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Threetoe's Stories, and Analysis

Summoned to Darkness

By Threetoe

Thunder cracked as lightning flashed through the night sky. Beneath the broiling clouds, a cloaked figure knelt at the midnight crossroads. He had come for answers, to seek knowledge, and a start to the ultimate quest. As the hour approached, his heart began to race. The incantations had been spoken, the blasphemies performed. There was no turning back now. High above him, on a tall post, an iron cage hung twisting in the wind. Out from the bars protruded a pair of skeletal legs, the remains of a petty thief, condemned to die by the magistrate of Araglen. Now his body was to become a vessel of evil, that the conjurer be pointed in the direction of glory.

"William," said a voice from above, the sound made terrible as it was forced through ragged windpipes, "It has been too long." William threw back his hood and summoned all the courage he had to lift his head and face the demon. It stared back at him through the corpse's single eye.

"Oh, Malphese," chanted the necromancer, "Messenger of Slaughter, Harbinger of Almighty Armok. Hear my plea! Show me the way to your kingdom, that I might bring back the Crown of Glory."

The sunken eye stared back at him for a long moment, the skull motionless. "What, mortal, do you offer the blood god in return?"

"I shall deliver unto him the greatest heroes of the age," said William, "that he may feast on their life force!"

"So be it," said the demon. William threw his arm over his face as the cage burst into flames. Then, quietly at first, an evil laugh came from William's chest, shaking the night with his dark intent.


Mighty Bram made his way through the muddy settlement, half-drunk from the night before. The other barbarians saluted him as he stumbled by. His bravery was well-known, as was his skill with a sword. Holding his aching head, he made his way to the mead hall. The king had summoned him with promises of wealth and renown. A ruddy wench winked as Bram trudged by, straight into the chest of an armored guardsman.

"Seize that drunkard!" shouted the captain of the guard. A guard put hands on the warrior. Bram struck him in the jaw, knocking him senseless. The barbarian swung the limp body around and hurled it into the faces of his attackers. Half a dozen guards crashed to the ground. The captain drew his saber.

"Bram!" shouted the king, stepping down the mead hall steps, "lively as always, I see."

The captain stayed his hand as the king threw his arm around the barbarian's shoulders and guiding him into the hall. Before the throne stood a man in a black cloak. He had an ill look about him, his eyes fierce and glistening, his short black beard ending in a sharp point. Undeterred, Bram strode up to face the stranger, swinging his wide muscular arms as he came. A hair's breadth from the dark stranger, Bram lifted his hand and placed it on his chin, as if pondering how best to crush the little man into dust. To his credit, the cloaked man stood his ground, though clearly shaken.

"Bram," shouted the king, "hold! This is William! He brings news of great treasure for the taking."

Later that day Bram found himself on the road south, away from the savage nation of Thathbrig. At his side rode the enigmatic William on a mottled sway-backed half-steed. The ragged steppe gave way to lush green fields. "Tell me, little man," said the barbarian, "where lies this treasure you so easily promise?"

"Of easy passage to the prize, I did not promise," said the stranger. "Through haunted woods we must go, there to find the elf princess to join our quest, then through the savage plains to the dwarf fortress, to find the dwarf champion and learn the location of the final prize. The path will be fraught with danger, for we cannot make this journey alone."

Bram turned his head and spit, he who had never known fear.

A tree line ahead marked the border of the Singing Hunter's Paradise, a vast forest praised for rich game and feared for the dark spirits that haunted it. The riders passed through the trees without incident, but once inside things took on a strange aspect. The tension in the barbarian's shoulders eased as the wind passed through the merry green leaves. He thought he could hear voices raised up in song. They were not unlike singers of his own tribe, lost long ago. William chanted under his breath, clearly disturbed by his surroundings. All around them, the animals watched. Quickly, William grabbed the reins of Bram's horse and spoke in a forced whisper. "We must walk from here," he said. Unconcerned, the warrior dismounted and lead his great black horse down the narrowing trail. Deeper, deeper into the wood they went. The tree's song grew louder and more maddening. Bram held his hands his ears and howled. William chewed a black herb and took it from his mouth, bidding Bram to put it in his ears. Leaving the horses behind, the travelers soldiered on, leaning on each other for strength.

Something danced through the trees before them. William strained under the weight of the faltering barbarian. In time they came to meet the travelers. A band of satyrs leaped from behind the trees and danced around the pair. The creatures smiled and pranced. One of the goat men put a flute to his lips and began to play a lively tune. Instantly, Bram snapped out of his stupor and chased after the flute player, laughing like a madman.

Pushing the brush from his face, William followed the trail Bram had cut through the forest. At last, he emerged into a huge clearing surrounding an enormous lake, completely still, and clear as crystal. Bram knelt at the shore, staring emptily into the water. William made to approach the lake but froze as an arrow struck the tree before him. He turned to face an elf woman already aiming her next arrow at his heart. He moved his hand to make a hex to hinder his enemy.

"Move again, wizard," said the elf, "and I'll nail you to that tree."

"We seek the forest spirit," said William, flinching away from the stunning archeress.

"Then seek no further," laughed the elf, "for you are now very close to the spirit world."

"I have come to gather companions to join me on the ultimate quest," said William. "Join us, or let me leave with my man."

"He is my man now, conjurer," growled the elf.

A sound, not unlike a metal gong, echoed throughout the clearing. William's gaze strayed to the water, but the elf never took her eyes off her target. A rippling, bubbling spring rose from the center of the lake. Out of it the giant specter of a forest rat rose and floated in midair. William's jaw went slack. Bram once again rose from his trance and stared at the mighty god of the wood. "Lay down your arms, Dahlia," said the spirit. Her face as red as a shamed child's, the warrior lowered her weapon.

The wizard ran forward, splashing into the lake where Bram had already waded. He grabbed onto the barbarian's arm and thrust his another hand toward the giant rat as if to fend off final judgment. "We seek everlasting glory, oh spirit," pleaded William, "and a hero to guide the way."

"You seek the Crown of Glory," said the rat, "and through its mandate, the mastery of the world."

William stood motionless, his hand on the barbarian's shoulder. Bram stared at the magic creature in wonder, still under the forest's spell. Dahlia leaned against a tree, yawning. "Dahlia," boomed the spirit, "you shall watch over these defenseless men, for they know nothing of the danger that lays before them."

"Why?" cried the elf. "Why should I look after these worthless creatures?"

"In the fall of every autumn leaf," said the god, "is written the fate of every earthly life. It is your doom to join these men, and at the quest's end, be reborn anew."

The song of the trees seemed sad and mournful as they left the forest behind. Bram, seeming to wake from his trance, stole glances at the elf Dahlia at every chance. She rode on an enormous grey elk, its antlers merrily decorated with colorful ribbons. Across her back was slung a huge wooden polearm, at her leg was strapped a quiver of deadly arrows. "Where to, wizard?" ask the elf gruffly. She shot Bram an angry look, and he turned away shamefully.

"We make for the dwarf fortress of Winebottom, three days journey to the east," said dark William. "There we will find the location of the lost treasure, and the final hero to guide the way."

Just as the trees began to thin out onto a rolling hillside, a being stepped out onto the trail. It had the head of a buck, but the fur-covered body of a man. Bram stared in disbelief as William said a series of quick prayers to protective deities. Dahlia leapt from her mount and strode to face the animal person. "Why do you block our path, deer man?"

"Without your royal protection, Princess Dahlia," said the animal man, "we are at the mercy of the cougar people, and as you know, they show none."

"You know full well I can do nothing," said the elf. "Without the favor of the spirit, slaying a forest creature is an unforgivable crime."

A feline wail rocked the wood. "No!" cried the deer man. The cougar woman was long, her shining brown coat lying loosely across wiry muscles as she stalked up on all fours. As the predator approached, Dahlia stepped between her and the deer man. The monster raised up on its legs and stretched its arms, flexing its menacing claws.

"Dare you linger between me and what's mine," said the cat creature, "or do you still have the favor of the forest spirit, my princess?"

Never taking her eyes off the creature, Dahlia pulled the weapon from her back and began to spin it around. The staff began to glow as the monster circled. Bram made to come to her aid, but William held him fast. "You know not the forces at work here," said the wizard. "To interfere is to endanger your very soul."

The cougar woman surged forward, but Dahlia slammed down her staff at its feet, flowers suddenly springing up where the pole struck the ground. The cat woman struck at the elf with her claws, but the princess knocked them away easily. Panting, the cougar cursed. "My prey are promised to me by the forest spirit itself," she said. "To defend them is the depth of perversion! Just wait till you ride down that trail. When you return, if you return, all that will be left of your friends are chewed bones!"

A confused look passed over the cougar woman's face as Dahlia jammed the magic pole through her chest, pinning her to a tree. "What have you done?" cried the deer man, tears running down his face. "What have you done?" As life drained from the creature's body, Dahlia reached for the weapon. Before she could touch it, the magic staff, the symbol of her power, disappeared in a cloud of mist. Bram reached out his hand as the murderous elf princess ran out of the forest, perhaps never to return.

"We ride," said William.

"Where to next, oh great wizard?" asked the barbarian, his humor returning. The two riders ambled through the deserted countryside. As William consulted the spirits with his many magic charms, Bram thought he saw something in the road up ahead. He motioned to William, who squinted to see at a distance. "Is it a ghost?" asked Bram. The horsemen approached to find Dahlia, disheveled, long silver hair in a tangled mess.

"I have no home but the road," said the elf. "If by questing with you, I am redeemed in the eyes of the forest spirit, I will join you."

Bram reached down to help the elf onto his horse, but she refused, slapping away his arm. Slinging her quiver of arrows across her back, she walked alongside the horses, staring fiercely at the horizon. William was pleased. One hero remained before the quest could truly begin. Winebottom was their destination, a dwarf fortress set in a lonely mountain range jutting out of a vast plain. The true start of the quest, for the dwarven king knew the location of the Crown of Glory, a long-lost dwarven artifact, said to be cursed, but William knew better.

The lush rolling hills gave way to a vast flat scrubland. The grass was as grey as the dark and gloomy clouds that now blotted out the sun. "We are being stalked," said Dahlia. Bram looked across the field but saw only weak twisters churning up dust. This was an evil plain. William looked around nervously. He was now glad he had the heroes along. Now the time had come for them to prove themselves.

A low howl sounded from the grass ahead. A huge shape pushed up from the ground, rising to an incredible height. It shook the dirt from its body just as two other mountains of flesh rose up behind. Ogres. The foremost, began to speak, clearly unused to forming words. "What do you seek, little champions?" asked the ogre. "For here you will find only death." The wizard looked at the creature with sudden desperation. Ogres were not meant to be intelligent. The monster met his gaze. "William," it said, "you didn't think it would be this easy, did you?"

Before the others could stop him, William, drawing his saber, leapt from his saddle and sliced through the ogre's throat. Bram, wielding his sword, wheeled his horse around and charged the other two monsters. Each had an arrow in the skull before he reached them. Dahlia approached William where he stood over the monster's body, breathing hard. "What are you hiding from us, wizard?" she asked, her breath hot in William's ear.

"We are on the right course," said William, "when evil spirits seek to hinder our passage." Malphese! He should have known better than to trust that trickster, but the pact with the blood god had been sealed -- the lives of three heroes, in exchange for the Crown of Glory. The others stared at him with uncertainty. "Come," said William, "nothing now lays between us and the dwarf fortress. Adventure is at hand."

The towers of the ancient fortress of Winebottom jutted out from the mountainside like two enormous tusks. The band of heroes passed through the enormous steel gate under the watchful eyes of a dozen marks-dwarves. Inside, the dwarves passed around a drinking horn made from some impossible underground creature. They stood when they saw the loathsome band coming, two dirt-shod humans and a hated elf. A mailed dwarf stepped before them.

"What do you seek in the mighty dwarf fortress, elf?" asked the dwarf.

"We seek the hero Aliz," said William, "that he may join us on a great adventure!"

"Aliz!" cried the dwarf. "That drunkard languishes in the dungeon as we speak, but I was not speaking to you, scum. I want to know what an elf is doing in my lord's fortress."

Dahlia reached for an arrow, but William touched her wrist. A dozen crossbows snapped into ready.

"Then we seek an audience with the king!" cried William.

"You will see the king," laughed the dwarf, "and he shall render unto you Dwarven Justice!"

"I can take them," said the barbarian as the guards stripped away his sword.

"I know," said Dahlia. She burned with fury, yet she knew she must follow William in this ridiculous charade if she was ever to return to the forest, her honor intact. Shackles clasped across their hands, The three were lead into an arching vault, glittering with ornamental gems and intricate carvings. The king was waiting for them, a great, fat dwarf wearing a long purple robe. To his right stood the hammerer.

"Do you have anything to say before I pronounce your doom?" asked the king.

"I ask only, that before I die," pleaded William, "you reveal the location of the Crown."

The king spit up the mushroom on which he had been munching. His face went white with rage. The dwarves grew silent. The hammerer shifted in his place, nervously awaiting the king's orders. Slowly a bellowing laugh issued from the king's belly. The guards began to laugh as well, followed by the rest of the crowd. "You are sentenced to five strokes of the hammer each," shouted the king. "Sentence to be carried out at noon tomorrow. Until then, you will be confined to the dungeon to meditate on your wrong-doing."

The adventurers smoldered as the dwarves led them to the dungeon in chains. William smiled at his luck, the last hero was in this very dungeon and had been delivered into their hands. All they need do now is break free from the dungeon and escape the hammerer's justice.

The guard lifted up an inconspicuous hatch in the floor and shoved the prisoners through. After sliding down a ramp, they landed amidst two guards armed with axes. They led the heroes into one of a row of low cages. After they were locked inside the guards released them from their chains. "What are you grinning about wizard?" asked Bram.

"The great fighter Aliz is here, in this dungeon," exclaimed William. "All we need do is find him, and the quest can begin!"

"Stranger!" said a dwarf from two cages down the hall. "Do you seek Aliz?"

"Yes!" shouted William. Bram and Dahlia were clearly disturbed, unused to confinement. Here there was no dirt underfoot, no sky above. After a short conversation, William smiled smugly. He waited till a guard passed then knelt on the floor. Something slid across the floor tied to a makeshift rope fashioned from a dwarf's beard. William snatched the parcel up under his cloak. He walked to where the heroes huddled together. He then presented the object to Dahlia, a crudely crafted short sword.

The elf approached the bars of the cage with new resolve, the blade at her side. "Guard," she said boldly, "I have a confession to make." The guard stepped up to the cell, hatred in his eyes. He slammed his axe to the floor.

"We don't need a confession from you, dirty elf," said the guard. "Your sad life is enough of an offence, short as it is."

"Longer than yours!" growled Dahlia, grabbing the dwarf by the beard. She pulled the dwarf against the bars and jammed the sword through his guts. William rushed to grab the prison keys before the dwarf collapsed. The doors open, Bram shot to his feet. He rushed out the door after William, stopping to grab Dahlia, who stood over the body licking her lips.

The wizard handed the keys to Bram who went from cell to cell, unlocking the doors. As the freed prisoners ran wild, the wizard caught one by the arm. "Where is Aliz?" asked William. The dwarf looked at him, confused.

"He is in the dungeon of the tantrumers," said the dwarf. "There is no hope for him now."

"Take us there," ordered William. The dwarf took one look at Dahlia, the crazed elf dragging her blade across the bars of a cell, and agreed to lead the escaped heroes into the depths. Down, down they went. Everywhere they heard dwarves howling with rage. At last they arrived at a forlorn cell block. Bram unlocked the door, revealing a dark roll of narrow chambers. The berserker dwarves inside hurled obscenities and slime as the adventurers passed.

Torchlight illuminated the final cell, and inside stood Aliz, motionless. Ragged clothes hung over his muscular frame. All over the walls, runes were scrawled in blood. "Stark raving mad," said their guide in a hushed, desperate voice and fled in terror.

"We seek the Crown of Glory," said William.

The dwarf's eyes snapped to life. "And I seek the Whiskey River," said the dwarf, a great laugh escaping his bearded lips.

"We haven't much time till the soldiers arrive," said Bram.

"Soldiers?" shouted Aliz, "when my tunnel is almost completed!"

Bram pressed the key into the lock and the adventurers piled into the cell. Aliz flipped over a stone slab and the others dove after him into the tunnel. Long and dark the tunnel twisted through the ground. They passed through seeming impenetrable rock, around patches of wet stone where a lesser miner would have drowned the tunnel. At last they reached moist earth. "How long did it take you to dig this mighty tunnel?" asked Bram.

"Just shy of a week," said Aliz. "Would have taken a few days if I had a pick instead of a sharpened rock."

Behind, a furious rushing sound could be heard. "This can not be good," said Bram. Aliz paused to listen. William cursed to himself. The heroes could not be sacrificed before he had the Crown in his hand. Dahlia shouted from the rear.

"Water!" she screamed.

"Damn them," cursed the grimy dwarf, "they've opened the floodgate. Flooded the prison. We are as good as dead."

The crazed elf muscled passed Bram and the wizard, blade in hand. When she reached the dwarf, she grabbed him by the beard. "I'll not die with the likes of you," she spit.

"Then pray the tree gods for a miracle," laughed the dwarf.

The rocky slope erupted in a great geyser. The heroes were thrown into the air with a great many clods of dirt. All around, dwarf prisoners rained from the sky. William struggled to regain his senses as he rested beside a boulder. Water still spurted out of the ground and down the hill as Bram and the dwarves howled with laughter. Dahlia stood, pointing to the low, wide towers of the dwarf fortress. "They would have seen that," she said. "We must be leaving."

As they followed the dwarves down the mountainside and into the brush it became apparent Aliz had no idea where to go. William put a hand on Aliz's shoulder. "Where are we off to?" asked the wizard.

The dwarf turned to him, panting, a look of desperation on his face. "I've not been out of the fortress for many years. I only planned the prison break to escape the hammerer's stroke. Funny, I always thought I'd return, but that's impossible now." Suddenly, the dwarf seized William's collar. "It's been a week since I've had a dram! Have mercy man!"

The dwarf vomited upon the wizard's boots. Soon, the other dwarves began hurling up their lunch. The dark mage bent to take Aliz across the shoulders. "It is only sun sickness," said William. "You have not been outside the fortress in over a year. Fear not, the symptoms will pass." The wizard drew his lips close to the dwarf's ear. "Now tell me, where is the Crown of Glory?'

"Goldshard," said Aliz, still wracked with pain, "The crown lays in the mountains across the plains, in Fortress Goldshard."

William smiled. "Hear me!" he shouted to the woe-begotten dwarves. "We go to reclaim the fortress Goldshard. Who is with us?"

Dahlia and Bram looked on with pity as the vomit-splattered dwarves gathered up their prison-made weapons. They raised up their spears and gave a weak cheer. The elf stared at William as he let loose an ominous laugh. This was not a portent of a good journey. Bram laughed and put his hand on her shoulder. "Fear no man," he said, "and trust no wizard."

The heroes made their way through the wilderness, on the run from the dwarves of Winebottom and wary for the attack of wild mythical beasts. The dark fortress of Goldshard was their ultimate destination. Once a beacon of civilization and industry it now lay in ruin, infested with all manner of evil creatures. However, first they must reach it. The caps of the Goldshard mountains could barely be seen at the edge of the great flat plain they now walked.

William kept watch on the sky as they trekked on. It was too much to hope that Malphese would allow them to reach the mountains unmolested. Bram counted three buzzard men circling above. Already, a few of the dwarves lagged behind, dying of thirst. The barbarian was the first to smell rotting meat. Rancid though it was, his stomach began to rumble.

Up ahead, a great mound rose above the grass. Bram rushed ahead. It was the corpse of a giant buffalo. The dome of its giant horned head was cracked open, revealing the rotting matter inside. Bram's mouth watered. It was still fresh enough to consume. As he drew his knife and made to tear off a chunk, the beast's eyes snapped to life. To the horror of the company, the zombie buffalo rose to its feet, a low groan issuing from its torn-up maw.

The undead monster reared back on its hind legs and attempted to trample Bram, who rolled out of the way, just in time. The giant buffalo charged the band. Dahlia and Aliz dove out the way, but one of the dwarves was knocked into the sky and slammed into the ground where he was swarmed by hungry carrion bird men. William stood still and calm, attempting through magic to banish the spirits that inhabited the creature.

As the monster charged again, Bram awaited the right time and dodged to the side. The barbarian used his dwarven prison sword to tear into the side of the creature, spilling its fetid guts onto the soil. The creature was not phased in the slightest. It charged again, this time almost killing William as he chanted. Aliz and the dwarves hooted and waved, trying to confuse the creature.

Out of nowhere, a bright light shone onto the field. It was Dahlia's cloak, revealing brilliant blue inside. The creature immediately turned and stopped, seemingly entranced by the glow. Slowly the zombie pawed the ground, preparing to charge. On it came, building speed as it approached. As soon as the monster was on her, the elven heroine flapped her arms and leapt onto the creature's back. With one deadly stroke, she drove her sword into the base of the creature's neck, killing it with one blow.

The dwarves cheered. An elf had saved them, true, but they were saved none the less. Aliz laughed heartily as Bram tried to help the princess down from the back of the slain monster. William paused, in thought. Would he be able to sacrifice her in the end?

It was not long before they reached the mountains. High above, castle Goldshard perched on the side of a smoking mountain along a sheer cliff. There was no way to approach save a single goat trail. The dwarves shuffled about, unable to conceal their excitement. The promise of riches far outweighed the risk, especially with true champions to lead them. William looked to Aliz for advice. "What is the safest route inside?" he asked.

"The goat trail should be safe," said the dwarf. "There is no danger without archers in the towers."

Bram snorted. "We will be exposed none the less."

Dahlia remained silent.

Slowly, the band made its way up the narrow, winding trail. Ahead lay the fortress, and to the side, beyond the final precipice, a field of jagged rocks. A shadow passed above, for a moment blotting out the sun. Bram muttered something about bad omens. William's eyes never left the fortress. Aliz and the dwarves sang stories of riches and glory. "It has come," said Dahlia.

A piercing cry was the only warning before a pair of huge talons tore into the dwarf's shoulders. Aliz reached out to the victim and cried. Bram and Dahlia held the hero back as the giant eagle dragged the dwarf over the side. The dwarf screamed for a long second before he was dashed against the rocks. William backed against the side of the mountain as the monster turned around for another pass.

As Dahlia readied a spear, a terrible feeling came over her. Though the giant eagle was monstrous, it was a natural creature. She could almost hear the recriminating voice of the cougar woman in her ear. No, she could not kill it. Though her whole self was already lost to the Spirit, to further mock creation was not worth her miserable life. She let the javelin slip from her hands and raised her arms to the giant bird as it rushed toward her.

The beast let out a piercing call as it came. Its mouth slammed shut as Bram leapt upon its neck and trapped its beak shut. The monster eagle pulled up, away from the mountain, Bram's arms around its neck. As they roared through the sky in a dance of brutal violence, the warrior twisted his arms around the creature's neck and snapped its spine. As the bird's body turned toward the earth, Bram grasped its wings and struggled to keep the creature's body in the air. The dwarves watched in amazement as the barbarian guided the eagle's body down to crash at William's feet.

"Tell us, wizard," bellowed Bram. "Is this quest cursed?"

William's face went red with anger.

"Aye," spoke Aliz, "since we left Winebottom this journey has been fraught with misadventure."

William looked to Dahlia and was meet by a look of cool hatred. She was bound to the quest by the forest spirit. He looked at the band of dwarves and smiled. Slowly a deep laugh built up inside the wizard. He threw back his head and cackled like a hyena. The dwarves looked at each other and laughed in turn. Suddenly William's head snapped forward.

"We have not even begun the trials that lay before us," he said. "The Crown of glory is the most powerful of all artifacts and can only be achieved through great sacrifice."

Whom would be sacrificed, William omitted.

"The fortress Goldshard lays inside a volcano, atop a deep labyrinth, filled with ghoulish monsters," said the wizard. "Only through true championship can we succeed."

Though not entirely convinced, the dwarves continued after William promised large portions of the treasure. The heroes followed because they had no choice. There was nowhere else for them to go. The dark, smoking cone of Goldshard loomed ahead. The dwarves became excited as they approached the gate. They would soon reclaim the mightiest fortress of all time.

"There are no signs of a siege here," said Bram, surveying the walls.

"That's true," said Aliz through his wild beard, "for Goldshard was destroyed from the inside out. Some say they tunneled all the way to the Underworld."

Dahlia gripped the rag-wrapped handle of her crudely crafted dwarven short-sword as she stared at the fortress gate. It was opened slightly as if the monsters inside expected them and left the door ajar out of courtesy. Once inside the courtyard the dwarves began to twitter with excitement. Aliz brushed rotting vines away from a section of wall revealing a great mural carved in stone relief.

"This image commemorates the discovery of a lake of magma deep underground," said Aliz, "and something else, another fortress in the glowing depths, a portal to the hated World of Darkness!"

William's cruel, treacherous heart skipped a beat. Once the portal was open, and the dark gods appeased, the Crown would be his. All they had to do was survive until they reached the prize. The band made their way to the keep at the rear of the courtyard. It was carved into the living rock of the volcano, tall and foreboding. As they passed under the portcullis and into pitch darkness, the dwarves began to chant. Dahlia fished some dark-root out of her tunic and shared it with the men. Their eyes began to glow, but the darkness began to lift, revealing a maze of twisting corridors. William cleared his throat and addressed the dwarves.

"Friends," he said, "to truly reclaim Goldshard, we must attain that which was taken by darkness, the greatest dwarven artifact ever created. We must have the Crown of Glory!"

The dwarves cheered.

"Which way is down?" the wizard asked Aliz quietly.

"This way," said the dwarf.

The party descended through a narrow, rough-hewn corridor. The gloom of the place was such that even the dwarves' chattering grew quiet. The cleverer of the dwarves felt something was watching them. Young Flion was not among them. He skipped merrily along, taking up the rear. His hand rose up to his beard to catch something sticky that fell there. Above a dozen eyes stared out of a single monstrous head. The creature dropped from the ceiling and thrust its stinging mandibles into the dwarf's chest. The first warning the others had of the attack was a gurgling scream, "Giant cave spider!"

Instant chaos ripped through the column. Dahlia turned to face the creature, drawing twin home-made daggers in a single motion. She was splashed in the face by a flying web and knocked to the ground. The spider moved from dwarf to dwarf, biting them with its paralyzing venom and hurling them to the sticky webs that covered the ceiling. Aliz stepped forward, but Bram held him back, as killing giant monsters was his profession.

As the barbarian rushed forward, the spider shot a strand of web from its rear, striking the sword from his hand. Unconcerned, the fighter continued his charge. The monster struck at Bram with its deadly maw, but the hero leapt into the air and kicked out one of the creature's eyes. The giant spider reared back and tried to stab at Bram with one of its pointed claws. He leapt out the way and grabbed the leg, and with all his might, he tore the limb from its joint. The spider made to attack again, but let out a horrible scream as Bram used the severed leg to gut the spider with its own member.

As Bram and Dahlia worked to free the dwarves that still lived, William conferred with Aliz. "No monster such as this comes from the natural world. We must be close."

"Indeed," said the dwarf. "This place reeks of the Underworld."

At last they found it, a dingy well in the center of a shabby, undecorated room, an unwelcoming portal to the depths. A pigtail rope marked the only way down. Bram volunteered to climb down first. The others watched as the hero's yellow shining eyes sank slowly down. Below him was the sound of rushing water, while around him beat the wings of silent, bat-like creatures.

When he put his feet on solid ground, Bram shouted to the others. He was standing on an island amid a vast underground river. The sky was black save for the sparkle here and there of gems in the rock. Tower-cap mushroom trees dotted silt-covered smooth rocks that made up the cavern floor. William landed next, peering around for a sign of which way to go. When Aliz set down, he asked, "Have you ever seen the likes of this?"

"I have seen tower-cap fields," said the dwarf, "but nothing as vast as this."

Dahlia descended from the rope, looking this way and that. She was attuned to nature, but the life force in this place was twisted by a millenium of darkness. She dropped onto a flat rock amid the rushing waters, the sound of which echoed through the flood-carved cave. The dwarves shuffled around, in awe of the sparkling cavern they found. Something brushed against the elf's ankle. She looked down to see a dozen translucent lizard-like creatures swarm out of the water. Knowing what was coming next, she cried out, taking a polearm from one of the dwarves.

A creature shot from the water, with the torso of a man, but a head which was horribly distorted. It wrapped its slick blue arms around a dwarf and pulled him back into the water. "Olm-men!" shouted Dahlia. "Defend yourselves!" Like great cats stalking their prey, the amphibian men crawled from the water. The size of evil dwarves, the creatures soon had the party surrounded. Bram looked on in contempt, but Dahlia knew better. They were in the olm's element now.

"We must escape these waters quickly," shouted Dahlia. Aliz drew his blade and shoved it to the hilt in an olm-man's ribcage. William grabbed the hilt of his sword, but slipped on the wet stone. The creatures charged, tackling the dwarves to the ground. A vise-like grip took hold of the wizard's ankle. With one great yank, William was pulled into the freezing darkness. His sword finally free, William struggled to hold his breath as he stabbed his enemy again and again.

William woke beneath a tower cap tree. Around him were Bram, Dahlia, Aliz, and a half a dozen dwarves. "Where to now, wizard?" asked Bram. "You'd been frog bait if it wasn't for the princess." William looked Dahlia in the face. She was filled with rage but still bound to the quest. He must keep an eye on her nonetheless. The wizard stood, wringing the water from his shirt. He looked back across the water to the pigtail rope descending from the dark sky. There was only one way to go now, further into the depths.

"We follow the river down," said the wizard. All along the cavern walls were shelves of glowing fungus. High above, dark shapes moved. Along the river, giant albino frogs hopped in and out of the water. With a great snap, a frog was trapped in the jaws of a great cave crocodile. The dwarves crowded closer to the cavern wall. At last they reached a giant gap in the cavern floor. The water of the underground river crashed over and into the abyss.

"What should we do now great leader," joked Bram, "jump?" He elbowed Dahlia in the arm, but the elf stood motionless. Slowly, she reach for a spear. The smile fell from Bram's face. William was conferring with Aliz when it came. A dart struck the dwarf in the neck. As Aliz collapsed, Dahlia hurled her weapon at the shape rushing out of the sky. A squeal pierced the air as a giant bat swooped over them. A small humanoid shaped fell from its back, a spear in its chest, a blowgun still in its lips.

"Bat-men," cried Bram. "What now, wizard?"

"We jump," said William.

"Hey," said Bram, "I was only joking."

Darts began raining from the sky, one by one the dwarves leapt over the waterfall. "What about him?" asked Bram, pointing to the dwarf Aliz, now twitching on the ground.

"We take him with us," shouted Dahlia.

"Yes," agreed William, "he is necessary to the quest."

Together the three leapt over the side, Aliz slung across Bram's shoulders. After an eternity of rushing through black space, the trio splashed into a dark pool, churned by the falling water. In all directions was an impenetrable jungle of vines and tower cap trees. The entire cavern was given heat and light by what seemed to be an underground sun, an infernal glow off in the distance. "That is where we must go," said William, climbing out of the water.

The dwarves gathered around. Dahlia knelt by Aliz's head. "All we can do is wait." William fidgeted, his hand on his chin. He needed the dwarf to continue the quest, but the dangers of the primordial jungle would not wait for them to be ready. He must act, now. Shouting orders, the wizard had Aliz lashed to Bram's back. They must be ready to move immediately. Already they felt eyes crawling over them. At last the column was ready. Dahlia led the way, slashing through the foliage with her blade.

This was not like any wood from above. Deep, dark, below the nourishing sun, fed only by decay and hatred, this was an evil jungle. Below their feet crunched the bones of a million fallen creatures. Dahlia knew that death could come in an instant. Above her a pale snake coiled around the trunk of a giant mushroom. For the instant she was distracted a giant troglodyte rushed from the vines and grabbed her in its ape-like arm. "After them!" shouted William, loosing his blade. Bram made to run after the monster but stopped in his tracks.

The dwarves gasped as the creature burst forth from the jungle. Horribly tusked and be-tentacled, the monster towered over the cowering dwarves, staring at them from a single bloodshot eye. "Behold," cried William, "the Forgotten Beast! Have courage, or we will most certainly die!"

"Have you forgotten also, wizard?" said the barbarian. "I am Bram." The warrior launched toward the monster, which caught him in its slimy, tentacle arms. Undeterred, Bram sliced through his bonds will ease, spraying the dwarves with green blood. The creature howled and opened its jagged-toothed maw out of which came a probing tongue. Bram was once again ensnared, this time, his sword bound tight to his side.

The elf struggled vainly against the ape-thing, stabbing it over and over in the arm and side. The blood spattered down as the creature loped through the jungle. The odor attracted the senses of another beast, vastly older and more horrible. Its black eyes snapped open, and it began to run on thin scaly legs, its gruesome curved beak clacking as it came on.

With a terrifying snap, the monster bird broke the troglodyte's ankle. It dropped Dahlia and twisted to pound the beaked creature about the neck and head. Dahlia ran back down the trail with all the speed she could muster. In moments she came upon Bram and William, and gasped for breath as she looked on the spectacle before her. Bram was gathering up Aliz as William motioned for speed. Dwarves rushed toward the glowing horizon as the forgotten beast thrashed about, uprooting trees as it searched for the adventurers, its single eye now a bloody socket. She stared in morbid fascination until Bram took her wrist and they hurried away.

"Behold," said William gesturing over his shoulder, "we are at quest's end."

Through the trees, Dahlia witnessed the full fury of the fiery inferno. Lava poured down the cliffs into wide pools. Just across a flowing black stone plain a gateway lay carved into the side of the rock wall. As they left the jungle behind the heroes and remaining dwarves heard the murderous cries of jungle creatures that dared not cross the plain themselves.

Brilliant red light lit their way down into an obsidian corridor. At the other side was a sea of magma that stretched as far as the eye could see. Set in the middle was a demon fortress fashioned from dark metal unknown ages ago. William was the first to see spirits of fire dancing across the molten ocean. They cast rings of flame into the air and shaped them like demonic artists. "Why aren't they attacking us?" asked Dahlia.

"We've been expecting you!" came a voice from the fire.

It was Malphese in the shape of a man, riding in an impossible wooden boat, which he poled across the magma as if it were water. Bram placed Aliz's body on the ground and took up his sword. The dwarves gathered around him, pointing their spears. William turned and gave them a fierce look. "Have you come so far to abandon the quest?" he shouted. "Look behind you. Where will you go?"

"Where will we go?" came a strained sound from Aliz's throat.

Reluctantly the heroes piled into the craft with the dwarves, lying Aliz at their feet. William stood at the prow with the demonic pilot as he punted across the flaming, molten lake. Never did the demon's eyes leave the wizard, who watched anxiously as the shadowy fortress drew near. Aliz began to shake and mutter. Dahlia knelt beside him, taking his head in her hands. Bram and the dwarves looked on nervously as the boat came to rest against the shore.

The arch of the gate stood tall and black, several stories high. Ever higher above the tower, a black column of smoke rose through the center of the volcano leagues below the dwarf fortress. Inside an ominous light shown. "Come on," said Malphese with a beckoning gesture and a smile. "Come on." The little dwarves pushed their way after the wizard into the demon citadel. As Dahlia passed through the gate, she thought she saw a twinkle of hatred in the demon's mirthful eye.

At the center of the fortress, in the middle of a clear glass floor, sat the Crown of Glory on a low stone altar. As the others filed into the temple, William ran to the crown stepping gingerly on the glass and began pacing back and forth before it wringing his hands.

"Take it, it's yours," said Malphese. "Just speak the words."

"I sacrifice the three heroes of the age," said William, "in exchange for the Crown of Glory."

"Sacrifice who?" growled Aliz, rising from his stupor.

The room grew dim, as if the fires had been extinguished. All the heroes could hear in the darkness was the sound of their own breath. Then an explosion of fire tore through the room as the floor opened into a portal to the Underworld. The chamber filled with monsters, demons and goblins. William stood upon an altar and placed the crown on his head, weeping openly with joy. Bram and Dahlia fought back to back as the creatures came on. Malphese's eyes were ever on the wizard, but he wasn't the only one. Aliz leapt across the fiery void and stood behind him, dagger in hand, as the demons thrashed about him.

"I have an offering for you, your Majesty!" shouted the dwarf, as he jammed his blade through William's back.

As the wizard toppled off the altar and plunged, headlong into the magic portal, Malphese panicked and tried to catch him. It was too late. The demon vanished to join the wizard in the Underworld, his one tie to the earth now broken. Still the monsters came. Aliz made a running jump back across the portal. He landed shy of the ledge, just managing to latch on with a hand. He looked into the churning chaos of the abyss below. Just as his fingers slipped, Dahlia caught hold of him and heaved him back onto the temple floor. Behind the smiling elf was an enormous tentacle demon. Aliz shouted and hurled his dagger into its face.

Around them, goblins and demons hurled the bodies of dwarves into the pit. The three heroes were all that remained. "Bram," said Dahlia, her voice thick with mortal dread.

"Fools," said Bram. "We shall live! Make for the boat!"

The others fought their way out of the temple, while Bram, surrounded, chopped through frog-like demons three at a time. Aliz looked back. "Go!" shouted the barbarian. The dwarf and elf jumped in the boat, but when Dahlia touched the pole it seared her fingers. The cavern began to rumble. Huge boulders fell from above, splashing into the molten rock. The sea began to churn. Dahlia put her arms around Aliz's chest and held him tight.

The explosion was like none felt in an age or more. The boat was carried on a pillar of magma at incredible speed. The pair screamed as they were shot out of the mountain and sent rocketing into the sky. In his last moments, Aliz thought to himself, a dwarf should never dwell above ground, especially this far above ground. He felt the elf woman's arms still tight around his chest. There was no understanding those people. Then he opened his eyes to see the elf's bright blue cloak, stretched out about her like two great wings.

As the ground passed by, slowly, and so far below, Aliz asked, "Now, where will we go?"

"Bram still lives," said Dahlia, "and we shall bring him back, if we must brave the Underworld to do so."


Confiscation of weapons of questionable people seeking audience with a ruler is a recurring theme in stories.

Aside from the awe-inspiring throne room itself, the position of the hammerer next to the king was another key element in the king's overall presentation to those to which he was speaking. These kind of symbolic positions in general could be accounted for.

The elk was decorated. In general, people might embellish their pets and creatures with all sorts of functional and non-functional objects and materials.

At one point, the characters realize the fortress Goldshard had not fallen to a siege because of its overall appearance. Some historical events should be accessible through simple observation.

Although William was being deceptive, there's the overall idea of petitioning the ruler for aid on some endeavour. The notion of a guide comes up a few times.

There's the idea of a stand-off style conversation/negotion/confrontation at weapon point. There are also a few times where masters called their subordinates off. You can also make people angry by saying inappropriate things or things that touch close to some guarded place, as happens with the mention of Goldshard.

One of the overall themes is lying about your goals and using people to achieve your overall objective. Your adventurers and dwarves should be able to lie to the people they interact with, and they should be able to lie to you. It's crucial that some people manipulate you, especially since you'll probably be eager to go on quests and so on when you play adventure mode and it will be good to explore variations on that mechanic. There are also small scale examples of this in the story, as with the guard being goaded to his death during the prison break. The prisoner Aliz was also arguably pretending to be insane prior to the prison break, though he might have actually been somewhat mad.

Bram's renown with the other barbarians led them to acknowledge him with salutes when he passed through town. Reputation/appearance etc. should affect your adventurers and others similarly.

There's the notion of pushing through the brush, both slowing you down and possibly given you lots of annoying cuts.

People can help each other walk when they are inhibited in some way.

There are a few ambushes in the story, either by creatures covered in dirt or creatures lurker under the water. Those with some awareness might notice these dangers.

Flying predators often drop critters against the rocks. It would be fun.

There was a smoking volcano. Handling that kind of flow properly would be cool if it's not too taxing.

This story had a slide down a chute. Everybody likes chutes.

There's a gibbet in the beginning. The game lacks display punishments right now -- things like stocks and so on, or leaving people out exposed to the elements, that sort of thing.

There was a prison break and prison communication and prison weapons. During the break, critters with common goals banded together. On the other hand, people might get thrown into prison or other such locations on purpose to achieve some end. One of the dwarves in there was also willing to volunteer information about Aliz spontaneously.

Deities and cosmic beings and spirits might ramble a bit about their philosophies and give you life lessons and so on, sometimes building an entire quest out of such things.

Meetings with supernatural powers and other magical effects might have to happen at certain times and/or places, and the associated rituals can be sphere-dependent. Pacts might be made with some force or cosmic rule backing them up, and the fulfillment of these or other conditions could trigger other magical events. In general, there can be a series of supernatural rules governing almost anything (aside from the main plot, the elf/deer/cougar sequence had some other examples). There are also any number of reasons why the fire spirits did not attack the group at the end -- were they intelligent enough to understand what was going on? Were they being controlled by Malphese or some supernatural rule? Any of the possibities can be explored.

We had a singing-style forest, which might be an example of a music-sphere-oriented region. This one had related mental effects and so on, with countermeasures.

Malphese communicated throught the dead and also unintelligent monsters. Whether the chat method is up to some kind of rules or just calculated for effect or expedience can depend on the world metaphysics and situation.