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Ongoing Story

by Rick LaRue

Sheesh, it’s dark in here. Hang on, let me light a lantern. :::Footsteps:::, ::::sound of match being lit::: Aaaah, that’s better. A little dusty too, but no matter. Um, I had a strange idea while walking my dog, so I'm gonna torture you with it. I’d like to try a variation of the Question of the Week. It goes like this...

I start a story, you guys and gals finish it. Simple. Everybody plays, nobody makes fun of anyone else’s idea and nobody changes what’s gone before. You get one post and then you have to wait for somebody else to add to it before you can go again. Nobody finishes the story in one post (i.e. and everybody died. The End), and you can only add one major detail per post. It can be as detailed or as simple as you want, but it has to be in the form of a story. I know it’s a little hokey, but it might be neat to see what all of us working together can come up with.

Here goes...

In the past months, Terra, mother of the earth, has become increasingly concerned by events taking place in the wild places of the Known World. Convinced of their connection, but unaware of the cause or meaning of the events, she has begun to...

by Duncan TKD

she has begun to think that it will soon be time for great heroes to immerge and fight a terrible if not ancient evil that will once again walk abroad.

by Qamlynch

All the signs of evil's resurrection are there: Strange stars in the sky, clouds that seem to war upon each other, small magics that seem to go ever so slightly awry....the omens speak of something unsettling.

by James Mishler

In the past months, Terra, mother of the earth, has become increasingly concerned by events taking place in the wild places of the Known World. Convinced of their connection, but unaware of the cause or meaning of the events, she has begun to think that it will soon be time for great heroes to immerge and fight a terrible if not ancient evil that will once again walk abroad. All the signs of evil's resurrection are there: Strange stars in the sky, clouds that seem to war upon each other, small magics that seem to go ever so slightly awry....the omens speak of something unsettling...

And then, one day, a priestess of Terra and her party, adventuring in Wendar, come upon a dying Paladin, who recently defeated a great Black Dragon in battle. Mortally wounded in said battle, the Paladin entrusts the priestess with a scroll he captured from the Dragon. The scroll, he says, was being delivered by the Dragon to the Dark Land of Denagoth; the scroll case bears the seal of the Princess of Fenswick...

by Kenneth Baggaley

In the past months, Terra, mother of the earth, has become increasingly concerned by events taking place in the wild places of the Known World. Convinced of their connection, but unaware of the cause or meaning of the events, she has begun to think that it will soon be time for great heroes to immerge and fight a terrible if not ancient evil that will once again walk abroad. All the signs of evil's resurrection are there: Strange stars in the sky, clouds that seem to war upon each other, small magics that seem to go ever so slightly awry....the omens speak of something unsettling...

And then, one day, a priestess of Terra and her party, adventuring in Wendar, come upon a dying Paladin, who recently defeated a great Black Dragon in battle. Mortally wounded in said battle, the Paladin entrusts the priestess with a scroll he captured from the Dragon. The scroll, he says, was being delivered by the Dragon to the Dark Land of Denagoth; the scroll case bears the seal of the Princess of Fenswick...

Upon opening the scroll, the priestess finds...nothing! The scroll is, or at least appears to be, blank. Certain that a hidden message is contained somehow, somewhere within, she gathers the greatest minds in Wendar to penetrate the mystery. Meanwhile, it is noticed the unreliability of magic has progressed to greater level spells. Failure is still sporadic and quirky, but concern grows. Reports arriving from the borders of Wendar speak of dark, short shadows thumping through the forests in the night, to the low, murmuring hum of an almost inaudible marching song - or is it just those odd clouds again...?

by Rick LaRue

For days, all attempts to decipher the scroll failed. On more than one attempt, a misfired spell almost destroyed the delicate parchment before its secrets could be learned. The priestess reasoned that obviously, the person who sent it and its intended recipient could unlock its hidden meaning, but neither were likely to share their knowledge. Frustrated, the priestess urged her companions to try and recall anything that might help them. The mage, Tarquin Varis, from Karamiekos, believed he had once heard a rumor from his mentor about a wizard who was a master of concealment and deception. If he remembered correctly, he lived in a crumbling tower, high in the mountains near Wendar. Supposedly, the tower was magically hidden and protected by concealed traps and invisible guardians.

by Qamlynch

Three parties were formed. The first travelled back to the site of the Paladin's battle with the Black Dragon, to learn more about the two combatants. Perhaps a lair could be found, or friends of the Paladin? The second began a search for the wizard who might be capable of unlocking the secrets of the scroll. But where to find such a tower? And a third hearty band set forth to the borderlands, to investigate and - if necessary - destroy the shadow armies in the night forests.

by Kenneth Baggaley

To seek out the first, it was decided that Questin Julianus, Thyatian-born Paladin who earned his fame in the bitter reaches of Norworld, would lead the foray. Bred from the military colonists, his father was a naval quartermaster in Oceansend, his mother native-born and too early dead. (It is rumored she may have had Elven blood). Somehow, a greater calling pulled the young Julian from the iron, leather and hemp of his father's world to find his true calling. Taking the name Questin Julianus, his fame in the hills of Norworld extended to significant experience with dragons - though how much is legend is unknown, given embellishing bards and the quiet nature of this paladin. Recent years have led him to Wendar, perhaps a calling from his mother's uncertain blood.

For the second......

by Duncan TKD

The second group of heroes would be led by the Ranger Dalros Evenningstar an Alfheim born Elf. A ranger so skilled in tracking that it was rumored that he could track a druid in his own grove. With him, he took two mages one of earth and one of air. On there way toward the rumored location of the Wizard's tower they encountered an elven priest of Diamond.

by Kenneth Baggaley

Upon spotting the party, the priest fled quickly into the forest. Hurrying through the dense but familiar underbrush, and taking several impossible detours, he halted to rest by a small dark pool. Certain he had escaped his pursuers, the priest bent his lips down to the cool still water....and saw above him the reflection of Dalros!

The startled priest rolled back to a sitting positon. Facing him was the smiling ranger, hands on hips, nodding.

"You would have done better going left at the split Oak tree".

"Y-You... you know this land?"

Dalros extended his hand. "I am Dalros Eveningstaar. Hail. We mean you no harm. We come....."

"I KNOW why you have come", exclaimed the priest, wiping his lips as he stood, "it is YOU who does not know!"

Dalros could tell the priest was shaken at being followed so easily. But why was discovery so terrible a fate?

Composure returned to the priest's demeanor. "I am Zzeffen" he said, his back straight with dignity, "and ranger, you know not what you face....."

by Bruce Heard

And a third hearty band set forth to the borderlands, to investigate and - if necessary - destroy the shadow armies in the night forests. (...)

The leader of the hearty band, a white centaur of uncanny beauty, went by the name of Alabastea. Tall but graceful, she dominated the rest of her band of elven hunters. Many years ago, the elves had come to accept her as an equal and often as their leader. Despite Alabastea's amused smiles, the elves persisted in believing she was part elfin and centaur, or perhaps even of distant unicorn breed.

Together, they left to seek out the brooding darkness in the woods. Late that night, they reached the camp of the shadow armies. "Pfeh!" said one called Silver-Brow. "Goblins... Look at their gait. Smell the air. Despite their dark and long outfits, they don't fool me."

At the center of a large clearing lay a goblin camp. Doused under a pale moonlight, hundreds of ragged tents formed a rough circular pattern around a central pyre. There, on a large rock overlooking the fire's reddish glow, stood their shaman. He raised his arms, shook his gri-gris, and began a long chant. The fire's smoke grew thicker and darker as the shaman's wail grew louder and more desperate.

The smoke began to swirl above the shaman, growing bigger and more threatening. Suddenly, it formed a shape, at first merely two glowing eyes, but then followed the head of a monstrous being. It was the head a dragon, as dark as the darkness of the deepest caverns with strange bluish shades.

It slowly turned and gazed at the elves' hiding spot. Everyone grew silent, trying to hunker down behind the bushes as best as they could. All except one. As if in a dream, Alabastea stood her ground, proud and defiant in a halo of light. She stared back at the face of darkness.

by Kenneth Baggaley

"Stop thief !!!"

The constable's men darted throughout the town, scurrying like lightsnakes hurled from an exploding crystal. Two sweaty troopers turned down the small dark alley, only to come face to face with the tall female warrior. The combination of beauty and power, leaning boldly on her sword, stopped them in their tracks.

"Ha..have you seen a thief go in here?" one of the troopers finally blurted. The other could not tear his eyes from the fiery hazel eyes, the shock of auburn hair against chainmail, the lithe yet taunt and sunbronzed legs....and the glinting edge of her veteran blade.

"I kill thieves" she said simply, tossing back the flow against her mantle.

"Who..who..who else is....?"

She gestured into the shadows; out stepped two Elven archers and a gruff, well-armed dwarf.

"My associates..."; predicting the question choking in the trooper's throat, she answered "And we're here on business." She gave her blade a slight twirl on the last word, a gesture the alert trooper could not fail to miss. Carefully, he backed out of the alley, dragging his mezmerized partner by the shoulder.

"Well, if you see anyone....stole the gem right out of the ....well, if you....well.....c'mon, Gaerth."

As the footsteps faded, the warrior turned to her associates. "Okay. Let him out."

The two elves walked back to the chest and, holding their daggers ready, flung it open. The dwarf looked down solemnly.

"Empty" was all he barked.

She shook her head. "Impossible! You watched carefully, didn't you? Maybe Questin was right.., no, nobody's that good..."

"I beg to differ, pretty lady.." the voice behind her caused her to swing into action. In a single motion her blade had stopped inches from the thief's throat.

"Careful, lass" spoke the frozen rogue, dsiplaying no fear in his words. "Your friend....what'd you call 'im, Questin... I wager he wants me alive."

She withdrew the blade slowly, staring at the strange thief. Average height, unassuming dress, as non-descript a face as any crowd could produce; his success at his chosen profession was little wonder.

"You are the one called Hazkakel?"

"Good lady, you have me at a disadvantage....and you are..?"

The elves stepped forward and took his arms. She stepped forward to examine him. "You? You robbed dragons? I don't believe it."

"Hey, don't take my word for it...ask the dragons". With a shrug, he shimmied down through the elves' grasp, and raced down the alleyway to the street.

"It was almost fun knowing you!" Hazkakel shouted back to his captors. He was in mid-laugh as he turned the corner to freedom and....right into the vise-like grasp of an armored hand.

Hazkakel looked up at the hand's owner. "Questin, I presume?" he asked as casually as possible, unable to pry himself away.

Questin smiled. "Leonia, instruct our new member". One push hurled Hazkakel back into the alley. Leonia smiled. "Now" she beamed "we need only a wizard".

"For what? What's the job? What's going on?" Hazkakal was getting a little worried. "Why exactly do you the likes of heroes like you need the likes of me?"

Gurmstahl the dwarf stepped forward and pressed Hazkakel up against the wall, until the thief could smell the hot mushroom breath. "Because" said the deep monotone "you steal from dragons."

by Rick LaRue

Still elsewhere...

Delleia, priestess of Terra finally caught up with Dalros, but Tarquin and the others still trailed behind. She arrived just as the priest’s composure began to slip again. Spotting his fear on the his face, she looked accusingly at the ranger. Dalros stepped back and assured her he had done the priest no harm, and was as baffled by his terror as she. The priest, by now breathing hard and sweating profusely, warned “You must turn back, if you get involved, it will only make things worse!” Delleia was very confused. The priesthoods of Terra and Diamond had always been on decent terms, something else was obviously wrong. Kneeling beside him, she laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. For a moment, he seemed calm, but his fear quickly returned. “You must relax” the priestess said, “I am in the service of Terra with orders to find the cause of the recent troubles. We can work together if you will only tell us what is wrong.” “No, you must turn back, I cannot speak of it with outsiders” Suddenly, the priest lashed out and kicked Delleia in the gut and rolled away from her. Dalros jumped at the priest to prevent his escape, but what he grabbed was not an elven priest. In his place was a rapidly transforming gold dragon. With a gentle nudge, the ranger was thrown back. The dragon turned and said “Please, more is at risk than you think. Let us handle it. I do not wish to battle you, but I will.” The others were rapidly approaching, and having spoken truthfully, the dragon spread his wings and leapt into the sky. Fearing the worst, Tarquin began readying a powerful spell, but Delleia, still doubled over and gasping croaked “No..., no.. let him go. We must find the tower and its owner before we try to solve this new mystery.” Dalros climbed to his feet and sighed “I think things just got a lot more complicated.”

by Kenneth Baggaley

“Are you sure the wizard’s meeting us here?” the red points Grimwood’s ears betrayed his impatience. He looked around nervously, rubbing his slender hands, while the rest of the party sat by the still-recent fire. From their spot on the hill they could see the shadows cast over the small town in the valley below. A cooling wind swept through the sparse underbrush. The fire became more pronounced in the fading light.

“ impatient elf”. Mused Gurmstahl, tracing the etchings on the helmet in his thick hands. “Lifespans for ages, and he’s in a hurry.” The dwarf shook his head and grunted.

“Peace, brother” said Arrowheart, warm and smiling beneath his cloak. “He will be here soon.”

Questin stared silently into the growing fire. Hazkakel was whistling something to his left. Leonia pulled her cloak around her tightly, yet the wind whipping by occasionally bared her strong legs to the theif’s quick gaze. Leonia caught the look and returned one of grimness. “Look again and die, worm”.

“Good lady, I was merely acknowledging your fine muscle structure. By Loki, your limbs are as tight as the hemp ropes on a Thyatian war galley. You must agree, my dear paladin?”

But Hezkakel’s comment had set the voices going again in Questin’s head. Over and over again, like a half-remembered dream: The hemp is drawn taut like this, you see, Julian? Always look for the amount of tar deposit between the strands. That tells you the age and usage. Never buy a coil that....Julian? Pay attention, boy. Get those mother-dreams from your head - this is business! Julian! Are you listening?

“Are you listening? Questin!” The warrior’s words finally snapped him back. Leonias motioned toward the dark brush on the left. Grimwood’s bow was drawn and ready. Questin rose and addressed the darkness.

“ yourself before you get shot.” A further rustle, and out tumbled the stout halfling, banging his lute noisely against a branch. “Sorry, my friend. Always good to practice ones’ skills, I say.”

“Halflings”, muttered Gurmstahl, “Wonderful.”

Boldo made an exaggerated bow. “Boldo Fiddlecake, at your service. A pleasure, I’m sure. Questin, I got Ôim! Just like you said!”

“Well done, my friend. Take us to him.”

“No need.....we are here.” the voice boomed from the rocks to the party’s right. All swung in unison to face the flash of light and sound before them. Boldo beamed with delight. “Fellow heroes, may I present....”

by Qamlynch

Smoke and flame surrounded Alabastea. The elves fired back, but their arrows went right through the smoke. Alabastea seemed engulfed. Then one elf fired at the shaman, hitting him in the shoulder. Another fired a magic light arrow, attempting to brighten the sky. Several others ran forward and through cloaks to smother the fire, whiel their allies fought bitterly. Many fell, but the fire went out. The light magic kept the dragon in check, but still powerful. The shamanhand finally lowered. With a roar, the dragon fired his breath, killed two more elves, and vanished in a whirl of smoke. Alabastea fell battered and exhausted on her side. The remainig elves picked her up and fled into the forest, while those who dosed the fire paid with their lives to cover their leader's escape. Somehow, all felt the defeat (for it was a defeat) could have been worse if the dragon had stayed. But how to proceed now....?

by Kenneth Baggaley

"No need, no need to present me, little one, I know everyone here just fine, fine". The wizard rambled in a talky, half-distant style. He stood reasonably tall and plain, with blue robes and a flat brown hat. Yet he seemed to jerk his head quickly and frequently, as one who was constantly looking for something he had just misplaced. Beside him stood a small brown-haired female apprentice, followed by a large, round tan pig with items strapped to its back.

"Well well well, good, well met all. No no no need to get up, truly". Leonia gave him a quizzical look. "Um...we're all standing."

The wizard darted a quick curious look to her. "Ah,....well, and your point?"

Hezkakal slowly shook his head. "we're all gonna die....".

"Good good question...I can look into that one, just, just a minute here.."

The wizard turned to the pig and began to thumb quickly through a small book on its back. He tossed some dust into the air and muttered something to himself. The apprentice moved to assist. A moment later, the pig grunted, and the apprentice backed away. The wizard turned.

"Sorry. Not clear right now. Anyway, well met all yes yes. Is the light too bright?"

"Well the wizard sure isn't", Hezkakal's disgust was spilling over. He turned to the apprentice. "How did we wind up with him?". The apprentice bowed solemnly. "The master knows many things." Hezkakal gestured to the mage. "Has the master got a name...I mean, one that he doesn't have to look up?"

The wizard smiled. "I know all our names dear Hezkakal...including mine. I am Seven."

"I asked your name, not your intelligence score at the school of magic."

The wizard looked puzzled. "What does my score matter. I scored very high indeed, but I fail to.."

"Your name is Seven?" interrupted Leonia.

"I just said that, didn't I Jen?". The apprentice nodded. "The master was correct as usual."

"That's it, I'm outta here, deal's off!" Hezkakal's march into the darkness was cancelled by an iron gauntlet. "Let me go, Questin! I joined to rob a dragon, not get killed by some flukey number!"

Questin smiled."You have no faith in Master Seven?"

"I have more faith in the pig. HIM we can at least use for bacon." Leonia smirked "Maybe Seven can feed us all and turn YOU into sausages."

The wizard grew alarmed. "Good Leonia, I cannot use magic except to help and defend. I could never harm living things, except as I just..."

"QUESTIN!!" screamed Leonia, her eyes afire. "This is YOUR doing! YOUR stupid code!! If you picked this mage to match YOUR silly theories, you ARE dooming us!"

Gurmstahl stared at the Paladin. "Clumsy halflings....confused mages....What is our plan, Questin Julianus?"

The paladin sighed, still holding tight to Hezkakal's arm. He gestured to Seven. "Wizard, take us to our appointment. Once we get the Terran priestess and and our grooms and horses, I will tell you the rules of our mission. And Hez, make sure your assistant steps through the portal with us."

The thief gave a puzzled look, but before he could speak, Seven had opened a portal and the party began to leap through it. No one seemed to notice two extra forms leaping through in the sequence. Seven nodded to Jen, who escorted the pig into the ring of light. Then, with a final furtive look around, Seven turned...the wrong way... the suddenly spun back and leaped through the portal just as it closed.

The fire burned quietly alone in the windy hillside.

by Bruce Heard

The gloomy call of hunting horns echoed in the forest as the elves ran for their lives. The goblins were sounding the hunt. Wiping his forehead of mud and blood, Silver-Brow spat, "What in the Elysium did you think you were doing? You almost got all of us killed."

"I had to find out what we were up against," responded Alabastea. She got back on her feet and kept fleeing with the elves.

"Well, I'd say we're up against a bigger piece than we can swallow. I could have told you this the moment we arrived" argued Silver-Brow.

Jumping past a gully, Alabastea continued, "That's all you saw? Then our companions died in vain. Fortunately, I did see what I needed -- more specifically WHO is behind these goblins. I could sense the powers at hand. And this matters most. We must warn the others at once."

Like the throbbing roars of drunken ogres, the horns bellowed near the elves. The howls of angry wolves joined in the clamor. The goblins were catching up, barking orders and calling each other as they searched the woods for the fugitives.

"Quick! Follow me this way!" said Alabastea.

by Rick LaRue

After the encounter in the forest, the group was more subdued. No one wished to come into conflict with the Kingdom of Dragons. Since finding the dying paladin, Delleia had assumed the black dragon he battled was a rogue, living outside dragon society. Now, she was not so sure. Regardless, now was not the time to second guess. Without a better explanation from the dragons, she must assume the worst and proceed as planned.

Dalros led the way confidently and the group soon left the leafy confines of the forest. As they moved to higher elevations, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped considerably. Even the added exertion of the climb was not enough to counteract the chilling mountain wind. Dalros, well seasoned by a life outdoors seemed to ignore it, but the rest of the group were beginning to suffer greatly.

“Dalros, we must find cover. The wind and cold is to great, I can’t feel my ears anymore.” Delleia shouted over the howling wind. “Forgive me my lady, my magical cloak lessens the effects of harsh weather. I sometimes forget others are not so fortunate. I will look for some shelter.” Conditions continued to worsen and many in the group began to loose feeling in their extremities and suffer the early symptoms of hypothermia. Try as he might, Dalros could find no adequate shelter.

“Delleia, something is wrong. I am no stranger to the mountains but I am unable to find shelter for the group. And the weather... temperatures at these heights are known to drop rapidly, but this is unheard of. It is as if the mountain itself were against us! Can your Immortal grant us any help?” Dalros asked beginning to show concern for the first time.

“There are spells I could cast, but I do not have the power to include the whole group. We must seek another solution.” Delleia yelled into the wind.

The group was beginning to gather around Dalros and Delleia, but Tacis straggled behind. The cold seemed to be taking a fierce toll on the young warrior as he struggled up the rocky mountain pass. The howling wind whipped his cloak about madly, revealing his scarlet tunic below. Silvarin, an elven archer started back down to help him when a distant rumble began. All eyes in the party desperately searched for the source of the noise. As if at once, their eyes locked on a mass of stone and dust hurtling towards the weakened young man. Tacis, desperate and frightened vainly tried to cross the last few yards and reach safety, but the cold had sapped his strength. He move as if trapped in honey. The roaring stone was closing rapidly, only a few feet from Tacis’ position, but his companions were too far away to help. Horrified, the group prepared to witness the death of a trusted friend. Suddenly...

by Kenneth Baggaley

Shaking off the effects of passing through the portal, Leonia caught the scurrying thud of some emerging form scampering nearby. Instinctively she rolled to a defensive position behind a barrel, spun around to a prepared crouch, and paused. No lighting. No spells. It wasn’t a magic attack; the intruder was not being aggressive - yet.

To her left, Arrowheart motioned silently to the storage shed across to her right. His bow was in his one hand, and by complex signals with his long fingers on the other, she knew Grimwood was taking the far left flank near the stables. They had done this many times together, so many that Leonia need issue no commands. Like a single animal, the four fighters, Gurmstahl behind her guarding their backs, advanced on the shed.

Questin and Hezkakal emerged from the portal just in time to see the synchronized attack. In a flash of armor and a rushing yell, it was over before Jen had fully pulled the large pig through. Leonia lay atop her foe, his arm pinned by her knee, her sword at his throat. The elven archers closed in.

Leonia shook her hair back and stared down in surprise at her captive. “You!” Wide eyed beneath her, the trooper, mouth open, could do nothing but smile. She returned a grimace. “You’re lucky to be alive.”

“I’d say he’s lucky to be where he is” chuckled Hezkakal, “he may never get that close to you again.”

Leonia leapt off the fallen trooper and sheathed her sword. Boldo helped the trooper to sit up.

Leonia let out a Pah! from her lips. “What are you doing here?” The trooper stood, trying to gather all the dignity he had recently lost. One look at Leonia however, and his face seemed to soften as butter in the sun. “Sweet, beautiful lady....” he began in a lilting tone, “I....I am Gaerth, and I...and I...”

Herzkakal’s laugh split through the air as Seven tumbled from the portal. “HAH! By Immortal Valerias, he is smitten! Haw-haw! Lady steelface, you have an admirer! A gutsy one, too! This fellow followed us from the town, and dove through a portal to his peril! Hah! See, see what bravery your legs can inspire!”

Leonia rolled her eyes as Boldo picked up the scent. “ The songs are filled with the tales of what love can do! No obstacle is too great, no fear too pronounced. Hear, and I will sing you a story...” Gurmstahl grabbed the lute before the halfling could swing it forward off his back. Boldo looked back in disappointment. “Good fellow, do you have something against bards?”. Gurmstahl didn’t move. “Not good ones”. Boldo shrugged and stopped pulling, at which the dwarf relinquished his grip.

Gaerth looked around at Questin. “Sir, I am strong of sword and mind. I am young and skilled. I-I win all contests at the barracks.” “That’ll scare the dragons.” scoffed Gurmstahl.

Gaerth straightened and turned to Leonia. “And sweet lady, I would walk through FIRE for you.” The dwarf patted the trooper on the back as he walked sadly by him. “You will” was all he said.

Seven conversed with Questin, who still held tightly to Hezkakal’s arm. The thief tried to act casual as every attempt to free himself met with failure. The paladin’s eyes lit up as a light approached from the woods. Horses whinnied in the distance.

“Hail, Celentia Mera. We are honored.” The priestess walked forward to him. She seemed middle aged to older, thought Hezkakal, with grayish hair and a look of experience on her weathered skin. Yet something in her voice and gait suggested great reserves of strength and energy. Her tone was calm.

“All is ready, Questin Julianus.” She looked down at Hezkakal without reaction.

“Very well. Boldo, gather everyone”. The halfling raced off to call in the others. “Hez, Seven, dearest Celentia, we will now lay bare the tasks we face. May those who favor the good protect us.”

by Rick LaRue

Suddenly... the falling rocks began to hurtle away from the rock face. They arced up and away, crashing to the ground some two hundred yards distant. Tacis looked up in disbelief. He had thoroughly expected to be dead by now but instead all he received was a light dusting of debris. The rest of the group rushed to their friend's side amazed and delighted at the turn of events.

“Amazing! In all my years I have never seen anything like that. Your prayers must have been answered my lady.” Dalros blurted excitedly. “My prayers are always answered Dalros, but this miracle was not my work or Terra’s.” Delleia responded just as amazed. “No, It was mine!” A booming voice declared from the darkness. “State your business or turn back.”

The startled group spun about looking for the source of the voice, even as they drew their weapons.

“You will not find me bold ones, and if you did your weapons would do you no good. Again, for what purpose do you disturb my home?” The voice responded from a different location this time.

In the excitement, no one had noticed that the wind had died and the temperature had returned to normal. “Show yourself so that we may talk face to face.” Delleia said “We come on urgent business and seek the aid of a powerful mage said to live in these mountains.”

“Why should I aid you?” the voice interrupted.

“We have heard that the mage we seek is a master of concealment and illusion. We have a mystery for him to solve. If he can.” Delleia countered, trying to bait the voice.

“There is nothing found I cannot hide and nothing hidden I cannot reveal.” the voice declared arrogantly.

“Then am I to believe you are the mage we seek?” the priestess asked believing she already knew the answer.

“You are clever child, but I am more so. I will hinder you no longer with illusions of wind and cold or falling rock, but you must pass my other defenses. If you can survive long enough to find my tower, I will help you.” and the voice was gone, taking with it part of the landscape that had been illusion.

“I knew something was wrong.” Dalros mumbled.

Tarquin looked grim. “Delleia, we are in great danger. Whoever this being is, he commands great power. His illusions were so convincing that none of us even suspected. Had he not redirected the avalanche, I have no doubt Tacis would be dead. We must beware!” he cautioned.

“I agree.” Delleia said “As if traveling through the mountains at night is not dangerous enough, we must doubt our very senses also. I refuse to turn back, but I will not hold it against any of you if you wish to return to the forest and await my return.” The group was silent, no words need pass between them for all knew there was only one real choice. “Thank you my friends, and bless you all.” the priestess smiled.

“Well, I say we put some distance behind us. We are obviously getting close if we merit the mage’s attention. I say we stay on the trial and keep our eyes open.” Dalros said as he sheathed his blade and moved up the trail. The rest of the group nodded and took up their positions.

The group moved into night, thankful for the bright moon casting its silvery light on the rough landscape. Before long, the ranger returned from scouting ahead to report that the trail had died off, and they must back track to find another route. Three times in all they were forced to retrace their path and try another. Discouraged and frustrated, they stopped to discuss their options. “Forgive me my lady.” Dalros pleaded “I believe we have gone as far as this pass will take us.”

“Are you sure?” Silvarin asked “Couldn’t this all just be another illusion?”

“No, Dalros is right, I have been using my magic to detect such things. The mage would have to be an Immortal to fool the spells I’ve used.” Tarquin said trying to prevent Dalros from acting on his obvious anger over Silvarin’s question. It had been a reasonable question, but Dalros’ pride saw it as an insult. The party did not need internal battles at a time like this.

“Well then what are our options?” Delleia asked. Even the normally stoic priestess was beginning to show frustration. “Why don’t we rest awhile. In a few hours the sun will rise and things may look differently.” There were no complaints, so the group settled down beneath a sheltered overhang to rest.

No more than a few minutes had passed when...

by Kenneth Baggaley

The party had gathered around Questin and Celentia. Her torch and the moonlight cast long shadows against the few structures nearby - the stable, the shed, a small barn and a well. Two grooms tended to the horses off to the left. In the night sky, strange clouds seemed to creep toward the moon.

“We are on a mission, divined by the Immortals, to seek a cause for many disturbing events.” The party hung on his every word. Carefully, he related all that had occurred. The loss of small magics, the scroll, shadow armies - all sat silently absorbing the tale, their unblinking faces bathed in torchlight.

“Many groups of heroes have set out. We are one of them. Our task is twofold. First, we must seek to learn all we can of Sorat-Sym, the fallen paladin. Where he came from. Where he rests today. Second, we must seek out and find the lair of the slain black dragon. Although the dragon is dead, the lair may still be guarded. We must seek any and all clues to the scroll, and the secrets behind it.”

Questin drew a deep breath. In his chest, the sensation of obstruction returned, as it did whenever he spoke of his rules. He swallowed hard - swallowed past what always seemed a huge lump near his heart.

“We must understand and adhere to the rules of this mission. First, we are pledged to aid and supply comfort to all who may be in distress, orphaned or abandoned”.

Grimwood stared at Hezkakal “Well, that explains why he’s polite to YOU.”

Hezkakal didn’t look over; he just kept whistling, putting his hand into his pocket.

“Second, we do not seek to kill. We kill in defense, and if we must, those who attempt to trap us or stop us on this mission - but only if there is no other way.”

Hezkakal tossed a bag at Grimwood’s feet. “What’s this...?” the elf asked. The thief just whistled.

“Third, we are not here to steal indiscriminantly. We seek items to help us solve this mystery. Our rewards come at the end of the mission. There will be no looting.”

“Hey!” cried Grimwood, “This is Arrowheart’s purse!”. The other elf reached frantically at his waist for the missing object. Hezkakal shrugged. “If you want yours back, you could apologise.”

Grimwood’s daggar was drawn and ready when Questin shouted “ENOUGH! Hez, return the purse.”

Without blinking, the thief tossed another pouch just out of the reach of the furious elf.

“Hez, you must listen. These rules apply especially to you. We may need your skills to gather items from the dragon’s lair. This is why I returned the gem and took you into my custody from the town.”

“As if I wasn’t going to get away myself.”

“Hezkakal, I am giving you a chance at redemption. Help us, and your name is cleared, and the path of truth lies before you. But if you take items we do not need, you imperil us all.”

Hezkakal finally stood up, letting out a sigh of disgust. “You do not fail to amaze me, paladin. I imperil you? You, with the impossible codes, the wobbly wizard, the tiny tunist, and the lovestruck novice? Look, I’m me. Just what I appear. I have no need for your codes, your friends, or your causes. The only path I’m getting on is the one back to town - starting tomorrow morning.”

Leonia spit on the ground before him. “Seven, why don’t you just turn him into a worm and we’ll be on our way?”. Questin smiled at the wizard, and turned to Hezkakal. “Well, Hez? Tell her. Tell her why Seven won’t act. Tell her why you are so brave in the face of this wizard.”

The thief’s face grew concerned. “Spare me your tricks, paladin.”

“Should we ask your assistant?”

“On top of everything else, a delusional paladin, too. I work alone.”

“Maybe it’s time you introduced us. After all, she...a she I believe?...has been with us all along so far.”

Hezkakal was backing away from the group, looking suspiciously from side to side. Suddenly, he stopped and smiled. “Oh, I get it. Nice try, Questin. But nobody believes you.” and he pursed his lips.

“And you can stop your whistle signals, Hez. She is contained and can’t respond...right, Seven?”

The wizard scratched his thin beard “I just told you I did, didn’t I?”. Jen bowed. “The master is most correct and skillful. She is trapped.”

Questin stepped forward to Hezkakal. “Seems your protection is gone, my friend. And part of your courage, as well. Don’t worry, no harm will come to her. Now, why don’t you introduce the last member of our party?”

by Qamlynch

Back at a Terran temple in Wendar, several priestesses went on with their prayers. They didn't notice the overcast sky that quickly appeared. From outside their temle window, a dark smoke cloud biult up. Suddenly animated, it dashed through the window and began to rumage through the temple. One preistess, alerted by magic, rushed in and thought it was a fire at first. When douse fire magic didn't work, she summoned the others who came runing. The cloud, angry and frustrated, poured out through an opening in the roof. What could it mean, the priestesses wondered.

The high priestess responded "it was looking for the scroll".

by Kenneth Baggaley

Seven flipped wildly through his book, while Jen did her best to hold the large pig still. “Blast, blast, I know I know it, you know, but I know I need to know how I know you...Ah, here it is!”

The wizard raised his thin arms and chanted something quietly. Jen remained bowed in silence. A soft blue haze began to build just beyond the party near the stable. As it shimmied into focus, all could see within it a small young halfling female, in plain dress but adorned with many bracelets and rings. Her chin length dark blonde hair swished back and forth as she looked frantically around for an exit from the haze. “Ah, I knew I knew it, yes yes well done, well, here she is.”

Questin stepped up to the haze and beconed Hezkakal to stand near him. “Seven, remove the haze, please”. A simple nod, and the blue fell away like poured water. Able to see out again, the startled halfling gazed up at Questin, then quickly to Hezkakal.

“It was a hold spell” said the thief tenderly. “You’re okay, Mer. They mean us no harm ...for now.”

“I am Questin Julianus. Welcome.” An iron-clad hand was extended.

The halfling rattled her bracelets. “I know. Merry RoseWater. Hez, are you all right?”

“Yes, Mer. How much do you remember?”

She moved to the thief’s side. “It happened right before the preistess came. I could hear everything, Hez. I just couldn’t see or move.” She lowered her head. “I’m sorry”. Hezkakal put a hand on her shoulder. Questin bowed. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Merry RoseWater. Welcome to our mission.”

“More halflings” muttered Gurmstahl, who turned his head and, seeing Gaerth, shook it harder.

“So that’s how you robbed us” glared Grimwood. Hezkakal sneered back “I picked your purses as you entered the portal. Your fine elven senses missed it - it was a manual job. I could’ve done it blind.”

“Let’s test that”. Grimwood’s advance was stopped by the calming hand of Arrowheart.

“But the chest escape WAS magic” reasoned Leonia. “THAT I’m certain”.

“THAT you’ll never know.” Hezkakal turned back to Merry.

Leonia peered at the paladin. “And how long have YOU known?”

Questin retured to Celentia’s side. “I only SUSPECTED from the alley encounter. I felt a presence, and could almost see a light distortion in a dark corner. I KNEW when Merry failed to cover her footfalls with sound and imprint corrections around our fire. I guessed the form to be small and light, but as the imprint looked to be halfling, I couldn’t tell if it was male or female”.

Boldo smiled at Merry. “You see, he’s as good as his legend. I know all his songs, by the way.”

Questin continued. “Grimwood and Arrowheart sensed it, but Merry mimicked Boldo’s movements pretty well. When Boldo came along, the elves dropped their guard.”

Arrowheart appeared ashamed. “It won’t happen again, Leonia, we swear.” Leonia nodded.

“The real slip was when Hez objected so strongly to Seven. First, any party welcomes the services of a master mage.” Seven bowed to him as Hezkakal rolled his eyes. “Second, one mage could detect the presence of another’s magic, and Hez needed to distract that - hence the vivid attack. And finally” Questin’s eyes pierced directly into the thief “No one as clever as Hezkakal irritates a mage without having some form of protection about him. Otherwise, he spends a few days wizening up as a goat.” Seven cocked his head. “Actually, Julianus, I prefer turtles. You, see, I put them in this little box here, and...”

“Cast towards him and you answer to me!” Merry stepped defensively in front of Hezkakal, glaring at the twitching wizard. Jen walked to her and bowed. “The master harms no one without cause.”

“Well, the master’s still an ass, if you ask me, and I don’t intend to get us killed while he’s busy looking up Ôdragon’ “. Hezkakal put his arm around Merry. “C’mon. We’re going back in the morning.”

“Yes,” Questin called after them, “Think about it, sleep upon it. Think what you have to gain if you stay, and lose if you go. We will talk in the morning.”

Celentia tapped Questin’s shoulder. “Are you so certain they will be here at dawn?”

Grimwood took up his bow. “Shall we guard against their escape?”

Questin shook his head. “We have no prisoners here, Grimwood. Only volunteers. If they are meant to stay, they will. Now everyone get some sleep.”

As he removed his armor, the heaviness of fatigue engulfed him. Questin heard the sweet voice again: sleep, Julian...go to sleep, my little hero...drink deep your salvation and protection...I will sing for you...

by James Mishler

Night had fallen in Thyatis, and Camilo Tullius was getting ready to close up shop. A sage by nature and a dealer of antiquities by trade, Camilo had little understanding of the ways and means of adventurers, rogues and heroes, though by necessity he dealt with many who were so recognized.

His establishment, found in an old temple once dedicated to a forgotten Immortal, was well known and often frequented by the upper crust of the great city, though the past few years had been trying times. Even the well to do customers of his emporium had suffered from the vagaries of war, politics and taxes. He was thus very surprised to find not one, but two customers who were as yet browsing in his boutique. Having already dismissed his assistants for the night, he decided to request that the customers return the next day...

"Ahem, gentlemen? Good evening. I am terribly sorry, but I was about to close up for the night. I hope you don't mind if I ask that you return upon the morrow? I will be more than happy to be of service to you then..."

The first of the men had been looming over one of Camilo's latest acquisitions: an ancient Nithian censer from the tomb of Queen Nennaya-Sherat. A golden bowl supported by a three headed serpent, no larger in size than two hands high and one wide, it was the best specimen he had had from his latest shipment out of the Emirates. The man continued to tower above the object; he was a tall, gaunt figure dressed in Ylari finery, with knotted hands that betrayed a strength his frame otherwise would not.

"Sir, I assure you, if you are interested in this most exquisite example of early Nithian craftsmanship, I vouch that I shall hold it for none other than yourself! Tomorrow I shall set aside a goodly portion of my day that we may discuss the intricate nature of the early Nithian rituals and the significance of the object you see before you, but I am afraid that evening has fallen upon us and I must retire. Perhaps you might care to join me for an early luncheon and we might discuss..."

Camilo started as the man turned to him with the swiftness of a cat; he saw dark, deep-set eyes in a long oval face that bespoke age long weariness. He felt an overwhelming lassitude fall upon him as the mans' arms with their long, gnarled fingers reached out toward his throat. Camilo barely noticed as the fine garments the man wore seemed to rot from his very body and turn into tattered, yellowed bandages...

"<<No, Shma-Uai, I think not...>>" said a voice from a darkened corner of the room. The third man, forgotten, spoke with a hushed voice that brooked no argument. The being called Shma-Uai, reaching toward the enthralled sage, halted, and turned as if noticing the other man for the first time. Bandages hung from the rotted form of the Nithian mummy as it stared, seemingly in disbelief at the shadowy figure. The ancient one hissed as it sucked air into its long-dead lungs.

"<<Ashadairan... is this a shade I see before me!? You were drowned under the waters of the dark seas long ages ago...>>" answered the embalmed figure, in the same dead tongue.

"<<Nay, oh servant of Death. Mother Night enfolded me in her ebon arms ere the final Doom and saved me from the fate you and your ilk brought upon our land. That you were allowed to remain untended to is an error that I shall correct. Prepare to join your mistress in whatever dark plane her soul rots in, oh vile servant!>>"

The man waved his hand through the air; from his fingers sped bolts of green energy, arcing toward Shma-Uai. They struck the bandaged figure full on, and where the bolts touched him burst forth pulsing green flames. The mummy howled as the green fires spread over its whole body, consuming it in a fit of fury. Dark magics, lost for millennia to the knowledge of men, coursed within the flames that swallowed Shma-Uai. Entropic energies swirled; cast upon itself, the forces of death and destruction wreak havoc without thought, and the fiendish force that gave unlife to the withered being came to be its own undoing. Green wisps of darkness swirled about the figure as it fell into the dust from whence it came.

Camilo Tullius awoke as though from a deep sleep. Casting his eyes about, he first saw the pile of dust and ash where moments ago stood the terrible figure of death. He then looked to the shadows where stood the man who had saved him from a horrible fate. "Who... what... what was that thing? Who are you?" he said, quietly, as though afraid of his answer. He leaned toward the censer, to see if it had been harmed; he did so automatically, without conscious thought.

"You may call me Darius," answered the man "and I would not touch the censer right now, if I were you. It is extremely sensitive to the type of energies released by the magics I just used, and I could not vouch for your safety should you come into contact with it." He stepped lightly from the corner, seemingly flowing across the floor, to stand nearly toe to toe with the confused and frightened sage. He turned from Camilo and lifted the censer from its pedestal.

"But, the energies..." stammered the antiquarian.

"... are harmful to the living, yes. But then, you see, I am at no such disadvantage..." said Darius, as he raised the heavy censer in his hand. He gazed across the golden bowl, into Camilo's eyes. Darius grinned widely at the stunned man, the draconian visages of the censer accenting the long, white fangs of his smile...

by Rick LaRue

No more than a few minutes had passed when a sharp “CRACK!” split the night. Before anyone could react, there was another... and another.

“Take Cover!” Dalros yelled diving behind a large boulder, “We’re under attack!”

“From where?” Delleia cried as she joined him, “I see no enemy.”

“Look around us!” he said pointing to the ground. Splintered arrows lay strewn about.

The attack continued for several minutes. The only warning the group received was the hiss of an arrow in flight, followed by the inevitable “Crack!” before a broken arrow would appear on the ground.

“Can you see where they’re coming from?” Tarquin yelled from his own hiding place. “Even if they’re invisible, would should be able to see them after the arrow is loosed”

“I will try to get a better look.” Silvarin moved catlike from his concealment towards a spot outside the overhang. He crossed no more than a few yards when a sick thump heralded the appearance of an arrow in his lower back. Without a sound he fell face first onto the rocky ground, unmoving.

“SILVARIN!” Tacis tried to run to his friend’s aid, but Tarquin held him back. “Wait, I will go. My magic will protect me.” Reluctantly, Tacis agreed.

With nimble fingers, Tarquin removed a small piece of turtle shell from one of the pouches he kept at his belt and began whispering an odd chant. His words seemed unintelligible to Tacis, but had definite results. Holding the turtle shell before him, Tarquin’s voice raised above a whisper and the component faded into a soft bluish haze that quickly surrounded the mage’s body. Tarquin stood as if oblivious to the danger and calmly walked towards his fallen comrade. The attackers could not resist such an easy target and trained their invisible missiles on the mage. To everyone’s astonishment, not a single arrow touched the him, but fell broken a few feet from the mage. As he moved closer to Silvarin, the bluish haze embraced the injured elf as well. The deadly rain of arrows could not penetrate the protective field of Tarquin’s spell. Kneeling by the elf’s side, Tarquin checked his friend’s vitals.

“He still lives, but I am afraid to move him. If he is to live, this attack must end.” Reaching into his pouch again, Tarquin pulled forth a small vial. “Delleia..., some light if you please.”

Delleia removed an arrow from Dalros’ quiver, blessed it and uttered a simple prayer over it. “Shield your eyes Dalros” she warned as daylight burst forth from the arrow’s tip. “Fire this into the air towards our attackers.” she advised the ranger. Dalros did as he was bid and the arrow sailed into the night sky, illuminating the area in a bright halo. Off in the distance, shapes could be seen moving amid the rocks.

“My thanks, I believe I now have a target.” Tarquin unstoppered the vial and poured its contents into his palm, kneeled, took a pinch of rock dust and sprinkled it into the mixture. Stirring the two with a finger, he began to chant again. This time more rapidly and much louder. His voiced raised to a shout, a swirling vortex appeared above the distant shapes. When the icy-blue vortex had stabilized, Tarquin slapped his palms together and the vortex thundered to life. Great egg sized balls of ice began to rain down on the terrified shapes. Tarquin had centered the spell on the largest mass of attackers and death rained down upon them. The survivors ran for their lives, leaving their dead and wounded comrades amidst the slowly melting hail.

by Kenneth Baggaley

For some sleep came easily. Gurmstahl snored, Boldo smiled with happy mind-music, and the elves rested in their usual state of readiness. Leonia’s whippet shape curled up comfortably, dreamlessly recuperating strength. Gaerth dreamed of Leonia. Celentia prayed; Questin remembered.

Merry lay on her back beside Hezkakal, looking up at the swirling black clouds that seemed to eat the stars from the night sky. Her emotions raced through her like those hungry clouds; concern for Hez, anger at being defeated, interest in the paladin’s mission, and wonderment at Seven’s wizardry. He seemed so...incompetent. Yet, that could not be. She had felt his magic, and it carried the gentle strength of the parent, lovingly holding the petulant child; able to crush in an instant of anger, but knowingly sturdy and careful. It was an impressive feeling. Merry wanted to know more.

She looked over at Hezkakal. It was he who had raised her, abandoned or orphaned or lost or whatever she had been in that sorry infant past. He, the thief, who had provided, by his craft, the food and shelter, the very clothing on her back. He, the rogue, who made the effort that kept her alive. Did he know she would show such promise in magic, such an aura, such ability? Was the thief merely gambling on future gain? Merry had an image in her mind; the tattered rogue hiding in dark corners, cuddling a frightened infant against the cold night rain. Of all things, she knew this one clearly - Hez cared about her.

Merry rose. It was windy, and the sky was growing darker. She saw a small light over by the wizard’s camp. She walked toward it. The wizard lay on his side, breathing lightly and almost motionless. Were it not for the gentle rise and fall of his chest, he seemed hardly alive at all. Jen was wide awake, sitting beside the sleeping pig, reading studiously from the book on its back. Without any show of alarm, Jen looked up at the approaching halfling.

“Welcome, Merry Rosewater”.

Merry felt at once the power surrounding this trio. Jen smiled as if in acknowledgment.

“The master knows many things. Study is always required.”

Merry could not control the words bubbling out. “Will he teach me? Will he, Jen?”. Merry had always been proud of what she learned by herself, from what she had gleaned and observed and read and stolen...and sometimes just somehow knew. But faced with this magic, she knew, like a blinding revelation, that there was more for her to learn. Here, at last, were answers. “Ask him to teach me, Jen. Please.”

Jen startled as the sky around them suddenly went bereft of starlight. The pig reeled up, book flapping, and squealed. Three cloaked husks raced toward them, screaming. A horrible cry ripped the dark air, answered by a clash of steel and a blood-chilling shout:


by Qamlynch

The priestesses met and discussed the attack. Clearly, the attackers were singling out devotees of Terra. No one who wordhip Terra was safe.

Where is the scroll, asked one priestess? "It is safe in good hands" was the reply. The high priestess thought it safer that no one else knew who held the scroll.

We myst send a party to the lands of the princess of Fenswick. And discover what we can. But no terran priestess must acompany them. With a gesture, the high priestess summoned in the adventurer.

by Kenneth Baggaley

Gaerth sat up half awake to the furious sounds of battle filling the pitch-black dark around him. He was unused to the experience. The troopers practiced emergency drills maybe once a year, and never in conditions like this. A brilliant light went off in the sky near the shed. As he shielded his eyes, he could see Jen gesturing toward the fireball, Merry’s bracelets shimmering on her flailing short arms, and Seven on the ground behind them. Three hooded figures were shrinking away from the light. Had he heard right? Goblins? He had never actually seen one before.

The clash of steel and warcries seemed everywhere. Still, he sat, as if half in a dream. Was this real? A cloaked figure lunged from the darkness toward him. He froze seeing the face: green skin, huge misshapen nose and jaw, drooling from decrepit yellowed teeth, charging with a oddly bent sword....

Fffwp- fffwp! The sound of two arrows raced through the air, and the horrible face fell forward dead, inches from his sword and shield. Gaerth sat staring at the twin shafts protruding from the quivering back, like a patron seated at a play. It all seemed so unreal to him.

Cries of pain echoed in the distance, near the stable. A second goblin leaped toward him, the long tongue whipping across its face, its eyes enlarged with bloodlust. How odd the poleweapon looked, he thought, as it fell toward him...

Suddenly the poleweapon was caught in a loud CLANG inches from his head. From the fading fireball he saw the flash of chainmail as Leonia tumbled past him after parrying the blow. The goblin turned and screamed something strange at her, lifting his weapon again. But Leonia had landed in a crouch, and in a single motion sprung forward, driving her sword into the goblin’s midsection before the polearm could swing down. An inhuman wail spewed forth with the gurgle of putrid blood, and the goblin fell backwards as Leonia rolled away and stood again in an instant.

“FIGHT, DAMN YOU, FIGHT!!” she screamed to him, and raced off as the light faded from Jen’s fireball. He turned and reached for his sword. A second light, like twin bolts of lightning, shot out near the shed. Gaerth saw Seven, standing with arms outstretched, drive the three attacking figures airborne across an open field as easily as one might fling an empty melon rind. Merry was running away from Jen toward the stables where she and Hezkakal had camped. The stink of goblin blood filled his nostrils as he lifted his sword and shield and hurried after Leonia.

There was a light glowing around the corner of the outbuilding in front of him, and the sound of furious battle. An arm swung out from the dark near him and he sliced back, missing but still running toward the glow. Another anguished cry came from his left. Turning the corner, he paused at the sight before him.

The glow was Celentia, encased in a bubble of pure radiance, surrounded by what seemed to be a dozen or more screaming goblins! In front of her, unarmored, bleeding, wielding a broken goblin polearm, was Questin Julianus, screaming back at the attackers and fighting with incredible fury! Gaerth let out a yell and, running directly into the fray, slashed the nearest figure across the back through his cloak. The goblin yelped as his blood spurted into the air, and ran off into the darkness. Instantly, two other goblins spun and charged Gaerth. No chance to reach Questin, and no sign of Leonia: this fight was his.

Gaerth flung his sword overhead, back and forth, as the two figures moved to either side of him. Hissing in that strange language, they seemed curious, then almost deadly playful, poking at him one after the other, watching his parries with a sinister chuckle. They think this a game, he thought. Let them. Parry, parry, and finally the goblins began to chatter wildly. Clearly, they were planning a joint attack. From the corner of his eye, Gaerth saw Questin stop a charging goblin at arms length by grabbing his skull and, with a twist of his hand, snap the neck and drop the lifeless body. The others began to slip away. They were not brave, these creatures. I should attack.

His next moves were instinctive, his training and skill serving him well. Lunging at the goblin to his left, forcing its quick retire, then in a single motion swinging a wild backhand to his right, Gaerth caught the rushing creature behind him off-guard, slicing through its nose as it shrieked in pain and dropped its weapon. Gaerth swung back twice to his left again, catching the hood of a cloak and maybe some flesh. The goblins had had enough. Both figures ran down the path to the strange darkness centered near the woods.

Gaerth could scarcely believe his victory. His first fight, two goblins, and he had driven them off! He looked up to Questin. The paladin was bleeding profusely from his arms and thigh, but was still thrusting what remained of the splintered shaft at one remaining goblin. Gaerth yelled and ran at the assailant, who, realizing he was now alone, turned and bolted after his companions. An arrow sailed through the air and struck the goblin in his side as he disappeared into the blackness.

As quick as that, the attack was over.

Ongoing Story Index

by Kenneth Baggaley

For anyone interested, here's a list (so far) of the characters in Questin's part of the story. As someone once said, you can't tell the players without a scorecard!

Questin Julianus, human male paladin. Thyatian born, Norworld raised, a powerful dragon-fighter with strange sensibilities and an extremely strong grip.
Celentia Mera, human female cleric. Older yet strong priestess of Terra.
Leonia, human female warrior. Lithe, agile and beautiful. All business. Leads the warriors.
Arrowheart and Grimwood, elven male archers. Different ends of the spectrum on politeness.
Gurmstahl, dwarven male fighter. Low key with a dour sense of humor.
Boldo Fiddlecake, halfling male bard. Friendly and talkative, travels with Questin.
Seven, human male wizard. Really, really strange. Talky, quirky. Seems addled yet powerful.
Jen, human female wizard. Seven's small, polite young apprentice.
Hezkakal, human male thief. Wisecracking, extremely good at hiding and escaping.
Merry RoseWater, halfling female magic user. Raised by Hezkakal. Young, small and self taught, clearly gifted, looking to learn more.
Gaerth, human male fighter. Average small town trooper, smitten unrequited with Leonia. He's got a lot to learn about adventuring.

by James Mishler

"So, friend Darius, you maintain that Queen Nennaya-Sherat was not only a Queen during the later dynasty of the Pharaoh Taphose, but also a Queen during the earlier days of the Nithian kingdoms, as well as a Princess of ancient Taymor? That this simple censer was the centerpiece of her power through the ages, from the time of Ancient Taymor through the final days of the Nithian Empire? And that you yourself were witness to the entirety?..."

Camilo Tullius sat in a soft, highbacked chair in the librarium of his ancient manse in the Silverlight District. His unusual guest sat across from him on a plush Hulean divan; between them, on a small table made of Bellissarian cedar, sat a carafe of fine Amancerian wine, two glasses and the object at issue, glittering darkly in the magelight orbs that lit the room. Around them, on the walls, atop various tables and in sundry cases were the artifacts of a dozen cultures, historical and extant. Every nation of the Known World was represented in the panoply of civilizations; there were even several items representing peoples not native to the Mystaran plane of existence, let alone of Mystara herself. Darius gazed upon the collection in wonder; though extremely well travelled, even he in all his years of wandering could not have amassed such a collection.

"You misunderstand me, good sage. Nennaya-Sherat, who was also known as Sheratsar'ana, was not only a Queen of Nithia during the later days of the empire; she had also been a Queen during the pre-imperial days, before the founding of Pharonic rule. Nennaya-Sherat ruled a small realm in the Ust-Urt valley in the centuries after the Fall of Taymor. After Setu-Kha slew his brother Orisis and came to power in Nithia she became his consort and co-regent. Horon-Ausar, the son of the Ressurrected Orisis, overthrew the rule of his uncle, Setu-kha, in 1700 BC, on the Isle of Serpents; Nennaya-Sherat, however, was able to flee the wrath of Horon-Ausar. She returned to Nithia after it had become corrupted by the Dark One a thousand years later, and ruled the city of Tamarnak as Queen and High Priestess until the final end of the empire some fifteen hundred years ago." Darius spoke in a near hush, remembering people and places long turned to dust.

"I see... and she, like yourself, was one of the Children of Night, which our neighbors, the Traladarans, refer to as... Nosferatu?" Camilo spoke hesitatingly. Never before had he knowingly had dealings with such a being; he had no idea of what reaction his questions might bring. But such an opportunity, he knew, came only once in a lifetime as mortal as his own.

"Yes and no. Initially, she, like myself and numerous others, were called to service by Mother Night, and we became Her Children. For long years we ruled our lands in Her name, neither truly alive nor dead, rather undying, or undead. With the wisdom and experience of centuries we were able to bring civilization to a land that had been brought low by the sins of our brothers in the Great Rain of Fire. Unfortunately, however, though certain passions cool with the embrace of Mother Night, others can become even more greatly inflamed, and one such was the lust for power. The Dark One saw this hunger in the still hearts of my brethren, and he granted them the power they desired... at the cost of their souls. He twisted them and made them into his own creatures, the Vampires. Unlike Nosferatu, the Vampires serve no natural function in this world; Nosferatu are predators, while Vampires are a plague, nothing more. The most vile, virulent plague on mankind, yes, but a plague nonetheless..." Darius again drifted off in thought. The silence was, Camilo thought, not unlike that of the grave. He liked not the comparison...

"And Nennaya-Sherat? She became a Vampiress?"

"Yes, even Nennaya-Sherat. She, and many of my brethren turned to the ways of the Dark One. They thought they would overthrow the power of the Eternal Emperor and rule in his stead; unbeknownst to them, however, the Dark One had promised power to many different cells of Vampires, and they all struggled with the Emperor and each other for power. The Empire was thrown into chaos until the Last Battle, when the lands heaved and cracked and the seas came in to swallow the whole of our empire..."

"How then does this device come into the story? What significance does this simple censer have in the battle for empires?"

Darius picked up the golden censer, considered it and the sage at length, then set it back on the table. "In and of itself, none. You see, it is simply part of the puzzle that has been slowly been coming together over the last several years. Certain specific ancient ruins have been uncovered recently in a pattern which I have found to be very disturbing. The peoples behind these explorations have all disappeared or otherwise met untimely ends; this in itself is not unusual, however the pattern that I found in the methodology was, shall we say, unorthodox for these times."

Camilo suppressed a shudder. "Unusual, I dare say! Strangulation at the hands of the undead is not something I can relish, let alone easily imagine," he brought his hand to his mouth, realizing to whom he was speaking. "But then, I suppose I have led a rather sheltered life, after all," he said, apologetically.

Darius grinned a long-toothed grin "No offense taken. I must say that you have taken all this quite in stride, altogether. Most mortals I deal with do not; then again, most mortals I deal with rarely even get the chance to see me..." his grin widened somewhat, and a sparkle came to his eye. In a moment he was again all seriousness.

"Actually, however, encountering Shma-Uai here this evening was a mere coincidence; intelligent as he might have been, Shma-Uai was no conspirator, merely a messenger for his long dead Queen to those who would disturb her rest. No, it was not the silken touch of the Mummy that I saw in these murders, rather it was the velvet kiss of the Vampire..."

by Kenneth Baggaley

Celentia tended to Questin’s wounds, but the seated paladin still barked orders as if in the heat of action.

“Leonia! Boldo! Seven! Report!”

“To me! To me!” Leonia’s voice could be heard advancing toward them from the darkness. As Gaerth stood beside Questin, Leonia and Grimwood emerged into the glow still reflecting from Celentia.

She was all business, this warrior; not even glancing at Gaerth, her words were terse and quick.

“Arrowheart is in pursuit. They seem to have come out of that dark cloud without warning. The wizard is alive and looking to find the rest. No more goblins about.”

“Let’s go!” But the priestess put a firm hand on Questin’s shoulder. “Be healed first”. He nodded.

“Gaerth, go with them and find the others.”

The trooper was panting, still flush with combat fatigue, yet found himself almost running to avoid losing ground to Leonia and Grimwood trotting ahead through the dark. A fireball lit the sky over the stable; Seven could be seen standing beneath it. Now, at least, they could see.

What they saw was not welcome. Gurmstahl sat propped up against the well, his head awash with blood, while Boldo lay alongside him, soaking wet and clutching his side in pain. Jen seemed to be tending to them. The party ran toward the stable, systematically plunging swords into any of the dark cloaked forms lying in their path. Gaerth stared as he passed the patch of ground where he had been sleeping, two dead goblins an arm’s breath from his imprint in the grass.

At the stable, Seven stood shaking his head looking down. At his feet was a dead groom, two wounded horses and - the elf gasped - a thoroughly butchered packmule. The extent of its dismemberment, down to its bags and straps, shocked his sensibility to nature. “By...,” he stuttered, “...they cut it into fragments!”.

Seven tsk’d. “That was Celentia Mera’s animal. They were looking for something.”

“And they didn’t find it.” Hezkakal appeared walking towards them, Merry under his arm and the other groom leading a huge war-horse. “They were furious about it, you can see.”

“So you found a good place to hide while we fought?’ Grimwood said sharply to the thief.

“Yes I did, thank you. I turned, saw Mer was with the wizard, and ducked their thrusts under the horses. Then I reached this war-horse here. He reared up, kicked one of the creatures into tomorrow, and the rest held back and eventually fled. Strong animal, this horse. Has legs as firm as yours, steelface.”

Gathered around a campfire, the party assessed the attack. Gurmstahl was badly injured, cut deeply across his head - he had in fact lost his left ear, and was weak from bleeding. Boldo had been cut in the side, but would heal in time. Questin labored silently in pain as Celentia tended to him and Leonia reported.

“They came out of the clouds. The elves couldn’t sense them in the normal manner until they were right on top of us. Plus, there was added darkness, obviously some kind of magic. Still, we got our standard battle plan going. Grimwood and Arrowheart sounded the alarm and took to the roofs. They targeted pretty well; direct life-threats first, goblin archers next, shaman if he’s not protected.”

“We failed our scouting again” mused Arrowheart. “and we never got a shot into the shaman”.

“You did well in the dark”, countered Leonia. “We estimate thirty or more attackers. The largest group went straight for you, priestess. Another group attacked your baggage in the stable. That’s where we lost the groom.”

“Pitar”, said Celentia softly, mouthing a silent prayer.

“The rest of the goblins spread out in attack. They got in on Gurmstahl and Boldo, and almost surprised Gaerth”. She was being generous to me, thought the trooper. He felt embarrassed.

“We counted nine dead, with at least as many escaped wounded. Three more may be dead out in the distance somewhere, thanks to the wizard.”

Gaerth felt defensive. “Aye, I wounded three myself tonight”. Leonia glared at him fiercely.

“You did indeed. I saw your bravery. Thank you, Gaerth.” Questin’s truthful compliment cut short any rejoinder from the warrior.

“Anyway” she continued “the wizard drove off the stable attack. Questin took the brunt of the attack on Celentia. I covered the points most in danger” she paused and narrowed her eyes at Gaerth “and then rushed the shaman. I don’t think I hurt him bad, but they’d had enough by then and sounded retreat.”

Arrowheart spoke “I followed their retreat to the darkness, but they vanished as swiftly as they portal, no magic flash, not even a whiff of goblin sweat.”

Celentia bowed to Questin “You saved my life tonight, good paladin. Bless you.”

Questin nodded respectfully. “Leonia, you and Arrowheart take the watch until morning. I doubt they will be back tonight. Good priestess, stay by me. They were clearly after you, and I will sleep better if...we are here to defend each other.” Celentia smiled at how deftly Questin had avoided insulting her by suggesting the need for mutual protection. “As you wish, Julianus.”

The next morning, the party worked as it ate a hasty breakfast. Some rigged a cart for Boldo and Gurmstahl, others dragged the stinking goblin bodies to an open area in the field. If left until noon, the stench would be unbearable. Boldo grimaced as he lay alongside Gurmstahl, thinking of the jolting ride ahead. “I fear every mile with this bumpy road, eh, friend?.” Gurmstahl’s eyes stayed shut. “I fear every mile with you.”

“Oh, my dear comrade in arms. Does the art of embellished conversation still bother you so?”

“Only half as much now.”

Seven gestured, and the goblin carcasses became encased in light and quickly vanished. As Merry walked past the wagon, Boldo gestured to her. “Our dwarven friend here has no stomach for our Hin company.”

Merry looked at Gurmstahl “And why is that?”.

Gurmstahl drummed his fingers on his belt. “Nothing . Halflings are fine. Just not as adventurers.”

“Yet we fought well together last night, fellow” countered Boldo. “Though both wounded, we defended well together, until the goblins knocked me into the well. You know I would not else have left your side. I speak the truth, I swear.”

Gurmstahl labored to inhale. “I know you do, halfling. I pushed you.”

Boldo eyebrows rose to his hairline. “You PUSHED me? Into the well? In the name of ... why?”

“Both wounded. Couldn’t retreat. Couldn’t defend you. So I got you out of danger.”

Boldo’s face lit with a smile. “ risked yourself to save me! I am in your debt, warrior. You knew enough to knock me into the bucket and break my fall down that long well. You thought of everything! I am impressed”. Gurmstahl turned painfully to Boldo with squinted eyes. “There was a bucket?”

Merry laughed lightly as she left the pair and walked toward Hezkakal and Questin. Her laugh disappeared and her steps grew shorter as she got closer to them. This was not going to be easy.

Hezkakal turned to her with a smile. “Merry, there you are. Well, paladin, this is good-bye. I wish you well, truly...hey, I’ve got no reason to want you all dead. But understand, I don’t want US dead either.”

“Thank you for your well wishes, Hezkakal. We will miss you.” The paladin was in full armor again, reflecting brilliantly in the bright orange dawn. He seemed as strong and unhurt as if he had just enjoyed a full night of peaceful rest.

Merry stood motionless as the thief lifted his backpack. He jerked his head. “Let’s go.”

“I’m not going”.

Merry could hardly believe the words had come from her. She felt almost removed from her body, as if she were watching the discussion instead of being part of it.

“Not going? What do you mean? C’mon, Mer.”

“I’m not going, Hez.”

“Not.....What do.....Mer, you can’t be serious.”

“I need to be here with them, Hez.”

“You NEED to....Mer, listen to yourself. This is nuts! Aw, paladin, see what you’ve done? Merry, listen to me. They are NEVER going to get near a dragon’s lair in one piece. Remember?”

Merry shut her eyes.

“No Merry, remember? How many other adventure parties have we seen in dragon’s lairs? How many with brave swords and clever mages and all the confidence in the world? Remember what they looked like later when we passed their remains? Do you?”

Merry felt her face flush. She fought back tears of anger and horror.

“Remember? Swords and wands and empty sacks, and adventurers in pieces and burned to cinders and...”

“Hez, I’m staying.”

“...helmets with skull fragments still inside, sneering dragon laughter as he cracked the bones...”

“I BELONG in this party, hez!”

“ twigs in the hands of a playful boy, and WE’D be the ones alive, Mer, the ones with something in our sacks, and blood still in our veins, because...”


“...WE were smart about it. WE didn’t get stupid or careless or egotistic. We got in, got stuff, got out...”


Hezkakal stopped cold. Merry was filled with a fury he had never seen. Tears streamed down her twisted face, as she wretched the deepest part of her from its tomb inside and tore it out before his widened eyes.


Merry collapsed to the ground, her face contorted in sobs, her bracelets limp and silent against the earth. Hez dropped his pack and went to his knees to comfort her. He held her quietly, carefully, letting the sobs die away in long, deep breaths. He stroked her short dirty hair, keeping her head pressed against his shoulder, rocking both of them gently back and forth. Just like the old days, when she was an infant. Or a child. Or even now.

Merry’s crying stopped. She looked up at Hezkakal, embarrassed yet relieved. She searched his eyes for an answer. The thief smiled, and then cast a long, hard look at Questin.

“Get us killed” he said “and I swear I’ll drag your spirit to the demons with me.”

by Qamlynch

The high preistess stared out the window as she spoke.

"you will go alone. None will help you. No one will aid you in dostress. If caught, none of our magic will save you. Do you understand?"

The adventuerer nodded.

" You are clear on your mission? You have no questions?"

the adventurer shrugged.

"Then go. Find out what you can of Fenswick and the scroll. Go alone. If you do, may Terra forfend, enlist temporary aid, they must know nothing. Our prayers go with you. That is all."

The adventurer turned and walkedto the door. The high prestess listened to the departing footsteps. She clsed the window shutters. A fool's misson, no chance of survivng; the adventurer was indeed brave.

She prayed.

by Duncan TKD

Somewhere in the mountains to the north of Wendar, in a cave. "Yes my leige, the palidin Questin will die by the Thanes hands" says a Half-Orc before he takes his sword and leaves from his nelt possition in front of an alter.

by Kenneth Baggaley

The forward party continued on the winding, dusty path leading to the hillside. After giving Pitar a proper burial, Celentia, Leonia and Grimwood caught up with the rest at the foot of the hills. Celentia noted that Sorat-Sym’s grave was within two day’s travel; the party decided to rest for the night.

Gaerth sat by the fire with the injured dwarf and halfling, absently stirring the ashes with a stick. He could sense the uneasiness of the camp that night. Boldo, of course, continued his one-way argument with his somber friend, seemingly oblivious to the tension.

“Come, now, Gurmstahl. If you try REALLY hard, I am certain you can come up with one, at least ONE, good thing about adventuring with Hin.”

The dwarf gave a gruff shrug. “Easier to bury.”

Gaerth glanced to his left and saw Mary Rosewater slowly walking toward the fire. Even in the dancing flickers, it was impossible to misinterpret the look upon her face.

Boldo spoke with soft empathy. “So he refused again? I am sorry, good Mary.”

Mary sat without a word; Boldo, trying to be helpful, continued.

“Seven has his reasons, Mary, I’m certain of that. Perhaps he knows you can do naught without magic objects in your possession. Perhaps his magic is personal or physical. Perhaps...”

“What do you mean objects?” Mary eyes burned brighter in that moment than the reflected firelight.

“Well, good Mary... I-I mean, perhaps the bracelets you wear are incapable of more. Perhaps Seven’s teachings require real magical, a race for whom magic is...”

“My bracelets? Is THAT what you think?” Mary stood quickly, and shed the bangling items in a instant. How loud they jangled when not against her skin, thought Gaerth. Perhaps their silence was magic too.

“Mary, I meant no...”

“Here, bard.” She gestured strangely, and the fire leaped a bit. As it returned to its normal height, the halfling had faded from view. Boldo stared in amazement at the spot where Mary had been, where only bracelets now lay.

“I’m over here bard.” Behind him, Boldo felt a tap to the back of his head. His exclamation brought a pained smile to Gurmstahl’s lips. The fire leaped again, a little higher this time, and afterwards Mary stood as before, the bracelets silent again upon her arms.

For a long while, Boldo stroked his chin thoughtfully. When he spoke, it was in careful, measured tones. “How came thee by Rosewater? I know that clan not.”

Satisfied her point was made, Mary sat again. “Hez said he...obtained some, to bathe me when he found me. He said it lulled me to sleep. As for Mary ... well, Hez said he liked the name.”

“Know ye not then thy clan?”

“I know nothing, Boldo. I know only the life I’ve lived so far. And I’ve no time now for Seven’s riddled answers.”

“Hath been ye ever to the Shires?”

Mary was obviously growing hot, noted Gaerth. Boldo doesn’t know when to quit.

“Stop talking that way. It’s annoying. I’ve been to villages and towns around here. I’ve traveled much by foot. Hez and I often keep moving. But no, I’ve never seen the Shires, bard. I’ve never seen much of anywhere, for long”.

“Know ye, Rosewater”, now it was Boldo whose eyes glowed. “Hin have naught of magic within them. Save small - advantages. There be legends and rumors, but by proof, only Masters within the Shires canst but little conjure. If thy power cometh not by objects, thou art by nature no pure member of the simple folk.”

Gaerth sensed his cue to leave. As he walked from the fire, he could hear traces of what would clearly be a hot and tiring argument long into the night. “All he says to me are things like ÔI cannot teach what you know’ and Ôyou do not learn’. He’s as dense as pudding to me...”

by Kenneth Baggaley

Gaerth ambled for several minutes through the dark wood toward the brook, waterpouch in tow. The sound of splashing made him stop. Quietly, he inched toward the thicket at the water’s edge. Peering carefully past the cool minty leaves, he saw the figure of Leonia, bathed gently in the water and liquid moonlight....

This is wrong, he thought, very wrong. Yet once again he could not tear himself away from such beauty of form. Half ashamed, half absorbed, in an odd detached way he watched the beads of water, brightly reflecting the starlight, cascade down the supple silhouette of her graceful side. Her motions were uniquely graceful, still purposed, still frugal, yet somehow embodied with something, an extra element, that he could only translate as...pleasure. Amazing...Leonia actually enjoyed something other than combat.

She turned, and Gaerth startled. Though only shadows and shapes were visible, accented by the occasional reflection, he could see this clearly, and it caught him by surprise. Along those beautiful shoulder blades, running under her arms and across her ribs, were the ugly marks of scars, discolored and misshapen. Every few inches ran a healed puncture wound - he’d seen many in his day, but none so large and so spaced out The upper front of her form lacked the soft, rising curves known so well in the wild bawdy celebrations at the barracks. Her left was flat and oddly shaped, as if remolded by those strange marks. Through her chainmail shirt, he would never have noticed it...

Leonia reached across her body, her fingers gesturing something in the moonlight, and she began wading toward the shore. A signal! He had been spotted! Gaerth attempted to back out quietly, the smell of mint overpowering his senses. He backed away until a sharp point at his spine made him freeze.

“It’s’s okay.” As the point didn’t enter him, he felt it safe to turn slowly. His eyes met Grimwood’s, the curved elfin dagger just out of his sight.

“If you want to stay alive,” stated Grimwood coldly, “you have got to get better at this”.

The dagger dropped, and Gaerth faced the elf. Leonia emerged from the thicket, a soft cotton shirt over her upper body, her flowing hair hanging in dark, wet strands. She was beautiful even like this, thought Gaerth. He expected the worst. Yet she looked at the trooper with no discernible trace of - anything. Her voice was calm, even gently musical.

“I hope you are as brave in battle.”

And with that, the two warriors disappeared into the dark wood. For several minutes, Gaerth stood, too stunned to move. Then, all around him silent, he turned back to the brook to fill his pouch with water...the same magical water that had touched...her.

by Dragon1022

Tarin Sal crouched in some high brush on the crest of a hill. He listed to the wind blow gently at the surrounding grass. After about ten minutes he started moving again. All he had heard was a rabbit, but you can never be too careful.

When he reached the side of Fenswick keep he took one look around to make sure he was not being seen, then started climbing. The stones were once smoothly joined together so there would not have been any way to climb.... once. Now years of errosion had made near perfect hand and foot holds all over the tower.

He monuvered around the wall until he came to a window. Muttering a word of magic a two foot diameter black circle appeared in the window. After climbing through the portal he looked at his surroundings. It was obviously the Princess's bed room. Although from the looks of it it had seen little use.

Quickly and quietly he searched the room, but found nothing of any import.

He slowly opened the door and looked down the hall. Two guards, that shouldn't be a problem. Tarin Sal muttered a few inchoherent phrases and waved a bit of fleece around. He then walked quietly down the hall towards the guards. Drawing close he unsheathed two daggers and silenced the two guards permently. From the looks on their faces they had never seen it coming.

After dragging them into the bedroom, he went back to the door they had been guarding. Something seemed amiss about the door. Casting another spell he saw the door glow with an eerie radiance.

"This should be interesting", he said in a low wisper.

Saying the words to a small spell he tried the door. It swung noiselessly open. Inside lay stacks and stacks of books. Each appeared old and well used. A thin layer of dust covered everthing in the room.

Closing the door behind him he looked over the volumes of books hopeing to find a usefull clue. Tarin Sal had gone over about twenty tomes and still found nothing of any use. While getting up to retrive yet another book he noticed that something with the wall was wrong. Going up to the wall he waved his hand through a painting of a woman. The painting then disapeared and in its place was a safe.

He again wispered the mystical words and heard a quiet "click". Opening the sfae he found a single book. The cover of the tome was inlaid with gold and silver and in a slightly luminescint writing were the words Radiance.

Just then the room filled with light and an ugly, misshapen mass moved from behind a shelf. It was vagley draconic but had many stiches covering the body. As this was happening five guards walked into the room. One letting loose a crossbow quarl upon seeing Tarin Sal.

With lightning like reflexes he snatched the quarl from the air.

"No thank you... I can find my own way out", Tarin said.

He then said the words to unleash a magical spell. A large mass of webs covered an area from the dragonic thing to the guards. Turning he then jumped through a window.

He hit the ground hard but rolled and started of at a run. From out of a pouch he pulled a ring. Putting it on his finger he spoke the command word and flew off towards Glantri City.

by Kenneth Baggaley

The next day’s travel proved uneventful. Gaerth avoided Leonia, thinking she may reconsider her non-hostile reaction from the night before, and simply cut him to ribbons. Strangely, she had been right about one thing ; at no time did he actually feel AFRAID. He had been surprised, uncertain, astonished certainly. But as yet he had not felt the icy fingers of fear grip his throat. When his company had rushed those hill bandits, in what seemed a lifetime ago, he had seen many men - good men and strong of limb- grow pale and run. He remembered, even then, a strange calm as he cut and thrust amid the heat of battle. The goblins had startled him, but not frightened him. Even Leonia’s reaction was more concern for her opinion of him, rather than fear of injury at her beautiful callused hands. Yes, Grimwood was right, he had many skills to learn - but bravery was not among them.

Mary had tired of Seven’s cryptic rebuffs, and sullenly rode her pony by Hezkakal’s side. Questin was an unusual paradox, silent by day, magnificent in his gleaming armor upon his charger, yet fitless and troubled in his sleep. The cleric was polite but distant. Seven and Jen were beyond comprehension. Dwarf and bard convalesced together, more or less. The elves were with Leonia. Gaerth pulled his cloak tightly about him as he spurred on his mount in the chilled elevated air. He did not feel a member of this party yet.

They had picked up supplies and two additional grooms at a farm near the terraced hillside. That night they camped part way up the hill, a short journey from the grave they sought. In the night, Gaerth could see a glow far off in the distance, winding along roads to the South. Dark clouds formed again in the sky, alarming him. He reached for his sword (which he now kept immediately beside him), only to have his wrist grasped in slim elvin fingers. Arrowheart gestured toward the clouds, which formed thickly above the distant light.

“Fine magic, this one” smiled the elf. “That’s the cleric’s essence they think they’re attacking. Questin feels we have enough decoys to keep them occupied until we find what we came for.” The elf let go of his hand. “Get some sleep. Tomorrow may be rough.” Gaerth lay back again as the darkness descended on the distant glow, snuffing it out like a candle in some distant window on the town watch. Magic...he doubted he would ever get used to it.

The next morning found them descending a small dip along the hillside, leading to the open gully which held the fallen paladin. A rough stone door, marked with glyphs, stood alone in the shadowed dusty pit. The wind whipped harshly through this naturally tunneled enclave. Only a faint animal sound could be heard in the distance.

“Silent as a tomb” deadpanned Gurmstahl.

Questin dismounted. “Celentia, Leonia, Seven, Jen, Grimwood, Gaerth” he startled to hear his name called “we’re going in. Arrowheart, Hez, Mary, stay with Boldo and Gurmstahl, guard the camp.”

“Let me go too!” Mary stepped forward.

“One wizard - and apprentice - is enough” said Questin. “Besides, we may need magic out here if we’re trapped inside.”

Hezkakal put out his hand and drew Mary back. “Please, don’t let us stop you.”

A furious horse sound rose through the wind from the top of the hillside. Looking up ,the party saw a large but sickly horse, riderless, colorful trappings in tatters around its boney frame, rear up and cry out across the gully. In wobbly but determined gallop it sped down toward the party. “FORM!” yelled Leonia, and instantly archers and warrior moved to protect the other mounts. The war-horse pulled up short, in obvious pain, fear and delirium. Questin’s mount advanced on it alone; the troubled animal seemed to acknowledge by standing still and silent. Celentia walked calmly toward the animal. “Be at peace now, brave steed.” The cleric mouthed something, and the war-horse shook violently, and letting out a horrifying cry, fell to its side. Celentia bent lovingly over the quivering beast. “Stand down” ordered Leonia. A few minutes passed as the cleric touched its matted and beaten sides.

Celentia looked back at Questin, tears streaming down her face. “It is Sorat-Sym’s mount. There is great evil here.”

Questin drew his holy avenger sword. The opals sparkled in its hilt. “We must enter. Come”.

As Celentia walked back to Questin, the spindly legs thrashed as the ravaged charger struggled to its feet. A wild cry, and it was off again up the hillside, pausing at the top to watch the party.

“Leonia, stay up here. Arrowheart, shoot to kill if you must. Let’s go.”

The party descended to the darkly shadowed door.

Celentia prayed, and the heavy door opened with barely a touch. A wave of musty odor rushed out through the black opening. Grimwood struck a torch and began to light others, handing them out. The light filled the chamber with eerie shadows along the plain, roughly carved walls.

“The tomb of Sorat-Sym. Bless him in his final rest.”

In the center of the room, a plain stone sarcophagus stood surrounded by thick low tables. Each table, its bright paint covered with dust, held the tools of the departed: helmet, armor, sword, shield and other items. One table had what appeared to be small offerings, including several cold melted candles.

Gaerth looked at Celentia’s eyes, wide with alarm. “Evil is here, Questin. Hurry.”

Grimwood sniffed the dankness. “I sense it too. Something....”

Questin motioned to the trooper. “Gaerth! Help me with this lid.”

Slinging his shield, Gaerth placed his torch in the holder at one table’s edge and went to the opposite side of the sarcophagus. Though the paladin had only his Shield hand free, their strength was uneven, so Questin’s side slid easily off as Gaerth struggled with his. Together, they lowered the heavy top. Gaerth grabbed the torch and held it over the tomb.

“Empty!” he heard himself say.

Grimwood was measuring the far walls with his torchlight. “It’s along here somewhere...right about....”

Celentia gestured, and a bright ring surrounded her, just as a gust of cold foul air extinguished every torch in the chamber. Her ring lit the room. “Everyone, to me, quickly!”

In the unreal light of the ring, the trooper could not fathom what he saw. The walls seemed to blur into gray mist, from which emerged the clanking sound of sticks or dull metal or ..............bones?

As Gaerth threw his smoking torch aside and drew his sword, the mist was lined wall to wall with a silent, advancing army of - was it - SKELETONS!

“UNDEAD!” screamed Grimwood as he tumbled away from a blow back towards Celentia.

Seven began to finger his beard in thought as Jen gestured intensely. Gaerth saw a spear strike Grimwood in the hip, and the elf yelled in pain. Instinctively the trooper leapt toward the rushing skeletons, drawing his sword and slashing down hard. Two skeletons parried his blows with clumsy slowness. A third drove a rusty sword at Grimwood. Gaerth chopped quickly, and a boney forearm flew, sword in hand, across the chamber. The silent amputee stood staring at his terminated limb, while death faces poured in on Gaerth’s shield. They do not retreat, he thought. What do they have to fear? He was parrying now with his shield and sword, trying desperately to cover Grimwood’s crawling retreat.

“Gaerth! Get to Celentia!” He could hear Questin screaming commands, but sheer numbers were about to overwhelm him. Suddenly, the quiet skulls stood up straight and motionless, as if hearing a silent command. Gaerth still swung wildly, his sword passing harmlessly through an empty ribcage. Most of the bone army in front of him then melted into dust. Others turned around and walked slowly back into the misty walls.

“They’ve been turned!” cried Grimwood in pain. “Help me to Celentia!”.

“Turned? Into what?” Gaerth did not understand. He quickly sheathed his sword and lifted the elf to his side. G•rimwood threw his arm around Gaerth’s neck as the trooper turned to Questin. The skeletons in front of him were struggling, having sunk to their knees into the stone floor which now appeared to be molasses. Questin has holding the sarcophagus lid above his head.

“Swords are weak, Gaerth. You need blunt edges”. With a single lunge he hurled the heavy stone lid as a boy flings a flat stone upon a lake, smashing into the skeletons and ripping a path of shattered bones through their ranks. Other skeletons turned and marched back to the mist-walls. The paladin grabbed the thick wooded tables and flung them, like tossing dinner plates, at the retreating and melting bone-army, producing a clacking cacophony of splintering echoes as they emptied from the room.

“Look out, priestess! Behind you!”

A voice from the shadows had shouted the warning too late. Two skeletal warriors were advancing on the cleric, her gestures ineffective against them. In a single motion, Questin drew his sword and flung it across the chamber directly into one of the figures. Its skeletal form evaporated to reveal a creature of some kind, impaled through the chest with the holy avenger. Seven circled his hand over his head, and the second skeletal image evaporated in a ball of flame, a second creature running afire toward the misty wall. Its impaled partner had fallen to its knees, reaching desperately behind to remove the paladin’s sword. Questin advanced upon it, grabbing the sword that had fallen from one of the tables, and with three vicious blows chopped the horrid form into a lifeless lump upon the floor beside Celentia.

The walls grew solid again, leaving bone dust and shattered bone fragments about the open chamber. Questin drew his holy avenger from the bubbling mass of dead flesh. Seven shook his head. “Lots, I must say, lots of undead for a paladin’s grave, I am amazed, I must say.” Questin looked alertly to the corners of the chamber. “Who shouted the warning?”

From the dark far end of the chamber, a single figure emerged. Tall, muscular, yet pale and unarmored, the shadow of a human stepped toward them, stopping some distance away. The eyes had a sad, faraway look, the sallow skin coldly inanimate.

“I tried, but I could not reach you. I cannot approach you now. I deserve no place among you anymore.”

“Who are you?” Questin lowered his sword.

“I am - or was - one such as you. I am what remains of Sorat-Sym.”

Celentia tended to Grimwood’s gaping wound. Gaerth stood by, amazed, as two paladins, living and dead, faced each other in complete calm. He checked his hand - still not shaking. The trooper shook his head; I fought against skeletons without fear. No one back home will believe me.

Questin looked deeply into those sad eyes. “Sorat-Sym, ere have I heard tales of thy deeds. How comst thou to this?”

The shade paladin held his arms up, an effort which showed pain and weariness. His gaze drifted to Celentia.

“Good priestess, I believe your powers overwhelm him in this state. You and Gaerth take Grimwood and retire from here.” At Questin’s nod, Seven and Jen caused several torches to be relit.

The elf objected. “You cannot trust the undead, Julianus. Let us - emph! - stay here with you....”

Questin gestured to Grimwood. “No evil undead would save the life of a priestess. Go and be healed.” Gaerth helped carry out the elf, passing Hezkakal at the tomb door. The thief poked his head into the chamber. “Trouble on the road to paradise, I see?”

The dead man moved to the edge of the sarcophagus and sat down. “.Julianus? Questin Julianus? Aye, I have heard thy praises sung, as well. Ill met we are in this sorry state.”

Hezkakal stepped inside. “A polite dead paladin. Yup. Now I have seen everything.”

Sorat-Sym spoke only to Questin.

“Ye may know I felled the black dragon Kishkamik. Ye may know not that some evil commerce betwixt the beast and dark forces in Denagoth have occurred. That is what led me to seek the creature out. In my quest I discovered his lair, and slaying his minions, found evidence of great evil. Alas, his return interrupted my search. I saw his communion with other dark forces. He took a scroll and left for some evil purpose. My mirror transported me to a point of interception. By the grace of the Immortals I overcame him, yet suffered grievous wounds. My life ebbing, I chanced upon a priestess of Terra, and entrusted the scroll to her. My wakened mind drifted in and out of slumber after this. I recall many robed women, carrying me off, dull prayers in my ears. They rested me upon something soft. I heard much weeping.”

Sorat-Sym paused and shook his head.

“So much I fail to remember now. So much leaves me, I can little remember who I am...”

“Yeah, well, that happens when you die, I guess.” Hezkakal’s arms were folded as he glanced about the objects littering the chamber floor.

“As I felt my life leave me, a young woman, alone from her comrades, bent closely to my ear. ÔBrave paladin, courage such as yours does not deserve to die’ she said. She kissed my neck, and my life ran from my body as wine from an overturned goblet She pulled back and smiled. Her hair was black, and her lips deeply red, yet I saw only half her face...

“I awoke laying in total darkness. I felt stiff and cold, and my movements bumped into walls around me. Pushing, I removed the top of this very tomb here. Instantly I was filled with dread and pain. My own weapons, those objects which in life brought me victory and comfort, were abhorrent to me now. I could touch nothing. I could not pass through the door. I could not return to my tomb. I could not pray. I was trapped here about this dark chamber forever.

“Then came my undead brothers, and I knew the truth of my fate. Julianus, the promises they made! The tales of new undead worlds they told! If I would but follow them, there was a place for me - a place as a hero and champion. My old allegiance was forever lost. I could but leave this chamber one way - through the portal they supplied. Else, I would exist here for all eternity.”

“Hey, most dead people don’t get much travel in, really”. Hez kicked a few items along the wall, picking up bits and pieces.

Questin stepped toward the door. “Sorat-Sym, I can pray for you. I will. But there is more I can do.” He gestured to the tomb door. “I will give you another way out.”

“HEY! Mister Manners over there! You DON’T go unleashing the dead on the living. That has GOT to be against your code, paladin”.

“Silence, Hez. I must help all that I can. I must help other noble paladins find the peace in death they deserve. This brave knight can never rest until he answer to this charge upon him. Sorat-Sym, if you will tell us where we may find the dragon’s lair, turn not to the forces of the undead, and harm no mortal who seeks no harm to you, I will pray for you and leave you this portal to seek your redress.”

“WAIT! You’re cutting deals with dead guys? You are nuttier than I thought!”

Sorat-Sym bowed. “I-I cannot vow by those who once blessed me. But you have my word as you ask. I am in your debt, good paladin.”

Jen tugged on Seven’s sleeve, and whispered into his ear. Seven flopped his hat to one side and shrugged. “I suppose a deal’s a deal, Jen. I’ve cut a few odd ones myself, in my time”. He stroked his sparse beard. “And, if the spirit is willing....”

by Duncan TKD

"Well Thane, what seer have say?"

"He said that I must find and slay a palidin by the name of Questin, my good ogre"

"Wont be dangerous?"

"Of course it will but that is all apart of the game is it not. Come now we break camp in three hours."

"Where we go?"

"We will go to the lair of the black dragon, Kishkamik. There we will ambush this paladin and his comrads." Thane looks over to the Ogre with an evil smil "Trust me."

by Rick LaRue

Back in the Mountains...

Silvarin lay face down on the ground, blood still leaking from his terrible wound. Tarquin stood above him protectively, trying to fight off the fatigue of the repeated spell casting. Nearby, the rest of the group was cautiously moving out from behind their rocky cover.

“Tacis and I will secure the perimeter, you see to Silvarin.” Dalros shouted to Delleia as he moved into the open. “Tacis! Take the right flank, I’ll take the left.”

“As you command.” she thought to herself, amused at the ranger’s tone. She moved towards her fallen friend and unslung her healer’s pouch from across her shoulder. Kneeling by his side, she looked up at Tarquin. “I will need your help.” His weariness was plain to see, and she requested his aid partly to get him to sit and rest a bit while helping her. “The others will guard us until I’m finished.”

“We need to remove the arrow before I can heal him. Here... hold this on the wound to slow the bleeding.” she said while handing him a clean white cloth.

The priestess quickly arranged her equipment, and began a survey of the patient. “I was afraid of this.” she said discouraged. “The arrow is lodged in a vital area. I cannot move it without killing him, but he will die unless it is removed.”

“Can’t you cut it out?” Tarquin asked.

“No, it is too close to his spine and too deep in his tissue. The damage I might do would be more than I could heal. He would still die.”

Tarquin removed his pack and rummaged through its contents. “Wait, I might have an answer.” He removed a thin bone scroll case and pulled off one end. Carefully, he removed and unrolled the contents and began to scan its surface. “Yes, this will work. Stand back, but be ready to apply pressure to the wound.” He grasped the shaft of the arrow and began to read the scroll. The words sounded like gibberish to Delleia, but as the mage finished each word, it took on the glow of a red hot coal on the page. With the last word spoken, the scroll burst into flame and was reduced to ash. At the same instant, Tarquin’s hand began to glow with the same errie reddish light. The glow spread to the arrow and within seconds, the arrow ceased to exist. Tarquin’s spell had completely disintegrated the offending arrow.

“Amazing!” she gasped, but quickly covered the now profusely bleeding wound with the blood stained cloth.

She wasted no time beginning her prayers to Terra, invoking the healing spells that would save her friend. Miraculously, the bleeding slowed, then stopped completely. In moments, the wound was nearly healed and Silvarin was stirring.

“Ooooh. What happened?” he moaned.

“You were struck by an arrow and almost died.” Tarquin said nonchalantly. “But that’s no reason to lie around complaining.”

Delleia smiled, happy her friend would be all right and amused by the mage’s comment. “You’ll be fine in a few days, but you’ll need some rest.” The priestess packed away her healer’s bag and tried to rise, an act she immediately regretted. The world spun around her and she began to fall. Tarquin, still weak himself, caught her in time, steadying her on her feet. “It appears we will all need some rest.”

In the rocks nearby, Dalros moved quietly through the night. His superior elven vision intensified the moonlight and made the darkness seem like a cloudy day. When he came upon the first of the attackers, he slowed his pace and ducked behind a rock outcropping while drawing his sword. Cautiously, he peered out. A gnoll lay on the ground, dead. Large pieces of hail lay on the ground around the body, unmelted in the cool night air. The ranger could not sense any movement nearby, and decided to step out of hiding to examine the scene. Another body lay draped over the rock a few yards away. Both creatures wore rough furs and scraps of armor. Their weapons consisted of a large stone axe, a club and two long bows. The bows struck him as odd in comparison to the crude axe and club, but the mage they sought had probably supplied the brutish creatures with the expensive weapons. He moved on.

As he stepped over the body of one of the creatures, something snapped beneath his boot. An arrow, broken in half, appeared beneath his heal. “So, not only were the attackers invisible, but the arrows as well, and separately at that.” he thought out loud. Kneeling, he felt around for others. In all, he found eleven invisible arrows between the two creatures. Taking a quiver from one of the gnolls, he dropped the arrows inside and slung it across his shoulder next to his own. He made his way past another three slain gnolls and collected a dozen more arrows.

Tacis had not appeared yet, and the ranger was growing worried. About three quarters of the way around the perimeter he found his companion.

by Kenneth Baggaley

As the late afternoon sun began to drop toward the dense treeline, the remounted adventurers began their departure from the tomb in the gully. Celentia was disturbed by Questin’s instructions; blessed objects were to be placed along the walls in an unbroken circle protecting the door; the door itself to be unblessed and left slightly open; Sorat-Sym’s weapons to be placed defensively where the undead had attacked. Clearly, she could see the paladin’s intentions, and though troubled, she had completed her tasks with all haste. In the reddening light, the outline of the dead knight’s mount could be seen, shaking yet stationary, at the top of the rise above them. As the party pulled away, the beast began its weak and dying walk down toward its repellent yet duty-bound place.

“Has all been done as you agreed?” Celentia’s voice betrayed the slightest hint of disapproval, perhaps even disgust. Questin offered her a consoling look. He then addressed the elven bowmen. “There is one task yet to do. Grimwood, have you the strength?”.

“Aye, Julianus”. Both elves, one astride his mount, the other sitting upright in the crowded cart, drew their bows with careful aim. The arrows had been blessed to reduce the pain. As the party drew off, and the ragged mount descended to level ground, both shafts let fly with simultaneous accuracy. The foaming mouth shot up for a second, startled, and then, its heart doubly pierced, the once-mighty beast crumpled to the earth and suffered no more. “It is now as he wished”, said Questin, steadying his own troubled steed as Celentia prayed beside him. The party breathed easier as the tomb disappeared from view over the next hillock.

It was a mostly silent party that traveled now, with a few exceptions. Gaerth could sense the tension as thick and heavy as the odor of leather in Fembil’s tanner shop back home. That tension had gotten progressively more dense throughout the journey, to the point of the physical manifestations notable now. Gaerth had made only one inquiry about it, to the only members who still talked freely, Gurmstahl and Boldo. In response, the usually chatty halfling grew tight lipped, and the taciturn dwarf offered a simple, accurate, one word summation:


Gaerth was struggling to understand. This was as powerful a party as he had ever seen. Any three of them could have held his entire town company at bay, if not defeat them outright. They had met a goblin night-ambush, and a troop of undead, with a furious yet almost casual precision that truly revealed their immense strength.

How could such an ensemble fear anything? Or, an even worse thought, what could be so powerful, so overwhelming, that it made this party (was it really true) feel fear? Just how incredibly terrifying and awesome it must be then , he thought, to face...a dragon!

He had asked Boldo about it, about Questin’s reputation, the party’s experience.

“Nobody but the bravest or most foolhardy paladin seeks out a dragon ... at least on purpose. Have you never seen a dragon then, trooper?”

“Once, I think. Flying high above our town. Everyone rushed out into the street and pointed up in terror and panic. Of course they called out the guard. We stood around, spears in hand and swords drawn, feeling pretty silly, straining our necks watching this spec in the sky pass over the town with a, sort of rhythmic beating of its tiny wings. It’s not like we really saw anything. Or like we could have done anything from that distance.”

“Hmm. You should pray well for that distance - and the dragon’s disinterest. Tell me, what have you learned from our encounters so far?”

“Learned? Well ...”

“Come come, human. You must have learned something. Of combat, perhaps?”

Gaerth thought hard. “Well, these things we encounter fight differently then humans.”

“Differently?” Boldo grinned with amused disdain. “Is that you analysis?”

“Well, for instance, the goblins didn’t understand my combat moves. I think my patterns were new to them, and they were curious and somewhat off-guard.” “Curious?” Boldo smiled. “You mean they toyed with you?”

Gaerth felt flush. “I mean they weren’t used to them. And they learned a lesson from it!”

Boldo flung his head back in silent, half-mocking laughter at the trooper’s defensiveness. “Ah, yes, I’m certain all Denagoth reels in terror now at the name of Gaerth. Come come, young man, what else?”

“Um ... they’re not very brave individually, and a little wild in their attack style. They’re strong enough, and fight okay, but don’t parry well, and don’t take good risks when attacking. They do a lot of shouting and gesturing to throw opponents off balance. And they seem to use pole weapons in wild attacks, rather than in effective defensive formations. More like individual attack fighters grouped together, than an effective group of fighters.”

Boldo looked seriously at the trooper for the first time. “Wwwellllll ...That’s pretty good, human. Now, what of the undead, Hmm?”

“That attack was strange. They weren’t too fast, and had an almost detached quality to their methods. They did fight in formation, and their moves were more familiar to me. They parried slowly but well, yet...”

“Yet what?”

“...yet they clearly had little regard for their own safety. When a fighter is alive, he fights to stay that way. I guess their style differed in that they had no such... such...”

“...limitation?” finished the halfling. “Yes, trooper, yes, you are quite correct. I am rather surprised. I thought you far more stupid then you seem so far. Pray, what know ye of magic?”

Gaerth put his head down. “I-I must confess I do not understand any of it.”

“Good”, nodded the halfling, “You’re learning to be honest instead of proud. That may just keep you alive a little longer than most.”

“Most?” Gaerth gave Boldo a quizzical look. “You expect me to die, then?”

Boldo raised his eyebrows. “Die? Of course! They always do.” Boldo closed his eyes and extended his furry hand to Gaerth. “My dear trooper, it is nothing personal. Most of us will die adventuring someday. It may be a gnollish knife, a blob of jelly eating your back out, a spell where all you see is the flash before you go.... it will always be something. In our many adventures, I’ve seen dozens of deaths - gruesome, valiant, wasted, sometimes even sadly comical. It’s part of the life we’ve chosen. Your death will come, too. And guaranteed, you will not be ready for it yet. You will expect it much later, but there it is, in front of you.”

Gaerth thought of Leonia. “I have good reason to stay alive”.

Boldo quickly grabbed his belt and pulled him forward. “Then go back to your soft bed in your quiet little town. Go back now. Where we are going...” he paused and grew grim “... is no place for those who want only to stay alive.”

Gaerth broke his grip. “You underestimate me, halfling.”

The halfling smiled. “No offense, human. We’ve buried better than you a few times already. However, I will give you some advice.”

Gaerth bend down as the Hin spoke in a calm, quiet cadence.

“Forget staying alive. You won’t manage it. I like you, and I wish you well, but you will certainly die.”

Boldo winked directly into Gaerth’s eye and tapped his cheek. “and when you do, for our sake, make it count, eh?.”

The Doctors can do nothing else, Julian. Go to your mother now. Go on, son, she’s expecting you.

Julian, my little hero. Come to me. Here, beside my bed. Do not cry, brave soldier. Soon I will be free of all pain. See, see the sparkle in my eyes? Does it not match the opals here upon my favorite necklace? I too shall continue to shine, little one, through you.

Be good to your father when I am gone, Julian. He took me in when all I had was lost. He gave me you. And now I give you back to him. Listen to him, Julian. He will train you well in sword and shield.

And know, my brave little knight, part of me will forever course within you. Oh, Julian! I know, I know it is hard to breathe. It is so because you have near your heart, within you, that part of me which shall forever keep you safe from harm. My milk has given you a great gift, Julian...a great gift.....a great

“...up, paladin! I’m trying to tell you something!” Questin shook off the noon slumber and sat up looking around. The party was remounting from the rest stop, and Gaerth stood fuming before him.

“What is it, good trooper?”

Gaerth placed himself square before the paladin. It was all so obvious now. There was more than mere tension in the camp. There was more to this than the prospect of facing a dragon, however daunting that might be.

No one in this camp expected him to survive!

Gaerth made his case, strong and plain, soldier to soldier. He cited his performance in battle so far, his strengths, how much he had learned - in fact, he made the strongest case he could, so loud and firm that only when he finished did he notice the others had circled around him.

“Give me the chance! I will prove worthy!”

Gaerth looked around the circle. Grimwood and Boldo were standing now, both apparently recovered enough from their wounds. Leonia met his glance with indifference. Gurmstahl still lay aboard the wagon, silent but listening. Only Hezkakal was smiling, that insulting, cocky smile he seemed to have been born wearing.

“Well” was all Questin said. He looked around the ring of silence. No one spoke up. He sighed - he would have to start.

“His bravery is unquestioned. We can use a fighter without fear.”

Boldo was next in line. “I like him, I really do. But it will be a burden to keep him alive. Let him stay with the grooms until he’s ready.”

Grimwood’s head stayed down. “He saved my life. I owe him. I guess if we let him down with us, I’ll get to return the favor.”

Seven stroked his beard. “He will need much, much-much magic to stay alive. Yes. Yes. But, I AM a wizard, aren’t I? Of course! Maybe I could help on that score! HA!” Hezkakal slapped his forehead and rolled his eyes.

Jen: “The Master is always wise on these matters. It is wise to agree”.

The pig grunted and shook its snout. Hezkakal pointed a finger. “HEY! Nobody asked you, Bacon-Butt!” The pig snorted back in defiance.

Mary: “No one cares what I think. So I don’t care either way.”

The ring turned to the wagon. Eyes closed, Gurmstahl shrugged. “Well, he’s not a halfling.” Boldo shot a hard glance at the wagon; the Dwarf smiled grimly.

Arrowheart crossed his arms. “He will be a fine adventurer if he lives. But dragons? I do not want my brethren occupied saving people instead of fighting.” He turned to Gaerth. “I am sorry, good trooper.”

Gaerth gulped hard. Leonia was next, and she stood, sword point twirling in the dust, staring in seeming absent-mindedness at the random patterns she was drawing.

“How long will I get to train him, Questin?”

“With Seven’s help, we will reach the lair in three days”.

Hezkakal laughed “With HIS help, we’ll be an appetizer at the Wyrmsteeth Inn in three days - char-broiled.”

Leonia cocked her head. “Three days. Phah!” she sheathed her sword and looked at the wagon. “Gurmstahl will not be ready. Well, he’s brave enough and seems willing to learn - at least when he’s awake.” She sighed. “Very well.” Gaerth felt himself breathe again.

Hezkakal shrugged. “Let him come along. While they’re killing him, I can steal something easier. ÔCourse that goes for all of you, too. And STOP smiling that Know-It-All smile at me, paladin!” Questin did not suppress his grin.

Celentia shook her head. “He is filled with passion and pride. It will be his undoing. He does not yet belong in the lair with us.”

Questin rose. “Only three against. Gaerth, may you never regret your decision today.”

“May WE never regret it.” She couldn’t resist that last dig, thought Gaerth. Questin looked into the clouded sky. “Let’s get moving.”

“Congratulations, human!” Boldo’s smile was warm and sincere. Gaerth began to acknowledge when the Hin finished “Just remember to make it count.”

by Qamlynch

"It be down here, govnuh!"

The old man wlaked them down the dark flight of stairs, into the deepest damp sewers of the city.

"they found em here, diggin a new line fer th' blockage ferther up"

The two dark figures followed to the brown waterline, their torches glowing off the black water.

"Here they be, as promsd!"

An ancient hand held forth the two foot long fragmnt. the dark figures grabbed it and turned it over and over agian.

"Bah! It cannot be the real thing. This isanother one of your hoaxes, Jek-manin."

"nooo. Nooo guvna! I've got em! real ones. Look close. Youll see. Them's real dragon bones."

the figures gave the object a second look.

"Pays pretty it does, mages loves 'em. These be real old, too. Good price fer me!"

The figures put the bone down carefully.

"and you say they found the entire sceleton intact?"

"Much's can be, much's can see. It's a beaut. Worht a lot, i recon."

The figures noded in agreement. "Who found it?"

"jes me an them four fellers in there diggin. split five ways. Keep your pricedown, too.

One of them picked up the bone. "we must return this to its place if all is to succeed."

Jem-manin looked conused. "Return it? no no ya sell em, don ya see? Good prices"

The figues began to spin there arms. Blue light surrounded their coverde heads.

"Hey tha dragon not be needin bones no more....right?..."

A short laugh burst forth. "Not be needing bones.."

Jem-manin felt funny, then watched as the bones within him evaporaetd into dust. his blob of shaking flesh lay on the sewr steps, eyeballs sticking up from the mass of gelatan he had become.

You and your freinds won't be needing bones, either."

"Do you now how old this beast is? of course you dont" and he slid the jelly mass into the black water, watching in sink bubbling beneth the cruddy surface.

"now, let the Great One fear. Let us visit our new- i mean our very old- friend."

by Kenneth Baggaley

“Now! Left! Parry left! I Said no NO!”

The sword flew from Gaerth’s hand into the air, spinning in the sunlight and landing point first in the dirt inches in front of Arrowheart - who lay calmly watching and eating an apple.

Gaerth turned away from Leonia and went to retrieve his sword. She hadn’t disarmed him often, but that one was too easy. Maybe all these days of training were beginning to take their toll.

He yanked the sword out of the ground while the elf munched happily.

“You didn’t even move”.

Arrowheart finished chewing and swallowed. “I was safe. You haven’t hit anything yet today.”

Gaerth turned back to Leonia. She too was looking tired, as well she should. Every morning, every rest stop, hours after camp had set, they had clanged swords in earnest study. The long hours riding were filled with strategic discussions, small team tactics which Gurmstahl or Grimwood would know by heart. Gaerth had only BEGUN to get the most rudimentary hand signals and commands to memory. He had thought he learned so much in the town barracks; some little of that still applied, but very little. He had learned well from his encounters, but could barely understand tactics discussed against beasts and monsters he had never even seen, or heard of only in legend. And none of the discussions had yet centered on dragons. It was as though they expected him to fight everything BUT dragons. Yesterday at dinner, in frustration, he had asked Gurmstahl what to do if he faced a dragon. The dwarf handed him a leg of mutton. “Hold this up and wait”, he said plainly,”... I like mine well done.”

Despite his acid humor, Gurmstahl was in fact a most valuable source of information on tactics. Bluff and straightforward, his style was easiest for Gaerth to match, though the trooper’s form had more “parade ground polish” as Gurmstahl called it. It was unfortunate that the dwarf could not yet lift ax and assist in his training. When he asked, Gaerth was told simply that dwarves do not take to magic like elves, and therefore he could not heal as quickly as Grimwood. Magic. Always magic. He would never get used to it.

“One more series” said Leonia, wiping her brow, “and we’ll saddle up and catch the others.”

Gaerth readied, and she stepped to the attack. Despite his Ôpolish’, he could still feel the effect of staring into those sharply beautiful eyes just before each contact. Once or twice, she stared back, pausing, then flashing her blade in that unique manner of hers. Her sword seemed an extension of her long athletic frame, doing her bidding as easily as someone might crook a finger. Like the wizard did when casting a spell, he thought. How lucky it would be to be that sword, to be a part of her, doing what she loved to do.

Despite his acceptance in the party, the tension in the camp continued to mount as they neared a bleak looking range of high, craggy hills. The dark clouds seemed to be circling more around them now, and he noticed Questin’s unspoken concern. The only lightness now came from Boldo, whose recovered health increased his desire to rib the dour dwarf, often with music.

“Thank you , thank you. And for my next selection, I will take requests. Anyone?”

Gurmstahl coughed. “Yes. Get wounded again.”

“Ah, wounds! Good subject! I, Boldo Fiddlecake, the finest bard in all Ringwise, will now perform, for the first time, my latest creation in honor of my noble friend. Having saved my life in perilous battle, I now record in song, for all posterity, in a mere 23 verses so far, the glory and praises of Gurmstahl One-Ear!”

The twang of the lute jarred a quick reaction from the reclining warrior. Instantly he thrust one hand to Grimwood’s dagger riding nearby, and pointing to his remaining ear, pleaded “For pity’s sake, elf, take this one, too.”

The lesson ended, and Gaerth still held his sword. Sweat ran heavily down both their faces. Leonia approached him shaking her head.

“You have got to stop being so formal. You’re not going to get that much time. And if don’t start varying your moves, you’ll be killed. Any prolonged battle with an intelligent monster, and you’ll be figured out and dead. “

“I have been varying my attacks.”

“I know, I’ve noticed. But you’ve got to do more. You’ve got to do the unexpected. Once those fancy attack patterns of yours fail, you’ve got to ...are you listening to me?”

Gaerth was absorbed into her eyes again, the tenseness in her shoulders, her hair...

“GAERTH! Listen to me! If I attack and you don’t surprise me, you’re dead! You’ve got to use surprise!”

A moment passed, face to face, and he shot his head down quickly and kissed her hard upon the lips.


The hilt of her sword against his temple sent him reeling to the ground, struggling to remain conscious. Leonia stood, eyes wide, panting in disbelief.

Arrowheart tossed the core aside and got up. “Well...he surprised you.”

She wiped her rough lips slowly back and forth, looking down at the trooper.

“Aye; he continues to.”

She sheathed her sword. “Help him mount. I’ll go ahead and join the others.” She walked quickly back to the horses.

Arrowheart strolled over and pulled the trooper to a sitting position. A cursory check into his crossed eyes, and the elf lifted the dazed man across his shoulders and shook his head.

“Still brave, and still stupid. How DOES this race survive?”


As Questin had feared, that night proved the most dangerous of the attacks. Gaerth slept close by the wizard, who lay still as sculpture in sound sleep. The light by which Jen read bothered him only slightly, for the long hours with Leonia had tired him out. Since his surprise, she had avoided discussion of it, and talked only briefly of battle plans working within the context of magic. Always magic. He saw magic only in her.

Three small dark funnels dove to the ground in quick silent order. Gaerth had just rolled over from Jen’s light when the funnel nearest him touched down. This time, he woke instantly and grabbed his sword.

Before he could stand, a tall beast with a face like a pig-man stepped out of the utter darkness. Jen turned to it and her pig rose, but a rapid gesture from the creature seemed to freeze them for an instant. Then pig and apprentice turned back to reading, as if nothing at all had happened.

This time, the training paid off. “ALARM! ALARM!” At the risk of his own safety , Gaerth screamed the proper signal and rose to meet his alerted attacker. A huge club appeared suddenly in the creature’s left hand. As it produced a vial in its right, Gaerth swung swiftly and the container flew off to the side. Gaerth rolled beneath the follow-up swing by the large club. The creature roared and spun around , as Gaerth still struggled to his feet. Damn, he still couldn’t recover half as fast as she did. “ALARM!” he raised his sword to parry the club, but the creature instead muttered some throaty nonsense. Gaerth was overcome with an irresistible wave of sleepiness. His sword-arm dropped to his side as his blurred vision saw the club descend across his body. He managed one feeble thrust as WUMP! The force of the blow drove him like a rag doll to the far grassy patch. Pain seemed mingled with tremendous weariness as he lay sprawled, shouts and sword-clashes in the distance somewhere. And why was Celentia Mera standing where the wizard had been? His heavy lids shut just as the advancing creature’s right eye popped out, two inches from its socket, suspended above its snout on the shaft of an arrow. Like toasting jelly fish over a beach fire, thought Gaerth dreamily, as sleep drowned out the screams of pain from the falling creature. Then all was black.

He awoke to the incredible pain in his left ribcage. Above him, Celentia tended to his side with intense earnest. He looked around; it was nearly dawn, and members of the party seemed to be moving everywhere in the gray shadowy light. Whatever she was doing, it was helping, but not fast enough. He tried to move, and her cool hand stilled him.

“Lay and be well, good warrior.” It was advice could not help but follow.

A few minutes later, Questin and Boldo walked up where he lay.

“Hail, Gaerth. Well done. We’ve just finished reporting.”

“I wasn’t invited?”

Boldo smiled. “You weren’t conscious. You’ve got a broken rib, human.” The halfling looked closely at the Priestess. “He DOES still have it, doesn’t he?”

She smiled at Boldo. “He is young, and heals quickly. It will be well by tomorrow.”

Tomorrow! No break heals that quickly, he thought. Then he remembered; magic. He would never get used to magic.

Wait! Tomorrow? That means he would not be ready to enter the lair!

“I’m still going down into the lair with you tonight!”

Questin crouched down and smiled at him. “No you are not. None of us are.”

“We’re calling off the mission?”

The paladin laughed. “Hardly, my friend. The evil forces have picked up our advance. This night’s attack was part of their new tactics. We’ll have to approach a different way. Seven is working out the details now. It will delay us two or three more days, but that will be long enough for you to heal.”

Gaerth looked up into the kind face of the priestess. “I thought I saw you - standing where the wizard had been - just before I fainted.”

Boldo spoke. “ A sleep spell. Very effective on inexperienced fighters. You’ll learn some methods against them, in time”.

Gaerth tried to affect the cold professional detachment of Leonia. “What say the reports?”

Questin smiled again, and Gaerth felt foolish. But the paladin continued. “Three assassins, specially constructed, I would guess. Possessed a few magic tricks, using them in a suicide attack. Sending armies after our decoys got too difficult, so they specialized, a few pinpoint attacks at random power sources. The closer we got to our destination, the easier we were to target.”

“Why is everybody smiling so much?”

The paladin touched Gaerth’s shoulder. “You were a true hero last night, good trooper. The silent attackers almost got in on us again. Your alarm alerted Seven and myself, and we quickly dispatched our two assailants.”

“My alarm didn’t raise the wizard... I saw him sleeping like a rock.”

Questin turned to Celentia and then back to Gaerth. “No, trooper. You THOUGHT you slept near the wizard. We felt disguises were in order even within our own camp. You were actually in the company of Celentia Mera . Seven looked like her, to one attacker’s fatal surprise. They naturally wasted the wrong spells in both cases.”

“And the one who attacked you...?”

“...Should have known better. Accomplished paladins, if you will forgive me that phrase, have certain advantages against magic.”

Boldo beamed. “Cut him up like the last of the mutton two days ago!”

Gaerth inhaled deeply despite the pain. A hero! He had done well...would she know?

“Was anyone lost?”

All the smiles melted away. Questin rose to his feet.

“Arrowheart took a dagger into his back. That’s why your alarm saved us. Leonia took a few hard blows from a club, like you.”

Gaerth grabbed Celentia’s arm.

“Go to her! Heal her now!”

The priestess lowered the trooper’s hand with gentle firmness. “She has nothing broken, good warrior. She will recover swiftly. Arrowheart was tended earlier, and will require my attention again. But he also will recover.”

Gaerth felt fatigue overcoming him again. This time, it took no spell to shut the eyes of the party’s newest hero. His dreams that day were easy to imagine.

The two days passed quickly, and recovery seemed rapid for everyone but the unlucky Gurmstahl. Gaerth learned that the dwarf was fortunate not to have been killed outright by the blows he took - Boldo said his head was too hard to ever crack - and that his slow recovery was less amazing than his being alive at all. The dwarf passed his time now sitting up, hammering away at his fine runed helmet. He was tinkering with an ear guard, and some device which would fit properly over his other mangled opening. Dwarves always liked to tinker with armor, it seemed. Even in convalescence.

He had many occasions to speak with Leonia, and the conversations were short but cordial. She was more subdued, no doubt because of the injuries still being healed. One morning, as they rode on, he was bold enough to say to her “You look beautiful this morning, sweet lady.” Leonia ran her hand along her chainmail shirt, as if acknowledging the horror beneath.

“You have seen enough to know better, trooper.”

He smiled with all the warmth of his passion within. “I have seen enough to know.” And nodding, rode on to the head of the party.

Seven was making new portals and they were moving about to new camps, so all sense of bearings were lost to Gaerth. He did learn that Questin had slain two dragons, a old black and a very young red one (the significance of color was lost on him), and had caused the flight, or at least stopped the attacks by, three others. He did not, by legend at least, slay indiscriminately. Gaerth did not know if this was Boldo’s literary license, fact, or somewhere in between ,but they made for thrilling story that Questin himself shunned. Hezkakal suggested the paladin bored all dragons into leaving his presence.

The day before the final portal to the dragon’s lair, the tension returned fourfold. Mary had a hot one-sided argument with the friendly wizard, clearly losing again in her request for tutelage. Boldo had stopped singing. Arrowheart, Leonia and Gaerth had all recovered as good as before, but no training was continued. Either they think I know enough already, thought the trooper, or there is nothing more I can learn in time. A sober dinner on the last of the supplies was eerie in its silence. They would step through that portal tomorrow morning , and face the most feared adversary of all. Tomorrow, there be dragons. The elves took the final watch, as every adventurer parted for sleep with the same, somber phrase: “Die well tomorrow, friend.”

The stars competed with each other that night for radiance across the evening sky. Only the silent elves on watch seemed to move among the sleeping figures below.

Gaerth startled from his sleep feeling the touch upon his chest. Blindly he reached for his sword, only to have his wrist pinned to the ground in an iron grasp. An open hand held firmly against his chest. Helpless, he looked up and saw, outlined against the stars, a shock of long, dark hair.


With a short smile, she released his wrist, kneeling beside him, and he withdrew his arm. Her palm against his chest lessened a bit, and moved slightly from left to right, right to left.

“I ... I thought you might be a goblin.”

Her eyes stared vacantly into his chest. “If a goblin got this close,” she moved down toward him “you wouldn’t be alive.”

He reached up. Her soft cotton shirt hung loosely on her taut frame, blowing slightly in the mild night breeze. The whiff of moist mint drifted ever so gently in the dark blue air, clinging to her like an aura of incredible, magical power. His hand ran carefully along the curveless and mottled sinews against her ribs.

“You are being brave again.” Leonia took his hand and intermixed it within her long callused fingers. She looked down upon herself, and brought his hand to her chest. He could feel the strong heart beating beneath the tight scarred muscles.

“Not so very beautiful now, am I? Speak honestly.”

Gaerth was never good with words in such situations. “I speak poor but true,” he lifted his hand to her chin, “I doubt there be more beautiful forms in all the coral castles of Ierendi.” It was a phrase from one of Boldo’s songs, but he meant every word of it.

The slightest of smiles crossed a corner of her mouth as she tossed her hair back in a smooth, flowing motion. Gaerth watched it cascade back across her shoulders, the slipping shirt revealing the barest hint of those terrible marks around her.

“How came you by them?” Gaerth could not think what else to say.

She sighed long and wearily, “It is a story...” he felt her strong thighs press hard against his legs, arching over him with power and intent “...for another night.”

She bent her head toward him, and the stars disappeared in a canopy of auburn tresses, weathered lips pressed to his. Her head rose and he thought he saw in her star-like eyes what she had doubtless witnessed for so very long in his.

“My sweet lady, I do not think you so....”

A rough finger crossed his open mouth. “If you will shut up,” she said as her body coiled round him with growing warmth and desire, “tomorrow we may yet die happy.”

Grimwood’s race toward the odd night sounds was interrupted by Arrowheart’s firm clasp upon his shoulder. Both paused and listened. Grimwood’s eyes widened.

“By Ilsundal’s branches, she’s killing him in his sleep!”

Arrowheart’s smile grew so broad the curves neatly accented the points of his ears.

“May Immortal Valerias grant him so beautiful a way to die.”

Grimwood looked at Arrowheart, then back toward the sounds, then back at Arrowheart. Then slowly back toward the sounds. He shook his head with a curled sneer on his mouth. “That is so, totally....human.”

And both bowmen continued off into the dark on their appointed rounds.

by Qamlynch

The two dark figures slid the last of the four jellyed figures into the black water of the sewer. Eyeballs pleaded as brain, luings and heart beat inside the jelly. The figures pushedhe last remaining workman into the cruddy water.

Only bubbles remained.

The taller fugre asked "is it all here?' as they looked at the half undug skeleton.

the short one shook its head undre its hood. "Almost. We will need help."

"go. Inform Fenwick. Summon the council. Let them know we found it."

A flash of blue light, and the short figure dsappeared.

The tall figure took out a small scroll and read it. A wall appeaed where they entered. The bones were safe.

The taller figure kneel down, ran its hand along the large wide rim of the empty eyesocket of the half buried skull.

"Soon. Soon."

(any one want to take thes story farther? I just like starting them...) = )

by Kenneth Baggaley

Julian, stop blaming yourself. You were away at the temple when they broke in. It’s not your fault he died.

Listen, Julian, I’ve been a friend of your father’s a long time. He was a former Imperial soldier. If HE was overpowered by those robbers, you would have probably simply died by his side. The attackers may not all have been human, even. You could not have changed this outcome.

Julian, Julian, stop such crazy talk. Revenge is too expensive a luxury for a ... Julian, where are you going? Wait, listen to me...

Well, young man, I can’t give you much for all this... it might buy you the beginnings of some equipment. Say, is that necklace for sale? Those look like real... Hey! Just asking. Yeeesh! Its just a couple of opals...a couple of opals...a

“Company up!” The elves call coincided with the cool overcast rising of the amber sun. Questin clutched at the lump in his chest until his breathing returned to normal.

Gaerth woke alone and began at once to gird for battle. Breakfast would be light, as the last of the food had been eaten the night before. Hezkakal’s asides about the pig notwithstanding, most of the party ate Jen’s strange concoctions in a telling silence. Leonia joined the group with a flat “Hail”, as expressionless as she had any other day along their journey. Her short nod was polite and even friendly to Gaerth - a sharp contrast to their exchanges, verbal and physical, that starry evening just passed. Gaerth followed her lead: perhaps this was the way of the warrior, after all.

Questin had no fancy speech for the party, to the trooper’s surprise. The paladin repeated his rules of their mission, Hezkakal scoffing just barely audible at each mention of no stealing and no unprovoked attacks. “Yeah, and help little old ladies across the marketplace, too” he said in his deepest sarcastic voice.

Still Questin smiled at him. This was so odd, thought Gaerth. No matter how negative the reaction, how caustic the comment, the paladin always seemed to be saying Ôbut I know you better’ in silent response. And Hezkakal always became furious at the unspoken rebuff.

“Let us take our tokens and begin.” Tokens? Gaerth looked around puzzled. Boldo caught his look and walked to his side.

“It is a custom, trooper. Every person in the party gives one token to some other as a bond. Especially” the Hin pulled his cloak tight “on missions such as this.”

“B-but I have no tokens.”

“Nonsense, human. Everyone does.”

“What - what constitutes a token?”

Boldo glanced behind Gaerth and grinned “You’re about to find out”.

The trooper spun to see Seven standing before him smiling. His twitching fingers clasped something he extended outward.

“Be safe and carried from harm, Gaerth Tyrian.” The active fingers opened to reveal what looked like a piece of blue fabric. It was too small to even wipe his brow.

“I have no sense of magic, mage.”

Seven’s head bobbed like an apple in a rain barrel. “Yes, of course I know that. No need to remind me.”

“No, I mean what...”

A tap on his shoulder turned the trooper to facing Celentia. Her look was more concern and gentle reproach than warmth. “I give thee my prayers, trooper Gaerth. Control thy pride and thy passion. Hold true to the lawful and the good.”

“Two tokens out of eleven!” Hezkakal laughed. “I guess everyone knows who needs the most help around here, eh soldier?” The thief turned to Leonia. “My fair lady steel-face, will you make it three? Have you no token for our dear lovesick dragon-fodder?”

Leonia gave an expressionless, professional, yet knowing look at Gaerth.

“He has my token.”

Gaerth eyed the party, expecting a reaction to Leonia’s statement. Instead, only the two elves showed the faintest hint of acknowledgment. Others went about their token giving. Even Hezkakal had turned to Mary, their shared looks deep in earnest concern. The pig came up behind the female halfling and snorted hard, blowing a spray of misty yellow onto the back of Mary’s vest. As she turned in anger and disgust, the pig grunted, nodding, and walked away.

Gaerth went up to Grimwood. As he passed Leonia, he saw Jen hand her a small clear crystal on a light yet strong chain. “The Master has said this will hold what you will not keep, and what you will never lose.”

Gaerth briefly saw his own broken reflection in the facets as he passed by. More magic riddles. Always magic. He would never understand it.

Gaerth faced Grimwood. “Good elf, You honor me by saying you owe me your life. I now give back that charge to you. I will fight with companions, not debtors. The debt is paid.”

The party seemed to react favorably, and Gaerth felt pleased. Grimwood grasped his shoulder. “Well said, trooper Gaerth. But it’s already gone.”

Gaerth’s twisted brow made Grimwood give a friendly smirk. “I downed the beast that moved in to kill you three nights ago. But thank you anyway.”

Once again, Gaerth felt foolish. The rest of the party seemed satisfied, but Gaerth knew he had a token yet to give. Seven was opening the portal, and the group was gathering close for the passage. He looked at Leonia. Every indication from her so far had suggested treating last night as a token, and he did not wish to anger her. Yet, time was drawing short. He touched her arm.

“Sweet lady, I know you will not take what I most desire to give. Then by Valerias, I hereby vow to you my sword and my life, as a comrade-in-arms.”

The beautiful face framed its now familiar half-smile. “Thank you, Gaerth.” The tone was as casual as if he had offered her a biscuit around the campfire - but it was enough, he thought. So be it.

Hezkakal and Questin stood at the front of the widening tunnel of light, as was expected. First would go the one who could best discover and disarm the traps. Next would follow the one who could best survive them. Questin turned to the thief. “I saw you share tokens. Did you tell her, Hez?”

“What are you babbling about, noble-knees?”

“She has a right to know, Hez. Beforehand.”

“Hey, nice try, paladin. I’m not falling for your county faire guessing games. I’m here to rob some treasure, and you know it. AND STOP SMILING AT ME!”. The tunnel was now bright and whirling, as Mary stepped up to Hezkakal’s side. Questin turned to the party and drew his sword.

“Die well, my friends.”

And one by one, the group plunged into the magic spiral of light.


Coming out of the light, the first impression Gaerth had was that he had stepped into the jaws of some enormous demon. It was hot and moist, with stale windless air and pitch blackness. The odors of mold and bat droppings created an odd sour perfume-like scent. The rocks brushing his upper legs rose like monstrous teeth from the cave floor. He had been in tunnels before. He had chased bandits down what seemed like rabbit holes compared to this. And yet, despite the echoes that suggested huge open spaces, it was clear even in this darkness that the actual space was narrow. A tight, almost clammy feeling ran all along the opening. Gaerth could not help but wonder: how could a beast as large as a dragon was supposed to be EVER fit down such a tunnel?

No one lit any lights. Instead, each party member touched lightly on the back of the member in front. At the front of the line, just behind the thief and Questin, Arrowheart with his ability to see in the dark scanned for danger. Grimwood did the same at the back of the group. Gaerth walked between Leonia to his front and Grimwood behind. He cursed under his breath as his boots

constantly found rough and rocky footing. Apparently, something in Questin’s visor made him able to see. Hezkakal was being aided by some magic from Mary. Otherwise, he had no idea how they could see anything.

Distance and direction are nearly impossible to determine in the dark...for human senses. It seemed to Gaerth that the party was on a slow decent, relatively straight with the occasional blind turn or sharp drop. But otherwise the path underfoot was direct if uneven. He noticed one thing also; they never changed direction, not once. Often, the line would stop, and some muffled activity occurred at the front. Sometimes a snap or crack was heard, or the movement of rock, and a short rapid echo plunged ahead into the darkness. The party would then move forward again, Leonia directing his step around something as it had been directed to her, Gaerth mimicking the move to the visually unencumbered elf.

No large dragon could enter here, Gaerth concluded. Either this was a tunnel for a smaller beast, a ventilation shaft of some sort (yet no air flowed), or it was a passage meant for or dug by others. As to who those others might be, he had no idea.

Suddenly the party stopped in silence. Further down the tunnel, the sound of movement, with heavy vibrations and some deep, sinister exhaling, flooded toward them. As eyes had begun adjusting to the dark, Gaerth could see the slightest light from somewhere down and to the left. The glow silhouetted the outlines of other party members, and betrayed just how narrow, twisted and rocky the tunnel walls in fact were. It was a wonder no one had fallen in the dark.

The sounds grew louder. Clearly, they constituted the breathing of some very large animal. The glow grew a bit brighter as they waited. Finally, Gaerth could see Questin signal the move forward. Carefully, the party inched toward the light and the monstrous sounds.

They seemed to reach an area leading to a large opening when Hezkakal stopped. Everyone froze. Gaerth saw him look around suspiciously, eyeing the rock walls to his right above his head; his eyes had a slight reddish glow to them. The thief appeared troubled about the light at the opening. He looked down and stamped his foot several times, as if crushing ants, or uncertain about the very ground itself. The noises of the beast continued in an almost uniform hum, apparently from the lighted chamber just beyond.

“It’ doesn’t make sense.” Hezkakal was half-whispering to Questin, and it carried back to the party. “Something about these rock formations. I’ve done a lot of tunnels, and this isn’t natural. Based on the grain, and the, the sweep of the marks, here. And here again. There should be openings up to our right. And this chamber...”

“What about it, Hez?”

“ can’t, or it shouldn’t be...I don’t know, but something...”

Questin turned to the wizard.

“Yes, yes, there is magic here. If you want I can...”

A raised hand stopped him. The paladin neared Hezkakal.

“Show me where the opening SHOULD be.” Hezkakal pointed to a thick looking outcropping just above their heads on the right. It appeared dense and cluttered in fungus.

“Let’s go”. The party advanced directly toward the wall of rock. Gaerth was confused. Were they just going to walk through it?

Suddenly, a deafening roar pierced the tunnel, resounding off the narrow walls and almost knocking the party over. The stone in front of them evaporated like mist, and the chamber behind them vanished into darkness. Now, instead of facing a wall of rock, a dull light filled the chamber, and rising before their eyes, a few feet in front of them, up, up a long thick ribbed neck , was the snarling face of red eyes, flaying tongue, and huge teeth....a black dragon!!

“Cover!!” Someone shouted, and several members started to leap aside.

“NO!” Questin’s voice command was somehow obeyed. The party stood, frozen, close enough to feel the hot breath blow through their hair. Gaerth stared in amazement. The face of the beast was huge, but not as big as he expected. It didn’t move much, except for the rather thin tongue. The eyes blinked, but didn’t seem to focus on any member in particular. It reminded him of a large ornate snake. He lifted his sword. Where would one BEGIN to strike so huge a creature, he wondered?

A moment of stillness, and then the dragon’s mouth curled deeply from the corners, flew open, and from a guttural sound deep within built a crescendo of fury that burst out at the party in a wall of flame! He felt Leonia shudder as the point blank wall of flame fell upon them.

“HOLD!” shouted Questin, who could be seen walking - WALKING - through the fire storm toward the ribbed belly. The fire struck the party in full force, bathing them in intense heat and an overpowering reddish light. Is this how I die, Gaerth wondered?

And then it was over. The dull light remained before them, but the dragon was gone. GONE! Gone also were the sensations they had felt so strongly seconds before - heat, vibration, beast sounds, even the flame. Now, there was only the opening, leading to a wider chamber above them, and Questin Julianus walking boldly ahead into it.

The party scrambled up after him. Gaerth topped the ridge to see Questin effortlessly deflect a small spear with his shield. A stone bounced harmlessly off his armor.

The party reached the top and gazed out across the chamber. The smallest of cooking pots, utensils and equipment seemed strewn about the flat cavern floor. A tiny camp! Questin was standing twenty yards or so in front of a low ridge. After several seconds of silence, a small dwarf-like creature popped up from the ridgeline, shaking his fist at them and screaming in bad common:


And with that venting, a stream of small figures, dirty conical hats wobbling humorously along near the floor, sped up the cavern side away from the party and out of sight. The screaming creature gave one final gesture (Gaerth assumed it to be rude rather than magical) and hurried up after his fellows. The paladin raised his hand to stop Grimwood’s drawn arrow from impaling him to the wall.

“Gnomes” said Arrowheart. Gaerth watched Leonia’s shoulders drop in relief as she exhaled. She hurried by and he could see the sweat streaming down those perfect cheeks. Finally, he realized, here was something that she feared, and feared more than he did. He held out his hand. No shaking. Maybe I am more stupid than brave, he mused.

Questin addressed the party. “We needn’t worry about them for a while. I think they exhausted a lot of magic for our benefit back there. But we now know a few things. First, we’re not alone; others are after the treasure in this lair. Second, some of them at least haven’t found it. Third, at least one other party besides the gnomes and us must be here - remember they screamed ÔTold You’, as if they’d addressed us before.”

“Fourth, no dragon is currently living here, or those tinies would be toast.” As he talked, Hez was already searching through the miniscule tools at the camp. He casually avioded the booby-trapped box near the fire, as if its obviousness was matter-of-fact to him. “And so would any other parties, including maybe ours.” The thief seemed emboldened by the revelations, and continued his scavenging.

Questin kicked a stone in his direction and motioned for the party to move on. This time, the way was lit by light from Jen and upon the pig’s snout. The chambers seemed to be getting bigger and smoother, thought Gaerth; and he wondered if he alone, among the group, found comfort in that development.

by Duncan TKD

"Thane, they know we here," said a big Ogre.

"So what if they do It will not help them. Ashkoth, first release a fire ball from your stick and then while we occupy Questin try to break into his mind." Thane turns and looks at the goblins that he brought along. "Shoot at any of them you wish, but remember if you kill Questin I will cut each and everyone of your hearts out with a Spoon."


"Kill them all" Thane Yells as there party approaches Questin's from behind. His surprise attack didn't quite take the heros by surprise.

It was a fierce battle many of the goblins were killed but several members of Questin's party were also injured. The worst blow to Thane was that of his Ogre Lieutenant dieing by the hands of Grimwood, but Grimwood too was baddly hurt by the ogre's blows. Finnally Thane's forces retrieted but how long they would be gone was unknown.

by Kenneth Baggaley

What is the meaning of this? You! How dare you intrude bearing arms! This is a Holy Temple of Frey! Desist, by my Immortal lord’s command!

Unhand him! What? How do you know he has committed this crime? Ah! Then it is a matter for the authorities. And those two you say confessed...where are they? You have killed them! Then, my son, in this priest’s fading eyes you have accomplished nothing....

They have taken him, Julian, as I promised they would. If he is guilty of your father’s murder as you say, he will be tried and executed by law. It must always be by the law.

Julian, my son, listen to me. You must put aside this vengeance that eats at your heart. If you take action before you think, if you fight without intelligence, you will be no better than them. In your revenge, you have killed two who could have told you more. Two who could have spoken against this third you captured - and could have led you to the others. Now, you will be charged with their murder. See the price of vengeance!

The way of the warrior must be tempered: fighters must be strong and determined, but cool and thoughtful. The battle best won is won with the fewest blows.

You will stay within this temple, here, at the very altar you nearly struck down the third.

The authorities cannot take you here. I allow you to stay alone for three days, to fast and pray, and think upon the vengeance that kills you with each blow you strike. Pray for your answer...

Ah, my son, you bring joy to the heart of this aged priest! Thou must never turn from this path, my son. Thou must needs forever put aside thy revenge which else possess thee. Julian and his vengeance are now dead. My Immortal lord Frey hath offered thee a new life, my son; a rebirth. By mine prayers and thy vision, thou art henceforth reborn to the name Questin Julianus, sworn to the faith. Go now, my son. Present thyself to the authorities and see justice to him thou took’st. Do thy penance, and go as Frey hath directed thee.

And should our lord someday grant thee power over those whom Julian woulds’t slay, thou must submit them to justice and law. It is the only way....the only way....the


“He is bewitched! He does not move! Questin! QUESTIN!” The paladin awoke standing, sword in hand. Before him lay the bodies of three goblins; behind him ran cries of pain and anger, punctuated by Leonia’s fiery voice “To me! To me!”

Questin turned around and saw behind him the chaos of battle just completed. His party was struggling to return to order, grouping around Leonia’s raised sword, which trickled thick ogre blood down across her own bleeding forearm. In front of him were Jen and Seven. The wizard had an arrow sticking straight through him, and a throwing ax embedded in his shoulder. Yet he stood as if they were mere brambles attached to his robe. The three paced quickly down the chamber toward Leonia. “Report.”

“Goblins, about fifteen or twenty from what we saw, led by a few ogres. Attacked mostly from the rear, ten or more. A few charged you in front, some type of suicide mission I guess. The shaman was in the front, and directed something toward you. You....”

Leonia paused, almost embarrassed to go on. Questin could see the blood pumping hotly from her lowered arm, mixing with the ooze around it in a hissing steam.

“Go on, Leonia”.

She looked harshly into his eyes. “You froze. You stopped fighting.”

Questin swallowed hard, trying not to show concern. The flash of light, the distracting attacks - and then the flood of dreams...

“He was bewitched. Some enchantment got through. Can you tell us what it was, Paladin?” Jen’s natural calmness took some edge from Leonia’s fury.

“Later, Jen. Report. Casualties?”

Leonia spun around in seeming disgust. “’d better come look for yourself.” She stared at the impaled wizard. “Is it bad?”

The wizard’s eyes looked up to the side in thought and he shook his head. “No no no, I think Questin will be fine. But we should determine what spell...”

“No - no. I mean you. Are you okay?”

“Hmm? Why yes, thank you for asking. I’m a little concerned for our progress, but...”

“YOU’VE GOT WEAPONS IN YOU!!” Leonia was in pain and no mood for Seven’s confused exchanges.

The wizard looked down. “Oh, oh yes, you mean these.” He touched the ax and it fell away, leaving no mark except a cut in his sleeve. He then grasped the arrow. “Odd. Flecka feathers. I thought they used, oh, what’s it called, the bird with....” a glance at Leonia told him not to go on. Seven jerked his head, and the arrow disintegrated. The warrior sneered. “Not even any blood”.

“Well, none of them really got close enough to bleed on me, I mean, I...” but the warrior and Questin were already back toward the tunnel path.

The attack had been sudden, and Grimwood had met it well. His first arrow dropped a goblin in the throat. Gaerth formed rank and met the charge as the elf sought high ground. He parried the first attacker, and to his side Boldo had drawn weapon and was fighting rather well from between two stalagmites. The trooper remembered the training - Ôdon’t break rank or let them through’- and he held his ground as a second attacker met him. Then he felt the cut across his thigh, and he stumbled back. Two thrusts at his boot failed to cut him, but caused him to shift his balance to one foot. A third goblin crashed into his shield, and as Gaerth’s sword cut into this new attacker’s ribs, the weight pushed him over with a hard fall against the rocky floor.

Somehow, he held on to his sword and shield. One goblin jumped over him - he recalled the awful smell from underneath as it went by - and another bashed the edge of his shield aside with an ax, driving his shield arm open and flat against the floor. A clawed foot stepped on the inside of his shield, trapping his arm in the shield straps and leaving him exposed staring up at a dark-robed goblin, sword poised to finish him. Coolly Gaerth parried the downward thrust, causing it to glance off his leather armor and cut him deep on his side below the ribs. The angered goblin struck downward at his head, and Gaerth gambled a thrust into its loins. The goblin sword missed his head but struck hard on his shoulder, cutting the leather through to his bone, but going no further. His sword spewed the thick foul blood of the goblin’s innards, who screamed and fell backwards away from him. As he struggled up, He saw a new type of creature - so this was an ogre - tall, decked in fine armor and a brilliant red ax, stagger forward with two arrows in him, under his arm and through a small gap in the armor on his side. Grimwood had aimed well. Suddenly screams came from several directions. He saw Boldo fall as Leonia leapt from nowhere to drive off the attacker. Getting to his feet, Gaerth heard a wild goblin howl above him. In horror he watched Grimwood tumble awkwardly down the outcropping toward him. He caught the body’s fall against his shield, and searing pain shot out from his cut shoulder. He fell to the floor again next to his shrieking comrade. Lifting his sword, he watched Mary hurl blasting globes - could she do that? - at the retreating horde that lit the entire chamber. Then, as the glow faded from her assault, the howling mass disappeared into the tunnel. It was over.

Mary and Hezkakal helped the bleeding Boldo to the side of Grimwood. The elf was silent now, a peaceful look on his graying face runed with sweat. Boldo’s features flushed with horror as he looked down. Celentia Mera’s prayers were spilling fast and furious as she laid a cloth and several objects on the elf’s chest, head and leg. She clasped her hands o•ver his heart. Her eyes met Questin’s: no words were needed. Gaerth could see in Arrowheart’s expression a sorrow that was all too common in human terms. Elves faced it less often, with their fewer numbers and longer lifespan’s, and that must make death in battle so much worse for them. A dying human soldier loses twenty, thirty, maybe forty more years of life at most. By contrast, an elf loses an eternity.

A tear rolled down the face of the priestess, whose age was now written clearly in her soft thin temples and sagging cheeks. Seven stepped forward, preoccupied by inquisitively pushing his finger through the hole in his robe where the arrow had been.

The group’s silence was broken by Boldo’s hoarse cracking plea. “Can nothing be done, then?”

Seven was wiggling his finger in the whole, as if sizing the repair job. “Well, I could try sewing it from the inside...”

“You fool!” screamed Hezkakal in his face, “He’s dying!”

“ mean Grimwood? Of course of course, yes anybody can see that, my my.”

Leonia drew her sword and in an instant placed it’s red edge against the mage’s throat.

“Do something if you can, ÔWizard’, or your bumbling ends here!”

Seven popped his finger out of the whole and placed it on the tip of her blade. Despite her tensed muscles, he lowered her sword like a feather and sighed. “Well, Jen, I suppose we could, you know, um...”

Jen nodded. “The master is wise and just.” The pig stepped between them, and both bent eagerly over the large book.

“You must hurry”. Celentia Mera’s voice was grim and quiet. Grimwood’s breathing grew shorter and lighter. Leonia lifted her sword again. “HURRY!”.

Seven made a face of exasperation. “Oh, very well, if we must...” And the mage roughly tore a page from the ancient tome. The pig squealed as if hair had been ripped from its back. The wizard, in apparent disgust, crumpled the page into a wrinkled tan ball and threw it at Grimwood’s body. “There!”

POOF! with a flash a cloud of tan smoke covered the elf, and all backed away. When it cleared, Grimwood lay encased in a clear multifaceted chamber. He seemed completely motionless. Boldo staggered forward and tapped the side. “A crystal coffin? Is this the range of your magic?”

The wizard waved his hand in dismissal. “It will hold.” Celentia wiped her face and rose. “He is suspended for now.” The priestess then immediately turned to Boldo, whose fine clothes were ruined by the dark saturation of his blood. Questin came forward to Leonia, who motioned with her head to Gaerth. “Him first.” The paladin knelt beside the trooper. “Gaerth, do you believe what we do is for the lawful and the just, and not for personal gain?”

Hezkakal smirked. “Sure has been more prophet than profit, so far.”

Gaerth nodded. “I do, Questin Julianus.”

Questin laid his hands on Gaerth’s side. “Then let your faith in the Immortals of Law and Justice heal you.” The trooper could feel an incredible, searing warmth from the large, strong hands. Funny: it seemed his shoulder hurt more than his side now.

While being healed, Gaerth listened in the dim light as the party reassembled itself.

Leonia: “What now can we do for Grimwood?”

Hez: “Wait for a handsome prince to come by?’

Seven: “He will stay there until we take him out.”

Arrowheart: “Can’t you transport him to the camp?”

Seven: “Yes I can. .............................oh, what’s your point?”

Leonia: Transport him, then!”

Jen: ÔThe Master is wise to consider the dangers.”

Mary: She’s right, I can tell. There’s a lot of magic in here. Could be dangerous.”

Hez: ÔWorse than this perpetual wake?”

Arrowheart: “What if the goblins take him?”

Seven: “No matter. Their magic cannot break the seal.”

Boldo: “That’s not the - ummph! - point. We might not be able to find him!”

Seven: “Neither will the goblins (the pig snorts) bless you.”

Hez: “Sure. Like they’re gonna walk right by....”

The thief’s voice trailed off as everyone looked. The case, and Grimwood, had vanished into the rock.

Gaerth felt better, although rising reminded him all was not healed. Questin had gone to Leonia. The priestess walked up to the assembled party.

“The halfling should not go on with us.”

There was a stunned silence around the group.

Leonia stepped forward, as if to challenge the statement. Questin’s hand on her simmering wound stopped her.

“As you say, priestess.”

The party began its saddened climb back through the chamber where the ambush occurred. Concern was heavy for the halfling, who would have to lie still and survive on his natural Hin abilities. Each passed him in line. Mary gave a bracelet to Boldo with a few words; he nodded a thank you. One of Celentia’s charms lay with him. Sword drawn, the little bard smiled to Questin as they exchanged promises. As Gaerth passed, the trooper said simply “Make it count, my friend.” The glint in Boldo’s eye made the him smile. The party turned up the rise, and the pig gave a backward glance, squealed, and a wall of invisibility covered the reclining singer. Boldo hummed something in his head as the torchlight, framing Arrowheart’s bowing, forlorn silouhette, disappeared into the chambers beyond.

“Wa yu see, Ashkoth? See sumfin at all?”

Orc shaman rasp fingers under ruff chin, other tends tu of shaman’s four arrow wounds.

“Is odd. Is...OWCH!...Clumsy poker, I turn yu slug food!”

“Enuff!” Thane chase helper away wif bak of sword.

Shaman spit. “Is odd. Is tu peepul. Paladin look like tu peepul.”

A goblin nearby rub dirty wrapping on hiz headwound.

“Fite like nine.” Thane rap hiz wrapping, run yapping away.

Thane shake hed. “Can’t be tu. Yu see bad. Wa elsss?”

"OK. Not Peepul. Tu forzez. Sumpin, ennyway."

"Wa elsss?"

“See Frey. Lawfool paladin. See strong. See good. Kill dragons.”

Thane grip sword in angir. “Thane got eyez too! See ennithing deeper?”

Shaman think. It hurt. “See hu-man baybees. Ugly things. See muther. Ugly too.”

“Muther?” Thane begin smile. “Wa yu see muther?”

“Muther...other brood. she yung. Brood die from red dragon. Brood four ugly ones and mate.”

Goblin with rib wound speak “Questin one?”

Thane smak on hed wif sword.

"Paladin alive, fool. Wa elsss?"

“Naw. Not he.Long before paladin. She pray Opal. She then be shaman wommin. Temple of Opal.”


Ashkoth scratch. “Suppoz so. Temple burn by hu-mans. They hate dragons. She slave, to water-boat”.

“Float away?”

“Naw. Soljur take her. Now Questin ugly baybee. Muther give.....ahhhhhhhh....”

Thane grow happy. “Wa see yu? Wa see yu?”

Ashkoth smile. “Message frum lord. See wa I find. Him got plan. Me majik broke. Only tell yu.”

Thane lift crystal. It lite up. lord speak in lite. Thane scratch hed.

Lite go out. Thane call army around.

"We got plan. We attack agen. Know wa happen thiz time?"

Goblin holding punctured groin speak "Luza lotz more golbinz agen?"

Thane kick in groin, ooze, goblin screem.

“No.Lord send us majik form. Look like ugly hu-man wommin. We send...”

Thane smile, drool on own tunic.

"yu fite. he look. he stop. An thane kill paladin."

by Qamlynch

The tiny village lay sleepng peacefully that night. An airy dark clouds hung over them, but no one noticed.

Slowly the clouds decended on the town. Lights all over town went out together.

To ARMS! cried the townpeople. The town bell was ringing. Guards and shopkeepers tumbled from there beds, crossboes and spears in hand. The dark dragon form laughed, and breathed fire. Many died instantly as others ran for thier homes and holes somewhere to be safe. Those that stood there ground fell to a man.

The clouds chased the women and children, running up the hiilsides, to caves where the goblins lay in wait.

Soon, the twon was dark and silent. No bell was ringing.

Two dark figures walked among the burnd bodies, strolling through the dead town like tourists.

A goblin approached. "Nothing. we found nothing."

'Then it must be somewhre else. Let's go."

Figures and goblins disapeared the dragon cloud. The cloud lifted and went off into the night.

by Kenneth Baggaley

The chambers continued to be more open and smooth as the party made its way deeper into the lair. Clearly, thought Gaerth, these were chambers that could be used by small dragons. His body still hurt in several places, making it clear that even magical healing was no easy process. In fact, adventuring, as it was called, had an all too familiar feeling to it. It was always assumed by townsfolk (like himself) that all adventurers went on glorious journeys, filled with magic and wonder, and came back rich with gold. At least, that’s what the loud boastful talkers in the taverns always said. Well, he had seen wonders, all right. Creatures and magics he had never experienced, nor ever would have, in the small town so far away now in both distance and memory. But his shoulder still throbbed and his back still ached. He still saw squabbles and errors, passions and uncertainties, even among heroes. And whether bandit, goblin or ogre, the soldier’s trade remained the same; butchery was still butchery.

And friends still died.

Soon they came to a chamber with a vastly higher vaulted roof. The ceiling, barely visible, seemed suspended by arching beams on thick pillars naturally formed by earth-toned rock. It was high enough to supply space for a large, flying creature. A dusky smell had now overpowered the bat-dung stale perfume of the tunnels. It reminded Gaerth of morning sweeping time at the city cathedral he visited once in his youth. In fact, the same shafts of dull light, swirling grains of dust spinning slow descents within each shaft, sliced across the tall open space, creating the effect of soft brown diagonal stripes running far into the smoky depth. A dragon cathedral, thought Gaerth. Somehow it seemed appropriate.

“Kish-Kamek’s great hall” mused the paladin. “our entrance must have been for his minions, to enter and wait upon his guests”. “Or surprise and kill Ôem.” Hezkakal was searching carefully along the walls, sweeping the dust in the air aside with his arms, as one might swipe away bugs at a picnic. Dust so thick we can swim through it. The torchlights played on the light shafts with a muffled glow effect, as if they were very distant beacons viewed through a fog at sea. Even the echoes of their footsteps were muted and suffocated in the dust.

“Where’s the light coming from?” Gaerth wondered aloud.

“Some type of low-level perpetual illumination spell, I guess” Leonia shrugged. “That’s why it’s so distant and dull.” Magic, of course.

Arrowheart peered far down the great hall. “It’s awfully quiet”.

Leonia turned to Hezkakal. “You say Ôtoo quiet’ and I swear I’ll skewer you.”

The thief grinned knowingly. Questin looked at him.

“How many adjoining chambers would you say, Hez?”

“At least twelve. Knowing dragons, probably thirteen.”


“Almost every one, I’d say. The main entrance must be down there, judging from the vaulting. So the first few chambers would be two on each side of that far wall. They’d be the first ones tried. Sure death.”

“Agreed. Any adventurer making it to this hall down the main route would have had to survive many traps before this. Therefore, the traps in this hall would have to be...extraordinary.”

Arrowheart eyed what looked like doors along the walls. “Perhaps the dragon didn’t expect anyone to make it this far, so these chambers are for storage.”

Hezkakal smirked. “Yeah, sure, and elves have lots of discipline, too. Sheesh. Guess you usually just guard the entrance, eh, buddy?”

“Easy, Hez.” Questin reproached him. “We’re here together. remember that.”

“Fine. When he trips up and releases a shrieker, and it comes for my soul, I’ll tell it ÔSorry. Go talk to the pointy-eared fellow, over there. We’re here together.’ Shsh.”

“Seven, what do you think?”

“Well, Questin, I don’t think a shrieker would be interested in the level of companionship between...”

“...No-no, wait, Seven. My fault for asking that way. Let me rephrase. Do you sense anything here?”

Merry spoke up. “None of this is an illusion. I can tell that much.”

Seven nodded to her. “Yes yes, child, quite right yes indeed. It’s all quite real.”

Jen bowed. “The master is correct. A source of power must still exist however. The lights still glow, though fading. Perhaps the power source is draining or distant.”

“Or perhaps that’s the impression they want to give us.” Questin eyed the doors carefully, one by one, through the dust.

“Celentia. Do you sense the presence of any undead here?”

The priestess lifted her sagging head and looked about. Gaerth noticed the sense of age and weariness had not left her. She was still drained.

“I do not, Julianus.” Somehow Gaerth did not feel confident about her answer.

Arrowheart glanced up. “Why does the dust swirl, even slowly like this? I feel no air flowing.”

Suddenly Hezkakal leaped in front of the trooper, putting his arm across the Gaerth’s body, stopping him in mid-step.

“I, ah, wouldn’t walk on that part of the floor, if I were you.”

Gaerth looked down. “What is it?”

“Could be a trap door. Could be a trigger mechanism, to release something. Could be an enchanted spot. Then again...” the thief tapped the trooper lightly on the cheek, “I could just be playing with your mind.”

“We don’t have time for games, Hez” Questin’s voice had a noticeable edge. “We’ve got to find what we came for.”

“And just what did we come for?” Leonia asked.

“Treasure, gold, anything valuable and uncursed” spouted Hezkakal, who then feigned surprise, “....Oh, you weren’t talking to me?”

Questin stepped between them. “We came for anything that will help us solve these mysteries. An answer to the empty scroll. More scrolls, perhaps. Magical items that will give us clues. Anyth...”

“We’re looking for artifacts.”

Everyone turned and stared at Merry, who nervously and uncertainly continued.

“W-we’re looking for...very old...a-artifacts...four...four different pieces .... big.”

“How do you know this?” Leonia glared into her eyes.

The halfling stared straight ahead, trance-like in thought, and looking up with a vacant expression, said quietly and calmly, “I-I don’t have the slightest idea.”

Ashkoth look at staff. Not glow no more. Shaman bang several times on nearby goblin’s hed. Rattle it. Bang on own hed. Scratch chin.

“No gud, Thane. Wizzird kil stik. Kil lord’s majik spel in stik. Shaman no get more inna Questin’s hed.”

“Iz OK, Ashkoth.” Thane smile an look at crystal lying on floor. “Get majik needed frum lord heer.”

Another hert goblin groan an die. Tu more go to him. One take weppins. Other kik few times. Call more over. Four goblins take limbs, lift, one, tu, THREE! Throw over roks to pit below.

Thane watch crystal. Blu lite show. Lite rize up. Image appeer, big az life. Harden. Lite stop.

“How look, Ashkoth?”

Shaman walk up to image. Look up an down. “Look like uglee Hu-man wommin see in Questin.”

Thane smile.

Shaman scratch butt. “It not move. Not talk. Not fool paladin wif dis.”

Thane punch shaman in arrow wound. Shaman howl.

“Fool! It repond only to Questin. It feed on Questin mind, reed an du stuff frum him.”

Shaman nod. “Wa if paladin not respond?”

Thane grit teef. “Eh, Thane killim anyway. How many goblinz got?”

Shaman hang hed. Shuffle feet.

“Uhhh...Dunno. Only ogre lootenant count that hy. Now he ded.”

Thane kik him in shin wound. Ashkoth hop.

“Hoo left az goblin leeder? How many goblinz got?”

Goblin walk up an bow. Lift hed an got evil smile. Hav big cut thru bridge of noze.

“Enuff, lord Thane.”

Seven jerked his head back and forth, with the almost rhythmic precision of a gear-wheel at some village watermill. Questin exhaled, reminding himself of his vow of patience. Leonia, with no such vow, twirled her blade into the floor with increasing agitation. This was taking far too long.

“Ah, finally!” The wizard brightened and announced to the party. Everyone but Hezkakal and Merry gathered in attendance.

“Well?”, said Leonia, “What can you see?”

Seven smiled broadly, as one finally solving a challenging puzzle. “NOTHING!”


“That’s what I just said, isn’t it, Jen?”

“The master is correct as usual.”

“Yes, yes. I am again, quite right. I can see nothing at all, Questin.”

Hezkakal and Merry were off to one side, studying a door. The thief could still overhear the exchange and snickered.

“You see nothing, eh? Now why does that not surprise me?”

Seven nodded. “Um, I imagine because Merry Rosewater has told you the same thing, I mean, it’s hardly a surprise if...”

“Is that true, Merry?” Questin interrupted.

Merry stared intently at the door, in obvious confusion. “’s not quite... nothing...but something is definitely...dulling...”

“Yes, excellent word for it!” Seven agreed. “Our magic is dulled.”

“You could’ve used THAT excuse this whole adventure” snapped Hezkakal.

“No, no no, good Hezkakal, I have definitely only sensed it since entering this hall, you see, prior to...”

“Is all magic dulled here?”

“Oh clearly not, good paladin. Some magic is still in operation, after all, I am standing here...”

“He asked about magic, not curses.” Hezkakal ran his finger a half inch away along the outside of the door, as if reading the seams by pointing.

Jen interrupted. “The master has noted the dim lights above us. The magic causing those lights appears dulled. Our magic torchlights are blurred. The good priestess cannot see anything, and no magic user can tell what lies behind the doors.” The pig grunted and nodded its heavy head. Jen bowed. “Many of our arts are...unclear here.”

“Unclear” repeated the paladin. “As in, obscured? Clouded?” he paused. “Dusty?”

“Of course!” Arrowheart looked around. “The dust! It must have a dulling effect on certain magics.”

“But why would...dust?” Gaerth struggled to frame the question.

Questin tapped the elf. “Arrowheart, what can you see about this dust? Anything unusual about it?”

The elf rolled his neck, scanning the great height and depth of the hall. “It moves without wind, spinning in slow spirals. It is most notable and concentrated in the light shafts. It lay thick on the floor. It covers our tracks, so we cannot see where we - or others - have been.” Gaerth looked down at his boots. He was right. Despite the powdery layer, no footprints could be found.

“We must be breathing it in” Merry covered her mouth.

“Most interesting.” Arrowheart was looking straight up. “The dust stops at about the level of the light source, about two thirds up the pillars and vaulting. I see no dust above the light source.”

“So that probably means the source is also - or could be - producing the dust” stated Leonia. “And above it is left unprotected”.

“Not unprotected” concluded Questin. “Think like a dragon. A party getting this far had to have had significant magic. If they walk in, they’re dulled. But if the dragon FLIES in...” he pointed to the dark unseeable corners of the vaulting, “He’s above the dust, and unaffected. I’ll even conjecture that spells aimed from outside the dust at targets inside work at full effect. Only spells generated from inside are dulled. That would give the dragon, flying above the dust, a distinct advantage.”

“Well reasoned, paladin” Arrowheart nodded. “Even non-hostile visitors of the dragon are thus at a magical disadvantage. Does it extend within these rooms, I wonder?”

Questin shook his head. “I don’t think so. Reason this: the dragon enters above. The party fights, and soon realizes its magic is dulled.”

Hezkakal grinned. “or not so soon, in some cases.”

“The party may run for the doors, which would be heavily trapped. Some of those traps might involve magic, to the dragon’s advantage: so he wouldn’t want it dulled in the rooms. And if, as some adventuring parties do, the mages stay just outside the door, as the fighters burst in, the mages could offer only dulled magical support to the initially overmatched fighters.

Look at the angle of the doors, related to the vaulting. From within the door, under the slight nave, you cannot reach a straight line spell up into the area above the dust. Thus no wizard could Ôshoot’ from the rooms at the dragon above. There’s no angle. So there’s no danger to the dragon by leaving the rooms dust free. And if he’s stocked the rooms with dangers as we think he has, he has any adventurers trapped.”

“Pretty good, noble-knees. I’m impressed. So even without the dragon attack, standard tactics against these chambers might fail.”

“Yes” reasoned Questin “Their only safe retreat would be the way they came. I imagine the dragon has several double-back routes along the main passageways, to catch them. And our back route in is usually loaded with traps...”

“...of which we bypassed twelve, to my credit, thank you very much!”

“...and full of his minions. I would guess those are the only two ways into this hall from outside the lair - unless the dragon has a third one above the dust. Any hall this well designed is bound to be where the dragon would keep his treasure...including Merry’s artifacts.”

Julianus looked at the row of doors. “The question now is, with the dragon dead, how many of the magic traps still work? And with his Ôofficial’ commerce ended, how many monsters and minions, depending on his patronage for power and food supplies, stayed around after his death?”

“Looks like we’ll have to find out” said Leonia, raising the edge of her blade before her weathered lips, “the hard way”.

Boldo lay as still as possible within the rock outcropping, trying to let the healing potions take their full effect. He hummed tunes in his head, not wanting to dwell on his recent bad luck (what else could it have been?) in battle. Twice encountered, twice downed: that was not going to sound good in ballad form.

The faint scratching noise outside froze him. What was that sound again? He played over and over in his head the possible creatures one encounters in a lair such as this. What size they were, how they moved, what sounds they made; information gleaned from years of adventuring. He gripped his sword and felt some pain at the tensing muscles. If it came to a fight, he was at quite a disadvantage. More information flowed through the brain behind his arched brow: how they fought, how they could be defeated, and when to run away. There was never any shame in that, if you lived to tell of it. As long as you didn’t leave friends behind, or came back for them promptly - they WERE coming back, he was certain of that - there was no shame in retreat. He leaned back into the outcropping wall; there would be no option to slip out the back for him.

The noise came nearer, and the halfling still could not place it. Small, or smallish at least, he thought. No goblin, and certainly no ogre. If it were big, it moved with exceptional lightness. Apparently, the dragon’s minions had vanished, leaving only the stray creatures found in any rock-hole, with occasional parties of careless gold-seekers to keep them fed. So what could this be?

Boldo took stock of his assets. He had his sword, and small buckler shield. Another healing potion lay wrapped in his pouch. Hezkakal (of all people!) had given him a very tiny crossbow, with six quarrels, taken from the Gnome camp (he felt he could almost fire it one handed!). Merry had given him a bracelet, saying only to invoke her name to use it - he knew not what it would do. In his pack he carried: a small unlit torch, some oil, a flint, a sewing kit with silver needle and black thread, a little water, his tuning fork for his lute (how did he forget to leave THAT behind?), one silver and one gold piece, Celentia’s healing cloth, and Questin’s token - a scrap of paper on which the paladin had written something for Boldo (probably a prayer, he hadn’t read it yet). He fingered the charm at his necklace, bearing Gurmstahl’s runes - the dwarf had told him it proclaimed him champion bucket diver, but Boldo doubted that. And the pig had given him an invisible wall in front of the outcropping. So be it.

Now, with the sound almost before him, Boldo braced: to survive, or to make it count...

Following Hezkakal’s lead, the first door contained nothing. To the left, the wall seemed alive with movement. But bringing the torches closer, the party saw the scampering away of hundreds of insects, parting like vertically poured water, revealing beneath them the ghastly half eaten remains of a something chained to the wall. Gaerth shuddered as Questin put a torch up to the mummified skull, long hair interspliced with weevils and grubs, who wound through the tresses toward their homes through the empty ear and eye holes. Beneath the faded taffeta could be seen the coiling of centipedes upon skin the texture of corn husks.

“Every male dragon has his damsel” he said quietly, “we just arrived too late to save this one.” After Celentia said the appropriate prayers, they moved on.

The second room was extremely small. A dim light glowed in the center; hunched around it were several small figures, talking rapidly in excited tones. The small creatures had tiny heads, their forms slightly ghostlike, having little substance. On closer inspection, they all appeared flat, existing literally as beings of two dimensions only! The party crept forward carefully as the tiny creatures, oblivious to their guests, rattled on avidly. “A natural 20! The dragon’s toast! Piece a’cake!”

“That’s your third this round. The others ran away. What’s the XP?”

“Ah, just 25,000. I cast to recharge my cosmic vorpal blade of invincibility..”

Questin interrupted. “Hail and well met, adventurers!”

No one responded. “Naw, you gotta roll again. THACO’s 12 on that one!”

“Um...excuse us, good creatures, we seek your council...”

“Hey, quiet willya, I’m rollin’ here.” The creature’s blunt retort stunned Questin; it then turned back to the circle, shaking several small bone cubes in its flat thin little ethereal hands.

Gaerth could see their heads were far too small, even for their tiny bodies. Only their mouths seemed larger than they should be.

“OK, what’s the HD on this one?”

“Lemme see that stats. Min/Max it again. Yeah!”

“I cast Immortal Hand Crush, it! Damn! All sixty dead at once.”

“Cool!! I cast Automatic Relearn and Excellerate...”

Questin placed his sword blade gently over the dice. The creatures looked up, quite annoyed.

“We seek thy council, creatures. Who be ye?”

One of the creatures in the ring, a paper crown on his diminutive head, gave a deep sigh. “Okay, guys, munchie break. Back in five.” With that command, the rest of the group raced off in a flash to a dark corner of the room, ripping spectral food out of a small white box and swallowing frantically into their opaque paper-edged frames.

“Hail, good fellow! I am Questin Julianus, Palad...”

“Yea, yea, yea, whatever. Lemme see yer stats.”

“I...My what?”

The creature rolled his eyes. “Yer stats. Yer sheet. The stuff that matters. C’mon, I gotta game to run!”

“I...I do do not understand...”

“Naw, listen, you don’t unnerstand. Look, you got costumes, fine. You got character stuff, fine. But you can’t play without yer stats.”

Leonia snarled. “We have no time for your games. Who are you? How came you here?”

The creature smiled. “In character, too. That’s cute. I’m the Munch-King, Master of the Munchkins. This is my realm - MY game. We play by MY rules, or you go home. Got it?”

“Are you a wizard, then?” asked Seven.

ÔFFFFaahh! Wizard? Wizards are fer weenies! I’m a multi-level Grand SuperPsionic Immortal ArchMage/High Priest/Warrior Lord/Master Thief, but I’m ready fer the next level, Ôsoon as I invent it.”

“What is your quest?” No response. “Your purpose here?”

“To win, of course.” The Munch-King blurted. “To kill things, advance, and get lots of treasure. All that matters.”

“You’ve got treasure?” Hezkakal looked interested.

“Yeah, a lot this adventure. See?” The Munch-King held up an oily oft-reused crumpled paper with lots of badly scribbled numbers on it.

“That’s a lot of numbers on paper.” scowled the thief.

“Yeah, impressive, huh?” The Munch-King squealed. “Got most of it from this latest dragon hunt.”

“You have hunted dragons, then?” Arrowheart tried to ask politely.

“All the time, but less than five’s gettin’ a little too easy. We may have to use Ôem as mounts on another Tarrasque hunt.”

Questin attempted again. “Spirit, who art thou? From whence hast thou come? Hast thou clan or homela...?”

“Hey, HEY! You wanna do character stuff, do it on your time. We got Immortal beasts to bash next. Gimme yer stats or close that door on yer way out.” ' Leonia shook her head and spit. “Tiny man, you are in a small room in a black dungeon far away from anyone or from any freedom. You have no form, no fame, no family, no contact with others: you are empty and condemned spirits; you go higher and higher in your play but go nowhere at all: you learn nothing, you do not grow, and you will spend eternity damned here playing useless number games forever. Clearly,” she wiped her mouth, “The Immortals are just.”

The Munch-king waved his hand and turned back to the circle. “Ahhhh, I’d dust ya, but you’re not worth the XP.”

Questin looked sadly at Leonia. “There is nothing here. Let us go.”

The party filed out as the munchkins returned belching and intense to the circle. The Munch-King hurled one final insult as the door closed behind them “YOU play YOUR way, and I’LL play MINE! Yer just JEALOUS Ôcause I’m BETTER at it than you! I’m higher than ALL of you! I’m the MIGHTEST! The GREATEST EVER! I AM THE MUNCH-KING!! THE MUNCH-KING!! THE MUN...” Slam!!!

Gaerth turned to Hezkakal. “Trapped playing the same pointless game forever and ever. Nothing could possibly make their eternal fate worse.”

“Oh, I can think of..something” smirked the thief, tumbling the three bone dice in his hand.

“This one.” Hezkakal was pointing to the rim of the third door, nodding to himself. “You can tell by the dust on the seam, it’s been opened.”

“The gnomes,” speculated Arrowheart, “or other adventurers.”

“Is it worth going in at all, then?” There was no fear in Gaerth’s voice, only uncertainty.

“Let’s find out.” Questin pushed hard against the door, his shield in an upward frontal position, his sword drawn. The door slid open easily into the darkness.

“Diamond, UP!!” the paladin shouted as he plunged into the room, the rest of the party in tow. Gaerth reacted to the orders immediately; diamond defense pattern, threat from the - from above? The trooper, in formation with the others (he guarded the back, like Gurmstahl would have), rushed the room.

The din of swinging swords and grunts and bird-like shreiks filled his ears. Jen and the torches were just outside the room: he could see nothing in their faint light except his own boots. The sounds of swooshing and clicking came from above him, so he slashed wildly into the blackness, shield in position like Questin’s. He heard Leonia cry out a victory lunge, and an inhuman SKRREEEE echoed somewhere. The clicking noises fell toward him, and he slashed. His sword struck what felt like a broom handle, snapping the slender form. With a THUD a weight like a sack of grain struck his sheild, and a piercing SKRRREEEEEE hurt his ears as the sack drummed like staccado broomsticks against his shield and slid off to the floor. Gaerth looked and froze; a SPIDER, as big as a sheep, scuttled away into the corner out of Jen’s light! Two more piercing yells, and Merry stepped into the room behind him making a broad gesture. Subdued light filled the room, and Gaerth gasped at the grisly scene around him.

At the feet of the diamond formation were scores of severed reed-like legs, black and hairy, some still writhing disconnected. These were the broomsticks he heard and felt. In the corner, the huge spider he had deflected cowered, legs waving and spewing a frothy liquid from its thorax. Above him, a maze of almost dizzying webs, their hypnotic patterns intact, covered the entire length of the ceiling. From within their still-dark recesses, beady points of insect eyes shuffled rapidly across, moving to new attack positions.

“Eyes up! Take them as they come!” Gaerth didn’t need the paladin’s instructions. His eyes swept the ceiling, desperate to spot those beady points before they...

“GAERTH!!” He swung, back, forth, and a black sack hit his shield and the top of his helmet, gooey liquid splashing across his ear and shoulder. A quick scrape resounded as manibles clacked against his helmet and slid off. The sack bounced off him and fell back first onto the floor. Leonia lunged out from the formation, and the sack popped and hissed as mucus flowed from the split abdomen, the broomsticks dancing a macabre jitter into the air. Her warning had been just in time.

SKRRREEEEEE THUD! Another sack, pierced through with two arrows, fell from the ceiling to his right. With great discipline he kept his eyes looking up. It was then he noticed the small whispy bones, tiny minatures of human skulls, and goo-smeared little conical hats, all hanging like ornaments from the deadly webs above. They spun slowly, jiggling with vibrations when the hidden spiders raced across on the networks above them. It was no longer a mystery who had first opened this door.

Then a loud snorting eminated from the doorway, and a sheet of flame shot out above them and climbed slowly upwards to the ceiling. The light was blinding, and the warriors moved toward the doorway, shields above their heads. The spinning fire-disc moved up, giving the spiders no escape route. The frying spiders popped and sizzled, their death-cries engulfed as charred sacks plopped to the floor, smoking and cracking open and bleeding steamy mucus and smelling overwhelmingly foul.

As the last little dry skulls fell and shattered against the stones, the flames ended. Merry increased the light in the room. Questin marched boldly in, toward the corner, and WHACK WHACK SKRRREEEEEEEE the last cowering spider was finished. The other adventurers reentered and viewed their handiwork.

The floor lay covered in charred, repugnant fragments that crunched like charcoal as they walked through the chamber. A lifeless hairy mass lay bubbling its milky essense in the corner where Questin had finished it off. Gaerth had never seen such huge spiders in his life. “They spring down, get webs on you, and yank you up, like a pulley in the shipyards” explained the paladin, fighting off a dream-image about the shipyards. “Once you hit the web above, off balance, you become more enmeshed as you struggle. They leave you alone there to tire, and to completely trap yourself by struggling. Then one day they crawl over and casually start to suck the liquid from you, organs and fluids, day after day, eventually leaving your dry skin stretched across your bones like a winesack. The skin is then ripped off in patches and chewed for any last moisture, leaving just the bones hanging as trophies.”

“Lovely way to die.” mused the theif absentmindedly as he stared along the chamber walls. “There...around this wall, far corner”.

“I’ll go ahead.” Questin strode alone, sword in hand, around the corner wall. His footsteps stopped, and the party found the silence unnerving.

“Come in.” Everyone followed. Then stood. Then rubbed their eyes in disbelief.

Down the very short corridor, the walls bending at slightly odd angles, lay a mass of treasure which reflected back a golden gleam. Hezkakal let out a deep breath. “Payday at last!” he exclaimed, and carefully began stepping down the corridor, peering in every corner and every grut in the stonework as he went.

“Wait, Hez.” The paladin motioned to Jen. “Do you see anything down here? Any magic or danger at all?”

Jen bowed to Seven. “With the skills taught by the Master, I will humbly assist.” Her small head bobbed up and down, hair bouncing slightly, as she muttered some strange song-like phrases. Seven puffed with pride watching his apprentice. Hezkakal continued cautiously in slow motion down the bent corridor, making the short distance seem like miles.

“STOP!” Jen’s arm shot out as she shouted the warning to Hezkakal. “Relax, I see it, I see it.” was his flippant reply as he stopped moving.

Gaerth peered down the chamber. “What do they see?”

“Grey ooze, trooper” the thief licked his lips, “tricky stuff, and lots of it. Looks like rock, kills like slime. The odd angled walls throw off your perspective, making detection difficult.”

“And more”, continued Jen. “a section of walls, floor and ceiling are connected, a few feet from the treasure, as a separate ring about four feet wide.”

“I’d say more like five, from here”. Clearly he saw it, too. “As soon as someone steps onto it, with more mass than the ooze, I’d recon the whole ring slides out, like a slice of bread from the middle of a loaf, taking the person with it. I wonder how fast it moves...”

“Don’t try it, Hez.” The paladin turned to Merry. “It’s not what we came for. Or is it, Merry?”

The halfling tried to concentrate, spinning slowly in a circle, eyeing the walls. She turned opposite the treasure, away from Hezkakal, and looked into a blank wall directly in front of her. “Here.”

Hezkakal spun to look back at the group in surprise, and Questin smiled at him. “Yes, Hez, I knew she picked the rooms, not you. But the bit about dust on the door WAS impressive.”

A patch of floor moved toward the distracted thief. Leonia ran to him. “Look out!”

Hezkakal leapt back as the patch shifted, landing on Leonia and almost knocking her over. She bounced off the wall, and a gooey grey clung to her chainmail like day-old gravy. “I’m caught!”

Gaerth swung his sword and struck the ooze, making it jump. A bolt of lightning BOOMED by the trooper, blinding him, and the smoking ooze lay boiling on the floor.

Hezkakal looked at the wall in front of Merry. “I see nothing, Mer.”

“I sense nothing. Are you sure?” Seven’s head twitched as he stared.

But Merry remained almost motionless. “Yes,” she answered to no one in particular, “Here, behind the wall.” A rattle of her bracelets, and the stones melted into a veil of blurred grey, like rain within a dense forest. Merry stepped calmly through the mist, and the others followed.

Celentia Mera entered and at once fell to her knees in prayer. The chamber behind the mist was narrow, barely wide enough for the party, and only twenty feet deep. Yet it’s roof rose high , giving the same cathedral impression as the great hall. The stones had a strange reddish hue, worn and weathered as no hidden dungeon stone should be, fitted together in an odd, varied sized honeycomb pattern. There, directly before them, was a large table and chair, several sizes too big for a mortal man, carved in the strangest angles and design. All was choked in dust. The dimensions of everything before them made normal perspective impossible. On the chair lay a musty robe, tassels withered and crumbling. The table top was just above the sight of everyone except Questin.

“Did even KishKamek know about this?” asked Arrowheart.

Questin nodded as he alone walked toward the table. “Yes. He was the keeper of this part of the puzzle. He was delivering an item from here when Sorat-Sym defeated him.”

“How do you know that, Julianus?”

“Because, Arrowheart, “ the paladin reached up upon the table, raising a fine cloud of dust, “I recognize these.”

Others strained to see what Questin was referring too. He gestured to the footstep at the base of the chair. Clampering up, Gaerth and the others looked across the broad table top.

by Qamlynch

The vizer stood behind the throne, stroking his beard. the thin fingers of his master rapped arounf the arm of the throne in front of him.

Two gards brought in a orc he went to his knees.

"Well?' the voice from the throne said. "Your report?"

"Great lord, we will soon possess all the pieces..."

'how many" the viser saw the fingers drum.

"i-in a short timr, we will have all..."


The orc loked down terrified.

"if not all we have nothing.' The fingers clench into a fist.

The viser saw the fist pound the armrest, and heard his master mutter somthing.

The orc rased his arms to beg, and yelled as leaves spring from his fingers. his arms grew wooded and his kness turned to roots. tHe green and grown raced up his body to his head as shouted "lord, no! I will get the..." a leafy plant now stood betwen the guards.

The viser kept eyes down in fear. His master hissed. "Take him away- to the cook. He will make flavor for a fitting soup, and will still feel everything."

the gaurds took the orc-shapd plant away. A crooked finger beconed the viser forward. "Viser, I want the last two peices. You understand?

The viser gulped and bowed. "I set out at once, my lord.'

by Kenneth Baggaley

Clambering atop the footrest of the huge chair with the rest of the party, Gaerth stared at the expanse of the giant table. Covered in a thin film of dust, among myriad small piles and bits of debris, lay several scrolls! Questin pointed to them. “These are similar to the scroll Sorat-Sym gave to the priestesses of Terra. That one bore a mark for Fenswick - from what I can see, these bear no such marks. However, it is possible that KishKamek distributed these as he saw fit, placing a magical seal signifying the recipient.”

“If it is part of a great plot” mused Arrowheart, ÔWhy not simply turn all the scrolls over to your leaders? Surely, one black dragon could not have been the keeper for such massive secrets.”

Hezkakal sneered aloud. “HEH! Well, elf, it’s pretty clear YOU spend too much time among the lawful good. To me, this makes perfect sense.”

“You, Hez? How?”

“Easy, paladin. There is no honor among thieves - or any practitioners of the darker skills. If I possessed a trove of riches in high demand from high places, I’d make sure of three things.” He began to pace about the group, a professor lecturing his class. “First, I’d keep myself somewhat in the shadows. No postings in the town square, nobody knowing my identity even, if I could help it. I’d be the mystery player”. He walked away from the group. “Second, I’d make sure that no one knew I had as many cards to play as I did. It would give me a fall-back position, something I knew that they didn’t. It would also make my stash safe. No one would try to take from me what they didn’t know I had.” He strolled to the corner, hands behind his back, the master instructor.

“Third, if I WAS found out, I would have a bargaining token to pay for my release. Knowing the qualities of my fellow conspirators, if I were double crossed, knife at my throat, I could smile and say Ôcut it, and you’ll never find the rest’. Before they turn to crass torture, I would tell them Ôunless certain parties hear from me soon, alive, the items will never be found’. I then describe a little of what I know to whet the appetite.” Hezkakal turned to the group with a broad smile. “Now, they have no choice. They played their double-cross and lost. I go free, and either get tangible payback at the next meeting - while heavily armed - or I set THEM up and sell to another.”

Arrowheart’s brow furled. “Dragons are not like petty human thieves.”

The thief spit. “You’d be surprised at the similarities. PALADIN! Why are you smiling at me again!”

Questin beamed as the thief marched over and looked squarely up into his face. “Hez, I am amazed at your carelessly bold honesty. You just let everyone know your real reason for coming here.”

“Don’t get cute, noble-knees.”

“You think Merry’s inside edge on this is going to allow you to pull off a sale to the highest bidder of something THIS important?”

“My motives are my own business, paladin. Leave Mer out of this”

“Is THIS why you haven’t told her? Do you think it’ll be anything like negotiating with mortals? I thought you smarter than that, Hez.”

“Leave her out of this!”

“Thousands, perhaps entire cultures, could die because of this, and you think they’ll cut a deal for one mortal and his little protector?”

“AAARRGGH!” Hezkakal hurled the dice in his hand at Questin’s face, who caught one as the other two rattled along the stone table top. One die struck a dusty pile, causing it to cascade into a flow of round pearls, glistening as they bounced leaving trailmarks and skipping over the edge of the table onto the floor.

The party watched and listened as the pearls scattered noisily across the chamber. “Odd place for a stash” quipped a stunned Hezkakal.

Celentia's eyes widened as her face grew ashen pale. “But not for an offering.”

Everyone looked around as the chamber began to rumble with intense vibrations, ready to cave in upon them. They leaped to the center of the room, taking a defensive posture. The pearls around them glowed an eerie green, bouncing and pulsating to the rhythm of the loud quaking walls. A burst of light, and a funnel of fiery orange shot straight up from the seat of the chair, reaching far up into the vaulted ceiling like the explosion of a volcano. All shielded their eyes as the tattered robe rose unaided, as if lifted by the hot currents, transforming into bright colors and a rich splendor of embroidery. It settled high in the air, wrapping around invisible shoulders, waving in the flaming currents. Then within the pillar of flame the outline of a huge figure formed, becoming gradually more defined in the blazing background. It was a mighty human shape, wearing only a short white robe, adorned in brilliant gold and bronze jewelry, carrying a gem-crusted staff - and bearing the head of a large, ravenous bearded Jackal! The animal eyes glared in hostile yellow beams at the party below.

“I think” winked the concerned wizard “we’re about to learn something.”

“I think” cowered the awed thief “I should have left dicing to the munchkins!”

The unworldly yellow eyes glared down with glowing disapproval. The mouth opened, and a booming rasp of throaty sounds, part howl and part language, poured out; formal words born in the fire of ancient arid tongues, dialog none of the party could understand. The pillar of flame flashed with each inflection.

“I think we’re being asked...a question?” ventured Leonia.

“Aye, but we cannot understand” finished Questin, “and cannot answer.”

Gaerth stared in amazement at the image before them. This was not of this world - clearly beyond his comprehension. It was one thing to encounter goblins or gnomes, other life forms. Another to meet spirits of the dead, or undead as Grimwood had called them. Even giant spiders after all connected to something, however remote, in his personal life experience. But forms as other worldly as this, more than magic, so unreal yet real before him, overwhelmed his senses. Was this fear, he thought? Or just confusion?

The figure spoke again, eyes narrowed, voice grinding louder in anger and impatience, mouth parched as one caked for eons with the sands of time. “If we do not answer him somehow, and soon”, said Arrowheart, “I fear we will not escape alive”. Hezkakal gently grabbed Merry’s arm. “Listen to him, Mer. Give in and listen. Let it go. Hear him. I am still with you.” The thief’s tone was so unlike his normal banter, Leonia’s eyebrows raised; Questin smiled, still watching the figure before them.

Merry looked with uncertainty at Hezkakal, then walked slowly away from the formation toward the towering creature. The yellow eyes followed her advance, in complete disregard for the rest of the group. “You could get away now, Hez, if you run for it.” Questin was almost smirking as the thief shot back a characteristic obscenity. Leonia smiled too - Hez wasn’t going anywhere.

The paladin put a hand on Celentia’s shoulder. “You have protected us well, good priestess. But we cannot escape this way. Lower your protection. The halfling is our only hope.” The priestess’s arms dropped, betraying the weariness and effort she had been expending for them. The sudden rush of oppressive heat told Gaerth how much protection they had unknowingly needed. Celentia collapsed into Questin’s arms.

Merry’s face began to betray that distant look they had seen before. She placed her arms folded across her chest, hands to her shoulders, palms inward. She then extended her arms slowly out to her sides, palms open, pointing down. The jackal head cocked a bit, and rapidly spewed out a string of incomprehensible sounds.

Merry opened her mouth - was it still hers? - and emitted a long, low moan, varying the modulation in a near-hypnotic chant. Her lips seldom met, occasionally forming soft consonant sounds. Was she speaking with the creature?

The jackal-head snapped, sniffing, and uttered a short phrase. Merry blinked and looked at Questin.

“It is a guardian Hukaata. They demand a sacrifice - a life to be given, for violating the altar.”

Questin cradled Celentia to the ground and drew his sword. “My life is in the service of Frey, and will not be given away” he slung his shield forward “to satisfy any beastman, however ancient. There must be another way.”

Merry continued. “If we do not, we will all die.” Gaerth gripped his sword, while Leonia crouched and Arrowheart drew an arrow. “In return, if the offering is acceptable, we may live, and learn of this temple. We must decide NOW.”

“AH, I knew it, I knew it! We ARE going to learn something here, after all, see I told you so paladin.” Seven began rattling on as he walked toward the creature. Yellow eyes turned sharply to him as his bobbing head and waving arms stepped quickly in front of Merry.

“Seven, NO!”



“Here I am , oh ancient Hutaaka, as you requested, and we are most interested to learn something of your charge here, ah.....oh......GHRAHKALL DAHK”

Seven turned to Merry. “...Oh, dear me, how DOES the rest of that go.....?”

Arrowheart drew back his bowstring, and Seven waved his arm in stern reproach.

“Put that away, you silly elf, I’m the only one getting killed here, oh honestly!”

Merry grabbed his sleeve. “You will die!”

Seven rapped her knuckles loose “And you will learn.” and then smiling, a warm twinkle in his eye, he said to her in a quiet, soothing calmness “So I have taught you something after all, eh, young one?” And with a wink, he turned back to the hutaaka.

“Now then, where were we.............?”

The Hutaaka slammed the base of his staff to the ground; blazing beams of green light bolted from the gemstones, wrapping Seven in blinding cocoon. The narrowed eyes shot a quick ray of sun-bright gold, and BOOM! The sound of an explosion filled the room.

The light was gone now, except for the pillar of fire behind the hutaaka. And standing a few feet before Merry was the form of Seven, a statue of incredibly white sand. The hutaaka blew a gust of his powerful hot breath, and the sand-form disappeared into a thousand gleaming particles, whipping across the faces of the party like the blinding siroccos of Ylaruam.

Merry spoke through her tears. “The sacrifice is accepted. The wizard is dead.”

Questin sheathed his blade, the others following his lead. “Quickly, ask the meaning of the artifacts and the scrolls.” Merry nodded, salty drops raining on her vest, and turned crossing her arms as before. The bizarre exchange continued, the hutaaka making formal pronouncements in his dry booming rasp, the halfling moaning in near chant between each of them. Jen and the pig stood motionless, heads bowed, throughout. Celentia Mera began to recover slowly, her forehead awash in sweat from the heat.

Finally, the hutaaka jerked his head up, as if to signal the end of the conversation. The yellow sockets glared hard at the party, concentrating on the paladin. Leonia reached for her sword, but Questin gestured no. With a nod, and a half smile, half snarl, the hutaaka struck the butt of its staff again, and its form faded into the pillar of fire, leaving only the cape afloat alone. The pillar then shrank back into the chair, leaving the robe to float back slowly to the seat - its brilliant coloration vanishing as it settled. It became ancient and decrepit once again. Even the coating of dust returned.

“My poor Seven” prayed Celentia as she was told. Arrowheart shook his head. “How shall I save Grimwood now?” Questin walked up the shaking halfling. “What have you learned, Merry?”

The party gathered to hear her story. “My....feelings were correct. Long ago, ...Very long ago...before many immortals, there were four artifacts. The artifacts were powerful tools used by Those Who Came Before. I-I don’t know what any of this means...”

“Go on, Merry”. Questin’s voice reassured her.

“Then it said something about an Immortal dragon known as... The Great One. He...apparently...overcame an ancient Lord of Wyrms...something like that. At his and other Immortal’s insistence, each of the artifacts was to be broken up and distributed so no one could ever again use their combined power.

These scrolls were written as a...a record... of the history, use, destruction into pieces a-and dispersal of the artifacts.”

Arrowheart spoke. “What of the artifacts now? Had KishKamek, or the dragon-lord he served, gained possession of them?”

“That the hutaaka did not say. I’m... not sure it knew... or cared.”

Hezkakal leaned forward. “So there are four artifacts, each broken into four pieces? Sixteen pieces scattered across Mystara? That’s a pretty thorough dispersal.”

“N-no - it did say that n-not all the artifacts were broken as required. Even that - that not all of them exist Ôin this world’... whatever that means.”

“Do you know where they are? Can you read the scrolls?”

Merry shook her head wearily. “But I do know,” she continued, “I-I don’t know how, but I...I can TELL...two of the pieces exist here, if not in this lair, then - then not far.”

Questin took her hands in his, soft fur against oversized steel. “Can you sense anything at all as to where the pieces are? Think, Merry! Think!” “ don’t..........”

The halfling was exhausted, and Hezkakal came to her side, glaring at Questin. She had been through too much, and the paladin reluctantly accepted her condition. She could go no further today.

“Rest now, Merry Rosewater. You have done very well. Seven did not die in vain.”

The paladin stood and addressed the party. “Friends, we have fought well and suffered much today. Yet we have found part of what we seek.”

“Let us rest here a few hours. I will stand watch. We will seek the upper chambers of this hall for the pieces. Then, we will return for our companions back in the tunnels. Finally, we will deliver what we have to the Terran priestesses. For now, get some rest.”

Merry curled up in Hezkakal’s arms. Gaerth and Leonia lay down where they stood, with Arrowheart sitting nearby. Celentia Mera prayed herself to sleep. Only Jen and the pig remained awake, reading feverishly and collecting bits of dirt and debris from around the small chamber. Questin drew his sword and walked out through the misty wall, across the spidery remains to shut tight the door to the main chamber. As the door clanged into place, the paladin bit his lip and prayed:

My lord Frey, make mine arm strong, aid thy servant and guard mine friends this night. Keepeth mine eyes from sleep upon this watch. And ere I sleep, pray sweet patron let me not dream....

Story Recap

by Kenneth Baggaley

The story so far....

Evil has been felt throughout Mystara. Small magics fail sporadically. Mysterious dark clouds have been seen. Shadow armies march through the forests of Wendar.

A paladin, Sorat-Sym, defeated the black dragon KishKamet. He killed the dragon and captured a scroll. Mortally wounded himself, Sorat-Sym turned this scroll over to the priestesses of Terra, to unlock the mystery. The scroll bore the mark of the Princess of Fenswick.

The scroll was blank or unreadable. Several adventurers set out. One group went to find the resting place of Sorat-Sym and the lair of KishKamet, and gather information from both places. A second group went to meet and uncover the forces behind the shadow armies in Wendar. A third went to find a special wizard, in his secret castle, who is known for his skill at deciphering scrolls; only he may unlock their unwritten mysteries.

The first group was led by a human paladin named Questin Julianus, a strong and intelligent dragon-slayer with a unique past. The second group was led by Alabastea, a beautiful white female centaur of even temperament, keen insight, and some magic, beloved by her elven warriors. The third group was led by Dalros Eveningstar, a brave and talented elven ranger with superb skill in tracking.

The dark forces responded in kind. Dark cloud attackers attempted several ambushes of Questin’s party. The party survived, freeing the trapped spirit of the dead Sorat-Sym in a battle against the undead. They eventually entered KishKamet’s lair. At some unknown mage’s command, a half-Orc named Thane now leads a force of goblins and ogres into the lair against them. Thane has with him a golem, constructed to prey on Questin’s thoughts!

In Wendar, Alabastea’s elven force gave battle to a goblin horde, only to be routed by the summoning of a strange cloud dragon. Only Alabastea’s great personal bravery, and the selfless sacrifice of her warriors, made possible their escape. Yet in defeat, Alabastea had gained valuable insight into the enemy they now faced. Her party continues in flight.

Several cloud attacks were made on the temples of Terra, searching for the scroll. These attacks prompted the dispatch of a fourth mission: a specially chosen sole adventurer, to infiltrate Fenswick’s stronghold in Glantri and discover what secrets it held.

Seeking the wizard’s castle, Dalros’s group has had the strangest encounters. A Diamond priest fled at their approach. When cornered, he was revealed to be a gold dragon, who warned the party to stay out of “dragon affairs”. Attempts to reach the wizard’s castle have been met by bizarre and unreal environments, rockslides, and invisible archers. The voice of the wizard himself has challenged them to reach him. The party is fatigued and bloodied. Strong magic must be overcome if they are to succeed and gain access to the castle, the wizard, and the answers they seek.

The sole adventurer sent by the Terran priestesses, named Tarin Sal, had better luck. Using a skillful combination of audacity, thievery and magic, he gained access to one heavily-guarded location, avoided several obstacles, and uncovered a cache of several books. Included among them was a tome on Radiance. Eventually he too was forced to flee, but his mission continues.

Four other events of note have occurred.

1-A Thyatian dealer in antiques, Camilo Tullius, was saved from an attack by an ancient mummy. His savior was Darius, a very ancient nosferatu. They both sought a rare bowl of ancient Nithian (and older) lineage.

2-A set of dragon bones, very old, were found in the sewers of a large city. The finders were killed by magicians, who seek to put the skeleton together.

3-An evil female lord (is it Fenswick?) has two Ôpieces’ of an artifact, and has dispatched her vizier to find the rest.

4-Dark shadow forces are attacking Terran temples and destroying villages in search of...?

And the secret here? There were four very powerful artifacts, used long ago by Those Who Came Before. When the Great One defeated the Lord of Wyrms and became the dragon Immortal, the artifacts were to be broken, each into four pieces, and the sixteen bits scattered across Mystara. But not all were broken up thus. What they are, where they are, in what condition, and what they can do, no one knows. And several scrolls (like the one captured by Sorat-Sym) hold the key to what, where and how to use the artifacts!

So, as the Ongoing Story continues, here’s the current status:

- Questin Julianus has uncovered a Nithian temple in KishKamek’s lair. It is guarded by a Hutaaka, and holds several of the scrolls. His party has been bloodied, losing its chief wizard, and Thane with his goblins, ogres and golem searching them out. The party now seeks an upper chamber where some pieces may be hidden.

- Alabastea and her elves are fleeing into the Wendar forests, with the shadow goblins in pursuit. If they can escape, she must warn the others of what she has sensed, who is behind this evil.

- Dalros Eveningstar and his party are lost on the hill in search of the wizard’s castle. Having defeated the archers, they are now stymied by magical misdirection.

- Tarin Sal found some books, but learned little. He now proceeds to Glantri City to perform more magical thievery for the priestesses of Terra.

- Sorat-Sym awakes to find himself some type of undead creature, and seeks out a solution to his cursed state.

- Some evil mages have possession of (most of) an ancient dragon skeleton.

- A female lord has two pieces of one of the artifacts, and has sent her vizier to collect the other two, somehow.

- Darius and Camilo have discussed the past history of the odd, ancient and powerful bowl. As to it’s future...

And this is the Ongoing Story, in all its glory! Through it, Mystara lives! Thanks to all who have contributed so far.


by Duncan TKD

"W-where am I," Dalrose said as his eyes opened and he found himself in a strange room.

A voice came from a muscular woodsman who was standing by the fireplace in the room "You are safe".

"What happened, and where are my comrads" asked the elf?

"They are all dead. Your party was attacked by Gnolls. You all fought valiently, Halav himself would have been proud of you and your comrads."

"I've failled."

"Why do you say that? The Wizard and his tower you would not have found the wizard's tower."

"How do you know that?"

"You could say that the animals told me. You see the tower was destroyed three days ago by dragons."

"Dragos, why dragons. The elves have allways tried to be friends with the Nation."

"That they would not tell me."

"Well I must returned and report to the council of elve, thank you very much for helping me."

"Do you still seek information and allies against the tides of darkness?"

"Yes of course I do. Why can you help me?"

"No, It is not within my power to help you anymore than I have, But I can send you to some one who can. Her name is Illanna Uiop, and she lives in the city of Kelvin in Karameikos." He takes a taliman with a picture of a hawk on the shoulders of a wolf, "Here take this. It will aid you. Now sleep you need your strength for your next adventure."

With that the elf does off again, and when next his eyes open he is off the side of a road with the city of Kelvin before him.

by Dragon1022

Tarin Sal stepped off the gondola and paid his 10 pennies. He then entered the Canalmaster's office. After a two hour wait the secretary allowed him to enter the Canalmaster's office.

Inside sate a man in his sixties. His hair had long since fallen out leaving a spotted bald serface. The man was hunched over his desk reading some sheaves of very ancient work menship.



"Look son, if you want to do business with me you have to be down at my level please take that seat over there," creaked the Canalmaster's voice.

Tarin Sal did as he was told although he doubted the chair would hold his wait.

"Now that the fomalities are done with what do you want? I am a very busy man and my time cannot be wasted. What? No Sarpidious I do not know where the dog went."

Tarin stared at the man for a moment while he carried on a conversation with a wall. When he turned back the elf presented his case: Yes, I was wondering two things. First I need this package delivered." He took a large wraped box out of his backpack and sat it on the desk.

"I belive you have mistaken me for a local parcel service, my job is to take care of the canals not deliver objects to friends and family," interupted the Canalmaster. "Now if that is all you may leave."

"Sir I do know who I am talking to it's just that this package is of such importance that it must be delivered in the utmost secrecy. I would be willing to pay dearly for it's prompt delivery."

"How much? What I mean to say is would you be willing to run an erand for me?"

"Yes, certainly."

"Good, you said you had two things to ask of me, what is the second?"

"The second thing that I thought you could help me with is I need to know if there is an under water passage into the residence that Dolores of Hillsbury maintains in the Nobles Quarter? And if so, where is it and how do I enter it?"

"The answer to that question will indeed cost you much. I have an even greater task for you. If you are planning what I think you are I will deliver the message and tell you about the secert tunnel, if, and only if you place this some where in the residence of Dolores Hillsbury." The Canalmaster held up a scroll case inlaid with gold and the visage of a dragon adorning it.

Tarin Sal readily agreed and took the scroll case.

Walking out of the office Tarin Sal recalled the manuscript he had sent along with the book he found at the Hillsbury siege. After reading the tome he had discovered that Dolores now knew of this artifact know as the Radiance, and ( from notes written on pages ) it would help greatly in her mission.

Tarin just hopped the priests of Terra could keep the book hidden and secure. Although he did not yet know Dolores's plans, from what he had heard on the street, they couldn't be good.

by Duncan TKD

Dalros carfully strode up to the Sorcerres Illanna Uiop's tower; as he was about to knock apon the door, it slowly opened and a voice from within beckoned him to come inside. He carefully walked down the lit corridor, noticing that the tower appeared bigger inside than with out. He finnally entered into a large living room with a large fire place in it and two very nice comfortable chairs. In one of the chairs sat a lovely woman and in the other there was an old, long white haired man. As he approached them he heard them talk:

"Well my dear I must return home," the white haired man said.

"Must you El, it is still quite early, and you have not told me all of your news."

"True my lady, but I have matters that concern me at home, and of course you have company."

"Well farewell El may your journey be a safe one."

"It usually is. there are not many that would take on an archmage such as myself."

Then in a flash of smoke the archmage disapeared.

by Kenneth Baggaley

Now Julian, when you’re short manpower, the pulley’s the way to load ship. See those boxes under the net? Watch when the boson blows his whistle. See that, son? Using the mast and rigging, the net gets drawn up Ôround the boxes and springs Ôem skyward, like a spider web Ôround flies. Then the pulley on the mainspar can swing the cargo inboard, and...son, are you listening?...

... Ah, Julian! What a strange question! Mine was a life lost, before your father found me. No, my sweet little soldier, my only family now is you. What came before... no longer matters. You are the only jewel of our lives, dear one, more precious than all these opals I wear combined...than all

“... All clear. It is time now, Julianus.” Arrowheart’s gentle nudge was enough to wake the paladin. Their split shift had afforded the party a few good hours of uninterrupted sleep, which was most welcome. Without Seven, they would need their strength and wits to survive further. And the dreams had not been too bad...

He looked over at the rest of the party. Everyone seemed to have found rest, except for Jen and the pig. Vigorously the apprentice was kneading at a small compound of clay and dirt, as the pig sat transfixed, staring at a fading candle. The book on its back lay open. A second look shocked him: the pig’s face had blue markings on it, in a rough trident shape, around the eyes and down the snout. He walked up to them. Jen’s face had it, too - daubed from the mud and tinted, he guessed. Jen did not react to his presence. She went on kneading, calmly diligent, in her own silent world. Hezkakal walked to the paladin’s side, stretching.

“So, no bacon this morning, I suppose?”

No one reacted.

“Well, we’ve had nothing to eat for a whole day, and cold charbroiled spider doesn’t exactly sound appetizing. Hey, Jen, how about conjuring something useful, like breakfast?”

Jen kept working. Questin shook his head.

“It has been hard for them. Leave them be.” He walked back to the party.

“Sausage? Pork rinds? Jeeze....hey, does the pig have a name?”

Jen stopped. Her head turned. Completely expressionless, she looked into Hezkakal’s eyes.


And she turned back to her work.

Hungry and stiff, Gaerth listened as the paladin outlined their course of action. His eyes had opened on Leonia, curled up half next to him, like a cat seeking warmth. Cuddled close to her chest was her sword - her one true love. He had smiled at the image; in her heart, he was numbered among good company. The paladin’s words yanked him back to reality.

“We need to search for the two pieces which may still be present in the lair. KishKamek may have stored them on the upper level. We must find a way to reach it.”

“Could they not be at this level, behind some of the other doors?” asked Arrowheart.

“At one time, yes. Perhaps that’s why Merry’s - and Hezkakal’s - senses picked out three doors. But the other two we picked were empty. If they once held the pieces, they no longer do.”

“Taken by adventurers?”

“Possibly” said the paladin. “But Merry sensed them still close by. If I were a dragon, and had to move them - perhaps in preparation for delivery - I would put them near me, near my exit. That would be on the upper level, I believe.”

“How do you know this?” asked Gaerth.

Questin answered simply, “Experience...and I know dragons.”

“Well, I gotta good one for us.” Hezkakal sat up and began pacing. “How are we supposed to get up there?”

“The dragon had a way” replied Leonia.

“Yeah, but we can’t exactly ask him now, can we?” sneered the thief.

The party returned to the great chamber. Jen followed, still absorbed in her kneading.

“Now, how can we get to that upper level?” Questin eyed the distant dark corners of the dusty cathedral. “Arrowheart, do you think you can get an arrow up to those lights?”

The elf shook his head. “Doubtful, paladin. That’s quite a shot, and I have no idea what it would catch on. I don’t know if we have enough rope.”

Questin walked to the walls, placing his hand carefully along the surface. “I doubt we could scale it. Even Hez would find that difficult.”

“Not to mention the chances of gray slime on the way up” said the thief.

“What about a flying spell?” asked Leonia.

Jen spoke without stopping her work, in a detached, disinterested manner.

“Magic is impacted within the dust. We cannot cast here.”

Merry nodded in agreement. “And even if we cast within the room, and did rise, once we exited the dust, at the top of the hall, the magic could fail, plummeting us to our doom. Magic works from outside the dust to within it: it may fail beyond it again.”

“One person could rise, carrying a rope, and jump for a ledge when the dust ends. Then it’s one life at risk. If they make it, attach the rope and lower it, so the others can climb.”

“You are brave, Leonia, but we have no rope that long. Even if we created one, the walls may yet hold slime as suggested. Some of our party are weak. Our climb would fail.”

And so on, for almost an hour, the party went about, thinking of and rejecting various methods of reaching the top.

“Let’s just leave the Great Hall and find the dragon’s way up.”

“No, Hez, that will be heavily guarded with magic. We lack Seven now. I’m certain our ogre and goblin friends are already en route that way, perhaps laying in ambush. We must get there from here.”

Hez spit in disgust.

“You just like thinking up stupid ways to get us all killed, don’t you, paladin?”

Questin bowed his head. “I miss Seven’s council in these matters.”

“Then I say take the jewels, grab the scrolls and get out.”

Leonia scoffed. “We can’t remove the scrolls without losing another life.”

“How did the dragon do it, then?” Gaerth’s question was met by the thief’s scorn.

“Like I told your lady steel-face, here, we can’t ask him.”

“No...wait.” Questin sat up, stroking his chin. Hezkakal grabbed his ears “Oh by Loki, he’s got another stupid idea coming!”

“Good trooper, that is a point. A dragon could not fit through these doors, under spiders and around corners. He either got them magically, or had a minion pick them up.”

“Magic’s out. He couldn’t cast through the dust.”

“Would he trust minions with such a secret?”

“Maybe each minion was killed after delivering a scroll to him.”

“Well, one was killed asking for it each time, it seems.”

“The pearls were an offering. Maybe he just knew what to offer.”

The party returned to the great chamber. Jen followed, still absorbed in her kneading.

“Now, how can we get to that upper level?” Questin eyed the distant dark corners of the dusty cathedral. “Arrowheart, do you think you can get an arrow up to those lights?”

The elf shook his head. “Doubtful, paladin. That’s quite a shot, and I have no idea what it would catch on. I don’t know if we have enough rope.”

Questin walked to the walls, placing his hand carefully along the surface. “I doubt we could scale it. Even Hez would find that difficult.”

“Not to mention the chances of gray slime on the way up” said the thief.

“What about a flying spell?” asked Leonia.

Jen spoke without stopping her work, in a detached, disinterested manner.

“Magic is impacted within the dust. We cannot cast here.”

Merry nodded in agreement. “And even if we cast within the room, and did rise, once we exited the dust, at the top of the hall, the magic could fail, plummeting us to our doom. Magic works from outside the dust to within it: it may fail beyond it again.”

“One person could rise, carrying a rope, and jump for a ledge when the dust ends. Then it’s one life at risk. If they make it, attach the rope and lower it, so the others can climb.”

“You are brave, Leonia, but we have no rope that long. Even if we created one, the walls may yet hold slime as suggested. Some of our party are weak. Our climb would fail.”

And so on, for almost an hour, the party went about, thinking of and rejecting various methods of reaching the top. “Let’s just leave the Great Hall and find the dragon’s way up.”

“No, Hez, that will be heavily guarded with magic. We lack Seven now. I’m certain our ogre and goblin friends are already en route that way, perhaps laying in ambush. We must get there from here.”

Hez spit in disgust.

“You just like thinking up stupid ways to get us all killed, don’t you, paladin?”

Questin bowed his head. “I miss Seven’s council in these matters.”

“Then I say take the jewels, grab the scrolls and get out.”

Leonia scoffed. “We can’t remove the scrolls without losing another life.”

“How did the dragon do it, then?” Gaerth’s question was met by the thief’s scorn.

“Like I told your lady steel-face, here, we can’t ask him.”

“No...wait.” Questin sat up, stroking his chin. Hezkakal grabbed his ears “Oh by Loki, he’s got another stupid idea coming!”

“Good trooper, that is a point. A dragon could not fit through these doors, under spiders and around corners. He either got them magically, or had a minion pick them up.”

“Magic’s out. He couldn’t cast through the dust.”

“Would he trust minions with such a secret?”

“Maybe each minion was killed after delivering a scroll to him.”

“Well, one was killed asking for it each time, it seems.”

“The pearls were an offering. Maybe he just knew what to offer.”

“W-we were... afraid.” They hung their heads.

Gurmstahl put his ax over his shoulder. “A dragon” he said calmly “eats you here or eats you there, a dragon eats you anywhere. Makes no difference to him. What else?”

Young Marc spoke up. “Harolt’s gone.”

The dwarf eyed him. “Gone where?”

The grooms looked at each other. “Away...h-he ran away. It’s been over a day now, and we’ve heard nothing of the others. Those cl-clouds seem cl-closer now, and, well...”

Gurmstahl sighed deeply. They were grooms, not paladins, after all.

“Should w-we go f-find Harolt?”

Gurmstahl took a very small box from the wagon.

“No. We wait. We’ll find him again. When we do...” he tossed the box to Marc “bury what’s left in this.”

Now, he thought, they’ll think twice before they run away.

“I-I guess... H-Harolt’s gone...”


The flat of the dwarf’s ax struck hard on Fredrik’s backside. Marc cowered together with him on the ground, fearing the armed warrior before them.

“WELL, then!” boomed the dwarf “who’s watching the horses, EH?” A raise of the ax sent the grooms scurrying to their charges.

As he stood watching them run off, something rustled in the nearby bushes. Gurmstahl spun around, ax overhead, ready for an attack. The move made him woozy.

“It is I, good Gurmstahl. Though thou art not well met, I fear.”

The dwarf watched the small figure emerge from the shadows, cape thrown over its head.

“I swear, it is me, friend.”

“Aye,” said the dwarf, lowering his ax, “furry feet and shoddy voice. I know ye, Boldo.”

The dwarf approached him. “New look, eh? It’s an improvement.”

Boldo did not answer. Gurmstahl was curious, then a little worried. “Boldo without words? S’like Glantri without wizards. Both perfect, both impossible.”

“Alas,” cried the sorrowful voice, “were it only words that I now lack.”

Gurmstahl readied another barb about his own earless state, when the halfling flung the cape back away from his head. The dwarf gaped and dropped his ax.

“Not cummin disway, Thane. Not cummin heer.”

This new ogre lieutenant was really beginning to annoy him. As they crouched together behind the outcropping, Thane popped the ogre in the eye with his elbow. The ogre rubbed it cursing.

“Only cupla ogres left. Cupla more goblinz, tu. Figger yu gonna need dat golem, eh?”

Thane spit. This one don’t know when to be quiet, either.

“Shaddap!” Punch in ear. Ogre get quiet.

Thane had to think. His lord had said Questin would come this way, to the dragon’s upper chamber. So far, his master’s advice had been sound. Now, waiting here, it seemed wrong. What if there were another way into the upper chamber? One the master didn’t know about, but Questin and company had found? Maybe KishKamek had secrets of his own...

Thane looked about him. Two ogres left, his useless shaman, and a handful of goblins. The paladin himself could almost handle this lot. He stared at the golem under one ogre’s arm. Would it react to Questin? Would he believe it was his mother’s spirit? If not, this little band of demi-humans would be butchered like cattle.

He gave the signal. “We go. Go tu uppir playz. Must get golem frunt uv paladin.”

His goblin leader, partly healed split across his nose, bowed before him.

“Fayvir, lord?”


The goblin scratched at his cut and looked up. “Yung hu-man fyter. Mine, pleez. Got paybak cummin.”

Thane nodded. “Yorz.” He raised his sword. “Now we GO!”

by Rick LaRue

Tacis moved slowly through the moonlit night. His night vision although good, did not compare with an elf’s. One false step could cause an injury that might doom the mission or force his companions to leave him behind. He did not wish to die yet, and certainly did not want to die alone. The silvery moonlight poured down upon the rough terrain casting bizarre shadows and turning the normally barren rock into a surreal landscape. Tacis was supposed to meet up with Dalros where Tarquin’s spell had pummeled the attackers. As he drew closer, he saw no sign of the elven ranger. He could make out several still shapes along the ground, and quickly moved into a defensive posture. Upon closer inspection, he found the shapes to be nothing more than dead gnolls.

Tacis was always amazed at Tarquin’s magic. The mage always seemed peaceful and kind, but while practicing his art, he took on a more fearsome aspect. To think that the same man was capable of this much destruction, yet still took time to tell village children folk tales seemed like an odd contrast to Tacis. Tacis was a simple man, forced to survive alone from an early age. In that, he and Tarquin shared a common past, but at roughly the same age the two set off on different paths. Tarquin was raised by a kindly mage who taught him his trade, while Tacis was forced into virtual slavery by the Iron Ring. Had he not escaped, he might still answer to the leaders of that evil guild.

An odd shape silhouetted in the distance snapped the thief out of his pondering. Approaching carefully, he kicked the object, causing it to fall over onto its side. It was a pack. He began to kneel and reach for the pack, when his well-honed senses caused him to leap back. A large stone axe skipped across the rocky path sending bright sparks into the night sky. His night vision ruined, Tacis dove behind a nearby outcropping. Anxious, he rubbed his eyes hoping to drive away the multicolored spots. He could hear guttural voices getting closer to his position. Desperate, he drew his cloak around him and whispered “Shadows rule in darkest night.” Suddenly, where the thief had sat, remained nothing but a pocket of deep shadow.

The wounded gnolls moved closer to their prey, hoping to add another kill to their war honors. They had seen the human scurry towards the rock and circled on opposite sides. Confident of their coming victory, they began barking in high-pitched hyena-like voices. In savage glee, the beastmen sprang upon their prey.

Both gnolls barked in surprise. The human was not where he should have been. The pair whirled, fearing an attack from behind, but found only the night. Turning back to where their prey should have been, they lived only long enough to see the shadows take on human form.

Tacis wiped his blade with a beastman’s cloak and returned it to his scabbard. His heart beat in exhilaration from the recent exchange. During battle, he thrived on the rush of danger, but his euphoria was soon replaced by disgust. He hated the fact that he had just ended two lives, regardless of the danger they posed him, but he knew that in spite of his revulsion, he would do it again... and again...

The thief returned to the pack and examined it. It belonged to Dalros. The cold hand of fear crept up his spine as he began to search for his companion. After several minutes of searching he realized Dalros was nowhere to be found. Shouldering his companion’s pack, he decided to return to the group before they began to worry. He did not look forward to informing them of the group's loss.

by Kenneth Baggaley

“Amazing!” Arrowheart was releasing the magic dust into the air in front of him. Taken from the great chamber into the hutaaka’s room, when released the dust hung in the air, motionless, as if suspended, moored to an invisible anchor. “It’s as if I painted it on the air” the elf declared.

“Now move Jen’s magic light toward it.”

The light got close, and the dust slowly migrated toward it, in a casual drift. It surrounded the light, dulling it considerably.

“You were right, Julianus. It focuses around magic - and dulls it.”

“Are your arrows ready?”

The elf nodded, gesturing to the shafts in his belt. Each had a small glass receptacle attached to the head. Within each glass was a cloud the color of dust.

Hezkakal scoffed. “This better work, paladin. We spilled the last of our oil to use those flasks.”

Questin drew his Holy Avenger. “We’ll soon see. Celentia Mera, if you will.”

The priestess bowed and raised her arms. As her lips muttered prayers, a glowing ring surrounded the entire party, except for Arrowheart, Merry and Questin. With the ring in place, Questin nodded, advanced to the table, and with a purposeful swipe of his sword, knocked a pile of something from it and stepped back. They turned out to be small glass beads, which shattered and hissed upon the stone floor beneath.

The room shook. The cape rose and became brilliant. A pillar of fire shot up from the chair. Before them, again, staff in hand, stood the Hutaaka.

Hezkakal yawned. “Eh, it’s been done already.....”

The hutaaka stood before Merry and Questin. It glanced briefly at the party ringed in light. Apparently, it did not sense Arrowheart, huddled beneath the table to its left. The beast stood twelve to fifteen feet tall. In such a narrow room, Arrowheart was as good as invisible.

The beat looked to Merry for a response. She did not move. It voiced something in its throaty howl. Questin raised his sword and stepped forward. The hutaaka jerked his head to Questin, eyes narrowing. A smile curled its canine lips, bending sharply into a snarl. A gritty growl echoed in the room.

Merry began her motions. The hutaaka shot glances between the two incongruous actions. An attack, or another supplication? It howled out a formal command.

Questin stepped forward, and the beast’s eyes glowed. The staff began to glow, ready to strike. Then from nowhere, out rolled the elf, before Questin, three arrows drawn in his bow. With one shot all three shafts sped toward the hutaaka.


The beast smiled, and howled in triumph. The arrows had shattered before striking it, leaving only a flimsy pale of dust before its eyes and staff. It nodded its head, and beams poured from the eyes and staff toward Questin and the tumbling elf....

The weakened beams bounced off the paladin’s shield as he ran at the hutaaka. The beast seemed frozen in stunned disbelief. Questin slashed the staff in two, it’s base tumbling away. His follow through cut deeply across both shins of the hutaaka, who howled in pain. It lunged down, but Questin deflected its grasp with his shield and sliced his avenger through the beast’s stomach. The staggering creature fell forward in pain atop the paladin.


Before Leonia could leap from the ring in support, she heard a human roar from beneath the beast. In one tremendous motion, the beast flipped into the air, hurled off the arched back of the paladin. Gaerth could not believe the knight’s immense strength. With a thud, the man-jackal landed flat against the floor on its back, a few feet from the protective ring. The half-staff, it’s gems surrounded in dust, rattled off into a corner.

The wounded hutaaka rolled over, it’s dust-clouded eyes directly before the ring. As the party watched, Questin leaped onto its back, grabbing it under the canine jaw, and bending its head back exposing its neck. Sword upon its throat, the huge bleeding beast was helpless.

“Merry!” called Questin, “Tell it their will be no sacrifice. Tell it to surrender.”

Merry Rosewater began to chant, a slow singing message the prone beast seemed reluctant to hear. It spat back a growled response, blood trickling from the corners of its jaw.

Merry translated. “It says failed guardians deserve death.”

“It sought our life. If it surrenders, I will show mercy.”

Another exchange. “It says mercy is a weak human trait. Release it, and it will depart.”

“The scrolls are ours. It must swear this.”

Another exchange, the hutaaka howling in protest. “Taking scrolls demands a sacrifice and a life.”

“Very well. Hezkakal, place the jewels you took from the horde last night upon the table.”

“Wha...I don’t know what you mea....”

“DO IT!”

The thief grumbled, stepping out of the ring and the room to retrieve his hidden stash. He returned, cursing Questin, and placed several bright gems on the high table.

“Good, Hez. And as for the life required - will it give us now the scrolls?”

This exchange drew no answer from the beast.

“Arrowheart, take the scrolls from the table.” The elf began to gather them, and the hutaaka struggled, attempting to toss Questin from his shoulders. It lunged back to bite , but the paladin’s grasp was too strong. With one swift motion, Questin severed the head clear through the neck, a deluge of blood flowing upon the floor, turning instantly into gray-white sand. The head and body likewise dissolved;

the paladin stood shin-deep in the sand of his former adversary.

“Its own shall serve as the life required. So be it.”

The ring dissolved, and Celentia stumbled in weakness. She was clearly worn out from these exertions. Arrowheart brought the scrolls to her, six in all, and she smiled warmly at the party.

“Blessings upon you all. Thank Mother Terra, we have succeeded.”

“Almost, Celentia Mera. We must search the upper chambers, and recover our lost friends. Then, the mission is ended. Hez, leave those jewels alone!”

“C’mon, noble-knees, ol’ dog-face is dead. He won’t miss Ôem.”

The paladin’s approach was enough to make the thief back off.

“Where to now, Questin?” Leonia asked.

The paladin looked up, watching the dust slowly drift to the unseen roof of the chamber. He smiled and pointed high into the darkness.

“Up there.”

by Duncan TKD

"Are you the Sorcerous Illanna Uiop?" asked the elven ranger.

"Yes, I am. We haven't much time, if we are to help in the deffense of Wendar."

"What must we do?"

"We must gather together heroes that will defend Wendar against an evil that our world has not seen for over a thousand years."

"Well I'll go to the forest to the east and collect some of my bretheren...."

"No, only those selected by the Immortals will do any good against this darkness." She looked around in the darkness "You were followed inside."

Dalros looked around to see a dark figure in a black cloak wielding a scimitar behind him, but before he could react Illanna raised her hand and an arch of lightning lept from her fingertips into the creature. After the smoke cleared from the lightning all that remained of their assalent was his black cloak which Dalros proptly picked up and through into the fireplace.

"Tommorrow," the sorcerous said, "we travel to a city in Sind."

by Kenneth Baggaley

“See anything, Arrowheart?” Questin floated among the party, looking hard into the corners of the vaulted ceiling in front of him. Gaerth found the sensation as natural as swimming - except they were not in water but suspended at dizzying heights above the distant floor below, searching for an way out. The trooper swam by Leonia, brushing next to the ooze-damaged mail across her back.

“Thou art beautiful, sweet lady.”

“Keep your eyes on the roof, good trooper.”

Her retort made Hezkakal snort, but Gaerth smiled, too. Her voice rang of business, not dislike.

“Here we are!”

The elf jiggled his thin arms to steady his flight and pointed to a seam in the vaulting. Hezkakal swam over quickly.

“Yep - he’s right. And it’s trapped, too. Rigged like a Minrothad frigate.”

Try not to think of ships....fight the image....the paladin clutched his chest.....

“Can you open it, Hez?”

The thief spun upside-down, tracing the seam without touching it. “Hmmm. I don’t know. This one is tough.”

“Merry, can you disarm it?”

The halfling struggled to fly over to Hezkakal. “Hez, it is not clear to me, either.”


Apprentice sat, lotus positioned with the pig on her lap, both seemingly uninvolved in the search. “The master would know.”

“Yeah, well, that’s a great help.” Hezkakal cocked his head studying the vault.

Celentia Mera moved gracefully toward the seam. The others parted before her.

“When I go through” she said quietly “jam the door open.”

Before anyone could protest, the priestess threw her withered palm against the seam and bowed. A light glowed as she muttered a prayer - and a door fell open!

The priestess dashed through it, calling “Quickly!”.

A second door swung down, Leonia just barely getting her sword under the joint to stop it. Two tiny spirits, the size of gossamer bats, leapt out and swirled rapidly at Celentia’s head. As she plunged forward, attackers in tow, the party started through behind her. A huge grate with spikes swung down, Questin just catching it before Gaerth was impaled. The pig snorted, and a tunnel of blue light formed through the opening. They raced after Celentia, Arrowheart at the back.

Gaerth leapt up through the short dark tunnel into a dull lit cavern. The tunnel opened out to a wide ledge, overlooking a huge winding chasm. Ledges abounded on the cliff wall. As the flight spell was still active, he floated helplessly above the ground. Spinning, he saw Questin swing and strike one of the ghost-bats; it disappeared in a sparkling puff. Celentia looked - well, bigger, and transparent - as if she had been stretched out, her essence thinned by dispersal. A second swipe, and the other ghost-bat fled in a flash down the chasm. Questin turned to the emerging party.

“Jen! Merry! Quickly! We will lose her!”

Merry rattled her bracelets. But it was too late. The image of the priestess, expanding to huge size and growing dimmer, filled the cavern and disappeared from view. The sound of her plaintive sigh echoed down the chasm, and faded away forever.

Jen nodded, and the party dropped gently to the ledge. Gaerth felt his own weight again. He could almost feel the paladin grieve behind his stoic countenance.

“Rest well, holy woman. We will not fail you.”

Leonia examined her sword. The blade had been damaged by the door - it was difficult to say how much. She tended it like a wounded friend. Gaerth watched her with an odd envy. Hezkakal walked by and tapped his shoulder. “Forget it, love-donkey. She has her one-and-only.” Gaerth shook his head and walked on as she cradled the blade, stroking the damaged middle. Jealous of a weapon - he felt foolish.

Jen and the pig sat together, kneading clay like determined village madmen. They were useless to us, thought Gaerth. Arrowheart and Merry Rosewater were searching, while Questin followed with his shoulders heavy at their latest loss.

Gaerth took a deep breath. Five dead or wounded, and he was still standing. He was proud of that, but also a realist. Boldo’s conversation stuck in his head. His luck couldn’t hold out forever. Make it count, he remembered. Make it count.

Then a sling stone bounced off the shield on his back, and warcries went up all around him.


The ambush came too quickly to form up. Gaerth slung his shield forward, drew his sword and raced back towards Leonia. Questin and Arrowheart could defend themselves.

He ran by Jen, who with the pig was encased in a yellow dome, arrows bouncing off. They worked within the protective dome as if nothing were happening outside of any interest.

Hezkakal had vanished. Leonia was fighting, drawing back towards him, an ogre and a swarm of goblins in pursuit. She was keeping her flank from being turned. Gaerth arrived at her side, swinging at a goblin slinger who backed away. Almost back to back they retreated to near the edge of the chasm, deflecting arrows and slicing at any goblins who got too close. They could hear Merry yelling, and something happening to their right. But where was the ringing clang of Questin’s sword?

The goblins stuck to Gaerth, the missles and the ogre to Leonia. Though several blows sent goblins reeling away in pain, the attackers seemed interested in occupying them, rather than rushing them. This was not like the other attacks at all. Gaerth swung and called to Leonia.

“They’re holding back. The delay helps us. Questin will cut them up. What’s going on?”

Leonia slashed the ogre across his hand, and it roared in pain. “I don’t hear his sword. Something’s wrong. Stay close. WATCH OUT!”

Gaerth lost his footing and tumbled down. Quickly he sliced and spun to his feet, but it was too late. Goblins had gotten between him and Leonia. She had leapt up onto a small rock outcropping to his left, surrounded. Gaerth stepped back, wobbled, and caught himself: his boot was at the very edge of the deep chasm. The goblins circling him stopped, listening to strange shouts (like orders) behind them. They parted like a gate, and out stepped the goblin leader, sword in hand. Gaerth stared, and the goblin stared back. Both smiled and nodded together. “Yes,” said the trooper, gripping his sword firmly, “I remember you, too.” Gaerth touched his own nose where the goblin was cut and sneered. The goblin wiggled his sword, mimicking the trooper’s fancy style, and laughed. They had a score to settle.

Gaerth looked to his right. In the distance, Questin stood motionless, some wooden figure standing before him, an odd looking fighter advancing behind it with sword drawn. But the paladin didn’t move - was he frozen?

A hideous metal CLACK rose to his left, and Leonia cried out. Gaerth turned in terror. There she stood, the ogre advancing upon her, and in her hand - the broken stem of her sword!


The ogre peered carefully among the outcroppings, looking for anything that might give away the hiding place of the invisible halfling. Two goblins scurried about with him, hoping to catch the thief that had disappeared beside her. The ogre stepped callously over the body of the shaman, pierced twice with deadly arrows, and smiled. Ogre had knocked elf over edge good - just too late for shaman. He rubbed his shoulder where the elf’s arrow had hit him, too. One down, two to go.

A scream came from behind him. One of the goblins stumbled forward, and fell to his face, a dagger handle between his shoulder blades. The second goblin loaded his sling nervously. The ogre turned back to the outcropping.

As he searched, the ogre dimly noticed the edge of the chasm kept moving away from him. He stepped still moved away. Was this a trick? Suddenly, he saw a shimmering outline of the female halfling at the cliff’s edge. AHA! Her magic is failing! Lifting his club, he let out a terrible warcry and ran straight at the image, straight through it, and straight over the real cliff’s edge into the smoky abyss below.

“Yup. Mustuv binna trik” concluded the ogre as he tumbled wildly to his death.

The remaining goblin shivered, sling rattling in his hands, too panicked to fire or flee. Fwwipp! An arrow through his head ended his choice of options. The stone from his sling rolled along the ground until stopped under Hezkakal’s boot.

“Nice shot for someone hanging over the edge.”

Arrowheart struggled up. “That ogre almost fell on top of me! Help me, at least, will you? I’m hurt.”

Merry appeared beside them, helping Arrowheart up. She looked to Hezkakal, who nodded; yes, he was all right. She hugged him in relief. The elf pressed gently on his bruised hip. “I will miss the priestess and her healing, I fear.”

The thief retrieved his dagger. “Wonder how noble-knees is doing?” Just then a huge ROARRRRR filled the cavern and echoed down the chasm below. Merry leaped up to the outcropping and gasped. The others jumped up with her, riveted by her wide-eyed pointing. “’s a....a DRAGON!”


<<I am here, Julian. You knew that I would never leave truly you. My little soldier, how you have grown!>>

(You cannot be here. I sat beside you when you died. This is a dream.)

<<No dream, dear Julian. It is I who gave you life. I who cared and nurtured you through your youth. And I who now take such pride in what you have become! To see you again fills me with joy!>>

(Your last words to me..they were final. You did not say you would return. This cannot be real. Who is beside you there?)

<<Know ye, Julian, I had a family once, four young ones. Your half-brothers and half-sisters! They were killed by a senseless dragon attack. As I knew something of dragon ways, I prayed over their bodies for vengeance, for the blood of my young...>>

(I know this story. I have felt it in my heart all my life. You have no need to tell me. Who is that?)

<<Opal heard my prayers, Julian! Opal too had lost her young to a senseless treasure-seeker. I prayed, and was heard, and became a priestess to her temple..>>

(This I knew. I somehow knew. That figure beside you - he draws a sword?)

<<And Opal promised to protect any of my future young, when I had served her well. Fearful humans destroyed the temple, sending us to slavery..>>

(I must draw my sword too. It stopped. Who is hiding behind you?)

<<When you were born, the milk I gave you formed the opal gem within your heart. You are forever under her protection..>>

(Blurry...mother, then protect me now! Who is it steps towards me?)

<<You carry my love and protection forever...forever...forever...>>

Thane raised his sword, aiming it directly at the paladin’s neck. “Thus dies grayte paladin!”


Thane jumped and spun frantically around. Behind him, rising up from the mist in the chasm, were two huge red eyes, fiercely folded behind the vast expanse of glittering dark green scales. The enormous head rose above the cliff’s edge, nostrils smoking in anger.

Thane sighed.

“Oushet. Dis em noguud fer Thane. Em shuruvit.”


Gaerth reacted instantly. “My lady!”

She turned. With a single motion, he flung his sword high over the heads of the goblin semicircle, arcing handle over point toward her.

“My sword and my life!” he shouted, as he watched her deftly catch the spinning blade and swing downward. Gaerth felt a rush of joy and honor run through him. Then he looked at the goblins and gulped. But they just stood there.

They don’t know what to make of it, he thought. Throwing your sword away? And he remembered what Leonia had taught him: do the unexpected.

Gaerth calmly turned his back to the goblins and put down his shield at the very edge of the cliff. They watched him, completely puzzled. He stood and faced them, and with great drama and flourish, drew an imaginary longsword from his belt, brandishing it in his two (empty) hands. He thrust, and the goblins backed away. The leader backpedaled, eyeing him warily. Was this some invisible, magical weapon?

Gaerth knew had only seconds for this illusion to work. He swung once more, backing the others away. Then he lowered his arms, holding one hand in an imagined grip, and motioned with a curled finger to the goblin leader.

“C’mon, cut-nose. I’m waiting.”

The leader glanced left and right. His followers were staring at him, waiting to see his reaction. Magic sword or no, he would have to attack.

Narrowing his eyes into slits, the leader shouted some unknown oath and charged. Just as the leader was upon him, Gaerth gestured with the fake blade, causing his running assailant to cover his face. Quickly the trooper dropped to his back and met the charging goblin’s stomach with his boots. In a continual motion he rolled on his back and, kicking out hard over his head, flung the leader over him, using the goblin’s own momentum. His side burst with pain as the goblin’s blade dug deep into him in passing. The leader flew over his head, landing hard on the shield beyond. The last look Gaerth had of the leader was his desperate fear as the shield slid over the edge like a sled in the winter, the goblin along for the ride, split nose and all.

The screams still echoed in his ears as Gaerth tried to stand. He grabbed his side; he could feel the hot soft organs spilling out between his fingers. He tried to stand and felt weak. An arrow struck him in the chest with a THUMP, almost knocking him over. So this is what it’s like to die. Most of the goblins were running away, but two advanced on him, intent on avenging their leader. He surprised them again - jumping toward them and taking both in headlocks, part of him bursting out in blood and trailing from his open side! He spun round to the cliff’s edge, barely feeling the thrusts into his neck and stomach. With one desperate, mighty push he leaped to the edge, filthy necks tight in his grasp, and rolled them all over into the abyss. As the two goblins screamed falling through mid-air, he smiled:he had made it count.

He hit something with a faint bump, his body limp like cloth, and slid slowly down what seemed to be a huge, green wing. His life was fading from him. So that’s what a dragon looks like, he thought in his final thought. A distant roar dinged in his ears, his cool fingers gripped a small blue cloth, and then... nothing.


From the height of the outcropping, Leonia faced the ogre, broken blade in hand. Only a few inches of it remained; it hardly constituted a dagger now. A goblin archer below took aim at her. Could she leap to the ogre’s neck, and survive long enough to damage him?

“My lady!”

She looked to her right. Spinning through the air, in a deadly spiral toward her, was a sword. A sword! She put her hand out to catch it, timing the decent of the handle...

“My sword and my life!”

Gaerth’s words thrilled her as she caught the sword perfectly, and in a single motion swung downward. The arrow glanced off the smartly positioned blade. She turned quickly to the ogre, who registered complete surprise. Surprise! SLASH went the blade, the ogre’s throat gurgling in a rush of his own blood. Wasn’t she unarmed a second ago? A deep thrust into his barrel chest gave the answer - apparently, not anymore.

As the ogre toppled onto one goblin, the three others witnessed a hellion leaping from behind the falling body. Slash! Down went one. Slash! A severed hand flew aside, still holding an arrow. The last goblin accepted the better part of valor and fled into the rocks.

Leonia raised her sword in victory, then shuddered. The clear crystal around her neck stabbed her with pain. The sword in her hand grew hot, and shook uncontrollably. Was it a magic attack? She leapt up to the outcropping again.

A gasp escaped her weathered lips as from her height she looked about and saw Gaerth - Gaerth! - impaled upon an arrow, empty-handed, rushing two armed goblins!


In terror she watched the two creatures, heads locked beneath his arms, plunge their weapons into his belly and neck. Somehow he leapt like a madman toward the cliff, rolling the three figures over the edge and out of sight.

Ouch! The crystal burned her skin, and the blade wobbled like the wings of a wild bird caught on a rope. The blade leapt from her firm hand and fell behind the outcropping. As the crystal scorched her skin, Leonia tore it from her neck and flung it, watching it bounce and drop behind the rocks as well. She checked her collar and below her throat; normal, no burn marks at all.

Looking behind the rocks, she saw the sword, lying - this was impossible - among a bed of beautiful red rose bushes! Roses? In a lair? Leonia lay on her stomach and stretched down to reach the weapon deep within the bushes. Sharp thorns tore at her hand and arm, pricking her every motion. The fresh rose scent mingling with her blood was overpowering. Her hand was inches from the handle, when - the handle jumped back into her hand! By itself!

Slowly and painfully, Leonia extracted the sword and looked it over. It was the same sword, for certain, yet it was deeply, radically...changed. The blade seemed stronger, the balance better. In the hilt, engravings of two glowing rings, joined by a thorn covered vine, ran along the front. A stylized rose pattern decorated the edges. And fixed on the pommel, glowing a vibrant blue, was the crystal that had been around her neck.

“What magic is this?” the warrior asked herself - only to be shaken by the tremendous RRRRROOOOOAAAAAAARRRR behind her! Her blood ran cold, and fear gripped her scarred chest: It was the unmistakable sound of a dragon!


Jen and the pig worked furiously within thier sun-like bubble, molding and kneading with disciplined desperation. The pig slumped lazily to its side. "Yes, flying a group that size is tiring. You may rest now. I will go on."

The pig grunted.

"You're welcome" said Jen.

The blue on their faces was growing darker each minute. Within the small hands of the apprentice, the tiny mud figurine began to take on a definitive shape. She paused, wiping her brow as another arrow bounced harmlessly away.

"The dome is taking too much effort. I pray we will finish in time."

A flickering from the golden cover gave credence to her statement. The pig rose with effort and pushed its snout into the molding process.

Jen curled a small smile. "We may be too late this time...."

Suddenly, a muffled rrrrrrooooooaaaaaaarrrrr was heard beyond the cliff wall. Jen sat up; the pig stared straight ahead.

The apprentice shook her head sadly. "The Mark is very prominent. We are almost done. But this" she gestured back toward the dragon sounds "may complicate things."

With a fizzle, the yellow dome blinked and disappeared around them.

A shining gauntlet, grip strong as steel, caught Thane’s descending arm, nearly breaking it.

Questin blinked. He turned and looked at the dragon. Then at the golem. Then at the half-orc. Thane smiled nervously.

“Uh...gud! Yu awayk. Much danjur heer. Cum kwik!”

Questin shook his head a little. The golem before him moved stiffly, extending its arms, but Questin violently rattled his head, NO, swinging Thane like a toy doll toward the figure, so both orc and golem tumbled to the ground before him. The paladin jerked his head about, trying to shake off the golem’s effects.

The stiff female figure sat up, opening its mouth toward Questin. Thane saw the huge dragon head looking down with an odd interest in the matter. If he was to live, he had to act quickly.

“Tis golem, paladin. I free yu!” The orc shoved hard against the wooden form, hurling it over the side of the chasm into the mist below. “Now kwik! Kil dragon!”

The disappearance seemed to help Questin. His head began to clear. Thane crouched before the awesome glare of the dragon head, its hot exhales steaming through his limp hair.

Julianus straightened his back and turned to the dragon. Though perhaps a mere twenty feet apart, he showed no sign of alarm. He eyed the creature up and down the long, thick neck, wide as a gateway, resplendent in shiny green scales. The dragon looked him up and down too, it’s huge mouth curling ever so slightly into a little smile - perhaps even a smirk. Questin sheathed his sword and removed his helmet. The dragon made an odd, surprised face.

From her outcropping, Leonia could not believe what she saw. Cold sweat rolled down her back and neck at the dragon’s every gesture. Her elbows were vibrating in fear, making the sword she held before her shaken and unsteady.

<So that’s what a real dragon looks like.>

“Wha - who speaks?”

<No wonder Questin wasn’t fooled by the gnome’s illusion. They got it all wrong.>

“Who...?” The voice - was it an actual voice? -was somehow familiar to her. Where was it coming from?

<Real dragon faces are so - animated. Incredible. Its expressions look human!>

Leonia looked down the blade of her sword. The glow of the blue pommel reflected off the sweat running down her arms and hands.

“Gaerth? Where are you?”

Her sweat spilled onto the hilt.

<Wow! that’s pretty cold. Are you that frightened, my lady?>

She dropped the sword with a gasp. Her open hands shook, raining beadles of sweat on the rocks around her. Slowly, she knelt down toward the sword, extending her callused fingers.

“G-Gaerth? Can this...sword... be you?”

The sword stood up on its point, startling her, then carefully lowered itself into her waiting palm.

<At your service, my lady.>

She picked up the blade, amazed. The pommel beamed.


<Don’t ask me. I’ll never understand magic.>

She balanced the blade in her hand. “Are you dead?”

<I’m not sure how to answer that.>

“What do you feel?”

There was a slight pause.

<The warmth of your touch - and the honor of serving you.> She smiled, still a bit distraught, and swung the sword a few times, gently first, then with vigor. “Did it hurt when I dropped you?”

<My lady, my only pain now would be the loss of this... your touch.>

She smiled, turning the blade with her wrist.

<Tis pleasing to make you smile again. Now let us aid our friends.>

The dragon reared its huge head, ten feet across, and stared intently at the unarmed paladin. Red eyes the size of rainbarrels were transfixed, each split by a black vertical sliver with a yellow stripe within. The head cocked to the sound of clanking scales, and the mouth opened, yards of tongue rolling out, piping hot breath sweeping the ledge.

From the other side, Merry cried out in fear “QUESTIN!!”

The dragon turned to look at her, then turned back to the paladin. His long tongue flipped back into his mouth. And then, in a booming, heavily accented common, it spoke!

((QUESTIN! Questin Julianus! I bloody well thought so!))

Thane’s jaw dropped.

((Still slumming it with the humanoids, are we, old bean?))

Merry was stunned. Hezkakal put his hand on her shoulder.

“What in the name of...?”

“That’s an odd, formal accent - I-I can’t place it.” said a dazed Arrowheart.

Questin smiled at the dragon. Merry could see a gleam in the whites of his eyes, a glossy sparkle that reminded her of...opals.

Questin stroked his jaw. “Jade dragon...distinguished bearing....mature size....I’m guessing, oh, ... Alphatia?”

((SPOT ON! Very well played, good fellow. Archibald-Wrauthchard; pleasure, indeed.))

“Questin Julianus, paladin of the Church of Khiss, serving the Immortal Frey. Hail and well met, Archibald-Wrauthchard.”

The dragon flipped his massive claw, swirling up the mist from below in a mighty draft.

((Bosh, let’s not stand on ceremony, Questin Julianus. You can call me Chard, you know.))

“And you may call me Questin.”

((Splendid! Good show! Eh, must this humanoid drivel be mucking about, wot?))

“They are my friends.”

((Bally odd company you keep, Questin. Certain standards ARE expected, you know.))

Thane shuddered, too scared to move.

((THIS one...)), the dragon stared directly at Merry, causing a chill to run through her bones, ((This IS an odd duck, eh wot? Female halfling, of all the choices...))

“She does not know, Chard.”

The dragon rubbed its massive claw under its chin.

((Fancy that. Well, there is NO accounting for taste, I fear...))

“And what brings you to the lair of KishKamek, good Chard?”

The great green head suddenly reared up to the sky, flames shooting high into the roof of the cavern. The frightened party dove for cover, Jen, pig and paladin alone standing their ground. Thane panicked and leapt over the edge of the cliff (his nearest cover), scratching and scrambling as he slid down the sharp incline toward the misty bottom. His hand caught hold of a root, and he clung with desperation, feet dangling, several yards below the ledge. Carefully he searched for footholds, the enormous green side and wings perilously close, hoping the dragon would not look his way.

The green head dropped back down, and from behind her rock Merry could see the mighty dragon was...Laughing!

((HAW! HAW!! HAW!! Jolly good rib, old chap! Quite a tickler. Mugged it straight! Dash it all, Questin, let’s not beat about so, wot? You and I are here for the same thing, my good fellow. We seek the scrolls of the Lord of Wyrms!))

“I knew it! I knew it! He doesn’t slay dragons, he talks Ôem to death!”

Cowering behind their rocks, Arrowheart hushed the thief.

“Quiet, Hezkakal. We don’t want to attract the dragon’s attention.”

But the thief kept on talking.

“Tells it all about the scrolls. Sheesh! You’ve campaigned with him, elf. Is he always this chummy with the enemy?”

“Not all dragons are enemies, Hezkakal. There are a few dragons he has slain, certainly. But with some” he checked to make sure the dragon hadn’t turned to them “with some, he can come to an...understanding.”

“Great” Muttered Hezkakal, “He’s playing games, and we’re the pieces”.

The dragon leaned over, putting his claw under his chin, looking almost flippant at the paladin. Questin, his story finished, crossed his arms and cocked his head.

((I reahhly must have those scrolls, but I cahn’t just kill you, old chap. Wouldn’t be sporting, you see.))

“And I can’t kill you either, Chard. Not my style.”

((Ah, your own particular....particular...idiom, is it?))

“Something like that.”

((Yes, well then, we seem jolly well buggered for options, eh wot?))

“I can’t give you the scrolls.”

((And I cahn’t let you patter off and take them. My, my. It is EXCLUSIVELY a dragon matter, of course. Not reahhly for humanoids...hmmmm...yeeessss...perhaps I could chew on your friends a bit, then, soften your opinions, eh ?))

“I WOULD defend them, Chard. You know that.”

((Quite. This Bonding issue DOES pose a bit of a conundrum for us, eh wot? My killing them without killing you, you defending them without killing me. Devil of a mess!))

“The table and chair I mentioned...ancient Nithian design....Worth anything to you?”

((Hmmm....pre-fifth dynasty, by any chance?))

“I’m not sure. How can you tell?”

((Well, the true Nithian dynast style incorporates fundamental functionalism with stark geodesic patterns in soft blue combinations, creating a sort of....))

Hez shook his head. “Man, this dragon’s a windbag! and Questin’s eggin’ him on!”

Arrowheart smiled. “Some dragons are proud. Vanity is a weakness. Questin knows what he’s doing. Besides” smiled the elf “you might learn something if you listen.”

“Yeah” grumbled the thief “The Secrets of Dead Peoples’ Furniture. Real useful, that one.”

((...with sort of serrated edges, at least until the later entropic influences began. Am I losing you, old chap?))

“Not at all. Your knowledge is quite extensive.”

((Yeessssss, as is my collection. Well, Questin, I would like to see these pieces. How do you propose we do it, eh wot? I cahn’t bloody well fit down a hole made for humanoids!))

“The hole shrinks whoever enters first, and expands whoever exits first. We lost one of our party that way.” He mouthed a silent prayer for Celentia Mera.

((And in return? You cahn’t expect me to let you take the scrolls now, old bean.))

“I understand. I thought you might fill us in on the artifact - the one with pieces still around here somewhere.”

((Splendid! Capital idea! We shant pither about the other three, eh wot? The one you seek here, good fellow, is a ring - four broken pieces of a ring. And sized for a proper dragon!))