“You are sure of this?” Teacher Lynncletica asked me.
“I’m certain. You’ve done your own exploration of the giant lich’s corruption of the Frost Giants. Soami Gardens had become a den for evil adherents to an evil plan revealed to us by the Argonessen.”
Lynncletica appeared to review my report from memory, her eyes gazing downward in contemplation and recollection. “If other reports are true, that place is filled with undead as well.”
“That’s right. I am less effective against the walking dead than you, but I am no less deadly,” I said, as I opened, inspected and resealed some hand wrappings that were imbued with the power to disrupt and obliterate the undead.
Lynncletica kept quiet a moment before she said, “I won’t question why you want to purge this old shrine of evil. The question is whether you should do this alone.”
“No one else has the heart for it, nor the training. And I plan to make the old monastery my dojo, eventually. The souls lost there, as well, deserve retribution.”
I stood up slowly. “To fight this darkness requires someone darker.”
A day later, I arrived at the hidden underwater refuge where the Argonessen had hidden the Stormreaver and took a portal to the distant, forgotten paths that lead to Soami.
Smells of moss and decay filled my nose from the overgrown jungle. Where once was groomed gardens and sculptured trees and bushes was now curious crackling, dead earth and tangled roots and something not unlike mournful sighs, rising high and loud for moments before they fell low, momentarily drowned out by a chittering insect and what few other tuffs of wildlife could survive there.
Small pieces of once-sturdy timbers, jade, obsidian and clay tiles covered the earth. Small amounts of glass shards from broken windows, intermixed with small golden paint flecks attempted to welcome me as they surely would have done to visitors long ago when they were once resting, intact on the buildings.
A chilling presence nearby stopped my hidden advance. There was a face in the air, as substantial as a campfire’s smoke observing me. I did not move as the mouth on the apparition’s face moved out of sync as a feminine voice said to the air
–You are not Drow. You are not insane–
“I’m not. I came to rid this place of the Drow,” I said in a low voice, not desiring to get the attention of any others.
–If you were Drow, I would eat your soul, or I could eat it now–
“That would gain nothing, brother. Do you seek rest from your solitude here? If I can destroy the Drow, would you find peace?”
The ghost’s form flickered uncertainly for some time before disassembling into smoke, with only the face keeping integration, hovering mere centimeters from my own.
–Free us– were the ghost’s final words before the last of its smoke dissipated.
My intelligence led me past the destroyed and barricaded central entrances of the old monastery to a small disused entrance.
On entering, thick smells of oil and grinding metal assailed me, becoming stronger and louder. No longer were the halls of this place a refuge for any kind of quiet contemplation and enlightenment.
The ghost’s warning of Drow did not disappoint. Two robed wizards stood talking, their backs turned to me, while I listened to them from the shadows. Even with elven senses, I was far too quiet for them to notice me.
“Since when do we Drow pay homage to giants?” the first wizard said with an irritated hiss.
“I understand that our compensation was substantial,” the second wizard answered.
“And piles of platinum are exchangeable for our honor? Against the traitorous giantkind? Disgusting.”
“I know that there is more to the…transaction. As a magister in lower ranking, I am not obligated to discuss this matter further with you.”
“I think you should–ugh…“
It took the higher ranking magister one second to turn to find his companion dead on the floor. By the time he turned about to find his attacker, I stood with a death-palm at his neck.
“I’m not part of this order, so you may oblige me of this giantish transaction in exchange for your life. What giant?”
Sweat formed on the wizard’s frozen, silent face. I watched him pucker his lips like a stubborn child sitting at a dinner table with a plate of vegetables. “You cannot be deaf with ears like mine. Now, tell me about this place and the giant you work for. I will not ask a second time,” I said, moving my hand closer to his neck.
“Yes..yes…I will tell you. The giant goes by Incanni. He’s asked us to slay and bind a dragon for him.”
From the edge of my vision I saw the wizard’s finger move as I heard something muttered in the ancient Elven tongue.
He never finished his attempt to strike me with magic as my palm snapped forward like a snake’s head, a fatal quivering of ki energy neutralizing all energies through his body. Avoiding additional noise, I grabbed the dead man’s body before it hit the floor, then hid the two Drow corpses in a darker corner before continuing.
Drow working with giants would be like the Devils of Shavarath visiting Stormreach to help rebuild the harbor docks. Giants had been enslaving Drow for centuries and were hardly allies anywhere in Xen’drik.
There was something familiar about the giant’s name but I couldn’t place it. A loud clang pulled me out of thought and back to full attention to my mission.
A large blue force field, hardly of monastic craft, clearly marked the path forward. After finding a series of switches, the field dropped and I entered the deeper recesses.
I suspected a Xoriat attack was to blame for the monastery’s demise. I confronted a doomsphere during my attempt to enter the building’s original entrance, nearly being killed before I was able to release it from its haunting of this once-hallowed place.
The Drow had simply found the lost Soami Gardens as a suitable isolated place to transform the deserted monastery’s underground catacombs, once filled with the entombed remains hundreds of monks from ages past, hollowing the tunnels out for their unholy installation.
They left the angry ghosts of the long-dead monks that tried to defend this place floating above as unwitting guards to shoo away the curious. A tome inside one disused room confirmed this. Twisted by the insane energies of Xoriat, the ghosts outside fight almost anything. I was merely fortunate to escape the one shade to whom I spoke.
The Drow had been entrenched in the catacombs a while, maybe a few years.
But not much longer if I had anything to say about it.
I had completed unlocking a path forward when a kama’s blade appeared at my throat.
“Move and die,” the weapon’s wielder said. I watched a dozen Drow, some lightly garbed in dark, loose fitting martial outfits, surround me in front, with surely as many behind.
They escorted me to the bowels of the installation. Wet smells of moss and earth mixed with something rotting and putrid, the odor growing more and more concentrated as we got closer to their leader. One guard stopped me with a brusque hand, searched me far too intimately and provocatively as he removed my shortswords, a small pack of healing balms and a couple of small finger-sized scrolls. You can never truly disarm a monk, however, so the guard remained as large as before.
I expected someone with stature to be in charge, and wasn’t disappointed as I heard the strange clatter of multiple legs on stone with a loud hiss. The boss was a scarrow, a hideously large fusion of scorpion and Drow bodies created by the dark magics of the god Vulkoor. This scarrow was different from others I have encountered: twice the size and heavily armored by translucent plates of insect armor: chitin. The grace in which he entered suggested that this thing was faster than he appeared.
“What’s this, a monk who has come to join our order?” the scarrow said in a terrifying grin, his teeth serrated like an assassin’s dagger edge. “Tell me, monk, why are you here?”
“I came to cleanse this holy site,” I answered simply, truthfully.
“Ah. That implies that you have any more right to be here as we do. We simply have the right through our might.”
“Is might all that you find honorable? Do you sacrifice your race’s own honor to work with giants?” I didn’t bother with subtlety. I wanted to press the one button that would cause the most aggravation to the Drow.
It worked. The scarrow lept forward with insane speed, swinging a claw’s side at my face, hurtling my body backward against unyielding earth and stone. My ninja mask partially dislodged as my head hit the wall and my sight blackened a moment.
The scarrow squinted and laughed mirthlessly with my race now revealed. “An elf? Maybe a weak human-tainted one? Hm. I would think you might understand then what our race would gain as wielders of the arcane, even with weak blood such as yours.”
I moved to a squatting position, still close to the well where I fell. The guards had moved backward several paces to give their boss plenty of room, surrounding him. leaving him in the center of his complex. Behind him, a small box rested on a smaller altar. Tiny ribbons of bluish light streamed up and away into the darkness.
The scarrow’s claws clicked in excitement. “Incanni believes we will fully give him the arcane powers he’s asked for us to leech from Omaekrix’s corpse. We will do what he asks, but we Drow will gain some power of our own to use in changing Gianthold into the new Drow citadel, a launching post for greater things you cannot comprehend.” The scarrow inched closer to me, his rotten breath smelling of game and fish. “Do you know what that means for you and your kind?”
I said nothing.
“Of course you don’t. But you won’t have to wait to find out.” The scarrow turned about a quarter. “Guards, leave me.”
“Yes, Master Sannyasi,” one of the guards said, as I watched what few Drow I could see begin to march out.
A clawed appendage suddenly seized my neck, squeezing and lifting me up. “Come, monk,” Sannyasi said. “I will give you a brief tour.”
Barely able to keep my feet to the floor, the scarrow dragged me forward to the small altar. “Here are the remains of a dragon. Through arcane principles your simple mind can’t understand, we separate the elements of the dragon’s life. In that stone is the enchantments that Incanni designed. But in this stone,” he said as he pointed to a small pendant around his neck, “I take in the powers of a dragon’s body. Endurance. Speed. Immense life-force that an army could not take from me.”
He threw me again, but this time I was able to tumble and land partially on feet, coughing for breath.
For some reason, being tossed reminded me of an earlier adventure, long ago. There was a mountain fortress. More Drow, such as these. Despite their racial hatred, they, too, worked for a giant. A storm giant at the mountain’s summit. I remembered now.
“I know that name…” I said.
“Yes? Do tell? The giant’s name?”
“Incanni. The Summoner. An insane giant that my party and I killed some time ago.”
The scarrow made that saw-toothed smile again. “Go on,” he said, obviously amused.
“Sor’jek Incanni is dead, so how could he be aligned to you?”
The scarrow swayed back and forth on his legs. “Well, I don’t know the whole story there,” it said with a sing-song lilt to his voice, “But I’m sure that he had some outside help to return from the dead.”
If Incanni was revived, it would not have been from the short-term resurrection effects of a cleric. Something would’ve had to forcibly reanimate his destroyed body. That meant only one thing even I knew, with my limited knowledge of the arcane. Sor’Jek Incanni had become that lich of Argonessen’s fears, a powerful undead creature.
And with Incanni’s knowledge of arcane power combined with his undead form, in time he could take down what remained or giant- and dragon-kind with ease if he mustered the right powers.
Sannyasi stepped forward. “But come now. You came here to rid the temple of evil. I’m sure that you’ve been wanting to fight me by now. What does your meager monastic arts offer compared to the physical prowess of a scarrow infused with the power of a dragon?”
He was right on this: I did want to fight.
I assessed my objective. Sannyasi was far too accommodating. I suspect he would have crushed my neck earlier if he had wanted. Every enemy I know who has stolen power had paid a price to do so. I simply needed to know what that price had been, and to steal it back.
The scarrow’s legs crouched a moment then sprung, its claws forward and wide open, attempting to grasp any part of me and slice it in as many parts as it could.
I tumbled away and concentrated, drawing my center away from this world, leaving part of myself in shadow. I would be harder to hit for a time while I considered how to destroy a scarrow that effectively channeled the immense vitality of a dragon.
I was alone. Even if I could outlast Sannyasi, I would be quite depleted after and easy prey to his angered minions.
I scanned about for a key, twisting and diving and jumping, dodging most of the maddened scarrow’s attacks. Few enemies I’ve met were as relentless or as energetic. I knew my limits. Intellect, not brute strength, would better defeat this thing.
Not far from the dead dragon altar were a small series of tiles. Just as I saw them, Sannyasi punched me solidly. I reeled back and over the ledges to the tiled floor.
I watched the tiles pulse. I saw the scarrow’s dark eye’s darken to the same beat. I knew now. It was a matter of severing the connection.
For that I needed a distraction. Forming the disciplined moves to augment my ki, I generated a duplicate of myself, passive and radiating hate. With a cloak of invisibility now applied to me, I summoned a dark panther beast to further keep the scarrow busy.
Sannyasi hurled himself mindlessly, as monsters often do, at the passive duplicate.
Still invisible for a few seconds, I memorized the tile, discerned the complex flows of energy that linked Sannyasi to it.
I found the pattern just as the scarrow destroyed the duplicate and had nearly finished off the summoned panther. I gripped the one keystone, turning the tile.
Nothing seemed to happen. The energies about the altar seemed just as luminous.
Suddenly aware of what I was trying to do, Sannyasi ignored the summons and jumped straight at me from the ledge above. With my back to the altar and nowhere to run, it would decapitate or disembowel me at that speed.
In desperation, with a foot, I twisted a second tile just as the scarrow collided.
Teacher Lynncletica handed me a cup of cinnamon tea. I almost spilled it as I took the porcelain cup using a bandaged hand.
“So you found the right tile.”
“I did,” taking a cup at my tea. “Sannyasi had linked his life force to the dragon’s. It gave him great power but also left him vulnerable to death if that connection could be severed. I was fortunate. You personally know I can’t stand puzzles.”
Lynncletica smiled. “Neither do I. We both have a…fondness for a direct approach.” A few moments of silence passed before she asked, “And what has become of the monastery?”
“Insanity begets insanity, fellow teacher,” I answered.
I pushed the scarrow’s lifeless corpse off of me. His life stopped when his link to the dragonshard essence stopped.
I gathered the dragonshard up for use later with the Argonessen representatives.
To escape, I would need to use a special scroll that would pull me to the Temple of the Sovereign Host; I was too bloodied to make my way out on my own power at present, and healing would take too much time. Sannyasi’s minions would surely be here soon.
But I couldn’t just leave this once-reverent temple, the memories and records and secrets of these lost monks, in the hands of these Drow. Yet I wasn’t an adherent to the Light but to the Dark. I had no direct powers to cleanse this place in light, so I knew what I had to do.
I used a talisman that could summon a Xoriat beholder to my charge. A beast appeared, intelligent and far from tame, gazing at me with its one eye while the many eye tentacles gazed about.
“You summoned me. I will guard you for a time,” it said, sounding a bit bored.
“No. I want you to open a Xoriat portal, here,” I said.
The beholder’s one eye blinked as a smile grew from its macabre mouth. “Really? A change from the routine of “zap this guy” and “disintegrate this guy” and “fling this guy”? Sounds…fun.”
The beholder squinted at me. “Lawful One, you know that to do what you ask would release Xoriat energy into this structure briefly. It will destabilize all matter and anyone inside will see their world for what it cannot, should not be. Well, at least to them, anyway. The place could use a makeover…”
It stopped talking a moment as if waiting for me to comprehend what I was asking. “You really want me to destroy this entire structure, yes? To pull a part of it into Xoriat itself?”
“Yes. Count to 20…slowly…then proceed,” I said, activating my scroll.
The beholder laughed. “I like how you think, flesh creature,” it said, before moving away from me and turning its gaze upward. “There are Drow here. I think they’ll love how I’ll redecorate this place…” it said, wandering off happily, floating up a ramp.
The last thing I saw as my teleport began was the beholder’s wide grin as a red portal began to grow inside the alcove and chunks of stone and Drow began falling, unable to run away, all collapsing towards the chaotic energy.
Rest in peace, my lost brothers. Your monastery is now cleansed.