"He Who Guards the Key" - August 25th, 2001
Prior to reading this story, you may want to read:
The Story called Dutton Hobbs Comes Calling
The Introduction to Mensa s Cameo s Armies of Doom,
The Introduction to the Elders When the Master Calls
The Elder sat down stiffly by the fire. "When you leave here soon, my friends...our debt to you will be paid. Our rudeness and presumption when you first arrived will be bought and paid for by our recent hospitality. Hopefully, some sort of bond had grown between us, and you will not find it necessary to return here, and attempt to destroy us at a later date." With this comment, the Elder paused, and looked from face to face among the party. The firelight flickered and cast deep shadows on all that were present.
"I know the importance of the quest which you are upon, and in my many many years I have gathered knowledge from here and there that I wish to share with you. Some of it will be important in the days and weeks ahead. Some of it will be of no help until many seasons...if indeed seasons do return...have passed. Sit back, relax, and let me pass to you my wisdom...."
The Tale of the Pigment Wizard
There was a blind old man who had a habit of using many different names. Thin and bony, with a bit of the shakes, his dark hollow eye sockets saw more than he let on. But with the paints...oh, it was clear that in his mind he could see. With a brush in hand and a plate of pigments set aside, paintings as true as your own sight would begin and finish on his canvass. The light from his sunsets was warmer and more wonderful than any real sunset. The glorious yellow hope of his sunrises outshone any real beginning of day. His women were pure and dirty all at once, with smirks that communicated both faithfulness and debauchery. His still lifes glowed with light and shadow more crisp and inspiring than any real bowl of fruit. Well, you get the idea....
Many people saw this old man. Often in many places at once. He would be seen painting a gladiator fight in Citadel, when news would arrive that he had just painted the Emperial Fleet off the coast of the Island of Sir James. Then another sailer would claim he had just seen him painting the vineyards of Paralo just days before. Some claimed the old man had a brother, who was similarly blessed with talent. Others claimed that it was just rumor-mongering and legend-making. But a few others whispered that the old man was one of the last of the pigment wizards. I met this old man once. He came to paint for the Master. He set up right around the corner from here, his frail little body buffetted by the winds as he painted a view of the Master's Castle. And when he was done, I beheld his work. Though the Master did not appear in the painting, you could feel him there...planning and watching.
The old man went as quickly as he came. I asked him his name, and he gave me a firm handshake. 'The name is Molene...well met. It is rare I meet one almost as old as I!' I complimented his painting, and he shook his head. "No, no. That painting is nothing. You should see what I painted in my youth, when my eyes guided my brush, and not dim images in my mind....'
I was so taken with his poise and presence, it was not until he had gone that I wondered at how he had travelled there with empty eye socket, and with nothing to guide him? And how does one paint the Master's Castle from one's imagination, and get it just right? I believe them now when they say that Molene...or whatever he calls himself that day...is a wizard....
The Tale of
Bortak Stoneface &
his son Gungkrot
Bortak Stoneface was a heroic Orkish warrior in the army of King Senaca in the Great Azure Kingdom. While celebrating a successful campaign in the hall's of Azure Keep He marveled over the wondrous food that had been served up and wished to thank who ever prepared this feast. Upon entering the Kitchen encountered a sight that made his mouth water even more. She was a Goddess, a creature of grace as she glided across the room with 2 huge sacks of potatoes slung over her broad shoulders. She stood over 6' tall and a curvaceous pear shaped body that approached 3' wide at the hips. She was perfect for childbearing. Her nose was a little small in Ork standards and a little off center but the wart on her chin balanced it off nicely. As she set down her load he was treated with the finishing touch on this creature of perfection, bussoms that would make a calf's mouth water hung low to the ground. He silently withdrew from the room to plan his strategy to gain the heart of this Image of Loveliness. He searched out the one man he knew might make his goal. A man whose charm was such that no woman could withstand. Dutton Hobbes was this man and he was Bortak’s best hope to win his hearts desire. After a week of pleading Dutton gave into Bortak and began schooling him on the art of wooing a human woman. This meant learning and understanding a spell like speech called poetry and making her believe he was interested in her day to day business and hobbies. After Months of tedious training and Dutton’s constant threat of giving up Bortak felt he grasped this art called courting.
It was less then a year later that the Angel that was called Gertina gave her love to Bortak and they were Wed and 7 months later she went into labor with what some had speculated was twin’s or even triplet’s but turned out to be a 13 lb. robust baby boy they named Gungkrot.
The City of the Forge is older than this current age of man. And one day in that former age, the priests of War descended upon the city, high in the Blue Mountains. It was there that the world's greatest Forge burned bright, and a master blacksmith, known today only as Savior-Maker toiled and created items of great worth and power. It was Savior-Maker who built the Forge. It was Savior-Maker who created the godly weapons that serve each aspect of Divine Kempin. It was Savior-Maker that the priest sought that day.
The priests offered money to make the finest sword the blacksmith had ever made, but he refused. The priests offered weath, then power, then women, and still the blacksmith refused to make their sword. Then the priest threatened him with bodily harm, and death itself...but still the blacksmith refused their offers. The priests of War became very angry, and one stepped forward and pierced the Savior-Maker through the gut with his blessed sword, mortally wounding the blacksmith...but not yet killing him.
Savior-Maker clutched at his side, blood oozing between his fingers. "Your Unifier wishes to have the finest sword I have ever made, yet you injure me...yet you have killed me!" The priests stepped back from that fellow among them who had delivered the deadly blow. The blacksmith continued, "I shall make this sword for you, my last sweat will wet its raw blade, and the heat of my forge, and the splash of my blood will temper its blade. Your Unifer will have his sword...and it will be my last creation. May it take you all...."
The sword Savior was rolled and hammered, rolled and hammered, and a hard flexible blade was formed and tempered in the Forge of Life, and he blood of death. As he lovingly polished its perfect surface, Savior-Maker's eye rolled up into his head and his mouth lolled open. He fell forward, Savior's blade sliding into him like a fitted scabbard. Savior-Maker's body was tossed into the Forge of Life, and the last sword he made was delivered to the Unifier. Fearing retribution, the priest of War never told their Master of what they had done....
The Tale of the Jestak's Promise
The Swaldune warships lined the coast, and dark dragons ruled the sky. Tall men from Norlund, dressed all in furs, charged forward...their huge wardogs at their side. And the armies of Jestak was crumbling. He had begun his days as a 'barbarian' of Shronth, a 'Grasslander.' He had travelled the world with a brave group of adventurers:
Marcus, the Strong but Powerful. A halfling with an iron will, and an unnatural strength, he could weild his short sword with deadly accurracy, and crushing power. Mathuse, the Swift. A human thief of some reknown, his willingness to speak freely and his quick wit often got him into trouble. Eggopolis, the Pius. A large rotund cleric, but formidible with his heavy mace and able to carry as much armor on his back as was needed. Jukara, the Wise. An elvan wizard who had forsaken his people, and embraced the city life that so many humans craved. Then there was Gorg, a fighter that had left Shronth with Jestak when they were just young men.
Gorg had died years before, and the party worked very hard to reincarnate him. They prepared his body, and the magic scroll, and Jukara began the spell. Gorg's partially decayed body seemed to melt away, and a swirling cloud developed, and shaped itself into a man. A new body for Gorg's soul, Jukara had explained before they began. Imagine their surprise when the body was that of Vavasha...the most evil mage the party of adventurers had ever faced. "Vavasha the Vile," they often had called him. It had been Vavasha that Gorg had delivered the death-blow to, and in so doing had been mortally wounded. And now he had returned from the dead!
They all readied themselves for battle, when Vavasha spoke. The voice was Vavasha's, but the tone, demeanor, and content was Gorg. As a last act of revenge, or perhaps some perverted act of self-preservation, Vavasha had provided his body as the subject of Gorg's reincarnation, and with it his knowledge of spells and magic.
Now on the beaches of the Mainland of his Empire-to-be, Jestak watched the Swaldune and Norlund forces slaughtering his own. He ran to his command tent, burst inside, and grasped at the shoulders of his closest friend...Vavasha...many years older than that fateful day he was reincarnated. Jestak pleaded with his advisor and friend to do something...anything...to stop the invasion.
"Jestak. I can do this for you. But it will ruin me. It will age me, and perhaps take my very life. But if you ask it of me, my friend and King, I will do it."
"Yes, I ask this of you. I am sorry, but I ask this of you!"
Vavasha's face fell in shadow, and for a moment it reminded Jestak of the Vavasha of old...Vavasha the Vile. "Then you must promise me a favor, a gift, of anything I want. Anything. ANYTHING!"
Jestak's face and tone was desperate. "Yes. Anything. Just do this...wipe clean this invasion."
Vavasha gestured and spoke a few magic words, and the room became very still. Then he faded from sight. Jestak stood there for minutes, perhaps hours. His friend was gone. Outside he found his troops tending to the wounded, and burying the dead. "What happened here? Where are the invaders?"
Jestak was told of a vast storm, that rolled from inland, and out to sea. A storm which failed to blow one hair of an Empire footsoldier, but which swept the invaders and their boats out to see, where they were capsized and destroyed. Jestak thought Vavasha had perished in casting the spell. But he noticed 5, and 10 years later that he had not aged. Fifty years later, he still had not aged, and they story was told that until Vavasha was found, and asked his favor, Jestak was doomed to live and wait for his return. A few years back, a young party of adventurers found Vavasha's shattered spirit on another plane, and returned it to his friend.
Since that time, Vavasha has once again become whole, and an important mage in the world. And Jestak has begun to age again. No one knows what favor Vavasha waited 100 years to ask....
He Who Guards the Key
Peace is made with the town of Draven. Over several days the Elder tells the party tales of mages and mysteries of the land. Our friends are welcome to return, although none believes they will be returning.
The Hooded Mage Removes the Marks of Death
As the Hooded Mage enters the tavern, the people of Draven hiss and spit at him. The Hooded Mage ensures them
he is here on good terms. The town elder asks that everyone leave. The Hooded Mage begins by explaining how the
party is no longer in his favor, and removes the Marks of Death from them. Zeek asks to retain the tattoo, even
if it is without the power...the Hooded Mage agrees. Jeremiah asks the Hooded Mage for a magical compass, and he
is given one. Zeek quickly replies, "You don't happen to have a 'Moral Compass'?" Feeling somewhat dejected,
a warm greeting was not given to the new party members. Ganraith, Eytai and Sir Fitzpiece all say that Javair felt
the old party needed some new blood, which did not add to the team's morale.
Ganraith and Gnasher look over the maps, and plot a course to the City of the Forge.
A Warm Welcome from a Winter Wyrm
The party travels for a day, camps overnight, and the next afternoon spots a cave. Zeek moves at an incredible
speed to get a closer look. Zeek then motions for the party to come closer. Once the party reaches Zeek, Ganraith
calls the party a bunch of fools for following a fool.
It appears that a body is lying in the snow in front of the cave. The party reluctantly investigates the body, and sees it is wearing white fur and very bloody.
Cold is emanating from the cave...the body is a yeti. Zeek screams, "It's a trap, run!" The rest of the party slowly begins to retreat. A bit too slowly as a huge Ice Wyrm rushes from the cave, chomping on Ganraith and Jeremiah. They barely escape certain death and jump from its mouth. Oren almost meets an early fate as worm food as he is bitten and partially swallowed by the Ice Wyrm.
Eytai desperately looses arrow after arrow into the creature's hide and Zeek heaves his javelins, all to no avail. Kit amasses all the oil she is carrying and burns the beast. Gainraith's fire sphere seems to be doing the most damage. Over the next few minutes the party inflicts major fire damage on the Wyrm, but Oren is swallowed further into its throat. Kit anchors a rope and throws Oren a Grappling Hook as the Ice Wyrm retreats. Oren uses all of his strength to hold onto and protect his lifeline. Oren is pierced by sharp teeth and burned by Ganraith's Flaming Sphere, but still he clutches the rope. Finally he is jerked free of the Wyrm's throat by the rope. The party quickly flees, and continues their travels.
Secret of the Keys and Cameo's First Favor
Meeting with Molene the Sage
Early in the morning a day later, an old man approaches the party.
The old man is Molene, though his eye sockets are not empty. When asked about it, he says the eyes are 'borrowed.'
He explains they are Wahlquist's eyes.
He tells the party that he is the one that Cameo entrusted with the Key to the Azure Keep.
When asked why, he says that it was a favor among mages.
Fitzpiece arrogantly asks, "Why have you come here?" Molene patiently tells the party he wanted to visit them briefly, and see if they were worthy to regain the Key. He tells the party that they appear worthy, but only time will tell. He gives them a hint, of sorts:
There are six Keys, but only one is real. To be sure that you have the right one, you should collect all six.
He tells them there will be six paintings, but to be careful of the damaged painting.
Molene takes his leave of the party, refusing to eat breakfast with them. Our friends do not feel for the better after speaking with Molene.
City of the Forge
Our friends discover a forgotten realm and apart of their history. This is the place of legend, where the Unifier's
Sword, Savior was forged. The party locates the City of the Forge on a huge icy plateau...and they cautiously approach.
There is a huge pit in the earth, and fiery heat pours forth. A 20-foot high shield of beaten metal surrounds the Forge.
This round shield wall is surrounded with abandoned and frozen buildings.
Any sentiment is quickly dispelled by an evil presence beneath the ground.
The party approaches and enters the only large tower in the city, investigating its walls and floor.
There is a lever that opens huge metal doors facing the Forge, and a two foot levers on the floor.
Two large doors and one small trapdoor compose the floor.
The party enters the trapdoor, and finds a huge metal structure under the tower, capable of rising up and allowing a blacksmith to climb out on a pedestal and use the heat of the Forge.
An underground tunnel leads towards the evil the party sensed earlier.
There is a riddle carved into the edge of a door into the hallway. "What can fill a room, but not take up any space?"
Party members called out answers. "Air." "Water." "Fire."
When the word 'fire' was said, jets of flame shot forth in the hallway and scorched the walls and ceiling.
The party walked through the tunnel, resisting the urge to say the word 'fire.'
Beyond this they found a blacksmith's shop with a magical anvil, and many, many tools.
Horny Dragon, Hidden Key
The party enters a huge chamber, burning with intense heat, and housing an Ancient Red Dragon. Grazus Infernus
greets them with disdain and a halfhearted challenge. Our friends quickly decide to barter rather than enjoin him
in mortal combat. Cameo's Second Favor is discovered at this point, Infernus has promised to guard the keys. No
amount of pleading was going to convince this dirty old bastard that Cameo's promise was paid, dead or alive. It
was so long ago that he is not sure why he owed Cameo such a long-standing promise.
The dragon stated that he had come to this chamber years before in human form, but had since forgotten that little "trick!"
Plus, Grazum Infernus was looking for a legacy, and he knew he would be remembered forever if he fought the party and defended the Key to the Azure Keep.
They party was trying to convince the ancient dragon to not fight them.
The dragon said he had lived a long life, and had held many a town hostage to his destructive force. He had enjoyed the virgin sacrifices, both in his human form by deflowering them...or in his dragon-form tearing them to pieces with his teeth and claws. Kit begins taking off her outer, winter garments and her womanly scent reaches Grazus. Almost immediately Grazus becomes enamored with Kit, his eyes dilated and nostrils flaring. Jeremiah, in the habit of teasing Kit, humorously says, "We'll give you Kit to let us by." Several party members giggle at this joke in the middle of the stressful situation...but the dragon's eyes flashed.
Everything got very quiet, very quickly. The dragon asked Oren to come forward and talk to him. The dragon offered
to let the party by without a fight, if Kit, the beautiful Drow female, would pleasure him. He told Oren that for
a beautiful dark drow like Kit, he would be motivated to remember how to assume human form!
The party argued about it for a while. Zeek, Sir and Eytai did not trust the dragon. They feared for Kit's life. The Dragon's phrase, "or in my dragon-form tearing virgins to pieces with my teeth and claws!" did not bode well, but Kit made the decision to go through with it. She knew how important the Key was, and she feared that many party members would die fighting the dragon. Plus, she had heard of Grazum Infernus, and he was a fierce and powerful dragon in his day. This somehow interested her....
The party moved forward, while Kit remained behind and gave herself to the dragon...in his human form. When Grazum Infernus was done, he thanked Kit, donned black armor and a sword, and walked from the dungeon. The dragon told Kit that he had given up on life, but meeting her convinced him that there were still people, creatures, and places he wanted to visit and experience.
Six paintings/Six Keys
Down a long hall, the party found an octogonal room containing six paintings.
The paintings were painted by a powerful pigment wizard...Molene had already taken credit for them earlier.
Eventually, the party traveled into each of the six paintings...literally stepping into the paintings, and traveling elsewhere. What follows is descriptions of the paintings, and what happened when the party entered them:
THE INSIDE OF A STONE TOWER. THROUGH A WINDOW BLUE SKY AND A BEAUTIFUL LAKE ARE VISIBLE. An old man came down through a trapdoor in the ceiling. He had shoulder length white hair and was clean-shaven. He introduced himself as Archibald Leech, and said that he ran a school for mages on the Island of Sona-Nyl. He had been entrusted a key by Molene, and had been told to only give it to a group of adventurers that appeared worthy. He questioned the party, and learned that Javair had sent them, and sought to help the frozen Azure Kingdom. Archibald said that he had met Javair once, and had heard of him. Archibald had made his fame as a mage in the country of Crunal on the Island of Bantroth. He said he heard a tale that Javair had recovered a huge treasure that Archibald had hidden...in order to finance a larger navy for Baron Shelby Crunal. Archibald said that any man that generous must be helped in any way possible. He searched for the Key that had been given to him, and entrusted it to Ganraith. At Ganraith's request, he also gave him a student's spellbook with some lower level spells in it.
A ROOM IN A ROUND TOWER...THE WALLS ARE MADE OF BLUE STONE, AND THE FURNISHINGS ARE IN A MODERN EMPIRE STYLE. The party left the room, and went downstairs to the first floor, where a dinner party was going on. Baron Shelby Crunal's bodyguards moved towards the party, but the Baron called them off. When he heard that the party had come from the old painting...a gift from Molene, he was surprised. He said he had received many gifts from the old man who lived near the fishing village part of town. He said the party had arrived in the town of Haven. When told that they wanted a Key, and that Javair was possibly the future leader of a rebuilt Azure Kingdom, the Baron laughed. Will asked if there was some reason that Javair was not fit to rule. The Baron replied that long ago, Javair had run with a fairly seedy crowd, and had slept more nights in the local whore house than his own bed. The Baron added that this was long ago, and that there was no flaw in Javair's character that made him unfit to rule men. Baron Shelby Crunal entrusted his Key to Will Fitzpierce.
A SQUARE ROOM BUILT OF LARGE STONE BLOCKS, IT APPEARS TO BE A MAGICAL LABORATORY, WITH TABLES AND JARS AND CHEMICALS. The party stepped through and found themselves in a large laboratory with reinforced walls. An old man with a long gray beard and hair was standing at the far end, swirling his hand in the air. Behind him a cloud of energy appeared to be swirling and rotating to the movements of his hand. Views of a variety of locations were visible in the cloud of energy. The old man had one normal eye, and the other was red with a white pupil. Floating near the ceiling behind the old man was an eight-year-old boy in a loin-cloth. His eyes were completely black and shiny, and he appeared to be in a trance. This was Vavasha, personal mage and advisor to Emperor Jestak, and the most powerful wizard to walk the World of Kempin. Vavasha bade the party to speak, and said it would be a challenge for him to talk to the party and continue the spell...but he welcomed it. The party asked for the Key. Once again, name-dropping Javair had quite an effect. Vavasha said that he owed Javair a great favor, and gave the Key to the party. When Ganraith asked Vavasha why there was an boy floating in the room, Vavasha responded that it was not a matter for their concern. He also joked that it was just like Molene to give him a magical painting of an empty stone room in a dark dirty dungeon.
A PAINTING OF A THICK FOREST, WITH THE TREES 'SHAPED' AND 'FORMED' INTO HOMES, WITH WINDOWS, STAIRS, AND DOORS. This turned to be the Island of Shimera...the land of the low elves. The trees clearly had not been chopped, or hurt...but simply formed and shaped by magic. The party was taken to Penarell Underwood, King of Shimera. He met with them in his palace within the largest tree on the Island. He did not appear overly worried about Kit being half Drow, perhaps he could read her heart. But he did complain that the party appeared touched by Swaldunian magic...and said that the Swaldunes were making gearing up for war against Shimera. The king held his hand on each party member's head, except Kit and Oren, who he would not touch.
Penarell says that the party is worthy of the key, and entrusted it to Ganraith and Eytai, as both of them were elves. Galadrian hands the key to Ganraith and says, "Guard well this key and use it not for ill." Zeek, not fully trusting Ganraith yet, says, "We will make sure he does not." Whereby Ganraith replies, "He is a fool. I will make it my mission that these fools not take the wrong path." Zeek refrains from smashing Ganraith's brains into mush and mutters a curse, "A fool is the fool that calls one a fool." Penarell welcomes them to come back, and possibly help in the struggles with the Island of Swaldune.
A BATTLEFIELD STRETCHING INTO THE DISTANCE, COMPLETELY COVERED IN TWISTED DEAD BODIES, WITH POOLS AND STREAMS OF FLOWING BLOOD. As soon as the party entered the painting, the bodies decayed into bones and dust. The party stood in a hot valley covered in bone. In the distance a group of robed figures was approaching. The figures were wearing white robes, and referred to themselves as the Keepers of Secrets. The were more than willing to surrender the key, and said it was one less secret they would have to keep. They handed over the key, and warned the party that as soon as they were through the painting...the Keepers would destroy the painting, and prevent further intruders. The party left with their Key, and the painting crumpled up on the wall, fell to the ground, and burst into flame!
A HUGE MOUNTAIN IN THE SHAPE OF A HUMAN SKULL. LAVA FLOWS FROM THE MOUTH AND NOSE, AND SMOKE ISSUES FROM A HOLE IN THE SIDE OF THE SKULL. A TRAIL LEADS FROM THE PAINTING TO THE MOUNTAIN. This painting had a crack or tear in it from the bottom right corner to about the middle of the large painting. That is why the party went into this painting last. The party went in, except Kit who was going to remain behind with the five Keys they had already collected. The party went in...and appeared in the painting, but they also remained behind in the room with Kit! The party members had created doubles of themselves by stepping into the torn painting! The party in the painting could not come back through, into the room at the City of the Forge. And the party that remained behind could no longer step through. The party in the painting traveled up the trail to the Mountain of Man, and when they did not return, Kit stepped into the painting, and her double tried to catch up. The party that remained behind investigated how to get their shades back in every way possible, but failed. They resolved to return to the Azure Keep with 5 of the 6 Keys, and try to reunite with their doubles later....
Our friends are quite disturbed at how many of the Council of Thirteen they have met in one day, Vendra, Molene, The Hooded Mage, Archibald Leech, Vavasha, Penarell. Luckily these mages were not completely evil. But, what of this Red Jackal of Westland?
For a related story read: The Introduction to Vikos and Javir at the Storm Gates