Sable, Casimir, Khamad and Devanya awaited the return of one of the Knights of Lilith so they could learn the results of the interrogation of the Skarnstein plotters and be on their way in pursuit of Malak. The last person they expected to step through the door and address them was Queen Alcesta von Karlok herself.
|Photo by Clint Bustrillos|
Following Sable's lead, the rest of the party made a show of alternating between awkward curtsies, bowing, averting their eyes, and taking a knee. Alcesta laughed at them and bid them take their seats.
Alcesta looked scarcely older than an adolescent; her red hair and gown were arranged hastily, as if she had no care for her appearance...or, perhaps more accurately, as if she knew that no one would dare comment on her appearance. It was a provocation to mutiny. Despite her apparent youth, she was surrounded an aura of death that dropped the temperature within the chamber.
She took a seat and propped her feet up carelessly. "At ease, gentlemen and ladies," she said. "The man you seek, this Malak," she gestured dismissively, "struck a deal with the Skarnstein traitors. They have told him the location of the thing he seeks and have given him a key to unlock it. I will tell you what it is and where to find it...and thereby locate your quarry, with a little luck."
"It's a weapon he's after, isn't it?" Khamad asked.
"In a manner of speaking. He's not after anything so tangible as a sword or a pike. What he seeks is godhood. He wants to be the weapon."
Alcesta continued: "He is in search of something called a seraphic gate. If he finds it, and breaches the barrier between this world and the plane of the godhead, he will be transformed into a vessel of divine power. He will still be something less than a fledgling god, but a god nonetheless. I'm going to tell you of a shortcut through the Nachtmahr Mountains, so you can make up for lost time and, perhaps, stop him."
"But why would you care?" Devanya blurted.
The Queen smiled, revealing the sharpest incisors any of the group had ever seen. "Well now, I can't have anyone becoming more powerful than I am, can I?"
Her point was taken.
Later, in the mountains, fell creatures were fought and slain, biting winds were endured, and paths were obscured and found again. The route provided by Queen Alcesta proved efficacious. However, she neglected to inform the adventures that her shortcut would put them down in the caves of an ancient dragon named Thronzeker.
They never really saw the entirety of the beast. Its scales were a dull blood red, but shadows clung to its immense bulk, hiding it from view. However, the shadows were no protection from the horrid fear the creature instilled in them. Each was assailed by visions of bloodshed and fire.
Running from Thronzeker provided futile. It was everywhere they turned in the caves winding their way underneath the mountains. Worse, Thronzeker was content to toy with them. A half-hearted slash of a claw here, a mostly benign bite there, until they were at last exhausted and cornered.
Their lives could be there own, it said without speaking, if they would seek the heir to the throne of Krevborna and slay her. A simple task to be undertaken, surely. In return, they could pursue the ends that had brought them to the Nachtmahr Mountains before turning their eyes to Thronzeker's humble task.
They agreed, seeing no other way. And then, like shadows receding with the coming of dawn, the dragon was gone
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