Into the Darkness

portal.jpg“Look before you leap,” my mum used to say. She wasn’t the only one, of course–that particular turn of phrase can be found in a thousand tongues in a thousand lands. “Aim before release,” the Wood Elves say. “Watch fer rocks afore ye watch fer gold,” say the Dwarves. “Better an eye for the Nightwatch than a year in gaol,” whisper the guildfellows of Waterdeep. Or, as my good friend Kordite von Boom often says, “Never mix without ducking.”

Well, despite my best instincts I did leap before looking—following Hedge and my fellow adventurers through the portal in the abberrants’ lair, knowing not what was on the other side. And, as a result, brave Shen now lies dead.

We had finally found Shen an hour or so earlier, wandering disoriented in the cavern of the mournful golem that Hedge and I had tried so hard to avoid. With the monks’ martial skills added to our own, and with the help of evil-dragon-Mayzine-turned-slightly-less-evil (more on that later) we had triumphed this time against the foul construct, although not without injuries. Pleased to be once more back together as a party, we had then retired to the Grell laboratory, conversed a moment, and then moved through the portal

The portal… well, you see, there was nothing on the other side of that portal. More precisely, there was a starry night sky, and a fall of a hundred feet or so through the darkness into a crater below. I had feared what might await us at our destination, and and even mentioned my concerns to my companions. However, with everyone else so brave and bold I felt self-conscious with my warnings and usual halfling caution, and so leapt into the arcane blackness. In an instant, I found myself in another place, plummeting towards the hard ground. Mayzine, whose leathery dragonwings had soon caught her fall, might have caught me too, but declined to do so. It would seem she has not entirely abandoned the path of evil, in my book at least.

Shen had proceeded me and was lying in a bloody, bruised mess on the ground when he heard my cries of alarm. Without hesitation or thought for himself, he positioned himself to break my fall—and, in so doing took some of the harm meant for me. It was, as I have come to expect of this monk, a supremely selfless act.

Although we all survived the fall, it left us battered and ill prepared for the next dangers that we might face. We were deep in a huge bowl-shaped depression, formed in some mighty explosion that had destroyed the old Dwarven mines we had been exploring only days (weeks? months?) earlier. The ground seemed polished smooth, perhaps scooped away to another plane or melted like glass in the heat of a great cataclysm. A strange dark mist swirled about our feet.

It was out of this mist that our attackers came: a gigantic dark spider, and its smaller eight-legged companions. It was then that I realised our magicks did not function here, and that Uncle Reggie’s skiprock and other weapons secured within my Belt of Thingyness were beyond reach. As Hedge reached for his swords, I grabbed his crossbow and bolts, hoping thereby to contribute to the battle to come. Ash gripped his mace, its divine powers temporarily quietened. And Shen–once more, selfless and brave–catapulted himself forward to confront our many-legged foe.

He was wounded, though. Wounded, you see, from his fight with the golem, from his fall, and from catching me. In a stronger state, he would no doubt have vanquished this beast, as he had so many dark creatures before. This time, however, he was struck down. Struck down dead.

It is odd that it should have moved me so, for I have seen death before. It is odd too that I should feel such an affinity for this honest and ascetic monk when so much of my own life has been spent in bars and taverns, among thieves and confidence tricksters, and in relocating objects of value to better places. Yet his simple moral code, his very basic sense of right of wrong, has something very hin to it. He is–or was–as straight as a gooseneck down a plughole, as the expression goes. Only his sometimes stern demeanor, excessive height, rapid pace, peculiar parentage, intolerance for creature comforts, whirling-hands-of-death, ability to glow, preference for non-alcoholic beverages, general inability to play the harmonica or to convince people he’s a visiting noble or tax collector or traveling gem-appraiser, lack of curiousity about what lies in other folks’ pockets, ignorance of the classics of literature (notable Harry Heliofont and the Magnificent Golden Badger), bald feet, and negligible experience with barmaids, grappling hooks, handcuffs, or a criminal record marked him as any different from a hundred halflings that I have known.

In any event, this was not the time for mourning. We scarcely had time to react to the sight of the monk’s broken lifeless body laying prone in the dark moonlit mist when the huge spider grabbed Tip, and started to flee with our mage. We wounded the monstrosity grievously, but evidently not enough. It vanished into the shadows. Two of our rapidly-dwindling party were now gone.

Curiously, the spider actually vanished too–clearly shadow magicks, or the things that exist between The Weave, function in such dead zones where other mystical powers do not. I shall have to ask Tip about it–when and if we find him. I am hopeful we will. Presuming that the creature does not immediately snap off his head, drink his bodily fluids, and discard his lifeless drained husk of a body in its lair, I doubt that a spider can long keep possession of a mage of Tipwill’s intelligence, especially should it wander somewhere where his arcane abilities once more function. I can only hope too that the time (and cheese) that I have spent in secret training sessions with Professor Sniddle on gem-filching and rope gnawing will prove useful. In any case, we have no way of tracking where he is, or where he has been taken (although I’ll ask that cursed Mayzine to scout for him and the spider come daybreak).

For now, therefore, the priority is Shen, We must take him forthwith to somewhere where he might be be brought back from the netherlands of death–perhaps at the nearby Dwarven hospice (if it still functions following the cataclysm), or Sundabar, or if not there surely in Silverymoon. Sadly, with our mage captured and our spells useless for now in any case, we can hardly magick ourselves there. Instead we’ve fashioned a simple litter, and we will carry the body of our fallen companion as far as is necessary.

And I, for one, shall find someway of repaying him. I have no way of knowing, of course, whether the damage he took from my fall made the difference, or whether he would have been vanquished anyway. Indeed, that’s quite the point: he didn’t plot or plan or balance the risks and dangers, but simply and with his typical courage did what he thought was right. The Harpers have a saying, or so Uncle Reggie used to say: “Do good.” I had always thought it rather trite, and far too simple. But that’s the thing, you see–for the truly good, it is simple indeed.

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