Apocalypse? What now?
Berun was troubled as the crew left the land of the Cronks. There was pressure on him from Gul and Brun, the cleric, to use his skills for their ends. Why must the damn captain get all the glory? Some called him Vhaeraun’s champion. Berun merely saw another Drow noble lording it over those he felt beneath him. "I am Drow too” thought Berun,”and I shall choose my own path.” He decided to jump ship at the first opportunity.
Once back in the neighbourhood of Tradetown, The Despair landed in an isolated spot and the crew made temporary camp. As they prepared a fire, began to settle down for the night and set the watches, no one noticed the shadowy figure disappearing into the darkness. Only Gorlab, Berun’s ally, knew of his dissatisfaction and future plans.
"Are we all here?” enquired Gul.
He looked around at his comrades.
"Where is Berun?” he looked to Gorlab for his answer. At first Gorlab was reluctant to reveal Berun’s plans, but Gul and Brun continued to badger him for an answer.
"You are Berun’s companion and closest ally. You must know something of his whereabouts. We either stand together or we die separately. We have come too far to fall out now.” Gorlab began to speak:
"He is reluctant to use his sorcery powers to create ‘Kalan’.” This was the gorgonite sword Vhaeraun had commanded be made and conjured into a weapon against the clerics of Lolth. "Why should he risk his life so another may wield the sword?”
"We must find him and persuade him” said Brun Casta, "The Masked Lord demands it.”
"I care not who wields the sword, Kalan. The Masked Lord must choose. We shall find Berun. Some compromise will be reached. It will all end well. Tomorrow we will visit our merchant friend, Rskar and claim the restoration spells. Maybe we will find Berun there.” With that Gul lay down to sleep.
In the morning the party headed for Tradetown and made their way to the warehouse where Joruus, Kargoth and Nsaar carried out their business dealings. Wendi, the magic user and Sue were left outside on guard. Sure enough Berun was waiting for them.
"What are you doing here?” asked Gul.
"Waiting for you lot, of course. I have my restoration spell and all is well.”
"Why did you slip off in the dead of night without a word?”
"I had to have time to think” said Berun. "I have a proposal. If those of you with some sorcery skill are willing to take on some of the risk involved in the conjuring process I shall undertake it.”
"What do you mean?” urged Gorlab.
"If you will aid me in the task, and help me stabilise the spell should it fail at any point, I will do it. We shall each agree to give a little life force rather than me risking all.”
Gul, Gorlab and Zaen looked at each other and nodded their agreement.
"Good, we have solved one problem. We shall carry out the conjuration when we return to camp,” said Gul. "Let us conclude our business here and return.” This was done and Rskar and his followers left.
All this time, Nsaar was hovering around in an agitated state. He was feverishly leafing through an ancient tome, repeatedly standing up, walking round the room and sitting again to continue his reading. As he walked he would mumble to himself about his nightmares. The book was the Fourth Book of The Illithid which they had found in the Corflu Temple in the south. "A fifth book is spoken of” said Nsaar "but it must be conjured in a special place.”
"Comrades, grave peril is coming to the world. I have been reading these books and they speak of a great cataclysm which is imminent. We must go to Sorcerak and seek for The Altar of the Elder Gods. Bring me worms. It might be a Temple; the words are hard to translate.” He stuffed a handful of worms into his mouth and chewed on them. Those around him looked away in disgust. Nsaar mouthed a few incomprehensible phrases and finally calmed down. "We must go”, he paused dramatically "somewhere.” Then he said something which filled his companions with disquiet. "There will be no way back.”
"How will we get to this ‘somewhere’” asked Zaen.
"The answer lies in Sorcerak.”
He began to say more but was cut short. Gorlab suddenly looked alarmed, and said: "Sue reports Drow are coming this way.”
The door opened and Wendi poked her head inside. "Drow are approaching. What shall we do?”
"I shall meet them,” Gul came towards the door almost running in to a worried looking male Drow. "Hello, brother, what can I do for you?”
The other spoke: "You are Gul of The Despair?”
"No” replied Gul, giving a false name. "State your business and I will see that Gul gets to know of it.”
"I have a message from my mistress, Captain Akkordia of The Despicable. She wishes to meet with Gul in the alley across the way in five minutes.”
"Tell your captain I shall pass the message.”
After the male Drow had left Gul said "I shall go and meet these other Drow.”
"Is it wise to go, captain?” Gorlab cautioned.
Turning to Gorlab he said "Thanks for your concern, but I believe there is a truce in Tradetown.” He started to leave, but hesitated.
"It is best that you and Berun follow and watch for any betrayal all the same.” So, with Berun and Gorlab under cover of invisibility, they left.
Goll and the lady Zarae were at his side as Gul went to meet Akkordia. "Do you know of this Akkordia?” he asked Zarae.
"Yes I do and a more vicious, treacherous Drow you could not hope to meet. She belongs to House Dragon, and is their best captain. She has a wand of displacement I hear tell.”
"Zarae, you speak first, as if you are the captain.”
The two Drow contingents approached one another. Akkordia looked disdainfully at the males that had come to meet her. Zarae spoke: "Greetings Akkordia.”
"Greetings to you, Lady Zarae, you keep odd company these days.”
"This is Captain Gul and this is Goll.” Gul looked at Zarae with a pained expression on his face. Goll just rolled his eyes.
"I dislike negotiating with mere males, but it has come to the notice of the Council of Eight that a great calamity is about to destroy our world. One of your company, a certain Nsaar, is ‘The Chosen One’ and as such is the key to its prevention. Hand him over to us immediately.”
"The dislike is reciprocated. As to handing over Nsaar, never! You can go back to Shanizar empty handed.”
"Brave words captain, but we need each other. How will you get through Sorcerak without us to negotiate with Mellanthia and her spiders? You hardly have the necessary credentials. On the other hand, we need Nsaar. I trust neither of us want to see the end of our world. Our goals coincide for the moment. I propose a temporary alliance. What happens when our mission has been accomplished is another matter.”
"We accept your offer, but be warned, we will not bow to female domination again, so beware when we are finished. I shall come looking for you, Akkordia.” With that the two agreed a meeting place and left each other’s company.
As the adventurers were on their way back to the ship, Gorlab and Berun sensed that they were being followed. They fell back and caught a Kenku skulking around in the bushes. "What have we here?” said Gorlab. "A little sneak. And what are you after, I wonder?” The Kenku squirmed with fear and discomfort as the two interrogated him, admitting he was looking for information about the Drow to sell on. Eventually they tired of the sport and despatched the unfortunate victim.
The party returned to the ship and set about conjuring the sword ‘Kalan’. The four sorcerers, Berun, Zaen, Gorlab and Gul stood in a circle. The sword was laid on the ground in the centre. Berun began casting the spell but couldn’t keep it stable. He began to weaken but Zaen stepped in and the ceremony continued. Gorlab took over and joined Kalan’s essence to the blade. At last the sword was made. Clerics of Lolth beware! Another nail had been hammered into the coffin of the matriarchs.
"Let us go and join our new allies” said Gul; then with a smile "When this is all over maybe Berun can test his new blade on a Cleric of Lolth.” The others laughed. Berun’s eyes lit up at the prospect.
They joined The Despicable and the two ships flew off in the direction of Sorcerak. After a mere day’s flying they came to the huge forest that is Sorcerak. Nsaar guided them to the area where he guessed the Altar lay. It was the thickest, most dense jungle the Drow had ever seen. Not even The Isle of Dread had such a jungle. It was obviously aeons old and had lain untouched for millennia. They eventually found a suitable landing spot and the two crews began hacking a way through the undergrowth. They could not see the sky and everywhere was dark and green. The trees were matted with damp moss and the ground squelched under their feet as they moved slowly along. They had the uneasy feeling that they were being constantly watched by an enemy which itself remained hidden. After they had been travelling some time they heard a rustling and several small spiders blocked their path. They made ready to defend themselves but had to think again as a huge warrior of the web appeared. Akkordia stepped forward. "I will handle this,” and she began to speak to the spider in a tongue unknown to the crew of The Despair. She signalled to Gul to carry on and the crews parted company.
As they made their laborious way through the jungle they saw what looked like a dome in the near distance. It was covered in vines and centuries of jungle growth. A mind flayer stood atop the dome. Immediately Berun flew to the attack as the others searched for a door. Berun’s attack took the creature by surprise and he was able to wound it severely enough to drive it from its position. It disappeared in an instant. Where had it gone? Meanwhile Zaen had managed to find a door and he forced his way through. On entering he saw an altar in the centre of the room which was guarded by three more mind flayers and called out a warning to the others. The mind flayer from the roof was also cowering behind the door. Zaen attacked and was soon joined by the others. He and Berun quickly despatched two of the creatures and Gul tried to subdue a third. Goll appeared at the door with Gorlab and hurled a firebolt into the midst of the mind flayers, injuring them. The mind flayer attacking the captain sent out a burst of psychic energy but Gul resisted and pressed on raining blow after blow on his enemy. Unfortunately Goll was caught within the mind blast and he became enraged. He began to attack Gorlab who had to defend himself from this unexpected quarter. The two tussled but Gorlab eventually subdued Goll and tied him down, still struggling and cursing loudly. Berun had killed the mind flayer hiding behind the door, but another materialised in its place and struck Berun a deadly blow. The others looked on in horror as he screamed in agony and fell limply to the floor. The mind flayer had taken Berun’s brain. Zaen donned the wraith mask and commanded the summoned wraith to attack the new arrival. The mind flayer backed away in fear but not before it had been wounded by the wraith. Gul finally killed his opponent after resisting an attempt by the creature to hurl him backwards. Brun joined the fight and should have dealt with a fourth creature but he was caught by a mind attack and became confused. Zaen killed this mind flayer and the wraith finished the last of them.
The party rested and drew breath after the struggle with the mind flayers. Gul took the sword, Kalan from Berun’s dead fist. "I shall keep this safe” he said with a glint in his eye. The others regarded him sceptically.
"We must search for Nsaar’s weapon. Is it a sword, spear or what?”
Nsaar rushed in "It is a more subtle weapon we seek.” He hurriedly opened his books "This is the place. Yes we are here. All is going to plan” He began to chant an incantation in the mind flayer tongue. As he chanted the altar began to glow and the image of a pentagram appeared. It became solid and began to rise from the altar. Nsaar seized the stone. "Yes, yes, yes!” He knelt on the floor and pushed the four Books of the Illithid around until he was satisfied they were in the correct relation to one another. His comrades looked on, baffled and intrigued. Again he spoke in the mind flayer tongue and a fifth book gradually came into existence. Nsaar grabbed it and nearly ripped it apart in his eagerness to read its pages. He leafed through it manically. At last he found the page. "Ah, yes, the gathering is soon. I will open a portal and stop this abomination.” He became quiet and withdrawn. Placing the books back in his pack he left the temple, followed by a worried and perplexed group of adventurers.
They made their way back to The Despair in silence carrying the body of Berun and trying to understand Nsaar’s ranting. It was late when they arrived so they decided to make camp. They were not due to meet The Despicable until later the following day. They awoke to another seemingly normal morning but the Drow in the party were uneasy. They didn’t know why, they only knew something was not quite right. Midday approached and as they looked up at the sky they witnessed an eerie sight. The two moons and the sun were in perfect alignment and a twilight shadow was being cast over the world. Such a phenomenon had never been seen in living memory and Drow had long lives and long memories. As they watched in wonder Gul, Gorlab and Nsaar fell to the ground, unconscious, as did other members of the crew who used magics. Zaen shuddered at the same moment but Goll merely watched the heavenly dance above him. Everyone recovered with no physical ill effects. However they all sensed a shift in the manna flow. It was more sluggish and less easy to tap into than before the eclipse. Gul tried a simple spell to test himself. To his dismay nothing happened. Gorlab and all the others who had fallen unconscious experienced a similar loss. "We have no manna!” cried Gorlab.
Zaen and Goll tried a spell and found that it took more effort than usual. The simple spells were OK but when it came to the more advanced spells they expended almost twice as much energy. This was the start of the dark times.
They set off to rendezvous with The Despicable and soon the two ships were flying back to Tradetown. Although The Despicable was a much smaller and faster craft than The Despair, the latter’s crew couldn’t help noticing that The Despicable was trailing them. They became suspicious of its intentions. They debated as to what to do. "Our manna is depleted” said Gorlab. "But so is theirs” responded Zaen. "Captain, you must cast a shield spell on our ship. They will undoubtedly have done the same” urged Brun. Summoning all his strength Gul cast the spell. They saw The Despicable begin to climb above them. "So it begins” thought Gul. He gripped the handle of the wraith sword. "Soon, Kalan, your blade will taste spider kisser’s blood.” He smiled in anticipation. Brun cast a 'Dispel Magic' spell at The Despicable and it began to lose height as the pilot lost control of the air elementals. Suddenly The Despair rocked violently and slowed as it suffered the effects of the same spell from the enemy cleric. Goll quickly and expertly corrected the disruption. The two ships were getting closer. Gradually Goll was able to manoeuvre The Despair into an advantageous position and Zaen fired the ballista, hitting Captain Akkordia. A sleep spell from Goll laid two more female Drow down and Gorlab fired a well aimed ‘Berun’s Bolt’ and killed Akkordia. She was quickly aided by her crew and was soon back on her feet, but still vulnerable. Zaen sent another ballista bolt flying at The Despicable this time hitting the cleric. Gul called on his last reserves of manna to unleash a lightning bolt on the Cleric of Lolth killing her instantly. The Despicable returned fire with fire, sending Dur scurrying for safety after suffering a hit from a magic missile. Other lesser members of the crew also were hit, but none of the main players. The two ships were alongside but The Despair was slightly higher. Gul leapt over the side trying to board the other ship but he missed his footing and had to rely on a Featherfall lest he tumble to the ground. Gorlab, Brun and Zaen followed his example and the fight was carried to The Despicable. It did not take long for resistance to be overcome and two of the female crew leapt overboard after their sisters had all been killed. Gul grabbed the ship’s crown and began to fly The Despicable. A search of the bodies and the ship revealed a protective belt worn by Akkordia but now the property of Gorlab, a bullette shield, in the hands of Brun and a wand of displacement which was taken by Captain Gul. A chest containing 4,500 gold pieces was also liberated. The cleric was taken prisoner to be used as a sacrifice in the coming struggle. The two ships flew back to Tradetown. Was this a rebel fleet in the making?
The crew rested for the night outside Tradetown and recovered themselves. They realised great changes had come to their world and the use of magic would be a lot more difficult.
The following day was the one Nsaar had declared as the critical time. They watched as he intoned the spell that would create the portal. A shimmering veil appeared before them and Nsaar stepped through. The rest followed apprehensively.
The sight that greeted them on the other side filled them with dread and foreboding. A barren landscape spread out before them, covered in ash and the air they breathed choked them. The sky was dark, seething and boiling with evil storm clouds. They were standing on the lip of a crater at the bottom of which an oily pool swirled, black and thick. It was like a scene from the Nine Circles of Hell. All around the crater’s lip other portals were opening and tens of thousands of figures could be seen emerging. They were predominantly human but elves, orcs and dwarves were also among their number. Gul looked around in disbelief and noticed Chairman Nashkund’s shaman nearby. He watched as the orc changed into a mind flayer. "I always thought there was something wrong with him” he thought grimly.
As the party’s senses became more attuned to the nightmare they were in they could hear a slow, deep chanting but they were unable to make out what the words were. It sounded unlike any language they had ever heard. Mind flayers were all around the crater guiding the crowds down to the pool’s edge. To their horror the party saw that the hordes were willingly walking into the oily mire and drowning themselves. They too were nearing the pool and they looked at each other, at a loss as to what to do next. Then they looked up and the nightmare got worse.
There was a rent in the sky opening out into oblivion. A huge head writhing with tentacles appeared. Two claws began ripping the fabric of the world. The party was nearing the oily lake. Time was running out. Then, on the other side of the crater a new portal appeared. Through it came a contingent of Imperial soldiers led by the great Paladin Glade and his companion, Larraka the Mage. The mind flayers were drawn away to face this new threat to their plans. Taking advantage of the unexpected help Nsaar stepped forward bravely and raised the Artefact of the Ancients towards the monster. In a clear, strong voice he intoned an archaic spell and the gap began to close, cutting the tentacles and claws. A foul rain of evil smelling ichor fell on the celebrants of the unholy ceremony and a mass panic broke out as the object of their worship was shut out of the known universe. Mind flayers tried vainly to control the panic. The crew of The Despair prepared to defend themselves as a group of mind flayers approached. Again Nsaar stepped forward to defend the company. He raised the artefact and the mind flayers took a step back in fear. The two parties faced each other, each reluctant to make a move; as the impasse was reaching breaking point, a strange craft materialised. The captain of the ship spoke. "Come aboard or remain forever in this accursed place.” Needing no further encouragement, Gul, Gorlab and the rest jumped on board and were borne away.
Their rescuers were Gethyanki, enemies of the mind flayers. They asked "You have an ancient weapon with you. We must have it to aid us in our struggle with the mind flayers.” They looked at Nsaar, who was reluctant to hand it over. "Give them the stone, Nsaar. Now!” commanded Gul. Still Nsaar hesitated. "Now, Nsaar” repeated Gul. He held out the stone but handed it over grudgingly.
"It is well done. Now, we can take you to your valley and we can part on good terms.”
The ship sailed on over the astral sea, eventually materialising in the north of The Valley of the Great Sword. The adventurers disembarked, said their farewells and gazed over the frozen tundra.
"It’s a long march back to Tradetown” said Brun.