Shields of the Vale

The world according to Garrett
episode 1

we have a sprite! they’re sort of quick, don’t say much & are sort of pretty & i always thought they didn’t really exist. but now that I’ve met one i know that’s not true. we had a long conversation while we were on the train. they’re really friendly when they don’t disappear to do other secret sprite-y things.
we went on a train! (totally not as exciting as an airship) i didn’t get to drive this one, but we went really fast. we had to sit still for aaages (that was hard) but that gave me time to sleep & talk to my friends and make new friends and talk to them & then we stopped at new places i hadn’t never been to before. that was exciting for a while.
then we went to Gherrigan’s house! well, we never really made it that far. but he was telling me all about it. stories involving his sister who is in charge (& she’s not allowed to talk to Gida while she’s busy or was that only when she’s busy? i forget) & he has a brother & a Dad, but he says he was dead & everyone thought he was dead when he wasn’t. i think he was running away, but now he’s going home so i guess that’s okay – but then he said he had two other groups of friends that got killed as well, & now we’re the third group of friends, & what happens if we die as well!? he’ll have no friends again… but then one night while we were at the inn & we were asleep someone killed someone & cut off their ears & eyes. i think that that would have hurt up until the part where he was killed. but we chased them because you can’t do that sort of stuff & not expect to get in trouble. i was pretty upset by it, i don’t like it when people kill people for no reason. but I found which way they went.
we have two Paladins! paladins are funny. they don’t seem to get upset like normal people. they seem to be super polite to people who are bad, & are really nasty to nice people (the po po).
they argue a lot. they say things like “oh no Elrich, you can take the lead. i’ll just stand here quietly & insult everyone & then when you do it wrong I’ll point out your failed tactics in front of the bad-guys”… boy i nearly pee’d myself laughing <giggle> but i was hiding in a tree & didn’t want to give myself away. <hee> its still funny!
but i guess their tactics worked because it made the bad guys so angry that they attacked them.
Assassins are bad! one absolutely stabbed Gherrigan. but it must not have hurt much because his eyes never went red…

Time after Tiamat
A coda to the Shields' adventures

The people were starting to celebrate their survival, the vanquishment of true evil and the ascension of their own beloved Victoria and her beloved Nesh. Even now, despite her own ascension, Shanna did not feel drawn to it. She had things to do.

“I’m going to leave – this still isn’t really my scene,” she whispered to Dinnan. She scanned the room – no-one seemed to be noticing her anyway.

He looked up at her and grinned. Same old Shanna. “I know. I’ll stay for a bit though. Could be fun.”

“Meet me at…” she thought of the multiverse and the perfect place, then whispered its true name for Dinnan’s ears only. “It’s a nice and interesting little pub on the edge of Oblivion. You’ll like it. I think.”

“Until then,” said Dinnan winking and turning toward the party.

Shanna looked across the courtyard at Saran, who nodded farewell grimly, and stepped ‘between’.

Shanna sat unseen, watching Grik and Halva argue playfully in the courtyard about Grik’s snoring, then stepped out into the open. Grik cursed in surprise and was still reaching for his axe as Halva dropped into a combat stance, her dagger drawn. Then Halva grinned incredulously as Grik scowled.

“We won,” said Shanna quickly. “I’ve come for my things. I can’t stay long. Things to do.”

“They’re inside…” said Halva, glancing at Shanna’s eyes. “Your eyes are different.”

“Probably that damn elf wizard,” grumbled Grik, stomping inside then calling back over his shoulder. “How’s Nesh and Victoria?”

“They’re good. It’s more than the eyes… it’s all different. We’re all different,” said Shanna, waiting.

“Don’t mind him. He’s always grumpy when he loses an argument. Come in,” invited Halva as she followed Grik inside. “Do you want something to eat?”

“I don’t snore that badly,” muttered Grik.

“Yes you do!” exclaimed Halva and Shanna in unison, then grinned at each other.

“Are they married yet? They might want to reconsider,” grumped Grik.

“Yes, I think they are. They’re happy and together at least,” answered Shanna, still smiling.

“Bah. I’m going to check on the kid. It’s good to see you Shanna,” said Grik, his eyes twinkling despite his frown and went upstairs.

“He really is happy to see you, you know,” said Halva, searching through a cupboard. “He just needs to go out ranging for a bit. He doesn’t like being housebound too long. Gets itchy feet. And he misses his friends.”

“I know,” said Shanna wistfully. She’d loved him once, so long ago, she knew that now. “Try the cupboard to the left.”

Halva looked quizzically over her shoulder, opened the cupboard to the left, reached in and pulled out Shanna’s books and figurine.

“Don’t ask,” Shanna said in answer to the unasked question as she reached for and stowed her books. “It’s something I can do now.”

“Well then…” said Halva awkwardly.

Shanna interrupted her with a fierce hug. “Thank you for helping. Without you… If you or Grik ever need me, put the word out. I will come if I can. Eventually.”

Shanna let go and stepped backwards. “Bye Grik,” she yelled.

“Bye Shanna. Not staying for grub?” came the gruff reply.

Shanna glanced at Halva, who still looked a little stunned. She needed to remember to be careful now she was different. Power and mortals and stuff.

“I can’t stay…” she started

“…things to do,” finished Halva. “Go on then. Go out and do your ‘things’.”

Shanna nodded, and stepped ‘between’.

The figurine in her hand felt warm to the touch as she turned it over and over, waiting for the right moment. She closed her eyes: feeling the warmth of the sun and the cool salty water lapping around her feet; hearing the gentle rumble of the surf and the insistent cries of gulls overhead; smelling the slight tang of ocean air with an undercurrent of rotting vegetable matter. It was time.

She drew back her arm and threw as far as she could then loosed an arrow as she said the word of summoning. Glorious green and blue scales erupted from the small figure of jade, glinting in the sunlight, followed by a huge reptilian head and a fish-like tale. As the conjuring ended the arrow struck home and the figurine shattered.

“Free,” whispered Shanna as Silky dropped into the ocean with a perfectly executed spiralling dive. She frolicked happily in the surf, breaching the surface time and time again only to fall back with a tremendous splash. Shanna watched, smiling, then gasping as Silky landed nearby, drenching her.

After a time Silky swam up and nuzzled at Shanna’s hand. Shanna sighed sadly.

“I know, but it’s a different time now. And Flea would approve,” she said, stroking Silky’s eye ridge. “You are free now. This is a nice place – you could live here. There are friends nearby and you could give the children rides.”

She stood and looked at the mountain in the distance. “I have to go. Things to do.” She patted Silky once more and watched her slowly swim away. She was a good companion, Shanna thought with mixed emotions. A good friend.

She trudged slowly out of the surf towards the mountain. She could get there faster but she needed time to gather her thoughts. And dry off.

“I know you’re there,” Max rumbled in the darkness. “Are you going to come in?”

“Only because I want you to know,” muttered Shanna quietly. She’d arrived a short while ago but for some reason didn’t want to go in to the cave. Ever since the Communion and the Bonding she’d thought that she’d come back. But now she was here, she felt nervous. Almost giddy. She shook her head – no time for that – and stepped in.

The gold dragon filled half the chamber, the floor scattered with shiny objects and…

“Is this a toy cuddly dragon?” Shanna asked incredulous, holding up a soft children’s toy.

“The villagers bring me gifts. The children too. I like them,” Max purred.

Shanna looked around in more detail – there was nothing of any real monetary value in the chamber – and glanced up at Max quizzically.

Max shrugged as best a dragon can. “You changed me too. I don’t desire the normal ‘draconic’ things anymore and the villagers needed gold to rebuild. Plus my needs are few. It seemed like the right thing to do.”

Shanna smiled – the universe was full of surprises. Then stopped as she remembered why she was here.

“You are going to ask me to leave with you. To travel the multiverse and see wondrous sights. To be your companion until the end of days,” said Max glumly.

“And you’re going to say no,” said Shanna in a small voice.

“You are going to offer to elevate me to godhood, to give me some of your newfound divinity so that we could do this thing. And you know I cannot let you do that.”

“You know me and what I would be sacrificing. You’re going to tell me that I need it more, that I need all of it, that you wish you could but you won’t do that to me. You’re going to tell me that you would only slow me down and stop me doing the things I need to do.”

“And you know that is the truth of it and that is why you didn’t want to come in. Because you already knew the answer. And now we are crying.”

And Max held Shanna for a time as they both cried with joy for the glorious thing that had happened and in sadness for futures unrealised. Shanna broke the embrace first. She felt… peaceful.

“You have to go…” began Max.

“…Things to do,” ended Shanna, smiling. And stepped ‘between’.

Shanna stepped out of the ruins of the Gorgon King’s fortress and surveyed the land. She had scoured the continent, searching high and low for any sign of the death plague, undeath or followers of Modeus and Tiamat. The portal inside was destroyed and there were no lurking traps for the unwary. It was relatively clean and ready. She hoped they would do alright.

Saran stood before another assembled group of Shadar-Kai, terrible and glorious and beautiful. Shanna watched her sister work the crowd. It made things so much easier but it made her slightly uncomfortable. The portal she’d prepared glowed large and blue behind them with the now sunny lands of Karkoth beyond. It didn’t have to look so bright and cheery, but Shanna thought it best to go for complete contrast and culture shock. Let them know what they were getting themselves into.

Saran spoke in a low whisper, but it was the only sound that could be heard.

“Hear me. This place, the Shadowfell, is not a place for the living to live anymore. The portal beyond,” Saran pointed her shimmering blade toward it, “will only stay open for a short time. If you remain here you will not be permitted to live. I will see to that personally. Go."

There was a moment of stillness, and then the assembled Shadar-Kai moved en-masse towards the glowing planar portal in panic.

“Do you really need to frighten them?” Shanna asked.

Saran shrugged. “It works doesn’t it?”

Shanna mirrored the shrug. “I guess so. I just wish there was another way.”

“Sometimes there is only one way,” Saran said grimly, staring evilly at the Shadar-Kai if they dared look at her. “Besides, this way they live. Most of the time anyway.”

Shanna suddenly looked out across the Shadowfell. Something seemed… ‘off’ to her. It was like the edge of a flickering shadow of someone who had left a candlelit room. She couldn’t quite see it but if she could just…

“What is it?” asked Saran, trying to follow her gaze.

“Maybe nothing,” Shanna replied, frowning. She’d lost it and the feeling was gone. She shook her head. “Probably nothing… anyway sometime after we’re done here there’s something I’d like your help with.”

“Why not one of the others?” asked Saran, curious.

“Because sometimes there is only one way,” said Shanna. “And there are things to do.”

Shanna waited and surveyed the desolation the great Drow city, and sighed grimly. When the Abyss had imploded, Lolth and her Demonweb Pits had also imploded. And all of her matrons and temples and evil magics granted by her had exploded with spectacular and catastrophic consequences. The Drow as they used to be were no more. And there were many dead and soon the crawlers would come and feed.

She used to hate Drow, but now she saw that hatred should have been pity. They were no more free than the slaves they kept. Drow society had been enslaved by the sickness that was the madness of Lolth. They were a sick people, but the sick can heal and recover. There was movement to her left and an elderly Drow woman approached her carefully. She’d seen her hiding in the ruins but thought if she just stood and waited eventually the Drow would approach her. It was an old ranger trick for dealing with injured animals.

“Here to gloat elf?” she hissed bitterly. “To laugh at how the mighty have fallen?”

“No grandmother,” said Shanna calmly. “I’m here to help.”

“Help?” cackled the Drow. “What can you do to help?”

Shanna quickly moved closer toward the Drow, throwing back her hood to let her truly see her face. Her eyes. Her power. The Drow recoiled and began to make a sign of protection then slumped and prostrated herself.

“I am sorry m-my lady, I-I-I knew not what I was saying,” she babbled, frightened.

Shanna reached out gently and helped the old woman to her feet.

“Gather the people, those who will come. Those who were slaves too. I will lead them through the darkness to new lands and safety,” she said pausing slightly and smiling. “So that was what the prophecy was talking about…”

“My lady?” asked the Drow, confused.

“Just something I heard once… never mind,” replied Shanna. “Go on, get everyone you can. I’ll wait for you.”

And she sat. Watching, waiting and thinking of a scrawny and stubborn thirteen year old that really had no idea. And she smiled. She was taking her people home.

The Treespeaker stood watching the dark-skinned new arrivals step through the portal and look cautiously around at their surrounding brethren, the ancient trees and the starlit sky. He chuckled like the sound of rustling leaves.

“So I was right about that prophecy. I knew it in my roots.”

“Oh shut up,” said Shanna playfully. “You know as well as I do that I was no Chosen One when I was thirteen. Now… maybe.”

“Prophecy,” intoned the Treespeaker sonorously, and then lightened his tone. “They are never quite as accurate as you want them to be.”

“Or as clear,” countered Shanna. She watched the group carefully – she’d already had to stop a few fights between the children of darkness and the children of the trees. Started by both sides. Old habits die hard.

“Yes, it will be a painful transition. But all growth is,” agreed the Treespeaker. “This is a good thing you have done Shanna. A wonderful unbelievable thing. Our people can be whole again.”

“Thanks,” said Shanna awkwardly and they stood side by side for a while, simply watching and being.

After a while, Shanna turned to the Treespeaker. Something was troubling her.

“Treespeaker…” she began slowly. “I think I’m a god now. What if I don’t want to be one?”

The Treespeaker smiled. “Then do not be one. If you do not want to be a god, do not be one.”

Shanna tilted her head, puzzled, an waited for an inevitable obscure explanation.

“Gods are immortal beings of great power, that is true, but gods are also worshipped and seek out that worship. Just because you wield the power, you do not have to be one who is worshipped or seeks worship.” The Treespeaker explained. “I chose not to be a god. I chose to be something else. I am respected and revered by the People, but I am not worshipped.”

Shanna nodded. It made sense… sort of.

“But what if they worship anyway?” she asked.

“Then they worship and you get on with doing what you do,” smiled the Treespeaker.

“But what if they need me and I let them down?”

“Then do not let them down… meet their need,” chuckled the Treespeaker.

“But then… then I have a responsibility and duty for the people who worship me even if I don’t want it,” complained Shanna.

“And then, perhaps, you are a god,” laughed the Treespeaker wheezily.

“I’m confused… am I a god or not?” asked Shanna plaintively.

“That is for you and you alone to decide Shanna,” the Treespeaker said, putting his warm dry arm around her shoulders.

“Thank you for confusing me again,” Shanna said grumpily.

“You are always welcome,” replied the Treespeaker as Shanna shrugged gently out of his warm embrace and stepped back.

“Right then. Things to do,” said Shanna grinning and hoisting her pack.

“Travel safe,” he called as she stepped ‘between’ then turned back to the scene before him and murmured. “You are no longer Drow… perhaps Night Elves is a more suitable name for you, my long-lost brothers and sisters.”

Shanna stood back out of respect as the son and mother talked. She could hear everything anyway, but sometimes the illusion of privacy was all that was needed. She smiled wryly – she was getting better at this people stuff.

She remembered clearly the look on Jonas’ face when she’d stepped into his room in the inn, and the screams of the two beautiful girls he was with. How he’d dropped the devil-may-care attitude and dismissed those same two girls when she told him about the Eladrin and their departure. How quickly he’d dressed when she said she could take him to see his mother. They’d rushed downstairs to tell Mourn where they were going, then Shanna had summoned a portal and they’d gone to the Feywild.

Shanna was pleased to see it was intact, and that the Eladrin could no more remove the entire Feywild than they could grow three extra heads. Their city and finery was gone, of course, as were the echoes of their magic. She examined the planar membrane and found it strong and undamaged. The Eldest was skilled at his art and the weave showed evidence of his delicate touch. She also found the trail and they had left to find the Eladrin.

They weren’t where she had expected them to be. She had been pleasantly surprised. Instead of hiding away somewhere in the multiverse she found them sailing their cities and towers through the Sea of Wonder and setting course for the Womb of Transfigurement. Leaving and cutting their bonds to the Feywild had turned their eyes and minds outward, and they appeared determind to explore and map the multiverse.

She had, of course, met with the Eldest on arrival and there had been many questions answered by both parties. And then she had presented Jonas and made her request on his behalf – that he speak with his mother.

She brought herself back form contemplation as mother and son finished talking, embraced and Jonas approached. He’d been crying but didn’t look sad.

“Let’s go,” he sighed. Shanna could tell he didn’t want to talk about it but could see he was torn even though he had made up his mind. He wanted to stay but had decided to go. To go home.

“Ok,” she said taking his hand and summoning a portal. “You’re sure?”


And they left together.

They arrived together a mere moment after they left.

“Oh. You’re both not dead. That was quick,” intoned Mourn, polishing a glass. “That’s nice.”

“Yes I suppose it was and is,” grinned Shanna. She looked down and realised she was still holding Jonas’ hand. She let go and he snatched it back, shaking it. “Sorry.”

“Oww,” he said, blowing on it and eying her guardedly. “It’s ok – just a little singed. A tiny zap. Or something.”

“Oh well, got to go. Things to do,” she said hoisting her pack, then stopped. She put it down and began to pull out book after book after book. Each quite large and meticulously numbered and indexed. Jonas recognised them immediately.

“Your sketch books?” he blurted excitedly, reaching for one. “May I?”

Shanna stopped taking out the books for a moment and grinned. “Sure.”

Jonas took one at random and opened it. He gasped – the images jumped off the page and he hungrily turned to the next one. “There are brilliant.”

Shanna blushed. She didn’t think she could still do that. It made her happy. “Thanks. I was never good at words like you or Berradin, so I just drew what I saw. And I saw a lot.”

“I can tell… you’ve even labelled some of the pictures?” he said, stopping. There was almost too much here. “Not that you need to… the pictures… they say everything that needs to be said.”

Jonas then noticed the piles of books. It was all of them he figured. Every single sketchbook she had. He glanced at Shanna, slightly bewildered.

“Yours,” she said simply.

“I can’t…” he began.

“You can and will,” she interrupted firmly. “They tell the tale of an elf named Shanna who was born under important signs and destined for important things. She didn’t believe it at first and fought against it along the way, but it seemed to work out that way in the end. Her tale finishes when Tiamat fell. It’s a saga. It’s yours. You can add your own words to it or leave it as it is.”

Jonas looked at her, wide-eyed with wonder and disbelief. Shanna looked around the Red Carpet Tavern. It seemed so small for somewhere so important. Then she focused on Jonas again. She wanted someone from her old life to understand.

“I’m not really that elf anymore. I’m something… different,” she explained.

Jonas sweated nervously. “Are you… a god now?”

“No… at least, not like the ones just past. I just know that I’m not her anymore.”

“If you aren’t Shanna… what should I call you if I write about this?” he asked.

Shanna smiled. “I’m sure you’ll think of something. ‘Shields of the Vale’ grew on me in the end. You can still call me Shanna if you like.”

She picked up her pack, somehow lighter now. “Bye Jonas, til we meet again. “

“Bye… Shanna until I think of something better.”

She smiled, and stepped ‘between’.

She knew Berradin was in his newly-built Fortress of Freezing Fire in Arvandor, his late father’s realm. She supposed this realm was his to inherit but she had come here first anyway to take, hide or move certain artifacts, beings and concepts. There were some things even the gods should avoid.

She and Saran had already ensured that the fortresses and havens of the departed evil gods were cleansed. It had been a bloody business but it was done. She wouldn’t call them safe places by a long shot, but the major threats to the safety of everything had been disposed of or dispatched. She’d then wandered the other realms of the departed gods, ensuring that the greater magics and conjurings had either departed with their masters or were also no threat.

She’d also ranged further, through the Elemental Chaos, to the edge of the multiverse and back again. She’d even been secretly to Hell to witness the war for dominance. Throughout, she’d started to notice a pattern. The hint of an indistinct shadow of something. Something definitely magical. And it disturbed her. And so she sought Berradin.

She sat unseen on the fringes of between and watched him manipulate the raw essaence, weaving and bending and shaping it to create a thing of beauty. An astral diamond with a core of fire and ice floated in the air before him and he reached out and plucked it from where it floated in the air.

“Thank you for waiting Shanna but you can come out now. I don’t know where you are exactly but I know you are nearby. I can see you have learnt some manner since your ascension. You are welcome,” Berradin proclaimed.

She stepped out lightly and examined Berradin with a critical eye. Godhood agreed with him, she thought. He wore the divinity naturally and was finally as powerful as he had kept telling them throughout their adventures. His hair and face shone with inner power and he moved with more grace and confidence than he used to. Yet she could see he was still who he was meant to be and she relaxed.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” she said looking around. “And you look good – godhood suits you.”

“Thank you. Of course it does,” he preened. “What brings you into my magnificence? I’ve been trying to keep tabs on you and everyone else but I’ve had so much magic stuff to deal with. You wouldn’t understand – that’s why I’m using the little words. And you are a very slippery fish to keep track of.”

Shanna grinned. Definitely still Berradin. “I move around a lot.”

“Well so do I and I find it slightly rude that you flit in and out but you always did lack my social graces. I am trained in diplomacy you know.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, smiling. She knew that Berradin was just wearing the blowhard mage veneer for fun and that he was more complex than that, but she appreciated the moment. She hadn’t been smiling as much lately.

“What’s wrong?” Berradin asked, frowning slightly and adopting a serious tone. He gestured and two Seats of Infinite Comfort appeared. Shanna gingerly lowered herself into one and sighed. She realised she hadn’t sat down in… a very long time. She cast her senses outwards – they were alone.

Shanna took a deep breath.

“I have been busy, as you know. So much to do, to protect and watch over. So I have seen a lot since… we all changed. And when you see so much you can start to see patterns and ripples in the fabric of everything,” she explained earnestly, her hands on her knees.

“Hmmm… go on,” Berradin encouraged, slowly clasping his hands in front of him.

“And there is something there Berradin. I can never quite sense it.”

Berradin raised an eyebrow.

Shanna nodded. “Yes, hidden even from me. It’s like the warmth of a rock long after the sun has set – you can’t see the sun but you know it was once there. All I see are the echoes and ripples in the fabric that are left. But something is making those ripples, something that is hidden behind a cunningly woven veil of magic. Magic that I can’t penetrate…”

“But that the new god of magic can,” finished Berradin. “Well you…”

“I’m not finished!” Shanna interrupted.

“How rude,” Berradin snorted but settled back, discontent.

“What if these past events that led to our ascension were not simply chance, destiny or prophecy?” Shanna spoke quickly, her lips dry. “What if there was… a being who sits motionless like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has thousands upon thousands radiations, and this being knows well every quiver of each of them? What if this being, with a nudge here, a whisper there and some forgotten knowledge passed on to the right people… was able to bring about the absence of the gods? ”

“Spiders? Are you referring to Lolth?” asked Berradin thoughtfully.

“No, she went the way of the Abyss,” answered Shanna with finality. “She is gone.”

“Then whom?”

“In recent times I have been conscious of a vile presence on the planes, leaving behind a subtle stench that cannot be hidden even if the source is,” Shanna blurted rapidly. “Again and again I have felt the presence or influence of this force, and have attempted to breach the veil of secrecy that covers it and track it to its source. I was finally able to seize the tiniest of trails and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand windings to the edge of Pandemonium and only one possible conclusion.”

Berradin sat still, processing the information. It wasn’t like Shanna to speak so poetically, but he was sure she had her reasons.

“Tell me Berradin, for while I am able to sense infinitely more than you, you have an infinitely better memory than me. When we were fighting Tharizdun and the gods assembled to help us…”

Shanna paused and lowered her voice. “Do you remember seeing Vecna? Because I don’t.”
Berradin was troubled. He looked at Shanna and realised she looked terrified. She didn’t like not being able to sense or find something – it was an unusual feeling for her he supposed. He cast his mind back – so much had been going on and there was lots of fire and ice and he was magnificent and there was the portal and the gods and he stepped through and Halva was there and all the gods were there…. except…

“No. I do not remember Vecna being there.”

Shanna sighed and stood up. Berradin followed, dismissing the chairs with a wave. “What are we going to do?” he asked.

“I can’t really do anything except what I have been doing. I can’t hunt it if I can’t find it,” Shanna sighed bitterly. “You, on the other hand are the keeper of magic. A god. Maybe you would have a better chance of penetrating the veil now you know that it is there. And of defeating what lies beyond it.”

“True, I would,” Berradin nodded. He thought it was a humble admission from Shanna and a wise decision to ask for his help. He grimaced slightly at a thought. “Why not Flea? He… might be… useful.”

“Flea has another calling and other things to do. I am sure he will know if Vecna decides to take a casual stroll on the Prime Material Plane. I’m more concerned with the rest of the multiverse. There is a power vacuum and a lack of balance… and a lot of dispossessed worshippers of absent gods,” Shanna explained, preparing herself for travel.

“You’re leaving,” Berradin observed dryly. “And when did you get so clever?”

“I’ve always been clever,” Shanna replied with a quick grin. “I just don’t talk about it.”

“Hmmm,” Berradin mused. “Travel safe friend.”

“Good hunting Berradin,” Shanna waved. “Got to go, things to do.”

And she stepped ‘between’.

Shanna stepped lightly over the drunken Slaad and ignored the Ochre Jellies copulating in a nearby doorway as she walked towards the pub. She saw Dinnan ahead, entertaining an ever increasing crowd of various races with his amazing acrobatics. He saw her and waved, and she smiled and waved back. As he bowed to the crowd her mind wandered to the myriad journeys still ahead of her.

So many things to do, she thought, and joined her friend for a drink.
The moon he waxed gibbous, hung as a great violet sphere and finally popped awaiting it’s rebirth. The 47th day had passed, as he would have known they would had he given it thought. He lay back on the sumptuous liquid metal pillows and allowed the images to fall into time with the Music. He lazily watched the procession of bedded lovelies, lavish feasts and deposed despots swirl and dance with each other in his mind’s eye. A corner of his mouth quirked upwards. Good times? Yes. Sweet: like an overripe peach just on the cusp of turning. His insouciance was perhaps marred by the faint buzzing discord that seemed to be corroding the Melody of late.

“Eat, drink and be merry,” thought Dinnan wryly. With an air of maudlin introspection, he realised that the “eating” and “drinking” were no longer necessary. Funny this immortality thing. Removing his need for sustenance had made satisfying his appetites a lot less…satisfying. What had they told him that he was the god of? Jests? Shadow puppetry? He probably should have been paying attention, the Music was so insistent and the talk of inconsequential things. He should check with Shanna; she of all people would remember!

He raised an eyebrow! Alas, there was a fortress he’d never breach. But she had a glide in her step. The kind of walk that passes through a dozen planes of existence. The Music sweetened and the buzzing stilled.

She’d said she knew a pub, a special place…one last drink for old times.

  • * *

Dinnan and Shanna sat in a dark corner of the tavern. The dusky-skinned serving girl took their order and floated away on shoes with small wheels attached to the soles. A band of three, wreathed in smoke, blew into convoluted golden bugles.

“Gnomish?” Asked Dinnan.

Shanna shook her head, smiling slightly. “You should get out more.” She looked somehow older, odd for an immortal.

“You look as delightful as ever,” Dinnan ventured, inclining his head slightly.

“Mmmm,” murmured Shanna, sipping her drink. “Control your pupils and heart rate if you are going to flatter, Dinnan.”

“Actually, I was going to ask you something…the Music,” he gestured expansively, “is like good fruit on the verge of turning. Can’t you taste it?”

“Yes,” she said bluntly. “It’s hard to describe…. the best way is that it is the consolidation of power in the Far Realms. Boundaries between multiple planes are being eroded by an ancient and patient evil. What you can feel is a mere foreshadowing – the nausea of the multiverse if you will.” She paused. “But despite this, I have more immediate concerns to deal with.”

“I haven’t. Everything is slightly out of key and it feels as though it’s getting worse.”

“It is. There will not be any direct physical danger for a score of years. But there are other sorts of danger.”

“But surely people feel it!”

“Not as keenly as you but they would experience some… psychic… yuckness.”


“Less… joy.”

“That’s it! I’m…I’m…I need you. I don’t know how to fight something like that.”

Shanna took a slow measured breath and extracted a large tome from her Handy Haversack. “For someone who hears as well as I see, you are still sometimes blind. The entities from the Far Realms are creatures of entropy. They seek to unmake and unbind. They don’t serve chaos, they are chaos. You, on the other hand, are a servitor of order.”

“Phnerghhh!” Dinnan was amused to see that, as a God, he was still able to shoot ale from both nostrils.

“The Music.”


“Order at its most fundamental and profound.”


Shanna exhaled slowly. “Scale, rhythm, refrain… coda.”


“The same goes for dance.”

Dinnan arched an eyebrow. Around him people unconsciously began tapping their toes and nodding to the music coming from the three piece in the corner.

“Still…I don’t know what to do. I need your plane walking and a target at least. I don’t think-”

“Then don’t. That has always been your strength, Dinnan. Don’t think; do!”

  • * *

And so it began as any other dance: with order, with rhythm. Dinnan sank into the Music, the pure core of the Music. He stepped within and without the Rhythm weaving a melody, a sweet lilting ditty that was maddeningly catchy, knitting it, knitting Himself, into the very fabric of the Music. He wasn’t…and yet was everywhere: in the rhythm of young lovers, the first steps of an infant, the wedding march of gods. As His music sustained them so theirs sustained Him.

  • * *

An ancient evil probed forth with a tentative pseudopod: squamous and rugose. It burnt. For the denizens of the Far Realms, the wall of Joy, of incomprehensible…Music, was so incandescent that to venture too close with the senses was too risk ascent to sanity. Slowly, one-by-one, the monstrosities snorted panchromatic effulgences in vague defiance and returned to contemplation of the non-Euclidean geometry of their cyclopean bed chambers before drifting backing into their deathless slumber.

And the the Celestial dance continued instant and eternal.
Although Juran had often lusted after Leesa, the tavern wench, tonight he barely noticed her, even as she reached across him to wipe down the table. Tonight his attention lay elsewhere. Even as the commotion broke out and Leesa started screaming, he filed it all away as insignificant trivia. Tonight he was wrapped in the most urgent of stories, a story that would mean everything for Juran.

Juran had only met this storyteller for the first time tonight. He had sat at Juran’s table, and simply started the story; and from the moment he’d begun, Juran knew in his very being that this story was everything to him. The storyteller wove together this grand story of the great bear, the world tree, the fearless acrobat, the dragon lovers, and the wandering sentinel. Though the storyteller told his tale simply, and even awkwardly at times, the tale itself swept Juran up completely.

It was only when the little storyteller came to the part about the raven who killed him that Juran started to realise that the commotion in the tavern had something to do with him. There were vague memories of people leaving his table, of an elven woman more beautiful and terrifying than he could possibly imagine, of her words of condemnation, of a horrifying darkness …

… but that seemed so long ago. Juran settled back on the grass once more to hear the rest of the story. He was keen to hear how the story would end, knowing that he would somehow become part of it; and yet the shade of the great tree and the sounds of the birds and animals within it were lulling him to sleep, and Juran was exhausted, so exhausted that he decided to hear the rest of the story another time.

“Yes, close eyes now. Time to rest a little. Go to Tree and rest. Heal broken spirit. Come back when ready.”

As Juran’s spirit drifted away from them, Saran spoke from the darkness. “That’s better than he deserves.” Flea simply shrugged and got to his feet, as Saran continued, “He was a monster. The things he did to his wife and daughter …”
“Saran Raven stopped him, punished him. Next time, he be better.”
“You don’t know that. No, for what he did, I should have drawn it out, really made him suffer.”
“Saran Raven seen evil much worse than that. Can punish those ones better.”

Flea felt uncomfortable even as he said the words. After all their time together they were an uncomfortable pairing, the exquisite elf and the unassuming goblin, Saran dedicated to punishing the wicked, Flea dedicated to offering their spirits another chance. They were opposites in many ways, yet Flea knew that each was essential for the wheel of souls to turn its proper course. It did not make Flea enjoy what Saran did any more though.

They sat in silence in each other’s company for a moment, and Flea could see Saran’s mood begin to change. “I hear there’s a war starting up,” she said.
“Flea hears same thing. World not happy.”
“It’s down in Vailin. Their wars are often messy affairs.”
“We should go. Many spirits in need of healing.”
“Many souls in need of discipline.”
“Maybe. We see.”
“Yes we shall.”

With that, the two young gods stepped out of the tavern and across the continents.
As Nesh and Grik silently regarded their empty tankards, they mutually realised this evening had reached an end. The half-orc yawned as he leaned over and took the mug back from his guest.

“Right. It’s all bloody well for you god types to sit up all night, but some of us mortals need to get some sleep,” he growled.

“Of course, brother.” Nesh stood. “I’ll take my leave.”

“Right, then. Don’t get all full of yourself and forget to visit the little people.”

Nesh smiled. “I love you too.” Leaping from the parapet, he allowed himself to fall, twisting in the air, before spreading his wings and soaring away.

“Fuckin’ showboat!” called the voice behind him.

Back at the flying citadel, Nesh found his lady deep in thought. Victoria stared down at what was once her family estate below, now a sea of lights and industry, as more believers arrived and erected lodgings and shrines. The sound of heavy carpentry and masonry carried upwards. The huge central structure was beginning to take shape as a temple.

Nesh whistled softly. “Sweet Heaven, there’s thousands of them! And more coming. If your Father’s not careful, he’s going to find himself surrounded by a holy city.”

Victoria sighed. “He’s gone just as pious as the rest of them. Uggh, save me from all this adoration. How do I tell them to get off their knees and do some good in the world?”

Nesh laughed. “Knowing you, my love, you’ll tell them exactly that.” He kissed her. “Now, with your leave, I’ll be off to follow an inspiration.”

“To do what?”

“To start a family.”

The way Victoria crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes told Nesh he better start explaining…

The boy tested his handiwork, swinging the wooden sword back and forth. Finally, on his fourth attempt, he had crafted a true weapon; light, balanced and polished painstakingly polished with oil until strong and hard enough to rival a metal blade.

The boy showed to the girl who had helped mentor him in this latest sword’s making. Many of these children who had been here longer had assisted him and were mentoring other newer arrivals at work on their blades.

“Well made,” said the girl. “This is truly excellent. I believe this is a blade you can show the teacher, if you feel ready.”

The boy did feel ready. He waited at the great fire. Time passed. He ate, he slept, stretched and chatted with other children who stopped to compliment his wooden blade. The great fire burned all the while, patient and strong.

The teacher arrived, descending from the night sky, the tiny shape of an underfed and beaten girl cradled in his arms. In the girl, the boy saw himself some months ago, when the teacher had taken him from his life of cruelty and neglect and flown him to this place.

The teacher called, and older children came to take the girl gently from him.

“Plenty of good broth and plenty of rest,” he said gently. “This one will need much care to find her strength.” The teacher turned to the boy. “Hello, Alix. I see you’ve brought me a blade.”

“Yes, teacher."

Nesh took the wooden sword and turned it over in his hands, before handing it back to the boy.

“Well made, Alix. It’s practically perfect. A sword worthy of a champion.”

Nesh squatted down on his haunches and looked the boy in the eye.

“Now, will you take your champion’s blade and go from here? Remembering that patience, gentleness and humility will inspire the downtrodden as much as skill at arms can defend them? Or will you stay, hoping for a new way and a new world?”

The boy regarded the work of his hands.

“I will stay.”

“Are you persuaded by my mad ramblings?” smiled Nesh. “You have heard me say that the world is made young and innocent by the passing of greatest evil. You have heard me say that evil exists in this world now only in it’s infancy, and that we have a chance to embrace hatred and cruelty with love, rather than fan it’s fire by seeking to again stomp it out.”

Nesh gestured to the fire.

“Are you truly ready to give up the security of force at arms for the fire of hope and love in your heart? Dare you to believe in such folly?”

Alix stared into the great fire. The pyre was made of the godling hero Nesh’s weapons and armour, whose magical energies burned enduringly.

“I dare,” said the boy, and threw his sword into the flames.
Time passed for mortals, many years, and those that had known the Shields before they became gods started to pass with the seasons. One such old friend and his wife had passed on and all the Shields had come to show their respects to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Grik and Halva. They missed their friend and wished to tell stories of their time together and all that had been.

Halva and Grik were laid in state on biers in the main hall of the Draconic Academy. Lord Commander Helena Palladine had arranged a full ceremonial funeral for Commander Grik and Lady Halva’s funeral.

The Shields so rarely saw each other, and usually only at the passing of their oldest friends, but they did their best to toast their friends to Flea’s promised next lives. Away from them Jonas was performing to the Academy students, they overheard “It was seven versus Tiamat that day and they were magnificent” before going back to their own conversations. Jonas’s wife Rhianna, once cursed into the body of a Hag, thought back to her failed attempts at pursuit of Berradin, "How can someone so intelligent have been so clueless”.

The mourners had finally all left and the chamber fell into silence. Halva leaned forward on her bier and swung her legs over the edge, slowly getting to her feet. The silver hair, WRINKLES, stooped posture and age fell away as she allowed her true form to return.
Shanna stepped out of the shadows and stood there appraisingly. “When did you figure it out”
“I have always suspected but it was your SECRET to share. It makes sense that the Gods’ essence has also infused you. So what now?”
“My children are grown and no longer need their mother, I think I shall take up exploring again. Care for some company?”
“Where I go often leads to GREAT trouble and even the risk of madness”
“Sounds wonderful.” Halva moved to Grik’s bier and gently patted his cheek, she then collected a pack from the mourners’ gifts and sheathed some daggers in her boots, “Well then, no time like the PRESENT”
Shanna OPENED a portal and the two of them stepped through.
Warlord Goridus Vahn surveyed his warband’s handiwork. The heads of their enemies were being spiked onto poles and planted along the road to his fortress. The bodies were unceremoniously dumped into a pit and covered in lye. His outriders were returning now with news of the evacuation of the next series of towns in their path.

Life was good. Running his enemies down and hearing the lamentations of their woman was such a sweet way to live.

His grin faltered as he noticed his warriors begin to drop to their knees and beg for mercy. Walking through his warband towards him was an exquisitely attractive elven woman, she radiated a calm confidence and every step towards him was timeless and measured. His men were frozen in fear as her implacable gaze fell upon them.

Saran stopped right before the warlord and time seemed to pause as she turned to survey his watching warriors. Cold daggers ripped through their souls as her unnaturally quiet, yet carrying, voice began to flow over them.

“I do not abide demagogues, those who prey on the weak for their amusement will always come to my attention. Know this, you will all be punished. Your leader will get to watch as I end the worst of you, those who gloried in what they did for this worm. The rest of you will get to watch me finish him and then you will walk from here, weaponless, and return to your families. You will tell all who will listen that this is the fate for all who hurt the defenceless, who live off the suffering of others. Now stand still and be quiet”

Saran moved through the terrified ranks of the warband. The warriors were frozen in place by the sheer terror in their hearts. Saran looked deep into the eyes of all she passed and judged them. Those she found wanting were put to death on her cold blade. Time stood still on this field as Saran went about her deadly business. Saran eventually returned to the warlord. She looked at the paltry remainder of his force and then smiled at Goridus Vahn.

Goridus could not move, his body had failed him, only his eyes could move and follow the trail of devastation laid out by the slender goddess. Saran stood before him and moved her weapon towards him. His limbs easily separated from his body and he fell to the floor. he could vaguely hear words leaving the Elven horror’s mouth but he could not focus through the incredible pain. He felt himself lifted and then could see the whole battlefield again as if he was standing on his now-severed legs. The pain washed over him and he could only scream.

Saran stared at Goridus Vahn strapped to the pole and felt satisfaction. He would live for several days, his cauterised wounds would allow that. He would be able to view the many fallen bodies of his most powerful army and weep at his failure.

She felt a small hand fill her own. “We go now. You happy?”, Saran looked at Flea.“I do not enjoy this but it sends a message”, Flea shrugged.“always be bad men, but spirits heal and return better” It was Saran’s turn to shrug. It was a conversation that they had had many times and probably would keep having.

The two companions stepped to their next destination.

notes for the coda

At Grik’s funeral – an overheard stanza from Jonas “It was seven versus Tiamat that day and they were magnificent”

Rhianna ex-hag, looking at Berradin “How can someone so intelligent have been so clueless”

The mourners had finally all left and the chamber fell into silence. Halva leaned forward on her bier and swung her legs over the edge, slowly getting to her feet. The silver hair, wrinkles, stooped posture and age fell away as she allowed her true form to return.
Shanna stepped out of the shadows and stood there appraisingly. “When did you figure it out”
“I have always known but it was your secret to share. I had suspected that the Gods’ essence had also infused you. So what now?”
“My children are grown and no longer need their mother, I think I shall take up exploring again. Care for some company?”
“Where I go often leads to great trouble and even the risk of madness”
“Sounds wonderful.” Halva collected a pack from the mourners’ gifts and sheathed some daggers in her boots, “Well then, no time like the present”
Shanna opened a portal and the two of them stepped through.

I see Red
Prelude to the final battle

The Ancient Red Dragon flew high and smoothly through the air with steady flaps of her wings, she was nearing her destination and would soon be able to rest after her continental flight.

Far below her were the receding Dragonspine mountains, ahead were the walls around her journey’s end.

Crimson flew over the walls into the valley beyond, circling lazily around the mansion below. She could detect frenzied activity below and smiled. “Ah the creatures would be terrified and bolting for supposed safety”, she thought.

No, she was wrong, someone down there was rallying them into some sort of defensive formation. She flew down closer to observe this peculiarity.

Baron Victor Palladine and Baroness Juliana Palladine stood together, armed and armoured, at the vanguard of the estate’s defenders. They were under no illusion that this would be an easy conflict.

Crimson glided down and settled to the ground a short walk away from the lead humans, She brought her wings in close and leant her snout forward blowing small amounts of steam from her nostrils. She waited.

Baron Victor Palladine had expected an immediate attack. He was disconcerted by the dragon’s behaviour. He shook his head at Juliana to stay where she was and he slowly moved forward towards the Dragon’s lowered head.

To the end of the Universe
The Shields finally face Tharizdun, goodbye cruel world

The Shields debated with Asmodeus about spending time in hell with him, if they died, in exchange for his help.

Nesh, Shanna and Flea declined to take the offer. Asmodeus suggested that they use Halva, partner of Grik, to close the portal instead, which would result in her death.

Berradin called Asmodeus’s bluff and told Asmodeus that if he was happy to trust his fate in their and Halva’s hands then fine they would leave. Asmodeus begrudgingly relented but still laid claim on those who had already agreed.

Asmodeus issued Berradin and Flea with amulets that could summon Asmodeus. They would need to be activated in the other universe as Asmodeus would break the compact if he appeared in the Temple. Berradin, due to his mastery of arcane magic, and Flea, due to his connection to the natural universe, had the best chance of summoning Asmodeus.

The Shields returned to the mortal plane, back at the scar, and discussed their choice of strategy. To reach the universal tear they would need to lift 40’ off the ground and fly through. Berradin suggested calling Phantom Steeds, which could fly, and then Shanna could open the portal. The Shields agreed and proceeded with the plan.

Shanna found that she could not open the portal. It had been sealed at the origin point. Arcane study suggested that Tharizdun had re-activated the portal defences so that only Asmodeus or someone of his blood could open the gate, at the cost of their life.

Shanna failed miserably to hide her pained expression from the other Shields and explained their quandary. The Shields decided that they would travel to the Temple via their skyship. Shanna worked out the possible chances of using the Astral Skiff to jump directly tot he other universe but the chances were high that if they made the other universe that they would be nowhere near the tear in realities.

The Shields arrived at the temple after crosiing the depopulated ruins of Karkoth. The only sign of life on their journey was the encampment protected by Mal.

The temple grounds were surrounded by a high hedge and within the grounds were many large metallic figures. An iron golem, a cadaver collector, a temple titan and many warforged were in standby mode within the grounds.

Nesh, who was piloting the skiff, could not cross over the hedge due to a forbiddance spell placed their by the gods. Berradin cast dispel magic and managed to temporarily deactivate the spell. Nesh parked the ship above the grounds and the Shields dropped to the floor.

A female shaped dwarforged named Lady Vol activated and approached the Shields. She warned the intruders that they must leave at once by order of the gods. The Shields explained that they were there to stop Tharizdun coming through and were also guardians.

Lady Vol found it difficult to process this new information and slowed down as she tried to ponder her next actions. The Shields assured her that they would leave as soon as the tear was sealed and that they were there to stop the evil elemental eye.

Lady Vol staggered back to her pedestal and went back into standby mode. The Shields made their way through the automatons to find the hidden entrance to the temple. They climbed down into a Moradin forged “Dropbox” elevator which dropped down into the earth and fell at speed, slowed by Berradin’s magic, for more than an hour until reaching bottom.

The Shields found themselves back in the main temple hall and above them was the reality tear. Flea changed the group into cockroaches and Dinnan flew them on the ebony fly up through the rift onto the planetoid on the other side, which had a large dark form upon it which was sending tendrils of dark matter into the tear, expanding it.

The Shields then realised, as they changed back into humanoids that the planetoid was Tharisdun and that the shapes were just smaller aspects of him that began to surround the Shields.

The Shields broke into action as Flea summoned Asmodeus. Asmodeus began to fire his rod at the tear removing Tharizdun’s influence as the Shields attempted to destroy the monstrous god.

The Shields fought valiantly as their life forces began to be absorbed by Tharizdun [3 urges drained at the end of every round]. The portal in their home universe began to glow as someone began to come through into the temple.

The Shields fought hard and managed to bloody the god which caused waves of psychic energy to strike at them all, knocking most of them to the floor in agony.

Meanwhile, in their home universe, the gods [except for Lolth and Tiamat] arrived in the temple and began infusing the Shields with their life force to assist them in their battle. They had broken the compact in order to protect the universe.

The Shields [powered by godly energies] managed a killing blow on Tharizdun and he began to break apart, leaving them floating in the void. The chaos shard in Asmodeus’s rod exploded at the destruction of Tharizdun and Asmodeus discovered that he could not survive anymore without the rod, as he crumbled into dust.

The tear began to close as the old universe began to wink out of existence. Victoria activated her flying boots and sent Nesh spiralling towards the tear, as she attempted to rescue more companions. Shanna simply walked across the planes and appeared in the temple. Flea’s body reformed out of insects within the temple leaving an empty husk behind in the dead universe. Nesh fell towards the tear but wings erupted from his back and he was able fly back to grab Victoria and Saran. Dinnan bounded back to the tear using the broken, scattered fragments of Tharizdun and adroitly slingshotted around the temple to land safely and take a bow. Berradin magically crossed the chasm to safety. the tear closed behind him forever.

The gods applauded the Shields and the Raven Queen became the principal spokesperson for the gods.

She informed them that the destruction of the chaos shard meant the destruction of the abyss, where demons dwell. Only those demons outside the abyss survived. Hell would be in a civil war as devils fought to be the new King of Hell. Lolth and her drow were now cured of their madness. The Shadowfell was to be closed down.

Flea was given the task of ensuring that all spirits now stayed on the material plane, as before the agreement with Melora and Pelor, and would not be preyed upon by extra-planar creatures, such as demons and devils, as the gods would no longer be around and the new gods, like Victoria, would not be relying on souls to achieve their goals.

Shanna would protect the material plane from outside incursions and help move the Shadar-kai, the Raven Queens’ people, from the shadowfell to the empty continent of karkoth, to start fresh lives.

Saran was to assist Flea in protecting spirits from outside forces, to help protect the Shadar-Kai, and to punish tyrants, demagogues and other evil men in this life, rather than sending them to the shadowfell or hell for torment.

Dinnan was to be a reminder of the joys of life, the music in peoples’ hearts. He was to help the others in protecting the small, the weak, the humble.

Berradin was to be the guardian of arcane magic, to protect it from corruption.

Victoria was to take her place as the new dragon god.

Nesh, as always, was to be her right hand and protector.

The Shields were warned that the compact was done, that Tiamat was no longer prevented from reaching the material plane. The Gods foresaw that Tiamat would arrive where Bahamut’s influence was most strong, where his followers had been most faithful.

The Gods warmth flowed over the Shields. They were proud of their new gods and left knowing that the world would be protected.

end of session.

Death's Reach
The Shields try a diplomatic solution to gain what they need

The Shields made ready to sneak into the Shadowfell. They began acquiring some potions to help them in their upcoming struggles.

Berradin went upstairs in Tumbata’s palace to meet the guest that waited for him. The ex-Hag, Rhianna, waited in his bed, under the covers, for Berradin to climb in. She wouldn’t answer Berradin’s questions unless he climbed into bed with her. Berradin grew bored and went back to the other Shields.

The Shields transported to the Feywild as a stop-over and Shanna tried to convince the Eldest not to leave the universe. The Eldest was adamant that the Eladrin would survive the oncoming storm by moving their city elsewhere. The Shields bid them farewell and moved to the Prime Material Plane.

The Shields appeared near the remains of the Chaos Scar. They were greeted by their flying ship which had on board Jonas, Grik and Halva. The Shields asked Halva about her ancestry and discussed what that could mean for her.

The Shields, using Saran’s knowledge of the Shadowfell, appeared well away from the Citadel of Finality among the mournful dead, those who had not moved on due to past actions or agreements. The dead were lost in themselves and did not notice the Shields moving among them through the mists.

The Shields made their way to the Castle that was the entryway to Death’s Reach. A hump-backed man let them in to see his master, the guardian of the Reach. The Shields were invited to sup with Baron Strahd Von Barovich, the newly appointed guardian of Death’s Door, who also had the distinction of being the first Vampire.

When Strahd was asked to let them through he quickly acquiesced, muttering that he had been set up for death by the Raven Queen. The Hump-back guided the Shields through the maze-like corridors of the keep to a simple exit door. The door opened onto a golden “rope” bridge that travelled into nothingness. A pocket universe lay ahead of the Shields.

Saran stepped onto the bridge which then broke from her touch. She began to drift into the void as Shanna fired a rope-arrow that snagged the bridge which allowed Nesh to drag it back to the door. The Shields realised that the bridge was made of life-force and that Shanna’s undead form would fracture the bridge. Saran was most displeased with the Hump-back for not warning her of this. The hump-back went away and did not return. Nesh hoisted her above his head and followed the others into the void.

The Shields came out of the mist at the lip of a giant crater. Obsidian-coloured soil and rock lead downwards tot he center of the crater where a large granite plinth stood, perhaps 200’ across, that was covered in an obscuring dome. The Shields could make out giant skeletal forms inside the crater and noticed the constant shifting of soil along the crater walls.

Suspecting a Primordial trap, Dinnan leapt atop his ebony fly and attempted to fly into the crater. Vast, god-formed, anti-magical energies rippled around him destroying the fly and leaving Dinnan to drift to the ground with his ring of feather falling. The Shields realised that all their magical items were at risk in the anti-magic crater and so removed all magical items.

Stripped of magical weapons and defences the Shields carefully travelled down the crater walls, avoiding the areas where loose rocks were shifting. They arrived unharmed at the Plinth and investigated the shell. It would be harmless to non-magic users but could very likley sever the connection between a mage and his arcane sources. Berradin decided to stay outside.

The Shields entered the dome but as Victoria went through the Dome switchef off allowing Berradin to accompany the others. At the center of the plinth was a granite coffin-shaped object. The stone coffin was covered in Supernal Runes and had the markings of all the Compact Gods upon it. When Victoria touched the slab the coffin lid opened up, inside were 11 god-forged weapons. The Shields grabbed them up and exited the plinth. They warily made their way up the crater as the pit started to fall apart on itself. The Primordials had killed each other long ago and were no threat to the Shields after all.

The Shields made their way back upon the rope bridge and were greeted by Strahd. He let them back into the castle and had a heated discussion with the Shields. Finally, Strahd called the Raven Queen to them, knowing that somehow that would ruin her plans.

A swarm of Ravens flew into the Castle and swirled together to take on the form of the Raven Queen. She was quite upset with Strahd. He crowed about evading her assassin and knew that he had affected the Raven Queen’s goals. Saran and Berradin both stabbed him and he retreated to a respectable distance.

The Raven Queen disappointedly asked for the God-Forged weapons back. Saran tried to teleport out with them but was prevented by the Raven Queen. The Raven Queen was preparing to take them back by force when Fllea offered to be their new Guardian. The Raven Queen was stunned by his audacious move, and yet it just might work. She made Flea promise to be their guardian and protector and then whispered something in his ear that even Shanna could not hear. She bade the Shields farewell and left.

Flea, taking his new role seriously, asked for all the god-forged weapons to be in his possession until they were ready to use them. Shanna opened a door back to the material plane and met up with Jonas, Grik etc. again.

Getting into hell was the next step. To reach hell they would need to have a sacrifice or some other method of breaching the 9 Hells’ wards. Halva used some of her blood to open the gate to hell, Asmodeus’s blood-line would not be denied.

The Shields arrived in an entrance hall and were met by Asmodeus. He was aware of what they wanted and told them that only he or one of his bloodline could use the rod to close the portal to Tharizdun. He offered to do it in exchange for the Shields protection while there and also if any Shields were to fall he would have them as his guest for 10 years.
Berradin managed to haggle with Asmodeus and changed the deal to 10 years :).

Now they must face the horror of a mad god with the power to destroy all life.

The Temple of Elemental Evil
The Shields face the horror of Tharizdun

The Shields had almost surrounded Modeus. He teleported to the center of the teleport circle and began intoning an arcane mantra to activate the portal. Saran attempted to teleport the Shields into the circle but due to the arcane wands etched into the circle the Shields were scattered randomly about the chamber. Only Flea ended up inside the circle.

Modeus teleported out with Flea and Victoria, who had marked Modeus with a following spell. They teleported to the chamber beneath the Temple of Elemental Evil where the portal to Tharizdun lay. There was a rupture in reality 40’ above them in the chamber ceiling from which extruded dark, oily tendrils which criss-crossed the chamber below. They were part of Tharizdun himself, extending from out of the dead universe.

The other Shields gathered their strength and prepared to follow after their companions when Shanna appeared among them. Nameless’s death had broken the link holding her in hell bringing her to his last location. Shanna filled her friends in on her adventure while Berradin began to intone the transport spell. The Shields were then teleported to Modeus.

Victoria and Flea were fighting Modeus when the rest of the Shields appeared. The tendrils of Tharizdun flailed among the combatants, uncaring as to whom he would strike with his death energy. Modeus was struck and was enraged at the betrayal by his patron. He was absorbed into Tharizdun as he despaired at his folly.

Tharizdun laid into the Shields, taking out Victoria, Flea, Berradin and Dinnan. They appeared to be absorbed into Tharizdun’s tentacles much as what had happened to Modeus.

Shanna activated the teleport circle taking the remaining Shields, Saran, Nesh and herself, to the feywild.

The Shields that appeare in the feywild found themselves surrounded by a company of Eladrin spearsmen and the Eldest. He welcomed them but told them that the feywild would soon be separating from it’s old universe to save their race. Shanna argued the need for them but the Eldest was not swayed. he offered them rest and refreshment while he sought the location of the other Shields.

Nesh and Shanna rested while Saran decided to contact her patron in the feywild. She found herself in the winter-lands of the feywild, the court of the Winter Queen. Among the snow-drifts she met her patron and found out that the Raven Queen was deliberately avoiding Saran as she would be forced to stop the Shields if she knew they were going to Death’s Reach. She also found out that the Winter Queen was Berradin’s mother and Flea’s patron. She also knew that her son and Flea were in the Astral Sea.

Saran made her way back to the Eladrin city and let Nesh know that the other Shields were alive somewhere in the Astral Sea. The Eldest visited and confirmed that the Shields were among the Githyanki, upon the body of He-Who-Was, the eldest of the Gods; slain by Tharizdun once he was driven mad by the chaos-shard.

The “deceased” Shields woke up in a dark tunnel somewhere underground. They soon realised that they were in the “body” of the dead god in the Astral Sea, the one who was the island home of the Githyanki. The Shields had lost the Boon given them last time they had been here [except Victoria, who had still ended up here]. They made their way tot he surface and found themselves among the remains of the Lich-Queen’s once-floating fortress.

They had decided to find the quarters of their ally on the island, as they noticed a gargantuan 5-headed dragon flying towards the island from out of the astral sea. Tiamat was coming! Victoria chose to wait and deal with her enemy but Berradin begged her to reconsider, they weren’t ready, they needed their missing companions and more powerful weapons. Dinnan convinced Victoria that it was not yet time to fight but that there would be time later.

They arrived at General Vetch’r’’s compound, who plead with the Shields to leave before Tiamat arrived and laid waste to his island. Nesh, Shanna and Saran appeared in his plane-portal and the Shields were reunited.

Shanna opened a portal for them and they left ahead of the arrival of Tiamat.

The Shields arrived at a busy portal station in the City of Brass, the jewel of the Elemental Seas. There were many people lined up waiting to use the portals built here to travel to other planes, for business or pleasure.

The Shields were met outside the station by a functionary, who had a retinue of fire-elementals with him. He was there to take the Shields to their master’s palace, one of the Greater Lords of the City of Brass.

They were brought before Tumbata, Lord of the City of Brass. He offered his hospitality to the Shields and the run of his palace. He offered them rooms to rest in and had someone upstairs waiting to pleasure Berradin. The Shields asked for privacy and Tumbata left them alone in his state room.

The Shields cast auguries, discussed their plans, and finally decided to go to the Shadowfell, to Death’s Reach, to acquire wapons capable of hurting Tharizdun.

A plan comes together

The 13’ tall Humanoid stood outside the large scintillating, multi-coloured sphere. He absent mindedly tapped his red ruby-tipped rod into his empty right hand. There was an aura of distortion created by its movement. He smiled warmly up at the sphere’s inhabitant.

HIS most valuable pieces were finally in place to end the great game with his progeny. HIS son had been resourceful, dangerously so, and he had risked his own worldly empire to have the dragons in position and primed for action once their danger became apparent.

Tiamat would never know that the offer of alliance from Modeus was instigated by one of HIS own devils within HIS son’s ranks, as she would never know that the plague-spawn buried at Silversands had been dumped there by HIS spy within Modeus’s ranks.

It had been more difficult to make the information flow naturally to Tiamat’s battle commanders, but not outside of HIS ability.

HE had lost the wonderful cathedral that was being crafted in the Chaos Scar, but its discovery by the Shields of the Vale was necessary to lead them towards the Gorgon King.

The Shields with their Dragon “allies” were now at the very gates of the Gorgon King’s throne room and soon HIS son would return here. Asmodeus smiled at that thought. Time would pass very pleasantly soon.

The sphere before him was ready but it was currently occupied. “Release this one” he requested.

The guard devils quickly complied and soon had HIS prisoner standing out of the cell-sphere before Asmodeus. “Please do not attempt any recklessness, you are safe here for now Shanna” and Asmodeus revealed his most charming smile at the wood elf Shield.

Throne Room of the Gorgon King
The Shields breach the doors of the Throne Room to settle accounts with the owner

Before opening the mighty doors they had heard the movement of booted feet on cobblestones coming from the other side of the doors. The Gorgon King’s protectors would be ready for them.

The Shields took a deep breath before Nesh pushed the throne room doors inward.

The throne room was over 100′ × 100′ and at the other end of the large hall was a massive granite throne set upon a raised dais. The Gorgon King, Modeus Inferna, lounged upon the throne with his burning Axe across his knees.

At the center of the room was a 20’ diameter circle filled with arcane runes and glyphs. Surrounding this teleport/plane crossing circle was many platinum embossed circles about 5’ across. A long circular channel ran around the inner-circle filled with some sort of flammable liquid. Small braziers were fixed every 10’ around the circle filled with hellfire.
Another similar channel and braziers were ringed around the Gorgon King’s dais. Both circle channels were ignited as the doors opened and both areas were engulfed in hellfire.

Inside the teleportation fire area were the Gorgon King’s army commander, a devil in heavy armour wielding a vicious looking execution axe, and his second-in-command, a devil wielding a vicious bastard sword. Inside the dais fire-circle were the the Gorgon King and two luminary knights: devil warlocks. Scattered around the throne room were at least 15 devil-knights, a pack of hellhounds, and a familiar looking Barlgura [a demon the Shields once fought and drove off at Gardmore Abbey].

The Shields moved into the room attacking the closest minions of the Gorgon King. They laid waste to most of his guards while his commanders moved in to disrupt the Shields attack. Berradin used his magical powers to break the fire aura around the teleport circle.

The Shields faced strong resistance from the Gorgon King’s followers but lay down damage as only they can. The Gorgon King spooted Shanna as a seroius threat and cast a psychic curse upon her that would cause intense pain until she had attacked at least 2 allies. The psychic connection however revealed that Shanna was in fact a devil in disguise, the devil who had offered to assist them back at the beach where they had fought Orcus. The Gorgon King was furious and incinerated the devil. Shanna’s belongings were left on a pile of ashes.

The Shields broke into a group fighting the luminary knights and a group facing Modeus Inferna. The Gorgon King and his knights stood upon the teleport disks, and the knights would exchange places with Modeus whenever he was attacked.

The Shields focused attacks on the knights to stop them from assisting the Gorgon King. They also found that when they attacked Modeus he would react immediately with a retributive hellstorm of terrible power. Dinnan was horribly burnt from his attacks on Modeus, and was brought to the brink of death.

The Shields destroyed one of the Knights and slid the other out of the throne room and into the entry corridor with Berradin and Dinnan.

The Shields decided to attack Modeus simultaneously so that he would only be able to retribute vengeance on one of them per turn.

The battle will continue.

The Shields gain some unexpected allies

The Shields decided to spend the night at Urtugga Fort to recover, gain intel. and catch up with Mal.

Saran spent the night in prayer to her great lady but received no response. She felt a hollowness within, where once she had been filled with purpose and vengeance.

In the morning Shanna went out ranging to the east whilst Flea went outside the walls to see the effects of the death-plague on nature itself.

Mal gathered the fort’s inhabitants and brought them all together in the main courtyard where Victoria cast divine healing magic to remove the death-plague inside the fort.

Shanna was returning west to the the fort and noticed a red cloud heading towards them from over the ocean. She looked closer and perceived the red cloud to be a swarm of Dragons. The swarm numbered in the thousands and was made up of red dragons of all sizes. The majority of the reds were the size of bisons and were mounted by Dragonborn soldiers armed with lances. The swarm was definitely going to pass the fort. Shanna began to run back to the fort all the while screaming “Dragons, Dragons to the west”.

The healing ceremony had concluded and the townsfolk were giving thanks to Victoria and the Shields when the faint sound of Shanna’s yells reached them. Mal and the Shields raced toward the western ramparts to behold the sight of the approaching dragonswarm.

Shanna and Flea made their way inside as most of the fort’s residents succumbed to the supernatural tension of massed dragonfear locking themselves indoors.

The swarms outriders buzzed the fort and headed inlands while the majority of the swarm circled the fort, except for smaller squadrons which peeled off from the horde to head north-east and south-east.

The largest Red Dragon that the Shields had ever seen, easily half the size of the fort, wheeled down to a landing in front of Fortress walls. Several smaller, but no less impressive, Red Dragons landed at her flanks. Berradin recognised her as Crimson…tiamatus, an ancient dragon from the far southern continents, rumoured to be the daughter of Tiamat herself.

The Dragon addresses the wall’s defenders, offering the Shields an alliance against the Gorgon King, Tharizdun and their forces. The dragons would cleanse this continent of the spreading death-plague and take down the threat of Modeus Inferna before Tharizdun could be released to destroy this reality.

The Shields through, their spokesman Berradin, wanted assurances that only the undead would be targeted by the Dragons. The Dragons did not seem too concerned about the possibility of collateral damage in their stated campaign. Crimson told Berradin that she would follow her orders, Berradin argued that her orders had to be changed. Crimson then invited Berradin to come outside and make his case to she who had issued the commands.

Berradin exited the fort while Crimson burnt a circle on the ground with her breath. She asked Berradin to enter the circle and then completely incinerated him with her breath. All that was left in the circle was Berradin’s staff and ash. Saran felt the renewing energies of her Dark Reaping activate as the flames washed over Berradin.

The Shields were horrified and, at Saran’s acknowledgement of Berradin being burned, they sprung into action, drawing weapons and launching themselves at Crimson’. Their weapons scraped over her metal hide and she stood there watching them attempt to damage her. She told the Shields that it was part of the planar travelling ritual that injury occurred to the participant and that Berradin was indeed with Tiamat. Flea confirmed that she spoke the truth and the Shields stood down, deciding to wait for Berradin’s return.

Meanwhile Berradin arrived, singed but alive, in a vast throneroom and in front of him was the vast majestic form of Tiamat. His mind could barely encompass her vastness and fear, beyond any he had ever felt before, washed over him making his legs jelly, his stomach tight and a cold fire ran down his spine.

Berradin regained his poise and , perhaps with a breaking voice, beseeched Tiamat to change her plans to lay waste to Karkoth.

“NO” she simply replied.

Berradin used every diplomatic tool at his disposal to change her mind but she would not heed his words.

She finally offered to change her plans if Berradin would offer his father over, Corellon Larethian. Berradin declined. She then grinned, a terrible, dangerous smile and offered to modify her plans if Berradin would give her a year’s service in twenty years, this service would be to do as she wished, no questions asked, for the whole year. Berradin realised the trap laid before him and sadly declined. Tiamat then sent him back to the mortal plane with all five of her breaths.

It was sunset when what was once Berradin finally appeared in Crimson’s planar circle. Victoria laid her gentle hand upon his acid-scared brow, whispered some quiet supernal words, and healed the physical damage that Berradin had suffered.

Berradin and the Shields decided to agree to the alliance with the Dragons as it was obvious that the Dragons would go ahead anyway.

Dinnan rode upon the back of Crimson, who had been most impressed with Dinnan’s acrobatic display when he vaulted onto her back to stab her. The other Shields were given an assortment of Red Dragons by their Dragonborn riders, except Berradin who was chosen by an elderly Red Dragon.

The Shields mounted up and rested on their mounts as they flew through the night towards the Fortress of the Gorgon King. In the dark night they could see fires burning ahead of them, to the north and all the way to the south. They passed burning wooden communities, testament to Dragon Fire cleansing the Death-Plague.

Near Dawn, as they neared the Gorgon King’s Fortress, they began to make out waves of undead troops that stretched out from the fortress for more than 10 leagues. The only empty space was the road of bleached skulls that lead to the fortress.

The Dragons laid waste in front of them as they flew in, but devils and demons among the undead took to the air and faced off against the Dragons and their dragonborn riders.

From the fortress itself, Ballista bolts the size of flagpoles were fired at the invaders, driving through Dragonsteel armour and hurtling Dragons to the ground in fiery death-rolls. Fortress wall mounted trebuchets fired wagon-sized boulders at the dragon army, shattering wings and causing smaller dragons to plummet to the ground.

The Shields’ Dragons were surrounded by a swarm of smaller Dragons who ran interference for them and allowed them a clear run at the Fortress.

Crimson flew over the Fortress Walls and rammed into the Main Keep’s Front Doors. Berradin’s Dragon flew in and continued up the main corridor while the other Dragons stopped to allow the Shields to dismount, then they assisted Crimson in burning the demons, devils and undead inside the fortress walls.

Berradin’s Dragon eventually stopped at a crossroads and warned Berradin that the devil in their party might not be trusted when they breached the throne room. Berradin wanted to know what the Dragon was talking about. The Dragon stated that the one who looked like an elven archer was a devil in disguise and would not be able to name himself Shanna if asked directly.

The Dragon headed down a side corridor to make further distraction within the fortress whilst Berradin waited for the other Shields to catch up with him.

Berradin tried to trick Shanna into revealing herself as something else but was too subtle for his own good.

The corridor that the Shields were on lead to stairs leading up to the main hall, broken up by many landings. Shanna spotted some devils coming down to drive off the Shields.

The Shields fought a Marilith [ a 6-armed female devil with a snake tail who was a dervish with many blades], a Warlock devil, and a pack of hell hounds. They destroyed the defenders and now were at last in front of the great double doors that lead into the Gorgon King’s throne room.

to be continued next session


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