Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Fall of Baelfire and the Rise of the Arbiters

High above the clouds, Kalgar set a course for Ruber; Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar had a fight to pick.

Dallas Kasaboski

“So, Alvyn, what’s the plan?” Kalgar asked.

Pulling out some scrap paper, Tong raced to depict Alvyn’s plan.
Credits to Alex for his quick doodles and Mike for his grand scheme
“Gentlemen, phase 1: Infiltration. We pack some cannons into crates, and get some Doomguard agents to replace Baelfire’s agents at his door. Phase 2: Contact. We zip-line in, attacking Baelfire, and keeping his attention on us. Kalgar, this is important. I want his eyes on you, all the time.”


“We avoid the magma, while Tong, you drink this. Not yet, when I say so.”

“What is it?” the monk asked.

“Potion of invulnerability. You drink it, then use these tethers to peg Baelfire to the floor. Then we pummel the Nine Hells out of him. Next, conflict. We continue the fight until our guards are ready. Their signal is to slightly open the door. We lead Baelfire out and when he throws the doors wide, the cannons go off!”

“Phase 4: Motivation. Baelfire might not be downed at this point, we use blast patches and line the hallway. Baelfire’s rage causes him to chase after us, Kalgar, again, his attention is important here. We lead him outside to Phase 5: Hammerfall.”

“What’s Hammerfall?” Kalgar asked.

“We’ll get to that when it happens. And that’s the plan. It will work, but only if we work together. We need the crew to do their jobs, and I need you two to work better than you have before. If we lose Baelfire’s attention, we fail. If he hesitates, we fail, and will likely die.”

“Kalgar? They’re your crew, feel like saying a few words?” Alvyn said, stepping aside.

Kalgar looked out, and saw a mixture of emotions. Some were scared, others were trying not to appear scared, some were excited.

“You may not know why we are here, why we are doing this. You have heard tales of the lord of Ruber fighting for the good of his country in spite of his demonic blood. However, we three were there before, and he reviewed his true colours. Baelfire is not trying to strengthen his nation, he’s trying to destroy and rule over all others. He wishes to create an army most foul and he will stop at nothing in his quest for power.  We cannot let this tyrant’s strength go unchecked. We three will be doing the heavy lifting, but we’re counting on you. You have your duties, let’s move out.”

Circling around to land, just outside of the city, Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar approached a tiefling officer, on duty just outside the keep. Alvyn recognized him as a Doomguard agent and made the usual signs.

Before Alvyn had even begun speaking, the tielfing said, “No. We have orders not to listen to you...but, I owe Trybulus so, what do you want? It better not be dangerous.”

“Yeah, about that...” Alvyn began.

“It’s dangerous, isn’t it? First Vex now...”

Alvyn’s fist clenched, “Don’t. Mention. That name. Look, you owe Trybulus, big, right? Good, now you’re going to help me because if you don’t, it’s going to get a lot more dangerous for you, I assure you.”

Reciting the plan, the tielfing agreed to help. The three made it back to the ship, and noted that two of their cannons and some crew were safely off and on their way.

The caldera was much larger when viewed from above. Stretching 60 km in every direction, it was the heart of the capital of Ruber. The dwarves did not have to worry too much about making cloud cover as the volcano’s ashes and smoke rose to meet them. It was hot, smelled bad, and was getting hard to see. Still, with some work, they were able to hover the Thunderhead directly over the opening.

Alvyn attached some spikes to some javelins, and Tong loaded the two starboard side cannons. Kalgar took his time and aimed them as best he could, as he couldn’t see anything 20 feet past the edge of the ship. Thunder boomed overhead as Kord’s storms and the volcanic booming collided, and Kalgar fired the cannons amongst the rumbling. The lines went out, and suddenly went taut! Alvyn attached the safety lines and the three of them zip-lined down.

The fall, as that’s what it felt like, was horrible to all by Alvyn. Tong’s robes covered everything but his eyes, and Kalgar had no coverings at all. The acrid smoke sting their eyes, and filled their lungs. Alvyn coughed as well, but his eyes were protected by his goggles.

They landed in the back of the throne room, and much had changed. Newly made walls had been erected, and new pools of lava ran along the floors. Baelfire was standing in the centre of the room, dripping lava in his demonic form, talking with 3 tieflings. On the far side of the room, where the door should be, was another wall and hallway. Tong, who landed first, quickly took stock of these tiefling guards who seemed different than any he’d seen before. Well-dressed, with polished armour, they bore no identifying insignia, but all seemed formidable. Alvyn and Kalgar landed behind him, and at that exact moment, the tielfings saw them.

Tong drew the potion of invulnerability, Kalgar moved around the room, and the tieflings tried directing Baelfire’s attention, never wanting to interrupt their wrathful lord. Alvyn slung his warpick over his shoulder and fired.

Balefire turned, turned back to his guards and said, “Get. Out.” The guards retreated.

Tong ran up and smashed a glued and barbed javelin into Baelfire’s Achilles tendon and into the ground. The balor-lord screamed in rage just as a javelin hit him in the shoulder. “The gods have come to crash your party.” Kalgar said, with a smirk.

Alvyn loosed another shot, and Baelfire swung at Tong. Long, raking claws ripped across Tong’s chest and shoulder, but the potion turned them merely to gold-coloured wounds which closed instantly. The lord of Ruber slammed his arms into the ground, and the lava pool bubbled.

Out of the lava sprouted creatures, entirely made of lava, wielding swords. Kalgar shifted forward, “By the laws of god and men, I challenge you!” he roared, just as a creature appeared behind him.

“On your six!” Alvyn shouted, and with those words of warning, Kalgar took a step back and swung his sword around, the creature collapsing in a pool of lava.

Baelfire ripped a javelin Tong clapped his hands together, “Sho!” and his body became translucent. He jabbed another javelin and wrapped it around Baelfire’s other tendon before shimmering through the balor-lord and retreating to the far side of the room.

“Enough of this!” the balor-lord shouted, revealing his true form, a 15 foot long red dragon. He charged after Kalgar and just as his claws were about to scrape the paladin’s face, he was jerked back by the javelin-tether. At the same time, Alvyn had side-stepped over to Kalgar and pulled him back a couple of inches.

Kalgar looked to Alvyn, smiled, and said, “It’s been nice knowing you.”

As Alvyn’s heart jumped, he watched Kalgar leap over a shallow stream of lava, grip the rock wall, and swing his way around. Kalgar landed on the other side and shouted at the dragon once more. “That’s not how a dragon sounds, this is how a dragon sounds!” And with a mighty roar, built on intimidation, blood, and practice, Kalgar’s roar made even Baelfire flinch.

 A lava creature sliced into Alvyn. The gnome slapped his cheek a little and said, “Get it together, Alvyn.” Lighting his cigar off the heat from the lava, he followed in his friend’s footsteps, just making it around the rockwall to the other side.

Tong grabbed some orbs of discipline from his robes and smashed them with his elbow. The first hit Baelfire’s shoulder, the second whirled overhead. The dragon’s attention looked uncertain, until Kalgar’s javelin hit him again. “Are you going to hit me or what?”

The red dragon charged at them again, bringing his claws to bear. Kalgar shifted his weight under one but the other was going to catch him in the jaw.

“Watch it!” Alvyn cried, grabbing hold of Baelfire’s shoulder, allowing Kalgar to duck under the second attack.

Tong glided along the floor, behind Baelfire. Standing on one foot, he brought his other around, his heel smashing into the dragon’s face causing them both to swop places.

Kalgar stepped up, parried a claw attack and said, “Witness true strength, you worm!” The storms overhead boomed and lightning flashed from within Kalgar’s sword. Looking like he was being enveloped, Kalgar swung his sword upward into Baelfire’s chest. Launched back into the centre of the room, the lord of Ruber sparked lightning from his mouth and nose.

“Everyone! Phase 4!” Alvyn shouted.

“What’s that again?” Tong asked.

“Rhymes with door.” Kalgar said back.

Tong raced around, and with his psionic wings, he was able to move very quickly. He made it around the corner and noticed that the door was partly open. He saw the foot of a tiefling and heard Dwight say, “Ready!” just before some more crashing was heard.

Alvyn loosed another shot, which pierced Baelfire’s hand, the end of the arrow blinking red. Alvyn appeared behind Kalgar and moved to follow Tong into the hallway.

Baelfire was furious, his lava pool bubbling, his breath fuming. He raced toward Kalgar, who stood his ground. Kalgar deflected one attack, the next caught him in the side. Bleeding heavily, Kalgar raised a fist upward, “Kord, grant me the strength to keep fighting!” Thunder boomed and Kalgar smiled. “You’re not strong enough Baelfire, let’s see if you’re fast enough!”

The paladin turned and raced through the door. There, he saw the bodies of two tiefling guards on the ground, and several of his own men. Alvyn gripped two by the shoulders and brought them to their feet, there was no hope for the others.

The doors were thrown open and Baelfire followed through. The cannons exploded bringing the dragon down. The tiefling guard stopped fighting, staring at the dragon. Kalgar took his katana and poked it at the dragon’s cheek, drawing blood, looking for signs of life. The dragon roared and in one quick movement, swallowed Kalgar’s sword and arm, all the way to his shoulder. In a gut reaction, Kalgar punched Baelfire in the face, and it was enough to escape.

“All right people, let’s move, move, move!” Alvyn called.

The tiefling guard, looked back to see a raging, bloodied, red dragon and decided to follow suit.

They raced down the serpentine hallway, Baelfire filling up much of it and his steps triggering several blast patches. The room exploded in smoke, fire, and lightning. Making it to the top of the stairs, outside, Alvyn grabbed a brass chain which appeared in front of him.

Throwing it to Tong, he said, “Wrap this around his neck! Kalgar, help him!” Kalgar, unable to move his left arm, spun around on the ball of his foot, and reached up. Grabbing the lower jaw of the dragon, he was able to distract Baelfire from the backflipping monk wrapping a brass chain around the dragon’s neck.

“Phase 5: Hammerfall. Now, Kalgar. Pray for him!” Alvyn shouted, pulling the recently landed Tong back a step.

Kalgar took a knee, shielded his eyes and said, “He wishes to know power, let’s show him real power!”

The heavens erupted, and lightning flashed out, striking the brass chain from the top of the lair, running down, and electrocuting Baelfire. A roar which started strong and turned into a whine was heard. When the smoke cleared, Kalgar, covered in blood and ash, was looking over the edge of the stairway, down into the volcano. The chain broke and the red dragon fell. Reaching the bottom with a solid thud, Baelfire landed in the lava and began to sink, melt, and burn away.

Alvyn, Tong, and Kalgar looked at each other. Alvyn dropped his cigar, barely a stub at this point, pulled out a fresh one and said, “I love it when a plan comes together.” He walked to the edge and silently said his Doomguard pledge. Kalgar and Tong had heard snippets of it before, but basically it marked the dead as one to have died at Alvyn’s hand, and promised vengeance in the afterlife, if there was one.

The Doomguard tiefling Alvyn had spoken with earlier was nearby. As Alvyn approached him, he said, “Nope. We’re done. That’s it.” Alvyn could tell that the tiefling was angry, afraid, and wouldn’t budge.
“Someone’s got to know a little more about what’s happened. This country is about to go crazy.”

“If we don’t give them direction, chaos might ensue.” Kalgar chipped in.

“Everyone, look! The volcano is going dead.” And as they looked, the lava streams slowed down and the ashen smoke was thinning out.

“That’s not good. Baelfire must have been keeping the volcano going. And without it, the country has limited sources of power.” Alvyn remarked.

Trying to find the tielfing guard, it seemed that everyone had fled in panic. Feeling bad about cutting the head of order off of a country, but glad to have ridden the world of such an ominous, world-dominating threat, they retrieved their fallen comrades and got back aboard ship.

“Kalgar, what do you know about Hyacintho death rituals?” Alvyn asked.

“They prefer cremation, by lightning, if possible.” Kalgar said.

“I think we can make that happen. Let’s get back to the Fields of Ruin.”

“You’re showing more reverence than you did for the body of Kord.” Tong said.

“These men died doing what was right. They died under my hand, and they died trying to stop a tyrant and his power. Kalgar, I would follow you into battle, any battle. You have conviction I have rarely seen. I would even follow you into a battle ordered to you by Kord. But, I would be following you, not your god. If you choose to put your faith in a god, that’s your choice.”

Oddly lighthearted, Kalgar said, “Let’s just stop with the heresy aboard my ship, okay? Let’s be respectful of people, and their gods.”

“Sir, we have something on an intercept course.” A dragonborn shouted.

“Is it wyvern in shape?” Alvyn asked.

“Yeah?” the dragonborn shouted back.

“All stop.” Kalgar ordered, and the Thunderhead hung in the air.

Alvyn handed out some grease grenades to Tong and Kalgar, and had the other dragonborn load the cannons with some special ammunition, basically a tether attached between two cannons. “Keep the cannons on that wyvern and prepare to fire.”

Mercury and her wyvern appeared, out of cannon range. “We need to talk.” She said.

“Fine, but your wyvern goes.” Alvyn said back.

Mercury brought her wyvern across the port side of the ship, leapt off its back, touching lightly aboard ship. The wyvern took off.

“What do you want?” Kalgar asked.

“Did you kill Baelfire?”

“We may have been around for that unfortunate turn of events.” Alvyn jibed.

“Okay, you guys are becoming involved with forces you don’t yet understand. I am traveling to Hiems to speak with Rime, I suggest you come with me. Once you see what you’re dealing with, I’ll tell you about the Game.”

The three looked at each other. Alvyn then nodded and said, “Fine, but we’re making a stop first.”

“Make it fast, I want to get there before the mercenaries do, and they’re moving fast.”

Recalling the bounty put out on the ice dragon’s head, 100 million gold, they were not surprised.

In a week’s time, they made it back to the Fields of Ruin. They resupplied the ship, Kalgar saw to the cremation of the dead, all from Hyacintho. The half-ogre former priest of Rayden said some words. Tong spent time in the Reverie hearing voices from even beyond that realm.

Flying back toward Rime, Mercury flew on her wyvern and kept her distance. The wyvern seemed to not need sleep or rather, was able to fly while sleeping, as it never stopped, or landed.

In almost two weeks’ time, they came upon the former Canitian temple where Tong had trained. The ziggurat was still standing by grass had grown all around it. Landing the ship, Kalgar left Alia, Haymich, and Dwight in charge, and instructed them all to train while they were away.

Taking Alan, the horse, along, they walked north toward Rime. The nights grew longer, the trees grew shorter, and the wind grew louder. The party noticed that there were no other creatures about. Normally, they would have come across some mammoth, wolves, barbarians, or some other foul creature of the north, but so far, nothing.

It wasn’t long until they realized why. Up ahead one day, they noticed a massive group of soldiers. Their trail had been hidden with everyday’s fresh snowfall but now they were able to see the mercenary group, some 10 000 strong. They had a glacier to the east, some plains to the west, and a forest loomed ahead to the north. The southern edge was marked with spears, meant as a sort of palisade.

“We’re too late.” Mercury said. “I was hoping to speak with Rime before they all died.”

“The shortest way to him is through them? Alright, let’s go.” Alvyn said.

The three, plus their horse, walked through the camp. Most barely too notice, just threw more bodies to add. A scout stopped them shortly and pointed out the tent to report to should they be signing up. Continuing past this, they moved to the northern edge of the camp and kept going. Some soldiers near the front chuckled at that, three bounty hunters, hoping to get the prize first it seemed.

Walking ahead, they came upon the forest. Better to call it a sampling of trees as this forest was anything but dense. The air grew colder and soon they heard a long, deep sound. Kalgar thought it was a drum, but Tong’s ears picked up a new flavour to it, screaming. “Something’s coming, a lot of somethings.” He said.

The air around them started to get foggy, as a mist rolled around the ground. The screams were picking up and were heard by all now. “Rock and a hard place.” Alvyn said.

“What?” Kalgar asked.

“Between two storms,” Alvyn responded.

Barbarians on the left, mercs to the right, here we are, stuck in the middle, with you.
Alvyn was right. Behind them was the mercenary camp but ahead, and moving fast, was the barbarian horde. As their shouts grew louder, the mercs could be heard gathering their supplies and moving up to form a line. Kalgar looked back. They had the oddest assortment of militia he had ever seen. Sword, spear, club, the mercenaries were armed with anything and everything, and their line was undisciplined at best.

Tong and Alvyn looked ahead. The mist was making it hard to see, and just as it rolled in entirely, they saw massive shadows moving. They could hear the stamping of feet, and hear the battle cries of dozens, if not hundreds of barbarians.

The three could only see as far as 15 feet ahead of them, the rest was a thick wall of mist. Kalgar shooed the horse away, knowing barbarians might make quick work of it. Out of the mist came heavy footsteps and charged through ice giants and barbarians alike.

The ice giants were exactly that, tall foul looking creatures, with pale blue skin, they wielded a heavy axe in each hand. The barbarians wore rags, seemingly untouched by cold, and moving fast through the mist. They wore trophies, Kalgar noticed, skulls, feathers, bones.

Kalgar stepped up, “Bring your strength to me, giant!” He unsheathed his sword. The barbarians rushed by him, and Kalgar was able to skewer one as it tried to get past. The ice giant brought its axe down, missing Kalgar, as Tong moved behind it. Flanking, Tong flashed out with a few kicks and punches.

Alvyn fired his warpick rifle, and sidestepped a rushing barbarian. More were closing in around them, and behind him, Alvyn could hear the mercenaries beginning to fight.

With a hand to his chest, Kalgar shouted, “Taste the power of storms, you godless heathens!” And as he roared, thunder boomed all around them, knocking a whole group of barbarians to the ground.

Tong and Alvyn attacked the ice giant, but it was slow work. A few cuts were exchanged, and finally, Alvyn said, “Here, Tong, stick these in him!” Hearing the beat of wyverns overhead, he shouted, “Your targets are lit, take him out!”

The monk danced around the giant, trying to stab it with torches, but settled on jamming them into the ground. A whoosh was felt overhead, and the three had just enough time to duck before they saw a knight, riding a wyvern, holding a lance, impale the ice giant and fly away with it.

Not too far out of eyesight, they heard a sickening crunch, and the beat of heavier wings.

For the present, they were alone, but up ahead, they heard more shouting. They advanced, and were soon surrounded more ice giants and barbarians. Shouting, punching, shooting, warpicking, they made quick work of the barbarians but the ice giants were posing a problem.

All of a sudden, Mercury appeared and said, “You take that one, I’ve got this one!”

“Yeah, after we softened him up for you.” Alvyn quipped. As they fought on, they heard bloodchilling screams and the sounds of bodies breaking. They made quick work of the giants and as they turned around, they looked up.

Above them, with a wingspan of over 100 feet, was Rime. It was a cobalt dragon, with a thinner face than they had seen before, heavily muscled, and mist was streaming from its mouth. It beat its wings once, and the mist quickly cleared away, revealing the battlefield, full of corpses. Alvyn, Tong, Mercury, and Kalgar, were the only ones to survive.

“Rime! It’s Mercury, stop, we need to talk!”

The dragon landed, looked at the party, and charged them. Mercury took a few steps closer and caught the dragon’s face. The others leapt away, avoiding her as she was pushed back, waist deep into the ground.

“Are you here to attack me?” The dragon asked.

“No.” Mercury said, the dragon laughed.

Climbing out of the ground, Mercury brushed herself off.

“Listen Arbiter, I’ve got my loophole, and I’m using it!” The dragon snapped and flew away.

“What is he talking about?” Kalgar asked.

“Alright. It’s time you knew. As you can see, Rime is not simply some dragon that had been lost and found again. He is one of the dragons from the time of the Great Betrayal. He has grown in size and power over the years. After the Betrayal, after most of the dragons had been hunted by the remains of the fallen empires, the dragons left started a game. They would fight, behind the scenes, for power, first prize goes the world. As such, they made rules, and I, am the Arbiter, I make sure the rules are followed.”

“The rules of the Long Game are as follows:
1. A dragon's true identity must not be known by more than five living non-dragons. If additional non-dragons learn of the dragon's identity, creatures must be eliminated until five remain.
2. A dragon may not physically act unless its life is directly threatened.
3. A dragon may have no more than one living heir.
4. A dragon's heir may not produce offspring unless its parent is deceased.
5. A dragon must eliminate direct threats to the game when they arise. The game must not be unduly influenced by outside factors.
6. A dragon found to be in violation of any of these rules forfeits its position in the game and may be executed at the convenience of the other players. Evidence of the violation must be provided.”

“So now you know. Without knowing it, you’ve started making significant contributions to the Game. You’ve killed the heir of the white dragon of Albus, and you’ve recently killed off the Red line. As the Game continues, and grows, I am finding it harder to be where I need to be, upholding the rules. If I don’t uphold the rules, the dragons can and probably will exploit that. If that happens, this world is in trouble. As such, I want your help.”

The three looked at each other. Tong spoke.

“Tell me, did you feel anything when you took Vex?”

“Yes, he was a friend.” She said, Alvyn’s rage directed at Tong.

Taking a breath, Alvyn said, “Look, I’ve already got a job, so I’m not going to work for you, but I won’t work against you, either.”

Mercury said, “While there aren’t any rules regarding superweapons, Lilianna and I agreed that it would be in the best interest of all to keep an eye on them. We formed the Doomguard together.”

Alvyn looked at her, squinted and said, “Like I said, I will do what is needed, but I won’t work for you, my place is, as it always has been, with and for the people.”

They looked at Kalgar. He spoke, “Strength must be checked. The dragons need rules like everyone else.”

With a nod of agreement, Mercury pulled out a jar, containing a silvery liquid. “Hold out your hands, I will bestow upon you the mark of Arbiter. It will grant you permission to act and will demonstrate to the other dragons your role in the Game.”

Holding out their hands, she placed a single drop upon their palms. Quickly, the drop expanded, leaving a tattoo, a pale mark which matched Mercury’s symbol. (A d20 with no face) “This should also help you in times of need.” She added.

For all those gamers out there, the tattoo is a rather interesting one. It grants the possessor the ability to turn any d20 roll into any number you prefer, at any time. However, for each use, the DM can do the same on a later roll. So, gamble now and get a crit? Only to have the DM later turn that death-saving throw into a crit-fail? Tricky, tricky.

Tong looked at his hand, “Ah, a tattoo, how novel.” He smiled, as he looked at the other tattoos adorning his arms and chest.

“So, now you’ve faced against devils, demons, krakens, and dragons. And were the only survivors of this battle. You’re making big names for yourselves and the dragons will be watching.”

And with that, her wyvern landed, and she left.

Kalgar looked around, but could not find his horse. Fearing the worst, he whistled. The wind had calmed down, but Kalgar could not hear anything but the echo of his whistle. He tried again. Out of the forest came the familiar sound of hoof upon snow as Alan the horse, a little bloody, with some feathers caught on his saddle, sidled up to Kalgar.

“Oh, seems like you were involved in this fight after all. Good horse.”

Walking back toward Canitia, thinking on all they had learned, Tong asked Kalgar for the Edge of Sanity. Trusting his friend, but keeping an eye on him, Tong slipped the sword over his back and said, “I have thought about these burdens for some time. Wondering what the duality and contrast meant. One was a burden for good, the other evil, was there a connection? I must find out.”

An hour or so later, he stopped, stared out upon the plains and said, “I understand. I finally understand.” And with that, Tong stabbed himself in the chest with his sword, exploding in a flash of brilliance.

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