[Warning: Spoilers for the D&D adventure Bastion of Broken Souls below.]
Using the power still locked within the Soul Totem fragment that they had retrieved from the Prison of Kulan Gath, the heroes transported themselves across the dimensions to the very doorstep of the Bastion of Unborn Souls. Somewhere inside, the terrible wyrm Ashardalon, mortal enemy of all living creatures, lay waiting. Powered by a demon-charged heart granted him by Merrshaulk, God of Serpents and Father of Demons, and fed from the font of souls yet to be born, Ashardalon would indeed be a formidable opponent.
But Ashardalon wasn't the only invader of the Bastion. Outside the entrance, the heroes encountered a pack of demons who seemed also to be seeking entry into the crystalline structure. After defeating these creatures, the heroes used the Soul Totem to unlock the magical doorway barring their way.
Inside, they encountered another group of enemies who sought to prevent them from reaching their goal: this time, the foes were powerful half-dragon spawn of Ashardalon himself! A mighty battle raged, but again the heroes triumphed over their opponents.
Over the next few days, the heroes forayed deeper and deeper into the Bastion, meeting creatures both terrible and benign. Along the way, they also discovered the remains of an elven warrior of ancient times. Peculiarly, the elf bore a holy symbol reminiscent of the Altian ankh, suggesting that he had possessed some allegiance to the Highfather in life.
But that wasn't the most intriguing item carried by the fallen warrior, for the loremaster Stannis identified the elf's greatsword as the fabled blade Dragonhammer! Said to have been crafted in the early days of the territorial struggles between elven settlers of Brithonen and the dragons of the land later to be known as Blackmere, Dragonhammer granted its wielder mighty powers against dragons of all sorts.
The group realized that the paladin Alarion was the only logical choice to wield the blade. Unfortunately, Alarion's great size--for the dragon disciple now stood nearly 12 feet tall--made the human-sized weapon unwieldy in his hands. "Leave this to me," Stannis announced. While his friends watched in awe, the archmage bent the most powerful magics of the world to his will, reshaping the legendary blade according to his wish. When he finished, the sword had grown to match Alarion's stature!
Now, the heroes knew they were ready for the final battle. Entering the last chamber, they beheld a mighty winged creature larger than any they had ever seen, bathing in a shower of spectral souls pouring down from above, and wearing a second fragment of the Soul Totem around its neck. The dragon Ashardalon greeted them in a voice that rattled their teeth, offering them a taste of immortality in exchange for their service to him.
But the heroes weren't here to bargain. Stepping forward, the half-elven ranger Beran--scion of the druid who had slain the dragon once before--recited the words of power taught him:
In the name of Dydd,
Whose blood is my blood,
Who slew your heart,
Feel again the pain of your heart's demise!
The wyrm reeled in agony, the ranger's words striking him like a thunderbolt of pain. Then, acting as one, the seven heroes launched themselves into battle. Alarion and Jarvis charged forward, each brandishing a weapon of legendary power. Beran fired a flurry of arrows, while Caedrus and the dragon Verdigris harried Ashardalon's actions and Stannis and Quinborough lashed the wyrm with powerful spells.
The battle raged back and forth, with each side taking the advantage only to lose it again. At one point, Ashardalon eviscerated Beran with a swipe of his claws, only to watch in horror as the the ranger--channeling the life-giving power of his ancestor--regenerated to full health before his very eyes!
Though the heroes' resources dwindled, they began to fear that this battle might prove too difficult even for them. At long last, however, the dragon Ashardalon fell before their combined might. The enemy of life lay dead before them. The Bastion and its unborn souls were safe once more.
Or were they? As the heroes gaped in awe, the form of Ashardalon twitched, then exploded in a shower of blood and gore. Standing before them, having torn his way free of the dragon's chest, was a towering, dragon-scaled demonic figure--the demon "heart" of Ashardalon come to life!
Exhausted from the battle with the dragon, the heroes fell back, using some of their last few spells to delay the demon's pursuit. Though the demon caught up quickly, the heroes had used these precious seconds to restore their strength, and could now stand against the demon. Despite the creature's great power and furious blood-thirst, he could not defeat the seven dedicated heroes. Soon, the Bastion was quiet once again.
Suddenly, the heroes were bathed in light and surrounded by the peal of a thousand crystalline bells tolling in perfect joy. Standing before them were five luminous figures, who identified themselves as the Keepers of the Bastion. They thanked the heroes for their courageous efforts in defending all of creation itself. As the beings spoke, the heroes felt a jolt of pure energy flow through their bodies. The keepers explained that they had gifted the heroes with a touch of the life-giving power of the Bastion itself, which would result in rapid healing of the heroes wounds and, if necessary, even resurrection from death itself.
Cheered by their success, as well as the wondrous gift granted by the Keepers, the heroes claimed Ashardalon's Soul Totem fragment, planning to return it to Alarion's stronghold for safekeeping. But as they took hold of the fragment, a strange mystical force took hold of the heroes, pulling them across many dimensions. Light faded into darkness as the heroes felt themselves falling through the multiverse. A single sibilant sound resonated in their ears, drowning out all other noises, and growing louder as they fell.
Somewhere, far below, a serpent hissed.
Previous: Enemies of the State
Next: Quest for the God-Spark
All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.