“Fell Extinguisher, save me from discovery by the barbarians,” the Nightfang assassin murmured as he daubed at spots on his scaly skin, applying a liquid from a small bright white bottle in spots along his arms, legs and torso. The oil had been extracted and extruded from the bodies of holy Jelhadari priests, a score of which had been murdered by the Guildmaster himself to produce six phials of essence to mask the brotherhood’s infiltration into the well guarded city.
Safely cloaked by the perfume of humanity, the serpentine creature drew closer to the camp of merchants who squatted around their central cookfire.
“Aye, Theros – but did anyone else SEE this fair maiden you claim seduced you ? Methinks it were a desperate fishwife or street trollop who made off with your rings, more likely than a Naiad !!” a jolly fat graybeard laughed at the younger man, drawing more laughter from the others and a scowl from the man in question.
“Twas a water sprite, i tell ya ! How else could she vanish into the fountain ??” he snarled.
The graybeard chortled. “Twas nighttime, ya barmy git ! She probably swam round the other side and vanished into an alleyway – rings and all !”
Ignoring the suppertime prattle of the mortals, the assassin skulked closer to the wagons – both for necessity as well as to test the efficacy of his potion. The horses nickered quietly when they caught his scent, drawing no notice from the gathered men – had the animals gotten whiff of his true form, it would have been a vastly different story. Mammals in general loathed reptiles, including serpent-men like himself. They subconsciously feared shapeshifters, and were absolutely PETRIFIED of undead – so being an Abyssal mix of all 3 should’ve caused the animals to flee screaming into the night. Once again, the guild alchemists had done their job well.
Easily manipulating the lock on a chest full of copper and silver ingots, the half-dead assassin called upon his questionable parentage and melted between the bars of metal to coalesce at the bottom – splashing out a little more essence from the white bottle before drawing the chest lid closed with a click. Now, it was merely a matter of patience. To pass the time, he mentally reviewed the curious attempts by the military – which had already failed to breach the city of outsiders.
The first batch of Laputan assassins had (as one might imagine) attempted to infiltrate V’ral from above. Three different hit squads flew in from random directions, making it to within a mile of the intrusive, foreign city when suddenly the magics holding them aloft abruptly failed. No warning, just BINK like someone threw a switch. Twelve bodies impacted the hard ground at nearly 120 miles-per-hour leaving arterial sprays across the soil, along with an assortment of bent and broken weapons.
The second group made it a bit further – two veteran squads invisibly approaching from east and west made it all the way to the outer gates of the city, there to be flattened by overjoyed and no-longer-bored Ogres who attacked visciously and with such ferocity that it frightened even the Laputan generals scrying from afar. The third pair of squads used the vastly stronger Dust of Disappearance and nondetection spells as they approached from north and south, but found their lives snuffed out even faster, to the disbelief of Laputan high command.
When the next squads were suddenly surrounded as they attempted to SNEAK in, completely without magic items or spells of any kind – the war leader figured he should abandon tried and true tactics against the hated otherworldly city and attempted to use various sorts of forbidden magics to infiltrate the town and breach its walls. Dimensional doorways, stoneswimming, teleportation circles and even mighty Gate magics all went awry – the fanatical hit squads who gave their lives at his behest simply winked out of existence, never to be seen again. The final attempt to use the Manaethereal Plane to shortcut past their defenses even failed – though it did get them past the wall.
Not yet ready to concede defeat and forfeit his life for failing the Emperor, the war leader hired the best assassins the Emperor’s money could buy – a guild of lethal killers known as the Nightfangs. Made up solely of inhuman shapeshifters, rumored to be crossbred abominations between serpentmen and dopplegangers – the Nightfangs counted among their number both living and undead assassins, some of which had been at their deadly trade for centuries.
Safely ensconced in the chest, the Nightfang pondered what kind of defenses his serpentine brothers would encounter as each made their way to the target. Belnor and Brakka were the youngest – and thus, most likely to get caught. Neither had yet died their first death, so the guildmaster sent the egg-siblings mainly as support for the older Nightfangs – primarily to observe and get in a few kills around the perimeter of the operation. Sithica, his own egg sister had died her first and fourth, most recent, death with him on mission in the underwater kingdoms – where sneaking about had to be discarded for less subtle movement, as water displacement often gave one away no matter how skilled. Seerras himself had barely escaped intact – and had willingly performed the Dark Sacrifice to revive his fallen sister, knowing full well she’d do the same for him one day. He wondered if her infiltration efforts had succeeded yet.
The final pair of Nightfangs on this mission were no siblings – Dustrith the Heartseeker and Fellburn the Fiery were assassins without equal. Both had succumbed to their death centuries ago, and yet remained bound by their oaths to Hellgrahast the Extinguisher – God of the Poisoned Blade. They would simply NOT DIE until another rose in their place, and Seerras hoped in his twilight years to serve in similar fashion – though it be scores of decades until he reached that lofty goal. No anoited servant of Hellgrahast feared death – it would come when it came, no sooner that their lord wished.
Boisterous laughter outside interrupted his dark thoughts. “Laugh while you can, mortals – your final breath draws nearer than you realize,” he hissed. Dustrith was unknown to him, save for story and rumour – but he’d worked once with Fellburn, removing a dwarven thane from his cavernous hidden fortress. There’d been only the two of them assigned to that odious task – and where Seerras and most of the Nightfangs preferred the subtle arts of stealth, Fellburn was more of a heavy-handed killer. By the time he’d reached the throneroom himself, Fellburn had immolated the king and his entire assemblage of dwarven nobles in a hellish elemental firestorm that’d set fire to the very stone underfoot. Seerras dearly hoped a similar experience was not in the cards for tomorrow ! Dodging enraged elemental titans wasn’t the mission he’d signed on for, and shadows were few and far between when literally everything was on fire.
Their was scant common knowledge about the tiny upstart kingdom across the Empire of Laputa – much was considered rumor or hearsay, though the singular FACT that everyone knew, was that some vastly powerful magics protected the city from direct attack. Enough soldiers had watched openmouthed at the failure of their powerful CityStrike to even breach the crystalline dome – and try as it might, the military couldn’t prevent that secret from escaping. Even now, rogue agents and rebel uprisings were becoming more common in the outlying towns and cities of the empire – as faint stirrings of hope returned to those formerly beaten into submission.
Enough curious spellcasters had scried the mysterious city, which according to rumor had appeared virtually overnight, that juicy nuggets of truth escaped via the grapevine – citizens love to talk of the forbidden, regardless of laws to the contrary. It seemed impossible to Seerras that inhabitants of the city he’d infiltrate on the morrow could domesticate OGRES, of all creatures – much less trust the foul creatures around their children, which the assassin knew to be a favorite food of the brutal giantkin. However, the Guildmaster confirmed not only this – but that the beasts were also gifted Mentalists, which sounded insane as a vampire trying to tan or a medusa selling mirrors.
“… and not only that, the beasts actually BATHE – and are said to possess uncanny scenting ability of an almost magical nature. Which is why i’ve provided you with Jelhadari essence, the most holy order of priests on our world.” Raising a heavy-seeming coin pouch, he added “And these….are ACCUMULATOR SPHERES – yes, i can see you understand the value of what i hold in my hand.” The slit eyes of the assassin had noticably widened as his hairless eyebrows shot up. “I know you could retire a wealthy man merely by selling the contents of this pouch to any thieves guild in the empire – yet it is proof of how much coin the war leader is willing to pay us upon the completion of your task. Each of you will take a pouch like this, and scatter its contents through the streets and buildings of the outlander city – where they will lay dormant for hours or days, weeks even before they’ve siphoned off enough energy to detonate and spread terror throughout their populace. We have…. OTHER gifts which you will save for your breach of the castle. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE are you to engage in combat beforehand – with ANYONE, we don’t need to trip any kind of warning. Flee and hide, surrender if you must – but hold off combat until the assassination attempt occurs, or you will spend your next six lives screaming and being devoured by fleshbeetles ! Do i make myself clear ?”
Seerras had kept his gaze lowered. “Of course, envenomated one. Hellgrahast’s will be done, in this life and the next.”
Mollified, the guildmaster relaxed into his chair. “One more thing of note : the priesthood of Illustria has spoken of their lady’s concerns regarding an elvish shapeshifter Archmage that lairs in the town. He is to be avoided at all costs, though AFTER the mission is complete you may certainly feel free to attempt capture or murder upon his person. A matching sum of pay will be added to whomever is able to claim his essence, in whatever form.”
The scaly assassin caressed the half-meter Soulstone runeblade at his offhanded hip. “I will harvest souls aplenty, for guild and honor !”
“See that you do, Seerras – i have a feeling we shall need souls aplenty for the coming war !” With coldly inhuman calculation, he’d watched the accomplished assassin equip his gear and vanish into the tunnels, murmuring after him “And may your oath not be needed on this mission !”
As the sun rose over the horizon the next morning, the merchant train from Haldripoor (a landbound human city nestled in the nearest base of a mountain range, some 120 miles northwest of V’ral) awoke and grumbled their way through breakfast. Stopping at the half-day outer marker – where an outpost squatted alongside the trail, they offered up their papers to the bored-looking guards. “Been this way before ?” one asked, cracking an infectious yawn.
“Aye, Merchant Aradin trading gemstones and precious metals. Looking to score a wagonload or two of dwarven-forged weaponry, then fill up on some of that… what was it called again ? Bloodweiser Red ?”
One of the younger guards moved down the side of the six wagons with a red-hot branding iron – stamping a sigil into the side of the 2 carts that were missing it. Others were busy counting boxes or collecting simple information from the people traveling with the train. The guard he was conversing with, spit on the ground. “Blech – cain’t none of them ogres brew worth a damn without their boss around. Tell ’em you want AGED Bloodweiser from the undervault – that’ll spoil your palatte for the new stuff, any day of the week ! Or go with Bug Lite – even ogres can’t fuck that up.”
Chuckling, the wagonmaster took back his signed travel documents and tilted his hat to the guardsman. “I’ll do that ! Tressia bless you with good fortune !”
“And may Roland bless you back !” the guard called, invoking his own deity instead of the merchant goddess native to this world.
Trundling along dirt trails and old roadways was a bumpy and unenjoyable experience – regardless of wagon springs, but past the outer marker the road abruptly changed into a wide and smooth stone pass so noticably different it momentarily alarmed the hidden assassin.
“By Tressia, this stonework be dwarven made or i’m a donkey’s son !” Aradin exclaimed in admiration. “I guess their boasts on me last visit weren’t empty ones !”
The wide stone thorofare could easily pass 4 wagons his size, side by side – so he waved them into a tighter formation, more to give him someone else to talk with rather than for security. Common knowledge from the citizens of V’ral spoke of a “safe zone” around the city, where the commoners could travel without worry of attack – even by the mighty flying fortresses of the Laputans. Compared to that, petty bandits were as dust on the wind.
Belphor, the driver of his 2nd wagon, inclined his head at the visible city drawing slowly closer. “What manner of defenses do you think yon city has ?”
It was a common topic of discussion, amongst commoner and noble alike – everyone wondered how a solitary city could stand up to the might of the Laputan Empire.
Aradin suppressed a smirk, never sure who might be watching or listening – the Laputans had spies everywhere in their territory, and it’d be a fools wager to believe none of his men or travelers who’d booked passage with him were loyalists.
“Sure’n they’ve got enough dwarves to remake the roadways – and roads aren’t the first thing ya build when fortifying a city. Legends of dwarven traps and devices could fill a wagonload of books – so i’m guessing they’ve put in more squat-forged defenses than your average mountain hold. The short folk are fond of ballistas, are they not ? And mixing mortar with fell substances to prevent magical entry. The spiked metal plates atop yon walls ?” he pointed at the massive steel adornments. “Wager a purse of gold they’re rigged to drop on intruders in times of invasion.”
Belphor shook his head. “No wager – though i wonder what intricate gearworks they use to accomplish such a task.” Little did he imagine that the inside plating closest to the wall was ALSO covered in spikes – of much tinier sizes, ranging randomly from an inch to a foot long. Any army trying to cross a downed plate would be in for a second costly and painful surprise. “What else, dya think ?”
Aradin carefully passed over an expensive spyglass. “Look atop the towers – what do you see ?”
A few moments ticked by. “Patrolling guards – and some sort of tube apparatus, little ones and big ones. What’s that do ?”
The wagonmaster took back his scope. “Some shoot long streams of fire, others a caustic liquid – or so i hear tell. Largest ones fire out metal spheres at a great distance, using wizard-wands as fuel. FUEL !! Can ye imagine ?” As usual, he was partially right – the cannons were built to withstand and channel the explosive power of small fireball charges, using that to propel enchanted or exploding projectiles up to 3 miles distant.
Belphor shivered with goosebumps. “Makes one wonder what kind of place breeds such madness !”
Aradin winked at him. “Best not think on it – keep ya from sleeping at night !”
“Bah ! That’s what ale’s for – and wenches !!” he bellowed loudly, getting a rousing cheer of WENCHES !! from the other wagons. Without needing any further encouragement, the wagon crew broke into their favorite drinking tune. Hidden in his box, Seerras groaned and pictured his sister eagerly soaking up information about the city as she strolled about, disguised – with her arm linked to a soon-to-be-deceased paramour. Girls had it so much easier than boys – even in the reptile kingdom !
“Who keeps us warm all thru the night ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
Who gets us into bar fights ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
Who’s fair of hair, or dark or red ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
Who keeps us drinking until we’re dead ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
Who’s purse we fill with coins of gold ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
Who’s softer bits we touch and hold ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
Who gets cuter the more we drink ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
Who doesn’t care if we all stink ? WENCHES !! WENCHES !!
The lines grew ever more crude, the men grew ever more loud – and when they rolled through the gates of V’ral, the guards took a cursory glance at their papers and pointed them straightaway to the Drunken Ogre tavern – where thankfully the barmaids were prettier by far than the homely halfogre bartender or his larger and even uglier brothers. Doling out stacks of coin to each of his men, Aradin collared the smartest of the bunch and reminded him “Now don’t you go letting the boys get all frisky with any of them whiterobes, ya hear me ? Not if ye want to see tomorrow !”
Motioning for the drivers to follow his lead, the wagonmaster led his train to the most heavily fortified warehouse – where one of the whiterobes mentioned earlier waved him forward when it was his turn in line. Sniffing delicately, Mieri announced “Low-grade gemstones, gold, silver and copper ingots. Oh? Oooohhh ? A platinum statuette ?”
Aradin sighed. “One day i’ll figure out how you Rolandites do that !! ’tis a gift from the high priest of Tressia, a peace offering to the head of your church. Lady Rose, i presume ?”
The rolandite smiled with all her teeth showing, fully aware he was gently probing for information. “Close enough ! Would you like me to have it stored safely in the castle vault until you’re ready to present it ?”
Grunting, he hefted the heavy box out from beneath the wagon seat he practically never left. “Yes, please – i’d hate…” his voice died as the seemingly weightless box vanished into the trailing sleeve of her robe. “Ummm…what… just happened ?”
Treating him to a cheshire grin, Mieri replied “It is now safely secured in the castle vault.” Passing him a small circular piece of shiny flexible metal, she added “And that is your claim ticket – present it to any of my sisters and they will return your gift in similar fashion.”
Gathering his thoughts for several seconds, he pointed at her sleeve with an index finger “Okay – my clerics and your clerics have a LOT to talk about !!!”
As the two merchants, one native and one whiterobed, flitted from wagon to wagon – she scribbled notes onto a magical slate, counting each box as it was opened while he watched hawkishly over the all-but-naked dwarven grunts who hefted and hauled out materials to their respective bins and stockpiles. Hearing them rustling about nearby, Seerras coalesced his form into a bar of copper – which took every ounce of his concentration to hold, as it was unnatural for something living to maintain the shape and consistency of the unliving. Luckily for him, the carrying dwarf didn’t pay much attention – nor did the whiterobe, overmuch… as copper wasn’t considered a blessed metal like silver, electrum, gold and platinum. Having several hundred pounds of MORE copper stacked atop him didn’t help matters, either.
While emptying the fourth wagon, suddenly there was a flare of energy beams from one corner of the warehouse – elicting shrieks from the native wagon drivers.
“The fuck was THAT ??” Aradin demanded as all work paused, like a switch was thrown.
“DO. NOT. MOVE,” commanded Mieri loudly. After 30 tense seconds, a tiny chime sounded and everyone else relaxed – resuming work.
“WELL ??” the wagonmaster inquired again.
Like a fairy ballerina, the rolandite shimmered and took to the air – floating gently over to where a scorched and blasted tail and bits of fur lay smoking on the stone floor. “Ewww – looks like what’s left of a rat !”
One of the drivers blanched, crying out “Snickers ??”
The wagonmaster scowled at the man. “Dammit, i told you to leave that fucking thing at home ! Next time you bring vermin on my train, i’m feeding your ass to one of the ogres !!!”
The man hid his face under a hat and sniffled, mumbling to himself piteously. Everyone else from the train had their attention on the vicinity of where the beams originated from – including one nervous ingot of copper. Moving ever so slightly inside his pile of copper, the assassin extended a tendril – pushing his eye out of the end, where he could see a shadowy, multi-tendriled shape hidden under several cloaks of magic as it shifted about the corners of the room. Extending more tendrils, he easily spotted two more – figuring them to be some form of beholder, from the number and types of beams unleashed.
“Don’t bother – you won’t see him unless he’s firing at you…. and by then, its probably too late anyway” Mieri sagely advised.
Aradin quirked an eyebrow. “HE ??”
She shrugged. “He / She / It, whatever – never been interested in taking one apart. Feel free to ask Rose’s pet alchemist, if you’re feeling brave or uncommonly foolish. Me, i’d sooner leave well enough alone.”
A sudden memory flitted across the mind of the wagonmaster – when, on one of his first visits to the Drunken Ogre tavern he’d seen an unmistakeable party of adventurers come in and claim a table… and how each and every person in the room subtly shifted their seats so that they could keep at least ONE eye on the strange 3-eyed dwarf. Even the enormous ogre bouncer, who spent most of the night nervously watching him. Returning his attention to the workers, he mentally urged them to finish quickly – then took his second, larger scrip before hurrying off to park his empty wagons at the nearest stable and join his men at the bar.
Less afraid of magical eyebeams and more afraid of being caught, Seerras took the opportunity to plant a vermin magnet on one of the dwarven grunts – waiting several rounds before planting darkness pellets and smoke pellets on several others. A sudden swarm of mice and rats, along with a sizable quantity of giant fleas swarmed into the warehouse – causing the hidden beholder-things to go fairly berzerk, so when the smoke and darkness beads shattered it was utter pandemonium. Flinging out a half-dozen accumulator spheres, he fled – snatching up a single brick of gold and silver on his way out, then dumping them inside random rainbarrels as he sprinted down alternate alleyways.
Correctly assuming they MIGHT hunt down the missing gold brick, possibly even the silver – but the assassin knew the copper was nearly valueless, holding more worth as a forge material than actual currency. Shifting his face and body into a man he’d recently killed on a previous mission, the assassin traveled around town – learning the lay of the land, even as he surreptiously dropped spheres hither and yon like an evil easter bunny. Mentally hoping his fellow Nightfangs were doing likewise, he made his way toward the castle entrance – burning an hour scoping out its weaknesses.
Even though it was all but impossible for him, or his kind, to use magic – it didn’t make them ignorant of HOW or why it worked. Like most magical castles, its front entryway was a not-so-hidden weave of detection and dispelling magics designed to skin away enchantments and reveal hidden people or objects. In the storybooks, the smart thief or villian bypasses that by going in via the kitchen, or sneaking in an upper story window – but in the real world, detection spells would trip silent alarms and have you hauled off to the dungeon likety split. It’d take one helluva thief to fight his way thru or past a platoon of alerted castle guards – dim though some of them might be. Likewise on chimneys – too many stories, too many times.
Believe it or not, the EASIEST way to sneak into a castle was in a food wagon – specifically, inside a barrel of water, milk, ale or mead. Any simple waterbreathing spell or item would allow you to hide submerged in the bottom of the barrel – which was heavy as shit anyway, so an extra hundred or so pounds would scarcely register. Also generally wound up getting set somewhere isolated and left alone – making it a cakewalk to emerge, dry off and be about your thiefly (or assassinly) business.
So when Seerras emerged in a pantry, spitting out the foul beastmilk from his breathing orifices, he was in a foul mood. “Stupid humans and their stupid foodstuffs !!” Wringing himself dry like a towel, he clambered up to hide over the doorway – waiting for a victim to copy. Some time later, a scullery maid visited the pantry for hanging sausages to slice – getting her throat sliced in turn, after the assassin grabbed her up and bullied her name out of the girl. “Victoria, sir !” were her last words, before he extinguished her life and stashed the body in the milk barrel he’d just abandoned.
Grumbling, he contorted his form into matching hers – then emerged to expertly cut up a tray of spicy summer sausage and wander with it toward the great hall. Nobody looked twice at a maid bearing a food platter – though one rude guardsman did snitch a few slices of meat, cheese and crackers when she scurried by. Pushing through the open doorway, she wandered through the crowd – letting people grab up two or three slices before moving on, steadily heading toward the southeast corner where he was to drop off his “gift”. Leaning back against the wall, he affected to yawn and fan at himself, while nudging his care package into the corner – behind a marble bust of some historical figure’s head.
Hurrying back to the kitchen, he made up another tray of snack crackers – then returned to the throne room, where he gradually made his way towards the front of the assembled citizenry. A loudmouthed man announced “Merchant Aradin from the city of Haldripoor !”
Bedecked in his finest attire, the smiling wagonmaster stepped from the crowd and profferred a white token to one of Rose’s attending rolandites. Lifting her arm, it fell into the sleeve on her left arm – causing his box to reappear from the sleeve on the right. “We have GOT to sit down and have a conference ! My church’s gift to you and your church of merchants, Lady Rose !” Inserting a key into one hole on the box made the wood vanish to reveal a solid platinum statuette of the goddess Tressia. “We offer peace and profitable trade to….”
The corner charges detonated.
The unluckiest few nearest to the charges received only minor concussive wounds, as the nonexplosive component was a compressed stone powder similar to that of flour or sawdust. Instantly, the air in the room was inundated with it, as folks instinctively dove away or fled from where the blasts occurred.
That wasn’t the worst of it, however. The 2 rolandites closest to the corners were bleeding from their eyes and ears, and almost nobody could hear – but as the wounded clerics naturally reached for healing gem or holy symbol, the first hint of truth occurred.
Their dwarven protectors had gone steely gray. In fact, ALL the dwarven protectors had lost their red accoutrements. No gems glowed, no spells functioned – even the rolandite’s robes had shut down.
Halfway across town, the perfectly timed explosion sounded like one bigger boom – making about a third of the populace look around curiously, trying to locate it. The only real clue, from the outside, that something was wrong was the shattering window panes in the great hall – which was barely audible to anyone more than a few hundred yards away. In the college of magic, a few teachers stuck their heads out windows – but seeing no black smoke or alarm being raised, returned to teaching class.
Sorvani generally didn’t attend the boring day-to-day bullshit of holding court – leaving that task to lesser mortals, fools who still cared about pomp and circumstance. Today was no different – so when the charges went off, he was atop his tower – trying to breakdown the self-regenerating magics inside a rod that’d attracted his interest. “Aww, did a dumb ole battleogre fall down ‘n go boom ?” he muttered snidely. One of his back processors discarded that idea, trying different battleogre noises he’d inadvertently recorded in his helm of total recall to see if any matched. Battleogre knocking ? Nope. Kinetic shovel hit, uh-uh. Battleogre lighting a fart ? Closer. Alchemist lighting a dragon fart ? Much closer. Hmmm.
Unsurprisingly, it was the Obelisk who was the first being outside the great hall to figure out something was definitely wrong. All of his lights around that portion of the castle suddenly went unresponsive. Wasn’t unusual for one here or there to die out and need renewed – he didn’t even bother to power most of them during daylight hours, but that whole node of his network just binked offline. Never one to waste energy, his first action was to project a wizard eye into that area of the castle – which uncharacteristically failed to appear. A second one did also. The third, however appeared where IT was sent – several hundred feet in the sky above the area, where the eye noted all of the blown out windows. This did not compute. The castle’s windows were formed of magically compressed superhard glass – easily capable of withstanding a direct ballista hit, which was no small accomplishment.
The obelisk’s chain of command was clear, and a psionic summons belled out across the city. “Sorvani to Great Hall – an antimagical attack has occurred. Battleogres to Great Hall – an antimagical attack has occurred.”
Inside the great hall, the chaos suddenly grew bloody. Clear, nearly invisible arrows dripping with vivapacted Brainbane poison began sprouting from every armored dwarf. Bereft of their magical armor, the brotherhood of the forge were easy targets for the expert assassins in the ceiling above – yet sturdy dwarven constitution prevailed even where magic had failed. Not terribly bright anyway, fully half of the two dozen dwarves went slackjawed as the toxin shorted out their limited mental faculties. Outside the shattered windows, hidden fireopals buried in the earth erupted into momentary 20′ wide silvery portals to the manaethereal plane – where Fellburn lurked, sending through a dozen angry Fire Titans who either reached through the broken windows or tried to tear their way inside.
From the shadow behind the throne stepped an emaciated, dust covered figure – who reached around to grab Rose by the neck and squeeze, talons drawing blood from her skin. Pinning her against the throne’s marble back, he drew his cylindrical soulstone blade and snarled “YOUR SOUL IS MINE !!!” Behind him, Seerras drew his blade and impaled the closest dwarf – watching the protector’s skin go as steel gray as his armor.
Shocked, overwhelmed and momentarily more frightened than she’d ever been before, Rose reached out with her mind and shrieked “EROK !!!!” with every bit of her draconic magic left that hadn’t yet dwindled away.
Two very strange things happened. Seven multiverses over, the dusty skeletal remains of a half-ogre suddenly swirled up and reassembled itself – looking around for what woke it from slumber. And in the hidden Godsroom of the castle, some unknown powerful force smashed the bodies of Varalla and Belenor, the two high priests of Roland and Reorx/Damien, together – rippling outwards across the city as Rose’s call latched onto the closest piece of her beloved battleogre.
Atop the tower, Sorvani got the obelisk’s message and tried to open a wormhole to the great hall – which failed utterly. Smacking himself in the forehead, he muttered “DUH ! He said some kind of….” the ripple of energy flashed across the city, easily visible to the eyes of a powermaster. “Uh-oh…”
In the brewery, Ogre dimdoors and teleports had similar unhelpful effects – so without further ado, every Battleogre there or at the gates tapped their Haste gem and hauled balls toward the castle. Ogres hated to miss a good asskicking.
Feeling the manaethereal gates open outside the great hall, the Obelisk didn’t wait for permission and activated the city shield – forcefully cutting off all access to ANY extraplanar space. Yet even he was powerless to stop the boomerang of the powerwell from Rose’s call – not that he wanted to. It did give him some satisfaction, however to note that four more Fire Titans were bisected when the gates collapsed – and even now, one very worried assassin on the Manaetheral plane was suddenly staring at 4 dead titans while their 8 enormous friends turned on him. It was not going to be a good day for Fellburn the Fiery.
Standing before the throne, Dustrith was suddenly overwhelmed by a VERY BAD FEELING – as if some unstoppable force was a mere heartbeat away. Behind him, a heat shimmer in the air blasted everyone back as a 15-foot tall admantium ogre appeared – already in mid swing. It’s left hammer-hand impacted with the force of a 20-ton ceiling block – crushing Dustrith into powder, blade and all. The golem’s head slowly turned right with a clank – and Seerras knew with certainty he would die another death here today as the cold metallic eyes stared through him.
Running another of Rose’s protectors through with his soulblade, he backpedaled away from the golem – mind racing frantically through anything he might have to slow the automaton down. Sensing her egg-brother’s fear, Sithica dropped from the ceiling – impaling the closest rolandite with HER twin soulstone swords and making a desperate leap for the regent. A punishing BONG sound echoed throughout the castle as an admantium shovel mounted to the right arm of the golem sent Sithica flying across the room to crunch against one of the ceiling support columns.
Taking the momentary opportunity offered by her distraction, Seerras ran up the back of the automaton – hoping to find a weak spot or better vantage point to attack his ultimate target. Even under a hail of poisoned arrows, however – the rolandite Regent was protected by her dwindling number of dwarves. A metallic ratcheting sound echoed around the room as the head of the golem slowly rotated 180 degrees, opening its mouth to spew a cone of black dragon acid across the intruder on its back. Seerras shrieked and launched himself away from the torrent, running halfway up the 50’ wall – sloughing off damaged skin and tissue with a pained hiss.
Across the room, two of the fire titans finally managed to squeeze inside – after smashing out the wall area between pairs of windows. One waded purposefully towards the throne – the other merely gave into its murderous instincts and ROLLED across the floor, crushing humanoids and setting them alight like so much kindling. Overhead, a door-sized upright halo drew into existence – fading away as abruptly as it appeared.
At his tower, Sorvani cussed up a blue streak as his wormhole failed – then reached inside it as only a powermaster could and RE-TUNED the malfunctioning psionic effect into a different energy source. Patching in a resonanting harmonic key (known only to a select few in V’ral), he bypassed the Obelisk wards and opened a Kinetic Wormhole into the throneroom. “Ha ! Fuck you !” he crowed, stepping through – only to fall like a stone into crushed and burning citizens on the other side, when his persistent fly spell binked off. “Dammit – i really need to tweak my morning batchspell….” The drow powermaster made an odd face as his entire head went numb.
The hail of arrows from overhead changed color, now targeting the slackjawed dwarves and a few daughters who’d fallen victim to the mind-melting poison – and a loud, rumbling voice too big and deep to be mortal growled “AWAKEN, MY SONS !!!”
In the Godsroom, 3 of the 4 looked worriedly at the eldest of the lot – who’s mortal form was barely visible anymore, wrapped in a coccoon of white. “Couldn’t be….Mystra, was that ??”
Outside the great hall, crystalline doorways shimmered into existence – disgorging two flavors of asswhoopin. The side with six fire titans still trying to break into the castle was suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a hooting and hollering band of ogres – who laid into the titans, focusing their attacks and dropping two in the first round. On the other side, two larger gates saw the arrival of swarms of red-plated dwarves – and another pair of titans met their demise under a barrage of hundreds of enchanted hammers.
Within the throneroom, the first flame-wreathed titan reached out and grabbed Rose – who howled as she caught fire, only to be dropped by the enormous giant as an admantium hammer thwacked into his elbow. Rolling out her burning robes, she was the first to notice the CHANGE in the slack-jawed dwarves – when their eyes rolled back, a second before their flesh seemed to just lose its consistency and melt onto the floor where they stood… leaving nothing but bones and muscle remnants and,
“WORMS !!!!” she shrieked in disgust, a wave of revulsion making her shudder and dive forward onto the golem to get away from the foul things. The deep, divine chuckle that could be heard across the city gave goosebumps to the whole populace. Seerras whistled to get the attention of his fellow assassins – pointing at the metallic golem. “FOAM HIM !” A cascade of small spheres dropped around the shiny ogre, blasting outward in a sizable quantity of gray foam which instantly took on the strength and consistency of concrete. However, even buried up to its waist in the stiff and gloopy morass, the shovel and hammer would probably make short work of the concrete. The assassins had bought themselves a few short rounds, nothing more. By the throne, Dustrith’s remains were reassembling, bone shards locking together and reforming long leg bones as ribs snapped into place.
Sprouting a crown of eyeballs, the powermaster frowned – not liking the way things were going. Inside Sorvani’s head, a roundtable discussion was taking place between his disparate mental splinters.
“Kinetic Airquake ?” offered the blue mage thoughtform
The oft-dullwitted green physical thoughtform shook his head. “Blow worms everywhere ? Good plan.”
Red psionic thoughtform concurred vehemently. “That’d be so many levels of bad. Better to Voidquake and annihilate everyone in the throneroom !”
The white clerical splinter argued “Can’t we find some happy fucking medium, guys ? Jeez ! How about a holy nova ?”
Blue scowled. “In an antimagic zone ? C’mon – d’ja forget to drink your coffee this morning ? Hey green, grow us a new head – see if it goes numb, too.”
Outside in the throneroom, Sorvani reached up and tugged on his white mane – lifting his head from his shoulders as easy as you or i would take off a hat. The new one that grew, inflated into its place, looking around – then numbness began tingling in it once again.
Red offered “Gotta be something in the air we’re breathing – prolly causing the antimagic effect.”
White added “So we need to get our ass out of the throneroom !”
Blue, always the smartest of the bunch, rubbed his chin. “Green, grow roots into the floor. Keep going down until you hit magic again.” Staring at a strange, double-lobed halfmoon device hanging on a hook, he waited for it to begin glowing once more – then held it to his ear. “Obelisk, i need you to lock down the exterior of the castle – and as much of the interior as you can, except 200 feet or so around the throneroom. You gonna have a problem plucking out and ‘porting away a messhall of citizens ? Good – then lastly, i want you to reverse gravity on the entire castle.”
Suddenly everyone and almost everything in the throneroom began floating upward. Sorvani grinned evilly and triggered a Magnified Kinetic Airquake – which blasted most of the throneroom out of the wide open windows, the path of least resistance. Letting himself get blown out as well, he multiplexed a quickened, twinned Magnified Voidquake in the sky above the castle – which started vacuuming up everything floating upward. Twinkles of light, like tiny stars or a fireworks display flashed as the Obelisk ported away citizens – leaving the undead, assassins and anyone unknown to its stored patterns to enjoy the experience of being annihilated by the Void. Howling with rage, the Fire Titans did their best to flee – but they just didn’t have the speed needed to escape the pull of the short-lived singularities.
Inside the throneroom, Rose was half-buried in the cement that coated the lower half of the golem. The softest of footsteps made her twist around, even with her hips locked in place. Seerras’ reptilian face sneered as he swung a killing blow at the regent – getting swatted away like his sister had, with an admantium shovel. Bouncing back to his feet, he growled “You can’t kill me, and i can’t kill you. Stalemate, for now !”
A loud and prolonged SHIIIING sounded as a giant purple-limned black swordblade slid from the bracer on the hammer-arm of the golem. “WRONG….” it grumbled with a voice like boulders rubbing together, impaling the assassin on its tip.
Having managed to reconstitute his fly spell, Sorvani reached the upper window of the throneroom just in time to see a coruscating wave of energy the likes of which he’d never seen ripple up the arm of the golem to the impaled assassin – who lost his color and bleached white as a rolandite’s robes before falling to ash. In the magical eyes of the powermaster, smaller ripples of power feathered off the crumbling body, splitting to fly off in dozens of directions. Intuiting its possible destination, Sorvani pinged “Obelisk, drop the dome.”
The blue crystalline dome around the city vanished – and over the next few minutes, nestmates and relatives of the assassin clutched at their chests and lost all color, likewise crumbling to ash. As the guildmaster of the Nightfangs suddenly ceased to be, a DIVINE screech of anger blasted across the capitol city of Laputa – and an equally destructive blast of ravening energy backtraced the branching pathway across the continent to the golem, shattering the black blade and the entire arm which held it.
To Sorvani’s amusement, the golem frowned and stuck out its big bottom lip – glancing at the stump of its shoulder. “Ouchie….”
Overcome with laughter, the drow gasped “Guess you won’t be using that trick again, huh ?”
The admantium face clanked to look at the powermaster, mouth opening in an evil grin – and a second Ancestral Blade of Artak emerged from the shovel-hand’s bracer. “Wrong…. turd,” which only made him laugh harder.
A plaintive, exasperated voice bitched “If you two are quite DONE, i need a little help getting free of this damn… rock !!” The regent was looking around at her smashed throneroom with disdain. “Great, i guess its up to ME to get this mess cleaned up !”