An Old Enemy and a New Ally

My son, you have done well and are blessed. Speak truth and tell of your accounting.

Blessed Mother, you honor me and I humble myself to your glory. I shall tell the truth that I know and subject myself to your mercy for any error I speak.

It was the morning after and we had had made our decision to infiltrate Shukalgau; or so I thought. There were still some who had doubts.

I had prayed and the blessed mother gifted us with her bounty of food and drink. I had hoped that breakfast would bind us together to foster a sense of camaraderie and trust that we would need to succeed in our current endeavor. But my heart sank when Arien whispered into my ear: “I need to speak with you in private. I don’t trust Samir.” I knew then was not the time to cultivate discontent or harbor distrust among ourselves. I believed any such misgivings should be aired out publicly and be open for discussion. I expressed that thought in not so many words. But Arien ignored my rebuff and, instead, spoke with Nolofinwe in private.

What words they spoke, I do not know, but it appeared Nolo convinced Arien to speak freely and honestly about her concerns with the rest of us. Nolo is a good elf and perhaps, of softer tongue than me.

Arien confessed that she had been visited by the vampire, Morgath, not in physical form, but through the channels of mind and spirit. She received this ‘waking dream,’ as she described it, as she awoke that morning. The vampire Morgath asked about her and her lover, Roman Khan, and when he should expect them to arrive in Massar. The vampire said he had a way to rid her of Vermelda once and for all.

This waking dream disturbed me on many accounts. It confused Arien’s convictions and brought doubt to our current objective. She began to wonder whether we should listen to the message and instead turn around and go to Massar. Flint, of course, rejected the idea. ‘Massar is a hell of a place. I ain’t going there,’ he huffed.

The message itself was not what disturbed me. What made me pause in concern were three points: how did the message come; from whom did it come; and why did it come now?

A vampire? It was then Arien and Nolo relayed their relations with the vampire Morgath; and in their telling I began to wonder if this vampire had bitten Arien or placed a spell on her. If it had been a spell, I believed Flint or Nolo would have noticed that already. So my suspicion fell on the darker notion – she had been bitten and was slowly turning into a vampire’s thrall. The idea truly distressed my heart. Not only had I been sent on a holy quest to rescue Arien out of the maleficent darkness of Xymor and contend with the continual pursuit of a half-crazed, but deadly witch, who I had learned how to keep at bay for the time being, but now I had to be concerned about a vampire that may have enraptured my sanctified ward. It always feels the darkest before the dawn.

I expressed my thoughts, but Arien was adamant that the vampire Morgath had not touched her. I noticed Flint eyeing Arien’s neck. I was about to inform the dwarf that vampires rarely practiced contrived behaviors of biting necks as they typically bite their thralls in places the public cannot usually see. But I thought better of it. Knowing Flint, he may have wanted to strip Arien and inspect her whole body.

Arien refused to believe she was influenced by the vampire Morgath. I let it go, for the time being, and brought up the last point: why now? Why did Arien receive the message right before we were about to enter Shukalgau? It was too coincidental. Of course there was no immediate answer. We discussed and explored the issue more and finally, Arien was convinced to ignore the message and continue our quest to sneak into Shukalgau and find the portal out of Xymor.

During our conversation, Flint had wandered off to scout our path without telling any of us. When I had noticed his absence, it was then we heard the booming voice: “Samir! Give yourself up and your companions will be allowed to leave unharmed.”

While Samir, Arien, and Nolo rushed out of our safe quarters through the east passage, Artemis and I hurried out the north. I heard Flint roar in the distance: “And you call yourself a dwarf!”

I turned a corner and saw a tall, menacing-looking tiefling in arms against a duergar. Across the way, I saw Flint and Samir fighting a couple more duergar. I couldn’t see Arien or Nolo.

I ran to fight alongside the stranger and before I knew it, the fight was over. The tiefling and I stood in silence, measuring each other and wondering who would make the first move, be it words or blades. Samir, Arien, and Nolo had quickly arrived and Samir introduced us to his tiefling friend, Truneseeg.

The tiefling told us his story of how Vermelda had come to Shukalgau; of how she informed the duergar of our location; and of how Truenseeg was assigned to investigate the passage and bring Samir back. Truenseeg did not say it at the time, but I wondered if Vermelda had told them of our intentions. The tiefling said he knew nothing about the secret passage. The hunting party was surprised of its discovery.

Samir vouched for Truneseeg. It was apparent to the rest of us that the two of them were allies, if not friends. Samir explained our situation and Truneseeg offered to help, if it offered a way out of Xymor.

I then noticed Flint was gone again. And again, we heard a booming cry, but this one was Flint. We hurried through the caverns toward his voice and found him standing in a narrow passageway, battle ready.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked.

‘Giant flaming lizards,’ Flint responded. Several large snake-like beasts with scales the color of fire came at the dwarf. Arien rushed to his back and touched him, bestowing a spell of speed upon the sorcerer-warrior. He released a spell on himself and shape-shifted into a large bear, but it was like no bear I had ever seen before. It had quills on its back like a porcupine. The beast roared and savaged the lizard creatures. It seemed we were in for yet more obstacles along our path to Shukalgau.

Interrogation Transcript of Bopko

Interrogator: Bopko, you are here to give testimony of your eye witness account on the day the Scourges of Xymor came to your escaped Derro settlement.

Bopko: 4, 5, 6, 7! I was there! I saw it all because I was there!

Interrogator: Then give us your testimony. But be aware that if you lie, your execution will be painful.

Bopko: No, no. I was there. I was. I saw it all. I won’t lie. 4, 5, 6, 7. I saw the Scourges of Xymor. I first saw them kill the great and powerful red dragon and slay the mistress of flame.

Interrogator: Yes, we are aware of what happened before. But what happened the next day?

Bopko: 4, 5, 6, 7. We ran and hid. We ran and returned. We ran and made wall for kingdom. If they came, they would not find magic wall we built.

Interrogator: Magic wall?

Bopko: Magic wall. Poopycock had pet – Peepee, a gigantic spider. Peepee was Poopycock’s pet. Peepee guarded wall. But we thought the fire lizards would get them. We did! We did!

Interrogator: But if these murderers killed a red dragon, what chance did salamanders have?

Bopko: 4, 5, 6, 7. Fire lizards are more powerful than dragons. Dragon weak. Fire lizards mate. Dragon no mate.

Interrogator: Whatever. Now, before we continue, you must stop repeating those numbers. If you say those numbers again, I will personally have you flayed and keep you alive for a week. Understand? Good. Now, continue.

Bopko: Killers killed fire lizards. The big bear ate them all.

Interrogator: Big bear?

Bopko: There was a big bear. He ate all the fire lizards and their eggs. I got mad. Fire lizard eggs are tasty and big bear didn’t care to share. Sharing is caring and big bear not a care bear.

Interrogator: So this bear savaged a group of salamanders and ate their eggs. Scribe, please note that the Scourges of Xymor have a pet bear. So, Bopko, what happened after they killed the salamanders?

Bopko: They found wall. They destroyed wall.

Interrogator: But you said it was magic.

Bopko: It was. Magic made rocks fall on intruders; bury them and kill them.

Interrogator: So how did they destroy it?

Bopko: Magic stick. Dark Lady Devil Tongue Witch used magic stick and destroyed wall with sorcery missiles.

Interrogator: I see. Dark Lady? Scribe, please annotate all references of Dark Lady as Arien-gil Bihari. Continue.

Bopko: Poopycock’s gigantic spider held them at bay. Peepee scared them. But they did not want to fight. Dark Lady Devil Tongue Witch says they want to talk. She says they killed great red dragon for us. She says they want to serve us. She says they want to help us conquer Shukalgau. But they had to get permission from Baby Graki Nanny.

Interrogator: This Baby Graki Nanny was your king?

Bopko: Not king, but nanny – Baby Graki Nanny.

Interrogator: Okay, fine. Nanny. Scribe, please note the leadership role of Baby Graki Nanny. So, this Baby Graki Nanny believed them and allowed them entrance?

Bopko: No. Baby Graki Nanny had to do test first.

Interrogator: Test?

Bopko: Test Scourges of Xymor; test if they were worthy. They were not worthy. They murdered…

Interrogator: Bopko, you’re getting ahead of yourself. Tell us what happened before the murders.

Bopko: Baby Graki Nanny let them in. Maybe Baby Graki Nanny was not worthy. But he let them in. But big bear couldn’t fit in. Big Bear, not a care bear, had a big butt. He couldn’t fit.

Interrogator: What happened to this big bear?

Bopko: Big Bear with big butt who ate all the fire lizard eggs and not care to share, turned back into little big man with big butt.

Interrogator: Wait. So that bear wasn’t a pet. It was a shape shifter. And by your description, it sounds like it was Flint Ironfist, the stone dwarf. Scribe, please note that Flint can polymorph. And please make sure General Commander Ragnor Cane knows of this. He would be very interested in learning that Flint Ironfist is now able to polymorph. Anyway, continue.

Bopko: Who is General Commander Ragnor Pain?

Interrogator: Ragnor Cane. And that is not your concern. Now, as you were saying, Flint changed back into his dwarf form…

Bopko: Yes, Fisty of big bear, big butt turned into little big man with big butt. But Fisty was able to squeeze through wall even with big butt.

Interrogator: Yes, yes. What happened next? They approached Baby Graki Nanny, correct? Then what?

Bopko: Baby Graki test.

Interrogator: Baby Graki test? What was this test?

Bopko: Baby Graki Nanny carries Baby Graki and gives test.

Interrogator: Wait. Baby Graki was an actual baby?

Bopko: Baby Graki – big baby, but not have big butt like…

Interrogator: Enough with the big butt! Who or what was Baby Graki?

Bopko: Baby Graki Nanny carries Baby Graki in baby crib.

Interrogator: Crib? He carried a baby around in a baby crib?

Bopko: Yes. Doesn’t everyone? Baby Graki in tiny cage on a stick – crib.

Interrogator: Wait. What?

Bopko: Baby Graki lived in tiny cage – plays, eats, and poops in cage on stick. Baby Graki in crib.

Interrogator: But that’s not a… Okay, whatever. So they approach Baby Graki Nanny and Baby Graki who’s in a cage.

Bopko: Crib.

Interrogator: Crib. What happened next?

Bopko: Scourges of Xymor stood before Baby Graki Nany and he shakes Baby Graki.

Interrogator: He shakes the baby?

Bopko: Baby shake and Baby Graki does test.

Interrogator: How?

Bopko: Baby Graki reads head. Test.

Interrogator: But it’s just a baby. How can it read minds?

Bopko: Because Baby Graki is Baby Graki.

Interrogator: Okay, okay. The baby reads minds. What then?

Bopko: Dark Lady Devil Tongue Witch passes test. She had a devil’s tongue and cheats test.

Interrogator: What happened to the others when Baby Graki read their minds?

Bopko: The Great Evil One…

Interrogator: Who?

Bopko: You know – The Great Evil one.

Interrogator: Describe him.

Bopko: Human. Balding. Beard. Holy man.

Interrogator: Scribe, please note the identity of Craven.

Bopko: The Great Evil One tricks Baby Graki and passes test.

Interrogator: And the others?

Bopko: Fisty, the big butt, fails. I saw it. He was not worthy. No, no. He passed. Big butt passes. He saw the evil of The Great Evil One. He tried to kill The Great Evil One. He kills The Great Evil One’s bird.

Interrogator: So Baby Graki entered Flint’s mind and Flint attacked Craven?

Bopko: Yes, but The Great Evil One fools Fisty and Baby Graki can’t show truth anymore. Fisty goes back to what he was before and becomes slave to The Great Evil One.

Interrogator: And Nolofinwe Tasartir?

Bopko: Woody? He fails. He dumb. He drools.

Interrogator: Scribe, note that name. And Samir bin Mu’adh al-Talib?

Bopko: Who?

Interrogator: Samir, the shadow warrior.

Bopko: Oh, the forgettable one. I don’t remember. I forget if he passed or failed. He was forgettable.

Interrogator: So Baby Graki was manipulating their minds.

Bopko: Yes, yes. And the Dark Lady Devil Tongue Witch stakes a banner flag in the ground. A wave of magic everywhere. The Great Evil One…

Interrogator: Yes? And?

Bopko: The Great Evil One killed Baby Graki!!

Interrogator: So it was Craven?

Bopko: The Great Evil one cast spell – death spell. Baby Graki melts.

Interrogator: Melts? Like a fire spell?

Bopko: No. Shrivels. Crumbles. Folds. Blighted. The Great Evil One killed Baby Graki!

Interrogator: So Craven, The Great Evil One, murdered Baby Graki. It was Craven who started the fight?

Bopko: The Great Evil One murdered Baby Graki!

Interrogator: And then what happened?

Bopko: Long Horny kills Poopycock.

Interrogator: Wait. Long Horny?

Bopko: Yes, Long Horny – a demon man.

Interrogator: A demon man. We don’t have any records on a sixth member. Who was this demon man?

Bopko: Long Horny. He was with them when they came. He said we crazy. He said not to trust us. He was a demon man.

Interrogator: Scribe, make sure you note that. So this demon man, Long Horny, attacks. But Craven attacked first, correct?

Bopko: And Fisty attacked too. He jumped in front of Baby Graki Nanny. Fisty was fast as lightning. Fisty came a-fisting, fisting his flaming sword in his fist and fisted right into Baby Graki Nanny.

Interrogator: So the fight commenced. Continue.

Bopko: 4, 5, 6, 7…

Reporting to Cane

Secret recording within General Commander Ragnor Cane’s personal office.

Darkmore: General Commander, I have the report you requested.

Cane: Very good, Lieutenant. And the witnesses?

Darkmore: They have been executed per your order.

Cane: Good. Summarize your thoughts.

Darkmore: The Derro, Bopko, the one you instructed to be resurrected for interrogation, gave valuable information on our quarry.

Cane: Yes. I can see that. Interesting. Polymorph abilities. Magical banner. Summoning angels of death?

Darkmore: Correct, sir. Bopko testified that the derro surrounded them with no way out. But Craven apparently prayed and the ‘gates of Tuphet’ opened with a swarm of spectral demons coming forth, melting the vast majority of them. Physical evidence confirms this as our investigators found traces of divine necromancy on the bodies.

Cane: Divine necromancy – such a strange contradiction. Yet, it is most definitely Craven. This is certainly proof that he has somehow broken through the barrier. This does not bode well.

Darkmore: Yes, sir. Bopko said he tried to flee but Flint Ironfist was able to chase him down and kill him.

Cane: This derro, he said nothing of Arien’s jewel?

Darkmore: No, sir. Either she had it covered or they were too preoccupied in their own crazy hysteria to notice or care.

Cane: I see. Good. So, they killed all the derro.

Darkmore: Except for the one we found.

Cane: Yes, yes. The one with the dead baby. This derro said Craven brought the baby, Baby Graki, back from the dead?

Darkmore: Yes, sir. As the report states, after they killed everyone, including the spiders, they captured this single derro and questioned him.

Cane: The report says this derro’s name was Meme?

Darkmore: Yes, sir. They wanted information on the secret passage into Shukalgau. Supposedly, it was only Craven, Arien, and Nolofinwe that questioned him. Meme said Flint, Samir and the sixth member…

Cane: Whom we still have no information on?

Darkmore: I’m sorry, but that is correct. We’re trying to gather more information on that.

Cane: So, Flint and Samir weren’t interested in questioning this Meme?

Darkmore: They went to find the secret passage and it appeared Flint got himself lost in the tunnels.

Cane: Interesting.

Darkmore: Sir?

Cane: It’s nothing right now. Continue.

Darkmore: From Meme’s account, it would seem Arien tried to use sorcery to persuade it to give them the information they wanted.

Cane: Something with Baby Graki?

Darkmore: Yes, sir. I’m not sure what Arien was trying to do with the dead baby but it failed. The derro said it made her a ‘very maddy lady.’ But it was Craven…

Cane: He reanimated the baby?

Darkmore: Yes, sir. Baby Graki zombie.

Cane: But couldn’t the derro tell it was a zombie?

Darkmore: Craven reanimated the baby still in its cage but had a blanket over it. So no one could see the undead baby. They could only hear it. And apparently, Craven told a story about how no one was allowed to see the baby or it’d die, or worse, not being completely resurrected. Something about how the grace and mercy of his goddess must not be interrupted for 24 hours. The derro was confused in his telling of the story.

Cane: Whatever we say about these people, one thing is for certain – they are tenaciously malicious in their pursuits.

Darkmore: Craven’s trick convinced Meme to help them through the secret tunnels and to Shukalgau.

Cane: Flint or Samir were able to find their way through the tunnels on their own?

Darkmore: No. As I mentioned before, Flint got lost. Samir waited for the others before entering the tunnels but Flint went ahead on his own.

Cane: That sounds like Flint.

Darkmore: Yes, sir. Meme, as you can read in his account, he was very descriptive in his opinion of Flint.

Cane: A dwarf getting lost underground is a bit embarrassing. But they were able to find him.

Darkmore: Yes, sir. Craven called out to him. This allowed Flint to follow the sound and exit the tunnels. With the group together, Meme guided them towards Shukalgau. Meme told them they were heading towards the Central Market.

Cane: Of course the little derro would think that.

Darkmore: As they approached the sewage dump, Meme mentioned the loud tremors, booms and vibrations.

Cane: That makes sense.

Darkmore: Yes, sir. They found the garbage heap and Flint was the first to climb it. He was the one to hack the door shoot to Shukalgau and…

Cane: Interesting. Very interesting.

Darkmore: I’m not sure I understand.

Cane: By all accounts, this group does not work very well together. They each have their own agenda and interests. They aren’t loyal to the group. They act as if they care very little for one another. From the accounts, they fight for themselves, individually; not as a group. They are not a fighting unit. They are severely flawed.

Darkmore: I’m still not following.

Cane: They move as a group, sure, but they don’t move as one. I wonder…

Darkmore: Sir?

Cane: If we discovered the correct lynchpin, we could splinter this group, perhaps even getting them to kill each other…


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