Chapter 31: Nightmare

Breath burned through Loral's lungs as he raced across the land of Nightmares. He could hear the pursuing hobgoblins getting closer as their claws tore up the ground behind him. Purple luminescent clouds raced across the eternally black sky and the elongated fingers of long dead trees reached for Loral, whipping past him as he ran. Loral tripped on a stone as eager for his death as the pursuing demons. He was up with a flash, his blood pumping through his veins. The hobgoblins licked their lips in anticipation of the feast... for nothing was as sweet as the blood of a mortal. The leader of the pursuing demons leapt forward and clawed at Loral's back. Two of the 12-inch claws were turned away by Loral's draconian armor but the third ripped across the back of his neck down to the bone.

Loral's vision blurred from shock but his legs did not stop. Ahead he saw the gates of Thule. Towering over 15 feet tall, the skeletal guardians of the gate would easily finish the job the hobgoblins started. Their eyes blazed and they smiled a grin of a thousand needle-like teeth when they saw Loral coming. Loral had one more trick. A word to Tunare surrounded him with an impenetrable shield of force. The claws of the mighty guardians skimmed off of the shield and Loral ran through the gates into the lair of Terris Thule.

Loral collapsed to the ground, blood flowing from the wound on his neck. A warmth traveled over the wound, closing it and sending waves of relief into Loral's body. He looked up into the smiling face of Axen, dwarf priest of Brell and cleric of Lotus Cult. Loral realized he was surrounded by the hunters of the Cult. Loral was lifted to his feet by the strong hand of the troll warlord, Grongl, who grinned at him with yellow teeth.

"On behalf of the church of Tunare and the adventurers of Healers United, I offer my services to you for this exploration," Loral stuttered.

"Exploration? BAH!" roared Grongl at the priest. "This is an execution! You wish to help? Keep me alive." Grongl walked off laughing. Loral turned to meet the calm gaze of Binedina, the barbarian priestess and leader of the guild. Holding her fur cloaks tight around her, she nodded to Loral and smiled. Beside her, Loral met the cool gaze of a dark elf dressed in soft black leather from head to foot. Her master of assassins, Loral guessed, although the assassin's form seemed to change each time they met. Loral had known Gnix for years but could never guess what race he truly was. The assassin smiled.

There was little time for further greetings. The raiding party was divided into groups, each member protecting the others with spell, prayer, or steel. Blades came free from their sheaths and scouts were sent out into the valleys of the Nightmare Queen. For a few brief moments, the only sound was the howling wind that blew through the canyons. Soon the scouts returned. They were not alone.

Built from the tormented souls of mighty heros, heros who betrayed their kings, the Protectors of Nightmares learned obedience from the clenched fist of Terris Thule. Possessing a power greater than most armies, the giant skeletal demons fought with a fury unseen in mortal worlds. A sweep of their powerful arms sent men and women of legend crashing into the walls. Fire burst around them from the magics of the raiding sorcerers. Blades cut deep into the black armor of the minions, chipping at the bones beneath. With a final howl of damnation, the Protectors of Nightmares fell.

For two days, the raiding party traveled through the canyons. They met with only a few of Terris Thule's guardians but each one fought with the rage of eternal torment. The raiding party planned well for these encounters, mixing powerful magics and combat tactics to defeat the mounted riders. It was on their third day that the party found the inner sanctum of the Queen of Nightmares.

For years, Terris Thule, the Dream Scorcher, had seen the paths of mortals through their twisted dreams. Deep in her keep she closed her eyes and envisioned the coming army, secure in her powers and her defenses. An arcane whisper brought spheres of protection around her skin, protection from both blade and spell. She looked around the hall, insuring all was in place. She waited. Soon the attackers entered.

Grongl stepped forward into the hall, the rest of the party moving in a half circle around him. He drew his swords, Bloodfrenzy and the Blade of Carnage. A single shout from the troll warlord sent the raid into action. Spellcasters began their incantations while a rain of arrows fell upon the demi-goddess. The arrows exploded into energy around her, though none hit home. Waves of ice and flame rushed over Terris Thule, blocked by her wards of protection. With another command, the swordsmen attacked. Rushing in with blades drawn they cut into the energy shields surrounding the goddess. The Dream Scorcher laughed.

A wave of her hand sent the attackers to their knees. Visions of unthinkable terror flowed into their minds, shattering their resolve. With no warning, spectral guardians of the nightmare queen rose to slay the paralyzed army. But strength found its way back into the attackers. They broke into groups, each battling the specters while another force remained upon the daughter of Cazic. Soon the specters were cut down and the attackers reunited on the goddess, filled once again with the fury of battle.

Terris Thule's protections began to weaken. The blades and spells of the Cult cut deeper into her defenses. But the queen had one last defense. Far above her, the last guardians of the Dream Scorcher came to life. Stone demons crashed to the floor and stood, their thirty foot wings spreading out to the sky. The roars of the demons deafened the attackers. The demons crashed into the flanks of the attacking party, cutting into the groups of spellcasters like knives through paper. Dachunker, a powerful female troll warlord of the Cult, smashed the knee of one of the great beasts with two skull-headed maces. But another demon stabbed its claws through her back and out the front of her stomach. Blood poured from the warrior's mouth and she fell to the ground dead.

Loral rushed forward to restore life to the fallen heroine but the hand of Maylay the Necromancer stopped him. With a smile to the Tunarian priest, he knelt down and touched the forehead of the troll. Dachunker's eyes grew dark but her body stirred. Dachunker stood, her wound still pouring forth lifeblood and gore. Terris Thule sent another wave of nightmarish visions into the walking corpse but they had no effect. Nightmares, it seemed, did little to deter the dead. The zombie dropped the twin maces she had been fighting with and from her back drew a sword Loral had last seen in a Shadowhaven bar - the Sword of Ssraeshza. Piercing through any remaining spells of protection, the troll stabbed hard and slammed it through Terris Thule's chest. Black blood poured to the floor as the goddess fell. The 5000 year old golden-runed sword had once again earned the name Godslayer.


A powerful blow sent Loral sliding across the ground as the last of Terris Thule's guardians sought revenge. Loral attempted to call forth the protective prayers of Tunare but the last word caught in his throat as the fist of the demon slammed into him.

Loral woke. A weight seemed to press down upon him as he sat upright. His eyes were filled with a red fog. He looked down to see he wore the yellow robes of a Tunarian acolyte. Standing upright took much effort but the vision surrounding him nearly sent him back to the ground. The world had changed. The red fog of his vision surrounded everything. Across a sea of blackness he could make out a floating island, a keep, suspended from an unknown ceiling by an enormous chain. For months Loral had studied the outer planes and he knew he was no longer in the Plane of Nightmares. If ever there was a place darker and more terrible, it was here - The Plane of Torment.