After the first round of bolts we tore out of the cars of the dwarven train and assaulted the Dwerger who had ambushed us. With a word I turned Rock into a Stone Giant and he and Badl – in the form of an Earth Elemental himself – set about destroying the elementals that had attacked the train. Adric and I turned on one of the ballistae crews and Dyson threw a bead of force to entrap the second crew. We made quick work of our foes and soon the only ones left were those in the force cage Dyson had thrown down around them. I turned myself into a gold dragon to intimidate them after I realized their leader had warned them to sit down and wait it out; at that point their leader teleported away, leaving his men behind to face their fate. After the cage wore off we bound them and we, and the survivors from the train, marched the remaining distance to Spessarite where we handed them over to the local authorities.
The destruction of the track meant that Spessarite – where one of the cave-ins had happened already – was well and truly cut off from Underhome itself. The local chieftan, a member of the Gold Dwarf nobility, told us he would send a crew to make repairs but had no idea how long they would take. In the meantime, he was expected at a convocation of the nobility – called to court by the Queen of the Gold Dwarves – in two days and that he had way too much on his hands already. After some negotiations we managed to take two tasks from his total burden: he would allow us to investigate the cave-in area and Badl would be his representative to the Queen in two days. We got a little shut-eye and then went down into the mines to see what we could find there.
Our theory at that point was that the mines probably brushed up against the region underneath or next door where the City of Dragons had once been and that the mine had been caved in near the entrance so that the Ascendeds could work undisturbed to unearth whatever it is they had been sent there to find. Badl did some reconn work for us in Earth Elemental form and then we magically cleared a tunnel through the cave-in – quite long and obviously artificial – so that we could pop out the other side and keep looking. Once there we didn’t have far to go before we found what we were seeking: a recently excavated exit from the mine tunnel proper into a huge, cavernous and obviously ancient space. Taking flight, we entered it and started looking around… just in time to see a red dwarf and a team of Ascendeds facing off against dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ghostly dragons.
The dwarf looked up at us and then gave an order to his troops: keep the dragons busy, we didn’t matter. Off he went through a cave and we were quick to follow. Obedient to their master, the Ascendeds did nothing to stop us from following after BOB in dwarven form. Down a twisting tunnel of cavern, part natural and part worked, we flew after him until we found him again, locked in combat with another Ascended. This one, however, was actively fighting BOB and was, we noted, wearing a leaden circlet around its head we’d seen before on Mindflayers to restrain their own mental powers against others.
We had no idea exactly what this meant but, give the Ascendeds are all at all times in extrasensory communication with one another as part of a hive mind, we could make a pretty decent guess. We quickly joined the fight on the side of that one Ascended. In the periphery, at the edge of the available light, we could make out another fight: ghostly kobolds – normal sized kobolds – warring with more ghostly dragons. Against this backdrop we threw ourselves into the fray against BOB once again.
The thing about the dwarf shape he was using, it turned out, is that he’s basically impossible to hit. Rock managed to get in a swing at him and Dyson managed to stick him a time or two but even magic would just slide right off him as he twirled and spun out of the way or otherwise simply seemed to shrug off anything we could land on him. The fight was going nowhere fast and the Ascended was already in bad shape, even with Adric pouring healing magic into him, but eventually it became clear that every once in a while we would land a hit and the dwarf would – in the very long run – be beaten. So, BOB changed his tactics.
Dyson told us later that, standing behind the dwarf as he was, he saw a faint image of the grey-skinned being we saw in the scry of Alex all those weeks ago. It faded into view behind the dwarf, arms up and moving as though he were a puppet-master and the dwarf were on strings, for just a fraction of a second and faded again as the dwarf disappeared and in his place materialized what was unmistakably the Fae’rath, ancient king of the elves and the one the Monster From Between Planes had told us could “make and unmake” the world around him.
We plunged back into the fray and were able to do a great deal of harm to the Fae’rath even as he dropped bomb after bomb of magical might. Spells were going off left and right, too fast to count or keep track of. Dyson landed one vicious flurry of blows that left the Fae’rath slumping slightly – though he hovered just a few inches off the ground – and wincing with pain. In the next second he cast a spell that sent waves of dark energy in all directions so that we were all stunned and frozen; those closest to him were sent flat onto their backs by the sheer force of destructive power emanating from the Fae’rath. The word he spoke when he cast that spell was what made my spine crawl, though, the activation word used as he completed it: “Cease.” Frozen as I was, I had the rod of silent spell-casting in my hand and summoned up my wits and managed to get out a “Cease!” of my own as I sent one last Orb of Electricity at him. He couldn’t have had more than a few breaths left in him but he faded from view and made his escape all the same. The rest of us lay or stood frozen where we were for a long minute or three and, finally, the effect wore off. We gathered back together for healing and then turned as one to the Ascended whom BOB had tried to kill. We wanted, as you might expect, to know exactly what was happening.
The Ascended told us his name was Ba’nall and that he had come here because Ascendeds are forbidden from coming to this place. He explained that the circlet was used to block his race’s hive mind from reading his thoughts; he had put it on and torn himself from that communal existence after suspecting that BOB’s actions were not strictly in accord with the Mother’s own goals. He had come here in search of the evidence he hoped would convince the rest of his race that the time had come to reveal BOB as a traitor to their cause with his own self-serving agenda. We assured him that he was quite right about BOB’s aims but that we had no idea what was here and were here for in effect the same reason. With that we made a temporary alliance to see what was here and what we could do with it and set off to explore.
One of Rock’s swords is still enchanted with the sacred light of Adric’s god and so we held that before us to clear a path between the ghosts – ethereal but still deadly in enough numbers and there were plenty more than enough here – as we set about exploring. It appeared that this was, in fact, the City of Dragons and that in ancient days they had kept kobolds as slaves. There were great dormitories sized to kobolds and their spirits ran out in worn, hodge-podge gear in an eternal rebellion against the spirits of their former masters. Were any destroyed by either side another ghost would immediately step in to take its place. They had been fighting down here for what were probably millenia and would, no doubt, be doing the same millenia from now. Eventually we made our way into the city itself which was more like an enormous, dragon-sized beehive than anything else. Spirits of sleeping dragons slumbered in silence along the walls of an enormous cave, as big as the city of Underhome. At one end stood what looked like a portal or gate and at the other were enormous steps up into a gargantuan temple with a statue in front of it: a huge dragon with a humanoid rider mounted on its back. We elected to check out the temple first and, inside, found that the statue was of Stormcloud and the rider on its back was an immortalized image of Muad Ter’thalas. The building itself was huge and spacious with artwork depicting what we took to be various miracle tales of the draconic goddess, assumedly The Mother.
Turning on Greater Arcane Sight, however, I nearly went blind from the light of a single object encased in thick glass under the floor where an altar might be in some other god’s temples: an enormous, discolored, whithered heart. A tiny silver strand led away from it to… somewhere, someone, in the astral plane.
The Mother’s Heart, we realized, and thought of the ancient dragon that we were told “plays the Mother’s heart.” We all stood in silence and studied it for a moment. Ba’nall told us he didn’t really understand the significance of this but we were able to work one out for ourselves: if the Mother had a physical heart, the Mother wasn’t exactly entirely a goddess. The heart itself I could tell was a massively powerful artifact and so I reached into my bag and produced my ruby monocle, socketing it into place over my right eye. “Analyze Dwoemer,” I pronounced, and magical information and citations sprang into being all across my field of vision:
10x day: Wish, you name it. At least a dozen different spells – polymorphing into an ancient dragon, healing, Wish, everything and all cast at maximum power – were available to the wielder. It would help if the wielder were a dragon, though, or it would drain the life right out of them in a few very short minutes. It would help even more if they were an evil dragon.
It wasn’t hard to figure out what to do. Lickity-split I disintegrated the glass from on top of it and we spread one of our Portable Holes under it and foop it was gone. Damned if we were going to let BOB get his hands on that and damned if the Mother was going to take her throne as goddess of dragons if we could drive the world’s biggest stake through her heart at a moment’s notice.
At that point we also decided maybe we could use all the help we could get and so we cast a Sending to Trevor asking if he was able to rejoin us; he agreed and so Dyson and Badl and I used one of the scrolls of Greater Teleport to get to Waterdeep on a moment’s notice. We checked back in on my landlord – still alive again – and did some minor shopping (the captain of the guard in Underhome had ordered four crates of apples). Before bedding down in my apartment we checked in at the Untherian Embassy to confirm that they had heard the goods had been delivered only to find out something we should have seen coming: the Untherian Embassy was abandoned. Asking around got us little more except that in the last day the embassy had abruptly and silently pulled up tent-stakes and the staff and all residents were gone instantly.
We met up with Trevor, and jumped immediately to the temple in the City of the Dragons to meet back up with Adric, Rock and Ba’nall. Ba’nall, it turned out, had been able to identify the portal on the opposite side of the city: a gate to the lair of the Stormcloud, Muad’s former mount and champion of dragons. We decided that would probably be a good place to
pilferexplore but before we could do so those among us with the keenest eyes spotted a sparkle of light in the middle of the city, between us and said portal: a Gate, out of which stepped Muad Ter’thalas, half a dozen Dwerger and three of the caster Ascendeds. Muad reached out and barely waved a hand and the three Ascendeds turned to dust, killed in an instant. “Go and find them,” Muad ordered the Dwergers, then in a flicker the ancient elf had been replaced by none other than Azrael, the Untherian master of arms for the noble house that had bought so many of the ancient weapons crafted by the elves in their war against the dragons. In his hands was a large, elaborately worked wooden longbow. “I’ve got a job to do.” He melted back through the Gate and the Dwerger melted into the darkness, headed towards us and the temple.
“El’s bow,” Dyson said. “It’s an Oathbow. It’s enchanted to kill dragons.”
Ba’nall reached up and tore off the lead circlet he’d been wearing, wincing momentarily as he was reconnected to the hive mind. When he opened his eyes a few seconds later he shook his head and smiled. “My brothers know what I have seen,” he said. “They know that BOB is a traitor to us.”
So, BOB had tricked us once again. He had a dragon bow. The Untherians had all retreated back to their capital and notched in the bow in Azrael/BOB’s hands had been one arrow with a glittering tip made of black stone veined with gray streaks, the very stone we knew from first-hand experience was itself enchanted to prevent flight.
Azrael was going to kill a very big dragon and in Unther there could only be one such dragon: Tiamat.
We were low on spells, weak, tired, hadn’t slept, but neither had BOB or any of his forms. The Fae’rath was already nearly dead, the Dwarf weakened somewhat, Muad Ter’thalas had been casting spells of his own and now Azrael was going to kill a god. We had no time to rest or plan. Our only option was to move immediately to Unther and try to stop whatever was about to happen. We all grabbed on and in an instant were standing in that alleyway where we’d set up the extradimensional mansion a day or two or however many before. When we’d left, that time, Unther had been tense but at peace. This time, flying up to see what was going on, we could see the armies of Mulhorand outside the walls of Unther, drums pounding, gargantuan, jackal-headed men lumbering towards the walls with their fists out.
The war was finally going to be over, one way or another.