The Overlord leaned back in his throne. “I believe you have a bit of stolen property that belongs to these people. A scroll, I believe?”
Serin looked down from the riser and chuckled softly, a smug look of satisfaction on his face.
“Well, shit.” Wynne folded her arms.
“No,” the Professor said, folding his arms.
“We know you have the scroll. Are you denying that you stole it from your mentor?”
“My mentor is dead. Therefore, it now belongs to me.”
“But he stole it from these people.”
“I cannot be held accountable for the actions of my mentor.”
“Nevertheless, I think it would be appropriate for you to return it.”
The Professor frowned. “Why would someone like yourself be concerned with this? Surely you have other things to worry about? Why care?”
Footsteps echoed off the marble floor. A figure, dressed in a heavy black cloak and hood, approached from the same doorway Serin had come from. The figure spoke. “Because his majesty is going to fund the building of the Creation Forge.” He pulled his hood back slowly, revealing an elderly man, thinning gray hair, but with a friendly, smiling face. “I am Sardis. The Black Moon have taken to calling me ‘Wise Man’. His majesty has the capital and the labor to build it. In exchange for the plans, we will have use of the Forge. So will the Overlord.”
The gnome stepped forward. “And what do we get?”
The Overlord smiled. “You get to leave with your lives.”
“You should know,” the Professor continued, “there is another faction of these people who have a similar claim to the scroll.”
Serin scowled. “They have no claim whatsoever, save that they wish to keep it out of our hands.”
“Just so,” the Overlord added. “We will build the Forge, and the Black Moon will use it to help re-take their kingdom.”
“There is still the matter of the second scroll,” the Professor said, fishing for information.
“You mean this one?” Sardis pulled a large bone scroll tube from his cloak.
The Professor eyed the second scroll, but knew he could not steal it. Not here. "Perhaps you could give us some time to decide?
“There are two ways this can work.” The Overlord leaned forward. “You can either give us the scroll, and walk out of here, or, I can have you locked in the deepest, dankest, darkest dungeon I possess, take your equipment, and take the scroll. Your choice.”
“I see.” The Professor looked pensive. “I know, your majesty, that you are not required to, but perhaps we could be compensated some for our loss?”
“I admire your boldness. Very well.” The Overlord nodded at an attendant. The attendant opened a chest in the corner of the room and returned with five bars of platinum. He handed one to each of the group.
Darius reached into the Professor’s pack and withdrew the gleaming steel tube. He approached the Overlord, and handed him the scroll. When Darius let go, he whispered, “You are being deceived. Beware of the name ‘Amaroth’.”
The Overlord nodded. "You have chosen wisely. Guards, chamberlain, return their equipment and show them out.
It’s a Trap!
“Now what?” Wynne fumed.
“One step at a time, Wynne.” Darius pondered their options. There weren’t any.
Wynne sighed, and glanced at two guards standing at attention in an alcove. She caught a glimpse of one man’s eyes. They looked silver. He looked straight at her, and slowly shook his head. The thief’s blood ran cold. She whispered to Darius. “We’re in trouble. We’re not leaving here alive.”
The chamberlain had led them to a ‘T’ intersection in the corridors of the palace. Through an archway ahead was a small room containing a single chest. “Your things are in there. Please retrieve them and we will show you out.”
The Professor scurried up to the chest and began taking his gear, making special note of the stink bombs.
Suddenly, stone slabs dropped into place, blocking access to the three hallways. They were trapped. The chest, along with what they thought was their equipment, disappeared. Illusions. Their armor got heavier, more encumbering. The Professor recognized the effect instantly. “Anti-magic field. No spells, no nothing!”
“Great,” Darius said. “What next?” A great grinding sound filled the room as the floor split down the middle and began withdrawing back into the walls. Through the widening crack, they could see that there was a lit room below, the floor of which was thirty feet down.
The Professor reached into this pack and unfolded a wooden plank, which he wedged against the walls. He and Admiral, his riding dog, stood upon it.
Wynne shook her head. “What the hells else are you going to pull out of that thing?” She made ready to use the wall to slow her descent into the room below.
Soon the floor fully retracted, and the group, save the gnome, fell into the room below.
The Black Lotus
The walls and floor of the room were featureless, save for the torch sconces. But they were not alone. There were a total of nine figures waiting for them, each dressed in loosely fitting black clothing, including hoods. Two of them were armed with twin kukris, the others with longswords and hand crossbows.
Darius sprung immediately into action. He grabbed one of the men with the longswords and wrenched the sword out of his hand. “Thanks,” Darius said, whipping the blade around in an arc and cutting the black-clad man down.
As the rest of the group got to their feet, another figure appeared, suddenly, in the corner of the room. Obviously female, but with the head of a cat. Her fur was charcoal gray, and her yellow eyes quickly scanned the room. She was clad in strange, black clothing that hugged her every curve. She was carrying two large canvas sacks. She dumped them to the floor. “Here’s your equipment! Be careful, these guys are Black Lotus, the Overlord’s personal army of assassins!” She pulled a black-bladed katana from her back.
The Professor slid down a rope from the plank he had anchored above. Admiral had to jump, yelping as he hit the floor. The gnome raced over to the pile of gear and retrieved one of his green bombs. Soon, several of the Black Lotus were coughing and staggering out of a cloud of noxious gas.
The anti-magic field did not seem to extend into this room. Blades flashed. The Black Lotus tumbled into flanking positions and inflicted terrible wounds. Landis fell to one of the assassin’s blades. The gray Neko, Shasha, showed how deadly the diamond-edge katana could be in the right hands. One ninja lost all the fingers on his right hand to the black sword.
The Professor took a poisoned crossbow bolt to the knee. Drow sleep poison, he thought, just before the blackness overcame him.
Darius called upon holy might to smash one of the black-clad figures. The ninja quaffed a potion and turned into a cloud of vapor. He escaped through a crack in the wall. Others died. In desperation, one opened a secret door in the wall and fled. They now had a way out.
“Who are you? Are you from the moon? Why is your moon symbol gold, with the points up?” The Professor badgered Sasha.
“My name is Sasha. No time. We’ve got to move. Get your things and let’s get out of here.” Everyone grabbed their equipment and followed Sasha out into the corridor.
Several twists and turns later, they could go no further. A thick, iron portcullis blocked the hallway. “Kuso!” Sasha cursed. She scanned the walls around the portcullis. Her internal heads-up display showed the walls to be five feet thick, solid stone. There was no opening method for the portcullis, at least not here. “Stand back,” she said. “I’ll have to blow it.”
Everyone backed off except for the Professor. “Blow it? You have bombs? Can I see?”
“No, now get back with the others, I don’t want to see you hurt!” But the gnome stood firm.
She reached back towards the segmented pack she wore. A panel whirred open. She reached inside, and withdrew a small block of a gray clay-like substance. A black square of material was embedded in it. She stuck the clay against one upper corner of the grating, and set the timer for twenty seconds. She did the same at the other three corners. She then grabbed the Professor and ran back away.
Seconds later, there was a large explosion. The gnome was jealous. “Did you make those? That was a big explosion! You’ve got to teach me!”
“Maybe later. We’ve got to move!”
The gnome hurried behind Sasha, and tried to reach for her pack the way he saw her do it. It did not open. “Great magic,” he whispered.
More twists and turns. Another ‘T’. One direction, the mind flayer from the Overlord’s throne room. The other direction, unknown. Sasha cursed again. “We’re cut off! I don’t know what’s to the right, but we have no choice. Go!”
Hello and Farewell
The illithid, the mind flayer, flew, literally, down the corridor after them. So when they came to a glowing archway filled with a heavy, white fog, they jumped through.
It was a forest, right at dusk. Sasha used the remaining C4 charges to destroy the teleport gate that this end. A quick glance at her HUD told her that they were approximately 20 miles to the west of the city of Tula, about 600 miles from where they started.
Everyone was breathing hard. “I take it, from the symbol on your forehead, that you are White Moon?” Darius asked.
“Sasha, why do I find you 600 miles away from the rendezvous point?” The speaker was an older human, wearing strangely tailored, plain clothing. His eyes were silver mirrors.
Sasha kneeled. “My commander. We were forced into a teleportation gate. We were lucky it led to someplace on this plane.”
Commander Tarkin nodded. “Agreed. Sasha, please remove the tracking devices from their armor.”
Sasha removed a small device from each suit of armor the group had taken from the enemy Neko they had battled. “It’s how we, and they, were able to track you, as well as listen in on your plans.”
“That would explain a lot,” Darius said. “Now what?”
“Our orders,” Tarkin said, “were to help you escape. We knew that the Overlord would not let you live, given what you knew. You see, he intends to use… whatever they plan on producing with the Creation Forge to fulfill his ultimate goal; to conquer Viridistan, to defeat the Green Emperor. The less people who know of the Forge, the better. I’m sorry you got involved.”
“What does the White Moon plan to do?” Darius asked.
“We’ve got to find out what they plan to manufacture, or stop them from building the Forge. While we are not concerned with what the Overlord might be planning, we cannot let the Black Moon use the Forge against us. There’s just a couple of problems. We have no defense against magic. And, technically, we’re not supposed to interfere with your world down here. So we must tread lightly.”
“Why don’t you let us do it?” The Professor beamed.
Tarkin gazed at the fiery gnome. “Interesting idea. Let me ask the council.” Tarkin closed his eyes for several moments. He nodded, then opened them again. “Very well. You will train with our operatives and be given the task of finding out what Pattern Matrix they have, or to sabotage, if possible, the building of the Forge.”
“We get to go to the moon?” The Professor’s cheeks were flushed, and he was practically jumping up and down.
“Yes,” Tarkin replied.
Darius was deep in thought. He shook his head. “I… I can’t go with you.”
Wynne and Ingrid stared. “What do you mean?” Wynne asked. “Don’t you want to stop them?”
“I do,” the paladin replied. “But I have other obligations. In Warwik. Things that only I can take care of.”
“I do, too,” Wynne said. “But this is important.”
“It is. But I don’t think my destiny lies in that direction. However, I know someone. Elam Taim. He is a strong warrior who is also knowledgable in magic. Just contact my brother Thaddius Mercado. He’ll get word to him.”
“So you are?” Wynne asked.
“Jacob. Jacob Mercado. Good luck to you all.”
Beyond the Sky
Sasha took Darius by the hand and touched her forehead. They disappeared, on their way to Warwik.
“So,” Tarkin said, “are the rest of your ready?”
“Will we get cool backpacks like that, and maybe boom putty?” The Professor said, unable to contain his excitement.
“Boom putty? Boom Putty… ah, I see. One step at a time, Professor. One step at at time.” Commander Tarkin tapped his wrist, and a glowing display hovered in the air above it. He moved his fingers through the light and suddenly…
They were near one edge of the great dome. Beyond the glowing lamps that brought daylight to the city, they could see the inky blackness of the airless sky. A blue and white sphere floated in the black sky. Somehow, they knew that was their home. Their world. And they were no longer on it.
The air was crisp and fresh. No sewage, no smoke from burning fires. Around them people in strange but cleanly designed clothing went about their business, smiling and talking. Here and there was one of the Neko, some of them flying effortlessly on some errand. Moving walkways transported people as well, and machines, some small, some larger than a man, rolled, walked, and flew on errands of their own.
The Professor fainted.