In formation, the heroes of Thunderstrike soared amongst the clouds. Beneath them, the lands of Fearun stretched out like a patchwork quilt, dozens of nations stitched together at their invisible borders. The boundary line of Thay, however, was made physical by the banners and tents of war camps. Pinter, rocketing along by the ether-fire roaring from his heels, wondered at the Quorum's refusal to talk with the gathered warbands. When he was a wandering sage, before he took the mantel of the Croaker, he had heard of the bravery and wisdom of Thunderstrike. But ever since he had been summoned, Pinter had witnessed the grand heroes acting-
Pinter's ether-fire suddenly died, and in the silence he plummeted. Pinter fought down panic. He cried out in a telepathic command to the ghosts that powered his armor, trying to locate unresponsive spirits. Even through his mask, Pinter could hear the wind howling as he dropped. He pulled his arms into the spacious body of his armor and began checking the myriad dials, valves, and tubes. Most glowed with vaporous light, but the devices that channeled power to his ether-fires were empty. His ghosts were disobeying.
Pinter summoned the personality of the Croaker. As a Kalashtar, Pinter was naturally gifted at balancing multiple identities. All Kalashtar possessed two souls: a dream-soul used to manipulate magical energies, and a mortal soul tethered to their bodies. For generations, Pinter's family had warped their dream-souls into the identity of the demonic Croaker, and ruled over the cities of the dead in its name. Pinter now set his thoughts to the Croaker's voice, as grim and menacing as a moonlit swamp. He cast out a mental shout to the ghosts in his armor.
"Who... DARES refuse... my COMMANDS?"
A chorus of whispers rose in Pinter's mind. The voices overlapped, as if Pinter were interrupting a conversation in progress.
"Mortal man..." the ghosts hissed, "Frail... scared... not the Croaker..."
A cold fist clenched Pinter's gut. More tubes and vials now flickered, dimmed, and darkened as the ghosts slipped from his control. Pinter risked a quick glance through the goggles of his mask. The land, which he had just been comparing to a soft quilt, now looked jagged, sharp, and much too close. Pinter knew why the ghosts were refusing to take orders. Just hours ago, Pinter had faced overwhelming odds against dangerous enemies in the dark world. He had been battered, injured, and was forced to summon all of the ghosts under his command to form a swirling vortex of ethereal energies. But Pinter had been without his mask, and the ghosts had seen a panicked mortal where they expected a frightful demon.
Pinter focused his magical energies, and again sent out a mental threat.
"You... QUESTION THE DREAMLESS KING? You DOUBT... the LORD OF GHOSTS?"
With quick fingers, Pinter flicked two switches, turned a dial, and drew the ghosts into a series of jars along the sides of his armor's legs.
"[i]TREACHERY!" he howled. "BETRAYAL!"
Pinter passed through a flock of birds, barely registering their angry squawks as he fell. From within his armor, he loosened a valve, then repeatedly jabbed a red button until he heard a loud click.
"I command you... to BURN!"
Pinter pressed his metal boots together, igniting the riotous souls. Roaring green flames burst from his heels. He steered wildly, mere inches above the craggy peak of a mountain, and then climbed back up to where the Quorum had paused in mid-air. With his ether-flames working, Pinter adjusted the valves inside his armor to allow the ghosts to return to their previous jars and vials. The colorful lights spread once again through the armor's tubing. The ghosts were following his command. Pinter rose to the level of the other heroes. He knew they would be curious about his sudden dive. He pulled back his mask, revealing a dark, sweaty face and bright green eyes. "I'm sorry about the diversion," he said, attempting to sound confident despite his quavering voice. "I... thought I saw something interesting."
Arora, mounted on her dragon, squinted at Pinter. "Are you sure everything's alright? You shouldn't just go diving after something without telling us. Remember what happened in the dark world?"
Pinter nodded and smiled. He knew that the heroes of Thunderstrike were still baffled by his behavior over the last few days. There in the dark world, surrounded by the infinite mysteries of the Far Realms, Pinter had felt the presence of a hundred thousand minds holding a hundred thousand answers. The legion of voices pulling at his mind had made him act irrationally, though not without reason. Pinter knew that knowledge would be a powerful weapon in stopping the cataclysm. But at the time, he had not possessed the peace of mind to explain. Still, it stung him that the Quorum had reacted to violently to his quest for knowledge. Pinter feared that his service to the heroes of Thunderstrike would be questioned. If they saw him acting brash and rebellious, they might cast him back to the underworld, just as he had threatened to do to his ghosts.
Wrenn's nightmare kicked its hooves, raising sparks. "We're wasting time," Wrenn said, urging Tenebrae onwards. "I'm eager to see how long we were in the dark world for."
And with that, the heroes of Thunderstrike flew on, with Pinter a small ways behind. He checked again the ghosts powering his armor. All seemed at peace, for the moment. But Pinter knew he would need the confidence of the Quorum. And he could not have their confidence unless he had command of his ghosts.
With these worries weighing his mind, Pinter flew out of Thay.