Shackled City Epic: "Vengeance" (story concluded)

Who is your favorite character in "The Shackled City"?

  • Zenna

    Votes: 27 29.7%
  • Mole

    Votes: 17 18.7%
  • Arun

    Votes: 31 34.1%
  • Dannel

    Votes: 10 11.0%
  • Other (note in a post)

    Votes: 6 6.6%

Brogarn

First Post
Hmm... short, informative with a touch of party personality. Noone's bleeding, dying, or being brought back from death.

*sniff sniff*

I can smell an incoming Friday cliffhanger from here on Thursday!

Yes, even I can be taught after 4 years of story hour! You should of seen how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes! :D
 

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Lazybones

Adventurer
Heh, nothing like being predictable!

* * * * *

Chapter 613

A massive set of double iron doors stood within darkness. Rust and time had pitted the thick metal slabs, in some cases carving out depressions over an inch deep. But this did not steal anything from their imposing durability; if anything, the doors seemed eternal. Multiple reinforcing bands were affixed to the heavy slabs with thumb-thick iron rivets, culminating in not one but two bars, thick slabs that rested in long grooves built into the substance of the doors. These were portals designed not only to withstand siege, but a cataclysm.

A muted clang penetrated the doors, then another. The metal quivered, but held. But then the stone threshold to either side and above began to shift, the black granite moving, drawing back, as if abandoning the barrier it had supported for so long. As the retreated stone revealed the recessed hinges, the doors clanged loudly again, and pocked iron creaked as it gave way before a superior force. The bars held, but the doors in their entirety tore free of their weakened moorings, plunging down to slam onto the ground below with a terrible noise.

Lok was the first to step through, with Arun and Beorna flanking him. All had their weapons at the ready, the others close behind.

The chamber beyond the doors was much more irregular than those in the rest of the fortress, more like a natural cavern that had been generally shaped and expanded than a proper chamber of worked stone. The air was thick with dampness, and the slightly irregular floor was broken by frequent pools that ranged from a few paces across to as wide as eight feet. The water was dark and brackish, and shone with a glistening slick in the light cast from their spells and weapons.

The place extended backward for quite some distance. Cal lifted a hand and uttered a brief melody that called a light spell into being along the ceiling. The light drew back the darkness, and while the long shadows could have concealed much, they could now see what occupied the rear of the chamber.

The Demon Prince Graz’zt sat upon a throne that resembled a knot of coral. The demon did not seem to notice them, despite the flickering light that played upon his features.

“Wow, he’s really in bad shape,” Mole commented.

The gnome’s assessment was impossible to deny. The Prince was only barely recognizable as the fiend that they had battled inside the great iron skull on Occipitus. His features still bore the mark of the eruption of the Heart of Axion; half of his face was melted like a wax candle left too close to the hearth, with a puckered black sore gaping empty where the Heart had once resided. His other eye stared blankly out into space; the orb was a milky white, and it was doubtful whether the Prince could see at all. Graz’zt still wore Synesyx, although the scales only covered a narrow strip between his belly and his hips. The rest of his flesh was drawn tight against his bones, and a red sheen covered his skin, as though he had been sweating blood.

“It’s a trap,” Dannel said quietly, an arrow ready in his bow.

“Well, naturally,” Beorna said. “But do we spring it from here, or get closer?”

“I will do it,” Dana said, as a silver glow sprang into being around her. She lifted her hand, and a surge of white moonfire erupted from between her fingers.

Cal, who had called upon his arcane sight as soon as they had come in, tried to stop her, but was too late. The blast of energy formed a knife that lanced across the chamber, pulsing toward the supine form of the Prince. But as it neared the coral throne, the moonfire sprayed against an invisible barrier, a shield that flickered in striations of deep aqua and sinister black. The flows of power interacted for a second, and then both faded, leaving the scene as it had been a moment before.

Dannel had lifted his bow to fire, but on seeing the failure of Dana’s effort, he held his shot.

Graz’zt looked up. His voice was a faint rasp, but somehow the companions heard each syllable clearly from fifty feet away.

“So. You have come to finish your work, have you?” Just the very act of speaking seemed to drain the demon, and thin streams of viscious fluid trailed down his mangled chin with the words. “You are persistent, and your hatred of me has given you strength. But I am not without resources, and I will not passively await the slaughter!” The last words were spoken with a hint of the Prince’s earlier fire, but that faded as the demon bent in the chair, caught in a violent spasm of coughing.

“Lo, how the mighty have fallen,” Dana said, her voice echoing through the chamber without need of magical augmentation. “It is you who have let hatred consume you… and it has brought you to this end, fiend.”

“Have you identified it?” Dannel whispered to Cal.

“It’s analogous to a cube of force,” the gnome responded. “Emitted from the throne, I think.”

“Can you teleport through it?”

“No. It extends through the ethereal… and even if I could, my lock still holds.”

“There’s no place left for you to run, fiend,” Beorna said, lifting her sword with one hand, the point of the heavy blade steady as it pointed straight at Graz’zt’s chest. “Your enemies have taken what little you had left, and soon you will be naught but a memory, a foul taste in the mouth.”

Graz’zt laughed. “I do not think I will be forgotten so quickly.” His eye—seeing or not—focused on Benzan, and his chuckle took on a sinister undertone. The tiefling, almost overcome with emotion, began to tremble.

“I will forget you, demon,” Benzan whispered.

“I see you restored your ugly wench, paladin,” Graz’zt said. “A pity… I believe that my blade improved her appearance.”

“Enough banter!” Arun shouted. Lifting his hammer, he started forward, Beorna at his side.

“So how do we get through it?” Dannel asked.

“We hit it with everything we got,” Cal said. He put his words into action, lifting his rod, and channeling a disintegrate through it. The green ray splashed against the shield, which roiled with chaos as it absorbed the destructive energies of the spell.

The companions added their strength to Cal’s effort. Dannel’s bow sent arrows infused with electrical energies into the shield, while Benzan, his own fiendbane bow restored to him as well, sent several shots into it as well. The warriors formed a wedge and rushed forward, their weapons lifted high to send sheer strength and determination against the barrier. Dana walked behind them at a slower pace, a dark look on her face, and Mole, naturally, was nowhere to be seen.

“The fury of Agamatheo take you!” the demon screeched, and he held up a claw that was still scorched black where the fires of the Heart of Axion had blasted it.

Dark waters rushed up through the holes in the floor at the Prince’s command, surging into the chamber with explosive energy.

“He’s trying to drown us!” Dannel exclaimed.

“No… look!” Cal said, as the waters rose into discrete shapes, massive figures that were like crashing whitecaps that had been frozen into a roughly humanoid form. They were the ancient spirits of the seas of this world, once pristine and somber, now corrupted into foul mockeries of what they had been by the being that now sat broken in the coral throne.

The huge creatures, a half-dozen in all, surged forward to attack, while Graz’zt, secure behind his shield, cackled madly.
 




Brogarn

First Post
Personally, I'm looking forward to it finally ending. I don't mean that derogatorily, it's just these poor guys could use a break!!! So, here's crossing my fingers that they kick this bastadge's arse three ways from Sunday then finally get to sit down for 5 minutes and maybe catch a nap!
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 614

By unspoken agreement, Beorna and Lok turned to face the onrushing elementals, while Arun surged forward toward the shield protecting the Prince. Several of the creatures surged forward toward the warriors, who looked insignificant in contrast to the massive walls of water descending upon them, filling the room almost up to the cavern roof forty feet above.

Dana spoke a holy word, but the power of the utterance could not overcome the ancient potency of the warped elder elementals. One of the creatures slammed into her, carrying her off in a wild surge.

“Dana!” Benzan exclaimed. He rushed after her, but the elemental plunged back into one of the gaping holes in the floor, dragging its captive down with it.

“Look out!” Dannel warned, as another elemental rose up behind Benzan, sweeping forward like a black tide. The elf fired several electrically-charged missiles into the elemental, which kept on coming toward its target.

Cal had considered and discarded the prismatic wall; while the spell would have likely kept several of the elementals at bay, it would also have been easy for the others to bull-rush his friends into the barrier. And it was likely that the holes in the floor were all connected with a larger body of water below, which would have made the wall an only temporary obstacle. He did, however, have another new spell, one which was particularly suited to this circumstance.

He hit the fiendish elementals with a horrid wilting, blasting through their spell resistance easily. The spell vaporized a good portion of the creatures’ substance, and they seemed to pulse with what might have been agony, had they been normal mortal beings. The last of the elementals had been surging toward Cal and Dannel, but it now drew back from the tiny but deadly archmage, a primordial instinct for survival overcoming the urge to destruction that filled its being.

That didn’t help Benzan, however, as he turned around to take a punishing blow from a heavy surge of water that plunged into his face and chest, knocking him down. The water that made up the creatures was thick and polluted, and where it splashed against the tiefling’s skin, it seared his flesh like acid.

Beorna and Lok likewise came under heavy attack. The templar cut a deep swath into the first surging wave with her sword, but was struck hard and overborne by an impact that knocked her roughly back. Lok, facing the opposite direction, set his feet heavily upon the stone, taking up a defensive stance. Two elementals surged into him, but while the waves crashed against his shield and armored body with the force of a tsunami, they broke to reveal the warrior, holding his ground, hewing at the substance of the elementals with his axe. Like Benzan, both were affected by the caustic touch of the water, against which armor and clothing were of only marginal protection.

Arun splashed through water that had risen to his knees, and lifted his hammer. He had marked where the shield began, and slammed the holy weapon into it with the full force of his considerable strength behind it. The shield flashed but held, rebuffing him as a backblast of energy surged through the weapon into the paladin. Arun fell back, staggering to one knee. Within the shield, Graz’zt sat waiting, his features indistinct through the distortions still trembling through the shield from the fury of the dwarf’s attack.

Grimacing, he lifted the hammer and came forward again.

“Get the shield… I’ll keep them off!” Dannel said to Cal, as he unleashed a rapid-fire barrage of missiles into the nearest of the elementals. He continued to target the one that had attacked Benzan, sending arrow after arrow into it, aiming high so as not to threaten the tiefling, who was all but immersed in its bulk. The substance of the watery creature roiled madly as the empowered missiles tore through it. Critically wounded, it turned toward the elf, but then suddenly sagged, and disintegrated into a spray of water that quickly drained toward the nearest of the holes in the floor. As the elemental came apart, Benzan was again revealed, swinging his sword blindly around him. The rapidly receding waters pulled at his legs, dragging him down again. Dannel was there in a moment to help him up. He looked to be in bad shape, his eyes swollen and red, his skin seared a harsh pink from the pollutants in the water.

“Dana…” he managed to say.

“She can handle herself, trust me,” the elf said. And in any case, there’s nothing we can do for her, he didn’t add.

Lifting his bow, he shifted his aim toward the next foe.

Lok was surrounded by a vortex of swirling water as the elementals continued to bash at him. One reared up over him, forming a white crest that brushed the ceiling, but that huge wave disintegrated as Lok slammed his axe through it, opening a gash that tore through its entire “body”, slaying it. The other surged through the gap and buffeted the genasi heavily, but his stance held, and he maintained his position even as the caustic water rushed around him and sizzled against his armor.

Beorna was in a less enviable position. Her foe had knocked her down in the initial clash, and the elemental continued to smash at her, dragging her toward the hole in the floor through which it had emerged. Thus far, only the templar’s considerable weight, a fair portion of which was comprised of the adamantine shell that she wore, had kept her from suffering Dana’s fate. But the elemental was strong, and each surging rush of water drove her closer to the dark opening.

She tried to stand, only to stumble again as another wave overbore her, and the rushing water around her feet made standing difficult.

“Bloody bast—“ she began, only to be cut off as a surge of water flushed over her face. Tendrils of smoke were rising from her, as the toxins in the liquid seared her gear and skin. The water withdrew, but she was another three feet closer to the hole. Looking up, she saw the wall of water reforming again, with twin points of blackness in the surge that seemed to stare at her with a cold malevolence.

“By HELM!” she shouted, invoking the divine energies of her patron. The power of righteous might filled her, and she rapidly grew in size, feeling the strength pulse through her body as the magic took hold.

The wave rushed in, twin “arms” of water extending to pummel her. She did not even bother to try to stand, instead sweeping her now-larger bastard sword around in an arc that slashed through the base of the elemental. The creature quavered as the sword tore through its life-essence, and while it still managed to unleash its attack, the blows landed ineffectively upon the templar’s armored legs.

Pulling herself up, she said, “Now we see what’s what, you oversized sludge-bucket!”

The elemental swept forward, trying to knock her down again, but it found the task considerably more difficult with Beorna’s enhanced size and weight facing it. She held her ground, and as the core of the elemental blasted her, she swept her sword through it. The blade intersected something that resisted its tearing path, and then the monster just came apart, draining away into the gaps in the floor.

While he was not insensitive to the melee that raged around him, Cal’s attention was focused on the shield protecting Graz’zt. Drawing out a wand, he touched it to his arm before sliding back into the magical quiver at his belt. Rising a few feet above the swirling, unstable ground, he started forward across the room. As he watched, Arun readied himself for a second attack upon the ward. Above him to his right a threatening wave gathered, but Dannel blasted it with a rapid-fire barrage of arrows, each punching a fist-sized hole in its center as the potency of the arcane archer’s magic tore into it. Still it came onward, but Benzan met it with a running slash of his sword, cutting a swath eight feet long in its base. The wave toppled over, coming apart as it hit the floor. The tiefling and elf were pulled from their feet by the explosive surge of water, but it only splashed the gnome’s robe as he pressed forward.

Lok, meanwhile, was doing for his second foe. The elemental, already shorn of huge swathes of its substance by the genasi’s axe, abruptly abandoned its assault, falling back to the nearest gap in the floor, and then vanishing through it. The genasi turned to see if Beorna needed his help, but the templar had already handled her opponent, and was now moving toward the last elemental, which wisely elected to join its companion in retreat.

Arun took hold of his hammer, and unleashed another all-out attack upon the shield. Once again, the invisible barrier took on solid form for a moment as the clash of energies sent roiling waves of black and aqua across its surface. But it held, and again Arun was driven back.

But Cal had been waiting for that moment. Before the shield could reform itself, he blasted the same spot that Arun had hit with another empowered disintegrate. The green ray spread outward from the point of impact, forming striations in the ward that thickened and twisted through the threads of the barrier. Behind the shield, Graz’zt threw up his arms.

And then, after a second that seemed much longer, the shield collapsed.

Arun strode forward, his hammer at the ready. But Graz’zt drew out his good hand from behind his back, something concealed in his fist.

The paladin hesitated, wary of another devious stratagem.

“You shall never have me!” the demon screeched, hurling the object he’d hidden. As it left his hand it split, into a spread of tiny balls that scattered outward. None of them reached as far as the paladin, landing in little splashes upon the puddled floor.

At once things began to grow from the fell seeds. The little balls swelled, sprouting long, segmented legs, and ugly gray hairs. They took on oblong shapes that became distinct, with a head emerging from the front, dominated by multifaceted eyes and huge, dripping fangs.

Graz’zt, leapt from the throne, and darted toward a hole in the floor a short distance from the coral seat.

Within the span of a heartbeat over a dozen monstrous spiders, each larger than the paladin, stood before Arun. As soon as their explosive growth had finished, they let out a collective screech and rushed forward, moving faster than a line of charging warhorses.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 615

Arun lifted his hammer to defend himself, but never got the chance.

“Enough!” Cal shouted, his voice echoing loudly despite his small size. Electrical energy erupted from his fingertips, as he hurled a shadowed chain lightning at the surging vermin. The anarchic spiders, while far tougher than their mortal kin, were nevertheless utterly obliterated by the devastating cascade of secondary blasts that streaked through their ranks.

Arun rushed to intercept Graz’zt, but the Prince had too much of a lead on him. As he reached the seeping gap in the floor, however, a spray of water exploded from the opening, and Dana appeared, hovering in the air above the hole, blazing with the white light of a holy aura.

“Going somewhere, Your Foulness?” she asked.

Graz’zt tried to dart around her, but the hole was blocked by the bulk of a celestial orca, which had propelled her up through the opening.

“You will pay!” he screeched, spreading his hands and unleashing a spray of black energy into her. The tendrils flared against her holy aura, and died, somewhat to Dana’s surprise.

“Aaargh!” Graz’zt screamed, as Arun slammed him with his hammer from behind. The blow knocked the Prince roughly sideways, to land in a heap against the nearby cavern wall. He lay there squirming in pain, his right arm dangling limp at his side at a clearly unnatural angle.

The rest of the companions came running up as Dana and Arun faced the fallen demon lord.

“That was too easy,” Arun said.

“That magic he threw at me, it was barely up to the strength of a nalfeshnee,” Dana said, wary for any more tricks. But Graz’zt seemed to have had the fight knocked out of him, at least for the moment.

“It’s not him,” Arun said. “Another trick. Once again, the bastard has eluded us.”

“No,” Cal said, as he floated up to join them. His arcane sight had enabled him to discern the truth. “That is Graz’zt… or what remains of him.”

The demon snarled, but the movement caused another surge of pain to shoot through him, and he twisted again in agony.

“The Prince had to invest a great deal of himself into the assault upon Occipitus,” Cal said. “The loss of Azzagrat, and of the seat of his power, had already dimished him. And the exercise of so much epic magic, even with the augmentation of that artifact, drained him yet further. He had hoped to restore much of what he had lost by binding himself to Occipitus, but that clearly didn’t work out quite as planned.”

“You fools!” Graz’zt hissed. “I shall rise again… One such as I cannot be so easily obliterated!”

“He seems rather… pathetic, now,” Beorna said, looming over them still in her enlarged form.

“Look at that,” Dana said. She gestured to Arun’s hammer, which the dwarf lifted to reveal an ugly red slick hissing as it ate away at the metal. Then back at the demon, whose emaciated form, his black hide stretched tight over a bony frame, was now familiar to them.

“He’s a babau,” Lok said. “That’s all he was, what he began as, and to what he has returned.”

“Eww, yuck,” Mole said. The gnome, inconspicuous during the battle with the elementals, had reappeared among them, her nose wrinkled.

“It is time to end it,” Arun said. He took a step forward, but paused.

Turning, he offered the haft of the hammer to another.
 

HugeOgre

First Post
Oh COME ON!!!!!!

*flails about the room in utter frustration after what may well be the most twisted and evil cliffhanger of LBs writing career.*

lol.
 

Qwernt

Explorer
Great Story

The excellence continues - though I don't find this that much of a cliff-hanger. Though I will keep my guess to myself for now.
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
Maybe not so much a "Cliff-Hanger" as a Dramatic Build Up...

We can guess Who will lay the final smackdown, yet we are at LB's mercy for When the smackdown gets laid.
It is only fitting that the final stroke (we hope! . . . ?) should come at the end of a week... leaving next week for a few prologue-type posts...
again, I at least, Hope.

For me this is like the wait in line before "The Return of the King"... I eagerly awaited the cinematography, the action, the minor 'adjustments' in plot and storyline... yet I also saw the end coming, anticipation in equal measures dread and fulfillment.
 

Brogarn

First Post
Richard Rawen said:
Maybe not so much a "Cliff-Hanger" as a Dramatic Build Up...

We can guess Who will lay the final smackdown, yet we are at LB's mercy for When the smackdown gets laid.
It is only fitting that the final stroke (we hope! . . . ?) should come at the end of a week... leaving next week for a few prologue-type posts...
again, I at least, Hope.

For me this is like the wait in line before "The Return of the King"... I eagerly awaited the cinematography, the action, the minor 'adjustments' in plot and storyline... yet I also saw the end coming, anticipation in equal measures dread and fulfillment.

With my awesome and spectacular verbal skills I shall respond to this quote with eloquence and grammatical grace. Get ready for it ...



Ditto.

:D
 


Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 616

Benzan took the proffered weapon. The holy weapon seemed heavy and awkward in the tiefling’s hands, but as he approached Graz’zt, the sigil of Moradin burned into the head began to glow. As he stood over the demon, the glow became a shining radiance, brighter even than when Arun wielded the hammer against evil foes. It cast Benzan’s features in stark effect, and to the others it seemed as though a golden halo surrounded the tiefling’s body.

Graz’zt shielded his eyes from that glow with his good arm. “No! You cannot…”

“Oh, I think we can,” Beorna said. The companions had spread out, alert to any treachery, blocking any possible route of escape.

“There are others who plot against your world! Do you think that I am the only lord of the Abyss who covets your Forgotten Realms? Orcus forgets not his humiliation at Bloodstone… nor Tiamat’s successor her defeat at the genasi’s hands… nor the bitch queen of the spiders the defiance cast against her by scions of Toril in the Demonweb! And these are only the ones that you may know of… there are other Powers of the Darkness, entities known only to me, that plot to bring you and all you love under their control! My knowledge is infinite… I can aid you, give you what information you need to defend yourselves! Strike me down, and you put to risk all that you hold dear!”

“Those who would plot against us shall learn from your fate,” Lok said.

“Zenna!” he exclaimed, focusing on Benzan. “Your daughter… she was not obliterated fully by the Tree, as you feared. I know where her soul is located! I can give her to you! Do not be hasty, Benzan.”

For a moment, Benzan hesitated. In that instant the demon’s fear transformed into a sharp look, and he drew something out from the small of his back, beneath Synesyx. It was a dark blade, which dripped foulness. Behind the radiance coming from the hammer, none of the others saw the maneuver.

“He is lies, Benzan” Dana said, softly. “Remember Delem.”

Graz’zt tensed; the dirk was hidden by his body, ready to strike.

Benzan lifted the hammer; the demon’s hand shot out with the dagger.

But Benzan, suddenly, was not there. The blade passed through empty space. The demon fell forward, splaying out upon the ground. None of the companions moved.

Twisting his head around, Graz’zt saw Benzan step up to him. Anticipating Graz’zt’s attack, the tiefling had dimension doored a few feet away. Graz’zt tried to stab him with the knife, but Benzan smashed the hammer down onto the demon’s fist, crushing it.

“Aaaa!”

“Now it ends,” Benzan said.

“No, wait! I can—“

The demon’s protests ended abruptly as Benzan brought the warhammer down onto the center of his skull.

“Vengeance,” Mole said.

“No,” Arun said. “Justice.”


* * * * *

Monday: epilogue
 



Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 617

EPILOGUE

The last rays of the setting sun laid a splendid glow upon the walls of the city of Cauldron. Far to the west, the bright ball was just fading beyond the seemingly endless green line of the Forest of Mir. The people below, toiling in the city, were just vague specks at this distance, but Mole imagined that she could see her friends, far down there.

The gnome sighed. Her perch allowed for a magnificent view, although most sane people would have felt terrified rather than exhilarated being perched on a rocky outcrop that jutted above a gorge that fell several thousand feet into rocks and swirling water below. Normally Mole would have smiled at the thought, but at the moment, the gnome was in a rare introspective mood.

The city looked a lot better than the last time she’d seen it from a distant vantage. The bridge was finished now, a glorious span that had seen more than a bit of magic infused in its fashioning. Lok’s people, a full two score of the mysterious urdunnir, had visited the city for a little over a month, adding their unique skills with the crafting of metal and stone. They joined the ranks of over a thousand shield dwarves, humans, moon elves, and others who had come to Cauldron to help in the rebuilding of the city. Mole knew that there were still ruined buildings to be rebuilt, sewer lines to be relaid, and a thousand other myriad tasks for the city’s leaders to attend to. But from way up here, it all looked perfect.

She finally did smile. Arun and Beorna were going to be busy. Both of them had refused the title of Mayor, but the fact was that they were the defacto leaders of New Cauldron. Their marriage had been a happy event that had given the people of Cauldron hope in the future; Mole had counted at least two thousand people at the reception that Dannel and Uncle Cal had organized. The new joint temple to Helm and Moradin was the largest in the city, and two other new structures had joined it, centers of worship for Selûne and Azuth.

Arun and Beorna were still down there, somewhere, but it seems like the rest of them had just drifted away, over the last few months. Umbar had gone back to the Great Rift, intent upon clearing Arun’s name. Arun had actually been glad to see him go, she thought; hero worship could be a burden at times, and Arun was much too modest to take all this Chosen business too seriously.

Dannel had left as well, returning to the Wealdath. He’d seemed sad since they had returned, and Mole thought she understood. Dannel needed time to sort things out, but she hoped that he’d be back, someday. If nothing else, she could always go visit him.

Lok had returned with his people to their home in the far North. He’d married the shield dwarf cleric Gaera, and while he too was not much for titles, she gathered at the wedding that his people were referring to him now as the Warder Under the Mountain. Something to do with their religion; she wasn’t really all that sure. The urdunnir were all right, but pretty dull; she hadn’t stayed there long.

She and Uncle Cal had traveled the length and breadth of Faerûn, for a time. Archmage Calloran was becoming quite the muckety-muck in the Waterdeep Guild, and she’d gotten to visit a number of interesting places in his company. But after a while he’d had to return to Waterdeep to attend to Very Important Business (boooring!), and while she imagined she’d return there eventually, she’d asked him to drop her off here, at Cauldron. Where it had all begun.

She kicked at a protruding rock, sending it over the edge of the outcrop. She watched it fall for a moment, but it was quickly lost in the shadows that were deepening in the gorge.

A figure walked up from behind her, and sat down next to her on the edge of the outcrop. The newcomer was a young-looking gnome, clad in a practical but festive tunic and trousers in deep colors that caught the rays of the shining sun.

For a minute, the two enjoyed the view in silence.

“You know, I’m rather cross with you,” Mole finally said.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I mean, all my friends, they’re all Chosen. What do the gnomes get? Well, Uncle Cal got Azuth, I guess, but he’s pretty much a human god, right?”

“I’m not so much into that whole ‘choosing’ thing. Sort of believe that mortals should choose for themselves, don’t you?”

Mole grunted something noncommittal.

“In any case, I’d say you’ve had a pretty unique path. Even for a gnome.” The last was said with a smile, belying the content of the statement.

There was another pause.

“So what happens now?” Mole asked.

The other gnome leaned back, putting his hands behind him on the sun-warmed stone. “There’s always more to learn, more to explore, new bad guys to be shown up.”

Mole considered.

“You don’t agree?” he asked.

“I guess I’m sort of down on exploring. I mean, I’ve been in on killing two demon princes, dracoliches, elder undead, dragons, giants, fiends, a bunch of Cagewrights…”

“You’ve had a busy year.”

“Yeah, well. I guess after all that, searching an old ruin for some magic trinkets, running a thieves guild, or putting down a bandit ring… none of it really seems that worthwhile anymore.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. Settle down, maybe.”

The other gnome raised an eyebrow.

Mole chuckled. “Yeah, maybe not. I don’t know.”

“Well. It’s not for me to set your path, Mole. I don’t really do that, you know.”

“Yeah, I guess I’m just getting a few thoughts out there.”

“Hmm… yes. Well, there is one thing you might consider.”

“Oh?” Mole said, trying to appear disinterested, and not fooling the other in the slightest.

The other gnome smiled. “There are other realities beyond those that you know. Other games with different rules.”

Mole looked uncertain. “What you’re talking about… I’d have to leave my friends.”

“Not forever, Mole. We’re not talking about that kind of trip. You could come back, visit this Prime whenever you wished. Although time might move a bit differently in these other realms, than you are accustomed to.”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” But as she looked back toward Cauldron, there was something of a farewell in her eyes.

“Well then, maybe I can offer another incentive. Not that I’m trying to make your decision for you or anything.”

“Because you don’t do that.”

“Right.”

“What is it? One of those cloaks that lets you fly? Because I could really use one of those.”

“It’s not an item, Mole. Rather, an old friend who’s been waiting for you for some time.”

Mole turned, and saw that the area at the far end of the overhang had become indistinct, a soft blurring beyond which only a gray oblivion extended. She could sense the reality of her world around her, but in that one direction, something else existed, another reality beyond limits.

And in that fog, a slender figure was approaching.

Mole looked at the other gnome, who nodded with a soft smile. She leapt up and ran into the shroud, which embraced her in a soft gray glow. For a moment she too was vague and indistinct, but then she broke through some kind of barrier, and she was in that other reality. And the figure she’d seen was there, real, solid when she leapt up and wrapped her arms around her.

“Zenna!”

“Glad to see you, too.”

“I missed you… Where have you been? What happened to you?”

“I was lost for a while, Mole, really lost. But I found my way back, with the help of some friends.”

“So much has happened… Oh, I have so much to tell you!”

Zenna looked down at her with eyes misted with tears. “And I want to hear it all. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up; I have no plans to go away again anytime soon.”

They turned as the other gnome appeared. Behind him, Cauldron and the rest of Faerûn faded from view. “Are you ready, Mole?” he asked.

“Can she… I mean, can both of us, together, ever go back to Faerûn?” Zenna, still holding her, looked as though she was waiting for the answer as well.

“Perhaps someday,” the gnome said, after a brief pause. “That part of the story is still unwritten.”

“Like my uncle’s book,” Mole said. “I don’t think he’s ever going to finish it.”

“Exactly,” the gnome said. “But for now, at least, another chapter comes to a close.”

His eyes sparkled. “And what lies ahead… well, that will be something now, won’t it?”

Mole jumped down from Zenna’s grasp, and taking Garl’s hand in one of hers, and Zenna’s in the other, the three turned and walked down a new road that stretched endlessly before them, until they had faded completely from sight.


THE END OF THE SHACKLED CITY
 




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