Garrett returns to Firetop with F’zan, both determined to present the evidence they have of Zhengisi slavers to the authorities. But F’zan’s skepticism of human interest in centaur welfare proves well-founded – the head of the city guard, Sa’Drassin, takes their evidence and promises blandly to look into it. The elf clearly has more pressing matters on his mind.
Not long after leaving the guard headquarters, Garrett is approached by a lady dwarf, who introduces herself as Dorla. She explains that she was a member of a clan honour bound to rid Stone Knife of the orks that infested it, and her honour debt was then passed on the Dorrin once he undertook this task. With Dorrin now dead, Dorla is transferring her debt to Garrett, and offers her services, whether he wishes them or not, as his bodyguard.
F’zan leaves the city quickly, uncomfortable in the urban surroundings, and goes to spend time in the cave where Mawg is now hibernating. Garrett spends some time that evening in the Gorgon’s Head, where a huge three dragon ante tournament is taking place, with visiting guest star player Thaddeus Gorkor, a renowned player at the high stakes tables. Garrett spots a few familiar faces – the potato-faced ex-manservant of Duke Gillibrand, and Jaxsen, who he goes to talk to. Business is the order of the day – Garrett hands over the stolen holy longsword to Jaxsen, who is very pleased to see it. He tells Garrett that he has the favour of the shadowy masters of the Agents of the Eye, and will now be welcomed in Skullport whenever he cares to visit. But there is also a warning – the Drinker is almost certainly able to see everything Garrett can see (what little that is through his cataracts), so Jaxsen suggests that they keep their meetings to a minimum. He does, however, ask Garrett to deal with a loose end, a half-ork who has been a little too loose-lipped for the Eye’s comfort. After losing a little money in a few trial games of Dragon, Garrett stakes out the alleys at closing time, follows the half-ork into a dark alley and kills him with a few well placed arrows.
The following day, he teams up again with Drakar and Mad Pete, who are looking for any dragon-related adventures. Garrett tells them of the lower levels of Stone Knife, where a dragon reputedly lairs, and they set off, but they quickly realise they’ve underestimated the winter weather. Only Drakar’s magic keeps them from freezing, and they hurry back to Firetop to reconsider and equip themselves for cold camping.
F’zan persuades them to help him hunt for the people who kidnapped his village, so when they set off again, this time they head into the Moonstone Hills. But snow covers any tracks that the kidnappers may have left – protected from the elements by Drakar’s spells, they head instead for the Dragondown Grotto, supposedly a place where orphaned Dragon eggs are taken and hatched. F’zan leads them through the wilderness, and after beating off attacks by a vast Landshark and blinding and avoiding an angry hill giant, they reach the ancient temple in question.
After Pete and Garrett are almost killed by a trap that deluges them with acid, they then fight a band of hobgoblins, this time led by a cleric who seems to worship Tiamat and his bodyguards. The minions are dispatched with ease, but the spells of the cleric prove deadly and effective, plunging the centaur, the sorcerer and Pete into magical confusion, and then besetting them with plagues as Dorla and Garrett fight the bodyguards. But Drakar’s familiar, the pseudodragon Ambrosius, stings the cleric asleep, and his defences prove a great deal less effective against an electrical attack against his sleeping form.
Drakar then finds the true defender of the temple, a kobold called Meepo, who was guarding several clutches of eggs against the depredations of the hobgoblins by locking himself in a central chamber. Meepo is keen to get rid of these new intruders, but Drakar persuades him they mean no harm. He barters for a map of the area, showing him where to find a mystical pool of dragon’s blood referred to in Gillibran’s notes, in exchange for leaving the orphanage and never returning. He holds up his part of the deal, and F’zan leads the group to the pool using the map – a sulpherous area of hot springs, steaming in the winter snow. Drakar finds the pool and bathes in it, emerging more in contact with his draconic ancestry and more powerful than before. But their food is already limited, and F’zan leads them back through the snowy wastes to Firetop to restock, rather than continuing to the intriguing site of ‘fall and rebirth’ marked on the map.
After a very sound night’s sleep back at Gillibran’s mansion, Drakar discovers that the last remaining guard, Gary, who Gillibran had given orders to carry on with his usual duties, has abandoned ship. He also finds a discrepancy in the number of rooms in the house. Although the Duke previously referred to the space under the library as being the stables, Drakar can’t find any way into this space, either inside or out. He sends Ambrosius for a little airborne scouting, and discovers there is a large, vacant lot behind the house with no apparent entrances – windows and doors that previously looked over the area are bricked over. He nips out to buy a sledgehammer and returns with some home improvement in mind, but quickly discovers that physical labour is a slow and boring route through the back wall. A short blasting spree later, he emerges into the empty area, paved and tiled over, and finds little clues as to what the area has been used for. Nor can he find an entrance into the mysterious ‘stable’ room.
Garrett, meanwhile, goes back to check on Sa’Drassin’s progress. The elf captain has coincidentally been looking for him – knowing of the tiefling’s previous prowess in clearing out mountain forts infested with goblinoids, he intends to pay Garrett to deal with a troubling report that hobgoblins have invaded and occupied an abandoned watchtower, Peakwatch Fort, a little way south of the city. The fort holds a defunct portal to Undermountain, – however slim the chances are that it could be re-activated, Firetop doesn’t need more security risks at present. Garrett agrees (for a price) and goes to round up a crew.
F’zan is glad to help if it increases Sa’Drassin’s likelihood of helping to track the raiders who kidnapped his village, and Drakar owes the centaur a favour. Mad Pete fancies the craic, so off they go, first stocking up on invisibility potions to allow them to approach the tower without being detected.
They reach the tower, and even get close enough that Garrett and Ambrosius can take out the sentries. But they are unaware of the perilous watchbeast the hobgoblins have stationed with them – a huge Remorhaz, an insectile arctic predator that bursts out of the ground at their feet, apparently able to detect them despite their invisibility. Drakar almost vanishes into its burning maw head-first, and Dorla only escapes by running for her life as the others drag Drakar to safety, then break into the tunnels behind the fort.
Here they fight through a cordon of well-trained hobgoblin fighters and guards, led by a chain-wielding mage-killer who almost finishes the already-wounded Drakar off for good, dancing past the others when they try to block him. But the sorcerer has already wounded the Spellscourge with fireballs (as well as wiping out the other guards), and his friends finish the job before reviving him.
The complex proves baffling and mysterious – an elemental-powered heating system, a tomb protected by a deadly illusion, an old temple to Pelor which is slowly being eaten by some peaceable rock-eating aberration from the depths, and a solid door, the lock of which frustrates Garrett’s best efforts to pick. Until Mad Pete mentions that he’d found the key lying around earlier, at any rate – behind the door are watchful hobgoblin guards, and the sounds of some large-scale ritual. Feeling under-prepared to deal with large numbers, the wounded heroes smash the doors shut, and barricade the hobgoblins inside, taking a slightly edgy night directly outside. When morning comes, somewhat refreshed, they re-open the doors and venture within – the hobgoblins have vanished, through what looks suspiciously like a re-activated portal.
Disheartened, the heroes leave, trying to run past the remorhaz outside. But Mad Pete isn’t quite the sprinter the others are, and is left behind – he tries another invisibility potion and this time remains perfectly still, thinking that perhaps the creature can only detect motion. Perhaps he isn’t still enough or perhaps its senses are too keen to be baffled by a spell, and the unfortunate chancer is eaten on the spot. Fuelled by revenge, the remaining heroes take the beast down with a deadly combination of acid-tipped spear thrusts, arrows and firey rays. Pete is buried with honour (once they’ve cut his mangled corpse out of the creature’s gullet), and then Garrett pays for him to be brought back from the realms of the dead in Firetop.
Meanwhile, the mercenary Gareth Mordrimm rests at the Yawning Portal with a mug of ale, after seeking new employment in the wintery streets of Firetop. The caravans have dried up for the season, and he has not enough money to get by on, especially when he bumps into a prison acquaintance from his days on Fire Island – old lags never forget a debt, and the Blackhand gangers are no exception. But Gareth teaches them a humiliating lesson with his spiked chain when they try to collect, giving their leader with a memorable beating and letting the others flee.
This show of prowess attracts the attention of a passing cleric, the Pelorite Greigor. He offers the mercenary well-paid work – guarding him as he deals with a restless spirit in a local noble’s manor. Mordrimm agrees, and the two enter a rather ominously deserted pile up in the good end of town, where Griegor proves singularly inept at banishing a mischevious spirit. Chasing the chuckling haunt down a series of corridors, Mordrimm is too pre-occupied with catching his quarry to smell a rat until it’s too late, even after they are attacked by shape-shifting imps. Hot on the haunt’s heels, he stumbles into a chamber whose exit is quickly sealed by a heavy portcullis, its walls decorated with sinister murals depicting blood sacrifice. A single bowl-shaped depression in the floor is stained with dried blood…
Belatedly suspecting the bogus cleric of Pelor, Gareth learns that he has been duped. The only way out of the portcullis room is by shedding blood in the bowl – this will allow access to a lair beneath the mansion, where the dread vampire Orinax is imprisoned. Griegor will let Gareth free only if his master is also released. There is only so much his rants can achieve from behind bars, so the mercenary agrees, pricking his thumbs and heading into the newly revealed lower levels.
He witnesses a series of horrific creatures killing off red-robed clerics as they seek to open some mystic portal on the far side of a grate; he attempts to prevent some foul fiends summoning a greater evil from a circle of energy but relents after his efforts seem only to strengthen the vast, bat-winged devil; he watches as imps torture another red-robed cleric for information; finally, he discovers Orinax, chained to a wall and asking nicely for help. And he agrees, desperate for safe escape from a nightmare sequence of chambers filled with horrific beings from the netherworld. Although the devil in the circle has also attempted to broker a deal (let me out and I’ll destroy the vampire in exchange for not killing you), the vampire (I’ll let you go if you let me out) was at least human at some point, and therefore is more likely to understand honour and contracts.
First checking that the vampire’s proffered escape route is viable, he heads back to save the torture victim from further agony, slaying the devils that beset him and trying to drag him to safety. He unleashes the vampire, who sweeps through the passages to wipe the devilish infestation from them, but furiously returns on finding the circle empty and the devil escaped. Although Orinax agrees to its side of the bargain in allowing Gareth to escape, he has made no such pledge to the red-robed cleric, and demands him as succour. Gareth attempts to refuse, but the terrible will of the vampire forces him to comply and then leave – he surfaces in an open grave, in a cold boneyard somewhere in Firetop. From there, he flees, seeking sanctuary at the temple of Heironius. Two more evils are now at loose in the streets of Firetop…
Garrett, meantime, attends the Dwarven Clanhold at the north end of the city, where a priest of Clangeddin, Father Haggartey, performs a powerful ritual for a pre-agreed price. Dorrin awakens from the sleep of death as the ritual is completed, and is very pleased to be back. Even in the halls of the heaven of Dwarves, his mind has been on his oath and the fact that it remained uncompleted. But despite the signal honour the dwarves afford Garrett by allowing the tiefling into their hold at all, his stay is short once they discover his cursed eyes, and the pair return to the streets of Firetop to further their mission.
Dorrin thinks he remembers Dorla’s family, although not the ninja herself, and is as keen as Garrett is to find and destroy the drinker. But the oath is the main thing to him, so between them, they start looking at all the ways into Undermountain that they now know of, and evaluating the ones that may best suit their purposes.
Durnan, when asked, is no more willing to allow them into the Entry Well early than he was before, and no amount of persuasiveness on Garrett’s part will change his mind. He sees himself as guarding the city from whatever is down there, and Garrett’s attempts to appeal to his business side fall rather flat. So until Father Sebastian actually enters the dungeons, no-one else is going to.
Garrett rules out using the Castle Corkscrew, the winding stair that he entered with Rex, himself – he isn’t quite sure how to get to it inside the castle, and he doesn’t want to risk upsetting the guard or Sa’Drassin by wandering about their demesne waving human skulls at the walls. Besides, there’s no guarantee that it will lead them to their first port of call down below – Skullport. Nor does he want to deal with Trobriand again at the moment, which rules out the Adamantine Gate into the Dungeon level.
Which leaves the gate at Peakwatch Tower, and it is, after some debate, to there they decide to return. Garrett spends a little effort trying to find out more about the hobgoblins first, and Durnan points him in the direction of Ellithral as a source of lore on their warbands. Ellithral hasn’t seen the device on their shields before, but tells Garrett of the seven tribes of the Moonstone hills. As best as he can determine, the magic-hating Maces of Stone clan may be the ones they encountered in the tower before.
F’zan joins them, keen to be hunting the kidnappers of his people, and the three set out. The weather turns against them, with a bitterly cold night that would freeze a less well-prepared party in their tracks, but they are seasoned travelers all, and reach the tower in a day and a half of fast travel. There, they encounter a team of Zhengisi – one wizard and his apprentice, along with a bodyguard of four Doomguard. Garrett offers his services to the wizard, who declares he is here to survey and claim the tower’s portal for Zengis – Garrett plays the part of guide.
But instead of leading the wizard to the portal, he leads him to the shadowy arch with its mind-breaking trap, hoping to lead him to his doom. The wizard proves too canny, and Garrett then lets slip a little too much information – once he reveals he was involved with removing the rats at Deng Shang, the Zhengisi twigs who he must be. Garrett gives the signal to attack at the same time as the mage orders the Doomguard into action, and battle is joined – a brief and violent affair where the ordered strategy of the constructs and magic of the two wizards is no match at all for the sheer aggression of Dorrin’s axes and the speed of Garrett’s bow.
And then they step through the glowing red portal.
Almost immediately falling, Garrett triggers a vicious trap immediately on the other side of the portal, where a canny wire and spring device is rigged to hurl blades at anyone entering. It stands amongst a forest of huge, misshapen fungi, in a vast, stinking warren of subterranean caves. In the soft soil underfoot, the tracks of the hobgoblins are unmissable – they have moved as a group deeper into the caves. But Dorrin points out something they all feared – the portal appears to be one-sided. There is no way back from here, and so they must push forward.
Investigating a noise from a side passage nearby, they find a broad, foetid river, and their first brush with a denizen of this weird forest – a mass of weapon-wielding tentacles erupts from the soft muck at the river’s bank, first ambushing them, then trapping them in the side passage with a barrier of invisible force. Garrett is almost throttled by half a dozen tentacles, Dorrin nearly cut down by a savage barrage of weapons – it is F’zan who kills the Darktentacles, skewering it on his spear.
As this takes place, a party is thrown in the Undercroft, a makeshift bar for the Firetop’s downtrodden near the soup kitchens. Here, the body of Mad Pete is shrouded with linen, to be burned on a pyre by the ‘street druid’ [[Urkula]]. Garrett has clearly spent no expense in ensuring only quality casters raise his friends – but the mad-eyed herb-eater proves worth the coin. As a crowd of drunken revelers chant and dance round the pyre, including Drakar and Stithiel, both patrons of the soup kitchen in latter days, the flames burn away the old Pete even as a new one returns in the ash. Pete is reborn, but not quite as he was. His ears are pointier, his eyes sharper and his frame slimmer and more lithe. Pete has come back in the body of an Elf, perhaps through the random whim of his god.
Drakar, Stithiel and Pete celebrate his new heritage, and vow to seek their chosen goals anew. Drakar heads straight for the Blackcloak academy to research clues on the great centre of Death and Rebirth his map depicts, and makes something of a breakthrough. In a tome of local myth and legend, he reads accounts of those who sought this site, where a great dragon died and was reborn (or raised, or awakened) into something else. Apparently the energy released there can still be tapped, although the process is difficult and dangerous, and requires an expensive ritual to be performed to duplicate. None who have tried it before have returned, but Drakar figures this is clearly because they weren’t dragon enough to do it. He copies the ritual out, thinking of ways to make the money he will need at the same time.
Stithiel asks around for a guide – Drakar has promised to aid him find his father in Undermountain in exchange for protection while he searches the hills for the site for his ritual. Although none are willing to chase fools’ quests in the heart of winter, Stithiel hears rumours of people vanishing from the streets of Firetop by night. Back in the Yawning Portal, Mad Pete introduces him to Ellithral the Golden, who spins yarns of the bad old days, when the Twilight Master, Count Orinax, ruled the city. Hair-raising, but doubtless unfounded. But when asked, Ellithral also tells Stithiel he knew his father, Moilan Morrow the famous wizard. Moilan once adventured with Durnan, the half elf whispers, and they were once great friends. But Moilan never returned from Undermountain on their last trip, and Durnan never speaks of it. This indeed proves the case when Stithiel tries to ask Durnan – “He’s down there where he belongs, and good luck finding him” is the most the dour warrior will give him.
Pete, in the mean time, is keen to tell Drakar of Thaddeus Gorkor, the Three Dragon Ante star, and his ten thousand gold pool big game. Trials are to be held at the Gorgon’s Head, and Pete reckons the two of them should be able to clear up with only a bare minimum of skullduggery. But the next qualifiers aren’t for two days, and in the meantime, the friends look into the run of disappearances, starting with the bloody disappearance of six salt packers in a warehouse in the tanners’ quarter. After Stithiel scares off a watch patrol, they investigate further, finding traces of salt and bodies having been dragged into the sewers below.
Following the trail, they find a sinister scene – a bearded, bat-winged devil stands by a glowing circle, sacrificing semi-formed creatures of flesh as they ooze from a nearby portal device. Deducing that no good can come from such activities, the three move to disrupt them. Stithiel smashes his way into the ritual with a bestial cry as Pete nimbly sneaks through the shadows to attack from behind; Drakar bathes the area in flames, but to his dismay, they have no effect on the creatures, and the Bearded Devil sacrifices another of its lemure minions. Only a terrible onslaught of steel and magical force topples the bearded devil – it is unable to fight back, caught up in the complexities of whatever horrific ritual it performs. No longer controlled by their master, the lemures run amok, but Drakar destroys the portal with fireballs as Stithiel and Pete butcher the rest of the devilish freaks. What were these creatures, and what fiendish purpose did they further? None of the heroes know, although they do get a good profit selling demon chunks to a local would-be demonologist.
Garrett and his companions continue their trek into the stinking mushroom caves, by scouting the area to make sure they aren’t going to get jumped on from behind. This way, at least, they are only jumped on from ahead – they defeat a Hook Horror when it tries to attack them in a nearby rock chimney, looting the various bodies of its previous victims for coin, then find evidence that the hobgoblins camped in the nearby caverns. At this campsite, they are attacked again, this time by disgusting carrion crawlers, although F’zan’s spear picks the caterpillar-like monstrosities off the ceiling even as they scuttle to attack.
Behind a mould-covered section of wall, they discover an ancient and apparently disused room, where a metal wall plate can be shifted on runners to activate a weird purple portal in the wall. But the portal is a good ten feet off the ground, and opposite a raised balcony area – it looks as though either a bridge is missing, or the only way of accessing the portal is by jumping clear across a twenty-foot gap. Dorrin wisely advises against trying another unknown portal so soon, and they carry on tracking the hobgoblins.
It isn’t far before they cross paths with their foe – a rather ragtag group of the goblinoids lurk in a nearby passageway. The heroes haven’t been quiet enough, and the hobgoblins are well-prepared. Their spellcasting Warcaster blasts Dorrin with a ray of strength-sapping energy as a chain wielding Spellscourge, an axe-throwing fighter and a pair of warriors all attack in concert. It’s a tough fight – the heroes are enmeshed in a magical web thrown by the Warcaster, and Dorrin is almost slain whilst helplessly dangling, but F’zan’s firey magic burns the group free, and a hobgoblin massacre quickly ensues. Back in Firetop, Drakar is determined to work out what is underneath Gillibran’s library. He decides a disguise will ensure cooperation from the city authorities, and putting on enough of the dark robes in Gillibran’s wardrobe to pass himself off as Torben, the dead duke’s dead son, he goes to the Palace of the Known Lord to examine the blueprints. But none are kept there – it’s a privately owned building, and he’s sent on to a Dwarven architect, Dieter Karlak.
Karlak is most displeased that outstanding accounts have not been settled, and Drakar has to hand over a fair sum of gold before he’s allowed to see the blueprints. But when he does, his suspicions are confirmed – there is a secret room marked ‘panic room’ under the library, and he now knows where the doors should be. He also finds evidence of more passages under the house, leading out of the laboratory into the sewers.
Heading back to the mansion on Cherry Tree Drive, he enrolls Johan to help find and open the doors, which the master thief duly does. TLS picks this moment to reactivate his interest in current affairs, and joins them as they examine the panic room – a dull stone chamber, apparently already ransacked of equipment, whose only feature of interest is a gore-streaked table in the centre of the room. Johan ascertains that a burnt body must have been dumped here at some point, but more than that, he can’t say.
Amarus tells TLS what he has finally deciphered from the documents Gillibran was selling to the Zhengisi mages. It’s a Dwarven legend of a thinking construct, the Paragon, that was declared anathema by dwarven clerics after it tried to lead an ill-starred rebellion of golems. Both it and its creator, Yul Craghorn, are thought to be entombed somewhere near Firetop, although with so many ruins and towers nearby, it’s impossible to say exactly where. Amarus hypothesizes that the Paragon may still have a lingering consciousness that has linked in some way to TLS, causing his unexpected sentience. TLS immediately seizes on this as a goal to seek, but neither it nor Amarus know where to begin looking.
Drakar still needs money for his Rebirth Ritual, and suggests heading into Undermountain via the Peakwatch Portal. But Johan sensibly points out that there may be more money directly underneath them, in Gillibran’s secret chambers under the mansion. So it is to these that the group advance. Mad Pete finds a panel behind the fireplace in the lab, and they investigate a small suite of rooms built over a sewer outlet – one with a booby-trapped room containing a desk and a small amount of loot, one with a circular portal marked with a black dragon. One by one, the heroes step through.
Beyond lies a vast subterranean cavern, littered with bones and luminous underworld mushrooms. It’s a dark and dank place unblessed by the sun, echoing to the faint sounds of forge work. At the far side lies a vast pile of glittering gold around a massive stone throne with a black dragon statue carved round the base. Pete and Johan surmise they must be in the lowest levels of Stone Knife, which fits in with the tales they’d heard of a dwarf forge and a dragon lair. Drakar and Pete almost immediately run into a pair of Blackspawn, however, standing guard over the sleep of their mistress. Drakar politely asks for an audience with Darkhorn, which the Blackspawn agree to pass on, but it’s clear that Johan and TLS’s initial plan of looting the hoard is going to be a very tricky affair to pull off with these reptilians guarding it. They return to the mansion (this portal has, at least, the benefit of being two way – a bound teleport spell, Amarus thinks) to plan.
And what a plan they come up with – Johan explains that while the dragon’s hoard may not be readily accessible, they can use it as a lure. All they need do is spread tales to needy adventurers that another portal to Undermountain exists – with the right adjustments to the basement’s ambience, they’ll be able to convince would-be heroes to stumble into the dragon’s lair. If they charge up front for revealing the secret, all they need to do then is wait for the money to roll in. And by warning Darkhorn and her minions in advance, Drakar also hopes to curry favour with the mighty creature. There’s no shortage of hopefuls desperately waiting to get back into Undermountain via the Yawning Portal – surely some will pay for the privilege of seeing those fabled halls themselves?
Shortly after, a Blackspawn arrives to summon Drakar to his first meeting with Darkhorn. TLS, in the meantime, gets Amarus to burn through the sewer grilles down below so he can seek an alternative entrance to the portal, and Johan goes out into the streets to try to find a suitable way down, or perhaps meet TLS as he leaves.
Drakar is ushered back to the dragon’s lair. The throne is now occupied – what they’d thought was a statue before is in fact the ancient creature herself, now flanked by burning torches and her scaly minions. Humbly, and desperately hoping Mad Pete won’t say anything too inappropriate, Drakar approaches this Dragon’s Den and outlines his plan. The terrible lady is amused – she accepts that Drakar will serve her, and that he has replaced Duke Gillibran (who was clearly overstating his usefulness to her), but to hear that the Drakar has killed the Duke? Unlikely. Drakar is horrified to discover his adversary has been here only two days ago, asking for money to start the very same ritual Drakar seeks to complete himself. His minions have brought him back, which goes some way to explaining which burnt body must have been in the panic room. Before casually dimissing him, however, Darkhorn agrees to the plan, but sets her own terms. Drakar must bring twenty souls to her each week, and when he has proved he can serve her in this way, he will see the fruits of his labours. Pale with the realization of what he’s gotten himself into, he returns to the study.
TLS, not having brought a light source along into the sewers, quickly gets extremely lost. Although following the flow of the sewage brings him to the walls of Firetop, he cannot get out past the huge security bars there. Following the flow back the other way, he reaches the beating heart of Firetop’s sewerage – a set of monumental pumps forcing water up from some hidden deep. From here, he climbs up and out, emerging in a workyard somewhere in Firetop, but he has no idea how to get back to the mansion. Wandering the streets and trying to keep out of sight, he tries to get home.
Johan, in the meantime, finds Firetop in a curiously anxious mood. The wintery streets are almost silent, and townsfolk are hurrying home out of the dark night air. There is a feeling of unease – he overhears various conversations between locals, all hinting at the recent spate of disappearances and missing persons, and whispered tales of that Firetop bogeyman, the Twilight Master – Count Orinax. Abandoning his search for TLS or a sewer entrance for the portal, he follows instead the unusual figure of a lone Zhengisi mage without Doomguard, clearly up to some nefarious business.
TLS runs into the same Zhengisi, but this is clearly no ordinary mage. The gaunt cheeks and red-tinted eyes tell a different story – when it tries to command TLS as it would an ordinary Doomguard, he gets close enough to attack it. But the ‘mage’ moves with alarming speed and strength, and his club barely seems to hurt it. Even as Johan sprints out of the shadows and thrusts his rapier into the figure’s ribs, it shifts into a cloud of misty gas, and rapidly floats away over the rooftops.