...and now for the final part of the "Stone of Baolnor".
The 9Qs: Questions 7-9
Warning: this gets a bit cheesy, but I like it...
The two heroes ran among the many fleeing townsfolk as the skies darkened to almost nighttime blackness. “Where are we going?” asked Thedric.
“To Elminster’s tower!” answered Tengrym.
Although he had never before been to Shadowdale, the fame of its many retired adventuring residents and its storied history was common lore to most. This was the Heartlands, and many heroes who had rocked the world and swayed nations lived here. As they ran, they saw the twisted tower along the riverbank, the Old Skull rising up beyond, and a rather disused path leading into a tangled grove.
“That’s it!” the half-elf confirmed to himself. Into it he ran. A few warning sigils and flagstones leading the way further testified that this is where the old arch-mage lived.
Suddenly, caution flared, and Tengrym came to a stop, holding Thedric with him. “Careful now…this is probably one of the most dangerous thresholds on Faerûn!”
“More danger?!” cried Thedric.
Tengrym came up short and started, nearly bowling into a bearded man in a red robe. The arch-wizard Elminster was an imposing sight, especially when he materialized suddenly where before there was nothing but air. Elminster was purturbed…or, one might say, angry. Bushy brows formed a harsh “V” wedge, and dark eyes glared at the two intruders.
“Who are ye to intrude upon an old soul?” sang the wizard. “And what have you brought upon the poor people of Shadowdale? Answer quick, lest I hastily indemnify ye both with fire and ice!”
Use the heroes' abilities to respond to the threats' resistance as per their heroic motivation and the RPG’s rules.
“Uh, master Elminster, your wiseness, er…powerfulness,” began Tengrym, getting his tongue tied amid the fear of the coming doom and almost equal fear of the bristling sorcerer before him. “Allow me to explain…although, why do you assume that we bring this doom?”
“It is no matter of genius or foresight to observe that a mighty demon heralds the approach of two strangers who have never before set foot upon my threshold!” answered the mage sarcastically. “Speak now!”
As fast, but as completely as he could, Tengrym explained the situation of the demon, Egelrenardruth, and the stone he most likely bore, and the tomb opened by the merchant and his escort in the Thunder Peaks.
“Well, my boy,” began the wizard, “you do seem earnest, and I don’t sense that you’re to blame for what may happen next.”
A peal of thunder reverberated, almost carrying with it a disembodied unnatural voice filled with horror and the promise of destruction.
“But,” he continued, ignoring the clamor that reduced the two heroes to shaking lumps, “I don’t sense that you are telling all there is to tell. What did you say your name was?”
Tengrym hadn’t given it yet. Most times, he would give a stranger his alias, that of Veldis of Thentia. Word of the deeds of the offspring of the Drowsbanes tended to quickly reach unfriendly ears. This time, although he was conflicted, he let it be said.
“I am Tengrym…Tengrym Drowsbane,” he said slowly. “And this is my half-brother, Thedric.”
“Drowsbane, Drowsbane…” mused the wizard, oblivious of the screams of terror and the clap of more thunder. “Yes, you do look familiar. You have your father’s eyes, don’t you? Dergan Drowsbane I remember. A horrible fate to be laid upon the family…dark elves, curses, and all… My condolences.”
“Thank you,” Tengrym answered in awe. “…your powerfulness.”
“Yet, I still am unsure of what you are still hiding…”
Tengrym met the wizard’s gaze and swallowed hard. “The stone he carries is his weakness, m'Lord. The goddess, Selûne laid upon him a curse to protect the stone. If it is destroyed, he is destroyed with it.”
“And that’s why he comes here, I see,” affirmed Elminster. “And why must this be a secret?”
Reluctantly, Tengrym said, “We would first wish to look upon it to see what fate is written upon it.”
“Well, the right thing to do and one’s desire do not always intertwine, if you get my meaning,” said Elminster with disappointment. “Well, we still have a chance to make things right. I think I know what it is he’s looking for. This is a battle that will be won with words over deeds, at least initially. Here’s what we shall do…”
the enemy nears completion of its goals, the enemy takes aggressive action against unsuspecting victims, open book
Descending from the sky in a shroud of void-blackness that trailed behind it like burning soot came the demon. Much of its body burned and was enveloped by licking flames in red to be smothered by smoke of jet. Flames of the uttermost dark red limned the edges of the cloud, but the horror’s face was laid bare for all to see. Black wings and long chitinous arms were crooked and misshapen, studded by thorny protrusions, all black as night. Around always was an invisible but palpable aura of power that seemed to repel light itself. It’s face was a hideous mixture of man and goat and ever black soot marked its path through the sky.
Now, the thing spied Elminster’s humble tower in the grove and it descended. People shrieked and ran for cover, and a shadow was cast over the small township. The thing landed near the weathered flagstones of Elminster’s threshold with a tremor, and though the wards flickered alive with magical potency, and alarms brayed, and numerous magical defenses sparked into activation, the demon stepped forward, unperturbed and unchecked.
Inside the grove stood Elminster in his robes and leaning on his crooked staff. He now looked insignificant and feeble next to the black, burning horror that strode defiantly forward. “Stop there for now, Lord of puss and punchlines,” said Elminster casually.
Tengrym and Thedric stood not far aside him, and other members of the former Knights of Myth Drannor not far to the other side. All shook with barely controlled fear and uncertainty.
The demon showed its contempt by stepping forward.
“Halt!” the wizard repeated, with more firmness this time. “I know what it is you seek, Egelrenardruth!”
The monster roared an inhuman scream of agony and fury.
“Yes, I know your name as well, lord of worms and vermin. You want this?” he asked, producing an old dusty time of considerable thickness.
The demon took another step forward. With a word, the tip of Elminster’s staff went alight with blue-green flame and held it over the pages. “Yes, black one! The tome of Uavona, containing the only rite known to be affective against the curses of the Great Ones.”
The demon backed away a step and regarded the heroes gathered around with hatred and malice. “Fool human!” it spoke in a deep bass and unholy voice. “I will destroy this tiny village and all who dwell here!”
“Yes, but you do want this,” Elminster countered calmly. “So we seem to have a stalemate.”
“What do you want, wizard?”
“What do I want?” he echoed. “What do I want…” Now it seemed he had forgotten what it was. “Oh yes! In exchange for the rite, you will be bound by a task of my choosing…”
“Never trust a wizard,” the demon scoffed.
“Spot on! Spot on!” laughed Elminster. “Normally, I’d agree with you there. But this is one you wouldn’t want to refuse. It is, after all, a single task — quite within your capability — a fair trade for releasing an eternity of bondage, wouldn’t you say?”
“What does the wizard ask?”
“Before I tell you, lord of malice, you must agree to exact the deed immediately and leave the people and land of Shadowdale at peace, and leave the stone behind intact and unblemished. Do we have a deal?”
“First, tell us the task…”
“Upon removing your curse, you must immediately depart this plane of existence — return to whence you came — and remain there for no less than the standard 1,000 year term.”
The monster thundered and screamed, writhing within its veil of black soot. “I think, wizard,” screamed Egelrenardruth, “that instead I shall take it, drink your blood, and raze the town!”
“So I thought!”
The others were tense like springs ready for release. While Elminster worked his magic to distract the demon, the others would figure out a way — somehow — to find and get the tablet.
For these questions, I will balance Elminster’s set of Descriptors plus one (for having all sorts of famous help) against the the demon’s. See how simple that is? Elminster also has a Condition that he placed through magic during their prep before the arrival of Egelrenardruth. Here are the stats I’ve gone with:
Descriptors: Legendary Wizard, Vast Arcane Knowledge, Whimsical, A Tough Nut To Crack, Magical Staff, Tome of Power
Conditions: Warded Against Demons
Descriptors: Legendary Demon, Strong Beyond Imagining, Fearsome, Weather Control, Creature of the Night, Flight, Fiery Aura, True Name Is Power
The mod I’m using to emulate high fantasy adventure (which I call High FUntasy) has Qualifiers that describe a thing’s scale: Novice, Veteran, Expert, and Legendary. Those can add bonus or penalty dice, but I’m capping it all off at 3 for ease. Whenever the demon is occupied, the heroes can factor in all these things, generally leaving a balance of +/– 0. If the heroes vie directly with the demon, they won’t get those benefits.
Battle erupted. Swordsmen of great repute and prowess leapt forward with magic and steel in hand. Flame exploded and lightning crackled, and war cries sang out. The monster roared a terrible shriek and darkness itself seemed to billow out and expand. Noxious fumes filled the air and red-white lightning flickered; but most terribly, the grip of fear — terrible, pulsating fear — wafted out like a living entity, gripping everyone, elf, dwarf, and human alike.
Tengrym’s blade was in his hand. Where Thedric was, he didn’t know and couldn’t bring himself to let that worry occupy his mind. He sought about the horrific demon with his eyes for something that might foretell of a stone tablet. He did not carry it, but Tengrym did notice that there seemed to be a sack about the monster’s hip — it was difficult to tell — that seemed to be made of the very stuff of night. Whether it had tangible form or not, the half-elf could only guess.
Chaos was all around, with men and women screaming cries of both anguish and triumph. Magical might sprang forth in a display of thousands of colors. Somehow, through it all, Tengrym fought off his fear and grew bold. His magical elf blade quivered with eager energy, for it was made for just such a purpose — to vie with an infernal power.
Although in the heat of battle, the mass of swinging forms, and those flying away from mighty blows of the enemy’s foul weapons and arms, Tengrym managed to move in. His sword and lithe motions kept him free of harm. He deflected errant blows and rolled under a decapitating slash of a massive axe — to find himself within striking distance of the demon.
Seeing the protuberance of something black at the thing’s side, Tengrym mustered his strength and speed and slashed. Around the thing, so close, he felt the sting of it’s fiery emanation, the overpowering noxious smell of brimstone and decay. His blade went just shy of the mark, landing hard against the monster’s weapon. Then the evil thing sensed the half-elf’s intent and turned on him, ignoring all others. Tengrym felt the full undivided malice of the demon — it almost peered into his very being with those unholy red eyes, laying bare his thought and desires.
The blow came in hard, impossible to avoid fully given the surprising speed and the incredible strength that drove it. Tengrym countered with his blade and was flung away with considerable force. He crumpled against a tree, the wind knocked from him. His blade spun out of reach, smoking from the incredible heat and strain. The ancient elvish sword withheld against the blow, but it was ineffectual to do actual harm against such an opponent. The others leapt in to take the half-elf’s place. Perhaps the others’ weapons were of stronger magic.
When Tengrym regained some of his wits, he gasped for breath. Thedric was approaching at a distance, drawing forth knives for throwing.
“Stay clear,” Tengrym managed to warn.
He staggered to his feet again. Only magic could accomplish what he needed.
In his smarting head, he recalled the symbols and words for a telekinetic spell that might rip the stone free of the grip of the demon. He tried to steady his breathing as the battle raged around him. Then the words came like rote and the magic coalesced into tingling power. When the spell was released, Tengrym reached out with his fingers and demanded, “Give me the tablet, Egelrenardruth!”
At the mention of the demon’s name, it shrieked hideously. From its side, a blue-white slate ripped free of the black material hanging about the creature’s waist and sailed into Tengrym’s waiting hands. The creature stumbled to its knees, trying to reach out at the stone as it sailed away. It’s grasp missed the edges of the tablet. Tengrym had the still-hot stone in his hands. He looked upon the surface and saw thin, delicately chiseled lettering upon its pale surface.
Elminster cried out to the half-elf. “Destroy the tablet now! While there’s still a chance!”
The enraged demon got to its feet and roared with the power of thunder. The trees and ground shook in its wrath and it bounded forward toward Tengrym with astonishing speed and power. Tengrym’s indecisiveness made everything hinge on a very narrow moment. He heard his half-brother call out to do the same. Suddenly, everything slowed, the warriors and mages, as well as Elminster and Thedric, all seeming to barely move.
The demon was faster.
With his remaining strength, Tengrym brought the stone down hard as he raised his knee, cracking the polished stone. Bright light flashed, and though with the breaking, the demon’s form was being undone, the power, heat, and momentum of the thing followed through and Tengrym knew no more…
29 Mirtul, Year of the Shadows
When Tengrym awoke, he found himself in a quaint room decorated with exotic furs and rugs from the Shining South. He heard the sound of water being wrung from a towel. Glancing to his right, he saw an older but pleasant-looking woman. She put the towel to his burning skin.
“Where am I?” he asked.
“In the Old Skull Inn,” the woman said with a cracking voice. “I am Jhaele Silvermane, and you just lie there quiet while I tend to you. You’re lucky to be alive…”
The half-elf glanced down, seeing his clothes and corselet stripped away and his naked flesh laid bare. Various unguents and bandages dotted his bruised and battered body. The worst of his injuries, it turned out, were healed by the priests of Lathander. Just then, Thedric came through the door. He was absently tossing a dagger into the air, catching it in his fingers delicately by the tip almost without looking.
“I heard some voices…hey, look who’s up!” he said jovially.
As he lay there, the better part of two days, it turned out that news of the destruction of the rogue demon had reached far and wide. The whole of the town, which was largely saved by the efforts of the Knights, Elminster, and of course Tengrym and his brother, was abuzz with the gossip. A whole throng of people were waiting in the taproom of the Old Skull day and night for news of the condition of the wounded hero.
Tengrym listened quietly to the stories of how Elminster had pushed the half-elf swordsman clear of the worst of disasters with his magical staff, saving him from a permanent death. Throughout the day, he received gifts from the townsfolk and their praise, but it seemed that he would not be leaving any time soon due to his wounds.
Later that night, Elminster came into his room and sat near the bed, smoking from his great clay pipe. “You almost did not live to see this day, my boy,” he said between puffs. “You also came dangerously close to letting a dangerous demonic power get away with something.”
“Almost only counts in horseshoes and flaming flasks of oil,” Tengrym replied flatly.
“Indeed — and delayed fireball blasts…”
Elminster told Tengrym that word of the deed was already far and wide, and within short time, the news would also be in the ears of less desirable folk, if not already. Tengrym understood his meaning, thinking of the drow, who would fight against any attempt to reunite the remnants of the Drowsbanes and to see the prophecy through.
“Don’t worry too much,” said Elminster in answer to Tengrym’s unspoken question. “I know you wanted desperately to see what was on that tablet. You will come into the knowledge you seek when the time is right, I reckon.”
Tengrym was growing annoyed by the know-it-all. “You’re probably right.”
“Of course I’m right! What next for you?” the wizard asked.
After a pause, he answered, “The riddle of the disfigured man we encountered near the lair of the demon. I may not have told you, but he looked like kin. I don’t know what his motivations are or who he works for, but I think I need to track him and find out.”
Elminster nodded. “And your brother?”
“Well, I figure there’s few places as safe as Shadowdale where I can trust he will be well taken care of.”
The old mage nodded. “The Knights will see to that — I have no doubt.” The man got up from his seat. “Well, you need your rest — you have a journey before you, and you needn’t indulge an old man and his long-winded stories while in the condition you’re in.”
He put a hand on Tengrym’s shoulder and left. “Thank you,” the wounded hero said.
“You owe me some new flagstones for my path,” Elminster said as he left.
Tengrym grinned and fell asleep.