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The Sand Shadows
The Sand Shadows
New Chapter Title Here
The Sand Shadows -- Pa...
The Sand Shadows -- Pa...
The Sand Shadows -- Co...
This four-part story will conclude Nalinor's tale of his search for Sorrow.
Chapter 1 : New Chapter Title Here
A Tale of DDO
The Sand Shadows
Part One: The Onyx Pyramid
Nalinor watched Jet fight. The Warforged Barbarian was created of black walnut wood and bands of cast iron, and the deep blue in his docent glowed like a dark star in his chest cavity. The power of its magic radiated out from his center and coated the two tones of his black torso in a glossy shimmer like moonlight reflected in a midnight lake. His name fit him perfectly – Jet.
The ‘Forged’ as Nalinor’s new companions called him, swung his Greataxe in an upward arc and three of the yapping Gnolls surrounding him died. The first struck by Jet’s blade, lost his right arm, a chunk of shoulder and the blade shaved off the edge of his dirty muzzle. The second Gnoll was decapitated; his dog-like jaws snapping silently on air as his head tumbled away end over end. The third Gnoll took the full end swing of Jet’s axe in the chest, the blade sinking all the way in to the main shaft with a meaty thump and the shocked Gnoll was lifted up off the ground and soared back and away and into the chaotic rush of his barking comrades. Another Gnoll leaped and grabbed the Warforged Barbarian’s left arm and turned him around. Without making a sound save for his massive bulk sliding over the hot Menectarun sands, Jet punched the Gnoll in the face with his right fist. The blow caved in the creatures muzzle with an audible crunch like a boot breaking a bundle of dead branches. Sharp teeth flew out into the oppressive desert air like tossed rune stones.
Jet turned and glanced at Nalinor. “Fight, Rogue,” he said. The sound was a metallic bass rumble, and it boiled up out of the towering onyx figure. To Nalinor, it felt like the sand under his feet shifted from the heavy vibration. Nalinor gripped his Rapiers and ran forward.
He picked off Gnolls one by one: a punctured kidney here, a fast and deep rake across a throat there, each subtle attack aimed and timed for maximum damage. With the multitudes of their attackers surrounding Jet, it made for easy kills to a Rogue of Nalinor’s talents. A Gnoll grabbed Nalinor from behind and flung him back and down on the sand. His attacker was a creature of some importance, and the thing's plated armor shined gold under the hot sun. It spit out a mouthful of curses in its language and then yipped and yapped in a Hyena-like chatter down at the Rogue. Lightning blasted a hole in its chest. The power made the hair on Nalinor’s arms rise and he watched in fascination as the lightning traveled from one Gnoll to the next, jumping kill to kill, and five dead bodies were added to the slaughter on the sands.
Nalinor stumbled to his feet, turned around and saw the twin Rataar brothers on the hillside above the chaos. Elaan waved a happy hello. His brother waved too, and then Edaam extended his arm and purple balls of light erupted out and shot into the mass of fighting Gnolls. Nalinor smiled at the sound of hyena laughter changing in pitch and volume to howls and screams.
And then it was done.
Nalinor surveyed the aftermath of the battle. He counted twenty-nine dead or dying Gnolls, and he, as well as Edaam, did the honors of putting the few remaining adversaries out of their misery. Nalinor loomed over the last Gnoll left alive and had to cover his nose from the stench of carrion, wet dog and scat, The Gnoll pawed at the blade of Nalinor’s bloody rapier as it sunk in its chest. It exhaled a bubbling, gurgling deathly wheeze and died.
“I hate these creatures,” said Nalinor.
“You fight them well, Rogue,” rumbled Jet from behind him. The Warforged also wore a jeweled necklace. A glossy black chain, it matched the bands of his natural armor save for the soft pulsation of the yellow gem inlayed at its center. It protected against attacks of the mind and spirit.
Jet and the brothers arcane moved up to him. “I may fight well, but you are a whirlwind on the sands, my friend. To watch you fight is awe inspiring. It is like you dance.”
A compliment like that to a human would make him blush, thought Nalinor. But the black Warforged gave only the smallest of head nods at his words.
“I was forged to kill and to do it well. That is all.”
Nalinor looked at the bloody corpses around them festering on the sand, flies already accumulating in ground-level buzzing clouds. “That is all,” he said, and put away his Rapiers.
“I see we missed the fun.”
Walking down from the crest on the opposite hill were Juti and her Half-Orc half-brother Momakar. Like the twins, Edaam and Elaan, the small human woman wore a black scarf covering the lower half of her face. She was the leader of their band, the Sand Shadows, and Nalinor felt like he finally fit in.
That day seemed so long ago. It was Juti that had set everything in motion.
Nalinor had needed to escape his life in Stormreach. A life spent living day to day between his need for addictive potions and smoke, and the assassinations he performed to pay for both. Add to that his guilt and self-loathing for the loss of his lover, Sorrow, and finally it was time to move on. He boarded the first Airship he could and fled the city. Little did he know another Assassin would change everything! That Assassin was Juti.
The short woman and her massive and intimidating brother moved up to the four waiting adventurers. Juti was human but barely taller than a Halfling. Her black hair glistened in the bright sun. It was tied with numerous, tinkling bells. He always found that funny in a hired killer, but the woman said, “Try and sneak without ringing one of these little trinkets in your own hair and then and only then can you call yourself a true Sand Shadow.” Nalinor had been and still was impressed.
“I just killed the last one,” said Nalinor. He gestured at the dead Gnoll by his feet. “If I would’ve known you were so near, I would have waited.”
Jet said, “I would not have waited.”
The five humans laughed at the Warforged. Jet stared ahead unblinking.
Juti patted the black Warforged on the elbow. “Always work with this one.”
“They had to die,” said Jet flatly.
“And die they did,” said Edaam.
Momakar said, “Juti and I found the tomb.”
The others turned at that. Nalinor had hoped that Juti and her brother would find what they were searching for.
Momakar looked as scary as Jet but in reality he was anything but scary. Momakar stood waist, head and shoulders over his deadly little sister, a solid 7’4”, 320lbs of frightening muscle mass, but of all the things for someone to be, he was a high level Cleric. The Half-Orc could fight when the time called for it, but Nalinor knew he was a man of peace and gentleness. He’d once seen Momakar pick up a slow-moving slug from a trail and place it up out of harms way on a tree branch. That same day the Cleric called down his power and sliced four bandits in two with a whirling Blade Barrier spell that appeared and moved where the man pointed. After the bandits were dispatched, the Half-Orc Cleric said a blessing over each of the halves of their corpses -- a blessing for the stomach, arms and head, and another for the crotch and legs. The sands of Menechtarun were a bloody place to be.
Nalinor said, “By the Gods, I hope this is the right tomb!”
“Five in two months, Rogue,” said Edaam, “we’re on a roll. And regardless, the treasure we’ve accumulated alone is worth – "
“Nothing,” interrupted Juti. “Nothing if we don’t find our brothers…and Nalinor’s Sorrow.”
Edaam looked down in shame. Nalinor did not judge him. Edaam was right; the tombs were a miracle of hidden treasures and a test of any Rogues trap disabling talents. He briefly felt washed over by a deep sadness, by a regret so deep it made him wish for the dreamlily dens of Stormreach. He wouldn’t be here if he’d been a better trap smith, if he’d seen the one that took away his Sorrow.
Edaam patted Nalinor on the shoulder. “I am sorry my friend. I forget myself.”
Nalinor smiled. “I would never get between a Rogue and his treasure.”
“My brother is mostly Wizard like me, but he tends to think like a Rogue.” Elaan smiled at Nalinor.
Juti said, “Careful of your words, and pay attention to the company you keep, Wizard.”
Jet spoke up in his earth vibrating rumble. “We should go and enter this tomb. The dead Gnolls around us are beginning to smell.
“Big, black and emotional is right,” said Edaam. “I have a good feeling about this one.”
“I was feeling just the opposite,” whispered Momakar, and he made a religious sign of warding in the air.
“I’ll lead the way and guard you well, my brother,” said Juti.
“Lead on,” said Edaam.
Nalinor hoped beyond hope that the tomb they headed toward would be the final one they sought. He had been too long wandering the sands, too long breaking into dust-choked vault after vault, too long chasing shadows with these desert people he now called friends.
Jet said behind them as they moved on their way. “I do not show emotions, Edaam.”
The six stood shoulder to shoulder on a crest overlooking a deep ravine. So deep and torn by time and wind it appeared to be cut into the sands by the hand of a God.
“It is there,” spoke Juti. She pointed but Nalinor, shielding his eyes from the glaring sun, could not see the spot.
They made their way down the hillside, kicking and slipping on sand as they went. Juti’s bells a constant chime and song as the desert winds pulled back her locks of flowing black hair. Jet’s sizable footprints in the sand looked like the deep circular remnants of small, uprooted trees.
When they entered the ravine, the sun overhead vanished behind clouds. Shadows reached long, jagged fingers as the six moved between twisted amber rock formations shaped like the geography of nightmare. The echo of yelping Gnolls bounced from the far-off hills and the sound of falling rock and rushing sand haunted the crags and high places around them.
“This position is bad,” rumbled Jet. “We are too vulnerable.”
“I suggest we keep pace with our female guide,” said Edaam. He gestured at the small woman far ahead.
“Gods, she is fast!” said Elaan.
“And as quiet as smoke,” added her brother, Momakar.
They hurried after Juti, jumping from rock to rock, sinking deeper into the sliced heart of the ravine. Two twists into a natural ledge and cliff face and suddenly the edge of a three hundred foot wall curved left and right, creating a deep bowl of the ravine. They walked on.
They wandered through a snaking trail. The turns were so abrupt in places that they walked back the way they had came for hundreds of yards before it twisted and continued on as before. And then they stepped out on a hillside that overlooked a cliff face. Buried up beneath the cliff itself, tucked back and in out of the elements was a pyramid made of black stone. It looked like shadow had taken form. It was not a large structure, and its placement made it absolutely concealed. One could not see it from above or any other direction save straight on from their position.
They moved down the hill, walking the trail that led them out of the sunlight.
The face of the tomb was glistening black stone. It loomed before them like a drop of night made manifest. The steps leading to the entrance were also black, and Nalinor scanned for loose stones and hidden traps as they ascended. Sigils of a long forgotten language were chiseled everywhere: into the steps, surrounding every pillar, and into the façade of the structure. Nalinor found gazing too long at the gibberish made him feel ill at ease, like the words were staring back.
“This is an evil place,” said the Cleric. “It oozes off the stones like a stench.”
The crest over the entryway was a staff radiating lines of magic juxtaposed over a geometric series of interlocking triangles.
“A magic staff in the crest over the door…hmmm? I’d say this is the tomb of a powerful Arcane,” said Edaam.
“And the one we have been searching for,” said Elaan. He moved closer to the door. “Triangles in that form represent the gateway between the living and the dead.”
“Of course they do,” said Juti. She walked under the arch.
Nalinor and Jet entered next, followed by Momakar and the brothers arcane.
The chamber was palatial, domed and of exquisitely crafted architectural design. Up and down the inner curving ribs of the dome were carvings of grey relief in the glossy black stone. He spied depictions of forgotten battles and dead Gods at war. One such scene showed a Giant and a Dragon locked in battle, the Giant choking the Dragon, the Dragon biting on an arm with its tail coiled around the Giant’s torso and left leg. Passageways led off in numerous directions with the largest main hallway to the right. The threshold of the door was a carved open mouth and the eyes above had deep recessed alcoves to place burning braziers, but now only shadowy sockets gazed back at them. The main threshold was crowned in a sunburst. All other doors were crowned with moons. All were closed, and rust like a creeping mold peppered the metal bands of every door.
“And so it goes,” said Edaam, “we are once again faced with a choice.”
They moved into the great chamber and walked toward the main door across the wide expanse. Nalinor looked all around for traps. He spied nothing. Juti pulled ahead of the group. He was relieved to have a fellow Assassin and trapsmith in the group. Even Edaam was a solid Mechanic. He was the one that tended Jet after every battle. The man’s knowledge of gadgets and spinning parts was stunning.
Clue after clue had led them to this place. During the time Nalinor had spent after Sorrow’s fall at the blasted temples back in the Necropolis at Stormreach, Juti and her Sand Shadows had battled the dead as well. They had lost more than Nalinor. For generations these people had fought on the sands, and many and more of Juti’s band had perished. One day Momakar found something. It was the careful instructions of a ritual along with a letter. The letter was a request to kill and gather any and all that had knowledge or the blood of an Arcane. It was written by an ancient Lich, a Lich beyond ancient. In life the Wizard’s name had been Ptolemesh Ghalaan, but for time immemorial the Lich had been known as Lord Rot. He was ancient before there ever was a Wizard King on the sands. But his tomb had been lost and long forgotten, even in later times. Perhaps now it was found. Later, between research at old libraries and Elaan’s own knowledge, Elaan pieced together that the ritual Momakar had acquired was soon to be set into motion, soon to be performed. So, tomb by tomb, the Sand Shadows raided and destroyed, and each one they discovered led to more. All were run by a viceroy of sorts, an Undead officer collecting corpses, collecting freshly dead Arcanes. Juti’s band dispatched them all. The fourth tomb they found housed a school of Necromancers, Juti told Nalinor later, and what they found there was the answer to their hopes – a list of the freshly dead, and all to be delivered to Lord Rot. Soon after, Nalinor entered the scene.
Juti ‘enlisted’ his help. Little did Nalinor know but the two Dragonmarked that had piloted the airship he had boarded back in Stormreach, the Swordfish, had ties to the desert Necromancers. They would carry the stolen bodies of dead Arcanes and smuggle them out of Stormreach and pass them off to caravans in Zawabi’s. Juti knew of this. After the destruction of the airship, she and the Sand Shadows had saved Nalinor from the Menechtarun Desert and healed him. When he opened his eyes Juti held a tiara that had belonged to Sorrow. The little Assassin explained it all, ending with showing him the list. Sorrow’s name was the fourth one down.
Nalinor’s time with the Sand Shadows had been spent gathering more clues, but mostly their questing had merely been finding the right tomb. Looking around, Nalinor knew in his gut that it all had led to now.
Tomb was the wrong word for the place they moved through. Someone had once lived here and lived well. The place was a palace – ancient and twisted – but a palace nonetheless. Ptolemesh Ghalaan had once been a great monarch to dwell in such a place.
They walked into the great, gaping mouth-shaped threshold and pulled wide the door. Dust fell in rivulets, pouring from seams and cracks; the dark sand of ages. They followed a dark hallway for several hundred yards. Nalinor and Juti scouted ahead for traps. The fact they found none made Nalinor nervous. The walls of the hallway were painted and carved in similar frescos to the entrance chamber, forgotten Gods locked in battle with great and terrible creatures.
They exited the hallway and entered another massive chamber. Unlike the first, this one was not domed. All around its large square expanse was a second story lined with a black and red marble railing. Open archways led off in a dozen directions, again with a moon over each door. The floor was tiled in black and red like a game board for Giants, and the red squares were carved with sigils and signs. There seemed to be a pattern to the carvings but Nalinor could not grasp it, and trying to do so made his head swim. Elaan yelled, “DON’T MOVE!”
Jet came to rest after one last heavy footfall. His massive foot grazed the edge of a symbol, a scorpion cut in two by a triangle, and as he touched the tiled floor, red shafts of light shot out in a line from the floor to a pillar far across the room, and then to another and then another. Each place that was touched by the crimson light beam gave off two additional beams of its own, and in the span of seconds the room was alive, a latticework of red shafts of light; infernal geometries.
The boom of stone on stone crashed behind them. Nalinor hunched down in fearful surprise at the sound. An archway was now sealed to them.
Two more stone archways blocked.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
All around the room massive slabs of pocked black granite closed off escape. And then a new doorway opened. A seam in the wall across from the crouched Sand Shadows ground open. Putrid air rushed out of the black space revealed. Nalinor covered his nose.
Silence, then. The beams of red light extinguished, winked out all at once. The adventurers rose tentatively, peering into the black.
“The trap was of the arcane variety,” whispered Elaan into the silence.
“I think we figured that out,” said his mouthy brother, Edaam.
Something down the dark hallway screamed. Nalinor dropped down in surprise, his privates trying to crawl back up into his body. “What was that!?”
The stone floor vibrated. Another scream. It was followed by stone crashing against stone. Dust fell from above into Nalinor’s hair. Another crash. The sound was coming closer, a massive shifting bulk moving very fast. Nalinor also heard the sound of skittering and clicking down the hallway, like the tapping of sticks on rock, maddening clicking sounds, like smaller, rushing things moving with the large.
Boom! BOOM! BOOOOOM!!!
“EEEEEEAAAACCCH!” the thing in darkness screeched.
(to be cont.)
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Chapter 2 : The Sand Shadows -- Part Two
A Tale of DDO
Part Two: Dead in the Halls
It happened quickly.
Nalinor stooped down as the creature roared. The sound was deafening. It caused the stone floor beneath his feet to tremble, the walls all around to vibrate. Boiling up out of the black hallway, it was like the very darkness was enraged.
It blasted its way into the palatial chamber with raining mortar and stone. One second it was a shadowy bulk down the hallway, the next it crashed its massive black reptilian head into the room –- a Black Dragon. It thumped against the threshold of the arched entrance. Masonry broke free and rained down, cracking the tiled floor. It roared and pulled its bulk into the room. As it slammed through the tall arch, other things poured into the room around it: Giant Ants the size of large dogs; nightmarish Giant Centipedes twice as long as a man is tall with glowing red eyes, their dozens of legs scampering; chittinous Giant Beetles as big around as Jet’s shield, their mandibles snapping and clicking insanely. The filth poured through the arch, wave upon wave of vermin, a vibrating carpet scurrying into the room. It looked like the floor breathed.
The companions scattered around the room, some finding the best place for battle, others stumbling backwards and clear from the onslaught of giant bugs snapping and skittering toward them.
Nalinor swung his Rapiers in tandem. Two Giant Rats fell in four parts.
Elaan and Juti moved up the stairway to Nalinor’s left. Elaan cast two spells back to back at the Black Dragon. The first was a Lightning Bolt, and when it hit the scales of the dragon, the power crawled over the surface of its black scales like searching, jagged fingers made of white light. It was a beautiful sight to behold, the contrast of white and black. The beast screamed in pain and rage and spun round. As it did Elaan let loose with his second spell. Jet, down on the floor by the dragon’s feet, struck a blow to the Dragons mid section. The spell cast by Elaan was a Fireball. Flames scorch the scales of the dragon's great neck. Yellow sparks rained down around Jet like fireworks as the ‘Forged struck and struck and struck. The Black Dragon roared, turned around and batted Jet out of the way with its wing. Jet hit the far wall high up and fell to the floor. He was instantly covered in vermin, so much so he vanished from sight. Thousands of insects swarmed over him. Nalinor saw one wood and metal arm trying to reach above the chaos before it too was overcome.
A scream caused Nalinor to turn. Juti had moved up the steps to stand with the Wizard Elaan. She was bleeding from her temple and had a long gash down her arm. With bloody fingers, she flicked a wand repeatedly at the dragon. Magic Missiles shot out of the wand one after the other, each glowing ball breaking on the torso of the beast and sending searing energy into its scales. It whipped its head back at her and the Wizard and exhaled a cloud of green noxious gas into both their faces. Elaan clutched at his throat and tumbled over the rail and fell thirty feet to the moving floor below. Two Giant Ants hurried up to him. One latched onto his right arm, clamped down and tore it from his shoulder. The Wizard screamed. The mass of giant insects moved his way and, covering him, snuffed out his screams. Somewhere in the madness Nalinor could hear the Wizard’s brother Edaam cry out in horror.
Juti was still high up at the top of the stairs. She coughed and coughed, doubling over in pain. The Black Dragon studied her. It tilted its head much like a dog would do when it hears an odd sound. It burped up on her. The Dragon hiccupped up a mass of green mucus that completely enveloped the short woman. Juti was suddenly trapped in a buoyant, tenebrous emerald egg sack, and her arms and clawing fingers pushed and punched and tried in vain to break free. The Dragon’s phlegm began to retract, to tighten around the struggling Assassin. Nalinor watched in horror as the green liquid destroyed her. Skin and bloody flesh sloughed away from a yawning skull, delicate fingers broke free of the acid bubble and their skin, muscle and sinew melted away like candle wax. The bones of Juti’s fingers fell and clattered across the floor like macabre marbles. Acid filled her open mouth and Nalinor screamed for her. She toppled forward, struck the tiled floor below, and her skull broke apart. The bells in her hair tinkled and chimed and bounced away.
Her brother, Momakar, screaming in rage, tried to rush the Black Dragon. He made it ten yards. A translucent Glass Spider appeared, vanished and then reappeared behind the Half-Orc. Nalinor shouted a warning but too late. The Spider visualized, leapt on the confused Cleric’s back and bore him down to the floor. A Giant Black Beetle as large as a sea tortoise jabbed its mandible into his thigh. A Giant Centipede raked into his throat and shoulder to the bone, and his frustrated howls ceased in gurgling gags and wet, wheezing half screams as the bugs moved in.
Only Edaam and Nalinor remained. The Wizard Rogue was diagonally opposite Nalinor on the other side of the room. Edaam had the Black Dragon’s full attention as he cast spells from hand and wand.
“Let us make and end of this, city boy,” he shouted over the thunder of the Dragon’s bellow.
Nalinor was about to answer the Sand Shadow when the Black Dragon suddenly shot its long neck forward and bit Edaam one third away. The man had been smiling at his own comment and awaiting Nalinor’s reply when suddenly his right arm, shoulder and the majority of his ribcage on that side of his body were gone. Edaam’s blood cascaded out and down, his vital organs quickly following: heart, kidney, ropey intestines. The carnage hit the floor and the odor of human blood sent the vermin skittering his way. Edaam toppled face first into the sea of bugs, a smile still on his face.
Nalinor tried to step forward. Something held his left arm and bit down. He grunted in pain and saw a Giant Centipede attached to him. Its mandibles had punctured all the way through his forearm and stuck out the bottom, blood dripping. The things little legs wiggled maddeningly, all trying to grasp and grapple for purchase.
“GODS!” Nalinor shouted. He hacked the insect’s head off. Its body fell and thrashed around, spraying gouts of yellow and green innards in its death spasm. He pulled the centipedes head out of his arm. He let the head drop to the floor. Upon impact it broke apart and became one hundred normal sized Centipedes. The Centipedes darted toward him and ran up his legs beneath his leathers. One bit him on the ankle, another on the inside of his thigh. He gave a grunt and slapped at himself. A Centipede bit him below the nipple, another on the left side by his hip.
It was getting difficult to move. Nalinor’s arm felt like it weighed as much as Jet, and as he tried to lift it to swat at the Centipedes slithering and skittering under his clothes, he fell to his knees. Not like this, he thought. Not like this.
A Giant Red Ant as large as a hound clamped down on his right foot. He yelled in pain and reached back to strike at it, and then a Giant Beetle three feet across flew into him. The weight of the thing combined with its hard shell felt like he’d been struck by a granite boulder. He toppled over and wailed. Nalinor felt his ribs poking out in places they should not be poking out.
And then insects were all around him.
They bit into his legs, latched onto his swatting hands, pulled at his long hair. A Giant Scorpion sunk a taloned stinger into his throat. He tried to crawl with a carpet of insects holding him down. Soon his vision grew hazy, and sound diminished more and more. It was getting harder to hear save for the maddening clicks of insect legs on stone all around him.
Through the multitude of wiggling antennae and crawling legs around his eyes he saw a woman in a rotting robe standing at the center of the arched doorway to the chamber, broken masonry and demolished stone all around her. The Black Dragon was roaring silently in the background behind her, thrashing about and destroying the chamber. The woman’s back was turned. She had limp and lifeless strawberry-blonde hair, and when she turned around he saw her face had been burned away by acid.
Nalinor reached for her. Bugs dropped from his arm. “Sorrow, help me.”
“No, my love,” said the apparition. “Did you help me? Look at my beautiful face, Nalinor. Look at what you did to me.” A Centipede scurried from her eye socket, down her rotting cheek and into a torn place on her delicate throat, slithering back in among the showing vertebrae.
“No, I –”
“It was you. You left me there. Where were you, Nalinor?”
“I was all alone in the dark.”
“How could you leave me there? I was so alone. Why didn’t you come for me?”
“I did. I looked. I looked everywhere! My love!”
"You KILLED ME!!”
The insects chewed and swarmed and burrowed into his ears and up his nostrils and beneath his skin and Nalinor screamed and screamed and…
…screamed inside a room void of chittering, biting insects or dead comrades or his Sorrow pointing accusingly at him or a Black Dragon thrashing and roaring and destroying. All gone? He looked all around him and the room…slipped left. Things blurred around him. He heard an audible popping sound, and then the floor and walls, the dank air and the flickering doom and madness of insects all shifted and vanished. He blinked rapidly, trying to understand what he now saw:
Jet had a hold of a tall, thin humanoid shape by its throat, and his massive hand squeezed. An ichor of black and pink oozed over his fingers as he killed it. He dropped the creature on the floor. The mouth of the thing was like a squid attached to the place where a mouth should be.
Nalinor looked around the chamber. Everyone was alive! All his companions sat stupidly on the floor looking around in confusion. Nalinor surveyed the carnage. He counted six Mindflayers in dead heaps and twice as many Striders, theirs exoskeletal appendages shattered and broken, their fleshy parts torn and gross. Jet moved from corpse to corpse looking down at each. He was covered in gore.
“What happened?” asked Edaam.
“Mindflayers,” said Juti.
“All was an illusion?” muttered her half brother, blinking. He leaned over and was sick.
Jet said, “I tried to dispatch of the Illithids quickly, but they were many and their Strider servants slowed my progress. The last two Illithid were especially difficult to end.
Elaan laughed. He uttered a prayer overhead and said, “Thank the Gods for that necklace and its immunities, Jet.”
Jet touched his pendant. “My amulet enabled me to withstand their mental manipulations.”
“Indeed,” answered Elaan with a smile.
“All of you were screaming hysterically toward the end of my battle,” said Jet. He turned toward Nalinor. “Your screams took on quite a feminine tone near the end, Rogue.”
Jet turned towards him. “And you soiled yourself, Wizard Rogue Edaam.”
Yes he did,” said Elaan, covering his nose.
“Only a bit,” Edaam said defensively. “If you saw the…” he trailed off, muttering, and got up and moved away from the group, embarrassed.
“However we reacted to our personal horrors, be glad they were merely illusion and nothing more,” said Momakar.
Nalinor agreed. To die like that…to see Sorrow so…he shuddered and got to his feet.
“Let us keep moving. We have an entire palace to conquer,” he said.
“Not wise,” said Jet. “Your fragile human minds need rest. I suggest you eat and see if Momakar has some potions for strength and vitality, something to get all of you at your maximum potential.”
“He’s right,” said Juti. “I know I could use a rest after that.”
"We're not the only ones," said Edaam moving back towards everyone. "Jet, look at yourself! What did they do to you in that battle!? Come over here and let me tend to your wounds." And the Wizard Rogue got out his mending tools.
The six adventurers moved through a series of connecting rooms. Their rest – too short by far for Nalinor – was three hours behind them and they all were tired, bloody and confused. They wandered a maze.
They moved through seven rooms and battled something in each before Nalinor and Juti figured out it was a maze. They would enter a room, doors would slam and others open, and then ‘things’ would come shambling out. The Onyx Pyramid seemed more aptly named the Zombie Pyramid for what the maze threw at them. Fire won out every time. By hand or wand, the Undead burned. Some went up in flames so quickly they never uttered a sound.
Once they discovered they were in a maze, then it became trying to figure out what they needed to do to escape. It took six more rooms until Nalinor’s trained eye spied a trap door in the floor. And so they escaped the maze and moved deeper into the bowels of the Onyx Pyramid.
Room after room, encounter after encounter; it felt to Nalinor that he’d fought the Undead his entire life. It was like he stepped outside himself, looked down and watched time repeat: a swing of his blades, a rotting face biting and drooling, and then fire and soon ash. So much ash! It choked him. Mummies and Ghasts and Gaunts, Wraiths and Specters and fetid, molding Zombies, they came at them and all died – a second time. The hours wore on beneath the sands.
They stepped into the throne room.
It was massive. By far much older and built in a different design than the oily walls they had moved through thus far. Bricked over alcoves one hundred feet in height lined the walls of the great oval shaped chamber. At the center of the room was placed a gigantic throne. The thing was thirty feet tall. It was elaborately carved with scroll work and runes, swords and axes, and there was an etching of a great crown at the high back of the chair where the monarch would rest his head. As the companions approached the throne, as they moved deeper into the palatial space, an alcove on their left crashed and boomed. Stones came loose in a blast, rubble rebounding everywhere. Behind the fallen wall was the skeleton of a giant. It growled at them. Its eyes glowed a menacing turquoise. The tower of bones kicked its way free from its prison and thundered its rage down at them. The Greataxe it had in its skeletal grasp was fifteen feet long.
The other alcoves – five in all – vibrated, cracked and exploded. Nalinor saw glowing turquoise eyes back in the dark recesses and billowing dust as stones as large as wagons tumbled free.
Six Giant Skeletons ran at them. Elaan made short work of two in one shouted spell that caused Nalinor to clap hands to ears and try not to scream. Whatever the spell was, it turned both stomping Giants to powder. Disintegrated bones rain down in white sand that choked. Jet destroyed a third Skeleton. His Greataxe hacked away at shin and ankle. Edaam cast a spell at the Warforged, a spell that caused Jet to glow red, and then another that caused him to glow green. The Warforged Barbarian became an ebony blur of axe swings and chipped bone fragments. In seconds the Giant Skeleton fell. Jet leaped high and brought his axe down and shattered the things skull. Its glowing blue eyes winked out.
Momakar and his sister took care of skeleton four and five. With Juti whipping wands in each hand in succession: fireball from the left, Magic Missile from the right, Momakar had time to call down a holy spell and the two retreating Giants glowed bright gold and then winked out of existence without a sound.
The last Giant Skeleton barreled across the wide chamber. Nalinor noticed a lever he at first had thought was a narrow set of stairs; it looked that way from his angle. It was so tall of a thing, and stationary, like steps to nowhere. But it was a lever, a lever for a Giants hand.
“Stop him!” he yelled at the Arcanes, to anyone. Too late.
A set of double doors disguised by a fresco as tall as a tavern slid back. Growls, like a crowd rioting on a crowded street, hundreds of ravenous snarls echoed from down the pitch black hall.
“Get to the doorway,” yelled Elaan.
A lightning bolt blasted the Giant Skeleton apart, and bones as long as boats bounced away and clattered.
“Fight in the threshold! Fight in the threshold!” said Juti.
Nalinor and the others ran to the new opening. A hallway filled with Zombies faced them. Rotting heads shifted and jostled for room; they looked four hundred deep. The shambling mass let out a deafening groan and came on.
“Light them up!” shouted Momakar. He pointed. “Jet, shield-block the door. Do not let any get through. Edaam, Elaan, we need fire,” he ordered.
The brothers tossed wands to Nalinor and Juti. They turned and raised first their left hand then their right. It looked like liquid sprayed out from their outstretched arms, but it set the air on fire. Wall after wall rose up in a burning torrent. Momakar yelled spells of his own. Suddenly the black walls of the throne room shone like it was midday. Nalinor and Juti moved up front by Jet, but hung back to each side. They flicked their wands and added even more incendiary aid to the battle. The secret hallway was a path of fire, choking smoke and feral Undead. Watching Jet, it was like he played a game of ball, swatting away each blazing corpse to fly back over the crowd and burn with the rest. Ash choked Nalinor, smoke blurred his vision, and the Zombies still came on. He felt like laughing but was so frightened that he might never stop once he did.
Then there was nothing left to fight. Jet dropped his axe low. Juti moved back to check on her brother. The twins, breathing like runners, rested hands on thighs, tried to catch their breath.
“Gods! I hate this place!” said Nalinor.
Everyone gave chortles and winded snorts in reply. All of them were too tired to even laugh.
Nalinor put his wand back in a pocket and then, blinking, noticed a bald man in a red and black robe staring at him from across the wide room. Nalinor pointed and stupidly began to ask who he was when Elaan mumbled a spell. The robed figure froze in place surrounded by a latticework of spiraling blue light. Jet bounded up to the Necromancer in three big strides. He lifted the man up by the throat and held him against the stone wall.
Juti moved up and interrogated the Necromancer. “We seek the main chamber. The place all the dead are taken.” She poked a Dagger at his watery, blinking eye. “Tell us!”
The Necromancer, his eyes darting at each Sand Shadow, laughed. “Lord Rot will eat your souls and hang your carcasses to be used as steaks!”
The Necromaner’s hands slapped uselessly at the hand.
“There, there,” said Juti, “tell us of what we seek and you may get to live longer.”
Jet lessoned his hold, let the dark Wizard rest his feet on the ash-coated floor. The man licked his lips and studied each of them in turn. “It matters not if you find him or he finds you. Soon enough we all shall be shambling sacks of clay and we’ll serve him FOREVER!” The Necromancer laughed like the truly insane. Spittle sprayed out and a line of it drooled down from his lower lip. “You are almost to the place of your doom, little Rogue,” he spoke down at Juti. “You stand at the cusp of your death. My master awaits.”
Jet raised his massive hand toward the man.
He flinched, held his arms up to ward away further pain. “Near, near,” he pleaded. “Down this hall I came from you will find stairs. Follow them but not to the end. No. There will be a door at your left. That leads to a high balcony. Take that.”
“Why?” asked Nalinor.
“Trust me,” said the Necromancer. The man paused, pondered his own words and sputtered his mad laughter. Once he settled, he looked at Juti and said, “Now release me! I’ve corpses to tend. Work never ending, for all die and join Lord Rot.” He licked his lips.
“I’m sorry,” said Juti, “you are to join him now too.” She turned and touched Jet lightly on the arm.
Jet reached forward and put his three-fingered hand over the Necromancer’s mouth and nose, blocking off his air.
“You would summon others. We must end you,” said Jet.
Jet pressed down.
The Necromancer’s eyes went wide, tears quickly spilling out. He slapped and punched futilely at Jet’s rock solid hand to no avail. Nalinor watched in silent awe tinged with disgust as another man slowly died. The Necromancer moaned and grunted. He kicked against the wall and he kicked out at Jet, trying to get free. His legs began to tremble and spasm, and then finally his chest heaved outward in one final death throe. His limbs went limp, fell lifelessly down. Jet dropped him. The body crumpled, the legs bent wrong underneath the man’s torso, akimbo and horrible looking. His eyes bugged out, frightening and fearful and accusing. He evacuated. The stench of it was sudden, shocking and awful. Nalinor swallowed and once again was in awe of the pure killing efficiency of a Warforged.
“Let’s go,” said Juti.
It was as the Necromancer had said – trust him they dared not, but, as it turned out before his death, he did not lie. They traced the dark Wizard’s steps (easy to do when the dust of burnt Zombie ash coated the floor) back to the stairs. As he had said, there was a side door two thirds of the way down. They carefully opened it. Juti and Nalinor scouted ahead for traps. They found three and quickly disabled them: one, a knee level blade hidden in a recessed wall, another, electric tiles on the floor. The last trap, although disabled, still had to be jumped. On the other side of it they entered a narrow hallway that led out to blackness. Nalinor was not sure what his eyes were seeing: Had they resurfaced? Did this path lead back outside? And were those stars up ahead; all those little multi-colored pinpoints in the gloom?
Yard by yard, they moved forward. They stepped out onto a high balcony, but not to a view of open sky like Nalinor had first surmised. They entered and overlooked a vaulted chamber. It had a low recessed floor that dipped down very low like an inverted bowl, like the dome below reflected the dome above. And what Nalinor spied below sent ice racing through his veins.
(to be cont…)
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Chapter 3 : The Sand Shadows -- Part Three
A Tale of DDO
Part Three: Magic as Knowledge, Magic as Blood
The floor below crawled with multicolored glowing smoke. Reds like glowing blood; greens, Swamp Ghosts that reach; and disturbed, eerie blues that snaked all around like a living scream, the colors poured forth and in turn were sucked back in by the dead and writhing forms. The bodies, the dozens upon dozens of bodies, were arranged in a zigzag pattern that made nightmarish designs looked down upon from high above; a macabre kaleidoscope. The moving, airy colors fed into a central pillar. Nalinor followed the pillar up and saw the infernal light source snaked its way to a figure dead on a throne.
“What is that?” whispered Juti.
“He’s siphoning off their power, their magic,” said Elaan.
“The one on the throne?” asked Momakar.
“Yes. Ptolemesh Ghalaan, the Lich known as Lord Rot.”
“But they are all dead,” said Juti.
“Undead,” said Edaam. “And every single one of them is an Arcane. He’s using both Wizard and Sorcerer power; magic as knowledge, magic as blood to feed his device.”
Nalinor sat up. Every one an Arcane! He looked closer at the configuration of dead Wizards and Sorcerers. He squinted. “Edaam, you still have that far-spying glass?”
“Always,” said Edaam. He handed it over.
Nalinor extended the three interlocking sections and looked down. The Undead below were arrayed on their backs. Glowing light poured out of them. It looked like colored smoke, but it flowed very slowly, like taffy or tar oozing through the air above them. Wraiths guarded them. They flitted across the surface of all, their shadowy essences like the black smoke of the damned. There were also Necromancers below. They worked controls and manipulated crystals and cogs that controlled the apparatus, the apparatus that took up the entirety of the bowl-shaped floor. They worked panels like Priests at pulpits, kneeled at the edges like ones in prayer, and meanwhile the shriveled form of the Lich hunched on its throne and waited. Its eyes pulsated and glowed in conjunction with the device. The Undead Arcanes’ fed it and in turn the Lich took what was not his to take, and he did so even beyond the wall of death.
Nalinor moved the far-seeing glass left and leaned out over the balcony. One form caught his eye. He could make out an emerald robe gone to rags on the prone figure. He could see a feminine swell beneath the fabric, even shriveled in death. He could see dry and brittle strawberry-blonde hair in patches above her yawning maw of a skull, and part of an unblinking eye.
“There! She’s there!”
Juti placed her hand on his arm to hush him, to console him, to acknowledge his hope and joy and pain and horror and want. So much want! His want had consumed him. If he remembered anything after his time in the desert, it would be the empty space within him. He’d remember his desire to fill the hole with finding Sorrow in the sands. He’d remember want.
“Not yet,” said Juti.
Nalinor crouched down.
“Hand me the far-spying glass,” said Elaan.
Elaan looked down below for a long time, studying what he saw. Finally he said, “We have to find the Lich’s phylactery.”
“What?” asked Momakar.
“Phylactery,” repeated the other brother, Edaam. “A Lich trades his soul and his essence. It’s his drive to gain power and keep living that makes him choose to do so, and it’s tied to a thing called a phylactery. You find it and destroy it, you cut off the Lich’s power and can maybe destroy it,” said Edaam.
Elaan did not look as excited about this fact as his brother. He continued to stare down at the activity below, the far-spying glass in his hand forgotten and resting on his lap.
“But there is more to it, isn’t there, Elaan?” said Momakar.
Elaan blinked and looked up at the Half-Orc Cleric. He said, “I have never seen anything to this scale before. You do need to feed a phylactery, and usually that is fed by one’s own power. But if that Lich down there has found a way to –”
“GAIN MORE POWER!” boomed a voice all around them.
Nalinor dropped low and clapped his hands over his ears.
“WHY ALL THE WHISPERING?”
Nalinor peeked over the balcony. Lord Rot was looking up at him, his skull craned up and back, his eyes glowing violet like two mouths of a furnace.
“JOIN US!” it said. Lord Rot raised the smallest skeletal finger on his left hand, the pinky. Lightning shattered the balcony beneath them and they fell.
The Sand Shadows were prepared. Feather falling, Nalinor and his companions spread out and glided gently through the air. The Rataar brothers sent jolts of electricity and blasts of fire downward. Juti wand whipped and blasted Undead to dust, and Nalinor joined her. His wand, he discovered, was a Delayed Blast Fireball, and he laughed as the burning balls hit and bounced. The mindless corpses watched the spheres stupidly until – BANG! Zombies burnt to ash. Jet did not have a wand to use nor the power to do so, but when he landed he came down in the midst of twelve Necromancers. He swung his Greataxe in a full circle as his feet neared the floor, and twelve Necromancers shrank to five waiting for his second swing to kill them.
Momakar, his gleaming armor soiled in gore and speckled with the ashes of the Undead, cast two spells while feather falling. One spell shot from his hand in a fountain of white. Three Wraiths ceased to be. The other spell brought into existence a spiraling Blade Barrier. The blades, jagged hiltless scimitars, scissored the air in audible swishes and metallic clangs as the blades went round and round. Momakar aimed his landing at their center. Nalinor followed suit. A dozen Undead stumbled through Momakar’s barrier. The Cleric held up his shield and shouted a prayer. The shield lit up the room, chased back shadows and turned twenty Zombies to dust.
Something screamed as Nalinor landed, and then something else.
“GET THEM, MY PETS,” said the Lich.
Four Frost Renders ran at them. They were oblivious of the Blade Barrier. The two in the lead ran head long into the flying swords. The summoned blades tore through the Renders, and the Renders became the rended as entrails ripped free of bodies and went flying to splatter grossly off in darkness. One Frost Render was finished like a butcher portions meat: both arms – cut away, leg – severed, left foot – hacked loose in two passes, and lastly the head – gone – bouncing off toward the writhing Undead Arcanes that fed the ancient Lord Rot. Nalinor watched it roll away.
The remaining Renders were hit with Fireballs and collapsed beyond Momakar’s Blade Barrier. He saw Edaam next to his brother. The Rogue Wizard nodded.
“Thank you,” shouted Nalinor.
The Lich laughed. The sound rumbled in the floor, echoed off the walls and made Nalinor’s skin crawl. “I HAVE PETS TO SPARE.”
Three Undead Giants appeared out of the shadows. One was an Arcane. Its two companions carried weapons of war as tall as a tavern wall. They stepped among the multitude of human-sized Undead and crushed several as they came rushing forward.
Wraiths appeared next to Nalinor. The Blade Barrier did nothing to stop them. He felt a cold burn deep inside as one clawed into him. He yelled in pain and dropped to one knee. Momakar cast a spell. The Wraiths shrieked and blurred and vanished.
The sound of dozens of growls off in the darkness caused them to pause. Ghouls, Ghasts and Gaunts scrambled over each other in a chaotic rush of clawing hands and snapping jaws in their desire to feed. They splattered against Momakar’s Blade Barrier en masse. Nalinor jerked in reflex; he got gore in his eye. The other Undead, seeing the head of the rushing mass had collapsed in parts and pieces, simply scampered up the piled torsos and limbs of the rest and soared over top of the barrier. And then, in a blur of swinging blades, snapping, feral faces and magic, it was every adventurer for himself:
Momakar’s Blade Barrier extinguished. The blades ceased to be without a sound. The mass of onrushing Undead suddenly filled the space and pulled Nalinor away from the Cleric as Nalinor fought for ground. Momakar fought for ground, too, his mace crushing skulls and fracturing bones. He laughed madly as he fought.
Juti and Jet fought at the edge of the device. The floor dipped just past the two, and to Nalinor’s vantage point it seemed the two Sand Shadows fought at the edge of a cliff. If Nalinor would’ve had time to smile, he would have then. Juti was sitting on Jet’s tall shoulders, and as the Warforged battled, as he swung a massive maul and knocked back Undead and crushed Necromancers, Juti wand whipped and culled the approaching rush. It was brilliant. For a human Assassin as tiny as Juti – mere Halfling size, really – it was the perfect way to battle. And why not? If Nalinor had learned anything about fighting beneath the sands in tomb after tomb it was that you cannot assassinate the dead.
Elaan and Edaam had landed up out of harms way and were maintaining crowd control. The two were like the mouth of an angry volcano, fire shot, flew, poured, bounced and sprayed out from fingers and wands alike, and the two brothers turned the night-locked chamber into day with their pyrotechnics.
Nalinor and the Sand Shadows fought on. The floor grew slick with soot and blood, muddy with grey ashes, but they were making headway. There were now pockets of remaining creatures, and in each case they were quickly destroyed. His hopes soared. They were almost to the central area, the place where the Arcanes writhed and fed the Lich. Soon he would free Sorrow.
“WONDERFUL!” said Lord Rot. “SUCH BRAVERY! SUCH VITAL FLESH! I HAVEN’T HAD THIS MUCH ENTERTAINMENT IN CENTURIES.”
The smoky colors atop of the trapped Arcanes quaked and crawled atop them faster, the colors overlapping and blending, the essences rushing and coiling, pulled into the towering device at the center of them. And the Lich, rotting flesh, calcified bone and all, began to glow a bright violet in color like a sun in a galaxy of gloom. The palatial chamber flashed purple and black. When the shadows receded the room was once again full of Undead. It was like the previous battle had never occurred.
“PLAY MORE!” rumbled the Lich, and then it laughed.
Again the companions went to battle below the sands. Fatigued limbs, watery eyes, blood his own and that of Necromancers and summoned creatures alike, Nalinor swung his blades for what felt like life times. The minutes piled up like heavy bricks as fire burned around him, as severed arms on the floor caused him to trip, as reaching, taloned hands caused him to swing even when he was too tired to do so again. To count his raining blows was insanity. Like a disciplined warrior or monk, it was not the number or set, it was merely this one, this one, this one, like a chant, and so he fought on swing after swing after swing.
“Sand Shadows, to me!” commanded Momakar. The others obeyed.
He uttered three spells, and three rings of Blade Barriers swished and clanged in the air around them. “Elaan, Edaam, firewalls there, there and there,” said Momakar. He turned. “Nalinor, Juti, aim your wands at these four weak points. Jet, front and center.”
The Warforged took a Warhammer in each hand. Juti clung to his shoulders like a monkey. Nalinor stood next to Momakar. The Cleric said, “Here they come!”
The floor vibrated as the wall of Undead came rushing toward them.
(to be cont…)
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Chapter 4 : The Sand Shadows -- Conclusion
A Tale of DDO
Part Four: The Necrotic Device
Had it been five minutes or five hours that he fought the waves of Undead – Nalinor could no longer keep time. Lightning from a dark place across the room shot out and struck the central tower device. Who did that?! When it struck, the multitude of Undead briefly paused in place and movement like a hiccup to their reality had occured. On the throne Lord Rot’s dry eyelids cracked, trickled dust and powdery rot, and he did what he had not for a thousand years – he blinked.
The Lich lifted an arm and sent tendrils of snaking electricity off in the shadowy place where the other Lightning Bolt had erupted from. Nalinor heard stones shatter and crash to the floor. He heard shouts and battle cries and bellowed spells. Lightning hit the tower device again and again and again.
“I WILL DRINK FROM YOUR SKULLS!” hissed the Lich.
Nalinor looked into the shadowy heights and saw people in the air. They flittered here and there like wisps of cotton in the gloom. Flaming arrows shot from one floating figure. Magic Missiles the color of glowing lilac flowers blasted out from another.
A woman plopped down next to Nalinor within the protection of Momakar’s moving Blade Barrier.
“Hello Nalinor,” said the Elven female.
Dressed in gold full plate soiled in crimson gore, the bright and happy face was a beacon of positive memories for him. Her eyes twinkled like the two were simply having a chat in Stormreach Harbor and not locked away in darkness.
“Fancy meeting you here,” she said.
“Fancy and wonderful!” Nalinor exclaimed.
A heavy hand clamped down on his shoulder and caused him to wince in pain. He turned around and faced a massive chest. The figure loomed a foot taller. He looked up. “Mythaniel! You’re here too?”
“Hugs and kisses later, Nal. Now we fight.”
“Your band looks a bit frazzled and war torn,” said Erelei. The Elven Cleric uttered a spell, the words sounded like Shin-Sahh! Golden light appeared and rippled in the air all around her. Like blurry butterflies made of living light, the sheen rippled around her, Nalinor and all the Sand Shadows.
He peered down at his wounded hands and arms and watched the cuts seal, the blood cease flowing. He could feel strength flowing back into his arms and legs. He felt filled with much more than healing.
Mythaniel shouted a battle cry, leaped next to Jet and both Barbarians waded in.
Erelei tried to catch Nalinor up to things in bits of choppy sentences as they fought.
“We need to destroy the device. The Wizards in our party say it is hooked to Mabar, the plane of the dead. The Lich, in tandem with his phylactery, is using the device’s power to milk the Arcanes below and continue to do so forever. We destroy the device, we can get to the phylactery. We take that out—“
“We destroy him,” finished Nalinor.
“Elaan,” called Nalinor.
“I heard,” said the Wizard.
“We’re on it,” said Edaam.
The two brothers greeted the two new Wizards that landed among them with clasped forearms and manly back patting. They spoke with their heads together and pointed at the tower. They moved off and began to prepare, but just before doing so, Edaam grabbed Nalinor by the arm and said, “I like your friends.” Before Nalinor could reply, Lord Rot stood up from his throne.
Slippery black tentacles broke through the floor and grabbed Nalinor around the legs and squeezed. The tentacles were everywhere, and they wiggled maddeningly and wrapped around everyone within the Blade Barrier. Nalinor shouted, more from frustration than pain, and he heard the Lich laughing. The sound came at him from every direction in the room.
A popping sound, so loud it made Nalinor bite his tongue in surprise, came from behind him, and then the tentacles let him go and melted into an oily slime at his feet. He slipped on the mess and then ducked in alarm at a spell cast by a Wizard in Erelei’s band of six. A riot of rainbow color sprayed out from the Wizard, and then Ghouls and their Necromancer masters were torn apart. Next he cast spiraling ghostly skulls and shrieking heads. A lone Necromancer spun at the center of them, clutched his heart and died with a rictus of fear locked on his face.
“Nalinor, behind you!”
He could not tell who had shouted the warning, but turn his did, in time to duck the swing of a rotten hand. He thrust his Rapier into the throat of the Wight and leaped clear.
The Arcanes of both groups were huddled in a group and chanting something in the midst of the chaos. Lord Rot laughed again.
It said, “I HAVE AN ENDLESS SOURCE AT MY COMMAND.”
The colored smoke atop the Undead Arcanes began to swirl and race again. They writhed and moaned as more of their essence was siphoned off.
“NOW!” shouted a Wizard in Erelei’s band. He had a shaved head with jagged tattoos in red and black across his scalp.
The chamber lit up with light.
The four Wizards aimed the onslaught of their joined power at the central tower. The Lich yelled a spell and the mass of his Undead stopped what they were doing and moved at the new threat. Nalinor shielded his eyes from the bright light. It was like an erupting fountain of white, and it singed the tower causing the sigils carved into its stone surface to glow a hot indigo.
“CEASE THIS AND I WILL ONLY KILL YOU ONCE!” boomed the voice of Lord Rot.
The Arcanes uttered more words of power. The light intensified.
The Lich growled and grabbed his staff from its place by his throne. Three dozen Magic Missiles whizzed toward the Wizards . The orbs of light crashed into an invisible barrier and sent purple sparks and flashes about the room like drops of burning nightmare rain.
“ARRGGH!” said the Lich.
Suddenly the beam of white light took form.
Erelei and Momakar stared.
Juti, still perched on Jet’s shoulders, stopped and stared slack-jawed at what she saw.
Even the gibbering, slavering Undead took pause.
The immense bar of white light widened and widened. It roared out of one space and into our reality. The sound was deafening. And it changed. The wide pillar widened further still, its light growing as wide as an ancient Elder Tree. It rattled the stones of the chamber, shook the floor and walls. The Wizards moved it, shifted it, aimed it. It quaked and churned from floor to towering ceiling. The Arcanes moved it from verticle to horizontal. It looked like the arrow shaft of a God pointed at the Lich and his device, and as it shot out it changed into the form of a screaming Dragon. It growled and twisted in the air as it blasted across the massive chamber and struck the central tower device.
The tower shattered.
Mortar and rubble rained down. Nalinor, still shielding his eyes, ran for cover as the room rained bits of tower. Undead took the brunt of most of the debris. A group of seven Ghasts were smashed to smears as a room-sized block of tower landed on them. A fleeing Ice Flenser ran right into the path of boulder-sized blocks and vanished beneath. Nalinor ran forward and back and sideways, leaped companions and foes alike as he tried to dodge the raining chaos. Finally debris ceased falling and the room was left to the sounds of groans and the soft landing of small stones and pebbles, soft coughing by those made of living flesh.
“It is there! It is there!” shouted a Wizard in Erelei’s band of companions.
Stone dust floated in the air like a thick fog. Nalinor could hear Undead mumbling and moaning in the murk, but he could not see them. Something was happening to his left. Was left where Sorrow was or had he run the other way? He spun in place trying to see. Erelei and Mythaniel stepped out of the dust fog.
“I can see nothing in this,” said Mythaniel.
Firewalls erupted to the left and right. The dust quickly burned away. The Wizards in the group, still huddled together, were nearing the blasted place where the tower mechanism once stood. Lord Rot was nowhere in sight. His ancient throne was broken in two. Nalinor turned, seeking out Sorrow. He inhaled in surprise at what he saw.
All the trapped Undead Arcanes were getting up. He counted one dozen, two dozen, three – where was Sorrow? The rotting Arcanes turned towards the approaching Wizards.
“Don’t attack them!” warned Erelei. “We came here for them.”
“But if they attack us,” said the Arcane Archer in her group.
“I said no! Now move back, move back slowly.” She gestured with her hand.
Suddenly ash and smoke and sparks of flame rushed by them along the floor and through the air. Nalinor felt a hot wind pulling at him, buffeting him and making it hard to stand. He shielded his eyes from the onrush of blowing dust.
“A portal,” shouted Edaam.
Where the tower device had once stood, a portal to another place spiraled and churned. He could see beyond the rim to the other plane it revealed. Thousands of glowing red eyes stared back. The place was made of shadow. He saw jagged towers and architectural nightmares in blacks, purples and wet reds. So much glistening red! It seeped from mortar, flowed as sap from onyx-colored trees and bubbled in fetid pools of rot. Something large shrieked from the other side.
“COME TO ME, MY PET. COME TO MY AID,” boomed the Lich.
“Get down!” shouted Elaan.
“Find the phylactery,” yelled someone else.
Another chilling screech poured from the portal. The Lich laughed. The formally trapped Arcanes shambled forward en masse. Where was Sorrow?
Everyone in the room moved like one would in a cyclone storm. The portal pulled in everything: stone, rock, destroyed remnants of furniture, and body parts.
Four ran toward Lord Rot’s throne. Nalinor could not make out whom.
The Lich growled.
Nalinor grabbed a stone railing, held on and saw a Wizard in Erelei’s group lifting a jeweled necklace.
“Now! Break it now!”
Lord Rot cast spell after spell. The living Wizards countered each. Thunder shook the room.
Edaam brought a simple chunk of stone down on the Lich’s phylactery necklace with a crunch.
Jet ran up to Lord Rot on one side and the Barbarian, Mythaniel, on the other. A heavy Maul on each side struck the Lich simultaneously.
Ptolemesh Ghalaan’s bones cracked into ten thousand pieces. As he broke apart, his skeleton flashed a searing green light and a shockwave of necrotic energy slammed out of the thing in all directions.
Nalinor lost his grip. He slammed to the floor. His wind left him in a painful whoosh, and he slid thirty feet across the floor toward the sucking portal. His fingers clawed and he slapped at the floor and grabbed for any broken tiles he could snag in panicked desperation. At the last instant before going into the portal, his fingers locked onto a broken tile. “Gods!” he swore, and rolled over on his back from the rushing torrent of the portal’s pull.
Jet went tumbling past. Nalinor looked up in time to see the Warforged rolling toward the portal. As he rolled, he struck a clinging Edaam and then he hit two others in Erelei’s party – a Fighter and one of her Wizards. The four of them fell into the spiraling portal and disappeared deep within, flying back through the air on the other side high into the nightmare distance, red eyes eagerly glowing in the darkness everywhere around their falling forms.
The portal closed.
The power and intensity of the pull from the other plane abruptly ceased and everyone in the chamber fell to the floor.
“Brother!” screamed Elaan.
Bodies dropped behind the prone and wheezing adventurers.
All the Arcanes that had been used for the source of their magic were now no longer under the spell of the Lich or his infernal device. They were falling down dead once again. Like a room filled with life-sized macabre dominoes, they collapsed in place, fell forward, fell against their neighbor and ceased to live for a second time. And so did all the other Undead in the chamber. No longer under the control of the powerful Lich, summoned creatures vanished with a pop. The massive room was finally quiet. The only sound remaining was Elaan’s soft sobs.
Mythaniel squeezed the man’s shoulder in solace. Juti did the same and kneeled down to speak with him. Nalinor’s heart went out to the Sand Shadow.
Erelei said, “Brother Momakar, will you aid me in healing and with a resurrection ritual?”
“It would warm my heart to do so, Erelei.”
The two Clerics went from person to person and healed each of any wounds. When it was Nalinor’s turn for healing, he brushed away the hands and walked forward and stepped amidst the corpse covered floor. He had to find Sorrow.
So many bodies; so many dead taken! He stepped through them peering about. Many of the corpses were only dried skin on bones, naked because clothes had long ago rotted away. The yawning maws of skulls peered up at him, clawing skeletal fingers rested across dried hearts made of clay, shriveled husks all. Beyond the circle of corpses Erelei and Momakar chanted and prayed. He moved deeper into the crowd.
He spied a green robe. As he walked closer he could tell it was her. Even dead he knew the shape of her. Her face was turned away. It looked like nothing more than her sleeping from his angle. Her strawberry blonde hair looked the same from where he stood. He froze, unsure what to do. He knew her beauty was long rotted away. He knew the acid from the trap so long ago had removed her face, but turned away like this, it was like she was merely napping.
A golden light snaked its way between Nalinor’s legs. It looked like the spirit of a great and pure serpent. It shot and slithered around the room at floor level. Sparks spilled off it as it moved. Like a trapped comet, the golden spell kissed body after body with its resurrecting light. It slithered around faster and faster. It raced. Soon it became hard to discern any shape to it, and it lit up Lord Rot’s chamber. Nalinor shielded his eyes from the glare.
He blinked and rubbed at his eyes, blinked again. He laughed at what he saw. The Arcanes were standing up again. Pushing off the littered floor, grasping broken debris for balance, and helping neighbors to their feet; the floor was suddenly alive with movement. It was alive. They were alive! Over seventy resurrected Arcanes were looking around in confusion. Voices started talking all at once, many in languages long forgotten and unknown to Nalinor. The room was suddenly loud and full of chaos again, but this noise was a type Nalinor loved. It was the sound of life!
He walked through them all, patting an arm here, smiling and nodding and squeezing a shoulder in welcome there. He spied a beautiful woman across the way. She looked small and a little frightened and very alone in the crowd. He stepped closer.
“Welcome back, Sorrow.”
Nalinor couldn’t breathe. It was like the last two years had not happened, she looked exactly the same. She had the same lustrous hair, the same emerald eyes, and that playful smirk to her half-smile like she had a secret. And she had the same nose now twitching in disgust at the smell in the room around her.
“Where am I? What happened? I remember a tomb but it was much smaller than this.”
Nalinor laughed and embraced her. “Do you remember nothing?”
“I was going toward an altar, I think. I remember that. I remember hopes for treasure.” She creased her forehead in remembering or maybe it was something else. “By the Mockery, why does my robe smell so vile?!”
Nalinor laughed until tears flowed. He hugged Sorrow tight as the crowd of resurrected milled all around them.
It took the better part of three hours just to prepare to leave the Onyx Palace. Food and water were shared, and blankets were handed out to those with no clothes. Several pilfered robes from dead Necromancers littering the room while others found clothes in those same Necromancers living quarters. Once equipped, they began the hike back to Zawabi’s.
The trip back took two days, but they certainly had nothing to fear as they moved among the red rock formations and over the hot sands. Nalinor’s band was down to four members and so was Erelei’s. That made eight seasoned adventurers, and now nine counting Sorrow the Sorceress. And along with them walked a total of seventy-two additional Sorcerers and Wizards combined. If even a shadow looked wrong it became dust with a word. Nothing lived that dared stand in their way. A contingent of yapping Gnolls tried once. So much fire lit up the area that they had entered from that the stones melted and ran like candlewax.
The laughter of magic users echoed across the desert.
Nalinor was surrounded by friends.
He sat at a table alone, carving on a chunk of hickory wood. The carving looked like it might be a bird of prey, maybe an eagle or hawk. He dug into the hard surface and chipped away at what would probably be the feathers.
Nuadia came up to the table holding a bottle of wine. He gestured with his chin at the chair across from him and she sat. She was one of the few people he had met in the two years since Sorrow’s death that he felt completely at ease with. A Cleric in service of the Host, she had been there through his worst times while he had searched for his love. In all his ups and downs dealing with his grief, she had been an ally. Her friendship meant everything to him.
“You look so different now. It is like a shroud has been yanked away,” she said.
“I suppose it has.”
“Where is Sorrow tonight?”
Nalinor looked around the crowded Phoenix Tavern. “She is out with my little sister and running around town. They said they were going to go on ‘female business’ and it didn’t concern me. I’m having them followed anyway.”
“Sorrow would love that,” said Nuadia.
“Sorrow doesn’t need to know that.”
They both laughed.
“So what’s next?” asked Nuadia.
Nalinor took a drink of the offered wine. “For now I’ll keep at this carving.” He dug into his pocket and took out a letter. “Tomorrow it's back to the desert.”
He offered her the letter.
“Juti and her band have found a way through. We have to go get them.”
Nuadia, her big blue eyes wet and glistening with worry, said, “Do you? Do you have to go? Haven’t you been through so much already? And Sorrow is returned to you. She’s safe.”
Nalinor nodded. She is but she feels as I do. We have to go get them, Jet and Edaam, and all the rest.”
“Well, whatever you're about to do, count me in,” said Nuadia.
“We have to go to Mabar…”
((And so ends Nalinor's long tale. It has been two years in the making -- in fits and starts -- and I'm glad to have it complete. Will I take him to Mabar? Perhaps. But not today. I hope those that have stuck with me in the telling enjoyed my story. It was fun to write it. And I'm always happy to attempt to tell a good tale. So thank you all so very much for reading!!! You are the best community of gamers a wannabe writer could ask for.))
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