Chapter 8: The Gamemaster
As the riders approached through the darkness, Kilian held up a hand as they slowed and shouted, “hail travelers and well met!”
The lead rider motioned for them to halt and they brought their horses around them. “Hail,” the man said, raising his torch to see their faces, “what are you doing out here? Don’t you know there are giants about?”
“We know,” Thia said, brushing her thick black hair back from her face, “have you seen more?”
“Three down the road,” the man nodded his head in the direction they’d come.
“How far down the road?” Kilian asked.
“A few miles North of here,” the human told him, clearing his throat. “These are not safe times to be out on the road. I suggest you find somewhere safer to make camp.”
Kilian expressed his thanks for the warning with a gracious nod, and the man gave them one last long look, then rode off with his men, torches lighting their night’s journey.
“We should clear out,” Kilian suggested. “The sun will be up in a few hours, and we don’t want more giants stumbling into our path unless we’re ready for it.”
They all agreed and packed up their tent and other belongings, then made their way across the road and down the other side, staying hidden as much as possible as the sun eventually peeked over the horizon, casting their world in a pale orange glow.
A few hours after dawn they came across the recent battlefield scattered with the bodies of three giants and at least two dozen wild people, men and women from the area who lived a nomadic lifestyle. “Frost giants,” Thia said as she inspected the fallen body of one of the giants. It had grayish-blue skin and dead, ice-blue eyes open and staring. There was no sign of life anywhere.
Opal began scanning the battlefield, picking up broken armour and casting it aside, then following the mess of footprints and ruined brown grasses. “It looks like a large group of wild people ambushed these three giants. They left their dead behind, but most of them left and headed south.”
“You could read all that from the ground?” Roon asked, impressed.
Opal nodded happily.
“We should check all the bodies,” Thia said, digging around in one of the giant’s fallen packs. “It looks like the wild people didn’t care too much for what the giants had on them.”
Evelyn jogged over to another giant’s body and began rummaging through its belongings.
A few minutes later, they had made a pile with an oddment of items. Roon sifted through the junk. There were two wooden oars meant for a small rowboat, which he placed in their bag of holding, a dead fish, a live chicken found by Evelyn, which Roon named Sheila but Evelyn insisted they eat for supper, and a few broken spears and scattered arrows. Bran went through the arrows and inspected them all, but none of them seemed to be intact.
Roon bent to tie a string around Sheila’s neck. The hen clucked at him and he patted her white head affectionately. “If we keep her around, we could have eggs for breakfast.”
Bran crossed his arms. “I don’t think chickens are very quiet.”
Just then, there was a flash and a pop, and a large hand grabbed Evelyn’s shoulder. The girl spun around, a hidden dagger appearing in her hand. Everyone turned and spun to look at the stranger, who had appeared from thin air. Roon immediately drew his shortbow and Thia slid her sword from its sheath. The figure was a tall cat-like person with thick, tiger-striped fur and large clawed hands whose finger knuckles bent the wrong way—back into his hand rather than toward his palm.
“Put the weapons down,” the tiger-man said with a chuckle. “Those wouldn’t hurt me even if you tried.”
“I’m willing to try,” Thia said through clenched teeth, keeping her blade raised. “Who are you?”
The tiger-man stared at her for a second, blinked, then looked down at Evelyn. “Evelyn, I came here to warn you.”
“Warn me?” The white-haired girl said, lowering her dagger and taking a step back. “Warn me about what?”
“Your step-mother is trying to kill you,” he said matter-of-factly. “So, I want you to kill her first.”
Evelyn barely skipped a beat before saying, “I guess I could do that.”
“Why does she want you dead?” Thia asked and Evelyn shrugged.
“Well,” Kilian said hesitantly, a glowing orb crackling in his lowered hand, “why don’t you kill her then, if you can’t be hurt? Why come to Evelyn?”
The tiger-man smiled patronizingly, “It’s not for me to do,” then snapped his fingers and disappeared.
They all looked around, keeping their weapons aloft just in case the stranger reappeared.
“Evelyn, do you know who that was?” Thia asked, her tone sharp. “And what’s wrong with your step-mother?”
Roon lowered his bow once he was sure the tiger-man was really gone.
Evelyn shrugged. “I don’t know what that was. But, I do hate my step-mother, so I guess I could kill her.”
“Woah, woah,” Roon said, “we can’t just go around killing people without a reason, Evelyn. Why does she need to be killed? Is she a bad person?”
“I think so,” Evelyn said. “She and my dad are both mean people, but she is especially. They were always mean to me.”
“What happened to your real mom?” Opal asked softly.
“My dad killed her,” Evelyn said.
“Is that why you ran away?” Thia asked.
Evelyn shrugged again. “No. Not really.”
Kilian looked around at the scattered battlefield again, then said, “we should keep going to Everlund.”
“Okay,” Evelyn grabbed Sheila from the ground and, with a twist of her tiny hands, broke the chicken’s neck before Roon could stop her. “I’m starving. Anyone else?”
On their continued journey toward Everlund they argued with Evelyn about why the girl wanted her stepmother dead, but she gave them very little to discuss. When they finally reached the large city, they entered through one of the five gates. The city was split in twain by a river with two wide bridges spanning over it. As they entered, Evelyn said quietly, “this is where I grew up. It looks the same.”
They looked at her and Thia said, “perhaps if your stepmother wants you dead, we should disguise you?”
“Alright,” Evelyn said, and Thia pulled her into an alley and began painting the girls face and covered her hair. They returned a few minutes later, Evelyn looking very much like a boy with her hood on.
“I say we go to the market first and gather any supplies we need,” Kilian said, “then we can look for the half-orc Darathra told us about.”
They joined the small crowd of people milling through the outdoor market and came away an hour later with several interesting items purchased. Bran brandished a new crossbow, showing Roon the fine wood stain, and Thia found a fine longbow and replaced it for her shortbow. Evelyn purchased a pile of knickknacks, including a pipe that blew bubbles, and Kilian found a thick leather belt to wear over his shoulder to hold his many daggers. Roon bought a large head of broccoli, a gnome-made music box and a tinkerer’s set. He hadn’t tinkered in many years, but he had been spending a lot of time thinking about his past lately, and he felt a pull toward old things. Perhaps he could imitate the make of the music box he’d bought.
Once they were satisfied with their time spent shopping, Roon found a shopkeeper and asked him to point them to Danavar’s House to find Dral Thelev. The man gave them a list of directions, and they set off.
The house was easy to spot, nestled as it was amongst brown and gray houses, itself painted a rich red with yellow window panes. Kilian knocked, and the door was answered shortly by a man dressed in plain clothes. “We’re here to see Dral Thelev,” the sorcerer told him.
“Right this way,” the man said, and without asking any questions he led them into the parlor. They stood awkwardly as the man departed, and luckily, they didn’t wait long.
A tall half-orc with pale green skin and a brown leather eyepatch over one eye entered the room and greeted Kilian first. “You are most welcome, travellers,” the half-orc said in a friendly voice, seating himself and gesturing for them to do the same on the two benches against the wall. “How can I help you?”
“Well,” Kilian began, crossing his legs, “we have just travelled from Triboar where we spoke with the town’s Lord Protector, Darathra. She told us to come to Everlund and speak with you for help against the giants.”
“Giants,” the half-orc said musingly.
“The town was attacked by two fire giants,” Thia explained. “Many people died.”
“That is indeed sad news,” Dral said, “but what is your interest in the giants?”
“Well,” Kilian said awkwardly, “our hope is to repair the ordening and get things back to the way they were.”
“And what exactly did Darathra tell you?”
Kilian reached into his coat and pulled out the badge they had each been given from the Lord Protector. The half-orc gestured for him to hand it over, and he inspected the badge carefully before slipping it into his own pocket. “Wait—can I have that back?” Kilian said.
“Hm, no,” the half-orc decided.
“Darathra said you could help us travel faster,” Roon said in annoyance, “is that true?”
“Perhaps,” Dral said, gesturing to the plain man who’d answered the door, “bring us the wine.”
The man dipped out of the room and returned a minute later with several goblets of wine.
“I don’t have much to tell you about the giants,” he explained, “but I know someone who can help you with your travel.” Dral reached over and took a goblet and passed it to Kilian.
Roon snatched it out of Kilian’s hand and looked in at the deep red wine, then tipped the cup and drained it. With a sudden pop, the gnome disappeared.
“Where did he go?” Kilian demanded of the half-orc, standing immediately.
The gnome, along with the goblet of wine, had vanished.
“Well, if the little one had only waited for an explanation,” Dral rolled his eyes and took another goblet of wine, raising it. “This wine will bring us to the Moongleam Tower. That is where we may discuss things further.”
“To your health,” Thia said, taking a cup and raising it to her companions, then draining the contents. The elf disappeared with a pop.
Everyone else, including Dral, each drank, and each disappeared. Bran waited until all of them were gone. The half-elf stared down at the wine and took a deep breath, gulping it down in one.
Roon stared around at the circular stone room. A few cats with closed feather wings batted around a piece of fuzz or were licking themselves clean. One was perched on a chair preening its wings. At an arched window stood a man cloaked in deep blue robes. He turned when Roon popped into existence. “Uh—where am I?” Roon asked, eyeing the tall man nervously.
“Where is Dral?” The man asked.
“Hm, good question. I’m sure he’ll be right along.” As he said that, Thia popped into the room, followed by Kilian, Dral, Opal, Evelyn and, finally, Bran.
“Now that we’re all here,” Dral began, shooting Roon a look then folding his hands behind his back and pacing over to where the man stood, “we have brought you to Moongleam Tower to speak privately about our organization, the Harpers. This,” he gestured to the man, “is the mage Croen Valhair.”
“What are the Harpers?” Roon asked, the name unfamiliar to him.
Croen spoke up. “We are a group of men and women interested in keeping a political balance in the land of Faerun.”
“Great, politics,” Roon snorted, and Kilian shot him a nervous look.
“The Lord Protector of Triboar sent us to speak with you on matters of transport, and perhaps aid in defeating the giants.” Kilian said.
“Then our interests align,” Croen said, “for the Harpers do not want this shattering of the giant’s ordening to continue on as it has.”
“So, you can help us?” Thia asked excitedly.
“You must be the wizard,” Croen said to the elf, walking across the round room to a table and reaching into a drawer, pulling out a box. He walked back to Thia and handed it to her.
Thia opened the box and looked inside. “Scrolls?” She said.
“Spells,” Croen told her, “for you to learn and use. They should help you against the giants.”
“Thank you,” she said seriously, clutching the box to her chest.
“Now, about the transport,” Dral said, gesturing to the intricate stonework on the floor. “These are transportation circles. If you stand in one and our mage here touches the consecutive circle on the wall here,” he gestured to the painted engravings in the wall, which were a smaller version of what they saw on the floor, “then you will be sent to whichever place you stand in on the circle.”
“Wait,” Roon said, confused, “so someone else has to be here to touch the wall so the rest of us can go, but the person touching the wall doesn’t go with us?”
“Right,” the half-orc said.
“Where do the circles go?” Opal asked, stepping lightly over the intricate patterns in the ground.
“Each is designated for a different place,” the mage began pointing to each circle on the ground, “this to Mirobar, then Everlund, here Neverwinter, Yartar, Waterdeep, and the last to Loudwater.”
“Woah,” Roon said. “How do we get back here, to the tower?”
“You can’t,” the mage said.
“So, what’s the point in having all the circles in this place?”
“Well, you have to find a different group of transportation circles and find one to bring you to Everlund if you wish to return here via magical transport.”
“But, wait,” Roon scratched his head, still confused, “why wouldn’t you just make a mobile transportation circle that you can take with you, that can take you anywhere?”
“That would be too easy, Roon,” Kilian sighed, “I don’t think magic works like that.”
“I guess,” Roon shrugged.
“Now,” Dral continued as if there had been no interruption, “about the giants. There’s not much advice we can give except that you should kill the bad ones.”
“How do we know which ones are bad?” Opal asked.
“I guess whichever ones you see doing bad things,” the half-orc shrugged. “Badness isn’t particular to one’s race, I suppose.”
Bran crossed his arms. “That’s not overly helpful.”
“Do you have any advice on how we can repair the ordening?” Thia asked, “or how we can find King Hecaton?”
Dral looked at Croen, who said, “I’m afraid not.”
“Can you at least tell us what city we should visit next?” Roon pressed.
The half-orc and mage looked at them, their expressions giving away nothing.
“We found out the fire giants are searching for some ancient machinery made of adamantium,” Thia explained. “Have you or your organization heard about that?”
“That,” Croen said, “I can tell you about. The machine is a giant adamantium weapon known as the Vonendod. It was used long ago in the war between the giants and dragons and was later destroyed and scattered over the land.”
“They’re digging up the pieces,” Kilian told the mage, “and they have adamantium staves to help them.”
“That’s not good,” the mage muttered.
“What are the Harpers doing to stop the giants?” Roon asked critically. He turned and saw Evelyn had picked up one of the cats with wings and was stroking its fur, eliciting purrs of contentment.
“Young man,” Dral began, “the Harpers protect the people of Faerun, but we are not all-powerful.”
“The world is on the edge of destruction,” Kilian said slowly.
“This is all we can give you, for now,” the mage said softly. “Now, where would you like to travel?” He walked toward the engraved wall and peered up at the intricate designs.
“We can’t leave Everlund just yet,” Roon said, looking again at Evelyn. “We have some family business to take care of, but we’ll be back. How do we get out of the tower?”
“Take the stairs,” Dral said, gesturing to a door Roon hadn’t noticed before.
“Wait—I thought we were in another plane of existence or something,” Roon said.
“What made you think that?” the half-orc asked, tilting his head.
“Well, why did we drink the wine if we could’ve just used the stairs?”
Dral shrugged. “The Harpers are a secret organization, and we’d like to keep the visitors of the tower discreet.”
Roon shrugged as well and grabbed Opal’s hand, hauling her to the door. “Okay, let’s go.”
“Shall we visit Danavar’s House when we wish to visit the tower again?” Kilian asked.
Croen raised a hand. “Use the stairs to the tower. Just—be subtle.”
“Oh, I’m excellent at that,” Roon assured him.
“Wait,” the mage said softly, looking down at Evelyn, who didn’t seem to want to leave the cat. “Would you like to keep one of the tressym’s?”
Evelyn nodded emphatically.
“Take it,” the mage put a friendly hand on her shoulder. “We have too many as it is.”
“Come, Beatrice!” Roon said to the tressym, and the cat leapt out of Evelyn’s arms and trotted after Roon and Opal.
“You’re naming her Beatrice?” Thia groaned, following them to the door.
“I kind of like it,” Bran said with a small smile.
Kilian chuckled and followed them last out of the door.
Roon dug a hand into one of his pockets and flipped Kilian his badge from Darathra. He’d slipped it out of Dral’s coat as they passed him. “Thanks,” Kilian smiled. “I can always count on you to pickpocket anyone.”
“So, Evyn,” Roon began, looking over at Evelyn. She still looked like a boy, so they decided to call her Evyn while in Everlund, “what is your family name?”
“Uh,” the girl looked around nervously as the descended the stairs to the tower, “it’s Elynbrynne.”
“And where does your family live?” Thia asked.
Evelyn paused on the stairs and pointed out one of the small, round windows in the side of the tower. There was a massive house with white pillars and green lawns. It was near the edge of the city across the river and was an impressive structure compared to most in Everlund, although there were a few other larger homes around it.
“That’s where they live?” Roon said in surprise. “Your parents are rich.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” the girl said, continuing down the stairs as everyone took their turn looking out at the manor.
“I say we do some reconnaissance before rushing in and killing your step mom,” Roon said as they reached the door and stepped outside into the bright sun.
“Is she deserving of a life?” Bran asked, his dark eyes unblinking.
“I’m fine with killing her. I can do it on my own,” she insisted.
“That’s not a reason,” Roon pointed out. “As a man of healing, I insist we find out more about the Elynbrynne’s before acting.”
Kilian dropped a hand on his shoulder and said, “you’re right, friend.”
“Great,” Roon nodded, “because I think I know exactly how we should do it.”
“As long as it doesn’t involve me playing your servant again,” Kilian sighed.
Roon and Kilian approached the manor, striding confidently. The lawns and gardens were eerily pristine as they approached. Roon had on his disguise illusion and displayed himself as a richly dressed dwarf with a trimmed beard and silver beads twisted into his hair. Kilian had on the fine robe he’d taken from the brothel in Triboar and his hair was nicely combed back. The Elynbrynne’s were in the business of trading, Evelyn informed them, so they decided to walk in under the guise of being importers of goods. Roon loved this part of the game most—playing someone else, and lying out of his—
Kilian knocked on the front door and a moment later it creaked open a few inches to reveal the strip of a man’s face. “Can I help you?” The man sounded suspicious.
Roon cleared his throat, putting on a thick dwarvish accent. He’d always liked imitating the accents of others. “Yes, hello. We are looking for your Master Elynbrynne. We wish to speak with him on matters of trade.”
The man behind the door looked at him skeptically.
“We’re from the Northern Fleet Trading Company,” Kilian added, straightening his coat and meeting the man’s gaze firmly.
The man opened the door fully and they could see he was carrying a spear and wearing impressive armour. Roon wondered why a simple house guard would need to wear such an elaborate getup.
“What are your names?” The man asked.
“I’m Jorge,” Kilian said, touching a hand to his chest, “and this is…”
“Gilbert,” Roon said, and at the same moment, Kilian said, “Patrick.”
“That’s right,” Roon said quickly. “Gilbert Patrick is my name, and we don’t like to be kept waiting, so if you could bring us to your master…”
“Very well, come with me,” the man walked stiff-backed through the foyer, leading them to a closed wooden door. He knocked, and a muffled voice from inside told him to enter. “Wait here,” the man said, slipping into the room and exchanging words with whoever was inside. Finally, the door opened again, and they were ushered through.
They entered an impressively grand study with a large window and impeccably organized bookshelves that were thoroughly dusted. Everything, from the maps on the walls to the perfectly combed fibres of the rug under their feet seemed too pristine to be real. Roon was quite good at illusion magic, but whatever spell was making this house look intact was powerful indeed. A pale man with dark rings under his eyes and a long head of hair that was grayer than it was blonde gestured for them to sit in two fine leather chairs. He sat at a large oak desk and behind him stood another well-armoured guard. The one who’d let them in took his place behind him. “Welcome, gentleman,” the man said in a tired voice. “I am Eldyn Elynbrynne, master of this household.”
Evelyn and Bran snuck around the manor, the girl directing him to a side entrance used by the servants. They crept along an empty hallway, turning right into a small powder room and holding their breaths as they waited for someone to pass. “Does this place seem off to you?” Bran whispered to the girl. “It feels like—strange magic.”
Evelyn looked around the room, pulling back her hood and allowing her white hair to spill down. She touched the wall lightly with her fingertip, and it seemed to shimmer. “You’re right,” the girl said. “Something’s wrong.” She pulled her hair back and tied it. “C’mon,” she said, leading the half-elf down the abandoned hallway to a set of winding stairs.
“We trade exotic woods, mostly,” Roon told Eldyn confidently.
“Yes,” Kilian added, “and we’re looking to bring in new foreign investors, some trading companies from across the sea.”
“Well, that does sound promising,” Eldyn said thoughtfully. “I would, of course, like to see your ledgers.”
“Certainly,” Roon raised his ringed finger, “however, we’d like to know who we’re trading with, to ensure they’re trustworthy—which I’m certain you are. We’ve heard very good things about the Elynbrynne’s of Everlund, and we’d like to meet the rest of the family before moving forward with this business relationship.”
“Yes, yes,” the man said wearily, rubbing his eyes, “I have a wife.”
“And what’s her name?” Kilian asked.
“Marah Elynbrynne,” Eldyn said, and he seemed to hold back a shudder as he said the name.
“Could we meet her now?” Roon pressed, plastering a friendly smile onto his dwarven face.
Evelyn and Bran reached the top of the stairs to a pair of double doors, and one was slightly open. Evelyn peeked in and saw a woman lounging in a silk robe on a large throne-like blue velvet chair with intricate, gold-painted designs around its base. Without looking at Bran, Evelyn pushed open one of the doors and stepped into the centre of the room, fists clenched. Bran jumped behind the other door before he could be seen.
The woman held her robe tightly to her chest and stood with a startled expression, “who are you? What are you—wait, Evelyn?” she paused, squinting at the girl with her hair pulled back.
Evelyn removed the tie from her hair, shaking it so it landed on her shoulders, glaring at the woman with cold eyes. The woman smiled.
“Fancy seeing you here,” the woman said smugly, sitting back in her throne. “I suppose you’ve heard that I want you dead?”
“What did I do to deserve your wrath?” Evelyn asked, her voice emotionless.
“Oh, nothing you should concern yourself with my dear,” Marah said, waving her hand as if she’d been asked if she wanted a spot of tea.
“Tell me,” Evelyn said quietly.
Bran pressed himself behind the door, listening but remaining hidden. He drew his crossbow and pressed a bolt into the mechanism, waiting.
The woman cocked her head. “No.” She waved her hand again, and this time the illusion around the Elynbrynne manor disappeared, revealing the skeleton of the once beautiful building in its place. Filth covered the floor and the walls were stained with ash. The furniture was in disarray and the tiled floor smashed in places.
Roon stopped speaking immediately. The illusion of the pristine study suddenly vanished, replaced by dusty, mostly empty shelves and ripped books strewn across the floor. The two guards standing behind Eldyn suddenly transformed into reddish devil creatures with curled horns. If it was possible, Eldyn Elynbrynne looked even more haggard than he had before. Roon snapped his fingers and sent a message to Thia and Opal, who were waiting outside the manor walls for any signal of trouble.
“Come now,” Roon said under his breath in the message in Thia’s mind, “it was all an illusion. We’re in trouble.” He paused. “Oh, and don’t bring the cat.”
Just as the three across from them started to realize the illusion had dropped, Kilian stood and grabbed Roon by the arm, his hand shearing through the dwarf illusion, and threw up his other hand. Roon turned to see the two devil creatures raise their spears and leap over the desk before Kilian’s spell exploded in a thick fog. The devils and Eldyn disappeared inside the fog, and Kilian dragged Roon out of the room and slammed the door.
“I called Thia,” Roon gasped as they ran for the door, then noticed Bran at the top of the winding stairs behind one door. Bran stepped through the other door, out of sight.
“Looks like Evelyn and Bran are still here,” Kilian said, glancing behind him. “Let’s grab them.”
As they ran for the stairs, the front door slammed open and Thia and Opal, with the tressym cat following closely at their heels, stepped into the foyer. A second later, the door to the study burst apart in splinters as the two devil creatures jumped out. The six of them looked at each other, and Thia shot a line of flames, which blasted the devils back a few steps.
“Damned cambians,” Thia cursed as the so-called cambians clambered back to their feet, hissing.
As the illusion around the manor disappeared, Marah’s figure transformed into the naked form of a curvaceous woman with small red horns protruding from the front of her forehead. She stood tall and unfurled a pair of black, leathery wings and began to laugh as Evelyn drew her blades.
Bran stepped into the room next to Evelyn.
“Ah, another one,” Marah said smilingly. “You know, Evelyn, it’s strange. I spent all these years trying to kill you, and now it turns out I needed you here to die.”
“Is this still your stepmom?” Bran asked uncertainly, his crossbow loaded and aimed at the creature’s naked chest.
“Yeah,” Evelyn said, then her voice turned into a scream, “and she’s still a bitch!” With that, the white-haired girl’s eyes glazed white.
Marah put her hands to her temple for a moment, smiling again. “Here comes your father,” she said, then wavered slightly as whatever Evelyn’s spell was took effect. She glared at her stepdaughter.
Evelyn raised her swords and charged the succubus, and Bran released a bolt at the woman’s exposed breasts.
Eldyn Elynbrynne burst from the fog-shrouded study and ran past the cambians at a full sprint for the stairs. Kilian tried to trip him as he ran past, but he jumped over the sorcerer’s legs and disappeared into the room upstairs.
Roon summoned his ethereal middle-finger and swatted at the cambians while his duplicate form ran out of him and down the stairs toward Thia and Opal, ready to heal them if need be. Opal began throwing ice daggers on the cambians, which exploded in ice shards behind them. They hissed but seemed unphased. Their armour was thick and unbroken. “These things won’t be easy to kill,” Kilian said, turning his hands in the air and throwing a bolt of energy at one of the cambians, which turned at his voice and began to charge up the stairs past Thia and Opal, ducking under their attacks. Thia had small, burning rocks swirling around her and she shot them at the cambian as it ran. Kilian grabbed Roon and they flew back and up the stairs several feet. Kilian shot a blast of wind down the steps at the creature to knock him over, but it grabbed onto the railing to steady itself and began climbing with effort against the wind. Roon flicked a hand and turned invisible.
Eldyn shouldered past Evelyn, pushing her aside, and the girl fell back from the succubus as Marah grabbed him by the face and kissed him passionately. The kiss sucked a light of energy from his eyes and mouth. His hair turned stark white and he dropped to the floor, dead.
Evelyn cried out and got back to her feet just as Marah side-stepped from another of Bran’s crossbow bolts.
Opal howled and pounced, her massive direwolf shape slamming into the cambian as it shot fire back at her and Thia. It slammed her in the side and send her sprawling, and she leapt back to her feet and began circling the devil creature just as Thia and Kilian shot streaks of lightning in opposite directions. Opal felt herself fly back as crackling lightning ricocheted off the cambian and struck her in the chest.
Roon ran, invisible, up the steps and into the room in time to see Eldyn drop to the floor, dead, and Evelyn get to her feet. Kilian ran through the doors behind him, unaware of where his friend had gone, and stopped short when he saw the naked figure of woman standing before a throne. Bran turned back to the sorcerer, who said, “I see you have all been busy… more incoming!” With that, the sorcerer began to form another ball of energy in his hands.
The succubus turned her gaze on Kilian, and the sorcerer went still for a moment, a flicker in his ice-blue eyes as he redirected the bolt of energy at Evelyn. The girl turned and grimaced, and the bolt vanished. Then, Evelyn charged her stepmother and the succubus slashed the girl with her long, black claws, leaving three bloody streaks across the girl’s face. One of the cambians appeared at the top of the stairs with his spear, and ran for Bran, who managed to turn his crossbow in time to send his bolt glancing off the creature’s thick armour.
Roon turned visible next to Kilian, and the cambian turned his attention to the gnome as his ethereal hand slammed into the devil from behind. Roon smiled and took a few steps back, then saw a bluish, swirling portal appeared behind the succubus and she blew a kiss to Evelyn. “Good luck, dear,” she said as she stepped back into the portal.
At that moment, the tiger-man appeared and threw up a hand, and the portal disappeared. The succubus turned on the tiger-man and hissed. He jerked, his eyes making a strange movement. Evelyn used the distraction to slash at the woman, leaving a line of blood across her bare stomach. The succubus shuddered and grabbed her stomach. The cut was deep. Evelyn cut herself, her swords bursting into flame. Then, she skewered the woman. She kicked her, and she fell back, her wings cracking on impact. Evelyn put a boot on her right arm and began stabbing the succubus repeatedly in the torso until her arms were covered in thick blood up to the elbows.
Roon barely ducked in time as the cambian he’d hit jabbed at him with his spear. Kilian shot a firebolt back at the devil, and at the same moment it thrust with its spear. The spear caught Roon in the gut and he stared down at it for a moment in shock, not quite sure why he couldn’t feel it. Then, there was pain. A second later, the cambian dropped, a crossbow bolt hitting its horn and breaking its neck. Roon fell back, unconscious, the spear still lodged inside him.
Thia stood at the bottom of the stairs, Opal’s direwolf form standing at her side, and she grabbed a fistful of the druid’s fur and said, “hold on!” as the cambian shot a ball of fire at them. There was a loud, thunderous boom as Thia and Opal disappeared, then reappeared with a crackling boom at the top of the stairs. The explosion of their disappearance hit the cambian and it exploded within its armour. A wisp of black smoke curled up from the fallen armour and disappeared into a bluish, waving portal. Thia breathed in relief and turned to the open doors to see Kilian floating at the back of the room with an unconscious gnome in his arms. The tiger creature with the backwards hands stood next to Evelyn over the fallen body of a naked woman with curled leather wings, her torso a gory mess.
Kilian dropped to the floor and set Roon down gently. “Opal,” he said, looking at the direwolf, “can you heal him?”
Opal transformed back to her genasi form and ran to Roon’s body.
“Well,” Evelyn said, the flames on her blades extinguishing, “I killed her,” the girl said to the tiger person.
Roon rubbed his chest and got to his feet with Kilian’s help, Opal completing her healing spell.
“I’ll take that eye back now,” the tiger-man said, holding out his backwards hand.
Reluctantly, Evelyn pulled out the petrified eyeball she kept in her pocket and looked down at it. “Can’t I keep it?” she asked sadly.
“No, Evelyn,” he said, and she handed it to him slowly. He smiled, then stepped over the body of the woman whom Roon guessed was Evelyn’s stepmother and walked around to the back of the blue-velvet throne. He drew a stone sword from behind it and held it aloft, then took the petrified eyeball and placed it in the pommel of the sword where there was an empty space.
In a flash, two large portals appeared on either side of him, and two terrifying creatures stepped out. The first creature was a giant horned monster with burnt-orange coloured scales and matching wings. It held a greatsword crackling with blue lightning and a whip made of fire in its other hand. The second creature was a tall, red lizard with horns and folded wings holding a mace four times the size of Roon.
“It’s been way too long,” the tiger-man began in a friendly voice, gesturing for the two creatures to step up. “As we know, the rules of the game—”
There was a flash, and a third portal appeared, the largest creature yet stepping out into the room. A lizard with green scales and a thick tale, brandishing a sword.
“Ah, Kikabi,” the tiger-man raised his chin at the lizard, “what brings you here?”
“I am here to represent the dragon lady,” the monster replied in a low, gravelly voice.
“I’ve never had three contestants before,” the tiger-man smiled, gesturing for him to step next to the others. “Evelyn, I assume you will be staying for this as a gladiator?” he asked the girl.
Evelyn stared at him, then shrugged, “alright, I guess I can do that.”
“What?!” they all said at once.
“Excellent,” he nodded approvingly, “you may call me the Gamemaster.” He swept his hands around delightedly. “Evelyn, you are the prize. May the best fiend win.”
“Wait, wait,” Kilian said quickly, walking around to stand by Evelyn, “what do you mean she’s the prize? I thought you said she would fight.”
“Why, yes,” the Gamemaster said, staring at them blankly. “If one of my fiends wins, they shall claim Evelyn’s soul as the prize.”
“I want to fight,” Evelyn said softly.
“No, you really don’t,” Kilian insisted.
“You may have two squires of your choosing,” the Gamemaster offered, looking over their group with discerning eyes.
“Kilian, Opal,” Evelyn said, looking at the sorcerer and druid, “I want you to fight with me.”
Kilian looked over to Roon nervously. Roon knew exactly what he was thinking: they wouldn’t survive a fight against three goliath lizard-men.
“And what are the rest of us supposed to do?” Thia asked, arms folded.
“You,” the Gamemaster began, setting the tip of the stone sword on the ground and leaning over it, “will be my rapt audience.”