Evil was still loose out there. Two drow soldiers had been sent on a fool’s errand right before Rond, Bane, and Willkens had finished off the Lolth priestesses. Rond readied the Scroll of Raise Dead that Kaylee had fortuitously recently prepared, and once the druid had been brought back she would raise the Paladin in turn. Willkens Widewrists wasn’t about to sit idly by with his stubby thumb up his plump arse while a pair of dark elves wandered around nearby looking for more of his friends to kill. He didn’t admit to himself that the real reason for his restlessness was that he couldn’t bear to honestly look Kaylia in the eye once she regained consciousness. They died while he survived. He should’ve gone with them to the Shadowfell, where Majandra waited for him.
“Such foolhardy suicide missions are going to get you killed some day.” The Ranger warned the dwarf once his intentions were made clear.
“Yes, perhaps one day.” The dwarf responded through several broken and missing teeth. “Or perhaps I will die this day and leave ye to weep with the rest of the other women in brothels across the land! Bwahaha!” Willkens Widewrists stood to leave the group’s cave, but stumbled as his vision blurred and blood gushed from several untreated wounds. The dwarf fighter may yet die by the sword, but falling at the hands of a pair of damnable Dark Knife-Ears would have Old Man Wontkins rolling in his stone tomb. Willkens grabbed Draco the Child Murderer and Ronin the Dragonborn, then armed them with sword and shield. They left the safety of the cave and he pulled several magic potions from his overstuffed backpack. As he handed them to his new compatriots he told them, “Fight well, and die better. Bwahaha.”The drow were found close to where they had sent them. Though weakened from restless days of combat, the drow could not stand against Willkins’ rage. Entranced in survivor’s guilt and his hatred of all evil, Willkens screamed his dead lover’s name, “Majandra!” as he brutally bashed the dark skinned fey with his large Mordenkrad hammer.
“Good Dwarf, they’re dead!” Ronin pleaded with Willkens to stop as the dwarf continued to beat the pulpy gore into the ground. But the former paladin was deep in a PTS flashback.
“It killed ye!” The dwarf yelled, not directly at Ronin nor Draco. Hot tears streaming down his cheeks. He hadn’t cried in… he couldn’t recall the last time he cried. Must’ve been years. “It took yer soul! And Bahamut did nothing to stop it! Damn the gods to the Nine Hells! Not one of ye descended from the Astral Sea to intervene!” The former paladin screamed until his voice was hoarse. Draco put a hand on his armored shoulder to steady him.
Back in the cave, Rond was just finishing the scroll as Willkens returned. A necklace of black-skinned ears sat around the dwarf’s neck. Kaylia awoke with a groan and grabbed her back in pain. The dwarf mumbled to her softly, “The rest of the drow, I hunted them down and…” His eyes rolled back into his head and he pitched face-first toward the floor. Kaylia dragged him over to his bedroll and tried to make him comfortable. Then she thanked Rond warmly and set to raising Kalseth. Willkens lay comatose for the rest of the night. He dreamed of his favorite tavern, Moradin’s Hairy Back, and drinking many a tall ale with long lost friends.
The dwarf awoke fully rested to see the now-living faces of Kalseth and Kaylia looking back at him. They would have to deal with that bothersome Resurrection Sickness now. He hated that business, such an inconvenience he remembered the half a dozen times he’d been res’ed, but he knew they’d recover in a few days. As he yawned he was about to tell Galadorn to sod off out of sheer habit, but the sentient axe was strangely quiet. No pretentious voice prodding him to rejoin the Platinum Dragon, not even a scolding for substance abuse. Kalseth suspiciously eyed him and inquired guardedly, “I’ve been sensing great evil from that axe… why does it emanate malevolence so?”
Willkens held the Execution Axe in front of them, the magnificent weapon still firmly sealed in its leather sheath. Galadorn had always been unforgiving in the face of mortal weakness. Now in its angered state the sentient axe could not be drawn, and hadn’t been for over a decade. Willkens had failed to strike out against the evil in the Tomb before it consumed an innocent soul …a soul he had loved with more passion than could possibly be stored in the small frame of a dwarf. Despite Willkens’ fall from grace, the Axe of Bahamut remained loyal and stuck by his side hoping one day that the disgraced paladin would return to the welcoming embrace of his deity.
Willkens shook his head, trying to fight away the haunting memories in order to focus on the handsome Paladin of Correllon’s question. Why was it evil? He though to himself. Oh that’s right…
“The Axe of Bahamut is in fact a prison for a powerful demon.” Willkens explained pensively as he leaned back against the rough stone wall. “Its full potential can only be realized by a good-aligned Paladin. Over 1000 years ago, a Balor demon-lord from the Abyss came into our Plane hoping to expand Hell’s territory. To counter this threat eighty-one paladins and twenty-two clerics fought against the invading demon. The battle was fought at a place known as War Crater. At the end the day the Holy Guardians suffered great losses leaving only 10 members left. Unable to kill or banish the demon, the warriors were able to imprison the unholy beast in what was to become the Axe of Bahamut. To contain the demon, the axe would have to be “doused in selfless deeds on a near constant basis”. For this, the Paladin became the perfect wielder. If the axe were to claimed by an evil entity or lay dormant, in 13 years, the demon would be freed.”
Oh Fanny Baws! Willkens mentally cursed to himself as he stopped the tale short. He hadn’t been a paladin for over 10 years. In two years the demon will be free. If he didn’t get his powers back or transfer the axe to a good-aligned paladin before then, they’d be in for a world of hurt. He tried to put things into perspective. The inter-planar Godwar was waging on around them. Evil gods like Gruumsh and Lolth, and even a Demon Prince, had left their divine seats and walked the planes. Chaos was everywhere. And then there’s something about a pyramid? I don’t know, I can’t keep up with all this, me Quest List be long as me arm! I be getting too old fer this shite. Willkens’ thoughts cleared a bit. This single demon will have to wait. Greater evil still runs loose out there, and right now me kin be suffering at the snake-headed whips of those sodding drow. He left out the rest of the story, afraid to tell Kalseth the whole truth. If the prison starts to weaken, the axe will amplify the evil coming from inside to act as a beacon. This beacon is intended to draw paladins to the axe, much like Kalseth is noticing it now, in hopes the axe will be claimed by a true paladin and the demon would remain contained.
Kaylia was next to question Willkens. He realized he had trailed off while telling the tale and had been berating Kalseth for reminding him about the axe’s past. He tried to focus on the elf and shake the cobwebs out of his head. Now I’m yelling at my own teammates. Gods, I need a drink. She was trying to comfort him and find out what was wrong.
“I watched the paladin fall to the Shadow Hulk.” His beady eyes narrowed as he evenly explained his torment. “Then I watched him felled by the drow. And you… a derned elf I’ve known since she was a wee li’l lass, you pulled me out ’afore I could die a warrior beside him. And then I see you die in my place.” Willkens’ bottom lip began to quiver beneath his thick beard.
Kaylia tried to explain, “But it’s all of our choice to take such risks. It’s part’a bein’ an adventurer-type.” Willkens found her words clumsy, and it could not pull his train of thought from where it was headed.
“…I stood there.” The haunted paladin recalled, his eyes glazed over again as he relived the memories he had tried for ten years to drink away. “Your sister, Majandra, …my love… her was soul torn from her body by those terrible ruby eyes in the floating skull. And I just stood there, frozen. I could’ve done something… anything. I should’ve jumped in front of it’s gaze. What kind of lawful good paladin just sits there and watches a poor elf girl be murdered?!” His gravely voice started to crack and his sobs stopped him from continuing.
He had never realized it before. He froze. He could’ve done something. It wasn’t Bahamut’s fault. It wasn’t any gods’ fault. All he had to do was take a short step into the path of the beam, and his soul would’ve been taken instead. Willkens turned away from Kaylia. He couldn’t take this, and he couldn’t bear to see his brothers-in-arms see him in such a weakened state. He reached into his sack for a container of wood-grain alcohol. It was time to dream again. After a few swigs he fell unconscious once more.
The next day, the group resumed their trek through the Underdark. Willkens walked with Draco and Bretheire. It was nice to be with dwarves again. It has been what, 50 years, since I’ve been with me own kin? No, closer to 60 now. First Majandra his Beloved, then Gerwyth his drinking buddy, and now this party of a High Elf, half-elf, and the elven druid. All Knife-ears of some kind. He’d been keeping elven companions for so long. Not for any particular reason, things just happened that way. As he mused his thoughts wandered to the lore-scroll he had found in the cave while he swept it of any trace they had been there. The scroll told of a lost dwarven legion cursed by a witch after they treated her despicably. He had trouble reading that part of the story. All evil made his blood boil, but nothing was worse than despoliation. He shifted the dead weight of the unconscious rogue draped over his shoulder. The head lolled around as Willkens marched along on his stout legs. Daft half-breed got ‘imself a big dose drow poison right in the fud. Bane would recover shortly, but Willkens and Kalseth would need to watch over him until he recuperated. Rond initially wanted one of the freed prisoners to carry Bane, even went so far as to rename the poor maimed guy ‘Wagon’. That had given Willkens a hearty chortle, but they’d been through enough already and didn’t deserve to become an adventurer’s pack mule after facing maiming. Willkens’ thoughts were interrupted by a wet sloshing sound beneath his boots. “Um, why is that water green?” He asked the Druid. “Acid.” Kaylia responded. Willkens looked up to realize their path sank into deep puddles of caustic-looking fluid. “Well, looks like we can use those jutting stones to leap over the acid pools.” Kaylia launched off of Willkens’ shoulders and bounded nimbly from rock to rock.
Kalseth attempted to follow behind her, but Rond accidentally splashed him with acid. “Oh, my beautiful golden hair!” The Eladrin mourned.
This be not fitting of a dwarf. Willkens chuckled to himself, then he cannon-balled straight into the acerbic liquid. He back-stroked parallel along the rest of the party as they traversed the pools. He even gargled some of the green water and spat it out in a short fountain. Tastes like sour candy me ma used to make. Some days he hardly remembered his youth, but for some strange reason swimming in the stinging acid caused a dwarven drinking song of Clan Gauntlgrym to pour from his lips. As he sang, he updated it to reflect the losses he had suffered since his youth:
“Gather ’round, ye lads and lasses, set ye for a while
And hearken to me mournful tale o’ keenly style
Let’s all raise our tankards high to friends and family gone
And lift our voices in another Dwarven drinking song
Filth Fever took father Wontkins and me mother got Mummy Rot
Me sister smoked the halfling’s pipeweed more than she ought
Me Granda slapped a Tarrasque on the arse n’ met with his demise
Me cherry-haired lover has forever closed her smiling elvish eyes
Now everybody’s died
So until our tears are dried
We’ll drink and drink and drink and drink,
and then we’ll drink some more
We’ll dance and sing and fight
until the early morning light
Then we’ll throw up, pass out, wake up, and then go drinking once again. Hey!
Someday soon I’ll leave this world of pain and toil and sin
Moradin will take me by the hand to join all of me kin
Me only wish is when the Dwarffather comes for me and you
He kills the cast of Snow White, and Rumpelstiltskin too! Hey!”
They’d entered the crystalline forest hours ago. Every towering crystal they passed by housed a frozen dwarf soldier, cursed long ago by the evil witch from the tale in the scroll. Eventually the group came upon a cadre of Fire Giants.
“I HATE Giants!” Willkens growled, his knuckles white on the grip of his frost hammer. He then explained that giants had enslaved his dwarven ancestors for ages, even spawning pitiful variants of dwarfs like the Duergar (dark dwarves) and the corrupted Azers (fire dwarves). Using this history, Willkens played on the slavery angle to convince Kaylia that the giants could not be endured to live. Due to Kaylia’s current situation with the drow, she conceded. They quickly got the drop on the Giants. Rond took several bad hits from flaming whips and large swords, but Kalseth’s healing kept the Ranger from faltering. The Giants’ flaming aura burnt much of the party, but Willkens’ Frost hammer absorbed the heat. Willkens cackled, “I’ve had barmaids that’ve made me sweat harder, ye mewling quims! Bwahaha!”
One of the Giants, dubbed a ‘Smoke-caller’, repeatedly summoned thick clouds to hide the giants. Despite that frustration, the Druid controlled the battle field with blinding and proning while the Ranger dealt severe cuts with matching blades. Kalseth’s paladin energy empowered the attacks of the whole party.
“I HATE Giants!” Willkens growled again as the last of the Fire Giants was dispatched. He looked down at the drow ears that hung from his neck, now burnt by the flames of the elemental giants. Willkens held an ear in front of his mouth and spoke into it as if there was some unseen ear-less drow that could hear him, “I seen cooked cow, I seen cooked sow. Now I be thinking for sure that I be seeing cooked Drow. But ye don’t smell roasted, and ye don’t look toasted, which is making me ask meself, ‘How now, Drow?’ Bwahaha!”
It wasn’t long after that when they came across an old woman gathering water from a well. The group was quick to help her, but then Kaylia noticed the heavy illusions constructed around the lady. Kalseth also detected great evil coming from her.
It was pretty obvious she was the witch from the tale. Up until then the party had been satisfied to avoid any conflict with the witch of the crystal forest, but standing there in front of her and faced with what she had done to his brethren, Willkens couldn’t stand the injustice of it all. Diplomacy quickly withered as the disguised witch’s words turned to bile.
“Yer tongue be makin’ sweet sounds,” Willkens grinned. “…but me thinks ye head’ll make a nice poppin’ sound once it meets me hammer.” The dwarf swiftly charged the elderly woman, but was knocked back by an invisible barrier. The witch responded by changing into the huge form of a black dragon.
The group hastily dispersed after taking a couple blasts of dragon breath while clumped together. Rond heavily laid into the beast with his swords, drawing multiple streams of green caustic blood. The dragon covered the area in another blinding smokescreen similar to the cloud from the previous battle, frustrating the adventurers. Every one of the dragon’s attacks was met with three more from the Ranger or the Fighter beside him. Any harm dealt by the dragon was quickly healed by Kalseth.
Nobody ever figures out to take the healer out first, daft cunts. Bwahaha. Willkens snickered to himself as the dragon fruitlessly tried to knock away his relentless spinning hammer. Each contact with the large weapon made the monster more susceptible to its freezing strikes. “Who do ye see beside me, ya blasted witch?” Willkens called out to the roaring dragon, “A coupla elves and a human? Bwahaha, Wrong! I travel with DEATH!” The frost covered weapon made a satisfying ‘Pop!’ it collided with the scaled skull. The stunning strike prevented another cloud from bellowing out of the creature.
Taking advantage of the opening, Kaylia transformed into her beast form which granted her the grace of a panther to charge the witch. The dragon’s body tumbled across the battlefield, broken and dazed. With a futile last effort the dragon freed a few dwarves from captivity and forced them to fight under her control, but they were quickly flushed downriver by the Druid.
The battered black dragon righted herself, staggering unsteadily on broken limbs and wings that had been slashed to ribbons. As it opened is huge maw once more to release another blast of dragonbreath, Willkens grabbed it by the jaw and lept onto its head, pulled back with all his dwarven might until he heard a loud snap. The break made a large opening in the creature’s throat for him to dive inside. The other adventurers stared befuddled for a moment as their short friend suddenly disappeared down the monster’s mouth. The dragon reeled back and froze for several long heartbeats as it stared wide-eyed at its torso. A small shudder began to grow in the belly of the beast, and the dragon exploded from the inside out. The dwarf burst forth, flailing wildly at every bit of dragonflesh. With each motion the sharp plates of his layered metal armor ripped a chunk of gore from the beast. Vapor rose is short streams from the acid-covered dwarf.
As he eventually regained his composure, the dwarf rumbled at the carcass of the smoldering dead dragon. “Ye call yerself a dragon? Bah! I drank worse stroan than ye for breakfast this mornin’! Bwahaha!”
The group looted the area as they licked their wounds. The witch had an amulet that was quickly smashed in order to undo the curse, freeing the dwarves of the lost legion. Willkens addressed their leader, firstly to make sure that those who caused the initial crimes against the witch were held responsible, then he oversaw the punishment. Once that was completed, the legion’s leaders convened with the adventurers to learn about everything that had transpired during their long imprisonment, along with the fates of their family and peers. When the officers learned of the adventurers’ plans to free the dwarves from slavery, they quickly and emphatically signed up to go along. There were a multitude of drow out there holding their kin in bondage and they were going to stop it. The dwarves had been enslaved once before in ancient history, and they will again rise against their terrible masters with hammers and tankards raised high.
Willkens took a moment of contemplation as he stared out over the sea of battle-hardened dwarves staring back at him. He had wanted to die before, and so very recently. But how could he stop now when there’s more of his brethren to free, and there’s still evil loose out there? Stupid, hairless-faced evils with brittle bodies. Soon they’ll all learn his name. By Ao and all the pantheon of deities that he created, I swear that the drow and any other evil in me path will flee at the ringing of me hammer. All for Majandra.