Several hours after the repelling the armies of Arachnia at the sunken village of Stahzer, the champions of Greyhawk continued to aid Countess Katarina and her men, recovering the muck-crusted bodies of those men and women slain in battle (human and Brownie alike.) Lyks issued a solemn prayer to Beory in honor of the brave Brownies and Clergymen who battled alongside him and his companions. Together with several soldiers, Lyks first committed the bodies of the Brownies to a mass grave on the battlefield and then improvised a stretcher to haul the bodies of dead Clerics back to the Church of Beory for last rites. As the heroes prepared themselves for the journey back home, Katarina thanked them one by one for their service. While not able to bestow onto them official titles, Katarina did offer both her eternal gratitude to the party, promising them a hero’s reception any time they should find themselves in her kingdom, as well as a portrait of her uncle, Earl Holmer, leading a charge into battle to be hung at Pimpleton Manor.
Dawn poured light over the drying mud of the battlefield and Lyks and his followers finished gathering up the dead while Ix and Dablova intoned the scrolls of teleportation (griven to them by the Mage’s Guild.) In a matter of seconds, the ruins of Stahzer faded around them and in its place stood the Temple of the Great Tree at the Church of Beory. Before departing, the surviving Clerics approached Lyks together, giving him thanks for the privilege to fight at his side and together they promised to give their fallen clergymen a proper burial.
As the heroes made their way out of the church, the sound of jubilant horn music shook the exhausted party back to attention! The streets of Greyhawk were unusually full and bustling, and as the horns announced the champions’ return, members of the city flocked to see them exit the church with roaring applause. The music swelled and the townsfolk were in high spirits, showering the party in a variety of fresh flower petals. The Drow were beaten back, the heroes had returned, and Greyhawk was ready to celebrate!
Accommodations for the festivities were ample to say the least. Former adventurer-turned-town butcher J.C. McCoy labored over the roasting of three full steers, while the anxious fisherman Tranteris hissed at revelers while delicately preparing an entire swordfish baking over coals. Adding to the lavishness, Dron and his one-legged wife, Meris, doled out flowers from their shop while Widow Rohl passed along an assortment of fresh sweet treats to the city folk, all free of charge. The outpouring of emotion was even more palpable than their reception after The White Event; the people of Greyhawk were all too aware of the importance of winning this battle and were all to eager to celebrate their triumph.
The air was sweet with victory, and many of the heroes could do little to resist its intoxicating aroma. A number of luminaries from Greyhawk pushed their way through the adoring crowd, welcoming the heroes back with hearty handshakes and thanks. Ix and Silhouette were quick to indulge in the celebration: Ix took to the sky — zipping into the air to cast cantrips over the cheering crowd and pass out wine and ale to those below — while Silhouette gave the crowd a show on the ground — pulling out her blades, she began to twirl and dance with exhausting enthusiasm. Greyhawk’s most respected madame, Elsa, approached the party, offering discounted accommodations at her house of comfort, to which Madryk was quick to act on (but not before making a stop at the nearby bath house to wash away the filth of battle.) City guards stood casually at the perimeter of the celebration, indulging as much as they could under Vortis’ stern watch. One guard even attempted to sneak a cup of ale, but his mug was quickly knocked down by Vortis — “You’re on duty!” he barked. Ix swooped down to lighten to mood, rustling Vortis’ silver hair and handing the reluctant guard captain some wine of his own. Vortis was short to enjoy it though as his eyes quickly caught sight of his beloved Drayden Steelshaper. Handing the cup back to Ix, Vortis quickly broke from his subordinates and rushed through the crowd to greet his lover, his gaze fixed while loosening his armor. Drayden too broke from trading pleasantries with the locals and as his eyes met Vortis’, Drayden’s heroic facade quickly melted into relief as it had so many times before. The two heartily embraced each other cheek to cheek, whispering adorations of one another.
As the party moved to the center of town, Lyks quickly tried to escort Burbis Baggleton with him but the sensory overload was too much to not indulge in! Burbis disappeared into the crowd, carried off under the weight of the festivies. Dablova, on the other hand, did quite the opposite. She quietly sneaked away through the crowd, politely dismissing the praise of revelers as she made her way back to the peace and calm of the warehouse. Those heroes that remained watched as several noteworthy speakers addressed the party and their victories, the transfixed crowd hanging on every word. Alek Goblinfoe was first at the podium, enthusiastically recounting their heroism at the Battle of Elmshire against the threat of Tiger Nomads. Duke Trelis of Furyondy took a more intimate tone, painting a picture of unrivaled stealth and bravery in returning his lord, Earl Holmer, back to the Shield Lands. Parthus Merrin spoke of the rejoining of the three parts of Cortox at the White Event — and though this speech left some feeling skeptical, the overwhelming sense of city pride drowned out any cynicism. Drayden and Vortis held each other at the hip and watched each man take the podium, while Ix and Silhouette continued to carouse the city folk. Each story erupted in applause from the crowd. In contrast, Lyks maintained a watchful eye, his mind focused elsewhere. The last person called to testify on behalf of the champions’ past glories was the Mayor of Greyhawk himself, Nerof Gasgal. The crowd stood around, gawking in anticipation as the crier called out for the Mayor. After moments of waiting, an official stepped in, whispering into Vortis’ ear, who then in turn made his way up to the platform, relaying something quick and in secret to the crier. A moment later, the crier called out to the city folk to continue with their celebration in the Mayor’s absence!
Back at the warehouse, Dablova quickly made the rounds greeting and feeding treats to the hounds, who were pleased with her return. She returned to her makeshift lab where she thumbed through her books and pulled together an assortment of supplies and texts. Her attention cool and focused, she delivered one final glance back at the hounds, smiled, and teleported to the jail. Once there, she was eager to question the guards on duty about the whereabouts of the prisoner, Kr’zzt. They revealed that he had been moved to a new cell at a medical facility in the Thornhill district. Dablova quickly left the jail and opened a dimension door, appearing a second later in the unfamiliar. While asking distracted city folk, Dablova was first brushed off by an aggressive oaf, who answered her with a swing and a miss (so hard was his miss, he stumbled and knocked himself unconscious on the cobblestone streets.) Startled but undeterred, she later found directions from a more sociable source. Upon arrival to this new facility, she soon realized the doors were barred in honor of the heroes return. Ever persistent, she blinked herself past the barred doors and into the building. The layout was small and rudimentary housing only a few cells and fewer “patients”. In a matter of minutes, she found the Drow just as they had left him: paralyzed and catatonic. Dablova surveyed the halls and, after determining the two were alone together, sat and began to enchant herself with a spell of Burning Hands. Once learned, she stood and looked upon his frail black body. Without word, she pushed her hands between the bars and engulfed his body in streams of fire. His body remained unmoved as the his robes swirled into embers, his flesh crackling under the heat. Dablova swiftly made her exit as the fires continued to consume Kr’zzt’s body.
Dablova slipped back onto the streets, making her way back towards the center of town. The sun had begin to sink with the early evening hours and while more respectable city folk retired for the night, there were still plenty of Greyhawkians indulging in the festivities (including many of the champions themselves!) Before reaching the town square though, Dablova was suddenly reunited with Lyks.
“Where are you coming from?” Lyks questioned, taking notice of both the direction she was coming from as well as the smell of burning flesh that seemed to cling to her.
“I…” Dablova began, “I had loose ends to tie up.”
Lyks coldly questioned, “What have you done?”
“What was necessary,” she replied, just as emotionless.
Lyks’ icy demeanor quickly shifted to anger towards the Witch. “You’re not welcome at my home or warehouse anymore. Leave immediately”
Dablova’s eyes stayed locked with Lyks’. “I do not fear you, Lyks. I serve a greater purpose. You must underst—“
Before finishing, Lyks quickly dismissed Dablova by shapeshifting into a lizard and scuttling away towards the institution. Dablova took a soft but deep breath, her eyes still facing forward, and she began to make her way back to the warehouse (this time moving through the crowd with little regard for the drunks around her.) At the facility, Lyks found the front doors closed but unlocked. He opened the doors, the scent of scorched flesh immediately shooting through him. Venturing into the now darkened halls of the facility, Lyks scurried across the cold stone floor until finding and entering Kr’zzt’s cell. Once inside, Lyks returned to human form to see the charred remains of Kr’zzt, his flesh now nearly reduced to ash, revealing roasted and blackened bones. Lyks let out a deep, frustrated sigh as he looked around the cell, taking the gravity of the scene in. Kr’zzt’s body still remained unmoved. With the help of Jor-Mak’s continuous Mindlink, Lyks reached out to Drayden (who had retired from the festivities with Vortis) and alerted him of Dablova’s offense. “Kr’zzt is dead. Dablova set fire to him tonight as he lay in his cell.” Drayden was silent at first, taking a moment before to process the deed. “Drayden, this was my body to claim!”
“Lyks,” he began, “she did you a favor. She saved you from going down an ugly path. Cortox knows, I could not have done it myself. As much as I’m loathe to admit it, I could not have taken his life so easily, not as he was.”
“She should seek refuge with you then. I cannot be around those I’m unable to trust” Lyks bit back.
“To be honest friend, I am glad she did it and not you.”
Shutting Drayden out of his mind, Lyks moved towards Kr’zzt’s remains, letting out another deep sigh. He reached down, gathered samples of flesh, blood and hair and tore the jaw bone from Kr’zzt’s still-smouldering skull, with his trophy in hand, made his way towards Friendly Strangers.
With the help of Jor-Mak, Drayden sent out one final call to his companions for the evening. “Tomorrow morning, let us all meet at Pimpleton Manor for breakfast.” Celebrations began to move in doors, and Silhouette’s recently acquired cabaret, Friendly Strangers, was booming! Lyks was somber as he entered, a stark contrast to the gaiety of those inside, who continued to dine, drink, and dance as performers worked their way through the crowd showing off their finest skills. Lyks asked around for Isrygrad — who he was sure was celebrating with his lady love, the Friendly Strangers’ resident tiger wrestler, Teela Surefoot — and after almost 20 minutes of searching and waiting, was greeted by the ice barbarian who wore nothing more than a smile and a sabretooth pelt.
“Lyks, my friend! You seem upset?” observed Isyrgrad. “Come, we drink!”
Sitting at a small table, Lyks placed the charred jaw before him. “As promised,” he said, moving the jawbone across the table towards Isrygrad, “Kr’zzt is now dead.” Isrygrad took the jaw in his hand, admiring it intently at first before turning back to Lyks.
“You do not seem pleased with this though.”
“It was my death to deal. It should’ve been me.”
“What do you mean? Who—?” Isyrgrad asked.
“Ah,” Isrygrad acknowledged, sucking his teeth and nodding his head, “the Witch you say? Interesting. Why her though?”
“I… I do not know.” Lyks answered disdainfully. The pair of men paused for a bit, silent as they continued to digest the death of their nemesis.
Isrygrad put the jaw down on the table, reached out, and clasped his hand over Lyks’. “You’re an honorable man, my friend. I thank you for this. I hope soon you too will find the peace you’re looking for.” Lyks pulled his hand away, nodding farewell at Isrygrad as he did so.
As the men parted ways and Lyks attempted to make his way back out onto the streets, the entrance to the cabaret flooded with even more revelers, escorted by Ix and Silhouette, whose spirits were still stirring with energy. The pair broke from the pack and rushed to greet Lyks, whose mood was more dour than usual.
“Lyks, where are you off to, brother?! Come, enjoy a drink with us!” Ix urged, Silhouette enthusiastically backing him.
Lyks declined. “Pay me no mind, you two enjoy your evening.” Silhouette did her best to goad the Druid back into festive spirits but Lyks was unyielding as he moved towards the exit, bidding his friends good evening.
“We shall see you at breakfast then, yes?” asked Silhouette.
Lyks parted ways, and Ix and Silhouette returned to the roaring crowd, embracing each other as they moved through the crowded cabaret. In a dimly lit corner, the pair continued to drink and people watch. As Ix polished off another cup of ale, he broached the subject of life after adventuring. “You know, both of us have lived so long with so many names. Perhaps now is the time to finally have a name that’s our own?”
“Oh?” Silhouette answered, intrigued as she sipped on a cup of wine.
“I was thinking… Black.”
“Black,” Ix confirmed, smiling as he looked into the Silhouette’s eyes. Slowly, he removed her ornate mask and the two paused for a moment before sharing a tender kiss.
Lyks wandered back to the manor, but as he did so, he could hear behind him the pitter-patter of small but sure feet against the cobblestone. Suddently, he felt a tugging at his cloak. “Gnomefriend!” he heard from below, and as he turned back he looked down to see Burbis Baggleton, hysterical after a day of pure spectacle. Lyks took his quivering hand to calm him and the two walked down the now quieter streets back towards the manor. Burbis could tell Lyks’s mind was heavy with thought. “Gnomefriend, what troubles you?” Hesitant to answer at first, Lyks finally broke his silence after a few paces.
“Kr’zzt, the Drow. He is dead, and not by my hand.”
“Then by who’s, Gnomefriend?”
Burbis paused for a moment, then stopped in the street. Burbis took Lyks’s other hand and, hoping to raise his keeper’s spirits, began to sway back and forth. “It was better you hadn’t, Gnomefriend. Now come, we’ve not seen each other all day and I’m sure there’s a jig in you still!” Lyks, however, remained unmoved. “Come along, Burbis. I’m tired.” Disheartened, the Gnome hung his head low and returned to Lyks’s side. As the pair continued onwards towards the manor in silence, Burbis occasionally looked up at the stone-faced Druid, hoping for some kind of acknowledgement. The pair entered Pimpleton Manor, which was quiet for all but the crackling of the open fire place in the parlor. The two began to head their separate ways. As he meandered to his chambers, Burbis softly spoke up, “Feel better, Gnomefriend. Tomorrow is another day.” Lyks lightly nodded back and continued on into the kitchen.
Lyks took time to decompress in the kitchen, settling down with a pitcher of wine. Redscar, his Pseudodragon, and his wolf, both joined him. The two animals silently kept the Druid company, watching him wallow with every sip. “Master Lyks,” a kind and familiar voice interrupted, “I see you’re indulging alone. Well… not entirely alone.” Lyks barely looked up from his second glass of wine and motioned for his ever-faithful servant, George Pimpleton, to enter.
“Care for a drink?” Lyks asked, already pouring him a glass.
“Thank you, sir. I thought you’d never ask.”
The pair continued to sip in silence until George spoke up. “Sir, you seem rather sullen.”
“Well, George,” Lyks sighed, “I don’t know what to do.”
“In what matter are you speaking of, sir?” Pimpleton asked, his speech slurring with every hearty sip.
“Tonight…” Lyks began, struggling to articulate his feelings. “Dablova, she killed Kr’zzt, burned him alive as he lay motionless. While I know he is not truly dead, his mind still wanders out there somewhere. A part of me can’t help but resent her for taking something away from me.”
“Wel—well, sir, who gave her the right?!”
Lyks let the glass of wine hover at his lips for a moment. “No one.”
“Exactly, Master Lyks! There is no shame in wanting just—justice!” George affirmed with a hiccup.
“Would it have been justice? Or vengeance?”
Lyks turned to see his friend and servant slipping off his stool, glass still in hand. Lyks finished his own glass and draped George across his shoulders, carrying him back to his chambers. George continued to slur his praises of Lyks while sloshing his wine with every gesture. “That Witch… he was yours… yours. Bloody hell…” Lyks laid him down upon his bed and sat at the edge. For a moment, all was still except the flickering of candle flames. “Thank you, friend,” Lyks whispered, to which George replied with a loud, nasal snore. Lyks stood and smirked as he put out the candles and retired for the evening himself.
Meanwhile, Dablova had finished gathering the remainder of her belongings from Lyks’s warehouse when she heard Drayden’s voice inside her head. “Dablova, Lyks explained what happened. Please, I insist you to come see me before you leave.” Dablova spoke not a word as she made her way to Drayden’s home. Once there, she was met by a glassy-eyed Drayden, who greeted her with a scroll in his hand bearing the wax seal of Enoch Greyspeth. The two paused and stared at each other for a moment. “Please, come in.”
Inside, Dablova set her things down and saw Vortis visibly beside himself. “Dablova, I…” Drayden began, correcting himself, “We, rather…” He took another moment to compose his thoughts. “The Necromancer had this delivered to us, he said it was a gift for the two of us on your behalf.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t say anything before. I just… I had to be sure. I had to be sure that the spirits had brought me here for you two.”
Vortis rose from his sofa, “Is it true then? By Cortox, We never thought this day would come!”
Drayden handed Dablova the scroll and the three moved into the dining room. The men hovered around Dablova as she sat, breaking open the seal and unfurling the scroll: a spell of “Blood and Essence”, a ritual crafted to bring together the life-force of multiple individuals to make a new being. With their instructions clear, the couple excused themselves, cup in hand, to collect their mutual “essence” while Dablova made her way to their garden. She disrobed under the moonlight and sat amidst a bed of flowers. Dablova then took her fingers down into her womanhood, coated them in menstrual blood, and traced out the required sigil across her belly. Several minutes later, the men returned, first startled by the nude Witch. Both men averted their eyes in a gentlemanly fashion; Drayden stepped into the garden to hand her their contribution and returned to Vortis’ side under the threshold, watching from a presumably safe distance. Dablova shut her eyes and began to intone the spell, cup in hand. Her chanting became more savage and incomprehensible as she poured the semen across her stomach. She laid herself across the flowers and descended into a deep trance, her eyes convulsing rapidly, her chant unrecognizable. The fluids covering her belly began thin and swirl into each other, and as she intoned the spell they seemed to absorb into her skin. As the last trace of fluid soaked into her belly, the scroll burst into a flash of flame. Dablova ceased her wild chant, exhaled, and sat upright. She quickly took up her robe, covering herself as she approached the men.
“Well?” Drayden trembled.
Dablova rubbed her stomach and shot them a faint smile, “It is done. There is life here.”
The men rejoiced in a mutual a sigh of relief, embracing each other while holding back tears. They wiped the sweat from their brows, exhaling in relief. Dablova, however, kept her distance, for she knew the news to follow would inevitably sour their mood. “I must leave Greyhawk. Tonight.”
The men froze, mystified by her declaration.
“What.. what do you mean, Dablova?” Drayden probed.
“I have done what needed to be done here. Now, I must return to Grynoth to fulfill the rest of my duty.”
“Duty?” Vortis fired back, “You mean to tell us your duty requires that you take our child from us!?”
“No! The life inside will be yours. But… it is my duty to ensure this life arrives safely to this plane, and that cannot be done here.”
“How dare you—“ Vortis began as Drayden did his best to distance his lover and the Witch.
“Vortis, please,” Drayden pleaded, “What are you saying Dablova? That life… this child is ours, it deserves to be raised by us, here in Greyhawk.”
“And it will be. For now though, there is no safer place than Grynoth. My sisters have lived hundreds of years, undisturbed by the chaos of the outside world, they will know better than anyone how to protect it. The life that grows inside me now is valuable and there are those who would see it extinguished before ever getting a chance shine!”
“Arrogant witch! You cannot—”
“Vortis please!” Drayden pulled Dablova aside as Vortis continued to fume, “Dablova, I beg you to reconsider. Please, stay here for the evening. We’ll talk it over in the morning over breakfast, everything, but for tonight just… please!”
Vortis continued to protest as Drayden escorted him up to their chambers, their heated back and forth echoing throughout the house. Hours passed and as their discussion died down, Dablova meditated on what Drayden asked of her. As dawn returned, Drayden and Vortis left the Witch alone in their home as they headed to Pimpleton Manor for a group breakfast. They left hoping that Dablova would come to her senses and remain in Greyhawk under their protection, for the sake of the child that was to come.