Skarda's Mirror

A merry fire was blazing in the hearth of the Misty Beard tavern in Threshold. Five companions were enjoying an evening of reminiscing in the company of friends, when a chill breeze blew in from the open front door. Silhouetted against the night outside stood a couple. The first was a sturdily built male, who ushered in a shorter female, her sorrowful face partly hidden by the cowl of her travelling robes. Both seemed strangely familiar. They cast long glances around the room until their gazes fell upon the party they had been seeking.

Drewen rose to his feet with uneasy concern, and bid the strangers join his table. As fresh drinks arrived, the two were seated and introduced themselves. The tall fighter was none other than Terranon Antonic, father of Lord Retameron of Verge and himself a renowned fighter. His face was etched with lines of age and countless battles. The companions at once realised who the young girl beside him must be - this was Andrya, one of Halia's apprentices.

The girl kept her face hidden from view as much as possible, saying little and wringing her hands in her lap when she did speak. It was evident that this pair had need of the party's help. Terranon stated his reasons for having tracked down the party, explaining that events of catastrophic proportions had transpired in nearby Verge. The Threshold party were the only adventurers experienced enough to help him now. What of Halia and Retameron, Lana asked? Terranon's brow furrowed as he recounted his tale.

Bad news

Around two years ago Retameron Antonic had been spending time with friends in Specularum when he overheard the whispered beginnings of some unlawful plot. He had taken it upon himself to find out more and tracked the conspirators to a house belonging to the magician Mallek, where his suspicions were confirmed - Mallek was hatching a scheme to overthrow Duke Stefan. A confrontation ensued, during which the house was set ablaze and burned to the ground. Mallek's body was never recovered from the rubble, and the wizard was presumed to have perished in the blaze.

Karnus' eyebrows raised on hearing the name which was familiar. As a young magic-user in the Wizards' Guild he had been instructed in the correct usage of the Charm Person spell by a venerable old wizard by the name of Mallek, just a few years back. The old man had seemed a kindly enough fellow who couldn't have the mustered nerve to harm a fly, let alone plot to murder the Duke. But it seemed inconceivable that there could two magic-users within the Duchy by the same name.

Terranon noted Karnus' glazed expression, and continued with his tale. Picking through the debris of the burned building, Retameron had caught sight of a glimmer of gold. After shifting a few broken beams aside, the man's strong arm pulled out a sheening golden mirror, spotless and unbroken, which hadn't even been marked by the blaze. The mirror exuded a strong magical aura therefore Retameron had it transported to Verge so that his wife Halia might conduct some experiments. After inspecting the item, Halia guessed that it was a Mirror of Life Trapping, which would have been of little practical benefit to the couple. The mirror was therefore stored away in the couple's tower in Verge, for two peaceful years. Nothing had happened in the intervening period, until recently.

A week or so ago in Verge, Terranon continued, a dangerous criminal had escaped from prison, vowing revenge upon the Antonics who had been responsible for bringing him to justice. As a safeguard against the madman's threats, Retameron removed the Mirror from storage and hung it on the door to his bedchamber, hoping that any trespasser might unwittingly gaze into the mirror and be trapped.

The tower's inhabitants went to bed, then while they slumbered the Mirror revealed its true nature. Uncovered for the first time in years, there came an inhuman shriek that pierced the still of the night as a hideous beast emerged from the mirror's depths.

The commotion roused the Antonics and their staff from sleep, as the beast commenced a rampage through the tower. Retameron burst from his bedchamber and attempted to grapple the beast but after a lengthy struggle there came a flare from the Mirror and Retameron vanished. Halia was aghast at seeing her husband disappear but closed to engage the beast. A fierce battle ensued, Halia firing volleys of magic missiles, magical daggers and even a lightning bolt until at last the creature was felled. Having taken care of the intruder, Halia and her young apprentices approached the Mirror and attempted to withdraw Retameron from its depths ... but to no avail.

Silence had fallen throughout the inn's taproom. Had Retameron been lost for ever? Andrya's face stayed buried in her hands. All the townsfolk could hear from Terranon's tone that the story was bound to end in tragedy.

The Mirror was brought to the dining hall where Halia gathered all her magical paraphernalia in preparation for close study of the item. As the wizardess approached the mirror however, she did not see her own reflection staring back but in its stead the face of a hideous monster! In the very same moment, Halia vanished to be replaced in the dining hall by a second monster. Bereft of their mistress, Halia's apprentices screamed as the beast gave a howl of its own.

Without Retameron's sword or Halia's magics the beast was able to rampage through the Tower unhindered. A killing spree ensued. Almost a dozen guardsmen died trying to fell the monster, as too did one of Halia's two apprentices. Lana's eyes welled with tears as she remembered the enthusiastic young Sara who had shown much promise as an aspiring magic-user.

The mouths of the townsfolk fell open in appalled silence. The demise of the ruling couple of Verge could only spell disaster for the village folk and the surrounding lands.

But before anyone could grieve for the departed, Terranon stated stoically, there was a pressing matter to attend to. Presumably the Mirror Fiend was still lurking within the Tower and would need to be slain by a group of hardy fighters. Worse still the beast might break free of the tower boundaries and rampage through Verge itself. The party sprang into action, at once agreeing to aid Terranon. Andrya managed the briefest nod of gratitude.

Verge in peril

The companions rose at dawn the next day and made the short journey to Verge, arriving in the early afternoon. Terranon led them to the courtyard of the Antonics' Tower, pointing out makeshift barricades which had been put in place to keep the beast at bay inside the stronghold. With heavy hearts the companions noted how few guards remained compared to when they had last visited Halia and Retameron, just the previous month. Terranon would remain in the vestibule of the keep as a last defence should the party fail, since the beast could not be allowed to leave the Tower and reach Verge beyond, which would spell certain disaster for the villagers.

The party prised back the barricade which blocked the front gate, and entered the familiar entrance hall. Looking around, nothing appeared untoward however a deathly hush hung in the air. Karnus spied something shiny on the ground a short way ahead. Alerting his companions, the four crept closer to investigate.

The gleaming patch turned out to be a shard of mirror glass, facing upward. Intoning a prayer to Halav, Vasily passed a hand before his eyes and declared the glass to be evilly enchanted. Cautiously, therefore, Lana and Drewen approached the shard and after considerable deliberation decided to peer into the shining surface. Instantly, the reflection they saw staring back at them was that of a hideous monster, its entire body covered in bristling black fur with menacing jaws - the Mirror Fiend! The glass shimmered however and the beast's image faded. Vasily announced moments later that the evil aura had dissipated. Before venturing further into the Tower, Karnus tarried to cover the glass with a sackcloth he had brought along, then hastened on after his companions.

It soon became apparent that each and every room of the complex contained an identical shard of mirror glass. Each time Vasily would detect an evil aura surrounding the shard, and the party would ready ready itself for attack, but then the aura would fade to nothingness as they approached.

Threy broke away from the group to investigate the kitchen on the first floor. He found a massive side of beef sitting on a table, waiting to be cooked. Something had taken a massive bite out of one side of the joint. The hairs on the back of Threy's neck began to prickle as his danger sense alerted him to movement behind him. The cleric wheeled, mace in hand, as with a hideous shriek the Mirror Fiend appeared in the room! Threy battled valiantly but as soon as his companions came to join the fight, the beast fled - scuttling into the fireplace and up the kitchen chimney. The party gave chase to the upper level, but upon arrival could find no trace of the beast in the room above. The room was empty save for a shard of mirror glass. Cursing their bad luck, the party resumed searching the remainder of the level.

Hunters or hunted?

After two lengthy hours of searching the party were close to giving up. They had explored every nook and cranny of the tower, leaving no space untouched, but still the beast eluded them. In Halia's laboratory a flock of stirges had been released from their cages, and attacked the party with their needle-like bills. An ochre jelly emerged from a broken container, but was dispatched through fire from Karnus' Staff. Then from the shadows burst an ape-like figure... not the Fiend but (oddly) a rock baboon.

Exhausted after the unexpected confrontations, and having had no sleep since leaving Threshold over a day ago, the companions needed rest, and so camped in Halia and Retameron's bedchamber on the tower's uppermost level. Lana awoke in the middle of the night to find the beast's bear-trap jaws looming above her through the darkness, despite the room's mirror shard having been turned to face the wall. The beast was here! The mage screamed and rolled to one side as its fangs buried themselves into the pillow where her head had been just a heartbeat before. Lana seized her magical dagger from the bedside table and buried the blade into the beast's flank, sending it retreating into the darkness of the far side of the chamber. When Lana's companions arrived with light only a moment later, there was not a trace of the fiend inside the room.

The party deduced that the Fiend would only fight a single opponent at a time, therefore so a trap was set. Drewen was to be left alone to lure the beast into appearing, while the remainder of the party hid in an adjoining chamber. There came a sudden commotion however, and the door of the room the rest of the party were lurking in slammed shut and locked itself! Drewen was well and truly alone against the fiend, his companions could offer no aid. When Vasily's hammer and a Knock spell from Lana forced the door to open, the beast turned and fled, heading toward the nearest shard of mirror glass. The beast was obviously gaining strength through having the shards nearby. The companions had endured enough. With weapon and foot they began smashing every mirrored surface within the Tower, uncaring of what bad luck their actions might bring. Their plan paid off. As the final mirror shattered, the beast appeared looking somewhat weakened. Keen to avenge the Tower's slaughtered inhabitants, the party charged the beast and after just a few rounds the beast it fell dead to the stone floor.

Demise of the Fiend ... no great success

Even with the beast slain, the companions felt that their mission was a failure. Despite their thorough searching they had been unable to locate Mallek's Mirror anywhere within the Tower, and Halia and Retameron were still missing. Terranon expressed his sinxere gratitude for the companions' assistance in felling the Mirror Fiend, but it was clear that there was little more anyone could do.

In low spirits the companions returned to Threshold, where Lana invited everyone to her master's Tower to discuss the past days' events and what the disappearance of Halia and Retameron would spell for the Grand Duchy. Valtanivark for his part was more than shocked on learning of the couple's disappearance and suspected foul play was at work. The ageing wizard went at once to Tarnskeep to inform Patriarch Sherlane, who in turn demanded that the party consult with Guildmaster Teldon of Specularum. Even Valtanivark, Teldon's foremost rival, was quick to support this motion.

Specularum

Speed was paramount therefore the Patriarch used his influence to commandeer Cardia's flying carpet, providing rapid transport for Threy, Vasily and Drewen to the capital. Valtanivark meanwhile polymorphed himself into an immense roc and flew alongside the carpet bearing Lana and Karnus on speedy wings.

The city dwellers of Specularum were astounded as later that night the immense eagle swooped down from the sky to settle on the roof of the Wizards' Guild. With Valtanivark and Teldon combining their abilities, the two magic-users were able to divine that Halia and Retameron were both still alive somewhere, if not in good health. Their spells could not pinpoint the couple's location however. Indeed the haziness of the image conjured suggested that they were no longer within the same dimension.

One thing was clear however. The prospect of mounting a rescue would be impossible without Mallek's Mirror. Teldon's normally bemused face grew grave and serious as he checked its powers in the Guild records. The Mirror had been created by an Immortals, and was an artifact of colossal power! In the hands of a crazed madman such as Mallek it could spell disaster for the Grand Duchy, if not the Known World. Mallek had somehow tapped into this power source and was using the Mirror's magic for personal gain and at a whim. This was all Teldon could tell for sure.

Confused, Karnus asked his former master what had caused Mallek to turn to a live of evil. Teldon frowned and voiced his suspicions on the matter - Mallek had in the past exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia, and was believed to have at least one alter ego, being that of Skarda. The name rang bells in each of the companions' minds.

The Legend of Skarda's Raiders

Years before the Grand Duchy had been terrorised by an infamous warmonger named Skarda, reputedly a wizard of considerable power. Skarda's Raiders had long been spoken of as ghost stories and tales to scare badly behaved children. It was well known that the warlord and his minions would arrive at a settlement, and cause their victims and all possible loot, livestock and supplies to disappear like ghosts, without a trace. Entire villages had thus vanished off the face of Karameikos. How might the party hope to vanquish so powerful a foe?! It became clear what force was behind these disappearances - not Skarda himself, but his mastery of the Mirror artifact. Could Skarda have been the belligerent alter ego of Mallek?

Soon after this discussion the companions returned to their daily pursuits - Karnus remaining in the guild with Master Teldon and Vasily returning to the callings of his church while Drewen, Threy and Lana returned to running the Flying Ferret Inn. Dismayed at the apparent failure of their mission, each of them thought life might have been peaceful for a while to come. They would be proved wrong.

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