Chapter VI: The Underdark


Finding Qul'Wrath



     Crow Lord drops a bucket into the town's well, filling it up with water. He pulls up the bucket and looks into it, reflecting into the pure, crystal clear water. As he gazes into the water, he takes note of his fresh scars, formed during the hard decade of being trapped in the realm of blood and bone. During those years, he never really had the chance to notice his reflection.

     As he gasps at the large scar that stretches across his face, he notices that the water in the bucket begins to darken. He gazes inwards, confused, noticing that the water turns blood red, likely from the dead rivers of blood from the fight in the sewers.

     Crow Lord shrugs his shoulders, thinking to himself "Huh, that's not normal."

     He takes the bucket to Stormdrake, who looks into the red bucket. "Red and full of debris. However, it's nothing that I can't purify."

     Stormdrake sticks in a talon and mutters something under his breath. Then, bits of charcoal float out of the bucket, and the blood vanishes from the water, turning it crystal clear once again. Stormdrake pulls out his holy symbol, which he still keeps near him even after his transformation, and places it within the bucket.

     "There we go! Holy water, purified and ready for scrying."

     Blackwing walks out from the town's tavern, heavily intoxicated and barely cognitive of his surroundings. He looks over at Crow Lord, who is gazing into a bucket of water, surrounded by Selene, Eranah, Stormdrake, and now Spider, who crosses her arms as she pulls up her mask and bites into a roasted chicken leg.

     He walks over to the group, who are saying something about a den of vampires deep under the surface of the realm, and kicks the bucket over 'accidentally.' Crow Lord looks up at the kenku angrily, then stands up and places both hands on his head.

     Blackwing struggles against the barbaric druid's powerful grip, and feels the effects of his hangover wash away. Crow Lord releases Blackwing, who stumbles back a few steps before reaching clarity.

     Blackwing looks at his hands for a brief moment, then back at Crow Lord with his beak agape. "Incredible! You cured me of my hangover! Sir Daimon Krough... remind me to keep ye handy after a night 'o' drinkin'!"

     Crow Lord smacks Blackwing across the face for knocking the bucket over. And because he felt like it.

     As Blackwing is knocked over onto the ground, Crow Lord refills up the bucket and proceeds to have Stormdrake cleanse it again. Crow Lord looks back into the bucket, receiving the directions to Tharyn once again: The Throne of Skoraeus, a large diamond, a tall tower of white stone, a large circular stairwell that leads down into darkness, and finally the statue of a large bat. Crow Lord relays these images to Selene and Eranah, who share them aloud with the party.

     Spider stands quietly in the back of the group, thinking about her trials during the past year. There lies, deep under the surface of Kalrosh, a series of tunnels where the Queen of Spiders, Arachnida, lies in wait. Taking that route will be faster, however, peril would find them.

     Spider focuses back on the group, who are all now turned towards them. Selene is gazing at her, and despite wearing black clothe over her eyes, Spider swears that woman is looking right through her.

     Suddenly, Selene blurts out "I think Spider may have an idea, which could help to save us some time, should she wish to share it with us."

     Spider looks at the angel with anger. "How dare she read my mind..." She thinks.

     Selene shrugs her shoulders. "My apologies. We angels are not used to the concept of this 'privacy' that you mortals feel."

     Spider rubs her nose with her fingers, unaligning her mask slightly. "So, as I was thinking in the privacy of my own mind, there lies a series of tunnels underneath Kalrosh that lead to the Underdark, as I have called them. The Underdark is filled with dangerous beasts, spiders, vampires, and a large spider queen named Arachnida: the first daughter of Lolth. The Underdark is reached easily from a mountain north-west of here, however if we go, I do not think that we will all be making it through. Either way, we will have to cross into the Underdark to reach Tharyn, however Arachnida is a demigod. Even with two angels, Warsch, and Crow Lord's pyromancy, I don't think it will be an easy fight."

     Blackwing rubs his beak, then scratches his head. "Me thinks it would be safest to travel to the mines and then down that stairwell. It may sacrifice a day, but I know my abilities. I can skulk and stealth my way through with ease. I vote on easy combat versus the ease of travel."

     Selene and Eranah look at each other and nod. "We know of Lolth, and we have met Arachnida before. It will not be an easy fight, for Arachnida's venom is capable of killing deva with ease. Our previous fight... was costly. Many of our followers did not make it before we had to retreat. We will take the mines.

     As the party all agree on a goal, Warsch and Alethra approach from opposite ends of the party.

     Warch looks a little haggard, his face lined with sweat and his breath is haggard. Alethra is covered in a series of open wounds, however she is wearing a new cloak, which consists of a bunch of loose, black cloth, which flow off her shoulders down her back. With her new cloak on, the shadows seems to dance around her, pulling and snapping towards her as she limps through the town center. She keeps a hand over her stomach, trying to stop her heavy bleeding.

     "I need... healing!" She grunts as she falls to the ground.

No Gods, No Masters



     Alethra recounts her trial to her allies, starting with the events after finding the blood-soaked woman in the alley:-

     Alethra backs away from the demoness, whose red eyes and sour breath sickens her, twisting her mind. Alethra looks all around her, the buildings around melting like wax, the sky swirling like pellets of paint mixing together grotesquely.

     As she feels herself slip further into whatever madness had taken hold of her, Alethra soon finds herself in a large square room, with a bunch of hooks hanging from the ceiling and the walls. The floor is the same as the town, with bricks lined up in a perfect pattern.

     Alethra looks back at the demoness, who is now clothed in a large black cloak and black leather armor. The demoness smiles at her, and licks her lips.

     "Oh, I've heard so much about you, Alethra! The Warlock of Grazz't, however word on the street is that he is very disappointed in you. That's why I'm here. I'm a debt collector, and specially suited against you. My name is Nychterida, the Maiden of Sorrow. I've come for your head."

     Alethra aims her demonic pistol, fueled by sorrow, and pulls the trigger. However, the gun makes a weak clicking noise, and no blasts of energy fly out from the pistol.

     "What? I'm out of mana?" Alethra says.

     Nychterida laughs. "Maiden of Sorrow. I've completely drained you of your Sorrow, rendering your powers useless!"

     Alethra laughs alongside the demoness. "Sorrow, eh? It's a shame that sorrow isn't my only power!"

     Alethra thinks back to the rage she felt within the caverns against the Oni, who murdered her child. She reflects to her stand-down with the town's priest who had gone mad, and the euphoria as she shot him out of a window. With her Hatred returned to her body and the burst of energy it brings, Alethra is enveloped in a shroud of red energy.

     Nychterida gasps. "Impossible! A Warlock with two mana sources? It's not possible! No warlock or demon has that kind of power!"

     Alethra takes off her glove and aims her palm towards the demon. "Impossible is my middle name!"

     A powerful blast of red explodes from Alethra's hand, which strikes the demoness in the chest, punching a large hole through. Vast spurts of black blood fill the area around Nychterida, who falls to her knees and begins choking, gasping for air.

     Alethra stores Hatred into her pistol, and places the barrel of the gun against Nychterida's head.

     "No Gods, No Masters!" Alethra begins to squeeze on the trigger, expecting to blow the demoness's head clean off. Instead, the beam scatters against her black hair, which is now falling off quickly.

     Alethra jumps backwards, expecting trouble. As her right foot lands on the stone ground, a large black wing swipes at Alethra, cutting through her left leg down to the bone. Alethra falls to the right and lands on her shoulder. Before her is a large pair of bat wings, which seperate to reveal Nychterida's true form.

     Nychterida is approximately ten feet tall, with the head and body of a very large bat. Her arms and legs are covered in the same fur as a bat's, however they are both grotesquely muscular and flex with the slightest movement. Her wings are like thin, black velvet wrapped over steel bones.

     Alethra grunts in pain, putting pressure on her left wound. She looks at Nychterida in terror, unsure of how to defeat this beast.

     Nychterida grunts at Alethra, walking over her and picking her up off the ground. "Foolish girl! You are trapped within my realm of sorrow: No Gods, No Masters! So long as you are trapped in here, my powers are infinite! No one can save you, and you can never esca-"

     Alethra shoves the Dread-Hand into Nychterida's mouth, and fires off a powerful eldritch blast. A large hole is created as the beam tears through the back of the demon's throat. Nychterida drops Alethra, who lands on her right foot and hands, careful not to put any pressure on her left foot.

     Alethra holsters her pistol and grabs onto her wrist. As she slides her fingers over the top of her hand and out, the Dread-Hand forms into a mighty blade attached to her wrist. Alethra leaps forward with her right leg and stabs into the demon's shoulder, cutting off her right arm.

     "Die, you damned hell-spawn!" Alethra grunts as her blade cuts through the demon's flesh like butter.

     Nychterida grunts in pain, then begins to laugh. "Grazz't said you were crafty, but I never exptect you to have this kind of power! That hand of yours, the remains of Orcus' Death Magic! Incredible."

     Nychterida kicks into Alethra's stomach, tearing open her skin and sending her flying into the far wall, where a large hook stabs through her stomach and impales her against the wall.

     Alethra screams out in agony as the hook tears through her back and out just below her diaphragm. As her intenstines are split open, Alethra begins to feel dizzy from the shock of blood loss and internal bleeding.

     As 'No Gods, No Masters' begins to be colored with the black and red blood of both parties, Nychterida walks forward and pulls Alethra from the wall, tearing off bits of her flesh and dripping blood everywhere.

     Nychterida opens her mouth wide enough to bite Alethra in half. Before Alethra is consumed, she slashes horizontally with her blade, cutting Nychterida's vile head off from her body.

     Her head falls to the ground and rolls away several feet as Alethra cuts her way out of Nychterida's dead grip. Weakened and very close to death's door, Alethra puts her foot on Nychterida's head and reverts her blade back into a hand.

     Alethra's voice echoes in the room as she shouts "Die!" Alethra begins storing a vast amount of Hatred into the palm of her Dread-Hand, preparing to fire a powerful blast that could finish off Nychterida.

     "Wait," grunts Nychterida. "I can't return to the Abyss! Let me help you, take me along on your journeys! I'll help you *groans* control your power! Im offering you my services, with no cost!"

     Alethra hesitates, and falls to a knee. "If I accept your aid, what are the chances that you will betray me?"

     "Fifty fifty! I'd do anything for self preservation, sadly."

     Alethra smiles. "Sounds good to me, hell spawn!"

     As 'No Gods, No Masters' falls apart and Alethra returns to the normal world with her wounds still open, She finds that a cloak of black velvet cloth sits softly on her shoulders. Although the cloth is in tatters, she feels a vast spurt in power.

     Alethra tries to stand up to walk down the alley, but instead trips forward. Her blood begins dripping down the alley as she crawls towards a wall, which she uses to prop herself up. As she moves forward, marking the walls with her blood, Alethra hears the near sounds of the market, laughter, and shouting salesmen.

     "Gods... I'm so close!" Alethra hears a very close, familiar laugh.

     "Alethra, where are you going? We're over here!" Alethra turns around, seeing the spirits of her husband with her little girl in his arms.

     Alethra tilts her head, a few tears falling down her cheeks. Alethra turns away, then shakes her head. "Not today, cowboy."

     She turns down the alley, and hastes towards Stormdrake.

The Diamond Elder



     With Stormdrake, the twins, Warsch, and Crow Lord present, Alethra is quickly healed and saved from her near-death experience. After explaining her battle with Nychterida, the party is a bit shocked that she managed to subdue a demon.

     "Not exactly obedient, I'm afraid to say. She's only loyal until her life is at risk. Until then, I think she'll be of help to me and my cause."

     Crow Lord pulls out a piece of paper, on which he had written "What cause?"

     Alethra nods her head and pulls the cloak's hood over her head, casting a dark shadow over her blue eyes. "Isn't it obvious? I'm going to kill the Demon Princes."

     Warsch nods his head. "That's our plan. I'll have to admit, I was a bit nervous about your alignment before. You do realize that if you kill or even strike Grazz't that you will lose your powers, right? Once that happens, Nychterida and any other demons we come across will devour you with ease."

     Alethra nods. "I don't plan on dying peacefully. My child and husband wait for me in the afterlife, whatever that may be. Once my work with you is done, that's a fate that I'll accept."

     Blackwing tips his hat. "Yar, I'll warm up the ship. However, I don't think it'll be strong enough to carry a dragon. Stormdrake, can you fly yourself down there?"

     Stormdrake, after healing Alethra, returns to his sleep. After hearing Blackwing speak his name, he pops an eye open at the curious little bird, then groans and lifts his head.

     "I struggle to see why I must go. It's not like I'll be able to fit into a mine. The caverns at Dal'Krosh were barely large enough to allow my passsage, and that was before I became a dragon!"

     Warsch bites his lip. "Tharyn is in danger. I need my friend to help me through this."

     Stormdrake hums with motivation. "You're right; I cannot lie here and sleep forever. Although my dreams grant visions of the future, I have more important tasks at hand! I will meet you near the Throne of Skoraeus!"

     Stormdrake leaps into the air and flaps his mighty wings, which sends a powerful gust of wind downwards and knocks the merchandise off of several stalls. Several of the townspeople stare in awe as the sunlight glistens off the bronze dragon's scales, while others shout angrily as tomatoes and other goods are sent into walls and through windows. As Stormdrake gains altitude over the town, he darts away though the wind, releasing a loud thundering sound, like the cracking of lightning.

     The party hops onto Blackwing's airship, and set sail for the Throne of Skoraeus, following Stormdrake's path.

     

     The ship arrives several hours later, where they find Stormdrake nestled peacefully at the base of the gate, with several score of soldiers and guard overlooking the dragon from the wall. They land near Stormdrake, who awakens and flies up the wall towards the men.

     "Where are the diamond mines?" He asks, his thunderous voice shaking the wall and the men on it.

     "Th-that way!" One of the guards points eastward, his arm shaking and his pants soaked with fear.

     Stormdrake flies over the party, who quickly get out of the ship and chase after the dragon as he heads off towards a small camp of miners ten minutes away.

     The men scatter like the wind, for they've heard tales of a dragon's greed. Diamonds are a girl's bestfriend, but probably even the desire is surely greater for dragons. Stormdrake lands with a loud thud, which causes many of the miners to fall backwards onto their behinds.

     The closest fallen miner shouts "Stop! Don't eat me!"

     Stormdrake sighs, and then shouts "I'M NOT GOING TO EAT YOU!"

     As the party quickly runs up to him, some short on breath, the miners dart around the dragon, standing behind the party.

     "The Hammers of Kalrosh! They'll protect us!"

     Warsch, unaware of what else may be plagueing them, shouts with a heroic demeanor "The dragon means no one harm! He is Stormdrake, a Hammer of Kalrosh, much like I. Treat him as you would treat me!"

     All of a sudden, a large, one armed dwarf walks out from the largest tent clothed in leather armor set with an iron pauldron. In his remaining hand he carries a large pickaxe, which is comprised of an odd black metal. "Did someone say Stormdrake?"

     Warsch smiles for the first time since Tharyn's disappearance. "Qwarn!"

     Qwarn walks forward in a hurry, a large smile spread across his face, barely noticeable through his large beard. He walks forward, shaking each hero by the hand, then runs up to Stormdrake grabs him by a horn and shakes his head around.

     "Stormdrake! My... what a lad! You've grown... I didn't know Dragonborn turned to dragons!"

     Spider pipes in. "They don't: he was cursed."

     Stormdrake tilt his head towards her direction. "It was a blessing to be given this form."

     Qwarn backs up from Stormdrake, sensing a bit of hostility between the two. "Ooh. Well, anyways! I'm glad you have all come. No doubt you heard the rumors?"

     Alethra looks around at the party, who all share her confused expression. "What rumors?"

     Qwarn looks flabbergasted and looks around at them. "Oh, you didn't come because of the- yeah well, anyways... Duergar. They've assaulted our mining operations, preventing us from digging up diamonds and the such. Ever since we discovered the largest diamond ever seen, they've been attacking us in the tunnels. They haven't crossed to the surface yet, but we see them on some nights. Standing in the mines, plotting our demise. Cruel creatures."

     Warsch clenches his fists and teeth, causing his knuckles to pop. "Did you say... Duergar? Pale blue dwarves?"

     Qwarn nods his head. "Yes! Smurfs! You've come to keep us safe, ye-"

     Warsch shakes his head. "I've come to kill them all."

     Several members of the party each consecutively each say "oooh" or "eeeeh." Eranah puts both of her hands on Warsch's shoulders, trying to calm him down a notch. "We will have to kill several of them, no doubt. But Warsch, we don't need to-"

     Warsch shouts, pulling out his Tonitrus. "They've killed my mother, beat and tortured me for eight years! I will have their heads!"

     Stormdrake hums with concern. "What of Tharyn? We must get to her as quickly as possible."

     Warsch breathes out quickly and shortly. "We'll cut our way through them I suppose."

     Crow Lord kaws soothingly, then asks Qwarn on a sheet of paper "May we see the diamond?"

     Qwarn nods his head and takes them to his tent, where a large diamond is hidden in a cloth bag. Qwarn puts on several pairs of gloves, picking up the bag and placing it on the table, then shakes his hands as if the stone were hot.

     "This thing is huge, very cold, and constantly glows with light! At first, down below, we assumed it was just the light of the torches giving it the glow, but even as we covered the damned thing it glowed! Like some kind of-"

     "Soulstone," Eranah says.

     Everyone turns to look at her, as she walks forward to touch the stone. Selene intercepts her, preventing her from touching it.

     "Bad idea, at least for Deva. Sir, who has touched the stone so far?"

     Qwarn raises his eyebrows. "Everyone who has touched it with bare skin is dead now. Some died in their sleep, choking on thier own blood, and others were killed by the Duergar."

     "Bastards!" Warsch shouts.

     Selene nods her head toward Eranah. "So, it has resurfaced then."

     Alethra and Spider both say in unison "What has?"

     Eranah picks up a spoon and throws it at the stone, but the spoon is instantly devoured and turned to dust. "The first elder brain who sought immortality."

     Blackwing raises his eyebrows and whistles. Selene walks over and pulls off his hat and bandana, revealing an amethyst stone on his temple "Oi! Lady, what gives?"

     Selene shrugs her shoulders. "Story time. Back in the age called The First Summer, there was an Elder Brain who sought to live forever. Normally, Elder Brains live very long lives, but not as long as one would have liked. So, he had his followers carve out the earth in search of soulstones, which could contain his mind and power. However, none of the stones were able to contain him before breaking, so he struck a deal with Oghma, who sold him the secrets of the Sorcerer Stones, which are the most powerful soulstones in existence. After he learned of their existence, he sent his followers far and wide to find these stones. Eventually, he found one: this diamond."

     Blackwing grabs his bandana and hat off the floor. "Alright, lassie. What does that have to do with me stone?"

     Selene glares at Blackwing. "You also are in possession of a Sorcerer Stone: The Amethyst Abjurer. However, you already knew this, didn't you? How long have you been keeping this secret?"

     Blackwing slips on his bandana and hat, then sighs and glares back at Selene. "I've known for barebly a year, and I've done a fantastic job of keeping it a secret, I have! At first, when I slipped on this little gem, I felt the power of Magecraft. For a thief, being a wizard is the best thing imagineable. I stole countless riches and no one could see me! I unlocked doors without having to use some tools to shimmy the lock! It was great! Then, I heard his voice: The Abjurer, who told me of the dangers that reckless usage of his power would bring. Those invisible punches you all see me doing? Abjurer. In truth, the only thing about me that isn't Abjurer related is me skills as captain, me ship and me dagger!"

     Warsch's mouth is agape at Blackwing's story. "So, what you're saying is that the Diamond Elder is trying to find a host to control, similar to how the Abjurer controls Blackwing?"

     Blackwing socks Warsch in the stomach, knocking him to the ground. "YOU FOOL! I'M NOT BEING CONTROLLED! IT'S A MIND MERGE!"

     Selene lifts Warsch up, explaining to him the complexity of the situation. "When a stone merges with a host, the two become one. Luckily, Blackwing merged with a stone that has no ill intentions to possess him. You are correct when you say that the Diamond Elder seeks to find a host." Selene turns towards Warsch, placing her hands on the table.

     "That's why your men died, Qwarn. The stone merged with them, and their bodies were torn asunder, unable to contain the power it possesses. Even with brief and broken contact with the stone, the energy from that stone will kill anyone."

     Eranah's eyes focus on the diamond, absorbed by the evil contained within. "Luckily for us, the Sorcerer Stones act like prisons for the entities trapped within. Without a host, the stone cannot use telepathy or possession to bend our wills to it's whims. Another nice thing about our situation is that not very many beings can attune with the stone, to my knowledge. If I had to guess, I would bet that only a Beholder or another Elder Brain could manage the connection."

     Warsch nods his head. "So, we have the upper hand, but what is our goal here?"

     Qwarn shrugs his shoulders. "Kill the Duergar?"

     Blackwing shakes his head. "We can't be too certain who or what is causing the disturbances below. They could be mind controlled, or have knowledge of the stone. Maybe they have a boss captain who can detect it. We'd have to kill thousands of duergar, and who knows what comes after? It's an Elder Brain, so the Illithid are likely after it as well. However, if we can safeguard the stone, perhaps in a secluded lair *he winks at Eranah* then the problem should be reduced or even decimated."

     Selene remains still. "Hiding it in our base would work, however we do not have the time right now to do that. We came here to rescue Tharyn. Qwarn, wrap the stone more carefully, hide it in a crate, and deliver it to King Thalumend. Notify his legion to protect it at all costs."

     Qwarn nods his head and looks over at Crow Lord. "What is he writing over there?"

     Warsch walks over to Crow Lord, looking past his arm at the note and reading it out loud. "Don't we need a large diamond for the ritual?"

     Alethra nods her head. "It is technically a diamond, worth at least fifty thousand gold, and I believe the hag ritual would consume all the ingredients, yes?"

     Selene and Eranah speak at the same time. "Destroy the stone!"

     Spider walks over to the stone, wrapping it with silk until it is a large cacoon of webbing. "There! That'll make it easy to carry! Load it up on a cart and get movi-"

     All of a sudden, a loud thunderous explosion is head in the camp, along with the bellowing horn of battle.

The Giants March



     The party rushes outside. As the sun sets upon the horizon, a large red barrel flies into the camp, right at them. Stormdrake takes in a deep breath, then blasts the barrel away with a powerful breath of wind.

     The barrel flies back where it came from, but the party cannot see what fired the bomb.

     Stormdrake takes to the skies, sending several tents away in the wind. With a fearsome roar, Stormdrake flies over the camp, shouting "Duergar!"

     He flies around the camp once more, but this time he drags his tail through the front lines of the duergar attack party, killing off eight of the pale blue dwarves.

     Stormdrake lands off to their side, flanking the enemy army, which is approximately about fifty duergar remaining. Each duergar wields warpicks, hammers, and a few of the Duergar fire bolts from their crossbows at him. As the weak projectiles deflect off his scales, Stormdrake prepares a powerful blast of lightning into their ranks, roasting many of them alive.

     Only eight Duergar remain, however each of them slaps a glowing yellow stone into the center of the armor, which begins to glow like the sun. Much to his surprise, the Duergar grow four times their height, standing about twice as tall as an Orc.

     Stormdrake charges at the eight giants, flapping his wings at the last second and sending four onto their backs.

     From his side, a duergar smashes Stormdrake in the side of the ribs with a powerful strike from a warhammer, which breaks two of his scales. However, the scales of a bronze dragon constantly fluctuate with the power of lightning, and the duergar is rebuked with several bolts of lightning, which almost incinerate him entirely, filling the air with the scent of burnt flesh.

     Stormdrake stands on his back legs over the Duergar, who each feel fear as the dragon falls forward and smashes each of them to the ground. He rips and tears at them as he gets up, snapping their bones and crushes their internals.

     All of a sudden, a surprise attack from the last remaining Duergar knocks Stormdrake over, flipping him onto his belly. The Duergar swings down with a black-steel axe, which radiates with red heat. Stormdrake grabs onto the axe's shaft with his foot, then smacks the Duergar in the side of the rib with his tail, which damages the utility of his chest piece.

     The Duergar looks at Stormdrake with fear as both he and his weapon shrinks down to a fourth of their previous size, with Stormdrake still holding onto his axe.

     Stormdrake rolls off his back and looks at the small dwarf, who just wet himself.

     "Hmmm... I've never had smurf before!" Stormdrake grumbles. "However, I believe you know something that I don't. Why are the Duergar attacking this camp? Is it related to a diamond? What was your mission?"

     The Duergar, whose mind had been severly warped by some form of mind control, simply stutters. "W-w-we wer-er sent t-t-to retrieve the diamond! B-bring it to our master!"

     Stormdrake slides one of his claws down the Duergar's chest. "Who is your master? What is it?"

     The Duergar takes a deep gulp, then pulls out a red firebomb and pops the bomb in Stormdrake's face, all while shouting:-

     "For The Father!"

     The explosion of the small bomb does little damage to Stormdrake, however it does manage to blow apart the Duergar's face, covering Stormdrake even further in the blood of smurfs.

     The camp of miners and the party rush forward, gazing upon the terrible site of battle, which was quickly and easily handled by Stormdrake. A broken catapult lies near the back of the battle, blown apart with several pieces on fire.

     The miners throw their hats into the air, raise their arms, and begin "Hooray! All hail Stormdrake, The Dragon of Thunder, Weaver of Storms, and the Slayer of Smurfs!"

     The heroes band around Stormdrake, who stands triumphantly before them. "Kneel before this Dragon!"

     Qwarn kneels before him, but Warsch grabs him by the arm and pulls him back up to his feet. "Stormdrake, well done! Your prowess in battle is amazing!"

     Stormdrake raises his head in truimph. "I am amazing, yes indeed! However, I believe I know the name of our adversary: The Father, as the Duergar put it."

     Spider tilts her head in confusion. "Father? What could that even mean?"

     Stormdrake shakes his head. "I have no idea, however the small army did leave a series of tracks. If an army can march through the tunnels while pushing a catapult, then I should be able make my way through, although it will be a bit of a squeeze."

     Eranah steps forward and places a hand on Stormdrake's nose. "I think we should split up and head into the mines, maybe we can trap the Duergar and attack them from both sides. I will go with Stormdrake and Crow Lord, while the rest of you head into the mines and deal with them there.

     Crow Lord kaws, and begins tracing the path that the Duergar took to the camp. The other heroes march off towards the entrance to the Diamond Mines, like the grim reaper come to collect.

     

The Diamond Mines



     As the heroes head into the sunless realm of the mines, they hear the dwarvish voice of Qwarn call for them.

     "Hammers! After the last Duergar attack, we were unable to collect the bodies and give them a proper burial. Please, clear out the mines as best as possible and return our dead to their families!"

     Warsch calls back up. "Oh don't you worry; these mines will be spotless."

     A shiver runs up Alethra's back, but it is nice for her to see how serious the heroes can be. Normally, she would see them as lazy good-for-nothings, but her opinion of them is starting to change.

     The heroes walk forward following Warsch, who walks through the mines as if he knows them like the back of his hand.

     "Eh, Warsch?" Alethra whispers. "How do you know where you are going?"

     Warsch snaps back. "I know a spell called Guidance. So long as I concentrate on it, I know what path to take."

     Spider takes a deep sigh, then pushes past Alethra. "Warsch, when we reach whatever camp ahead of us, let me start the assault. I know of subtle ways to-"

     Warsch turns towards Spider, his eyes glowing orange. "I'll handle the situation to the best of my abilities. Do what you will, but stay out of my way!"

     The party remains silent, afraid of how dark Warsch has suddenly become. They continue their winding descent further into Kalrosh, and soon the walls sparkle with the presence of shiny rocks, but nothing worth much value.

     Soon, the party walks into a wide circular room, with a spiral ramp twisting around the edge of the mines. On each wall is the sparkle of raw diamond. However, even more noticeable are the bodies of the miners: human, tabaxi, orc, and dwarf... scattered on the floor, likely thrown from the top most balcony. Flame sconces are attached to each wall, casting shadows beneath each ramp.

     As Spider begins climbing up a wall, Warsch shouts "Duergar! Prepare to suffer!"

     The group lets loose a heavy sigh, and Spider quickens her climb up the walls. Alethra grabs onto the edge of Nychterida's cloak and swirls it around her, pulling the darkness into her and transforming into a bat. With haste, Alethra flutters up the center of the tall room, taking in the surrounding enemies. She counts approximately eleven Duergar, and at the very top of the room is a heavily-plated Duergar with a greatsword. As Warsch's orange radiance fills the room, the Duergar shouts:-

     "So, the rumors are true! The Paladin Angel is come for us! Prepare for grueling battle, my brothers!"

     As Warsch charges up the ramps, deflecting bolts and arrows, Spider casts a large web that extends from the side of Warsch's ramp to her side of the wall. Then, she waits for the footsteps of the Duergar above her.

     As the first of Duergar charges forward to meet Warsch in battle, he is tripped by Spider, pulled off the ramp and thrown down below. He screams in terror as he falls several feet through the air, then is trapped in the web and unable to break free. Ofcourse, breaking free should be the last he does, as he would fall at least twenty feet.

     The rest of the Duergar stop charging forward and look over the ramp, trying to locate Spider. However, thanks to her Shadowstep ability, Spider is no longer there, and instead appears underneath the ramp behind them. She climbs up, pinning them between her and Warsch.

     Spider is at least kind enough to just throw them off the ramp down to her web below, but Warsch uses the Tonitrus to bash, break, and mash the bodies, causing blood to seep through the ramp and rain down below.

     As the leader Duergar walks forward with his two guards, Alethra flies behind them and reverts her form. Undetected, Alethra smiles and pulls out her pistol. "Hello there!"

     The three Duergar turn around with great haste and much surprise on their faces. Despite their bushy, white beards, bald heads, and white eyes, Alethra can tell that the Duergar are completely at her mercy.

     The leader of the Duergar shouts "KILL HER" but before either of his guard can react, Alethra blasts holes through them with a powerful Eldritch beam from her left hand.

     "I've come to negotiate your surrender!" Alethra says confidently.

     The leader Duergar twists the pommel of his sword, which makes an odd 'vroom' sound before lighting the blade on fire.

     "There will be no negotiations! I will crush ye skull and then Father will grant me my freedom!"

     Alethra pulls out her pistol and fires the Duergar's blade out of his hands. "Freedom, eh? Tell me, why do you fight for someone that has enslaved you? Wouldn't you're people, brave and strong, rather resist?"

     Before the Duergar leader can stutter a response, Warsch walks up the ramp and charges at him with a battle cry.

     "Brrraaaaa!"

     The Duergar raises his arms, trying to protect himself from the onslaught of Warsch's attacks. Warsch grunts with anger, exertion, and fear as he bashes apart the Duergar's arms. Even though the Duergar falls unconscious, Warsch continues bashing in his head, quickly killing the helpless man.

     "Warsch, stop!" Alethra shouts, rushing forward and tries grabbing onto Warsch's arms, stopping him from his rage.

     Warsch headbutts Alethra, smashing in her front teeth and throwing her down to the ground. Alethra has suffered much worse wounds during her career, however taking this attack from her ally shocks her.

     Warsch stands over her, his weapon pointed at her. "I said it once, and I'll say it again: do not get in my way."

     As Warsch walks away, Alethra spits out her blood ands shouts at Warsch. "So who taught you how to hate, huh?!"

     Warsch grunts as he continues forward. Blackwing helps Alethra up, offering her a hand.

     "Well, at least you look like a true pirate now, lass!"

     Alethra laughs, still shaken from Warsch's blow. "I was a town guard before we met, Blackwing. I'd be the worst pirate would you would ever know."

     Blackwing shakes his head and raises his shoulders. "Lass, until the day you fire silverware from a canon, I'm afraid you'll never be the worst."

     As the two follow the party and Warsch, they hear a shout come from a small tunnel off the side of the room.

     "Help! Oh gods, please help us!"

     Blackwing shouts to the party. "Hold up! We have swabs!"

     The party, including Warsch, stop and see to the prisoners, who are tied by rope to the walls in a small circular room. About eight prisoners are fitted into the room, some beaten to near death while the others have fresh wounds on their faces. A young lad, no older than seventeen, stutters as he gazes at the blood-soaked paladin.

     "W-we were attacked by the Duergar! They killed our friends, and beat many of us! Why did they attack us?"

     Selene, not normally the nice one in the group, checks out the boy's wounds and helps him up. Thanks to her cloth around her black eyes, the boy does not feel insecure around the angel. "You look fine to me. Those of you that are able should team up and carry your wounded workers out of here. We have cleared much of the mines thus far, so your journey will be safe. Inform Qwarn and have him send some carts for your dead. We will continue forward."

     As the boy and his coworkers head out, Warsch looks over the ramp at the trapped Duergar. "Why do they still live, Spider?"

     Spider swallows her spit, almost choking on it. "I didn't see any reason to act like them and throw them to their deaths. and besides, once this is all over and the mind control is broken, perhaps they could be decent fellows?"

     Warsch grunts in anger. "You really think the mind control is that great? I know how they are, mind control or not! They were issued a minor order. But the killings, the raids... it's in their nature. They're just soulless monsters, like crabs or mushrooms."

     Spider crosses her arms. "Killing them is fine, but torture? You're acting just like them, Warsch."

     Warsch heads off down the previous tunnel that he was heading through earlier. "Look down at those bodies below us, who were never given a chance and thrown off that ramp. Tell their souls that the Duergar aren't that bad, I dare you!"

The Bastion of Light



     Warsch charges forward into the next room, which consists of a small camp in front of a large steel door. Eight Duergar fill the room; three are trying to hold the door closed, while the other five load their crossbows and prepare for whatever is on the other side of the door.

     Warsch shouts in rage, and charges forward at the Duergar with crossbows. Each turns towards the paladin, however they are not quick enough to shoot him down before he crushes the skulls of their ally.

     Four bolts are fired off into Warsch, however he barely feels the splinters enter his body as his rage takes hold of him. Alethra guns down one of the Duergar, while Selene throws both of her axes into the two right of Warsch.

     Blackwing throws his dagger at the center-most duergar holding the door through the neck. As his legs lose control and he slides to the ground, the doors crash open, revealing Stormdrake with Eranah and Crow Lord on his back, who charge in and kill the other two.

     The last of the Duergar throws away his crossbow and pulls out a saber, but Warsch bashes his arm with the Tonitrus, splintering his bone, which pops out through the skin.

     The duergar falls to the ground in great pain and shouts. "Wait! Please don't kill me!"

     Before Warsch can bash the duergar's kneecap, Selene grabs onto his arm. "You're going to tell us all about The Father. What is he and how does he control you?"

     The duergar tries crawling away, but Warsch stomps on his foot. "Answer the damned question! Who is he!"

     The duergar begins sobbing. "We don't know! He fills our minds, giving us one order after another: dig this, kill that, stand here or there. Gah... We just wanted to live in peace!"

     "Peace?" Warsch grunts. "If you wanted peace, all you had to do was scare them away. Instead, you killed and tortured them!"

     Warsch strikes out with a closed fist, punching the duergar in the knee cap. A sickening popping sound is heard through the room, but the Duergar's scream covers it.

     "Gaaaah! Ugh... oooh." Suddenly, the Duergar's voice changes, his concept of pain diminishes, and his begins to laugh demonically.

     "Muahahaha... Hammers, eh? I've come to understand that you have something of mine, which I've been seeking for the past millenia. I'll offer you a trade: give me the Diamond Elder, and I'll let the surfacers be. You can have these mines, everything three miles below the surface of Kalrosh. After that, everything will be mine."

     Selene looks at the party, shrugs her shoulders and shakes her head. "The Father. I'm afraid we decline your polite offer."

     Selene lets Warsch go, who flicks the mace and imbues it with black lightning. Selene sighs and nods at Warsch, who smashes in the duergar's face with a powerful swing.

     Eranah slides off Stormdrake and walks towards the group. "So, we're dealing with either an Elder Brain or a Beholder. If it lives for 'a millenia' and know of the Diamond Elder, then it must be ancient."

     Warsch pulls out his mace from the Duergar's skull with a nasty 'schwoop' sound, as blood drips off the mace. he turns his head toward the party. "Could it be a vampire? It is very possible, as they lie further below the surface."

     Eranah nods her head. "It's possible, of course. So where to now?"

     Warsch smiles. "Well, I was focusing on my Guidance spell to help me find the nearest Duergar; it found a new path."

     The party continues following Warsch, who leads them back down the ramps of the previous room. Stormdrake peeks over the edge, unable to make his way down any further.

     Warsch reaches the bottom, finding the secondary path that he missed earlier, but the path forward is too small to fit a dragon through. He looks up at Stormdrake with a heavy frown on his face. "I'm sorry, friend! The cavern is too small to fit you! However, you could collect the dead miners and the unfortunate Duergar above us and return to camp?"

     "Awoooo" groans Stormdrake.

     Eranah coughs. "I do know of a spell which could transform Stormdrake, however it would only last for an hour before I would need to cast it again."

     "What would you transform me into?"

     "How does your previous body sound? Half-dragon?"

     Stormdrake nods, and Eranah makes her way up to him and transforms him into a Half-dragon. With a burst of light, Stormdrake covers himself with the brown robes of a priest over a chainmail jerkin. He grabs onto his old Swordspear, and twirls it through the air as he descends. However, Stormdrake isn't as used to his old form as he remembers being, and drops the swordspear through off the side of the ramp, which gains speed and plummets into and through the torso of a trapped Duergar.

     "Woops," He mutters. Stormdrake runs down, cleans off his spear, then follows the party through the caverns.

     The party travels down quite a bit, taking several hours before they cross into a large open area, with a large river splitting down the middle. On the other side of the river is a large city, built of stone and marble. In the center of the city stands a ver tall tower, which sparkles with the texture of a sunstone.

     The city seems to be under lockdown, as near the party is an approaching army of Duergar, who push out several catapult and prepare to fire upon the city.

     Spider shouts, "That city isn't Duergar! We must help them!" Spider dashes down into the chasm, prepared to fight the Duergar. Warsch whistles and summons Agro, who carries him towards the battlefield quickly.

     Alethra pulls of her glove, ready to blast apart anything the Duergar send at the city. She keeps her pistol out just in case, and begins firing off into the Duergar army.

     Spider leaps over a boulder and lands with a strong thud. She looks up quickly, catching an arrow a split moment before it would've pierced her eye.

     Spider approaches quickly, deflecting several arrows that fly towards her, then shoots forward a web that grapples onto a single duergar. With great strength, Spider spins the smurf around, using his weight as long-range ball-and-chain to bash Duergar.

     The two angel twins activate their Graces. Eranah flies above over the army, then crashes into the middle of them. Selene bursts forward with dark energy, crashing through their ranks like lightning and stops behind Eranah.

     "Feels like old times, yeah? Remember that battle against the Orc Marauders? Thought their numbers and brute strengths could out match us?" Selene gloats.

     Eranah smiles, glaring at the sunstones fixed into the centers of the Duergar chestplates. "Let's show them how to properly use my stones!"

     Warsch rides Agro toward the front ranks of the Duergar army. The smurfs point at him with spears at the ready, but Warsch charges the Tonitrus with dark energy and shoots out a blast of black lightning, which hits three of the Duergar, clearing a path for Agro to stomp through.

     Agro stomps and swing about in circular motions while Warsch fires off black lightning from the Tonitrus, killing enough duergar to satisfy Warsch's vengeance for a lifetime.

     Stormdrake reverts back to his fearsome dragon from, then flies over to the enemy and plops down on top of a catapult, breaking the first of three. As he stomps through the army carelessly, the two catapults let loose their missiles, which fly through the air towards the city.

     Alethra shoots down the first missle easily, however she has trouble shooting down the second missile, which falls into the city. However, much to everyone's surprise, the tallest tower of the city glows white, and shoots a powerful beam of light that blasts the missile apart, then cuts through the army like butter.

     Selene, Eranah, Warsch, Spider, and Stormdrake do their best to clear out of the laser's path, careful not to be instantly disintegrated by it's powerful energy.

     With a majority of the Duergar enemy defeated, the horn of retreat sounds, and the Duergar begin to flee back into the tunnel that they came from. Alethra fires off several shots across the battlefield, blasting several of the duergar in the backs, however the range weakens the blasts, inflicting minor damage. The Duergar who are hit each turn back towards Alethra, flipping her off.

     Warsch tries to charge after them on Agro, however even the spectral horse knows when enough is enough. Warsch sighs as his mount takes him back towards the city, walking across the water.

     As the group of heroes reach the city, the large black gates open up. Everyone expects to be greeted by dwarves or perhaps stone giants, but several humanoid creatures, very thin but well built and plated in black, crystal suits approach. They ride in on blinded Basilisks, who trot forward until their riders slaps their feet against it's side. The middle-most rider speaks, his voice coarse and rough, sounding very much like a man with a very dry throat.

     "Who are you people, and why did you help us against the Blue Dwarves? Are you friend, or foe?"

     Warsch tilts his head, and grunts at the rider. "We are the Hammers of Kalrosh, heroes from the surface on a mission to breach the Underdark and save my fiance, who is being held captive by vampires!"

     The rider pulls of his helmet, revealing the grotesque face of a Darkling. His nose is flat but crooked, his mouth twists at an odd angle, and his eyes are gray with a single black dot. His black hair flutters, as if carried by a strong wind. However, the air is damp and still.

     "The village elder will most likely want to speak with all of you, to thank you for the help against the duergar."

     The party follows the riders, who surround the heroes as they parade them through the town.

     The streets of the Darkling city are well civilised, featuring a town center with a nice well, built around the statue of a fey goddess of some sorts. On the sides of the street stand women and children of varying sizes, some of the kids being so small that they could fit in the hands of a human child.

     Selene and Eranah look out at the villagers with sorrow on their faces, but judging by their shoulders, Alethra can tell that they feel secure.

     Eventually, the party is led into the tall glowing tower. The doors are opened for them, where they are led further to a very old Darkling, whose limbs and body are stick thin, with loose skin attached to weak bones. His hair, unlike the rider's, is a very pale gray, his eyes pale with the loss of sight, but attached to his temple is a bright saphire, which glows with an energy similar to Blackwing's Amethyst Abjurer.

     The leader of the basilisk riders speaks, his cracking voice like a whisper in the dark halls. "You stand in the court of Harker, the Elder of Dubh Ghalias"

     The old man holds up a shaky hand, alerting his guard to stand down and give the Hammers some space. He speaks weakely and his voice shakes, "Who are you, who comes to our aid during these misfortunate times?"

     Warsch begins to open his mouth, but Alethra closes his mouth with her hand. "Excuse us, our lord, but we are simply passing through. We are surface dwellers on a mission to rescue a kidnapped woman. We are short on time, and must make our way into the Underdark to find a den of vampires."

     The old man sits up in his throne, and nods his head. "Surface dwellers, eh? There's much more to this tale, from what I can see. Two Deva; one dark and the other light, a Paleblooded Druid who serves flame, the son of a Solar, The Drow Priestess of Vle'Anos, a Dragon, and finally, a Warlock who wears a demon around her neck like a child wearing a scarf against the cold. Most importantly, there stands before me my dearest brother!"

     The old Darkling points at Blackwing, who shrugs his shoulders. "I highly doubt that, good sir! I am a Kenku, and you are wise and very old-"

     "No, no no, You idiot! I'm referring to The Abjurer. Meet your sibling, The Evocationer."

     The old man leans down in his chair, and summons the complete apparition of The Evocationer: A powerful man steps out from the old man's body, whose body is bright blue but lined with the dark lines of a Goliath. Much to Blackwing's surprise, no one else can see the apparition, who speaks through the old man's lips.

     "Abjurer, show yourself! Greet your brother!"

     Blackwing shakes his head. "I don't know how! I've only been attuned to him short of a full year."

     The Evocationer nods his head. "Ah, so he hasn't reached full power yet. Show me, then! What of him can be shown?"

     Blackwing focuses his mind, summoning his magehand. A ghastly pink hand appears before him, with the scales and hide of a dragonborn set with long sharp claws.

     "That's all I've been able to use. I swear."

     The Evocationer shakes his head. "No, I believe you." He sits back down on the chair, molding into the old man's body.

     "You require training. That's understandable, young Abjurer."

     Blackwing crosses his arms. "I am a master thief! I am no wizard!"

     The party looks back and forth from Blackwing to the Darkling elder, each feeling left out of whatever conversation they seem to be having.

     The old man leans forward in his chair, and smiles. "'Course you aren't! However, you've tapped into his power. Although you know of his power, you do not fully rely on it. From what I can see, you rely more on yourself and your skills than on the raw power of an abjurer. "

     Blackwing sighs. "Yes, well anyways we really must be on our way. People to save, vampires to kill, that sort of-"

     As Blackwing babbles on, The Evocationer bursts from Harker towards him, flying over the party and channelling a spell between it's two palms. Four bright bolts of light fly out from his hands, which swirl through the air around and towards Blackwing.

     Blackwing throws his dagger at one of the bolts and punches the other bolt with his magehand, but the other two bolts snake behind him and close in in. Blackwing turns around and crosses his arms across his chest and closes his eyes, trying to mitigate the damage.

     The spells close in and explode in front of Blackwing, who opens his eyes to find a solid dragonborn arm hovering in front of him. The palm is opened outwards towards where the bolts were flying from, with a large circular magic shield blocking the bolts and disrupting them. Blackwing's magehand flutters back towards his side, standing shoulder-length from the dragonborn arm that hangs in the air.

     The party look around, confused at quick battle around them. Warsch pulls out his Tonitrus and charges at Harker, but is grabbed by his belt and pulled back by Blackwing's magehand.

     "No! I will deal with this myself, Warsch."

     Harker smiles, then leans back into his chair and folds his hands. "There we go... the first steps are taken!" Harker hums with delight, then looks around at the party.

     "I want to make a deal" The old man says. "Jun'dahr will lead you through the caverns, taking you directly to your destination. He knows the path better than any of you, even better than that crappy Guidance spell your Paladin is trying to use!"

     Warsch defends himself. "Hey! It's working very well, I should say. It led us here, after all!"

     "Of course, of course. However, you have lost a great deal of time. Your hostage is most likely already dead. He will take you to her, and help you find your way back. However, when you return, you will help me and the good people of the subterranean with our fight against the Illithid and the Duergar."

     Warsch tilts his head. "Wait, both of them are working together? That can't be possible! Duergar hate Illithid. Even with a powerful mind-control, there's no way every Duergar would work alongside them!"

     The Elder taps his chair. "Well, I shouldn't say they work near each other. However, they assault us from two different directions. The Duergar charge us like canon fodder, while the Illithid attack us with ranged spells and try to mind-control our weaker minded soldiers. Our numbers dwindle."

     Warsch nods. "On our honor, we will help you. Should my fiance be lost, then I will need to vent my anger. Jun'dahr! Lead away!"

     The leader of the riders hops down from his basilisk and approaches the heroes. "I really don't want to. Do I have to, Lord Harker?"

     Harker remains still on his throne, but nods his head with slight annoyance.

     Jun'dahr slaps his helmet back on, then motions for the heroes to follow him out of the tower.

     As they clear into the town, Selene runs up to him, checking out his armor. "I like what you've done with the Darkstones, however I think it could use some improvements. Since we are on the road, perhaps I could-"

     Jun'dahr shakes his head. "Touch my suit, and I'll kill you myself."

     Selene places her hands on her hips, taken aback by his sudden rude demeanor. "You know, I happen to be the very creator of those stones. You would do well to-"

     Jun'dahr heads out the gates, and flips Selene 'the bird.'

     Alethra grabs onto Selene's shoulder carrying her along. "I'm surprised they know what that means. You'd think being this below surface that they would be uncivilised in that regard."

     Warsch whispers into their ears. "It seems to me like that elder-guy might know too much. He barely knew us more than a minute but was able to speak of our history like he was there!"

     Spider looks at the group nervously. She thinks to herself, "High Priestess of Vle'anos? How could he know that?"

     With her tribe of drow dead and the ceremony uncompleted, Spider was unlikely to be considered anything of the Drow, except for her skill in Drow Jitsu.

     

The Stairs of the Underdark



     The party follow Jun'Dahr into the river, which freezes below his feet momentarily.

     "If you don't wish to get wet, I suggest sticking close to me. The ice only lasts for several moments."

     As Stormdrake trudges along, he can feel his tail fall into the river of water behind them. He scoots forward quickly, trying not to fall in.

     After several hours of walking on ice, the party finally comes across another village of Darklings, however this camp is heavily walled and fortified with defenses. The sounds of training can be heard from the outside of it's gate.

     "This is where our most elite train to become Shadow Keepers, which is what I am. We are a special unit devoted to training with Basilisks and Darkstone weaponry, and we even use Sunstones periodically, although we try to avoid using light whenever possible."

     Eranah exclaims "Why is that?"

     Jun'Dahr sighs. "Light is our weakness, as we are cursed. Whenever our skin comes into contact with light, we are horribly aged, as you saw from our elder. He's only used the tower twice in his life. He used to be my younger brother, but now he has aged well beyond my years. One more use of that tower will turn him to ash no doubt."

     Eranah frowns. "I'm sorry to hear that, Jun'Dahr. I wish my crystals didn't have that effect on your people."

     Jun'Dahr shakes his head. "Don't even pretend. There's no feeling remorse with your kind, Angel. My people used to stretch across the underdark, unchallenged. We kept the Illithid and the Duergar in check. The subterranean was a realm of peace and darkness. Then, roots of materialized light punctured through the ceilings of our caverns, and in one night, our people were vastly diminished. If it weren't for the Darkstones that sprouted in the last city, we would surely have been eradicated."

     Selene nods her head. "You're people will return to power. With The Evocationer and the power of the darkstones, once The Father is slain, your threats will be nonexistent."

     Jun'Dahr shrugs his shoulders. "I fear that day will never come. Should you somehow be able to fight the Illithid, the chances of our people surviving for another decade is slim. Our leaders die quickly, faster than we can produce offspring."

     Selene tilts her head. "But you still produce offspring?"

     Jun'Dahr sighs. "Successful births aren't rare, but aging is. See, our race doesn't age well. We aren't immortal, and we do learn and mature. Our bodies don't. We can't reproduce unless we perform a ritual called The Harrowing. The ritual is dangerous, and many of our people turn to ash because of it."

     Eranah speaks through the silence left after his dialogue. "What is The Harrowing?"

     "It removes all light from our bodies and in return, our bodies reach adulthood and reproduction is possible. We become stronger and faster, and many of those who complete the ritual become soldiers. Another reason our numbers dwindle."

     Warsch bites his lip. "What curse were you speaking of?"

     Jun'Dahr takes a deep breath. "My people used to worship a fey goddess called The Summer Queen. Long ago, a member of our house acted against her, and stole something of great value. She cursed us, and any light we come into contact with ages us greatly."

     Warsch's brow lowers. "What was taken from her?"

     Jun'Dahr adjusts his shoulder pauldron. "We don't remember. We have no texts of the betrayal, no gods to answer our cries. Even demons can't help us. The only thing we have left is our true name: The Dubh Sith, or Darklings."

     Warsch looks over at Selene and Eranah, expecting one of them to know something. Each of them meet his gaze, but shake their empty heads.

     Eventually, the party comes across a large cavern filled with ashes, dirt, and dust. In the center of the room lies a large hole, with a spiral staircase that extends down into the earth, beyond what any of the party members can see.

     "My people refuse to travel into the Underdark, and for good reason. Nothing but evil lurks below us."

     Warsch nods his head. "As above, so below. Or atleast that's what the reapers say."

     Jun'Dahr tilts his head at Warsch. "Reapers? Like the cultists of some death god?"

     Warsh shakes his head. "Not even close, but much worse. Back in Vle'anos, there is a cult of predators who feed on the grace of angels or the rot of evil. They are human when they join, but not for long. They become whatever they feast on."

     Jun'Dahr walks over to the edge of the stairwell and looks down into it's dark depths.

     "That sounds absolutely horrid. How does one accomplish this?"

     Warsch begins his descent down the stairs. "The knowledge is destroyed whenever possible. Books are burned, and our minds are interrogated and wiped after each mission involving them."

     Crow Lord screeches. "Kaw Kaw?!"

     Selene, either reading his mind or sharing his confustion, translates for Crow Lord. "What do you mean 'minds are wiped?'"

     Warsch turns towards the fallen angel. "It's of the most importance. Any evil scripture can easily corrupt the most holy of our order. Therefore, in order to remain pure and protected, our minds are read like books and the nasty bits are purged."

     Selene looks over at Eranah, who nods her head disturbingly. She then turns back towards Warsch, following him down the stairs. "Has the thought ever occurred to you that they removed more than just what was necessary? What's stopping them from implanting certain thoughts and memories?"

     As the rest of the party follows down the stairs, Warsch turns around to argue with Selene's logic. However, as soon as he mutters a single sound, a sinister blue gate seals the top of the stairwell, and the disgusting voice of The Spider Queen, Lolth, fills the darkness around them.

     "Ah, good! More insects have fallen into my trap!"

     Eranah turns upwards to dispel the gate of energy, but any spell she casts against the gate is immediately cancelled.

     "Your magic will not work against my trap, angel! So long as my will exists, so too will that gate!"

     Eranah smiles very creepily, which practically stretches from one ear to the other. "Then I guess we'll just have to kill you!"

     Jun'Dahr pulls out his blade, expecting trouble. "What is that? Why does it speak like it knows all of you?"

     Spider puts her hand on the agitated Darkling, trying to calm him down. "That is Lolth, a Demon Prince who we must kill. She is the queen of spiders, plots, and the Drow."

     Jun'Dahr smacks away her hand. "How can we trust you, drow? Even with your mask and suit, We know what you are. What makes you so innocent?"

     Warsch turns angrily towards Jun'Dahr. "She can be trusted. You, on the other hand, ought to watch what you say!"

     Jun'Dahr grits his gray teeth at Warsch. "Harker said she was the High Priestess of Vle'anos. What does that even mean?"

     Everyone, despite trusting Spider fully, look towards hoping for an explanation. She looks around at her friends, seeing them doubt her for the first time.

     "It is true; I was a drow priestess before I fled to these lands. However, I never considered them as family, since they killed my uncle and forced me to obey. I hate the drow, really I do. However, you should all know my complete history and how I got my powers."

     The party continue down the stairwell, listening to Spider's tale.

     "While I was being trained in the arts of Drow Jitsu, I was eventually chosen to be sent to Lolth's realm, either as a sacrifice or for some ritualistic trial, where everyday was test for survival. In the history of the Drow, I'm the only one who has ever made it out. I received Lolth's blessing, and when I returned to the real world, I was to be appointed as the High Priestess of the Drow, however the ceremony was interrupted by the Witch Hunters of Vle'anos."

     Spider checks out her allies, making sure they aren't hostile, especially Jun'Dahr, who begins to sheath his sword.

     "My people have had many problems, but our rare dealings with the Drow have not been good. I hope you can be trusted."

Archers of the Dying Sun



     The party ventures further down the tunnel into a wide open chasm adorned with both stalagmites and stalagtites, some of which have been joined together. The surface of the rocks are moist, covered in a precarious red liquid.

     "Keep your eyes open; this place is covered in blood. We've entered the vampires' nest." Warsch whispers, trying to keep a low profile. Jun'Dahr looks around the cavern, lowers down into a crouch and whispers:

     "We've already been noticed. Be ready."

     Warsch turns towards Jun'Dahr. "How have we-" A arrow formed out of light covered in black fire flies towards Warsch's head, but his Animated Shield quickly activates and blocks the arrow, however Warsch is knocked to the ground with force.

     Jun'Dahr shouts, "Greatarrows, Find cover!"

     Everyone dashes behind the rock structures of the cave, hiding from the view of their foes across the cavern. Warsch peeks around the corner, trying to get a line of sight on his enemies, but quickly ducks back behind his cover as another volley crashes against his cover. The sounds of a hundred arrows crashing against his cover hides his voice, but Jun'dahr is able to hear Warsch.

     "I can't even get a line of sight on them, and I can't detect them! Jun'Dahr, what do you darkling eyes see?"

     Jun'Dahr peers over at Warsch, then quickly dashes to the next boulder for cover. "I saw them for a brief moment, but there could be a hundred!"

     Stormdrake, despite taking several arrows in the wings, neck, torso, and legs, charges over towards the entrance of the cavern. With his size, he makes for an easy target, and retreat to cover is his only viable option.

     Spider turns invisible, and makes her way to the next boulder. However, just as she turns the corner, a arrow flies past her neck, leaving behind a small scratch. She quickly darts to her destination, then shouts.

     "I'm going to set up a diversion! Ready yourselves! Jun'dahr, stay behind cover!"

     Jun'Dahr tilts his head, angsty about taking orders from a Drow. However, as soon as Spider begins meditating, he knows why.

     Spider summons a powerful light from her body, which takes on the form of a humanoid. The light darts out from the cover, and runs forward several meters towards the end of the tunnel. Arrows fly through the light form, unable to affect it. Spider shadowsteps from cover to cover, allowing her light to increase it's path forward.

     Everyone charges forward, making sure to find cover as an arrow flies past them. Alethra feels a few arrows slam into her shadow armor as she charges towards a stalagmite.

     Alethra slumps down and shouts, "Spider, we need a better distraction... There's too many!"

     Spider rests against a boulder, her foot sticking out too far from the boulder. An arrow flies perfectly over her cover and into her foot, breaking through a bone and sticking out through the bottom of her foot.

     "Gaah! I've taken a hit!"

     Warsch switches his shield to his right arm and conjures his Animated Shield to form a shield wall as he charges to Spider's side. A few arrows bash against his bulwark, but Warsch manages to get next to Spider. The two observe the arrow, which is a solid particle of light that burns with dark flames. Warsch carefully pushes the arrow through her foot, then closes the wound as fast as he can, but Spider still looses quite a bit of blood from the massive arrow.

     Warsch holds the flaming arrow in his hand, remarking on it's size. "Jeez, that arrow practically took your foot off!" As tries to observe it's nature, the arrow materializes into thin air, dispersing like glitter and dust into the air.

     Alethra transforms into a small bat and flies out from cover, flying onto the ceiling and trying to analyze the battlefield. Crow Lord transforms into a small crow and does the same, but the vampires sense his presence and begin trying to pelt him with arrows. As he flies forward, dodging arrows left and right, he eventually comes to a large stalagtite that gives him enough cover.

     Alethra darts forward, unseen by the vampires due to her bat-like nature. She flies to the other side of the cavern, where she finds only a few vampires with greatbows. There are no stockpiles of ammunition, however the vampires seem to be pulling the darkness out of thin air and creating light in their hands. With the aid of whatever magic they are using, the vampires move with incredible dexterity, able to fire off many shots a second at the cost of accuracy.

     Alethra prepares to revert her form, but hears Nychterida's voice in her head: "Alethra, do not revert form. You cannot take on that many vampires!"

     Alethra grunts in her mind. "What do you mean? Ofcourse we can! You just gott do that thing, you know? 'No Gods, No Masters?'"

     "I am unable to do so. That ability requires too much power to sustain, and even with your constant intake of Sorrow, I won't be able to use it for another week."

     Alethra grits her batfangs. "Then I'll activate plan B!"

     Nychterida speaks in a confused tone. "Plan B?"

     Alethra flies onto the ceiling, her allies distracting the vampire archers with great interest. Alethra clings onto a stalagtite and reverts her form, holding onto the pillar with her right arm and both legs, her pistol in her other hand ready to fire. Alethra points at nearby stalagtites and fires powerful blasts through each, causing the large stakes to fall down upon the vampire archers. Alethra shoots down several at a time, clearing a large portion of the cavern's ceiling.

     As the dust settles from the collapse, Alethra floats down from the ceiling, using Nychterida's cloak like a pair of wings, which magically sustain her in the air.

     Alethra finds a vampire crawling out the wreckage, it's broken bones sticking out of it's torso and limbs like a pin cushion.

     "Well, you aren't looking too good!" Alethra places the barrel of her gun over the creature's temple. "Any last words?"

     The vampire glares it's fangs at her, snarling like a mad beast. In an act of both hatred and mercy, Alethra blasts off the monster's head.

     The rest of the party catches up to her, amazed at her quick thinking.

     Blackwing looks up at the ceiling, then back at Alethra. "Well, a smart lass in my crew! I couldn't have expected better."

     Warsch walks up to the vampire and pulls it out of the wreckage. "It'll take more than that to kill them..." He raises an open palm towards the ceiling of the cavern as if raising a hand towards heaven. Warsch closes his eyes, and shouts "Muriel!"

     A beam of Light, although very slim, appears through the ceiling of the cavern, as if the power of heaven defies the laws of nature. The beam of light twists through the air, causing Jun'dahr to shield himself from it, but the light avoids him and forms a long, heavy, golden chain in Warsch's hand. He straps the Tonitrus to his belt, and wraps the chain around both arms, leaving several feet of chain hanging in front of him.

     With a stern look on his face, Warsch clasps his hands and swings the chain around like a flail, slashing through the vampire's remains, bursting into flames and turning it into ash. Warsch throws the loose chain over his neck, wearing it like a scarf.

     "I can't say that the other vampires are truly dead, however, their wounds will keep them down and out of our way for quite some time. I doubt they'll ever escape the rubble."

     As Warsch walks past the vampire's burning corpse, a single tattered cloth from it's tunic flutters through the air. The symbol of a white flame with a black orb in the middle cinders then turns to ash.

     

The Four Watchdogs



     The party follows Warsch into the next cavern, which seems small but opens up into a great valley, at the end of which lies a large stone castle, blackened with the taint of dried blood.

     The valley seems very fresh, as the area has a large black orb of light towards the top of the valley. Gray moss clings to stone, giving the ground a squishy but somewhat firm foothold to walk upon, like a grassed over hill. Crow Lord looks around the area, noticing several of the fruit that grows from the trees, which are unlike anything the surface has seen... except maybe in a dream...

     He walks up towards a tree, and rubs his hand over the surface, feeling the familiar texture of bone. "No... it can't be!" He thinks.

     Without Tharyn's rings of communication active, the party has no way to tell what the druid is thinking aside from having Selene or Eranah read his mind. However, his shoulders shake and his knuckles turn white as he grabs onto his cross-spear, which Warsch picks up on.

     "Crow Lord, what is it?"

     Selene walks up to Crow Lord, who slices a chunk off the tree. She puts her hands over his shoulders, trying to soothe him as she reads his mind.

     "These trees are from the realm that Tharyn created. Although this valley doesn't spell our doom, it does reveal a portion of Tharyn's actions: her realm of terror is extending to the real world."

     Warsch looks at the tree, and slashes at it with Muriel. The chains, although very holy, strike against the bone just as normal chain would. He grunts, his brow furrowing in anger. "So, Tharyn has found a way to combat my holy powers. I was afraid she would prepare herself this well..."

     Spider tilts her head. "What do you mean?"

     Warsch slaps his chains over his shoulder, then releases a loud sigh. "During our training when we were together, we quickly discovered eachother's weaknesses. For me, it was her bone related spells. Despite my healing abilities and angelic ancestry, I was easily matched in strength due to her necrotic magics. At the time, I had the upper hand as she was unable to resist my light spells, which were able to break apart her bones... at the time. She's come far, maybe becoming something that I won't be able to handle."

     Spider clenches her fists. "If it comes down to having to fight her, I should be able to handle her. I've had something prepared against her ever since we fought that necromancer in Dal'Krosh."

     Blackwing looks spider up and down. "What do ye mean, Priestess? Is this another one of yer fancy breathin' techniques?"

     Thanks to her mask, no one can see Spider's face shift with embarassment. "Er... yeah kinda."

     Blackwing nods his head. "Fantastic. Have at 'er, Punching Priestess!"

     Spider bows slightly in shame as she sighs. "Don't ever call me that again, please."

     With Warsch leading the party, they walk towards the castle, eventually reaching a courtyard where four vampires, each clad in different styles of armor and weapons, stand still.

     

     Warsch walks in the middle of the courtyard, alerting them. "Stop! By the decree of King Arklaw, you mustn't come any closer!"

     Warsch tilts his head, and swings his chain from off his neck. "You have taken the one I hold dear. Make way or be removed from this world!"

     Each vampire readies their weapons, and face Warsch. The vampires are clad in a black tunic set with the symbol of a white flame with a black orb in the center, however neither are alike to the other. From his left is a vampire clad in just robes, however the skin over her hands is metallic, similar to steel or silver; Warsch can't really tell what at the moment. She pulls a silver staff from her back, set with the symbol of a bat at the tip.

     The vampire next to her is clad in very large and heavy armor, making him stand a solid foot and a half taller than Warsch. His armor is designed similar to a dragon, however the white plume and cape attached to the armor is charred and dirtied, giving off an ashen gray tone. The armor, which was once made of steel, is tarnished and black, rusted in a few spots, and greased with a blood-like sheen to allow mobility. He wields an even larger great-machete with one hand, and a large round shield formed of thick and tarnished steel shaped like a dragon's head. Warsch looks into the eyes of the shield, swearing that it looks like the eyes moved.

     The vampire next to him is dressed much finer, his armor formed of rings and bands that gleam with light. Although silver, the vampire has no difficulty wearing the armor, however his movements release a small spurt of blood. He pulls a large thin flamberge from his back, and stabs the blade through his abdomen and pulls it back out. Both the blade and his armor begin to glow with a menacing red aura, dripping blood behind him as he walks towards Warsch.

     Finally, the vampire on the far right is the least clothed of them all. To be blunt, he looks to be the least prepared for battle out of all of them: He has no weapons, and no armor of any sort beneath his tunic. His arms and torso are exposed on the side, but his eyes are the fiercest shade of red out of the whole group.

     Warsch weighs which one to go after first, but before he can charge forward, Selene, Eranah, Crow Lord, and Stormdrake charge past him at the four vampires.

     Eranah shouts as she bashes her shield into the metal-skinned vampire, "Go, run past them! Save Tharyn! We will take care of them!"

     Warsch, Blackwing, Spider, and Alethra dash through an opening created by Selene and Stormdrake, charging through the courtyard into a large hallway.

     

     As soon as the rest of the party passes, the real fight begins. Crow Lord stabs his cross-spear into the unarmored vampire, hoping for an easy kill. As the blade pierces into the vampire's chest, Crow Lord notices that the flesh of the undead does not burn like others would against his spear.

     He looks into the eyes of the vampire, which have glazed over with a black film. His red pupils cut through the film, sending a quick chill through Crow Lord's body.

     Crow Lord looks in horror at the vampire as his flesh darkens and malforms. His maw opens up, revealing a set of razor sharp fangs that stretch wide enough to bite off a man's head. His ears stretch backwards, becoming large bat-like ears. His long black hair hangs backwards off his head, which is now shaped like a large bat.

     However, the rest of the vampire's body remains like a human's, the muscles pressing beneath the stretched, thick skin. His tunic and clothes stretch and tear, but thanks to the opening on the sides of the tunic, the transformation from solid arms to bat wings prevents the tunic from tearing apart. Crow Lord pulls out his spear and backflips away, avoiding a quick swipe from the bat, which sends forward a powerful gust of wind that sends Crow Lord flying.

     Crow Lord stabs his spear into the ground, leaving a trail of fire in his wake. "Fire," He thinks, "doesn't affect vampires from what I've seen. Which means..."

     Crow Lord leaves his spear into the ground, then opens up his Rustic Bag, pulling out one of the fuzzies.

     "Please, be a lion!" Crow Lord throws the fuzzy in front of him, conjuring forth a great Brown Bear, who roars with challenge at the werebat.

     Crow Lord conjures a great deal of mana into the bear, polymorphing it into a Werebear and stands at it's side, his spear ready to pierce the Werebat's hide.

     He leads the charge, darting to the left of the werebat and plants his spear into the ground, then uses his strength to lift himself off the ground and flip through the air. As he is halfway through his flip, Crow Lord slams the spear down onto the Werebat, who tries to block the strike with a wing, but the spear slices through it completely and distracts the werebat long enough for the werebear to get a few solid hits in.

     The werebear finishes off it's attack by biting onto the Werebat's neck, forcing it to the ground and ripping open it's throat. Crow Lord charges up onto the vampire's belly, and plants the spear firmly into it's chest, tearing down to it's heart.

     "Warsch said something about stabbing them in the hearts..."

     Crow Lord looks at the beast, who squirms weakely upon the ground but not dying. "Okay... something something brains..."

     Crow Lord lifts the spear out of it's chest and stabs through it's head, dismantling the brain. Although the beast lies still, Crow Lord can still feel the warmth of life inside of it.

     Crow Lord looks over to his holier companions, who are still in combat against their foes.

     

     Eranah is flying through the air, dealing with the spellcaster as the two fire volleys of magic at eachother. Despite being a powerful bardic warrior, Eranah seems to be on the defense as beams of frost and balls of flame swirl past her. Eranah strums her guitar like a mad-woman, sending off waves of radiant notes that disrupt most of the vampire's spells, but the caster has spent her entire lifetime practicing magic, it seems.

     Eranah switches to sword and shield and steps into stage two of her angelic form. In stage one, only white wings gave away her true nature, but now a silver halo hangs above her head, and an aura of white light surrounds her.

     Eranah charges forward with her shield in front of her, deflecting incoming spells like they are nothing. She closes the distance quickly, and cuts off the caster's hands with her sunstone blade. The wound on the vampire is very fatal, as her arms quickly burn with holy flames, which eat away at the vampire's body as she falls to the ground.

     In an act of mercy for her fallen foe, Eranah stabs the vampire through the heart, causing an intense explosion of ash and flame.

     "Kaw Kaw!" Crow Lord shouts, trying to get Eranah's attention. Eranah looks up at the bird man, who is waving her over. Eranah quickly flies over the fight that Selene and Stormdrake are in, coming to Crow Lord's aid.

     "Kaw!" Crow Lord points at the vampire, whose wounds are slowly closing.

     Eranah plants her foot on the beast's chest, and stabs it through the heart.

     

     As soon as the battle had begun, Stormdrake knew that this was no ordinary vampire. Clad in the steel suit of a dragon and bearing a dragon's head as a weapon,Stormdrake could tell that this vampire was a dragon slayer in his past life. Much to his surprise, the vampire could easily match his gigantic strength, able to block attacks from both his paws and tail, and even managed to crack a few of the scales alongside his head.

     With his lightning having no effect on the armor, his gusts unable to move the armored foe, and left with only his physical attacks, the only strategy Stormdrake has is to stay on the offensive and keep his opponent from swinging his weapon.

     Stormdrake slams down with his paw, which the knight catches on his shield and parries to the left, opening Stormdrake for another slash with his massive cleaver.

     With his tail bent underneath him to lift him upwards, Stormdrake flaps his wings and soars just high enough to avoid having his throat cut open. "I can't fight him as a dragon!" Stormdrake thinks. However, it might be possible to revert his form, like earlier.

     Stormdrake tugs his swordspear off his back, and gets enough distance between him and his vampiric foe to utter in a quick prayer.

     As his prayer concludes and the knight closes in on him, Stormdrake can feel a sudden shifting in his form, causing him to shrink. As his arms slim back to their original size, the knight brings down the great-machete on Stormdrake, who swings upwards with his swordspear just in time to block the attack. With his arms in the air, the knight bashes forward with his shield, hitting stormdrake in the chest and cracking two ribs.

     "Gah!" he groans. With dragon blood coursing through his veins still, Stormdrake calls upon that power to lend him strength in this fight.

     Stormdrake holds the swordspear high above his head, imbuing the blade with the power of electricity. The knight closes in for another attack, expecting to be able to deflect the attack.

     Stormdrake slams his spear down on the vampire, the knight raises his shield in anticipation, however the blast of thunder breaks the shield in half.

     "Wwwwrrrry! Impossible! My shield was forged out of the head of an ancient Draconic-Gargoyle! How?"

     Stormdrake thrusts towards his foe, hoping to catch him off-guard, but the vampire quickly swings his machete and parries the attack.

     "Grrr... he's much faster!" Stormdrake thinks.

     The knight swings upwards with his machete after parrying, slicing across Stormdrake's chest, darkening his brown robes with blood.

     "Aaah... the scent of pure dragon blood. Your blood will fill my stomach and become one with Henreich the Dragon!"

     Stormdrake raises his palm to the knight, who expects a blast from it and raises his machete. Instead, Sacred Flame pours upon the vampire, who begins burning fiercely inside his own suit. Like the maw of a dragon, the knight's helm spews forth great flames. He falls to his knees, then collapses upon the ground. Not taking any chances, Stormdrake conjures more sacred fire to rain upon the vampiric knight, who despite drinking the blood of dragons, could never become one.

     

     Selene and her bloodied foe fight on the same level. Despite her years of berserker rages and monster slaying, this vampire is just as fast and battle-hardened as she is. Despite his heavy blood loss from before the fight, the vampire gives no ground, but neither gains any.

     The two stand in the same spots that they started the fight at. Despite having the slower weapon compared to her hand axes, the vampire is able to fend off attacks from both arms by shifting the weight of the blade across his arms, balancing it with his other hand.

     Selene rages, slashing and twisting her blades against the vampire, who slides his blade from his arm towards Selene's head, who ducks but loses a few threads of hair in the process, despite the blade not being close to her head.

     "So, the blade gets both extended reach and a wider, sharper blade when coated with blood?"

     The vampire nods his head at her, then kicks forward and plants his foot into her chest, knocking her back several feet. "This blade is called Blood Fang, which grows in power the more blood that coats it."

     Selene smiles at her foe. "Aho, and the armor? I've noticed it does almost the same thing."

     "Bloodmaw, and it has a similar property, except that it gives me a higher defense in exchange for constant bleeding. Lucky for me, I'm a vampire and can't bleed to death."

     Selene's smile fades. "Despite your prowess and boons, you're curse will be your undoing. The more blood you lose, the weaker you grow. This battle is winding to a close."

     The vampire nods his head. "For me, it's just begun. You, not so much."

     The vampire pulls out a marble, which is a small red teardrop cast in a sphere of crystal. "Prepare to die!" He plunges the marble into his forehead, causing his vampiric veins to burst from his skin, covering his temple like a diadem of blood.

     Selene grits her teeth in rage, then explodes with dark energy. Selene lowers her body in pain, grunting like a mad animal. "Fallen Angel!" Two bone arms of dark power extend from her back like wings, and she radiates with an aura of fear and dark power. Selene continues grinding her teeth, then grunts "Dark.. *grunts* Mesiah!" A halo of darkness appears above her head, radiating with a sort of darkness that flickers like a flame. Selene lowers into a stance, takes a deep breath, then breaths out peacefully and gracefully "True... Light!"

     Everything about Selene turns negative; What is black turns to white and white to black. Her black hair and armor turns silver and her marble skin turns gray. Her black eyes turn solid white, but at the center of each eye is a black ring of death. Her halo and aura revert from darkness to light, casting shadows all across the battle field. Even her axes, which glow with darkness, are imbued with a holy power that would leave a dark god shaking with fear. The vampire, unable to feel any emotions and filled with an insatiable bloodlust, snarls at the angel standing before him.

     The two charge at eachother quicker than the eye can follow. In a split second, the two dart past eachother, dealing incredible wounds to the other. The vampire looks at his blade, which had broken in half when it pierced through Selene.

     Selene falls to the ground with half of the sword sticking though her chest. Selene coughs up silver blood, then falls to her side and looks at her foe.

     The vampire turns back towards her, a wicked smile stretching across his face. He takes one step towards her, then his smile quickly fades as he realizes the extent of the damage dealt to him.

     A thousand lines of silver energy dart from the tip of his broken blade, up his arm, and through his torso. Despite their base necrotic power, the axes burn with holy wrath. The vampire looks at his left arm, which falls from his body in several pieces like a ribbon.

     The vampire falls to the ground, his insides turning to ash before his eyes. "Impossible! Dark.. Angel!"

     As her wounds quickly heal, Selene sits up and crawls off to her foe, pulling the blade out of her chest. "Dark, yes. Still angel."

     

     Eranah watches her sister, slightly worried at the power she was careless to reveal. "That was a good fight, Selene. However, for our safety, do you think it was wise to use that much power? You do realize we are still hated by the heavens, right?"

     Selene grunts in agony as her chest heals, then coughs up a bit of blood trapped in her throat. "I found a foe willing to go all the way to the brink of death to fight me. It would have been disgraceful to beat him otherwise." She spits up more blood, grunting with savagery as she stands up to meet her sister. "Warrior pride. Nothing you would understand."

     Selene pats her sister on the cheek, then continues through the courtyard where the others went. Despite her armor and skin returning to normal, Selene's hair remains white.

     

King of the Dark Sun



     Warsch, Blackwing, Alethra, Jun'Dahr, and Spider rush past the battle in the courtyard, finding themselves in a large hallway, set with obsidian pillars that drip with fresh blood. Throughout the hall are the corpses of many men and women, all of whom seem to be vampires.

     The five walk to the end of the hallway, finding a dormant vampire resting on stone steps. Behind him lies a large stone door, which is barred shut and engraved with several holy symbols and runes.

     As Warsch looks at the door, the man slowly awakens, and lifts his head at the party.

     "Good for a vampire, huh?"

     Warsh looks the vampire in the eyes, which are bright silver, unlike the blood-red of other vampires. "You are no ordinary vampire, are you?"

     The vampire rises from his stone steps, brushes blood off his tunic and black armor, then places a golden crown upon his head.

     "I am King Arklaw, of the Dark Sun. I am the first of the Consecrated, and also the last. You cannot pass through that door... For I have created something far worse than any demon in Hell. A demon, angel, whatever it is... it could not be killed or beaten. Its power is infinite. Only by sealing it for all eternity can it be stopped."

     Warsch shakes his head. "My wife was taken from me and brought here. What happened to her?"

     Arklaw looks solemnly at the ground. "A woman came to us a week or two ago to rid us of our endless hunger. We felt human... again. But the price we paid for it was too great. I did not know!"

     Spider sighs with angst. "What price? What did you do to Tharyn?!"

     Arklaw takes a big gulp. "The bloodied woman requested I turn her into a vampire. All seemed fair. I thought it was a punishment of sorts, that nothing could go wrong. Then, as I removed my fangs and my eyes adjusted to the two, I realized that they looked the same. The bloodied woman stood before the fresh spawn, whose stomach was empty and her hunger fresh. Tharyn, the vampire, bit into the bloodied woman, drinking her dry and sucking up her remains. I was surprised that a newly spawned vampire could stomach so much blood, then I realized what happened. Imagine a creature whose body and soul were exactly the same thing: blood. It was a possession unlike anything I had ever seen. The two became one, creating a demigod of bone and blood.

     Warsch grunts in anger "You're lying to me... I can feel her presence in that room! My love still lives, open those doors!"

     Arklaw holds his arms above his head, conjuring two blades of light in his hands. Then, around that light, black flames erupt. "These doors will never again open. Neither you nor those who betrayed me will undo the seal."

     Warsch swings his chains over his head onto the ground as he bursts with angelic fury. Eight tendrils of orange fire erupt from his back, his eyes glaze over with orange flames, and a halo formed of orange flame hangs above his head.

     "I've suffered wounds for her love. I've crossed mountains and killed men for it. You will not step me!"

     Before anyone can stop him, Warsch darts forward at Arklaw and slashes forward with Muriel. Arklaw raises his blades, blocking the attack and wraps the chains around his swords. With a quick pull, Arklaw draws Warsch close then kicks his chest, sending him flying back into a pillar, which breaks in half from the sheer power of Arklaw's kick.

     As the dust settles, Arklaw raises one of his blades just in time to block a powerful blast from Warsch, who begins launching rays of sunlight.

     Arklaw dashes around each blast, which he knows are coming from a single point. Arklawy kicks up a boulder and launches it towards that point, using it as a temporary shield to blind-sight Warsch, closing the distance and stabs forward with a blade. However, his blade stabs into the wall, and he kicks back from the wall just in time to avoid a powerful blast below from Warsch.

     Arklaw lands on the ground behind him, but falls to the ground injured. He looks at the tip of his foot, his toes blasted clean off. Despite most vampires incinerating instantly against holy power, the wounds bleeds like any other. His armor, either cursed or blessed, reforms as the sound of scraping metal fills the halls.

     Warsch hovers through the air towards Arklaw. "A vampire blessed by The Light, huh? Thought there was something odd about you. You're not cursed like the rest."

     Arklaw's toes begin healing back, but the simple act tires him out. "We are consecrated. When I helped seal the Abyss early during The First Summer, I was cursed with undeath and the sun burned me and my knights to a crisp. Only a prayer to The Light saved me, who turns her gaze away from me whenever possible. Her teeth, although they bite my flesh, will never burn."

     Alethra yells at Warsch. "Enough! We should not be fighting eachother. Tharyn must be put to rest."

     Arklaw shakes his head, his lips firm and his silver eyes emotionless after an eternity of suffering. "She cannot be killed. It was only through luck that I was able to seal these doors in time against her."

     Warsch grunts. "I will not be stopped. Either move, or be slain."

     Arklaw crosses his blades in front of him. "It would break the oath I made a long time ago, to all living things, to let you pass. Only my death will open those doors."

     Warsch smiles. "I was hoping you would say that!"

     Alethra tries to rush Warsch, but Blackwing grabs onto her and forces her back, pinning her against the wall with a an invisible arm. "Grrr... Abjurer! Blackwing! You cowards!"

     Blackwing shakes his head. "Warsch is too headstrong to let Tharyn go. Look around you, at the corpses of those who betrayed Arklaw. We aren't as divided as his people were. Once the others regroup with us and this King lies dead, then we can combat Tharyn."

     Alethra bares her teeth in anger and rips off her glove, trying to use her Dread-hand to tear away at the Abjurer's hold on him. However, her hand cannot grasp the invisible force, and instead disintegrates a bit of her shirt.

     Jun'Dahr looks at everyone, alarmed at their actions. "I swore to help you find Tharyn, and I did. But I cannot allow any of you-"

     Before he can utter any grievances against the party, Spider knocks him out cold with a powerful punch to the head and catches his limp body, setting it calmly upon the ground. "Alethra, either you are going to help us against Tharyn, or you will sleep. You're choice." Spider begins wrapping Jun'Dahr up in webbing, securing him in a cacoon prison.

     Alethra looks past Warsch and Arklaw, who are trading blows evenly, however Warsch is slowly gaining the upper hand, forcing the old king back onto the steps.

     Alethra looks away from the horrific scene, then sighs. "Fine... whatever it takes to help. But please, do not kill Arklaw!"

     Warsch's ears twitch at the horrible request. As he kicks Arklaw to the ground, Warsch shakes his head. "He chose this, Alethra. A warrior's death is all I can give him. He stands between me and Tharyn, which I will not allow."

     Arklaw looks at Warsch, and lets out a relieving sigh of defeat. "I've been there, you know. Right where you stand. I was like you once, you know. Powerful, a tool of the gods, or so I told myself when it was convenient. Then, a time came where my feelings were more important than my mission. I slipped, and the abyss gripped tight onto that weakness. You're strong, just as I was, but you share my weakness, Warsch. And you share my fate!"

     Warsch stands over Arklaw, breathing heavily. "I won't lose. I've come too far. I need to pass. Please, don't make this harder on me."

     Arklaw nods his head. "You have to kill me. I've lost everything, my purpose, my faith, even my people. My kingdom lies in ashes, I killed those who argued against me, and those who listened are now dead, as I can imagine by your abilities. I know your fate, paladin, for it is the same as mine. You have a holy mission, but you will fall. This is the first step. The moment you open that door, you will be damned. Mark my words." Arklaw disperses his holy blades, then imbues his hands with white flame and reaches into his chest, pulling out a ghastly silver orb, which flutters in the air surrounded by a black flame.

     "Take my soul, paladin. With my power, the Light will always be at your side. I have no afterlife, not as a vampire. My armor is yours, and will protect you against the hunger of the Abyss. I've always hoped to die, as the first of my kind and the last. That woman in there... I am sorry. She is no longer your wife. A Vileblood... A fiend who must be put down, please."

     Warsch kneels down towards Arklaw, looking him in the eyes. He grabs onto Arklaw's soul, which feels warm against his hands and welcoming. "I must fix her. I will inherit your doom, for it is mine, but with your wisdom I will overcome it."

     Warsch closes his hands over the soul, then slams it into his chest, absorbing it. In a flash of memories, Warsch sees Arklaw's entire past, being able to recount every event as if he were there.

     In these visions, Warsch saw the face of Eranah and Selene, who had taught him how to channel light and darkness, to wield two weapons with a fierce display of force.

     "So, Arklaw knew the twins. How interesting..." Warsch stammers, as Arklaw turns to ash and flutters away in the wind. Warsch takes his armor off, and then begins gearing up in the old iron armor, blacker than night. As he throws on Arklaw's old tunic, a black piece of clothe set with a white flame with a black orb in the middle, Warsch feels a tingling sensation at his fingertips. Before his eyes, Warsch sees that the armor shrinks and enlarges around his flesh, forming a sort of exoskeleton around his fragile frame. The armor, although it isn't sentient in any way, removes the feeling from the surface of his skin.

     Warsch falls to the ground, feeling slightly faint as the armor attunes itself to his body. He places a hand upon the ground and discovers that he can feel the ground, despite wearing solid iron gloves over his fingers.

     "Incredible..." Warsch says out loud.

     Blackwing rubs a hand over the suit, analyzing it. "Ah, so it be magical! I knew it!"

     Warsch flexes his muscles under the suit, bending and twisting, but finds that the suit doesn't pinch or tighten in any spots.

     "What can you identify about the suit, Captain?"

     Blackwing looks Warsch up and down, nodding his head. "Well, given your angelic resistances to dark magics, you are now completely immune to dark and necrotic effects. However, you've completely lost your resistance to radiant magics. How well are you able to use your grace and channel light?"

     Warsch activates Angelic Wrath, with six orange tendrils flowing out of his back. "Nothing seems different there, and I can still conjure light."

     Warsch waves a hand towards the door, lighting up the air with a cantrip. With Spider, Alethra, and Blackwing supporting him, Warsch walks up to the door, and kicks it open.

     "Oh, honey! I'm home!" He yells out.

Stay tuned for Chapter VII: The Goddess