(I don’t own some of what you’re about to read, and other parts have been created by my players, but if you’d like to read the saga from the party’s first adventure, click here.)
Though it was still out of sight, Ben noted the wave of havoc coming for them as the horde approached. Attempting to count their number by sound was a futile effort, so Ben gave it up, steeling himself. The battle was coming to them.
Their numbers would have to come by the stairs and through the narrow archway, though. A chokehold, which Ben thought might save the party’s lives.
Just then, Ben noticed. The archway wasn’t there, nor the stairs. Even the stonework in the Forge of Spells was different now, and the forge itself was gone! But the horde was still coming.
What in the Nine Hells was going on?
Kir’thiri’s head felt like it was going to split in two. She could see the reality that was: with the forge, bookshelves, and the damage from the drow sorcerer. But, she could also see another reality on top of that one. A room carved from a different stone, with no forge, and what sounded like war about to drop on top of them
The ranger fell to her knees in agony, looking to her party through a tear-blurred pain. She closed her eyes then and tried to focus.
There. It was the absence of noise that relayed another difference to Kir’thiri, causing her to open her eyes again to check its truth.
There was no horde coming in the Forge of Spells’ reality.
Vigo knew that things were not good. He and his party were about to be hip-deep in bad guys, and they were already worse for wear after their battle with the drow… scorpion… mage…thingy.
He looked to Erky. The poor gnome. There had been a moment in battle when the cleric had seemed to shake his shellshock. Life had returned to his eyes, the likes of which Vigo hadn’t seen since meeting him in Helm’s Hold.
It was gone again, that spark. Erky looked lost in the sound of the coming chaos.
“All of my older brothers are dead, Erky.” Vigo laid a hand on the gnome cleric’s shoulder. “At all three of their funerals, my father opened his eulogy with, ‘For most heroes, their only reward is their own death or the death of their companions.’ I need you to pick up your mace and get ready to receive some more of your reward, Hero! The rest of the Triumvirate is watching, even if you are now part of this quarrelsome quartet.”
Vigo slapped his shield as eldritch energy swirled around his free hand, and the image of Hyrsam sitting on top of the Bigheart family crest flashed on the shield.
Ben finished putting on the breastplate that they’d found in the Forge of Spells. He ran his fingers across the golden dragon that resided thereon and smiled. Then he walked over to Erky and handed him the mace they’d found alongside his armor.
“Fight well, little one,” he offered.
“The Forge,” Kir’thiri muttered to herself through gritted teeth. “I have to focus . . .” Kir’thiri shuddered from the pain, trying to catch her breath. “The Forge . . .”
A voice whispered across Kir’thiri’s mind then.
“Things needn’t have gone this way,” the sweet voice explained as though saddened. “But this can all be resolved without further violence. You’ve only to accept my bargain.”
“Who are you?” Kir’thiri barked aloud. “What bargain?”
“Um,” Vigo looked from Kir’thiri to Ben worriedly. He then asked, “who are you talking to, Kir’thiri?”
Ben walked toward the door of the small room that he now found himself in, taking inventory of where they were. As he arrived at the door, he found that he had a line of sight on their doom: goblins began pouring into the large hall across from the party.
“Here they come!” Ben shouted, slamming the door to their room shut.
Kir’thiri’s eyes watered at the pain in her head, but she felt as though if she focused hard enough, she could make it through to the “reality” that had the forge — and not the angry horde.
A bolt of intense pain shot through her brain at the effort, bringing Kir’thiri to her knees.
“Release Nezznar,” the voice flitted across Kir’thiri’s mind. “And there will be no more pain. See yourself — your party — to safety.”
“Who is Nezznar?” Kir’thiri managed through gritted teeth.
Vigo looked down at the unconscious drow at his feet and kicked at him warily.
“Are you messing with her?” he asked.
The drow appeared to be awake, so Vigo roughly pulled him into a sitting position, checking the mage’s bindings as he did so.
The door exploded into the room as a bugbear roared through, two goblins followed closely behind flanking it with notched bows.
Ben met the bugbear in battle, Talon parrying the bugbear’s great axe and finding purchase in the creature’s shoulder. The goblins fired at both Kir’thiri and Erky, leaving an arrow stuck in the cleric’s thigh. Two hobgoblins entered the room next, tying Ben up further in battle.
With her cleric wounded and her fighter taking on more enemies by the second, Kir’thiri tried to gain access to the safer reality again. She just about had it figured out. The forge was right there.
Agonizing pain flashed through her small body once more, forcing her forehead to the cold stone floor.
Vigo fired eldritch blasts at the coming horde, trying to back up Ben while still following whatever was happening with Kir’thiri. He noticed how terrible Erky looked as well.
Two orcs piled into the room alongside three more goblins.
Erky dropped a hobgoblin with his new mace. Ben fell two others. As each member of the host fell, two more took its place.
And then an ogre smashed into the room, its massive club catching part of the ceiling as it swung down on Ben.
“Kir’thiri!” Vigo yelled.
“Save your party,” the voice came once more to Kir’thiri. “all you have to say is ‘yes.’ Going once. Going twice.”
“Fine,” Kir’thiri said, getting to her feet and hoping against hope that she was making the right call. “Vigo, release the mage!”
Against his better judgment, Vigo untied the drow at his feet.
As soon as he did, all pain left Kir’thiri as she opened a small, oval-shaped portal to the forge’s reality. The gnome ranger put her arm forth, and her hand went through. It felt icy and warm all at once.
“Follow me!” she yelled at her party.
Vigo couldn’t see what was happening, only that Kir’thiri’s hand had disappeared into . . . something. He dove forward, following her instructions. And popped into the quiet, empty chamber that they’d fought the drow mage in.
He was alone.
Ben was so caught up in the battle that he was oblivious to everything else going on around him. It was down to him, the ogre, a hobgoblin, and two orcs. Then something happened that did attract his attention. From somewhere in the cave beyond them came the sounds of men. Sildar’s troops. A unit of goblins fell back to address the new threat.
Kir’thiri realized that Ben hadn’t heard her. He didn’t know about the portal that was literally at his back. She gathered Erky to her and yelled, “Ben! Fall backward!”
It was then that she noticed that Erky’s hand had fallen through the portal and found no purchase. The gnome cleric had actually touched Ben instead. While this had gotten the fighter’s attention, Kir’thiri realized and allowed him to hear her instructions, it also meant something else. Something awful.
Erky wasn’t soul-bound to her and so could not enter the portal.
Kir’thiri formulated a plan. If she could time things right, she should be able to thunderstep through the portal with Erky.
Before she could, things got even weirder. The walls in the room began to flicker and then disappeared entirely. A forest appeared, filled with mysterious-looking fireflies and giant mushrooms unknown to the ranger.
It was the Feywild.
“Ben, now!” Kir’thiri screamed.
The fighter, against his better judgment, did as he was told and fell backward through the portal. As he did, Kir’thiri invoked the power of her cloak and thunderstepped through into the reality beyond.
And Erky went with her.
“Centaurs were running toward us!” Erky shared, smiling.
“Okay, well, I didn’t see them,” Kir’thiri explained. “But I’m fairly certain it was the Feywild.”
“Man, I miss everything,” Vigo pouted as the party made their way back through a quieter reality of Wave Echo Cave.
Once the party was back at the mouth of the cave and walked beyond, they sought out the relative spot where they’d seen Ry’ven standing before things went . . . strange.
“I’m pretty sure this was it,” Kir’thiri said.
“Yeah, he was –” Vigo started as he approached.
The party found themselves back amongst soldiers who were locking down a Wave Echo Cave now devoid of the goblin horde.
Once everyone found cots and rested up, the party checked out Wave Echo Cave — it turned out an underground lake that fed into the sea was what cave Wave Echo Cave its name — until they finally found Sildar to touch base.
Their friend was set apart from the Lords’ Alliance forces as a whole, sitting with a couple of older soldiers in the back of the makeshift mess hall.
“We had no idea what happened whenever you lot disappeared,” Sildar explained. “So Ry’ven and I led a charge into the cave to find out. Eventually, the Lords’ Alliance claimed Wave Echo Cave and began assessing things section by section.”
“Where did Ry’ven go?” Kir’thiri asked.
“Once we didn’t find you, he thought of another angle of detecting things and left.”
“Which way did he head?” Vigo followed up.
“He, well, did what Ry’ven does when he’s in a hurry,” Sildar waved his hand as a magician might, demonstrating it was empty.
Realizing that they didn’t have anything further to do there, the party made for Axeholme to say their goodbyes there as well.
Ben found Lily in a small alcove, avoiding the torchlight as best as she could. The young girl was drawing the party members over and over again on the walls. She drew Ben much bigger than the others, but there were Vigo and Kir’thiri in multiple poses and variations. Steward and Willow, too.
Ben sat beside her and watched. Eventually, Lily stopped drawing and leaned her small head onto his shoulder.
“Hey, Lily,” Ben began. Something had been on his mind. “I know that I call you ‘Lily,’ but what is your actual name?”
She looked at him, confused. “My name is . . .” A slightly worried look flitted across her face.
“It’s okay,” Ben patted her head, deciding to let it go for now. “Let’s go get some food, yeah?”
Back in the homey room that Qelline Alderleaf had established, the party made to say goodbye. Satisfied that Carp wasn’t suffering any side effects of the deal he had made to save him, Vigo gifted the small halfling the staff that he’d found back in Cragmaw Castle. Caving to her sad, wanting eyes, Vigo also dug into his pouch to give Lily the sun elf statuette that he’d found there as well.
“Take care!” he bellowed as Carp broke a glass pitcher practicing with his gift.
“So, now where?” Vigo asked.
“We need new gear,” Kir’thiri offered. They all were feeling a little lost after a month of having to hurry, but the men were still looking to her to lead them. Maybe a calm, meandering destination was just what they needed.
“Let’s make for Waterdeep.”