Campaign Stories: Wiliken 13

“I think it’s about time you got us out of here,” Wiliken said to Dusk and Grace. While Grace had done a great deal of healing since she arrived, neither of their allies had even attempted to get them out of Valgaman’s Menagerie.

Douglas stepped between the githzerai and his two friends. “If Jenkins could get them in, then surely he can get us out.”

“And how can you be so sure that we’ll survive long enough to make it out?” Wiliken asked. “Valgaman doesn’t seem to have any trouble throwing his goons at us. How long before they hit us harder than Grace can heal?”

“I have faith in my friends,” Douglas said. “Which is more than I can say for you.”

Wiliken stormed off. As he did, his allies split off into groups in order to figure out a way to disable the force field that held them in. It was a fool’s errand, and yet some thought they could conjure a password from the lingering spirits of the murdered nobles upstairs, and even Jurgen thought he might be able to consult the extraplanar sages. Some short moments later, they were all back in the large room where Morgan had felled the demon minotaur and none of them had any answers.

“Now that we have exhausted all of our options,” Jurgen said. “Perhaps we need to entertain something a little more… gruesome. There were both ghosts and beasts who said they could help us get out of here if we just let them feed on one of the children.”

“No!” shouted Douglas and Wiliken in unison.

“I’ll fight every last minion of Valgaman before I will allow these children to come to harm,” Wiliken said.

“And they’ll all die of starvation because you weren’t willing to sacrifice one,” Jurgen retorted.

“They can feast on roasted minotaur and salted boar,” said Jean-Baptiste.

“Wait,” Douglas said. “I think Jurgen is right. If we’re going to get out of here, we are going to need to use the children.”

There was a murmur of confusion and disagreement.

“Think about it,” Douglas said. “If their youth and perfection is enough to power some terrible dark magic, it is also the sort of vitality from which all healing and regenerative magic originates. These children can break through the force field, and I think I know how.”

Douglas began to sing a song. Wiliken recognized it but could not remember its name. The song had been old when Wiliken was young. Though the words had been forgotten by most long ago, the children began to join Douglas in singing. Their song was jubilant and uplifting. Perhaps the song merely invoked a feeling of happiness in the githzerai, or perhaps there was a power at work in this room. Wiliken felt his worries fall from his shoulders to be replaced by hope.

“The wards are crumbling,” rejoiced the half-elf Dusk. Jenkins must have scryed their success, because moments later a teleportation circle appeared. Douglas shifted from leading the song to helping the children escape to the Felreeve.

The song continued until the other circle formed on the ground, the giant teleportation circle of Iuzian design.

Wiliken immediately switched to battle mode. He barked commands at the others, some to shepherd the children toward Jenkins’ teleportation circle and others to put themselves between the oncoming invaders and the portal to the Felreeve. Their next set of enemies materialized, revealing a giant skeleton, far larger than the minotaur they’d just battled, and radiating cold, accompanied by several small wolves that waved in and out of existence like clouds of smoke. This crew would be even more deadly than the previous, and yet Wiliken found his attention elsewhere.

A ruckus had arisen in the next room. The animals had become agitated, and loud angry voices accompanied them. One the githzerai made out as saying, “They’re in there. Get them.”

Wiliken rushed to the door just as Morgan was hit by a huge throwing axe and pulled back toward the skeleton by some invisible ghostly chain. The githzerai was tempted to turn back, but were he to do so the battle for their lives might quickly turn into an inescapable ambush. The door to the next room was a simple wooden door. Wiliken knew he could lock it, but he also knew it would take more than just one githzerai with a bow to defend the doorway from the axes and swords that could easily tear it down. They needed more allies if they were to save these children and escape this place in one piece. An idea came to Wiliken.

He stepped through the door and closed it behind him.

On the other side, he saw several heavily armed warriors who had just disembarked from the elevator. Their teleportation circles had likely landed them in the sandpit. As they rushed toward him, Wiliken made two quick moves that may have saved his life – he tossed the ring of keys that they’d found in the other room to the tentacled octo-bear, and shot an arrow at the lock on the cage of the dragon creature. The two beasts emerged from their cells and immediately rushed toward the soldiers, allowing Wiliken to slip back into the room where the others were embattled.

Douglas was funneling the last of the children through the portal when Wiliken shouted, “I’ve bought us a few moments, but we need to make this quick.”

The githzerai first took aim on the ghost wolves which had stepped forward and engaged his friends. Some arrows passed right through them and others struck, but his attack was meant more as a distraction to allow his allies to get away. One by one they sneak away, Jurgen, then Morgan, then Grace, the healer who had done a great deal of damage to their most dangerous foe. As soon as Wiliken dispatched the ghost wolves, he strafed while firing and ended up next to Dusk.

“Get to the portal!” Wiliken shouted.

“Not while the skeleton still stands,” Dusk shouted. “He would just pull one of us back.”

Wiliken hadn’t thought of that. For the many to escape, one of them would likely have to be left behind as fodder for the icy skeletal warrior.

“I have to end this,” Dusk said. His eyes rolled inside out as he pushed the limit of the magic he could control. Wiliken stepped forward to draw the attention of their shared foe and keep him from interrupting any incantations or conjuring that might happen next. Wordlessly, Dusk summoned a blinding radiant blast. If Wiliken didn’t know better, he’d have thought the half-elf had siphoned the flaming forces of their previous enemies, but this wasn’t the power of fire the githzerai was witnessing; it was the power of pure light.

Only when the skeleton had disassembled and fallen to the ground would Dusk exit. Wiliken followed closely behind, but was stopped by Douglas.

“We have a few moments before the door is broken down,” Douglas said, calmly. “What say you and I sort things out.”

Exasperated, Wiliken said, “You would leave me to die? After all I have contributed to the safety of you, your allies, and those innocent children?”

“It is not my first choice,” Douglas said. “For all I know, you did what you did to save your skin. While we were all confined together, you denied your blood and worked with us to escape. But when we get out of here, you could just as easily slit our throats in our sleep and escape, running back to assist the son who would have these children murdered for his schemes. What proof do I have that this will not happen?”

“You’ll have no proof from me that hasn’t already been given,” Wiliken answered. “Any further proof comes when you release me from this place. But if you’re going to leave me to die, at least strike the blow yourself. Only a coward leaves his sheep to the wolves.”

Douglas stared at Wiliken for a moment and withdrew a dagger from his belt. Wiliken looked from Douglas’ eyes to the dagger and back again. He stood up straight and accepted his fate, but Douglas sheathed his dagger, and as the door fell down and enemies and beasts alike flooded the room, Douglas pulled the githzerai through the portal to safety.

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 14.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 12

Half of the elemental beasts that moved in on the party were sentient magical cyclones known as dust devils. The deva Jurgen stepped forward and waved his right arm across his body and then pushed forward. His own arcane wind issued forward in a powerful blast, disintegrating the dust devils on contact. This blast was little more than a breeze to the more immediate threat, a set of minor fire elementals.

“Spread out!” Wiliken shouted as he dove for partial cover behind one of the cages. The flame creatures were easy to control, and that made them perfect for Iuzian military operations. A single flame could summon its own small inferno, but as more and more congregated, the size of the destructive wall of fire grew exponentially. Wiliken remembered a flame battalion large enough to burn down a whole village in one concentrated flame burst.

His friend Jurgen, the beast-charmer Douglas, the druid Jean-Baptiste, the dragon-born Morgan, Dusk the half-elf sorcerer, and the healer named Grace did not react quickly enough to Wiliken’s command, and found themselves engulfed in flame due to their folly. Rather than moving away, Morgan had actually stepped toward the fire, placing his entire mass directly in front of Dusk. The flames that licked and tormented Jean-Baptiste had no effect on either the dragon-born or the half-elf he shielded. Wiliken heard screams as his other companions battled to find a way out of the forest of flame, which pulled at them as they attempted to exit.

Wiliken shot a couple of arrows at the flame creatures. While they were mostly composed of ethereal magic flame, there was such thing as a center-mass to these beasts. Each one had a small semi-solid heart floating around within their own personal furnace. It would be hard to hit, but the githzerai had to try – his allies might not survive another inferno.

Soon, Wiliken’s allies emerged from the fire. Dusk was the first to push forward. In one fluid motion, he stepped out of the flames that gripped him and moved in on the towering demonic minotaur that had stood several steps back from the destroyed dust devils. The monster had allowed these smaller elemental beasts to sacrifice themselves for the sake of some immediate damage, likely waiting to destroy each of the heroes one by one. Dusk advanced fearlessly with his hand held forward in a claw shape. He muttered strange incantations, but Wiliken was able to make out the words “subject to the maw.” A near-invisible stream coalesced between Dusk and the minotaur, and it appeared to the githzerai that his half-elf ally was siphoning off the beast’s vitality in order to restore his own. Jean-Baptiste soon joined the attack on the minotaur. In his camel form, he charged the beast awkwardly, slamming his shoulders and long neck against the demon beast.

“Jean-Baptiste!” Douglas shouted. “Behind you.”

The flame creatures had begun to ignore the threat of Wiliken’s arrows and advance on Jean-Baptiste, who was already injured from their first assault. Jean-Baptiste wheeled around to face them, decided they were too much of a threat to charge, and transformed instead into a mouse in order to run away. Without the threat of their flames, Wiliken stepped forward and fired several arrows at the living flames. He’d had little luck before when he was firing off a couple of arrows and then ducking back behind the cage, but now that he could just stand still and shoot he found himself wildly accurate. He pierced the hearts of most of the fire beasts before the remainder of the crew turned their attention back to him. It felt as if he had learned his lesson from the previous battles – Do not charge into battle. Take cover and strike tactically.

As Wiliken fired off arrows at the remaining flame beasts, he noticed his allies were getting massacred by the minotaur. The big, dumb beast hadn’t seemed like much of a threat at the beginning of the fight. Once the elementals were disposed of, they could all simply mass on the minotaur and treat it as one giant target. They’d release their entire arsenal on him and make short work of him, but the beast’s had used his massive swinging arms to batter the companions. One by one, he struck a blow on each of them, scattering them throughout the room and leaving them to nurse their wounds. Grace escaped unbloodied and danced from one ally to another in order to treat their injuries.

Wiliken attempted to make a run toward the minotaur in order to assist those he fought beside, but a blast of flame prevented his movement. He ducked back behind the cage and hoped his allies could survive until he destroyed the two flame beasts that remained.

It was the dragon-born Morgan who stood up to the terrible demonic minotaur when none other could. He was just as injured as the others, moreso than many, but he stood tall and exchanged blows with the beast. The minotaur struck Morgan, and Morgan struck back, the minotaur struck Morgan, and Morgan struck back. They continued this way for some time, leaving Morgan so brutally beaten that Wiliken had wondered if he’d died three minotaur strikes ago and his ghost had stepped in to continue the fight. While Morgan was certainly on his last legs, the githzerai also noticed that the minotaur had been significantly weakened. Just when Wiliken believed the dragon-born might gain the upper hand, a fist slammed down on him and knocked him to the ground.

Morgan laid there for far too long, and Wiliken could not tell for certain, but the man looked broken. He still drew breath, but his body had twisted unnaturally. The noble fool had gotten himself killed, and Wiliken could do nothing to stop it.

But in that moment of doubt, Morgan surprised all present by getting back to his feet. He landed one more blow on the minotaur, a powerful uppercut which knocked the beast’s head back with such powerful that there was a sickening crack. The near-dead dragon-born had snapped the neck of a demon minotaur with one well-placed punch, likely the last blow he’d had the strength for. Their fierce enemy fell to the ground with a boom, and their fierce ally did the same one moment later.

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 13.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 11

“For weary warriors,” said the woman Grace. She closed her eyes and raised her hand. Wiliken watched as the freshly cut wound on his arm mended, inch by inch. If this woman had healed the githzerai and his companions before explaining her presence, it likely meant one thing: she expected battle and she expected it soon.

The woman’s companion was a half-elf wizard. Wiliken had encountered the likes before. His elf side guaranteed that he could harness the awesome power of nature and his human side promised that he had an unending need to talk about just how powerful he was. But perhaps this one was different, for Dusk got right to business.

“Jenkins has been scrying your mission,” he said, but his words were not directed at Wiliken. Wiliken assumed he was speaking with Douglas, and perhaps his comrade Jean-Baptiste. “He’s been trying to break through the wards that shield this place for some time now.”

“Your friend must be some powerful wizard to combat these wards from a distance,” Wiliken said.

“Powerful,” Douglas said. “Jenkins was the only one to walk away from the scourge of the Shining City.”

Wiliken flashed back to that fateful day, battling atop a hill as the Shining City was obliterated. Nobody could have survived that blast, he thought. But if the words his tentative ally had said were true, this wizard must have been a power of the highest rank.

While they spoke, the dragon-born Morgan had continued to swing the broadsword he’d acquired from the dragon-thing’s cage at the holding pens where masses of children were currently held captive. Grace walked over to a pillar, her steps nimble and precise, as if she were dancing, and removed a key ring that had been hanging there.

“Will these help?” she asked, a grin spreading across her face.

Morgan rushed to receive the keys from Grace and went to work opening the cages. The children filed out cautiously. The githzerai knew that they still did not appear comfortable with his presence, and this made sense. His son had been their captor after all. Some saw no purpose in leaving their prisons, and this also made sense. With the advent of these keys, the children had exchanged imprisonment in a tiny cage for imprisonment in a magically shielded sports arena.

Dusk noticed the disturbance first, and then Morgan. As Dusk muttered, trying to keep calm as he recited a counter-spell, and Morgan held his aching head, Wiliken knew why Grace had healed first and brought them up to date on the rescue second. The ward had been torn once again. Orange and black flames etched elaborate designs in the ground, frightening the children who either took shelter in their cages or moved as far away from the center of the room as possible.

From the dark teleportation circles emerged several a battalion of flame beasts and dust beasts and a towering minotaur with dark eyes.

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 12.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 10

Wiliken turned his thoughts to the company that he’d found himself in as the elevator slowly descended and he heard the grunts, howls and snorts of the animals below. The dragonborn Morgan had yet to reveal his motives for crashing Valgaman the Terrible’s ceremony, Jean-Baptiste was hard and fairly unreadable, and through all his speeches about responsibility, justice and protecting the weak, Douglas was certainly hiding something. The human had spoken to Wiliken as an arbiter of justice, as a king, or someone close to a king, might. He had accused the githzerai of being dangerous. Douglas had charmed all of them into fighting by his side, and yet the last ally he’d charmed, the boar, had been murdered defending the man. Wiliken supposed it was possible that they’d all die in the service of Douglas. Of course, despite his swagger and presumptuousness, Douglas might be a just man for all the githzerai could determine. Time will be the judge of this question, Wiliken thought.

The githzerai made first for his comrade Jurgen. When the deva noticed that Wiliken had joined him, he turned from the octo-bear and smirked.

“Nope,” Jurgen said. “He doesn’t know anything.”

Wiliken removed a small dirk from his satchel and held the blade up before the torchlight. Jurgen looked up, betraying the littlest bit of fright in his eyes. The githzerai lowered the blade precisely and cut a gash across his forearm. It stung horribly, but Wiliken did not flinch. Instead, as the blood began to trickle and drip onto the floor prompting the animals strewn about the room to focus their attention on him, Wiliken removed a small bowl from his satchel and collected his blood.

“If the creature wants blood, he’ll have none but mine,” Wiliken said. He handed the bowl to Jurgen. Jurgen appraised Wiliken. When he saw that his friend had wiped his blade and then sheathed it, he passed the bowl to the octo-bear, who grasped it expertly with one tentacled hand, poured the blood down into his mouth and threw the bowl back.

As the bowl slammed to the ground, Wiliken heard an uneasy grunt escape the mouth of the solemn dragonborn Morgan.

“What troubles you?” Wiliken asked. “Did the clattering bowl break your concentration?”

“There has been an opening in the wards,” Morgan said. Wiliken gathered that Morgan was referring to the wards Valgaman and company had cast in order to surround his menagerie in a force field, the same wards that locked them inside.

“That is great news,” Douglas said. The human had apparently returned from the pit without Wiliken’s notice. “A way out, perhaps.”

“Or Valgaman’s clean-up squad,” Wiliken suggested, darkly.

“Quickly, your blood,” Morgan said to Wiliken. “We need to free the children. If reinforcements are arriving, they’ll be fodder for a slaughter.”

“And my blood will stop this?”

Morgan seized Wiliken by the arm. The second time today, Wiliken thought as he struggled against the dragonborn’s greater strength. Certainly, the last, one way or another. With his other hand Morgan grabbed the bowl. Morgan squeezed the githzerai’s arm and with a dull ache, another stream of blood spilled into the bowl. To Wiliken’s surprise, Morgan dropped his head as soon as he released the githzerai, and apologized, before rushing the blood over to the dragon-like creature. The beast was curled in a ball, laying on the floor of the cage, but after he lapped up Wiliken’s blood, he arose, revealing his massive bulk in all its glory. The monster also revealed his treasure, a battered broad-sword that had been concealed beneath his girth, which the dragon creature kicked forward. Morgan grabbed the sword, uttered what Wiliken assumed to be his gratitude to the beast in draconic, and then ran into the next room.

The others followed Morgan. What they saw was a dragonborn who swung the sword heroically at the bars of a cage full of children, the sword clinking and then bouncing out of Morgan’s hands before he fell to his knees clutching his head in pain.

“Someone is ripping through the wards,” Morgan shouted. “Someone… powerful.”

No sooner had Morgan uttered these words than a red ornamental circle burned itself into the stone floor behind the dragonborn. Wiliken recognized this design as a teleportation circle. Two forms swirled together standing atop the circle, a man and a woman. Wiliken nocked an arrow, readying himself for his final battle. The man appeared to be a wizard of some sort, likely the being of great power that Morgan had spoken of. This could be my final battle, Wiliken thought.

Jean-Baptiste stepped forward and directly into Wiliken’s shot. “Grace?” he said. The woman stepped forward and embraced the druid. Wiliken lowered his bow. If the hard and wizened Jean-Baptiste had softened at the approach of the two new-comers, then they certainly were not Valgaman’s thugs.

“It appears the fates are on our side,” Jurgen said. The others agreed. However, Wiliken knew Jurgen, and he knew his friend did not believe in the fates. The deva’s sarcasm only loosely veiled his true thoughts, that they were not out of danger’s way, not yet.

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 11.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 9

The holding area where Wiliken and company had found hundreds of caged children appeared to be a converted storage facility. Wiliken had expected to find an access tunnel leading to a surface-level loading dock, but sadly their escape would not be so easy. Everything entering Valgaman’s palace had to come in through the now impassible front entrance, rendering the building ineffectual in terms of daily operations but also highly useful as a trap for ones foes. The druid Jean-Baptiste had even attempted, in the form of a swarm of locusts, to navigate the ventilation ducts only to find the airways shielded as well.

As the githzerai’s allies milled about the complex looking for an overlooked means of escape, Wiliken analyzed the cages that housed the children. Were they as rusted and warped as the cage used to transport Jean-Baptiste to the surface, the children would have been freed long ago, but none of the trapped warriors had weapons powerful enough to cleave the metal bars.

After the lack of self-control he had shown in battle that day, Wiliken had thought to pass the time in meditation, but it had been so long since he’d last fortified his mind and the fear rippling off the myriad children at his mere presence was enough to break an expert trance. Wiliken told himself he was looking for a way to free the children, but instead he walked about idly, focused on his past and his guilt.

“A word, master githzerai?” asked Douglas. Wiliken hadn’t heard the human enter.

“I am at your service,” Wiliken responded, politely. “Not that I could deny your request. It wasn’t so long ago that you commanded your friends to restrain me.”

“I wasn’t certain I could trust you,” Douglas said. Wiliken remembered the disappointment he’d felt when his father-in-law Sazeran had expressed the same sentiment after returning the bow called “True Shot” to the githzerai. Somehow, Douglas’s mistrust didn’t have the same force to it.

“Do you trust me now?”

Douglas avoided responding to the githzerai’s question. “Walk with me,” he said.

Wiliken followed Douglas into the next room where Jurgen, Morgan and Jean-Baptiste – who had once again returned to his camel form – crouched near the animal cages, each trying to communicate with the beasts. Jurgen had hypothesized that the force field used to imprison them was encrypted with a password, so when the children didn’t seem to have the information they needed to escape he’d moved on to the next most intelligent life form, an enormous bear-like beast with tentacles for arms. Jurgen had called the creature an octo-bear, though Wiliken doubted that the deva was using the proper nomenclature. Dragonborn Morgan exchanged draconic words with a large dragon-like reptile and Jean-Baptiste stretched his camel-speak to its limits in hopes he could communicate with a regal looking sabre-toothed zebra. Wiliken considered their attempts to talk to the animals a fool’s errand, but it was certainly a better option than waiting for Valgaman’s allies to wipe them out.

“Inevitably, as you well understand, the issue of your son is going to come to a head,” Douglas said. “When it does, I don’t want to see my friend and I placed in a disadvantageous position. My grandfather often said that understanding is the best armor, so I wonder if you can help me to understand this son of yours.”

“I shall try my hardest to be of assistance.”

“Some of the children I interviewed recalled your son’s soldiers referring to him as Iiuza. Am I to believe that you are the father of the legendary githzerai whose actions lead to the fall of the Shining City?”

“Not at all,” Wiliken said. “From what I’ve been able to put together, my son Embrion was born close to the same moment the Shining City was destroyed. The word ‘Iiuza’ was never spoken in our house. You see, Iiuza is deep speech for ‘son of Iuz,’ a term coined by the first githzerai who entered this plane and used only to describe those they hated most. As Aaron grew older, he began to see kinship between himself and the mass murderer. It began with the coincidence of his birth. He later became blackguard-”

“Your son, blackguard?” Douglas said, appalled.

“Against my explicit orders,” Wiliken continued. The githzerai followed his interlocutor onto the freight elevator. Douglas pressed a button, and with a whir the lift jerkily ascended.

“Where I come from,” Douglas said, “a child’s deeds reflect on his father’s name.”

“Then I would certainly be exiled from your kingdom,” Wiliken responded.

“Is the same custom not true among the githzerai?”

The elevator emerged into the battle pit section of Valgaman’s menagerie and Douglas disembarked. The githzerai followed.

“To this matter, I must admit my ignorance,” Wiliken answered. “I, like my son, was raised among humans. Everything I know of my githzerai heritage I learned from books.”

The human and the githzerai walked several more paces together before they stopped.

“Do you know why I lead you here?” Douglas asked.

Wiliken looked down at the boar carcass beside him. There was blood on the sand, much of it his own.

“This is where you saved my life,” Wiliken responded. “Perhaps you wish me to take an oath on the blood debt I owe you.”

“The same grandfather I told you of earlier also used to say that when you save a life that life belongs to you,” Douglas said. “Not as a slave or a sacrifice, but as a responsibility. Perhaps you might liken this responsibility to that of a parent for a child. If your child saves another, then you are proud, for you have saved this person too. Similarly if your child has killed another. Your oath, I do not need, but I am responsible for you now. Every action you do from this moment on, I have condoned, for you have done it with the life I gave you. What I need from you is a reason to believe that you will save more lives than you end, that you will bring more good into this world than evil.”

“And if I do not convince you?”

“Then I will strike you dead in the very place where once I revived you.”

Wiliken’s anger flared, at Douglas’s self-righteous sense of justice but also at the boy’s belief that he could so easily end the battle-hardened githzerai. Certainly, it was not possible, not here, without his goons to back him up, not on the human’s best day.

Wiliken took a deep breath and focused his mind. “I will do my best,” he said. “Does that please you, master Douglas?”

Douglas stared at Wiliken for a moment. For a man of disguise, he displayed his emotions too easily across his face. The man was weighing his options, seriously considering both killing the githzerai and welcoming him as an ally. Wiliken stared back. Whatever his fate, he would face it without shame.

“It doesn’t,” Douglas said. “But I suppose it will have to do until we get out of this place.”

“And then?” Wiliken asked.

“Then,” Douglas said. “Then, I will be forced to make a difficult decision.”

Wiliken stared at Douglas a short while longer before dropping his gaze and walking back toward the elevator.

“One more thing, master githzerai,” Douglas said. “I’ll admit that my animal-speak is a bit rusty, but I believe your deva friend is offering to feed the octo-bear a child in exchange for information. Take my advice and steer your friend from that path, would you?”

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 10.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 8

In those days, the githzerai used a blade.

He had been a proud warrior then, adorned in shining silver armor, battling on the outskirts of the Shining City, but when the city fell he laid his blade to rest, never to pick it up again.

He turned his back on the carnage and began to walk.

He would likely be deemed a deserter, and yet he walked. As night fell he found his way into the nearest village. He had no coin, but an innkeeper was happy to accept his shining armor in exchange for room and board.

The next day, the githzerai left early. Despite the fact that the war was now over, skirmishes continued to break out throughout the land. Without blade or armor, he would be an easy target for a stray arrow or rogue’s dagger, and yet he walked.

Day and night lost meaning. As the githzerai stood atop a bluff overlooking his home town, he found he’d lost count of how many days he’d spent travelling over road, over field, through forest and stream. He hung his head as he remembered the fall of the Shining City, and yet he walked one final stretch.

His wife met him at the door. When he’d left for war Iseley had been large with child, but now she was thin and girlish once again. He walked past her with little more than a glance and made for the room that had once been his guest room.

He’d built a crib for this room before he’d left for war, and now the crib was occupied by the githzerai’s child.

Iseley joined the githzerai in the nursery. “Rumors of your death precede you,” she said. “Where have you been?”

“Those stories belong to yesterday,” the githzerai responded. He looked upon the boy who had been born while he had been off fighting. “I’ve chosen to embrace tomorrow instead.”

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 9.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 7

With Jean-Baptiste freed and returned to his human form, the five souls needed only to exit the abattoir they’d found themselves in. Wiliken and Jurgen had explained that the entrance was not an option, recounting the ambush that had taken place there at the beginning of the battle. Jurgen added that he sensed the doors were barred by mystic wards outside of the building. Douglas noted that were there any means of shutting off this spell from inside, he and Wiliken would have certainly found it while attempting to override the force field.

As they spoke, the mysterious Jean-Baptiste slowly paced the perimeter of the pit. Though they exchanged many words, Wiliken doubted Jean-Baptiste caught even one, for he appeared to be in a deep concentration. As he walked, his hand slid along the wall.

“Explain your friend,” Wiliken said to Douglas.

“Jean-Baptiste is a druid,” Douglas said. “It is not uncommon for his type to take animal form.”

“So, why didn’t he change back to human and save us all the trouble?” Wiliken asked, growing angry that he’d risked so much for a raving woods walker.

“The collar on his neck contained a powerful enchantment which bound him to camel form.”

“And what is he doing now?”

At that moment, Jean-Baptiste stopped, placing one foot heavily down on the sand. His hand slid forward slightly, stopped, and then pushed on the wall, all as if of its own volition. The earth beneath them groaned and there was the hissing of sand falling.

“Finding a way out,” Jean-Baptiste said, and he pointed to the cage where once he was held.

For you too were once a slave.

The cage had sunk into the earth some, and the hissing came from the sand attempting to fill in the hole. As Wiliken watched, the cage continued to sink. This was when the githzerai realized that he was looking at the elevator they used to transport the pit animals into their sparring arena. He dashed forward and jumped atop the cage, which was now at knee-level, claiming the spot where once he’d thought he could fend off the beasts that converged on their camel friend. This, of course, was before his arrogance nearly killed him.

“Hop on,” Wiliken urged his allies. “Before the fall becomes too treacherous.”

Douglas, Jean-Baptiste, Morgan and Jurgen made haste to join him. As they descended into the darkness together, Wiliken became claustrophobic. He imagined that the sand might just keep falling and cover them all before they could make any effort to free themselves.

“What an inefficient system,” Jurgen complained, also concerned with the ever-falling sand. “If they lose this much sand every time they replace a pit beast, think of the extra effort expended on replenishing the sand when they might simply keep these beasts in holding pens at pit level instead. They’re wasting a fortune.”

“All is vanity,” Jean-Baptiste said before returning to silent contemplation.

“Yes, that’s what I said,” Jurgen retorted.

The service elevator rumbled to a halt, and the adventurers were met by the smell of dander and animal droppings. Morgan lit a torch, and it illuminated a series of cages filled with mangy beasts, many of which had bloodied themselves attacking the metal bars that held them. As Morgan alighted the wall-hanging torches, more details presented themselves to Wiliken’s vision. He saw what looked like broken pieces of pottery.

“What are those?” Wiliken asked Jurgen. He assumed that they were of ritual importance, and to Wiliken’s knowledge Jurgen was often contracted for performing rituals.

“Wards,” Jurgen answered, bending to examine the pieces. “Were I to guess, these objects once pacified the animals, probably so their handlers wouldn’t be wounded while tending to them.”

“We must free them,” Wiliken said, simply.

“They’d kill us all, kill one another, and then starve to death,” Jurgen said. “We must not free them.”

“For you too-” Wiliken started.

“Stop,” Jurgen stopped him. “Just stop saying that. It always gets us into trouble.”

“Douglas can calm the animals,” Wiliken said. “He charmed a boar on the battlefield.”

“Sadly,” Douglas said. “This is beyond me. By the time I trained these animals, we’ll all have either starved or been murdered by whatever reinforcements Valgaman is no doubt summoning.”

Glum, Wiliken began to search his surroundings.

“What are you doing?” Jurgen said, worried.

Wiliken searched out a cupboard where he found piles of meat, mostly rotten, but certainly healthier for these animals than devouring their own flesh. Wiliken gathered an armful of the odorous food and began distributing it to the animals.

“This will at least keep them alive for a little longer,” Wiliken said.

Even as Douglas, Jean-Baptiste and Morgan joined Wiliken in feeding the animals, Jurgen stood, arms crossed, disgusted that his fellow warriors had forgotten their own need to escape, but he said nothing. He might bully one of his allies to share his opinion, but not each of them.

As the tortured growling of the various beasts quieted into ravenous food gobbling, another sound could be heard beyond this room. Muffled though it was, the sound was that of human voices. Wiliken could tell the others heard it as well, for they all stopped in their tracks and looked toward the door at the end of the long corridor.

“Reinforcements already?” Morgan whispered.

“Perhaps,” Wiliken said, suddenly curious. “Perhaps not.”

“Wiliken!” Jurgen whispered, but it was too late. Wiliken had already taken hold of a torch and bolted for the exit. The githzerai opened the door with no fear of what stood on the other side. His courage originated in a hunch, a strange thought that wandered into his mind just moments before he heard the voices. Wiliken shoved his torch inside the adjoining room and watched as striped shadows stretched out into an accommodating room. More cages, Wiliken thought. He stepped into the room and swung his torch to his left, revealing behind the bars a pile of children shading their eyes from the firelight.

“It’s all right,” Wiliken shouted.

As Wiliken lit the torches on the wall, he began to feel joy. Unlike the beasts in the previous room, these children could be transported from their confinement with ease once they found a way out. Wiliken began to reflect on the fact that he hadn’t felt the smallest bit of surprise that the room would be full of children. In truth, he’d opened the door expecting exactly this. The mental powers of githzerai manifest through training, and without the help of magic. As a result, one wouldn’t understand these powers as psychic. Certainly, the powers originated in the githzerai psyche, but these powers were never precognitive or clairvoyant. Rather, a well-practiced githzerai could see the world as it is, understand his part in it, and maximize his potency at the things he did. Wiliken felt his stomach turn. If he hadn’t gained second sight, then his chance prediction had been the result of a memory. In that moment, Wiliken unraveled Valgaman the Terrible’s plot and the part he’d hoped Wiliken would play.

“Don’t play at being squeamish,” Jurgen jabbed. “You of all people should be familiar with the signs of a child sacrifice.”

When Wiliken looked at the children once again, he saw blood splattered across the walls, children dismembered, eviscerated, decapitated, intestines leaking out of stomachs, and the vision made him retch. The next moment, the children were there once more, completely intact, heads, intestines and all, but it was they who were revolted. For a moment, Wiliken imagined that the children had just seen the same vision that nearly brought him to his knees, but as the children nearly flattened one another to place a distance between themselves and the githzerai he knew their terror had another cause entirely.

The shouting was chaotic, but after a few moments it was clear that the children were blaming Wiliken for their imprisonment. Allies a short time earlier, Jean-Baptiste and Morgan rushed to restrain the githzerai. Jurgen advanced to assist Wiliken, but Douglas pushed him out of the way, threatening that he’d slit the deva’s throat should he complicate the situation further. Jurgen stepped back, and Douglas took this as a sign that he’d no longer have to fear the sorcerer’s intervention. The human took a knee and interrogated one of the children, using soothing words to calm the boy and bring forth the words that would condemn or free Wiliken. In the din, the archer knew not which words the child spoke.

Douglas stood and looked upon Wiliken. “The child says that a githzerai was their captor, a githzerai who looked much like you.”

Jean-Baptiste and Morgan held Wiliken tighter, imagining that this verdict would prompt him to escape.

“But the one who imprisoned these boys and girls was much younger githzerai,” Douglas continued, and Wiliken was released by the humans. “Do you know the githzerai this child speaks of?”

Though Wiliken could once again move freely, he felt restrained once more by the weight of all the emotions he felt at that moment, shame and guilt the first among his burdens. “I do,” he said. “These children were captured by my son.”

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 8.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 6

“Jean-Baptiste!” Douglas shouted as he rushed to the camel’s rescue. Wiliken expected Jurgen to belittle the human for his antics, but instead the judgment was turned on him.

“You should have stayed home,” Jurgen said, angrily. “You should have sat in your chair at home and welcomed death when Valgaman’s lackeys came to pay you back for insulting him. But now you’ve dragged us all into the situation.”

“Lay your shame elsewhere,” Wiliken said. “I’ve my own shame to attend to.”

“Do you have any-” Jurgen started, but he was soon distracted by their comrades. Douglas and Morgan had pried enough of the damaged cage’s bars away that the animal – that Jean-Baptiste – was now free to roam. Douglas now looked the beast in the eyes and attempted to interrogate him. “If you must talk to the animal,” Jurgen said, now speaking to Douglas. “At least allow me to translate his inevitably sarcastic and derisive replies.”

“Camels, right?” Jurgen said to Wiliken before turning and speaking an incantation in Jean-Baptiste’s direction.

“Well,” Jurgen said after listening to a moment’s worth of camel bleating. “That’s surprising. Your Jean-Baptiste is surprisingly articulate for a camel. He says that you need to remove the collar. He says you must do so carefully.”

“Jean-Baptiste!” Douglas shouted joyously.

“Now, where was I?” Jurgen returned to Wiliken. “Ah, yes. Do you have any idea how many party guests died so you could rescue a camel?”

Wiliken held out his bow and pointed out the inscription. “For you too were once a slave,” he translated.

“I most certainly was not,” Jurgen replied. Wiliken was not sure what irritated him more, the fact that Jurgen was willfully missing his point or that Jurgen was distracted by the humans once again. They handled the camel’s collar with great concern, as if it might have some terrible curse on it.

“What?” Jurgen shouted. “Here, let me-”

But Douglas had unclasped the jeweled collar, and as he did the camel transformed into a hide-covered man of the wild, into Jean-Baptiste, friend of Douglas.

“Turn him back,” Jurgen said. “I need someone to carry my spell books.”

“I’ll never be your beast of burden,” Jean-Baptiste said, solemnly.

Now that Wiliken’s concern for the camel seemed justified, the githzerai saw a strange demeanor come over Jurgen. He supposed this mean that Jurgen was embarrassed for giving Wiliken such a hard time, and Wiliken’s irritation was turned suddenly into entertainment.

“I’m pleased you did not die,” Jurgen admitted.

“Thank you.”

“But I am somewhat disappointed,” Jurgen continued, not allowing his sensitivity to linger too long in Wiliken’s memory. “I have a ritual that allows me to turn a recently dead subject into a vampire, and I have been itching to use it.”

“No more transforming us into monsters,” Morgan commanded. Jurgen was unable to come up with a sarcastic retort for his intimidating dragonborn ally.

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 7.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 5

When Wiliken awoke he saw that Jurgen had left him, but in his place was a badly injured Douglas, hard at work keeping the githzerai from dying. Wiliken cursed the fact that he was still on the battlefield. He’d hoped to awaken in his bed, with his wife at his side, having been spirited away by his allies, but here he was, still in the sand pit, fighting for his life.

The shadow on his face told Wiliken that the healer had at least gotten him to cover, but when the shadow moved this way and that, Wiliken realized that it was one of the boars, perhaps even the one who mowed him down earlier, who stood before them.

Startled, Wiliken jumped back from Douglas’s healing salve and drew an arrow.

“No!” Douglas shouted, and he clutched his side in agony. It appeared that Douglas was in worse shape than even the githzerai, and yet he didn’t use his potions on himself. “I’ve charmed the beast. She’ll defend us from harm until we’re back on our feet, but not if you kill her first.”

With Douglas’s medical assistance, Wiliken was back in action in no time. He scanned for the reptile who had nearly killed him and found the creature, or rather its remains, splattered on the pillar it’d used to hide behind. Nearby he saw Morgan going toe-to-toe with another of the boars, doing his best to keep it from attacking the deva who’d once turned him into a monster. Jurgen pored over a dusty tome, frantically flipping its pages, likely looking for a transport spell of some sort.

The gargantuan sand leviathan known by those who have witnessed it in nature as a dire bulette continued to circle the caged camel at the center of the room. Though it remained unconcerned with the battle, it nearly killed Wiliken all the same. The vision of its huge form swimming effortlessly through sand distracted Wiliken just long enough that the third boar got the best of him. Tusks lowered, the boar charged, but just before it made contact, Douglas’s charmed boar came at it from the side. The two beasts, likely children of the same litter, battled to the death, or rather to the deaths, as the victor collapsed from mortal wounds just moments after killing its brother.

Wiliken noticed Douglas limping toward the dire bulette. Rather than attempt to stop him, however, the githzerai readied an arrow. Douglas was merely continuing the battle plan they’d devised. Though they’d both nearly died, the goal hadn’t changed – the camel was still in need of saving.

Wiliken readied himself for the fight of his life. What he experienced, however, was not nearly so climactic. It seems that Jurgen must have found his place in his spell book, because Wiliken saw the mage’s familiar ambling cloud shoot past him toward the sand behemoth. Upon impact, the dire bulette simply stopped.

“Did you kill it?” Wiliken asked, not ready to put down his bow just yet.

“No. I simply made it helpless,” Jurgen answered. “It is a condition far kinder than death, though I must admit that the kindness only applies if the beast’s nostrils are above ground at the time of impact.”

“So…”

“Yes, it is dead.”

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 6.

Campaign Stories: Wiliken 4

“Remind me to exercise caution before calling you old,” Jurgen said.

Wiliken had been hot, both in terms of accuracy and in terms of anger. He felt strong and he felt proud, proud enough that he shouldn’t have to lower himself to retrieving his own arrows. But the only remaining party guests were his co-worker Jurgen, the dragonborn Morgan, and a mysterious noble named Douglas, whose electric strike mowed down the enemies, and each had pulled his weight enough in battle to be exempt from arrow duty.

The man named Douglas was a curiosity to Wiliken. The githzerai had learned the measure of many men, but he was having difficulty figuring out who or what this human truly was at his core. His dress suggested that Douglas was a wealthy supporter of Valgaman the Terrible, but he was highly concerned with the caged camel, which was now surrounded by hideous beasts, and such concern was not common in Valgaman’s circle. His hair, still scruffy in places, his wild eyes, and the fact that he’d attempted to disrupt the party before Wiliken had his chance, these things suggested that the man who stood before him was some sort of adventurer or soldier of fortune. But that couldn’t be entirely true. His speech was that of one highly born. To Wiliken, Douglas was an onion – you peel away one layer and you’re left with yet another.

To stack one curiosity on another, both Douglas and Morgan had clearly made their way into Valgaman’s party only through disguise and deception. Wiliken understood from this fact that these two each had their own agenda, something they wished to carry out at this event, and until Wiliken uncovered these agendas he would have to keep a close eye on these fellow warriors.

Wiliken shifted his focus to his surroundings as he filled his quiver. Any askew floorboard or out-of-place trinket might be the key to lowering the force field. In the end it was the mysterious man Douglas who found the switch. He had knocked on the stage supporting Valgaman’s throne until he’d found a hollow spot.

“Here!” Douglas had shouted, and he pried the compartment open. Douglas wore the clothing of one who had servants to do this sort of work, and yet his hands found the grooves in the wood with expert ease and cracked open the hidden chamber like an expert thief.

Wiliken and the others gathered behind Douglas.

“Perhaps we should scout for traps before Wiliken-” Jurgen said, but before he could finish, Wiliken had flipped the switch within the hidden compartment. “And there he goes again.”

The pressure in the room spiked as a blue dome appeared above the pit. Moments later, it flickered out, and the charge from the field pulled upon their bodies, forcing them over the banister and into the pit.

Down here, Wiliken could feel the rumble as the submerged beast circled. He recognized that gargantuan creature that swam through the sand as if it were water as a dire bulette. He’d seen whole squadrons of experienced warriors fall to a single bulette in the wild. Equally dangerous were three large boars whose tusks shimmered as if aflame.

“I say we fight a straight line to the cage,” Wiliken said to Douglas. “Once there, I’ll cover you from atop the camel’s prison while you work at freeing the animal.”

Douglas nodded, and the two rushed into the fray of battle. Jurgen shouted after Wiliken, “Good work. We’ll end up killing all these beasts just to save one camel. Are all githzerai ignorant of the study of mathematics?”

The archer’s first shot struck a boar on its thickly ridged back. The beast had been goring the cage with his tusks, but when the arrow struck he turned and charged his assailants. Douglas was able to react quickly enough to dive out of the way, but the boar struck Wiliken head on, driving him back into Jurgen and knocking them both prone.

Before they could arise, a jolt of electricity surged through the two combatants, knocking them back down, followed by another and another. Wiliken wondered if Douglas had turned on them, using the same lightning that ended the golem battle on Wiliken and Jurgen. He certainly had his suspicions about any man who disguised his true self. But both Douglas and Morgan were busy dodging deadly boar tusks while trying in vain to make quick strikes against the mad creatures. The static charges were coming from a pair of reptiles, basilisks by the looks of them, though Wiliken admitted he could be wrong. They stood to either side of the pit, each taking cover behind massive pillars and only popping their heads out to discharge deadly bolts of lightning against their foes.

Wiliken found that it was no use trying to get up. The twin reptiles kept them thoroughly pinned. Instead, Wiliken drew and fired while still laying on his side. He fired at the reptile to his left between crippling jolts, nock, fire, – BZZZZT – and was able to remain in the battle just long enough to kill one of the two beasts, but before he could turn on the second a final excruciating bolt hit him and everything went black.

Campaign Stories continues in Wiliken 5.