The Elven Secret
With the Cult of Seth quashed and its dark master, Cathezar Lorcan Connallsson, destroyed, Duran and his friends breathed a sigh of relief. The brave Rexander once again stood beside his master Duran, now the acting Bishop of the Western Province.
As a show of good faith, the young bishop traveled with his retinue to the elven kingdom, Brithonen, in January of the year 1002 B.R. There, Duran met with diplomats in an attempt to smooth the always-tense relations between Brithonen and the humans of Blackmere. At the same time, Adarrial and Eandrynn worked behind the scenes, working diligently to learn all they could about the inner workings of elven politics--in particular, what truth might lay behind the rumor of cooperation between Brithonen government officials and the vampiric sorcerer Gulthias.
According to the sources they consulted, the two learned that Nightfang Spire--Gulthias' seat of power--was one of two mighty strongholds built by an affiliation of elves calling themselves the Uthlords. Apparently, these Uthlords were masters of sorcery in ancient times, and counted many dragons among their allies.
Relying once again on their powerful divinations, the heroes tracked down the second of the Uthlords' strongholds: the Tower of High Sorcery, also called simply the Uthtower. Located in a desolate area of northeast Brithonen, the crumbling tower showed none of Nightfang Spire's majesty. Perhaps it was still deserted?
That hope proved false, as the heroes battled their way past many defenders, including dragon cultists, undead half-elf/half-green dragon warriors, and dragons of various shapes and sizes. Descending beneath the tower the heroes navigated a series of deadly traps before discovering a vast area of elven crypts dating back many centuries. These crypts were guarded as well, by an undead elven creature known as a death knight. To the heroes' surprise, the death knight bore a striking resemblance to Gulthias himself. Later, they would learn that the undead being was the vampire's close kin, similarly preserved by unholy rituals of undeath.
The final tomb held the deadliest defenders of all, including several more half-green dragon undead cultists, a quintet of living dragon cultist spellcasters, and a ghostly dragon. Together, the six heroes (and one cohort) defeated these foul denizens, cleansing the ancient Uthtower of evil influence once and for all. Among the treasure they located an original copy of the legendary tome Draco Mystere, which Falaster the sorcerer claimed for further research.
But the heroes' work wasn't done yet. Though they had already remarked upon the similarity in the appearances of the many half-green dragon, half-elf undead cultists they had fought over the past few months, only now did Eandrynn realize what about their appearances had tickled his memory. He couldn't believe it had taken so long to recognize the striking features common to a particular family of elves.
The same family of elves to which the current queen, Chardanyll of House Mylloneth, belonged.
Clearly, something else was afoot. Could House Mylloneth be affiliated with the dragon cultists? If so, was it possible that the queen herself might have some knowledge of the cult's activities? Such a revelation would rock the fragile world of elven politics.
As the heroes prepared to travel to the elven court to follow up on this, Duran received an urgent sending from Steidel, the hedge wizard he remembered from his youth in Great Rock. The young bishop was needed right away in his home town! Adarrial offered to provide transport, via his helm of teleportation, and the two left immediately. With Falaster ensconced back in New Khundrukar reading Draco Mystere, that left only Eandrynn, Thomas, and Thorgrimm--elf, human, and dwarf--to follow up on the heroes' latest lead.
On their way to the Royal Court, the trio stopped off at the Eternal Grove, the symbolic (and geographic) heart of Brithonen. One of the holiest places among the elves, only their own people--as well as rare honored guests--were allowed entrance. Thanks to his growing reputation as a hero of the people, Eandrynn's word was enough to get his friends through the gate.
Within, the Grove seemed oddly calm, with none of the life that one would expect to see with the vernal equinox mere days away. In fact, a close inspection of many of the trees revealed withered and dying branches. What on earth was wrong with the Grove, and why weren't the elves doing anything about it?
But that question would have to wait, as suddenly the heroes heard a commotion from the Grove's entrance. A glance revealed the guards arguing with a group wearing the armor and bearing the sigils of the dragon cult, accompanied by a human-sized dragon that flitted through the air! Cultists, here in the heart of Brithonen? Perhaps these were the corruptors responsible for the horrors that lay before the heroes!
Meanwhile, the ranger Beran Findalson had received a request from Darnae, the druidess who lived near Great Rock. Concerned that despite the calendar reading mid-March, no signs of spring had yet appeared, Darnae dispatched Beran to report her findings to the elven druids of the Eternal Grove. Alarion and Caedrus happened to be in the area, so they tagged along with their friend as well.
As they approached the Grove, the heroes were stopped by the elven guards who protected the holy site. Though Beran, as an ally of Brithonen, was free to enter, they could not allow to pass either the half-breed Caedrus or, more importantly, the Altian Alarion Northsea. Tired of such disrespectful treatment, Alarion took umbrage at the elves' unkind words and began arguing vociferously. Suddenly, both Beran and Caedrus spotted a much greater threat within the Grove itself: three horrible demons readying to destroy the Grove and its protectors!
What neither group of heroes could grasp was that they were all victims of a powerful illusion, each side seeing the other as feared enemies. A fierce battle ensued, as friend fought against friend. Thorgrimm and Thomas teamed up against Alarion, quickly cutting the giant dragon disciple down. Beran felled the archer Eandrynn, but not before the elf took out Alarion's draconic cohort, Verdigris. Meanwhile, Caedrus futilely tried to assist Alarion but was himself defeated by the rogue and dwarf working together. Though Beran eluded his remaining foes for a while, in the end the conclusion was inevitable, and Thorgrimm and Thomas stood triumphant.
Then, a veil was torn away, and all six heroes (plus Gree) stood alive once again, together in the center of the Grove. They didn't have time to exchange pleasantries, however, as they found themselves surrounded by a group of all-too-real dragon cultists. The entire combat, it seemed, had been illusion on top of illusion, forcing the heroes to waste valuable time while their enemies took up positions around them.
The real battle now began, as the heroes desperately fought against their ambushers. Despite the odds, the heroes managed to turn the tide in their favor, though they couldn't prevent a few of their foes from escaping. They soon realized how important that mistake was, however, when a titanic green dragon appeared above the trees. The heroes, already exhausted from their fight with the cultists, were ill-prepared to take on a foe of such size and power, yet they had no choice. With such a sinister creature living in such close proximity to the Eternal Grove, the corruptive influence upon the elven people must truly be tremendous. For the sake of the Kingdom of Brithonen, the evil had to end today.
All petty disagreements were put aside, as elf and Altian stood side-by-side against the dragon Kranimatraxius. Indeed, both Alarion and his cohort Gree selflessly gave their own lives in defense of the elven kingdom, and thanks in part to that sacrifice, the great dragon soon lay dead.
In a nearby cave, the heroes discovered the answer to all their questions. There, Queen Chardonyll lay in a deathlike state. Knowing that they needed more expertise in matters of magic than they possessed, the heroes called upon the aid of Iovan, the elven loremaster who owed them a favor. Only powerful magic managed to reveal that she was indeed alive, and what's more, pregnant. In fact, Iovan confirmed that the queen had apparently been in this state for decades, during which she had delivered dozens of children--half-green dragon children, to be precise.
The news hit the heroes like a thunderbolt. The queen of the elves, asleep for decades? The kingdom controlled by a green dragon, using powerful illusions to pose as the queen during her rare appearances? No wonder the fortunes of the elves had fallen on hard times of late--they had been a leaderless people for the better part of a generation!
But how could such corruption exist for so long, and was this corruption to blame for the long winter that still plagued the land? These questions would have to wait for another day...
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Next: Reunion at Great Rock
All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.