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 Episode 4 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-24 -  
 ... of Shades 
Shades in the Forgotten Realms

In the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, many Shadovar (citizens of the City of Shade) are shades. They are a group of Netherese wizards who fled Faer n for the Plane of Shadow before Karsus's Folly. The City of Shade was one of five cities to survive the cataclysm.

The famous assassin Artemis Entreri absorbed the life force of a Shadovar shade using his vampiric dagger. Due to this absorption, Entreri's skin has taken on a grayish hue and his aging has slowed if not stopped altogether.

Erevis Cale, the butler of the Uskrevan family, was transformed into a shade in the Erevis Cale Trilogy. Drasek Riven also became a shade in The Twilight War trilogy after obtaining a piece of Mask's divine essence of shadow


Seekers of power willing to trade their souls to the darkness.

In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, shades are humanoids who have merged with the essence of the Plane of Shadow. In Third Edition, a shade is created by applying a template to a humanoid creature.

Shades grow more powerful in areas of darkness or shadows, including the ability to leap from shadow to shadow, to create shadowy duplicates of themselves, and even become entirely invisible. They can also decrease the amount of light in an area, and can see through darkness, even of the magical variety.


Average Height: 5'6" - 6'2"

Average Weight: 100 - 160

Ability scores: +2 Charisma, +2 Dexterity or +2 Intelligence

Size: Medium

Speed: 6 squares.

Vision: Darkvision

Languages: Common, choice of one other

Skill Bonuses: +2 Arcana, +2 Stealth.

Fragile Mortality: You have one fewer healing surge than normal.

Master of Shadows: When your class grants you a utility power after 1st level, you can forgo taking that power. Instead, you can take a shade utility power of the same level or lower.

One with Shadow: You have the one with shadow power.

Practiced Sneak: You have training in Stealth.

Shadow Origin: The Shadowfell has left its mark on you, so you are considered a shadow creature for the purpose of effects that relate to creature origin.


Shades resemble their original human selves, though they sacrifice their native vitality to the ritual that turns them into slender creatures of shadow. Their darkness-piercing eyes become orbs of dull black, dark gray, or purple. Their coloring takes on subdued hues, with most shades having pale skin and lank, black hair. Shades prefer dark, somber clothing of silk, suede, or supple leather, decorated with brass and iron. Their metal weapons and tools are coated with special oils that dull any sheen or reflection.

The Trail of Five Darknesses has a dramatic effect on longevity; rumors abound of shades who eventually attain a level of power that allows them to stop aging altogether.


Ambitious, ruthless, and paranoid, shades are humans who trade part of their souls for a sliver of the Shadowfell's dark essence. Even more so than the shadowborn--natives of the Shadowfell descended from the common races--shades are gloom incarnate. No matter what nations or land one was first born into, each shade undergoes a dark rebirth that transforms him or her into a creature of stealth and secrecy who is caught between life and death. In exchange for the twilight powers granted to shades, the Shadowfell taints their souls with dark thoughts and a darker disposition.

A human who chooses to become a shade is reborn into shadow through a transformative ritual that draws on the ambient magic present at shadow crossings--places where the veil between the world and its dark echo is thinnest. Known in scholarly circles as the Trail of Five Darknesses, this arduous ritual is as likely to slay its practitioner outright--obliterating body and soul--as it is to grant the ability to wield shadow magic.

Unbridled ambition and utter desperation are common reasons for a human to undertake the Trail of Five Darknesses, since the taint of the Shadowfell marks a shade as an outcast forever. Shades maintain a determined self-reliance when among their own kind, because they know all too well the greed and duplicity their race is capable of. However, shades also believe in strength in numbers, and as such they congregate in settlements close to shadow crossings, both in the world and the Shadowfell.

A few shades deny the self-serving nature of their kind, striving to ensure that the true nature of their souls overcomes the shadowy nature of their chosen path. Rejecting their own kind, these shades seek the company of the common races. Drawn to the life of an adventurer, such shades try to earn the trust of a close circle of friends, defending those comrades with the ruthlessness for which their kind is known. However, some decry this behavior as just another facet of the shades' characteristic avarice--treating friends as personal possessions that must be kept safe at all costs.


Shades exist among all cultures, but the transformation they undergo creates a consistent sense of ambition for which their kind is known. No matter what justification inspires an individual to undertake the Trail of Five Darknesses, the conscious act of embracing the power of shadow changes that person. For many shades, having given up a portion of their own soul in the name of power means that no sacrifice is too great.

Shades value restraint, poise, and patience. They bid their time in all things, keeping a low profile as they manipulate events to their advantage. Just as the Shadowfell's malaise can smother the spirits of mortal adventurers who venture into that dread plane, the sliver of shadow within each shade subdues emotion. A shade still feels love, hate, pride, despair and the like, but he or she buries these feelings deep inside. A shade's smirk or frown carries as much weight as a halfling's laughter or an orc's frenzied roar.

Shades hold little love for the gods. Having made the ultimate sacrifice for power, they have no patience for those who beg deities for their favour. Those few shades who dedicate themselves to a faith worship Sehanine, god of trickery, or Vecna, god of secrets.

For all their fierce independence and self-reliance, some shades feel a hunger for companionship driven by the emptiness of their fractured souls. Although such shades rarely become social creatures, they gravitate to strong allies alongside whom they can prove themselves in battle. Such long-term companies are typically the only ones who ever see a shade's true emotions, even as the shade demonstrates the full strength of his or her driven ruthlessness in those allies' defense.

The shades' independence puts them in direct opposition to the intense shadar-kai and their devotion to the Raven Queen. These two races of shadow demonstrate an animosity that rivals that of elves and drow, or dwarves and orcs. However, shades are civil to the vampiric vryloka, understanding too well the effect of living under the weight of shadow.


The dark nature of their transformation places shades firmly outside the societies they arise from. The most social of their kind distrust all except their closest companions. Truly misanthropic shades embrace their darkness fully, seeing others as pawns to be exploited in the quest for power.

In the mortal realm, a shade often takes up a life of wandering or lives as a social outcast on the fringes of humanoid society. It is common for shades to mask their true nature with magic or clever disguises, using their shadow powers as a screen against watchful eyes. In many cases, shades reject family or clan names from their past lives to take on the name of the shadow crossing where they undertook the Trail of Five Darknesses ritual.

In the Shadowfell, and around shadow crossings, shades form communities that reflect the avaricious and brutal nature of their residents. Shades who settle in the Shadowfell are typically those who have strongly embraced the darkness in their souls. Their enclaves are built on a rigid caste structure in which shade nobles plot against each other in bloodthristy political machinations that would tear other societies apart. In such communities, shades unattached to a noble house are treated as outcasts or used as pawns in attacks against rival nobles.
 Episode 5 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-25 -  
 ... of The Shadowfell 
"Long ago, during the collapse of ancient Netheril, one of the empire's flying cities survived the realm's destruction by shifting completely into the Plane of Shadow.' Safe from outside predators and the disasters that befell their kin, the city-dwellers were free to practice their magic and experiment with the stuff of shadow.' After generations of living within the Plane of Shadow, the rulers of the city became suffused with the dark energy of that place, achieving strange and remarkable abilities.

Returning to Faerun in 1372 DR, the people of the renamed city of Shade began magically exploring the world and fortifying their defenses against old and new foes, such as the Phaerimms.' The shades consider all of Anauroch their territory, and once they have established their borders it is likely they will try to expand their realm.' Backed by the arcane might of ancient Netheril and their alien power of shadow, the shades are a serious threat to the safety and security of people all over Faerun.

The true goals of the Shades are unknown.' They may turn up in almost any part of the world looking for information, sowing dissent, defying authority, or looting old caches of Netherese items.' The shades may try to ally themselves with magocracies (such as Thay or Halruaa), groups with ties to shadows (such as the Shadow-masters of Telflamm or the church of Shar), or far-reaching political organizations such as the Zhentarim, if only for the purpose of acquiring information about the world their ancestors fled almost two thousand years ago."

--From the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting


The Shadowfell was created in'1385 DR'when'Shar, having successfully arranged'Mystra's death, bound the energies of the'Negative Energy Plane'with the'Plane of Shadow. Since then, the Shadowfell has existed as a center of Shar's power as well as a transitory place for dead mortals on their way towards judgment on the'Fugue Plane.


The'Shadowfell, sometimes simply called'Shadow, is a parallel plane'from which'necrotic'energies and'shadow magic'stem. It exists as sort of a counterpart to'Feywild'in the sense that it is a reflection or "echo" of the'Prime Material Plane'except that it is a bleak, desolate place full of decay and death. The Shadowfell is a type of underworld, and the thematic successor to the Negative Energy Plane and Plane of Shadow from earlier editions. The Raven Queen makes her home here rather than the Astral Sea. Creatures native to or connected with the Shadowfell generally have the shadow origin.

The Shadowfell is a dark reflection of the world, the gateway the dead pass through en route to their final destination. While is it not necessarily an evil place, it is certainly a place where evil has a strong presence. It has small populations of most civilized races from the world, but it also has a number of native (or now-native) races including'Death Giants,'Dark Ones'the'Shadar-Kai'and'Zamar-Sha. Most of all it is populated with the'dead'and'undead.

Sages from the world will tell you that the Shadowfell's'geography'corresponds to that of the 'real' world, but that is only half the truth. While every part of the world is reflected in the Shadowfell, that does not mean every part of the shadowfell is reflected in the world. The full extent of the Shadowfell's scope is unknown, except perhaps to the gods.

At first blush, the Shadowfell seems much like the world. It is not a lush and verdant hunting ground like the Feywild, nor is it the tumultuous battleground of the Elemental Chaos. Its appearance can be deceiving, though, for the Shadowfell's differences are woven into the fabric of the plane.

In this dark and imperfect reflection of the natural realm, shadows and gloom replace light and hope, suffusing everything with melancholy. A sense of fear and isolation fills living creatures with the urge to surrender to fate. Only those who are strong of heart and mind can survive in such a place.

Even though it's an echo of the natural world, the Shadowfell is nevertheless unique in both its fundamental nature and the mood it evokes. The Shadowfell is a bleak realm that houses both the dead and those among the living who have embraced a dismal existence there.

The Shadowfell is in a state of flux. These alterations can be dramatic or subtle: A giant sinkhole might swallow up a swath of land, or a path that leads through a forbidding mountain range might alter its course to descend into the Shadowdark. These transformations can be physical, but they can also be a by-product of the plane's ability to warp the memory and imagination of those who walk its shadowed paths.

There are a number of locales of interest in The Shadowfell:

Gloomwrought, the City of Midnight
Letherna, Realm of the Raven Queen
The House of Black Lanterns
Moil, the City That Waits
Nightwyrm Fortress
The Plain of Sighing Stones
The Shadowdark (Underdark of the Shadowfell)

The town of Winterhaven stands watch over a ruined keep that was once a bastion of good in the realm. Within two short decades of the collapse of the Nerath Empire (the most recent Empire that ruled across the world, bringing peace and prosperity that collapsed), the keep was abandoned for reasons that vary from miltary uselessness to it being haunted. The keep is rumoured to overlook a Shadow Rift, a dark scar in the world that was once a gateway to the Shadowfell. This portal was said to have been blocked and maybe destroyed by the last remnants of the Nerath empire who guarded over it.


The City of Night; The City of Shadows; the largest city in the Shadowfell. It serves as a port that serves as a hub of travel and trade. The streets of Gloomwrought are unforgiving. Undead prowl the unlit alleys at night, and gargoyles lurk on rooftops, watching for unwary travelers to pick off. If one is to survive in the City of Midnight, he or she needs allies. Even as certain groups such as Midnight's Own, the Ghost Talon, and Houses Harskel and Carradh vie for control of the city, other individuals and organizations are content to play at neutrality. However, few in Gloomwrought are without motivation, and friends can quickly become enemies when different goals collide.

Dead Empires

There are places long lost to the world that still echo in the Shadowfell. Fortresses from the Tiefling Empire, Pyramids of the Illumians, Ziggurats of Moil and other impossible ruins still linger in dark corners.

Dread Domains

There's no way to tell how many of these there are, and each is a unique location, isolated , but not entirely disconnected from the rest of the Shadowfell. Each is the kindgom (or perhaps prison) of a being of great power, and its environs reflect the nature of its master. These are mostly known in rumor and lore, for it is generally accepted that a rip into a dread domain is a one way trip.

The North

Wherever you are in the Shadowfell, if you go north far enough you will find your way to a land of ice and snow. Somewhere in the center of this eternal winter is the tower of the'Raven Queen. The dead who find their way here subject themselves to her judgment, and those who fail become the undead who haunt the ice and snow. Scholars may call this place "Letherna", but no one who lives in the Shadowfell calls it anything but the north.

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Much of the Shadowfell is a twisted reflection of the Prime Material plane and is populated primarily by dead creatures such as ghosts, specters, and other undead who for whatever reason have refused to leave the Shadowfell and continue on to the'Fugue Plane. There are however, numerous other inhabitants such as communities of'shadar-kai'and'dark ones.

Creatures of shadow plague both travelers and residents of the Shadowfell. Souls drift across the desolate landscape, sometimes becoming trapped or tormented. Great forces vie for control of this land, waging war for dominion over death. For these reasons and more, the Shadowfell beckons heroes who have a thirst for adventure and a desire to do good.

As a shadowy reflection of the world, the Shadowfell can manifest differently to visitors. The plane is an amalgam of differences and similarities to the world. Each person finds something both recognizable and disturbing in its grim landscape.

The Shadowfell is not inherently evil, but evil creatures are strong and plentiful there. Fearsome opponents await heroes in the Shadowfell, for the darkness provides a safe haven for dark and sinister things. Adventurers can expect straightforward fights against mindless undead and shadow beasts, as well as intrigue and conspiracy as they face off against cunning sneaks and master manipulators.

Creatures in the Shadowfell use darkness and fear to their advantage, surprising and ambushing unwary foes. A situation need not lead to a battle in order to instill tension and fear. A narrow alley with dark windows where assassins could be hiding can put players on edge, even when no threat is present.

The monstrous denizens of the Shadowfell can be as insular and dejected as those of the world. The people of the Shadowfell are more xenophobic and mistrustful, though. They are apt to draw steel first before talking. A band of travelers in the Shadowfell, for example, represents a greater threat than one in the world. The constant danger of attack can lead adventurers to feel suspicious of anyone they encounter.

Death is a fundamental part of the Shadowfell, as ubiquitous as life is in the mortal realm. Any heroes who come to the Shadowfell should expect to stare straight into the face of death. Creatures of death roam the dismal landscape, feasting on the vitality of those foolhardy enough to wander the desolate landscape. Also, the Raven Queen keeps a watchful eye on those who visit her domain, dispatching her sorrowsworn to deal with any who threaten her rule.

Passage of Time

Creatures sometimes perceive time differently in the Shadowfell from how they do in the world. Rather than passing with the rise or fall of the sun, time moves based on the gloom infecting one's mind. As a person succumbs to depression and apathy, time seems to slow to a crawl. If one sinks into the deepest depths of despair, time seems to stop entirely.

A visitor to the Shadowfell might feel as though days or weeks have passed, when in fact years have gone by on his or her native plane. More than one traveler has ventured into the Shadowfell, only to find that when he or she returned home, everything that person loved and cherished was gone.
 Episode 7 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-08 -  
 Part I: The Red Star 
With a bone rattling explosion of light, the very fabric of night is ripped asunder. A whirlwind of arcane force whips the once quiet glade of Gamboge into a miniature cyclone of chaotic flashes, with the very air screeching as though the universe itself were protesting this sudden event.

And with an abruptness as jarring as how it started, the madness ends, and the rending sounds of reality tearing open, are replaced with a long drawn out scream of terror and pain, as two figures wink into existence, the ground steaming and burnt beneath them.

The figure screaming, his arms spread wide as his face faces into the sky, rolls over and collapses, the scream lasting as long as the breath within his lungs can maintain it. Grey-skinned, his eyes orbs of complete blackness, Legion pants and gasps as though he's just run a thousand leagues to reach this point.

Beside him, Morpheus has remained on his feet. His pale skin is marked by tattoos and piercings, the hallmark of the shadar-kai. He peers around, taking in the forest surroundings, his face confused and bewildered. As his eyes fall upon the collapsed form of Legion, his face twists into carnal rage. In the blink of an eye, Morpheus' dagger is in his fist, as he flips Legion over onto his back and grasps the front of his tunic. The dagger hangs over Legion, the blade quivering as though it takes all of Morpheus strength and will to hold it at bay.

An end, finally; is all Legion can think. It was folly to think his tale would end any other way than this, but still, even those without hope can dream sometimes, no? With no resistance, the mage closes his eyes, and waits for the blade to fall.

"Do it..." he moans, "End it... finally..."

Morpheus' hand pulls back even further, but before he can ram the dagger home, he bellows an almost animal howl of pain and rage, and drops the dagger. Throwing Legion roughly to the ground again, with much disdain and disgust, he stands and glares at his nemesis.

"Where is she?!?!" Morpheus shouts, his fists clenching and unclenching, his eyes darting around the clearing, "What trickery is this?!?! You promised me Shareen!"

Legion has no answer, as he remains on the ground staring into the night sky. He shakes his head, as if to clear his vision, and stares again. Morpheus' rage begins to subside, as he catches the confused looks Legion directs towards the night sky. He too, turns to look up, not seeing anything until a moment later, when he spies a bright red streak racing across the sky.

"What is that?" Morpheus asks the wizard, his anger forgotten.

"What... is what?" Legion replies, his voice weak.

"That." The monk replies, as he points to the streaking red star. But Legion's eyes never leave the quadrant of the sky he is staring at, in fact, his eyes widen in shock. To see Legion, normally an emotionless and inexpressive creature, showing such a depth of confusion, suddenly concerns Morpheus.

The wizard finally looks to the red star, but he continues to turn his head, as though it is of no consequence. Morpheus looks about again, trying to shake off his unease at the way Legion is acting.

"Is this Cloak Wood? The Dales...?" the monk asks, as he glances around. When no reply comes, he looks back to Legion, only to find the wizard has not moved at all. He just continues to stare into the sky. Angrier than he should be, Morpheus stalks over to Legion, grasping his cloak roughly by the shoulder, he shakes him to get his attention.

"Where are we, damn you?!?"

Legion's head turns slowly, and Morpheus can't be sure, but he senses an element of fear in the shades normally expressionless face.

"I... don't know." Legion replies weakly.
 Episode 8 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-09 -  
 Part II: Revelations 
It's a few moments later when Legion rises slowly to his feet. Morpheus reaches out to help him, but the mage pushes his hands away roughly. "Don't be a fool, you can barely walk," the shadar-kai says as he reaches out to help Legion again. Again, his companion pulls away.

"We don't need your help." Legion hisses, his voice venomous.

Morpheus takes several deep breaths to calm himself. Inside his emotions spiral in turmoil, but his training as a monk takes over, and he's able to maintain calm. For several minutes, he watches Legion test his legs and move about the glade. The mage checks the ground, then the sky again, then the ground.

"How long were we unconscious for?" Legion asks.

"Weeks." Morpheus replies after a long sigh, "I lost count. I started to think you were lost to us."

"Oh, how sad that must have been for you," smirks Legion, as he continues to examine their surroundings.

"Do not mock me." Morpheus spits, his voice dangerous. The two remain in silence for several long minutes, before the monk attempts to engage Legion again.

"How can you not know where we are? You brought us here!"

"It's not that simple," the mage replies, but adds no further information. Morpheus sighs again, when it becomes apparent that Legion will volunteer no more information. The shadar-kai begins his own investigation, if only to distract him from the anger he feels.

"There is no summoning circle here..." Legion mumbles out loud.

"What does that mean?" Morpheus asks. His own investigations had already uncovered a trail leading out of the grove.

"We can't go back." Legion says.

"Well," Morpheus says half-heartedly, "We can. Surely, it will just take much longer to travel back to Baldur's Gate."

"No," Legion says, his head shaking, "There is no Baldur's Gate, here. This isn't Faerûn. This isn't even Toril." Morpheus, unwilling to admit he doesn't understand, just stares at Legion. When the mage finally realizes that the monk has no idea of the impact of his statement, he speaks again.

"This is another world."
 Episode 9 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-10 -  
 Part III: Clearing the Air 
Dawn finds the pair walking on a well-travelled road. It takes them a few hours to find their way out of the forest, travelling in sullen silence the entire time. As the sun begins its climb skyward, Legion breaks the silence.

"We never promised you'd find Shareen after we transported, only that we could find the phylactery. At least, that's what we thought would happen."

"Why are you telling me this?" Morpheus replies, as he continues his stoic march beside the mage. Legion remains silent for a long time before speaking again.

"Blackcross, an old affiliate of ours, had the phylactery. We'll need it back if you want to recover Shareen."

"You said as much when you woke, it's how you lured me here. But you also said Blackcross was dead!" Morpheus exclaims.

"Perhaps..." Legion says, his voice trailing off, "Or perhaps not..."

"I have no patience for this," Morpheus blurts, his control slipping, as his hand drops to his dagger, "and I no longer trust you."

"We're not trying to sound aloof!" Legion states, angrily, the show of emotion throwing Morpheus off. "We don't know! We were not expecting to appear here. We were expecting to appear wherever Blackcross was destroyed, but now we're not sure. We focused on the phylactery, so there must be a connection here somewhere. And let's not bandy words under false pretense - you never trusted us."

"How can you have the power to bring us to another world?" Morpheus asks as they continue their trek down the road.

"It wasn't entirely me." Legion answers, "And there will be a cost we'll have to pay." His words bringing a chill to Morpheus's spine.
 Episode 10 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-11 -  
 Part IV: Fates Path 
Morpheus can tell by their stance that the guards at the gates have limited martial experience, and he can also tell that they're uncomfortable with his appearance. He thanks the gods that he was smart enough to have Legion pull up his hood to conceal his features as much as possible, and that the growing twilight helps to conceal him where the cloak fails.

What if I don't understand them? There is a momentary panic, but the monk realizes it's too late to walk away now, as to do so would cause too much suspicion. No, it would be best to leap and see where you land at this point.

"Welcome to Winterhaven," The first guard says, his long spear gleaming in the sunlight. His companion, a much older and more experienced looking man, nods as he looks them over.

"Pleased if you could be telling us your business here," the second guard states. Their accents are different, alien in fact, but Morpheus still understands them fine. Relief floods into him, which causes him to smile widely. The guards visibly relax at what they take to be a sign of friendliness.

"I am Morpheus," the monk says as he bows to them, "My companion and I have travelled very far in search of your scholar. We've many questions to ask and much information to share." It was a gamble, for sure, but Morpheus spied the wizardly looking tower rising above the walls, and it seemed the best way to make a contact. Surely any scholar from this word would be fascinated to speak with explorers from another world.

Both guards smile at this, as they pull the gates open for them.

"You'll be looking for Valthrun then," says the first as he gestures towards the tower inside, "Good luck getting his nose out of those books long enough to talk to you."

"And if you're looking for work," adds the second, "Lord Padraig is hoping to gather more fighting men at Gardmore, which Valthrun can bring you up to speed on."

The monk nods as he passes the two men. He hesitates on the threshold of the quaint town, feasting in the smells and sights of an alien world. Taking his first step into Winterhaven, Morpheus feels a shifting of fates, as if a path has opened up before him.

I'm coming Shareen, he thinks to himself, and nothing will stop me.
 Episode 11 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-12 -  
 Part V: Otherworldly Signs 
Valthrun peered worriedly into his spyglass. Normally, spending an evening staring at the constellations was a source of much joy for the young sage, but not tonight. There was talk everywhere about the Red Tear. At least that was what the citizens of Winterhaven were calling it. It was a red star - streaking across the night sky - that had been there for days. With Padraig laid low under mysterious circumstances, and the ominous star, it was enough to bring out the worst superstitions in the town's populace. Valthrun knew that Padraig was recuperating from the mental invasions of a cursed necklace of Vecna, but that news was wisely not spread among the common people.

Valthrun, sighed and began paging through his tomes again. What he'd discovered worried him. No, that wasn't exactly right. It terrified him. He was still cross checking his facts, but the signs could not be denied. He'd need to get to Gardmore. He'd need to speak to the Winterguard. Vathrun was a man who enjoyed the sanctity of his tower and the comfort and safety of his home. The thought of making the journey to Gardmore did not sit well with Valthrun's hermit-like tendencies. But this was no time to be cowardly.

A sudden knock on his front door startles the books out of Valthrun's lap, causing an avalanche of scrolls and tomes to fall onto the floor. He's not expecting anyone. The sage is debating ignoring the knock and returning to the stars, when it comes again, this time longer. Curiosity gets the better of him, and he hurries down the steps to the front door. The visitors are in the middle of knocking a third time by the time he slides his view window open and stares out at them.

The forward figure is a robed humanoid, his features pale and tattooed, and his complexion covered in various piercings. A shadar-kai, native of the shadowfel, on his very doorstep! Valthrun's excitement ebbs, when he begins to wonder if there is a connection with his discovery, and these visitors. He doesn't see the second figure beyond the first, but when he does, there is almost nothing to see but a shadowy form in a deep hooded cloak. Valthrun blinks for a second when he thinks he spies glowing eyes deep in the hood. Nothing about either figure makes him feel at ease, especially not after having discovered what he has about the red star.

"Yes? Can I help you?" Valthrun stammers, hating the obvious fear that he can't keep from his voice.

"My name is Morpheus." The monk says, as he holds out his empty hands, trying his best to look disarming, "This is my companion, Legion." There is a pause before the word companion, but Valthrun fails to notice. The shadar-kai continues, "We've come seeking your aid in a quest that will seem impossible to believe, and highly improbable, but I assure you that it is truth."

"What do you need from me?" Valthrun asks, his voice less stressed.

"Knowledge." Morpheus says, "There is no easy way to explain us, then to say, we're not from around here."

"Well," the sage interrupts, "I know you're from the shadowfel, that much is evident, but I fail to se--"

"No," interrupts Morpheus, "Not the shadowfel. You are correct in that I was born there, but for years I have adventured and journeyed outside that dark realm. Until recently, I worked with the group that liberated Baldur's Gate." Valthrun's brow furrows in confusion.

"I consider myself a learned scholar, sir, and I know of no place that is called such." the sage states, somewhat defiantly.

"Nor would I expect you to know it." The shadar-kai continues, "It is ruled over by Grand Duke Portyr, and is known the world over as the greatest city on the Sword Coast, though Waterdeep and Athkatla would greatly debate this point." Morpheus shrugs when he sees Valthrun's look of bewilderment.

"Are you mad?" the sage says.

"No," Morpheus replies, his brow furrowing, "but this next part you may prefer to sit down for, as it will take a while to explain and may shock you. You see, we are from another world, entirely."
 Episode 12 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-15 -  
 Part VI: Friend or Foe? 
"Amazing!" Valthrun exclaims as he leads Legion and Morpheus up the stairs of his tower. This is of course, not the first time he has uttered the phrase to them. "Did you come across the Astral Plane? Do you have an astral ship? What about the githzerai? Did you travel with them? I... I don't know where to start!"

"No," Morpheus, begins to answer, "no ship." He goes to say more but suddenly his leg gives out beneath him and he stumbles on the stairs, only to be caught by Legion behind him. The shadar-kai, shakes his head to clear the sudden fog that almost caused him to faint. Valthrun notices nothing, and continues to lead them into his study. He spends a large amount of time clearing off two seats before he moves around behind his desk, cluttered with open books and scrolls.

Morpheus sits heavily, suddenly looking exhausted, and Legion drops his hood and turns to the sage. Valthrun, having lowered himself into his seat, finally looks up, but when he gazes upon Legion, he immediately leaps back from his chair and stumbles into a heap behind his desk.

"Gods!" Valthrun exclaims, as he struggles to rise again. Legion cocks an eyebrow at Morpheus who rises slowly, and steadies himself on the edge of the desk.

"Please!" Morpheus says, "He won't hurt you. It's not what you think."

"How can it not be?!?" The sage cries out, "You've brought a shade into my tower!"

"Yes," Morpheus sighs heavily, sinking into the chair once again, when it becomes plain that Valthrun won't run. The sage for his part gains his feet and stays with his back against the far wall, staring at the shade. Legion remains motionless.

"Legion is a shade," the monk continues, as Legion takes more interest in the books around them, then he does of the conversation about him, "But he will not harm you. He and I are working together." Morpheus struggles with the word together but again, Valthrun fails to notice.

"Please," the monk explains, "we are strangers here and lost. You may be our only hope. We've traveled across worlds to achieve one simple thing."

"Something evil, no doubt!" Valthrun spits.

"No!" Morpheus says, "Nothing of the sort. We are here to save my sister."
 Episode 13 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-16 -  
 Part VII: The Toll 
They spoke at length for a long time. Over the course of hours, Valthrun finally settled back into his chair. Legion remained reserved and quiet throughout, speaking only when prompted or to correct Morpheus. The tale was fascinating to the sage, so much so, that he barely interrupted. Dawn was breaking over Winterhaven before they'd exhausted everything they needed to tell him.

"Now, this phylactery you seek, I've never heard of anything resembling it around here." Valthrun tells them.

"No," Legion states, his voice quiet, "the item is more than likely shattered, it's pieces spread across various realms and domains. But the fact that the portal brought us here would suggest that there is a connection here, somewhere."

Suddenly, Valthrun is startled by very insistent knocking upon his front door.

"Valthrun!" Someone cries from beyond the tower, "Come quick! It's Lord Padraig!" The urgency in the voice drives the sage from his chair. He rushes across the room, knocking over pages of vast knowledge in the process. At the door to the stairs, he pauses to look at his guests.

"Please, wait here!" the sage states, "I think it best if you remain out of sight for now. Make yourselves at home, and I will be back as soon as I can!" With that, Valthrun scurries down the stairs, leaving Legion and Morpheus alone.

"Well, that went well." Morpheus says, his words oddly slurring. Legion glances over at him, his eye brow raised. Morpheus rises from the chair, takes one step, and then collapses in a heap upon the floor. Legion is out of his chair in a flash, hovering over the shadar-kai as he checks his companion's well-being.

"You!" Morpheus hisses, "You did this to me!" The monk attempts to rise, but finds himself too weak to manage it. Legion nods his head.

"Yes," the shade agrees, "In a fashion. The power to move through worlds comes at a cost. A cost someone like me is not equipped to pay."

"My life...?" Morpheus whispers.

"No..." Legion whispered softly, "Nothing so drastic. We simply needed some of your life essence for lack of a better term. You should be able to recover from this. In fact, we thought that since you were still standing upon arrival that you were not going to be affected."

"Why didn't you warn me?!?" Morpheus demands.

"Would it have changed your decision to come?" Legion asks.

"No." Morpheus states. "How long will I be this frail?"

"Hard to say," Legion shrugs, "however long it takes your body to recuperate."

"I can't recover the phylactery like this!" Morpheus cries in anguish.

"Not yet," the shade replies, "But I am not hampered. Until you recover, you will just have to trust me to do it."
 Episode 14 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-17 -  
 Part VIII: A Chance Encounter 
"Why has Lord Padraig been taking audience in the main hall? I thought he'd been told to stay abed?" Valthrun badgers the guard as the two hastily move through the streets of Winterhaven. Most of the town is already busy going about their day, and the two men rushing through the streets drew far more attention than the young sage wanted. He tries to remember to lower his voice.

"He insisted," the worried guard answers, "for the last few days, he's been taking audience with various groups and adventurers who came calling. Word is spreading that he's looking for able bodied men willing to aid in the rise of Gardmore."

"Days!" Vathrun exclaims, before realizing he's raising his voice again. The two men push through the manor house until they reach the main hall. The scene is frightening for Valthrun. The guards have cleared the room of everyone except one figure that the sage barely notices. Two guards hover over the prone form of Padraig, clearly unsure what to do.

Valthrun drops to his knees and begins to check Lord Padraig in all the ways he knows, wishing that he had Odus or Sister Lenora there to help. Though he has some knowledge of the human body, it's strictly in a scholarly sense, and he has no idea what to do to help Padraig.

"May I be of assistance?" a voice says from behind. Valthrun turns and finds the forgotten guest that the guards had not ushered out. Having moved up quietly, the man has taken a knee behind Vathrun, his eyes on Padraig. Behind him, the sage can see a spear leaning against the wall, and the tabard the man wears is patched and grimy, bearing the leering mask of the Laughing Rogue. With the strangers sleeves rolled up, Valthrun can see clearly the plethora of tattoos across his hand and forearms. The back of his right hand bears a set of dice rolled to ones, where the forearm is a storm of black clouds, demons, and monstrosities. On the back of the left hand is another pair of dice, these bearing a roll of seven total, and the forearm is a portrait of clouds, sunlight, and angels. Valthrun pauses, unsure what to make of the man. Clad in chain, the man's skin betrays a familiarity with combat in the many scars and marks on his body, and his close cropped hair gives the sage the impression that he's a soldier, not a healer.

"Uh," Valthrun looks him over again, taking in his martial nature, "I don't mean to offend you, but you don't look like you can help." The stranger smiles patiently.

"It's clear you are out of your depth here, friend," he says smiling as he inches closer, "Why not chance my help?"

"Our regular healer, Sister Lenora, is not here, as luck would have it. Are you a healer?"

"As a matter of fact, I am." The stranger reaches out and places his palms on Padraig, and Valthrun can feel power flowing through the man and into Padraig. "Ironic the twist of chance, isn't it?"

"How so?" Valthrun says as he leans back, relieved to see colour return to Lord Padraig, and his breathing begin to even out from its previous laboured state.

"Fortune puts me here when your healer is not."


"Well, friend, some might say that Lenora being absent is ill luck." Valthrun states skeptically. The stranger merely smiles in return, as Padraig's eyes flutter open and the men help him to a sitting position.

"Bad or good," the stranger says, "it's still luck." He extends his hand out to Valthrun, "My name is Phenton Luckmaker, a cleric of Olidammara, but please call me Fynn". The two men shake hands as Lord Padraig shakes the fog from his head.

Padraig finally becomes more aware of his surroundings, and the group of men help him to his chair.

"What happened?" the Lord of Winterhaven asks, confusion in his voice.

"You had a fainting episode, my Lord." Fynn says, glancing at Valthrun, "But I would suggest you retire for the day, and get your strength back." Valthrun nods his head in agreement, as he hovers close to his liege.

"My lord," the young sage says, "I must make haste to Gardmore in order to speak with the Winterguard but I need to bring you up to speed on some readings I've uncovered, perhaps I can help you to your quarters, and we can discuss matters there?"

"Nonsense," Padraig states gruffly, "I've spent enough time lying around! There is too much to be done, and enough time has been wasted. I will accompany you to Gardmore and we can discuss matters along the way."

"Respectfully, I would not recommend this course of action, my lord." Fynn adds, "You could encounter another fainting episode. I don't mean to pry, but it's evident to me that you've undergone some sort of psychic trauma recently, and you don't want to be alone on the road without the benefit of a healer if another seizure happens."

Anchor"Who is this man?" Padraig demands of Valthrun, his tone impatient.

"Um, Phenton, a cleric." The sage stammers.

"Good." Padraig states with finality, "Then he'll travel with us."

"Well, uh," Valthrun says unsure, "It's just that I'm not sure why he's here, my lord." The cleric of Olidammara smiles at the sage.

"As luck would have it," Fynn says, "I was here to ask lord Padraig's permission to go to Gardmore."
 Episode 15 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-18 -  
 Part IX: The Road to Gardmore 
The moment of silence drags on for longer than pleasant company would normally allow it to. The jingle of the coach, the gentle sounds of Morpheus slumbering next to Legion, the continuous trot of the draft horses, and the soft babble of the groups of men accompanying the caravan are like a tidal wave of welcome noise for Fynn, who sat across from Legion and Morpheus.

It's like being in the army again, thinks Fynn, only the ride's more comfortable. He continues to stare at the shade, his eyes refusing to waver. Legion, for his part, stares back with no expression. They are in the second such coach, the first being for Padraig and Valthrun, along with other carts and supplies being taken to Gardmore. And there are numerous men. Mercenaries, and a few adventurers as well that Padraig has acquired in hopes of bolstering the strength of his now famous "Winterguard".

Fynn wonders to himself if this means that he himself was now part of the renowned group. The cleric's goal was to set up a gambling den in Gardmore, a place of worship for those faithful to Olidammara, and a great source of gold for any smart hustler. Fynn had hoped to leave the blood and guts behind him, his dreams already plagued by the fields of dead young men that littered the grounds after every large battle. But by the gods did he miss it already. Perhaps working with a smaller group would be better.

The shade stares back, his gaze unwavering. Does it even, blink? Is he going to be part of them too, Fynn wonders? He's never met a darker pair than these two. It makes sense to be wary, but still. Fynn sighs, finally breaking the staring contest to fish his lucky coin from his tunic. Heads, he thinks to himself, heads puts me back in the game.

The cleric stared at the battered old coin, running his fingers over the edges. Guide me, he silently prays to himself, help me choose you tricky old rogue. In one fluid motion, he flicks the gold coin spinning into the air. As the coin flips end over end in the jostling cart, Fynn risks a glance back at the shade. Legion has moved off to stare out the window, but the cleric can see it staring back out of the corner of its eye with one eyebrow cocked in curiosity. Fynn snatches the coin from the air, and slaps it onto the back of his hand. The left hand. The shield hand. The hand he's adorned with angel tattoos and sunbursts. Slowly, he uncovers the coin, very much aware that Legion too is watching the result.


Fynn chuckles to himself. He puts the coin back into his pocket, and smiles widely at Legion, extending his hand in friendship.

"Phenton Luckmaker" the cleric says by way of introduction, waiting for his curious companion to accept the handshake. Legion stares at the offered hand, in a long stretched out manner that makes Fynn begin to think he won't accept it. But slowly the shade reaches across the gap and takes his hand. The gesture is awkward, almost as though it's been years since Legion has shaken anyone's hand.

"Coin tosses seem like an unusual way to start friendships," the shade says matter of factly.

"Aye," Fynn replies, "But I'm a cleric of Olidammara, so perhaps it's not that odd at all. And who says this is a friendship? Maybe it's just a partnership." Legion tilts his head, but says nothing for a few long moments.

"Luckmaker?" this time the shade actually smirks at Fynn.

"Not a real family name, obviously." Fynn replies, "Just a name I picked up a number of years ago. It seems people think I can bend luck in my favor. My friend's call me Fynn." Legion sits back, nodding his head at the cleric for a few moments before speaking again, in his slow deliberate manner.

"Well then, Fynn, it seems we are friends after all."

With a heavy sigh, Erenst Padraig sinks back into his seat, his spirits plummeting. Valthrun feels terrible having had to tell his liege all the frightening facts of his discovery, especially given Lord Padraig's raised spirits at his own news he wanted to tell the sage.

"It's just like Kalarel all over again," the noble says shaking his head in dismay, "When does it end?" Valthrun is delighted that Padraig makes the connection, and in his excitement he practically jumps out of his seat.

"You are precisely correct, my lord!" the young sage pushes his spectacles back into place and begins to talk animatedly with his hands, "Kalarel was attempting to open a portal to the Shadowfel in order to bring into our world forces in line with Orcus. This star, the last time it was seen, was when Orcus named a new exarch, and that exarch did the same thing!"

Padraig stares at Valthrun's smiling face and shakes his head in disbelief.

Anchor"Wouldn't the star mean that whoever that person is this time, they succeeded in opening the portal?" the noble says in a sobering tone. Valthrun's smile drops. He has not thought about that possibility. Now he sees why his liege has become so melancholy. The young sage reaches across, and in an uncharacteristic gesture, he pats Padraig's knee.

"We have the Winterguard, my liege; they will succeed where others would fail."

"Let us hope," Padraig says as he hands Valthrun a message scroll. The sage pours over the note, and a smile breaks across his face.

"Well, this is good news!" Valthrun exclaims, "A potential trade agreement with the Seven Pillared Hall! It says they're sending an envoy to Gardmore to discuss it."

"Yes," Padraig says skeptically, "and it also says they require a favor to finalize the agreement."

"But still..." Valthrun replies, "there is potential for good news!"

"Depends on the favor." Padraig replies, glumly.
 Episode 17 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-19 -  
 Part X: The Invoker 
When the entourage breaks for the evening, Fynn uses the distraction as a chance to leave the coach. Part of him thinks perhaps he should seek out Padraig, and work his way into the man's good graces, but the smell and noise of the camp forming around him reminds him too much of his times among soldiers. The cleric chooses instead to wander into the encampment.

Around a lone campfire, but cooking no food sits a rather tall striking figure. His facial expression is very neutral and his dark hair neither long nor short, and there is somewhat of a stern and serious look to him. The man sits with legs stretched out to the fire, reading from a dusty book titled 'The Laws of the Gods', a staff across his legs. Like Fynn, the man is clad in chainmail. Curious, the cleric wanders closer.

"May I?" Fynn asks, gesturing to the fire. The stranger arches an eyebrow at Fynn, and then nods his head in affirmative. But there is no friendly smile, or overt welcoming gesture. The cleric settles himself down on the ground, pulling his cooking utensils from his pack as well as a hare he bought from a squire who was a keen eye with a sling. Fynn squeezes water into the pot from his waterskin, and then throws in a few herbs. In a few minutes he's got the rabbit skinned and boiling. The other man has neither moved nor spoken then entire time.

"Have you eaten?" Fynn asks as he stirs the broth.

"No." replies the stranger without taking his nose from the book.

"You're welcome to share." The cleric offers as he pulls out a worn deck of cards.

"That's rather kind of you."

"But," Fynn says, as he shuffles the cards from one hand to the next deftly, "You'll have to play me for it. Whatever you want to ante in to play for dinner is fine with me."

This finally gets a reaction from the stranger, who puts the book away and slowly turns to face Fynn across the fire. Again he arches his eyebrow at the cleric.

"Are you seriously expecting me to gamble my wealth for dinner?"

"Why not? I'm not that good." Fynn lies. The stranger's mouth slides into a half smile.

"Let's be clear," the man says, "you are asking me to bet against you for food," Fynn nods in as friendly a manner as he can manage. "Against a cleric of Olidammara?" the stranger finishes. Fynn's smile drops.

"Okay, you can share the food at no cost," the cleric says in disappointment, he extends his hand out to the stranger, "My name is Fletcher Hamstead, second cousin to Lord Padraig himself."

"Ah, well I'm honored to meet you my lord," the other man bows his head at Flynn, "My name is Bahl. I'm a scholar hoping to settle myself in Gardmore and start what could one day be a great library. The Library of Gardmore!" The handshake is firm and confident.

"At least that explains why you get to ride in the coach," Bahl continues looking over his shoulder, "But your companions don't seem like a friendly sort."

"Well," Fynn replies, "They're ambassadors from the Shadowfel and my cous--" Bahl's snort of suppressed laughter stops Fynn short. He narrows his eyes at Bahl.

"Please," Bahl says, throwing up his hands, "Drop the charade. Padraig has no cousins. I appreciate your ability to lie, but you're not nobility." Fynn smiles back at Bahl.

"Whatever," the cleric retorts, "you're no scholar. You're not planning on making any grand library of Gardmore" The last bit Fynn does in a mocking reflection of Bahl's voice. The cleric pours the cards from one hand to the other again, his eyes carrying a clear challenge to Bahl.

"Alright," Bahl says, nodding mischievously, "Truth is the stakes. What's the game?"

"Blackrat." Fynn says as he begins to deal. A few moments later, the cleric throws the first hand, giving Bahl the win.

"Your real name?" Bahl asks.

"Phenton Luckmaker, but everyone calls me Fynn." The next hand goes to Fynn, without the cleric having to intervene.

"Not a scholar." Phenton talks to himself aloud, "But no mage either, the chain makes that evident." He scratches his head perplexed, "What exactly are you?"

"Invoker." Bahl responds. Fynn's eyes light up.

"No kidding? Pelora>. Am I right?"

"How did you know?" the invoker says startled.

"Lucky guess, actually." The rounds pass quickly, and Fynn cheats himself into more than enough wins to ask a lot of questions, though he respectfully never pries into why Bahl is heading for Gardmore. Finally, with the stew ready, the cards are put away and the two men settle down to eat.

"Not bad" Bahl says, sipping gingerly.


Anchor"Are you taking the coach again tomorrow?" the invoker asks.

"Nah," Fynn replies, "Makes my legs stiff, and the ride is not that comfortable. Mind if I tuck in next to your fire?"

"Be my guest." Bahl says as he goes back to reading. Fynn lays out his sleeping pack and settles himself in for the evening, staring up at the skies and the lone red streaking star. Good omen, or ill?

"Fynn?" Bahl asks.


"I knew the cards were marked by the third hand."
 Episode 18 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-20 -  
 Part XI: The Warlord 
Michael woke up naked and disoriented, with his head groggy from too much drink. Next to him, the naked form of a woman stirred under the covers. Her voice sighed as she stretched and then settled back to sleep. He smiled to himself as he remembered that it wasn't just too much drink he indulged in last night. But then he recalled why he awoke so suddenly. There were footsteps on the inn stairs, attempting to sneak up to his floor.

Whoever was creeping up wasn't very good at stealth, Mike thought to himself. He quickly glanced around the room for his weapons. Nothing. In fact, he couldn't even see his clothes anywhere either. Damn, he thought to himself, did I strip off in the common room again?

Determined to meet his assailant at the door, Michael slid from the bed as quietly as possible, naked as the day he was born. Tall and imposing, his figure was packed with muscle, and he carried himself with the confidence he took with him to every battle. He was, after all, a warlord, albeit a naked one at that moment.

The clumsy steps stopped just outside his door. Michael took a deep breath, and pulled the door open as he reached out to grapple his attacker. Expecting a dagger wielding assassin, Mike was surprised to find he'd grabbed a grubby unarmed man whom he didn't recognize. The man's eyes were wide in terror, and as Mike pulled him into the room, the stranger dropped a letter he carried to the floor. Seeing himself being accosted by a naked man, the stranger quickly broke himself free and pushed Mike away from him.

"Shove off, mate!" the accosted man hissed at him, "I don't go that way!" The stranger glared at Mike as he fixed his clothes that the warlord had pulled askew. As he shook his head in annoyance, the stranger kicked the letter toward Michael.

"Odus, son of Ty asked me to deliver that to you."

"Odus?" Michael responded, as his eyes lit up in excitement, "He's here, in Arantide?" The warlord pushed past the delivery man and scanned the hallway. It was empty, save for several discarded pieces of his clothes. That solves that mystery, Mike thought to himself.

"No," the stranger replied as he left the room, looking Mike up and down, "He was in town several days ago looking for you. Did you miss that whole debacle at the reading of Hallomak Stromm's will?" Mike had no knowledge of it. He may have been over-indulging again; in fact, he wasn't even sure of what day it actually was at the time.

"Wait!" Michael called after the man as he descended the stairs, "Why didn't you deliver it sooner?"

"I was drunk." The stranger replied as he shrugged and wandered out of the inn. Mike stared down at the common room, and realized that the rest of his clothes were scattered about down there. Shit, he thought to himself, I did get naked in public again. He headed back into the room and closed the door before he picked up the letter. There was a sharp intake of breath behind him when he bent over to grab it off the floor.


"Yummy." The woman behind him murmured seductively. Mike turned as he read the note, and at the same time he struggled to remember her name. Jezzabel? Jewel? He was pretty sure it started with a 'J'. The note was brief and to the point, written in Odus' hand: 'Head to Gardmore, as soon as possible. I could use your help.'

"Are you coming back to bed?" the woman asked playfully, as Mike thought about Odus. Friends since childhood, they may as well have been brothers. He'd heard the bard's name being spoken in powerful circles lately, and he'd been meaning to catch up with his old friend, and now Odus was asking for him. Mike smiled and glanced at the light leaking through the shutters. He figured it was very early in the morning. I should probably get going, the warlord thought, Odus has already been waiting too long if this letter is late.

"If you make me wait much longer," the woman whispered behind him, "I'll have to start without you."

"No need," Michael laughed as he sank bank into the bed, "I love a good morning romp, after all." Odus could wait a few more hours.
 Episode 19 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-21 -  
 Part XII: Tunnel Rats 
Darkness is Bhintel's home. Well, maybe not anymore, but it certainly is the place she finds the most comfort. Deep below Gardmore, alone, is where she struggles within herself. Gendar had told her it would be hard to adjust, but she didn't anticipate how hard. She still feels alone. It is no one's fault but hers though, she understands that. The drow rogue feels alone with all these surface dwellers around her. It is hard for Bhintel to fit in, especially when she doesn't even try. She is smart enough to stay away from the fey grove and the eladrin, but lately, she is avoiding everyone else too.

Part of her just wants to run back to the Underdark, to what she knows. Maybe that's why Bhintel volunteered to guard the tunnel entrance beneath Gardmore. Maybe she wants to leave that option open. No. There will be no going back. That's not an option anymore, Bhintel thinks to herself. I need to make this work.

The noise is subtle and barely there. The drow rogue has been waiting hours in the dark tunnels for this moment. She knew they'd come. For the last few days, she's run into orcs in the tunnels. Guarding the tunnel entrance seemed too bland a task, and it didn't take long for Bhintel to decide she'd patrol the tunnel instead. When that got tedious, she decided to move further down into the tunnels. And then further still. When Bhintel started to encounter orcs below Gardmore, she figured they were remnant bands of refuges from when the Winterguard won Gardmore back from them.

Dispatching wandering orcs moving in small packs was an easy task for the drow rogue. She almost feels sorry for them. She lost track of how many days she's been down here playing cat and mouse with them. More like panther and rats, she chuckles silently to herself. I'm no cat, and they are not mice.

The noise comes again. Faint. Bhintel noticed a shift yesterday in the orcs. The ones she's been encountering are no longer the pushovers she expects. These ones seem better trained. Almost like drow. But that thought is crazy, Bhintel thinks, maybe I've been down here too long? Wasn't it just yesterday she heard the faint sound of someone calling her name?

The drow rogue is still as a statue as the orcs round the corner, moving patiently slow and silent. Orcs don't tend to be so disciplined. This is uncharacteristic of them, for sure. They spy the body of the dead orc Bhintel left barely hidden in a subtle picture of a poor attempt to hide her latest victim. Still, they approach cautiously, drawing their blades.

Bhintel catches the scent of something very familiar. She almost shakes her head in defiance of what she senses, but manages holds still so as not to give away her position. It can't be what she thinks. She must be going mad, but there is no time to waste thoughts on that anymore, for when the orcs turn their backs to Bhintel, she makes her move.

Unlike the drow, the orcs still require some meager light, which is why Bhintel placed the bait corpse by the faint glow of underground fungus. In a blink, the dim light around them suddenly becomes absolute darkness, and as this fact dawns on the first orc, his companion is already dead with Bhintel's dagger deep in his back. The remaining orc barely registers the death rattle of his partner when Bhintel plunges her danger into his throat.

The dead orc slumps to the tunnel floor, but before it can settle, Bhintel snatches up the his blade and examines it closer. She's not crazy. It's poisoned. And not just any run of the mill poison, either: drow poison! The rogue crouches down, as she wonders to herself where a bunch of savages would get their hands on drow poison. She flips her victim over, gazing into its face, and freezes as her blood runs cold.

The orc's face is covered in a giant tattoo. A stylized spider ringed in purple fire.

Damn, Bhintel thinks to herself. This is not good. All too suddenly she realizes she has lingered here too long. Drow in the tunnels? Damn! Bhintel explodes into motion, sprinting up the tunnels towards the surface, her dagger still dripping orc blood.

I've got to tell The Winter Guard!
 Episode 20 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-22 -  
 Part XIII: The Arrival of Eranah 
The last wagon pulled through the gates leading to Gardmore Abbey, with a fresh-faced militia man quickly shutting them behind. He couldn't have been more than fourteen years of age; he barely filled out the piecemeal armour he wore and the he fumbled the halberd in his hands.

Here is a lad who has been forced to grow up too quickly, thought Eranah as she gracefully climbed down off the wagon and onto the loose cobblestone road, her plate armour making a faint echo. She unconsciously smoothed out her tabard and adjusted her shield. There was a slight rain falling, lending a glistening effect to her angel-motifed armour. She had removed her helmet, so her white and silver hair flew loosely in the breeze away from her face, revealing high cheekbones, deep-set eyes of sapphire and smooth lilac skin, whose only flaw could be the creases around her cheeks that come from smiling too easily.

Eranah had one such smile now. She knew the young guard at the gate was staring at her. It did not bother her; the deva had become quite used to it over her many lifetimes. She knew humans rarely saw devas and knew also when she was being admired and when she was being looked at as an object of lust; the latter very rarely happened and it wasn't happening now. The poor boy, she thought. If I offered to kiss him he'd probably faint dead away.

Instead of causing a scene that way (she admitted privately to herself that she most definitely would have in one of her other lives), she took on a more serious tone and approached the young man. "Excuse me, sir...?"

The boy flushed red and stammered "Oh, I ain't no,.. I mean! I mean, I isn't no... I mean!... I am no 'sir.' "

Eranah politely feigned surprise. "You have yet to be knighted?"

The boy shook his head, staring at the ground.

"Well then I am sure it will happen soon. Let us practice for that day, when we will address each other as fellow knights... and it begins with looking one another in the eye, with respect." With that, she gently placed her index finger beneath his chin and slowly forced his gaze to meet hers. He was trembling, but to his credit maintained eye contact with her once it was established. She was easily the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his young life. Eranah knew she had that effect on people but always tried to use it as an opportunity to bring out something beautiful in whomever she was dealing with. As now, when she leaned in and whispered to the young man "Here is a secret I will share with you: It is not titles or knighthoods that give one worth, but deeds and the manner in which we carry them out." Leaning back (to stop him from trembling) she asked, "What is your name."

"Matthew, miss."

"Well, Matthew, I want you to know that I noticed the manner in which you inspected the wagons as they arrived; you did so thoroughly yet without insulting the honour of the people you were verifying. Moreover, I noticed your constant glancing to the outside, to prevent anyone coming in whilst the inspection took place. You are clearly a man who takes his duties seriously and performs them with honour. I shall sleep comfortably tonight, knowing that you, Matthew, are the guardian at the gate."

Matthew uttered an incoherent reply, lowered his gaze again slightly, then stood straight and saluted the deva paladin. She bowed slightly to him in return, then set off to find the houses of healing; while she was scheduled to meet with Lord Padraig, she had arrived early and wanted to see if her healing skills could be put to good use in the meantime.

She walked amidst the people, giving smiles of greetings and friendly waves wherever she went. Again, she was used to the attention she drew and always tried to make people feel as comfortable as possible around her. The holy symbol of Rao, a heart-shaped mask with a calm expression, covered her shield and breastplate, and gave assurance to the people; while the worship of Rao was less common this far east in the Flanaess, he was a recognized god of good, peace and wisdom and Eranah enjoyed the calming effect that could manifest simply by letting her faith be known in an indirect way.

Two children, a boy and a girl, no older than eight, suddenly ran up to the paladin, expressions of both awe and worry across their little faces as they called out "Miss! Miss, could you please help us?"

Eranah got down to one knee and looked to them. "What is it, little ones? How can I help you?"

"Our brother is hurt! Real bad! They say he's going to lose his leg!" they cried. "No one can fix him...can you?"

Eranah looked about and quickly saw the elderly woman who had certainly directed the children her way. She stood with two other villagers, one a human and the other a gnome, waiting anxiously to see what the deva would do.

She smiled gently at the children. "Take me to your brother, and I will see what I can do for him." Her words had immediate effect, with both children suddenly expressing hope and excitedly grabbing her hand to lead her to where their brother lay. Eranah could see the elderly woman step forward to scold the children for daring to grab the deva's hand but Eranah put her free hand up in gentle rebuke of whom she now surmised was the children's grandmother. Eranah knew people often felt ill-at-ease to interact with her in casual fashion and so loved children and their ignorance of such formalities. In all her lives, one of the things that remained constant was Eranah's love for children.

The young ones escorted Eranah about two blocks to the house of healing. There was much work to be done here, the deva could see that. She had hoped the spiritual renewal of the Abbey would attract more healers and diplomats, though she was sure everyone was doing the best they could. It was now her turn: the children had brought her to the bedside of another young man, only a few years older than Matthew, Guardian of the Gate. He was badly injured in the leg; the children had been right on that score. In the countless battles Eranah had been in, she had seen many such injuries, often resulting in gangrene infestation leading to death. But in this life, she served Rao, and one of the blessings involved included a gift of healing.

She got down to one knee again and put a hand on the outer shoulder of each of her escorts as they huddled close together, waiting for a diagnosis. "You were right to get me, young ones: He is grievously injured indeed..." Their faces fell. ".. but not beyond my ability to heal him," she finished with a smile and a wink that brought those faces back up with hope. "When he is chasing you around again after your next prank on him, remind him that he can only do so because of your own efforts, for you have saved him this day." The children looked at each other and shared squeals of joy. Eranah reflected that adults would have waited to see the healing before they rejoiced; another reason she loved children.

She leaned forward over her patient. "Hello. My name is Eranah. Your brother and sister have brought me here to restore your leg."

The young man grunted in pain. "No one can do that. They told me it's lost and they'll have to cut it to prevent disease from spreading."

Eranah nodded seriously at the diagnosis. "No doubt that would have been the path of wisdom had your siblings not happened to bring me here. But now a new path is set before you... what is your name?"

"Alric," grunted the young soldier.

"Well, Alric, I shall expect you to be fighting by my side; the Abbey needs all the brave people it can get." She smiled and winked. "After your period of recovery of course, which, by the looks of you shouldn't take too long."

Before Alric could respond, Eranah lay both her hands upon his injured leg and uttered a prayer to Rao. She never ceased to marvel at the miracle the god allowed her to perform, transitioning some of her life energy into another. In mere moments, the injury was healed, to the gasps of amazement from those gathered.

The children hugged the paladin with irreverence and affection while their older brother could only stare in amazement, first at his now healed leg and then at the deva who healed him. With eyes welling up with tears of gratitude, he stammered, "Are...are you an angel?"

Eranah tousled the hair of the children still clinging to her and looked back at Alric with a comforting smile that beamed equally from her eyes as from her mouth... her response of "Of course not," did nothing to convince Alric that she wasn't.

"Little ones, perhaps you should inform your grandmother that your older brother is now fit to carry her bags again?" she whispered conspiratorially with the children. They laughed to each other and ran off, while the paladin laid a comforting hand upon Alric's brow, pushing some his hair aside and saying softly "They love you very much. As such, they are a blessing. Remember them when next you ride into battle and you shall certainly prove victorious." Alric nodded his head, but said nothing, fearing his voice would break. Eranah left him with another gentle smile and looked about to see where else she could be useful.

In a corner, shrouded in gloom was a single cot with a man in it. No one was near him and no one seemed to be attending to him either. The deva's face experienced a very rare frown as she considered what she saw before her. Deciding that no one should be left alone in a place such as this, she walked towards him. She felt the glances her actions earned, and knew people thought she was both brave for doing what she was as well as concerned for her safety. While she appreciated their concern, she wished some of it was directed towards the patient she was approaching.

He was in dark robes and seemed completely exhausted. She noticed his skin was gray and he had many tattoos and piercings. Shadar-kai she thought. How amazing, perhaps the Raven Queen will have a representative here as it should be. She walked forward and made a symbol of greeting known to those who venerate the Raven Queen. " 'In the end, the Queen,' " she said by way of introduction.

The figure was silent. Eranah knew he was not sleeping however, and she was not known for giving up. "Do you require healing?" she asked gently.

"You cannot heal my affliction," whispered the figure in response.

Eranah smiled. If she got them talking, the battle was half won. "Perhaps you underestimate me, my friend."

"I have no friends."

Eranah pulled up a stool and sat down beside him. "It is a terrible life, to go through it without friends." Many lifetimes had gifted the deva with the ability to express pity without an iota of condescension, as she did now.

The figure let out a sigh. "That has hardly been the worst part," he whispered harshly.

"Then tell me your story, dark one," answered Eranah, who was now beginning to suspect the injury to the shadar-kai was more spiritual than physical. No matter: the paladin had healed many of those types of injuries as well.

Looking up and against his better judgment, the figure began. "My name is Morpheus..."
 Episode 21 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-23 -  
 Part XIV: The Story of Morpheus 
He saw her from a distance, tending to the soldier who was in danger of losing his leg. He didn't need his keen eyes to see the faint glow that emanated from her when she healed him; everyone saw it and reacted predictably.

Morpheus had never had much use for clerics, except for those of the Raven Queen, and even then... the spirituality in his own lineage was that of witchery, something altogether apart from the priesthood. The gift of 'The Sight' was a rare blessing amongst the shadar-kai, and for those who lived with it, they described it as a curse in equal parts. Certainly, Morpheus felt cursed...

Suddenly, the monk was alert, though his body remained motionless. She is headed towards me...I wonder why. Some taint left on me by Legion's magic? Does she detect evil that way? I'm in no shape to defend myself...

The figure was clad in gleaming armor with an angelic motif. Her skin was lilac in colour with white facial adornments, not dissimilar to Morpheus' own numerous tattoos. There was a... serenity about her, like the training he had taken to calm the rage in his soul only... different. Less harsh, somehow...

It made him uncomfortable.

She approached and made a sign he was familiar with, along with a standard shadar-kai greeting "In the end, the Queen." It was an expression of the truth that all beings die, even gods, so that all paid tribute to the Raven Queen in the end. He was surprised she knew it. He remained silent, however.

"Do you require healing?" she asked gently.

"You cannot heal my affliction," whispered Morpheus in response.

The beauty that Morpheus now recognized as a deva smiled. "Perhaps you underestimate me, my friend."

"I have no friends," Morpheus replied. It was an uncomfortable truth he had long known but this was the first time he admitted it aloud. Why did I say that? he wondered. Why am I speaking to her at all?

The deva pulled up a stool and sat down beside him. "It is a terrible life, to go through it without friends."

Morpheus let out a sigh. "That has hardly been the worst part," he whispered harshly. Again, the ghostwalker could not believe how vulnerable he was being with her... Is this weakness a result of Legion's ritual? What has he done to me?!

"Then tell me your story, dark one," answered the paladin, who looked him over with curious sapphire eyes as she pulled up a chair to sit at his bedside. Ever distrustful, Morpheus looked for signs of condescension or some other nefarious motive... but could detect nothing.

Looking up and against his better judgment, before he even knew what was happening, he began. "My name is Morpheus..."

"Well met, Morpheus. I am Eranah."

Morpheus looked her up and down. "You are a deva. How old are you?"

Eranah smiled an easy smile. "Ancient, I suppose, in some ways... but each life passes on, so the Queen always receives her due," she added with a wink.

"I did not mean to offend..." began Morpheus with a whisper, though he could not understand why he was being so defensive or why he should worry about giving offense for that matter.

"None taken, I assure you," she responded with another easy smile. Whereas Morpheus could be virtually unhittable in combat, he found the deva was easily piercing his emotional barriers.

Frustrated, the monk let out an exasperated whisper "I don't even know where to start..."

Eranah poured him a cup of warm wine from the jug that was at the table next to his cot. "The beginning, perhaps?"

The monk sat up in his bed and sipped the wine. It was awful but he appreciated the warmth. "I arrived here not too long ago, in the company of another."

"I thought you said you had no friends?"

"He is no friend," hissed Morpheus through gritted teeth. Gathering himself, he spoke again. "His name is Legion. Tell me, holy deva, do you know what a shade is?"

Eranah nodded her head sagely. "One who has infused oneself with the essence of the Shadowfell."

"Correct. My own people are born the true scions of the Shadowfell, but all who are shades have become so through dark rituals, and Legion is no exception.”
“Did you know him before he became a shade?” queried Eranah.

“No. Legion is old... how old I am not exactly certain. But perhaps even older than you, in all your lifetimes.”

"How did you come to know him then?"

“I am an exile, and he is the cause of it.”

Eranah took on a sympathetic look but said nothing, waiting for Morpheus to continue. Once the monk knew he was not being pitied, he continued, his eyes took on a faraway look. “For my people, there is no greater gift from The Raven Queen than that of ‘The Sight.’ It is only the women who receive it, and so our witches are held in the highest esteem. My great aunt was one of the most powerful witches we Shadar-Kai have ever known. Upon her death, she now serves in the court of The Final Judge.”

In complete surprise to himself, Morpheus continued on, his voice rarely rising above a whisper.

“Since our witches do not bear progeny, their gifts are typically passed on to the eldest niece; in this case my mother. Or, rather, she expected it to be so. After waiting for her to achieve the age of majority, she was tested for the sight... it was inconclusive. For years, she thought she would eventually be gifted... but that time never came. When she realized as an adult she would never manifest the Sight, she married my father and bore his children. She never fully recovered, however, remaining melancholy all her days until eventually she killed herself.”

Eranah let out a slight gasp, but the ghostwalker did not notice.

“As for the shade, ‘Legion’ is not his real name... it is the name given to him by his master, whose identity I know not. We encountered each other when he came to our home, hoping to obtain an audience with my great aunt. We did not appreciate his presence in our home, as we Shadar-Kai bear much righteous anger towards shades. Nevertheless, my father was intrigued enough to ask why he should want such a meeting. He claimed that his divinations led him to us, that a witch of our family would know the ritual necessary to reverse the magic done to become a shade.”

“You think he means to return to being human?” Eranah asked.

“I cannot know that his origin is human, to be honest,” responded the monk. “But it seems likely.”

"So what happened, then?"

Morpheus’ eyes took on a hard look. “My father could arrange no such meeting; my great aunt was beyond us now... but Legion would not be denied. He believed my father was merely being difficult and needed... persuasion. He framed my father, making it look like he was in collaboration with a particularly vicious group of shades known as They Who Sit Above in Shadow. He threatened to reveal to all of our city, Gloomwrought, these false ties unless my father got him an audience with my great aunt...”

Morpheus swallowed hard. Without even realizing it, Eranah had taken his hand in hers. To his ultimate surprise, Morpheus did not pull it away.

“My father tried. When he appeared before the Raven Queen, I am sure he was not found wanting for his effort. But the task was simply beyond him. When he eventually returned, no further ahead then he was, the shade went berserk. He seemed equal parts rage, fear and desperation; his wrath was vicious. He cruelly made my father’s ties with Those Who Sit Above in Shadow public knowledge to all of Glomwrought then captured my younger sister’s soul in an artefact . He swore to never let her die and pass on to her destiny unless we get him the audience he needs. Then he vanished.”

Eranah squeezed his hand. Morpheus stared at it but still did not pull away.

“My father became a pariah,” the monk continued. “No one would speak with us, trade with us or have any contact. The strain of having lost his wife, his daughter and all know the framing... it was too much for him. I came home from the monastery one day to find my father hanging from the rafters. With no one to turn to, and all thinking I am in league with shades, I left the Shadowfell. I wandered for a while until I met a kindred spirit. We joined the same organization and have been on many adventures since,” he finished, his thoughts lost to the past and his partnership with an ally now long lost.

Coming back to his senses, he continued. "I eventually met up with a mercenary group and journeyed with them on several adventures. One of which led us to seek advice from a 'necrotic consultant'... who turned out to be Legion. I...
That night I snuck into his room, prepared to kill him for all the agony he has brought upon me and mine. But he is a cunning creature, I will give him that. And, I think, a desperate one. Each person’s ritual to become infused with shadow is different, so it is difficult to catalogue beyond mere generalizations. But I suspect there is something to Legion’s he was not aware of... I believe whatever it is, it is the cause for him wanting to break free from his former master’s influence.”

“How do you know this?” Eranah queried.
“He was expecting me. He remains as desperate as ever to meet the witch of our clan, and I believe it is for good reason, though naturally he would not share the details. He says his former master has the artefact holding my sister’s soul. He swears he will help retrieve it if I can arrange for him to meet my great aunt, that he might reverse his ritual...”

He seeks redemption thought Eranah. It was a cause that was close to her heart, not uncommon amongst many deva.

With restrained emotion, Morpheus continued. “You cannot understand... for my people, the only thing that matters is the proper passing on of the soul after mortal death. For my sister to be forever denied that... is an abomination. Legion knows this. He knows I must therefore do anything and everything to make his desire reality...”

Eranah truly felt sympathy for the shadar-kai, whose soul had clearly been twisted by all he had gone through.

“...I cannot allow this man to die. If he dies, my sister is forever lost in the most literal meaning possible. Either I somehow penetrate the Final Judge’s Citadel to achieve consultation with my great aunt, or retrieve the location of my sister’s soul. This creature is the key to my sister’s freedom. We arrived here tracking one of the soul fragments, but...”

Covering their joined hands with her free one, Eranah leaned forward and in a hushed voice said “We are here amongst good people, Morpheus. We will restore your sister, you have my word as a paladin of Rao.” And by doing so, I will see this shade cured of his self-inflicted affliction and his soul redeemed she thought to herself.

Morpheus looked directly at the deva and whispered “Only he knows how to track the fragments of the artefact. Please allow him to do so until such a time as I know enough to free my sister. Please keep him alive long enough for this to happen.”

“I promise.”

“There is one more thing,” Morpheus whispered, bowing his head. “Should I fall in battle, and my sister lost forever...”

“Yes?” asked Eranah, glad to have made his acquaintance and hopeful of her role to come.

When he raised himself up again, all emotion was gone, and he snatched his hand back from the embrace it was in. His voice was flat and deadly.

“... kill him immediately that I may pursue and hound him throughout the afterlife!”

Eranah did not wish to lie to the monk and so just lowered her head and prayed to Rao for the wisdom to heal all souls involved in this terrible tragedy.
 Episode 16 of The Iron Guard - 2013-11-14 -  
 A Vision of Death 
Legion blinks his eyes and stares at his surroundings, confused. He's standing on a large mote of cracked and broken rock, and the mote itself seems to float in a star filled sea of blackness. The vastness of it all is disorienting to the shade, and he reaches out to steady himself, only to feel his hand grasped by another. Looking over, he spies the all too familiar form of a cloaked and hooded ally.

"Impossible." The shade says aloud, "You are dead."

"Death is but a gate to another world," laughs Blackcross, "I would have expected better from someone who has walked through many domains and even across worlds now." Legion tries to keep his unrest hidden. There is something dreamlike about all this. Almost like a vision.

As he makes the connection in his mind, the form of Blackcross shifts to a young shadar-kai woman. Another face he remembers all too well. The supporting grasp of his former mentor turns to a clawing grasp of anger as Shareen sneers at Legion. The shade panics, and scrambles to pull his arm free.

"You can't be here," Legion shouts, "It's impossible."

"I am here!" Shareen shrieks at him, her nails digging deep into his skin, "I am nowhere!" Legion finally manages to break free, falling onto his back staring up in horror at the twisted visage of Morpheus' sister. "I am everywhere!" Shareen screeches, her voice splitting the shades' ears as he closes his eyes and clutches his hands over his ears. The shadar-kai's laughter mocks him, as she fades from existence, but not before he hears her taunting whisper in his ears.

"My brother will kill you..."

Opening his eyes, Legion is alone. He rises to his feet and shakes his head. The shade is just beginning to relax when he hears the wet sound of dripping behind him. Ever so slowly, Legion turns to face whatever it is behind him, expecting the worst.

At first the shade thinks it's a nude eladrin male, but then he realizes it's a drow. The confusion is understandable, as every inch of the drow's naked skin is covered in dripping blood. Dark rich blood flows endlessly over its entire body. It holds forth a large black sword, a black so deep that Legion is almost lost in its finality.

"You are not real." The shade says, more to convince itself, than anyone else. The drow laughs, the sound long and sinister before it speaks.

"My master - Orcus - Lord of the Undead, will feast on your wretched soul, and I will be the one to deliver you to him!" It laughs again, opening its mouth wide, and the shade spies deep within the drow's maw, the glimmering shard of a purple gem. A piece of the phylactery!

"THIS IS NOT HAPPENING!" Legion shouts, his voice angry and loud. The drow suddenly explodes, spraying an endless amount of blood everywhere, and the shade finds himself falling backwards only to land in an ocean of blood. The liquid rises around him as Legion gains his feet, with no sign of the drow or anyone anywhere, just red sticky blood extending to every horizon.

Legion stares at his hands, full of blood, as the level of dark red liquid rises rapidly up his body. Staring into the endless ocean of blood, Legion begins to laugh maniacally as he feels it pour down his throat and rise over his head.

Then the vision ends.
 Episode 113 of The Winter Guard - 2014-01-24 -  
 Old Pains and New Friends 
He was not excited. He would not allow himself the luxury of being excited, not after all this time and all this pain.

Still...things seemed less dire than they were even just a day ago.

Morpheus reflected on that as he looked over his equipment yet again. The ghostwalker rarely needed much, but he hated being unprepared and there were so many unknowns looming before him: The Underdark and what awaited them; the capabilities of his new companions; and, as always, the shade, Legion.

By now, Morpheus was disciplined enough to only allow his hate for the shade to consume him for a few moments before he could concentrate on other things. He turned his thoughts to the men he would be traveling with; they seemed good and noble, qualities Morpheus didn't exactly possess himself. He grinned ruefully when he compared them to his previous adventuring company: the priest and the bard shared more than a few features and he saw other similarities between the dwarf and the swordmage besides their names. More importantly, both groups had accepted him without question.

Could I do the same? he wondered. Another rueful grin as he realized what the answer to that question was.

Another dizzy spell had him reach out to the chair to balance himself. He wondered not for the first time what Legion had done to him to get them to this world... and what would happen if one of these moments of weakness should assail him during combat. He would hate to have others (besides Legion) fall because of his own weakness; he knew the path of wisdom would indicate not going, getting some rest...

But then he thought of Shareen and knew there was really no option at all.

Perhaps it was the magical lethargy that had been placed upon him or perhaps it was the fact that he was lost in thought contemplating his sister, or (likely) both, but Morpheus only knew he wasn't alone in his room when another voice called to him from behind. "Getting ready to take off, I see."

Morpheus spun around, inwardly cursing himself for a fool for having let his guard down again. This time, however, it was not the shining beauty of the deva Eranah who faced him, but the smirking face of the dark elf female he had seen in the council room.

She was not brandishing any weapons, so Morpheus relaxed out of fighting position and took a moment to assess the person in front of him. Barely five feet in height, with snow-white hair pulled up into a high ponytail and eyes red as the Hells, she was dressed in tight drowmesh leather, maximizing protection and maneuverability. Two daggers were in sheaths at her hips for easy access but she made no move towards them. She had the fine delicate features of her race, with the telltale jet-black skin... she might have been beautiful, but...

Too angry. Too hurt, thought Morpheus. It's plain as day on her face and every move she makes. I wonder if it's as obvious on me...

As though reading his mind, she smiled and looked him up and down with an appraising look, nodding. "Nice reactions, Shadar-kai. Quick. Not quick enough though... I could have killed you before you knew it."

Morpheus gave her a steely gaze. "You would have struck first, I admit," he whispered. "But victory goes to the one who scores the final blow, and that is by no means guaranteed to be you."

"Perhaps not," smiled Bhintel. "But it's hard to gain the lead in a fight when you start out so far behind," she purred.

Morpheus considered the invaders Bhintel had supposedly slain all on her own, and nodded slightly. "It would be difficult, yes... but not impossible. And we shadar-kai love a challenge."

"So I've heard," replied Bhintel softly, moving towards the monk. "Is that why you're headed down to Phaervorul? The challenge?"

Morpheus looked away, hoping the drow hadn't seen the flash of pain in his eyes. "No. There's something down there... something I need."

"Is this that business with your sister you mentioned in the council room?" she asked, coming up close behind him.

"...yes. The key to her salvation is down there, somewhere."

"How do you know?" the dark elf asked softly, sliding her hands slowly up his chest. For someone who regularly dealt death with them, the shadar-kai found them surprisingly delicate.

"The shade," he whispered. "His magic brought us here, and he's had a vision..."

"And you trust this vision...?" she purred into his ear.

He took her hands from his chest, gently but firmly and faced her, his face grim. "I have to."

She stared at him.

He could not keep her gaze, so looked away while asking, more harshly than he intended. "Why are you here? What do you want from me?"

Bhintel smirked. "Nothing, really... I guess. It's just that, you're headed to the Underdark, to a drow settlement, and..."

"And what?" he challenged.

She paused, staring at him hard again. "I wanted to speak to you before you go. You... you seem like me."

Morpheus' eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"

She walked closer to him again. "We, you and I, aren't living as we should. We are both people who had to abandon the life originally set out for us..."

"And why did 'we' do that?"

She leaned closer. "Pain... the pain of loss." When she saw Morpheus nod his head slightly at her words, she took his face in her hands. "Tell me about her... tell me about your loss."

Morpheus could not look away from the lithe drow's eyes now... they seemed to burn red when she spoke with passion and he felt locked in by them. "I... she is all I have left of my family... all the rest are dead because of the shade."

Bhintel was tracing out one of Morpheus' intricate face tattoos with a delicate finger. "Why is he alive then? Why haven't you avenged them?" she whispered.

Morpheus barely held back tears of rage; how had the first two women he encountered in this world managed to unnerve him emotionally so?! In totally different ways, no less... what had happened to him?

"He is my only hope to track down the shattered relic that was holding her soul," he said through gritted teeth. "If I do not find it, she will never know release into the realm of the Raven Queen. It is an unthinkable fate."

"You love her so much, it sounds like."

"...yes, but sometimes..."

She leaned in to bring her lips an inch away from his many-pierced ear and whispered "But sometimes it just feels like desperation. Sometimes that's all you feel... and you pursue your quest with the desperation of a madwoman, throwing all common sense, and anything else of value to the wind... ceaselessly chasing something because, in your darkest moments you have realized... that's all you know how to do now."

Morpheus took her shoulders in his hands and pushed her slightly away so that her face was now near his. "Yes. Yes, that's it, exactly."

She looked sad. "So you see? We are the same."

Morpheus brushed a rogue strand of cloud-white hair away from her high cheekbones. "Yes..." he whispered.

"And now you're headed down into the Underdark, to go venture amongst 'my' people," she said placing her hands on his chest again, looking down. "You have no idea how dangerous it is..."

Keeping his hands on her shoulders, Morpheus leaned down, bringing his cheek near hers. "It does not matter... I am going to be accompanied by brave men. Powerful companions. There is nothing there we cannot handle."

She guided his hands slowly from her shoulders to her waist; Morpheus reflexively pulled her closer. She undid the opening of his robe, exposing his pierced and tattooed chest. She began tracing the tattoos with her fingers again, while leaning her head against him. Morpheus had not experienced anything like this before...

"How can you be sure? You've never been..." She laid a soft kiss near his pierced nipple while she continued to caress his tattoed skin. Her hair felt like silk and smelled of lavender and earth.

"I have been through so much in my life... seen much... fought much..." His hands had brought her firmly against him, and now probed her hips.

"But never drow?" she said, barely audible, as she kissed his chest again.

"No, but..."

Suddenly, Morpheus was on his back, his head having slammed into the hard floor. Bhintel loomed above him, her face a mask of anger and danger, red eyes flashing. Her blade was at Morpheus' throat, had already started cutting him. "Then you know nothing! You know nothing, and you will die for your ignorance! Your sister, she will rot in whatever prison she's in because of your arrogance!" Morpheus stayed on his back, shocked at what had just happened.

Bhintel calmed down, and removed her dagger from his neck, but the anger never really left her face. Soon though, it was joined by condescension. "This is why I worry for your expedition, Morpheus... your expedition of men." When she saw he was still confused, she rolled her eyes, and, still straddling him, leaned close. "You think it's our hidden daggers and our poisons that make us dangerous? Or the magics we wield? The demons we summon?" She paused. "The Spider bitch we serve?" she spat.

Morpheus said nothing.

Bhintel leaned in again, her face soft, her look seductive once more. She kissed him full on the lips and guided his hands over her body. When the kiss broke, she pulled away, her face devoid of emotion. "It's this, don't you see? It is the females of our kind who rule in our society, who wield all the power, and every female, arcanist or not, has every tool needed to ensorcel any male we encounter." The condescension returned. "And so I fear for the success of your party of men, who are oh-so confident in their abilities and who won't even know they've already been defeated..." she brushed her cheek past his. "... until it's too late," she finished with a whisper.

Morpheus felt ashamed, and felt for sure it was showing on his face. Bhintel, though, reacted like she had seen it all before and gave him a reassuring pat on the cheek before she got off him. She offered him her hand to help him up.

Morpheus stared at it for a long moment, fully intending to get up on his own... until he looked in her eyes. There was an invitation there, not like before, not the seduction from earlier but a be accepted, perhaps? She was about to withdraw the offer, but then extended her hand again, more forcefully this time, as though to say 'Please let me help! Take my hand because I don't have the words!' He realized she needed this. He took her hand.

Once they were both standing, he looked at her with a smirk. "I suppose I should thank you for the warning."

Bhintel shrugged. "It may save your life."

Morpheus gave her an unbelieving look. "My life, the life of a stranger, means so much to you?"

Bhintel looked down, clearly uncomfortable. "... like I said: we're a lot alike. I'd hate to lose the only person who's remotely like me around here, she mumbled.

Morpheus readjusted his robes. "You have not told me how I am like you. What is your story?"

"None of your business!" responded Bhintel with too much anger and too little hesitation.

It was Morpheus' turn to roll his eyes as he turned away from her and began packing his things. Bhintel bit her lip, frustrated that he had turned away from her and, as always, frustrated that her anger had interfered with her attempts at making a connection with another living being. She breathed out a huge sigh then said "At least, for now? Maybe... maybe when you come back... I might be able to share... then?"

Morpheus turned to her. He was silent for a few moments... she really was like him in more than a few ways. "All right, then," he answered. "When I get back."

"Well, if you get back... it really is very dangerous where you're going, you know. I don't see why you... we... can't just let the undead and drow slaughter each other. To get in the middle of that..."

"When I return," he interrupted. "Now that I've gotten such good tutelage as regards all things drow, after all."

Bhintel narrowed her eyes. "Are... are you making fun of me?"

Morpheus turned away, glad his now raised hood was hiding his smirk. "Of course not."

Bhintel pursed her lips and was about to retort but instead took on a rueful grin of her own. "Riiiiiight. Just be careful, Shadar-kai, and remember my blade at your throat and how it got there." She spun on her heel and walked out the door where, as she was walking, whispered, "and good luck."

She couldn't know that, now that Morpheus was fully alert, he could hear her. "Thank you," he whispered to the now long-gone drow.
 Episode 115 of The Winter Guard - 2014-03-05 -  
Mordekai watched as yet another brick was mortared into the wall's fortifications. Beside him, the foreman, and expert in these things, continued to blather on about double walls, and how much sand would be between them, and how it will be impregnable. The disinterest on the Seeker's face was lost on the poor man.

Mordekai looked at the wall again and sighed as the foreman moved back to supervise the workers. They weren't outside. This wasn't the outer wall, but rather the vast chamber beneath Dragon's Roost where Mordekai and his companions had faced off against the dragon. The laborers were sealing the breach that the kobolds had left there that lead to the Underdark. Padraig and Valthrun thought it would be best to fortify it, with a solid gate to allow passage into the tunnels if required, but to also keep anything from easily gaining access to Gardmore.

Never before had Mordekai ever participated or watched the construction of anything. In fact, as a seeker, he was adamantly opposed to any unnatural changes to the environment. And yet, here he was, supervising men who were taking brick, and wood, and all the things he considered an abomination on the land, and making them into a wall.

Who am I now? Mordekai wondered morosely to himself. It was true, he was nowhere near the frightened and naïve purist he was when he left the grove in Gamboge, but he never expected to be where he was now: a voice of influence in Gardmore, and handed authority to lead by Garrick as they left for the Underdark. Cities were not his thing. Leadership was not his thing. The seeker was terrible at it, and terrified of it. This was why he was watching a wall being built. This was why he was hidden away beneath Dragon's Roost. Because facing a dragon was nothing compared to facing the many voices and people that relied on him in Gardmore. I am a coward, he thought to himself as he watched, joylessly, as the masons put another brick into the structure.

"What kind of man have I become?" Mordekai moaned aloud to himself.

"Who says you're a man at all?" came the unexpected reply behind him. Startled, the seeker turned to find Bhintel standing behind him. The drow was sporting a smirk on her face, one that Mordekai found both annoying and disturbing all at once. Beyond the rogue, he spied Izera following, her stride purposeful. The githzerai also made Mordekai nervous.

"I'm not sure I like your tone." The seeker said, trying to regain some measure of authority. The drow simply snorted and said, "I'm not sure I care." Mordekai's face reddened, and just as he felt his anger building, Izera was with them. She looked Mordekai over before finally speaking.

"Shouldn't you be in the council room?" the avenger asked with her usual direct tone. The anger drained from Mordekai, and his face reddened even more.

"I... I'm making sure that..." The seeker looked around, flustered. Then gesturing at the wall, he answered, "I'm supervising the construction." Izera's eyebrows rose in confusion, and Bhintel snorted her derision at him.

"I thought you were an outdoorsman." Izera stated her voice flat. "What could you possibly know about walls?"

"Oh give him a break," Bhintel said, her face smirking, "He misses his boyfriend, Odus."

"I miss them all!" Mordekai said louder than he intended. He was shocked at how desperate he sounded, but unable to stop himself from speaking. "I worry about them, and where they are." He said, his voice soft, almost a whisper. "I worry that they won't come back."

"They've not been gone long." Izera said with a hint of compassion in her voice as she placed her hand reassuringly on Mordekai's shoulder, "And they are capable men, all of them."

"If you were going to be so worried for them," Bhintel exclaimed impatiently, "why didn't you just go with them?"

Mordekai opened his mouth to answer, but froze. What could he say? Because he was afraid? Because being in the Underdark away from the sun for days on end with no familiar environment around him terrified him? No, he thought to himself, she'd mock me even more.

"Someone had to stay," Mordekai finally replied, defeated. "Why are you here? Am I needed in the council room?"

"We're here because he asked us to meet him here." Bhintel said, as she nodded over her shoulder just as Illyn the Red entered the chamber behind her. The Mage of Saruun crossed the chamber quickly to stand with the group. He nodded respectfully at Mordekai, a gesture that just made the seeker feel even more uncomfortable.

"Sir Mordekai of Gamboge," Illyn said formally, "I apologize for not speaking with you earlier about this, but I could not find you."

"Please," Mordekai said, as he raised his hand in protest, "just �Mordekai'. And I've been avoiding the council chamber, so it's not your fault." Illyn nodded his thanks, and then proceeded to fill in the group.

"There was something odd about the timing of everything that is going on in Phaervorul." The mage explained, "So I decided I would try some divinations to see if I could uncover anything useful. According to our original correspondence with Orontor, the attacks on the settlement would have begun a month ago. But if that were the case, would it not already be overrun? What is preventing it from being completely destroyed? This is where I began my divinations, and though I am no expert, I came upon a frightening discovery.

"There is a powerful presence behind the attacks; this much we suspected, possibly this presence is the exarch of Orcus. I felt around the edge of this presence, a frightening thing I might add, but what I discovered worried me: It's waiting for the Winterguard. It needs them. Its whole invasion is being held, waiting for them.

Whatever it is... it wants them in Phaervorul!"

"Are you saying it's a trap?!" Mordekai exclaimed.

"No," Illyn said, "no not quite, but the fact that it knows about them, can't be good."

"We need to warn them!" the seeker stated, "I need to warn them."

"No," Illyn replied, as he tried to calm Mordekai, "You cannot leave Gardmore now. This is why I have asked Izera and Bhintel here."

"But the Winterguard have too much of a head start," Izera said, confusion evident in her voice, "Without the journey stones to accelerate us, we'll never get there in time."

"Yes, about that..." the mage smiled, "The stones stay functional for quite a bit of time after activation. If one were to move quickly, they could use them to follow."

"I must gather my things." Izera said purposefully as she strode out of the room, Illyn quickly following her.

"As do I," Bhintel said, her eyes locked on Mordekai. The seeker became uncomfortable, unaware that the drow herself was also ill at ease. He looked away from her and back to the wall, his face red.

"Your bird..." the drow said awkwardly. Mordekai winced. He'd left Kayle above, and had forgotten about him, something he thought he'd never be capable of doing. "... it's waiting for you upstairs. I think it misses you." All too suddenly Mordekai felt ashamed of his selfishness. Bhintel could see his pain, plain as day, and sighed herself.

"I wasn't trying to be mean..." she started again, struggling to find the right words. ".. before. I was making a joke, and when you got angry, I just reacted badly. I'm not good at this sort of thing." The drow punctuated the words with vague gestures between her and Mordekai.

"I'm not good at it either," Mordekai confessed, a faint smile on his lips. "I'm terrible at it, actually." Bhintel laughed, and Mordekai shrugged.

"Friendships are always difficult for me." He said finally.

"Who says we're friends?" Bhintel smirked and punched him hard in the shoulder as she turned to leave. Mordekai quickly followed her, intent on reuniting with Kayle. "Bring them back," he said to Bhintel, his voice serious, "You know the drow, you can help. I'm awful at being in charge, and I need Garrick here. "

"Don't forget your boyfriend." She said mockingly. Mordekai sighed and rolled his eyes at her. Maybe friendships were meant to be hard.
 Episode 116 of The Winter Guard - 2014-03-20 -  
 New Faces 
The small quarters were cramped, damp and had an unpleasant odour. Nevertheless, the heroes felt they at least provided safety from anything else lurking in the catacombs beneath Radigast City.

They hoped.

Tyrion was taking his turn on guard. He kept his head slightly inclined against the secret door, but allowed his gaze to fall on his companions. An odd grouping, but no odder than the previous group he had been with, the ones who failed to solve the mystery of the Keep on the Shadowfell. He had wanted very much to deal with that evil up close and personal but a lucky (so he told himself) shot by Ninaran had crippled his leg...and with only Sister Lenore's helpful but non-magical treatments, it had taken Tyrion a great long time to heal. By the time he had, another group had dealt with the priest of Orcus, Kalarel... and killed Niniran in the process. How he had wanted revenge upon her... too late now.

Bahl was sleeping in a sitting position, back straight up against the wall. Perfect posture...even when he sleeps! thought the ranger. The invoker even maintained his classic stern expression; if it weren't for the rhythmic breathing, Tyrion would not be sure he was even sleeping. How much rest can one get when one is THAT intense? he wondered.

Fynn was curled up in the corner and did not seem to be sleeping comfortably either. In his case, it was because both hands were clutching his gold-purse, so he was awkwardly placed, to say the least. Tyrion thought the priest also had one eye open, but when he looked closer they were closed...until he looked away, then he could swear his peripheral vision caught the eye open again. He chuckled at the cleric's idiosyncrasies and instead looked over the remaining two companions.

Michael was propped up in the other corner with his arm draped protectively over Chaedi. The warlord had taken a real liking to the elf, an affection Tyrion had misread as lust at first; Michael's predilections were well-known in the mercenary circles both traveled in. It soon became obvious, however, that he had adopted a more brotherly type of affection for her, and she clearly felt it was safe to be in his arms like she was... or maybe it was just her wide-eyed innocence. Tyrion didn't buy that act for a second. He knew Chaedi was a ranger in the Brothers of the Bronze and heard she had more humanoid kills than most of her peers, numbering in the hundreds. That part, I believe he thought, remembering how she had rained death on anyone that caught her attention in the last fight before they rested. Does anyone become that good at killing and maintain the level of innocence Chaedi liked to show, what with her phrasing everything as a question and such? He doubted it. He would have entertained those doubts more, but he heard footsteps near the door. Armored footsteps. He pressed his ear to the door and when he was sure the footsteps had passed by, he stealthily opened the door to ambush the intruders from behind.

Damn Stromm and his machinations, he thought, not for the first time, as he silently slid the door open. Made all sorts of enemies for us; drow, duergar, githyanki and gods know what else! He was determined this time to get the drop on whichever of them had nearly discovered their hiding place.

A few paces ahead, he saw his quarry. A strong-looking woman in plate armor wielding shield and mace led her companion away from Tyrion's position. He could have sworn he saw tiny electrical sparks coming from her mace when it brushed against the stone wall. Her companion was an eladrin who sported a faraway look as though he were lost in thought. Tyrion spied the rod he held in his left hand; the ranger knew he was a spellcaster at that point, and therefore the first target to take out.

Creeping as silently as he could, the ranger took both blades in his hands and when he was certain he could reach the eladrin, charged forward. His massive bastard sword scrapped the stone however, and the eladrin turned around, startled out of his reverie. Tyrion rushed him, bringing both heavy blades in a downward slice, knowing that even if the eladrin brought up the rod to block, he'd cut right through.

It was no rod that met the ranger's strike, however. All of a sudden, the eladrin was wielding a huge sword that seemed to be made of flickering starlight! He met the ranger's attack and then vanished, reappearing behind the woman who by now had rushed to meet them. While she was in a defensive stance and seemed ready to fight, she did not initiate any attack. Instead, she sternly asked "Who are you?"

Tyrion was about to resume his attack when he saw the Nyrond coat of arms on her shield. He paused; his mind considering the eladrin accompanying a soldier of Nyrond? Intrigued, he answered her. "I am Tyrion Brax. Now identify yourselves intruders, because believe me your lives depend upon your answers."

The woman dropped out of her stance and relaxed. Putting her mace at her belt, she extended her hand. "Well met. I am Sir Olivia, knight of Nyrond. My companion is Norraddin, arcanist of the Feygrove. We come on behalf of Lord Padraig of Winterhaven and Gardmore Abbey." The eladrin's blade had disappeared and he had his hands crossed in front of him as he bowed in greeting.

Tyrion did not relax. "How did you come to look for us here?"

Olivia smiled. "After a discussion with one Lorencin Krueger. We found that one thanks to the spirits my eladrin companion commands, along with some 'official' documentation provided by my father."

"And who is that?"

"General Myariken."

Tyrion hoped he had successfully hidden the surprise on his face at the knight's words but could tell from her smirk that he had failed to do so. He lowered his weapons, looked them over, had an internal struggle, then said in a low voice "Follow me."

The rest of the group were awake when Tyrion brought the strangers in. After some initial hesitancy, they all introduced themselves. Bahl, with another stern look on his face (How many variations does the man have? thought Tyrion), asked the obvious question: "Why are you here, exactly?"

Olivia nodded her head. "Excellent question. We're here because what is happening here now concerns Gardmore Abbey. That being the case, my father and Lord Padraig felt it might be important to have 'official' representation for Gardmore's interests: myself to represent the northern Nyrondese military under the command of my father and Norraddin to represent the eladrin within Gardmore. Had we known things were foing to work out this way, you all would have been knighted or something before leaving, but... I guess we'll take care of that later."

Bahl was not satisfied. "But how do you know what's going on here?" he asked, still with a stern expression.

Olivia hesitated, then shrugged her shoulders. "The ambassador for Nyrond here specializes in divination magic, like most ambassadors do. She also has a decent network of spies, though they are rarely used; this is the capital city of one of our country's only reliable allies. When the ruckus your group caused stirred things up, she began investigating and sending reports via magic back home... but not to Rel Mord. To her husband, who serves with my father. That's why we were able to do this without the king knowing. The less he interferes with us up north, the less likely a revolt happens. Sometimes I doubt the Throne knows just how close the northern lands are to full revolution."

"So you'll be journeying with us, then?" asked Chaedi, hopefully.

Olivia smiled. "Not exactly. Mordekai has asked me to tell you that the Brothers of the Bronze are holding an important meeting to which he may not be able to attend... and he wonders if you might go in his stead."

"Mordekai needs me?!" exclaimed Chaedi as she leapt up, grabbing her gear. "But...what about you guys?"

"We'll be fine, lass," reassured Fynn. "These two seem like they might be good in a pinch, even if we'll be missing your bow."

"You'll be missing my sword-arm as well," said Michael has he got up to go with Chaedi. "No offense to the ambassador's magical talents, but someone should give a first-hand account of what's transpired here...and begin fortification of the Abbey in case this mission fails."

Olivia nodded seriously. "I had hoped one of you was going to offer something like this. I totally's the path of caution."

"So we'll hit the road together, Michael?" asked Chaedi in typical Chaedi fashion.

"It seems so, little sister," he responded with a smile.

" 'Little sister?' " she asked. "What am I, about eighty years older than you?"

Everyone but Norraddin chuckled. "I suppose that's true," conceded Michael.

"May I suggest going back the way you came, waiting for nightfall, then setting out in due haste," said Olivia. "No need to let our enemies know our movements."

Behind her, Norraddin nodded seriously.

Michael nodded, then he and the elf said their goodbyes and headed down the corridor.

The rest of the group filled in their new colleagues about the goings-on, some of which they were familiar with.

"What we do know for sure... Stromm is somewhere in these tunnels," finished Fynn.

"What do you intend to do when we find him?" asked Norraddin.

Tyrion smiled. Bahl saw him do so and shrugged his shoulders. Fynn raised his shoulders, palms facing upwards as if to say "Whattya gonna do, amirite?"

Noraddin arched an eyebrow and turned to Olivia.

She sighed. "Ok, let's just play that one by ear, ok?"

They got ready to head back out into the catacombs... each wondering just what was waiting for them out there.

They had no idea...
 Episode 117 of The Winter Guard - 2014-03-30 -  
 The Tale of Jhaelant 
What follows is the information Jhaelant used to bargain for his life...

It was the evening they banished Zirithian that I felt the event. I doubt anyone else could have felt the same emanations as I did, but while the rest of the mewling drow had gathered to hear Urlvrain's decree of Zirithian's banishment, I remained home at my studies.

Very suddenly, a dark presence was felt by me. It winked into existence suddenly and streaked across the cavern sky like I imagine a falling star would on the surface world. It was strange... otherworldly almost, but gave of the aura of dark necromantic power. I could feel it falling into Phaervorul, and using my highly attuned mind, I maintained as much contact as I could with the eldritch item as it tumbled into the chasm that surrounds Phaervorul. It lay there... pulsing with energy like a heartbeat, and calling out in whispered mutterings I could not discern.

The streets were crowded with my hated brethren, and I had no desire to mingle with them, so I decided that the next morning, I would find my way down the chasm and find this relic that so intrigued me. That next morn, I departed, with all manner of arcane tools I could use, but as I approached the bridge that leads into Phaervorul, I paused.

Zirithian was there, walking slowly from the settlement. I lingered in the shadows, thinking I could wait for him to be gone before continuing, not wanting anything to disturb me. He stopped halfway across the bridge and stared down into the chasm. For a moment I feared perhaps he felt the same call I felt from this thing as well...

Neither of us noticed Maarth until he was upon the bridge, right up next to the unaware Zirithian. I tell you, it's unnatural how that vile killer can seemingly disappear. But Maarth moved so rapidly and silently, and Zirithian never knew the assassin was there. Zirithian, the poor fool, turned to look one last time upon Phaervorul, but instead he found himself staring into the eyes of Maarth. Perhaps he was going to say something, for his mouth opened, but nothing came out as Maarth plunged his daggers deep into Zirithian's chest.

Without a word, the assassin turned the rapidly weakening body of Zirithian and held it over the chasm. Silently, and with indifference, he slit Zirithian's throat, and cast the body into the chasm. I barely registered the sound of the impact. I remained hidden where I was, for I knew that if Maarth knew I had witnessed this murder, he'd have undoubtedly killed me as well... or at least tried. I had no desire to face Urlvrain's black panther.

I had no choice but to retreat and return later when Maarth was gone. But when I returned... the call was gone. I felt no presence... no aura... no emanations.

Whatever had been in the chasm was now gone.

I'd missed my chance, it seems. So I returned to my studies, instead. Perhaps one day, I will feel its presence again...
 Episode 118 of The Winter Guard - 2014-03-31 -  
 We Fall. We Rise 
With both trepidation and anxiety, Morpheus reached the chasm floor. Luckily there had been no sign of the vile spider-like creatures he had sent plummeting over the edge. He looked up as Legion was slowly making his way down the rope. It was just the two of them now, with the decision being made that they would seek out the shard while the Winterguard continued to deal with the drow and Phaervorul.

It did not sit well with Morpheus that he and Legion simply abandon the others. Even though Legion and he were strangers to them, he had begun to feel a kinship to Garrick, Odus, and Isak. It was the type of bond that can only be forged by men who have depended on each other in combat. But Shareen was why he was here, and she was the only reason he existed anymore, and no matter how loyal he may have felt to the Winterguard, that loyalty would never be able to outweigh the last and only duty he carried.

Legion finally reached the bottom, and Morpheus breathed deep and calm, using his monk training to remain patient. He wondered how the others had felt about the shade. Did they ever accept him? The last discussions they had, based on Jhaelant's revelations, had given them all pause. It was Legion who may have placed the last piece of the puzzle on the table.

"There is no doubt in my mind, that this Zirithian is the very drow that appeared in my vision." The shade had said to the group. It had drawn all their attention to him.

"Jhaelant said he was dead." Morpheus had said dismissively, "He made it quite clear that Maarth had murdered the drow." At that, Legion had looked around the necromancer's lab and smirked.

"There is no finality in death."

It frustrated Morpheus when Legion was so cryptic. The monk had looked to the others then and found them deep in thought. "Isak," Odus had been the next to speak, "You had a similar vision, did you not?" The warrior was stoic and quiet for a time. "It was a drow," was his gruff reply, "but I have no way to know if it was Zirithian. It was the sword I remember. Black and deadly." Isak had shrugged after that.

"The timing works," Garrick had added, "The star's appearance, Zirithian's banishment and death. It's too big a coincidence to ignore. Let's face it; he'd definitely carry a grudge against Urlvrain and Phaervorul if Jhaelant's tale is true."

Morpheus simply shook his head at that point perplexed, "But Jhaelant saw him die. If we accept that he somehow found a way to cheat death, then how? Was he randomly picked by Orcus?"

"The shard." Legion had finally said, "The shard did it." There was a long moment of silence.

"I thought the shard was just a piece of the container that imprisoned, well... you know." Odus asked reluctantly, his eyes on Morpheus whose fists clenched angrily while his face maintained its composure. The shade looked away and for a long moment it appeared as though he was contemplating what to say next.

"When I handed the full gem that contained Shareen's soul to Blackcross," Legion said, "I may have underestimated him. It was meant to be held for safekeeping, should anything or anyone come after me." The shade avoided looking at Morpheus.

"You'd barter her soul to save your own wretched life!" spat Morpheus, "As if the two were equal in value." Legion remained expressionless. The monk began to breathe more rapidly, his anger growing.

"As evil as I am," Legion continued, "or as evil as my actions have been, you must remember, that what Blackcross has done is worse. And I fear it will be on us to stop it."

"But you don't know what he's done!" Morpheus finally exploded, his face enraged, as he moved towards the shade. "You have no idea what these shards will be once they are re-united!"

"No." The shade replied quietly, as Odus stepped between the monk and Legion, "I don't know - which is why we need to get the shard back." Morpheus stopped his advance, his face melting from anger to anguish as he looked into Odus' eyes. The bard reached out, and put his hands on the monk's shoulders.

"You can't give up hope," Odus whispered to him, "You can't give up on her, or no one can help her. " The monk buried his face in his hands, and collapsed to his knees amidst the spilt blood of Jhaelant and his minions, and his face was no less defeated than that of the drow necromancer's had been.

"I'm tired of the manipulations," Morpheus muttered then, "The drow. The shade. The bonds I've placed upon myself. My decisions barely seem like my own anymore. I'm just an arrow in flight, streaking towards its target, but never finding it. The winds move me, but I have no control. What hope does Shareen have, when I can't even affect where I go next?"

Odus knelt beside the monk, squeezing his arm in reassurance. "I have seen what you can do," the bard said quietly, "and I know that there is no better person that can save her. If trusting the shade is the only option you have, then take it. Go with him, and find the shard. We will deal with the drow."

"What if he betrays me?" Morpheus said then, not caring that Legion could hear.

"He won't." Garrick responded his eyes locked on Legion, " And if he does, there will be no where he can hide from us. We will hunt him down, and he'll pay tenfold for whatever evil deeds he's done." Isak glanced at the shade, his face grim, and nodded his agreement with Garrick.

Legion had done his best to ignore them all.

"Now go," Odus said as he pulled Morpheus to his feet, "You have a sister to save." The monk looked at each member of the Winterguard, his eyes intense. "You may never know how much this has meant to me."

"May the calm breath of Rao forever be with you," Odus said, "and may he bring his peace to you and your sister." Morpheus shook hands with him, his grip firm and determined.

"I won't falter." The monk said with determination.

"I know you won't," Odus replied, "Now go!"

That was how Legion and Morpheus found themselves alone at the bottom of the chasm, the drow bridge high above them. When Morpheus looked on the shade, he felt less enraged then he had in the past. Odus was right, he had no choice, but he need not be the victim. The shade may indeed be using him and playing his own game, but Morpheus could use the shade too. The shadar-kai felt calm again and his core monk training took over, centering his thoughts and emotions.

I will not fail.

Legion had already begun to move off, with no word to Morpheus, and the monk let it happen. There was no need to demand answers and let his emotions erode his discipline. He followed Legion silently, and calmly.

They arrived at a small shallow crater, as if an impact had punched a cavity in to the chasm floor. Legion moved around rapidly, feeling the ground here, muttering to himself there, and all the while Morpheus watched. After several minutes, the monk began to investigate the surroundings himself.

"Here," he called out to Legion, "Tracks... and blood. A lot of blood. They move off this direction." Morpheus indicated an obvious blood trail that led off deeper into the chasm.

"It's not here!" Legion cried out in anguish. He stood at the center of the crater, where a large amount of blood was spread about.

"Zirithian had to have landed here," Morpheus said.

"As did the shard." Legion added. "He must have taken it. I feel the faint residue of its presence, so it was here, but nothing more do I sense."

"Then he took it," Morpheus stated, "or it took him. If he was dead, then obviously the shard changed him. How else could he have walked away?" The monk gestured to the trail of blood. He started to follow the signs, not caring whether Legion followed, which the shade of course did after a few moments.

At first there was a lot of blood, but then there was less. And the shambling shuffling tracks left behind gradually became the normal walk of a person with no grievous wounds. And then the blood stopped, and the steps became lighter and harder to follow. When Morpheus lost the trail, he was determined not to lose faith.

"Nothing." The monk said to Legion.

"No," Legion said, his attention distracted, "This way." He moved off towards the wall, and in a long forgotten cave that was hard to find, they found what they had been seeking: A pile of bones, ashes and dust. And the shard, lying cold and dead amongst the debris.

Legion picked it up, his hands trembling. Morpheus remained calm, looking around to distract himself.

"Nothing." Legion's voice was quiet and whispered as he stared into the shard, "I feel no essence within it." Morpheus kicked around at the bones and dust, his eyes fixating on the patterns in the ashes.

"So Zirithian sucked the life from it?" The monk said amazed at how detached he felt in his failure. "We are too late?" Morpheus stared hard at the signs in the ancient remains, his thoughts unable to focus. Whose remains were these then?

Suddenly the cave was a glow in purple light as the shard pulsed brightly with life. Morpheus turned rapidly, grabbing Legion to get a closer look. The shard pulsed again, stronger. Morpheus was just becoming aware of a low maniacal chuckle that emanated around the chamber when Legion gasped.

"Blackcro�" was all the shade managed to say, before the two of them disappeared suddenly. As the torrent of the planar crossing ripped at the two of them, Legion became aware of the nightmarish laughter of Blackcross in his head followed by the sinister whisper of his former mentor as though he were next to him:

"What darkness have your actions brought upon this place I wonder? Do you even know, the repercussions that you set in motion, the day you gave me that poor girl's soul? And now you see, the pebble you dropped, the ripples you caused. Here in Phaervorul they became waves, crashing with terrible destructive force.

What other worlds have you affected, I wonder?"

Morpheus had one last thought before he lost himself between worlds: A sword. There had been a sword lying there, perhaps hundreds of years, before Zirithian came to the cave. That's what the indent in the dust had been, plain as day. A greatsword.

And Zirithian had taken it.

The cave dust and ash whipped into a vortex as the two figured disappeared, bones and debris cracking against the walls of the chamber. Unearthed at the very center of the vortex, uncovered after hundreds of years, were the remains of Thrullzon the last great exarch of Orcus, and his decayed and eroded helm. Carved upon the helm and untouched by the punishing years of erosion, the twisted vile emblem of Orcus remained defiant.
 Episode 119 of The Winter Guard - 2014-12-01 -  
 What Lies Beneath... 
Bhintel crept along the dark passage, crossbow drawn, her senses alert for her prey. The dark elf was alone, as she often was, in the natural and manufactured tunnels beneath Gardmore Abbey. Since the tunnels at some point led to the Underdark, it was necessary for someone to be in charge of security here, and the rogue had been eager to volunteer.

Bhintel was best suited for this task because of her race, skill, and if she were being honest, her disposition. Her kinsman, Gendar, had encountered the adventurers who would become the Winterguard and eventually the Heroes of Gardmore when they had journeyed to the Seven-Pillared Hall beneath when investigating Thunderspire Labyrinth. He had taken a liking to them, especially the warrior Isak, and had proved helpful to them. When he saw Bhintel needed a place to go to, he suggested the Abbey. Under the Winterguard, it had become a sort of hub for displaced peoples in northern Nyrond, a part of the country largely forgotten by the crown, except for taxes. Moreover, isolated heroes now found there was a place they could meet with like-minded individuals, share resources, and adventure together.

She had met the shadar-kai monk, Morpheus after joining the Abbey. He had journeyed with several other heroes (and one decidedly non-hero she thought, though she didn't actually think of herself as a hero, either) to the drow outpost of Phaervorul. He and the shade necromancer, Legion, had disappeared while looking for the shards that contained his sister's soul. Though they eventually cleansed the drow outpost of the corruption of Orcus, she had searched all over for him and found nothing.

It's not that she didn't like the other heroes of Gardmore, per se: the paladin Eranah was inspiring to her (though she'd rather die than admit it); Mordekai was non-stop entertainment the way he struggled with himself here; Isak, Garrick and Odus were all men she trusted her life with; and the avenger Izera was a hoot, with her unique combination of wisdom and total lack of social skills...

...but Morpheus was so much like her. Loss defined them, shaped who they were, planted the darkness within...he was someone she knew actually understood what her suffering was like. He had lived through something very similar. Something terrible.

And now he was gone. She was sure he was dead. And his absence just made her interactions with the others, no matter how well meaning (Eranah! Ugh!), incredibly difficult. So, other than the odd meeting called here or there (by Eranah; Garrick, Isak, Michael, Norraddin and Mordekai had been gone for a long time...too long?), she enjoyed her solitude in the tunnels. Ever since the attack on Phaervorul, there had been a regular occurrence of refugees and raiders, and Bhintel was in charge of dealing with them.

Sometimes, she dealt with them using the skills she had developed on the run from Erelhei-Cinlu: the targets died without ever knowing she was there. Other times, she had to remember the mission statement of the Abbey, and would bring them to the entrance near the Vaults, where they would be interrogated, usually by Eranah (no one could lie to the Deva) or, more comedically, by Izera. Bhintel allowed herself a smile as she remembered how the githzerai would ask the most important questions in the most maladroit manner possible; the best was when she point-blank asked the two svirfneblin refugees how they worshipped Orcus. The faces the deep gnomes had made was worth the price of admission, as it were.

In the present moment, something had caught her eye on one of her patrols. It looked to be slithering about; after hearing about the yuan-ti cult that had laired beneath Gardmore Abbey, Bhintel was especially careful for anything that might have to do with the serpent-men fanatics of Zehir. Right now, she thought she had caught one.

Instead of killing it on the spot, Bhintel thought it might be more prudent to follow it to whatever others of its kind might be lurking about. She was supremely confident her quarry was unaware of her; on the surface, the rogue regularly surprised people she wasn't even intending to surprise. Whatever this thing was, it seemed far too intent on its destination to know it was being expertly followed. The drow was confident, but not cocky though; she made sure she kept an appropriate distance away to ensure she wasn't discovered, no matter how unlikely the idea.

She rounded the corner and pulled up short; her quarry had disappeared! Her eyes narrowed as she suspected an ambush, but none was forthcoming. That leaves either magic or secret passage...and since that faerie warlock isn't here...Bhintel began searching the walls for levers, keyholes, anything that was out of place. It wasn't her forte; she was more vigilante than trapsmith, but with enough persistence, she found the latch, twisted it, and she found herself staring at a very ancient set of stone doors.

Those stupid knights, she thought as she scanned them for any religious markings of Zehir. What in the Abyss did they build their precious Abbey over? Did they even bother to find out? Talk about asking for trouble... Her scan revealed nothing more about the identity of the doors' maker, nor its construction. Her jaw set, she placed her pointed ear to the door, trying to ascertain any movements or sounds from the other side. After staying like that, completely still for several minutes (no one could say she wasn't professional), she took out her lockpick set, ready to overcome the door and investigate what lay beyond.

Suddenly, she wondered why she was doing this. After all, it was her neck on the line, with no one else to back her up. Would they, if they were here, even? Actually risk their lives for hers? Like a deva would sacrifice for a drow! It was laughable! Why did she ever think she could belong with these stuck-up surface dwellers, with their sideways glances at her, their back-talking and lack of trust! She had half a mind to get up, leave this stupid door and whatever was behind it, walk right back into the Underdark and never come back, to the Hells with them! At that point, in a self-righteous huff, she packed her tools, and strode away from the door, her anger boiling over, fueling her steps...

...wait, what? What am I doing? She stopped all of a sudden. A cold sweat had broken over her, and she reclaimed control over herself, her anger subsiding. Where did that come from? she wondered. She didn't know what to think; in her darkest moments, she may have had a stray thought that somewhat resembled the litany of anger she just went through, but it wasn't what she actually believed...was it?

Shaking her head angrily, Bhintel dismissed the introspective thoughts and returned to the door, looking it over. Setting her mouth in a firm line, she knelt down to work on the lock with her tools once more.

Why? So I can die in the name of ‘good?' When has being good ever gotten anyone anything?! Why aren't I just looking out for myself? It served me well enough all those years! There's no family here! They banished me to the tunnels, can't bear the sight of me! It'd serve them right for me to walk out of here...who's to tell me otherwise? That deva bitc...

Suddenly, she drew herself away from the door with a gasp. She stared at it for several long moments, eyes wide in shock, and mouth agape. When she had calmed down, she frowned and considered the door from a safe distance.

It's the door, she realized. Whenever I get close and think about opening it, I start experiencing these feelings to discourage me from doing so. She smiled. Pretty ingenious, actually. Well. Let's see how strong you are when I know what's coming...

She knelt down to the lock for a third time. Almost immediately, she found her anger at her friends rising, the feelings of being used, of being ostracized. This time however, she was ready.

First, the exploratory pick, to find out where the tumblers are...

Do you think for a second they care about you at all?

Now, count the tumblers and memorize their positions...

All the deva does is remind you of how worthless you are!

Balance the first tumbler with pick one, insert pick two...

Accursed githzerai never knows when to shut up!

Flick the first inner lever...

Pretty boy bard does nothing to ease her time with them...thinks he's too good to help me!

Her mouth tightened. Keep the second pick in, use the third to jiggle the second lever...

Forest man cares for his animals way more than he ever did my friendship! I'm not even an animal to them!

Her eyes started to tear up...activate the second lever, move the first pick to the fourth position...

And that gods-cursed monk!! I HOPE YOU DIE LIKE YOUR SISTER!


She had beaten the lock, and more importantly, she hadn't let the door beat her. She crawled away on hands and knees, tears silently streaming down her ebony face. All her fears of loneliness, of not being accepted, of not being a person of worth...the magic of the door had used them all to assault her, reduce her, demean her...

Her mouth tightened, as did her grip on her crossbow. Oh, but someone's going to die!

She went back to the door and pushed it open before the magic could take hold. The room she entered was large and empty, save for what looked like a well. After taking several moments to ascertain her surroundings, she took a few stealthy steps forward.

It was faint at first. The room seemed to be growing, expanding...or was she shrinking? Things got darker, even to her enhanced darkvision. She suddenly felt alone...very alone, like a child abandoned to the caverns after a rival House has slaughtered her family. The feeling grew. She was alone in the drow city of Erelhei-Cinlu, wandering the streets, looking for anyone familiar, friend or foe. Then, she was alone in the whole of the Underdark, with nothing in the endless passages but her own thoughts, which were growing darker and darker...

...and somehow, more knowledgeable. It was as though her being alone had allowed her mind to go to secret places, dark places that knew terrible secrets of the universe. A voice was whispering in her head, unintelligible phrases that she knew she could make sense of if she tried...but if she did, she would learn something so horrible, so unearthly that she instinctively knew her mind would shatter.

She felt small, so very small. Small and cold, an insignificant life form adrift on an endless dark sea...waiting to piece together what the maddening whispers were telling her.

That's when she recognized the voice.


She ran out the door, and through the tunnels, blindly, hoping her instincts would take her back to safety. For over an hour she ran, trying to outrun her own mind. She collapsed upon the rock, her body covered in a cold sweat, her breathing shallow and rushed. She fell into darkness...

About two hours later, Bhintel was walking up to the doors leading to the Vaults. She knew what she had to do. She would tell the cleric, Fynn, about what had happened, and he would organize a party to go investigate. He would ask her to join; she'd refuse. She never planned on going there again.

She'd tell him what she realized.

She'd tell him to bring along help, but try to convince him not to bring people she knew. They had new arrivals: a half-orc who defected from the tribe the Winterguard had routed from when they took back Gardmore and another member from the order that Izera (and Eranah, in another life) belonged to. They'd do fine. Maybe some eladrin. No one she cared about too deeply. No one she'd hate herself for leading to that place.

She'd tell him what she realized.

That the last time she ever felt anything even remotely like this was when she had visited the catacombs beneath Dragon's Roost, the highest point in Gardmore Abbey.

Where the Winterguard had defeated the dark priest of Tharizdun.

And where lay the Voidharrow...