Fog of Dispair

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

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen tried to carry out their plan to catch the ever elusive Vermelda. With Arien left alone and in a debilitated state, the witch appeared and attempted to claw out the half-dow’s magical gem. Arien struggled to get up and blindly flee while screaming for help. Roman, Nolofinwe and Varen rushed in to attack, but the witch managed to once again slip into the ether. Nolofinwe drank their last potion of etherealness to track Vermelda. He spotted the hag as she moved into the rocks below. The druid cast dispel magic on her and she sprung from the rock, hurt and in corporeal form. Roman tangled with the witch and brought her to the ground as Varen’s hideous laughter spell failed to take hold.

Vermelda quickly entered the ethereal plane again, slipping from Roman’s grasp, but Nolofinwe was still in the ether. She tried to flee, telling Nolofinwe that he should help her in her quest instead of hinder her. Instead of taking the witch’s bargain, Nolofinwe tried drowning her in a tidal wave. Enraged, Vermelda pummeled the elf with magic missiles as she fled.

Nolofinwe reported to the others that Vermelda had escaped causing a fog of despair to grip the group. The companions grew angry and frustrated at the lack of options and Roman insisted that Arien was good as dead. Botch tried to encourage the companions, calling them heroes, but Roman admitted they weren’t. He confessed that they actually didn’t help Burran and were in fact the cause of the blaze in Burran. Even Arien scolded the dwarf as he solemnly left the group.

Roman tried questioning Dirt to see if his strange obsession with Morgath could be of use. With threats from both Roman and Varen, the pitiful man agreed to try to contact his master somehow. Varen cast Tiny Hut to block Dirt’s door and they all kept watch over Arien in shifts. During Nolo’s shift, he saw Roman suddenly call out and wake in a panic. As the wisps of his nightmare faded, Roman heard the witch cackle… “You will pay for breaking the bargain, oaf…”

Home is Where the Hag Is

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

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen fought the leucrotta that feasted on the dead bodies of the Hactuan residents. Arien and Varen both lobbed fireballs in the middle of the beasts to singe their hides and Nolofinwe increased the growth of the lichens and fungi in the area to hamper their escape. Roman sliced through the creatures with his glaive and they all eventually succumbed to sword and spell.

As the rest of the group examined the dead settlement for clues as to what happened, Roman used his powers to speak with a small spider. The arachnid told him that Duergar slavers had taken most of the residents away and slaughtered the others. The leucrotta arrived later to make an easy meal of the dead. Roman called his companions to a Hactuan hovel and drank a potion of etherealness to see if Vermelda lurked near. Satisfied that she wasn’t, he told them what the spider said. Varen immediately determined that he was going to find the slavers to save his mother. But Roman convinced the bard to help the group get rid of Vermelda first.

The plan was for Roman to act like he killed Nolofinwe and Arien, then bring the supposedly dead body to the hag. Nolofinwe would cast a spell on Arien to make the ruse more realistic. Then, they would use their remaining potion of etherealness and Nolofinwe’s magic to prevent the witch from escaping and kill her. Varen agreed to help in the endeavor and then took to the task of carrying out funeral rites for Nyx. He played a personal funeral tune for her and when the others left to their hovels, he spoke solemnly over the dying embers of her body.

During the night, Arien was again plagued by Vermelda’s nightmares and woke the next morning even weaker than before. During the day, Vermelda appeared to Roman demanding he soon retrieve the gem for her. He agreed, but she warned him that she was always watching before fading again into the ether.

That night, they discussed the final touches of their plan. Nolofinwe cast feign death on Arien before taking his watch. Soon, Roman snuck up behind Nolofinwe and pretended to break his neck. The druid fell to the ground in an overly dramatic manner. But unbeknownst to everybody, Vermelda emerged from the ether right next to the alone and helpless Arien…

Going Home

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

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen kept navigating through the caverns on their way to the rumored Yuan-Ti settlement of Massar. During their travels, vile nightmares plagued Arien, causing her to wake every morning weaker and weaker. She suspected Vermelda caused her suffering, but despite Nolifinwe’s attempts, there was little anybody could do against the hag. Being experienced in wandering unknown areas, Nolofinwe noticed they were no longer heading south toward Massar. Varen confessed to actually leading them to his home of Hactuan to bring the Burran refugees to safety. Enraged at the betrayal, Roman swung at Varen, but barely missed. An intense argument followed, with Arien and Nolofinwe attempting to keep the group from falling into turmoil. All agreed that Varen betrayed the group, but concluded he acted in their best interest, with the exception of Roman who harbored doubts and anger toward the half-drow.

During the night, Roman was visited by Vermelda. She offered him freedom from Xymor in exchange for Arien’s gem. Roman seemed to agree and Vermelda promised to return once the gem was secure before disappearing again. The next day Roman talked with Arien using the silent Lover’s Language they developed during their enslavement in the magmium mines. He wondered if Arien could remove her magic gem without hurting herself, but unfortunately, she feared removal of the gem would cause her death. Since Vermelda was watching, Roman had Arien slap him and then he punched her in the face. Not privy to the ruse, Varen became greatly agitated and tried to intervene by casting a spell on Roman. The spell failed and Roman stomped away as Arien assured Varen that all was well.

They continued their tense journey to Hactuan. Upon arrival at the settlement’s opening, Varen grew concerned by the absence of a guard. He had everybody stay back as he turned invisible to investigate. He heard an old voice calling out for help and noticed several dead bodies, so he ran in a panic to his own home. There he discovered the body of one of his mothers… Nyx. Desperate with grief, he went back to the group and pleaded for them to help him despite past quarrels.

They agreed to help. Roman marched in with the others following. Arien used her magic to give Roman additional speed in battle as four huge hoofed badger dogs emerged from hovel entrances…

Eat the Children

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

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen began trekking through he caverns of Xymor on their way to the rumored Yuan-Ti settlement of Massar. As they travelled through the night, they came upon a group of Burran refugees led by Botch Solidstance. The refugees were lost and desperate for help. After much deliberation and despite Varen’s suggestion to take them to his home settlement of Hactuan, it was decided that the refugees would go with the Heroes of Burran to Massar. During the night, a horrible dream plagued Arien. She worried that Vermelda was near, but close inspection showed nothing.

The next day, they stumbled upon an underground gas leak that exploded, knocking down a young boy under their care. Nolofinwe created a magical wall of wind to keep the noxious poison at bay. Roman pulled the boy away from the explosion and another refugee offered to help the child. But as the man spoke some strange words, a magical darkness descended. Nolofinwe was able to dissipate the spell and Roman immediately attacked the gruff man. Roman noticed the man’s teeth had sharpened as he morphed into a hyena-like humanoid. The beast turned and regurgitated a vile substance on the boy and killed a female refugee nearby.

Roman wrestled with the creature and forced it onto the gas leak as Varen forced the beast to confront its greatest fears. Helpless, the foul creature was no match for the heroes and was finally slain by a magic missile shot from Arien’s wand…

Goodbye Burran

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

Roman, Arien, Nolofinwe and Varen continued their escape from the falling city of Burran. Arien insisted on burning the body of Maggie before Varen led them to the exit. A small creature wielding a scythe and shod in iron boots tried to kick Varen to the ground, and another lashed out with its wicked weapon. The rest of the companions rushed to battle, but Arien was kicked down and viciously attacked. Varen used is magic to turn one of the creature’s boots red hot. One small psycho was soon killed, but Roman cut off the thumbs of the other and decided to take him captive. They followed Varen down the tunnel which ended in a 100 foot drop to the Black Lake below. Burran was burning and trembling as residents swam away. Insect like crabs emerged to drag some of them into the water.

Frustrated at their lack of an escape route, Roman threatened to throw Varen off the ledge. Varen taunted Roman to comply with his threat. As Roman tossed Varen over, the bard cast a Feather Fall spell on his new companions and floated gently below. Roman then jumped, followed by Nolofinwe. Arien stood undecided when Vermelda suddenly appeared. She claimed she wanted to speak with Arien, but when she began casting magic missile, Arien quickly decided to jump.

Once in the water, Varen led them to a far shore where they came under attack by a Chuul. The creature grabbed Roman, paralyzed him and began dragging him into the water. Nolofinwe conjured four crocodiles around the creature, which clamped on and wrestled the creature back to shore. Varen cast fireball to finish off the beast and the companions breathed a sigh of relief on the shore.

Even though it was still early in the day, the companions decided to take a much-needed rest. Varen created an impenetrable dome for them all to sleep in. In the evening, they emerged, refreshed, and entered the caverns of Xymor, leaving behind the fallen city of Burran…

Bard! Poet! Lover...

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

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe sought an exit from the abandoned mine in Burran in order to flee the falling city when a giant spider suddenly appeared between Arien and Maggie. The spider’s fangs impaled Maggie and injected its venom, killing their rogue friend. The companions attacked the creature, but as quickly as it appeared, it again turned invisible. Frustrated, Roman slammed the door to the room he was in to sulk.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the heroes of Burran, a figure watched from the shadows. The wily observer tried to cast a spell on the invisible spider that would show its location. Unfortunately, the ploy didn’t work, so he cast invisibility on himself to get closer to the action without causing notice. The spider soon reappeared to drag Maggie’s body away, but the heroes sprung to action. Roman jumped on the creature, grappling it. Before the arachnid could get away, it was destroyed. Roman immediately set about removing the creature’s fangs and poison glands while Arien removed Maggie’s valuables.

Burran began to ominously tremble as a half-drow appeared from the shadows. Before the group could react to the sudden appearance, the stranger mentioned he knew Skye and Nolofinwe confirmed he had seen the half-drow perform at the Bowling Boulder. To Roman’s immense satisfaction, the bard even claimed to know the way out of the abandoned mine, as well as a way to Massar.

The interloper then introduced himself as “Varen Amakiir. Bard! Poet! Lover…” He then winked at Arien and said, “At your service!” before performing an overdramatic bow…

The Empire of Xymor

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

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe continued to battle the badly decaying zombies in the tunnels under Morgath’s basement. As more zombies appeared and Arien seemed trapped, Roman ordered his companions to flee down a tunnel. Arien tumbled her way through the zombie horde and the companions fled into another room where an ancient barrel and crate remained. Roman lifted the crate and threw it to block the zombies from entering the room. However, a black pudding that nested in the crate emerged to attack.

The group continued to flee from the room and the black pudding turned its attacks on the zombies. Maggie gave Nolo a potion of healing to help him overcome his wounds. Unfortunately, it turned out to be poison. Nolo was able to survive the vile liquid and move on. They closed the door to the room and encountered a spectral Duergar that phased into the floor. They continued on into an old magmium mine where a large web was spun in the corner. Despite glittering trinkets in the web, the companions decided not to engage in battle with the vicious giant spider and headed deeper in the tunnels. They soon discovered a small statue of Muerath. When Arien touched the statue, several ghostly duergar appeared. Luckily, Roman was able to gain the trust of their leader through diplomacy. The duergar mentioned that a witch was following them, and the hag quickly fled from the scene. He also mentioned that they disliked Morgath because he held a dagger that could hurt them.

The duergar leader related a tale that the duergar once ruled the grand subterranean Empire of Xymor. The surface of the world was unlivable. The Duergar mined for gems, metals and magmium. Until the Empire was invaded by the Machines. The machines wanted the magmium to use for their larger war machines. They were waging a war against the Brain Eaters. The Duergar leaders decided to align with the Machines and began providing them magmium. But some noticed that once the Machines arrived, their goddess, Muerath, began to fade. Her presence went further away and the powerful Duergar priests could no longer call upon her powers.

Some Duergar began to rebel against working for the machines, but the monarchy did not listen to the workers and there was a great civil war. Many Duergar died, but the Machines and their allies won. The companions promised to help with the machines and were shown blueprints of what the machines looked like, as well as given access to several treasures contained in a locked chest…

Below the Basement

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

Roman, Arien, Maggie and Nolofinwe confronted the goblins and drow warrior that chased them through Morgath’s home. Arien stepped from the study to blast the drow, causing her head to explode in a fiery burst. Roman cleaved through several of the goblins, with Maggie and Nolo lending a hand.

Meanwhile, the back door they were headed toward began to shake and shudder as somebody tried to break it down. The companions decided to head back down into Morgath’s basement where Arien, who was now invisible thanks to her sorcery, encouraged the group to ride inside the sarcophagus to a chamber below. Roman stayed behind, fending off their drow pursuers as the rest made their way to a small chamber below.

Roman eventually rejoined the group where Arien discovered that one of the skulls in various niches had fangs and a polished spot on the top. But in the basement above, the heroes could hear the sounds of their enemies, followed by a loud explosion. As dust settled from the ceiling, they assumed one of Morgath’s traps had gone off on the unwary creatures above. Arien then twisted the skull, opening a secret tunnel. Emboldened by her discovery and heroic deeds, she marched forward, while Roman took up the rear, leery of Arien’s knowledge and uncanny ability to decipher Morgath’s various secrets.

The tunnel opened into a small chamber with a short drop. Arien, still invisible jumped down where she came under attack by several badly decayed zombies. Arien tried to distract them by throwing a torch into the distance, but soon Roman and Maggie jumped down and more zombies appeared to attack. As Roman hacked at them, one lost an arm and head that remained animated until the zombie was completely destroyed.

But he didn’t have time to process this discovery as two more zombies rose from a nearby pool of water to move toward Arien…

The Calling

Arien called for her friends to the hidden chamber and showed them Morgath’s letter. Nolofinwe, Maggie, and Hartik Froth were shocked to find the sarcophagus in the center of the chamber, but Roman made no reaction. He knew better.

“Nolo,” Roman said, “He is a vampire. You never figured that out?”

Nolo shook his head. “I…I…it wasn’t what I expected.”

Roman rolled his eyes. “For someone who’s keen on nature, you have very little perception of things around you.”

“I take offense to that,” Nolo grumbled.

Roman only gruffed.

“A vampire!” Hartik roared. “No! No! I will not be associated with such fiends. I knew you all were evil!”

Again, Roman rolled his eyes.

“Hartik, honey,” Arien said, using her soothing voice, “it’s as Roman said earlier. You need to put aside your prejudices for the moment and look at the bigger picture here. There’s a greater evil destroying Burran than a single, little thing like a vampire.”

“No!’ Hartik roared again. “This is too much. I should have killed you all when I had the chance. You’re evil, all of you. You brought this to Burran. You’ve killed everyone.”

“I’ve had enough of your crying, little man,’ Roman turned to the dwarf, his hand to his back ready to draw Fury Kahn. “I will not have you babbling and whining like a little baby. Either shit or get off the pot. The choice is yours.”

“Noo!” Hartik yelled as he ran up the stairs and left the heroes.

“Coward,” Roman snarled.

“He might die out there,” Maggie pointed out.

“Then he dies,” Roman retorted. “Come on, we have work to do.”

Morgath had not lied to the heroes. Unlike the other poor souls, the blond man chained to the wall was still alive. Nolo healed his wounds and was able to wake him up with a little encouragement from Roman.

“Roman! Stop slapping him! He’s awake,” Arien scolded.

“Yeah, he’s awake now,” Roman slapped the man one more time and then stepped back.

“Maggie, you think you can do something about those chains?” Arien asked.

“Easier done than said,” Maggie said. She unlocked the man and he fell to his knees.

Upon interrogation, they really didn’t learn much from the initial conversation with the stranger. The man didn’t know his ‘master’ had left and knew nothing about what was happening in Burran. Roman wanted to question him about other things, but now was not the time, nor the place. Survival was the only thing on his mind. What they did learn was that the blond man apparently found ‘pleasure’ in feeding his ‘master,’ that being Morgath.

“Nolo, you better make sure he’s not a vampire,” Arien said.

“That’s a good idea,” Nolo commented. He knelt down to the blonde man and examined his body.

“Um, wait, if you didn’t know Morgath was a vampire, how will you know if this man’s a vampire?” Roman asked.

Nolo looked up and only shrugged.

“Well, maybe now that he knows what he’s looking for, his nature knowledge will help him,” Maggie said, defending her friend. “Right?” She looked to Nolo for confirmation.

“Right,” Nolo agreed. He turned back to his investigation with a sigh of uncertainty.

After several minutes, Nolo stood up and reassured his friends that the blond man was not a vampire. “To put it in your words, Roman, he was only a meatbag. But I’m pretty sure that if Morgath kept feeding on him, he’d only have lasted a few more days before he died. That’s probably when he would have turned. But as of now, he’s just weak and tired and under the intense influence of the vampire. He won’t be able to walk let alone fight. If we take him with us, we’ll have to carry him.”

“But the question is where?” Roman mumbled, looking around the room.

During all this time, Arien was staring at the sarcophagus, motionless. Roman noticed her glace and investigated the tomb but found nothing. He huffed and walked away, but Arien still stared. Something called her to it. It was an intense feeling. Like a moth to the flame, she was drawn to Morgath’s burial bed. Without missing a beat, she leapt into the sarcophagus and laid herself prone inside the coffin.

“What’re you doing, Arin,” Roman said. “There’s nothing in there.”

Arien ignored the barbarian. As she lay there, she saw strange runes inscribed underneath the sarcophagus’ cover. They were similar to the ones on the stone floor. Like on the floor, she slowly traced her hand along the ruins and they began to glow. The lid slowly closed, sealing her inside. She felt the sarcophagus move and heard the sound of stone grinding upon itself. After a moment, the tomb stopped moving and she laid in darkness and all was silent.

Again, Arien felt something beckon to her. The darkness called for her. The sensation was so intense and unnerving, she quickly traced her hand along the runes again, and again the sarcophagus began to move with the sound of stone grinding. The lid opened and she saw
Roman above her with a panic in his eyes.

“Arin! You alright?” he asked.

“Yes, hon,” she replied, slowly pulling herself out of the tomb. “What happened?”

“After you jumped in, the thing closed and moved down into the ground,” Nolo said. “We thought you got yourself into a trap or something.”

Roman growled. “Come on,” he said. He went over and heaved the blond man over his shoulder. “We have to move. I have a bad feeling about this place now.”

Arien stayed behind. Something wasn’t right. She felt like she was missing a piece of a puzzle. She was convinced she overlooked something important. Again, she felt the strange sensation of being drawn to the sarcophagus.

“There’s got to be something magical at play here,” she said to herself. She cast one of her simple spells, one that would detect magic in the area. The magic of the runes did not surprise her, but it was the ghostly visage of a small woman that stood in the far side of the room that startled her. And then it was gone. Arien immediately recognized the visage as the hag they had fought back at Stonefellow’s manor.

“Roman!” she cried. “She’s here! The hag!”

Roman followed by Nolo ran down the stairs, weapon drawn. They looked around and saw nothing.

“Where, Arien?” Nolo asked. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know. She disappeared,” she said.

The three of them stood in the room, motionless and waiting. Nothing happened.

Again, Roman growled. “We don’t got time for this. It’s time to move.”

Roman and Nolo went back upstairs. Arien, once more felt the sarcophagus calling her.

“What am I missing?” she wondered as she followed her friends.

Upstairs, Maggie had taken the initiative and hidden herself in the shadows of the living room waiting for her friends. Roman, who carried the blond man, followed Nolo towards the back entrance of the house.

Arien was well behind her friends. As she got to the top of the stairs, she saw goblins rush past the doorway of the study. She noticed one of them had the decapitated head of Hartik on its belt. Arien, not being a fool, realized the others were about to be attacked, but stopped short from calling out when she saw a single drow woman walk past, following the goblins.

The Scourging of Burran

Excerpt from “The Heroes of Xymor: The Criminal Years Vol. 1, An Introduction,” by Archmage Hannibal Kahnhari, Head Scholar and Headmaster of Ravencraft School of Sorcery and the Dark Arts.

…Throughout the centuries, historians and scholars have accused the heroes of Xymor of many crimes and labeled them with horrific caricatures: murdering sociopathic pirate, necrophiliac assassin, sorceress succubus, child killer, etc. But the single accusation most historians will agree upon is traitor. It is nearly impossible for anyone to avoid such a damning indictment when doing any research on the early years of the heroes of Xymor, particularly during the event commonly known as the Scourging of Burran. But is that accusation fair? Is it really true?

The heroes ran across the roof tops, leaping from building to building and avoiding the warring streets below. Nolo was in the lead followed by Maggie. Roman stayed in the rear but close to Arien. The last few conflicts made Roman suspicious of the current situation and Arien’s involvement. Something was wrong with the aggressive beasts and their attitudes towards Arien.

Nolo and Maggie leapt over a street and on to an adjoining building. As Roman was about to toss Arien over to the other side with their friends, Nolo looked up and pointed to the sky.

“Roman! Look out!” Nolo shouted.

High above the heroes, a bird of prey with the head of a stag dove down towards Roman and Arien. It swooped past Roman and tried to grab Arien with its gnarly talons but missed. It continued to fly by and upwards.

Roman knew he needed to ground the creature and fast. He tried to throw a javelin at it, but the spear did little to impede its flight. Roman growled as he uncoiled his whip. The barbarian pirate rushed forward and leapt up and off the rooftop with a loud roar, lashing his whip at the bird of prey. But Roman’s target was a few inches too far and, to his dismay, his whip wouldn’t hit its mark. He had failed.

Suddenly, time slowed for the savage warrior and all reality seemed adrift as he floated in midair, his arm extended and his whip only inches from the bird.

“Do you want to live forever?” he heard his mother whisper.

A flash of light briefly blinded Roman and then, in utter bewilderment, he saw an ethereal visage of his dead mother floating next to the bird. She was fully dressed in her fancy pirate dress, her sword at her hip and glaive on her back. She looked directly into the eyes of her son, peering into his soul, and gave a smirk and wink. She grabbed the tip of the whip and wrapped it around the bird’s talons and then she was gone. Roman fell to the ground, pulling the whip-entangled bird along with him.

Meanwhile, on the rooftop, a group of goblins jumped out of their hiding spots and rushed towards Nolo and Maggie. The heroes had been ambushed. More goblins crawled on the roof near Arien, particularly one that appeared bigger than the rest and more armored; the goblin leader. The goblins tried to swipe at the heroes with their wicked blades and backed away out of reach. Eventually, Nolo got sick and tired of the little beasts’ childish tactics. He spoke in his strange druidic tongue and his bear totem glowed green. Thick, black hair grew along his skin and his flesh began to contort and morph until he had taken the form of a large black bear. Nolo-bear roared in the face of the little goblin beast that stood next to him, and the goblin peed. The group of goblins that surrounded Nolo and Maggie scurried off in fear, jumping over the street and onto the roof of the building where their leader was assaulting Arien. Now, Arien had the whole mob of goblins pursuing her and she was alone.

Down on the street below, Roman landed on his feet like a cat. He took his glaive, ready to strike at the prone bird, but the creature had quickly disentangled itself and took flight again.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Roman mumbled. He pulled out another of his javelins, tied one end of his magic rope to it, and chucked the mini-spear at the bird. When the javelin was in range, he spoke the command word and the rope detached itself from the javelin and tied itself around the wings of the flying bird. The creature fell back down to earth with a loud screech. Roman quickly took his glaive and speared the bird through the heart, killing the creature.

“Roman!” shouted Arien. He looked up at the building he had jumped off of and began to climb.
“Hold on, Arien! I’m coming!” Roman bellowed.

Arien slowly backed away from the approaching mob of goblins. They watched her with evil intent and cackled in their vile tongue. The leader of the goblins threw a dart and hit her in the arm.

“Roman!” she shouted again. She pulled out the dart and realized it was poisoned.

“Dammit!” Arien yelled. “I’ve had enough of you little mosquito-buggerers!!” She wove her arms in an ancient, mystical pattern, spoke the magic words, and released a fireball at the mob. The glob of magical flame hit the goblin leader and exploded in a massive eruption that engulfed the whole group. They howled in agony as their flesh melted and bones turned to ash. All of them died and very little was left of their existence.

The ambush failed and the heroes were victorious, for now.

When Roman reached the roof, he surveyed the carnage.

“Is everyone alright?” he asked.

Arien was out of breath and visibly exhausted. She nodded. “I got hit by a poison dart, but I don’t think it took,” she said.

“I’m good,” Maggie piped.

Nolo-bear couldn’t speak but grunted in his bear expression.

“Okay, good,” Roman said. “We don’t have much time. Mags, search what you can through these dead goblins.”

Roman started to climb down the building.

“Where you going?” Arien asked.

“Getting myself a trophy,” Roman answered.

Maggie found very little of value among the burnt and melted corpses of goblin. Roman gathered his javelins and rope and then proceeded to decapitate the head of the bird of prey.

Nolo had turned back to his human form. “Roman, are we still heading to the mayor’s manor?” he shouted down.

“Yeah,” Roman responded.

“What do you think we’ll find there?” Nolo asked.

“Hopefully, the mayor and his guards. But most likely trouble.” Blood spattered on Roman’s face as he sawed the head off of the dead bird-thing.

Roman noticed a small creature in the street, burnt to a crisp and dead. It obviously got caught in the crossfire of Arien’s fireball. He took a closer look and, to him, it appeared to be a small fairy-like creature. “A familiar?” Roman thought. He had seen such beasts when he was a child and knew that many of them had the ability to fly, turn invisible, and serve a master. He wondered if this beast had been following them and was the one that set up the ambush. He wondered if this creature belonged to one of the witches. But all of it was a moot point now. The thing was dead and if it had been following and spying on them, it wasn’t anymore.

Maggie looked around and saw nothing but smoke, floating ashes, and burning buildings. “This place is done for,” she whispered to herself. “Why are we still here? What are we doing anymore? This seems pointless.”

“What was that?” Arien asked Maggie.

“Nothing,” Maggie mumbled.

“Traitors!!” the heroes heard someone shout, off in the distance. Roman stopped his operation and looked around. He saw nothing.

“Traitors!! I’ll kill you all!” the heroes heard again.

“Roman!” Nolo shouted. “Behind you!”

Roman stood up and turned around, but before he could react, the butt-end of a battleaxe smashed into his chest. His whole body flew back and slammed against a wall. Standing over the barbarian pirate was Hartik Froth, mayor Gargen’s captain of the guards. He was badly bruised and beaten, covered in soot, mud, and dried blood. Roman recognized the pure hatred in the dwarf’s eyes.

“Hartik!” Arien shouted. “What’re you doing?”

“You betrayed us!” the dwarf roared. “You murdered the mayor! You brought Burran to ash! You killed everyone! Everyone!!”

Roman stood up, rubbed his shoulder, and bent his neck to crack out a kink. He took hold of his glaive, cracking his knuckles, and stared at the raging dwarf with cold eyes.

“Everyone!” Hartik shouted again, readied to strike the barbarian pirate. Roman stood his ground, motionlessly and ready for the attack.

“Hartik!” Arien shouted as she jumped down to the street. It was enough to deter Hartik.

“Stop this nonsense!” she continued. “We’re your friends.”

“Friends? Friends?!” Hartik spat. “Friends don’t kill each other.”

“What are you talking about?” Arien asked, her voice was calm and soothing. “You are our friend. We would never do anything to hurt you.”

“Lies!” Hartik replied. He took a few steps away from Roman with his eyes on Arien.

“Hartik, listen to me,” Arien continued. She moved herself between the dwarf and her lover. “You are a dear friend. I don’t like seeing you like this. Tell us what happened. We don’t know.”

“You don’t know? Truly?” Hartik’s hate began to ebb as he watched the beautiful half-drow, her lush white hair flowing majestically in the wind.

“But whatever happened,” Arien spoke more sweetly, “I tell you the truth, we aren’t responsible. Talk to me, Hartik. We’re your friends.”

“Oh sod it!” Roman gruffed. “He’s a lost cause.”

The dwarf noticed the human brute once more. His body tensed and readied his battleaxe.

“Roman! Be quiet!” Arien scolded her lover. “Hartik, don’t listen to him. Look at me. Keep your eyes on me. Talk to me, hon.”

Hartik looked back at the half-drow and noticed the supple curves at her hips. His anger receded again.

“Are you…truly…friends?” Hartik choked to say. His eyes began to water.

“Oh yes, hon,” Arien said, taking a step towards the dwarf. She brushed his dirty hairy face with her soft hand. “Tell us, what is wrong?”

Hartik fell to his knees and wept. Arien knelt down with him, cuddling his head into her bosom. Roman rolled his eyes. Nolo and Maggie had finally jumped down from the roof.

“What’s wrong with him?” Maggie whispered to Roman.

“He’s broken,” he replied. Arien gave her lover a piercing glare. The barbarian pirate shrugged.

“My lord, Gargen. My men. My family. All dead,” Hartik cried.

Arien allowed Hartik to weep another minute before lifting his head and asking, in a gentle voice, “What happened?”

“A satyr.” He whispered.

“What?” Roman growled.

“Now this is interesting,” Nolo said.

“A satyr, you say?” Arien asked, her voice continued to be sweet as honey.

“Yes, a satyr overtook the manor, slaughtering everyone. But I wasn’t there. I should’ve been there. I should’ve died with them. I have failed.” Hartik began to wail again.

Roman rolled his eyes, his impatience building.

Arien wiped away the dwarf’s tears. “Why do you say that? Where were you? Tell me.”

“I took a handful of my men and we went to the orphanage and tried to climb down the giant hole in the basement. But we didn’t get very far. Most of my men were killed and we had to escape. When we returned…when we…returned….Oh gods, everything was burning. So many dead.”

“Go on,” Arien encouraged. “It’s okay. What did you see?”

“With what men I had left,” Hartik continued, “We marched through the burning city, fighting our way back to the manor. But I was the only one to survive. The rest of my men were killed on the way there. Yet, after all that I went through to get there, it was lost. I hid in the shadows and saw them dragging bodies out of the manor and throwing them on a giant pyre. I saw the satyr. He stood there with his drow entourage, watching the bodies burn and his filthy, little monsters dancing and laughing around the flames.”

“What about the bears?” Nolo asked.

“There was a giant,” Hartik replied. “He took control of my bears.”

“A giant? Really? That’s just great,” Roman groaned.

“Oh, Hartik,” Arien comforted, “I’m sorry. None of this should have happened, but believe me when I say we never intended for this to happen. We had nothing to do with any of this. We saved the mayor, remember? We put our lives at risk to try and save Burran. We still are.”

Hartik looked up at Arien. His eyes were red and his nose running with snot. Arien helped him stand up and brushed off dirt from his battered armor.

“Let us help, Hartik,” Arien continued, her voice beginning to inspire the dwarf. “We’re still here and we still want to help. You need to believe us. You need to trust us.”

“Hartik,” Roman interjected. The dwarf turned to the pirate barbarian with intense eyes. “You are a man of action; a man of the sword. Come with us and find the vengeance you seek.”

“Vengeance?” Hartik whispered.

“Yes, vengeance,” Roman said again. “Do you want it?”

“Yes,” Hartik hissed.

“Then trust us and join our cause,” Roman said.

Hartik looked back and forth between the hulking human and the dazzling half-drow.

“I don’t trust you,” Hartik finally said, growling at Roman, “but I trust her. I will come with you, for her,” he nodded to Arien.

“Fair enough,” Roman countered.

“So now what?” Maggie asked.

“Yes. What do we do next, Roman?” Nolo inquired.

Roman rubbed his chin. “It is as I feared. We shouldn’t go back to the manor, yet. We’re in no state for another fight. We need to regroup, rest, take inventory, plan, and, possibly form a posse. We need to head back to Morgath’s home.”

“Again?” Maggie mumbled.

“Morgath?” Hatrik said. “You mean the bartender at The Krypt?”

“Yes, hon,” Arien said. “He’s been very helpful.”

“But you’ll need to put aside your prejudices,” Roman added.

“What do you mean by that?” Hartik asked.

“You’ll see,” Roman answered. “Let’s get going.”

“What about that thing?” Maggie pointed to the half-decapitated stag-headed bird.

Roman sighed. “Perhaps another time. Pity really. Leave it. There’s no time for it now.”

Once again, the heroes, along with the dwarf captain, headed back to the lair of the vampire.

Fortunately, the heroes were able to avoid further conflicts on the way to Morgath’s home. They entered through the backdoor and were relieved to find no one there, except for the dead displacer beast and duergars from earlier. But to their surprise, they found the door to Morgath’s secret chamber was open and his thrall-gnoll guardian decapitated. Roman growled and rushed down the stairs, followed by Arien who cast a light spell on his glaive to illuminate the way down. The rest of the heroes followed suit.

When they arrived, Morgath was not there. Instead, they saw all of his prisoners dead with their throat slit.

“What happened here?” Nolo asked.

“What in the nine hells is this place? Who are these people?” Hartik asked, shocked, staring at the chained-up dead bodies.

“Someone’s sick sense of a banquet,” Roman commented. “But where the hell is Morgath? Where is that bastard?”

“Um, Roman. You might want to look at this,” Arien said, standing near a wall.

Roman approached her and saw what she was staring at. Smeared on the wall was the word, ‘Arien,’ written in blood.

“What does it mean?” Arien asked.

“Trouble,” Roman said. He turned around and growled. “But where is that coward?”

“Everyone,” Arien said, “I need you to leave this room.”

“What was that Arien?” Nolo asked.

“I know where to find Morgath, but everyone needs to go upstairs,” she responded. She looked at Roman with determination. “You must trust me on this, Roman. Go.”

Roman scowled. “Fine. Everyone, upstairs.”

Roman, Nolo, Maggie, and Hartik walked up the stairs and left Arien by herself in the secret chamber. She stood in the center of the room and stared at the stone floor. She thought long and hard how Morgath opened the floor, but after several minutes, she just couldn’t remember. She fell to her knees and smashed her fist against the floor. To her surprise, blue, glowing glyphs erupted under her fist. She traced her fingers along the glyphs and more of them appeared on the floor. She started to see a pattern and followed her fingers along them. When the glowing glyphs were complete, the ground shook and opened up. A decorative coffin rose from the floor and into the room.

“Well, that was easier than I thought,” Arien said to herself.

Arien knocked on the coffin. There was no response. She tried the lid and discovered it wasn’t locked. Upon opening the coffin, she saw no body. Morgath was gone. The only thing in the coffin was a letter from Morgath to his “friends.”

In it, he explained that he left Burran due to its demise. He warned the group that he was visited by a hag he assumed to be Vermelda and that she supposedly sought Arien to help her open a portal out of Xymor. Morgath refused her offer of betraying the group and even provided some advice on dispatching the crone.

The vampire also related that when he left, the blonde warrior and the group’s other captives were still alive in fulfillment of their bargain. He told them about his desire to avoid Shukalgau and instead head for the rumored Yan-ti settlement of Massar.

Arein stood inside the vampire’s lair clutching the letter and read Morgath’s final words… “I look forward to continuing our lucrative friendship…”


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