TMA Down Time

TMA Down Time
Art by @spoiledchestnut

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Session 43

Feeps, at least one Maziel, Beck, Lysandra and I plane-shifted to the Feywild. The others went to Hestavar.
In the Summer Court, we stopped close to the Sun of Leaves, the Fey Queen's palace.
“I'm heading off to make contact with Ellistraee,” Maziel declared already walking away. “Let's meet back here in an hour or so.”
“Can I come?” Beck asked, stepping forward.
I saw Maziel hesitate, then shrug; the two moved out of sight.
I clapped my hands together. “Alright, well, we get the less exciting task of talking to family,” I finshed, looking at Feeps. I was mostly here to transport us, but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask my mom if she knew anything about her deceased husband's life. Viceak had managed to run a kingdom and be an Arch Magic on the side, and while my mother had some notion of what he had been up to, nothing was revealed until I found him dead. I think the only one who really knew about Viceak’s secret life was my biological father, Elroar, but their friendship crumpled with the truth of my parentage.
We strolled through the grounds until we reached the private grove of titanic trees that served as the homes of noble fey. I found my mother's house, climbed up the trunk’s spiral staircase, wavered at the door, then knocked. There was shock on Irielya's face when she opened the door to find her daughter and company waiting. The confusion quickly dissolved into a bright smile as she pulled me into an embrace.
“Taelim,” she said simply, squeezing me softly.
“Hi Mom...can we come in?”
We sat in the parlor as my mother played host, passing out tea and snacks. There was a jaunt to her step, but I couldn’t shake the feeling she was terribly lonely here, despite friends and distant family.
“My dear Feep,” she beamed at my warforged guardian, patting his hand affectionately. She stopped at Lysandra, holding out a cup for her. “I don't believe we've had the pleasure. Irielya.”
Lysandra glanced at me as if to ask, What do I say?
In that moment I realized I had no idea what we were. Friends? Lovers? I wanted her to myself, sure, but did she? Even with Killian removed from the picture, I had a whole lot of apologizing still to do.
I opened my mouth, unable to answer, and my mother’s curious stare settled on me.
Lysandra smiled and took the tea. “I’m a compatriot of Taelim.”
My mother nodded once as she took a seat across from us, watching me. Waiting. I got the feeling she knew there was more to that statement. She always seemed to know when I was hiding something. “How are things in Illium, Taelim? Have you amended things with Killian?”
Yeap, there she goes, forcing the truth out of me. To be fair, she probably hadn't heard of my public removal from the throne.
I locked eyes with my mother and answered unapologetically. “No, I've abdicated the throne and broken off the engagement. Killian gave me a choice: marry him and settle down, or leave to adventure. I chose the latter. If he wants to play king and be a coward, that's on him, the rest of the world needs help.”
The room fell silent, and I permitted myself a peek at Lysandra who was eyeing me quizzically. I hadn't had time to tell you properly, I thought miserably. It's been one thing after another.
“Whatever makes you happy,” my mother said at last, almost willing me to be. She leaned back in her chair and smiled. If anyone knew what it was like to marry someone you didn’t love, it was her.
I laughed softly. “In time, I hope. Anyway, as much as I wish this was a social call, I have a question for you. It's a long shot, but...Viceak had this creates these collars but it's gone missing. Do you remember anyone peculiar who might know its origin?”
Irielya frowned, sighing almost to herself. After a long moment, she shook her head. “I'm afraid not, he was a secretive man, it was one of our many...issues.” She seemed to chew on the matter, then, “But Elroar might. I could reach out to him...”
There was something shy about the way she mentioned my father, as if they hadn't had an affair and were in love all those years ago. Did she still keep away after everything that happened? Now, a different thought occurred to me, and I tried not to sound too enthusiastic.
“Do you think he'd travel here if you asked? He's a druid, so he has much of the same abilities I do…”
The notion caught my mother off guard, and after a short time she replied. “I'll try...” she got up quickly and walked out of the room.
“Taelim.” Feeps tried to pry my intentions out.
“Just go with it,” I said.
She still loves him. I grinned to myself all the while as we waited for her to return with the news. My father was en route.

Admittedly, things were slightly awkward at first, all long pauses and averted eyes. At some point I pulled my father aside to talk freely so my mother could catch up with Feeps without pressure.
“I'm not sure if mom told you why we called…?”
Eloar shook his head, curious but careful.
“You know how Viceak had those collars…?” I started tentatively.
He groaned loudly. This was not his favorite topic, he felt passionately about seeing them all destroyed.
“It's not what you think,” I added. “There was a book in his library, but it's gone missing. Now someone is using it to make more. Is there anyone who might have information about it?”
Elroar's rugged features were unreadable. Granted, I hadn't really gotten the chance to know him well, he had basically watched his daughter grow up from afar, raised by another.
“Dad,” I pleaded, the title catching his attention, endearing me. “I want to destroy the collars and the book.” I said at last, and now I could see surprise register in his face. He knew I had wanted to pursue Viceak's magi role, but not to what degree.
He sighed. “If anyone would know, it's the Magus of Night, the Inculabram that resides in the Shadowfell. He taught your father many things that shouldn't have been learned.”
I beamed at him, and despite his best efforts, he smiled back. “I'll fix this, don't worry.” I offered.
Elroar nodded, ”I'm...proud of you.”
“Is that because you know I broke up with Killian?”
He laughed brusquely. “Maybe.” Then peered back into the room at Irielya, then Lysandra. “Who's your friend, Taelim?”
Now it was my turn to sigh dejectedly. “She’s…” I stopped, trying to gather my feelings truthfully, “...someone I want to introduce as...more than a friend. If I can figure my shit out. Why is everything so complicated?”
His arms were suddenly around me, and it felt like being hugged by a bear. “You'll figure it out.” He placed something over my head as he pulled away.
I blinked down at the necklace hanging there; within a tiny glass container strange liquid swirled. It shifted in a disoriented manner.
“To help you figure your shit out,” he said gruffly.
“Thanks,” I said, momentarily mesmerized. I lifted my head and gestured to my mother. “You know, she's single again. What are you waiting for?”
Elroar flushed, then looked at my mother. In that moment I thought I glimpsed hope, was he really waiting on a blessing? I had years and booze to get over the truth behind their actions, and now, frankly, I knew better. Staring at Lysandra, I realized I could even relate.
“Before I go, there's something you should know.” I leaned into his ear and whispered a single, strange word. “That will shatter the collars Viceak designed. Never forget it.”
Elroar's eyes widened, then I patted him playfully on the arm and walked into the parlor. “Time to go! We're supposed to meet back up with Maziel before she sends a hunting party.”
My mother stood to embrace me, and as I kissed her goodbye, in Sylvan I said, “Give him another chance.”
Irielya's eyes narrowed, then she addressed the lot of us. “I was going to ask you all to stay for supper, but well...Elroar, you're more than welcome.”
Again, Elroar blushed furiously, then nodded. “It'd be my pleasure…”
“And we're off!” I called back, still smiling as I shut the door behind me.

Maziel looked pissed. Well, more so than usual. She all but stomped over, throwing her hands in the air. “We were right, Ellistraee thinks something is trying to manipulate us into using the god-kill boon I have to end Torog.” The drow snorted. “You know, since I didn't use it on Lolth.”
“I thought Graz'zt was using Torog.” I replied back.
“But why? Are we being baited?” was all Maziel gave back.
I shrugged, “I don't know, let's head back to Illium and see what the other group learned. After, I want to head to the Shadowfell.”
Maziel's face fell, and I recounted my father's confession. That only seemed to fluster her more. She raised her gaze skyward. “Before we go, I was hoping to head somewhere nearby. I had this nightmare of drow invading a prestigious academy, but I think it was real….I  want to know what became of it.”
Weird, I had a nightmare last night too, I just can't remember. “How far is it?” I said instead.
“If it's the one I'm thinking of, that's a trek, Maziel.” Lysandra added.
“Damn…” Maziel growled, crossing her arms.
“A trek…” I continued, undeterred. “But walking or flying?”
For a heartbeat, they all looked at me as if to question my logic. Then it dawned on them—I’m the party druid.
“Right then,” Lysandra amended. “What do you have in mind for all of us?”
“I'm thinking another dragon, as long as no one casts Feeblemind.”

All that remained was the shell of a building sitting atop a lonely hill in the middle of a forest. While the others set to exploring the remains, I sat on my haunches watching the forest line. Nothing about this felt right. 
Maziel was convinced her dream was real, and in it, something was taken—the reason for this academy being raided and pillaged in the first place. We just didn't know what.
Movement caught my eye at the base of the hill. A humongous brown bear with strange glyphs on his fur shambled into view. Unabashed, it stared me down until I finally got up and lumbered over.
“Why are you in my realm, dragon?” the bear demanded in a baritone voice.
This caught me off guard, that and the mention of a dragon, until I realized I was said dragon. I dropped the form, returning to a half-elf, and to my surprise, he did the same. Now a seven-foot tall bearded man in hunting leathers lorded over me.
“Sorry?” I offered, pointing over my shoulder. “My friends are here on a premonition or something.”
The man growled softly. “What's your name?”
“Taelim. Druid. My mother's of the Summer Court.”
This seemed to relax the man, “Bjeornheim, the Bear King. Take me to your friends.”
I bit my tongue and obliged. As we crested the hill, walking through the charred remains of the building's entrance, I called out to the others. “Attention folks, Bjeornheim, the Bear King is in your presence.”
Bjeornheim inclined his head, “You know your manners.”
And you don't know sarcasm. I smiled thinly and took a seat on a fallen pillar.
“Why are you here? This is all my domain.” Bjeornheim demanded, staring daggers at Maziel.
“Apologies,” Maziel replied. “We're trying to figure out what happened here…”
The Bear King pointed a meaty finger at Maziel. “Drow happened.”
To her credit, Maziel stayed calm. “Then you surely know the reason—I believe something was taken.”
Bjeornheim stepped closer and loomed over her. “Believe or know?”
“I didn't have anything to do with this, if that’s what you’re implying.”
Tension filled the silence, then Bjeornheim snapped his fingers. “Ziggly!” he roared.
A pixie popped into existence, bowing mid-flight. “My liege?”
“The academy's inventory,” the king held out a huge hand which the pixie filled with a thick scroll. It was unfurled and inspected. After a time, he blinked back at Maziel. “It's all accounted for.”
“Might I have a look?” Lysandra spoke up from the wall she leaned on.
Bjeornheim's eyes narrowed, then he tossed her the scroll.
It was hardly a few moments before she produced a satisfied smile. “It's a good forgery, I'll give it that.” She walked over to the king and pixie, pointing to an item on the list. “That one, falsely accounted for.”
The king and pixie leaned over the parchment until shock replaced their doubtful expressions.
“What's the item?” Maziel asked carefully.
“A gauntlet…” Bjeornheim replied quietly, evidently still working through his amazement. “It nullified magic.”
The rest of us exchanged nervous glances. Not like that couldn't be used for nefarious deeds.
“Will you get it back for me?” the Bear King asked, his voice taking on a different tone. Pleading.
Maziel shrugged, “We can certainly try.”
Bjeornheim closed his eyes and nodded. “That is all I can ask.”
I leapt up to my feet, using this as our excuse to get off of this plane. “Then we'll take our leave.” I motioned to the group, who knew the drill to get close and link hands for plane-shift. “Time to go.”
I quickly gestured the spell's components, uttering the necessary words. The surge of transportation magic flared, then suddenly died. I opened my eyes, confused, and the others slowly did the same.
The Bear King, who had witnessed the whole thing, shook his shaggy head. “It's as I feared…”
“Taelim?” Maziel tried as I focused on the ground furiously.
“We're stuck in the Feywild,” I growled back.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Session 42

I blinked awake, trying to grasp my surroundings. I was sitting in the city center of Illium, staring up at the castle from the heart of the teleportation circle and wondering how in the nine hells I had gotten here. Wearily, I noticed the whole party was around me, including the others who had gone to Szith Morcane.
The half-orc, Yaup was squatting in front of me, grinning widely. “Feeling better? Feeble Mind is a strong spell….”
“What are you talking about…?” I began, only to stop short. It all flooded back to me: Magaat, the fortress prison. Lysandra. I leapt to my feet. “Where is s—”
Two arms suddenly wrapped around me, holding me close. “You saved me,” Lysandra whispered. “Thank you.”
This time, without a spell to blame, I was speechless. All I could do was embrace her back, wishing I never had to let go. She was here, she was safe, it was over. I could see Maziel, alongside the other version of herself, both giving a thumbs up. I’d have to thank her later for finishing what I clearly couldn’t.
With reluctance, I cleared my throat and pulled back, glancing away and grateful I didn’t redden easily. I didn’t even know where to begin. Sorry is probably a good start, I thought miserably, knowing that wasn’t about to happen right now.
Then a different thought surfaced, and I felt the desire for violence rise. “Where’s Minerva?” I growled.
In one hand Klotonk waived Fiendkey, Baba Yaga’s staff, and in the other, the golden collar that was around the succubus’ neck. “I sent her back to her was the only way to free her, but she told us a lot of interesting information.” He turned the collar around in his hands curiously, but Maziel stepped forward.
“Why don’t we take the rest of this conversation back to your place, Klotonk?”
“Wait!” I blurted, turning to Feeps. “The power gemdid we get it back?!”
Feeps shook his head, “Treetonk is studying its properties alongside the pyramid. He assured me that he will return with it once that is finished.”
“Privacy, people,” Maziel reminded us. “Civilians are starting to talk.”
“What else is new?” I grumbled, motioning for us to move. Luckily, Klotonk’s place, or the barren stone shed over his hidden lab, was nearby. As we walked, I had to resist the urge to look at Lysandra, to take her aside and ask her how she was doing, to promise her this would never happen again, not while I lived. However, matters Minverva mentioned to the others took precedent, or so it seemed, so I obliged.

We all crammed inside the tiny space, Pila and Egba slumped against the wall, exhausted. I made it a point to stop by and thank them before descending to the basement with the others.
“Hey, after we all get some rest, I’ll take you back to Magaat in the morning. I owe the Minx anyway.”
“Aye, yeah, no worries.” Egba grinned. “It was fun and crazy.” The two smiled at me, then their smiles broadened at the figure behind me. I turned to see Lysandra waiting at the ladder.
I owed them, and they knew it.
As Klotonk fiddled with the gold collar, Maziel retold everything Minerva had confessed back at the prison, when I was nothing more than a babbling dragon. Turns out that Aleph, or Doresain, had been gathering a host of powerful figures, including several of the Arch Magi, and binding them to gold collars to do his bidding. Working alongside the lich, Harthoon, they’ve been receiving orders from some other higher power since Orcus died.
I leaned back in my seat, turning to Maziel number two, who had apparently come back from the Demonsweb Pits. “So, how was Lolth?” By now, shock and awe had lessened into dull sensations. We just had too much to deal with.
Maziel shrugged. “Torog freed Selvetarm to try to kill Lolth, but we killed him instead, well Kolae did, but Lolth still died in the end. She gave us her power to give to Ellistraee, so at least she’s on our side now I suppose. Oh, and Torog is being manipulated by Graz’zt.”
I nodded slowly, then turned to Klotonk. “Hey buddy, do you have any liquor?” I had the desire to drown everything I just learned.
Klotonk didn’t respond, he was utterly entranced by the gold collar, muttering to himself.
I cocked my head and watched him for a moment. I knew he got enveloped by his studies, but somehow, there was something off. “Klo?” I tried again, slipping off my seat and approaching. I shook his shoulder gently. “Ah, shit...” I placed my hands on his face, channeling restoration magic.
The gnome wizard jerked awake. “Whoa! That was intense.”
I poked his forehead lightly, my voice stern. “Rule one: you don’t get to study this collar without supervision. Clear?”
Klotonk frowned. “Fair. That was pretty strong domination magic,” he eyed the collar for just a moment longer. “I think I need to take this to the temple of Ioun in Hestavar.”
I sighed, then patted his shoulder. “I think we all have things we need to pursue, but where to start…”
“Taelim,” one of the Maziels started, I couldn’t tell which one I had spent the last few days with. “I think I should meet with Ellistraee, inform her of recent events on your end. If Torog is being played, then dealing with him might be exactly what Graz’zt wants.”
“And you want me to take you to the Feywild.”
Both versions of the drow nodded in unison.
“Yeah sure, I’ll go see my mom. I should really look into that instruction book Viceak had. If someone’s making stronger versions of the collar with it, I need to get it back. She might know people my dad hung out with.”
“First, I suggest we all rest up for the night,” Feeps spoke up cheerily. “It has been quite a long day, and it appears matters are only growing more complicated. Tomorrow morning we can—” his voice cut off. Shouts were heard from above, then Egba and Pila were calling down to us.
We rushed up the stairs. The door was open and the small living room was bustling with Shi’ar.
What the…?
I moved toward the door and stepped into the street. Down at the teleportation circle I could see more and more...refugees blinking into existence and looking terrified. A hand fell on my shoulder, and Egba pulled me back inside, talking hurriedly.
“Magaat...the elementals warned the Shi’ar to leave. A huge shell was placed over the city. They can’t go back.”
I exchanged glances with the others. We had seen a shell before, the one at Solstice, altering time itself, and from what I learned, there was one up at the Asimba Mountains, trapping Primus within.
I closed my eyes and sighed. Added to the ever-growing list. When I opened them, Egba and Pila were looking at me hopefully. “Have the Shi’ar head back to the city square, I can see guards coming. They’ll handle the refugees, I’m sure.” I’m sorry, but I have absolutely no power to help otherwise. That’s what happens when you abdicate. I only had a room in the castle because of who I was, that and my aunt and Feeps were still part of the council.
Egba nodded and spoke to the others in their native tongue. Then he and Pila both followed the Shi’ar, feeling obligated to do so. Eventually, I was alone in the room with my friends.
“Meet here tomorrow morning?” I asked wearily.
They consented, and Feeps moved to follow me back to the castle, waiting patiently as I hesitated. While some remained, permanent residents of Klotonk’s home, others like Yaup and the goliath twins left. As they went, I had my eyes on one, and she watched me in turn.
I pulled Lysandra aside, trying to find the courage to speak. This used to be so easy, why is this hard now? Then the answer hit me: Because I failed her. I had pushed her away, and this is all my fault to begin with. 
“Taelim?” Her voice brought me back to my senses.
“Will you come back to the castle?” I asked in a low voice, almost pleading. I hurried to explain. “I just want to keep an eye on you is all, and I can get you a room—”
Lysandra began to walk toward the door, me trailing her like the besotted dog I was. “I think after everything…” she started slowly, thinking to herself. “Maybe I could stay with you?”
“Yes,” I blurted almost instantly. 
She smiled tiredly. “Lead the way.”

Despite everything, I still didn’t know where to begin—how to start over. Still, Lysandra went along with it. When she came to bed, she fell asleep almost at once while I watched her, unable to rest until she had found peace. She was broken, I thought, having been tortured and imprisoned for information. I knew she was a keeper of secrets, that her job with the Unseelie came at a cost, and yet, it should have never happened in the first place. If I hadn't pushed her away. I promised I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, that I would protect her, no matter the cost. Only then did I find sleep.
Long before dawn, I was woken up by nightmares, imagines I couldn’t remember but they haunted me regardless. Drenched in my own sweat, I looked down to find Lysandra still fast asleep. Quietly, I got up, washed and dressed, and waited for morning to follow. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Session 41

Egba and Pila led us through the city like two men who had lived their entire lives behind the scenes. In and out of alleys and crowds, we slipped inside a junkyard. Weaving around piles of rubbish and abandoned items, they revealed the black crater into the sewers far below. With care, we climbed down the ropes and descended. The blessed relief of cool air washed over us.
The duo guided us through narrow passageways, until the stench of waste faded. More tunnels funneled us deeper underground, through a cistern and past the city center’s underbelly. We eventually stopped at an archway leading into a cavern. Then we noticed the pile of bones, mules perhaps.
“I told you we shouldn't have tied them up,” Egba hissed at Pila.
Pila shrugged, searching around for a culprit. Whatever it was had long gone, and on a full stomach.
“Don’t worry, I have an idea!” Klo piped up.
“Please don’t do what I think you’re—” I started, too late.
The crystal gnome was already at work casting. In moments the bodies resembled their former selves, animated for the time being. The undead mules watched their former masters pitifully.
“Aye, that was neat!” Pila patted Treetonk on the shoulder, warily placing bags on the mules’ boney backs.
We carried on, the trek proving long, quiet and full of tension for what awaited. After a couple of hours we stopped, staring at the dark chasm that separated us from the towering prison fortress ahead.
“So, eh, what’s your plan?” Egba turned to us, as we all exchanged glances.
Maziel placed a hand on my back. “Rational plan.”
I grumbled a curse, but let the group decide.
The good news was that a bridge spanned over the seemingly endless drop. The bad news was that it was also the main entrance. That’s what we chose, carefully skirting along the wall and inching toward the bridge.
“Whoa…” Treetonk stopped, holding up our treacherous train on this narrow ledge. He gaped at the fortress. “That whole’s practically lit up with necrotic energy…”
“We were warned dark forces were gathering. I recommend we proceed with caution,” Feeps replied genially. He reached out and booped me on the nose. “There you go, Taelim, I have placed a nondetection spell on you...just in case.”
“Thanks, buddy…” I said, not offended by his preemptive guess on my behavior. I was a pattern.
Feeps, Treetonk and I clambered onto the bridge. Pila and Egba had sent the mules back, probably toward their second death, and the others were waiting their turn to climb.
Out of breath, Treetonk pointed toward the prison gate and the two titans beside it. “Are they...moving?”
I followed his gaze, then froze, yelling at the guides. “Stay down there!”
The titans were indeed moving, they sprinted in our direction, their colossal steps shaking the ground. Instinctively, I changed into a triceratops, meeting the two head on while the others bombarded them from behind. Even through this body, I felt their fists down to my core. Fireballs exploded against their stoney frames, but they pressed on, swinging pillars that nearly crushed the others. Odison managed to distract one, smashing an ankle to rubble and forcing it to lean dangerously over the ledge for support. The other titan continued to grapple with me, beating against my frame until I reverted back into half-elf, aching all over.
A sickly green ray took the titan in the head and it disintegrated. Treetonk whooped
triumphantly, until we noted the shadowy frame that remained—its possessor. The shadow fled, passing through the stone gates without trouble.
Clenching my side, I staggered toward Odison and Maziel who fought the remaining titan. I slammed my staff down, and with a crack of thunder the titan tumbled over the side and into the cavern.
Maziel looked at me as if to say, That loud spell?
“Like they didn’t know we’re here.” I snapped back.
With something like awe, Pila and Egba clambered onto the bridge.
I pointed at the gate but spoke to the group. “One minute for someone to think of a reasonable plan before I break it down.”
“Taelim,” Treetonk cautioned. “This whole place is rigged with traps and wards…”
“Thirty seconds,” I responded, unbothered.
“I can blow it up!” Pila exclaimed excitedly, and I turned to him with a grin.
I like him.
The goliath motioned the okay. “They know we’re here,” Odison’s deep voice conceded.
Laughing madly, Pila began pulling out sticks of explosives and wrapping them into a bundle. At the foot of gates he placed them down carefully, as if it were an infant. He lit the fuse, then sprinted back toward us. Then past us.
The resulting boom made even the thunderwave seem pitiful. Fire bloomed, and a cloud of dust and debris followed. When it settled, a gaping hole welcomed us inside.
We stepped into a humongous chamber, stopping short at the sight before us. A pulsing teleportation circle dominated the center of this space, while a pyramid hung upside down from the ceiling, runes wrapped around it. It was ringed by alcoves filled with titans similar to the ones that greeted us outside. Two were missing. I tried not to think about the possibility of the others coming to life.
Our wizard gasped, mindlessly walking forward, but Maziel reached out and held him by the scruff. “Not until I check for the very real danger this place is bound to hide.” The drow moved, inching along the wall.
Treetonk sniffed miserably as he waited; I patted him on the head. I could relate.
Maziel returned silently, “All cl—”
Treetonk was already at the circle, look up and mumbling to himself with a wild smile. The rest of us followed.
“Taelim,” Maziel whispered at my side. “Do you think you could try a location spell for Lysandra?”
“Already ahead of you,” I replied, surprised at my patience as Treetonk and Feeps were discussing the purpose of the construction above.
Maziel regarded me, waiting.
“Forward and down. That’s all I’ve got,” I finished.
“I know you want to get to her…”
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m not about to burrow a tunnel. We’ll do this your way.”
I thought I could see Maziel sigh with relief, but Treetonk interrupted us both.
“It’s a supercharger!” He practically screamed, words tumbling out of his mouth. “Do you know what that means? This teleportation circle can go anywhere, even through planes of existence! Feeps and I memorized the pattern, I wish I could stay and study this longer.” He gave me a single look, then shook his head. “I know…we should go.”
We can always come back, I offered. Unless I bury this place under rock. Depends.
The sound of gears turning grabbed our attention. Odison had lifted the portcullis ahead, holding it open for us to pass beneath. “Should we do this?”
We obliged, and the moment we walked in, a fog began to fill the space. Treetonk dispelled the magic at once, and we moved forward. We stopped when the path diverted left and right. Maziel looked to me, and I shrugged. I was concentrating on the location spell, but the answer was the same. “Still forward and down, so pick one.”
Egba picked the prison door to the right, and we moved inside a pitch black hall. Odison lit a torch and held it above us, revealing a series of runes engraved on the floor. They looked almost like serpents winding in and out of columns. Deftly, Maziel stepped across the space, inspecting the door ahead while we waited. She reached for the handle and pulled it open. Needles sprang from the wall beside her, and Odison was already shoving a shield in front of us, deflecting most of the projectiles. The drow smiled sheepishly, as if to say Oops.
We carried on a little more carefully after that, as if we weren’t already going at a snail’s pace for the sake of deadly traps. We passed a series of cells in the next room, all empty, then stumbled across another room with serpentine runes. Egba deftly picked the lock and disarmed the trap, he held the door open playfully, and the others shuffled by. I held back while Odison took the lead with the torch. When the goliath stepped outside, the room suddenly fell into darkness.
A surge of energy washed over us, and I grabbed Egba by the waist and pushed us outside. I wasn’t quick enough, Egba was already screaming. We spilled into the pool of torchlight, the others surrounding us protectively. The darkness kept at bay, fearful of the light.
“What’s wrong with him?!” Pila asked, panicked.
I pushed Pila away, taking Egba’s face in my hands. His eyes were obsidian pools, purple veins pulsing by his sockets. He was croaking about being blind.
“Hold still,” I tried calmly, uttering a restoration spell. The magic seeped into the man, and the purple veins receded. Slowly, his brown irises returned, darting around wildly. I let out a breath, helping him to his feet as he praised my name.
I pointed at Odison. “You and the light stay with us at all times.”
The goliath nodded feverishly, abashed. He wasn’t anything like his twin, Kolae.
We walked by more rooms of empty cells, and with each one I could feel the tension in my body building, fearful of when I would find the cell I was looking for. We continued until the hall of prison rooms ceased, giving way to a large circular room with an empty well. The pit looked as if it went a long way down.
“How odd…” Feeps began, moving forward, our curious wizard trailing his four-legged frame.
I was about to assert my own words of caution, but I was too late. The moment they reached the well, the two of them vanished.
“Feeps!” I cried out, already lunging forward. I could feel Maziel scraping at my arm, trying to hold me back, but I was already darting forward.
The well vanished at once, replaced by another teleportation circle. The moment I stumbled into the illusion I was immediately shifted into another space, a different room of this fortress prison. There was a different pyramid, and on the top was something I recognized. It was a power gem, the heart of an Illium golem. I might have gone for it, I owed it to my kingdom to retrieve it and protect it with my life, but chaos was already unfolding. Ahead, Feeps and Treetonk were talking to a figure. It was Minerva, the succubus that went missing the night of the undead attack in Illium. She had a golden collar around her neck.
“Please, Minerva,” Feeps was begging. “Do not do this.”
By now Maziel, Odison and our guides teleported into the room. Minerva looked at all of us apologetically.
“I’m sorry,” she said, still as sultry as ever. “I don’t really have a say in the matter.”
That’s when the Deathlocks appeared, the fallen warlocks of darker patrons, flanked by bodaks stepping around the pyramid, striking fear into all of us. Combat commenced.
A poisonous energy crawled across the floor, seeping into our bodies. Pila and Egba dropped at once. The bodaks screeched, and it was everything in our power to stay up right and face them.
Treetonk was flinging spells across the room, exchanging chants with the robed casters across the room.
Feeps, true to his beliefs, continued to beg Minerva to call the others off, but she shook her head, compelled by something stronger. Odison was holding off most of the bodaks, but one escaped his reach and went for the drow filling the warlocks with arrows. Maziel didn’t notice until it was on her; she dropped.
Panicked, I decided that I didn’t care whether or not Minerva lived or died. Turned or not, she wasn’t my priority today. Sorry, Feeps. Hurriedly, I racked my brain for something that might hold the monsters off, Odison couldn’t be the only one attracting attention.
I shape changed into a brass dragon and roared. With molten-hot fire, I wreathed Odison’s adversaries in flames, giving him time to pick up Maziel and restore her to consciousness. That was all it took. Every spell, every claw and blade was suddenly bouncing off my scaled hide. It might have worked, we might have won, but suddenly Minerva was standing in front of me. I snarled, ready to strike, but she raised her hand and smiled sadly.
Just like that, my world went blank.
I understood nothing but the dangerous shapes in front of me, the ones that hurt. I pounced on them, clawing, biting, stomping. They fell, one by one. I recognized some of the people, familiar and friendly, and the need to protect them filled me. They fought against the figures that tried to hit me, until none remained but the female with wings. The one with the shiny gold thing on her neck. I snarled, but the metal horse-man, the one I liked most, was yelling at me, saying things. I didn’t understand him. The metal horse-man waved at the winged woman, and she swayed, closing her eyes and slumping to the ground. Sleeping? I tried to approach, to sniff, but the familiar ones were standing in front of me holding out hands frantically.
With one massive claw, I gathered them close to me, refusing to let them leave. Protect them. They yelled more things, then stumbled out of my reach. Some of them stayed near, patting me, watching me. Scared? The dark woman was shaking the winged woman awake, screaming things I didn’t get. I rested my head down and watched.
Then the dark woman was running off. I tried to follow, but the others cried out, trying to hold me. Stay? I dropped back down, watching the metal horse-man go back and forth, staring at me. Scared.
For a time, I lay there, protecting my friends. Treasure. Stay. Protect. They waited with me, the metal horse-man staying by the winged woman I didn’t trust. I wanted her gold thing.
Then the dark woman came back, she brought another woman with her. A hurt one. I felt a different feeling. Familiar. Affection. She looked at me, and I leapt up immediately, circling her and dragging her in close. Protect.
They all stared me now, then at the shiny circle in the middle. They huddled close, making noise. That’s when the metal horse-man approached. Music. Soft and sweet. I felt...tired. The woman I liked patted me, smiling. I closed my eyes. Sleep.