Xymor

Discord of Vermelda

Long into the future, in a land far, far away….

Arien, Nolofinwe, Varen and Craven stood before Vermelda inside an Ant Hive of Xymor. The hag had suddenly appeared to make a bargain after not answering the call of Arien and Varen the previous evening. The shifty witch promised to no longer cause harm to any of them, including Shanna and the other Hactuan residents, as long as the heroes did not try to harm or evade her. After much debate, it was decided to reject Vermelda’s bargain. Frustrated by Craven’s influence over the decision, Varen headed off on his own toward Hactuan as the others decided their next course of action.

During Varen’s journey, Vermelda again appeared. She offered him a new bargain. In return for him staying away from his companions and not travelling with them, she would leave Shanna and the Hactuan residents alone. In fact, Varen would never see or hear from Vermelda again. Disheartened from the recent turn of events, Varen put off his decision, but Vermelda warned that the offer had an expiration date. The half-drow made it back to Hactuan and found that the once depleted village was gaining residents in the form of Burran refugees. Glad to reunite with his mother, Varen settled in and waited to see if his companions would arrive.

Meanwhile, Arien, Nolfinwe, and Craven continued their own journey back to Hactuan. During the trip, Arien and Nolo fed Craven’s interest in the Red Crystal Cavern and the Burrowling guardians. They recounted their two disastrous expeditions into the cavern which prompted the supposed cleric of Muerath to propose a third visit. He argued for a more peaceful approach and seemed confident in his ability to speak with the gophers. In turn, Craven told his story to Arien and Nolofinwe, hoping to gain their trust and faith in his god.

Toward the evening, the ground began to tremble as a huge earthquake took hold. Rocks fell from the roof and the ground tossed beneath them. They were suddenly slammed against the north wall and Arien was injured. Craven used his powers to heal the sorceress, but before they could get their bearings, Vermelda again appeared. She claimed to have caused the quake and promised more if they did not entertain her bargain. Craven began chanting magic as Arien blasted the witch with a lightning bolt. Craven caused the fiend to go blind and she once again shifted into the ethereal plane.

Back at Hactuan, the earthquake caused severe damage to the village. Several people were hurt and homes were destroyed. Varen helped the villagers retrieve survivors from the rubble and provided healing to those in need. That evening, Varen crawled into his pallet and slept the deep sleep of the over weary.

After their encounter with Vermelda, Arien, Nolofinwe and Craven made haste toward Hactuan. They made camp for the night with Nolofinwe keeping watch for Vermelda’s presence. Just before morning, Arien woke with a start from her slumber. Despite Nolofinwe’s persistence, Vermelda managed to infect Arien’s dreams, weakening the sorceress. This solidified Craven’s stand on visiting the Red Crystal Cavern and ending Vermelda’s reign of terror by vowing, “Her death is imminent…”

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Hot Air

We needed a time of respite. Nolofinwe, Varen, and especially Arien, were in no condition physically, emotionally, or spiritually to travel back to their village. They had been though a lot and it was time for them to rest and reflect.

After scouting the area and using my limited arcane gifts to clean the area, we decided to use the beast’s cave as a secure place and took the opportunity to give Roman a proper burial. In preparing Roman’s body, Arien found an odd stone inserted in his eye socket. She asked me to help her pull it out and told me that Muerath gifted Roman the stone. I was more than overjoyed knowing that Muerath had somehow, at some point, been able to reach beyond the barrier that prevented the gods from communing with us. There was hope….There is always hope as long as there is life.

I kept my elation of the revelation to myself for the time being, and gave the stone to Arien. She wanted me to have it, but I refused. It belonged to Roman, gifted to him from my mother. It was a holy relic; touched by the goddess of life and death and bestowed to a holy warrior. I had no right to such a thing. It belonged to Roman’s next of kin, and if not that, then to the one he trusted and loved the most, which was Arien. I told her as much. She was uncertain at first, either because she didn’t believe in my faith or was confused by my denial of a means to power, but she relented and appreciated my candor. That stone had the mark of her lover and holding it close to her was a reminder that his spirit would always be with her.

At some point, Varen and Arien went off to explore a little more of the caverns around us. This gave me the opportunity to commune with Nolo. Of the three, Nolo was the most akin to me – him being a quasi-holy man, albeit a disciple of nature and things of the wild. Even in the realm of stone and darkness, he kept his faith and love of all things natural, and such a thing kept him jolly. He showed me his tricks to find food even in such a gloomy world of doom and despair as Xymor. But behind those eyes of joy and reverence to the natural order, I saw a great pain and sorrow. He would not open up, which was natural of him since I was untrustworthy still, but I realized it was that pain in him that truly drove him forward on his journey, wherever that led. I liked him and hoped we would travel together more. He and I had a lot in common, even if we perceived reality in different hues. I hoped he would help me fulfill my calling to protect and bring Arien out of Xymor.

When Varen and Arien returned, Varen summoned his giant hut of magic and we rested. Arien and Varen refused to partake in the food Nolo scavenged – I suppose rat and fungus stew wasn’t gourmet enough for them.

The next morning, while Nolo, Varen, and I were refreshed and ready to continue onwards, Arien found she was still weak and tired. It was as if she hadn’t slept. She confessed to having horrific nightmares and deathly visions. This was the work of the witch hag, Vermelda – the witch had cursed Arien. Had I been privy of such knowledge about this hag’s capabilities, I may have been able to help protect Arien and the others. But they never told me.

Nolo took out a small stone statue of a bear that glowed red. He murmured a few words and touched Arien with the statue. The statue’s red glow erupted in a flash of blinding light that filled the cavern and I sensed immense power. When the glow faded, the statue did not glow anymore, but Arien was healed and she felt refreshed. I was taken aback. I asked them where they got the statue and they told me a rambling story about giant, intelligent, gophers that guarded a red rock with the power to bring back the dead. They explained that the gophers were the deadliest things they had ever encountered and never wanted to see them again. Were the giant gophers malicious? Territorial? Religious? The three of them didn’t seem to know or care. They just seemed frightened by the mere mention of the hairy rodents. Perhaps it was something I could only understand by being there. In any case, I was utterly confused, but curious.

We gathered our belongings and went back the way we came, climbing up the rope along the cliff wall. As we climbed, we heard a thunderous roaring sound of wind and felt a rush of hot air coming from below. We didn’t know if it was the approach of an oncoming beast or a natural occurrence. Truth was, we didn’t care, so we hurried our pace. Nolo used a magical ability to scale the walls and scout ahead of us.

For a moment, the rush of air stopped and we thought that whatever it was had passed. It was an instant relief. Perhaps we were in the clear and the air was nothing to worry about? We were wrong. As we continued climbing, the rushing air surprised us and returned. Something was coming and we didn’t want to be there to see whatever it was. Fear of the unknown has a tendency to do that to mortals. There was a moment where I stopped climbing and let the others go ahead. Unlike them, I was not afraid of death, for death is of my domain and holds no fear over me. I wanted to know the origin of the rushing air. I peered over the cliff’s edge and waited. Could it have been an ancient dragon of lore? Or was it a demonic balrog released from its hellish chains? Or perhaps it was a gigantic purple worm burrowing through the world of Xymor? Or signs of an oncoming volcanic eruption? I wasn’t able to discover the truth at that point as the others yelled down to tell me to hurry up.

Once we climbed and passed through the Ant Hive and found ourselves back in the tunnels of Xymor proper, Varen began to summon magical fey steeds to help us travel back to his home of Hactuan. That’s when Vermelda made her appearance.

I quickly unhooked my flail and shield.

“No, wait,” Varen said. “This is what we wanted.”

I was, once more, confused.

“You desired to parley,” the hag rasped, “and so let us parley.”

I was even more confused then. When did we decide to parley with the very evil that sought the destruction of the one thing I was sent by Muerath to protect? I’m not the most intelligent man, but I am no fool and I realized that Varen had somehow convinced Arien, and perhaps Nolo, that it was in their best interest to meet with the hag. I looked at Varen, Nolo, and Arien in puzzlement and disgust.

“Vermelda, I wanted to speak with you,” Varen said. “We want the same thing. We want out of Xymor. You want out of Xymor. Perhaps we can work something out.”

I could see the uneasiness of Nolo and Arien. Varen’s demeanor was different – he reminded me of the image of the tarot card of the Fool stepping dangerously close to the edge of a cliff, completely unaware or uncaring of the true dangers ahead of him.

“Why do you want to parley now after attacking Arien?” Nolo interjected.

“There was no bargain then, but now there should be,” she cackled.

“And what bargain do you offer?” Varen asked.

‘It’s a trap!’ my spirit shouted at me over and over again. I tightened my grip on my flail. We shouldn’t be doing this. Never deal with the devil because the devil never changes.

“Here is my bargain…”

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A Final Farewell

‘I stood at the cliff’s edge and stared into the dark abyss below, and the abyss stared back.’

Nay! That delusional, nihilistic philosophy has always seemed to me paradoxical and just plain pessimistic and silly. Besides, I knew what stared back and we made it bleed. It was time for someone to meet mother Muerath.

Arien, come over here,” I said. “You can make things light up, right? Light this rock and toss it over the edge.”

We watched the glowing stone gradually disappear as it fell into the darkness below, hoping to get a glimpse of the retreating beast. But we saw nothing. Yet, below and to our left, we noticed something odd about the shadows along the cliff walls. Arien threw another glowing stone towards the oddity and it disappeared into darkness far earlier than it should have. After a couple more experiments, we deduced that the beast had cast a darkness spell along the cliff wall, most likely in an attempt to conceal its retreat.

Arien and I flung magical and unholy energies down into that darkness, thinking that perhaps the beast was hiding in it, hanging onto the cliff wall.

“Stop,” Varen said. “That’s a darkness spell. He doesn’t need to be in it for it to work. You’re just wasting your time.”

“So, you’re saying it’s safe down there?” Nolofinwe asked.

“Right, right,” I said. “Then down we go. Nolo, take these and let’s climb down.”

“That’s not exactly what I…” Varen tried to say, but he had already convinced us.

I tossed Nolo a couple of pitons and he quickly tied his rope to them and nailed them to the ground. I had Arien cast her light magic on my amulet and then climbed down first, followed by Arien and then Nolo. Varen stayed above to keep watch.

I submerged into the magical darkness; the only sense I could rely upon was touch and sound, and I heard only myself and my companions struggling as we climbed. I felt my way along the wall and discovered an opening. Unfortunately, as I crawled into it, the darkness spell continued into the tunnel. I had enough room to stand. Unsheathing my flail, I slowly walked forward, feeling the wall next to me as a guide and pulling the rope along in the hopes that Arien and Nolo could find the tunnel.

I stopped myself after several yards – the pungent stench of rotten flesh, dry decay, and imminent death ahead forced me to take pause. Something was off, and I was right about that. Huge pinchers snapped at me in the dark and pushed me back into the wall. I quickly summoned my spectral scythe and swung my flail, hitting nothing but air.

“Nolo!” I heard Arien say, “I think Craven’s in trouble."

Then I heard a familiar incantation and the darkness disappeared – Nolo had once again dispelled it.

It took a second for my eyes to adjust from dark to light and, with the help of my glowing amulet, I found myself standing at the opening of a chamber. At the far end was a large pile of gore with bodily limbs, bones, and gnawed up flesh. Separate from the pile was another body; a body freshly killed. But that wasn’t what I was concerned about – it was the huge beast roaring in my face which held my immediate intention.

“Varen!” Nolo shouted. “Get down here, now!”

My flail and spectral scythe slashed at the beast’s limbs and clashed and blurred against each other. I would not be able to hold the beast long by myself. I needed my companions.

Arien and Nolo had rushed to the entrance.

Roman! No!” I heard Arien scream.

Arien’s cry distracted me and one of the beast’s arms hit me in the head. I was stunned. The beast took that opportunity to move away and hurry toward an opening to a tunnel on the other side of the chamber. It was near death and knew it. It was trying to run and live, but death had other plans.

Suddenly, I heard a limerick:

“I know a druid named Nolofinwe
Who gets his magic from the fey
He can turn into animals
Or throw fire and make his enemies flammable
All while his allies dive into the fray.”

It was Varen’s voice.

Nolofinwe, with the laughter of inspiration, released a volley of flaming bolts from his hands and struck the beast in the back, forcing it to kneel down in pain. It gave me enough time to brush off my own injury and rush forward.

I leapt up, with flail to strike down, and spoke the words of my mother: “La mort te consommé.” Thunder echoed in the chamber. The essence of death channeled through my body, onto my weapon, into the beast – for a brief moment, I felt my mother’s presence.

The beast howled in pain.

Then I heard another limerick:

“There once was a half-elf named Arien
As beautiful as the fair Maid Marian
She slings spells from her jewel
Makes her enemies drool
All to avenge her barbarian.”

“Not my Roman!” I heard Arien yell. She hurled a magical bubble of acid and struck the beast in the chest. Again, it howled, but it didn’t die.

The beast looked at me and raised an arm to strike, but slowly its arm melted off along with other limbs. Arien’s spell had done the trick and sent the beast to death’s arms.

“Excellent work!” I cheered to Arien, but my congratulation was short lived.

Arien rushed to the body that was separated from the pile and knelt. It was truly maimed and mutilated, almost beyond recognition, but Arien knew who it was. She wailed and moaned in anguish and despair; she had found her Roman.

“Oh god, not Roman,” Nolo whispered as he knelt beside Arien.

I noticed in the corner of my eye that Varen stood by the pile of decay, causally searching through the rotten flesh. I began to wonder about the relationship dynamics of these people.

I stood by Arien and Nolo and allowed them a moment of grief. I knew that if Arien was to believe me and trust in me, I had to help her find peace in her lover’s death, and perhaps a new beginning. What I had in mind was no easy task and very dangerous.

“Arien,” I said, bringing her back from her despair. “I am truly sorry for your loss. This was not how I thought it’d end. I wanted you to find your Roman, alive and well. I wanted the two of you to come with me and get out of this… But sadly… I’m sorry. You need to mourn and grieve, and that takes time. But if you trust me, just a little, allow me to help you in that grieving process. I can bring him back, if you want, but only for a moment, and the two of you can say goodbye.”

“What? You can do that?” Nolo asked.

I simply nodded.

“Bring him back,” Arien begged. “Bring back my Roman.”

“What I’ll attempt to do is a bit tricky. Normally, this incantation wouldn’t work this way. But I’m gonna alter it a bit, at the risk of myself. What I am doing is no small feat, and I’m not even sure if it will work. I can’t do it like this every time, in fact, I’ve never done it like this before. And if it does, then I shall be breaking a lot of rules. But I know Muerath will allow this, it’s important for you, Arien. Now I need the two of you to step away while I prepare.”

Arien and Nolo stepped away. I carefully used Roman’s own blood to draw a circle around his remains. With my own blood, I drew eldritch symbols and runes outside the circle. I stood before the body, bowed my head, held my amulet, and spoke the words of my mother. I drew upon a source of power most would not be able to fathom, and I pushed forward. The incantation needed more. I didn’t simply knock on Death’s door to ask questions; I broke it open and wanted a soul on the other side to step through. I knew I wasn’t truly ready for such things, but I had to risk it for Arien to trust and believe in me.

The symbols burst into purple flames and the circle of blood swirled like a tiny river. My eyes rolled behind my head. I felt my body grow rigid and stiff, and my mouth dried– it was getting more difficult to speak. Blood oozed from the pores on my forehead and out of my nose. I heard the sound of crashing waves on a sea shore and smelled blood mingled with sea water. Then a rushing wind passed through my body and soul and into Roman’s mutilated corpse.

“Roman?” I hesitantly whispered.

The lips of the corpse moved and grunted.

“Roman,” I continued. “I have summoned you back. There is someone that needed to speak with you.”

“Piss off,” Roman replied.

Charming fellow.

“Roman?” Arien said as she walked to the body, passing through the blood circle.

“Arin?” Roman replied.

“Oh Roman!” Arien knelt down, sobbing and caressing the bloody head. “Oh Roman! My Roman.”

“Arin, you’re alive.”

“Yes, Roman.”

“Then the others got away too?”

“Yes. Everyone is safe.”

“Good.”

“Roman, I’m so frightened,” Arien cried.

“Do not fear for me, Arin. I sail with my mother on the seas of blood and it is good. The winds are strong and I am at peace.”

“I don’t think I can go on without you.”

“You must.”

“Oh Roman, please don’t leave me. I don’t know what to do.”

“Arin, you are strong. I have seen the horizon and you must live. You must leave Xymor.”

“Oh Roman, I love you.”

“I love you and always will. I will be watching and waiting; and one day, we will sail together. Goodbye, Arin.”

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The Hunt Begins

Excerpt from ‘The Heroes of Xymor: The Great Debate, Chapter 9: Of Loss, Destiny, and Choices,’ by Archmage Hannibal Kahnhari, Head Scholar and Headmaster of Ravencraft School of Sorcery and the Dark Arts.

Roman Khan was dead. He sacrificed his life to give his companions time to escape. He had fulfilled his role in the game and his piece was removed from the board.

As the heroes of Xymor ran away, they encountered Vermelda once more. And once more, they fought her off. They were vulnerable and weak. At the time, they had no idea what had happened to Roman and Arien was afraid for him. She wanted to go back, but Nolofinwe and Varen convinced her that the great warrior was strong and capable of surviving, and the best thing they could do was to wait for his return. But they had no idea that Roman would not return. Varen summoned his magical hut of protection in the tunnels of Xymor and the heroes rested.

The heroes of Xymor suffered a great loss that day. But all was not lost. A new pawn was moved onto the board to replace the great warrior. His name was Craven of Riverrun, Avatar of Muerath.

Craven and his owl, leading the surviving people of Hactuan away from the giant ants, stumbled upon the heroes. Their chance encounter was initially met with hesitation and suspicion. But with the survivors that followed Craven, Shanna convinced the heroes that Craven might be trustworthy. Of course, no one believed that Craven was a holy man or had any divine powers. Most people in Xymor who claimed to be disciples of the gods were liars or mad.

But Craven didn’t seem disturbed by their lack of faith; he was happy to find the heroes. And when he met Arien, Craven believed that his holy quest had begun. His joy in finding Arien concerned Nolofinwe and Varen at first, but Craven assured them that he had no intentions of harming her. Arien didn’t care for Craven, but wanted to find Roman.

The heroes of Xymor were at a crossroad of choices. On one hand, they had a group of survivors from Hactuan who wanted to go home and needed to be escorted. On the other hand, Roman had not returned and Arien desperately wanted to look for him. She was willing to go back by herself to find him. Varen, afraid that Vermelda would attack his mother again, would not leave her side and wanted to go back to Hactuan. Nolofinwe was stuck between the two and could not decide.

It was Craven that offered a voice of logic.

“If this witch hunts Arien, then wouldn’t she follow Arien?” Craven said.

“No. She hurt my mother, and threatened her life if we didn’t give her Arien,” Varen replied.

“No. She threatened you,” Craven retorted. “This witch used your mother to get to you. I was there when I heard your mother was attacked. I didn’t know the screams were your mother’s at first, but now it makes sense. Your mother was trapped in one of those dirt mounds, like the rest of us, and the witch attacked her when she couldn’t defend herself. But now, your mother is free and surrounded by others. She looks like a strong and capable woman who can lead these people back to their village. Let her. You’ve already demonstrated that you’ll not give up Arien in the face of this witch threatening your mother. The witch wants Arien, not your mother. And furthering any more harm to your mother would do nothing to get to Arien. You can’t let the witch dictate your actions.”

Varen was still unmoved in his resolve. But it was Shanna that heard Craven and understood him, and it was her that convinced Varen to trust her to lead the survivors back and allow the heroes to look for Roman.

The heroes of Xymor gave what weapons and supplies they could to the survivors and allowed Shanna to lead them into the dark caverns toward Hactuan. The heroes then turned around and went back to the ant chambers in search of Roman Khan.

—(transition to first person account by Craven)

As we traversed the pit, we came to a short tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a cliff, overlooking a massive chasm. We couldn’t see the bottom. I tossed a rock down the chasm and it disappeared into the darkness below and it made no sound. I noticed deep grooves on the wall of the cliff.

It was then that Nolofinwe discovered a foot, torn from its leg. As we approached it, Arien reached out her hand. I took it in mine. She cried out as we neared the foot and she realized that it belonged to her lover.

As I tried to comfort Arien, Nolofinwe and I exchanged glances, uncertain what to do next. Varen was still at the top of the pit.

“What’s going on down there?” Varen shouted. “You find anything?”

None of us replied.

“He could still be alive,” I said, though, I knew we all had our doubts. Arien fell down and started sobbing in despair.

I would not let this end this way. If Roman was dead, then Arien needed closure. We needed to find the rest of Roman’s remains and give a him a proper burial. But first, we had to deal with the beast that did this thing to Roman.

I unhooked my flail and shield, and stormed to the cliff’s edge.

“Craven, what’re you doing?” Nolofinwe asked as he comforted Arien.

I swung and brushed the cliff’s wall. A large chunk of rubble broke and flew off. I swung again, spoke the power word, and hit the rubble in mid-air. The sound of a thunderous boom echoed throughout the chasm and deafened the three of us for a moment.

I ran back to Arien and Nolofinwe and readied myself.

“Get up,” I said to them. “It comes.”

We heard the roaring sound of an approaching beast, and it was then that Nolofinwe and Arien realized what I had done.

“Are you mad?!” Nolo yelled at me.

“What’s going on down there?” Varen shouted.

“Get down here, Varen! We need you now!” Nolo shouted back.

The earth beneath us trembled as the thing clawed its way up the cliff wall and over the ledge. I cast another spell and my skin turned pale, taut, and decaying.

The beast was much larger than I expected, but I noticed that it was weakened by a previous fight; it had cuts and bruises on its body. The thing roared at us and tried to cast a darkness spell on us, but Nolo cast a spell of his own and countered it, protecting us from being blinded. I cast another spell and an invisible spherical shield formed around me. I rushed the beast, swinging my flail and using my shield to guard myself from its massive claws.

Varen had climbed down and he, Arien, and Nolo used their magical energies to attack the beast. Even Artemis flew in to help attack the thing.

I could sense the beast was dying and it knew it too. It roared, stepped away from me, and jumped off the cliff. I tried to hit it one more time, but missed. The beast fell down into the darkness below.

The hunt was on.

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Destiny Fulfilled

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen continued battling the creatures in the Ant Hive where they tried to rescue Shanna from capture. Roman plummeted down a pit embroiled in a fierce battle with a giant pincer fiend. Nolofinwe sent his conjured bats to try and rescue the barbarian, but the weak creatures could not free him. Back up in the chamber, Vermelda appeared and tried to rip Arien’s gem from her throat. The sorceress managed to escape Vermelda’s attacks, and Nolofinwe used his magic to trap the hag, giving the rest of the group time to escape the chamber. They all raced through the tunnels of the ant hive for the exit.

Meanwhile, Roman woke in the pincer fiend’s den. The foul beast was ripping his clothes off, preparing to feast upon his flesh. Roman once again fought for his life against the ravenous foe. But his rage and will was not enough to defeat the creature. As he slipped toward death, he saw the face of Muerath which morphed into that of Raven Kahn. She assured him that he had fulfilled his destiny to save his friends… and then all turned black.

As the rest of the group fled the ant hive, Vermelda appeared in front of Arien, blocking her escape. The witch seemed enraged with hate and desperately clawed at Arien. Varen mocked her, Nolofinwe burned her and Arien melted her with acid. She cursed them all before again fleeing into the ethereal realm.

The ragged group moved further from danger before taking a much-needed rest and despaired over the missing Roman. Shanna told Varen that the prisoners were used as food for the pincer fiend. She also gave him a magical brooch from Nyx that she kept hidden in her anus during capture.

In return, Varen gave her Nyx’s golden bracelet and then held is mother as she wept…

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A Hero Falls

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen battled against ferocious insectoid creatures that commanded a giant Ant Hive within Xymor. The creatures frustrated Roman, who consistently missed with his glaive as the ant men clawed and poisoned him. Varen, who transformed into a Drakon using his bardic powers, flew over to an altar where Shanna bled to death at the hands of another insectoid. Nolofinwe used his healing magic to keep Roman from succumbing to his battle wounds and created a flaming sphere to burn the creatures. Arien avoided a trapped tunnel by teleporting into the chamber and created acidic orbs to melt the insectoids.

However, a buzzing sound from a pit in the room intensified, eventually causing Varen to lose concentration of his spell and make spell casting nearly impossible for the rest of the companions. A giant swarm of flying ants erupted from the pit to engulf Varen and Shanna. The bard was able to keep his mother from dying, create a zone of silence against the distracting noise and drag his mother to safety as the swarm headed to other victims.

Roman exacted his vengeance on the insectoids that battled him with help from Arien and Nolofinwe, but his attention turned to a growling noise from the pit. A giant creature with four arms, two of them ending in sharp clawed pinchers, burst from the pit. Its evil roar intended to confuse its prey. Roman, Arien and Nolofinwe focused their attacks on the beast as Varen tried to take Roman’s magical rope to escape the area. Arien’s bolts of lightning and acid blasted the creature and Nolofinwe conjured swarms of bats to help in the fray. But the foul beast punched Roman in the face, then grabbed him in its pinchers. Roman loosened his belt and doffed his magical cloak before grappling the monstrosity and plunging both of them down into the pit.

Both combatants roared in battle as they fell into the blackness…

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Aggressive Pest Control

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen continued their search for Shanna in a hive filled with aggressive ants. They soon encountered several giant ants, a swarm of smaller ants and a strange insectoid creature described by the Hactuan residents that escaped capture. Through blade and magic, the ants were destroyed, but the wounded ant man escaped down a dark hole.

During the battle, Arien used her powers to blink into the ethereal realm, where she spotted a surprised Vermelda. The hag attempted to put Arien to sleep, but she resisted the spell before blinking back into the material plane. The next time she blinked into Vermelda’s realm, the sorceress blasted Vermelda with a lightning bolt prompting the witch to flee.

Varen followed the insectoid to the hole and heard whimpering and buzzing from the darkness. The hole appeared to be trapped to collapse, but with growing concern for his mother, Varen hastily jumped into the blackness. Roman followed down the hole, landing on Varen, and crushing the bard. However, the barbarian managed to land on his feet and sliced through the fleeing insectoid.

But the chamber held two more of the creatures. One stood at a bloody altar, its claws perched above a heavily bleeding drow Varen assumed to be his mother. The other attacked Roman, poisoning the enraged barbarian. Varen used his most powerful magic to polymorph into a Drakon and fly over to confront the insectoid at the altar.

Nolofinwe quickly used his druidic powers to change into a rat in order to scurry into the chamber after the others, while Arien remained behind…

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A Message from Vermelda

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen crawled away from the Red Crystal Cavern, slightly wounded but in much better shape than the last time they visited the Burrowlings. Nolifinwe was able to examine his glowing Bear of Healing. It seemed to have absorbed some of the power of the red crystal, but without knowing more about it, the companions decided to wait on experimenting with the power.

The group arrived at Hactuan and Varen used his magic to see into the ethereal realm. He noticed Vermelda standing close to Roman, but pretended like he hadn’t noticed her. He spoke in elvish to discreetly let his companions know, but the ruse was exposed and Vermelda slipped through the ground and out of sight. The heroes decided to make their way to the Ant Hive in an effort to save Shanna as promised. Varen conjured phantom steeds and they quickly headed toward the insects.

During the evening, Vermelda appeared and placed a small bundle on the ground. Leery of the hag’s intentions, they waited until the next day to investigate. Roman walked right up to the bundle and opened it. Inside was a drow finger with a note promising more pieces of Varen’s mother in the future if he didn’t make a bargain with the hag. Roman called to Arien to discuss the finding. They grew suspicious of Varen’s intentions and confronted the bard about this “bargain”. He denied any bargain and seemed only concerned about his mother. They entertained the possibility that Shanna was no longer in the ant hive, but with few other options, they decided to make sure.

They entered the ant hive under invisibility, in silence and with Roman granted the power of dark vision. Despite their precautions, two giant ants were able to detect them with their tremorsense and attacked. Arien distracted one of the creatures by tossing her tambourine into a corner, allowing Roman to use his physical prowess to destroy the other. The second returned to attack Arien, who blasted it with an acidic orb. Varen caused the ground to tremble and a thunderwave destroyed the last insect… However, they heard rumbling and cracks appeared in the rocks as dust and small stones fell from the cavern ceiling…

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The Red Crystal

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen traversed back to Hactuan in defeat after being repelled by giant ants. The companions tried to devise a coherent plan for using the power of the red crystal. Roman wanted to find out more about the crystal: where it came from and what all of its powers were. Arien simply wanted to get in, have Roman touch the crystal for healing, and then get out. They decided on a stealthy approach, using magic and potions to become invisible and silent upon their approach.

As they crawled through the tight tunnel toward the cavern entrance, they noticed that the red glow of the crystal was more intense, and there was a strange low whistling emanating from the area. Arien took a look into the cavern and discovered that the chamber was filled with Burrowlings. The creatures used the red crystal in a ritual that reincarnated their dead into Burrowling pups birthed from surrogates. After the ceremony, the chamber emptied with the exception of four Burrowling guards.

The group quietly climbed down and threw a rock which once again caused the Burrolwing guards to scatter, giving them enough time to inspect the crystal. They found the crystal had no inclusions and was perfectly smooth. In addition, it appeared as if the crystal had been thrust up through the cavern floor. Roman seriously considered chipping away at it, but instead, he simply touched the mineral which completely healed him. The Burrowlings immediately returned in numbers, and the companions fled with Nolofinwe touching the crystal on his way out. Unfortunately, Nolo was spotted and sling stones began flying, but the heroes managed to escape with only minor wounds.

As they crawled away through the tunnels they noticed a red glow coming from Nolofinwe’s pouch. The druid looked inside and discovered that his Bear of Healing now glowed…

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Ants in Your Pants

Long into the future, in a land far, far away…

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen entered a giant ant hive in search of Shanna, Varen’s missing mother. Nolofinwe used his power over beasts to communicate with one of the giant ants, but it insisted they leave. When Arien began casting a spell, the insect attacked. The hive awoke to the intruders and an additional giant ant and swarm of smaller ants took to defense. The swarm engulfed Nolofinwe and the giant ant grabbed him in its mandibles. Varen used his unique gifts to scare the ant away, but the creature brought Nolofinwe with it. Roman grappled the ant, but it viciously stung him, nearly killing the weakened barbarian. Arien cast her magic from afar to destroy the pests as Varen jumped on the giant ant’s back. Eventually, the insects were terminated and Nolofinwe rescued from a painful death.

Exhausted and terribly wounded, Roman suggested that the companions leave the hive and go back to the red crystal cavern for healing. However, Varen insisted on going forward to save his mother. The two stubborn men came to a tense impasse, nearly tearing the group apart. But Arien eventually convinced Varen that it was in his best interest to have a healthy Roman. Without Roman, any effort to save Shanna would fail.

On the way back to Hactuan, they passed through the cavern where Shanna and the other residents were stolen from the Duergar. Roman carefully inspected the area and concluded that maybe the insectoids actually just wanted to kill the Duergar and not the slaves. This gave him hope that Shanna was still alive. Arien suggested that the insectoids were controlled by something else since Varen’s previous contacts with them had been peaceful.

During the night, Varen was visited by Vermelda. The hag tried to bargain with the bard. In exchange for Arien’s Gem of Power, Vermelda would provide Varen and his mother a way out of Xymor. Varen tried to negotiate, but the hag quickly reentered the ethereal plane.

During his watch, Nolofinwe noticed Roman mumbling and tossing in his sleep. The druid woke his friend from slumber, negating the hag’s nightmare effect and allowing Roman to get a full night’s rest…

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