Part II

Returning to the Rolandite temple, the drow readied himself for battle – knowing full well that the tactics he’d used at the other two churches would fall on deaf dwarven ears. Holding his holy symbol out like a priest warding off a vampire, he cracked open the great doors and went inside – symbol first. Dozens of gleaming red eyes stared back at him from their battle-ready formation before the door. “Umm – hi guys. I need….” Noticing a group of very familiar figures standing around the platinum altar, a glimmer of hope stirred in his chest. “… to talk to Varalla’s protectors up there. Yes, i know you’ll strike me dead if i try anything funny.”

Edging carefully around the dangerous group of greybeards, Sorvani moved up between the pews – trying not to fidget as his back itched with the impending thwack of an axe blade. Internally shifting his organs about to minimize weapon impact damage, he strode up to the tight-knit group of dwarves he knew best of all the disagreeable squats in town. “Greetings Durak.”
A typical dwarven frown met his salutation – though it didn’t hold the sour look of distaste or disdain that nearly every other bearded face in the room displayed when talking to elves of any stripe.

“Drow.” Durak wasn’t a very wordy dwarf, preferring to listen and bark single word orders to his fellows.
Clearing his throat, the powermaster leaned closer and murmured. “I need a favor.”
This clearly surprised the greybeard, who looked him up and down carefully – checking for injuries that might’ve addled his brains. “Y’daft ?”
“Ah, no – being a ganger now, my brain is decentralized. That means it’s….”

Noting the scowl which appeared on Durak’s face, Sorvani sputtered to a stop – realizing that he was addressing someone who’d either killed or studied how to kill nearly every creature that walked the realms. The duchess’ High Protector was so focused on his duty that stories abounded about the warrior absorbing fatal hits and simply refusing to fall until his foe was first dead. “Anyway – i, er, we have a problem. Can we talk privately ?”
Looking sideways at his second, the dwarf barked “RING !” – and in practiced unison, Varalla’s other protectors fanned out four strides, facing outward. Banging their shields down on the stone floor, the ringing clang of metal faded abruptly away as a barricade of silence domed the two men and the supine chosen of roland behind them.

Sorvani studied the spell dome – having never seen that particular trick before. “Hmmm. Here’s what we’ve got – one shattered obelisk and a big, hairy unknown situation which puts us all at risk. You’re well aware that the city’s primary defenses are, or rather, WERE run by the obelisk. Right now all we’ve got protecting us is a partially-collapsed wall and the town militia – and i’m not ashamed to admit, the pucker factor is running pretty high right now. You’re aware of what attacked and shattered the shield before everything went to hell ?” At his nod, the drow continued. “Anything that spooks the obelisk scares the HELL out of me. There’s been some sort of break in the divine conduit between here and the gods. Nedok is the only awake priest right now, and he’s confirmed that his prayers and spells aren’t working. I… need to gather magic from every caster in town to try and repair the obelisk – which means i need to drain the mana pool from all the clerics, who aren’t awake and can’t use it anyway. Do you understand ?”

The powermaster’s mental and psionic abilities couldn’t easily penetrate a Helm of Reorx – much less the thick dwarven skulls which they sat on, but he could see the protector’s mind spinning behind flinty eyes, coldly calculating thoughts, variables and plans. In a gravelly voice, the dwarven general spoke the longest string of words the drow had ever heard him utter. “Brewery. Come back as dwarven brewer Balanth with barrel of Jamos in tow. Go ’round and fill mugs, touch each lass on tha’ forehead with ‘is holy symbol of Moradin and say ‘Kalketh Nuum Addor, la’chweyr’.”

Sorvani blinked, then nodded at the dwarf’s sage advice. “Sleep and heal, little sister. And any telltale glow from me gathering the magic they happen to spot will be interpreted as merely the blessing going off. Nice.”
Hefting his unbelievably large axe, the leader of Varalla’s retinue gave the drow a pointed look.
“Yeah, yeah – i know. I won’t live to see another tomorrow if i hurt them. I got that message the first ten-thousand fucking times,” he groused as a stomp from Durak made Varalla’s other protectors drop and disperse their privacy screen.

Suddenly, three LOUD booms echoed through the sanctuary, moments before the door opened and an ugly ogre head peeked in – which was immediately peppered by a hundred thrown axes and hammers. Shimmering with kinetic energy, it waited until they paused for a second throw and bellowed “Feelin’ the luuuv – yup yup yup. Glad you midgets got it under control in here.” The door slammed shut before the second wave of missiles could hit – and the heavy metal portal rang like a bell from all the impacts.

Boisterous ogre laughter outside brought forth a wave of shouted dwarven insults, and the two races of ancient enemies verbally sparred back and forth at the top of their lungs. Shaking his head at the antics of ogres, Sorvani flitted up and out a high window. Winging over to the enormous, ogre-built but dwarven-designed brewery – Sorvani took a few minutes to circle the giant structure. Landing in the empty courtyard beer garden, he stepped over to a long and polished bar. From behind it an angular, multifaced metallic head bobbed into view – torso and parts of limbs arising in a jumble. In only a few moments, it assembled itself – this time looking like a tallish metal gnome.

The odd golem cocked its head and announced “Master Sorvani – what a pleasant surprise. I don’t recall you ever coming to visit this early before. Would you care for a bottle of…” something inside it whirred. “… Athasian white wine ? Straight from Tithian’s vinyards !”
Startled, the powermaster stood agape. “Kron, how in the nine hells do you have any of THAT ? By the gods – i haven’t tasted Tithian White since…. since i was ON Athas !”
Conspiratorily, the golem leaned in and winked. “Special shipment came in just last week. Seems some bloke named Malathon was repaying a favor to the boss – with a large shipment of veritably unknown athasian beverages. Per our standing orders, 65% of all incoming stock is available for purchase.”

“How much for a bottle ?” the intrigued powermaster asked.
The golem stepped back. “It is an extremely rare commodity – though not magical, obviously. We’re offering it a 200 gold per bottle.”
Without hesitation, the drow reached for his portable mansion – then grumbled, and rooted around in his robes for his coin pouch. Pulling twenty dusty platinum coins from it, he slapped them on the bar.

A minute ticked by. The golem’s head swiveled about, then in an annoyed voice he advised “Bother. Seems someone’s made off with the Weave. No matter – i’ll summon a winespider.” Tapping a little blue gemstone on his lapel, the odd automaton blew a series of tonal chirps and whistles into the amethyst – and before another minute fully ticked by, a multilegged metal spider with a wine bottle held above its torso skittered into view. Galloping quickly behind the bar, it whistled up at the barkeep – who carefully snagged the frosty bottle and deposited it on the bartop. “Served chilled to better bring out its crispness – which as i understand, is an unusual treat on Athas.” Sweeping the coins into a concealed box, it offered Sorvani a corkscrew – but the powermaster shook his head.

“No corkscrews on Athas – metal is too scarce. Wine is either opened telekinetically,” he held out a hand and pushed the cork out with his mind “or see here ? The bottle top is scored – you can just snap it off too.” Pouring himself a glass, the elf admired the aroma – which triggered memories from decades ago. Sipping at the drink, he was rewarded with a mix of unique flavors. “One day i’m going to figure out how you ALWAYS know what people want to drink, Kron. But not today. Is a dwarf named Balanth working today ?”

The golem turned to stare at the wall, panning his head slowly in a circle. “He’s hauling barrels of honey up from the basement. The dwarves are in a foul mood – something about a concussion and souring the mash. Would you like me to summon him ?”
Unsure of what he meant, Sorvani abruptly realized that it was pretty much up to him to send city wide announcements. Keying up a telepathic pulse, the powermaster broadcast “Transpositional and displacement magics appear dangerously unusable. No attempt at porting or summoning should be made until further notice.”

Still waiting for his response, the golem blinked – unaffected by nearly all forms of magic and psionics. “No, Kron – summoning and porting are broken right now,” the drow echoed verbally.
The automaton frowned in confusion – which was an amusing sight to see, then tapped a little red ruby on his opposite lapel. “Kron to Balanth – report to biergarten when available.”
Swirling his glass, the drow finished his drink – then pawed through his meager coinpurse. “How much does a barrel of Jamos cost ?”

Kron replied automatically “Genuine Jamos retails at 15k per barrel. Beerdwarf Jamos sells for 10k.”
Sorvani sighed. “Don’t suppose i could put one on credit ?”
The golem waited, as if expecting a punch line. “That… is a significant amount for a bar tab. I cannot authorize it… at the moment, nothing outside these walls seems to be responding to my queries. Most odd. But if you’d like to leave something as credit assurance…”

Feeling at his robes, the drow touched and discarded various magical baubles – then settled on the jeweled dagger at his belt. “Fifth order Damar-forged dagger ?”
Accepting the proffered blade, the golem’s eyes lit with momentary blue fire. “Quite acceptable. You have 30 days to repay the tab and reclaim your property. Would you like genuine or beerdwarf ?”
Pouring himself another glass of wine, the drow replied “Genuine, please – and if it’s not too much trouble, have Balanth bring it out. And a pushcart too.”

Managing to finish the bottle while he waited, the powermaster wasn’t surprised when a set of doors flew wide and four solemn dwarves escorted the precious barrel of their most favorite brew out on a royal litter. Easing it gently to the ground, they treated the heavy barrel as if it was made of finest porcelin. One said “I am Balanth. Would you like us to tap it for you ?”
Sorvani didn’t really want the scent of Jamos wafting about – ensnaring any dwarf in the vicinity, but needed to get close enough to sample the dwarf he was to copy. “You – yes. You tap it and drink the first glass. Make sure it’s safe !”

Outrage battled with naked desire on the dwarf’s features – then the all-powerful dwarven thirst overrode all conscious thought. Expertly driving a tap into the bung, he loosed a foamy tide of liquid into a mug which’d hung from his belt – stopping only when it reached the top, and not spilling a single droplet. Raising the mug, he nodded at Sorvani and tilted it slowly back – giving the drow plenty of time to sidle close enough to sample him unseen (not terribly difficult when a dwarf’s eyes are rolled back in his head from ecstasy). A dreamy smile of bliss washed away any thought other than joy from the dwarf. “Ahhhhhh.”

The other dwarves were looking hopefully at Sorvani – in case he wanted more assurances or volunteers, but the elf had everything he wanted. “Good enough. Can’t stomach it myself – but the dwarves at the temple of Roland will surely sing your praises.” Waggling a finger at the golem, he added “I’ll be back to collect my dagger – and some more of that Athasian wine. So don’t sell it all, hear ?”

Morphing into the shape of a half-giant, he picked up the barrel and cart – then stomped determinedly off towards the temple of Roland. Knowing he’d never make it through the forge alive with a barrel of Jamos, Sorvani heaved himself over the wall and into the rolandite courtyard – then shifted form to match Balanth. A simple alteration spell turned a stone into the holy symbol he needed, and whistling a half-remembered forgesong he pushed his way into the rear of the church.

Growls and glowing eyes materialized in the darkness. “Temple be closed, brother” warned a baritone voice.
“I come to bring my brethren the blessings of Moradin…. and Jamos.”
The growls choked off abruptly, followed by snuffling and sniffing. “Ye don’t smell like the forge !”
Thinking fast, Sorvani grasped at the first thing that came to mind. “Wasn’t there – across town an’ had a ladies store collapse on top o’ me ! Survived, so i figured it was a blessin from ‘da merchant god – here ‘ta offer me thanks, after washin off all that stinky toilet water. Now, ya want me beer – or should i take it to tha ogres out front ?”

That sold them, and they couldn’t help him inside fast enough. Hiding his smirk underneath Balanth’s beard, he doled out heavenly mugs of brew and less divine “blessings” to their wards – idly wondering if Moradin would ever learn of the deception. Hoping the dwarven all-father had better things to worry about, he moved through the church – fully aware that Durak was watching him like a hawk. Finally, he went up to the altar and offered the dwarves there the rest of the barrel. Considering his oldest friend, Sorvani weighed the possibility that he might accidentally tap into her Chosen powerwell – and decided not to risk blowing himself up again. “Moradin’s blessing on her,” he waved the symbol in the air instead and withdrew out the front door.

“Whew !”
A shadow engulfed him as the battleogre outside stepped to the left, looking down at him with a big eye. “Sup, runt ?” A matching ogre stood on the other side of the entryway, idly scratching his butt. Two more were down by the ever-growing number of refugees – using their impressive strength to easily put up tents or restack large wall blocks and timbers to reinforce sagging buildings.

Shifting back to his normal form when the ogre looked away, Sorvani almost got smushed when the giant turned back and found him in that same spot. “GAHH !” the ogre bellowed in surprise, jumping to the side. “Did you eat that dwarf ? The fuck, man !”
Focusing his excess energy a final time into the voidcrystal fragment, he snapped “Where are the other misbegotten sons of Arg right now ?”
His painful answer came in the form of a shovel. “I know what misbegotten means, turd.”

Grunting, the drow realigned his facial features. “Noted. The other ogres ?”
“Brok sent 4 of us to each temple, and he went up to ‘da castle wit’ a couple more. Udder 4 are guardin ‘da brewery.” He paused for a few seconds. “Nobody’s makin trouble ‘cept ‘da little cat-guy. Drek’s tired of his bossy yappin and is threatening to spay him if he don’t shaddup.”

The powermaster couldn’t repress a snicker. Only an ogre would consider Nedok “little”. The larger siblings and cousins of Erok weren’t welcome in many places, but he kept a squad of 20 or so employed at his brewery – where their large frames and strength were put to good use. After several notable brawls, accidents and resurrections – Varalla had strongly suggested that the town brewmeister be more selective of which relatives he bring to her town. A suggestion she reinforced by mentioning that further medical and repair bills would be applied as a yearly tax on the brewery – and now the ogres were much better behaved, only turning violent when unduly provoked. Or unduly insulted, apparently.

Hoping Nedok’s wisdom would prevail over his mouth, Sorvani flew back to the obelisk shard. Nodding to his mini-me, he relinked to the softly glowing crystal and channeled into it all the power he’d managed to collect in the voidcrystal fragment. When it ran dry, he kept going – dumping every iota of his own pool, then cannibalizing his own body… converting it all to magic. The larger Sorvani began to shrink as his hitpoints, then stat points were siphoned away into the crystal – which had brightened noticably. As the larger powermaster twinkled away into nothingness, his gear and clothing fell to the ground – where they were gathered up by the mini-me.

Unsteadily hefting the obelisk remnant, the tiny powermaster struggled to carry it back across town – then climbed with it up to the top of his tower, knowing that the crystal also harvested energy from sunlight. Ransacking the magic items in his tower, he drained several dry to rebuild his physical form – then fell into exhausted sleep at the top of his tower.

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