Shields of Sularil: Book Two
Everyone thought the Gem Defense Grid had been protecting the city of Thousand Spires for hundreds of years, but such knowledge is mere propaganda. Now with a possible threat from the orcs of Ornak and a military coup in Kelen, it is high time to make the grid a reality. Taking the mission to find the jewels sends our heroes to the far reaches of Sularil and to countries beyond. Where will they find the true gems to power the capital city’s magical barrier? And what revelations will they discover about themselves and their families along the way?
In the four-book Shields of Sularil series, journalism and fiction mingle to tell the tale of a role-playing adventure years in the making. Author and game master Adam Thomas builds the world, the players live in it, and these pages contain a chronicle of their missions, as they now work for the First Minister of the Sularin League and the Guild of Secrets.
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Shields of Sularil and then create your own adventures!
“It sure is hot here,” observed Tarric.
“It’s the Elemental Plane of Fire,” said Norros. “What’d you expect? Snow?”
“Where to now?” asked Gaius.
“I don’t know,” said Nesdrith. “But let’s do it quick. My silver scales can’t take this heat for long.”
The landscape stretching before them was nothing but dry and cracked red clay. Smoke poured from distant mountains, and the yellow sky was oppressively close. Elementals of flame wandered the land like tumbleweeds. Starting to their right and sweeping in an arc to the left stood three citadels of blackest volcanic stone. Each had four tiers, though the middle one was caved in halfway up. From the nearest citadel and stretching back in the distance across their path was a line of…
“Fire ants!” said Elendithas, and she jumped back a step.
“Looks like their mound is away to the left there,” said Nadarr. “Big anthill. I thought it was another citadel for a moment.”
“I’m thinking we head for the farthest one,” said Norros. “I don’t want to mess with thousands of fire ants that seem to be making their way to the nearest citadel, and the middle one is crumbling. Might be there’s no ruby there at all.”
They all agreed to his reasoning, though the ants still posed a problem. Nadarr took a tentative step toward the line. When he got ten feet away, the nearest ants suddenly enlarged to the size of small dogs. “Gross,” said Elendithas.
“I think you mean ‘dangerous,” said Nadarr. “I do not suggest getting any closer. We could try to jump the line. Let me test it.” He backed up and got a running start. A tremendous long jump carried him over the ants, and he landed unhindered on the other side of the line.
“Doesn’t seem too bad,” said Gaius, who followed the dragonborn. But he stepped too close to the ants before leaping into the air. Ten of the enlarged insects tracked his movement and when he reached the height of his jump they released gouts of flame from between their mandibles. The fire caught Gaius fully, and he landed next to Nadarr unconscious and badly burned. Elendithas shrieked. Nessie drew her greatsword. But the ants continued marching toward the citadel, as if nothing had happened.
Nadarr rolled Gaius’s body in the dirt to put out the fire and then laid his hand on his burned cheek. A wave of buttery yellow energy pulsed from the paladin’s fingers and lit Gaius’s dying eyes. He opened them and screamed in pain. “You were burned,” said Nadarr. “But receive this healing and all will be well.”
Gaius started hyperventilating, but Nadarr’s calm ministrations soon soothed him. After several minutes, Gaius was able to stand with aid. “I don’t suggest anyone else try that leap,” he said, adjusting his new fedora, which had mercifully escaped the flames.
“You got it,” said Norros. “So what? We skirt the nearest citadel and meet you on the other side of the ants?”
“So be it,” said Nadarr. He threw Gaius’s arm over has shoulder and staggered off. The rest of the party followed suit, walking parallel to the ants on the other side of the line. When they reached the citadel, they heard jeering voices coming from within.
“I have a riddle for you,” shouted one voice, deep and gruff and filled with venom. “How many fire ants can a Silver swallow?”
“I don’t know,” came a second voice, this one higher pitched but still menacing. “How many?”
“We’ll never know,” said the first. “They’ll burn him from the inside before they fill his stomach.”
A third voice joined the conversation, quiet and…wistful. “But father says this happens every day. How does Balasar survive?”
At the mention of her grandfather’s name, Nessie drew her greatsword and made to charge. Only the combined strength of Elend, Tarric, and Norros held her back. “Remember the ants,” hissed Norros. “They’ll finish you before you make it through the doorway. Give me a minute.” He vanished around the corner of the citadel.
At the same time, the venomous voice replied, “These chains are magical. Each night they revive him so he can suffer just as much the next day.”
The menacing voice said, “Leknarr and I have been brushing up on our torture techniques. Isn’t that right, Brother?”
“Truth,” confirmed Leknarr. “Why is it that today is the first time you’ve joined us, Illuharr?”
The quiet voice said, “I’ve no stomach for torture. Better the clean kill. I do not know what you and Molitarr see in it.”
Nadarr hung his head. All three of his evil Red half-brothers were inside the citadel. And too it seemed was his mentor Balasar, a victim of four long months of torture. He looked across at Nesdrith, who was silently seething, one hand holding the blade of her greatsword, drawing unnoticed blood.
Just then Norros appeared beside Gaius and Nadarr. “There’s a back door,” he hissed. “Leads both up a flight of stairs to the second level and back into the ground floor.”
Nesdrith was off before he finished his explanation. Tarric and Elendithas tore after her. Norros and Nadarr half-carried Gaius between them, but by the time they reached the back door, it had already been kicked open. And Nesdrith, greatsword raised above her head, was screaming down on Leknarr.
The rest of the party surged through the back door as Nesdrith reached her foe. Within the few seconds Nessie took to cross the stone floor, Leknarr’s expression moved from confusion through fear and settled on steely satisfaction. Nessie struck once with her greatsword before he could raise an enormous maul to defend.
Leknarr touched his hand to the blood of the fresh wound and tasted it. Bellowing with rage he swung his maul at Nessie. “I killed you once, girl. I relish the chance to do it again!” A javelin took Leknarr in the shoulder, and he glanced to his right. “Brother?”
Nadarr set his jaw and said nothing, preferring for his javelin and battleaxe to speak for him. Nesdrith had forced his hand. Now he would see through this grim business.
Tarric supported Gaius into the room, but the seasoned fighter brushed off the sorcerer’s help. “Let me be,” said Gaius, drawing his sword. “I still have a bit of fight in me yet.” He slammed his hand into the pommel of the new rapier, one of Lystra Strange’s prototypes, in an attempt to activate its magical properties.. Nothing happened. “Still working out the design, indeed,” he said under his breath.
Elendithas stepped into the room and immediately flung a hand toward Leknarr. He felt his body begin to tense up, but with another bellow of rage he resisted the effect. “No!” cried Elendithas, as he made to pummel Nesdrith again.
Caught unawares, Leknarr’s brothers and their four guards finally lurched into action. The two nearest guards charged at Gaius and Tarric. But the others had no desire to come anywhere near the line of ants still marching through the open front door toward Balasar. Instead, they raced around the pillar on which the old paladin was chained and met Nadarr head on.
Illuharr, the middle brother, produced from his pocket, a small figurine of a tiger adorned with ruby-eyes. Dropping it to the floor, he spoke harshly, “Ohenfel! Come to me!” In a swirl of sudden flame and smoke, a bright orange tiger appeared by his side. Its paws caught fire as it charged at Nadarr.
While their foes charged one direction, Norros darted past them, unnoticed in the rush and ruckus of battle. From his vantage point in the doorway, the rogue had been studying the chains holding Balasar to the pillar. A large padlock secured the links. Producing his tools from a belt pouch, Norros reached the pillar and leaped. Scrambling up it, he grabbed the chain and, dangling with one hand, pushed the lockpick home. A simple thing and crudely made, the lock fell away in a trice.
Norros and Balasar tumbled to the ground, squashing the closest ants. But a pair of ants nearby started to grow. From his kneeling position, Balasar grabbed the dirk from Norros’s belt and slashed at the foul insects.
Just then, Nesdrith fell at her grandfather’s feet, bloodied and unconscious. She could not defend against both Leknarr and one of his guards, who had scored a lucky hit with his greataxe. Leknarr’s maul had done the rest and Nessie was down and dying, her revenge incomplete.
Leknarr screamed his triumph and spun around unleashing his fire breath on the cluster of Elend, Tarric, and Gaius. His brother Molitarr now joined him, while Illuharr and his firecat battled Nadarr. Once again, Elendithas attempted to paralyze her foes with her magic, and once again Leknarr laughed it off. Molitarr met her attempt with a crossbow quarrel to her right thigh.
Recovering from the fire breath, Tarric said, “You’re not the only one who can do that,” and he shot a bolt of lightning through both brothers. In his rage, Leknarr expected to resist much of the magic, but for some reason the energy of this brash young human hit him hard.
In the meantime, Gaius was locked in a duel with one of the guards. Dodging, twisting, and parrying, Gaius was the better fighter by far, but he had begun the fight at a significant disadvantage, and the guard could see him flagging. The Red dragonborn bore down on his exhausted foe.
Again unnoticed by the enemy, Norros rushed past Gaius and the guard. Not wanting to come anywhere near the ants, he snapped his fingers and a wispy magical hand appeared in front of him. He sent it to the door and slammed it home. It sealed shut and the over-sized ants ceased their march.
Spinning around, Norros surveyed the battle. It was not going well for his friends. Nadarr was surrounded on three sides by Illuharr, the firecat, and a guard. His back to the wall, the paladin fought gamely on, but he could not last forever. Nesdrith was down, he grandfather hunched over her, his hands on her cheeks. Tarric and Elendithas looked so small compared to the sons of Harringhorn accosting them. Gaius could barely stand. Making a snap decision, Norros raced to aid Nadarr.
But the rogue had misinterpreted Balasar’s action. The old paladin was not mourning his dead granddaughter. His hands glowed a mix of silver and golden sinews of light, which spun and danced over Nessie’s face, then permeated her skin. “Receive this gift now,” he said, “and finish what you started.”
Nesdrith came to gasping for breath. Her grandfather had funneled every last ounce of healing energy he could muster into her, and she felt fully revived. But a look of horror crossed her face as her grandfather again slumped down, his wasted body seemingly unable to support his weight. She looked more closely. His silver scales had been burned away in many places and the corners of his mouth were cracked and parched. “Come, grandfather,” she said. “On your feet.” She heaved Balasar up, and using the pillar for support, he staggered to the other side to get out of the path of the remaining ants.
The ants shifted their attention to the nearest tremors in the floor. Four of the enlarged insects crawled up the body of a hapless guard.
Harried by three foes, Nadarr grimly swung his battleaxe like a scythe to keep them at bay. But Illuharr’s scimitars still found their mark, and Nadarr was bleeding from half a dozen wounds. “Your homecoming is unexpected, Brother,” shouted Illuharr. Nadarr remained silent. He had nothing left to say to the three who had made his childhood a living hell.
Norros appeared behind Illuharr and stabbed, but as he did so, Ohenfel the firecat leapt to his master’s aid and turned Norros’s blade. Nessie re-entered the fray, but she had to get through Molitarr in order to face her true nemesis. Leknarr and Molitarr stood back to back taking on all comers with maul and axe.
That is, until Elendithas succeeded.
Gritting her teeth in determination, the young bard hummed a short melody and flung her hands towards the back to back brothers. They froze in midswing. At the same time, Gaius, nearly dead on his feet, managed to dodge an attack from the guard, riposte and skewer him on the end of his rapier. Breathing a sigh of relief, he slumped against a pillar to recover.
Mere seconds later, Leknarr and Molitarr powered through Elend’s paralysis. But the momentary lull was enough to turn the tide. Tarric sent another lightning bolt through the brothers, Nessie hacked at Molitarr with her grandfather’s greatsword. And Elendithas sang a high note, raising her hand in the air as the pitch rose. Blood poured from Molitarr’s ears as the music turned his brain to mush. He dropped dead to the ground. Leknarr’s ears were bleeding, too, but he kept his feet…barely.
When Elend’s note reached its crescendo, Nadarr made one final great hack at his brother Illuharr. Channeling all his radiant energy into his axe, the blade came down and sliced through Illuharr’s neck. The brother who preferred the clean kill had been killed cleanly. The radiant flames even cauterized the wound, so no blood sprayed from his body at all. Nadarr stared silently down at his dead brothers.
Leknarr, too, looked around and saw his brothers fall. Always the bully, he now showed his true cowardice. Dropping the maul, he raised his hands and shouted. “I yield! Mercy!”
But Nessie came up behind him and put her handaxe to his throat. “You have never shown mercy in your life. You have never yielded. And I won’t now!” She glanced at Nadarr for confirmation. The paladin, seething with vengeance, nodded once. Nesdrith opened Leknarr’s throat, and his once powerful body shuddered and staggered through the gates of death.
Three guards remained. One, harried by the huge ants, was fighting his own losing battle. A second, seeing his masters fall, ran for the front door, jerked it open, and fled. A third dropped his weapons and knelt at Nadarr’s feet. But the bloodlust still coursed through Nadarr’s veins, and he swung once, twice, at his weaponless foe, who cowered at the blows.
Then a calm hand touched Nadarr’s shoulder. “This is not our way,” said Balasar. Ice rimmed his old eyes despite the heat. “You are a warrior, Nadarr. Not a murderer. Do not be like your brothers.” He held Nadarr’s gaze until the venom of vengeance faded from his former student’s eyes.