Rise of the Dark Mother

Forever's Edge
Sometimes, chaos is the saner option.
To Counsel War
Triple Goddess
or, How to Be Your Own Midwife

How long have we been here? Where is here? Are we dead AGAIN?

Falling endlessly through the Abyss, you have a lot of time to think about a lot of things that will probably never be important. Some people have all the luck…and then there’re our heroes.

Suddenly shunted sideways, like they’d been shoved through a brick wall, the group found themselves standing on very familiar territory, looking at a face they’d seen before, and ready to follow her every command. Things started to come back, hazily. The Lich. The King’s Highway. Loriana…falling. At least she had been freed. Now, there was more killing to be done—a beholder…another beholder, like before, there in the Dream. Was the Queen dreaming the Beholder now? Unlikely. The sharp command, like the crack of a whip. Almost of its own volition, your flesh moves. You wield your weapons and strike.

She called you here—the Lich you met back there. The one that Krav had promised to do a favor for. This is one hell of a favor, but…beats the hell out of falling into Hell, or wherever it was. The Tyrant was dispatched with ease…but why was it here? Why was the Lich here? The Queen’s dream must be becoming easier to find…or more well-known. That’s a frightening thought. Before you could march forward at her command into the chamber of the Queen, 5 Shadar-Kai solidified into existence.

“We are the Guardians. You have violated the sanctity of Her Sleep. The penalty is death.”

You wanted to shout at them, ‘No, we’re on your Prince’s side!’ But you could not. You are forced, again and again, to attack. Then, a new form wavered and shimmered into existence; a girl, just over the cusp of womanhood, with cool blue skin, and long chestnut auburn hair.

“Keepers of the Queen, Hail! These are under my protection, and defend your Queen by your Prince’s request.” The Shadar-Kai hesitated at her words, uncertain whether to believe her, or to destroy their attackers.
She addressed herself to the fallen. “Be free!”
Enraged, the Lich screamed at the girl, and fired a great bolt of negative energy her way. “Die!”

‘Big Brother,’ said a voice in Krav’s mind. ‘Return to me!’ Krav blinked, freed of the Lich’s control, and directed his glaive at the Lich instead of the Shadar-Kai.
‘Son of the Phoenix, rise!’ In her thoughts, she exhorted Rychard to be free, and he took to freedom like the Phoenix to the sky—setting everything on fire in his wake.
‘Scion of the Stars, this is not your fate.’ The voice of her thoughts was like cool water to Rabadash’s parched soul, and he shook off the shackles of the Lich.

The Shadar-Kai attacked the Lich, eager to be rid of the one whom they understand to be a foe, and nearly cut her down. She was forced to focus her energies on the threat directly before her.

‘Daughter of the Mountain, stand strong! You are more than she can command!’ Heartened, the warden turned her hammer toward the one who would dare violate her will.

The Lich destroyed, Neva interposed herself between the Guardians and her favored ones. “Honored Guardians, we will leave this realm. Take our blessing, and we shall part in peace.” The face of the Witch changed as Neva stared into her eyes, and she bowed her head, although none of them lowered their guard. Krav spoke as they turned to leave.
“Guardians! Tell your Prince that Khor succeeded. He will know what that means.”

“I knew that if I just waited, you would come back here.” Neva said, as her magic bore the heroes’ souls away, back to Ilona’s realm. When they arrived, Neva was gone, and they stood in the great chamber before Ilona, skyclad as ever, surrounded by her servants and acolytes.
“Dead!” she exclaimed, saddened beyond measure. “Oh, great is my grief!”
“Ours is probably a little greater,” muttered Rychard under his breath.
“If only there was a way…my heart says there must be, but I do not have command of the force of Life itself. A black day!”
“Perhaps this would help, My Lady?” Rabadash stepped forward, offering her a little treasure that he had snuck away with from the Raven Queen’s Dream: the Ring of Melora, which glowed with the aura of her power. She gasped, but took the ring and held it in her palm. “Yes,” she said, more to herself than anyone else, with the tone of someone who is trying to convince herself that she is right. “I would say that this is Fate, but…it cannot be. This is a happy chance, and a Good choice. Thus I assume the power of Life itself…” She put it on, and a fresh breeze blew through the chamber, a beautiful Zephyr that brought with it the promise of spring’s rebirth. Eyes closed, Ilona began to dance; though she tried at first to exert control over it, it became wild, unbound and almost frightening as those seized with the will joined the dance, stomping and clapping in a frenzy of energy, like whirling dervishes. Others sang ancient songs they had never known, or drummed life’s rhythm by slapping their arms, breast, or thighs. Life energy was abundant, and ran verdant and sanguine; for those with the Sight, a green vine of energy was moving through each of the dancers, channeled into Ilona, and a little of their life energy was being siphoned into her, and then a little more…and then a little more…

Just as suddenly, the vines were released, their tendrils curling back up whence they had come, and Ilona danced, rising higher and higher in the air, nothing holding back her channeling of the most ancient and primal force. Her hair blazed and whipped wildly, sweat and tears blending with love and flowing from her like glowing silver rivulets, falling onto the assembled dancers and the spirits for whom she danced. Then, all music, chanting, slapping, clapping, and gyration completely ceased, and everyone, including Ilona, collapsed to the floor, exhausted nearly to the point of no return, but feeling more alive than they had ever felt.

Without a thought for their present state, Krav and Rabadash darted forward to catch Ilona, and it was only on holding the goddess’ limp but smiling form in their arms that they realized that they HAD arms—they were alive, and embodied! And…human?!? Rabadash was as elated as Krav was shocked, and they, along with Kuorlai, were entirely bewildered. Rychard smirked at their confusion, and retired to a side chamber.

Krav was poking at his body…it was pink, and squishy in wrong places, and very strange! “How…” he trailed off, then hastily added, “Not that I’m ungrateful, My Lady, but…how did we turn out quite so…human?”
The goddess shrugged, a very human gesture. “Perhaps…because it’s the only form I know instinctively how to embody. I am sorry.”
“No, no! I…if this is to be my new life, so be it! It will just…take some getting used to, that’s all.”
“I’m sure there are plenty of ladies around to…help you adjust.” She teased him gently, still exhausted from the ordeal. The warlord arched an eyebrow at her.
“Well,” Rabadash interrupted hastily, a little discomfited by the thinly veiled innuendo that seemed more come-on than suggestion, “I for one am thrilled! Does this mean the Curse is broken?”
The goddess looked him up and down, studying his aura, then shook her head sadly. “I do not know, Rabadash. There is much about this that I do not know, as I simply did what I was moved to do. But, the divine wisdom within prompts me that your body will, within three days, assume the shape of your soul.”

Very much alive, the warlord and warlock found that the wonder of returning to life was giving way to the awakening of what it meant to be alive…and that their bodies were responding to the presence of the Goddess in ways that are best left undescribed. For Kuorlai, too, the joy of living was underwritten with a need to make up for lost time…
“So,” she offered, “who’s hungry?”

Over the Brink
The Abyss also stares into you.

Striding up to the nearest of what seemed like a sea of dunes and hills, the party looked around, and found that while they may not have been the only Drow there, they were certainly a rarity and couldn’t escape being stared at. Not in a mood to be objects of curiosity, itching to fight, and boiling over, the party had, as a group, simply decided to take on whatever was in front of them.

Rychard got in the opening shot with a spectacular fireball that engulfed nearly everyone atop the heap in great, leaping flames, and, streaking there with his own hell-born quickness, Rabadash unleashed a furor of curses, opening up a portal so that Hadar could sate his hunger. The surprised and overpowered denizens of the Restless Heaps didn’t put up much of a fight, and the damages to the company of Drow were minimal and hardly memorable. This group, filled with war-weary veterans, fighting an almost ridiculous campaign to save someone who in the end would still be lost to them, was not about to brook some tiny demonoid irritation in their path. The Warden leapt about the battlefield, leaving wrecked bodies in her wake, and the Warlord directed the battle with a furor that bordered on berserk glee.

Surveying the carnage around them with satisfaction, and all the forms they just laid waste, Rabadash couldn’t help but notice something that prickled the back of his mind like pine needles.
“This seems to be an awful lot of demons here,” the warlock commented idly, reaching into his innermost understanding of the arcane for an explanation.
Rychard seem to reach the same conclusion, and pronounced with reasonable certainty: “That’s because the Elemental Chaos is riiiiiiiiiight over there.”

The horror of their reality hit them full force now: they stood on the edge of the unmaking of the world, in several respects. Escape was a fantasy, but they had come too far now anyway to back off and leave Lori to her torment, not to mention that if what Vorkhesis said was true, any information that she gave up to her torturers and would probably result in terrible war and bloodshed, not to mention the part about the possible annihilation of the material world. The group stood in grim silence for a while, until Rabadash shaded his eyes and watched the light that seemed to flicker from mound to mound.

“I think that light that keeps appearing and disappearing is some kind of a gateway or portal.” he observed. “All we can do now is wait.”

Waiting was a torment in itself, as the wails of the tortured accompanied every geyser blast. Krav was the first to crack. “I can’t take this anymore! We have to get them out of there!”
“You’re out of your mind,” countered Rychard. “Who knows how many there are? Who’s going to lead them to safety, you?”
“You bet I am!” Krav snarled.
“And where is safety, exactly? How are you going to get anyone there?” Rychard wanted to know.
Krav paused, but refused to be defeated by something so cold as logic. “Better that they die free and on their feet. I don’t give a damn whether you help. I’m going.”

It was at that moment that a geyser blast erupted a few feet from where they stood, on the next mound over. Rushing toward it, Krav could see that a great cage, filled with what appeared to be apparitions, or perhaps souls, was suspended over a bottomless pit. Rabadash reached toward one. Touching it, he understood the presence of a sort of warding spell that kept the incorporeal prisoners trapped inside, negating their ability to pass through matter—the corporeal prisoners needed no such abjuration.
“Perhaps there’s some sort of release?” asked Kuorlai. Krav poked around with his glaive.
“Maybe here?” It was at just that moment that the butt of his glaive indeed found a release latch…that dropped the bottom out from the cage. Screaming, the living prisoners dropped into the Abyss below, but the ghostly ones seemed simply to fade from existence.
“Damnation!” whispered Krav, horrified at what he had caused, but taking some small comfort in having relieved their suffering. A grimace settling across his face, he set out to find other holding pens, and free their occupants in the same manner—it would be the most merciful thing he could do.

It was as he approached the fourth or fifth cage, and was about to press the lever that he felt a familiar presence, but to his horror, as he started with recognition, his glaive twitched the lever. “No!” he shouted, as a green whip surged past him and screams surrounded him. There, at the end of a tenebrous tentacle, was the one that Krav and Rabadash had died for. As well as one can command a weapon of destruction to act as an implement of rescue, Rabadash tried to haul the immobilized spirit to the surface, Krav and Kuorlai supporting him as best they could. The tendril evaporated, but had moved Loriana’s spirit outside of the cage’s hold, and she floated serenly up and toward them.

“I can’t believe we found you,” whispered Krav. The spirit stared at him in apparent confusion.
“You have the form of an Elf and the soul of a Dragon…what are you?”
“Your captain.”
The spirit looked distant, as if trying to recall something. “Krav?!”
The warlord nodded. “Rabadash is here too,” he said, pointing.
Her outline wavered. “You came for me.”
“We died for you.” That was Rabadash.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I have to go now. You do, too.”

That was the last any of them spoke before they were caught in the quake and blast of a geyser, and they plunged eternally down, down, into the Abyss.

Travelers on a Blood-Soaked Road

When the party reached consciousness, they realized that they were once again embodied—Vorkhesis had been true to his word, and they inhabited drow bodies. As for where they were, that was less certain. Looking around, Krav asked,

“Rabadash?” One of the drow nodded—male form, white hair with a pinkish hue. “Where are we, exactly?”

Rabadash took a deep breath and focused. “It’s unclear,” he hesitated. “I think we’re on the border of two realms…if I had to guess, I think it would be the Shadowfell and the Shadowdark.”

The group seemed to collectively fight back a case of the collywobbles. The Shadowfell was bad enough…but where it bled into the Underdark was just not a place they wanted to be—but was precisely where they needed to be. It was then that the smell hit them—the stench of molten copper, decay, and rage.

“Hey, Krav?” asked Rabadash.
“Are we…on the Highway?”
The drow wearing shoulder length braids swallowed hard.
“Ok. So, which way do we go?”
“I…I don’t know.”
The lone female Drow sighed laboriously, slumping over the handle of her great maul.
“Just pick a direction!” snapped a third male. Rychard.
“Fine! That way!”
“Boys, arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere. Let’s just go. Knowing our luck, we’ll wind up exactly where we least want to be, and know that’s where we need to be.”

Rabadash in front for his stealth and perception, Krav followed, Rychard in the middle, and Kuorlai on rear guard duty. They wandered along for what seemed like hours until they heard voices coming up the tunnel they were moving through.

“Shit!” hissed Rabadash. “Back up, quick!”
Kuorlai turned and lead the group back to a little alcove she had noticed a few minutes earlier. As they crouched inside, the warlord was nonplussed. “Did your courage desert you?”

“Krav, have you ever heard the expression that discretion is the better part of valor?”
“No! What on earth does that mean?” It’s hard to say which was more caustic: Krav’s sarcasm or Rabadash’s withering glare.
The warlock continued, “There’s a Lich coming this way, and she has an awful lot of minions…and somehow I don’t think she’s going to lead us any closer to where we need to be. If you really want to, we can waste these bodies and our resources challenging her, or we can j—”

Rabadash cut off abruptly as the Lich seemed to notice them, and advanced with her servitors. As she strode up to them, Krav apparently had one of those moments where you just say ‘screw it’ and try the most outrageous thing you can think of. ’It’s worked before,’ he thought to himself, remembering some rather obscene gestures he’d made at one of the white dragons whose remains now hung in his tavern back in Lespathia. Affecting an air of non-chalance, the warlord leaned against the cavern wall ever so slightly. “So,” he hailed the Lich once she’d moved within about a lunge distance of him, “what’s a pretty young lady like you doing wandering around a place like this?” Kuorlai eyed Rabadash, who goggled at the warlord’s audacity. Richard simply rolled his eyes and prepared a fireball. The Lich simply stared at the warlord, and a smile slowly spread across her (probably not all that young, nor all that pretty) face, much like oil over water.

“Looking for someone,” came the haughty reply. Her voice practically dripped command, and disdain. Rychard was busy taking mental notes.
“I see,” said Krav, feigning interest and sizing up her and her army out of the corner of his eye. “Well, we might be able to help, you know…maybe a favor for a favor?”
“I doubt it.” She flatly cut him off. “You’re not even sure where you are.”
Krav suppressed a gasp, and let out a chuckle to cover it. “Well, I guess you caught me. Still, a favor for a favor, two groups of travelers on the Highway, right?”
Amazingly enough, the Lich was amused by this, rather than offended or combative, but anyone who looked closely might have noticed that she was keenly interested in the proposition of having them owe her a favor…and she could always kill them if she needed to—just to make sure they carried out their end of the favor, of course.
“I suppose I could, just for this once, do a good deed, assuming such a thing is even possible down here…” Her voice trailed off.

“Well, now, let’s not get too ambitious.” Krav bantered, hoping to buy some time and read her a little better. “Perhaps folk like us are better off just letting each other pass by. But,” he continued, “I don’t suppose you could tell us where it is you’re coming from?”
Hook, line, and sinker, she thought to herself. “Oh, that way? Just a bridge to the underworld. I’m afraid there’s not much to see there, or do—seeing as I just came that way.”
“Perfect!” Krav thundered, probably stretching his acting a little too far. “Well, just call on us for that favor, ok? Assuming you don’t need anything now, of course?”
“Not at all.” She looked like the (undead) cat that had just eaten the canary. With a word that none of the party understood, she set off, her legion trailing her like a train of bone and steel.

“Well, it looks like we’re going this way.” Krav pointed, and started to move. Rychard interjected, “You do realize what you just did, of course?” “Sure,” Krav nodded. “I offered her the service of bodies that, with any luck, we won’t even be inhabiting by tomorrow. She can have it once I’m done with it.” Rychard stopped. ‘Every now and again,’ he thought to himself, ‘I wonder whether he’s brilliant, insane, or both. Probably just insane.’ Regardless, it was done, and there was little point in wondering about it.

After a short travel, they came to a small crossing that looked just a little too quiet and canny to be trusted—even if the Lich had just come this way, there were no bodies, and no evidence of battle. As the group moved closer, Rabadash suddenly called out for everyone to hold their position. He moved closer to investigate. “It’s a rift in space,” he announced. I think I can do something about it. Hold on." Closing his eyes, he focused his arcane energies on the shimmering tear in reality, and it faded from view. “There!” he announced with triumph. “Let’s go.”

No sooner did he say that than the tear exploded outward, destroying the bridge below it and sending everyone sliding down, down, down a steep, bloody pathway to Hell alone knew where. Landing less-than-gracefully, the party took a minute to collect themselves, and assessed each other for injuries.
“Where are we?” asked Kuorlai.
“Can we get back out?” asked Rychard. A steep, blood-slick slope answered his question in the negative.
“Great. Well, whatever, let’s move.” Krav shrugged. This adventure had taken a few too many twists so far anyway.

As they wandered ‘forward’, everything went from darker and colder to nauseatingly lit and clammy, and all the hair on their bodies stood on end. While discomfiting enough to Rychard, for the other three, who didn’t typically keep body hair except on their heads (and Krav didn’t even have it there), it was downright unnerving. The wildly-hewn tunnels they had been in gave way to a wider plain, filled with mounds that occasionally seemed to…quiver? Couldn’t be.

Rabadash inhaled sharply, and Kuorlai simply stopped and stared. “So many…” she said, trailing off.
“So what’s a few anthills?” snapped Rychard.
“No, not the hills. Them.” She gestured with her hammer. Taking another look, the wizard and the warlord were suddenly aware of the crowds topping most of the hills, as well as a light that seemed to move from hilltop to hilltop. As their senses became adjusted, they became aware of another feature of this landscape: the rending screams that a body only produces under the cruelest of torture.

“Kuorlai?” began Krav. The warden turned to face him. “Damn your prescience,” he said simply. He then set off, not knowing whether to pray that Loriana was or was not here.

An Audience with Vorkhesis
The stakes are made clear...and raised immensely.

Like snow before a strong wind, the scene before the party scattered into mist, and they found themselves staring into the vast grey wastes. Alternately desolate, rocky flats and barren savannah stretched out endlessly in all directions.

Krav began looking around for any possible cover. “Damn, what is going on? Are we in the Shadowfell or the Dream World?”

Rabadash closed his eyes and focused for a long moment, then opened them again. “No feast? Not in the Dream World, then, I think. Pity…I worked up an appetite back there.”

Looking around, Arannis gathered in the arcane energies around them, and recognized this place as the Shadowfell. “Wait a minute, I thought we were just in the Dream World…how did this happen?”

Gathering in their surroundings and appearance, the group realized that their ‘idealized’ self-images were no longer manifest, nor could they determine whether they were living or ghosts. As the group looked around, continuing to take stock of their situation, vivid memories flashed in each of their minds—memories of the feverish, painful grip of the Plague. ‘Ghost’ became the increasingly likely answer to the question of what they were; it would be somehow less surprising to be dead than alive.

Comprehension dawning, Krav hefted his halberd. “So we met the Queen in the Dream World… Let’s try not to meet her too soon here…” He considered for a moment, and his characteristic outrage at the capricious nature of deities flashed in his eyes. “Wait…if we’re dead… where is everyone else? Is this really what happens when we die..? I had always been taught that when someone died, they got to meet their god. This can’t be the end. I mean, where is my judgment? Where is the Great Hoard? Where is Loriana?”

Rabadash sounded just as disappointed, even if his words were more careful. “It’s…not exactly what I expected.” He tried to pick up a rock on the ground nearby, and found the stone smooth and chilly in his hand. “Well, we have some physicality left, anyway.”

Krav moved from crouching next to the rock to standing atop it. “I’d like to tell you ‘I can see our bodies from here!’ I can’t.”

Rabadash chucked the stone in his hand at Arannis, but missed, the stone landing a good 3 feet away and sending smaller pebbles scattering with a crash.
“What did you see up there?” he asked Krav, who jumped down off the rock where he had been standing. “Anyplace more interesting than here?”

Krav shook his head. “It’s too flat, and I didn’t see anything new on the horizon.”

Collecting himself, Rabadash prompted, “I don’t think we’re going to find answers here. Let’s pick a direction and head in it until we find something.”

It was at that precise moment that both Arannis and Krav…became lesser. The outlines of their forms wavered, and some color and quite a bit more hope drained from the two of them, possibly forever.

“Whoa…” gasped Arannis, staggering. “I feel…lightheaded.” Krav gripped his halberd in pained silence. Once the moment had passed, the Eladrin tried to get a better grip on the situation. “Okay we went to the Dream World, saw Melora die and give her powers to the Raven Queen—”

Rabadash interjected: “Perhaps someone was dreaming that. Well, in any case, it wasn’t so much that she gave her powers to the Raven Queen, as that she hoped to gain power through dying, which is the Queen’s domain…that’s how I saw it, anyway.”

“So then, as I was asking before,” interrupted Krav, “who was dreaming that we had to wake up to escape that?”

The Tiefling simply stared at the Dragonborn as if in disbelief that Krav hadn’t connected the dots. “It was the Raven Queen’s.”

At a loss for what to do with the information he had just heard, Krav instead looked to the sky for any celestial bodies, an attempt to find a cardinal direction. Rabadash continued his musing.

“It bothers me that she’s had that dream twice now.”

Arannis, who had not been a part of the first excursion into the dream world, asked “Was there a different God/Godess in her first one?” As the only ones there who could have answered his question were lost in thought, silence was the only reply he received.

After further consideration, Krav did what he was best at—he chose a direction and started moving. Glaive pointed at the horizon, he called his mates to him.

“Let’s head this way and call it West. No point staying here for eternity. I want a way back. I’m not going to be remembered as a failure. We can keep talking while we move.” The group nodded their assent.

Just as they took their first steps, they heard the thunder of hoofbeats and felt the ground rumble beneath them. Before they could act, a carriage, wrought of substance of blackest night, pulled by nightmares with hooves of flame, pulled to a stop beside them. A figure, whose face was completely shrouded by his hood, beckoned them to come near. In a voice deeper than the firmament, he called to them. “His Eminence, Vorkhesis, requests your presence.”
The door to the carriage soundlessly swung open. No one was foolish or unobservant enough to miss the significance of the driver’s carefully chosen words—“requests” rather than “commands”. Vorkhesis certainly had the power to command, especially the dead, especially here.

Rabadash did not hesitate. “I accept.” He climbed into the carriage. Krav quickly followed. “Give me a window seat,” he growled. The rest of the group followed their leader.

Once the group was inside the carriage, which was far larger than its exterior would suggest, and which was luxuriously appointed, if rather gothic in style, the door soundlessly swung shut, and all the noise of the outside world fell away. The passengers gaped in awe, and rode on in silence for a while. Krav finally spoke. “So Rabadash…If the Raven Queen is having this dream, like you think, then why are we being pulled into it? What are we to her? It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Rabadash screwed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. It was the same question he had been asking himself, and had only found one answer to—and no one was going to like it. “Probably because we’re fated to be.”

Arannis, who as an Eladrin had always venerated Corellon, brought up a religious angle. “Maybe she is trying to convert us?”

“Through a dream?” Krav shot back. “How often do you ask for fealty from people in your dreams, Arannis?” The Eladrin shrugged in a blase, fey kind of way. “I don’t know. Just a thought.”

Krav continued, on a less-than-charitable train of thought. “Maybe gloating, though… She’s killed Melora, or got her on a butcher’s hook in her dungeon somewhere anyway.”

“The most disturbing part, though,” thought Rabadash aloud, “is that we weren’t helpless in the dream.” The others stared at him, not comprehending why that was disturbing rather than a bonus. He continued. “It sounds good, until you realize the possibility that someone else could be affecting the dream, too.”

Arannis turned to the idea that this was being inflicted on her: “The Raven Queen certainly has her share of enemies, even before this whole war started. Historically, there are a few people have had a bone to pick with her. There’s ongoing strife between her cult and the cult of Orcus, more than anything else. Perhaps—”

“So, even if we accept that the Raven Queen has drawn us into her dreams, what does it mean? I’ve never read anything about this kind of event before.” Krav was normally keen to wax historic, but found himself far more concerned with the future than the past for once.

The party hadn’t been aware of moving, but, lost in conversation, they were surprised when the door glided open again. A forbidding palace loomed ahead. On stepping out, another robed and hooded figure, this one more female in shape than the driver, greeted them in a voice tinged with crystal, “His Eminence awaits.” She begins walking up the path to the palace doors. Krav was still stuck on his prior train of thought.
“…I mean, if she’s doing it to gloat, what’s there to gloat about? We’re….we were mortals, and even still subject to her already.”

Rabadash shook his head. “I don’t think she wants people in her dreams. It might just be happnening.” He led the party in following the guide up the great staircase. Balthazar, comforting even in his silence, began to polish his holy symbol as he followed the group up the stairs. The Tiefling continued, “It’d be nice to find out if it’s a dream of something that has happened or has yet to happen. My bet is that it’s somewhere in between, considering the state of the world.”

Krav turned to their guide. “Escort, tell me. Do you know the nature of our summons?”
Addressing herself to the party generally, she said, “I trust your accommodations were comfortable.” It was not a question. Without waiting for a reply, she continued: “Few people are invited to an audience with His Eminence. Most have no choice. Therefore, I would advise you, if you would have advice, that if His Eminence requests, or commands, anything of you, not to refuse him. He has already been more gracious than you likely realize.” The figure stopped before a great door, and bowed her head to the porter. “Farewell.”

Breaking his silence, Balthazar addressed himself to the porter. “Very well, please, by all means lets parley with your master.”

Feeling the momentous, and frankly bizarre, nature of their audience at last, Krav shifted nervously. “Cousin Balthazar, remind me… Aren’t the dead supposed to be greeted by their god, or a messenger? This isn’t typical, right..? People don’t really meet Vorkhesis on a regular basis, right?” He appeared to be grasping for some sense that he was not as insane as their present situation seemed. Balthazar had no response, but Rabadash let out a nervous laugh. “I guess we do,” he said, glancing around.

The porter opened the door and lead them down a seemingly endless hallway of cold opulence that sometimes threatened to teeter into a rarefied despair. He then bowed to yet another hooded, robed servant, who opened the doors to a great throne room. From the great throne at the end of a magnificent hall, a familiar voice called to the adventurers.

“Ah, it is good that you have come. Please enter, and do not be afraid. I will not harm you. I have asked you here as guests.” Gesturing to seats around a great round table, Vorkhesis said, “Please, be seated.”

The band of warriors took seats of their choosing: Krav at Vorkhesis’ right hand, after setting his spectral belongings behind the chair; Kuorlai across from Vorkhesis; Arannis near the middle of the table, hands resting atop it as a respectful display of weaponry; Balthazar near Krav, and Rabadash sitting last, on Vorkhesis’ left.
Vorkhesis continued after they had been seated. “I confess, I did not expect your journeys to lead you here quite so soon…the strands of Fate seem to be more malleable, or perhaps more subject to reweaving than they once were. I regret that you have been unable to rescue your friend. Loriana is in a tragic situation, and is suffering unspeakable torment, likely as we sit here, so I will be as brief as an extraordinarily complex situation allows. I have asked you to come here because I require your assistance.”

Krav, clearly at the end of his patience (and possibly his sanity) responded in an angry and confused manner that bordered rudely on accusation. “Were I not seemingly at the complete mercy of the world right now, I would think you’ve not been honest with us, Vorkhesis.” The god stiffened his spine almost imperceptibly, affronted.

In an effort to defuse the situation, Kuorlai asked calmly, “Perhaps you could answer the question on most of our minds… Are we dead?”

“What do you require from us?” Arannis, fighting homesickness and the ghosts of his past, wanted to come straight to the point. The Son of the Raven Queen, however, was not going to let Krav’s insinuation go unanswered.

“Khor, your confusion is understandable, however, perhaps you forget where you are?” Inclining his head toward Kuorlai, he answered her next. “Yes, you are among the departed.”

The goliath pressed for absolute clarity. “Among, or of? I am merely trying to understand our unusual circumstances….”

A slight smile crossed Vorkhesis’ face and he responded with kindness, as aware of her careful politeness as he had been shamelessly blunt in response to Krav’s rudeness. “You are indeed dead, and in the domain and dominion of the Raven Queen.”

Arannis lept in to ask how it had come to pass that they were dead, but the god forestalled the Eladrin with a raised hand. “I will answer any of your questions that I may, but hear me speak first.” Krav leaned forward with a pointed brow and seething with unspoken anger to listen, and the party gave the god their complete attention.

Vorkhesis continued. “Allow me to explain, and to relate this to Loriana’s current plight. No doubt…you are aware of the current campaign being pursued in Kementari. You have witnessed firsthand the devastation and death brought by our people. However, you do not know why. Few, if any, in the mortal world do. Therefore, I trust you will be discreet with what I am about to tell you.”

Krav burst in, driven beyond endurance by more information that he could not understand. “What is Kementari? Who are ‘our’ people? You don’t mean you are a Shadar-kai, do you?”
“No, I am not of the Shadowborn mortal races.”
“And what is Kem-men-tar-rey?”
“Your home.”
Kuorlai interjected. “Our home, as in the mortal world?”
Rabadash, recognizing the word, its origins, and therefore a good deal about Vorkhesis himself, nodded. “Our world as a whole. Kementari is one of the first names for it.”

Krav snorted bitterly. “So the world’s dying, and your people are slicing its veins. Hmph. Why do you need our help? Aren’t we out of the way now?”

Vorkhesis sighed, tiring of the Dragonborn and what the god perceived as his arrogant obtuseness, but before he could remonstrate the warlord, Rabadash snapped at his companion.
“Shut up and let him finish, Krav.”

The god continued, in very measured tones, as if speaking to a small child. “I am not fond of repeating myself, so I will ask this one more time: do I have assurance of your discretion in this matter?”

Ungracious to the last, Krav relented. “Fine, you have it, Oracle.” The rest of the party nodded.

“The Raven Queen has lost her grip on reality, and by all appearances, has gone mad. She sleeps in Letherna, haunted by dreams from which she cannot awaken. She still has power—if anything, her power has exponentially increased. She commands her people by mental prowess and sorcery, in which Her Majesty had surpassing skill even when she was still wholly herself."

“How did she lose her grip?” Arannis asked, genuinely intrigued. Vorkhesis shrugged. “I do not know.”

Rabadash volunteered their information. “My Lord, we have seen her dreams.” Krav hissed at him to be quiet, and Vorkhesis raised an eyebrow, clearly surprised that the group would have any new information or insights to offer.

“How is this possible?”
“Before we arrived here, we were in the Plane of Dreams, and we saw the Raven Queen making somekind of agreement with Melora,” Rabadash explained. Stunned into silence, Vorkhesis leaned back in his throne.
“Rabadash!” Krav hissed again. “We don’t know what we saw.”
Vorkhesis shook his head, ignoring the Dragonborn. “Significant as it may be, ultimately I have no time to consider it now. Time is the one thing that no one in this affair has.” He sighed again. “My loyalty and my oath are to my Queen. Therefore, I must do what I can to protect Her when she cannot see the threats before her. Here is how this relates to the fate of Loriana. Your group’s heavy involvement in this war was fated from the beginning of Fate itself. You all have seen more pieces of the puzzle, so to speak, than anyone else—mortal or otherwise. It is precisely this knowledge that is causing Loriana such suffering, and could have cataclysmic consequences for the entire universe.”

Speaking under the god’s soliloquy, Rabadash dismissed Krav’s objections. “Of all people, he deserves to know, Krav.”
“Later.” The warlock whispered to the warlord, wanting to give Vorkhesis his full attention.
“What later? Even Vorkhesis says we have no time! I fade away even now!”
“Then perhaps instead of arguing what to tell him or not, we could hear the rest of what he has to tell us?” Kuorlai interjected. Krav could be something other than rational once his temper had ignited.

Vorkhesis continued, unaware of or ignoring their whispered conversation. “Loriana’s torture is terrible, and I am moved to pity for her in her anguish, but there is more to it than that.”

Arannis was clearly falling behind the conversation, lost in self-centered despair. “What shall become of me?! I have no body to return to!”

Ignoring the Eladrin and struggling to find a sense of calm, Krav asked Vorkhesis plainly: “We’re all dead men. How can we possibly help you? How could we even help our friend?”

Vorkhesis turned to Krav, finally ready to get to the heart of the matter. “You are correct when you guess that there is more to this than I at first revealed to you. It was knowledge that would have burdened you immeasurably. Now, I see, I have no choice. It is not only possible, but practically guaranteed, that, under the duress she will face, Loriana will speak of what she knows and has seen. What do you think the consequences would be if the King that Crawls were to have intimate knowledge of what was happening?”
That name got EVERYONE’S attention—even Arannis’. “You don’t think he…he might be able to free himself?”

Vorkhesis built his case. “If he knows, how long will it take before the One-Handed One or the Queen’s bitterest foe were to learn of it? It is already known to me, and now I do not doubt that it is known to all of you as well, that other Gods prepare for war upon the Queen.”
“And the world will be in the middle of it,” concluded the Eladrin dolefully.
“Not just ours.” Rabadash was in wide-eyed horror at the possibilities such a conflict could bring.
“Indeed, Eladrin, the world would be undone by it.” Vorkhesis agreed.
“Is there anyway we can prevent the war?” Arannis wondered.
Vorkhesis explained, “That is what I am trying to do…or at least to forestall it as long as one might put off Fate.”

Kuorlai tried to establish the framework on which any plan might be built. “Based on your previous statement regarding your loyalties, you obviously don’t want the Raven Queen pulled down…. What alternatives are there to resolve the problem of her…. being lost…. so to speak?”

“The Dawn War repeats…” Krav said miserably. Rabadash shook his head in disgust and sorrow.

Vorkhesis relaxed, as much as gods of his stature do, which is to say that his chin dipped forward. “This is precisely why I wanted your assistance.”

A flash of cognition struck the warlord like a thunderbolt. “Rabadash, the other dream!” The warlock nodded.
Vorkhesis stopped mid-thought. “There are several important—what other dream?” The god sat forward with intense interest.
“The Council,” Krav explained.
“I’m listening.”
Rabadash explained. “Together, we dreamt of the gods deciding to do something about the Raven Queen.”
“They didn’t all agree about it, either,” observed Krav. Vorkhesis was so far forward in his chair, he might have been levitating. Rabadash nodded. “No. Corellon and Sehanine left early…oh yes. Fate has entwined us tightly in this.”

Krav and Kuorlai both resisted the suggestion. The warden objected, “What can a small group of mortals…. dead mortals….. possibly do to affect something so beyond our scope?” Krav continued that line of reasoning. “Even if we could do anything, Oracle, this would not be a two-sided war. What it all comes back to is that we are dead, and generally beyond the reach of my Sergeant and the world we could even try to defend.”
“Actually, Krav, I am in a much better position to help you now that you ARE dead.”
“Like pawns on a chess board.” That was Arannis, forgetting himself and where he was.
The god pressed for more information. “Tell me who was aligned in which way at the Council you saw. I will have much better ability to move the situation as best benefits us if I know who is arrayed against the Queen. I believe I can return you to some mortal form once I know how best to use the help you might offer me.”

The Eladrin continued to bemoan his status. “I don’t have any mortal body to return to.”

The rest of the company ignored him. Krav began a list. “Bahamut was present. Moradin, too. And neither of them liked the idea of the Queen keeping her seat a 2nd time.”
“Ioun lead the meeting, since she was hostess…” Rabadash offered, guilt coloring his tone. “Corellon and Sehanine didn’t seem to care—”

“Did she cast her lot with those for or against the Queen?” Vorkhesis demanded.
Rabadash was taken aback. “W-were there any for?”
“I seem to recall Melora and Kord were there too,” offered Arannis.

Vorkhesis’ demeanor was beginning to crack, and he showed the slightest hint of impatience. “You mean to say they are ALL allied against the Raven Queen??”

Krav mused, “…well that finally explains why Melora was so riled up. She’d lost a bet with the Raven Queen. But Kord wasn’t keen on putting an end to her.”
“Nor Avandra.” Rabadash suddenly remembered. “They spoke as if the Dragon Queen and the Spider Queen were allied with her.”

Vorkhesis practically quivered at this, like a hound straining its lead: “Allied with WHOM?”
Rabadash looked taken aback. “With the Raven Queen, my lord. Her goal seems to be to extend Winter forever.” Vorkhesis actually snorted at this.

Krav continued, annoyed at Vorkhesis’ dismissal of their intelligence. “White dragons have been almost everywhere we have seen Shadar-kai, and then some.” Vorkhesis sobered considerably (no mean feat for someone as sober as the Prince of Letherna always is).

“Any alliance she might have made with them would be full proof of her madness,” the god said finally. Rabadash nodded. “That is exactly what the gods fear.”

Vorkhesis looked more grim than usual. “I can see now that this is far greater a task, and the Queen’s danger much closer at hand, than I had guessed.” Vorkhesis mulled over these thoughts, brooding on his great throne.

“So,” Krav redirected the conversation, “what Loriana knows is old news, then.”
Vorkhesis considered this. “…Not exactly, if I’m understanding you correctly. You have seen more than the gods have, in many cases, and their alliances can be fragile things. However, Loriana’s knowledge, obtained by torture, will make all but public, advertising to two-bit godling and insane wizard that there is unfathomable power for the taking. She will be beset from all sides…and potentially fighting an army of the gods is great enough a task without primordials and the Hells becoming involved. Knowledge of this kind sells, if the price is right, and simply flows freely, if pressure is properly applied. If it is true, and not simply foreshadowed, that these alliances will take place, who else might be trying to pull strings from beyond the reach of this plane? That, and, it is possible that what you have seen is a glimpse into the fated near future…it may still be possible to delay, forestall, or even…”

Several times, Krav looked very much as if he wanted to add something to the god’s musings, but would clam up just before opening his mouth, looking thoughtful.

“Which brings us back around to, what is it that you believe we can do to aid you in preventing, delaying or fixing this problem?” Kuorlai wanted to be on her way, but was too polite to say so.
“Do you still have a will to rescue Loriana?”
Krav answered right away. “Yes. Without hesitation. But to what end afterwards? Are we to swill around in death? Is the world of the dead even affected by this?”
Vorkhesis raised an eyebrow—clearly, Rabadash was not the only one frustrated by the warlord’s occasional obtuseness. He tried to reconstruct the question in a way that made the answer perfectly clear, even to the Dragonborn. “Is the world…of the dead…affected by a war…on its Goddess??”

“The goddess of death is going to be besieged…Would you really think someone like old One-Eye would keep the status quo?” Rabadash was concerned about what may have already been lost.

Kuorlai’s frustration was beginning to show. “Does the after matter, if the rescue of a valiant comrade is achieved and is not itself the act to set off the war?”
Krav’s departure from the dwarven monastery came to mind, and he answered her as best he could. “The after always matters. It’s why we fight now.”

Rabadash thought about it. “If Lori hasn’t broken yet, then that reduces some of the danger for us dead folk.”
Kuorlai shook her head. “What I mean is, if saving your Loriana aids in preventing this world-breaking chaos, is it not a worthy challenge even though we remain dead after? For her, and for the rest of the world?”

Vorkhesis smiled. “A woman with the heart of a mountain. They write songs about those. I used to know all of them, in all the tongues of the world…” Vorkhesis grew distant, as if recalling a pleasant memory.

Arannis, too, was called by the strains of distant song. “You guys have to try and save her.”
Krav sat bolt upright. “You’re not going?”
Rabadash objected. “Your body is in no worse shape than ours, in the grand scheme of things.”

Vorkhesis settled back into the present. “Your heart is with distant family, Eladrin?”
“Yes, I do long to see my real family again,” said Arannis, a note of homesick weariness in his voice.
Vorkhesis nodded. “They await you. Will you go to them?”
The Eladrin shed a single tear. “Please. That would mean the world to me. I always knew I would see them again in death…I am ready.”
“It is done.” A cold wind filled the chamber, and the shape of Arannis dissolved. Rabadash shivered, and Krav looked glum, slumping backward in his seat.

“Our chances grow ever thinner now.” The warlord was perilously close to whining.
Vorkhesis was untroubled. “He was not fated to go further with you.”
“You’re awful to polite to ask when you already know,” Krav practically spat, a half-hearted smile quickly fading from his face.
Vorkhesis was having none of this. “And had I simply returned him to his people, what would you have thought? Would you have found me polite, or even just?”
“Tyrannical,” Krav was forced to admit.
The god looked like someone who was about to get his way. “And this would have made you more or less willing to do what I ask?”
“Depends.” Krav was not ready to give up the fight. “Are you asking me to save someone I’d have died for, or are you asking me to save your Queen?”

Vorkhesis played his trump card. “I’m asking you whether you want a second chance to successfully accomplish what you ALREADY died for, assist me in the offing, and help keep your world intact. Is that succinct enough for you, Krav Khor?” The Dragonborn looked mutinous, but knew when he was outmanuvered.

“Where do we start?” Krav asked.
“You’ll need a way to the Underdark, which can be provided to you. You’ll need some idea of the torture den where she is being kept. You’ll need to rid yourself of whatever it is that ails you…it is unclear to me. It is not something I’ve seen before.” Vorkhesis looked Krav up and down, as if he were a smith fitting a suit of armor. “Death…tinged with life…how strange…”

Balthazar, who was nothing if not over-prepared, chimed in: “Planning for the Underdark? We need something that permits vision without torches…”
Vorkhesis nodded. “Easily done. Do you prefer a corporeal form?”
“Give me my body and I will strike down any King that Crawls across my path to Lorianna.”
The Prince of Letherna looked as though he might chuckle. “The Dragon rears its head once again…however, I would question the wisdom of walking into the Underdark looking like Krav Khor.”

“How would you have me look?” Krav asked, a mite testily.
Balthazar didn’t quite get what the god was suggesting. “If given a choice…a body of blood and bone and platinum would serve my Lord best.”
“The heart of the mountain beats best in a body from the earth,” said the goliath, waxing unexpectedly poetic.

Vorkhesis, though he may have harbored the heart of a poet in his breast, was entirely practical. “I would suggest looking like people who are SUPPOSED to be in the torture dens. Drow would probably be best…there are many of them that serve the King as well as Lolth.”

“Oh, hey, subtlety. There’s a new trick.” Rabadash’s foray into sarcasm was generally ignored, and he acquiesced, shifting back into a more serious tone. “I’m willing to accept all possible help to get this job done.”

Krav was in business mode, taking stock of what the group’s resources were. “So, bodies, disguises, the den’s location, a way out, and a way to end our plight. These are what we need just for starters.”
“The gods are best served by those who want their help least,” quoth Vorkhesis.

Kuorlai was ready for action. “So when do we set forth on this journey? Krav is ill in some way and Balthazar seems to be affected by it too…. We’re all a bit beaten about, I believe…. But time is limited.”

Krav started, remembering something. “Wait a second! How long have we been dead? It’s important!”

That was the last thing any of them said before the change, and the darkness, overtook them.

The Light That Shatters the Darkness
Arise, shine!

The party’s search for the missing men and horses was wildly successful in all but one respect: although they found every horse and rider, Balthazar was lost to them, and although they searched for him, they were unable to find him anywhere. As they were deciding what their next move would be, a sudden darkness overshadowed the clearing where the group stood, draining away all color, and seemingly all life, from the land itself. Those more adept in the arcane arts knew this for what it was: a Darkfield, a roving field of energy so dark and negative that it saps life and color from anyone or anything in it, denies rest to those who die within it, and tends to attract powerful persons of a generally evil intent and/or persuasion.

As the group turned to flee, several skeletal figures appeared before them, and engaged them in combat. The group, already worn down by their fight with the gargoyles and death knights, struggled against the darkness and its agents, but could not gain the upper hand. Vampires were raised and slain, only to rise again at the command of powerful undead masters. Karath was set upon, and was killed by wheeling scimitars of death, wielded by four-armed skeletal dervishes.

As the fight looked lost for the party, a figure of light coalesced, the beams which created her outline warring against the darkness, as thousands of tiny bells tinkled in the air around them. Karath was raised into the air and restored to life and vitality, snatched, as it were, from the clutches of the Raven Queen. The figure of light solidified into that of a young girl who bore some resemblance to the would-be goddess Ilona, especially in the chestnut red mane that cascaded down her back, although she had some marked differences, like skin of a cool blue color. She proceeded to aid the party, although no one was quite sure how, since she did not say a word aloud. Krav, Karath, and Loreana all recognized the likeness she bore Ilona, but were a little too occupied to ask her about it. The girl tipped the balance, and allowed the party to destroy their foes. Krav fell to the violence, and the party was concerned that he might die, but he seemed to stabilize overnight with Ava the shaman’s ministrations, and was up and moving again the next day. The girl asked to accompany the party, and honestly, had they told her no, the emperor’s people probably would have overruled them and taken her anyway. She introduced herself as Neva, but more than that, no one really knows about her. Thus beset by strange tragedy in the loss of Balthazar, but having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by means of an ineffable girl, the party did all it could to keep their wits about themselves.

Returning to Lespathia, the company was barraged by an unhappy emperor who blamed them for failing to take care of both the Malakite issue and the dragonflight problem at once, as he had requested (and believed he had made clear). In the adventurers’ absence, one or more white dragons had assaulted the city, snatching livestock, killing people, and creating general mayhem. Fortunately, Lori helped the party to stay on an even keel, the long journey and the losses sustained having exhausted the warriors’ patience with what they perceived as impotent rage and posturing. The emperor’s people vouched for the party’s story of Malakite’s being missing, and after being made to understand that Balthazar had been lost, and that the whole party would likely have been lost had they split up as the emperor had initially desired, his stance softened a bit, and the Emperor praised the party as heroic and entreated their assistance in ensuring the White Dragonflight was completely gone from Tiamat’s Clutch.

No one seemed to notice or mind that Neva accompanied the party, and they made their way to the mountains. Ascending the first 50-foot cliff with the help of Karath and his climbing kit, the party was surprised by a remaining white dragon. Rabadash and Neva both fell from the cliff, and sustained great injuries in the process, but the fight was not gone from them yet. The dragon dove, hoping to claim them before anyone else could descend to assist them; Rychard, the mage, quickly thought to paralyze the dragon before it could reach the fallen members, and Krav, in an act of ridiculous bravery, tried to leap down and bodily shove the dragon off of its trajectory. Although he failed to move the dragon, he did successfully leap upon its back, much to the dragon’s consternation. The dragon crashed to the ground with a great flurry of snow, barely missing Neva, who still lay on the frozen earth. Shaking off Rychard’s immobilizing magics, the dragon got to its feet and tried to remove Krav from its back, with little success, while Rabadash invited Hadar to gorge on dragon’s flesh. Once their foe lay defeated on the snow, Karath descended and, decapitating the dragon, began to remove anything of value. Neva had never seen anything quite so frightening, and she ran into the snowy waste, trying to escape the fearsome half-orc’s ritual butchery. Krav went after her, to ensure that she came to no harm in the tundra, and Rabadash stood by as Karath dismantled their former foe. Only Rychard, Lori, and Ava remained above…and now, there are only Lori and Ava.

Surrender or Die
The Raven Queen's Ultimatum

In the month that the party has been in Lespathia, capital of the Gurundathi empire, they have purchased a tavern, done a great deal of research into the Ashen Lady and means to use souls as a source of fuel for rituals, among other things, and worked with the temple of Bahamut to generally aid the town.

These days, Lespathia is in the grip of winter, cold and ferocious, and it was on this day that the sky was darkened even earlier than usual by the beating of great white wings as the whole host of the White Dragonflight filled the sky. Terrified at what might happen, the wall guards used a harpoon to wing one of the dragons and it landed in town. The party quickly destroyed it and the fellow dragon that came to aid it, and were scooping up the rewards of two dragon hordes when some members noticed a strangely familiar dark and sinister group heading for the palace.

Running for the palace at a full tilt, the group tried to intercept the Shadar-Kai. Although they did not reach the palace first, they did reach it in time to hear their leader deliver an ultimatum to the emperor: Surrender or Die. Preparing to leave, their ultimatum forcefully rejected, they ran into the party, and beckoned Karath. They tried to tempt him into serving the Raven Queen directly as a scourge in charge of part of the Queen’s armies, pointing out that it is his destiny. The other members of the party objected stridently, and the Shadar-Kai mocked them for their “ignorance” of fate, telling the party that the white dragons they defeated were as nothing before the coming onslaught, and revealing that the white dragonflight were now under the command of the Raven Queen. Thinking quickly, Karath responded that if the Shadar-Kai could defeat him, then it surely was his fate, but if not, he would have their heads to make anyone think twice about ordering him around. They fought, and the Shadar-Kai were cleanly beaten, but vanished, with a warning to Karath about the defiance of fate, before they could be destroyed.

The emperor, who witnessed all of these events, demanded that the party account for these strange interlopers into his imperial palace. The group tried to explain to him about the disappearance of Malakite and the over-writing of the material plane by the plane of shadow, but the emperor had some understandable difficulty believing all he was being told. As a measure of practicality, he commanded Krav, now a tax-paying resident (and in the emperor’s opinion, thereby a subject), to escort his scribes and tax collectors to Malakite, to either collect taxes and prove the group false knaves or to confirm the “disappearance” of Malakite. Further, having been told of their aptitude in dealing with the dragons that “attacked” Lespathia, he commanded them to go into Tiamat’s Clutch and confirm the Shadar-Kai claim that all the dragons were gone.

The group elected to stay together and to head to Malakite first, since that would be a short journey and there was nothing there. With horses and the two carriages provided to the bureaucrats in tow, the journey took about 3 days. The terrain surrounding the road to Malakite was preternaturally quiet, and the group travelled unmolested. At the beginning of the third day, as they were turning toward Malakite, the terrain gradually changed, becoming more barren, and shadowy…and the road was gone, replaced by an eerie forest, which was close and dense for all its sparseness. Krav and Rabadash halted the procession, and asked one of the guards to look for himself to see that the road was no more, that the terrain was not Malakite at all. The guard said to them that the emperor’s orders had been to verify, so that until they were standing on the spot where Malakite should be, they could not hold their orders fulfilled.

It was at about this time that the rangers in the group, being experts not only at hunting but at knowing when they are being hunted, and the shaman, hearing the alarmed whispers of protective spirits in her ear, noticed the gargoyles perched in the trees above. As battle was joined, the gargoyles swooped down, knocking over some of the party members, and panicking the horses, whose riders and drivers kept control of them…for the moment. Then, heretofore unseen skeletal mages appeared, and began hurling deadly bolts of force at the group, including the guards, as their gargoyle guardians attacked anything that came too near. As good as the riders were, in this situation, as their riders were being thrown by bolts of pure force and gargoyles swooped down on to the carriages themselves, the horses simply could no longer contain their animal panic, and they bolted in all directions, with or without their riders. It was with the exhaustion of all the group’s resources, as well as the advantage of tactical errors made by the deathbringers, that the group survived, and the hunt for the bolted horses and frightened riders began.

In Lespathia

Rabadash has been doing research for the book he plans on writing. At some point he will come to the conclusion that he needs to find some primary sources on the histories of Bael Turoth and Arkohosia.

However, he also wants to figure out what’s behind that mysterious message he got concerning local politics.

Should he decide to stay in the area long-term, he will look into getting funding to build an observatory. Doing so will probably involve convincing several rich persons that others will benefit from it besides star pact warlocks.

My Heart is of the Mountain
"...but WE decide which is right, and which is an illusion."

Krav’s geas began with instruction from the priests of Thel-Gul to seek out a monastery in a mountain. There, he would become a student of the monastic life until he learned whatever it was that he was to know. The priests themselves did not know why that particular geas was called for by their god, or whatever divine force bestowed it upon him. However, they laid it upon him, and the ritual was sanctified. Krav set off after the completion of his assignment in Tantalia for the mountain hold of this strange order of monks. When he arrived, he was greeted by silent dwarves in brown robes who guided him to one of the heads of the order. Krav reluctantly and with bitterness allowed the monks to relieve him of his armor and weaponry; these were locked in a chest and left with the head of the order. Krav was given a similar brown tunic, though made for him, and he did not know how it was that the order had known he was coming, but he took the robe, put it on, and was led to a chamber filled with other dwarves, and a smattering of non-dwarven races, most with freshly shaven heads.

He was instructed to sit and gather emptiness to his mind. There he sat, for who knows how long, and let his mind wander. His body screamed at him for sitting too long, for having to relieve himself, for needing food, for wanting so many things…and he found that a long time as a travelling warrior had created a mechanism to drown out those voices. He felt his mind begin to drift, and was brought slamming back to reality by a thump on the back with a switch. Whipping angrily to the side, he was gently remonstrated that his meditations were too self-centered, hence his arched back and head toward his middle. He was instructed to return to his meditation, and he worked to keep his back up straight. He found his mind wandering to war, his deeds of prowess and his moments of glory, as well as his failures. From the ghosts of long ago he recalled having to kneel, and humble himself before Bahamut, to save his comrades. Although most of the sting of shame had left that memory, he couldn’t help but wonder what purpose Bahamut might have had in those events. For that matter, what purpose did any god— His train of thought was derailed by a switch to the midsection. The same gentle voice told him that he wondered about the world outside himself too much, so that his chest was out, and his head back, as if he were looking up at the heavens. This pattern continued for a while, occasionally being switched on the back or the chest if he leaned too much one way or the other.

After a time, he was gently prodded by one of the master monks and led to a place where he could eat. The meal was simple, bread, rice, and vegetables, along with water. It would certainly meet basic needs, but was not much more than that. Krav began to wonder miserably what on earth he’d gotten himself into, but knew that he had done it in order to save his friends. He was lost in thought about his friends—no one there talked very much—when he was jarred back to reality and told to follow another dwarf. This dwarf took him to a room that was enclosed, and had two shallow depressions filled with sand. Krav was handed a farming implement and told to follow what the master did. The master traced graceful patterns in the sand, swirling and doubling back on themselves, snaking along like a peaceful river, and Krav did his level best to emulate, but his muscles were unused to such deliberate delicacy. As he made his own patterns in the sand, he ventured to ask the master questions about the monastery and its beliefs. Most of his questions were met with cryptic return questions, and he began to give up on the idea of getting anywhere.

He did eventually ask how long they would be doing this, and the monk lit up as he saw a “teachable moment”. He gently explained to Krav that his question was irrelevant, for time was illusory. At this statement, Krav stopped—he could not understand what on earth the dwarf could mean by that—and asked him how time could be illusory, since the sun rose and set on a daily basis. As was his wont, the master answered with another question: here, in the heart of the mountain, did the sun still rise and set daily? How did anyone know that the sun and moon themselves were not illusions? Krav was certain, at this point, that someone had gone mad, and he wasn’t sure it wasn’t him. He didn’t so much sleep on the floor at bedtime as lie awake, staring up into the darkness. He was going to have to figure out what exactly it was he was supposed to do here, and get it done so that he could get back into the world where things made sense.

Time did indeed become like an illusion; it didn’t take long for Krav to completely lose track of how long he had been there, or even how long he was doing whatever tasks they set him to do. What he did notice about himself is that he was rapidly losing muscle tone and his reflexes were deteriorating; he did what he could in his daily exercises to forestall that loss, whether it was raking sand, eating, or carrying water. At one point, he realized that he had no idea how long he had been there, and although his memories were vivid, he did not know whether this episode was a footnote or the new chapter that his life had turned, and you could tell him that he had been there a year or a week, he might have believed either (although he was leaning toward a year).

Krav began to settle into the routine of his new existence, although he still yearned after the life he had left behind. He did feel more accomplished as a meditator, but mused to himself that his monk masters would see only attachment in that. He had just recovered from what for lack of a better word one might call a bout of homesickness when a commotion burst out in the monastery. There were interlopers headed into the monastery, including at least one female! A wave of excitement washed over Krav, and he felt the familiar pull of adrenaline, jerking his muscles into action. As fate would have it, the “interlopers” were some very familiar faces, who looked equally surprised and relieved to see their warlord alive and well. The joy did not last long; they told Krav that there was an army of goblins, organized and surprisingly well trained, heading toward this mountain. As this was being explained, the head of the order quietly made his way to Krav. Once the group explained to him what was headed for the monastery, he did not visibly react, but turned to Krav and said, “Forgive us, for this is a great burden I am about to lay upon you. We do not intend to fight, for it is not our way. We are not attached to our lives here. However, the youngest and newest in our order, they have not had the time to decide whether to commit fully to our way of life. So I ask you: take the acolytes and lead them from this place, so that they may choose freely the way of life that they will follow.”

When asked where they would go or what they would do, they answered that there was a meditation garden on the highest level of the mountain, and that they would go there, and meditate until their ends came. Krav’s armor and weaponry were returned to him, and he was girded in his armor, but his mind was firm: he would not abandon the monks to their fate.

Krav turned to Balthazar and said to him, “Brother, please do as the head of the order has asked. For my own part, I cannot leave them here to die.”
Lori piped up, “Are you crazy? This army is huge! Scores of goblins, goblin mages, and who knows what else! You are throwing your life away!”
Krav smiled, and said to her, “No—I am taking my life to use it for a noble cause. I don’t regret it.”
Rabadash shook his head. “Krav, if I thought it would do any good, I would encourage us all to stay. The survival of these monks is not written in the stars, and you cannot change that. None of us can. However, you can help them live on by helping their ideals to survive, and you will do that best by LIVING, and caring for the acolytes, maybe even helping them to re-found the order.”
“This is all very nice, but does anyone remember that goblins are on their way here?” Lori asked, clearly agitated and trying very hard to stay ahead of the coming onslaught.

It was then that Krav realized, in a slow, aching kind of way, that Lori and Rabadash were right, and even his very best could not save the monks. The fates of the monks were completely out of his control, and they would most likely die gruesome deaths at the hands of the goblins—and they were not upset by this, or afraid of it. The situation was not under his control. He simply had to accept that the situation was not under his control. He took a breath, and sighed. Suddenly, a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. His geas was fulfilled! He bowed to the head of the order, and motioned to the acolytes, who had been gathered in the front hall, to get between the clusters of adventurers, and to prepare for the run of their lives.

Their exit may have come too late; the first swarms of green could be seen coming up the hillside to the mountain. A bolt whizzed by—clearly, the first swarms of green had seen them. So, they ran. The dwarves were not made for this kind of activity, and their small size hindered them somewhat. It was inevitable, then, that some goblins would catch up—fortunately, Lori’s swift bow and a few eldritch curses kept them enough at bay to allow the party to escape, with the only casualty an acolyte who collapsed from exhaustion.

With a knowing grin that said, ‘Irony? Doesn’t that mean “full of iron”?’, the group marched a band of dwarves into the nearest town they could find—Meridian.


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