A side quest of the Cursed Eight
This is the first of a few episodes that recount the events of a one-off D&D session that I DMed for my amazing group of players. The story continues from where it left off in “The Adventures of the Cursed Eight 1.10”...
Silence filled the chamber as the party stared horrified at the withered tree. Lohar was the first to move; he stooped down to check Father Silin’s pulse.
“He’s alive,” he sighed in relief, straightening up and giving thanks to Thelas.
“Oh joy,” said Shainarra, sarcasm dripping from every syllable. “You should check the Tree of Life next! How do you think it’s doing, hmm?”
Lohar quickly scuttled over to the dark trunk and hesitantly placed a hand on the ash-coloured bark.
“Odd…” he breathed. He felt for the divine magic that he knew should inhabit this, the most sacred of Gerotil’s manifestations in the physical world.
He found nothing.
“We’re dead,” said Shainarra in a deadpan voice, staring at the small figure of Father Silin, who had begun to stir.
“Come on, it can’t be that bad,” said Zal’tat striding forward. He picked up a handful of leaves that instantly disintegrated into puffs of dust.
“Not that bad?! When Stumpy wakes up he’s going to look for someone to blame for this!” She pointed at the dead tree. “Who do you think is going to be highest on his list of suspects?”
“But, we had nothing to do with this!” said Lohar.
“Do you think he’ll know that?”
While the rest of the party was busy discussing, Grell was staring into the depths of the shiny purple gem. The half-orc squinted harder, as a faint shape seemed to appear behind the countless facets of the crystal, calling to him. Tempting him.
“Let’s see what you’re hiding…,” he murmured placing the dark rock on the ground and taking two steps backwards. He reached behind his back and found the reassuring shaft of his battle-axe.
“Stop it this instant! We shouldn’t be fighting! We’ll just wait for Father Silin to wake up and…Grell?”
Thorin turned just in time to see the child swinging his weapon downwards.
A blast of violet energy erupted from the gem and the full tone of what sounded like giant church bell echoed outwards. Dark waves of chaotic magic overran the Temple, sweeping the party of their feet. Above them, a blinding light soared towards the ceiling, followed shortly after by a glorious aurora borealis. As the two phenomenon faded into nothingness, a crimson mist swirled around the companions and wild laughter echoed all around them. Then, it vanished.
Thorin pulled himself up, clutching at a stone bench.
“This is turning out to be a really crazy day…” he grumbled under his breath. “Is everyone ok?”
“I’m fine,” coughed Kathra emerging from behind a nearby column.
“I…I think I’m alright,” whimpered Father Silin, sitting up.
Bane whined as he peered from in between the roots of the tree.
“Guys?” called Thorin looking worriedly around the empty temple.
“They’re gone,” said Kathra beckoning him over. On the second stone step leading up to the altar, the black gem pulsed wildly.
“Shit…” murmured Thorin looking down. “Can you get them back?”
Kathra rolled up her sleeves.
“I can try.”
* * *
Nala groaned as she stirred; she had a headache and she felt if she’d just been smashed into a wall.
“Easy,” said Zal’tat. He helped her get to her feet and waited calmly at her side.
“Thank you, Zal’tat.”
“It was nothing…take your time. We aren’t in any rush,” he said darkly.
The dragonborn immediately focused: they were no longer in the temple of Gerotil!
“Twelve preserve us,” she breathed.
They were standing on a seemingly endless plain of purple sand. Crystals littered the ground and sparkled in the suffused light of a violet sky. Not far from where they were standing, she could see Grell, Siloqui, Shainarra and Lohar inspecting what looked like a run-down hovel. On the opposite side of the plain, she could barely make out a forest of purple rock.
She stared once more at the sky.
“It’s wrong,” she said thoughtfully.
“Which part?” asked Zal’tat kicking a stray rock.
“The sky. It’s…fractured.”
“Yup, noticed that as soon as I woke up. It seems that we have been transported to another plane of existence…don’t know which one though. Lohar is trying to figure it out.”
Nala cast a sideways glance at the cleric, who now appeared to be on his hands and knees, peering at the purple sand from behind a magnifying glass.
“I think we’d get quicker results if we asked the locals,” she said, striding towards the rest of her companions.
“Well,” said Siloqui, moving to meet them, “the hut is inhabited, but I still haven’t found any sign as to who or what would call this desolate place home.”
“I think I may be able to help with that,” said Shainarra, from her position on the top of the roof of the shack. She pointed down towards the figure cloaked in black who had just appeared from the shadows.
“Well, well! Visitors! Or should I say, ‘fellow inmates’?” he said softly, eyeing each of them in turn.
“Who are you? Show your face stranger and no sudden moves: if I catch even a whiff of magic I’ll make sure to end your casting permanently,” said Siloqui evenly. One of her green-fletched arrows was nocked and ready to fly, its steel tip gleaming dully.
“Calm yourself, young one. I am no enemy,” he said, letting his hood fall back onto his shoulders. The purple light illuminated the shadowy skin of a dark elf; white hair crowned his head and fell in long locks down to his back. He appeared to be in the prime of his life, but the companions sensed a transparency to him, as if he could fade without warning.
The drow smiled kindly.
“Where are my manners; I am Quarij and like you, I am a prisoner of the Blackheart gem.”
“What do you mean prisoner?” asked Shainarra looking up at the sky.
“Why, you are inside the Gem my dear. Your crimes must have been most grievous if they chose to put you in here,” the dark elf said, looking at the companions curiously.
“Well, actually…” Grell began.
“What did you do?!” said Lohar, shooting him a dirty look.
“Well, I sort of found a really awesome-looking gem in Dafaskos’ robes and then it started glowing, so…I might have tapped it.”
“You tapped it?”
“Well, swung at it with my battle-axe,” said Grell bashfully.
“Intriguing,” murmured Quarij.
“You-!” exclaimed Lohar getting to his feet. He made a movement as if to try to grab Grell by the scruff of the neck, but immediately stopped once he noticed the weapon clutched in the child’s hands.
“Try me, priest-boy,” growled the half-orc.
“Quarij,” said Zal’tat addressing the scarecrow-like drow, “do you know of any way out of here?”
“Of course! The gem is after all a centre for the rehabilitation of villains and criminals. All you have to do is pass the various tests our jailors have prepared. Then you are free to go.”
“Somehow, I think that it isn’t as easy as you make it sound,” said the gnome, eying the dark elf critically.
Quarij sighed. He sat down on a smooth rock and propped his head up with both his hands.
“No it isn’t, master gnome. I was wrongly placed here after my lord, the King of the Netherfare Mountains, was defeated. His enemies punished me and locked me in the Gem. Here, time works differently; you never age, you never need to eat, drink or sleep. There is no escape and there is no reprieve. The only hope is to pass the trials.”
“And haven’t you tried to pass them?” asked Nala.
“Countless times. I’ve passed through the gates of the first trial so many times, that my footsteps have begun to carve a groove in the rock.”
“What happened? Why did you fail?”
“I died,” he answered quietly. “At first I thought that Death might be the answer, that I might be finally released from this limbo…but no. I awoke on this plain once more, luckless and alone. Since then I’ve been killed thousands of times.”
“Well, at least there is some good news about us being here,” said Grell, “We are immortal!”
“Yay,” spat Shainarra.
“Hang on a second,” said Lohar peering at the sitting drow, “who did you say put you in this prison? Maybe we can talk to them directly, explain that there’s been a mistake?”
The drow bean to speak but the words twisted in his mouth, becoming unintelligible. He coughed once and cleared his throat.
“I’m afraid I can’t say. Before I was locked in here, they took their names and all knowledge of their nature. I only know of them by the statues they left behind.”
“What statues?” asked Lohar.
Quarij got to his feet. “I will show you. Come, friends. I will lead you to the first gate. There you may decide what you wish to do. Should you choose to attempt to escape this forsaken place, I only ask that I may be allowed to come with you.”
“We’ll think about it,” said Siloqui, letting the tension leave her bowstring. “Just lead us to the gate.”
“With pleasure,” he said.
He ducked into his hovel and retuned with a long wooden staff clutched in one long-fingered hand. He nodded towards them and set off across the plain, in the direction of the stone forest.
“I’ve never heard of the Netherfare mountains,” said Lohar softly.
“Do you think we can trust him?” said Shainarra.
“Does it matter? There’s six of us and one of him; how powerful could he be?” asked Grell, as he shouldered his weapon.
“You just had to say that, didn’t you?” groaned Nala. The party moved out, following the slightly bent figure of the mysterious dark elf.-
The story continues in SQ2: The Blackheart Arena…