Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!
With the Battle of the Horns of Essex over, we began our trek to return the paladins to their fortress at the Great Gap the next morning after burying the dead and blessing their graves. I felt a sense of humiliation at having lost the sword to Viktor Barristen. The thought of what he might be able to do to the paladins still trapped in the blade was chilling.
We were only a day’s march to the end of the foothills of the mountains when we camped for the night. It was not a night when we would get much sleep. I was awakened by Brandon to tell me there were sounds in the brush. We silently armed ourselves and listened, hearing orkish voices.
Athalus stood proud. “Orcs. I speak orc. I can handle this.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I’m quite charming,” he said flashing a wry grin.
Our warlock called out, “Rut Roh Rhaggy!”
“Rubie-Rubie-Roo,” came a voice back from the brush. I can only assume that Athalus was communicating with them. A party of six orcs emerged from the brush. Athalus continued to grunt and speak orc to them for several minutes. He even showed them his nipple ring, then turned to us. “I told them we were the tribe of the Big Tusk. It’s all good. Don’t attack.”
After a long series of grunts, belches, and other guttural sounds, Athalus went to his pack and pulled out the small cask of mead that he had been carrying since we have met with Dimitrious. We passed the potent mead around, barely able to tolerate their stench. Having consumed our alcohol they told Athalus that they wanted to camp with us. My instinct was the kill them, they are orcs after all – God only knows what kind of pillaging they had done. But we did not. In the morning they moved on.
“I think they liked us,” Athalus told us. “Who knows, we may run into them again.”
Great. These are the kinds of allies we do not need. We marched out, finally coming out of the forested foothills into the rolling hills.
We marched for a day or so when we heard the sound of hoof-beats thundering on the plains. I was hopeful that it was a greeting party from the castle, but I was wrong.
They emerged from over the hills and were not like any creatures I have ever seen. Ungainly bird-like lizards, tall as a man, outfitted with saddles. I could only catch glimpses of their green hides, for they were wrapped in rotting bandages of some sort, mummified yet alive and quite agile. They had large horns, yellow with age. On their backs were skeletons, adorned in black robes, some holding rods, others swords, one holding some sort of ungodly symbol. There were four of them – and they were flanked by three armored knights, elven I believe, with lances. They had, on their armor, a black heart symbol – which I did not know what it represented. We saw them at a distance and realized that they were no escort. They had come to fight us…to kill us.
It was clear that someone did not want us to reach the safety of the castle. Barristen…it had to be.
They rushed us and we dug in, using our spears as a phalanx in the sod, forcing the elves to flank. One of the skeletal riders held out small rod and from it a fireball erupted – boring right in on Brandon. There was a mighty explosion and we saw him no more, only the black-charred grass where the ranger had once stood. Athalus emerged from the flames, his robes smoldering slightly from the explosion, only to be hit by a lightning bolt from one of the cloaked skeletons. Smoke from the fireball hung heavy in the air as our paladin comrades moved to the left flank, breaking apart the onslaught, wading into the riding elves.
Skullringer shimmered in my hands as I rushed forward, taking out part of mummified lizard’s body as they charged us. I caught a glimpse of Dimitrious leaping in front of one, his fists a blur of savage strikes that knocked the mummified lizard mount to the ground, throwing its skeleton rider hard. Bits of the torn cloth of the mount clung to his bloodied fists.
Theren morphed into the bear we had been so accustomed to. It savaged two of the attackers, sending bits of bone and rotting lizard hide flying in the process. Althalus tried to provide the paladins cover with his emerald magic blasts, but missed widely, no doubt stinging from the lightning bolt he had taken.
I saw Sir Bentblade, the paladin commander wade into one of the elves that rushed him, knocking him from his saddle so hard that he was doubled over in agony. He drove his sword into the rider hard, then seemed to pause in a quick prayer.
Dimitrious finished the last of them, springing at one of the skeletons and grappling with it, twisting him out of the saddle and onto the ground. He tore the skeleton apart with his furious blows.
Glancing around we saw that only one of our comrades was gone – Brandon. We began to look for any sign of him where the fireball had hit. Suddenly he emerged from the woods.
“What happened?” I asked.
“That ring I found — I used the word on it and it teleported me just as the fireball hit. I was about a mile away. What did I miss?”
“The entire battle,” Athalus said.
Looking around the dead elves and rotting corpses I waved my hand. “All of this…”
Suddenly there came more thundering hoof beats on the ground and we saw paladins of the Order of the Fang appear. When they saw Bentblade they nearly wept. “Commander – we thought you lost.” They were overjoyed.
The old warrior nodded grimly. “Let us get to the castle – there is much to discuss.”
We made our way to the castle gates and inside. Paladins on the ramparts and in the court all surrounded us and those paladins we had saved from Tempora. For the first time in a long while I felt a sense of relief. We were safe here, safe for the first time in weeks.
Then Bentblade spoke. “Arrest those two immediately,” he said pointing to Athalus and Theren. Theren immediately morphed into a wolf and darted through the gate, but our warlock was quickly grabbed by no less than three armed paladins.
“What is going on here?” I demanded.
“They used magic banned by the church…they must now face charges of heresy.”
“We saved your lives!” I charged, but I saw hands drift to sword hilts, ready to fight.
“Aye, you did,” Bentblade said. “But they used unholy magic. You know that matter must be dealt with. We will hold a trial to determine this one’s fate,” he stabbed a finger at Athalus.
I wanted to fight right then and there, regardless of the odds. But I was a holy man…I knew church law as well. “At least let me be his advocate at court.”
“Very well…” Bentblade said.
Althalus was taken off to a cell somewhere and we retired to our rooms. The trial was two days hence. I mended my armor, sharpened my sword, and prayed.
We came to the inner court for the trial and Brandon suggested trying some ruse and disguise to get in. The guards heard him and kept him at bay while we disarmed and entered. With Dimitrious at my side I felt confident. The monk’s most deadly weapons were his hands…so if it came to a fight, we were well armed.
Athalus was brought to the stand, flanked by two armored paladins as Bentblade read the charges. “The unholy use of magic, unnatural transformation (leveled only at Theren who was being tried in absentia), and Heresy against the Church.”
“Lord Commander,” I said. “We saved your life and those of your comrades. We got you your freedom. Surely that counts for something?”
Bentblade dipped his head. “Indeed it does. I will consider it strongly when judgement is passed. Is there anyone else that would speak for this man’s soul?”
At my side Dimitrious stepped forward and cleared his throat. “I am Friar Dimitrious of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye.” He opened his cloak and showed his chest, but I could not see it from where I stood. Whatever the Lord Commander saw there, it seemed to impress him.
My jaw hung open. He can talk! All of this time!
“I have been to the Priory of Illuminus and have spent time with the Gospel of the Truth. I have gazed into the Temple of Time, looking forward rather than back. This sight has cost me dearly. I have aged nearly a decade as a price for my arrogance. My oath of silence was self-imposed – I did not wish to share my shame.
“You see sinners and heretics before you. That is true. Under church law, there is no defense for their use of magic. Fighting these charges is pointless. These men have an important role to play in the future. The druid in their ranks, he yet has a role to play in a reconciliation with the Church. The warlock – he will bring and soothe great pain and suffering. Your brother paladin is more than he seems.” He turned and locked gazes with me. “Their ranger will sit on-high one day, if he survives the maelstrom that is looming.
“Great evil has risen with Victor Barristen’s return. He seeks a member of the Sisterhood of the Sword who can give him the paladins souls trapped in his blade. If he can consume them, he will be fully restored and blackness will fall upon the world again. That darkness is coming regardless, but stopping him will slow it down. Even now, he cowers in the Cloudlands in the northwest where the twilight is eternal, planning to wage war on the living and the bring the church to its knees before him.
“I have seen the great battle that is to be waged. Punishing these men will make matters worse for all of us.”
“What of this battle?” Sir Bentblade asked.
“It was in a haze of war, but I saw paladins fighting with the Sisterhood of the Sword and these men and your own. I saw the dead rise. Minotaurs and heroes of old, fighting together. Old enemies now allies. The thunder of hooves and a return of the Gray Wind. I saw a ruined abbey and raining fire. Walking graveyards of stone and doom. Bones and blood and fire all mixed. And these men, they play a role in all of that.
Bentblade frowned, “Impossible. The sisterhood is dead.”
“Are they?” The monk’s words hung in the air.
“Do we win?” the Lord Commander asked warily.
“We did – but we will pay a price that cannot be measured – a cost that cannot be repaid.
“If you imprison or kill Athalus, there will be nothing that can stop what is coming. It would be better to have them in our service…as a means for them to pay their penance for their transgressions. Send them to find Lexa Lyoncroft and protect her. Barristen will come for her, he needs her to release those souls. She needs him because of what else is in that sword…her past and future.
“Do not doctrine cloud your judgement Lord Commander. The fate of the world may hang in the balance.” With that the monk returned to his silence. I could only stare at him in awe.
Bentblade nodded, then went quiet for a long minute. “There are mitigating circumstances, namely the saving of the head of this order. And the friars of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye are incapable of lying. These charges are set aside.”
“We won?” I asked.
“Of course. We are no barbarians. Doctrine required a trial, and a trial was had. But before you can leave – we need to contact the Church. I want them to sanction you as agents of the Church…then you need to go out after Lyoncroft.”
Gray Riders were summoned with the blast of a horn…and a week later we got our response. Brandon was delivered a note as well, one that he kept to himself. A rider was sent out to find Theren. I composed a message to him to return. I wondered how the riders could find our druid, but I realized they had that power.
One strange thing though…when the Gray Rider showed up, the horse bowed its head to us. I saw that the rider and the other paladins were as surprised as I was. I wonder what that was about? Moreover, the words that Dimitrious spoke chilled me still. There was a war coming…and we were going to be in the middle of it!
The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do.