The captain had been looking forward to the arrival of the interlopers for some time now. He had made sure that the defenses posted near the entrance to the newly captured temple of Vecna were light. He wanted
those adventurers to make it to the bridge. The blue half-dragon checked his armor straps one last time, his long tail twitching back and forth with anticipation. He glanced over his shoulder at his two companions: hobgoblin blackguards, members of the elite of the Red Hand of Doom. Just outside the door he could hear the death cries of the guards he had posted. Amateurs made a wonderful mess of things, forcing those adventurers to spend precious spells and other resources.
Vronti picked up his sword and shield, giving a nod to his companions. The door on the other side of the bridge opened, and Vronti Spathi was pleased to see Tom, Niani, and Herodrith enter.
"This is where we hold them!" Vronti bellowed, inspiring the hobgoblins to greatness. "This is where we fight! This is where they die!"
"And this is why I told you not to use your high-level spells on the mooks we've been fighting along the way," Tom said reproachfully.
"What?" Herodrith replied with a shrug. "I didn't know there would be a boss fight already."
Those Damned Ninjas
"Look, I'm sorry about your wolf," Herodrith sighed. "I didn't know there was a Sphere of Annihilation under the bridge."
"I'm not mad about that," Niani replied. "I just wish you'd memorize something other than combat spells."
"That's your job."
"Yeah, but druid's can't magically conjure up the answer to a riddle," Tom stated.
"Riddles are stupid," Herodrith grumbled. "I didn't think it would take us half an hour to figure out that the answer was 'teeth'."
"At least now we have the Hand of Vecna," Niani said cheerfully.
Herodrith started to say something, but was cut off when a figure lunged from the shadows and drove his shoulder into Herodrith's chest. The necropolitan's ribs broke with a sickening crunch. The attacker backed momentarily.
"Hey look, Shen came back!" Niani giggled.
"Oh right, they did get away," Herodrith said thoughtfully, ignoring his broken ribs. "I forgot what those ninjas' real names were."
"I thought as much," Shen grumbled.
"We whooped you guys last time," Tom chuckled. "We're going to do it again."
"Not this time," the ninja replied as he folded his arms over his chest defiantly. "We have become more powerful than you could hope to defeat."
"We got a serious rematch going on here," said a much smaller figure as it emerged from the shadows.
"Aww, Kennen is so cute," Niani cooed delightedly. "Him's a wittle ninja."
"Look, my name is not ... okay, fine, whatever, you guys win the name argument," Kennen groused.
"Hey look, I beat the ninjas in initiative," Tom laughed.
He stepped forward and swung his blade at Shen.
"Steely Resolve!" the ninja shouted just as Tom struck, and the blade rebounded harmlessly off his shoulder.
"Wait, time out," Herodrith said quickly. "What the hell was that?"
"Most of my levels are Crusader," Shen answered with a low chuckle. "Now if you'll excuse me, I believe I have another attack to ignore."
"What about the midget?" Tom asked as Shen dodged his second swing.
"I'm a Jade Phoenix Mage who likes electricity spells," Kennen replied as he cast Lightning Bolt.
"Tome of Battle is so OP," Tom whined.
"It's been allowed since the beginning," Niani reminded him as she cast Resist Energy. "You could have used it, too."
"Don't worry," Herodrith said calmly before casting Divine Power. "It's two against three. We've got this."
"I thought all three of them got away," Niani said, puzzled.
"Yeah, where's Akali?" Tom asked.
It was then that a third figure sprang from the shadows, landing a kick to the back of Tom's head and striking him twice with both of her kamas. The rogue collapsed to the ground, unconscious and bleeding.
"Telflammar Shadow Lord ..." Herodrith sighed. "Should have guessed."
"You've been waiting to do that this whole time, haven't you?" Niani giggled.
"Pretty much," Akali replied with a nod.
"I *had* to ask," Tom grumbled.
"Hush, you're unconscious," Akali reminded him.
White Crow Returns
"Red Hand hobgoblins, zombies, hobgoblin zombies, a giant flesh golem made out of hands, and a creepy dancing witch," Tom listed off the things they had killed as they trudged through Vecna's palace. "Did I miss anything?"
"Nope, I think that's it," Niani replied.
"Can we rest yet?" Herodrith asked for the umpteenth time.
"We are on a time limit," Niani reminded him. "We don't have time to rest. Just be conservative with your spells."
"He's really bad at that," Tom said. "That's why we lost the battle of Brindol."
"How was I supposed to know there was going to be more than three fights?" Herodrith groaned exasperatedly.
"I warned you at the start of the battle, but you never did listen to me, did you?" answered a woman's voice from down the hall.
Although her clothes were different and she no longer was adorned with her customary beads and feathers, the raven-haired beauty striding toward them was unmistakable.
"White Crow!" Niani cried delightedly as she rushed forward. "You're alive!"
White Crow knelt down to reciprocate the halfling's embrace, wrapping her arms around the tiny druid in a tight hug.
"Okay, what's going on here?" Herodrith asked suspiciously. "You died. I was there, we all were, and I know for a fact that I didn't pay to have you resurrected."
"I don't understand why you didn't," White Crow said. "I had been a loyal companion to you all, and I know you had the money for it."
"You guys told me we were too broke to resurrect her," Niani said.
"Well I guess we could have, but it was cheaper just to hire a new henchman than to bring her back," Herodrith replied with a shrug.
"I see how little worth I held to you, even back then," White Crow said bitterly.
"Saying that to her face is pretty cold," Tom grumbled.
"What happened to you, White Crow?" Niani asked.
"After Brindol fell, I was
resurrected, but not by any of you," White Crow answered coldly. "The Red Hand recognized me as one of the adventurers attempting to put a stop to them, so the brought me back in hopes of learning more about the three of you. Though they tortured me, I told them nothing at first, hoping in vain that you three would come rescue me. No amount of physical or magical pain wrought upon me could wrest the knowledge from my lips. But you never came. So many days passed that I lost track, and lost hope of being rescued. Eventually I told them everything I knew about you three."
"Traitor," Herodrith hissed.
"You dare have the gall to call me a traitor after you abandoned me and left me at the mercy of those filthy hobgoblins?" White Crow snapped angrily. "Once they had pried every last secret from me, they left me as a plaything for the second-in-command."
"I'm so sorry, White Crow," Niani said sadly. "What did he do to you?"
"What any vampire lord would have done," White Crow replied with a wicked grin before sinking her fangs into the halfling's neck.