Medriev's FR Thunderspire Labyrinth - Concluded Apr 13


Chapter 20 - Proving Ground (Part 1)

Litiraan woke quickly once Telkya began to use her healing prayer upon him and then she and Lavren used their fey ability to teleport to reach first the platform of the second statue and then the platforms on which rested the hilt and the blade of the knife they sought. When they returned to the centre platform, Lavren took the blade solemnly to Telkya and held it out towards her flat across his hands.

“My gift to you, my Lady,” he said with a half smile. “They had not spoken properly since the imp had visited them the night before.
“I am honoured, Lord,” she said and smiled back at him.

Taking the blade carefully, she inserted it into the hilt and found that it locked in place easily, forming and ornate and finely wrought dagger with runes that circled blade and hilt alike.
“We should rest here,” she said, her eyes fixed on Lavren. “We all need rest and time to recover from what has happened here.”
“Are we safe here?” Lavren responded. “And would it not be best if we took the items to the Proving Grounds now that we have them.”

Lavren’s heart, that had been singing as Telkya had smiled, suddenly grew cold as the elf maid’s gaze turned frosty and she turned away from him.
“Lavren is right,” said Erlmoor in his deep voice. “We have the four items now and can open the Inner Sanctum. Every moment of delay could take the slaves away from there or worse.”

Dulvarna nodded slowly and looked around at each of the companions in turn. Her eyes were sorrowful as she weighed up the courses before the company. When she finally spoke, all eyes were fixed upon her and the companions heeded every word.

“There is danger in each course,” she said grimly. “But we have known danger with every step that we have taken since first passing the Minotaur Gate. We must think of Telkya and Lavren’s kin who we came here seeking and put all thought of our own safety from our minds. We go on and return to the Proving Grounds to save the elves that remain to be saved. May the gods go with us.”

The others nodded at the last sentiment and set about gathering their belongings. The elves could pass over the blood pool unharmed using their fey powers but Erlmoor and Dulvarna knew the pain that they would have to face to escape the chamber. Grimly, Dulvarna and the dragonborn started down the steps.


Chapter 20 - Proving Ground (Part 2)

Enlishia looked over at the iron bound doors beyond the rusted-open portcullis and then lowered her gaze to the chained skeletons on the floor of the chamber. At the very least, the skeletons represented the horrible fate of some unfortunates who had gone before the companions. Beyond that, they could represent a trap or vengeful undead much as those that had lurked beneath the Keep on the Shadowfell. Nervously, she nocked an arrow to the string of her bow and began to draw the string back.
“Ready,” Dulvarna called out from the circle of runes just around the corner beyond the skeletons to the right of the iron bound doors.
“Ready,” Enlishia called out towards the double doors to the north where Telkya waited in the bloody shrine chamber.

Enlishia called out a second time towards the west where Erlmoor and Lavren waited beside their own rune circles with Litiraan relaying messages to them. Four calls of ‘ready’ came back to her and in her head she counted up towards a hundred as Dulvarna had agreed with all of them when they had entered the shrine chamber. As they reached a hundred count at the same time, the four companions at the rune circles would place the item they carried within the runes as the spirits had told them to do. Enlishia and Litiraan relaying messages was an extra precaution that allowed the companions to gather quickly if they encountered danger before they placed their items in the rune circles. Silently, Enlishia counted ninety eight, ninety nine and then, as she reached a hundred, she waited for something to happen as elsewhere, Dulvarna placed the mask, Telkya the book, Erlmoor the knife and Lavren the bell. Suddenly, all of the doors in the area banged open at the same time and from somewhere behind Enlishia to the west came a roar that echoed throughout the complex.

“Are the doors open?” Telkya asked as she rushed out into the central circle corridor where Enlishia stood.
She rushed towards Enlishia who shrugged and looked around towards the iron bound doors. They were shuddering and moving very slowly but it would be some time before they opened widely enough to allow anyone to get through.
“Not yet,” Enlishia answered. “But they are starting to move.”

The ranger turned around on the spot, drawing back her bow string and searching for enemies, particularly whatever had made the terrible roar. As she looked to the north she saw a black sphere of eldritch energy forming at the far northern end of the passageway where in turned left.
“We should move from this place,” she said to Telkya who turned and looked at the sphere before nodding her agreement.

Then, the roar sounded again, closer and from the north this time. Enlishia and Telkya turned towards the sound and watched with horror as a lithe and sleek green dragon swept around the corner on emerald wings. A crown of five horns ringed the back of its skull and a pronounced spike jutted from the tip of its narrow snout. More spikes ran down the creature’s neck and back, shrinking to a studded ridge along the top of tail that lashed back and forth behind it. Its mouth was filled with needle-like teeth, and poisonous fumes issued from its mouth and nostrils. An acrid odour surrounded the wyrm and stung the nose and eyes of the paralysed ranger and priestess. Forlornly, Enlishia raised her bow and drew back the string, wondering whether her arrows could even harm the terrible green monster.

Erlmoor heard roars to the north and west and turned towards the eastern doors of the chamber. Following the sound, he turned right and saw Enlishia raising her bow towards an enemy that remained out of sight for the dragonborn. Then he heard the creature roar again and he knew what enemy they faced.
“Dragon!” he called out loudly to any who could hear. “To me, Defenders of Winterhaven, to me!”

Litiraan heard Erlmoor’s call and looked towards Lavren who stood over the still-glowing runes of the circle from which the bell had vanished a few moments earlier. The warlock nodded to the wizard and Litiraan started southward along the circular corridor to where he had heard the dragonborn’s call. Lavren rushed out of the rune circle chamber and followed Litiraan southward down the corridor. Ahead of him, Litiraan rounded the corner and then Lavren heard him cry out. A moment later, a huge sphere of black force energy with spikes protruding from every direction rounded the corner and Lavren pulled up short. Desperately he looked around for some way to dodge the terrible weapon and started towards a western side passage, hoping he could reach it in time.


Chapter 20 - Proving Ground (Part 3)

Dulvarna heard Erlmoor’s shout followed by pained cries from her companions and started towards them. She passed the iron bound doors and saw that they were opening painfully slowly. As she rounded the corner, she saw that Telkya had been thrown to the floor in the corridor while Enlishia had ducked into a gap in the rusted portcullis. Beyond her, Litiraan and Erlmoor had been slammed against the walls of the corridor by the black, spiked sphere that was now rolling around the western corner to turn back to the north.

Dulvarna rushed to join Enlishia but as she started forward, one of the chained skeletons, lashed out with an arm and grabbed her leg. Ragged fingernails dug into the flesh of Dulvarna’s leg but she twisted to the left and dragged her leg free, leaping beyond the reach of the skeleton. Another of the skeletons reached out from the floor close to the right wall but Dulvarna skipped over its arm and took another step towards the portcullis. Just as she thought she would reach it, she stumbled and the questing skeletons reached out for her once more.

Telkya rose and reached out with her left hand. She uttered a prayer that unleashed a blast of golden light into the chest of the green dragon as it hovered close to the ceiling of the corridor where it had been forced to evade the black sphere. Desperately, she scrambled back along the corridor and ducked through the portcullis. She saw Dulvarna struggling through the skeletons and kept close to the rusted stubs of the bars themselves so that she was beyond the reach of the undead. Enlishia looked back over her shoulder and saw Telkya’s intention. She raised her bow and loosed an arrow that flew past the dragon and then reached back to her quiver to draw another arrow. She nocked this, aimed and fired, the shaft driving into the dragon’s foreleg. It roared again and then, as Enlishia retreated through the portcullis, the dragon dived toward with its teeth bared. The dragon swept past the portcullis with a rush of air and as it past, it craned its neck through the bars to bite at Enlishia. The ranger leapt back and the teeth snapped shut on empty air as the dragon turned the corner and swept towards Erlmoor and Litiraan.

Erlmoor pressed himself against the south wall of the corridor as the dragon swept towards him and then, as it turned northward through an archway that led to the central chamber of the complex, the dragonborn lashed out with his blade. He drew blood from the dragon’s back leg as his blade pierced the flesh and again the dragon roared. Erlmoor roared his own response and slid left along the south wall towards the passage entrance from which he had emerged, seeking shelter from the terrible black sphere that would surely pass this way again. He looked to the left and saw Litiraan stab his blade at the dragon’s tail as it swished past before retreating the same way as Erlmoor intended, towards the southern passage.

Around the corner, Lavren darted across the corridor in front of the rolling black sphere. He rushed down the western passage and turned south through the open doors of the chamber in which Erlmoor had placed the knife on the circle of runes. As soon as he entered the chamber he realised his mistake for inside the room where four stone-rimmed pools. One, against the west wall bubbled and swirled while tendrils of animated, elemental water reached out blindly from its surface as though seeking prey. Lavren steeled himself for a moment and then called on his fey ability to move from place to place. He vanished into a cloud of light motes and then reappeared next to a pool of pale green liquid on the far side of the room. He looked back and saw a tendril of water turning towards him. Turning his back on it, Lavren started around the green pool towards the eastern doors of the chambers, hoping he could escape in time.

Telkya extended her hand and loosed another bolt of light at the disappearing hindquarters of the dragon and watched with satisfaction as the bold seared a hind foot. Beside her, Enlishia loosed an arrow and then a second into the same leg and then the dragon vanished into the centre chamber for a few heartbeats. Then, with a roar, it came forth again through the southern entrance and swept over Erlmoor and Litiraan. As it passed over the elf, it swept its jaws down and seized the elf’s arm, throwing him against the south wall of the corridor. He cried out and fell back against the stone as the dragon swept around the corner to the north and vanished from view.


Chapter 20 - Proving Ground (Part 4)

Erlmoor roared himself and then rushed after the dragon, rounding the corner and catching up to it as it slowed to turn. He breathed out and sprayed acid upon the hindquarters of the dragon before lashing out with his blade as he prayed to Lathander. His sword glowed brightly for a moment and then tore into the flesh of the dragon’s tail, drawing a screech of pain from the wyrm. Litiraan rushed to the corner behind the dragonborn and reached out with the wand in his left hand. He uttered a spell and a silver bolt of energy lanced out but the dragon twisted in the air as it started to turn and the missile flew harmlessly past the wyrm as it did so.

Lavren looked back again and as he did so, a tendril of elemental water lashed out at him. He ducked forward and ran for the door and by some miracle, the tendril lashed at the air above his head. He rushed out into the corridor and turned left towards the circular passage around the central chamber, slowing as he reached it. He looked left and saw the dragon starting to turn while Erlmoor and Litiraan challenged its might. Raising his wand in his left hand, he loosed a blast of black, crackling energy that flew past the dragon’s left wing and blasted into the stone close to the corridor ceiling. A heartbeat later, the terrible black sphere rolled around the corner to the right and forced Lavren to duck back into the southern passage entrance. He looked out once it had passed and saw Erlmoor throw himself against the wall to his left and avoid the sphere. Litiraan threw himself into the corner of the passage and the sphere rolled past him around the corner, missing him by barely a hands-breadth. As the sphere blocked his view of the dragon, Lavren heard it screech either in alarm or pain as the sphere rolled towards it.

Another hand grasped Dulvarna’s right leg as she tried to reach the portcullis and again, claw-like nails dug into her flesh. She twisted her leg free and strode forward but the skeleton reached out with its other arm to try to grab her. She leapt over this limb and reached the portcullis beside Enlishia. She looked back for a moment to be sure that she was beyond the reach of the undead and when she was satisfied, she turned to Enlishia and smiled.
“How do we defeat the dragon?” Telkya asked, looking to Dulvarna for an answer.
“We wait for it to come to us,” Dulvarna answered.
“Agreed,” said Telkya with a nod.

Erlmoor pushed himself away from the corridor wall and turned back to look at Lavren. The dragonborn gestured towards the entrance to the central chamber in the northern wall of the corridor and started towards it intending to wait for the dragon to pass again. As soon as he reached the archway into the central chamber, he realised that fate had chosen a different course for him. As Erlmoor reached the southern entrance, the dragon swept through the northern one and flew towards him. He roared in defiance and raised his blade before him, waiting for the inevitable attack.
“It comes through here,” he called out to the others.

Litiraan heard Erlmoor call out but as he started forward, he realised that the wound in his arm was bleeding more seriously than he had first thought. His arm down to his hand was soaked in blood while the wound had turned black as though it were poisoned. As he felt a numbness spread from the wound, he realised that he had to take care of the wound before he could attack the dragon again. He ducked into the southern passage where Lavren stood and reached to his belt for the strips of cloth that he kept in his pouch to dress wounds. He pulled one forth and began to bind it around his arm. Lavren looked to him and realised the pain he was in. With a nod, he crossed the corridor to where Erlmoor stood and raised his wand to conjure fey beasts that would tear at the dragon from their own realm. He uttered the curse but the dragon slowed and the fangs that appeared, snapped on nothing but air. Dissatisfied, they vanished quickly and the dragon swept across the chamber towards the elf and the dragonborn.


Chapter 20 - Proving Ground (Part 5)

Dulvarna heard Erlmoor’s call and ducked through the portcullis. Looking right, she saw the black, spiked sphere roll around the north-western corner of the circular central corridor and begin to roll down towards her. She rushed across to the southern entrance to the central chamber and ducked inside, squeezing between Lavren and Erlmoor and rushing over to take up position against the western wall. She raised her blade and braced her feet as the dragon swept down the chamber.

Telkya rushed across the central corridor and ducked past Lavren into the central chamber. She raised her left hand and brought down a column of light onto the dragon as it passed over the pit in the middle of the chamber. Telkya’s prayer was too slow and the column descended behind the dragon as it swept forward. Enlishia ducked into the chamber on the other side and raised her bow, loosing an arrow towards the dragon. The shaft flew wide and clattered into the far wall beyond the wyrm. The dragon beat its wings to slow its flight over the pit and as it did it drew in a deep breath. When it let the breath out, it came as noxious fumes but the companions had already turned away from the dragon and covered their mouths and noses with their cloaks.

Erlmoor roared and charged the dragon with his blade before him but as he reached it, it beat its wings and took itself back beyond his reach. Litiraan came into the chamber behind the others and loosed a silver bolt from his wand that seared past the dragon. Lavren loosed black, crackling energy towards the dragon but this too flew wide of the mark. The sphere rolled past the archway behind him and he glanced back for a moment as Dulvarna rushed forward to join Erlmoor before the dragon. She weaved her blade before her as she reached the wyrm, drawing it towards her and then she lashed out. Aecris tore across the dragon’s nose and drew blood but the wyrm paid the wound little mind as it beat its wings and hovered over the pit.

Telkya loosed a bolt of light that flew wide of the dragon and then Enlishia loosed two arrows quickly. One flew wide but the second drive into the dragon’s shoulder and drew a shriek of pain from the wyrm. The dragon beat its wings back once more and then swept forward, diving for the archway that led out of the room. As it reached the portal, it reached down with its jaws and tore at Lavren’s left shoulder, spinning him into the wall next to him. The elf looked left to follow the dragon’s path and saw the wyrm, gracefully turn right and then left to swoop into the southern passageway from which he and Litiraan had come. No sooner had it turned into the passage than it banked left sharply and turned through the eastern doors of the southern passage that led to the circle of runes where Dulvarna had stood with the mask a scant few moments ago.
“Where did it go?” Erlmoor roared as he turned around towards the southern archway.
“Into the prison where the skeletons lie,” answered Lavren.
“Then we meet it at the portcullis,” Erlmoor snarled and rushed past his companions and out into the circular corridor.

Behind the dragonborn, Litiraan and Lavren raised their wands and turned to face the portcullis from the archway where they stood. Dulvarna rushed past them and overtook Erlmoor to duck through the portcullis and raise her blade for when the dragon came around the corner towards her. She glanced left as the black sphere rounded the north western corner once more and rolled down towards the portcullis just as she ducked through it. Behind the others, Telkya darted across the corridor and ducked into the southern passageway ready to attack the dragon as it swept though the portcullis. Enlishia rushed across the central corridor to join her just as the dragon swept around the corner past the iron bound doors and bore down on Dulvarna and Erlmoor.

For the first time, the dragon landed, setting down midst the litter of bones that surrounded the chained skeletons. It lashed out at Dulvarna with its right claw but she ducked under the swing only to be caught by the wyrm’s left claw as it swept in and cuffed her shoulder. She spun to the left and threw her momentum into the turn to spin on the spot. She rose with her blade in her hands before her and stepped towards the dragon. Erlmoor surged past her with a roar and charged into the midst of the twitching skeletons that lay on the floor. A skeleton reached out and grabbed his right leg but he paid it no mind and lashed out at the dragon. The wyrm screeched and reared back to evade the blow but as it did so, Litiraan ducked through the portcullis behind Erlmoor. He raised his wand and loosed a silver bolt into the dragon’s chest. It screeched and reared back again raising its head to the high ceiling of the chamber. Lavren rushed into the room beside Dulvarna and loosed a bolt of black energy that struck the ceiling behind the dragon. The wyrm roared and lowered its front feet to the floor once again. It began beating its wings as though it intended to take flight once more and as it did so, Dulvarna charged. A skeleton reached out and grabbed the leg of the warrior woman but she drove her blade forward despite the hindrance and the pain. Aecris pierced the right foreleg of the dragon at the mid-joint and drew another screech of pain from the creature. Then, as the screech ended, the dragon loosed its terrible noxious breath for a second time.


Chapter 20 - Proving Ground (Part 6)

Litiraan, Lavren and Erlmoor all covered their faces but Dulvarna was not fast enough. As she breathed in, burning, searing poison tore at her chest and she staggered, her blade faltering in her hands before her. The dragon leapt forward then and swooped over Dulvarna and Erlmoor, snapping at the warrior woman as it passed overhead. Dulvarna ducked down and raised her blade, recovering her strength and her senses just in time to evade the dragon’s attack. The green wyrm dipped through the gap in the portcullis and flew down the central corridor before dipping right into the pit chamber. Telkya and Enlishia watched it pass and then darted forward across the corridor in pursuit of the dragon.

Telkya stopped short of the pit and watched as the dragon turned easily at the far end of the chamber. Enlishia came into the room behind her and loosed an arrow towards the dragon that tore through its left wing. She reached over her shoulder and drew another shaft from her quiver, nocked it to her bowstring and let fly again. The dragon screeched and dipped as this arrow streaked towards it and the shaft flew over its body to clatter into the far northern archway.

Another skeleton reached out for Erlmoor but he leapt back and turned away, rushing after the dragon. He crossed the central corridor quickly and then turned right into the pit chamber, passing Enlishia and Telkya as he rushed towards the dragon. Litiraan came into the chamber behind the dragonborn and loosed a silver bolt from his wand, held in his left hand. It struck the dragon in the shoulder and drew another pained screeched from the wyrm. Lavren came into the chamber next and loosed black, crackling energy towards the dragon. The wyrm swooped downwards and ducked under the bolt before beating its wings to dive at the companions.

Dulvarna made to follow the others but as she did, a skeleton lunged at her and seized her with two hands around the thigh. She cried out as claws dug into her flesh and turned back towards the undead creature. Twisting to her left, she pulled her leg free but tore her flesh painfully as she did so. She rushed toward the entrance to the pit chamber with her blade before her but the pain in her legs slowed her and she knew she would not reach the room before the dragon turned. Raising her blade, she prepared for the moment when the dragon would emerge and prayed that her companions could hurt it sorely in her absence.

Inside the central chamber, Telkya rushed forward, turning right to circle the pit. As the dragon dove forward, she raised her holy symbol and unleashed a bolt of light towards the wyrm. It struck the creature in the side and forced it to lurch to its right as it swept down towards the companions. The dragon was almost upon Enlishia when she loosed an arrow from her bow and it flew wildly past the dragon. She nocked and loosed another quickly but this clattered off the dragon’s scales as it veered to the left and landed beside Erlmoor. The dragon lashed out with its claws but the dragon born ducked left and then right to evade both huge weapons and then roared his defiance. He lashed out with his sword but the dragon reared back and evaded the blow. Dragon and dragonborn roared together then in challenge before rushing at each other once more.

As the dragon surged towards Erlmoor, Litiraan loosed another silver bolt form his wand that seared into the wyrm’s left flank, burning into its chest. It screeched and reared back before turning towards the elf that had so wounded it. Lavren raised his own wand and loosed another blast of black, crackling energy into the dragon’s chest, drawing a roar of defiance from the wyrm.

In the corridor outside, Dulvarna heard the roar and started forward again but as she did, the terrible black sphere rolled around the corner behind her. She looked back and froze for the precious moment she needed to dive to one side. The sphere struck her and hurled her into the wall. Dulvarna felt her head slam into the stone and then saw blinding light, followed by peaceful, merciful, blackness.

Telkya loosed another bolt of light at the dragon but it flew wide and struck the wall behind the wyrm. Enlishia let fly another arrow towards the dragon that drove into the creature’s chest. It screeched again and she released another shaft only for this to fly high and clatter into the ceiling above the wyrm. The dragon drew in its breath and then roared more loudly than it had ever done before, sending a shiver of fear through the companions. Enlishia, Erlmoor and Lavren fell back against the walls of the chamber, stunned by the power of the dragon. Litiraan raised his wand with a shaking hand and uttered the words of a spell to again unleash a silver bolt towards the dragon. The arcane fire seared into the dragon’s throat and as it did, a great booming came from the south east where the iron bound doors stood. The dragon screeched again and began to beat its wings, clearly intending to take flight once more.

Telkya stepped towards the dragon and raised her amulet to unleash another bolt of light but again her divine fire flew past the wyrm and struck the stonework of the western wall. Enlishia raised her bow them and loosed an arrow into the dragon’s neck. It reared and screeched as it beat its wings and she loosed a second shaft into its throat behind its jaws. Again the dragon screeched and now it did take flight, swooping towards the southern archway to leave the room. Litiraan raised his blade in his right hand and as the dragon swept over him, he drove the sword forward into the wyrm’s throat. The creature’s momentum carried it onward and dragged Litiraan’s sword along its neck. Blood gushed out, covering Litiraan and Enlishia and the dragon opened its mouth to screech but no sound came forth. Instead, the dragon careened across the central hallway and crashed into the southern wall where it collapsed in an ungainly heap. The wyrm twitched once and then lay still.

Next......The Inner Sanctum


Chapter 21 - The Inner Sanctum (Part 1)

Erlmoor rushed out of the central chamber and knelt beside Dulvarna, praying fervently to Lathander. He laid a hand on the shoulder of the warrior woman and as divine light glowed in his palm, her eyes opened. Only then did the dragonborn look up and see that the iron bound doors were what had made the booming noise a few moments before. They stood wide open while the twitching skeletons slowly grew still before them.
“The doors are open,” Erlmoor called out. “But Dulvarna for one needs rest. We will stay in the central chamber for a few hours and then pass through the doors.”

The companions did as he bade and rested in the central chamber while they watched in pairs from the southern and northern archways. Nothing disturbed their rest and the terrible, spiked black ball of force never passed the middle chamber while they rested. When they set off after a meagre meal, they drew near to the skeletons cautiously but as Dulvarna stepped amongst them, they remained unmoving. A thick grey mist obscured the passageway beyond the iron bound doors blocking all sight and seeming to eerily muffle the sounds of the companions’ footfalls. They followed Dulvarna into the mist, blinded by it for a moments until they emerged at another set of double doors. Dulvarna and Erlmoor pushed these open and strode boldly into the chamber beyond.

The hall within was dominated by a leering idol that depicted a howling minotaur warrior armed with a massive axe. Before the idol was an iron cauldron filled with a bubbling liquid that gave off a thick mist. A short staircase led to a raised area that overlooked the idol and three more cauldrons were set on this upper area along with a stone altar. To the east of the altar, a series of green, ghostly runes had been scribed into the floor. Two elves stood within the glowing runes apparently in some sort of trance.
A gnoll with large bat wings and curved horns stood behind the altar, grasping a rod in one hand and a sheaf of parchment in the others. A massive ape-like demon stood beside him while a small pack of red-skinned carnage demons snarled at the intruders from atop the raised platform. Looming over all was a massive skeleton if a minotaur clutching a greataxe. With a shrill howl from the gnoll, the monsters moved to attack.
Enlishia darted right and began firing arrows, loosing two into one of the red-skinned demons on the raised platform. Litiraan followed her, raising his wand in his left hand and uttering a spell as he ran. An orange ball of flame flew forth from the wand and darted towards the skeleton before bursting into a shower of searing flame. The fire charred black the ribs and left arm of the skeletons but the demons and the gnoll threw themselves away and avoided the fireball. Erlmoor roared and sprayed acid, but this time the skeleton lurched to the left to avoid harm. The gnoll ducked down beside the altar but one of the red skinned demons was burned by the deadly spray. The dragonborn called out a challenge and charged then, rushing up the steps to meet the skeleton at the top. His blade sang out and smashed into the side of the skeleton’s leg, chipping the bone but scarcely slowing the terrible creature.

The ape demon roared its response to Erlmoor then and leapt over the cauldron next to it and landed on the floor below the ledge. It rushed at Erlmoor’s back as the paladin tried to turn to meet this new threat. A huge arm swung out and struck the dragonborn, spinning him towards the demon just as the other arm came up and slammed him under the chin, He reeled back and fell back, sprawling on the steps at the feet of the minotaur skeleton. Telkya saw Erlmoor’s plight and raised her amulet high while raising her blade in her other hand. She called on Corellon and brought down a column of searing light to engulf the ape demon. The creature roared its anger as the divine light seared its flesh and staggered back a step from Erlmoor, giving the dragonborn chance to get up. Telkya saw a flash of movement from the left then and as she looked, the gnoll raised its left hand and loosed a bolt of black, crackling energy towards her. She dodged to the left and the bolt struck the wall beside her but she gained no satisfaction from her escape. The gnoll would try again to strike her down if it was not dealt with quickly.


Chapter 21 - The Inner Sanctum (Part 2)

One of the carnage demons leapt down from the ledge to land in front of Dulvarna but she lashed out at it as it jumped and tore a gash along its right thigh with her blade. It landed and turned with a snarl to lash out at her with a backhand but Dulvarna was ready and ducked under the swipe easily. She rose with her blade in hand and slammed the hilt of Aecris into the face of the demon to drive it away from her. She looked up then and saw a second demon land on the steps next to Erlmoor. The dragonborn ducked under its first wild swing but the paladin needed help, Dulvarna knew. Now if only she could get the troublesome demon from her path, she could aid him.

Lavren joined Litiraan and Enlishia against the west wall of the chamber with wand and blade in hand. He raised his wand and loosed black, crackling energy into the back of the ape demon, distracting it for a moment and buying Erlmoor a few more moments as he battled his three foes. Lavren saw a flash of movement beyond the huge ape demon then and looking up, he saw the third red-skinned carnage demon leap from the ledge in front of a cauldron and rush across the floor towards he and Litiraan. The demon lashed out with its clawed hand and struck the wizard across the face spinning him around and slamming him into the stone wall. Enlishia leapt away from the demon and raised her bow, loosing first one arrow and then a second into the side of the demon. Litiraan raised his blade and lashed out at the demon. The demon leapt back to evade the sword and snarled at Litiraan before leaping forward again.
“Taste the blade of Dragonbane,” Litiraan cried out as the demon came forward with a ferocity that the others had rarely heard from him.

Erlmoor lashed out at the skeleton while calling out to Lathander and then, as his blade clove into the creature’s ribs, he leapt down from the steps to face the ape demon. The demon lashed out at him with one claw and he ducked under it but the other smashed into his left arm and spun him towards the carnage demon that Dulvarna faced. The dragonborn roared his defiance and Telkya reached out her left hand towards him while uttering a healing prayer. Golden light cascade over Erlmoor for a moment and new strength filled him. He nodded his thanks to the priestess and then turned around to face the ape demon once more. Erlmoor smiled for a moment but then a bolt of black energy unleashed by the gnoll struck the wall above her head and she returned her mind to the battle before her.

The demon before Dulvarna lashed out with a clawed hand and tore at her forearm but she faught through the pain and lashed out with her blade again. The demon ducked back but Dulvarna followed up, lunging forward to drive her blade into the demon’s knee. It roared its pain and lurched back from her, beyond the reach of Aecris. She looked up to where Erlmoor was desperately trying to retreat towards her and saw that the dragonborn had not yet escaped the reach of the skeleton. The minotaur raised its huge axe and brought it down towards the paladin who parried to drive the blade away from his head. The axe still tore down the side of Erlmoor’s right arm and the dragonborn let forth his own roar of pain. Dulvarna decided then to dispose of the foe before her more quickly so that she could move to aid her friend. As she looked, the carnage demon on the steps, rushed across the stairway and lashed out with a clawed fist at Erlmoor, striking the dragonborn across the cheek. As he reeled away, the demon leapt but Erlmoor raised his blade and both arms to fend it off and send it tumbling back onto the steps. Erlmoor stopped for a moment, breathing heavily, and then he raised his blade once more.

Lavren leapt back from the demon that had come at Litiraan and raised his wand while uttering another curse. He called forth fire within the demon to burn it but rather than the bursts of searing flame from the creature’s skin, instead only small motes appeared and they died quickly. The demon snarled towards Lavren and then leapt forward at Litiraan once again. The demon lashed out with its right hand this time and struck the elf’s left arm, tearing several ragged wounds in it above the elbow. Litiraan reeled away as Enlishia loosed more arrows, one driving into the demon’s shoulder. Litiraan lashed out wildly once he had recovered from the blow and only succeeded in striking the stone wall beside him as the demon leapt back. The creature snarled again at the elf, promising a gruesome death, before rushing at him once more.

Erlmoor retreated a few more steps until he was beside the demon that Dulvarna faught. He called out a challenge to this new foe and then stabbed his blade into the demon’s hip. It hissed and snarled at him but he paid it no mind for the ape demon had taken another step forward after him. The first blow struck him in the left shoulder and spun him away from the carnage demon beside him. He ducked then as the left arm swung out at him at the limit of the ape demon’s reach. The clawed hand missed the top of the dragonborn’s head by a hand’s breadth and the paladin rose quickly, stepping back again. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Telkya loose a bolt of light towards the demon that her brother faught and as he turned his gaze back to the enemies before him, a dark bolt of crackling energy flashed in from his left and struck him in the side. Erlmoor grunted and gasped as the eldritch energy tore into his ribs. He staggered to the right and almost fell. Sensing his weakness, the carnage demon that Dulvarna faught turned aside and leapt on the dragonborn. Its claws tore at his face while its vicious questing teeth tore open his throat. With a final, strangled roar, Erlmoor fell beneath the demon as his blood spread out in a pool around him.


Chapter 21 - The Inner Sanctum (Part 3)

Dulvarna cried out and rushed at the demon in a wild fury. She slashed her blade across the demon’s side and as it turned to face her, she raised her sword above her head and brought it down in a huge blow. Aecris split open the skull of the carnage demon, spilling blood and brains over poor, fallen Erlmoor before the creature crumpled and collapsed to lie atop the paladin. Dulvarna desperately wanted to move the demon aside but she had no time as its red-skinned companion leapt from the steps and rushed at her. It swung out with its right hand and she ducked under the blow before raising her blade and lashing out to keep the creature at bay. Dulvarna looked down sadly at Erlmoor for a moment and then turned her attention back to the foe before her.

Lavren loosed a black, crackling bolt into the side of the demon that Litiraan faught. It reeled and staggered back fro a moment before lashing out at the elf wizard. He ducked under the wild swing and rose just as Enlishia let fly from her bow once more. One shaft and then a second drove into the demon’s side, forcing it to lurch back to its right unsteadily. Before it had chance to recover, Litiraan came at the demon ina furious rage, his blade slashing left and right and tearing deep wounds across the creature’s chest. It staggered again and fell backwards this time, sorely wounded. Litiraan followed with the blade he had named Dragonbane in hand. The demon snarled its defiance but it knew in its black heart that it was doomed.

The ape demon leapt forward and lashed out with a backhand swing towards Dulvarna. She Ducked back to evade the blow and then ducked under the forehand swing of the demon’s left arm. Telkya began to pray again while reaching out towards Erlmoor. Pale motes of divine light rained down on the dragonborn and, though he lay beneath the gore-covered carnage demon, he opened his eyes and began to breath more strongly. Telkya smiled again and the dragonborn winked at her without attracting the notice of the demons that fought around him. From the high platform, the gnoll loosed another dark blast of crackling energy and this time, he found a target. The blast seared into Dulvarna’s left shoulder and hurled her back towards Telkya. The huge minotaur skeleton lumbered forward then until it stood beside the ape demon. Its huge axe swung out over the head of the carnage demon before Dulvarna and slammed her away from Telkya, smashing her into the wall of the entry passageway. She cried out as her shoulder slammed into the stone but lashed out with her blade nonetheless to draw blood from the hip of the demon before her. The creature snarled, hissed and leapt at Dulvarna, tearing at her with claws and needle-like teeth as its companion had done to Erlmoor.

Lavren loosed a bolt of black eldritch energy into the staggering demon that pierced its chest and threw it back from Litiraan. The creature staggered again and then fell to its knees before pitching forward on its front, its face on the stone floor. Enlishia nodded to the elf and then raised her bow. She loosed an arrow and then a second almost at once into the ape demon, driving it back a step and away from Dulvarna and Erlmoor. Litiraan raised his wand and loosed a curtain of flames to engulf the ape demon but the creature ducked left behind the cauldron it stood next to and evaded the fire. Litiraan cursed but then he heard a familiar roar and his heart sang. He looked to his left and saw Erlmoor rise to his feet with a song to Lathander on his lips. He raised his deep baritone voice to the ceiling of the chamber and then, as his blade glowed brightly, he slashed it into the hip of the skeleton. The huge minotaur skeleton staggered and the risen dragonborn roared in triumph.

The ape demon roared its own response to the return of the dragonborn and then lashed out with its right hand to backhand Erlmoor in the chest. The paladin reeled and staggered to his left as the creature lashed the same hand back across forehand and struck Erlmoor in the face, spinning him back around to his right. He staggered and almost fell as his strength faded again. Telkya rushed forward, seeing the plight of her companion again and raised her holy symbol towards the minotaur skeleton.
“Begone foul undead!” she cried out and as her symbol glowed brightly, light lanced out to strike the skeleton.

It staggered and raised its arms before its skull as it staggered back and away from the priestess’ terrible light. The gnoll watched as the skeleton retreated up the steps and past the altar and then he reached out with his left hand towards Dulvarna. A black bolt lanced out and struck the warrior woman in the side but though it seared her flesh it did not vanish then. As the gnoll held out his hand, he lifted it and the black lightning lifted Dulvarna until she was almost her own height off the ground and there she was held.


Chapter 21 - The Inner Sanctum (Part 4)

The lightning died and though she remained suspended in the air, Dulvarna managed to raise her blade and keep the carnage demon at bay for a few moments. She summoned all her strength and concentrated on the moment that she was sure would come when she would fall to the floor where her enemies fought once more. The demon leapt and tore at her right leg with its teeth but Dulvarna slashed down with her blade and forced it away from her. She cursed her fate and prayed to Lathander that she would be freed from her terrible suspension before the demon below her tore her apart.

Lavren stepped forward beside Telkya and levelled his wand at the ape demon. He called forth one of his most powerful curses and as he finished it, terrible teeth appeared around the demon and snapped at it, tearing at its flesh. The demon staggered and began to howl as the teeth snapped at it. Enlishia took careful aim with her bow and then loosed an arrow that shattered as it drove into the ape demon’s chest sending splinters of wood though the creature’s body. It staggered again and seemed about to fall. Litiraan loosed a silver bolt of light past the creature’s head and then Erlmoor turned towards it, his blade held before him. He sang a hymn to Lathander as he lashed out at the demon and cut open the demon’s belly with a blow that struck with a clap of thunder. The creature staggered back a step and then fell backwards to land on its rump. It looked down at its cloven belly and its guts that it held in its hands and then fell over on its back, unmoving.

Telkya rushed at the demon before Dulvarna, praying to Corellon as she did so. Her sword glowed brightly as she lashed out and the blade clove into the arm of the red-skinned demon. As it did so, a tendril of light reached up to touch Dulvarna and heal the worst of her wounds. Even as the healing took effect, the gnoll reached out his hand and sent a bolt of black, crackling energy forth to strike Dulvarna in the side. She cried out and spun in mid air before dropping to the ground heavily as the enchantment of the previous bolt ended.

Dulvarna looked up as the enchantment ended and saw that the skeleton was coming forward again. The huge undead creature lumbered down the steps and lashed out with its axe to strike Erlmoor in the chest and send the dragonborn flying back towards Lavren. The paladin landed hard at the warlock’s feet and lay still, blood pooling once more around him. Dulvarna roared her defiance and grief as she charged forward and lashed out with her blade. Aecris clove into the side of the creature, tearing into its ribs and throwing it to the right. The demon staggered but then righted itself suddenly to leap at Dulvarna. It lashed out with a claw and tore open her throat, spinning her around on the spot and felling her beside Erlmoor.

Lavren stepped past Telkya and moved back to stand against the western wall as he raised his wand and cursed the minotaur skeleton. He loosed a bolt of black energy that struck the creature in the chest and shattered its rib cage before driving into its spine and cleaving it in two. The skeleton collapsed in a clatter of shattered bones. Enlishia stepped forward and turned her bow on the demon that had felled Dulvarna, loosing two arrows quickly that flew past the red-skinned creature and clattered into the stone of the raised area. The demon turned its blood-stained mouth towards the ranger and snarled as though promising her the same fate as her companions had suffered.


Chapter 21 - The Inner Sanctum (Part 5)

Beside Lavren, Litiraan raised his wand and loosed a silver bolt followed by another. These found their marks in the demon’s chest and drove it back against the stone platform behind it. Telkya retreated from the demon’s fury and knelt beside Erlmoor. She uttered her most powerful healing prayer and laid a hand on the dragonborn’s chest as light filled her palm. It flowed into the dragonborn, closing the terrible wound in his chest and as she prayed, Telkya saw Erlmoor’s eyes open once more. She smiled for a moment but then a bolt of black, crackling power lanced out from the gnoll near the altar and struck her in the shoulder, hurling her back against the wall.

The demon leapt forward after the priestess, snarling as it came but Erlmoor rolled over on the floor as it drew near and stabbed his blade into its leg. The demon turned and lashed a claw across the dragonborn’s back but he paid it no mind. He could feel little pain now and began to push himself to his feet. Even as he rose, Lavren cursed the demon and loosed a bolt of black energy that drove it back from Telkya. Enlishia loosed an arrow from her bow that nicked the demon’s cheek and then another, that flew past to strike the cauldron at the far end of the raised platform. The demon snarled for the last time and then Litiraan raised his wand to loose a silver bolt at the demon. It seared through its chest, pierced its foul heart and felled it against the platform from which it had come. Litiraan vanished in a shower of light motes and reappeared on the platform a few feet from the gnoll who turned towards him while behind the elf, Erlmoor rose again with a roar. He rushed up the steps and moved to meet the gnoll with his blade before him.

Telkya watched her brother and the dragonborn advance on the gnoll and knew that she had a chance now to tend to Dulvarna. She knelt beside the warrior woman and uttered a healing prayer while resting her hand on the terrible wound at her throat. Again golden light filled her hand and flowed into her companion to close the wound before finally, Dulvarna’s eyes flicked open.

The gnoll growled at Erlmoor and lashed out with its tail which bore sharp spikes. The tail struck the dragonborn’s right knee and drove its spikes deep into his leg. He staggered and lurched to the right as the gnoll threw down its rod and drew a large mace from its belt. It lashed out at the paladin while still reading from the parchment in its left hand and Erlmoor parried desperately, stopping the mace mere inches from his head. The gnoll’s voice rose to a crescendo for a moment and to his right, Erlmoor saw one of the elf prisoners consumed in a flash of bright light. He roared his defiance again and shoved the gnoll’s mace away from him though he knew that his knee would not hold him for much longer.

As Erlmoor roared, Dulvarna rushed up the steps behind him with Aecris before her and behind her came Lavren, loosing black lightning at the gnoll to drive it back from the others. Enlishia came next, loosing arrows one after the other and wounding the gnoll twice and then Litiraan unleashed a silver bolt into the gnoll’s side. For the first time, the terrible creature staggered and seemed to falter in its reading of the parchment in its left hand. As he saw his companions arrive, Erlmoor summoned the last of his strength and channelled it into his blade before swing out at the gnoll. The sword glowed brightly and clove into the creature’s left shoulder, tearing through flesh and bone. The gnoll howled and its grip on the parchment loosened but it continued to chant the ritual phrases. Erlmoor roared and rushed forward and the gnoll raised its mace to meet him.

Telkya watched the battle on the platform unfold for a moment and then focused her fey energy on moving to join her companions. She vanished in a shower of motes and reappeared next to the gnoll as it moved to meet Erlmoor. Despite its distractions, it seemed to sense her presence and lashed its spiked tail around towards her. She could not avoid the terrible weapon and it struck her in the wide, driving the breath from her body and audibly cracking several ribs. The priestess staggered to the right and uttered a short blessing to enchant her sword before rushing in at the gnoll and stabbing at it. The gnoll twisted away from her and brought its mace down to parry her thrust with amazing speed. It whipped the mace back up and struck the side of the elf’s head before turning back towards Erlmoor and Dulvarna. Telkya staggered away in a daze but saw the gnoll feint low towards Erlmoor before raising the mace over his head and bringing its down on the dragonborn’s skull. Erlmoor crumpled and fell for the third time in a shower of blood.


Dulvarna cried out as Erlmoor fell again and rushed at the gnoll while sweeping her blade out to the right. It slashed into the gnoll’s hip and sent it lurching towards Telkya. The gnoll lifted its head as Lavren uttered a new curse that would fill its head with terrible images and dark dreams. The gnoll turned towards the warlock as he finished the curse and snarled its defiance, refusing to be beaten by the images that filled its head. From the other side of Dulvarna, Enlishia raised her bow with two arrows nocked to its string and loosed both at the same time. They separated in the air but both flew straight and true towards the gnoll and drove into its right side. It staggered again and it faltered in its chanting for a second time.

Instead, Litiraan’s voice filled the chamber and as his chanting reached its conclusion, a cloud of chill fog appeared behind the gnoll that coalesced into a hand of ice almost as tall as a man. The hand rushed forward and seized the gnoll around the waist in a crushing grip. Again the gnoll howled and as it did so, Telkya stabbed at it with her blade. It parried and lashed out at her head again. The mace struck the elf’s cheek and spun her away towards Litiraan and Enlishia. For a moment, Telkya saw blinding light and then there was blackness.

Dulvarna and Lavren cried out together and both surged at the gnoll. Dulvarna lashed her blade across the gnoll’s chest and Lavren loosed a black bolt that passed close to the creature’s head. It growled fiercely but then an arrow from Enlishia’s bow drove into its throat and finally silence it. The gnoll slumped forward, held upright for a moment by Litiraan’s ice hand but then he dismissed the conjured appendage and the gnoll collapsed beside Erlmoor and Telkya. The battle was won and the last survivor of Litiraan’s band of elves was safe.

Next......The Tower of Mysteries
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Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 1)

Once the companions had tended to their wounded, Telkya moved over to the fallen gnoll and checked his belongings for clues to who he was. At his belt was a pouch of letters that she took from him and put to one side while in another pouch she found a silver key. She reached out and took it but as she touched it, a powerful sensation of motion struck her and she reeled. Before herm, she saw a passage behind a hidden door that she knew lay to the north of the Seven Pillared Hall. She knew as well that she could find the tunnel again from the vision that she had been granted. She reeled again and her view of the chamber and the dead gnoll returned.

“What happened?” asked Lavren, kneeling beside her and placing his arm around her shoulders.
“This is not over,” Telkya answered. “There is a hidden tunnel under the northern flank of the mountain that we must seek. The letters there will likely tell us why.”
“And what of the last of our band,” said Litiraan from close to the circle of runes where he comforted the elf maid that had survived the ritual. “We cannot let Tahlvinae find her way back to Cormanthor alone”
“You are right, Litiraan,” said Erlmoor softly from where he sat against the altar. “We must go with her to ensure she arrives home safely.”
“Could we not take her there once our business here is done?” Lavren put in. “Telkya and I have business at our homes if she is still willing to be my wife.”
“I am,” Telkya said with a warm smile at Lavren.
“Then we set out for Cormanthor once we have brought an end to whatever darkness is behind all of this,” said Erlmoor.

The companions nodded their agreement and Litiraan softly whispered to the traumatised elf maid what had been decided. Once they had made their decision, the companions settled down to rest and recover for the remainder of the day before returning to the Seven Pillared Hall when morning came.


Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 2)

“All letters are from this Paldemar whose name has crossed our path before,” said Erlmoor as the companions finished their breakfast in the common room of the Halfmoon Inn. “He has sought to trap us before and may seek to do so again but he also says that he seeks to topple the other Mages of Saruun. I have not heard of these mages before.”
“They rule the Hall and the Mountain and keep order,” piped up Rendil Halfmoon as he reached up to take away the dragonborn’s platter. “It is said that they came here from the east two decades and more ago and founded this Hall as a trading post. They all wear red robes and are rarely seen so I know not if this Paldemar is one of them.”
“We are lucky you listen in on our conversations,” said Lavren with a smile at the halfling. “Do the letters say more that may give us a clue to Paldemar’s plans.”

The elf pulled the letters across the table and read through them again as they all had several times, seeking some hidden lore that might guide their way ahead.
“He has sacrificed demonic relics from the Well of Demons to Bane and gained access to an ancient hold of the Black Lord,” Lavren read out.
“The Tower of Mysteries,” Erlmoor finished, having memorised the name.
“That must be the place that the silver key showed me,” said Telkya. “I can lead us there.”
“Then we go at once,” said Erlmoor grimly. “The sooner we rid this mountain of the last of its evils, the better.”


Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 3)

Guided by Telkya, the companions left the Hall behind once more and set out along the Road of Lanterns, back towards the Minotaur gate. At one of the double backs where the passage turned left to slope upwards, the priestess gestured that they should turn aside down an unremarkable side passage that they had not noticed before and led northward into the darkness.
“It is almost pulling me toward the Tower,” said Telkya as the six entered the tunnel.

They travelled onward, their path lit only by the dim light of Litiraan’s wand and by torches that Dulvarna and Erlmoor carried. Finally, the passage ended at a dead end and here the key began to glow with a pale blue light. Telkya stepped forward, the key dragging her towards the wall. She held it out before her and it guided itself into a barely visible keyhole that had seemed to be nothing more than a shadowy aberration in the rock. Telkya staggered forward and fell against the wall but as she did so, the pull of the key was gone. She reached out and pulled the key from the keyhole and a grinding sound followed as the rock wall of the dead end, slid to one side. Within, another passage led away into the darkness. Dulvarna and Erlmoor handed their torches to Lavren and Litiraan and drew their sword while the warlock and the wizard drew their wands from their belts. Enlishia drew an arrow from her quiver and nocked it while Telkya drew her sword in her right hand while clasping her amulet of Corellon in her left. Together, they started forward.

The passage led on into the darkness until the secret door through which they had come vanished into the blackness behind them. Finally, it emerged into a wide, square chamber with a glowing circle of pale blue runes at its centre.
“A teleportation circle,” said Litiraan as he recognised the pattern of the runes.
“Which must lead us into the Tower,” said Enlishia, lowering her bow and starting forward.
“Enlishia is right,” said Lavren. “But we should enter it together. We know not what lies on the other side.”
“And we know not where it leads yet,” said Dulvarna. “We should be cautious.”

Suddenly, as Enlishia neared the circle, it flared with blinding energy for a moment and when the light faded away, a spectral figure in black armour was standing within the circle. Its face was hidden beneath the faceguard of a black helmet and a cloak of ebony silk flowed down from the creature’s shoulders. It raised a gauntleted hand to indicate that Enlishia and Lavren should stop and then it spoke in a deep, booming voice.
“The secrets of the tower come at a price,” said the figure. “You must each pay for the right to enter this place. What can you offer to the Black Lord? I seek lore, power, and your souls.”

“My soul is my own to keep,” said Litiraan. “And my lore will only frustrate you. Know you, Black One that the fey of Cormanthor are not yet defeated by the darkness. The mythal of Myth Drannor remains strong and unbroken despite the demons and devils that haunt the ancient ruin.”
“Bravely spoken, elf,” answered the spirit of Bane. “But your lore does not frustrate me. Those who serve me in Myth Drannor will only have to try harder to break the power of the mythal.”
“From me you will learn nothing and take nothing,” Dulvarna hissed. “My blade speaks for me and for Lathander. I spit on you, Dark One and command you to let us into the circle.”
“No one commands me,” the apparition said and then laughed deeply, mocking Dulvarna. “Your blades cannot defeat me, nor can your pitiful spells. I ask for lore and power and then your souls. Nothing else will let you pass here.”

“My friend spoke rashly, mighty Bane,” said Erlmoor then. “We seek enemies here and merely ask that you let us pass so that we may face them.”
“I have named my price,” the spirit laughed again. “And the enemies you seek are my servants. I will not let you pass through without a price. I will take your souls and my servants will take your lives when you pass within.”
“We do not die easily but we will pay your price,” said Enlishia. “I am poorly blessed in the lore of the Realms beyond the forests and trails of Cormyr but my companions are learned and wise. We will give you that which you seek.”
“Then you had best be swift about it,” said the spirit. “My patience wears thin and I have heard little of value beyond the news of Myth Drannor that the elf has given. Speak quickly oh wise and learned ones or my price will be steep indeed.”
“My brother spoke lore that was valuable to you and now I shall, too,” said Telkya quickly. “Know you that we are descended from a great house and that our father stood with the Emerald Enclave when the druids of that circle defeated your dark servant Borran Klosk at the Battle of Morningstar Hollows. He aided the magic that brought flood to the Alaoreum River and brought low your foul undead general.”

“Of course I knew that, foolish elf maid. “Do you think that the Dark One does not study his enemies? Especially those that score victories, however minor, against him. Your house is known to me but insignificant unless it stands against me again. Now, I grow tired of this and my price rises with every passing moment. Speak well, each of you, or pay with your souls.”
“We have spoken well and will continue to do so,” said Lavren then. “It is merely difficult for us to outwit an apparition that possesses the knowledge of such a powerful and wise god. Give us more time, Dark Lord, lest we may speak lore worthy of you.”
“Well spoken at last, elf,” said the spirit. “You at least show some appreciation for who you face here. I will contain my patience for a little longer.”


Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 4)

“You say that you know of our house, Dark One,” spoke up Litiraan then. “But know you that my great grandsire stood at the Standing Stone when we first made our Compact with the Dalesmen. Maidar Zysel lived later in the City of Song until its fall and fell there in the last defence. Powerful enemies you face here, Dark One.”

“Indeed,” answered the spirit with a grim nod. “Your house is greater than even I knew but will fall just as easily as the other elven houses have fallen.”
“Perhaps they will and perhaps they won’t,” Dulvarna answered. “You are truly mighty among the gods of the Realms and worthy of the praise of your worshippers here.”
“Good,” the spirit answered. “Another among you recognises the unstoppable power that stands before you.”

“We all recognise it,” said Erlmoor, recognising the flattery that seemed to calm the apparition. “We shall provide for you the lore that you seek so that we may pass by to confront your mighty followers. Perhaps then, we will become sacrifices for you or we shall cull the weak from amongst the ranks of your servants.”
“I am glad that you all seem to be finally seeing sense,” answered the black-armoured creature. “Now who will provide me with more lore for me to use against my enemies.”

“I will,” spoke up Enlishia though she knew that she had precious little to offer. “My kindred too have a great history and were once huntmasters to the mighty Palaghard the First of Cormyr. We still hold knowledge of the hidden trails of the King’s Forest that few know of.”
“You lie!” the spirit roared immediately. “Palaghard despised hunting and employed no huntmasters. You know nothing of the King’s Forest and its hidden trails.”

Enlishia retreated before the wrath of the apparition, knowing the truth of its words. Her lie had been a desperate one that she had crafted quickly to try and fool the manifestation before her.
“Know you then that we have recently defeated a great evil in the Thunder Gap,” Telkya said. “There the town of Winterhaven lies and the Keep that once guarded the eastern boundary of Cormyr with Sembia is now a place of goblins, undead and fouler things. Still the border holds and Cormyr’s lords guard it.”

“They shall not forever and I know of the evil that you speak,” answered the spirit. “Though not the eastern border that the town and Keep mark. When last I ventured forth into the realm of mortals, Cormyr and Sembia yet squabbled over their borders. This is the useful lore that I seek from you.”
“My own kin have power themselves and are a great house,” Lavren said next. “We made a pact with powerful fey nearly thirteen centuries ago when Cormyr and the Dalelands were young realms. They aid us still with magical power that has made my father and my family strong amongst the elves of Cormanthor. Myth Drannor may lie in ruins but the Elven Court lives on.”

“Also well spoken elf,” the manifestation of Bane answered. “Though as hopeless as the words of your kin. The elven houses of Cormanthor are shadows of their former selves and doomed before the might of my servants.”
“On that we cannot agree,” said Litiraan fiercely. “Surely your greatest servant was the lich, Szass Tam who was defeated by the Harpers at the end of the Harpstar Wars a century and more ago. If your greatest servant is no match for the power of the Dales and Cormanthor then you will never prevail.”
The apparition seemed to pause and behind the faceplate of the helm, a faint smile was visible.

“Szass Tam yet lives though,” it answered softly. “And he may yet return to plague your lands. But I grow tired of this talk. You may now enter the Tower of Mysteries. May its secrets intrigue you.”
The apparition vanished and as it did so, the companions felt a sudden weakness overcome them as a portion of their strength was sapped away. Each staggered but then made their way slowly forward into the teleportation circle.


Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 5)

With a flash of light, the teleportation circle activated. Suddenly, the six companions were standing in a room, perhaps twenty feet by twenty feet, with two exits, one to the north and the other to the west. The walls of the chamber were covered with carvings that depicted human faces with each face wearing a blindfold or gag. No sooner had the companions appeared in the chamber than the blindfolded faces animated and began to chant while the eyes of the gagged faces glared at the newcomers with rage.

Enlishia was the first to move from the circle, raising her bow and leaving the chamber through the northern exit. Beyond, she found herself in a wide, columned hall that seemed to circle the central chamber As she turned right to circle to the east, a hobgoblin-like creature with black, warty skin, scarred leather armour and a notched battleaxe, rounded the corner coming towards her.
“Norkers!” she called out as she identified the creatures from a story that her father had once told her. “They will bite and gnaw so keep your distance.”

The ranger raised her bow and loosed an arrow that flew past the norker and then in one fluid motion, nocked and loosed a second shaft. This one flew true and drove into the goblin’s shoulder, stopping it in its stride. As she raised her bow again, Enlishia saw another of the goblin creatures coming up the columned hallway from the south behind its companion.
“There’s more than one,” she shouted back to others and as she did, Dulvarna emerged from the chamber with her sword in her hands.

The warrior womon rushed forward to meet the first of the norkers as it started forward once again and then Telkya emerged from the chamber. Raising her symbol of Corellon, she uttered a prayer and unleashed towards the leading creature that struck the wall behind it. The creature snarled and came forward in a rush then to meet Dulvarna blade to blade. Suddenly, from a pillar to the left of Dulvarna, a bolt of lightning crackled out, missing the warrior woman by bare inches. She stepped back and the norker rushed on, trying to seize its chance.

At the southern end of the hallway another norker appeared but Lavren had joined the group at the northern end and with a chanted curse, he loosed black, crackling energy into the nearest of the goblin creatures. Erlmoor came forth next and rushed to join Dulvarna in battle with the first Norker. He roared and sprayed acid from his mouth over both of the nearer creatures, driving them back a step and pushing their furious assault back for a few more previous moments. Litiraan emerged to stand beside Lavren, raising his wand and seeking a target for his spells but Erlmoor and Dulvarna blocked his sight as they raised their blades and parried the first blows from the norkers.

A fourth norker rushed to join its companions in the eastern hallway and rushed to join the battle and as it did so, the lead goblin creature lashed out with its axe and nicked Dulvarna’s left arm. She fell back, bleeding but barely hurt and gave Enlishia the opening she needed. The ranger raised her bow and loosed first one and then a second arrow into the chest of the goblin. It staggered and fell back from the battle with the woman and the dragonborn but from behind, its companion rushed forward to aid it. The second norker swung out with its axe but Erlmoor saw its rushing attack and leapt back. The jagged blade nicked his right arm as he dodged out of reach, drawing blood but causing the dragonborn little hurt. He roared his defiance and Dulvarna joined in the battle cry as she swept her blade out wide. Aecris clove through the neck of the first norker and dropped it art her feet.

Another norker rushed along the east wall of the hallway with a flail in its hand but Telkya saw it coming and loosed another bolt of light. This bolt flew true and seared through the chest of the norker before burning the wall behind it. The creature stopped, looked down at the gaping hole in its body and then pitched forward, face down on the floor. Telkya smiled for a moment but then, as if an unseen force sought to punish her for her triumph, a bolt of lightning lanced out from the pillar behind her and struck her back, throwing her to her left against the north wall of the corridor. Telkya looked back towards the pillar and as she did so, a dark mist seeped out and enveloped Lavren’s legs. The elf cried out as a sudden cold assailed him and staggered towards his betrothed. She looked at him pleadingly and he leapt clear of the mist but as though again directed by some unseen foe, the mist turned aside and drifted gently towards Litiraan.
“Stay away from the pillars!” Lavren called out to Litiraan in particular but to his companions also.

Cursing under his breath, he raised his wand and pointed it at the next norker that he could see rushing up the eastern hallway towards him. With an uttered curse he loosed more black, crackling energy at the norkers but this time his aim was awry and the bolt seared into the pillar next to the goblin creature he had been aiming at. Behind him, he heard Litiraan cry out as the mist sought to engulf him. He too, leapt clear within a heartbeat and rushed past Lavren to the eastern wall. There, he turned towards the advancing norkers and with a few words, he unleashed flame from his wand that engulfed the nearest of the creatures. The norkers cried out in pain and fell back for a moment but more were coming. Litiraan quickly counted half a dozen of the creatures massing before him in the hallway now and wondered if there was any end to the horde of creatures. Then a bolt of lightning lanced out from the pillar behind him and he was forced to duck as it struck the wall above him. Putting aside his thoughts, he raised his wand once more as three more norkers rushed up the hallway from the south.


Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 6)

Enlishia raised her bow and loosed an arrow into the next norker as it came forward. It lurched backward but then snarled and came forward again. She loosed another arrow but this time the creature lashed out with its axe and swatted the arrow from the air. The goblin creature fixed the ranger with a predatory glare and then started forward again. As it did, it hollered a high, ululating battle cry that the other goblins took up. The one facing Erlmoor surged forward and lashed out with its axe, driving the blade down on the dragonborn’s shoulder. The paladin roared in pain but as it did, Dulvarna came forward and lashed out with her blade. Aecris cut into the norker’s right arm and it turned on her with a sudden ferocity, snapping at her with its teeth. She leapt back beyond its reach and it snarled at her, seeming to promise bloody revenge.

Two more norkers rounded the corner to the south and rushed up the hallway, one pushing through its companions to charge at Litiraan. Telkya came forward to aid her brother, uttering a prayer and unleashing another bolt of golden light at this new enemy. The goblin creature slowed its charge and the bolt struck the wall between it and Litiraan. With a snarl it raised its flail and came on while from the pillar in front of Telkya came more revenge from the unseen enemies that plagued the companions. This time, a pale white bolt flashed out and struck Telkya, dazing her for a moment but leaving her otherwise unharmed. The priestess shook her head and then turned her attention back to the battle, silently thanking Corellon for a lucky escape.

Another norker pushed forward, raising an axe above its head and bringing it down towards Dulvarna. She raised her blade and parried deftly, turning the axe aside. Another pushed forward and rushed at Litiraan, lashing its axe around to its left. He brought his blade down and half-parried but the axe drove on and tore into his right thigh. He staggered to the left, lurching into the wall next to him. Lavren cursed the goblin again and loosed more black, crackling energy that seared into the creature’s chest and drove it away from the wizard for a few moments. The creature snarled as it staggered back and then raised its axe to come forward again.

Erlmoor roared and clashed blades with the norker before him as he tried to find a way through its wild and ragged defences and Litiraan took heart from the dragonborn. He raised his own blade and met the norker before him as it came forward, parrying its flurry of axe blows and slashing low toward its belly. It leapt back and again, the elf gained a few moments of breathing space. Behind the two foes he now faced, Litiraan saw others snarling and with spittle dripping from their vicious teeth. They surged forward as one and pushed the front line towards the companions once more, forcing Litiraan to parry desperately again. Then a bolt of lightning lanced out from the pillar behind Litiraan and struck the wall next to him. The norkers surged forward again and again, the elf raised his sword.

Enlishia raised her bow and took aim at a norker in the front row that she had already wounded. She let fly but at the last, the goblin ducked to the left and the arrow flew through the ranks to clatter into the eastern wall of the hallway. Calmly, the ranger nocked another arrow and took aim again, loosing the shaft a heartbeat later. This time, the arrow drove through the throat of the norker that had wounded Litiraan, throwing it back into its companions before it fell to the floor amongst them. The norkers snarled their derision and came forward again, one lashing its axe high towards Erlmoor. The dragonborn parried and as he did so, Dulvarna stepped forward and lashed her blade into the side of the goblin before her. The creature shrieked and fell back before being pushed forward again by its companions.

Another norker came forward to replace the one that Enlishia had felled, raising its flail above its head and then bringing it down towards Litiraan. The elf leapt back beyond its reach but as he did, his remaining foe came forward, lashing its flail across towards his wounded thigh. He brought his blade down at the last moment and parried the chain and spiked ball down into the stone floor. The norker snarled but as it did so a bolt of light seared out from Telkya’s amulet and blasted into its side, throwing its against the wall. It let out one last gasp and slid down to the base of the wall beside the other goblin that the priestess had slain. Once again the pillars let loose the revenge of the hidden enemies and this time, lightning lanced out at Telkya. It struck her left shoulder and threw her back against the corner of the wall where the passage bent around to the south. She cried out and Lavren looked over to her with concern until she pushed herself away from the wall and half-smiled at him through the pain.


Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 7)

The norkers came forward again then as though drawing inspiration from the power of their unseen allies. Dulvarna’s wounded foe feinted left and then brought its axe around to the right to slash it across the front of the warrior woman’s hip. She staggered back a step but then black, crackling energy lanced out again from Lavren’s wand and blasted through the chest of the goblin next to Dulvarna’s foe. The creature was hurled like a doll against the pillar behind it before it collapsed on the floor amongst the bodies of its companions. Erlmoor roared and surged forward as the norker fell, lashing his blade across the chest of the foe he faced. The norker snarled in response and seized his arm as he swept his blade past, tearing flesh from the dragonborn’s elbow. Erlmoor slammed his arm into the creature’s face and forced it away but both had been hurt in the exchange of blows. The dragonborn roared again and in response, the norkers took up their ululating battle cry.

Litiraan looked at the norkers before him and realised that he had a chance to use his spells once again while the goblins mustered another attack. Raising his wand, he uttered an incantation and let fly a small orange ball that flew between the goblins and past the pillar in their midst. When it passed their back rank it exploded and fire filled the hallway, searing the goblin creatures. New screams filled the corridor then as the terrible flame burned the norkers. Five fell with their armour burned away and their dark flesh blistered and melted. The three that remained staggered and all but fell as the flames died away to leave them only barely alive. One of the creatures mustered a weak ululating battle cry and then with a snarl, it rushed at Litiraan. It lashed out with its axe and the elf parried with his sword but the blow was strong and the jagged blade nicked the elf’s calf. Then lightning struck him from behind and he fell against the wall next to him, helpless before his enemy.

Enlishia saw Litiraan’s plight and raised her bow. She loosed an arrow and then another but both were hasty shots and struck the wall next to the goblin. She cursed but as she looked towards the other norkers, she could see that this part of the battle at least was won. Dulvarna swept her sword out and lashed a deep wound across the chest of the norker she faced. It snarled and came at her with its teeth bared but she kept it at bay, meeting axe with sword while moving towards Litiraan.

As Dulvarna moved, Telkya saw her chance and loosed a bolt of light towards the goblin creature. It seared through the chest of the norker and threw it back to land in the pile of burned and bloodied bodies that filled the hallway behind it. Again, lighting flew out from one of the pillars and threw the elf maid against the wall but this time, Lavren this time dismissed his concern for Telkya and with an act of will, vanished into a cloud of light motes. He appeared amongst the smoking bodies of the slain norkers, behind the two remaining goblins. He raised his wand and loosed a black bolt fo energy into the back of the nearest enemy, throwing it forward towards Erlmoor. The dragonborn threw the norker to one side and let it fall to the stone floor of the hall, already dead.

Erlmoor rushed across the hallway to where the remaining norker snarled and lashed out at Litiraan and Dulvarna. He lashed out with his blade but the goblin twisted on the spot and brought its axe down to parry the dragonborn’s blow. Litiraan saw his chance and thrust his sword into the goblin’s hip. The creature turned back towards him and leapt forward, seizing his sword arm in its vicious teeth. Litiraan recoiled but as he did so, the norker tore flesh from his arm and snarled its continued defiance at him. It lashed out with its axe, cleaving the jagged blade into the elf’s shoulder and throwing him sideways into the wall once again. A bolt of lightning lanced out from the pillar behind Litiraan and struck him in the back, throwing him face first into the wall. He gasped once and then slid down the wall to lie awkwardly next to the enemies that had fallen before him.
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Chapter 22 - The Tower of Mysteries (Part 8)

Enlishia came forward with her bow raised and loosed one and then a second arrow into the norker’s side. It lurched to its right and hissed through its teeth in obvious pain. Dulvarna lashed her blade across the creature’s shoulder and it staggered back just as Telkya raised her amulet and unleashed another bolt of light. The golden missile seared into the creature’s neck blasting through flesh and bone before striking the wall beyond the norker. It staggered again and then fell to the floor, its head lolling grotesquely on its all but severed neck. Lightning leapt out from the nearest pillar and again threw the priestess back against the wall.

Lavren looked towards Telkya and then with a grim and vengeful expression he turned away from the bodies of the norkers and headed southward along the hallway to seek the unseen enemies that remained. He rounded the corner at the southern end of the hall and there, lurking against the north wall of the passage where it turned westward, stood two terrible creatures. Each was dressed in black armour as the apparition of Bane had been but these showed their faces beneath their round helms. Each was a terrible undead parody of a man with fierce, glowing green eyes and vicious, sharp teeth. They held daggers in their right hands and snarled at him when he rounded the corner as the norkers had. He raised his wand and cursed the nearest creature, unleashing a black bolt towards it but the creature was surprisingly fast. It shrank away from the bolt and it struck the wall next to it.
“I have found our hidden foes,” he called out to the others, and then raised his wand again.

Erlmoor heard Lavren’s cry as he knelt beside Litiraan. He uttered a swift healing prayer and as light flowed from his hand to the elf, he rose and started southward after the warlock. Behind him, Litiraan rose, paused for a moment to recover his strength and then started after the dragonborn. Before he had reached the corner, he saw a pale white bolt throw Lavren back a step and leaving him shaking his head in momentary dazed confusion. Enlishia rushed past them, rounding the corner to stand beside Lavren and raise her bow. She loosed an arrow towards the nearest of the armour creatures but it bounced off its armour. She nocked a second shaft and let fly, this one flying true and driving into the chest of the nearest creature. The undead warrior snarled and hissed in response before raising its hand to loose another bolt of energy.

Dulvarna ran the length of the corridor and moved to stand on Lavren’s left with her blade before her. Telkya followed, squeezing between Lavren and Dulvarna to stand in the entrance of a wide southern atrium with glowing runes decorating the floor at its centre, surrounded by four of the carved pillars. She raised her amulet and began a prayer but then the second of the creatures moved away from the north wall and started towards her. It raised its left hand and with an uttered word, unleashed the terrible lightning at the elf maid. It struck her in the chest and again she was hurled back painfully into a stone wall, to lean there, gasping as she desperately heaved breath painfully into her lungs.

Lavren glanced to the left as Telkya was struck and for a moment contemplated going to her aid. Dismissing the idea, he turned his attention back to the foe before him and spoke another curse that loosed black, crackling energy towards the creature. This time, the undead foe could not avoid the blast and was struck in the shoulder, lurching back a step as it was struck. Erlmoor rushed around the corner before the creature had chance to recover.
“Black Warriors of Bane,” the paladin spat as he saw the foes that confronted him. “This is how the Black Lord rewards loyalty, by trapping fiends in human form. Ware them if they are sorely hurt, for they will become terrible clawing berserkers.”

At that, he rushed forward, raising his sword and his voice at the same time. He chanted a prayer as his sword descended until it glowed bright gold just before it struck. It clove into the shoulder of the black warrior, splitting its armour and the bone beneath. Sure enough, the creature snarled, hissed, and then threw aside its dagger. In a swirling rage, it leapt at the dragonborn, seeking to rend his flesh from his bones.

Litiraan appeared in a shower of light motes beside Telkya just as the first black warrior began its terrible rage. He raised his wand towards the foe that had wounded his sister but Enlishia was far quicker. She loosed one arrow and then another, the first missing its mark but the second driving into the side of the black warrior. Dulvarna rushed forward to meet the terrible foe then, her sword dancing before her until she came forward suddenly. The creature parried desperately with its dagger and kept the warrior woman at bay while from the pillars, the dark mist crept forth seemingly to reach for Erlmoor and Dulvarna. The dark warrior retreated before the warrior woman’s onslaught and unleashed lightning from its left hand. The bolt struck Dulvarna’s left shoulder and threw her back a step but she shrugged off the pain and numbness to raise her blade again. The black warrior snarled at her as though goading her to come forward and she did as she was bade.