Part the eleventh: Wherein mysteries deepen
They awoke early in the morning and began preparations for the days journey. Obermast was confident that they could make good time and be in Berdusk by late afternoon now that they all had horses. True to the word of the bard, in the light of day the drow weapons were clearly being damaged by the sun; the metal had begun to crack and the sheen of a well made and strong weapon was completely gone and, since they were effectively useless, they left them on the ground. Obermast and the guard made gurneys for the dead guards so they could be taken to Berdusk and given a decent burial as befitted their service to the Shields of Iriaebor. Silvara helped them make the gurneys while Jean and Shadow Flame cleaned up the camp and prepared for the journey.
They had almost completed their tasks and were about to head off when Shadow Flame felt an unfamiliar tingle at the base of his neck. He looked at the others to see if they wore expressions indicating they felt it as well but they were all going about their activities normally. The tingling intensified and he surmised it was some kind of magical effect as it spread further up his neck and then stopped. He stood for a several moments unsure of what to make of it and was ready to dismiss it as Fallon's voice echoed in his mind.
"My friend, Unagi is with me. He appears to have had his memory completely erased."
Shadow Flame became aware that he had to opportunity to reply to Fallon although he had only a limited amount of time and words to respond.
"We will be in Berdusk by the end of the day. Things are complicated but we will contact you one way or another," he thought, confident that the magic Fallon had used would carry the message to him. He called Jean and Silvara over to let them know what had just happened.
"I just got a magical communication from Fallon. Unagi is with him," he explained as the two women walked over. They both smiled at the news, happy that Unagi was apparently safe. "The message was short," continued Shadow Flame, "but Fallon was able to tell me that Unagi appears to have had his memory erased."
It was not good news and all three of them frown in unison as they considered what that could mean.
"Clearly we need to be cautious," said Silvara breaking their silence.
"Clearly," agreed Shadow Flame, "although I'm inclined to worry about what it means when we speak with him. I must say that I find Fallon's...involvement, worrying."
"How so?" asked Jean.
"Well, I'm not suggesting that he had anything to do with whatever has happened to Nug, but that whole episode where Fallon was, I don't know...possessed? by whoever or whatever told us about the staff, has had me concerned ever since it happened. I know Fallon has been nothing but helpful in the past, and I don't believe he would act against us, but their is something in his head, something we can't really trust despite the appearance of friendship it came to us under."
Silvara and Jean both considered Shadow Flames words for they both agreed with him; Fallon was a friend, one who had helped them a good deal, but one who seemed not to be fully in control of his faculties.
"There is little we can do about it now," said Jean, "Obermast is waiting for us," she motioned toward the bard who had mounted his horse and was patiently waiting for them to do the same.
"Before we go Jean I would urge you to reconsider your plans again. Besides the fact that nothing has changed with regards to my feelings on this situation I now have to add the complication of Fallon and his mysterious benefactor into the equation. We are being pushed into a very hard corner here where I think things are not as they seem," Shadow Flame again voiced his concerns over their trip.
Jean smiled her understanding, "Flame, I do not disagree with you and I will be keeping my eyes open. You still have the scroll close at hand don't you," she winked at him. "If things do take that turn for the worst then we are not completely helpless, but I intend to see this through. If you are right, and this really is more trouble than the wife of a dead slaver would warrant, then there is a good chance it will work out if we plead our case, don't you think?"
Shadow Flame did not concur but bit his tongue and simply said, "well lets get on with it then," as he walked over to his horse and climbed up.
The days journey was uneventful and they found themselves entering the Drover's Gate of Berdusk with little daylight to spare. At Obermast insistence they rode straight toward Twilight Hall so as to begin the proceedings for the party to answer for their crime. As they arrived at the Inner Chamber, temple of Deneir and base of operations for the Harpers, they dismounted, and as the guard saw to the business of his dead comrades, Obermast lead them into the temple. He lead them past the main public chambers of the temple which were closing for the day, and deeper into the complex, eventually stopping in a large columned common area. Several guards stood about idly and others, adventurers by appearance, moved about with purpose. Obermast called over 3 of the guards, and as they moved across he turned and spoke with the party.
"My friends, our journey has ended and I must thank you for your cooperation. I will go and speak with my...superiors," he chafed at the word, "and inform them of our arrival, if you could wait here I will return as soon as possible."
"Why the guards?" asked Shadow Flame, "surely if we were going to try and flee we have had ample opportunities to do so before now."
Obermast gave him a sympathetic look, "I know Shadow Flame," he said, "but it is required that non-Harpers are kept under watch in this area. This is the easiest way to proceed."
Shadow Flame nodded at the explanation. As the guards arrived by them Obermast turned to them and spoke, "these folk are here as my...prisoners," he forced the word out, clearly unhappy at having to use it, "but they are here of their own free will and are to be treated as guests. They come to answer to unjust charges and are not to be treated as criminals. See to their needs." He turned to the party, but turned and left them without saying anything.
They stood patiently and a little nervously as they waited for Obermast to return. None of them said anything and did not ask anything of the guards who also kept their silence. After what seemed an age to them Obermast returned with a slightly bewildered look on his face. He stood and faced them without saying anything for almost a minute before Shadow Flame broke his silence.
"Well?" he demanded, "what is happening."
Obermast looked at him for another moment before answering his question to all three of them, "the charges have been dropped," he said simply.
Jean opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again. She looked at Silvara and Shadow Flame, clearly caught off guard at the news. Silvara smiled, genuinely happy that her friends were out of danger, but she was also puzzled at the turn of events.
"The charges have been dropped?" said Shadow Flame incredulously, "so that's it? End of story?"
Obermast nodded, "it would appear so; the Harpers clearly consider the matter closed."
"Surely they offered some explanation?" Shadow Flame prompted.
"Well, it would seem that only two days ago the wife of the slaver came to us and told us she wanted to drop the charges. She claimed she had made a mistake and that Jean wasn't responsible for her husbands death after all, and apologised for any trouble she may have caused."
Jean raised her eyebrow at the bards turn of phrase, "no, no trouble at all," she said sarcastically, to herself more than anyone else.
Shadow Flame rolled his eyes in sympathy before turning back to Obermast, "and that doesn't strike you as a little odd?"
"Yes it does," replied the bard, "but that is not really my problem. The matter is ended, the Harpers consider you free to go, and the Berduskan authorities are of like mind."
"And that's it?" Shadow Flame asked, still not quite believing his ears.
Obermast simply nodded and then shrugged. He extended his hand to Shadow Flame, "I apologise for this unnecessary journey, it seems all of our time has been wasted in this folly."
Shadow Flame, bearing the bard no ill will, took his hand as offered, "no bad feelings between us Obermast..." he trailed off not seeing the need to voice his annoyance at the situation.
Obermast shook hands with Silvara as well, and extended his hand to Jean who was having none of that. Instead she hugged the bard and kissed him on the cheek. Clearly she held no ill will, and, confusion over the dropped charges aside, was happy to have the whole thing over with.
With the matter settled Obermast bade the party farewell as he walked off into Twilight Hall, the job of a Harper was never done. There was little point in them staying at the temple, and with the pressing concerns over Unagi, the party left as quietly as they had came and headed to Fallon's home.
They arrived at Fallon's home in the early night, the streets were alive with party goers and revelers despite the chill of the night air. Fallon answered the door, his halfling house keeper having left for the day, and quickly ushered them inside.
"No need for concern," Shadow Flame said, "it would seem the pending charges have been dropped suddenly."
"Dropped?" asked Fallon with some surprise, "that would seem a little odd wouldn't you say?"
"Indeed I would," replied Shadow Flame, "but it is a secondary concern at this point."
"Of course, Unagi. He is here."
"What can you tell us of his condition?" Jean inquired.
"Not much milady. It would appear that he has lost all memory of his self. He does not recognise me nor the city, but he retains his skill with a blade. It is strange."
"I think we should meet him straight away," said Shadow Flame, "we can discuss the peculiarities of his condition with him present I think."
Fallon lead them into the meeting room they were now familiar with. Sitting at the end of Fallon's desk was indeed the man they knew as Unagi. He remained seated as they entered, looking closely at each of them, no spark of recognition entering his eyes or expression.
"Unagi," started Fallon, "these are your friends." He introduced each of them in turn. Shadow Flame and Silvara nodded to the gladiator as Fallon said their names, but Jean was much less formal and she ran over and hugged Unagi in his seat. He wasn't sure how to react, and certainly was not expecting Jean's reaction, but he smiled and returned her hug.
"Nug, we thought we had lost you! You were gone for so many days, we searched through Iriaebor, rode in a cart, used magic, and nothing!" Jean stumbled over her words in her excitement to see him.
Fallon offered them all a seat around the desk as he went and sat down. "Do you recognise anyone Unagi?" he asked, "any spark of memory?"
Unagi looked at each of them closely, concentrating hard on their faces for several minutes before grunting in frustration. "No," he said, "nothing, you are all strangers to me."
Fallon nodded before turning to the rest of them, "I found Unagi yesterday in the Inner Chamber being looked after by an acquaintance of mine, Anders of Deneir. He had let it be known that a man had arrived in Berdusk only 2 or 3 days again without his memory, hoping that someone with experience in recovering memories would come forth. I recognised Unagi from the description Anders gave as part of his letter, and when I had confirmed that it was indeed Unagi I brought him back here where I figured he would be in slightly more comfortable and familiar surrounds."
"Thank you Fallon," Jean said with a teary smile, "we owe you for your help."
"Not at all," replied Fallon, "I consider you all my friends and was only doing as a friend would do. You are not in debt to me so dismiss that idea from your mind at once," he smiled.
Shadow Flame was a little more circumspect in his approach to the situation, his natural caution taking over from his more emotional mind. "So Nug, would you care to fill us in on what happened?"
Unagi looked at the tiefling who sat inscrutable behind his mask. The big man was a little wary of Shadow Flame, but did not comment on his mask, "well that's just it, I can't remember anything that happened before I awoke without my memories, only what Fallon has told me during the last day and a half."
Shadow Flame turned to the sage and held his hand out, indicating that Fallon should explain. "Well," the sage began, "I have pretty much told him everything I know of you through the dealing we have had. Not much I'll admit, but it's all I could do." Shadow Flame motioned for him to elaborate. "Very well, " continued Fallon, "I told him of the Bowl of Adlab, Shemeska the Marauder, you Staff of Knowledge, the story behind you finding it, the Three Wheels, the Red Dragon trading coster, your adventures in Iriaebor, and," he turned to Unagi, his expression asking if he had left anything out.
"I think that covers it all," said Unagi, "quite an interesting tale," he said to the rest of the party, a half smile playing across his lips.
Shadow Flame frowned behind his mask, not at all happy that everything had been spilled to Unagi, and the gladiator sensed it. "Why the concern Shadow Flame?" he asked, "why would you not want me to know about my life."
Unagi's prescience was a little out of character thought Shadow Flame, but he answered his question anyway. "Because we don't know what's going on Nug. In fact we don't even know if you are Unagi, we don't know who took your memory, we don't know if they are in your head, we...just don't know, do we?"
Fallon stood and excused himself, "I think I should leave you to discuss what has happened in private. If you need me I will be in my bedroom studying."
Shadow Flame waited until Fallon had closed the door before saying, "tell us what happened Nug...well tell us what you can remember anyway."
Unagi told the story of what had happened since he had awoken; waking up in Hopeless, finding his way out of that town by using the portal by focusing his anger and spitting, the shaky journey through the void of in between in the portal, arriving in Berdusk, meeting with Anders, the spell that unlocked those small fragments of memory (cursing to himself as he let slip about the Arcanaloth working on leg, he hoped to keep the gem a secret until he knew more about it), and finally coming back to Fallon's.
The party sat through his tale without interjecting, letting him tell it in his words, but once he had finished Shadow Flame honed in on the fragments of memory Anders was able to help him recover.
"What's wrong with your leg Unagi?" he asked pointedly.
The gladiator paused before answering, "nothing, it's fine."
"Let's see it then," Shadow Flame pressed, his suspicions raised.
"Why? I said it is fine."
"Just to satisfy my curiosity."
Unagi rolled up his right trouser leg and showed it to Shadow Flame. "And the other leg?" pushed the tiefling.
"Stop wasting time," Unagi raised his voice in anger, "my leg is fine. I thought we were friends, is my word not good enough for you?"
Shadow Flame was surprised, "why the anger Nug?" he asked pointedly.
"The matter is closed, I have explained what happened and you show me nothing but suspicion."
Jean rested her hand on Shadow Flame's forearm and frowned at him to say 'let it go'. He opened his mouth to argue but thought better of it and let the matter drop, it could wait.
"Well then, now we're all caught up there's a few things I'd like to talk to Fallon about," Shadow Flame said, "and then I think Jean, Silvara and I need to have a discussion about what has happened. No offense Nug, but your story has given me some concerns and I'd like to discuss them in private before including you, your memory flashbacks have given me concerns as I'm sure you can understand."
Unagi was not happy about it but he did see the sense of Shadow Flames words, "fair enough I suppose," he said, "can't say as I'm happy about it but I see the need for caution."
As Shadow Flame went to get Fallon, Jean and Silvara spent a few minutes talking with Unagi, telling him a couple of stories from their time together hoping something small might spark some memory in the gladiator. Fallon and Shadow Flame returned to the room and sat down.
"So Fallon, can you add any extra information about Unagi's experiences? Where he was? What we might try next? That sort of thing," Shadow Flame asked.
"I can give you some information, but as to how useful it will be, well, I guess we'll see," he paused for a few moments to think. "I can give you some information about Hopeless if you think that will help?" he asked.
They all nodded, eager for anything that may help, even if it was just background.
"Hopeless is the gate town to the Grey Waste, that much is common knowledge," began Fallon.
"Err, maybe to you," interrupted Jean.
"Rightio then, a quick lesson in the planes seems to be in order. There are 17 outer planes; 16 of them form what is known as the Great Ring while the 17th, called the Plane of Concordant Opposition by same Prime sages," he used the world disparagingly, "but known in the planes simply as the Outlands, sits centrally in the scheme of things, at least as such concepts as 'centrally' go in the planes. It is a neutral plane, for many reasons I won't go into here, and one of the most important functions is that it has gates to the other outer planes. Now, gates differ to portals in that you do not need a key to use a gate, although few bother to take much notice of the difference and simply refer to them all as portals. Anyway, these gates, as I'm sure you can imagine, are of great importance strategically and as such each has a town built up around it. The gate town to the Grey Waste is Hopeless, a drab a dreary town of muted greys that takes on characteristics of the Wastes. The fact that Unagi was dumped there may be of some significance, but equally, it may not."
They all mulled over Fallon's words tying to divine some knowledge from his explanation. "It would stand to reason that if Nug was dumped in this Hopeless, and it...borders? the Grey Waste," Fallon nodded at Shadow Flames half question, "that the fiends who held him captive live there, or are based there."
"That would seem to me to be a reasonable assumption," answered Fallon, "the Yugoloths are numerous in the Wastes, and although their home is now considered to be Gehenna, it is entirely sensible to assume a base in the Wastes for many of them."
The information was not useless, but there was little they could do with it, if indeed it held any meaning at all. If Hopeless was simply a convenience then there was nothing more to concern themselves about, but it was all they had to work with, at least until the three party members had a chance to discuss the situation and decide what to do.
"Fallon there is something I would like to discuss," said Jean, breaking the protracted silence, "it concerns the drow."
"Drow?" asked Fallon a little surprised, "what would you like to know? I must warn you that I know little of the drow so I doubt I will be much help."
Jean nodded her understanding and held out the holy symbol they had taken from the drow priestess they had taken - the dark elven hand wearing silver rings. Fallon took the symbol and looked at it blankly for a second before responding, "I do not recognise this symbol I'm sorry."
"It is a holy symbol," said Jean, "I was hoping you could tell me the god it belongs to."
Fallon's face brightened, "that much I can tell you," he said, "if you give me a few minutes I will look it up, I have several books that discuss the gods, even gods of some of the demi-human races." He stood up and started searching through the numerous tomes stacked around the room until he found the one he was looking for. He spent a couple of minutes searching through the book as the party watched on in silence until he stopped and smiled. He placed the book on table after a few moments of reading and said, "there! Kiaransalee, drow goddess of death and the undead."
Jean raised her eyebrows in surprise and looked around the party who seemed to share her concerns. "It seems that this Kiaransalee has only a small following on Faerun," Fallon explained, "and that they are heavily involved in slaving like many priests of gods of undeath."
Shadow Flame groaned in annoyance, "slavers, damned slavers, will be ever be rid of them?"
"Typically those who serve gods of undeath take slaves to use in experiments, or for bodies...or body parts. Of course there is some considerable jink in slaving if you can stomach the work, but it is usually a secondary concern," Fallon explained.
"You gleaned all that from the short time you spent looking at the page?" asked Jean.
Fallon smiled proudly, "I read quickly milady," he answered.
Jean smirked at the sage before continuing, "I have some suspicions to share with you all concerning the attack by the drow, but first..." she then told Fallon and Unagi the story of their encounter with the dark elves the previous night and the scroll bearing an image of Jean's likeness they had recovered. As she told the tale Shadow Flame considered her reasoning and reached the same conclusion that she had, "given the hasty dropping of the charges and the scroll with your picture, you think the two are related don't you Jean?" he asked of her.
"Yes I do Flame, the coincidence is too great I think."
"Perhaps the old woman has decided to put a bounty on us, to make us answer for her husbands death, and turned the dark elves loose?" considered Shadow Flame.
"It would explain her dropping the charges," continued Jean, "and the fact those drow were after me." It was definitely something to think about; Jean's theory was good and it made some sense, but until they could talk to the old woman it had to remain a theory.
"Well, I think we have a bit to go over now," said Shadow Flame, "Jean, Silvara, if you would. Fallon can we use your entry room to discuss all that has transpired this evening?"
"Of course," replied Fallon, "I'm sure Unagi and I can amuse ourselves."
Shadow Flame turned to Unagi, "Nug, I don't like this anymore than you do, but I think it prudent for us to discuss this without you. We will tell you what we decide."
Unagi nodded curtly by way of response and leant back in his chair - he had plenty of his own thinking to do.
"Quite a disturbing story I would say," began Shadow Flame once they had settled into the privacy of Fallon's entry chamber, "the first thing I'm thinking is, can we even be sure that the person in that room is Unagi?"
Jean and Silvara both sat speechless as that thought had not occurred to them, but now that Shadow Flame had voiced it they both considered it. "Taken prisoner, experimented on, memory erased - it could also be explained by Nug being a clone or something like that," Shadow Flame postulated.
"Maybe," said Jean cautiously, "and we can't exactly ask him something that only Unagi would know since, well, he doesn't know anything anymore."
It was a grim thought and all three of them sat for a while considering the possibility. "So no one has any idea how we might confirm that that is really Nug?" Shadow Flame asked after a while.
"We could ask Fallon if he knows any magic that may help us," offered Silvara.
"Fallon," said Shadow Flame, "can't say as though I trust him fully at the moment either, there is still the unanswered question of our mysterious benefactor taking over Fallon's mind during our last visit."
Silvara smiled a resigned smile by way of agreement with Shadow Flames concerns.
"Hey, I know," Jean said excitedly, "there is that crystal ball we found in Lunder's house."
Shadow Flame and Silvara both raised an eyebrow in response, they had both completely forgotten about it. "Do you know how to use it Jean?" asked Silvara.
"Well not exactly," Jean replied hesitantly, "but I should be able to think about Unagi and focus on the ball, and it should show us an image of where he currently is."
Shadow Flame started to say something then stopped, and not wanting to insult Jean, considered his words for a moment before saying, "you mean you can use that crystal ball to find out if that is the real Unagi?"
"And it will show you where he is?" Shadow Flame continued, trying to get Jean to realise what he was leading towards.
Jean nodded again not, quite catching his drift.
"And we could have used it to find out if Unagi was still alive and where he was while we were in Iriaebor?" Shadow Flame finished.
Jean nodded for a third time, then opened her eyes wide as she made the realisation. She smiled sheepishly as she said, "yes, I guess we could have."
Shadow Flame started to laugh and was quickly joined by Silvara. It took Jean a moment to realise that they weren't laughing at her, they were just laughing at the situation. "That's fantastic," said Shadow Flame.
"Sorry," Jean apologised, "it just didn't occur to me."
"Meh, doesn't matter," said Shadow Flame, "it didn't occur to any of us."
Jean shook her head at herself as she took the crystal ball from her pack and placed it on a side table beside the couch she was sitting on. The crystal ball glowed with a wan red light as wisps of greyish vapour floated languidly around inside it. She placed her hands upon the globe and closed her eyes, concentrating on forming a picture of Unagi in her minds eye. Once she could see him clearly from behind her eyes she opened them and stared at the crystal ball. The wispy vapour cleared and the red glow faded as a fuzzy image of Unagi faded into view within the crystal. Jean concentrated on the image before her and the scene widened. It showed Unagi sitting in a comfortable leather chair, leaning back with his hands resting upon his head, fingers interlocked. He was just staring at the ceiling, deep in thought, the figure of Fallon visible off to his right reading intently from the large tome he had used to find the information about Kiaransalee for them earlier.
Jean looked up from the crystal ball to Silvara and Shadow Flame and said, "well I guess that answers that. Unless the whole conspiracy goes so deep as to include a loaded crystal ball that we found before Nug even disappeared I'm happy to conclude that we have the real deal," the image in the ball fading as she spoke to be replaced by the red glow and wispy grey clouds. Shadow Flame nodded as did Silvara, both were satisfied.
"OK, so we have the real Nug," said Silvara, "I'm happy."
"I'm not," replied Shadow Flame, "there is still the question of what the hells happened to him, where he went, who was experimenting on him, and why his memory is gone. Not to mention our new found freedom, the attack by the drow, and the question of Fallon's state of mind."
"Whoa Flame, one catastrophic problem at a time," Jean laughed. She was happy that they had the real Unagi but shared Shadow Flame concerns about what had happened to him while he was gone. "I think we should proceed on the basis that Unagi is back and try and help him recover his memories."
"Well I agree," said Shadow Flame as Silvara nodded her agreement, "but we should proceed with caution. There are too many unknowns and they all seem to involve these accursed Yugoloths or your history as a slave Jean."
Jeans brow furrowed but she did not disagree, "then what are we to do next?" she asked.
Neither Silvara nor Shadow Flame had an immediate answer to that question. "I think we need to include Unagi in that discussion," Silvara finally said, "assuming we are letting him come with the party?", she asked Shadow Flame more than Jean.
Shadow Flame let his annoyance at the question show as he answered, "yes we are taking Nug with us, and yes I agree, we should have that discussion with him present."
"Well I for one am inclined to leave that discussion until tomorrow," said Jean, "it has been a long few days and I am really not up for another long parley. I say we head out and have a few drinks, get an early night and talk it over with clearer heads in the morning."
Silvara and Shadow Flame agreed with her - it had been a long few days and they were all tired, which did not lend itself to productive discourse. They returned to Fallon's study and found them both in much the same place and position they were in when they saw them in the crystal ball. Jean told them of their plan and Unagi immediately jumped at the chance to hit a bar with them.
"One thing first," said Shadow Flame, "Nug, I want to see your leg. There can be no secrets between us; you might not remember us but you need to trust us, as we need to be able to trust you."
Unagi stood there looking at Shadow Flame for a second before shifting his gaze to Jean and Silvara in turn. He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again, looking to Fallon for some guidance. Fallon simply shrugged, "it is not my decision to make my friend," he said to Unagi. Finally the big man simply nodded and sat back down. He rolled up the left leg of his pants and lifted his leg, resting it on the table.
Jean and Silvara both gasped at the sight of the large black gem embedded in Unagi's leg. Shadow Flame stepped forward and looked at it for a second before asking Unagi, "what is it?"
Unagi shrugged again, "I don't know, it was there when I woke up in Hopeless. I don't remember exactly how it got there, but those flashbacks gave a pretty strong hint."
"I don't like it at all," Shadow Flame voiced the shared opinion of everyone.
"How do you think I feel?" asked Unagi, "it's my leg after all."
Shadow Flame leant closer to look at the gem, its polished black surface staring impassively back at him. He reached forward to touch it, pausing for a moment as he looked at Unagi asking the unvoiced question. Unagi nodded slightly so Shadow Flame ran his fingers across the gems surface. He drew his hand away quickly, "it's cold," he said, "very cold."
Unagi nodded again, "yes, black and cold. That's all I know."
"Have you tried to...uh, dig it out or something?" asked Silvara.
"Yes," replied Unagi, "but it is wedged in there pretty tight," he frowned in frustration.
"We could cut your leg off," suggested Shadow Flame only half jokingly. Unagi's scowled, indicating he didn't find the comment funny. Shadow Flame turned to Fallon and started to ask what he knew, but the sage sensed the question and preempted it.
"No, I don't know what it is," he said, "but as with you all, I don't like it either. It seems likely, given Unagi's story, that it was placed there by Yugoloths and that worries me a great deal. I am looking into it, but really, I have little to work with."
"Maybe you could take an educated guess?" asked Shadow Flame.
Fallon sighed, "really, I don't know, but if i must guess, it could be a scrying focus, or a remote viewing device. Maybe Unagi can be controlled through it, like a domination spell, or maybe it's not necessary and the gem can be used to kill him," Unagi winced at the last suggestion, "but I can't be sure. Those are the obvious ideas but they seem to me like overkill given any reasonably powerful Yugoloth could accomplish those things without the aid of an implanted gem. My real feelings on the matter are that this is part of some Yugoloth plan that we won't see coming until it happens."
It was a disquieting thought and they all felt uneasy at the idea of being Yugoloth pawns. "I do want you to keep trying Fallon," said Unagi, "I can do without any surprises."
"Of course," replied Fallon, "I will continue to look into it, but I do not hold out any great hope of divining it's nature."
"Do you have any idea on how we might proceed?" asked Shadow Flame, "who might be able to help us, well help Unagi at least."
"Maybe if we returned to Hopeless?" Unagi ventured.
"Maybe," Fallon considered the idea, "I mean, it can't hurt, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. But it is a good a place as any."
They stood around in silence for a while before the air of concern got to Jean; "let's get going," she said, "all this worry is becoming too much. We need a break, a few drinks and some relaxation."
Unagi smiled, "sounds good to me Jean," he said, rising from his chair.
"You guys go ahead," said Shadow Flame, "I would like to talk with Fallon about a couple of things." Unagi looked at Jean and Silvara in turn before turning to Shadow Flame and smiling, "your loss," he said,
As the three of them headed out Shadow Flame sat down opposite Fallon and asked bluntly, "Can I see your leg?"
Fallon looked a bit puzzled for a second before smiling broadly, "of course," he laughed as he hitched up his robes and held his legs out in turn for Shadow Flame to inspect.
The tiefling smiled back at him, grateful that he wasn't offended, "sorry, but, you know, it seemed wise to make sure we weren't in the centre of some scheme even worse than we had been imagining only a minute ago."
"I understand," said Fallon, "in your position I may well have asked the same question, but that's not why you stayed back. Tell me what's on your mind."
Shadow Flame paused for a second searching for a polite way of asking before abandoning the idea and simply asked bluntly, "have you found anything out about what happened when last we were here? About our mystery friend?"
The light of understanding entered Fallon's eyes as he replied, "I was wondering when you were going to bring that up. The answer is no. You must remember it has only been 6 or 7 days since last you were here and I have had your friend with me for the last 2 of those. In the mean while I have not returned to Sigil to investigate further, so there is nothing more to say on the matter for the moment."
"Are you not concerned over what happened?", Shadow Flame raised his voice slightly, "your body and mind were overtaken by some other person, err, being rather."
"Of course I am concerned about it," replied Fallon, he kept his voice even, not showing any sign of anger or annoyance, "and I intend to investigate it, but I have duties to attend to. But not for much longer," he finished.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I intend to move to Sigil permanently. I will not be returning to these forgotten realms," Fallon explained.
Shadow Flame was surprised, "why would you do that?"
"Sigil can offer me more," explained Fallon, "Toril is but a tiny slice of the infinite, and I wish to be at...the centre of things, so to speak. If you must know, it was you, you and your friends who helped me make the decision. It has been a long time since I have met such interesting folk like yourselves, you have awakened the sage in me, challenged my mind and strained my resources, and I have enjoyed every moment of it. Sigil offers that chance of experience on a grander scale than Faerun ever could."
Surprised as he was Shadow Flame understood Fallon's mind on this matter. "When will you be going?" he asked.
"I have some business to attend to here, then there is the matter of selling my home and tying up those associated lose ends, so expect it to take a while - two tendays, maybe a month."
"Well I will wish you luck now Fallon even though this is not goodbye. I will not tell the others about your plans."
"I will tell them when they return or tomorrow, it is not a secret."
"OK then," Shadow Flame stood to leave, "I will take my leave my friend, there is something I need to see to."
Shadow Flame walked toward Castle Hill - he had an appointment with an certain old woman who now had a lot to answer for. The more he thought about it the more certain he was that she had dropped the charges so she could open bounty on them, and he was not going to let that slide. He reached the street where Aghal's house was; there was a large sign placed on the bottom step of the front door. Shadow Flame walked slowly up to it, careful to remain hidden from sight as best as the light on the street allowed.
The sign read, 'Commissioned For Sale by Castle Hill Realty, 2-4/132 All Warriors Road, Realtor in charge: Molkin Draeus'
Shadow Flame was intrigued; he had certainly not expected this. No lights were on inside the house, so he moved to the lane that gave access to the backyards of the terraced houses, and moved to the back door. He expertly picked the lock and entered. The place was empty, not a single piece of furniture anywhere either upstairs or down. The old lady had moved out, of that there was no doubt, but this raised some new questions. There was little he could do about it now; all the places that may be able to answer his questions were closed for the night, and it was too late to trouble the neighbours without raising suspicions, so he returned to Fallon's and waited for the others to get back.
It was late when Jean, Silvara and Unagi returned in much better spirits than when they had left. Unagi especially felt much better than he had in days. Jean and Silvara had shared some of the funnier stories from their adventures; Unagi's lack of grace and even worse success rate in the charging down of doors, and the various fumblings and bumblings of his fights. Jean and Silvara went straight to bed, tired from the previous days of travel. Unagi stayed up for a while to enjoy the mellow buzz he had from the few drinks they shared before falling asleep in the chair in Fallon's study.
Shadow Flame woke early in the morning; he had business to attend to trying to find out what had happened to the old woman, he still wanted to talk to her and find the why of her dropping the charges against them. He left quietly, leaving the rest of them to sleep off the excesses of the previous evening, and headed to Castle Hill Realty to talk to Molkin.
He reached All Warriors Road and walked in the realtor. After a brief discussion with the woman at the front desk, Molkin came out from his office and greeted Shadow Flame.
"Well met Molkin," Shadow Flame said, "I am interested in the terraced house for sale on Winder's Way."
"Yes, a fine home it is in a nice neighbourhood, frequently patrolled by the watch and with one of the lowest crime rates in Berdusk," Molkin began.
"I know the reputation of the neighbourhood," replied Shadow Flame, "it is one of the main selling points. However, I am interested in speaking with the former tenants, the Morlike's I believe? An old couple?"
Molkin's brow furrowed, "well, I wouldn't know about that, it wasn't our job to see to the tenants. Besides, they must have been renting."
"What makes you say that? My information indicates they were the owners."
"The deeds to the property were signed over for sale by a middle aged gentleman who clearly had not been living in the house," explained Molkin.
Not having to feign surprise Shadow Flame asked, "are you sure? I was quite thorough in my investigations."
"Of course," replied Molkin, indignant at being questioned. "Everything here is above board, I saw to the commission myself. All the paper work was in order and was approved by the housing and tenancy bureau."
"My apologies, I did not mean to question your ethics, it is clear my information was wrong. Would I be able to see the agreement?"
"I do not think that would be prudent on my behalf," Molkin replied quickly, "but I will tell you that these sort of dealings are monitored and approved by the bureau and are usually a matter of public knowledge. The papers you seek should be available for a small fee from the clerks office at the housing and tenancy bureau."
"I thank you for your time good sir," said Shadow Flame, "and assuming that all is in order, which I have no reason to not believe is the case, I shall return to discuss the property."
They shook hands and Shadow Flame left to go and see the paper work lodged at the bureau.
It was not easy to find, buried within the administrative buildings on Castle Hill, but directions were easy to come by, and Shadow Flame found himself standing before a pasty young clerk at the administrative offices of the housing and tenancy bureau after a short wait. Claiming that the terraced house was own by an uncle that he hadn't seen for some time, Shadow Flame asked if he could see the documents. The clerk, clearly bored with his job, did not question the tiefling, and for a simple silver piece fee Shadow Flame was able to check the bill of sale. It was signed not by Aghal's wife but by one Zymrich Faal claiming to represent the Silver Star Trading Coster. The clerk informed Shadow Flame that all the original paper work was valid and legal and that everything was above board as best as could be determined. He then left to continue his search for the old lady, and find out what was happening and what stake this Zymrich Faal and his merchant coster had in the house and its previous tenants.
Returning to Castle Hill Realty, Shadow Flame questioned Molkin on the identity of the seller, producing his copy of the documentation from the clerks office to indicate he already knew and that Molkin wouldn't be betraying any confidentiality by sharing the same basic information. Molkin confirmed the documentation; Zymrich Faal was the man who had signed the papers authorizing the sale of the Morlike's house. He explained that once the sale was finalized the monies would be forwarded to the costers base in Sembia, and that Zymrich had paid extra to attain that service. There was no address for Zymrich as the man had simply conducted his business and left town, or at the least had left no forwarding address apart from the costers base in Selgaunt, a large city of Sembia. Shadow Flame made a bit of a show of asking about the house and the price so as not to raise any suspicions, and excused himself shortly thereafter to continue his investigations.
The Morlike's neighbours were his next stop, and after questioning those to either side of the Morlike's terrace (claiming he owed the Morlike's money to smooth over any suspicions), he found that the old couple kept to themselves to the point of rudeness. They did not employ servants and did not socialise with their neighbours at all; neither neighbour had anything nice to say about them, and they all lived in a mutually desirable climate of ignorance. The only useful piece of knowledge they could supply was the name of the moving company that had taken away their furniture and other household items. It wasn't much, but at least the trail was not dead yet.
Shadow Flame found his way to the Many Hands Removalists, and using the same story of trying to track down the Morlikes to make good on an old debt, he asked some of the staff if they knew anything. He was directed to the floor manager who, while not being a great deal of help either, was at least able to tell Shadow Flame that the whole move was quick. He confirmed that everything was paid for by Zymrich Faal, and that the man had paid extra for a speedy move. The Morlikes furniture and belongings were to be auctioned off with the proceeds to be forwarded to the Silver Star Merchant House in Selgaunt. A good deal of money had changed hands to ensure his requests would be honoured. Similarly to Molkin, the manager informed Shadow Flame that Zymrich had left no forwarding address apart from that of the merchant Silver Star coster base. Thanking the man for his time, Shadow Flame left to inquire at the only other place that could provide answers - the courts.
It was still early when he reached the court house, a large keep-like building on Castle Hill. After explaining himself to various clerks and officials he was finally given audience with a court clerk. The clerk it seemed was also a Harper as she wore the Harper badge proudly on the outside of her gown, and was happy to answer all of Shadow Flames questions. He did not bother with a cover story, instead he just expressed concern over the dropped charges and wanted to know what was said. The clerk explained that the old woman had simply come in to the court house and expressed her desire to drop the charges. The paper work was all above board and her signature was on the warrant authorizing the charges be dropped. The clerk was not the one who had seen the woman, nor had she been available to witness the signing of the warrant, but she claimed to have no reason to suspect anything untoward. She claimed Aghal's wife had come in by herself and there was no note in the papers of any suspicious or odd behaviours, they simply recorded that a standard set of forms was filled out and processed. Shadow Flamed explained all he had learnt that morning to the clerk and how it all amounted to a fairly suspicious situation. Agreeing that everything smelled a bit off the Harper clerk promised to take it to her superiors, but explained that it would likely be a lengthy process as there was no direct evidence upon which to base further investigation, and Zymrich Faal and the Silver Star trading coster were many hundreds of miles away. Voicing his understanding Shadow Flame left the clerk, and with no other avenues of investigation open to him he returned to the party at Fallon's house.
He found Unagi, Silvara and Jean sitting comfortably in the waiting room sharing stories about the parties adventures before Unagi's memory loss. The big man seemed to be in much better spirits, and indeed he was, as it was beginning to feel like these people really were his friends, and he was beginning to feel a bit more relaxed in their company. Shadow Flame sat down with them and filled them in on his mornings investigations. Initially Jean and Silvara looked a little sheepish for not thinking to look into the matter of the charges being dropped, but that all changed upon mention of Zymrich Faal's name.
Jean's eyes widened and she paled noticeably.
"Jean?" asked Shadow Flame, "what is it?"
She looked at each party member in turn and started to answer more than once, and biting her tongue each time. They all sat and let her speak in her own time, and after a minute she answered the question, "he was one of my...owners," she spat the word, her eyes narrowing in anger at those memories.
They were all left quite speechless by the revelation. The coincidence of the dropped charges and the dark elves with Jean's picture and now the revelation of Zymrich Faal being a slaver as well was a little too much for them. Clearly these events were related, but any deeper meaning eluded them.
Silvara stood and went and sat beside Jean, "you don't have to say anything Jean," she said, trying to comfort the mage.
Jean smiled at her, "no, it's OK, I'm...OK." She looked up at them all and continued, "Zymrich Faal bought me from Aghal several years ago, in Cormyr of all places. He kept me locked in a caravan most of the time, I do not remember where we went, what lands we visited, but I do remember him for the violent, hateful animal he was. I dreamed of killing him every night, and the main thing I feel for him is regret that I did not get the chance to do so. Aghal was an abhorrent man who traded with the worst creatures for the most inhuman goods but he never hit me, and he never let his men...," she trailed off, the words she left unspoken telling the tale more strongly then she could ever do herself.
They sat in silence for some time as there were no words that could adequately express their feelings, but each of them knew the mind of the other in the matter. Finally Jean looked up at them and smiled through slightly teary eyes. She started to speak but then closed her mouth - she had no words. She was grateful for their silent support, and knew she did not have to say so.
Four armed Demon
Jean looked at him, thankful for the break in the silence and the change in tack of the subject, "you're right Flame," she said, "we might be able to find out where he is..." she trailed off as she stood and went over to her pack. She returned to her seat and placed the red crystal ball on the table between the couches. Shadow Flame smiled at her and Silvara and Unagi both sat forward in anticipation, both eager to see the face of the man who terrorized their friend. Taking a deep breath Jean closed her eyes and formed a picture of Zymrich in her mind. Reaching out to the crystal ball ball she opened her eyes as her hands rested upon its smooth surface. The red glow faded as the grey mists shrunk back revealing the middle aged face of Zymrich Faal. The image pulled slowly back revealing him sitting upon a cold metal bench, dressed in grey and brown rags, he was chained to the walls by his hands and feet. Zymrich stared forward blankly, as an automaton, not moving and seemingly unaware of his surroundings. After a moment a long shadow fell across his body as a nightmarish form entered the picture. Hulking over the unmoving form of Zymrich was a vaguely humanoid creature; it's black skin slick and smooth, absorbing the light of the cell, it's canine head exposing it's teeth in a grimace. It reached toward Zymrich with two pairs of arms; one pair large and heavily muscled ended in smooth sharp pincers that clicked reflexively together, the other pair more human and ending in hands. As it grasped the unfeeling man around the shoulders with it's hands the creature paused and looked over it's shoulder, directly at the party! Clearly it had sensed it was being scryed and it stood upright and faced them through the crystal ball. It leaned forward and opened it's mouth wide in a silent scream, as the crystal ball could not transmit sound, then the red glow returned and the grey mists flooded back in breaking the connection.
Jean smiled coldly at the crystal ball, a sense of satisfaction evident in her eyes before looking up from the ball, her face back to it's normal beautiful self again.
"Looks like that dog now reaps what he has sown," said Silvara, also taking some satisfaction from the karmic justice that Zymrich seemed to be living.
Unagi and Shadow Flame both nodded. "But it effectively closes off any line of inquiry we may have had about the old woman," said Shadow Flame.
"To be honest with you," replied Jean, "I'm not really concerned about it. I think there are more important things to worry about than why the old woman dropped the charges. Granted it seems that my original thoughts turned out to be wrong, and probably Zymrich has something to do with it, at least indirectly, but we have cleared our names now. Well...kind of..but anyway, I'd like to put the whole thing behind us."
Neither Silvara nor Unagi said anything but their silence was essentially agreement. "I'm curious I must admit," said Shadow Flame, "but ultimately I am of the same mind - it is something that we do not need to concern ourselves with overmuch. Still..."
Silvara and Jean both gave Shadow Flame a half smile, they knew the tiefling didn't like mysteries, but seemed he was happy not to pursue the issue, there were bigger things to worry about.
"So I guess that leads to the question, what next?" Shadow Flame let the question hang as the others considered their answers.
Unagi was the first to answer, "Hopeless," he stated bluntly, "it is the only thing approaching a lead I have, and getting my memories back is the most important thing to me personally at the moment."
They all nodded, it was the expected answer from the gladiator. Each of them felt that the answers to the bigger questions lay in the planes, and Jean was the first one to voice that feeling; "Sigil," she said, "it seems to me all roads lead to Sigil. If we're ever going to find out about this staff, I mean really find out about it, what it's for, why it was crafted, what meaning there is behind why we have it, why it was given to us, then I think we need to leave Faerun, there are no answers here. Since we know nothing of the planes it would appear to me that the most obvious best place to start is Sigil."
Silvara agreed, "I too am curious to know more about this staff. Seems to me that almost everything that has happened since I first met you ties indirectly into it. If it is not happening because of the staff itself, it seems to happen because we have it. Well at least Jean has it, but I think whether we like it or not that we are all a part of it now."
"I don't disagree with either of you," said Shadow Flame, "my own interests lay in the planes, but I want to be sure we are making the correct decisions for the correct reasons. Jean, what do you really hope to achieve by going to Sigil?"
She thought for a moment before saying, "seems that Sigil is a hub, a connection that brings together things otherwise disparate. Given the nature of the staff, it's extra-planar origins and the interested parties, it seems like the logical place to start. If the answers can't be found in Sigil itself, then I would guess that it will open the door to the path that leads to those answers. Those that seek the staff are not the most honourable bunch we've met, they must have enemies, and the enemy of my enemy...well, I don't think those enemies will be found here."
Shadow Flame nodded, she made a good case. He did not need further persuasion - he had his own personal interests in the planes, in deciphering their secrets. "OK, I'm in," he said, "are we going to Sigil or are we going to Hopeless?"
Unagi jumped in quickly, "Hopeless!," he almost shouted, "the sooner I can get my memories back the better, and dare I say, safer it will be for all of us." None of them could argue that logic; with so much completely unknown about what had happened to Unagi, the fact it tied into the Yugoloths somehow, and the unknown gem, it was clear that finding the answers to those questions was of great importance.
"My feeling is that Sigil will be the safest bet, at least initially," argued Jean. "Sorry Nug, but Hopeless, is a bit of an unknown factor. I would feel better about starting in Sigil and then expanding from there."
"I'm sorry as well Nug," echoed Shadow Flame, "I agree with Jean."
"I have to agree with her as well," echoed Silvara, "just from the general viewpoint of our safety, and the things we have been told, I would feel more comfortable starting from Sigil as well. Obviously we are still going to help you as much as possible Nug, but I think this is the best way to go about it."
He wasn't completely happy with the decision, but he bowed to their wishes and agreed to start in Sigil.
"Well then, with that settled I guess we should probably talk to Fallon and see if he can offer us any advice," said Shadow Flame. They agreed it was a good idea, and sought out Fallon who was, as usual, working in his study, and was, as usual, more than happy to speak with the party.
They told him of their plans and their reasons behind their decision, and asked if he knew how they may reach Sigil.
"Yes, I do," he replied, "about a days journey to the south of Berdusk lies an old abandoned abbey. One of the entries arches to this abbey is a portal to a small village in the Outlands. The village has within it a portal that will take you to Sigil."
"Why can't we just teleport to Sigil straight up?" asked Silvara.
"Forgive me if I haven't already explained it, but the only way to enter Sigil is via a portal. It is forbidden to teleport or gate into Sigil, the Lady of Pain prevents all such magics from working, and allows entrance only via her portals."
Silvara nodded as she remembered his explanation, "OK then," she replied, "would you be able to provide a map to this abbey, and to the portal in this village?"
Fallon nodded, "yes of course, I will draw you a map to the abbey, but once in the village it will be a simple matter of asking one of the locals to the location of the portal to Sigil, and of course, maybe a little garnish to smooth things over."
"Fantastic," said Shadow Flame. "And once in Sigil, where do we go from there?"
"Now, that's a good question," replied Fallon, "and I don't want to spoil it for you - I wish I could enter Sigil for the first time again. The portal will exit in the Clerk's Ward, a reasonably clean and safe area of Sigil. I would recommend you seek out an Inn called the Ubiquitous Wayfarer, it caters to adventuring types and planewalkers, and also isn't overtly hostile to the clueless. Oh yes," he added as an after thought, "you should get used to that, expect to be called clueless with almost every question you ask. Over time you'll be able to present yourselves a bit more ably and shake off that tag, but until then..."
"Good a starting point as any I'd say," said Shadow Flame, "but then what? Is there someone, or some group we should try and contact? I'm still a bit lost here."
"Oh absolutely! I'd say your best bet would be to seek out a blood known as Tripicus, he is very well-lanned, and, as fortune would have it, has a very deep interest in the Prime and its inhabitants. If you are prepared to answer his questions, and believe me, he will be thorough, then he will be happy to exchange information with you. He is foremost a scholar, but I should tell you, he is an Ursinal. A bear-like being from a race of creatures known as Guardinals, one of the Celestial races. As such he can be trusted."
"Sounds good," said Silvara, "where can we find this Tripicus?"
"He gives lectures at the Hall of Speakers and can be found there most days. Happily enough the Hall of Speakers is located in the Clerk's Ward as well. It is the headquarters of a Faction known as the Sign of One, and besides that it functions as a parliament where new laws are debated, and other Factions can voice their concerns and raise issues to do with the governance of Sigil. Anyone will be able to give you directions, and you probably won't even have to pay for it. Oh, that reminds me," he continued, clearly enjoying giving a quick guide to Sigil for the clueless, "one thing you might consider is hiring a tout. For the price of a few silvers you will have a knowledgeable guide to most of Sigil, and for a few silvers more they will be able to help you make things happen. A good tout is well connected and can make things much easier for...out of towners. But as with most things be wary; many touts are actually Faction shills and will give you a biased view of Sigil, a view in line with their Factions beliefs, but if you don't pick up on it yourself it is likely an independent tout will come along to rain on the Faction touts parade. They tend not to get along."
The four of them sat there staring a Fallon for a few moments, a little overwhelmed and starting to wonder what they were getting themselves into. "Oh please, don't let me worry you," Fallon said, noticing their blank faces, "Sigil can be overwhelming to start with, like any large city, well...considering it is unlike any other large city, except maybe for....sorry, sorry, not the time I know. Where was I? Oh yes, what I mean to say is, you will learn the dark of things before too long. Trust me when I say, Sigil is the greatest city in the multiverse! Which is why I am moving there full time myself."
Shadow Flame was the first to get it together, "right, so we have a starting point at least. I'll say one thing that concerns me is this Rule-of-Three fellow. I'd be happy to avoid him, at least until we start getting a grip on this place."
"Shouldn't be too difficult," replied Fallon, "Sigil is a big place, and you should pretty much go largely unnoticed. At least until you start asking some pointed questions. Anyway, Rule-of-Three, who incidentally takes his name from the universal law of the rule of threes, but maybe I won't go into that right now, plenty of time to worry about those sorts of things later. So, Rule-of-Three can almost always be found in a tavern in the Lower Ward named the Styx Oarsman. Stay away from there, and lay low and it should be a while before he even knows you're in the city, then it'll likely take him a while to work out what he's going to do. I wouldn't worry too much about him, as I've said before, he's a reasonable cutter, and....I was going to say easy enough to deal with, but that's not really true. But again, I digress. Does that answer your questions?"
"I guess so," said Shadow Flame, "but it does raise about a hundred more. Never mind, I'm sure we'll be OK and work it out as we go along. Would you mind if we stayed here for the rest of the day and headed out tomorrow? It would be good if we could prepare, make sure we have spells ready and that sort of thing."
"Of course. We'll have a feast tonight and a good rest for you before you head of in the morning."
They awoke early, well rested after a good nights sleep and fueled by the promised feast of the previous evening. They packed light since they would be walking to the abbey. They said their goodbyes to Fallon and made him promise to try and look them up once he had made the move to Sigil, and headed out, pleased to have a solid direction. They left Berdusk via the Riverroad Gate across Moondown Isle in good spirits. The days journey was uneventful, interrupted only by the wildlife as they left the trade roads and headed across country. They were pleased to have Fallon's map as he had included landmarks for them to navigate by as there was no road to follow. Late in the afternoon they came upon the small wood known as the Greenfellow Copse in which the old abbey sat, forgotten by the civilized lands of the western heartlands of Faerun.
The abbey lay only about 20 minutes walk into the woods and they found it easily. It was old, of that there was no doubt, it was in a state of total disrepair with the wall surrounding it crumbling and broken and overgrown with heavy silvery-blue leafed vines. They found the archway they sought easily enough - it was the only still complete arch remaining of the outer wall. Shadow Flame took the portal key that Fallon had given them, a trio of yellow waxing moon berries still attached together like cherries, and approached the arch way.
"Greetings my friends," it spoke in the cultured tones of nobility, "the time has come to pay old debts."
The voice was familiar to them but only Shadow Flame could place it. "So Silas, the time has come, it is good to see your true face," he said confidently. "But you are mistaken, there is no debt, our actions were in the interest of self defence, we owe you nothing."
Silas raised a furry eyebrow and curled his lip in anger exposing long ivory coloured fangs. "You have killed my...servants, unprovoked, I imagine to right some perceived wrong. You have caused me a good deal of...inconvenience, especially with the murder of Hashtoth, that set me back several weeks."
"We didn't kill Hashtoth," protested Jean, her voice defiant, "he was the victim of your...master of the grey waste."
Silas snorted, the sound coming out as a deep throated grunt more than anything, "a weak lie. The so called master of the grey waste was an inert shell, hollow and powerless, a lie to motivate ambitious but foolish mortals. You should have tried blaming his death on the Keepers, I may have considered you words."
"I can't help but wonder," interjected Unagi, "what the point of all this talk is. I mean, you've already stated that it's time for us to pay your perceived debts and I can only assume that you aren't after jink, and, since I have no idea who you are, I figure we may as well cut to the chase and fight."
Shadow Flame looked at Unagi with mild annoyance but the big man merely smiled and shrugged.Shadow Flame looked at him for a second before nodding and returning the shrug - Unagi was right, this wasn't going to end with the exchange of a few coins and an apology.
They all turned, as behind them them heard the steady thud of heavy footsteps. Entering the small clearing around the abbey was another Mezzoloth, it's body a chitinous grey, holding a long spear out in front of it, pointed into the back of Bradmor who walked with his arms held out to show he held no weapons, and wearing a look of terror upon his face.
"I found this mortal hiding at the edge of the trees my master," said the Mezzoloth in a high pitched screech, it's voice similar to the sounds a burning rat would make, "what should I do with it?"
Silas raised an eyebrow, "a friend of yours?" he asked the party.
"Not exactly," replied Shadow Flame, "feel free to kill him." Bradmor's eyes narrowed as he looked toward Shadow Flame, replacing his expression of curiosity at seeing them talking to these creatures. Shadow Flame waited for Silas to turn his attention to Bradmor and whispered to Jean, "we could use a little help here Jean."
Jean wasted little time calling upon Amon'Valura to open a gateway and call forth a Mezzoloth to help them. Unagi drew hs blade and screamed a war cry, turning to fight the Mezzoloth that had brought Bradmor into the clearing. Shadow Flame immediately began casting a spell as did Silvara, and, once he got over his initial shock at the situation, Bradmor drew his blades and turned to his captor as well.
For their part the Mezzoloths and Silas did not waste any time waiting to see how the party would fight. Both Mezzoloths summoned innate magics as Silas also chanted the words to a spell. The air in front of Silas and his Mezzoloth body guard swelled with a rank twisting smoke, pouring forth from a rip in the fabric of reality, and as the smoke twisted back in upon itself, forming a mini vortex, another Mezzoloth stepped through the tear in space brandishing a double headed axe. Jean did not have to speak to tell it to attack those before it, and it launched itself at the Mezzoloth beside Silas with glee.
Unagi and Bradmor both managed to hit the Mezzoloth before them with well coordinated attacks, and were even able to draw thick dark blood from the creature. It responded by opening a blazing rift in the air above them and calling forth a blazing column of fire from the heavens; both Unagi and Bradmor were badly wounded by the flames, their bodies and clothes charred from the raging fires that had already dissipated.
Silas completed his spell and a small globe of black fire appeared in his hands as he pushed them forward, releasing the ball at Jean. It grew in size and intensity as it flew towards her, exploding in a burst of orange fire only a couple of feet in front of Jean. She took the full brunt of the fireball and was thrown back several feet from the force of the blast, and hitting the ground hard, she did not get up. Shadow Flames spell went off, surrounding him with swarming images of himself as Silvara called upon the power of Selune to provide aid in the battle to all party members.
The two Mezzoloths fought it out beside Silas as he began intoning the words to another spell. Bradmor pulled a potion from his pack and drank deeply while Unagi continued to fight the Mezzoloth even though he was badly injured from the flame strike the creature had launched at them. Silvara wasted no time at the heals of her spell and raced across to help Unagi deal with the Mezzoloth. Several blazing balls of fire, each the size of a fist burst forth from Silas' hands and went hurtling towards Shadow Flame; several of them were wide of the mark or wiped out one of his illusory images, but at least one of them hit the tiefling, interrupting the spell his was casting.
"We need to get the hells out of here now!" Bradmor shouted to the party as a whole, "we cannot best these foes."
None of them responded to him, caught up in the battle, it was if they did not hear his call to escape. Not wanting to risk fleeing on his own the assassin stayed to keep fighting, and cursed the worst possible luck to be in the worst possible place at the worst possible time. Unagi and Silvara continued to attack the Mezzoloth as Shadow Flame produced a scroll from his pack and unrolled it to begin speaking the words of magic it contained. Continuing the spell battle, Silas also began the words to another spell, a spell Silvara recognised in the back of her mind as divine magic and not the arcane magic he had been using so far. The battle between the Mezzoloths continued beside Silas, both of them lost in battle lust, heedless or careless of the fact they fought one of their own race. Between Unagi, Silvara and Bradmor little impact was made upon the Mezzoloth, it's unnaturally strong carapace providing excellent protection against their weapons. The same could not be said for Unagi as he took a heavy hit from the Mezzoloths spear, and as injured as he was from the previous flame strike of the beast, he fell to the ground unconscious and bleeding heavily.
Shadow Flame finished reading the scroll in his hands but the tiefling could only watch in despair as the papyrus crumbled into ash in has hands, his skill in the arcane art insufficient to master the words of the spell it contained. Silas launched his spell and the party members still remaining standing felt the divine aid of Silvara's earlier spell melt away as Silas' spell dispelled its effects.
"We need to flee!" Bradmor reiterated his cry from earlier, and again Silvara and Shadow Flame seemed to ignore him as the tiefling began to cast another spell and Silvara knelt beside Unagi to cast a healing spell upon him. The Mezzoloth turned to Bradmor and thrust it's spear into him, digging deeply into his side, bringing him to his knees. The assassin was forced to drink another potion that he pulled from a small bag in his belt. Silas launched into the casting of another spell, his words echoing through the clearing louder than those of Shadow Flame who finished his spell. Magic missiles burst from his outstretched hands and screamed across the clearing crashing into Silas who simply ignored them and kept casting his spell, the missiles having no affect on him at all. He finished his spell and Shadow Flame felt his body grow heavy and slow, his muscles simply not responding to his commands. He concentrated hard, fighting the holding spell Silas had cast, and through force of will was able to force the magic from his body, freeing him to begin the casting of yet another spell.
Silvara cast her spell on Unagi who stirred and then sat up quickly. The big man stood, took a quick look at the Mezzoloth that still had Bradmor impaled in it's spear, and then ran across the clearing putting himself out of harms way. Silvara watched him go with an astonished look on her face as she stood to continue battling the Mezzoloth. Bradmor managed to free himself from the Mezzoloths spear and swung his blades at it, the healing magic of the potion closing his wound and giving him strength. It was a glancing blow, enough to hurt the Mezzoloth but not good enough to draw blood. Silas had finished casting another spell and this time brought down a magical silence upon Shadow Flame, effectively canceling his spell and forcing the tiefling to try and move out of the spells area of effect.
Unagi stood at the edge of the clearing and pulled a potion from his pack and quickly drank it. Several of his wounds closed over and disappeared as the healing magic took effect, bringing the gladiator back into the battle, he started running over to Jean. Shadow Flame moved out of the area of effect of the silence spell having luckily escaped having it centered on him and called out to them all to head to the archway. Silas smiled as the order was given and reached into a pocket in his shirt. Bradmor had a look of confusion on his faced as he stepped out of the way of a thrust from the Mezzoloths spear - why would they be charging the tiger headed creature, he thought, but since all three of the standing party members began to do so he also ran to the archway. Unagi picked up Jean and threw her over his shoulder, there was no time for them to use any healing magic on her, for she was still alive, her wounds cauterized by the flames of the fireball that had sent her flying across the clearing.
As they ran forward, toward the archway, Silas completed the casting of another spell. Several thick black rubbery tentacles sprang up in front of the archway and began to thrash about, blindly flailing at everything and nothing. The Mezzoloth that was fighting Bradmor and Unagi held back from chasing them toward the party, it simply stood and watched impassively as they ran. The party ran past Silas who swung round to watch them pass, turning his back on the two Mezzoloths who continued to fight, heedless of what was going on around them. Both were heavily wounded, viscous black blood spattered over their bodies and running down in rivulets from their own wounds. Shadow Flame held the three waxing-moon berries out in front of himself as he dodged a swinging tentacle. He ran to the wall beside the arch, inside the reach of the tentacle and threw them through the archway. It burst into a brilliant off-white light, lighting the clearing up, causing all four of them to squint against its brilliance.
As the portal exploded into light Silas drew something small from the pocket of his shirt and threw it at the portal as Shadow Flame started his dive past the tentacles into the portal. The off-white light of the portal dulled for a second and then exploded anew, this time it was a royal purple, deep and dark with tendrils of light reaching out from the portal like those tentacles flailing before it. Shadow Flame did not have a chance to stop his dive, and even if he could it was unlikely he would have done so - a strange case of better the devils you don't know. Bradmor had stopped for a second when he saw the portal change colour, but seeing Shadow Flame dive through it he did the same, deftly dodging one of the tentacles that swung at him as he ran past. Silvara was next at the portal, and with almost the same grace as the assassin, dodged the tentacles and jumped through the portal. Unagi was not quite as dexterous, as he was carrying Jean over his shoulder. One of the tentacles snagged his leg as he ran past, anchoring him in place. He screamed in rage and looked up as the portals light began to wane. After throwing Jean's unconscious body through the portal, he quickly drew his sword and swung precisely at the tentacle wrapped around his leg. The blade bit deeply into the tentacle, nearly severing it from the ground it had burst forth from. It wriggled weakly once before bursting into a thin shower of black beads that soaked into the ground as they hit it. Unagi did not stop to admire the effect and leapt smoothly through the portal only a second before it collapsed into itself.
Silvara bowed slightly as Astyaril reached the bottom of the stairs. The high priestess of Selune held out her hand and spoke in her melodious tones, "my dear Silvara, it is my wish for you to take the staff of Amon'Valura from your friend and bring it forward to me."
Silvara looked at her, puzzled that she would make such a request. "Milady, why would you ask that of me?" she asked.
"Because it is necessary. You must take the staff and hand it to me of your own free will. It would of course be better if your friend did so, but she is in no condition to accede to my request. Do this for me and the blessings of Selune shall be upon you many-fold."
'This was wrong' thought Silvara, what would Astyaril be doing amoung this group of Yugoloths and why would she be asking for Amon'Valura? Silvara concentrated hard, trying to see through the veil of illusion that this being had weaved about itself, but there was no give in the magic, no hint that this was anyone but Astyaril. She became momentarily distracted by movement at her side and looked over to see Bradmor approaching her.
"Milady, I have been instructed by the leader of my order to take the staff and hand it over to him. I trust we will have no issues with this?" the assassin said, his hand rested on the hilt of his blade.
"Something is wrong here Bradmor, do you not see it? That creature is not the head of your order, nor is it the Moonmaiden of the High Altar of the Moon, as it appears to me. Look at my friends, held motionless by it's magic, and do you not see the Mezzoloths and Arcanaloths that array themselves before us?"
Bradmor blinked and looked about the room, a puzzled expression on his face, but he quickly turned back to Silvara and, drawing his sword and dagger said, "do not toy with me godslave," he said, his voice dropping in pitch noticeably, "retrieve the staff and hand it to me, or these blades shall taste blood."
Taken aback by his use of the word godslave, a word that she associated with the Yugoloths, Silvara stepped back. "If we must fight then I will fight, but I will not surrender my friends or that staff to you or to these fiends," she replied, pulling her mace from her belt and standing battle ready.
As the room shook again, the stones of the left wall loosened under what was now clearly an impact, the party looked about the room, trying to see a way out. There was none visible, and in fact, the only real feature of the room was the dais holding throne, so they ran toward it in the hope it would provide some means of escape. Again the room shook, the air was now thick with the dust that had burst from the stone of the wall and smaller pieces of stone that had broken free from the wall and showered to the ground. They began looking around the black throne; it was made of heavy black stone and inlaid with intricate swirls, sigils and runes of gold, silver and electrum. There was nothing obvious about the throne or the dais - nothing that they could see would immediately be used as a lever or other mechanism to open a door or hatch or any kind of room exit.
Huge Minotaur Demon
The party looked to each other, and towards the ensuing chaos before them. There was clearly little they could do in the face of such foes - they were too numerous and too powerful for them to even consider fighting their way past. Then Shadow Flame noticed, the hole in the wall was huge, and the creatures were locked in battle with little sign of having even noticed them.
"I think we can get out of here if we just run around that fight and out through the wall," he suggested to the party.
They looked at each with a good amount of uncertainty before Unagi pointed out, "it's not like we have a choice in the matter, so let's get it on!" With that he began to run back down the stairs of the Dais, Jean slung over his shoulder.
"Wait! Nug!" Silvara called as he ran off. Unagi stopped and turned around, "let me heal Jean first, it'll probably be easier if she can run for herself rather than you having to carry her around!"
Unagi shook his head at himself, "yeah, good call. Guess i got a bit excited," he said as he placed Jean carefully on the ground. Silvara quickly walked over and cast her healing spell. Jean came around quickly and looked about the room. She turned to the party with an expression that read, where the hell are we.
Silvara said, "not the best time for explanations there Jean, we really need to start with the running about now." Jean nodded, she'd been in enough crazy situations in the past to know that the answers could wait. As a group they set off down the stairs toward the hole in the wall. The battle raged on; at least thirty creatures stood toe-to-toe slugging it out while fireballs, bolts of lightning and globs of acid were hurled about by the various spell casting fiends. They did not have to try and be sneaky about passing through the wall, the creatures in the battle did not pay any attention to them at all, the focus of their hatred and anger was each other - they did not have time to worry about any mortals.
They passed beyond the wall into a huge space - they could not determine where the walls or floors were, but it was clear they were inside as the sounds of numerous large battles echoed about them. They could see small pockets of fighting, areas illuminated by magical lights and other spell effects such as fireballs. Deciding that the best way forward was to hug the wall they had just come out of they moved quickly, trying not to attract any attention to themselves. They covered good ground it seemed; it was hard to tell there in the near darkness but the wall they ran along stretched on for some considerable length. They paused for a second to try and decide what they were going to do, and that was all that was needed for them to be spotted. Swooping in out of the darkness were several small gargoylish beasts, garishly green and purple in colour and covered in long, thin spines. As they swooped in each of them fired a spine from their back, arching up and forward as they did so, the spines burst from their skin and flew toward the party, bursting into flame as they scorched through the air. Several of the darts hit home on the party who were scrambling to draw their weapons to meet the incoming fiends. The darts were not overly painful, more of an annoyance actually, but over time they could add up to cause some serious wounds. As the little devils landed and joined the party in melee a long deep groaning sound was heard from the side, and wading into their light was a nightmare creature. Standing around 8 feet tall it was as thin as a skeleton, it's boney body covered in thick, pale stretched skin giving it the appearance of a corpse. It was largely humanoid but for the long segmented tail sprouting from it's back, ending in a sharp stinger dripping with poison like that of a scorpion.
Scorpion tailed skeletal monster
Bradmor cast his spell, and, laying hands on Unagi, let the magic flow through into him. The gladiator opened his eyes wide for a moment, then a huge smile spread over his face as he burst into action, the magic of Bradmor's spell giving him unnatural speed. Jean's magic missiles flew across the battle and struck the boney beast, but the high natural magic resistance of the creature foiled her spell, the missiles dissipating harmlessly against it's skin. Silvara and Shadow Flame continued to fight their spiney foes as Bradmor began intoning the words to another spell.
Jean felt more than heard the arrival of new foes to the battle; she turned to see three man sized humanoid creatures rush her from behind. They were mostly human in appearance but for their wide square jaws filled with misshapen teeth and the long metallic beards that grew from their chins. They wore only old filthy leather pants and wielded long halberds of various wicked designs. Silvara wore several of the flaming spikes as she crushed the skull of one of the devils under her mace and turned to provide aid to Jean against her foes. Shadow Flame also managed to fell one of the spiney creatures, but he was a little overwhelmed and had no way to go to Jean's aid. Bradmor finished his spell as Unagi sliced into his skeletal foe with preternatural speed and precision, and felt the swell of strength as Bradmor's magic took effect. He felt it and knew that he was now a brutal machine of carnage, the smile on his face threatening to split his head in half as he pressed the attack against the beast. It was not without it's own skills and Unagi felt the rush of poison flow into his body as the creatures scorpion tail burst through a gap in his armour. Unagi clenched his jaw - he was not going to let the power he felt surging through his veins be ended by a lucky strike. He pushed past the pain, and overcame the poison, gritting his teeth as his blade dug into the creature.
Bradmor went to Shadow Flames aid, attacking the spiney creatures from behind effectively and killing one of them with his first blow. Shadow Flame continued to fight furiously, his twin blades singing through the air, but he was beginning to show the effects of his wounds - many of the small spines were dug into his body, and he showed wounds from where the creatures had slashed at him with their claws. He was holding his own very nicely, as there were two corpses at his feet.
Silvara reached Jean and provided her some cover as the mage abandoned her spells in favour of using the staff of knowledge. Between them the two ladies began fighting a retreating battle, drawing the bearded fiends towards the main area of the fight. They were tough foes, their skin hard and calloused which provided excellent protection against the bludgeoning style weapons they both employed.
The fight continued on with neither side giving any quarter; several more of the spiney devils flew in for a one to one replacement for their fallen brothers, of whom there were now several with both Bradmor and Shadow Flame having sent them to the dead-book, but it had taken a toll on them and both showed several bad wounds. Unagi continued to rage on against his boney foe who now stood before them bleeding from numerous cuts, but the gladiator was not quick enough to stop the creatures tail piercing him a third time, and it was enough to send the big man crashing to the ground. Bradmor yelled in surprise as Unagi fell unconscious; he was counting on Unagi as the strongest fighter to get them out of this situation which is why he expended his spells on him, and seeing the big man drop to the ground sent him into a panic. He broke away from his opponents, exposing himself to attacks in the process, and ran across to Unagi, pulling a potion from his pack as he ran. He reached Unagi and poured the potion down his throat. The big man stirred and looked around, his adrenaline kicking in as he remembered where he was. Bradmor stood and drew the attacks of the boney fiend as Unagi got to his feet with a nod of thanks to the assassin.
Silvara and Jean were becoming overwhelmed with the fierceness of the attacks from their bearded foes, and were on the defensive. They were beginning to think that the best bet by far at this stage was to try and outrun their foes for it seemed they had little chance against them if they stayed and fought. As Silvara turned to yell for a retreat to the party a foul smell came to her, a smell she was familiar with. Striding into the fight was a Mezzoloth, appearing black in the diminished light; it swung a long poled axe at one of the bearded fiends attacking Jean, gouging a deep wound in it's back. The fiend screamed in agony, and it's friends paused in their attack to turn and see what had happened. Clearly recognising the Mezzoloth as the greater threat, the bearded fiends broke off their melee with the ladies and turned to face the Yugoloth. Not stopping to question this turn of events, Jean and Silvara turned back to their comrades to provide what help they could. Two more Mezzoloths charged into the battle effectively putting the entire party out of the way as their foes turned to fight this newer threat, the hatred between these creatures far greater than their concern for a few mortals who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The party didn't stop to argue, and the relief on the face of Bradmor as they fled from the site of the battle was almost comical, as they continued along following the wall.
The wall came to a stop several hundred feet further down, and it ran to the left where it met up with a rear wall of the strange building. The party stood for a moment, unsure of where to go next; the spot lights of several large battles, scattered about this enormous cavern giving them some hint where not to go, but they did not prove useful in helping them decide where they should be going. Their question was answered not a minute later as about four or five hundred feet away, in the direction they had been travelling, a huge section of wall collapsed. It was clearly a section of the wall that belonged to the cavern they were in as wan grey light flowed in from the hole. It was too bright to see the landscape beyond, and besides, another of the huge minotaur like creatures blocked most of the view as it stood there, kicking the last remnants of the wall where it met the floor out of the way. The scene paralleled that of the throne room they had just escaped from; as soon as the way became clear, fiends of all descriptions started pouring in through the wall - armoured bull-centaurs, gargoylish nightmares, goat-headed fiends, vulture-like demons, and a Hezrou the party could recognise even from this distance. As they breached the wall they were met by other fiends, some of them Yugoloths, some of them other kinds of beasts, but the result was the same - as soon as they met, they fought, without regard for their safety, the hatred between these creatures overwhelmed any sense of self preservation as they threw themselves into the carnage with abandon.
Figuring they had about 2 minutes before the onrushing fiends were upon them, Shadow Flame produced the teleport scroll he had hidden down his pants so many days ago and beckoned them all to gather around.
"Make sure there is an unbroken chain between us, you all need to be touching me or touching someone who is touching me, or whatever. I'm going to teleport us back to Berdusk before we all die in this forsaken place."
None of them gave even a pause or thought to arguing with him, they all wanted out of there as much as he did. They gathered around as he unfurled the scroll and began to intone the words that would teleport them all to safety, none of them stopping to wonder why they would want to help get Bradmor out of this grey hell. Shadow Flame read for several seconds, his voice rising as he spoke the arcane words of the scroll. They all braced themselves as his reading reached a crescendo and he spoke the final word. Then nothing happened. They were still standing in the enormous cavern surrounded by the shrieking violence of a thousand fiends.
"What the fuck!" cried Shadow Flame in ultimate frustration. He knew he had read the scroll correctly and he had maintained control over the arcane power, nothing had gone wrong in the reading - the spell had simply failed as if it had never even been invoked. The disappointment of the rest of them was clear on their faces but none of them even thought of blaming Shadow Flame, they knew he would have told them if the scroll failed because it contained too much power for him to control, and that was definitely not the case on this occasion. After a moment of anger had passed, they realised they had to act now or be swallowed by the onrushing mass of insanity. "The breach in the outer wall there," said Shadow Flame, pointing to the hole they had just seen created, "we go out of here the same way we got out of that throne room."
There was no arguing because there was no alternative - the longer they stayed in this pace the more likely it would be that they would be killed, slowly worn down as they ran from fight to fight. They started off running towards the breach, travelling well wide of the hoard of fiends that fought in an ebbing and flowing tide of violence only tens of feet from them. Again they were ignored, insignificant specks in a world filled to overflowing with ancient hatred and lust for death. They reached the wall, and, finding plenty of room to run past the fiends locked in battle at the breach, ran out to find themselves under open skies. They stood on the side of a gently sloping mountain, a vast plain spread below them of grey soil and wasted vegetation. The sky was filled with drab light and there was no sign of any sun in that impassive expanse. Looking about there were fevered battles raging in pockets ranging from twenty or thirty fiends to several hundreds of them on the planes below, with small groups of skirmishers arrayed about the mountain side.
Shadow Flame knew their only chance of getting out of this place was via a portal of some kind, so he focused his mind upon the ring he wore, the gift from Shemeska to Fallon, and looked about for anything that might be a portal. He was rewarded quickly - about five hundred feet up the mountain, over the breach they had just exited from sat what appeared to be a long silver coin spinning on it's edge. He knew somehow that this was indeed a portal, and even though he had no way of knowing where it went, the decision was easy for by this point he did not care.
"Up there," Shadow Flame said to them all, pointing towards to portal, "about five hundred feet away." They all looked, and if they squinted slightly they could make out what appeared to be a heat haze being exhaled from the mountain side. Jean also saw the coin, slowing spinning in place, and lead the run up the mountain without so much as waiting for party agreement - who was going to argue? They ran up the mountain side, each of them running past fiends, close enough for them to take a swing at them as they passed, but they did not stop. Several times smaller creatures ran toward them with the clear intention of fighting, but none of the party stopped, they continued running, exposing themselves to opportunistic attacks from those little demons, who began swarming behind them, running after them with voices shrieking in delight at the chase. It took 2 or 3 minutes for them to reach the portal on the unsteady ground of the mountain side, Shadow Flame and Jean stopping them from running past it, as the others saw it only as a shimmering haze. They stood for a moment in front of it, unsure of what to do next when Shadow Flame exclaimed, "oh shit, we don't know the portal key!"
The unified groaning of the rest of them as they realised he was right would have been funny in any other situation. The sound of their pursuers broke their momentary self pity, and as one they turned to face the onrushing devils.
"Hold them off," said Unagi, "I'll only need a second." Bradmor started to argue, but Unagi shot him a withering look and the assassin joined the others as they drew weapons and met the onrushing beasts. Several flaming spines whistled through the air as the creatures fell upon the party, almost overwhelming in their numbers, they scrambled over the tops of each other in their eagerness to taste mortal flesh, and this helped the party fight, as each of them had little trouble in slicing their foes open or crushing them under a mace or staff.
Unagi stood for a second and thought about his situation, about the previous few days, letting the anger he felt at his lot wash over him, his memory loss, the gem, this place - now it was time to unleash that anger, to open this portal and get his friends and himself out of this morbid hell. As the anger swept through Unagi the portal took on a reddish hue, guided by his rage, but any strong emotion would have done the trick - the Wastes fed on emotion, and the key to it's gates was the surrender of emotion to that eternal hunger. Red light exploded from the portal, bathing the mountain side in a tide of colour so out of place the fiends before the party shied away at its force of presence. It was the opening the party needed, and at Unagi's insistence they dove through the portal.
It was like being enveloped in tar; the thick viscous liquid washed over them, into them, threatening to burst through their mouths into their throats. It was pitch black in that in-between, that void between realities, and they struggled against the amorphous waves of sludge as they were slung around, caught in that tide of mud.
The party ignored them for the moment as Shadow Flame looked to Bradmor and thought there was a slightly more pressing issue. "So Bradmor, now we have a chance to catch our breaths. What in the hells were you doing at that clearing?"
Bradmor took a step back, his hand reflexively moving toward his blade, "there is still the matter of the bounty on your head, I do not renege on a contract."
"So you were planning on, what? Attacking us? By yourself?" demanded Shadow Flame.
"I wise hunter gets to know his prey," began Bradmor, "and after the last time we met I felt it would be prudent to learn more about you."
"I think maybe you better back off, I'm finding it difficult to think of a reason not to kill you." Jean and Silvara both stood and watched, a little uncertain of how to proceed. Bradmor had proven to be quite helpful during their recent travails, but no doubt that was fuelled by self preservation rather than concern for them. Not knowing who Bradmor was or the history between them and the party Unagi just watched on, ready to help his friends if need be.
"Seems to me I'm now in much the same situation as yourselves," Bradmor started to explain, "a stranger in a strange land yes? Maybe we can help each other?"
"Buncha clueless berks standing 'round with their bright colours," another voice came to them from the street, "we should just get these sods lost, a birdcage'd be too good for 'em." Unagi looked over towards the voice and noticed that they had begun to attract quite a crowd. He became slightly uneasy, but didn't get in between Shadow Flame and Bradmor.
"Maybe you can get the fuck away from us," Shadow Flame said coldly, "it's not like we're friends, I'm sure you haven't forgot that whole 'trying to kill us' phase we went through? You have no friends here," he finished, his hand falling to his own blade.
Bradmor saw that Shadow Flame was not going to have a change of heart, and he knew he stood no chance against the four of them on his own, so he simply said, "if that's the way it has to be, then fine." A second later he was replaced by a light black mist that slowly floated to the ground. Bradmor was gone. As they turned to leave a large lump of foul smelling sod hit Jean on the shoulder. She looked up at the filthy man who had thrown it at her, a triumphant smile on his mouth full of crooked teeth. Another lump of mud was hurled toward them, but it missed and landed in the gooey oil with a wet sound.
"Get those colours off ya berks!" called another voice from what was now a quite respectable crowd of dirty folk, tieflings and humans, half elves and other stranger creatures. It was beginning to become quite a rabble and it was starting to turn ugly. Several more lumps of sod flew towards the party, at least one of them hitting Jean full on in the chest, and another splattering across Silvara's cloak. As Jean narrowly dodged another greasy lump of filth the crowd parted and a group of four heavily armoured and well armed men walked through telling the crowd to shut up and pushing them out of the way. Seeing where this was all headed Shadow Flame acted quickly and removed his overcoat and handed it to Jean. She slipped it on quickly, and the full length black leather coat seemed to satisfy the approaching guards. As Silvara removed her cloak, revealing the white travelling clothes over her armour that were now grey and brown with the dust and dirt of the last couple of hours, the guards turned completely away and began roughly dispersing the crowd, most likely figuring that clearing a bunch of raggedy peasants and workers would be an easier job than a small group of well armed and capable adventurers.
As the crowd strolled off, clearly disappointed that they didn't get to see a fight, Unagi turned to the party and smiled and said, "welcome to Hopeless friends."