Helkey 27 — Into the North Sea’s Jagged Teeth

The zodiac’s motor whirs. A gust flings spray off the Brons — splashing Beatrice’s face. Smoke stench from the fires fades as they speed toward flooded marshlands. Swells grow. The zodiac bobs and rolls. She huddles close to her companions — Mori, Sadie, dour Ivan, a surprisingly chipper Finn — in the bobbing boat. Above and ahead are towering masses of cloud. Fingers of lightning flicker at their dark bases. She can’t yet make out the North Sea. It’s blocked by low islands covered in grasses and scrubby trees. The marsh churns in chop and foam.

A wave bumps her face into her hand as the boat skips into the marsh. The soft scent of horse upon her skin — a momentary comfort. Ivan thought her calming the gentle creatures was curse magic. Only the craft of long years spent observing, learning their subtle gestures, how to cant her body and voice to project compassion. To earn their trust. It came easy. For she loved them in all their beauty and innocence. She had decades and decades more experience at it than any human. A practice in empathy. No curses required.

The zodiac plows into the marsh, lifting and dipping through swells and chop. It handles rough water surprisingly well, lifted up on a wave formed by its forward motion. Nonetheless, spray splashes in. Soon they’re all wet. Mori has a mad grin on his face. It makes her laugh. She’s pretty sure he’s trying to bleed off tension.

Finn points to an outlet emerging before them. The water broadens. It roils with chop and rising waves. A tumultuous confluence opening to an angry North Sea. Out there, massive rollers drop tails of white spray as they tumble before the storm. Jagged gray and white teeth pointing toward an angry cloud deck above. “There she is!” he shouts into the rising gale. “Our good Sun Shepherd.”

Beatrice follows the line of his finger. Tossed about in the confluence is a vessel about 100 feet long and covered from stem-to-stern in glistening solar panels.

Mori turns to her. Excitement flicks across his wet face. He’s such a geek for these things. “Badass! It’s one of those new electric boats. Skateboard battery laid through the keel. Super-efficient motors. Covered in solar panels, it’s got a practically unlimited range.” She grins back at him. His excitement is infectious.

“Wonderful! Can it handle the storm?” Beatrice asks as the zodiac flies over a large swell, catches air for a moment, then slams down into the trough. Spray flies everywhere. They’re all double-drenched now. The little craft is powering out through the choppy confluence. Her teeth clack together as they slam into another swell. Her hands, white-knuckled cling to a rope looped along the gunnel. Beatrice feels like she’s riding a child’s toy boat getting tossed around in a bathtub by a capricious toddler. Sadie’s holding on, gritting her teeth, closing her eyes against the spray. Ivan’s curled up in the zodiac’s bottom. His face taking on an unhealthy, green tint.

“Our little Sun Shepherd’s a fast one,” Finn says in answer. He’s stooped down on his knees. One hand on the motor handle, another gripping a cleat. “Her top speed’s a hundred and twenty! She won’t be so fast in this mess. But she’ll get us to Wind-Sun Isle in about a couple hours.” He points out toward a dark base of cloud rushing toward them. “We should miss the worst of it. Though I think we’ll take that gust-front head-on.”

The zodiac flies through the air, spins, then corkscrews. A breaker barrels over the little craft, flooding it in about four inches of water. Pumps kick in — spitting spray out behind the small boat as it barrels toward a majestic Sun Shepherd. Coming up alongside it, Beatrice takes stock of its size. At twenty-two feet wide and a hundred feet long, she dwarfed their zodiac. Massive waves, looming like hills behind, made her look surprisingly vulnerable as she spun to shelter them from the onslaught churning out of the North Sea. Two crewmen toss lines overboard. Mori catches one. They haul the boat in, then swing a boom over the side to fasten the craft. Finn points to a ladder. One-by-one they clamber up — emerging onto a pitching deck with all the dignity of soaked cats. Beatrice times the swell, springs, leaps past the ladder and lands gracefully on the deck amidst a rain of spray. She blows her wet hair aside, relieved to be free of the tiny zodiac.

“Show-off,” Mori quips as he staggers up beside her, clutching his briefcase in one hand, gripping a hand-hold with the other. Every surface on the sleek vessel except for a narrow wooden walkway is covered in solar panels or solar film. It makes Beatrice think of a great black whale. Ivan is leaning over the railing, making foul noises. Sadie sways as she clenches a crew member’s offered hand. Finn scampers down to the first well deck at the vessel’s rear, he motions for them to follow. Beatrice lets the first crewman — Karl — guide her companions back to the well as she assists the other crew member — Franz — in attaching the zodiac to a second rope, then hoisting it up using a pair of metal booms. With her help, it takes only a minute.

“You do ship work?” Franz asks in halting English, not aware she has omnis scientia drifting close by for translation.

“Yes. Back home,” Beatrice says simply. What she doesn’t say is her home world, Merrin, is almost entirely covered by water. Ships there are far different from those plying Earth’s own increasingly dangerous seas. Some principles of seacraft, though, are universal.

Franz makes a sound that could be an impressed grunt as they fasten the zodiac to a berth on Sun Shepherd’s roof. The noise is drowned out by the roaring sea. He pops a panel, then motions for her to help him fold a hard shell over the boat. She works with him to pull the sections out, fighting gusts as Sun Shepherd turns her nose into the waves. The shell comes in six parts. Each is covered with solar film. They snap sections together, attach electrical plugs to some internal wiring, and then are drenched by spray as the bow cleaves through what must be a fifteen foot wave. The wave’s force momentarily hurls them into the air. Beatrice turns instinctively, grabs a cleat, then with her trailing hand snags Franz by the hood of his rain slicker. They slam back down onto the deck. Franz scrambles up. Blinks at her in surprise and gratitude. Then gives a matter of fact nod. “Good!” He shouts. “Now best get below!” The roar of waves and wind nearly drowns out his voice.

Beatrice smiles at his affirmation. She nods toward the well, indicating he should go first. Franz curses something about how he should be helping her. She flicks his prideful outburst away with a glance, then watches on protectively as he struggles to reach the well across a pitching deck. She comes to her feet. In little bounds, she springs behind, riding the deck like a surfboard. Franz doesn’t look back. But Beatrice can see Mori keeping eyes on her through the Bridge’s glass. He, Sadie, and a young woman are watching her escort Franz back to the well. The young woman — she must be Glenda Goodfuture — is staring with naked awe as the harsh elements force the large and muscled Franz to lurch and stagger even as Beatrice rides through it all with the grace of dancer.

At last, they reach the well. Franz lunges toward the door as Sun Shepherd pitches through a massive roller. Walls of foam surge on either side. He lurches through, nearly falling, still managing to hold it open for her. She waits for the wave to pitch the stern upward, then uses its momentum to leap through the door, flying past him. Her boots squishing on a dry cockpit floor — the only sound she makes.

She’s greeted immediately by a beaming Glenda Goodfuture. “Bravo! Excellent!” she exclaims as she claps, then hands her a towel. “I was scared for you. But you make fighting through a storm look like body art.” She puts out her hand. “I’m Glenda.”

Now it’s Beatrice’s turn to be impressed. Here before her was the pint-sized climate activist who’d taken the world by storm — forcing so many to reconsider their place on Earth and what they were doing to protect it for future generations. She nods a gracious thank you for the towel, then extends her hand. “Honored to finally meet you,” she says.

Glenda takes her hand, pumping it with a surprisingly firm grip for one so small. Beatrice at 5′ 4″ looks down at 5′ tall Glenda. She’s thin, early twenties, long sandy-blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail. Her T-shirt reads the now widespread youth climate message — #ClimateStrike #FridaysForFuture. A tiny form for quite a force. “Given your outfit, I figured you must be Erroll Flynn’s girlfriend. But he says you’re married.” She gives Mori, who looks every part the drowned crow, a disapproving frown.

Mori staggers forward, propelled back and forth by the Shepherd pitching as it struggles through the seas, hugs Beatrice, clears his throat awkwardly. “I definitely got the better end of that bargain.”

“Yee-ah,” Glenda says with an eye roll, then turns toward her father, her mouth scrunched up into a pensive from. Ivan’s finally recovered. He looks green. His expression hang-dog. The bruises on his head are turning into ugly shiners. His burned hand is wrapped up in a gauze someone must’ve scrounged up while Beatrice was on deck securing the zodiac.

“Valyria, should’ve never left,” Ivan says to her in Russian. Omnis scientia, trailing behind Beatrice and patterned with interpretor, dutifully translates. “Your home was forsaken.”

Glenda drops Beatrice’s hand, giving it a pat as she releases it, then turns in anger toward her father. “Nonsense! I had to!” Glenda shouts in English, her brows lowered in sudden fury. “You! You left! You! Too selfish to do what’s right! You tried to force me! To be like you!” Glenda’s face is red at her brief but intense outburst. “I did what I must! What you wouldn’t!”

Ivan’s face flushes. Her use of English in front of everyone is like a slap in the face. “Valyria…” Ivan starts, his mouth working. “To be an adult…” he continues in Russian.

“Is not easy?” she interrupts in English. “You always say that. I did the harder thing. I took responsibility. That makes me the adult!”

Ivan clamps his mouth shut. His eyes cut side-to-side. Everyone on the bridge is silent. Mori’s stupid grin is back. Outside the waves rage higher. The wind howls. Lightning strikes a wave-top about a half mile away. “I missed you…” He says lamely through the roaring thunder.

“And I you. Ever since you went to work for that stupid bank. Ever since age 12 when I lost my father!” Glenda shouts, her face red, she hops on her toes, tears of rage fall from her eyes. “This!” She points at the mages, at the raging storm, at the Sun Shepherd. “This is the result! Devils! Terrorists! You’re a fucking shapechanger!” She glances at Sadie, but does not relent. “A devil’s fish hook’s in your heart! This is my intervention. Your last fucking chance to be a fucking human!”

On the bridge consul, a red light begins to flash and an alarm sounds. Finn, who’d taken the helm as soon as he entered the bridge picks up a hand mike, keys the tab. “Attention! Crew and passengers! Brace! Brace! Brace! Large wave inbound!”

Beatrice, spins, flicks omnis scientia out the front window. Ahead, a massive blue and white wall rises — easily towering forty feet above the sea surface. Its top rolls. She grabs hold of a handle. The others scramble to brace themselves. Glenda is caught unawares. Ivan freezes. Finn guns the engine — pushing Sun Shepherd up the wave face and toward its axe-shaped peak. Beatrice makes a decision. “Hit the deck!” she shouts, then jumps from her place of safety, grabbing both Glenda and Ivan, she pushes them to the floor. The wave crashes. The outer deck roils under a wall of whitewater. It slams over the window. For a moment, the bridge is submerged. Blue water swirls around omnis scientia where it hovers just over the deck. Behind them, windows reveal a maelstrom of white. Beatrice, Ivan and Glenda are lifted bodily, then flung in a tangle onto a nearby couch. The Sea Shepherd gathers itself beneath the wave, powerful electric engines making a space-ship sound. Then, with a rush and an explosion of spray, the vessel bursts through the wave’s back — resurfacing like a submarine.

Sea Shepherd bobs for a few seconds behind the wave, rights itself, then swiftly plows onward. Electric drives pushing a tail of water behind. Finn turns around. “Everyone OK? Thumbs up! Let me see them.” he shouts over the roaring wind and sea. They managed to brace. All except Beatrice, Glenda and Ivan who’re busy untangling themselves. Everyone gives the thumbs up. “Good!” Finn says. “Now, better buckle in. This monster storm has quite the bite!”

Beatrice helps Glenda fasten a seatbelt in the couch, then makes sure Ivan’s buckled in beside her. Whatever else she may think of Ivan, he’s still Glenda’s father. Despite everything, Glenda clearly still loved him. Beatrice, at last satisfied both he and Glenda are safe, begins to snap her own buckle.

“Not you,” Finn says back to her. “You’ve got the best sea legs I’ve ever seen. And Sadie told me… Well, I know about your talent. You have your special sight active?”

“It’s called omnis scientia. And yes. It’s floating just above the deck near the prow.”

“I may need you to use it to help navigate this mess. Up here!” He pats a co-pilot’s seat next to him. Beatrice springs up to it. In one smooth motion, she buckles in. She scans the array of indicators and screens. Depth finders, wave height measures, level of battery charge (83 percent), various outside cameras mostly blurred out by rain and waves, lidar and radar, the red collision warning light that just blinked out.

She turns and gives a little two-figured salute to Finn. “Aye, captain!” she replies, then flicks omnis scientia on ahead. It lifts off the prow, flits over raging wave-tops. “I’ve moved omnis scientia out to 300 feet in front of the vessel.”

“Good! Let me know if there’s another large wave coming. Something about double the size of regular swells.” He hesitates, takes in the raging sea-state. “Or larger… Describe it to me. That –” he points to the red collision warning indicator, now dim, “is just a dummy light.”

Beatrice gives the thumbs up.

“The rest of you, pipe down,” Finn continues. “We’re in for a rough ride out to Wind-Sun. You can settle your differences when you get there. Let’s make sure you do!”

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

(Enjoying the story? Want to help support the continuance of this tale? Please like, share and subscribe.)

Gish Optimized 3 — A Classic Fighter-Mage for 5e (Gaelya the Ghost)

Guess what time it is? Yes!! It’s Dungeons and Dragons character building time! In this third episode of the Gish Optimized series we’re going to jump into the way-back machine. We’ll harken to the time of D&D’s origins in the 1970s and 80s as we re-create that good, old Fighter-Mage from Basic and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons using the D&D 5e rules set.

Deedlit from Record of the Lodoss War was modeled after the Basic Dungeons and Dragons Elf. Elves, in turn, were the proto-typical Fighter-Mages in Dungeons and Dragons. Image source: Record of the Lodoss War Fandom. Artwork by: Artwork by Yutaka Izubuchi.

Now this particular build is one that’s near and dear to my heart. I’ve been playing Fighter-Mage types of various sorts for the better part of 41 years. Crazy, right? In fact, my first AD&D character was, you guessed it, a Fighter-Mage. This classic combo has seen many iterations over the years. It’s well represented in fiction and game-related anime. Early fantasy anime series like Record of the Lodoss War featured the Fighter-Mage prominently in Deedlit who was modeled after a Basic Dungeons and Dragons Elf. The Basic D&D Elf, in turn, mixed classic sword and sorcery. It represented the prototype for the Gish. In this build, we give homage to that fantastic origin.

Gaelya the Ghost as Classic Fighter-Mage

For our first Gish Optimized post, we explored a stab and smite style Dexadin. For our second post, we took a deep dive into the spank and flank Hexblade-Fighter or Chex-Fighter. We’re going to simply call our third Gish Optimized build the Classic (or Classic Fighter-Mage). And in this Classic build we’ll chiefly be looking for some serious versatility. More specifically — we want to be both a dangerous threat in melee combat and in slinging down various spells for devastating effect.

Unlike many combat specializations (our Dexadin was an example of a pretty specialized focus on mobile melee combat), we’re going to go wide with this build. We’re going to keep options open. Why? Because we want to be able to pick up such varied weapons as rapiers, scimitars, daggers, shortswords, longbows, crossbows, shortbows and employ each decisively. In addition, we want to really throw the heat down with our powerful magics both in NOVA bursts and over the long-term by slugging our way through big encounters. Last of all, we’ll open ourselves up to the wonderful arsenal of wands, staves, tomes, and scrolls available to mages. We’re going to have so much stuff to choose from! Which is part of the major fun involved in playing this build. So as we approach our Fighter-Mage, let’s keep in mind this generalist attitude we’re adopting to give us a crapload of tricks with which to confront the bads. This guide will help you to do all that and more.

Gaelya the Ghost’s Token for Icewind Dale

I’m playing this build now as Gaelya the Ghost in Ted Burgess’s classic Icewind Dale Dungeons and Dragons Campaign. You can watch this game on Twitch Saturday nights about once a month. I’ll also be building a video archive of these games in the Gaming Studio if you wish to find some examples of our Fighter-Mage build in action.

Level 1 — Dexterity, Intelligence, an Elf, Wizard

Alright! So let’s get started with ability score stats from point buy! Right off at first level, we are going to dump a crap-load of points, nine in all, into our most important ability — Dexterity. We are, after all, a fey wielder of sword and wizardry. As such, we want to be graceful, lithe, fast on the draw, and quick, quick, quick! DEX is so, so vital to this build for a number of reasons. The first is that we want to be tough to hit. Our HP is going to be relatively low. So we need to mitigate that vulnerability by layering in other defenses. DEX provides us with our first defensive line by bumping up our AC. It also gives us a big offensive edge by empowering both our melee and ranged attacks. Perhaps as important, DEX gives us better initiative. As a semi-squishy, we really like this extra burst of speed at the start of combat because higher initiative means we can get out of trouble if we need to. Last of all, a high Dexterity delivers the lithe, swift, mobile feel we want with this build — providing us with RP mojo in spades. Nine points in DEX starts us off with a maximum score of 15 before we pick our race.

For our next stat, we’re going to pick something that’s also really necessary for us. We’re a wizard so, you guessed it, we are also dumping a full nine points into Intelligence. INT is also crazy important for this build. So important that I hesitate to call it a secondary stat. It’s only secondary in that we’re going to be bumping INT just behind DEX as we level our Fighter-Mage. INT is of close-to-equal importance at low level and starts to really become pivotal for this build as we get into higher levels. Our Classic Fighter-Mage is thus pretty much a DAD — or dual attribute dependency — character. So we start off with a maximum score of 15 in INT as well.

Our #3 stat comes in with Constitution. With Wizard for our core class, we’re by no means a tank. That 1d6 HP for most of our levels really kinda hurts us. In fact we are more than a little squishy. This squishiness is a problem we want to mitigate. So we toss 7 points into CON. CON gives us so much! A higher score adds to our saves and, more importantly, to our concentration checks. And we are really, really going to want to maintain concentration on a good number of buff spells (more on this later). To make our Gish work, we really need at least a halfway decent CON. And with 7 points we end up with 14 CON at start of game.

After blasting through our ability score points like a teenage gamer blowing through ammo in Fortnight, we are left with just 2 points remaining for Charisma, Wisdom, and Strength. For my Fighter-Mage, I really want some Wisdom. So I spend my last two points there. I’m going to go ahead and dump both Strength and Charisma. A lot of old AD&D Fighter Mage builds also dumped Charisma. Continuing in this grand old tradition just feels right to me. But those 2 points could go anywhere. So you do you. Ultimately, these choices provide us with a spread of 8 STR, 10 WIS and 8 CHA for our dump stats. From an RP-perspective, I play Gaelya into her low Charisma. She’s a bit of a quirky loud-mouth who’s awkward in social situations and comes across as having weird obsessions (particularly with cheese).

Gish Optimized Discussion of the Fighter-Mage

Now that our Fighter-Mage ability scores are set, we move on to race. And it’s pretty obvious that we are going with the Elf. This race gives us a variety of great RP in addition to wonderful mechanical benefits. First off, we are the Classic Fighter-Mage race. Since we’re going for a classic feel, we would be remiss to overlook the elf. In addition, elves are, well, magical. Choosing High Elf, we lean into the magic even more — gaining an extra cantrip. This choice gives us a bit more wizardly oomph to add to our arsenal. High elf grants Darkvision, extra weapon proficiencies (pretty key to our Fighter-Mage feel), immunity to magical sleep, a bonus Perception skill proficiency, and the ability to shake off ghoul paralysis. The long life and catnap elf sleep provides us with even more of that lovely mojo.

With our choice of elf we also get two lovely stat bonuses. The +2 we go ahead and throw into Dexterity for a total score of 17 at start. Wof! This is huge for us! We also toss the +1 into Intelligence bumping that to 16. Now our full array is S 8 C 14 D 17 INT 16 WIS 10 CHA 8. Pretty badass.

Moving on to Class, we’re starting out as a Wizard. This limits us somewhat at level 1 on equipment. Wizard gives us a dagger, a wand, a scholar’s pack (which we might sell to buy a short sword), and the all-important Spellbook. We gain the wonderful Wizard Spellcasting and Arcane Recovery abilities. For elf, we use Tasha’s to switch our longsword proficiency for rapier and we keep the short sword, short bow, and longbow. From jump, we’re already capable of a little Fighter-Mage(ing). But let’s build on that, shall we? For cantrips, we pick Greenflame Blade and Booming Blade — both excellent gish spells. Firebolt gives us a ranged option. And because we’re a high elf we get one extra cantrip to choose. I’m picking Light. I like the RP feel of this spell and its potential major benefit for non-darkvision allies. But you do you. For our Spellbook we take Shield, Magic Missile, Magnify Gravity (If Wildemount is available for your campaign. If not, we go with Thunderwave.), Feather Fall, Detect Magic, and Absorb Elements. I find this spell load-out provides a great combination of offense, defense, and utility. If you don’t like these spells, you do you. But I’ve gotten great mileage out of them. Also, you may wonder why I’m not picking Mage Armor. In short, it’s an awesome spell that’s really useful. But I’m leaning more toward saving my spells for offense at this level and getting my armor defense at level 2.

We’re already setting up in Classic Fighter-Mage style to be very versatile. The upshot, though, is also classicly predictable — we’re a bit squishy. Our HP is 8. Our AC is 13. A vulnerability that pushes us to the back line most of the time at level 1. We can boost this AC to 18 in a pinch with shield. But we really want to be using our spell slots to lay down the Magic Missiles and Magnify Gravities (or Thunderwaves) instead. For melee, when we decide to take the risk, we rely more on Greenflame Blade for added splash damage. Don’t forget to upgrade your weapons to swords and bows when you get the opportunity.

So, right out the gate, at lvl 1 we have a magically versatile character who’s able to pick up and use various weapons with skill and who has access to one of the broadest spell selections in the game. Also pretty darn fun to play as we lean into the old adage — a strong offense is the best defense. Our Fighter-Mage does get better, though — and fast!

Level 2 — Bladesinger Wizard

Now that we’ve established ourselves as a Wizard with a smattering of fighting ability, let’s continue our growth into a Classic Fighter-Mage. As we enter level 2 we take a big step on that path by picking Bladesinger Wizard for our subclass. Now this subclass provides us with a boatload of benefits. Namely — Training in War and Song and Bladesong.

Ah! This is so exciting! Now let’s get into it!

Training in War and Song gives us a number of goodies. The first is light armor proficiency. And, as soon as possible, we pick up Studded Leather Armor to boost our base AC to 15. Nice! But it gets better. This Bladesinger training also gives us another martial weapon proficiency. Since we’re a Dexterity-based Fighter-Mage, we take scimitar. Now we have access to all the major DEX-based melee weapons. Sweet! Last of all we get Performance. This doesn’t work too great for us given our low Charisma. But it might make for some fun moments in taverns.

An elven tradition blending magic with swordplay, the Bladesinger adds both melee and defensive capability to the already-powerful Wizard base class.

Now, for the real reason we came — Bladesong. And, oh man do we get some tasty benefits when we pop this major buff in combat by expending a bonus action. First off, the magical song of our blade ripping through the air grants us the ability to add our Intelligence modifier to our AC. Immediately, this bumps our AC to 18 (if we’ve managed to pick up Studded Leather). Now we’re up there with the sword and board types when we pop this bad boy. In addition, our speed increases by 10 feet to 40. Fanfriggintastic! Remember that Dexterity? Yeah. Well, with Bladesong active we also have advantage on all Acrobatics skill checks. If we trained Acrobatics as one of our DEX skills, we can now pull off some cool stunts like walking across tightropes, door tops, or tumbling out of grapples in combat with confidence. Finally, the uber buff that is Bladesong adds our INT mod to our CON mod when we make a saving throw to concentrate on a spell. This ability pre-sets us for the major buffs we’re going to employ as we level.

With Bladesinger coming in so strong, it’s easy to neglect our other Wizarding powers. We gain two new spells for our Spellbook. We choose Find Familiar and Identify. Find Familiar gives us a nice scout and flank buddy to help enable us, our allies, and to keep us alive by providing an extra set of eyes. For Gaelya, I chose the Bat for its blindsight. However, Hawk and Owl also make for excellent choices. Identify is pretty self explanatory. It’s a utility spell you really want later on when trying to figure out what magic items do. But the 100 gold cost of the component is a bit prohibitive at this time. So we back-pocket it for later.

Level 3 — Shadow Blade

The main reason we’re here for this level is the spells. We’re a wizard after all. Since we picked up Bladesong, our melee ability has really started to shine. Sure, we’re still a squishy Wizard with just 20 hit points. For this reason, we’re not standing in front to take hits. We’re letting the real tanks like Fighters, Barbarians, Moon Druids, Paladins, Battle Engineer Artificers, and some Monks and Rangers do that. What we’re doing is playing the role of skirmisher. We hang back and lob spells when it’s called for. Then, when our opportunity to melee arrives, we come in at the flanks, hit hard, then get out.

If we’re able to take Magnify Gravity at level 1, our blasting is already well on line. In this instance, we decide to go ahead and take False Life to help boost our hit points a bit. If we do not have access to Magnify Gravity, we take Shatter instead. It’s a nice blast that will help us lay down the heat without getting mixed up with the nasties. As an AOE, it will also remove some pressure from our buddies on the front line.

Now, the second spell we’re going to take is a pure Gish boon in the form of Shadow Blade. Armed with this piece of magical brutality we now do 2d8+3 psychic damage on our attacks. Since Shadow Blade is light, we can off hand a short sword or scimitar for another 1d6. Shadow Blade also gives us advantage if we attack a creature in dim light or darkness — providing a pretty amazing accuracy boost. Using Shadow Blade in this way gives us 15.5 average damage if all hits land. That’s rather strong. We’re not a major NOVA type. We’re edged out a bit by focused DPR builds as well. But we are doing strong consistent damage in melee… as a freaking wizard. And, don’t forget, we can still use the rest of our spells to blow stuff up or do all sorts of other cool stuff. Nice.

Level 4 — Elven Accuracy

By level 4 our build gets another big step up. We’re not yet where we want to be as a Classic Fighter-Mage. But we are both happy and comfortable as a full class Wizard with some respectable melee chops. These improve when we use our ASI to take Elven Accuracy. This boosts our DEX to 18, our base AC to 16, our Bladesong AC to 19 and our Shielded AC to 24. Woah. Yeah. Those Bladesingers can achieve some of the highest AC numbers in the game. But let’s not get too cocky. We’re pretty squishy with your 26 HP (31 if you cast False Life or 36 if we upcast) which means we’re really vulnerable to those crits and other high-damage attacks. All the more reason to think of ourselves as a quick skirmisher who moves in and out of melee as opportunities and dangers arise.

Our offensive ability also gets a bump. Now we’re rocking 2d8+4+1d6 if we’re casting Shadow Blade and drawing an off-hand shortsword or scimitar.

To top it all off, we get that juicy triple advantage when we achieve combat advantage against a foe. This turns us into a tiny crit fisher. And we like those crits with the Shadow Blade at 22 average damage +3.5 if we hit with the off-hand. This crit capability of 25.5 in a round is pretty substantial. Not what your Polearm Masters, Paladins optimized for melee, or Great Weapon Fighters are able to achieve. However, our combined accuracy, consistent damage and crit fishing make us a respectable threat. Especially when we’re adding in our Wizard ability to lay down some blasts.

For spells, we pick up Mirror Image (because we really want that second layer of defense during mob situations or in instances when we may take heavy damage from a single hit) and Misty Step (because we love the mobility).

Level 5 — Fireball and Haste

Hitting level 5 we take another level in Wizard and gain access to all the gloriousness that is Fireball. This one spell is a crown jewel of awesome that we can use to blast our way through even the worst things we’ll typically face at this level. Worth noting that YMMV depending on campaign. Toting a Fireball spell around in Hell is a lot less awesome than using it to blow up undead in a dungeon. However, we still have some fall-backs in the form of our melee capability which also just got a big boost because we chose Haste. With Haste active we get an extra attack and we can use our primary action to cast Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade. When Haste combines with Bladesong we end up with a 21 base AC and a 26 AC when we Shield. If we layer this with Mirror Image, we can reliably tank in some situations. Shatter, Magnify Gravity and Magic Missile each give us some damage types that are tough to resist as a fallback. Overall, we’re looking pretty healthy. But we are really, really looking forward to next level.

Level 6 — Extra Attack, Cantrip, Spirit Shroud, Counterspell

Ah. Now here we come the delicious level of 6. And this is where our Fighter-Mage really starts to come on line. Thus far, we’ve relied a lot on our blasty magic to take care of sticky situations and to supplement our melee capability which, though strong, can sometimes feel a bit lacking. This situation starts to change in a big way at level 6.

First off, we get extra attack — putting us on par with Fighters, Paladins, Barbarians, and Pact of the Blade Warlocks with base attack numbers at this level. Nice. But then we also get the amazing Bladesinger ability to cast a cantrip for one of our attack actions. So if we use a rapier, for example, we now do 3d8+8 damage if we attack with Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade. Plus we get the rider of 1d8+3 splash damage or 2d8 damage if we meet these spells conditions. Not bad. But it gets better.

In addition, we pick some sweet spells for our Spellbook in the form of Counterspell and Spirit Shroud. Counterspell is something we really want because when we need to shut down those enemy spellcasters, this is our go-to. With 3 level 3 slots we’ve got the juice to throw it when necessary. Spirit Shroud however, provides a big buff to our melee and short range offensive oomf. Using the above mentioned combo with the rapier we do 5d8+8 damage or 30.5 average plus the riders for Greenflame Blade and Booming Blade should they trigger. It’s also worth noting that Haste is only 1 point on average behind this damage curve. With Haste and Bladesong both active, our speed is a stunning 80 feet, our armor class is 2 higher and we have advantage on Dexterity saves. We can also cast Shadow Blade at level 3 for 6d8+8 damage (35 average damage) and be a lovely crit fisher with Elven Accuracy if the Shadow Blade advantage comes on line. With a short sword in our off hand, our consistent damage increases to 38.5 per round if all hits land. On a crit, we do +13.5 for 52. Overall this is high consistent damage with a relatively low ceiling for the NOVA.

I hope you’re starting to see what I mean by versatility. We’re starting to gain access to a ton of options. We have numerous arrows in our metaphorical quiver for melee, blast, and utility magic. With Bladesinger, these magics provide potent synergies they wouldn’t otherwise.

Level 7 — First Level of Fighter

Now we could take our Bladesinger build all the way to level 20. And Bladesinger works out fantastic as a straight class. But since we are going for a classic Fighter-Mage feel, we’ll sacrifice a little wizardry to gain some martial fighting chops.

Adding a little Fighter to our Bladesinger for classic D&D flavor.

Our wizard class is now very well established. We have a good store of spell slots. We have two attacks. We have Bladesong. We have Fireball and numerous strong buffs. Adding a level of Fighter gives us some extra hit points, a fighting style, and second wind. Plus we now have access to all martial weapons. Our HP bumps to a still modest 46. But we can buff it with False Life. Second Wind gives us a little healing when we really need it. So our resiliency gets a minor boost. For fighting style, we pick Dueling. There are some potential major advantages that come from Two Weapon Fighting. But if we choose it, we really want to take Warcaster. On our build, that’s too intensive as we’re looking to max both our DEX and INT. Later on, some very nice bonus action attacks become available. So, long term, we get the most mileage out of Duelist.

As an example, Duelist bumps us to 6d8+12 damage with our level 3 Shadow Blade active for a total of 39 average DPR. Solid.

Level 8 — Back to Wizard for 4th Level Spells

At level 8 we go back to Wizard. We do really want our NOVA. But as a Fighter-Mage, we also want more spells. We decide to bite the bullet and wait. For our efforts, we gain access to 4th level spells and we gain one additional spell slot. If we have access to Wildemount, we take Gravity Sinkhole for a serious spell NOVA setup we want at level 9. By itself, Gravity Sinkhole is like a Fireball made of force that pulls our enemies toward a central point if they fail their spell save. Amazing control that we can use to enable our allies and hamper our foes in various clever ways. If Wildemount is not available, we instead take Vitriolic Sphere. For our second spell we take the relatively long-lasting Gish spell — Fire Shield. This provides us with a nice defensive buff in the form resistance to cold or fire damage on top of some reactive damage if we do get hit.

Level 9 — Fighter 2 and Action Surge

By level 9 we’re really coming into our own as a Fighter-Mage. In two words, level 2 Fighter grants us the glorious action economy benefit that is Action Surge. Now we can NOVA both with our Shadow Blade or by throwing two heavy AOE spells. With Shadow Blade active, our NOVA critical strike is pretty respectable — doing 15d8+24 or 91.5 total damage if all strikes land. This is a solid mid-range NOVA capability. We’re not hitting as hard as our Dexadin or Chex-Fighter. But we have quite a bit more AOE oomph than either of those builds.

So a little demonstration of what we may do with our new AOE NOVA capability… First, we drop Gravity Sinkhole — gathering as many foes as we can together. Then we Action Surge and cast Fireball. In total, that’s 5d10+8d6 damage to multiple targets assuming no save. Average damage on no-save is 55.5. If we catch 5 foes, with two making their saves, that’s 222 total damage over the entire strike. Now, if we’re Hasted, we can attack one additional time for 1d8+6 for 66 to a single target. Sweetness!

By level 9 we’ve really come into our own. We’ve mastered both the arts of sword and spell. We are a serious power and a force to be reckoned with. All it took was 7 levels of Bladesinger Wizard and two levels of Fighter. Over the next two levels, it gets even better.

Level 10 -13 — Wizard 8, 18 Intelligence, Steel Wind Strike, Song of Defense, Tenser’s Transformation

Now that we have Action Surge, we’re going to stick with Wizard for a while. We’re aiming both for cinematic flare and some serious smack down. At level 10 (8 Wizard and 2 Fighter) we bump Intelligence to 18. This increases our AC (bumping our max to 27 without magic item support) and it gives us a total of +6 to our concentration checks while Bladesong is active. We also get two more 4th level spells for our Spellbook. I’m partial to taking Otiluke’s Resilient Sphere and Fly from third level.

At level 11, we reach 9 in Wizard. This gives us 5th level spells. We jump all over Steel Wind Strike. Then we pick Scorching Ray (which we might’ve picked up earlier with a spell purchase). Steel Wind Strike has Gish written all over it. When we attack with this spell, we flourish our sword and then we vanish. We then choose five targets within 30 feet and make a melee spell attack against each. If we hit, we deal 6d10 damage. If we score a critical hit, this damage doubles.

Now our NOVA round looks amazing. It has pure Gish written all over it. And we have so, so many NOVA options. In one example, we cast Spirit Shroud adding +1d8 damage to our attacks. We choose radiant because we want to be shiny for this. For an AOE NOVA we cast Gravity Sinkhole for 5d10, move into position, and then we cast Steel Wind Strike for 6d10+1d8 for all targets within 10 feet and 6d10 to all other targets. Average damage against a single target is 65 and we can probably get between 4-5 if we’re smart and foes are numerous. If we crit against a single target, the total damage is 98. Brutal. Now, for a single target NOVA, we cast Spirit Shroud at level 5 for +2d8 damage. Then we focus fire two action surged Scorching Rays at level 4 for 20d6+20d8. If all strikes hit, we do 160 damage on this NOVA. If one of these attacks crit, we do 176. Now that’s some serious NOVA potential — both as AOE and as focus fire. We have more to come.

At level 12, we go to level 10 in Wizard. We get a second 5th level slot and we decide to pick up Dimension Door and Animate Objects. We’ve got great uses for our concentration in the form of Spirit Shroud, Shadow Blade, and Haste. But Animate Objects even at this level is pretty amazing. With 3 4th level slots, Dimension Door also now becomes quite useful. Having two level 5 slots lets us cast Steel Wind Strike twice if we are well positioned to unload 12d10+2d8 (75) against five targets. On a crit, one of these targets takes 117. Pretty brutal combination of focus fire and AOE. In addition, we gain access to Song of Defense which lets us use a reaction to trade spells for damage reduction at 5 HP per spell level. Song of Defense competes with our other reactions like Shield, Absorb Elements, and Counterspell. But if we take a heavy hit, it provides us with a good option to both radically reduce the damage and to save our concentration.

By level 13 we’re accessing 6th level spells. We pick Tenser’s Transformation and Gravity Fissure. Our Gish-NOVA, which was already strong, takes another step up. We can achieve this NOVA a number of ways. In one example, as a bonus action, we cast Spirit Shroud at level 5. Then we cast Steel Wind Strike twice using Action Surge for 12d10+4d8 or 84 average damage per target and 135 against a single target on a crit. Meanwhile, our focus fire NOVA with Scorching Ray has jumped to 26D6+26D8 or 208 if all attacks land, 224 if one of these is a crit. We’re also doing substantial consistent damage with our rapier while level 5 Spirit Shroud is active at 8d8+12 or 48 plus around 13 if Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade trigger. This without magic item support. On the hit point side, we’re more than a bit squishy at 84. But our AC is 20 with Bladesong Active and goes to 25 when we cast Shield (up to 27 with Haste).

Level 14-16 Dexterity 20, Reverse Gravity, and Song of Victory

At level 14, we are level 12 in Wizard. This means we get another ASI. We choose to boost our Dexterity to 20. Along down the line, we get a 21 AC with Bladesong active, we do a total of +7 damage with our rapier (without magic item enhancement), we’re +12 to hit with our weapon attacks now (unmodified), and our initiative mod goes up to 5. For our two spells, I’m thinking Chain Lightning and Wall of Force.

At level 15 we access 7th level spells. Now we achieve another major boost on our focus fire spell NOVA in the form of Crown of Stars — adding 4d12+2d8 as a bonus action (or 170 and 259 respectively). For our second spell in our book we take Reverse Gravity. I love the effect of Reverse Gravity so much that it’s tough for me to pick between the two. For my play, I’ll probably keep the slot open for both and use as the situation dictates.

Often over-looked, Reverse Gravity can really ruin the day for team monster.

At level 16 we gain Song of Victory. This amazing rider to our Bladesong adds our intelligence modifier to our damage rolls. At this point, it’s worth assessing our average damage again since we’ve added so many goodies. If we’re going for high consistent damage, we’re casting Spirit Shroud at level 5, we’re also activating Bladesong and Song of Victory and we’ve cast Crown of Stars. This gives us 8D8+22 damage from our direct attacks for 58 average. If we’re able to hit with one of our stars, we do an additional 4d12+2D8 for another 35. Total is 93 which is pretty brutal. We add about another 13 if Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade trigger. And if we crit, we do up to another 35 damage for a total of 128. This is pretty substantial consistent damage. All without magic item support. Although we may suffer if we can’t organize our attacks so we can make a ranged strike with Crown of Stars while not adjacent to someone who threatens us in melee.

For spells, we do some back-filling and take Contingency and Simulacrum. Simulacrum can be a game-breaking spell, so use with caution and consult your GM before pulling it out. It’s possible we may want to save it for a big final battle when our companions will tend to appreciate the help more than being annoyed with us effectively playing two characters. In some campaigns, we may just want to avoid Simulacrum entirely. If you’re in a high-powered game, if the other players are optimized, and if the chips are down, then trot out your Simulacrum and double your NOVAs in a clutch moment. But be careful. Your snowman duplicate is even squishier than you. It’s also vulnerable to Dispel Magic.

Level 17-20 Dark Star, Meteor Swarm, Battlemaster

At Level 17, we are a level 15 Wizard. We now have 8th level spells and we take Dark Star. This brutal spell creates a 40 foot radius area of dark, deafening, silencing, crushing magical force. It does 8d10 damage per turn and is a major lock-down against enemy spellcasters particularly. This makes it one of the best area denial spells in the game. It’s concentration. So we don’t drop it unless it’s a clutch moment. But if we pick our moment and concentrate our foes, we could produce a devastating effect. Of course this is a Wildemount spell, so we may not get it. If not, we probably pick Incendiary Cloud. Our second spell, regardless, is Sun Burst.

Level 18 gives us 16 Wizard and our last ASI. We drop it into Intelligence. Now with both DEX and INT at 20, we’re at 22 base AC with Bladesong active. Shield pushes us to 27. Haste gets us to 29. All without magic item support. We’ve basically added 3 since level 5. So enemy hits do land a bit more often. However, it’s also likely we’ve picked up at least some form of protective magic item. If not, it’s very easy for us to cast Mage Armor and get to 23, 28, and 30 AC respectively. Our Bladesong now also adds 5 to our damage rolls with our blade and 5 to our concentration checks along with all the other goodies.

Since this is our last level before 9th level spells, it might be fun to do a basic NOVA example using only spell buffs, weapons, and a tiny bit of extra something to demonstrate our versatility. So activating Spirit Shroud using a 7th level slot we add 3d8 to each attack against a target within 10 feet. We’re using our rapier for 1d8+12 damage. We add in Booming Blade or Greenflame Blade for another 3d8 on two of our melee attacks with action surge. And we have Crown of Stars active for our devastating bonus action attack. If we Action Surge and manage a ranged attack with Crown of Stars we do 25D8+4d12+48 for a total of 186 or 225.5 if we crit. Not too shabby. Our damage per round in this set-up is 14D8+4d12+24 or 113 which is pretty freaky. All without magic item support. It’s worth noting that we are burning a 5th, a 7th, and an 8th level slot to achieve this level of melee destruction. But it may be worth it.

For 8th level spells we take Clone and Teleport. One spell will literally give us a second shot at life when we’re killed. The other will give us a lot of potentially life-saving mobility options.

Level 19…. Ahhh…. 9th level spells and 17th level Wizard. Sweetness! We’ve waited a long time for these. Early on, we made a major trade-off by taking two levels of Fighter. This gave us the option of both melee and spell NOVA type attacks for numerous levels. But, at level 17, we paid for it when we missed out on the gloriousness that is Meteor Swarm and other 9th level spells. Now, after going without for two levels, we finally catch up. Taking Meteor Swarm gives us an enormous spell NOVA. In addition, Shape Change provides access to some truly amazing alternate forms such as the Planetar and the Adult Silver Dragon.

Coming at last to level 20, we take our final level as a Fighter. We’ve mostly maxed out our potential as a Wizard. Now, we add some serious martial prowess to our arsenal in the form of Battlemaster maneuvers. For these, we pick quick toss, riposte, and brace. Now we have four dice we can use to add various forms of extra attacks as either bonus actions or reactions. These additions really expand our options in combat. They also make our short rests a lot sweeter as we recharge these maneuvers, 9 levels of spell slots, our Action Surge and our Second Wind. Our NOVA crit round also just got a big boost. Right now, we have so many options for this. So let’s give another example of what we’re capable of. Assuming we cast Shadow Blade at level 7, we can cast Meteor Swarm for 140 average damage if the target fails its save, then Action Surge for another 16d8+36 (108) +6d8 (27) when we attack twice more and then quick toss and crit for a total of 275. If we draw another weapon after we threw the Shadow Blade we can Brace or Riposte off-turn for another 2d8+12 (21) bumping our single turn damage to 226-296 to a single target and 70-140 to multiple others. Severe devastation.

Action Economy, 9th Level Spellcasting, Powerful NOVA — All in One Admittedly Fragile Package

In closing, this build has so many options available to it, I could write multiple build guides just talking about the various spell and combat combos to choose from. For example, at level 16 with Tenser’s Transformation, a hand crossbow, and Crown of Stars active we can do 2d6+8d12+22 (81) damage per round to a medium range target with Bladesong active. Due to Tenser’s, our weapon attacks are at triple advantage. This without expending any feat cost for Sharpshooter or sacrificing accuracy to get a +10 to our damage rolls. Plus we have 50 temporary hit points for when we decide to wade into battle. And when we switch to rapier we do 2d8+8d12+22 (83) damage per round if all hits land while also maintaining our triple advantage on 2 attacks. Our crits on these rounds push us to 96.5 and 98.5 respectively. And this is just combat. Another guide could be built around the various utility spells and combos you could muster.

It’s worth noting that we’re rather squishy and rely on spells for a second line of defense. At level 20, we only have 128 HP (6×16 + 8×4) without magic item support. In comparison, our Hex-Fighter has 205 base HP at the same level and our Dexadin has 164. Thus, Tenser’s, Contingency, Shapechange, False Life, Song of Defense and other protective magics are often necessary fallbacks. An Amulet of Health is something we really desirable. We may also want to invest in the Clone spell in the event of tragedy. This low HP is the chink in our armor throughout our career. But we do have the massive power of a near-full spellcaster along with the extra defenses of the Bladesinger to throw down to help us survive. We’ll probably need it. If we’re playing this build right, we’re going to draw some serious aggro from team monster.

Overall, this build runs fast and powerful. It does not hit as hard in melee as the top line direct damage focused builds. But it comes close. And it is one of the best builds in the game for controlling the battlefield, shaping reality, and dealing mass damage to multiple foes. For more than half of your career through level 20 you’ll have access to Action Surge to pull some clutch moves by casting two spells in the same round, casting a spell and then attacking with a melee or ranged weapon, or going full NOVA with your weapon of choice. This combination of martial prowess, spell power, and action economy will make you a serious force to recon with on the battlefield, particularly if you’re a strategic thinker.

Our Classic Fighter Mage build has thus captured much of the original flavor of earlier incarnations and is overall an amazingly fun build to play. I hope our enjoy!

Helkey 26 — Fire and Escape

The solar train barrels on. Bruised, beaten. Yet whole.

A crack yawns in a forward car’s roof. Scorch marks from the Nightmare’s attempt to possess the vehicle cover its length. Melted plastic, seared-off paint, shattered windows — all bear mute testimony to a devil’s assault. The train’s glowing caboose bucks and jolts as the devil — trapped inside by Sadie’s angelic magic — rages against its bindings. Clouds rising to the north shade a falling sun. Winds whip through dry and overheated lands. Leaves fallen, too soon, from unnatural heat swirl around the train as it rushes north toward the growing storm. The whole scene — cast in red-grey.

Throughout the train, passengers are peeking out from hiding places. Taking stock. Trying to make sense of the madness they just witnessed. Some cower back in fear as the caboose bucks or as ghostly, Nightmare faces half-form on the interior train wall — only to be wiped away by Sadie’s protective magic. Other passengers creep out, embrace loved ones, or dial on their cells with trembling hands. The remaining security force scampers about in confusion, trying to make sense of the destruction left by Gibbons Crane and his Nightmare. Disturbing news crackles on the police radio. Reports of roving armed bands. Clusters of Berserkers approach the train tracks ahead. There’s little the officers can do but ask for more help.

In the Sleipnir’s locomative, the engineer monitors frantic radio traffic. He doesn’t know what the hell’s going on. Reports coming in don’t make any damn sense. What he does know is his train’s been hit by something. Warning lights flash all over his board. If this were just a malfunction, he’d stop the train here and wait for repairs. Too risky to go on. But with the terrorist threat — that’s what they were calling it anyway — protocol is to keep moving. Police are setting up a cordon around Esbjerg and pushing south. Meanwhile, all kinds off assets are en-route to protect the track even as more of those damn Berserker extremists gather. What a goddamn mess! He sure as hell didn’t sign up for this shit when he took the job.

Some cars back from the locomotive, Mori stands, takes stock. He’s about halfway down on his ammo. His energetic vessel’s a quarter full. His eyes flick to Beatrice. Except for a few patterned curses left in her clothes and rapier, his girl’s tapped out. Sadie’s a different story. He doesn’t know squat about her present state. But he bets she’s also starting to run low — after all the serious magic she just pulled off. He rolls his hand into a fist bump, extends it to Sadie. “Beatrice did face down that Curse Rider. But you were the brains behind this whole stunt. Major props.”

Sadie returns his fist bump. “Not out of the woods, yet, my good Mori,” she replies.

“Huh. You can say that again.”

Beatrice flicks the cigarette stink and ash of devil’s magic off her rapier, then sheathes it. Taking a breath, she turns to the passengers. An elderly lady struggles on the ground. Beatrice stoops to lift her. Helps her back to her seat. Checks her for broken bones — all while speaking in soothing tones. Ivan’s gathered himself into a ball in a nearby empty seat. His eyes flare with barely checked rage. Sadie produces a water bottle, hands it to him. Ivan reaches out mechanically. Grasps the bottle. Lifts it to his lips, shoots Mori a baleful glance. Mori’s not going to engage with the guy. Jackass got what he deserved. Still can’t believe we’re doing everything to get this guy into Heaven.

Mori joins Beatrice in helping the passengers. Hot wind whirls in through the open hole overhead. Sweat sticks to the back of his neck. He wonders how Myra’s coping in Hell’s Infernia. Heat here is damned unpleasant, even a little dangerous. It’s a fast-killing inferno she’s facing off against down there. Far behind, bangs and thumps from the Curse Rider’s tireless attempts to escape continue. Over the train car walls, Mori can see Nightmare ghosts all a-flicker. Both are testing Sadie’s traps. No success for either yet. He glances over at Sadie. Beads of sweat glisten on her face as she strains to shore up her curses. His eyes swirl with magical detection as he picks up the energy bleeding off her. Rejuvenating her bindings over both devil and Nightmare. That kind of exertion can’t last forever, Mori worries.

He reaches over to Sadie. “Hey. Don’t suffer is silence. If you need help…”

“I’ve got this,” Sadie interupts. “You refresh what magic you can. We’re going to need it for the crossing.”

Mori casts his eyes to the window — glancing out at the gathering storm. “Yeah. You’re in charge of this part and all. But did we really have to pick the North Sea?”

Sadie laughs. Somehow she finds his question funny.

Mori grins back. At least they still have humor. Police style humor. Laughing at horrific stuff because that’s all you got left.

The Sleipnir train, wounded, holding Curse Rider and Nightmare bound within its angel-magicked form, barrels onward. Fields and woods rush by. They pass into a lowland interspersed by rivers — their banks buttressed by dikes. To their left is a marshland — drowning in the relentless flood of a North Sea swollen by melting glaciers hundreds to thousands of miles distant. Wind turbines spin mighty blades in the gusts. Drinking deep of the rising storm’s energy and feeding it back into a continent-spanning web of electrical connections. Part of Europe’s mighty effort to face down a raging climate. Only half answered in the States and China. An olive branch scorched in Hellish fossil fuel fires by reactionaries and those who seek safety under brutal strong-men. White caps roll across the marsh. Churning down reeds and drowning unprotected woods. Some of the lower dikes have spray over-topping them. Floods are a common occurrence here in the lowlands now. Pumps continuously push the sea back. Without something akin to a miracle, it’s just a matter of time before the whole place drowns. Mori doesn’t want to think about what the North Sea looks like.

Minutes pass. Passengers drift into a kind of fear-fugue as ghosts flicker across the train — its caboose shrieking in agony at the Curse Rider’s relentless pounding. The miles tic down. At last, Sadie stands. “Time to get ready,” she says. “Up on the roof.”

Beatrice gets up, helps a grumbling Ivan rise. “Worst train ride of life. Better be worth it,” he mutters.

“Hush you old curmudgeon,” Beatrice says. Trying to lighten the mood and failing.

Standing on the backs of seats, they clamber up to the train’s roof. “We’re approaching the Brons River,” Sadie says. “We should see it in a handful of miles. After we pass through this wood. We’ll jump when we get there.” Scrambling atop the moving train, Mori ignores the loud blows coming from the caboose and turns to face the wind. Peering ahead, he sees a large, dense wood. Rising up from it is a cloud of black smoke. Lit underneath by wicked flames, the smoke boils — grabbing at the afternoon sky like a twisted hand. Fire roars in the fanning wind. It hungrily engulfs dry fuel — trees, shrubs, brush. All left desiccated after months of extreme heat.

Flicking his senses to omnis scientia, Mori looks out over the fire and through the forest. Flames extend along a three quarter mile swath crossing the train tracks and swiftly jumping from tree-to-tree. Beneath omnis scientia, a tree explodes into a pyre. His vision wavers. He pushes the sensor through a black bulge of smoke. Darkness envelopes it for about thirty seconds. Finally, it crosses into clear air. Behind the fires are Berserkers. Riding their bikes off-road and along trails, they hurl Molotov cocktails — spurring the flames still higher. About twenty in all range through the burning wood. Behind them the Brons sparkles green-blue. Even its sheltered strand is capped in white.

“Oh shit!” Mori says. He turns to Beatrice. “You seeing this?”

Her mouth forms a grim line as she nods. “They’re firebombing the woods! Curse Rider must have some way to send word to his thralls. Even trapped in Sadie’s cage.”

“We’ll need to go around,” Sadie says, staring straight into the inferno. “Looks like we’re jumping train a bit sooner than expected.”

Ivan groans.

Then, the mighty Sleipnir train begins to break. The flames are too dense. Too intense for the damaged train to safely pass through. Wheels squeal and spark. They come to a halt after about a mile of forward motion. Fields surround them. Ahead, the woods rage with fire. In the distance, police lights flash. Some approach the train. Others cut around the woods — angling toward the Berserkers.

Pluma! Una! Sadie incants, then grabs Ivan’s hand. They jump, landing lightly on the ground. Mori extends his hand to Beatrice, using some of his precious remaining curse energy on the magic that bears them safely to ground. Behind them, the ailing train lets out a groan. The caboose emits another shriek and then lurches as the Curse Rider strikes it. Damn devil is tossing around its sixty ton bulk like a toy. Smell of smoke fills the air. All around are piles of half-eaten hay. Beatrice cracks a grin as she rushes to a wooden fence then gracefully bounds over.

Mori cracks a wry grin. Sadie turns to him. “What’s she doing?”

“Oh you just wait. My girl, well, she has this thing…” He trails off relishing the surprise.

Beatrice streaks over a hill. She’s moving faster than any of them are able to. Could probably outrun an Olympic sprinter if it came to that. But Beatrice’s haste is bound up both in their present urgency and in her momentary joy. In the distance, Mori hears a loud, low raspberry-type sound. Then, a rhythmic pounding. Suddenly Beatrice emerges over the hilltop astride a tall white mare with two other horses — a chestnut mare and a black stallion — in tow. She’s got this crazy grin painting her face.

“Yeah,” Mori continues. “As I was saying, Beatrice has this thing for horses.”

Beatrice trots the horses over to them. “They were just on the other side of that rise,” Beatrice says. “Hunkered down, poor things. Terrified by fire and noise. But I’ve calmed them. They say they’ll help us get where we need to go.”

“You can speak to horse?” Ivan says, incredulous.

“They’re better conversationalists than many people I know.”

Ivan scoffs.

Sadie puts her hands together and grins. “Best thing to happen in all of this Hellish day!”

Behind them, the train groans again under the titanic weight of another Curse Rider blow. The horses shy. Beatrice swiftly soothes them. “Time to mount up!” Mori says, looking over his shoulder at the ailing train.

It takes some work, as both Sadie and Ivan have little experience with horses. But after about a minute all four are mounted — Beatrice on the white, Mori on the black, and Sadie and Ivan on the mare. They’re all bare-back. None have time to go to the far-off barn to look for bit, bridle, or saddle.

Beatrice hangs back close to the chestnut — keeping her calm despite Ivan’s jostling and Sadie’s tentative motions. “Poor beast,” Beatrice says. But she’s not looking at the mare. She’s staring directly at the solar train. “Farewell, good mount. You were valiant. We thank you,” she says to the Sleipnir. Then, turning, she guides them off over the ranch’s lands, angling toward the fire’s southern edge. Behind them, the ailing Sleipnir continues to protest under the Curse Rider’s abuse. Three police cars screech to a halt beside the train. Doors pop open. Officers flood out then swiftly board. A police captain stands outside, scratching his head as he watches devil light play up and down the train’s length.

“Pretty sure Sadie’s ingenious trap won’t last too much longer,” Mori says, glancing back. “Best make tracks.”

Beatrice picks up speed in response, bringing the horses to a swift walk. Sadie and Ivan cling to their horse in terror. Good thing the chestnut’s both calm and mild mannered. Mori doubts a different horse would tolerate Ivan’s pinching grip or Sadie’s startled lurches. Despite Beatrice holding the horses back, they make good time. Mori bleeds some curse energy into ignarus even as he shifts omnis scientia overhead. The Berserkers have lost the Curse Rider’s direct aid. But Mori doesn’t want to take chances. The day’s coughed up too many nasty surprises already.

Fire on their right provides a screen as they move south and west. At least three Berserkers are prowling near the river. No-one bothers them as they exit the ranch, then continue on past the fire by following nature trails. Sadie’s on her phone, calling someone named Finn. Apparently, he’s the boat driver.

“Yes, Finn?” Sadie says. “We’ve had some more trouble… Yes. A fire! Yes. Please meet us before the highway.” She lurches on her horse, almost toppling over.

They pass a highway, angle into a wooded area. About a half mile off, they can hear the loud rumble of motor cycles. Combustion engines designed to make a racket now give away Berserkers’ positions making them easy for Beatrice to avoid. Emerging from the woods, they trot by a hotel. Some residents are standing outside gawping at the fire — now about a half-mile distant. The energy Mori’s bled into ignarus is so strong they don’t cast a second glance at the motley gang of riders. At last, they come to the river Brons. Once a narrow river, the Brons during recent years swelled due to sea level rise and spilled over its banks. It’s now doubled to forty feet and is hemmed in by numerous dikes. They climb the dike to find a zodiac-style boat with an electric motor waiting for them. A smiling man topped by a mop of blonde hair greets them.

“Hallo!” he says, giving a warm smile. “I’m Finn! Your boat captain. I hear you had quite the train ride?”

“You could say we had a devil of a time,” Mori quips.

Finn grins at the play on words. “Well, better get a move-on. Place is crawling with that nasty biker gang. Come now. Climb aboard!”

Beatrice dismounts, then helps Sadie and Ivan off their mare. Mori slides off his black stallion. It was a quick ride. But he’d grown to like the fella. He pats him in farewell, wishing he had an apple or a sugar cube to leave as thanks. Beatrice gathers the horses together, whispers some words in their ears, then urges them off. They begin a circular route — tracking well away from the fire. Shuffling down the dike’s embankment, Mori, Beatrice, Sadie and Ivan clamber onto the zodiac. Once they’re all settled, Finn pushes a button on his electric out-board motor and the little craft speeds quietly down the Brons. Spray, driven by the strong wind, splashes over the boat’s nose. River’s far too small for much chop. But out ahead, the flooded marsh churns angrily. Mori grabs the gunnel and gets ready for a wild ride.

“Hope there’s a much bigger boat before the end of this ride,” he says. His tone comes off as more tense than he wanted.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

(Enjoying the story? Want to help support the continuance of this tale? Please like, share and subscribe.)

Battlestorm Online Ragnarök — Livestream Dungeons and Dragons Campaign Play, Character Profiles and Video Archive

This blog contains an archive of live-streaming games for the Battlestorm Online, Ragnarök campaign. It also introduces you to the heroes of Ragnarök — Slade, Amuriel, Justice, Nerium, and Sanna. Ragnarök is part of the larger Battlestorm Online (BSO) game. A campaign played as a virtual reality death trap in a Dungeons and Dragons MMO, BSO Ragnarök is GM’d by myself and originally streams on Twitch through Ted Burgess’s profile.

Within this world, Ted and I are co-GMing two separate Battlestorm Online games. Ted’s game — Valhalla — follows the main story arc and occurs weekly on most Thursday nights between 9:30 PM and midnight EST. The game I’m running — Ragnarök — is a follow-on but equally critical storyline. It will livestream on Friday nights 1-2 times per month. A separate Valhalla archive of streaming games along with character profiles is here.

Adventure Opening Story

Our heroes log into Battlestorm Online only to find that they are trapped! Their Ghost Gear is rigged to emit rapid flashes of light that trigger brain aneurisms for those wearing this deadly gear if they die in-game, if they try to log out, or if someone tampers with their headgear. All gamers are thus trapped and forced to defeat the challenges laid out in the virtual fantasy world of Valhalla. If their avatars die while fighting monsters in Valhalla or exploring its hazardous environment, the Ghost Gear sends out its vicious strobe and kills their real bodies.

The players are not initially aware of their predicament until a few hundred unfortunates — who attempt to log out, have their avatars slain by monsters, or have their Ghost Gear tampered with — are instantly killed. The game’s psychotic-genius creator, Gema Masuta, then makes an announcement to every player, explaining their situation and the stakes involved. Players are trapped until they win the game or are killed. If the final boss monster in the last dungeon is slain, then the game is won and all the players are freed. From that point forward, adventures in Valhalla take on a dire edge.

Rather than join the forces of adventurers on the front lines, the characters of Ragnarök are initially reluctant. For whatever reason, they are unwilling to risk their lives as adventurers. For a month, they spend time becoming vital members of communities within Home Towns, doing what they can to contribute to the game-win effort indirectly. However… events soon catch up to them as the safety of all players within BSO starts to fall under threat.

Character Profiles

What follows are the character profiles for Slade, Amuriel, Justice, Nerium, and Sanna. Presently these heroes are all level one. The party has only just completed its first adventure and is still trying to suss out the shifting threats of the Battlestorm Online world.

Amuriel — is an Aasimar Conquest Paladin in-game. Run and conceived by Niki, Amuriel is a tough tank front liner who focuses on melee attacks while wielding a shield. Also an off-healer, Amuriel isn’t shy to help her team mates. In roleplay, Amuriel takes on the role of a kind, grandmotherly figure. A stark contrast to her character’s imposing avatar.

Amuriel’s Token

In real life, the person behind Amuril is Muriel Lebowitz — an 89 year old retiree presently living in Bocan Raton, FL who’s enjoying her golden years with her husband Eustice (see Justice below). She fell in love with Eustice long ago in her New Jersey hometown at Hoboken High School. Following graduation, Muriel received an early childhood education degree at NYU while Eustice fought in the Vietnam War. She married Eustice when the Vietnam War ended. Eustice got a job pouring concrete then started his own business in the trade ten years later. During this time, Muriel had four children, taught the 4th grade, and wrote a mildly popular modern teen fantasy series set in New Jersey. Some of her titles included: “Hobgoblin in Hoboken,” “Triton in Trenton,” and “Kraken Attack in Hackensack.” In total, Muriel’s career lasted for 40 years before a happy retirement.

Muriel and her husband never had much interest in electronic games or RPGs. However, they were avid fantasy buffs — with bookshelves filled with the likes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, and R.A. Salvatore. So when one of their many grandchildren handed them a copy of BSO — offering them a chance to spend the last of their golden years in a heroic video game based on the setting they so deeply and passionately loved — they jumped.

For Muriel, there was some confusion during the character creation process. When Muriel was asked her name, she responded “Uh, Muriel” which the game’s character creation engine recognized as Amuriel.

Justice Cleverwits — played by Greg, is a Wood Elf Drake Warden Ranger in-game. Both a melee and a ranged threat, he really leaned into the front-liner role during the first session. This is quite generous. But it also shines a light on the fact that the party includes a lot of squishy-types. Like Amuriel, Justice takes on a mentor role during RP and gives off an bit of an Obi-Wan vibe.

Justice’s Token

In real life, Justice is Eustice Lebowitz — aged 91 years. Eustice now lives with his wife in Boca Raton, FL after spending much of his life in Hoboken, NJ. Eustice fell in love with is high-school sweetheart Muriel. But the Vietnam War intervened to separate them. While she went to college at NYU, he served in a combat engineers company. Justice survived the ordeal, returned to the states, and married the love of his life. A hard worker, he started out after the war pouring concrete. The anti-war sentiment of the time spilling over onto the troops didn’t bother him. “People sometimes have their fears exploited. It’s not about me,” he said at the time. In just ten years, he’d earned enough to start his own concrete company and stood at its helm for 35 years until his retirement. In the intervening time, he and Muriel ended up with four children whom they love dearly. Now, in retirement, Eustice’s joy is enhanced by his numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

An avid fantasy reader, Eustice spent much of his retirement enfolded in many books both new and old. When one of his young scions introduced Eustice to Battlestorm Online, he was enthralled by the notion of spending the rest of his days as one of the fantasy heroes he so deeply admired.

Like Muriel, the name generation engine ended up mangling Eustice Lebowitz’s name — turning it into Justice Cleverwits. Eustice finds this new moniker to be surprisingly appropriate.

Nerium Senicle — is a Yuan-ti Pureblood College of Lore Bard in-game. Played by Chauncey, Nerium uses his broad base of skills and magics to enable his friends, uncover various mysteries, and foil his enemies. Nerium has a well known affinity for snakes and is one of the few players who has a good working relationship with snake NPCs. Also a former teacher, Nerium has taken on the role of helping other players develop their skills.

Nerium’s Token

In real life, Nerium is James De La Cuesta, Age 35. He hails from Boston, Massachusetts.

A professor of Conservational and Wildlife Biology, James is obsessed with poisonous plants and venomous snakes. Highly regarded if rather eccentric, James is well-known for frequently exhorting his students to become herpetologists (those who study reptiles and amphibians). One day, after giving what would become a famous lecture on the under-utilization of medicinal plants, a group of students blind-sided him by recommending he play the new BSO game.

James had oft spoken nostalgically of his youthful forays into Latin America to research venomous snakes. Alas, during his final project, he was bitten by a tiger snake — resulting in a debilitating leg amputation. Even worse, this trauma triggered a phobia that kept him from venturing into the field thereafter. James never lost his love for the research, though. When his students confronted him with the odd notion of fulfilling his lost passion for researching snakes in BSO, it grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go.

James found himself compelled to explore the new VR world and all its wonders. But he was worried the experience could lead him back to the dark times following the snake bite incident. Losing his ability to walk was a nightmare. Adjusting to a new existence of endless physical therapy and learning to live with a prosthetic leg nearly ruined him. It was finally his students, who formed a helpful online support network, that tipped him over the edge and into BSO. With their help, James could maintain a positive mental state while also overcoming his IRL limitations.

The game afforded James a number of surprising options. He chose the Yuan-ti race for their poison immunity and ability to befriend snakes. The bard class’s ability to focus on lore and its diverse skills mirrored his own deep knowledge IRL. However, the bard’s jack of trades nature provided extra appeal. A professor’s life is often so narrow — focused on just one field but sacrificing a wealth of generalization. His new life in-the-making instead offered a little bit of everything.

The resulting month-long confinement in BSO was oddly liberating — granting the freedom James as Nerium had always longed for. James was enabled to pursue his passion for research, with a touch of magic in his back-pocket. He filled his days by venturing out near safe zones to gather herbs, to speak with his beloved snakes, and to search for that perfect someone. A snake companion. Neri, as he’s called in-game, is now well-known for his numerous snake associations. The herbs, meanwhile, earn a little money the game’s markets. Though Neri/James mainly gives the helpful herbs to his student-players at break-even prices. Meanwhile, he never really left teaching. Moonlighting as an in-game trainer, he helps players learn nature, history, perception, and other helpful skills — occasionally treating them to one of his famous lectures.

Before his most recent adventure, Neri spent what free time he had listening to the latest gossip at inns, tea houses, and coffee shops. Now, he finds himself well-informed as he takes on a new passion for adventure. One that, thus far, has overcome his fears.

Sanaa — is a Rock Gnome Artificer in-game played by Ravi. A conjurer various cool tricks, Sanaa is a cunning combatant. Outside of combat, she has quite the bag o’ options to help the party with exploration, investigation, and making new arcane discoveries. Sanaa has her own special goal in-game. She seeks a person important to her who’s recently been lost, possibly kidnapped as a result of the invasions coming from Svartalfheim.

Sanaa’s Token

(Character background pending…)

Slayde — run by Ted, is a High Elf Order of Scribes Wizard. In combat, Slayde provides a lot of the arcane oomph. A versatile generalist, Slayde can often find the right tool for the job. Out of combat, Slayde lends his expertise and considerable innate knowledge.

Slayde’s Token

In real life, Sladye is Enzo — an interpreter for the US Department of State, fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and ASL.

Eighteen months before logging in to BSO, Slayde’s wife, Jane, tragically passed. He now survives with his daughter — Sofia — who attends NYU. While Sofia continues to live with Enzo, coming home to crash or scarfing down a hurried breakfast, she’s mostly away from home.

Enzo took up playing MMOs to help pass the time and assuage his loneliness. More recently, he started playing D&D in AL when invited by a co-worker. He hadn’t played D&D since 2nd edition during his time in the Navy. When BSO was announced, it was the spell-casting system that really caught his attention. Actively using your hands and spoken words to cast spells really intrigued him. So, logically, he chose the Wizard class.

Stuck on picking a name after choosing to be a high elf, he’d considered Merlin and Gandalf but expected they’d be denied. Instead, he went with a variation of a more obscure reference from an anime he loved back when he first started playing D&D — Slayde.

A month into the game, Enzo spends most of his time in the Grand Guild Hall where he’s been interviewing players about quests, events, maps, and dungeon details to help create guides for other players. With the tales he’s heard describing the game world’s dangers, he’s been timid about going anywhere outside the safe zones. At game start, he’s not yet met the other party members.

Episodes

Episode 1 — Ominous Signs Before the Breach I. In this episode, our heroes uncover a startling mystery as a strange new star comes to light in the night sky above Midgard.

Episode 2 — Ominous Signs Before the Breach II. Pending. Game scheduled for January 21st.

Last Notes

For now, we conclude our gaming archive and related character profiles for Battlestorm Online — Ragnarök. Return for updates and new video archives occurring about 1-2 times a month. Also, I’ll be updating our character profiles when the situation warrants.

If you’re interested in using our campaign materials for your own games take a look at the Battlestorm Online Player’s Guide and our fourteen original Battlestorm Online Backgrounds. In addition, the first module is now available for free here. I’ll be posting more Game Master materials for this campaign over the coming weeks which you’ll be able to find in the Gaming Studio.

Thank you for stopping by!

Helkey 25 — Mobile Holy Ground

“The Nightmare’s in the frigging train!” Mori shouts.

Beatrice spins, facing front. There’s a lurch, a shriek of wheels. The train contorts, jumping on its tracks, throwing passengers back and forth. Ghostly light strobes along the walls. People crouch and cower near her. Terrified murmurs surround her. What do I do? My energetic vessel’s almost empty. The Curse Rider’s arrival in terrible glory has left her stunned. Breathless. Fear threads through her — trying to freeze her to the floor. She spins, leaps up beside Mori.

“What now?” He says, his jaw line clenching in tension.

“We figure out some way to fight him,” She replies. To her ears, she sounds far more confident than she feels. “To exorcise the Nightmare.”

Sadie stands up. Puts a hand on Beatrice’s arm. “Wait. We’ve chosen our ground well. Look carefully.”

Beatrice lifts her eyes to the wall, watches the Nightmare’s ghostly spirit rushing back and forth through the train. Metal shudders. Plastic smolders. Wheels squeal and grind. But the train’s form does not change. There is no diabolical transformation.

“You see now? We picked a solar train for good reason. They don’t call it fueled by Heaven for nothing.” Then, Sadie lifts her hand, touches the train’s wall and incants “Ligamen Malum!” Blue-white light pulses out. A series of white rings expands from her point of contact. The rings ripple through the train — creating an interlocking chain of binding circles. The Nightmare spirit shrieks, fades, then melts back in silence. Smooth forward motion resumes. Beatrice’s eyes swirl with magical detection. The Nightmare thrashes. But it cannot escape from Sadie’s binding. Stuck in a substance anathema to its nature. Bound by a chain of celestial magic drawing strength from the solar train’s innate benevolence. For now, the demon is locked down, unable to move.

“You trapped it!” Beatrice exclaims in surprise and relief. “You chose the train for this reason didn’t you? You knew.”

Sadie taps the train’s deck with her foot, a sheepish grin spreading over her face. “What does Myra call this sort of conveyance? I heard her say it once?”

“Mobile holy ground, Highlander!” Mori says. “Damn, what a move! I saw you touch the wall and concentrate earlier. Didn’t know it was to work a heavy-weight curse!”

Beatrice wipes away a tear that forms, unbidden, at mention of her daughter. “The idea to set this trap came from something Myra said?”

“That’s as crazy as it is cool,” Mori actually laughs.

“No time to celebrate,” Sadie says. “We’ve knocked out one of his main weapons. But we still have a Curse Rider to deal with.”

“What’s the plan?” Beatrice asks.

“I’m drawing a blank too,” Mori says. He shares a glance with Beatrice, worry plain in his expression. “We’re both about tapped out.”

Ivan groans, clutches his belly, then barfs on the floor. Sadie grabs his collar, hoists him up. “We know what the Curse Rider wants.” She motions to Ivan. “Don’t we? For certainty, he hunts you to take your wisps. But he’s also here for Ivan. And as complicated as our Russian friend here makes things for us, he’s also splitting the Curse Rider’s focus.” Sadie pats Ivan on the back, then starts guiding him to the rear of the car.

“It’s a delay tactic,” Mori says.

Beatrice nods. “We move the quarries. Keep him guessing.” Flicking her sense through omnis scientia, she can see the Curse Rider raging on the train’s roof. His Nightmare trapped, his once-cool demeanor is now melting into a rictus of ugly rage. His eyes follow the magical lines running from the sensor back to Beatrice and Mori. With great leaps that seem impossible for such a whip-thin body, he begins bounding toward them. Where his feet touch the sanctified train, angry sparks lash out at him, burning him. He pays no mind as boots and cloths are blasted away. As human flesh sears to black and red scales, his feet taking on the shape of talons. “He’s coming! Let’s move!”

As they stand, Officer Winkler finally recovers from her shock at the madness caused by what she thinks is a mass phone hacking. She’s close, overhearing their conversation. Though some of it’s not processing for her, the magical parts mostly, she grasps the gist of their plan. Then, her police radio blares with a confusing report of a helicopter landing on the roof and depositing a likely hijacker. She stands, pulls her firearm. “Good idea! Get to the train’s rear! We’ll do what we can to protect your dignitary!” Winkler rushes into the next car, joins two other officers, then uses the emergency access to get to the roof.

Beatrice lifts a hand, then incants praesidia! The blue light of her protection curse shoots toward the officers, enveloping them in a momentary flare. She ties off the energy, watching sparks trail them as they climb onto the roof. It’ll last about ten minutes. Hopefully enough. Probing her energetic vessel she finds she’s got maybe one strong curse left. She doesn’t regret it. Those officers are good people going into a situation they don’t understand. One where they’re completely outclassed.

The Curse Rider is ten cars back and coming on fast. They turn and rush headlong toward the train’s rear. Running itself isn’t a strategy. It buys them time. And not much. Cunning Sadie must have another trick card in her deck.

Sadie grabs her by the shirt. “I know you’re almost out! Save your last magic until I tell you to use it! Going to need your special talent!”

Beatrice nods back, mouth forming a grim line. “Aye, my captain!” she replies, then rushes onward, checking her speed to make sure her companions can keep up. Most mages have specializations. Sadie’s are healing, binding, protection and traps. Mori’s involve information gathering, detection, stealth, obfuscation, and weapon-enhanced ranged combat. She has a few areas of magical specialization, but she bets Sadie will draw something from her wide-ranging, mobility-enabling quiver.

They pass through one train car. Another. Passengers stare in obvious shock from the phone disturbance, the jolting train, the diabolical light show. Warnings about a possible unauthorized boarder blare through the speakers. Ivan stumbles. Mori hit him pretty hard. Can’t say I blame him. Asmodeus’s Prophet is also cradling a burned hand, suffers from many bruises. The wound in his back and wisp from the Pride-Eater’s talon clearly troubles him as he lurches back and forth in a daze of pain. Beatrice hooks a hand under his arm, helping Sadie propel him onward.

Through omnis scientia, Beatrice watches as the officers climb onto the train’s roof. They shout, pointing at the Curse Rider who’s now become a horrific mesh between devil and cowboy — running on taloned feet as divine energy sparks angrily around him. White light flares, rising from Sadie’s chain of binding circles. A Macto effect Sadie layered into her spell’s structure. The sparks are ripping holes in his human flesh. A superficial garment, some of it sags off in tatters — revealing mottled black and red scales. A baleful black eye with a white pin-prick for its pupil scans them as the devil cowboy rushes forward, holding its black hat to its head with one hand.

“Halt!” the officers shout, weapons drawn. The interpretation from German ringing in her ears through the shared sensor.

Quicker than a cobra-strike, the devil cowboy draws his firearm. A massive six-shooter leaps into his hand. He fires. A black round erupts. It seems to expand, devouring light as it races toward its targets. The officers, pistols already out, return fire. A few bullets strike the Curse Rider. May as well be stinging gnats for all the damage they inflict. The black round shoots between the officers, contracts with a ‘wump!’ then explodes in a dark shockwave. Darkness tinged with fire bursts out, engulfing the officers and tearing a hole in the train roof. Blue light ripples, protecting them from the impact. Still, the officers are flung off like toys in warped bubbles. Two tumble away to the left. One to the right. Beatrice sees Winkler fall into bushes along the train tracks, blue light still shielding her. Safe if shook-up. The other two officers hurtle out of sight. The Curse Rider takes one leap, jumps through the hole opened by his black bullet, lands in a flare of sparks among screaming passengers, then continues his onrush from within the train.

Beatrice looks over her shoulder. She can’t see him yet. But she does see passengers cowering, diving under seats or pressing themselves against walls. In the distance, through a series of doors, she can see material swirling around like confetti. “He’s in the train!” she shouts.

Sadie looks back at her, catches her eye. “Good,” she says.

Beatrice turns, facing the train’s rear. They sprint — slamming through doors and jumping over passengers, Ivan in tow. From behind them, the sounds of screams and crashes grows louder. Beatrice feels panic rise into her throat. Pricks run up her spine. She feels she’ll be snatched away and rent to pieces at any instant. They’re moving too fast now to look back. But the noise behind grows louder and louder.

Finally, they come to the caboose car’s entrance. Sadie lifts a hand. Beatrice spins to a halt. Mori stops, takes a knee. Ivan collapses. Toward the engine, not three cars away, the Curse Rider strides through a shower of sparks carrying Macto curses that blast into him in gory staccato. Bits of his human shell fly off — spraying over cowering and screaming passengers. He ignores them. Clawed feet hammer as he rushes toward them. Legs pistoning with terrible force that evokes both the machine and the reptilian. Eyes — twin white lights in orbs of darkness — fix on them like laser sights. His flesh and clothes are now tatters. Most of what made him look human is ripped away. His diabolical features — mottled black and bood-red scales, twin horns sprouting from his skull, long claws replacing toes and finger nails — take on most of his form now. Beatrice draws breath, in awe of what Sadie’s done with her magic. She turned the train into a gauntlet of destruction for the Curse Rider. It’s still no-where near enough. The thing she sees stands strong, barely phased by the terrible punishment coming in from all sides. The devil cowboy — it still wears its ridiculous hat — explodes into a dividing doorway. The door is thrown off its hinges with a shriek of steel. The Curse Rider bursts through. Now just two cars away.

“I hope you know what you’re doing!” Mori shouts to Sadie.

“He sees us! Good!” She shouts. “Now run! To the end of the train!”

They rush headlong. It’s a real race now and they’re losing fast. Beatrice has no idea what Sadie has in mind. But it better be good. They’re at the train’s end. All that stands between them and rushing tracks — a door of steel and glass. About a hundred feet away and opposite the door, the Curse Rider hurtles toward them. They’re trapped. Out of options.

“Mori! Shoot out the door!” Sadie shouts.

Mori, who was busy sighting down the Curse Rider, swings his weapon around, ejects the Macto magazine into his hand, switches it swiftly with a black magazine from his pocket, then aims at the door. Beatrice’s eyes widen as she recognizes the ammo. These are tungsten anti-material rounds! Mori shoots four times in succession, blasting away the hinges. The door flies off into space behind the train — tumbling like a leaf.

Sadie waves to the few passengers clustering near the caboose’s rear. “Too dangerous here! Run to the front now!” The passengers stand, scamper toward the car’s front. “Now hide! Something bad’s coming!” Sadie’s voice is laden with suggero spurring them to move despite their terror.

Not missing a beat, Sadie turns to Beatrice. “We’re going up top. Draw your sword. Use your defenses. Get its attention. Then follow my lead.” Sadie grabs Mori and Ivan. “Salire!” she incants. Together, they leap up — propelled in a swooping arc by Sadie’s curse magic. Then they’re on the roof, scampering toward the car’s front. Beatrice is now alone. She draws her curse-patterned rapier. Sparks fall from its tip. The tattoos on her feet and hands flare with magic as she prepares what remains in her energetic vessel. With her thumb, she taps the blue-white gem in her rapier’s pommel. A patterned praesidia curse triggers — enveloping her blade in a bubble of protective light. She’s deliberately bleeding a heavy amount of patterned lux into her name curse. Showing off both her nature as an angel and as a mage. A combination any devil worth its worb would lust for. In front of her, the door rips off — pinning two passengers as the Curse Rider tears it like a sheet of paper from a notebook, then casually casts it aside. She crouches. The Curse Rider’s white laser eyes in swirling darkness fall on her. She aims her sword at them. The Curse Rider hesitates for a moment, seems surprised she’s alone, glances about for her companions. The pause is only momentary. Her angelic, magical form, its vital wisp-energy fluttering within, is too spectacular a pull for a devil to resist. It tips its hat in seeming salute, lowers a hand toward the pistol on its belt, then leaps toward her.

Sadie!!!” Beatrice shouts.

“Una!” Sadie replies. “Una!” she hears Mori speak in turn as he bridges the link between Sadie, Beatrice, himself, and Ivan. Una forms a bridge that flows like a river of magic between them. It then extends in a blue-green arc over the train, connecting them to their magical sensor — omnis scientia — hundreds of feet ahead. Beatrice’s senses are transported along the bridge to the sensor’s far-off focus. Its view is just above the hole created by the Curse Rider’s first black bullet when it exploded among the police officers minutes before.

In her real sight, she can see the Curse Rider tearing through the train’s floor with its clawed feet. “When I cast my curse use lanuae on the sensor!” Sadie shouts. The Curse Rider’s six shooter whips up. Beatrice’s sense of time dilates. The barrel seems to slowly rise. “QAUE MALA!” Sadie incants, using the binding circle curse to seal the caboose with a ward against evil.

Beatrice spins her rapier. The gun’s barrel lines up. Sparks swirl in the air. She can see the barrel through her circle of sparks like a gaping maw. The five black bullets still housed in its cylinder — each a bulge of devil’s magic waiting for launch. She grabs one spark. The gun’s hammer falls. She hurls the spark. It disappears as it passes into the magical link made by una and flares swiftly through the blue-green bridge above the train. The black bullet hurtles toward her, shadow tendrils swarm out from it. Her rapier blazes. The light of a star briefly forms in the caboose as praesidia forms its bubble around her. Shadow tendrils coil and swell from the black bullet. Around Beatrice, seats are ripped off their mountings and thrown from the train, windows shatter, metal bulges and cracks.

Beatrice is ejected out behind the train in this clash of forces. Tendrils blooming around the swelling black bullet core through her protective light. If they touch her, they will tear her wisp away. The black bullet will then capture it for the Curse Rider to enslave. Hundreds of feet ahead, in the train that is now leaving her behind, her spark finally crosses una’s bridge and shoots out of the magical sensor. It lands in the train roof’s hole. The black bullet begins to engulf her. Tendrils just inches away as she dips toward impact on the tracks. Tucking into a ball, she shouts “LANUAE!” The explosive magic of teleportation enfolds her — lighting up three more times to engulf her companions in the train car ahead and above. The black bullet cores through the explosion where she hung in mid-air a moment before.

Beatrice emerges along with Sadie, Mori, and Ivan. Each leaping up out of their own explosive spark-shower. They fall about 8 feet, then land in a chorus of thumps in the ruined train car. A few hundred feet away, within the caboose, the Curse Rider howls in rage. Sadie’s magic has formed an iridescent field around the damaged car. Reinforced by the train’s holy ground, it contains the Curse Rider even as he vents his fury. Pounding and shooting the magical containment in furious effort to find release. The remaining passengers, not similarly bound by Sadie’s magic and gathered near the exit forward, flee to safety in the next train car. For the moment, the Curse Rider is too distracted by his capture to pay them mind. He aims his might at breaking the bottle, he deforms the magical containment — causing the caboose to jump. Its walls are quickly tattered with dents and cracks. But, for now, the mighty Curse Rider is held even as Macto curses continue to rain down on it.

Beatrice slumps to the floor, still shaking from the intensity of a few moments before. “Whew!” she says. “Well, Sadie, you did it. Trapped a Curse Rider. But I don’t know for how long. I’ll take my miracles.”

“It’s bought us time. Hopefully enough to get where we need to go,” Sadie replies.

“Tonder?” Mori asks.

“Brons,” Sadie replies. “I’ve arranged a boat. We jump train there. If all goes as planned. Glenda will be on board.”

Beatrice looks at them, puts her shaking hand on her head. “Are you both going to let me know what you’ve cooked up? Do I have to guess at your charades? I did just… What would Myra call it? I think the term is tank. Yes. I did just tank that Curse Rider for you guys. A little explanation as gratitude would be appreciated.”

“Sweetheart,” Mori replies, catching her up in a reassuring embrace. “You tanked beautifully! And yes, I suppose we both missed a lot of Sadie’s subtlety here. So to fill you in, we’re going to jump off the train at Brons, then take a boat down the Brons River and out to our Heaven’s gate in the North Sea. Providence willing, the cage Sadie made for our Curse Rider will hold until then and for some time after.”

“Glorious!” Beatrice says in an outburst, trying to blow her shakes off into the word. “How much longer ’til Brons?”

“About fifty minutes,” Mori says.

“Seems like a long time given present circumstances.”

“It seems like forever.”

Ivan whimpers.

Beatrice stands, assesses her blessings. She’s still breathing — thanks in no small part to Sadie. This whole affair is too desperate. But she didn’t know what else to do. With Myra in Hell, they were committed to this crazy path. And that was that.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

(Enjoying the story? Want to help support the continuance of this tale? Please like, share and subscribe.)

BSO Ragnarök 1.20 — Ominous Signs Before the Breach Part 1

Dark shadows bring ominous signs…

This is The Deep Dark of Svartalfheim adventure module’s second chapter for the larger BSO Ragnarök campaign. You can find all chapters for The Deep Dark of Svartalfheim in the Gaming Studio under the Battlestorm Online Ragnarök header. These adventures are original Open Gaming License content for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition and they are provided to you, written by your scribbler here free of charge, in this format, on this blog. Please feel free to use this material for your own Dungeons and Dragons games as you see fit.

In this first chapter, the PCs begin their journey as unlikely heroes in the BSO Ragnarök setting. To make this chapter less cumbersome as a blog post, it is broken into two parts. Part 1 deals with major campaign events. Part 2 covers quests the players may wish or need to undertake.

Part 1 is below.

A game master collaboration…

The larger Battlestrom Ragnarök campaign is run in the Battlestorm Online Campaign Setting. This setting is being designed as a collaborative effort between myself and Ted Burgess. Ted is running his own Battlestorm Online game, which is the original game in this setting. You may find Ted on Twitch and you can find the campaign archive for Ted’s Battlestorm Online game here.

This module was run by me on January 7th and streamed on Ted’s Twitch feed. I will be posting the video archive of the first game along with player profiles in the Gaming Studio soon. The next BSO Ragnarok game is scheduled to stream from Ted’s Twitch feed on January 21st, 2022 and games will run once every 2-4 weeks on a regular basis. Please feel free to join us at 9 PM EST on these Fridays. I’ll work with Ted to post more frequent gaming schedule announcements. These announcements will be posted from my Twitter Feed and set up on my Twitch page. Games, though, are sometimes canceled at the last minute. In any case, they can be viewed later here in the BSO gaming archive and on my YouTube page.

(If you are a player in the Battlestorm Online, Ragnarök campaign. WARNING: SPOILER ALERT. Do not read further.)

CAUGHT IN A VIRTUAL DEATH TRAP

After the players create their characters read the following descriptive text to kick off the adventure:

“The widely-publicized global launch of Battlestorm Online was a heady affair that captured the attention of millions of gamers across the world. One of the world’s foremost gaming geniuses — Gemu Masuta –had birthed a virtual reality masterpiece. A Dungeons and Dragons game in which players could use special equipment called Ghost Gear to fully dive into a fantasy VR environment. Now the dreams of gamers everywhere had been realized. They could experience their favorite game not at tabletops or consoles but with their senses and body fully immersed.

“You were one of these gamers. Dynamic swordplay, magic, and the amazing mobility of fantasy characters was no longer just at your fingertips — it had full mind and body. It was another life outside of real life.

“Millions clamored for access to the beta-test version of this full-dive Dungeons and Dragons extravaganza — open to only ten thousand lucky players. Perhaps you waited in line or a relative with connections snagged you a copy. Whatever the case, you logged in to BSO, took the vertigo-inducing dive generated by the Ghost Gear, and landed on the world layer of Midgard. At first, you were captivated by this amazing setting and its host of wonders. You took time to familiarize yourself with your skills and powers. Perhaps you even fought a few monsters. You had a blast.

“But your joy of new discovery was short-lived. If you tried to log out, you received the following alert — WARNING LOGOUT WILL RESULT IN PLAYER DEATH, CLICK YES TO CONTINUE. If you saw this message, you were wise enough not to click ‘yes.’ Many were not. You may have also heard the ghostly cries of a player dying in game — their avatar consumed in a burst of blood-red pixels, their eyes flashing with a freakish strobe like a pair of twin flashlights rapidly turning on and off.

“These events only hinted at a much larger horror of which you would soon become aware. After only an hour logged in, a wind began to blow. It carried the sound of a wolf’s howl across the land of Midgard. Tattered clouds raced across the sky which took on a crimson hue. Your teleportation crystal flashed with blue light and you were instantly transported to an arena carved from the heart of the mountain fastness of Nidavellir. Your arrival at the stadium was accompanied by thousands of similar blue flares as your fellow players instantly materialized.

*********

Odin Wotan by Herman Hendrick

“All the game’s remaining players turned eyes toward a titanic figure arising from the area floor in the form of a forty-foot tall shadow roughly taking the shape of man. He glared down at you with his single massive blue eye. The eye was offset, hinting that the other eye was closed or lost. Two large shadows in bird form sat on his shoulders. ‘Welcome to Battlestorm Online. I am Odin. But you may also know me as Gemu Masuta. I’ve summoned you here into the great arena of Nidavellir to deliver this warning. You are trapped here. Not in Nidavellir, but in the game. There are now only two ways out for you — death, or winning the game. You may have noticed that your logout screen now contains this alert.’ The figure waves its shadowy hand and you again see the logout warning message. ‘If you logout, the Ghost Gear will send a strobe light pattern to your eyes that will cause a brain aneurism. This is no accident. It is intended. Also, if you die in-game, your Ghost Gear will send the same signal. Similarly, if the gear is tampered with in the real world, it will kill your body and you will die both there and in-game.

“‘Already, 321 players have perished due to death by monsters, due to accidental tampering with the head gear, and due to suicide by voluntary logout.’

“The 9,679 remaining players stared in stunned astonishment. Cries of outrage and anguish echoed through your fellow players. Terror rooted you to your hard, virtual-stone bench. You came here to enjoy your favorite game up-close and in-person. Not to die at the hands of a terrorist madman in a death trap. Disbelief and denial washed through your fellow players. But somehow, what Gema Masuta as Odin said rang true. He did strike you as the type who was capable of carrying out such a murderous, if creative, coup.

“‘You have now been granted a gift beyond compare,’ Gema Masuta as Odin continued. ‘Another life. For without death, there is no life. And in this life you have the real opportunity to be the heroes of a magical world. Whether or not you choose to take that opportunity is up to you.’

“The shadowy figure continued to speak for a few more minutes. But its dark philosophical assertions only deepened your terror. Gema was clearly a fanatic — willing to carry his twisted vision through to the bitter end. When the cries of disbelief rose up, you’d already grown numb with shock. The tense words of outrage bleeding into the background of your racing thoughts. You had to focus. Your first goal — survive and return to your life. You had things to accomplish. Loved ones waited for you. Important business and work was delayed that must be returned to. Others could fight through the game while you decided to wait in safety.

“For weeks after your capture, after that fateful announcement by a virtual god of monsters, this was your plan. And, for weeks, it worked. Heroes rose, formed adventuring parties. They scoured the surrounding lands of monsters and began to delve into dungeons. Some died. Others rapidly gained power. The adventuring parties coalesced into organized guilds. And, for a time, it seemed to you that your plan had worked.

“Seemed, because events have taken an odd turn of late… You’ve heard rumors of shrinking safe zones. Frantic quests have been issued by the game’s most prominent guilds. Quests not related to typical game-clearing activity. And last of all an annoying guild representative — a Warlock named RubyNight — keeps following hold-outs like yourself into local bars and inns. She keeps asking for help. Keeps calling for a second line of adventurers to confront the new troubles. She’s persistent. But sometimes you detect a note of pleading in her voice.

“This new turn of events makes you worried. Perhaps your plan to stay safe while others take the risks for you won’t work out after all. Maybe this death trap you’re presently caught in is about to spit out a new set of surprises. If so, resting on your laurels will only make you more vulnerable, will just result in more slaughter. Now might be the time for you to step up. To take on the role of a hero. “

********

Discuss with your players what connections they might have with each other — IRL or in-game. For example, players might have worked together, gone to school together, or shared a favorite hobby IRL. In-game, all the players also had a reason to hang back from the initial wave of gameplay. This may have thrown them together in various non-adventuring activities as they passed the time waiting for the front liners to win the game. Also have the players agree on a hometown as the adventure starting point. When they do, proceed to the next section.

ODD EVENTS, ODD QUESTS, AND AN ANNOYING GUILD REPRESENTATIVE

The following is a series of quests and in-game events designed for 4-6 level 1 characters. The events, listed first, happen to the players and the world of BSO on a timetable regardless of which quests they choose. The quests are voluntary and happen between the events. In this section, run game events 1 and 2 first. You may then decide to proceed to game event 3 or to then proceed on to the quests. Once players gain enough experience to reach level 2, a new series of quests and events will open up, leading to the next chapter — The Mystery of Yggdrasil’s Roots. However, you may wish to allow players to complete the quests listed here before proceeding. If you do so, player advancement to level 3 is locked until at least one quest from The Mystery of Yggdrasil’s Roots is completed.

Event 1 — A Strange Star Occluded By Darkness

The first night of this adventure begins with a strange celestial event.

“As the sun sets on Midgard and a darkness jeweled by millions of twinkling lights rises to cover the night, a strange star begins to blossom. Its light first appears as an orange glow that back-lights what appears to be black clouds of dust — casting gargantuan shadows covering what must be thousands upon thousands of stars. The glow intensifies until a star roughly the size of a full moon and bright enough to cast shadows bulges into a shape like a large blue eye. The eye looks down on Midgard, shining its light on all who walk there.”

Whether the strange star’s coming is a herald to further events or simply a stunning, if ominous, outgrowth of the vivid yet striking Battlestorm setting remains a mystery.

Event 2 — A PC Quest Giver is Born in Thunderale Tavern

Thunderale Tavern is a popular haunt for adventurers and non-adventurers alike. It exists as a storefront in all Home Towns in Midgard. However, it opens to one common internal space. The same tavern thus opens to all Home Towns simultaneously. Its proprietor — a lively NPC named Abigail Barnwallow — regales customers with tales of recent heroics on the front lines, rumors about local happenings, and gossip over famous persons in-game. The setting is warm, bright, and comforting. A roaring fire blazes in a large hearth above which two golden flankards of ale collide in front of a pair of crossed silver lightning bolts.

The players, still reluctant to join the ranks of adventurers, have gathered in Thunderale Tavern to collect gossip about the strange star now shining high above Midgard. They’ve all seen the new star and decided to drop by Thunderale Tavern to try to learn more.

(An Inkarnate Tavern Map that we are using for Thunder Ale Tavern gameplay provided by patreon.com/talemaps)

While talking with other tavern patrons or with Abigail, each player learns one rumor about the strange star or hears of an odd happening that someone speculates may be related to the star. Choose one rumor or speculation that each player learns from the table below.

D8 Rumor/Speculation

  1. “The ground beneath Yggdrasil has made strange groans and rumblings lately. Perhaps the star is somehow related to the tree’s odd noises.” The player hears this rumor from #GinSing7 an elven bard/rogue.
  2. “People in Mio Elise have been disappearing near a lamp post in a back ally that emits darkness instead of light. Why is this happening at the same time a new star appears?” Question asked by a daughter gamer with an elf Divine Soul Sorcerer avatar named Thalia who lost her mother in Mio Elise and is looking for her still.
  3. “The star is just a bright light in the sky. It’s a fantasy game. Why are we surprised about it?” This from BiGdumBfighteR.
  4. “I suspect this star signals some major new game event. More adventure is afoot.” From Maven Silverstream a Dwarf Ranger.
  5. “When the star appears, we should take the opportunity to drink and sing praises to the gods of battle as our lord Odin would want.” From a Tempest Cleric of Odin named ChiefThunderPants09.
  6. “Fear! Fear! For doom is on us all. The star is a harbinger of Ragnarök, the The Twilight of the Gods! The end is near!” A non-adventurer doomer named BlackDaze who jumps up on a table next to one of the players shouts this.
  7. “Take comfort and companionship, good friend. We may not know what this star will bring, but we can sing, eat, and drink tonight without fear.” From Abigail Barnwallow to a player sitting at the barn. The player who hears this gains the benefits of a free long rest the next time they come to Thunderale Tavern.
  8. “My bet is it has something to do with all the monsters wandering around outside of their typical spawning grounds. If I had more time off the front lines, I’d definitely go to investigate.” Morgen Schnee an Aasimar Paladin who’s a well known front liner.

Allow the players to circulate through the bar while describing each new rumor and speculation to the group. After you feel satisfied that you’ve sprinkled enough story hooks and related game flavor, read the following to the players:

“Concerned about the new star and all the odd happenings in Midgard, your information gathering in Thunderale has only added to your apprehension. You’ve retreated, drink in hand, to ruminate on your findings when a commotion in front of the fireplace draws your attention. RubyNight — a Genie Warlock with a puffy mane of red hair — begins to lurch back and forth grabbing patrons as she stumbles. Falling to the floor, Ruby’s avatar flickers. Bright strobes of light flash from her, causing those near her to shout and cover their eyes. A garbled electronic wail rises from her as her body jolts back and forth. Finally, the ordeal ends. Ruby lurches up, grabbing hands offered to help her stand.

“‘Steady lass,’ JenPak a Dwarf Barbarian says to Ruby. ‘Thought you’d suicided there for a second.’

“Ruby shakes herself off, then begins to make for the bar. She’s heading toward your table when you notice something odd about the icons floating above her head. One of them is the diamond symbol usually reserved for Quest Givers. Just as she comes abreast of your table, Ruby seems to notice the symbol too. Without asking, she pulls up a chair at your table, then waves her hands, briefly obscuring her new icons.

“‘It’s OK! I’m all right. Just a glitch!’ she shouts. ‘I’ll be fine. Just going to take a drink here with my friends!'”

*****

The players have run into RubyNight (typically shortened to Ruby) before at Thunderale Tavern. She’s a member of the Guild called Stella Requiem. Lately, she’s been trying to get players who are reluctant to adventure to help take part in fighting monsters or investigating recent strange events. She’s become a bit of a pest and non-adventurers have taken to avoiding her. Her sitting at the players’ table should be a somewhat awkward affair.

Ruby’s demeanor, however, is friendly. She genuinely likes most other players and this attitude is infectious. Ruby’s recent cajoling of non-adventurers is more out of a fear that those currently engaged on the front line won’t be enough. She’s also seen some odd things lately — having recently witnessed monsters wandering from place-to-place in small but organized bands. She also has more knowledge about so-called safe zone glitches. She’s seen and investigated weakening safe zones in all five Home Towns.

Ruby also now has a new set of items listed in her menu. These are quests. Apparently, she has just become the first PC quest giver. Even more strange, her quests are related to the recent strange events. You can now have Ruby give the three new quests to the players — imploring them to act. These quests are provided in part 2 of Ominous Signs Before the Breach.

Event 3 — Safe Zone Failure in a Dark Back Alley

As the players leave Thunderale Tavern, when a player receives Rumor/Speculation #2 on the rumor table in the last event, or at any time of your choosing, have the players meet and talk with Thalia about the disappearance of her mother in Mio Elysse (See Midgard Campaign Map). This event is a mini-adventure that is pivotal to the main story line.

Thalia Winterclaw is a Silver Dragonborn Divine Soul Sorcerer 2 (see stats in the Appendix). She dabbled in adventuring with her mother Raven Blackhorn a Tiefling Whispers Bard 2. Her mother disappeared two days ago after meeting with her class trainer. Thalia has learned that her mother walked near a back-alley in Mio Elysse where other players have also recently disappeared. In the alley is a single lamp-post that emits a shroud of glooming shade which seems to obscure a section of the back alley. Thalia investigated this far, but was too afraid to venture further.

Clues of a Kidnapping

When the players talk with Thalia they can learn the following clues by asking questions or making the appropriate Persuasion, Perception, and Insight skill rolls:

  1. Raven Blackhorn was a smith of no small skill.
  2. Raven had frequented the black market to gain access to special materials (Persuasion 14).
  3. If asked what the materials are, Thalia lies saying she doesn’t know (Insight 14).
  4. If asked nicely, Thalia reveals the name of Raven’s black market contact — Bresson Squint Eye.
  5. Thalia wears a dagger made of a strange black crystal material (Perception 15).
  6. When scanned with Arcana, the dagger radiates an aura of necromancy (Arcana 15).

Thalia is conflicted. She knows that some of the information she holds will help find her mother. But she also innately senses that what her mother has done may be seen in a negative light. Deep Shard is a substance that NPCs refuse to forge into weapons and armor, claiming it is cursed but providing no further explanation. Thalia worries more and more that this is true. She knows her mother was collecting Deep Shard near Yggdrasil and more recently near the alley where players disappeared in Mio Elysse. She has not witnessed its formation directly and does not know it forms when players die.

Thalia’s Dagger is a Major Deep Shard Weapon — an uncommon magic item forged by Raven Blackhorn of Deep Shard. Deep Shard are dark crystals that form when adventurers die in or near Svartalfheim. The slain adventurer’s pixels resolve to form a block of material that a PC smith can then forge using smith’s tools proficiency and rolling a 17 or higher on the dice. See Deep Shard Items and Thalia’s Dagger in the Appendix for more information.

Investigation in Mio Elysse

Whether or not the players question her, Thalia begs them to accompany her to Mio Elysse and to find her mother. If the players decide to help Thalia, they can use their Teleportation Crystals (see the BSO Player’s Guide) to teleport to Mio Elysse or they can simply take the Mio Elysse doorway out of Thunderale Tavern.

When the players journey to Mio Elysse, they can follow one of two leads. The first and less obvious lead is to meet with Bresson Squint Eye. The second, more obvious, lead is to investigate the Dim Alley and its dark damp post.

Bresson Squint Eye at Hot Perks

If the players learn about Bresson Squint Eye from Thalia, they may wish to try to find him in Mio Elysse’s black market. Having followed Raven to his illicit store and workshop on numerous occasions, Thalia knows exactly where to go. She swiftly leads the players through Mio Elysse to a small coffee shop called Hot Perks.

Hot Perks Coffee House made with Inkarnate

The owner, Bresson Squint Eye, a Gnome Artificer 2, bought the shop with money gained from selling items he forged using his blacksmith skill early in game. A cook, Bresson also brews delicious coffee and bakes delectable scones. Hot Perks serves as a front for an illicit trade in magic items crafted from Deep Shard. These items are made in a basement workshop beneath the coffee shop. These items are sold from Hot Perks as special ‘black mugs.’ The mugs are actually skins that when smashed on the ground reveal the contained items forged from Deep Shard.

Bresson was the first to discover Deep Shard as special material drops near Yggdrasil. The material had a smith tools proficiency icon over it and when he used his smith tools skill he was able to create a magical axe. He soon enlisted the help of other PC smiths, including Raven Blackhorn and another smith by the name of Giles Gilfeather, to work the material. As Deep Shard was banned by NPC smiths and had the cursed alert icon on it, Bresson was forced to sell items forged from it through the Black Market. Bresson considered the cursed icon to be questionable at first as Deep Shard items produced no obvious ill effect.

When Giles disappeared, Bresson was alarmed. But he didn’t immediately suspect a connection with Deep Shard. He and Raven kept working the profitable and seemingly-helpful Deep Shard. They were also delighted to discover a new nearby source in the Dark Alley behind Driftglobe Inn. Why ingots of Deep Shard began to appear in the alley remained uncertain. Though Bresson’s alarm grew when he learned that players were starting to disappear behind Driftglobe and that one of the lamp posts there had begun to emit darkness rather than light.

Then Raven disappeared and Bresson began to panic.

When the players arrive, they find Bresson packing his things. If questioned about why he’s packing, Bresson says that ‘business has gone sour, becoming too risky.’ If pressed or persuaded (Intimidation 15 or Persuasion 15), Bresson reveals that he’s ‘been selling special items made from Deep Shard and forged in a workshop beneath his coffee house but that his fellow smiths have gone missing near the Driftglobe Inn.’ If questioned further, Bresson says he’s going to leave town because he fears for his safety.

Bresson has two magic items made from Deep Shard that he’s willing to give to characters who treat him well — a short sword and a spear. Both are minor items. If the players ask to have them, he reluctantly gives them away saying — ‘The NPC smiths say they’re cursed. I didn’t believe them at first. Now, with everyone disappearing, I wonder.’

Bresson knows little else. Though he can guess quite a lot, he’s not willing to share his speculations with the players.

Treasure: Minor Deep Shard Shortsword, Minor Deep Shard Spear (see Appendix).

The Dim Alley and the Dark Lamp Post

Regardless of whether the players talk to Bresson, Thalia ultimately leads them to the Dim Alley behind the Driftglobe Inn. The Inn itself has a bright front. Its namesake Driftglobe (DMG, 166) floats in the air out front, casting bright light into the street and over passersby as it languidly floats back and forth on its silver chain.

The shadow-filled alley to the left of the Inn is another story. Most residents avoid it. Now and then, an adventurer may enter the Alley in search of a lost companion or to investigate a rumor. Most emerge with little to show. Some disappear. Since this is a safe zone, folk aren’t don’t voice their concern. But its presence provokes fears many are not willing to name.

“Shadows seem to bend and twist in odd fashion, spilling out from the alley like a pool of unlight. Passersby on the street give Dim Alley a wide berth. For you and for these residents, Dim Alley creates a kind of dissonance — seeming to contradict the safety that the Home Town of Mio Elysse represents.”

When the players enter Dim Alley, all light sources are considered one category dimmer. Bright light becomes dim light, dim light becomes darkness and so on. Upon entering, the players immediately notice the source of the darkness — a lamp post with a globe of pitch black atop it in the place where its lamp light should be. They also see the following message in their Head’s Up DisplayWARNING: LEAVING SAFE ZONE. The cobblestones around the lamp are buckled. In cracks between them, the players can see tree roots. These roots are outrunners from Yggdrasil. A DC 20 Nature or a DC 20 Arcana check can reveal to the players that the roots are from Yggdrasil.

If the players search the Alley, they are able to find two ingots of Deep Shard if they succeed in a DC 15 Perception check. One rests directly beneath the Dark Lamp Post. The other sits atop a pile of broken cobble stones stacked near the Alley’s west wall. If the players Investigate (DC 15) the areas near these shards, they notice small disturbances that indicate signs of struggle. The Duergar (Monster Manual, 122) Flinderflick, his Death Dog (Monster Manual, 321) Render, Benderfleck the Drow (Monster Manual, 128) and Flinderflick’s Goblin (Monster Manual, 166) slaves recently leapt out of their lair in the Yggdrasil Root Pocket behind the Dark Lamp Post then ambushed and killed two low level players in the Dim Alley. When the players died in the darkened rift area between Midgard and Svartalfheim, their pixels coalesced to form Deep Shard ingots.

If a character holds a Deep Shard or an item crafted from Deep Shard and approaches to within ten feet of the Dark Lamp Post, they can see space bend and shift around the Lamp Post — forming an open entryway. Read the following:

“Holding the ingot of black crystal before you, space bends as you approach the lamp post capped in darkness. The distortion forms an opening into a chamber of expertly worked stone. Precise blocks neatly fitted form a floor that leads through an archway formed by expert hands. As within the Alley, the light is dim and cold. Your vision quickly terminates. Although you can see clearly enough to make out runes on the archway.”

The runes are dwarven and read — Stranger Beware.

Svartalfheim Node

A player holding a Deep Shard or an item forged from Deep Shard may pass through the archway. They can also hold hands with one additional player to cross under the archway. Thalia, having possess the Dagger Raven forged from Deep Shard, has been exposed to the magical energy of Svartalfheim long enough to pass through the archway as well.

Dim Alley, Dark Lampost, and Svartalfheim Node. Map made with Inkarnate.

1. Node Entry

“Passing through the archway, you enter a chill, shadowy chamber. Where you stand, roots curl around the distortion in space leading to the alleyway behind you. Shadows from the dark lamp post pool around you. Stepping from the pool of shadows, you notice the light of two braziers at the end of a narrow well-worked hallway ahead.”

The first ten feet of this hallway is under the same darkness effect as the Dim Alley. But when the characters step out, the lighting conditions return to normal. The players are now within a node broken off from the dungeon realm of Svartalfheim that exists in a space between it and Midgard caught up in Yggdrasil’s roots.

The braziers at the end of the hallway have had the Magic Mouth (Player’s Handbook, 257) ritual cast on them by the Drow Benderflek (Area 4). If anyone but Flinderflick (Area 5), Benderflek, or the Death Dog Render (Area 2) pass between the braziers, the Magic Mouth triggers and utters the words “Naughty, naughty!” loudly in elfish and then in dwarven. A Detect Magic (Player’s Handbook, 231) spell focused on the braziers reveals an aura of illusion magic. Close examination by someone trained in Arcana (DC 20) will also reveal traces of illusion magic.

2. Death Dog Foyer

This foyer has been scoured clean by the Goblin (Area 3) slaves under the meticulous eye of Flinderflick. Light flickers from braziers near the walls. A Death Dog (Render) contentedly grinds a thigh bone down to pixels. After a minute, it reforms only to be ground down again. Render immediately attacks anyone he doesn’t recognize who enters this chamber. He also terrorizes the Goblins and Raven by continuously growling and snapping at them when intruders are not present.

3. Goblin Barracks

Each of these barracks is occupied by four Goblins. Flinderflick has instructed them to rally to the foyer if the Magic Mouth alarm sounds. That said, the Goblins are reluctant, ill-treated, and have low morale. If the alarm does sound, one group of four delays, not arriving until round 3. If the alarm does not sound, the Goblins ignore noises in the foyer and stay in their barracks. If a character enters their room, they attack. If a character speaks to them in Goblin, they listen with weapons ready, then ask to be set free.

Treasure: Each Goblin holds a Minor Deep Shard dagger.

4. Forge, Workbench and Gateway to Svartalfheim

This chamber contains a forge (A), a table with smiths’ tools arranged across it, and an archway veiled in mist surrounded by Yggdrasil roots (B).

The forge is used by Raven, under the tyrannical eye of Flinderflik, to craft Deep Shard weapons and other items. With Giles and Raven (Area 6) as his slaves, he’s managed to equip his entire force in the Svartalfheim Node with these dangerous items. He sets ambushes in the Dim Alley for unwary adventures. He also uses the Drow Benderflek, who can roam freely about in Mio Elysse, to collect information about smiths as targets for possible kidnapping. The Goblins can also pass into Midgard. But they are too untrustworthy to let loose in Mio Elysse. Flinderflik is, so far, unable to pass beyond the Dim Alley. But he knows that this situation will soon change.

The archway is a gate leading to Svartalfheim. But it presently is not passable by anyone except natives of Svartalfheim and by those who’ve possessed a Deep Shard item for more than ten days. Flinderflik intends to use the gateway to send captives back to Svartalfheim as gifts to his King Doomshallow. He has already sent Giles Gilfeather as a slave gift. He intends to send Raven as soon as he can find a suitable replacement smith.

The Drow Benderflek occupies this area when the players arrive. He responds immediately to any commotion. Benderfleck possesses a Minor Deep Shard rapier which he uses in melee instead of shortsword (+4 to hit, 1d8+2 damage, critical 2d8+2+1 necrotic damage). His statistics are those of a Drow (Monster Manual, 128). He has also managed to learn the Magic Mouth ritual.

Benderflek serves as Flinderflick’s spy and scout. As a Drow in possession of a Deep Shard item, he can move freely about in Midgard. Flinderflick thinks this is a special talent of Benderflek alone and has not yet discovered that this is a Drow trait.

Treasure: Smith’s Tools are arranged on the work table. Benderfleck’s purse contains 5 platinum, 15 gold, 20 silver and 21 copper. He also holds a Minor Deep Shard rapier.

5. Flinderflick’s Chamber

This chamber is occupied by Flinderflick’s bed, a small desk, and a dresser. His Deep Shard battle axe hangs from pegs on the wall or is strapped to Flinderflick’s back.

Flinderflick the Duergar (Monster Manual, 122) occupies his chamber when the characters arrive. He was separated from Svartalfheim when a portion of his fortress was ripped away by Yggdrasil’s roots and cast into the gap between it and Midgard two weeks ago. When first separated, Flinderflick could only occupy the Node or venture out into the Dim Alley. Eventually the roots ripped a second gate into the forge area which now allows him to pass back and forth between the Node and Svartalfheim. Though other residents of Svartalfheim are not yet able to cross into the Node.

Flinderflick believes the Deep Shard materials and weapons can help the Duergar and Drow of Svartalfheim invade Midgard. He has already gained the attention of King Doomshallow who is plotting to conquer the unsuspecting inhabitants of BSO’s first level. Neither Doomshallow, nor Flinderflick realize that this breach into Midgard from Svartalfheim through Yggdrasil’s roots is but the first of many. That said, Benderflek does. For his people, the Drow, have been finding paths through darkness to areas around Yggdrasil for some time now. The Drow have kept this secret from their Duergar allies for now. Their leaders rightly believe Doomshallow would act on this information too-soon.

Flinderflick is meticulous in the extreme and burns all communications between himself and his King. He is also loyal and will take his secrets with him to his death.

If the alarm sounds or Flinderflick hears a commotion, he readies his weapons and ventures out — ready to do battle.

Treasure: A hidden compartment in Flinderflick’s desk (DC 15 Perception, DC 14 Investigation) contains a pouch with 2 black onyx (25 gold each), 1 garnet (25 gold), 5 platinum, 40 gold, and 100 silver. Flinderflick keeps his Major Deep Shard battle axe on his person or on the wall pegs. He also possesses the key for room 6 which hangs from a cord around his neck.

6. Prisoner

The door to this room is locked. It is a reinforced door (Dungeon Master’s Guide, 246). A character with Thieves’ Tools proficiency can open the door by picking the lock with a successful check (DC 17).

Inside is Raven Blackhorn. She is Thalia’s real life mother. In game, she’s a highly skilled smith and a level 2 Tiefling Whispers Bard (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, 16). As a captive slave of Flinderflick, Raven has been forced under threat of death to forge items made of Deep Shard.

Raven is overwhelmed with gratitude if she’s rescued and reunited with her daughter. Even though she knows it’s a game, she now harbors a deep hatred for the slaver race of Duergar and their allies the Drow. Raven knows the magical gate in room 4 leads to a place called Svartalfheim — a subterranean dungeon realm ruled by Drow and Duergar. She also knows Flinderflick intended to send her there to be a slave to the King Doomshallow. Raven, though terrified by her close brush with death and slavery, seeks to do all she can to prevent others from becoming enslaved and to free Giles Gilfeather whom she knows is now a slave in Svartalfheim.

Combat Tactics

The monsters’ combat tactics largely depend on whether or not the players set off the Magic Mouth alarm. This alarm is loud enough to immediately alert everyone in the Node and compel them to act on Flinderflick’s previously issued commands. If the players do not set off the Magic Mouth, the barks and growls of Render along with sounds of fighting ultimately alert those in the Node but their actions may be delayed for various reasons.

Magic Mouth alerts the Node:

Round 1: Render the Death Dog begins barking and rushes out to attack any intruders it can see in area 1 and 2.

Round 2: Four Goblins pour out of one barracks room (area 3). They attempt to flank enemies — focus firing to take the players down one at a time. They start with the apparently weakest player unless they are threatened by a more serious danger (like a tank-type swinging a massive weapon in their face).

Round 3: The Four Goblins from the second barracks rush out. Benderflek the Drow arrives. He casts Faerie Fire (Player’s Handbook, 239) on his first round of combat, then engages players who are illuminated with his hand crossbow from a distance. If a player threatens him in melee, he draws his rapier. If Flinderflick falls and more than half his allies have been defeated, Benderfleck uses his next action to cast Darkness and then attempts to flee through the Gate in area 4. Flinderflick moves into area 4 and Enlarges himself using his special Duergar ability.

Round 4: Flinderflick arrives. He attacks whichever player appears to be the greatest threat or a player under the effect of Benderflek’s Faire Fire. Flinderflick is a fanatic who believes in his superiority. He fights to the death.

Render alerts the Node:

Round 1: Render attacks intruders he can see.

Round 2: The Goblins in area 3 cower.

Round 3: Benderflek’s actions are the same. Flinderflick’s actions are the same except that he shouts furiously for the Goblins to attack.

Round 4: Four Goblins from one room in area 3 burst out and attack. Flinderflick’s actions are the same.

Round 5: Four more Goblins creep out and reluctantly attack so long as their morale isn’t ruined.

Goblin morale: If four Goblins are killed or incapacitated, the rest surrender. If Flinderflick is killed or incapacitated, four Goblins surrender the round this happens and any remaining Goblins surrender the following round. If the players kill Render, the Goblins cheer as the Death Dog breaks into pixels but keep fighting.

Deep Shard Weapons: The Goblins and Benderflek possess Minor Deep Shard Weapons (see Appendix) and deal +1 Necrotic Damage on a critical hit. Flinderflick possesses a Major Deep Shard Weapon and is +1 to hit and damage for all his attacks while also dealing +1 Necrotic Damage on a critical hit.

APPENDIX

This module includes new magic items in the form of Deep Shard Crystals — cursed magical items that link Midgard to the dungeon realm of Svartalfheim and to the shadowy gap-world in between. In addition, the stats for a key O(PC) — Thalia Winterclaw — are included here.

Magic Items

Deep Shard Crystals (Common, Magical Material, Cursed)

A Deep Shard Crystal forms when a player character (PC) dies while within 1,000 feet of Yggdrasil or in the Dim Alley in Mio Elysse. These crystals are linked to Svartalfheim — the dark dungeon realm now being breached by the growing roots of Yggdrasil. They are also empowered by the shadowy gap between those two worlds. A PC who possesses a Deep Shard or an item forged from Deep Shard for ten days may pass from Midgard and into Svartalfheim through a Node Gate. An elf (of any type) from Midgard who possesses a Deep Shard item may move freely between and within these two realms immediately. A monster or NPC from Svartalfheim may only move into Nodes, the Dim Alley, or emerge in areas within 1,000 feet of Yggdrasil. If they possess a Deep Shard or an item forged from it for ten days, they can then move freely about Midgard. A Drow who possesses a Deep Shard item can move freely between and within these two realms immediately.

Cursed — Anyone possessing a Deep Shard or an item made from it for more than ten days receives the following status alert: WARNING: SAFE ZONE SETTING TURNED OFF. Thereafter, the player can now be attacked by other players, NPCs, or monsters who have their safe zone setting turned off. This effect is cumulative. So if a Deep Shard or an item made from it is held for one day, then set aside only to be picked up again later, the count continues on to two days and so on.

Deep Shard may be forged into magical weapons by those proficient in Smith’s Tools and having access to Smith’s Tools and Forge. Roll a Smith’s Tools proficiency check to determine the outcome.

Modified Proficiency Check Result:

1-10 Failure. Deep Shard Crystal is destroyed.

10-15 Failure, no result.

15-19 Produces a Minor Deep Shard Weapon.

20+ Produces a Major Deep Shard Weapon.

If a Deep Shard Crystal or a weapon made from it is exposed to daylight in Asgard, Alfheim, or Vanaheim, it is destroyed and all its effects are removed.

Minor Deep Shard Weapon (Common, Weapon, Cursed)

A Minor Deep Shard Weapon can be any melee weapon, a javelin, or 20 pieces of ammunition (arrows, bolts, sling stones, darts). They possess the same properties of the Deep Shard Crystal from which they are forged. In addition, they are considered Magical Weapons. When a critical hit is scored with a Minor Deep Shard Weapon, it deals an additional 1 point of Necrotic Damage.

Major Deep Shard Weapon (Uncommon, Weapon, Cursed)

The rules for a Major Deep Shard Weapon are the same as those for a Minor Deep Shard Weapon and a Deep Shard Crystal. In addition, these weapons are +1 to hit and and +1 to damage.

Companion OPC Game Statistics

Thalia will join the PCs if they welcome her. She is desperate to find her mother and will use her abilities and powers to help the PCs. Technically a Player in BSO, Thalia fulfills the traditional role of NPC. For our purposes, we’ll label Thalia an (other player character) OPC. An OPC is thus technically a player in Battlestorm for story purposes.

Thalia uses her powers to support and heal the players. She casts Mage Armor at the start of an adventuring day, then immediately burns her two sorcery points to regain a spell slot. She casts Bless on her allies during round 1, then uses Cure Wounds to heal anyone who looks like they’re in trouble. If anyone is down, she casts Spare the Dying. If no other option is available, she casts Firebolt on her foes. Thalia will use her dragon breath only as a last resort.

*********

THALIA WINTERCLAW — 5e stats

Medium Silver Dragonborn, neutral good

Armor Class 13 (16) (mage armor)
Hit Points 14
Speed 30 ft.

STRDEXCONINTWISCHA
8 (-1)16 (+3)14 (+2)10 (0)16 (0)16 (+3)

Saving Throws Con +4, Cha +5
Skills Persuasion +5, Arcana +2, Insight +2, Religion +2
Damage Resistances cold
Senses passive Perception 10
Languages Common, Draconic

Magic Weapon. Thalia has a Major Deep Shard Dagger (attack stats adjusted).

Font of Magic. Thalia has 2 sorcery points (See Sorcerer Class).

Spellcasting. Thalia is a 2nd-level spellcaster. Her spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks). She has the following Sorcerer and Cleric spells prepared:

ACTIONS

  • Firebolt. Spell Attack: +5 to hit, range 120 feet, one target. Hit: 6 (1d10) fire damage.
  • Deep Shard Dagger. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d4+3) magical piercing damage. Critical: +1 necrotic damage.
  • White Dragon Breath. Breath Weapon: creatures in a15 foot cone. DC 12 Con save. 7 (2d6) cold damage. Save for half.

DESCRIPTION

Thalia is a dragonborn bedecked in glistening silver scales. An iridescent frill runs from the top of her head to her tail, casting rainbow hues in direct sunlight. Though ready with a smile, she is sad at the loss of her mother and is desperate to find her.

Helkey 24 — Flight to Esbjerg With a Helter-Skelter Nightmare in the Sky

Mori watches the train slowly board, glances at their police escort, then squeezes Beatrice’s arm. The contact — as much for his own comfort as hers. Finely muscled angelic flesh warms his hand. Sets it to tingling in ways a normal human touch might not. Or so he imagines. Maybe it’s just because he’s still batshit crazy in love with her. At this point, he’ll take even the imagined comfort, or the halo effect, or the real comfort caused by her angelic nature. Whatever the source, he sure as Hell needed it now.

Hunted.

The word buzzes in his mind like an alarm. His skin tingles with primordial fear response. Mori feels the impulse to kill, to run like Hell, or both. A Curse Rider? We knew it would probably come. But now.. Gods, we are so fucked.

Mages as a subset of humankind had nearly gone extinct numerous times over the last millennia and a half. The cause — goddamn Curse Riders. Devils armed and trained by Asmodeus himself to slay mages and to take their powerful wisps. They were an innovation of the Dark Ages. A far more lethal scythe to shear through the ranks of his people than even the devils who came before. All devils lusted after mages’ souls. Much of Hell was dedicated to the entrapment of mage wisps by whatever means necessary. But before the Curse Riders, devils had to use the normal lures. Tempting or tricking the mage into Hell or by jumping any mage foolish enough to enter Hell willingly on their own. Curse Riders were a great advancement into wholesale carnage. Able to exploit Asmodeus’s in-roads to Earth to take form, they could now directly hunt and slay. Taking mage wisps by the devil-preferred method that is violence and slaughter. A feat which wasn’t possible before.

At first, the losses were mammoth. Only the most powerful mages — able to resist the overwhelming power of a Curse Rider long enough to flee — and the most cunning survived. New methods were devised to keep hidden. To keep safe. By modern times, mage numbers were again slowly rising. Though never so plentiful as before the Curse Riders.

I guess my fear’s kinda instinctive. Makes sense after making such a bone-headed plan and following through with it. They’d sent their daughter into Hell and to distract Asmodeus. They’d deliberately taken Ivan Volkov, the Arch Devil’s chosen prophet on Earth. I suppose I hoped we’d avoid a Curse Rider. But that was stupid. Like kicking a hornets’ nest and expecting the hornets not to come swarming out.

Now we’re in a serious bind. A Curse Rider, and a very nasty one by the look of it, is breathing down our necks. He’s summoned up a posse of the worst devil sympathizers in Europe. It’s an honest to goddamn witch hunt.

The officer tabs her radio, speaks a few words in German. Interpretor gives him the words in English. Train’s almost finished boarding. They’re departing in four minutes. There’s a gathering of extremists just north of town near the tracks. But police units are already breaking them up. Mori’s too keyed up and knows way too much to feel relief. Instead, he moves on to the next worry.

Across the table, Sadie is on the phone with Glenda. “No, dear. It’s too dangerous to meet us at the train station. No, it’s also too dangerous to go to the restaurant. We’ll need you to go to the docks. Now. Yes. Yes. I’ll be calling ahead for the water transport. Of course I have a contingency.”

Ivan reaches out, tries to grab the phone. Sparks erupt from his hand. He shakes it in pain. “Tell her not come,” he growls.

Sadie doesn’t miss a beat. “Of course your father is here, dear. I’m certain he’ll be glad to see you. Yes, yes. The trouble is… after him too. Stay safe dear. And remember. The docks! Take every precaution and have our friends help if need be. Lots of love and see you soon. Bye now dear.”

Sadie puts down the phone, takes a deep breath, then lays a hand on the train car’s interior wall. She closers her eyes, whispering. Taking a moment to study herself. Mori can’t hear what she’s saying. He’d want to pray too, though. If he were the praying type. What Mori doesn’t notice is the flash of divine curse energy running through Sadie’s palm and into the train.

Mori’s nervously glancing at his watch — it’s 12:03. They should be leaving soon. He pulls out his phone, thumbing through his text messages. He had Stefan follow the train in his Tesla just in case. But he’s more than an hour behind them. By the time they reach Esbjerg, if they reach Esberg, that lag will stretch past two hours. A lot can happen in two hours. Stefan will almost certainly be too far away to help. He glances sidelong at Beatrice, notes she’s keeping track of Ivan and the officer all while monitoring their still-active omnis scientia. Good, she’s on top of her game. Did I ever doubt?

Mori drums on the table in front of him with his fingers, trying to bleed off the anxiety with pointless motion. Why aren’t they moving yet? He glances over his shoulder at the officer a couple rows away. She’s also on her phone. He leans across the table. “Sadie, tell me about your contacts in Esbjerg,” he asks in a low voice. “You have someone who can meet us a bit past midway? Possibly near Tonder?”

Sadie blinks at him, removing her hand from the train’s interior wall. “I heard your little plan from earlier. It’s probably a good one. But it’ll take some doing.” She picks up her phone and holds up a finger, indicating he wait. Good, she’s on it. Sadie’s about as resourceful as they come. If she’s already up on his jump-train plan, then she’s probably arranging a contact at a good jump point.

The train makes a whooshing sound as it finally departs. Blessed joy! Powerful electric motors humming, the 100 percent clean energy, five thousand ton, Sleipnir launches from the platform. A half-smile creeps onto his face. He’ll never get used to the delicious acceleration electrics could pump out. Hamburg’s urban region blurs by and they are, once again, rocketing through open country. Hot, dry farms and woodlands replace the gray and white city buildings of Hamburg. The train seems to be moving faster this time. Good. Mori glances at the officer, wondering if its speed has something to do with the recent attack by goddamn Berserkers. Probably. When they left the platform, their first train was crawling with law enforcement. Media’s gonna have a friggin heyday with this stuff, Furze Bank, and the plane crash.

They cross a road intersection. In the distance, Mori can see a police roadblock. Behind it is a cluster of motor cycles. Some of their riders lift one-finger salutes at the passing trail. Beatrice’s eyes swirl with magical energy as she engages omnis scientia.

“More Berserkers,” she says. He nods, not wanting to expend precious magical energy to see the spectacle more closely for himself. The train is already well past the intersection. Beatrice is just pointing their magical sensor back at them. “There are about fourteen. Cops are having a tough time with them.”

Mori gives a wry smirk. “I bet.”

“Oh,” Beatrice gasps.

“What is it, babe?” He can still see her eyes swirling. She must’ve picked up something new out there.

“It’s… a helicopter. You’ve go to see this.” She grabs hold of his shoulder.

“OK,” he replies, blinking his eyes and letting his energetic vessel expend the magic to connect him with omnis scientia. He’s momentarily dizzy as his senses shift. He adjusts quickly. Scanning his new, much wider, field of vision, he notes the Berserkers and Police rapidly falling away behind them. Spinning the sensor to the north, he scans for Beatrice’s helicopter. No such luck, but the hot northwestern sky is littered with massive thunderheads. A titanic, if far-distant, white-gray line of overshooting tops. Its tell-tale, anvil-shaped white blur about two hundred and fifty miles off. Gonna get really stormy this afternoon. And they’re heading out into the North Sea. Great. Mori keeps spinning the sensor, turning it eastward. Then he sees it. A black and red MD 902 Explorer that could best be described as highly stylized spews black clouds of smoke behind and to the right of the solar train.

The helicopter is clearly shadowing them. To his sensitive mage sight, its abnormalities are obvious. Diabolical magic drips away and behind it as worb energy flares in its engines. Even to a casual observer its bulging glass cockpit eyes, landing struts sporting downward turning talons, the bat-like shape of tail fins, and red flames shooting from exhaust ports would seem out of place except at a derby race made for monster helicopters.

“Yep. Definitely a Nightmare,” he announces, shifting his senses back to the train cabin. Beatrice shoots him a look that says ‘duh’ but in a more refined way he doesn’t articulate. “Keep eyes on it sweetheart. I’ll see if our new friends can do something to delay it.”

Mori stands, walks over to the police officer, then crouches down. “Uh, mam, I think you might want to take a look at this.” He glances at her name plate. It’s Officer Winkler.

“What is it?”

“Over here by the window.” Mori guides her to an open seat with a window space on the train’s right side. He lifts his finger, points at the helicopter. “See that? I’m betting it’s not authorized to fly so close to our train.” The helicopter’s about a thousand feet up. It’s slowly descending toward them.

“Schiesse!” Winkler exclaims. “That thing is ugly.”

“Yeah, looks like some magical monster out of a fantasy movie, right?”

“Ja!” She replies, then tabs her radio. After a flurried conversation, she looks at Mori with upraised eyebrows. “Good spot. It’s not showing up on radar.” Her own words seem to puzzle her. “What kind of helicopter looks like that but doesn’t show up on radar?”

The Nightmare kind, Mori thinks to himself but doesn’t reply. Instead he just shrugs his shoulders and turns up his hands in a ‘you got me, police lady’ gesture.

Winkler blows a raspberry, sharing in his befuddlement. “They’re sending a chopper to intercept the chopper. Closest one’s out of Kiel. Won’t be here for another 15-20 minutes. And that’s fast response.”

“Central’s gotta be freaked,” Mori falls into cop-speak easy, his normal person background kicking in. He scratches his head, thinking about a police helicopter and a Nightmare facing off among the clouds… “Hey, maybe it’s not such a good idea…” He trails off not knowing how exactly to explain how a supposed civilian helicopter is going to give a police ‘copter trouble. But that probably wasn’t going to happen. 15-20 minutes wasn’t going to be fast enough. Mori’s mind races, trying to come up with another plan.

“They’re all over the place with everything that’s happened,” Officer Winkler continues. “That keeps happening. And to top it all off, there’s a big gale front sweeping in from the North Sea. Thunderstorms, hurricane force winds, there’s even a tornado watch.”

“Don’t say?” Mori already saw the storm clouds. The forecast confirms it. As he talks, his tactical brain is kicking in. He’s wondering how to get a clear shot at the Nightmare ‘copter. He glances back to his rifle-briefcase. Yeah. Might need that soon. “Lately weather’s been wrecked as all Hell,” Mori continues. It was part of the whole problem, wasn’t it? Damn devils teaming up with corrupt and influential humans to do stuff like fuck up the weather for all the other humans. Today’s Hellified forecast included an actual devil invader flying in a goddamn helicopter made from an unholy mash-up of machine, demon, and diabolical magic.

“Ja, for the past decade at least. It’s the hot air running into ocean water chilled by Greenland melt.”

Now it’s Mori’s turn to blow a raspberry. “Tell me about it, right?” So officer Winkler was an amateur climate buff? Well, it was certainly something worth his respect. “Climate change’s playing havok with everything.”

She’s nodding and formulating a reply. Mori can tell they’d touched on a subject of passionate interest for Winkler — who seemed to be, all-in-all, a rather decent human being. Mori’s edging away to get back to his briefcase when, suddenly, all the freaking cell phones in their train car start ringing.

“Oh fucking shit!”

Winkler looks up at him in surprise. Her phone is ringing too.

“Oh shit, did I say that out loud? Don’t answer that call! Gotta go!” He’s running off, grabbing his phone. A glance is all he needs to see the red tendrils of diabolical influence heavy with suggestive magic oozing off it. He tabs the answer key, puts it on speaker, and holds it well away from his face as he jumps, then slides back to their seats. He’s got magical protections set up to deal with devils’ suggestive magic. But it never hurts to be careful.

“Lookin’ for Ivan,” a cigarette-smoke voice rasps on the other end. Mori can hear twenty other phones saying the same thing throughout the train car. “Not hard to miss,” the voice continues. “He’s a little squirt of a Russian. Kinda looks like Vladimir Putin. I’d be obliged if you could hand me off to him.”

About ten people stand up all at once — holding their phones out to Ivan. Mori shoves four of them away. Beatrice and Sadie are already on their feet. Sadie shouting confractus! multiple times. The diabolical magic in five nearby phones unravels.

“Please, no! This is all a misunderstanding!” Beatrice says, her voice laden with an-already applied suggero curse. Confused passengers sit back down as the devil continues to spout garbage into their ears. Even as some seem to hear Beatrice, succumb to her magic, and sit down, more passengers further back in the car are standing, moving toward them, holding phones with diabolical magic tendrils flailing.

“Aww, come-on Ivan. I know you’re there buddy, pick up,” the diabolical cowboy voice crackles through at least thirty phones, filling the train with its helter-skelter suggestive magic. One of the zombie-like crowd, a breathless teen with a confused look on his face, breaks through, then kneels to offer up his Cthulhu phone. Mori is struck by the absurdity of the gesture. But doesn’t have time to think about it. He’s too busy shoving off the mass of bedeviled humanity.

Ivan hears the voice. He stands slowly, as if drawn up on marionette strings. His hand lifts toward the teen’s phone. It begins to spark with Sadie’s telephone blocking curse. Ivan grasps the phone. It catches fire — burning Ivan. Mori can smell the sweet scent of frying skin. Ivan is unphased. The Pride Eater wound in his back is flaring with diabolical magic. Mori focuses omnis scientia down and through the train. He can see the possession stabbing through the Russian like a thorn dug too deep to be removed. Ivan picks up the phone. Tendrils quest toward him from the receiver only to be burned off like mist in morning sunlight by Sadie’s curse. The phone sparks, catches flame, then melts in Ivan’s hand.

The voice on the other line is still audible as a tinny, warbling tone. “bAd conNeCtiOn,” the devil cowboy can be heard saying before the audio cuts out.

At last Ivan seems to wake up. He screams, shakes the burning phone out of his hand, then kneels to cradle his wounded digits. His eyebrows are upturned. He looks both with terror and with longing as another of the devil-zombified, this one dressed as an office professional, offers up another unholy phone. The wound in Ivan’s back pulses again — shooting a signal laden both with power and command. In Ivan’s eyes, Mori can see the ecstasy of longing for power ignite into a red glow. Ivan’s mouth works, his jaws clamping and unclamping, slaver drools down from his mouth as he literally salivates for power. Ivan’s link to that power — a friggin cell phone held before his face by a duped thrall with a devil on the other end.

Ivan’s hand lifts, closes on the cell phone again. Again, Sadie’s protective curse activates. But this time, the damn Curse Rider somehow fights back. The tendrils multiply and, as one shoot in a cloud — rocketing toward Ivan’s wound.

Mori’s hand closes on his briefcase. Pushes the red button. The rifle blurs into form. With automatic, perfect movements, her removes a yellow confractus bullet. Aims for the phone. Shoots. The phone disintegrates in a flash. Tendrils immediately fade out. Ivan looks down at the phone in anguish, then back up at Mori in rage. The Russian hurls himself at Mori. Mori doesn’t have time to fuck around. He smashes the stock of his weapon into Ivan’s chest, slamming him back down into the seat. Ivan is momentarily stunned. This gives Mori the opportunity to spin and link a hand with Beatrice. They exchange a glance.

Una!” he shouts, joining his magic with with Beatrice’s. “Suggero!

Beatrice smiles in grim approval. They speak together in concert. Their voices amplified by the shotgun effect of Una. “SIT! DOWN!” The magical force blasts through the train car in a shockwave. Though just suggestion, they’re both digging deep into their reserves. If Ivan is forcibly transformed here and now, then the whole mission to Denmark is almost certainly done for. No time to hold back now. The raw outburst of curse magic carrying suggero knocks people off their feet, sends bags and snack containers flying, and cracks two windows. Everyone in the train except Beatrice, Sadie, and Mori sit down. Then, in the time it takes for Beatrice and Mori to draw breath again, they incant CONFRACTUS! Sending a second wave of curse energy to drive the devil’s magic out of the cell phones.

At last, the train car is silent. Free of the cajoling voice of the cowboy Curse Rider.

Up front, there’s a loud thump as something large lands on the train’s roof. The sound of helicopter blades, grown closer and closer throughout the struggle, is now directly overhead. Coming from above the train’s electric engine. Beatrice and Mori exchange a horrified glance.

“Shit!” Mori exclaims as he transitions back to omnis scientia. Turning the sensor toward the front of the train, Mori sees it. The goddamn Nightmare helicopter has landed on the train’s roof. Beside it is the dark, whip-thin figure of the devil cowboy. A cigarette smolders in his mouth as he lays a hand upon the Nightmare machine, then whispers a few words as a rider might to a horse. The helicopter form melts, forms a red-black pool of something toxic, then sinks down into the body of the train. Mori’s stomach does a nose-dive. The Curse Rider turns, looks over his shoulder at the sensor, then the fucker actually waves.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

(Enjoying the story? Want to help support the continuance of this tale? Please like, share and subscribe.)

BSO Ragnarök 1.1: The Deep Dark of Svartalfheim Introduction and Adventure Summary

Battlestorm Online Ragnarok is an Open Gaming License Dungeons (OGL) and Dragons adventure designed for four-to-six characters. These player-characters are the heroes of our story. The material provided in this module series describes the villains, monsters, and dangerous situations the characters will encounter as they explore the Battlestorm Online environment.

This content is written for game masters who wish to run the Battlestorm Online Ragnarok campaign as an adventure. Original OGL monsters, magic items, and spells are published in this module series. When rules, monsters, magic items and spells from Wizards of the Coast are referenced, they are hyper-linked to Roll20 whenever possible and the published reference and page number is provided in parenthesis. For example: Hobgoblin Warlord (Monster Manual, 187) and Hobgoblin (Monster Manual, 186). Since Hobgoblin Warlord does not appear in the Roll20 Compendium, it is not hyperlinked.

The Deep Dark of Svartalfheim is the first of four modules in the larger Battlestorm Online Ragnarok adventure campaign — designed to carry the player characters from level 1 all the way to level 20. This block includes the larger campaign introduction as well as an opener to The Deep Dark of Svartleheim — which will advance the player characters from level 1 through level 5.

If you are a Battlestorm Online player — STOP READING NOW.

ADVENTURE SUMMARY

The characters log into Battlestorm Online (BSO) only to find that they are trapped in a virtual reality death game based on the world’s most widely-played RPG — Dungeons and Dragons. If they voluntarily log out, if someone tampers with their Ghost Gear virtual reality equipment in the real world, or if their avatar fails three death saves after their hit point bar drops to zero in-game, their Ghost Gear emits a strobe that triggers a lethal brain aneurism. The game’s creator — Gemu Masuta — makes a stunning announcement on the game’s first day that the characters must clear all the game’s dungeons and defeat the boss of each dungeon level in order to win the game and be freed from the deadly Ghost Gear.

The players’ lives are now spent in the virtual world layer of Midgard — the vibrant fantasy setting of BSO. Here they gain access to the safety of Home Towns, Safe Zones, Inns, Shops, Trainers, and Quest givers. They also find themselves surrounded by a hostile environment filled with deadly monsters and other hazards.

Midgard Level of the Battlestorm Campaign World. Map created by Ted Burgess.

A first wave of brave adventurers begin the quest to clear BSO by venturing out into Midgard to tackle hordes of monsters and deadly dungeons. These front line adventurers form parties, organize guilds, accumulate treasure, gain levels. They serve as protectors for less experienced or more afraid gamers who hang back — clustering in the safety of Home Towns or venturing out only when they are more certain of success. Many front liners die at the hands of monsters during the game’s first weeks — perishing to the lethal strobe emitted by the Ghost Gear after the game’s deadly monsters and traps render their avatars down to a confetti of flying pixels. Others gain power and renown.

But unbeknownst to these death game heroes, BSO is a two-part adventure series. The first part is static if stunningly dangerous and formidable — an intricate obstacle course of quests and dungeons designed to daunt even the world’s most experienced gamers. The second part is an invasion of monsters swarming up from dungeon bases that if left unchecked will ruin all player safe zones — threatening the lives of everyone in BSO.

BSO Ragnarök tells the story of those heroes who confront this second danger. For whatever reason, they held back from the initial wave of adventures. Then, after only a few weeks, they are called to action as they start to notice various strange signs. Safe zones are shrinking, monsters are beginning to wander away from respawn sites, and a bizarre star has ignited in the majestic night sky above Midgard.

Yggdrasil’s Roots and the Dark Mines of Svartleheim

At the center of Midgard sits the great tree Yggdrasil. Its trunk and branches stretch upward — supporting new levels of the Battlestorm Online campaign worlds. Within the trunk are dungeons that must be cleared in order for players to advance upward to unlock new quests, to open new levels and towns, and to reach new dungeons. Unseen below, Yggdrasil’s roots quest ever downward — extending toward four dark dungeon realms. These are Svartleheim — the mines of dark dwarves and elves, Hel — realm of the walking dead, Jotenheim — the land of the frost demons, and Muspel — a realm of terrible fire surrounded by darkness.

At the opening of this module, Yggdrasil’s first root is about to core into the dark mines of Svartleheim. This hollow root will soon pierce the mine entrance. When this happens, chaos will ensue within Midgard triggering these effects:

  • First, safe zones will no longer prevent damage in Midgard.
  • Second, safe zones will no longer keep monsters out.
  • Third, monsters will no longer be confined to spawn sites and dungeons but will instead be able to roam freely after spawning.
  • Fourth, the duergar and dark elves of Svartleheim will begin their invasion of Midgard.

This event has not yet happened. But the player characters are beginning to uncover various clues of this eminent catastrophe.

(Here ends the BSO campaign introduction and adventure summary. Up next… Ominous Signs Before the Breech Part 1 and Part 2 in which our heroes begin to experience various troubles as Yggdrasil’s roots begin to breech Svartalfheim. Find more BSO content in the Gaming Studio.)

Helkey 23 — Queen of Drivers and Overseers

Regina Rouge stands atop Overseer tower, balcony railing clenched between two gauntleted hands, eyes scanning the flurry of activity below, a smile like a splash of blood on her lips. Her gun metal armor grips her lithe form, fanning its spines into the hot, sulfurous air of Hell’s night. A red worb brimming with hundreds of captive wisps swirls over her left shoulder. At her hip is a long, ruby rod. Its end capped in black metal. A true Holocaust Scourge. One of the handful crafted by Asmodeus’s masters of infernal device. Not one of those cheap imitations bragged about by the petty nobles of Mechanus. She lays a palm over the weapon’s handle and peers out over her realm — the rich spawning grounds of Knife Lake. One of the most fertile basins for wisp formation in all of Eastern Infernia. Her source of power and profit this past Century. The one thing enabling her tenuous hold on Hell-Lord status.

The wisp-mongers of Mechanus are expecting a new supply of culls. And she is running late. A situation she seeks to remedy through that old Hellish occupation of over-work. Twenty scorpions are now grinding away to meet the jilted demand. Her full force of hundreds of Drivers along with a few score mercenary Poachers out scouring the lowlands for the wisps that continuously form here. Brought by demons, Terror Hounds, or simply by the increasingly terrible and competitive existence of those living on the prey world — Earth. Ever hungry, the Lords of Hell and their vast servant entourages require more souls to power their magics, to fulfill their never-sated lusts, or to curry favor in the endless power games of Asmodeus. His own ingenious lures bringing them more and more. She just need trap them, cull them, send them docile and ready for shaping into forms or use as a kind of liquid power in worbs.

Tonight’s effort will bring her more wealth, more favor. As long as it succeeds. So she watches from her balcony, ready to send a missive flying should any of tonight’s planned work run awry. Tonight, an annoying mist lies over large sections of the fertile lands to her south and east. She frowns as she tries to glimpse the scorpion she dispatched there. Through the mists, she thinks she sees the flick of its tail. Catches a glimpse of the tail contacting the wisp, then undulating with light as it draws the soul into a refinement vat. The tail flicks again. She smiles, stretches, cracks her knuckles. All is going well. The wisp mongers will be happy. Her wealth will continue to grow.

Then, near her scorpion, she sees a red flash that swiftly blooms into a flower of flame. A fireball shot. Her breath catches. Could her rival be taking action against her tonight? Lanvfer might be tempted to make a bold move to upset her shipment. He’d know the wisp-mongers are desperate. Any failure on her part will give him leverage. Regina had to admire the move. But it’s risky. Asmodeus will only turn a blind eye to the most minor internecine squabbling. Challenges between competing nobles are supposed to be settled on the battlefield of Avernum. But that only happens in instances of open warfare. Far more common are veiled conflicts or quietly incited rebellions. It’s one of the ongoing features of Hell — its lords ultimately fall prey to the endless grind of infighting. All except Asmodeus who delights in playing one against the other.

Made with Inkarnate.com

Her armored fist tightens on the railing. Ever the pragmatist, Regina knows she is just as vulnerable to a fall as the rest. Another fireball round explodes near her scorpion. She can’t see what’s happening down there, but that light is unmistakable. Then, she sees the streaks of force — trailing sparks as they cut through the fog to explode over scorpion. Five bolts of pure spiritual energy followed by the more familiar arcs of orange fireball rounds. The massive explosion rends a hole in the fog. She can see the wreckage of her scorpion clearly now, her keen devil’s eyes make out the small forms crawling over it — collecting the pillage of victory.

“That was magecraft.” She whispers the words, then involuntarily licks her lips. Her sensitive devil’s nostrils flare. She can smell a scent that to a human would hint of saltpeter. Spark scent, the devils call it. A tell-tale of human magecraft that a devil noble such as Regina could sniff out better than a shark could sniff blood in water. That magic, those sparks, this smell. To her mind there is no doubt. In her hundreds of years, she’s captured a mage wisp but three times. Each rending — a victory that served to secure her present high place in Hell’s ever-shifting heirarchy. A hunger settles into her gut that has nothing at all to do with food. “This changes everything.”

Somehow, a mage had come to her lands. If she could capture it — one of the most valuable of wisps, worth more than a destroyed scorpion, worth more than the entire rushed wisp harvest, worth more than any of her best years’ crops — would be hers for the taking.

She lays a hand on her Holocaust Scourge, channels a tongue of its angry fire through her worb. The wisps within scream in pain — sending out her signal. In a few moments, the air above her ripples. Unfolding from a flash of flame, an Uktena — a flying red serpent with two horns jutting from its head — appears. It treads the air in front of her languidly as it drifts down in front of her. This serpent is Corviss one of her many messengers.

“How might I serve you, mistress?” Corviss hisses.

“Someone has destroyed a scorpion.” Her tone is relaxed but it bears the subtle weight of those used to command. “It happened in the Lowlands’ Wisp Fields at the East End. “

Corviss hisses again, this time in surprise and delight. Uktena were unabashed lovers of conflict and mayhem. Trouble of all kinds and the suffering of others was a joy to them. “Does my lady suspect who would commit to such a thing?” A forked tongue flicks out. Two dark eyes glisten in anticipation.

“Not yet. Though there is a mage among them.”

Corviss cannot contain himself. He corkscrews through the air, spits burning venom above him, then bathes in it. Shuffling his coils in ecstasy, he curves back toward her. Should they capture a mage, all in Overseer Tower will bask in glory and receive Asmodeus’s favor for a year and a day. “Superb! What is your command!”

“We require the perpetrators. Send a Century and four scorpions to the Lowlands. Tell them to find the wreckage and deploy a hunting party — two Lances and an Overseer should suffice — to pick up our quarry’s track from there. Hold the scorpions and the rest of the Century in reserve.”

“Yes lady Regina!” Corviss replies. “Shall I be off?”

Regina touches her Scourge. A red flame bites Corviss’s tail. He shrieks in momentary agony. “Do not presume,” she says evenly.

“Forgive me lady. I just… It’s been so long. My excitement got the better of me. It won’t happen again.”

Regina nods curtly, then continues. “Choose Overseer Lavross. He has the most experience dealing with magecraft. And warn him — the mage had enough skill to take down a scorpion with only a small group of companions. Perhaps as few as six. That said, he was able to exploit Hell’s society and gain allies. Probably from among the slave classes. One also cannot ignore the possibility that a rival may employ a mage as a cat’s paw.”

“The treason!” Corviss hisses, aghast at her suggestion.

“… will be plausibly deniable so long as the mage’s wisp is taken. And the mage wisp may serve as a mitigating gift to any Hell Lord, such as myself, who captures so dangerous an interloper. Lanvfer is quite cunning. I won’t put such maneuvering past him.”

“You are deft as ever, lady,” Corviss simpers. “I see why you send such a large force.”

“Yes. If this is a veiled plot by Lanvfer to unseat me, we’d better be ready. Alert the other four Centuries and put them on standby. It will slow the harvest. But our capture of a mage will more than offset our loss. However, do not allow any word to spread to the mercenaries. Just keep them hard to task. Instead, quietly double the number of spies we keep among them. Tell our agents to send back word if our mercenary friends act unexpectedly.”

Corviss bows. “It shall be so,” he hisses. He writhes in the air before her — almost tying himself in knots as he lurches into motion, then stops himself. He will not risk another burn from her Scourge. And yet this news of a mage, of a possible assault by Lanvfer is too delicious for an Uktena not to react.

Regina smiles, drawing out the moment. Toying with her Uktena messenger is one of her more sumptuous hobbies. “Very well…”

Corviss hangs on a tenterhook.

“One last thing.”

The Uktena lurches in mid-lunge, almost caught as he nearly withers the air to leap to Overseer Lavross. “Yes, my lady,” he manages lamely.

Regina is too overjoyed at her coup to inflict punishment for his minor insubordination. “Tell Lavross that the Lance responsible for capturing our mage will receive two allotments on top of the usual reward. Allow rumor of the reward to spread to the mercenaries, just not the aim of our present hunt. I trust in your subtlety.”

“My lady!” Corviss beams at the unexpected compliment.

Disappointed Corviss didn’t attempt to jump off again, Regina waves a hand in dismissal. “Now go!”

Corviss coils his body, bursts into flame, then disappears. Far below, she sees his fire light among a formation of Drivers. They stand, heavily armed and ready, at the base of Overseer. A contingent force prepared to deal with any surprise. In only a few minutes, they’re in motion, mounting their one-wheeled Vortexes which spew long tails of black smoke as they rush off toward four scorpions. Her force now in motion, she turns back to the east. The fog there is breaking up. But even her keen eyes can no longer make out the tiny forms she glimpsed in the distance. There is, however, an odd movement of wisps. A large group breaks off, then flows into the hills. It’s not unheard of for wisps to move together in such a way. They seem to naturally sense when they’re hunted. Often clustering together. Seeming to hope numbers alone will save them. It never works out. Her Drivers are as brutal as they are efficient. Yet these wisps do not appear to merely cluster and drift fearfully this way and that as they tend to. Instead they move swiftly into the hills, then cut into a lowland where they vanish from sight.

Strange and stranger. No matter. Whatever your magics, whatever alliances you think you have here in Hell, mage, will amount to nothing. They will crumble as ash in your hands. With mine, I will rend your wisp personally. I will make you my slave in the most horrible way imaginable. And forever-on you will serve me, Regina Rouge, Queen of Overseer Tower and Hell Lord. This I swear.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

(Enjoying the story? Want to help support the continuance of this tale? Please like, share and subscribe.)

Helkey 22 — Ill-Fated Company

Followed by a drifting swarm of wisps, we proceed up a gentle slope. Turning left, I cut behind a land rise that masks us from what must surely be baleful watchers atop Overseer Tower. Out of the corner of my eye, I detect movement. Some spidery thing about ten feet across skittering over a hilltop. When I turn toward it, I see nothing. I flick omnis scienta up and over the rise. It gains height, swoops to the hill’s far side. Nothing. Just scree and large, jagged rocks. I shake my head. Either my eyes are playing tricks or some stealthy creature is lurking nearby. If so, won’t be too surprising. This is Hell, after all.

I motion to Zel and Theri, then point to the rise. “Saw some movement over there. May be nothing. If it’s something, I want to be ready.” They nod, adjusting to keep eyes on the ridge line. But we aren’t immediately troubled by whatever it was. If it was anything at all.

I guide us through another switch-back, moving us into a gully. It slopes down at a steep angle. Rocky walls thrust up on either side. Overhead, putrescent gas wafts up from some nearby water source — masking stars that waver in the hot, poisonous draft. Shimmering lines crisscross the sky creating a kind of shattered glass visual effect. To the east, a burnt-orange cloud-like object rises in various fiery hues. It’s surrounded by a ring. I suppose I’m looking at Hell’s moon Charon, or what’s left of it, through some spider web of crud devils somehow tossed up above the atmosphere. Everything up there is tinted sickly green. Out in the wisp fields, fog had obscured this celestial horror-show. Now, I find my eyes drawn to it when I should be keeping alert to more immediate dangers. Before long, the macabre sky is just a sliver above us.

My focus shifts to our hundred and forty-odd wisps. They swirl around us — spilling light like a flood of ghostly torches. Shadows dance and jigger. The gully’s rock walls bend and twist in ways that prick the imagination. I glimpse leering faces, strange beasts, rippling putrescent waterfalls. All of it — phantoms from a mind tweaked by constant danger. Just my fears getting the best of me in Hell’s environmental funhouse. We round a bend and there before us is a vertical crevice in the gully’s wall. I urge omnis scienta forward, causing it to flare lux for a moment. The cave goes back at least thirty feet. Though bones litter the floor, it appears unoccupied.

I pause at the cave entrance, looking at the bones. It’s an ominous sign despite bones being practically everywhere here in Hell. We’re in a gully, after all. If putrescent water flooded the place it might’ve gassed some inhabitants to death. Might’ve happened as recent as last night during the Hell-storm. I push omnis scienta to the cave’s rear, then have it do a circuit of the walls and ceiling. It’s a large and empty chamber filled with all variety of red, brown, and gray rocks. Some of them glisten with crystals. Despite last night’s storm, the place is now dry. Hell’s heat can do that.

“Looks about as safe as can be expected,” I say. Hey, safety expectations in Hell are low. Kinda goes with the territory.

Zaya flies down, hovering at shoulder height. “Can I send them in?” she asks, motioning to the wisps.

“Let me go first.” I signal to Zel and Theri, then we advance. Mottle allows me to hop and glide from boulder to boulder, getting a better vantage by height. I’m getting used to having his amazing physical assist. I couldn’t do this stuff on my own, much less keep from collapsing in heatstroke. Even at night. As we cross the halfway point, I wave to Zaya. “OK, let them in.” Wisps flow through the entrance. They swarm over rocks, spill into the chamber’s center, then swirl whirl-pool like through the cavern. The chamber fills with their green, blue and golden lights — instantly transformed into a strange fairyland of drifting, luminous globes.

Mottle lets out a few probing clicks. His echo-location confirming what all the lights show. The place is empty. I glance at my horologium watch. Hell time is now 12:17. It’s officially the middle of the fracking night. I’m wide awake. Typically a night owl, the day’s live-wire events and a continuous flood of magic’s got me even more charged up than usual. Give it another two hours or so, then I’ll be crashing hard.

Zel and Theri plop down on some boulders. They break out their rations and tuck in. Can’t say I blame them.

“Hey Mottle, do you mind keeping watch?”

Mottle quivers in response, detaches from my back, then glides toward the cave opening. He flits through the air, spreading himself blanket-like with his head down, attaching himself to the wall. Tilting his upside down head through the entrance — he peers out into the gully. Best guard bat ever!

Hell’s Hills and the Cave of Changing

I turn to Zaya, already feeling the heat more with Mottle gone. She’s sitting on a boulder about five feet away. Knees pulled up to her chest, she watches the drifting wisps. “It’s like a dream,” she says. “In the past, I’ve had to approach them one at a time. In secret after long waits and lots of preparation. Always watching my back. Wasn’t good enough. The Poachers still caught me. Now, here are scores and scores.”

I ease in beside her. Sitting within arm’s reach, I break out Perrier and drink deep. I’m sure gonna need it. There’s something comforting about the little faerie. It’s like an aura of goodwill surrounds her. Reminds me somewhat of my mother. “Yeah. This is really something else.” I’ve got to agree with her. The spectacle of wisps floating around us is truly stunning. We saved them all. Well, for the moment at least. “I’m pretty sure we don’t have a whole lot of time to make good on our achievement. So best get started, right?”

Zaya nods, determined. “Yes, let’s.”

“Just tell me what to do, then.”

Zaya flaps her dragonfly wings — fluttering up in front of me. She lifts her hands, palms facing outward, then motions for me to do the same. I extend my hands to her. My much larger palms make hers look like a child’s in comparison. We touch. She hums a note and there’s an electric shock as we contact. I jump but keep my hands in place.

“Now, close your eyes,” Zaya says. “Shift your mind to your energetic vessel, to its connections with your protected wisps.”

I shut my eyes, turning my mind to my name curse, to the seventeen wisps sheltering there, then on to the twenty five dark wisps lurking in my shadow. I cast my magical senses inward to these places of shelter. I can feel my connection to these wisps, see the flow of magic into my name curse. The magical energy pools in my reservoir. An energetic vessel roughly in the shape of a chalice. Though it has stretched and grown to accommodate this new wealth of magic, it spills over. “I can see it.”

“Good,” she says. “Now, welcome my energy through our touch.” She sings another note. Our hands spark again. Tendrils of light leap from my left hand, run up my arm, then plunge into my name curse. A feeling like warm honey seeps into me. “So much!” Zaya says. “Yes. Yes! It is enough!” Pushing her little palms into my hands, she begins to sing in earnest. Her magical song fills the cave. Wisps draw close. There’s an in-rush of air. A pull. My magical energy flows out in a torrent, contacts Zaya through her hands. I writhe, whipping like a tree in a gale. Zaya stiffens, arches back. White energy floods up her arms in rivers, spreads through her torso, fills up her mouth. A pause. Then a great, forking bolt of lightning erupts from Zaya. It runs in a crooked spiral through the cave, shattering the air as it breaks into myriad branches. Nearby wisps flop to the floor, elongate in viscous shapes. Dancing on the lightning, they grow, taking form.

Some broaden out, stretching, growing tails, sprouting fluffy, large-eared heads, forming into the now-familiar bat shapes of the Mottle race. Another set darkens, opens ice-blue, slitted eyes, grows long, pointed ears, and sprouts black feathers. Despite the feathers, they have no wings. Instead standing four-legged or two-legged on great clawed feet. They remind me of feathered cats. A last set grows into stocky, reptilian forms. Spikey shells cover their torsos, a ridge of spines erupts from their backs. Long, spikey tails go behind, sharp-beaked tortoise heads thrust out. They are dark green with the spines on their backs topped in crystals. Like the feathered cats, they walk on hind legs or go on all fours. All are roughly human in size with the Mottles likely the lightest and smallest, followed by the feathered cats — standing five to six feet tall, and then the jeweled dinosaur snapping turtles at 6-7 feet tall and quite broad.

The lightning recedes. I pull back my hands. My energetic vessel is tapped. Nearly empty. Yet it’s already refilling. I’m exhausted. The sudden outrush of energy felt like standing on an electrical wire. Zaya starts to fall to the floor. I scoop her up, cradling her like a child. She’s awake and breathing — though clearly stunned by her sudden and intense exertion. As I hold her she nods at me, puts her hands over her face, then lets out a little “screeee!” sound.

I look up at the newcomers. Do a quick count. There are about sixty seven. They stand awkwardly, blinking as they take in the cavern, their fellows, and us. The remaining seventy five wisps continue to drift about the cavern. Mottle flits down from the wall, landing among his kind. He’s distinguishable — larger than the rest and much furrier about the ears. Theri and Zel leap down from their seats, padding up beside me.

Zaya seems to have recovered somewhat from her momentary collapse. She blinks her eyes, takes a breath, flaps her wings, then flutters up to stand on my shoulder. “Zaya,” she says to them evenly as she touches her chest. She taps my head “Myra.”

One of the dinosaur turtle things mutters “Myrza.” He snaps his jaws, as if trying to grow accustomed to the strange new structure of his stone-tough flesh.

“Myra,” Zaya repeats, then points at the Devils. “Theri, Zel.” She points back at the dinosaur-lizard. “Urdrakes.” To the feathered cat people. “Plumacats.” To the Mottles. “Mottles.” To me. “Human.” To Theri and Zel. “Blue Devils.” And to herself. “Vila.”

The Mottles, Plumacats and Urdrakes look us over. A Plumacat leaps up onto a boulder and yowls at me “Heowman!”

Zaya nods in approval. “Good, good.” She turns back to me, smiles. “I’ve changed the bright wisps, giving them forms. The rest are dark wisps.” She draws in another deep breath, flaps her wings, grabs my hand. Hovering before me, she extends her other hand and I feel another tug in my chest. Yikes! Lighting arcs from us again. This time it uses only enough magic to briefly form a bridge between the dark wisps and my shadow. When the lightning touches them, they are yanked in, disappearing from the air in loud pops! then reappearing in my shadow. Now a hundred and three dark wisps shelter there. The effect is to cause my shadow to bulge, twist, and occasionally ripple with light. It’s like a pool of dark water that vaguely takes the shape of a real shadow follows me. It’s unnerving. When joined with the seventeen bright wisps in my name curse, the magical force produced is truly exceptional. I guess it’ll only take two hours for my energetic vessel to refill. The newcomers lurch back as they watch me absorb the dark wisps. “Youman, Devil?” One of the Urdrakes enquires.

“No. She’s a mage,” Zaya says. “She protects wisps. The wisps she just gathered into her shadow cannot yet be trusted with a form. One day, they may be. If that happens, if the wisps are willing, I’ll give them one.”

“Zaya is meother,” one of the Plumacats yowls. “Meyera is feahther. We will listen to meother. Treust that feahther will keep us safe.”

“Zaoya and Myra are mother and fouther,” an Urdrake agrees. As the Urdrake and Plumacats speak, their words become easier to understand even as their tones grow milder. I can tell they retain some of their past humanity. The speed of their language skills reasserting is pretty impressive. Off to the side, the Mottles are silent. They exchange tail grips with one another. A mental handshake I’m entirely familiar with. My Mottle is cluing the rest in. It’s much more efficient than this stumbling with awkward words.

Speaking of — I’m not too fracking sure what to think about being called father to a bunch of recently transformed wisps. But hey, it could be worse. I could be all alone in Hell without any help whatsoever. Instead, I find myself in the midst of a small army and commanding some serious magical oomph. We’re going to have to get the new guys and gals up to speed really quick. I signal to Mottle, the original one. It takes a minute, but Mottle eventually sees me waving at him and gets the hint that I want him to come to me. He touches a couple other Mottles with his tail, then glides over, flopping on a nearby boulder before slapping his tail on my arm.

Yes. You talk? Mottle enquires.

“Indeed,” I reply. “I’m going to need your help. The other Mottles too. I want you and the rest of the Mottles to communicate with the Urdrakes and Plumacats. Pass on the knowledge that you’ve already gained.”

May be scared.

“Yes, you’re right. It’s weird at first having your mind invaded by a flying blanket bat thing. But I find I got used to it. Heck. I even kind of like it. They’ll get the hang of it too. Also, we’ve got to come up with names for everyone. You’re Mottle. You’ll always be Mottle. The other Mottles can go by Mottle, then their name — like Mottle Julius or Mottle Maria. Shortened to M. J. or M. M. got it? Everyone else, just have them all come up with names. We can’t keep naming everyone by their type. It’ll get confusing really quick.”

Got it. Mottle flaps off to de-confuse everyone. He returns to the other Mottles, does a few taps, then six of them flit off to the Urdrakes and six more glide over to the Plumacats. The Urdrakes take it all in stride. Pretty soon, they’re chatting quietly to each other in their deep, sonorous voices. The Plumacats take a bit more time. They’re hesitant — recoiling at the Mottles’ slimy touch, lurching away when thoughts and images suddenly flood their mind. One more adventurous Plumacat at last allows a Mottle to drape itself over her. She closes her eyes, settles down with a trilling sound that’s a combination purr-warble, and takes in the visions I know the Mottle is sending to it. A few minutes pass. Then the Plumacat stands and begins talk-meowing excitedly with its fellows. After about fifteen more minutes, both Urdrakes and Plumacats have the gist of what’s happened. They know how they were saved and transformed — each understanding enough about me, Theri, Zel, Zaya and the first Mottle to get by.

They go about the longer process of picking names for themselves. The Urdrakes take the task pretty seriously. Soon enough, Zorfang and Rondsnel approach to tell us their chosen monikers. The Mottles are also quick — picking simple names like Shadow, Lilt, Drift, and Zephyr. My Mottle remains Mottle. Plumacats again take their time. Rather individualistic, a few spats break out as some fight over their names. But after about another half an hour, even they’re finished. Their names are perhaps the most diverse — Rarhquick and Featherstar are chosen for their leaders.

While they’re getting caught up, I turn to Zaya. “Did you design these forms for them? How did you know what to call them? It’s clear you made a Mottle before. Are you really the mother of all Mottles?” I’m more than a little confused. It must show in my tone.

“I’m just a young Vila,” Zaya replies. “My mother, Slip, taught me how to see forms in the wisps. To draw them out. We’ve been making Mottles and Urdrakes and Plumacats and Bowflits and others as far back as history here in Hell. Since Asmodeus, came to rule, we’ve been hunted, enslaved, and killed mercilessly. Those we shape are destroyed, their wisps taken. We threaten his order. We’re a remnant of the old ways. A servant of the one who came before Asmodeus but whose name has been erased even from my people’s memory.”

I feel my eyebrows lift. “The one who came before Asmodeus?” I’m getting the all-overs talking about this. My skin pricks. My eyes water.

“Yes, the old ruler of Hell. The one Asmodeus deposed when he took power.”

I can’t recall too much of what must have been a far more detailed knowledge of this past ruler of Hell. Only snippets of lessons from my parents and mage tutors. Here, it’s obvious that the Memory Draught has rent huge gaps. I’m pretty sure it must be related to my mission in a lot of ways. The secret part at least. “I’ve heard of him,” I say. “I know Asmodeus murdered him. That he was fairer. That he, as Theri and Zel spoke of earlier, tried to teach the dark wisps to let go of their lust for harm. Asmodeus started the enslavement of wisps for labor and to power diabolical magic. He grew mighty and terrible as a result.”

“You know more than most,” Zaya says. “Asmodeus likes to pretend that Hell was always this way. It’s part of his mythology. The fact that Hell was once different has long been buried. Theri and Zel knew about it, though. A secret knowledge held and passed down among some of the Blue Devils.”

I’m uncertain how much I should tell Zaya about myself. Despite the Memory Draught, I do still know quite a bit about Hell’s larger history. My parents and some of their cohorts made numerous contacts with Hell and at least a few forays here. I know they came here to unearth secret knowledge about Asmodeus. I know some of it has to do with my name curse. But the details are gone. I decide to keep quiet.

Zaya pauses, watches me as I struggle with whether or not to say something, then when I keep my mouth shut continues. “Your magic is of the old type. That much I know. And not entirely of the old type from mages. I mean the old type from here. From Hell. The kind sanctioned by the old murdered ruler. I know it because it’s the same kind I use. Although my source is different. Yours comes from Multiversal Spirit and from the wisps themselves. Mine comes from the creatures or substances I transform. Our practice of magic is different and yet akin to one another.”

“Did you ever meet other mages?” I ask, finally unable to contain myself.

“In my brief three hundred years, I’ve met only a handful of mages here in Hell. More than half died.”

“Did you ever meet Mori or Beatrice?” I’m struggling to match up ‘brief’ with ‘three hundred years.’ But I let that slide in favor of info about my parents. So much about them seems a mystery to me now. And they’re my fracking parents.

She looks at me with a puzzled expression on her face. Like I just asked her a stupid question. “Mages don’t give their names in Hell. If they do, it’s almost certain a Curse Rider will come for them eventually. Hell is full of informants, sensitive listeners, dark psychics who sift through thoughts, interrogate those taken and enslaved, continuously comb through the newest lore in search of mage names and the wisps that could be taken. I’m surprised you use your name here, Myra. You know they will come for you eventually, don’t you? It’s just a matter of time.”

My heart lurches into my throat. Of course! It was so obvious. How did I not remember something so obvious? Well, that was obvious too. The goddamn Memory Draught. I know it targeted that memory. Why? Did my parents want a Curse Rider to come for me eventually? And what can I say about this to Zaya? Maybe the truth will do. “Look, I’m a part of a much larger plan. And, yes, what I’m doing is going to result in a lot of attention coming my way. I don’t know exactly when. But look at what we’ve done already. Doesn’t matter. Attention of some kind is already coming.”

Zaya nods. “Yes, we’d better get ready for that. Curse Rider or no. Tough days are ahead.”

“That’s for damn sure.” What’s also for damn sure is I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I’m mostly just guessing, going on instinct, and cobbling shit together from broken recollection on the fly. This method seems like a bad one to me. But it’s all I’ve got.

I turn toward the new-formed. Well, maybe not all… Zel and Theri are mingling with them, sharing our extra equipment, doing their best to encourage. Despite their efforts, there’s an unmistakable tension. We don’t have anywhere near enough food or supplies for our present force of seventy two formed souls in Hell. We can’t stay here long. And our best course of action — raiding the Drivers and Overseer Tower — is basically open warfare. They aren’t fools. They know we’re an ill-fated company. They all seem to know what comes next.

Do I?

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

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