Steel Dragon's "Tales of Orea"


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steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Other than Duor and Jovias, who both got obliderated-drunk, the rest of the companions were of a heavy heart throughout the night. Alaria retired not long ater Rhea returned to the party with news that her attempts to probe the mind of their new “guest” had met with failure and somehow he had committed suicide in his cell before more powerful magics to interrogate him were possible.

The following day, mid-morning, the party was summoned to the Lordmage’s council. This meeting was, again, held in the great hall of the keep, but the magical building had been cleared and rearranged. A great “U” shaped table facing the dias and thrones where the Lordmage sat. His sons, Montor and Malac stood to the right of the dias. Celerion and the Wyrish ambassador, Zhiranth, stood to the left.

The party was seated to one of the sides, as far from the dias as possible. The others in attendance around the table included [from left to right]: Rhea; Londar, still fully armored with his blue-plumed helm set on the table before him; the elflord Silran; Captain Burgus, Seneschal of the North March; and Captain Rynthis, Seneschal of the South March.

Then the party. Alaria sat next to the Bridgetower captain, learning with great sorrow that the Captain Daeror who had been killed in the previous night’s attack was the Lady Dauphinne’s husband. Elhianne, understandably was with her mourning sister. Then Braddok, Haelan, Duor and Fen. Pyrnion book-ended the other side of the companions.

To Pyrnion’s right was the high-priestess of Gilea, Matron Uma; Endrom the Witch-Priest, ambassador of the temple of Manat in Zacha; three of Daenfrii’s court mages which Alaria could tell by their stoles included an Abjurist, Diviner and Transmutation specialist; and nearest the dais, the high-priest of Astar in Daenfrii, a rather stiff man in his fifties Alaria had been introduced to the night before, named Denlap.

All around the outskirts of the table were various underlings, lieutenants, attendant acolytes, and a team of scribes. The satyr bard Jovias sat on a simple wooden stool behind where Duor sat. He eagerly sketched the scene playing out before him.

Arganor sat upon the thrown, his head in his hand. All of the assembled council were tiring of Endorm's recounting of the passed three months of meetings that had continued for the better part of an hour.

“...and we told you this would happen! The Repahlentim belonged in the Temple of the Blue Star under Her protection! I can not believe...” the blue star tattoo-masked Witch-priest ranted.

“That will be more than enough, Endrom!” Celerion said forcefully. “Keep you mind, as well as your tongue, and remember to whom you speak.”

“Of course. Apologies, my lord." The cowed ambassador sat in a huff and scowled at the party.

“It is well, Endorm. It is upsetting news to be sure.” Arganor said with a noted tone of the patience that comes with exhaustion. His tone, however, seemed to rise with the swelling though understated tide of anger.

“So, to be clear. A team of spies and assassins entered my keep, slew a dozen of my guards and one of my captains...and the only one we managed to capture, thanks to these adventurers, committed suicide in our custody.”

“That is correct, my lord.” Celerion said humbly.

“And these invaders were ShiDaeiri? You are certain?” Arganor questioned.

“Quite certain, my lord.” Celerion answered stoically.

“And they stole the Ihs Repahl right out of one of my own towers...and got away!” the Lordmage’s voice now rumbled like through the massive stone hall.

“Quite correct, my lord.” Celerion said, again stoic.

“Can he not be raised? Spoken to?! Return him to life and get us answers!” Arganor thundered. His gaze came to rest on the aged Gilean Matron.

Uma said calmly from her seat, “The Merciful Mother has no sway in this matter, my lord. The poison which slew him was most thorough. Our Daughters’ attempts to return him from death have failed. The White Rose seems to have no interest in renewing this life. She does not suffer evil, as you well know.”

“If the goddess of Life has no interest, then consort with the goddess of Death! Summon the Shaalir!” Arganor roared.

“Already done, my lord. They have been inspecting the matter with care since before dawn.” Celerion answered.

”Where are they then. Bring them here!” Arganor commanded.

With a nod from Celerion, a page at the periphery of the meeting trotted out of the hall.

“And you, Lady Rhea, could learn nothing?” the Lordmage asked the emerald robed woman.

“Alas no, my lord. Its mind was thoroughly as slippery and quick as their movements and skills seemed to be. I was unable to glean anything before it administered the poison.” Rhea answered with humility.

“Divinus!” Arganor’s gaze turned to the courtly mage with the white stole of the Sanctemus Divinus, the school of divination magic in R’Hath.

“Alas my lord, the invaders seem completely hidden to any arcane attempts to find them.” the elderly white-bearded man said in defeat.

“My lord, if I may?” Alaria spoke up to the other companions’ surprise. She prudently waited for a nod from Lordmage before continuing. “Our attempts to locate the lair of the dark wizard Tresahd with magic were equally thwarted. I fear that these dark elves are in league with the wizard who we also believe to be the dragon Desaarthal in disguise.”

“Yes, Stormrider, we have been made aware of your assertions. But misdirecting divinations is hardly a singular ability.” Arganor replied.

“My Lord Arganor,” Silran now stood and spoke. “My sister and the half-blood druid uncovered proof in the goblin army camp that connects the ShiDaeiri to this ‘Tresahd.’”

“What is this proof?” Arganor asked, obviously intrigued.

“A communicative device and letters passed back and forth from Tresahd to some agent in Nor Tyrilith. Our sages determined the communications were in both draconic and ShiDaeiri tongues. There can be little room for doubt they are in league.” the golden haired elf prince concluded and sat.

“This is troubling indeed.”

“We have this too.” Duor now spoke as he pulled the dull black metal knife he had liberated fro mErevan some time before his death. “Matches the funny metal of the ShiDaeiri’s weapons and armor.”

“Zhiranth.” Arganor said plainly.

The knife flew from the dwarf’s open palm and floated across the chamber to the waiting hand of the ambassador from the Tower of Wyr. The middle-aged looking man with golden brown hair and beard examined it closely. After a moment, he made his ruling to the Lordmage.

“It is ens metal, my lord. The same as the prisoner's weapons and traditionally attributed to the ShiDaeiri.”

“And this I just got last night off the one that got away.” Pyrnion stood and spoke, producing the palm sized piece of finely meshed armor that had been cut from the ShiDaeiri as it escaped.

Zhiranth again held his hand out and the swatch began to float toward the ambassador upon the dais.

This time, it floated through a thick beam of sunlight from the hall’s tall windows, emitting light from somewhere lost among the arched and pillars, high along the chamber walls. Even as it continued en route to Zhiranth, the pieces began to disintegrate in front of all assembled until there was nothing left by the time it reached the counsellor’s waiting hand.

A murmur of concern rolled through the hall.

“Definitely ens metal, my lord.” Celerion said with a scowl.

Before Alaria could ask Rynthis what ens metal was, the page returned with a grey robed shaalir in tow. He was human, with pitch black hair pulled tightly back into a thick ponytail. Alaria recognized him, but it was Haelan who said aloud to Braddok, “It’s Dolorn! He was the head shaalir at Bridgetower who kept you...er...um...your body intact while you were...ya know...away.” he explained.

“Hail Dolorn!” Haelan waved with a broad smile.

Duor now put his head in his hand as the rest of the party cringed at the inapprorpiate casual greeting.

The death-priest looked surprised and then grinned a slight grin and nod toward the daelvar.

“Shaalir Dolorn, what news? What killed the creature and what can you learn of it?” Arganor demanded.

“Hail Lord Arganor.” Dolorn bowed deeply. “After careful examination, there is frustratingly little to tell. The agent used to slay the creature was incredibly thorough. A poison and an acid all at once. The body was thoroughly disintegrated shortly after its demise. The bulk of the armor and cloak, anything upon its body, made worthless. Its weapons survived.”

“I don’t care what equpiment survived! Its life, man! Its spirit! We need answers!” Arganor’s voice again thundered with anger.

Completely unphased by the lordmage’s outburst, the Desriite answered. “I have nothing to tell you on that front, my lord. All attempts to summon the creature’s spirit or consult with Desri’s powers regarding it have failed.”

Observing the obvious dissatisfaction on Arganor‘s face, Dolorn continued, “The Grey Lady holds no sway over immortal spirits, my lord. They are free to do as they will. Whether taken immediately by the creature Djarthoon they are purported to worship or simply transform into spectre or demon or traverse the planes elsewhere entirely, there is no way to say. She can not command or impede them.” Dolorn replied stonefaced.

Manat’s Star! Alaria thought. All of their abilities and skills she saw last night and they’re immortal!

“I’m sorry,” Braddok interjected as if reading Alaria’s mind, “are you saying those things are immortal!?

This brought raised eyebrows from many on the dais. Arganor turned to Celerion.

“Just so, I am afraid, Braddok Kar Barforth.” the venerable elf answered. “As are all of the Firstborn of elfinkind. The ShiStaliiri, the ShiCynallae and the ShiDaeiri, all birthed in the eon before Men from the blood of the gods themselves. Not subject to aging beyond their maturity nor debility of mind or body...lest they meet with tragedy. They can be slain, of course. But they do not die, naturally, as mortal creations do.”

Braddok looked at the elderly elf in abject surprise. Apparently this elf was not one of these “firstborn” elves, aged so far beyond "maturity". The swordsman’s gaze went to Silran and he found the elflord returning the stare. He wondered if Silran, or any Miralostae, was immortal. Receiving no answer in his eyes, the elvin prince returned his attention to the dais.

“Can I have my knife back now?” Duor said bluntly breaking the silence.

Zhiranth floated the blade back to the dwarf, sure to avoid any of the shafts of sunlight that streamed into the chamber.

“Our thanks, Shaalir Dolorn. Take this gift with our respects to Raven Elektra for your efforts.” Arganor reached out a hand toward one of the servants to the side of the dais who trotted forward with a small chest. Dolorn took the chest, bowed deeply and left the great hall.

The council shifted in their seats while the lordmage apparently deliberated inwardly.

“Father, we must reclaim the Ihs Repahl before this dark wizard can use it to his..or her...ends.” Montor asserted.

“Yes! Let the Steel Dragons go to Nor Gorthok and put an end to this once and for all!” the red-cloaked warrior Malac joined in.

“Just a beard-shavin’ minute here, now. The dragon’s treasure is ours! We’re goign back to Nor Gorthok and get yor magic ball!” Duor now piped up, jumping from his seat at the idea of someone else claiming his treasure.

“You band of misfits has done more than enough, I say.” Endorm scoffed.

“That is unfair, Endorm. It is because of the Stormriders, that we had the Ihs Repahl in the first place.” Rhea now stood to defend the company.

“And we’ve got lots of information for you too.” Haelan chirped in.

“And defended this realm of yours. Where’s your champions witch-priest?” Duor mocked.

“Here now.” Celerion attempted to interject.

“My lord,” Londar’s baritone boomed through the rest, “It would be my honor to serve Daenfrii in retreiving this orb. But it seems it is the Stormriders to claim.”

They lost it in the first place! Their claim lost with it. It belongs in the keeping of the Blue Star...where it would have remained safe!” Endorm now stood and slammed his hand upon the stone table. He had heard enough from these upstarts.

“This mediocre sorceress and her collection of would-be heroes...” he began to rant.

“I say! Hear now...” Haelan objected quietly.

“Mediocre?!" Alaria blurted unintentionally in her incredulity.

Braddok stood and placed a hand upon his pommel. ”You will apologize to the Magess Alaria, now wrech, or priest or no, we shall settle this outside.”

Alaria placed a hand upon Braddok‘s swordarm attempting to calm him.

“We have faced Tresahd, defended Bridgetower...” Fen now stood and argued.

”They slew the Bulgruch and saved Miralosta” Rhea attempted to reason with the ranting witch-priest.

“For which we’ve seen no recompense, mind you!” Duor interjected.

“ENOUGH!” A boom of thunder cracked through the chamber as Celerion slammed the butt of his staff upon the floor.

All standing became immediately silent.

“You exceed your station, ambassador.” the old elf’s gaze bit into the Witch-priest until he retook his seat.

“Master Braddok. If you please...” Celerion’s gaze then turned on the Grinlian.

Braddok removed his hand from his weapon and sat, never taking his eyes from the blue-masked mage.

“Father?” Montor prodded gently.

“I am sorry, my sons. You can not undertake the journey. Things are too unsure at this time and you are needed here. Gather your Steel Dragons and Woodsmaster Kriton. Go to the Giant’s Thumb and scour the pixie wood. Be sure there are no more ShiDaeiri in this realm.” Arganor said.

The princes knew the tone of their father well enough to know what was fatherly and what was the will of the Lordmage.

”Yes, sire.” both young men said in tandem.

”Londar.” Arganor said.

“My lord?" The knightly tall warrior stood to attention.

“I regret I can not permit your return to Resahd. I am in need of a Captain-at-arms for the moment. You must remain here.”

“As you wish, my lord.” Londar bowed and retook his seat.

“Burgus and Rynthis return to your stations. It seems our borders will continue to require your watchful care.” the lordmage said kindly.

Both captains nodded in their seats.

“What are we supposed to do?” Haelan whispered, or so he thought, to Braddok.

“You, Master Hilltender, and such of your band as will, may remain here for the time being or may take on the now vacant role of envoy to the Duchess of Resahd.” Arganor replied.

“My lord? But the Ihs Repahl...” Alaria began to assert.

“Is no longer your concern.” Endorm growled from the deths of his indigo hood.

“Be STILL, Endorm!” Arganor now turned to ambassador.

"I will no longer, with respect, my lord. This theft has been an egregious and easily avoidable breach of our affairs. Furthermore..." Endorm did not have a chance to finish his next thought.

“Your services are no longer required. You can trust I shall be in touch with Corandralla for the details of why. You are dismissed.” Arganor said and waved a hand in the witch-priest’s direction.

Even as he rose from his seat to voice objections, a shower of sapphire blue sparks fell upon his form and in a twinkling of light, the Ambassador Endorm was no longer in the hall.

“Heh heh. Dipspit.” Duor chuckled under his beard.

“My lord, I implore you to reconsider. Give us some time to marshall our resources and then permit us to return to our original undertaking. We must see an end to the threat of Tresahd and the return of the Ihs Repahl. It is, I mean no offense to say...but it is mine and I would have it back.” Alaria presented as diplomatically as she could.

“Since it appears, Magess, that the ShiDaeiri are again active in the world beneath the sky, I can not allow you to take on this mission.”

“But if they’re in Nor Tyrilith and not Nor Gorthok, then we should be fine.” Haealn tried to innocently disagree.

“You are welcome to remain here or take on my seal as representatives in Resahd. Those are my offers.” Arganor said staunchly. He turned, then, to the mages and priests and began giving orders for continuing attempts to scry the ShiDaeiri and learn what they could of Tresahd, Desaarthal, Nor Gorthok, and all of this business.

“Ehm, yer lordly mageness, sir. What about some recompense for risking our lives to defend your castle during this invasion. We caught one of ‘em, not any of your guards or fancy spell-slingers.” Duor said in his trademark “diplomatic” stance.

The lordmage looked at the dwarf with mild amusement. “Am I to understand, master dwarf, that my protection and hospitality, in my own house, are not sufficient ‘recompense’?”

“Duuuuorrrr...” Haelan said quietly and tugged at the back of Duor’s grey cloak.

“Well, I mean, sure. The magicky digs are nice an all...you throw a helluva party, I’ll give yeh that...” Duor continued.

“Are you still drunk?!” Fen said aghast.

“What?! He gave the bloody death-priest a chest of gold to tell him ‘I got nothing.‘ We killed a demon. Two! And you and Pyrnion saved his stinkin’ pixies!” Duor objected to the companions on either side who were now trying to tug him back into his seat.

“That’s enough Duor.” Alaria said in obvious annoyance.

“So I did.” Arganor said with a bemused smirk. A wave of his hand caused a small sack to appear in front of the dwarf. Duor opened it to see silver and gold coins and a few gemstones glittering.

“That’s more like it.” Duor grinned.

“I’m glad you approve. Your service has been appreciated.” Arganor said with another wave of his hand.

Duor saw a shower of blue and white sparkles fill his vision. An instant later they cleared from view and Duor stood in the middle of a dirt road staring at the front door and hanging sign of The Wyvern’s Wing inn.

Two farmers driving an ox-drawn cart blinked blankly at the dwarf, mouths agape.

“Aw crap.” Duor grumbled. He looked at the sack of coin in his hand. Looked at the tavern door. His mind turned to the prospect of ample ale and whiskey as the scent of baking mutton pasties wafted through the air. The dwarvish rogue shrugged and entered the The Wyvern's Wing.

**********

Back in the great hall of the Keep of the Dragonmage the companions were assured of Duor’s location and safety. Rhea and Montor chastised the Lordmage, good-naturedly, for his unnecessary eviction. The council was ended and the companions returned to their quarters to discuss their futures.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
The Ladies who Lunch

Pyrnion offered to fly to the Wyvern’s Wing to reclaim Duor. The companions decided it better to leave the dwarf where he was, to “cool off and enjoy his gold” for the time being.

Alaria, Haelan and Fen went to pay their respects and offer condolences to the widow-Dauphinne. They came upon the Lord Chamberlain upon their return to the keep, proper. He was busily instructing some pages and maid-servants upon various tasks.

“Lord Chamberlain, a word if I may?” Alaria asked. Haelan and Fen continued on to their chambers.

“Of course, Magess. Quite a council was it not? How may I be of service?” the kindly elf grinned, sending the servants off with a nod.

“Indeed, I confess I have little experience with such conferences. It was...intimidating." Alaria replied with due humility.

“Not at all. The Lordmage is not prone to outburst and is a man of benevolence. Endorm has been grating upon him for months. Your Duor, on the other hand, was simply a good-natured jest. He is, of course, welcome to return as he wishes." Celerion half-explained, half-apologized for the lordmage.

“I’m sure he is enjoying his afternoon just fine. Thank you. Perhaps we will collect him or he shall return of his own accord. But fr now, I’m sure he’s fine." Alaria smiled. “Can you tell me, are the gardens beneath the north tower available for our use? I had hoped to luncheon with Rhea.”

“Of course, lady. You are guests of the Lordmage. You are welcomed to all areas of the keep, save those reserved for the family, naturally.” Celerion said.

“And the library?" Alaria asked hopeful.

“The family library?" Celerion chuckled a dry old chuckle. “My dear, you are privy to the keep archives, the temple records of Sorilorr’s devoted, and the facilities of Manat...who will no doubt be most agreeable to deal with now that Endorm has been expelled...though I don’t doubt Corandralla shall send a replacement embassy with all speed.

“However, barring invitation from lord-prince Montor or one of the lord’s arcanists, I can not grant you unaccompanied access to the Dragonwing library. I am sorry."

“Excellent. That is fine. Thank you. How might I find the Lady Rhea?” Alaria sincerely replied.

“Well...” Celerion looked around, playfully acting like he might be overheard, “I have yet to rescind your Sapphire level access to Keep. With these recent events it seems a just precaution.” Celerion grinned and winked at Alaria.

“Oh!” Alaria said with surprise. She had not even considered the possibility. “Thank you, Lord Chamberlain. It is quite an honor to receive such trust...um...How do I...access?...the keep?”

“Simply call 'him' as you have seen us do. If I am unavailable, Keep should be able to see to most of your needs within the walls. Communications are one of its simplest abilities.” Celerion said.

“Ah.” Alaria said and looked about her in apparent confusion.

“Would you like to try?” Celerion said quietly to the magess as a grandfather might offer a jellied candy to a child.

“Yes. If I may?” Alaria said meekly.

Celerion smiled and held out a hand before Alaria, as if to say, “go right ahead.”

“Keep?” Alaria said uncertain.

The blue ball of light, about a foot in diameter swirled into being before her. After a moment of Alaria staring in awe at this remarkable sorcery she had never heard of before. Receiving no immediate instruction, the ball spoke first.

“Yes, Magess Alaria Stormrider?” the light-balls chorus said.

“uh...heh...Hi. Um...Can you find the Lady Rhea for me?” Alaria asked at first.

“Lady Rhea Willowlake is in her chambers. East tower. Level 6.” the floating ball said immediately.

“Um. Thank you. Can you ask her if she’d care to join me...” Alaria paused when Celerion’s long-fingered wrinkled hand touched her arm.

He smiled at her before speaking. “Keep, enable communication with Rhea.”

“As you will, Lord Chamberlain." Keep replied.

Looking sidelong at Alaria he said with a wink, “When inviting one to luncheon, personal communication is best.”

By the time Celerion had completed his explanation, an image of Rhea’s face was appearing within the hovering ball of light.

“Yes, Celerion? Ah, Alaria. Is everything alright?” Rhea asked with a sudden concern in her voice.

“Yes, fine. Fine, Rhea. Alaria had something she wished to ask you. Good day.” Celerion answered and with a nod to Alaria walked away.

“Alaria?” Rhea asked.

“Well, I was wondering if you would be available to lunch in the west garden with my fellows and I. We would like to discuss things with you...and, of course, your company is always welcome.” Alaria said. She found speaking to the floating head in a ball somewhat disconcerting, but magic was magic.

“I would be happy to...how is two bells past noon?”Rhea responded with a kind smile.

“Two bells would be perfect.” Alaria smiled back.

“See you then.” Rhea said finally and her image disappeared from the ball, replaced with blue and white swirls of light.

Alaria stood for a moment looking at the ball of light. Again, not offering any commands, the ball spoke.

“Will that be all Magess Alaria Stormrider?” the voices hummed.

“Oh! Um. Yes. Sorry. Thank you, Keep.” Alaria fumbled over her words.

The ball of light dissipated in an instant.

Alaria stood there for a moment.

“Um...Keep?” Alaria finally said.

The ball of light reappeared.

“Yes, Magess Alaria Stormrider?”

“To whom do I speak to arrange a luncheon?” Alaria asked, doubly embarrassed for not knowing and the curious feeling that she was somehow ‘disturbing’ Keep with so trivial a question.

******

Rhea arrived promptly, as two bells rang out from the Vale’s bell-tower, pealing over the town and up to beyond the keep walls. She was, as usual, resplendent in a low-cut long tunic, thigh-high heeled boots and flowing glittering high-collared cloak of emerald green. The golden diadem with the teardrop emerald dangling perfectly between her dark arched brows. A smile gleamed from her face as she greeted the companions.

A table to seat six was strewn with platters of hard and soft cheeses, fruits of varying shape and color, a large basket of fresh baked dark grained breads and several platters of salted meats. A stew pot sat upon a tripod set-up above a fire, bubbling a hearty stew of venison and root vegetables. Alaria had opted for both golden elfvine and some of Daenfrii’s own deep red wine, warmed and spiced, were available.

Not the least of wonders of the magical stronghold was the grounds were kept snow free, trees and vines stayed green and blooming and the air, though crisp, was not uncomfortably cold for the day after Midwinter.

After some pleasantries and apologies about Duor, the company sat and the two servants (arranged by the Lord Chamberlain or the kitchen, itself, Alaria did not know) began serving bowls and passing platters and filling goblets, to be sure each person received their fill.

“So my dear, this is a pleasant surprise. Thank you for the invitation.” Rhea began. “What can I help you with?”

“Well, we were wondering...what would be the implications if we were to...continue on our own affairs without the 'permission’ of the lordmage?” Alaria posited cautiously.

“I see no reason you could not.” Rhea said, as if surprised by the question.

“Well, he said he wouldn’t 'allow’ us to return to the Feldmere.” Fen said curious.

“Ah. I see. He said he couldn’t allow you, yes. As your lord and the lord of all of Daenfrii... your presence here puts you under his protection...”Rhea began.

“...and his hospitality.” Haelan added.

Rhea smiled. “Just so, Hilltender. What he was saying was that he could not give you permission to such an undertaking. With the ShiDaeiri abroad, and gods permit we are mistaken and this was a solitary incident, it would be too dangerous.

“And I will add, by your own admission, your last foray into his realm was disaster.”

The company all experienced a wave of melancholy as they recalled the loss of Coerraine, Erevan and Festus.

“So he, as the lord and protector, would not allow you.” Rhea concluded and looked at the company for understanding.

Seeing none forthcoming, the Lady of the Emerald Tear continued.

“He is cautious with his sons...Understandably so! Montor is the Dragonmage apparent, after all. Until he produces an heir that is recognized by Wyr, the line of the Dragonmage is tentative, at best. And, to save face at the council, he could not possibly deny the Steel Dragons and permit you to go.

“However, Arganor is no despot!” Rhea laughed. “He can not, and would not, prevent you from doing as you will. You are not prisoners here!"

“Ooooooh.” waved over the table as all of the companions gleaned understanding at once.

“Let me ask you this...” Rhea posed, “Do you believe, if you returned to Nor Gorthok you could be victorious?” There was no malice or assumption in her question. She looked around the table with questioning eyes as she took a delicate bite of one of the hard goat cheeses.

There was little doubt among the company she was scanning their surface thoughts as they all thought.

“We believe,” Braddok answered, “with a month, maybe two, we could be. Before the thaw for sure.”

Rhea nodded in full acknowledgement of the warrior’s sincerity.

“Braddok believes Tresahd would not continue with his plans until the spring.” Alaria explained further.

“Then that is well done. Decline the offer to act as envoy to Resahd and remain here. Marshall your resources as you, Alaria, said at council. Set off when you believe you are ready.”

“Will that anger the Lordmage though? Declining his offer, I mean. I suppose he doesn’t offer diplomatic stations to just anyone.” Haelan posed.

Rhea nodded. “It is a just question. But I have known the lordmage most of my life. The princes and I have been friends since we were young, you know? Montor and I both trained in sorcery together as children. He is not an unreasonable man. I have the inkling that his offer was expected to be declined. It was simply an immediate way to fill in the gap left by Londar staying on for a time.”

As an aside to Alaria, though loud enough for all to hear, “A posting I, myself, can not find fault with in the slightest.” Rhea giggled and gave her ‘knowing’ look.

Alaria blushed at the woman’s unabashed sexuality once more.

Pyrnion wondered why the magess blushed. But unconcerned asked for Haelan to pass the fruits.

“I have concerns for the Ihs Repahl, my lady.” the zephari spoke between bites of a dark purple plum.

“And what concerns are they, Pyrnion?” the elegant lady of green replied.

“If the evil wizard has the item he has striven for half a year to regain, what is to stop him from using it before the spring? A ritual or spell needs not wait for the thaw.” the winged man posed.

Rhea nodded. “True. But we have indications that he requires more than just that orb, do we not?”

“Explain?” Pyrnion replied, uncertain.

“From what I’ve been told, your companions found the Ihs Repahl on Dragonbone Isle in the Whitegull Bay. Is that not so?”

“RIght!” Haelan jumped in. “And he had the Tidemaster Kama’s pearl there too...and there were pedestals that were yet to be filled in that chamber, weren’t there?” the Hilltender asked his companions.

“There were indeed, as I recall.” Fen, who had been munching upon fruits and nuts in his usual silent way.

“So, we can presume he needs more than just the Ihs Repahl to carry out his plans!” Haelan said in excited understanding.

“If I am correct, and Tresahd/Desaarthal is trying to revive Shaarzak...the ritual must happen there...with her bones!” Alaria said parsing together her understanding of ritual work.

“Should we not just go, then, and take some bones to prevent the ritual?” Pyrnion said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

The rest of the party just looked blankly at the zephari. Alaria mentally smacked herself roundly about the head for not realizing this (terribly obvious) thwart sooner.

“A reasonable assumption, Pyrnion.” Fen said. “But these bones are far too massive to move.”

“Oh.” Pyrnion said, nonplussed as he took a large chunk out of haunch of roasted herbed pheasant the servants had just begun to pass.

“I mean...we can’t...but would that be possible?” Alaria said intrigued by the suggestion and cursing herself for not thinking of it herself.

“What do you mean, Magess?” Rhea said quizzically.

“Well, could the lordmage or one of his court wizards, whose magics I am sure surpass my own, move some of the bones from the isle? Perhaps just the smaller ones...There is a Transmutation mage here. Is there not? Could he teleport them off the island? Or change them into something other than bone so they'd be easier to move?!” Alaria excitement mounted the more she thought of these possibilities.

Rhea crooked her head at the magess. “‘Change them’? You know polymorphing is strictly forbidden...I don’t know where one would even find such a spell outside of R’Hath. My understanding was the Archmagus Dalum was the only wizard with access to such things!”

Alaria nodded, defeated once more. Indeed, Rhea was correct, even citing her own fears and admonishments to the Lady Evaranthriine once.

“But teleport...perhaps. We would have to consult with Trymis...the transmuter you referred to. If he can not, than I doubt other mages here could.”

“We had your Dragonmage-apparent teleport all of us, and your friends, and all of our stuff here!” Haelan recalled between large mouthfuls of the stew.

“Montor is unlikely to disobey his father...and a foray to the Whitegull Bay and Dragonbone Isle would most certainly be out of the question.” Rhea said. “Even he, however, I do not know could move more than one at a time."

The party passed the rest of the afternoon proposing plots and possibilities, enjoying their meal and company, but not really getting to any conclusions.

Could Keep transport the bones here? Keep’s powers did not extend beyond its walls.

Would a ritual with several wizards permit the movement of the massive ancient bones? Something to put a pin in and research.

The simplest and most direct option seemed to be returning to Nor Gorthok and getting the Ihs Repahl back! Which Alaria had every intention and desire to do anyway.

Rhea thanked the party again for the kind invitation and repast and assured them she would always be at their disposal should they have further questions.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Cue the 80‘s movie montage.
Elapsed time: 1 month.

*Alaria spends most of her time studying and researching her magics between the Sorilorr library, the Witch-Priests of Manat’s archives and the Keep’s records and histories.

*Celerion turns out to be correct [not surprising] in that the High-priestess of the goddess of Magic does send a replacement ambassador about one week following Ambassador Endorm’s most embarrassing expulsion. A dark, brooding, raven-haired woman named Taleste becomes the temple of Manat’s new voice in Daenfrii.

*Londar is thrilled to take on Braddok and Pyrnion as temporary guardsmen to assist in the Keep’s rotations. In recognition of his noble birth/family, he even makes Braddok a sergeant!

*Haelan uses a good bit of time to familiarize himself with the other temples and religions available in Dragonwing Vale. He enjoys philosophical discussions with the Sorilorrians, but they are generally a bit too serious and humorless for his tastes. Excellent chess players though! He even pays repeated visits to the Desrite, Dolorn, and finds the man an agreement companion for conversation, eating and drinking, when his duties allow it. Most of his time, of course, is spent with the Daughters of Gilea and training in their enhanced mundane and magical healing techniques and herbal knowledge.

*Buttercream Shadowfeet delights in the party remaining in one, non-deadly, place for a change and enjoys a brief "hibernation"...eating and sleeping her way through the weeks.

*Fen takes travels into the country side with regularity. Often gone for a few days at a time, but returning to the keep at least one day a week or so. He meets repeatedly with Brother Badger [who confirms they’d never met before when they were supposed to. The succubus playing Fen for a chump is the only conclusion.].

*Haelan gives Alaria the scroll gifted to him by the Lady Evaranthriine containing the Polymorph spell. Initially shocked and fearful of the gift, Alaria begins attempts to master to forbidden spell with vigor.

*Fen travels with the forlorn Jovias to find Duor and the three spend some time in the southern marches. When Fen’s obligations take him away, the dwarf and satyr spend many a day in drunken revery...often to the annoyance of the Wyvern’s Wing’s bartender, Amber. The dwarf steadfastly refuses to return to the keep, having more than enough gold to enjoy himself for the month.

*Alaria and Braddok share what time they can, between both of their demanding schedules. The time in training, however, seems to be causing more of a rift between them than coming together. Haelan is the only one that notices they seem to be spending less and less time enjoying each other’s company and more time passing each other by in their personal pursuits.

End montage.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
It had been 5 weeks since their council and luncheon with Rhea. The others were becoming somewhat anxious to carry on their mission. Alaria assured them another week at most would be best forher to complete her research and transcriptions.

Alaria carried her newest spellbook and a manual borrowed from the keep archivist, A Treatise on Transportational Magik, by the noted R’Hathi sage Olion. She walked with resolute purpose, returning to the great library that was available to all of the keep‘s mages and scholars.

“Magess Alaria! ” a voice rang through the hall behind her.

She turn to see, with some surprise, the lord-prince Montor come jogging up behind her. The blond haired mage who couldn’t be any older than Alaria, herself, was in a billowing white tunic lined in dark blue trim and a midnight cloak trimmed in silver, very similar to Alaria’s though the various protective sigils and runes that lined the Dragonmage-apparent’s cloak were significantly more advanced than her own.

“My lord?” Alaria answered with a nodding bow.

“Do you have a moment?” Montor asked as he caught up to her.

“Of course, my lord. How may I be of service?” Alaria replied.

“Montor, please.” he smiled warmly.The fine but strong features of his handsome face and deep blue of his eyes caused Alaria to wonder what, if any, elfin blood the Dragonmage’s line contained. “I have heard of your idea to teleport bones from Dragonbone Isle to thwart the dragon-wizard. It is ingenius in its simplicity.”

“My thanks, my...Montor. I am afraid, however, that I have yet to find a method of doign so. Magus Trymis was intrigued but assured me he would not be capable of such advanced spellwork.” Alaria said with some defeat.

Montir noted the Treatise Alaria covered. “Not giving up yet, I see.” he smiled again.

My, Alaria thought, he was handsome.

“A failing, some might say.” Alaria smiled in return. “I am stubborn, like my father, and do not believe I have exhausted the possibilities.”

Alaria looked at the books in her hands and thought if she ought to continue, knowing the Dragonmage-apparent would be unable to aid them in their cause.

“I am, at the very least, hoping I might find a way for us to pierce Tresahd’s defensive barrier so that we need not carry out another month of wandering the Feldmere to return to ‘her’ lair. If we could arrive, even just outside the lair, it would be a significant advantage.”

Montor nodded, his face pensive at the possibilities. “It is surely possible...but might required some work.”

“According to Trymis, the fact we have actually been there before should be a great boon and might permit our access. Last time, we didn’t really know where to go...other than the Feldmere and the name ‘Nor Gorthok.’ But having been there, phsyically, Trymis supposes, we might use Keep’s teleportal circle to arrive significantly closer, if not actually inside.”

Montor nodded. “Just so. Trymis is a talented mage and my own knowledge and use of dimensional folding would concur with his supposition.”

“It would be...I do not mean to presume, my lord Montor," Alaria continued, figuring it most appropriate to use the prince’s title and name, as he wished. “But would it be possible for you to accompany us to the Feldmere? Perhaps simply lending some power to the teleportal circle to further its power?”

Montor looked around as if someone might hear his response and smiled again at Alaria, “I would be most amenable to lend what aid I can whilst not disobeying father,” he looked about again before saying to Alaria with a wink, “...too much.”

“It will require some research and work. But I do not doubt the power of Wyr can be of service in this endeavor. Zhiranth has told me at the Council of Wyr is beginning to become concerned with this ‘Desaarthal.’” the lord prince replied.

“Perhaps...” Alaria began to dare to ask. Montor interrupted, as if reading her mind...which as far as Alaria knew of the young mage, he very well might be doing.

“Would you care to join me in my library...later this afternoon...we could search for some possibilities.” he asked.

Alaria was inwardly ecstatic but strove to maintain her ‘professional’ detachment, seemly for a lesser mage being presented with access from a greater one. “That would be...agreeable, my..er...Montor. I would be honored to accept.”

“Very good then, my lady Magess. I shall see you at...shall we say, three bells?” Montor said quickly. He seemed to be distracted by something Alaria did not hear.

“Excellent.” Alaria grinned coyly and tossed some of her dark hair over a shoulder. What was that?! Alaria thought to herself. She shook her head after the prince bowed and turned back down the corridor. What was she sixteen? Acting like a second year apprenti? Why was she feeling so...flirty?

***

Three days later...

Haelan entered the common chamber and plopped himself upon one of the cushioned chairs around their dining table. Beside a very serious looking Braddok.

“Hiya, ‘Sarge.’ How were your rounds this morning?" the Hilltender opened with his usual cheerfulness.

Braddok merely grunted a reply from behind his flagon of ale.

Their chambermaid had just finished bringing in their luncheon of dark bread , fruit and cured meats and cheeses. Haelan set to making himelf a ham and cheese sandwich, looking occasionally at the grim swordsman from time to time. The warrior seemed to hardly notice his presence.

“Alaria still working?” Haelan ventured another conversation opener.

“Of course.” Braddok replied darkly.

“In the Dragonwing library again?” Haelan asked, cautiously. “She and Prince Montor have been spending quite a bit of time together of late.”

“Indeed.” He replied. “I’ve spoken to her more through the Keep ball than in person.”

“That so?” Haelan said innocently, though he knew this to be true. The magess had barely returned to their chambers at all in the past three days.

“Hail friends.” came Fen’s casual friendly voice from the doorway .

“Fen! Welcome back. Ho long will you be staying?” Haelan smiled at the druid’s entrance, thanking the Hillmother for some more cheerful conversation.

“I received a summons from our Magess. My studies are ended for the time being. I suspect we will be leaving on our further...mission...in short order.” the half elf replied, ripping himself a chunk of the nutty dark bread.

“Really?” Haelan answered with some surprise mingled in his excitement.

“Oh sure. She tells you her plans.” Braddok said grimly and raised his flagon again to drain it before immediately refilling it from the pitcher of crockery in the middle of the table.

Fen looked to Haelan with some surprise.

“Is there something wrong?” Fen asked, unknowingly.

Braddok stuck a large hunk of cheese in his mouth.

Haelan turned to the druid and answered as quietly as he could, though there was no doubt Braddok still heard. “They’re having some...issues.”

“Well, our mission is of the utmost importance, my friend.” Fen attempted to sooth the warrior’s obviously wounded ego and/or heart. “I am sure once we leave this place, things will smooth themselves out.”

Braddok looked at Fen darkly for a moment and then his expression softened. “You are probably right. I pray that it is so. I will confess, as much as I appreciate the hospitality and expertise of the lordmage and his subjects...I will not be sorry to leave. I fear Alaria might be unwilling to go at all...and leave all of her beloved sorcery.”

Haelan looked at the warrior with sympathy. “Braddok, she cares for you. I am sure of that. You two...all of us, in fact...have shared so much. You’ve faced death together more than once. Saved each other on more than one occasion. We brought you back from the dead, after all! A connection that deep cannot be broken by books and scrolls.”

Braddok nodded in agreement, though his face showed his reticence to agree.

Just then, the blue light bal of keep appeared hovering above the center of the table.

Stormriders, the Magess Alaria requests your presence in the Dragonwing library antechamber.” Keep’s melodius chorus of voices announced.

“Thank you, Keep.” Haelan replied cheerfully. They had been in Lordmage’s stronghold for nearly a month and a half, but every time the Hilltender saw the floating ball of light, he was amazed at the magical oddity.

The ball began to fade before the Hilltender responded. “Uh, Keep?”

The light solidified and increased in intensity once more. “Yes, Hilltender Haelan Spurthistle.

“Where is the library antechamber?” Haelan asked.

The Dragonwing Library antechamber is accessed by the main hall. North Spire. Level 10. Second door on your right.” the ball replied matter-of-factly.

“Thanks again, Keep.” Haelan answered in his polite manner.

You are most welcomed, Hilltender Haelan Spurthistle.” Keep’s voice replied, a bit more kindly and feminine sounding than it’s usual dispassionate drone.

Haelan smiled. The Hilltender had learned the disembodied energy ball, the sentience of the stronghold referred to by all of the inhabitants as, simply, “Keep”, did not require such formality or personal niceties. But it made Haelan feel better to use them anyway...The Keep seemed, Haelan imagined, to appreciate it though the priestesses of Gilea had informed him some weeks ago that ‘Keep’ merely replied to what was presented to it...it possessed no individual ego or emotions to offend.

The company followed the directions, running into Pyrnion on the way, who had received a similar summons.

“Hail Druid Fen. Happy to see your return. Do we know what this is about?” Pyrnion said stoically.

“No clue.” Braddok said bluntly.

Pyrnion raised a feathered eyebrow at the warrior’s back for his curt reply. Haelan just shrugged and grinned weakly at the zephari.

In the antechamber were Alaria, Montor...standing much too close to the magess for Braddok’s liking...and the Lady Rhea, sitting casually in a high-backed leather padded chair.

“We’ve done it!” Alaria said with a smile none of them had seen in the past several weeks of intense study and training. “We can teleport to Nor Gorthok. Get directly to the keep without having to traverse the swamp.”

“That’s what you’ve been working on all of this time?” Braddok said with some annoyance.

“Yes.” Alaria said with some question in her voice. “Not all of it, to be sure, but these few days passed. I thought the advantage of surprise would be desirable?” she said quizzically.

“Indeed! I have no desire to spend another three weeks in that gods-forsaken place. Even if we’d know where we were going this time.” Haelan answered before Braddok could say anything.

“We must make ready and go by the end of the week. We must collect Duor and Jovias. Montor will then aid us in the teleportation from Bridgetower.” Alaria continued to explain.

“‘Montor’ will, will he?" Braddok said in surprise at Alaria’s apparent familiarity with, not only their benefactor, but the lord prince of the realm.

“From Bridgetower, I will still be within Daenfrii. My father can not object.” Montor said with a smirk.

“I didn’t know Bridgetower had a teleportal circle.” Fen said with surprise.

“It does not. But the spell is easily within my power from there.” Montor answered.

Rhea spoke. “You have all progressed so easily in your training that Alaria feels you are all as ready as you will be. My attempts to scry the dragon’s lair have continued to meet without success. However, outside of it, I can tell you, that there have been no notable movements of troops or increased coming or going of notable monsters. Scrollmaster Inden <Author/DM’s note: the high-priest of Solilorr in Daenfrii who all of the companions had previously met.> tells me his visions on the place have detected no more evil or increased power than there has been since the dark wizard’s defeat in Evandrial. It seems the time to strike is upon you.”

The companions all nodded in understanding, expressions of varying amounts of seriousness and concern clear on the four men.

“What about the demons?” Haelan finally asked, the fear evident in his voice.

“Scrollmaster Inden and Matron Uma have both consulted with servants of their respective deities. Their contacts claim there has been no interplanar activity that they have noticed in the same time. It can be assumed whatever creatures were there before are still there.” Rhea answered. Apparently, unbeknownst to the party, the power-that-be in Daenfrii have taken up a good deal of interest in this Tresahd-Desaarthal business.

“‘Cept the one we killed already.” Fen added.

“We can presume so.” Alaria answered.

“Well, I guess no new demons is a good thing. heh heh.” Haelan chuckled weakly.

“We will have to inform Captain Londar that we’ll be leaving.” Braddok said to no one in particular.

“Already done.” Rhea said with a smile. “He wishes to have a send off for you in two night’s time from Bridgetower...if you are amenable to the idea.” Rhea smiled before adding, “We both do. Nothing formal, mind, just a small gathering among friends. I am certain Captain Rynthis and the Lady Elhianne will be most accommodating.”

“We would be honored.” Alaria answered before anyone else.

Braddok’s face turned into a stromcloud as he noted Alaria’s smile directed at the Dragonmage-apparent.

“If that’s all then?” Braddok said. “I will conclude my rounds and the conducting of my duties until such time as we must go. My ladies...my lord.” Braddok bowed deeply, turned and left without waiting for a dismissal.

Alaria looked after the warrior with a mixture of annoyance and a slight pain in her heart.

“Alaria, my dear, let us walk, shall we?” Rhea said, rising from her seat and taking Alaria by the arm.

“We should still...” Alaria began to object.

“It can wait, I’m sure?” Rhea said, questioning to Montor.

“Yes, of course. There’s nothing more to do than calculate the final vectors and atune to the location...which we can’t do until we arrive at...” Montor began explaining the magical details, as he was prone to do, often missing the fact that those around him had little understanding f what it was he spoke.

“Very good, Montor. We shall see you later.” Rhea interjected and led the magess out of the chamber by the arm with nodding bows to the other companions.

Haelan, Fen and Pyrnion simply looked at aeach other and the Draognmage-apparent in some discomfort.

“Can we help?” Haelan said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

Montor chuckled atthe daelvar. “You are a true representative of your kind, Haelan. But I think I will be able to handle it.” He smiled. “Please, return to your days and what preparations you require. We shall leave the Vale for Bridgetower on the morn after tomorrow.”
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Nor Gorthok, revisited.

Suitably equipped by the good merchants in the town below Dragonwing Keep, the party assembled at the appointed hour in the chamber that contained the curious teleportal platform. It was decided that Fen and Pyrnion would be sent to the Wyvern’s Wing to get their dwarf and satyr. The rest, including the lord prince, would collectively go directly to Bridgetower. The Seneschal and Lady of the Tower were expecting them.

Alaria and Braddok had “made up”, though the Grinlian swordsman was still sure to keep near the magess whenever possible and kept a curt, though civil, tone with the Dragon-mage apparent.

The “send off” party, which included Rhea and Londar, who could only get away for the evening before needing to return to the keep, was a casual affair. Lady Elhianne was, of course, delighted to play hostess to her “good friend the Magess Stormrider” not to mention the Lord-prince and two of his Steel Dragons, themselves!

Haelan was happy to see the chicken he’d left in Bridgetower was still being honored and the sign over her shrine-like coop, as he’d requested, read “The Hillmother’s Holy Hen.”

The next day, the party assembled upon the roof of the great tower. They said their farewells.

Braddok was fit to go into a rage seeing Montor lay a kiss upon Alaria’s cheek when the two embraced in farewell. Well, he was stuck here, the swordsman thought as little consolation.

In a swirling vortex of blue and white sparkles of light, the party felt themselves lift off of the tower’s stones, only for a moment, before encountering a “pushing” sensation, as if they were suddenly moving through molasses, a moment later, the light showering around them cleared and they stood, somewhat unexpectedly, very near the top of the mountain that contained NOr Gorthok. A large cave mouth before them.

A quite reconnaissance revealed they were on the eastern side, very near the summit of the mountain. The great oak trree that had been the druid Ornfael the Long Cursed was around the north side of the mountain about halfway down, beneath their position.

“Ow!" Haelan tripped upon something hard beneath the collection of rocky dust and dead brush surrounding the cave opening. Dipping down to pick it up out of the dirt and brush, Haelan dropped it quickly. It was a skull of...something. Something large.

Fen confirmed it to be a large reptile, likely an alligator from the swamps below. A cursory search revealed several other bones of a variety of creatures scattered about.

“Too bad it’s not Rach’sha.” Duor said as he edged along the side of the mountain to the cave’s opening.

*Hilltender, I do not like this scent. There is too much death here...and something...musty...damp and reptilean.* Buttercream chittered at Haelan.

“Braddok!” Haelan said in a panicked whisper.

The swordsman looked blankly at the Hilltender.

“Remember that night in the swamp? When we fought the stirges?” the daelvar still soke in hushed tones. “When something flew over us...”

Braddok nodded. He unsheathed Kandu and raised his shield. The rest of the company (except Pyrnion) ecame immediately battle-ready tense. Fen explained to the zephari that Erevan had presumed the creature Braddok and Haelan saw to be a wyvern...and they had further presumed it laired at the top of this mountain.

They stood in the midmorning...presumably the creature, if it were here, would be sleeping.

Opting against torches for the time being, they entered the large cave mouth carefully. Pyrnion was immediately uncomfortable in the dark rocky surroundings on all sides. He turned back to look at the outdoor light in the sky beyond while he could. It helped, but his insides screamed in panic when they turned a bend and the cave opening was no longer visible.

Fortunately, the cavern before them rose up out of their view. A wide, roughly circular cavern that sloped down. There, in the center of the cavern, their fears were realized as a large greyish dragon-like creature snored loudly. A half-eaten carcass of some humanoid creature lay near its draconic snout.

Fen, silently, pointed across the wide chamber to an opening at the far side.

At Alaria’s frantic silent motions, the party returned out the ledge.

They had previously discussed their tactics to avoid all unnecessary conflicts, lest they come upon Tresahd unprepared. The magess cursed that they no longer possessed the Ihs Repahl which would allow them to simply fly in cloud-form to wherever they wanted. Soon, Alaria promised herself.

With Pyrnion’s ability to make himself invisible, it was decided the zephari and druid would use their gifts of Pixie Dust to make the whole party invisible. They were, unfortunately, unsure how long the faerie enchantment would last. But they hoped it could at least get them passed the slumbering wyvern, possibly even deeper.

With a pinch for Buttercream, Haelan, Braddok, Alaria, Duor, Jovias and Fen, Pyrnion’s dust was used up and Fen had, about, 3 pinches left. Thankfully, a side-effect of the pixie’s particular invisibility, they could all see each other normally.

The party moved with considerable care and silence across the chamber, choosing to circle around the back of the creature rather than pass near its nose.

Entering the opposite portal, which was no larger than a normal doorway, they found a set of stairs carved from the mountain stone itself. Their decent was long. They continued down and around, Duor supposed that were tracking around the outer perimeter of mountain, as the descent was not steep and the curve more or less consistent, minimal, and seemed to become ever widening.

Finally, the companions reached a platform that leveled off with a large door before them. It was not locked nor, as far as Duor or Jovias could tell, trapped. After a quick cantrip to conjure Alaria’s magical sight, no threat or dweomer she could perceive was revealed.

The party opened the door cautiously. It made a horribly loud, to their ears, creak. But there seemed to be no one on the other side.

The doorway opened to reveal an immense cavern, light from various unseen sources to shower the whole interior of the mountain in a fiery orange flickering glow. The party found themselves upon a 20 foot wide walkway, also seemingly carved from the mountain, that looked like it extended all around the interior of the mountain. A stone “railing” edged the pathway and various arches and doors were placed, sporadically, around the perimeter, leading obviously, to other sections of the mountain, such as the goblin quarters and conjuring rooms they’d encountered before...though could not begin to guess where those were in relation to the current position.

The greatest shock to the company was the large towered castle that sat within the open cavern, in its entirety. The twisted and bent ancient looking black towers reaching up beyond their vision toward the top of the hollowed out mountain. The roots of the multi-towered and walled stronghold far below their position. The various poeces of the castle look like they were composed of single pieces of black rock that from place to place seemed to be melted, as they’d encountered at the cave mouth of Rach’sha’s lair.

“How’d they build a whole castle inside of a mountain?!” Haelan said in amazement.

“Bah. Dwarves’ve been doin’ it fer ages." Duor said, obviously unimpressed. “Looks like crap. It's old, to be sure...but have a bit o' pride. Upkeep is necessary, even with dwarf-made structures."

“If this is Nor Gorthok,” Alaria posed, “I think it more likely the dragon created the mountain up around the castle.”

”An additional layer of concealment.” Pyrnion nodded in agreement.

”How do we get over there?” Duor said, leaning over the stone railing and looking down.

”Do we have to? Maybe we could find the orb someplace else.” Haelan said hopeful, peering over the rail beside the dwarf.

”That‘s where the treasure is. Make no mistake.” Duor pointed forefully at the black castle.

”And there is little doubt the Kalanaptra is there as well. I presume that is where Tresahd resides. As crucial as it seems to be, the wizard will keep it with him.” Pyrnion said.

Buttercream‘s hair bristled immediately before she spoke to Haelan. *Blek. I smell goblins.*

As the party scanned their surroundings left and right. From the archway closest to their left, some fifty yards t their left, pair after pair of hobgoblin solders came marching out. Their booted feet creating a stomping beat that echoed through half of the cavern. Twenty in total exited. Half marching to the right, away from the party, half turning toe left ...heading for the party!

“Make way. Stand clear if you can.” Braddok hissed in command.

“Quiet now, Buttercream." Haelan whispered. “Let them pass."

The party split, pressing themselves against the railing or wall to allow the marching patrol to pass.

They seemed to take no notice of the adventurers. They continued to march the wide circle of the ledge, carrying on out of view around a bend in the perimeter.

“Now what?” Duor said.

“There.” Pyrnion pointed to their left. There are stairs going down to the next ledge.”

Braddok followed where the zephari indicated. “And there!” the warrior noted with some excitement.

A narrow sliver of natural looking stone jutted out from the level beneath them to the outer wall of the black castle.

“Well let’s get to it. I’ve been waiting half a damned year for this booty. Let’s get it over with and get out of here.” Duor said even as he began trotting off in the direction of the staircase a quarter of the mountain’s arc away from them.

The rest of the party followed, in their prescribed order.

“Uh, Alaria...” Haelan whispered as they edged around the outside of the cavern.

“Yes Haelan.” Alaria replied distractedly, as she continually scanned their surroundings for any sign of magical alarms or traps that might give away their presence.

“When we find the treasure and the Ihs Repahl...um...I mean, assuming we don’t have to fight or kill Tresahd...How are we getting back?” Haelan asked.

“Oh...well...we’ll...ummm.” Why hadn’t that been decided in all of their plans?! “We’ll get out like we did last time.” Alaria finally said. “For now, concentrate on our goal.”

“Well...my goal includes getting out of here alive.” Haelan answered somewhat perturbed.

“As do we all, Hilltender. Be stalwart.” Braddok answered for the obviously at-a-loss magess.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
They moved swiftly, but with care. They reached the staircase in time to avoid a patrol of six hobgoblins coming up from the level below.
They stood silent and pressed against the wall to let the patrol pass.

The troops marched up, in rhythm, and along the ledge to the archway that the previous hobgoblins had exited and disappeared into it.

*Can’t I take just one? I haven’t eaten anything since this morning.* Buttercream implored the daelvar cleric.

“I know. But better not to just now.” Haelan said kindly, though in his mind he couldn’t imagine how awful raw hobgoblin might taste.

Duor took this opportunity to command his magic boots to give him “Hobgoblin boots” footprints.

They descended, now further away from the castle and made their way around the lower ledge to the stone bridge. It was much more narrow than the ledge, barely ten feet wide, with no railing to avoid falling off the sides. But it led straight to the outer parapets of the towered fortress of black. It extended, seemingly without physical support, a full hundred feet to the other side.

Two guards stood at the ledge side and two more could be easily seen by the tall polearms they held, at the far end. There could be little doubt engaging either would undoubtedly cause an alarm to be raised in moments if they were not careful.

One by one, with as much care as possible, Haelan even holding his breath as they passed by the guards on the ledge said.

<You hear that?>” one guard grumbled to the other when Buttercream passed by, her claws clicking lightly on the stone. <translated from Goblinese.>

<”I don’t hear nuthin’. You just tryin’ to go off for another break. Shuddup n’ keep your station.”>
the other replied.

Duor couldn’t resist himself and said, from just passed the guards on the bridge. “<You shuddup!>

The first guard immediately took a battle-ready stance, lowering his polearm, almost into Alaria’s chest.

<Wut you said?>” the apparently senior guard said as he turned to the first one, drawing a serated curved blade. <You want to ‘splain insubordination to Overseer?>

“<I didn’t say nuthin’! Somethin’ is here!>” the first one said.

The senior guard looked side to side for a moment but kept his weapon drawn on the first guard.

<Now you makin’ up lies for insubrdination? You looking to be Rach'sha food?>” the senior said.

“<No! No! I didn’t say it! Something else is here!>
” the first guard said immediately and jabbed into the air around him.

Pyrnion grabbed Alaria from behind, pulling her clear of the stabbing weapon, and took wing across the expanse.

This left the satyr Jovias and Fen on the ledge side. The satyr stood stock still. The druid, similarly pressed up against the wall.

The senior guard twisted his face and looked aruond again while his comrade was seemingly flailing at nothing.

<Gutslug! Get over here. Smakdown’s goin’ all crazy.>” the senior guard yelled across the expanse.

One of the guards at the wall side turned in response to the senior guard’s command. Without question, he began racing across the bridge.

Pyrnion scooped up Haelan, who was directly in the hobgoblin’s path and flew him over to the other side.

As he returned to try to get Duor, the hobgoblin guard was coming up to the dwarf. He moved as close to the edge as he dared to get out of the wide, heavily armored hobgoblin came by.

<Arse-hat gobslug>” Duor whispered as the guard passed.

“<Wut!?>" Gutslug whirled around at the insult and felt the impact as one of his large shoulder plates bumped into something that wasn’t there. There was the distinct sound of a bot scraping against the dusty rock.

All of the companions sucked in a breath to see Duor‘s enchanted form slip off the edge of the bridge. Pyrnion dove for the dwarf but, before he could reach him, Duor threw up a strand of silver cord. The rope rose up and clasped the edge of the bridge with a “claw” like grapple of silver.

The companions exhaled prayers to their respective gods that the enchanted rope seemed to also be invisible to the hobgoblins.

Duorhung there for a moment before Pyrnion scooped him off of his line, like a piece of bait hanging from a fishhook.

Upon depositing the dwarf on the battlements, away from the other hobgoblin guard and the other companions, Pyrnion whispered to the dwarf, “One more stunt like that and I will kill you myself.”

Duor looked at the zephari, ready to make a crass quip in reply until he saw the burning seriousness in the bird-man’s eagle eyes.

“Stay here. And do not make another sound or I will remove your tongue with my own hand.” Not awaiting a response, Pyrnion took off again to go collect the hard-pressed Fen and Jovias.

<Look! Look there!>” Smakdown cried, still trying to defend himself. The hobgoblin was pointing at the distrubed ground on the ledge where there had obviously been a lot of movement. There was a distinctly small non-booted footprint and another cloven print.

Fen held a hand over the satyr minstrel’s mouth and pulled him close to the wall. If they were looking for them, his druid’s cloak, he hoped would add an extra layer of defense from being revealed.

The senior guard looked at the prints and for a moment thought the crazed Smakdown might be telling the truth.

<Might just be one o’ the Master’s demon-things playing tricks.>” the senior guard squinted into the surrounding air as if he was going to perceive some invisible demon.

<This’uns got four toes. See! It’s a dwarf!>” Smakdown insisted.

<Pah. Too small fer a dwarf. Last youngling we had died last month.>” the newly arrived Gutslug added.

“Go check the slave pens.>” the senior guard commanded. “<I want full count of every bearded head!>”

Gutslug saluted the senior and took off down the ledge to another staircase that led further down.

“<You stay here an stab at anything in the wind. I'll be back.>” the commander told Smakdown before he headed over the bridge back for the castle.

Bringing both the satyr and half-elf at once, the company reassembled at Duor’s position.

“That was stupid.” Braddok admonished. “Do that again and...”

“Yeah, yeah. You can arm wrestle the birdie fer the honor.” Duor said dismissively.

Braddok grabbed Duor by the shoulder and turned him, forcefully. His image fluttered into a ghostly transparency for a moment before the pixie dust invisibility reasserted itself. “I am serious, Duor. You’ve wanted this for a long time. I need this to work. We all do. Do not jeopardize us all again.”

“Alright. Yer right. I’m sorry.” Duor.

“We may be jeopardized already. That captain or whatever he was is no doubt going to inform someone. Maybe get magical assistance. We are in jeopardy now. Thanks so much, Duor. Festus would be proud.” Alaria admonished. “If any of us are killed as a result of your foolishness, I will turn you into a toad. I can do it and I swear by Manat's Star, I will. Is that clear?”

“Yeh...uh...yes, Alaria. I am sorry. Jus’ trying t’have a bit o’ fun at a hobgoblin’s expense.” Duor tried to defend again.

“Enough time wasted. Haelan, you’re up.” Alaria said, ignoring the dwarf’s apology.

Haelan nodded, his face a mask of grim seriousness for the daelvar.

Deisa Faerantha, dicteus beneficia supplicantus positus locuitum Ihs Repahl.” <cleric spell: Locate Object. translated from Old Selurian: “Holy Faerantha, bless your loyal servant to reveal the location of the Ihs Repahl.”>

Haelan felt a tingling sensation come over his eyes and mind. There was a distinct impression of a sweet-smelling breeze touching the right side of his face .(though none of the other companions perceived such a wind)

“That way.” Haelan pointed the direct the breeze had come from. This took them back passed the remaining guard on the fortress-side of the bridge. They passed around the edges of the battlement walls, towards what appeared to be the “back” of the castle. Haelan stopped after a moment. The breeze was felt upon his face again.

“That way.” Haelan pointed down at an archway on the far side of an empty courtyard of black stone below them.

”And up.” Haelan pointed up at the largest of the fortress‘ twisted towers.

“Everybody ready?” Braddok said
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
The group descended the black stone staircase that led to the empty courtyard. It was curious, Pyrnion noted, that there were no guards along the walls at this “back” section of the castle. No apparent gate at the archway.

As they descended, Alaria renewed her detection cantrip, sure that there could be magic at any moment. Her instincts proved true as the party came to the courtyard and began edging along the wall toward the arch in the main building of the keep.

There were two statues, to either side of the twenty foot wide arch. Seen by the two stone scones built into the walls that bathed the courtyard in an eerie green fire, they were monstrous...swans? Or perhaps had once been. Now they each had two long necks. Their postures were obviously twisted and bent in ways no living creature could be. The necks bent backwards and curved around, their bills filled with pointed teeth and what might have once been smoothly shaped feathers and wings, were now splayed and struck out in all directions, the tips of the flailing wings with sharp dagger-like pinions. For all their unreal shape, one of each neck terminated with the head looking outward into the courtyard while the other head looked inward.

As they neared, Alaria’s glowing violet eyes perceived magic auras surrounding the statues. She halted the party with a gesture and concentrated.

A few moments later, the auras began to coalesce in her sight. A strong globe of pulsing red surrounded each..."Conjuration", Alaria knew. There was also...white just beneath the red but nearly as strong..."Divination" magic. That will be a distinct problem. What was it these stone carvings were divining? Something else...between and beneath the other two...a lesser globe of green....Transmutation!

“We’re in trouble.” Alaria whispered. “Those statues, I believe, are detection devices...possibly living or at least aware, as well.”

“We must cloak ourselves better.” Braddok surmised.

“We’re already invisible. Wut else’re we supposed t’do?” Duor hissed under his breath.

“Haelan?” Alaria inquired.

“We must go through. ” The daelvar closed his eyes and concentrated once more. The divine cooling breeze only he could perceive was coming directly from the arch. He pointed again at the widest tower of the fortress. “The Ihs Repahl is up there. If I invoke another blessing, I will lose my directional cues.”

“Can we, maybe... I don’t know...shut the magic off somehow?” Fen suggested.

“I have but one spell of Unmaking available to me. I would prefer not to use it at this time. Who knows what further sorceries we will encounter inside.” Alaria admitted somewhat annoyed with herself. “Can you?”

“There is such an incantation, and I have harnessed the Green for such a purpose today only once, myself. I also can not speak to its effectiveness against such potent arcane energies.” Fen admitted.

<Author/DM’s note: In Orea, while clerics and druids have free pick -spontaneous casting- of the 1st and 2nd level spells available to them...within their daily allotment of slots, of course...as their access to more powerful energies increases, they must specify/choose 3 level spells and higher. For those keeping track of Orean rules, clerics and druids are always partially spontaneous casters - 1st and 2nd level spells only- while mages become partially spontaneous casters as they increase in level. Just another minor tweak to further differentiate the flavor of divine, natural and arcane magics in Orea.>

“Well, wut’re we gonna do? Take our chances with the pixie dust or go ‘round to some other door? This stuff’s not gonna last forever.” Duor noted, looking at his (to their vision) arm with its twinkling yellow sparkles outlining his form.

The others looked at each other and it did appear that all of their “twinkles” were noticeably less vibrant than when they were originally “dusted.”

“Minstrel,” Duor said with authority. “Got any satyr tricks up those goaty sleeves?”

Jovias stepped forward and looked at the statues intently, as if he were discerning something about them. “Well, they’re magic for sure.” He looked at his boss in hopes of approval.

Duor and Braddok scowled.

“We know that. Alaria’s magic sight has never let us down.” Duor said. “Anything else?”

“Wellll...” Jovias face became serious for a moment. “It might be possible for me to sing the Song of Silence...But I’ve never done it before...and it would require the limit of my spellsongs for the day.”

<Author/DM's note: As I recall, this was a purely DM fiat "let's get this show on the road" thing. Jovias is a 3rd level bard which, by Orean standard, does not permit him 2nd tier spells. I ruled that, though we don't do "mana points" or anything like that, if he wanted to use up his 1st tier slots, I would allow the second level spell. But it was the party's desicion to proceed.>

The companions looked to each other for in silent conference.

“Do it.” Braddok said. “We will skirt through as quickly as possible. Once on the other side, try to get out of view of the things at our first opportunity.”

All nodded in understanding.

“Yer up, bard.” Duor said.

“Wait! The spellsong itself won’t make any noise will it?” Pyrnion asked.

“It is the Song of Silence, master Pyrnion.” Jovias said, as if this answered the question.

“Proceed.” Alaria said.

The satyr slunk around the wall until he was within twenty feet of the statues, “behind” one of the statues. Carefully, he unslung his lyre from his shoulder. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

All of the companions winced to see his fingers go to the strings and his mouth open wide. The satyr plucked a particular chord.

No sound emanated from the instrument or the satyr’s mouth.

Alaria could see, with her arcane vision, a wash of centric waves of pale yellow light extend from the minstrel and pass over the one swan statue, but not the other.

“Stay to the right.” Alaria informed the others.

Quickly as they could, they ducked beneath the outward facing serpentine neck and monstrous looking swan head.

Once inside, the hall widened a bit and they all struck close to the right wall. Shortly inside the arch a doorway with stairs leading up opened into the broad open corridor. They could see the other side opened into another courtyard.

Buttercream bristled and a low growl rumbled from her innards. *Goblins. The big ones. The whole place reeks of them. I don't like it...and they’re making me hungry.*

Haelan relayed this to the others. Nothing to really do but accept it.

At silent gestures from Braddok, the party began climbing the stairs.

They came to the first floor. It was a simple round with a stair case opposite that continued up. There was a simple table and a few stools. A pile of spears leaned in one corner, a crossbow and bucket of crossbow bolts against another. A few shields piled up beside the spears. Two arrow slits let in the green glow from the courtyard they’d just left. It seemed to be a simple guard room. Thankfully, unmanned for the moment.

They continued up to the second story, this floor was a similarly round chamber with two sets of bunk beds and a few coffers. One of the bunks contained a slumbering hobgoblin. Another, awake, sat upon a stool, sharpening his long sword. There was a door at the other end of the chamber, but no obvious other stair or exit. The door was closed with a large iron padlock.

The party returned to the floor below.

“This isn’t the right tower.” Haelan said in concern.

“Should we go back down and try to get through the other next courtyard?” Fen questioned.

“The breeze tells me we can still go through that door and get to where we’re going.” Haelan answered.

“I did not notice any statues at the far archway.” Pyrnion asserted.

“Master?” Jovias ‘called’ softly.

The others looked around. The dwarf was not with them.

“Damn that dwarf.” Braddok cursed under his breath. The warrior ran up the stairs, followed closely by Pyrnion.

The hobgoblin who had been sharpening his sword sat in the chair. Its throat cut and oozing greenish black blood down into his heavy breast plate. Examination of the sleeping hobgoblin revealed he too was dead. Throat cut, large hobgoblin ear to large hobgoblin ear.

Duor, fully visible, stood be the pad lock of the door, twirling a large iron ring that held four keys around one finger.

“Duor!” Braddok whispered. “What are you doing?!”

“What I do best! Sneakin’ and finding ways into places.” the dwarvish rogue answered the empty air.

Pyrnion made himself visible within the room. “I told you not ten minutes ago...” he pulled his axe from his belt.

“This is not putting anyone in jeopardy, my good birdie bird. This is getting things done and doing what I am trained to do, better than any of you.” Duor said without a hint of remorse or defense.

“He’s right, Pyrnion. Stand down.” Braddok’s voice sounded again in the room.

With a derisive snort and piercing glare, the zephari wrapped his golden feathered wings around his shoulders, assuming the appearance of a great feathered cloak, and made himself unseen, again, with a thought.

The rest of the party again ascended to see the dwarf applying something to the hinged side of the door. He had a curious small rubber bulb in his hand and used it to shoot lamp oil into the crease of the door, where he had determined the hinges to be.

“What is that?” Fen’s voice sounded close to Duor’s shoulder.

“Oil. We don’t need to be making any more noise than necessary. Especially since, if it locked from this side, who knows what’s one the other side.” Duor explained and then returned the small flask of oil and small rubber bulb to one of the many pouches on his belt.

A simple tirn to the right and a click opened the padlock and Braddok, with Duor out of view to the side of the door, urged the door open. It swung fairly easily and by Duor’s oil or not, did not make any discernable creak.

The other side revealed another brief curve of stairs going up.

Coming to the third floor, they were in an empty chamber. An archway without a door led out from the tower to a narrow bridge connecting to the larger wider “central” tower of the fortress. There was a door at the other side. No lock was apparent from their position.

First Alaria, then Haelan and Fen each, in turn, seemed to waver into a semi-transparent form for an instant before returning to an invisible state.

“We must hurry. The dust is wearing off.” Alaria voiced the obvious.

“What about Duor?” Haelan asked, always worried for others as was his way.

“Don’t worry ‘bout me. I can make myself scarce when I want.” the dwarf boasted.

A quick peek out revealed two hobgoblin guards upon the outer wall, in easy view of the bridge. It seemed there was another stone bridge on that side of the fortress, like the one they had used to get from the mountain perimeter ledges to the castle wall. Thankfully, they seemed intent on looking “outward” along the expanse of stone that led back to the mountain’s inner edge.

To the left, and down, the second courtyard. There were two lengths of reflecting pools, gleaming black [presumably] water and the walls facing the courtyard completely lined with mirrors. At the far side, connecting to the base of the large tower, was the large rectangular section of the castle.

The companions each felt a shudder of fear filled them as each assumed that area to be the great hall/throne room which they had found themselves in on their last visit...where Erevan and Festus were lost to the acid breath of the black behir, Rach’Sha.

“Let’s go. Duor, stay here until we get that door opened. We don’t need those guards noticing you tinkering around on the bridge.” Braddok said. There was no room in his tone for debate.

On a silent cue, the companions raced for the other side of the inter-tower walkway. It was only wide enough for single file. Alaria went first, the spell of Opening upon at the forefront of her mind.

No sooner had she whispered the opening spell than her sparkling dust seemed to flicker and fall from her shoulder and she was completely visible to any eye.

The spell worked without incident and the party raced into another empty open chamber like the one they had just left. Much broader/wider across, but suitably empty of guards or apparent threat. One staircase leading further up. One at the opposite side twining down to the lower floors.

One by one the companions entered the chamber and exhaled in relief as they too, other than Pyrnion of course, came flickering back into normal sight.

Duor raced across, though completely silent with his magical boots and, luckily, was not seen by the well disciplined hobgoblin guards.

“Now what? How much more dust yeh got?” the dwarf said.

“Not enough.” Fen admitted.

“We must use extra care.” Braddok said. “We’ve made it this far. We should collect the Ihs Repahl, what riches we may come across, and make for the throne room with the teleport disc to get us back to Bridgetower.”

The companions agreed, accept for Duor, who insisted that any castle anywhere kept its treasure vaults beneath the castle. And that after coming here twice, he was not leaving without the treasure. Engaging the dragon or not, not being the natural preference, he was going to get that treasure.

“You do realize, up to now, we have only been presuming a great treasure hoard?” Fen pointed out.

“Killjoy.” Duor grumbled. “It’s a dragon. It’s been here, what was it...four hundred years? Four thousand? Came here when those weird witchy women’s dad ruled Grath...Gor...Greyhard...”

“Gorathgraard.” Alaria corrected.

“Whatever...here! There’s a trove, make no mistake. There’s gotta be.” the dwarf argued.

“Fine. Fine. But the Ihs Repahl first.” Alaria injected. “My power will be much increased with it in my possession and we will stand a much higher chance of success in all of our goals...as well as a potential additional mode of escape.”

“No arguments there, boss lady.” Duor said with a smirk.

Alaria’s mood lightened some to hear Duor refer to her as such. It had been what seemed an eternity since she had been their official “boss”, though in reality a matter of a few months.

“So...'up’ it is then, Hilltender?” Braddok asked Haelan.

“Up.” Haelan said looking distractedly at the ceiling. Something was cold here...not the temperature...something dark...pressing upon his soul. Like he had felt before in the Dunrician shrine at Shafton. A dark presence...he could feel it.

“I feel like we are being watched.” the daelvar cleric said softly.

Alaria immediately renewed, again, her visionary cantrip. There was a power that pulsed all around them...but there was no specific aura she could discern. Fen did the same with his own detection incantation.

“There is certainly nothing of a divinatory nature.” Alaria said. “No immediate auras I can see.”

“Though a power cascades throughout this place. That can not be denied.” Fen added.

Alaria concurred and said, what might have been obvious, “The longer we are here, the more likely we will be discovered. We must make haste for the orb.”

The companions took their [marching order] positions and ascended the staircase to what [they presumed] would be the fourth level of the tower.
 
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steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
A cursory glance by an invisible Pyrnion revealed no enemies in the next level. There was, however, a large crystal sphere upon a pedestal in the center of the open floor. A high backed chair of dark wood, heavily carved with images of swans and padded on the seat and middle of the back with a well worn blue velvet. It had apparently been very rich fabric once, but now worn from age and use to near tatters.

Alaria and Fen neared the orb. Both of their magical vision still intact. The orb gave off an aura that nearly filled the whole chamber. While Fen’s natural magic revealed nothing more than the sphere’s arcane nature, Alaria’s revealed a huge swirl of divination intermingled with transmutations, evocations, the inky blackness of necromancy...and a fifth swathe of energy she could not identify...a dark blue inset with twinkling star-like points of light within it.

“That’s not it, is it?” Haelan asked, confused. It was much too big and his sense, which he reported was beginning to fade, still said “up.”

“Definitely not.” Alaria reported. She reached out a hand toward the sphere and concentrated...the ball immediately began to pulse with inner lights of white and dark blue, pink and orange.

“Show me.” Alaria whispered out loud.

An image took form within the sphere, fuzzy at first, then more solid. White...fields of white...a barren silver forest swept in snow. She saw great white and grey wolves...then the ice giants...she saw the spire upon an isle in a frozen lake. It was the winter realm of Gorathgraard!

“Is that...?" Braddok questioned.

Alaria thought upon the Lady Amthyriine.

The image stayed upon the spire in the lake.

Of course, Alaria realized. When they had been there, Amthyriine had been clear that Tresahd’s power could not pierce her tower.

Alaria turned her mind the Lady Evaranthriine and the starry realm of Summer’s Night.

The image within the crystal swirled once again and came to center on the spire in the night realm, edged now on one side in a the pinkish dawn and to the other the orangey glow of a sunset. The garden Fen had brought into being there bloomed and full still beneath the daylight glow he had created. But of the Night Lady or her Swan Knight lover-champion, there was no sign.

“Hey...memory lane is nice and all...but can you see stuff here with that thing?” Duor posed.

“Perhaps this is what the dark one’s servant called the Overseer uses to...ya know...’oversee.’” Fen guessed.

“Just questions, both.” Alaria answered distracted as she turned her mind first to this “Overseer” the image swirled a bit and there was only an image of the castle itself. With more concentration, the image “moved” into the great hall/throne room where they had been so sorely defeated on their last visit. A curious scene appeared as it seemed beings in the tattered finery they recalled form the wights last time, moved and swirled about the hall’s floor in smooth motions of...were they...courtly dances? There were about a dozen of them just...dancing. The dais with the teleportal pulpit, for lack of a better term, and the grandiose carved throne sat vacant.

What was this? Alaria wondered. They couldn’t all be the Overseer.

“Well, least we know the wights are still here.” Haelan said with a nervous smile.

“True.” Alaria said and turned her mind to Rach’sha. The image swirled again, the behir seemed to be in its cavern lair, lounging the in the pool of sulfuric waters near where they had escaped. Whether it slept or merely relaxed, she could not tell. But it was there, beneath the mountain in its lair. Past experience, however, told her that wherever the passages were, the creature could be in the castle in only a short time.

“How 'bout those dark elves?” Duor asked. “Be nice to know for sure they aren’t here.”

Alaria gave it a moment’s thought but the sphere revealed nothing, simply continued to swirl its colors.

“So...that’s a no?” Haelan very much hoped.

“I...don’t know.” Alaria admitted. “Either it is a 'no’ or they are impervious to such revelation.”

“Should we see about...ya know...the big one?” Fen posed cautiously.

“Better, I think, we should seek the Ihs Repahl.” Alaria said. “I fear that Tresahd might be made aware if we were to try to scry him directly...and even searching for the orb might tip him off.”

“Then don’t.” Braddok quickly said. “We can go off of Haelan’s magic and not tip off anyone.”

Alaria pulled her hand away from the sphere before she thought too long on the wind-controlling orb. The sphere went dark.

“If we are successful, I definitely wish to retrieve this device.” Alaria noted.

When’, beloved.” Braddok grinned.

“Huh?” Alaria replied.

‘When we are successful.’ I shall carry it back to Grinlia for you myself.” the swordsman smiled.

“Oh will you?” Alaria grinned back.

“Honestly! You two pick the absolute worst times to make goo-goo eyes. I'm gonna yack.” Duor blurted and headed for the next set of stairs.

Pyrnion now made himself visible to the party. This caused a second of alarm as most of them had forgotten the zephari was even around. His face was a stoic mask of severity.

“I have taken a look upstairs. It is a laboratory of some kind. There is a hunched figure in black robes working. I did not see the Kalanaptra, but the wizard is there.”

The party stood in a cold silence of tension that could be cut with a butter knife.

Steeling themselves, the group raced up the stairs, Braddok first. Then Fen. Haelan followed then Alaria, hands pulsing with magic, prepared to throw darts at a moment’s notice. Pyrnion flew up into the chamber, short bow at the ready. Duor had drawn his ethereal dagger, but stayed decidedly behind the magess [“Savest place t’be in a wizard duel."] Jovias brought up the rear, also with a shortbow nocked.

Alaria’s energy darts slammed into the back of the black-robed figure and the thing seemed to splay onto the table before it, sending beakers and bottles scattering across the table and to the floor.

Two arrows whizzed through the chamber and pierced through the back of the robes.

Braddok’s sword blasted into blue fire as he entered the chamber and the warrior heard Kandu speak into his mind even as he brought the blade down upon the hunched figure.

*Braddok, this is a creature of undeath.*

Braddok didn’t stop to consider the statement, but swung a second time and removed the head from the shoulders with a single blow.

The hooded robes caught the mystical blue fire of Kandu and burned away into smoldering tatters, even as the bones revealed beneath it burned for a time before turning to dust.

“What in the...?” Haelan began to voice.

“This is a ruse! We’ve been tricked!” Braddok said in horror, seeing the skeleton’s bones burned away in Kandu’s blue undead-eating flames.

“Then...he knows!” Fen said in panicked comprehension.

“HA! HAHAHAHAHA!” a horrid pitched cackle came form the side of the chamber where the fake-Tresahd’s head had sailed.

The party came near enough to see a bare skull, sitting upon the floor. Its jaw moving of its own accord.

“Of course ‘he’ knows. Storm-Jesters! You think flitting around my lair cloaked in faerie magic would hide you from my Sight?” the skull said.

The companions stared in silent fear and horror at each other and the speaking skull.

The skull’s wicked cackles echoed through the chamber to a deafening pitch.

“HAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA!”
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
“So nice to see you again, Magess Alaria. It is nice of you to come all of this way...just to see me. It warms the cockles...and saves me a great deal of time and effort.” the skull continued to speak.

“For what dragon? You already have the orb. What more do you need of us?” Alaria said angrily.

“Whenever you are ready, I await your attendance to the party in the throne room. You recall where that is, I’m sure. You’ve given us cause for much celebration.” the skull replied.

“But...but my spell said...I was so sure...” Haelan practically whimpered in fear as he listened to the magic-mouthed skull.

“It seems your spell was fooled, Haelan. I am sorry. We...I should have anticipated that contingency.”

“Whenever you are ready...I’m waaaaitiiiiiing...” the skull said as Braddok set Kandu’s tip upon the skull and it burned away into dust.

“What do we do now?” Fen said.

“Pyrnion, make yourself invisible and remain so until we have an opportunity to escape.” Braddok said. “The rest of us...sounds like we have an audience to attend.”

“Braddok, how can we...they’re waiting...ready for us. We can not possibly fight our way out of this entire mountain.” Alaria said, defeat dripping from every word.

“We will find a way.” Braddok said, seeking to reassure himself as much as the others.

They descend the long circling staircase that clung to the outer edge of the wide tower.

Braddok thought frantically.

“Haelan, when i give the word, you and I are on the wights. Alaria and Fen do what you can to stop...or at least distract, Tresahd. Duor, you and Jovias are in charge of holding off the hobgoblins that will, no doubt, be there. Anyone who sees the Ihs Repahl, go for it and then we all make for the teleport dais, like last time.” the warrior finally explained in hushed tonesas they came to the base of the tower.

Two smirking hobgoblins bowed and directed them with opened arms to the doorway that led them to a long hall way that wrapped around and brought them to the great main gates, where a dozen more hobgoblin soldiers stood at attention, of the central hall.

“Are you insane?!” Fen blurted. “We don’t stand a chance.”

“We are the Stormriders, my friend. We always stand a chance.” Braddok asserted.

“What if Rach’sha shoes up?” Haelan said nervously, eyes the grimacing hobgoblins as they walked by.

“Then we deal with that.” Braddok said simply, inwardly hoping very much that the behir would not be in attendance.

As they entered the hall, at the far end directly across from the huge swan-carved throne, the ghostly music played an eerie melody and the wights, in their tattered finery, swirled and pranced in organized rows. Inside the chamber, at each of the pillars, stood skeletal warriors in the tattered remains of blue tunics, the dingy remnants of once-white swans seen on a few that were intact.

“Come! Come closer! Enjoy the party. Can I offer refreshment?” Tresahd nearly chuckled from the throne as he ushered them forward.

The wights made one last swirling turn before parting into two even rows to either side of the chamber, bowed low toward each other and remained bowed to form a pathway for the heroes down the middle of the chamber.

“Come closer, Magess Alaria. It is a delight to see you and your companions once more. Here, have some wine.” Tresahd said and with a gesture, a skeleton holding a silver platter filled with goblets came forward from the side of the dais.

“It’s not poisoned, I assure you.” Tresahd grinned.

“You will forgive me, Magus Tresahd, if I do not take your ‘assurances’ to heart.” Alaria replied. “We are defeated. You have won. The Ihs Repahl is yours. Release us and we will not return.”

“HAHAHA!” Tresahd guffawed. All of the wight “nobles” joined in the laughter, ending abruptly as soon as Tresahd finished.

Release you? Nononono. I don’t think so.” Tresahd said.

“Well if you are to kill us, get it over with!” Braddok dared.

“So eager to return to the Greylands, are you? *tsk tsk* Desri would not be too pleased, I’d dare say.” Tresahd replied.

Braddok, in fact all of the company, was surprised to hear the wizard-dragon knew about Braddok’s past.

“Oh yes.” Tresahd said, whether reading their expressions or their minds was uncertain. ”You don‘t think these passed months you have the ones doing all of the research and attempted spying, do you?”

“What do you want, Tresahd...or should I call you Desaarthal?” Alaria said, stepping forward and mustering all she could not to quake in her boots before the palpably powerful creature.

“Oh? You want to play it like that do you...Would you like to see that one? The form I used to seduce my dearest lord and husband, Gorathial?” Tresahd’s shape was momentarily shrouded in shadows and when they cleared, a woman of otherworldly beauty and baring sat in the throne. Her skin as alabaster as the Lady Amthyriine, her hair the raven tresses (though missing the starlight sparkles) of Lady Evaranthriine, eyes of glinting silver and black lashes twice the length of Rhea’s that seemed to all but flutter off her very eyelids. Her gown, a sleek midnight of velvet with a high collar and trimmed sleeves of soft black feathers <DM’s note: think black ostrich feathers, not ravens or other tightly closed feathers>.

“This form you mean?” a melodic feminine voice that was pulsing with power asked.

“Where are our manners?!” she said in mock distress. “My dearest, you’ve not welcomed our guests.” Desaarthal spoke into the shadowed arched recesses of the ceiling. She reached up an elegant arm and seemed to “pull” at the air.

The companions eyes followed the dragon-woman’s gaze and from out of the shadows above them came a grotesque, stony form. Tendrils of flowering vines carved of stone lowered and twined within them, a giant human-looking face of white marble lined in silver. The skin paler than death, drawn tight, wisps of silvery threads struck from its chin forming a thin beard, and looking, for all intents and purposes, a corpse of stone.

As it lowered into the light of the court the wights all again bowed low.

“What is that?” Haelan said in mild disgust.

The marble eyelids then opened t reveal eyes of silver that glowed with a white light.

“This, my dear Hilltender, is the Lord of Gorathgraard. May I present, my love, our guests the Stormriders. Stormriders, the Lord Gorathiel...or what remains. My minions prefer the honorarium of “Overseer” these days. But we’re all friends here, are we not?” Desaarthal sneered at the company.

“My dearest, these are the lovely heroes who slew your beloved daughter Madagbueil.” She spoke to the giant stone face as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

The stone face twisted and contorted in what appeared a painful and horrifying visage before a burst of silver light shone from the opened mouth, encompassing all of the companions. A wailing moan of pain and sadness rose until it shook the whole of the throne room.

The companions had to cover their ears to avoid the audio onslaught. Braddok, Jovias and Alaria fell to the their knees beneath the physical force of the sound raining down on them. All felt like their souls would be ripped through their ears. In a final moment of hope, Haelan threw up his arms and in a pleading cry to Faerantha, called up a protection circle that would thwart magical assault...for a time. The silver ring of the sanctuary spell appeared on the floor and immediately became a visible sparkling dome of silver light as the light from the Overseer rained down upon it. The companions relaxed and recovered from the wracking pain left in their heads and hearts.

”Clever quick fix, Hilltender.” Desaarthal said, sincerely impressed. She waved her hand again and the mouth and eyes of the stone face closed and the whole thing receded back into the shadows, pulled up by the stone vines.

“They were very close, you see.” Desaarthal said in mock sadness when the moan subsided. “She was his favorite. Made it all the more important to turn her to me. The others...proved very stubborn wenches. They are free to rot in their demi-planes...cowering in their spires. I care not.”
“So if you do not want to release us and don’t want to kill us...what do you need us for?” alaria posed again.

“Oh! Yes, of course.” Desaarthal said, as if reminded of something important.

“You see, as you’ve no doubt surmised...I need more than just this to see my plans to fruition.” She reached into some unseen pouch or fold of her garments and held out her hand with the Ihs Repahl.

Braddok looked to Alaria. All of the party exchanged glances.

Desaarthal pointed at Haelan. “Bring it to me.” she commanded.

A wight moved closer and was halted by the momentary silvery sparks of the sanctuary spell.

“Ah. Arcana rebismio theran.” Desaarthal spoke th spell of Unmaking with a wave of her arm.

Immediately the sanctuary spell dispersed in a twinkle.

The wight neared Haelan and the daelvar, frozen in panic pulled out his pinecone embossed medallion. “BACK foul creature of undeath! Back away from the glory that is Faerantha!”

The little cleric shone in his honey-colored sun and the scent of evergreen trees filled the hall.

The wight nearest Haelan burst into dust while all the other wailed and shrieked their displeasure and receded into the shadowy forest of pillars to either side. While four of the skeletal guards similarly fell to dust and bone shards.

“That was hardly necessary.” Desaarthal said with some annoyance. She stood and shouted in a voice that must have been heard in every corner and crevice of the fortress.

“BRING ME THE DAELVAR’S PACK!”

“Now’s as good a time as any, I suppose. Stormriders, GO! Get the orb!” Braddok called.

Alaria stood in momentary shock. The daelvar’s pack?! What on earth could Haelan possibly have to do with Desaarthal’s plans? No time to figure it out now. Alaria raised the Staff of Azanna and sent forth a lightning bolt at the woman in the throne.

Pyrnion dove down, still invisible to normal sight, to grab the Ihs Repahl.

Fen invoked his most potent protective incantation. All of the companions, including an unseen Pyrnion, felt a tingling sensation some over them and say a momentary flicker of green light dance across their skin. Then, taking up his green-flaring sacred leaftip spear, raced for the dais.

Braddok took a defensive stance at the rear with Duor and Jovias as hobgoblins came racing into the chamber. Kandu’s blue flames burned fiercely. The sword was beside itself to bite into some wights and shouted into Braddok’s head to do the same.

Buttercream Shadowfeet first took up a defensive stance around the daelvar, but noting the approaching hobgoblins, bounded off to pounce on the first one she could.

Desaarthal held up her left hand and the lightning bolt seemed to...just flow into it. She was completely unharmed!”

The zephari turned visible as he punched at the dragon-in-woman-form with one hand and scooped up the crystal orb with his other.

“AGH!” Desaarthal cried out at the surprise attack. “You. Will. DIE!” she shouted after the winged man. Punching her left hand into the air after him and firing a lightning bolt from it.

Pyrnion saw, with utter amazement that the lightning sparked and danced all across and around him but he felt little more than a static tingle. If not for Fen’s Elemental Immunity, his wounds would have been much worse.

Desaarthal seemed as surprised as the feather winged man as he swooped down and passed the orb to Alaria.

The women’s eyes met and Alaria now smirked a wicked grin. With a thought, Alaria buffetted the dragon-lady back into the massive throne.

Buttercream had taken a wound and decided these ”big goblins were too hard” [their heavy armor] and curved herself around Haelan, stuck in pace maintaining his Turning.

Braddok had slain one hobgoblin and was engaging another, but there were three upon him.

Duor and Jovias were back to back, swiping with daggers. The hobgoblins, however, were using their spears and polearms and both adventurers had taken multiple jabs while the hobgoblins remained out of reach.

“Fen!” shouted the dwarf. “A lil’ green crowd control would be appreciated ‘bout now!”

The half-elf turned and glowered down the hall, taking into account the positioning of his allies. He slammed the butt of his spear into the floor, green lightning struck across the floor of the chamber and vines and roots burst through the cobbled stones of the ancient floor. Nearly all of the hobgoblins assaulting the three companions at the rear were picked up off the ground and held, helpless in the vegetative constraints. Others of them attempted to slice up the vines holding their companions.

Duor and Jovias took the opportunity to switch to their crossbow and short bow respectively and fire into the still entering soldiers as they backed up toward Haelan and Alaria.

Braddok sliced an arm off of one of his foes, ending it, avoided a blow with his shield, but took a nasty slice into his side with a bladed halberd.

“RACH’SHAAAAAA!” Desaarthal shrieked out from the throne.

“RACH’SHAAAA!” “Rach’Shaaa!” “rach’shaaa!” echoed throughout the mountain.

Alaria’s concentration was momentarily broken and the winds died down enough for Desaarthal to remove herself form the throne.

Haelan concentration was similarly interrupted by the shuddering noise and his honey glowing light faltered and dimmed.

The wights immediately pounced at any adventurer they could. Six, in total, headed straight for Haelan to carry out their master/mistress’ wish to bring her the daelvar’s pack.

“Run Buttercream! Stay with Alaria!” Haelan commanded as he flung his shield at one approaching wight while slamming a second with his pinecone-headed mace even as the shield returned to his waiting hand. The ferret followed its orders.

The mace, not itself magical, did little to deter the wight, the one slammed with his shield was momentarily dazed.

Haelan cried out as another of the monster‘s claws bit into his arm. The preternatural cold of undeath coursed through the Hilltender. Still another pulled at Haelan’s back, trying to remove the pack still strapped over his shoulders.

“Abomination! Fall before the Green!” Fen shouted through the hall as he twirled his spear, like a propeller above his head. A ball of green fire flew out from the spear tip, striking a wight nearing Haelan. the green burst into green flames and hooped and shrieked about for a few moments before racing off into the shadows.

Pyrnion swooped down and took down a wight with two strokes of his enchanted hand axe.

“Arakness Aknis Arankinae!"
Alaria called out and fired her ball of milky white light at the dark gowned woman on the dais.

The spell struck and iridescent webbing of light was seen for a moment before the spell simply... vanished.

“Nice try, Magess. But do really think your puny mortal magic can compete with real power?”

“We shall see wyrm!” Alaria replied before again commanding the Ihs Repahl to raise her into the air to avoid the encroaching wights.

Safely out of reach, she rained down fans of violet-blue flames upon the wights coming up behind Haelan, being sure to catch one that was lunging for Buttercream.

There was a thundering crash as Rach’sha, the black behir, came through the front gates, trampling over those unfortunate hobgoblins that didn’t know he was coming or unable to get out of the way in time.

Braddok backed away from the great serpentine draconic form that coiled its way into the hall.

“Yes Mother?! What’s all the commoo-hoohoo-tion?...OOOOHOOHOOHOO! Pink Flesh! You’ve returned.” Rach’sha clapped its front four limbs together as it reared back up to look down over the chaotic melee acting out throughout the hall. “I owe you an acid bath.”

Mother?!' Eeshblek.” Duor said with a shudder.

“Leave the daelvar, Rach‘sha. Kill the rest!” Desaarthal commanded.

“Stormriders, to me!” Alaria called out.

Fen released another ball of green fire into another of the attacking wights. The ‘natural’ magic flame seemed to cause the undead creatures great pain. Before looking up to see the behir at the entrance. A blinding fury filled the half-elf and he bolted for the creature.

Duor and Jovias were scrambling, between and amongst hobgoblins, writhing vines and wights, dodging and tumbling their way back toward the magess who now hovered roughly in the center of the hall.

“HELP!” called out Haelan, who was being physically dragged by two wights toward the dais, limbs flailing but unable to reach his assailants.

“Haelan!” Braddok answered and raced through the hall toward the wights.

*Now we’re talking!* Kandu’s voice sounded in his head. *Finally.*

“Will you shut up and just kill stuff!” Braddok said aloud in annoyance.

Rach’sha took in a great gulp of air, the folds of scaley flesh beneath his snout, where the head met the neck, inflated like a great draconic pelican. Then the behir breathed.

Alaria used the Ihs Repahl to summon up a wall of air and green glowing acid sprayed and rained down all across the enemy forces. Wights, hobgoblins, and more than a little of Fen’s Entanglement vegetation sizzled and hissed as cries of pain went up everywhere.

A bit even sprayed back onto Rach’sha. The behir simply ignored the fluid and shook its head like wet dog to remove the acid that easily slipped off its glossy scaled hide.

Thankfully, Fen had been on the “good” side of the wind wall and the splattering of acid across their enemies seemed to bring him back to his senses.

“Take cover!” the druid commanded in a tone darker than any of the companions had heard before, save Haelan when the druid assaulted Duor in his grief-madness...but the Hilltender had bigger problems.

Braddok sliced one of the wights attempting to block him in two and continued on for the wights dragging.

They were nearing the dais and literally threw the daelvar up onto it. He rolled twice and came to a halt at the feet of Desaarthal.

Haelan looked up at the woman who glared down at him...cold inhuman eyes in a beautiful human face.

Beliviara contro damini" she said. The words dripped from her lovely lips like honey.

Haelan felt a strange sensation...she wasn’t so bad. She was beautiful...and apparently powerful. She had this fortress full of minions that loved her...she couldn’t be so terrible...she might be a good friend to have.

“Give me...your pack...my dear.” Desaarthal said with a gentle loving smile.

“Of course, Dessie. Can I call you Dessie? I won’t if you don’t want me too...but I think it’s a fine name and rolls off the tongue easier than...”

“GIVE ME YOUR PACK!....Please, honey.” Desaarthal interjected with more than a slight loss of temper.

“Haelan, no!” Braddok shouted as he was cutting his way through the two wights blocking him from the dais.

“Well fine. Pff.” Haelan handed over the holding pack. “No need to yell about it. I mean we’re friends after all.”

“Yes, dear. Yes we are. Now be a love and throw up that little protection incantation you use. It’s getting very dangerous around here and I am afraid I might get hurt.”

“Of course! If it’s one thing I can do its protect my friends...I’m all about it...” Haelan began again to ramble, starry-eyed at the dragon-woman.

Haelan invoked sanctuary even as Braddok climbed the steps and made a great arching strike toward Desaarthal.

Kandu’s blue fire burst against the field of silver sparks.

A roaring rose up, echoing through the hall as green swirling light began to take shape into a vortex emanating from the twirling leaf-tip spear at the opposite side of the hall. Fen had summoned up a storm of hail, ice and frozen winds even as Alaria assaulted Rach’sha with a blast of lightning.

Pyrnion was busy swooping in the slice up wights and what few hobgoblins survived and were trying to work their way around their flanks, while simultaneously assisting Duor and Jovias, who seemed the worse for wear.

“Haelan, take down the spell!” Braddok shouted. “She’s charmed you! She’s the dragon! We have to stop her!” He made another swipe at the mystic barrier but knew it was pointless.

“Pff. I knoooow she’s the dragon, Braddok. But she’s so nice. You’ve got her all wrong..and you were just going to hurt her. I can’t have my friends attacking each other...I mean, what is this world coming to when a human and daelvar and dragon-turned-lady-wizard can’t just get along?”

“Indeed. Well said my champion.” Desaarthal said with a sly grin at Braddok. She opened the pack and removed a few simple items, tossing them to the floor, before pulling out the grey and red-flecked stone food-producing bowl. “Ah, here it is.”

“Oh that’s what you wanted? It does make the most delightful mutton pasties. Have you ever been to the Wyvern’s Wing Inn in Daenfrii?” Haelan said without a care.

“No my dear. But I think I may soon visit.” Desaarthal said with a smile. “Thank you, Hilltender, you’ve been a wonderful help.”

“Well of course, you’re wellllcommOH?” Haelan began to say as the dragon-lady picked the daelvar up by the scruff of the neck, with one hand, and flung him through the air at Braddok.

The Hilltender’s crossing the perimeter of the Sanctuary dismissed the spell, but the swordsman had no choice but to catch the flying hairfoot, as the two fell backwards off the three shallow steps of the dais.

Desaarthal’s cackle again filled the chamber as she said “Kill them ALL!” and disappeared, surrounded in a globe of darkness that dissipated as Alaria’s energy darts flew through them to flash, harmlessly into the stone wall behind.
The dragon was gone. Or, at least no longer in the chamber.

There were no more wights to worry about. The hobgoblins, after heavy casualties, were regrouping behind the behir who was, actually, taking significant damage from the magical assaults from Alaria and Fen.

Pyrnion, Jovias and Duor were picking off what hobgoblins they could with bows and sneak attacks from their flanks.

Once Braddok was sure that Haelan sustained no permanent damage, the two raced back for the battle at the main gates.

“Can you get it outside?!” Braddok shouted over the roaring winds being poured out by the magess and druid.

Alaria nodded. Not a bad idea. Something else she hadn’t thought of. Alaria put that bit of chastisement away for the time being. Gods willing she will have plenty of time for self-recrimination later. With a significant effort, she generated a whirlwind beneath the front half of the behir.

“Oohoohoohoo! Pink flesh, that tickles! HooohoohooOOhoo!” Rach’sha tittered.

Between the two casters, the behir was forced out the gates and swept many of the assembling hobgoblins behind it.

Pyrnion and Braddok grabbed the massive multi-storied stone doors and began straining to move them.

“Get...these...closed...” the swordsman strained with effort.

Both the zephari and Grinlian were sent reeling when a great wind whipped up and slammed the gates shut with a massive crash.

“Kantel Arkanum!” <mage spell: wizard lock> Alaria shouted as she floated over to the doors and pressed her open palm upon it. She then lowered herself to the ground.

Suddenly, the great echoing hall was silent. Corpses and pieces of corpses were scattered around the room.

“Now that...will make a song.” Jovias said as he slumped down to the floor, back against a pillar, blood streaming from multiple wounds.

The companions just looked at the near death satyr.

“I mean, ya know...if we live long enough to get out of here.” Jovias admitted before slipping into unconsciousness.
 

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