It was not to be.The approaching party had been welcome. Here was Horatio Codswallop, riding with other riders, laden with fresh game and bulging wine and ale sacks. Presents and tribute from Magnimar. Turtleback Ferry was saved! These spoils was from Lord-Mayor Grobaras himself.
The party feasted. Most drank. All ate. Horatio, in his stumbling manner, attempted to regale them with the legends and myths that were now being told and chanted about their party. Moagh sat with his suspicious eye locked on the young soldier. Variel drank the sweet, vicuous wine mumbling small incantations to detect if there was any arcane seasoning in the liquid.
The night continued on. And the party fell – an undetectable, untasteable toxin slipping through their system. A poison so powerful even the constitution of the warrior Moagh was unable to keep it from flowing through his blood.
It was Dmitri, who was the last to go under the effects, watching as dark, cloaked figures came out of the woods, surrounding the group, closing in – Dmitri drew his weapon in the cold night air, the starlight reflecting off his steel . a sound behind him
he turned, saw the dark, youthful eyes of Horatio alive with an ancient evil for a second, felt something penetrate into his skin, and he too – feel into dreamless sleep.
Variel awoke on the dirty dusty dungeon floor. He could not see, and his hands were shackled. The smell, whereber he was, was disturbingly familiar. He had been here before. He shifted onto his knees, the tough burlap cloth scratching his fine elven skin. His clothes – were gone, replaced by whatever makeshift robe he was wearing.
He struggled, shifted his weight, found himself locked in – and the old hate, the fear, the anger, the sickness of being caged in settled over him, and he became a wild animal – thrashing, hurtling himself at the wall, screaming into the gag around his mouth, biting enough to draw blood.
When he calmed down, when he listened to the dark silence, he finally let himself sink. Sighing heavily, but with an air of the old family arrogance, and so no one could see – he smiled. Moving to the far wall he began a voiceless incantation, weaving the arcane arts with his mind alone, bending the power inherent in the dungeon itself into life. An arrow made of acid flew out and began to melt the cage on his head. Another and another, the acid splashing over himself, giving him new scars – scars he knew he would repay. With interest. Eventually free of the cage and manacles, he cast a spell to open a door to other dimensions and began to search this area for his spellbook, clothes, and magical arsenal – this place, that was…was…Fort Rannick, itself.
“Dear God, don’t let them kill me!” Brien Gilbrickus whined against the far side of Geth’s cell. Geth could barely believe this was the same Brien Gilbrickus who had kept his congregation in Magnimar’s holy temple of Abadar in thrall. This beaten, half-starved wretch in front of him was barely recognizable – still Geth would not soon forget the sound of Brien’s voice, how its golden honey had put its spell on so many.
“What are you doing here?” Geth growled.
“They say they’ll kill me if you don’t fight?”
“Fight? Fight where?” Geth looked around at the dingy cell. He knew where he was – the cells of Fort Rannick, but he didn’t know what had brought them here or why? To fight, to die in a ring? He had no love for Brien, but also didn’t wish anyone to die – the absence of the weight of his scimitar felt very real. He wanted to mete out justice, and he couldn’t wait until he found out who was doing this.
The halfling children marched out, chained together with leg irons. Their sallow, empty faces – bereft of hope or light – stayed in Dmitri’s mind. They had told him if he didn’t fight, the children would be massacred. Fighting was old hat to Dmitri, he had now become too accustomed to bloodshed. He’d seen Moagh cut down ancient creatures of the deep, Variel massacre a hundred cultists, even his fellow Cleric build magic weapons out of the air istelf and strike down men, beast and fey alike. If he had to fight, he would – he looked down at his hands, and wondered, am I doing Sarenrae’s work. Was this what I was meant for.
“I don’t understand – why don’t you get me out of here,” spat Jessail at the dark, mysterious figure in the corner.
“You march in here – tell me to fight in the arena, and march out – why not release my chains, and I will join you – I have much to do in Magnimar!” he shouted, his voice ringing through the quiet cell block.
“You must prove yourself. Calm yourself, Jessail. There are powers here well below your reckoning for now – there are players and pawns and many, many wonderful changes coming. Here. In Magnimar. In Korvosa. Your secret is out,” said the figure pointing now at Jessail’s revealed horn and dull crimson skin. “Prove you are worthy to travel with the Dwarf Lord, and in time, you will be rewarded. And rewarded.”
The words fell on deaf ears. Jessail was not thinking of fighting in the ring. He was thinking only of spilling the stranger’s blood. He had been used too many times on the filthy streets of Magnimar. He had been free, he wished to be again, and no coin slipped too him in a dirty cell would make him a puppet again. He watched the stranger leave. He wondered where he could bury the knife.
Later, as the sun began to set on Fort Rannick, all the prisoners were brought forth into the Chapel of Fort Rannick. It had been horribly defiled for the second time. Where the ogres had shattered candelabra, stained glass, smashed pew and altar alike for Lamashtu, the dwarves in the room had begun to repair it, under the banner of Magrim, their own god of death. Painted in what looked like a dark blood was the Magrim symbol – a dwarven skull with black, black eyes.
The prisoners filed in, with the glaring exception of Variel, to be greeted by a sight they could never have expected.
In the middle of the chapel, on a throne of golden decadence, with a crown of deep rubies, emeralds, and amethysts, sat Moagh Drakensang, lately of their party. His face showed no emotion at all, and he did not even seem to recognize his presence. Only Jessail could recognize the one emotion that Moagh could not entirely hide, that in many ways, defined him – rage. It was there just under the surfact, just waiting to be free of the golden leg irons and manacles that bound him tight to the throne.
“Welcome, welcome – friends of the Court of Magrim,” said a dwarf resplendent in dark purple robes, wearing a skull mask and adorned with ancient dwarven glyphs. “You are, heh heh,” he seemed to split blood as he talked, “surely wondering why you are here.” At his side, appeared the two most beautiful dwarven women that the party had ever seen – to the point, it took even Geth a second to realize they were dwarves.
Whatever dark powers they prayed to, whatever dark arts they practiced had thoroughly soaked their being. They both seemed to glow an aura of dark ebony, and in their eyes hinted dueling qualities of seduction, death,and…something else….amusement?
“I am Grendel and this is Sernia and Lockia, and we are here to determine which of you is fit to travel with the Dwarf Lord, Mighty Moagh of the Drakensang. The destroyer of the meek, the bringer of the darkness. Here and forever, the One who is prophesied to bring the weak into slavery, and his followers to Glory.”
Sernia and Lackia finished this proclamation with a trill of song, creating a melody that even Jessail wasn’t sure she would be able to get rid of in her nightmares.
Grendel read from the Prophecy, an ancient Thassilonian text that was all revelation to the party. Written in the strange runes and dialect of the fallen civilization, the passage which Grendel emphasized was
“…and in the times of the great Awakening, when old Gods lay dead should rise to reconquer the weak peoples of the New Age after the fall of Aroden, one will stand in his way and his name will be the storm, he will wear a crown of slaughter and his thirst shall be unquenchable. His sword will be the unmaker, the blade which cleaves light from the world and he will be cut down by his own bloodkin or he will be known as the King of Darkness.”
Grendel put the scroll down.
“From our translations, we understand two will help the Dwarf Lord of old, and two will betray him. We will, through combat, have the traitors cut down, and the heroes to support him, will be revealed. And then we will have done the work we have been here for, the work Magrim has asked us to do, to deliver Moagh to his destiny.”
The party was returned to their cells.
That night, Moagh was approached by Sernia and Lackia who offered favors and power beyond his ken. His rage held him in check, but overcome by a desire to have control, he and Sernia bonded in the dwarven way – both had scars left by the lust. It was a small outlet for his rage, but it did not change the revenge brewing in his ancient heart.
In the morning, the rest of the party awoke, and were taken to the arena. The arena was a hastily constructed arcane field with a magical wall. Geth would be first to fight.
Into the ring he went, facing off against three humans whose pale eyes shone red in the Varisian sun, some sickness had oertaken them. They charged Geth.
He brought the divine power of Abadar’s judgment upon them – hoping to cure them, instead the divine fury overwhelmed them and they were reduced to cinder. Geth left the ring. Jessail would be next. He too fell his attackers, but would not leave the ring. Before the Cult’s soldiers could forcibly retrieve him, Variel attacked from the shadows.
And Hell broke loose in Fort Rannick’s courtyard.