Grandfather taught me everything that I know of seiji; the subtle dance whose goal is the maintenance or exchange of power between the elite, the wake of which sweeps up the common folk to rise to glory or die in bloody war. Sadly he died when I was quite young, but I do remember one thing he used to say: “A silent man is the best one to listen to”.
The first time I heard this I laughed, and Grandfather half-heartedly laughed along with me. Then his face became stern. “Why is this funny?”
“It is best when a man does not speak; it is best to hear a man who does not run his mouth,” I answered.
“Chigau yo! It means that the silent man should not be ignored! Always pay attention to those who are quiet; they are often the puppet masters of the court.”
Sowing the seeds
Standing in the Temple, I reflected on this. The Drow had gained a stronghold of great power and I barely batted an eye. He spoke little, though when he did it was with care to deflect what was asked of him. He gathered power. He was close to us, but we did not know him. I should have paid attention to these signs sooner.
I decided to discuss my fears with Exilar, Sorscha, Nathaniel, and Ser Seifer, before they departed to meet Meiko Sama in Polga. I told Exilar of Nathaniel’s discovery that the robed Bowman in Trask’s group wore robes identical to the ones Xar’eth had procured from the Spire, and that Trask himself bears a demon-head tattoo similar to the Drow’s. I also made sure to mention that when we met Trask for the first time in Hemlock Field, we lost track of Xar’eth, and did not get a clear look at the robed figure with Trask. The Drow was wearing the robes from the Spire at that time.
Exilar was not convinced that there was any clear connection between the Drow and the Bowmen. He seemed to think that, despite the evidence I had given, there was no reason to think that Xar’eth was being dishonest about anything. I made a note to discuss whether Exilar might be under some sort of magical influence by the Drow with a more select group of my companions after this meeting adjourned. Nathaniel also voiced doubts as to whether the robed figure with Trask indicated any involvement by Xar’eth. The robes, he said, were from the Spire, but a thousand years ago the Spire had been an academy, and it was likely that sets of robes from there had made their way around to different ruins in the Ruin during the intervening millennium. That combined with the Bowmen actively searching ruins of late made it likely that this was coincidence.
Good points, all, but I countered that the coincidences mounting around Xar’eth needed to be addressed, and soon. If he was allied with Trask, whom we were to go and kill, we needed to know immediately the Drow’s level of involvement, if any. To further my point, I asked Sorscha if her people could generally be considered as trustworthy, to which she burst out in a mad cackle. “They can be trusted to do what is best for themselves. If an alliance serves their interest, so be it. If things change and betraying that alliance would gain them power or position, so be it. Exceptions to this among my people are rare in the extreme.”
I also divulged all the details I had gathered from my foray into the Spire. Xar’eth’s “cousin” had demon tattoos similar to him. He identified me without looking at me, which indicated to Ser Seifer that there may be some sort of scrying active in the tower. He was brewing a concoction whose ingredients included mushroom, which Nathaniel said may indicate poisons. There was also a strong smell of sulfur. This put the knight on-edge, and he and the wizard said “Demons” in unison, voices grim.
In the end, Sorscha and Seifer seemed to show support for me investigating the Spire further. Seifer added that if I were to come up against demons I would need a weapon of cold iron. Nathaniel advised he thought it best not to disturb the Drow’s privacy, to which I replied with an incredulous look. Exilar still seemed to feel that there were not enough indications to warrant a second search of the Spire, or even to warrant distrust of Xar’eth. To Hell with the paladin’s sanctimony; I am going to investigate.
Inside the Scarlet Spire
After my companions boarded the Ironclad airship, my first step was to inspect the Temple Archives. Xar’eth had often been seen poring over books down there, but no one had ever seen him come or go. I searched the room from top to bottom looking for any false walls, hidden doors, or secret passages. There were none, though I did find a small vault door secreted away behind a stack of Thyatian tablets. After finding that the vault door was a facade, removing it, and checking a separate inner door for traps, noting a ring of divine script around it, I used my skills to unlock the inner door. Inside there were 6 books which appeared to be written in ancient Thyatian, and 10 scrolls which, at a cursory glance, looked divine in nature. I found a satchel in which to store them, and headed to speak with Gruendoc about a cold iron weapon.
Finding Gruendoc just outside the smithy, taking inventory of our supply, I greeted him and delivered the satchel. “Keep this in a safe place for Exilar when he returns,” I said. Then I told him of what I had found at the Spire, and that I meant to return to see what else I could discover. I asked him if we might have any cold iron weapons, after mentioning the possibility of demons. He showed me what we had, and I selected a cold iron longsword, which I strapped to my back. I made to leave and Gruendoc stopped me, “If ye need a hand with tha’ dark elf devil ye need only ask and ol’ Gruendoc will help ye’. I lost more’n a few of my kin to his kind o’er the years.” I bowed silently, turned, and made my way out of the Rise.
Before trying to enter the Spire proper, I felt it prudent to inspect the area around it to see if any changes had been made. None had, so I moved on to scouting out the tower exterior. I saw Xar’eth’s cousin in a window near the top of the tower, so I fired an arrow into a second-floor window, to see if the sound would make him stir. He moved, but the pace of it was unhurried and I felt he was merely going to a different room rather than responding to the arrow. I listened for alarms, but heard none.
I fired another arrow, this one on the 4th floor, and focused my ki, sending body and spirit sailing to where the arrow had just landed. As my disembodied self crossed the threshold of the Spire window, I felt a twisting sensation, and landed staggered on the floor of a room of living quarters, which I knew from my first incursion into the Spire. This was the 6th floor, not the 4th. And I now faced the dark elf who Xar’eth claimed was his cousin.
“Well hello again,” the dark elf said. He looked similar to Xar’eth, though his features were not as hard in the eyes. There was something familiar in his slightly lisping accent which I could not place…
I responded in my native tongue, “Well, as you said when last we met, if you mean to do me harm I would be harmed. I know introductions are unnecessary, but my name is Hiroshima Sakai, and I have been tasked with discovering more about Xar’eth’s cousin and his intentions here in Exilar’s realm.”
He responded in kind, in flawless Honshugo, “Well. I have informed Xar’eth of your arrival. He wishes me to tell you that if you want to visit the Spire, you should use the front door like a normal visitor. If you trespass again, you shall be dealt with… harshly.
That being said, I am Phazeuroth.”
“Well met, despite the threats. When did you arrive here?”
“I arrived here about a week ago. Maybe a little longer. Can I aid you somehow?”
I thought back on what happened a week or so ago, and realized that Phazeuroth probably arrived here when the tower was rebuilt. Switching to Vilholman, I asked “What have you and Xar’eth been working on here?”
Again he responded fluently, this time in Vilholman, “Research. Why are you not with your allies?”
“I was needed to stay behind and help defend against any potential Bowman incursion. It was thought that they may not be genuinely headed to the Cascades by a number of us.” My eyes went to the tattoos on his arms, of similar design to those on Xar’eth’s face, “What is the significance of your demon tattoos?”
“Personal. If there is nothing else, it is time for you to depart.”
“Hm. I smelled sulphur the last time I was here. I have spoken to some who indicated this smell might be associated with demonic events. Would you happen to know anything of summoning demons?”
“I know a few things, but there are no devils here.”
“I didn’t ask of devils. I asked of demons. And I didn’t inquire as to if they were here, I asked if you know how to summon them.”
“No demons are present either. I know some things of summoning.”
Straining against my urge to swing my cold iron blade into his stone-walling face I took a breath and looked at a series of frescoes and other art pieces on the walls. They depicted various vistas of mages helping in great battles, presumably from the time of the Thyatian Empire. I started walking toward the stairwell that led to the rest of the tower, “Thank you for your cooperation. I’ll see myself out." As I bit off the last word I turned and took one step toward the stairway leading down. With a stomach-wrenching motion I was teleported out of the tower and found myself walking on the road. I resolved that moment to find the secrets those two had hidden in that Spire. Even if it killed them.
Preparing for Betrayal
I followed the advice Sorscha had given me before departing, and made sure that our fighting forces were prepared for the possibility of a Bowman attack. I informed Shepherd of the suspicion that Sorscha and I both held: the meeting with Meiko Sama and the information that Ser Seifer had been given about Trask heading to The Cascades were both part of a ruse by the Bowmen to catch us off-guard and without some of our most capable fighters. He frowned, “Hrmph. Can’t say I hadn’t thought of that possibility myself. Thought I was just being paranoid.”
Over the next days I alternated between scouting the forests along Lochaid, setting traps and marking them with subtle signs that I taught to the scouts so they would not fall prey to them, and watching over the Spire. In the nights Phazeuroth could usually be seen in the windows. During the day, no light shone through the window reveal anyone and if he moved about, he did so so quietly that I could not hear him.
I was out digging pit traps with Balk and a crew of four men when we heard the hum of the Ironclad airship overhead. I mopped the sweat from my brow, washed my hands and face in a nearby creek, and directed the workers to finish up the pit and go back to the barracks for a break, tossing them a few steel for rounds if they so desired. Heading back to Lochaid, I heard the loud clunk of the airship as it docked on the makeshift pylon that had been erected on the North side of town.
Exilar was exchanging urgent words with Xar’eth as they came down the ramp. I waited at the bottom until their conversation was finished, then approached the paladin and asked him to walk with me to a more private location where I could share information with him. As we turned to go, I saw the Drow look over his shoulder at us before hurrying off toward the Spire. Once in a private location, I told Exilar the information I gathered from the Spire, and news about the books and scrolls I found in the Archives. I made sure to highlight the fact that the Drow had been able to speak fluently in languages which should be esoteric to someone from the Underdark.
“Is that it? There’s nothing substantial to back up your claims there. Look, take Nathaniel and have him start translating the books you found. Make sure he studies them in a secure place; he is NOT to remove them. I have more important things to take care of.” He gave me a look like I had wasted his time, then walked off toward the Spire. Staring after the paladin and begrudging my role as errand-boy, I saw Nathaniel hurrying after him. I caught up with them, and told Nathaniel of the books and scrolls that I had found, and that Exilar wished for him to translate them. “Later,” he said, intent on catching up with the paladin.
The three of us arrived at the door of the Spire, Nathaniel huffing from the exertion it took to keep up with Exilar. “I h—gasp have something to tah— talk to you about, Exilar.”
“Later, I have business with the master of the Spire. Did Hershel tell you to take a look at those books?” the paladin said, irritably, as he knocked on the large red door.
“Yes b-but I —”
“Then go take care of that. I will speak with you later.”
The door opened a crack and Xar’eth peeked out. “You said nothing of bringing guests.”
“I’m not,” Exilar said, and pushed his way through the door, slamming it in our faces behind him.
Nathaniel looked at me, face flush with frustration and impotent rage, and stormed off toward Temple Rise.
“You don’t even know where the books are!” I called after him as I walked to catch up.
A New Plan
After speaking with Greundoc about Exilar’s order and getting Nathaniel set up in a secure location, I walked to the smithy, Ulrich. I inquired as to the progress on the signal arrows, which I had asked him to make shortly before we had been attacked by Immand Khan. To my great surprise, the loss of his arm in the battle had not made him forget about this obligation, and he gave me a quiver of forty. These have the potential to aid us tremendously during any attack on the Bowmen. Using signal arrows of their design to misdirect their forces during an infiltration could be crucial to success, if planned well.
Sorscha entered town trailing forty fighting men. The half-drow woman came over to me and informed me that Exiar was calling a meeting for all members of the Watchmen. Though I hadn’t officially taken on that title yet, she was sure that my input would be welcome. We all went into the great hall of the Temple, and Exilar began a discussion about how to best utilize the fighting men, whom he said were from Angler’s Cove.
The Covemen revealed that there were several camps composed of 40 to 60 Bowmen apiece, all under Trask’s control. These camps were spread out across an area of the Wildlands between the Rise and Angler’s Cove. Initially, the fighting men had been brought in on word that we may need help to take the Cascades, but after Sorscha reported to them that the mission had been a failure, they proposed that we instead harry these Bowman camps. Thus we made a plan that Ser Seifer would lead a strike force along with the Covemen to raid a Bowman encampment. Whether or not he was able to kill all the Bowmen therein, we were to put all their supplies that we could not use to the torch.
Exilar adjourned the meeting, asked the Watchmen inner council to stay a short while as he prayed on his next course of action, and retreated to his offices. Nathaniel followed him shortly thereafter, but was turned out of the room, again frustrated, only moments later. A few minutes after that, Exilar emerged from his office holding the soul gem that Nathaniel had found in the ruins of a building in Lochaid. He stated that the gem may have the capability to allow us to scry on the Cascades using the Spire, and that he intended to go there to use it. He stated that any of us who wished to follow may do so.
Ser Seifer immediately raised his objections to the paladin, stating that we did not know what evil power that gem could contain, and using it inside a font such as the Scarlet Spire could lead to destruction far greater than we should risk for a possible glance into enemy territory. Nathaniel cursed audibly, and stormed out of the hall. Ignoring them both, Exelar walked through the large front doors of the Temple and South toward the Scarlet Spire.
The Depths of Darkness
Xar’eth was hard-pressed to keep his composure as all of us showed up at the doorstep to the Spire; his eyebrows quirked upward momentarily before his face resumed its usual stony calm.
“To what do I owe this… pleasure?” the dark elf said, voice quiet and harsh.
“I come bearing an item which will help us unlock the power of the Spire. I need to use it to divine more information about the Cascades before we strike.”
Again Xar’eth’s eyebrows raised slightly, but he had a little, queasy, smile on his face as he opened the door and motioned us inside.
The drow followed us down the stairs as Exelar led. We entered the large open chamber of the Spire’s bottom level, and gathered around the giant crystalline globe in the center. Exelar moved around the globe and put the soul gem in place. A small field of charged energy shot out of it, holding his hand there, the paladin’s back went straight as a rod, and his eyes rolled back in his head slightly as he gasped.
A mass of darkness began roiling through the hall to one side of the large globe, and… something… emerged from within. Exilar spoke, “There is a dragon here. From the depths and disguised as a drow.” As I looked toward the hall I could discern the form of Phazeuroth… changing. Shifting his skin into the form of a pitch black dragon. And suddenly I knew where I had heard his accent before… and what I had to do.
I turned invisible and drew my bow, knocking one of my remaining magical arrows and drawing it back to rest by my ear. As I did so, i noted that the dragon still tracked my position with his eyes. Sorscha’s voice echoed in my head, “They can be trusted to do what is best for themselves. If an alliance serves their interest, so be it. If things change and betraying that alliance would gain them power or position, so be it." The question of where Xar’eth’s loyalties would lie was one that I was not willing to have to ask while going into battle with one such as this dragon. Should he ally against us, the consequences of my not acting would prove far too costly. I moved back twenty feet, to get behind the dark elf while keeping him close enough to pick out a vulnerable spot to fire my arrow. The shaft sunk deep into his upper back, and he let out a hiss and began to move, reaching for something under his robe. Because I had caught him by surprise, I was able to move more quickly, and another arrow in the side put him on the ground, motionless.
Turning my attention toward the battle at hand, I saw that all hell had broken loose. The dragon, its neck wrapped in a wisp of shadow, roared, shaking the walls of the chamber. I heard a scream of rage and looked to my right to see Ser Seifer charge toward the black beast, Thyatian steel in hand. The elf-knight sunk his sword deep into the dragon’s chest, and pulled it out, readying it for another attack. The dragon let out another bellowing roar and spewed forth a gout of sickly green sludge, which flew out of the hallway and almost clear to the opposite wall of the chamber, hissing and bubbling and eating away at everything it touched… save for Dark Sister, which emanated a translucent glowing field as it split the stream in two, preventing the corrosive acid from consuming Ser Seifer’s flesh.
Another roar, this one human, and half way between anguish and rage, came from my right, and I looked over to see Nathaniel standing over the half-melted body of his cousin. The wizard fired a bolt of lighting, which struck out into the shadow dragon, and richocheted of the hall behind him, hitting the beast once more. Unfortunately, it also struck Ser Seifer, and I once again got to see that lovely elven hair puffed out in all directions, little forks of electricity arcing through it. At the same moment the lighting arced outward, Wulfgar bellowed “THORRRR!” and charged the shadow beast, his gleaming axe digging into its forearm to the bone. Exelar was finally able to pull himself free of the gem, and he too drew his sword and charged, sinking his blade deep into the thing’s neck as it went motionless, black blood spilling out over the stones of the chamber.
The air in the chamber went still, and my vision began to blur and shake slightly as I heard a loud SNAP. Exelar began marching toward the soul gem in the crystalline globe, saying “The dark elf has teleported outside!” I looked over to see a puff of steam dissipating into the air above the spot in the chamber still stained with Xar’eth’s blood, and looked back to Exelar. One moment he had his hand on the soul gem, and the next, SNAP, he, too disappeared into a puff of steam.
Wanting to be there to aid the apaladin if it came to a fight, I ran over and grabbed the soul gem. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”, voice shouted in my head. I startled momentarily, and then stuttered out, “I m-mean to help the p-paladin deal with the Drow.” A sickening turn of my stomach and a loud popping in my ears, and I was standing out front of the Spire, listening to Exilar talk with Xar’eth.
“I need you to surrender.” The paladin spoke, voice heavy with something… remorse?
“Heh. I’ve seen what you do to your prisoners.” Xar’eth said, his voice weak from his injuries.
“I… I can’t let another enemy survive to come back and attack us.” Exelar sounded more uncertain than I had ever heard him sound.
Xar’eth began to turn to leave. Exilar’s shoulders slumped as his hand went to the hilt of his sword, and he began to slowly, uncertainly, move forward. He was in pain, I could tell. Xar’eth still needed to be proven guilty, in his eyes, to warrant a death at the paladin’s hands. I really hadn’t intended to kill the drow; I had only meant to disable him for the fight. But seeing him walk away, and hearing the exchange between Exelar and Xar’eth just then, I knew that he wouldn’t come back and ally with us… if he had ever really been an ally in the first place.
I took a step in front of the paladin, my back to him. As I drew the cold iron longsword from its sheath on my back, I used the power of my ki to turn invisible, and moved up to a position directly in front of the drow. Then I came down with the sword, in a hard, sure stroke, opening the side of his neck, which sprayed out his lifeblood with such force that it coated my face, revealing my position. Exelar stopped in his tracks, stunned.
As I looked down at Xar’eth’s lifeless body, the long gash I had just carved across his neck began to knit together, and he stirred slightly. I let out a heavy sigh, and said, voice full of irritation, “What now?”