The Tide of Shadows - Chapter 3

Adventure Date: May 28, 2010

Last Updated: November 17, 2010

The illithid’s tentacles writhed in agony. Its mind had been blasted away by the arcane fury of its master and all that was left was an empty shell. But even the void shell served a purpose. The illithid’s psyche was gone, but its brain remained intact. This brain could be tapped to magnify telepathic signals, to send these psionic messages across the planes if need be, to link many minds to form an assembly; but it forced the illithid’s mind to function in foreign ways. The tortured creature mewled softly. The illithid’s master used it to open a channel to another mind.

A translucent image formed – a heavily cloaked man, tall and dark, suddenly stood within the hall. “Has the High Chancellor of Necromancy finally come to join us?” The words were respectful, but the tone was full of scorn.

“No. I simply watch,” Imax Scuro Forzar answered.

“You alone have not agreed.” The voice was pressing.

“Joining to conquer our enemies is one thing, Karsus. This...this plan of yours is madness.”

“What is this madness? I know not of what you speak. We are who we are. We do what we do. What more is there?”

“This is not our way.”

“It is not our way to let others to stand against our will. The Phaerimm come and must be stopped.” Karsus’ voice became harsh. “How much blood has passed your lips? Whoever stands against you must be killed, or kill you.”

“What of those left behind, our attendants and vassals?” Imax Scuro Forzar felt a strange presence within himself and knew the other, the wanderer, was causing him to be filled with alien cares.

“What of them? They are nothing.” Karsus became more irate. “You have grown strange inside your mountain, Imax Scuro Forzar. They are our servants. It is not as if they possess true power. They exist for our pleasure, nothing more.”

“We risk not only ourselves, but the very fabric of the cosmos.”

Karsus shrugged. “What matter? If we fail, then we are dead. What matter if the cosmos ceases with us?” Karsus’ image faded away into the mist of Scuro’s castle.

A voice ripped Scuro from his reverie. “Wake up Ro-Lund-Do.” Ro-Lund-Do felt himself being shaken. “Camp is set, no thanks to you.”

Ro-Lund-Do’s eyes opened slowly. A beautiful young woman stood before him, but everything in her demeanor showed the disdain she held for him. “Lazy.” Raven turned her back on him and strode towards Katharina. Huddling close together – the giantess and the pygmy – they whispered to each other, glancing at the others from time to time.

“How long must we tolerate this indignity?” Raven snarled.

Katharina looked at Raven quizzically. “What do you mean?” She decided to see where the conversation went. She was bored and needed a distraction. Getting Raven riled up, though not too challenging, could provide her with some fun.

“These men have done nothing!” Raven whisper was fierce. “The women carry their weight as well as our own!”

Katharina responded in a soothing tone, “Now, now. The men do serve a purpose...”

Raven cut her off. “Cannon-fodder.”

“You know better than that,” Katharina admonished. “Ska’arr is a fierce warrior...”

“He is reckless and impulsive,” Raven countered, “not to mention unreliable.”

Katharina cocked her head. “What do you mean?”

“What happened to him inside the ranger’s cabin? He ran from a fight! Why?” Katharina had no answer. “Ska’arr can’t be trusted.” Raven’s voice left no room for debate.

“What of Pelias?” Katharina continued. “He has healed us many a time.”

“He has no focus. Yes, he has healed us, but his head is lost in the clouds.” Raven scoffed. “He is more concerned about the study of magic – ancient secrets and dreaming up new ways of tossing energy around – than he is of his own well-being.”

“His study of magic – what you consider a waste of time – is what helped us overcome our enemies.” Raven didn’t respond. Katharina winked and kept whispering. “And finally Ro-Lund-Do...”

Raven’s eyes flared. “The most useless of them all. He is a dainty, foppish little man. He never dirties his soft hands with any of the camp chores; he treats the rest of us as servants, expecting us to do his bidding.”

“But his magic...”

“He is a cold one, Katharina.” Raven’s scowl deepened. “I often tell myself to watch his ‘royal highness’ for treachery, for I am certain that he would sacrifice us all for his own gain.” Seeing the Raven’s mood, Katharina wisely chose to remain silent. Not as fun as I had hoped.

Still disturbed by the purpose of the stone throne, Pelias sat quietly by himself. Human bones and teeth were heaped around the throne like old rubbish. The remains were peculiarly discoloured – the bones seemed to have been eaten away here and there, as if some corrosive fluid had dissolved their smooth surface to expose the spongy marrow beneath. Victims had been restrained on the throne, most likely still alive, as the gray ooze slithered over their bodies and slowly digested them. The victims died in terror and agony. Shuddering, Pelias gave a quick prayer to Mystra for the victims and prayed that he would have the strength to stop such atrocities.

Pelias’ memory flashed back to his time at the church of Lathandar. His studies had been intense; his curiosity for all arcane knowledge was voracious. He remembered when he had fallen asleep in the library. An earthquake had him in its grip and shook him to and fro. Pelias woke with a start to see a wrinkled old face smiling down at him.

The old man chuckled. “Pelias, you push yourself too hard sometimes.”

Pelias was embarrassed. “Father Hassan, I didn’t mean to fall asleep here.”

“It’s alright Pelias. I know you seek to understand who and what you are.” Father Hassan’s eyes looked at and through Pelias. “Within you there is a trapped power. What it is and what it means I do not know. What I do know is that you must seek balance within yourself. An imbalance can obstruct the flow of energy within you, denying you your full potential. Let yourself follow the energy flow – trust your instincts, they will not mislead you.”

Not fully understanding, Pelias nodded his assent and politely excused himself. Returning to his quarters, he reflected on what Father Hassan had told him. Snapping back to the present, Pelias thought of his newly unlocked powers and smiled. I think I’m beginning to understand what Father Hassan meant. His powers had flared and he had used them intuitively to strike the skum. Pelias’ smile soured. But will I truly master these powers? I don’t know. Looking at the rest of his companions, he went to go check on how their wounds were healing.

The camp itself was set up by an underwater lake. The walls were rough and uncut – the room was most likely formed after millennia of water eroding the rock. With no way to accurately tell night and day, the party rested and kept watch.

Shribryn sensed the discord within the party – and they definitely weren’t a party, more like a group traveling together for the moment. The circumstances of how they met, they had been forced to work together – not a good way to build unity. Shaking her head, Shribryn went to practice her combat training. Breathing deeply, she found the center of her being, a place of perfect peace. Her breathing became more relaxed even as her body flowed. Her staff moved like a living thing; it danced along Shribryn’s body and seemed to be an extension of her will.

As Shribryn lost herself in her dance, black tendrils flicked out of her own shadow, as if they were trying to break free. They were striking cobras snatching at unseen targets and they disappeared back into her shadow so quickly, it was easy for the others to doubt that they had even seen them. But they had. What does it mean? they all asked themselves. Is she doing this herself? They don’t seem to be hurting her, but what are they? Uncertain, no one raised the issue. As soon as Shribryn stopped, the flickering tendrils disappeared.

The watches passed uneventfully. Feeling rested, the group prepared for the next leg of their journey. Breaking camp, they discussed their next move.

“I think we’ve explored as far as we can on land,” Ska’arr offered. “I think our only other option is to try this underwater lake.”

“Where is the treasure we have been promised?” Katharina griped. “We have put in a lot of effort and seen scant reward.”

“But we seek clues to the Lost Guide,” Shribryn responded. “Plus, we have helped...”

“I don’t care if we have helped Baravar Cloakshadow himself!” Katharina fumed. “I deserve something for all the hard work!”

Shribryn was taken aback. “Be at ease, Whisper.” Ro-Lund-Do’s voice was serene. “You shall receive your just rewards.” Ro-Lund-Do smiled. “Everyone shall.”

Raven spun Ro-Lund-Do so they were face to face. “What do you know?” Raven demanded. “A better question is what are you holding back?”

“Why Raven, what do you mean?” Ro-Lund-Do’s tone was dripping with contempt.

Raven’s fist rose up. “Do not try my patience.”

Ro-Lund-Do put on a face of mock apology. “Oooh, you caught me.” Ro-Lund-Do began to slowly pace around Raven. “You’re right. It was I who set upon this group all manner of creatures to bring our journey to an end. The deception was so complete that I had my minions attack me as well, to spill my blood, so as to convince you of its reality.” He snorted. “Do not be a fool.”

Raven’s fist lashed out. Before the blow could land, Ska’arr caught her forearm. “Are you mad?”

“Get your hands off me or...” Without finishing her sentence, Raven pivoted and dug the fingers of her free hand into a nerve cluster in Ska’arr’s throat. Ska’arr was forced onto the tips of his toes. “Never touch me again.”

A deep growl caught Raven’s attention. The Beast was setting himself to pounce on the offending person who dared attack his master. Raven smiled.

Suddenly, a quarterstaff smacked Raven, Ska’arr, and Ro-Lund-Do. “Behave yourselves!” All three glared at Shribryn. Calming herself, she continued in a quieter tone. “You create bad blood between us. ‘Go into battle with bad blood, and it’ll be spilled by nightfall’.” She shook her head, her voice held a weary air. “Our lives depend on the trust of those you fight with. No one trusts, no one survives.”

Both Raven and Ro-Lund-Do snorted derisively. Trust? Never. But everyone stopped fighting.

Trying to discount the dispute, Pelias spoke up. “Let us go in the canoes and explore the lake. We will hopefully find clues to the treasure we all seek.”

With the help of Shribryn and Ska’arr, Katharina lashed down their equipment to the bottom of two large, hollowed-out canoes. Tying extra canoes to the ones they were taking, Ska’arr simply said, “Decoys.”

Another problem arose. “Who goes with whom?” Ro-Lund-Do said with a smirk.

Seeing Raven’s face turn red, Pelias quickly cut in, “I will travel with Ska’arr and Raven, while Shribryn, Ro-Lund-Do, and Katharina will travel in the other canoe.” Believing he had diffused the situation, Pelias congratulated himself on his quick thinking.

Oddly enough, Raven wanted the seating arrangements changed. “I will travel with Ro-Lund-Do and Katharina.” Everyone was shocked. Raven continued. “It makes little sense for a canoe to be filled with inexperienced paddlers.”

It was true – the only ones who had handled canoes before were Ska’arr, training with his father to learn survival skills, and Raven, having spent time with elves in the High Forest. But in the back of her mind, she wanted to keep a close eye on Ro-Lund-Do.

Launching the canoes, the party set out. Katharina’s canoe took the lead, dragging behind it the three decoy canoes, followed by Pelias’ canoe at the end. The moment they left the area of their campsite, darkness engulfed them. Suddenly, light flared around them. Handing a sunrod to Katharina, Ro-Lund-Do, who sat in the middle of the canoe, said, “Rouse me when I am needed. I will be meditating to gather my mystical forces.” Though his eyes were open, Ro-Lund-Do’s sight was focused elsewhere. This left Raven and Katharina to paddle. Katharina looked back at Raven and saw her glaring at Ro-Lund-Do. Saying nothing, they continued to paddle.

Ro-Lund-Do’s thoughts were scattered as he became immersed in another vision. The vision was transparent, like an image laid upon another. He could see the cavern walls and the others paddling the canoes. But upon them played a scene of people long dead and places vanished from the memories of the living.

Time passed and the Death Lord Cleric of the Netherese empire watched the final work on Karsus’ magical project – the floating enclave Eileanar. When it was done, Imax Scuro Forzar came and found his people in council. His telepathic image walked down a long ramp and reached a vast hall filled with the other mystical masters of Netheril.

An old ally, Jeriah Chronis, the Chronomancer, addressed the Death Lord. “Have you come to join us, Master of Undeath?”

Imax Scuro Forzar shook his head. “I have come to witness folly.”

Karsus’ hands raised to cast a spell, but another, Telamont Tanthul, the Lord Shadow, cried out, “Spill Netherese blood and the compact is void!”

Karsus lowered his hands. “It is well that you come late, or we would have seen the end to your mockery.”

Imax Scuro Forzar replied, “I have no fear of you. I only wish to see what you have fashioned. This is my realm and that which is mine is not to be threatened.”

The others regarded him with cold eyes and Telamont Tanthul said, “Do what you will, but know our purpose cannot be balked. As mighty as you are, Death Lord, you cannot oppose us all. Watch as we do what we must.”

In concert, under Karsus’ direction, a great magic was forged. For an instant, Imax Scuro Forzar felt gut-wrenching pain, which passed almost instantly, leaving only a faint memory. A great pillar of swirling stars appeared upon the floor of the hall, glowing like a diamond lit with inner fire. Karsus came to stand beside it and placed his hand near its glowing surface. It pulsed with energy as he said, “Behold, our final tool to breach the planes and ascend to Mystryl’s side!”

Without comment, Imax Scuro Forzar withdrew from the hall. A voice from behind caused him to turn and he saw Jeriah Chronis hurrying towards him.

“Old friend, will you not join us?”

He felt a strange urgency towards him. He didn’t understand the odd feeling. It is affection, came the voice of the other. He ignored the voice and said, “Boatman of the River of Time, Karsus has begun that which spells final destruction. Do you not see that in your travels? He is mad.”

The Chronomancer looked at him strangely. “My ability to perceive time is hampered, which means our enemies will triumph unless we change the course of events. We do what we must. I had wished to have you at my side, for you stand as mighty as any of us, but do what you will. Oppose us at your risk.” With no further words, he left the Death Lord and returned to the hall where the next great magic would be undertaken.

Imax Scuro Forzar severed his connection to the illithid and rose from his seat. The skies above reverberated with the sound of distant thunder. The stuff of creation flowed from horizon to horizon. Time was without meaning, and the very fabric of reality rippled and flowed. Mad vortices of energy crashed across the heavens. Imax Scuro Forzar could see the very fabric of time and space rend and fold in on itself. He stood in the middle of his demesne and brooded.

A low whistle pierced the silence. Katharina’s voice piped up. “Would you look at that! Oops. Sorry Shribryn.” Shribryn smiled and shook her head. “Do not worry.” Tapping her ears, she said, “I too am impressed with the size of the cavern.” Ska’arr was impressed with her ability to sense her surroundings, even without sight. Fortunate she’s with us.

From their starting point, the cavern opened up significantly; the light of the sunrod could no longer illuminate the walls of the cavern and the ceiling was a darkened expanse. The water was deep, but the light of the sunrod managed, barely, to cast dancing shadows at the bottom of the lake. From where they paddled, they could see that the cavern had two passages: one to the west which seemed to end suddenly and one to the northeast which narrowed and bent.

Choosing the northeastern passageway, the party paddled along single file and hoped the way was clear. The passageway bent to the west and then opened up into another massive cavern. At the mouth of the entrance, Raven spotted something writhing under the surface of the water. Heading east to investigate, Ro-Lund-Do suddenly cried out. Raven, a maniac look in her eyes, had grappled Ro-Lund-Do with her legs and began to crush the life out of him.

This is not normal, even for Raven! An enemy attacks, but from where? Ro-Lund-Do’s echoing cry was too diffuse for Shribryn to locate anything in the water. Cursing, she drew her dagger and waited for an opportunity to strike. Turning around, Katharina quickly scanned the water for any sign of an outside force influencing Raven. Uh oh. She’s lost it. Splashing water on both of them, she shrieked, “Stop this idiocy!” The water had no effect.

Ro-Lund-Do’s face turned purple. Shutting out the pain, he gasped out a cry for help from his deity; the pain subsided for an instant, then returned as Raven continued applying pressure. Ska’arr saw what was occurring and reacted immediately. Recklessly jumping from one canoe to the next, he made his way towards the lead canoe to help separate the two bickering children.

Raven rolled Ro-Lund-Do under her and pinned him down. The canoe rocked wildly as she prepared to pummel Ro-Lund-Do to death. A faint buzzing sound flooded her mind and everything seemed hazy except for her need grind Ro-Lund-Do’s skull underneath her fists. The buzzing sound intensified and became clearer – it was Shribryn shouting at her. “Raven, stop this! This is not you! What’s wrong?”

Raven’s grip slackened. Shaking her head to clear it, she couldn’t understand her actions. Always focused, even in combat, this complete loss of control was unusual and very disturbing. “I don’t know... I have no idea... Something just came over me...” If she was going to crush Ro-Lund-Do underfoot, it would be her decision to make, not another’s.

Alarmed, Katharina pulled out her sling and dropped a stone into its pouch. Spinning it over her head, she again scanned the waters for an enemy.

“This woman is crazy!” Ro-Lund-Do panted. “Get her off of me!” Ska’arr continued to move frantically from canoe to canoe towards Raven and Ro-Lund-Do.

“Something overwhelmed me, something dark,” Raven muttered. Her head snapped up as she scanned the water. Ro-Lund-Do, sensing the truth of her words, looked for a foe as well.

“Something’s there!” Katharina screamed. Pointing almost directly below their boat, a dark shape could be seen swimming lazily.

Raven quickly untangled herself from Ro-Lund-Do. “What, no apology?” he demanded. Raven didn’t acknowledge that Ro-Lund-Do had spoken. Pelias couldn’t see what the others had spotted, but he guided Shribryn behind himself so he was in a better vantage to attack or heal.

Shribryn could hear a deep resonance coming from the water. A foggy image formed in her mind, a large, fish-like creature with writhing tentacles. Horrified, she quickly fired off a crossbow bolt at the monstrosity. The moment the bolt hit the water, the creature’s powerful tail lashed, propelling it out of the way of the missile.

Ska’arr’s tricked you! You’ve left yourself open to his attack! Quickly, strike him down with your blades before he knows that you have uncovered his vile scheme! The voice pounded in Katharina’s mind, threatening to overwhelm her. I...hear you, butcher...inside my mind...laughing! You...enjoy causing pain...death. Before I met you, I never understood...evil. You are evil. But I...will turned! Screaming her defiance, Katharina, with a quick flick of her wrist, launched a missile at her tormentor. Dodging quickly, the creature’s tentacles lashed about in frustration.

Ska’arr still couldn’t see their unknown attacker but knew it was below them. Realizing that the only way he could engage the enemy was to enter its domain, he swiftly began to strip off his armor. A light flared up beside Ska’arr, startling him. Raven tossed the sunrod into the water and threw off her cloak.

Shribryn continued to track the creature from the murmur it made underwater as it swam. Sensing it moving away from the area suddenly lit by the sunrod, she fired another bolt at it, narrowly missing her target. But it provided a guide for the others. Suddenly, she heard another presence gliding closer. It had tried to mask its approach by minimizing its motion. Whirling, she braced herself as Katharina started shouting.

Just as the creature swam out of the light, Katharina caught a clear view of their tormentor and recoiled in horror. “An aboleth...” she whispered. A nightmare from the depths of the underdark come to life. Raising her voice, she shouted her finding. “It’s an aboleth!” The others were baffled by what she said. “It’s a mind-controlling aquatic creature! Not a pleasant thing!” A movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. Instinctively, she dropped down and concealed herself in the shadows inside the boat.

A scaled arm rose out of the water beside the last canoe; a vicious webbed claw grasped the gunwale of the canoe and drew the rest of the creature out of the water. A fish-like head with large, unblinking eyes stared down into the canoe, looking for prey. Four small tentacles squirmed around the creature’s mouth which was filled with needle-like teeth.

Pelias froze in surprise. What should I do? In that moment of indecision, the tentacles wrapped around Pelias’ arm and the teeth tore into his flesh and bone. Screaming in pain, Pelias fell back. Everyone turned to see what was attacking Pelias.

Suddenly, Ro-Lund-Do was caught in the gaze of the creature. Its eyes were luminous, and he felt himself falling deeper and deeper into their hypnotic power. I am Imax Scuro Forzar, Death Lord! I will not be controlled by the likes of thee! The thought came from nowhere. A flow of rage and power surged through his mind, forcing out the kopru’s psyche out. How did I know it was a kopru? Levelling his crossbow at the tentacled head, Ro-Lund-Do fired off a bolt. Missing both Pelias and the kopru narrowly, he drew back the crossbow’s cord to reload.

Without warning, an alien presence invaded Scuro’s mind. Welcome, ancient one. A conflagration of images, emotions, and thoughts roared through Ro-Lund-Do’s mind, stunning the alien presence, memories of places and people he had never seen before. Confused, Ro-Lund-Do focused on the current threat. Tossing Ska’arr another sunrod, Ro-Lund-Do partitioned his mind to keep the alien presence off-balance. “Beware the kopru’s tails!”

Shribryn focused her energy into her blade. As she slashed down with her dagger, it burst into flames. The dagger cut cleanly through the tentacled one’s torso. As the dagger made contact, Shribryn nearly fell over – her blade met no resistance. “Did I hit?” she cried out.

Ska’arr turned and saw that Shribryn’s dagger had rent the creature’s side open and its entrails had partially spilled out. “You cut out its guts!” Pride filled his voice. “Nicely done!” Removing the last of his armor, he drew his dagger and jumped into the lake. Water burst up his nose, and Ska’arr broke the water’s surface, hacking and coughing, trying to force the water out of his lungs.

The creature, sorely wounded, tried to clamp its teeth down on Pelias’ arm again, but he managed to pull free of its tentacles. Something is wrong. Clearing his mind, Pelias tried to dismiss the creature, believing it was merely an illusion. Whether or not the creature was a fantasm, the pain Pelias felt in his arm seemed real and broke his concentration. Unfurling a scroll and chanting quickly, Pelias’ hand darted forward and, as his palm opened, a cone of clashing colours leaped out into the kopru’s face. As the deluge of colours dissipated, Pelias saw that the kopru’s transparent lids had protected it from being blinded. Lunging for him again, the kopru pressed its attack.

Shribryn was about to slash the kopru, when she sensed the aboleth swimming beneath their boat. Whipping out her crossbow, she fired another shot at it, but missed again. Katharina saw the bolt and followed its path – sighting the aboleth, she shouted, “Raven, paddle quickly!” Digging in, Raven propelled the canoe forward so quickly, Katharina and Ro-Lund-Do almost fell over.

Heading towards the aboleth, Katharina spotted another threat. “Look out! Another frog-man!” Though Raven’s efforts were spectacular to behold, she could not match the creature’s abilities in its native environment. Dashing forward, the skum ducked its head and rammed the canoe with its shoulder, knocking it back. Katharina managed to keep her feet beneath her, but both Raven and Ro-Lund-Do were knocked prone and struggled to get up.

Seeing their canoe begin to lose its headway, Ska’arr’s powerful strokes brought him within reach of the skum. Bringing the blade down on its shoulder, the creature spun around and gripped Ska’arr by the shoulders, trying to push him underwater. Kicking frantically, Ska’arr managed somehow to keep his head above water and pushed the skum towards Katharina. The Beast whined as it frantically sought to aid its master, but the Beast seemed afraid of the water.

Having bought them the time they needed, both Ro-Lund-Do and Raven managed to stand. Looking about, they both saw Ska’arr struggling with the skum. Katharina plunged her sword deeply into the skum’s back as Ska’arr pushed it towards her. Whipping around in a frenzy, Ska’arr managed to free his dagger hand and stabbed the skum in its abdomen, ripping up violently. As the skum shrieked in agony, a bolt pierced through the back of its throat into its brain killing it. Ro-Lund-Do reloaded his crossbow. Waving his thanks, Ska’arr took a deep breath and plunged into the water to chase after the aboleth.

Pelias’ grunted as the kopru bit deeply into his arm again. Pelias continued to wrestle with his own mind – he believed that the kopru was just an illusion, but he couldn’t control his body’s natural instinct to react to the threat, making the illusion real. Shribryn let out a yell of joy as one of her bolts struck the aboleth.

As Raven and Ro-Lund-Do moved forward to help the others, movement under the water caught his eye. As Ro-Lund-Do looked down, he could sense, more than anything else, that the aboleth was looking up at him. Images swirled in front of him as visions overwhelmed him.

Imax Scuro Forzar walked to the top of his floating, mist-shrouded citadel and searched for what he knew must appear before the mad display in the skies. The figure of Karsus grew discernible in the vapour. An odd something appeared in Karsus’ eyes, something alien. The other voice said, It is horror.

Imax Scuro Forzar pointed towards Eileanar. “This obscenity should never have been allowed. You bring an end to all we knew.”

Karsus looked at what his magic had wrought. Citadels began plummeting towards the earth as the spells holding them aloft failed. “We could never have dreamed our creation would tear the Weave itself!” His face revealed his terror and hate as Imax Scuro Forzar raised his staff to end it. “But I had the right!” he screamed.

Using the illithid slave as a conduit, Imax Scuro Forzar blasted Karsus with negative energy, leaving a shadowy imprint of his body of hoar frost on the floor. The fallen Netherese master’s essence plummeted to the Negative Energy Plane to writhe in agony and torment for the rest of eternity. The illithid’s head had burst as Imax Scuro Forzar’s arcane energy had passed through it. With bitterness, Imax Scuro Forzar said, “There is no right. There is only power.” He understood the mocking irony of his words. Retiring to his chambers, he prepared himself for the casting that would change everything.

Magic winked in and out as the Weave fluctuated wildly. Imax Scuro Forzar’s citadel remained floating due to the psionic abilities of all of his illithid slaves working in concert to buoy it. But even their great minds were being taxed by the effort. As, one by one, the illithids’ minds burned out, leaving behind twitching corpses, the citadel began to sink.

Looking over Netheril, Imax Scuro Forzar observed the aftermath caused by Karsus’ Folly. Eileanar lay in ruins, having crushed thousands after it fell out of the sky. The other voice spoke. What is this place?

“The desolation of Karsus’ Folly. Karsus’ monument, the lifeless tundra that was once great grasslands, forests, and civilization, what was once Netheril.”

Who are you?

Imax Scuro Forzar felt amusement, if only for a brief moment. “I am what you are becoming. We are as one. So you have said many times.” There was sadness underlying the humour; he knew he was witness to a new era unless something was done.

I had forgotten.

Imax Scuro Forzar stopped thinking of what was occurring and began focusing on the monumental undertaking he was about to begin.

It is worthy of sorrow.

Imax Scuro Forzar knew the universe had changed and felt himself alien to the newly forged order. His preparations complete, he paused. “Have I erred?”

Now you know doubt.

“I remember when Netheril was a power to fear.”

You are but a memory, said the other. This is but a dream.

“Then I will do what I planned.” Meeting with Racu to acquire the last component needed to travel through the river of time without being washed away. Willing himself to his laboratory, Imax Scuro Forzar cast his greatest spell in his efforts to prevent Netheril’s fall.

So it has happened already. Your cause is now mine. I would stand against those who caused this travesty, said the other. The one called Ro-Lund-Do.

Ro-Lund-Do lowered his crossbow. Memories of his past swirled in his mind. He reeled from their impact, but he now truly understood. Wizardly powers fomented inside his head. The knowledge of arcane spells, especially necromantic ones, bubbled up and then burst. Over and over again. He realized to maintain them, he would need to write them down in a spell book.

Most importantly, he recalled the ritual that would bring a friend. One that would be absolutely faithful to him. One he could trust wholeheartedly. One that would aid him in his quest. All he had to do now was to remain alive to spend his share of the gold.

All around him, his 'companions' were in combat against the aboleth and its minions. His ribs and head still ached from that giantess blood bitch monk's grappling attack. At least she had finally overcome her psionic domination.

Again, he felt that merciless, alien presence in his mind. Again, he concentrated all his free will in resisting its mental takeover attempt. Then he heard a cold spiteful voice in his head. It addressed him in High Netherese. Its words left him amazed.

You are strong willed, time traveller. Few have been able to resist me. Yet, I should not be surprised. We are so alike in many ways. We both seek to rule through dominated slaves. You should control your servants better.

"How do you know me? How is this possible?"

Fool! Have you lost so much of your knowledge? My kind knows many ancient and terrible secrets. I know of you, Imax Scuro Forzar. Should I fail to dominate you, I am to give you a message. Listen carefully, Lord Necromancer.

Arianna is without a soul. Her spirit sleeps somewhere cold. Find it and lead it back home. These are her words - Wake me up inside. Wake me up inside. Call my name, my love, and save me from the dark. - Your friends will need you soon. Goodbye , at least for now. That human in the water. I could have taken him, but you will need him. So, I leave you your servant. I go to collect my reward.

The voice ended. Scuro sat shock still.

"Arianna! Are you here as well? Oh, my Arianna!"

Coming back to reality, Scuro examined his surroundings. Pelias was shouting, “Begone foul spectre!” The kopru that had been attacking him became a wisp of smoke and disappeared. Shribryn continued to shoot bolts unsuccessfully at the aboleth. The rest of his “companions” gave chase to the aboleth as it circled the area – it almost seemed like it wasn’t troubled by the attacks thrown at it. Glittering lights appeared in front of Ska’arr, trapping his attention. Instead of swimming after the aboleth, he just watched the multihued pattern in front of him. Pelias, in a last ditch effort to stop the aboleth, pulled out another scroll and called forth a bolt of pure fire that burned the side of the aboleth, leaving no mark.

Katharina spun her sling overhead and tried to shuffle forward to get a better angle on the aboleth. Unfortunately, she stepped on some slime at the bottom of the canoe and slipped. Trying to catch her balance and keep the aboleth in her sight, she managed to do neither. Falling, her sling hit her in the side of the head, stunning her.

As if sensing Scuro’s return to full awareness, the aboleth circled one more time and then began to swim off. The others tried to give chase, but it was no use. Scuro levelled his crossbow at Ska’arr. Raven saw what he was doing and shouted for him to stop. Katharina turned just as she saw him launch the bolt at Ska’arr. Then Raven tackled Scuro.

“Enough of your charlatan tricks!” Raven hissed. “You die now.”

Scuro looked at her impassively. “Get off me, witch. I just saved Ska’arr. His mind was trapped by the aboleth’s spell.”

“Could you not have thought of a less painful way to break the spell?” Katharina asked. She saw that Scuro’s bolt and sunk in deeply into Ska’arr’s arm and that he was bleeding badly.

The others guided the canoes towards Ska’arr to pull him out of the water and dress his wounds. Scuro continued. “He would have drowned. He only cared about watching the rainbow pattern. By the time we found a “less painful” way to waken him, he would have died. Which scenario would you prefer?” Turning his gaze to Raven, he snarled, “Get off of me, now.”

With disgust, Raven removed herself from Scuro. Ska’arr didn’t seem too discomfited by his ordeal. “I think I saw chests resting on the lake’s bottom.” Snatching a sunrod, without another word, he dove into the lake and swam towards a rectangular object which could be barely seen. After several minutes and multiple dives, Ska’arr managed to drag up three sealed chests. Exploring the rest of the lake and finding nothing else of interest, the party returned to dry land to rest and examine the chests.

Setting up camp again, the party set watch and rested. During her watch, Katharina was surprised to see Ska’arr intently reading a book. “What are you reading, Ska’arr?” she asked.

“My mother’s journal,” was his only reply.

“It seems interesting. May I take a look-see?” Katharina said playfully.

Ska’arr looked at Katharina, closed the book slowly and put it in his pouch. “I guess not,” she whispered.

The resting period passed uneventfully. Scuro passed his hands over his eyes and spoke a single unintelligible word. As his hand moved away, his eyes glowed faintly. As he scanned the items from the chests, he saw that the scimitar, shield, wand, and vial all glowed, indicating they were magical. Putting those items aside, he revealed what he had learned to the others.

Ska’arr opened his mother’s journal again and was muttering to himself as his hands made strange gestures. The others were examining the treasure, but Pelias noticed Ska’arr’s strange actions. What’s he doing? It almost looks like he is practicing arcane cantrips. Surprised at this, Pelias decided not to reveal this to the others. Having suffered by others mocking his studies of the arcane, he didn’t want another to go through the same ordeal.

Shribryn moved herself away from the others. Drawing her dagger, she seemed to focus intensely on its blade. Shadow stuff erupted from the ground and engulfed her, shrouding her from sight momentarily. The shadows then seeped into her body until they disappeared, when her trance broke. Scuro had watched the entire display. Interesting.

Breaking camp, the party decided to finish their exploration of the cavern complex. “Well, there is only one area we haven’t checked yet, and that is to the west.” Ska’arr hoisted a huge portion of the treasure onto the Beast’s back. Though the weight of it would have made most men cringe, the Beast didn’t seem put off by it at all.

Following Ska’arr, they entered a large cave reeking of death. Blood splattered walls lined with manacles, the area was a charnel house and smelled of sickness. Not wishing to spend any more time in the disturbing cave, they quickly exiting the cave. Examining the rest of the area, they found a narrow, vertical shaft that seemed to lead back towards the river.

“There doesn’t seem to be much else.” Katharina’s voice was heavy with disappointment. “On the plus side, we did find some baubles that are worth some of the effort we put in. Shall we go back to town?”

Seeing no reason to stay, they gathered their items and treasure and headed back towards the hidden staircase. As they reached the staircase, there was a little cough, no more than a clearing of the throat, in the dark behind them. They did not otherwise move, but their hair stirred at its roots, so close had been that tiny noise. Turning slowly, they were surprised to see Zandever Eyredanus step out of the shadows. Without preamble or explanation, he spoke. “Anything interesting to report?”

Taken aback, Raven began relating their adventures. “Fascinating,” was all Zandever said as she finished. “Events have progressed since you’ve been gone. A band of orcs bearing Orcus’ symbol attacked Triboar, but they were repelled. Their numbers and ferocity keep increasing.” Turning to Scuro, he fixed him with a hard stare. “Rumour has it that you have been responsible for raising the dead.” Everyone seemed shocked and stared at Scuro. “An edict has passed in Triboar. You will be under heavy scrutiny.” Before Scuro could say anything, Zandever addressed the entire group. “You need to show your good intentions by helping rid the area of the orcs or it may fall hard on you all.” Zandever looked at each person and then walked into the cavern complex. Zandever’s voice called out from the shadows, “You stalk the evil in the shadows. Be careful you do not become tainted by the shadows.”

Zandever’s words churned over and over again in their minds as the group made their way back to town. Prove myself! Scuro was indignant. I will prove myself, but not in the way they are expecting!

As they crested a hill, they heard a shrill screech. Looking up, they saw an abomination flying towards them – a peryton.

Katharina quickly opened the vial with the antiperyton potion and coated her sling stone with it. The peryton dove down and landed softly beside the Beast. The Beast snarled and snapped at the peryton.

“Cover your eyes!” Shribryn shouted. Running towards the peryton into a flanking position away from the others, she drew her dagger. The dagger caught the sunlight and flashed, and the flash seemed to grow and grow until the dagger became a blinding orb. The light burst forth suddenly, filling the immediate area with a painful amount of radiance. All had turned away briefly except for Raven. As the light erupted from Shribryn’s dagger, all she could see was the after-image. Blinking her eyes, she tried to clear her sight.

Katharina twirled the sling overhead and launched the coated stone at the peryton. The stone ruffled the peryton’s feathers as it flew past its wing, but caused it no harm. Cursing, Katharina dashed towards the peryton, drawing her blades.

Pelias pointed at the peryton and shouted out a single word. The word carried agony in its wake and slammed into the peryton, staggering it. Enraged the peryton focused its attack on the nearest opponent: the Beast. Slamming its wings into the Beast, the peryton snarled viciously as the Beast was knocked back.

Ska’arr roared with rage and slashed at the peryton with his chain. Sidestepping the attack, the peryton moved within reach of the Beast’s fangs. Clamping down on the peryton’s leg, the Beast’s jaws tried to lock but didn’t seem able to find any purchase.

Both Scuro and Pelias chanted and made arcane gestures. As Scuro finished his spell, a feeling of despair filled the peryton’s heart; as Pelias finished his spell, a feeling of hope and determination filled the hearts of his companions.

“I don’t think we’ve been hurting it!” Katharina shouted. She had noticed that, where the Beast had tried to tear into, there was no mark. Racking her mind, she sought to remember any lore about perytons. Dredging her mind for knowledge, she clutched to a tiny nugget. “We might need magic to pierce the peryton’s flesh!” Moving away, she planted her blades into the ground as she spun her sling once more.

Shribryn, hearing Katharina’s words, focused energy into her dagger. Bursting into flames, the dagger cut a furrow into the peryton’s side. Squawking in pain, the peryton continued its assault on the Beast. The Beast bled heavily from its wounds. Ska’arr redoubled his efforts in an attempt to distract the peryton from its chosen prey, but the peryton would not be distracted.

Pelias stepped forward and lay his hands on the Beast. Holy energy flowed from his hands into the Beast, causing its wounds to begin to close. Before the process could finish, Pelias was forced to dodge the peryton’s antlers. The others continued to attack the peryton.

Surrounded, the peryton tried to take to the sky to gain some room to manoeuvre. Spreading its wings, it pushed back its enemies as it vaulted into the sky. But at the very moment the peryton leapt, Raven leapt too, catching the peryton in midflight! The peryton twisted and turned to dislodge the pest, but Raven’s hands were locked around the peryton. With the added weight, the peryton could not lift off, though Raven’s feet dangled above the ground.

A glowing missile slammed into the peryton’s side as a sling stone crushed its eye. The peryton, partially blinded turned towards its tormentors and saw a gnome and a human staring back at it. Enraged, the peryton burst free from Raven’s grasp and pumped its wings powerfully. Raven landed softly on the ground and jumped up to grab the peryton once again. Buffeted by the peryton’s powerful strokes, Raven was pushed back just enough for her to miss. Ska’arr’s chain lashed out to snag the peryton’s leg, but missed it narrowly.

The peryton flew higher and higher, but something was wrong. Pain wracked its being, beyond what it had already suffered. Before it could get out of sight, the peryton’s body seized up in sheer agony and plummeted to the ground. When the group reached the peryton, it was already dead.

“What happened?” Shribryn asked.

Pelias smiled. “I think it was one of my little tricks that did him in.” The others pressed him to explain, but Pelias just smiled some more. Ska’arr pulled out a dagger and began to skin the peryton, but the Beast, still infuriated, tore into the peryton and snapped its horns. Dismayed, but not overly upset by the turn of events, Ska’arr patted Beast on its head, causing Beast to sit and pant contentedly. As they walked away, Shribryn plucked one of the peryton’s feathers and put it into her pouch.

Setting up camp for the night, the group discussed Scuro’s predicament. “What should we do?” Pelias asked.

“Leave him to the wolves.” Raven replied.

“Not funny,” Shribryn commented.

“Who said I was joking?” Raven grimaced. “If he is guilty of this heinous crime, he should rot for it.”

Scuro raised his voice. “Would everyone please stop talking about me as if I am not here?” All conversation stopped. “To alleviate your fears, I swear to you, by Aman-Ra’s holy fire, that I have never raised the dead.”

“So you haven’t in the past,” Raven countered, “but will you in the future?” Scuro smiled.

Katharina cut in. “This is getting us nowhere! We cannot hold him responsible for any actions he may or may not do in the future. We are not time travelers.” Scuro’s eyes glimmered in the firelight. “If we hold him responsible for future crimes, why could not the same hold true for the rest of us. He hasn’t done it, he’s not guilty, and that is that. We’ll deal with this when we arrive in Triboar. As for the rest of you, I am tired and I’m going to bed.”

“Let us work together to find the Lost Guide and profit from it.” Shribryn’s suggestion made sense to most of the group. “Zandever says we stalk evil in the shadows. So let us be Shadow Stalkers.” Nodding in agreement, they went about their business.

Everyone began to turn in. Pelias and Shribryn were first watch and got up to patrol the area. As Pelias patrolled the around the campsite, he noticed Ska’arr was still up. He seemed to be talking to his knapsack and feeding it bits of food! Pelias paused in his sentry duty to talk to Ska’arr.

“Are you feeding your knapsack?”

Ska’arr jumped a little and seemed embarrassed. Evading Pelias’ eyes, he tried to stammer an answer. Before he could come up with anything cohesive, a little furry nose popped out from the knapsack and chirruped at him.

“Is that your pet ferret?”

Ska’arr’s back stiffened. “Lord Farragut is a companion and not a pet!” Ska’arr’s tone was indignant. Seeing he had responded harshly, he quieted his tone. “Lord Farragut gets hungry from time to time.” Cooing at the ferret, it slipped back into his knapsack and quieted. Pulling out a book again, he began to read.

Pelias knew nothing of his companions. Seeing the chance to learn more about them, he pressed Ska’arr for more. “What are you reading?”

Ska’arr got a wistful look in his eyes. “I’m honouring my mother’s legacy. She was a powerful transmuter and kept a detailed text of her spells and techniques. I’m trying to understand her arcane knowledge so that I can honour her memory.” Ska’arr’s expression turned dark. “They were slaughtered by orcs and there will be a reckoning.” Ska’arr turned away from Pelias. “My father was a ranger as well. I honour both of their memories and follow both of their paths.”

Sensing that Ska’arr wished to be left alone and not knowing what to say, Pelias simply got up and continued his watch.

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