Elgold pushed the drink away and spluttered, wiped his lips clean and coughed.
“What sort of beer do the “locals” call this, Caecius?"
Caecius declined to comment – he had seen the local goblin brewery and thought it best to remain silent. A few minutes passed as Elgold told his story.
“So.. after Naram reached me with his mind, I decided to step across with a portal! There was no time to waste on lengthy voyages. The power of this shard intrigues me.. but not perhaps as much as the Blood Magic tome you located. I have been reading it with considerable interest.
I have learned a few… tricks.. from it. A wizard’s path is a painful one, at times. "
Elgold wrapped his arms around his shoulders and rocked backwards and forwards, as if something had taken a heavy toll on his sanity and strength.
Caecius continued his stoic silence, and decided not to mention the scars on Elgold’s hands and arms, as if lots of little cuts had been repeatedly made in his flesh.
He reached around to feel the area of dead flesh that had appeared on his own neck, and the spreading numbness from it. He held out little hope that it would improve, and desired little meddling from his friends. Remembering how Elgold’s last cure had nearly killed Haleth, he pulled the neck of his tunic higher above his neck.
The party marched on, an uneventful journey across the high, frozen, hills to the goblin settlement. Ilwyn was especially subdued, even for the surly goblin, and reacted little to the playful insults hurled at him by Maurg. She had been composing a few rhymes to “congratulate” him on some of his most clumsy moves, but even this elicited little reaction. It was clear something was troubling him, and a broody silence spread to his companions as they trudged through the snow.
Only Naram seemed unaware of this, as he sent messages to Elgold requesting that he summon a portal to reach them, and concentrated on using the shard’s energy to open a gap in the Realms through which such an opening could be created. He felt the rush of magic energy from the shard warm his crystalline flesh as it surged hundreds of miles to Elgold, and felt the almost tangible response as his fellow arcanist worked with the energy. The two of them skillfully opening a fold in the fabric of reality. No words were spoken, but Naram knew that Elgold would be waiting – smugly – at Icehome when they arrived.
The afternoon was tense, the companions reunited in the hovel of a tavern that made a social centre to the goblin village. Caecius spoke little, his eyes betraying some inner torment. Elgold and Naram seemed absorbed with what to do with the shard, and made plans that they seemed disinclined to share.
Maurg contemplated Ilwyn once more. For a goblin male he was strong and commanded awe amongst her tribe. She came to a conclusion. He would make a strong champion -for now – and once she had her successors he could be dispensed with. She stroked the handle of her dagger and smiled to herself, an evil plan forming in her goblin mind.
Ilwyn, mistaking this for desire, considered Maurg in turn. She was attractive, and powerful but as a female weak and of little regard. He decided he would stay. There was more power to be had here than he ever would find amongst the others. They had not been unkind.. but they laughed at him, and not with him, more than he cared.
Once his position at Maurg’s side was secure she could be dispensed with. He would be an obvious leader to the village once she disappeared…
Haleth looked at the two goblins grinning each other and raised his eyebrows at what passed as courtship in this rather unsavoury species. He realised, now, that Ilwyn would stay.
The goodbyes were brief, and almost jokingly Ilwyn pressed Enna for a parting hug. Enna wrinkled her nose at the disgust, but before she could back away, Ilwyn grabbed her and squeezed. She coughed and pushed him away, and it was only later she would discover that over one thousand of her gold pieces, and the rather well-made elven leather purse she kept them in were nowhere to be found…. She was not alone as most of the party left missing some important keepsake or treasure. Ilwyn’s name would long live on as a curse between the others.
Naram and Elgold peered into a pool of murky water in a bowl, and sharing the power of the shard sent their vision far into the surrounding terrain, their eyes lifting up over high icy ridges to peer across the cold wastes.
There was no sign of the Umber Hulks, or Dark elves – perhaps they had returned to whatever shadowy openings to the Underdark they could find, or had slain one another when released from mental slavery.
It was clear it was time to leave now – time to return to Adraan’s troubles and to find a place of safety for the shard. The companions made ready to step into the portal and head back through the darkened nether-world through which they had trekked those few weeks before.
This time Elgold vowed they would not be found by any dark force, and that he could lead them through this safely. The others recognised this as his usual over-confidence in his abilities, but he ignored their gibes.
The goblin villagers kept away as they left, and Ilwyn and Maurg were nowhere to be seen.
“Huh, so this is the thanks we get?”, growled Haleth.
The others shrugged, and Caecius seemed once again preoccupied as they stepped through the portal. A momentary wrongness disturbed each of them as they stepped through and headed into the darkness.
It was both a long way away and very close, the thickness of a shadow from the mortal world.
Brun stood silently for a moment, his head hanging in shame.
The shadowy form, wrapped in the cloak regarded him with clear distaste. The dark moon crescent clear on its shoulders as it loomed over the vampire.
“So, you may be powerful, but you are no tactician. First of all you lose our army, and now you can not even corrupt a simple goblin to bring us the shard?”
Brun, shook in fear, an emotion he had not felt since he died.
“Where”, the figure added, “is this shard now? We MUST retrieve it if we are to proceed with our plans.”
Brun concentrated for a moment and lifted his cold dead eyes up his lord.
“The… the.. shard is not to be found. It has left the Realms somehow.” He bowed his head once more. “I have failed you, again”.
The robed figure waved a hand and Brun screamed, and then fell silent. His form collapsed into the shadowy shape of a wolf before it too turned to dust, blowing on the stone floor and then still as ancient ash.
The dark shape turn away now, muttering, “Brun, reflect on your failures while you sleep the deathless sleep. We will speak of this again when you have learned a salient lesson.”
The story continues….