The Three Old Kegs
Croaker opened the door and stepped into his room making his way to the bed, when he noticed a bottle of whiskey standing in the centre of the floor, a sealed envelope propped up against it. Immediately suspicious, he looked around for signs of anyone, but found nothing.
Cautiously walking over to the bottle he bent to pick up the envelope only to trigger a ring of arcane sigils which lit up the floor around him, illuminating the rest of the room. Dropping the envelope, he instinctively withdrew his shortsword, muttering the incantation which allowed the weapon to duplicate itself.
Suddenly the door closed behind the half-orc and Croaker turned to see a likeness of himself standing before him, before the illusion dropped to reveal Imbralym Skoond.
“You really made a mess of things,” said Skoond, his one hand reaching into the pockets of his robe.
Not waiting for the wizard to find whatever he was searching for, the half-orc rushed towards him, shortsword in each hand, only to find himself blocked by an invisible barrier. Croaker banged his fists in the air in front of him in an attempt to make sense of the obstacle before him; The barrier was firm and appeared cylindrical in shape.
Imbralym smiled noting the half-orc’s frustration, “This could all have been avoided if you and your friends had just kept out the Wide that day. My plan was perfect but you do-gooders had to involve yourselves in it all.”
Croaker shouted out Mill’s and Aidan’s name repeatedly. “Stop, no one can hear you,” Imbralym said smugly, still with his hand in pocket. The two shortswords flew with deadly accuracy towards the wizard, only to mysteriously deviate and miss their intended target, landing in the wooden wall behind him.
Croaker turned strangely towards the wizard, his eyes slowly turning an oil-black colour. “Finally, there you are,” whispered Skoond.
A roar reminiscent of a cataract filled the room. Black fire shot forth in columns within the Magic Circle, merely to dissipate against a barrier which was visible only in relief – it flickered like a void against the shadows beyond it. The convulsions within the circle lasted only a few moments, before they abruptly ceased, replaced by a perfect hemisphere of silent impenetrable darkness.
“Finished?” asked a shaken Imbralym, trying to look relaxed.
A dark ancient voice echoed in the spellcaster’s mind WHAT DO YOU WANT.
Imbralym narrowed his eyes, “Same as you. I want power.”
WHEN THIS BARRIER FALLS I WILL STRIP AWAY YOUR BODY AND PEEL YOUR SOUL. YOUR ESSENCE WILL EXPERIENCE SUCH UNENDING PAIN THAT YOU WILL BEG FOR RELEASE. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY LAYERS A SOUL POSSESSES, MORTAL? threatened the fiend’s voice within the Calimshite’s mind.
Imbralym remained motionless.
YOU IMBECILE, I HAVE WAITED OVER A CENTURY FOR THIS, I OUTLASTED THIS BLASTED CITY’S PRECIOUS ADRIAN; YOU THINK I CANNOT ENDURE A SIMPLE SPELL? The entity laughed maniacally.
Ignoring the fiend, Imbralym slowly removed his hand from his robe pocket to reveal a great, perfect ruby, and held it in front of the sphere of darkness. “Do you know what this is for?” he asked.
Black flames leapt up once more within the void, and crashed against the invisible barrier. YOU WOULD NOT DARE, thundered the voice in his mind. The darkness coalesced manifesting into the Ravager, drawing itself up to its full height before launching itself onto the barrier. It held.
“Oh but I do,” Imbralym shot back smiling.
Croaker wondered around aimlessly in the unnatural darkness feeling around for some piece of furniture, a wall or anything but found absolutely nothing, except for a hard concrete-like floor covered in a thick wet substance. Reluctantly he raised his hand to his tongue: Blood, the substance was definitely blood. Where in Gruumsh’s name was he?
Wherever he was, he could hear the distant voices of a conversation. He stopped to focus and lost his breath momentarily as he recognised the voice…
EVEN WITH THAT, YOU CANNOT ENSLAVE ME FOREVER, Bhaal finally spoke.
“Maybe, but perhaps I will only need to enslave you long enough until I have mastered my new abilities, until I have ordered you to reveal all to me,”
Bhaal leaned in as the wizard’s plan slowly dawned on him.
Stroking his beard, the spellcaster continued, “Unlike your pathetic Bhaalspawn, who were never given the opportunity to truly understand their full potential before being cut down, I intend to be in control of my own destiny. I won’t make their mistake, being but a tool for you to use until you discard me for something shinier, as you did to the others. I dare not waste your gift."
Bhaal punched the barrier in a moment of rage as he realised just how much he had underestimated the Duke’s right-hand man.
“Speaking of waste…as much as I enjoy talking to a fallen deity,” the last two words spoken in scorn, “I’m rather pressed for time. We can pick this up later.”
Croaker heard Imbralym begin to recite arcane texts over and over and over. Throughout it all, Bhaal threatened, and cajoled, and entreated, and pleaded, and finally begged. Imbralym ignored it all continuing with the incantation.
YOU MUST MAKE ME AN OFFER, Bhaal screamed.
It felt like an eternity to Croaker and then finally…
“Quiet,” Imbralym’s voice was firm.
“Kneel before your Master," there was a momentary pause. “Good. Now revert back into orc and come to me.” Croaker then heard a strange noise he could not make out.
“Tilt your head back” commanded the wizard. Pain suddenly coursed through Croaker.
The half-orc dropped to the floor of the room, gurgling while clutching his slit throat in vain. Imbralym kneeled before him watching him bleed out.
“Hmmm, think I will keep this,” he gestured to the bloodied shortsword. He wiped the blade off on Croaker’s tunic. “Don’t feel bad for yourself, you just weren’t worthy,” he added before standing up again…then things went dark.
Wonder if I will see Montano, thought Croaker before he died.
Croaker coughed and gasped for breath. Opening his eyes and adjusting to the darkness he found himself naked in a rectangular, sealed, wooden box. Recalling his last memory, his hands instinctively reached for his neck searching for a wound or blood. Nothing. The air inside the box was old and stuffy. No noise came from beyond.
None of it made any sense to Croaker. If only he had taken up that redhead’s offer to sleep over at the Blue Onion.