Fallcrest

Flynn: Eladrin Wizard - force
Kriv: Dragonborn Ranger - bow
Deisa: Dwarven (female) Cleric - sheild + warhammer
Bjorn: Human Fighter - greataxe
Barn: Dwarven (dead) Warlord
Lia: Elf Ranger - bow

Bjorn's greataxe swung through the last of the shadar-kai, cutting into her midsection and spilling more of her smoky black blood on the floor to add to the already sizable pool. There was a stench to their deaths, a metallic rotting twinge that filled Bjorn's nostrils and was beginning to sting. It felt like they had been killing the shadar-kai (and the various monsters that their fell energies had created) for a great many weeks, though it had only been three days. Bjorn had been in months-long sieges for one kingdom or another before he had gotten into the much more profitable business of adventuring, and that was frankly what this was beginning to feel like. That most hatred of feelings was building up within him; boredom.

He looked across the room at his traveling companions, and wondered if they were feeling the same way. The whole point of coming to Thunderspire Labyrinth had been to get rid of some (presumably) evil book, a quest which certainly lacked excitement. While the battles with the shadar-kai had at first been pitched and ferocious, one even resulting in the death of a dwarf they had crossed paths with, it was now tedious work. The main reason that the shadar-kai had been a worthy foe was that they would fight tooth and nail until the last bit of life was wrung out of them. On the downside, this meant that none of the shadar-kai ever learned about the mistakes their comrades had made. Battle was now a repetition of motions that grated on Bjorn's nerves.

The only excitement, in fact, had come from the book that they were trying to dispose of. It would whisper things to them, though it only seemed to know Abyssal, which made it more annoying than tempting. Once, it had taken control of Flynn, but a quick strike to the back of his head with a warhammer had brought him out of it. The group referred to it at as either "The Abyssal Book" or "That Damn Book" depending on how they were feeling. Since the shadar-kai had no real ability to change their tactics, there were bouts of raucous fighting followed by hours of trawling through the ancient minotaur city of Saruun Khel. The minotaurs had left it over five hundred years ago, but their penchant for "unique" layouts had made it a welcoming home for all sorts of bad things. It seemed that no matter how thoroughly the place was cleaned out, a new group of creatures bent on evil would take it over within a few years. Currently, it housed the shadar-kai, though they were quickly headed towards extinction.

And all so that they could get That Damn Book to the mythical Infinite Library, where it would hopefully evaporate. Or something. The Lord of Fallcrest hadn't been quite clear on that. When they had first learned that it was evil, they had done what any group of responsible citizens would do - they tried to throw it in a swamp. To their frustration, it reappeared in Diesa's pack on their way back to Fallcrest. That Damn Book could not be lost, given away, buried, thrown in the ocean, blown up, or separated from its owner in any way. They tried a great variety of magical methods, but those of course failed. When Lord Sammeril Markelhay of Fallcrest had heard about the book, his face had gone white and sagged slightly. When he said "Matter of Utmost Importance" you could feel the capital letters.

Bjorn was just starting to consider the possibility that Markelhay had played a trick on them when they found the portal. A ring of stone surrounded the swirling purple vortex, and written there in eight different languages was the message, "Library of the Infinite Expanse". Diesa quickly took That Damn Book out of his pack and hurled it through the portal. It promptly popped back into his hand. "No, couldn't be that easy," he muttered.

"I say we go through," said Bjorn.
"It might be a trap," replied Flynn.
"Coward."
"It might be! We've been running into traps for the last three days!"
Bjorn snorted. "Obviously the shadar-kai aren't capable of making a trap that can kill us."
Flynn glared back at him. "Which we only know because you've set off absolutely all of them!"
"Guys," Lia interrupted, "Are we going through of not? I vote yes."
"I also vote yes," said Bjorn.
"I vote no," said Kriv.
"Who gave you a vote?" asked Flynn. "You're a mercenary, and we made the agreement with Baern that you two wouldn't be getting any loot. So I don't see that either of you get any votes."
"He died you know," replied Kriv with measured calm.
"Did he?" Flynn gave a puzzled look. "Oh right, he was the dwarf! That was ages ago! Why are you still with us then?"
"I promised that I would help him find his sister, which I might point out is also something that we haven't done."
Bjorn fixed him an icy look. "You are free to leave, should you wish."
"We're two hundred feet underground in a labyrinth shaped city swarming with people who want us dead," Kriv replied, "I don't think I can take your suggestion to split up seriously."
"Guys," interrupted Lia, "We were taking a vote on whether to go through the portal or not?"
"Aye!" Shouted Bjorn.
"Nay," replied Kriv.
"Aye," said Flynn.
"Aye," said Lia.
"Couldn't we just send one person through with the book?" asked Diesa.
"Oh gods, just vote already."
"Aye then, I guess, but I really think that -"
"It's unanimous!" cried Bjorn.

He adjusted his horned helmet and charged through the portal, and in a brief flash of light found himself facing a wall of books. A quick glance upwards required a longer glance upwards, for the wall of books seemed to continue on up into a bank of clouds. Behind him, he heard a sound somewhat like the color of an octopus as the rest of the party came through. They all followed his gaze upwards, where the shelves of books towered above them. The silence was broken after a little while when Kriv spoke up and said, "It looks like we don't have an easy way back." Behind them, instead of a portal, was another shelf of books that extended infinitely into the sky. Flynn moved closer to look at the books, and read one of the titles; it was The Transactioneer With Some of his Philosophical Fancies, which he recognized from his time studying at the mages' academy in Shalding. When he looked at the book next to it, he realized that it was also a copy of The Transactioneer With Some of his Philosophical Fancies, and that every book within sight of them was a copy of that same book. Behind him, Kriv and Bjorn were getting into a shouting match.

"- and if you would think with your head for just a few minutes, you would realize that this is all your fault!"
"Fault has nothing to do with it!" Bjorn shot back. "We don't even know for sure that Baern's sister was in that place!"
"You dare question my ability as a ranger?" Kriv's facial scales had turned from brown to a deep crimson.
"Well you certainly didn't help us find -"

Bjorn was cut off by a booming voice from up in the sky as the word "Welcome!" was belted out with such volume that it nearly cracked their collective eardrums. At the same time a sense of calm washed over them, which was surely the result of magic but pleasant nonetheless. From the clouds a robed figure descended quite rapidly, slowing at the last possible to second to avoid splattering on the ground. He touched down instead with the delicacy of a feather. The first thing that they noticed about him was that he was missing the top of his head, which distracted only momentarily from the fact that he was missing both of his eyes. Looking through where his eyes should have been, they could see the inside of his skull, which was exposed to the light and quite devoid of any brain. If it had been possible to tear their gaze away from this spectacle for very long, they would have noticed that he wore a plain red robe, and otherwise looked like an old wizard.

"Welcome!" he repeated, though this time with less deafening volume, "It's a pleasure for us to finally meet."
"Uh," said Bjorn.
"Who are you?" asked Lia.
"I!" shouted the man, "I am the Keeper of the Library! And you are the legendary Left Hand Band!"
"N- … no we're not," said Flynn.
The Keeper looked at them - or gave the impression of looking at them, though he had no eyes with which to do so. With a snap of his fingers he summoned a book to him, and began to read. Just as Diesa was about to say something, the Keeper started talking. "The Left Hand Band? Slayers of the Seven Sons of Fallcrest? Traitors to the Shalding Textile Merchants? Killers of the Dread Pirate Forscun? Excavators of the Kalaman Jewel? Breakers of Wild Curse of Amadian? Keepers of the Deathless Memory?"
"Er," said Bjorn.
"We killed a son of Fallcrest," said Flynn, "But we haven't done any of that other stuff."
"I'm not actually with them," said Kriv.
"No no," said the Keeper, "I'm sure I'm right. You are the Left Hand Band; Bjorn the fighter, Diesa the healer, Flynn the mage, and Kriv and Lia the rangers."
"Well, yes," Bjorn conceded, "those are what we do, but we've only just met each other, 'cept for me and Diesa."
"But … " the Keeper paused for a long moment, then looked down at his book in puzzlement. "Ah! I think that you are just early." He closed the book and quickly unsummoned it. "That must be your future. A gross breach of protocol, me reading it to you, you understand, so try not to mention that to anyone. Now if you're not here about averting the End Times, what is it that I can do for you?"
Flynn looked at him incredulously. "That book described our future?"
"A future," the Keeper said uncomfortably. "Just … don't try to fight fate too much, okay? You weren't supposed to have heard that stuff."
"Look," said Bjorn, "We just wanted to return That Damn Book to you. We were told that you could take it off of our hands for good."
The Keeper, eager for a distraction, plucked That Damn Book from his hands. "Ah yes, a good vintage for eldritch tomes. Written by the demon Glrxrb. Yes, I can take it from you. Is there anything else?"
Bjorn opened his mouth and got out a "N-" before Diesa clapped his hand over his friend's lips and said "Send us home!"
The Keeper looked at them with surprise. "Ah."
"Ah?" asked Diesa. "A good ah, or a you're hosed ah?"
"Ah, the library is infinite in size, and I'm simply a shell of the real Keeper."
"So we're hosed, because you can't move us. Great."
"I knew we shouldn't have gone through the portal," grumbled Kriv.
"Don't start with me!" shouted Bjorn. He was more ready for a battle with every passing second.
"Wait!" said the Keeper. "The real Keeper might be convinced to help you if you can offer him something."
"What?"
"He's a god, of course, but he suffers for lack of entertainment."
The blood in Bjorn's veins pumped faster. "Like, perhaps, we could entertain him somehow?"
"Yes," replied the Keeper, "I'm afraid so."
"A battle then! Something to sate his bloodlust!" cried Bjorn. It had been several hours since he had killed something.
"I … I was actually thinking more along the lines of a play," said the Keeper.
"Oh." There was a pause. "A play with combat?"

The stage was immense, stretching a hundred yards from side to side. As they entered the theater, they saw dozens of Keepers swarming about the stage, each with the missing eyes and brains. There was only one seat with which to view the stage, and it was hung from the ceiling by impossibly thin strands of something which could only be seen by the way that it caught the light. The stage was made of trees of the Alutian Plains, which were slow to grow and had gone extinct several millennia ago. A rare velvet was used for the curtains, made from the silk of a caterpillar that existed only in the dreams of children. The lights which beamed down onto the stage came from fragments of a rare jewel that had once belonged a prominent Abyssal demon. These details were, for the most part, unnoticed as the party bickered their way down into the wings.
"He knows that we're not actors, right?" asked Lia.
"Perhaps he was thrown off by the bloodstains," muttered Bjorn.
"What is a play anyway? Some sort of human custom?" asked Kriv.
"The Keeper isn't a human, he's some sort of demigod," replied Diesa.
"I would be fine with fighting to the death!" yelled Bjorn. "Warriors do not pretend!"
"Except for that time we pretended to be merchants to set an ambush for the Cutwater gang," prompted Diesa.
"Well … yes, there was that," replied Bjorn.
"And that time we pretended to be beggars in order to get a better price on our adventuring gear," Diesa said.
"That too," said Bjorn irritably.
"And the time you pretended to be injured so that we could fight that feral owlbear."
"Alright!" yelled Bjorn. "Sometimes warriors pretend! But by the Seven Hells we do not do so for the amusement of others!"
"Nine Hells," replied Diesa helpfully.
"Nine?"
"Nine Hells, not seven." Diesa smiled. "I'm a cleric, we have to know these things."
"Excuse me adventurers," said a Keeper, "but these are your scripts. Some others will visit you with costuming later on."

The story was a convoluted one, though all of the characters in the opera had the names of persons in the party. In short, it involved the quest by Diesa to find a suitable husband to fill the throne of a long lost Dwarven city to which she was an heir. In the meanwhile, Kriv was working with Bjorn to prevent the pirate Forscun from raiding the coastal city of Leebraun with his dread fleet. Kriv was secretly trying to sabotage the defenses, as Forscun had taken the members of his family hostage. Lia had snuck onto the pirate's capital ship by taking the place of an unlucky pirate he had waylaid behind a tavern, but unknownst to him that pirate had secretly been one of the King's men. This in turn led to a series of misunderstandings with some of that man's contacts, who assumed that Lia was an agent of the crown. Meanwhile, Flynn was putting on a play-within-the-play in order to gather information from the King about a crime for which the King might possibly have committed in order to instigate the attack by Forscun. The climax of the play came when Kriv made a heroic sacrifice in order to redeem himself for his betrayal of Bjorn, while Flynn managed to ride in with a troop of bear cavalry and Lia organized a counter-assault by rallying half of the pirate fleet against Forscun. Bjorn and Diesa fell in love during the climactic battle when they saved each other's lives, and went on to jointly rule the lost Dwarven city - a fact which made the two of them quite uncomfortable.

The play itself came together despite their objections. Every time a fight was about to break out, one of them would remind the rest that their options were limited. Bjorn in particular seemed to be obstinate about doing anything for someone if there was even the slightest chance they might be adequately convinced by an axe to the throat. When the first scene started - a lament by Diesa to the patron god of Dwarvenkind - it was as if a spell had been cast on them. Their lines were run through flawlessly, as if they had been perfectly able to channel the characters which the were playing. The theater was utterly silent, with only the occasional applause from the demigod sitting in the suspended box, or a brief chuckle during scenes of comic relief.

When it was over, and they took their final bows, it became obvious that the spell had not been figurative. Bjorn blinked slowly, feeling much as he did when regaining consciousness after a particularly ill advised head-first charge. Flynn shook his arms out, and popped his jaw a few times, trying to come out from under the effects. Diesa looked over at Bjorn and realized that they were holding hands.
"There at the end," she started to ask, "did we - ?"
"Best not to speak of that again," replied Bjorn with a blush.

The spotlights shifted to the suspended box, and highlighted the true Keeper, who looked almost exactly like all the shells running around, but with clear blue eyes and the top of his skull stitched into place.

"I am … not impressed, but satisfied," said the Keeper in a projected voice.
"We may go home then?" asked Lia.
"The story you just enacted is a true one," said the Keeper. "It was something which happens fifteen years from now, what some see as the culmination of your careers. Now that you know this, it will not happen. The work you have performed thus has turned itself from a document of the events into a work of fiction, and this performance can be considered unique - it wraps in on itself to unmake itself, to draw from itself the strands of truth which must bind any work."
"And having satisfied you, we may go home?" asked Lia again.
"That … that I can not grant you." The Keeper looked at them sadly. "The penalty for interfering with fate is severe, and if I were to use my power to send you back into the world with the knowledge you now possess, we might all suffer the consequences."
"So we're stranded here?" asked Diesa, "Does that not interfere even more with the threads of fate?"
"You must find your own way out. I am sorry. The performance you gave was … worth it."
"You-" gulped Bjorn in a rage, "You have deceived us! We did this for a reward!"
"Alas," said the Keeper, "I cannot offer you return. The fates must reweave themselves around your absence. Instead, I will bring to you a book of your choosing."
"That's it?!" asked Bjorn incredulously.
"No, think about it first," replied Flynn in a hushed tone. "Can't you hear it in his voice? He's offering us a way out."
Diesa furrowed her brow. "I do not understand."
"Nor do I," replied Flynn, "but we must think it over … Keeper, you said that you could bring us any book?"
"Yes," replied the Keeper.
"Then bring me a book detailing the complete history of this group of adventurers. I believe I heard us referred to as the 'Left Hand Band'?"
The Keeper smiled, and a book appeared in front of them. Flynn took it from the air with no small amount of shock.

He opened the tome, entitled A Compleat and Accurate History of thee Left Hande Bande. It was nearly as thick as his head. He flipped through the first few chapters, which seemed to be stories about them from before they had met up. He flipped quickly through the pages until he found the section that he had been looking for. It was titled "On thee Escape from thee Abyss of Books". Remarkably, the entire span of time from their entrance into the Library until his requesting of the book was transcribed there. There was even a line which read "Flynn lookd thru thee booke, seek'g answere to their probleme". And immediately after that was a description of the ritual which they performed to escape from the demiplane.

"What does the book say?" asked Kriv. "Does it offer us a way out?"
Rather than replying, Flynn simply took two steps to the left and tranced his fingers quickly through the air, reading the invocation. Twenty seconds later, they had vanished. The Keeper smiled to himself.

Two squirrels chased each other across a branch, playful in the springtime air. A bluebird landed lightly on the ground and began pecking for worms. The scene was disturbed seconds later as a party of adventurers materialized out of thin air.
"Well," said Bjorn after a moment, "that was easy."
"I worry about the circumstances," replied Diesa, "If we arrived at the Library too early, as it seems, then perhaps someone is disturbing the fates."
"Aye," said Kriv, "And acting in plays provides suspiciously little loot."
"Wouldn't have been yours anyway, reptile-face!" spat Bjorn.
"Let me read that tome Flynn," said Kriv, "I would like to confirm that I am destined to travel with you."
"I'm not sure that the tome should be used that way," responded Flynn, "At the mage academy they taught us that self-referential magics shouldn't be disturbed."
"Guys -and Diesa- " interrupted Lia, "Where are we?"
"Five miles from Fallcrest," read Flynn from the tome.
"To Fallcrest then," responded Bjorn, "and perhaps we should look into this prophecy about the Seven Sons."
"We still need to find Baern's sister …" said Kriv.

The End

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