Sorcerors Of The Forgotten Realms Part 2

Chapter 11
Something Familiar

Derek began the lecture by saying “I know you have all been wondering what I have been doing, Thomas and Scott and Jason have all been in on some of my work, but none of them know the whole story. So let me tell you what I have learned and see if you have any suggestions about what might be a course to follow.
As Schminke has taught us all, the dwarf runes that are all over the artifacts and interior of this facility are both numeric and alphabetical in nature with associated phonemes. It is a simple matter to spot the usage because of the lack of pronunciation indicators on the numeric symbols. My study of the inscriptions shows that the runes have certain properties and capabilities….1
The lecture was long and important, Derek wrote out all the spell names of the spells they could cast with slate and chalk and tossed gravel at those that dozed off. When Derek was done, Schminke took the floor and said “This thing gives us a chance. I want to see progress on this in all areas.

Thom Stead watched intently as the temperature built inside the water filled canister. Suddenly it vented steam from the seal. Thom cursed. His steam powered pipe bomb experiments where getting nowhere, If they could cast spheres that had no seems then they could just use magic heat to create enough steam pressure to make them grenades but their casting methods where just too primitive. The increase in power from the runes did not do anything but cause flaws to emerge faster.
Jason shook his head “We need to shift gears man, clear our heads. Yes it should work but ‘should’ isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s go hunting for the day.”
Thom shrugged and said “Screw it, lets go. I cannot believe the boss wants to cut and run, but if we can’t do something soon it looks like that will be the plan.”
“If we had the iron or enough tin we could maybe make cannons, brass or bronze would do. Maybe we can bore out a tree instead of casting the damn thing out of metal; It would just need to fire once.”
“It would need to be at point blank range, if only we can find a way to make gunpowder. We need sulfur.” Jason pointed out.
“What about the coal, you always hear about ‘high sulfur’ coal, why can’t we extract the sulfur?” Thom questioned.
“We are getting there. Scott has been playing with my acid, reducing this and that.”
“He’s just fiddling around” Thom accused.
“Still sore about his attitude last night?” Jason asked.
“I did not think he needed to rub it in my face when he choked me out, you did not see me getting all up in Jimmy’s face after I submitted him.”
“Yes you did.” Jason pointed out, “you always do”
“I don’t like to be called boy by anyone. I would just once like to beat him again, he and Wilcox and Schminke win every time we grapple, you can’t even beat Brian and you outweigh him by fifty pounds.”
“They have been doing this for a long time; you win about half the time with the sword.”
“Just like you win half the time with the bow, it is bad enough they get the cool spells, but having them beat me at everything else, and Remund, everybody acts like he is so far above us, could he have his nose any further up Schminke’s ass?”
“I heard Schminke talking to Brian about you.”
“Schminke said he thought you where coming along, ‘Once we get out of this god forsaken valley and down into a city I think Thom can take charge of us, I can fall back to intelligence reporting and we can split into separate specialties.”
“Why would he put me in charge and not Scott? They are best buds from way back.”
“Actually he and Brian were in school from sixth grade on.” Jason noted.
“Brian and Thomas?”
“No Brian and Scott, I was just saying he and Brian have the oldest bond, maybe Thomas is as jealous of Brian as you are of Thomas.”
“What the fuck are you smoking?”
“I am just saying Scott loves us man, and you have never understood that he doesn’t want the leadership role because he could never push us down, he would try to take it all on himself. Thomas… he would rather be somewhere alone with a book, he doesn’t even like us very much. Too him we are interesting… sometimes. I think he likes the feeling of reflecting our various emotions because they almost amount to a sensation of feeling for him. Schminke is cold man, too cold to be a good leader. Make the list yourself, Scott cares too much; Brian is too good at what he does and doesn’t care about anything else. Remund is too selfish, and James needs somebody else to do the thinking when he gets angry. Me, I like to do things too much to sit in the worry seat. You are selfish but not ruled by it, you have passion but can still think around it and even your power makes you the natural choice to lead.”
“Scott is more powerful then me! So is James for that matter, so are you…”
“Exactly, who better to lead then the guy who is not going to be needed on the front line? Of course Scott is more powerful then you, he’s here under his own steam, but he is also crazy enough to end up here under his own steam. The reason Schminke keeps everybody rubbing wins in your face is to give you the one thing you lack.”
“He is trying to teach me humility? Humility is for losers.”
“Humility for a leader is accepting that someone else is better at a task then you are and trusting them to do it. You have been getting a crash course in the competence of your future subordinates.”
“If you are smart enough to figure this out maybe you should have the job.”
“One more lesson for you to remember, lets go hunt.”
“I do not see how being cold makes Schminke less of a leader?”
“Do you think we should fight the chimera?”
“Yes, we need to kill it.”
“If we don’t it might kill us, plus I want the stuff in that lair so bad I can taste it.”
“Exactly, you want it, Schminke does not want anything so badly that he would risk himself, he does not lack personal courage, but he just does not lust like you do. He would just as soon have us work for ten years in Silverymoon to accumulate the power we need coin by coin. It is in his nature work steadily. Your hunger will let you use us harder, make us push ourselves harder, so we will get home sooner.”
“Tired of having power already?”
“I like my family better.”
“I love my family and my wife, but I have to admit I do not hate magic.” Thom said.

Schminke smiled to himself as he stopped listening in on the conversation being carried on in the smithy. Jason sure spotted him palming that ace, maybe he should look at Jason more closely? No… The boy was homesick and if his heart was not on things of this world he could not lead them too power. Still that idea about a cannon had merit, he would have to see if Scott could refine it.
There came to him the sound of scratching at his door.
Curious he grabbed his sword and sent out a spell query, nothing ill disposed towards him. Thomas opened the door and in strolled a beautiful gold pelted black spotted lynx. The creature popped up in his detect thoughts spell and he read its voracious curiosity, its casual fearless indifference to anything but what it wanted, and its keen almost psychic perception of the world around it.
For the next few hours the cat explored his room and head-bumped his legs as he worked over his notes. The night before he had dream-walked with Scott and James into a tavern, a dwarven taproom filled with drinking and song. The night had helped Thomas learn a great deal about pronunciation and informal language usage. It turned out that written dwarven resembled spoken about the way that formal English resembled the conversation in the average locker-room.
Suddenly Schminke’s sign flared within himself and the power of it was imprinted on the cat in a single bright flash. The cat now shared his sign! Of course, the creature was a familiar2! How silly of him to not know what was going on. He sensed the creatures thoughts and mood as if they where his own. The power the lynx had received satisfied the creature enormously. It was filling up with the power of the weave, filling up with Thomas’ awareness and for the first time Thomas met soul to soul with another being.
In that moment with his soul exposed for the first time in his life, it was only natural that it was attacked. A spirit of intense focus and tremendous discipline and lore took that moment to pass into Schminke’s unguarded body.
The violation was like paralysis, instinct led him to struggle and that struggle became the most intense effort of his life. After a time he found himself on a white mat grappling with a short, bearded, powerful foe. It was a match that went on and on with both he and his opponent drawing strength from some outside source. Thomas realized that he was engaged in the fight of his life and he needed to throw in the reserves. The dwarf he was grappling seemed to realize the same; Thomas called his sign to his mind. In an instant the secrets of the art of magic surged to the fore, Thomas became his sign embracing his foe. At that moment a holy symbol previously hidden behind the thick salt and pepper beard seemed to swell into monstrous size. The two collided and something unexpected happened. Instead of canceling out in an orgy of annihilation the signs merged together, joined at intersecting patterns.
Schminke found himself in a bar sitting across from a dwarf with a tankard in front of each of them. In dwarf Schminke said “That was a good match.”
“A match in more ways then one, you share much in common with the keepers of the secrets under the mountains.” The Dwarf replied.
“I am pleased that we have so much common ground.” Thomas said.
The Dwarf rocked back and forth and pounded the table. “You have a twisty mind to make every phrase do double duty, what ale’s you boy…you are not drinking! Cat got your tongue?”
Schminke looked down to see his lynx looking up. The creature winked and then sat down and began to groom its fine fur. “Not my tongue, at least not yet, but it has much of my power.”
“I have watched you and your brothers for months, I cannot say that I liked interlopers in my mine, but as folks go you are better then most. Goblin would have come grasping and defacing; elves would have mocked what they could not understand. Most men would have torn the place apart looking for gold. Even dwarves might have been fast to mine but slow to improve. You and your boys have made lots of improvements, the lights, the tapestries and the furs. For the most part I approve. I am especially happy to see you all grappling and fighting each night. You are like a clan of dwarves with magic spells, I have never seen magic plays or heard music like your bard plays. I must admit that I would not hurt any of you, nor try to possess you now if I did not fear you where in need.”
“We like our comforts and it is not very nice outside.” Thomas said and then added “So you and I have a problem, I assume this is dream thing.”
“I am not technically dead.” The dwarf said as he quaffed a flagon, and smacked his lips, “Damn son! You know some good brews…” The dwarf smacked his lips. “I am using your memories of pleasure to craft this place.”
A man with a guitar took the stage and began to play “I wish I was Back Home in Derry” and the dwarf priest was weeping openly when it ended. The imaginary bard went right into “The Rising of the Moon” and soon had the tipsy dwarf shouting and pounding the table.
“Surely your clans have had hard times, your chieftain blood sings loud in your dreams.” The dwarf complimented.
“You were saying how you are not dead.”
“Indeed, my body is petrified and decorating the lair of the sleeping beast.”
“I sympathize, if my friends get their way we will slay and pillage the beast, I can move you back to the main chamber as coat rack.”
“Or you can restore me to flesh and the three petrified youngsters that the creature petrified last fall.”
“Let us say that I might do that if the price is right.”
“I must confess that I intended to use my powers to geas you into serving me. Instead I find myself negotiating over fine room temperature Guinness.”
“In English no less.”
“Your mind, your language, so what do you want for my life?”
“You are called a ‘Secret Keeper’ right?”
“Among other things as a priest of Dumathoin, yes”
“Well then I need information, the better for me the better for you because I sure as hell am not going to tell you we can take this thing and go off to bell the cat. You give me all you got that could help me and I will use it to beat the monster.”
“I will give you anything but the location of our crypt in the valley. You have not found my private notes on the valley.”
“Mineral deposits? Surveys?”
“What are you looking for?”
“Sulfur, potassium nitrate, methane, and tin would be good places to start, also anything to teach us the finer points of rune usage.”
“You are in luck I have five books in a concealed cache that will teach you all that and more. Local history and customs, clan genealogies, special characters and their meanings, I will even leave you my decryption key in your mind and fill in the gaps of you comprehension of dwarven and common. I will also give you the name of my good friend in Silverymoon, a gnome, but a decent fellow anyway who follows the faith of Gond the Wonder-bringer, I think he would love to meet you and learn about infernal combustion engines.”
“You have topographical maps?”
“Better then yours but your designs are not too bad.”
“Stop buttering my bread, okay my men want to do the chimera anyway, I will commit to finding your petrified form and those of your clansmen and either bringing them down to be restored or bringing restoration to them. Tell me where I get the information.
The dwarf sighed and signaled the girl for another tankard, the bard sang “O’ Danny Boy” and then the dwarf opened himself up.

The others found Schminke cold and blue at his desk with a hissing lynx guarding him, he sat up abruptly and wiped the drool from his mouth and started shivering. Then he stood up and made a pair of lines, one from the top of the fireplace, the other from the corner of the desk. He pressed the wall and an invisible trap door in the floor opened revealing a staircase to a secret ten foot cube space. Thomas and the others found books, jars of herbal extracts, maps and a shelf with bars of gold, a tray of uncut gemstones with little pins and labels. There was also a chest of fine clothing for special occasions.
Scott looked at things and said “So you communed with the dead, found a familiar and a geological survey of the valley including a hot spring and a sulfur deposit all while sitting at your desk.”
“I would rather be lucky then good.”

Thom felt it before he saw it. He knew immediately that it was his friend the fox from the valley below. All afternoon as he and Jason made the long trek to the forest and down to the lake and back. They where lucky enough to jump a hare on the way back and Jason took it in a single shot from his bow. The fox sniffed curiously at the carcass and then looked accusingly at Thom as if to ask why his arrow had not done the deed. Thom looked around for something to shoot to impress the beast. The beast darted ahead and on the way back Thom felt a tingle of anticipation. The fox leaped out at a shrub as Thom and Jason passed near, forcing three grouse that would have lain low to reveal themselves. This time it was Thom who lashed out with a color spray that brought two of them down. The fox fetched them to Thom prancing with pride. Thom broke the bird’s necks and let the fox sniff his hand. Suddenly he felt a flash of heat as his magical sigil surged and the flash was like lightning jumping from himself to the fox. The creature became sleeker, its awareness soared and the sigil became the soul of the fox. Jason held Thom’s elbow to steady him and looked at him curiously.
“I thought you might be making a friend, so that is what finding a familiar is like.” Jason mused.
“I don’t think that is the preferred method but it will do.” Thom noted.
The two made their way up the slope to the hidden path that turned into the long ledge trail.
When they walked through Thom’s rune enhanced illusion at the entryway. They could hear the laughing coming from the great hall. Scott was setting three loaves on the table while James poured hot drinks to go with the stew. Once they had their mugs full and stew on a big chunk of bread they tossed the game on the board. Thom’s fox was soon sniffing at Thomas’ lynx and vice-versa.
Thomas said “I have decided that we will confront this beast, I want to have cannon, one sure shot, and one rune enhanced solid gold cannon ball to start the fight. I also want the rest of you who have not found a familiar yet to make an effort to do so.
“You make that sound easy.” Scott noted.
“I suspect that they are looking for us.” Brian replied “I have this owl that has been following me for a week.”
“The rest of us need to get out more.” James said.
The dinner was cleared away and the group started the project design on the tree cannon. They would need to collect and fine grind and blend the ingredients for black powder, they needed to bore out the tube and reinforce the tree with iron straps and runes. They would mount it on the rails and fire it with a true strike.
Derek said “If we go with a gold cannon ball, I have a cool rune sequence that I can size and space to be continuous, but also to overlap with an intersecting sequence, I can make it into three rings of runes that overlap and reinforce each other, empowering, enlarging and extending the spells on the ball.”
“You need boundary runes to enlarge a spell.” Scott pointed out.
“Picture the six intersection points on the sphere, they are in a perfect cube, it really is an ideal situation if I can get the spacing right.”
Jason wanted to know “What is the external source of spell power to empower it?”
“The concussion of the blast, we make the ball a magic weapon, James puts his magic missile spell into the ball, pure concussion, the ball fires and the spell expands to fill the entire sphere, we get an order of magnitude out of the spell plus what the ball can do. If we all pile on at that point I think we have a good chance of beating the creature.”
Thom said “So we want to fight it here?” That invites a great deal of damage, why not fight it at our old base? We hide the cannon there and wait for the attack.”
“How do we bait it? Here the lure of gold will bring it.” Thomas asked.
“Stream’s dream walking, you think that our old nest was a node that improved dreaming, well so does the unicorn head, if we attack it in its lair in some manner while we are dreaming from the node, it will recognize the locale and come for us to avenge itself.” Thom finished triumphantly.
“Sounds like a workable plan. Keep me posted on all phases.” Thomas said.

Derek had a problem. He had to put his money where his mouth was. He enjoyed being the recognized genius in a group of bright and even brilliant men. However as Scott had shown him laughingly, being brilliant and even right does not mean you are not wasting time. Scott had spent a week trying to extract the traces of mithril from the silver that James had mined. He had dissolved silver and extracted a trace of material that would not dissolve, a white metal, one penny sized piece for a week of work.
Derek had that piece sitting on his table along with the PDA, his laptop, a trio of IPods and four cell phones. He was staring at the mess trying to figure out how to program his computer to sort the runes for him, with the notion of familiars in his mind. Suddenly his computers behavior when enchanted clicked into place for him. The moments of genius that justified his reputation where worth the lulls when he was terrified that it would never happen again.
For the next three days Derek checked his runes and etched a sheet of copper with precise markings, linking runes at six critical points where Derek placed the IPods and cell phones inside scribed circles, his laptop in the center and the PDA plugged into the laptop. At the core of his computer he placed the mithril, now shaped into a ring of metal around the connection. With a sigh at the unscientific leap he was about to take, Derek made sure he had the spells he needed, time to see what he could do.
He placed his magic power into the ring and slid it over the power cable wire. Then he laid a second enchantment on the battery and finally each of the six peripheral artifacts and the PDA. Each of the devices had runes scratched into their surfaces, enough to prolong the spell for several minutes. The great ring would extend that and the core ring would have its power enlarged and extended throughout the net. Now Derek thought, if this computer becomes animate as it always seemed to for the minute or four that his magic item spell lasted, he might have enough time to make the whole network into his familiar.
From the description that his friends had made of the circumstances leading up to the bonding, he new that they were in a weird state of affection and empathy and that they had felt the triggering of their signs and a kind of acceptance from the creatures involved. Derek let his fingers rest on the keyboard and turned the machine on. In an instant he felt it eagerly respond to him with all the friendliness inherent in a Mac. He also felt the deep love he had for this tool, the ultimate expression of human achievement. He consciously called on his sign and let it snatch his awareness, willed it to impress itself on the computer. The machine and its peripherals where overheating and over loaded suddenly. Derek used his highest level spell slots to protect the system and repair it; the rune network grabbed the new spells and used them to reshape the computer network around the sign. Suddenly Derek felt the moment stretch. His clock-speed raced to match that of the computer and feedback magic made the interface possible.
The twenty minutes that his runes extended the interface became an experience of subjective centuries. After Derek and the computer began to interface they both realized the subjective time problem and solved it by using the spells that Derek was now recovering every second to map his intellect and memories and freeze the copy to protect it. His sanity thus locked away, Derek swiftly taught the computer the rune magic and together they mapped the magic shaping runes into the bodies and circuits of the electronics. They did a thousand design and redesigns of the components, making the processing tighter and the hardware sleeker and more durable, then they enacted the redesign and as the capabilities of the machines increased they began the process over, putting in thousands of man hours. The copper of the table and the other metals nearby became part of the new designs, years worth of magic spell casting shaped them. Magic hinted at greater transformative possibilities, but the sign was limited in the amount of power it could pull down, so the transformation had to take place a cubic centimeter at a time. However the CPU and rune core that they created together would remain upgradeable. The keyboard and the phones and the PDA became gauntlets of integrated electronics. The computer screen became a two dimensional expandable and collapsible plane of force that could fold itself into virtually any shape, and the connections between the artifacts became wireless interfaces. Derek’s Eyes of Minute Seeing became the computers visual interface and the source of the screen while his familiar bond would act as his own wireless connection. It took years to hammer out the fine details, making the network self repairing, making the objects self powering, getting the color right. Then Derek turned on himself with the powerful tools of rune magic his processor gave him.
He made a detailed map of himself over the next twenty subjective years, and began to sort through what all the various bits represented. Once he had the DNA code broken down he spent a few decades running simulations, fiddling with possibilities, and finding errors. A century later he optimized his own DNA, then as an afterthought placed a viral-nanite package in each of the gloves that would do the same to his fellows. Unnatural Taurus shaped loops would replace unstable helix shapes and designer mitochondria would replace the haphazard evolved version. Dormant regenerative potentials would draw on innate magic to activate and aging would be reversed or halted.
His avatar wanted mobility, so copper and glass and plastic became a small winged dragon of bright burnished copper hue. Over the last century of the spell Derek and the Dragon codified in rune form the laws of physics and the structure of space-time; they poured the wisdom of centuries of experience into the analogue mind of the dragon avatar and left the precise digital control and dexterity it would need to craft fine runes with accuracy and precision. Then they mapped as much information into Derek’s organic brain to guide his unconscious mind in developing his power and awareness as they could safely fit. Unfortunately the interface had long since realized that it could not survive as an entity, this bond was a one time development. So after a final effort to make its artifacts as sturdy as possible and to make the meat department as healthy as possible the rune interface entity let itself dissolve and downloaded the backup copy of Derek into himself.
Derek opened his eyes to a world of color. Since he was born color blind that shock alone was enough to befuddle him. Black gauntlets decorated his hands and a screen hovered in front of him. On the table was a copper egg.
The egg cracked like a chime ringing and from inside came a perfectly formed dragon that yawned in his face and blinked inquisitively at him. Then they both noticed the goggles on the table below the screen. Sleeker and more comfortable then before, as soon as Derek put them on, he could see their function menu: They were the source of the projected screen, they could give him a private view of the screen contents when worn and they had night vision and magnification optic modes.
Experimentally Derek began to gesture in what he knew to be American sign language which he had studied briefly but never learned, suddenly he not only knew it but he found that he could code as fast as he could sign at the hovering screen. He also could touch type, manipulate the screen with contact and activate functions by pointing. He found all his movies where still on file as well, displayed by incredible graphics and problem solving software. So where was the processor?
When he typed the question the screen filled with a mosaic of information showing a static cross-section of the little dragon. Derek sensed a wave of indignation from his familiar as it looked a dissected version of itself.
It hissed and the screen now read “How rude!”
“You can talk?”
“I can type, you can read, but I cannot talk until, according to the rules in my gizzard, you reach fifth level, just my luck.”
Derek figured the dragon could hear and therefore it could act as a vocal interface. “Collapse screen” he ordered.
The screen collapsed into the goggles and Derek picked them up. He was amused as the dragon gobbled down its egg and flew to his wrist. Surprisingly heavy Remund mused as the creature scampered to his shoulder, it felt like a heavy handgun. Derek considered it for a moment, “What is your name?” The creature scratched the letters GLOCK, and Derek had to chuckle.
As he stood up he felt kind of unsteady, he was covered in sweat and his hair was matted. He gave himself a sponge bath and made a mental note to hit the copper tub tonight; since he had gauntlets of communication for everyone he probably rated a hot bath tonight. Glock rode on his shoulder and he went to see the Captain to deliver some gloves and tell him that something had happened; he just was not sure what.
Chapter 12

“So Glock ate my PDA.” Schminke stated to clarify a point in Derek’s story.
“I think so. I do not remember much.”
“I had a lot of stuff in that thing.”
“I was able to access anything that was in any of the devices.”
“Hey these gloves are tacky on the inside.” Jason chimed in.
“Mine too.” Scott called out, “What is it? Some sort of electrolytic gel for a better connection?”
“You beat off in my gloves man, didn’t you?” James accused.
“Even I could not have gotten to all twelve in a day.” Derek said with a smile.
The group was meeting around the matt and quaffing a few to get ready for movie night. They had tried on the gloves and made them work, a tiny image of the person desired and their situation appeared over the glove if the wearer wanted to talk to them. Unless of course the glove was in privacy black-out. All in all it was a fair trade, they could still play music and they were very comfortable.
The party never got going though. One by one the group went down with fever and chills, Derek ended up carrying them to their rooms and spending the next ten hours going room to room tending thrashing madmen. They literally had to be restrained in some cases. They all showed bloody stool and urine the next day, but after that they where in remarkable spirits. The oldest members of the group looked much younger, and the younger members seemed more focused. James had to be knocked out repeatedly as he trashed, his violent magic was far too dangerous to risk, yet he was lucid, even eloquent when his fever dropped.
Derek uncovered the nano-machines in their stool samples with his magic goggles and apologized, but Schminke only shook his head. “I have not felt this good in years if ever. My skin is not trying to rot off my flesh and my legs feel great.”
“It was like dragon blood.” Thom said “Infecting us with strength and power.”
Brain walked by on his hands and did a spring to his feet. “I feel pretty good, light and quick.”
They all had noticed that Derek seemed taller and leaner as well. Yet they did not speak of it, some power had come to them before zero hour and they did not want to break a streak of luck. Brian’s teeth had turned white as snow and James had twice the cock he had started with, fatty tumors in old injuries had vanished. In every way they seemed to still be relatively the same, but the change wrought had taken them to a higher then human pitch.3

Over the next week Jason, Thom and Derek made rune devices. These where not devices that would be magic forever, they where designed to extend magic beyond its normal scope. It was just a matter of making the bracers, rings and blades, then the dragon could mark them with the desired rune in machine tool time and precision. Rings to extend mage armor, swords that would remain enchanted for four times as long, rings that extended the enlarge spell. The group would be well protected. Derek added arm cuffs of steel to stop heat with resistance for two days at a time, or to extend the endure elements to six days. It freed them all to do more when they could all go out without worrying over much about the cold.
In the meantime Scott and James and Brian located and transported a great tree trunk for the barrel of their cannon. James provided enough gold for a cannon ball and the three tracked down the mineral deposits they wanted and began to make black powder, slowly grinding the stuff fine and carefully working with it and testing it. They bound the barrel in rune marked iron straps and they redesigned the trap at the door to be more lethal.
After ten days of work they moved the cannon into position and left it in the cave. For the entire next day it was watched by a white owl, a lynx and fox while the group rested, stretched and made last minute preparations. At midnight they moved to the old camp and enchanted their bands and rings, Jason gave each of them mage armor, and Derek laid fire resistance on the rings. Then at four in the morning Scott and Derek did the swords and armor. James took up his hammer and Scott enchanted it, inside the old lair they went into a trance as a group and dream-walked to the lair of the chimera.

“Quickly” Schminke ordered “search the chamber to see if this beast has anything worth taking.”
The group fanned out and began to count coins and examine potions for the few minutes it took to disturb the heads of the beast. When it was fully awakened the seven men retreated back to consciousness as one.
Schminke and Scott went into action immediately, casting all their enlarge and
truestrike spells in the moments that followed using higher spell slots when they ran out of lower. They heard the chimera arrive and trip Schminke’s alarms before the third spell was cast. Brian, Jason and James who were already prepared pushed the cannon into the entryway, Scott and Thomas kept casting, doing each other last. James cast the magic missile that charged the cannon on a golden rune on the outside of the barrel and let his truestrike spell tell him when to light the powder.
The chimera had no fear of the little foes he faced. The magic he felt was minor, and his unfailing dragon senses told him that the male humans where not even wearing metal armor. It came into the clearing out front and sniffed around with all three heads. Its dragon head lead into the hole and just to be sure, it prepared to cut loose with a breath weapon at the door. It positioned itself and James sent five pounds of enchanted gold into its face.
The combination of magic and rune structure changed the cannon ball from gold into a golden fog of enchanted force, so the impact was not like a blow from a cannon ball, it was more like the shockwave of a sonic boom focused into a three inch area. From the point of impact in the chest of the beast it spread in a cone shaped shockwave through the wings and the tail. The kinetic energy drove the creature back twenty yards. The massive rear hoofs and the more delicate fore hooves left cleft trails in the frozen earth.
The group charged into the open while the three heads held an internal debate about what to do. The men came forth enlarged to ten feet tall so they had to pass one by one into the open, luckily the cannon had functioned as planned and the blast had cleared the entryway by rolling the cannon back into the chamber. Jason led the way and broke right, followed by Thom who went left, then alternating and moving full out came Brian, Scott, Thomas, James, and Derek.
Days of drill had prepared them to coordinate this rush, but the drills had also rendered the moment an abstraction. The body however responded to training even when the mind was not past its disbelief.
Defaulting to its instincts the head of the gorgon blasted a cloud gas even as the dragon head blasted the charging group with fire. Here the party enjoyed a stroke of luck. The dragon fire consumed the gorgon’s first blast and the group only had to deal with fire. That hardly seemed to be a bonus. The surge of heat was the most intense pain any of the men had felt. Even with the elemental protection the flame was a living wall of pain that burned away hair and blistered skin in the seconds that they passed through it. James lost his beard. Schminke lost his hair and eyebrows and lashes even though he was in the blast shadow Scott cast. The men fought the pain and lived, had they been their regular size the story would have ended as they where all consumed despite the magic shield struggling to stop the flames.
Like the beast they faced, the men where mad with pain and rage and fear. More like the beast then most men, this group responded to fear with swift violence rather then paralysis or flight. The truestrike spells guided their half blinded attacks with uncanny precision. Schminke buried his blade deep under a wing, Scott and Derek only managed superficial wounds but the rest struck deeply with their new enchanted steel swords.
The creature was badly torn and desperate suddenly. It had not been so deeply wounded in a long lifetime. Its heads lashed out with its unicorn horn missing James, but its sweeping gorgon horns caught Schminke and tossed him high tearing flesh as it went. Its rear legs lashed out and crushed Stead while its tail lashed futilely at Brian who darted away. It was frightened by the size of the men, who smelled like men but were the size of hill giants! It was time to make an escape and use the magic it had stored in its lair to heal itself. Then it would sort these creatures out. It had awakened to the sense of a presence in its chamber and to its dragon eyes the scrying of minor wizards had been as obvious as the gold of its bed. Its unicorn head had known the scrying place in its time long before, and had brought them to the spot in an instant. Now it would take the chimera back.
It was gathering itself to teleport and James did what he was coached to do, he lashed out with a rune enhanced shatter spell on a dwarf hammer. Even without any precognitive magic to guide the blow it shattered the ivory horn of the unicorn. Not only could the creature no longer teleport, its self healing ability disappeared in a blinding flash of pain.
Scott increased his strength to a monstrous level with a spell, frustrated by his first ineffectual attack, the plan had been for all of them to be covered with it, but the beast had arrived too soon. This sword thrust stuck home for him. The rest of the party lashed at the creature with all they had but it was plated with metal and dragon scale. Jason’s blade bounced off the gorgon head but beside him Brian darted back in and drove his blade into the gorgon eye.
Maddened with pain and loss the gorgon head blew out a great gout of smoke and steam. Brian rolled away and kept rolling away as the thick mist rushed out but Jason was covered and his body arched and stiffened in the agony of petrification. Schminke was also covered in the mist but he managed to roll free before it could penetrate his magic to change his flesh.
The creature swung its dragon head around and sent a desperate second wave of flame at James Derek and Scott, but it was not the full throated blast that the first one had been and the protective spell Derek had laid on their rings held the flame at bay.
Even so, flesh already burned once screamed just as loud at the heat of the second blast. Derek lashed out through the fire and bounced a sword stroke off the dragon nose. James missed the beast altogether in the flames, but Scott lunged with muscles expanded to the strength of steel cable and drove the enchanted blade to the hilt in the creatures ribs, the tip of the enlarged blade pierced the heart.
The chimera’s dragon head had a moment to realize its fate, it spoke as its blood frothed on its lips and burned into a foul exhalation “May unknown enemies gather while you sleep and strike you down without hesitation or conscience…”
Brian drove his sword through the top of the dragon nose and pinned it to frozen ground “Shut up and die you!” He shouted. Then he watched clinically as the creature flapped and thrashed itself into death.
Scott dragged Thom clear while Derek checked Schminke. Thom was suffering from broken legs and ribs as well as second degree burns over much of his body. Schminke had a deep hole in his buttock and a lacerated calf. The only good thing was that he was not badly burned.
Jason however was a ten foot tall statue of himself screaming in mortal anguish. Brian looked him over with clinical detachment. He said “My god what are we going to do with this thing, it is too big for the mine and too tasteless to leave lying around.”
James said “Not to mention too damn heavy to move with anything short of a crane.”
“Will he shrink when our enlarge spells expire?”
Scott shook his head and replied “I think it will stay enlarged. It was created by a much more powerful magic then mine.
“This is bad news.” Jimmy said “Not only can we not move it; we cannot abandon it to find a cure.”
“This needs some thought. Brian can you put the wounded to sleep, Jimmy we need a fire, Derek what do you think?”
“We need to get down country and buy magic to get Jason healthy.”
“You are talking about three of us going and one staying back to nurse the wounded, three guys cannot carry enough gold to buy a device we can use, not if they hump food and gear as well, even if it is you, James and I, we need an outside the box solution.
The wounded were settled down and the rest got as comfortable as they could. Scott’s heart was still racing as was Brian’s. James was eating the tail of a sandwich and Derek was wearing his goggles and talking to his dragon. Scott and Brian fetched wood and watched the carcass and statue. Suddenly Scott rushed in to ask Derek a question.
“Can your dragon run through its information about Longsaddle and a wizard family named Harpell and in particular a Wizard named Harkel.”
Derek spoke a few words of common to Glock and then replied “Not much, Harpell is the name of a family of wizards, Harkel is not mentioned at all.”
“He is the wizard most associated with Mithril Hall and the family of research wizards that are both unworldly and curious to the point of suicide. Harkel is a powerful research wizard. He would love to get his hands on the carcass of this beast for all the magical components, especially that horn if we can find all the pieces and mend it.”
“James, go pick up all the pieces of horn you broke.” Derek said.
“Great.” Jimmy noted.
“Given the name Harkel Harpell, can your dragon scribe me some runes to help me message him and dream-walk to him?”
“I hear and I obey.” Derek said, and then he began to talk with his dragon. Shortly he and the beast went outside to gather material.
Derek came back with six hexagonal rune marked blocks of ice. “The pool here facilitates dream walking so I rune marked ice and protected it from elements.” He arranged the six in a hexagon around Scott who was settled in the lotus position. The dragon flew down and moved two of the hexagons critically. “That should help as much as I can on short notice, oh here hold this one.”
Scott took the seventh and then sent his message spell in a second level slot. “Harkel Harpell, meet me on the plane of dreams to discuss an exchange of valuables”

Scott was asleep, dreaming while holding a stick of oak with Harkel Harpell’s name on it. He let the stick, which was in his dreaming hand as well as his real hand, tug him along and he found himself in a copse of evergreen trees in a wide valley. Harkel was there already looking at a shrub.
“Greetings Harkel Harpell, I am Scott Stream a sorcerer who, with my friends in the nearby mountains has come into possession of a carcass of a chimera of great uniqueness, its heads includes that of a red dragon, a unicorn and a gorgon. Can we interest you in a trade for the remains?”
“You slew the chimera of Shilearein Vale? I would dearly love to see it! What would you want for it, mind I am not rich but I have some friends who owe me a favor or two…”
“As one so bright must suspect we have need of a wand of stone-to-flesh and perhaps some burn salve would not be amiss.”
“My nephew has one I could persuade him to part with I am sure, how do I find you?”
“You know the vale?”
“I know of it but I have never been there,”
Scott manifested his gloves of communication and held his palm up. Above his hand an image of the grove appeared and Harkel concentrated on it. “This is where you need to come; I look forward to meeting you in the real world.”
“You know some swear that there is nothing worthwhile about dreams, yet you seem to have made yourself adept at traveling with them, I like to mess about with them myself but I wonder who trained you to emphasize them.”
“Just my predilection” Scott replied mysteriously.
“I will be there soon!”

Scott awoke in the dark. He was happy to find that his blisters where much improved and the wounded were breathing easy. James was guarding him with a hammer in one hand and in the other a flame burned on a coin he was rolling across his fingers and flipping in the air.
“That is disconcerting.” Scott noted.
“Pretty cool huh, did you make the deal?”
“I think so, we will see soon.”
“Hello! Is anybody here!”
Thomas’ alarms began to shriek and he sat up and yelped as his ass stabbed him with pain.
Brian came to his feet with a sword in one hand and a spell dancing on his fingertips. Derek’s dragon whirred to life but James just started laughing. Then a voice from outside said, “By Mystra it is cold up here, ah the carcass!”
The group came out of the cave in a rush, Schminke on a crutch again. “Thomas, Brian, James, and Derek, I would like you all to meet Harkel Harpell. He is interested in the remains of our departed foe.” Scott informed.
“This must be your petrified friend.” Harkel said looking over Jason. “I see how you managed to beat it now, you where all enlarged! Remarkable, and this crater in the dragon hide… ah, that golden ball… what incredible rune conservation, who did this work?”
Derek said “That would be me” and his dragon alighted on his shoulder.
“Leather armor serviceable swords, very little magic, yet you must have cast many spells to get this done, can you all possibly be sorcerers?
“That is a secret I do not care to go into.” Schminke replied “so did you bring the wand of stone to flesh.”
“Ah yes Jearl did not want to part with it but I promised him a peek at some spells I have created to help adventurers find out where they should go to find their destiny.”
“Is it fully charged?” Schminke asked.
“Oh no I am afraid not, it has… let me see, eleven charges left.”
Derek’s dragon flew around Harkel’s head and Derek said “Care to do the honors sir, on our friend I mean.”
“Oh certainly, I am an excellent linguist but I do not recognize your accent…”
“We are not from around here.” Jason said.
“Could you try to stay focused?” Schminke said.
“Ah, marro!” Harkel said, whipping out the wand and pointing it at the ten foot tall statue of Jason.”
The statue of Jason shrunk and slumped, Brian caught him with Scott’s help. Jason groaned and said in a dry croak “How long…?”
“Less then a day.” Scott whispered.
“How is that possible?” Then he saw the Harpell and asked “who is the guy in the dress?”
“Speak common Jason.” Scott said “This is Harkel Harpell the famous hero of battle for Mithril Hall; he is here to purchase our carcass.
“Good, one less thing…”
Schminke said “Well that worked fine, we’ll take it…”
“Oh, Thomas right…I almost forgot, I brought these for you and this, I have to admit I checked on your condition before I arrived so I would know what to bring.” He displayed seven jars of salve and three bottles.”
Thomas wanted those bottles very badly, but he did not know what the deal for them was. “So what do you want for the potions?”
“Well, I was going to offer them up for free but I very much would like to study the dynamic of the rune matrix you created on that gold sphere.” He hefted the cannon ball and continued “Its solid isn’t it?”
“Yep, and pretty pure gold, how about the healing for the sphere and some supper in our home?” Schminke offered.
“Sounds fair to me” Harkel said with a broad smile.
The wizard opened a pouch and approached the carcass. It seemed to turn into mist and vanish within. Then he picked up the spiral ivory horn which they had kept separate to prevent any resurrection surprises. He made a gesture over it and sprinkled it with powder. It shrank to the size of a toothpick, which he then tucked into an inner pocket in his silver and white fur trimmed robes.
Schminke and Stead drank the potions with some relief. Scott chose to let his power to shrink them remain secret, but they where healed enough that they did not even need to use their salve. The rest were very glad to get out of their clothes for long enough to treat their skin. Harkel seemed a little shocked by the musculature of the men and the hard calloused hands they displayed. He shook it off and was ready when the group set off at a brisk pace. The three hour walk in the moonlight along the treacherous trail left him as spent as could remember being. The men took it in stride talking and joking with the one called Jason about shirking his duties by sleeping all day. He said that now he knew what some hero named Han Solo felt like. When they entered the mine and hit the great hall Harkel immediately recognized dwarven work, but he also saw the many refinements and improvements that made it by far the most cheerful dwarven hall he had ever visited.
The drink they served was pure fire. The meat and bread were plain but plentiful and the brandy over apples and caramel sugar made him goofy. They carried him to bed when he was too drunk to sing and eat anymore and he slept twelve hours.
When Harkel awoke he found a note saying “Harkel, there is some meat, cheese and fruit on the board, feel free to eat. We should be back in the early afternoon.”
Chapter 13
Into the Lair

The group left at sunrise. Jason was delighted to be able to make the mounts that carried them out of the valley. Derek refreshed the endure elements on those that needed them. The wind swirled around the mountainside carrying with it the moisture that spoke of spring rains to come. When the trail ended, the group took a trio of floating disks up the steep face of the mountain too the entrance of the lair of the chimera.
The lanterns came out and the group looked at the huge spherical chamber that opened up after fifty feet of tunnel. They were inside a giant geode of white, amethyst and pink quartz, the room was a vast semi precious stone. It gave back a thousand disorienting glitters from the walls in an array of colors. The shape of the floor made traversing the cavern tricky, many of the crystals where as tall as a man’s waist. Like all quartz the debris on the floor was full of sharp edges. With the tricky lighting and uncertain footing it took nearly an hour to find the break into the chamber below. It was Jason who realized that an optical shadow was really a descending hole with its bottom full of gem shards.
The group started down the hole with Derek in the lead, his dragon scouting ahead. The fox nosed around while the lynx and the snowy owl remained in shelter outside the cave.
James left a continual flame at the tip of a tall crystal of amethyst to keep the chamber lit if they needed to beat a hasty retreat. Derek found the path ahead to be treacherous, his progress was slow and deliberate as they passed into narrow passage of white smooth stone. The passage opened into a massive smooth cave of calcified stone. The party entered and multiple light sources washed the room out giving it a pearly opalescent glow.
Schminke said “I am beginning to see what Gimli meant when he spoke of the wonders of the glittering caves beneath Helm’s Deep. These two caves have been extraordinarily beautiful and we have not even reached the lair yet.”
“Put in a pool and bring in a couple of coeds and it would be an awesome party pad.” Thom noted.
“Note to self, bring coeds next time…” Scott commented.
Suddenly from a low spot in the floor across the cavern a clutch of stone tentacles as thick as a man’s arm erupted. The group had warning because the scouting dragon had triggered the attack prematurely, then swiftly flown clear. The stone tentacles where still out of reach of the party.
“Stand clear.” Schminke called, and pointed the wand of stone to flesh at the clutches of tentacles. “Marro!”
The writhing attack changed as the Schminke triggered a second charge from the powerful wand. Instead of stone the tentacles now were made of ropey and vulnerable flesh.
Jason encased himself in armor and Scott swelled to giant size, Jimmy drew his axe and charged.
The tentacles made it easy, counting on invulnerability the dozen lurched forward without adjusting tactics, the group hacked enthusiastically at the now vulnerable arms and every blow sheared threw a tentacle. In two minutes the group had pounded and slashed the trap all the way back to the clutches where they emerged from the rock. Once exposed a pair of eyes, each at the center of a clutch of six tentacles, became vulnerable to arrows from Brian, Thom and Jason. It was soon over, with sagging eye sacks weeping black ichor down the wall amid stumps of tentacles.
A crack between the two monsters proved to be the final entrance into the lair of the chimera.
The group looked at a dragon heaped treasure trove inside another pearly chamber, this one with a blackened alcove in the back. A white pool of milky water with a small dark opening peeking above the surface led into the wall behind the pool on the left. The nest was near the entrance off to the right amidst a circle of smoothed stalagmites.
Scott said “Look at that!”
Jimmy leaped forward and seized a brick of solid gold of which dozens lay scattered in the coin pile and started laughing.
Schminke looked around and found the statues in short order. Three were dwarves, including one he recognized as his friend the secret keeper. There was also a pair of humans, one a warrior in plate and chain with his helmet down and great shield up and his sword trust out before him. Thomas looked him over then he went on to the second, a curvy giant of a woman with chain mail and an axe in hand. Clearly she was a barbarian in her fur clad boots with six and a half feet of muscle. “Check out ubber-frau, I think I am in love…” Schminke said.
“Look at those thighs, like marble.” Scott said with a chuckle.
“We should take her with us and pimp her to the WNBA” Derek said in awe.
James was counting gold and turned up a wand and some potions which he set aside. Then he plopped a crown on his head with six great pale blue stones set in a weave of gold. With a smile he cast a trio of eternal flames into three of the gems and the sent blue light in all directions from his brow.
The party made a careful search and after a time sorted out a number of spell scrolls. Three potions and a long sword with a wand rounded out the magical treasures of the horde but Schminke also detected the glow of magic coming from the cave entrance beyond the pool.
Derek sent the copper dragon and shortly it returned, “Glock says the magic is radiating from the ore around a tube with a trickle of water flowing down it.”
“Ferenze” Scott answered “Underdark radiation that makes magic unreliable but imbues weapons and items with power in the Underdark.”
There were a circle of nods with Derek saying “Radioactive ore? That is more then interesting and seems unlikely as all hell, look at this, gold, plutonium, and a dozen other mineral all within a few miles.”
“Planetary formation for the Earth took billions of years; we can’t help but assume that this world was made in a fraction of that time. If it has the same mix of ores that the Earth has with a more even distribution it would make radioactive elements much more common. Maybe common enough to be the source of magical radiation in the Underdark and to make the ecology underground function with radioactivity as a source of energy.”
“What keeps everything from dying from radiation poisoning? It should kill things.” Jason pointed out.
“Magic, the weave of magic must be able to incorporate that energy and turn it if it is not too concentrated. A lethal energy becomes the source of its own cure.” Scott speculated.
“If the weave can absorb the gamma and neutron radiation then it is collecting a big chunk of power from the Underdark. Maybe the weave started as a byproduct of the radioactivity of the material of the world itself, it also acts in place of a geo-reactor to block solar wind with a ‘weave of magic’ instead of a coherent magnetic field.” Derek mused.
“This is all interesting but can we go down that tunnel safely or not.” Schminke wanted to know.
“No way, my dragon bugged out because the radiation was hot enough to confuse and upset him. It is too intense for the weave absorb.”
“Are we in danger here?” James said.
“No, Glock is better then a canary for radiation.” Derek said.
“Then let’s get on with the job before Harkel steals the spoons.” Thom suggested.
Schminke nodded and pointed the wand at the Dwarven priest. The silvery radiance played across the surface of the dwarf, in a few heartbeats the dwarf let out a groan and slumped to one knee.
“Sure’un it took you long enough you bald piece of wreckage.” He groaned out. Then he muttered a prayer that sent a shimmer of gold across his form. “That is better, stings a bit to be turned to stone.”
“Amen” agreed Jason with a smile.
“Look at all the pretties.” The dwarf said with a greedy twinkle in his eye.
“And in gratitude for us saving you and your friends here you are happy to leave the treasure for us.” Schminke said.
“Happy?” The Dwarf growled.
“Before I zap your friends back to I want your word on our bargain, I will not have a bunch of dwarf warriors and strange men to jump me for the good deed of restoring them to flesh and bone.”
“The humans be no friend to me, but aye, I offer you my parole and ask your pardon, it is neighborly of yea to help a fellow what could not help himself.”
“And it was courteous of you to not take one of us for a body when you were free too. So it is my intention to see you and yours get a share of the treasure, I just want it clear that I do not give a damn how old and powerful you may be, you owe us and that is the basis of our relationship.”
“Debts get paid.” The dwarf said soberly.
“Make sure your boys know it when we bring them out, you are responsible for them.” Stead added.
“We are all going to be friends, what is your name stranger?” James asked.
“Dalton of Dumathoin and yonder are my nephews Clayton and Coalson the giant lass I do not know but the big hero, he must be the Orlean the Bold who was lost in these mountains a century ago when I was still following a trade instead of a god.”
“There are a couple more of your dwarfs in the valley. We can pick them up on the way back.” Brain informed Dalton.
“Yes but only Holf is intact, Ingot is shattered.”
“I think if we can pull together his pieces we can mend him before we restore him to flesh and blood.” Scott said.
“T’would be a mercy to his mother, her Ingot being her favorite, well that’s obvious given the name eh, what shine…”
Schminke pointed the wand twice more at the dwarves and Dalton rushed too them to help them get oriented and ease their shock and fear. Then Thomas stopped in front of the giant warrior woman and sighed. “What can you tell me about these two Dalton?”
“She looks to be of one of the barbarian tribes, maybe the Sky ponies or the Elk but she has taken up arms as a warrior woman and so has made herself outcast. For her to reach such an age without any wee bairns to care for tells the tale of a barren womb or a chieftain’s daughter who could avoid marriage at fourteen as is common with them. If she be barren her husband could cast her off after five winters without a babe.
“Sad, she looks sad around the eyes.” Thomas noted.
“Fucking love at first sight” Jason said.
“She would break me and point at my cock and laugh.” Brian said in awe almost as if he hoped it would happen.
“Just thaw her ass out and let her start talking, she probably laughs like a braying donkey and has the B. O. of an Iraqi ditch digger.” Stead predicted.
“That’s my wife you’re slandering.” Jimmy said.
Schminke sighed and said “Goodbye peace, goodbye tranquility, goodbye sanity… marro!” He played the ray over the barbarian woman, her hair turned blonde her flesh a healthy pink, her eyes became a startling pale blue. Schminke leaped back as she tried to put an axe into him. Brian with that uncanny way he had of quietly doing the exact right thing laid a sleep spell on her that dropped her like a bag of sand from a balcony. He squatted beside her and checked her breathing by watching her breasts at point blank range. Then lifted his leather kilt and dangled his package over her face “Quick, take a picture.”
Scott chuckled and then laughed aloud. Derek waved his dragon over and it captured the image, then he said “I am going to show her that someday when I need to have you murdered.”
Stead looked bored and created an image of the barbarian woman being humped by a donkey. “Take a picture of this, I do not think you can threaten anyone with a picture in a world where illusion is as easy as thought.”
“It is a sad thing when blackmail fails as a tool in the hands of the righteous.” Derek noted.
“Step away from the psycho babe and get ready for the knight in shining armor.” Schminke ordered, “Dalton, get your boys to work packing up the treasure and tell them we will be detecting treasure later and if they have any stashed internally we will be going after it.”
Schminke pointed at the knight who staggered and pitched face forward twitching and clutching at his chest. They rolled him over but the plate mail prevented any CPR, the man was left to his own devices as he thrashed and tried to utter something. Then he died and lay still.
“Well that’s one less thing.” Schminke noted. “His sword is enchanted, so is his armor and shield, get him out of it.”
Dalton chuckled “Now you are talking. So what is down this tunnel, did you search it?”
“Ferenze elements at such a high level of concentration they are lethal.” Scott explained.
“Rune-stone?” The dwarf said incredulously.
“It is known too dwarves?” Schminke asked.
“It is a deep buried secret; the ancient civilizations of the dwarves were built on knowledge of rune craft and rune-stone was one of the key components. We fought long and bitterly to keep our rune-stone mines out of the hands of the dark elves, they covet its raw radiance but never learned rune lore to refine its power into weapons. Still with the lore of elf-kind and demonic allies the dwarves lost all but the most remote access to the rune-stone. Only a few lore masters even know how to safely mine and refine it for blending.”
“But when blended with other properly rune scribed metals you can create magic items that function permanently without powerful spells.” Derek said. “It fits what I have learned of rune lore, an outside energy source or in this case an internal one can feed a rune net.”
“You figured that out?” Dalton asked.
“It was obvious from first principles.” Derek admitted.
The woman awakened while the party was gathering treasure and looked to see that she had not been disarmed. Then she stood up and asked “Who leads here?”
“For now I do.” Schminke said.
“So you are the greatest warrior, did you slay that city man?”
“We do not choose our leaders on just fighting skill and yes I am responsible for his death.” Schminke said quietly. He was poised on the balls of his feet ready to move any way he needed to.
“He wore too much iron, it slows the body even while protecting it.” She said clinically.
“It contributed to his death.” Schminke admitted.
The woman looked them over and looking at each in turn said something cutting “Too pretty, too short, too puny, too skinny…” Her only grunts of approval where for Jason and Thom Stead who could more or less look her in the eye, she said nothing cutting to Thomas either, showing a modicum of respect to a leader. “So I fall in with sweet smelling city men with the power to render me unconscious with a few words, but without the balls to throw me a gang shagging when they have the chance. What, you men like the elf ladies?”
James said “We got gold to sort out, pussy can wait.”
The dwarfs cheered as if James had just pointed to the fundamental secrets of the universe and won a debate. The rest of them laughed aloud, even the woman.
“I am Gwendolyn of Icewind Dale, and I guess I owe you my life commander, a debt I will pay by acting as your shield-maiden.”
“You are a maiden?” Thomas said with frank incredulity.
“A figure of speech” Gwendolyn admitted. “I am a woman who cannot give life so I have been given leave by Tempus to take it.”
“Well, did you know the fellow on the ground there?” Schminke asked.
“Never seen him before.”
“Okay men get it loaded we are gone from here in half an hour.”

The seven sorcerers, five dwarfs and the woman arrived at the mine just past nightfall. The dwarves where too cowed by the restoration and in one case the reassembly of their fellows to complain over much. When the Great Hall was reached they were all much surprised to find that Harkel had cast a number of spells that created what amounted to a heroes feast. The night proceeded from hunger to satiation and sobriety to drunkenness. There were wrestling matches and songs. There was music and a good deal of cavorting about. Beds were found for the entire enlarged group but when Schminke politely refused Gwen’s offer to follow him to his room she pounded on a very drunk Jason’s door. He let her in and for a time there came from inside the noise of more laughter and singing, then a long battle chant to Tempus and lots of pleasurable grunting.
The rest of them determined that whatever trouble might be on the wind could wait until tomorrow. The day had seen them become the formal masters of the valley. Derek sat down with the dragon and pulled on his goggles. He started to check the dragons self diagnostics to see if the radiation had damaged it, but he fell asleep before he got too far.
Scott bossed the dwarves as they cleaned up, speaking conversationally with Harkel. “So the wand we found has a minor healing spell, and two of the potions are healing, and the spell scroll has two healing spells on it, is that typical?”
“I would say it is typical of a creature that intends to return to its lair for healing, I must say, I am amazed that you could handle such a beast, much of the magic you use, in fact all that I have seen is pretty rudimentary.”
“Mages tend to be poor strategist and unfamiliar with many tactics. We are all soldiers first and sorcerers second.”
“I find it hard to believe that the best and brightest minds all have common failing of poor strategy.”
“Since I have been using magic I have been overwhelmed by the sheer potency of spells, good strategy has parsimony at its core, just enough to get the job done right. Yet from the first spells a wizard can cast he or she has powers that are devastating. We have practiced casting spells without components, making spells last longer or use more power, yet I have had to find ways to tone my spells down to levels that make them functional for everyday purposes. Most people get along without magic, yet take his magic away from the average wizard and you have a man more useless then the average peasant child. It is an obscenity.” Scott explained.
“That is why you are all so muscular and focused on weapons? I saw no spellbooks anywhere so you must all be sorcerers, which is astonishing. But for you to find your powers so late in life is also unheard of.”
“Think of us as soldiers that all had a wish granted to become sorcerers.”
“Ah, that makes sense then.” Harkel mused. “So what is next, where will you go now?”
“Silverymoon where else would such as we go…”

Chapter 14
Fights and Rights

Scott was messing around with a pair of new powers that had come to him. One, animate rope was incredibly useful, he had played around with it learning the duration and the amount of rope he could effect, now he was using it to create a standing column that he could climb to reach an extra-dimensional space that he was now trying to figure out how to furnish. Gaining the new powers told him that he would have to watch the others for new abilities as well.
A thump and crash out in the Great Hall told him that something was not right. Since he was the lightest sleeper he decided he had better see what the trouble was.
Outside James was off the mat slamming elbow after elbow into the face of a bare to the waist dwarf. Blood was running down the dwarf’s beard in a steady trickle.
The other three young dwarfs where cheering it on and from the welts and bruises on James the fight had gone back and forth while Scott had been up the rope. The dwarf, Clayton Scott thought, drove a short fast kick into James’ groin eliciting a grunt and causing James to fall back into the wider room. The foul blow galvanized Scott to rush to the stairs and race to the floor. The dwarf charged James with his head down and aimed at the pit of Jimmy’s gut. He obviously expected the man, a head taller the dwarf to have trouble dealing with the attack.
James lowered his arms and his hips, kicked his feet back and caught the dwarf in a hold called ‘the cow catcher’ and drove the dwarf down onto his face. James spun around behind the dwarf and dodged an elbow thrown at his face. He ran his hand between the dwarf’s legs and reached around to grasp it with the other, then he lifted the dwarf on the impromptu rail and tossed him high and back over his shoulder. The dwarf landed on his back with a loud ‘wompf’ and a skull cracking thump.
The dwarf lay still while his fellows goaded him to get up. Scott went to check on Jimmy and could tell he was feeling the pain now that the fight was over. He touched him on the shoulder and James whirled wide eyed and sent a magic missile into his stomach. Scott flew back along the dinner table knocking into lamps along the way. Time and magic had toughened him so that what might have ruptured him when he arrived merely stunned him now.
“Little quick on the trigger there old man.” Scott complained with a cough.
James turned as the dwarves shouted out “He used magic, he must’ve cheated!”
The three on the sideline started to move on Jimmy, one with a crow bar that had been careless left out. Scott surged to his feet and activated his bull strength power as he charged down the table. As James caught the crow bar as it was swinging in, Scott activated a second spell, enlarge.
James cast a spell of his own, one that sent a charge of electric current into the crowbar and blew the dwarf off his feet and up against the cooler door.
Scott took a couple whacks into his legs and knees but ended the brawl by knocking the two remaining dwarf’s heads together with enough force to lay them out.
The dwarf who had been beaten earlier was on his feet and unsteady, he asked “So you could a blasted me at any time we was fightin’ and you kept to fists and arms?”
“Nothing I needed magic for.” James stated.
“Oh the brag o you!” The dwarf shouted and laughed “you can tell the giant there that he can stop eyeing me, I am not a wee mouse or a bit of mutton for him to eat, in fact I need a bucket to sick up in…”
Up on the balcony the fight had drawn a bare breasted Gwendolyn and Jason with a big goofy grin on his face. The barbarian cheered at the conclusion and Jason laughed. The dwarves decided it had been a fine fair fight after all and went looking for some ice for heads and hands. Scott walked James to his room and remembered to ask “Hey what new powers have you felt crawling around inside?”
“I can make a big ball of fire that I can roll about and control and I can freeze an object solid with a touch of my hands.” James said drunkenly. “I am like a super hero.”
Harkel, who had heard the noise as well, called out “That language, what can it be? It sounds so slow and rich…”
“See you in the morning Harkman.” Scott called, ignoring the overly curious wizard as he guided the drunken James into bed. “Sleep well old friend, you have earned it!”
James and Scott were the last to awake in the morning, which was something extraordinary given the hangovers the others nursed. The dwarves had done wonderful things with the leftovers and used a tin of some herb to make a stimulant drink that was a bit like sassafras tea.
The discussion was in full swing as Scott and James returned from dumping chamber pots and dunking their heads in the cold water bucket. Amazingly James showed only faint bruises from the night before, weather it was the magic inside them or the modifications made by Derek’s flu their body’s where certainly healing faster then they ever had before.
Dalton had the floor and was pacing “So Harkel, you have made the nomination to make these fine fellows ‘dwarf-friends’ and ask that I as a priest of the dwarf gods and me boys ratify it. Well I cannot say that they have not done us a fair turn, but there is more to being a dwarf-friend then kindness to dwarves.”
“I speak for James” Announced Clayton. “For the sake of pride and a coin of gold he fought me fair when he could have shriveled me stalk with a point of his finger. Now I ask you what wizard did you ever here tell of would take a poke to the stones and not turn a fellow into pile of tailings?”
“Aye, Aye.” Ingot and Coalson said together.
“Yes the lad has a spark of dwarf fire in him, but what of the others?” Dalton asked. Then he said “Well apart from the leader Thomas, I will speak his part for I have met him will to will and found him worthy.”
“Well if the leader is worthy then the men who fall under him can be seen as dwarf friends and allies.” Harkel pointed out.
“A test, I think a test is in order!” Ingot called.
“Ingot called for a test, so let him pick the challenge.”
“Scott of the Stream and James of Bryant as well as Thomas of Schminke all grappled well enough last night even in their cups, so let it be a test of wrestling.”
Schminke said “Very well, but all those you named are larger by thirty pounds or more then your fellows, let our champion be Brian Wilcox.”
“It would hardly be fair to pit a man of equal weight, though longer of leg against a dwarf in a grappling match.” Dalton pointed out.
Schminke seemed to shimmer and in his place sat a fair copy of a matronly old dwarf woman with an enormous bosom and pleated red dress that scowled, “You tend to your knitting youngster and I’ll tend to mine!”
“It’s your mum Ingot!” Holf cried out. Dalton looked at his cousin’s image sitting across from him and chuckled as Schminke shifted back4.
“Sure’en how can we tell that the fellow is not using tricks just like all of you seems to? He is quite enough to have a scheme or two I warrant.” Dalton asked.
“Harkel can watch for magic in the match. He is a trusted dwarf-friend.” Stead pointed out. Then four more of Stead appeared around the mat area and announced in chorus, “I will be the referee.”5
Harkel cracked up as the various Stead’s wandered around, seemingly busy, some sat, one squatted another went to the stove for more tea. “So much magic with such flare…”
Brian stripped off his shirt and went to the mat barefoot in his leather pants. Ingot stripped to his pants as well and after cracking his gnarled arms and back rushed Brian with a lowered head charge. Brian had noticed this tendency the day before and could not see the point, unless dwarves charged head to head like mountain goats. Still it made his move automatic. A cow catcher would be a safe move but Brian stepped sideways, over-hooked the dwarf’s right arm and swung the dwarf around and over his hip. Then he stepped back and let him crash to the mat flat on his back.
The match proved to be more careful and scientific after that. Brain thwarted probe after probe working classic counters against Ingot’s focused aggression. Finally as his wind began to give out and frustration built the dwarf overcommitted. Brian dragged the arm and got behind the dwarf, when the dwarf spun away Brian picked the ankle smoothly and put Ingot on his face.
Brian waited for the Dwarf to commit to a move, and Ingot rolled sideways, as he did Brian twisted his leg around the dwarfs arm and across his chest and face. Brian arched his back and gripped the dwarf’s wrist straining against the elbow, pushing it to the breaking point. The dwarf was game; he strained and pulled in on the arm. Eventually he broke it free and rolled away.
Brian felt himself losing the hold and scissored his legs to spin to his feet. The dwarf jumped up and swung a haymaker at Brian that he disappeared under, the dwarf was popped into the air and Brian simply stepped out from under him crashing him on his head. Ingot was confused, winded and battered. It seemed to him that he needed a new strategy but he was too befuddled to come up with it. So he fell back on circling and defending.
The dwarves and men were shouting out encouragement, and then suddenly Brian began to move inside pushing, shooting, driving Ingot back. The dwarf lunged forward and Brain caught him in a classic head lock hip toss. In the scramble Brian kept hold of the neck and applied a classic sleeper hold and choked the dwarf as he thrashed about and threw himself over trying to crush Brian. He had only a few seconds and then he collapsed. The crowd went wild and the dwarves looked on in frank incredulity.
“I forgot to tell you that Brian is one of the finest instructors of wrestling in the land we come from.” Schminke said.
“I can believe it, though he looks like that giant woman’s little brother, and beardless at that.” Dalton laughed out.
“We have a few more years then we show.” Scott admitted.
Dalton said “I see here seven dwarf-friends. What say you my boys?”
“Seven dwarf-friends and one woman who could win a friendship of her own if she rolls the bones right…” Coalson offered.
“The bones will be yours half-staff!” Gwendolyn offered.
There followed a ceremony in the chapel that made their friendship to dwarves official. Then the dwarves went with James to look at the mines. The barbarian went with Stead and Jason to hunt, they stopped only long enough to barrow the ring of spell storing from Schminke in case they ran into serious trouble.
Harkel, Scott, Derek and Schminke sat with Dalton around the common table in the great hall and began to negotiate.
Schminke started by saying “Dalton you built a hell of a place here, what I do not understand is why you let a deposit of gold like this sit empty.”
“It was not until last summer that we learned the scope of the deposit and it made us delay and work too late into the Elient nigh onto Highharvest. It was gold that trapped us, slowed us and brought the beast down on us.” Dalton explained.
Harkel nodded and said “So you had the gold to coax a clan migration? Who were you planning to recruit, Battlehammer’s from Mithril Hall or one of the other great holds, Adbar or Felbarr?”
“We planned to use the winter to recruit in Silverymoon among the merchant dwarves come to sell. I have plenty of kin to quietly call too bring up our numbers. The big issue was the beast; no large project was possible without taking it into consideration.”
Schminke said “So now you are both ahead of schedule and behind and engaged in a much more complex operation.”
Scott asked “So too whom does the deed to the gold mine belong?”
“Well it went to our clan until we were brought back, then it came back to us technically.” Dalton stated.
Harkel said “Well, under Dwarf Law the abandoned mine recovered is the property of the clan finding it.”
“But the mine was never abandoned, it was left in good order, it could only be abandoned if all our company was dead and we were not.”
“Is a petrified dwarf dead? The Dwarf Law surely has run into petrification before.” Scott pointed out.
“Tis true there is a standard.”
Harkel quoted “If a petrified dwarf recovers after a petrification reversal without any special healing then he was never dead, but if he requires intervention then he is disenfranchised and his heir inherits, save only that they are responsible for his debts including the cost of his repair.
“Aye, but my lads were steady after…”
“You healed all, including yourself, and we had to rebuild Ingot from gravel.” Derek pointed out.
“T’was a courtesy not a necessity” Dalton argued.
“There is no way for us to know that now; it seems a grey area of the Law.” Scott said.
Harkel shook his head, “The Law is firm, the Dwarves should have been left to recover on their own and otherwise they cannot own anything that was not petrified with them.”
“The lads are kinsmen, I could not risk them.” Dalton admitted.
“Yet you also healed yourself.” Schminke pointed out, “So we know you where all officially dead and therefore this mine was abandoned.”
“It does not matter, tis Dwarf Law not the law between the men and Dwarves.” Dalton pointed out.
“Dwarf Law applies between dwarves and dwarf-friends.” Harkel quietly dropped the keystone into the arch of his argument.
“I am daft, I gave it away, with a hangover no less… buggered for fair Harkel and that is no doubt…”
“So the mine is ours,” Schminke said “I wanted that clear at the start, we reclaimed this one and we won the rune-stone mine by right of conquest and discovery. We so claim under Dwarf Law, we will bind up the ownership rights later.”
“Well if that is all…” Dalton stood up to leave.
“Not at all, I just wanted to set the basis in your mind. We have talked it over and we are willing to split the treasure, all we have gathered, from goblins, giants, manticore and the chimera into thirteen shares. You Dwarves will have more gold then you left with last autumn. I also want to split the mine with you. Your clan will receive nine parts out of ten of the gold from the mine, and we will share the rune-stone with you half and half.” Schminke offered.
“Who will mine the Rune-Stone, only we have the knowledge of how it is done…”
Derek interrupted by manifesting his screen and started scrolling through protective clothing protocols, centrifuges, reduction techniques, containment instruction. It was impressive stuff and the dwarf was suitably chastened.
“As you can see we can help fill in the gaps in your knowledge of how to process and mine the ore, in fact with a layer of gold and some work too make it fit that plate mail we took off of Orlean the Dead can set be made into a mining suit in a few days.” Schminke offered.
“We do not have the crew to run two mines, or one for that matter, what do you suggest we do the work with?” Dalton asked.
“Jason can start with unseen servants loading up floating disks for the next month until we leave, but when we go, we will leave you and three of your boys here and take gold and rune items too your kin, our guide comes back with provisions and whatever support we can bring up hastily, we come back to set up in the valley as soon as we acquire enough wealth to bring it off in style. So stick to using coal, the forest is ours.” Schminke offered.
“More then fair, but I can tell you that even with a hundred dwarves up here we may not hold against what Obould Many Arrows has to throw at us if he wants this vale. Not without your spells to aid us.”
“True enough, but one thing at a time, I think this valley is very defensible but it needs a force of several hundred to set up properly. Just know that with the discovery of the rune-stone your clan will be richer by far then you hoped, rich enough to buy mithril from Mithril Hall and blend it with our ore here to make weapons out of legend. The best smiths will come. You will have a new dwarf hold here in ten years and we will guard the vale.”
“Very well, I am thinking Clayton will be the best guide, he knows the way to the river and can get you south to Mithril Hall. From there he can buy what provisions we need and lead an expedition back. You can proceed to Silverymoon, but before you go we need to build a rune vault to communicate with each other.”
“Before we go we need to do many things. The first of which is draw up papers and some letters of introduction.” Schminke replied, “I certainly want to meet your gnome friend who worships Gond the Wonderbringer, we have much to discuss.”

Jason, Gwendolyn and Thom returned without game and with the tension so thick you could cut it. Scott called Gwendolyn over to where he and James were practicing with swords and Scott said “Gwen, would you care to help our techniques.”
“Indeed.” She replied. While Jason and Thom went off to look over the agreements, the barbarian woman began to instruct the two men from scratch in swordplay. While they had trained themselves to be quick and familiar with the weapons they found her instruction to be both straightforward and effective, Scott especially had longer and longer exchanges without taking a stinging slap from her practice blade. James lost his temper a couple of times and found himself cheerfully grappling the giant woman, once with her astride him pinning him down. “If you can throw me off then I will wrestle you in your bunk tonight…”
James put his soul into the fight then and it was his recent wrestling training that got him the reversal that won him a bed-mate that night. Jason looked surly at dinner and Stead went aside with James and said “You think it’s cool to sleep with her after she and Jason hooked up? It was pretty important to him you know.”
“It’s her ass not his.” James pointed out.
“She hit on me today first.” Stead said “I told her I don’t fuck my buddies over like that.”
“You alone or you and Jason?” Bryant wanted to know.
“I didn’t ask.” Thom said.
“Well I need to ask, I may need some help from Scott and Brian.” James said and went back to sit and listen to the dwarves as they traded ballads with Jason and Schminke.
James joined in on an improbable ballad about a dwarf miner with one solid gold testicle, and Stead actually asked Schminke to step in and make things right “She is trying to tear us apart; she is planning to fuck Jimmy tonight!”
Schminke shrugged “Somebody has to do it, as long as it is not me I am not involved.” Then he paused and said “Her not Jimmy, though I am relieved I do not have to fuck Jimmy as well.”
It was Scott who talked Jason down from a fight with Jimmy, and stayed up late with him drinking. He and Schminke and Jason and the dwarves closed it down that night.

Harkel left in the morning. Before he went he gave each of them an embrace and used his magic to fill three empty kegs and four empty barrels with food and ale. He took his prizes with him and told them that he would send a letter of introduction to Alustriel so she would not be hostile when they arrived.
It was at the end of winter, nearly the month of Ches6and the thaw came suddenly. In the weeks before the departure the men found plenty to keep them busy. The great warrior woman gave lessons freely, in the nuances of swordplay and in the fun of love-play. Scott won his turn on the fourth night, cheating with a cat’s grace spell in a game of swords. He took the opportunity to confide in the woman that Jason was a virgin until the night with her and that Thom was just trying to protect his emotions. The woman, once she actually believed it, was much more attentive to Jason on the days to follow.
It was Jason and Scott who trained with the blade the most, while James, Brian and Thomas took advantage of the chance to train dwarf style. It was remarkable to push so hard, there was nothing sensible about the amount of training they were doing, yet their new metabolism and healing could handle it. Derek worked with diligence at providing the complex and the dwarves and even the ‘wench’ as he liked to refer her, with a full array of rune marked items and wards. With half the Ferenze that Jason mined that month and a large flawless sphere of violet quartz from the geode, they began the project. Derek’s Dragon shaped the material into a hollow sphere with three rune rings then they combined the rune-stone with an electrum blend of gold, silver and copper and poured it into the hollow sphere. Finally they opened and inserted the keystone into the gem sphere and thus made the first of the rune-stone items. This one was simple but essential, it was meant to give power to the entire internal rune web.
Those with familiars now needed to be outside more, taking on the restlessness of their beasts. Even Derek’s artificial dragon enjoyed flying free in the vale as the thaw broke the lake and sent it crashing over the falls. Brain and Thomas both seemed a bit more nocturnal then before, if that was possible. Thom and Thomas both took their familiars out into the rocks and boulders to hunt rodents and to practice with Schminke’s appropriate new cat’s grace power. When Schminke finally gave in to the charms of Gwendolyn he pulled her secret hungers from her mind and used his new disguise spell to take on several personas to make the experience as shocking as she seemed to try to be to them. After that she treated him like a moth treats a candle, coming back over and over but only after the trauma heals. In that way the woman became tamed enough to be trusted.
With what they had been calling the crown of flames, James’ fire enhanced gems in a circlet of gold, they built a gift for Bruenor Battlehammer. They rune-scribed and blended the circlet with rune-stone, then reset the gems along with a rune structure to capture all of Thomas’ detection spells in a free standing spell cycle. The spells remained in effect because they were charged by the crown. The result was a hybrid device that gave one a vast circle of awareness and enemy detection with the power to see into minds thrown in. Schminke thought a king could use such a thing. He found wearing it to be both exhausting and disorienting.
So it was that a party of nine set out one spring morning with considerable gold and a fortune in uncut amethyst and quartz, all loaded onto ghostly horses with rune marked shoes that would double their duration. They rode swiftly in the morning light and passed the goblin vale by noon then descended out of that valley by nightfall. They crossed the river well below the falls and followed the right hand side of it as it curved away to the east and dropped out of the mountains and into the gorge of the river Sur’brin.
It was not until the third day of travel that anything serious was encountered but it was a dozy. The town at the edge of the mountains, a stone walled village called Meeksburg was surrounded by a company of orcs, perhaps two hundred strong. Clayton said the locals numbered perhaps four hundred with a hundred able bodied men to defend the town so the orc numbers were not overwhelming enough to inspire them to charge. The town was near the edge of the lands clamed by Obould Many Arrows and it was likely the surrounding orcs were on their own as their King consolidated holdings in the south.
So theoretically the town could hold out but the siege inside must have been growing stressful, Derek reported that the watch looked starved and hollow-eyed.
Schminke looked over his troop and said “I plan to sleep in the inn inside the walls of that town tonight. I imagine they will rename the whole thing after us once we liberate them. Scott, give us strength, Derek, shield us from arrows then Jason needs to refresh our armor. We make one pass through the camps of the orcs riding, then Scott, Gwendolyn, Clayton and James attack them at their command tower in front of the gate by dismounting and enlarging. I will detect magic as we make the first pass through and the five of us who remain mounted will go after their sorcerer or shaman and chief.
Kill them any way you can and hopefully the townsmen will get the idea and sally forth to break the siege. If not we will move to the town wall and James will prepare us a stair of discs to get to the top of the wall so save some spells Jimmy.”
As the charge began both Stead and Jason became one of four as Thom added to the chaos in his own way with his mirror image spell. Brian scouted with his owl and used its keen vision to spot and play weakness across hidden sentries. Derek’s sword took on an aura of magic and Scott, James and Jason all drew enchanted steel. That first lap was a taste of hell.
James fired his bolts of magic into orcs, explosions of light erupted and all along the path they hacked and swung at the massive orcs, delivering wounds most often, seldom getting a clean kill. Gwendolyn sand a song to Tempus as she raced and Jason caused a great wall of fog to spread out behind them.
Arrows were twisted away by magic and magic and armor shed all but the most direct hits. However each of them had cuts and dents by the time the first lap was done.
The siege tower had thirty orcs in it all donning gear and snatching up weapons as they approached it, the clutch of three tents nearby had signs of magic lingering so they were the target of the riders. Scott used the fog to cover the swift casting of four enlarge spells and James used the time to send a flaming sphere into the preparations of the enemy. It was enough to get them into the fight of their lives without being killed on the way. The dwarf and barbarian took to being eight times normal mass like a pair of ducks to water, laying about themselves with abandon. James and Scott hacked away more methodically since they were also looking for spell opportunities.
One Orc in particular gave sharp commands that were obeyed quickly so James rolled the sphere of fire onto him and systematically burned him alive. A number of spear and sword tips were getting very close to tender areas that were all too exposed by their great size so Scott focused on using his reach and strength to drive into his foes, keeping them back.
The Chief came forth with a horn that he blew from outside his tent, calling his warriors to battle. Brian hit him with a spell that caused him to pause as if in sudden shock and used the moment to pull two feet of steel across his throat. Stead made a convincing fire-ball illusion that sent the bone rattling shaman scattering while the rest of the riders engaged the chief’s heavy guard as they came from the third tent.
Even with all the success, the group was pretty desperate at the end of ten minutes of fighting. Bells were ringing inside the town, the chieftain and his shaman were all dead but the party was taking more hits as the orcs organized and as the enlarge spells came to an end. In ten minutes they had killed forty and wounded perhaps fifty more orcs, but these where tough disciplined troops and they wrapped up wounds and came back fighting. Schminke called them to head to the gate and the orcs pursued. As the party prepared to breach the walls by magic, fifty archers rose up from hiding and began to fire a hail of arrows into the mass behind them. In a minute the rain of iron barbs broke the contact with the party and the leading orcs and a minute later a force of over a hundred infantry, perhaps fifty men and the rest women and boys came forth with pikes to charge the massed orcs. Orc archers took a toll on the charging men, so Schminke ordered the group to split again and attack the flanking orc bowmen to let the city men do their job.
A band of perhaps twenty orcs broke off and streamed away south, tossing gear and weapons as they went to make a hasty retreat, every other orc on the field that day died and was pillaged by the villagers, then heaved onto the pyre of the burning wooden siege tower.
The orcs where thick and strong, buffets from them where like punched from Tyson, they had lifelong proficiency with their weapons, and minds as keen as most soldiers. So it felt bizarre to Scott as he looked at the swathe they had cut through the foes. Jason said it best when he turned to the rest of them and said “we have gotten pretty damn good.
Over at the pyre Schminke met the city mayor, a short hairy man named Strongarm who resembled James before he lost his weight and grew new hair, and the two clasped forearms and chatted in common about the battle.
By nightfall they had the best rooms in the inn and the best of the orcish provender and liquor on a table to ease the pain and speed the healing of many a bruise and cut. Schminke proposed the first of many toasts “Too the love of a plan well executed!” To which the group responded with a hearty ‘hear hear!’
Chapter 15
Dragon on the Wing

Meeksburg turned out to have a surprising amount of civilization to offer. For three days the nine went about town, with everything free for liberating them from the siege. They were tired and sore enough that this amounted to rooms at the inn and meals.
James watched in fascination as a five inch gash on his thigh sealed itself up from the ends at two inches a day. Thom Stead struck up an acquaintance with a traveling bard who called herself Lady Fox. Schminke divined that she was indeed a were-creature who would be a fox quite frequently but she had radiant thick wild red hair and sharp features and dainty build that caused Thom to overlook such things. He also had a fox for a familiar so he was ten times more sensitive to the smell of her desire then the rest of them. She was soon tucked under Thom’s arm as if she had grown there.
Jason had quite a fight with Gwendolyn. The group purchased normal horses to ride out with and Gwen said that she planned to remain with the town, frontier life suited her far more then the prospect of a city full of magic and useless intrigue.
James looked over the lean and hungry horseflesh (and ponyflesh) that they had purchased and found the animals to be extremely skittish. “These horses are just this side of wild animals.” He complained to Brian.
“Dragons” Brian commented.
“Yeah, this is a world where horses are pretty much snack food, I imagine they are wound a little tight.” James nodded “Still this means we need some practice riding and working with these beasts before we go anywhere with them.
So began the strangest school the locals had ever seen. Seven grown men with obvious magical talent, esteem and knowledge who were struggling to learn the basics of horsemanship, from care and feeding to spotting ailments and of course riding. It stretched their stay out and made the horses crazy. Brian’s horse was pretty quick to get used to the owl, Brian had to teach it not to land from the front since this spooked the skittish beast. Still that was nothing to the trouble Schminke had, his horse all but went berserk just from his smell, letting the lynx ride in a saddle bag or jump from its back made it a nervous wreck.
“God now I know why paladins get a magic horse, it is to keep them from killing the beasts for being retarded.” Schminke commented while swilling a fair imitation whiskey to numb his pain.
Derek’s dragon was far too intelligent to be problematic, and while it looked like a dragon, so long as it kept its flight approach from the rear its lack of scent made it a ghost to the mare Derek was training. Thom Stead however had endless problems with the fox. He came closer to death in the dirt of the stable yard then he had in battle with horrific beasts.
Brian’s power to charm intelligent creatures seemed to bleed over into his skill with animals, he could use minor surges of magic to calm the creatures and they would continue to respond well to him after that. Whether it was native talent or magic Brian and James became adept at handling the horses and the rest of them became competent.
“I cannot imagine that the trouble these creatures create for us is worth the convenience they provide, if we could carry everything without them I would vote for humping it out of here.” Scott complained.
“Heroes ride horses.” Stead growled doggedly as he jerked his stallions head down and fought it as its eyes rolled and it bowed its back.
“That’s us!” Jason joked, having reached a compromise with his steed that seemed to suit them both.
As it was they needed remounts, and packs to fill the party out, and that meant a dozen horses with all the packs and coverings that implied. It meant that what they really needed was a professional horse handler to travel with them. Instead they all muddled along as best they could.

While they were building a rapport with the horses Scott and James found their familiars, a pair of male mostly mastiff pups that lived in the stable and soon followed the group around for scraps and head scratching. The two sorcerers got the idea at almost the exact same time, and with the help of Derek and a weird geometric design they sent forth a surge of magical awareness into the beasts that inflated their consciousness and loyalty into a powerful link.
Scott and James immediately took the great hounds to the local bath house and sought a remedy for the fleas they could now feel crawling in their dog’s fur. Scents came to them nearly as sharply as they did for Thom Stead, and the utility of the dogs only grew as the magic of the familiar bond caused them to grow larger and stronger over the days of their horse training. The pair made thick collars for the beasts from hexagonal steel links. Each link was marked with dwarf runes of protection so that a mage armor or enlarge spell on either Scott or James would also affect their hounds, and would be extended in duration. The biggest impact was the constant demand for attention the information from those canine senses imposed. There was none of the cartoon cat chasing of Schminke’s lynx or the craziness one goes through to train a pup, the link facilitated communication, understanding and obedience, but it came with an entire set of sensory inputs as rich as the ones their minds had been born with. It took most of the long hours the men had gained with their diminished need for sleep to get used to the experience before they departed.
One thing the party were assured of, there was plenty of watchful eyes on the trail when they left. A pair of tireless loping hounds and the night sight of the fox, owl and lynx made the chance of being taken unawares vanishingly small. Still it was not in Derek to leave things to chance, so he used a set of six rune marked boundary stones that he set with a pair of ropes and stakes each night using Euclidian methods, first marking a circle then using the second rope to divide it into six arcs, to anchor Schminke’s detection spells. It also helped when one of them wore the crown they had enhanced, making them aware of every moving creature for a thousand paces.
Clayton led the group down the river-way to campsites that were commonly used, places that were also natural ambush points, but there was no shortage of those anyway. They moved deliberately and tactically and waited for the first attack.
With winter over and the river rushing, there was no shortage of life’s bustle, however the first excitement they had was one of their horses falling over dead. The nag was steaks, stew, dog food and owl pellets by the next day with bones for the scavengers.
For an entire ten day week they rode and camped with only a dead horse and foul weather to trouble them. Then a bend in the river brought them face to face with an ox sized green dragon feeding on the remains of dead giant.
What happened next was a blur, the dragon flexed wings and started to flap its way upward, Brian sent a ray of enfeeblement into it weakening its wings and slowing its lift off. Schminke snapped a spell from his ring to guide his blade and leapt from his charging horse at the thing, enlarging as he went. His blade, already enchanted for the day, punched through dragon-hide and vitals. Four images of Stead flanked the beast and drew its breath weapon, a fierce blast of caustic gas that disintegrated three of him but ended before he was overcome. Thanks to another spell of weakness and a thick rope that spun itself around the muzzle of the dragon and clamped the jaws shut, the gout of poison gas was cut short.
Wounded and weak the dragon was panting with its mind racing when the group saw to its horror that the hill giant that it was feeding on was feebly trying to crawl away trailing its torn and partly eaten entrails. Schminke was furiously casting spells while James and Scott put steel against one eye and inside the ear of the beast.
“Where is your lair beast? You can ransom your life with your treasure!” Schminke promised in common.
“Too far from here for you to reach human.” The dragon hissed and lisped in its own language. However Schminke had a spell active to translate for him.
“Finish off that giant.” Schminke ordered mercifully. Then he gave a nod to Scott and James and lunged suddenly himself. They drove home blades and the dragon went mad, clawing and flapping and thrashing even in its weakened state.
However it was more of a violent execution then a fight, complicated only by the toughness of the dragons flesh and its size. Scott enlarged himself to gain the leverage and power to overcome those problems that allowed him to stretch the creature’s neck on the chopping block for James. The head separated from the neck with a shock and spray of black blood.
The men stripped off armor and clothing to get clean of the blood as quickly as possible, while Schminke made hasty notes in his journal of the thoughts he had extracted from the dragons mind, thoughts that betrayed the location of its treasure horde! The problem was that the dragon’s mental picture was from the air, a perspective that would prove difficult to translate. Before the image was lost he asked Thom to cast an image spell into his ring of spell storing so he could display it for Derek to capture in Glock’s eidetic memory, a cumbersome process.
“James, dump some of that whisky from your pack.” Derek ordered.
“Why in the hell would I do that?”
“That dragon’s blood is a strong acid, a couple of bottles before it is gone would be very useful, I want as much of the hide as I can get off as well.”
“Shall we skin the giant as well?” Jason asked innocently.
“No, its hide while tough should…you are kidding right? It might make a great decoy, skin it and then inflate it to scare off orcs, but curing it might be troublesome… Derek mused.
“A Green Knight” Scott said.
“Another suit for whoever except for Brian obviously,” Schminke noted “Scott shake down the giant and check the dragon for a croup full of treasure, they must carry it somehow.”
In the giants bags Scott found pouch after pouch of copper ingots, he was about to despair as he piled up nearly half a ton of copper freshly looted from some wagon train, all mixed with the typical giant trash. In the giants great sack, a mere pouch to him, lay another bag heavy with maybe thirty pounds of something, Scott opened the string around the top with excitement, the bag shone with magic in his spell sight. Inside was an extra-dimensional space with another thousand pounds of copper.
“Damn copper, I have never seen such a waste of space.” Then he saw the glint of magic on a ring “Ah, my precious…lets see, a spell of protection, nice…”
James and Jason had the dragon half peeled and Derek had all the blood he could squeeze from heart and vessel. Scott hauled the ingots over to where Dalton stood with the picket line.
Schminke asked Dalton “Where should we take the copper to get the most for it?”
“Mithril Hall, there is a high trail that should be clear by now, but we will need to cross some orc lands.” Dalton noted.
“Bad idea” Schminke noted.
“This is dwarf dug copper, from a large encampment a couple days from here to the south, cousins of ours, I recognize the stamp.” Dalton noted
“So we have a duty to return it, as dwarf friends.” Schminke commented.
“We may need to summon extra steeds to carry all of it.” Brian calculated.
“At least it will not be that far out of our way.” Schminke replied with a sigh.

The small stone walled town of Greycopper was a revelation to the seven. Built against a terraced quarry that had provided the stone for the wall, the buildings and the roads, the city looked grown from the crevice wall. The troupe had expected another earth palisade and some tents around a pit; instead the copper pit was a good distance from the walled town and down stream. They were delayed as twenty wagons and over a hundred men went in before them in a single arriving caravan. Dalton took the men up to a dwarf with large book and signed them in, when he stated that they had recovered metal the dwarf looked at them with a touch of respect and said, “Well let’s see if we can identify the owners… good men.”
The party spent the night with Dalton’s kindred in a five story (two up three down) stone building with an outdoor patio on the roof. Thirty dwarves lived there when they were not working; in total nearly two thousand souls made up the city and over a third were dwarves.
The degree of civilization they found in the city changed the party’s plan. They remained three days and without much fan fair returned the copper, receiving a twenty gold piece reward. Then they met with the Clan chief and Dwarf Councilman. The seven and Dalton, in closed session showed the quality of their gold and samples of the rune stone. Letters were exchanged and Dalton was tapped to lead the first hundred dwarves back to the high valley. The men soaked in hot dwarf tubs and slept on piles of woven mattresses. They also consolidated their treasure into gold coin and seven ‘letters of right’ that would allow them to draw out money in Silverymoon.

Scott awoke in a room with a warm hearth, a firm bed and a glass window. The dwarves had given the group the top floor with access to the patio on the roof. Scott was lucky enough to have a private room. Dwarves sleep like men, long and loudly, but Scott and his six friends were changed. Whatever changes the artificial virus had wrought on their bodies, the changes had started with their arrival and the magic sign that each of them had received, and the two transformations together had taken most of the need for sleep. The power of magic invaded dreams, stealing oblivion and replacing it with a fascinating but restless dream-world that Scott believed must be like elven reverie. So Scott paced to the window and looked out with his mind quiet. For him it was more restful then sleep to stop his thoughts and empty himself for a time. He felt magic like wind blowing through his soul fanning the sorcerers sign within like a puff of air on an ember. He lost awareness for a time standing at the window staring out over the lights of the city. After the long blank period he stepped away feeling light and refreshed. He turned and went into the floors common room to sit down across from Schminke. Schminke was sipping whiskey and reading.
“Couldn’t sleep?” Schminke asked.
“Didn’t want to, who needs all the portents and weirdness that the dreamscape holds.” Scott noted.
“Pandora’s box or the guy on the tiger who has a cool ride but cannot ever get off” Schminke noted.
“So we go after the dragon horde on the way to the city?”
“That is what everybody wants and I cannot go against it. If the dwarves thought we knew where one was, hospitality or no I would not bet on us getting any gold out of the mountains.”
“So are we giving the Clan Leader the crown? The damn thing gives me a headache and it could create some good will.”
“I think so, I just want it to be a parting gift so it cannot be used to spy on us. That valley, it was our place, but as we get away from it and while we are gone it will not be ours anymore whatever the deeds say. It seems like a long dream of winter.”
“So what do we do? Wander and gather strength at random? I think we will need to build or power more systematically.” Scott noted. “Without a plan we will be leaves on the wind. We still want to go home right?”
“We killed a dragon in about a minute, and not a one of us can throw a fireball, how is that even possible?”
“Well it was pretty badly shook up from the fight with the giant if you ask me, we were lucky we did not have to fight the giant then the dragon.”
“So who wears the green suit and who gets the goodies?” Scott wondered.
“Stead took the blast from the dragon’s breath so we had the suit sized for him. A layer of gold foil runes on the inside will bolster and amplify its magic and the inner lining of quilted linen will protect the wearer and the runes. Brian had his done the same way and with spells from the Clan Priests laid on them I think both suits are now possessed of permanent enchantment.”
“No rune stone then?”
Thomas shook his head “The Priests confiscated that stuff like we were children playing with fire. I suspect they will all be sick before they manage to work out handling protocols but they are the experts. You keep the ring of protection and James can carry the bag of holding, empty since we are planning to loot a dragon horde.”
“We can swap and buy some of the things we need here, trade our remounts for pack mules and swap some of the miserable hayburners we bought for better horses…”
“Stead and Willemborg have been at it for a while, standardizing our gear, splitting up the load and buying us some tricky camp equipment, lanterns with continual flame and colored or magnifying lenses, collapsible ten foot polls for tents and such. They show good sense, James is too tight with the money and he irritates the shopkeepers by haggling violently.” Schminke informed him.
Scott’s mastiff familiar wandered over to be close and to receive some petting. Scott checked its collar to make sure the runes were intact and then he had a thought. Telling Schminke goodnight, he waved and returned to his room, pulling the pallet near to the fire where the dog made its bed. Then he said “I am going to sleep, I want you to stand watch and chase away any dreams that might come to trouble me.”
The mastiff wagged its tail and slopped his face as if to say, of course, then turned the customary three circles and tucked its nose.
Scott fell into a restful sleep for the first time in weeks, his dream was of a summer field and a shade tree where his hound romped and chased away bothersome cattle. So his hound earned its name “Dreamguard.”
Chapter 16
To Loot a Lair

James named his hound Anvil after it romped with a young dwarf who complained the beast was heavy as an anvil. It was on the last day that they remained in the delightful walled town that the dog earned its name. So Anvil and Dreamguard with tails high led the party into the wilderness again. They were seven now, with better horses, mules for their packs and they had replaced their wilderness clothing and equipment with well made clothing of native tailoring.
Jason and Thom had done a fantastic job in organizing the band and tightening up the loose ends they had discovered, new tents, waterproof cloaks, spare clothing and tighter packs as well as new dwarf made crossbows and superior trail gear like telescopes and lanterns all made the group look more professional and more comfortable. The two had also, with Remund’s assistance scheduled spell casting so that the party had mage armor and endure elements at all times. Remund also intended for them to stop daily for target practice with the new crossbows.
The crown had been well received by the city council and in return they had reiterated the title of ‘dwarf friend’ upon the group. Good enough…
On the second day of the spring march as the party raced to make it through a high pass the owl swooped back with information for Brian even as Glock sent a message to Derek.
“Eight ogres wait in ambush,” Derek warned “we are already in spear range!”
Scott dismounted and cast his enlarge, sharing the spell with Dreamguard so the two of them swelled to monstrous size. Schminke used the ring of spell storing to do the same and for good measure added a true strike. James in fury created a sphere of flame in the pass over the heads of the ogres, causing it too flare and pop as a distraction until he could see a target. Thom Stead turned invisible, while Derek enacted a spell to deflect missiles. Brian waited with a ray of enfeeblement dancing on his fingertips and Jason did the same with an acid arrow. Then the volley of spears came down.
One ogre failed to launch, startled by the overhead flames, however seven did throw, most at the enlarged trio of Scott, his hound and Schminke. Scott took a deep wound as a spear drove home in his left shoulder just a couple inches from his heart; Thomas also took a spear straight to the gut, but shallow. Derek moved forward too prominently display himself as a target and two spears dropped short of him thanks to his spell of protection. Then Brian, Jason and James struck with spells at the revealed ogres. One staggered to its knees in weakness while another took an acid pumping bolt to the chest and a third was engulfed in the flaming sphere that fell from above.
Three ogres charged downhill at the band as their plan unfolded, and Scott and Thomas set themselves to meet that charge. The startled ogre who forgot to throw at first joined a more cowardly fellow in throwing spears again. The pair launched at the spell casters and Brian staggered as a flint tip punched into his thigh and fountained blood. Jason spun around and cursed with his forearm pierced.
Thom Stead came down from a mighty leap on one of the charging ogres and drove his sword into its face. Thom had begun bounding as soon as he disappeared and so gave Scott and Thomas even odds against the remaining two.
Scott demonstrated his faith in fair play by commanding his enlarged hound to tackle the ogre and as the furious savage lashed at the horse sized hound, bruising its flanks, Scott paused to cut the shaft off the spear in his shoulder and then lash out with his sword. His attack however left only superficial damage.
The other ogre was startled when Thomas put a sword guided by a divination spell into its throat, causing it to trip and tumble past. The spell wounded ogres staggered down the hill after their fellows along with two more, one uninjured and the other the coward all bent on destruction. The sorcerers lashed out with more spells.
Brian hit his target with another ray and it collapsed under its own weight, helpless. Derek cranked and fired a crossbow bolt into a charging ogre striking it in its chest. Jason raced forward and let fly with a sticky mass of webbing at a tight grouped trio while James single-mindedly intensified his sphere of flames and burned the life out of his chosen target.
Scott, frustrated by failing to strike enacted his bull strength while his dog sank teeth into the calf muscle of the brute they faced and pulled it back from his master. This caused the ogre to miss Scott with a backswing of his club.
Schminke pounced on the tripped ogre and drove the sword through its back and into its heart. Thom Stead took a massive blow that cracked ribs and drove him down the hill. In defense he enacted a spell of mirror image that surrounded the ogre with leaping foes.
The entangled ogres strained muscle and began to tear free. Brian weakened one with another ray of enfeeblement that ended its struggles, Derek fired again with an enchanted bolt that finished off the ogre Jason had already seared. The last broke free as Jason arrived, before it could attack Jason lashed it across the chest with his keen blade.
Scott gripped his ogre and hip tossed it onto its back, the hound sunk teeth into the creature’s scrotum distracting it so that Scott could drive the enchanted blade under its arm into its heart and lungs.
Jason took a blow to the side of the head that broke some facial bones even as he lunged forward and drove his blade up under the ogres chin and out the top of its head.
James charged upward to help Stead and drove a crippling surge of electrical power into the ogre already confused by Stead’s illusions. Thom lunged forward with his sword and drove steel into its guts. In moments the creature, the last ogre fighting, was dead. James took the opportunity to shock the two weakened collapsed ogres to death while Derek started checking injuries. Thom and Jason took their potions of curing, while Scott shrank to normal and then went further to shrink to the size of child with his hound, so that a single shared charge from Derek’s wand healed them both.
Schminke also received a healing spell and called “Loot these bastards and see if you can find their lair, we still need to get through that pass and get a camp set up.”
Finally Scott shrank Brian so another single charge from the healing wand healed him.
Beyond the pass they discovered a crude shelter built over a deep cave hollowed into the mountain. It was large enough for the group, their horses and mules and required that Scott enlarge to move the slab of rock off the entrance. Inside they found a large number of trophy blades, axes, shields and suits of armor. one of which a detect magic reveled to be enchanted. It proved to be a suit of chain of extraordinary quality with an oily feel, it was acid darkened to black and made the wearer absolutely silent. One potion of curative magic was discovered along with an ample supply of food and coin. Hundreds of rare platinum coins, and gold, nearly a thousand pieces of silver and several thousand of copper, were turned up amidst many furs and hides. They built a fire and set a watch and stretched out. There was a possibility of a counter attack by still more ogres or a shaman or ogre mage so they were not about to let down their guard.
During the night they recharged the ring of spell storing for Schminke and decided to give the armor to Scott, since he was able to enlarge and had bull strength as part of his spell list he was really limited to getting close and bashing away. Scott accepted and gave Schminke the ring of protection to make it even, making sure that he also had an enlarge spell in his ring so they could join in the charge again.
Derek was outside with Brian after the gear and loot was packed for the morning. “Twice as many ogres and we would be dead.”
Brian grinned “Gets the blood going doesn’t it.”
“We need more powerful spells if we are to survive, I thought when we took that dragon down that we were on our way, now I feel like we are very small fish in a very big ocean.” Derek noted.
“We are fine, ogres are tough, not giants by any means but those caught us flat footed and we fought our way out of it.”
“We are down to four charges on the wand and one potion, I know we heal pretty fast but we could well be fighting injured and moving slow in these mountains on the way home.”
“Keep your dragon in the air and looking for Charlie, keep your spells ready, there can only be so many large monsters in a given area, if a healthy fire breathing dragon comes swooping down on us we may get killed, but we seem to surprise the natives with all the spells we can crank up.”
“We need to practice our running away skills a bit more, what is with us?”
“That was a courageous use of your missile deflection, one of us would have died today if you had not drawn that spear fire to yourself. Those ogres can thread a needle with those things.”
“It was all I could think of.”
“Good thinking.”

It was almost anticlimactic to climb the mountainside to the base of the escarpment that they needed to climb to reach the lair. The cut of the cards stuck Jason and Derek with guarding the camp. Floating disks carried them up to the narrow crack into the mountainside where acid and dragon muscle had hollowed out a cavern for the creature’s treasure.
“I see why the green risked attacking a giant, the damn thing had more magic items then this dragon did.” Scott complained. A single scroll with the forth level spell charm monster written four times was all that they had discovered after a thorough search.
Still they were well rewarded in gold, 2146 coins, and silver 12,816 coins, and a number of emeralds they would need to get appraised. James loaded the bag of holding to capacity and the rest carried thirty pounds of coin each as they dropped back to the bottom. With a good portion of the day left they loaded mules and moved out angling south so they would hit the trail to Silverymoon and avoid doubling back.

A trio of frost giants was making one last sweep through the mountains before the summer set in. They were not in too much hurry to return to the glacial stronghold. The last year had seen too many losses and too much humiliation for their leader as the balance of power in the Spine of the World shifted from their kindred to the orc tribes. They had had some opportunity to loot both monsters and mankind this winter, eluding and defeating some of the champions of man, elf and dwarf as well as making a good deal for slaves with a grey dwarf merchant. So with plunder sacs bulging they came over a rise where a band of ogres usually lurked. Instead they came upon the bodies of the eight ogres scattered and looted.
They had lost their winter wolves in the low lands, so they had considerable trouble puzzling out what had happened. However the trail was discernable from time to time and the curious giants had decided to close the gap and get a look at these formidable foes. Over the next couple days they lost the trail and split up until they found it again, beneath the dragon lair they discovered the camp and found some spilled silver coins.
“Who does not bother with dropped silver?” One asked rhetorically.
“One who has more then they can carry in silver and gold.” His fellow answered.
Together they managed to get one of their number into the dragon lair too look over the copper coins and normal items left behind, thus confirming that the heroes were indeed making off with a dragon horde.

It was the night before the party expected to cross a high ridge and get back on the road to Silverymoon when the snowy owl picked up the giants on the back trail. Once they where certain the giants were after them they knew that this was a desperate time.
“Can we charm one of the monsters?” Schminke asked.
“Perhaps if it were empowered, Stead is our most charismatic party member, can you prep an area of charm enhancement by morning Derek?” Scott asked.
“Yes if I have few hours.” Derek replied.
“What else can we do? Schminke asked “We need to tuck Stead away under cover of an illusion so he can cast his spells, and he can cast his mirror image spell on us, we prep with bull strength and enlarge and truestrike, where does that leave us?”
“With plenty,” Derek said.

They moved too a high shelf of shale atop a hill with a broad slope leading up one face and a sharp drop on the other. The mound had some ruins on the top that the group used to build a fire-pit. They filled it with wood and lit it as a beacon. Stead created his concealment, a curtain of illusion, and they went over the spell preparations. Four would engage the giants; Derek would protect them from missiles and coordinate the fight via the gauntlets with the dragon on over-watch. Scott, Schminke, James and Jason would engage. Brian would use James’ spells of weakness in the ring of spell storing and his rays of scorching heat then shift to his own weakness spells. Giants, like ogres, were strong but they needed to be, take it away and they would collapse under there own weight. Stead would try to charm the brutes with the scroll of monster charming from within the empowering rune structure. They got into the nuts and bolts of tactics and timing as the Dragon prepped the area for spell enhancement.

The giants saw the men douse their fire and take flight. With a seeing tube they watched as the men fled to high ground and started piling up defensive stones inside a fort long ago destroyed by giants. It made them chuckle to see such futility.
From the base of the hill they threw some large boulders upward, but the men were crouched behind foundations of stone and the giants were impatient. A fog settled around and grew thick at the top. The giants unlimbered great axes and loped uphill with long easy strides. Through the fog they saw the men crouched at the edge of the foundation and they braced for arrows. One of the giants felt the sting of a crossbow bolt and his rage soared. Then out of the fog four giant sized men rushed with glittering blades and sure footed grace. The lead giant met the figures with axe strokes, cutting the figure in green dragon armor deeply. A thin line of purple radiance played on the giant to his right and that fellow staggered. On cue the four assaulted that giant with cruel precision.
A strange certainty overcame the lead giant, this was all a mistake and the fellow on his left was about to make it worse by hurting these good fellows. He turned and gripped his kinsman to prevent the mistake.
Again the radiance cut to his right and his companion dropped to its knees, cruelly the giant men cut him down. His enraged cousin threw him off and slapped him to his senses as the men slaughtered their partner. Another spell crashed into his mind but his rage threw it off, and though yet another ray of enfeeblement crashed into him stealing the power from his rage, his axe cut left and right into the four foes, tasting blood and flesh after tearing through enchantments and armor. On his left his cousin had his attack thwarted by magic and chain mail, then a bolt slammed into his left eye blinding him with blood.
Another enfeebling ray struck him, a wand it must be, in the hands of a hidden wizard. He answered by cutting down one of the men he faced and bloodying another. He turned to check his cousin and saw that the giant was standing bemused, confused by conflicting impulses, pain and rage and loyal friendship to these whom he was battling. A curse on all magic! The foes still standing struck the lead giant together delivering three brutal wounds that spilled blood across his bronze armor. Then the ray again sucked at his marrow and his body fell. He stared defiance as he looked at a man in simple hide with flashing black eyes as the man buried an enlarged dwarvish axe into his face.
The last giant snapped out of his confusion as the three turned on him and a staggering gout of his strength vanished, his slashing axe cut deep into the side of the red haired one on the right, but enchanted steel bit at the last giant him from his blind side. Then all hope departed from him as another ray sucked more strength. How could the wizard cast so quickly…? Then his helm was pulled off and the executioner in green dragon hide cleaved his head free with a razor sharp enchanted blade.

“Derek, get down here and heal Stream we are loosing him!” Schminke shouted as the last giant fell.
Derek raced and found Scott back to his normal size with mortal wounds, his arm nearly cut off. Derek triggered the wand once and then again. He watched as the wounds miraculously mended, taking two more precious charges with them. The last two charges kept Schminke and Willemborg from collapsing, while the potion they had taken from the ogres was given to James. The wand turned to dust in his hands, its power spent.
“Good thing your armor fit me Thom,” Jason commented.
“You had better be able to mend the slashes.” Stead replied.
“Outstanding job men, not a move wasted, not a man who did not do his duty.” Schminke said
“I’ll hop down to where these fellows left their sacks, my fox is sniffing around down there now and it is clear.” Stead offered.
“Go, take Brian… Derek help me with Scott, oh and good shot.”
Derek grinned “Its eye is as big as a pie plate, no big deal.”
“Aim small miss small…” James muttered.7

The group found more food then they could carry in the giant’s sacks, and they feasted the entire next day on mead, salt pork and sharp cheese. The giants carried a fantastic silver harp, a golden web of moonstones fit for a princess, and a heavy silver chest lined with mother of pearl. Inside the precious coffer was a bolt of gem studded golden cloth and eight fine loose stones of various types and sizes, as well as two magical scrolls, a suit of chain mail, a pair of potions and a wand. The giants had pouches of gold, four thousand one hundred in all, which weighed another four hundred pounds, so the group once again faced the task of dividing up the load.
In the end they had Jason conjure the steeds they would need to ride and put their horses on draft duty. They left behind the dead giants covered with crows on that mound and passed over the last ridge down into the green forest along the road to Silverymoon. Jason’s steed seemed more substantial, more robust and proved it by effortlessly lifting from the ground and galloping on the air, a true phantom steed.
“It looks like we are again rewarded for having more blood on our hands.” Schminke noted.
“Better theirs then ours.” James observed.
“Amen!” Scott seconded.
Brian pulled his mount up and concentrated, “A new spell to grant confidence and strength of character, one that will paralyze a target person and one that will plant a word or fact into the mind of another.”
“Heroism, hold person and suggestion…”Scott noted.
James paused from admiring the jet black shadow imbued chain-mail armor he had taken as his share of the magical plunder to check his inventory. “Lightning bolt, fireball and that spell that makes a log cabin extra-dimensional space.”
“Leamond’s hut…” Jason provided.
“How about you Scott?” Jimmy asked.
“Haste, fly and gaseous form.”
“Illusions that move and smell, invisibility for a ten foot radius of individuals, and displacement.”
“Wizard eye, tongues and remote perception.”
“Arcane eye, clairaudience/clairvoyance.” Scott corrected.
“Oooo, I know the new rules oooo…” Schminke mocked.
“What beside phantom steed Jason?”
“Acid breath, nice… and a bigger monster summoning spell.” Jason replied.
“My dragon tells me I have, dispel magic, nondetection, and protection from energy, I will see what I can do about rune magic for those as soon as possible, they are too useful to not have handy.”
“Well with that inventory we can divide these scrolls up. Scott can cast fly so who gets the scroll with the fly spells? Brian raised his hand and the rest of them agreed; after all he was accompanied by the owl.
The wand is bull strength, I am feeling Jason for this, we teased him with Thom’s armor after all.” Schminke suggested. “Scott charge that baby up when you have left over power.” Then he pointed to the other scroll “Four haste spells, how about you Thom, you saved our asses with that dragon’s scroll?”
“Fine with me,” Stead said.
That leaves the healing potion for Derek and the levitation potion for me, Scott you got some great spells, so next magic item batch you get first pick.
“Not a problem, I am going to need time to fit these new powers into my world view anyway.”
The party camped for the evening along the trail. Just as they were settled and frying up pork steaks with potatoes they began to hear the noises of a large caravan on the road.
A group of four forward riders, looking dirty and dangerous in half-plate mail on draft horses rode up to the camp and their spokesman called out “Strange place to camp with a town five miles on.”
“Ah I thought it was another ten miles, we wanted to reach it before dark, but feared that we would not have time, now I see we were wrong.” Schminke said with a smile.
The group was looking at the bulging sacks and horseflesh, sizing up the dragon hide and obviously magical armor, the fastidious cleanliness of the camp and their clothing, even the whiteness of grinning teeth. They did the math in their heads and it all added up to dangerous and unknown but possibly rich.
“If you break camp you can join our wagon train, I am sure the wagon master would not charge you too much.”
With the worst accent of the bunch James said in common “Sir, I am sure that your master would pay us to travel with you to protect his goods. Are you going to Silverymoon?”
“That is where this road goes… Nail, go bring Master Roland forward to meet our new friends.”

With the caravan master they negotiated for the use of a pair of wagons, two teamsters and a place in the train, in exchange they promised to act to protect the train in the event of an attack. They loaded their booty, saddled horses and strung out the mules for the hasty march into town.
Eleven days and two minor skirmishes later they arrived at city of Silverymoon, with gracefully curving walls, magic so thick they could taste it and towering trees competing with spiraling stone to reach the sky. Beyond the gate they were confronted with a bewildering array of roads that went up in arching walkways, down into cheerfully lit underground paths and ground level roads that wandered in meandering curves and arcs passing over and under each other and intersecting in the distance.
The group knew what they planned to do inside the town but with the awesome complexity of the place before them they were just stunned. A lovely young lady with a head of swirling chestnut hair and the clothing of a man floated to the ground from an overhead walkway and said “It takes time to grow accustomed to it all. I love to watch newcomers to see that look on their faces.” She held her hand out to Thom Stead and asked “are you the leader? I am Summer.”
“Close enough, Summer can you guide us to the temple of Gond? We have a duty to bring word from a friend of the High Artificer…” Stead asked.
“It is a long slow way with wagons.” She cautioned.
“More time in your company,” Thom said and offered the girl a small coin purse of gold for her trouble.
The rest of them listened intently as Thom steered the conversation to many topics about the city, the girl was more then happy to discuss anything at length with the slightest hint, from politics, to sewage treatment to the latest in fashion and the music scene. Finally she led the party to the silver mechanical gates of the temple of Gond, perhaps a hundred yards from where they started. Thom laughed aloud and the girl rose up on tiptoes and then floated up for a quick kiss, then she did a back flip into the air and floated up to an overhead walkway where music and laughter could be heard.
“T’was cruel to the horses to make them wander so far James complained.” But the horses seemed in fine spirits and fairly fresh, so the girl was forgiven.
“It was a small price to pay for the grand tour.” Schminke noted.
“Let’s go meet the Artificer and enter into holy service.” Scott suggested.
Chapter 17
Moguls of Silverymoon

Carsoboniti Gearspinner was a joke, High Artificer in the service of Gond Wonderbringer in a city that vibrated with magic. Silverymoon, with its shimmering river, vaulting bridges and vast open market was the picture of what magic could nurture and achieve. The claim of Gond’s priesthood that the future depended on mechanical instead of magical knowledge was met with indulgent tolerance. So when the seven trail-stained rangy warriors asked for an audience with the High Priest, not knowing that the gnome was forced to answer his own bell, the High Artificer expected to face subtle scorn.
The House of Gond, a partially refurbished warehouse near the Moorgate donated by the good guild of metalworking dwarves and gnomes after the time of troubles, still had racks of metal stock and barrels of nails scattered about. The men looked about with curiosity crowding the room with their great height and the swarm of critters that they let wander freely in a house of worship.
“I am Carsoboniti Gearspinner High Artificer” he said with as much dignity as his two foot ten frame could muster. Then he watched in surprise as the leader, the one with the giant cat at its feet and the elaborate manticore hide, knelt down to eye level and passed him a scroll marked with the sign of Dumathoin, a message from Dalton. After reading it over his face split into a broad grin. “Rune-stone in a shallow mine! The refugees from Blinddingstone and Dalton’s kin will be happy to hear the news, it was good of you restore him, I am in your debt, so how can I serve you?”
“Is there a place we can talk in comfort and privacy?” Schminke asked “and can someone see to our mounts and wagons?”
“We have a yard. I am afraid it is the boys lesson time so we must see to your goods and mounts ourselves.”
The diminutive gnome led the party into the old stable yard, over half of which was now cultivated into a truck garden that supported the gnomes table and added a few coins to his purse for luxuries. They noted and complimented his tobacco stand quality in his herb garden, but he could not help but calculate the contents of his larder and the appetites of these seven giants. The horses and mules would eat their way through the available fodder in two days.
The men stowed their gear and then sent him into a state near apoplexy when they revealed sac after sack of gold and silver, a chest full of precious cloth and gem artifacts and finally a fabulous silver harp. Carsoboniti Gearspinner was no greedy dwarf but the sacks of wealth stunned him to speechlessness.
“So what say you brother, is a tithe of ten percent too the church fare in your doctrine?” Schminke asked and then had to catch the gnome as he passed out.

The concerned men put the gnome in an outside hammock and gave him room, while making themselves at home. It was obvious that the buildings were constructed for the convenience of those of dwarf stature; however the barn was wide and airy with roomy stalls. The group brought everything into the court and emptied the wagons in preparation for returning them to the caravan master.
When the High Artificer came too he was extremely apologetic, no he did not need help, he was fine, just a fainting spell all was well. The men did indeed pile thousands of coins haphazardly in his kitchen and other items ended up secured in the cellar. There was a dining chamber with a low table, but he was able to drag cushions from other rooms so the men could recline and talk comfortably. Then he brought in a tray of sliced vegetables, crackers and cheese as well as a case of the best wine, not old but a palatable vintage.
Eventually the group was lounging comfortably and sipping.
The leader Schminke started in “It is our understanding that your church is an advocate of mechanics and engineering above magic. We have knowledge and some artifacts of science that we would like to show you, with an eye toward reproduction and mass production.”
“Mass production?” Carsoboniti Gearspinner asked, “I am not familiar with that idea…”
Ten minutes later the question was tabled after digressions into the meaning of a number of terms like ‘interchangeable part’, ‘assembly line’, standardized scale’ and others proved that he was going to need a great deal more time then a brief conversation.
Derek laid out the Glock 9mm, a LED wristwatch and had his dragon land on the table. The gnome picked the cleared weapon and examined it. He could see that it had a resemblance to the Gond Gunnes that were the reason many adventurers sought the church. However the precession of the device was amazing, he passed his hand over the device and called on his power to comprehend device. He was stunned as an array of knowledge poured into his mind, like a millwheel caught in the spring thaw all he could do was reel. With the spell still active he pulled his mind back from the hand gun and sought the smaller simpler time piece only to have insights that required insights in a branching chain that his mind once again reeled. He looked at the mechanically animated dragon and decided he dared not risk his sanity.
“This gun is not complete…” He noted. Derek passed him the remaining rounds of ammunition. “Ah these I can understand though they are very sophisticated in design in function they are fairly simple. There is a charge of powder that burns quickly and creates an expanding gas that propels the projectile, the sparker is triggered by the concussion of the device, it is a small less stable medium. The metal pellet is lead in copper cup to keep it from splattering in the heat, and the casing is brass…”
The seven looked so impressed, he demurred and said “A gift from Gond, a spell to help the mind comprehend devices.”
“You must have sprained your brain on that watch.” Stead said with a chuckle.
The other six got a good laugh at that. Then the gnome smiled. “Good friends what is it you want from me, you come to me bringing visions of wealth and devices of terrible beauty and purpose, if you say that you are devils come to tempt and test my faith and wisdom I will nod and believe, you may well be…”
Schminke shook his head “We are not here to deceive you in any way; we have much knowledge, you know the city and have the respect of the skilled artisans, we will need that knowledge and we will offer you ours. Together we can both profit, we will give you as much as we know about these devices and other simpler variations of them so that you small folk can bring the magic of mechanics to add another wonder to Silverymoon. You will help us make them, put us in touch with those who can supply materials and workers and we will help sell the goods to the profit of all.
“What wonders do you plan to bring to the light?” The High Artificer asked.
“Two and three wheeled peddle powered carts,” replied Schminke.
“Skate boards and guitars” Stead offered.
“Mill powered machines for making cloth.” Scott added.
“Steam engines to drive machines where there are no mills,” said Remund.
“Advanced gun technology” said Jason.
“Knowledge of germ theory, movable type, and electricity” James counted off.
“And the all important technique for rolling cigarettes and making snuff” Brian Wilcox finished.
We can take our mining profits and make more gold here in this town then there is in that whole mountain back in the spine of the world. It is up to you.
“What will you want for this?”
“We need you to duplicate six more of these weapons and several thousand rounds of ammunition; we will want major participation in any projects and a hand in wherever we feel the need to guide things. We will need facilities to make prototypes and machine tools, skilled assistants who will take orders, documents guaranteeing our participation, and a link to the Mythal so we can use our magic freely.” Schminke rattled off.
“And a half pipe,” Stead added.
“We also need a place to stay, even private apartments if we can afford it, we have no idea what things cost here, we will need our gems appraised and sold to good buyers and these art items, they may prove to be stolen by the frost giants we killed for them so their may be some legal bother to sort out. Scott added.
“The rules on recovery from monsters are pretty specific; unless you were specifically commissioned to recover the items in question then the law of salvage applies.” The gnome noted.
“See we did not know that, we have a great deal to learn and to teach. So I guess we are offering friendship and a partnership.” Stead said.
“Then let it be as you desire, Dalton certainly sent a fair wind my way when he sent you.”
“You may come to long for the simple days of contemplation.” Schminke pointed out.
“I’ll let you know after I have had a century to compare the two,” retorted the Gnome.
“That would be most scientific.” Derek said with a grin.

Over the weeks that followed the party lay low in the chapel doing its homework and giving the High Artificer the inspiration and assistance he needed to create the growing underground sense that a revolution was at hand. Derek coined the phrase “Industrial Revelation” and to his chagrin it stuck.
It was amazing how many pieces of the puzzle were already at hand. Clockwork intricacy in many forms was known, spring and pendulum powered time pieces and devices that ticked away the movements of the heavens could be found. Mill wheels and hydraulics were well understood and rushing water powered cranes and saws and even the clamps to lift boats into dry-dock. So it was that the group endeavored to build on what was already present in what they taught. The steam turbine was the first innovation, blending secret rune magic with fire to create a water wheel without the river. That so grabbed the local imagination of the Dwarves and Gnomes that the group was able to use the reputation gained to simultaneously enact a dozen innovations and introduce new tech into the community, the break action double barrel shotgun with a brass and waxed paper cartridge, the three and two wheeled pedal powered vehicles and the delivery, cab, and cart companies that followed, the steam turbine mill with a punch tape program for making textiles on a mechanical loom, the electrical generator and the electric motor, the piano and the player piano, the list went on and on. Often the real genius was in the craft and insight and skill possessed by the local halfling, dwarf and gnome population, but the group was able to soak up more credit then they could redirect and also gain a slice of almost every pie that was being served.
It was a mad heady time that passed unnoticed to the Mageocracy of the city for several months. It was not until civic projects started to use new technical solutions instead of magic that they began to notice all the Halflings on skateboards and the dwarves with thunder sticks. Such science slid invisibly through the Mythal of high magic that warded the city, a ward that allowed those attuned to levitate and see magic, to read and speak many tongues and kept dragons out of the city among other less well know powers. Any novice spell caster in the city was living in a magical cornucopia that had left some among the smaller less magically inclined races bruised in the ego.
However shipments of coal and fuel oil into the town multiplied as well as the demand for acid for batteries and other alchemical supplies for making powder and primers for the cartridge lines, it was noticed eventually and the party slid into the background letting the High Artificer take credit and blame. Of course by then many a cat was running about bagless and the plans and construction for the new College of Gond was underway. In a city where knowledge was sacred it was a dirty trick to hide business activities inside a school and behind a clergy. It gave the men an income from ongoing operations secured by the church’s patent enforcers and the cities progressive rules encouraging innovation. I gave them tremendous surplus resources that they reinvested or spent as needed. The city had financial ties all over the continent so the men were able to become, in a matter of months part of a wealthy elite that moved around behind the nobility, part of the elites who had knowledge and means to get things done.
The seven men one by one quietly petitioned to be attuned to the Mythal, allowing them to access their magic freely, and use the tools of the Mythal to further study the world around them. They hired excellent tutors and studied in the great library or with skilled artist as the mood struck them. Eventually they set up separate apartments in the quarter around the Temple. Thom Stead moved into an apartment over a very expensive brothel where he began a performing career that was soon netting him a hundred gold pieces a night. Jason and Brian moved into a remodeled wall tower that was well inside the new walls. They soon installed every comfort from indoor plumbing to steam radiator heat, and kept house with gnomish assistants who allowed Jason to work on design specifics and innovative concepts from home while Brian kept Jason from settling in by dragging him outside on hunting and riding expeditions. Schminke and Remund lived and studied at the new school and were titled professors who infuriated the normal intellegencia by judging things on practical merits, and teaching the hard and fast rules of scientific methodology with mathematical rigor. They also trained in martial skill with their robust and skilled students to stay in peak form, while working on their own projects in secret. Scott and James moved into a widow’s boarding house and lay low for the most part. They ran a different route each morning, thus learning the ways of the city and they took training from skilled teachers and soldiers in weapon and hand fighting techniques and they became known for their black armor and well trained hounds. They were also the quiet enforcers of the party’s rights when someone thought to circumvent patent law or cook the books to hide profits.
The group was able to feed wealth into the acquisition of some dearly desired magic items. For Derek and Thomas a pair of Circlets of Knowledge, for James a Belt of Strength, and for Scott a Belt of Dexterity; Brian purchased an enchanted bow and arrows and bracers to aid him in their use, Jason acquired an equally enchanted rail-bow and the bolts it used, while Thom Stead sought out a Hat of Charisma and Disguise that would let him alter his appearance and enhance his appeal at the same time.
Through means of god granted duplication spells, the High Artificer and his growing pool of acolytes were able to make a duplicate Glock 9mm for each of them along with a thousand round of ammunition for each weapon. This in turn lead the party to the coup of the season when Schminke demonstrated the precision and lethality of these weapons to certain high ranking Wizards and extorted six more rings of spell storing for their willingness to suppress and not mass produce the weapons. A bluff of mammoth proportions since the machine tools that the city offered were three generations from being up to the job, only the magic of Gond had created the parts for the new guns.
A bit of the rune stone came back during this period and the group put it to good use crafting a set of amulets to persistently power their rune items after spell activation. It made them as good as magic items with care, while allowing the bulk of the material to go to the local dwarves and gnomes who were moving into the high valley in a steady trickle all summer and into the fall. Company funds outfitted and supplied these groups if they showed promising skills and solid courage, further strengthening the links between the party and the new clan’s society growing in Shilearein Vale, one that the group felt a bit guilty about abandoning except for the fact that they were making more gold then the dwarves could mine.
So the next winter found the seven rooted in the City of Silverymoon squirreling away wealth and striving to fit in while pursuing projects of personal interest. The group had a long standing weekly habit of meeting at a respectable bar to play Texas hold’em with the new playing cards they were printing, (along with news print and cheap novels), and that game too caught on, allowing Stead, Scott, Jason and Jimmy to drift about gambling any night they wanted. The group would meet and catch up on their doings and studies and occasional adventures while spreading around handsome piles of gold. It was in such a card game that Stead had won his hat. When a wizard tried to use a familiar to spy on his cards Stead’s fox had snagged the rat and presented it at the table forcing the wizard to give the hat up or face a serious beating.
They each were not strangers in each others worlds, they remained in close communication through the gauntlets, but they all could feel that they needed this time of peaceful growth to fill out their own shoes. Only Stead showed any real inclination to go native and much of that was simply his own sense of mystique and fame, much of which was crafted of stolen songs and shocking images from home. It was profound to him how much more respected he was in his persona then in his party since the others found much of his plagiarism distasteful or vulgar. Still he worked hard to make every performance a unique experience, hard enough that his skills in illusion and music and sound manipulation soared with his fame. Scott and James gained a reputation of another sort, considered to be criminally connected and whispered about by many. Jason and Brian gained the favor of the Knights of Silver by accompanying them on a number of their circuitous patrols around the surrounding countryside, and Schminke and Remund gained a reputation as very young but wise and gifted scholars and excellent teachers and prolific writers.

Taern “Thunderspells” Hornblade looked out of the palace window at the bleak winter landscape beyond his meeting chamber. One of his advisors continued, “The incident ended with the Zhent slavers executed and the prisoners freed by the band calling themselves The Hammer of Gond, mostly dwarves and gnomes with a handful of men who use those innovative smoke powder weapons to mete out frontier justice.”
Taern looked back at the man and asked “Why is the temple of Gond suddenly showing up in every other report I have on my desk? Carsoboniti Gearspinner was a harmless old dreamer until a few months ago and then suddenly he is an investment and marketing genius with a new essential innovation every week, how did all this Industrial Revelation come to pass?”
“It is difficult to say, the most likely source seems to be divine instruction, after all the god’s are the fountain of all knowledge…” The advisor noted. “There are those church champions that seem to be hanging around a great deal, I have compiled a report on them at last.”
“Have my man bring in a brunch service and you can read it too me as I eat.”
“Very well sir…” The thin analyst rang for the light meal and after it arrived and the lord took a place at the side bar he continued with his report.”
“The easiest of the champions to gather information on is the one called Thom Stead, he has frequently had ‘jam sessions’ with our Harper allies who call him a visionary musician and gifted spellbinder. They suspect he is a Bard trained in a his craft in a far off place and style, perhaps even the outer planes, samples of his blood and skin seem to say he is not merely human. His innovations seem to be limited to marketing flavored tobacco rolled in paper rather then packaged for a pipe, and the industry is aided by his perpetual dangling thin style ‘cigar’ which his fans imitate. He also inspired and played the first of the new ‘piano’ devices that are back ordered so far now that nobles are going to have to wait two years to get one. His ‘Piano Man’ song with the mouth harp, piano and vocals is a favorite in the brothel where he lives. He seems harmless enough, gambling, wenching and making music like a banshee. He is a big tipper and has a fox for a familiar or trained companion. He is known for being shocking to his lovers, we had an agent seduce him and she left the city for some time off shortly after saying she needed to get her balance back. The experience shook her up and tested her loyalty severely but she said he is a seducer and performer even in his lovemaking.
“The others?”
“We have the books Derek and Schminke, topics like “Wealth of Nations, and Game Theory Economics, On the Substance of Mind, Relativity and Space-time, plus works of fiction, it is as if they do nothing but write yet they keep up a full academic schedule and a strict dietary and fitness discipline. We assume that much of the work was done previously and they have a method of reproducing much of it, however the examples laid out in the books are very local and contemporary suggesting that whatever they are doing to reproduce the work they can edit it at will. What they harp on most is a methodology that seems so simple yet grows in power as its applications are realized; they call it the Scientific Method. It is creating a whole new vocabulary among the young students, experiments, hypothesis, and measurements are becoming the vogue. Personally the men seem above reproach, lofty in ideal and insulated from evil. However the two men have been known to gamble, drink and brawl proficiently. They are a puzzle and taken with Thom they seem to strengthen the notion that the men come from a culture with its own sophistication. We have them all on record taking the test to access the weave within the city so we know they possess some magic, but in this case we do not know if they have innate abilities or advanced spell-craft. They do not seem to react like wizards when provoked, more like soldiers.
As for soldiers, Brian and Jason seem to be little more then soldiers with an occasional surprising magic trick. They ride out with our patrols and are universally welcomed and recognized by our spell guard. They do not mind a dirty miserable patrol filled with danger. They are a credit to the city, and they seem to work within the city as troubleshooters for the new devices so they absolutely understand them. It is a casual familiarity and they tend to treat trepidation and fear of the new devices as childish, however they seem quite patient with their corrections. Again I think they are familiar from a common shared otherworld origin.
Scott and James, those two do not really show up at all. They frequent common-rooms, take lessons in dirty tricks and lethal strikes from skilled killers, gamble and wench at will and run through the streets for miles every day. The one persistent rumor is that they act as muscle for the Gond priests enforcing payments for the right to make the new devices. It is impossible for us to find any proof, no formal complaints, I suspect because the people involved really are breaking contracts and they are afraid of these two. There are a couple of incidence that are disturbing. In one case a theft of tools, compounds and recipes ended outside the city with a group of thieves literally torn to pieces with fire, and steel, including a minor wizard. The site was cleared by gnomes and halflings and all that was left were the tattered remains.
I cannot say that the last two add much to my theory except that they have a confidence and comfort with the tools of Gond.
Thunderspells said “We put tails on them all because they levered us into giving them those six rings of spell storing without paying the usual rates…”
“Five hundred and forty thousand gold pieces is more then most could cover…” noted the adviser.
“Indeed, however the expense of spies does not seem to be warranted, these men do not rise up to the level of criminal at worst, nor do their teachings seem treasonous, in fact this Schminke was rather scathing about the notion of general democracy for government. Stead is a city treasure, and those two huntsmen leave us in debt with every free patrol they participate in. I think we can safely drop the spies and leave them alone; the rings really were a small price for us to pay to keep hand cannons off the street.”
“I still sense some greater mystery in these men, I would like to know what it is.”
“This is a city of magic, there are more mysteries then anyone can ever resolve, it would be foolish for the government to waste resources on one that does not threaten us, indeed that seems to be of some benefit to us, as far as I am concerned they can stay as long as they want and the longer the better…leave them alone.”
Taern ended the meeting looking forward to tonight’s chapter of Stead’s epic showing of “The Lord of the Rings” it was a new medium where music and illusion were blended into a window showing a serial epic. Nobody knew how long it was going to be, though many suspected it was ten one hour chapters long, his date for the evening was a devoted Stead Head who claimed to have been part of one of his private orgies, Taern wished he was fifty years younger so he could still enjoy such a thing. He was saving a few spells to help him with just the one woman. With a smile he moved on to the sewer issue…

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