We pursued Sarshan through his portal after we defeated his rear guard. The portal left us on a fairly large platform suspended in the lowest branches of the largest tree I’ve ever heard of. This thing is like an oak, but it has a trunk two dozen spans across and soars well over the hundred foot mark in height. I cannot even guess how tall it is. There’s nothing to measure its scale against. The tree itself rests on an island in the midst of a huge lake of the blood chaos. It must have somehow adapted to the stuff as its roots thrust right into it.
No sooner than we’d appeared, than two dragons approached through the branches. They introduced themselves as Antharask & Calaunxin, mantled and enveloped us with fear and awe. Then they informed us that Sarshan had paid them to kill us. I must say, it was rather terrifying, but McShane turned terror into comedy as he laid down a spell which dropped them both from the sky into the mud forty feet below. A fierce battle ensued with the opening salvo going to Damakos who litterally talked one of the two opponents into leaving for nearly a minute. It went something like this:
Antharask: “You’ve invaded our home, and the other has paid us handsomely to kill those who follow.”
Damakos: “We know this man Sarshan. We wish to kill him for invading our home, just as he invaded yours.”
Antharask: “Yes, but he was polite and paid for passage, and to have you slain.”
Damakos: “I have never met a more treacherous and deceitful being than Sarshan. We once worked for him, he sent assassins after us in payment for our services. We have dealt with him time and again, each time – he promises those who work for him much to kill us but never tells them of the fate of all he has sent. While he runs away, they die. And never do they see their just rewards. None have ever had anything of real worth”
Antharask: “We have already been paid. He gave us a powerful magic item. Maybe you drop that fine blade and we will talk of your own passage.”
Damakos: “Paid? Never has the man paid any of his other cats paws. Why would he start now? I would wager that whatever he paid you with was counterfeit and in truth, worthless. Besides, there are two of you – who did he pay? You or she?”
With that, the dragon darted away to where they had their stash of treasures to go check. All the while, his mate was yelling at him to stay and fight. Attacking us recklessly in a rage that Damakos had sown dissent between them. A whole minute while we concentrated on Calaunxin alone.
The fight did not go well for the dragons, though we tired ourselves mightily. Eventually, they admitted defeat when Antharask made the grave error of coming into reach of us and allowing Damakos to pull him back into reach with his lightning. The openings between his scales as he twisted around to attack Damakos were plenty wide enough for my blade to slip in. Several times. Dragons do have livers, and other vital organs after all. Antharask attempted to flee, we covered him with our bows and demanded they leave us be or he would be slain. In a fury, they agreed, Calaunxin not much better off than her mate. I feel bad that we had to conflict with such magnificent creatures, but they refused to leave us be.
We examined the treasure they had secreted at the base of the tree and found many powerful magics. The very air shimmers with power here from the blood chaos and artifacts. I can feel it all around me. The power isn’t evil, nor is it good. It is anything but predictable. Sarshan has fallen into the deepest madness if he thinks he can form it to his will for anything but the most ephemeral moments. It is the very essence of change.
From the dragon horde, I have acquired new gloves which have a power to assist my aim when my target is unaware of my exact location, causing even more harm. Also, two pair of boots which are in some way linked to each other. They are called Rash and Reckless and are apparently artifacts of some kind. When the wearer of one set wishes it so, the wearer of the other pair gains an advantage in combat against those fighting the wearer of the counterpart pair. As Yamis and I slipped them on, I could feel approval buzzing in my head from the boots. I don’t think I like that. Not the approval part, but the thinking part from a pair of boots.
We took a few minutes to heal, and cast comrades succor upon the group to harm some of us, while restoring vitality to those who were exhausted. All in all, a losing proposition for the group as a whole, but a definite gain in keeping the front-line defense and offense energetic. Then we set out tracking Sarshan into tunnels beneath the tree. Veins of the pulsing chaos energy flow through the roots. The tunnels are mud, rock, and wood. Cramped and fetid.
One would think the dragons the most exciting part of my day. If one knew me, one would think I would view the artwork, and historically significant artifacts as the most exciting. Not so. There was an event even more profound, one I have yet… …but I will tell it in the order it happened, for this writing shall be an accurate account of events as I saw them. One day it will be history – worthy of being in a collection of the rarest books – an original, hand-written account by one who was there and central to the events unfolding.
As we trailed Sarshan, we came across many opponents whom we avoided adroitly. I will detail them (and the path we took in an appendix). We balanced across narrow branches above pits filled with undead, clung to deepest shadows while patrols of giants passed a cross-corridor, and took short-cuts along mossy ledges. Finally, our goal was in sight.
In a final chamber was Sarshan. Still dragging Co’Bok along. But once again, we were seconds too late as he faded from view through a portal, telling his minions to slay us. Before us, we saw a chamber with blood chaos flooding through a pipe thrust beneath the roots. The floor was muddy and woody, the walls and ceiling solid tree, but the wood pulsed everywhere with the red of the chaos energies. Scribed on a section of stone floor were two portal circles, dark and inactive. Blood chaos made a pool across the center of the room, with a bridge of wood across it. The chamber was perhaps fifty feet square, but irregular with fissures going out, and other parts jutting in. Damakos and Brokenglass claim the portals are the means by which Sarshan “pumps” the blood chaos to the prime plane.
Scattered around the room were the minions of Sarshan. A troglodyte spell-chucker, my first target. Four cyclops warriors, two nasty looking undead warriors in heavy armor with black-flickering blades, and a skeletal figure with three crowned heads. I shot the trog and faded back up the hallway. Damakos made a dashing assault that found him on the far side of the room attacking the three-headed creature. Gil Ga’Dek rushed into the chamber, slicing everything about him, slaying all the cyclops as he went.
I concentrated upon the trog, but he was no match for my darting blade one-on-one, and none of his “friends” chose to assist him. Over and over, my blade found him. Almost feeling sorry for him I suggested that if he had any ability to get him out of the corner in which I had him trapped, he should use it. Alas, he did not.
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that the Gil was swimming under the bridge, fighting one of the wights. Each had the other trapped and unable to disengage. Damakos was bloody and on the floor but still moving and looked to be in need of help. I saw an opportunity and took it. A few quick steps, and I leapt the burning blood chaos, landing on the woody ground at its edge. I was going to attack the three-headed (now two headed) creature and as I took a step was hit by the black blade of the wight fighting Damakos. My legs froze so I shifted my attack target to him and tried to find what vital pieces held him together.
The three headed creature did something cold to me. The cold chilled into my bones, but fear gripped me as never before. I found myself attempting to run into the blood chaos but my legs were frozen and I fell. That is when it happened. There was a piercing pain in the palm of my hand. I didn’t think much of it at the time being somewhat preoccupied. I began to feel very strange but attributed it to the effects from the mind-blasting fear. A short while later, the enemy was destroyed and we are all beat up fairly well, or at least exhausted. The consensus was that we could not hope to defeat Sarshan if we caught him in our current state. Despite him having Co’Bok we could not follow at this time.
I felt an overwhelming urge to curl upon myself in a darkened corner of the chamber. Away from the noise and excitement which seemed to grow unbearable. I doubt the others even noted me slipping away. No sooner had I found a spot than a wrenching feeling went through me, as though something were tearing free. A painful experience, but not of the body but rather my spirit and radiating from my left hand. I pulled my glove from my hand and embedded in my palm, I found a long splinter of wood from the tree. Glowing and pulsing with the chaotic energies and three inches long. I pulled it from my hand, and the blood which flowed freely was laced with the power pulsing to my pounding heartbeat. The stuff is in me.
I find myself swimming back to consciousness. Everyone is still basically where they were, so I couldn’t have been long. But something has gone from me. I cannot tell what precisely, but I feel it has been replaced by something else. The room looks strange. Larger. With a jolt, I try to jump up but my arms and legs don’t move the way I remember. They seem somehow different. Then, they’re not. Everything around me is normal, my arms and legs are themselves again, though I have a fleeting impression that for a moment I had paws, not hands. Impossible. I must be going crazy. But I feel very different. In some ways, better than I have ever before. More agile, and my grip seems like iron. Especially in my left hand – the one without even a blemish where the thorn was.
Time to consult Yamis. I need to know if I’m going to die of whatever this is. Or perhaps I should consult with the Little Master or Damakos as this must surely involve arcane magics of chaos. It is with dread that I step out of the shadowy nook.