Thursday, 28 March 2013

The Fall of the Dwarven Empire

It was a running fight through the old Nerathian city, fending off ghosts, and a ghost dragon. When
Dallas Kasaboski
last we left our characters, they had defeated the ghost dragon, gathered quite a bit of residuum, and were making their way to Ruber, home of the tieflings, when the ghost dragon appeared demanding his coins!
It was a cool night, wind gently caressing Alvyn's face when he heard the voice. The eerily quiet hiss of a dead dragon demanding the return of his coins. Alvyn, on watch, sat bolt upright and tried to wake the others. Tong, ever at the ready, leaped up, ready for anything. Kalgar opened one eye and watched the scene. Shizuka was still sleeping.

"Whoa, hold on there. I think we can make a deal here."
"All I want are my coinssssss, give them to meeeee."

"How about this? We bring your coins back and we bring you more coins! In exchange, you protect the vault from anyone who isn't me or authorized by me."

The dragon looked interested, but it was hard to tell in the moonlight, from the visage of an ethereal dragon. "How many more coins?"

"How about 3?"
"Hmm, you drive a hard"

And the next day, the party returned to the Sorrows to deposit the coins, and left the dragon on guard. Kalgar remarked on the lack of ghosts this time through, to which they decided that the dragon and his coins must have been keeping them away.

The world of Cyfandir is a large one and even with horses, it takes a while to get anywhere. On the way to Aurum's capital city, Tong asked Alvyn about his scars, which he had seen in the last fight. Seated by the crackling fire, Kalgar sharpened his khopesh as Alvyn related the story.

"Tong, you know better than most the magical energy which flows around us all. While you use a lot of it mentally, wizards and other casters often draw it from nature itself. For me, well, there has always been a lot of energy just swimming around inside.

When I was young, I don't know how or why, but I was cursed with this burden and because I had no sense of the scale or the control required, one day it burst out from me, and destroyed the warren in which I lived. It's a marketplace now, I believe, or housing? Either way, it's nice. That blast killed my family and once Aes found out about this, they took me and began poking and prodding, trying to find out all that they could.

With this, they developed the first superweapons and made my condition worse. I have to warn you, and I'm sorry for not warning you before, but all this energy, well, it could go off again, and I might not be able to stop it. If you feel the risk is too great, I can understand if you want to leave. If not, you'll have to promise me that you both will do whatever it takes to stop me should it get out of my control."

"Like what?" Tong asked.

"Like use the Edge of Sanity to kill me, to cut through the magic."

"What?! How, I, no, you can't be serious!"

"I am. I know it was selfish, and I am sorry but should the time come, you might have to make a choice between the possible death of those you may murder with that sword, and the certain deaths of half of this continent if I go off. I don't want you to use the sword, at all, but it might be the only thing powerful enough to stop me."

"I'm...going to meditate on this." And with that, Tong left the campfire.

"How about you, bug guy? Still with me?"

Kalgar rises him his spot, puts his whetstone away and says, "Way I see it, if you're going to blow up half the continent, I might die anyway, might as well stay with you."

The party slept, but not well that night, Tong worried about Alvyn, Alvyn sorry for the burden on his friends, and Kalgar wondering how he ended up adventuring with two people with access to ridiculous amounts of power. Surely, this was not coincidence. Feeling a little useless, Kalgar drifts off to sleep.

The next morning, Alvyn received a message from Vex advising him to check out the news at Aurum's capital. It was a little out of the way, but if Vex sent it, it must be important.

Before the party even made it to the city walls, they could tell the place was on high alert. There were soldiers and flags everywhere, the walls were lined with archers, and the entire place had a feeling of imminence. Making their way inside the city walls, they were able to catch some of the CWNN news-cast, where a reporter was on the scene in Albus. The footage looked blurry, distorted, like it wasn't being properly transmitted, but the reporter could be heard describing a new weapon at Adamantina's disposal: a giant mechanized golum!

"'s simply chaos around here, with the mechanical arms just reaching over the city walls and tearing down the last of this great Albasian city's siege. It doesn't look like it will be long now before Albas falls, not with Adamantina using weapons such as these!"

The newscast finished, and the party looked at each other.

"Well, that's new!" says Alvyn.

"I don't like the look of things." Kalgar says, looking toward Shizuka.

Tong jumps in, "Neither do I, with countries using larger and larger weapons, I fear this is only the beginning."

Shizuka said nothing. While a normally silent dragonborn, this was a silence which spoke, almost yelled out to them. They could see the pain behind his eyes, all too clearly.

Alvyn led the party onward to a tavern in one district where he thought me might know some people. It was there that he ran into Mako, a friend from way back, from the Doomguard. Making the symbols and correct gestures, the two began chatting about the Albus situation, life in Aurum, and certain specifics about Doomguard business.

Mako, it seems, was a dwarven scholar who spent most of his time working on studying the sociology of the different peoples of Cyfandir. His main interest, though mostly covered up by his other work, is the fall of the dwarven empire and the possibility of a mind-flayer threat.

As is general knowledge, Kalgar recalled the story of the dwarves. Once, they had a vast underground empire with a splendor and prosperity like that of the other empires. However after the Great Betrayal, the dwarves shut their doors to outsiders, considering the dragons to be a problem for the people of the surface. Thinking themselves safe in their cities of stone, something terrible happened.

What exactly happened is hotly debated. The dwarves tell of a threat which rose from the deep, an otherworldly threat of mind-flayers also known as Illithid, horribly squid-faced creatures which fed on the brains of others, who came up and destroyed everything. However, there has never been any proof of this whatsoever. The dwarves just suddenly sealed their doors from the other side and requested help from everyone else. With the long memory of bitterness, the people on the surface remembered all too well how the dwarves treated anyone asking for help, and so the dwarves found themselves lost, without a place to call their own.

Since then, a lot of the ire has calmed down, but dwarves are still regarded as less than favourable. At best, dwarves are left alone and have prospered using their natural gifts in smithing and stonework, but people still have prejudice against them. The general feeling is that dwarves are either untrustworthy for their betrayal, or crazy and paranoid about an Illithid problem which probably doesn't exist.

Still, Mako seemed nice enough, and Alvyn trusted him, so that was something. Kalgar wasn't too prejudiced one way or the other, he preferred to judge people by their strength of character, and Mako seemed formidable. Plus, he offered to buy them drinks!

Kalgar asked what was good to drink and Alvyn recommended the Silver Ale. It was obviously a cruel ploy as the drink was not meant for someone as intimidating or mean looking as Kalgar. Featuring a fizzing surface, it was served in a tall, thin glass, chilled, and the head was covered in a sparkly glitter. Raising an eyebrow, but rarely turning down a free drink, Kalgar finished it in one gulp.

As he was recalling the lore about dwarves, and joking with Tong about the silliness of mind-flayers, he heard Mako asking Alvyn if he'd be interested in helping him. It seems that Maco had assembled a group of dwarves with the intent of going down into the deep to find out if there was any evidence of the Illithid invasion. Some new information had come to light which suggested the threat was real, and Mako wanted to check it out.

In return, Mako offered his assistance in giving the party the needed information and references to make their way to and around the capital city in Ruber. He had worked there quite often and since Tong, Alvyn, and Kalgar had not been there before, they decided this was a fair deal.

Agreeing to meet upon the morrow, Alvyn took Tong and Kalgar for a walk, leaving Shizuka to his room at the inn above the tavern. In a secluded alleyway, Alvyn began his crafting ritual. Calling upon ancient magic, Alvyn explained that the party could do with some more equipment and that with the residuum in hand, he had plenty of materials with which to work.

With a clang of his arcane hammer, Alvyn was able to fasten a cloak for Tong, a belt for Kalgar, and an extra item or two which might come in handy. Each, he said, had properties which should help them should the need arise.

The next day, the party met up with Mako who introduced them to his party of dwarves. Among them were 8 dwarven males, of various shapes and sizes, looking more like fighters than scholars, and one female. Clearly the leader, she had two shields strapped to her back, and said her name was Natasha. As they met her, Tong, Alvyn, Shizuka, and Kalgar felt instantly more confident and strong. She explained that her people were trained to withstand mental attacks, in their defense against mind-flayers, but that she especially had the gift of extending that mental protection to other people. (In D&D terms, she was an Ardent)

It took several days to leave the city and reach the base of the mountain. Along the way, the party had the fortune to hear some of the tales and history of the dwarven people. In a very disciplined manner, the dwarves would awaken early everyday, earlier than Tong which both impressed and surprised him, and recite their oral history. The party noticed that while some parts of the recitation stayed the same everyday, highlighting important parts, the rest changed everyday, recalling different events in their history.

Told to wait, the party watched as the rest of the group approached what looked like any other part of the mountain wall but, in true dwarven fashion, were actually the doors to this part of the empire. After what could be heard of various chants, door large enough to fit a caravan opened. Making their way closer, the party could see that the doors looked completely eroded with time and battle damage. It was a sad sight to see something made with such grandeur reduced in such a way.

Once inside, the mountain walls shut behind and would have left them in darkness had the dwarves not had sun rods strapped to their shields. Even so, the walls of the hall went up, and up, and up, and farther still. All around, there were statues, and while the floors were dusty, and the doors had been beaten up, the dwarven reputation for impressive architecture was showcased here as the party saw an entire city which appeared to be carved out of the mountain.

Before entering the city, Tong saw, alongside the statues, various artifacts and even dwarven skeletons. Asking the purpose of this, it seems that there is a ritual among the dwarves, to test their courage and their defenses against Illithid activity, in which they were tasked with entering the empire and returning with something of value or something which could prove the existence of the mind-flayers. Many did not return, and those who met their deaths here were not permitted to leave, as the dwarves considered them cursed by mind-flayer contamination.

Making their way along the taller access-ways of the city, Tong, Alvyn, Natasha, and Mako scouted out for possible magical energy or anything out of the ordinary. At one point, Natasha felt a strong sense of something, but couldn't make it out too well amongst the ruins. Tong noticed something on the floor ahead. It was blood!

Kalgar, ever straightforward, bent down, touched it, tasted it, and confirmed it was blood, but nothing special. Noticing how the drops fell, Tong was able to point out the direction the person was moving. As they progressed, the dwarves became more and more physically shaken. Natasha was doing her best to keep them calm, but they were getting anxious. Kalgar asked Alvyn if he sensed any mental magic and wondered if the person could be bleeding from such an effect.

Seeing the sense in this question, Alvyn spotted two dwarves who seemed to have nosebleeds. Seeing their fear, he convinced Natasha to keep an eye on them.

The blood trail led to a gap in the wall. Kalgar stepped up and looked at it closely, but he really didn't know much about dwaven walls, or the rocky walls of mountains. Seeing the armour he had on, made by a dwarf back in Chalybs, Mako pointed out that the finger-pads on the gloves, when pressed against rocks and metals in certain ways, could tell you more about it. It seems that the hole in the wall was not made by natural or dwarven purposes.

The two nose-bleeding dwarves looked very unwilling to go inside, and Alvyn suggested they go back to the main gates. Natasha sensed the wisdom in this and told them to return.

Kalgar led the way, and the others fell close behind. The walls were narrow, and the dwarves's lights didn't really help until the cave widened. A shallow pool of water trickled ahead, and Kalgar spotted a creature lying on the ground at the other end of the cave. Standing over this creature was another, cloaked and moving around. Tong, edging around Kalgar made his way closer and it wasn't until he was almost on top of the cloaked figure that he realized it was a mind-flayer!

With long tentacles swinging from its face, it was wrapped around the body on the floor, a fallen dwarf, and was making sucking, slurping noises.

Tong recalled his days at the monastery. Among the many odd customs, there were some which made no sense until recently. Often, when Tong was trying to learn some of the mental disciplines from the other monks, Ting Tang Wong Gong would step in and remind him of crazy rules.

"Remember! Rule #1, you can't poison a ghost!"
"Don't shout names of attacks, that tell enemy what you do. Instead, attack first, HIYA! Nut attack! See? Better!"

And among the many rules and rituals, there seemed to be a great hatred toward the Far Realm. It made sense in a way, even though these monks of Ioun were devoted to peace and knowledge, the idea of creatures which they called, "thought eaters", would be simply revolting to them.

In that one moment, Tong recalled all of this and summing up the wisdom and ire of his Master, Tong attacked the creature.

Quickly entering the room, the others drew their weapons. The creature had a weapon of its own and in one foul burst cast a spell on the dwarves. Even with their trained ability to fend off attacks like this, all of the dwarves except for Mako and Natasha were dominated by the will of the mind-flayer and began attacked the party. Tong, Shizuka, and Alvyn pursued the Illithid which kept teleporting around the room, while Kalgar and Natasha fended off the dwarves. Mako, more of a scholar than a fighter, did his best to get away from the fighting.

The fight was tough, but going well. The mind-flayer, while able to teleport, was not able to escape as Tong, Shizuka, and Alvyn kept the pressure going. However, the effort was costing them. Shouting for help, Kalgar did what he could with the last of the dwarves and moved toward the mind-flayer. One of the items crafted earlier by Alvyn was a spear.

Alvyn had noticed Kalgar's ability with his javelin and decided to give one a magical edge. Summing up Kord's wrath, Kalgar deeply wounded the dwarves, shifted his attention to the creature and threw the spear with the full strength of his arm.

Whipping past Tong, the spear just missed the creature, but got his attention. Just in time for it to see a 300 pound, khopesh-wielding dragonborn charging into battle.

The fight continued, the creature obviously possessing great strength, and at one point, it wrapped its tentacles around Kalgar and enveloped his head. Dealing damage, fighting the dominated dwarves, and keeping out of reach of the mind-flayer, the others could not free Kalgar. The pain was terrible as the tentacles reached into Kalgar's head through his mouth, eye sockets and nose, trying to feed on his brain. He called for the strength of his god, as witnessed by a blast of light from within the creature and the sound of muffled shouts, but it was not enough. Kalgar was dragged off to a remote corner of the cave and just as Tong was able to pull the creature off, Kalgar dropped to his knees.

The creature teleported and kept the other busy. Tong was just about to help Kalgar up when Kalgar stood up on his own. With a haunted look look, blood gushing from his face, Kalgar struck Tong. Unblinking, unflinching, Kalgar had become a tool for the creature.

After that, it was a desperate fight. Kalgar, while without his usual zeal for combat, was still hitting hard, and making it count. He slashed at Tong, and in one sweeping blow almost killed Natasha. Shizuka moved in to slow or stop Kalgar, and the fight went back and forth for some time. Finally, the Illithid was defeated.

As its body started dissipating after its death, Alvyn and Mako tried to quickly gather some of its remains. Knowing that this proof would be important, they did what they could to salvage it. They were left with only a piece of a tentacle which didn't really suggest anything other than a squid of some kind.

When the mind-flayer fell, so did Kalgar. Standing slowly, painfully, Alvyn came over and asked if he was okay, patching up the dragonborn as he did so.

Pushing past him, Kalgar walked over to the pile of barely distinguishable remains and there he and Tong shared a look of extreme hatred. Seeing that there was nothing against which to fixate his anger, Kalgar wandered over to the far end of the cave and smashed the walls until his knuckles dripped with blood.

Alvyn sighed that his work was never done and he patched Kalgar's hands. Tong led Kalgar away and said that he understand what Kalgar was feeling. That it was a similar pain felt by him from the Edge of Sanity. In that moment, Tong reached out with his mind to talk to his Master and reached out with his hand toward Kalgar.

Instantly, Kalgar's vision blurred as streaks of light and energy whirled past him. Suddenly, the motion stopped and he was in a white, ethereal, garden-like area, in the middle of which sat an old man. Tong had spoken much of his master before so it was not hard to tell that this man, who looked ancient with his beard dragging on the ground, was Ting Tang Wong Gong.

"Master, I have helped to destroy a creature from the Far Realm. My friend, Kalgar..."

"Yes, I know. I watch. Your friend here helped, but was overtaken by the beast. I have seen you before Kalgar, when you are close to Tong, you are a close friend of his I see. Well done Tong, you have destroyed a foul creature and you have earned the respect and recognition of all of us, you too Kalgar. Because of this, you will be marked for your success."

As he said these words, a wind blew in, pulling back Tong's robes, and there on his left shoulder, a tattoo suddenly appeared.

"May that help you next time, now you Kalgar..."

"Excuse me sir, I thank you for the honour, but I do not feel I've deserved it. I did not do much in that fight, and most of what I did resulted in me harming my comrades."

"Ah, you misunderstand. The mark is more of a recognition of the trial you went through, but fair enough. You may be gone and don't come back. Seriously, it costs of lot of energy to have two of you in here Tong, you know this."

And in a flash, they were back in the cave.

The others had been exploring parts of the cave and looking over the dead mind-flayer remains when Kalgar found a statue. Standing over 12 feet tall, it was a statue of a mind-flayer. Kalgar wandered over to some dwarves, dragged them to the statue and with their combined strength, smashed it to the ground.

As they did so, Kalgar noticed a hole underneath the statue. He called Alvyn over, who used mage hand to lower a light into the hole, where they found dozens of mind-flayers staring up at them!

"Go! Go! Go!" It didn't take them long to hustle out of there. Tong picked up Alvyn, and Kalgar picked up the bodies of a few of the unconscious dwarves and together they fled to the main door.

On the other side, the dwarves threw some sort of powder at the door and smashed it with their hammers. The doors were sealed.

Licking their wounds, both groups made it back to Aurum's capital. The threat of the Illithids was real, but with poor specimens and evidence, it would be hard to convince others. Hopefully, the sealed doors would hold long enough to convince others and form a defense.

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