A Call to Action
As soon as Ingrid had a day off from her duties at the temple of Odin, she made plans to visit her friend and mentor, Grond Odinson. She made her way south through the Merchants District in Warwik, to the great tunnel underneath the hill on which the palace of the Duke was built.
The early morning traffic consisted mostly of goods being brought into the city along the Saddlebow Path and from the market in nearby Zerthstone down the coast. Ingrid kept to one side of the tunnel, allowing the carts and wagons ample room. She admired the stonework of the tunnel – not quite up to Dwarven standards, but passable. Lanterns spaced out along the walls created alternating pools of yellow light and inky shadows.
Once out of the tunnel, she could immediately smell the dozens of cooking fires from the Skandik settlement. Wooden longhouses alternated with tents and crude log cabins. Everywhere were tall, muscular men and women with braided blonde and red hair. The men sported braided beards and sung Skandik work songs as they performed their daily chores.
At the village’s center was a small market. Surrounding the market were the most important buildings of the village: the longhouse of the Jarl, the hut of the shaman, the barracks of the militia, and the grandest of all, a brightly painted longhouse with a carved eight-legged horse at its peak, and two carved ravens forming the crest of the roof. This was the Skandik temple of Odin. It was here that Ingrid’s friend led the faithful in worship. She hurried inside.
The two priests of the All-Father sat at a rough-hewn table and drank warm mead and Ingrid told her friend the stories of her adventures that had swept her up in their fury after answering the call to meet Aterus in the abandoned warehouse.
Grond slammed his mug down on the table. “Very good! You make me proud. Does that slave driver Federac still have you tending the sick and cleaning altars?”
“Yes, but I don’t mind,” she replied.
Grond continued, his voice thundering. “You’re going to waste there! You could do so much more. Wait a minute.” He went into another room and brought out pen, parchment, and ink. He began to write. When he had finished, he handed the parchment to Ingrid. “Take this to that old fart, and tell him he needs to make you a Priest Errant. You’ll choose your own path, your own way to serve Odin, through his will, not that of men.” Grond sealed the ink bottle. “Now, come outside, I have something else for you.”
Grond stepped away from Ingrid, and held up his hand. On it was a large silver ring, carved with the images of wolves. “Varuna!” he shouted. The air between them shimmered, and became foggy. The fog was cold, like ice. As the mist cleared, Ingrid caught her breath. For standing between them was a white wolf with piercing blue eyes. It was as tall as Ingrid at the shoulder. The great beast looked down at the dwarf. “Go ahead Ingrid, she won’t bite. Not unless I tell her to, anyway.”
Ingrid reached out tentatively. Varuna dipped her head, allowing the priestess to pet her. The fur between the wolf’s ears was soft as down. It was all Ingrid could do to keep from weeping, the animal was so beautiful.
“Once per day, you can call upon her with the ring. She will fight for you, but only for a short time. Choose her battles wisely, she can often turn the tide when she’s needed most.” Grond took off the ring, and the wolf faded. He handed the ring to Ingrid. It was much too big, but she put it on anyway. It shrunk to her finger.
“Take care, little one. Stay safe.” Grond turned and walked back into the temple.
The Hammer, or the Hand?
The sound of hammering and the smell of burning coal poured from the smith’s shop like water cascading over rocks. Darius let the familiar sensations wash over him, instilling in him a sense of being home after a long journey. He ignored the front door of the shop, instead cutting through the alley and opening the simple gate that led to the forge.
Darius’ father was hammering out the red-hot blade of a sword, destined to be wielded by one of the personal guards of Duke Gadelen of Warwik. While he was mostly a merchant, a seller of such items, he produced fine weapons as a hobby. Darius could see the pride and dedication in his father’s eyes as he did the work he so loved. Sensing someone’s presence, the smith stopped his hammering and looked up.
“You’re home,” he said, wiping the sweat from his hands on his leather apron. “Let me look at you. So you completed your training?”
“Yes, father,” Darius replied. “I am now a servant of Odin. A warrior of his will.”
His father smiled, his eyes watering slightly. “I’m so proud, I think we…” The smith looked down, surprised to see the the still red-hot blade of the sword sticking out of this chest, his blood hissing as it burned away.
“No!” screamed Darius. His father sunk to his knees, revealing a man behind him, a noble, dressed in satin and finery.
Darius woke, his heart racing. That never happened. His father was dead before he took up the mantle of paladin. He never saw his father’s killer. But he knew in his heart who needed to pay.
He sat on the edge of the bed, head in his hands. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a scrap of paper on the small table next to the bed. The handwriting was familiar. It read simply, “Be in the alley at 9 bells.” He crumpled up the note and tossed it into the embers of the fire.
The alley was dark, the morning sun not high enough in the sky to spill into the deep shadows between the Sleeping Ogre and the tailor’s shop. A voice in the darkness broke the silence. “Hello, Darius. You have done well so far. Are you ready to take the next step?”
“Good. There is someone in this city that could further your cause, and you could help further his. However, I cannot just introduce you at tea time and have the two of you go on a murdering rampage. You will need to get his attention. And the best way to get his attention is to continue to fight to eliminate the gangs in the city. The gangs are played off each other by Duke Gadelen, and used as an excuse to keep the city in the grip of fear and to hide his corrupt ways. Do you feel up to the task?”
“Of course. But what do you get out of this? What’s your motivation?” Darius peered into the darkness, but the Invisible Judge always seemed to live up to her name.
“I protect the residents of the Thieves Quarter. I keep this slum from becoming a war zone. By helping you, I help them.
Now, here’s where we start. There is a group of slavers that operate out of the abandoned Drow tunnels beneath the Thieves Quarter. As you can tell by the smell, there are no sewers under this part of town, but there are layers of old sewers and tunnels from previous settlements, as well as an underground complex originally used by the dark elves to conduct surface raids. That’s where the slavers are. They call themselves the Octagon. Be careful of their leader; it is rumoured that he is very powerful.
I don’t care how you do it, but take away their ability to operate in this city. I will contact you again when the job is done. Oh, one other thing.” A silver ring hovered in the air before Darius. “Take this.”
Darius took the ring from her invisible hand. It was finely crafted, and engraved with an image of Thor’s hammer. “What does it do?” he asked.
“Once a day, for a minute or so, any weapon you wield will be holy – when creatures of evil are hit with your weapon, it will sear them with holy might. You’ll need it.”
Darius donned the ring. He then listened intently, but could not tell if there were footsteps, or if the Invisible Judge merely vanished.
Order Out of Chaos
Wynne awoke with an uneasy feeling. Something wasn’t right. She lay still for a few moments, listening. Only the sound of her blood made a tiny roaring in her ears. She lit a candle, and the room came into focus. She went to the door. Her locks were intact. The hair she had stuck across the crack between the door and the frame was still there. So how in the hells was there a note next to her bed?
She didn’t even read the scrap of paper until she was fully dressed in her armor and weapons. In flowing, graceful handwriting, the note read, “Be in the alley between the Sleeping Ogre and the tailor’s shop at ten bells.” Of course she would go. She had to meet the person who had been able to bypass the layers of protection she always surrounded herself with.
Wynne stood in the alley, sword in hand, and crossbow loaded at her back. All her senses were alert and waiting. She jumped a little in fright when the female voice spoke out of nothingness. “Hello, Wynne. I have a proposition for you.”
Wynne spun towards the direction the voice had come from. There was no one there. “Who are you?”
“I am the Invisible Judge. I know you’ve heard of me. But let’s get to the point. As you probably know, the gang situation in this city has gotten worse lately. Fights between gangs, bystanders caught in the middle. All the while, Duke Gadelen moves the gangs like chess pieces, keeping them all focused on each other. I have a different vision for Warwik.”
“Go on,” Wynne said, lowering her weapon.
“The fragmentation of the gangs leaves us vulnerable. I see, instead, a single, unified Thieves Guild. A strong leader could forge unity and dispel this chaos.”
“And you would be that leader, I suppose?” Wynne didn’t like talking to air.
“Actually, I had someone else in mind. You.”
“Me? You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m serious. You are level headed, cool under pressure, and are pragmatic. I’m prepared to put my influence behind you. But, if you suddenly started taking out gangs, you’d be dead in a day. Which is why it won’t be you.”
Suddenly, an invisible hand held out an object – a flat cap, black in color. “What’s this?” Wynne asked.
“For you. Try it on.”
She hesitated, then Wynne put the cap on her head. It fit well.
“Now, think of someone you’d like to look like, and imagine yourself looking like them.”
Yeah, right, Wynne thought. So she picked the most outrageous appearance change she could think of. When she looked down, she was a 4’ 6” version of the Professor.
“You can only change one foot in height, but, as you can see, it’s quite effective,” said the Invisible Judge. “I believe this tool will allow you to do what is necessary and keep your reputation intact.
Your first target will be a group of slavers operating out of the old Drow tunnels underneath the Thieves Quarter. They call themselves the Octagon. Take them out, and you’ll not only be ridding the city of a violent, dangerous group, but you’ll be able to claim the perfect underground headquarters for a future Thieves Guild. Do we have an agreement?”
Wynne was changing form every few seconds; a city guard, a beggar, a noblewoman, a nobleman, an orc. “Absolutely,” she replied, looking like herself again. She strode out of the alley and into the Sleeping Ogre, looking forward to using her new toy.
Of Dubious Value
On a street called Wizard’s Row was a tavern called The Explosive Runes. It served as a meeting place and point of interest for arcane magic and alchemy in the city of Warwik. The walls, floor, and furnishings were imbued with layers of magical protection against fire, acid, electricity, and pure magical energy. After all, the ability to call upon eldritch powers and the consumption of alcohol and other substances does not always mix well.
Professor Crasis couldn’t decide whether to drink the concoction in the mug in front of him, or analyze it for potential inclusion in a formula he was working on. He had made this decision 3 or 4 times already, and each time it became more difficult. Admiral, his riding dog, lapped up ale from a bowl on the floor. It was early in the morning. The Professor and Admiral had the whole tavern to themselves.
Into every tavern, strange looking patrons must eventually come. Today was no different. There were two, the Professor noted. What struck him first was the fact that they were both garbed in the exact same shade of brown, the color of soft leather. The man, if he was, wore brown robes and a brown cloak with a large hood, hiding his face in its shadow. The woman, who definitely was, wore form-fitting leather armor, again topped by a large hood. Her face was even harder to see.
If the Professor were a betting gnome, he would have won his bet that they were going to approach his table. Strangeness was an old friend of the Professor’s, though he was usually the one causing the strangeness for others. “Hello there!” he said. “I am Professor Coggley Crassis Walty Ambergris Fiddleywick. What can I do for you?”
The man in the brown robes spoke with a strange accent. “Can we join you, Professor?”
“Of course, sit down.”
The light of the magical lantern in the center of the table illuminated the faces of the strangers. The man (he was) had a countenance somewhere between sinister and comical, but it was his eyes that were… different. His eyeballs, if they were such, were perfect rounded mirrors. His skin was pale to the point of being almost pure white, and it gave off a metallic glow, like moonlight. The woman’s face was hid behind a cloth mask that seemingly covered her entire head. Only her eyes were visible. And it was only for a moment, but the Professor saw those eyes. Blazing yellow irises, with black, vertical slits for pupils. Just like a cat’s.
The man spoke. “I am Vardamir. And this is my bodyguard, Kisha. You have something I wish to purchase, Professor.”
“Well, I am working on a number of projects, and can make quite a number of potions and devices, such as…”
“No, Professor, I am speaking of the scroll.” The man smiled, and it sent a chill down the Professor’s back.
“Not sure what you are talking about,” the Professor said, looking away.
“The scroll in the steel case, the one you took from your mentor. He told me you would have it.”
“You spoke to Ragabashir? When?” The Professor looked both nervous and intensely curious.
“About a month ago. He said he had originally obtained the scroll while on something called an ‘adventure’, in something he called a ‘dungeon’? But that you had absconded with it. He laughed when he said so. He knew you couldn’t resist a mystery. Do you have the scroll?”
“Yes, I always keep it on me, just in case. It’s right here.” The Professor spent a few moments searching the various bags and packs he carried, and produced a polished steel tube approximately ten inches long and two inches thick. “It never has rusted, though. Strange! But it isn’t magical, either, I even tried to…”
“Of course,” Vardamir interrupted. “I can offer you 500 gold coins for it.”
“Well, I don’t know. I mean, I was really hoping to figure it out. No one I’ve talked to knows the language, even magical spells can’t make any sense out of it.” The Professor bit his knuckle.
“Very well,” Vardamir replied. “2,000 gold coins. In diamonds.” He held out a small, brown, leather sack.
The Professor took the sack and looked inside. True enough, it was filled with about a dozen or so pure, brilliant stones. The sack, he suddenly realized, just like these stranger’s clothing and weapons, was… perfect. He had never seen craftsmanship like this. Not dwarven or elven or anything. Every stitch in Kisha’s armor, the hilt of the strange curved sword at her back, everything was perfect curves and straight lines. No dirt or dust, no imperfections. He almost forgot the diamonds in his hand.
“Well, 2,000 gold. I could do a lot with that. And I can’t figure out the scroll anyway…”
“We will not force you,” Vardamir said, smiling. “It is your decision.”
“OK, done!” The Professor started to set the scroll on the table, when the doors to the tavern flew open. Twice in one day? What now?
A tall man, with massive scars on his face, wearing black half-plate armor, a massive greataxe strapped to his back, strode in, flanked on both sides by warriors in black chainmail with hooded cloaks hiding their faces. Without hesitation, the man walked right up to the Professor’s table. Kisha pulled the katana from her back in one fluid motion and moved to protect Vardamir.
“I’ll take the scroll, gnome. I’ll have the scroll, or your head and the scroll. You choose.” The armored man’s voice was as scarred and ugly as his face.
Vardamir looked at Kisha, and he at him. He nodded, and both of them suddenly vanished. The Professor was suddenly very alone. The barkeep had disappeared at the first sign of trouble.
“No!” screamed the Professor. “You can’t have it!” He snatched the scroll up from the table and shoved it into one of his bags.
“Very well. I will take it from your corpse.” The armored man drew the massive axe from his back. The two cloaked warriors ripped their cloaks off, letting them drop to the ground. Both of them were nightmarish in appearance. They were human skeletons, their bones as black as night. Two angry points of red light lay deep in their eye sockets. Each drew two shortswords and advanced on the Professor.
The gnome saw that there was a back door right beside the table he was sitting at. He jumped towards it, only to find it was locked.
The armored man was quicker than he appeared. Before the Professor could react, he brought the greataxe down, slicing a huge gash across the Professor’s chest.
The gnome cried out in pain. His vision blurred, he felt faint. But he summoned his strength and located an alchemical bomb on his belt. He threw it at the locked door. He was fortunate; the door had recently been replaced, and had not, as of yet, been treated with the same spells as the rest of the building. It burned fiercely.
The black skeleton warriors flashed their swords in dangerous arcs, but the Professor and Admiral dodged the most deadly blows. The Professor found himself weakening from the skeleton’s attacks. His strength was failing him. Soon he would be lying on the floor. Admiral, perhaps sensing this, grabbed the gnome gently in his jaws and shouldered open the burnt door. The Professor found enough strength to cling to the dog’s back.
The skeletons and the black knight did not pursue. They knew where their quarry was. There would be time enough to catch him.
Coincidence of Purpose
Darius had been at their usual table at the Sleeping Ogre for a while before Wynne entered. She still stiffened every time she saw the paladin. Why did she continue to work with the man responsible for her incarceration? It made no sense. But now that she had a goal, she could use him. She would have no problems convincing Darius to help take down the gangs of Warwik. He would never know what he was helping her accomplish.
Wynne sat down across from Darius. “So,” she said, “I think I’ve found something for us to do.”
Darius sipped his ale. “I suppose you want to steal something?”
Wynne sighed. “No, asshole, I want to take out some slavers.”
Darius could barely hold his poker face. What was going on here? “Continue.”
“They’re called the Octagon. They operate out of the tunnels underneath the Thieves Quarter. Let’s go down there and kick some ass.”
Darius was silent for a few moments. “Fine. I totally agree with you and completely support this. But why? What do you get out of it?”
“Get out of it? I help rid the city of some nasty slavers, that’s what. What other reason do I need?” Wynne studied Darius closely. Was he hiding something?
Darius studied Wynne closely. Was she hiding something? No, he decided, maybe she’s just a better person than he thought. “Done,” he said.
The Future, Unbound
Ingrid walked up the steps to the temple of Odin, the big one, the one in the Priests Quarter. While it was much grander than the wooden longhouse where Grond held services for the Skandiks, it also felt less real, less about the glory of Odin and more about the glory of man. She thought of this as she made her way to Federac’s office.
The high priest did not look up from his papers. “Yes, Ingrid? What is it now?”
Ingrid dropped the letter from Grond on the High Exalted’s massive desk. He glanced at the dwarf, then thrust his quill back into the ink bottle. “What’s this?” he asked. Ingrid said nothing.
Many shades of emotion crossed Federac’s face as he read the recommendation letter. Finally, he rolled it up and put it aside. He took out a piece of parchment and began to write. When he was finished, he signed it with a flourish and affixed his seal in red wax. He handed the parchment to Ingrid.
“From this point forward, you are a Priest Errant of the temple of Odin. You may choose for yourself the best way to serve our god. You are still required to tithe, and must report to the nearest temple of Odin once a month and take on any missions the priest of that temple may have for you. You may go.” Federac went back to his schedules and balance sheets.
Ingrid picked up the commission and walked out. She didn’t even look back once.
The Weirdness Vortex
Ingrid walked into the Sleeping Ogre and took a seat at the group’s table. “Sorry I’m late. I had to see High Exalted Federac at my temple.”
“Why?” asked Darius.
“To get this.” She laid the commission paper before the paladin.
“Congratulations. That works out well, we have found something worthwhile to do in the city.” Darius handed Ingrid back the parchment.
“What is that?” Ingrid asked.
The door to the inn burst open, and a large dog with an injured gnome on his back padded in, coming over to the table on instinct. “Professor!” Ingrid shouted, jumping up to examine the gnome’s wounds. “What happened?” She called upon the power of Odin several times to heal the battered alchemist.
“Oh, nothing, you know. Let’s leave, OK?” The Professor looked agitated.
“What do you mean, nothing?” Darius scolded. “How did you get wounded? Did you set someplace else on fire?”
“Err, just the door. See, they wanted to buy the scroll. They were weird looking, one had mirrored eyes, the other had cat’s eyes, and they both wore all brown, and their clothes were perfectly made, never seen anything like them, and the cat-eyed girl had a big curved sword, I’d seen one like it before, what was it called? And…”
“Whoa, whoa!” Darius stood up. “And they attacked you?”
“No… it was the big man in black plate mail and the two black skeletons. The strange people vanished, and there was no one else in the bar, and the back door was locked, so I threw a bomb at it and Admiral grabbed me and bust the door down, and boy did that greataxe hurt, and…”
“Slow down,” Wynne said. She looked anxiously at the door. “Did they follow you?”
“No,” the Professor replied, heaving a sigh. “Thank goodness. But let’s get out of here anyway, OK?”
The door to the Sleeping Ogre burst open. The Professor stiffened. Couldn’t be. Not three times in one day.
Yes, they wore bandannas and some wore jaunty hats. Yes, they wielded cutlasses and scimitars. Yes, one of them… OK, two of them, had eye patches. And black knee boots. And a parrot. OK, there wasn’t a parrot. But there should have been. But, in the back, was a wizard. Well, he didn’t look like one. Maybe a pirate/wizard.
The leader of the pirates shouted, “Fiddleywick! Show yourself!”
The Professor immediately knew who they were. The leader was Crumblefish, the first mate on the Tempest Eye, the pirate ship the gnome had been shanghaied onto many years ago. The ship must have been in port. “You’ll never take me back, I won’t go!”
The pirates har-har’d in unison. “We’re not here to take you back,” said Crumblefish, brandishing his cutlass, “we’re here for the scroll.”
Couldn’t be. Not three times in one day. “What scroll?” asked the Professor.
“The one you stole from Ragabashir. That crazy alchemist. When those strange people offered to buy it, and after that black knight and his men killed the old man trying to get it, we figured it must be worth something. Now hand it over.”
The Professor slumped into a chair. He wiped a tear from one eye. “They killed Ragabashir? When?”
“About a month ago. Now hand over the scroll, or die.” Crumblefish and the rest of the pirates took a step forward.
“Never!” The gnome pulled out a flask and hurled it at the first mate. It broke on the man’s head, dousing him in flames. It also released a cloud of stench into the bar.
The wizard… Well, yes, the pirate/wizard, cast a spell, and the Professor was suddenly blinded. Darius and the others jumped into the fray, killing pirates and trying to keep the Professor from blindly throwing fire bombs into their favorite inn. There was lots of blood, and lots of screaming. In the end, only the wizard… You know the one… Remained. They tied him up and gagged him.
The sounds of the fight, and the fleeing of the other patrons, attracted the attention of the city guard. A familiar man led a squad of soldiers into the Sleeping Ogre. “Oh, no, not you.”
The Professor, blind as he was, knew the man’s voice. “Yes, me. You know, you should really introduce yourself, if we’re going to keep meeting like this.”
“My name is Juran. What happened here?”
They told him. Once again, he couldn’t arrest the gnome. He could only haul away the wizard after the group asked him questions.
All the group could glean from their interrogation of the man was that the Tempest’s Eye was, indeed, docked at Warwik. He said he had been forced to come with the first mate, and that he didn’t want to hurt anyone. Juran said he would take that into consideration, and led the man away in manacles.
Eyesight to the Blind
Taking turns, each of the group told the others of the day’s escapades. Ingrid examined the Professor’s eyes, and determined that the gnome’s blindness was permanent. It would require divine magic to restore his sight. She immediately thought of Grond, the priest of Odin at the Skandik temple. They set out into the lengthening shadows to the south side of town and the long tunnel that led to the Skandik village.
Grond was surprised to see Ingrid back so soon, but was pleased when she told him that Federac granted her Priest Errant commission. He sat the blinded gnome on an infirmary bed, amongst the bruised brothers who had been fighting, and the drunks sleeping it off instead of going home and being thrashed by their wives. Grond called upon the power of Odin, and the Professor could see once more. The gnome gave Grond one of the diamonds he had received. Grond accepted the gift, and wished the group luck in defeating whatever was after the gnome.
“What now?” the Professor asked, grateful to be able to see again. “That black knight and those skeletons could still be looking for me!”
“Time to go underground, then.” Wynne smiled. “We’ll go after the slavers we talked about. That ought to throw off any pursuit.”
So they began walking towards the Thieves Quarter.
The easiest way to tell, in the dark, that you had reached the Thieves Quarter, was the smell. Unlike the rest of town, the Thieves Quarter did not have underground sewers. The filth was poured out of windows and into troughs at the edges of buildings. But that is not to say that there weren’t secret, dangerous places underground. A myriad of tunnels and rooms, many dating back to before the founding of modern Warwik, criss-crossed deep under the streets. The city constantly tried to seal off any entrances, but they were there, if you knew where to look. Wynne led the group towards an entrance she knew about.
From one of the pools of darkness beyond the reach of torchlight stepped a figure in black armor, wielding a greataxe. Behind the group stepped two skeletal warriors with pinpoints of red light for eyes. “The scroll,” intoned the knight.
“Here we go again,” sighed the Professor. He lobbed a firebomb at the knight. Chaos ensued.
Wynne found herself facing the black knight. He raised his huge axe, and practically cut the rogue in two. She scrambled up onto the top of a wall surrounding a small courtyard, out of reach. From there, she rained down shots from her crossbow. Darius and Ingrid fought the knight and the two skeletal warriors. Each blow from the black skeletons drained their strength, causing their attacks to be less effective.
Finally, the armored knight fell. The skeletons began to back away. “Another time,” one hissed, and they disappeared into the night.
No Hiding Place
They manacled the black knight, and decided to get him off the street to question him. Wynne used her cap to disguise herself as a city guard, while the Professor drank a potion to look like a dwarf guard. They ran into guard patrols along the way, but were able to talk their way out of scrutiny.
They took the knight to the temple of Apollo, where they had met James Martin after the bell tower incident. The temple was locked up at that late hour. They decided to go to the temple of Odin instead. Ingrid said it was open all the time. Someone would be there. Darius put on the hat of disguise, so that no one at the temple would recognize him from three years ago.
They arrived at the temple with the unconscious knight. “Get Exalted Federac,” Ingrid said to one of the acolytes.
A few minutes later, Federac showed up. He was tired, disheveled, and already beginning to get red in the face. “What’s going on here?”
Darius spoke up. “We defeated this evil knight, and wanted a secure place to question him.”
Federac exploded. “What? Get this filth out of my temple. Why isn’t this abomination dead? Ingrid, what are you doing bringing this kind of trouble into the temple? You, by your station, are afforded the services of this temple, I cannot deny you that. But these other people, and this foul thing lying on my floor are not! Now leave, before I call the guard.” He stormed away.
“It’s getting late at night. We need to get inside somewhere.” Wynne thought for a moment. “There’s a thief safe house near here. Hopefully it won’t be occupied, since thieves aren’t normally in this part of town to need the safe house. Let’s go.”
The safe house was indeed, empty. They laid the black knight’s body out on the floor. It had been a long day, and everyone was very exhausted.
“Well, we can’t do anything now, with everyone this tired. Let’s get some sleep,” Darius said. Everyone began laying out their bedrolls.
The Professor searched the knight’s body. Though they had removed his armor and weapons, and found that they were magical, they had not checked the rest of his body. The gnome reached into the knight’s shirt and brought out a silver amulet. It was shaped like a skull, with one ruby eye. The Professor tucked the amulet into a pouch a forgot about it.
The Face of the Enemy
A cool breeze blew across the deck of the Tempest’s Eye. The Professor stood at the bow, listening to the waves slap against the hull and looking up at the full moon overhead. He sensed someone behind him, so he turned.
A figure in black robes walked slowly across the deck of the ship towards him. One glowing, red point of light emanated from where a man’s right eye might be. A gravelly, but higher pitched voice spoke. “Good evening Professor. You have impressed me. But I will have the scroll before long.”
The gnome was confused for a moment. Scroll? Yes, he remembered something about a scroll. But those memories didn’t mix well with his current surroundings.
He looked down. He had the strange silver skull amulet around his neck. How did that get there? He was more confused, but he did know one thing about the mysterious figure. “No! I’ll never let you have it! You killed Ragabashir! You killed my mentor!”
“Yes, I did,” replied the figure. “Well, not me, but my servants. But rest assured, Professor, I will have the scroll. I have everything else I need, but I must have the scroll. You and your friends do not have the power to stop me.”
“I’ll fight you! I’ll fight you, and you’ll never have the scroll! I’ll fight you!” The gnome clenched his fists. He was angry, but what was this robed figure doing on the pirate ship? Where did he come from? His brain swam with problems and paradoxes.
“I look forward to it,” the figure said, turning. The sky was lightening with the coming dawn. “Farewell, for now.”
And then the Professor woke up, snug in his bedroll. He remembered the disturbing dream. Reflexively, he reached to his chest. He was wearing the amulet.
The Nature of Evil
In the morning, they tended the knight’s wounds enough to bring him around. “I’m going to un-gag you now,” said Darius. “And you’re going to answer my questions. Wynne, knock him out if he tries any spell casting.”
Wynne pulled out a sap, and slapped the weapon against her palm. Darius removed the gag.
The knight took a deep breath, then began to shout in a dark language, making everyone’s head reel. Before he could finish his spell, Wynne struck him on the head. He was out cold. Darius replaced the gag.
“Well, that won’t work. Wait here. I’m going to send word to Tiberius and Grond. Maybe one of them can help.” Darius went out into the streets of the Priests Quarter.
The Professor looked intently at the unconscious knight, a plan forming in his head. He took out a dagger and stabbed the knight in the throat. Blood welled up from the wound, and the knight began to take ragged breaths.
Wynne, seeing what the gnome had done, dove toward him, and pinned him to the floor. Ingrid ran to the knight’s side and healed him, stopping the bleeding.
“What are you doing?” Wynne shouted, glaring at the pinned alchemist.
“Well, I figured we could kill him, and talk to his spirit once it passed on,” the Professor replied.
“We can’t do that. Look, while I don’t much like the paladin, we need Darius right now. And if any one of us kills that knight, Darius will likely leave us. So I can’t let you kill him. Now behave.” She stood, releasing her hold on the gnome.
“OK, OK, I get it,” he said, rubbing his shoulders. Wynne had held him down quite effectively.
About an hour later, Darius returned. Seeing the fresh wound on the knight, he asks, “Just what went on here?”
Wynne answered, “The Professor tried to kill him. We put a stop to it.”
Darius glared at the gnome. “No one is killing this man.”
The Professor showed the amulet to the group, explaining the strange dream and its apparent effect on reality – that he woke up wearing the amulet. “It must allow him to see me, to track me,” he said.
Darius frowned. “Let’s see it.” Darius placed the amulet on the floor, and took a swing at it with his hammer. The powerful blow didn’t even manage to put a scratch on it. “Well, that didn’t work.”
The Professor thought for a moment. “Well, we could put it in a Bag of Holding, and put the bag into a Portable Hole. That should open a rift to the Astral Plane, and suck the amulet into it!”
“Do you have a Bag of Holding or a Portable Hole?” Wynne asked.
“Details!” the Professor exclaimed.
Minutes later, there was a knock at the door. Tiberius, Aterus, and a barbarian named Fasgar, Aterus’ bodyguard, entered the safe house. Tiberius spoke through the white porcelain mask he always wore.
“Now, quickly explain why I walked all the way here and find myself standing in a thieves’ safe house.”
They told the guardian wizard of Al-Sham about the scroll, the strange people who offered to buy it, the pirates, and the black knight and his skeletal companions. Tiberius listened with a furrowed brow. He examined the shiny scroll case.
“This,” he said, “is stainless steel. It is a very ancient material. It does not rust. Not even the dwarves retain the secret of its construction.” He opened the case by screwing off the top, and pulled out the scroll. “By the gods,” he said, startled. “What you have here is priceless. It is well over 10,000 years old.”
“But how can that be?” asked the Professor. “It doesn’t radiate magic. How can parchment last that long without magic?”
“You are correct, it is not magic,” Tiberius said. “Long, long ago, there was a war. According to accepted history, it was the Uttermost War, the war where the gods fought an ancient evil. But certain scholars of ancient history, myself one of them, do not believe that it was the Uttermost War, nor, following, their interpretation of the age of the world.
No, the war I am speaking of is referred to by the learned as the War of the Pious and the Philosophers. The Pious were devoted to the practice of magic, both arcane and divine. On the other hand, the Philosophers shunned the magic arts, and pursued science, and the application of that science, called technology. They used materials and knowledge to construct devices to perform acts that would seem to us to be miracles or magic.”
“You mean like alchemy?” asked the Professor.
“Alchemy, my good gnome, is but a shadow, a remnant of their learning. Modern alchemy has much more to do with magic than anything these people practiced.
So, as men are wont to do, they went to war. The Pious, obviously, won the war, which is why we practice magic, and not science and technology. The Philosophers were wiped off the face of the earth, and their secrets lost. Or were they? It is believed that some of the ancient scientists survived, and found a way to build a new home for themselves.” Tiberius pointed at the sky. “On the surface of the moon.”
“So those strange people…” the Professor started.
“Yes, I think it likely. Now, let’s see about your knight here.”
“He was accompanied by two black, skeletal warriors with red, glowing eyes,” Darius said.
Tiberius jerked his head towards the paladin. “Black… skeletons?”
“Yes,” said the Professor, pulling out the skull amulet. “And he was wearing this. Last night, I dreamed I was on my old ship, and this guy in black robes and one glowing red eye told me he was coming for the scroll, and his servants killed my mentor to get the scroll, but I had borrowed it from him, you see, and…”
“This is, indeed, a grave situation,” Tiberius interrupted.
“Who is this robed figure?” Darius asked.
“He is someone who makes Ahriman look like a unruly child. He is Lord Amaroth, once an archmage. But that was over 5 centuries ago. He delved deep into the study of necromancy. Amaroth, like many who pursue such dark arts, was consumed by it. He attained immortality through lichdom, and tried to conquer a swath of the southlands. He was defeated, but many died doing so.” Tiberius sighed. “And now, it would seem, he has risen. Whatever secrets that scroll holds, he must have some way of using it to further his aims.”
“Yes,” said the Professor, “he said he had everything he needed but the scroll.”
“Can’t you take the scroll, Tiberius?” asked Darius. “Surely you are powerful enough to defeat him.”
“You flatter me, Darius. But no, even if I possessed that kind of power, I could not take the scroll. I have responsibilities to this city, things I must do. But I can give you a bit of help. Give me the amulet – I shall have one of my ships drop it halfway between here and Tarantis. Let him search the bottom of the sea for it. Aterus, please give me your amulet.” Aterus removed a jeweled amulet from around his neck and handed it to Tiberius. “Professor, let’s trade amulets, shall we?”
The gnome handed Tiberius the silver skull and took the amulet the wizard offered. “Should I put it on?”
“Yes. It will hopefully prevent anyone from locating you by magical scrying. That should keep Amaroth and his servants from finding you, at least for a while.
Now, my friends, I must return to my home. May the gods watch over you. Come along, then.” Tiberius, Aterus, and Fasgar turned to leave. The knight, still trussed up on the floor, stirred and groaned.
“What are we going to do about him?” Wynne asked.
Fasgar drew his battleaxe. Darius started to protest, but went silent as the barbarian swiftly chopped downwards with the massive weapon. The knight’s head was severed cleanly from his shoulders. “Problem solved,” the barbarian grunted. Aterus smiled and bowed. The three left.
Minutes later, there was a knock at the door. It was Grond Odinson, with two stout Skandik warriors in tow. “What’s wrong, Ingrid?” he said.
“It’s a long story,” the dwarf priestess replied. “And getting longer all the time.”