Almendra, a Beautiful Psionic Wasteland

Malazhar: The Druid

Malazhar is a character whom was seemed to be “chosen” by the god Thorumak. However, Thorumak chose him simply because he believed that after the fall and rebirth of the dimension, Malazhar would become a Druid. He bet right.
After the rebirth, Malazhar first went to the Forge. Here he worked with Ith, but still allowed Ith to look after the Forge until his death. Malazhar would come back intermittently, but for the most part was off doing his own thing.
Even though he wasn’t in the Forge, nor was Malazhar among those of Almendra. After the rebirth, Almendra was the place with the most stability in the world. He spent about 10 years stabilizing societies. After this time, he simply disappeared.
He didn’t really disappear. Instead, he was in Limbo, attempting to resolve issues between the Gith. He spent hundreds of years doing so, long after the deaths of most of the party.
But there was one who was still alive when Malazhar had run his course. Here he told his tale to Thomytix, and it was here that Thomytix finally found out exactly who Malazhar was. They then became friends in the few years before Malazhar willingly released his spirit, done with his task.

Any suggestions are welcome!

Eighty-Second Day on the Surface

I awoke before the sun’s rays rose above the horizon. I was restless the whole night and might as well not have slept at all. I ate a meager breakfast down at the bar. Not even a half a bowl of porridge. With so many soldiers needing to be fed there wasn’t much food to go around. I ate quickly, knowing I had a meeting to attend to. The War Chef, strangely, was no where to be found. Wherever he was, he certainly wasn’t in the inn attending to the customers. I asked an equally tired Cinna if she knew, but she hadn’t seen him since late last night. I shrugged it off and headed out, hopping aboard Socks. As I approached the outskirts of town a shadow descended from the trees. It was Mirath.

“You aren’t going with out me, alright?” He said, grinning. “Thought you might need somebody covering fire.”

In the hour before dawn all those assigned to get Aldoraen into the Queen’s Court gathered around Sandstorm and Malazhar. They asked we hold out our arms. Sandstorm approached me first. “Got these from some of the tattoo makers in the army. Figured they’d be useful.”

Four psionic tattoos sprang up from Sandstorm’s arms. I recognized them all: two of them tattoos of body adjustment, the other two tattoos of skate. They silently crawled onto my arm and made my shoulders and forearms their new homes. Sandstorm went around and gave four tattoos each to Cinna, Ishitari, and Thomytix. Malazhar possessed the same tattoos as Sandstorm and gave his to Pe Ell, Aldoraen, Cehos, and Mirath. They didn’t have enough for Malazhar’s projan brother, Thraenor, or any of Pe Ell’s drow but all seemed fine going with out. The meeting complete before the first light, we returned to town and awaited orders. There we kept mostly to our own group. I watched as the armies made last minute preparations before the battle. Amongst the countless soldiers I noticed Kimber, Cogline’s daughter, in battle-ready gear with Cogline’s panther by her side. She waved to us briefly before I lost sight of her, swallowed up by the maenad portion of our army.

“Thank you for your help, my king.” Came a familiar voice.

I peeked over my shoulder and couldn’t believe my eyes. There, standing before Thraenor, was the life elemental we encountered in the woods near Immos. He bowed his head curtly, the radiant light that naturally emanated from his body only partially masked by the simple clothes he wore. I saw Malazhar’s eyes widen in surprise. Most of us kept to a stunned silence, but not everyone.

“Oh great, look who else has changed on us.” Sandstorm groaned, rolling his eyes.

“Who the fuck is the king, and who the fuck is Malazhar?” Thomytix added. Both the life elemental and Thraenor shot him a look that instantly shut him up from saying anything more.

“Oh, I remember you!” Cinna exclaimed. “You were the one stuck in the pond!”

“Yeah, that’s me!” The elemental grinned. “This gracious one figured out a way to get me out of there.”

“Thraenor you did that?” I said, turning Socks around. I approached the two of them with awe. “How?”

“I asked Veritos if I could use the life crystal he was formerly in, and using that, I transferred the energy of the pond inside of it. I would have used my own,” Thraenor pointed to one of his earrings. “But neither half was large enough to contain the energy. Either way, now he can move around and still be connected to the pond.”

“And now I keep it here.” The projan unbuttoned his shirt. A single life crystal emerged from his chest where his heart would be. “That way I don’t have to hold it, and it looks pretty cool.” He kept the crystal out for a moment or two longer then returned it inside himself. He buttoned his shirt back up and bowed to Thraenor once more before returning to his people. The other projans, who at that moment weren’t in their gaseous forms quite yet, were delighted to see their brother once more.

Shortly after, Amara stopped by to inform Sandstorm she’d sent five thousand of her warriors North to help the Virathians push back the advancing illithids, and wished us good luck on our mission.

While we waited for our armies to head out Sandstorm and some other party members including myself wandered about the camps getting a few more last minute supplies. “Hey, could we possibly have some healing water to take with us?” He asked a maenad medic.

“The greenskins of Sky’s Well were generous enough to supply our medics with healing water, but I’m sorry. We don’t have any we could spare for you.” She replied with a bit of annoyance, “Isn’t your group going to have a projan with you anyways?”

“Are the greenskins not going to fight?” I piped in, a bit surprised.

The maenad shook her head. “They lost their leader not too long ago. Sending us healing water was the best they could do to help. Now if you excuse me, I have a few more things to attend to.”

Less than two hours after sunrise our combined forces marched into the Jerancer Woods towards Nefir. The races of Almendra had amassed an impressive army. Over twenty thousand men, women, and dromites of almost every race in the land had taken up the fight. Half our troops were the mukra at about ten thousand soldiers. The hearty duergar, with the second largest portion of our army, didn’t match half that number. Their gold-skinned kin and thri-kreen from Ishitari’s village were each two thousand strong. The maenads and humans made up another two thousand. Although there were less than a hundred xeph scattered everywhere in the ranks, they were not a force to be reckoned with. Most were natives to Almendra. Well, as native as a xeph could ever be. Those who’d fled from the desert were, for the majority, unarmed citizens with no battle skills.

Thraenor and myself, along with the rest of our troupe, took our places behind the five hundred elans and five thousand mukra leading the way into the city, just as the Druids had instructed us to. Intertwined with the reptilian foot soldiers were the three hundred half giants mostly from Aradi. For a moment I wondered if they would even fit inside the tunnels. Immediately behind us the maeands and humans waited impatiently for the armies to get a move on.

“We haven’t got all morning! What’s the hold up?” Shouted the maenad leader of the diamond knights.

The gold dwarves alongside them, by contrast, seemed content with sticking around awhile longer. And even though I couldn’t see past the thousands of warriors behind us, I knew my people were in the very back along with many of the fire and air elementals.

“Okay, troops, here is the gist of it.” Amanmal ordered, just before we headed out. “I can speak to you through my mind. This means silent communication. If we can pull this off, the enemy won’t hear me directing. This will be a huge advantage, plus I can direct those of you even really far away. Therefore, if you hear my voice in your head.” Like this. I heard him say inside my mind, “Then don’t be alarmed!”

The silver spiders that months ago blocked my way to Aimi were all gone. I couldn’t find a single one up in trees.

“I guess we don’t really need this door anymore.” Cogline sighed when we reached the door to Nefir. With a flick of his wrist, and with out even touching it, the Druid ripped it clear from its hinges. It flew off a dozen feet away with a clang. “Someone will forget the word in and then there’ll be people stuck outside.” He stepped aside to let others pass. Cogline would remain above ground working the portal, while Amanmal directed troops from the rear.

I nodded at Cogline as we passed by him. He nodded back with a smile. On the surface I almost took the smile as genuine, but it wasn’t enough to hide the sadness in his eyes. In that moment I realized with a heavy heart that would be the last time I would ever see him alive. I pushed the thought from my mind. We had a mission to do. If we were going to succeed I couldn’t let such thoughts overwhelm me just yet.

“Tough skin, tough heart!” The mukra shouted as the darkness of the tunnel consumed them. They pounded their fists to their chests and rattled weapons against their shields. Over the almost deafening chanting came Sandstorm’s cursing. He did his best dodging the roots and boulders along the tunnel ceiling, but with his height it was nearly impossible to avoid getting repeatedly banged up. I imagined the other half giants ahead of us were in the same position as he.

The battle came upon us faster than I anticipated. Not ten minutes into our descent and it had already begun. We couldn’t yet see what was happening, but it was no matter. The deafening roar of the clashing armies rattled the old tunnel walls. Small pebbles and pieces of dirt came loose from the shaking and fell atop of people’s heads. The metallic smell of blood, already unbearably pungent, wafted upwards from down deeper with in the tunnel.

By the time I got a glimpse of Nefir, the last of the mukra up ahead of us had joined the fray. The mukra’s chanting that lead us in had ceased. Replacing them came the cacophony of combat. Flanking the right and left sides of our armies were the water elementals. Their massive liquid bodies shielded hundreds of foot soldiers from the onslaught of sword slashes from the drow determined to break through the lines. Although quite effective at blocking their melee fighters, the water elementals were not enough to prevent the incoming array of thousands arrows and numerous psion blasts.

At times it was difficult to make out what exactly what was happening. Smoke sticks had been deployed and the air hung heavy with smog and smoke. But the smoke sticks weren’t the sole source of smoke. The Queen’s Court had been set ablaze, illuminating the battle like a scene out of the Abyss. Through the fire and fighting a horrifying realization dawned on me. The canons atop the Court were dismantled. But where were they?

Not more than five minutes into combat and the death toll was already enormous. Half the elans and half of the five thousand mukra were already dead, their bodies along with hundreds of drow littering the tunnel floor.

The earth beneath us shook violently. Springing up from the ground came hordes of earth elementals. Upon their backs rode the duergar. Our armies desperate for some sort of cover, the earth elementals quickly erected a dozen or so earthen walls, as we had planned a couple days prior. They became instant targets for the drow, who were determined to stop them from building more barriers.

The drow army numbered in the tens of thousands, and they were everywhere. I had never seen so many people of any race gathered in one place. Off in the distance came more rumbling. It was the second half of the ten thousand Mukra. They materialized behind the drow, part way into the city-hive, and flanked them from behind. Amongst them was the bulk of the duergar army. With the drow sandwiched between two massive forces the casualties on our side seemed to been abated. But the success of the flanking was short lived. A couple more minutes passed and many of the mukra and duergar were dead. Hordes of them began moving back farther into the city-hive, and if they moved much farther they might’ve needed to retreat entirely.

Whizzing by overhead came a barrage of fire balls and lightning bolts from the fire and air elementals from the very back. Accompanying the elemental’s attacks were a couple of Amanmal’s spiders. A few of them landed atop some turrets, but where the others ended up I couldn’t see.

“Everyone, go!” Sandstorm yelled over the deafening sounds of the battlefield. In the quick glimpse I got of his face don’t think I had ever seen Sandstorm look or sound that bothered before. His expression pained and melancholy, his eyes locked on the destruction before us.

Following Sandstorm’s lead we bolted for the entrance to the Power District off to our left. I got one last look at the battle before we passed beneath the archways of the district. To my horror I realized exactly what was decimating so many of our troops. Seated on the outer wall of the city were the cannons Voltun warned us about. The illithids must’ve moved them down from the Queen’s Court. And by the Queen were they effective. About two dozen thri-kreen lept up onto the outer wall in an attempt to disable the cannons, but more than half were shot down before they even reached them. By the time we disappeared from view only two of the cannons had been eliminated by the combined forces of the thri kreen and the maenad’s catapults. As we silently slipped through the side gate unnoticed, thousands of drow flanked the duergar and mukra from behind, trapping them between two oceans of grey and blood.

Judging from my map of the city and Voltun’s word the sewers were twelve hundred feet away. We kept to the side streets, ever watchful for possible enemies all around us. “Wait,” I whispered, holding up my hand. I inhaled deeply and summoned a dimension door on the side of an old warehouse. A trick Cogline taught me a few days ago. I beckoned the others to go through it. “I can get us closer this way. Quickly!” One by one, the members of our troupe disappeared into the portal. When the last of us went in I followed after, reappearing on another side street only five hundred feet away from the sewer grate.

Just then a small patrol of four drow came around the corner. Aldoraen saw them first. He sprung into action before the rest of us had a chance to react. He bashed one square in the face. A single spike of mind blade energy jutted out from his fist and went through the drow’s skull, killing him instantly. Then the other drow were upon him. Aldoraen grabbed a hold of two by the throat and threw them against the closest wall. His original spike had vanished. The drow suddenly shrieked, blood pouring out of their mouths. Aldoraen let go and the two slumped to the ground. We watched in horror as the drow choked to death on their own blood. They each had a single puncture wound through the jugular. The remaining drow lunged for Aldoraen, screaming furiously over the deaths of his comrades. The maenad easily disarmed him of his longsword and threw him to the ground. Mind blade spikes enveloped Aldoraen’s fist like thorns. He punched the drow over and over, even long after he was already dead.

“Interesting shape. Is that new?” Sandstorm asked, unphased by what we just witnessed.

“No,” Aldoraen shrugged, “I just thought of it.”

The screams of the first patrol must’ve alerted the enemy to our location. The drow spread out along the side streets as well as the main roads, making it increasingly difficult to avoid patrols. We had to move fast. We lost our first troupe member three hundred feet from the sewer. In the midst of another fight with the patrols, one of Pe Ell’s drow who’d taken up the rear was stabbed through the chest.

At about a hundred and fifty feet from the sewers it was nearly impossible to keep to the side streets with out being noticed. We made a bold move and turned onto one of the main roads. As we darted for the entrance I noticed fifteen of our drow weren’t with us. Pe Ell fell behind, running at a slower pace than I’d expect him to. He held up his open hand, turned sideways. He made a quick chopping motion and in the next instant the bloodied bodies of ten drow archers fell from the rooftops. Many had arrows locked and ready, but our drow eliminated them before they’d had a chance to strike.

By the time we’d reached the sewers two more of Pe Ell’s drow were dead. One from an arrow through the neck, the other cut down by the fiery blast from a psion guarding the entrance. We disposed of the psion and other soldiers blocking our way not long after, but from the shouting all around us more were surely on their way.

“You need to go. They know we’re here!” Pe Ell yelled over his shoulder, his sword Dmitri in hand. “Get in the sewers! We’ll cover you at the entrance here. This is where the other drow should be meeting up…Now go!”

There was no time to argue. Sandstorm yanked off the grate and threw it aside. Before he descended the ladder, he tossed Pe Ell all his tangle foot bags. “You can set up traps with these!”

Pe Ell nodded and threw a couple to the drow closest to him. “You heard the man!”

Ishitari and Aldoraen filed in after Sandstorm, followed by the rest of us. “I can carry you down.” Thraenor said into my ear so I could hear him over the shouting. He picked up Socks with ease and cautiously lowered the both of us down into the sewer. I shot one last look at Pe Ell. For a brief moment I wondered if I’d ever see him alive again.

The thought was pushed aside by the overwhelming stench of shit surrounding us in the bowels of the city. Everyone was at least a little queasy from the smell, but Cinna looked like she was ready to puke. We traveled in near darkness for nearly half a mile. The only source of light a single torch held up by Thomytix. Dozens of rats, mice, and Queen knows what else scurried away from our foot falls. Thank the Queen we ran into nothing bigger than that.

“Well that was shitty…” Sandstorm said under his breath when we found our way out.

“Are you trying to be clever?” Thomytix exclaimed, gagging a little.

“Will the both of you shut the fuck up? You really want us to get noticed again?” Aldoraen snarled. For a moment I feared what he might do to them. He shoved both men out of his way and sliced open the grate with a mind blade. He glared at them over his shoulder, his hand on the ladder. “Come on, we’ll be quieter this way.”

Sandstorm shrugged and climbed up after the maenad. Thomytix and the others followed suit. Like before, Thraenor and I went up last. We were close to the secret entrance now. Two hundred feet away at most. It wasn’t long till we ran into more opposition. An illithid and a drow spotted us as we dashed for the closest side street.

We went in for the attack, all except Thomytix. The elan stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes opened wide in shock. Whatever it was, it must’ve been because of the illithid. He wasn’t able to move for the whole battle. Cehos, with arrows already locked, fired two. Both arrows made their marks deep in the illithid’s chest. In the next instant Sandstorm was upon him, and in one fell swoop the illithid’s head was severed from his body. With a torn piece of cloth Sandstorm knelt down and wrapped the bloodied head like a trophy around his sword hilt.

The drow, still alive and fighting, came for me like a demon out of the abyss. She screamed and raised her sword to strike. But I was never struck with her weapon. A couple of Mirath’s acid and fire arrows pierced her in the belly. The drow woman screamed in agony as she burst into flames. In the throes of death her burning corpse collapsed at my feet. Transfixed, I watched her skin and sinews peel away, layer by layer, until only paper white bone was left.

“Hey, let’s go.” Aldoraen shouted at Sandstorm, pushing him to get a move on. Sandstorm growled but did nothing to retaliate. I shook my head to clear the image I knew all too well had already been seared into my memory.

The entrance into the Queen’s Court was just up ahead. I cursed under my breath. The illithids must’ve figured out its location too. Guarding the door stood a pair of mind flayers, with ten drow surrounding them. Eight stood in a line, each with a long sword drawn and ready, and behind them two psions with staffs in hand. They hadn’t noticed us quite yet thank the Queen, so Mirath and Cehos took to the rooftops and got in flanking positions. Once up top, Mirath looked down at Sandstorm. He gestured at the enemies and mouthed for him to go. Wasting not a moment of opportunity, Sandstorm popped one of the skate tattoos on his left forearm. He charged ahead, straight for one of the illithids. At the moment of impact Mirath fired a thunderstone arrow into the fray.

In the midst of the chaos I saw Cehos going in for the kill, his arrows dead set on the second illithid. Two or three of his arrows struck their target, but surprisingly the illithid wasn’t dead just yet. He yowled in pain, blood gushing from the arrow wounds in his neck. His eyes darted from rooftop to rooftop but he couldn’t find the perpetrator before it was too late. A second later the illithid was struck again, and this time he was gone for good.

It took a couple seconds for the smoke from the thunderstone arrow to clear, but I could tell Sandstorm had wounded the first mind flayer badly in the gut. He struck again, and the flayer did not rise. Thomytix was at his fellow diamond knight’s side, staving off the drow attacking them. His scythe nicked the drow in the arm, but his second swing missed.

Both casters pointed their staffs at us, their eyes scarlet with rage. Bright flashes of light erupted from the tips of both and I instantly recognized what they were. I cursed again. Those were energy missiles. I raised my hands and erected an intellect fortress around us all. I hoped by the Queen this second trick of Cogline’s would be enough to protect us from most of the damage. I saw as at least two missiles struck nearly everyone in the party, save for Cinna and myself. Thomytix stood in front of Sandstorm and took some of his damage. To make matters worse, Ishitari, Sandstorm, and Thomytix were were all attacked by the drow with long swords seconds later.

I summoned a lance of electricity, and aimed it at the drow. In a moment, two of the swordsmen and one of the casters were electrocuted to death where they stood. Up on rooftops Mirath struck one of the remaining drow fighters. All of a sudden, an explosion engulfed the whole roof of his building. In the moment before the blast I swore I saw him fumbling and drop an arrow from his quiver. Meanwhile, Thraenor had slain two more warriors and severely injured the remaining caster. Sandstorm broke through the melee fighters and cut down the caster with a slice across the chest. Cinna struck another swordsman with an ice ray. On impact, a flurry of ice emerged and froze to death the last three drow surrounding him.

Now unguarded, we sprinted for the secret entrance. But we wouldn’t be alone for much longer. I could hear shouting coming from all around us. Once at the door we waited for Cehos and Mirath to get down from above. Cehos made it, but the fire still ablaze Mirath was pinned to where he was.

“I’ll cover you from here if you cover me!” Mirath shouted from the rooftops, some of the fire right behind him. “But hurry, please!”

“We’ll both cover you guys from here.” Ishitari interjected, mind blades drawn. When we didn’t immediately run inside she shot us a hard look. “Keep going! We’ll slowly go inward after you. But if you don’t get moving it’s going to be a killzone down here.”

“Then take these!” Thomytix told her, handing over his precious alchemic fire bombs.

“Thank you,” Ishitari smiled, “Those will be useful.”

“Stay alive! Run if you can!” Sandstorm called over his shoulder as we ran ahead into the belly of the Queen’s Court.

We were met with not a single patrol on our approach, but I could hear fighting going on up ahead. The whole Court was engulfed in flames. The smell of fire and soot hung heavy in the air around us.

By the entrance were two faces I was glad to see. It was Voltun and Veritos, both busy guarding our way in. The Consort was battered and beaten. One arm hung limp at his side, and his left shin was bent at an unnatural angle. On top of that the whole left half of his body was burned, and his left eye so swollen it looked more like a bruised tumor. Sword in hand, he called out to us. “We’re going to cut you a path. It’s upstairs, not in the mines. We passed it on the way down here.”

“Hey Thraenor!” Veritos exclaimed, “Good to see you again buddy.”

At that moment Thraenor transformed himself into a swirling storm cloud about the same size as Veritos. Coal red eyes emanated from the center, the eyes of a mighty hurricane. Lightning crackled with each movement he made.

Voltun gently slid himself down onto the ground and sat up against the wall behind him. He winced when the cold stone touched his shoulder. “I can’t really run, so you’ll have to keep going. I can keep this place guarded from here.” He put his sword in its sheath and loaded the crossbow strapped to his side. “Is there any more people coming with you all? There’s supposed to be a group of drow with you.”

“Pe Ell and his drow remained behind so we could continue forward.” I said, briefly looking over my shoulder at the tunnel we came out of.

“Same with Ishitari and Mirath.” Sandstorm added.

Crossbow bolt in place, Voltun grinned. “Well, I’m going to chill out in the doorway here.”

“Thank you for covering our asses like everyone else.” Sandstorm said to the Consort.

I wondered if he was really going to be able to defend the door in his state. “Please stay safe my lord.”

“Eh,” Voltun shrugged with his good shoulder, “Veritos will come back over this way later I think.”

Moving on, we left Voltun where he was and followed the two elemental kings to the base of the stairwell. Before we ascended Veritos and Thraenor stopped and turned to us. “We’re going to keep them out of the stairway and clear out this bottom floor. Help keep Voltun and you all safe.”

Go,” Aldoraen bellowed impatiently, “Let’s get out of here!”

I smiled and nodded at Thraenor before I went with the others. We easily cut down a couple drow as we dashed up the stair case. Beyond that there was surprisingly little resistance. I feared that wouldn’t be the case when we reached the top. Fueling my sense of dread was the lack of commotion coming from the raging battle outside. The clashes of combat had ebbed. The ground no longer shook with the force of the earth elementals.

The top of the stairwell opened up to a room nearly devoid of all its walls. All except for its support beams had been torn out, revealing the fire had spread to other parts of the city-hive. At the room’s center was a giant brain. Guarding the massive organ was a lone drow leaning against the outer door frame. Upon seeing us a mind blade appeared in each hand. One glowed a vibrant purple, the other tinted dark red. He charged right for us. In a flash he slid underneath Sandstorm. A powerful gust erupted from his mind blades, slicing Sandstorm and everyone around him including me.

Reacting quickly, Cehos fired at the attacking drow. The arrows struck him square in the chest. Before he had a chance to strike back Cinna incinerated him with her fire ray. As he lay burning to death on the stone floor I noticed we were not alone. Soon, more encompassed us. One drow loomed behind Cehos about to strike. Before I knew it another was upon Cinna. I barely managed to avoid a strike from that same drow. Seeing an opportunity to attack, Sandstorm stabbed the drow that had gotten Cinna from behind. Cinna easily finished off her attacker herself. An aura of some sort, I assumed one of protection, surrounded Thomytix as his scythe slashed our enemies. Cehos killed off the drow going for him with Malazhar’s help. I shot at another drow with an electric lance. In the midst of the fight I popped one healing tattoo, although it might have been wise to save it. Malazhar’s projan brother swirled around us, patching up some of the damage done.

Aldoraen broke from the group and sprinted toward the unprotected brain. A myriad mind axes burst from his arms, legs, and even his chest. He hacked away and burned it with fire. Sandstorm threw his mind blade at the last drow but missed. The blade disappeared just before it collided with a support beam. He cursed and dashed after Aldoraen, his trusty pick materializing in hand. The drow finally met his end at the hands of Cinna and her ice ray. The rest of us ran toward the brain and began to attack it too. But we had to move quickly. I heard more drow approaching.

“We gotta hurry this up guys!” Sandstorm yelled. He put away his pick and prepared to attack a group of illithids who had just reached the doorway. “Come at me, I’ll kill every single one of you!”

Aldoraen dissipated his mind blades and silently left the now destroyed brain. He approached a strange door located on one of the support beams where the outer walls of the Court had once been. A location where no door should be. “Fine, I guess I’ll go through here.” He sighed, turning to us for the last time. A small knowing smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Tell Cogline to go ahead and start that up.” He quickly opened the door and shut it behind him. For a brief moment I saw what looked like a room with almost unnaturally bright white walls.

Not a moment or two later Sandstorm shouted he’d sent the go-ahead to Cogline. I inhaled deeply. We did it, we got Aldoraen out of here. I hoped to the Queen that Cogline and Amanmal would have quick, painless deaths. I wondered what the two of them had thought right then, as the dimension finally died. Were they scared? Relieved? Hopeful? I wasn’t even going to die when the dimension did yet I was terrified our dimension might never reawaken again, the lot of us frozen in time forever. I was lost in my own thoughts when a blinding violet light enveloped everything. It reminded me of the light that emanated from Cogline’s necklace. Cogline…

The strange light washed over the city-hive and the Queen’s Court in the matter of seconds. When it washed over me it felt peculiarly warm. Almost but not quite comforting. And just like that, it was done. The purple wave of light was gone. So too was the odd door Aldoraen had been in not even a minute or two ago. It was as if nothing else had happened, and the world was still the way it was.

And yet, everything was different.

In a way I can’t quite describe I felt totally new. Something about me had changed but at first I couldn’t put my finger on how. I looked around. Sandstorm’s pickaxe was gone. I wondered if he had simply dismissed it but he was trying to summon it again but was struggling to do so. Thomytix’s shield was gone too. And where were his tattoos? Sandstorm’s too.

I examined my own shoulders. My psionic tattoos were no more as well. It was then I came to realize why I felt so different than I had just moments ago. I tried summoning a dimension door on the floor but nothing happened. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

My psionic abilities were completely gone, and it seemed everyone else’s was too.

It was then I felt a sudden weight in my hands and looked down. The last thing I expected was a book. The words Artemis’s Apprentice: The Beginner’s Guide to Incantations, Arcana, and Spells were inscribed in faintly glowing font on the cover.

Still disoriented from what just happened we had nearly forgotten that a handful of mind flayers were nearly upon us. They looked about as disoriented and confused as us, if not more so. But when they saw us their determination to tear us apart overtook any doubts. A few pointed their long purple fingers at us and stood there by the door frame for a moment. When nothing happened they snarled and tried again. Still there was nothing. Fear creeped onto their faces. Most stood dumbfounded where they were, while one or two of them fled back down the stairwell. One illithid seemed not as shaken as the rest by the sudden change and got out their sword, about to strike. The illithid froze mid-swing. The tip of a mind blade popped out from between their eyes. It was Ishitari. She tossed the corpse to the side, effectively scattering the remaining flayers. “So I guess I’ll have to teach you a trick or two about making one of these now that there’s magic here.”

Cehos cocked an eyebrow. “What’s magic?”

“It’s a thing Thorumak told me about.” Ishitari responded. “It’s not psionic in nature, and it doesn’t come from your mind. It just comes from the natural world. He said it would probably get here after all of this was over. It’s what he taught me to do. It’s still weak and not very good though since I haven’t been able to try it out.”

Sandstorm looked at her magical blades in awe. “So you’re using magic to manifest your mind blade?”

She nodded. “I’ll teach you how to do it too.”

“So,” Cehos continued, still intrigued. “Is this just another way to use psionics?”

“It’s not psionics.” Ishitari reminded him, “Magic is a totally different type of energy from psionics. It’s why the mind flayers can’t do anything. All of their power came from psionics and they don’t have that anymore.”

“Let’s worry about this later,” I interjected, anxious to get to a safer location. “We need to get the hell out of here.”

But it was like Cehos hadn’t heard me at all. He seemed preoccupied with something else entirely. He stared off into nowhere in particular, his expression a mixture of wonder and confusion. He shot a look at Cinna, who I then noticed had the same dumbfounded but elated expression as Cehos. “Is this the effect of the magic?” Cehos asked Ishitari, his eyes wide. “We can somehow hear the voices of other synads around the world now.” Ishitari shook her head. She was as clueless as the two synads were.

“Hey, what’s up?” I heard an unfamiliar voice say. It was an elegant shield hovering in front of Thomytix. “Somebody told me to come here to you. I came with the book,” It turned briefly to the tome in my hands, “But the book’s not intelligent like me. I don’t even know who sent me here. I couldn’t see him. But he told me ‘Hey, you’re going to go serve this guy well. He’s a cool dude.’”

“But shouldn’t we get out of here though?” Ishitari interjected, gesturing to the stairwell. “Mirath is just outside.”

Before we could make a move for the stairwell the floors and the support beams began shaking violently. Over by the support beam where Aldoraen’s door had been just minutes before was a small section of the walls that had not been torn out by the illithids. It was the epicenter of the shaking and for a moment I feared it had something to do with the battle. That is until with a thunderous crack that last remaining section of the walls was torn from the support beam. Floating in midair like a crackling thundercloud was Thraenor. “You guys should see this. We’re winning!” He said with a grin. Not far behind him was Veritos, who appeared a moment or two later. He unlike Thraenor couldn’t fly and instead had climbed his way up here. Veritos clung to the support beam with long claws of flame. “The drow are fighting on our side now!”

“What, why?” Cehos exclaimed in disbelief.

Thraenor shrugged. “Because they don’t like the illithids I guess.”

“You broke the fuckin’ wall, man!” A shout came from behind. It was Voltun leaning against the door frame. He managed to hobble up the stairwell after Ishitari and Mirath.

Thraenor laughed with a sheepish grin. “Oh, uh, sorry.”

Upon seeing him Veritos immediately went over to Voltun. The elemental king gingerly took the Consort’s good arm and helped him lower himself down onto the floor. Malazhar’s projan brother materialized beside them and began tending to Voltun’s many wounds. Veritos remained by his friend’s side as the projan worked, quietly talking into the Consort’s ear. Whatever it was they were talking about I couldn’t hear, nor would I have wanted to. I felt like I was prying just by staring at them too long.

“Will psionics ever come back?” Cehos continued.

“I hope not.” Ishitari replied, “Psionics came about because of problems of some kind with in this dimension. I don’t really know what exactly. We weren’t supposed to have magic either. We didn’t at first. But something went wrong and psionics came about. Now that it’s gone we don’t really want it to come back because that means that things are going wrong again.”

Sandstorm sighed in frustration. “Cogline isn’t responding to my missive!”

“Cogline’s dead.” I said to him, almost angrily. The words stung like a bitter venom. “Him and Amanmal are both dead.”

“So is Thorumak and all the other gods.” Ishitari added solemnly. “The planeswalkers and the gods are the ones who die when a dimension dies.”

“Who was the person who did that last thing that changed us? That killed the dimension?” Cehos continued.

“From what Cogline was telling you guys before, he said that some of you met this guy named Tyler.” She answered, “Tyler was able to planeshift and if he did it enough that shot him out of the dimension. He used up what remaining energy the dimension had, killing it. This dimension could have been in stasis for thousands of years, we’ll never know how much time has passed. But somebody brought the dimension back. Either Aldoraen or Tyler gave it energy again, allowing it to fix itself. It’s why the psionics went away.”

“We could’ve been in stasis for thousands of years?”

Ishitari nodded. “And we wouldn’t have even known.”

Sandstorm looked on edge and wanting to leave. “Well, we should worry about this magic stuff later. We need to get out of here.”

Malazhar approached the support beams and looked down through the area of the wall Thraenor had torn out. “We can’t get out of here now.” He said to Sandstorm, beckoning him over to where he stood. “Look at all the chaos down there. Looks like there’s some fire near the entrance too…”

Whatever more the two diamond knights were saying with each other I didn’t catch. If we truly weren’t going anywhere any time soon I figured someone should go check on Mirath. Just as Ishitari said I found him sitting on the marble floor just outside the doorframe. He didn’t look too great. Stabbed deep in his gut were two arrows, both wounds still oozing a bit of blood. A far worse sword slash to his right leg had cut him nearly to the bone, and it was bleeding even more so than the arrow wounds. A puddle of dark red blood about the size of a small child’s head had already pooled around where Mirath sat. I hopped off of Socks and dashed over to him.

Mirath looked up at me. “Didn’t feel like movin’ very much.”

“I can tell. Those arrows look like they’re in pretty deep.”

“Yeah. Can’t really take them out just yet though.” Mirath gingerly touched the feathered end of one of the arrows.

I nodded in agreement. “Well, it seems like we’re going to have to wait a little while before we can get out of here anyways, so you can rest for now.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” He laughed a little, but that only made him wince in pain. I sat down on the cold stone beside him.

A little while later Malazhar’s brother showed up with a look of concern. “Hey Mirath are you okay? Had to come check up on everybody.”

“Not doing too bad except for some arrow wounds here, but those can be taken out later. You can help heal the sword cut on my leg.”

The projan didn’t argue and began working on patching up Mirath’s leg wound. “That’s a pretty gnarly cut you got.” He noted. I watched as golden light sewed the flesh and muscle back together again. Once that was healed he moved on to the arrow wounds. After a few moments of prodding and investigating Malazhar’s brother sighed. “Yeah, I can’t take out the arrows yet. Might mess you up internally.”

In the midst of the projan healing Mirath, nearly about when he was done, Thraenor emerged from the brain room. He was about human sized again by then. He got down on one knee and gently put his hand on my shoulder. “Hey. Came over to see how you two were doing.”

“I’m fine.” I replied, looking up at him. “But Mirath…not so much.”

“Ah, I see.” Thraenor said, getting a quick glance at Mirath and the projan before his gaze returning to me. “We’ll get you out of here as soon as we can, okay?”

“I appreciate it.” Mirath piped in, smiling.


A half an hour passed before the rest of the others came out of the brain room telling Mirath and me it was safe enough to leave the Queen’s Court. Carried in Veritos’s arms was a still very injured Voltun. He looked exhausted. Barely able to keep himself awake. Even after the projan’s help, his wounds were too severe for him to walk too far on his own. I brought Socks over to me and told him to lie down. I motioned to Mirath to climb aboard. He agreed with out protest and with my help got himself into the saddle. His leg wasn’t fully healed yet and this way Mirath didn’t have to put weight on it as we got ourselves the hell out of there.

With the drow now on our side and the illithids either having already fled, killed, or captured the journey out of the Queen’s Court took little time and was spent mostly in solemn silence. Everyone was lost in their own thoughts it seemed, including me. I wasn’t surprised. We meandered back nearly the same way we had come, sans a trip down in the sewers. Bodies were strewn in piles in the streets and alleyways. Some the remains of those we had killed. The overwhelming smell of death was pungent, and it only got worse as we approached the Western tunnel.

I wanted to faint the moment we passed through the gates out of the Power District to the tunnel. The awful stench hit us like a stone wall. But I don’t know what was worse, that smell or what we saw. I can hardly begin to describe the utter destruction. If I thought the piles of corpses we passed in the streets of the Power District were bad, they were only the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of bodies of numerous races coated the floor of the tunnel, in some places piled so high they reached more than half way up the outer walls. So extensive was the amount of dead it was unavoidable to not step on some if we were to make our way from the gates to the rest of the tunnel. I fought back tears and whispered frantic apologies under my breath with each step. Some steps were nearly mush, while others crunched loudly as bones snapped under our weight. I felt blood and Queen knows what other fluids coat the bottoms of my feet. I covered my mouth with one hand and took deep breaths, desperate to not puke all over. Both in the distance and close by came the terrified cries of the injured. Projans whizzed by overhead, busy scouring the battle field looking for them.

Up farther ahead in the tunnel were signs of life. Dozens of tents had already been set up. Medical tents. The base of operations for the projans and medics in a frenzy assisting the hundreds of wounded. And it was up there we figured we should go. Mirath and Voltun needed more medics than the sole projan amongst us.

Standing outside one of the first canvas tents was a sight for sore eyes. It was Pe Ell. He looked tense and on edge, with a few bruises and scratches here and there, but thank the Queen he had nothing more serious than that. He hastily beckoned us over upon picking us out from the droves of medics and wounded passing him by. “Come on over here, there’s extra beds in this tent. Did everything work out fine?” He asked with trepidation as we approached the tent, “Is everyone safe?”

“Yeah, we got Aldoraen out of here.” Malazhar confirmed.

“How about you?” Sandstorm asked Pe Ell.

“Not too great.” he replied, “Only three of us made it out, and one of us has major injuries. We are inside here, treating her wounds.”

“We got two wounded dromties with us,” proclaimed Veritos to the medics inside the tent. “And one of them is the Consort.”

They sprang into action at the word Consort. “Bring them over here.” A gold dwarf replied.

Veritos gingerly placed Voltun onto one of the beds. Upon doing so Veritos shrunk down to the original hand-sized elemental we met him as. He clambered over to the Consort’s ear, I imagine to whisper words of encouragement as the medics worked on him. A couple times the Consort yelled out in pain, particularly as they cleaned his burns. The elemental king remained by Voltun’s side for the rest of the day. I don’t think he left not one time to go do anything else.

Word of Voltun’s survival spread around to the other dromites rapidly. Many swung by in an attempt to gain a visitation with the Consort, but were shooed away by healers. Voltun was in no condition for an audience. But despite this and the amount of death most of the other dromites I saw were in good spirits. We had driven the illithids out, reclaimed our city-hive, and our Consort was still alive. Queen Nera I’m sure has already been told the news.

I guided Socks over to the other available bed. A projan lifted Mirath from the saddle and had him lie down. As the medics began working on removing his arrows I briefly looked over my shoulder to see Pe Ell return to where the other two drow were being treated. One of them I recognized. She was the bald woman we had met back in the Forge. She was sitting upright with her right arm bandaged in a sling. A badly broken arm shattered by an illithid I was told awhile later. The other drow was another woman, and the seriously injured one Pe Ell had told us about. Her left leg was nothing but a stump from the knee down, the bandages covering it stained with dark red blood. The handiwork of a psion’s blast. It appeared she’d lost a lot of blood from the wound already. She was in and out of consciousness and at that moment lie sleeping on her cot. As I write this she is still hanging on, but barely. I hope by the Queen she survives the night.


I don’t know how much time had passed, but sometime later a familiar mukra entered the tent. It was Amara’s tactician. He beckoned the party and Pe Ell to walk outside with him, a melancholy look in his eyes. I braced for the worst.

“Hello, I’m Aduras. I’m the tactician from the mukra army. You may remember me. I have some grave news to tell you…” He began, his voice somber. His eyes were on Pe Ell. It was almost as if Aduras was talking to just Pe Ell and we weren’t even there. “The leader of the mukra company, Amara, has not survived the battle.” Aduras hung his head and closed his eyes briefly, “She was a great friend and a leader to all of us. I figured that you would want to know of this, seeing as you knew her and brought her to the surface.”

Pe Ell nodded once, his expression grave. “Thank you. She was a good friend to me too. Tough skin, tough heart.” He put his hand to his heart just as the mukra had at the start of the battle. Aduras proudly did the same. The tactician didn’t stick around much longer than that. Just long enough to break the news to us, and I’m sure he had others to go tell.

Around the same time Aduras left so had Sandstorm. I recalled he had been uncharacteristically nervous the whole journey from the Queen’s Court to the medical tents. He had us move fast without any stops the entire way there. It was then it hit me as to why. His dad fought in the battle, and I’m sure he went off to discover his father’s status. For hours we saw nor heard anything from Sandstorm until he briefly stopped by about an hour ago to say something to Malazhar. I didn’t mean to overhear them, but I heard enough to know he had indeed found his dad who was seriously hurt, but alive.

In the meantime Cinna, Malazhar, Ishitari and I assisted the medics inside the tent. With so many injured it was difficult for the medics to attend to all of them. We helped the wounded as best we could, often back and forth between different tents grabbing supplies for the healers. Thomytix also tried helping out, but being his elan self he ignored the medics’ orders a couple times. It annoyed the healers immensely, but try as they might they couldn’t get him to listen to them. At one point Thomytix ran into Malazhar, spilling the medical supplies in his hands.

Malazhar had enough of his shit and elbowed the elan hard in the gut. “If you’re not going to really help then don’t help at all.” He hissed.

“I know what I’m doing. I don’t need people ordering me around.” Thomytix retorted.
Without hesitation Malazhar punched Thomytix square in the face, knocking him out cold. Malazhar dragged the unconscious elan outside the tent and left him there. Cehos went around helping the healers a little bit, but what else he did I am unsure. He was often gone for long periods of time. Shortly after Malazhar put Thomytix outside Cehos left the tent with an empty mug in hand. Upon his return the mug was gone. It wasn’t seen again until Thomytix stumbled back inside with it in hand.


It must be late into the night by now. Time flew me by while helping healers, and now I am exhausted. The number of injured and dead is staggering. With hushed voices I heard some of the medics say the dead reached the tens of thousands. They estimated a bit over ten thousand had perished fighting on our side. The drow had suffered even greater casualties. From what they said, fifteen thousand drow lay dead, and the numbers for both sides might climb even higher as the days went on and more bodies were accounted for.
But really, the drow are no longer our enemies. I saw just as many drow as the rest of us assisting and healing the wounded. The removal of psionics shattered the iron hold the illithids had on them. I’m sure Pe Ell is pleased his people cannot be controlled by the mind flayers any longer. His people are finally free.

My home, the great city-hive of Nefir, has been changed forever by this battle. The area around the Western exit lies in complete ruin. We shall have to rebuild nearly everything there. The outer walls have crumbled and numerous buildings were scorched by flame. But we dromites are not alone in the rebuilding effort. We have the rest of Almendra to help us.
We cannot go back to the way things were. We can no longer shut ourselves off from the surface world. We cannot reject or deny any longer that we are tied to this world just the same as the surface dwellers are.

The surface dwellers are not a hopeless cause. I have suffered greatly during my banishment, but I have also learned there is just as much goodness and kindness with in the surface dwellers as there is evil and cruelty. Us dromites cannot flee from their evil any longer. If we want peace we must face it head on, together, alongside the other races of Almendra. That is what we accomplished today. The races of Almendra stood together, resolute, to put an end to a great monstrosity plaguing our land.

I myself have changed over these past couple months. I began this journal frightened of anything and everything up on the surface. Now, I am no long as fearful of the surface dwellers as I had been in days past. I have grown stronger, both in mind and spirit. The surface and its people challenged me in more ways I can account for, and in a way I am forever grateful for my experiences.

I should head off to bed soon. There is so much more work to be done here in Nefir. It might take years for the city-hive to be fully repaired from today’s events. Just removing all the dead from inside here is a monumental task in of itself. And the illithid threat still has not completely been extinguished. We need to find out what’s going on in Osdon and the rest of the world. Has the rest of the world broken free of their grasp as well?

There is so much work to do I am unsure if I can continue writing in this journal. Why should I, if the other dromites and I are now tied to the surface world? It seems silly to continue writing about my days on the surface world if we are all a part of it now.

There’s been so much death and suffering around me, but strangely, I feel hopeful for a greater tomorrow. My people have our city-hive back. The drow are no longer slaves. All the races of Almendra have a chance now to establish peace with one another. It will be a difficult and challenging road ahead of us, but not impossible. This dromite learned to love the surface, and I think the other dromites can too. Nothing is impossible.

Farewell my journal, and to whomever may read it someday. May The Queen give you prosperity for the rest of your days.

— Vilu Kethech

Eighty-First Day on the Surface

The remaining half giants from Aradi arrived in town a few hours after I’d eaten breakfast at the inn. The majority of them were women and children, with the few warriors who’d been left behind to defend their village while the rest were at war. I’ll never forget the look of relief on Sandstorm’s face when he saw his mother and siblings. Both him and his father were busy all morning finding a place for them to set up camp amongst the thousands of canvas tents dotting the forest around Aimi. The combined forces are spread out over a couple miles at least.

“The Virathains are actually really good with those purple worms!” I heard Sandstorm’s youngest brother say excitedly as he led his family away. I swear Sandstorm’s eyes grew wide at that.

As the half giants were about done getting settled into their temporary new home the whole earth shook beneath my feet. A massive army of Mukra, more than fifteen thousand strong, marched into Aimi. Leading them was Amara, who looked more than glad to see our troupe once again.

“Wow, we’re going to have quite a push.” Sandstorm said, amazed.

“Yeah, we pulled some in from around here.” She grinned.

With the Mukra here our army was nearly complete. By noon today all but one race had sent troops to join the fight. But just when everyone thought they were never going to show up, five hundred elans rolled into town from Pollt. For some damn reason they felt the need for fireworks and streamers. They made a huge ruckus and a mess we had to clean up later. I could almost see everyone collectively roll their eyes at them.

“I really think they should lead us into battle.” Cinna snickered while we waited for Cogline to return from a meeting with the elan generals. They stood less than a hundred feet away from us and it was getting increasingly difficult for us to contain our laughter.

“Lead the charge, yeah.” Sandstorm chuckled.

“I want to see their glorious fighting prowess that I’ve heard so much about.” Cehos exclaimed obnoxiously over his shoulder so the elans could hear. Cinna clapped a hand over his mouth to hush him up but it didn’t stop her from giggling.

Somehow Cogline managed to keep a cheery demeanor the whole time he chatted with them, but that broke the moment he was done. “Bastards.” He cursed under his breath as he approached us. He confirmed the elans had indeed taken a liking to our idea and wanted to lead the charge, with the Mukra behind them. The duergar were going to work with the earth elementals in setting up the barrier between us and the cannons, and the dromite casters were going to take up the rear. He told us to return to the tent he’d constructed for us and wait for further news.

“I’ve got an idea.” Voltun began as he entered our tent a half hour later. Coming in right behind him was Veritos, no longer the small ball of fire he could fit in the palm of his hand. The fire elemental towered over every one of us. Even Sandstorm by a foot or two. “Why don’t we put me and this big guy right up there on those cannons. He’s got a cool thing he can do too. He can just flow down on all sides of the Queen’s Court. Light all those cannons on fire.”

“That would work.” Sandstord agreed, “But will you burn all the cannons or get access to them?”

“Probably burn most of them. Access isn’t going to be helpful unless we get enough troops there to defend them after we get them. I’d rather just destroy them.”

“Yeah, eliminate them so they don’t have as much fire power.”

The Consort raised an eyebrow. “They probably have archers still.”

“That’s what the thri-kreen are for.” The half giant grinned. “They can jump super high and slice off heads, while duergar are in the back with Vilu’s people. The lizardmen and the elans will be in the front and middle, and we’re coming in right behind the lizardmen.”

Voltun nodded in agreement. “You can sneak past the lizardmen army to where you need to go.”

“Yeah, and the gold dwarves are healers and probably near the back too.”

“Where are the life elementals going to be?” I wondered.

Sandstorm shrugged. “Probably in the back with the gold dwarves healing the wounded.”

“No, they won’t.” Butt in a passerby gold dwarf who’d overheard part of our conversation.

“Interspersed between everyone then?”

“The life elementals are already everywhere around this city, you just can’t see them.” The gold dwarf replied with some annoyance. “They can turn into clouds of gas and heal everyone.”

“Damn, we actually have a chance of taking back the city.” Sandstorm muttered as the golf dwarf left.

A half-smile tugged at my lips. “It would be wonderful for my people.”

“It would be.” The half giant agreed. “Plus we get to fight the illithid hive mind.”

“But that’s going to go out of the dimension when it collapses.”

“Yeah, well, we’ll see if it goes alive or dead.” Sandstorm smirked, cracking his knuckles one by one.

“But it won’t be.” Malazhar reminded him, shaking his head. “Aldoraen will be taking its place.”

“Yeah I guess you’re right.” Just about then Amanmal passed by our tent. Sandstorm noticed too, and sprinted outside to catch up to him. “Hey Amanmal, how long would it take you to upgrade everyone’s survivability?”

The Druid gave him a confused look. “Everyone?”

“Well, all of the elite troops going in first.”

“It took awhile to armor up myself. I don’t know what you’re expecting from me, but I’ll do what I can.” The Druid sighed, “So, we have catapults and spiders right?”

Sandstorm’s eyes opened wide. “Spider catapults!?”

“They’re durable enough, they can do it.”

“Well, let’s do it! How many of ’em can go at a time?”

“About eight, I think. But I really must go now, I have a meeting with Cogline.” He waved goodbye to us and disappeared inside a tent a few hundred feet away.

Sandstorm returned a moment later, pulling up a chair. “So, who all is going with us? Pe Ell, do you and your drow want to go?” Pe Ell took one look at his crew, then turned to the half giant and nodded once. “Good. We’re going to need a healer with us though.”

“I agree.” Malazhar stood up from his chair, shield in hand. With a flash and loud pop a naked life elemental emerged from it, smiling broadly. The yanki flung his arms around the elemental and patted him on the back. “Hey bro, what’s up?”

There was a life elemental inside his shield this whole time? By the Queen, how would that have happened? Malazhar later explained the elemental was his brother and he’d willingly gone into the shield.

“I’m going with you too.” Ishitari poked her head in and limped inside.

“If you’re healed enough.” Sandstorm reminded her.

Ishitari smiled tiredly. “I’m good.”

“No, you still need to rest!” I snapped at her.

“Yeah, you sit down.” Sandstorm gently pushed her down into an empty seat beside him. “But maybe if she was healed by a life elemental…” He shot a look at Malazhar’s brother.

“Don’t worry, she should be healed up by the time we go to fight.” The elemental replied calmly.

Later this evening I went out in search of Cogline and Amanmal. I hadn’t seen or heard from either of them since earlier in the day and desperately needed to ask them something. If what they said is true, then…then after tomorrow I’ll never have the chance to talk to them about this again. I eventually found them in a tent not far off from the one we’d been using for meetings.

I poked my head inside, clearing my throat. “Is it alright if I talked to you two for a moment?” The two Druids nodded and welcomed me inside. “Do you know the locations of any other life crystal mines?”

“We have a map of them over in the Forge. You can ask Ith when…” Cogline’s voice caught in his throat and his gaze shifted away from mine for a moment. “After all of this is done.”

“Thank you.” I nodded solemnly, looking down at the ground. I felt wet tear drops fall onto the tops of my feet. I hadn’t noticed I was crying. “And not just for telling me that, but for everything you’ve done for me.”

“You are most welcome little one.” Cogline softly patted me on the head. “I wish you grand journeys in the days to come. For the adventure doesn’t end here, there will be much work to do after we are gone.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” I agreed, wiping some of the tears from my eyes. “I have to help my people reclaim our home. Help rebuild. I still wish things could have turned out differently…” Fresh tears rolled down my cheeks. “That I didn’t have to say goodbye.”

“Our bodies may be destroyed, but our essence should go back into the abyss of the dimensions and rejoin a new one somewhere. We may not have our memories, but that essence will go out again. It may come here after we are gone, we don’t know.”

“Still going to miss you Cogline. You too, Amanmal.”

“And we’ll miss you too, little dromite.” The gold dwarf replied.

“Well, I should get going.” I said, taking a few deep breaths. I briskly brushed away the remaining tears. “I’m sure you two still have a bit to do tonight. Thank you for letting me talk to you for a little while.”

“Of course,” Cogline smiled. “It was a pleasure.”

I returned to the inn with a heavy thought on my mind. Not on Cogline and Amanmal’s deaths but on something much worse. I’d managed to qualm my fears up till now, but tonight being the last night before the battle I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About killing my own kind. I know for a fact not everyone in Nefir left the city when we fled for the surface. There were a stubborn few who refused to leave and remained behind. And now, with the illithids coming through the portals even as I write this, they would’ve taken some dromites from Osdon with them. How many dromites are in the city now? What hells have they already gone through at the hands of the illithids? How many have already died, and how many more will my comrades and I be forced to kill tomorrow? I sat alone up at the bar lost in my thoughts and said a word to no one. Except Cinna, whom I asked to fill my mug with mead.

“Don’t worry, they most likely won’t be fighting.” Pe Ell reassured me, appearing out of nowhere with his hand on my shoulder. He slipped onto the bar stool next to mine. “More than likely they’ll be using drow for the main fighting force and using the dromites as the work force in the farm lands.”

“I don’t care if there’s half giants,” Sandstorm interrupted, pointing his mug at us before downing a gulp. “I’m cutting them in two.”

Pe Ell glared at Sandstorm, but did not retort. He focused back on me, hunched over with his hands tucked inside his overcoat. “They don’t have direct control over the dromites, and they haven’t had enough time to dominate them via force yet. At least, that’s what I would figure.” The drow cleared his throat nervously. “I mean, a stygian elemental is going to be much more powerful than a dromite.”

“A stygian elemental?” I asked, bewildered. “What are they? I didn’t know they existed.”

“Death elementals, I assume.” Sandstorm said, his eyes still on Pe Ell as he took another sip of his ale.

“What he said.” Pe Ell pointed his thumb at the half giant. “It’s what we are, so. We’re actually a mix between stygian energy and life elementals. The energies cancelled out and gave us physical form and made us natural to the material plane. Elves used to be what elementals were called. At least, the ones that look like us.” He gestured vaguely to his pointed ears. “I mean there are a few, but most can change shape and we can’t anymore because we are physical now. That’s why people called us drow elves.”

Pe Ell sat beside me for awhile longer, saying little else. At one point he ordered a water from Cinna, but beyond that he drank nothing more. No mead, no ale, no wine. Not any alcohol at all. Unlike the majority of the other soldiers busy glowing the night away. I must admit he acted kind of strangely. He picked at a loose string in his overcoat, and I noticed when other patrons walked passed him he grabbed for the bottom edge of his shirt covering his belt. He rung it like a wet towel again and again until the other patron was out of sight. Real fidgety. He did it each time someone came close and I wondered if it was a nervous habit. Was he really that nervous for the battle tomorrow? Or, like me, did he fear killing his own kind too? I wouldn’t blame him if he was. About a half hour later, I’m still not entire sure when, he left as suddenly as he sat down. I didn’t even notice him leave until he was already long gone.

If I die tomorrow and this entry is my last I wish to say that, even after all this strife from living here on the surface, I don’t regret what I did. I don’t regret going against Council law and transforming Thraenor into a tempestan. I don’t regret being punished for my crimes, even if he wasn’t an imprisoned king locked with in my life crystal. I don’t regret being banished here. The surface dwellers are far from perfect, but there are many up here I’ve come to know and love. I don’t regret the choices and mistakes I’ve made along the way, for there’s no turning back now. Tomorrow everything changes.

Tomorrow I fight for the freedom of my city, for all of us in Almendra, and this whole dying dimension. If all goes according to plan, we’ll safely get Aldoraen to where he needs to be when the dimension collapses. But by the Queen, I hope all our efforts won’t be in vain.

Eightieth Day on the Surface

These past few days Sandstorm and the others gathered supplies for the upcoming battle. Mostly smoke sticks, psionic tattoos and healing items. Yesterday the army from Veseeld arrived shortly before noon. Their ranks seem comprised of mostly maenads, but there were humans too. I even recognized a couple low ranking Diamond Knights interspersed with them.

The half giants of Aradi showed up a few hours later, Sandstorm’s father leading them. The two armies joined the dromites and set up camp a mile or two outside Aimi. Later that night we discussed our battle plans with Sandstorm’s father and a some high ranking maenads, who all seemed to agree with the idea.

Thraenor returned from wherever he’d gone off to not long after the half giant’s arrival. When I asked where in the Abyss he’d been, he only said that he was away helping a friend.

Today, a couple hours after sunrise, over three thousand duergar rolled in. Amanmal was with them, who cheerfully greeted us on his arrival. Just as Cogline said, his axe-hand was no longer. Instead an intricate metal hand glistened in the sunlight. Sandstorm was the first to shake his new hand. “So, where are all your spiders?”

The Druid smirked. “They’re underground.”

At the very back they had their portal placed upon a wooden cart. About a hundred weary and sweat covered duergar worked together as one to move it along. They were still dragging it into town when the portal suddenly sprang to life. Some of the towns people began to panic, but the two Druids were upon it in an instant. Amanmal held up his new hand and before our eyes it morphed into an axe bigger than me. The two Druids held their ground, and waited for whoever or whatever was on the other side to pass through.

A lone unarmed gold dwarf stepped out with palms forward. One by one, more gold dwarves followed the first until nearly an army of them stood amongst their dark skinned brethren. Even more surprising, dozens of life elementals were among them. Unlike the one we’d encountered in the past, all of them were clothed in drab clothing. Probably as not to make the other surface dwellers feel uncomfortable. (Even now I still don’t understand these surface dweller’s need for clothes. Well, I do, but it’s silly. It’s been warm enough up here not to need any!) There were even some earth elementals.

“So we figured how to make some of them mobile.” One of the gold dwarves said to Amanmal.

The Druid furrowed his brow. “The gold dwarves?”

“Yeah, I mean your buddy here really helped us out.” The dwarf replied, gesturing to someone behind him. There stood Malazhar, smirking as he passed through the portal. Sandstorm sprinted up to his friend and hugged him tight. It was like he hadn’t seen him in ages, the way the half giant picked him up off the ground and almost embraced him like a mother mole would do with her baby. “So, you went back in time?”

“Back in time?” Malazhar replied, incredulous. “No, I just went over to where they’re at now. Over in the Great Rift. I’ve done it before, but I didn’t mean to go there this time. Kind of. I mean, Thorumak wanted me to go there.”

“I’m going to say this to you again,” Thomytix asked Sandstorm as he approached him and the yanki. “Who the fuck is Malazhar?”

“This asshole right here.” Sandstorm smirked, slapping his friend upside the head. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cehos lean over and whisper something in Cinna’s ear. Whatever he said must’ve been funny because it made her laugh into her hand.

While Sandstorm and Malazhar got reunited, Pe Ell and his group of drow unassumingly walked up to some of the life elementals. As they approached the life elementals’ usually happy demeanor became melancholy. He held out his hand and shook some of theirs. “Good to see you, brothers.”

My jaw dropped and I could only watch as Pe Ell, his drow, and the life elementals walked off into the forest to talk.


Later tonight, a few hours after the sun had set, Aldoraen burst open the doors to the inn, nearly ripping them off their hinges. He took a seat at an empty table near the back and barked at Cinna to get him a mug of ale.

“Someone’s angry.” Sandstorm mocked in a sing-song voice after the maenad finished downing his drink in a single gulp.

Fuck you.” Aldoraen hissed, glaring daggers at the half giant.

Sandstorm smirked. “Fuck you too.”

Before anyone could stop him Aldoraen rose to his feet and chucked his table at Sandstorm. But the half giant dodged getting hit with ease. In the blink of an eye he summoned his mind blade and sliced it clear in half before it even reached him. The whole inn fell silent, gawking at the two men.

“The fuck is going on here?” Cehos demanded. He cautiously grabbed an arrow from his quiver and cocked it in his bow just in case things got ugly.

“Don’t make me throw another one at you.” Aldoraen warned, dragging over the nearest vacant table to him.

“I’m used to this. I could do this all day.” Sandstorm chuckled, swinging his mind blade around a couple times before dismissing it. He pulled up a chair and leaned in towards the maenad. “I’m guessing you learned a bad secret?”

“No, I’m really pissed off that the other guy isn’t comin’.”

“He’s not?”

Aldoraen shook his head. “He doesn’t wanna come.”

“Because he doesn’t want to help fight?”

“No. It’s cause he’s an asshole, that’s why.”

“Well clearly.” The half giant rolled his eyes. He got up from his chair to grab another drink at the bar.

Thomytix whispered in the half giant’s ear. “Does this dude need a hug or something?”

Don’t hug ‘em. He’ll snap your head off.”

“Just give him some space, guys.” I chastised over my shoulder. I’m sure the poor guy had been through enough these past couple weeks.

Cinna emerged from the kitchen, hands full with piping hot food. She shot the two of them an odd look as she passed by. “People get killed over hugs now?”

“Well, he’s very angry and is trying really hard to contain it.”

After he’d calmed down somewhat (which still wasn’t all that much, considering) we told Aldoraen our plan. How we’re going to sneak into the Queen’s Court via a secret paseagway. How we’re going to get him out of our dimension. “Well I guess it’s the only thing we got.” He sighed after some time. “Hope it works. At least I can keep trudging on even if you guys don’t get me there.”

“Can’t be that hard. We have this thing now that prevents us from being mind controlled.”

“They can’t do it to me now anyways, so whatever.” Aldoraen mumbled.

“You want a cookie or something?” Cinna offered, reaching out to touch him on the shoulder. At the last minute she had second thoughts and lowered her hand. “We have some fresh ones in the back.”

“No.” Aldoraen glared at her. Cinna nodded sadly and hid behind the bar counter.

“How about a beer?” Sandstorm suggested.

Aldoraen raised his now empty mug and shook it. “I already drank one.”

“Well, what about a cigar?” The half giant took one of the cigars Amanmal had given him back at the Forge and held it out to Aldoraen. “This one’s a special kind of pipe weed. It’ll help calm you down.”

“No thanks. I’d rather just sit here for a while.”

“Alright.” Sandstorm shrugged, tucking the pipe into his pocket. “Your loss.”

The rest of the night before I returned to my room, thank the Queen, went with out incident. No more outbursts from Aldoraen for the time being. But I really must get to bed. The battle to reclaim Nefir and save this dimension draws ever closer.


The thri-kreen and xeph that had fled from the North weeks ago awoke all of Aimi sometime near midnight. I imagine there was about five thousand of them, and all looked positively terrified but relieved to be here.

“What happened?” Ishitari demanded of one of her kin, panic in her voice. “There were fifteen thousand of you when I left!”

“The Virathians have been covering our ass.” The other thri-kreen replied. “Right now the illithids are marching down from the sands.”

Sandstorm took one look at his dad, who stood beside him. “We’ve got to get our people down here, now.” The half giant didn’t think twice. He tapped the missive tattoo on his shoulder and after a few moments of tense silence relayed from his mother that the rest of the half giants were already fleeing Aradi with the help of the Virathians.

Queen preserve us all, we’re really heading into a war aren’t we?

Seventy-Eighth Day on the Surface

Early this morning I awoke to the sound of nearly three hundred dromite troops marching into Aimi, and about as many freed life crystals by their sides. Fire elementals made up most of the life crystals among them, but there was at least a handful of all four types. Yesterday afternoon Cogline had set up a canvas tent on the outskirts of town and invited us to a meeting with him and Voltun there. When we arrived mid-morning the Druid and the Consort were already there, waiting for us in full military regalia. Sandstorm stumbled inside groggily, still hung over from his heavy drinking the previous night. The others rubbed the tiredness from their eyes. I know I fought back a few yawns.

“Do you know how long until more troops arrive?” Cogline asked the Consort, seated in a chair near the back.

“I’d say about a day or two more until the duergar get here. Before we left they told us there’d be about three thousand of them.”

“Do you know how many half giants are coming?” Sandstorm piped in.

“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure.” Voltun apologized. “I only know how many duergar.”

“It’s fine, I can missive my dad about it later. He should know.”

“Now that we’re all here,” Cogline rose from his chair and summoned us around a small table with the map I’d drawn for him atop of it. “Could you show us where these secret entrances are?”

“Oh, yes. There’s a secret entrance right here.” Consort Voltun pointed to a spot near the center of the Power District. “It’s a few blocks North of the main road. The main road cuts through the middle of the district, and the entrance should pop out here.” His finger ghosted across the map to a location near the district’s northeast corner. “That one there is probably our best bet. The Market District has three secret entrances, there’s five entrances in the War District, and one in the Arts District.”

“And where are most of their troops going to be located?” Cehos circled around the table with his hands behind his back.

“I’m guessing at the four entrances into the city.” Sandstorm replied, plopping down onto the chair Cogline just vacated.

“Out of all the districts, they’re probably most highly fortified in the Market District.” Voltun continued. “They know we’re coming, plus it has all the food. So that one would be more fortified than the Power District. Much less important.”

I nodded. “Our mining operations are all that’s really in the Power District.”

Cehos briefly stopped circling the table. “Then that’s going to be a good place for us to go.”

“Yeah,” Sandstorm agreed, “Less troop concentration.”

“There’s still going to be a lot on the main roads.”

“There’s probably a lot at the entrance we’re coming in at.”

“Now, this kind of sucks, but the Queen’s Court has some cannons on it.” Voltun tapped the center of the map. “So they’re going to use those. They’re large range cannons, and have a firing range of about fifteen hundred feet.”

Damn.” Thomytix cursed quietly.

Sandstorm leaned forward. “So they’re going to use those, huh?”

“More than likely.” Voltun said gravely.

“These are the walls, but it’s an open cavern right?” Sandstorm asked, pointing to the outer edges of the city. Voltun and I nodded. “How tall is the Queen’s Court?”

“The Queen’s Court at its tallest reaches about fifty feet above the main outer walls.”

The half giant crossed his arms over his chest. “So they’re going to have field of fire on us.”

“And there’s a single cannon at the very top of the Queen’s Court, so that can hit pretty much anywhere. Our city was made for defensibility.”

“Maybe we can supply our own cannons?” Thomytix offered.

Voltun laughed a little. “Do you have a way to get them in there?”

“They probably won’t fit through the tunnel.” I added, shaking my head.

“Earth elementals.”

Voltun shot the half giant an odd look. “Earth elementals with cannons?”

“Not just that. Earth elementals with siege equipment, including ballistas and catapults.”

“We have catapults and ballistas.”

“We could tunnel them in, bury them in the front and fire, move around, un-bury and fire again.” Sandstorm explained.

“What we’re thinking though is to cut off those cannons, and have the earth elementals try to put up walls here.” Voltun pointed to an area just past the main walls. “Build the walls straight up to try to help block the cannon fire. Then the enemies have to concentrate on the wall and keeping the wall down rather than on our troops.”

“That’s actually a good idea.”

“I mean, the wall won’t be helpful for providing cover,” The Consort admitted, “But they’ll think we’re trying to provide cover and they’ll just keep trying to break it.”

“And it’ll keep our troops farther away from the cannons.” Sandstorm nodded agreeably. “But we’re only going to funnel in through one district? Not like through the War District or anything?”

“The War District is going to be a far distance away from where we’re entering in, and it’s not going to have much in terms of weaponry.”

“It’s probably already been moved out of the district.” I chimed in.

Cehos took a peek at the map. “So if we need to reach the secret entrance in the Power District, and with the long distance between the districts, we need to move fast.”

Sandstorm nodded. “Just get in and get mobile.”

“We probably don’t want to go to the main road. However, there’s a small road here.” The Consort gestured to a street close by the entrance to the district. “We already had road barricades there so there’s no way for them not to cross the main road, and they’re probably patrolling those roads. However, there is a sewer and a tunnel that can take us over there. Well, not exactly. It’ll take you about two blocks away from that secret entrance. So we can take the sewers to get there, but I just don’t like smelly things.”

“I agree with you on that.” I added, laughing.

Cehos furrowed his brow. “Well, at this rate we’re gonna have to deal with it.”

“Let the other troops deal with it, and you can hold the main line.” Sandstorm said to Voltun. “Concentrate on distracting them from where our real purposes are. Make them feel like we’re trying to take back the whole city.”

“We can still send a few dromites with you all.” Voltun offered.

“Remind me. What’s our real purpose in going to the Queen’s Court?” Cehos asked the Consort.

“I hear there’s some guy you’re supposed to get out of here?”

“Yep,” Cogline said dryly, “That’s Aldoraen. He’s supposed to be here today.”

“He’ll be here, just like Malazhar will.” Sandstorm assured him. “Gotta have faith.”

“To make them think we’re taking back the city,” Thomytix said, scrutinizing the map long and hard. “Shouldn’t we be taking the War District and empty that as a check point?”

“We can’t focus on that.” I shook my head. “The whole point is to get Aldoraen out of here.”

“I meant the main force, not us.” He clarified.

“Well, the main force is just going to be pushing at that point. How are they going to get anywhere, really?”

Cehos sat down on another chair across from Sandstorm. “What are our numbers?”

“They have so many more than us.” I sighed.

“So we should stay concentrated as much as we can.”

“We can use the the fire elementals.” Sandstorm suggested, looking expectantly at Voltun.

“That’s what they’ll expect us to do.”

Thomytix perked up. “Did you say fire elementals?”

“We have all four type of elementals. Air elementals, fire elementals, water elementals, earth elementals…” My voice trailed off.

“You’re a pyro.” Cehos spat, glaring at the elan standing across from him.

“Why yes I am a pyro.” Thomytix grinned proudly. “I went through a traumatic experience with it.”

Cehos slowly cocked an eyebrow. “How does that make you like fire?”

“I saved my friend from a burning building.”

Cinna snorted smugly. “Elans don’t have friends.”

“Some humanitarian you are.” Cehos added. He leaned forward in his chair. “This is why I hate elans.”

“Do you know if fire elementals can do ranged attacks?” Sandstorm asked Voltun, ignoring their banter.

The Consort’s smile widened. “My friend Veritos can. He’s pretty big.”

“How big is he?”

“He’s this big.” Voltun held out his hands to the half giant. As Sandstorm leaned in, a little fire elemental sparked to life on the Consort’s palms. Two beady eyes at the center of the flame gazed up at him.

The half giant snorted, leaning away. “So he’s a hand-sized fire elemental?”

“Well I don’t really want to go to my full size,” Veritos chirped, his voice high pitched. “Seeing as it would burn the whole place down.”

“Could you wholesale burn parts of the city?” Sandstorm asked the elemental with some hesitation. “Just as a distraction. Like, set the Market District on fire or something.”

“That sounds like a great plan.” The sarcasm was palliable in Cehos’ voice.

“I don’t know if I want to set the Market District on fire…” Vertios’ eyes darted off to the side. “Besides, most of the buildings are made of stone. It’s underground so there’s not very much wood to burn to begin with, and if we concentrate on all that fire we’re just going to get attacked.”

“Are any of the stones cracked?” Cinna wondered.

Voltun shrugged. “There might be now.”

“Let’s try to avoid damaging our city as much as we can…” I groaned. I hated to think what damage had already been done to Nefir, and this battle was only going to worsen it.

“It’s going to happen, Vilu.” Cehos snapped. I hung my head and shrunk away.

“And the point right now isn’t to take it back.” Sandstorm added.

“But eventually we do want to take back our city.” Voltun stared the half giant, his expression hard.

“Eventually. But who knows what they’d have done to the city by then.”

“But it’ll be easier to take back a city that’s crippled.” Cehos assured us.

“Not destroyed, but crippled.” Sandstorm clarified.

Cehos’ gaze went to Veritos. “They might’ve brought in things that are flammable though. Food, clothes, campsites…”

“They’re probably using our houses though, not flammable camp sites.” Voltun reasoned.

“Hm, we could use smoke though.” Sandstorm suggested. “So while the earth elementals are building the wall we can put up a smoke screen. It’s probably the first thing we should do before entering. Smoke screen the ever living hell out of it so by the time the smoke clears, there will be a wall, and our people firing shit, and they won’t know what to do.”

“So if Cogline can teleport us in here, why doesn’t he teleport a group up on to the cannons and destroy them?” A familiar voice said from behind. Holding open the tent’s flaps was Pe Ell. A few of his elite drow stood silently behind him. He came inside the tent and walked over by the Druid.

“If you guys can take them out, you should do it.”

“Well, honestly I think my group should be going with you.” Pe Ell’s eyes darted to his group waiting for him outside. “Less drow killing that way.”

“Gotta respect that.” Thomytix shrugged.

“It depends on how big of a group Cogline can take.”

“I can drain a lot of energy out of this.” Cogline replied, holding up his pendant once again for a brief moment. “From what I hear, the duergar are already bringing their portal up here.”

“I didn’t know the portal was mobile.” I exclaimed, incredulous.

The Druid laughed. “These are the duergar. They’ll make it mobile. And since yhey’re probably going to be our main fighting force, so we should discuss this with them. We should wrap this meeting up for now and wait a couple more days.”

Seventy-Seventh Day on the Surface

These past couple of days my leg has undergone quite an improvement. I can actually walk now, although it hurts to walk or stand for too long. That and I stumble around like some glower. The War Chef told me that although my limp will improve, my leg was too badly broken to fix it completely. I’m going to have a limp for the rest of my life.

Ishitari was in an out of consciousness the first day, but she’s since stabilized. Like me she can hobble across the room on her own. Thank the Queen none of the claw marks got infected…They were pretty nasty to begin with. Somehow we’ve healed up in the matter of days instead of weeks, thanks to the mostly human and maenad local healers. Many have come and gone during my stay so I don’t really remember any of their names. All except the War Chef and Cinna, who’ve both been here taking care of us since we arrived. Just yesterday the human man who owns the local healing pond, and the first surface dweller I’d met at the start of my banishment, stopped by to drop off some of his healing water. By the Queen, it’s not even been three months, but my first meeting with him felt like an eternity ago.

Thraenor stuck around for a few days keeping Ishitari and I company along with Socks, but I haven’t seen or heard from him since early yesterday morning. So far everyone I’ve asked doesn’t know where he is either.

“That dog cost me a door just the other day. As it turns out he actually didn’t fit through the window.” Cogline told me when he and the others came by to visit around mid afternoon. He sat down on the infirmary bed next to mine, scratching Socks behind the ear. "Anyways, it looks like there’s a war squad of dromites coming up to Aimi right now. There’s a pretty good sized band of duergar coming up behind them. The maenads have offered to help out, and of course the elans are coming too. The half giants are coming down from up North, the Mukra are headed over here…We’re pretty much going to have a huge army over here but we’re not going to be able to use all the armies that they’re sending.”

“Yeah, not everyone would fit.” I laughed to myself.

“The issue here is I’ve never actually been down there, so I don’t know much of anything about it.” Cogline looked at me expectantly. I nodded and ripped out a page from this journal. After sketching a quick map of Nefir and handed it to him.

He pulled up a small table between the two beds and placed the map down. “You all have any ideas for some good tactics?”

“Well, I assume where they have this hive mind casing is probably beneath the city in the mines themselves.” I began. “In particular, the life crystal mine by the portals. That’s the most likely place it would be.”

“It’s the most defendable?”

“Yes. It’s below the Queen’s Court, and there’s no way we can go inside the normal way because all the gates are sealed with psionics.” I tapped where I’d drawn the front gate into the Queen’s Court. “Only those inside the building can open them. But there are back ways into the Queen’s Court because both my parents and my sibling go into the Queen’s Court by other means.”

Cogline stroked his chin, contemplating. “Which way does the door on the surface come into the city?”

“The one we’re going through leads to here, in between the Market and Power districts.” I said, pointing to the Western entrance. “I believe most of these secret entrances are hidden in plain sight. Most likely the entrance Lika takes to get to the life crystal mine is by the normal entrances into the other sections of the mine, which is located in the Power District.”

“So, we enter in here, go North, and search up there?” Sandstorm asked, tracing a pathway from the Western entrance to the Power District. I nodded. “How many buildings are in the Power District?”

A lot. It was a city built to house ten thousand dromites.”

Cogline shook his head. “That door is gonna be a kill zone.”

“Yeah,” I sighed, “That’s going to be a huge problem.”

“We need lots of people in the area or some shit.” Sandstorm offered.

“What, you think they don’t have that themselves?” Cogline laughed bitterly. “They have a portal. They’re sending in drow and illithids en masse.”

Sandstorm’s eyebrows furrowed.“From our continent?”

Cogline gave him a look like he should already know. “From Osdon, to the North.”

“So, where’s the portal located?” Sandstorm asked, looking at the map again.

“I’ve already said that. It’s in the life crystal mine beneath the Queen’s Court.” I replied in frustration, furiously pointing to the Queen’s Court a few times.

Cogline leaned over to examine the map a bit closer. “It’s also a good place for a retreat if they have to do it.”

“I’m assuming they’ve found all the secret entrances?” Thomytix pondered.

“They might not have found all the secret entrances, but that’s where the portal is.” Cogline replied.

“And my parents would know of another location to get into there since they take a different route from Lika to go help take care of the hatchlings.”

“Are they coming down with the war party or I can missive them?” Sandstorm wondered, ghosting his hand over one of his tattoos.

I shot him a horrified look. “They’re hatchling caretakers, not warriors!”

“Well the chief war officer of the dromites, if I remember correctly, is the Consort.” Cogline reminded him. “So he probably would know everything.”

“Yeah, the Queen and the Consort know of all the locations into there.” I nodded.

Sandstorm moved his hand away from the missive tattoo. “So maybe we should wait for him to formulate a plan. Gotta keep the group small though, if it’s a one-person door way.”

“The doorway is probably four hundred feet wide,” Cogline reasoned, dragging his finger over the width of the Western entrance. “But even that can still be a kill zone if we’re all concentrated in one area.”

“Depends on how many casters we have to create our own kill zone,” Sandstorm smirked, “Cause they’re just sitting there waiting for us to come in and then beat the crap out of us. But we have to sneak past, which isn’t likely.”

Thomytix tried taking a closer peek at the map. “Is there a way to draw them out?”

“One of the things I was thinking of is that we could send in an assault. It’ll still be a kill zone, and we can have quite a bit of our forces in the front, but the duergar have a portal. And I can use it.” Cogline’s hand wrapped around the pendant hanging from his neck. Some of the purple light it emanated trickled through the spaces between his fingers.

“With out a cost?” Sandstorm asked, bewildered.

Cogline held up his strange necklace. “This is the cost.”

“What is that thing anyway?”

“A friend.” Cogline said, after a pause.

“Another Druid?” Sandstorm prodded.

Cogline shook his head. “Not exactly.”

Sandstorm put up his hands. “Alright, be mysterious.”

“It’s kind of my own business but…” Cogline’s voice trailed off. I saw a twinge of sadness in his eyes. For a moment I wondered if the person inside that necklace was Goru, but somehow from the look on his face I already knew.

“Well if it’s your own business I’m not gonna pry.” Sandstorm assured him, watching the older man slip the necklace back underneath his shirt. “So, uh, you’re gonna use the portal and drop them from behind?”

“Yes. Flank them from behind. It should divert some attention from the main door.”

“Good, some shock troops. Is it the shock troops you’re gonna drop us in with or…?”

“Well, it’s probably you guys who will be trying to sneak around.” Cogline stood up. “We have to get in Aldoraen, but I haven’t seen him in a long while.”

“I’m sure he’ll be on time, just like Malazhar. He’s coming back, dammit.”

“Who the fuck is Malazhar?” Thomytix blurted.

“Shut up! Apparently he’s my imaginary friend…” Sandstorm half-smiled. The rest of us couldn’t help but laugh along.

Thomytix clapped him on the shoulder. “And that’s what he’ll be until he shows up.”

“Damn right he’s going to show up and help.” Sandstorm grumbled.

“Amanmal. He’ll be helpful too.” Cogline added.

Yes!” The half giant exclaimed gleefully. “I want to see his axe again.”

Cogline raised an eyebrow. “His axe hand?”

“Yeah. Lost his hand closing the Shadow Vault and he crafted himself an axe hand.”

“At this point I don’t think that there’s going to be one anymore. I’m pretty sure he’s crafted his own new hand.”

“He’s quite the forge master. I’m sure he can help equip our army too.”

“Well, I guess we’ll plan out some more when more people get here.” Cogline sighed and rolled up the map, tucking it under his armpit. He left with out another word. The others stayed awhile longer to chat with Ishitari and I, until a healer came by and shooed them away so poor Ishitari could get some sleep.

Seventy-Fourth Day on the Surface

Our little rag tag group returned to Aimi shorty before noon. By then there was still no word Ishitari had survived our escape from that Abysmal hell hole in the swamp. While most of the others bought supplies at the market place, I scrounged all my energy into making correspond finally work in the fleeting hope she was alright.

“Ishitari, it’s me. Vilu. Are you alright?” I thought to myself for the upteenth time. But this time it felt right. Something clicked and there was a long pause. I gulped, fearing the worst.

“I’m alive.” She replied hoarsely.

“Oh, thank the Queen!” I sighed with relief, “Where are you?”

“Um, I see some trees around me.” She offered.

“Do you know if you’re in the Jerancer Woods?”

“Probably. I didn’t go that far South, really…”

“If you are, we can try and find you since we’re in Aimi now.”

“That might be good.” She agreed, some pain in her voice. “I can’t really move right now.”

“Yeah, we’ll go find you. Hang on.” I broke my meditation and looked around to see who was still at the inn. Cinna darted out from behind the bar serving a customer a drink. Sandstorm was busy downing his own. “Ishitari’s alive but she can’t move.” I said to them, “She’s in the woods somewhere, but we need to find her.”

“Do you know where in the woods?” Cinna raised an eyebrow.

I closed my eyes and used the power once more. “Ishitari, is there anything, any sort of identifier nearby that you can see?”

“I only recently came out of the swamp into the woods, and there’s a big door over here.”

“I know exactly where that is. We’ll be there soon.” My eyes snapped open. “She’s near the door into Nefir. None of you have been there, but I can guide you to where it is.”

“I can carry you there. Hold on.” Sandstorm not too gingerly picked me up from where I sat and threw me over his shoulder.

Cogline emerged from the forest and walked up to us just as we were about to leave. “So, what’s going on?”

“We know where Ishitari is and we’re going to bring her back to the town and heal her up. She’s injured.” Sandstorm replied.

“Before you go, did you get the thing I sent you for?” Cogline asked.

“Yes.” The half giant pulled the glowing item from his pocket.

Cogline snatched it from his fingers and tucked it away. “Alright. I can help you guys go get Ishitari.”

Sandstorm sprinted into the Jerancer woods at full speed, all while still carrying me. I told him a few times to slow down, but like he was going to listen to me. Cogline miraculously matched his speed, but instead of running along side the half giant he floated just above the ground. We found Ishitari leaning up against a mossy tree trunk, nearly passed out. Her lower left arm had been torn off, and her right leg was broken. Her body, coated in shallow scratches and festering claw marks, had dried blood all over.

“Ishitari, Thank the Queen you’re okay!”

“I’ve been better.” She smiled ironically, blood dripping from the corner of her mouth.

Sandstorm handed me over to Cogline before picking up Ishitari. He carefully swung her remaining left arm over his shoulder and let her lean her body weight against him. Colgine lead the three of us back to Aimi, and inside a building I hadn’t been to before. It must’ve been an infirmary of some sort because there were beds everywhere. When he opened up the door, the War Chef was inside waiting for us. “Come on in!” He grinned.

“Thank God. I could use a beer.” Sandstorm said as he plopped Ishitari down on the nearest bed.

“I can get you a beer while I’m healing these guys up.” The War Chef laughed. He told us both Ishitari and I would be staying here the next couple days while Cogline and the others prepare an invasion and, Queen guide us, take back Nefir. All of a sudden the door to the infirmary burst open. In came Socks, slobbery tongue hanging out and tail wagging. He bounded up to me and licked my face gleefully.

“Hm, I thought he wouldn’t fit through the window…” Cogline mused.

After thoroughly drenching my face in slobber Socks sniffed me all over. He ghosted over my injured leg and whimpered. He sat on his haunches, eyes on me. “Yeah, it’s pretty bad isn’t it boy?” I said, patting him on the head. “But I should be in good hands now.”

Socks whined and trotted over to Ishitari. He sniffed her a few times, nose flaring, before licking her too. “Oh, he’s furry like the Virathians!” She laughed as she stroked his back. Cogline left shortly after, while Sandstorm stayed awhile longer before eventually returning to the inn for a few drinks. Thraenor’s decided to remain with us, for tonight at least.

Seventy-Third Day on the Surface

We were all so exhausted from last night we didn’t bother waking up early. Sandstorm took the lead and guided us through the desert. Thraenor once again had to carry me through out the day. Damn busted leg. At least the pain is mostly gone now, as long as I avoid moving it.

“So, how much do you remember now?” I asked Thraenor in Auran. By then it was midday and the desert sun was blistering. “Everything?”

“Well, it’s still a bit fuzzy…” He admitted, “But mostly.”

“At least it’s better now than what it was before.”

“Yeah, I remember who I was now.” He mused, looking up at the sky. “A ruler, loved by many. I went into the crystals with much of the peoples of the four elements nearly four thousand years ago, if my timing is right.”

Four thousand years?” I squeaked. “By the Queen, you’ve been stuck inside those crystals that long?”

“Well, I don’t remember much directly.” He sighed, looking back down at me. “It could’ve been three thousand years, maybe even less. Can’t keep track of time well when there is nothing to base it off of.”

“I guess you’re right about that.” I shrugged. “I mean, Nefir and Osdon haven’t been around for even a thousand years yet. I can’t even imagine what that must’ve been like.”

“Boring, for sure. But we were able to talk to each other somewhat. At least, the more powerful ones could.”

“Really? So there are others as powerful as you?” My eyes widened in awe. “Other kings?”

“Yes.” He nodded. “One king and queen from each plane came through the crystals.”

“I sure hope that wasn’t all the rulers of the elemental planes…”

“No, there were three kingdoms in each plane when we left. I was one who decided to take initiative and go with my people.”

“I see.” I mused. “Well, at least the planes weren’t completely thrown into chaos when you all left.”

“No, they weren’t. Left a little barren of people, but not in chaos.”

“From what I gathered from my research the planes are still very empty.” I wiped away some of the sweat beads from my brow. I really don’t know how the half giants and the thri-kreen like it here.

“We reproduce using energy, which seems to be scarce these days.”

“I wonder if the dimension dying is partly to blame for that?”

“Unfortunately, it would seem so to me.”

“Still strange this place is even dying at all. I guess my people really did mess up thousands of years ago.”

“They didn’t know what they did. They most likely didn’t even expect the power of whatever they created. It did destroy them too, after all.”

“Tch, destroyed them to the point we have no record of this having happened. Well, at least from what Osdon and Nefir have. The Old City might’ve had something at one point but…” I sighed bitterly. “Everything was lost.”

“Yes, but there isn’t much that we can do about that other than look for the history and try not to make the same mistake again. We elementals may be able to help with preventing that.”

“You think so? How?”

“Well, since we don’t die, we can remember what happened and stop it in the future.”

“Yeah, that most certainly would help us in the future.” I laughed a little. “And to think I had a powerful King inside my Life Crystal this whole time.”

“Well,” Thraenor adjusted his hold on me so he held me in only one arm, “A powerful king for a powerful heart.” A smile tugged at his lips. I felt his finger tap my chest above heart.

“I’m not all that special.” I said, averting his gaze and blushing madly. Thank the Queen none of the others could understand us. I probably would’ve passed out from sheer embarrassment!

He shifted his arms so they were back as they were. “I think you are. You figured out about us, after all.”

“Yeah, and that got me banished.” I said, smiling broadly. “But it was still worth it in the end.”

Thraenor returned the grin. “I’m glad you think so.”

I nodded and looked off into the desert. I was silent for awhile before I said anything more. “I wonder how many Life Crystal mines are out there.”

“We aren’t sure. We just knew there were crystals, but weren’t sure where they were. Some elementals were able to make them look nicer in more recent years, but probably not all of them.”

“Make them look nicer?”

“With the portals to try to get people to go there, like in Osdon and Nefir.”

My gaze snapped back to him. “The elementals made the portals?!”

“Yes, but they didn’t have the time or power to let us out. That was about a thousand years ago or so. It was just some elementals that were summoned to this world. They went there, but they didn’t have long to fix it up. Maybe a few hours.”

“I’d imagine. I’ve heard a little about summoning extra-planar creatures.”

“Yeah, its pretty time limited.”

“So, why’d you all go into the crystals in the first place? Just to get here?”

“Mostly. Now that we are out, there is no time limit to be here. We didn’t expect the crystals would trap us. We thought we would use them to travel here to visit a new place, explore a bit.” He looked far ahead, off into the distance. “But that didn’t exactly work.”

“But now we know how to free the rest of you.” I reminded him, smiling.

“Yes, which is good.”

“Indeed. By the way, this has bothered me for awhile but…” I wrung my hands nervously, tripping over my words. “By using the portals between our cities were we unknowingly killing elementals? All the other portals I know of use some sort of sacrifice to work. I didn’t even know that was the case till we got to the surface.”

“No, of course not.” He said sharply. “The portals were using our excess energy, which we regenerate. The portals were usable less and less because you took the crystals away from the portals, not because you were killing us.”

“Oh, thank the Queen!” I sighed with relief. “I don’t know what I’d do with myself if we’d been killing elementals.”

“My people wouldn’t have made the portals if that was the case.”

“That is true. Ah, well now that worry is off my mind.”

Silence fell over us. I ended up falling asleep shortly after from the dry, energy-sucking heat. I woke up a few hours before we stopped for the night. Sandstorm said we’re a half day’s journey from Aimi now. As I write this I’m watching the sun set.

And Ishitari hasn’t found us yet.

I remembered reading somewhere about a power called correspond while we waited for supper. If I can find a way to use it, I could mentally communicate with Ishitari and find out where she is. That is, if she’s still alive. I pushed the thought away and concentrated on making the power work until it was time to eat. But it’s harder to do than I imagined! Post-dinner I’m too tired now to try doing it again. With some better luck maybe I’ll manifest the power tomorrow.

Seventy-Second Day on the Surface

Today was the day we finally escaped this horrible place. I’m still unable to walk, so Thraenor carried me around all day. After a meager breakfast Cehos led the way back to the small hallway we passed by yesterday. There to our left was a second door. Cehos looked positively ill so Ishitari examined the door in his place. She quietly opened it, hinges creaking softly. From the quick glimpse I got of the room, I saw a skeletal creature with multiple heads and wings sleeping at its center.

She looked over her shoulder and put her finger to her lips and shook her head. She backed away and silently closed the door. “We should move on.” She whispered.

“What, don’t think we could take it on?” Sandstorm chuckled.

She glared at the half giant. “Our group has multiple members in no condition to fight a creature like that. If we can avoid a confrontation in here, let’s do so.”

“Fine, fine.” Sandstorm sighed. “Let’s find the thing we came here for and get the hell out.”

We left the slumbering beast as it was and returned to the room we’d slept in. There Cehos suggested we follow through an unexplored door on the Eastern half of the room. Just as we opened the door, a thunderous crack shook the whole place. Some of the others swore.

The hoard of undead outside must’ve broken through the stone door.

We sprinted down the hallway to another room in hopes of getting as far away from the entrance as possible. Eerie purple light trickled out from beneath the door frame. By the Queen I hoped this was the last room we had to search through. Cehos approached cautiously, an arrow locked in his bow. He partially disappeared from view. The nearly silent whirr of an arrow and the roar of an angry owl bear told me we were not alone. Sandstorm went in after the red head, mind blade already drawn.

Thraenor flew me to the door where I could see better. By then Cehos had fired a couple more arrows and killed the first of three owl bears. Ishitari tumbled in and blasted a ray of light into the second about to lunge for Sandstorm. In a second the half giant’s mind blade tore through that same owl bear, nearly doing it in. Thraenor carried me inside, darting for one of the far corners to keep me at a distance away from the fight. As I prepared a power Cinna charged in, livid. Her fire ray slaughtered the second owl bear. My electric lance ready to fire, I struck the last of the beasts. It fell with a painful cry and did not rise again.

Sitting atop a large table at the center of the room was the object we came for. A brilliant ball of violet light bathed the whole place. Sandstorm unceremoniously shoved it inside our bag of holding. “So how the hell are we going to get out of here?”

“We need to get into a defensible position first,” Ishitari began, “Preferably the South side of the outer wall. You could use that pick of yours to break down the walls and escape.”

“Any other takers?” Sandstorm asked the lot of us. When no one else had any better plans he laughed a little. “Alright then let’s do it. It’s the best chance we got.”

Thraenor volunteered to find the best location where we could dig our way out. We returned to the room we’d slept in last night. There he gently sat me down on the floor and propped me up against a wall close to the others. He left silently through a Northern door and did not come back for some time.

“Follow me, I think I found something.” He beckoned hastily on his return.

Thraenor picked me up again and led us to the corner of a narrow, right-angled hallway situated right up against the outer wall. Siphoned off by a door at either end it was the ideal place to defend ourselves against the hoard. Cehos created a series of fire traps at both doors, designing them to detonate once they found us. While we waited I gave him my caltrops. I figured we needed all the delays we had at our disposal and it’s not like I’d used them at all since I took them from my basement several months ago. As Cehos occupied himself with making the traps, Sandstorm began to chip away at the outer wall.

Less than a half hour passed when I heard the low moan of hundreds of undead. Nails scratched on walls and wood. The whole building was amok with them. Doors a couple rooms over splintered apart. They were getting close. We all got in position. Minus Sandstorm, too preoccupied with digging our way out of here. The hallway was tall enough for Thraenor to keep me far out of reach above their clutching hands. We floated less than ten feet away from the Eastern door. I took a deep breath. If the traps failed I knew what I had to do next. I anticipated the worst.

Dozens of bodies launched at both doors almost simultaneously. In a split second Cehos’ first fire bomb tied to the Northern door exploded. The floor above us shook violently and for a moment I feared it might collapse all together. Chunks of stone the size of a person crumbled the door frame to bits, crushing a number of undead along with it. Even amongst the rubble I still heard more undead on their way.

“Good,” Ishitari grinned, “That’ll prevent any more from coming through there. For now at least.” Traps at the other end went off as well, but unlike the other door they were not enough to keep the horde from destroying the Eastern door.

“Now use your barrier!” Thraenor exclaimed. I nodded. He lowered me to the ground where I erected the first of three. While he hoisted me back up I tossed one my water vials at it. The more undead eliminated the better. A couple tense seconds ticked by. Dozens upon dozens of undead tried passing through it, zapped to death in moments. These barriers only last for so long. Just before the first one broke I created the second, combined with another water vile. Soon enough I’d made my third and final barrier.

“Here they come!” I cried, firing an electric bolt and another bottle.

Some of the zombies slipped passed me and shambled toward the others. Cehos’ arrows cut down three or four. Cinna’s fire ray took out the rest. But more flooded through the door frame just as soon as those were gone. I shot another bolt, along with my second to last water vile. A flash of light and Ishitari killed a half a dozen more. We retreated to where Sandstorm swung his pick again and again. A third bolt erupted from Twisted Thunder, and after tossing the last of my water vials into the face of a zombie, Thraenor and I flew over to join my friends. One last swing and a thunderous crack. The ruins shuddered. Faint light trickled in through Sandstorm’s self-made tunnel.

“Come on, this way!” He called over his shoulder before darting through the hole. Ishitari removed a small stone statue of a griffin buried in her knapsack. Once outside, she threw it at the ground and the beast within roared to life. It spread its wings wide and looked to its master expectantly.

Thomytix pointed his thumb at the creature. “So, who’s going first on this thing?”

“Going first?” Ishitari snorted. “Thomytix there’s no time for that. We have to get everyone out now. Sandstorm help me get him aboard.” His armor weighing him down, it took a couple seconds for the half giant and the thri-kreen to get Thomytix sitting atop the griffin.

“I can carry this one here.” Thraenor said, taking me in his right arm and scooping up Cinna in the other. His gaze shifted to the red head. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I can carry you too.”

“It’s okay, I can get out of here myself.” Cehos grinned and rose a couple feet in the air.

Sandstorm jumped onto the griffin’s back and held out his hand to Ishitari. “Okay, now it’s your turn.”

She shook her head and pushed away his hand. “The griffin can’t carry all three of us. It wouldn’t even be able to fly with our combined weight.”

Sandstorm’s face paled. “No, Ishitari. Not again. We nearly lost you the last time!”

“I have the best chance of getting away from the undead and you know it.” She reasoned, shouting over the roar of the hoard. “I can jump farther than any of you can run, and most of them can’t even hurt me.”

“Fine,” The half giant spat. “Just go. Get out of here before more of ’em reach us.”

“Wait, Ishitari take these!” I cried, grabbing hold of her. One of my tattoos of distract and my last vigor tattoo sprung to life and jumped down from my shoulder to her forearm.

“Thank you.” She smiled, “I might need those. Go West into the Thak Desert, it’s the quickest way out. I’ll see you all in Aimi!” Ishitari smacked the griffin on the rear and it launched into the air. She waved to us and was on her way, disappearing into mists of the swamp in the matter of seconds.

Thraenor rose higher and higher away from the ruins, his grip tight around Cinna and I. A bit slower than the elemental, Cehos lagged behind by a dozen feet. Thank the Queen the massive swarm of undead funneled in at the entrance and only a sparse collection of them stood by where we’d broken out. The whirlpool at the center of the brooding lake spun faster and faster. The watery vortex whipped around till I could see the bottom. A pile of bones rose from the depths, taking shape into a colossal creature so massive it dwarfed the old ruins. A tight embrace of flesh and sinew weaved around the bones. Last came sickly orange scales that shone in the dim light of the approaching dawn. Twin horns pierced the back of its head.

The monster’s eyes fluttered open, its moss green eyes finding us in the dark. It roared and rose from the lake. Its quarter-mile long tail trashed about, uprooting trees from the soil like a person would bat away a mosquito. It turned towards us and roared again. Its tail sliced through the ruins as if butter, leveling the place to rubble.

Fearing he was too slow in the air Cehos dropped down into the swamp and sprinted for dear life. He managed to keep up with us for awhile. The griffin had sped away far into the distance, so it was only Thraenor, Cinna and I who stayed behind. I heard a yelp and Thraenor zipped down into the forested nightmare. Cehos’ foot had gotten stuck in the mire. Thraenor adjusted his hold on me and managed extend his hand far enough so the red head could grab it. Two tugs and Cehos was freed. He rose into the air once more, wiping away the mud on his boot.

The earth beneath us shook like a leaf in the wind. Whatever the beast was, it was gaining on us fast. We sped into the night. Ten tense minutes passed before I dared look back. The reptilian monster ceased its chase, changing its direction far to the East. I’d never seen such a thing in all my life. What power! I hadn’t even a clue what it could be from all my years of research!

“What in the Abyss is that thing?” I wondered aloud.

“It’s the tarrasque.” Cehos answered. “Strange. There’s only one in the world and its practically unkillable. Somehow someone somewhere must’ve recently killed it and it so happened to regenerate in that pool.”

“It regenerates?” I exclaimed, incredulous. “By the Queen…” That was the last anyone spoke until we reached the outskirts of the Thak Desert. I don’t think I’ve ever been this glad to see sand. We didn’t bother cooking any food and most of the others are sleeping already. No sight of Ishitari yet. I fear she won’t be as lucky this time around.

Seventy-First Day on the Surface

This place is so silent it’s giving me the creeps. Even in abandoned buildings there should be some rustlings and bustlings, but here there’s nothing. I’m not the only one bothered by the deafening silence. Sandstorm has been smoking some of his cigars since this morning to calm his nerves. After breakfast we moved on through a door to the South. The room beyond was dark. I vaguely could make out a circle of pillars near the back.

On the Eastern wall written in charcoal were the words “Mind the gaps.”

Cehos entered the room and told us not to follow until he’d searched the place. Sandstorm completely ignored his order and followed shortly after the red head. Cinna took a peek but didn’t enter. Thomytix handed me one of his lit torches so I could see better in the darkness. Thomytix took a step inward, illuminating the shadowed room. To my surprise actual shadows darted away, scattered by the light of our torches. The rest of us quickly filed inside, weapons and powers ready. We had to help Cehos.

Cehos, finally noticing what was around us, dashed back to the door. He fired an arrow at a shadow off to his right but missed by a long shot. Ishitari blasted a light ray into the face of another, killing it instantly. I fired a bolt of electricity at two more of the shadows, slaying both. Two others shrieked at the deaths of the others and were upon me. They swiped at me with their incorporeal hands but I managed to dodge out of the way. More of the shadows attacked the others but I don’t think any of them were hurt.

Cinna killed a shadow with a ray of electricity. Sandstorm swung but missed slicing a second shadow. I saw Thomytix’s scythe go flying past the shadow about to attack him. Cehos’ arrows made their mark and pierced the chest of one of the beasts. Ishitari destroyed two more, swords flying. I summoned a second electricity lance, killing another shadow.

And then one of them was upon me. I felt some of my strength leave my body. I cursed to myself. My strength had been returning to me somewhat since our run in with the hags, but now I was nearly back to where I was before. Another one of the shadows surrounded Sandstorm. Before it could attack him, Cinna struck it with another ray. While she did so Sandstorm’s mind blade swung wide it but missed. Thomytix too missed once more. Cehos finally finished off the one around Sandstorm, an arrow striking it in the back. Ishitari slayed the last of the shadows, the same one that had attacked me.

“What’s over there?” Thomytix asked.

“I don’t know, but be careful.” Cehos replied. “The wall does say ‘mind the gaps’.”

The elan shrugged and tossed his torch at the pillars, revealing piles and piles coins hidden behind them. Still afraid of possible traps between the gaps, we had Thraeor float over the pillars to retrieve the treasure. Among the coins was a plain bag, but Cehos suspected it was something more. He cautiously dropped in a single copper piece. It didn’t hit the bottom.

“I want this.” He said.

“No, we don’t trust rogues.” Sandstorm grumbled, snatching it from his hands.

“I’m a lurk not a rogue. We’re more battle-oriented than them.”

“I don’t care. I don’t trust rogues, Malazhar doesn’t trust rogues…where the fuck is Malazhar!” The half giant shook his head. “We’re going to use this as our new group bag of holding, and that’s that.” For a moment Cehos was going to contest Sandstorm’s claim, but not wanting to devolve into an argument in the midst of such a dangerous place the red head gave in. Although that didn’t stop him from scowling.

“We should camp for the day.” Sandstorm suggested as he transported items from our current bag of holding into the much larger new one.

Ishitari shook her head. “No, we should keep moving. Get what we came for, and get out of here.”

“Fair enough.” Sandstorm shrugged half-heartedly once he’d finished. “I’m really not liking the feeling of this place.”

“You and me both.” Thomytix chuckled.

The next room over was small and cramped, occupied by a long forgotten pile of armored skeletons. Weapons of all kinds jutted out of bleached rib cages and skulls. I wondered how long they’d been there like that. Were they bodies of poor gold dwarves who perished eight hundred years ago when the bomb dropped?

The lurk must’ve not liked the looks of it because Cehos stared transfixed at the bodies. When asked he refused to enter. I couldn’t blame him. I felt the same way. Something felt off kilter. Cinna volunteered to go in his place. She cautiously tip toed inside and poked the nearest skull with the butt of her spear. Nothing. She prodded it again and still nothing. Cehos hastily pulled her away before she wandered in farther.

“Hang on, let me go in. I’ll see what I can find.” Ishitari trotted past the skeletons and turned around to face us. She stood silent, mulling over something. “I know what’s wrong with this place.” she said after a time, “Listen.”

It was quiet at first. Hardly louder than the sound of my own breathing. The noises arose like a monster coming awake after a long slumber. A cold chill raced down my spine. We’re going to die here. The voices whispered. We have to get out or we will perish. Thomytix lit a torch and chucked it at the bodies. Ishitari passed back through the threshold just moments before the torch struck the floor. The burst of light illuminated six shadows that been hidden by the darkness. They shrieked and shrunk away from the torch. But the light did not deter them. Gnarled bony fingers pointed accusingly at us. You’re all going to die.

Then they came at us, their movement kicking up decades-old dust and debris. They swarmed us in an instant, cutting off any means of escape. These shadows were not like the ones we’d encountered the next room over. No. These were twisted creatures vaguely in humanoid form. The other shadows were clearly ethereal in nature, but this lot I could not see through. Like the other shadows, these undead were cloaked in misty robes darker than the deepest mine shaft beneath Nefir. I heard one creep up behind me slowly nearly silent as a tomb. I turned on my heel, a power set to strike. I looked up into the twisted face of a dwarf that looked haunted. Distorted. Full of pain. A tortured soul driven mad over hundreds of years.

And that’s when my mind went dark.


A robed figure in dirty tattered clothes cackled, their glittering crimson eyes the only source of light in the darkness. The figure held me captive by both my wrists, dragging me along the cold stone floor towards my certain doom. Their hands burned like acid on my skin. Their breath ice on my face. An insidious ebony fog whirled all around us.

Let me go! I screamed, squirming to get free. I kicked the figure in the face.

Dre didn’t even flinch and chuckled You’re coming with me, little one.

No, no! I wrenched my left arm free from my captor’s iron grip and whacked them across the face. I hit the figure again. And again. And again. And again. Each punch more frantic than the last. The figure never recoiled from my blows, never dodged, never cried out in pain. They only laughed at me. A hideous laugh that mocked me and beat me down more than any injury ever could.

There’s nothing you can do. It hissed, grabbing me by the throat. The figure lifted me off the ground and pulled me close. I felt its damp lips pressed against my ear. You see, now you’re mine!


“Vilu, Vilu it’s me! It’s alright! Vilu, please come back to me!” A familiar voice pleaded. The darkness lifted from my eyes and I saw Thraenor staring down at me. The worry and fear in drer’s eyes was so intense it made me shiver. Thraenor held me tightly in drers arms to the point Thraenor’s nails dug into my skin. None of the others were around us, but they were somewhere close by. From behind me came Sandstorm’s battle cry and a sword slicing through something.

“Thraenor, what’s going on?” I asked, voice cracking. I blinked to clear my throbbing head. My mind felt hazy. In a deep fog. I gasped. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but Thraenor’s face and arms were covered in bruises and shallow cuts. Droplets of violet blood dripped off Thraenor’s nose. Its electrical charge stung when it hit my forehead.

“What in the Abyss happened to your face?” My breath caught in my throat. I felt the weight of a sharp, spherical object pressed against the inside of my fist. My voice lowered to a horrified whisper. “Why is there a rock in my hand?”

My vision darkened again before Thraenor could answer me.


“Oh no. Oh no. Gods, what do we do? What do we do?!”

My eyes fluttered open and it was like I hadn’t opened them at all. The only thing I could see was darkness. I felt cold stone beneath me and Thraenor’s hand touch my shoulder every once and awhile. Dre darted all around me, terrified of something. That’s when I winced and lay down on my side. Utter agony shot through my lower left leg. Tears streaked my cheeks, doubled over from the pain. It was like nothing I’d felt before. My whole leg ached and burned. When I tried moving it I nearly passed out again.

“Thraenor, where are we?” I half-demanded. I managed to get myself back into a sitting position through gritted teeth. “S-something’s wrong with my leg.”

“I don’t know…” Thraenor lamented, flying just over head. “Do you have any bandages?”

“No,” I wailed, grabbing my knee with both my hands. It was wet. “Cinna’s the one who has those.”

“Well, what about paper?” Dre was beside my leg, drer’s hand on my thigh. Thraenor’s voice a little less panicky. “Do you have that?”

“I could tear out a few pages from my journal…” Warm liquid had soaked my palms and was seeping out from between my fingers. I choked down the panic rising in my throat and patted the ground around me for my misplaced backpack. Thank the Queen it was with in reach.

Thraenor rose above me once more. “And a torch? Do you have a torch?”

“I don’t have one of those either.” I sighed. The one Thomytix had given me earlier was long gone. “I must’ve dropped it, but I have candles.”

I rummaged desperately through my backpack, searching blindly until I felt the waxy surface of one of my candles. I placed it down between my legs, keeping it upright using my thighs. I dug my hand into the front pocket of my bag and grabbed my flint and steel. My hands shook violently. I was terrified of what I might find when there was light. I shakily struck the two together. The spark blinded me for a moment but I got it to my candle before I lost it.

I nearly dropped my flint and steel. My shin was shattered. Splintered bone had sliced through my skin and I was bleeding everywhere. It was broken clear in half, and the broken end stuck out by an inch at least.

I took a couple deep breaths, trying to calm myself. Why had this happened? How could I have broken it? I wiped away some tears with the back of my hand. I picked up the candle and held it up. Even with its nearly thirty foot radius I could not see the the ceiling. Had Thraenor somehow dropped me?

I didn’t know it had the time, but that’s when I began to scream. My chest heaved from my panicked sobs. Where were the others?

All my attention snapped back to my busted leg. I yelped as Thraenor grabbed a hold of it. Thraenor’s face was at level with mine, drer’s eyes no longer the two yellow halves of my Life Crystal. Instead staring back at me were two glowing red orbs. Thraenor’s grip tightened. Intense pain raced through my leg and I screamed again, fighting back fresh tears. In an instant most of the pain was gone and Thraenor let go. I looked down and no longer saw bones. Somehow dre had shoved it back in. Although the nasty gash remained. Thraenor shakily backed away from me, swaying two and fro almost like a glower would. Just before dre receded into the black beyond the light of my candle Thraenor’s eyes rolled into the back of drer’s head and dre crashed to the floor.

“Vilu, are you alright?” Torchlight burst through a door to my left. It was Sandstorm, Thomytix and Ishitari. Thomytix’s face had been bashed in a few times, all bruised and swollen. Ishitari’s chest was singed. She looked worse for wear.

“I broke my leg.” I replied, wincing when I tried to sit up.

Sandstorm knelt beside me and pulled out a jug of his healing water. He yanked off the cork with his teeth and gently poured it over my still open wound. It stung a little, but my leg felt considerably better when he was done.

Thraenor lay there motionless the whole time. The others protested, but I managed to drag myself to Thraenor’s side. I fought the new onslaught of pain that it caused, but I didn’t care. Thraenor needed me. I rolled Thraenor onto drer’s back and cradled Thraenor’s head. “Thraenor!” I said softly, brushing away some of the dried blood on drer’s face. “Thraenor are you there?”

Right then Thraenor’s body disintegrated and turned to mist in my hands. Clouds as dark as night slipped through my fingers. The mists coalesced together. They rose higher and higher, reaching for the ceiling. At the very center of the billowing mass were two crimson eyes. A single word shook the ancient walls around us.


The dark clouds solidified and took a vaguely humanoid shape. First came his legs and torso. As they took form his arms extended outward; a friend expecting an embrace. Like the life elemental we’d met some time ago, two pointed ears jutted out from the sides of his head. Suspended just below each ear lobe like a pair of earrings were the broken halves of his life crystal. They no longer shone yellow, but instead had returned to their original see-through state. Those brilliant eyes shone like coal. Thraenor, now a few feet taller than me, lowered his arms and looked down at us, smiling. “Ah, I remember now.”

“What are you?” Thomytix said after a pause, dumbfounded.

Thraenor’s smile widened and he pointed to his head. Electricity shot from his fingertips and encased him in a glimmering crown of blue lightening. “I’m Thraenor, King of the Thunder Realm!”

I wiped away a few more tears, but these were tears of joy. So it finally happened. Thraenor’s true form has finally been set free…and he still remembers me! He floated back down beside me, his feet hovering just inches above the floor.

“Where are Cinna and Cehos?” I asked Sandstorm while Ishitari placed my leg in a splint.

He shrugged. “Don’t know. We heard you screamin’ so we came running this way. Once Ishitari’s done here we’re gonna go find them.”

“It’s not the best splint, but it’ll have to do until we find the others.” Ishitari said when she was finished. Thraenor knelt down and gently lifted me up by the backs of my knees and shoulders, careful not move my leg too much.

The others led the way back to the room with the strange pit and fire place. Somehow the fire place had been reduced to rubble. We passed by the room where I remember last seeing them, but they weren’t there. We found another door and passed through a small hallway. On the other side of the door we heard muttering. Ishitari carefully opened it and there they were. I saw blood pooled beneath Cinna’s right leg, which was covered in multiple stab wounds. A bloodied dagger lay by her side. Cehos tried wrapping the wounds with some bandages, but it wasn’t doing much. If anything Cinna was doing more of the work.

Ishitari ran over to them and finished patching her up. “We should rest.” She said tiredly over her shoulder.

Cinna shakily rose to her feet, leaning against Cehos for support. “What happened to Vilu?” Cehos asked, “And is that Thraenor?”

I smiled ironically. “I, uh, somehow broke my leg…but this is Thraenor’s true form!”

Cinna shrugged and hobbled over to Thraenor and I. “Looks like your splint could use some work.” With Ishitari’s help, Cinna finished splinting up my leg for the night. She told me it still wasn’t the best, but it had to do until we could find a way out of here. After dinner Thraenor helped me get into my sleeping roll. For now the pain has mostly subsided. Hopefully it shouldn’t wake me when I sleep. Everyone else looks beaten and exhausted and are getting ready for bed themselves.

I still can’t believe it. Thraenor is finally free! For good! I’ve waited all my life for this moment, but I never expected it to turn out this way. It’s almost comical, really. How today went…

At dinner the others gave me a glimpse of what happened earlier. The things that attacked us were allips, and they made Cinna and I go insane for awhile. Sandstorm mentioned something about Thomytix, Cehos and Thraenor losing it too. In the midst of the fight Cehos, Cinna, Thraenor and I got separated from them. The only reason Thomytix didn’t get away too was because Sandstorm “punched some sense” back into the elan. (It sure would explain why his face looked the way it did.)

Well, I best be getting some shut eye. We still need to find that item Cogline sent us here for. I wonder how much more we have to go through until we find it?


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