Witch Queen of Perrenland

Kirk and Aaron were just two travelers hoping to find adventure in Greyhawk’s most notorious drinking establishment. Little could they have known that adventure would find them just a few feet from the Green Dragon. Joined by the mysterious and tight-lipped merchant Rarsirrien, a female thief, and a disgraced Paladin, they become caught up in a plot to thwart the infamous and evil Iggwilv from obtaining the secret to immortality. To do so, they must breach the magically protected borders of the secretive Valley of the Mage. If they succeed, they will have to find Iggwilv’s agents while avoiding detection by the most powerful spell caster on the continent. Discovery will mean capture and death, and failure will mean the loss of countless lives to Iggwilv’s cruel experiments. But in the Valley of the Mage, not everything, nor everyone, is as it appears. Along the way, our heroes will have to confront the demons of their past and a few in the present. If they succeed, their reward will be freedom, fame, and the riches that come from it.

The Gate

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Aaron and Kirk entered the dining room. Desprae was already seated there, a cup of hot fruit tea in front of her. On the table were various fruits, cheeses, and meats. The pair took seats opposite Desprae and waited in silence. A minute later, Rarsirrien joined them.

“Good morning, everyone,” he said. The three looked at him. After last night it was going to be a difficult start to the day. “Our hostess won’t be joining us this morning. She has some other business to attend to, which concerns helping us get through Celene quickly and easily. She has asked me to make her apologies and to see to your comfort.” As he spoke, he poured Kirk and Aaron a large mug of coffee, set plates, and put utensils out for them.

Kirk and Aaron remained silent, neither really knowing how to start a conversation this morning after Desprae’s test of loyalty last night.

Aaron looked to Desprae, “We wouldn’t blame you if you want to….”

“Nedythra.” She interrupted him.

“What?” Rarsirrien asked.

She looked up at him. “Nedythra Desprae. That’s my full name. My family was one of the nobler houses.”

Rarsirrien nodded. “That explains a great deal. You would have been a great embarrassment for them. As long as you lived, they would have to bear that shame. That is why those that hunted you were so well financed and equipped. “

“Yes,” she said. “I’m sure their instructions were not to kill or harm me. My family wants me brought back alive. I’m sure they have a fate much worse than death planned for me.” She was looking at the leaves in the bottom of her tea as if they held some hint of her future. “It’s been a long time since anyone looked out for me.” She looked back at Rarsirrien, “Thank you.”

Rarsirrien nodded and placed his hand on her shoulder. “Well then, who’s hungry?” At that moment, two gnomes entered the room, one carrying a basket of warm bread and rolls and the other a tray with scrambled eggs, boiled potatoes, and bacon, and they placed them in the center of the table.

With the first proper breakfast in days, the four sat down and enjoyed the meal their hostess had prepared for them. They took their time, savoring every bite. They spent several hours having breakfast, talking and joking with each other, finally getting to know one another. Aaron spoke of his years in Suundi and his mother. Kirk told stories of his misspent youth and how his life had nearly been radically different if not for the kindness of one man. Desprae talked of her family and being raised for one purpose, to serve Lolth. Aaron shuddered at the mention of the Spider Queen. He told the story about once, as a child, falling into a nest of spiders. Only Rarsirrien held back. He told several amusing stories regarding visits to Tillahi but nothing about his past. None of them were going to push the steel dragon for more information.

After breakfast, Rarsirrien took the three of them on a three-hour tour of Tillahi’s estate. They returned late afternoon and were free to do whatever they wanted. Kirk and Aaron went for a swim, and Rarsirrien took a book from the library and went out and sat on the terrace with a view of the lake where he could hear both Kirk and Aaron.

He had been reading for half an hour when Desprae joined him. He didn’t look up, and she said nothing as she sat down silently in a chair with a large, feather cushion. He glanced over the top of the book and observed her. Her bruises were finally starting to fade, the ones on her face barely visible, but he guessed the ones on her back would take a little longer. He marveled at her inner strength. She had been brutally beaten by her captors, yet she had not once complained or even shown a sign of pain or weakness since they had rescued her. Now she seemed to relax finally.

The two spent the afternoon together in silence. After a while, a drier and cleaner Kirk and Aaron joined them.

“So, what have you two been doing all afternoon?” Kirk asked.

“Nothing,” “Reading,” came the replies.

“Sounds…exciting,” Kirk replied in a tone that indicated he thought otherwise.

The next days passed uneventfully, with Tillahi still absent. Rarsirrien took the opportunity to avail himself of their hostess’s extensive library. He was reading all references about the history of western Oerth and specifically looking for what the elves of Celene knew about the Mage and the Valley he now held power over. Most of what he found confirmed or expanded on what he already knew, but there was one book that covered the early days of the Great Kingdom, and there, he found the Mage’s true name and the reason he became what he is.

He was replacing the book on the shelf when he noticed a black leather-bound tome titled “Dark Seldarine.” He took it from the shelf, opened it, and began leafing through its pages, skimming over the names of elvish deities in the pantheon of dark Seldarine and a history of their highest priestesses when he stopped. “Now that’s interesting.” He read a little further, then closed the book and placed it back carefully so that it was exactly where it was on the shelf before he removed it.

On the far side of the library was a large window with a view of the vineyard and, under it, a large table surrounded by high-back chairs. He sat in one of the chairs, removed the map case from his cloak’s inner pocket, and spread it out on the table before him. After a moment, the map updated to reveal his location and the surrounding area. “Show me Tillahi.” After several seconds, a green dot appeared. “Good. We best prepare,” he said as he replaced the map in its case.

It was the morning of the fifth day. Kirk, Aaron, and Desprae all met and came down to the dining hall for breakfast, just as they had the past few days, but the hall was empty. On the table was a note that read, ”On the terrace.” The three walked back out and around to the double doors that opened onto the terrace with its view of the lake. Tillahi was sitting in her place, and coiled to her right was a large steel dragon. It was their first time seeing Rarsirrien in his natural dragon form. Tillahi was speaking with Rarsirrien, and then she placed her hand gently, almost lovingly, on the dragon’s cheek. When she became aware of them, she hastily withdrew it.

The three entered, and she motioned them to sit. A moment later, the two gnomes entered, bringing breakfast as they had the past few days. They gave Rarsirrien plenty of space. It seemed that they still didn’t want to get too close to the dragon even though he was known to them.

Kirk was staring at Rarsirrien. “Yes?” Rarsirrien asked him.

“You’re…big,” he managed to get out. The dragon lowered his head so that they were eye to eye. “I mean bigger…than I expected…for a dragon.” The dragon smiled at Kirk’s discomfort.

“Well, that was one reason I chose to appear in my natural form. I thought it best that you see me this way so that if it should become necessary later for me to take my true form, none of you are surprised or shocked. It also allowed me to take advantage of Tillahi’s hospitality and have a proper breakfast. But please, eat before it gets cold. Tillahi has some news for us, and we will be leaving today.”

Tillahi poured herself a cup of tea, then waited for the others to fill their plates and start eating. “I have been experimenting the past few years with finding a faster method of moving between two places, in a manner of speaking. In short, I’ve been trying to create a stable portal to teleport between here and Enstad or Greyhawk City. Magic portals are tricky, complicated, require great power and skill to create and maintain, and are easily disrupted. I decided to make my attempt away from my own estate in case anything should go horribly wrong. I also decided to try and tap into the power of the Moonarch of Sehanine.” She paused to take a sip of her tea before continuing. “After a year, I had achieved some success in creating a semi-stable portal between two points, but only one being at a time could pass through, and then it needed time to re-stabilize. I spent the past few days working to amplify it to transport a larger group, the four of you specifically, to the other side of the Lortmil Mountains, to a place I am familiar with in the Earldom of Silverlode, in the Duchy of Ulek. It should be able to transport you, your horses, and some provisions a distance of one hundred and fifty miles, but you won’t have to travel over or through the mountains. And it will reduce your exposure here in Celene, meaning that Desprae will have one less thing to worry about. I will be honest; it isn’t without risks. I’ve never tried to transport this many at the same time. It may not work, or you may re-emerge at a different point and possibly not all of you together. As long as the gateway is not disrupted, you should be fine.”

Aaron was trying to calculate their odds of success. “That was a lot of conditionals.”

“A teleport spell is risky if the caster has never seen the area they are attempting to teleport to. A stable teleport gate is something else.”

Rarsirrien spoke up, “It will cut several days off our travel time, time that we have lost staying here. The Necromancers may have already made it across Bissel and may have already entered the Valley. It’s still two days’ travel to the gate. This way speeds us on our journey and reduces the risk to Desprae. I don’t see that we have many other choices.”

Aaron and Desprae nodded, but Kirk remained silent.

“Then we had better get packed. We leave at noon and ride west.” Rarsirrien shifted back to his human form since it would be easier to move through the house without breaking everything. Tillahi’s home was spacious, but it wasn’t designed with dragons in mind.

After they had finished breakfast, they each headed back to their respective rooms to pack and prepare to depart. Aaron had packed his things, but Kirk was taking his time. He hadn’t said much since breakfast.

“What’s bothering you?” Aaron asked.

Kirk shook his head. “I don’t know. Just a feeling that something isn’t right. I can’t really explain it or say why I feel this way.”

“We’ll be fine. Think positive. We’ve been pretty lucky so far.”

Kirk looked at him, “That’s what is bothering me. I keep waiting for our luck to run out.”

Desprae returned to her room in no hurry as she didn’t really have any possessions of her own to pack. She turned to look down the hall where Kirk and Aaron were staying, then closed the door and turned around. She fell back against the door, mouth open. On the bed was a new set of leather clothes, black with white and silver stitching. She looked closely at the pattern, which mostly depicted typical woodland elf motifs, but in the center, under what appeared to be a silver elm tree, was a small spider symbol. A thoughtful nod to her Drow heritage. She also saw that she had two black saddlebags, and they were already packed with the things a female drow might need.

She looked up and saw Tillahi standing on the balcony outside her room. She opened the double doors and allowed her in.

“Why?”

“Why not? But the answer is as a thank you for not giving in to your nature and for choosing loyalty over selfish desires. You are the first dark elf I have encountered that seems to have an open mind. I’m sure you possess many more talents and skills than I know. I hope that you will use them to help not only yourself but those who believe and trust in you. You will be tested again if you make it to the Valley. You should know that the closest confidant to the Mage, the one in charge of keeping the valley secure, is also a Drow. Her name is Tyslin San.”[1]

“So, one of the Tyslin family still lives. I was always told the entire clan was put to death after trying to overthrow the high priestess. I doubt that she will welcome me. She’s more likely to believe that I am a Drow agent sent to locate and kill her.” “No one said this life was going to be easy. But I think you are about to discover that yours is about to get easier than it was now that you have others watching out for you. I’m not sure why, but he’s fond of you.”

Desprae looked up, “Rarsirrien?”

Tillahi smiled, touched Desprae’s cheek, then turned and walked back the way she had come. Desprae thought for a moment; then it dawned on her that her cheek didn’t hurt. She walked to the mirror and turned her head to the side. The bruising was gone. She stripped down and looked at herself in the mirror. All that remained of her earlier bruises was a slight skin discoloration. Even the scars on her back had faded to a pale lightness, and she no longer felt any pain. Just then, she heard Kirk and Aaron dragging their bags downstairs. She hurried and dressed in the new leather armor Tillahi had given her. Fortunately, her bags had been packed for her, so she grabbed them, threw one over each shoulder, and hurried downstairs to meet the others.

The three were outside tying their bags to the horses when Desprae ran out the door. Aaron turned to see if it was Desprae joining them, then stopped and tapped Kirk’s shoulder. “What?” Kirk continued to work on securing his bag to the saddle. Aaron punched in his arm, and he whirled around, annoyed at the interruption, when he caught sight of Desprae running out in her new armor.

“Wow! That’s an improvement.”

“I see Tillahi’s gift fits,” said Rarsirrien as he swung himself up on his horse.

“Yes, I almost feel as if I am not wearing anything at all.”

Kirk opened his mouth to speak, but Aaron gave him another quick jab under the ribs that took his breath away. Fortunately, Tillahi appeared in the doorway at that moment and then walked out to see them off. She walked to Rarsirrien, who took her hand but said nothing.

“I wish you the best of luck on your journey. You will not have problems with the residents here, as I have prepared the way for you from here to the gateway. Rarsirrien, you will still have to watch out for whoever is tracking you. They retreated from here into the hills, where we lost track of them, and I do not know what Dread Naught’s intentions are either. He is waiting just beyond the boundary of my estate. My people pity him and will not harm or interfere with him unless to protect themselves.” She moved to Aaron and Kirk, who were already on their horses. “Watch out for each other and my friend. You’re welcome here if you should pass this way on your return trip.” She looked to Aaron, “I think this journey may reveal more about you than you expect.” Lastly, she turned to Desprae, who was standing next to a black horse from Tillahi’s own stables for her to ride. “I’ve never welcomed a dark elf into my home before. My first instinct was to kill you, I’m glad now that I did not. You have a hard journey ahead of you. I hope that I have made it a little easier for you now.” She extended her hand, but Desprae brushed it aside, threw her arms around her, and gave her a strong hug. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“We need to be on our way. Thank you again, Tillahi, for your hospitality and your assistance.” Rarsirrien motioned for the others to follow. “I owe you one.”

“Oh yes, you do indeed, my old friend,” Tillahi said with a smile.

And with that, the four set back out following the road they had come in on a few days earlier until it passed the edges of the lake, through the tree-lined way, and then back onto the open plain where the road split, the path to the right leading back to the main roads to Enstad and the left leading back towards the Iron Hills and then on to the Moonarch of Sehanine. Here, Rarsirrien stopped and turned to the others. “From here on, we will have to be back on our guard again. We will have few friends, even if Tillahi has persuaded those along our way to look the other way and not hinder us. We still don’t know who or what is waiting for us in the hills. Tillahi said it was a lone assassin, and we don’t know his target.”

“Don’t forget about our Paladin friend,” Desprae added. “By the way, thanks for filling me in on this little quest of yours. You know, the only reason I now have a clue as to what you three were up to is that Tillahi dragged it out of you. Were you planning on including me at all?”

Rarsirrien exhaled loudly. “To be fair, we weren’t sure who or what you were. I think you’ll agree that it was wise not to show all our cards until we got to know you. I’m sure you’d do the same if you had been in our position. You only just told us your family name. Who knows what other information you might be holding back? Eh?”

Desprae looked Rarsirrien in the eye. She couldn’t tell, but she guessed that he might know something more about her and her family. He had spent a lot of time reading in Tillahi’s library. She could imagine that an elven wizard might have some books on the dark Seldarine. “Hmm,” she said and then continued riding in silence.

Aaron leaned over towards Kirk. “What was that all about?”

“No idea. Women.” He replied.

The road curved northwest around Tillahi’s estate in the direction of the Kron Hills, not yet visible in the distance. The road was well-maintained and ran through the forest to the edge of the hills. It was used by dwarves who traded with Tillahi and other elves in Celene precious metals and stones in exchange for wine and foodstuffs that they could not grow under their mountains. As they continued on their way, all of them were watching for signs of pursuit. They saw nothing and were able to cover forty-five miles before darkness began to fall. They moved off the road and into the wood, where they found a small clearing where they could set up a camp. Even though they had not seen anyone or anything along the way, they decided against lighting a fire this night. All but Kirk had good vision in the dark, Desprae had the best, and she took the midnight watch.

The night passed uneventfully, and they were up and moving just as dawn began to break. They made their way back to the road, which was now heading in a more south-westerly direction. Rarsirrien double-checked their progress on his map. If they were able to maintain their current rate of travel, he estimated they would cross the north-south road to Enstad by late afternoon and, with luck, be at the location of the gate by nightfall.

As they rode, they continued to look for signs of Dread Naught or anyone, or anything, that might be following them. They saw nothing. In fact, they passed no one on the road. This wasn’t unusual; this section ran only to Tillahi’s estate, and only those traveling to or from there would likely be using it.

“Maybe they gave up. Or, maybe they killed each other.” Aaron speculated.

“No. I doubt it. Dread Naught seems to be the single-minded, persistent type, and an assassin of the Scarlett Brotherhood would die before abandoning an assignment. No, they’re both out here. Somewhere.” Rarsirrien scanned the woods and sky, looking for any signs of pursuit, but he saw nothing.

The road rounded a bend and then continued northwest until it crossed the main road. As they drew closer to the main road, they saw two gray elves on horses. They were wearing the dress and colors of Celene’s light cavalry. Rarsirrien took the lead and slowed their pace.

Suilad,” he said in elvish, greeting the two.

“Hello.” The larger elf replied in the common tongue. “We have been expecting you. Tillahi asked that we ensure you are able to pass here unhindered and unobserved. We have done our best to accommodate her wishes. These days there is not much traffic between Verbobonc and Celene.”

“Your assistance is appreciated. Ni 'lassui[2].” Rarsirrien replied.

The two elves escorted them across the main road, which was empty as far as they could see. Only a small elf checkpoint was manned. With nothing to do, they kept busy cleaning their weapons and armor. Several were practicing their archery skills, shooting at targets placed up against old bales of hay.

Once the road was a mile behind them, their escort stopped. “This is as far as we may accompany you. Galu[3].” With that, the two turned and rode back towards the main road, leaving them alone on the road that now led to the Moonarch of Sehanine.

Aaron watched as the two rode back to rejoin their company at the checkpoint. “Well, at least we know that anyone following us will have to make it past a small company of light cavalry. That should discourage a lone assassin.”

Kirk took a sip of water, then said, “Or go around them. Nothing says they have to follow the road in order to follow us.”

Desprae was scanning the horizon north, along the Kron Hills. “What is it?” Rarsirrien asked.

“Nothing.” She replied. “There’s absolutely nothing. Isn’t that odd?”

They all stopped and sat in silence. The only sounds they heard were from their own horses. Even the wind had stopped. They saw no woodland creatures, no birds in the sky, or sounds from the trees. It was eerily still. Rarsirrien gave his horse a nudge and motioned for the others to follow. He increased their pace. Desprae’s observation made him nervous. He estimated they were about an hour and a half away from Tillahi’s gate. They would get there well before the sun set behind the Lortmil Mountains, whose peaks were becoming visible over the trees in the distance. Now, he needed to get there before whoever was following them did.

“We make for the gate. Now!” he shouted. They spurred their horses on, trying to outrun the silence behind them. Rarsirrien had no idea of what might be following them, but he knew he didn’t want to wait around to find out. Tillahi had expended a lot of her knowledge and power to prepare the gate for them, and he was determined that her effort not be wasted. He knew the way to the Moonarch, but he was not positive where Tillahi would have built her gate. He was certain that she would have left a sign for them; he just hoped that he wouldn’t miss it at this speed.

They had ridden for a little over an hour when Rarsirrien slowed his horse. There was another path leading off to the right. It was hardly visible. Where it split from their road, there was a small ip tree, and wrapped around its trunk was a grapevine. This had to be Tillahi’s marker. “This way.”

The others followed him right, leaving the road to the Moonarch and heading into the forest. Unlike the road, this was more a trail, and so they had to move in a single file and slowly. Aaron glanced up at the sky through the trees. Their way was becoming darker, but the sky above was still bright and blue. He knew that soon, the sun would drop behind the mountains, and then the forest would become even darker. They rode a little deeper into the wood; then he saw that ahead the forest was becoming a little lighter. A faint greenish glow was emanating from somewhere ahead of them. They came to a small clearing, and then he saw it.

Between two bronzewood trees was a stone archway. It was intricately carved with magical and elvish runes. It was about six feet wide and seven feet tall. They could ride through it in a single file if they ducked their heads. It emanated an emerald glow, and you could see the woods behind it, but they were different in appearance and brighter.

Rarsirrien dismounted. “I think it best if we lead the horses through since we don’t know what may be waiting on the other side.” The others got off their horses and took them by the reins. “Desprae, you take the lead, then Kirk, then Aaron and I.” Desprae led her horse to the gate, with Kirk moving behind her and Aaron and Rarsirrien watching the woods. She took a deep breath, held it, and then stepped between the two arches and into the light. Suddenly, there was a bright flash behind her and a crackle of electricity. She turned to look, but it was too late; she was looking back into the woods with no sign of the gateway. She was alone.

Rarsirrien had heard the missile and had just barely reacted in time to deflect it so that it missed the gateway and detonated against the left-supporting brozewood tree. The gateway dimmed for a moment, then flickered briefly before the faint greenish glow returned. Kirk breathed a sigh of relief, but Desprae was no longer to be seen.

“Go!” Rarsirrien shouted and pushed Kirk forward towards the gate. Aaron had his bow out and was looking for a target. Rarsirrien gave Kirk another shove, and as Kirk entered the portal, a scarlet-clad figure stepped out from the shadows and prepared to sling another magic charge at the portal. Rarsirrien spotted the assassin and pointed in his direction so that Aaron would know where to aim. Just as Aaron was about to release his arrow, Dread Naught emerged from the woods from behind the assassin. Aaron fired, but the Paladin’s sudden appearance caused the assassin to move backward, and the arrow missed its mark.

Rarsirrien looked at the gate. There was no sign of Kirk, and it appeared that the magic was still holding, though the greenish light flickered ever so slightly. “Aaron, go!” He shouted, “I’ll hold him off here.” Aaron threw his bow over his shoulder and ran with his horse into the portal’s light. As he entered, he caught the sound of steel on armor, and for a moment, he thought he heard the sound of another magical missile hitting the gateway, but then it was all gone. He found himself standing on a ridge overlooking a grassy plain with mountains rising up on his left, right, and behind. Immediately behind him were trees like those he had seen three the gateway. He assumed that he had made it to the other side but had no idea where he was. He glanced around and saw no one else. He called Kirk and Desprae’s names, but there was no answer. Suddenly there was a flash of greenish light in the wood off to his right and slightly down from his current position. He grabbed his horse and started in that direction, hoping that it was Rarsirrien. It took him several minutes to find a way down to where he had seen the flash, and as he got closer, he could hear shouting. He moved quickly towards the sound of angry voices and found Rarsirrien and Dread Naught nose to nose. The two were yelling at each other so loud that Aaron found it difficult to understand what either of them was saying, but they were making enough racket that the entire forest would know where they were by now.

“Hey!” He shouted. There was no reaction. The Paladin and Rarsirrien continued their tirade at each other. “HEY!” He shouted at the top of his lungs. They must have heard him because they both shut and looked in his direction. “If you two don’t quiet down, everything this side of the Lortmils is going to know where we are.”

“Good thing too.” Came Kirk’s voice from somewhere in the wood. A moment later, he emerged from the forest. “If not for all the shouting, I may never have found you all.” He looked around at the other three. “Rarsirrien, where’s your horse?”

Aaron just noticed that Rarsirrien’s horse was nowhere to be seen.”My horse is stuck back on the other side, along with half our provisions. Thanks to this incompetent fool.”

“I saved your life, you ungrateful mistkerl!” Dread Naught glowered at Rarsirrien.

“Saved my life? How do you know your following us didn’t lead him right to us? That kind of help we can do without!” Rarsirrien growled back.

Kirk and Aaron were scanning the woods, ignoring the two for the moment. “What are you looking for?” Dread Naught asked.

“Sign of pursuit,” Kirk replied.

“There will be no pursuit, at least not in the immediate future. The gateway’s power is exhausted. Between this wreck and the magical attacks our scarlet friend threw at it, it collapsed just as I passed through.” Rarsirrien looked around. “Where’s Desprae?”

 [1] {Rabe, 1990 #255} [2] “Thank you” in Sindarin [3] “Good luck/Good bye” in Sindarin

D A STEMPNAKOWSKI

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