(Cydra) The Year 271 Campaign (Low Magic experiment)

the Jester

Legend
Nervously, Sir Colder moves through the damaged doors at one side of the market. The place is huge- he cannot get over its sheer size! Cautiously, he moves forward- and into an area composed of long display shelves and racks of clothing. Though it appears partially looted, large areas are still in order and essentially undamaged.

Immediately, Sir Colder begins to salivate. New shoes, he thinks. I could really use some new shoes... oh, how I love good shoes!* He realizes how distracted he is getting, and bites his cheek to bring himself back to alertness. Be careful, you fool, he chastises himself. Who knows what dangers may be lurking in here? I must stay on my guard. He moves laterally, staying close to the entrance- and freezes.

He has found the liquor. Shelf after shelf of it, liquor, beer, wine and spirits, stretching literally hundreds of feet... Colder moans softly to himself. If Cedric sees this, he’ll never leave, he thinks wryly. He grabs a couple of bottles.

He turns back and returns to the clothing section. It stretches for over a hundred feet in length and is at least 70’ wide. Colder cannot get over the sheer scale of this store! He moves through the clothes and deeper into the building.

The next section is full of opaque bottles, brushes and combs, small bands of strange material, jars of varying shades of colors and even weirder stuff. Cosmetics? he wonders. Or medicines? Poisons? Something stranger? He shakes his head and continues- then halts abruptly.

Suddenly he has entered a realm of chaotic destruction. Shelves and foodstuffs are crushed and shattered everywhere. The organization of the majority of this weird, huge market is in total disarray. He can see an immense amount of confused, rotting material, stretching for 400’ to the other side of the market and about half that to the back wall. It is mostly dark, though high windows allow some light to enter.

There is a noise.

It’s a slithering, shifting sound, like something built low to the ground moving through an array of confused debris. And it is a large sound- whatever it is, it is very big.

And then it rears up, and Sir Colder sees it: a bloated, purple-red centipede of unknown length- he can see 40’, and that probably isn’t half of it- with fluorescent orange legs with strange, whip-like tendrils depending from them.

Sir Colder screams and runs, and the worm of the market drops down on all however-many legs and begins to skitter forward after Colder, kicking up a cloud of broken shelves, mannequins, rotting chunks of meat and other various debris that must have once been goods sold here as it comes. And then it spits out a stream of foul, greenish-yellow acid at Colder, washing over him and nearly killing him! He gives out another cry, this one thin and wheedling, and pumps his legs furiously, heading back into the clothes. Shoes, he thins wanly, passing them by.

Wham!

Sir Colder screams as the worm bites him from behind. It tears at his shoulder, arm and buttock, but he manages to tear free and keep running. He can feel his body growing numb as a very unpleasant heat stains the pain of the wound. Poison! he realizes. He is beginning to stagger as he slips to the side, forcing the worm to turn its huge bulk to follow him- but it is surprisingly quick, and takes another bite at him. He screams as it smashes him forward with the force of its blow, and suddenly someone is yanking him by the arm. He staggers, off-balance for a moment, then realizes that it is Goer that has grabbed him and screams, “RUN!!”

The worm rounds the bend, but the party is already rushing out the door. Goer goes last; he slams the doors shut, and the party moves to a safe distance.

Nothing happens.

“Doesn’t look like it wanted to leave its lair,” gasps Sir Colder.

“What the hell was that?” demands Sir Fwaigo.

“Some kind of worm... centipede... thing.” Sir Colder sucks in a deep breath and calms his gasping at last. He shudders. “It poisoned me, too. I feel... sluggish. Clumsy.” He slurs his words a little.

Quickly, Dahlia steps forward. She examines the wound, cuts Colder’s leg and applies some kind of poultice. To Colder’s surprise, the heat in the wound dies down, and though his current numbness and a general ill-feeling remain, he gets no worse. Then she and Lord Cedric apply what healing they can to their friend and ally.

“Do you know anything about this thing?” Goer demands of Banner, who indicates that he does not. “What about you?” Cedric’s former squire points at Sir Porthos, who shakes his head in the negative. Goer scowls angrily.

“It isn’t Harth, it’s a distraction.” Otis yawns. “Sir Fwaigo was correct about that earlier.”

They continue to look for a place to rest. But there is nothing intact, nothing safe-looking. However, they can see the large hexagonal building- the station for the Shadow Train- now: it is getting very close. Since they have nowhere to rest, they keep walking. Soon it is only a block away. Lord Cedric’s pulse quickens. At last he and his men are on the verge of catching that rapscallion Harth! At best, we will catch him here, Cedric thinks haughtily. At the very least, there will be clues to his movements. We almost have him!

The group closes the distance rapidly. The blackened and cracked pave stones in the ruined street beneath their tired feet seem, for once, to be relatively easy travel. The distance closes quickly. Within about 30’ of the building, the ground is undamaged. Unbelievably, this area has not been touched by the ravages of this terrible war. The building itself is a huge thing, three stories high, with dozens of sets of the metal tracks running into it from all sides. Some of them are even built up onto weird elevated bridges that seem to fade into nothingness.

“So much for resting,” notes Kyle.

“Harth might be in there. We should be careful.” Sheriff Jorgen draws his blade. The rest of the party follows suit, readying weapons and what spells they have left. It has been a long, hard day; they are all weary and (except for Kyle) wounded. Yet none of them even considers turning back now.

They move into the lobby of the building. It is cool and shady. The central part is actually a confluence of tracks. One strange array of long, dusk-colored metal cars, each twice the length of a halfling war wagon, rests on one of the tracks. Several large, dark pillars support the partial ceiling overhead. Near one of these pillars is a small booth, with a grey-skinned, indistinct but classy-looking gentleman within it.

The party approaches the booth. The indistinct figure within regards them seriously. “Most services are suspended,” he tells them.

Lord Cedric and Otis exchange a concerned glance. Cedric puts his hand on Bates’ shoulder. “Have any thadow trainth left here rethently?”

The figure- damned if he can get his eyes to really pick out the details- eyes Cedric. “Yes, two days ago.”

“Headed where?” Kyle demands.

“The Isle of the Elves.”

Triumphantly, Lord Cedric whirls to his friends. “You thee?” he cries. “Two dayth! We can catth him!” He turns back to the shadowy figure. “Are you the conductor?”

“No. I am the ticketman.” The figure smiles. “I can give you tickets to see the conductor. You must negotiate with him for the final fee.”

“How much will he charge us to go to the Isle of the Elves?” Kyle asks.

The ticketman shrugs. “Ask him. The tickets to see the conductor are only 5 gold each.”

Everyone shells out a few coins, and soon the large party is moving past the ticket booth and onto a boarding platform where another figure awaits. The Conductor is a uniformed figure cloaked in shadow. He wears some inexact form of hat, as well as a uniform coated in soot. A strange, smoky smell rises off of him. Our heroes cannot see his face at all.

“Good afternoon,” Lord Cedric says cautiously.

The figure nods graciously. “And to you. You are just in time. The last train will be leaving in about an hour and a half.”

“What do you mean, ‘the last train’?” asks Jorgen.

“Just that. The last train. Service to this area has been suspended. Mine is the last train to leave.” He smiles. “At your service.”

“Where are you going?” Dahlia continues the questioning.

“The Shadow Road leads to all places. The real question is, where are you going?”

“The Isle of the Elveth,” Lord Cedric says immediately.

“Ahh, a fine destination,” the Conductor purrs. “Second class seats will cost you each one thousand gold pieces.”

Our heroes look around at the size of the party.

It is huge.

There are eight of them from their own time, plus Porthos; then there is Adelle, and just under a dozen other peasants.

”Do we have that much?” wonders Dahlia.

“Can we offer some gems or items in trade?” queries Kyle.

“I will accept coins or gems only,” the Conductor replies.

The party draws back to consider. “Do we have that much money?” Dahlia repeats. Everyone begins to count. The loot from the bank job goes a good way... people start throwing in everything that they have in their pouches.

”You know, we could just pay for us, Porthos and Adelle,” suggests Goer.

“Leave some of the others behind?” Sir Colder seems shocked.

Banner is outraged. “No!” he cries. “You’ve already made commitments... you’ve taken these people from whatever homes they had, and thrust them here... you can’t abandon them now! You CAN’T!” He gives a great cry of anguish, and suddenly the tattered rags on him start to stretch as he turns green and expands into the Hulk.

“Banner, wait!” Kyle cries, holding out his hands placatingly. “You don’t have to do this! Calm-”

“BANNER PUNY,” rumbles the Hulk. “HULK STRONG!”

And, as if to prove it, he reaches out and grabs Kyle by the wrist.

Next Time: Ol’ 17-hp Kyle vs... the Hulk!!

*Yes, Colder had something of a... thing... for shoes.
 

the Jester

Legend
Kyle vs. the Hulk!

Everyone freezes.

The Hulk has seized Kyle by the wrist. He holds him carelessly, not tightly. Kyle’s eyes are wide and frightened, but he knows that panic will kill him.

“Hulk,” Kyle croaks out. “I’m your friend.”

The Hulk squeezes his hand gently. Kyle groans as he feels the bones in his wrist grind together. The Hulk says nothing.

Goer reaches for his sword, glaring at the Hulk, but Kyle shakes his head. “No, Sir Fwaigo! We’re friends here, we have to be,” or I’m dead, he finishes mentally. As if to punctuate his words, the Hulk gives his arm another squeeze. Kyle squeals. Reluctantly, the former squire lets his hand drop away from the hilt of his blade. Kyle turns back to the Hulk with tears in his eyes.

The green goliath stares angrily at Kyle. “HULK NOT STAY BEHIND,” he growls at the apprentice wizard. He squeezes his hand a little again for emphasis. The pain in Kyle’s forearm is shocking. He gives a high-pitched, girlish scream and grits his teeth.

“Hulk,” Kyle says desperately, “we’re not going to leave you behind. Pay his way,” he pleads with the others.

Lord Cedric cries, “Yeth! We may need the ekthpertithe of... hith alternate thelf!”

“YOU TALK FUNNY,” the Hulk rumbles. His grip on Kyle’s arm loosens.

Please please please, Kyle thinks.

Goer steps up to the Conductor. From his purse he starts to extract coins. “This is for the Hulk,” he says loudly. “For his ticket.”

“Very well,” the Conductor answers.

“There, you see?” Kyle moans. “You’re coming with us. Everything is okay. But, Hulk, my friend, would you mind just letting go of my arm?”

“HULK BOARD SHADOW TRAIN,” the Hulk declares, and starts dragging Kyle up the steps to the entrance.

The Conductor clears his throat. “He does not have a ticket. He may not board.” He points at Kyle.

The Hulk releases him and moves inside the train. Kyle, gasping, drops to the ground. He is half dead!* His arm is a bruised mess, already turning purple. He hurts to the bone.

But I’m alive! he thinks joyfully. He gets to his feet carefully, clutching his arm. “Well, let’s go,” he starts.

Adelle interrupts. “If anyone else tries to board that train, I’m fireballing all of you.”

That gets our heroes’ attention.

“You aren’t leaving any of us behind,” she continues. “I don’t care what we have to do- none of us are staying behind.”

“Don’t worry, that was all talk,” Sheriff Jorgen assures her. “We just bought a ticket for Banner- of course we’re taking everyone with us! I bet we even have enough money! And if not, we’ll just go find some loot somewhere!” He turns to the Conductor. “When are you leaving?”

“Imminently,” the Conductor responds. “And after I leave, service to this area will be suspended.”

“Uh... well, let’s get to counting, guys,” the sheriff says.

The party begins to shell out all their money. Soon they have amassed a considerable fund. Much of it is the money from the bank where the halfling and the orc were attempting to break into the inner vault. Thousands upon thousands of gold pieces and even a few hundred platinum are in the party’s combined horde. They begin to tally it up. The peasants and Adelle throw in what they have as well, though the amount is pretty meager. (Most of their real wealth had been stored in a bank before the war; now it simply no longer exists.)

They have just enough money to get everyone onto the Shadow Train.

“Excellent,” Otis states. “You see, Adelle? There was no need to get threatening.”

“You threatened to leave my people behind. I am quite sincere in my response.” She gives him a cold stare. “You brought us this far. I will not allow you to abandon us now.”

“And we thall not,” Lord Cedric lisps. He turns to Kyle. “Thir Kyle- wait! You are not a knight!”

“Uh- no, my lord, I’m not.”

“Bah!” Cedric jerks his sword clean of the scabbard. “Kneel!” he commands, and Kyle hurries to obey. “I dub thee- Thir Kyle, hedge knight!” the Lord of Whitewater shouts, tapping Kyle on the shoulders and head with the tip of his sword.

“Now,” he says regally, “Let uth board.”

They all ascend into the Shadow Train.

***

The interior of the Shadow Train is comfortable, but clearly it is designed to pack a large number of people into it. The car is about 40’ long and 25’ wide; it has many booths and seats, which our heroes are informed are free for them to employ. However, the Conductor warns them not to proceed too far forward.

“Why not?” asks Dahlia.

“You may go as far forward as the dining car. Beyond that is first class- and you have not paid for that.”

“Just out of curiosity,” the hermit inquires, “how much does a first-class ticket cost?”

“Seven thousand, eight hundred gold pieces- to our current destination.”

“Ah,” Dahlia clears her throat, “never mind then.”

Abruptly, Lord Cedric asks the Conductor, “When did the latht train leave before thith one?”

“Four days ago.”

“And did it, too, go towardth the Isle of the Elveth?”

The Conductor nods.

“And it wath boarded by a knight and a beholder?”

Again, the Conductor nods.

“Four dayth ago, you thay?”

Once more, the other responds with a nonverbal affirmative.

Cedric grins fiercely. Four days. They have cut Harth’s lead to four days.

The party settles in while the Conductor makes his way forward. After he leaves, everyone breathes a sigh of relief. They have made it to the next stage of their journey.

The Hulk looks sourly at them. Everyone consciously avoids looking his way. He grumbles to himself.

Think about what he could do to this train if he was angered, Dahlia thinks. A chill runs down her back. The Hulk could easily end the party’s pursuit of Sir Harth; he is a force of destruction like no other that Dahlia has ever seen.

They relax for a few moments, and then the Conductor’s voice comes from the ceiling: “This is the Conductor. The Shadow Train will depart in one minute. Please sit down.”

“HULK DOESN’T TRUST FUNNY VOICE,” the Hulk booms out. He remains standing.

“Hulk, that’s the Conductor,” Kyle says soothingly. “We have to do as he says. He runs the train.”

The Hulk snorts. “HULK DOESN’T TRUST YOU- OR PUNY CONDUCTOR.”

“Let me give you a mathage, my large friend,” Lord Cedric offers.

“HULK SAYS GO AWAY,” grows the Hulk.

“Help uth to kill Thir Harth,” implores Cedric. “Thow uth how thtrong you are.”

“LEAVE HULK ALONE!”

Then, suddenly, everyone who is still standing... sits down. They don’t mean to; they simply do it. Safety first. Even the Hulk- perhaps no surprise, given how muscle-bound and dull-witted he is in this form- finds himself sitting on a medium-sized bench in the center of the room.

One of the peasants cries out in a glad voice. Out the windows- sealed over with some kind of clear material that is plainly not glass- the station is starting to slide by. They are beginning to move- then there is a violent jerk as the Shadow Train starts to accelerate. After a few moments, its speed levels off; outside, through the windows, all that our heroes can see is darkness broken by occasional grey hills or fields.

The party sets out to explore the train as best they may. They are in the second to last car of the train. The last one is sealed, and they cannot find a way to enter it. It belches a filthy, icy smoke out of its smokestack. Our heroes wisely decide not to try to force their way in to the final car. Instead, they start moving forward. A few peasants follow them, but most are laying out to try to rest and recover from the various wounds that they have suffered. The Hulk follows them after a moment.

They are in the last second class car of what proves to be a line of six identical cars. There is nobody in any of them. The next car forward, however, proves to be a dining car. It has many tables and chairs, all bolted to the floor. And seated at one of the tables with tankards of ale are a pair of dwarves.

The two dwarves stare, then really stare as the Hulk arrives. They stand up and are visibly shaken.

“Who are you?” asks Dahlia.

“Hello, vere. I am Dandark Hammerhall, and this is my coosin Kangard. Who are ye?” The dwarf’s tone is very polite.

“I’m Dahlia. Say, you haven’t seen another human on the train, have you?”

“No humans but ye.”

“I’m not human,” she points out.

“Not you, ye.” The dwarf- Dandark- gestures at the party as a whole.

“Ah.”

“Still,” Kyle puts in, “we’re looking for a human, maybe with a beholder.”

“A human with a behoolder!” exclaims Dandark. “No, we’ve been on the train for a while now-waiting.”

“We figured we could ride things out here, but we never figured it would get this bad,” the other dwarf puts in.

With a little coaxing, the dwarves tell their tale. “We were dwarven ambassadors, from Hammerhall, trying to stop this mad war from breaking out. I fear to see what might have happened to our home; we were too close to Amaruseltiliath, on Tirkon. “Ve Isle of the Elves,” the humans call it, boot vat’s just ignorance- we’re vere, too, and we aren’t looking for trooble with them! I only hope vat vey haven’t doon anything stupid- my folk have weapoons vat were never meant to be used.”

“Ve talks broke down over the longevooty potions, oof course. Everyone knew ve elves had their secret, but vey wouldn’t share it with ve humans. We tried, we really tried- but we couldn’t make either side see sense.”

“We hoong in negotiating oontil ve last minoot, boot oobout oo week oogo we had to get out. So we came here. We figured we’d be safe on the Shadow Train oontil it departed- and it looks like it has worked out so far. We’re oonder way.”

“Wow, so you guys were in the middle of it,” Jorgen says.

“Ve last, final hope.” Kangard looks mournful.

The door from first class opens, and two figures walk out and stop, staring at the Hulk. Two grey-skinned men emerge, their features shadowy and hard to distinguish, wearing dull grey full plate armor. Bastard swords hang at their sides, and they wear tabards with dull-colored crests: a shadow falling across a city for the first one, and a clouded sun sinking behind the hills for the second.

The Hulk growls at the grey-skinned figures.

“Good evening,” one of the shadowy figures says. “An odd creature to be here.” He nods at the Hulk. “Is it with you?” His tone is polite, but hard.

“Yes,” says Dahlia. “Right, Hulk? We’re friends, right?”

The Hulk grumbles.

“We have other things to attend to,” the shadowy figure sniffs, and the two of them return to first class.

Go away, Hulk, thinks Kyle, before someone makes you mad and you break the Shadow Train. Banner, where are you?? Come back and get the Hulk back under control!

Next Time: The Knights of Shadow attempt to kill the Hulk!

*The Hulk squeezed him for 1, 2 and 6 hp. Kyle has 17 at full.
 

the Jester

Legend
The Hulk Must Die!

The food on the Shadow Train, while bland, is plentiful. The villagers that our heroes are attempting to take to their own time- in the future of this terrible age of madness- eat hungrily; it has been quite some time since they were able to eat their fill, with no fear of famine hiding just around the next corner. The party digs in, too; for them, trail rations and the occasional goodberry have sustained them for a long time. The only thing missing is alcohol. Lord Cedric frowns a thunderhead. He is barely inebriated at all, and at this rate, by the end of dinner he will be- horror of horrors- sober.

Sir Kyle- he still can’t get used to the title- gives Adelle’s horse-faced sister, Danelle, a plate of food with a smile. Startled, she accepts, and smiles shyly back at him. She may not be an elf, or a sexy dragon (both of which Kyle finds irresistible, in theory, anyhow), but she is female, and Kyle- like the rest of our heroes- is lonely. Very lonely. Lonely enough that even a girl with a face like a horse is starting to look good- especially since Dahlia has yet to give in to his charms. Kyle- no, Sir Kyle, dammit- sighs heavily as he glances her way. Will she ever? He glances out the window of the dining car. Everything is grey- a dark grey background, with blotches of different shades of grey passing by as the train moves at breakneck speed. If things don’t go our way, there won’t be time for her to surrender to me, he thinks forlornly.

The Hulk has finally calmed down as the food arrives. There seems to be enough of everything even for his behemoth appetite. Slowly, he grows calmer and calmer, until a strange transformation occurs. Slowly, the Hulk begins to shrink; his thick muscles turn scrawny and weak, and their hue changes from jade to olive to tannish-brown. Soon he is once again Banner.

Thank the gods! Kyle suddenly becomes aware of just how tense he has been since the Hulk grabbed him. One blow of those mighty fists would kill him, no doubt. And he has no weapon capable of bringing down that beast. But now, Banner is back! If only we can keep him here, and keep the Hulk away!

Banner seems very tired. He droops in his seat, his tattered purple pants barely clinging to his legs. He lays his head on the table before him and closes his eyes with a sigh. “So tired,” he whispers to himself. Soon he is breathing regularly, evenly, in a deep slumber.

The party draws close and begins a murmured discussion. “Banner seems like a great guy, but that Hulk thing has got to go,” Kyle says seriously. “He almost killed me just grabbing me by the arm! But the loss of Banner- ahh, it’s... lamentable.”

Otis answers, “We cannot dispose of him yet. First of all, if we wake his alter ego on the Shadow Train, who knows what will happen? I doubt whether our journey will continue afterward; I suspect that a rampaging Hulk would tear this whole thing apart.

“Secondly, we may need his help against Harth and the beholder. Not just because they themselves are quite powerful- but because of the weapons that they may have acquired. We know that they have the Soul Gem, from the Ghost Tower of Inverness; but they may have gathered up many other powerful items for all we know. I doubt whether Harth will be satisfied with just one.”

“Then again, he might just want to get home himself,” Sheriff Jorgen muses.

“We’re putting an awful lot of faith in the idea that he has a way home,” Dahlia remarks. “We don’t really know that.”

“Pah!” scoffs Lord Cedric. “Thurely he would not have embarked on thith mad thcheme if he did not have a plant to return to our time.”

“Besides,” Otis adds, “what better chance of returning home do we have?”

“Hey, I think we’re stopping!” Sir Colder exclaims suddenly. “Are we there already? The Isle of the Elves?”

“I don’t think so,” Adelle says shortly.

The party looks out the window. Vague, shadowy figures about the size and shape of a man are barely visible in the gloom, near the head of the train. Nervously, our heroes put on armor and weapons. Kyle, Otis and Adelle all cast mage armor.

“I can hear voices up there,” Kyle whispers. “Sounds like talking, not fighting- at least so far.” Everyone stays hushed, and they can hear them too, distorted by a light fog and the shadows themselves. Conversation, somewhat passionate, and voices that are raised a little- but not too much.

The door from first class opens, and the Knights of Shadows, Sir Ferthickla and Sir Travest, enter the dining car. They look at Sir Kyle, who speaks the local language, and gesture at Lord Cedric. “Translate for us,” Sir Travest requests. Sir Kyle nods.

Through Sir Kyle, the two Shadow Knights explain what is happening to Lord Cedric. Apparently, some shadow folk obstructed the track somehow and forced the Shadow Train to stop in order to extort more money than usual from them for their passage. Probably, Otis thinks, because this is the last train from the ruined human nation.

Now, according to Sir Travest, the train is nearly ready to get underway again. Then his eyes slide to the sleeping Banner. Once again, the two Knights of Shadow depart to first class.

“Wouldn’t it be awesome,” Goer murmurs, “if we could get the Hulk to fight Harth’s beholder?”

Everyone pretty much agrees, and they relax as it becomes plain that no fight is about to break out. The topic of the Hulk vs. the beholder is intriguing enough that they discuss it for several minutes before Cedric becomes grumpy from lack of drink.

“Bah!” he snorts. “Thurely they have alcohol in firtht clath!” With that, he pushes through the door to the first class car (ahead of the dining car). Kyle quickly casts invisibility on him as he moves forward. Quickly, Cedric moves through the first class car, which has multiple cabins in it. It is nothing like the crowded array of benches that second class is! “Truly,” mutters Cedric to himself, “we need to upgrade our ticketth.”

Boldly, he pushes into one of the cabins.

Whoops- there are the two Knights of Shadow. They stop their conversation as their door swings open. Tiptoeing, Lord Cedric backs away. They don’t see him, but might they hear him? He isn’t sure. Thirsty, cranky and annoyed, Cedric withdraws back to second class. He becomes visible again a moment later. “Nothing,” he says mournfully. “Nobody hath a thingle bottle remaining? Oh, woe.”

The door from first class opens and the two Knights of Shadow emerge. They glance at the sleeping Banner. Sir Travest turns to Kyle- one of the few members of the party able to speak the local tongue- and, without preamble, he whispers, “We must kill him now, while he is vulnerable,” His eyes bore into Sir Kyle. “Surely you can all see that he must die. He is too dangerous! If he were to become the Hulk while on the Shadow Train, the results would be... devastating, at least for you. At least we would be on our own plane, if not in our own citadel.”

Kyle snorts. “Good luck,” he says sarcastically. He eyes Banner’s unconscious form. “I have a feeling you’ll regret the attempt, though.”

Nobody else speaks up. Kyle has not yet translated, and of those that understand, Dahlia is too stricken by how much the Shadow Knights’ words mirror her own thoughts and Otis is more convinced that they are right than not.

Sir Travest walks over to Banner, draws his dagger and slits the sleeping man’s throat.*

Immediately blood begins to pour out. Banner’s eyes fly open for just an instant, and then the light goes out of them a split-second later. The Hulk doesn’t have time to come out. Banner dies.

Lord Cedric’s jaw drops. He had no idea that the Shadow Knights planned to do this! Immediately, he rips his sword free of its scabbard and points it at the Shadow Knight. “YOU THERE!” he roars. “I AM PLATHING YOU UNDER ARRETHT!”

This, Kyle translates.

The dwarves scramble out the door and flee back deeper into second class with exclamations of dismay. Sir Travest sneers. “You have no authority here,” he declares, “and we do. We are Knights of Shadow; you are out of your demesnes here, and in ours. You have no authority to arrest anyone.” The two Knights draw their blades menacingly as well.

Our heroes collectively draw their weapons. Kyle cries, “No, everyone! The last thing we need is a fight on the Shadow Train!”

“Banner wath innothent of wrongdoing,” Lord Cedric states. “What crime had he been convicted of?” Quickly, Kyle translates.

Sir Ferthickla’s mouth twists in a grimace. “None,” he admits.

“Then I demand weregild!” Cedric shouts. “A payment of, of- a thouthand gold!”

“And a free upgrade to first class,” Sir Fwaigo puts in quickly.

“Yeth!” cries Lord Cedric. “At leatht for thothe of uth that are are not peathantth.”

Sir Ferthickla exchanges a look with Sir Travest. They seem to pass some kind of unspoken communication back and forth. After a moment, they look back at Lord Cedric. “A fair price,” Travest admits. “Very well.”

The tension drains from the scene, though most of our heroes are angry at the shadow knights. They are unapologetic, and Lord Cedric finds them insufferable and infuriating. They retreat to their cabin soon enough, and the rest of first class is given over to the party. The majority kicks Bates back to second class, to keep Cedric out of trouble as much as anything else. And, most important of all (to Cedric), the alcohol flows- and even if it is weak and bland, it is alcohol, by Clymorian!

The darkness goes by outside. The party sees strange, unlit cities, weird empty landscapes that are all shades of grey, occasional dark clumps of vegetation- all flicker by outside the window as the Shadow Train moves along steadily, much more quickly than a horse’s gallop.

At one point a drift of about half a dozen swift-flying ray-like creatures hovers outside the train for a short while, but the Shadow Train moves with such speed that it is almost impossible for creatures to keep up with it. They drift away behind the train, their intentions never to be known.

For about a week our heroes rest and recuperate. Their occasional brushes with the Knights of Shadow are unfriendly but not hostile- at least, until a belligerent Cedric challenges Sir Travest to a duel.

You want to duel me?” smirks Travest.

“Yeth! It need not be to the death- jutht until one of uth yieldth!”

Travest considers for a few seconds. Then he replies, “Very well... on the roof of the train.”

“The roof! Indeed!” Lord Cedric blusters.

They ascend the exterior of one of the swift-moving cars via a ladder set into the side of it. Once atop the train, the two combatants take a moment to find their balance. The cold wind whips past Lord Cedric’s ruddy face as he studies his opponent- whom he can barely see! Immediately, he casts light upon the blade of his bastard sword. This helps him but little: the Shadow Knight seems to have some kind of aura of dimness surrounding him.

“Fool!” cries Sir Travest. And he unleashes his smite light-bearer power.** He swings his bastard sword and deals a mighty blow to Lord Cedric’s right thigh, breaking it!

Cedric cries out and drops to the roof of the car, unable to stand. “I yield, I yield!” he cries, and then, “Liquor!!”

***

A few more days, and they approach the Isle of the Elves- the city called Amaruseltiliath. Or something like that; our heroes tend to mangle elven words pretty badly, with the exception of Kyle and Dahlia. As the voice of the Conductor announces their imminent arrival, the party makes sure that they have all their gear and peasants, and Cedric tries to take what booze he can. “All right,” Kyle urges everyone, “all the humans in the back, the rest of us- especially those with elven blood- up front, and try to look presentable, everyone! We don’t know what kind of reception we’ll get from the elves, but we have to do our best to impress them so that they will help us find Harth!”

“Isn’t it likely that they have already met him?” Sir Colder says suddenly.

Alert eyes turn to him.

“I mean,” he continues, “didn’t he already come through here? Along with his beholder? How would the elves react?”

The Shadow Train is slowing noticeably as it nears its destination. Our heroes ponder Colder’s words uneasily. “Well, let’s hope it helps convince them to help us,” Sheriff Jorgen says uncertainly.

The Shadow Train is slowing, slowing... outside the windows, grey blobs flashing by change to the silhouettes of buildings, and then the train enters a large building with light and color.

“Let’s just hope,” Otis says, shaking out his fingers to nimble them up in case he needs to cast a spell, “that Harth’s arrival did not convince them to immediately attack us when we arrive.”

The Shadow Train glides to a halt.

The doors open.

Outside, a veritable army of grim, angry elves awaits our heroes, weapons at the ready, poised to strike.

Next Time: Our heroes “interact” with the elves!

*Coup de grace. Ouch.

**This was awesome. I had figured that the Knights of Shadow were the most likely combat encounter on the train, so I had bothered to stat them up. I tried to give them cool, flavorful powers- this smite ability was one of them, but I didn’t know how utterly perfect the chance to use it would turn out to be. And, for the record, he got a critical hit and dealt 40 points of damage in a single blow to Cedric! Daaaamn!!

Here’s the write up of the ability, just for the record:

Smite Light-Bearer (Su): 2/day a knight of shadow can smite a creature bearing a functioning light source or emitting light. He gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls and deals an extra 10 points of damage. Moreover, unless the victim makes a Ref save, DC 17, the light is extinguished. (Permanent magical light sources flicker back on after 1 hour.)
 

the Jester

Legend
“One wrong move and you’re dead!” the lead elf shouts immediately. “Put down your weapons, NOW!!”

There are many elves out there. At least one hundred. Arrayed with staves, wands, bows, blades and other things.

Immediately, Lord Cedric begins unbuckling his sword belt. Me follows suit instantly; the others, after only a few seconds of contemplation. Kyle realizes that the elf spoke in Kamendan. He glances over at the peasants; they clearly understood it, too. It must be some kind of translation magic, he realizes. So many secrets have been lost by our time...

Otis, deaf, doesn’t realize what the elves want at first, but with the aid of the party, he is also relieved of his weaponry. The elves appear angry.

“We’re here as friends,” Sheriff Jorgen says. “We’re trying to catch a criminal named Harth. We believe he came through here-“

“Indeed he did!” the elf barks.

Our heroes are put into a large cell. “We don’t have time for this!” Goer protests. “We’ve got to stop Harth! You have to believe us!”

The elf sneers at him. “We don’t ‘have to’ do anything, human. And we aren’t about to let more of your kind into our secret areas after your recent strike forces.”

“You mean Harth! We are trying to stop him!”

“Not just Harth. We aren’t fools.”

Dahlia says, “Surely you can use your great powers to compel the truth from us, or to ferret out any lies we try to tell. Separate us and question us and compare our stories! Look at our equipment, and at how different it is from anything else of this time!”

The elf’s head cocks. “This time?” he responds sarcastically.

“Just ask your leaders to hear us out!”

“Oh, we will hear your story,” the elf nods. “We’ll hear everything you have to say.”

The way he says it makes it sound very unpleasant.

***

Left in their cell for hours, our heroes find themselves warring between depression- for the obvious reason that they are being delayed now, when they are so close- and elation, because not only are they very, very close to Harth, the sky is normal here. There is a sun in the early dawn time (now); there were stars and blackness earlier. After so much time under the maroon vastness overlaying the human island, our heroes are nearly ecstatic to see a healthy sky again- even from the confines of a cell.

Finally, a troop of elven guards walk in and escorts our heroes to what is unmistakably a courthouse. There, the party is interrogated by elves, examined minutely with magic, and then turned back to their cells.

For several more excruciating hours they wait; then, they are escorted from their cells to a comfortable sitting room, where a number of elves await them, including the one that had initially spoken with them.

“Forgive us,” he says. “You must understand, the unreasoning humans of this time have caused us much trouble, as has your man Harth. We are justified in being cautious about you humans.”

“Of courthe,” Lord Cedric nods.

“Now then... this man and his beholder ally came in on the last Shadow Train several days ago. We weren’t expecting a single human to cause trouble, but with his ally, he certainly did. They stole a vehicle and forced the location of one of our great weapons foundries from one of our people. He is on his way there.”

“How quickly could he get there?” asks Goer.

The elf hesitates. “Well... if he went at full speed without stopping and did not encounter any obstacles, he could be there as soon as... now, really.”

“We have to hurry,” Sir Colder insists. “We’re losing precious time.”

“We can get you there quickly, maybe ahead of him if he has had any slow downs,” the elf replies. “We can teleport you close to the mountain. Not all the way- there are strange fields surrounding it which prevent it- but close enough-”

“You have the power of teleportation?” Otis interrupts, amazed.

“There’s no time for that,” Jorgen says. “We have to get moving as quickly as possible.” He looks at the elf. “I realize these are secrets, but anything that you could tell us that might illuminate what Harth’s goals are in this place- what weapons he hopes to find, or if there might be a way home for us- or even where this place is- you said a mountain-”

“It is called Firestorm Peak,” the elf responds gravely. “What he might seek there, I cannot say.”

“Right, state secrets,” Jorgen sighs. “Very well. Can you guide us, or at least give us papers to aid us in convincing others not to hinder us?”

The elf nods. “Yes. If you can stop this Harth and his allies, we will aid you so far as we can.”

***

The teleportation effect twists the guts of our heroes, but they are suddenly somewhere else. By now it is full dark again, and the stars twinkle overhead. Firestorm Peak looms in the distance, about two miles away. Above it, hanging in the sky like a jewel, they can see a comet in the night sky. It hangs low in the sky, and looks as though it will be out of view in another day or two. From the mountain’s peak, a blazing shaft of multicolored flame shoots up into the sky, providing shadowy illumination for miles around.

Sir Kyle cries, “There is a trail up the mountain, I can see it!”

“Your eyeth are admirably tharp, Thir Kyle,” Lord Cedric beams at him.

The party proceeds towards the trail and then begins following it up the mountain. For some reason, they all begin to feel a bit irritable.* Maybe it’s just because they are getting tired, but they all start to be a little snappish and petty.

As they advance up the trail, they come upon an elven encampment. Clearly a defensive military camp, it holds about a score of elves, but nobody is manning any of the lookout towers or guarding the camp’s gate. Dahlia notes several elves in the camp, sitting about motionless. The party hails them; there is no response.

Despite their misgivings, they move in for a closer look. When they do, they find that the elves are all completely catatonic, and they are all missing their eyes.

“What... they’re still alive. This is horrible,” Dahlia groans.

Me lets out a low, mournful hoot.

The party passes on. Perhaps the elves will awaken, or someone will come upon them. But they have no time to deal with it; they must reach Harth. Despite their exhaustion- they have not slept in over a day now- they press on. Kyle, Otis and Adelle all think it is possible that the comet is linked to Harth’s plans somehow, since comets can often be used as the triggers for great magical rituals or powers. They reach and pass over a bridge across a ravine, and then encounter a group of foul, unnatural bird-things. Fortunately, the party sees them from far enough away that they don’t even have time to reach our heroes before they are destroyed by missile fire and magic. One of them escapes, but our heroes repeat their mantra: If it isn’t Harth, it’s a distraction.

They keep moving, tired though they are. Cranky, too. Snapping at each other, Goer starting to make belligerent threats...

Up, up the trail, passing along a series of switchback, through a small dwarven miner’s camp (it’s not Harth, it’s a distraction), up, up the mountain... almost there! Another long descent, another ascent, a bridge across a chasm- and they will be there! Are they ahead of Harth? Who knows? But they can’t be far behind, at worst!

Up above, the comet is fading in the sky. Dahlia, Adelle and Otis look at it in concern. “It really won’t last much longer at all,” Adelle opines. “We’d best press on.”

Kyle sighs a tired, resigned sigh.

They are almost there.

The continue up the slope, unaware of the malevolent eyes watching them from a short distance away, just off of the trail.

Next Time: I can’t believe one of these would behir!

*This is an effect of being too near Firestorm Peak, corruption of the mood. I encouraged the players to role-play this by giving bonus xp for roleplaying irritability. :)
 

the Jester

Legend
On the Slopes of Firestorm Peak

The mountain grows ever more jagged as the party ascends its slopes. Scree and gravel scramble out from underfoot as the party continues along the little-used trail that they are climbing. Their breath becomes shorter; Kyle, especially, is gasping and wheezing as he ascends. From somewhere on the mountain far above them, the multicolored blast of flame that jets into the comet hanging in the sky above beckons them.

For a moment, Otis pauses to gulp in a breath of the chilly night air. His ears are working again, thank the gods- and the elves. After they at last reluctantly saw that the party, like them, was opposed to the villainous Sir Harth, they healed him. He takes a deep breath...

Movement!

Something huge is slithering towards them. He can hear the skitter of stones brushed aside by an immense form. The sides of the trail are lined with rises of stones, some four feet high; beyond the markers, many larger boulders are strewn up and down the mountain’s side. Some of them are quite large, and it behind one of these that the slithering thing has hidden itself- but clearly, it is stalking the party. It is gigantic, at least 40 feet long.

“Beware!” shouts Otis.

Then the wizard casts a fireball into the darkness where the form is lurking, and the blast of heat and light illuminates a horror beyond his understanding.

Serpentine, with multiple pairs of serpent-like legs, the monster is dark indigo in color. It looks like some sort of bizarre reptile, yet it has too many legs, and it is far, far too big to be any sort of reptile that any of our heroes have ever seen.

With a cry, Lord Cedric spurs Thunderpuss into a charge. She easily leaps over the rocky marker beside the road, and he leans forward, lance braced, as they speed towards the beast. He slams into it, but the tip of his lance shivers and almost shatters harmlessly. Then the monster lunges forward, and its long mouth plucks Cedric from the saddle! He cries out in surprise. It seems that the monster is trying to swallow the lisping lord!

“There’s another one!” shouts Sir Colder, and his bow sings as he launches an arrow into the second sinuous monster. Sir Jorgen immediately charges at it, skewering it with his spear. It roars in surprised pain.

Simultaneously, a volley of Adelle’s magic missiles peppers the horrifying thing that is grappling with Cedric, and for a moment it seems ready to release him; but instead, it only transfers him to its coils, where its many short legs begin tearing at him. He cries out and struggles to free himself, but still to no avail! The monster is extraordinarily strong!

But Otis, Adelle and Kyle keep feeding the beast a steady diet of magic missiles, while Sir Colder, Sir Percival (the half-orc known as Me, because he is too stupid to say his own name) and Sheriff Jorgen engage the second monster in melee. Suddenly it shows an unexpected- and terrifying- ability.

It breathes out a great stroke of lightning, blasting Me, Adelle and one of the peasants. “Nooo!” Adelle cries, as she sees one of the last of her people die.

The great beast (dragon?) seems almost to snicker.

“RAAAHHHGG!!” Lord Cedric exerts himself mightily. Straining to his utmost, he manages to force the monster holding him to loosen its coils just the smallest amount; and he manages to slip free. He shakes his head to clear his vision as he whips out his bastard sword.

Boom! A flame strike explodes down at Dahlia’s urging, scorching the great monster that is meleeing with Colder. It bites him savagely and rips at him with its claws. Blood flies, and Colder screams in pain. The second monster laughs horribly, then plucks one of the peasants- Bates- from the road.

“Bateth!” cries Lord Cedric. “Oh no! I will rethcue you!”

The monster rips the lad to pieces.

“NOOOOOOO!!!!” wails Cedric. The monster laughs again, chewing on part of Bates’ body noisily.

Then Jorgen’s spear takes it in the side, sinking deep into the horrible creature. It gives a loud, startled burp full of blood, then turns its hate-filled eyes on the sheriff.

Uh-oh, thinks Jorgen.

Crunch!

Suddenly Me is there, tumbling in, and he gives a great swing with his magic mace just as the blue thing is lunging in to attack. The mace hits it right between the eyes. Bone shatters, and Me is thrown back ward by the force of the monster’s charge.

It collapses to the ground. Me stumbles with it. Abruptly he realizes, in his dim way, that this is because his arm is in the monster’s brain up to his elbow.

The other monster gives a wail of despair. Before it can make another move, Otis blasts it with the flames of the magical rod that he discovered- and it, too, finally collapses!

“No,” moans Lord Cedric. “That monthter killed Bateth! Ahh, the poor lad. I remember when I uthed to dandy him on my knee...”

“Yes, yes,” interrupts Otis brusquely. “But we must continue our pursuit of Harth. If we do not, his death will have been for nothing.” Adelle shoots him an angry look, but he ignores it. “Quickly,” he urges. “From what the elves told us, Harth has stolen some kind of vehicle. They teleported us as far as they could, but he might still be ahead of us. We must catch up to him and stop him- and learn how he planned to get home!” He glances up. “And another thing: if that comet is linked to Harth’s plan, we have another reason for urgency. It can’t be long until it fades from view.”

Adelle opens her mouth to snap at him for his insensitivity- even a few moments to grieve- but Kyle speaks up first. “He’s right. He may be an :):):):):):):), but he’s right.” Otis shoots Kyle an inscrutable look, but now it’s the apprentice’s turn to ignore it. “You have to put off your grief, my lord- and my lady,” he nods to Adelle. “If we don’t catch Harth, we’re stuck here.”

Lord Cedric sniffles. “Drink,” he demands.

Less than a minute later, the party moves on, beneath the strangely-hued light blasting from Firestorm Peak at the comet above them.

They have gone on for only about ten minutes when they hear a strange noise not far away and above, strangely similar to the piping of an organ. They continue cautiously over a small shoulder- and a pack of four strange, eyeless creatures with gaping, tubular mouths.

Otis doesn’t ask questions, he just tosses a fireball into their midst.

The combat that breaks out is terrifically loud. The monsters prove capable of projecting their calls into deadly sonic attacks of terrific intensity. Cones of bone-shattering, flesh-pulverizing sound rip across the entire group- including all of the peasants.

Adelle cries out in horror again and again as peasant after peasant falls. She casts a fireball on the monsters, and the party presses their attack as best they can, especially once Otis hastes the party. But Sir Porthos staggers and falls to the sonic assault, and it takes the party’s utmost efforts to overcome the monstrous trumpeters.

Of all of the peasants, only Danelle, Adelle’s horse-faced sister, survives.

“I know,” Adelle growls at Otis’ impatient look. Tears stream down her face. “No time. I know.”

“But we are pretty wounded,” Dahlia points out. She and Cedric are administering what healing magic they have to the party’s worst-wounded, but still living, souls. To everyone’s surprise, Sir Porthos is still clinging to the ragged edge of life, and Lord Cedric’s ministrations soon bring him around.

But- other than Danelle- the other peasants are gone.

“We don’t have time to wait,” Kyle groans. “I would love to rest as much as any of you, but we don’t have the luxury of time. If we can beat Harth to the gates of this mountain, maybe we can stop him from entering. If we fail- if he beats us in- who knows whether we can stop him at all. Who knows what elven weapons he might steal, or-”

“You’re right, Kyle,” Sir Colder says. “But if we do find him now, are we in any shape to fight him?”

Lord Cedric snorts disdainfully. “We have beaten him before. We thall do tho again!”

“But his beholder ally beat us before,” Colder reminds him.

“I can fight,” Sheriff Jorgen states unequivocally. “And I agree with Kyle. We need to move.”

And they do, pushing on through the night, which is now getting closer to dawn. Otis glances at the comet again, and frowns. It’s fading fast, he thinks. We must hurry! Nothing must slow us down! This may even be its last night in the sky! He glances at the first hint of light from the east and bites his lip apprehensively.

On and up the trail they go. It crests another shoulder as it zigs and zags, and our heroes see, at last, the place from which the firestorm for which the peak is named emanates from.

About 400 yards ahead of them, the party sees a wide chasm. A thin bridge of stone crosses it. On the far side, there is a plateau not far beneath the peak. It runs 100’ to the mountain’s face, and a set of huge gates, made for all appearances of glass, stand open there, leading into the mountain. A blazing wreath of multicolored fire seems to come out of nowhere from the air directly above the gates, rushing into the sky and up towards the mysterious comet.

The Glass Gates, Otis thinks suddenly. The Gates of Fire.

He glances up into the sky, and his blood runs cold. “The comet!” he cries. “It is almost out of the sky! We must hurry!”

And then, before the party even has time to move, they see a pair of small figures ascend from within the chasm.

One of them, even at this distance, is clearly humanoid. And the other seems to be, basically, spherical- perhaps with just a hint of some sort of bristling things atop it.

“It’s Harth,” Sheriff Jorgen spits. “It has to be!”

“Quickly!” cries Lord Cedric. He vaults into Thunderpuss’ saddle and begins moving as quickly as he can towards the bridge. But he must follow the path, which winds and zigs and zags, switching back and forth along the mountain face. He gives a cry of despair as he sees Harth and the beholder (he believes that is who he sees, anyway) float across the chasm and out of it- and walk through the glass gates.

Which, he suddenly realizes, are slightly narrower than they were when they first came into view. A glance into the sky confirms his worst fears, and Otis’ warnings: the comet is fading. It is barely visible now. It is not the effect of the coming dawn, either.

If I must chase you down by myself, Harth, I shall, vows Lord Cedric, pushing Thunderpuss for all she is worth.

The others race after him as quickly as they can. But they are far behind him when Cedric thunders across the bridge. By the time the first of them has reached the bridge, Cedric is riding hard through the glass gates. They are closing visibly now. Everyone else redoubles their pace. Otis casts a frantic glance overhead. “Hurry!” he gasps.

Kyle is falling behind.

Across the bridge they go. To the other side. And quick, now, across the field! Before the gates close!

Kyle gets across the bridge at last. He is gasping for breath. His lungs burn. He sees Me, Colder, Jorgen reach the gates. Almost there. He runs as fast as he can. The gates are moving fast enough that he can see their motion, as they slowly swing towards a shut position. Dahlia turns and calls out, “Kyle, hurry up!” Her eyes are wide.

Through the gates! The aperture is only about 12’ wide now; when fully open, they offer a passage around 40’ across.

“Made it,” gasps Kyle.

The gates close behind our heroes.

“Let’s hope so,” murmurs Jorgen.

Next Time: Inside Firestorm Peak!
 

the Jester

Legend
Inside Firestorm Peak

At last!

Sir Harth is only moments ahead of our heroes. Victory, at last, is almost within their grasp- if only they can find him and stop him in time, before he brings whatever terrible weapon or weapons that he has obtained back to their home year of 271 A.F.

This whole thing is madness, reflects Otis Optimus. Somehow Harth managed to figure out a way to travel back in time, to the end of a glorious age of magic, in order to gain weapons to conquer our home time with. We survived his intended sacrificing of us and followed him back in time, but we arrived about two months behind his cronies and him. We’ve been pursuing him ever since, first over the ruins of the lands that will become, in our time, Kamenda and the surrounding territories... and now onto the Isle of the Elves and to this place, Firestorm Peak. He looks around. Everything is dark. But only for a moment. A simple light spell, as well as a torch and a lantern, serve to banish the blackness enough for the party to make out the fact that the cave they have entered is interrupted by a wall that goes only about two thirds of the way to the ceiling. The wall is made of heavy wooden planks, with spikes and barbs sprouting from its surface. Standing atop the wall are two creatures that, but for their height, appear to be dour-looking, grey-skinned dwarves wearing strange, translucent plate armor. However, they are nearly 10’ tall! They shout what sound like threats and start training weapons on the party.

“Wait!” cries Dahlia, loading her crossbow. “We’re not here to fight!”

It is clear that the dwarves are not heeding her; so Sir Percival (a.k.a. “Me”) springs up the wall and cuts one of the dwarves down in a single blow, while Otis spider climbs up and deals with the other one.

“We don’t want to be fighting these dwarves!” Sheriff Jorgen calls to the rest of the party, annoyed. “They’re probably just defending their homes.”

“Or they might be under the influence of that beholder,” suggests Kyle. “In which case we don’t have a choice but to fight them.”

The party examines the strange armor. It seems to be made of some kind of metal that feels as hard as tempered iron, yet is as translucent as cloudy glass.

If it’s not Harth, it’s a distraction, they remind themselves.

The party keeps moving forward, with the wizards in the fore. (This unusual arrangement has been largely adopted by the party, and quite successfully, in this age of madness.) They soon find themselves skirmishing with the dwarves, who are mostly the size of normal dwarves, but who seem able to render themselves invisible. Evidence of the beholder is plain: there are areas with statues of dwarves, bodies, or sections of walls disintegrated away to allow passage. The party hurriedly follows these whenever they find them.

“We are very clothe,” Lord Cedric growls. His cheeks are rosy from wine. “I can thenthe it.”

Sir Colder’s hands clench. Sir Harth, you played me for a fool once. You put me in jail and where ready to execute me to fuel your treasonous deceptions.

I hope you are ready for your just desserts.


“I hear troops moving,” Adelle warns suddenly.

Continuing to advance, continuing to skirmish, the party moves further in, coming out on a wide balcony above a huge, dimly-lit plaza. Within the plaza is a marketplace, full of colorful tents and stalls. However, normal commerce seems to have been disrupted: a swath of destruction cuts through the vendors and their wares, and there are a few fights going on down below, but they appear to be between groups of dwarves. It is a confused mess.

“Where is he?” growls Sir Fwaigo to himself. “Where’s Harth?” He stares at the crowds below, his teeth grinding, but he doesn’t see the villain anywhere.

Then more dwarves are coming at them from the balcony.

Again, the party fights off an initial attack while they drop down into the marketplace. There, they finally manage to find someone that they can speak (in Elven) to and make understand that they are here to stop Sir Harth, not to attack the mountain. Desperately, Cedric pulls out the pass the elves gave them and shows it to the dwarves. “Those people fighting- those dwarves- some of them are under the influence of his ally, the beholder,” explains Jorgen.

The burly, sullen dwarf examining the papers squints at him. “We know that,” he retorts in choppy Elven. He glares at the party, then hands the papers back and says curtly, “Come with me. I will take you to the Thane.”

“We don’t have time for this!” cries Otis. “We must pursue, he is right there, he was just here!

“I don’t trust you, and I am inclined to execute you as spies,” growls the dwarf.

Otis subsides to muttering. The dwarven captain that takes charge of them is plainly not the only one who would like to execute them; apparently, humans have little popularity here.

The seconds tick away as the dwarves surround our heroes and relieve them of their weapons. Seconds turn to minutes as the dwarves quell the remaining fighting between their own kind, set guards on the exit that the beholder and Sir Harth took and secure their marketplace. During this time, nobody speaks to the party; the dwarven guards just glare at them.

Then the group is escorted to an impressive-looking dwarf. Clearly a leader of some kind, he has put more than a few pounds into his belly. He wears a suit of full plate armor of the same translucent metal that is in abundant evidence within the mountain. A great axe hangs from his back. Just behind him, a pair of elves in breastplates with cloudy glass shields stand as guards, advisors or both. They are so alike as to appear to be brother and sister.

“I am Stoxis, Thane of the duergar here,” the dwarven leader rumbles in Elven. His voice is very deep, like a barrel full of gravel. He squints at our heroes, studying them intently. “Let me see your papers.”

Lord Cedric hands them over. Thanks to Adelle, he speaks in tongues. “The elveth of thith island have granted uth the right to enter here, in purthuit of-”

“I will judge what rights you have!” the Thane interrupts harshly. Cedric bites back an angry retort. The dwarf- no, duergar- continues reading the elf-given pass, his lips moving silently. Once he is done, he hands the papers to the elves behind him, who study them carefully. They three of them consult in hushed voices for a few minutes.

Time is ticking away, Dahlia thinks angrily. We need to get to Harth, or we’ll never get home! Well, even if that happens, at least we are here, with the elves- my own people, at last! Though her face remains expressionless, inside, she feels a great warm exultation. Her entire life, she has always been something of an outcast due to the share of elven blood in her veins. Perhaps here, she can learn more about her heritage- her culture- her blood. And she feels a hot anger, bitter annoyance pushed far past a rational level. Perhaps she can... but Sir Harth must be stopped. Killed, once and for all. And if she can, despite the elves here and her own desire to learn from them, she will return home. This era is full of insanity, and war, she sighs to herself. And, in addition, we know what is going to happen to these elves. The elf that rescued us from Harth on New Years’ Eve told us enough- they will leave our world, and when they return, it will be as those strange, ribbon-dagger wielding... things... that created that cyst back in Goblin Gorge. I can’t be here to see that! What if they turned me into one of them?

Finally, interrupting the hermit druid’s thoughts, Thane Stoxis turns to the party and speaks again. “Tell me everything,” he demands. “Your ‘Sir Harth’ has come through here and caused us problems already. Tell me everything.” His voice is calm, but there is a distinct undertone of menace in it.

“There is no time for this,” Otis protests, but nobody heeds him.

Our heroes lay out their tale as quickly as they can, telling Stoxis of Sir Harth’s treachery, his ambitions to rule their time, his beholder ally and their suspicion that exactly who is in charge between them is not as clear as it seems, the cult he led and their New Year’s Eve ritual leading to the activation of the Gates of Glass and Fire, the party’s pursuit to this time and through the blasted wasteland of Palantia (which, in their time, will be known as Pellinsia), and finally, their journey across the Isle of the Elves- Tirkon- to Firestorm Peak.

When they are done, the elves and Stoxis confer again. The party is in mental agony. We were so close, thinks Lord Cedric despairingly. Now he has a lead on us again- a lead of at least fifteen minutes.

Finally, Stoxis turns to them. “Well,” he rumbles. “You must pardon my peoples’ caution. We have been attacked by your kind several times in the last few weeks. Serious incursions, attempting to get at the forges and sources of many of our weapons. (By ‘our’, of course, I mean the island of Tirkon, not specifically my people, or our allies, the elves.)”

Kyle grumbles, “I’m not really one of ‘their people,’ you know.” He points at his ears, with their tell-tale tapered points. “I have, uh, a lot of elven blood in me.”

“Those of mixed blood,” one of the elves speaks up, “are at least as suspect as full humans.”

“Thanks,” mutters Kyle.

“Either way, your story rings true, and we have done what we can to check it out. And this human knight with a beholder did indeed come through here, only minutes before you.”

“Please, we must stop him before it’s too late!” Sir Colder bursts out.

“Me!” Sir Percival agrees, and belches.

Thane Stoxis nods. “Yes, we want him stopped as well.”

“Do you have any idea what he’s after?” Dahlia asks. “Or how he could plan to get back home, to our time?”

The elves exchange a glance. “The Vast Gate,” one of them says tightly. The other nods.

“Is that a weapon?” asks Colder. “Or a way home?”

“Perhaps both,” the male elf replies. “It is the source of many powerful forms of energy. The flux surrounding it is... impressive.”

“And impossible to completely dampen,” Thane Stoxis adds darkly. His frown deepens. “And yet, it seems likely... that is the direction in which your Sir Harth fled. And his beholder had managed to control the minds of several of our people, too; they can guide him deeper in... at least, to the Twisted Caverns.”

“The Twisted Caverns?” gulps Kyle. “What are those?”

“You’ll see,” Stoxis chuckles.

“You thay that thith Vatht Gate can be uthed to return to our time?” Lord Cedric prompts the male elf.

He shrugs. “Perhaps. It reaches across vast gulfs of space and time, and even to... beyond. Yet it is incomprehensible, unmasterable, inchoate. It might be possible for you to use it to return home; I am not an expert in it.”

“Who is?” asks Dahlia.

“The last assault by your people slew our most capable technicians,” Stoxis growls. His brows bunch together. “Be warned! Like them, if you cross us, you will die a lingering, painful death!”

“We don’t plan on crossing you!” snaps Goer, trying to maintain a grip on his temper. “We just want to stop Sir Harth and go home!”

The Thane nods humorlessly. “Aye, stop him.” He turns to the crowd of duergar that are surrounding the parlay, and singles out two of them that speak Elvish. “These two will be your guides into the Twisted Caverns in pursuit of Harth.” He grins. “And to ensure that you do not attempt any treachery, I will accompany you myself.”

“We will go, too,” the female elf speaks up. “We can’t allow a human to reach the Vast Gate.”

“Except when we are going home,” Goer interrupts.

“Of course,” nods Stoxis. To the elves, he says, “Very well. You may go with us. I want this madman, and especially his beholder, stopped.

Is his lead now twenty minutes? wonders Cedric. Thirty? We must have no more delays!

***

The party, joined by the two elves and the three duergar, proceed quickly from the marketplace, following the trail of the beholder and Sir Harth. There are several bodies, as well as several areas where duergar who were controlled by the beholder have already been subdued by their fellows. The party’s guides lead them through several natural and rough-hewn caverns. Finally, the passage they are following breaches a much larger, perpendicular hallway, lit in many places by phosphorescent fungi. The hall is plainly artificial; but here and there, the surface of the stone shows strange pitting, small holes and other odd deformities.

The duergar halt. One of them jerks his thumb to the right. “The Vast Gate is that way,” he mutters. “About a mile or so.”

“I thought you were going to guide us,” Sir Colder snaps. Something about this place has his temper on edge.

“This is as far as I will go,” the dwarf responds.

“Me too,” the other one (who has a patch over one eye) agrees. “These are the Twisted Caverns.” He shudders. “We ain’t going in there any further.”

Thane Stoxis nods. “I do not blame you,” he admits, “but I will go further.”

“What about you two?” Goer turns to the elves accusingly. “Are you going to rabbit out of here like these cowards?”

“We ain’t cowards,” the one-eyed duergar snorts. “You are fools.” With that, the two grey dwarves turn and begin making their way back towards their settlement.

“We will accompany you,” the elven sister states. Her brother nods. “Our kind are... more accustomed to the energies of the Vast Gate than the dwarves.”

I’ll just bet you are, Dahlia thinks. The image of the strange, sick-smelling creatures that the elves will become flashes before her mind’s eye and she shudders.

The group continues advancing down the long, wide hall. Here and there, dark forms cling to the ceiling- bats, or something more sinister? The smell of the place is strange, like nothing that they have ever encountered before. Not even the sickly smell of the cyst in Goblin Gorge had any sense of this strange, almost hypnotic, musky aroma. They move carefully, for the ground is uneven in places, and some strange rot seems to grip the stone ever more deeply as they advance.

Ahead- a light! They quicken their pace.

Yes!

Slowly, the form of Sir Harth becomes discernible. The party is careful to avoid giving away their position, but they move as quickly as they can manage.

Yes! They are catching up to Harth at last! For the second time since they arrived in this terrible era, their enemy is in sight!

They close quickly. But Harth is still about a hundred feet ahead when he and his monstrous ally move into a larger, open cave.

“HARTH!!!” roars Lord Cedric, hurrying forward.

Ahead of them, Sir Harth stiffens and turns around.

“You!” he shouts, obviously surprised. “How did you find me here?” Then he cackles, the laugh of a madman. “It doesn’t matter! It is time to kill you, once and for all!”

But before he can do anything else, a sudden loud gibbering arises from all around him in the huge cavern, and scores of small, furry, gibbering figures begin pouring towards him and the beholder from all around. And our heroes rush to the attack, knowing that if they do not take him alive, Sir Harth may take the secret of their escape home with him!

Next Time: This is it!! At last, our heroes FIGHT SIR HARTH AND THE BEHOLDER!!!!
 

the Jester

Legend
For the record, at this point the party consists of:

Sir Kyle- male elfblood* wizard 5/rogue 4
Sir Fwaigo "Goer"- male human fighter 8
Otis Optimus- male human wizard 9
Sir Percival "Me"- male pissblood** scout 5/barbarian 4
Sir Jorgen, Sheriff of Whitewater- male human fighter 4/rogue 4
Dahlia- female elfblood* druid 9
Sir Colder- male elfblood* fighter 6/rogue 3
Sir Cedric, Lord of Whitewater- male human knight*** 4/cleric 4

*Elfbloods are the Year 271 Campaign's half-elves, but most are simply humans with between 1/4 and 3/4 elven blood (very few over 1/2) rather than the result of human + elf.

**Pissblood = half-orc.

***Homebrewed knight class that I made for the setting previous to the release of the PH2.
 

the Jester

Legend
Gibberlings boil out of the cave before Sir Harth, the traitor. He cries out in surprise as they swarm all around him. With a snarl, Harth whirls around, his blade slashing left and right, thrusting forward and then sweeping up in a parry before skewering another of the little creatures trying to drag him down.

“HARTH!!!” Lord Cedric bellows again. “WE THALL BRING YOU TO JUTHTITHE!!!”

Even as the Lord of Whitewater begins rushing forward to the fray, with the other warriors of the group following on his heels, Otis hurls a blazing fireball forward, ahead of the group. It explodes in a brilliant orange-white flower, and the massive gibbering is suddenly mixed with the screams of cooking gibberlings.

“Concentrate on the beholder!” Adelle urges the party, firing a magic missile at it. Lord Cedric shouts wild agreement, while the elves accompanying our heroes begin to pepper the weird sphere of many eyes with arrows. Unfortunately, the shafts bounce off the beholder’s tough-looking hide without effect.

The monster begins rising up in the air, and one of the small eyes upon its crown fires a strange yellow ray at Sir Harth. Harth laughs fiendishly as the beholder’s ray lifts him into the air, out of reach of the gibberlings. “Now we’ll finish this at last!” he sneers at the party, sheathing his blade and drawing out his bow. He nocks an arrow and fires it at Sir Colder. “Here, messenger,” he calls disdainfully, “take this to Sir Galadon!”* With that, Harth lets fly, and the arrow sinks deeply into Sir Colder’s abdomen.

“Aargh!” Colder cries, then gasps as the poison takes hold. He feels his fingers go numb- his feet feel as though they are falling asleep, but painfully.

The beholder glares down at our heroes from above, firing eye rays into the group with a leering grin. Colder suffers several blasts that open wounds on him, but manages to avoid becoming petrified. Another eye zaps Thane Stoxis of the duergar, and he groans and raises a hand to his head, looking bewildered for a moment. Still other eye rays tear into the gibberlings further back in the chamber.

And the horde of short, hairy, gibbering, bestial humanoids pours into our heroes. Adelle and Otis find themselves momentarily impotent as the beholder’s central eye catches them in its antimagical glare. The elves, too, have a similar problem. They realize that it is too late to back out of this fight, and whip their blades free of their scabbards.

Then Thane Stoxis attacks- but he attacks Sir Colder, charging into him and hacking into his chest and left arm with brutal force! Sir Colder gives a cry of pain and flies into the wall, then crumples onto the ground, unconscious and bleeding. Fortunately, he is out of the mass of gibberlings!

“Thir Colder!” cries Lord Cedric. With a loud battle cry, he charges Thunderpuss at the thane, crashing into him with terrific force.

The beholder drops Sir Harth back to the floor, where he immediately charges Lord Cedric. The two begin dueling, with Thane Stoxis flanking Cedric. The two of them press him- and Thunderpuss- hard. The Lord of Whitewater parries the dwarven axe, then whirls to defend against Sir Harth’s bastard sword. He can only block so many blows; both of them are puissant warriors. A massive axe blow catches Cedric across one leg, while Harth thrusts into his side. Cedric feels steel grate against, and crack, several of his ribs. He withdraws for the moment, hoping that his allies can hold off the enemy long enough for him to heal himself.

But the rest of the party have their hands full, between the deadly eye rays, the antimagic cone, the duergar thane, Sir Harth and dozens of gibberlings! Kyle keeps up a steady stream of arrows at the beholder, but he keeps missing. The spellcasters find themselves forced to resort to slings. The beholder laughs, though it has taken a few minor wounds. “Keep it up!” Kyle exhorts the others. “We have to kill that thing, fast!!”

The beholder laughs again. An eye beam stabs at Sheriff Jorgen, and he gasps and collapses, rendered asleep. Dahlia moves up next to him, firing another sling shot at the beholder as soon as she reaches him. Her badger drops down and growls at Jorgen, then bites his sleeve and begins to shake him. Jorgen’s eyes flutter and open.

The gibberlings are everywhere. The beholder has killed or petrified several of them, as has Harth; but our heroes have been focusing on their true enemies.

Suddenly something else enters the fray.

On the fringes of things, along the flanks of the seething mass of gibberlings, a flight of eyeless eels suddenly appears, wriggling grotesquely through the air. It closes with the churning mass of furry little monsters, and the eels all swarm onto one of them, tearing into it like a vicious school of piranha. The gibberling squeals, but the eels have latched on; it cannot escape. The eels seem to pull back, dragging the gibberling up into the air by their teeth. It screams a reedy scream, and then the eels pull back more, but almost as if they were crossing some weird threshold, their rear portions seem to vanish... and when they drag the gibberling through that threshold, it, too, vanishes. Its scream cuts off as soon as its head vanishes.

There are plenty more, though... swarming all over everything, falling in droves to the warriors, but preventing them from finishing this.

There is a loud crack! and the smell of ozone, and almost a dozen gibberlings fly apart as one of the elves accompanying our heroes, finally out of the beholder’s antimagic cone, unleashes a lightning bolt. It blasts into the beholder, too, rocking it. It glares downward angrily. The other elf, meanwhile, fires off a scorching ray that blasts into the beholder, burning a huge seeping wound into its flesh. It gnashes its teeth and glares at the elf, but it is plainly shaken by the two spells’ combined effects.

Goer and Me finally manage to cut through the horde of gibberlings and get into the midst of things, swinging at Sir Harth and the duergar thane, punishing them heavily. Meanwhile, at a safe distance, Lord Cedric gulps down a healing potion. He sighs as his wounds close up. If there were time, he would love to take a drink right now. But there is no time. He must rejoin his manly brothers in arms immediately.

“Remember, we mutht keep him alive to find a way home!” Cedric cries.

Jorgen, meanwhile, throws a lasso at Sir Harth- and lands it expertly around his arms! With a jerk, the sheriff draws it tight. Sir Harth gives a cry of surprise, trying to turn his sword at the rope, but Goer is there to parry his blow, just in time!

Then Thane Stoxis has all of Goer’s attention. He captures it expertly, via his axe. Thankfully, the gibberlings getting pretty thin.

While the beholder’s antimagical eye is focused on the two elves (who moved away from the rest of the party), Otis fires a magic missile at it. He grins fiercely as his magical volley peppers it with wounds. It glares at him from several of its eyestalks, but its central eye remains focused on the elves.

Meanwhile, the eyeless eels reappear. Against, merciless and swift, they swim through the air to one of the gibberlings and attack, then somehow draw it away, vanishing in the process.

The beholder stabs Harth with that yellow ray again, and begins to lift him above the fray again.

“No you don’t!” Sheriff Jorgen braces himself and draws the rope taut, looping the rope around his saddle horn as if he were trying to drag the beholder down by its telekinesis. Kyle darts up and fires an arrow at Harth from only about 10’ away, almost taunting him with his nearness.

Harth struggles ineffectively, caught suspended in the air between the beholder and the saddle. The sheriff’s horse whinnies, but it stays on the ground. The beholder gnashes its teeth angrily.

Then the evil knight slashes the rope, and frees himself. With an exultant grin, he swirls the motion of his body into a deadly thrust at Sir Fwaigo. He gasps, staggering back, but manages to retain his footing. Another blow would be the end of him, especially if it were to be to a critical organ or area of his body.**

The male elf leaps forward, sword drawn. With a lightning-quick stab, he unleashes a massive arcane strike on the beholder. It gives a bellow of pain- and collapses.

“No!” cries Sir Harth, an instant before he drops to the ground.

Thane Stoxis stops fighting and falls back, shaking his head. “What?” he groans.

Jorgen runs the last of the gibberlings through.

The party converges on Harth, punching, striking with the flats of their blades, kicking.

They have him at last.

Now- can they get home?

Next Time: Well, can they??

*Sir Galadon- more properly, Lord Galadon- is one of Sir Colder’s lords (with Lord Cedric the other). Long-time readers may recall him as Harth’s opposite number on the baron’s council from Kamenda City.

**In my game we use something called Wyrd, which are akin to fate points. In this battle, everyone burned a wyrd- because Sir Harth’s next attack was a crit. This mass wyrd-burning turned it into a complete and total miss instead.
 

the Jester

Legend
“All right, you son of a bitch, HOW DO WE GET HOME?” Sir Fwaigo roars. Me, growling, looms right behind him.

Sir Harth, who has a fairly generous bloody nose, a black right eye and a split lip, sneers. “Why should I tell you anything?”

Lord Cedric grabs him roughly by the tunic and shakes him. “You are our captive, Harth! Make no mithtake, you live or die at my pleathure! You will aid uth in getting home- or you will never return to our time, either. Do you with to be trapped here for all time? Are you truly that mad?”

“In return for aiding you, you must assure me that you-”

“No athurantheth, Harth!” Cedric snarls, spittle flying in Harth’s face. “You will aid uth in bringing you to juthtithe- or elthe we will therve juthtithe more informally here, in thith time. Thurely you would rather thee a trial than a length of cold thteel!”

Harth hesitates.

“Me hate traitor,” rumbles Me.

“I can subject you to forms of torture you can’t even imagine,” Otis remarks.

“Yeah!” agrees Kyle.

“HOW, Harth?” demands Sheriff Jorgen. “How were you going to get back? You must have had a plan! You’re not that stupid. Or are you?”

“Of course not!” Harth rises to the bait, then realizes what he has said. Smiling, he nods. “That’s one to you, sheriff. All right. I have a plan, yes. But you cannot possibly execute it without my help.”

“Oh really?” Otis asks dryly.

Sir Harth laughs. “Not unless you can- and dare to- contact entities from Beyond.” The way he says Beyond is somehow disturbing, as if it holds secrets not meant for humanoid intelligence.

“Beyond what?” Goer asks.

“Beyond... everything, you fool.”

Goer bridles, and Lord Cedric snaps, “I am tired of hith intholenthe. One of you, cuff him.” Immediately, Me, Dahlia and Kyle all step up and begin to throw more punches at him. In another few seconds, Harth is lying curled on the floor. The party only kicks him a few times while he’s down before Cedric calls them off.

Sir Colder and Me haul him to his feet. He groans in pain, blood pouring from a cut near his (now black) left eye. Me gives him a rough shake.

“Now, why don’t you be a little more forthcoming this time?” Jorgen suggests. “What was your plan?”

Harth coughs and spits, then says, “To go through the Vast Gate. To go... Beyond. And to contact an intelligence there to help me.”

“But how could-” Dahlia is cut off before she can even frame the question.

“Don’t you see it? When we are... outside, for lack of a better word, we shall be in a place that defies all the rules of our physical universe, a place utterly alien. Space does not apply there, at least, not as we know it... and neither does time. With help, it should be child’s play to emerge back at our time.”

“And you had a specific entity in mind, I assume.” Otis stares hard at Sir Harth.

“Not at all,” Sir Harth replies. “I am simply looking for any entity that is capable of helping.”

“How?” demands Lord Cedric. “How will you find it?”

“I know certain secrets of black magic,” Sir Harth answers obliquely.

***

After they finish interrogating Sir Harth- whom they have relieved of useful gear of all kinds- the party and the two elves with them draw off a short distance to discuss what to do.

“If this is his plan, it’s probably our best bet,” Colder notes. “Unless someone has something better in mind? Didn’t think so.”

“I think that this ‘outside’ place is the same thing that turned- I guess turns- the elves into those things we fought at Goblin Gorge,” Dahlia says. “What will it do to us?”

It’s an unsettling question. But, as Goer points out, they don’t have much choice.

“How do we get to the Vast Gate? This place is swarming with those furred monsters,” Kyle comments.

When asked how he planned to reach it, Sir Harth only shrugs and answers, “I was going to look until I found it. Or whatever I had to do. But I do not know exactly where to go to find it.”

“What about you?” Jorgen turns to the two elves.

The female shakes her head. “I am sorry, but we do not. We never attended directly on the Vast Gate itself.”

“Maybe I can do something to find it,” Dahlia offers. She casts commune with nature. A look of profound disgust comes over her face, and a few moments later, when she comes out of her trance, she exclaims, “This place is disgusting!” She spits, as if to clear a foul taste from her mouth. “Ugh!!”

“Could you discern anything useful?” Otis inquires.

“Yes. Right. We need to stick to the right; it is the safest path, all the way. I could sense the Vast Gate- it’s like a tumor, a cancer festering in nature.” She shudders.

“Think about what we know,” Otis reminds her. “Think of those things that we fought in Goblin Gorge- the things that were once elves. We shouldn’t be surprised if this place is foul.”

“Can you lead uth where we mutht go?” Lord Cedric asks Dahlia.

“I-I think so.”

Gravely, the Lord of Whitewater nods to her. Taking a deep breath, the druidess begins to lead the rest of the party- and their new prisoner- further down the hallway. Everyone is keyed up and alert; before long, several of our heroes report hearing gibbering noises from further on. But Otis casts a silent image of the milk maid from back home to distract everyone and remind them of what they are doing.

Ambush!

As they move down the wide hall, they are suddenly assaulted! A group of a half-dozen of the furry little gibberlings rushes out, babbling incoherently. The party easily defends themselves, slaying their attackers in but a few short moments.

They take the first right turn that they can, moving carefully through a series of malformed caves. Strange growths dot the walls and floor here and there. Across the floor, small trickles of moisture run- though whether they are water is not entirely clear. Some of it looks strangely blue.

Everyone is on edge. The place itself makes them irritable, as if it were constantly muttering dark imprecations at them. The party continues through several more adjoining chambers, then down and up a twisting tunnel shaped like a U. In the distance, they can hear more occasional gibbers.

Finally, they reach a strange area where the natural (although deformed) caves give way to something more artificial. A broken section of wall breaks into a large, rectangular room obviously carved by intelligent hands. A dull blue sludge covers the floor of most of the area, apparently secreted by the dozens of white, wet and doughy-looking dog-sized lumps on the ceiling. These lumps slowly move back and forth amongst weird bulbs of satiny black goop that are fixed to the ceiling by a cluster of strange, fibrous roots. The white lumps have orifices on their backs, which seem to be dripping the blue sludge. An open doorway leads out on the other side of the room.

“Yuck,” exclaims Dahlia.

Cautiously, the group proceeds across. There is some joking about making Sir Harth touch the stuff, but nobody wants to linger in this strange chamber.

They stay to the right, moving into the carved areas. They cannot be far from their destination now.

But what will happen once they reach it?

Next Time: Our heroes run into trollish trouble!
 

the Jester

Legend
A Little Troll Trouble

“We should bring the elves back to our time with us,” Otis urges Lord Cedric in a low voice. “As a breeding pair. Just think of their knowledge! Just think of what we could do if we knew half of what they know!”

“Propothe it to them,” Cedric nods.

Otis turns and translates his offer into Elvish. The two elves exchange a glance and agree to consider it. Otis frowns; he knows the sound of a polite dismissal when he hears it.

***

Trolls!

They are strange and deformed, stunted and miscolored. The first has a weak-looking, shriveled third arm coming out of his side. The second has twisted, warped legs. The third seems to have an extra set of gasping lungs on the outside of its chest; and the third has a complete second troll, shriveled to a mere foot in size, dangling from the back of its neck.

Otis and Dahlia waste no time, unleashing a fireball and a flame strike immediately. The trolls are swiftly overcome after that, but once the fight is over, Dahlia studies the bodies intently.

“That was easier than I would have expected. They were... almost frail. Something about this place,” she mutters.

The female elf nods. “Magical healing can sometimes warp you, if you are close to the Vast Gate. Things that were born too close to it might be warped it in the womb, as well.”

Dahlia shudders.

***

The party continues along, but before long a large cavern opens from the rough tunnel. A dim light emanates from several of the natural pillars and numerous stalactites. Dozens of grossley misshapen trolls are in the room, rolling around on the ground together, seemingly- wrestling? Mating? Our heroes cannot tell. Most of the trolls have vestigial appendages and organs sprouting from their bodies, which flop around grotesquely during their gyrating exertions.

Presiding over the entire affair is a huge creature of enormous girth, with two heads and a thick, serpentine tail. The great two headed she-troll squats on a pile of jumbled bones, gazing wantonly at the scene before her. Her gaze crawls from the orgy of troll mutants before her to the approaching party.

They halt immediately at the sight of so many trolls. Otis asks Adelle to cast tongues on him, and then he steps forward into view. Before the hideous troll queen has a chance to open her mouth, Otis steps forward and calls out- in Elven- “We mean you no harm! We are just passing through! We are just trying to reach our home!”

The trolls erupt in a collection of surprised grunts as they break apart and begin pulling themselves to their feet. The obese troll matriarch heaves herself to her feet and gawks at Otis with both heads. The other adventurers step up behind her, accompanied by the elves.

The troll matriarch chuckles. “We are strong,” she burbles. “Why should we let you pass?”

“We are stronger than you. We have already slain four of your sentries. How else do you think we reached you?”

The matriarch sends a pair of mutant trolls to check out Otis’ story. “I hope you can do this, master,” Kyle whispers.

“Me,” Sir Percival hoots mournfully.

Otis’ story checks out, and our heroes are a menacing band. The matriarch’s heads start to argue with each other, and she even briefly comes to blows with herself before the party is allowed to pass.

But they are, in the end, allowed to pass.

***

The party moves into a weird chamber that smells of vinegar. An archway leads out into a worked room to the left, but right is a scabrous tunnel coated with greenish-brown resin, whorled and ridged. The footing is uneven, and the vinegar-like smell is very strong.

“Stay right,” Dahlia insists, despite the unpleasant appearance of the passage.

The party heads into the unnerving tunnel. They pick their way forward carefully, coming into a long, irregularly-shaped cavern whose walls, floor and ceiling are lined with more of the resin.

Then something hideous comes into view from around a stone protrusion.

Skittering on six crab-like legs, the bloated, yellow-orange creature has an oily body covered in short, writhing tentacles. It has an enormous, tooth-filled mouth framed by more, longer tentacles. Four large, bulging, yellow and red eyes are set into the monster’s upper portions, above the mouth. Behind its eyes are a cluster of strange, bulging sacs of some kind.

“Dispatch it quickly!” cries the male elf. “It’s a brain collector!!”

Next Time: The brain collector! The Vast Gate! And the swarm of eyeless eels!!
 

the Jester

Legend
Going Home

The bizarre thing rushes forward, skittering on strangely crab-like legs towards our heroes. Its oily skin, slick with yellow-brown stuff, gives off a weird, unearthly aroma.

“Kill it!” Sir Colder screams, and he fires his crossbow, but misses. Kyle nods enthusiastic agreement, blasting the monster with a volley of magic missiles. They spatter against the monster, leaving smoking holes in its... carapace? But the monster ignores the attack and skitters up to Adelle, snapping at her with its immense maw. Its teeth close on her arm, and it begins to retreat, dragging her with it.

“No you don’t,” snarls Otis, and fires a volley of maximized magic missiles into the monster. Sir Jorgen, meanwhile, charges forward, stabbing the thing with his lance- but to his chagrin, he finds that his blow sends a course of fire from the monster into him. Suddenly it is surrounded in a corona of flames! Adelle screams in pain, struggling ineffectually to free herself.

“Thtop it!” Lord Cedric urges his companions. “We mutht free Adelle!” He quickly ties a knot in his rope and then hurls it around the wizard, attempting to rescue her from the brain collector- but the rope catches fire and burns free immediately!

Sir Fwaigo bellows a war cry and springs forward, swinging his sword at the beast. He hits, but flames shoot down the weapon and blast him. He cries out in pain, but the brain collector drops Adelle. Worth it, Goer thinks as he staggers back, reeling from the pain. He sees both Kyle and Otis fire more volleys of magic missiles at the monster; the beast drops back a pace.

“Flee, monster!” cries Sir Colder, darting forward and helping Adelle to her feet.

”While it’s hesitating,” the elven male accompanying our heroes mutters, “flee!” He and his sister begin to back away.

“What? No way! We need to get past this thing,” argues Sir Colder. He begins moving forward, towards the brain collector. The brain collector surveys our heroes for a moment; it looks barely wounded. Yet- it hesitates. Clearly not out of fear. Perhaps... disappointment?

The monster vanishes, fading into thin air with a quiet “whoomph”.

Maybe our brains aren’t worth collecting, Kyle thinks ironically.

***

As the party continues on, always keeping a wary eye on Sir Harth, Otis Optimus takes his apprentice aside again. “Kyle, let me see your spellbook.” With a sigh, Kyle hands it over. Otis opens it to the grading page and scratches out the D+ written there. In its place, he puts a C+. Gravely, he tells Kyle, “You are now a wizard in your own right. You are no longer an apprentice.”

“Thank you, mas- thank you.” Kyle grins hugely. I was going to tell you the same thing anyway, he think, but there is no need to say it now. They understand one another, at least well enough.

***

Sir Harth doesn’t say a word the entire time, except when one of our heroes speaks to him. He casts dark looks at Sir Porthos, but Porthos’ loyalties seem solidly with Lord Cedric. Still, Goer, Jorgen, Otis and Kyle maintain a discrete watch over Porthos; it was not so long ago that he followed their archenemy, and when victory is so close, there is no point in letting it slip away by neglecting the most elementary precautions.

The party finds themselves working their way through a previously blocked passage, and thence through a series of large, domed chambers, several of them now coated in the weird whorled resin. Every now and then, the group passes by the partial corpse of a duergar.

“Keep going towards the worked stone,” Dahlia exhorts her companions.

“Where are we going, anyway?” asks Goer.

“To the heart of the unnatural... stuff,” Dahlia replies. “I presume... the Vast Gate.”

Sir Harth twitches and mutters.

The party passes through an intersection covered by strange, chest-high purple grass that undulates and moves as if waves of wind were washing through it. All these strange things, thinks Otis in wonder. This Isle of the Elves- Tirkon- it has escaped most of the damage to our lands from the great conflict. In our time, they must have so much knowledge accumulated- so much never lost- that I could glean, if only I could reach them... If we make it home, I must seek them out. I must!

The party enters a large vestibule. Several partially devoured corpses of duergar are scattered messily throughout the place. Harth stiffens. “Yes!” he declares. “This is it! We are very close!” He gazes at the ceiling, which bears strange patterns of decoration.

“What’s your plan, Harth?” Kyle demands.

He cackles. “I have already told you. I will bargain our way home- if I can! But I cannot do it until we pass through the Vast Gate. My black magic should allow me to bargain for passage.”

“Black magic,” sneers Dahlia.

“Me hate traitor,” Me growls.

“Lithen well, Harth,” Lord Cedric snaps. “If you try to play uth falthe in thith, you will not thurvive. I thwear by my mother, if you attempt to betray uth, I will have your head from your thoulderth!”

Harth subsides, but his manner has changed now that the Vast Gate is so close. He no longer looks as though he feels defeated.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, the swarm of eyeless eels appears in mid-air. It swims forward and the eels begin biting at the male elf, seizing him with savage strength! He screams in pain as they fasten upon his flesh.

Danelle, the last surviving peasant from the village, bravely draws her quarterstaff and swings it at the eels. It bounces harmlessly from them. Kyle- Sir Kyle, lest we forget, since he was dubbed by Lord Cedric- fires an arrow in to the swarm, while Sir Colder likewise unleashes his crossbow.

The female elf rushes to her brother’s aid, hacking at the eels. They keep biting relentlessly at him, and blood sprays everywhere as they rip at his flesh. He struggles to break free, but the eels are too strong!

Then Sir Percival- Me- is there, roaring, his magical mace crashing into the swarm of eels again and again, the muscles on his arms and shoulders sticking out like steel cords, until the eels all spasm and, all together at the same exact instant, go dead. Yet- they remain, floating in the air. It is eerie; there is a hint of something else at the back end of the eel swarm, and now that they aren’t moving, our heroes can see that they simply... fade into nothingness at the back end.

“What the hell are those things?” Goer asks.

The elven man groans. He drags himself to his feet. Dahlia hurries over and applies a little healing to him. “Thank you,” he says heavily.

The party takes a few minutes to organize themselves. One of the doors, the one that is opposite the way our heroes entered the chamber, is different from the others. It is made of thick steel, bound with nephilium, the strange, clear metal that these duergar seem to work so much. Harth seems almost poised on the balls of his feet; he is full of obvious excitement. He’s mad, thinks Dahlia.

They open the door, and before them is the Vast Gate.

The party is staring into a huge, four-valved chamber lined with more nephilium. At the central focus of the chamber is a huge sphere, incandescent with radiance. The light pulses in time to a heartbeat, strobing in a strange, disorienting fashion. Strange shapes seem to move within the walls. The huge crystal hangs in the air, about a foot above the ground. Three great columns of crystal bracket the sphere, spaced equidistantly, rising from floor to ceiling. Several tables, a podium and more bodies are also in the room.

“Well,” says Goer, “here we are.”

“Me,” Me agrees mournfully.

“What about it, Harth?” demands Jorgen. “What do we have to do?”

Harth chuckles. “We have to go through the Gate.”

The party draws off to the side to discuss their options. Going through the Vast Gate is an intimidating proposition. Yet- if it is their only way home, what do they have to lose?

“We’ll watch, but we’re staying here,” the female elf announces.

All the while, Sir Harth’s eyes never leave the Vast Gate. He licks his lips and sighs.

“We’re going,” Lord Cedric says. The party ties themselves together, and then binds Harth tightly to them.

And they step into a realm of utter madness.

It blasts at their sanity. Screaming fright made real, made the air you breathe, made delightful... huge, cyclopean beasts too large even to notice them... the conceit of language blasted away, away to nthg... screaming madness, terror, disorientation and helplessness... weep, man, for you are as nothing to the things that dream here... and like a bubble, layer after layer pops as they pass through from one zone of insanity to the next...

And yet, somehow, through the madness, they keep hold of Harth. And Harth? He is mad enough already. And he has practiced long and hard for this opportunity. For years, he built his cult and cultivated his knowledge of the dark arts, until finally the night came- that night when the stars were right, and Harth cast himself back through time.

I am ready, Sir Harth tells himself. And if I can, I will persuade some power to destroy these fools!

Harth uses all the knowledge of black magic that he has accumulated over a decade of research and experimentation, sending his own mad mind out to contact something beyond sanity- or comprehension.

Show me the way, begs Harth. From here, for you, it should be trivial to find an exit into a different moment. Shoe me!

The madness goes on, like a good meal or an interrogation. Yet, in the midst of it, our heroes hold strong to themselves. They cleave together, trying desperately to hold onto their own mind.

Sir Harth howls in triumph, and there is a sense of motion and them. He turns his gloating eyes on the party. “I have done it,” he cries, and then things seem to pull and distort around them. There is a sense of movement, of action. Layers of filmy stuff break over our heroes like membranes that they are passing through, over and over again, speeding up until...

KRACKOOOM!!!!

Disoriented- it is raining, hard- it is dark- the sky, the stars are out-

“Where’s Harth!” cries Dahlia. The villain is nowhere to be seen!

The group gathers their wits, which are quite scattered by the trip Outside. They are back outside the ruins of the Ghost Keep! Quickly, the party begins searching around for any signs of their nemesis’ passage- and almost immediately, Sheriff Jorgen cries, “Here!” He begins leading the way, while Me jogs swiftly to the crest of the nearest hill to look for any sign of movement in the night. “ME!” he shouts, pointing into the darkness, and begins running forward. The others charge into the black after him.

Sir Harth cannot outdistance them, especially not Me. The scout rushes forward, tackles him, and gives him a solid thumping. “Me HATE traitor!” screams Me.

The others gather around. “The game’s over, Harth,” Sheriff Jorgen says. “You’re under arrest- and you’re going to face justice.”

***

And thus it is that we come to the end of our story. It was a fun ride, going from virtually no-magic to really high-magic and back again, and I think it’s safe to say that the good guys won and everyone lived happily ever after- well, everyone but Cur Sed Seed, anyhow.

Lord Cedric of Whitewater remained a petty ruler throughout his life, but his holdings expanded to include fiefs in many lands, even some in Tydon. He was instrumental in arranging the eventual marriage of Baron Rusk to the Earl of Tydon’s youngest daughter. He hired a crack team of dwarven spirit-brewers, and had a fine brood of many children by his wife, even if some of them didn’t look much like him. Sadly, the cure to the wasting sickness was never found, and it eventually took both Cedric’s mother and several of his longtime servants.

Lady Cara of Whitewater gave birth to many fine children for Cedric. She proved to be very capable of handling affairs of state, and while Cedric concerned himself with drinking and dandying young lads on his lap, Cara took care of business and enjoyed the perquisites of her position. Her mother was very proud of her, and eventually moved to Kamenda City to live in the “city home” that Cedric and Cara set up.

Sheriff Jorgen Boatwright of Whitewater eventually went on to become High Chief Justice of all of Kamenda. When the Uprising of 285 happened, it was Jorgen’s skillful handling that kept it from getting out of control, and prevented the overthrow of Baron Rusk. Jorgen eventually fell in love with a beautiful commoner and flouted all convention by wedding her despite her inferior status, setting in motion shock waves of social change that would eventually lead to a great increase in the ability of the social classes to both mix and to advance (or decline).

Sir Percival, who was too stupid to say his own name (he could only manage two syllable words, so he always just called himself “Me”), went on to be the example around which the Order of the Knights Percival were founded. Dedicated to fast action, the Knights Percival rapidly attained a reputation as formidable foes and staunch allies. Me fought in several wars, always acquitting himself with valor, but it was in the Tydon War of 290 that he achieved his greatest coup, when he single-handedly defeated the Tydonian champion Gruel the Mighty, for which he was awarded Kamenda’s highest honor, the Medal of the Golden Dragon.

Lady Dahlia Laagos lived out her days at Castle Laagos, which she duly renovated as was required of her in order to gain title to it from Sir Martin Whitewater. She had no human staff and few visitors, which was as she preferred it, and she never advanced socially or spent time in court (which was likewise in accordance with her wishes). Amongst the animals and fey, however, Dahlia became quite well-known, and Castle Laagos grew to be home to a diverse array of animals and beasts, as well as magical animals and fey things, such as al-mi’raj and brownies. Badgers, cats, bears and wolves; moles and birds and frogs and fish, all spoke well of Lady Dahlia, and after she died, her castle was quickly claimed by them for their own use. The fey hid it under a weave of fog and glamer, and they and the animals haunted it, mourning its lost owner. Castle Laagos became a thing of legend sought by adventurers.

Sir Kyle Goldenbow became first a hanger-on at court in Kamenda City, then the baron’s personal jeweler. This put him in a perfect position to, eventually, become the richest man in Kamenda, through a combination of favors, a few ‘lost’ gems and legitimate salary. Of course, manipulating his way into the position of Guildmaster of the Thieves’ Guild of Kamenda City didn’t hurt either! Kyle lived out a very wealthy double life. He became so wealthy, in fact, that he was able to mitigate the economic crash that preceded the Uprising of 285 solely by means of his personal wealth. This prevented a wholesale collapse of the Kamendan economy and made Kyle an unknown, unsung hero- for her chose to keep his part in things hidden.

Sir Colder returned to Sir Galadon’s service, but as a knight rather than a messenger. He rose rapidly in esteem in Galadon’s eyes, until Galadon enfeoffed him with a parcel of land. Now Lord Colder, he set about improving the land for his people, only to find that there was a dragon that plagued the area. He strapped on his armor and shield and took up his spear and met the dragon in battle. They strove against one another in a tremendous battle, with Lord Colder clinging to it bodily as it flew high in the sky, until finally Lord Colder smote the dragon as it tried to flee the confrontation, and it died. Colder was nearly killed himself in the long fall, but he lived. He bathed in the dragon’s blood, and it burned and scarred him tremendously. He fled the sight of his men-at-arms approaching, and ran off into the hills. Though Lord Colder never returned, there are tales of a grotesque immortal hero of the hills in that area, who (it is said) does not age and has the heart of a dragon, yet will never give his name or join with a group of people.

Sir Fwaigo “Goer” Smith remained Lord Cedric’s loyal friend and aid for their entire lives. As Cedric’s lands and influence grew, he enfeoffed Fwaigo with an area just outside of Whitewater, and Cedric’s squire of old became Lord Fwaigo. Later, as he grew older, Lord Fwaigo became known as the Smith-Lord, for his habit of working the forge personally even as a lord. He worked for over a year on Cedric’s legendary bastard sword, Dandylion, which he gave to his friend on his 45th birthday. It is said that the weapon has strange inexplicable properties- perhaps even some kind of echo of its creator within it.

And Otis Optimus? Immediately after the party reached the castle in Kamenda City, Otis left. He is known to have traveled to the coast, far away from Kamenda, in lands whose names we do not know, and there to have chartered a boat to take him further still across the sea.

He was never heard from again- at least, not by his old friends.
 

Alcar

Visitor
The Tale of Otis Optimus Pt. 1

A court full of merryment and celebration is the scene in which the Heroes of Kamenda are in; wine and whiskey are aplenty, and songs are about to be sung.

"Fools, idiots, all of you", shouts Otis.

"Whath is the matther Otith? We are home, come rejoice" says Lord Cedric.

"What are we celebrating for? Great...we are home, big deal".

"Otis...for once in your life, shut up and have a drink" says Sir Fwaigo.

"Are you mundane hasbeins really so ignorant? Otis shouts, "Harth was headed somewhere, I intend to find out where".

a moment of silence..

"That's right, you think this is over? Whose to stop some other ambitious noble with black magic ancestors from doing the same thing... furthermore, what's to stop me from doing it?

The party gives Otis a strange look

Baron Rusk replies: " Otis Optimus, you were an aid all of Kamenda, perhaps all of Pelincia, you should be happy and forget what's bothering you for the mean time".

Otis' eyes widen as looks at the meek baron, Otis turns his back and begins to walk for the door.

"Where are you goin? ask Kyle

Otis puffs up, "I'm going to Goblin Gorge, then after I kill Glorgin I'm going to make those green-skinned midgets make me vessel to get to Tirkon".

"Yeah well...good luck with that you crazy wizard", says Sir Fwaigo.

And so, Otis leaves the castle, and as he considers buying a horse on his way out of town, decides to buy new shoes instead beacuse he doesn't have the best luck with horses. He reaches the gate and says to guards: " Next time you see me..run". The guards look puzzled as the arrogant wizard walks past them.

A few days travel across the plains, along with a small boat ride down the river eventually lead the young wizard to the city of Whitewater; where the wizard makes his way to the tower of his old master, the lady Zastas.

NEXT TIME: A Kiss, a slap, and a spellbook and, if orcs are piss bloods, what does that make goblins? stay tuned.....
 
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Seance

Visitor
Great updates Jester and Alcar!


This setting was one of my favorite ever played. I was hesitant about the whole "low magic" element at first, but the roll playing more than made up for it. The whole shift away from alignment and development of traits was an interesting twist for character development.
 

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