Last Time On… Episode 3
It was night by the time the heroes exited the Ingido Pass. The air was crisp, dry, and cloudless on this side of the Adelbore Mountains, and the stars shed just enough light to see the profile of the Aluar pine forest laid out in the valleys below them. Tomorrow they would venture down into the forest, but for now they were weary. The heroes found a small rocky outcropping to camp beneath.
They were exhausted, but their confidence was growing. They were learning to fight as a unit again. Everyone was remembering their roles, and some of their powers and skills were coming back like muscle memory (after all, they were now level two). The heroes were very far removed from what they once were, but now they had the first inklings of hope that they could, one day, regain that glory.
As the heroes drifted off to sleep, they re-ran the battles of the day, trying to remember and learn…
Charley recalled the bridge.
At one time, it passed over an underground river into the dwarven city of Kentlock. Now the bridge was little more than a hundred paces of crumbled stone passing over a dried riverbed. The footing on the bridge looked precarious. It wasn’t a long fall into the riverbed, but she knew it wouldn’t be easy to get back up.
Charley was so intent on the architecture of the bridge, that she didn’t notice the kobold ambush until Hack and Rosey had already snuck underneath the bridge to flank their foes. It took a nudging from Gaebriel for her to jump into action. She’d always secretly known that she was the least perceptive of her companions, and losing all of her skill had exacerbated the problem.
She saw that Orra had already charged into the fray, drawing attacks from a swarm of kobolds. Charley ran to aid him – but no sooner had she taken four steps when the bridge gave way underneath her. She fell, landed on her back in the dry riverbed, rubble falling all around her. The hard fall knocked the wind out of her. As she lay in the darkness underneath the bridge, trying to stagger to her feet, she could hear the sounds of bloodshed above. Kobolds were weak little creatures, but now the heroes were weak, too…
The hole that she fell through was ten feet above her – she jumped once, twice, thrice, but couldn’t grab onto the ledge. It wasn’t fair! She’d seen Rosey clamber up from the riverbed with ease, and Hack – well, Hack had just teleported! She’d have to go to the edge of the riverbed and climb up.
Quite abruptly, the ground began to shake. It was an earthquake. Charley knew that she wasn’t safe underneath the bridge. She ran, but it was too late: the stone bridge crumbled on top her, half-burying her, knocking her unconscious.
Her friends had saved her, of course, but now, falling asleep, she played the events over and over in her mind. She had learned that her agility and reflexes aren’t what they once were. She resolved to do better next time.
Rostam Rose thought about the entrance to Kentlock.
Swarms of decrepit skeletons swarmed out of the dwarven homes carved into the walls of the Indigo Pass. They were the dwarves that once lived here, he was sure of that. The main tunnel had collapsed, leaving the heroes with their backs to a small alleyway.
There were enough skeletons that he couldn’t come up with a precise headcount – maybe fifteen or twenty. This wasn’t his forte. He didn’t care for swarms of anything – he much preferred having the numbers on his side. It made it so much easier to gain an advantage in combat and fight from behind the enemy, where he was known to do his best work.
Plus, the weird indigo-colored light in this tunnel made the skeletons look like glowing fairies.
He was worried that they would have trouble defeating this many skeletons (based on their debacle in Goldrun), so he was surprised at how quickly his allies destroyed them. Orra’s mighty fire breath turned several to ash, Charley’s blast of song shattered many more, and Gaebriel’s divine rebuking disentegrated all but two. Just like that. Maybe there was hope for this group yet.
Orra remembered the puzzle in the dwarven temple.
They found a long-lost back entrance to the temple is an equally long-lost alleyway of Kentlock. The temple was trapped with pressure plates and spears – but Rosey disarmed it in short order. What fascinated Orra about the temple was the puzzle.
There were five words and a blank written over a sealed door: BUGLES, UNREST, GROTTO, LETTER, ESTEEM, [BLANK]
Intruiging! He was sure that the five words would somehow reveal the sixth word, and that sixth word would open the sealed door. His dragon-mind raced, and he noticed quickly that the frist letter of each word spelled out “bugle”. Ah-ha! The second letter of each word spelled out “unrest”, and so on. So, the missing word must be s-t-o-r…
“Storm!”, Orra declared to the door.
The door did not move.
Charley put her hand on Orra’s broad shoulder, and said, “I think that it has to be six characters – storm… storms?”
Though she said it quietly, the door groaned and slid open nonetheless, revealing a magical lute. Orra, who had no jealousy and only endless goodwill towards Charley, was happy that she had been the one to solve the final piece of the puzzle, and happy that the reward was useful to her. She deserved it, and they would all benefit from the music she would play.
Gaebriel pondered the stone tablet.
The heroes had entered a large, long courtyard in Kentlock. Ruined dwarven shops, homes, and stairways were carved into every wall. Gaebriel was cautious, and was not surprised when they were set upon by grey, stench-ridden oozes and stirges – strange mosquito-like four-winged bat creatures.
One of the stirges made the mistake of flying at Gaebriel, who was feeling more powerful, more sure of himself with each passing fight. Gaebriel invoked his divine armor, flinging the stirge against a stone wall. Before the stirge could take wing again, Gaebriel called down a vengeful light upon the distorted creature. Seeing it was still struggling for life, Gaebriel scorched it again, leaving nothing but a seared corpse.
Once, he did this to dragons. He had lived so many lives and been reborn so many times, but in none were he as powerful as the last one… this one? This seemed like the same life to him, but different in some subtle way.
In this room, Gaebriel discovered a stone tablet with dwarven carvings in it. Charley translated and read the tablet aloud: “Attention, all ye who enter. Here once stood Kentlock, a fine dwarven city. It is fifty-four year after the impact. I, Dranilbin, am the last resident. The drought and earthquakes have ruined us. I leave now – pray that I make it to the homeland.”
In the starlight, Hack examined the silver-hilted sword he had found.
It was stuck in a frozen pool of water in Kentlock, the hilt sticking in the air like the Excalibur of the ancient legends. When they stumbled upon it, three zombies were fighting over the sword, each tugging at the hilt. It looked as if they’d been doing this for years upon years.
Hack fought side-by-side with Orra. They surrounded the largest of the three zombies, an unsual corpse that seemed to be growing rotting flesh by the second. The foul creature spilled bits of rotted flesh as it moved, and the stench gagged Hack’s eladrin stomach.
As Hack and Orra fought, they fell into a natural rhythm. Orra drew the zombie’s attacks and Hack’s focused attacks tore the creature down. For a minute, it was like old times, before they woke up in this ruined world.
Hack had always been somewhat of a loner, but now felt unusually alone and increasingly abandoned by the Raven Queen. This romp through Kentlock had invigorated him. Sometimes it was good to have a steady ally to fight with.
But now, as he examined his new sword in the starlight, he grew aprehensive about tomorrow’s journey into Aluar. Maybe he would be better off on his own. Maybe it was better to face this strange new world alone than to have to see Dimona’s people.