced myself to walk slower and with more care on the slippery snow. It would not do for me to fall off at this moment especially as I wasn’t used to being out after dark, particularly in this part of the city; but these were extraordinary days and extreme circumstances. Shortly, the Ragesians would arrive at the city gates and the Scourge, as Master Gabal called it, would begin. All spell casters disloyal to the Empire of Ragesia would be turned over to the Inquisition. According to Gabal, that was all of them; I agreed but many of the common folk did not understand why there was such a fuss over a group of spell casters. Surely, the Ragesians would arrive, investigate, find the guilty and then leave. After all, they were only searching for the murderer of their Emperor, Drakus Coaltongue.

    Of course, the general population were not spell casters so they were more than happy to sacrifice a few individuals to preserve the status quo. However, anyone who had an ounce of intelligence realised that there was far more to this than an investigation by the Inquisition; and anyone who actually believed that an investigation was all that would happen was in for a rude shock. The Ragesians had viewed the independence of Gate Pass as a strategic thorn in their side for decades and this was the perfect opportunity and excuse to remedy this situation. Yet still there were people who were happy to stick their head in the sand.

    Thankfully, the city guard had come to an understanding with Master Gabal’s School. It was something like “do not go around casting overt magic and you will not force us to try to arrest you. You can shout and denounce as much as you like though.” Master Gabal, the famous magician, was one of the people who realised that no matter what the situation was now, it would be infinitely worse once the Ragesians arrived. This was why he had made preparations. Many of his students would disappear into the depths of the city; others would leave to rally support elsewhere. I hoped my friends Ophelia, Drusilla and Morgayne would not be in any danger.

    The Master said that he had chosen me for a special task; something to do with the Resistance; I was not to tell anyone; I knew that if there was one group who were even angrier about the Ragesians coming to Gate Pass than my Master, it was the Resistance. It was what they dreaded the most, what they had feared and why they existed.

    As per his instructions, I was on my way to the Poison Apple pub; I made sure to ask for detailed instructions as to its location. It must be closed as Master Gabal said there would be only one person there, a warrior priestess by the name of Torrent. She would tell me more but I was warned to purchase supplies and pack for a long trip.

    This would be my first journey outside Gate Pass. I was excited. I had already warned my family that they may not hear from me for some time. They understood and wished me the luck of the gods. They had their own plans to enact as the Ragesians approached. Dwarven merchants are nothing if not pragmatic.

    Reaching the building and descending down to street level, I was not very impressed. To put it bluntly, it was derelict, almost a ruin. Made out of wood and with two stories, it was plainly boarded up and showed no signs of habitation. I had been told to be there at midnight and I was almost late. I took one more instant to read a brief proclamation that this pub had been closed until further notice as the owner, one Treeant Finnar, had been taken into custody.

    In a dark alley, I hurried to the side door. The snow was beginning to accumulate there. I tried the door and opening it, slipped in. When the door opened, I could hear a soft murmur of conversation which stopped abruptly as I entered. The room was surprisingly cosy and quite warm. It had a bar, several tables and a set of stairs obviously leading to the upper floor. There were six other people already there, all humans. I glanced at them quickly, assessing. I was good at that: assessing people.

    The most striking person was a woman with a handsome face. It was a strong face and she had short white hair and piercing eyes, now fixed on me. Her apparel was almost as striking. She wore a breastplate decorated with odd swirls resembling water and painted blue. There was a vicious looking axe on her belt. I assumed that this was the lady warrior priest I had been told about, named Torrent.

    The other two impressive individuals were another priest and a warrior. The former was a tall man, with dark hair and a thin build. He looked serene in that way that priests do. He wore a holy symbol of Farlanghn around his neck. He was looking at me with an amused expression on his face and he obviously hadn’t shaved for a few days. He didn’t seem to be armed but he did have a stout stick next to his chair. The warrior was sitting, smoking a pipe. He was also quite at ease with the situation and he was obviously doing most of the talking to Torrent. He wore a sword and had short cropped hair in military style. He also displayed a holy symbol quite openly but I did not put him down as a priest, more a warrior in service to the Temple of Heironeous.

    Two other people sat around the table, although they seemed less voluble than the warrior and the priest. One had a bow stave next to his chair, as well as quiver of arrows. He was a weathered, thin man, so he obviously spent a great deal of time outdoors. He had a small knife and was carefully quartering an apple. He looked like a man who spent a great deal of time alone. He also had some sort of sword around his belt. Once it wasn’t a long sword, I had difficulty in knowing what it was. The other chap was much paler and in fact was one of those people who was perfectly ordinary, one to whom no one would give a second glance. Unusually, I could not distinguish any sort of weapons on him although there were many strange pouches and little sacks all over his apparel.

    Finally, there was another warrior who seemed to sit a little apart. Again a very ordinary face, with dark hair and dark eyes although he had very fair skin. His most salient feature was his strange sword, a large, wide bladed weapon, the like of which I had never seen before. He also had a very small shield strapped to his arm. I had seen that before although I had no idea what earthly use it could be.

    I also noticed that near the table around which everyone sat was a large mound of equipment consistent with a group that planned to leave the city and go into the snowy wilderness. This included large, warm blankets, small tents, warm clothing, back packs and other pieces of that type.

    The woman with the white hair smiled and said:

    “Hello, I am Torrent. You must be Faden, Faden Tarabond. Let me introduce you to the others. The Farlanghnian priest over there is Felix Terpin and the holy warrior is Longhelim the Farmer”.

    Both of these individuals nodded at me in a friendly manner.

    “The archer is Salubrious Drudge and the fellow next to him has always been known only as Slippery John. He…..slips into places quite easily. Finally, over there is Victor, Victor Trask, our contact in the Guard and a good soldier as well.

    Gentlemen, this is Faden Tarabond. As you can see from his distinctive red cloak he is a member of Gabal’s School and I am hoping that Gabal has been able to spare us one of his special students for this endeavour. Now, back to business.

    Now that we are all here at the appointed time, I will be brief. The Ragesian army is on its way. It will reach Gate Pass certainly by tomorrow, the day after at best. Once it is here, it will attack and most likely take the city. Most members of the Resistance have resigned themselves to this state of affairs and as we speak they are preparing for the invasion. However, we have also had an offer, a very interesting offer from the Lyceum, the mage academy of Seaquen. They will offer refuge for anyone who escapes from the Ragesians. It is imperative that the Resistance makes contact with the Lyceum and you have been chosen to make this happen.

    We also have something to offer the Lyceum. A gnome spy, Rivereye Badgerface has managed to obtain a set of military secrets from the Ragesian Empire and it is very important to get this information to the mages at Seaquen. I have arranged a meeting with Badgerface at the Depository, which as I am sure you know, is one of the most secure places in the city; there we will collect the documents and once in our possession, we will leave the city, travel through the Fire Forest of Innenotdar and make our way South to Seaquen. That is the mission.”

    I stared at Torrent for several moments. I didn’t know about the others but I thought that the plan was…..ambitious. Getting out of the city would be difficult; not impossible but certainly difficult with a Ragesian army about to besiege it. The Fire Forest was another matter entirely. I had never been there but legends about that place abounded. In short, it had been burning for decades. Obviously, the Fire was not natural. Little could be done about it as going into a burning forest was suicidal; and we were supposed to go through it. I hoped she had a plan for this.

    Longhelim took out the pipe from his mouth and puffed gently. There was something soothing about this and the tobacco smelled very aromatic.

    “What about the fire?”, he asked.

    Torrent replied quickly: “In my backpack, I have a collection of magical potions which will shield us against the heat”.

    Longhelim continued to puff away contentedly.

    Everyone looked at each other. I didn’t know any of these people but I could see the importance of the mission outlined to us.

    Longhelim took out his pipe and said: “I know someone who may be able to help getting us out of the city”.

    That was it. With that one sentence, he had accepted the mission. The others looked at each other and Victor volunteered that he had been part of the guard so he could provide information about the guard numbers on the gates, Felix said that he had been near the local farmsteads so he had at least been outside of the city, even if only for short distances. Neither Slippery John or Salubrious Drudge had said much up to this time.

    At this point, a small barrel of beer was lifted onto the table, mugs were produced, ale was poured and everyone began to discuss methods of getting out of the city; as we discussed our situation and almost agreed that a councilor by the name of Erdan Menash, an acquaintance of Longhelim’s, would be most likely to aid us in vacating the city, suddenly, I heard some faint thumps on the roof. Quickly, I raised my hand with a finger pointing to the roof, but saw that several of the others were looking upwards and hands were straying to weapons. Drudge had already strung his bow.

    As everyone was getting ready, there was a cry from outside: “Front door – go” and with a splintering crash, the front door was driven in by a pair of individuals wielding a battering ram. They were human, wearing scale mail and were wielding saps of all things. They also had armbands, red with a black horse head in their centre. Another call from outside demanded our surrender but the only one to reply was Torrent who politely refused. Victor had gone to the foot of the stairs. He had not forgotten the thumps on the roof. I had just left the field clear to my colleagues. In these cramped quarters, with opponents milling about, I would just get in the way. Torrent drew her axe and confronted the two individuals in the doorway; Felix was already there. Drudge was shooting his bow into them and one had an arrow stuck in his side. As predicted, there were thumps from the stairs and as a figure appeared, it received a blow from Victor which staggered it. He certainly seemed very handy with that strange sword of his; unfortunately, another figure bounced acrobatically and landed behind him. Suddenly, there was an almighty thump and the whole building shook, while flaming oil leaked through the newly created cracks in the ceiling. There was a scream from above as a burning figure tumbled uncontrollably down the stairs.

    Longhelim, seeing Victor facing two opponents with potentially several more up there, moved to help him. As he did so, though, flaming debris fell from the ceiling and everyone had to dodge this new hazard. Victor began to trade blows with his opponents and even though he was outnumbered, he was holding his own. Quickly, he dropped one of enemies but the other was proving a tougher nut to crack. He did prevail but not before suffering several debilitating blows with the sap and I could see that he could barely stand up as he leaned against the wall.

    The battle by the doorway was also almost won. Felix was fighting with his staff and Drudge had managed shoot more arrows into the two men, one of whom had finally fallen over. Even I darted in with my staff and managed to rap the last remaining opponent across his shins, much to his annoyance. Finally, seeing that he was the only one left, he shouted that he wanted to surrender. We vacillated at this and seeing that we stopped, this individual began to shout that he surrendered again and then began to tend to his comrades, most of whom were unconscious rather than dead.

    At this point, I darted outside, to check what the situation was there. I could see one other human in scale mail, this one holding a growling dog; but what caught my attention was a large figure on horseback. It was wearing some sort of armour although it was difficult to tell in the dark. The horse was huge and was standing perfectly still, obviously the product of training. The man just looked at us but then he shouted that we should be allowed to go.

    At that moment, there was a momentary gust of wind as a large shape could be seen in the sky. It had bat wings and a vaguely reptilian shape. I recognized it as a wyvern and could see that it had a rider. These were the famed Wyvern Knights, elite aerial troops used by the Ragesian Empire. The assault must have begun early!

    The others had shouldered their equipment and mine; barely looking at the rider, we disappeared into the night; I wondered who this strange figure was and what red armbands with black horse heads signified.

    However, I did not have a great deal of time to wonder about this. Somehow, we had obviously been compromised which meant that we did not have the luxury of sitting down and planning our course of action. We had to get to the Depository as quickly as we could and hope that whoever was behind this attack on us was not aware of Badgerface. However, doing that was easier said than done. The city was in complete chaos as it could be seen that an aerial battle was taking place between the Wyvern Knights and the Griffin Riders of Gate Pass. It was impossible to see the results of the battle in the darkness and the snow but people were running in panic and screaming.

    Nevertheless, we hurried through the various Districts of the city. The panic was widespread. People were milling around, scared, distressed and confused; here and there, families were trying to keep together and many of the buildings were on fire. Every so often, flying shapes were silhouetted against the night sky or a fiery building. On one occasion, I almost lost my bearings and seemed to lose my memory for a moment; then I came to and Victor quickly told us that even our group had completely panicked as a huge crimson shape with bat like wings had flown above our heads, producing a horrifying roar.

    We also had to stop to help a poor lady who was trapped in a burning building, high up on the fourth floor. Victor took one look and immediately commandeered a group of people to build a mound of soft, fluffy snow under the window; then he took out one of our blankets and then, with Felix, Longhelim and he holding it, managed to convince her to jump. They caught her on the blanket without any mishap and left her in the care of her family but then we had to carry on the Depository.

    We finally arrived there. It was an imposing tower, surrounded by a wall. The gatehouse looked very sturdy and was being manned by four guards. They obviously took their job very seriously as they were still there. They were also a very unusual mixture: two dwarves, an orc and a half orc. They obviously recognized Torrent as they allowed us through without any trouble and we arrived at a pair of large iron doors which led into the tower proper. There was another guard there and he warned us about the truly ugly gnome who was waiting inside.

    Encouraged, we heard a word being said and the doors were pushed open. Led by Torrent, we entered into a large room which was full of lockers, obviously storage for valuables, and several doors. As soon as we entered, Torrent looked around expectantly and we could hear someone approaching, wheezing loudly.

    Soon, we could discern a small shape. Torrent sighed in relief and waited. The figure stopped and said:

    “Peppin?”

    Torrent frowned and replied that Peppin was not with us. Then Rivereye asked: “What is the password”?

    At this point Torrent stiffened and said slowly: “There is no password”.

    Something in her tone of voice must have warned Rivereye as he swore and suddenly bolted out of a door, looking remarkably agile for an old, wheezing gnome.

    “After him,” shouted Torrent and we all ran after the figure. I wasn’t sure what was happening but obviously something wasn’t right. I ran through one of the doors which led to a balcony and a set of stairs going up, obviously to other floors. Although I was willing, dwarves are not built for speed and I was soon overtaken by the others. Victor then shouted that the gnome was climbing the wall by magic. The others were still running up the stairs, trying to get to the upper floors and intercept him. Victor also shouted that there was a ball of light up there, hovering near the gnome. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. What ball of light?

    Finally, I reached the upper floor. At this point, I was bent over, panting, my throat tasted of bile, my lungs were burning and I could barely move my legs. I was exhausted. Dwarven magicians were not very fit either. I leaned on the door frame and then heard more shouting. I could see that everyone with the exception of Drudge was in this room. More shouting and then everyone half-heartedly began running towards the stairs again, this time going down. Apparently, the gnome had jumped off the roof now. With horror, I thought I would have to run down again but before I reached the stairs Torrent called Victor and Slippery John back. She pointed out several unconscious figures hidden between some of the lockers. Curiously, we moved over there and saw that some of the figures were obviously guards and there was also a gnome, a very ugly gnome, in fact one that looked remarkably like our greeter. Someone was playing games here.

    John began to untie the guards and thankfully, we realised that they were alive with the exception of one unfortunate soul whose face was almost burnt off. Just as John was finishing the untying, the others returned. They said that the gnome, or whatever he was, had landed on the grounds safely by magic and then disappeared to an unknown location.

    Felix looked at the victims and quickly began to administer some first aid. He was able to revive most of the guards and the real Rivereye Badgerface. In the meantime, I received a good description of the “ball of light”, which was seen flying off towards the east. I was left scratching my head. The description matched exactly that of a lantern archon but that did not make any sense. These were good creatures, in fact they were renowned for being good; what on earth it was doing robbing treasure towers was beyond me. It must have been compelled for some reason. It was even odder that it was very likely that the one corpse that we had, the poor fellow with the burned face, was most likely a victim of the archon; they did have spell powers which matched his injury. It may or may not have been the guilty party but it was at least guilty by association.

    Drudge said that he could see the false gnome was conversing with the ball of light which was further proof that this was most likely an archon and sentient. Drudge then told me he had also shot it, but it had little effect.

    Rivereye Badgerface, in the meantime, was talking very fast to Torrent. He was loud and grateful. He proclaimed us all heroes and said that all the trouble began as a group of elves asked for access to the Depository and once inside, they proceeded to overpower everyone and tie them up. He did not know how the one guard died. He was made to hand over the box with the Ragesian military secrets. He was very helpful in describing the box: apparently roughly one foot by one foot and about half that in depth; it was made of a black metal possibly adamantite.

    At this point Torrent joined in and said she had become suspicious when she heard the false gnome utter the name Peppin. Peppin, an acquaintance, had been killed, slayer unknown. Rivereye finally piped up and gave us one precious piece of information, saying that he had overheard the archon talking to the false gnome and talking about a contact in Gabal’s School.

    I started; the School was almost deserted. Gabal had gone. His opposition to the Ragesians was well known and they would have loved to get their hands on him. The person left in charge was a man named Diogenes, one whom I did not know very well although I remember him being quite cynical. However, there was no help for it; we had to go to the School and investigate this group of elves. Their presence meant that the Shining Lands of Shahalesti had decided to play a hand in this game.

    Saying goodbye to Badgerface and the guards, we left the Depository, this time at a more civilized pace.

    As we retraced our steps towards the District containing Gabal’s School, we could see that the battle above the city still raged although the panic had abated slightly. Those who could take shelter had already done so. There were still people running around in a panic just not so many. As we raced back, suddenly a griffin and a wyvern swooped incredibly low, just above our heads. As the griffin twisted nimbly, we could see that the wyvern was in more trouble and it crashed on top of a nearby building. This was something we could not ignore and we changed direction towards the crash site. A little later, as we neared it, the first thing we saw was a series of corpses; they had been freshly slain, probably with an axe; three of them, a young couple and a child. This was someone very ruthless with little respect for life. Drudge was able to track him through an alley into a door. We opened the door and inside was a room which smelt of more death. Three more corpses were evident; another two adults and young girl. At the back of the room, we could see that a warrior in armour was holding a young boy with a dagger to his neck; with a sinking feeling I realised that the boy was already dead. This maniac was going to try to use him as a hostage to go free so he could continue to slaughter his way through the city. This could not be allowed. Sure enough, as soon as he saw us, he grated:

    “One more step and the kid dies!”

    We could see that he had been wounded. His side was soaked in blood. That had not deterred him from slaughtering his way into this building though. In a short space of time, he had managed to kill four adults and two children and was probably going to add another child in one moment. Thankfully, I could see that my new companions had managed to perceive this already and both Longhelim and Victor stepped towards him without hesitation, both ready for combat.

    The maniac slew the poor boy and charged us. At this point I was able to work a little spell I had been taught and suddenly the floor beneath his feet became incredibly slippery. He kept his balance briefly, but as he raised his weapon his feet slipped beneath him and he ended up on the floor. Up to that point, he had been a very skilled and dangerous opponent. His expertise was obviously much greater than that of either Longhelim and Victor but once he was on the floor, they were able to take advantage and cut his killing spree short, the final blow coming from Drudge. Briefly, I wondered what had possessed him to start slaughtering townspeople indiscriminately but it was too late. There was little we could do for the poor family so we just left the house with the corpse of the maniac.

    Stripping him of his possessions, Longhelim was now the owner of some shining new armour that was much better than his previous set. He also had a very nice axe.

    We resumed our trip to the School. As we approached, we could see a figure standing just outside the door, watching the chaos in front of him and smoking. I recognized Diogenes. Quickly I announced our presence and although he did not profess any friendliness at least he was not hostile. He looked at us curiously though and said:

    “I thought you would be out of the city by now Faden. What brings you back here?”

    I replied: “I was supposed to be out of the city but I was delayed. Diogenes, did anyone come in here recently or do you know anything about a ball of light which could possibly be a lantern archon?”.

    His attention sharpened. “There is a guest staying here; an elven magician called Sherliss. Specifically she was an evoker, the specialists in loud bang spells,” he said in a slightly contemptuous tone. “She has a lantern archon as a familiar”.

    He threw away his smoke and led us into the kitchen. Closing the door carefully, he told us that she was in her room right now, entertaining another guest who had arrived just before us. That sounded like our contact all right. Now the question was to somehow extract either the case or the information as to where the case was.

    We sat down and discussed our current options. Diogenes was sitting down with us and it was immediately clear that he had little time for Sherliss. He spoke quite contemptuously of her although he did warn us that she was a powerful magician and that we had to be sure of our course of action before we attempted anything against her. Even though he was dismissive about her “loud bang spells” he did reluctantly admit that she was very good at them and that we would have to be very careful otherwise her bang spells were more than enough to deal with our attack.

    After much planning and discussion, we decided to ambush. It would have to be done with very good timing as Sherliss’s familiar, the lantern archon, was just as formidable as she was. Diogenes, ever eager to discomfit this woman, volunteered to act as a decoy whilst we basically tackled and physically overpowered her. He also sold me two scrolls which would be used to subdue the archon,….we hoped.

    The set up was simple. There was an entrance foyer; a corridor led from there and on each side of this corridor there were numerous doors which led to various quarters. Sherliss and her companion were in one of these quarters. Diogenes would lure her out of the room with a challenge to a spell duel while we waited, hidden behind the corners, in the foyer. As added security, Slippery John would be lurking invisibly in the corridor just beyond the door, in case the companion tried to interfere.

    The plan was well thought out. We hid albeit not very expertly. We could hear Diogenes challenging Sherliss to a duel which she reluctantly accepted. I was left with the impression that she had no love for Diogenes either. There was obviously a deep running antipathy between these two individuals. As they approached, we tensed and at the appropriate moment, both Longhelim and Victor tackled her. Despite this, amazingly, she still managed to let loose several powerful spells, which ultimately resulted in poor Longhelim slumping unconscious on top of her; thankfully, Victor knocked her senseless. I used my two scrolls and took care of the archon. This took only a few moments although the whole episode was fairly hairy for a brief time.

    At this point, we began a shouted conversation with the individual in the room. Quickly, he told us that the case was not here, that he did not know where it was but that Sherliss did; and could we leave him alone now please because he didn’t know anything else. I tended to believe him. Somehow, Slippery John was quite commanding, even if he was doing it through a locked door. He even managed to convince the contact, another elf, to open the door.

    We managed to rouse Sherliss, who glared at us from behind her gag. I really hoped we would not meet her again. Smirking, Diogenes took out a wand and used it on her. He frowned; obviously it did not work so he used it again and again and again and again…….finally it worked. Suddenly, her demeanor changed and she was far more friendly; almost voluble in fact, especially to Diogenes. He had magically charmed her. This was so ironic. Elves prided themselves as being almost immune to charm. Considering their relationship, Diogenes must have been loving this and she would never live it down.

    Now that she liked Diogenes, we found out that the case was actually in a safe house in the elven section of the city. She was able to give us directions and even wished us luck in our quest. We had to go into her room again to see a map to find out the exact location of the house and on the map there was an annotation which read as follows: “Arborea before Elysium before Celestia”; this was obviously some sort of code.

    As we prepared to leave, we thanked Diogenes. He told us that the pleasure was all his and that he had not had such fun for a long time. He also grinned and said that it would be a long time before Sherliss lived this down; leaving her possessions behind for her was a particular stroke of genius as it meant that we had obviously had a higher purpose than common robbery. From his point of view the whole episode had been perfect as no one had lost any lives, we had achieved our aim and Sherliss had lost a great deal of dignity and would almost certainly have to do a lot of explaining to her Shahalesti superiors. The icing in the cake would be when we wrested the case from the elven safe house.

    Personally, I thought he was a little mad but I did not have the time worry about this or her. As I mentioned previously, I just hoped we never met her again.

    Swiftly, we travelled through the burning city to the elven section. This section of the city was peculiar as it was surrounded by walls with beautiful friezes of nature scenes and designs but no doors. The doors were there but they were hidden. If you were an elf, the hidden door should have been obvious and if you were not an elf then you had no business in the elven section. Thankfully, John managed to find the hidden door without too much trouble.

    Travelling into the section, we saw that unlike the rest of the city, there were no panicking residents on the streets; in fact the whole place was quiet and deserted although the houses were obviously inhabited. Rapidly, we approached the house we had found on the map. It was a two story brick building with a gated trellis and three statues which seemed to be guarding the entrance to the grounds. These were of a leonine, an eladrin and trumpet archon. This immediately rang a bell in my head and I related it to the “Arborea, Celestia and Elysium” note on the map. Once we identified and cross referenced the statues with their corresponding alignment planes, we were able to trigger the statues in the right order and slip into the grounds of the house. Once inside, there was a side alley leading to a door.

    The door was not locked and upon opening it, we could see that it led into a carpenter’s workshop; in fact it looked like a workshop that specialized in doors. There were various doors in specific stages of construction leaning against the walls and on work surfaces. However, we only briefly glanced at this as we could hear a snarling and growling from the interior and our lights revealed a trio of animals; badgers to be exact. These were larger than usual and were definitely acting as watch animals. They bared their teeth at us and made sure that we realised that they would attack if we trespassed. Looking more intently at these, I realised that they were somehow different, plane touched. They were certainly trained.

    As I took all this in, the warriors were already moving and Victor, having opened the door, went straight in. The badgers moved to try to block but did not attack. More light revealed a set of stairs in one corner going up into the second storey. Now, both Victor and Longhelim moved towards the stairs, and although they were both obviously stalked by the badgers, these did not attack. As Longhelim reached the bottom of the stairs, the door opened and two elven warriors stepped out. They were in chain mail, again with the strange little shields strapped onto their arms and short bows. Victor had told me that the little shields were called bucklers.

    The elf in the lead called out: “Leave now. There is nothing for you here.”

    I answered: “We seek the case. It is ours. Give it to us and we will leave”.

    “You will never get the case. You will leave now or face the consequences.”

    That summed up our position. There was no subterfuge or attempt at denial. Reluctantly we realised we would have to engage the warriors of the Shining Lands of Shahalesti….again; or more importantly, they engaged us as an arrow thunked into Longhelim. As we engaged the elven warriors, the badgers attacked.

    The combat was fast and furious. The elven warriors proved just as adept with their swords as they did with their bows and after an elaborate fencing match, Longhelim was overmatched and slumped to the ground, although he did leave his opponent badly hurt. The other warrior was sniping at us with his shortbow. He engaged in an archery duel with Salubrious Drudge which the latter lost. The warriors were clearly superior to us. The badgers bit us and slashed us with their claws; when hurt, they went into a total frenzy. Even I had to resort to trying to fend them off with my quarterstaff. Victor was able to strike at least two of them into unconsciousness and that is what turned the tide in our favour. Once they were out of the way, we were able to concentrate on the elven warriors and one of them had been badly hurt by Longhelim. Torrent then stepped in and was able to heal both Victor and Longhelim, who thankfully rejoined the fray. There was still one badger left at this point. Our respect for these creatures grew, as they desperately defended their masters to their last breath. Thankfully, although we had battered them badly, none of them were actually slain, just unconscious.

    At this point, I personally lost consciousness. I had been locked in my own struggle with one of the badgers until I finally succumbed. Fortunately, I regained my senses, seeing Torrent kneeling next to me; with a smile she remarked that it was a long time since she had seen a magician standing in physical combat with a ferocious creature such as a badger.

    I corrected her: “Please, it was a rabid badger! It makes all the difference”.

    She looked at me with a perfectly straight face and nodded.

    I was told that finally, the second warrior was felled by a dart thrown by Slippery John. He must have been so badly hurt from previous blows that it must have been the last straw. Both Victor and Longhelim had bled copiously and Felix had also joined the fray. The Farlanghian priest was completely out of spells so he waded in with his staff. Drudge still had several arrows stuck in him and was in the process of being healed by Torrent; he was quite upbeat though. He had overcome elven warriors. That was a great feat. Both Longhelim and Victor had stripped the two elven warriors of their arms and armour and Torrent had also examined them. She had looked after their wounds, making sure they did not bleed to death. That would not do. We also then did the same for the gallant badgers.

    Moving upstairs, we found another large room. This one contained our case, as described and a small coffer. John was able to open the coffer, finding a pile of platinum pieces inside. We took these as spoils of war and together with our case, we retired.

    Torrent then suggested that we retired to a safe house, a gathering place for the Resistance. We were not aware of where she was talking about but were more than happy to follow her lead. She took us to the Temple of the Knights of the Aquiline Cross. I had heard of this order. It was made up of questing knights who searched for the Aquiline Heart. It had been recently introduced by a holy knight called Entras. She had found an abandoned chapel in Shahalesti and had been inspired by religious fervor to find this Heart. This all stemmed back to a legend of the four great elemental spirits of the land, the watery Kraken, the terran Worm, the fiery Dragon and the Eagle of the air. The Dragon and the Eagle had fought with the Dragon being triumphant and hiding the Heart of the Eagle in a place where no one could find it, thus confirming his superiority amongst the elements and depriving the land of a governing spirit of air. I assumed this was the Quest of the Aquiline Heart, finding this missing Heart of the Eagle. The Knights also practiced a philosophy of equality, fairness, mercy, sacrifice and protection of life.

    This was where Torrent led us now.

    The Temple was overcrowded and we barely managed to find a small spot amongst a throng of people in the main hall. Everyone looked shocked but at least they were safe from burning debris and insane Ragesian warriors who slaughtered people mindlessly. As a relief, a woman was strumming a lute at the entrance, playing some somber dirge while everywhere there were signs of distress with wails, cries and sobbing being common. A few people wondered around mindlessly, calling out names and desperately looking for loved ones. It was all very distressing.

    Suddenly, as we were settling down, there was a commotion. Two youths, little more than boys, were harassing a young woman, who obviously had a lot of orc blood. The poor girl was obviously also a victim but due to her birthright, the boys decided that she was partly responsible. We decided that we had to nip that in the bud as it could lead to hysteria.

    So I stepped forward and confronted them. Immediately, I could see that their pupils were very large and their faces were a little blank. Something or someone was playing with their minds. Realising that they were being manipulated, I just told them to go away. I also told the young woman to come and join us. The youths became belligerent when they realised that I was not going to confront them physically and then Salubrious Drudge stepped in with his sword drawn and swung it at them, albeit not very seriously. This gave them pause and it gave me enough time to cast a spell which left them slumped on the ground, asleep. One other person had been caught in my spell but thankfully we were able to wake him up with an apology.

    Unfortunately, this interchange caused a little bit of distress amongst the other refugees although no one was hurt. They were just a little scared. Longhelim then approached us and told us that the woman strumming the lute may have had something to do with this commotion. He had sensed a capacity for evil from her and some musicians were known to be able to influence the weak minded through their music. I stared at this woman, wondering how she could do this at this time, bearing in mind the distress that it could cause. She just stared back, almost defiantly.

    At this time, another man came bustling out, calming everyone out and wanting to know what the commotion had been. Torrent obviously knew him and called out. He came over and was introduced as Buron Watcher, the main priest of this Temple. He looked disapprovingly at Drudge when informed about his mock fight with the two bullies but the latter was unconcerned. Then Watcher took us through the Temple into another room which contained a hidden passage. This took us down to a room which had been obviously outfitted to allow rest. It was quiet, with bedding and food.

    Finally, being able to relax, we looked at the case. We realised that it was magically locked and we had no capability of opening it at this time. However, we had obtained it and we were now in a position of resuming our mission to get this case to the Lyceum in Seaquen.
    Last edited by Cafu; Tuesday, 29th May, 2012 at 09:35 PM.

  3. #3
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    No one slept particularly well that night, least of all I. The attack on the city, the panic and distress of the people, the savagery of the Wyvern Knight, the attack of the strange group with red armbands all served to give me a restless night. I dozed fitfully, tossing and turning. Morning could not come quickly enough.

    As I rose, I saw that no one else looked particularly well rested so for a period of time there was silence as everyone performed their ablutions and prepared for the day by meditation and prayer or in my case, by losing myself in a book magic. Everyone else was lost in their thoughts, no doubt trying to grasp the true enormity of what had happened yesterday.

    Once ready, a meager breakfast was served. I observed the large groups of people in the church. Although they were dispossessed, in many ways they had been the lucky ones; at least they had found shelter from the bitter cold and safety during that dreadful night; and the priests had found a little food for them. I determined that when I had it, I would see if I could donate some funds to this Temple. They were doing good work.

    Over breakfast, we held a discussion about our next actions. Initially, there was an idea that we would make some additional purchases for our journey to the South; then we thought to send out a couple of individuals to make these purchases while others attempted to make contact with Erdan Menash, the council member who could potentially help us getting out of the city. However, these ideas were dismissed fairly swiftly as the urgency of our mission and our situation re-asserted itself. We decided to approach Councilman Menash as soon as possible. Considering the events of last night, there was no time to be lost.

    As we left the Temple, we were immediately assaulted by the smell of smoke. Although no buildings were burning any longer, there were still many traces of the fires of last night. At the entrance of the Temple, little knots of people gathered and talked in hushed voices. One or two had louder voices and we heard various snatches of conversations as we walked past:

    “……the Ragesians have called off the attack but we have to let the Inquisition into the city, or they will attack again…...”

    We were carrying all of our equipment so some people were giving us curious glances but nearly everyone was so busy speculating about the actions of the Council, the size of the Ragesian army, its location and as well as more trivial concerns such as what was going to happen to this year’s Festival of Dreams, that we managed to slip away unobtrusively.

    We made our way through the city without drawing any undue attention. As we walked by, we saw more small knots of people talking quietly, almost whispering in the morning air, as if afraid to draw attention to themselves. The conversations were much like those which we heard outside the Temple; here and there desperate parents were looking for lost children or family members were looking for each other. A few times we sent them to the Temple as that seemed to be one of the greater concentration of people of whom we were aware. We also walked by many buildings that had suffered from fire and in a few cases, we could see disconsolate figures either rummaging through burnt out shells or just looking at the work of a lifetime which had been burnt down in one night.

    It was very, very quiet.

    A little time later, we reached the wealthy noble district. This part of the city was dominated by a huge statue of the Emperor Drakus Coaltongue, surveying the city in his majesty. While this was the salient feature from a distance, as we approached, we could see a mansion in the near vicinity which was painted in stripes of a vivid yellow, green and purple almost as if challenging the statue as to which architectural achievement was the most eye catching. It had three stories so it was almost as tall as the Emperor. To add to the whole picture, there was a pair of guards stationed outside the front door, both wearing uniforms which were colour co-ordinated with the mansion. Commendably, despite their rather unusual apparel, the guards looked very professional and their faces were expressionless.

    We approached and asked for an audience with the Councilman. Longhelim must have been known to them as, after a brief scrutiny, we were allowed into the manor and told that the Councilman was at a Council meeting right now and we would have to wait.

    We were led into the strangest room. It was a huge drawing room, or salon as the servant who led us there, called it. The walls were decorated with all manner of weapons and armour, from the mundane to the truly exotic but each and everyone had been given some sort of unique twist. Here was a crossbow that seemed to be in the shape of a porcupine, with spines jutting out everywhere and some sort of complicated looking loading mechanism; a double sword, a double axe, an urgrosh, whips, swords of all types and sizes. The twist however was in the decoration; hilts in the shape of ducks and rabbits, there was decoration of quite an erotic nature on some of the blades, tassels which corresponded to the house colours, scabbards with the heads of mice at the end, pommels that looked like moles; every single weapon was unusual in this manner. Even our stoic warriors were stupefied. Victor and Longhelim were quietly talking to each other as they slowly surveyed the display. I sidled over and overheard a little of their conversation:

    “….he couldn’t have bought these on the open market”.

    Longhelim puffed on his pipe: “There is no such thing as an open market for things like these.

    Victor muttered: “These must have been all been custom made then. It will have cost a fortune”.

    Longhelim nodded: “Indeed.”

    I drifted away again. I wondered over to the crossbow that looked like a porcupine. I was fascinated by the mechanism. I didn’t dare touch it but I did look at it from all the angles I could to try and work out what it was. Drudge joined me then and looked at it.

    He whistled soundlessly and said quietly that he had heard of these but never actually seen one.

    “That’s repeating crossbow; a heavy one. It is difficult to tell with that animal carving on top of it but I can see the magazine and the crank. I wouldn’t use it but that thing really packs a punch.”

    “Expensive?” I asked.

    “Oh yes” was the answer.

    I looked at the other pieces on display but none of them held the fascination of the crossbow.

    Suddenly, I heard the servant enter and announce that his master had returned.

    We could hear him before we saw him. A high pitched voice from the corridor was clearly not happy about something, declaring:

    “ Incompetent……blind…….dangerous…..don’t understand…..” and then a figure came in. An older man with white hair, not particularly unusual and certainly one wouldn’t know he was the owner of this eccentric dwelling and its contents. He looked at us, puzzled and then asked:

    “You I know Longhelim, but the rest of you? Who might you be?”

    Longhelim introduced us and explained our situation and mission to the Councilman. As he spoke, I realised that Longhelim was being enormously charming and the explanation and narrative sounded eminently sensible and something that could genuinely help the city in the future. Erdan Menash was staring at him intently for quite a long time and then he laughed and said:

    “What you want to do is completely crazy, you know that don’t you? Going through the burning Forest? With a bunch of potions? Trying to get help from Seaquen? That crazy Simeon? You are willing to risk that for the City? I wish we had more like you! Of course, I will help you! In fact I will help you as much as I can. See the walls, I can spare many of the weapons and armour there. Let me know what you want and I will see if I can let you have it to aid your quest.

    I am sorry about being so abrupt. It has been a rather trying morning. First the unpleasantness of last night and then the even greater unpleasantness of this morning have made me forget my manners. You are obviously a group of patriots so let me tell you what has happened so far.

    There were various attacks against the city last night. An enormous earth elemental rose from the sewers and slew several of my colleagues from the Council while the soldiers were busy on the wall; then a huge red dragon began terrorizing the skies above the city and set a large chunk of it ablaze until defeated and driven off by the combined efforts of one our druid allies and the Griffin Riders; thank the Gods we managed to increase their budget despite the best efforts of some idiots. Two of the dragon’s riders were forced off and captured by the City Guard. The western wall was breached last night briefly and but for the courage of the citizens of the city, it could have been disastrous; thankfully, the breach was contained. Finally, a Wyvern……a murderer fell off his beast and began slaughtering people including a young family until someone tracked him down and killed him. I would very much like to thank that someone.

    After all that, the Council received a message from the Ragesians this morning stating that the attacks last night were just a small probe with but a fraction of the forces at their disposal and unless they allowed the Inquisition into the city then the full might of their forces would be unleashed. Of course, a Council meeting took place at once and they agreed to let the Inquisition in; in other words, this is a conditional surrender. Leska’s thugs will sweep through the magical community, or the part they can catch and make sure that they won’t interfere in the defense of the city again. I am sure that driving off their pet dragon was a nasty surprise to this General Deneva. Anyway, it is too late now: the vote has taken place and the Inquisition is on its way.“

    Hearing this, we realised that the situation was even more dire than we thought. If the Inquisition was already on its way then our decision to get out of the city as quickly as possible had certainly been a wise one.


    Thanking the Councilman for his great generosity, we began looking at the wall and the warriors were soon in an intense discussion about the merits of the equipment on display. Several pieces were being taken down and inspected. After a little time, Drudge and Slippery John both received bows, Felix wanted some armour, Longhelim asked for an extremely well made long sword while both Torrent and Victor asked for well made falchions, those strange wide bladed swords which Victor wielded so effectively. After some thought, I asked for the repeating heavy crossbow. I couldn’t help it. I had no idea how to use it but I was fascinated.

    Equally importantly, on Drudge’s advice, I was also able to purchase several magazines full of bolts very inexpensively.

    Of course, each of these pieces of equipment was eccentric in the Menash way, with several of the swords having strangely shaped hilts, the bows had erotic carvings and the crossbow was shaped like a porcupine.

    Finally, Menash wrote out a letter and two sets of orders. He explained that we were to take these to Captain Herreman of the Guard; the letter introduced us; we were to accompany his patrol on the way out until we reached the fork on the trail which led to the Forest. The first set of orders explained our presence in this patrol going out and the other set of orders explained our absence when his patrol returned.

    Once the letter and the orders had been written, he turned to us and said:

    “Go with my blessings and don’t forget Gate Pass. I have a feeling that we will be needing everyone before all this is over.”

    With a final goodbye we left and decided to go to Captain Herreman’s barracks immediately. It was not too far away but as we strode through the snow, Drudge and Slippery John alerted everyone that there was a group of City Guards following us. They were not behaving like normal Guards; for a start they seemed to be more of a mob than a disciplined squad. They also followed us for some distance without issuing any challenges. They seemed to be satisfied with just shadowing our path; Victor, the guardsman, quickly told us that this was not how it was done in the Guard. When they wanted to stop someone they just called out and the person concerned normally stopped unless they had something to hide and that was when the matter usually escalated.

    Then, as we approached a crossroads, three of these guards approached us from the front leaving six behind us. The lead guard said:

    “I am sorry but we have orders to bring you in on suspicion of being magic-users. Please surrender your weapons and come quietly”.

    Now the two people at the front were Victor and Longhelim, both in their armour and bristling with swords, shields, bows and various other weapons. It would be difficult to imagine two people less likely to look like magicians. We stopped and then Victor demanded to see these orders. The guard spokesman looked a little put out and claimed that he did not need written orders. Whereupon, Victor said he did and the spokesman said nothing. Then Victor changed tack and asked the guard who trained him; at this point, the other guards began to shuffle slightly.

    As this stand-off was taking place, another group of guards was approaching. The first set noticed this and became even more nervous. Victor was still haranguing the lead guard with questions about details of his guard career, his training, his deployment and the name of his superior officer, which obviously flustered that individual as he kept silent either unwilling or unable to answer.

    As this was going on the other guard squad arrived and everyone could see that they were escorting two prisoners , orcs, with insignia on their chests showing a huge explosion of fire. One of them had an old burn scar which disfigured most of his face. One of the first guards gave a half hearted whoop of congratulations and earned himself a gobbet spittle in the face from one of the orcs.

    At this point, Slippery John took advantage of the distraction. In a commanding, nasal voice, with an accent I had never heard previously, he imperiously ordered the first set of guards to meet us at the City gate in a completely different part of Gate Pass and after that, we joined the prisoner escort and moved with them. I turned back briefly and was amazed to see the guard mob shuffling away in the direction where Slippery John had ordered them.

    Using the prisoner escort, the rest of the journey to Captain Herreman’s barracks was uneventful except for one incident:

    Just as we were about to enter into the barracks, I was surprised to see Slippery John stop and wave at someone. I looked in that direction but couldn’t see anything. Then, as Slippery John waited, I saw a figure jumping and running with grace and speed over the rooftops. It was amazing; in no time at all, the figure jumped off acrobatically and after a few summersaults, landed next to the group and Slippery John introduced him as Rantle, a gentleman.

    I had never heard of him; he did cut quite a dashing figure, with his goatee and rakish hat. He also had a huge sword strapped to his back. It was quite the biggest sword I had ever seen. He nodded to John spoke to him:

    “Hullo John. I heard that you had hooked up with Torrent. That was your crew in the Poison Apple wasn’t it? There aren’t that many priestesses wearing a blue breastplate in Gate Pass you know and I know you, no matter how well you try to hide; anyway, it looks as if your latest partners can handle themselves.

    Look, I need a favour:

    I have a sister, Katrina. You can’t miss her; she is pretty and has the brightest red hair you have ever seen. She is a fairly good sorceress although she does have a habit of burning things, especially buildings. Well, she disappeared about a week ago; I was going to look for her but things have become a bit…..complicated here. So I heard you may be on your way South. She was going that way as well, to the Lyceum. If you see her, can you give her this scroll, there’s a good fellow.”

    John looked at him for a little time and then took the scroll case and just nodded. Satisfied, Rantle ran to the nearest building, climbed up to the roof and quickly disappeared.

    I found something very strange about this whole encounter although I couldn’t quite pin down what it was.

    We had no trouble asking to see Captain Herreman and once in his office, standing in front of his desk, the good captain was an obvious half orc. He looked at us dubiously as he read the letter and the orders. He took a very long time over this, enough to make me a little nervous. Then he made an odd rumbling sound in his chest and I realised he was laughing.

    “That Menash! He is crazy! Trying to pull something like this in the middle of siege; in the snow, while surrounded by an army. He is going to owe me big time! Next time you see him, let him know he owes me; specifically another of these” he said, pulling out a dagger with a pommel shaped like a banana.

    I hoped those ridiculous things were not becoming collectable.

    Herreman called a lieutenant and gave him the orders. We were to join his patrol at sunset and to be equipped like his normal patrollers: longswords, studded leather, supplies and we were to be given light war horses. After that, he dismissed us, looking at his dagger and guffawing.

    We waited until sunset, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention and once the appointed time arrived, we joined the patrol and finally rode through the gate, leaving Gate Pass behind. Ominously, as we rode out, we heard the tolling of a bell and the lieutenant said in a low voice:

    “That’s the signal that the Inquisition are entering the city”.

    I shuddered; we had managed to leave just in time.

    Consulting our maps, we left the patrol at the indicated fork on the road and following their directions, found an abandoned watch tower where we set up camp. The night was undisturbed and the next morning we set out again, making sure we did not tire the horses. The trail was very twisted, with cliffs on one side, then the other, sometimes on both.

    It was still some distance to the Forest when Drudge told us to stop and pointed out a figure trying to hide on top of one of the cliffs overlooking the road. We saw that that it was an orc, wearing studded leather, and carrying a crossbow, a morning star and we could even see a sap; that sounded familiar. It looked as if the same gang from the Poison Apple pub had found us again. Just what did they want?

  4. #4
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    Having heard Drudge’s warning we slowed down. Despite his call, I couldn’t see any figures personally; with the above exception, neither could anyone else at this point but then we heard someone blow a horn; obviously some sort of signal. Well, that tore it. Throwing caution to the winds, we began to speed up.

    The whole situation was dangerous. The road had been cut through high ground with steep inclines to a height of about twenty feet on either side. There was a little foliage on the road side before the inclines began. John, who had obviously also seen them now, told us that two scouts were spying on us from the heights. I did a double turn when he said two: I had been under the impression that it was only one. Then an arrow streaked towards us; and still I couldn’t quite make out the archer though I could see roughly where the arrow came from.

    That was enough for me. I was a very bad rider and my horse was getting very skittish. I slid out of the saddle and cast a spell which made me difficult to strike; and not a moment too soon as suddenly a rider appeared around a bend of the road ahead. A striking figure with metal armour glinting under his cloak but his most salient feature was an odd, flamboyant, helm that looked like a horse’s head. Inside, we could see his teeth as if he was grinning, anticipating the coming conflict; great, another madman. He drew a bow and fired towards us but fortunately his arrow missed.

    Then, another figure, this time on foot, appeared running around the bend. This one was not nearly as impressively armoured and it was lugging a crossbow.

    As I was still looking at this figure, I was distracted by someone from behind me: Torrent, urging her horse onwards, fearlessly confronting the horseman. I had hoped for a brief moment to try to talk our way through this but then I noticed the armband worn by the rider. It was the same as those worn by the individuals who attacked us in the Poison Apple Pub; they were not really interested in talking, just hitting us for their own mysterious reasons. So, I began spell casting, trying a long, complicated spell which would be hugely useful if I was allowed to finish it.

    At this point, Victor also rode forward to confront the first horseman and aid Torrent but then another enemy horseman came around the bend of the road, fired his bow, thankfully missed and then faced Victor before he could reach his intended target. It was at this point that I saw the value of a trained war horse, as these creatures reared up and flailed with their hooves and tried to bite their enemies with huge, blunt teeth. I was amazed that Torrent and Victor managed to stay in their saddles. At the same time, I did notice that although the horses seemed to be hitting their enemies on both sides, it was obvious that Victor was certainly not used to fighting on horseback as he swung his sword wildly with little hope of actually striking his enemy.

    Finally my spell finished and not a moment too soon as I felt another bolt strike me but thankfully my defensive magic managed to absorb its impact. Then I had to place my magic by calculating where the enemy would be and I let it go; I was aiming at the two crossbowmen hidden in the heights above us. I could not actually see the results. I also saw another rider come around the bend and line up behind his two comrades.

    Drudge was our most effective combatant at this time, his arrows skewering several targets while the enemy seemed to be getting the better of Victor and Torrent; in fact, I saw Torrent having to jump down as her poor horse had had its head smashed by the hooves of its enemy. Victor still seemed to be flailing wildly and was struck several times by horse hooves. The third horseman began lobbing alchemical bags at Victor; I recognized them and prayed that the warrior would managed to dodge them because if he didn’t that he would become stuck to the saddle and be subject to great danger if his horse was struck and felled.

    My prayers were obviously answered as one did come quite close but the warrior managed to dodge it adroitly.

    Despite this though, it did not take long for Victor’s horse to be felled and Victor himself landed heavily, obviously badly hurt. Longhelim, although hurt by crossbow bolts himself, strode forward to help, followed by Felix. By this time, everyone noticed that the stream of crossbow bolts from above had ceased so obviously, my magic must have sent the two warriors up there to sleep.

    Suddenly, we had our first success. Torrent struck the horse of one of the riders, felling it with its rider hitting the ground hard. As the poor wretch tried to rise, both Longhelim and Torrent struck him, making sure he stayed down. However, this left the third horseman who rode up and between him and his horse, struck the poor priestess several times sending her tumbling to the ground, obviously unconscious.

    Longhelim engaged this new enemy while Victor was still locked in his struggle with the man with the horsehead helm. Drudge had already sent several arrows into him and Victor finally managed to hit him with a huge blow but he was then hit in return and this time he was knocked senseless.

    To make things even worse, another mounted figure rounded the bend. This was the same mysterious horseman whom we had seen outside the Poison Apple in Gate Pass; as before, he was mounted on a magnificent steed and he just sat there watching us fight against his minions. Then, to my shock, almost leisurely, I saw him cast at least one spell before my attention was forcibly drawn to my self-preservation

    I couldn’t continue to watch him as suddenly I saw that Longhelim managed to strike the man with the horsehead with a huge blow from his sword. Seeing this, the two foot warriors ran up to join the conflict. Longhelim was not able to enjoy his triumph for long as he was struck by the horseman and he himself was sent into oblivion. This left us in very dire straits with Drudge, Felix, and I as the final antagonists against the horsemen and two foot warriors. True, both horsemen had been hurt but the two foot warriors were intact.

    Thankfully, at this moment Drudge sent two arrows sinking into the man with the strange helmet, this time felling him. Immediately, there was a shout from behind; the leader was calling his men to retreat. I was very puzzled at this as the battle was still very much in the balance.

    This was enough for the last horseman and he withdrew but the last two foot warriors were trapped and they did not seem to be paying any attention to him anyway. John had managed to heal Torrent and between the surviving members of the group, the last two warriors were overwhelmed.

    As we looked at each other and panted, I suddenly urged everyone to go and recover the two sleeping ambushers. The spell was going to run out soon. Felix did some rapid healing and then Slippery John, Drudge and Longhelim went up there and soon returned, half dragging and half carrying two individuals. Both were tied up and gagged and then we left them on the side of the road as we picked over the fallen; fortunes of war as Longhelim told me. At the same time, Torrent and Felix were busy doing what little healing they could although they were now very low in magic. However, a little was better than none.

    I reflected on this situation with distaste. This had been the first true battle in which I had participated and if this was anything to go by, I did not care for it. It was nasty, smelly, bloody and I was barely able to react to our opponents never mind try to plan for their next move. There was lots of shouting, swearing and people moved so fast it was impossible to predict where one person was going to be from one moment to the next. Half the time, I was dodging swords, arrows and horses and the rest of the time, I was making sure that my allies were not caught in my magic. I felt that I had been lucky to cast my spell, never mind the effect it had. Victor told me that, considering our opponents, we had been fortunate and he said he was still puzzled as to why the rider on the powerful warhorse had declined to take part in the activities of his allies so far. Victor recognized a seasoned, experienced, powerful warrior and was under no illusion, saying that if the rider had chosen to take part, we would not be standing talking like this right now.

    He then stared down the road, shaking his head.

    So, we patched ourselves up as best as we could and continued riding towards the Forest, with Drudge slightly ahead, looking for tracks. A short distance later, we came to a side track leading off the main road. It was very likely that our ambushers came from that direction. Drudge decided to follow it for a short distance but returned fairly quickly, saying that the track led a reasonable distance and that if we wanted to investigate it further, we would all have to go.

    We followed Drudge along the track and after a little time, we came to a clearing which ended in a cliff face. In it, we could see various rough doors which led into the cliff itself. Most of these were warped with age and looked as if they were just closed with the exception of one which was not only shut, but a new lock could be easily discerned in its centre.

    The clearing also contained a rough encampment with several tents and a few tethered horses. This was obviously where our ambushers had settled to wait for us.

    I also remembered that this place was very important to Gate Pass for another reason.

    The City celebrated an important Festival each year, the Festival of Dreams when everyone asked for a divine boon in the form of a written prayer which was then placed in a sealed clay urn. A very select few were opened and if possible, priests attempted to make those lucky prayers come true; but the thousands of urns that were left closed were taken outside the city and deposited in these caves.

    As we began to look through the encampment, Slippery John started to fiddle with the lock in the strange door. It took him a little time but he finally managed to open it. By that stage, we managed to find a small chest in one of the tents and when we opened it, we saw that it was full of gold coins. There were also various other valuables including a scroll case. When we opened that, we saw that it contained four warrants which could be redeemed at any Ragesian fort, promising a hundred gold pieces for the delivery of any dangerous spell casters. Well that solved one of the mysteries of our pursuers; they were very specialised mercenaries, capturing spell casters for the reward offered by the Ragesians. It still left a lot of unanswered questions though, especially about our mysterious rider on his huge war horse and his strange non-hostile behavior.

    By that point, Slippery John had called us over, saying that he had managed to open the door and he was going to go inside. He went it and stayed for a little while. We called out to him, concerned at the time he was spending in there but he called back and assured us that everything was all right. Soon after that, he came back out, this time with a strange cloth wound around his waist. He told us that beyond the door was small room and in which was a corpse; around it, one could see some writing which said “do not let my death be in vain” and it had been wrapped in the shroud that was now wound around Slippery John’s waist. This was a stunning piece of cloth despite being dulled by age, embroidered with scenes of past heroics by some of the mythical figures from the past history of Gate Pass. Slippery John said he did not know why but the cloth just felt “right” around his waist he said that it had glowed as he had wound it around himself; he did say he had muttered a prayer to his god while he was doing this.

    At this point, we put most of our gains in one pile and I cast a small spell which told us which pieces were magical. Not surprisingly, John’s Shroud was one. I have to say that having a large cloth wound around him like that changed the way he looked completely. He looked almost priest like.

    Once we had looked around again, we took the horses and returned to the road.

    This time, several hours passed without incident. We began to notice a rise in temperature, the snow started becoming patchy and the road became quite soft and muddy. By that time, there was an obvious orange glow in the distance. We were approaching the Fire Forest. I wish I could have felt more excited but in truth, I felt exhausted, sore and concerned. Some of us were still hurt and I had not had a chance to study my magic. As such, I was of little use at the moment; and there was a pair of mercenaries out there; and we had their cash; and there was another pair that we had left trussed up by the side of the road who had almost certainly freed themselves by now; and most likely we had their cash too.

    As we rounded a bend in the road, the cliff fell away and we were able to see in the distance. Yes, the Forest burned, emitting enormous amounts of smoke. The area around it seemed to be completely gray, with little visibility and it took me a little time to realize that this was ash, blowing from inside the forest. The ground was covered thickly with the same gray ash. There was a river flowing on the edge of the burning area, acting like some sort of natural border to the whole conflagration. Even from here, we could all feel a wall of heat which fluctuated with the wind. I hoped Torrent’s potions were effective otherwise, we were not going any further. Finally, in the middle of the gray area, close to the fire but not close enough to be in danger, stood a stone building, with another wooden one nearby. Standing in the back yard of this building was a figure.

    Slowly, our weary horses walked towards the building and soon we were able to discern the figure as that of a small woman, dark haired, wearing a blue dress and clutching a slim staff. Slowly and making sure we made no sudden moves, we approached and when we finally arrived, we could see that despite our arrival, she still stared into the distance. Then in a monotone she said:

    “The Scourge Comes and the Skulls of the Dragon Pursue You – I saw it in a Dream”.

    Then she shook her head, as if coming out of this dream and smiled at us. She greeted us and said:

    “My name is Crystin. It is so good to see you. My father, Haddin will be so happy! I know you are going on a journey. I beseech you, please take us with you! We have to leave here. We are no longer safe.”

    I stared open mouthed at her. I wasn’t sure what to say. I had never met this girl before; I did not believe that any of us had; yet here she was, already asking to go with a complete group of strangers without even knowing where we were going; unless of course, she had “seen our destination in a dream” again.

    At this speech, Torrent said, very politely:

    “Hello, my name is Torrent and these are my companions. Please forgive us, we have had a long journey and if possible, we would like to water our horses and then we would like to speak to you further.”

    Crystin nodded at this although she looked a little impatient. As we led the horses into the stable and the water trough, Torrent quickly told us the she remembered this Haddin and related the following:

    If it was the same man, Haddin had been a powerful mage as well as a gifted artist in Gate Pass. He also had a brother, Mondragon, a bad person who was a criminal and was forever getting into more and more trouble until suddenly, almost overnight, he seemed to turn over a new leaf and became a model citizen. Several people were very suspicious of this sudden change and a rumour began that Haddin had magically compelled his brother to act in this new manner. This willingness to dominate someone by magic scared some of the population so badly that it set off a riot and Haddin was forced to flee for his life. He took his wife and new born child with him. Ironically, the brother was slain, protecting Haddin. Many years later, a young woman appeared in Gate Pass and began to buy supplies; although she had not said anything, she looked so like her mother that several people recognized her as Haddin’s child.

    We had obviously stumbled on their home.

    Torrent added that a subsequent investigation proved that it was very likely that Haddin had in fact dominated his brother. This left Mondragon’s death open to a great many questions.

    Once she had finished, we went back to Crystin and asked her to lead us into the house. She smiled, much happier and almost skipped as she moved, calling out to her father that we were coming. Once she opened the door and led us in, we could see quite a sizeable room. It was an unusual living arrangement. The furniture was made of stone, so smooth that it could only have been made through magic. The walls were covered with beautiful paintings and the whole place was scrupulously clean. There was a further hallway on the other side of this large room which led to a larger, grander door at the front of the house.

    A figure was sitting in a chair, leafing through a book.

    “Father, can I introduce you to….”

    “I don’t care who they are! I don’t want them here. Get rid of them!”

    “But Papa, you said we had to get out of here soon.”

    “No I didn’t! Now, didn’t you hear me, get rid of them!”

    Then Haddin turned to face us. He was a very unpleasant individual. He looked heavy set, running to fat, with little hair. He wore a stained shirt and he obviously sweated heavily from the heat. He glowered at us and needed a wash. As he lowered his head, I could see the extra layers on his neck and a sizeable double chin. He was obviously even heavier than I had thought previously. Just adding to the impression of ill health was his persistent cough and wheezing breath.

    “I don’t know what she’s told you but get out. We don’t need you. You lot look like walking trouble, especially the idiot paladin. Go and rescue some maiden or something, will you?”

    “…..and you, Crystin, get to the kitchen and prepare dinner. You and I will have words later”.

    Longhelim stepped forward, using his charm although he spoke in an icy tone, obviously deciding to be civilized despite the provocation.

    “Sir, we seek shelter for the night. We will not trouble you. If you could spare some space for us in your stable, we will not impose on you for any longer than tonight and tomorrow morning.”

    Haddin, looked at him from his porcine eyes and just grunted. He did not say yes or no, just grunted which we took for an assent and then we left rapidly. Back in the stable, Longhelim turned to us and said:

    “He is a nasty piece of work; evil through and through. If our errand was not so important, I would stay here and….anyway, judging from what you told us Torrent, it is very likely that he is up to his old tricks and has dominated Crystin. What do we do about it? I certainly don’t want to take him with us. If this is what he is capable of doing to his daughter, we will all be under his domination within a few days into our journey. In fact, he may already be plotting to do so. Having said that, I am really loth to leave Crystin here. She is nothing but his slave.”

    This left us in a real quandary. We had no idea as to Crystin’s true feelings. In fact, we were unsure if she was even dominated but could we take the risk? In the end, after some discussion, we decided that we would try to break the domination magically. There was a spell which both Felix and I could do which would suppress the domination for a brief period of time and it was during this period that we hoped Crystin would be able to convey her true feelings about the situation. We would then act depending on what she told us.

    That night, as I lay in the stable on top of my bedding, I loosened my clothes for the first time during this journey. It was uncomfortably hot and the strange roaring sound created by the Fire in the distance guaranteed that it would take me a long time to get to sleep, despite my exhaustion. So, left to its own devices my mind wondered, first to my family in Gate Pass, then to Gabal and his students; then to my friends the three human girls who were among those students. They would never have believed that the staid dwarven bookworm was sleeping in a stable outside the Fire Forest of Innenotdar in the company of a group of desperados, about to embark on a journey through one of the magical wonders of the world.

    I spent some time thinking through some magical problems, especially trying to see if I could think of some magic that would shield me from fire. I had various ideas but these would take time. They definitely had potential though.

    Then my speculation ranged even wider and I began to think about some of the recent events that had contributed to our current situation, both distantly and directly:

    Who had killed Drakus Coaltongue?
    Why did Leska want to conquer Gate Pass now?
    What chance did the city have against such mighty forces arrayed against it?
    How long could it possibly hold out?
    If the Inquisition was already in the city, was the Scourge in full flow?
    What were the Shining Lands of Shahalesti going to do?
    Why hadn’t Leska used the Torch of the Burning Sky during this military campaign?
    And finally, considering the forces we had seen arrayed against it, what powers did the Lyceum have that could potentially thwart the Ragesians?

    Then, I was gently shaken and told I was due on watch.

    The next morning, we rose early and were soon on the doorstep. Our plan was formalized. Both Felix and I had a spell ready which would temporarily lift Haddin’s domination from Crystin; all we needed to do was touch her.

    We were greeted at the door by a subdued young girl. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I saw traces of tears around her eyes. As she allowed us into the house, she wished us luck in our journey and told us that breakfast was ready. As Felix shook her hand, I could see the spell effect beginning but she did not react.

    We sat down for breakfast and during the meal, I asked her to pass me the bread and brushed her hand as she did so, again releasing the spell but again meeting no change from Crystin. Either she was not dominated or she was proving very resistant to our magic; having said that, we were very inexperienced at casting magic of this type and I suspect our spells were weak. However, we were now in a quandary. There was a strong possibility that she was not being dominated. We had made a couple of attempts which had been met with indifference on her part. Although we looked at each other around breakfast, we could not discuss anything. I gave a little shrug, indicating that I didn’t know what to do next.

    As breakfast finished, we stood up and Haddin, who hadn’t said a word, just glowered at us and said:

    “So, you have had your fill and eaten all my supplies; now leave.”

    Just as we rose, there was bellow from outside the front door:

    “Haddin. Come out and surrender in the name of the Empress Leska.”

    We froze. Haddin looked very pale and Slippery John immediately rose and quietly moved to the back door. Suddenly, Victor shouted that he had been magically attacked. Someone had tried to do something although he couldn’t tell what, who or how. Then Longhelim walked to the front door and yanked it open. Then he quickly shut it again and walked backwards, drawing his sword and shield. Without turning around he said quickly:

    “One goblin right next to the door, two armoured soldiers, one orc, magically grown with a huge axe and little armour and one humanoid with a bear skull mask and armour; oh, and six skeletons arrayed in the front garden”.

    A bear skull mask; this was one of the infamous Ragesian Inquisitors, one of the people that Gabal called “The Scourge”; and he obviously had a support troop with him. I wasn’t sure just what or how good the warriors with him were but I suspected that they must have been hand-picked elite troops.

    I hadn’t seen when, but Drudge had also gone out through the back door and I lost sight of him. Torrent had just finished doing a spell on Victor which made him grow. I knew the spell. Although it made the recipients grow and also made them much stronger, the disadvantage was that they became much clumsier. I was not sure how Victor was going to react to it but it was too late. He just shrugged and began to lumber through the back door, unwilling to face the onslaught in the very narrow corridor leading through to the front door. At this point, that door was opened by a skeleton but Felix, calling on his deity, brandished his holy symbol at the undead and they turned to dust. I was astonished by the power of the priest and the shouting from outside stilled for a few moments. It seemed this wasn’t part of their plan.

    Haddin began shouting for everyone to save him and Crystin was keeping close to her father, looking pale and determined. Torrent was pressed to one of the side walls of the room. Longhelim stepped out of the front door to confront the large orc who had bounded in, following up the skeletons. As the paladin stepped out, he was attacked by an invisible foe, another goblin. Fortunately for us, his short sword did little against the paladin, bouncing against his shield and then Longhelim managed to hit the orc with a beautiful strike; even I, with my lack of knowledge about these things, could see that the orc was rocked.

    Haddin, shadowed by Crystin, moved forward and cast a spell at the individual with the bear mask and for the first time, I could see the fabled counter spelling ability of the Inquisitors. It was amazing; he moved with almost contemptuous ease, waiting for Haddin’s spell to be released and then he batted it away as if it was a practice contest. I had never seen anything like it. For the first time, I realised why Gabal was always making us practice disguising our spells. I remember him saying that no matter how much practice we did, it would not prepare us for the real thing. We had to experience that. Now I could see why.

    Seeing this, I moved through the back door, ran along the side of the house and joined Victor, who was facing the two orc soldiers. I tried to cast a spell but if Haddin had not been successful, then it was unlikely that I would be; and so it proved as the Inquisitor negated my magic. That left me with no spells, as I had cast my defensive spell at the beginning of the day and had also attempted to free Crystin from her domination.

    Then, the Inquisitor cast his own spell; there was a huge bang and Victor seemed to be disorientated, unable to do anything but defend himself. The two soldiers took full advantage of this and our large warrior quickly fell over, bleeding badly. I had to retreat around the house and to my horror I realized that I was being chased by the enormous orc and his even bigger axe. Longhelim must have fallen. Things were looking very grim indeed for us.

    As I rounded the corner, I was caught a glancing blow by the pursuing orc which hurt…a lot. Then he almost caught me again as I slipped through the door but again it was just a glancing blow although by this point, I was almost unconscious. I could see Torrent and Felix getting ready to battle the enemy but at that moment, I was struck for a third time and everything went black.

    Someone was slapping me in the face and trying to feed me water. It was Felix. I hurt all over but that was nothing new; I had bruises on bruises; however, I wasn’t dead, so we must have won. I could see that Victor was still down as was Longhelim. Felix told me I was the worst one hurt so they healed me first. I had been very close to death.

    As I sat up, I looked around. I could see the bodies of all the soldiers. Haddin was down in a heap and being tended by Crystin; oddly, there was another goblin standing protectively close to him. Otherwise, there were two other goblins, three orcs and the Inquisitor slumped on the ground. Once I looked around and asked what had happened, basically what I was told was that although several of us had been beaten unconscious, the warriors, well, Longhelim mainly, had hurt the enemy so badly that they needed just a few blows to beat them into unconsciousness. The paladin had made a superb showing, killing the goblins and hurting the enormous orc barbarian very badly; in addition, Drudge was turning out to be a very good archer, sending arrow after arrow into the enemy. He was also quite the hero.

    As we husbanded our healing magic, we managed to rouse both Longhelim and Victor, even if they were both still very weak. We decided to leave Haddin where he was although Torrent made a final attempt to break the man’s domination on Crystin and this time it worked. The young girl shook her head as if clearing it and then looked at Torrent desperately and begged her to take her away from here, especially from her father whom she had come to detest.

    Torrent promised her that we would but we would have to restrain her once the defensive spell wore off as she would then return to being dominated. Crystin agreed with no qualms.

    We left Haddin unconscious in the care of his latest guardian, the goblin. Drudge looked at the latter with dislike and told us that he had been a sniper hiding on the roof of the stables and that they had engaged in an archery duel. Apparently, the goblin had put a crossbow bolt into Drudge which was why the archer was rather annoyed with him.

    We took what we could from the bodies. There were various magical items, and the two warriors took the armour from the orc soldiers. Apparently it was very good armour, called “half plate” whatever that was. They were excited by it anyway.

    We also found a scroll case with a scroll stating chilling orders that Haddin was “not needed” therefore he was to be eliminated.

    Victor was also filing something on his falchion. I could hear him muttering:

    “…the balance on this thing is all wrong….”
    “…need to get rid of this ridiculous rabbit handle but how to do it without damaging the weapon….”
    “…..I have to practice with it more……can’t hit a barn door right now….”

    Longhelim quietly told me that Victor was having trouble adjusting the strange grip of his weapon.

    I took out my spell book. There was a technique that allowed me to learn my spells at an accelerated rate. It was tiring, dangerous and recommended to be used only in emergencies by Gabal, as it left one weak and unfocused. Well, this was certainly an emergency. As I was learning my spells, I noticed Felix praying fervently and then meditating. It seemed as if he had a similar technique. However, once he had learned his spells, he was able to put at least some rudimentary healing on the warriors, both of whom were still very badly hurt; as was I for that matter but they were more important.

    We still had to rest that night. We were taking a calculated risk that the group that had sent this Inquisitor was not expecting the squad back for a few days but we were in no shape to continue. We retired into the house and rested for the day and night. We needed this.
    Last edited by Cafu; Monday, 7th May, 2012 at 08:32 PM. Reason: better grammar

  5. #5
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    The next morning, some of our wounds were still bothersome. Torrent, Felix and to a lesser extent, Slippery John managed to heal most of our hurts. The latter surprised me. There were hidden depths to that man. He must have been studying the ways of priests and evinced a talent for divine magic as well as being “Slippery”.

    Despite our hurts, we could not tarry any longer as we were concerned that the Inquisitor’s absence would be missed and a rescue group would be sent. So, cautiously and with a bound and gagged Crystin, we walked along the river bank. Although we were leaving an obvious trail through the ash, the wind showed us that it was disappearing almost as quickly as it was appearing. It would be difficult for anyone to track us by natural means, we hoped.

    Finally, we reached the bridge over the river. We drank our potions and as we took off Crystin’s gag, she assured us that she was free of her father’s evil influence and convinced Torrent that she should be untied. Crystin, free of the domination, was a very different girl than the one we encountered two days ago. She became far more carefree and in some ways, far more childish, eager for new experiences and hugely happy to be away from her father. She seemed hugely relieved. Amazingly, entering the Fire did not faze her at all. I was not sure just what we planned to do with her but I presumed that once we reached the Lyceum, as a caster of arcane magic, they would be willing to help or train her.

    We crossed the bridge.

    It is impossible to describe our entrance into the Fire Forest of Innenotdar but nevertheless, I will try.

    The fury of the flames was unnatural yet ultimately, somehow, the wood was not consumed, it just kept burning. The fire produced that distinctive roar of the element and I couldn’t help but feel a primitive shudder as I thought that it was as if the Great Red Dragon, the elemental spirit of Fire, had decreed that this Forest was his eternal shrine, burning forever to celebrate His Glory.

    As we followed the road along the bridge, we noticed a strange phenomenum. As we passed, the flames seemed to lose a little of their strength and as we left, they intensified again. I noticed it again and again and in the end I put it down to the magic of Torrent’s potions.

    A little way down the road, we came to our first surprise. By the roadside, three shapes were visible. Cautiously, bow and arrow in hand, Drudge approached, using his woodcraft. As he closed with them, suddenly, I saw him drop his bow, draw his sword and transfix one of the figures. Then he signaled us to approach. As we reached him, he said that one of the figures had still been alive although dying and he asked him to kill it. Drudge had obliged. I stared at him, not knowing what to think; well, what was done was done.

    We resumed walking and some time later, suddenly everyone heard a strange chittering sound from the branches of a burning tree overhead. Initially, I looked up in disbelief, unable to fathom that anything living could survive in this conflagration but then a tiny figure jumped down, bounced off Victor’s chest and darted behind the warrior. A closer look revealed a tiny humanoid with horns and a tail, wreathed in flames. I could only imagine that it was some sort of tiny fire elemental but my attention was quickly absorbed by the enormous flaming bat that was chasing it. I was past being surprised at this point. Tiny fiery devils being chased by giant flaming bats in a Forest that had been burning for decades………what else could I say?

    The bat did not seem to share my sense of the bizarre but immediately flew towards the warriors until a great bang emanated from Felix which obviously hurt it. Then Longhelim struck it with his sword several times and it was also suffering from Drudge’s arrows tearing into its wings. Victor swung at it again and again but it seemed that the balance of his weapon was still troubling him. It was now becoming obvious to everyone that the warrior was having trouble with his newly acquired falchion. Thankfully, the bat went down with another of Drudge’s arrows in its body. The strange little creature looked at us and cried:

    “My saviours” – and darted into the forest, leaving us staring after it in bemusement.

    Fortunately, the bat had not hurt anyone, but as we prepared to leave, suddenly it stirred and attacked again, snapping feebly from the ground! I found it difficult to believe but it was almost as if the flames had revived it. It attempted to hit Felix from the ground but then Victor finally managed to strike it and this time it really did stay still.

    We continued to follow the road until we came to a spectacular bridge. Approximately twenty foot wide, the bridge arched gracefully over a deep chasm. Looking at it as a dwarf, I found the bridge to be a stunning construction, almost impossible architecturally, yet there it was. Sadly, the condition of the structure looked diminished and one section of the centre had already crumbled, leaving a gap. Amazingly, as we contemplated the bridge and looked down into the chasm, we could see the remains of a wagon, burning brightly at the bottom. Drudge even said that he could see a chest down there.

    We tied a rope to Slippery John and he began to slowly move along the bridge, gently tapping the flagstones. Everything was going well until he reached a particular stone and suddenly it gave under him. John tumbled through the hole but was left dangling on the rope. Both Longhelim and Victor were holding the rope and thankfully they held it firm despite the suddenness of the drop. Then they began to draw him up gently until we heard John’s shouting to hurry up.

    With that, the two warriors began to draw him up without much thought to his bumps and bruises and soon we could see his torso come of out the hole; unfortunately, that was not the only thing that came out of the hole after him. A stream of fire rose and engulfed the poor rogue. We were not quite sure just what it was initially but then we could see that it was a whole swarm of tiny, fiery creatures, bats in fact. Flying, they looked like a fiery horde. Poor John began to flounder and retch inside this swarm, no doubt from the smoke and heat.

    Drudge moved forward with his sword but found that it just seemed to go straight through them. Yes, he slew a few but it made little difference. Victor began shouting that he was going to throw some acid at them but the swarm seemed to fly up at exactly the wrong moment, looking for another victim. They settled on Drudge and he again reacted badly to their attack. Longhelim moved forward and disastrously, another block of stone fell from the floor of the bridge and this time the poor paladin, to our horror, followed it down, plunging into the chasm.

    I had cast a spell at the swarm but found that it had no effect. I remembered that for future use. Do not cast spells at swarms of fiery bats. Then I tried to cast a little spell which was a spray of weak acid. That certainly did more than my other, more powerful spell. Torrent was shouting that she could try to use her ability as a priest. I had no idea what it was and while I could see she was trying to do something, it did not seem to be having much of an effect. As all this was happening, John was still being attacked by the swarm although all it seemed to be doing was making him vomit.

    At this point, Drudge tried to run across the bridge but suffered the same fate as Longhelim, plunging down into the chasm. Then Victor tried a new form of attack. Taking out a flask of water, he threw it at the swarm. There was definite reaction: as the water hit the swarm, there was a hissing sound, a swirl of movement to avoid the liquid and a sound of agonized piping as the bats desperately tried get out of the way. Victor had definitely found a weakness and I had a moment of chagrin that I had not thought of this. All the signs were there and it was obvious really; fire creatures, water.

    While the swarm was recovering, John was desperately checking more of the flagstones on the bridge, trying to find a safe path and both Victor and I took advantage to use all of our water flasks to inflict more hurt on the swarm; then I turned and shouted to Torrent:

    “Water cleric! Do something watery to that thing!”

    She looked at me with comprehension dawning on her face and suddenly a huge torrent of water doused the whole swarm from above. The reaction was immediate, with the swarm actually breaking for a moment before coming together again, although it was much diminished. Even in its smaller form, it still attacked Victor and he, poor wretch, began to retch just like John. He still managed to unstopper a water flask and spray it. This was too much for the swarm and it dispersed, leaving many tiny, smoking bat corpses on the bridge floor.

    We were still wary though. The giant bat had re-energized from the flames so we watched these corpses carefully. Sure enough, suddenly they burst into flame and a small swarm suddenly rose from the floor. This time, Victor took his last flask and smashed it on the floor, soaking them all in the process and they fell to the floor and did not stir.

    Both Victor and I had blackened clothes, with sooty hair and faces but amazingly, we were relatively unhurt, although Victor still gave one or two tiny retches. John was shouting at them from the other side of the bridge. He had found a safe path and he was pointing it out to everyone. He was also shouting that Drudge and Longhelim were in the chasm, alive. They had managed to survive the fall: how, only the Gods knew. It was not something I was going to question though and we quickly threw a rope down to the bottom.

    They were able to climb up and they even brought up some valuables they had found in the wagon. Twelve bottles of some potion and a wand as well as some money.

    Everyone was healed and we continued on the road, through the fire, smoke and soot.

    Following the incidents on the bridge, we continued travelling on the fiery road. Despite the strangeness of our situation, the road remained much the “same” if that was the correct term that one should use. The Forest still burned fiercely if unnaturally throughout. Even though I was protected from the heat by Torrent’s magic potion, my eyes were beginning to ache from the relentless glare of the fire and my equipment was beginning to feel heavier and heavier; I was completely soaked in sweat. Travel and adventure were rapidly losing their appeal and romance.

    Only the Gods knew how someone like Victor or Longhelim were coping with their huge back packs, weapons and armour.

    The flames still seemed to lose their intensity slightly as we passed by them only to regain it as soon as we left them behind. Another side effect of the unending glare of the fire was my inability to observe any potential enemy in our vicinity. Staring into flame was distracting, dangerous and hypnotic; all of which were bad.

    I almost walked into the back of Victor as I thought about all of this; distracted, I looked up and saw that the warriors had stopped and were looking into the distance ahead:

    “Do you see it?” Longhelim was muttering.

    Victor whispered: “Yes. Any idea what it is?”

    “I have no idea but whatever it is, it shouldn’t be here” was the reply.

    I was straining to see what they were talking about but as I mentioned, the fire made it very difficult until something moved and I could finally see what they were talking about. A man sized figure suddenly emerged and advanced from one of the burning trees near the road. It just looked at us. It was a man sized being, pot bellied, wearing a rough tunic. It had slimy, scaly skin with clawed hands and feet; however, its most salient features were a snaky beard and a massive serrated glaive. Its eyes seemed to be made of fire or possibly were reflecting the fire in our environs. As it stared at us, suddenly there was an intense explosion of flame and it disappeared.

    As we stared at the same spot for a little longer, Torrent came forward with a frown; she reminded us that it had become apparent that there was a problem with the use planar magic. It had become so dangerous to use that now it was only employed in the direst of emergencies. She had learned of one poor wretch who had appeared burnt to a crisp, having used such a spell. I remembered that I had heard about this but I had not given it any consideration. I had thought about it in an abstract manner but it was magic that was so hugely advanced to anything I was capable of at this time, that it had no personal relevance to me. Then suddenly I realised something. This could be the reason why the Empress Leska was unable to use the Everburning Torch to transport her armies; maybe the artifact used planar magic and had become too dangerous to use. If that was the case then, the Ragesians had lost a huge strategic advantage; maybe this was one of the “secrets” in the case.

    I thought about this as we continued to move forward.

    Some distance forward, we arrived at another bridge built over another chasm. This one was not quite as spectacular or as arched as the previous one; nor was the chasm as deep. Still, we were far more wary this time. First, Longhelim and John stepped off the side of the road and looked under the bridge, finding nothing. Then, John, again with a rope tied around him, stepped onto the stone and began to look carefully at the flagstones and advancing as he pronounced them safe.

    Then, as he reached the end of the bridge, a creature ambled into view, literally. It was a huge dog, with reddish fur. Its lolling tongue was completely black and we also glimpsed black teeth in its mouth. These I had read about: they were Hellhounds. I suppose I should not have been surprised. They were denizens of the planes of Hell, immune to fire so this strange ever burning forest would be an ideal place for them. It was certainly beginning to feel like hell to me. This Hellhound was even stranger as it was gripping a large bone in its mouth.

    As it ambled forward, we all froze, including John, who then began to slowly back away. The Hellhound stopped and deposited the bone on the ground. John was still retreating and finally arrived at the group. The hell hound was also backing away until it disappeared into a burning bush, leaving its bone.

    After a little time, John finished his survey of the bridge and declared this one safe and as we made our way across, John was examining the bone. It had a message etched on its length. To paraphrase what it said: “Leave the case and we may come to an arrangement which would let you live. Carry the bone if you want to bargain.”

    We all looked at each other and mentally I cursed. Everyone seemed to know about that case. I wondered how that information had leaked. I still suspected that thief Rantle. He may have been some sort of folk hero, but he was still a thief with the morals of one.

    Then I saw John taking the bone, chopping off its two ends and then stuffing it in his back pack. After that, we moved on.

    Some distance down the road, were about to round a bend when we saw our new friend with the serrated glaive. He waved at us and shouted:

    “Do you wish to negotiate?”

    Always polite, John answered in the negative.

    The creature seemed to shrug and then suddenly five monstrosities appeared close to him. They were humanoid in size but they seemed to be shapeless oozes of flesh that had vaguely recognisable faces but no lower limbs. Instead they seemed to ooze across the ground towards us at remarkable speed. Both Longhelim and Victor readied for combat. John rapidly moved to Victor and seemed to touch his weapon and whispered. Victor nodded. Then the John retreated; not a moment too soon as the first thing arrived and positioned itself next to the warriors. Whatever John had done to Victor seemed to work as the warrior took a hefty swing and almost cleft the new arrival in two. However, that gave the others time to gather and move; their master ambled forward, unlimbering his glaive.

    I managed to position myself and for the first time unleashed my new magic. It was a spell I had always admired when I had seen Gabal cast it. Potentially it could blind all of our opponents in a cloud of silver mist. As I cast I hoped against hope that it could also affect the thing with the glaive but as he took a massive swing and deeply cut Victor, it was quickly obvious that he had ignored it. This was not the case with his minions though; they seemed to have been all blinded, much to my delight. This allowed Longhelim and Victor an attempt to maneuver around the glaive wielder. John then moved up to Victor and cast another spell on him. The effect was immediate as the warrior struck his opponent and his falchion struck deeply. Victor seemed to have found the right balance for his sword this time. As the minions swung ineffectually in the air, Longhelim moved to the glaive wielder although not before dealing with a minion who was in his way. As the paladin struck the stronger enemy, it was obvious that unlike Victor, his sword was being resisted. Even so, the glaive wielder was no longer so confident. He could see that his minions were having little effect in the battle so he began to swing his glaive with far more purpose and effect. It struck Victor, Longhelim and Slippery John in quick succession; even more worryingly, the wounds were deep and bloody, seemingly unwilling to close but continuing to bleed. Slippery John attempted to heal first Victor and then himself but his wand of healing did not work. Then both Victor and Longhelim managed to hit him again and the glaive master retreated. With a cocky grin, he shouted: “Good fight” and then disappeared in a fiery explosion.

    The minions were still blind at this point so the warriors were able to deal with at least two of them. Then my spell finally wore off and although two of them were still healthy, they soon succumbed to the swords of the warriors.

    After that, through sheer persistence, Slippery John and Felix managed to defeat the hellish magic that kept the bleeding wounds from healing. Unfortunately, Torrent’s wand was finally exhausted of its magic so we began to use the scrolls we had taken from the Inquisitor. These managed to heal both Victor and Longhelim. Longhelim was also able to heal Felix with his paladin powers.

    Finally, with everyone more or less healed, we continued travelling down the road.

  6. #6
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    We continued down the road; as previously, the flames seemed to dim slightly as we passed and then sprang into renewed fury as we left them behind. I had given up trying to find the cause for this unusual occurrence. Too many strange things happened in this forest. It was past logical explanation. Now was the time to look and learn. Study and interpretation would come later. Even the strangest of locales became more commonplace and my companions were beginning to look weary. We had been on this road for many hours, fought with the strange denizens of the forest several times and ceased to look in wonder at the fire that burned forever.

    It was in this mood that I trudged along, with very little magic left after our recent conflicts. I almost bumped into the back of Longhelim as the two warriors stopped. I raised my head to see what had caused the delay. Ahead of us was another bridge; it looked to be made of stone and more importantly, it seemed to have some sort of structure built on it. After our last experience on a bridge, we were quite cautious and we gathered to have a quick discussion as to how to approach this obstacle when suddenly things began to happen very fast. So fast in fact that I could only gape as I saw them happening.

    Several trees burst with a great crackle of flame, deafening even in the Forest. The flaming trunks fell across the road, effectively blocking it. Then a wall of flame suddenly appeared behind us and began rolling down towards us. Not fast enough to cause panic but fast enough to cause concern. Then Crystin screamed at Felix:

    “Move! Move!”

    Felix reacted just as a shaft of fire landed on top of the spot where he had just been standing.

    Almost simultaneously, a huge lick of flame rose from the trees across the road and coalesced into three stags made out of fire. As soon as they formed, fiery eyes gleaming and with snorts of smoke, they charged us!

    As they reached Longhelim and Felix, two stags seemed to gather and launch themselves at the two humans, only to bounce off their armour. The last stag did the same to Victor but there, he managed to catch the warrior full on with his fiery antlers and this time it was the human who suffered as he was badly gored and burned. However, the stags were now within reach and the warriors set about them with a will. They may have been made out of fire but they still suffered when hit by a sword as Longhelim and Victor soon proved. Both of the humans hit them; cleverly, Victor and Longhelim concentrated their blows on a single beast and it could not take that sort of punishment; almost immediately, the stag facing Longhelim dissipated. I managed to cast a little spell on another, almost my last one; it befuddled it for a brief moment but this tiny advantage allowed the warriors to again concentrate their blows on a single opponent.

    Suddenly, there was a shout from behind and Crystin and Torrent ran past us. The wall of flame was so close that there was a danger that it would roll right over us. We had forgotten about this hazard! In fact, in the process of getting a last blow into the second stag, Victor was caught in the wall and suffered some burns before he managed to move away from it.

    There was one more stag left. It scampered into the wall, looked around and then charged again, this time at Felix. We had to dodge the wall quite carefully as we stalked the last stag. Thankfully, this was not too difficult. It may have been made out of fire but it was still an animal and showed animal intelligence; its instinct was to charge, so, although it did hurt Felix, it was then caught by the two warriors who quickly sent it back into whatever fire it had come from. I was thankful to see that Victor was finally becoming accustomed to his strange weapon with its unusual pommel after his problems with its balance.

    As the last stag dissipated, so did the wall of flame. However, we still had a barrier of burning logs in front of us; as we approached, suddenly a huge draconic head made out of flame rose up from the burning logs. It had a crown of horns, the largest teeth I had ever seen and a voice that sounded like a burning tree:

    “I am Flame! Free me!” it crackled. “I am a trapped in this accursed place! Follow the River and set me free otherwise, you will burn in here forever with me”.

    Longhelim nodded. Then we gathered briefly together. Longhelim whispered:

    “Whatever it is, it is not evil. It seems to be trapped here with us.”

    Keeping my voice low, I said: “I am not sure where this river is but there could be one flowing under that bridge ahead. Look, don’t laugh; we have no idea what is going here so I don’t see why there couldn’t be a river in a burning forest. Come on, there have been much stranger things happening in this place”.

    Longhelim continued: “I dislike leaving things, even if they look like dragons, trapped in an ever burning forest. It seems like a form of torture to me. I suggest we at least investigate this area where it is directing us.”

    No one had anything to add so we moved to the barrier. At this time, we could only see a pair of fiery eyes which regarded us with interest:

    “Well, what say you?”

    “We will do our best to free you” answered Longhelim.

    As he said that, I felt a molten fire running through my veins. Looking at their faces, I could see that I was not the only who was suffering this. Once it was over though, we were even more comfortable in the fire; it was as if the heat had no effect on us unless we specifically came into contact with flame. Of course, me being me, I had to find this out the hard way. Fire still burned. It was just heat that we were impervious to. I thought I heard a crackling chuckle as I was shaking my hand vigorously, trying to cool it down after my test.

    Then Drudge took out his axe and began to chop the fiery barricade in front of us.

    It did not take too long to clear a path. Beyond, the road continued towards the bridge. It did indeed provide a crossing over a river. We took the usual precautions but the bridge was clear of danger. More intriguing was the Tower built on a small jutting offshoot from the main road leading across it. Someone went to a great deal of time and effort to build this impressive defensive feature. We approached it with a certain amount of caution. Logic told us that it should be safe but there were many things in this strange place that defied logic. The tower itself was round, with several arrow slits. There was a door, but it looked solid and unaffected by the fire, strange in itself. Carefully, we approached it and then John moved forward with his picks.

    It took him a little time to master the lock so I took advantage of this time to look around a little more. The river was quite wide, slow moving and obviously well down from its normal height. Both banks could be seen. Of equal interest was the water, which seemed to be warm but not boiling. There was no sign of any living creature in the water, not surprisingly. As I looked around, on the far bank, I could see several buildings, dwellings and paths, obviously some sort of habitation although no sign of people; looking at the others in the my group, I could see that everyone was also looking warily at the village. I just hoped that it was not home to some sort of fiery monstrosity.

    John gave a whoop of triumph and declared that the door was open. We formed our usual defensive order, with the warriors in the front, and Longhelim opened the door.

    The door revealed a round space, obviously the full interior of the tower. The immediate feature that seized our attention were the two corpses slumped against the far wall. They were close to a set of stairs that led to a door in the ceiling, obviously leading to the first floor. A blast of hot air hit us and as we prepared to enter, John shouted for us to stop. He pointed to the right and we could all see some script etched into the stone. None of us could read it; it looked like a set of runes but Crystin looked at it and then amazingly, opened her mouth and intoned a series of liquid, ancient syllables, straight out of a Shahalesti epic. Well, well, the young lady amazed me. We asked her she had just said and she told us:

    “Basically, it says….. say friend and enter. So I just told you the elven word for friend”.

    “Could you repeat it again, please and a little slower”.

    After some practice, we all said the word rather gingerly and proceeded. Whether we needed to or not, the result was that nothing happened to us.

    Looking around, this was some sort of supply room, with numerous weapons, suits of armour and supplies, mostly spoilt, dessicated or plainly just too old. The two corpses looked exactly what they were, two dead elves, curiously preserved by the environment. Some of the armour and weapons were very well made but no better than ours so we moved up the stairs. Opening this door revealed another single room taking up the full extent of the interior of the tower. This time, there was a large table in its center, a prominent symbol to Pelor on the wall and finally and most interestingly, a large scale model of the village across the river, showing buildings, paths, alleys and its general layout in great detail. As we looked at this, we also spotted a book on the table. It looked like some sort of notebook and when we opened it, we saw that it was a journal; a cursory glance at the front by Crystin showed that it had been written by someone called Bhurisrava. Finally, there was another set of stairs leading to another door in the ceiling.

    This door was locked again. John opened it and this door revealed a loft. All sorts of strange things had been stored here, but obviously it was used to house objects that had little use in the tower. A search revealed only one thing of interest: a small paper pouch contained a series of seeds with a couple of notes. One said: “for later study” and was written in elven. The other was written in goblin, showed a strange face and the following note: “For visions of the Firemaker take one. Do not take any more! These are poison!” The seven small black seeds were shaped like small claws.

    I did not know what to make of this although, from my reading, I associated the term Firemaker with the great Elemental Spirit of Fire, usually perceived as a great red dragon; however, in the Burning Forest of Innenotdar, the term “Firemaker” frankly could mean anyone or anything.

    Having searched through everything, we settled for the night. Before going to sleep, the notebook was examined by everyone in the group who could speak elven, which basically was Crystin and told a tale which helped to establish the origin of the Fire. As well as history, there were a great many ruminations on faith, its meaning, its powers and its responsibility. The writer was a cleric of Pelor who was losing his belief due to his inability to deal with the Fire and help his people; it looked as if he sought solace in the written word. Whilst interesting, these passages have little bearing to my chronicle so I will only deal with the sections which were important to our mission.

    First he wrote with great vehemence about the great fires of the Forest and his inability to either put them out or even affect them. He mentioned a group of refugees he found in the village across the river and his quest to send them up the river to someone called Nelle for shelter with a description and a small map showing how to get there. He told of the futility of trying to help his people and his despair at his sense of impotence. He also mentioned visiting a shrine in the elven village. This was a shrine to an elven hero, Anyariel who fought for the side of good and protected the Living Wood of Innenotdar, presumably the name before it became the Burning Forest of Innenotdar.

    One heartbreaking passage tells of a woman who refused to leave the Forest because she was looking for her betrothed. She found him beneath the willow fountain, burning and she fled into the Forest, horrified, never to be seen again.

    He mentioned the strange seeds we found. He called them “Dreamseeds” and said that they were found on the goblins who set fire to the Forest, at the behest of an orc, a Ragesian. This important information was obtained through powerful necromantic magic. Bhurisrava had interrogated the corpses of the goblins.

    A final despairing entry related how Bhurisrava saw or witnessed something which finally broke his faith. He wanted to be forgiven by whoever found this journal and also he prayed for strength to find an answer as to how to put out this fire. He mentioned two companions he would leave behind before setting out to gain provisions. It seemed that to add to their woes, the poor inhabitants of this village were starving as well. The two poor wretches left behind, who I assumed were also downstairs slumped against the wall, were named Refaran and Tendil.

    This reading and discussion took us most of the evening. I was very excited. Finally we were getting to the bottom of this great mystery. If only I could let other people know what we had found out. Although the goblins had set the fires they had done so at the behest of a Ragesian. No mention of how or why this was such a mighty magical fire or why it burned forever but at least this was a start and we were leagues ahead of any other previous research done on this mystery, so far as I knew. Now all we had to do was to find out what else was going on here.

    Having set watches, the night passed uneventfully. The next morning, we discussed matters briefly.

    Longhelim said: “We are going to see this shrine across the river”.

    We all agreed to this. Inside, I was gleeful. It was exactly what I wanted to do before we followed the river to find out more about the mysterious Flame.

    Crystin and Torrent decided to wait in the tower for our return.

    After our usual morning preparation, we exited the structure and crossing the bridge, entered the village. Remarkably, many of the buildings were quite intact although burning as usual. It would not be difficult to investigate them. However, that could wait. Our initial focus for research was the shrine.

    It did not take us long to arrive there. It must have been a feature of true beauty in its full glory. We could see an empty pool, with an arrangement of stepping stones in the shape of a cross. At the far end was a stone fountain beautifully crafted in the shape of a willow tree. Surrounding the whole shrine was a ring of burning willows, swaying in the wind. Even on fire, the whole scene had an innate beauty to it; the only jarring feature was the two corpses somehow wedged in the branches of the stone fountain. Longhelim stopped, straightened and cried:

    “Beware. The corpses are no ordinary dead and they radiate the stench of foul evil.”

    Well, that is not quite what he said but the meaning was the same. His words mentioned pigs and farms and what happened after they ate, especially on a hot mid-summer’s day……he was known as Longhelim the Farmer after all, even if he was a Holy Warrior of Heironeous and said he had grown up on a tobacco plantation.

    Thus warned, we moved forward cautiously until we were a little closer. We stopped and Drudge nocked an arrow and shot. As soon as that happened, the corpses jumped off the tree and ran towards us. These were fast. Then, just as suddenly, they ran away; Felix seemed to grow and brandishing his holy symbol his voice rang out in a mighty imprecation:

    “Begone foul creatures. Go back to whatever hell spawned you!”

    And they did.

    Unlike Longhelim, that is what he actually said.

    As they moved away, a door opened a crack at the bottom of the willow. Again, we approached with caution: Slippery John looked inside and said he could see stairs going down. Then he threw a glowing sunrod down there and after waiting a few moments, he followed it down.

    He stayed down there for a little time; we called down after a few minutes and he called back, saying he was all right; then, suddenly, there was a blue glow from the bottom: Drudge started and turned to us, his eyes wide, saying:

    “I could have sworn John said….Nice hooters”.

    What on earth did that mean? I turned to the others and asked: “What does that mean?”

    Longhelim and Victor just shared a glance and looked at me. “Never mind but let’s just say that he doesn’t seem to be in danger. Not quite yet anyway,” Longhelim said in a dry tone.

    “Give him time”, a mutter from Victor.

    A little later, John returned. He explained:

    “Below is a room, just under the willow. The roots have caught fire and are burning like everything else in this place. There is a big statue of an elven bint, sticking a sword into a big stag. Sword looks good, big, huge thing; carved to look as if it’s wood; vines all over it and all over her hands. She looks sort of heroic; I think she is supposed to be this Anyariel. There are two other corpses, although they don’t look like corpses. Felix, you need to look at them I think; one is an armoured elf. He looks like one of them from Shahalesti. The other is another elf and this one looks like a priest. He looks as if he’s been clawed to death. There is also a glass case that’s been smashed. Amateurs! Anyway, something was there and some disgusting thief got there before….umm took whatever was in the case.”

    “What was the blue glow?”asked Longhelim.

    “Give us a minute,” answered John. “As I was getting ready to go in to investigate for clues as to what we were supposed to do next, this really good looking elven woman turns up out of thin air. All armour and big sword, she had really nice eyes, all pearly and white. Never seen eyes like that before. She glowed as well, glowed blue.”

    I became very excited. It couldn’t be…..”Could you repeat that about the eyes. No pupil, no iris, just white? Like pearls? And she glowed?”

    “Just like pearls” John said, dreamily.

    “It sounds like a ghaele” I said, bouncing with excitement. “They are lovely, beautiful extra planar beings; they are only used for the most important of missions. This shrine must be really important. I have only read of about half a dozen sightings of ghaeles in Gabal’s library. Let’s go down and talk to her! She is bound to know everything that’s going on in this place.”

    “Lovely, beautiful eyes and nice…..” John was still looking dreamy.

    “You are forgetting our undead friends. They will be back soon. We had better get ready.”That was Victor; he didn’t say much but when he did, it usually brought us back down to earth.

    I was chagrined. I had completely forgotten about that undead in my excitement at meeting a real ghaele. It was almost too late as well, as Longhelim pointed at two figures which were running with astonishing speed towards us, shouting:

    “HUNGRY! SO HUNGRY! You all taste good! Roast you all! Eat you all!!”

    So, big teeth and claws, ugly and a limited vocabulary;….just perfect.

    Victor stepped forward and as one of the creatures launched itself at him, he gave it a mighty cut with his sword. It recoiled but then lashed out with its claw and as it struck, suddenly Victor stopped moving. Gleefully, the creature launched itself at the warrior and began lashing at him with its claws. Victor was quickly covered in blood but was unable to do anything about it. The other creature was engaged by Longhelim but was unable to hit him, as its claws were blocked by the warrior’s shield again and again. Then Felix, seeing the danger to Victor, summoned the power of his God and repelled the creatures again. A few moments later, some healing had been administered to Victor and he had began to move again when the two undead bounded back. This time Drudge was deadly with bow fire and one of the creatures stumbled and fell with several arrows protruding from its starved frame. The other jumped on Victor again and again the poor warrior was paralysed after being lashed with one of the claws. In a repeat of the last engagement, the creature launched itself at him in a mad flurry of claws and teeth. This time, Victor collapsed and to our horror, burst into flame.

    Longhelim confronted the last ghast, as Felix called them and quickly slew it as it tried to get at the helpless Victor. Felix caused a powerful stream of water to fall on the warrior but that just created a lot of steam. Then Longhelim touched him, using his holy power and it was only then that Victor stopped burning, groaned and opened his eyes. Gasping, he thanked Longhelim for healing him and then asked Felix and Longhelim to look and see if some sort of foul disease had been left in his wounds from the claws of these creatures.

    Once Victor had recovered, the group cleaned itself and walked down the steps. As if on cue, the elven woman appeared. John’s description had been accurate. She was beautiful, with large milky white eyes, heavy armour, a large sword and she glowed a light blue colour, like a summer sky. Even the ever-burning fires in the room seemed to diminish when she appeared.

    I was just staring. It was not every day you met someone who was almost certainly thousands of years old. I almost asked her for her name but restrained myself.

    Longhelim bowed respectfully:

    “Greetings mighty ghaele. My name is Longhelim the Farmer and these are my companions. We are here to rid the forest of this curse and free all its denizens from whatever strange malady is assaulting them……”

    He went on like this. He could speak so well when it suited him and he didn’t mention his farm, tobacco or its animals once. He explained our purpose here, our aims to rid the Forest of the Fire and our determination to aid Gate Pass. He was very charming with the voice and words of a born story teller. Initially, his voice sounded like the caress of a gentle breeze and increased in volume as he described what we had done already, gaining a distinctly martial tone. I was whispering some things to him which I hoped would help him convince her to allow us to enter the shrine.

    She looked at him, smiling, and then said:

    “I was summoned here by the power of the last dying breath of that priest lying there. He cannot die due to the curse of the Forest. I found the shrine like this and I cannot go outside. It is my task to guard it until the shrine ceases to exist. You may enter and see if you can find anything that may help you in your quest.”

    She stepped aside and everyone entered.

    Searching the shrine was disappointing. It revealed little. We found a mace lying by the elven cleric whom we suspected was Bhurisrava. We did not understand the significance of the presence of the Shahalesti warrior but upon examination, I realised that I was witnessing extremely powerful magic which allowed a body or room or group to stay still in time, watching Ages go by. Only the most powerful of magicians knew the secrets of time.

    The ghaele continued speaking as we were looking: “I know that the case contained a lock of Anyariel’s hair.”

    I then stepped forward and bowed to her. She looked at me and I felt the full force of those beautiful white eyes.

    “Please, mighty ghaele, we are now on a dangerous quest to rescue a being who may release the Forest from this curse. For this, we will need help and this mace was not part of the original shrine. May we borrow it for our quest? We will return it if at all possible as soon as we have completed it but as it is a magical weapon, it may make the difference between our success and failure.”

    She looked at me as she considered this and then she nodded and said:

    “You may take it.”

    We gave this mace to Felix as it was he who was the most likely to make the best use of it.

    Having satisfied our curiosity that there was nothing there to reveal further answers to our mysteries, we moved out and into the village.

    Having left the shrine, we decided to search parts of the village, trying to find something that would give us further clues as to what had happened and how to correct it. Those were the fundamental questions, as Victor put it.

    We did find several interesting items, including a book of tattoo magic (a strange discipline about which I had heard but never seen), a lacy red cord and a necklace made of ivory. All these pieces radiated a magical aura but we did not know what they did.

    We were also disturbed several times as we conducted this search. The first time, a hell hound found us and attacked. I did not know if this was the same one that we had met previously but Victor moved in and hit it very hard. The creature opened its mouth and breathed a mixture of flame and bile over the poor warrior but then Drudge shot it twice with arrows and it collapsed. Victor was looking a bit burned around the edges but he did not seem that much worse for his experience.

    The second time we were attacked, it was by another swarm of fiery bats. We could deal quicker with these creatures now that we knew of their weakness. I didn’t cast any spells at them this time. As they swarmed towards us, we pelted them with streams of water squirted from our bottles. Thankfully, we had remembered to refill them from the river at the beginning of the day. Felix also had several spells which soaked them and caused them great distress. As previously, the more we poured water over them, the smaller the swarm became, until finally all that was left were a few bats flapping weakly on the ground. However, as before, suddenly, they seemed to get a new lease of life and attempted to rise again but again, we were ready for this and soaked them thoroughly until they finally succumbed.

    Then, towards the end of the day, as we searched one last section of the village, we could see another two figures approaching. They were similar to the undead ghasts we had defeated previously, but not quite the same. Drudge shot one of them with a couple of arrows so it was severely weakened. The two undead, ghouls, as Felix called them, threw themselves in mindless hunger at the warriors but they made little progress against the metal half plate armour and were soon dispatched.

    After that, we decided to retire back to the tower to rest. There, we spoke to Crystin and Torrent and let them know of the latest developments.

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    Thanks for reading. You put this whole piece together didn't you? Great job.

    We are having a very good time of it; GM says the campaign has a very epic feel to it. I hope the accounts give an impression of the scope of the game. There is a heck of a lot to it and a great deal of the fun is that you can do so much with the actual plot yourselves as players; either get involved or not.

    Most of us a fairly tactically minded as players so, this being a military based campaign it is right up our street; having said that, there is a lot of diplomacy and role playing to do as well and one of us is very good at that.

    Oh, and as for the kapoacinth; yes, our GM did point that out to us after the encounter. I hadn't come across them before but the comments about them being stone swimming things was made in jest as opposed to anything else.

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    The next morning, I woke up remarkably refreshed. One of the advantages of not suffering the cold or heat was that one was not woken up in the middle of the night by the cold. There is little to beat an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
    At breakfast, we met Lord Dashgoban. The aged dwarf was sitting at a table, sipping a hot drink, with a scroll in front of him. He looked up as we entered the room:


    “Ah, Jinis, gentlemen, sit down, sit down.”


    When we did so, he continued: “As I stated yesterday, Gallo has called for aid and I will answer; one thousand of my cavalry will join his forces within days; with them I shall also send two thousand of my infantry and I will make sure they reach Gallo’s Fend before Steppengaard’s forces.”


    Then, he handed us the scroll. “This is a letter instructing the Elder of Pitchwoodsburg to follow your orders. Now I suggest you have your breakfast and ride. I hope to see you all again soon.”


    Nothing loth, we followed his instructions and left his castle after breakfast, riding towards Pitchwoodsburg. We skirted the southern edge of the forest and rode hard. Reaching the settlement was accomplished without any mishap. Truth be said, it was little better than a hamlet, but as was the wont in this region, it was well ordered and looked prosperous. However, it was obvious that it relied solely in its farming for both survival and income. As we arrived, the few people that were outside stopped and looked at us, surprised to see travelers here in these conditions. We dismounted and led our horses to one of these individuals. Longhelim approached him:


    “Good sir, we seek your Elder. Would you be so kind as to tell us his name and where he would be please?”


    The man gaped at him, startled to have someone in heavy armour address him as “good sir” and above all, being polite.


    He replied: “That would be Father Albert and he be over there,” pointing to the largest building in the hamlet.


    Longhelim thanked him and then we walked to said building. There was a tree nearby and we were able to tie our horses before knocking on the door; it took a little while, but it was finally opened by a tall man with a beard, a weathered face and the wide shoulders of someone who had done hard physical work all his life.


    “Yes?” he asked.


    “Father Albert?” asked Longhelim. “If that is you, please invite us into your house. We need to speak with you.”


    The man wordlessly opened the door. It led into a large room, almost a hall, which contained several other people; men, women and children. Several of them bore a distinct resemblance to Father Albert. He turned to us and Longhelim handed him the scroll written by Dashgoban. Albert took it and then called to one of the younger men. As this individual approached, Albert handed him the scroll and the younger man read it. He paled as he informed Albert what it said.


    It was then that Longhelim interrupted:


    “While we bear Lord Dashgoban’s authority to order you to spread and light the pitch on the ice as stated on the scroll, we also have the authority to make reparations in lieu of the harvest that this will spoil next year. Please name the amount that will be needed to cover this loss.”


    In fact, we were acting on our own initiative in this case but we had discussed it and both Felix and Longhelim, who were acquainted with farms and farming, were aware that a loss such as this would devastate this community for years if not destroy it outright. Thanks to our spoils of war, we had a little spare coinage at this time and we were willing to share it with the farmers.


    Father Albert quickly went to his family and guests; they consulted for a little time and then he returned. Rather tentatively, he said:


    “A thousand gold pieces?”


    We found the coinage from various sources. If it was the opening gambit in a bargaining session, then he won out but frankly, we did not care. If a thousand was more than they would expect to gain in a year’s harvest and it provided coinage they could either use for a few luxuries or put away for a bad year then good luck to them. They deserved it. Their hamlet was likely to be razed by Steppengaards forces as they swept past anyway and they would also need funds to rebuild.


    We spent the next few hours discussing what we wanted them to do; namely, to spread the pitch and begin burning it at a specific time; the timing would have to be just right; that is, making sure that it was done at a point when Steppengaard’s army would be delayed, yet at the same time allowing enough time for those responsible for the fire to be able to get away. Father Albert assured us that this would be possible.


    After that, we left, mindful that time was of the essence.


    As we were travelling on the frozen river, suddenly Drudge softly called for us to stop. Quickly he rode ahead for a moment and then returned:


    “There is a patrol ahead. It’s still quite far away but it is wearing the King’s colours. They also have some huge being with them; definitely not human. They haven’t seen us as yet.”


    Longhelim frowned: “If we go ahead, we’ll have to fight them; if we avoid them, we’ll have to go into the Pitchwood and meet the Pitchlings again no doubt; mind you, they know us now so maybe they won’t be as hostile.”


    That swung it to the latter option and again we prepared, giving the magical necklace to Longhelim; then we entered into the outskirts of the Pitchwood. We did meet the Pitchlings again almost immediately; they must have been on high alert with all this activity around the wood; yet again, Longhelim managed to talk us through their domain. The man really did have a silver tongue.


    It was dark as we emerged on the other side and settled for the night. Looking around, we finally saw the Glasskeel Cliffs, the natural borders of Lady Timor’s domain. They did look forbidding; sheer, hostile, grey, windswept and without any signs of a path to the summit. To get up there, we would need to think of a way to get up there by magic or we would need to try to climb up. This last option filled me with trepidation; we dwarven magicians were not reknowned for our climbing ability.


    We decided to camp before attempting to scale them in the morning. As we were settling down for the night, John said pensively:


    “Faden, do you remember one night in Seaquen, we were discussing a spell that would allow one to stick to walls; we were discussing how it could help me to scale buildings. Did you ever develop that magic?”


    “Yes, very recently in fact. I haven’t tested it yet, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t work.”


    John took a mouthful of his stew and added:


    “Well, I can’t think of a better opportunity to try it out then tomorrow.”


    Everyone else was listening with interest.


    “What new magic is this Faden?” asked Longhelim


    “John and I were talking in the library at Seaquen about a spell that would allow him to scale surfaces, even sheer ones; basically I got the idea when I was watching a spider on a wall. John said that it would be very useful. I have been developing it for the last few weeks. Thankfully, there was a very similar spell in one of the books in Seaquen that pretty much duplicated what I was trying to do, so it didn’t take that long.”


    The paladin shook his head: “You and that book of yours; you’re always full of surprises. How many people can you cast this spell on?”


    “Well, it’s one person per spell, but it’s not that complicated, so if we have to, I can cast in on everyone.”


    Felix chimed in at that point: “I was going to cast some magic on two people tomorrow which would achieve the same but in a different way. It will allow them to walk on air as if it was normal ground. It is not like flying but scaling the cliff should be like going up a set of steps to the top. In case something up there decides it doesn’t like us, it would be good to have a couple of people with hands free. Who do you think it would be best on?”


    John thought briefly: “Drudge because he needs his hands for his bow and he can cover the enemy from a distance; and Victor as he is our close quarters warrior.”


    Longhelim puffed his pipe: “So, we are agreed; Victor and Drudge will walk on the air alongside us as we use Faden’s magic to scale the cliffs.”


    Everyone nodded and after a little time, settled down for the night.


    The next morning, the appropriate spells were acquired and then we looked at the Glass Keel Cliffs. They looked formidable indeed. I was very excited. I had never tried to use this new spell before; if it worked, well that would be very gratifying. Felix used his magic on Victor and Drudge initially and they gingerly stepped on thin air……again and again and again until suddenly Drudge was a little distance above our heads, almost without realizing it. Then I cast my spells on everyone else and then I tried to scale up one of the walls of the cliffs; and it worked! It was hard work as I still had to support my weight on my hands and legs but I did climb up a sheer surface which would have been impossible for me to do without the spell!


    Everyone was looking at me. No one showed a great deal of reaction with the exception of Jinis who was looking amazed; I suspect that such overt demonstrations of magical powers were not common in is world. I think our group was more used to seeing Felix, John I and to a lesser extent Longhelim slinging spells around.


    So, we roped ourselves together and began the ascent. Drudge was walking in front, keeping a good lookout for trouble, with this arrows ready; Victor was in the back just in case someone had an accident and dropped. Judging by the whipping of our hair and clothes, I presumed that it was very windy which could have been a problem…..had we been affected but due to our strange transformation since our emergence from the Forest of Innenotdar we did not feel anything at all.


    We were about half way up the Cliffs and began to encounter a series of small ledges; as we climbed up one of those, suddenly another creature made an appearance: it looked like an enormous ape, except that it had snow white fur…..and four arms; oh, and very big teeth and very long claws. It was territorial as it gave out a scream and charged. It was on a ledge slightly above us and thankfully the person nearest to it was Victor, who calmly drew his falchion and readied to meet it; not before several accurately placed arrows sprang from its chest, showing that Drudge was also alert to the danger. Blood began gushing out of its wounds almost immediately, forming a powerful contrast to the white of its fur; Longhelim also reacted, reaching just under its lodge and swiping at it with his sword; unfortunately, the paladin had to also cling to the cliff and therefore his blow was off balance; no such problems with Victor though, who stepped in and began to methodically dismember it with accurate slashes of his falchion. Every so often the creature would swipe out with its claws or try to bite either Longhelim or Victor but it was a difficult for it to make an impression on their heavy metal armour. Drudge also began to use it almost like target practice; it did manage to hit and batter Longhelim a few times but the outcome of this conflict was resolved fairly quickly as the creature toppled over just after Victor slashed at it again.


    After this, we continued our ascent and reached the summit of the cliffs without further incidents.


    Discerning the location of Lady Timor’s castle was not difficult. One couldn’t really miss it, so once everyone was ready, we set out towards it. It looked to be a fairly short distance away. As we approached, I could see that the castle was in fact a series of towers that were joined by several bridges. Various figures could be seen patrolling these bridges and it quickly became obvious that our approach had been noted. As we reached the gates of the nearest towers, we were met by a functionary who invited us in; Jinis presented his credentials and we were informed that the Lady Timor would see us shortly.


    As we were led into the towers, I could see that amongst the patrols on the bridges were many magicians, or at least individuals who looked like magicians and I remembered that Lady Timor styled herself a mage with an affinity for the arcane arts.


    We were led to a comfortable reception chamber and a short time later, the Lady herself entered; she was young for her position with a severe face, long hair and a slim figure clothed in a simple, expensive dress; she would be judged beautiful as humans perceived these things.


    Jinis bowed: “My Lady, I bring news. By right of ancient treaty, Duke Gallo calls for aid. This document proves the perfidy of the Ragesians.” He then handed over the papers we had found. She unrolled the scroll, read them and then handed it to one of her advisors.


    In a low voice, she murmured: “Take these to the mages; check them.”


    As the man left, she turned to us: “Gentlemen, I believe I know who you are; the Resistance from Gate Pass; who did the impossible, going through the Fire Forest of Innenotdar and putting out the fires. Are you aware what you have done? For decades, the Alydi Gap was the only feasible invasion route for the Ragesians; with the quenching of the fires in the Forest, another route has been opened into Dassen.”


    I was startled. I had no idea as to how she knew that it was us. I realised that Ragesian intelligence would know about our achievements, mostly through the reports of Lee Sidoneth; there was also the absence of my journals, stolen during our captivity in Bresk. However, neither of these explained how the Lady Timor knew that we had put out the fires.


    Before I could say anything though, John jumped in: “You are stating this to us as if you think we had a choice. Do you know everything that happened?”


    She replied: “No, but the fires are out and once the Ragesian army that is besieging Gate Pass finishes sacking it, there is nothing stopping it from marching through my lands.”


    None of us said anything to that; it was a feature of her character that she casually mentioned the sacking of our home city with all of our families as if it was only a matter of time and a fait accomplit in the same breath as a possible invasion of Dassen through Timor; which may or may not happen bearing in mind that Gate Pass was on the direct trade route that led to the capital of the Shining Lands of Shahalesti.


    “Just don’t say anything and think diplomatically, Faden. After all, we are trying to obtain aid from this woman” I thought to myself.


    Obviously everyone felt the same way I did because no one else said anything after that and the tense silence stretched until the advisor returned with the order and whispered to the Lady.


    She turned to us: “Nevertheless, I see that these papers bear the truth. Whatever my feelings about the Fire Forest, for this at least you have my gratitude; the Ragesians play many games and we shall have to see how this plays out. Thank you.”


    Then she turned to Jinis and louder and more formally she announced: “Duke Gallo seeks aid by right of ancient treaty and I will respond to his call for aid: I will send a squadron of fifty war mages, with an escort of eight hundred foot soldiers and two hundred cavalry to aid his cause. Furthermore, a powerful elemental ally will be lent to him for the duration of the conflict. My forces will muster with the Duke’s before the imminent battle.


    Please return to him with this news. My magicians will aid your descent of the cliffs. Fare you well.”


    With that she swept out of the room.


    “Well, that could have gone better,” murmured Longhelim. “She is obviously not our greatest supporter.”


    I replied quietly: “Not surprisingly, Timor is the most important thing to her; Gate Pass can burn for all she cares; as for the people inside the Forest itself, they were an irrelevance; she didn’t even ask for details…… Let’s just avoid her from now on. Hopefully, we won’t have to see her again. We managed to get what we needed.”


    At that moment, a servant arrived and guided us out of the castle to the gate. After that, we were escorted by a group of mages to the edge of the cliffs; there, they put a flying spell on us and we flew down to the river this time. Thankfully, our horses were still tied where we left them. Felix put his usual spell on them and we rode back to Gallo’s Fend. As we approached the city, we saw that most of the outside villages had now been evacuated and the inhabitants had moved into a tent city inside the walls.


    The ride back to the fortress was uneventful and as soon as we arrived, we were conducted to the presence of the Duke in the war room as usual. I presumed the man slept sometime but…….


    Jinis bowed and related our success. He did not embellish the account, just gave Duke Gallo the results of his call to aid. When he heard the report, the Duke visibly brightened.


    “Jinis, gentlemen, you have done very well; I am very aware that the task I gave you was not the simplest and you have my gratitude; I promise that when this is all over, I will do my utmost to protect Seaquen.

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    Now, your efforts will allow me to finalise my plans; as I discussed earlier with you, I hope you will play a part in my strategy.”

    He took us to one of the tables, which showed a detailed map of the approaches to Gallo’s Fend. It was remarkable.

    “The enemy can only come at us through one route and we both know this. Therefore, we have placed siege weapons at specific points – here, here, here and here - that will allow me to control the point where we will engage the enemy. Once engaged, we plan to pen them there and attack with archers and crossbowmen. Although it will not be possible to stop their forces there, they will be badly mauled by running through this gauntlet. We will be deploying our forces here, in a line just southeast of Markhold and Wicked Hill; it is close enough to our rear echelons that we can rotate damaged units. Each section of the line will be commanded by an experienced officer and the orders are simple: None Shall Pass!

    Commander Hertiage will be in command of one of the sections of this line and you will be part of his forces. Apart from yourselves, these will consist of two chaplains, thirty two combat soldiers and two mages from Lady Timor’s contingent; you will also be given this.”

    He produced a little device; it was difficult to describe. I had never seen anything like it before.
    “I have been told this is called a thumper; you can use it once and if you do, it will draw the attention of an elemental ally, an elder xorn, Tupof Dzequifs. This ally can travel underground and fight for you, should you need him.

    Now as for what we have been able to find out: the enemy forces are led by Konigsmarshall Malkan, who is under the supervision of Advisor Nina Glibglamer. There is also a magical contingent led by a war wizard, Kelkin Thravanvost, who has been trained in Gabal’s School of arcane tactics, whatever that means. Their troops number roughly ten thousand but there are also a number of non-human mercenaries in their forces, including monsters.

    Finally, intelligence is still being gathered so in the next few days we may have an opportunity to strike some preliminary blows at the enemy. I hope that you will consider these opportunities as they become apparent.”

    Without thinking, I had wondered over to the map where I saw what I presumed was going to be the deployment of the Duke’s forces; or at least some of them. I looked at the map for a time and then I began talking to myself, lost in the topography:

    “Let’s see: first of all, it would be good to find out about the enemy commanders, this Kelkin Thravanvost, Koningsmarshall Malkan and finally exactly what Nina Glibglamer is actually doing here; just observing or actually supervising? Then, trying to work out their logistics would also be good; ten thousand men need an awful lot of food, supplies, weapons and other things; where would he put their supply train? Then, monstrous allies were mentioned: I wonder just what those are? Are there any more sphinxes around…..?”

    Suddenly, I realised that everyone, the Duke, his advisors and the rest of my friends, had stopped talking; and they were all staring at me, including the Duke. He cleared his throat and said:

    “Those are all very good questions and it is good to see you are thinking. We have answers to some of them but others are still unknown. Rest assured that in good time, you will be told all that we know. Now, may I have my map back please? We need to get back to our planning and you need to get some rest.”

    A little embarrassed, I joined the others and we all left the war room. As soon as we did, John burst into laughter and Longhelim just looked at me and shook his head:

    “I cannot believe you just did that; were you really giving lessons in battle planning to Duke Gallo?”

    No one understood: “I wasn’t giving him lessons in anything. I just looked at the map and began thinking about all the questions I would want to know. Look, we are just about to risk our life for this place in a battle that is really nothing to do with us. The only reason we are involved is because we believe that the Ragesians are engineering this and if they are, then by definition it will be bad for Gate Pass and Seaquen. So, if we are taking this risk, then I think that forewarned is forearmed.”

    Longhelim just smiled.

    “Well, it looked as if you were bombarding him with questions while you were in the war room; that’s why everyone stopped talking.”

    John interrupted: “I thought that his staff was going to have collective apoplexy. There was this little dwarf wizard, mumbling to himself while looking at the map and muttering all the questions that they were wanting to ask but didn’t dare; and it was obvious that others hadn’t even thought of them. Faden, that is just……so you.”

    Victor did join in then: “Some of them were good questions. I would have liked to have received the answer to them as well.”

    Even Drudge spoke up; both he and Victor usually let the others do that talking: “Yes, I would have liked to know if there are sphinxes in that approaching army. I have a little matter to settle with those flying flea bags after Bresk.

    So, speculating on the answers, we made our way to our temporary house and settled down for the night.

    The next day, I decided to devote to the scholarship of magic; I had a good breakfast, took out my books, ink vials, quills and the spell book which we obtained from Ivellios the mad magician of the steam tunnels under Seaquen. There were several spells which I wanted to copy and now seemed a good time to do so. The others were going to leave and have a look around; possibly help with war preparations if they could.

    I also memorized several spells which would allow me to find out more about the magical items which we had taken from the Ragesian war party in the watchtower. Thus the day passed quickly as I first performed the item research and then lost myself in the formulae written by Ivellios. The man wrote in a very strange way; probably something to do with being mad. Anyway, before I knew it, the day had finished and the others were returning and filling the house with noise.

    As we sat down to dinner, the others told me what was going on outside. They had all had spent the day drilling and practicing with the troops and others; Gallo, wisely, was exercising his troops incessantly. Both Longhelim and Victor, while experienced warriors in our group, knew that this would be the first time that they would participate in a large battle; therefore, they had all joined in the exercises, eager to learn as much as they could; their survival could hinge on these drills. These were not just drills in fighting but also in movement, order recognition and speed of reaction to commands. Hertiage was going to be our commander and as Longhelim said:

    “So, when Hertiage shouts – Victor – front and centre – it would help if we knew what that actually meant. We do now.”

    I looked at him blankly and said: “Good, because you can explain it to me then.”

    Longhelim continued: “We also met the other members in Hertiage’s command; the chaplains, war mages and soldiers. They’re a good bunch. We will be proud to stand with them.”

    “Any news of Steppengaard’s troops?”

    “No,” was the reply, “but no doubt Gallo’s spies are busily ferreting around.”

    I grunted: “Well, I am going to bed. I had a long day and my head is buzzing with magical script; and will also be tomorrow as well.”

    The next day was a repetition of the previous one and I managed to transfer another spell into my book. That evening, when the others returned, Longhelim made an announcement:

    “Gentlemen, we have been summoned to another audience with Gallo. No doubt it will be one of these difficult tasks, or opportunities as he puts it, that he was referring to. So, shall we go and see what is on offer?”

    We went to the now familiar war room; Gallo was there with his usual gaggle of advisors and as soon as he saw us, he stopped and approached. He was looking incredibly tired, with pouches under his eyes, stubble and a pallor that was the result of too many nights without sleep.

    “Ah, gentlemen, it is good to see you. Faden, as I told you a few days ago, we now have a few more answers to your questions; not all of them, but some of them. The monstrous mercenaries present in Bresk’s army include sphinxes, minotaurs, trolls and dragons. Their army is camped by Itnevel Hill and their supply train is within the camp. As you can imagine, they guard it zealously; Konigsmarshall Malkan, although I don’t know him personally, is obviously no fool. However, by the very nature of their layout and composition, their encampment will allow us with a few opportunities to cause havoc: that is where you come in.

    Their siege engines are vulnerable. They have guards and engineers but they can be overwhelmed and thus leave the engines at the mercy of a sabotage team. There is one wrinkle though; they are also being guarded by a red dragon from the air. It would be a hard assignment but so worthwhile. Destruction of these engines would be a mighty set-back for the enemy.

    There are ten catapults and eight ballistae; each catapult is guarded by four of their soldiers and four engineers. Each group of guards also has an officer in charge. The ballistae are powerful weapons but the most dangerous group there are the catapults and should you choose this task, then they should be your prime targets.

    As you know, this area contains a labyrinth of tunnels and our dwarven allies will be able to guide you close to this section of the camp via a hidden exit.

    Now the other opportunity is an assault on the leader of their magical contingent: Kelkin Thravanvost. Our spies have obtained a description of this individual. He is a dwarf, richly dressed in a particularly resplendent gray cloak that looks as if it is made of stone. He has a luxurious white beard which is threaded with silver medallions which look like coins. He also wears a gleaming skull cap and buckler. He is said to be powerful and learned in the skills of war magic.

    His tent is on the outskirts of the camp and he is lightly guarded; only six soldier and one sphinx. It is one of the more powerful of these creatures with the body of a lion, the wings of a hawk and the head of a woman. My mages have told me it has access to very powerful symbol magic, is a strong combatant and very resistant to magic.

    That may seem a light guard but as I said, let us not forget Kelkin himself; witnesses I trust have seen him cast a high order of magic, which would be very dangerous to our forces; I judge he is as dangerous as several siege engines by himself.

    Again, our dwarven allies will be able to get you at least quite close his location through the tunnels.

    So, to put it bluntly gentlemen, out of my teams you are the most likely to succeed so I will give you the choice of which opportunity you would like to pursue; ideally it would be best if you could exploit both but that would be almost impossible in the time allowed; so please choose one; if you wish to participate at all of course.”

    Longehelim said: “Please forgive us Your Grace, while we have a brief conversation between ourselves.”

    The paladin then led us to a corner while the Duke turned back to his map.

    “The first so called opportunity is problematic due to the presence of the dragon; also, does anyone know how to actually sabotage a catapult?”

    Victor replied: “From our perspective, I think you just have to hit it very hard; we don’t have the expertise to be able to cut through a vital piece of irreplaceable leather; we can smash it though.”

    Longhelim then mused, almost to himself.

    “And there are ten of them? With four engineers and four guards and an officer on each? And a dragon flying overhead?”

    He frowned: “The other opportunity is problematic due to the unknowns. The wizard leader of the enemy is very likely to be powerful and it seems very strange that he is being so lightly guarded. Faden, what exactly is symbol magic?”

    I had read about this: “It is the magic of sigils, runes and signs. You craft them on surfaces such as doors, walls, floors even shields and they are usually activated by sight or proximity. They are very powerful. I know the theory of how they work but they are beyond my knowledge to cast. I know that among other things, these symbols can blind, stun or even kill.”

    John spoke thoughtfully: “I think the magician is a more feasible target for us. He is also potentially the more dangerous and six guards and a sphinx sounds far less dangerous than forty plus guards with a dragon.”

    “Half a dozen guards, a sphinx and a powerful magician; we must not underestimate him,” I reminded him.

    “I would rather attempt to somehow disable the catapults but I think that realistically, we have a better chance to remove the wizard from the battle. Are we all agreed to do this?”

    We all answered in the affirmative and moved to face Gallo.

    Longhelim said: “We will attempt to remove the wizard from the battle.”

    Gallo looked relieved. It was obvious that both missions were very important to him and that he would count the success of even one of them as a advantage before the battle.

    “Excellent! If you succeed, it will aid us greatly in our war effort. Please tell my dwarven allies of your plans and they will guide you into the Iltevel Forest. From there, you will have to negotiate the rest of the journey by yourselves. To aid you, I will allow you to requisition certain items or potions and wands that may help in your mission. Here are the orders.”

    He handed us a scroll and we left the War Room.

    We contacted the dwarves and they told us that they would be able to get us within a short distance of the camp. Then we all went to bed, mindful that we had a long day tomorrow.

    The next morning, we all woke up and began to learn and pray for spells suitable for the mission ahead. Victor, Longhelim and Drudge had also gone to fulfill the requisition order with a series of potions which would be very helpful; they included magic which would toughen the skin of the warriors as if they were suddenly covered in tree bark; the other potions were going to help everyone see in the dark as we planned to strike at night; well everyone except me that is; I could see in the dark already; an advantage of being a dwarf.

    We spent the daylight resting and as evening approached we met Gallo’s dwarven allies and were led into the tunnels. These were amazing pieces of engineering. Carved into the earth and rock, they were wide, tall and obviously designed for large amounts of people to use at once if necessary. There were torches and other light sources scattered regularly so darkness was not a problem for the humans. They were also remarkably clean. Suddenly, I could see why Commander Hertiage sounded so proud of this underground network below the environs of Gallo’s Fend. It really was a major defensive and offensive asset; especially if it led to a network of hidden entrances and exits. As such, it would be priceless; as the enemy were about to find out, I hoped.

    We followed our dwarven guides until we found the exit in the middle of the Iltevel Forest; there the others drank the potions that allowed them to see in the dark. This allowed us to move quietly into position until we finally were reaching the edge of the clearing which contained the wizard’s tent. At this point, we cast various spells which were designed to both defend and bolster us in the coming conflict.

    These spells included two spells for the warriors, which made their skin very hard and resistant to most weapons. I had already cast it on Victor once and he said that the spell was of such importance that it could turn a battle. Felix also bolstered Victor and himself against death magic, mindful of the symbols available to the sphinx; apart from that, several of the more common spells were cast on various members of the group, such as resistance to fire and magical defences and divine exhortations to Farlanghn; personally, I also gave myself the ability to see anyone who was invisible, especially useful against another wizard.

    Finally, I cast a spell which rendered all of us speedy, another on Felix, which made us all invisible within a short distance around him and finally Felix cast his spell of magical silence on a stone; thus prepared, we moved into the camp.

    Initially, our magical precautions worked. As we emerged from the edge of the forest, we saw the tent, a rather unassuming structure, which was surrounded by a guard of six soldiers, standing in a rough circle. They were well armoured and armed with swords and bows. Facing us, almost at the entrance, was the sphinx, as described; the creature seemed to be staring at the forest and so far had given no indication that it had detected us. There was also a fire pit in the terrain in front of us.

    Using our stealth and aided by our trusted spell of magical silence and our invisibility, we moved to the sphinx and tried to strike it; something went awry though. I wasn’t sure whether it was the former or latter magic but both warriors lost their balance and they swung wildly at the monster without managing to hurt her. At this point, the warriors became visible; Drudge began to fire arrows at the soldiers and Felix dropped his stone of silence and moved away, swiftly followed by me.

    The soldiers reacted commendably quickly, obviously well trained. Two immediately moved towards the warriors, to block them while the others began to fire arrows at visible members of the group. Foolishly, one of them began an archery duel with Drudge; that was only ever going to finish one way. It was at this point that Victor, facing two of the soldiers, performed one of his flowing moves, one stroke felling one and a follow up backhand slash nearly decapitating the other. I had seen it countless times before, mostly while he was practicing it endlessly in his sparring sessions but in a real battle, it was truly impressive. No doubt, the other soldiers thought so as well; there was a shout and most of the archery fire became concentrated on Victor.

    Unfortunately, despite his heroics, the sphinx roared; it was a fearsome, magical sound, shaking one to the core of his being, raising primitive fears which almost demanded to be obeyed subconsciously. Thankfully, my reason took over and I was able to shake off the momentary panic; both Drudge and John were still within the confines of the silent pebble, therefore unable to hear it. Amazingly, Felix, Victor and Longhelim were also unaffected. The sphinx then stepped back to the tent. As Victor stormed after her, Felix cast another spell of magical silence, this time on top of the tent, making sure that she would not be able to use that demonic roar again. Finding herself silent, she ripped a hidden flap of the tent and revealed a symbol! This was hugely effective, as suddenly Longhelim, John and Drudge froze in mid movement.

    During this time, I was having my own troubles, as two of the soldiers were advancing towards me. I turned my elemental staff on them and a moment later, they were engulfed in a ball of fire; this hurt them badly but did not put them down and they rushed towards me. Thankfully, I also moved away and before they reached me, I was able to cast my spell of force missiles at both of them and that finally achieved my aim. Just as I finished this, I saw a figure appear from the back of the tent, a dwarf, dressed and equipped in a manner to match our description of Kelkin Thravanvost. He was invisible but not for long, as he cast a spell which produced a bilious green cloud which enveloped everyone except Victor. It was a nasty spell, one about which I read. Against certain individuals, it was deadly; thankfully, we were too hardy to suffer that fate, but it was still a badly debilitating magic. I felt as if I had just crammed my spells; without the advantages. However, this turned the wizard visible and I alerted everyone of his presence. Then I cast a spell at him; a dust of metallic motes settled on the figure. It was a spell which was designed to stop him from turning invisible again; the motes could also settle into his eyes and blind him for a brief period but that was unlikely to happen to a powerful wizard. This was a basic spell that he would have studied in detail and would know how to defend against it.

    I turned quickly, looking or Victor but saw that the sphinx had abandoned all pretence of casting spells and had torn into the warrior viciously with tooth and claw. Amazingly though, Victor stood there and took the wounds dealt by the monster and then with his usual economy of movement, proceeded to literally dismember her. His wooden falchion flashed once, twice, three times, dealing deadly slashes each time. She visibly recoiled and crumpled by the time the third struck her. It was quite incredible. Victor’s expertise with that sword was exceptional.

    As he began to move towards the direction I pointed, a wall of flame appeared across the field, obscuring the magician. Nothing loth, Victor just moved through it; he was protected from fire after all. I lost sight of him at that point. I shot another ball of fire at two archers, causing them to fall and then followed Victor; I had the same protection.

    As I moved through the wall, I was just in time to see Victor moving to the wizard and hitting him with his sword; as can be imagined, if a sphinx could not stand up to Victor’s skill then a wizard was not even close to matching him and a moment later, I saw the form before the warrior crumple. I could also see Felix just behind Victor.

    At this point, Longhelim suddenly emerged through the wall of flame so whatever magic had been holding him in place had ceased to function; he quickly informed us that Drudge and John were following up behind him, now also able to move; oh, and that four riders were approaching at a canter.

    The decision was immediate. We had discussed and prepared the spells for our escape. As soon as Drudge and John joined us, we cast another spell which made everyone in an area around Felix invisible, while the priest cast another spell of silence and taking Thravanvost’s body with us, we moved into the woods, fast. We concentrated in getting out of the camp unseen and did not look behind us; I breathed a sigh of relief as the trees closed around us. Thankfully, due to another spell cast by Felix, we left no trail in the snow. The forest offered a certain amount of shelter, especially against mounted pursuit, and we navigated the path until we found the hidden tunnel entrance. Once there, we disappeared underground and took a slightly more leisurely pace until we reached Gallo’s Fend.

    We brought Thravanvost’s body with us to the castle, leaving it in the entrance hall in front of some gaping servants; then, even though we were dirty, hurt and blackened due to deadly magic, we asked for and obtained an audience with Gallo. He greeted us in a polite, friendly manner although he seemed tense. When we related our success, he looked very relieved:

    “Gentlemen, you have lived up to expectations, thank the gods. I did send another team against the catapults but unfortunately, they have not returned. I fear I have lost them, making your victory doubly important. Do not doubt that this will make a huge difference in the battle. Rest assured, your conduct will be remembered yet again when this is over; and I will not forget my promise to guard Seaquen.

    In the meantime, you look very tired. Please go and rest now. The battle will begin tomorrow. So far, the Konigsmarshall has not launched any special missions such as our efforts but that does not mean that he will not attempt to do so; so I would suggest you be watchful tonight. Thank you again for your efforts. You will have saved many lives.”

    With that, he turned back to the table and just before we left, I saw him reach out and topple one of the small tokens on his map.

    We collected the dwarf’s body and we went back to our quarters. There we cast a few spells on him, which determined what the spoils of war were; once we removed these, we buried the body. Finally, mindful of Gallo’s words and after setting watches, we went to sleep.

  10. #10
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    The next morning was a bright day; not a cloud in the sky and brilliant sunshine reflecting off the snow and ice. We sat down and discussed our tactics and strategy for the coming battle; talked about the spells which we were going to learn that day; the most advantageous magic which would aid us; the warriors talked about the opponents that they were most likely to face; how do deal with them and co-ordinate their blows and defences; how to fight most effectively against monstrosities such as trolls and minotaurs; Drudge joined in, talking about the range of his bow and the best use of his uncanny prowess with his arrows; certainly, the sphinxes were not going to find it quite as easy to subdue us as they did in Bresk. Personally, I had a feeling that my staff, so attuned to the elemental plane of fire, was going to become particularly useful that day. It also allowed me to take slightly different spells as I had several ideas of my own about our battle plans today; but as ever, everything depended on who the enemy was and how they were going to act.

    As prepared as we could be, we joined Hertiage in the city as he mustered his forces and then we joined the army and marched to our section of the line. Horns blared and drums rolled as the town folk cheered us on our march. The army was on the move to defend the homeland!

    As we approached the designated battle field, we had our first look at the enemy. There were so many of them! In the back of my mind, I knew that our numbers were roughly equal but just looking at the mass of men and things in the distance brought home the sheer scale of this conflict. Flags and banners flapped in the wind, with designs and arms about which I knew nothing but no doubt each and every one had a meaning; in some cases, no doubt some of these regiments had proud traditions and battle honours going back centuries; and I cursed Steppengaard for the umpteenth time for the madness that caused this conflict. Dassenians should be united against Ragesia, not fighting each other. This plan was code named “Madness” by the Ragesian high command and looking at the forces of men and dwarves arrayed against each other, never was the there a more apt description of what was about to happen.

    The enemy was in good order, with their units separated between infantry at the front, archers behind and finally cavalry following up behind. There were also several separate units of other, larger hulking humanoids; it was difficult to tell just what they were, except that they were much bigger than us. Many of the banners also showed the symbols of the churches of Dassen, noting the presence of a variety of priests within the enemy army. Many flying creatures could be seen gliding above the army; sphinxes no doubt. I hoped that there were no more of the type that was able to cast the symbol magic, otherwise it was going to be a very short battle. Thankfully, we saw no sign of the dragon.

    Their whole advance was accompanied by drumming and horns, to keep the regiments marching in time.

    Arriving in our place in the line, we deployed. Hertiage wasted no time in stretching us across “his patch” as he called it. Victor and Longhelim held the centre; Felix, John and Drudge were slightly further back; Drudge certainly needed to be mobile since he was going to be acting as a sniper. Two chaplains were sitting calmly on horses, ready to ride to lend support to the areas of the line which were going to be stretched. Finally, two mages from Lady Timor’s forces were stationed on either side of Victor and Longhelim. Hertiage wisely had left two small gaps in the ranks designed to give them firing line for their spells. He also designated a guard of four men each for the two mages as the enemy would no doubt concentrate their attacks on them. Personally, I joined one of the mages on the side, close to the firing gap.

    Hertiage calmly exhorted, encouraged, persuaded and cajoled his troops, letting them know what would happen if they lost today; what the consequences would be for their city, their loved ones and the land. He also reminded them of their training, their exercises and their orders; and above all, he reminded them that they fought for the Duke and Gallo and that the line must not break! Finally he reminded them semi humorously that they had guests amongst them and that it would not do to let themselves down in front of strangers. All in all, it was a very effective speech as I could visibly see the soldiers being bolstered. I also knew that the enemy was doing exactly the same on the other side.

    Then, the drumming and horns stopped! The enemy began to walk towards us, then trot, then suddenly they burst into a full run, charging towards our line! Facing this mass charge, our line suddenly looked very thin. Then the rain of death began; as he said, Gallo had stationed his archers in specially built defences: small circles surrounded by sharpened stakes pointed outwards. There was a special name for them but unfortunately, it has gone out of my mind. Then, balls of fire also began to appear amongst the ranks of the charging enemy; amazingly, I saw that the enemy soldiers were very skilled at avoiding this spell. Their commanders had an instinctive grasp as to where the spells were going to land and shouted instructions at their troops to move! The troops were obviously very well drilled and they managed to avoid a great many of the fire spells by the coordinating their movement. In return, the enemy siege engines began to bombard our lines with rocks.

    As the enemy’s charge neared our lines, we were able to see the forces approaching our section: A row of soldiers in a line, led by a large creature with the head of a bull. A minotaur! A legendary being: an enormously strong, powerful warrior with powers over labyrinths. It was the first time I had seen one. It wielded a huge two handed sword. Behind the line were two more figures, one was a priest while another was obviously some sort of officer. Finally, there were two sphinxes flying with them, one at each side, providing aerial support. These creatures had the bodies of lions, wings and the heads of rams.

    I was so distracted by the sight of our enemy that I almost missed the large rock that was dropping on top of my head. I managed to move and avoid the worst of it but it still grazed me badly; as I gathered myself, the two mages in our ranks began to cast fireballs from wands at the advancing ranks of the enemy. Their commander managed to pull some of his troops out of the range of them but as soon as the mages saw that, they cleverly began to target the extreme sides of the enemy formation; these poor unfortunates were not quite as synchronized as those troops closer to their captain and therefore they suffered. I also joined in with my spells of fire and rather quickly, we decimated their rank and file.

    Unfortunately, this made the two mages prime targets for the sphinxes as they flew over our lines; they both swooped down and raked the mages badly, distracting them from casting any more spells. This tactic however, brought them within range of our sniper; and how he took advantage of that, firing arrow after arrow into the beasts. There was almost nothing they could do about that and one of them quickly almost faltered out of the sky under Drudge’s concentrated archery. Then the minotaur finally arrived at the line! I had seen him drink a couple of potions just before his charge; as I watched him, I missed yet another rock from a siege engine which almost hit me square in the head. As such, it grazed me again, although again it really hurt. Then, horrified, I watched as the minotaur lowered its head and hurtled into Victor. I was amazed as Victor stood there and took the charge; and then used his own falchion to open a bloody gash on the minotaur’s chest.

    I stopped looking at that point though as I saw that their priest had stopped and was casting a spell. It was a long, complicated procedure and I realised that he was trying to summon a creature from some hellish place to do his bidding. That would not do so I cast my spell of force missiles into him; he didn’t like that. In fact, he liked it so little that it disrupted his summoning. Simultaneously, out of the corner of my eye I saw a dark ray hit the minotaur; I recognized the weakening spell; I wasn’t sure who cast it but it was very useful.

    The sphinxes were swooping in again but this time Hertiage was ordering his troops to turn their crossbows on them. The creatures were met with a hail of bolts as they flew into range, both being hit by several, as well as Drudge’s formidable arrows. This time, one of them attacked the ranger, hurting him while the other still targeted a magician, wounding his victim badly. Dripping blood, they flew away again. Glancing at the front of the line, I saw a look of dreadful concentration on Victor’s face as he proceeded to carve the minotaur into little pieces. The look of horror on the enemy captain’s face was palpable as he watched this; it was obviously completely unexpected. The look quickly turned desperate though as he himself was engaged by Longhelim.

    “Well done, Victor! You killed a cow!” was the irreverent shout from John at that point, as he saw the minotaur drop in front of the warrior; or rather several pieces of it.

    Felix had cast a magical silence in the area of the priest. The enemy commander then disengaged with Longhelim and began to make his way towards me. I was concentrating on casting another of my spells at the time so he reached me and stuck his sword into my chest; which really hurt, again! Thankfully, Victor followed him and engaged. That was a short fight.

    In the distance, suddenly, I discerned another wave of enemy approaching; or galloping towards us as this was a group of knights; knights and something else: large loping humanoids of some sort, which easily kept up with the horses.

    I only had a brief chance to study the approaching enemy as the commander was still trying to slice me into bits but I withdrew while Victor dealt with him. The two sphinxes swooped down again, badly hurt and with bolts sticking out of them; this time they both concentrated their attacks on Drudge and the ranger suffered. Then the unexpected happened!

    From high above, a huge, debilitating, soul shattering roar swept across our section of the battle line and all of our soldiers panicked; dropping their weapons and shields they ran! Except one! So did the two sphinxes and the two magicians. This left us, the two chaplains and Hertiage to face the new wave; oh and the one brave individual soldier who somehow resisted the sphinx’s magical roar.

    Grimly, we realised that we were now pretty much on our own; holding this whole section of the line!

    Thankfully, the enemy wave still had some distance to cover before they reached us. Felix and the chaplains quickly healed us as much as possible; then I cast a couple of important spells at the warriors; it was the spell that made them very difficult to hurt, impervious to a lot of weapons, giving their skin the characteristics of granite. Then, as I had just finished doing this, my heart sank; not only did I see that there were no less than sixteen knights on horses charging towards us but also that the strange humanoids with them were nine feet tall, with long, almost ape like arms and huge claws; their feet had three toes and they had greenish skins with warts and various disgusting lumps. Trolls! Again, I recognized them by their descriptions from books and knew of some of their powers, especially the difficulty in killing them. They were amongst the toughest of all monsters; and there were four of them.

    The knights thundered towards us; they actually made quite a splendid sight with their lances held high and pennants fluttering. They cantered at our diminished line in ranks of four, spread out over the terrain obviously mindful of the fireballs that were being cast earlier. The trolls loped in the centre of the ranks but again spread apart for the same reason. Fire was particularly damaging to these creatures. I knew that and that was why I was waiting for the right moment.

    That moment came and as the first rank of knights passed a particular point, I waved my staff and a wall of flames suddenly appeared across our whole section the battlefield. The knights, certainly the first two ranks were committed; they would have to canter through it, suffering the fire. As they went through it, I could hear men and horses screaming and the stench of burnt flesh and fur on fire suddenly assailed our senses. Then the first rank burst through and reached us.

    The knights realised just exactly who put the wall of fire into across their path and they were eager for revenge; which was why three of them immediately charged in my direction. The next rank rode through and three converged in front of Victor; with his usual calm efficiency, I saw the warrior step up and with two swift strokes, drop two of the knights from their saddles; having done that, he half turned and slashed at one of the horses that was rearing and attempting to hit him with its hooves. Then, I felt the first of the knights hit me with his lance; there was little I could do but try to dodge; those lances hurt! Very briefly I saw another knight fall, with three arrows in sticking out of him, so Drudge was still around and I cast another ball of fire out of my staff, frying another knight; I managed one final action, which was to put another wall of fire across the battlefield, this one much closer to the battle; but then I knew nothing more as more lances were driven into my body.

    Suddenly, I felt energy pour into me and I almost sat up but then froze; very close to me stood a troll, sniffing the air and looking at me. I pretended I was still unconscious, lying perfectly still. For an endless moment, it looked at me, still sniffing. I thanked the gods for the stench of burnt flesh in the air; after a moment, it loped away and I was able to open my eyes and look at the situation.

    I heard a voice next to me: John’s: “Get up and do something! We’re in trouble!”

    I could see that. There were four trolls on the battlefield and a couple of knights; the bodies of other horses and men were lying around everywhere, so the warriors must have been busy. Victor was facing two of the trolls. Longhelim was facing a troll and a knight and Drudge was up in the air, shooting. Commander Hertiage was down, as was the soldier. Felix was between Longhelim and Victor. It was difficult to see the extent, but everyone was wounded, blood flowing freely. Then Longhelim swung his sword and I could see the last knight falling; however, a troll moved forward and struck Longhelim three times; every time he landed a blow, there seemed to a be a little glow coming from the paladin’s skin. Obviously my spell was being “tactically advantageous” to use Victor’s description of long ago. Drudge was being deadly with his arrows and three struck the other troll which actually caused the creature to fall over. From the ground, I cast one of my most powerful spells of befuddlement at the two trolls facing Victor but they just shook off my magic fairly contemptuously. One of them turned towards me, but then Victor stepped forward and struck it twice as I had just distracted it; the other took advantage of this, attacking fiercely but Victor somehow almost wove a mesh of steel in front of him with a series of deflecting strikes of his falchion, actually aiming at the claws as they tried to grab him. Still, one got through but his body also looked as if it glowed slightly when the troll struck it.

    Felix then shouted: “Hit them when they are down! They heal!”

    I had known this. One of the great powers that trolls had, the one that really made them so feared was their ability to get up from almost every blow, eventually. The only way to kill the permanently was by burning them.

    The trolls that were facing Victor suddenly realised that he was by far the greater threat and turned on the warrior; one of them was fended off by the strange fighting style that he was employing but the other managed to seize the warrior in two of his claws which enabled it to try to almost rend the warrior in two. Victor grimaced but then unleashed his own considerable prowess at the troll he had struck previously. At this point, I managed to unleash another spell, this time one that caused a glittery cloud to appear on top of the troll’s heads; both of them thankfully. One of them ignored it, the other suddenly began to flail around wildly; it had worked! Some of the cloud had got into the creature’s eyes, causing it to go blind for a short time. Victor immediately moved a short distance, to get out of its way.

    Longhelim was now in a duel with the other troll on his side of the melee. Drudge had shot several arrows into the one he had already felled, making sure it stayed on the ground. Unfortunately, the paladin was losing; thankfully, Felix was doing some healing on him from behind. The troll noticed this and was beginning to aim his blows at the priest.

    The sighted troll facing Victor turned towards me in a rage, but I managed to get another spell of force missiles into him, which felled it to the ground; Victor then hit it several times with massive blows, making sure that it stayed on the ground for a long time. Then he rapidly moved to help Longhelim. The blind troll still flailed around and the last sighted troll was suddenly confronted by both warriors; not a moment too soon. The troll’s blows no longer produced a slight glow every time they hit; they now produced spurts of blood. Thankfully, the last troll could not stand up to both the warriors together and was quickly chopped apart. That only left the blind one and that again was dealt with quite quickly.

    Exhausted and panting, we conferred for a short period of time, with Victor hitting each of the fallen trolls every so often. We put them all together and I then hit them with several fire spells, destroying them permanently.

    We looked at each other and looked worriedly into the distance; I was hoping that there would not be another enemy wave. We were in no shape to receive it. We drank several healing potions and made a quick list of what magic we had left. Not surprisingly, we were very short of healing although I still had several useful spells left. As we waited, we could see a rider cantering towards us; fortunately from our lines. It was a courier from Gallo. We were being relieved imminently and our presence was requested at Markhold at our earliest convenience; that was command speak for “NOW”.

    Bloody, wounded and battered, we waited until our replacements arrived and then gingerly made our way back. I looked back at the figures of Commander Hertiage and the soldier and hoped that our replacements would take care of them. We had not had the time as Lord Gallo needed us to attend him at our earliest convenience.

    We were still concerned that another attempt would be made to breach our section of the line; in the rear, we saw a huge logistical effort taking care of the wounded, supplying archers and catapults with ammunition, moving fresh troops to relieve battered sections of the front and informing the relevant commanders of their orders; the wonder of it was that it seemed to be actually working. There was little chaos and everyone seemed to have an idea of what they were doing. Gallo had trained his people well.

    We were taken to his command tent. We were immediately shown inside. Gallo, for once, seemed to have lost his Ducal grace:

    “You did it!” he shouted. “You held it! When that bloody sphinx roared and everyone ran, I thought we would have a breach for sure but you held it; and against trolls too; who would have thought that Steppengaard would stoop so low as to use such creatures.” He paced around the tent.

    Then he seemed to notice our state: “You! Get some chaplains in here,” he shouted at one of his advisors.

    Then he turned to us again: “Gentlemen, your deeds will become known throughout the army and they have given great heart to the men. You have done the extraordinary and shown that the monsters can be beaten. Everyone saw how you co-ordinated your crossbow troops to concentrate on the flying sphinxes and now they are all doing it!”

    I wanted to tell him that that was actually Hertiage’s idea but…….

    Gallo continue: “Now, to business. Having seen how Steppengaard’s army is fighting, I can now understand his strategy better. The main body of his men would contain my army while the monstrous troops would act as besiegers and shock troops. Imagine what would have happened if the sphinx had roared in the vicinity of the defenders on the walls of the city and together with assaults from trolls and minotaurs. Those monstrosities would have been able to climb siege ladders without opposition and begin to rampage through the city.

    However, thanks in part to your example, we are fighting them to a standstill.

    But……..just as Konigsmarshall Malkan has his own secret weapons, I have mine. My dwarven allies have constructed a tunnel into the enemy camp, right under the Konigsmarshall’s command tent. We convinced one of our earth elemental allies to scout it out and he found that there is a bunker that has been dug under the tent. The Konigsmarshall is there right now; but he won’t be there for long! You gentlemen, are my secret weapon.”

    He paced back and forth, obviously agitated: “You have already done far more than I expected of you; you come out of nowhere and defeat four trolls and sixteen knights! Those are deeds of legends! But if you are willing, then we can breach that bunker from the tunnel and you would have an opportunity to remove Konigsmarshall Malkan himself from the battle. I realize that this is a lot to ask of you, especially after what you have done but this is an opportunity to turn a bloody stand-off or marginal victory at best into a decisive defeat for the enemy. If their commander is removed then their battle line will dissolve and victory will be ours.”

    The chaplains had arrived at this point and were healing us as we discussed this.

    I was muttering: “There he goes with his opportunities again.”

    Felix said: “I would be willing to do it but I am almost completely out of spells; do you think we could cram?”

    Longhelim asked: “Your Grace, do we have an hour?”

    He looked at us and said: “No; it will take you an hour to get there underground and with the other hours your are requesting, it is unlikely that he will be in the bunker for that long; he will need to supervise the battle. We believe he is making some contingency plans to adjust for the fact that he has failed to breach the line.”

    I grunted: “So, it’s now or never.”

    We looked at each other. There was no choice really. We had to attempt it. If we didn’t then the battle would be fought to a bloody standstill and hundreds if not thousands of soldiers would die; soldiers that should be defending Dassen against Ragesia. The ultimate winner in this conflict would be the Empress Leska. So, we all just nodded.

    Longehelim turned to the Duke and said: “Your Grace, we will go.”

    It may have been the strain or the fatigue but Gallo for once looked human, relieved.

    “You will travel to a tunnel that runs almost under the bunker; once there, magical explosives have been prepared which will blow a hole into the bunker floor. I will send a troop of ten men with you and they will have a ladder. Once the breach has been made, the rest is up to you. If you succeed, then another set of explosives has been prepared to collapse the tunnel to ease your escape. Good luck and gods speed!”

    We prepared as best as we could but it was obvious that we had to move fast. A gruff dwarf acted as a guide; he met us at the entrance to Gallo’s tent and then took us across north, across the frozen river. There, in an incongruously small fort, was the tunnel entrance.
    Wordlessly, we met our troop of dwarven soldiers. They just looked at us and nodded. We clambered down the tunnel entrance and began to the long trek to our destination. The tunnel was dark and presumably cold but above all, it was low; it must have been completed very recently and in other words, uncomfortable for my human friends who had to stoop. They all had to crouch and judging by the various bangs I heard, they were all glad to be wearing head gear. Due to the circumstances, the trip took quite some time until we reached the point where our dwarven guides stopped us.

    One of them said: “The point of entry is just ahead. Now you are in charge. Tell us what you want to do.”

    Longhelim replied: “Please wait a few moments and then blow the floor on our signal. Also, please get the ladder ready.”

    Our last spells were cast on us. I still had a some defensive magics to cast on various people but they were a pitiful few. Moments later, Longhelim gave the signal and the explosives were activated.

    A tremendous crash resounded through the tunnel, almost deafening me but the bottom of the chamber had been blown. The dwarves rushed forward and prepared a ladder for us. John shot up it, having the fastest reactions as usual. He was quickly followed by Victor, then Drudge, Longhelim, myself and finally Felix. As we rushed up, we saw that the bunker was surprisingly empty. There were a few tables and chairs as well as several bunks; there was also a hole in the ceiling in the far corner to the right of where we had emerged. As regards people, there were only two dwarves there, both wearing holy symbols. At the far end of the room, beside a table on which lay several maps, was a tall human, richly dressed, with a quill on one hand, with a surprised look on his face and next to him was the gnome wizard, Nina Glibglamer. She also looked surprised.

    Victor was immediately next to the priests and moving forward rapidly, struck one with his falchion, opening a deep gash in his side. Drudge was already inside and fired an arrow at the human, Konigsmarshall Malkan, we assumed. We did manage to get nearly everyone into the room before they were able to react. Once they did, it was decisive. Two spheres of silence rendered this end of the room impossible as regards spell casting; Malkan snatched up a large heavy crossbow from the table and shot into Victor. I saw that it was like mine; it had a magazine so it could fire multiple bolts without reloading. Nina – well Nina did the most surprising thing. She became transparent, translucent; I recognized the effect. She became incorporeal, meaning that there was far more to her than met the eye; that power required a level of magic which was far beyond us at this time. The priests were also shouting as if the gates of hell had opened up beneath them.

    The priests formed a rank in front of the Konigsmarshall, and one of them touched the other, healing. Victor had moved up next to the priest and managed to hit him again but he had been healed so he did not manage to remove him, to paraphrase Lord Gallo. I stepped up into an area that was not covered with the magical silence and managed to cast my speed spell, which caught everyone thankfully. Nina, well Nina was…..giggling. That seemed very odd; as before, it was obvious that there was a lot more here than met the eye but I just didn’t know what! The Konigsmarshall had switched targets and was firing at Drudge since the archer was the only one capable to hurting him while the priests were blocking the warrior’s path to him. I could have told him that engaging in an archery duel with Drudge, especially when the latter was in receipt of a speed spell was not going to end well for him. Then something strange occurred: Victor turned to me, a glassy look in his eyes and hit me; very, very hard!

    When I woke up, I groaned. I could still feel that falchion slashing into me. I wasn’t sure what had happened but I could see that Felix was next to me. I was still on the ground at this point but I could see that both the priests had retreated to be nearer the Konigsmarshall. Nina was by the far wall as before, incorporeal and still giggling; and there were shouts from above.

    The Konigsmarshall had dropped the crossbow and had drawn a golden flail. As he moved, I could glimpse a flash of beautiful silver armour under his clothes. The priests had again drawn ranks in front of him but I could see that now they were both quite hurt. Longhelim had just finished dealing a couple of severe blows to one of them and then Victor, stepped up and almost ferally sliced once, twice, and both priests were…….removed.

    More arrows from Drudge hit the Koningsmarshall and still Nina did nothing, just watching until suddenly I saw her step through the wall. The Konigsmarshall tried to fight against the two warriors but he was badly overmatched. I am not sure how good a strategist he was but he was certainly only a middling warrior as both Victor and Longhelim tore into him. He did not last very long but then suddenly, an armoured figure dropped through the hole in the ceiling, which presumably led to the surface; obviously the first reinforcements from the camp.

    Although this individual fell down the hole, he got up as quickly as he could and then charged into Longhelim and Victor. The paladin took a moment to begin making signs to get down the hole. We had achieved our objective. The Konigsmarshall had been removed; to make sure that this was so, Victor put a slash of his falchion into him as he finished dealing with the knight who had fallen down the hole. While the others were making their way down the hole and others were dragging Malkin’s body towards it, I put a spell under the hole. It was a mildly poisonous cloud; at best it was an inconvenience and at worst it was worst it was something that would bring up someone’s stomach contents and unsettle them quite badly for a short period of time.

    Longhelim covered the retreat while the others converged around the hole in the floor. Another knight jumped down the hole and engaged the warrior; Victor was shouting for everyone to get away while he fenced with this individual; then, glancing behind him, he could see that almost everyone was down the ladder, he gave a cunning twist to his sword and the knight fell. After that, Victor slid down the ladder and the dwarves removed it expertly.

    Nearly everyone else was down the corridor at this point and Victor ran down it, shouting: “Blow it now!”

    Then we all sped down, taking Malkan’s body with us. As we turned a corner, we heard another mighty explosion and an avalanche of dirt behind us. We still sped down the first part of the corridor as fast as we could. It should have been difficult to remove all that dirt behind us but one never knew what tricks the enemy had……as was proved in a moment.

    As we sped down the corridor, suddenly Nina walked through the wall. She was clapping her hands and smiling gleefully. We could hear her shouting: “Well done boys, well done! You were magnificent!”

    After that she just walked through the wall again.

    As before, I really didn’t know what to make of that.

    The return journey through the tunnel was made at a slightly more leisurely pace. The tension had gone and the dwarves were now joking and one of them had brought out a wine skin which he passed to everyone. Everyone knew that we had done it and that the special mission had succeeded. One of two of the dwarves even began to sing, a martial tune, cheerful and full of brim and joy. This was a mighty victory and quite rightly their reputation would soar after their participation in it.

    We were also elated; we had just saved thousands of lives. The thought of the armies battling themselves to a bloody standstill was the reason why we engaged in this mission in the first place. I just hoped that Gallo would be able to negotiate a reasonable truce from a position of strength and one that could somehow ameliorate the suffering of the relatives who had lost someone in the battle.

    Our journey back took a little longer because we did not have the sense of urgency we had when going there. However, as soon as we reached Gallo’s command tent, he was there, outside. He was effusive in his praise.

    “You have done it! The enemy offensive is breaking up. It has lost cohesion. It began a little time ago but one can already see it. It doesn’t have the drive or confidence it had. All we have to do is hold and their battle line will break up.

    Gentlemen, you have my gratitude. You have saved the lives of thousands of my men. I will never forget; nor will I ever forget my promise to Seaquen.

    You look hurt and badly in need of succor. Please go back to the camp and rest. I will send chaplains to deal with your wounds; and thank you again.

    We will speak in the next few days. I have things to organize.”

    We took him at his word and first went back to our camp. There, the chaplains dealt with our wounds and after that, we went back to Gallo’s Fend, where we went back to our house. There, we slept as if we had not slept in a week.

    The next day, I memorized several spells which would allow us to find out about our various spoils of war. We had found several interesting objects and pieces on Malkan and Thravanvost, including rings, wands, weapons, armour and the flashy skull cap, which would be of great use to me. All of this took several hours and also provided a restful day. We did not know what was happening outside but there were no messengers rushing to our door which we took as good sign.

    I was certain that Gallo had not forgotten us.

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