The Company of the Black Lantern was still determined to explore the unexplored. The members ventured into Dwarvenhearth yet again, with a new member in their ranks: an elf named Okoru from a land far to the southeast called Kem. Brother to one of the elves the company hired to guard its tower, Okoru had a talent for wizardry that soon became obvious to the group. They asked him to join.

Inside Dwarvenhearth, they found that some dwarves had dedicated themselves through a ritual to be eternal guardians of the city. These unliving (but not undead) guardians, the soulless, proved to be harsh opponents—particularly because of their use of ancient firearms and cannons. Worse still were the traps. The dwarves guarded their underground lair with devious and canny mechanical hazards of all sorts.

Still, the real threat were the dark elves who had managed to get into the city before the Black Lantern elves. Led by the vampire Zachean, they set up ambushes to attack the adventurers as they proceeded ever deeper into the vast underground metropolis. Around that time, a few of the company began to notice that Sercian, the rogue/fighter in the group, was acting a bit strangely. He was developing a particularly hard edge—but with all that was happening and the constant fighting underground, who could blame him?

The Company of the Black Lantern eventually returned to its tower for some long-needed rest. Sercian went up into the city, just as his twin brother Serai came down to visit. Serai mentioned that he hadn’t seen or heard from his brother in a while and wanted to find out whether everything was all right.

During the visit, dark elves struck. They launched a well-prepared and well-executed attack with great ferocity. During the fight, the Black Lantern elves learned that at least one of their opponents, an ogre monk mercenary, was hired in Ptolus just for this fight: specifically to battle the archer, Chanticleer. The dark elf spellcasters seemed to know exactly what spells Vexander the sorcerer would cast and either countered them or had equipped themselves with appropriate protections ahead of time. This harrowing fight carried on through the night, but eventually—just barely—the elves were victorious. However, only two of them remained standing when the sound of battle ended. The company suffered great losses, as Hansk, their dwarf ally, was slain, along with Chanticleer’s cohort, Quilambril. What’s more, all the elf guards the group had hired to defend the tower lay dead as well.

Okoru took his dead brother and Chanticleer took Quilambril up to the city. None of them had any intention of returning. It appeared that the Company of the Black Lantern’s very existence was in question.

In examining the bodies of the fallen dark elves, two things became clear. The first was that these dark elves had nothing to do with Zachean and the dark elves in Dwarvenhearth. In fact, they were enemies of Zachean and his house. These attackers, from House Vrama, sought entry into Dwarvenhearth to find out what Zachean was after, and the Black Lantern’s key was simply the most expedient means to that end. The group’s second realization was that their foes had gained very exacting information on the members of the company. They found among the dark elf leader’s possessions a letter from someone named Vastare that detailed each of them individually—right down to the tactics and weaknesses of each character. Who was this Vastare? Apparently, the Black Lantern had some as yet unrevealed enemy.

Battle weary with their underground tower in shambles, the members of the company carried their fallen up to the city. What would happen next was anyone’s guess.

Next: Serai’s personal quest for the Box of Shadows leads him and his friends into a fight with a ghostly dragon….

©2005 Monte J. Cook. All rights reserved.