Darkness Revealed - Part 2

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Darkness Revealed - Part 2

Post by Dungeon Master on Sat Sep 09, 2017 2:18 pm

Darkness Revealed
Part 2 - A dragon's mind is a dragon's mind


A quick roll had taken the gnome within striking range of one of the still standing golems, which he laid into with abandon. The ember runes on his picked hammer hissed angrily as the mitrhil head connected with enchanted stone. With his dragon’s strength, the gnome was able to sunder iron walls, yet the blow left hardly a scratch on the black skin of the spiderstone golem. Galean cursed, but grinned a moment later as he saw the amber veins of his hammer’s magic spread across the impact area. The resulting magical explosion ripped out a handful of the golem’s stone flesh, making the trickster squint as it filled the air with a black powdery substance. Already three arrows in the air, the trained assassin concentrated all his efforts on bringing down the very golem the gnome had targeted. There was a sound of crystal popping as a tight grouping of the enchanted steel sunk into onyx stone. A lump of stone the size of a fist broke off the golem’s neck, revealing more onyx stone behind it. With no critical areas that the assassin could target with his normally deadly arrows, the damage his precise shots delivered were seriously lessened. Calmert wondered if he had brought enough arrows.
The other golems were still holding the prisoner, and did not seem to register the gnome and the tiefling. The one the two friends had been focusing their attacks on did not show signs of major damage except for the rent of dragonsfire across its back. The one that had been thrown across the room was clearly the worst for wear. Both its arms were blackened stumps still bleeding molten stone. Its legs were broken, crisscrossed with cracks, threatening to collapse the thing at any given moment. Its eyeless visage turned directly towards the gnome as it started a staggering advance, towering over the small creature. With each step, its speed and deftness returned, as if the stone somehow was repairing itself. A strangely smooth sound of stone parting came from the golem as it unfurled a secondary set of arms from its back. The four claws extended out and upwards looked like spiderleg wings. With great speed, it lashed out at the gnome, still more than ten feet away. Even with his dragon reflexes, the gnome only just managed to sidestep the strike, which scored a deep rent in the stone floor. The gnome grumbled something, and stepped further away from the golems holding the prisoner, forced to deal with the one he had just downed.
The other golems did not leave their positions. Their focus wholeheartedly on the drow, their eyeless faces turned towards the free hand the prisoner held up in wonder. The smooth sound of magical stone sliding into place betrayed what was happening, as the remainder golems unfolded their secondary scythe like arms as well.
A misfortunate twang heralded intense cussing from the tiefling as his bowstring snapped. The half-broken and battered golem was pressing the gnome away from the dais, its scything talons aggressively cleaving air and stone as the trickster tumbled around its cracked legs. The spider golem’s chest and back sported several clusters of enchanted steel arrows, from which white cracks ran across its torso. Calmert rummaged for another drawstring, as the inevitable happened; one of the scything talons connected with the blurry form of the gnome, tripping him. The clear sound of mithril sliding across stone made it clear that somehow the magical construct had succeeded in disarming the dangerous half dragon. Calmert gasped as another two scythes were plunged into the leg and arm of the prone gnome. He winced at the crystalline sound of dragonsscale shattering. The thud of magical stone imbedded in bone carried strangely loudly across the hall to the assassins trained ears. Galean squinted in pain at the thing impaling him, his offhand flailing for his belt dagger. The golem heaved, and Calmert visibly saw bones pop from their sockets. All thoughts of finding a drawstring forgotten, Calmert was already at a dead bolt run to save his friend, drawing the one weapon he had come to rely on in the most desperate of situations. He loathed using the sentient kukri, and as it was freed from his magical pouch, he felt its cold calculating intellect invade his thoughts.
“Not now, Baleling.” Calmert cursed at the weapon.
He felt it smile. A sort of overconfident, overbearing sensation of dominance assaulted him as he was racing across the room. The room lightened to be almost translucent, the distance between the assassin and the gnome stretching out as time and space warped. Calmert knew this was only happening in his mind, and that the blade had decided to challenge him yet again. He understood his anxiety for his friend was fueling the vicious intellect in the weapon to try to dominate him. He hated when it happened. It always happened at the wrong time. Now he would have to deal with the blade before it was too late.
He heard it grin at his predicament, clearly chiding him for having feelings of friendship. It pitied him for being so weak.
“Friendship is not weakness, Baleling, it is strength.” Calmert hissed through clenched teeth as he kept running through the illusionary vista towards the gnome sinking into the distance.
The weapon regarded him with curiosity and cruelty from afar, ever so slowly sneaking up on the operative.
“You won’t win, Baleling. You never do.” Calmert exclaimed with more confidence than he felt. This was taking too long.
The shiver he felt along his spine like steel spurs being dragged across his naked body was the weapon laughing. He felt cold. Alone. The whiteness started whisking away the room, and Calmert felt lighter as if he was stuck running in a cloud.
“I don’t have time for this. Why will you never learn ?” He knew it was a moot question. The weapon would always challenge him at the worst of times. It was its nature. Although all motion had stopped, and he was floating in a white light, he did not stop running. Calmert did not slow down, nor did he change direction. Silence surrounded him as he kept running.
The question was laden in the air. He knew the weapon was about to ask, and he was steeling himself for giving the answer. He threw up his arms in front of his face as streaks of diffuse blackness stabbed at his eyes. Burning through his skin, the darkness grabbed at his immortal soul. Calmert smiled a cynical smile. His soul had survived worse. By the bond of the bookkeeper, it was well protected in this form, and he had no worries that the evil sentience was going to wrest control from him. Still, it was wasting precious time. Time that he did not have.
“20 souls.” He answered the question through gritted teeth. He felt the surprise of the weapon. It was the highest price he had ever offered, and he felt the sentience marvel as it considered the bargain. It hesitated, and he knew it was going to press him for more.
“Now it’s only 10.” He felt the confusion and anger assault him as the weapon again tugged at the frayed corners of his own dark soul.
“Accept now, Baleling, or the price drops even further.”
Silence. Then grudging accept. A promise of vengeance and eternal torment was laid before Calmert in an almost a physical way, as the world came rushing back at him.
He was still running, his demon eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness of the prison. With his darkvision, he clearly saw a red mist creeping out of the golem’s talons, seeping into his friends open wounds. Galean convulsed, white froth forming at the corner of his mouth, as his very essence was pulled from his body. The half-dragon aged over a decade in mere seconds, his eyes twitching, sinking deeper into their sockets as the golem sucked the life out of him. The gnome slumped to the floor just before Calmert finally came within striking distance. The kurkri felt alive in his hand, slowly pulsing, as the tiefling vaulted into a spin, dropping over the hunched form of the onyx golem. He felt each strike connect and eat into the stone creature as the kukri cut through it with pure magical force. Such was the singlemindedness of the cold intellect stored in the weapon that no material could withstand its destructive power. The price to wield it was high, and Calmert knew this all too well. The golem twitched confused as its wing like talons now lay spread about it. The red haze had resided back to its chest, regenerating some of the damage the two adventurers had spent so much effort to cause.
Calmert cursed and doublehandedly drove the point of the kukri deep into the chest of the golem. Instant cracks exploded in a starburst pattern from where the weapon was lodged, crisscrossing through the stone creature. The golem convulsed in spasms, soundlessly screaming righteous anger against the weapon, which hurt it so. Calmert twisted the kukri, and a high-pitched whine erupted as stone crumbled out in cascades over the floor. With final defiance, the spiderstone golem struck Calmert across the chest with a backhand blow as it collapsing in a heap of twisted stone. The operative was not fast enough to avoid the strike. He felt ribs shatter as he was flung across the room. Hitting the far wall, all air was forced out of him. Heaving, spluttering blood, Calmert collapsed to the floor, more blood running freely from his mouth and nose. The tiefling was experienced enough with combat damage to know that the blunt trauma had done more damage than the naked eye could see. Several of his internal organs had been shattered, and he felt his lungs fill up with his own blood. Fumbling for a healing potion, his vision blurred as blood vessels burst in his eyes. With shaking hands, he emptied the healing quaff hoping it was not too late.
As he grabbed dropped the silver vial, two of the spiderstone golems dislodge from the captive. With sounds of sliding stone, the two golems left the dais, unfolding their claw like wings, eagerly puncturing air as they confidently strode towards the downed assassin. Calmert fumbled for another healing quaff, spitting blood as his eyesight returned. The last golem had embedded its four talons in the arms and legs of the captive, spiked all the way through to connect to the cold stone wall behind. With arms outstretched, it was pushing against the stone floor at a steep angle as if it required immense power to keep the lithe drow in place against the wall. Red mist constantly swirled about the golem, its necromantic powers draining the prisoner of life force continuously.
The second healing potion did the trick, and Calmert welcomed the ability to breathe again with a gasp. Hands still shaking, he only had enough energy left to tumble out of reach of the golems as they came within striking distance. He was hoping to be able to keep them at bay at least for a bit until the potions finished healing him. He worriedly looked towards the prone form of the Gnome, a large pool of dragonsblood spreading under his small form. The stone hissed in complaint as the corrosive blood slowly ate into the ancient floor. Calmert realized he was running out of space as well as time. But not out of tricks. From a pouch, he produced a small clockwork cube. With shaking hands, he turned the cogs in the correct sequence, until he heard a rewarding click as things slid into place. The cube hummed and shook in his hand as the clockwork mechanism activated. It was a daring ploy at the best of times, with his hands still shaking; Calmert was praying his epic aim would not fail him now as he threw the clockwork cube at the golems. In that same motion, he threw a slender throwing dagger with his offhand, letting it spin end over end, tumbling directly at the cube. His aim was true. At that precise moment when the cube was just between the two deadly constructs, the dagger connected, splintering it. The effect was astounding as cogs and brass scattered in all directions and the clockwork magic was released. All sound was sucked into that tiny explosion, as a bluish brasslike mist spread from the cube. In a rain of glitter, it adhered to the two golems, slowing their movements until finally they stood completely still. The swirling brass in the air hung still in the small pocket of time. Calmert smiled a wolfish grin, and stood up. With all his force, he threw the kukri at the head of the first golem. As it entered the blue mist, it stopped, hanging suspended in midair. Calmert sat off in a sprint, his lungs still burning from the broken ribs that had not been completely repaired by the healing magic. Too soon, he heard the thud of the kukri connecting to solid stone, and he only barely avoided a scything talon, as he had to turn back to the last left standing golem. The other he had thrown the enchanted dagger at was lying on the floor, convulsing as the dagger was eating through its magical defenses. It would not rise again, the assassin knew. He sidestepped another swipe, as the first golem clearly had shrugged off the effects of the clockwork cube. Calmert spotted his bow on the floor, and grabbed a fresh string from his belt. If he could tumble his way across the puddle of dragonsblood, he might have a chance to down this foe before the gnome bled to death. There was a lot of blood. More blood than should have been in such a small creature. Calmert hopes were not up, and had it been anyone else, he would have thought it a worthless risk to try to help. A normal person would have been dead already. However, this was Galean, son of Khef, servant of the Earthlord. He could not be dead. He had to not be dead.
Calmert pushed the thoughts aside, knowing that in order to be of any use to his friend, he would have to be a single minded killing machine. The chances of survival for the both of them dwindled with each passing moment. A well-timed roll brought him into the right position, bow in hand, already stringing it as he had done countless times. Ignoring the wisps of smoke and angry complaints from his enchanted leather armor as the dragonsblood ate into it; he drew a gold plated arrow from his hip quiver. Firing from a crouching position, the elf-forged tip split into five blades, each leaving golden streaks of light in their wake as they sped towards the golem. The blades impacted with a whine and the sound of scissors cutting through metal. The crisscrossing grouping of the enchanted arrows cleanly severed the golems’ right leg right above the knee, tumbling the killing construct. Several stones cracked and crumbled under the golem as it thundered sideways to the floor. It clawed the air, stretching to reach the assassin. Well calculated, Calmert was too far away to be in any kind of danger. A second golden arrow left his bow. The whining missiles cut half of the golem’s face off, leaving the thing twitching in a heap of rubble. Readying the last of his golden arrows, Calmert hurried to the gnome, trying to avoid standing in the pool of blood. His Thayan leather boots were already creaking and streaming smoke, as he knelt to check on his friend. Age lines marred the gnome’s face, and his bronze scales looked dull and lackluster. His small body was cold and did not respond to Calmert’s touch. Worried, the operative uncorked his strongest healing quaff and poured it down the gnome’s throat. He saw the blue shine of the magic as it spread across the gnome’s face for the faintest of moments, but nothing happened. Knowing it was a waste of magic to try with another healing potion, Calmert started considering how he could get the body to a priest for resurrection. He did not know if Ethluwars could even be resurrected. He tried with another equally potent potion, but this one had even less effect. The gnome was gone; there was nothing in Calmert’s arsenal that could bring him back.

In a mist of feelings, the assassin turned to face the remaining golem. Pulsating, it oozed a red cloud of necromantic magic, which drained the dark elf of life essence. Two of its vicious claws were extended, poised to strike at the tiefling if he came closer.
The prisoner’s attention was trained on the assassin, bent over the lifeless form of the gnome. Or rather, it seems his gaze was drawn by the pool of blood, spreading across the floor. With tremendous effort, the drow elf prisoner ripped his arm through one of the golem’s serrated claws. Impaled at the wrist, his hand was almost torn off by the violent motion. The drow used his newfound freedom of movement to lean over his jailer. None of the gory self-mutilation seemed to register with the drow. With a gleeful smile, showing lengthening incisors, the prisoner bit violently down on the crown of the golem’s black stone skull. A horrible crunching sound filled the chamber, as the prisoner sunk his bone white fangs into the enchanted stone. Like a rat, the drow started gnawing at the face of the golem. Stone chipped and broke off its face until finally the red glow stopped. The construct slid off its feet and slumped to the floor with a sound like coarse sand thrown into a furnace.
The prisoner let the construct drop to the floor, flexed experimentally, wringing the stiffness from muscles confined for decades. His white hair flowed gently in a non-existent breeze. All the while, the lithe drow had kept eye contact with the operative. His eyes were the same red as a Carceri murderdog, and their burning gaze lingered on the assassin as he crouched on the stone floor.
“Thanks”.
The word seemed alien to the prisoner, and even the one simple word was heavily accented. Calmert did not recognize the dialect from Aber Toril, or any other prime he had been to. Calmert gave a nod, arrow still trained at the dark elf. The silence stretched between the two. The drow seemed oblivious to the cold in the room or his many wounds. Actually, those wounds were gone now, replaced by black skin with a slight metallic shine. The operative had already formulated a plan for both attack and retreat, as well as a number of fallback plans. He was waiting to see the next move of the former prisoner. He had no doubt that the drow was deadly dangerous.
As if in response to his thoughts, the lithe drow cocked his head a bit to the side, his expression never changing and his eyes never blinking.
“You will want to find Erehe in the Vault of the Drow. Destroy him.” The words were spoken slowly, accentuated and dripping with cold conviction. The words carried with them a command, a powerful spell compelling the listener to action. Darion’s warding trinkets protected Calmert from such magicks, but he could tell that the words of the drow were laden with ancient power. Even without being influenced by the spell, Calmert had a lurching feeling in his stomach, as if something essential within him had just been disturbed. He wanted to be objective about the information he had just been given, but could not avoid feeling as if he had just been handed a secret even the multiverse did not know about. He involuntarily tightened his grip, his bowstring making a slight creaking sound as it was strung tight.
---

“…and then he left.” The gnome sat back in the seat, absently scanning the table for some more food, but the hungry trio had eaten everything.
“But you died. Obviously you are not dead.” Darion stated, realizing as so many times before, the Ethluwar had told him a story tinted by whatever fog of reality clouded the mind of a dragon.
The gnome leaned in, a wide grin on his face, his eyes twinkling with mischievousness. He held up his left hand, displaying a copper ring. The ring was a simple band with no stones or adornments. It only had one mark carved into its surface: two triangles forming a mountain range. Darion knew this to be the sigil of Grumbar the Earthlord, Keeper of Oaths.
“A gift from my father. A ring of regeneration.” The trickster grinned, pointing to Calmert. “Ye should have seen this one’s face. It was priceless.”
“Bleh, I didn’t know about the ring, Galean. Sometimes you behave like such a child.” The gnome laughed his twinkling laughter, which elicited smiles all around the table. He spread his clawed hands in gesture of friendship.
“I can’t help it my friend. Half of me is a trickster; I can’t be all dragon all the time.” They all shared a laugh at that, as everyone knew that the Ethluwar was much more dragon than he was gnome. It had not always been so, but as Galean had aged, he had changed. The obvious changes were physical: scales, claws and so on. However, it had been the mental changes that had been the biggest. The gnome had become obsessed with treasure, and much more aggressive, as his dragon powers grew. The paradox that the half-dragon was, he was well aware of his demeanor, but could not rid himself anymore of it, than he could shed his skin.
“I thought you were an orphan, master Galean ? When did you get a ring from your farther ?” Darion interjected after they had shared another drink. The gnome and the operative shared a fleeting look that the lord of Canton did not discern the meaning of.
“A story for another time, bard. A dragon cannot divulge all his secrets at once.” Galean smiled, but there was a certain sadness to his smile this time. All serious, the gnome leaned over the table, drawing in the attention of both his companions. “Ye two amadans are about to go on a planewalk, I have deducted it with my superior intellect!” Darion protested, but Calmert laughed and leaned back in his seat.
“Calm down bard. It’s not like I need to be a master diviner to tell that Calmert is dressed for war, gods know I’ve fought with him more often than ye have. And what our friend here,” Galean absently pointed a thumb at the operative, “may not have noticed, but I have, is that ye wear yer lightning armor. And ye only ever wear that when ye’re going with Calmert.” The operative raised an eyebrow, looking intently at the lord of Canton, who admittedly lowered his gaze to the table. The gnome beamed, his dragon’s fangs glinting in the candlelight. He turned and looked to the assassin.
“I’m coming.” The steel in the half-dragon’s eyes left no room for argument. “So’s he.” The small creature pointed to the Lord of Canton. The assassin smiled and nodded.
“Good. Now all we need is a wizard. I’m done eating anyway, so let’s go get the elf then.”
The bard lord looked to the gnome in surprise.

There were more protests from the Darion, but to no avail. The Ethluwar had set his mind to it, and Calmert seemed content, almost happy about playing out this unplanned trek. Bringing the two other Planewalkers through the bar to the secret cardrooms in the back, the assassin kept remarkably silent. He was smiling. The bard had given up arguing by the time they went through the second secret door to an even more secret wine cellar he had never been to. He knew of its existence of course, but did not ask the gnome how he knew. Or how he was even allowed to roam about the secret rooms of the Scorched Tailfeather. Galean stopped about 20 paces short of a wooden door, with a hung sign in dwarven. Adjusting his magical eyepatch, Darion understood the word to be one of many meaning gems. He looked quizzically at the gnome who grinned.
“It’s the toilet, Darion.” Calmert laughed too. Clearly, he had been to the secret passage before.
“Don’t worry; ye’re not going through there.” The gnome turned to the wall and ran his fingers over the grooves between the bricks with practiced ease. He quickly found what he was looking for, and with an audible click, the spring that opened the secret door was sprung. On well-oiled hinges, the door swung inwards, revealing a small cubby the size of a broom closet. The gnome stopped short and looked the two other adventurers over.
“Not going to work.” he exclaimed.
“What do you mean, Galean, is the portal closed ?” Calmert said, looking intently at the cubby.
“There is a portal here ?” The lord of Canton prided himself on knowing all magical doorways to this realm, but he had never registered any magical travels in the Tailfeather. He took a half step back and examined the cubby. Nothing was revealed to his magesight or his magical eyepatch.
The gnome grinned yet another wide grin.
“Ye two have grown too fat for all three of us to fit in there!” he said with finality as he rubbed his little belly with laughter. Calmert’s clear baritone laughter quickly joined in.
“What ?” Darion was mildly confused as he always was when the two compatriots shared their dark humor. Which always seemed to come at the most inopportune moments.
“Suck in yer bellies ye whale-folk.” The gnome said as he stepped into the cubby. Calmert followed, taking off his quiver and doing his best to make as much room as possible for Darion. Nonetheless, the bard lord had to wedge himself in between the two others in a very uncomfortable position.
“Now close the door.” Darion did. Nothing happened. In the darkness, they waited for a long time. The assassin chuckled. The mirth was mirrored by the gnome, and soon turned into full laughter. Darion was furious; the two had clearly played a prank on him yet again, getting him all fired up about going on a dangerous adventure, only to lock him up in a broom closet next to a dwarven outhouse. He tore the door open, and turned on the two cohoots, giving them a piece of his mind. The more he scolded them, the more they laughed. It was as if his predicament, Canton, their friendship and everything was being mocked. Only when a slender hand reached from behind and clasped his shoulder did he stop his tirade.

“Ahem, Darion, you are disturbing my customers.” The musical voice of the fatespinner Rahnefereth interrupted the bard lord.

With a single stroke, Darion realized where he was. The three Planewalkers had spilled out of a broom closet into the Magical Menageries of Toril, Rahnefereth’s shop in Sigil. Well lit, the eternal sunlight from the ring spilled into the shop, making every magical item glint and sparkle in the glass cases. A couple of hooded customers were leaving the shop, and Darion noticed a brief scowl crossing the otherwise stoic features of the gold elf. He had not seen Rah for quite some time. They had both had business that had drawn them in opposite directions. Elves did not age like humans, but somehow the bard sensed that the wizard had aged beyond his years in the time since their last meeting. There was a new sense of wisdom and urgency about him. It was hard to explain, it was as if an otherworldly sensation was creeping from the wizard. No, Darion thought, actually more like the color was drawn out of the world and into the gold-skinned arcanist.
“You look tired, Rah, are you all right ?” the bard said worryingly.
“I am happy to see you too.” The gold elf responded with dry sarcasm.
“Oh, yes of course. Glad to see you, friend.” Darion lit up in a smile and clasped the elf by the shoulder. He had missed the wizard. “Sorry about your customers there, truth be told, I didn’t know we were arriving here.” He looked angrily to the two smiling rogues. The gold elf also looked sternly at Galean and Calmert, a disapproving sigh escaping his thin lips.
“I thought I told you not to use the closet unless in the most dire of circumstances, harper.” Rahnefereth spoke directly to the gnome. Galean shrugged and shot the elf a wide grin.
“I didn’t realize there was a gateway in the Scorched Tailfeather. Your doing, Rah ?” Darion asked.
“Not so much a gate as a one-way activated spell. Our friend here asked for it recently, I assumed it was a request from you.” Darion looked at the gnome trickster who again shrugged and gave that wide grin as if he was having the time of his life.
“You can’t know everything about your realm, Darion.” The Ethluwar chuckled. Darion dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand, but it did not sit well with him that magical travel to or from Canton could happen without his knowing.
“Seeing as my well-paying customers have left,” Rahnefereth interrupted in his usual courteous manner, which really did not feel like an interruption at all, “why don’t you tell me what this invasion of my shop is really all about.” The gold elf looked to the bard, who in turn looked to Calmert.
“Don’t look at me; it was the dragon who got us into the closet in the first place.” The operative smiled at his own words.
“So I did.” Sitting on one of the glass cases, the gnome already had his favorite pipe out, merrily stuffing it with sweet smelling tobacco. The elf wrinkled his nose, clearly not approving, he raised an eyebrow at the half-dragon.
“We’re going on an adventure to find us some drow. Yer coming with us.” The Ethluwar poked his pipe in the direction of the wizard.
“I most certainly will not.” The answer came rapidly from the mage, but no explanation followed. Rahnefereth might have wanted to tell the three adventurers that his experiments were too important or that other work was preventing him from gallivanting around the multiverse, but he did not. Perhaps he felt it would take too long, or be a wasted effort to explain everything. The gnome prodded again.
“Vault of the Drow, Rah. Treasures. Magical wonders. Wondrous drow powers to be … borrowed.” Taking a puff from his pipe, the half-dragon’s eyes sparkled as he daydreamed of the treasure to be had.
The fatespinner stood for a while eyes closed and eyelids slightly fluttering. He sighed.
“Drow you say ?” The regal elf paused. “As fate would have it, I recently sold a large cache of powerful weapons to a spiderkisser. I may be able to get us passage through the Demonweb Pits.”
The gnome lit up in another one of his roguish grins, this one making him look very hungry.

Adventure was afoot. The Planewalker Five would walk the planes together again.
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