The Final Chapter
Abandon all Hope ye who Enter here.
Legions and legions of Bateezu stretched out behind him. Wings, claws, scales, and fangs of all size and descriptions. Large and small, all fierce and destructive in their own way. The stench was overwhelming as the sea of writhing bodies pressed together, even those currently burrowed in the frozen earth or staying aloft in the freezing gale winds. The howled and screeched in anticipation for the slaughter to come but no fights broke out. They were devils, bateezu, the legion of Mephistopheles and they were more disciplined then any other fiends of Hell.
Mephistopheles, prince of hell and ruler of the 8th layer of Hell, Cania, looked out upon his armies and smiled. Just moments before he had signed a unbreakable contract with the foolish deities Bane and Myrkul about their help in exchange for the Tablets of Fate. True it would give the two gods the ability to see and adjust their fate, but not to truly change it. And not enough to break out of a contract of Law. As long as they remained gods, then they would be forced to serve Mephistopheles in his coup to overthrow the pretender Asmodeous.
Fully half his force, twice as many soldiers as every warrior on the Toril combined and a hundred times more deadly, awaited his call to march into the realms of Nessus, the 9th and previously thought last layer of Baator. But Mephistopheles knew the truth now. There was a tenth layer a unknown and unnamed layer. Maybe Asmodeous had been harvesting his power from it all along it made sense considering that Asmodeous was weaker and more foolish then him. Or maybe the false king was unaware of it as well. But he had found the truth, written by a celestrial no less, long ago. And with the gods of death and tyrannys help, he would rule the hells. With the power of the hidden layer he would destroy the Tanaraii, end the Blood War, conquer Mt. Celestia and eventually rule the entire multiverse. Maybe even destroy the Lady of Pain and conquor Sigil itself.
But Mephistopheles refused to get ahead of himself. Nessus first, then the multiverse. He raise his manicure fist above his sharpened horns and a million horrible voices roared in response. He used the power of Cania itself, much more reserve then he normally would, and opened up a hundred portals to allow his minions to pour into Nessus. He knew the planes weak point and exploited it fully. He threw himself through the portal when he was positive that any traps Asmodeous may have set would have been tripped by his thousands of slaves he had already sent through.
His surprise was complete when he found himself in one of the lowest points of a plane known for its deep chasms. His warriors confused around him as they found their powers nullified. He tried to retreat through and order his soldiers back, at least until he could learn more about this bizarre turn of events. He should have appeared at a high point only a few miles from Asmodeous stronghold. But he found most of his magic blocked, by runes carved hundreds of years ago into the carvern rock by the claws of the king of Hell himself. He realized in an instant of clarity that Asmodeous had known about this assault for centuries, maybe millennium. But the only way he could have known that would have been if he had known about the scroll the celestrial had written all along …………. and known he was coming!
Mephistopheles tried to verbally and telepathically order his minions back, but studiedly following the last orders they got they kept charging through. Minions! Bloody worthless!! He tried to escape by flying levitating teleporting, and even simply climbing the sheer stone cliffs with his indestructible claws. But the ancient runes thwarted him at every attempt. He could tell that his millions of soldiers were trying the same. He knew that with a hint of terror in his gut, a feeling the archdevil hadnt felt in eons, that this could only happen if Asmodeous himself was nearby powering the runes. And the king would need a army almost equal to his own to keep all his horde stuck in this infernal canyon.
His worst fears (and thats bad for a Archdevil) were realized when Asmodeous stepped out into view above the canyons rim. And hundreds of thousands of fiendish devils surrounding his army on both sides. Including the famous ten thousand Pit Fiend brigade that he kept as his personal elite force. The king of Hell looked down calmly, idly scratching himself on the chest with one manicured lacquered nail.
“Why dear Mephistopheles, whatever are you doing down there?” he asked.
“INSOLENT WORM!” Mephistopheles voice boomed like a gods out of the chasms chamber. “YOU SHALL NOT STAND AGAINST ME. TWO GODS WERE INVITED TO DO BATTLE WITH YOU TODAY!”
By ancient tradition, when one archdevil spoke to another in the formal tone they would be responded to in kind. And no one honored tradition more the Asmodeous himself. But all he did was smile slightly and say, still quite calmly “There is no reason to shout. My hearing is quite good. But as for your two friend new comrades well I doubt they will be joining us.”
“YOU ARE WRONG KING OF NOTHING! THEY ARE BOUND BY A TRUE CONTRACT TO HELP ME SO LONG AS THEY RETAIN THEIR DIVINITY!”
Asmodeous just kept smiling, saying nothing. But his smile changed. And in it Mephistopheles saw something he truly dreaded. Victory.
Its Good to be the KingArylin teleported to Arabel and quickly flew north. Below here she saw that the city was in panic and civilians were running trying to gather a force to defend the city. But most were fleeing. The vast majority of all soldiers, mages, priest, and even boys of fighting age had joined up to fight Caspian and were still in Suzail. And that was just to fight one man, a mortal human pirate. What could they do against the likes of the six titans of corpses that were marching towards them now?
The city was being abandoned before it could even be defended. Cormyrians were a hearty people and brave but they were not stupid or foolhardy enough to fight such impossible odds.
Arylin Starflower had separated with the group almost as soon as they had left the cavern. She had stayed long enough to pay her last respects to Shiney, she figured she owed the sorcerer that, even if she had never really known the more innocent caster that Talindra had described. But as soon as it was over she had left with the Kingsword and crown while the rest of them were still discussing what to do. Most of her was rationalizing that it was the fastest and most effective route to take. But a small part of her liked the look on Captain Sunnys face when someone pulled the same trick he did, off leaving while the battle plan was still being formed.
Up ahead she saw the titans and the army of ghouls heading to Arabel. She also saw the legions of spirit followers of the disgraced fallen of Cormyr. She knew instantly that it was nothing to do with the soul sight Essodren, and for some strange reason Damian, had. But rather the sword let her see these particular spirits. She noticed that the spirits and ghoul armies kept steadily coming on but the six behemoths had stopped. A further look ahead with her wonderful helm told her why.
It seemed that Essodren had teleported through the earth in that strange way he had and had appeared closser to the enemy then she had. She didnt see any of her companions with him but didnt doubt they would be along soon. Sunny would probably be bringing the others on the back of Frosttail like he usually did.
A shot of sadness went through her when she remembered that the young dragon had been destroyed forever by the cunning Pit Fiend Yuforoth and the sphere that had also claimed Damian. The poor dragon had been less then ten years old.
She put that behind her and looked further to see Essodren and Dretheren Everet circling each other half a mile in the sky. Drethren leaving a streak of black magic behind, the lizardman wreathed in wind and lightning like a small thunder god. Arylin left the two of them to their battle and concentrated more on her own. She flew as fast as she could to the ghouls, hoping she could make a stand and hold them until reinforcements arrived. After all, they couldnt really hurt her in any way. She was immune to their diseased claws and paralyzing bite. And they couldnt hit her hard enough to hurt her. She flew on.
She was almost there, less then a mile to go and the ghouls howled for her blood. They would be disappointed as she had none. But above she saw another strange shape flying in. She twisted in midair, glad again for the shamans flying spell an saw Vangerdhast the Royal Mage and King Azoun IV flying down to join near her! She expected a host of hundreds to follow but was surprised to see it was only the two of them. She stopped her advanced and levitated up to talk with them.
The royal mage looked grumpy as usual, but the kings face was almost jovial. He probably didnt experience flying as much and relished the experiences. But his look upon Arylin was one of happiness. Before she opened her mouth he yelled out “You found it. You got it back! Most excellent!”
He meant the sword, Arylin flew right next to the two of them and asked “Where are all your wizards? We will need a force to fight these enemies, they are much stronger then regular ghouls.”
Vangerdhast grumped “None may know that a person not of the Obraskyr bloodline can touch the full kingsword. If anyone learned of the Purple Crowns ability to bestow proficiency of the sword to its wearer, there would be much more danger then that of a few pumped up undead.”
And instantly Arylin knew what he really meant. He hadnt come out and said it, but she was used to dealing with only hints and riddle for answers. Plus the sword filled her with the knowledge. The other two must have sensed it as well for they both tensed. Vangerdhast even reached for a wand at his belt.
But King Azoun said calmly, if tentatively “You know what he refers to, dont you? The hidden histories say that the sword gives up its secrets to its bearer.”
Arylin Starflower nodded slowly “I can legally fight you. One on one with no interference. To the death. If I have this sword I may claim rulership of these lands and the elves of Eversky and Evermeet would legally accept me as the true ruler. By rights of this sword.”
Vangerdhast drew the wand and aimed it but Azoun raised a hand, stopping him from doing anymore. The wizards hand didnt tremble though. Arylin was more resistant to spells then almost anyone in the country, ignoring alost everything absorbing the rest. But she figured if Vangerdhast drew a wand on her, he thought it would do some good and she didnt really want to see what the results would be.
“That is true. And that was the real danger of the crown going missing. Even if all the pieces of the Kingsword vanished, as they did with Threthmars disappearance, as long as the crown was kept safe there was no true danger.” Azouns voice stayed calm, a man meeting his destiny head on and chin level. Arylin could see why his people loved him so much. He represented all that Cormyr was to stand for. He was the real reason Sunny and CC fought so hard for this country. He was the reason the Four Winds had never abandoned it. Even if none of them, or Azoun, had known it.
“What will you do Ms. Starflower?” the king asked. “I will fight you if I must, and according to the ancient accords. I am a seasoned adventurer and a fair swordarm and you wont come away without loss of blood on your part. But we both know what the outcome would be. I have sat on a throne fighting with words and pen for almost twenty years. You have been fighting from dawn to dusk for over a year now.”
A few of his words were technically inaccurate. But she saw no reason to quibble minor details. She would leave that to CC. She didnt think about it for more then a second before she instantly handed the sword, and then crown, to the rightful owner.
She actually had to hand the crown to Vangerdhast. For as soon as the king took the sword he looked down upon the ghouls at this point surging under them, and stared in awe. Arylin understood why. He didnt need the crown to use the sword properly for he was of the original royal bloodline. And he was seeing the army of spirits for the first time. A sight that Arylin lost as soon as the sword left her grasp.
The king stared for almost a full minute, looking this way and that. Both Vangerdhast (who put away the wand without even a shrug of apology) and Arylin looked at him and each other. Each opened their mouth to say something but at that moment King Azoun Obraskyr the Fourth raised the sword high in the air and shouted with a voice that rang from the city to the titans “I AM THE TRUE KING AND I COMMAND YOU TO DESTROY THE UNDEAD INVADERS! FIGHT FOR ME, FIGHT FOR YOUR REDEMPTION! FIGHT FOR CORMYR!”
Arylin thought she heard something but it could have been the wind blowing through the three of them floating so high………….. sure it could have been. Next the ghouls were being harassed by an unseen force. They were thrown, mauled, stabbed, shot, burned, and broken by unseen forces. They apparently had the ability to fight back, maybe it was because a small part of their energy came from the ethereal plane. Every once in awhile a ghoul clawed at empty air and ectoplasim came away for just a moment. But it still only took a few minutes for every ghoul to be completely destroyed. Then the Kings eyes turned and watched the six titans, still standing completely unmoving.
It was at this point that Arylin saw Essodren.He was floating with the dreaded black staff of Undead in hand, still glowing black. Flying alone near the titans, so close that one could have reached out and crushed him if it had bothered to move. There was no sign of the Zhentish necromancer anywhere. She noticed that the lizard shamans eyes followed the same spot as the kings. They were both watching the spirit army.
It took almost ten minutes and that was with the titans not fighting back. Whatever the necromancer had done had apparently been undone. The corpse-gatherers stood totally still as invisible (to her) forces slowly overran them and toppled them down. When the last one had fallen, and the thunder of its fall had subsided, then did the king raise the sword again.
The words were short and sweet. The dead did not require long flowery speeches. “I hold your oaths to be fulfilled. Be at peace.” The king said in a simple voice that Arylin barely heard from right next to him.
The undead apparently heard it however as the clouds formed into a swirling vortex and the wind rushed as if in a small tornado. It only lasted a minute or two before it subsided. At the end Arylin noticed that Essodren was gone. She had not seen him leave having been absorbed in the swirling spiritual vortex. She wondered what he had seen. She nodded to the King and Court Wizard of Cormyr, watched the two of them teleport away back to Suzail, and then landed.
She felt at peace. The price had been high, it had been very high. But in the end it had all worked out ok. All sins and mistakes of her past had been accounted for and all questions answered. It had hurt quite badly, when Ellowyen had pronounced her punished. But after the pain she felt almost as if she could start over, with a new slate. She hadnt believed in gods after the horror she had seen on Ebborron,, especially when she had returned to see her homeland of Crye turned into the dreaded Mournland. But here, on this world, maybe the goddess of travelers Selune would find a place for her. She looked up at the night sky and dreamed. But it didnt last long for off to the north a wind was blowing.
A storm was coming
A Talk of Death and Life
Drethren Everet the Deadmaster sat for what felt like an eternity waiting. He really didnt want to do this. He was a Cormyrian at heart and loved his country. He wanted to help and thought his unique understanding of necromantic magic would accomplish this. After all he had turned the tide of the first Caspian invasion. Did these peasants really think that a couple of adventurers on a flying ship and the Blue Vengeance had held off the most feared pirate on Toril by themselves? Did they not understand that most of those he had raised had either been sahugan themselves, or fallen of Cormyr and would gladly fight again for their country? Alot of them had been soldiers already for Myrkuls sake.
But as the titans came lumbering down the countryside, eating up mile after mile with no signs of slowing an Arabel showing in the distance he began to question. Maybe the offers of the Zhentariam weren’t for him. He had lived in Cormyr and knew the dangers of making deals with the unknown. But his own country had spurned him, spit on him and called him a monster.
This was useless, he was just going round again like he had been for months. He had agreed to help that strange little girl that had recruited him and he would see it through ……….. wouldnt he?
“Ssstopthisss madness.” a voice hissed nearby.
He turned out of his self thoughts to see Damians lizardman ally flying up toward him surrounded by a mini tornado of wind and lightning. The tall draconkin creature looked like a miniature lightning elemental.
“You dont understand. They deserve this. They did this too themselves. They will pay for what they have cost me.” Drethren yelled. Arguing his case.
“Why? What have thesse people done to you?” Essodren asked circling closer.
Dretheren couldnt really answer that so he tried a different tactic “The Zhentarium understand my talents better. They are not as evil as we have been led to believe. They just use different methods to achieve results. Just like I do.”
“I have heard ssuch argumentsss before. I know a ranger that would sssay the Zhentss are evil.” Essodren said, trying to keep the conversation in this foreign tongue simple.
“You mean Damian? He said that you dont trust him. But he is not evil either. He just uses methods that you are afraid too. He makes the choices you cant. He is like me, helping Cormyr fight against things that scare them in the night because they always want to run from the shadows. But there are things in the shadows with a bite. And sometimes you need to bite back!” Dretheren almost screamed at the end.
“Damian became the Warlock Lord.” Essodren said simply and without preamble.
Drethren was stunned for a moment. It couldnt be true. Sure he had told Damian to meet him at the village of Drakenshield. And sure the Warlock Lord had revealed himself there for the first time in seven years not ten minutes later. And sure Damian hadnt been seen since then but …………. could it be?
Essodren saw his chance to strike, but he also saw he was reaching through to the softskin deadtalker. He cursed the primitive human tongue but continued talking “You love your land right? You care for your peoplesss. Why bring death to them? Why dessstroy what you ssay you protect. End thisss madnessss.”
Drethren thought about it and looked at the staff. It was still glowing with violent black necromantic energy like it always did when surrounded by alot of undead, or very powerful undead. Or in this case both.
“Why did you try ssso hard to ssave Cormyr before if you are jusst going to desstroy it now? Doess not that make the people who hate you right?” Essodren asked.
Drethren thought about it and eventually nodded. He turned towards Essodren and said “I can never return here.” He turned and pointed his staff towards the six titans and stopped them in their tracks. He couldnt destroy them but he did the next best thing and deanimated them. They would just stand there for eternity now, or until they were destroyed. He took away their fear auras an draining powers and just left them as a mound of corpses, unmoving and unseeing.
Essodren nodded. The ghouls and the army of spirits were still on the loose, and quickly separating from the now unmoving behemoths. But he saw that Arylin and the Kingsword in the distance moving closer to try to cut them off. He had stopped the main threat by himself, he would let the stone elf deal with the ghouls. He figured he would deal with the spirits in a moment.
He turned back to Drethren, who looked at him and asked calmly. “I need you to do something for me. But answer me one thing first.”
“Where is Damian Mordiki?”
A Hero for a Hero
The storm outsie was raging, but CC ignored it. Cinders tried to be brave but the lightning and rain bothered him. He kept himself preoccupied with muttering to himself in Abyssal on how he would burn the rain and lightning. CC knew the impracticallity of that but kept his thoughts of that to himself. He let Cinders have his hope.
Hope was important.
Is worst storm ever!! the hell hound wailed mentally
“Its just a little rain. It wont hurt you.” CC chided gently
And bommidy boom! Will destroy whole world! Then nothing to burn. Cinders went on not listening.
“Just a normal storm boy. Calm down.”
He stood there, in one of the countless hallways of the Suzail Palace, looking at the painting. It wasnt a big painting, Only about ten inches tall and possibly fourteen inches long. He was dissatisfied with that though he didnt know why. It wasnt as if he would ever look upon this picture again, or as if he cared as if what other people thought. But he did believe that this picture deserved better then to be put in a random hallway in the middle of a maze of corridors. He was a excellent tracker and it had taken him asking directions to find the stupid thing. He hoped the dwarf never heard he had to ask for directions.
The ranger was looking at the picture finished today of the Four Winds, King Azoun IV, Queen Filfierel, Princess Tanalasta, and the noble Lord Patrick Thistle. It was the finished version of the sketch they had all poised for. It had to be modified somewhat by the fact that Damian Mordiki had been forbidden to be in it. Even though the fact he was the Warlock Lord had been classified absolute top secret and not to be told even on pain of death, the Court Wizard Vangerdhast wouldnt allow the Warlock Lord to be publiced so close to the true king. Even though it had really happened. In fact if not for Damian, princess Tanalasta wouldnt even be in the picture.
He glanced at a noise down the side when he saw an old man approaching. A bent man with a bad back carrying a broom with more dirt on it then bristles. One of the small army of cleaning staff the court provided. He absently told Cinders not to burn the pour fellow for doing his job. He went back to studying the picture and its glaring absence.
The old man must have been lonely working the night shift by himself and stopped to look at the picture that had obviously ensnared the famous adventurers interest. He had to squint to see the painting, even though it was only a few feet away.
“What you looking at that thing for son? There is a real good one of Myrmeen Leah right over there. Now there is a woman to feast your eyes on.”
“Go away.” CC retorted. Then he relented, remembering how he was trying to learn to be more diplomatic “I want to be alone” There. How much nicer could a guy ask?
The janitor nodded in understanding and put his broom down to sweep exactly two strokes before stopping. Apparently it was break time and this was his favorite break spot. Or something. “There is another good one right around the corner. Shows purple dragon mages stomping some of them red cloaked bastards from Thay. Gets the blood pumping it does.”
CC wondered if this old man were Polk in disguise and if so could he stab him in the hallway and run. But he relented and turned to face the old man. Even though the other one was fully human, CC was taller by a few inches. “Is there something you want old man.”
The janitor seemed to consider this for a moment. And then two moments. Maybe three. Then CC realized the old man had fallen asleep standing up! No wonder this was his favorite break spot. CC would normally have just left him there but he really wanted to be alone with his thoughts on this painting and having a senior cleaning associate who may or may not be dead of old age snoring at his shoulder was distracting him. He reluctantly shook the man awake.
“Oh! Hey there, watch those hands! They’re cold!” the man flailed with his skinny arms.
“Look old timer. I lost a good friend today and I would really like to just be left alone.” CC said in his last ditch effort to be nice before he litterly chucked the guy across the hall. Diplomacy only went so far.
But the old man nodded saying “You mean that wizard feller they left outa the portrait?”
CC was surprised “How did you know about that? And its not a portrait. A portrait the people have to stand there as the picture is done.”
The janitor humphed “Its not a wizard either! A wizard has to choose what spells he has memorized and not just select them whiley niley as they see fit. But you dont see me preaching semantics to YOU now do you?”
CC just stared. Something about this was very odd, and in a strange way, a little familiar. He mentally nudged Cinders for a reminder but the Hell Hound wasnt interested in anything other then burning, making the thunder stop, burning, making the rain stop, or burning. Then it dawned on him with a certainty.
“I liked the hat better.” CC said.
“And I like thy smell of wet dog less. Especially when that smell comes with an extra helping of brimstone. But we dont all get what we want.” the old man replied without missing a beat.
There was silence for almost a full minute as the two men just looked at the picture.
“We could have used your help in that last fight you know.” CC said quietly. And despite his best efforts, a little accusingly.
“We dont all get what we want.” Elminster repeated even quieter, and with a very sad trace in his voice.
“Busy night trimming the beard?” CC asked, his anger growing “That wasnt orcs or skeletons we faced in that cave. It was the thrice damned Warlock Lord! It was the Pit Fiend General Yuforoth! Mephistopheles himself was there! If he had decided to stay and fight then I wouldnt be standing here right now! The Warlock Lord would and you two would be going at it again. Only I wouldnt be here to save you this time!” CC was growling at the end to be almost inhuman. Cinders eyes had turned red above his head and he watched the janitor/sage with a wild pirana grin.
“If he had stayed, maybe I could have helped.” Elminster said quietly.
“Why then? Why werent you there? It was close in that cave. So damn bloody close.”
“She gave me another task to do.” Elminster said quietly “A storm is coming. The worst storm in the history of this world.”
“Cinders, stay out of this.” CC sighed. He turned to the sage “What task was so damn important?”
“Finding a woman. Goes by the name Midnight. Not so easy as you might think, especially the type of woman who take that as a nickname.” Elminster chuckled sadly “Makes me wish I was a lot younger and thy situation alot less serious. I tell thee that for free.” Elminster said, slipping into his archaic speech.
“Whats so important about her?” CC asked, his anger ebbing.
“Dont know. She just said to keep her safe until thy time is nigh.” Elminster shrugged. He didnt say who “She” was but he didnt have to. He also made it clear that he would say no more on the matter.
They stood there for a long time. Cinders whimpered with every thunder crash but the two men didnt move. Finally the sage, still in the form of a Cormyrian janitor, laid a bony hand on CCs shoulder and said “You listened when you had to. I tried to do the same for him. Mercy is all that separates angels from devils sometimes. At least you didnt let hate rule you as it ruled him.”
CC thought of that for a few moments as the Chosen of Mystras footsteps faded before calling out “He didnt.”
“Whats that?” asked Elminster, stopping and peering over his shoulder.
CC said nothing and after a moment the janitor harrumphed and stomped back over to the ranger. “What was that son?”
“He didnt let hate rule him. His last act. His last real act. Was to defy the darkness inside of him and take his own life before destroying his familiar.” CC said slowly. The recollection was painful.
A moment passed and then in a breathless voice the old man said “Was it really now?” as if to himself.
He sounded different and CC noticed that the janitor was gone and in his place stood the archmage champion of the Harpers himself, complete with robe, beard, pipe, and hat. He concentrated for a moment, still looking at the portrait before mumbling quietly arcane words of magic.
It wasnt a powerful spell, but it was quite subtle. CC only noticed because he was looking directly at it, but the picture subtly changed as another figure was added to it. The Warlock Lord appeared slowly in the picture, as grotesque and horrid as during the battle of the final cave. The old mage didnt stop though and kept chanting. The Warlock Lords body condensed and resended into itself, losing one monstrous feature after another until the half elf Damian Mordiki stood in place, looking like he did when the original sketch was made. CC was about to nod appreciatively but the mage kept chanting. Dropping feature after feature. The veil came off and Damians mouth sewed back together, his tattoos vanished, and the haunted look left his eyes. Finally his hair turned a patchy strawberry blond and grew to almost shoulder length. Woody materialized on his right shoulder, between him and the princess Tanalasta. Then he added one more feature that CC had never really seen before on his old friend Shiney.
CC turned to Elminster and held out his hand. He was only mildly surprised when the old man clasped him firmly on the wrist and shook his hand in a warriors fashion.
“He found redemption after all.” Elminster said “He must have learned it from thee.”
CC shook his head “Maybe it is me, who has to learn it from him.”
Elminster nodded wisely at that and then turned to walk away. He called out over his shoulder “The storm will be fierce. Trust in faith and courage in the days ahead.” and with his next stride he vanished.
CC nodded. He went back to the picture, the one that did yet did not show Shiney the sorcerer. You had to look at it a certain way to see him, it was hidden to the naked eye. But magic was not required, once you knew what to look for, it was plainly visible. Shiney, member of the Four Winds, his arms around Tanalasta, standing far from Polk, with a broad boyish smile on his happy face.
Lawful People, Chaotic Marriage
Terra Hammerstriker just shook her head at her stubborn husband. He was bound and determined to go. He had heard that Bruenor Battleaxe of Mithral Hall had sent out the call for aid against a incoming drow invasion and asked for all friends to assist in the coming onslaught. Thunderholmewasnt in any shape to send aid other then some financial but King Battleaxe had little need for money. He needed soldiers for his battle and priest to fight against sissy elven magic. Terra would do well enough for both.
There werent enough soldiers in Thunderholme for King Ebert to send anyone, and he had forbidden anyone from going to try to save his own cities peoples, an order that the old warrior hated to give. In fact Ebert found much he didnt like about being a king. But he was glad to know that Bane was going to go anyway. He had been with the Battleaxes when they took Mithral Hall from the druegar and he would be there to defend it still. It galled him that only Bane and his newly wed wife Terra would be representing Thunderholme in this endeavor.
Bane had went through a strange marriage indeed. For they had decided they had waited long enough and had wed just two months after Bane had returned for good. It was still during the Time of Troubles when oddities of the absent gods were evident everywhere. But that had not stopped the young dwarfs from being happily married. And if King Ebert was right in his suspicions, young Terra Hammerstriker was pregenant. What the result of a pregnant dwarf during the time of troubles who could communicate with the stone so well was, well time would tell in that case. But King Ebert knew the child of Bane and Terra would be force to reckon with indeed.
Ebert only suspected but Terra knew the truth. She was indeed pregnant. She had idly asked Bane one time about what he would like to name his children, when they eventually had them. Bane took a moment to contemplate such an odd question but finally responded with “If its a boy, Chaxander.” he said finally. Since returning he seemed to be taken more and more of the aspects of Dumathion. Speaking less and less. Terra took it in stride that in just a few years Bane would stop talking altogether and become fully mute, as was common for those that chose to worship Dumathion above the other gods of the pantheon. As a dwarf child of stone herself, she saw little problem with this. However Bane walked away before answering for a girls name.
Terra knew better then to mention her condition before leaving for the battle for Mithral Hall. Bane would insist on her not going to keep the unborn child safe. And since he needed her to get him to King Bruneors side by the spells, he would stay behind as well. And if he missed the chance to fight alongside other dwarves, cracking elven heads underground, he would never forgive himself. There were few dwarves on or beneath Fearun as equipped to dealing with drow as Bane Hammerstriker.
When the Earl of Underthunder stomped back into the room in his full battle armor and equipment, she knew he was ready. He hadnt carried all his equipment at once since the day he returned from the defeat of the Warlock Lord. He had never talked about what had transpired that day. Not even to her. He would tell some stories gladly, some stories grudgingly. But the story of his last day of the Four Winds seemed to be one he would take to his grave. She honored him and gave him his space.
She cast the spell and the two of them sunk into the depths of the earth to travel through it to Mithral Halls lower doorstep. From there they went to join the army.
Bruenor Battlehammer didnt lead his army. He hunted along with his group of personal adventuring friends nondwarves all, in the tunnels during the battle. And it could be argued this was a good thing for it was in the depths of the tunnels, far from the fiercest, thickest fighting, that the war was truly won. But make no mistake that it was Bane and Terra Hammerstriker, in the thickest of battle, that killed the most drow, orc, kobold, and every other creature the drow could throw at them. Bane stood firm against elves, goloms, monsters, and spells. His hammer glowed and lightnig flowed, some say he stood twelve feet tall. Some say he was surrounded by a blessed shield and magic couldnt touch him. Some say his eyes and beard glowed silver and he often found himself straying from the dwarven lines and deep into the enemy. And in the depths of the mountains, he had trouble keeping up with his wife, who asked the very stones for their support.
Bane and Terra left just a few days after the battle. Neither of them ever seen on the surface world again. In the centuries to come they cleared out Underthunder again and reopened it to a fortress against the Underdark. And rumors put Bane at a Planeswalkers bar in the middle of the cosmos. And late in his life, as an old dwarf with many strong children, he let his soul leave his dwarven body, have a few words with his da Bashif Hammerstriker, and was wielded by his firstborn son Chaxander Hammerstriker.
Whos legends and deeds would indeed grow enough to outshine even his fathers.
Return to the Old Ways
The Lightning Peak clan traveled north, skirting along the forest. They were a strange clan in ways. Lead by not one but two warriors, a married couple of equal strength. Some mocked the warrior queen but not for long. Her sword could find the weakness in any opponent and she had better gear then most barbarian clans could dream off. Her husband Tu’Doren with his twin axes and warthog tattoos able to lift a strong man with only one hand considered her an equal and companion.
They were also led bya male seer. A man crippled by a unknown monster of the darkest depths. His visions are never wrong and the clan benefits from his wisdom. With the three of them leading their people, they survive the Time of Troubles and prosper, somewhere further north of Tilverton, out of the kingdom of Cormyr and the trouble it seems to bring. They travel back occasionally, being the nomads that they are. Trading with the dwarven fold as their people have a good history together, rather unusual for both of their ilk.
Zena of the Lightning Peaks, of the Four Winds, has a good life. Wind in her face and sun in her hair. She never knows the feel of chains on her skin or hunger in her belly. She remembers her travels and uses her skills. But the barbarian life is in her blood and she cannot leave the way of her ancestors, and ancestors before them. She runs with the lightning.
She is free.
Essodren and Ashara stood staring at the spot.
Just moments before the shaman had used his magic to close the mound of earth. He had put the staff there that the Deadmaster had given him right before the diamond storm had come. Essodren didnt know what else to call it. It had effects like the diamond dagger seemed to emulate and it had lasted over three full months of softskin time! He had had his hands full just dealing with all the death magic the staff brought to him on a almost hourly basis, never mind keeping his people safe from the dangers that had arisen. Added to the fact that his magic hadnt worked the entire time had made last summer a very interesting one indeed.
But something had happened and everything was back to normal now. Ashara was with him, and Tuvra was still badmouthing him. But the little spirit owl was quiet now. They all stood together, looking at the mound of dirt.
The mound of dirt
In the middle of a old human ruin
Right next to a gigantic tree
They had chosen this spot for a reason. Talon was guarding against a door to Minauros, the third level of Hell, layer of swamps. It seemed that asking him to guard a small little staff on this side wouldnt be adding to much to the burden. The tree did nothing to respond but Essodren was satisfied.
His last task as a member of the Four Winds behind him, Essodren turned with his mate and started for the tree of skulls.
Hours later, when the family of warthogs, much stronger then normal, that made the tree there normal sleeping place returned, the tree slowly and inexorably covered the lizardmans spot with thick roots that would hide the staff from the world. It had done so just a few months prior when the druid Starhawk hand put some elf-slaying equipment for him to guard as well. The tree didnt mind, guarding the forest is all it ever wanted to do anyway.
And if some pitied the great tree for never being able to move or speak always being glued to this spot, never really being able to attack or defend itself.
Well, then they just werent aware of the unicorn that kept watch, and made sure that artifacts promised to remain unfound, indeed remained forever out of reach.
In the Ear of the Beholder
“Push Honey. Push!” Dony yelled excitedly, almost jumping up and down.
“Actually she needs to relax for the moment.” Father Feldis said as calmly as he could. It was quite a feat since he had blood past his wrist and poor Samantha was gasping in the pain of childbirth.
“Stop pushing Sammy, whats wrong with you? Didnt you hear the priest?” Dony cried out, throwing up his hands as if trying to mentally keep the child in.
Samantha kept panting and gave her rather simple husband a hard look but said nothing. She was having enough trouble just breathing normally.
Only a few minutes later however Samantha was holding her baby daughter with a beaming husband standing protectively over both of them. Proud and beaming as if he had done all the work. Samantha forgave her husband, after all Dony was a decorated hero of the Caspian invasion. Father Feldis prayed over all three of them and welcomed the baby with Lathanders grace.
“For the ritual to be complete, the child must be named.”
The young couple looked at each other and Samantha nodded with a shy smile. She knew which name Dony had almost begged her for. Excitedly, and quickly as if his wife might change her mind, he turned to Feldis and blurted out “Wendy! Wendy Havies.”
The young priest nodded and grabbed a nearby scroll. “I bless you in the name of Lathander Wendy Havies. Welcome to -”
“Hold on just a cotton-picking minute.+ Dony interrupted holding up his hand. “You didnt
prononze, prnooze, prawnonce, ummm SAY it right! Its said ‘WENDY’ you know, like the weather.”
Feldis was confused for a moment. “I know how to spell Wendy Mr. Havies. I promise you I will get it right. W E N-”
“Hold on just TWO cotton-picking minutes! Dont throw your fancy schmancy spelling learning at me. I want it spelled like the weather.”
Feldis just looked at him in confusion for a moment and finally it dawned on him. “You want to name your daughter Windy? As in a Windy day?” he asked.
Dony hook his head almost violently. “Not like Windy day. Like as in Windy Havies! Why would I name my child day? My name is Havies, you should know that, I’m a decorated hero!”
The priest tried to explain what he meant but that just made things worse. As the two started arguing about spelling (a fight Dony was unequipped for but would hold his ground nontheless) Samantha held the newest member of Cormyr and cooed softly to young Windy Havies, who sat with her eyes closed listening to the world for the first time.
On the Ground over There
They had torn down the warehouse years ago. But the statues were new. It had taken years to get the funding and King Azoun was worried if he didnt commemorate the spot it would soon be forgotten. After the wars and the Time of Troubles and the Tuigan Horde, it was really rough for Cormyr. It had been over eight years since the Dread Pirate Caspian had been defeated. And unless someone had lost a loved one in that one day battle, it was largely a footnote in the history of that chaotic period. Considering the undead titans, the Warlock Lord appearance, and the Time of Troubles all happening withen a week, it wasnt even the most exciting news of the week back then.
But the statues were built. Six statues for each of the Four Winds. Carved out of sculpted stone and fine detail of each hero of that famous adventuring group. There was a plaque under each detailed statue with a name and title.
A statue of a halfling wieling daggers with a large admirals hat titled “Sunny Underhill. Captain”
A statue of a female elven spearwoman holding back the waves titled “Arylin Starflower. Pilot”
A statue of a dwarven warrior in dragonscale plate with a hammer titled “Bane Hammerstrikerr. Earl of Thunderholme”
A statue of half-elven ranger with a dog pelt wielding a bow titled “CC. Major”
A statue of a lizardman wielding lightning from either hand titled “Essodren. Chief”
A statue of a human warrior with a two-handed sword holding Caspians head titled “Tim.”
There was a big unveiling of the statues and much rejoicing. Drinking and merriment was meet with the quick speech but after a few hours life returned to normal as the busy people of Suzail got back on with their lives. Some of the more historically accurate or political members of the community argued about the validity of the statues.
“But Bane was a traitor, he destroyed the wall and was killed by that dragon!”
“Wasnt Tim with the king when that pirate guy was killed? Whats-his-name”
“There is a statue of CC in the cemetery but it has a tattoo”
“Why the hell is there a lizardman hero in Cormyr? Get rid of them”
And so forth and so forth. But time went by, days turned to weeks, then months, then years. Grafetti and pigeon droppings fell on the statues. Heros rose an fell and slowly the tale of the Four Winds and the battle of Caspian fell out of most peoples thoughts and into memories, then history books. Myths and legends took place where people started forgetting exact details. Slowly but surely the enevitable march of time took its toll on the statues.
Then, one day, many years after the statues were unveiled. Dawn brought a surprise. It was a street sweeper who noticed it first, in the early hours of the day, with the first touch of Lathanders light. It was only because the elder woman swept the same street every day and could walk its passages blindfolded that she noticed the difference.
The vandalism was gone, as were the pigeon gifts and the chips and scratches that had built up. There the six statues were, as pristine as the day they were announced all those years ago. Gleaming and perfect without a mar on them. Not only that but some sort of protective enchantment had been laid on them. It was chaotic and unpredictable in nature but rarely harmful to any young hooligans. It may have appeared with the new markings on each of the statues shoulders, a strange symbol of a sun under a gently rolling hilltop. The protective spell would unleash odd and unpredictable punishments on any who dared to mess with the relics of the past. Turning clothes green to causing hiccups that wouldnt stop for hours to emitting uncontrollable stink, any who dared tried to mark any of the six statues meet with the strange curse and soon stopped trying. Mages and clerics trying to break the curse meet with worse fates and it was quickly given up as a strangeness of the Realms.
But the biggest change of all was one of the statues was changed completely. The statue of Tim was gone, no trace of the arrogant paladin remained. In his place was a statue of a young half elven sorcerer wearing a veil with a small curious weasel on his shoulder. The plaque simply read: “Shiney. Friend” Whether the simple title was because Shiney had earned no special title of his own ………….. or whether because it was the grandest title the creator could grant is still argued to this day.
It wasnt till almost a weak later that a young woman, Windy Havies by name, who could read much better then her parents, was the first to notice that there was more written on Shineys plaque. She had a habit of always looking on the ground, a old adage her dad used to say he learned from a great adventurer. And on the very bottom of Shineys podium, more scratched with a phenomenally sharp object then written with chisel were the words “I forgive you Damian………… I hope somehow, someday, you will forgive me.”
It wasnt signed. The author remains a mystery.
The Story stops but never Ends
Asmodeous, God of Punishment, looked at his prisoners. Four in total. It had all worked as he had planned. Maybe not exactly to detail but he had adapted to the changes the realms had undergone since his plan to thwart Mephistopheles over a hundred years ago.
Now he was a god. A true deity with a place in the cosmos. He had more power then almost any other being in existence, including over 95% of already existing gods. And with his knowledge and political power there was really no creature that could stand against him. The Blood War was all but won. The foolish Tanarri on the run on all planes of existence and several planes of the Abyss taken control of.
He dismissed the pit fiend Yuforoth almost instantly, he had thousands of pit fiends of his own already. He would either have this one destroyed or thrown to the front lines to die fighting the hated demons. Asmodeous hadnt decided yet. The kyton Marjul would probably suffer whatever fate he bestowed to Yuforoth. Neither of them caused Asmodeous much concern.
But the other two. He had worked hard to get the other two. Ellowyen Derigos was almost complete in her transformation of the very first Hate Elemental. It had taken a fair portion of his own divine essence but he thought the exercise worth it. It would be interesting to see what the results would be.
The last one however intrigued him the most. Mephistopheles ha spent so much time and effort molding this one mortal that he couldnt help but save him and see what purpose he could serve. Now that he had recovered enough of the time stasis to be cognecent again, he knew that it had been worth the trouble to spare him.
Asmodeous had mostly manipulated Mephistopheles. But through him he had also twisted the machinations of Shar, Yutrus, Bane, Myrkul, Loviator, Szass Tam, Elminster, the Zhentarim, Fearuns elves, Lloth, Dumathion, and the ghostly remains of Cormyrians fallen soldiers. After all that, manipulating a small oriental clan known as the Tiger wasnt too challenging. Only the fact that they could travel through time and listened to the math prophet of Oghma made it difficult. But he had found a perfect pawn in the ninja Kat. He had perfectly polymorphed a unwilling mortal to exactly match he Warlock Lords physical features (a process he had sacrificed hundreds until he got a perfect match).
Using Kats chronomancy, a normally impossible process in the circumstances of the cavern Damian had chosen but the time stop magic that had been thrown around had made possible, Kat had paused time a mere instant before the damned halfling had used a Sphere of Annihilation. Then had switched the real Damian with the polymorphed mortal doomed to oblivion.
It had taken almost a century for Damian to come back to himself, partly due to the Time of Troubles, then the Spellplague, then something to do with a nightmare creature called Ikidrom. But Damian had returned, back to his full power of the Warlock Lord and more control of himself then maybe he ever had.
Asmodeous waved a hand and Marjul and Yuforoth disappeared, sent to the Abyss to die in eternal battle. He forgot about them almost as soon as they are gone. He turned to Ellowyen and Damian. Plans turning in his mind, whirling and twisting, even more then when he was an archdevil, even more then way back before the dawn of time when he was the first angel.
He smiled cruelly let absolute malice glow in his eyes. In the far distance a halfling priest screamed in agony, another prisoner picked up from his raid on Cania long ago. He ignored the exfisherman and said clearly to the two devils kneeling before him, in words that would burn into their wretched souls.
“I have plans for you.”
The Worst Kind of Doom
“I saw we head for Icewind Dale. There is a crystal shard lost of there that would be worth a kingdom.” claimed Tordek the dwarf.
“The ruins of Myth Drannor must still be full with scrolls and wands and hidden secrets the elves left behind.” mused Mialee the elven wizardess.
“Cold and monsters? No thanks. Lets go to Sembia instead.” chipped in Liddia the halfling rogue “Its close and I would rather run from some guardsman then beholders or demons or whatever anyday.”
“Maybe south? There could be some opportunities in Westgate.” Redgar the fighter considered.
“No matter where we pick, not everyone will be happy. What if we simply draw out of a hat?” Jozan the cleric offered. “But one thing is certain. We cant stay here in Cormyr. There is nothing to tame and no foes to engage. It is too tame a land and very well patrolled.”
All five adventurers nodded in agreement to this. They brought out a few maps and discussed strategys when a local of the city came up and promply slapped his empty tankard down. The five looked at him curiously.
The halfling looked like a wagoner teamster and had no sense of shame or intruding as he climbed to stand on top his chair and hook one thumb under a suspender belt.
“Looking for adventure folks? Good kids, good kids. Course your doing it all wrong but thats ok I can tell your new at this.” Polk gladly introduced himself. Liddia tried to interrupt that they were not rookies but couldnt stop the verbal avalanche of the little halfling. “What you SHOULD be doing is finding a dragon. A big one, red preferably but dont be limited by location. Just because its the bottom of the ocean doesnt mean a blue might not be hiding down there. Also you guys each need about ten more weapons each. Cant have enough weapons my old pappy used to say. And another thing-”
The five looked at each other, each wondering how they were going to get rid of their newest companion.
Thanks for all the memories guys. It was a campaign for the ages. A few special shoutouts.
Eric – For keeping the rest of the players on their toes, and informing them of how to not make bad investments.
Nate – For making each session aromatically special, and the importance of watching your drinking cup.
Jack – For informing all the NPCs of all ongoing activities, and for absorbing all Nates abuse so we wouldnt have to.
Mike – For rolling a 1 on every single session, usually the first roll of the night.
Chad – For timing how long we could stay mature at each session even though we never made it, and for the ever important graph paper
Vel – For showing the boys how a real hero fights, the most masculine character of the group.
Mark – For saying all the right things in exactly the wrong order.
Hoping the group will stay together and probably party now and again. But lives are much different now then even three years ago and it will probably never be quite the same again. Heres to us.
May the Force be with us. And Cheers.