(image by Sam Wood, from Monster Manual v.3.5 [source])
Mal stood in Dancer’s Square on the fringe of the Guildhall Ward with Kal, Sheen, Talan, and Haden arrayed around him. They had prepared for a long trip as well as they could, dispatching messages to their many friends across Sigil, and now they were waiting for the warlock to open a portal to a small demi-plane called Glenloch. Mal had found a pile of ancient detritus—wooden scaffolding that had become cemented together into a rough trapezoid by rain and neglect. Bowing formally, he began to dance. Faint lights flickered from deep within the wood and a portal leapt into existence.
The normal chilly shock of translation was replaced all-too quickly by another, far more worrying shock: the portal emerged deep under water. It was dark, murky, and frigid, like a mountain lake. Sheen flailed and felt one of her legs strike something solid, perhaps the bottom. She bunched her body and pushed off toward what she hoped was the surface. Mal waved his arms through the water and it took on shape and sentience. He directed the Water Elemental to collect everyone and take them to the surface. A few moments later, they were all treading water beneath an overcast sky.
“Not the best place for a portal,” Haden managed, shaking wet hair away from his face.
“That is not where that portal normally opens,” Mal retorted. He sounded extremely annoyed, unusual for him. “It is supposed to be at the end of the third pier, which you can see has collapsed.” Everyone paused in their swimming to look. The third wooden pier did look a bit odd, like part of it had been uprooted and carried away. When they reached the shore, Talan examined the ground.
“There are tracks here—humanoid, but whatever made them was immense.”
“So this Glenloch isn’t uninhabited, then?” Kal asked dryly, or as dryly as he could manage with water sheeting out of his robes. Mal helpfully aimed a finger in the wizard’s direction and water shot furiously in all directions. “Thank you,” Kal said.
“There are locals,” Mal said. “Quiet, friendly people.”
“Friendly giants,” Kal corrected.
“They be not giants,” Mal insisted.
“As far as I can tell, the giant walked down here and straight into the lake,” Talan added.
“The lake is vast,” Mal said.
“Shh,” Talan interrupted. “I heard creaking.” He turned and noticed that the door to a nearby cabin they had thus far ignored had opened an inch or two. There was no light coming from inside, but the creaking noise had been clear if not loud.
“Tilbury?” Mal asked. The door started to close, then opened a bit more.
“Maloran? Is that you?”
“Aye. What has happened here?”
The door opened wide enough to emit a human in his early fifties. He wiped nervous sweat off his bald, domed forehead. “These friends of yours?”
“Yes, yes,” Mal said dismissively. “They are friends. Are you injured?”
“Nah, I’m all right. You may want to get inside, though.”
“Why?” Sheen asked.
“Cos all manner o’ trouble is up in the village, ma’am, and it might not do for you to be seen.”
Mal smiled, suddenly. “She is still with us. Why else would we find ourselves here in time to aid Her allies?”
The cabin was cramped and none too tidy, but they all managed to find seats inside. Tilbury bustled around nervously, unused to guests and unsure of what to do. “I’ve got cold tea, if anyone’s needin’ such.”
“I would prefer you explain what has happened here,” Mal replied.
“I’m sure. One of the fishermen who lives up on the hill told me the story. This morning the fey went mad. Not bloodthirsty, mind you, just crazed. All the regular folk panicked as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“Is that how the portal wound up at the bottom of the lake?” Haden asked.
Tilbury nodded emphatically. “The pier was never meant to hold so many. A couple hours later this weird elven fop showed up and restored order. Belus, the fisherman, said he’d never seen this fellow before.”
“An elven fop?” Haden demanded.
“Aye, said he had lavender hair and wings like a butterfly.”
Talan laughed. “I’d like to see that.”
“I have seen it,” Haden said.
“It is Uilleam Evershade,” Mal said shortly.
“Someone like him was there with my mother, Alocer, and Betzalel in Thazia.”
“What?” Mal demanded, shocked. “Tell me of this meeting. Does anyone have any cold iron?”
Haden shrugged a little, confused. “I didn’t get a very good view, but it looked like they thanked him or paid him off or something and he left. I think he was a traitor.”
“We shall find him and question him,” Mal intoned in a voice that brooked no argument.
“Before Belus left in his boat, he said that Uilleam holed himself up in the keep,” Tilbury volunteered. “He’s holding some folks there in the dungeon—mortal and fey alike.”
“We should prepare,” Mal said. “If he is in league with the giants there could be resistance.”
“Giants?” Tilbury asked, baffled. “Oh, you mean Halfleikr. He went up to the keep this morning and came back a few hours ago. He’s got a castle under the lake and a daughter who’s been stayin’ at the keep.”
“Is she a prisoner, too, then?” Kal asked.
“Could be, Halfleikr was in a mood when he came back down.”
“Maybe we can ally with the giant, then,” Kal thought aloud.
“Could be. He’s got a devil’s temper, though.”
“How are we supposed to get at him if he lives under the lake, though?” Sheen demanded.
Talan glanced out the small window. “I think this is fast becoming irrelevant . . .” he said quickly. The wooden floor shook with thumping and a large portion of the roof lifted off with a terrible cracking and groaning noise. An enormous bearded face was thrust through the hole and Halfleikr roared at them. Everyone grabbed for their weapons as Mal shouted something and waved his arms furiously. The giant’s eyes crossed, then slowly uncrossed, and his visage rearranged itself into something resembling a puzzled grin.
“Why are my friends hiding in this little house?”
“We were just about to contact you,” Mal said with a slight bow.
“Oh? What for?”
“We were wondering if you knew anything about the current events at the keep.”
“I was just thinking of going up there to give them a piece of my mind.” A brilliant flash illuminated the cabin and the floor trembled again. “That Uilleam wants me to round everyone up. He claims they’re all dissidents and a threat to my daughter! He’s already killed the mayor. I would have stretched him out like a chicken if it weren’t for that fiend backing him up.”
“What fiend?” Kal demanded.
“Hmph!” Halfleikr snorted, creating a brief windstorm in the cabin. “It’s even bigger than I am, if you can imagine that. Big horns, covered in scars, big mouth, too. He called it Jebelat.”
“Sounds like a Malebranche,” Haden muttered.
“Bollocks,” Kal swore. Sheen waved dismissively.
“We can handle the fiend.”
“Don’t be hasty,” Kal cautioned. “Those things are supposed to be stout.”
“We should rest,” Mal said. “I do not think we can face them unprepared.”
“I’ll be here when you’re ready,” Halfleikr said and lowered the roof more or less back onto its supports. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
“So,” Haden said, trying to find a comfortable spot.
“So what?” Sheen asked.
“Just ‘so’ at the moment.”