The 9Qs: Questions 4-6
Q4Split the Heroes:
Tengrym first — pursuit
Tengrym picked himself up, shook his head to regain his senses and followed after the figure. His mysterious prey disappeared around a bend. Tengrym put on a burst of speed.
His quarry was quick-footed. He was no slower than Tengrym.
Tengrym turned the corner to see the black horse ahead, but no rider. By the time the warning bell blared in his head, a dark figure leapt out from behind a boulder, sword poised, and already disfigured face contorted to rage. A green-blue field of energy coalesced around the dark cloaked half-elf.
The surprise was nearly complete. The blow should have taken off Tengrym’s head, but somehow, he deflected the blow. He knew that at any moment, his brother would appear around the corner, and they would have odds over the attacker.
Steel rang, and Temgrym was unable to get through the man’s formidable defenses. He fought with a underlying grace to his movements similarly to Tengrym’s own. Steel sang as he defended himself against the dark assailant.
“Who are you?” Tengrym gasped between blows.
“It matters not,” said the man through clenched teeth. “It only matters that the Drowsbanes are doomed!”
The two danced, trading blow for blow, matching one another at every step, lunge and riposte.
“How do you know my mission?” asked Tengrym.
“Next time do not speak so loudly in the inn when you discuss ancient relics!”
The man bit hard with his blade, and Tengrym was nearly overpowered. He lost ground and the man turned to his horse. Tengrym tried to get his second wind, but he was fatigued. Where was that no good half-brother of mine, he thought. The black rider was getting away!
Thedric second — infiltration
Thedric, however, presumed his brother had matters well in hand. Instead, he dropped back down to the stream bed. He first rifled through the dead mens’ packs and pockets. In dismay, he found little except some note on parchment on the body of the one that might have been the merchant the barbarian described. Little interested, Thedric shrugged and stuffed the note in his boot.
He then drew a dagger and wandered through the door to the cave. To any but fools, the cave exuded loathing and evil. Thedric’s naïveté and lust for gold overcame any such warnings. He continued into the darkness.
A strange unearthly blue light illuminated a room at the end of a long, tall corridor. Thedric continued to its termination, where it opened to a great chamber. Inside, four great pillars upheld a vast roof. Cracked and broken relief figures adorned every nook and cranny of the place. At the far end of the room between strange blue-lighted braziers stood a great throne of black bone. Demonic figures curved over the seat like abominable man-serpents.
Before the throne lay a beautiful woman scantily clad in a long gown. Her wrists were shackled to heavy iron chains bound to the floor. The maiden looked up through dark locks. Her face was pale — both beautiful and fearful.
“Help me!” she cried out, seeing Thedric linger by the entrance. “Help me, quick! Before he returns!”
Thedric stepped forward, his heart quickening both from the excitement of danger as well as the swelling of his loins.
“Let me help you! How did you get here?” he asked.
“There’s no time! Get me out of these irons!”
Thedric put away his daggers and produced small lockpicks from his pocket. He began working the lock with finesse and legerdemain. Despite his formidable lock-picking craft, Thedric could not get the shackles undone. However, he saw that one of the rings in the chain was loose at its base where it was connected to the stone in the floor. He picked one of his daggers out and began to pry at the pieces, working the chain free from the stone.
Suddenly, the trap was realized, but too late. As Thedric bent over his task, a sense of warning overcame came him. He looked up to see the she-thing rise up. Where her legs should have been, there was the torso of a long, slithering serpent. The beautiful face contorted into a hideous visage of rage and death. She snarled, baring her fangs like a snake. The tail slashed and groped to grapple the young man, but the snake-woman was still chained by her wrists.
Thedric scuttled out of reach, but sat gripped by immobilizing shock. The she-thing pulled at its chains and writhed with astonishing strength and will. Thedric shook himself out of the momentary grip of fear, and drew a dagger, throwing it backhanded in one motion. The dagger stuck in the monster’s scaly flesh. The thing screamed and spat, but was still pinioned by its restraints. Thedric threw knife after knife, and finally, the thing dropped to stones slick with dark blood.
In fear and loathing, Thedric turned and ran in terror from the cave.
He ran headlong into his half-brother, who was still short of breath. “Where were you?” Tengrym scolded.
“I was…it…she…” Thedric was at a loss for words. When finally he had control of himself, he related the story. Tengrym gazed into the darkness of the chamber with loathing and trepidation.
“And the merchant?” he asked.
Thedric pointed with a trembling finger. Tengrym searched for any clues among the rotting corpses. What pestilence that had ravaged the bodies, he could not guess. “I found this,” offered Thedric, remembering the scrap he had discovered.
Tengrym snatched it from his brother’s fingers. He opened the folded parchment and saw a charcoal rubbing of some tablet or relief inscription. On it was marked the house of Drowsbane, with the stamp of its coat of arms. Chiseled in fine dethek runes was an account of sorts.
Although Tengrym could read the lettering, it was neither common, nor any form of dwarvish that he knew. It was clearly a code. However, he recognized the sigil of Baolnor, the dwarf chronicler and scribe of the Drowsbane clan.
“See here,” he pointed. “This is an important clue…if only we could translate this. It no doubt has an important bearing on this mystery. No doubt the merchant knew its meaning and it brought him here. We must search the chamber.”
“No!” said Thedric. “It may only have brought him here. It might not say what he would find. Let’s not look deeper, I beg you…”
“You may stay here if you like,” said Tengrym, who disappeared inside.
Thedric looked around him at the horribly disfigured and decaying bodies. “Wait for me!” he cried and ran in after his half-brother.
Q5.revelation, combat, keyhole
Inside, Tengrym lit a magical globe of light, which did not unveil the shadows near the top of the columns among the lengthy heights. The half-elf slowly probed deeper with sword in hand. Behind him tightly gripping a pair of daggers was Thedric. The two saw the same sights as Thedric had seen before with the same unholy blue light. Laying still was the she-devil Thedric had killed. Tengrym noted the position of everything and the great seat of bone. There seemed not to be any further passages, doors, or recesses leading away from the main area. The emanation of evil was very potent — almost crawling upon the skin.
The half-elf noted the glyphs and script scrawled over every surface. “Don’t touch anything,” he whispered in warning to his brother.
Nearer the dais and seat, the chamber was blackened as if a great heat was centered there and scorched the surface of stone and bone alike. It was clear that some great and horrible power had dwelt there in that room for countless centuries…a demon from the underworld.
A quick spell of divination revealed little, though the signature of great power was everywhere. In particular, one dark corner was completely devoid of signs when Tengrym concentrated his spell of detection there. He noted the void and kept clear.
Finally, after a sweep, Tengrym studied the scripts and glyphs that covered the walls and columns.
The half-elf’s eyes widened as the glyphs began to take hold in his mind. Although it was in elvish script, it was a form of infernal, which his uncle Messrym had suffered him to learn when he was a pupil in Mulmaster. He began to sweat as the truth of the place began to take form.
Here, I am using Rory’s Story Cubes (the whole bunch of ’em) freely to come up with a story, all under the context of what has happened thus far…
Throughout the room were numerous reiterations, in mundane script as well as enspelled wards, the true name, Egelrenardruth. That alone, was a shock to the sorcerer-swordsman. It was one of the evil entities of the nine hells, a master of night and storm. Now, Tengrym could see that the worn-away portion of wards was the demon’s attempt over the term of its incarceration to break free.
Quickly, the half-elf focused on another portion of the chamber, which used picture-glyphs and elvish to tell of the battle between the heavens and the deeps, and the guardian of the moon that watched over her followers with keen and patient interest. He read about the young clan of men and half-elves that established a hold in the north Moonsea, and the light they cast there to the dismay of the old and malevolent powers brewing and conniving below the surface.
Here in this very room, Tengrym learned that the tablet of Baolnor was guarded, according to the script. Although Egelrenardruth was summoned by the dark elves to permanently hunt the Drowsbanes to extinction, Selûne intervened. She charged the demon to guard the prophecy and the moonstone tablet it was scribed upon. Should the tablet ever be destroyed, it said, so too would the demon perish by the goddess’s curse.
Tengrym read the inscriptions with enthralled attention until Thedric broke him free from his trance.
“Let’s get out of here,” the lad said. Tengrym, too, felt a growing sense of dread.
“Come,” affirmed the half-elf. “Let us go.”
“Where we find a great demon of darkness, we find the stone.”
Thedric blanched. Tengrym thought again about the scarred half-elf on the black horse they had encountered. What was his role in all this? To prevent the tablet from being found, or to prevent the demon from being released? The Drowsbane was less certain now.
27 Mirtul, Year of the Shadows
Tengrym had explained his discovery in the chamber of the demon, and his belief that the entity would be in possession of the stone, while seeking a way to remove Selûne’s curse. With little rest, the two set what pace they could, following a track north and east through forest and dale.
There were no actual tracks, but the trail was not hard to follow. Great black clouds lingered along a path when the forest parted enough to see the skies. These were black unnatural clouds that did not blow away with the trade winds, and when rain fell, it scorched plants and leaves leaving the landscape scarred. Every time they came to a village or hamlet, the two were astonished and horrified to find nothing but destruction and death. Smoldering ruins, slag, rotting bodies, and reek were all that remained.
The two pressed on as best they could, but were wearied and hampered by the forest and meager trail system.
“It’s hopeless!” cried Thedric. “What are we even looking for? How can we hope to catch this thing?”
The two paused for a rare and brief rest. It gave Tengrym a chance to think.
“You are right, brother,” the half-elf answered. “We have no hope to catch this obviously winged lord of pestilence. But we can guess where he may be going…
“Anyone seeking a means to remove a powerful curse would seek one of two places of strong magic — Myth Drannor, or Shadowdale. Perhaps he knows or senses an artifact that may aid him. To the latter is a shortcut running north. If the demon knows not yet what he seeks, we may have time to beat him there, assuming that’s where he goes.”
The two broke their camp and fled north toward the sleepy village of retired heroes.
Two days after they had set out from the Thunder Peaks, the two staggered into the outlying farms of Shadowdale. They saw that no destruction had yet befallen the town. They were at first relieved, but then doubt gnawed on them that they had chosen the wrong locale.
However, they hadn’t gone far when a simple farmer looked up from his work as the two passed. A happy rustic face then spotted something in the skies. The man’s smile turned upside down. The heroes turned to look at what caught the farmer’s attention.
Their hearts skipped a beat.
In the heavens, a black sinuous cloud snaked slowly and menacingly in a meandering path, drawing closer to the town and obscuring the sun. Red lightning flickered around the void-black edges of the tempest. Although they could see no entity nor figure, a palpable evil was as firm a presence to them all as though Bane himself stood not but ten paces before them.
The farmer dropped his tools and ran to his cottage, holding the straw hat on his head so it wouldn’t fly off.
Tengrym broke his brother’s stupor. “Come! There’s little time!”