Blades at Dawn

Stealth is for the Stealthy
Nethri's Story

This place reeks of horse manure. With all this emptiness around, one would think they could take the damned things outside. Yeah, it’s hotter than a forge in the pit of a volcano, but, ugh, this is rancid. And now, with the bodies…

But I digress. The temple is a fascinating place, full of strange rooms and large black obelisks. The rooms, they were adorned with murals depicting the struggle and wars Nightchill waged and the fall of the Primordials. It was a different take that what I have come across in my extensive research, though it seems, as always, history is how you write it, and that all depends on someone’s memories. Apparently another historian diagreed enough to try to correct some of the murals, but all his etchings did, it seemed, was to chip away at the stone.

It turned out that the inhabitants of the temple were preparing for a ritual of some sort, though luckily I was able to distract them from such a folly. But I do not think they were normal absent-minded cultists. O’erray, Adasunu, and Kaela reported that they recognized some of the cultists. Kaela even claimed one was a famed Assassin. There were twenty or so all listening to the wild incantations of a deranged, even by Dwarven standards, Dwarf.

Despite our success in deterring them from the ritual, the Dwarf, not unlike myself, sacrificed himself to trigger something. There echoed throughout the room a loud humming, and soon we were faced with four new adversaries. Strange creatures, possibly archons, did quite a number on us. The warriors were especially skilled and relentless, managing to break through even my defenses. I’m unsure how we survived as in the past our carelessness would surely have lead to our demise. Perhaps, after all, we are finally beginning to work as a team instead of individuals. Well, not O’erray, he still runs off by himself to play with his arrows. Stranger and stranger things happen the more I’m around that Elf…

Now, we stand face to face with four doors. One depicts the creation of the world, generally attributed to the Primordials, and shown thusly. A second door shows the Dawn War, the seemingly ended battle between the Primordials, who created the world, and the gods, who wish to govern it. The third door conveys the goddess Nightchill, the deity so infatuated with our young D’Urban that it seems, at times, a lover’s quarrel. It recognizes her death as a means to vanquish the Primordial, Nero, the most powerful of the elemental beasts. It is obvious that she was against this ‘plan’ and this is where I start to wonder who wrote the histories as we know them. Then, finally, lying, encased in stone, emblazoned for all of us to see, is the fourth door. And, on this surface, against my better sense, is a truth I dare not imagine – a triumphant Nightchill, bathing the world, and its gods, in her destruction.

The Night Chills with Nightchill
Thoughts of Thergor the Third Taxidermist of the Nym Peninsula

Hear my words of might! They might be what your looking for if you among the back rows of this chant. Here I have stood in a bowlegged stance, bow at my legs and tired from the horse ride through a desert – hoarse too.

I am Thergor the Third Taxidermist of the Nym Peninsula, and my name is known wide. Sadly the dwarf at the front of the room put up a front. He said to be in the front row you must be known far and wide. Really dwarf? An astrologist got in the front row but not me? A hexer I can understand but…

No matter, the matter I deal with is dead meat. If the dwarf completes his chanting anytime soon, he will be dead meat and I will complete my appointed duty of stuffing him in a dramatic pose with these nice buttons for eyes. This is the will of the cult of Nightchill, which I joined for the cool robes. Will was the name of the agent who contacted me I think…

There is a strange room, that is off to the left. Left with nothing else to do but chant, I creep into it to see a horrendous sight: hundreds of robes that match mine! They told me that only the first twenty to reply would get these Nikechill robes! First thing after I stuff the dwarf I will send in my request to stop receiving the newsletter and return the cloak along with the Nightchill bobble-head. I may be angered, but a good taxidermist is the stuff of legends. Oh the things I will stuff in that dwarf…

This is when I see her, she is like me! She has curly hair and black eyes, and, oh, pointy ears. Here I thought she was a Humagnome (pronounced in the dialect of the Nyms as ha-ma-nym) like me, but she appears to be a Gnelf. Must I be the only one? I turn invisible and watch her as she takes a robe from the room as booty. As she leaves her booty remains on my side of the brick door with no handle. She is talking to others!

Egad, a shifter, an elf and the gnelf all steal the Nikechill originals and spy on the rest of the cultists. Then they go back and grab two sturdy warriors! I sturdy them…wait I mean study them and decide my +5 sewing needle is not up to the task of defending the halls, columns…whatever. Wish I remembered my arrows for my bow.

The battle starts with a load Clanging that sounds the arrival of the party. How brave they are to announce themselves so! The dwarf’s gong must be invisible as I am. He dwarfs the others with such charisma! My half-relative the rogue takes out the back row, and the sight of her in action makes me want to take her out on a date back in Nym. The great obsidian protectors of the temple of doom arise and instead of being triumphant, the sorcerer, fighter, runepriest and ranger make them battle brittle.

They stand at the doors, trying to choose the best path without knowing where they lead. The fighter leads them. I hope they hurry, for my invisibility magic items are almost all spent, from my “Hideaway” helmet to “You-can’t-see-me” shoes.

I wonder if the cult will pay me for all of the bodies this group produces…hmmmm.

Unwelcomed Circumstances
Nethri's Story

The Elf boy and I returned to Lencia on the eve of the God’s Decree. O’erray’s been a good sport and all, following me dutifully through thick and thin, but as the time nears, I fear I may not be able to hold him to his blood oath. Granted, I saved the spindly thing’s arse during my journey and he insists on accompanying until the debt is repaid, but, soon, I think that will kill more lives than it saves. Not that he’s a pathetic fighter, just the opposite, but the closer the day draws near, the more certain I am of my demise. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s gonna happen, and, when it does, he’d be a fool to throw his life away trying to prevent the inevitable.

The disturbing thought is what I found. It seems the Dawn War is in store for the second coming. Well, the first continuation. Beyond my search for the demon god, Vecna, the bastard responsible for my exile, I continued to hunt down the remnants of the Dawn War. Retracing my steps, I found artifacts springing up in places already highly excavated and studied. Hell, I’d been to a few of the sites myself and never saw what I happened upon. And it ain’t for a lack of lookin’. We tore the Caves of Igreth apart searching for clues, and when I returned, after it had long been abandoned due to fruitless efforts, there I find a portion of the scale armor of the Dawn Warrior? If Dumothoin does exist, he’d have cast me from this plane for everything I said that day. Happened to be where I found O’erray too, whatever he was doing down there. Though I don’t think, by the number of Elementals about, that it was necessarily his choice. And I don’t even want to remember what the two of us ran into in the Khalastan Mountains.

Anyway, I sent that fool of an Elf into town. Rules are rules, and I’ll accept my punishment for my actions and not step foot in Lencia, but that don’t mean he can’t on my behalf. I’m having him swing by the House D’Orinda to pick up some certain items from Meiri. Hopefully the Council kept her on. It’d be a shame if such good help were dismissed on my account. I also gave him the scale mail armor I found. Luc D’Urban is rumored to have returned, as well his mother Syral. It is on them that I hope the convincing succeeds. It helps matters that I traced the shortsword of the Dawn Warrior back to the D’Urban household. How such an artifact eluded me when it was so close aggravates me like a puss to water. And I hate puss.

Just hope he gives them the letter, too. If he tries talking to those stubborn D’Urban fellers, I might as well start packing up now. And this trip will have been worthless.

That damned Elf returned, and somehow managed to bring the D’Urban with him! And he seemed to have taken a liking to the armor. Pleased my stout ol’ heart, it did. Unfortunately, he brought that prick of a warrior Adasunu too, though he claims he isn’t the Adasunu we know, he’s the real Adasunu. The one we met was apparently called Abrams. Whatever. As long as this one doesn’t lose his nerve and run from a fight, it won’t matter. ‘sides, he’ll have plenty of time to prove how comfortable he is, I’m sure.

Another funny person appeared with them, though it seemed she was as much of a surprise to me as everyone else. Name’s Kaela, some person who used to run with Luc when he was more of a boy than he is now. Funny little Gnome girl with quite a lotta sass. Different circumstances, might give me a run for me money.

Once we were all situated and settled, I explained what O’eary and I found. The Elementals were making their move against the gods again. Seems that they weren’t as defeated during the Dawn War as the histories would make us believe. Rebuilding their strength and such. The gods returned to their normalcy, though none witnessed the nether never closing. As time passed, these rifts grew larger, permitting bigger and nastier creatures from the Elemental Chaos to infiltrate own world.

Luc, some twenty years shy of reaching manhood, seemed convinced, though I ain’t so sure Dame Syral didn’t have a little prodding into it. He said he’d go, though he had some things to wrap up first, so I’m to tag along to make sure nothing goes south. The other two, well they seem along for the ride. Well, Kaela said she is searchin’ for her mage brother. Silly mages – they wander more than me, and my job is wandering right now!

Well, the last of the flames are busy destroying the gazebo. Nasty, foul creatures those three dragons were. Fire, Ice, Earth – a trio of joy. Any others and we wouldn’t have made it. And now we have a charge: a little girl came into Luc’s possession, given to him by members of one of Lencia’s houses. I believe it was D’Aubry, but I can’t be sure. I can tell you that there are dragons in the Lencian Council, but that is a matter for another day. Or never for me. Lencia, it may forever turn out to be, is a place to which I may never return.

The sand in my boots is made worse by the sun above. Now I understand why my ancestors never breached the surface – it can get hotter than a forge up here! By Moradin’s hammer, if I can find shade, I’ll bless the runes from here to the Khalastrans.

Eh, just my luck, the Elf boy says he spotted a place to hide out from the wretched heat. However, Luc and the others seem a bit ancy about it. What do these weak-hearted Humans know? I need some damned shade before my beard ignites!

Hmmm…I think I’ve been using O’erray in the wrong role. Apparently I should have had him hunt for my meals, too. The precision of his shots on these two guards is…well, impressive. My craghammer tends to break things, but I can see why the Elves keep trophies in their homes. The incision his arrows made were small enough to stitch up cleanly and struck enough vital organs to kill the men three times over! Three times! Me? If I made a trophy outta something I killed, it look like a glob of a wood owl’s shit. And I’m being positive. Well, off to the shade. Here’s to not getting killed today!

Lencian debt

It feels strange to be back in Lencia.

Take for instance the palatial grounds of the D’Urbans. The coolness of the marble floors are not so intolerable thanks to my magical connection to heartier chills. The one who invited me here pointed out the spots were the sun would hit. We both prefer to walk barefoot and she had roamed the halls enough to pinpoint the best path. That path has changed as the season has. I walked it but the sun has moved on, leaving many of these chambers without warmth for the sole.

So I step back outside to the garden, and the gardener shares the stories of Lady Miria’s return to the House. The halls were lined with her favorite flowers – roses with extra thick thorns – and the apples were in at least sixteen different shades of yellow, red, and green. Her love, my ally from a forgotten quest, Syral had not laughed so openly in months. Their children shared stories of their adventures with their parents. I don’t know how many times Miria has left her side over time, quite a few from rumor, but the gardener tells me this time it feels like nothing will separate them.

Luc, the fighter and adopted son of Syral, has seen my return and talks to me in the garden. His brow is continually furrowed as if the weight of the House duties are already his to carry. I get a practical greeting from him as he decides I am no threat leaves me to my wanderings.

Some time passes and Luc has asked me to accompany him to meet with Sir Nethri the dwarf and, a tight-lipped elven archer. Along the way Kaela, the daughter of Sucaeva and Shera joins us. This is an honor for me as I have much respect for her family, as I do for Luc’s. Her brother is missing, and Luc suggests she joins us for his hunch is that his disappearance is connected to our saunter to the hills.

Upon seeing Nethri, he mistakes me for Abrams, my outspoken servant. This was a small discussion, the larger one was that of a new Dawn war. From what I understand, Nethri is quite knowledgeable on the matter, enough to have Syral’s son accept his word.

An afternoon tea is planned at a gazebo not too far away, and the pulse of arcane is strong from those already in attendance. I do enjoy the arcane waves as they float into my being, they are not fey, but draconic: another House of Lencia is accounted for then. Actually I am not sure if the dwarf represents his House…

Luc is given a mission by the draconic House involving a fight with those that follow Nightchill. On the subject of Nightchill I can say little, but I do know the man who stole my voice is jealous of the chaos Nightchill commands.

As we see the dragons depart, and are left to escort a smaller dragon back to Lencia, elemental dragons approach with hostility. Luc makes a proper suggestion of attacking as a unit, but the archer is a lone hunter, and Kaela is a reluctant rogue. I myself am not used to teamwork, but Nethri and Luc work well in tandem. Of course! They are the two companions of Abrams and the three of them had a few rough tussles. Three dragons should be as tough I imagine. After seeing Syral, Groo and Katryol fight together, the human and dwarf are as if ballet.

Once the reptiles are defeated, we head back to Lencia, and discover what we must to complete the debt Luc has acquired. We are soon whisked to a desert and after the nimble rogue scouts, the accurate archer strikes, taking out two guards at the entry to a sandstone keep. I will write more later, the sensation of this escapade with Luc is both exhilarating and ominous.


The Search for Answers
Nethri's Story

The vast emptiness of the wasteland stood before him. The yellow sun bore down relentlessly, scalding the earth and sapping all moisture that the dry, crusty soil tried to hoard for itself. Sun-bleached bones could be seen scattered throughout the area, and he hoped they were of sick, wayward animals and not of travelers. A rare and welcomed gust of wind shot by, kicking up a few loose grains of sand and flicked them about before dying.

“Seems everythin’ ‘round here ‘ventually dies.” The voice was husky and aged, though a dark grimness accompanied the sound. The emptiness before him snatched his voice away as the heat drove itself into his throat, fixating on the moisture within his mouth and lungs. A sudden and abrupt cough overcame him, which turned quickly into wheezing. “Gotta remember ta keep my mouth shut.”

Behind him, to the east, rose the Khalastan, a massive mountain range believed to be favored by the gods. Following rumors and myths, he had ventured deep into the labyrinth of the mountain’s roots, searching desperately for the home of the Crafter, the Shaper of Wills. He had sought answers in the bowels of the granite pinnacles, but had failed; nothing existed there – not even Dwarven hands had dared to carve the stone of the gods.

Beyond the Khalastan, from where he had journeyed, lay the forested lands of Vel’narith, neutral lands surrounded by the three dominant races of the continent – the Elves, Humans, and Goblins. He learned when he had landed that it was a fragile treaty that kept the lands free, but a necessary one. The Elves had wanted to maintain the land, which few could argue against. However, it was a strategic advantage for them in their quest to eradicate the Goblin hordes and would have given them absolute dominance over the continent. The Humans meanwhile, could have cared less, wanting the land instead for the resources it provided. The trees of Vel’narith provided the strongest wood they had ever witnessed, and the sap from the roots was essential for amplifying their Mage’s spell components. The wood, entwined with their magic, would make them quite formidable. They would have seen the forest felled, which did nothing but bring them animosity from the Elves. The Goblins, on the other hand, could have cared less about the forest as they wanted the rock beneath it. For them, the abundant minerals would provide the catalysts for the weaponry needed to negate the primal Elvish magics and the arcane taint of the Humans. Their knowledge alone could harness the mineral properties essential to this negation.

He shook his head and scoffed at the notion of peace. “A treaty is only as strong as the will ta maintain it.” He was sure that the treaty would fail one day and likely sooner than later. The races would not be content with stability and each would try to find a way to usurp the land from the others. “Maybe,” he thought, “two o’ them will form a treaty against the third. And then turn on each other!” He chuckled out loud at the prospect of the political mayhem and paid for it. As soon as his lips parted, his throat was assaulted by the heat and dryness once more.

Regaining his composure, he slung is shield over his back, adjusting the weight until it lay comfortably on his broad shoulders. Bending down he pulled his pant legs out of his boots to minimize the amount of sand that could find its way inside. He fished around in his worn leather pack and pulled out a light grey cloth, which he wrapped across his face to help filter the harsh, dry air and keep the sand from invading. He looked into the distance and admired the stark contrast of beauty before him; the yellow sun began to settle in for the night beneath the rim of the wasteland causing the sky to change color; the horizon erupted into a flurry of pinks, yellows, reds, and oranges. He strode out into the wasteland, his boots cracking the already parched ground beneath his feet. Following the setting yellow sun west, steeling his mind against the bitter cold he was about to endure, he sheathed his craghammer.

“I will find the Crafter. The will of Moradin is clear. This is my purpose.”

With that, Nethri Hallowstrike ventured out into the wasteland, the faint light slowly fading from the day.

The Final Step
earn your happy ending

Luc slammed the door behind them and jammed the lock with a smash of his sword. He let his breath out in a rush and gasped in the fresh air as Adder did the same. Hopefully the remorhaz couldn’t follow outside its tunnels, and with any luck the gas would keep it away.

Retracing their steps through the temple was easy enough without an insane monk on their heels, and they emerged with the sun still shining. Sir Nethri remained frozen in stone, and they hadn’t even found the Hammer to make it up to him.

“What now? We can’t carry him back, but we can’t just leave him here.”

“Go back to the camp,” Adder offered, and Luc blanched. He turned to find a shifter standing behind him.

Adder led the way back, Luc following a few steps behind. His mother was going to kill him, he knew it. At the very least, there would be hell to pay. All his hopes had rested on this journey, and he’d gotten one companion cursed and fled the temple before finding what they needed.

They came upon the camp faster than he expected, but the shout of anger he braced himself for didn’t come. Peeking around Adder he realized someone was missing as his sisters and the maid stopped and stared at them. “Where’s Mother?” he asked as he moved away from the changeling.

“Oh, Luc you´re so lucky she is not here. She’s so mad at you,” Amirah said, and S’Jet added “There’s no way you’ll get out of this.”

“Yes, but where did she go? When?”

Amirah pointed at the Spire. “She left about an hour ago to go there looking for you and the others.”

“She what?!” Not that a remorhaz could stop his mother, but the thought of her alone in there chilled Luc’s blood. But without Nethri, they couldn’t go back in there to help her. “…Can any of you remove curses?” he asked, the thought coming to him even as he spoke. The girls exchanged glances.

“Yes, by why should we help you?”

Luc stared in shock. “What? Why wouldn’t you?”

“We’re tired of being left behind,” S’Jet said as Amirah nodded. “Take us on an adventure with you and then we will help.”

“I’m not taking you anywhere dangerous. But I need you to heal Sir Nethri. Please.”

“Then, no.”

He could have screamed at them. They’d nearly died not two days earlier, and they wanted him to take them on an adventure? When he was already in enough trouble with their mother?! “Please heal Sir Nethri,” he said again, almost pleading.

They looked at each other again, then back to Luc and Adder. Amirah spoke this time. “Take us with you afterwards. Let us follow you so we can get treasure, too.”

“Yes, of course,” he agreed, perhaps a bit too quickly, but they didn’t notice. They giggled amongst each other and grabbed their components and books, and Luc led them back towards the Spire with Adder, all the while keeping an eye out for a flash of brown fur or black leather.

He stood guard as the twins went through their ritual and Adder sat on the steps, gazing out at nothing. Soon enough the feel of magic in the air subsided, and Luc turned to watch as the stone slowly melted away from Nethri. When the grey was completely gone the dwarf fell with a heavy thud, and Luc quickly knelt by his side to check on him.

“Sir Nethri, are you alright?”

“Aye,” he ground out struggling for breath. “What happened?” Luc explained as they helped Nethri to his feet and back to the camp, his sisters pouting the entire way.

Syral found them sitting around the fire a few hours later. Luc jumped to his feet as his mother entered the camp, a bulging pack over her shoulder and blood spattered over her armor. She stopped him with a venomous glare and everyone else remained silent as she set the pack down and walked over to her son.

“You. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” She didn’t wait for an answer, her anger palpable in the evening air. “You purposely disobeyed me. I told you not to leave my sight, and within an hour I find you gone!?”

“We had to find the Hammer,” Luc said, and instantly regretted it as her eyes flashed. One of the girls squeaked in fear.

“We? We?! Even after all this, you keep— I found a tribe of Ice Barbarians in there, feasting on what was left of a group of adventures. That could have been you, you foolish, stupid child!” She picked up the pack and threw it at Nethri without taking her eyes off her son. The bag crashed against the dwarf’s shield with a heavy thud. “Sir Nethri. What do you make of that?”

Nethri quickly opened the pack and took out various magic items and weapons, then settled upon a book and a hammer. Flipping the pages open, he scanned it for a few minutes before looking back at Syral. “This is the Hammer of Gond, Dame.”

“Good. Then we’ll finally put an end to this. Everyone, get some—“

“But where’s the sword?” Luc asked, and S’Jet gasped. Syral narrowed her eyes. “Mother, please, where is the sword?”

“I’m not going to give it to you,” she said, and turned her back on him. Luc stepped towards her, his footsteps echoing in the sudden stillness. “I said I won’t, Luc, now stop. Your part is finished here.”

“No.” He stood defiant. Syral growled low in her throat but he shook his head. “No, I won’t let you.”

“And I won’t let you! You have no choice,” she snapped. “The matter is closed.” She turned to the others. “We’ll be heading back in the morning. I suggest you get some sleep. You,” she said, eyes locked with Luc’s, “can keep watch all night while I think of what to do with you.”

They arrived in Lencia two days later. Syral brought them to the main courtyard of the mansion, and Luc stood back with his sisters as she addressed the others.

“Sir Nethri, do you have a place we can use the Hammer at? Will your House join in with this?”

“Aye, Dame, we do. Give me a few hours to explain to my House, and we’ll have everything prepared.” He bowed. “By your leave Dame.”

She nodded and he trundled off, the Hammer still in his hands. Syral turned to Adder next, and her expression softened. “You’ve been helpful, and I thank you for that, Oaks. But you’re free to do whatever you wish now; this is House business and I won’t keep you here.”

Adder smiled and nodded. He’d explained his reasoning for deceiving Syral, but Luc thought he’d at least tell her the truth at the very end. But instead he just walked away, escorted to the main doors by a servant.

“Come with me,” she told her children and entered the mansion. Once on the second floor she spoke softly to the twins, and they quickly returned to their rooms. Luc stood back feeling awkward, but she gestured for him to follow as his sisters closed their door.

She led him to her room, far back in the Lady’s suite. Drapes covered the windows, leaving the place in shadow. Clothes littered the floor, and weapons sat unsheathed as she’d been cleaning or sharpening them, but the bed looked untouched, and he wondered just how little sleep she’d actually gotten.

Syral led him to a chest near her bed, and quickly shoved some clothes off it. He stood back as she popped the lock and drew out two old, worn gloves. They looked worthless, but he knew better than to question her in the mood she was in. With care she slipped them over her hands, then clasped them together and drew them apart. The air between her palms shimmered and as her hands came to a stop, Raven’s Tooth hovered between them.

He held his hands out, and Syral raised an eyebrow. “We already went over this. I won’t give it to you.”

“But… You have to,” he blurted out, and her golden eyes narrowed. “Somebody needs to go inside it, don’t they? I’m ready.”

Syral held the sword tighter. “I will not send my only son to be sacrificed!”

“Then who’ll do it?” He shook his head. “I can’t let you!”

“You will do as I tell you to do, for once!” Her anger broke slightly as she couldn’t keep her fear at bay. “If something goes wrong—“

“That’s why it has to be me,” he said, his voice soft but adamant. “You would orphan us. They need you, they need your help. I—“

“I’m nothing here without her, and you three have a life ahead of you.” she interrupted, and Luc shook his head in denial. “I already watched her fall, I will not watch my son die. A parent should never outlive their child.” She reached up with a gloved hand to touch his cheek. “Please. Don’t fight me on this, Luc.”

They stood still for a long time. Luc’s hands twitched as he looked at the sword, but Syral’s grip was tight, and in a fight he knew she would always win. “…Alright. But I’m coming.”

She nodded and dropped her hand. “I’m trusting you to break the sword, Luc. We’ll do this together.”

I won’t let her die. “I know.”

The Forge area was larger than Luc expected, and the amassing dwarves more witnesses than he’d like. They stood in silence until the large doors opened again and Nethri entered in his robes, the Hammer in his hand. The dwarf stopped behind the central anvil and gave Raven´s Tooth a strange look, but the sword had that effect on others and Luc couldn’t blame the Runepriest; he was about to help destroy something he’d been actively searching for.

The gallery of dwarves hushed as Nethri approached Luc and Syral, each giving a slight bow to the other. “Whenever you’re ready,” Syral said, and Nethri stepped away back to the anvil as Luc hefted Raven’s Tooth in his gloved hands. It sang to him, whispered in his mind, and he did his best to block it.

Syral stood a sword’s length away, her hands held calmly at her sides. She nodded and gave him a small smile as he lifted the blade towards her chest. “It’ll be alright.”

No, it won’t be alright, he wanted to shout at her, and he adjusted his grip as his palms began to sweat. His eyes darted back and forth, from her to Nethri to the sword. I can’t kill you. he thought. I won’t kill my mother.

“I know,” he whispered back, and in one swift motion reversed his grip and drove the sword point towards his stomach. Syral screamed and lunged, faster than he’d expected, her claws latching onto his hands as she tried to wrench the sword away from him.

Dwarves in the gallery began shouting as Luc and his mother locked together, her claws digging at his skin as he tried desperately to shake her off. He twisted and lunged and used all his strength, but still she clung on, and slowly, gradually, Raven’s Tooth began to slip from his hands. “No!” he screamed and wrenched his arms back, twisting the sword in one final, desperate move.

Syral gasped and shuddered, and time suddenly stood still. Her grip loosened and Luc stared in horror as she slowly fell back, Raven’s Tooth sliding from her chest, the black blade slick with her blood. She collapsed in a heap, blood pooling beneath her but a relieved smile gracing her face.

“No! NO!! Luc fell to his knees at her side, Raven’s Tooth forgotten as he shook her to no avail. Reason rushed back as the sword began to hum in his hands, and he forced himself to his feet, slipping in his mother’s blood as he dashed towards Nethri and the Hammer.

“Smash it! Hurry!”

Nethri nodded and Luc surrendered the blade to the dwarf. Panic threatened to overwhelm him, and it was with effort that he forced himself to look away from his mother’s body and back to the anvil and the sword’s destruction.

The Hammer of Gond rose, ready to sunder Raven´s Tooth, and then descended, striking metal with a resounding clang. But the sword was intact. Nethri purposely missed his blow.

“What are you doing?!” Luc reached for the sword but Nethri pulled back, wielding the Hammer as he did his usual weapon. The fighter managed to dodge the first blow and get a hand on Raven’s Tooth, but they were matched in strength and neither would give up the prize. Nethri continued to strike him, the hammer scarily precise as he laid blow after blow on the young man. Luc eventually took out one of his short swords to slash at the Runepriest, throwing them into a battle of attrition.

The room stood aghast. No one moved to stop them. How could they? The two hacked and stabbed at each other, with Nethri landing a hit nearly every time. Luc abandoned his poisoned sword for his father’s, and finally found a way to exploit the dwarf’s weaknesses just before the other attacked. But Nethri healed himself, drawing on the powers of his runes, and the battle dragged out as Syral grew cold on the ground behind them.

“Give me the sword!” Luc shouted in desperation, stabbing as hard as he could to force the dwarf to let go. Nethri grunted and heaved, and Luc felt himself lose his grip on Raven’s Tooth. “No!” The sword snapped free of the fighter’s hand, and Nethri instantly brought it to the attack.

Rage burst through the fighter as he drew his long sword and launched into an all-out attack against the dwarf. Sparks flew as they parried and blocked each other’s attacks. Luc felt himself growing weaker with each attack and started fearing that he was going to lose, then caught a glimpse of Syral. This is all I have left… Putting everything he had into his last attack, Luc brought his sword down towards Nethri’s head, managing at the last second to turn to blade to spare his companion’s life. The flat of his sword smashed into Nethri’s head, and the dwarf fell to a heap on the ground, unconscious.

Raven’s Tooth and the Hammer clattered to the ground, and Luc lunged for the black sword. Dark mist coalesced around Nethri’s chest, expanding, and it lashed out and sent Luc flying back as it grabbed the sword.

“Serve him, serve Vecna!” the voice exalted in his head, and Luc screamed and lunged for the sword. The dark angel, still not fully formed, fell to the fighter’s attack moments before it could use Raven’s Tooth to end Nethri’s life.

Strength nearly spent, Luc hefted the blade and Hammer and staggered to the anvil, protection circles completely forgotten.

I’ll save you, I’ll save you, I’ll…

He brought the Hammer of Gond down with all his strength, and the sword snapped sending a pillar of light through the ceiling that blinded everybody. Energy coursing through his body, Luc could only feel the enormous roar of thousands of howling souls escaping the sundered sword. The soulstorm circled around him, trying to carry him away, and he started screaming trying to drown out the horrible screams of the damned.

He woke to find the Forge in shambles. Nothing remained of the anvil or Raven’s Tooth but dust, and dwarves all around were either coming to or tending to others. Nethri remained in a heap on the floor, and Luc pushed himself to his feet, intent on the dwarf, when a sound to his right drew his attention.

Syral gasped, forcing some air in her lungs, and Nethri and the dwarves were forgotten as Luc rushed to her side. He knelt beside her and cradled her head, tears streaming down his face as she slowly opened her eyes.

“Luc…? I-I saw her…” She clung to him, her voice hoarse as she fought back tears. “She was surrounded by drow—the last ones she’d killed. Trapped in amber, and I-I tried to free her… I really tried.” Luc rocked her back and forth as she talked, unable to understand her words. She’d found Miria, she’d freed her, then why did she sound so broken? “Then there was light, and… I-I said goodbye to her, Luc… She had to go with the others… She couldn’t come with me.”

“No,” he ground out, his throat and chest tight. “She’ll come back, she has to come back…!” They couldn’t have failed. They couldn’t have! Everything he’d done, everything he’d gone through for this one moment, and to have it all disappear before him? The gods couldn’t be that cruel.

Something almost invisible fluttered insistently just outside his line of sight, coming and going, and Luc gently laid his mother down as it beckoned him to follow. His steps were slow, his body numb, but the translucent small lizard creature led him to the Hammer of Gond and what was left of Raven’s Tooth. Mixed in with the dust and shards was a small, tiny piece of glowing amber.

A voice invaded Luc´s thoughts. A debt was owed. Now it is paid. She awaits.

Miria’s body lay as it had for the past month, the soft glow of the spell illuminating her features. Already the magic was fading; she had perhaps a day or two more. Syral stood back as Luc pulled back the shroud covering his Lady Mother and pressed the piece of amber to her chest.

“…I don’t understand,” he choked out when Miria remained still. His body shook and Syral wept softly behind him as he slowly drew the shroud over his mother’s features once again. “He said she was waiting. Was this all a lie, too?!” His hands clenched at his sides and something stabbed his palm. He opened his hand to stare blankly at the piece of amber, then quickly looked from Miria to Syral. She was trapped in amber. Maybe…? But if he was wrong…

With a deep breath Luc took the shard in both hands and held it above Miria’s chest, then slowly, deliberately, broke it in two. Immediatly the shroud slowly sank to the table as her body turned to dust and then was no more. Luc staggered back, trembling, and Syral let out a wail of grief.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean..” Luc rambled and stumbled back towards the door. Syral reached for him and they both staggered from the tomb. I killed her. I let her die and now I’ve killed her and—

Syral gasped suddenly and cried out, darting away on all fours towards the hill in the distance. Luc looked and his breath caught in his throat.

A figure sat at the top of Miria’s favorite hill, the sunlight reflecting a vibrant pink as it touched her hair. She turned to wave towards them and opened her arms as Syral tackled her to the ground, Luc close on her heels.

The Hammer of Gond
Nethri's Story

The Dwarf slumped to the ground with a loud thud. The twins stepped back from the prone Runepriest, slight gasps escaping their lips. Nethri’s chest heaved as his lungs reached for air, expanding as the sensation of life reentered his body. Luc, standing nearby, shook the Dwarf’s shoulder.

“Sir Nethri? Are you alright?”

“Ay,” he replied, “what happened?” Nethri began to stand, wobbling slightly. “Ugh, how long was I –”

Luc interrupted the thought, “I’ll explain later. We got the Monk, but he didn’t have much for us.” He paused for a moment, closing his eyes and calming his heart. “Unfortunately we have angrier things to worry about. My mother – she wasn’t at the camp.”

“Huh, what,” then a thought struck Nethri. “What’re you doin’ with me then, boy? Best get to camp and wait. Don’t need to fuel that fire.” With that the Dwarf took off through the valley, determined to make it back to the campsite before Syral. Striding into the camp, the Dwarf made a quick inspection, took a quick stretch, and then plopped down on the ground.

Luc ran up to Nethri, eyes wide, “What are you doing?!”

Cooly, the Dwarf responded, “Not pissin’ her off more than she is.”

Adasunu, disguised again as Oaks, apparently agreed and took a seat next to him.

Nethri’s Journal

Syral found it! She brought the Hammer of Gond back from some Ice Barbarians or some such. We were lucky enough to have her searching for Luc, well, except for him, as he is grounded for life. And she is the one volunteering to enter Raven’s Tooth, leaving Luc to watch over the sword. Not only this, but they are willing to conduct the ceremony within House D’Orinda! The others will be in attendance, so it may be tricky, but I am confident. The forgemaster has agreed to supply an anvil for the ceremony, and the mages have crafted some circles of warding, so it seems everything will be in place.

It will be a glorious day for knowledge.

Nethri strode in, his house robes flowing behind him. The Hammer of Gond rest on an anvil placard in his arms, the formalities of the Dwarven house in full form, as his escort showed him to the center of the room. Standing before him was Syral and Luc within one circle of warding, the forgemaster’s anvil in the other. Pain raced through Nethri’s chest, the onyx gem radiating a eerie black glow beneath the armor he wore. “So close…”

Nethri stood, lost in the moment, not heeding the obvious conflict taking place between Syral and Luc. He watched only the sword as it plunged into Syral’s breast, siphoning her life. He focused on the blade as Luc sobbed, clenching the hilt, his knuckles white. He gazed at the hammer in his possession as Luc slowly walked to the anvil, ignoring the scores of eyes upon him. As he gently released Luc’s fingers from the sword, he took his own grip and held the blade on the anvil. Raising the Hammer of Gond high over his head, one last thought passed through the Runepriest’s head, “What will happen once this strikes?”

As Nethri’s arm swung down, the hammer eyeing its mark, a voice echoed through the vastness of Nethri’s mind. “Nothing, because you can not destroy it. Now, bring it to me!”

A loud clang rang out in the room as the hammer struck. Most of the Dwarves shielded their eyes, not knowing what to expect. Luc, completely focused on the blade, saw what the others did not – the hammer cleanly strike the anvil.

“No! What are you –,” bellowed Luc, but Nethri had already started to move. Panic erupted within D’Urban and he leapt for the blade, startling the Dwarf. “Nethri, why?”

The Dwarf didn’t respond, instead he brought the hammer in his hand down on the Fighter. Luc winced and caught a glimpse of Nethri’s eyes. The Dwarf’s pupils were solid black, small wisps swirling within. His face was stoic, unwavering, unflinching, as he stared blankly ahead. Yanking at the sword, futilely trying to break Luc’s grip, he struck D’Urban’s armor.


Luc’s armor started to flake and crumbled under the power of the runes. Confused, he tried to wrench the sword from Nethri’s grip, but the Dwarf’s hand seemed to become one with the blade, an unnatural power wrapping around the hilt of the weapon. Reaching down with a free hand, Luc withdrew one of his swords and struck the Dwarf, hoping to break him of his trance. Cutting him across the face, Luc’s hopes shattered as the Runepriest barely flinched beneath the blow.

Nethri countered, filling the room with a blast of lightning that crackled with the Hammer of Gond. Luc recoiled from the blast, adrenaline suddenly racing through his muscles at the prospect of battle. He struck out again with his blade, cutting the Dwarf once more, but Nethri held his position.

Blows continued between the two, with Luc’s superior strikes being negated by Nethri’s healing prowess. The rest of the Dwarven House stared down on the companions, unsure of the action to take, as the two warriors wrestled over the famed Raven’s Tooth; interference could spell doom for any involved.

The ferocity with which the two fought roared within the room, turning from a battle of power to one of endurance. Nethri took advantage of Luc’s fury and wrested the blade away. His eyes widened as if suddenly understanding. Turning on Luc, the Raven’s Tooth in hand, he swung, missing wide. The Fighter pulled back a step and removed his radiant shortsword, making calculated lunges to try to retake the blade, failing miserably. Sensing the upper-hand, Nethri unleashed all of his runic powers, intent to finish off the Fighter. However, the carelessness of exerting his power had caused Nethri to experience an unprecedented amount of fatigue and his runic magics started to wane. Luc, sensing a shift in the tide of the battle, reached into the depths of his being to exert his will over the situation – he would not lose his mothers. D’Urban became relentless in his strikes, pounding the Dwarf constantly, out-damaging his failing recovery powers.

Neither of the companions knew how much time had passed when Luc landed the final blow, knocking the Dwarf to the floor, and causing him to drop the Raven’s Tooth. As Luc started to reach out to the sword though, a blood-curdling scream rocked the room. The sound was abysmal, emanating from deep within the confines of a soul. Nethri pitched on the floor, tearing away at his chest. A black light burned beneath his armor, breaking through the metal, and shot out, blasting Luc away from the weapon. Black mist swirled around the room, causing the Dwarves to drop to the floor. Black wings fluttered open and a thin, spindly, hand reached out from the mist, making a grab for the sword.

Luc recovered to his feet and lunged forward, striking the hand with his radiant blade. It pulled back, unleashing a cry of death.


Luc, whipped to his senses, quickly found the Hammer of Gond, as the black mist continued swirling around the room. It rose to a climatic height before shifting and spearing down on the blade, making another attempt to whisk it away to an unknown realm. Luc wrapped his fingers around the shaft of the hammer and brought down the head on the thick of the Raven’s Tooth’s blade, inches before the mist reached him. A sudden light erupted, knocking back the mist with a shrill hiss, and sending Luc crashing into the far wall. Nethri’s prone body slid across the floor, settling at the base of the anvil. Blinding light filled the room as the mist evaporated beneath the brilliance. Moans could be heard drifting from someone in the room, but nothing could be seen. As the light receded, some Dwarves stood to their feet while others hurried into the room. Luc stirred and picked himself up, scanning the area. In the circle of warding lay his mother, her chest slightly rising. Running to Syral, he took her head in his arms.

“Mom? Mom? No…Was I too early?” Tears started to stream down his cheek, falling lightly on the breast of his mother.

Syral’s breath remained shallow, but she managed to slowly open her eyes. “Ugh…Luc? I, I saw her…”

Luc pulled his mother closer to his chest, tears falling steadily down his face, as the heads of the House Council gathered around the body Nethri. Gearthin was the first to speak.

“What in the Abyss were you thinking, Hallowstrike?!” All that escaped Nethri’s lips was a low groan.

Jayde knelt down and laid her hands on Nethri’s chest. “He’s still alive, but I don’t know how. We need to get him to the Healing Ward.”

“Foolishness,” exclaimed Harrist. “He’s probably brought with him the wrath of House D’Urban! They’ll instate a vendetta! Better for us all if he dies.” Turning to Gearthin, Harrist shoved a finger in the old Dwarf’s chest. “I warned you! This boy was trouble. My grand–nephew should have been sent in his stead!”

“This is neither the time nor the place, Hammerstrike! Keep your wits about you or leave. Your attitude will only bring chaos.”

“Bah! You’re useless! All of you!” Harrist stormed off through the stone doors, leaving the rest of the council watching Nethri.

Brimm turned to Gearthin, his face solemn. His eyes looked up through bushy grey eyebrows as he shifted his metal staff. “You are aware, Strongarm, that he can no longer stay. The best for all of us, no matter what House D’Urban wishes, is that we must take action. The sooner the better, too. I would recommend exile, though it pains me to see our future sent away.” The old Dwarf turned to Jayde, still kneeling by the prone Nethri.

“Ay, I agree, Brimm. But first,” and she turned to Gearthin, “can we save his life before we exile him?”

Bending down, Gearthin helped Jayde pick up Hallowstrike. Paying no heed to the weeping D’Urban, the Dwarves left to tend to their own. There would be much to do.

Nethri's Story

“You have failed me.”

“I am sorry. I was careless. But the others, they should be a-”

“Silence! You, who were so close, deserve not to address me now!”

The Dwarf fell to his knees, head bowed to the ground. Silence carried on for an eternity and the Dwarf began imagining his punishments for failing in his duty. Would it be banishment, torment, or exile? Worse, it could be undeath. Regardless, he was deserving of them all. The ache in his chest returned with a fury, the pain coursing through his body, boiling his blood within. But he remained steadfast and said nothing.

“Hmmm, even now you are accepting of your Fate.”

Silence. The Dwarf did not stir knowing any action taken could upset his god.

“Let us see how the others fare. You may be given an opportunity to redeem yourself and fulfill your duty.”

Silence hung again in the darkness. And it would for a stone’s eternity.

Into the Maze
damn monks

Luc pounded up the stairs after the fleeing monk, thoughts filled with nothing but taking down their enemy. Behind he could barely hear another set of footsteps—Adasunu, or Adder, or whatever he called himself now. Sir Nethri wouldn’t be following. Not unless Luc captured the monk.

But it was hard to keep up. The man had no armor, and it almost seemed that he taunted Luc as he barely waited beyond corners, or called mockingly to the fighter as he got himself farther and farther into the temple.

“Come and get me~”

The voice came from another room, and Luc charged forward only to be hit in the shoulder with an arrow. The monk laughed from atop a balcony, and Adder sent a spell up towards the other figure. When the smoke cleared the man was gone, and Luc got a good look at the room. Rotten food lined the large table in the center, and the skeletal remains of what could only be adventurers sat in the large chairs, some with still-rotting flesh hanging off their bones. The smell was enough to make him gag, and without thinking Luc broke the shaft of the arrow and ran and jumped, barely catching the balcony and hauling himself up. Adder teleported beside him and then they both ran again after the monk’s fading laughter.

Luc lost track of the twists and turns, and his lungs burned in his chest. His armor rubbed against the stub of the arrow, but he had no time to completely remove the projectile. I’ve gotten him killed, he thought, and forced his legs to move faster. Will I prove Mother right and get myself killed as well..? The same as those adventurers—


Adder’s voice echoed down the corridor, but Luc ignored him as he caught sight of the monk darting into a small, circular room. “No you don’t!” he yelled, anger surging up in him. He would end this cat and mouse chase here and now.

He dashed into the room, certain of victory, only for the heavy stone doors to slam shut behind him. The monk walked up the wall, laughing, as Luc looked for some way— any way—to reach him. A balcony jutted out halfway up the wall, and the monk casually jumped over and hauled himself up as Luc threw useless curses at him. “Will you enjoy this?” he asked, drawing his bow and aiming for the giant bell hanging from the ceiling. Luc’s heart leapt in his throat and he ran to the door, desperately trying to pry it open.

Too late. The bell tolled and the sound echoed violently through the room. The walls shook and Luc’s armor rattled as both him and the monk cried out in anguish, but by the second knoll the monk was long gone. With the door not budging, Luc charged the bell. There had to be some way to stop the sound, to keep it from ringing and stop the increasing pain racking his body. Blood dribbled from his ears and down his neck, and only when a spell barely missed him did he realize Adder stood with the door slightly ajar, beckoning him.

He dove through and they closed the door just in time. One last ring echoed through the chamber, nearly shattering the stone door, and Adder led the fighter back towards the way they’d come. Try as he might, though, Luc couldn’t understand a word the man said.

Adder took him back to the first balcony room with the rotting corpses, and by then some sound had returned to the stricken fighter. Everything was muffled, as though Luc were deep underwater or someone stuffed cloth in his ears. Dried blood caked the side of his neck and ears, but he was no longer bleeding.

“This way,” Adder said—or so Luc thought—and they entered a kitchen. The place reeked of decay and rot, but in the center of the room, on a small counter, stood a black orb. Adder, apparently overcome with curiosity, touched it. And then quickly ducked as knives and forks and other iron implements came hurtling out of a cupboard behind them. Luc took a hit in the back and grunted in pain as the knife pierced his armor near his shoulder blade. Adder came away with a small scratch on his cheek.

“Thanks a lot,” Luc muttered thickly and hurried on, making sure to give the utensil-covered orb a wide berth.

The passage leading from the kitchen was long and winding, constantly circling in on itself as they descended. The monk’s echoing taunts led them farther down until they reached a large room with floors more rotted than secure. A balcony hung along the left-hand wall, and a door stood beckoning directly across from them.

“Be careful,” Luc cautioned pointlessly, and they slowly made their way across the few secure boards they could find. Just as Luc neared the far door a piercing laugh echoed throughout the chamber, and the monk waved from the balcony before pulling some kind of lever. The entire floor, rotted and safe parts alike, collapsed to the storey below, taking Luc and Adder with it. Tired from the constant running, and with his wounds reopened, Luc fell harshly as the ground suddenly met him again. Adder groaned somewhere to his left. At least we’re alive…

A dull roar began to echo through the chamber, and Luc wondered if his ears had been damaged again. He turned to ask Adder when a huge torrent of water suddenly gushed from an opening in the wall. The waves crashed into him and threw him against the far wall hard enough to stop his breath. Something spongy blocked the brunt of the swell, though, and as the water receded Luc pushed the rotted floorboards away, now nothing more than moldy pulp.

“Show yourself!” he yelled, scanning the walls for a way to climb out of the pit they fell in. Adder gestured him over near where they fell, and Luc realized the wall was pitted just enough to allow them to climb. Sheathing his swords—thank the gods he hadn’t lost them—they began the arduous climb as the monk rained arrows down upon them.

Luc realized, halfway up the wall, that he’d be lost without the changeling. Adder teleported away as soon as he was close enough, and a scream echoed through the chamber as the warlock managed to land a hit on their target. Luc crested the wall in time to see the monk pushed back by a spell, and barely dodged one of the monk’s arrows. Swords unsheathed, he charged and tried to pin the monk in the tight corridor, but between his aching shoulders and near deafness he put up a pitiful fight. The monk harrowed him through a side corridor that sealed behind him, and Luc had no choice but to run back through a dark, winding corridor to the floor below.

Up above, Adder had somehow forced the monk out over the edge. Before Luc could begin to climb the warlock sent another spell flying, and the monk fell down to the ground, grievously wounded.

“Heal Nethri!” he demanded, and the monk gave a bloody laugh.


“Then tell us where Master Shu is!”

His cackle of glee sent chills up Luc’s spine. “I am Master Shu~ Or a part of him. I killed the real one, you know~ Snapped his neck like this,” he giggled and made a breaking motion with his hands.

This couldn’t be happening. Had they really come all this way for nothing? The monk laughed again, spitting blood, and Luc charged him and landed the final blow, his cry of rage echoing through the room.

“For a monk he sure has a lot of loot,” Adder said as he teleported to Luc’s side, and started doing as he said before the fighter had a chance to move. The monk’s armor was salvageable, and he carried enough in gold and diamonds to resurrect Nethri should it come to it, but there was no scroll to undo the dwarf’s petrification.

“Now what?! He lured us away and for nothing!” Disgusted, Luc began to climb the wall that led back into the maze and the exit, but Adder stopped him.

“Maybe he was lying.” He nodded his head towards the far door leading into the unknown. “Maybe the real Master Shu is right through there.”

Luc hesitated, his hands on the wall. Maybe… But they should regroup; they needed Nethri. But there was no way to bring the dwarf back unless they got Syral’s help, and Luc’s blood ran cold at the thought. He wasn’t ready to face her after this latest betrayal of her trust.

“Alright. But we can’t go far.”

Between a rock and a D'Urban
Heaven don't take Highborns

People with perks, that is how you make it in any venture. I would have thought Nethri and Luc had the perk of being royalty and that was it. I was wrong.

A few days after they flew with angels, I spotted the dwarf back in Lencia. The thought occurred often to me that this town should be avoided, but to find out that lady death herself agrees with me shook me. By the stars, not being able to die is the perk to end all perks!

Still, it is creepy, maybe the whole town made a deal with some underworld creature. It would explain why the don’t let Miria rest in peace. I don’t want my people falling into the same deals this town made – reminds me of Ashenport.

Hmmm as Nethri approaches me here at the Inn, I can’t help but notice how stiff he walks. He has a stone cold look about him. I’m sure by the time we have our next adventure he will rock.

Botdd2 5monk


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