We only knew our heroes for a short time, but in those few days they saved our lives and gave us the wisdom that we need to survive. There are those among us who are more intelligent than our saviors, as well as those who are more wise, but our heroes have imparted upon us a spark of life and defiance. We will one day rejoin our families along the Isabel, but until then we will hide and prepare to drive off the invaders together.
The means by which we came to be rescued is remarkable. We had been captured by the minions of the Overlord and were bound inside a wretched ship, soon to be transported across to sea to meet some horrible fate. As we later discovered, spell casters of all sorts were being similarly enslaved across all of the realm. Our captors had placed magical circlets around our necks which prevented us from manifesting any magical abilities, and once we were brought upon the great black ship awaiting us in Capital City, they further bound us together with a mystical thread. It created an unbreakable anti-magic zone, and we were told that if the thread were disrupted, all attached would be instantly slain. The artifact – for it could only be such – was controlled by a rod wielded by a fiercely powerful wizard. We could feel it draining our abilities, and could almost sense our powers fueling some distant menace, but there was nothing we could do.
Meanwhile, our heroes were hiding in the sewers nearby. Unbeknownst to any aboard the ship, they had cleverly prepared an underwater rigging that would allow them to accompany the boat out to sea, unseen by the Overlord’s men. Surviving under water was not a challenge for them, even for the hours it would take for the ship to leave the harbor behind and reach the open sea where they would spring their attack.
I was later told that they had planned for many different scenarios, since they did not fully know what level of opposition they would encounter on the ship; they had, for example, hoped to set free we prisoners to aid in the battle, but when this became impossible they adapted their plans without missing a step. Each member of their party had a role to play, and they executed their plans in such a coordinated manner that such planning has now become the most important lesson of our lives.
The prisoners were trapped in small rooms below deck, all facing a central hall, and all connected by the infernal thread that twisted its way from room to room. When we first heard a knock echoing down the hallway, we knew not that it was the precursor to our rescue. The hallway guard approached the door at the fore end of the hall, and shouted for whoever was knocking to identify themselves. There came no response, and soon we heard the door opening and the call of guard for the watch captain. This was followed mere seconds later by the telltale sound of a body slumping to the floor.
We would later learn that the multitalented Poppy and the druid known as Kelptoe had slain the guard, and they soon set about trying to open the door. Poppy’s considerable magic was not useful inside the artifact’s anti-magic field, so they resorted to using acid on the lock. But the alarm had been raised, and as the fighting on deck started they left us to assist above.
We were obviously unable to see the melee, but our rescuers soundly defeated the Overlord’s guards in mere seconds, for less than a minute after Poppy and Kelptoe left us we heard the last of the sailors surrender to them.
Apparently, the rest of the heroes had been perched on rope ladders tied to the aft of the ship, and jumped into action as soon as a sailor ran up to the watch captain with news he was needed below. They immediately swarmed the quarterdeck and slew the two men standing guard there. Sorceron, the magical gnome, blinded the watch captain with a spell. Deathreaver breathed draconic acid upon some of the soldiers on deck, while Eland jumped into their midst to pummel them with his amazing fists. The Overlord’s foul wizard flew from his quarters and launched a volley of spells: first a lightning bolt at Deathreaver and Frank, the dwarven priest of St. Cuthbert. This was followed by magic missiles at the same pair, and finally a sonic burst that even shook the belowdecks.
But Sorceron had struck again, and the wizard was already blinded. He created a dimension door and fled through it, most likely to someplace else on the ship from where he then probably teleported away. Without their leader, the remaining combatants quickly surrendered.
Soon afterward, the heroes visited our prisons. We warned them about the thread, and that any attempts to sever it would kill us all. Deathreaver was nonplussed, and immediately ordered that the walls of our cells be carefully dismantled. Eventually, there were over a hundred of us standing in the rubble, chained together by the glowing thread. There were two large discs at either end of the strange chain, and Deathreaver directed us to carry the artifact above. In a single file, we trudged up the stairs and into the pleasant evening air.
By this time, the Overlord’s soldiers were gone. They has been ordered to build a raft from the empty barrels in the hold and boards from our cells, and had been cast off together. Several of the sailors told us that, while most everyone’s attention was focused on freeing us from our cells, Sorceron had cast several fireballs to destroy the fleeing raft. If true, this was distasteful but arguably necessary. Regardless, I am sure there are no innocents among the Overlord’s men.
From this point on, we were privy to most of the happenings on the ship, as we were able to observe them first-hand. The ship’s captain and a few of the sailors were speaking to the heroes in defiance, claiming that the Overlord’s special troops would soon swarm the ship and destroy them. Believing that this could only be possible if they teleported aboard, Deathreaver instructed us to sit along the deck, so that the thread would block any magical transportation. He also saw to it that the other recognizable parts of the ship were modified in such a way that any teleportation may not be successful, since such magic requires a clear mental image of the destination. His hope was that any attackers who attempted to teleport to the ship would instead find themselves upon the nearly-identical ships that still sat harbored in Capital City.
Inside the wizard’s room, they found a magical desk which apparently allowed distant communication with the Overlord’s command. The wizard had used it to warn his superiors of the attack. The heroes debated what to do with the desk, and finally decided to cast it overboard so that it could not be used as a target for detection or teleportation.
Finally, once they felt comfortable that the attack would not be immediately reciprocated, our rescuers turned their attention to our bindings. Although they acknowledged that the device was nearly as powerful as an artifact, they still were convinced that they could thwart it themselves. After some discussion, Poppy stepped forward to attempt to disarm it using only his force of will.
They did not offer us any choice, and it is unclear what we would have decided if we had been trusted with a vote. Instead, our lives were in the hands of this prodigious halfling. He placed his hands upon the thread, and seconds later it fell away. We cheered, and scrambled to remove it from our collars before it could rejoin itself. After a few more minutes had passed, all of our collars had been unlocked and we were free again. With another cheer, we threw the discs and thread into the ocean.
Over the next few days, we spent time with our brave heroes and they told us of their exploits against the Overlord’s men. Deathreaver also told us how we could survive in the wilds while waiting for the right time to join the revolution. They took an inventory of the treasures that the soldiers had looted from the realm, making sure to return what was ours, and setting aside trade goods that we would need once we went ashore.
Deathreaver taught us the advantages of cooperation; just like his party was well coordinated and their activities were planned to maximize the contribution of each member, we would become a party of one hundred. We would need to survive in the wilderness, but as he pointed out, we were better suited to survive than even a group of skilled woodsmen. For no hunting arrow could strike as unerringly as our magic missiles, no furs could warm us as well as our endure elements spells, no spring or well could produce water as pure as our clerics could summon. Our magic would give us food, water, warmth, and light.
He set about helping us to develop an inventory of our magic, so that we could coordinate which spells were prepared or prayed for each day. The wizards, of course, were at a loss due to the lack of spellbooks, but the next morning Deathreaver somehow produced a stack of spellbooks, some empty and some full of spells, to share until we were able to trade for more.
Deathreaver further told us how to avoid being found, and how to defend ourselves if we were attacked. He warned that at all times we needed to avoid being recognized as anything other than woodsmen or foragers, and thus we would need to develop and practice mundane identities. We should not establish a permanent village, but should instead have several locations to choose as our base of operations. Caves and underground lairs would be used, in such a way that neither soldiers nor dragons could easily breach them. We would choose leaders and have daily strategy meetings, and the myriad tasks would be distributed between groups to accomplish all the hunting, building, defense, patrols, communications, and healing that we required.
We would constantly train for many different scenarios, from being discovered by a single unit of the Overlord’s men to being attacked by Kragen the dragon himself. We would intimately know the capabilities of our companions, and would use our knowledge of the woods and our magic to viciously overcome any threats. We would prepare ourselves to subvert both torture as well as truth spells, so that our plans would not go to waste.
Finally, we neared the shore of the Free Dales wilderness. Laden with valuable goods and wisdom, and saying our final goodbyes to the bravest men in the realm, we rowed ashore to our new lives in exile. We would survive as long as we needed to, and would rejoin with the rest of their army when the time was right. Deathreaver confided in us that they had already faced Kragen several times, and planned to finally kill the fierce dragon when next they met. If a band of six heroes could wreak so much havoc on the Overlord’s plans, then a band of one hundred and eight could do nothing but prevail!