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Bright Spots in the Dark

Rosorc’s Journal

As we trudged forward towards the mountain a quick two hours passed. Not feeling very cheerful, I started to hum quietly to myself. An old song my mother had sung to me as a babe; “Gold and Silver...Diamonds and Gems...Steel and Mirthril...All bring a Dwarf’s heart to mend...Spiced Potatoes and Heaps of Meat......Sour Cheese and Thick Heavy Bread...Spirits by the Bottle and Hearty Ale”, oh, so thick and frothy, “by the Keg...”.

Not able to wait any longer I took a good swig from my flask; watery or not it helped take the edge off. As I was replacing my flask I noticed a short, black, and horned being running our way with a war fork. Immediately, I pulled my axe and shield into a defensive position. Edging a little in front of Theona, the goddess of ale (Does she always glow that way? Or is it the red sky that makes her cheeks so full and vibrant?).

On cue, breaking my inner musings, Tassar yelled out his name and that he was sure the vile beast had heard of him. Amazingly enough the beast dropped to the ground shivering. Fearing foul play I pulled my shield above my head and took a knee. I really didn’t want to be suprised an attack from above. Seeing one was not coming the party and I slowly approached the beast.

By my arrival, Tassar had already acquired the war fork, in what seemed to be some sort of strange trade for a mace he had been carrying. William was asking whether the little beast spoke common. In broken common it wimpered out, “A little. My name is Hixtali.” Finding communication was possible we all took turns asking him questions about the local area, portals, and directions.

Sensing Theona had procured our needed information we decided to let Hixtali lead us to an “Evil” mage’s lair who supposedly could help us. So smart and worldly.... Oh, back to where I was, we headed out.

After traveling a short while we reached some sort of disgusting, putrid red river. Walking up the bank a little Hixtali said it would be safe for us to cross here, waded out, and crossed in a short amount of time unharmed. For a short while of the 200 foot expanse all we could see of him was the top of his head. Realizing I was tall enough to cross the river I headed out. Disgusting as it was, the less thinking about it the better, I thought. Poor Theona really didn’t like the idea. Nor did Deitricha who had placed Tassar on her shoulder to help him as he would have surely drowned before he had crossed. As we forded across Dietricha gave out a terrible yelp and started to run.

“Something has grabbed onto my legs,” she hollered. Upon those words we all ran for the other side. When she staggered out of the river she dropped Tassar and stumbled to the ground. Two large blood leeches were attached to her legs. Quickly, Areon and Theona helped remove them. One wriggled back into the river but the other was slain by Tassar as it hit the ground. Luckily Deitricha was strong enough yet to heal herself. As she did I could swear I saw a white pillar of light faintly shoot into the sky directly above her. I hoped I was seeing things. Strongly wishing I had been, I didn’t bring mention it to the group.

While Deitricha gathered her strength we all took a moment to clean our weapons and ourselves to the best of our ability. I handed Theona a water flask to aid in her struggles. She shot me a gleaming smile and said, “Thanks”.... Stroking my beard I nodded and walked away smiling. I barely caught the curt look shot my way by Areon. Wonder what that was about?

We quickly got back on our way. Miles passed and soon we were at our destination. A large cave loomed before us. The entrance was dark and ominous.

Upon arrival, Hixtali stopped dead in his tracks and refused to go any farther. Looking upon the ground I could see why. Hundreds of sets of demon bones and skulls lay strewn about the ground in front of it. Seems we may like this “Evil” mage after all. Upon orders from Tassar, Hixtali agreed to wait for us out here. Feeling it may help bring a little loyalty, I threw the little beast a hunk of dried meat out of my pack. The way he devoured it you’d have thought he had never eaten before.

As I turned, William was already walking into the cave yelling,”Hello...Hello... Is anyone in there?” Immediately any form of suprise was gone. If looks could have killed poor William would have dropped on the spot. Tassar, Areon, and I followed him in first, followed by the ladies.

Inside the cave was an old, small, wooden hut. Right down to a front door and shutters on the windows. This seemed really out of place. Made even more eerie by another large batch of demon bones and skulls littering the ground around it. Not sensing his earlier stares of death William walked right up to the door and knocked, asking,”Is anyone here? We are here to see the mage.”

As the door started to creak open I don’t know where most of the arrows, slings, and crossbows were pointing - at William’s back or the slowly opening door. I thought I had problems with that worldly thing, he definitely takes the keg! I now know I have been trumped in this department, hands down.

Staggering back from the door William looked shocked as a large, flying disembodied eye levitated through the door and asked what we wanted. Stuttering he asked,”If we could meet with the mage.” Shortly after that the eye disappeared and a wild eyed half elf appeared in its place. She stated curtly,”Welcome, my name is Hexla, Won’t you come in?” Upon which she turned her back to us and headed inside her home. Leaving the door open for us to follow. Lowering our weapons, exchanging quizzical glances, we all followed her in.

The interior was sparsley furnished. Mostly shelves and tables. Books, tubes, pots, beakers, and other oddities lined them. There was a large bed in one corner and a table with a mixture of stools and chairs around it in the center of the room. Shortly after the general pleasantries of meeting someone new were exchanged, Tassar piped up, “Do you have any ale?” She smiled politely and brought him a large mug of what appeared to be some sort of thick, red liquid. He nodded and tossed a gulp down. Seeing his eyes cross and face flush I quickly realized that wasn’t the ale for me. Did I just say that? Clangeddin forgive me!

As the rest of the group discussed our predicament with Hexla, Tassar started playing with some demon skulls in one corner of the room. Talking to himself and definitley feeling no pain. Two more draughts and he feel asleep on the floor where he sat. Snoring loudly. Very loudly.

Hexla said that she could help us but she would need a pair of silver eyes for the spell. Luckily for us William had a pair in his head. Seems he took objection though. He said,”I need them to see.” That is when Theona told William she was pretty sure they would grow back. William just didn’t seem to agree with her on this. So he offered his sliver hair in their place.

Hexla agreed she could use the silver hair for something else she was working on. Then offered the information we needed to start looking for a portal home in exchange. Quickly she sheared Williams head, placing the hair in a small sack, and then sat down at the table. Following suit the lot of us minus Tassar, who some how wound up sleeping on the mage’s bed of all places, and listened to her words.

She said that she didn’t have the exact info but knew of a place we could find it. She told us of a Pillar of Skulls that reached far into the sky. That we could find the info there. She then drew us a small map. At this point we had thanked her and were standing. William stated he would return and offer up his eyes if all of our other endeavors to return home failed. Hexla’s eyes lit up at this. Seems she had been stuck here a long time and wanted to return home herself, very badly.

Upon rising Theona asked Hexla,”Do you have any potions of read magic?” She said yes and then they haggled price. Seems Theona wanted two and that the final price was a hundred gold. I offered up my last large stash of treasure, a big hunk of amber. It was enough to close the deal. Upon recieving the potions Theona asked Hexla to drink one first. Seems Theona really has some of that worldy stuff I have been looking for. Hexla quickly drank hers, followed by Theona. After a short period of time Theona said she had to read a spell book she found before we crossed into hell. Seeming pleased she placed it back in her pack. She then thanked Hexla.

We had started for the door when William walked over and picked Tassar up off the bed. Throwing him over his shoulder we took our leave. Walking out of the cave we found that Hixtali had deserted us, probably as quick as we turned our backs.

Starting down the hill I glanced at William. He looked terrible, even for in hell. Covered in dried blood, his head recently sheared, and Tassar had just purged his innards down his back, I still had to have a good thought for him. He seemed sincere in his offer to come back and offer up his eyes to take us home if all else failed. Seems he possesses a strength I hadn’t seen to that point yet.

After a quick direction check we headed off toward the Pillar of Skulls, closely skirting the River of Blood. After we had traveled a while we heard a terrible clattering noise. We could see in the distance, a squad of twenty large, bluish, demonic looking dwarves in heavy armor. Seems they were after something as they were in full doubletime. Everyone yelled to hide. Almost everyone but myself found a large enough boulder to get behind. Seems I stood out like a sore thumb. Theona got my attention and threw me a potion. Through hand signals and whispering she bade me to drink it. Knowing it was from Theona, goddess of ale, I threw it back in one gulp.

Then a fuzzy feeling hit my gullet. Then I couldn’t see my hands. Heck I couldn’t see any of me. I think I yelped out. Luckily the squad of demons were making so much noise that they didn’t hear me. Once again, the fair lady had saved my day.

We waited patiently for the creatures to be way out of sight before we rose to our feet. Luckily by then I could see myself. From Theona or not I don’t think I like potions... Now a thick and frothy ale, that would hit the spot...

A few moments passed of watching behind us for any signs of the strange and threatening beings to return, and then we were back on the trail following the directions given to us by the Mage Hexla. We hadn’t traveled long when Tassar recovered from his stupor and took to foot himself. Luckily for William as the load was clearly wearing on him. At first he staggered a bit but then after a time he seemed to fully recover. At least I think so. The chatter was definitely back along with the halfling bounce in his step.

We could see the Pillar of Skulls way before we were there. It rose for miles into the sky. The closer we got to it the louder the noise of voices that rose from it. They were deafening by the time we reached its base. All trying to shout at us at once. Then all shouting at each other to shut up so they could speak. It was incredible in a horrible kind of way. So many differant races were present. Some I knew and some I had never seen before. Thanks to Clangeddin I won’t be here I thought. As I was already peering upwards I could have sworn I saw that white pillar of light above me this time. Guess I better watch what I think.

By the time I refocused on the world around me the others were already in full banter with some of the skulls. Three in particular argued back in forth. The largest obviously from an Ogre claimed to know what we wanted but he wanted one of our companions in exchange. Deciding this was a non issue we listend to the second and his request.

“I will tell you what I want if you bring me a fiend,” he cried. This being a little more appropriate we gave thought. Then an elf skull turned to Theona and said,”Remove the large mouthy one from the pillar and I will tell you what you want.” Sensing this was our best deal I quickly grabbed my axe and charged forward. I bashed and bashed until the Ogre skull fell to the ground. Seeing what I was doing, Tassar stopped pouring that horrible red ale into different skulls’ mouths and came to help me.

He kicked it a couple of times trying to shut it up, but it wouldn’t stop yelling. So he threw it into the Blood River which ran close by. The loud mouthy one finally silenced, the Elven skull answered all of the questions we asked. He gave us directions to a known portal on the plains. He then said we would need a key to open it. A red brick from the Avernus Road leaving Lord Bel’s Keep. Seems he is the ruler of this level of hell and the bricks in his road are quite magical.

After brief description we realized we would be skirting that ominous keep we had first seen when we arrived. It also meant we would have to cross that dreaded river again. After a few more minutes of listening to the other skulls shriek the Elven skull regained control and told us of a bridge to the south that we may cross instead of fording the river again. Though he warned it was heavily guarded.

All along our conversation, the second skull that had wanted a fiend as payment for his knowledge, kept saying the elf was lying. Throwing out his own directions and crazy statements of what we would need to open the portal. Finally Theona asked the Elven skull why he was here. He told a sad tale of a life as a merchant going terribly wrong some where along the way. This was enough to satisfy her so it was enough to satisfy the rest of us.

We turned our backs to the Pillar of Skulls and moved a short distance away so we could here each other better. After much discussion we headed down river to try our luck at the bridge.

When we arrived it was apparent we weren’t crossing here. Huge and made of bones, the bridge was covered with several different types of fiends, both winged and on foot, large and small, there was no way to sneak across. By the looks of them there was also no way to fight our way across. Even Tassar’s,”We can take ‘em”, statement rang hollow. Disappointed, we headed back to the crossing point we had used earlier.

On our second, not so glorious, bath in the Blood River we all ran across with all of the speed we could muster. Still I heard both Theona and William yell as they crossed. Seems Theona was all right but William had a blood worm attached to his leg. He pulled it from his leg upon which Theona killed it with her rapier. A little healing by Deitricha, ughhh...that is a white pillar of light above her, and we were soon on our way to Lord Bel’s keep.

Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, we snuck around it at a very large distance. Even then, when we came into view of the road we were staggered by what we saw. An uncountable army of Fiends and Demons were standing on the road!!!! What I wouldn’t give for a good kegger right now.

Sensing they were ready to depart somewhere we attempted to wait them out. We got several hours hours of much needed rest in this manner. Gouts of flame erupted from the ground around us. Demons shrieked and cackled in the distance but it was the first real moment’s peace we had in a long while.

Like an angel from the skies above, Theona took this time to hand me a fresh flask of ale out of her pouch. Glorious woman. After a large swig, I thanked her with a wink and an especially masculine stroke of my beard. I think she actually blushed. Or is it just that damned red sky again, showing on her cheeks?

Being brought out of my contemplation by screeches and what I guess would pass for demonic fanfare, the tremendous army moved down the road. As the last glimpse of them passed around the corner, Tassar made his break for the road.

He quickly worked a brick free and was returning when a deafening roar let loose from the ramparts of the keep. At least 50 or more winged demons took flight and were heading straight for Tassar. At first he started to run. Then realizing his plight he threw me the brick and turned to face his impending doom. I think I heard Deitricha yell “No!” at this point but the surrounding noise was very great.

As I caught the brick I realized my fate was entwined with his. Both being so short and no place to hide, we would never out run the winged fiends. Placing the brick in my pouch I turned to meet my fate. No sooner had my visor dropped and my axe was pulled out when a large gout of flame struck down part of the onrushing fiends.

Sensing we had a chance, Areon yelled for us to retreat in a defensive manner and fighting only when needed. We could already see the fiends on the ground starting to regenerate. Agreeing, we started to back up as a group when another cry deafened the sky. Another batch of winged fiends slammed into our pursuers from the side. Weapons clashed and screams tore through what seemed to be our very bones.

We all could tell that we were no longer even noticed at all. We turned and ran. We ran all the way to and through the river of blood again without pause. Thankfully, no one was carrying any unwanted passengers after the fording. We took a sharp turn in the path and nearly ran right into the Demonic looking dwarf squad we had earlier avoided. Seeing us in full view there was no hiding this time!

Tassar and I turned to fight. Everyone else yelled for us to run. As our friends dissapeared behind us we decided they might need us more.... So we set out at a blinding pace. To the others in the group it had to almost be comical. Seems elves and humans, lightly geared, can move a lot faster than a dwarf and a halfling fully geared for battle.

We ran and ran. All of the years of carrying coal in the forges paid its just dues here. Some how we maintained a steady lead on them. We ran all of the way to the bridge we had seen before. Unlike last time, though, we were definitely noticed. The winged fiends took to the air and the fiends on foot joined the chase.

Shortly after we passed the bridge, our tailers slowly gaining ground, both Areon and William yelled that they could see our destination ahead. To our disbelief a lone figure stood in our way. He was very tall and dark. He had what was an unmistakable evil aura about him. We all started to yell at each other at once. I screamed I would ram him with my shield so the rest could get through, but as I started my final charge he yelled for us to halt. Amazingly we all did. More amazingly, the fiends chasing us did also.

He called us forward and told us he would let us pass through the portal on one condition. We would have to carry a black orb with us to the other side. His words crackled like the flames that inter the bones of a funeral pyre. His demeanor left no question that we would obey him or surely die. Tassar looked briefly at Deitricha, said,”Sure,” and grabbed the orb. I pulled the brick out of my pouch and as a group ran through the horsehoe shaped portal......

We found ourselves in of all places the middle of a cobblestone street. One that perversely headed up in both directions. There were also lights somewhere high over head. Then I noticed there were run down houses, shops, and Inns, I can taste it now mug after mug.....thick and frothy...I wonder if Theona, goddess of ale, will let me repay all of her kindness in true dwarven fashion....

Breaking my mental meanderings, I gathered my senses. I noticed all sorts of strange beings shambling by us. Most definitely nothing my sparse travels had encountered. I also noticed that the Orb in Tassar’s hand had crumbled to dust at his feet. Somehow that seemed to deeply disturb me.........

Posted by Erik on April 1, 2004, 12:36 | Rosorc’s Journal