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The Fall of Civilization

the Jester

Legend
Billions of years ago, in a multiverse long devoured:

Boccob the Uncaring, god of knowledge and magic, most omniscient being on or near the world of Oerth known to many as Greyhawk, was troubled. The tangled skein that was reality trembled, a spiderweb intercepting a bird too large to hold. Things threatened to snap. Something- or someone- was putting terrible stress on the structure of reality.

Boccob's great third eye opened, set in his brow. It peered at the trembles, at the quivering wave rolling through the Multiverse. It was thin, silver-green, full of a type of energy that worried the Uncaring One a great deal- for it was temporal energy, and soon his analysis led him to a terrible understanding: it was enough energy to rewrite the world, yet what he perceived was only the barest stirrings of its influence.

At first he thought Lendor, the god of time, had a hand in it; but none of the strings or streamers led to her. None of her traditional servants were near it- in fact, it almost seemed as though they were artfully deflected from noticing it. It would require the handiwork of someone both very powerful and very subtle...

Then the vibrations appeared to cease.

Only his amazing perceptions allowed even Boccob to note that they had actually only 'hopped' to another era, a few decades in the future. Until that time came, he could not actively study the energies involved, for they had become invisible; but he could cogitate on them, considering their implications.

Each time they sprang up again, Boccob peered at them carefully. And he came to a conclusion: someone from the future was tampering with the timestream. At first he thought that the individual- or individuals- were being very careful to avoid notice or change their own past; but after the third time the energies cropped up, he came to the grim conclusion that they
were making changes, but that one or more of the time travelers was working to do so secretly, from within their cabal.

By that time Lendore, along with many of the gods that had been around when the energies' arrival had drawn his attention, was dead. Oerth's move into a new sign of the Zodiac had seen to that. But, his awareness driven to new levels of perspicacity by his paranoia over the temporal disturbance, Boccob managed not only to survive but to retain his entire portfolio.

Little did he realize that, in retaining his entire portfolio, he had ensured that the changes in his time stream would run out of control, for he was meant to lose his mastery of magic to Maltar, successor to Wee Jas and master of Walpyvmyr in the Sea of Dust. And as the centuries before Tharizdun's awakening passed, more and more changes to what had been accumulated. When the alliance of deities known as the Blood Gods struck, attempting to assassinate their rivals in the pantheon and absorb their energies, different figures were lined up on each side than should have been.

Tade, the god of blacksmiths, was meant to die, the first to fall under the Blood Gods' assault. Instead, Boccob gathered him and the others that were instrumental to his plan, and they hid within a sphere called Eye. Within this small orb, Boccob manipulated the time travelers, whom he had sought out and confronted not long before, into taking Eye with them back to their reality- for he had learned that Oerth was doomed to annihilation, consumption by He Who Must Not Be Named- Tharizdun, Fiend-Father, Evil-Birther, the Consumer of All that Is, Was or Shall Be.

When the heroes vanished, careening through Darkhold and finally out into the newly birthed world of Cydra, Boccob and his allies revealed themselves to the heroes- Lester, Hobbes, Thimbleton, Malford and the rest. Then they vanished, and Boccob assumed that was the last that any of them would ever see or hear of their lost world.

In the confusion of the events surrounding the temporal manipulations, however, things were overlooked by everyone involved- or almost everyone.

One of the time travelers had originally been from the era of Oerth's final apocalypse, and he and his allies had slipped back to the past once before to change history and prevent the destruction of the world, attempting to carefully manipulate events for thousands of years in order to prevent the tragic mistakes that ultimately led to the wakening of Tharizdun. They failed, and one of their number- Scytale- escaped via a place called Darkhold, which was a completely separate reality that merely touched upon Oerth. When things fell apart, the Master of Darkhold sealed his dimension off from the Prime Material Plane so that Tharizdun might not touch him; and Scytale was one of a precious few individuals that the Master chose to save. When the heroes of Cydra persuaded the Master to help send them back to Oerth to obtain what they needed to imprison Tharizdun again, it was Scytale that the Master sent to aid them. After all, he knew the old world, he knew the periods of time that the party needed to reach, and most of all- he knew the dangers inherent in temporal manipulation.

Scytale was the one that had worked subtly from within to change things.
Of course he had. Hadn't he and his fellows risked everything to change their own past before? Scytale had no compunctions about attempting to manipulate events into a new channel. He knew that Oerth couldn't be saved, but perhaps there were those of his people that could be. To form a bridge, however tenuous, between Oerth and Cydra was impossible while he was in Oerth, for Cydra did not yet exist. It was impossible while he was in Cydra, for Oerth no longer existed. What was needed was an element of Cydra that might remain in the Oerthian past. He could then attach one end of a chronal tether to it, stretch the tether itself through Darkhold and onto Cydra, and- with luck- his people would find it and follow it back. Moreover, such dweomers were foreign to the servants of Tharizdun; and if anything touched by such forces were to attempt the tether, it would shred apart, casting them out to a Nowhere between moments.

When the heroes battled Felenga the Dark One over a cloud castle staffed with undead demons and horrid mutants, they lost one of their number- captured and horribly mutilated by the lich they were fighting. Fleeing for their lives, they left her behind and made their escape to Darkhold, assuming that she was dead and certain that the imminent destruction of Oerth would prevent Tharizdun's servants from making sport of her soul for long.

But even the smallest moment may stretch very long indeed when manipulated by a master of the magic called chronomancy...


***

Out of the rune-graver's chamber our heroes move, back and through one of the multitude of secret doors that they have found. It leads to a balcony overlooking a most impressive chamber, well over 100' wide. The ceiling vaults to a peak 30' above the floor; the balcony is 10' below the ceiling. Blue-white globes of steady light with no obvious source line the ceiling, providing good illumination throughout the giant chamber. The walls are painted with hundreds of frescoes and strange hieroglyphics recounting many tales of the island and the strange college that our heroes are exploring. “Elves and dwarves,” comments Heimall, looking over some of the images.

“Eladrin,” corrects Iggy with a sigh.

Three huge books made of beaten silver fused with stone dominate the floor, all open to pages with actual writing in them. Iggy and Hkatha examine them; the first is a discussion of basic magical theory, the second a discussion of logic and the third a discussion of the importance of curiosity and attention.

“Interesting,” murmurs the tiefling. “These look to be part of the foundation of some kind of philosophy or religion.”

The books are huge. Each page measures a full ten feet in length and close to half that in width; the books and the pedestals that they are on reach a height of five feet. Huge shelves with many books upon them stand 10' high along each of the long walls; sadly, it is obvious that the books are in terrible shape, having been damaged by moisture and mold.

It isn't until the party's examination of the area is well underway that the guardians emerge. Hidden in a small alcove beneath the balcony, three things issue forth. Though they are vaguely humanoid in form, they are composed of ragged pieces of armor and weapons, wands wrapped in old cloaks to form “bones”, empty bottles and other old debris. Iggy catches sight of them and gives a cry of horror.

“What are they?” asks Vann-La, pulling her blade.

“Guardian creatures made of used up magic items!” Iggy replies. “They're called grisgols. Watch out- they are resistant to arcane magic!”

Our heroes move to intercept the grisgols, hoping to keep them away from the wizards. Even though the grisgols are resistant to their powers, neither Ligir nor Hkatha flinches from the fight; the eladrin pulls a bead from his necklace of fireballs and lets fly while Hkatha casts a terrible lightning serpent that catches one of the grisgols.

Vann-La brings her sword around in a sweeping arc, savagely hewing into the rod that composes the arm of the closest enemy. Her blow triggers a burst of dust that causes her to choke and wheeze, barely able to defend herself!*

Then a burst of sacred flame blows it back a pace, and Torinn draws his magical dagger- which quickly shapes itself into an executioner's axe at his muttered command. Another sacred flame buys his companions a precious moment of breathing space, and then a pair of glowing hands appear, grabbing at the enemies and knocking them together with terrific force!

The grisgols are far from helpless, however. They pummel our heroes with dusty slams, and almost every blow on them raises a cloud of choking dust. Worse yet, one of them unleashes a blast of waves of weakness, leaving several of the adventurers trembling with fatigue until they can recover themselves.

But our heroes are mighty. They are not to be denied. Together, Vann-La, Summer and Heimall manage to shatter one grisgol into so many component pieces.

Unfortunately, that is the trigger that summons the other guardians. In a flash of brilliant argent radiance, two strange snake-like things appear, glowing with energy. Each has a single arm protruding from it, and all around them, everything- the walls, the floor, the books- starts to move as if imbued with life.**

Torinn yelps as the floor slams him with a mighty blow. The two strange serpentine monsters fly towards him through the air, lashing out with their tails. Each contact delivers a terrific jolt of radiant power to him. The Dragon of Fandelose cries out with each blow.

The grisgols keep fighting too, but by now they are both in bad shape, with odd alchemical fluids and powders leaking everywhere. Cook dances in behind one of them and bashes the helmet that serves as its head with his frying pan, knocking it clean off and finishing the monster; the final one falls to the pair of Bigby's grasping hands that Iggy conjured.

The two serpent-monsters, now the only targets, start trying to retreat, but Vann-La delivers an appalling crunch that wounds the first one badly; then Summer finishes it with a zealous strike and a scream of victory. The last one dies under the tender ministrations of Throat-Ripper, leaving Heimall covered in shimmering, silvery fluid.

Gasping, our heroes gather their wits and catch their collective breath. Heimall braces the morale of the wounded, while Torinn's divine powers knit broken skin and close bleeding wounds. Then, once everyone has recovered sufficiently, the group spends some moments looking for anything valuable in the bookshelves or the alcove the grisgols were in, but it soon becomes obvious that a thorough search will take hours.

“We should come back to this later,” Torinn asserts. The others agree; there is a very real chance that some good information will be in the place.

“As far as I can figure, though,” Heimall tells the others, “whatever is going on here only involves Arawn a little bit. These two wizards at war- well, it really doesn't sound like anything to do with us or our mission.”

“Except that they might be in our way,” Summer says.

“True enough. But if not, I think we should try to stay out of their mess. I don't see what we have to gain by getting involved.”

“Just complications, I'll bet,” Iggy opines.

Four halls lead out of the room from the balcony; three end in secret doors our heroes have already located from the other side (including the passage that they entered via). The final one leads to more guards, but this time our heroes grimly recognize them for what they are: more deodanths, supported by a battle guardian. Our heroes move to the attack, only to find that the chamber also contains temporal ripples that distort the fabric of time, leaving them at a profound disadvantage in the chamber. They feel a simultaneous lethargy and energizing effect, as if they were simultaneously aging fast and growing ever younger. Strange energies race through the chamber, stressing the bodies of both our heroes and their foes, but Torinn manages to suppress the temporal distortions long enough for the overwhelming force our heroes bring to bear to slay the enemies.

Another short rest, this one back in the chamber with the great books, and our heroes debate taking the one exit from the guardian chamber they just cleared out. “I can probably suppress the ripple for a few minutes again,” Torinn says hesitantly.

“Why don't Iggy and I try to help as well?” offers Hkatha. “That way, at least one of us is bound to succeed.”

The party halts at the edge of the chamber with the temporal ripples distorting it. Torinn, Hkatha and Iggy reach out with their will, each trying to force the fabric of time to settle into its normal shape for a few short moments. Then the party dashes through the room as quickly as they can, reaching the hall that leads out. Filing down it, they quickly reach another room- but this one is about as odd as they come, having a weird shape almost like multiple rooms that have had all the walls between them removed. At the center is a portal that keeps morphing from one shape to another, surrounded by runes graven in the stone floor around it. Something about the room makes everyone's hair stand on end. Something cloudlike shifts and shimmers in the chamber, constantly moving from one place to another, a strange silver-green color. Somehow it seems to move both swiftly and at a leisurely pace. The whole chamber is moreover filled with a howling tempest of silvery sand, scouring the chamber and yet easily penetrated by vision. And finally, towards the far end of the chamber, a great pillar of grey material that is visibly crumbling into dust and yet never fully decays stands ominously nor far from the central portal.

“Oi,” says Cook nervously, “is anyone hungry?”

Next Time: What's behind the warm door?


*In game terms, this was an immediate reaction that left her dazed (save ends).

**In case you're wondering- and IIRC the pcs did NOT identify these beasties- they are ravids, from 2e Planescape and the 3e Monster Manual. They were fun to convert to 4e, and I don't think I had ever used them before!
 

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the Jester

Legend
“What in the name of Lester is all that?” exclaims Torinn.

“It doesn't feel natural,” Summer says ominously. She shakes her head. “I don't like it.”

Iggy, Hkatha and Torinn study the confused howling mass of silver-green sand as it blows violently throughout the chamber. Iggy comments, “Clearly, there are some kinds of time-distorting effects in there.”

“That portal- what do you suppose it is?” asks Vann-La. “Do you think it has something to do with the Six-Fingered Hand? With Arawn?”

“Remember that inscription we found in the art gallery?” Heimall exclaims. “It referred to Arawn and the Six-Fingered Hand like they were things of the past. Maybe this portal is how they got to us, here, er, now.”

“Maybe,” concedes Hkatha. “So what do we do about it?”

“Maybe if we got close enough, we could learn something, or even cut Arawn off before his attacks bring down the Empire,” Vann-La suggests.

“We probably don't all need to go in, just someone with the expertise to figure out what's going on in there.” Heimall looks at the others. “I don't know enough about magic, myself,” he admits, “but I'm sure one of us does...”

There was a time when Iggy would have cried out, I'm not even supposed to be here! But that time is gone. Since the Siege of Fandelose, his sense of responsibility has grown, his sense of duty has gripped him ever tighter. So without hesitation, he steps to the edge of the room and announces, “I'll do it.”

Then he edges his way into the room.

Immediately the lashing sand buffets him, but it is strangely strengthless. He can feel acutely the sense of wonder he had as a youth, bizarrely overlaid upon a canvas of the ennui and cynicism that he will develop as an old man. Bracing himself, Ligir slowly advances- and, about 20' into the chamber, suddenly runs into an invisible curtain of sheer agony.

His head explodes with remembered pain- the first time he was mocked as a child, the beating he was administered in basic training by an overzealous sergeant who didn't understand his position, the fear and pain and taste of smoke as he fled Chebbonay to become a refugee and eventual hero, the time he was derided by his fey peers for failing to see an elementary answer to an elementary question during his study of magic and more; emotional pain, yes, but physical too- the agony of the first time he was stabbed, that rusty goblin scimitar tearing that terrific gash on his thigh all over again; the wrenching pain that came when he dislocated his shoulder falling from a tree as a young lad; the agony of chains whipping around his legs and almost shattering his knees as the xvart slavers attempted to capture them. A million hurts, old, new, in between, brought back to him with stunning force.

Iggy collapses weakly to the ground with a groan, shaking.

“Iggy!” cries Cook, rushing into the room before anyone can restrain him. Most of the others follow without a thought. The dwarf reaches Iggy's side just as a sudden burst of the tempestuous winds hurls the wizard back to the edge of the chamber. With a shuddering cry, he drags himself out of the room.

The others, meanwhile, find themselves being overwhelmed by temporal distortions. The billowing cloud flows towards Vann-La, and the Kree elf's movements slow. “Waaatcchhh oooouuutttt,” she cries slowly, her voice strangely drawn out and lowered in pitch below that of even Torinn.

“Get out of there!” yells Heimall, who remains at the edge of the chamber, just outside.

“Oi, there are visions!” Cook shouts, staggering about in confusion. “Ai! Oi! What is happening?? It is like my youth, and things yet to be... aiii!!” Stumbling, he heads back towards the entrance. The others decide that this is the best approach they can take for the moment, and retreat towards Heimall and Ligir.

“Speed,” croaks Iggy, shaking his head. Puffs of greenish dust come off him, dwindling and vanishing into nothingness. “At least the, uh, the tempest fugit- the storm of sand. It is attracted to speed. We could probably avoid its attentions if we move fast enough.”

Vann-La, who has shaken off the strange effects of the chronal drift, says, “But there are more issues than just the storm.”

The party discusses the room and the hazards (or traps?) found within it. The tempest fugit seems to both lacerate and push creatures in the room back towards the entrance. The chronal drift- the distinct cloud that attacked and slowed Vann-La- went for her almost as if it were sentient. Hkatha speculates that it might have been drawn to either living things or movement. The pillar, crumbling but never completely decaying, is as yet an unknown quantity. Then there is whatever struck Iggy down; it dealt a vicious stroke of psychic damage to him, as well as leaving him on the ground.

“And the rune circle,” Torinn adds. “We don't know if that's dangerous yet, but I'll bet it is.”

Reluctantly, our heroes decide to leave this strange area until later. Perhaps there are clues to its secrets elsewhere in the Terran Undercollege, and certainly there are a lot of areas that our heroes have yet to explore. So- at least for now- the time distortion area (for lack of a better term) will have to wait.

Back up the hall, then, through the other room with temporal effects- which the wizards and Torinn again suppress- and to the room with the huge books. Then further back, to a door that they have not yet breached. But when they approach closely, they can feel heat radiating from behind it.

“Maybe there's a nice fireplace,” Cook says hopefully.

No such luck. Behind the door are a pair of adjoined rooms; one of them holds a pit of lava in it. Worse yet, there are four tough-looking creatures in the room. One is a looming humanoid wrapped in chains; the others are salamanders, ablaze with flames.

Iggy, naturally, shoots from the hip. The report of his pistol echoes as his bullet slams into the chain-wrapped creature (A kyton? he thinks, then: No, it's too big- it's a gorechain devil.). He fires again, and the devil grunts as a second bullet hits him as well. Cook's distance shuriken zings past him, hits the devil- and then ricochets into one of the salamanders!

It's a good start, and our heroes are just getting started. Vann-La charges in, pushing the gorechain devil (which is blocking the deeper room) out of the way with a tide of iron, while Torinn fires a sacred flame at the devil.

Poor devil, it just isn't his day!

Although the salamanders prove to be quite hot- their very touch burns- our heroes are far too efficient. Heimall helps Vann-La surround the foe, Summer assumes the form of winter's herald and fights fire with cold and Vann-La opens up a can of whoop ass with a rain of steel.

There just isn't much a poor band of hapless salamanders can do, under the circumstances. Once the party has dealt with them and their flaming blood has guttered and gone out, they examine the room more closely. Some basic smithing tools are in the inner chamber, but the magma pit is obviously the most interesting feature. Cook warns the others to stay away; magma, as he puts it, is “pretty hot”.*

There is another door out of the room, so the party opens it and finds a hallway leading away. After 20' it opens up into a chamber; the party moves up to investigate. Many stalactites dangle from the ceiling, a large opening leads into a dark room to the left and two doors adorn the opposite wall.

The party starts to move towards the opening, and two things happen at once.

First, their light reaches the back of the western chamber, revealing a large nest of hewed wood, flesh and gear and excrement all mashed together and glued with some sort of spittle. Eyes glitter when the light reaches them- and sudden beams of extreme power gather and fire at the party!

The second thing that happens, as the party moves into the room, is that the stalactites start to fall towards them with impaling force- and they move on the ceiling to get a better shot.

Next Time: Serious old school 1e monsters- piercers and eye killers!


*Had anyone ended up in the pool of lava, they would have received 2d12+20 points of fire damage plus ongoing 20 fire (save ends once the character is out of the pit); Aftereffect: ongoing 10 fire (save ends); Aftereffect: ongoing 5 fire (save ends). OUCH!!!
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Finally all caught up. Great stuff Jester. Really enjoying the read. Keep it up...interersted to see how this all comes together.

--SD
 

the Jester

Legend
The battle is harrowing. The things in the nest are like a cross between a serpent and a bat, and when the light reaches their eyes, it is gathered, intensified, and finally reflected in a beam of destructive power. Even as they face these strange monsters, our heroes are bombarded from above by the false stalactites.

Yet they win through, hacking the piercers to bits and blasting the eye killers with pistol and spell. Regrouping, the heroes regain their breaths and resume their exploration, pushing through several more chambers and halls.

Yet the strange area with the temporal distortions continues to entice their curiosity. What is beyond the door that leads out the far side of it? The party discusses it. “It's got to be important,” Vann-La says. “Someone had to go to a lot of effort to set up all that temporal magic.”

“Manipulating time is never easy,” confirms Iggy. “That would have taken a lot of effort. I can't imagine someone doing all that just for kicks.”

Indeed not.

***

Reaching the door isn't easy. The party has to work together to overcome the traps and obstacles in the way. The circle of runes turns out to unleash a pulse of force that pushes anyone close to it back across the room. But Cook manages to disable it by destroying some of the runes while Vann-La soaks up the power of the moment of agony by embracing it, taking it within herself. Persevering through the slowing storm requires fierce determination and a struggle against it, but finally, they reach the door.

The air seems to settle into sudden stillness around them as they push the door open.

***

It is like falling into a swirling storm of moments from a billion lives. Flashes of a beautiful eladrin woman, an amulet around her neck, casting impossibly powerful spells, destroying entire buildings with a single gesture; a face, fishbelly white, with black, staring eyes and greasy hair, surrounded by a silver-green halo, who seems to spy the party as they rip past him; a man, duplicated over and over again, each version better and more powerful than the one before; a figure in wizards’ robes, human, vanishing from in front of a swinging sword just barely in time... a bald, alien-looking figure of unknown species, with six arms, sinking in some kind of greenish-silver sand... a barren land, with strange lines of vegetation criss-crossing it...

Then the succession of images blurs into incomprehensibility as the party approaches infinity. Feelings, thoughts and images tear through their minds, disorienting, overwhelming. The party seems to be falling through a storm of moments as they swim through the timestream at incredible speed. It is enough to drive men mad... or for a group to find themselves lost for all eternity in the Plane of Time.

Hkatha feels the temporal storm threatening to toss them into the depths of the plane. He reaches out with his arcane skills, trying to guide the group through the maelstrom of moments without harm. His arms are scored by the future, furrows of age ripping into him. He groans.

“You can do it!” Heimall exhorts, and Hkatha redoubles his efforts.

Iggy and Cook add their mental efforts to Hkatha's, and the party members grab each other, holding hands or cloaks so as not to be separated. The buffeting of the winds of time increases, howling, the sands all around the heroes turning black.

Time itself is groaning in protest. The din rises; time is screaming.

Only the tether allows them to travel this path. Though they don't know it is there, they set it to vibrating.

And then they arrive, sprawling, cast in a heap, shrouded in silver-green sand, lacerated and fatigued. They are on a flagstoned floor, covered in thick crimson carpeting. Light spills in from one direction, where a pair of great double doors stand open, revealing an apocalyptic, blasted landscape, a range of mountains, some of which burn and give off foul vapors. What little vegetation is visible is mostly blackened and dead.

“Where the hell are we?” Summer groans.

“Oi, more like when, I think,” Cook replies.

“This is some kind of temple.” Torinn looks around, fascinated. Opposite the doors, leading deeper into the building, a short hall leads to a thick scarlet curtain. He brushes himself off as Ligir joins Heimall at the exit, staring out across the land.

“I don't see anything alive,” Heimall says quietly.

“Guys,” Torinn calls, pushing the curtain aside. “In here.” Globes of ruddy light glow in the short hallway, making his scales look black. The party follows him cautiously.

“So,” a voice rasps from beyond, “someone has survived.”

The chamber revealed is a great fane, draped in red. At the end are three great statues. Each depicts a copper-skinned, red-eyed entity, humanoid, with elvish features, yet very clearly not elven. They stand behind an altar, on which a still form lies, a dagger still clutched in one hand, throat slit. Blood drips from the sides of the altar.

As if the shadows have coalesced, a figure steps from the darkness between the statues. It is one of the people depicted by the statues, the one who is clearly the central figure. His eyes gleam, almost glowing. His face seems set in a perpetual sneer. He wears all gray, with a cloak of black. An amulet hangs around his neck, its plate holding a huge, eye-shaped bloodstone. The hilt of the sword sheathed at his side resembles ropes twining around more bloodstone eyes.

“Who are you?” demands Torinn, and the figure draws back as if startled. “Why did you kill that man?”

A harsh laugh that sounds of disbelief. “Who am I? Who are you, not to know? Don't you have the Locus?”

Vann-La asks, “The what?”

The man stares at Torinn, his gaze sliding down to the Silver Rose of Garnet at his neck. “Do you serve the Triple Goddess?”

“I serve Lester,” the dragonborn replies, “and adventure.”

Peering closer, the red-eyed stranger mutters, “You're not a draconian. What are you?”

“I'm a dragonborn.”

“I think we're in the past,” Hkatha says. “But who are you? And why did you kill that man?” He gestures at the figure slumped on the altar.

“I am Maltar Dead,” the man proclaims, “and that man was my last priest. I did not kill him. He killed himself, to summon me here, I presume to witness the end.” He frowns again, eyes narrowing. “And you cannot be from the future.

”There is no future.”

***

After this depressing proclamation, the party accompanies Maltar back to the temple doors. The mountains are crumbling visibly, and something ineffable and black is eating the sky.

Our heroes tell Maltar an abbreviated and hurried version of their story. When they mention the name “Fray”, he starts, then curses long and hard. “I take it you know her,” Iggy says, and Maltar answers with a snarl.

“Don't trust her,” he growls, “not ever.”

“There could be more than one Fray,” Heimall suggests.

“Like a lich, she will return after being slain. She must have found a way out, to wherever you're all from. But He Who Must Not Be Named is going to devour it all!” He glares at them. “But that explains how you're alive. You weren't here yet when they ended all life.”

“What? Who?” exclaims Hkatha. “How?”

“Our heroes,” Maltar answers. “Our failed heroes. They were trying to stop the Angels of the Apocalypse. They used the Locus. But even it wasn't enough...” He stares into the distance for a moment, watching as a distant mountain erupts, exploding into magma. “What else did you see on your journey through time?”

When they describe the pale, greasy man, Maltar snarls again, but he only says not to trust him, either.

“Fray is powerful and smart enough to outwit a god,” he says. “If she's your enemy, you're going to need every bit of help you can get.” His eyes glitter. “I would love to confront her myself, but my battle is in the pool, against He Who Must Not Be Named. But I can give you things that might help you.” The group follows him back into the fane, to the altar. He pushes the body of his last priest aside and it slides lifelessly to the floor. Bending down, Maltar pushes on a corner of the altar, and a secret compartment springs open. He pulls out a wand, an axe, a ring, a cloak, a suit of scale armor, and a suit of leather armor. “Take these,” he commands. “They might be enough to turn the tide for you, though I doubt it. But there is no time to seek out anything more. As long as the door through time remains, He Who Must Not Be Named might find it.”

All around them, the temple trembles, and the earth groans.

“Regretfully, I cannot come with you and aid you directly,” Maltar continues. “But I can do this.” He unbuckles his sword belt and passes it, along with his blade, to Vann-La. “My weapon will serve you well against Fray. It is called Killing Spree.” Then he draws the amulet he wears over his head and hands it to Hkatha. “And this is called Walpyvmyr.”

“Thank you,” says Vann-La gravely. Hkatha pulls the amulet on.

“Now you must go,” Maltar snaps. “Ironically- there is no more time.” He makes a gesture, and our heroes find themselves fading back into the maelstrom. And suddenly they are snapping through the silver whirlwind again, ripping through vast gulfs of time as if they were passing through walls of paper. And behind them- if there were any such direction during such a journey- the black jaws of oblivion snap shut.

Next Time: Our heroes move on toward their final confrontation with Arawn!
 

the Jester

Legend
For the record, this is the skill challenge I used for the trip through the door into time.

Setup: To successfully pass through the Door into Time, the pcs must navigate through the skill challenge. Failure is unusually damning.

Level: 17
Complexity: 5 (requires 12 successes before 3 failures)
Primary Skills: Arcana, Endurance, Insight, Perception, Religion
Secondary Skills: Acrobatics

Acrobatics (DC 30; no successes): The character concentrates on avoiding the oncoming memories and moments. He does not suffer an end of turn effect this round of the skill challenge, but doesn't gain a success.

Arcana (DC 30; 1 success, no maximum): The character uses his knowledge of magic to help guide the party through the maelstrom of moments without harm. If he succeeds, the character may choose between two end of turn effects rolled by the dm.

Endurance (DC 25; 1 success, maximum of 1 by each pc): With an Endurance check, the character manages to simply hold on against the trauma of the journey out of one timestream and into the remnants of another. In addition to gaining a success, if the character gets a DC 30, he avoids receiving an end of turn effect.

Insight (DC 23; 1 success, maximum 4 successes): The character’s self-awareness helps him to withstand the onslaught of images and feelings that runs through him. He gains resist 10 psychic against this turn’s end of turn effect.

Perception (DC 27; 1 success, maximum 2 successes): The character attempts to guide the party through the storm of temporal events without harm using her incredible senses. In addition to gaining a success, for every 2 points by which she beats the DC, the character allows one pc to avoid his next end of turn effect.

Religion (DC 27; 1 success, no maximum): By clinging to faith, the character holds onto sanity and helps to guide his friends. The character gains resist 6 necrotic and psychic against any end of turn effect; in addition, if he ages, the amount that he ages is reduced by 4 years.

Complications: At the end of each character’s turn, roll on the following chart to see what misfortune might befall him.

d% Roll --- Result
01-30 --- Character is hit by a rough experience for 2d6+6 psychic damage and - 2 on next skill check.
31-50 --- Character is hit by a concentrated patch of time and ages 2d6 years.
51-60 --- Character is filled with inertia and is slowed until the end of the party’s next encounter.
61-75 --- Character puts five wear points on items, distributed as he chooses (with dm approval).
76-90 --- Part of character’s body ages more than the rest, dealing 3d6+6 necrotic damage.
91-00 --- Character sapped of energy; lose 1 action point. If the character doesn’t have one, he instead loses 2 healing surges.

Success: If the party succeeds at the skill challenge, they arrive in area 87 on sublevel 6B.

Failure: In addition to suffering the full effect of whatever end of turn effect smites a character that fails a check, other bad things happen. Each time a character gets a failure in the skill challenge, one of two things happens, depending on what skill the character was using.

Arcana, Insight, Religion: The character goes a little bit crazy and gains 1 insanity point. A character with 1 insanity point starts to act a little bit weird at times. With 2 insanity points, the character gains a non-dangerous obsession or minor, non-debilitating phobia. With 3 insanity points, roll 3d34 on the Random Insanity Chart on page 88 of Players Option: Spells & Magic.

Endurance, Perception: The character is tugged somewhat away from the other party members. Rope and similar items will not be able to pull him back, because they will be destroyed by entropic processes, but he remains close enough to see and shout to. If a character fails a second time, he drifts further away; a third failure means that the character is lost elsewhere in the Plane of Time than the rest of the party.

If the party actually fails the skill challenge, they wind up lost in the Plane of Time.
 

the Jester

Legend
The first changes go unnoticed, as Vann-La is in the front of the group, face forward, looking ahead. But eventually, the others see- her eyes have turned scarlet and gleaming.

“Maybe we should be careful about these things,” Hkatha says, fingering the amulet around his neck and nodding at Vann-La's new sword.

“I think we're fine,” the elf responds, and continues to lead the party onward, Killing Spree in hand.

***

A pause to confer on strategy leads to a decision: they will seek a way down and try to find the death knight- and perhaps the beholder- that their rituals told them was there. “Even though it's not Arawn, it sounds like one of his generals,” Heimall states. “At least if we destroy it now, there's no chance of Arawn calling another death knight to help him when we finally find him.”

So, Vann-La leading, the heroes find their way down. They are not unopposed. A horde of grimlocks attacks them in one place, which holds signs of the beholder's sometime presence. Demons and undead strike them from the wings. But our heroes make their relentless way forward until, at last, they find the death knight, Cardinal Fell.

Fell broods at a font sticky with half-dried blood. He wears mail beneath a tattered tabard that is adorned with the Black Sun, symbol of Bleak. A wicked-looking flanged mace hangs at his side. Three billymen- naked demons devoted to Bleak, with the bodies of men but the heads of goats- move restlessly around the room, their chests painted with the same symbol. Two churning nightmares hang in the air, formless, fanged, tentacled, ever-changing, radiating terror. A black firepit emits black flames that give off no light.

The party's light sources dim, their illumination growing feeble and drawing in close to the source.

Fell turns, straightening, and draws his mace. “Strangers!” he cries. “I, Cardinal Fell, welcome you!” The billymen start to move toward Vann-La. “I have been looking for another sacrifice!” His loud cackle echoes through the dank chamber as the billymen thrust their hands upward, stabbing at the sky.

More billymen appear.

“Uh-oh,” says Vann-La, and strikes, cutting one of the new arrivals' head from its body in a single stroke, then advancing into the center. Killing Spree lashes out, emitting a quiet moan as it tastes blood.

The others attack as well. The summoned billymen fall easily, and Torinn rushes to engage the death knight.

“I will give your soul to Bleak!” the black cardinal howls, and summons an inky blob of darkness that launches itself onto Torinn's head. Then, while the dragonborn is blinded, Fell hits him with a mighty blow, smiting him.

The churning nightmare creatures send rivers of pure fear into our heroes, threatening to strip away their will to fight. “You can do it!” cries Heimall. “GIT!” -and Vann-La disembowels one of the billyman summoners. Spells detonate, flames and force alike ripping into the strange phantasmal slayers. Ligir's gun barks, and the death knight staggers back.

And heals itself.

“Lester's arm!” swears Torinn. “Stop that!!”

Fell gnashes his teeth, promises, “I will keep you alive for a week of torture!”, and unleashes a blast of unholy flames at the party.

Vann-La staggers, but Torinn uses his healing word to keep her from falling. Heimall contnues to shore the party up as well. No one is close to falling- except Cardinal Fell.

The party presses in, Heimall fending off the last phantasmal slayer with Gut-Ripper as Hkatha's magic finishes the last billyman. The death knight continues to fight back, but Torinn, Heimall, and Vann-La close in on him from three sides.

“Arawn will kill you all!” the cardinal shrieks. “Even now, he kills the last of the dwarves in the mountains! There is no one left to rescue you!”

“We aren't the ones in need of rescue,” Torinn retorts, landing another blow.

“Aagh! You fools,” Cardinal Fell spits, “none of you will survive! This is the end for you!”

“It's the end for someone, all right,” Vann-La says, and stabs the death knight through the throat. Fell staggers back, gasping, unable to speak for tbe moment, wobblind and barely still afoot- and an iron pan slams down on its head from behind, crunching through the bones of the skull and flattening the body to the ground.

“Oi, you talk too much,” Cook exclaims.

***

The party is troubled by Fell's words about the dwarves, but uncertain what they can do about it. After all, they don't even know their way out of this place.

“We should go up,” Ligir says. “Try to help those dwarves.” Cook nods in agreement.

“Agreed,” Hkatha answers, “but we need to kill that beholder first.”

There is silence for a moment, then Vann-La sighs. “Hkatha's right. If we don't get it now, Arawn will bring it to us later, and we'll have to fight them both at once.”

“We might not have time, if we're going to help those dwarves,” Torinn objects.

“Well, we don't know where they are or how far away they are. Not to mention that we don't know how to get to the surface. And we're here now. We've seen signs of the beholder. We have an idea of which direction to look in.” The Kree shrugs. “I think it makes sense.”

Hkatha adds, “And if we can find it when we're fresh, we're far better off than if we face it after we've had to hack our way through hundreds of Arawn's minions.”

The party agrees, given the impracticality of helping the dwarves, that they don't have any real choice.

***

The beholder is a deadly threat, but our heroes do manage to catch it when they are fresh. The eye tyrant is attended only by a pair of grimlock heroes, who put up a good fight but can't sustain the sort of attention that the party delivers to them.

The beholder's eye beams cut through the chamber it's in. It levitates up out of reach, keeping enough distance between the group and itself that it falls to the two wizards and the cleric to keep it off-balance enough that it can't entirely decimate the group. Once Vann-La, Summer, Cook, and Heimall take the elite grimlocks out, Hkatha casts fly on Vann-La, and Killing Spree moans again.

***

After days underground, the party finally finds its way out, but not as expected. Instead they find a set of teleport coordinates that appear to be on the surface.

“Perfect!” says Iggy. “We can get out of this place and get on with the job!”

And thus they came to see the remains of poor Pesh City, one of the proudest cities of humanity for thousands of years. A truly great metropolis, run through with the exotic smells of pungent Peshan spices and the smoke of strange rugs. Decadent, infamous for being home to the Dance of the Seven Veils, well-known haven for many a pirate with a cup of discretion, draped in the colorful silks and brightly-colored fabrics it was known for.

No longer.

Now a shattered and burnt place, with almost no buildings still standing. Ash and death reigned over the ruin. The only colors were gray and black. The exotic flora and fauna was dead and burnt. This was no more than the well-gnawed corpse of a city.

And to both the northeast and northwest, mountains.

Next Time: The fortress of Arawn!
 

the Jester

Legend
Collapsed halls and passages painted in blood and full of corpses are all that remain of Pesh's dwarves. Here and there on the island, a few small groups cling to life, numbering no more than half a dozen. For all practical purposes, at least on Pesh, dwarfkind is extinct. Everywhere, the uneasy dead walk, searching for an answer to their inability to rest, and the Six-Fingered Hand clenches in triumph.

Arawn's victory does not quench his thirst for vengeance. There are still a few small places where civilization remains, a few places where his vicious horde has not yet burnt the fields and razed the buildings. Precious few- the war is over, and all that remains is to complete the extermination of the survivors, those who scurry from place to place frantically seeking sanctuary or trying to carry out guerilla strikes from within the woods or mountains. Well, soon enough those humans and elves and gnomes and their ilk would realize that the races of the Hand were native to the dark places of the world, the deepest clefts between the hills and the darkest recesses of the forests. There would be no hiding from his forces by retreating to the hinterlands, as one might from a human or elven army.

As long as he maintained his iron grip and kept the Six-Fingered Hand from falling in upon itself, humans, elves, dwarves, halflings- all those hypocritcal, so-called “civilized” races- would soon find themselves not merely driven from power, but entirely extinct.

***

Guided by ritual divinations, our heroes head northeast and upward, into the mountains. Greasy smoke hangs in the air, and when they rise over the first ridge of mountains, thin sleet spits down upon them. Gazing across at the next ridge of mountains, Vann-La halts and squints, shading her eyes.

“There.”

Following her finger, the others can see an ominous stone edifice perched on the mountain's shoulder. The building is no more than a tower and a curtain wall enclosing a small courtyard. A pennant flutters from above; a red hand with the requisite six fingers upon a black field. A long road leads up to the tower, switching back and forth as it ascends the mountain's face. Small forms dot it; the approach is not unguarded.

“At least we know which way to go,” quips Torinn.

In relative silence, the party descends, following the path of a stream bed until they can debouch into the saddle between the two mountains. By now it is nearly dusk, and they make camp, keenly aware that tomorrow may see them meet their enemy at last. If it's the right place. If Arawn is really there.

If we can really beat him, thinks Heimall.

***

Their ascent is challenged by shambling zombies. Vann-La cuts them down, Killing Spree moaning in her hand, and advances, the others on her heels. But behind them, the slain undead begin to pull themselves up, reanimating and attacking the party from behind.

Many of the zombies are dwarven. Cook weeps in horror.

The path is narrow; the heroes use this to their advantage, knocking their adversaries off the side and watching them tumble to land on lower parts of the trail. The zombies are slow in pursuit, but their numbers grow the farther the party advances. Cook, Vann-La, Torinn, and Shakgar work together, smashing, cutting, and pushing forward, with the others desperately staving off attacks from behind.

The tower comes closer with every minute, but the myriad of small cuts and wounds that the enemy is inflicting begins to tell. Torinn and Heimall use their last healing and inspiring words, and the group keeps pushing forward.

A final push, and they reach the curtain wall.

The portcullis is closed.

Torinn forces it up while Heimall and Cook push the zombies back. “Hurry!” the dragonborn cries. The others slip beneath the momentarily raised bars, and Vann-La grunts as she takes the weight of them. Torinn rolls underneath, and they are inside the courtyard.

Gasping, the party takes a minute to catch its collective breath. They patch up their wounds and assess their situation.

“Only one way to go,” Cook states, jerking a thumb at the door in the base of the tower. “No good to fight zombies again.” He wipes something from his eyes.

***

The tower is eerily silent. The lowest level is a temple, with a defaced idol and altar. The ceiling is painted to resemble a brilliant sun. As they move about, dust rises, swirling in the air. Examining the idol, Torinn says, “This was a temple to Dexter. Look, even though the face has been chipped away, you can still see part of the blindfold.”

There is nothing else evident in the temple. Their steps seem strangely loud on the stone steps as they ascend to the next level.

This, it turns out, is a well-furnished, finely-kept bedroom. The bed is canopied, finely wrought of polished wood, and inscribed with more solar imagery. A small vanity has vials of perfume and jars of cremes and ointments next to a large mirror. When investigated, the closet reveals clothing of a definite feminine cast.

“Maybe Arawn has a girlfriend,” suggests Cook.

“Maybe,” murmurs Hkatha, eyes narrowing. “But these are old. Look at the fashion. These are long out of date.” He sniffs disdainfully.

A portrait hangs over the bed: a beautiful human woman, fair skinned, blonde haired, with clear Forinthian lineage. She is dressed in fancy red and gold robes, with a holy symbol in her hands.

“That's the raiment of a cleric of Dexter,” Torinn says.

And then, to the surprise of everyone, the Silver Rose of Garnet speaks. “I remember her.”

Next Time: Our heroes face Arawn at last!
 
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the Jester

Legend
“Dawn,” the Silver Rose of Garnet says slowly. “Her name was Dawn.”

The party stares at her portrait.

“How did you know her?” Torinn asks.

The Rose doesn't speak for a long moment, and when it does, its tone is full of regret. “I can't really remember. It was so long ago...” It sighs. “I think she bore me. I remember that much.”

“What else?” asks Vann-La. “If she used you, she must have been good, right?”

Without delay, it answers, “Yes. She was good and lawful both. I know that.” Its voice is anguished. “Dawn! Something must have happened to her.” A pause, then: “I think... I think I may have known Arawn. Yes- I remember now. They were betrothed.”

Cook speaks. “Ooi, were they both happy with the betrothal?”

“Yes, very... I think. It was so long ago!”

“Was he an evil man then?” Heimall asks.

“No. She never would have loved him if he was. He was a hero.”

Torinn steps up to the mirror and studies himself. The Silver Rose is cilpped to his cloak.

A ghostly form steps forth.

Torinn jumps back with a startled yelp.

The ghost is clearly that of Dawn. She doesn't seem to see them. Instead, she seems to be arguing with someone unseen, but soundlessly. Though she shouts, the party cannot hear her.

They watch, though. They see her rage and rail at whomever she is talking to, and finally, she turns and rushes from the room, ascending a spiral stairway that leads further up the place.

“Let's go!” says Heimall.

The party hurries after her, climbing up to the next floor. From the landing, she rushes out into a large room with a large open balcony attached to it, then turns, tears streaking down her cheeks, with her holy symbol in hand.

“Is it him?” wonders Iggy. “Is Arawn chasing her?”

“Look!” Hkatha cries.

There is a faint, wavering image of the person at whom she is directing her tirade. Her face is contorted, and now she seems to be hurling invective at him.

“He's wearing more priestly raiment,” Vann-La says.

“Higher ranked than her,” Torinn elaborates. “A bishop or something.”

Dawn's ghost snaps her holy symbol. The watching heroes fall silent. She hurls the pieces to the ground, backing away from the bishop (or whatever) that is pressing forward after her, shaking his finger.

“He's ordering her to do something she won't do,” Cook says. “Look at her face!”

“Can we stop him?” wonders Torinn.

Hkatha shakes his head. “This already happened. We're too late. Too late by centuries, probably. But we can learn from this.”

Dawn keeps backing away, out onto the balcony. To the very edge. The spectral bishop stops his advance, but continues his silent harangue. She screams at him, but our heroes can't hear her words.

“She's going to jump,” Iggy says, “isn't she?”

And indeed, she looks over the edge, shouts a last soundless curse, and throws herself over.

Heimall nods slowly. “That's it, then. That's what drove Arawn over the edge. No pun intended.”

For a moment, they all stand silent, mulling over what they have just seen. But then, footsteps sound from the stairs. Vann-La whirls, Killing Spree leaping into her hand. Cook darts into the shadows to the side, and Shak-Gar steps forward, growling, “Gonna dunk on you!”

“You are too late.” The voice is cold, sepulcheral. The visage of the helmet it comes from is that of a goat-faced demon. “I have won. Your empire is extinct- and soon, so will be your races.” Half a dozen animate corpses shamble forward around him, spilling into the room. “Whatever ill-conceived notions you have of saving your species, give them up now, for you are in your last moments.” A sword, ill-omened green power spitting from it with a sizzling sound, slips out of the sheath at the figure's hip. The breastplate of its black enamaled plate armor bears a six-fingered hand, clenched into a fist, before a grinning skull.

“Arawn,” Heimall says, “stop, we don't want to fight you. We want to help you. We want to help you lay Dawn to rest.”

“You dare?!” roars the death knight. He points his sword at them, and green-black flames blossom all around.

Next Time: The final conflict with Arawn the Black!
 

the Jester

Legend
The Abyssal flames that engulf our heroes are greasy and foul. They are the flames of burning fat and hair, full of dusty incinerated bones. Our heroes gag and stagger, and then the zombies are among them, grabbing at them with ragged, dried fingers.

And then Arawn charges into their midst, unleashing a rain of dark blows that delivers terrific damage to Heimall, Vann-La, and Shakgar. Sickly green flashes occur with each hit, making their faces look sickly and ill.

The tide of undead is momentarily overwhelming, and nearly pulls the party down. But then Hkatha and Iggy blast groups of the zombies back, knocking them down like tenpins and giving the rest of the heroes of Fandelose some breathing room. But the zombies begin to bestir themselves at once, clambering back to their feet and staggering toward the party.

Meanwhile, Vann-La and Shakgar unleash a series of tremendous blows on Arawn the Black. Unfortunately, the death knight shrugs them off, unharmed.

Pale, bone-colored light radiates from beneath his goat-faced helm. “Fools! You cannot harm me! I am driven by righteousness! I will have my vengeance!”

“You already do!” retorts Heimall. “You've pulled down the empire! What more do you want?”

“As long as one of your kind remains alive, my revenge is not complete!”

Hkatha casts fly on himself while Iggy blasts the death knight with a shot from his pistol, enahanced by his gun magic. But nothing harms him.

“Back down the stairs!” Heimall cries.

“We'll cover you!” Vann-La slams a zombie down.

“I'm gonna dunk on you!” Shakgar smashes another, then steps next to Vann-La and turns to face the oncoming undead.

The others retreat into the bedchamber below. Heimall says, “As long as Arawn has something to avenge, we aren't going to be able to stop him. We need to lay Dawn to rest somehow.”

Torinn nods. “Agreed. But how?”

Up above, the ground is littered with slain zombies. But each one reanimates, dragging itself up to face the two heroes valiantly defending the stairway. Arawn, surrounded by his minions, slashes right and left at both of them, his blade leaving a trail of ghastly light in the air behind it.

Vann-La and Shakgar begin to fall back themselves, descending the stairs. Arawn pauses, allowing his zombies to pour down the staircase after them before following them.

In the bedchamber, Cook asks, “How can we lay her to rest with no body?”

“Maybe there's something we can use in here,” Hkatha says, looking around.

“Wait!” Heimall exclaims. “She was Forinthian, right? They had a custom of making death masks after someone died. And they would have cremated her body and mixed the ashes in with the pigments they used to paint her mask.”

Even as Vann-La and Shakgar back into the room, pressed by more zombies, the party starts to search for the mask. But Heimall cries, “Not here! It would be kept in a place with religious iconography. That sun symbol in the ceiling below us!”

Our heroes fall back again, descending another level.

But the zombies they slew on their approach have now reached that chamber, and are starting to pour in.

“Damn!” Iggy swears. He unleashes a fireball, stopping them from approaching for the moment.

“We need to search that symbol!” cries Heimall, pointing at the sun in the ceiling.

Hkatha, still flying, grabs Cook and ascends with him. “I'll hold you, you search!”

Killing Spree moans in Vann-La's hand as she hews zombie after zombie down. Heimall has turned to aid her and Shakgar from behind them, using his magical glaive to great effect. Yet after a moment, each felled zombie rises again.

And behind the growing press comes Arawn.

At the ceiling, Cook's blunt, fire-scarred fingers probe delicately until he finds a hidden lock. He pulls out his thieves' tools and works at it. After a few moments, there's a click. “Got it!” he exclaims.

With only the barest noise, a cylinder of stone that was directly above the sun symbol begins to extrude from the ceiling. It projects downward about 3' before stopping.

“Can you hold on to that?” asks Hkatha. Cook nods and grabs the stone cylinder, clinging to it as Hkatha turns and prepares to cast another spell. But he pauses for an instant as he realizes that the ones that Iggy fireballed haven't yet stirred back to unlife.

“Fire!” he shouts. “Fire destroyes the minions!”

Shakgar cries out and collapses as a blade spitting green light catches him in the neck. Arawn has arrived.

Cook resolutely ignores him. The exposed side of the cylinder has another locked panel on it. He grasps the cylinder with his thighs, hanging upside-down, as he attacks the lock. Below him- though it sounds like they're above- he can hear Heimall shouting encouragement, the sizzle of the death knight's sword, the whisper of weapons passing through air, the thunk of them cutting flesh and bone. The stink of burnt flesh as the wizards begin to unleash more fire magic, finally lessening the pressure of the zombies.

Click. There! The panel springs open, and Cook reaches in carefully. Almost reverently, he extracts the death mask within. It is her face, all right. This is, indeed, Dawn's mask.

Ligir and Hkatha are furiously blasting the zombies, and Shakgar, revived by Heimall's inspiring word yet hardly standing, joins them, letting Heimall, Summer, and Vann-La form a wall against Arawn. Even so, they cannot seem to hurt him, and the death knight is quite capable of hurting them. Summer is forced to retreat.

Their adversary spies the mask in Cook's hand. “HOW DARE YOU!!” he shrieks, and tries to press forward, but Vann-La throws him back.

“Oops!” says Cook, and drops nimbly to the ground, landing on his feet. He glances over at Heimall. “Now what?”

Torinn hurries over. “We need to lay her to rest. To do that, we have to invoke her spirit first.” He begins muttering prayers to Lester. Heimall falls back to advise him; the warlord knows old Forinthian customs fairly well.

But that leaves Vann-La alone against Arawn. Killing Spree moves like the wind, a red blur to match the green of Arawn's blade, as the two trade blows.

Then the death knight gives out an anguished cry as the spirit of Dawn shivers into view.

“Dawn!” Torinn cries. “You've got to let go! Let yourself rest!”

“Betrayed,” she whispers. “I was betrayed.”

“My love,” Arawn groans, stricken.

“And you have been more than avenged,” says Heimall. “The empire has fallen. Civilization is gone. The civilized races are near extinction. Surely this isn't what you want.”

“No...” she moans. “No.”

“You must rest,” says Cook. “See what has become of the man you love? Your loss has made him crazy. You must rest so that he can rest.”

“Ohhh...” She puts her ghostly face into her hands.

Raging, screaming, Arawn renews his attack. But as vicious, as frantic, as he is, there is something new in his manner- something febrile, brittle. Nonetheless, Arawn drives Vann-La to one knee.

And then the Silver Rose of Garnet speaks. “Dawn! Do you remember me? We journeyed far together. I loved you. I helped you overcome many challenges. Let me help you once more. Let me help you find peace. You have to let go, Dawn.”

“You see that?” Heimall gestures at Arawn. “That is what the man you loved has become.”

“Let go,” Torinn says, “and help us help him.”

The apparition grows ever thinner until, with a distant, echoing sob, it vanishes entirely.

Arawn cries out again, a sound of despair ripped from his hollow depths.

Our heroes, having the momentary advantage, press it. Heimall rushes forward and stabs. Cook leaps to the attack with his frying pan. Iggy fires his pistol. Hkatha blasts the death knight with a volley of magic missiles.

Arawn staggers. A hollow moan rises up from his armor. The sword clangs to the ground. Then his goat-faced helm falls off, as if it had been suspended in mid-air above the armor. And then the armor collapses in a heap.

All around them, the zombies collapse without a sound. This time, they do not stir again.
 

the Jester

Legend
So that's it. That was the final game of that party, played after I had moved out of town, when I came back to get the finale taken care of.

I'd like to apologize to any of my old readers, most of whom had probably given up on my ever finishing this years ago.

I'll continue this thread to detail a little bit about the next few decades of the city, setting up for the story hour I recently started called The Final City.

Thanks for reading, and again, I apologize for the very, very long wait for the finish.
 

the Jester

Legend
After returning to Fandelose, our heroes receive the plaudits and accolades that they deserve, then settle into the long task of trying to keep the city alive.

Without Arawn, nothing can hold the Six-Fingered Hand together. The once monolithic forces of the savage humanoids begin to squabble among themselves, and in a matter of months, they are actively making war on one another.

And there is no place left for them to loot. When winter comes, without food, the Six-Fingered Hand begins to starve.

Within another three years, any hope that the savage races might pull together under a strong leader has been lost. However, so has any hope that there are other surviving outposts of civilization that might be contacted, that might form alliances with Fandelose. If such places exist, there is no way to know; no way to reach them, with the number of rampaging tribes of former Hand soldiers.

***

By this time, most of our heroes are semi- or fully retired. Things are going well enough; there has been no further major attack on the city, and despite the terrible dangers still threatening them, General Argos is making real moves toward a return of civilian rule.

Indeed, four years after the fall of Arawn the Black, General Argos returns power to the Bronze Council, which (in its newly reconstituted form) is to consist of ten members elected by (and generally from) the old nobility, ten appointed by the military (for the next century, the military delegation must include at least one warforged from the Cathedral of War), and twenty elected by people of means. Each member would serve for ten years.

Hkatha has always been a political man. He is the rising star of his noble house, and now he begins to work to extend the franchise to all citizens of the city, succeeding within a year. Meanwhile, the soldiers who fought in the Fall of the Empire, as the war is now being called, are retiring in ever-greater numbers. Some people, including both General Argus and Heimall, try to persuade the city of the need to keep its defenses strong, but with the crisis past, many people simply no longer wish to put their lives on the line on a sometimes daily basis. By the end of the fifth year after Arawn's destruction, the army is only about one-third the size it was during the Fall.

Seven years after the death knight was put down, a well-organized and highly disciplined army of several thousand hobgoblins attacks the city, emerging from the plains to the south without warning. The hobgoblin army besieges the city for several months, and only a valiant defense led by the old heroes manages to repel the hobgoblin assault and break the siege. The hobgoblins fly a banner depicting a scarlet fist, and it is by this sigil that they become known.

The Bronze Council falls into squabbling disagreements about how much money and manpower to devote to the army.

The next winter, food shortages lead to riots. Several square blocks of the city are burnt. A faction of the Bronze Council, led by Bridget Willow, tries to remove the franchise from “the mob”, but when the people hear rumors of it, there is a convulsion of social violence, ending only when General Argos comes out of retirement and seizes control of the city once again.

“I'm too old for this,” he tells Heimall.

***

In the ninth year since the destruction of Arawn the Black, General Argos attempts to reform the Bronze Council. He revises the number of reprsentatives and how they are chosen, giving the people more weight on the council and inviting the dwarves of Black Gorge to send an advisory member. He reduces the length of the term a councilor serves to five years. He restricts the voting franchise, removing it from criminals, those with the blood of any of the Six-Fingered Hand's races, the insane, and the unemployed- a huge number, in the city. He restricts farmers from emigrating for the duration of the famine and the political crisis. Finally, he holds elections and announces that he'll hand power over to the new Bronze Council on New Year's Day.

This goes smoothly. Thanks to his anti-emigration policy, the famine abates by the next summer.

The tenth year after Arawn's death is the time of an awful lesson. A group of emigrants try to found a small town, which they call Kratalos, about 20 miles southeast of Fandelose. All contact with them is lost in but a few weeks. When an expedition goes to see what has become of them, they find a tribe of lizardfolk with grisly trophies. None of the would-be settlers has survived.

It's not the only time that anyone has tried to settle outside of the city- the settlement at Red Bank is a persistent thorn in the side of the authorities- but it is the largest single attempt. Almost two hundred people are lost.

It is an uncomfortable lesson. The world, as it is now, is too dangerous for people to expand. The world is covered in darkness, and only a few- perhaps only one- points of light remain.
 

the Jester

Legend
The year is 2526 by the Sword Calendar. Eleven years after the fall of Arawn the Black, violence erupts between the orcs and the dwarves of Black Gorge. A group of dwarves allied with Clan Orcslayer colludes with some former soldiers from the army in an attempt to wipe out the orcish population.* This fails, which results in a period of increased tension and frequent skirmishing between the dwarves and the orcs, with Fandelose ostensibly neutral, but most of the people taking the dwarves' side.

That October, after a year-long illness, General Argos dies. He is replaced by General Laktesh, who takes the title “Argos”.

The conflict between the orcs and dwarves simmers for two years before the orcs of the gorge ally with a tribe of kobolds, who undermine a section of the city's wall, destroying one of the towers. After an orcish salient penetrates the Lower District but is repelled, the city sues for peace; this badly damages the relationship between the city and the dwarves.

By the time the conflict has been hot for five years, though the dwarves have won more battles than they have lost, the orcs have significantly reduced their numbers. It's an old, familiar problem: the dwarves can win the war, but the orcs will have replaced their losses in a decade and a half, while the dwarves will need a century or more. As usually happens when the natives of the Black Gorge fight, cooler heads finally start to prevail. Clan Firestone gains political ascendancy among the dwarves, and Clan Firestone is for peace.

Clan Firestone manages to negotiate a treaty with the orcs. The terms are punishing and expensive for the dwarves, ceding territorial rights over much of the gorge and many of the best gold claims therein to the orcs, as well as requiring huge payments of gold, weapons and armor.

In the city, new elections for the Bronze Council come, with a largely anti-military slate of representatives being elected. Feeling betrayed by the city's willingness to exit the conflict with the orcs prematurely, the council's advisory representative from the dwarves leaves in a huff. Subsequently, his position is removed from the council.

The next year, early in 2531 SC, sixteen years after the end of the Six-Fingered Hand, the dwarves stop exporting firestone to Fandelose.

Firestone is the primary fuel of the city. There is wood available outside of the walls, but the combination of the danger of being outside the walls and the lack of easy transportation makes replacing all the firestone a harrowing prospect.

Over time, supplies dwindle.

The undermined section of the wall is finally rebuilt by late 2533 SC, but it collapses after only a few weeks. There is a public uproar. Sabotage is suspected. The Bronze Council begins an investigation.

The next spring, a hobgoblin army encamps outside the city gates, demanding a tribute of rice. They fly the scarlet fist banner. Meanwhile, the investigation into the collapse of 2533 has discovered that the problem is lack of funding for the military; they had inadequate money, manpower and material. Corners had been cut to meet budgetary constraints and deadlines. It is a tremendous scandal, especially with a hostile hobgoblin force camped not far from the Breach. In the midst of this crisis, the council pays the hobgoblins' tribute. They withdraw, but return again the next spring- and the Breach is not yet repaired.

Now officially calling itself the Scarlet Fist, the hobgoblin army seems to have grown. Representatives ride up from the plains to demand tribute again, this time in rice and gold, making it clear that this is to become an annual tradition. Without an intact wall, the Bronze Council again accedes.


The council elections in October are hard-fought, with a strong debate between fear of the horrors of war (especially without a complete wall) and a desire that the city stand up to aggressors and defend itself. Many of the veterans of the Fall are now old or dead; the city elects two pro-military and two pro-appeasement representatives. With those from the military and the warforged, the military dominates the agenda. Taxes are raised, money pours into rebuilding the wall, and recruitment increases.

Early in 2536, the new Bronze Council steps up recruitment even further by impressing people into service to protect against the inevitable appearance of the Scarlet Fist. When the hobgoblins appear in the late spring, the military refuses to pay their ransom, attempting to guard the breach in the wall.

This proves disastrous. The new troops are barely trained and unblooded, whereas the Scarlet Fist has had years of experience that has honed it like a knife. The city's soldiers are no match for the brutal hobgoblins, who force their way through and into the city and occupy the northeast corner of the Lower District. It is only the timely intervention of an orcish relief force that hits the Fist from behind that saves the city from a sack. After pressuring the hobgoblins, the orcs withdraw, but the message is clear. The hobgoblins cut their way free of Fandelose; the city pays a smaller than expected ransom, and the Fist withdraws.

Over the next year, political tensions rise as the Bronze Council debates expanding or shrinking the franchise, and demonstrations against the military government become ever larger and more violent. In an attempt to mollify the mob, the franchise is withdrawn from members of the army (but then, they have their own unelected representatives automatically placed on the council, anyway). It isn't enough, and it leads many of the soldiers to stand aside when the crowds finally grab up and depose Argos Laktesh.

But the restoration of civilian government sees the tax burden reduced, the rich rewarded with exemptions and special considerations, the policy of impressment being revoked, and the discharge of many soldiers back to civilian life. In short, the army is emasculated. The number of representatives elected by the people is increased to twelve, and envoys are dispatched to the dwarves with official, sincere, and grave apologies.

Dwarves can hold a grudge for centuries, but for the moment, they let it go. Firestone imports into the city resume.

For the next several years, the Bronze Council pursues a policy of compromise and consensus. Hkatha finds himself serving on the council, and the city agrees to pay a light tribute to the Scarlet Fist each year through 2540 SC, during which time it focuses on rebuilding the wall and sealing the Breach.

It is now twenty-five years since Arawn the Black was slain.

Relations between the dwarves, the orcs, and city are damaged all around when an attempt by some members of Clan Orcslayer to frame the orcs for interfering with the firestone trade backfires.**

To everyone's surprise, the Scarlet Fist doesn't show up in the spring- a good thing, since the work on the wall still isn't finished. The hobgoblins still haven't shown up by the October elections. The new year's Bronze Council immediately sets to legislating a reversal of the policies binding many of the city's farmers to their plots. The attempt bogs down in endless debate when the army's reprsentatives refuse to agree. This is met with more massive protests, with the farmers forming a formal association to advocate for them.

The next spring comes, and still there is no Scarlet Fist. Work on the Breach is finally complete, though.

A group of two dozen farmers, protesting what they call their enserfdom, emigrate to Red Bank, and a mass of spontaneous protesters prevents the army from stopping them. The council debates taking action to force them back to the lands they are supposed to be bound to, but again, cannot reach consensus. That winter, food is scarce; the people are hungry, though few starve.

Without outlying farms and villages, famine is a huge threat.

In early spring, the city sends a small army detachment to force the farmers in Red Bank to return and comply with their obligations to the city. The group is devastated before it can even reach the small village when a bullette attacks it. A few of the survivors flee to Red Bank and join them, providing it with a meager milita.

Finally, in the spring of 2543, twenty-eight years after the fall of Arawn, the Scarlet Fist returns. Fandelose agrees to pay them light tribute as long as they leave both the city and Red Bank alone for the year. The hobgoblins agree, providing that the city agrees to make it a five-year deal. Grudgingly, the Bronze Council ratifies the deal. Hkatha, who is part of the negotiating team working on behalf of the city, is startled to learn that the hobgoblin general is the son of Heshwat the Eviscerator, the general from whom Heimall took Throat-Ripper, his magical glaive.

The next year, riots over taxes (raised again) and inflexible conditions for the farmers are met with a military crackdown. The army is put in impossible positions over and over again. In the end, several groups of soldiers disobey orders in order to quash burgeoning violence. A dozen rioters die, leaving the army deeply unpopular and very unhappy about the quality of its (civilian) leadership. Worse yet, the tensions don't subside, but only grow worse when the worst possible compromise is passed into law, and the farmers are formally and legally bound to their plots.

Anti-army sentiment reaches a fever pitch in the city, and the next year, when the October elections return an almost completely anti-army slate of councilors, most of who campaigned together on a promise to try members of the military for the decisions made by their civilian leaders, many of the officers plan a coup. Heimall speaks out against it, but can't prevent it. All he can do is try to direct it to minimize loss of life.

The Bronze Council is dissolved. The city, too, dissolves into chaos. Heimall's military government tries to keep a lid on dissent without using the harsh tactics that the civilian government had used, but after a fire starts that burns down a section of the Bronze District, they are forced to institute curfews and restrict gatherings. This just leads to more unrest and bigger protests, and of course, it is right then that the Scarlet Fist arrives, demanding its tribute. The army is defiant. The riots grow worse; the hobgoblins attack, and the army has to put the riots down forcefully before turning to repel the hobgoblins, who besiege the city from March to July of 2546 before breaking off and leaving.

That October, Heimall holds new elections and leaves the city for parts unknown before the results are tallied. However, he never technically steps down. The elections once again return a rabidly anti-army, pro-war-crimes-trial slate. The army grows ever more worried as the new year approaches, and finally, on New Year's Eve, Otto Heinrickson, Heimall's son, steps up and installs himself as Argos, then annuls the elections.

The next year sees riot after riot, protest after protest. Otto cracks down harshly, but when the Scarlet Fist arrives, he chooses to pay the tribute. The unrest makes any other path too risky, especially when neither the orcs nor the dwarves can be relied upon to assist the city in the event of battle.

By early 2548, the unrest has finally died down. The entire city is exhausted. When the Scarlet Fist arrives, Otto pays them, but refuses the renew the tribute agreement. Everyone knows that next year, there will be conflict.

Of course, just weeks after the Scarlet Fist leaves the area, the Breach collapses again.

This story hour is continued in the Final City.

*This was actually a playtest game for 5e! The colluding dwarves and old soldiers were all pcs.

**Another 5e playtest game, and again, the pcs were directly responsible for all of this.
 

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