Lhaeo sighed but put on his patient smile as he listened to the older man talk. He had long since become accustomed to the constant smell of exotic smokeweed and eccentric tangents of the other man though tonight was late and he hoped that soon he would be able to retire for the night as he had much to do the next day.
Still it did not do to interrupt Elminster the Sage of Shadowdale, especially when the old mage was finally enjoying some well deserved peace. The hearty old man in front of him sipped his favorite mead while chortling over a memory of a conversation with another mage of a bygone time that probably took place several planes away in another century or so. Lhaeo stifled his yawn and tried to pay attention.
“And then I tell ye, he claimed to have invented the Fireball spell itself! Only when i asked him on the details he started talking about feathers and soft soled shoes. It took me a moment to realize he was trying to describe the archaic version of the standard Feather Fall spell instead. And when I pressed him on the matter he said that maybe that was the spell he invented instead and had them mixed up.” Elminster laughed at that “And tell thou the truth,, knowing old Fizban I can actually believe that he may well have.”
“This Fizban must have been quite old to have invented some of the most rudimentary spells used today.” Lhaeo said almost expectantly.
“Oh quite old I assure ye. I believe he can date his birth to before-” Suddenly the old sage’s face became serious and he took on a distant look.
Lhaeo silently cursed himself, here he just wanted to get to bed but not at the cost of an actual catastrophe. He knew that look well. Suddenly the mage across the old worn wooden table from him looked every part over the thousand years old that he was. Either a warning spell somewhere in the realms had gone off or he was receiving direct information from his chosen mistress, neither usually boded well for Fearuns future.
“Well well.” Elminster said quietly at last. He calmly drank the last of his drink and put out his pipe. He seemed to be at ease but his old friend and scribe knew him better than that. Lhaeo waited patiently for his friend to tell him what was wrong. If he could anyway, some disasters Elminster was sworn to secrecy and would be yet another burden the poor man must shoulder alone.
“It doth seem that we might be in for some wild times.” one of the mightiest archmages on the planet said calmly.
Lhaeo winced, the last time Elminster had said that, the time of troubles happened. He wondered what some random group of adventurers in the world had done this time.
“I’ve told you a hundred times now Cadet Lindsey! Swing, thrust, shoulder! If you’re going to use a weapon as long as your standard issue longsword against an opponent that uses something shorter you’re going to need to constantly give yourself the proper fighting room. Don’t let him back you up. Your feet will win the fight as much as your hands. If you have the leverage then use it and force them back.” the drill sergeant screamed out.
Cadet Lindsey nodded but forced himself not to say anything. He came from a wealthy family and was just joining the guard to put in his four years as tradition demanded. Everyone knew that he would never really be put into harms way. If anything were to happen to him his family would give the watch no end of trouble. Hells, he would probably outrank the obnoxious drill sergeant as soon as he graduated in a few weeks.
His friend Placo came up to him as the sergeant stomped off to give a different cadet an earful.
“Don’t worry about the serg.” Placo said “Soon we will be out of this hellhole and be on watch duty over by the doxie section of town eh?” Placo said with a grin. He was obviously already imagining using his newfound power of the authority of the law to get certain “discounts” with the higher end women of pleasure street.
Lindsey nodded, he and Placo had been friends since boyhood, which in truth was not far behind them as their drill sergeant liked to point out, and had joined the watch cadet school together just a few months ago. He also was thinking of certain privileges he would use once the uniform was his. But first he scowled at the retreating drill sergeants back.
“I just wish that cretin would learn his place and leave us alone. He is obviously peasant class and will soon be answering to us.” Lindsey said spitting.
“He is one of the best warriors in town, and in Waterdeep that’s saying something. Who knows, maybe a move or two he knows will help us one day.” Placo said. When Lindsey gave him a sneer he stammered “You know, in case we have to arrest a ruffian or something.”
“We aren’t going to be anywhere near danger, we are too important to this city as the privileged next generation. And everyone but that buffon knows it. I can’t wait to get out of this stupid cadet uniform and standard issue weapons.” Cadet Lindsey looked at the plain longsword in his hand in disgust. His father had already promised him a much better and more distinguished sword upon graduating. Jeweled with gold and platinum inlay as befitted a fine member of upper society such as himself. Rather than just a sword that the city paid weaponsmith cranked out some decade or two ago.
Lindsey looked at the weapon the drill sergeant used and shook his head. It was even plainer and duller than his own. Showed what sort of “fine warrior” he was or whatever. When he graduated he would have a proper sword as befitting a true warrior like himself. He would make sure it was enchanted, surely his father wouldn’t expect him to take the time to sharpen and polish it, he was much much too busy to be bothered with such foolishness.
“Don’t pick on the sergeant’s sword again” Placo pleaded. “You know he is proud of that dull thing for whatever reason. I don’t want to have to do kitchen duty again.”
“It’s just so ugly.” Lindsey said. “And what is the purpose of all this training. The realms are safe, we have a friggin paladin for mayor and Blackstaff in case some crazy mage tries anything. This is Waterdeep for the Nine Hells sakes! What could possibly happen here?”
Placo shook his head in agreement. “I know that and you know that buddy. But our sergeant keeps insisting some sort of danger is coming.”
The two young friends looked over at the sergeant and groaned. The sergeant was doing it again. They looked at each other and just went back to the drills, though calling it half hearted was generous.
Thokul didn’t glance at cadets Lindsey or Placo. He knew their thoughts and hoped that they would have a chance to grow up and grow wise before the worst was upon them. And the worst was coming. He was doing everything he could to make sure that Waterdeep, jewel of the realms, was ready.
He kept his gaze turned towards the sky and wondered when the invasion would begin.
“I DON’T WANT TO HEAR EXCUSES!!! JUST FIND THE DAMN THING!”
Ar’dru, Ll’ir’ath, and Sziin all bowed their heads and scampered out of the room before the queen decided that her fury demanded more pain inflicted. Off to the side of the room Xam’kras watched the elite holocaust warriors flee and felt a little jealousy that he couldn’t leave the room as well.
Queen Vlaakith CLVII stormed around her throne room. She was furious. In less then a month she had her new city broken into, the Soul Reaver stolen and taken beyond her reach, and now her secret mission had failed. The damn construct Baltus Kree had not returned with the gear.
She had thrown armies against Regulus and lost millions in her battle with Primus and his lot just to learn that the gear wasn’t there. She had hundreds of gith pass the test of the smoking eye just for that damn upstart Blackmoon to lock her and everyone else out of Occipitus.
How Blackmoon had learned the secrets of Occipitus instantly when her best scholars and wizards had spent months there was beyond her. She was sure that Blackmoon was getting inside information about the abilities of that plane of the Abyss but no idea who.
It was coming apart. All of it. The silver sword Oddball had carried, one of the more powerful ones that defended as much as attacked, was also missing and all her sword hunters could not find a trace of it. She was sure that thrice damned Blackmoon had it on Occipitus still but divinations were not working.
She forced herself to calm. Her rage was not solving the problems. She would break into Occipitus, crush Blackmoon under her heel, and wrestle every secret that plane had to offer. She would get the gear from the fool Malar and use it to find her peoples home plane. Once there she would be the name her people cheered. With the power of an entire plane of existence and the adulation of an entire race she would finally cast off the name Gith. Vlaakith would be the name of her people from then on and forever more.
She did what calmed herself, what she had done to keep sane as a undead creature in a timeless plane. She made a list in her head. First, kill Blackmoon and take what should rightfully be hers.
Second throw down Malar and take the gear, also rightfully hers. Third she would find her home planet no matter where in the multiverse or what sphere it was in. She had fleets of spelljammers in every known sphere of existence.
She grimaced, not in the sphere with Nosgoth actually, not since the Soul Reaver had been taken. She shook her head mentally and continued. Fourth, she would make herself a god, and finally the gith would have clerical magic. The planes would tremble then, she would show them a tyrant as had never been seen.
Fifth, with her new power in place she would kill every last illithid in existence, exterminate the species. She would start with Realmspace, where Oddball had failed. Sixth, she would do the same the zerths. The gith-zeria had been tolerated long enough, it was time to end the schism and crush the cowards once and for all.
Seventh she would- Some stupid gith choose that moment to interrupt her. She glared at him coldly. In the corner she could see the legless Xam’kras try to hide from her peripheral vision. As well he should, Oddball had been his creation and idea. She looked at the intruder and recognized her as Zanhkor, one of her best rogues and currently tasked with spying on ways into Occipitus. Maybe some good news for a change.
“I do hope your here to tell me you have discovered a way into that fools lair.” the queen said calmly. She scowled when Zanhkor winced.
“Your majesty.” Zanhkor practically grovelled.”I regret to inform you that Occipitus has ……. Vanished.”
“Blackmoon has left the plane?” Vlaakith asked “That should weaken its defenses tremendously.”
Zanhkor shook her head quickly “No my queen, not Blackmoon. Well, just Blackmoon. The entire plane of Occipitus is gone. It no longer resides anywhere in the Abyss.”
Abyss was the last word Zanhkor ever spoke, and most likely where she ended up after Vlaakith imploded her in a fit of frustration. She screamed and threw a priceless vase from Netheresse era against the far wall to shatter it. She turned to the legless floating Xam’kras and screamed at him to follow.
Scared to obey but scared to disobey the legless gith wizards hesitated. When he saw the scowl on her face he decided that quick obliteration was better than the thousands of torments her magic could inflict. He meekly floated along behind her.
She grabbed his pudgy pale arm and cast a quick spell that teleported them both away. She was the only creature capable of teleporting outside of the castle.
Xam’kras opened one eye slowly to see if he was still alive, and if he still wanted to be after finding out where she had brought him. To his relief they were still in the Astral plane. In the experimental section of the gith armory he recognized, having spent some time here recently.
Vlaakith let go of him and started walking down the long hallway. She stopped at the first door and looked inside. Even though he knew what was going on he looked as well. Inside the room was the storage of the new swords being produced. Silver swords of a might not produced in ages were once again able to be manufactured since the lost forge was returned from the bottom of the sea near a place called Chult.
Vlaakith said not a word but bid him to follow down to the next door. They both looked inside.
In the new room were large glass vats filled with blood and magical components meant to enhance or change or prolong it. Also ten tables with ten gith volunteers strapped to them. Three had died but the other seven showed signs of progress. They writhed in pain and agony but showed signs of having survived the transformation. Already fur, tail, claws and other feline features were showing through. If the blood ritual could work a whole new breed of gith would be let loose on the world, one quick and agile, with great senses and almost impervious to common weapons.
Vlaakith led him away down a long hallway to the last room. One that Xam’kras knew well, for he had designed it. Inside, much bigger than either of the other two rooms, were hundreds of men. All standing completely still at attention.
Well not really men in the fact they weren’t really human. Each one identical to each other one in every detail of appearance. Human males with strange tattoos. They weren’t really human but could pass easily. They had male anatomy but would be unable to reproduce naturally. A hundred by a hundred Oddballs all set and ready to be activated for instruction. Xam’kras silently cursed that the original one had been lost. The last time it had shown up it had some new mind protecting ability that had stopped Xam’kras from putting all his skills into the awaiting constructs. Oh well, they had been uploaded periodically as the original one had reported in during its adventures. It would have to be enough.
Vlaakith looked at Xam’kras, right into his very soul. She spoke clearly and firmly.
“We have the swords, we have the blood, we have the monks. Until Occipitus can be located we are going to punish those responsible. I want the fleets pulled back in and brought here to be reloaded and repaired for a new assault. The target is Abeir-Toril.” she snarled at the end.
Xam’kras nodded even though he knew of the enormous task of bringing in several fleets, that would be almost a million troops. Still he dared not disobey. He just wanted to verify.
“Of course your majesty, we have several fleets just on exploration missions, or guerilla warfare. Of course the Bloodfleet is on the trail of the Whispering Wind for Underhill and Starflower, the Sword fleet is engaged with the illithids over Krynnspace, the Death fleet is circling Ebberon still looking into the Mournland, the Blade fleet-”
He stopped when Vlaakith grabbed him by the throat and pulled him to eye level.
“All of them.” she growled in a quiet whisper. “Bring them ALL in.”
Xam’kras tried not to pass out of fright, even as his logical mind tried not to boggle at the sheer number of over a billion gith being brought into service at once against a single planet. It would be the largest invasion in their peoples history.
“Don’t stop until everything bigger than a mouse is dead and the original Oddballs body is brought to me.” With that she teleported away to who knows where, leaving Xam’ras to plan one the largest wars ever outside of the Blood War itself.
Blackmoon held Shensen in his arms as they looked over the rails of the new castle. The sky was perfect blue, the soft foliage of the landscape a crisp green. The smell was just like home of Chult though without all the yaun-ti.
“It’s beautiful” the former drow whispered nuzzling against him.
“I couldn’t leave the jungle behind. It’s as much in my blood as the elf, feline, and angelic part of me.” the former werecat said softly.
Residing in their new home on Mt. Celestia they gazed out at what Blackmoon, with help from Shensen and Adamachrius, had created. The jungle here had very little of the harshness of Shensens jungle back on the material plane. It was calm and serene, no predators lived in Blackmoons borders.
“Why did you keep the skull?” Shensen asked looking over to where the large unidentified skull still resided in the middle of the landscape.
“To remind me of where this place came from, to be vigilant or it could fall again. Or maybe to remind me what I had to do to get here. In truth I don’t know, it just feels like it belongs here.” Blackmoon answered, looking at the large skull.
“Did you ever ask Adam what it was when it was alive?” Shensen asked.
“You know he hates it when you call him that.” Blackmoon chided gently “No he didn’t. I asked him once and he seemed so sad I didn’t push it. I feel he will tell me when he is ready.”
Talking about the risen angel caused them both to look out to the north, where the strange mountain range named Rabbit Klien stood, with a distant winged figure barely visible on top of it. Blackmoon had left Gunzo’s contribution untouched as well, it seemed fitting since the poor rabbits sacrifice had been paramount to him getting the smoking eye himself, and everything that had happened afterwards. Adamachrius sat there for days whenever Blackmoon didn’t need him, meditating and trying to find peace within himself.
“I wonder if Grazz’t will ever come, trying to reclaim this place.” Shensen mused.
Blackmoon shook his head “It is safe back in Celestia now. There are far more easily won prizes then here. Besides it was ‘cursed’ when it was on the Abyss and he never found a true use for it. I doubt he will waste much effort on such a poor prize. Especially with someone like Bahamut guarding the entrance to heaven. In truth I figure the gith will eventually come calling, once they found where I moved it.” with that last statement he looked to the front door where a lifelike statue of Oddball stood in front of the entrance.
The statue showed him in a cross legged sitting position with his eyes closed and his face calm. The body of Oddball, which seemed not to decompose, was buried by Blackmoon himself under the center of the castle. Blackmoon had not used magic to bury the body but had dug for hours by hand. It had seemed appropriate.
“How bout Chult?” Blackmoon asked turning some of the questions back to his love.
“It will ever be a wild place, it has grown even more so since your adventures have ended. I believe you’re right about Malar using his new power to increase the ferocity of the beast. I wonder if he realizes that you need a few hundred prey animals for every predator or else they will starve themselves.” Shensen answered, moving some of her green hair away from her antlers.
“M’har has finally given up trying to destroy Bojacks tribe and father. Though I fear what will happen to either if they ever try to leave Chults borders where I can’t protect them.” she continued.
Blackmoon laughed softly “I meet Bojacks grandfather, he is way to stubborn to ever leave. And I doubt a dragon would want to. However the offer stands, any and either may live here as long as they please.”
Shensen paused before the next part. “I know you asked me not ask-” Shensen started.
“Then don’t” Blackmoon said gruffly and pulled away, turning from her. He did not want to talk about this right now.
But Shensen didn’t get to be the archdruid by giving up, even when going forward would be unpleasant. “You know I must. Will you ever forgive him?”
Blackmoon didn’t answer. He just looked at the jungle of his creation without seeing it. He saw another face in his mind. A sly feline face that always seemed to know a private joke it was not quite willing to share.
“You manage to forgive Adam, and he did thousand things far worse. Even Gunzo manage to forgive Tesherack and Gunzo holds a grudge as good as anyone.” Shensen said. “You were friends once, faced danger and death together a dozen times.”
“And he played me like a chump. Even when I saw it coming I wasn’t fast enough to stop him.” Blackmoon said bitterly.
“Marsharr may not have had a good reason for what he did from your perspective.” Shensen said “But he did from his.”
“How does one get to be so wise?” Blackmoon said a little teasing, trying to change the subject. “”Does it come from being a bard? A druid? Or a drow?”
She knew what he was doing and gave him a small kiss on the nose. “From being a woman silly.”
Blackmoon laughed and held her close again. But he looked over her small form and turned his burning smoky gaze to the sky and Adamachrius. He didn’t know if he could ever forgive Marsharr, or even if he should. But two things stuck out in his mind right then.
One was the room in the prison tower, the one that held a flask contained in a room filled with deathtraps. In the most secure prison in the plane of prison there was a prisoner locked up even tighter then Adamachrius had been. One that had been held in a flask. He remembered the soft feminine voice whispering “Are sins ever forgiven?”
The other thing that stuck out in his mind was the look of horror on Adamachrius face when he had told him that when he had gone back to collect the flask and hold it safely here in Occipitus, it was missing.
Pristina Greensleeves kept her feet only through years of living on the high seas and the experience was second nature. She worked her way through her waving ship and shoved any crew too slow to get out of her way. She might have even sent one overboard but she didn’t really care right now.
“Traven! You miserable cur, take us closer to land.” she shouted to her second mate. She didn’t wait to see if the ogre heard her but moved to the stairs to work her way down below. She wanted to see Stonetongue and see if the hornless minotaur could use any of his psionics to help them.
The slaves chained in cages begged her to free them in case the ship went down as she climbed down but she ignored them. She went to the psions cabin and pushed her way in. As she suspected and hoped the minotaur was sitting calmly with his eyes closed concentrating.
She just watched him impatiently for a few minutes and then the thumping on her ship stopped. It rolled more gently with the waves.
“Was it sharks again?” she demanded.
The mute minotaur looked at her and telepathically told her yes as well as octopi, squid, big fish, and other creatures that shouldn’t be able to get that close to each other without eating each other.
“That’s the third time this month that it’s happened. I’m not sure how much more my ship can take. Do you think it’s the cook?” Pristina asked.
Stonetongue thought about it and then shook his head. Too many times the same thing had happened, not like their cook at all.
The elf slaver grunted. She wondered if she should do the more traditional elven thing and kill the drow after all. She had seen Nia as a fine catch and slave at first. People always willing to pay big coin for a pretty drow wench, either as some sex object or to torture in response to some drow tragedy or another. She didn’t care as long as she got paid.
But when she saw the magic the drow could throw to defend herself, while on the surface no less, she had taken a chance and given the woman a job at being chief wizard on board. After a week of mishaps however she had been downgraded to cook and was about to be downgraded again to slave if she kept messing up.
But more worrying and more pressing was the constant animal attacks. The sharks had gotten more vicious and now other animals were joining in trying to ram a ship into the ocean? She had already lost one ship here about two years ago now.
After the debacle with apparently some former slaves becoming gladiator champions in Careninglin she couldn’t go back there, and that place was ripe for slavers. Now it seemed Chult had a guardian who had a personal dislike to those in the honest slave trade profession. Seriously she couldn’t catch a break.
They heard the heavy footsteps on Traven the Cruel before the ogre actually got to the door. When he opened it he looked at the two of them and then turned to Pristina.
“Captain, we lost several barrels of fresh water to the attack, we don’t have enough for everyone. Who gets to live? Crew or cargo?”
Pristina thought for awhile about if it would be more profitable to keep the slaves alive to afford more crew or cheaper to just cut the slaves as a loss. Finally deciding that if she killed her crew she would have to feed and water the cargo herself and couldn’t be bothered she answered.
“Dump the slaves overboard, go ahead and keep them in the cages, were not going to need them anymore.”
Both Stonetongue and Traven looked at her curiously. She answered “The slaving profession just doesn’t seem as lucrative anymore. Let’s go to Luskan and see if we can get some good solid pirating in while we’re still in our golden years.”
“You sure you want to do this?” Nexus asked in draconic for the dozenth time.
Bojack just nodded. His head still hurt to talk. As soon the group had arrived back in Chult after Occipitus, a few days after Oddballs heroic sacrifice, Bojack had been blasted mentally that had almost shattered his barriers. Acting quickly he redoubled his efforts and enacting the strongest defense he knew, thinking of his mind and brain like an impregnable barrier nothing to could penetrate. It had worked long enough for Sora to send a message to Nexus, who was still close by guarding Pinky even though they had been gone a month. The gold dragon planeswalker had flown by and quickly taken the group back to Occipitus. Bojack had suffered a slight headache ever since that day.
The group had spent weeks trying to figure out how to find M’har to attack him next. Shensen had been able to determine that he was not in Chult although he was constantly trying to attack his grandfather and father. Shensen was keeping the attacks at bay but M’har had been inside Bojacks head too many times for Shensen to protect him the same way.
As the gith started harassing Occipitus barriers, forcing Blackmoon and Adamachrius to spend more and more time concentrating on them, and Marsharr got further and further away, the plan to go after M’har slowly fell apart.
In the end they just couldn’t find him. He wasn’t in Chult. He wasn’t in Carcengling. And it seemed the entire island of Lantan had been emptied out. The place was a disaster still after the damage Tesherack had done to it. The gnomes had not rebuilt but rather departed. No one knew where and as weeks became months other issues came up.
No one else was affected but whenever Nexus or Blackmoon sent Bojack back to the prime material plane, he was assaulted within the first few moments. Finally Bojack realized he would need an alternate strategy.
With Nexus help, Bojack and Pinky left the group and explored the planes, looking for some means of hiding from M’har, or fighting back, or finding him. All failed. Bojack began to turn bitter as he hit dead end after dead end. Nexus tried to keep him positive but Bojacks mood got darker and darker.
There was a low point for Bojack, sitting in a tavern with a shapeshifted Nexus in Sigil. He cursed his former comrades for abandoning him. Tesherack had been dealt with, Grave was destroyed, and Adamachrius redeemed. He had been there through it all. But everyone had failed at taking out the true threat. One that had now risen to a level that seemed untouchable.
Blackmoon was a divine angel and Marsharr was some sort of super hunter but would either help him? NO. Bojack had taken to the bottle, and strange exotic substances like dark nightshade to blunt the pain of his rage.
Nexus and Pinky watched in silence and sorrow as Bojack seemed to be on the path to self destruction. He had started to lose control over his psionic powers and didn’t seem to care.
Not knowing what to do Nexus tried to think of someone else to talk to Bojack, as his words fell flat.
In the end it was Sora that helped. Meeting with Bojack on a plane of endless twilight where glowbugs and fireflies filled the air with dozens of different colors, so far away from the jungles of Chult they both called home. They talked for hours.
At first only Sora talked, as Bojack would hardly speak. But after some time Bojack opened up and would respond in one or two words, then more. Pinky and Nexus watched from a respectful distance. Well Nexus watched, Pinky kept trying to eat the colored fireflies.
At one point Sora said something right, and Bojack broke. He cried, softly at first but then sobbed in Soras arms. After the spell had passed Bojack almost instantly seemed like his old self. The next day Nexus took Sora back to Chult, Bojack watched as he didn’t want to subject himself to M’hars attacks again.
That was over a month ago and now Bojack was ready for the next leg of his journey. He looked at the giant dragon that had been his friend and companion for over a year now.
“I can go with you if you want.” Nexus said again.
Bojack shook his head. “You were a chess piece for years and ever since you were freed you have been doing me favors. It is time to find your own freedom my friend.”
“Traveling with you has never been a chore.” Nexus said back but saw that Bojack was determined.
“I must do this alone. I will miss you Nexus.” Bojack patted the large dragon.
Pinky ran up and licked the massive dragon affectionately as well. Nexus laughed “I will miss you as well Pinky.”
“One last portal if you will.” Bojack said straightening his shoulders.
“You remember everything I told you about this plane?” Nexus asked.
Bojack rolled his eyes “I know more about the plane of Limbo then you do by now.”
The planeswalker snorted at that but cast the spell that would let him walk through the realities. A portal opened up of crazy sounds and wild colors.
“Thank you.” Bojack said and started to step though.
“Will they even trust you? Gith-zerai are hard to on outsiders you know.” Nexus warned.
Bojack looked at the gold dragons friendly eyes and nodded. “I will make them see reason. The gith-yanki are coming and the universe will need the zerths. They have the mental fortitude to find and fight M’har while at the same time he won’t know that they are hunting him. I will train them myself. I know all M’hars ways and styles. It may not be as satisfying as killing him with my bare hands but…….” Bojack shrugged.
“I wish you luck my friend.” Nexus said simply. “Know again that Blackmoon has repeated his invitation that you and your family are welcome in Celestia whenever you wish.
“Maybe one day.” Bojack said simply and stepped through the portal.
Nexus watched the half vanarra, half dragon and intellect devourer step though and then closed the portal behind them. Maybe Bojack would find revenge, maybe he wouldn’t. Nexus just hoped that he could one day find peace.
Tesherack limped his mangled body along the cliffside. High in the peaks of Chult he could see over the jungle canopy for miles in every direction. He looked proudly at the ruin that was all that remained of the eyesore Cauldron. He took pride in its destruction, in awakening the volcano that day.
He no longer had his magic, would probably never have it again. He knew that the usurper who took his mantle, the dark elf wench Shensen could kill him at any time if she choose. But she didn’t. Maybe out of respect for the gnomes final decision regarding his fate. But he would not be denied.
His magic wasn’t what made him dangerous. It was his will. His will and determination to succeed. His body hurt all the time and he moved slow. It was only his extensive knowledge of Chult and all things within it that allowed him to survive in such a harsh place.
The khajit gimped further up the mountain, every breath painful, every step a struggle and brought himself down to rest while looking at a herd of brontosauruses. The long necked creatures putting their heads above the treeline. He just watched them for awhile, as they gently thundered around eating leaves off trees.
Then he noticed that they were getting pushy with each other. Started with just yelling at each other in their animal growls, but progressed into pushing and full on fighting. Tesherack watched with interest. They were herd animals and there was no shortage of food. They were not fighting for mates or young. He could not see a predator, he did not know what agitated them.
And then he felt it. It wasn’t just the animals, it was the air. It was the earth. It was in everything around him. Something was changing. The wild was about to become truly wild again. Something harsh, primitive, untamed. Something …. Beastial.
Tesherack threw back his head and laughed. He laughed long and hard and as loud as he wanted. He feared no predator hunting him. He knew what change was occurring even if he didn’t know the cause. He embraced the savageness that the universe was shifting gently but inexorably towards.
Baltus looked around. He had never been dead before and wasn’t sure what that entailed. Maybe he should have asked Blackmoon at some point. He was on a featureless plane with nothing but white in every direction. He started walking out of habit but stopped after a few minutes realizing he had nowhere to go.
With no features of any kind he didn’t even know if he was moving. He looked down at his feet. He didn’t really see anything that could be qualified as a floor or even ground but he was standing on something firm. With nothing better to do he explored this new yet boring place he found himself in. Getting nothing from his environment, or lack thereof he examined himself.
Gone were all his magical trinkets and items. He had nothing but ragged clothes and shoddy sandals. He felt solid to himself though he knew he was dead. His last act as Oddball was to give all he had of himself to give Adamachrius one last chance at true redemption. He had cured his insanity and taken away the demon part of him.
And his reward to was to stuck in the Plane of Suck it seemed.
“That was a heroic thing you did” said the most heartbreakingly beautiful female voice from right behind him.
He whirled around to see a young human woman in a simple white cotton dress standing before him. She was the most gorgeous creature he had ever seen.
“My lady.” he said and bowed. He wasn’t sure why but felt he should.
She laughed, tittered really, and raised him up by his arm. Her touch was what heaven must feel like. “You need not bow Baltus. You owe nobody anything. In fact I, and everyone else who strives towards goodness, owes you.”
She saw the dazed look in his eyes and turned him to look behind yet again. As he did he no longer saw nothing but white in every direction. Instead was a beautiful meadow with a small waterfall leading to a pond with a creak stretching away. He felt the wonderful grass underfoot and heard birds chirping happily. A family of unicorns stood drinking by the stream watching their youngest colt chase a small winged kitten through the glen. It was a rather cute scene. He was in about the most peaceful place in existence it seemed.
“Who are you my lady?” Baltus asked in awe. “And where am I? What a happened?”
She tittered again “Oh my, mortals and their questions. Such a curious thing you are. Well to answer them in order I am Eldath, you are in my home in Elysium, which is your home too now. And you died. Rather heroically I might add.”
“Is this real?” Baltus asked reaching out to touch a golden furred fox that had walked up to nuzzle next to him.
“Yes, and you have your friend Bojack to thank for that. If not for his mental power you used you would be seeing the same thing you are right now. Only it would be an illusion the githyanki rather than the real thing.
Baltus frowned. “How do I know it isn’t an illusion right now?” he said suspiciously.
Eldath leaned in, took his head in her hands and kissed him. In that kiss Baltus saw the whole of the universe. The rights, the wrongs. The failures and successes of a million million beings. He saw that his home world was one of a trillion that could support life of some sort and that it all fit inside a crystal sphere and that there were a billion other spheres just like it. He also saw that she kept his mind from exploding from this realization by using nothing less than divinity.
“Do you think it’s an illusion now?” Eldath asked lightly, releasing him from kiss.
Baltus was ready to die all over again just to get another kiss, after all it wasn’t so bad the first time. But he held back. Petting the fox he asked something that had been weighing on his mind since first finding out about himself.
“But I wasn’t born. Not in a proper way. I am not really even a human. Or rather I am a million humans, and goodly number of other creatures too. Do I even have a soul, or do a have millions of them? What happened to everyone who I was made up from?”
Eldath sat down next to Baltus and petted the fox with him. The furry little creature rolled over and exposed his belly in total bliss.
“Indeed the githyanki did terrible things to create you. But in creating you they did create something beautiful. You did not take all their souls, only their personalities and patterns of speech. That is why you sometimes talked like a coward but could be fearless in battle, that is why you could talk like a beserker yet be able to retreat if you needed too. You were always in control of yourself even if the voices seemed otherwise.”
Baltus nodded, that made sense. But still, he knew that he had given up his soul to redeem Adamachrius. It had to come from somewhere and he didn’t believe even Vlaakith could create it in a lab.
“You only needed one soul to be truly alive. And out of the six million creatures that you were made from there was a volunteer. A human male willingly gave up his own during the creation to let everyone else move on with their afterlife.”
Baltus was quiet for awhile. He watched the unicorn and the winged kitten frolic for some time while petting the happy, almost comatose fox. Finally he said “Can you tell me about this man?”
Eldath smiled patiently “Of course. He was a human monk from your own planet actually. His name was Luther……….”
“I want this place running full steam. The ninth one is almost done and we will move on to another place for more raw materials.” M’har said in his weak whispery voice. He floated on his personal flying carpet with Vespa and Gunzo Spigglenot right behind. Trailing all of the, his one eye constantly looking for danger was Drasek Riven, the bodyguard.
“What are you going to name this one Gunzo?” asked Vespa, happily skipping alongside her brother.
“Do you think Gunzo’s Large Throbbing Erection is too crass?” Gunzo asked looking out at the final touches.
The latest warmech was a unique design, like the other eight before it. This one had guns mounted on fifty different positions and a sixty foot long one attached to its back. Ever since firing the Mechanous cannon, and missing, Gunzo had been determined to get another shot. Soon he would, all he needed was a target.
“Elegant as always master Spigglenot, but I will not name it that nor suffer to hear it again. Find another name.” snapped M’har. He seemed peeved, possibly even miffed.
M’har was actually happy. True he had been thwarted in Chult time and time again. And even now couldn’t take revenge on Bojack either because he was dead or on another plane of existence. And he couldn’t even take it out on the wretches pathetic family due to the damned drow protecting all of Chult specifically from him. But he had crushed the people of Redgorge and Cauldron, amassed an army of skilled tinker thralls from the island of Lanton, and even now was coming up on being three quarters complete with his proposed dozen titans of destruction.
The hardest part is what country to conquer first. While Chult had a nice appeal he could see himself getting caught up in a long time consuming and costly war with very little value other than his pride. Now he valued his pride more than money or anything as trivial as other people’s lives. But he wanted a easy win first. He thought about his homeland and city of Carceninglin but knew that his thrall army of gnomes might be freed or killed from the inside by the hundred psionics who lived there. He knew his warmechs were strong but not that useful against the like of genies and elementals.
Possibly one of the southern lands of Fearun? Maybe the sword coast? It had no real government and he was sure that cities like Amn and Baldur’s Gate would fall easy. With his brains and psionics, Gunzo’s technical knowledge, and Vespas ability to inspire others (greatly amplified by the p.a. system Gunzo had installed in all warmechs) M’har knew there was nothing he couldn’t do and no challenge he could not overcome.
If only he could figure out what was going on with some of the tinkers. They seemed to all hit some sort of mental glass ceiling that they couldn’t get past. M’har knew they were gnomes, therefore inferior, also not psionics, therefore even more inferior, and not telepaths, therefore even more inferior still. But he expected a level of competency that they were not able to provide recently. Even Gunzo complained of it being hard to retain new ideas.
It was almost as if some fundamental part of the universe was going out of its way to stop technology from advancing.
Grave is dead. Stone dead. Stone cold fucking dead. He is beyond any known plane of existence. So he doesn’t get a story. I hope your happy.
“I want to hear about the underwater sword factory.”
“No I want to hear about saving the city from the volcano.”
“I want to hear about the funny halfling.”
“No he is annoying, tell us about the undead knight.”
“No he is scary, tell us about the angel you guys saved.”
“Do you know any stories with a phoenix? Or a dragon?”
Sora held up her hands and calmed down the children. “How bout a new story? Have I told you about the land of clocks and robots?” The children gasped as yet apparently there was a brand new miraculous story waiting to be heard. Surely it can’t be more fantastic than the one about the giant snake that lives in the underworld and eats everyone’s nightmares.
Sora strummed her mandolin and found a nice background tune to begin her story. “There is a place called Regulus where everything is made of metal and shaped like a large clock.” Knowing most of the young children in front of her didn’t know what a clock was she mixed illusion into her story and brought forth a real three dimensional image of Regulus, complete with sound o the constant ticking and dozens of different modrons moving about in their uniform way.
She continued her story to her spell bound audience, complete with gasp and cheers and sounds of awe. While the bard part of her took over the story she contemplated her life’s journey. Sure there were places to go and things to see still, but she hoped her days of fighting for her life were behind her. She had never bothered to replace her lost sword and hoped she would never have to. She looked out over her audience in front of her. Instead of a band of adventurers fighting some unsavory monster it was a pack of children
Tengu, Khajit, Vanarra, jungle Dwarves, even a few Pterraman children gathered in front shoulder to shoulder to listen to her songs. The jungles of Chult had become a harsh place since Marsharr had taken the rune and normal warring tribes had been forced to work together to survive. It was a rough time but a happy one, and Sora had no where else she would rather be right now. She had been instrumental in getting some of the thicker headed chieftains to see reason and come to see the peace of joining forces. She had tried to unify the yuan-ti as well but to much less success. Still it was something to strive for.
She finished up her story and sent the kids away to play and generally make a hassle of themselves as kids of all races are wont to do. The adults looked at her and nodded approvingly. They appreciated having a village babysitter. The whole community seemed to look up to her to settle arguments, calm tensions, help heal the wounded, perform marriages, speak at funerals, and a dozen other things, with every race having a different custom she quickly came to know.
She had quickly squashed the idea of being leader, saying that a committee of the chieftains would be a much better idea. The villagers had seemed disheartened but the chieftains had quickly agreed. It kept the peace. Still they had taken her suggestion even if none of them understood it to name the ragtag village of a dozen different races Oddville. It was her own private joke and tribute.
As she packed up her instrument she caught the eye of a male tengu at the edge of the crowd eyeing her. She knew the male, a handsome devil that some of the village called evil, others just called an ass. She wondered if it was time to open a new chapter of her life, one with room for two.
That is, if he ever got the guts to get around to kissing her that is.
He was almost to his target. It had taken years to get here and now the moment was finally upon him. It was almost a shame that his mission was to recruit rather than to kill. While he had experimented plenty with his new powers in the past few years, he had never had a chance to test them against an opponent of real skill.
Sure he had slain beholders before they could see him, illithids before they could read his thoughts. He had tracked an ethereal filcher through the planes to rend its life. Dwarven defenders, elven bladesingers, orc blood leaders, tiefling reavers. All had fallen easily.
But here Marsharr found a real creature deserving of respect. A killing machine almost as good as himself. He ached to test his new powers against the beast. Well almost. It was afterall …….. what it was.
Malar was growing stronger. And Marsharr was matching accordingly. The other gods were getting nervous. Talos was growing belligerent and Auril and Umberlee were waiting for the eventual confrontation to see who would reign supreme when it was all over. Marsharr knew the outcome would favor his master. The only question was if the stormlord would be wise enough to cede defeat and live, or die defiantly at Malars claws.
But first a statement. The beast of the world grew stronger, while the civilizations grew weaker. Already tinkers everywhere could not retain any new knowledge after a certain point. Arcane magic was facing more restrictions than ever before. Apparently some new kind of magic involving arcane cards was being researched trying to solve or combat the problem but it would only delay the inevitable of Malar ruling as the supreme god. Then every creature would be fair prey and the whole multiverse would be Marsharr’s hunting grounds.
But first things first. Marsharr stepped quietly to the front of the creature. He could sense its awesome power, and it could sense his he was sure. Tapping it lightly with claws that could sheer solid stone he growled “Wake up pretty.”
There was a small rumbling, maybe a very small earthquake, and a sigh like air escaping a tunnel.
Then the Tarrasque opened one eye.
“No, no,no. This is all wrong.” the old man muttered, scribbling madly. He fumbled for some more chaulk as the piece he was holding was worn down to less than a nub. Finding some more in his tattered old clothes he kept writing.
He was on the floor facing up writing on the underside of his desk. It was the only place left he could find to write on. The rest of the desk was covered. As was the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the other furniture. The large room was a mess of uneaten food, books and parchment everywhere, and a straggly haired older man in the middle of the chaos trying to make sense of it all.
He heard the door open “That better not be more useless food. I told you I’m not hungry. Bring me paper, lots of it. As much as you can get.” He sighed at the uselessness of the Oghmites. For a religion that preaches knowledge above all they sure concerned themselves a lot with trivial things such as sleep, and food, and bathing.
“They called for me. They said you haven’t eaten, bathed, or slept in four days.”
The old man sighed, there were those blasted distractions again. He was about to tell the young man to get out if he wasn’t going to do anything useful. But he paused. He did some quick math and realized that it was a woman’s voice that he heard. Some even quicker math and he realized that there were no women in the ranks of the acolytes that were to provide for him. He recognized the prime number source of the voice as one of his best and brightest pupils. Maybe she could help him make sense of this!
Sephris jumped up and hit his head on the desk. Oh he had forgotten to do the math and as such didn’t know the desk was there. Rubbing his head he got up more gingerly and looked over at Kat. The petite asian woman wore her traditional black garb. Looking at the numbers it wasn’t really black but Sephris learned long ago it was easier to go along with it then explain.
“What is the problem?” Kat asked concerned.
“4 and 22 are prime numbers now and 7 is not.” Sephris said worriedly. “6,000,000 died so that 1 could be defeated and 2 could be saved but the = did not go to the 1 like it was supposed to.”
Kat smiled gently at him. She understood him better than most but still could only make sense of his talking a little of the time. She herself could speak nine languages and didn’t know how to pronounce =.
Instead she walked over, patted the flustered old man on the shoulder and went to look at his writing. It was easy to find as it was literally everywhere. Sephris had even written on his own clothes and skin when he was out of other writing space. It was hard to make out at first but it was easy to read. It was the same equation, written over and over again. Writing on every surface as tiny as he could cram it in trying to solve it.
“How many times did you write this?” she asked in horror.
“Eleven thousand, four hundred sixty three.” came the immediate answer.
Kat shook her head. It was bad when Sephris used letters to speak numbers instead of numbers.
Written 11,463 times in the same shaking hand was the equation 2 + 2 = 5.
“Oh my god.” Liddia said and turned away. She hid her little halfling body against Mialee. She was a seasoned rogue and had seen blood and battle before but not like this carnage.
Mialee was an elf and only a little taller then the halfling she comforted but she held her as she surveyed the scene. It wasn’t easy to look at. They were in a small little farming village just south of Silverymoon. A quiet place where nothing happened, a patrol would ride by every week or so and just enough merchants that the farmers never had to leave to sell their food to market.
It had been a bloodbath. Men, woman, children of all ages were strewn about the place like discarded rubbish. At least four dozen dead in plain sight that the adventurers could see. Mangled and ripped to shreds. Jozan the human cleric was offering up prayers to the dead to his deity Lathander. Not far from him Krusk the half orc barbarian was looking for tracks of whatever monster did this.
It must have been a monster, Mialee thought. The massacre was too complete to be simple bandits, plus there were no bodies other than the people. Even untrained fighters would have been able to bring a few bandits down with them. And there was nothing missing, rings still shone on peoples fingers, even if the fingers were no longer connected to the original hand.
What really puzzled Mialee was the livestock. Horses, cows, sheep, chickens, and other common farm animals strolled about the place as if nothing were out of the ordinary. None had been attacked. Maybe some had been taken but none had been killed by whatever did this. Even as she thought this and Liddia composed herself a pig snorted as it waddled by, looking for something to sniff.
Jozan walked over to the two woman. “I did everything I could, may they rest with the Morninglord.”
“Did you notice the lack of looting? Or that the animals are still here.” Mialee asked.
Jozan gave her a reprimanding look, as if to say that people were dead and she should be more respectful. But Mialee couldn’t help it. In case of the carnage here she fell back to her logic and wizard training. It was what was stopping her from running screaming from this place.
Krusk came over to join them and Mialee was glad for his strong bulky presence. He may eat more then the three of them put together and snore like a sawmill but he was fearless in battle and could put his nasty axe to use.
“No tracks.” Krusk said simply.
“You couldn’t find them?” Liddia asked a little afraid. She looked around as if the mysterious monster might come back.
Krusk shook his head “No tracks.” he said again.
“I think he means there are no tracks to find.” Jozan said. The pig started sniffing him, he shooed it away. “That would mean whatever did this is still here.”
A sheep came over and stood on Mialee’s foot. She grimaced and nudged it away. “These people have been dead at least a day. Do you think it’s nocturnal? That would explain why it’s not bothering us right now. Or why the animals are so friendly.”
A chicken came up and pecked Liddia on the leg. “Ouch, speak for yourself” the halfling complained, rubbing her leg.
“We could do a room by room search, we stay together and do this as a team.” Jozan said, starting to form a plan. He moved the pig away again. He started to pick a likely house when Krusk nudged him. Following the big orcs gaze he seemed to be staring at a cow.
And the cow was staring back …. Hatefully.
“Umm.” Liddia said and sidled closer to Krusk. “Does he know I’m a vegetarian?”
“Since when?” asked Mialee also looking at the cow.
“Since right now.” the halfling said.
The sheep next to Mialee suddenly bit down hard on her hand. Her magical shield that last all day absorbed most of the damage but it still drew blood. She drew back her hand in a gasp and went to kick the sheep.
When she looked at its face she saw that it’s wide open mouth was full of incisor teeth. Each one as long as a wolves canines. She yelled and jumped back.
The sheep charged her but was hit on the head by a blow from Jozans mace. Krusk braced himself as the cow across the road started to charge them but the stupid chicken jumped on his back to peck and claw. Liddia stuck two daggers in the fowl and flung it aside.
Krusk got a killing shot at the charging cow but didn’t get out of the way in time and took the full momentum of a twelve hundred pound animal right to the gut. As the other animals closed in Mialee shook off the pain of the bite and cast a spell that sent out a spray of colors from her hand and dropped half a dozen barn animals into a deep sleep.
The party had worked together long enough to know that Mialee’s Color Spray spell only lasted a short while so they got up and started to run. Jozan helped Krusk back to his feet, putting a healing spell on him during the process. The party got bit, stomped, and yipped at during every step and fought a fighting retreat.
Jozan blessed his allies and baned the animals and tried to remember that house he saw that looked promising. Knowing it was their only possible shelter he lead the charge to the largest house in the little village while Krusk covered their rear with his axe.
They made it into the house with all of them covered in bits and bruises, and in Liddia’s case, feathers. Jozan threw the door closed behind Krusk when he ran in and put his weight, armor and all against the door. A large smash on the other side said a horse was trying to push its way in. Jozan yelled for help and Krush dragged a large couch over to help support the door.
A chicken flew through a closed window, breaking the glass, but was shot by Liddias small crossbow. “I said I’m going vegetarian!” she yelled as she reloaded the weapon. A snort from the other side of the room drew all their attention as a large cow went to a door on the other side of the room. Both Jozan and Krusk were using all their strength to keep the horse out and neither Liddie nor Mialee had enough mass to hold the other door closed.
Quickly Mialee cast a spell that sealed the door closed right before the cow hit it. She turned exuberantly at Jozan and claimed “I can’t believe I actually needed a Hold Portal spell!”
Before Jozan could respond the walls started to shake. The animals outside, it seemed like every animal in the village, were trying to ram the farmhouse down. There must have been a hundred animals outside and while none were much of a threat individually they could easily trample the group.
A housecat, apparently a pet of the former owner of the place, came running out from inside the closet and flung itself at Mialee. She cast her last remaining enchantment left and put the cat to sleep in mid leap. Afterwards she wondered if she maybe should have saved it for the more dangerous creatures outside but really didn’t want to kill a cat.
“Krusk eat steak. Steak eat Krusk.” the large barbarian said by Jozans side. The orc thought about it for a moment and then shrugged “Seems fair.”
“The heck with that.” Liddia snapped. She shot at an ostrich that peeked its head through the same window the chicken had broken and made it duck and scramble away. “I am finding a way out of this mess.”
“I didn’t know farmers here had ostriches.” said Mialee, feeling useless now that she was out of spells. She didn’t know what else she could do. Unlike other elves she was only moderate with a bow and arrow, which was pointless anyway since no one had one. But something felt off to her. Looking down she saw she was standing on a hatch that lead to a cellar.
Score one for elves and hidden doors, she thought. “Liddia over here.” The walls started to crack as the two women moved the carpet off the hatch and found it was locked with an old farm lock.
“It’s just a crappy merchant knock off lock.” Liddia said looking at it. “I will have it open in two shakes.”
“No time” Jozan groaned as a horse hoof burst through the door two inches in front of his nose.
Krusk left Jozan at that point, ran to the lock, grabbed it and pulled. The lock held. The hinge held, the wood the hinge was nailed to …… not so much. Flinging the cellar door open Krusk hurried the two females in first and then motioned for Jozan to join them.
“Time to go in human hole.” Krusk said.
The party closed the cellar door behind them just as the house came down. They heard the animals storm in and look and sniff but none were smart enough to find the door. The party let out a collective breath of relief when they noticed that there was a light coming from further down in the basement. Someone or something was in here with them.
Advancing slowly, like they were in a dungeon they advanced. The cellar was one room stacked with food, water, ale, wool, and other necessities. Sitting in the middle holding a jug of wine in one hand and stuffing his face full of dried jerky in the other was a halfling.
Looking at his clothes Mialee took him to be one of the merchants that passed through occasionally. “Are you alright sir?” she asked.
“Of course, happens all the time. Got to be ready for adventure at a moment’s notice, though I bet I don’t need to tell you that. Nope looks like you got it all covered. Fine work too, not quite the way I would have done it but who am I to go giving order where they’re not wanted. Not me, keep my mouth shut and let trained warriors do their work, that is my motto.” Polk the Teamster said not stopping talking, eating or drinking.
“Do you know what happened here?” Jozan asked “This place seems under some sort of curse.”
“Oh it’s not just this place. Stuff like this is happening everywhere now. Animals tired of being butchered and pulling plows and wagons. Guess they don’t have a proper union so this is what they’re forced too. Shame really.”
“Everywhere?” Liddia asked nervously.
“From Rashemen to Icewind Dale and everywhere in between.” Polk nodded. “Merchants and teamsters like me can’t get any honest work done, with the horses trying to eat us and all. Ships can’t cross water without all the fishies being upset. Right mess it is. Truth is partially my fault. I was there when it happened but didn’t say anything. Figured if I just kept my mouth shut they would do the right thing. That’s always my problem though, don’t let people know what should be done, figure they can learn by doing themselves.”
The group looked at each other, wondering what madman they had stumbled upon.
Polk looked at them with a happy gleam in his eye. “Of course if you’re trying to help, I can offer one or two small pieces of friendly advice.”
Hope you guys liked the stories. Haven’t written anything this long since …… well since the other campaign wrapped up. It was a pleasure to be the DM. Hope you all enjoyed the journey.
Hopefully it won’t be the last journey. It was another great ride together for some of us. It was the first time some of us got to play for others. And it was meeting of great people for others still.
Thomas thank you for playing and thank your much more for inviting Mattie to join. You have literally changed my life and I cannot thank you enough.
Mattie, I love you and am glad that you joined. Yours was my favorite voice at the table, and I am not talking about Sora.
Everyone else, you don’t get a mushy line. But it was fun playing with you all.
Other stories will be told, and I will be back behind the screen again at some point. But for now I am going to take a break. Thank you for the gifts.