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+ THE ADVENTURERS +
+ Epic V +
+ Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other +
+ terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast +
+ which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use. Any such +
+ property contained within these stories are not representative of +
+ Wizards of the Coast in any fashion. +
+ The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright +
+ 1991-2021 by Thomas A. Miller. Any resemblance to any persons +
+ or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental. +
+ Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under +
+ the sole condition that no money is made in the process. In that +
+ case, I hope you enjoy them! +
+ Belphanior 18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief +
+ Irina 7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess +
+ Otto 12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief +
+ Razor Charlie 12th level human fighter +
+ Benjamin a human bricklayer-turned-fighter +
+ Paige a human female warrior +
+ Date: unknown (over three weeks since arrival) +
+ Time: evening +
+ Place: the dark castle overlooking the town of Holmburg +
+ Climate: cold +
+ "A wolf remains a wolf, even if it has not eaten your sheep." +
+ - V.I.N.CENT, from _The Black Hole_ (1979) +
MLVIII. Lord Marek
After a harrowing ride up the mountain, the adventurers have arrived at
the castle of the mysterious Lord Marek. The carriage has brought them to
a small courtyard that connects to the base of the castle proper.
Belphanior: Well, let's do this. (he walks toward the stairs, looking
up as he nears them)
From ground level, it was impossible to determine the height of the
castle, but as it loomed above the group, they knew that it rose several
hundred feet. The combined light of the three moons painted the old gray
stone with a bizarre combination of pale white and crimson light, which
faded into shifting shadows whenever clouds drifted in front of one of
the discs in the night sky. Various ledges, towers, and walkways could
be seen far above, as well as windows (at least those with light inside,
of which there were a few).
Irina: (turns to regard the carriage, its team of horses, and its silent
The carriage's door was now closed, and the horses shifted in place as
they rested from the trip up the mountain road. The driver still sat on
his bench, facing another direction and thinking about gods knew what.
The peaked archway through which the wagon had entered the courtyard, the
priestess noticed, contained a raised iron portcullis. When in place,
this sturdy-looking barrier would block entry or exit to the courtyard
and the massive double front doors opposite the archway. She also noted
the presence of various debris in the outdoor area: a couple of rotten
barrels, a shattered wheelbarrow, a broken catapult, and the remains of
several ladders that would once have been used to climb up to the narrow
walkway on the inside of the courtyard wall.
Perhaps twenty feet above the double doors, protected by a battlement,
was a ledge that would afford the castle's occupants a perfect view of
anyone entering the structure. Belphanior was a bit surprised that no
one stood there watching as the group approached the large wooden doors.
Belphanior: (reaches toward one of the portals, but stops as it and its
twin open inward with a low squeak of metal hinges)
Several things got their attention at once. The most prominent of them
was simply the grand appearance of the large room inside the door; it was
almost as spacious as the courtyard outside. The ceiling was about thirty
feet high, and a second floor ringed the three sides of the chamber ahead
and to left and right. This higher level was little more than a wide, U-
shaped walkway with an ornately-worked wooden railing; it was reached via
a twin set of staircases, to the far left and right of this first room and
on the far end. Between these wide carpeted structures, the far end of
the room opened into another, similarly spacious chamber. Everything was
lit by numerous oil lamps, which were hung from ornately-detailed metal
holders. Their finely-wrought ironwork depicted various creatures of myth
and legend, some of which were unfamiliar even to the seasoned adventurers
now regarding them. The combined light from the numerous lamps in their
various positions served to illuminate the room quite well, revealing some
other details. All of the wood here - walls, floors, staircases, railings,
bannisters - was a deep, dark brown color. The various woodwork had one
other thing in common: every bit of it evidenced very fine craftsmanship.
However, as grand as the entry chamber (and doubtless the others beyond
it) appeared, it also exuded an aura of great age and disuse. A strong
musty odor assaulted their noses; it was a smell that most of them had
encountered before, in long-sealed dungeons and crypts. A thick layer of
dust covered all surfaces, and in many places, frail white cobwebs spanned
the spaces between balcony rails, or connected lamps to the walls nearby.
Irina: This place is opulent...yet old and lonely.
Belphanior: Like it was meant to impress people, while not being kept up
well enough to do that to its full potential.
Paige: Maybe the servants all went on strike.
Otto: Or maybe the master of this place just doesn't care.
The chamber beyond was roughly the same size, but with a much higher
ceiling which tapered to a point far above. Their first thought was that
this was a chapel of some sort, except that it lacked anything to worship
and anything to enable worship. There was no statue of a deity, no pews
or carpets, nothing; the stone floor was empty of anything except a thick
layer of dust and cobwebs. Through some opening above, moonlight shone
down into this room, illuminating the decaying murals and paintings that
covered much of its wall space.
Razor Charlie: (eyes one image, its paint peeling, that depicts numerous
demon-like creatures doing battle with a small group of warriors) Hm.
Paige: What the hell?
Irina: This is - was - definitely a holy place. Or an unholy one.
Belphanior: (notes that, given the structure of the castle as they saw
it from outside, there's no way the moonlight is shining directly into
this chamber) That's odd.
Benjamin: You know what else? Every room and every hallway here is big.
Belphanior: Just for the sake of being so. (he looks around, wondering
how many secret or concealed doors might exist here, and what secrets
they might hide)
Otto: (gestures to the three other exits from the high-ceilinged chamber,
which are spaced equidistantly around the room along with the entrance
they arrived through) What now?
Belphanior: Let's go right.
They advanced into the next room, which was a small library with walls
full of bookshelves surrounding several couches and chairs in its center.
All of the furniture rested atop a gigantic rug in the center of the room.
However, upon closer inspection, everything was in a state of disrepair
if not outright decomposition. Many of the shelves were sagging (and a
few were broken) while most of the dusty tomes stored on them were either
crumbling or rotten. The rug in the middle of the room was worn to the
point of being threadbare in numerous places, while the furniture looked
ancient (in addition to being coated with dust and arranged in a seemingly
Benjamin: What sort of person lives in a place like this?
regal man: (having appeared at the junction between this room and the
previous domed chamber, he speaks in a deep, rich, powerful voice) An
old and weary one.
This man was clearly an aristocrat or perhaps even royalty, given his
finely-tailored clothes and regal, commanding bearing. He wore black
pants, a white shirt with a black coat, and fine black leather boots.
He stood well over six feet tall, and had a long, narrow, yet handsome
face which was clean-shaven. The pale skin of that face was framed by
well-groomed dark hair whose length was indeterminate due to the high
collar of the mans' shirt. He appeared to be somewhere between forty
and fifty years old, but it was impossible to tell for sure. His dark
wardrobe was only complemented by the large black cloak that billowed
behind him as he strode into the room.
Belphanior: (takes a step forward) Lord Marek, I presume?
regal man: (nods) I shall be your host this evening, and I thank you
for accepting my invitation. Shall we retreat to the dining room?
Belphanior: By all means.
Lord Marek: Very well, then. (he turns, his dark cloak swirling about
his tall form as he walks away, continuing to speaking to them as he
glides across the floor) You must forgive me for the appearance of my
home. It is a sizable place, and old, and I do not have many guests.
The black-garbed ruler of the castle led his guests through several new
rooms and hallways, and they quickly realized that the place was not only
big but also quite complex, at times like a maze. It would be very easy
to become lost in here if one was not careful, which was why Belphanior
paid careful attention and made mental notes as the small group walked.
All the while, Lord Marek kept up a steady banter, pointing out different
chambers or features, making comments about each as he subtly dominated
While the six adventurers each heard the same words and saw the same
mannerisms, each of them interpreted Lord Marek's actions in their own
way. Belphanior felt threatened, for he saw the man as a rival. Otto
was vaguely uncomfortable, as if the other was somehow in a much higher
social class and didn't even acknowledge the dwarf's presence. Irina was
uneasy for a different reason, for she sensed great menace and evil in
their black-garbed host. Benjamin only felt a vague but powerful fear,
commensurate with his lack of experience dealing with beings such as Lord
Marek. Paige felt a strange attraction, despite being fully aware of the
probable true nature of the man and wanting nothing to do with him, and
found it best to avoid meeting his gaze or even looking at him. Razor
Charlie had perhaps the simplest reaction of any of them; in his opinion,
the man was suspicious and would most likely prove to be an enemy at some
point. Accordingly, the lean, scarred warrior remained alert and ready to
act should a conflict break out.
Lord Marek: (leads them into a large, opulent dining room) Ah, here we
The chamber was sizable enough to be impressive, while not so big that
it felt ridiculous (like those castles with tables in the middle of huge
rooms, requiring servants to walk a hundred feet to get from the kitchen
entrance to the table). The dining hall was rectangular, perhaps forty
feet long and thirty wide, with several doors near various corners. The
room's walls were adorned with oil paintings, and unlike the previous
chamber, this one's art depicted more normal scenes such as mountains,
forests, and wildlife. Nevertheless, they all seemed to use dark colors
and were painted in such a way that they fit the mood of this castle.
The table was massive, fashioned from thick slabs of oak, and could
easily seat a dozen people. Seven places were set: one at the head and
three more on either side. The plates were old and fragile-looking, the
wine glasses fashioned from almost impossibly-thin glass. Each place at
the table had a full set of fine silverware, as well as a thick cloth
napkin. Tall, narrow candles in iron holders cast their flickering light
across the entire scene.
Lord Marek: Please, be seated.
Belphanior took the place closest to their host, on his right, while
Irina and Benjamin chose the next two chairs. On the other side, Otto
sat closest to Lord Marek, followed by Paige and Razor Charlie. Scant
moments after everyone had taken a seat, a trio of manservants began to
bring food into the room and place it on the table. The fare was good
but basic: steaks and pheasant, soft rolls with butter, plates of both
soft and hard cheeses, and a mix of carrots, greens, and potatoes. Two
different kinds of wine (a red and a white) were served, along with jugs
of water for those who might not want to drink wine.
Hours earlier, while planning for this back at the inn in Holmburg,
the adventurers had discussed the possibility of their host attempting
to poison them during the dinner he'd invited them to. Belphanior had
found it necessary to point out that, assuming they made it up to the
castle unharmed, it was highly unlikely that he would subsequently try
such a thing. That logic still held true, and so they now began eating
and enjoying the meal laid out for them....or trying to enjoy it. While
edible, it was all a bit on the bland side, as if the cook or cooks had
done everything necessary to prepare the food properly...but nothing
more. Of course, this hardly bothered any of the adventurers, as they
were used to eating rations more often than not.
Otto: (having trouble picking up his silverware, as his hands feel a
slight burning sensation every time he touches a fork or knife)
Lord Marek: (regards the dwarf, a slight smile touching his face) Real
silver, of course. Are you in some distress, short one?
Otto: (grumbles angrily)
Perhaps more unusual than the flavorless food, or Otto's issues with
his utensils, was the demeanor of the three servants. Like the carriage
driver before, these men were all well-dressed, gaunt, and silent. They
did their jobs quietly and efficiently, showing no emotion or reaction
to anything. Belphanior also spotted a gnome, briefly, walking in the
hallway beyond one of the corner doors; the demihuman carried an immense
stack of platters past the doorway, and then was gone.
Otto: (drops his knife yet again, rubbing his stinging hand) Dammit!
Lord Marek: (casts a disdainful gaze upon the dwarf)
Paige: (reaches over to help Otto get food onto his plate)
Otto: (clenches his fists) I'm fine!
With a sudden motion, the dwarf reached across and grabbed a steak from
the plate piled high with them. He'd chosen the least-cooked one - almost
raw in places and dripping with blood - and he casually dropped it onto
his plate. As he saw and smelled the meat up close, a crazed look came
into his eyes, and he suddenly grabbed the large steak with both hands and
pulled it to his mouth, tearing at the meat with his teeth while blood
and juices ran down his chin. Within moments, half of the thing had been
devoured, and the plate (and table, and Otto's shirt and beard) were now
covered with stray drops of blood.
Otto: (continues with his impromptu feast, oblivious to the looks of the
Lord Marek: (frowns and slowly turns to Belphanior, speaking drily and
more than a little disdainfully) Perhaps you should have chosen your
dinner companions more carefully.
Otto: (his ears perk up, and he glares at the nobleman balefully as he
continues to eat)
Belphanior: Otto is...not well.
Lord Marek: I can see that, but I cannot help him. The moons of this
land are potent indeed.
Belphanior: Speaking of this land, Let's talk about it...after all, that
was one reason we came here tonight.
Lord Marek: Indeed.
Their host began to weave an enthralling tale then, speaking of many
things from his past...how he had long ago been a warrior-king to his
people, leading and defending them against all attackers...how he had
always done the best thing for them, whether they realized and accepted
it or not...how he had sacrificed much for them and for the good of the
Lord Marek: -have no idea, no idea whatsoever, of the sacrifices I made
to ensure their continued well-being. I saved them, overcame all odds
and prevailed against a much larger force. (his eyes widen with an
almost-primal intensity) You see, I saved them...and the ungrateful
wretches then turned on me.
Belphanior: Why would they do that?
Lord Marek: Fear...ignorance...who can know? The true answer has been
lost amidst the many years since then. (he shakes his head sadly) I
was away when it happened. They gathered their torches, their weapons,
and came to my home while I was away fighting their battles. They came
there in search of me, but I was not there. Only my beloved wife was,
and the servants...one of the servants betrayed us and let the mob in.
(he clenches his jaw and drains his glass before continuing) She was
innocent, don't you see? Whatever I did, however I might have become
damned...she had no part of it. None!
That exclamation was punctuated by Marek's fist - still clutching his
wine glass - slamming down onto the table with enough force to rattle
everything else on it, even fifteen feet away where Benjamin and Razor
Charlie sat. The slender glass in his hand did not survive the impact,
shattering into numerous pieces, several of which sliced into the man's
Lord Marek: (holds up his bloody hand, absentmindedly pulling shards of
broken glass from his flesh as he continues talking) Rest assured...
some things changed forever after that day.
Belphanior: (thinking about what he'd do if a mob of people showed up
angry at him and killed Neera instead, or even if that had happened to
Victoria years ago) I...am sorry for your loss.
Lord Marek: No need. That was a long time ago...more than a century.
Otto: (blinks, realizing that the man just, very subtly, confirmed his
nature as something more - or less - than human)
Paige: (notices that the deep cuts on the man's hand have vanished)
Irina: (unable to resist asking the question) What did you do?
Lord Marek: (takes another glass and fills it with more wine) What did
I do? What indeed...(he takes a long drink, draining the entire thing)
Revenge...a great and terrible revenge. Every member of that mob of
fools met a violent end. The leader, a rather pretentious and driven
holy man...I slaughtered his entire family, and their families...ended
Belphanior: Justifiably so. I'd have done the same thing.
Lord Marek: You had best pray that you never have to do such a thing.
Belphanior: I have no problem killing, even large numbers of people, if
Lord Marek: People? You mean the mob of murdering idiots? (he waves a
long, slender hand dismissively) I could care less about THEM. I was
speaking of my own loss. She was worth a hundred of them...a thousand.
Such a loss scars one for life...forever.
Irina: What happened after that?
Lord Marek: Nothing less than the gods laughing at me, I suspect. Soon
after I took my revenge - a most hollow revenge, let me assure you, as
nothing short of bringing my beloved back to life would have quelled my
rage - I, and my castle, and the surrounding area, were all...brought
Lord Marek: The Domain of Darkness. That is but one name for this grim
and haunted realm. There are others...the Domain of Dread, Purgatory
of the Lost, the Nether Realms...(he sighs sadly)
Belphanior: So you, and the town below, have been here for more than a
Lord Marek: Correct. And, as you have no doubt begun to suspect, escape
is rather difficult.
Belphanior: We've...gathered that. This is not our first land visited,
since arriving in this realm.
Lord Marek: From where did you come here?
Belphanior decided to simply tell the truth, rather than lie or evade
the question. The way the castle's master was looking at him, it was
possible that he had some means of knowing truth from falsehood...and
besides, there was really no reason not to give a truthful answer. Plus
the elf hoped to gain some information from the other, so a friendly and
honest exchange was worth the attempt.
Belphanior: We hail from a place called Oerth...the Flanaess.
Lord Marek: (shakes his head) I have never heard of such a place.
Belphanior: If you don't mind my asking, and would be so gracious, what
sort of world is this? We have wandered from land to land, sometimes
encouraged or even seemingly forced by those mists-
Lord Marek: The mists! It is ironic that I cannot control those, or
leave my own land...(he sighs wearily)
Belphanior: So the mists _are_ a barrier between the different areas?
Lord Marek: (nods) Areas, fiefdoms, lands, kingdoms...call them what
you like. This one is mine. (he tilts his head) Tell me, what sort
of land did you last venture through, to arrive in mine?
Belphanior: The last one was overrun by the living dead.
Paige: Hungry living dead, at that.
Lord Marek: Ah. That's...new.
Belphanior: (opts not to tell him of the land prior to that, as knowing
they beat a powerful werewolf might give away something of the party's
Lord Marek: This entire realm is made up of such smaller lands, many of
them lorded over by some cursed individual or another. Others, such as
the land of creeping doom with its armies of flesh-eating insects, have
no definite ruler.
Irina: Ugh. That sounds like druidic magic gone horribly wrong.
Lord Marek: It most likely was.
Belphanior: How many of these...regions exist?
Lord Marek: No one knows, as their numbers are said to be ever-changing,
but I have reason to believe that there are dozens.
Lord Marek: As impressive as the insane construction of some mad god can
be, at any rate.
Belphanior: And you think that's what it is?
Lord Marek: (shrugs) That is one theory. Another had to do with chaos
resulting from the unconscious thoughts and fears of all mortals across
all worlds. A third involves the unknowable machinations of a cabal of
forgotten deities. (he shrugs) I truly do not know. I once pondered
this matter for an entire month, to the exclusion of all else, but still
reached no conclusions.
Belphanior: And you can't leave?
Lord Marek: (shakes his head) For all that I can control and command -
this castle, the shrouds of cloud and fog, the creatures of the night,
the wills of mankind - I cannot escape this realm. (he looks around at
each of them in turn) Can you imagine what it is like to rule a land,
with power far beyond what others can even dream of...yet remain unable
to simply walk across its borders? Especially for one who once led vast
armies to battle in faraway lands. (he frowns) Can you comprehend the
agony of not growing older, while everything around you decays? (he
gestures to one of the dining room's exits) Thus the sad state of the
furniture and other trappings you have no doubt seen here. This place
ages faster than I do...it should be the other way around.
Belphanior: (not quite sure what if anything to say in reply, he instead
holds his tongue, and his companions follow his lead, allowing the man
to finish his diatribe without interruption)
Lord Marek: (takes another sip of his wine, then sets the glass down,
his eyes closed) I...am weary. (he suddenly pushes his plate away and
stands, glancing at Belphanior) Come. I have something to show you, in
the tower chambers above.
Belphanior: (makes a quick decision, also getting up from his seat) Very
The elf wasn't overly concerned for his safety at this point; aside from
the multiple vials of holy water he'd brought with him and secreted about
his person, he also had a clove of garlic on a cord around his neck, the
small bulb hidden just beneath his collar. If attacked, his plan was to
use the magical rod to conjure hands or fists of force to buy himself time
to work more effective magic.
The tall, black-garbed nobleman led the elf into a nearby hallway to a
wide spiral staircase which wound upward, the way lit by a series of lamps
along the way. As they climbed the steps, Marek began talking once more.
Lord Marek: And now, we get to it.
Belphanior: What's that?
Lord Marek: I did not invite you people up here just for the company...
although it is always pleasant to talk with others, especially those
hailing from faraway places. I find the people of Holmburg and the
other towns to be somewhat boring, especially after all these years.
Belphanior: What is it you want, then?
Lord Marek: Excuse me?
Belphanior: You must want something from me, or from us. I'm guessing
there's some dungeon or other place you can't or won't visit on your
own, possibly due to its distance and the danger of sunlight.
Lord Marek: An astute observation. I can see why you are the leader of
your group. Sunlight is always a concern, yes...unlike the silver or
garlic you have brought into my castle. Incidentally, neither of those
will do more than annoy me.
Belphanior: I can't be blamed for being prepared for the worst.
Lord Marek: Understood. I hope to offer you more than that, however.
After ascending about two hundred feet, the spiral staircase had ended
in a stout wooden door. The portal opened with a wave from Marek's hand,
revealing a small, round room which presumably topped a narrow tower. A
single arched window, too narrow for even a halfling to squeeze through,
provided a view of the night sky. Next to this window, mounted within a
wooden frame built into a narrow wooden table, rested a long metal tube
with some sort of crystal attached to one end. Near the table were two
plush chairs. On the other side of the chamber, something large (most
likely a sizable piece of furniture) was cloaked beneath a thick silken
Lord Marek: This is my observatory.
Belphanior: You're looking at the moons?
Lord Marek: (nods) That device is called a telescope, and it allows one
to view things as if they were much closer. Sometimes I gaze at moons,
other times at the town below. (he strides across the room suddenly)
But that is not why I brought you up here.
Pulling the veil away, Marek revealed a large, ornate mirror framed in
black wood. It was fully nine feet high, and its glass contained a very
slight violet tinge to its surface, which seemed to shift slightly when
Lord Marek: I am well and truly cursed...for this mirror allows me to
see into other places, other worlds. Yet, I cannot use it to venture
to them. (he locks gazes with the elf) But others can.
Belphanior: (with great force of will, he keeps his expression neutral)
Lord Marek: Of course it is. And it can almost certainly take you back
to your own world, which I am fairly certain is your greatest desire at
Belphanior: We wouldn't mind. I have...unfinished business there.
Lord Marek: As do all who end up in this realm. (he pulls the cover
back over the mirror) In case you are quietly having any ideas that
would prove harmful to your health, the mirror requires special words
of command, which I am not going to share with you. (he sits down in
one of the chairs in the room, gesturing to the elf to take the other)
Belphanior: (seats himself)
Lord Marek: What I will do - if you are agreeable - is allow you to use
the mirror to find your homeland, and return there. But I desire two
things in return. One, I suspect, will prove quite easy for you. The
other will involve some measure of...sacrifice.
Belphanior: I see. What are the two things?
Lord Marek: Firstly, there is a temple in the town below. I wish it
Lord Marek: (nods) It vexes me...and has vexed me for quite some time.
I cannot venture within, nor can any of my servants or minions. (he
regards the elf) I can sense evil, and I can sense its opposite. You
are certainly no saint, and I am fairly confident that you can do this
thing without remorse or regret.
Belphanior: Assuming I can, and will...what's the second of your terms?
Lord Marek: Your dark-skinned warrior-woman with the ebon tresses. I
Belphanior: (his eye widens) What?
Lord Marek: (shrugs) It can get lonely up here, and I have long since
grown tired of village girls. They are simple, and they are boring.
The warrior-woman shows a spark of life that, quite honestly, I have
not seen in a very long time. (he crosses his arms) So. Do we have
next: will Belphanior make a decision?
notes: If not for the greater overall setting and the effect I was
aiming for with this entire other-worldly arc, I could have had the
vampire turn out to be a poser, perhaps a low-level illusionist. But
that was not to be, not here or now. Lord Marek is the real deal.
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