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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Box Deal

Aelar stands in a meadow at the foot of a steep mountain pass.  The wind buffets him gently as he looks around and notices a drow maiden standing before him.  She beckons him to follow.  Aelar doesn’t hesitate, for somehow he knows this drow means him no harm, moreover he gets the feeling that this drow woman urgently needs his help.

“Follow me druid.  One we hold dear needs your help.”  The drow’s voice is melodic and comforting as she springs along the path winding up the mountainside.

“Who is it that needs my help dark maiden?”  Aelar looks up from the path to ask the drow, but he barely catches the last glimpse of her simple dress and long, flowing white hair as it disappears around a sharp bend up ahead.  Aelar picks up his pace to keep up with the surprisingly quick drow woman.

“My sister, your mistress.”  The curt response from the dark elf came suddenly and unexpectedly to the question Aelar thought she could not possibly have been heard. 

“You must hurry druid.  She suffers greatly.”  The mysterious drow woman sang as much as said to the druid from up ahead on the path.  Aelar quickens his pace once again as the urgency of her pleading song echoes through his head.  He desperately hopes he will not fail the drow maiden, not out of fear of reprisal from her, but out of a deep desire to please her and to gain her approval.  Somehow Aelar knows now that he must help her, he needs to help her no matter what the cost.

She moves up the path with unnatural speed and agility that he cannot hope to match and yet he tries until his legs feel as if they will obey his commands no more.  Around one final bend, the path finally evens out and ends at the entrance to a cave.  The drow maiden no longer wears the simple dress she had earlier.  Instead, she stands by the entrance to the cave clad in scale armor that is both dark and brilliantly shimmering at the same time.  Staring at the armor is akin to staring at a pool of still water on a moonless night.  The drow maiden wears a bastard sword on her right hip and an ornate, ivory hunting horn tipped with gold on both ends hangs loosely at her left hip.
“She suffers within.”  The armor clad woman’s voice was barely a whisper as she motioned toward the cave’s entrance.  “My beautiful sister suffers greatly young druid.  Please you must help her.”  Aelar notices the drow’s song fading a bit as he intently peers into the darkness of the cave trying to discern what dangers lie within.

“What dangers lie …”  Aelar asks as he turns back toward the drow maiden but stops short as he sees the form of the armor clad, dark elf woman fading from existence.  He sucks in a breath as he notices that she is holding a shimmering black orb in her hands.  Her form slowly fades into nothingness and yet the orb remains hovering in the air before him glowing softly.  Aelar reaches out and grabs Traveler out of the air before him.

“The Traveler will lead you.”  A disembodied voice sings sweetly through his mind one last time and then fades to silence.

Aelar realizes the song he had been hearing all this time was now gone.  The silence quickly grows uncomfortable and panic starts to well up in him.  He doubles over in pain and feels heavy shackles binding his wrists and feet.  He moves to cradle his left forearm that now aches terribly but his bound hand cannot heed his commands.  Nausea sets in and he has trouble focusing on anything.  Aelar desperately pleads for the song to re-enter his thoughts and soothe his pain.  He heaves gasping sobs between the shooting pains that now course through his body.  An agonizing wail escapes his lips but he realizes it is not his own.  Aelar’s pain stops immediately and he now stands above a drow woman wailing in agony and chained to the floor at his feet.  Her head is lowered and she gasps in breath as her back arches violently with heaving sobs.  The next moment the captive drow woman throws back her head and screams.  Aelar gasps when he realizes he knows this pitiful creature bound before him.

“Headmistress!”  Aelar cries out as he is jolted awake from the horrible scene.  A quick glance around the room reveals his companions sitting up and looking around excitedly at each other obviously having experienced something similar.

The companions roll out of their warm beds and rub the sweat from their faces.  They discuss what just happened and quickly come to realize they all experienced nearly exactly the same dream.  Was it a dream or some vision planted within them by the mysterious drow maiden that referred to their former Headmistress, Myrnn Tyranna, as her sister?  Myrnn never spoke much of her life before the Academy.  Like many drow, she likely had some sort of horrible story of a daring escape from the Underdark.  Drow society was ruled by the politics of betrayal and murder and rarely loosened its grip on the dark elves entangled in the many webs of the evil goddess Lloth, the Spider Queen.  Myrnn only spoke of her life on the surface, and never mentioned a family.  One thing is certain, they must rescue her.

“So, the orb’ll take us there eh?”  Boucher, already gathering his gear and packing for the road, spoke up.

“It would seem so.”  Aelar said motioning the others to look toward his pack that now emitted a soft glow from within.

The discussion of the dream soon turned to a planning session on how to rescue Myrnn from whomever or whatever held her captive.  If they used the orb to instantly transport to her location, it would not be able to get them out again for a day.  It was decided to take a skyship from Highmoon bound for one of the large trading cities of Calimport or Memnon on the Sword Coast.  Skyships taking this course would pass directly over the foothills of the Orsraun Mountains where Traveler directed they should go.  Furthermore, most of the trade ships would be heading in that direction already and with luck they could find one quickly and be there in just a matter of hours.

The plan was laid out and the preparations had begun.  Aelar handed Murook a list of potions and various other supplies he wanted from vendors and then headed off to the docks to secure the group’s passage aboard a suitable skyship, preferably one with a captain that would not be opposed to taking a small detour to drop them off.  The group met up within the hour at the docks and boarded a skyship bound for Memnon.  The companions left Highmoon early that morning, and with luck would be in the Orsraun Mountains just after midday.

The skyship, Flotsam set out on the southwesterly course to Memnon.  The journey promised to be uneventful and the sweet smell of spices coming from the cargo hold made it that much more enjoyable.  It was a complete surprise when a knock on their small cabin door rang out.  Boucher thought it must be the captain coming to check in on them for some reason or another, but when he opened the door there stood an elderly man wearing fine robes and carrying a walking stick.

“May I enter to speak with you good dwarf?”  The elderly man said after staring at the blank look on Boucher’s face for quite a few moments.  “I told you that you would see me again, big fella!”  He said with a wide grin on his wrinkled face as he looked passed Boucher at Murook who wore the same blank look as the dwarf.  A few more silent moments passed then the old man shrugged and pressed into the room.  He waved his walking stick back at the door which slammed shut causing all three of them to reflexively jump at the loud bang it made.

“Who are…?”  Aelar started to ask the burning question but before the words could manifest the old man’s form started to shift and change and shrink down to the size of a small monkey.  There before them now stood Fredregar, the monkey lich, grinning from ear to ear with almost no skin left on his little, toothy face.

“I have come with opportunity and information.  Would you hear my offer?”  Fredregar asked still grinning.

“Well we …” Murook started to say.

“Good. Good.  Now I found out from the good captain that you’re to be dropped off in the foothills of the Orsraun Mountains correct?”  The monkey lich asked as he strolled passed them all to hop up on the small table in the corner where Aelar sat.

“But he wasn’t supposed …” Boucher mumbled in Aelar’s direction.

“Ah good!”  Fredregar interrupted once again.  “Then you have no doubt already discovered the plight of your former headmistress and you are now planning your valiant rescue attempt, yes?”  Fredregar finished and waited for an answer.  The three companions just looked at one another in confusion.

“Well, I’ll take your stunned silence as confirmation that I have summed up your situation perfectly.  Now, what if I told you that I could help you get your headmistress out of that steaming pit of despair, would that be worth doing an old friend a favor, hmm?”  The lich finished and pounded his walking stick on the top of the table where he stood.  It was more than a few moments before any of them dared to speak.

“It is good to see you again Fredregar.”  Murook spoke up finally in a hushed tone.  He paused to see if the lich had anything to say, when he remained silent, Murook started again.  “We would, of course, welcome any help you would offer, but what of this favor you want of us?”  Murook winced when he thought of what the little, undead monkey could possibly want from them.  Thoughts of losing one eye, or perhaps some fingers or a limb or two entered his mind and made him visibly unsettled.

“I want you to retrieve what was stolen from me, namely my boxes.”  Fredregar said in a serious tone.  “Relax all of you, please.  Sit down and let me explain the details.”  Fredregar motioned to the chairs surrounding the small table upon which he stood.  Once Murook and Boucher had joined Aelar, who was already sitting at the table, Fredregar proceeded to walk around the table top as if it were a stage and he a grand actor.  The little, undead monkey had an undeniable flair for the dramatic.  “Now, where to begin?”  He stated scratching his lower jawbone, for there was not enough skin left attached to be considered a chin.

Fredregar proceeded to tell the three companions about his falling out with his former master, a red wizard of Thay, and how his master had permanently transformed him into this small monkey through means of a powerful polymorph spell.  His master undoubtedly thought this to be a death sentence, as this type of monkey only lived about ten years at the most and it would be entertaining for the master to watch his apprentice wither and die in a small cage.  But, as with all things magical the unexpected happened.  Fredregar was now, in essence, a magical creature and he heard a strange call one night.  He heard the call of service through a magical deck of cards and feeling he had no other option but a slow death, he answered it.  Fredregar found himself pulled from his small cage to appear before a human to serve as his familiar.  This human’s name was Himoro, a founding member of the Guardians of the Balance.

“This is when I first met Thaelioth and the others of the Guardians of the Balance.  Ragnar, Treefiddy and Razmussen were all founding members.”  Fredregar continued to strut around the small table top moving his little arms with great flourishes to accentuate his words.

Fredregar explained how it was Razmussen mostly that helped him regain most of his spell casting abilities and helped him prolong his life so he might have a chance to undo the polymorph spell that imprisoned him in this tiny, weakened body.  He also told them of how his new master, Himoro, was helping the Guardians right the wrongs of injustice throughout the land and that how, for the first time, he had thoughts of others before himself.  In the land of Thay, if you did not step on others, they surely would step on you.

“I never completely agreed with that way of looking at the world, but it was all I knew.  In a way you could say that being transformed liberated me and showed me a world I might have never known.”  Fredregar was noticeably more subdued in his movements when he spoke these last words.  He seemed to slump over more as if he were tiring somewhat, but whether it was out of actual fatigue or just more theatrical presentation one could not know.

Fredregar told them how he created the boxes to drain magic power directly from items to be used to fuel an attempt to reverse the polymorph spell afflicting him.  But it soon became clear that it would take far longer than his small, monkey body would last even though he was getting quite good at rejuvenating himself.  Everything has its end.  So, he decided to steal a ritual from the Cult of the Dragon to turn himself undead, but unlike lichdom, he would be able to keep his own mind and not be driven insane by the ravages of undeath.  That was the theory anyway.

“And it worked!”  Fredregar said excitedly.  “Some would even say that I am more now than I was while living.”  He chuckled heartily.

And so it was that he had found a way to continue his work and hopefully be rid of this polymorph spell once and for all.  It had occurred to him that even if he reversed the polymorph spell now that it would only turn him into an undead human rather than and undead monkey.  He would need to work on the ritual a little bit more.

Many years passed before he had finally succeeded and found the perfect ritual.  It would need immense power to fuel the arcane forces that were required, so much so that no normal wizard could even begin to amass anywhere near the power required.  In truth, Fredregar doubted that even the gods themselves would be hard pressed to harness that much power.  But he alone had the means and now he would rid himself of these afflictions for once and for all time.  He thought then, what if he could actually do it?  What if he could reverse lichdom?  What if he could undo any powerful spell, whether it was cast by a god or a mortal?  What would this ritual do to any magical creature?  Could it destroy gods?

“Just think about all the things you could undo!  The Spellplague, undeath and almost any other magical affliction would be wiped away!”  Fredregar leaned in close after he finished and continued.  “Now imagine who that would tick off.”  His voice was just above a whisper when he finished that last statement. 

It was then that Fredregar told them how Thaelioth appeared in his laboratory the very night he had discovered this revelation and imprisoned him within the stasis field where they had found him.  She took three of his boxes with her then locked and warded the fourth one down in the lower chamber so that even if he escaped he could not get to it easily.  Thaelioth then closed the entrances to his lab and left him within.

“She kept saying that she wasn’t my enemy and that she would come back for me in time.”  Fredregar’s head hung lower as he continued.  “She said it couldn’t happen now, and if it did it would bring the wrath of many powerful beings down upon me.”  Fredregar looked back up toward the three companions sitting there intently listening to his every word and realized.  “Perhaps she was right.  Although I suspect that it was more Corellon talking than she.”  He finished with a scowl.

After many moments had passed with the three of them looking at each other and at Fredregar still trying to work it all out, Aelar finally spoke.

“So you want us to get back your boxes?  What does that have to do with Headmistress Myrnn?”  Aelar wore the confused and baffled expression of his comrades as he asked the lich these questions.

“Oh, I guess I didn’t get to that part.”  Fredregar said coming out of his contemplations.  “You see, the Cult of the Dragon holds your headmistress and two of my boxes.  They are responsible for the attack on your Academy and are now actively seeking my boxes to use in their own rituals that make dragons into dracolichs.”  Fredregar stated then waited for the inevitable sigh of recognition and understanding.  A long time he waited, but it never came.

“Undead dragons!  Dragons that don’t die!?  You see my point?”  Fredregar finally added in hopes that it would spark the understanding sigh and nods of agreement that he still waited for.

“Yeh dracolichs‘re baddies that don’t get put down easy, that’s fer sure, but they do get put down.  Me kin have stories of ‘em rearin’ up in the undermountain sometimes and causin’ all sorts ‘o trouble.”  Boucher said after a few more long moments of silence.

“But, my good dwarf, think if they were to use my boxes to power these rituals.”  Fredregar stated thinking that this would illicit the sigh and nod he now desperately craved.

“Oh my!”  It was these words or something similar that escaped all three of their mouths at once.  The agreeing nods and huge sighs of understanding that finally greeted Fredregar told the monkey lich that he had succeeded in imparting to them the seriousness of the situation.  Now he had only to make his offer.  An offer he knew would not be turned down.  He might finally have found some willing accomplices.

“You three enter the cult’s lair and rescue your headmistress and while you’re in there you can liberate my two boxes.  Find and obtain all four of my boxes and you shall have my laboratory and anything that you find in it.”  Fredregar stated flatly.  “I’ve already allowed you to keep those nice gems you found in there, but there is more within.”  He finished and waited for a response from the three stunned companions sitting around him.

“We accept!”  Aelar and Boucher said in unison.  Murook just sighed and eventually nodded in agreement.

“Splendid!  I’ll look in on your progress and will provide a suitable distraction to make your escape.  The rest is up to you.”  Fredregar said and then looked around as if he heard something that the others could not.  “Ah, we have arrived I believe.”  The lich smiled and bowed low and was gone in a small puff of smoke.  Immediately after he disappeared a knock came at the door to the cabin.

“Cap’n says to tell ya that we’re at the foothills now.”  The cabin boy’s voice was heard muffled outside of the door.


The path shown to each of them in their shared dream was easy enough to find.  Traveler apparently had an impeccable sense of direction and they quickly scaled the narrow, winding trail up into the rocky crags of the lower mountain reaches.  It was still a few hours before sunset when the companions rounded the last bend and looked upon the entrance to the cave that they had all seen before.  From behind some sizable boulders along the path they spotted the four guards that stood just outside the opening into the mountain’s face.  The Cult of the Dragon’s base, judging by the identical, dragon motif armor the four guards wore.  They had all suspected the evil cult had to be the ones who held Headmistress Tyranna, but until now, they were still uncertain.  The thought of what lay inside the mountain cave suddenly thrust into each of their minds.  Would SHE be in there possibly?  The ancient blue dragon that so devastated their former home, the Academy, could be lying in wait for them just inside.  This could be her lair.

There was no time for fear of the unknown to hinder them now.  Myrnn desperately needed their help, and soon.  For if she truly suffered as in the dream shown to them all, she would not last much longer and indeed may already be too far gone to save.  They must move now.

Aelar, using his druidic magic, changed his shape to that of a large hawk and flew up near the entrance to stop any of the guards from fleeing back through the opening to warn the others inside.  Murook and Boucher rushed out from their hiding spot in a frontal assault on the guards.  One of the guards moved instinctively into the entrance to get help as soon as he saw the furious half orc charging out from behind the boulders.  He was surprised to come face to face with an elf druid that blocked his path.  After a few moments of intense battle, it was over.  The guards lay dead and only Boucher had a nasty gash on his left forearm, which was nothing for a priest of his talents to manage.  Murook, after getting a nod of agreement from the others, reached into his pack and pulled out the two potions that would be used for the next phase of the plan.

Potions of mimicry were not at all common in the realms, but neither were they rare, if one knew where to look.  Old Merle has been tending his alchemists shop for many years in the town of Highmoon, and is very fond of the Headmistress of the Academy.  It was easy enough for Murook to explain to Merle what they had to do and, more importantly, who they were doing it for.  So it was Merle that suggested this phase of the plan, and provided the peculiar little potions to implement it.  Murook handed a potion to Boucher and then stood over one of the fallen guards.  Boucher did the same over another of the fallen guards and then he looked back to his friend and nodded.  They drank the potions while looking upon the two guards and instantly their forms began to change to mimic the appearance of the two human guards right down to the armor they wore and the equipment that they carried.

“Now you are our prisoner!”  Murook said to Aelar who was still watching with some amusement.  Murook nodded with approval and more than a little amazement when the sounds that had come out of his mouth were not his own but were that of the human’s voice.

“Identical, down to tha nose hair!”  Boucher, who was busy patting himself all over looking for any flaws in the disguise, said excitedly.  “Now come wit us, ya derned elf.”  He finished with a chuckle as he walked over and started to bind Aelar’s hands behind him.  The accent of his dwarven speech patterns sounded completely at odds with his current appearance, a fact that made Murook turn toward him and scowl.

“Let me do the talking.”  Murook said curtly raising one eyebrow as he looked at the dwarf who merely looked back at him and shrugged.

“Suit yerself.  Let’s just get in there and get her out.”  Boucher said as he once again continued securing the druid’s hands behind his back making sure to leave room in the ropes for the elf to free himself quickly if need be.

“This should be fun.”  Was all Aelar could add at that moment as the amusement faded and the reality of what they were about to do set in.  He could not shake from his mind the notion that the ancient blue beast was in there waiting for them.  Aelar wondered then if this was the very reason that Fredregar did not offer to accompany them.