Zephus awoke to find himself unceremoniously dumped by the banks of a river. A river of solid black, flowing through a forest of glowing white trees! A dog barked nearby; it also glowed white. The sky itself was as black as the river. Looking at the dog, Zephus noticed it was barking at something behind him. The paladin turned to see a shadowy figure advancing on him. The dog barked again, and made to leap at Zephus! But the dog wasn’t attacking. Instead he had become a sword that Zephus hurriedly grasped at swung at this dark opponent. The sword of light sheared through the shadow and the evil thing dissipated.
With the foe vanquished, the sword became a dog again. Zephus wondered about the strange place he had found himself in as he climbed up the bank of the river. The dog followed, and at the top began barking once more. Another figure approached, but this one glowed white. Stopping about 30 feet from Zephus, he could see the figure was that of an ethereally beautiful woman holding a lantern. She beckoned him to follow and glided off.
The paladin ran forward, but the woman always seemed to stay the same 30 feet away. He slowed to follow her at a normal pace, and she led him to a strange city. The buildings were ordinary buildings, but instead of wood and stone they too glowed white. In the back of his mind, Zephus knew there was something familiar about this city, but he could not place it. The woman stopped at the first alley she came to and glanced down it, raising her lantern. Zephus could only sense a dark evil in that direction, and didn’t stop to confront it. He continued to follow the woman through the town as she stopped occasionally to glance at a house or down an alley. At the far edge of town, as Zephus continued to advance, the lady vanished!
The dog once again barked, and Zephus turned around to see the lady once more, standing in front of a house and holding up her lantern in front of it. Curious, the paladin entered the house. Inside, he saw a similar ghostly woman. She reached out her hands in pleading towards Zephus, but as he approached a dark shadow appeared between them. Zephus watched as the shadow reached into the woman’s chest and drew out a glowing orb, leaving a red star-shaped hole in the ghostly figure. The shadow then attacked Zephus!
The paladin easily vanquished the shadow with his dog-sword, leaving only the glowing orb it had stolen from the ghostly woman. Zephus returned this to the grateful ghost and she dematerialized, merging her energy form to become a glowing white breastplate to protect Zephus.
Zephus now understood a bit better what the ghostly lantern bearer wished of him, and he visited all of the places where she had shone her light. In each such location he met another ghost and defeated another shadow, earning a piece of armor in return.
When he had a full set of armor, the lantern bearer led him out of the city. She walked long, nameless paths through scenery that bewildered Zephus. Eventually he found himself at a rocky clearing, a well made of glowing white bricks standing in the center. The lantern bearer eerily descended into the well, but as Zephus made to follow, another dark figure emerged to intercept him. This figure resembled a large, burly orc. He growled something offensive and attacked with his giant axe!
As Zephus closed to meet the orc, he noticed out of the corner of his that solid black vines with 6-inch long thorns magically sprouted out of the rocky ground. The orc also noticed, and used his massive strength to shove the poor paladin into the deadly plants. His armor was little protection against the magic spines, but they proved only a minor nuisance. More dangerous were the vines themselves, which made to grasp him. Zephus nimbly avoided the grasping plant, taking the fight back to the orc. Despite repeatedly trying to push the paladin back into the plant, Zephus now knew his plan and was able to brace himself against the tactic.
After withstanding several vicious rends each, the two combatants realized they were quite evenly matched. Both were breathing heavily with exertion, but while Zephus was starting to become worried as his store of divine healing ran low, the orc seemed to grow more eager by the second. Just as Zephus landed what he thought was the decisive blow, the orc-shadow roared in defiance and charged straight at Zephus! Fortunately for the paladin, the orc was so blinded by his rage that Zephus easily sidestepped his clumsy charge. Thinking quickly, he pivoted and used his divine strength to direct the orc’s momentum into the evil thorns! The vines reached out and entangled the doomed orc, and Zephus mercifully finished him off.
After his orc-shadow foe fell, Zephus noticed the scenery beginning to change around him. The sky once again was blue, and the ground also became a recognizable color. He found he knew the place at which he stood: the entrance to the underground ruins of The Raven’s Watch! The dog who had become his sword was none other than Shaggy, Nellie Keane’s faithful hound! As he gazed kindly upon the canine, the dog’s shape changed as well! He grew into the shape of a man with the muzzle of a dog, which Zephus instantly recognized as being a Hound Archon. The Archon explained he had been sent to watch over Nellie Keane, and then avenge her following her murder. He had been content to assist Zephus in the venture, but grew concerned when he found the paladin wandering the wilderness aimlessly. The Archon had no idea what Zephus was talking about when he explained the dream-like world to him.
The Archon trusted Zephus’ experiences, though, and suggested the answers they both sought might be found in the ruins to which Zephus had been led. But that is another story…
To Be Continued.