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Monday, July 25, 2011

A Tasha is Born

Murielle stalked along the cave wall in near total darkness.  The stench of pirates, who hadn’t seen a bath in days, filled her nostrils.  Not to mention, the pungent odors of rotting fish guts and briny sea air wafting through the seaside cave.

“Stinking wretches.”  Murielle said under her breath as she continued to move deeper into the cave.

The target was close, she knew.  Perhaps he was just around the next bend.  Eight years of training was about to be put to a final test.  Her proctor had shown great confidence in her by allowing the final test to commence so early.  It normally took at least ten years of hard training before one was allowed to attempt the test, but Murielle took to the training well and quickly surpassed her peers.  Now, she was on her final test and she would not fail.  Murielle feared disappointing her proctor more than dying at the hands of a smelly pirate in some backwater cave.  This was everything to her, without it she had nothing.

Three women dressed in fine clothes had found Murielle in the dungeon beneath a Pasha’s palace in the city of Calimport more than eight years ago.  She was caught stealing food from the wrong people and was now facing a life as a concubine to service anyone that the Pasha deemed necessary.  She was eight years old, a puny human girl, alone and starving.  The three finely dressed women purchased her and two other young girls, also in the Pasha’s harem, for the sum of sixteen gold pieces.  Since then, her life has been one of study and training.  Her body honed, her mind sharpened and her will fortified.  Now was the time she could begin to repay those that saved her from a life on her knees.  She would not fail.  She must not.

A flickering light bouncing off the walls of the cave caught her eye and brought her back from the memories of the distant past to the present and the test that she must complete.  She was very close now.  Murielle eased her head around the bend and looked into the large cavern beyond.  There were more than twenty pirates, a few scullery maids and a couple of cabin boys in the cavern.  The scullery maids giggled and flirted with the gap-toothed scum in between delivering drinks that the cabin boys were busy refilling.  There were no other exits save the natural chimney that was in the ceiling some fifteen feet above a central fire pit. 

Murielle entered the room as no more than a shadow among many that danced along the cavern walls.  At one point a pirate stumbled over to relieve himself on the wall just a few feet from her, but the homely man was too inebriated to notice the teenage girl frozen against the rocky wall of the cavern.  A teenage girl who could end his miserable existence with the slightest effort, but that would not fulfill the contract and complete the test.  Murielle continued on toward the back of the cavern where the target was most likely to be.

The pirate Captain Dervante was sitting on a big, stone chair carved directly from a large limestone formation that jutted up from the floor.  A large bottomed lady sat on his lap and giggled incessantly at his every utterance.  The pirate downed another mug of ale and slapped the wench on the thigh which made her giggle even louder.

Murielle began to scan the room, as she had been taught.  The cabin boys worked furiously at filling the steady flow of empty steins that piled atop the table near the barrels of ale and whiskey, the serving wenches twirled and whirled about the rowdy throng of stinking pirates and Captain Dervante sat on his throne of stone feeling totally secure surrounded by his underlings.  There is no such thing as total security; Murielle recalled her proctor’s teachings.  She studied the esteemed captain for many moments from the wall just to the side of his throne looking for the necklace that she was to grab as proof of the deed done.  It was there around his neck just as the client had said it would be, along with an impressive looking dagger sheathed in a bandolier across Dervante’s chest.  Murielle silently told herself that she would go for the dagger only after the deed was done and the contract fulfilled.  It was certainly a nice dagger and would fetch a good price to support the organization.  The pirate captain had fallen heavily into drink and would be an easy kill.

The simple, leather armor Murielle wore creaked and groaned as her muscles tensed in preparation to launch her attack.  She waited for the large bottomed woman to get up from Dervante’s lap and then she rushed in behind the woman and expertly shifted around behind the throne using the woman to shield her movements perfectly.  Dervante lets out a boisterous laugh and forces Murielle to pause for a few seconds to let the pompous windbag finish.  Cutting the loud captain off abruptly by severing his spine at the base of his skull, would draw immediate attention and make it more difficult to make her escape, not to mention she might have to leave that shiny dagger behind.  She crouches back behind the throne to wait for the unsuspecting dolt to accept his death more quietly.

Captain Dervante’s laughter dies down and he leans forward a bit and then pumps his fist into his chest to coax forth a belch.  The belch erupts from his gullet as the last breath from a dead pirate as Murielle’s stiletto pierces the base of the captain’s skull and then instantly pivots to the left neatly severing the spinal cord.

“A fitting end to a stinking wretch such as you, captain.”  Murielle whispers under her breath as she snips the chain of the necklace and slips back behind the throne in an instant.

Feeling no restlessness about the room she decides to go for the shiny dagger before making her escape.  From the shadows behind the throne a small feminine hand reaches around the pirate captain’s chest and fingers the shiny dagger in the bandolier, and then quickly the dagger and the hand are gone.  The drunken pirate watching this small hand take the dagger blinks stupidly at the sight for more than a few seconds before realizing something is wrong.

“Thief!”  The drunken fool stands up and shouts, not realizing the irony of that declaration given the company he currently keeps.

The large cavern erupts into chaos and shouts of alarm fill the air moments later when the true deed is discovered.  Murielle looks down on the floor of the cavern one last time as she braces herself against the walls of the small, yet adequately sized, natural chimney where she will make her escape.

“Too easy.”  Murielle scoffs and then tucks the shiny dagger into her belt and begins the climb up and out of the caves.


Murielle’s proctor sits at a table in the back of the small, common room at the Two Skulls tavern in Waterdeep.  She wears a dark brown traveling cloak tied neatly at the neck with a simple iron clasp in the shape of two crossed daggers.  She pulls the cloak’s hood back when a stranger enters and moves to sit at the table with her.  Her blonde hair is cut short and closely cropped in the back with longer strands hanging loosely in front of her face.  She peers up at the stranger as he sits down and places a large pouch of gold on the table in front of her.

“My pupil has not yet returned with news.”  The blonde woman whispers as she pushes the large pouch back toward the man.

“Your organization has never failed me before.”  The man states flatly as he stares back at the woman.

“No payment until the deed is proven.  It is our way.”  The mysterious woman’s voice shot back in a serious tone.

“Honorable murderers, eh?  Very well, have it your way.”  The strange man grabs the large pouch and stows it away at his belt.

“Would you rather us be unreliable cutthroats and thieves?”  The blonde woman smirked back at the man.

“I would rather bed you, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.”  The man chuckled a bit at his clever retort but found that the blonde woman’s smirk was gone replaced by a serious stare.  His chuckle ended abruptly.  The man grew more uncomfortable as the silent moments dragged on.

Murielle entered the Two Skulls tavern near midnight precisely as her proctor had instructed her to do.  Her dark brown traveling cloak pulled tight around her to ward off the chilly night air of the late harvest season.  She looked around the common room and quickly noticed her proctor sitting at a small table with a man who was most likely the contractor.  She quickly reminded herself of the protocols of public greetings especially in the presence of a contractor and then pulled back her hood and started toward the small table.  Her shortly cropped, blonde locks hung loosely just passed her jaw line and she nodded to the contractor when he looked up at her as she approached the table.  Murielle stopped in front of the seated woman, bowed low and then spun around her chair with lightning speed to stand directly behind her while resting a hand on the sitting woman’s shoulder. Murielle’s face was stern and her chin was raised as she stared straight ahead and held a rigid posture.

The seated woman gently stroked Murielle’s hand and then tapped her index finger lightly on the back of it.  The next instant Murielle pulled out the necklace she had taken from the corpse of Captain Dervante and placed it gently in her proctor’s waiting hand.  The sitting woman placed it on the table in front of the man.

“The deed is proven?”  The sitting woman asked quietly.

“It is proven.”  The man said as he grabbed the necklace and examined it for a few moments.  He then lifted the large pouch of gold from his belt once again and placed it on the table in front of the sitting woman.

“The contract is fulfilled.  Our business is ended, unless we have other things to discuss?”  The woman at the table asked as she scooped up the large pouch of gold and absently handed it to Murielle standing behind her all the while keeping her gaze fixed on the man sitting across from her.

“You did well for one so young, sweetheart.  I’m sure they have big plans for you.”  The man took his gaze from the necklace and looked directly at Murielle as he spoke.  Murielle stood unmoving and did not acknowledge his words at all.

“Oh, that’s right.  They don’t let you young girls talk at all do they?”  The man continued when it became clear there would be no response.

“Any other business?”  The sitting woman cut in sharply which immediately pulled the man’s attention back to her.

“No other business as of now.”  The man stated flatly seeming finally defeated in his efforts to rattle either of the stoic women.

“Then we shall take our leave.”  The woman said as she stood up from the table and headed out of the tavern.  Murielle pulled her cloak tight around her as she followed two paces behind her proctor out into the streets.  She spoke not a word as they walked along the back alleys and dark side streets of Waterdeep.  They took a circular route to make sure they were not followed and then finally they were at the door to the one of the organizations safe houses.  Once inside Murielle knelt on the floor in front of her proctor with her head bowed low.

“I greet you formally as my superior, Proctor Gertrude.”  Murielle’s voice was filled with reverence and respect as she spoke the words.  In truth, she felt uneasy until she could openly greet her proctor and formally show her the respect that she deserved.

“Are you injured?”  The older woman said with obvious concern in her voice after she had judged the greeting to be genuine.

“No Ma'am.  The only thing that assaulted me was the stench of the place.”  Murielle said still kneeling on the floor in front of the older woman and keeping her eyes downward.  “If I may, Proctor Gertrude, I liberated this dagger from the smelly windbag.”  She said, and hastily pulled out the shiny weapon and laid it down on the floor in front of her.

“Yes, well done young one.  It will fetch a fine price for the organization.”  The older woman could not keep the pride from her voice as she spoke those last words which made Murielle look up and smile.  Murielle expected to see her proctor standing over her, but she was surprised to find Proctor Gertrude sitting on a chest in the corner of the room.

“Rise Murielle, my catechumen, I greet you as my sister.”  Proctor Gertrude said flatly.
The older woman’s smile grew wider as she looked upon her pupil with all the pride and respect that she had come to feel toward the young girl over the past eight years but could never show her until now.  Murielle rose to her feat clumsily still in disbelief that her proctor, her teacher and mentor for the past eight years was greeting her as an equal.  She had passed her final test.

“In this chest is the armor of our sisterhood.”  The older woman rose and pointed to the chest she had been sitting on and then she straightened herself and continued.  “Once you put it on, it will become part of you for the rest of your days.”  The older woman reached down and pulled open the heavy lid on the chest to reveal its contents.

Murielle reached into the large chest and cautiously pulled out the small, blackened leather suit that lay there neatly folded.  The suit was one piece with a long split down the back but there were no fasteners to be seen.  She cautiously looked it over as the smile grew wider across her face matching her growing excitement.  The suit looked like it was sized for a halfling but Murielle had seen Gertrude remove her armor a few times and knew that the suit would stretch to fit her perfectly.

“Once you don the suit, the struggle to command it will begin.  Steel your will as I have taught you young one and you will prevail.”  Gertrude’s voice was one of an instructor giving a few last commands to a pupil.  She knew the young assassin would have a long night ahead of her.

“I’m ready Proctor Gertrude.  I’ve never been more ready for anything.”  Murielle’s smile disappeared and her gaze grew serious as she looked to Proctor Gertrude for final permission.

“The challenge is accepted.  You may begin my catechumen.”  Gertrude said with a finality that gave Murielle a surge of confidence.  “On the morning, I will greet you formally as a true Tasha Vexx.”

Those last words echoed inside her head and filled her with excitement and panic all at once.  For eight years Murielle had trained her body, honed her mind and learned ancient arts of combat to bring her to this ultimate goal.  She now had the chance to become a Tasha Vexx.  The chance to serve the organization that had rescued her so long ago from a life of servitude and humiliation at the hands of some large, sweaty Pasha in the city of Calimport.

Murielle stood naked in the center of the small, common room of the organization’s safe house holding the suit of black, leather armor out in front of her.  She took a long, deep breath and then proceeded to don the armor.  Murielle’s right foot slid down into the leggings through the slit in the back of the armor and then her left foot slid in the same way.  At once the armor began to stretch as it rolled up her body across her thighs and over her hips.  Then, it covered her mid section, and then her chest and finally rolled down the length of her arms and up the back of her head.  The split in the back of the armor sealed up and there she stood only a few moments later covered in a shimmering, black second skin made of leather.

Murielle’s mind was immediately flooded with sensations.  Her senses became sharpened and her muscles tensed with a new found power.  A few short moments later images started flooding into her mind and she felt as if the room was spinning.  She hit the floor lost in a barrage of memories that were not her own.  Murielle was now battling for control of the malevolent armor, Gertrude knew, and she wasted no time shackling her young sister’s hands and feet to the large iron hooks that were set firmly into the floor of the safe house for precisely that purpose.

It would be a long night indeed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Box Deal - Part Three

Myrnn Tyranna was lying on the cold, stone floor of the cell that she had called home for the past several days when she heard the calls of alarm coming from the upper levels of the cult’s compound.  She managed to summon the strength to sit up against the wall, although the chains that bound her hands and feet would not allow her to stand, she doubted very much that she could have even if she were free of them.  She opened her weary eyes to look out of the small, barred window in the heavy, wooden door that kept most of the light out.  Her drow heat vision was the only thing allowing her to see anything at all she knew.  Other races would be nearly totally blind in this situation, but she was from the Underdark and although she had spent most of her more than two centuries of life on the surface, the legacy of her race once again serves her well. 

Myrnn heard Brathus come out of his chambers across the common room and head toward her cell.  The overwhelming feeling of dread at the thought of another encounter with this particularly cruel priest of the Cult of the Dragon begins to well up within her.  Her bones start to quiver and ache at the thought of what he will do to her this time.  Myrnn had never known fear like this.  She was helpless, completely at his mercy.

“Soon you will see all your fears pass away.  They have come to carry you home my love.”  A voice sang sweetly in Myrnn’s ear.  The voice was welcomed with sobs of joy by the weakened and battered dark elf.

“Goddess…”  The whispered prayer of gratitude escaped Myrnn’s dry, cracked lips.  It was perhaps the most heartfelt prayer she had ever offered to her dark elven goddess, Eilistraee.

The sounds of battle erupted from the common room just outside of her cell.  They were here fighting to save her.  Brathus was no easy opponent though, and his pets would undoubtedly be called to their master’s side to defend the vile man.  The booming sound of thunder soon crackled through the air and shook the heavy door to her cell.  The priest’s blue dragon pets had indeed arrived to protect their master and were sundering the air with blasts of their lightning breath. 

She sat in the dark listening to the furious battle occurring just beyond the door to her cell for what seemed like many moments until, at last, the death roar of a dragon split the air.  The sound was as sweet as any song from Eilistraee, Myrnn thought.  Soon after another agonizing roar from a mortally wounded dragon filled the common room and just as quickly faded to silence. 

“Head mistress Tyranna!”  Aelar called out just after the silence had taken hold.

“Here…  I’m here.”  Myrnn gasped as she tried once again to stand.  The chains still held much too firm to break in her weakened state.

A torch soon thrust through the small window and Aelar peered into the small, dark cell to see his former head mistress on her knees pulling desperately against the chains that bind her to the floor.

“She’s here!”  Aelar shouted excitedly.

“Keep looking for the boxes, they have to be here somewhere.  We’ll get the her out.”  Murook said to Boucher as he rushed over to where Aelar stood by the heavy, wooden door.

“Aye.  Them boxes won’t escape the nose of a dwarf!”  Boucher immediately ran into the side chambers to search for Fredregar’s boxes.

Murook bashed the strong door for many moments with little success.  He searched for something heavier to use as a battering ram.  Aelar peered into the small window again while Murook was busy searching.

“Mistress!  Did they keep a key anywhere that you know of?”  The elf asked the drow woman in a desperate tone.

“There is a key… but I know not where.”  Myrnn’s weak voice came from behind the heavy door.  “If you cannot get me out… you must leave me and save yourselves.”  She said meekly and Aelar heard the despair in her voice.

“NO!  We’ll not leave you.  We will all travel out of here in an instant.  We need only be touching.”  Aelar exclaimed.  The instant the last words escaped his lips his form begins to quiver then suddenly bursts forth into many locusts.  The tiny creatures hop and flitter about and slowly make their way through the bars set into the small window of the heavy door.  Moments later Aelar reforms inside the cell and kneels down to help his former teacher.

“Even if I can’t free you from your chains, you will leave with us I promise.”  As he finishes, Aelar pulls out Traveler from his pack and holds it up so that Myrnn can see it.  A weak smile creeps onto the drow’s face at the sight of the artifact that she knows well.  

“We need only to find Fredregar’s boxes and then we’ll be out of this wretched place.”  Aelar says as he smiles back at Mrynn.

“Under the altar… just outside.  Push from the side.”  Myrnn looked up at the elf and her smile grew wider.  Aelar smiled back at her and then jumped up to look out the small window.

“Push that altar on the side there!”  Aelar shouts at Murook who is still trying to fashion a battering ram.

Murook looked up instantly to see a slender finger sticking out of the small, barred window and pointing toward an altar to some evil god that was set along the back wall only a few feet from the cell door.  Murook called for Boucher immediately and quickly started moving toward the altar, but he stopped suddenly when he heard the loud crash against the large double doors that they had passed on their way here.  The doors were heavy and strong and just then it occurred to Murook that Boucher’s idea to stop and lower the locking bar into place was a good idea.  Indeed it was probably the only reason that they had not been overrun yet.  

Boucher joined him at the altar and both started pushing on the side that Aelar’s protruding finger was pointing to.  The altar looked heavy but it slid easily aside.  So easily in fact, that both Boucher and Murook tumbled to the floor with an unceremonious thud.  They had judged the altar to be solid stone and it should have been very difficult to move, but this altar was designed to be pushed aside with one hand to reveal the hiding place below.  There, set into the floor were two shining, metallic boxes.  One a shallow rectangular shape, the other almost a perfect cube, yet both of them no more than the size of a small back pack. 

The crashes coming from up the hallway and around the corner told them the strong, double doors had been breached and it was only a matter of seconds before they were overrun.  Myrnn and Aelar were still inside the cell and there was no way to open that door in time.

“How can we get you out?”  Murook said now realizing that they would not have enough time to free Myrnn before the cultists were upon them.

“You don’t have to.”  Aelar said calmly.

“Then how’re we to get outa here?”  Boucher huffed as he glanced at Murook who was pulling the massive axe from across his back.  Boucher too, readied his mace and set his shield in place on his left forearm.

“Just grab my finger.”  Aelar said as he pulled Traveler from his pack.  “Grab hold of my foot Headmistress and you’ll be out of those chains in blink of a beholder’s eye.”  Aelar smiled at Myrnn as he stretched his foot out toward her.  She grabbed hold and hoped the elf was right.

“I gotcha.  We just need be touchin’ for the thing to yank us outa here.”  Boucher rushed over as he spoke and grabbed Murook by the arm to pull the half orc back toward the cell door.  He held Murook by the arm and grabbed Aelar’s finger and then shouted.  “Go elf!” 

A slight rush of air was all they felt as they appeared in the entrance hall of Fredregar’s underground laboratory.  Aelar still standing in an outstretched pose with one finger extended and one foot held out toward the figure that now lay on the stone floor beside them.

“How bad is she hurt?”  Murook said rushing over to Myrnn to check her for injuries.

“Lemme see to her.”  Boucher shouldered the big half orc aside and went to work with his healing magic.  “She’ll need a place to be restin’.”  Boucher smiled looking up to the others after a few moments of chanting.

“She’s going to be ok then?”  Murook said hopefully.

“Aye.  She’s a strong one.”  Boucher said happily.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Box Deal - Part Two

Shrouded in the magic of the potions of mimicry, Boucher and Murook enter the Cult of the Dragon’s base located under the Orsraun Mountains with Aelar, his hands loosely bound behind him, playing the role of prisoner.  With surprising ease the three of them walk past the guards inside and proceed to the large, double stone doors directly across from the long entrance tunnel.  The two massive stone doors swing open with little effort and the three of them look into the main hall of the compound.  Many cultists are here busying themselves with their tasks.  Some wear the long flowing robes of priests or wizards and the trio decide not to venture too close to any of them, for it is widely known of magic users being able to see through illusions.

In the middle of this main hall is a ritual casting circle with runes of every description carved into the stone floor forming concentric rings around a central hub in the center.  Most of the cultists continue their work not bothering to look up at the curious threesome entering the hall.  One large man in a guard’s uniform spots them from the other side of the cavernous hall and starts to head toward them.  Boucher nudges Murook and then nods in the direction of the big man so that Murook follows his gaze and spots the danger coming.  Murook spots a door to the side of the hall and heads toward it.  To his great relief, it is unlocked and quickly the three move inside and close the door behind them.  This room is filled with stores of supplies carefully stacked in crates and barrels along the walls.  The only exit is some stairs that lead down into the floor at the back of the room.  Having no other means of escape they decide to head for the stairs and hope for the best.

“What in all the nine hells is going on?  Where are you taking that elf?”  The big man shouts as he pushes open the door to the storeroom.  Murook thought that he must have sprinted across the main hall to reach the room so quickly.  Boucher turned toward the large man in hopes of using the magic of the potions to help them get out of this mess.

“We’re just takin’ ‘im to….uh  be…uh”  Boucher stuttered when his dwarven dialect leaked out from his mouth in the sound of a scrawny human voice.

“We are takin’ the elf to be interrogated, sir!”  Murook snapped to attention and turned a scowl toward Boucher as if to scold him for addressing his superior that way.  The big man’s uniform had some different markings, Murook noticed, and from the way he carried himself he must be a leader of some sort.  Or at least that was Murook’s hope.

“We came in the storeroom to bring some candles with us as instructed, sir!”  Murook said when the big man did not offer a response.  “Hold the elf!”  He commanded Boucher and then reached over to gather up some of the candles he had seen when they first entered the room.

“See that you take more care with prisoners in the future guardsman.  Take the candles and get going.  Master Nabul never likes to be kept waiting.”  The big man said after what seemed like forever to the three companions.  He then backed out of the door and held his arm out toward the back of the main hall.

“Sir!”  Boucher and Murook snapped up in unison and then they marched Aelar out of the storeroom and turned in the direction the large man had indicated.  At least now they knew a direction to head in.

They walked quickly down the main hall, past all the robe clad cultists and past more of the guards who thankfully paid them no heed.  On their left they saw a spiral stair leading down in a room just off the main hall.  Murook took a long look into this room and noted that there were no guards at the top of these stairs.

“We’ve not the time.”  Boucher said with more than a little concern in evident in his voice.  Murook just stared back at him with a curious look on his face. 

“Can ya not feel it?  The magic ya derned, thick-headed orc, it’s fading.”  Boucher spat out the words in an excited whisper that was certainly louder than most people’s normal speaking voice.

“The doors, quickly.”  Murook said.  He had felt itchy, like his clothes did not fit him properly and it was growing worse by the second.  So this is what magic spells feel like, he thought.

Murook opened the doors at once and ushered the other two inside quickly and then closed to two massive doors behind him.  There was no way to bolt the doors from this side he noticed.  Boucher nudged him in the shoulder which brought his attention back to the room they had just entered.  There were six guards, four of them stood around a pit in the floor talking, the other two stood at the back of the room at each end of a row of five smaller doors with small barred windows set into each.

“Cell doors.”  Murook muttered quietly while nodding toward the back of the room at the five smaller doors. 

“Ready yourselves.”  Aelar  He looked at the false forms of his two friends waver like reflections in dappled pool for an instant and then disappear leaving a dwarf and a half orc standing beside him.  Aelar freed himself from his loose bonds and prepared for the battle to come.

Murook, who had noticed the uncomfortable feeling fade moments before, already had his axe in hand and stepped up to meet the first wave of attacks.  Boucher freed his mace from its hook on his belt and mentally reached out for the sun god’s grace and readied a spell.  The four guards standing near the pit in the middle of the room were first to the attack and all four moved toward the intruders each of the cultists drawing a particularly nasty looking sword as they advanced.  The two guards in the back each pulled out large two handed maces and started forward.

Six on three were long odds Murook knew.  He quickly glanced around the room for any kind of defensible position, but saw none.  The room was square and had no other doors besides the cell doors at the back, none that he could see anyway.  Yes, he could see the whole room clearly.  The many torches that ringed the room provided plenty of light for the cultists.  The HUMAN cultists, Murook thought as a wicked grin spread across his face.  He quickly reached into the small pouch on his belt, the one that contained his curious gem that allowed him to speak with demons, and pulled out another small trinket he obtained from within Fredregar’s lab.  One that he hoped would even the odds a bit.

The trinket was the skull of some sort of small animal that Murook could not possibly name, from a land that he did not know, but more than that, it was powerfully enchanted.  Fredregar had many interesting things in his lab and when Murook picked this item up and held it out before him it seemed to suck in light from around him.  A power that he now hoped would quench all the light within the room.  It was worth a shot, he thought to himself as he held the small skull out in front of him and concentrated on it as Boucher had taught him to do with magic items.  A word entered his mind almost immediately and he spoke it reflexively.

“Snuff!”  Murook yelled and immediately all the torches in the room went out blanketing the room in near total darkness.  Humans were much less at ease in the dark than half orcs or dwarves and besides he had trained extensively at blind fighting at the Academy.

“Aye we have ‘em now!  Derned humans can’t see a lick in the dark!”  Boucher said immediately grasping Murook’s plan to give them at least a fighting chance to stay alive.  In truth, Boucher being a worshipper of the sun god, was not at all as accustomed to the dark as most of his kin, but he was a dwarf and that was much better than being a human.

“Cover the door… we cannot let them reach it!”  Murook barked out as he fell within his training and moved forward into the darkness and into the fray.

Aelar fell back as the room went dark not knowing what had happened at first.  He quickly pieced together Murook’s plan and fell within his magic in search of a way to cope with this darkened battlefield.  Aelar’s thoughts floated through his spells and then to his innate ability to change his form nearly at will.   An idea soon entered his mind.  He knew of many animals with the ability to see in the dark, but he could only think of one that would be able to turn the tide of this battle.

Murook furiously swung his great axe at the shuffling steps and gasps of breath that he heard emanating from the darkness and more than a few times he connected with a crunch followed by a scream of pain.  While the cultists did not have his training or his orcish eyes they still managed to mount a stalwart defense against the rampaging half orc.  Boucher, not dealing with the darkness as well as he hoped, decided that his best course of action was to be ready to attack anything that managed to get passed the half orc and make a run for the door.  At least he would 
be able to get in the way, he thought.

A rumble from the back corner of the room startled the dwarf a few moments later and he turned toward the sound and raised his mace in front of him.  The rumble seemed to dissipate and move under him through the floor toward the howling mass of frantic cultists and furious half orc.

“Somthin’s in the floor!”  Boucher shouted as the rumble passed under his feet nearly knocking him to the floor.
Murook immediately felt the rumble beneath him and instinctively backed off readying himself for this new foe.  He had beaten the cultists back into the corner of the room where they huddled with their weapons pointing forward desperately trying to fend off the warrior while one of them worked to light a torch.  The flash of the flint striking against the metal blade of a sword lit the room like lightning on a dark stormy night.  One last flash and the torch sputtered to life just as the floor beneath the cultists erupted.

Aelar’s transformation into the form of the young bullette took longer than expected.  Bullette’s are voracious hunters that stalk the wide open plains of Faerun.  The beasts usually dig just underneath the top soil and patiently wait for their prey to saunter by.  Most people refer to them as ‘land sharks’ and, in truth, that name is an apt description.  The muzzle of the bullette is pointed and their mouths are lined with dagger like teeth much like that of a large shark.  The main reason Aelar chose this particular animal was for their ability to see vibrations given off by living beings on the surface.

The stone floor was a bit more difficult to dig through but Aelar’s new claws still managed to get him under the guardsmen easily enough.  He wasted no time attacking for he didn’t know how Murook was fairing in the darkness against six foes.  He knew Murook was bigger than the human guards in the room and as soon as he had distinguished the half orc’s heavier footfalls from the smaller humans he moved in.  The bullette, Aelar burst forth from the stone floor under the crowd of human guards and clamped his mighty jaws down on the legs of one of the unfortunate humans.  The carnage was complete.  The other guards dropped the lit torch and scrambled away from the beast right into the waiting mace of Boucher De Cheval and into Murook’s huge frost axe.  After Aelar’s attack the human guards were scattered and dispatched easily.

Murook looked to Boucher and both turned their gaze on the bullette just as it was reforming back into the lithe elf from which it had sprung.  The both of them relaxed their posture then and each blew a great sigh of relief now that it was confirmed that this hellish beast was in fact the result of the shape changing ability of the druid. 

There in the flickering light of the single torch that lay on the ground, the three of them paused for only a few moments before the realization flooded back into them of where they were and what they were doing.  All three turned at once to the large double stone doors they had entered the room by as a loud crash sounded from outside in the main hall.  This room had no exit and if they were trapped in here it would mean their deaths.

“I’ll be checkin’ these cells.”  Boucher said as he moved toward the dead guards checking for a key of some sort to the five cells that lined the back of the wall.

“Be quick.  We’ll have to use Traveler to escape if we’re discovered.”  Murook said to them both.  He moved to the large, stone doors and managed to crack them open to try and see what the commotion was about.

Through the crack in the doors he saw a cyclops with its huge club storm into the main hall from the far end.  The thing roared and stomped around the ritual circle in the first part of the great hall scattering cultists every which way.  Aelar heard the roar and rushed up to peer through the door with Murook at the spectacle.