Maximus and Reverence stood a few feet apart, glaring at each other with their arms crossed. The skeleton laid lifeless behind Reverence, her spell long since faded. Raelyn was at the top of the stairs, inspecting the door. She had deduced thus far that it was protected by some sort of spell, likely from the Meloran Sigil, and that any glance (even a strong one such as her Eldritch Blast) simply bounced off it. They couldn’t even scratch the thing.
Mat sat against a wall on the other side of the room from the skeleton, staring suspiciously. Maximus spoke gruffly. “You’ll not use that foul magic in my presence again, priestess.”
“I’ll do exactly as I see fit.”
“If you conjure the dead again I will be forced to deal with you.”
“You’d do well to respect my polite dissent.”
Maximus’ face went red and he turned to Raelyn. “You understand the dangers of such heresy, do you not, Elf?”
Raelyn came down from the stairs, dusting off her robes absentmindedly. “That reminds me, I’ve been meaning to tell you I’m actually only one-half elf.” Maximus’ rage faltered for a minute. His club arm, solid wood a few moments ago, flickered for a few seconds before solidifying again. Mat chimed in from across the room.
“I’m with the Weeping Willow, I’d rather not see the skeleton move again.”
Reverence rolled her eyes, “It’s a completely harmless spell. It doesn’t even truly reanimate a corpse, it only opens a line of communication between my spirit and theirs.” Mat looked at her, horrified.
“WHY WOULD YOU WANT THAT?!”
Raelyn shushed him, “We’re in an enclosed space. There’s no need for shouting.”
“The black magic remains unused, that’s the end of this,” said Maximus.
“I will use it if I want to, and that is the end of this,” responded Reverence. The paladin began to retort again but she interrupted him. “Can anybody think of a way out?”
They all shook their head, even Maximus, and sat in silence. They mulled for a long time, suggesting various spells or attempting to tunnel only to be met with hard stone a few inches underneath the dirt they stood on. They eventually gave up, resigning themselves to being trapped, and began to talk. Nothing of great import, myths and legends from their respective hometowns largely.
As Mat sat mostly silent, unable to understand the references of beasts or regional tales, he thought he heard the sound of a young girl. From his vantage point almost in the corner of the room it was apparent to him that there was no one but them in this cellar. Yet still there came the harrumphing of a child, as if from inside his own head.
After three or four instances of this, and a particularly pronounced grumble, Mat focused his mind and, as strange as it was for him to do, thought to himself: “Yes?”
The response that came was quite uppity, with a hint of indignation. “You hurt that man.”
Entirely sure he was now going completely insane, Mat decided he had nothing better to do than play along. “The man who threatened to murder us all if we didn’t give ourselves up? That man?”
“I’m fairly certain if violence were ever justified, that would be the situation.”
“Well I don’t appreciate mean men!” The sound of footsteps echoing away in his brain were followed by blissful silence. He reached up and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and index fingers, sighing lightly. This was it. This was how he finally went insane. In a basement with two witches and some guy who was one-quarter tree and three-quarters needing-to-chill-the-fuck-out.
After an hour or two Mat’s stomach growled. “Anyone happen to have any food with them?” he asked. Everyone shook their head, but Reverence raised her hand.
“I didn’t bring any but I can conjure quite a bit. It tastes very bland, though.”
“It can’t be that bad. I wish I’d thought to bring my spices with me.”
“Why would a person carry spices with them to a party?” Maximus asked.
“Yeah, that’s why I didn’t bring them,” said Mat, looking at Maximus like he was the weird one.
Reverence stood and cleared her throat, waving her hands in strange patterns in front of her as she spoke a fluid sounding spell. The air around them tingled on their skin for a moment and suddenly water seeped up from the dirt on the ground, filling the floor to about an inch. In the middle of the room a mound of pickled cabbage materialized, falling with a wet PLOP into the dirty standing water.
Mat blinked at the sauerkraut and then looked down at the water. “Was there not a better way to do this?”
Reverence huffed in exasperation. “I don’t get to choose what food appears and we have no vessel for the water. I’m sorry.”
Raelyn stepped toward the sauerkraut and tried a piece from the top of the pile. “It’s…not terrible. It’s not good either but it’s definitely food.” Mat begrudgingly trumped over to the pile and tried a piece, successfully swallowing without much difficulty.
They all picked at the food and barely made a dent, leaving it where it was. As they ate, they discussed their plans for once they’d escaped. The general consensus seemed to be that taking care of Evrett would usurp their plans to kill the king, at least initially, and then Reverence remembered their druidic friend.
“Balthazar! He’s still out there! I think I can try to communicate with him.”
“What good is he to us out there? Even if you can communicate he can’t very well one-man army his way into this compound,” argued Maximus.
“He can use me as a portal to go through the Fey, then through the Infernal, and into the room with us. Then he can take us all out back through the Fey. It’ll be difficult but I think I can help him.”
Mat rubbed his eyes, “Does anyone else feel like our lives would be a lot better if we just…didn’t do anything with magic? Not just us. Everybody.” Raelyn shushed him again.
Eager to be free of their dank prison, they all sat quietly as Reverence performed the powerful spell. She turned from them, facing the wall, and sat cross-legged, more for their benefit than hers. The magic involved could get fairly violent and her eyes turned a particularly ugly shade of murky gray while performing it. Her tail coiled around her like a cat and she began to chant.
Elsewhere, Balthazar had been trying to mend the many fractures of the Fey to no avail. He was realizing this was not something he could do by himself. They would need to convene a council if any meaningful repair was to be made. He was leaning against a tree, legs crossed and tail off to one side. The tip twitched every so often, his eyes closed and his mind blind to the physical world around him.
He heard someone calling a name. Not from the physical realm but from within the Fey. It rose above the cacophony of pain and joy and memory as a single, crisp call. He couldn’t quite make out the syllables, but he knew it wasn’t his own. He tried to reach for the caller, stretching himself further into the Fey only to be distracted by a sudden shouting in his ear.
It was Reverence. He could sense her tainted presence here within the Fey and they quickly communicated. She knew the dangers of what she was proposing and promised he could return to mending the Fey if he desired after he provided assistance. He agreed, knowing it would be better for him to take a break regardless, and pushed his consciousness into hers.
In the physical world his muscles flexed and his tail slapped the ground loudly, a few uncomfortable grumbles escaping from his throat. The transition was difficult because it was mind and body, rather than just the traditional mind. His physical essence was being torn from this realm, pushed through the Fey and into the Infernal.
When he finally opened his eyes he found himself in a very strange place. The sky was a pungent yellow with no sun apparent, a few red clouds dotting the far horizon. He stood alone in a field of black flowers with white centers, not unlike oddly colored daisies. Dark mountains rose to his left and the empty expanse of endless flowers flourished to his right. He reached out for the Fey and found his connection weak. He expected that, it did not worry him. What truly struck him was that the link between Reverence and himself was fading fast.
With force so sudden and strong is actually knocked Balthazar back a step, a hole in space ripped open in front of him, fire licking at its edge. Inside was a dimly light cellar. He saw his companions and a very familiar table. He quickly stepped through.
The room itself seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as Balthazar finally made it through to them. He looked down after feeling wetness on his feet, then spied the mound of sauerkraut. He looked at Mat, Maximus and Raelyn in turn. “What a strange way to feed one’s prisoner’s.”
“Nope,” said Mat. “That was the horned-one. She did it.”
Reverence remained transfixed, eyes still murky gray and mouth slightly agape. The portal had closed behind Balthazar but she didn’t seem to be breaking from the trance. The dragon-man turned and placed a hand on her shoulder, gently trying to shake her out of it. Raelyn’s face betrayed her and held strong in a state of concern. She had seen people lose themselves to these kinds of spells before. It was old magic, barely understood by those who studied it and attempted by very few.
Balthazar tried to shake her again and received no response. He was about to begin a spell of his own to attempt to break the trance when her body suddenly relaxed. She spoke quietly in monotone and her voice sounded layered, as if many versions of herself were saying the same thing at once.
By this point they had all gathered around her, curious and worried, and were not prepared for the shock wave. A new portal ripped open directly behind Reverence, reaching from floor to ceiling and no less than 5 feet wide. Everyone was thrown backward, Raelyn and Mat slamming into the wall while Maximus and Balthazar soared for a few feet before dropping into heavy heaps upon the ground. The familiar fire flapped at the edges of this portal and just as everyone was getting their wits about them a very imposing man in impossibly polished armor strode through. He bore the same sigil on his shoulder as Maximus and surveyed the room cautiously, short sword drawn. He spied Maximus standing from the floor and smiled like an old friend.
“Captain! We’ve come to save you.”
Maximus smirked and walked forward, clasping hands with his inferior. “Never left for the dead, eh?”
“We live to shine bright again!” They let go of each others hands and the new man looked at Maximus’ tree limb. “Neverwinter Nights, what foul wizardry is that?”
“A token from my travels. I’ll need status, my memory is hazy and I’ve been gone who knows how long.”
“Excuse me,” Mat tried to interject. They ignored him.
“One week, sir. Taken just before completion of the compound incursion. We’ve been looking high and low for you.” Maximus eyeballed the obviously infernal portal with a degree of disgust.
“Sergeant, tell me why we’re using Infernal magics. I thought we’d done away with them all.”
“Yessir. We took hostage one of Necromancer’s followers and promised a trial by Judge rather than Sword if he helped us locate you. He’s been looking for five days.”
“We’ve no time to waste then, let’s get going.”
“Uh, hey. Large men?” Mat stepped forward trying to interject. Maximus brushed him off.
“There is no time, drunkard. I’ve tarried long enough with you lot, I have to attend to my Oath and duties as a Neverwinter Paladin.”
“Okay, yeah, that’s fine. It’s just that we have no idea what’s happening.”
Maximus took one step toward Mat, covering almost four feet, and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. He lifted him a good foot off the ground to bring Mat to his eye level. He spoke in a threatening growl, indicating his wooden arm. “Pray to your God I do not blame you all for this curse in my waning years.” He dropped Mat and turned away from them. His sergeant stepped through the portal and disappeared. Just before stepping through himself, he stopped. “You’d all do well to stop this evil, lest I be forced to do your job for you.”
With that he stepped through the portal, the hole closing with the sound of extinguishing flame. Reverence rocked forward and back once before falling to her side, finally free of the connection. Her eyes fluttered and returned to their normal state. A single trail of blood ran from her nose to her lip. She wiped it away as she stood and turned.
She was met with confused, insulted, pain-filled stares. Her stomach dropped. “What’d I do?”
With little incident, Balthazar managed to get them all through the Fey and back to the woods where he had just been. For the first time many of them got to experience the trip through dimensions, an unpleasant experience that was much like getting pulled through a garden hose by your belly button.
After a brief recapping of events for Reverence, no one seemed to want to discuss it further. They’d all had a long day and most of them could only concentrate on what a bed would feel like beneath them. They set out for the Prancing Pony and soon found themselves in its alley.
After a brief scouting by Mischief, they discovered that security was a little more tight than they had expected. Two guards stood by the front, and only, entrance to the Tavern & Inn, and a small group slowly patrolled the street. Balthazar thought quickly and laid out his plan for the others.
From the alleyway, Balthazar made his was conspicuously to the stairs leading up into the Pony. He was immediately stopped, just as he’d expected.
“No one’s allowed in or out,” said the guard on the left, the bigger of the two.
“Oh, really? Is there a curfew in effect?”
The guard looked at him like an idiot. “Always a curfew after the Festival. Everyone knows that.” It was then, somehow, he realized he was staring up at a seven-foot tall lizard-beast wearing modest robes. His disgust only grew. “’Cept for out-of-towners, I s’pose.”
As the three continued talking, both guards attention being grabbed quite expertly by Balthazar’s imposing presence, Mat successfully snuck behind the two armored bigots and made his way quietly inside. Reverence followed quickly in his path.
“My apologies, Gentlemen,” Balthazar continued. “You correctly guess that I am only stopping through. My ship has weighed anchor for a few days for supplies and I find it nice to stretch my legs. If you’ll excuse me I’ll be right in and out of your hair.”
Whether because they truly believed him or simply didn’t want to fist-fight a dragon, the two guards began to move out of the way just as Raelyn tried to slip past. She bumped into the smaller guard and he spun, grabbing her by the wrist. “And who’s this?!” came the man’s accusation.
She stammered, unsure and unable to come up with a convincing alibi. Balthazar came to her rescue.
“As I said, my ship has stopped for a few days and I like to stretch my legs. If you’ll excuse us, gentlemen, I promise we will be no bother.” The guards eyed him like he was holding a bloody knife. Judging by their slack jawed and dimwitted appearance, they were likely trying to discern the logistics of a half-elf and a dragon attempting to enjoy each others’ company.
They soon gave up.
Balthazar followed Raelyn and the Five soon found themselves in their own, private rooms upstairs. They each crawled into their beds, little better than hay but like a cloud to their weary bodies, and closed their eyes. Finally they could slip into unconsciousness of their own accord.