Search This Blog

Friday, April 29, 2011

Will You Run... Or Will You Stand?

            The companions spent an uneasy night in their room at the Backhand Tavern.  The continuous rumble of thunder made sleep difficult, but not impossible.  It was decided that this day would be spent restocking supplies and maybe picking up some much needed gear for the trials that are sure to come.  Murook traded some diamonds he found within Fredregar’s laboratory for some gold and the four companions spent the day traversing the crowded streets of Highmoon that remained flooded with a worried mass of people staring up at the full, red moon still hanging overhead.
            As dusk settled over the town of Highmoon, the group of four friends again felt the weight of the events of the past five days.  They all wondered what happened to the town of Phlan after their escape.  Was the town destroyed, or did the city guard manage to fend off the cyclops?  Did more of the one eyed giants come through the portal and lay waste to the town?  They all found themselves considering the fact that they should have stayed and helped where they could, but each also knew that if they had stayed they all would be dead, or even worse.
            They thought of the red moon and the clouds that ringed it.  Was it connected to the orb and Thaelioth somehow, or a sign from the gods themselves of some other disaster on the horizon?  The thunder that had followed the red moon seemed less today than yesterday, but still it was difficult to have a conversation without shouting.
            “So what can we do now?”  Aelar said while they were walking back to the Backhand Tavern.  The four of them were all thinking the same thing, and in truth, none of them had an answer to the elf’s question.  What did they really know about anything that was going on around them?  Why did Thaelioth place this burden upon them?
            “This orb is a curse!”  Murook blurted out finally after a few moments of silence.  “I wish I had never laid eyes on this damned thing.”  After he finished his shoulders slumped and he seemed at that moment to be carrying a weight that was much too heavy even for the burly half orc bare.
            “What choice did we have?”  Archelios added.  “The sorceress apparently chose us to keep the orb safe.  Remember what she told us in her library.”  The drow sorcerer stated as he walked along with the others.
            “Magic orbs, dragons, cyclops ‘n evil cults makes no difference.  It only matters that we be doin’ the best we can with what we be given.”  Boucher said.  “I mean, you came to be at the Academy for the same reasons we all came to be there, right?  You be wantin’ to learn the ways of battle right?  Well, I’d say ya were taught well enough my big friend, and now it be time to put them lessons to good use.  We have a chance here to be makin’ a difference in what’s to come.”  Boucher finished his speech with a huff and a firm nod to accentuate his point.
            “Are you willing to die in service to a sorceress who’s motivations we know nothing about?”  Aelar asked Boucher directly.  “Can any of you tell me that Thaelioth’s motivations are just?  I certainly cannot say that, and I suspect that’s true of every one of us, including you my dwarf friend.”  He finished with a resigned sigh as he looked to Boucher.
            “Her motivations aren’t clear, I’ll admit, but you cannot deny that the things pursuing us are not the gold standard of righteousness either.”  Archelios quipped in a playfully sarcastic tone.
            “Gold standard or not, when will we get cornered by something we can’t escape and we can’t defeat?  Will we all die saying that we did it all for the greater good, or will we wonder if we were just pawns in some grand game played by powerful beings?  I know which one I’d be thinking.”  Murook’s last statement caught the others by surprise and caused them all to view their discussion in a different light.  They all thought of death every day since the attack on the Academy.  Before the attack, they were students in training for a life of adventure and excitement, not adventure and possible death.  Mortality rarely enters the minds of the young.  They all had done a bit of growing up in the last five days and now, knowing the foes that pursue them, death was on all of their minds.  Boucher seemed to be the most comfortable of the four facing death.  He was the only one of them that was dedicated to a chosen deity.  His faith in the afterlife that awaited him gave him comfort in the fact that, when he met his end, he would join Amanautor in his sunlit realm of peace and tranquility.
            “You may be right, my friend.  We may be just pawns to be manipulated by the powerful, but again I ask all of you, what choice do we have?”  Even the monotonous thunder did nothing to diminish Archelios’ question.  The question that none of them wanted to ponder.  The question that seemed to suggest that they were stuck, and there was no going back.
            “We could’ve left the orb in its hiding place at the Academy.”  Aelar put in tentatively.
            “Aye, we’d have been much better off if we had.”  Murook immediately chimed in.  If it were only that simple he thought.
            “Would ya’ve been better off?”  Boucher said as he moved to the front of the group as they kept a slow but steady pace back to the Backhand Tavern.  “It seems to me that ya’ve grown more in the last five days than ya did in three years at the Academy, all things considered.  What did ya plan to do when ya left the Academy, become a flippin’ farmer?”  Boucher said, as he threw his hands in the air clearly tiring of the current argument.
            Indeed Boucher’s last comments seemed to put an end to the debate.  Leaving the orb in its extra dimensional hiding spot, located within the Dalelands Defense Academy’s highest tower, would have been the safer route to take, but what adventurer ever takes the safer route?  The treasure, the new found wealth and the things they have seen may not have come to pass.  This was the life of an adventurer.  Dangerous and wonderful, deadly and exciting all rolled into one.  Chance was part of this life, the life that each of them wanted, or thought they wanted.  Sparring with your instructor wielding wooden weapons is not exactly the same as facing down a cyclopsian warrior that wants to smash you into a pile of goo. 
Murook found himself remembering one of Headmistress Myrnn Tyranna’s powerful lessons on the subject of living the life of an adventurer.  She had picked him out of the class to demonstrate the proper way to defend against a larger, stronger opponent.  Murook, being the only half orc and the largest student in the class by a good margin, was the obvious choice.  Although no one could ever consider the dark elf woman frail by any measure, Myrnn was at least one foot shorter than Murook and no more than half his weight, the ease at which she threw him to the ground was always surprising.
“No one said it would be easy, but nothing worth doing is ever easy.”  Myrnn smiled down at Murook as she extended her hand to help the half orc back to his feet.  “This world we live in is filled with danger.  Monsters of incredible power, hordes of goblins and powerful dragons lay waste to entire villages.”  Myrnn paused and looked him over for any sign of injury, seeing none besides the bruised ego; she turned back toward the other students and continued.  “For most people the choice is simple, run, hide or die.  But there are a few, the very few, that stand against the onslaught and hold the line against the evil that would devour the world.  The question you all must answer is… which one are you?  Will you run, or will you stand?”  Myrnn said with finality and then pronounced the lesson over for that day.  It was one of the most memorable lessons Murook learned in his time at the Academy.
The arrow that struck Boucher in the back of the left shoulder brought everyone back to reality quickly.  Boucher immediately grabbed at the protruding missile, while the new armor he had purchased earlier reacted to the attack by exuding an obscuring mist encompassing the area around the wounded dwarf offering him some defense from other arrows that might be targeted at him.  Archelios, always quick to react, spotted the archer on the roof of the baker’s shop that they had just walked passed.  He quickly enacted a flight spell on himself and Murook enabling them both to reach the roof quickly.  Murook felt the spell take hold of him and knew instinctively what to do.  Both he and Archelios were up on the roof in a flash to the great surprise of the two archers who were caught completely off guard by the sudden appearance of the large half orc and the lithe dark elf.
Aelar, seeing that Boucher was hidden in the mist and safe from further arrow attacks, quickly enacted his innate ability to change form.  He took the form of a winged stirge and followed Murook and Archelios to the roof.
The fading light of dusk settled over the street where Boucher was still struggling with the arrow lodged in his left shoulder.  He stood inside the veil of mist created by his magic armor, but the mist was disappearing quickly.  As it cleared, Boucher could make out the silhouettes of three figures that appeared further down the cobblestone street.  At first he thought that it must be the city guard coming to see what the commotion was about, but then the mist began to clear enough so that he could clearly see the wings that now unfolded from the back of the figure in the middle.  The winged figure immediately took to the air headed for the roof top behind him, and the other two were now running directly toward him.  Boucher turned quickly and ran to the door of the baker’s shop thinking it best to put something between him and the two armor clad attackers.  He shouted a quick warning to his friends on the roof top, but he doubted any of them heard it over the thunder that still rumbled in the skies overhead.
On the roof above the baker’s shop Murook, Aelar and Archelios were focused on the one remaining archer when the winged figure dropped down in front of Murook intercepting his attack that most likely would have split the human archer down the middle.  The figure’s wings were covered in dark blue, leathery skin.  The thing was easily as big as Murook and appeared completely hairless with long pointed ears and a mouth containing two sharp fangs.
“Vampire!”  Murook shouted loud enough for even Boucher to hear, who was by this time locking the door to the baker’s shop behind him.
Murook finished his warning and instantly flew into a series of attacks against the blue skinned, undead creature.  His new two handed, frost axe bit deeply into the creature’s flesh causing the thing  to howl in protest, but it did not seem to lose any fury as it came back at the half orc relentlessly.  Aelar switched his focus to the winged vampire.  Archelios finished off the human archer and then turned to help out the half orc.  The druid and the sorcerer blasted the vile creature with lightning, locusts and multicolored spheres of chaotic energy.  The three of them attacking together had the creature reeling and just when Murook raised his axe to finish the vile thing, the vampire became a cloud of insubstantial mist which rolled over the side of the roof down toward the front of the shop below.
Boucher slammed and locked the door to the bakery shop hoping to keep his two pursuers at bay for a few moments to give his friends time to reach him.  He turned immediately to see Lysandra, the shop’s owner and her dog, Henry peeking out from behind the counter that was set along the back wall of the small shop.  Boucher started toward Lysandra but stopped when Henry, a large wolfhound, began to growl menacingly at him.  At that moment the front door to the shop burst open and the two armor clad figures charged into the one room shop.  Boucher met them immediately to keep them from getting to Lysandra, who let out a terrified scream as the two entered the shop and surrounded the dwarf.  They each wielded a mace, and took turns attacking the dwarf knowing it would only be a matter of time until they found an opening in his defenses.  So focused on defense was Boucher that he did not notice the mist that flowed into the shop moving around his feet toward the back of the shop where Lysandra and Henry were hiding.
Murook jumped down from the roof and landed on the street right outside the front door of the shop.  Inside, through the smashed door, he could see Boucher smashing and cursing at the two attackers that flanked him.  He could also see the mist that was now reforming into the winged vampire at the rear of the shop.
Aelar and Archelios floated down to the street in front of the shop to rejoin the battle.  A lightning bolt from Aelar and a chaos missile from Archelios helped Boucher make short work of the two armored attackers.  The three of them now turned to the back of the shop to lend aid to Murook who was now reengaged with the blue skinned vampire.
The big half orc tried to keep the large, winged vampire away from Lysandra who cowered behind the small counter along the back wall, but the vile thing was fast.  The vampire furiously blocked and slapped away Murook’s attacks not wanting to feel the bit of the warrior’s nasty axe again, all the while maneuvering to get himself nearer to the defenseless woman.  It was working.  Murook’s axe was devastating, but it was also heavy and while he certainly had the strength to wield it properly, each swing overbalanced the half orc so that he was constantly shifting his feet to keep his balance.  The vampire was injured and needed to drain a victim to gain his strength back.  He saw his opening to the helpless woman and lunged for her only to meet Boucher’s mace followed closely by a powerful chaotic blast from Archelios.  The attacks had the vampire stunned and Aelar sent in a bolt of lightning that struck the undead creature in the side which set up Murook’s overhead swing perfectly.  The vampire was vanquished before it could turn to mist and escape.
Archelios went to the smashed door of the shop and searched the two dead bodies for any sign of who these brigands were, or who might have sent them.  He found his answer soon enough in the form of a bounty poster with crude drawings of Murook, Aelar and Boucher on it.  The poster offered a reward of ten thousand gold.
“The Cult of the Dragon offers ten thousand gold pieces?  That’s no small amount.  Every bounty hunter in the Dalelands and Cormyr will be after you three now!”  Archelios read from the poster as he held it in front of him for the others to see.
“Indeed, you will be added to the poster soon my friend.”  Aelar said with a resigned sigh.
Boucher helped Lysandra to her feet making sure the woman was uninjured.  Murook took care of the dead bodies and explained what happened to the city guard.  Being around this town for the last three or four years he knew most all the guards well and had no trouble convincing them that these were just bandits looking to rob poor Lysandra’s bakery shop.  The guardsmen thanked Murook and the others for standing up and vanquishing the thieves in the name of justice.
The companions went back to their comfortable room at the Backhand Tavern and settled in for some much needed rest before deciding what to do next.  With such a large bounty now hanging over them, it would be much more difficult to travel by normal means.  They would need to be more cautious than ever now.
Archelios noticed the constant thunder of the past three days was now considerably less than it had been earlier in the day.  He thought of what possible connection that the thunder or the red moon could have to Thaelioth, Traveler or this cult that now hunted them.  He decided after a few moments that he was much too tired to solve this puzzle right now.  It would wait until later.  A deep slumber soon overcame the drow sorcerer.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Flight of Tierna - Part Two

The three of them stared at the harpy that called herself, Tierna for a long time before anything was said.  Generally harpies were known to be aggressive toward any that were not of their kind, although there were stories of harpy clans that regularly traded goods with the small towns in the northern regions.  Many strange things had happened to all of them since the Academy was attacked little more than three days before, and none of these things claimed to be friendly.  Maybe this winged creature was different.   The curious creature certainly seemed like she meant no harm.  Boucher was baffled at why a harpy would seek him out for any reason.  Murook did not trust her in the least, but he had to admit, he was more than a little curious about what kind of story she had to tell.  Aelar was more pragmatic about the situation, but he had never heard of any harpy speaking the common tongue as well as this one seemed to.

“You came here seeking Boucher?”  Aelar and Murook said in perfect unison.  Each one turned to the other after they had finished, both wearing confused looks on their faces.

“Aye.  Master Boucher I’ve a message for you.  It’s very important. Many lives depend on it.”  Tierna said, growing in volume and speed with every passing syllable until the pain caught up with her and forced her to stop.  She gasped loudly and grabbed at the wound on her side in agony.

“Ok, ok.  Lie still and calm ya’self, ya feathered ninny.  Ya’re sure’in to tear open anything that’ve managed to heal up!”  Boucher scolded the creature, and immediately went back to work with bandages and salves and healing chants.

Aelar gathered lichen and some small flowering plants that grew all around in the rocky soil to make healing poultice wraps for her major wounds.  Murook stood guard over the whole scene.  He expected the dragon to come swooping in at any moment to finish them off with one of those nasty lightning bolts the blue devils were so fond of throwing around.  In the darkness that settled around them now, just after the sun had dipped below the horizon, he would not have much chance to spot the thing before it was on them.  Murook dearly hoped that he had caused enough damage to the blue beast so that it would think twice before trying to finish them off anytime soon.

“We need to move as soon as we can Boucher.”  Murook said, sounding more nervous than he had intended.

“Is he one of  your lieutenants?”  Tierna managed to say between gasps as Boucher continued to poke and wrap her wounds.

“Me lieutenants?  Don’t have no lieutenants girl, er… harpy girl …whatever.  These two be friends, nothin’ more.”  said Boucher, shaking his head, then returning to his work on her wounds.

“Harpy girl?  Whatever you wish, Master Boucher.”  she said with a modest chuckle that made the wound at her side ache more, but not nearly as bad as it had just a few moments before.  “That’s much better.  I’m able to walk now, and  your lieutenant …ah your friend is right.  We need to move now.  We can talk on the way to Phlan.”  Tierna said, as she struggled to her feet.

She felt a little dizzy, but it soon passed and she gathered up her things and started to walk up to where Murook was standing.  She dared to test her wings, but decided against that when she felt the wound start to pinch at her side.  Murook seemed to be lost in his scans of the sky to pay much attention to her, but as she got close he reached out and grabbed her arm stopping her suddenly.

“And just how did you know we were heading to Phlan little harpy girl?”  Murook said, taking his gaze from the sky and lowering it to stare directly into Tierna’s eyes.

“I uh …This is the way to Phlan correct?”  Tierna stuttered and looked away from the large half orc back toward Boucher, as if to cry out for his help.

“You will stay where I can see you creature.  Too many things hunt us now, and you have much explaining to do.”  the half orc said with menacing tones as he jerked the much smaller harpy close to him.

Tierna nodded her head and Murook let go of her arm.  All three started their trek toward Phlan.  A full moon was up this night and it shed enough light to make the going easier, but more importantly, the use of torches was not required.  Torch light would shine as a beacon to whatever was out there for miles around.  None of them wanted that.  Aelar led them, Boucher and Tierna were in the middle and Murook followed, keeping his eyes peeled for any pursuit.

Murook did not have any experience with harpies himself, but he knew the stories that were told of the creatures.  He remembered some of the tales about how the harpies would prey on young children taking them from the banks of streams and rivers as they bathed or fished.  On the other hand, he had also heard of his own people in the north that traded regularly with the harpy clans that were near the Spine of the World mountains.  A curious thought crossed his mind suddenly.  What if his mother had not moved them south to the Dalelands when he was still very young?  Would he have had a harpy friend growing up?  Murook shook that notion from his thoughts quickly, and let out a hearty chuckle at the silly idea.  The others turned to regard him then, and he looked up at them and realized the chuckle had been much louder than he intended.

“Something funny friend Murook?”  Aelar stated, looking at the half orc with the customary one eyebrow raised.

Murook just shrugged and shook his head, not wanting to add anything further.  Boucher smiled, as if he knew what was running through Murook’s mind, then he turned toward Tierna and sighed.

“Well?”  he stated flatly to the harpy, as if she were able to read his thoughts and answer accordingly.  “I think it’s time fer ya’re story girl …er Tierna.”  Boucher added after staring at the harpy for a few long moments.

“Aye it is at that, Master Boucher.  But where to start?”  Tierna said to herself as much as to any of the others, but that did not stop Boucher from answering the rhetorical question.

“I’d say ya’re to start at the beginning girl …uh harpy girl …just start somewhere if ya please.”  Boucher stuttered and spat out finally, which made most of the others, including himself, chuckle a bit.

“First let me say, I’m not from here.”  Tierna stated, her voice low and cracking with uncertainty.  “Well, it would be more correct to say, I’m not from this time.”   she continued as calmly as she could.

“Not from this time, eh?  Well, that’s just great.”  Murook said, as if he were expecting those very words to come out of the harpy’s mouth, and was not the least bit surprised.

“It’ll take some explaining I know, but please hear my words and believe them to be true.”  Tierna begged, while raising her hands and patting at the air before her to try and stop the forthcoming questions.  “All will be explained,  …hopefully.”  she added, and then, after heaving a steadying breath, she began to tell her tale from the beginning.

Tierna told them of the war with the Fomorians, along with their cyclops minions, for the control of something she called, ‘the power.’  She also told them of the alliance that was fighting the Fomorians.  The alliance was formed by the dwarves in the beginning, and now included halflings, drow, elves, humans and, of course, many harpy clans, among other races.  She told them of the way she was sent back in time to find and warn Boucher De Cheval of the Fomorian threat, and that they would be sending their shock troops after them soon.

“They’ll come for the orb you carry soon.  You must…”  Tierna started to finish her story but was interrupted by Aelar and Murook simultaneously.

“What orb?”  Aelar and Murook said at the exact same time.  Aelar’s voice carried more concern, but Murook’s voice was more harsh and filled with accusation.

“The orb you carry with you now.  The orb that calls itself Traveler, correct?”  Tierna stated, looking at each of them not knowing why they were suddenly so defensive.

“And just how are ya knowin’ about the orb miss Tierna?  Boucher said with true concern and growing trepidation evident in his tone.

“How’d you think we knew where and when you’d be?  I’d think that a harpy from the future wouldn’t throw you all into such a tizzy, being that you carry a device that can easily transport you to any place, or any time you choose.”  Tierna said looking at all of them in turn with a confused expression on her face.

“We?  And who is we, exactly?”  Aelar asked pointedly.

“The alliance. My commander, Maitre Boucher De Terre.”  Tierna boldly stated.  She answered Boucher’s unspoken question as she kept walking.  “Aye, he is your descendant Master Boucher.”

The three of them stopped and stared at the curiously composed harpy as she continued to walk a few steps more until she realized they had all frozen in place.  Tierna turned and regarded them with a resigned expression of hopelessness.  The High Commander told her to tell them his name, and about his relationship with Boucher De Cheval if they needed some convincing, but she was not to tell them anything more than she had to.  She wondered now if there was anything left to keep from them.  The High Artificer had told her about paradox and what it could mean if she created one while trying to fulfill her mission.  Her head spun now with all the information she was asked to learn in the few hours before she was transported to this time.  It all seemed like a blur.  She convinced herself that she would make sure that they believed her no matter what she had to tell them.  Everything depended on it.

“My son?”  Boucher asked, cautiously in little more than a whisper.

“Uh no, but he is a close relative Master Boucher.”  Tierna said, realizing now she could keep some things to herself.  “The war will begin in a twenty years or so, but the seeds of it are planted here in this time.  I’m from nearly one hundred years in the future.”  she stated flatly.  After all, they need not know from exactly how far in the future she had come.

Many further questions about the alliance and about Boucher’s relative came at her over the next several minutes as they continued heading toward the town of Phlan.  Tierna did her best to answer, but most of the time she found herself telling them of the dangers of paradox, and how she did not feel she should add much detail to her story for fear of creating one.  That seem to satisfy them for the most part.  In truth, even the big half orc had started to come around to believe her story.  She looked at Murook and Aelar then and wondered why the history tales did not mention either of them more prominently.  She was told that Master Boucher would be traveling with two others, one a druid and the other a fighter, but nothing more.  Not even the races of these two were mentioned.  She found that more than a little bit curious, but she had no more time to dwell on that matter.  Tierna topped the hill and stood along side the three companions as they all looked over the town of Phlan.

“A warm bed and a soft meal tonight for sure!”  Aelar stated excitedly.

“I’m thinkin’ ya got that turned ‘round a bit there, don’t ya?”  Boucher said, as he scrunched up his nose while staring at the elf with a confused look on his face.

“It matters not.  I’m too tired to care.”  the elf said.

The conversation between Boucher and Aelar quickly devolved into a good natured argument about how druids should not need the comforts of civilized places, and about how a certain dwarf should go find a soft rock to lay his head on this night.  Murook and Tierna stayed at the top of the hill looking over the town for another few moments.

“The Fomorians will come for the orb soon Murook.  You must keep it from them at all costs.”  Tierna said as she spun around and looked up into the half orcs eyes.

“I’m curious.  How is it that you don’t seem to know anything about Aelar and myself, but you seem to know much about our esteemed dwarf friend?”  Murook said, after staring for what seemed like minutes into the harpy’s eyes.

“I should not add…”  she started to say but was interrupted by Murook.

“Yes, yes …paradox.  You worry me harpy.”  Murook said, shaking his head and looking toward the ground.

“But, I’m speaking the truth.  As much of it as I can.”  Tierna said with a somber tone in her voice.  She had a feeling why the history tales did not mention Aelar or Murook but she kept that to herself.

“I guess it wouldn’t be good to have you come into town with us?”  Murook asked her after many moments of silence had passed.

“No.  I was told my kind would not be welcomed in most towns.”  she grinned as she finished.  “I’ll head to that old tower just to the east there.  I have other things to attend to before I leave.”  Tierna said, as she turned and stared hard at the lonely, ruined tower that stood just outside the town on a small hill.

They said their farewells then and the three companions headed off into the town leaving the harpy alone on the hill under the night sky.

It appeared exactly how she had pictured it from the history tales.  The ruined tower sat on a small hill just to the east of the town of Phlan.  Huge rocks at the base on the seaward side broke the mild surf rolling in from the Moonsea.  This was where she would complete her mission.  This was where they would try to come through.  She fingered the small pouch of magical chalks, just to check to see if they were still there, while she walked toward the tower.  Now it was up to her.  She thought of Geddy, the human that had come with her, and poor Mick the halfling that had taken the bolt of lightning directly in the chest.  They were both dead or captured for sure.  Although she was not briefed on their part of the mission, she knew it had something to do with a drow woman that was held captive by some sort of dragon cult.  She vowed then and there that if she survived the next day, she would set out to discover this drow woman and help her if she could.  She felt as if she owed it to her fallen comrades, however brief a time she might have known them.

As she climbed the stairs to the top of the tower, she realized why the Fomorians would choose this place to open their portal.  The tower still hummed with a familiar energy.  She knew most people would not notice, but she was from a different time.  A time where she had lived her entire life bathed in this energy.  An energy she knew only as ‘the power.’

Aelar did indeed find his warm bed and his soft meal at an inn called The Giant Oak Tavern.  It was not long before Boucher’s familiar snoring echoed from the walls of the spacious bunk room they had procured for the night.  All three were soon in the embrace of much needed sleep.

Boucher awoke during the night and sat up on his bunk.  He looked around the room at his two companions that were still sleeping, and then to the small balcony that overlooked the main street.  He paused for a moment, not sure of what he had seen.  Something was not right.  He got up as quietly as he could and walked toward the balcony still trying to figure out what was so peculiar.  As Boucher looked down at the street, he realized then what was wrong.  Everything was bathed in an eerie, red glow.  He immediately looked up to see the full moon shining crimson red, as if it were covered in blood.  Boucher gasped and fell to his knees to say a prayer to Amanautor, his patron deity, the god of the sun.  Aelar and Murook awoke then to see the dwarf on his knees deep in the chant of prayer to the sun god.  They looked at each other, then slowly, both of them turned back to the dwarf kneeling on the balcony that was bathed in the deep, red glow of the full moon.

It was just before sunrise, and the early risers in Phlan had been up for almost an hour now.  Everyone of them was out in the street staring up at the spectacle that was in the night sky.  Murook and Aelar grabbed their gear and headed out of the inn and into the street.  Boucher finally coming out of his prayer chant, did the same, and moments later caught up with his two companions.  All three stood there and looked up at the full, red moon.  It was surrounded by clouds that seemed to come from every direction yet did not obscure the moon at all.  They formed an open circle around the moon and stretched from horizon to horizon.  The clouds were roiling and flowing as mighty storm clouds would on the stiff winds that feed them, yet no wind was felt.  A distant sound of thunder could be heard far off in the distance.

In the ruined tower, Tierna watched the clouds build and the moon turn red.  She knew what these clouds heralded, but could not worry about that now.  She turned back to her drawings on the floor of the tower.  The magical grace had to be perfect to be totally effective.  There were varying degrees of this kind of magic, and she needed to be precise to make sure it would be strong enough to completely block the Fomorian portal.  Any misplaced lines in the grace or mispronounced words in the accompanying chants would likely mean her death when the powerful portal began to open.  She thought to herself about where and when she was now.  This time was not her own, and  yet it felt as though it was.  Like she was always supposed to be here, at this time and in this place.  The two most important events that shaped her world were occurring in these few days.  And now, she would play a pivotal role in at least one of them.  She shook the fleeting thoughts from her mind and focused on her appointed task.

“Goddess, I pray your battle goes well.”  Tierna said with a wry smile, as she pulled her gaze away from the sky and back to her work.

Many people now flooded into the streets of Phlan.  It was certainly past sunrise by now, but the thick clouds were keeping most of the suns light at bay.  Many of the people notice Boucher’s holy symbol, and beg the sunlord for guidance.  So many crowd around the dwarven priest that he decides to hold service right there in the street.  Boucher climbs up on one of the raised porches to speak to the frightened people about what is happening.  He fields many questions and tries to reassure them all.  He informs the people that he is investigating the phenomenon, and will not rest until an answer is found.

Murook and Aelar are at a loss to explain what is happening.  They wonder around without a clue as to what is happening, or what, if anything, they can do about it.   The lich, Fredregar was from this town, maybe he returned here.  Maybe he could tell them what is going on.  Aelar and Murook, having no better ideas, decide to search for the undead, monkey wizard.

It was just after midday, and the sun’s rays still did not break the deep cloud cover.  What was more disturbing was that the moon had not moved across the sky.  It was still in the same spot in the sky as it was last night when it had turned red in color.  Many people were starting to panic, and some were running through the streets gathering supplies to load onto wagons in an attempt to flee this red moon.  Boucher rejoined his friends, having nothing else to say to comfort these frightened people.

They all were exiting the alchemist’s shop when a familiar face appeared from the crowd of townsfolk.  Archelios walked up beside the others and greeted them warmly.  He told the them how he and Mandlebrot had spent the last few days researching the orb, and the founder Thaelioth to try and find anything of use to them.  He explained that Mandlebrot had gone to the great library at Mythdrannor to find a rare book that was said to contain information about Thaelioth’s time in the abyss.  Archelios told them how he was concentrating on researching the Guardians of the Balance, and that research had led him to Phlan, where he hoped to regroup with them.  The conversation was furious as each of them had stories to tell about the time they had been apart.   They headed back to their room at the inn to discuss other matters more privately.

They filled Archelios in on the details of the last couple of days.  About Fredregar’s lair and how they actually met the little monkey lich in the flesh, so to speak.  And how he was quite helpful, even pleasant toward them.

“A lich, being helpful and pleasant?”  Archelios blurted out, with an expression of complete amazement displayed on his ebony skinned face.

“Aye.  I believe it was he that unlocked his treasure room for us too.”  Murook added, with a confirming nod of his head.

They also told Archelios about the narrow escape from the lair and how those spiny devils almost did Murook in.  This part of the story had Murook squirming uneasily in his chair.  He knew he never wanted to come that close to death again, and the painful sting of those spines still made his muscles ache.  In fact, he was certain that some of that demonic poison still coursed through his veins just waiting for a vulnerable moment to attack him from within.

In a short time, they arrived back at the inn.  Boucher felt the time was right to show Archelios the box they had recovered from Fredregar’s lair.  He slowly pulled out the rune inscribed box and sat it on the small table they had all gathered around.  Archelios looked closely at the box, without touching it.  He was able to read some of the runes inscribed on it, but others were in a language he did not recognize.

“That one means ‘to drain’ or ‘to empty.”  Murook said, pointing at a few of the more obscure runes along the edge of the box.

Archelios stared at him in complete disbelief, with his eyes wide and his mouth agape.  The other two just grinned and shook their head.

“It’s this crystal thing I found in the lich’s lair.  It’s what allowed me to speak with those demons that nearly killed me.”  Murook said shyly, as he noticed Archelios staring and the others grinning at him.

“The language is called, infernal.”  Archelios said, as a wide smile stretched across his face.  “It seems you found some useful things in there after all.”  he finished chuckling, and slapping Murook on the back.

After some small experiments they soon discovered that the box was a tool for draining and storing magical energy from any enchanted item.  The box even grew or shrank to accommodate different sized items.  What it could be used for was still unclear, but Archelios knew, through his research, that many rituals drew power from magic items.  And that some of these rituals needed many powerful items in order to activate.  A device which could store that energy indefinitely would be very useful in those types of rituals.  They all decided to put the box away and study it more closely later.

At last Aelar came to the part about the harpy named Tierna and the young blue dragon that chased her.  Aelar told Archelios her entire story.  How she came from the future to warn them about the Fomorians and how she knew they carried the orb with them.

“Tierna!”  Murook and Boucher said as one, as they turned and looked at each other.

“Aye.  She may know something about this red moon.  Why didn’t we think of it before?” Murook asked, as he scolded himself.

“Sure’in it be a better idea than sittin’ here waitin’ to be squashed by a cyclops!” said Boucher, who always seemed to add a bit of color to his words, as only a dwarf could.

“That is a comforting thought, good dwarf.”  Aelar quipped, rolling his eyes for effect.

“I missed you all so much.”  Archelios sighed.  It was all he could add at that moment.

They hurried out the door of The Great Oak Tavern, and jogged down the street to the eastern gates of Phlan.  The street was clogged with wagons of people fleeing the red moon.  Along the way people grabbed at Boucher and begged the sunlord to pray for the sun to return and burn away the clouds and drive the red moon from the sky.  Boucher offered the few words he could, then hurried to catch up with his companions.  As they neared the eastern gates, the distant thunder that had been rumbling all day was growing noticeably louder every passing moment.  The four of them stood inside the open city gates and gazed out toward the tower in the distance.  Brilliant lights of many colors could be seen coming from the top of the tower.

“I knew that creature was going to be trouble.”  Murook said through gritted teeth.

“I don’t think the harpy girl is behind this.”  said Boucher.  “Call it a hunch.”  he finished, as he noticed Murook looking at him incredulously.

“Aye.  I agree with, ‘Master’ Boucher.”  Aelar quipped sarcastically.

“I didn’t ask to be found by the dern’d harpy from the future, ya flippin’ forest lover.”  Boucher hopped around as he spat out the words.

“Such language, Master Boucher!”  Aelar said wryly.  “I simply meant that it doesn’t make any sense.”  he continued before Boucher could launch into another curse spitting rant.  “Why would she tell us where she was going to be if she intended to do harm?”  Aelar finished, putting his hand on Boucher’s shoulder to calm the dwarf.

“True words, druid.  It doesn’t make any sense at all.”  Archelios said as he walked past the others a few steps then paused and turned back toward them.  “Well?  We’re not to find any answers standing here are we?”  he stated flatly.

The others looked to each other, then nodded in agreement and started off toward the ruined tower at a quickened pace.

At the top of the ruined tower, Tierna watched as the Fomorian portal burst into existence.  The magical grace she had spent most of the morning preparing immediately started glowing brightly, as the magical forces slammed against one another.  Her magical circles, constructed in concentric rings on the stone floor, struggled to hold against the immense power that the Fomorian battle mages were sending into the portal.  By now, they would suspect something was trying to close this portal down, and were most likely attempting to counter the unseen force.  Usually magic of this power was reserved for the most highly trained mages and sorcerers, but Tierna came from a time when almost everyone she knew had to master such magical graces as part of their battle training.  Closing transport portals and enacted holding spell traps was normal duty for most every patrol squad she was assigned to.  But, this portal would be many times stronger than those she was used to.  This one, she knew, was being created and sustained by Fomorian battle mages.  It was not the weaker transport portals created from the orb devices that the cyclops soldiers used to cross the battlefield.  This portal would be able to adapt and overcome many defenses.  Her magical graces had to be perfect if they were going to hold out against the onslaught.

Tierna gasped when she noticed the outermost of her circles go dark and cease to function.  The portal immediately sent out a charge of power that struck the wall just above her head, causing the stone wall to splinter and crack.  She knew then that her circles would not hold for long, and it was only a matter of time until the portal would be complete enough for something to come through.  She had to go find Boucher and warn him and his lieutenants about the coming danger.  She turned for the stairs and was instantly struck by another powerful surge that burst forth from the portal.  Another of her circles had failed.  The surge hit her in the back and blasted her against the stone wall.  Sub Commander Tierna Whisperwind, of the Fighting 58th Infantry ASD, (Air Support Division) slumped to the floor.  Her neck snapped instantly.

Some minutes later Boucher topped the stairs and stepped into the room where the portal was still growing in strength.  He saw the lifeless body of the harpy girl slumped against the wall, her head leaning much too far to the side to be natural.  Boucher glanced back at the portal and saw the enormous shape lurking just inside the magical portal.  The thing was huge, perhaps three times his size with one gigantic eye in the center of its elongated forehead.  He thought it best to make a quick withdraw, seeing no point in going up against such a foe.

“We need be goin’ from this place lads!  Sooner rather than later, I’d suggest.”  Boucher said when he past Archelios and Aelar on the stairs.  “Gonna be too much for us up there ina short time.”  the dwarf finished and continued to move quickly down the stairs.

“What of Tierna?”  asked Aelar.

“Neck broke.  Deader than a sack o’ anvils.”  Boucher yelled back at them.  He was already around the next turn in the spiral stairs.

Aelar looked to Archelios and Archelios stared back at Aelar for just a few moments, then both of them turned and followed the speedy dwarf back down the stairs and into the large room at the bottom where Murook waited.  The four of them regrouped and Boucher let them all know what was about to step through that portal.  It only took a few heartbeats to decide that none of them wanted to go up against a cyclops.  They all turned as one and headed out the arched entranceway, but were stopped moments later, when they saw three men standing in the courtyard just outside.  Everything seemed to stop for a few moments, as the two groups eyed each other cautiously.   The thunder bellowed much louder now and the skies seemed to grow darker by the minute, even though the sun should be high in the sky.

The man in the middle had a bald head and wore light clothes with leather bracers on each forearm.  To his right was a much larger man wearing chain armor and carrying magnificent looking swords with curved blades in each of his hands.  On the bald man’s left stood a smaller man who wore fine scale armor and carried a war hammer and shield at the ready.  After what seemed like an eternity, the bald man thrust out his arm toward Boucher.  A sickly green ray shot forth and hit the stone steps between Aelar and Boucher.  It began to spread decay across the ground like ripples on still water.  Aelar began to choke and Boucher felt like his last meal wanted to escape from his stomach.

The battle was joined.

The bald man continued to unleash spells against Aelar and Boucher which had them both unable to move.  The man in the scale rushed forward and engaged Boucher directly with his war hammer.  Boucher was completely defensive and was barely holding his own.  Murook had to make a quick decision, charge forward and stop the bald sorcerer or move to help his friends.  Being half orc, Murook’s decision was made for him.  He started his charge toward the sorcerer but was stopped short when he noticed the larger man vanish from sight.  It only took a few moments for him to realize where the larger man had gone.  Murook felt the sting of the nasty swords from behind him.  One of the swords glowed with a green hue and from that vile weapon oozed a viscous, acidic substance that seemed to eat Murook’s armor.  He spun around and managed to deflect the second sword as it came slicing in from the right side, with energy crackling along the length of its curved blade.

Archelios found his target immediately.  He unleashed a barrage of spells against the bald sorcerer that had the man reeling backward and unable to continue his assault on Boucher and Aelar.  The relief came just in time, as Boucher was sorely pressed by the mighty swings from the small man’s war hammer.  Aelar was nearly helpless, his muscles cramped up and his head was spinning as he struggled to get clear of the ring of decay that had spread out around the both of them.  Boucher stumbled on a raised stone as he backed away from his attacker and fell to the ground directly on his backpack.  Both of the straps broke away and out tumbled the Box of Fredregar that he had stuffed in there earlier.  The small man’s eyes widened with glee as he noticed the box lying on the ground beside the prone dwarf.  So focused was he on that box that he never saw the six hundred pound, silverback ape plow into him from behind.  Aelar had managed to regain enough of his senses to complete the transformation into the great ape just moments before.  Boucher used the distraction to gather up the box and quickly get back to his feet.

Archelios and Murook had the bald man on the defensive.  Murook had taken some nasty hits from those vicious, curved blades of the larger man, but kept his focus on the spell slinging sorcerer.  Both he and Archelios were concentrating on the bald man, trying to take him out of the fight quickly before he managed to have them all crippled and weakened.  Murook did his best to dodge the attacks from the shifting man and his two devilish blades, but it was difficult not knowing where the man would appear and from what angle the attacks would come.  Soon enough, they both had the sorcerer wounded badly and looking for an escape.  Murook then turned his attention fully on the vanishing assassin.

Meanwhile, Boucher and the great ape, Aelar, had been slowly gaining the upper hand against the scale armor clad man.  Each of them weaving their attacks in and around each other as openings were created and closed by the small man as he back peddled away from the two.  Then, just when Boucher knew he had him, he turned on the ape and spoke a command word.  Instantly Aelar’s feet rooted to the ground.  The small man backed away from the ape and turned back to Boucher, who was readying a viscous strike.  He pointed at the dwarf priest and spoke.

“Give me the box dwarf friend.”  Brathus said, weighting his words with magic through the spell he was casting.

“Oh, of course.  Just lemme fish it out of me pack here.”  Boucher immediately responded.

The domination spell had penetrated the priests defenses perfectly.  Boucher now realized that these three men were trying to save him from this evil ape, and the ugly half orc and that sinister drow wizard.  He had to make sure they survived long enough to escape with the box that he had been holding for them.  Boucher immediately handed the box to the smaller man, turned toward the ugly half orc, and charged.

Aelar could not believe what he just saw.  Was Boucher mad?  It had to be some spell that gripped the dwarf, Aelar thought.  He could not move.  He shifted back to his elf form, but it was too late.  The smaller man had taken the box from Boucher and had retreated from the battle field back toward the town of Phlan.  The little man must have had some sort of magic enhancing his speed, for in just a few minutes, he was already near the eastern gates of Phlan far in the distance.

The larger man faced off with Murook, trying to get around the half orc to attend the bald man, who had lapsed into unconsciousness, and lay over by the steps leading up to the tower.  They had got what they came for and it was now time to withdraw.  Archelios saw the large man’s attempt to reach his fallen comrade.  He was closer.  He moved over to the bald sorcerer and delivered a killing blow to the defenseless man, ending any threat that might come to revisit them in the future from that one at least.  The large man in chain armor snarled at Archelios as he backed away from the half orc that was ready to cut him in half.

Murook turned from the retreating man just in time to intercept the overhead swing of Boucher’s war mace.  The thunder was louder now and made communicating difficult.  Murook happened to glance back at the entrance to the ruined tower to see the gigantic form of the cyclops that had reached the bottom of the stairs.  Murook managed to fend off the few viscous attacks from Boucher until the dwarf finally snapped out of his stupor.  He yelled at the top of his lungs for them all to gather together to leave this place.  Aelar and Archelios had both seen the cyclops emerging from the tower’s entrance and ran toward Murook who was dragging a very confused dwarf with him.  They all met up in the path of a charging cyclops.  The huge, one eyed giant wielded a club as big as a tree trunk, with spikes adorning the head of it.  It lifted its massive club to strike, just as Aelar pulled the orb from his pack.  The companions all locked hands and Aelar activated Traveler.

Instantly they were all standing in the streets of Highmoon, the town that sat in the valley below the Dalelands Defense Academy.  A town they all knew well.  Yet, people here ran panicked through the streets just as they did in Phlan.  The four of them looked up at the sky to see the blood red moon surrounded by thick dark clouds, and they all heard the deafening roar of thunder.

The Flight of Tierna - Part One

Out in the sunshine of the late autumn afternoon, having left the spiny demons inside the cursed catacombs of Fredregar’s lair, the situation didn’t look as bleak as it had just moments before.  Murook lay in the grass exhausted after stumbling, crawling and then being dragged, for the most part, out of the labyrinth.  He was in pain, but at least he was breathing fine, no longer making the awful gurgling sounds.  Boucher and Aelar tended him for many minutes before deciding that he was indeed recovering fully.  They all took a much needed break, keeping a watchful eye out for anything that might decide to follow them out of the dark tunnels.  None of them were too worried about that though.  Most things they had seen in there preferred the dark places of the world, and would not do well in the light of day.  The three promised themselves that they would be long gone before the sun dropped below the horizon.

A couple of hours later Murook was feeling much better.  He rose to his feet to begin to rouse the others and set about making preparations to leave when he stopped suddenly.  Murook had forgot how injured he was just a few hours before.  What would have happened to him if Boucher and Aelar were not with him?

“I would have died in those tunnels.”

Murook answered his own thoughts aloud, albeit in a hushed whisper that carried with it the weight of the sudden realization that he was fully recovered.  He had always thought of himself as self-sufficient and not one to look to others for any kind of aid.  Murook realized now, perhaps for the first time in his life, that was a mistake.  The power of the divine magic of healing left him in awe.  What must it be like to wield power over life and death?  This realization had him seeing his two companions in a whole new light.

“Did you say something?“  Aelar sat up just then, rubbing the weariness from his eyes.

He did look weary, Murook noted.  Dark circles ringed his eyes and a pale hue replaced the usual tanned, sun drenched color of his skin.  Murook thought that his question was answered then, in part at least.  The furious casting and chanting both of them had done, on his behalf, had taken a visible toll.  Boucher too was a little paler than normal, and seemed to be dragging as he worked at getting his pack in order.

“Just about to say thanks, to both of you, for saving my life.”  Murook said flatly, turning to each of them to show the honesty behind the words.

“Ach!  If  you’d fallen, be sure that we’d have soon followed ya!”  Boucher piped in, after a few moments of complete silence.

After a few more moments Murook pulled out Fredregar’s map and began to study it closely, motioning both of them over to discuss their options.  Traveler was at least twelve hours from being able to transport them back to the town of Highmoon where Mandlebrot and Archelios waited, and none of them wanted to wait out that time anywhere near this place.  It was decided, in short order, that they would start out for the town of Phlan, which was little more than few hours walk from their current location according to Fredregar’s map.  The three companions left a couple of hours before sunset, making their way across the small rolling hills and grasslands leading toward Phlan, hoping the trip would be uneventful and maybe even pleasant.


In his scrying bowl, Zephrum looked upon the fast flowing river of melt water coming from under the rocky cliff face as though it flowed forth from the rock itself.  He surmised that any entrance in the area would likely be under the water or in some cave hidden from his view.  There were no indications of any entrances on the curious map that had led his divination spells to this spot.  Only the small monkey’s paw stamped on the northeastern most point of the Dragonspire Mountains.  The point that now appeared in his magical viewing bowl, to be exact.  Zephrum was certain he had the right location, so it was not completely shocking to the sorcerer when, seemingly out of nowhere, three figures suddenly appeared by the river.  A dwarf, obviously a worshipper of the sun god, Amaunator, judging by the sun symbol emblazoned on the shield strapped across his back.  Draped over the dwarf’s shoulders was a half orc fighter type.  What else but fighting were the dim-witted creatures good at, thought Zephrum.  Moreover, the green skinned creature seemed to be near death, or at least, near unconsciousness.  They were followed closely by an elf dressed in simple leathers.  Probably a forest loving, moon dancing idiot like most elves that he knew of.

Zephrum summoned Nabul and Brathus over to his scrying bowl located in the small alcove at the rear of his make shift library.  The three had been tasked by their superiors to locate and procure the boxes that were crafted by the curious wizard turned monkey, turned lich, Fredregar.  They had been told everything that the considerable resources of the Cult of the Dragon had obtained about the enigmatic, little, furry, undead wizard.  Where he laired, and what surprises may await them in the tiny lich’s laboratory.  Not much escaped their attention.

Zephrum was totally bald, and wore fine leather bracers on each of his forearms.  He took much pride in his hairless noggin, routinely rubbing it with salves created from brugen root that was said to stop hair growth and promote shiny, healthy skin.  Nabul was a complete contrast to Zephrum.  He wore his hair long and scraggly, preferring to tie it back rather than cut it most of the time.  Nabul was a master at battle and used the various magic devices he carried to help him shift around the battlefield and attack from unexpected locations.  He wore chain armor that made no sound when he moved, and carried two vicious katana blades at his belt.  The last of the three was Brathus, a true believer.  He wore fine scale armor that had a dark gray hue, and he carried a war hammer on his belt and a shield strapped across his back.  He was much smaller than Zephrum or Nabul, but his foes would do well to discount his size when entering into battle against him.  The small man was quite skilled with his hammer, and he used his clerical magic to bolster his attacks to great effect.

Nabul and Brathus, quickened their pace after noticing the concerned expression on Zephrum‘s face.  They arrived beside the sorcerer in time to see the dwarf and the elf frantically at work tending to the injured half orc.

“How go the portal preparations?”  Zephrum asked pointedly.

“It will be close to nightfall before everything is in place.”  Brathus stated, obviously grasping the urgency of the sorcerer’s question.
“The reagents are still being gathered.”  he continued, correctly predicting the oncoming sigh from the always impatient Zephrum.

“Those are three of the five we were warned of.”  Nabul cut in before another argument about the immediacy of their appointed task erupted between the two men.
He was the tactician of the group, and was always assessing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents and companions alike.  As a result, while Brathus was overseeing the preparations for the casting of the portal that would take them to the spot beside the river, Nabul was busy studying all the information gathered about any potential enemies they might encounter.

“Mistress Azamakianna saw them at the academy.  She said the elf witch and her pet lizard seemed to be protecting them, but I don’t see the other two.  There was a drow and a gnome with them.”  Nabul squinted into the magical bowl to try and discern if the other two were in the area, perhaps hidden in the tall grass.

“Yes, the mistress encountered them again higher in the mountains while she recovered from the battle.”  Brathus recalled.  “But what is their role in this?  Why would they seek the boxes?  For the elf witch?”  he asked, switching his gaze from Zephrum, to Nabul, then back again with each question.

“She knows.”  Nabul said flatly.  “Thaelioth knows our plan and has tasked her minions, just as we have been tasked, to find the boxes.  We must not fail my brothers.  The ritual must…”

“The ritual will succeed.”  Zephrum cut in before Nabul could finish.  “We have the box that was stored at the Academy.  We will shortly have the second box, whether we take it from these fools, or enter the lich’s laboratory ourselves and retrieve it.  The third will be simple enough to obtain.  It will only be a matter of paying that foppish imbecile enough coin to part with it.  No, I believe there is something more going on here.”   Zephrum paused and looked back toward the heavy, ironbound door set into the back wall of his library.

Nabul and Brathus followed his gaze, a wicked grin on each of their faces as they both stepped toward the door.

“The prisoner must know more than she is telling  us.”  Zephrum said.  “Do try and keep her living for as long as possible.”

“It’s my turn brother.”  Nabul said looking at Brathus with one eyebrow raised and the grin now becoming more lewd with every passing moment.

“So it is.”  Brathus conceded, obviously disappointed.  “I have to attend the portal anyway.”

Zephrum did not concern himself with his companions petty appetites.  He had other questions on his mind.  Mistress Azamakianna had insisted that she lead the attack on the old citadel.  Did the ancient blue dragon know that Thaelioth would show herself?  In truth, had she not been there, the attack would have failed miserably.  The dark assassins, employed by the cult, would have never been able to infiltrate the keep were the elf sorceress’ attention not focused solely on the ancient wyrm.  How could the mistress have known these things?  Or, was it something else that motivated the ancient blue to visit her fury upon that old keep.  Zephrum pushed aside those questions for now, promising himself to revisit them later.  He glanced back as Nabul opened the door that led to the small room where the dark elf maiden knelt, her hands and feet chained to the wall, her head lowered and blood oozing from many small wounds.

“Remember… living, if you please Nabul.”  Zephrum reminded the sadistic man as Nabul continued into the room.

Nabul just nodded, not bothering to turn back to his companion, preferring to focus on his new toy.

“Well, Headmistress Tyranna, it seems my turn comes once again.”  Nabul said as he slammed the door shut behind him.

Her stark white hair had turned pink in the spots where it was matted with blood.  Her knees ached terribly.  At least one was dislocated, she thought.  That pain was nothing compared to the sharp burning in her left forearm where she could see the point of the broken bone that nearly broke through her ebony skin.  She could not find the strength to cry out.  Multiple blows to her head made her senses dull and nausea swept over her in great waves making it more than a little difficult to keep from heaving up her last meal which had been more than two days ago now she thought, but wasn‘t at all sure.

Myrann Tyranna, headmistress of the Dalelands Defense Academy, found herself praying for the release of death.

“Goddess of song and sword, hear your servant’s humble plea.  Wrest not from me the strength to endure what is to come.  May my song live on in your silvery halls.”  Myrann whispered low through gasping sobs.  She was near the end now, and could only hope that it would come before she betrayed those young students that now shouldered a burden so great.  At least, she thought, they have not found them yet.  Otherwise there would be no need for them to keep questioning her.

The door to her cell opened, and in walked another of her tormentors.  Nabul was this one’s name.  He was the worst of the three, preferring to take his sick pleasure before the beating began.  The rags that were left of her clothes left nothing to the imagination.  Maybe she could grab one of his daggers while he was in the throws of pleasure.  Not to try to escape, she knew that was impossible.  With one quick thrust between the third and fourth rib, on the left side and angled up to pierce the heart, it would end.  Although taking him with her was a thought she could not resist, it was too risky.  Every moment she delayed gave him a chance to foil her escape to blissful death.  She had to keep her eyes unfocused and wavering so as not to let on that she had her senses about her, which would put the foul man on his guard and possibly doom her plan to failure.

As she saw her opening, something made her hesitate.  She wanted to grab the dagger and end it, but her body would not obey her commands.  Was she enthralled somehow?  Some twisted magic that compelled her to give up her plan of escape?  She cursed herself, believing her own weakness was keeping her from doing what must be done.  Then she realized the soft song flowing through her mind very faintly, but growing stronger every second.  The room, and what was happening to her, faded from her thoughts.  A warmth came over her, and the pain seemed to lessen as the song grew louder.  She looked at her arm and could no longer see the point of the bone just under her skin.

“You must hold on Myrann, my beautiful child.  They will come for you.”  a soft, comforting female voice sang inside her head.

Her goddess had answered her prayer, not with release, but with strength, as was the way of Eilistraee.  Myrann Tyranna was no longer in that room with her battered body, she was in the embrace of her goddess.  She would endure.  She would live.  They were coming for her.


Tierna stood in the circular audience chamber that was located within the bunker complex that surrounded the underground city of Tsu’Minrok.  Formerly a drow city, now a mustering point for troops heading to the front lines deeper into the underdark.  This meeting was important, Tierna knew, for there were many representatives gathered from all the races that formed the coalition.  There were a dozen or so dwarves standing off to the right.  Mixed among them were the halflings and some deep gnomes.  The elves and humans stood at the back of the chamber not wanting to mix with the bestial races, or at least that was the way Tierna had overheard one haughty, human lord explain to one of the dwarf commanders concerning the arrangement of the barracks.  She had no use for humans or elves, but could not discount the fact that she was glad they had finally decided to join the fight.  Putting up with their insults was going to be a chore, but a chore that she would endure, same as the rest of them, for the sake of the greater good.  A score of drow mingled all around making polite conversation, while trying their best to annoy the surface elves as much as possible.  A fact which made Tierna and the other harpies of her clan, that stood around her, smile.  The elders of her clan tell of a time when the drow made all races uneasy.  The time before their race split into the two distinct factions known today.  The drow here speak of it in glorious terms and refer to it simply as ‘Ay Kovitkitzo Dila,’ or The Coming of Song.  In truth, the same could be said of her own race.  There were still harpy clans out there that hunted most of the other races for food, after all.  Indeed the world had changed dramatically from the old stories.

“Somethin’ big’s afoot ‘ere, eh Tierna?”  came the gruff, scratchy voice of her dear friend Poosh from behind her.

It was only a few weeks ago that Poosh nearly had her throat torn out by one of the trained displacer beasts the cyclopsian shock troops used to test the defenses around the perimeter of the complex.  The problem with these foul beasts was that you were never quite sure exactly where the thing actually stood.  The creatures were cat like in appearance and they used illusory abilities to make themselves appear to be in two or three places at once.  Poosh took on three of the beasts in order to cover the retreat of some dwarves that had been caught out in the open.  She held the beasts off until help could arrive.  She was lucky to survive the encounter, a fact not lost on the dwarves that now regularly seek her out to inquire about how she is doing.

“I know right?  Everyone is here.  It’s startin’ to worry me Poosh.”  Tierna whispered back over her shoulder at her friend.

“Maybe they’re to announce that we’ve won, eh?  Maybe we scared them evil eyes off, eh?”  Poosh stated with obvious sarcasm and finished with a lighthearted chuckle.

That was the essence of the young, battle hardened harpy.  She was only eight years old, yet had already seen more battles than should be possible for one so young.  Harpies matured much faster than humans, or any other race for that matter, and Poosh went on her first patrol mission when she was just six years old.  Yet, through all the bloody battles and the loss of friends and clan alike, she retained her impish wit and impeccable sense of humor.  Tierna was older than Poosh and envied her younger friends ability to rise above the death and destruction that surrounded them.

“Uh oh, that would mean we’re out of a job.  What would we do then?  I hear the dwarves are always looking for some new ventilation engineers.”  came Tierna’s sarcastic reply.

This brought a hearty cackle of laughter from Poosh who immediately grabbed her sore throat wincing in pain, though her smile never faded.

As Tierna moved to help her friend, the assembly bell rang to bring the crowd to order.  High Commander Maitre Boucher D’Terre stepped forth atop the raised dais that stood in the center of  circular chamber.

“Our enemy gains strength with every passing moment.”  the High Commander stated with conviction.  This brought an abrupt silence throughout the chamber.

He continued, “For sometime now, we’ve been hard at work on a device that will allow us to change our fortunes.”

The High Commander looked around the room as he spoke, Tierna noticed.  She also noted the stillness in the room at that moment, as if the whole place suddenly realized the seriousness of this meeting.  It was a mission.  Perhaps THE mission, she thought.

“That device is now complete.  It will be used in a mission that, if successful, could end this war once and for all time!”  High Commander Maitre finished by slamming his fist onto the top of the dais.  After an effective pause, he began to continue but stopped when he noticed the harpy that had stepped forward onto the first step of the raised platform.

“That’s one.  I need two other volunteers.”  the dwarf commander stated flatly as he smiled down at the winged creature and gave an approving nod.


Nabul’s interrogation of the dark elf woman did not take long.  The pitiful creature had passed out almost as soon as he had entered her cell.  It was impressive that she still lived at all, he thought.  Perhaps he would get some of the cult’s healers to tend her so that she would be more compliant next time.  He might even keep her for himself, if his superiors would allow it.  These thoughts had to wait, however, for the portal was almost ready.

Nabul rushed to join Zephrum and Brathus, who were already gathered beside the portal along with one of Azamakianna’s brood, a young blue dragon eager for blood.  The time was near.  They would use the portal to transport themselves to the lair of the monkey-lich’s laboratory.  Zephrum’s plan was to use the broodling to track the trio from the air, while they entered the lab and made sure the box was not still in there.  Everything was prepared.  The transportation spell gathered energy and the portal slowly crackled into existence.  The group stepped through and were gone.


“Are ya nuts?”  Poosh whispered harshly at Tierna, when she emerged from the audience chamber at long last.

“Maybe so.  I just felt… I had to.”  were the only words that came to Tierna at that moment.

She honestly did not know exactly why she had been so quick to volunteer.  In truth it was usually she that grabbed at the younger harpy’s wing to keep Poosh from running off to do battle with whatever the Cyclops would send against them.

“Now ya’ve gone and dun it good, eh!?  How in tha nine ‘ells am I to help ya, when I’ll not be gone with ya, eh!?”  even though she was whispering, it was loud enough to catch the attention of the guards that were more than twenty paces down the corridor.  After she finished, she grabbed at her wounded throat in agony.

“Take it easy my friend.  You act as though I’ll not be coming back?  Bad luck that is, ya know?  Tierna did her best to sound jovial, but in truth she knew what lay ahead.

Geddy, a human warrior, and Mick, an accomplished halfling scout, had joined Tierna as volunteers and all three stayed in the chamber with High Commander Maitre to be informed about the mission after all the others had left.  The three were sworn to secrecy, and were told to prepare to leave within the next few hours.  They would be given final instructions just before being transported.  Tierna was uneasy about the secrecy, but she understood the need for it.  Despite Poosh’s unending questions, she told her nothing but minor, generic details.

“Ya’re not goin’ to tell me, are  ya?”  Poosh’s disappointment was evident.

“I cannot!  I told ya as much as I can.  We’ll just have to go over the whole thing when I return.”  she smiled as genuinely as she could manage as she spoke those last words.

“Sure’n it’ll be me that pays, eh?”  Poosh said with a chuckle, that she felt inside her aching throat once again.

The two of them said their goodbyes right then in the corridor and parted ways, promising to catch back up when Tierna had returned.  She went to her quarters and donned her battle gear, grabbed her weapon, then walked back to the portal casting room where they were to meet up before leaving.  The others had just arrived and were gathered around the High Commander that stood next to a drow artificer that held a small black orb in his hand.

The dwarf High Commander Maitre Boucher De Terre laid out the plan to the trio that stood unmoving and unblinking through it all.  In truth, they could scarcely believe what they were hearing, let alone why someone so far removed would have any impact on their struggle against the Fomorian hordes that they now faced.  The High Commander assured them all that this mission was of the utmost importance, and that they must succeed.  Failure would bring destruction upon all who were left behind.

The danger did not bother Tierna.  Nor did the way she would be traveling.  They all were told they would not be able to bring their trusted weapons, or wear their battle gear.  Instead they were issued new gear that would better blend into the world they were about to enter.  The same world, but very different, Tierna told herself.  None of these things worried her in the least.  What did worry her was the fact that she could not tell her dear friend that she would likely never see her again.

“Remember, say no more than you must to convince your targets of your sincerity.”  said the High Commander once again.  “Tierna, you must convince my ancestor of the danger that comes for him.  Geddy and Mick, you must save the drow female from the cultists.  She must survive at all costs.  If you feel you need to tell them you come from the future, do so, but do not tell them what year you come from.  The less they know of us here the better for all, and it would undoubtedly make them think you are quite mad.”  Maitre finished with a sorrowful expression as he looked at each of their faces.

“Have you said your goodbyes?”  the dwarf commander asked them with a pained look in his eyes.

They all nodded in agreement.

“The Head Artificer will open the portal for you.  You will all step through and begin your various missions.  Although you will not be able to return by means of this portal, there are certainly other methods of returning home.   Remember the meeting place.  Good luck to you all.”  the High Commander finished with a stiff salute, which was immediately returned by all three.

The harpy, the man and the halfling joined hands and stood very still.  The drow artificer held out the orb and issued the final command.  The three disappeared with a faint pop.

The two portals opened nearly simultaneously and no more than thirty feet from each other.  Tierna was the first to see the three men exit from the other portal only ten paces from her.  She shouted a warning at her companions just as the young blue dragon came through the other portal, spread its wings wide and let loose a blood curdling roar that sounded much like thunder.  The shock of seeing a dragon did not phase the battle hardened harpy as much as it did her two companions that were now standing too close together.  The lightning breath of the beast struck the halfling in the chest and then jumped into the human standing next to him.  Both of them convulsed violently and then fell to the ground.  Tierna did not know if they were dead or merely unconscious, but she had no time to find out.  Her wings sprang out instinctively, and she was air born almost instantly.  Luckily, she caught the faint sign of a camp and a trail of bent grass leading off in the distance.  She was told her target, Boucher De Cheval, would be in the area.  The harpy could only hope her wings could carry her fast enough to find him before the blue beasts lightning caught up to her.

“Zetyrannus, do not let that creature live!”  Zephrum barked out orders to the  young blue, and immediately it took flight in pursuit of the harpy.

“The human is dead, but the little one still lives.”  Brathus said after the blue had left them.

“Get him up and send him back through before the portal closes.”  Zephrum ordered.

“The three were indeed here, just a few hours before.”  Nabul stated, having finished a quick look around the sight.  “They could already have the box with them.”

“Yes, but it could also still be inside the lich’s lair.”  Zephrum said.  “We must make sure its gone before we go after those fools.  Zetyrannus will keep an eye on them after he deals with that harpy.”  Zephrum motions for both of them to follow  him toward the cliff face beside the fast flowing river.

“And just who in the nine hells were those three from the portal?”  Brathus called back to them after shoving the unconscious halfling back through their portal.

“A good question, my friend.  Hopefully the halfling will live long enough to answer that.”  Zephrum said as he continued to walk toward the cliff face.


The sun was hovering just above the horizon when the sound of thunder reached their ears.  Distant and booming, it was coming from behind them.  Murook, at first, thought it may be a storm, but Aelar quickly dismissed that.  Using his innate senses so attuned to the natural world, Aelar knew that the sound had not been of any storm, and furthermore, it had come from precisely where they had left.  Fredregar’s lair.  The three quickened their pace considerably.

As dusk fell, and the light was fading, they jogged where they could and ran flat out where the rocky ground permitted good footing.  The thunder chased them.  None of them looked back, as if looking back gave strength and speed to whatever was pursuing them.  The memories of the attack at the Academy began to well up within each of the companions, for they all now knew that they had heard that particular type of thunder before.  The sound was unmistakable.  A short boom, followed by the eerie crackling sound of the air being burned and sundered.  The ancient blue dragon that attacked the fortress which housed the Dalelands Defense Academy just a couple days before, spewed forth lightning breath that crackled and boomed as it sizzled through the air.  They remembered the sound was deafening and shook the very ground upon which they fled that day.  That day now seemed a lifetime ago, and yet it was less than three days before.  Time had an interesting and nasty habit of slowing to a crawl when all you want it to do is pass and make the memories fade and the painful thoughts dull.  None of that really mattered now.  Whether they looked back or not didn’t matter either.  The thing that chased them now needed no extra speed, and certainly needed no boost of strength to catch them.

The thing that chased them now …was a harpy?

She flew just above the tops of the small copse of trees that the trio had run into for cover.  She flapped her exhausted wings furiously in a desperate attempt to get her message to her intended target that she hoped was one of the three she had seen enter the trees below.  Another lightning bolt sizzled past, stinging her left wing and sending the smell of burning feathers into her nostrils.  She was wounded, far too wounded to still be able to fly, but somehow she continued.  A hard, banking right hand turn dipping below the last of the taller trees saved her life as the next bolt of lightning sang passed above and just to the left of her.  She took a quick glance into the stand of trees, but could only make out one of the figures, the big one, she surmised.  Thinking the others would not be far away, she loosened the small pouch containing the message she had hastily scrawled and let it fly toward the darkened silhouette that stood behind a tree much too small to even come close to hiding its form.

The harpy passed just above them and the lightning soon followed her.  Boucher was sure the bolt had hit her, but was surprised to see the stubborn creature still flying.  The surprise left quickly as Boucher remembered that it was not the harpy he had to worry about, it was the source of the lightning that had them all looking for a place to bury themselves.  Just as quickly as the lightning flashed above them, it was followed by the blue dragon that had unleashed it.  Something was not right.  The behemoth was not nearly as large as they had remembered.  As the harpy went into a hard right turn, clawing desperately at the air as if she were trying to find something tangible to help her turn sharper, they all noticed it wasn’t the same blue dragon.  This one was much smaller.

“A young one, very dangerous still, but not the ancient wyrm of certain death we’d feared!”  Aelar yelled at the others, trying to be heard over the cacophonous thunder that filled the air around them now.

Boucher figured it was time to call upon the curious suit of armor he had picked up in Fredregar’s lair.  He had donned it in favor of his usual chain shirt for one specific and very interesting ability it offered.  Boucher had only to think of the command word and instantly he was transformed, along with all the items he carried, into a normal sized, ordinary looking rat.  Murook knew about the leather cuirass’ unique power, but that didn’t make seeing the dwarf suddenly morph into a small, ugly rodent any less unsettling.  Aelar was too busy spell casting to notice the dwarf-rat that now skittered about the leaves trying to hide itself.  He had a transformation of his own to complete.  The druid reached within himself and called upon the Forest Father, Silvanus to make him a swarm of insects.  Almost instantly where Aelar had stood there were now a few dozen locusts hoping around the area.

And there stood Murook.  There were no trees big enough to hide his massive frame.  No rocks to take cover behind.  He had to hope that the dragon was too busy with the harpy to bother with them.  That hope was fleeting, however, as the situation sunk in.  Another blue dragon?  Here! Now!  It had to be connected to the attack at the Academy.  What were the odds of coming into contact with two blue dragons in less than a tenday?  That thought vanished when a small leather pouch hit the forest floor right next to the dwarf-rat that was now hiding under a fallen branch.  Boucher immediately scurried out from his hiding place and pawed at the little pouch to get it open.  His little rat fingers working in cooperation with his sizable incisors to get the knot undone.  In nearly any other circumstance, it would be one of the more comical sites he had ever witnessed, Murook thought, but this was no time for levity.  The little rat had quickly finished his task and had pulled out a scrap of paper.  The message, written in the common tongue, was simple enough.

“Help me!  I seek the dwarf named Boucher.”

The pouch had flown true and she knew it had landed at the feet of the large figure inside the copse of trees.  The blue beast that pursued her had closed the distance considerably while she had been focusing on delivering the pouch to the target area.  As soon as she saw the pouch land, her head snapped around behind her just in time to see the gaping maw of the blue beast nearly on top of her ready to snap her in half.  A quick dive and right hand bank saved her at first, but the dragon let loose another bolt of deadly lightning that sent her plummeting toward the ground.  She managed to roll when she hit to lessen the effect of the impact.  She scrambled to her feet and drew the two short swords she had been given, as she spun back to face the menacing beast that would surely be upon her in an instant.  She was right and barely managed to bring the two blades around in time to block the dragons claw to the left side and then again with the other claw scything in from the right.  The dragons maw came next, heading directly for her midsection.  Overbalanced and out of position, she was done.

The dragon was surprised when the great, silverback ape landed on top of its head forcing its attack to fail and instead of a mouthful of juicy harpy, it got a mouthful of dirt and rocks.  In fact, had it been looking passed its intended victim, the dragon would have seen the swarm of insects fly up in the air and coalesce into the six hundred pound ape that slammed down on its head.  From the trees, Murook sprinted a few steps then launched into the air, pulling his great axe from its sheath on his back as he flew toward the dragon.  Behind him, a small rodent burst forth from the leaves and leaped along the ground a few times before becoming a full sized dwarf with mace and shield in hand.  Boucher, not missing a stride, raised his mace high as he charged forward.

That must be the druid, she thought.  Her message had indeed found its mark.  She recovered quickly, determined not to waste the reprieve she had been given.  The large half orc arrived then with a flurry of swipes from his enormous axe most of which hit home and bit deeply into the tough hide of the beast.  Then she saw him.  Boucher De Cheval.  It had been true.  The appointed time and place had been correct.  Her mission would not fail, if they could somehow drive this beast away.  Hope swelled inside her then.  The pain of the many electrical burns she had endured seemed to melt away and she was filled with a new sense of purpose.  At that moment the dragon seemed to turn its attention toward the half orc, and his biting axe.  But it was only a feint.  At the last moment the dragon turned back on  her leading with its horns.  She hoped out to her left and nearly managed to avoid the attack.  The dragons right horn skewered neatly through her right side just above the hip.  She was impaled, and was being lifted from the ground.

The dragon snapped its mighty head around and flung the thrashing harpy to the ground some twenty feet away where she lay unmoving.  Murook unleashed a flurry of attacks, Aelar backed off and shifted his form from ape back to elf and Boucher moved to cover him.  Murook’s fury would not last forever, and while he was striking home and causing some grievous wounds to the beast, the dragon showed no signs of slowing.  Murook’s furious assault gave Aelar the opportunity he needed to turn the tide of this battle.  He began chanting softly, his right foot looping around to scratch a half circle in the dirt.  His left foot following suit to complete and close the circle around him.  As Murook’s attacks seemed to weaken, Aelar’s spell seemed to gather strength.  Moss and grass started to grow slowly at first, then faster.  Leaves that were on the ground lifted into the air and even the smaller stones around them started to float upward.  The energy of nature burst forth into Murook at the precise moment of the downward swing of his mighty axe.  The axe struck home and bit deeply into the dragon’s neck.  Scales flew and hide separated as the wound opened up around the blade.  The dragon roared and threw open its mighty wings.  Just then Aelar completed his spell and the stored energy that he’d been gathering was released as waves of warm healing power that rolled out from the circle beneath him.  It washed over Boucher and then Murook, and even over the badly wounded harpy.

She thought of her home.  Of her dear friend Poosh.  Of all the things that she would never see again.  The darkness of oblivion beckoned to her from just beyond.  There was no pain.  The searing burns on her wings and back seemed a distant memory.  The darkness was closer now.  She felt only the warm, wet sensation of what she knew was her own life blood flowing freely from the mortal wound in her side.

“I found him Poosh.” she whispered to no one in particular as the darkness closed in.

The next moment, warm waves of healing energy rolled over her.  She was jolted awake.  The blood from her wound had stopped flowing and new life had entered her.  The energy was just enough to keep her alive.  The pain of her many injuries rushed back into her body nearly overwhelming her, but she welcomed the pain.  The pain meant she was alive.  The pain meant she would not fail her mission.  She opened her eyes in time to see the dragon lifting into the air and fleeing toward the northwest.

The great beast spread its massive wings and with one mighty beat rose into the air and let loose a burst of lightning at the feet of Murook and Boucher which knocked them to the ground.  Then it fled back in the direction it had come.  The two scrambled to their feet and rushed over to gather up the weakened Aelar, then proceeded to move toward the curious harpy.  Murook stood back, not knowing exactly what to expect from this creature.  Boucher went to work with his healing magics to try and stabilize the badly wounded creature and, after a few of his healing spells went into the harpy, she reached up and put her hand on his chest and looked into his eyes and smiled.

“My name is Tierna.  Nice to finally meet you great Boucher of the Heroic Dwarves.”