The party sailed from Athenos that evening onboard a merchant vessel bound for Karameikos to the east. The captain was happy to allow free travel in exchange for the party's protection against the hin pirates who infamously prowled the waters ahead. It came as no surprise during the voyage when more than one ship was seen to alter course upon seeing what appeared to be black dragons flying alongside the party's vessel. Lana and Karnus took turns summoning the phantasms, with the result that their journey proved uneventful.
Reaching Karameikos the boat moored in the southern Vorloi estate. The weather for the companions' homecoming was fine, and no-one objected to walking home toward Specularum. Camping that evening beside a small stream, a shriek split the air as a man came crashing out of a nearby copse. He cleared the stream in a single, desperate bound to land in a crumpled heap at the companions' feet. Out of breath, the man barely managed to gasp - "keep it away!"
As if on cue a moment later the figure of a slender, raven-haired woman wearing little more than a flimsy nightdress emerged from the undergrowth. Seeing the stream blocking her path, a scowl momentarily flickered across her face before giving way to a charming and seductive smile. The clerics exchanged looks of concern at the appearance of this creature ... a brief exchange ensued but neither side wished to cause a scene. Threy instinctively stepped forward to turn the creature, but his companions held him back and the vampire departed without fuss.
The next day the friends' hearts lifted when on the horizon they made out the familiar skyline of Specularum for the first time in weeks. Making their way through the gates, many guards recognised the companions but for some reason few wished to meet their gaze. The faces of bystanders darkened as it became increasingly apparent that some sad event had transpired in the five's absence.
Shocking news ... a double tragedy
Soon that event was made all too evident, as the heroes reached the Bricktop district and stared in stunned disbelief at the sight before their eyes. A smoking crater was to be seen where the Flying Ferret had stood. The Inn and all its surrounding buildings had been obliterated. At once with a pang of rage the five guessed who was to blame ... Bargle the Infamous.
A young girl came running up to be held in Lana's arms - Alivara the serving girl, the only one to have escaped the devastation. Forty customers plus all the staff of the Inn had lost their lives, in addition to the neighbouring buildings being destroyed. Alivara spoke of how a man had come to the inn one night, roguishly handsome and very respectable, clad in a thick travelling cloak. He spoke to one of the waitresses, asking after Lana, Drewen and Threy, but was informed none of the Inn 's proprietors were at home. Upon hearing this the traveller ordered a mug of ale, which he quickly downed, then gave a priceless tip to the maid who had served him - what appeared to be a small ruby. The girl ran to show her friends her new prize, while Alivara was busy chasing the giant ferret Whiskers down the back alley where he had run off after a rat. Moments later Alivara found herself flattened against the ground, thrown down by a massive explosion a short way off. When she looked back, the Inn was ablaze.
The heroes were overwhelmed with guilt and anger. None could find words to express their predicament. Each vowed vengeance upon Bargle. Luckily the heroes' possessions were uncovered within the rubble of the ruins and were taken to the City Treasury for safekeeping. Vasily's belongings had escaped unscathed, since his were stowed in the Church premises, and Karnus' within his quarters at the Wizards' Guild. Even Whiskers was being cared for by Karnus' sister-in-law.
More sad news was to come. Upon returning to the Wizards' Guild Karnus was shocked to find Master Teldon mourning the loss of one of his colleagues - the wizard Valtanivark of Threshold.
Lana's mouth dropped open as her blue-robed companion conveyed the tragic news to her. Only days before, Bargle had marched on Threshold with a horde of magically summoned followers to do battle with the wizard Valtanivark. The old wizard fought valiantly and almost appeared to have the edge over his one-time apprentice, until Bargle played a cruel tactic. He led his onslaught toward the town itself, forcing Valtanivark to follow but leaving the old wizard unable to cast any spells which would have risked harming the town or its folk. Bargle therefore had the upper hand, uncaring what befell the town, and soon Valtanivark's defences were breached. Bargle's frost giants had pummelled the old wizard without mercy, until he moved no more. Bargle cackled in victory, and while no others remained to challenge him he set about plundering his rival's tower of all its magical worth.
Valtanivark's warped and broken body was laid to rest outside the town, at a public ceremony attended by all the townsfolk, Teldon, Patriarch Halaran Sherlane, Aleena Halaran, and Halia and Retameron Antonic, all of whom were sad to see their former friend and protector gone. The Patriarch spoke with Valtanivark's spirit, and learned the departed wizard's great weariness. He wished only to rest from now on.
The tower had been stripped bare by Bargle: all of Valtanivark's spellbooks and magical devices would henceforth be put to villainous use. Lana and Karnus both shuddered at the thought, but vowed revenge.
Lana and the white dragon
Drewen, Threy and Lana, now homeless, were offered temporary shelter by Karnus' sister-in-law, which they humbly accepted. Lana for one felt uneasy in such quiet surroundings. Hearing rumours that soldiers in northern Castellan Keep were being terrorised by a hostile white dragon, Lana grabbed her spellbook, daggers and bag of holding and headed north, chartering the services of the elfmaiden Cardia and her flying carpet for the next few days. With many hostile thoughts raging through her mind, Lana needed the release of the wilderness for a while, and this seemed the perfect escape.
The two females soared high over the treetops of the Dymrak Forest, spending the night there, then onward to the frosted mountain peaks of the Altan Tepes by the next evening. From there it was familiar (if bleak) terrain to reach the Keep. Arrows were nocked and catapults readied as the two spellcasters descended into the main castle courtyard. Once Lana was recognised from her previous visit to the Keep the soldiers crowded round to shake hands and give the pair a warm welcome.
Upon Lana's request she was escorted to a peak the dragon had been sighted retreating to, presumably to hibernate and avoid the summer months. On the way a lone goblin was met, whose leg had been trapped under a fallen boulder. Guards escorted the injured humanoid back to the nearby Caves of Chaos, while Lana pressed onward with a handful of guards in tow. Rounding a corner of the chasm the group was confronted by two snarling ice wolves. Reacting in annoyance, Lana levelled her Wand of Lightning and unleashed a charge to frazzle both beasts which proved no further threat.
The cliff face which had proved insurmountable to the guards required only a Levitation spell for Lana to ascend. Moments later the young mage found herself before a cave opening which led into deep darkness. Venturing inward barefooted, to remain silent, her freezing soles began to bleed on the jagged rocks underfoot. The need for silence was paramount … if the beast was sleeping the task would be rendered substantially easier. No such luck however! As magical light from her dagger fell upon the sheen of coins within the lair, a hostile growl came from deep inside the darkness. Then came the padding of great claws across metal… the beast was awake and advancing. Lana stepped forward to meet the creature. Her arms moved in the most delicate and controlled of gestures as a Shield formed invisibly around her. A few more softly spoken words, and not one but five Lanas stood at the cave entrance. An almost confused rumbling was heard now, and a silvery maw protruded into the amber light. Lana continued her gesturing, hoping to lull the wyrm with the mesmerising motions, all the while fearful of the mortal chill of its breath. At this close distance, little more than ten feet away, the chill permeated her very bones… Letting loose a spell Lana sought to entrap the creature's maw within a Web and the strands caught partially. While the beast reared its head in anger, Lana unleashed her most potent spellcasting, sending a Lighting Bolt directly into the creature's front. In the nick of time however the wyrm extended its wings and soared into the air with one fluid movement, evading the main blast to suffer only a slight amount of damage. It released a torrent of its own - a cone of ice aimed at the five images beneath. Lana dove to one side but was caught in the blast, and felt vital warmth drain from her frozen form. Her mind reeling, she lifted her wand and concentrated to release a charge toward the form hovering in the darkness above her. A second blast seared the creature, and it was enough. The dragon collapsed with an almighty crash onto the shimmering hoard… vanquished.
Lana sank into a pile of coins as she offered thanks to the Immortals for her survival. As she rubbed her frozen limbs in an effort to rekindle some warmth, she made a startling discovery. Picking up one of the thousands of coins which lay around and beneath her, it became apparent that these were not silver, but rather the sheen of platinum! With joy Lana filled her bag of holding to brimming with the coinage, alongside the other treasures of the hoard - a potion or two, a magical sword, a wand and a pair of scrolls. Remembering the guards waiting for her at the base of the rock face, and before the last benefits of her Levitation spell wore off, Lana returned to the cave entrance and descended the slope to an enthusiastic welcome.
Back at Castellan Keep, Lana and Cardia shared drinks in the tavern. A deal was struck - Cardia would fly Lana back to the dragon's lair to retrieve the remainder of the hoard, half of which Cardia would keep, but the other half she would deposit in the Specularum treasury to await Lana's safe return. The elfmaiden's flying carpet was equipped with concealed pockets of holding to enable a substantial amount of coin to be borne without slowing the carpet's rate of travel.
Soon afterwards Lana was flown to Highforge where she was to meet up with the rest of her companions. Approaching the town however the woman was stopped and interrogated by suspicious gnomish guards. The Iron Ring was at large and Lana, depite her protests of innocence, was suspected of having links to the slavers' band. Lana's reception thus proved far from cordial as she was taken into custody, strapped into a tickling machine and subjected to the most probing of gnomish interrogation methods for the best part of three days. Meanwhile, the remainder of the party had embarked on a dangerous mission of their own, tracking a known operative of the Iron Ring with a view to reclaiming their stolen magical treasures.
Read the next instalment - In Search of Jolenta
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