A quick glance about the gate reveals a set of footprints leading off towards the great worm and the silent warrior missing. Bobus thought to call out to the warrior but recalled that he knew not the warrior’s name. Perhaps it would be fitting to supply the warrior with a name and thus make it possible to call out he thought. While Bobus was deciding on a suitably heroic name for the warrior, Thrumps and Bunder weighed out the benefits of pursuing the silent warrior versus the benefits of not succumbing to dehydration. They would try their luck in the next chamber.
Since the gate was still half buried in the red sand, a plan was hatched to avoid spilling into the tunnel with the sand when the gate opened. Bobus would dangle Thrumps over the edge on one side and Bunder would reach over the edge on the other side and each would place their gatekey in the indentation. The gatekeys clicked into their holes and popped back out as they always do. As the gate flowed upward the sand below began to pour into the tunnel. In this moment Thrumps sneezed slipping from Bobus’s grasp and fell headfirst into the tunnel. The gnome righted himself in midair and landed squarely on his feet a short distance in the mouth of the tunnel. He turned and took a bow. The others soon joined him in the tunnel.
The gate tunnel was dark, and so they traveled by torchlight over it’s shimmering stone. Near the end of the tunnel they saw a form in the shadows ahead of them. The stench of death filled their noses and the light revealed the form to be the body of a dwarf some time deceased. His leather armor was riddled with arrows and he had many small wounds. His face held an expression of anguish. In his right hand he held a warhammer of the most exquisite quality and around his neck, a necklace with two gatekeys fused together with a small chain and a large bronze key of the more ordinary variety. Bunder lifted up the hammer and felt it’s weight. He then knelt down beside the dwarf, muttered something quietly, and then stood up. The shaft of the warhammer was intricately carved with something written in Davek, the script of the dwarven language. Thrumps thought it advantageous to bring the necklace along as well and so did.
Slightly unsettled by the corpse they cautiously walked to the end of the tunnel and waited for the door to open. As the gate opened the gnome, minotaur, and elf were enveloped by cool moist air. They could smell the crisp morning dew in the air. Looking out they saw a dark green coniferous forest that stretched high above them and all around them. It was still morning and a bright yellow orb hung in a blue sky above. The sounds of the forest filled their ears, songs of bird and insect alike. Happy to be out of the desert Bobus leapt down and kissed the forest floor. Bunder immediately set off to gather sustenance and the others followed quickly behind him. With a bounty of berries and edible mushrooms they returned to the gate and ate with sighs of relief. As they were finishing their meal, Bunder spotted a figure emerging from the tree line. A man of pale complexion and jet black hair, he wore a white cloak over strangely patterned chainmail. In his right hand he held a small wooden branch, which appeared to have come from a nearby tree. “Bunder?” the man spoke it as if he had never thought he would again. To which Bunder simply replied, “Aye.”
The man introduced himself to the others as Pieter of Javi, a mercenary with a unique talent. As Pieter began explaining how he and Bunder knew each other Bobus lost interest and proclaimed that he would leap to the top of the nearest tree in “as little as a single bound and in no more than three distinct jumps.” A substantial running start and two jumps later, the elf clutched the top of a gigantic pine. From this vantage point he spotted the tops of buildings a short distance off. In his excitement Bobus leapt off the great tree hoping to focus his will and drift down gently like a leaf. His excitement overcame his will about halfway down and he landed with a thud. Still flat on his back he informed the others of his discovery and recommended a course of action. Pieter asked to come along and Bunder nodded approvingly. Trusting the old warrior the gnome and the elf agreed to have him along.
They travelled through the forest in the direction of the buildings and soon came upon a clearing. At the edge of the clearing there were a great number of trees that had all toppled in the same direction. Across the wide gap of fallen trees lay a small number of buildings and a large keep of brilliant white stone protected by an imposing mossy stone wall. Directly in front of them was what looked to be an incomplete temple. It was a temple to Corellon, the guardian of civilization, but it appeared to only be the vestibule of a larger temple. Where the temple ended the trees immediately began, as if it had fallen from the sky in it’s incomplete form. They searched the houses and market that surrounded the wall and found no one alive or dead, until they walked through the gatehouse and into the courtyard and discovered thirty or so bodies in states of decomposition ranging from bloated corpses is full plate with fatal arrow wounds to mere piles of bone and rags. The courtyard was strewn with large wooden barricades, and it gave them pause as they readied their weapons and slowly walked into the courtyard. Thrumps projected the cry of bird into the courtyard. It was followed by silence.
Halfway through the courtyard, far off on the wall, the unmistakable sound of an arrow being freed from it’s digital captivity drew the attention of the gnome toward the mossy wall surrounding the keep. An instant later another shot rang out, followed by another, and then another and another, until the blue sky was filled with black lines seeking to pierce the hide of an incautious warrior. Before there was time to question the source of the assault the heroes took cover behind the barricades and soon witnessed several skeletons pull themselves off of the barricades and lunge toward them swords in hand.
The human, minotaur, elf, and gnome leapt at their foes. Pushing through the courtyard they deflected arrows and pummeled skeletons into fine powder. More and more skeletons rose from amongst the deceased and joined the fray pushing the four against the massive wooden doors of the keep. The archers had them pinned down so getting through the door was decided to be the only viable means of escape. The four pushed the door with all their might and it slowly gave. Three heave hoes and they had cracked the door enough to slip inside and slip inside they did, hastily heaving the door shut behind them. Bunder then lit his torch and the white stone room flickered into existence. The entryway to the keep was filled with furniture that had been used to block the doors, doors on both sides of the entryway led to storage rooms for weapons and armor, and at the end of the passage a portcullis gleamed in the torchlight. Using the key from the dwarf’s necklace, they unlocked the large padlock restraining the portcullis, lifted it and stepped into the room on the other side.
As the light filled the space they found themselves in a brilliant white stone throne room. A meticulously polished white stone throne sat atop a raised section of the floor in the center of the room and could only be accessed from a long staircase. Near the bottom of the stairs they discovered another corpse, this one a human knight. It looked as if something had taken a large bite out of his midsection. A leather bound book lay face down in the pool of blood next to the man. Always the eager reader Bobus snapped up the volume and found most of it’s pages too soaked in blood to read. Serendipitously the final page of entries was only slight damp and still completely legible.
The first entry was in black ink. The date was from a calender unknown to the four.
Captain’s Log, 10th day of Shiima, 817th year of the Seventh Age
We’ve left them behind. Our brothers and sisters, our wives and our children are going to freeze to death in that icey chamber. We could not save them but we succeeded in bringing the enemy with us. No one knows why we transmitted a second time or whether the rest of the city was left behind or transmitted somewhere else entirely. I’d ask the wizard but I’m still cleaning pieces of him out of my beard. The forest outside the walls is a welcome sight. Surviving the siege is our first priority. GP
The second entry was a in rusty brown ink and written in a hastier script.
Captain’s Log, 15th day of Shiima, 817th year of the Seventh Age
All hope is lost. The regent of Whitestone Keep is dead. Split in twain before my very eyes by something out of a nightmare. Her family has surely perished as well. The siege and our attempt at escape have proved fatal. My right hand Grum and his faithful servant Ed are all that is left of our forces. There was another in our ranks, a foot soldier, Fisk, but he has abandoned his post and stolen the only gatekeys we had.
It is very likely that all life within the ivory walls of Whitestone has been snuffed out. I dare not think about the fate of those we left behind in that icy hell. Perhaps our ends would have come with less sorrow had we faced the undead menace head on. However, there is no use in second guessing. Besides all parties involved in the decision have met grisly ends. I will never forget that the look on that foolish wizard’s face, though I doubt I have much time left to forget it. GP
Written in a large script, same rusty brown, the strokes used to write the final entry were wild and desperate.
I am certain the source of the terrors within the keep is the artifact but it is too far beyond our reach now. I do not know the force of our enemy nor what manner of wizardry has brought them here. There is still part of me that wants to believe that Fisk will return with aid, but I know it is folly. It seems the only choice we have left to make is how to die.
-Guidis Putnim, Captain of the Regent’s Shadow
Pieter noted the length of time between the entries. “Five days.” Cautiously they continued there search of the keep. They started with the staircase leading down. The cellar offered no explanations as to the condition of the castle and the surrounding buildings. Returning upstairs they heard something moving inside the throne room. Peaking through a crack in the door Bobus’s elven eyes spotted at least three small creatures running about the throne room. Signaling his friends the elf tiptoed across the passage towards the other staircase. Bunder readied himself. “Of course the elf has no trouble getting across quietly,” he muttered to himself. Bunder managed to step three paces before slipping on a pool of blood and loudly grasping the door to steady himself. A shriek bounced off the walls of the throne room. In the time it took the four to relight their torches and ready there weapons, three hideous beasts were upon them.
They resembled dogs but nearly hairless and with a hideous leathery complexion. Their strangely shaped skulls consisted mostly of a freakish gaping mouth that opened laterally revealing several rows of jagged grotesque teeth ranging from yellow to black in color. Their two glowing red eyes revealed little intelligence, only violence. “Demonic scavengers!” Bunder Flaysh shouted to his companions as they braced to defend themselves. How the demons got inside would have to be answered later as one of the beasts clawed at Bobus in a frenzy. The assault knocked him off balance, avoiding serious injury but leaving an opening for another of the monstrosities to strike. From the staircase Pieter unleashed a radiant volley of divine might from the tree branch in his right hand, melting the advancing foe into a puddle of black bubbling viscera and bones. “Worked that time!” he shouted admiring the branch.
It was then that the great minotaur thrust himself between the demonic pests and his allies. The two remaining beasts attached themselves with teeth to his hide armor but could not penetrate it. With a great swing of his newly acquired hammer, Bunder neatly crushed one of the beasts splattering it’s black blood onto his allies. In that moment a fourth creature burst through the nearby doorway and joined the other demon in a frenzied leap towards Bobus. In response Thrumps let out a blast of thunder from his drum, spraying the black blood that coated the drum onto his face and knocking the beasts from the air. The elf then wound up and unleashed a duet of blows upon the pair of demons, silencing one and severely wounding the other. A final blast of divine power ended the conflict, and silence fell upon the throne room once again.
Without warning the floor began to vibrate. The vibration ceased but returned shortly after with doubled force. The floor, the walls, the entire keep was pulsing with greater and greater amplitude. A high pitched sustained tone seemed to be emanating from far above them in the keep. As the pulses became more violent the tone became louder and lower in pitch, until it joined the pulsing as an enormous rumbling. Suddenly there was silence and an overwhelming sulfur-like stench filled their noses. A final aftershock and a loud cracking left them in silence again. They rushed upstairs and spotting arrow slits in the walls took a look outside. Looking out they saw red sun, in a yellow sky. There was a valley below, and in the valley a city, a city that stretched into the horizon with no end in sight in any direction. Numerous golden domes flickered across the cityscape. Though only moments after their arrival. A small force appeared to be forming outside the city walls, soon they were heading towards the keep.
Discussing their options, the four decided that they would take their chances with the army. The demons and the transporting keep, they agreed, were exceedingly dangerous. Bobus also noted that the army’s banners featured the insignia of Bahamut, “It isn’t some blood thirsty legion of Bane. They are more likely some uptight knights with a complex bureaucratic government or a similarly complex inflexible code of ethics with just intentions that doesn’t always get just results.” He cited with great detail several instances in Tales of Admazemastonishment to himself, the others having left already.
As they stepped through the wooden doors again they found the keep on the side of a large hill, the wall and the other buildings had not joined them on their journey. A small advance force of fifteen black cloaked riders was nearly upon them. As they approached it became clear they were dragonborn of various colors. They carried no weapons, wore no shoes, and rode with no saddles. A rider in full plate rode not far behind. The rider’s armor was bright white, a great sword was strapped to his back. The knight joined the semicircle the dragonborn were forming in front of the heroes. A red-skinned dragonborn dismounted and began speaking draconian to the four. “Zra tahk nutksa elowiim!” he shouted. Thrumps began to explain about the demons and the keep, and the forest, the desert, the and silent warrior, and the halflings, and so on, but the dragonborn interrupted with more draconian. “He won’t speak in common.” the voice was that of the knight. He removed his helmet, revealing a bald head with a human face. “I am Durha of Firepeak, Captain of the Suadrah and these fellows here are Scales of Bahamut who vow to only speak with a dragon’s tongue. Since it is clear you don’t understand my friend Brother Shiim here, allow me to explain. The scales are here for the elowiim,” while saying this he gestured toward Bobus, “and the rest of you are to come with me. You are all to be guests of the Drah. One of the highest honors possible, and one that you can not refuse. The Drah will have you as guests for as long as they will it and I am sure they would like to know more about you and your tower. When your mounts arrive we will ride for Drahk Maz’ra. Tonight you dine in the Coiled Spires of Drahk Maz’ra with the three-numbered dragon kings.” his tone suddenly shifted from that of regal proclamation to impersonal sarcasm, “You’ll basically be prisoners but you’ll be the envy of the whole city. The honor of dining with the Drah is reserved for only a select few.” While Durha was explaining, the cloaked riders dismounted and separated Bobus from the group. Bobus believed they were interested in seeing his ki techniques and he began explaining the snap strike in great detail to the cloaked riders. When the main force arrived, the four were given mounts, horses for the minotaur, human, and elf, and a dire goat for the gnome. Before long they had set off for the city. Bobus rode with the Scales of Bahamut all the while explaining his techniques, while Durha rode beside the remaining three with the main force.
“What is this elowiim?” Thrumps asked.
“Let me see…” said Durha, “in common is would be… ah yes, elf. I’ve been around these dragons for so long, let me tell you. All their throaty talk starts to creep into your brain if you hear it for long enough. Besides it’s not like I need to say elf very often, there are no elven populations within a hundred chambers. I know of no elves within Drahk Maz’ra.”
“What will happen to the elf? Is he to be treated as a guest as well?” Bunder was concerned for Bobus’s safety.
“I can offer you no comfort for I do not know what the Drah intend to do with your companion. At the very least he will be kept under lock and key and interrogated by the Drah. How they will extract answers from him and what questions they intend to ask I do not know.” Durha then told the three of the prophecy. Over two millennia ago when the Drah formed a blood pact to share power over this chamber, they feasted in celebration for three days straight. When they finally rested as the light faded on the third day, they shared a dream.
An elf warrior emerges from a castle of brilliant white stone.
A city of vast wealth burns, the yellow sky turns deep red, and The Coiled Spires of the ancient tomb turn into dust.
The three pondered the prophecy as they rode towards the wall. The light began to fade as the power of shadow grew. Night fell as they reached the city. In the night sky the red orb that had lit the sky now gave off only a faint luminescence and the four crossed through the massive gates of the city into the unknown.