:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - Searching the Silver Sierras ::

Searching the Silver Sierras

An eagle swept over the broken landscape, weaving between the crags and mountaintops, riding the buffeting winds and diving amongst the sharp mountain spires. It alighted upon an outcropping of rock and, in a fluttering of feathers become a fine blue cloak, transformed into the ill-tempered form of Karnus Perdissium.

The wizard was wrapped up in warm clothes, his fur lined hood pulled tight over his scowling face. He pulled a map out of his pocket and consulted it, holding it up to the landmarks laid out before him and grunting as he compared the two. Pocketing the map, Karnus concentrated and transformed into a small bird, which then skittered away a few hundred feet down the mountainside.

The bird set down once more, transforming back into human form. Karnus kicked over a few rocks, and spent some time regarding the mineral formations of the mountainside, before eventually pulling out a wand and gesturing at the rock face. After a second with no activity, his shoulders slumped and he lowered the wand – the divination had failed, yet again.

Karnus turned and sat on a rock, regarding the snow swept landscape before him. For four days he had been scouring this mountain range, and was beginning to think that for all the genius Ezekiel Naramis had displayed with alchemy, his map making skills had been less than impressive. The wizard looked down at the map and sighed, turning it over to find the hastily translated instructions to the deposit of Naramissium he sought.

A gust of chilling wind suddenly hit him in the face and the wizard scowled and drew his cloak up even further. He stood and in an eye watering moment became an eagle once again. The bird beat its wings and launched itself into the sky to soar back to the wizard’s shelter, his spirits low.

The bird slipped past the hallucinatory screen that he had erected and into the refuge below. The wind relented as he dropped behind the Wall of Stone that mostly covered the entrance to the shelter and in the continually lit space beyond the wizard resumed his human form. Shivering, he quickly set a fire and consumed a quick meal, then pulled out a book and climbed into his bedroll, settling down by the fire to read. Eventually, exhaustion overcame the weary mage and he drifted off into a dreamless night’s sleep.

The next day found Karnus once again out exploring the mountain range, trying to match the vague instructions on Princess Carlotina’s map with the landscape around him. The morning had heralded yet more hours of fruitless searching, and Karnus was resigning himself to the same fate for the afternoon when something caught his eye.

Off in the distance, picking their way through the shattered mountain range, a group of humans forms clambered over the devastated terrain. There were perhaps fifty of them, all struggling to reach a nearby pass. Bored from his days of wearisome searching, Karnus flapped his wings and set out to investigate.

As he drew close to the group, he saw that they were indeed humans, dressed in strange clothing that seemed to consist of robes and head pieces wrapped tightly around their faces, presumably useful in keeping out the cold of the mountain range. The dark clothing was certainly not Glantrian or Darokinian in origin. When he came within earshot, Karnus heard strange words being shouted by the lead figures in a haunting, guttural tone that he had never hears before.

Wheeling in the air above the group, the wizard watched as the men reached the pass and, without being given time to rest by their leaders, formed into a ragged marching order and proceeded down the pass. Most of the humans were well armed, with various weapons strung over their backs and swords sheathed at their sides. Several pairs of the men were struggling to carry large chests, heaving them up the shattered mountainside and then struggling to guide them safely down into the pass.

Curious as to the origin of these newcomers, Karnus was suddenly startled when a snapping, draconic mouth nearly closed around him. He dived away from the attack, looking back up in panic at the swooping form of a wyvern, chasing him towards the ground. As he watched, the wyvern’s head was jerked upwards by a pair of reigns, and it changed its direction, evidently disgruntled at being denied its prey.

As the monster wheeled past Karnus, the wizard saw that upon its back rode a man swathed in robes in much the same manner as those on the ground, except that his were jet black. The wyvern and rider swept towards the group of men and, while the wyvern hovered over them, the rider shouted instructions to the pedestrians, again in that strange tongue that Karnus couldn’t comprehend.

Karnus set down on a nearby crag and watched the wyvern soar off again, leaving the men to struggle down the pass with their equipment. As he watched them go, the wizard pieced together clues in his head and came to a disturbing conclusion – from everything he had heard of the war in Darokin, and from Lana’s description of an encounter over the Streel, he was forced to conclude that these were minions of the Master.

Karnus tracked the men as they progressed slowly through the mountains. As he went he formulated theories as to what had brought them here: Perhaps they had been based in Akorros and been forced to retreat northwards around Lake Amsorrak when the town was retaken. If that was the case, they may have been forced into the Silver Sierras to seek shelter from the meteor fallout.

Whatever the reason for their presence here, they were no friend to Glantri or Darokin. Sensing his spell would soon be ending, the wizard turned in the air and soared off towards his shelter, determined to return tomorrow to settle the matter.

The minions of the Master marched wearily by underneath the wizard, hovering on an updraft. The wyvern rider had flown off moments earlier, presumably scouting the terrain ahead, and the men were about to approach a narrow pass between two shattered mountains.

Karnus watched as the men changed their formation so that they could pass between the cragged peaks. As they moved through the gap, Karnus dropped to the ground behind their rear guard and transformed himself back into human form right in front of a startled hulean. Before the soldier could react, Karnus gestured with a hand and spoke a few words of magic, causing a wall of stone to spring into being between the two.

The wizard then transformed back into a bird, soaring into the air and moving in a circular route to the head of the column. As he went he saw that the men were rushing towards the wall, hammering at it while their commanders shouted to them to be alert. Karnus landed once again, this time upon an outcropping several feet up the shattered mountainside. Resuming his human form, the wizard met the eyes of one of the commanders, who snarled in his face and shouted for his men’s attention.

Before anyone could react, Karnus gestured at the mountainside a few feet away from where he stood and quickly completed an incantation. A column of gas erupted from the ground, swirling round and quickly becoming a cloud of green, noxious gas, which slid down the mountainside into the head of the column.

The men at the front were obscured by the gas, but Karnus could hear their coughing and hacking as the noxious vapours entered their lungs. While the cloud drifted back towards the summoned wall of stone, Karnus drew his elven cloak over his head and pushed himself off from the cliff, drifting into the air and easily avoiding the few half-hearted arrows that were hurriedly fired in his direction.

The men at the back of the column were crying out in their strange guttural language. Karnus had chosen the ambush site well, as the driving winds were blowing his Cloudkill effect towards the summoned wall, effectively trapping most of the men in the cloud’s path. As he watched, the gas drifted over the huleans, leaving bodies and the occasional survivor in its wake. After it had amassed at the wall of stone, only a dozen of the Master’s soldiers remained alive.

The survivors gathered around their commander, stringing their bows and scanning the skies for their arcane foe. Karnus almost felt sorry for them as he dropped a fireball on them from above. The explosion sent the men flying in all directions, and left their commander staggering around, suddenly alone in the pass.

The now visible wizard dropped to the ground in front of the remaining soldier, staff held ready for combat. The enraged warrior swung his sword at the wizard, who easily parried the blow and responded with one of his own, catching the soldier across the back of his legs and dropping him to the ground. The man staggered back to his feet and lashed out at the wizard once more, yet again finding his blow deflected and receiving a nasty blow to the midriff in return.

The soldier staggered towards Karnus one final time, as the wizard simply sidestepped his clumsy, desperate strike and delivered a killing blow to the back of the commander’s head. The hulean went down with a satisfying thud, leaving Karnus alone and surrounded by a field of corpses. The wizard soared up the side of the mountain using his flight spell and settled down on an outcropping to await the return of the wyvern rider, pulling his elven cloak around him when its magics had recuperated and meditating as he awaited his foe.

Before too long the wyvern reappeared on the horizon, racing towards the pass. It reared up as it approached and the corpses on the mountainside came into view, its rider glaring around with barely concealed fury.

“You’re a bit late to help them,” called Karnus.

The wyvern rider glared around furiously, making Karnus feel very glad that he didn’t have the ability to detect invisible foes.

”Who are you?” demanded the rider in a rasping, hissing dialect of Thyatian. “You will pay for thissss insssult!”

”I’ve heard much about the wyvern riding wizards of the Master. I have to say I’m not impressed.”

The hulean’s head snapped around, scanning the rockface for the source of the voice. His wyvern shrieked and sniffed at the air. “Sssshow yourssself, and you ssshall sssee my power…”

Karnus drifted into the air as he spoke, “you think you face some base hedge wizard? Perhaps a Darokinian guild mage come to exact revenge, or a wandering Karameikan seeking adventure? You do not.” Karnus drew back his cloak as he continued, dropping his invisibility, “you face a Wizard of Glantri. Prepare to die.”

The hulean wizard, suddenly espying his foe, turned towards Karnus and levelled his finger at him. Arcane energy accumulated as the hulean spat out guttural words of magic. Karnus meanwhile was calmly summoning magic of his own, and before the wyvern rider could complete his spell, five bolts of energy shot from Karnus hand and arced towards him. Three of the bolts dissipated against a magical shield, but the other two made it through and hit the wizard in the chest. The nascent spell which the hulean had been casting died in his hands, its remnants falling to the ground far below.

The wyvern rider shrieked in frustration and kicked at his steed, forcing it to swoop towards Karnus, who spoke a few words of magic and summoned three replicas of himself to stand in the air beside him. The charging wyvern swept through one of the images, and Karnus watched with interest as the other two were blasted away by two of the three magic missiles which arced towards him, the third being blocked by his own shield.

As the wyvern and its rider swept by, Karnus cried out, “you’re going to have to try a lot harder than that, I’m afraid,” eliciting only a growled response from the wizard as he turned his steed and swooped back towards Karnus.

It swept straight into the path of an oncoming fireball, which burst against its chest and blossomed into a rapturous sphere of flame, consuming both wyvern and rider. As the fire dissipated, Karnus was surprised to see that both steed and rider had survived the explosion, though evidently both were much the worse for wear. The wyvern wheeled away shrieking while the wizard searched in his pockets for something.

Karnus spoke yet more words of magic, sending twin arrows of sapphire magic streaking towards the wyvern. They impacted one after the other, and as the second shaft penetrated the monster it shrieked and writhed in the air, struggling to maintain its flight and thrashing around, making for an unpleasant ride for the wizard upon its back.

As the stunned lizard descended haphazardly to the ground, Karnus unleashed yet another spell, catching the pair in a coruscating explosion of prismatic colours. While the wyvern rider shrugged off this attack easily, its stunned mount was not so lucky, its resistance having been eroded by the stunning effect of the stunbolts. The lizard was struck unconscious, and instantly ceased its attempts to fly, instead turning end over end and slamming into the mountainside with a nasty crack. The lizard slid down the side of the shattered mountain, scattering boulders and rocks as it went and coming to rest on a large outcropping that just about supported its weight.

Karnus flew down the mountainside, regarding his handiwork. As he watched, one of the wyverns wings was thrown aside, and the hulean wizard pulled himself out from under the body of his steed. The man’s body had been broken by the fall, and his left arm trailed uselessly as he dragged himself out from under the wyvern.

Karnus stepped onto the ground in front of the crawling wizard and knelt down so the man could see him. “You see,” began Karnus, “you think you know what magic is, but you don’t. You’re simply not a match.”

He straightened up and looked down his nose at the hulean, who summoned enough strength to spit a bloody wad of phlegm at his opponent. Karnus gestured one final time and watched as his five magic missiles blasted the life from the huleans’ body.

Once he had rested from his exertions, Karnus set about looting the wyvern rider. Though he found a few pieces of jewellery, he could find no trace of the magic users’ spellbook, which the wizard found very curious. Then again, perhaps it had simply been thrown clear when the wyvern crashed to the ground…

Returning to the dead soldiers, Karnus checked their corpses, finding little in the way of gems, jewels or coins. The three chests which the men had been hauling over the mountains were locked, so Karnus took the form of a roc and hauled them back to his shelter, resolving to knock them open on the morrow. The corpses he left for the birds.

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