Times of Trouble
Lord Ao looked on impassively. The servitor looked up, hoping that the Over God would change his mind, but a single stern glance dissuaded him, At Ao’s nod, the servitor removed the chock that held the gimbals in place. Slowly, ponderously, the limbs of the machine began to move of their own volition, teetering first one way and then the other, slowly seeking the new equilibrium
The Over God peered down at the assembled Pantheon. Almost all Edon’s Gods, Goddesses and hangers on had assembled, with one notable exception. Lord AO made a mental note to address that matter later.
“The Prime Material is now in flux, During these “Times of Troubles” you will not interfere with the mortals on their plane.” The flinty hard eyes of the Over God sought out those of Bane and Torm. Both met the eyes of the Overgod without flinching. Bane continued a quiet conversation with Kelvemor. Torm at least had the sensitivity, to bow his head in acknowledgment.”
Those flinty eyes, sought out others within the assembled crowd.
“Sylvanus, you will withdraw your power from the Unmaker’s. The new balance must be found without divine interventions. Serena, the Galdorians will stand or fall on their own, there will be no sly divine assistance.”
The God of “Strife” smiled, behind his thin passionless lips. His followers needed no aid in these times. Without his will, driving his followers towards internal conflict, they would be like an arrow released, aimed at the heart of the Prime Material.
“These events must proceed, to restore balance back to the prime material plane. Failure to comply with these simple instructions will see you walk the planes as a mortal.”
Lord AO passed his eyes over the assembled pantheon. “Anyone not understand?”
This time even Bane stopped whispering.
[i]Within the Abyss, a pimply demon approaches his lord.
Beneath scarred brows, the demon looks up, “Are we ready Scour?”
The lackey whimpers, “yes my lord, we are ready”.
The Demon Lord rubbed his bony chin. “Then during this “Time of trouble” we will take back what was once ours. The dragons have fallen in power and the debased dragon spawn will not stand against us.
There was no effort to hide the gloating tone in the Demon Lord’s voice. “Until the “Great Machine” is balanced, death on the mortal plane will no longer banish us for a 100 years and we can quite simply return every 24hrs. Take Crenshinibon to the rift on the island immediately. Some how get one mortal to kill another using Crenshinibon, and then Edon will be ours.
The consequences of Scour’s failure were left unsaid.[/i]
Six weeks they had sailed, though the privateer could not be certain they had moved more than 60 nautical miles. Damn those mists, no way to navigate by day or night and his compass just spun like a child’s toy. The crew were on half water rations now and that would only last two weeks. Either he had to make landfall and reprovisioned soon or it was time to pull out and try to make it back to Emrys. No wonder adventurers had rarely set foot on these islands and they were not even a footnote in Edon’s history.
For a moment, the privateer thought back on his ex partner, Captain Vergolas, marooned upon a faraway isle. “Neither of us thought I was doing you a favour, when I stranded you on the rock”, mused Calico Jack.
Further musing, was interrupted by a cry from the Crow’s Nest
[i]In the city of the Sun, the Galdorian Captain stood before the desk of Lord Dunraven.
“Sire – this unholy alliance between the Undead and the Drow must stop.”
Lord Dunraven looked at the Captain aghast, “Captain at anytime during this cease fire, has the UD alliance broken the rules of the treaty, has any city been attacked?
The Captain returned the look, “no sir, they haven’t, but we know we can’t trust them”.
Lord Dunraven looked down his rather noble nose at the Galdorian. “The Drow are as law abiding as they are evil. If the Drow hierocracy declares a cease fire, then you can be certain that no attacks will fall upon any surface. Ask yourself Captain, would you be willing to spend even a day in the hands of a drow torturer?”
”Beside Captain - greater issues are at hand. Lets just say I had a visitation and something is to change the face of Edon, we need to make sure we are ready.”[/i]
Even from offshore, the glint of something metallic could be seen. Quickly the rumour ran through the ship, TREASURE!
Bare feet ran through the shallows, the quest for water abandoned for the lust for gold.
Few eyes bothered with the device and its metallic rings. The scattered gold and gems drew the mob closer, until their eyes fell upon the golden blade. “Mine” they cried as one and launched themselves at the weapon.
Pirate rules are fairly simple. You want something, you take it, even if its from a fellow crew member. The first to reach the blade, found his mate’s dagger in his belly.
“Mongrel. Ya done fer me. But I won’t be going alone.”
The golden blade rose and then slashed across the throat of his assailant.
No one noticed the booming chime from the device, but even if they had, it would not have mattered. The expanding energies from the rift quickly scourged the flesh from their bones, and only a few dried femurs, scattered amongst the gems, bore witness to the fate of Calico Jack’s Crew. [/quote]
“It is as you commanded, my lord. We were able to open a gate in the Helios gardens. While the lesser scourge, ploughed the crops with demon salt, the elite scourge entered the town. We were able to enter the crafting halls without being detected : resistance was minimal. As per your glorious plan, all the tools were destroyed and we slew the merchants in the crafting halls.”
The Demon Lord interjected, imperiously “What of their trade halls!”
“The elite scourge then engaged the guards in the main square. Resistance was easily overcome until the gold dragon joined battle. I sacrificed the lesser scourge to distract him.”
The Demon Lord showed no sign of concern at the loss of the lesser scourge. Until the Great Machine stabilized, such casualties were meaningless.
Scour continued “ I lead the elite unite into the merchant halls. One human made an effort to resist.’ Briefly the lackey considered reporting that Captain Tucker’s efforts had not been in vain and that several merchants had managed to escape and then discarded the idea. There was only one reward for failure in the Scourge.
“We slew all within the halls” the lackey continued.
“And the mines?”
“Destroyed as you ordered, Great One.”
A bestial grunt was the lackey’s only reward.
A long claw rubbed the Demon Lord’s jaw, while he considered.
“Wait till the lesser scourge are re-vesseled. Then lead them to Loknar. Our work here is only half done, you must destroy the Underdark crafting halls and their resource sources. You have done well so far Scour, but do not fail me in this.”
Resting upon his throne, the Demon Lord watched as Scour abased himself and crawled out of the audience chamber. The supple claws rested lightly on the blade known as Crenshinibon. Time to challenge the ancient enemy.
[b]“Scourge to me - To Misty”[/b]
[i]Dunraven stooped to tighten the straps on his greaves and then shook his head. Even at the darkest depths of the Drow wars, he had not needed to wear armour in Helios. At least he looked better in his, than Vessur. The old dwarf merchant barely fitted in the tattered chain, from his long gone adventuring past.
The same could not be said for Lor Werfu. The destruction of the crafting halls seemed to have driven the dwarven clan chief into a frenzy. Up until now, Gond had been served by clerics, not war priests. The way Lor was calling for vengeance for his beloved crafting halls, clearly that was about to change.
Dunraven glanced up at the citadel, the comforting presence of the golden dragon mysteriously absent. No matter how important Galdor was to Helios, first priority had to be getting the crafting restored. Lor had advised that the Loknar facilities were still intact. Dunraven wondered for how much longer.
Someone had to make contact with the Drow leadership. Would the La’throteps accept surface aid in protecting the Drow trade halls, or would they see it as military occupation. Dunraven pursed his lips in worry. Who could he entrust with that diplomatic mission? Lady Katheraine would be ideal, if she was available. A briefly barked order and a runner was sent for Lady Arlimane.
And what to do about securing the merchant halls?
Dunraven’s eyes fell upon a note from Katheraine, about surplus stone from New Zeigan. For a moment the elf’s eyes seemed to stare into the middle distance and then he smiled.
“Guard, find me Lor Werfu, I have a job for him and as many dwarven miners as he can find.”
The Werfus would not come cheap, but they would get the job done and just now, time was so much more important than money.[/i]
The bard had seen the sigils Jerek had shown him somewhere before, now if he could only remember where. Some where old.well worn…..ruins ….old ruins.
No matter how hard he cudgeled his tired brain, no great insights came. Something about the statue at Fakault and the old ruins at the point, but for the life of him, the troubadour could not remember what they meant.
The forebidding shoreline was known on the few maps that existed as “Devil’s Rock”. Few sailors had tried to ever set foot upon its cursed stone, none had ever returned. High on a cliff on the north side of the island, eight glowing portals shimmered. Soul traps – conduits that prevented the soul of a defeated Scourge from being banished to the Outer Planes and trapped within was one particular soul, destined for a Demon Lord’s wrath.
A monstrous clawed fist drove into the depth’s of the soul trap and ripped the vestiges of Flametounge from the planar aether. The mewling fragment was slammed down into the core of a black pentagram. Something like a shadow twitched and began to feed, drawing on the energies of Krensibhon.
Hunched on the cold stone, the one time Scourge leader Flametongue gasped for breath … and for time. Trondor had fallen, but he had failed. Failed in the primary mission to find the new crafting halls, failed in their objective of capturing Lady Katheraine and for the Scourge, the price of failure was high.
As the power of Krensibhon restored him, the canny Scourge, wracked his mind for something that would stop him from being consigned to the Abyss for eternity.
“Horses…Scow does not know about the horses” thought the Demon. The lesser servant that had discovered the enemy’s plans had approached Flametonge covertly, seeking a reward. “Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead”, was the last words the Abashai heard, as Flametonge sent the underling to its reward. Now was the time to cash the information in, in the hopes it would buy his life.
Two figures in a hidden valley. One a young man, clad in robes of green. The other, slightly older, his elven heritage showing strongly. The younger man, turned and slowly opened his hand.. A week old colt, nickered softly and pushed its muzzle into the druids’ palm. The scrape of a rough tongue and the cube of sugar disappeared.
“So will they be safe here, Aerin?”
“As safe as anywhere Legebrion. The properties of the rift will stop the Scourge from teleporting into the valley.” The pair watched as the foal lowered its head and drank from the stream, that flowed down from Legendary farm. “And the Rangers will keep the valley’s borders clear of the scourge scouts”
“One thing I don’t understand Aerin, why did we not use horses against the Drow?”
“They would have been of little use underground, and we could not have kept them safe, this close to Sholo. ”
The Galdorian scout nodded “but their extra mobility will go some way to combating the ability of the Scourge to teleport. As Lor says, now its time to take the battle to the Scourge.” …
My Lord its not my fault! Your great plan worked, as you brilliantly foresaw. We pulled our elite units out of Kabu and flooded the area with expendable underlings. Only the one known as “Forrest Walker”, saw through our subterfuge, but she was ignored.”
“So if I am so clever and you followed my instructions to the letter, where are the new crafting halls?” boomed the Scourge Lord.
Lady Katheraine…she was not there….she must have been warned”, quailed the underling
Scourge Lord Scow reached down, grasped Flametongue around the neck and dragged the weaker demon to his feet and then beyond, The long bone claws of Flametongue’s feet scrabbled once on the black stone and then the underling was suspended. Incised claws squeezing ever deeper into his trachea,
”But….But….bu..” Desperately the underling tried to force words from his throat, but the talons closed every tighter.
“ Soul hater has revealed your incompetence. Not everyone ignored the one called “Forrest Walker”. You failed me, Flametonge”
Whatever Flametonge had been about to say, the words died with him as his windpipe ruptured. For a moment the figure still struggled, bone claws raking the air futilely, and then Scow hurled the corpse against the northern cliff. An oily mist rose from the shattered outsider. Slowly and against the wind, the demon essence began to drift towards the soul traps.
“Just as well our Commander believes the crafting halls have not yet been rebuilt. A fact, which I have chosen not to bring to his attention. And one I can’t afford you to be around to tell tales about.”
With a contemptuously glance, the Scourge Lord breathed in deeply and then blasted the soul fragment with demon breath. A flicker of black flame, and the residue was gone, consigned to the pits of a very private hell
Scourge Lord Scow bowed his head to the supreme leader of the Scourge.
“All is as planned, dread one. One again we have raised the blade of Krensibhon over the Misty Isle and now it casts its shadow across the village of Trondor.”
A voice deep, terrible and yet compelling, like an avalanche coated in honey. “I have sensed it in the ‘source’. Its power grows and so does the domain of Krensibhon. Now only the icy north will be beyond our reach and that not for much longer. Send Soulhater to Icevale, the frost and snow will be to his liking.”
Mortals are split between those who believe in free will and those who believe in predestination. Lord Ao knew that both were constants in the multiverse. Some things had to happen and if they did not, well then the multiverse itself would conspire to make sure they happened. Other times freewill ruled and time and space trembled in anticipation of what mortals could do. The trick was to know which was which and even Lord Ao was not always sure.
The Lord of Creation dared a wry chuckle. Even if you were omnipotent, you should never underestimate basic mortal drives.
Mages call it the “weave”. It’s the mystical threads that govern the flow of magic in the multiverse. They try and explain it to apprentices as a mystical sheet, with the warp and weft, manipulated by Mystra and her servants. An all encompassing, an enveloping sheet. which touches every point in the planes.
The smarter apprentices want to know, “if it is a sheet, does that mean it can be folded back on itself?” The sages just smile at the presumption of youth and say, “no, its just an analogy”
Mostly the sages are right. Between the protections of the Great Machine and the efforts of the servants of Mystra, the weave is perpetually in motion, guided and shaped, so that it may never touch another point of the Weave. For if for even a second the warp and weft of the weave were to touch, then “wild” magic would result. Uncertain, uncontained, uncontrolled. Awesome, both in its power and in its danger.
The Great Machine precessed, as it gimbals began to oscillate. Two threads came perilously close to touching. Automatically the Mistress of Magic began to make the necessary adjustments, as she had done a thousand times before.
Numerous alternative potentials existed, ways that the fabric could be subtly changed so that the damage could be avoided, Of course, all this would be in strict contravention of the express orders from Lord Ao, but then he was hardly likely to find out.
Fine hands moved dexterously and the two threads, began to shift, twisting in ways no mortal could fully comprehend. For an instant the shimmering yarns seemed destined to collide and then they passed, missing by the magical equivalent of an inch.
It was only then that Mystra realised that she was no longer alone.
“You were warned". There was no hint of threat in Lord Ao's tone, but neither was there a hint of potential compromise. This was how it was going to be, inevitable as the coffin lid closing. "During the 'time of troubles', the price of interference is the diminishment of your divinity, did I not make that absolutely clear."
Two larger hands took control of the weave, and if they were not as sure or as supple as Mystra's, they possessed the strength to do what was required.
Celestial eyes watched as the pattern reversed itself, the threads closed and then kissed. For an instant there was a spark, though to call it such, is to call a raging forest fire, a children’s bed time candle. For a moment the weave managed to contain the mana, and then it burst through, arcing through space and time.
Cold reptilian eyes watched the ruined tower. Was it true? The one known as Blacaver was no longer there? Lesser dragons descended on the upper walls but no undead sallied forth. A massive claw smashed through the wall, a shake of the serpentine body and a passage was made, to the heart of the demi liches lair.
It is not easy to tell the age of an elf, especially amongst those of the Eldarin. The mage’s age showed more in the respect the others granted him, than it did in his face. A face that betrayed no emotions, as the mana surge struck the great sword. The last of the mythal energies flickered and died.
“Go e’e’sum. Gather those who are left. The scourge will soon know of this. Myth Olin must now surely fall. Get the Council to Cinnaess. Begin the ritual“
”What of you?”
“We were dammed long ago. We did what we what we thought was best. Instead of embracing our destiny, we chose the cowards way and surrendered ourselves to our fate.“
In the swamps of Bloodwood, deep beneath the rotting back, the earwigs knew of it first. Something grew, twisted and malignant in the stagnant dark. Those that slithered in darkness and slime, felt the call. They were only the first
Slowly the ripples spread across the Misty Isles. What was hidden took substance and became truth. Lord Ao and Mystra watched as the “Codex” re-appeared. Some may have though his actions cruel, others that the Eldarin deserved their fate. Lord Ao knew different, neither morality nor destiny mattered here.
“Myth Olin….But it will be destroyed”
“It is, as it will be, Mystra. Some will survive, others will die and they will never know the why or that in their death, what they achieved”.
The great forces of ice and snow descended on the last city of the Eldarin. High upon the pyramid the mage known as Annonyre, prepared to make his last stand. The mythal that his beloved sister had given her life for was almost gone. What hope there was for the Eldarin and the plane touched who had sheltered with them, now lay beyond his control. All he could do was buy them time.
All knew him as the Lord of the Scourge and that is what he wished to be called, but that was not his name. For too know a thing is to have power over a thing and above all else, the Lord of the Scourge desired that none should have dominion over him.
From the dark heart, he watched through his enchantments as the hordes of the Scourge, gathered at the base of the pyramid.
In the halls of Cinnaess, the council of Myth Olin began the ritual of Kileaarna Reithigir. Part of the great mythal energies they sent to aid Annonyre. From beneath the caverns of Myth Olin, the golems strode forth. Howling and shrieking the claws and fangs of the Scourge descended upon eternal metal. Mithral fingers rendered leathery hide and demon strength ripped arms from construct bodies. Howling triumph the Scourge attacked, for they knew they would be reborn, such was the power of the Scourge. If thoughts passed through the constructs mind, they were only of destruction.
High on the pyramid, Annonyre sensed the time was nigh. Gathering the power from the Misty Lightning generator, he drew it into the focus of his staff and then released it. From the apex of the city, a great chain of lightning smashed into the city below. Cascading, ricocheting, bouncing from golem to golem, the lightning ripped through the scourge, striking a double blow. For every scourge it killed, the lightning healed and hasted the golem army.
Some energy the Eldarin sent to Helios and Loknar. Long the Scourge had feared the master crafters of Edon and well they did so. Inspiration, innovation, invention… these are not the way of the Scourge, nor are they things they are well equipped to fight. In the mind of the oldest crafter and in the heart of the youngest master, inspiration came unbidden.
The last of it they channelled into a great seed. All things must pass, only Lord Ao deals in eternity. The hope of the Eldarin and of the rebirth to come, they bound into it. And then it was done. Long lived elves may be, but they are still bound by the compacts of life and death. As the Kileaarna Reithigir peaked, what remained of the Eldarin within the Cinnaess withered. Life is not eternal, Things must pass, so new things may be born, that is the hope of the seed and the doom willingly accepted of those who had made it. The one man not bound by the ties of life and death, picked up the seed and as promised, carried it to those who waited outside.
Silently he passed the seed to the heir of the Eldarin.
“Thus I make good, the promise my ancestor made.”
“Farewell Srinshee, may you find the one you seek. Until you do the Cinnaess is yours.”
In his dark heart the Scourge Lord felt the finality of it and howled his orders to the winds. Neither magic nor immortal golems could slow the hordes of the Scourge, as they pushed their way to the apex of the pyramid.
Annonyre felt the other Councillors pass. He drew one last deep breath and then lowered his staff.
“Mae’lgwyth, you were right. We should have stayed and fought with the humans." His death upon him, he raised his eyes to the heavens above. "We remember cities now in ruin and forests murdered, yet still we sing to the stars and hope for renewal. ”
If the Scourge even heard those words, they paid them no attention and he who had been the greatest of the Eldarin was crushed beneath the press of demon flesh.
“You knew all along” The Goddess’ eyes stared accusingly at the master of all.
“No, he knew at the end. The choice was that of the Eldarin. In withdrawing, they laid the doom upon themselves. As you have done yourself, Mystra”
The Goddess of Magic lowered her eyes.
"Bloodwood is lost to you. It is now Shar's domain. The shadow weave rules there and will for all your godhood. Such is your divinity dimished."
”What then, is that an end of it?”
Lord Ao struggled to hold back the smile. “An end, oh no Mystra. It never ends.”
The Scourge bodies had vanished, called back to the soul traps. The metal fragments of the golems slowly reformed and animated, desperately obeying their last orders to slay all intruders.
Of the mage there was no sign, but his death was not in vain, though he would never know it.
Deep within the machine, a stray bolt of lightning had struck a circuit long lost to corrosion. A once dead crystal began to glow and for the first time in more than an eon, the portal to Mistly Archipeligo functioned. An arrow aimed straight at the heart of the Scourge.
// Full credit for this story goes to Rothbart