From the diary of Courtney MerriweatherCEO of the Thistle & Rose Adventure Company
After spending the night in the gnome encampment overlooking the fort, we awake as the strangely dimmed sun rises. I hear a rustling in the bushes and turn to look what approaches even as Jubee awakes and, startled, shouts “there are no bugs! Where did they all go? On alert!”
The rustling continues and a single bug emerges from the brush, with leaves and moss jammed in the area where one would presume you would find ears. The camp instantly is filled with song and noise, and the bug staggers, but determinedly continues to approach, despite the seeming pain it is in as it does so—and over the din, I hear it making chittering noises, as if trying to communicate!
“Quiet!”, I cry, “I think he’s trying to say something!”, but to no avail. Effendi in particular is casting short burst spellsongs directly into the bug’s mind, which does seem to stun the creature, and sure that the bug isn’t attacking, I begin a ritual to understand his speech.
At last the ritual is completed, and the chittering melts away to “make him stop, make him stop, make him stop!”, and with pat I ask Effendi to give me a chance at communicating. I chitter back at the bug, and with incredible relief, the bug begins it’s attempt at speech. It is a rudimentary language, but the creature is able to express that it and it’s colony want to help us attack the mindflayers—but that in exchange, they want the gnomes to stop attacking them.
As I relay this to Jubee, she shrilly replies that THEY are the ones defending themselves! These foul bugs want to eat them!
The bug seems aghast at this notion—they would never EAT gnomes. That’s gross. But those mushrooms…
Jubee, even more shrill, agrees—they eat their HOMES!
Communication breaks down at this point, but Calibre interrupts to suggest that he could perhaps design new homes for the gnomes that would allow the gnomes and bugs to coexist. He quickly builds a crude replica, handing it to Jubee, who carelessly tosses it to the ground… and expands to a lifesized replica, crushing a gnome in the process. “BRUCE!”, shrieks Jubee. The bug chitters unhappily. Chaos resumes.
We finally manage to calm everyone, and get the gnomes to agree to at least be open to discussing a peace agreement after the fight, and this seems to appease both parties. The bug retreats, assuring me that he and his friends will join us on the battle field, and the gnomes seem to be near berserking with excitement at killing the mindflayers.
We descend the cliff face (some with ease, others, myself included, not nearly as gracefully, but fortunately Prosperek heard my shriek and caught me) and find ourselves in a lush, mossy forest. We quietly pass through, finally seeing the evidence of Eladrin lumberjacks, and reach the edge of the forest, where we lurk in the bushes and examine the Eladrin nearby, who continue their brainless actions of tree destruction, unnoticing of us. In the distance, we hear music—the eladrin know of how to keep the bugs at bay! Proseperek sneaks over to him and dispatches him with ease, which triggers the gnomes to race toward the tower, thus signaling 2 armies of bugs to approach from our left and right. We chase the gnomes, overpassing them as they become distracting with eladrin foe, and we reach the tower, just as a warhorn sounds from across the field (temporarily stunning the bugs), and we see an army of gnomes and freed eladrin charging into the fray as well, led by the gnome king.
We duck into the tower, mindful of our job, but temporarily distracted by Galindan, who staggers up to us, ready to fight!... but not at all. He seems to have taken Prosperek and Effendi’s advice to heart and found some of the Dwarven Ale that would help keep the mindflayers from destroying his mind, but unfortunately, drank in excess. We sigh and fight our way to the top, leaving Galindan stumbling after us, where we encounter the pair of mindflayers who seem to have almost completed their obelisk. Hissing, they spin on us, but not quickly enough as we manage to surprise them and knock them to the ground 30 feet below. We hear them hiss in pain, but stand and come back for us, giving us time to examine the obelisk and hopefully find a way to cancel it’s effects.
To no avail! None of our combined knowledge seems enough to destroy the stone, and as the mindflayers emerge up the stairs, I grasp at Brynmor’s ring around my neck and pray, as devoutly as I can, to the Raven Queen—this stone will surely be interfering with her natural plans, and hopefully she’ll send her favoured follower to assist us. As my compatriots are finishing off the mindflayers, a ruckous sounds below us, and the warhorn blows, echoing up the tower. No sooner do we dispatch the mindflayers than King Sirah Nim launches up the stairs on his pony.
“Excellent,” he roars. “Now to end this madness,” and unsheathes his sword, marching on the obelisk.
“No!!!! Hic!”, Galindan interjects, finally making it up the tower. “Destroying this stone will destroy the minds of the eladrin! They will surely die!”. A grave claim, one only made less grave by his retching over the edge of the tower. “Nonsense,” King Sirah claims. “This is the only way.”
This sets off a great discussion, even as the battle below continues to rage. If we don’t destroy the obelisk, it will remain standing for the next mindflayers to activate… but if we do, thousands of lives may be snuffed out. A ripple appears next to me and Brynmor appears.
“Brynmor Stonebones!”, I crow, even as his shade form harrumphs, trying not to look pleased. “Has the Raven Queen sent you to assist us?”
“Well, she’s sent me. That much is true.”
I ask him if he’s had a chance to speak to any of the eladrin or mindflayers that he has encountered in the last hour, and he harrumphs again, stroking his beard to hide his pride. “Should’ve known that to be your work! And aye, I have.”
“Please, tell us; have they said anything of the obelisk? If we destroy it, will the rest of the eladrin die? Are there more mindflayers here that may come and activate it?”
“There are more mindflayers, aye. They haven’t been discussing tactics with me, though…” and there he seems to remember his new lot in death and becomes increasingly vague. “Good luck, to you all,” he says a little wistfully, and disappears again.
Our party seems unsure of what to do, but one by one we back down to the king. “King Sirah,” I interject, stopping him again as he approaches with his sword. “You may have noticed the bugs have been fighting with us. I have promised them a parlay with your kind, as agreed upon by Jubee, one of the rebel leaders;” speak of the devil, the young gnome appears at the top of the tower, panting, and I gesture to her, and she nods, her eyes bright with the excitement of battle.
“Oh… of course. I’ll parlay,” King Sirah says, managing to focus his eyes on me momentarily before fixating again on the stone. Grudgingly, I back away, and with no more interference, begins to hack at the obelisk with his sword. Each hit causes a great resonating shockwave, causing waves of groans from below as the eladrin stumble, and seeming to echo within our minds. This awakes the poor drunk Galindan, who begs for us to stop him, even as he drunkenly passes out again in a stupor.
It becomes more and more evident that Galindan was right, as the eladrin below suffer more and more with each (tiny) blow from the gnome king. I look away toward the forest, uncomfortable with my part in this, and as I do I see a great form flying through the air toward us; a raven? A very large raven, looking even larger as it lands on King Sirah’s shoulder and ducks it’s head near his, it’s eyes intent on the crumbling obelisk.
“What is this?’ I ask, enquiring of the King’s men-at-arms.
“’Tis the king’s pet, or familiar, something. He came about it a few weeks ago. Gives me the jeebies,” the guard confides, even as the raven swings it’s head about to stare at him with a cold blankness before turning back to the king.
I reach out with my magic and shudder away. “That bird isn’t right!”, I say, but am held back. My companions seem wary but unwilling to interrupt the king from the act we gave him permission to do, and as such I hesitate…
As the king’s final blow hits the rock, destroying it. A great sighing moan spreads out from the tower, and we can see eladrin collapsing in all directions—Galindan awakes at the terrible noise and sobs, trying to stand, but slipping and hitting his head, falling again motionless.
“Victory!”, King Sirah, congratulates himself, and his men-at-arms cheer. “Now, remember this and only this—there were never any mindflayers. There was never this dreadful curse. We will continue our lives as we always have, happily and peacefully and never speaking of this again.”
His men-at-arms cheer again, while our adventurers exchange questioning looks. “Is it not wise to learn from such an experience, King Sirah? Remember this moment, and prevent it from happening again…”
“NO,” he snarls, swinging on us. “It NEVER HAPPENED. None of this, mindflayers, brainwashed eladrin, those ridiculous bugs…come men, back home.”
“Your majesty,” I interject, grabbing the reins of his pony even as he tried to rush it back down the tower stairs. “Speaking of our allies, when can I bring a bug emissary to parlay?”
He stares at me blankly. “You agreed to a parlay, your majesty? Not 10 minutes ago.”
“Of course,” he murmurs. “Bring them to me shortly,” and he snatches his reins from my palm and leads his men down the tower.
We stare at each other and the remnants of the obelisk and it’s terrible conjurers, at Galindan, and Jubee who seems to have been knocked unconscious by the king’s attack—a quick check reveals she is alive, but unconscious. Effendi picks up Jubee gently, and Prosperek shoulders Galindan, and we return to the bottom of the tower, when outside we hear the warhorn.
More mindflayers? My stomach churns. But no—it is King Sirah, with his raven hovering above him and his dozen men-at-arms, all on their ponies and horses, wheeling to destroy the remaining bugs, who are being hewn with ease. Of the thousand or so who joined the fight in the first place, only a hundred or so remain, and they are scattering before the horses.
“NO!”, I shriek, leaping into the air as an eagle, then speeding towards them. Effendi seems equally offended, and lunges after me, below on the ground, launching a wave of fire from his hand, separating the horses and bugs.
Prosperek and Calibre join in the fray, mostly chasing after Effendi and I, trying to scare away the men-at-arms. I fly toward the king, talons extended, but feel a wave of malice directed at me; perhaps the animal instinct I lack in my own form, and I alter my course to rake at the Raven. With an unnatural swoop, the raven dodges my attack and snatches my raptor form out of the air with ease, digging in it’s claws that seem to be growing longer and sharper as it crushes my body. I shriek in pain and fury, and begin to see sparkling darkness around the edges of my vision, even as I glare into the raven’s face, when suddenly, I see the face of a young tiefling. “You were kind to me, once,” Tawny’s voice whispers, emotionless, then the bird flings me to the ground and disappears.
I come to, yet in my altered form, with Calibre leaning over me, looking as concerned as is possible on his warforged façade. The sparkling darkness returns as I try to lift my head , but I was not able to rest—I hear the chittering of bugs, and see our emissary from before, waving about restlessly and eyeing up our group, which has been surrounded by bugs. I resume my human form painfully, aware of the talon gouges stretching to cover my ragged skin, and approach the bug.
“You live!” he crows, and the other bugs seem please. “HE lives…” he continues, menacingly, staring at the King, who was tackled off his horse by Calibre, and abandoned by his men-at-arms. “We have justice. Give him,” and the bugs raise a cacophony behind him.
We exchange looks, even as the King blankly demands that we release him. “I was doing my job as a king! My people were unhappy—the only way to make them happy again was to return them to their original state before all of this happened. Before there were bugs and mindflayers and cursed eladrin. I was being a King!”
The bugs glower at him and surge forward, held back by our emissary. “Justice,” the bug states again.
“Where did you come from? Where is your home? Can you return?” I ask, trying to find a way to mediate this as best as possible. There had been so much death already toward.
“HOME,” the bug sighs, and he roughly describes a vast, dark marsh, with only his kind, living peacefully and happily. “Here…” and he describes disappearing from his home and colony and just appearing in this realm, seeing murderous gnomes and eladrin approaching from the shadows. “Don’t know how…”
He trails off momentarily, then is brought back into the moment by the racket behind him. “Justice,” he demands.
Who are we to deny justice? Especially to a King who willingly commit not 1 but 2 genocidal attacks in this single battle. The King is confused, momentarily, but only for that moment, as Calibre reaches around him from behind and smothers the life from him, even as the bugs chitter and clack, celebrating the death of their would-be-murderer.