Archive for September, 2007

Endless Wells of Light and Dark

Monday, September 17th, 2007

We all grabbed hands and I cast another Teleport to drop us right back into the air over Malthalus. Muad Ter’thalas was still pressed against the wall, a look of shock – I take great pleasure in that – on his face. The Ascendeds were flying all over and the kobolds were shrieking like crazy. I pointed at Muad and said, “There!”

Adric released an Invisibility Purge and as soon as they appeared they started to be noticed. Rock let loose arrows from his hiding place and spells started going off left and right. Mytheria dropped his elven disguise and took his full form, that of an enormous golden dragon. The Concordant Killers moved to protect Muad and we pulled back onto the enormous – 75 or so feet to a side – slab of glowing stone on which the form of Malthalus lay limp and snoring. Na’san appeared there, too, and started working a spell on Malthalus. Muad and his bodyguards charged us and out of somewhere a stone half-sphere formed around us to lock out the kobolds and Ascendeds. The main players were all squared off now, on the dais, and Na’san had worked some magic to wake Malthalus again.

Adric tried to banish the Concordant Killers but it only worked on one. Badl turned into an enormous bear and went for Muad. Rock went after the remaining Concordant Killer. Malthalus staggered to her feet and Mytheria charged her, locking the two dragons in fierce battle. Trover and I set off spells in every direction and Adric threw open one of the portable holds and drew the Font from it. Elminster had said it would know its master and so we hoped against hope that it would tear him free.

Muad’s eyes settled on the Font and both he and it were surrounded with white, hot energy. We could see a pair of ghostly hands – smoking from the energy surrounded Muad – peel back with a scream and suddenly Muad was standing thirty feet away with one hand on the Font. There was a little glowing gate where Muad had been and Azrael appeared in it, grinning. Badl rounded on him and they fought while Muad bellowed, “Show me the elf! Show me the Fae’rath!” and sent his own spells into the mix.

Azrael died almost immediately from Dyson and Badl alone.

A moment later, a new form appeared: a tall, gaunt, scar-laiden man with blue skin and a shock of white hair, odd wrappings billowing slightly from a breeze though there was no wind. He carried a scythe and both Trover and Dyson cried out, “Venture!”

“He’s our friend,” Trover called, “BOB’s taken him over!”

Muad lifted a finger and pointed at Venture and cried, “DISINTEGRATE!” and a beam of red death shot from his hand. Venture scowled and spun the scythe with both hands and – I swear to you, I was there, I saw it – batted the spell with the blade and sent it back on Muad. Only seconds after being freed from BOB’s control, Muad Ter’thalas was turned to dust by his own spell. Glittering metal goods and clothing fell out of the air and the Font, which had floated beside him, shuddered for a moment and then crashed to the floor.

A single shard of the Font’s exterior, roughly the size and shape of a dagger blade, was punched out by the impact and spun across the floor.

The Font began to hum.

Adric grabbed his holy symbol and cast Exorcism on Venture and another shaft of white light burned BOB’s hands. Venture staggered forward, freed from BOB’s control and looking around in confusion. He must be a warrior, however, because it was only a moment before he’d found his footing and looked back at the portal and raised that scythe high.

The dwarf – all armor and dodge and quick reflexes – appeared in the portal. Venture raised his scythe and cried out, “BLOOD FOR SEKMET!” and charged. Badl – by now a bear the size of either of the ancient dragons on the dais with us – reared on his hind legs and bellowed and he and Venture and Dyson all fell on the dwarf as one.

Adric turned his attentions on Rock, fighting the Concordant Killer all on his own, and healed him almost entirely with a single spell. I was slinging spells at Malthalus, trying to chip away at her enormous form with orbs of sound and electricity and Mytheria was locked in a fierce fight with her, the two of them slashing and biting and hammering at one another as great rivulets of their blood ran down the dais and over the edge. Malthalus raised one claw towards the ceiling of the dome and cast a Disintegrate on it so that the Ascendeds would have a way in and I cast, the next moment, a Sonic Fog over and around the hole to slow them down, then put another right under it to slow them further. Trover was singing and casting spells and singing again.

The noise in that sphere – the shouting and cries and groans and tearing flesh and clashing weapons and spellwords and oaths and curses – was enormous and under it all I could hear the hum of the Font.

It was getting louder.

Light was starting to shine from the hole on one side.

Adric had noticed it, too, so he grabbed his holy symbol once again and I heard him praying under his breath. In a flash the Font was gone – but we could still hear it humming, muffled, through the portal into the extra-dimensional space where BOB kept his body and his stable, and the light from that portal grew a little brighter.

Eventually I landed the fatal orb on Malthalus and she fell in a great heap. Na’san was trying to help her but he was like a mosquito to Mytheria and got about as much attention. The gold dragon turned on the Concordant Killer and Adric set off more healing spells that closed the wounds on Rock and Mytheria and even Trover and me and Adric himself and, sure enough, Badl and Dyson and Venture.

We looked that way, now, and Badl had wrapped himself – a bear twenty feet on any side – around the tiny, struggling dwarf. With a final groan and a sick crunch we watched Badl crush the dwarf like an egg. Blood and gore fountained from what few openings there were in the dwarf’s armor and Badl roared in triumph.

We paused a moment, watching that portal, knowing BOB now had only one form left: the Fae’rath.

We were distracted, though, by Malthalus staggering to her feet, blood still running out of open wounds, scales a little dimmer, shadowy wisps of magic flowing around her. I still had Greater Arcane Sight active and so it was that I saw the magic as it took effect: Malthalus had just risen from the dead as a dracolich.

She called a taunting challenge at Mytheria and he turned away from the Concordant Killer to charge her again and I started casting more spells. Na’san still worked to help her but again he was nothing compared to the two of them. We all turned our attention back to the portal and this time when it opened to let the Fae’rath out we could clearly see BOB wrapped around him, whispering endlessly into the Fae’rath’s ear, the light coming out of that extra-dimensional space was almost blinding and the hum of the damaged Font was even louder than the battle.

The Fae’rath put up a fight, certainly, but as Dyson and Badl and Venture dodged and moved in Trover and I were casting spells like crazy. The Fae’rath dropped a force cage around Trover and Adric so that Adric couldn’t heal them but Adric got off another Exorcism so that the Fae’rath staggered forward, shaking his head, and the body of BOB was all BOB had left, straining against a barrier between his space and ours as though fighting to come through it.

Trover poked one finger through the bars of the force cage and I heard him say, “Orb of Force!” A faint ripple of light shot from his finger and walloped BOB as the others cut deep wounds into him and his tiny, spindly, grey body very simply exploded from the impact.

I fired another spell at Malthalus causing her to die – again – with Na’san under her massive bulk so that when she slumped to the floor she crushed him beneath her.

Light still spilled from the open portal and the Concordant Killer lowered his weapon. “My contract is finished,” he pronounced and he was gone in a flash.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the last remaining gem in the ring of wishes Trover carried went out. There was a muffled shatter and I could see the magic go off: someone, sometime, long before Trover and Dyson and their friends had found that ring, had wished that Malthalus phylactery would shatter so that she would permanently die. So, that’s what that wish had been.

We regrouped and looked around. The light from the portal had started to pulse and strobe so that beams of light and beams of darkness issued forth. “It’s all the power of a god,” Badl said, “Both creative and destructive.”

“We,” I replied, “Are getting the fuck out of here.”

We were two minutes two late. The barrier between BOB’s dimension and our world was torn down and what I can only refer to as God Goop washed out, shooting light and dark everywhere. A beam of darkness – negative energy, I could tell, and the light was positive – struck Trover. Another beam, this one of light, struck Adric and then the spot where Dyson would have been if he hadn’t simply not been standing there when it moved across his path.

That man could dodge an enchanted arrow.

Two beams began to converge on me, then, trapped between them. In a moment I could tell the dark one would get to me first and as it did I reached into the gears of the universe and set of my Moment of Prescience spell and with my will forced the negative energy ray to stop and let the positive one wash over me. It burned, blinding bright even with my eyes closed.

“Greebo!” I panted a moment later, “Get me that shard of the Font!” Rock crammed the things dropped by Muad and Azrael and the dwarf into a portable hole and we ran back together at the center of the dais.

We all grabbed hands – including Venture and the Fae’rath – and I cried out, “Teleport!” and we reappeared next to the gate into the land of the dead. Trover both looked ashen and wilted, but I positively glowed. Adric could barely lift his backpack. We ran through the gate together even as the pulsing light of the mindless god once trapped inside the Font began to flicker around the far end of the cavern.

We appeared in the land of the dead, safe at last, Venture and Dyson and Trover greeting one another and talking a mile a minute. Adric summoned up his strength to cast Restoration spells on himself and Trover and they both recovered immediately.

“Whitten, you look… different,” Rock said. I looked down at my hands, legs, etc., making sure nothing had changed. “No,” Rock said, “You look… prettier.”

And that, my friends, is why one should always jump in front of a positive energy ray.

(Author’s Note: Whitten gained 5 Charima in return for losing 5 Intelligence. This is the best thing that could ever happen to a Sorcerer. Adric lost a bunch of Strength in return for a bunch of Wisdom, also great for a priest.)

Plane Shift: Elventree,” Adric intoned and the world was torn away for a moment and then we landed in the grass outside our beloved hometown. I made for the tree and the shop to start examining goods while Adric beat a path to the temple of Mystra to see if Elminster were still there so that we could report what had happened.

I put the ruby monocle over my right eye and cast Analyze Dwoemer reading off the abilities of all the gear we’d taken from the forms of BOB we hadn’t been able to rescue. Badl and Dyson and Trover and Rock and the Fae’rath set to talking immediately. I wrote down everything – a bunch of belts that enhanced every ability the wearer had (+4 to all stats), some armor, some weapons, some scrolls, a book of strength, a book of intelligence – Adric and I of course made use of them to undo the price of our enhancements by the positive energy beams, in later days – and various these-and-thats.

And then I went upstairs and went to bed. It had been a very long day.

Cradle to Grave to Cradle

Monday, September 17th, 2007

We paused for a moment, inspecting the destruction. True to our mercantile ways we stripped these Ascendeds of their masterwork weapons, as well; respect for the dead is sometimes outweighed by a quick estimate that their goods were worth 100,000 gold coins. At the time I wasn’t even willing to think of them as people, to be honest. They were animals who wanted us dead and taking a few baubles from their fallen just seemed like a good way to rub salt in the psychic wound. Now, looking back, I have to wonder whether that was the elf half of my heritage, so eager to look down its nose at the fallen.

This stupid belt is going to make things so complicated; but I digress.

“Hey, Dyson…” I paused and looked back at the portal. “Didn’t you have friends who’d died who couldn’t be found in the land of the dead? And isn’t that fortress back there hidden from Kelimvor’s view?”

We turned around and went back through the portal, back into the fortress, and searched the two low buildings in it. One was a combination brig and bunkhouse and all it held were the corpses of Ascendeds. The other, round and open, contained within it a simple shrine: a figurine of an Ascended standing on the far edge of a wide, shallow dish with its arms outstretched as though to protect whatever was placed there – and what had been placed there were a few dozen small, clay jars with runes scribed on their caps, huddled together. Adric and Badl examined them and pronounced them soul canisters.

Disgusted, I picked up a newish one and threw it down on the stone floor to shatter it and release whatever was held inside. The image of a contemporary elf appeared in a sort of fog and looked around blankly then started to wander away. Dyson and Trover both exclaimed, as it was the image of a friend of theirs, one of the ones unable to be found in the land of the dead. The Ascendeds had captured their souls and hidden them away, rendering them unable to be resurrected, to return in any way, to keep hidden the secrets any enemies had managed to uncover. Uncertain how to proceed, unsure what to do to tell someone in Kelimvor’s service that these spirits were here, I raised my hands and started to cast a Sending.

“We’re on the wrong plane,” Adric said, “You can’t reach Berol from here.”

“I’m on the right plane,” I said, then I moved my hands through the right motions and pronounced, “SENDING: KELIMVOR.”

Some days it really pays to have met a god or two.

Ticking off words on my hands I said, “Hi, it’s Whitten, how are you? At a fortress hidden on your plane, lots of souls in jars. Can you help? Thanks!”

Adric boggled at me, the spell completed. I shrugged. “We met. It’s a long story.”

A moment later, a voice boomed in reply. I REMEMBER YOU, it said. THAT’S ODD. MY AGENTS ARE EN ROUTE. The front gates of the fortress crashed open a moment later and a few dozen, well, I’d guess one would call them angels, were standing there. At the head of the squadron flew the ghostly, pallid form of an ancient insect-man wearing the holy symbol of Jergal. He was the first of the insect men to die, the first priest of the first god of death. In silence they moved into the little shrine and picked up canisters, one after the other, smashing them on the ground so that the souls within could be released back into the natural cycle.

“Well, thanks,” I said to the insectoid. “We’ll, uh, we’ll be going then.”

With that, we went back through the portal and back into the world of the living and I don’t mind telling you that I was glad to be shot of the place.

The drums were still beating and as we moved in their direction we came to a large lake with a single small boat at its shore. Never one to take chances, Rock picked up a stone and tossed it into the water and, of course, the surface of the lake shifted and rose to form an enormous – lake-sized, as one might imagine – creature. It shimmered with fluid movements and challenged us. “Who dares to enter the place where gods are born? Why do you come here?” We hemmed and hawed a bit and then Trover took matters in his hands and produced a magical shout to try to get the creature to back down. Unfortunately, he just pissed it off and away we went with the fighting. A few minutes later the thing was dead and we’d made it to the other side of the lake. There, as though erupting from the very rock walls of the natural cavern, we could see the columned and stepped entrances to what were obviously temples: Waukeen and Kelimvor and Charess and many of what Adric and Badl said were the newer powers. We peeked inside to find small but fully-formed houses of worship.

The world is such a strange place.

We proceeded towards an exit from the cavern and found it to be a broad, high tunnel. As we walked down it we listened to Adric and Badl tick off the names of gods and goddesses, older shrines and temples laying farther and farther ahead as we moved. Finally we came to one for Lothander and Adric excused himself to pray. Dyson did the same when he saw the one for Tymora and Trover ducked into a shrine to Oghma. Rock and Badl and I moved on ahead in search of our own various gods’ homes and I went into the tasteful but ornate shrine bearing the kiss of Sune. Rock found the one for Meilikke, ringed in saplings. I saw Badl still moving forward but couldn’t see anything for Silvanus.

I don’t know what the others said to their gods. I asked Sune for help, certainly, for a bit of bravery and some good luck. I didn’t bargain with Her but I did say that if this all turned out alright it would be really nice to hear from some of the friends with whom I’ve lost touch over the years. I could cast a Sending to Telisaren anytime, I know, but I don’t. He’ll show back up when or if he wants. Still, it’d be nice to know. It would be nice not to have to peek into his room every now and then to see if that coin’s fallen over yet or if it’s stall standing on one edge, where it landed that last morning in Elventree when he woke up and flipped it and it landed on its edge and he left without a word. Rowan, Donth, Haktor, Llannen, even the priest of Tempus who’d fought beside us years ago, all disappeared into the mists with hardly a word. Would it be asking so much to know that they were OK?

That in mind, I prayed and left the shrine to find the others emerging from theirs. We moved on ahead and found Badl at Silvanus’ shrine, an enormous and ancient oak tree with moonlight playing among the leaves, even here in the middle of a cave that felt like it was a million miles below the earth. He sat underneath, praying.

Next to it was a simple ring of stone columns and in the middle a half-column with a stone bust of a dragon sitting on it. A yellow stain rain down the face. Rock tracked a bit and pronounced that there were disturbances in the dust that he was certain were the footprints of Azrael, the human archer face of BOB. That made this the Mother’s original shrine and BOB had paused a few moments to defile it on his way by. It and the tree of Silvanus were at the edge of a cliff, the very end of the road.

Below us in the dark we could make out – and scouted to confirm – thousands of frenzied kobolds being tended, egged on and abused by a legion of Ascendeds. We’d heard in Underhome that all the kobolds were gone – everywhere – like they’d up and gone someplace and here they were. They danced and fought and thrashed and threw themselves around and sometimes into enormous, raging bonfires, working up a mass wall of emotion and faith.

The drumbeat was much louder here, insistent, urging, building in tiny steps so that one barely even noticed the pace quicken or the volume grow or the persuasion of that beat building in one’s bones.

Another quick scouting mission told us that Malthalus – the one who plays the Mother’s heart – was ensconced on a raised slab of glowing white rock atop a pool of inky black nothing in a chamber on the far side of the kobolds. There, surrounded by more kobolds and Ascendeds, she played an enormous, ancient drum with her hands. Rock had gone there with Trover’s help and stayed behind to keep us informed of what went on while Trover came back to work on a plan with the rest of us.

“We have a dose of the sleepy-dragon dust,” Badl said with a smile. “I think we could put that to use.”

A quick conference and brain-storming session produced a plan and Badl, Trover and I were the ones elected to carry it out. I turned us all invisible, we each did various things to be able to fly and the three of us flew down, over the cavern, over the stench and fury of a few thousand kobolds worked into a frenzy by their Ascended handlers. We landed at the near end of a tunnel through the rock wall into the auditorium space where Malthalus played. Greater Arcane Sight told me the tunnels had alarms and an Invisibility Purge active on them so Trover cast a Dimension Door to get us to the far end and stay invisible. Upon arriving in the auditorium we stopped for a moment to look around. None of the Ascendeds seemed to have See Invisibility or True Seeing active. Malthalus didn’t see or notice us. The slab of square, white stone on which she sat seemed lit from within, casting her face in wild patterns of light and dark, enormous shadows of her hands and the drum playing along the high ceiling.

I looked farther around and saw three glowing blobs of intense magic – invisibility along with any number of buff spells – pressed against one wall. The middle one was small and shifting and shimmering so that I realized it was BOB and he’d just changed forms. I cast See Invisibility and he – in the form of Muad Ter’thalas – resolved, flanked by two Concordant Killers. He had a True Seeing active and he waved at us and smiled.

I smiled back, blew him a kiss and then turned back to the others. “Let’s do it,” I whispered. Badl and I each took hold of one of Trover’s belt loops. With the precision of our plan firm in our minds we each took, in order, the actions assigned to us:

Trover cast a Dimension Door to put us in the air a few feet in front of Malthalus.

Badl opened his tiny hand and blew a cloud of sleepy-dragon dust right into Malthalus’ face.

I whispered, “Teleport!” and the three of us disappeared with a rush of air and reappeared between the shrines of the Mother and Silvanus, next to our companions.

“Rock says…” Adric said, pausing, his Telepathic Bond with Rock letting him hear what happened on the far end, “Rock says she just collapsed, asleep. The kobolds and the Ascendeds are going crazy.”

We could hear that the drum had stopped.

It was time to attack.