fond thoughts of Sixteen String Jack

22 Eleasias 1373

It just took an instant for the darkness to fall over me, and in that instant of fear and impending doom my mind naturally turned to what it meant if my companions and I failed on this quest:

Invasion from the Shadow Plane.

The destruction of the Weave.

The Triumph of Evil.

No more Gilmour’s Gilded Green-Apple Ale at Sixteen String Jack’s.

jack1.jpgOddly, of the four, the last seemed by far the most important at that particular moment. Of course, anyone who has ever drunk that wondrous ambrosia at Waterdeep’s most famous (and, indeed, only) hin public house may have an inkling of why that is so, particularly if they’ve ever had it with a warm, fresh slice of halfling barleybread and some of cousin Ned’s Brandythwaite cheese. For anyone who knows the barmaids at the Sixteen String Jack (and particularly the charming young Missy Rubytoes), my thoughts will be particularly understandable.

At the moment all went black, of course, I had no idea exactly what had transpired. I did know that it was unlikely to be good. After slaying the vrock, our exploration of this abandoned dwarven mine had yielded precious little in the way of treasure, beyond one odd and faintly magical necklace of bird bones. Instead, my companions and I had been treated to a pile of rotting corpses, a huge black amorphous blob that seemed intend on eating Ash and Hedge, ghouls, zombies-on-a-chain (much less enjoyable than the children’s game of the same name), and even a six-legged lizard that I was warned not to gaze upon too long. The one chest that we found contained—despite its ornate and complex lock—not fabulous gems or piles of gold, but rather a fearsome and incorporeal wraith with the unfortunate habit of attacking from floors, walls, and ceilings. This was clearly most unfair, especially for a hin like myself with expenses to cover. Alchemists’ fire doesn’t come cheap, Shen’s constant lectures on the “corruption of wealth” and the “dangers of opening strange boxes” notwithstanding.

Finally our party had moved against what appeared to be the enemy’s lair. Ashton was unable to pierce the conjured darkness, but Tip’s artful magicks finally succeeded in dispelling the black. We had advanced carefully into what appeared to be a large room filled with lead or iron boxes of unfamiliar design. The clawing noises coming from within these suggested some sort of angry beast, a supposition that none of us was eager to confirm after the fight with the dread wraith. Indeed, by this time Ashton and Tip were largely drained of spells both clerical and arcane, and we had much debated whether we should rest before pressing on this far. However, the risk of letting our enemies recover, regroup and prepare for us seemed too great–so here we were.

As we moved cautiously into the center of the room, Hedge carefully checked our path for traps. Tip then used his wand to reveal any concealed doors–and soon found one on the southern wall of the chamber. I walked towards it, rather incautiously as it turned out—for as I approached, I set off a trap. Our party was assaulted by a shriek, a wail, and a powerful blast of sound that penetrated to the very bone. Whatever element of surprise we might have had was now lost due to my foolishness.

No sooner had we regained our composure when a most ominous sound of stone against stone. I dove behind one of the metal boxes, and had only just voiced the command to render myself invisible when the door burst open and two huge living statues of Shar stomped into the room, their stoney visages hardly concealing their murderous intent.

We fought them as best we could, but only Hedge really had a weapon that could much pierce these fearsome golems of rock. Shen, showing extents of courage that I’ll never know, fought one of the constructs hand-to-hand. Yet his fists and feet were barely able to chip its smooth stone surface.

As the battle went badly against us, she appeared—Mayzine. It was in search of this agent of evil that we had entered this deep, dark place, hoping thereby to disrupt the shadow-plot and learn of any antidote that might save Hedge’s brother Pern.

Seeing a possible vulnerability, the indefatigable monk tripped one of the golems, sending it crashing to the floor. He then vaulted over its prone form, and struck Mayzine with all his considerable might.

FWAP!

Nothing happened.

Well, as Uncle Reggie was wont to say, that’s not strictly true. Mayzine did react.. turning her head slightly, and smiling at the surprised monk. She then did something even more disconcerting: as whisps of shadow surrounded her, she transformed. Not into a small puppy, of course, or kitten or anything else welcome and unthreatening. No, she transformed into a dragon: a huge, sleek, evil dragon, dark as the Shadow itself.

Faster than a badger in a bad place, I ran.

So too did everyone else, hoping that the low corridors the area would slow or halt the pursuit of Mayzine and her stone guardians behind us. We ran, as fast as our feet would bear us, towards the bottom of the mine shaft, praying that we might, somehow—however improbably—escape this place. First Shen, then Ashton and Tip, passed me by at their much faster paces. My heart sank, realizing that my ring shielded me from their gaze, and that my companions had no idea they were leaving me behind to become a dragon-snack…

CRACK! A fierce blue light erupted ahead at the bottom of the mine shaft, as Mayzine magicked herself there to block our very exit. Suddenly my invisibility and slow pace seemed much less of a liability than it had scant seconds before.

I remember old Grandpa Erk once saying “always be ye were the trolls isn’t, and the golds is.” He had never applied the saying to dragons of any sort (let alone agents of evil from the Plane of Shadow), and I had yet to see any treasure of any sort on this accursed adventure. Still, it seemed prudent advice. I stopped in my tracks, and slowly, quietly, and invisibly headed back the way I had just come.

Behind me I could hear sounds—undoubtedly screams of pain as my friends were devoured (or so I thought). There was little I could do. Either they were dead, or captured. Either way, the thoughts of me joining them as meal or captive scarcely appealed, certainly much less so than rescuing them at a more opportune moment or simply staying alive. As we hin say, “fortune favours the not-dead.”

As silently as I could, I crept back to the chamber from whence Mayzine and the golems had come. There I found an altar, a bloodied body upon it, and a huge, pitch-black symbol of Shar (a portal, perhaps?) behind. Despite the golem-statues now motionlessly flanking the altar, I crept still closer.. hoping for a clue, a way to destroy the portal, an escape route, or perhaps even a cask of ale with which to relieve the pain of my possibly approaching death. Even that suspicious Snakebite stuff would have been welcome at this moment.

A quick search revealed a hidden compartment in the altar… but just then my concentration was broken by the unmistakable creak of a door being opened nearby. The golems heard it too, and lumbered off to investigate, their heavy stone feet making the very ground rumble with each step. Clearly it was no one they were expecting.

Hedge! Could it be Hedge? I hadn’t seen him running with the others–no doubt he too had activated his ring and sought advantage by stealth. With his brother’s life in the balance, he had even more reason to come back this way, in the hopes of finding a cure to the Shadow Death. Perhaps he would save us all, as he had in the desert temple! Hedge, the hero! Hedge, the…

Then darkness. Nothingness. And thoughts of ale, barmaids, and Sixteen String Jack.

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