Adventure Date: November 19, 2010
Last Updated: August 16, 2011
Angel Dark, Demon Bright
It has been a year since the Chaos War, when the Bringer of Undeath, Orcus, almost succeeded in entering Oerth. Though foiled, the damage that had ensued from the attempt had been extreme. The City of Greyhawk had been obliterated, as well as several other major cities and strongholds. The land itself had been ravaged - plants grew poorly, if it grew at all, and survival had been almost impossible. If not for the combined efforts of all and the blessings of the gods, none would have lived to see the first anniversary of the Chaos War.
The Companions, heroes of Oerth, had returned to the ruins that had been the City of Greyhawk. Recognizing the need for a stronghold to house and protect the people who had become forcibly displaced when their homes were destroyed, they had begun to immediately rebuild the city. Going out on forays, they gathered all who they encountered and brought them to construction site. They also sought out those who would prey on the innocent during this time of need. Tanar’ri, those who remained on Oerth, were a constant threat, but a threat that could be dealt with. With HHH’s help, the Order of the Phoenix rose out of the ashes anew into an organization even more powerful than its previous incarnation. On the foundation that had been the City of Greyhawk, Newhawk was built.
As more and more people trickled in, the rebuilding process accelerated. Ebreck sought out the aid of the dwarven clans and was soon rewarded for his efforts. With the arrival of the dwarves from The Kingdom of the Iron Hills, construction began in earnest. Soon, a high, protective wall was built. Within the confines of the wall, buildings were raised quickly. In time, a temple dedicated to Heironeous was erected, drawing flocks of followers. Soon, other temples, dedicated to various other deities, arose. A new Wizards’ Tower materialized one day, to the shock of the populace. When Nuria casually walked out to admire her handiwork, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The area around Newhawk was also rehabilitated. Elves from Celene and gnomes from the Cairn Hills helped restore the water and land to a state where it could sustain crops to grow. With Xana’s guidance, a new grove grew from the remains of the old. It took much, but after only a single year, the state of affairs had greatly improved. Newhawk became a symbol of the resilience of the people of Oerth through these difficult times and the cooperation between nations.
As Newhawk was built, the Companions were looked upon more and more for their strength and guidance. Eventually, though reluctantly, they were made members of the new city council. Making decisions on the development of the city, creating and maintaining ties with different nations, or even deciding on the new emblem for Newhawk proved more difficult and stressful than taking on Orcus himself! Fortunately, they were not alone on the council. Andre, leader of the Brotherhood, also sat with them on the council. Familiar with running an organization, his insight helped guide the others. The Companions worked diligently to improve the lives of those who trusted in them, and soon, they brought pride and happiness to the people of Newhawk. PW helped guide the new Guild, focusing their energies on bolstering “trade” between cities without leeching the weak. Life in Newhawk returned to a semblance of what it once was. But, the peace couldn’t last.
It was daybreak, exactly one year after the fall of Orcus. Xana sat in the Druids’ Grove, leading the other druids in their meditation. They sought peace and a deeper connection with Beory, the Oerth Mother, and the natural world around them. As Xana slipped deeper and deeper into her meditations, a feeling of dread began to grow. Her fear crystallized into an image - the complete ruin of Oerth. Shocked, she shook herself out of her meditative state, but, surprisingly, she continued to have visions. Fire raining from the sky, rivers clogged with countless dead bodies, the earth spewing ash and poison into the air. Xana clutched her head, willing the images out of her mind, but they did not heed her command. Scenes of horror flashed quickly through her mind, melting into a panorama of torture. Screaming, she rolled around on the ground seeking release. Assemble your companions! Prevent these events from happening! The command resonated in her soul. As quickly as the visions had begun, they ended. Xana knew that Beory herself had contacted her to relay this warning.
Gathering herself, she brushed off those who sought to help her. Sitting them down, she did her best to convey the message she had just received. “Gather my companions, tell them of my visions, and bring them here. There is not much time.” The druids jumped to their feet and ran to complete their task. In short order, the Companions had assembled in the Druid’s Grove. The six did not speak. There was no need for talk among these people - one was distressed and the others acted together to help.
“Xana, these disturbing images, are you sure they will come to pass?” Agrona asked.
“Without a doubt,” she replied. “Something horrifying comes, a threat to all of Oerth, and we must stop it.”
PW sighed. “Once more into the breach, eh?”
“Enough with the facade,” Ebreck chided. “You’re bored out of your skull and want the excitement.” PW stuck out his tongue.
HHH scratched his head. “Where do we start first?”
“Your visions didn’t leave many clues,” Nuria mused. “Let us seek out more information and meet back here at nightfall.” The others nodded their agreement and sought more knowledge.
Xana kneeled once more. “I will continue to commune with Beory and hope that I can learn more about the threat. When you need me, I will come.”
PW headed for the Council Chamber but stopped and threaded his way into a narrow side alley. Glancing around, he called out for his shadow companion. “Loama!” PW’s shadow, darker than the surrounding gloom, detached itself and stood before PW. “I need to talk to Andre. You know what to do.” Loama turned away; it seemed two-dimensional more than three. It slipped back to the wall, thinned to a black line, and slid into a crack in the stone.
PW waited patiently. Several moments later, the wall in front of him seemed to melt and pull back, creating an opening for him to enter. Moving down a darkened staircase, he felt, more than heard, the stone wall soften once again and flow back to its original form. Even to magical senses, there would be no sign of the opening leading to the Brotherhood’s lair. Since peace, of a sort, had come to Newhawk, assassins had been in demand more than ever. There were people who were unhappy with Newhawk and its leaders; for their policies allowing any refugee seeking solace to be nursed (using up precious resources), or the law preventing usury, or any number of reasons, real or imagined, there were individuals or groups who were quite disgruntled. Sometimes, people had to be disposed of in a quiet manner, without raising suspicion or without creating a martyr, and that’s where the Brotherhood came in. Anonymity was their friend. Seeking out the Brotherhood was no simple task - they had no true base of operations, but their agents and strongholds were located throughout Newhawk.
PW walked down a nondescript tunnel, but he knew that he was being watched from all sides. Reaching a single door, he pushed it open gently, revealing a small room with a single table and two chairs. A pitcher and two glasses sat atop the table. As he stepped into the room, a raspy voice called out. “Master Pennyweight, to what do I owe the pleasure?” A tall, thin man, dressed in fine, black silken clothes, stepped out of the shadows. Though PW was almost shadowkin, he still hadn’t seen Andre. How does he do it?
Sitting down in one of the chairs, Andre motioned PW to sit in the other seat. Beside Andre, Loama stood, looking at PW. “When your companion sought me out, I was slightly surprised that you would use these methods to contact me when you could have used more conventional ones, ones that would draw less attention to my background.” His voice took on a slight edge. “I value the position I am in with the Newhawk Council and would not jeopardize it, even for an old companion.”
PW bowed deeply in apology. “I have need of your network of spies and informants, and there was no time to set up an ‘appointment’.” Andre’s expression hardly changed. “A new threat looms in the horizon, threatening all with oblivion. Beory, the Oerth Mother herself, contacted Xana to warn of the impending threat.” Saying that, PW relayed the visions Xana had seen.
Andre sat back and rubbed his chin. Pouring a glass of wine, a rare commodity during these times, for PW and one for himself, he took a sip and enjoyed the myriad of subtle flavours as they slipped past his tongue. “Is it possible that Xana is wrong?” he asked. “She has been under a huge strain to rebuild the Druids’ Grove and it has not been easy assembling the rare flora and fauna. On top of that, the politics that were involved! Many people, especially farmers, wanted that area to grow food. Convincing them was no easy task.”
PW shook his head. “No. She is certain the threat is real and impending. If nothing is done, Oerth will be reduced to a pile of rubble from which nothing will survive.”
Andre leaned forward. “What do you need?”
“Information,” PW replied. “’Knowledge is power, ignorance is death’. We need to know the nature of the evil that is coming.”
“I will see what I can do.” Andre got up and walked towards a blank wall. Just as he reached it, it began to melt and flow, creating a passageway. He stopped and regarded PW. “I will contact you before day’s end.” Stepping through the threshold, the stone flowed back to its original form.
PW took his leave of the Brotherhood and headed back to the Druids’ Grove, while Loama became PW’s shadow once more. I hope the others are having better luck.
Agrona knelt in front of an altar dedicated to Heironeous, God of Justice and Valour. He had been praying all day, trying to commune with his Lord. Lost in his prayers, he sought guidance from the Arch-Paladin. Lord Heironeous, a new threat stalks the realm. Please grant your emissary on this plane wisdom - we seek to understand this peril so we may defend the weak and innocent and do battle with the evil that seeks to harm all.
Agrona felt a gentle touch at his shoulder. He raised his head and saw a tall human, clad in full robe chainmail. A symbol, a hand grasping a bolt of lightning, glowed on his chest. Agrona stood quickly, but before he could say anything, the image of Heironeous shook his head. Pointing towards the Druids’ Grove, He looked at Agrona with eyes filled with fierce determination. But something else was hidden within his eyes - sadness? Focusing on where Heironeous pointed, he turned back to see He had vanished. Confused, Agrona headed back towards the Druids’ Grove.
The Order of the Phoenix was in a state of controlled chaos. Couriers, soldiers, priests, and paladins alike scurried around their fortress headquarters - their mission was simple: to discover the new threat to Oerth before it could do any harm.
Several hours before, HHH, Gaerdal Ironhand’s Warder, had strode through the fortress’ double doors and called for the assembly of the Order’s leaders. Pages had run off to inform Bishop Cable, Head Cleric of the Order, Marcus Cole, Lord Ranger, and Alyt Neroon, Knight Marshall of the Order. In the assembly hall, HHH addressed the leaders of the Order of the Phoenix. “I will forego the usual pleasantries and get right to the point. A new threat is rising and all that we have worked for is in jeopardy.” The others looked at each other in alarm. The last time HHH had warned of a threat, the city of Greyhawk and most other population centers had been wiped off the face of Oerth. HHH continued. “There are no details, but know that this is a real menace. I need you to contact all our agents, scouts and patrols. We need information. If there is a hint of what is to come, any threat, we must know what it is.”
The Lord Marshall’s fingers fidgeted at his beard. “There are a great many troops spread throughout the land. To contact them all will be challenging, to say the least, and...”
HHH cut him off. “I’m not interested in excuses. A difficult path lies ahead. If we do not act swiftly and decisively, all is lost.”
Alyt Neroon cast a quick glance at the others, as if to say he was about to give his word, and commit them to it as well. He turned back to HHH and clapped a fist over his heart. “On my word, we will be prepared for the coming storm.” Shouting for pages, Alyt Neroon, Bishop Cable, and Marcus Cole began issuing orders.
Marcus Cole sent out signals to his scouts, magical missives that only they would recognize, telling them to report in. Soon, a flood of messages began to arrive and pages and squires rushed to gather and organize the information.
The armed forces of the Order, under the scrutiny of Alyt Neroon, began preparing for war. Weapons were sharpened, supplies were inventoried, mounts prepared, magical supplies gathered. Additional squads were sent out to patrol the area around Newhawk. The city of Newhawk was a prime target and, if it fell, would deal a devastating blow to the land.
Bishop Cable gathered several clerics and went to the Chamber of Contemplation, to cast divinations and to commune with Pelor, his patron deity. Hours passed, until Bishop Cable exited, frustration clearly painted on his face. He found HHH talking with several knights, discussing deployment and gathering intelligence. When HHH saw Bishop Cable, especially his expression, he broke off and walked over quickly. “What have you learned?”
Bishop Cable’s expression soured even more. “Nothing really. The threat is quite real, and it is causing a major disturbance in the higher planes. But what it is, I cannot tell. We continue to try our divinations, but they prove fruitless. I have had great difficulty contacting any being from the higher planes! I have contemplated examining the lower planes, but that would entail great risk. I would save that option unless there was no other choice.”
HHH was shocked at the news. “Thank you for your efforts,” he said. “Was there nothing useful you learned?”
Bishop Cable began to shake his head when he cried out. Clutching his head, he fell to his knees, agony all over his face. HHH reached for the Head Cleric, but was knocked back by waves of pain when he touched him. Bishop Cable breathing slowed, and he managed to get back to his feet. Unsteady, he looked at HHH. “You need to return to the Druids’ Grove. A great event unfolds there now as we speak. Ask me not how I know. I am merely the messenger.” HHH gave Bishop Cable a final glance and headed out at a dead run towards the Druids’ Grove.
Nuria had made her way to her tower. Summoning otherworldly allies, she began her own investigation. Problems arose almost immediately. Violent eddies ripped between the planes, making contact for extended periods of time near impossible. Disturbed by the planar storm, Nuria began to examine various different planes, including the Astral, Ethereal, and Shadow planes. To her shock and dismay, the planar storm raged across all of them. What could cause this? And more importantly, how will this impact magic everywhere?
Nuria was seized by a sudden panic. Rushing to her library, she began to research about any phenomenon even remotely similar to the one she witnessed. From what she could tell, there had never been anything like this before.
Breaking from her investigation, she headed to the top of her tower. Sealing the door behind her, she sat cross-legged in the windowless room. At her mental command, candles winked on and light fluttered around the room. A large pentagram was carved into the floor of the room, the design traced with the dust of a thousand diamonds and other precious ingredients. Runes covered the walls and ceiling, powerful barriers against scrying and other magical eavesdropping. They also protected against most forms of attack. Nuria focused her energies. She knew what she had to do: she had to contact the Master Mages.
A group of arcane savants, they hailed from numerous worlds and planes. Their unifying purpose was to explore the nature of magic itself. It was said that divinities of magic had visited the Master Mages, to praise, guide, or participate in their research, none knew for certain. But if anyone were to understand the turmoil in the planes, it would be them.
Losing herself in her magic, her consciousness left her body and entered into a demi-plane much removed from Oerth. The journey had always been troublesome before, but now it was near impossible. Buffeted by vortices, she felt herself being torn apart by the planar storms. Thrown about, she despaired - she was going to die. Suddenly, a glowing sphere surrounded her, protecting her. It moved forward swiftly towards her destination, the Master Mages.
As she entered their demi-plane, all signs of turbulence disappeared. Alighting softly on lush grass, she admired her surroundings. A beautiful tower stood before her, a verdant track of grass surrounding it. The grass ended abruptly several dozen feet from the tower. The entire structure stood on a floating section of land. A permanent twilight encircled the tower, giving the area a feeling of mystery and power. Nuria walked over to the open door in front of her.
Entering the tower, Nuria was always surprised at the fact that the interior of the tower seemed several times larger than the exterior, breaking several fundamental laws of nature. The Master Mages had been experimenting with time and relative dimension in space - thus their tower was created on this newly-created demi-plane. The entryway was vast, dwarfing the ones she had seen in palaces in both size and opulence.
A voice called out to her. “To what do we owe the pleasure, Nuria Darkfire?” Nuria could see only a single person clearly in front of her, but she knew that there were several people, disciples and servants, moving about the room. She couldn’t see them because they were slightly out of phase with the rest of the tower. Waving about, he said, “Forgive the poor reception, but we focus on maintaining the integrity of our stronghold.” Nondescript, the speaker stood in simple robes, a smile on his lips. In fact, Nuria had difficulty focusing on his features all together. No matter how hard she looked, she could remember anything distinct about the man.
Bowing deeply, Nuria pleaded. “O Great Ones, evil stalks Oerth once more and my allies and I seek guidance.”
“What would you have us do?” the Master Mage asked. “You know we do not interfere with the events on other planes of existence. We only seek to improve the understanding of magic.”
“We need information,” Nuria countered. “We need to know the nature of the threat. We do not seek to obtain your expertise to battle the evil, for we know well about your belief in non-interference.”
The Master Mage stood pensively. “But would not providing you with information interfere with the development of events on your world?”
“We would learn of it soon enough,” Nuria said. “We just seek to find out sooner so as to be better prepared. If you provide any information, it would not change the course of events.”
The Master Mage thought on what Nuria had said. Coming to a decision, he finally said, “A great evil, ancient in nature yet newly reborn, seeks power in your land. The planes are in turmoil as he tries to pierce the veil between your worlds.”
As he finished his last words, the Master Mage shimmered and vanished. Nuria again bowed deeply. “My thanks to you all, O Masters of the Arcane. We will use this knowledge wisely.” Stepping out of the tower, Nuria was surprised to be standing beside her own body in Newhawk. Stepping back into her body, she got up, stretching out the stiffness in her joints. Though it had felt like minutes, hours had passed on Oerth. Wanting to tell the others of what she had learned, she headed to the Druids’ Grove.
Ebreck headed to the dwarven enclave in Newhawk. Entering the main hall, he was greeted by several of his kin. With barely a nod to those who spoke to him, he headed straight for the forge of the clan leader. Hearing hammer striking metal, he came upon Thorin Oakenshield working upon a old breastplate, smoothing out various dents.
Seeing Ebreck, Thorin finished molding the metal and put aside his hammer. “Ebreck, you smelly dog! What are you doing here? I thought you would be out with your tree-hugging friends and dancing in a glade!” Thorin hugged Ebreck fiercely.
Ebreck gave a playful punch to Thorin’s stomach that almost doubled him over; his expression grew serious. “I have disturbing news. All of Oerth is in peril once again. We need the strength of the dwarven clans if we are to survive the onslaught.” Having said that, he relayed what he had learned from Xana.
“Not much to go on, is there?” Thorin commented. He had heard nothing of any threats to the dwarven people or otherwise, so he was somewhat sceptical. But he knew the Companions well, and he trusted Ebreck like a brother. They needed no proof to convince him. “Where do you need us?”
Ebreck’s smile was grateful. “Everywhere. We don’t know the nature of the threat, nor do we know where it will strike from. We have to be prepared to respond wherever it may strike.”
“That’s a very tall order,” Thorin replied. Walking over to his worktable, he cleared a spot and pulled out a map from a nearby niche. “Here’s what we can do,” he began. “I can get word out to the other clans and they can begin fortifying their strongholds. We can send out troops to the major population centers to help fortify their defences as well, and to keep watch. We may not be the fastest, but we are the toughest.”
Ebreck nodded his approval. Thorin summoned his aides and they began planning in earnest. Hammerstones, a secret held by the dwarves, were used to send messages through the earth itself to the dwarven clans. Responses soon arrived as the dwarven nation mobilized to meet the new threat. Ebreck and Thorin continued strategizing and organizing, until both were satisfied with the plan. Happy with the results, Ebreck went to return to the Druids’ Grove to inform his friends of the dwarven support. He had found out no new information, but they were no better prepared for whatever was coming.
Night was falling as, one by one, the Companions returned to the Druids’ Grove to report their various successes. As they approached the grove, they saw that it was columns of light descended from the heavens to the center of the grove, banishing the approaching dusk. Rushing over to investigate, they were surprised to see Xana, still knelt in communion with Beory and seemed unaware of the six columns of light in front of her. As if waking from a dream, Xana rose to her feet slowly and turned towards the others. Smiling softly, she walked towards one of the columns of light beckoned for them to follow suit. Looking more closely at each column of light, they could see a figure standing within each of them that they recognized - each person felt the presence of their deity.
The others were apprehensive, but trusting in Xana, they each entered a column of light. All except for Nuria - the avatar waiting to greet her was her very own mother, Lady Valera. “Do not be afraid, child. I am the embodiment of all that was good in your mother. The evil that you defeated has been banished to the Abyss - her frustration knows no end, especially after being defeated by her own daughter. When you succeeded in banishing Orcus and his minions, my heart overflowed with joy and pride. Please, enter the light and learn more of your destiny.” After Nuria’s encounter with the Master Mages, she was suspicious of a trap and waited for a moment to see if any of the others needed help. Seeing them all calm, with eyes closed, she began to believe that it wasn’t a trap. Reluctantly, she stepped into the last column of light.
As soon as they entered into a column of light, they felt euphoric. Reality became slightly disjointed - the entire world around them had become a shimmering veil of light. Though disconcerting, they felt no danger and waited expectantly.
A powerful voice addressed the Companions. “A great evil is brewing. Ancient in nature, you have crossed swords before. The foe you defeated is returning - Orcus has been reborn. He has amassed an army of tanar’ri and undead to swarm Oerth and conquer it. All life on Oerth will be destroyed and reborn as slaves to Orcus. You must stop Orcus permanently. You must brace the Prince of Undeath in his lair in the Abyss if you wish to prevent the end of Oerth.”
Nuria asked, “How do we prevent this from happening?”
All they received was a cryptic answer. “You will know when the time comes.”
Agrona looked concerned. “What about Rose?”
Again, they received a cryptic response. “Your choices will depend on the decisions you make.” Suddenly, a figure could clearly be seen in front of each of them.
A tall, male human in fine chainmail stood before Agrona. His skin had a coppery shade and his blond hair hung loosely about his shoulders. His torso was adorned by a white tabard, the center sporting an emblem of a hand grasping a lightning bolt. A superbly crafted longsword hung from his belt. The man’s bearing was noble and regal, though a feeling of warmth could be discerned in his features. He looked at Agrona and began to speak.
“My faithful servant, I thank you for putting your trust into me, for you have endured and sacrificed worst that could be imposed upon one of my champions. I now grant you the true powers that should have been yours.” Heironeous placed a hand upon Agrona’s brow. Agrona felt power surge through him. The power and glory that had been denied to him before due to the presence of the pit fiend within him had now been granted to him. Awed by the feelings coursing through him, he knelt in thanks to Heironeous.
“I have another gift to bequeath to you.” Heironeous held out his hand and summoned a glowing morning star. Heironeous presented the weapon to Agrona. “This is Final Death, a powerful weapon feared by the undead. When Vecna, curse His name, waged war to conquer Fleeth a thousand years ago, Final Death was created to combat the hordes of undead minions that were slaughtering the innocent. When Vecna was taken to task by the forces of light, it was Final Death that had crushed Vecna’s magical defences and allowed a squad of clerics to land a crushing blow, ultimately defeating Vecna. Final Death protects against attacks that try to drain your spirit it will bolster your faith, making the undead quail in fear when it is presented boldly. Final Death will serve you well for the task ahead.”
Xana receives Shapeshifter’s Armor.
PW receives Backstabber and words of warning from the avatar of his deity. “All that glitters is not gold.”
Nuria receives a Rod of Epic Splendor. Her mother says, “I saw the error of my ways. I pray for the redemption I will receive upon the completion of your quest.”
Ebreck receives the ability to cast Mage Armor three times a day.
HHH receives the Armor of the Celestial Battalion and a word of warning. “Be careful of the choices you make. Your future is clouded.”
As one, the avatars disappeared, the columns of light vanishing as well. Each Companion was in awe of what had transpired. Nuria felt a small pang of regret that she didn’t have more time to talk with the spirit of her mother and wiped away a small tear. They all felt a gentle tugging in their souls, beckoning them to travel to the Glacier of High Ice in Northern Oerth. Knowing they went to face their destiny, they went to make final preparations for the journey.
Early the next morning, they had held an emergency meeting with Newhawk’s Council and stepped down from their positions. Uncertain as to when and if they would be returning, they made certain that Newhawk would have protectors. Warning the new council of the approaching danger, they went to the Druids’ Grove to begin their journey.
They gathered together in a small circle as Nuria cast a powerful spell. Walking in a slow circle around the group, she gently touched each person. With each pass that she made around the group, they could all feel the arcane energy building to a crescendo. Finally, Nuria stepped within the circle and cried out words of power. The lush forest, teeming with wildlife, winked out of existence. Suddenly, they were in a barren landscape, a cold wind whipping their cloaks all about. Hazy sunlight bounced off a myriad of ice crystals, giving the area a surreal feeling. Henrietta looked about in surprise at the sudden shift and sniffed the air.
Gaining their bearings, they looked north and could see a glittering citadel in the distance. The winds picked up and clouds, strange in shape, began to coalesce above their heads. Ebreck looked up and examined the weird phenomenon. Though the clouds formed incredibly quickly, they seemed natural in nature. Soon, the skies were overcast, causing the land to become gloomier. Ebreck looked about some more and saw a white haze to the west.
Alarmed, he stopped the group. “A storm approaches from the west and should reach us within an hour. It seems natural but looks quite fierce. Visibility will be at a minimum. We should prepare ourselves.” Forming a line, with Ebreck in the lead, they tied rope about each other to prevent any member from getting lost.
Within the hour, the storm enveloped them. Winds whipped about, causing snow and ice to be kicked up, reducing visibility to a couple of feet. Hailstones began to pepper them almost immediately. Initially the stones were very small, more of a nuisance than anything else, but as they moved deeper within the storm, the stones became progressively larger and larger as the winds became fiercer and fiercer.
Barely dodging a hailstone the size of her head, Nuria stopped the group. “We can’t continue in this!” she shouted. “At this rate, we will be battered to death. Best if we sought shelter and wait the storm out.”
HHH asked incredulously, “Where are we going to find shelter on a glacier?”
Nuria smiled, though no one saw it. “Leave that to me!” Nuria began to chant, though her words were torn to shreds by the violent winds. Her hands made intricate patterns in the air and soon, she pointed to the north. “It’s ready!” Ebreck headed in the direction she pointed and soon encountered the wall of a small keep.
“What the...?” Feeling the wall to verify its authenticity, he soon found a large set of double doors. Pushing on them, he found that they were secured against entry. Turning to Nuria, he bade her to come forward. Nuria clapped her hands above her head and shouted out a single word. Soundlessly, the double doors opened up to reveal a simple yet sturdy keep.
Entering quickly, the winds died down immediately. Fires roared in various fireplaces and the keep was lit by a multitude of torches. The Companions began warming up immediately. Before shutting the doors, Ebreck ventured out for a moment. A minute later, he returned. “The storm should pass within the hour.”
“Nice place you have here, Nuria,” Xana commented. Xana winked. “We could have used a place like this when we last adventured together.”
“I’ll say,” Agrona commented. “This keep would have come in handy when we were looking for the pieces of the Rod.” Catching their breaths, the Companions reminisced about past adventures and mishaps. Time passed pleasantly, but too quickly.
HHH was laughing uproariously. “Do you remember when we were making our way to the Underdark? My eyebrows still haven’t grown back fully after Nuria burnt them off with that fireball!”
PW giggled hysterically. “And I still don’t understand how those spiders managed to fit in that tunnel! Those were fun times!”
“You have a strange definition of fun, friend Pennyweight,” Nuria commented. PW playfully stuck out his tongue.
Ebreck glanced outside. “Let’s see what fun will find at the citadel. The storm has seemed to have passed.” Stepping out, new drifts of snow and ice had formed from the strong winds, but all in all, the landscape had not changed much. “Shall we continue?”
HHH stared at the citadel, deep in thought. “It’s good that we have a clear view of the citadel, but that also means they have a clear view of us. They may have prepared some surprises for us along the way.”
“Shall we scout ahead and play a game of ‘hide and go seek’?” PW asked.
“Let the three of us determine what lies ahead,” Xana said. “We will be able to travel the fastest and report whatever we find to the rest of the group.” Xana bade the others to stand back. She began to twirl in place, spinning faster and faster and faster. Her body became a blur of motion, and suddenly, she vanished. The others looked around in surprise, until they heard Xana’s airy voice. “Do not be alarmed. I’ve just assumed the form of an air elemental to be better able to travel.” Hearing a gentle rustle, they knew that she moved ahead.
HHH hopped up on Henrietta’s back and rode out. Moving parallel to Xana, HHH began to scan his surroundings.
Well Xana isn’t the only one who can turn invisible. Stepping into a nearby shadow, PW form seemed to fold in on itself - within a heart’s beat, he had vanished from sight. Running forward, his feet glided on the ice, leaving no imprint or sign that he had been there. The others continued to move ahead, but were quickly outpaced by Xana, HHH, and PW.
As the party progressed, Xana, HHH, and PW backtracked regularly, telling the others the best path to avoid chasms within the ice or areas where the terrain was suspect. They made good progress across the glacier and the citadel began to loom in their sight.
Suddenly, a dense cloud of fog surrounded the party. “What?” HHH shouted. Immediately, Nuria began concentrating, focusing her arcane sight to detect any magic. Agrona also concentrated, sending out his senses to determine if an evil presence was nearby.
“I’ll check above!” Xana cried out. With that, she flew straight out and soon came out of the bank of fog. The fog covered a large area, but did not seem to match the weather pattern surrounding it. Even as she exited, the fog closed behind her, leaving no trace of a wound. That is not normal.
“Beware!” Nuria shouted in alarm. “The cloud was conjured! Brace yourselves for an attack.” In a bid to remove the magical fog, she sent forth a wave of power that blasted it away. Expecting to find themselves surrounded by foes, they were quite surprised when the dispersion of the fog revealed nothing.
“It must be coming from the citadel,” Xana reckoned. “I will try to distract them.” With that, she flew off at top speed towards the citadel.
As soon as she left, the fog cloud returned and began to grow. Nuria focused once more and determined that the spellcaster could not be more than a long spear’s throw away. “Xana, the foe is nearby! Find them!”
Xana heard Nuria’s words and changed course. Flying straight up, her sight roved around, searching for the source of magic. Meanwhile, the others began running towards the citadel in the hopes of escaping the cloud of fog. Like a living thing, the fog billowed out to try and envelope the party once more. Tendrils of fog lashed out and surrounded Agrona and Ebreck once again. As the fog surrounded them, it seemed much warmer than before. The surface snow began to melt rapidly, but then froze, forming a slick sheet of ice. Doing their best to keep their feet, Agrona and Ebreck were forced to move much more slowly to prevent themselves from falling on their faces.
The rest of the Companions managed to stay ahead of the fog, but what they saw did not hearten them. A pack of five wolves was charging towards them. Standing as tall as horses, the winter wolves’ icy blue eyes were hungry for blood. Behind them, huge, beefy muscular humanoids formed a ring around the party, their skin the colour of snow with blue hair whipping around in the wind. The frost giants began hewing down on the ice with their axes. Reaching down, they pulled up large chunks of ice and began to bombard the party with them.
Nuria flung out her hand, her fingers spread wide. From her finger tips, lightning arced, struck the lead winter wolf, and jumped from wolf to wolf. Their fur smoked from the impact, but the wolves, slowed by the electrical discharge, continued their rush. The moment Xana saw the threat, she dove down to get within striking range of the enemy.
HHH spurred Henrietta into a charge, lowering his lance to strike the approaching wolves. Couching his lance, he drove it into one of the flanking wolves. Jaws snapped about, but their fangs broke on his armor. Striking, he used his knees to guide Henrietta to circle around the pack so they could charge once again.
Before they could do anything else, chunks of ice began to rain down on the party. Raising his shield, HHH managed to deflect most of the deadly projectiles, though one did manage to hit him squarely in the leg. Numbed, HHH tried to wriggle his toes to bring sensation back to his leg. Several other chunks landed around Nuria. Destroying several with blasts of fire, one managed to hit her in the side, causing her to gasp out in pain. Focusing, she called upon the power of the elemental plane of air to hold her aloft in the skies. Flying up, she launched a fireball at a cluster of wolves that were moving to flank HHH, incinerating two of them and badly burning the third.
PW melted into the shadows and disappeared from sight. Emerging from the shadow cast by one of the frost giants, his rapier sunk in deeply into the giant’s thigh, just nicking the femoral artery. Melting back into the shadows, PW jumped from shadow to shadow, his rapier striking out at the giants. For his part, Loama glided forward and moved behind the pack of wolves. The wolves, sensing more than seeing Loama, bit at him - phasing in and out of existence, their teeth passing harmlessly through the shadowstuff that made up his body.
Only one wolf managed, through luck more than anything else, to bite down on Loama’s arm. Loama’s other hand reached out and touched the wolf on the head. A chill, colder than any arctic blast, travelled through the wolf’s body, causing its muscles to clench uncontrollably and draining it of its strength.
Time for reinforcements. Xana began to speak in a sibilant monotone. Quickly the pitch of her voice rose, resembling the scarcely heard shriek of a distant gale as it comes closer - then, quite suddenly, her voice rose higher until it was howling wildly to the skies and the air began to tremble and quiver. Barely-seen shapes formed and they were never still but darted around Xana’s body.
How may we serve, wind-sister? The voice was inhuman. Hazy and formless, the greater air elementals, royalty in their realm, eddied around Xana as she asked for their aid in their alien language. With silent assent, the air elementals rushed towards the frost giants and slammed into them, buffeting them with blasts of hurricane-like winds.
Seeing that two of the giants were distracted and the number of winter wolves decreased, HHH steered Henrietta towards the next closest giant. Summoning holy energy, as his lance struck the giant, the energy was released in a titanic blast that rocked the giant back on its heels. Henrietta swiped at the giant for good measure - it shook its head to clear the agony coursing through its body.
The other giants stepped forward and continued their barrage on the rest of the party. Shards of ice struck Xana, almost knocking her from the sky. As Xana righted herself, a giant white streak passed her in its wild descent. She barely caught sight of the diving object before it entered the fog cloud - an immense dragon with scales that glistened like snow! The dragon’s wings spread at the last moment, greatly slowing its descent as it landed with a thud. The fog cloud roiled around the dragon and then enveloped it as well, hiding it from view.
For the brief moment where the fog cloud parted, Ebreck and Agrona saw the white dragon. As the fog moved back in, the dragon drew in a deep breath and exhaled violently. Ebreck and Agrona dove frantically out of the way - Ebreck managed to dodge the blast of bone-chilling cold, but Agrona was not so fortunate. Icicles formed on his armor as his skin reddened under the blast - his surface blood vessels popped as his blood froze.
Rolling to his feet, Ebreck’s voice was the roar of a burning inferno. Suddenly, five flames, no bigger than PW, flared to life. Ebreck commanded the fire elementals to attack the frost giants. Laughing maniacally, though it sounded like a high pitched whistle, the fire elementals did as they were bade and struck wild blows at the frost giants.
HHH stood toe to toe with a frost giant. “Gaerdal Ironhand!” Henrietta’s jaws clamped onto the giant’s abdomen as her claws dug into its legs. Slashing mightily, she tore deep furrows into the giant’s legs. Slamming Miranda once, twice into the giant’s side, HHH watched as the giant’s ribcage collapsed in on itself. Coughing up blood, the giant collapsed without another sound. Bloodlust drove Henrietta into a frenzy as she sought out her next opponent. Giving her the lead, Henrietta charged towards a cluster of frost giants that struggled to defeat a pair of humongous air elementals.
Nuria’s side throbbed. She knew the impact from the ice missile had torn her up inside. Calling forth the power of the undead, her hand began to glow a sickening purple. Swooping down, she touched one of the frost giants. The giant gasped in agony as it felt its vitality being sucked from its being. The giant’s face became drawn and its frame began to wither as colour returned to Nuria’s features. Breathing much more easily, she released her hold on the giant as it staggered. Flying up, Nuria was sent tumbling as another giant slammed her with its fist. Catching her breath, she dropped another fireball on the frost giant and its allies. As she released the pea-sized projectile, she realized too late that HHH, Henrietta, and one of the summoned air elementals would be caught in the blast as well. Oh well. HHH needed to trim his eyebrows anyway. As the fiery blast engulfed them all, Nuria saw that Henrietta (at least) had seen the threat coming and had moved herself behind one of the giants, avoiding harm altogether. The rest had suffered burns to one extent or another.
Xana swooped down and smashed her fists into the face of one of the giants. Spitting out teeth, the giant swung back with its battleaxe, hoping to decapitate Xana. Faster than thought, Xana slipped past the blade and struck again and again. She saw that the giants were hurt, but not giving up. They struck at her summoned allies as well as HHH and PW.
Agrona knew that there was a dragon within the fog cloud, but couldn’t tell where. Drawing on the magic of his Belt of Battle, time seemed to slow for him. In reality, his actions became a blur as the belt sped up all his reflexes. Summoning up magical energy to dispel the fog cloud, Agrona lost himself in the flow of magic. His concentration was his undoing. Unknown to him, the dragon was a mere ten feet away. When Agrona began casting his spell, the dragon saw how vulnerable he was and struck. Mighty jaws clamped down on Agrona and held him fast. Screaming in pain, Agrona lost his focus and lost his spell.
The dragon inhaled sharply and released another blast of cold. Taking the full brunt of the blast, Agrona felt his bones begin to rattle. Strangely, he felt little pain as his body became numb. Glancing over, he saw that Ebreck and several of the fire elementals had also been caught in the blast. The cold froze the elementals, their flames shattering from the sudden temperature drop. Suddenly, Agrona’s body was thrashed as the dragon launched itself into the air and began flying straight up. With each pump of its wings, the dragon’s teeth dug deeper and deeper into Agrona’s guts.
Hearing Agrona’s screams of agony, the others redoubled their efforts. With mighty swings, HHH and Henrietta felled another giant. The air elementals each managed to kill a frost giant. PW kept blinking in and out of shadows, catching the giants unaware and piercing their vitals with his rapier.
“What is happening?” Ebreck shouted. “Get rid of the fog so I can get a clear shot!”
Xana summoned her mystic powers and released it into a burst of energy destructive to magic. Unravelling the spell used to create the massive fog bank, suddenly the fog disappeared. Seeing Agrona in the clutches of the dragon, Nuria flew up in pursuit. Catching up to the dragon, she sought to reach Agrona so she could teleport them both to safety.
Depending on her manoeuvrability to avoid harm, Nuria was surprised when the dragon’s tail whipped out and wrapped itself around her waist. The dragon’s scales tore into Nuria’s flesh as the tail muscles squeezed out her breath. As quickly as she had been grabbed, the tail released her. Turning in midair, she could see that both she and Agrona had been dropped. Unfortunately, only one of them could fly at the moment. The dragon, losing interest in the battle, flew back towards the citadel.
Back on the ground, the other Companions were making short work of the remaining foes. Ebreck fired a massive volley of arrows, catching three of the wolves. One wolf dropped dead as an arrow pierced its heart, while the other two whimpered in pain. The elementals, both fire and air, assaulted the last of the giants, quickly bringing it to its knees. The wolves soon followed. As the last of their opponents fell, the others looked up.
Agrona was still in a daze. The cold had almost rendered him unconscious, and he wasn’t fully aware of what was happening. Nuria flew towards Agrona in an attempt to catch him, but lost sight of him in some clouds. “Agrona!”
The shout shook Agrona from his reverie. “What? By Heironeous’ sword!” Quickly casting a spell, he summoned the force of a storm. Focusing the winds to buoy his fall, Agrona landed gracefully. The moment his feet touched the ground, he stumbled and barely caught himself - the dragon had wounded him deeply.
Taking several moments to heal, PW winced as Ebreck used a wand to knit his wounds. “Just like old times,” he joked.
“Yes,” Ebreck replied, “exactly like old times - we let Agrona take on a white dragon on his own again!”
Agrona hit Ebreck in the head with a snowball and continued to heal himself. Ebreck moved on to Nuria once PW was fully healed. Nuria ached from the dragon’s claws. As Nuria’s flesh began to close, Agrona walked over and placed his hand gently on her shoulder. Nuria looked up and smiled - no words of thanks were needed, the gesture was enough.
“So where did the wyrm go?” Xana asked.
Agrona knelt and began to pray. Using his gloved hand, he gently scraped off some of the dragon’s saliva from his armor and used it as a focus. “Lord Heironeous,” he whispered, “give me sight beyond sight.” Agrona’s vision blurred as his the landscape seemed to fly by. Suddenly, the sense of movement stopped and he could clearly see the citadel, its tall spires piercing the sky above. The dragon sat wrapped around the central spire, its ice-blue eyes stared back at Agrona. Uh oh.
Agrona woke from his trance and brushed the snow from his legs. “The good news is the dragon won’t be hard to find. The bad news is it is waiting for us at the citadel.”
“The next time we meet, the results will be slightly different,” Nuria promised. “We won’t be caught unaware and we will slay the dragon.” The venom in her voice shocked the others. Nuria wasn’t aware of the strange looks she was receiving from the others - she was just remembering her faithful steed, Patch.
Making their way towards the citadel, they decided to travel as a group and forego scouting ahead. Their element of surprise was completely gone and they didn’t wish to split their forces. As they approached the citadel, they began to see more details. The citadel was made up of three towers: a large central tower flanked by two smaller towers. A pair of huge bronze doors, twenty feet in height and twelve feet across marked the only visible entryway on the central tower. The walls themselves appeared to be stone, but of what type they couldn’t tell.
Nuria cast her senses forward and stumbled as if shocked. The entire citadel radiated powerful magic, but of what nature she couldn’t tell. Finally, they stood outside the bronze double doors. The walls and doors were covered in large ornate engravings, but they couldn’t tell what they were. They began to examine the structure for traps and other entry points when PW gasped.
Turning, they saw him pointing at the engravings. “I think we’re in the right place.” As the others moved to where he stood, they looked at the engravings once more. The engravings had seemed to have been a mishmash of random carvings in the citadel’s walls. From the angle PW stood, they could see that the engravings actually formed an elaborate design: the face of Orcus.
“Let’s send our regards,” HHH said as he hefted Miranda.
PW nodded his agreement and ran to the bronze doors. Running his hands over them quickly and efficiently, he found no signs of a trap. Signalling all clear, Henrietta and HHH planted their shoulders against the doors and heaved. The doors swung open slowly but without a sound. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning flashed out of the darkened citadel and tore through Henrietta.
A hollow voice rang out, “Get them my minions!”
Nuria recognized the voice. “It can’t be!” she gasped. It was her mother’s. Stepping into the light, Lady Valera was a sorry sight to see. Her once-fine robes were tatters, and her flesh hardly clung to her bones. She walked with a definite limp and half of her face had been shorn off, revealing a skull’s grin beneath. Pointing at the Companions, she called for her minions to crush the interlopers. Two towering humanoids lumbered out of the darkness, their bat wings draped over their shoulders. Lurid flames danced over their skin. Each held a massive sword in one clawed hand and a whip, licked with tongues of fire, in the other. The two balors stepped forward to destroy their prey.
The party braced themselves just as they noticed Lady Valera, or what was left of her, disappear in flash of light. The interior of the central tower was vast. A large dais sat in the middle of the tower’s main floor - at least they thought it was a dais when they realized it was a massive throne! The balors stood in the seat of the throne and lumbered towards the party.
HHH leapt into Henrietta’s saddle and clamped his legs tightly, spurring his mount on. Charging forward, HHH raised Miranda to strike the closest tanar’ri a mighty blow in its chest. As fast as HHH was, the balor was faster.
A fiery whip lashed out and wrapped itself around HHH. With a powerful tug, HHH was pulled off Henrietta’s back and into the flames surrounding the balor’s body. Waves of agony tore through HHH’s body as his flesh seared. Roaring his defiance, he thrashed violently to free himself from the whip’s embrace.
The second balor raised its arms and shouted out an unknown word. The cry was both a supplication and a demand, but none of the Companions understood its meaning. The air rippled as a hole in reality appeared. A window to another realm, they could see gouts of flame and clouds of ash across a barren plane. From the other realm, a huge being stepped through - another balor. The weaves that made up the gateway closed right on the heels of the balor as it finished stepping through. It roared a challenge and leaped forward.
“More risk, more glory!” Ebreck dashed within the citadel past a balor, its sword and whip missing him by the smallest of degrees. Leaping, he twisted in mid-air and fired an arrow straight at the balor’s right eye. Landing softly, his arm whipped back, drew and nocked another arrow, and let fly, his second arrow less than a heartbeat behind the first. Arrow after arrow flew towards the balor. The first arrow struck the balor in the eye, piercing its mighty orb; the next caught it in its gut; the third sunk in feather-deep into its chest, stabbing its lung. In a fit of rage, the fires surrounding the balor flared up, incinerating the other two arrows. Ebreck was already on the move and firing more arrows.
HHH reached for the calm within his soul. His body suffered, but he didn’t feel it. Pain was ephemeral. Focusing, he sent his consciousness out to his stout companion. Henrietta? The time has come. Until all are one. HHH’s consciousness blended with Henrietta’s, forming a new gestalt. His thoughts and hers mixed together as they acted as one. With greater cunning and understanding of battle tactics, Henrietta circled around the balor who held HHH fast and pounced suddenly. The balor sensed Henrietta’s motion, but as it turned to slash at her, HHH thrashed around ferociously, knocking the balor slightly off balance. The balor’s sword, which would have cleaved Henrietta in two, only managed to land a shallow cut. Off balance and exposed, Henrietta’s claws and teeth tore into the balor’s side.
Stepping forward, Nuria released a blast of pent-up energy. Suddenly, the Companions’ muscles tingled and their nerves felt they were on fire. Moving faster than normal, they prepared to brace the balors.
Xana’s voice could be heard - her voice was deep and gravelly, her words slow but spoken powerfully. The earth began to rumble as something tried to push its way up to the surface. Three fists burst through the ground’s surface, as huge earth elementals pulled themselves out of the ground. The earth closed behind the elementals, leaving a perfectly smooth surface. Silently, the elementals shambled forward to attack the balors.
Agrona summoned holy energy into himself. Heironeous, protect my friends. A burst of holy energy flared out from his body, surrounding the others. The energy danced along their skin and seemed to sink into their bodies. Bolstered by Heironeous’ blessing, the Companions felt like they could take on all the tanar’ri. Activating his belt’s powers, he focused his energies quickly and summoned an ally to help defeat the balors.
A powerful humanoid, covered in short, golden fur appeared in a shower of light. Its head was leonine in appearance, with a short muzzle and a lush, dark gold mane. Raising its arms above its head, the leonal’s powerful claws clenched as it opened a mouth filled with rows of long, sharp teeth. Letting out a powerful roar, it leaped to attack.
As they moved forward boldly towards the balors, the lead balor merely smirked. Throwing its arms wide, a wave of dark energy washed over all the combatants. The dark energy warred with the holy energy within the Companions and neutralized it. HHH thrashed in the flames that danced around him as the second balor pointed at Ebreck. A terrible force pressed down on Ebreck. He became short of breath. His thoughts jumbled. His skin bruised as his blood vessels all began to burst. He gasped as all the air was forced out of his body. His whole being was compressed into a single small orb that fell to the ground with a slightly squishy sound. Ebreck was no more.
“No!” Agrona barely noticed when a fiery whip wrapped itself around his torso. He was jerked off his feet and landed at the third balor’s feet. Flames heated his armor to incandescence as he began to cook.
PW rushed forward, somersaulting over a sword that swiped at his chest and diving under a foot that sought to crush him. Rolling back to his feet, he drew his rapier and slashed the balor that was being attacked by Henrietta, catching it in its groin. “Loama!” His shadow companion separated itself from PW and glided forward to stand beside Henrietta. A sword lashed down and caught Loama across its shoulder blade. If Loama hadn’t dematerialized as the sword struck, it would have been sliced in two. As it stood, Loama’s form was slightly rent on its shoulder.
HHH focused his holy energy once more. In a bid to drive off the balor that had him trapped, he summoned Gaerdal Ironhand’s help. “In the name of the Shield of the Golden Hills, evil begone!” Through force of will and holy impetus, HHH tried to drive the balor back, to cow it, to make it fear coming to Oerth. The balor took a step back, but its rage, and an unholy force from beyond, bolstered its resolve. The balor stepped forward once more and raised its sword to cut Henrietta in two. HHH, seeing his attempt at turning the demon fail, thrashed and contorted himself to escape the pinning hold of the balor’s whip, but with little success.
Nuria cast a bolt of lightning at the lead balor, but the electrical energy just danced along the balor’s skin, causing it no harm. Before the balor could take a swing at Nuria, an earth elemental interposed itself. The three elementals attacked the balors, smashing them with their fists. Unfortunately, the balors looked more than happy to brawl.
A flare of light caused PW to shield his eyes momentarily. Where Xana once stood, a living flame now flared to life. With a roar, she rushed forward and slammed the lead balor with her fists. Her flames burned white hot, hot enough to leave scorch marks on the balor’s skin.
The leonal opened its mouth once more and released an ear-splitting roar. The air trembled with the fury of the holy shout - the balors were rocked back on their heels by the impact of the roar, but held their ground. Agrona, hoping the balors were distracted enough, opened his mouth to emit a Holy Word to drive the balors out of Oerth, but never succeeded in making more than a small squeak. The balor, sensing what Agrona was trying to do, kicked him in the side, driving out all the air from his lungs and preventing him from making any sound other than the squeak.
HHH was becoming a nuisance to the balor holding him. Pausing, it turned to look at him and shouted out a word of command. The power of the word washed over HHH, causing him to spasm and then collapse - he lay stunned and helpless in the balor’s flames. Henrietta, seeing its master go still, went berserk. Her claws and teeth tore into the balor, ripping out chunks from the balor’s hide.
Glowing missiles slammed into the lead balor. Lacerations covered the balor’s body. Though they began to close, they did not close completely and the balor’s blood sizzled as it was exposed to its own flames. Undaunted, the balor moved its hands in small circular motions above its head. Clouds formed, unnatural clouds, with flashes of fire jumping between them. Suddenly, a torrent of flames dropped from the clouds to bathe the Companions in fire.
The flames scorched them badly. Loama screeched in silent agony as the flames incinerated it. PW, stunned by the loss of his companion, was almost decapitated by a balor’s sword. Gritting his teeth, he vowed revenge. The Companions were all hurt. Blood poured from their wounds and they had difficulty hefting their weapons due to their pain, but they resolved to never give up. Agrona, still trapped by the balor’s whip, gathered holy energy and released in a massive burst. Heironeous’ blessing washed over his friends, healing their wounds and bolstering their strength.
A ball of acid struck the lead balor and exploded, showering it and everyone around it with acid. The balor unharmed, shrugged off the blast. PW managed to avoid the acidic spray, but left himself open to the balor. The earth elementals continued their assault on the balors, but even they were suffering. Large chunks of rock fell from their forms, a testament to the amount of punishment they had received from the balors.
A fist struck PW in the side. Rolling with the punch, he kept moving forward and slashed at the balor that had killed Loama. His rapier slashed lightning quick. Three times he struck - his first slash hamstringing the balor, causing it to fall to its hands and knees. His second slash severed the tendons in its shoulder, rendering the arm useless and causing the balor’s torso to drop even lower. His third slash caught the balor across the throat, severing vessels. Releasing its whip, it clutched at its throat. HHH rolled out of the constricting confines of the whip and immediately ran to join the combat.
Even as it died, the balor smiled. Why is it smiling? PW wondered. The balor’s body erupted in a violent explosion. The blast engulfed HHH, PW, Agrona, and Henrietta. PW threw himself down off the throne and managed to escape unscathed. Agrona and HHH were partially shielded by another balor’s body. Henrietta caught the full brunt of the blast. Knocked over, her fur was matted with blood and one of her eyes was swollen shut. But she was still game. With difficulty, she ran towards HHH to lend whatever aid she could.
Leaping into Henrietta’s saddle, HHH charged the next balor. Focusing all their attacks on a single balor, they hoped to take it down quickly. Fists of rock and fists of flame struck it. Calling upon Gaerdal Ironhand’s guidance, HHH marked the balor for doom and stuck a powerful blow. Shattering its left leg, the balor sprawled on the ground. Distracted, Agrona managed to free himself of the balor’s whip and rolled free. A volley of magical missiles slammed into its chest, piercing flesh, piercing muscle, piercing vital organs. Crying out its fury, the balor exploded.
The blast slammed the party. HHH, happy he had humbled a balor, saw the blast coming and knew he wouldn’t survive. Gently ruffling Henrietta’s fur, he sent her back to the Twin Paradises of Bytopia. As the blast struck, HHH knew he had fought the good fight and hoped the others would survive. His neck snapping, he knew no more.
“HHH!” Agrona moved towards HHH’s body but was held back.
“Think of the living!” PW shouted. Agrona stopped and knew PW was right. Releasing holy energy, he healed the remaining living members. Turning to the last balor, their expressions were grim.
The balor, seeing two of its peers destroyed by this tiny group, and not relishing being banished to the Abyss for a hundred years, closed its eyes and vanished. Nuria knew the balor had teleported away, possibly to another plane. “We’re safe for now - the balor’s gone.” She slumped over and wept quietly.
Xana’s fiery form vanished, revealing her natural figure. Going up to Nuria, she gently placed her hand on Nuria’s shoulder to comfort her. PW and Agrona examined the battleground and gathered the remains of their friends. “I’m sorry for the loss of your shadowy friend.”
“He was avenged,” PW replied. A darker gloom formed beside PW. Shocked, Agrona warned PW as Nuria and Xana turned to at Agrona’s shout of warning.
Equally shocked, but sensing the source of the disturbance, PW calmed the others quickly. “Do not worry. Loama has returned.” Both confused and ecstatic, PW waited for his companion to fully return.
The shifting gloom coalesced into a humanoid shadow. A soft voice whispered in their ears. “I was sent to the realm of undeath, to Orcus’ realm, when the tanar’ri’s flames had consumed me. Orcus’ attention had focused on me for the briefest of moments. Then, he sent me back to Oerth.” Loama went silent. The others did not know what to make of this. Was Loama an agent for Orcus? Or was Orcus so confident, he allowed Loama to return as a warning? Both possibilities were unnerving.
Continuing their exploration of the tower, they found a large, ten foot by ten foot, staircase leading up. “We need to return our friends,” Agrona said, “before we continue our quest.”
“Agreed,” Xana said. “Let us try to find a safe place within the tower to bring them back.” Scanning the area for magical auras, Xana was surprised that the entire building radiated magic. How could this be?
Armor of the Celestial Battalion (616,300 gp) - HHH
Backstabber (770,310 gp) - PW
Final Death (3,580,308 gp) - Agrona
Rod of Epic Splendour (297,400 gp) - Nuria
Shapeshifter’s Armor (400,165 gp) - Xana.
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