Grogar strode forward, ready to deal with the slowly approaching dragonewt. The others struggled to see in the gloom. They had only just been able to follow Grogar through the winding passages of the cavern, and now were only vaguely aware of a dark shadow approaching.
Scrooge muttered under his breath, and suddenly light burst into the room from one of the bone swords the dragonewt held. Stern began to prepare his own spell, while Uzume readied her bow. Calvin imbued his new sword with the fireblade spell it held. Oddly, the only one of them who seemed hesitant or conflicted was Verrater, who stood back and took no action.
A well-cast firearrow and a well-aimed shot put one of the dragonewt’s arms out of action. Grogar managed to avoid a blow and aimed a blow of his own, though this was unable to break through. Stern attempted to cast fly on the dragonewt’s remaining weapon, but despite the time spent preparing his spell fell flat.
It was around this time that Verrater took action, though in a somewhat surprising way. Pulling up his sword, he took a swing at Stern. Stern felt the whoosh of the blade passing close by him and gulped. Others turned and frowned.
“What are you doing?”
But there was no time to talk. The dragonewt had taken a deep intake of breath, and only Scrooge managed to dodge the accompanying blast of flame. A final blow from Calvin’s now flaming sword took the dragonewt down, and in the moments following their foe’s collapse Verrater knocked Stern to the ground, completely incapacitated and bleeding out.
The others glanced at one another. Were they willing to get involved, to provide help and healing for the sorcerer who had apparently hidden so much from them and used them for his own ends? As though sensing his companions’ confusion, Verrater spoke:
“Anyone who tries to help him will find themselves facing my sword themselves.”
Grogar, the only one of them who may have been able to prevent Verrater’s threat of violence, shrugged and did nothing.
With that, Verrater sliced Stern’s head from the now-dead corpse. As Stern drew his final, shuddering breath, Grogar felt a rush from the dagger within his cloak. With Stern dead, the enchantment broke, and the spirit within burst free. It did not remain in the room, racing through a wall into an adjoining cavern. Verrater, attaching Stern’s head to his belt, gestured for the others to follow him into the next room.
Within, there was no sign of the spirit. Instead, on a raised platform in the centre of the room, lay a bronze tablet. With everyone now inside the room, Verrater lurched forward and reached for the tablet.
As his skin made contact, power burst forth and suddenly all five of the adventurers found themselves… elsewhere.
It is impossible for us to know what they each saw in these places, but gradually they returned to themselves, finding that they had been unconscious for some time, lying on the cold stone floor of the cavern. Uzume, who had awoken first, had tied Verrater up with a length of rope, but Grogar, apparently still loyal to their homicidal leader, freed him. Verrater looked around pointedly.
“Where is the tablet?”
Calvin shrugged, carefully balancing a strange rectangular lump under his shirt. “I don’t know. I certainly haven’t seen anyone take it.”
Verrater held out his hand. “Hand it over. Now.”
Calvin hesitated, but decided he wasn’t willing to test Verrater’s patience given recent occurrences. They began to share their experiences, though their suspicions of each other prevented them from being entirely forthcoming. All that they gathered from one another was that each had seen, in their vision, a great black spider. Calvin and Verrater had had a vision of the Sun God, Yelm, though their interpretations of this vision varied dramatically.
“He was a vision of wonder,” Calvin sighed.
“He is a harbinger of subjugation,” responded Verrater.
Confused and concerned by their visions, the party returned the way they had come. On their way out, there were two things they noticed as they entered the room they had just come from. The first was the absence of Stern’s headless corpse. The second was the dozen or so dragonewts now filling the cavern.
One of the dragonewts, who had a large scar covering his larynx, stepped forward and spoke.
“I am One Who Speaks. We, servants of the Immortal King, entreat you to give us the power you have found.”
Upon questioning, the party discovered very little about the nature of the tablet, but they certainly learned that the dragonewts were willing to take it by force. As payment, One Who Speaks promised Verrater that he would not be harassed for wearing the skin of a dragonewt. Verrater, close to his wits end and with no idea how he was to complete his task now, handed over the tablet.
The dragonewts left, and the remaining party members followed them to the entrance of the cavern. All except Verrater, who departed deeper into the cavern for a mission of his own…
At the entrance, a shocking sight met the companions. The dragonewts were preparing to fly away, but they were under attack. On the ground, a group of bison riders, who had apparently been awaiting the party’s return, ran for cover from the magical display. Stern, headless and now possessed by the spirit he had once captured, flew amongst the dragonewts, who rode their demi-birds from the cavern, sending the occasional jet of flame in Stern’s direction.
Their powerful magical battle disappeared to the north-west. Uzume attempted to follow, but the canyon below was windy and the battle was quick-moving.
It was at this moment that Verrater reappeared. He walked to Uzume and proffered a javelin. She recognised it as the one she had dropped into the chaos ooze in the battle with the broos. Frowning, she took it from him, then noticed something… odd about Verrater’s skin. It looked hardened and scaly, and contained great streaks of black. The others gasped as they, too, noticed the change. In his attempts to find the javelin, it seemed Verrater had ingested some of the chaos ooze. Perhaps that had been his intention all along. Nevertheless, his chaotic features would now see him shunned from all right-thinking clans.
The party disbanded. Scrooge saw this as his opportunity to finally regain his freedom. He returned to his home in the Upland Marsh.
Grogar returned, presumably, to the Glamour in the Lunar Heartlands to report the mission’s failure to the Red Emperor.
Verrater did not return to the Lunar Empire. His vision and the day’s events had turned his mind, confusing him and sending him staggering in search of something that he could not quite envision. Perhaps his wanderings would answer some of his questions.
Calvin approached Uzume. He knew something, he claimed, something that might be relevant to the bronze tablet and to the visions they had experienced. But this was not the place to share this knowledge. Reflecting on her own vision, Uzume decided to bring the small flimsy man with her to her clan. Perhaps his knowledge would be helpful.
With the party now scattered, it remains to be seen whether their paths will again cross, or whether this epic tale will be continued by new, more team-spirited adventurers. Certainly a darkness had been unleashed, and various powers were working behind the scenes. What was the spirit up to? Why did the dragonewts want the tablet? What did their visions mean? And how much did the Lunar Empire know about what they would find in a mysterious cave on the border of Prax and Dragon’s Pass?
TO BE CONTINUED