The Name of The King

Pursuit at Sea, and The Jungles of Esovaria

Ship_Chase.pngWith great haste, the newly acquired crew exploded into action, scuttling about the rigging as they unfurled the sails and put The Maiden’s Vengeance to sea. What at first seemed like it would be a clean getaway as the began to put sea between the ship and Crescent Harbor, Sails appeared behind them! A much larger (and apparently faster) ship loomed up from their larboard quarter, and as the distance began to close, they noticed a fair amount of activity at the bow of their pursuer.

Suddenly, a puff of smoke was seen from the activity near the bow and a second later, a loud BANG floated into the ears of the crew on the Maiden’s Vengeance as a giant grappling hook attached to a large sturdy chain came flying through the air towards them! The first shot impacted the stern but did not catch. They reeled in the shot like a giant fishing hook and fired again, this time busting through the stern below deck, where the hook stuck and began to pull the two ships closer together. Leading a team of crew to work to dislodge the hook and stem the flow of water that began pouring in, Craggs worked tirelessly until finally the chain was disconnected and the hole was patched (but not before losing a hearty amount of the supply out into the sea).

A might cheer rose from the crew as they began to put distance between themselves and their pursuers, and they turned their attention to the voyage ahead.

Merrow.jpegWhat was hoped to be an uneventful voyage proved not to be so, as one night they found themselves beset by a squadron of Merfolk, lead by a much larger and aggressive Mer-creature than any of them had ever seen. This brutish leader managed to use his body as a torpedo and punch a hole through the hull into the main hatch below deck, in an effort to sink the ship, which would put the entire crew at their mercy. A mighty battle ensued, and a desperate repair operation was carried out, and the ship limped its way along.

About 2 weeks later, that glorious call came from the watch at the top of the main sail:

20160416_190116.jpg“Land ho! Land ho! Two points off the larboard bow! Land ho!” In short order, the untamed wilderness of Esovaria stretched out before them. Knowing of only 1 place on this side of the continent that they could disembark, the crew decided to head for the port of the Red Lotus River, what in Elvish was called “Reid L’atuus.” Not knowing how long they’d be gone exactly, they bartered a deal with Monte and the crew for them to head to Nysopoli, the grand Capital city of Spiros, to return in 3 weeks time.

Putting out to shore in a small dinghy, they landed at the miniscule port where a single tavern was. There they were told it would be about a 9 day walk if they followed the Red Lotus river north upstream to Eh’Toa, or if they wished, they could go 2 days due west first through uncharted wilderness to a small outpost on a river that flowed TOWARDS the city where they could rent rafts/canoes to make the trip in less time, but for higher cost for the convenience. Not eager to get back on another water-borne vessel after their long and harrowing sea voyage, they Ignacio, Lanth and Stevil opted to travel up the Red Lotus River on foot, with Peter Pantser to help guide them.

635768869148872918.jpgTowards the end of their 1st day’s journey, they suddenly were ambushed by a pack of savage minotaurs, aided by some strange plant-like creatures that hurled thorns and sharp projectiles from across the river. A mighty struggle ensued as they sought to fend off the charging Minotaurs, but ultimately Ignacio was overpowered and carried off as a prisoner.

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Fulstav the Fence and the Great Chariot Chase

An extensive series of failed attempts to talk their way out of the blackmail, some urine on various boots, a mage-hand atomic wedgie and a silently fuming Ignacio left the gang strong-armed into helping the mysterious man with his vague but clearly nefarious task. Given instructions to meet at the local carpentry/wagon repair shop, “Wooden It Be Nice,” at dawn the next morning to meet a contact and retrieve the wagon, the gang decides not to take this lying down. Assuming they’re being tailed, they return to the ship and concoct a 3-fold plan:

1) Stevil will take his chariot and Peter Pantser out into the city to perform tricks as a form of diversion.

2) Lanth will don a purposely bad disguise and approach Wooden It Be Nice as a random civilian to appear to case the joint, but all the while, Ignacio will identify and follow whoever is tailing Lanth.

3) They will subdue the tail and glean as much info about Fulstav the Fence and the organization he runs.

As the plan executes, Stevil’s tricks don’t really seem to be grabbing as much attention as he had hoped. Ignacio successfully slipped off the back of the ship and quickly spotted Lanth’s tail…a young lad of about 15. Lanth entered the shop, tried his best to identify the cart and payload they would be responsible for leading out of the city (to no avail) and decided to leave without having really learned much.

As he left, Ignacio watched as the lad followed him down the street and decided to make his move against the boy. Leaping at him and attempting to grapple him into submission, the boy proved to be quite slippery indeed…Ignacio even lashed out with some magic fire, but the boy began to flee for his life. Lanth heard the commotion behind him and ran over to the clearing where Stevil was performing his acrobatics and told him to quickly go and help Ignacio wrangle the boy. A chase ensued but the boy was no match for Stevil and his chariot, and a quick round of “good cop bad cop” got the blubbering boy to give the following information:

1) Fulstav leads an organization here in Crescent Harbor known as The Shadow Hands
2) Fulstav runs a very tight ship, the only people he meets with in person are his inner circle, so many of the lower level members of his gang have never seen him in person and know nothing about his whereabouts
3) The Shadow Hands have influence in places of power here in Crescent Harbor

The group learns quickly that these lowest level pions aren’t given a ton of information, so they decide to carry on and head to Wooden It Be Nice and meet the Shadow Hand contact. Upon arrival, a cart is brought up to them and they are told they must take it through the guard checkpoint at the northern gate, and take the cart a several hour ride out from the city to a clearing with a small hut. There they will be met by more Shadow Hands to retrieve the goods, at which point the gang will be “free to go about their business.” But the contact tells them that they will be watched the whole time, so no funny business will be tolerated.

Knowing full well there is something sinister about this whole transaction, and REALLY hating Fulstav, the gang decides they are not going to deploy as much “funny business” as possible, and try to get back to their ship to leave Crescent Harbor. They decide that their first mate Montebank must be found and they will need to leave sooner than they had originally planned. Once all 3 had agreed on the plan to meet back down on the docks ASAP if they get split up, they decide to pull off into a deserted alley and look inside the various sloshing barrels and heavy crates on the cart…only to discover something very gruesome: meticulously sorted human remains. In barrels of liquid, floating skulls bob. Packed away in 1 crate are dozens of rib cages. In another, hands and feet. Opening as many crates as they can stomach, they discover what must be the remains of dozens of individuals, all of their parts accounted for in these various crates and barrels.

Deciding they will not allow whatever purpose these remains have to be realized, they decide to “get lost” in the city as long as they can to delay the shipment. After an hour of taking purposely wrong turns, they are approached by a group of city guards, the captain of whom clearly knows the task they are supposed to be carrying out and tells the crew that this band of guards will be escorting them to the gate checkpoint.

It is this moment that the gang decides to make a break for it! Stevil and his Chariot riding next to the cart takes off in one direction, Lanth on the the cart with 1 horse in another direction, and Ignacio and a horse in another…the trio scatters, setting off a city-wide chase!

The city guard is whistled into action and the chase commences. Stevil, leaping a canal and gaining some time to devise a plan, hides the chariot and tell Peter to lay low with the chariot and meet back at the ship when he hears his whistle. Lanth, still on the cart decides he wants to somehow alert the public that something horribly evil is going on with the cart. He uses his magical bardic abilities to create a loud booming voice that proclaims that the Shadow Hands are up to something awful and that this cart is the evidence. Leaping off the cart as he sends it careening into a busy square, Lanth is able to blend in to the crowd and don a quick disguise. From there, he headed straight down to the docks in the attempt to find Monte. Ignacio lead the city guard in wide looping circles, eventually loosing them in the busy streets where he too ventured down to the docks to search for their first mate, Monte.

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Ships, Scoundrels and the Sea

Deciding to keep the Fragment (but adorn it in a less conspicuous way than a crown), the trio decided that the best course of action would be to continue their search with the most concrete lead they had: They would head into the wilds of Esovaria in search of the Temple that both Mara and Stevil had stumbled upon.

Esovaria.png The first obstacle that needed to be overcome was the search for a vessel to take them around the southern tip of Vramora, east across its entire southern expanse and then out across the Sea of Storms to the western coast of Esovaria. The only truly established settlement on this wild and untamed continent is the capitol of Eh ’Toa, which is nestled deep inland, on the shores of the Emerald Lake, which is so named for the greenish phosphorescent glow it casts, giving the surround wilds an eerie green glow at night. The best way to access Eh ’Toa is by boat, sailing (but most often rowing) upstream on the mighty river Kalakona. Called Lotus Run by visitors, the Kalakona river surges mightily through a dense overgrown jungle filled with many untold dangers, and it is not unheard to have entire convoys of boats heading up river never reach their destination. Having little care for their diplomatic responsibilities to people of other continents, the council at Eh ’Toa designates minimal resources to the securing of the Kalakona voyage.

Set on their path, the trio headed down to the docks, where they found themselves in The Wicked Squid, a tavern notoriously crawling with sailors and those of ill repute. Quite quickly, they found themselves in the presence of a few of the captains in High Pengard at that moment: the Elven mistress Mira Seaspray and her raven, the boistrous dwarf Dubdha, and the willowy human Sesca Veetay. After some relatively good-natured haggling, the trio decided that Dubdha, Captain of The Maiden’s Vengeance would be the best choice, as he would be leaving the soonest and proclaimed the fastes travel time, even though his ship was the smallest of the 3 and The_Maidens_Vengeance.jpg the least stocked. Arrangements were made for the 3 companions to work their fair share and pay some gold for Peter Pantser, and the deal was struck! Bright and early, at 5 bells the next morn, they found themselves aboard The Maiden’s Vengeance heading out of the bay.

It is often said that when you find yourself surrounded by people of an unsavory nature, it is best to establish yourself as a person of power and might; one not to be meddled with. Lanth’s father had imparted this lesson on him as a young lad, so he took it upon himself to attempt to do so as soon as he could. Lashing out at the first sailor who bumped into him, he swung wildly with his fists hoping to catch the man unawares and lay him out, there by solidifying his place as an intimidating figure. But alas, not having his sea legs yet meant that his swing was off its mark, and the hardy sailor who Lanth had attacked responded by cracking Lanth under the jaw and dropping him to the deck. Ignacio, not one to let his friends be pushed around stepped in and managed to draw the ire away from Lanth, but the damage to poor Lanth’s reputation had been done. Sequestered to the Crow’s nest, Lanth took his sore jaw and aching ego up the mast to his post where he would remain for the next several days for long watches of a seemingly endless blue horizon.

Stevil found himself sequestered in the galley with the cook, relegated to menial tasks of peeling, slicing, dicing and general kitchen bitch work.

Ignacio, noticed by the large and imposing human First Mate Montebank, was given some hard manual labor. Deck swabbing, cargo sorting, anchor weighing and the like, not to Ignacio’s distaste.

One thing that all 3 of our adventurers noticed was that there seemed to be a surprisingly small amount of provisions onboard for such a journey, and frequent references to “resupplying” began to draw suspicion as to the intended nature of these events. But despite these supicions, the first couple of days aboard The Maiden’s Vengeance proved decent for our new sailors. Ignacio performed his tasks well, Stevil proved a decent (and entertaining) kitchen hand, and even Lanth managed to stay alert on his long watches, all the while magically messing with the lad who had punched him and damaged his reputation. Lanth was the first to spot the first interesting thing in those 2 days in the nest: sails on the horizon.

Blowing his trumpet and proclaiming, “SAILTH ON THE HORIZON!”, Dubdha and Montebank appeared from below deck, their crew of miscreants looking to them expectantly.

“What say you, lads?” Dubdha barked with a wicked grin, “ready to resupply?”

A mighty cheer rose up from the crew as all manner of nasty looking weapons were distributed, the sails were unfurled to their fullest and a black Jolly Roger was hoisted high, fluttering next to Lanth under the brilliant, cloudless sky.

The reputation the Dubdha had insisted on of The Maiden’s Vengeance being one of the fastest ships on the sea proved true and in just about an hour, they had gained enough ground on the cargo ship Lanth had spotted to put them within striking distance. Realizing too late who was pursuing them, the larger (but less ferocious) merchant ship furled its sails and prepared the fight they could no longer avoid.

Pirate_attack_.jpgGrappling hooks and planks appeared on the larboard side of The Maiden’s Vengeance and the hapless trio, found themselves thrust into the middle of a fight they wanted no part of. Seeking to end things with as little blood shed as possible, both Ignacio and Stevil leapt with amazing distance to the other ship and attacked the captain of the merchant ship directly, trying to intimidate the man into surrendering before everyone was slaughtered. It didn’t take too long for that exact outcome to come to fruition, and while a few crewmen were killed (and even 1 pirate ending up in the ocean), the battle came to a halt almost as quickly as it had begun!

Several minutes later as almost the entire crew of The Maiden’s Vengeance was aboard their captured quarry, Lanth (still up the rigging in the crows nest) got it in his head that he had had enough of these slimy pirates and began to unfurl the sails with the intention of stealing the boat and leaving the bulk of the pirate crew aboard the slower ship! Lanth and Stevil quickly realized this intention and leapt back onto the boat. Despite the surprise move, a large percentage of the pirate crew, Dubdha included made it back onto The Maiden’s Vengeance for a battle that would prove more dangerous than the boarding of the merchant ship. Despite the fierce warriors, Dubdha was eventually cast overboard, his mohawk finally disappearing under the waves.

The trio now faced a leaderless crew of pirates and scoundrels, and pondered how to handle them. Montebank stepped forward, and through some negotiation and conversation, convinced the trio that many of the men aboard were merely mercenaries, loyal only to whomever provided them with coin and would hold no ill will against them for the killing of Dubdha. Ron (Lanth’s new found nemesis) and his closest mates, however, proved less convincing and were bound…but told that they would be let off at Crescent Harbor if they swore to never return to the ship and pursue new opportunities for themselves. The deal was struck.

As they neared the port city of Crescent Harbor, they took it upon themselves to return the ship to an outward appearance of non-piracy. Stowing the jolly roger and covering the name of the ship with a less threatening one, they were pulled in to the vast network of docks that made up the bay of Crescent Harbor.

After a quick conference with Montebank, they decided to meet back at the ship on the eve of the 2nd day (it currently being the late afternoon/evening of the 1st day). This would give Montebank enough time to wrangle a few new crewman to help bring them to Esovaria. A little haggling over money, and the trio set out into the city of Crescent Harbor. After asking a few different people for a place to perhaps get some work as a performer, Stevil was directed to The Nifty Pudding Tavern, which as they began to head in the direction given, discovered that it was in a less-than-desireable part of town. As they approached the tavern, they saw a very large half orc bouncer at the front. Startled by the presence of Peter Pantser, he informed the crew that he would not allow the panther inside, and there was a 2gp cover for the evening. Lanth, in a rare moment of defiance, decided to “pay” his cover with the currency of rude hand gestures. The large bouncer, not terribly excited about this, declared that Lanth’s cover was now 5gp, and that the panther would STILL not be allowed into the bar.

Once inside, it wasn’t long until the group was approached by a shady, hooded figure who asked them if he could employ their help in a sensitive delivery. After the group declined, the mysterious figure addressed them each by name, and implied he knew them as the fugitives of High Pengard, and twisted the knife by informing the crew that if they did not help him for the fee he initially offered he could make them do it for free. When the gang responded with bluster and intimidation, the man assured him they were outnumbered in this tavern by a great number and that the organization with which he was associated made it their business to know these sorts of things about outlaws.

Feeling cornered, Ignacio activated the Fragment of Duli in order to charm the man and one of the nearby lads at a table…but failed the attempt.

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The Vaults Below Highcastle
The Search For a Fragment of Duli

Ignacio, having so bravely returned to Christoph Hoyle to procure the correct concoction with which the Agents of Ascension would poison the castle garrison, was reminded of the sheer madness of the eccentric alchemist. He tried to relay to the rest of the group just how bizarre the small man truly is, but his stoicism kept it to, “Trust me. He’s odd.”

It also left Ignacio uncertain of the potion’s accuracy and potency, so he again bravely volunteered himself as a guinea pig for the vicious brew. To say that Ignacio was “sick” several hours later would be like saying that the ocean is “damp.” Ignacio, pale, clammy and gleaming with a fevered sweat, spent the next 24 hours (including during the following events) between the bed and the privy, as everything that had entered his digestive system in the last half a day was sent rocketing from the nearest orifice.

Lanth and Mara approached the rendezvous point outside the castle, where they had agreed to meet the Agent of Ascension who would lead them to the vaults. Rounding the corner, to their great surprise, was Stevil! Casually leaning up against the castle, he pretended to have been waiting for them a long while, though in reality had only arrived a few moments before them as Peter Pantser had only just tracked them down.

They heard the faint “ca-KAW” of the Agent inside. This signal meant the poison had been Free_Medieval_Door_Texture_3.jpgsuccessfully administered to both the water and food supply, and now, many hours later, nearly 90% of all the guards in the palace were currently incapacitated, leaving the entrance to the vaults almost completely unguarded. Producing a stolen key, the undercover Agent opened the door to the vaults and left the group.

The three companions, Stevil, Lanth and Mara found themselves in a dimly-lit stone hallway.King_Edward_VII._Marble_Statue_for_Bangalore__Mysore._Leonard_Jennings__Sculptor__p.36__Academy_of_Architecture__1914_-_Sculptures__-_Copy.jpg Peering around the corner, they found themselves in the presence of 4 kings of High Pengard in statue form: Tomas, Odmaer, Hamish and Bertio. At the base of each was an indentation that house a stone with a unique set of runes. Lanth recognized them immediately as saying “Sword” “Orb” “Crown” and "Key. There also was a plaque that read:

“To each their own, but thrice an err of name and stone will bring thy doom in ways unknown.”

The group pieced together that they needed to get the correct stone in the correct statue in order for something to happen…but they could not agree on what that something was! Mara suggested trying to open the door first, but Stevil and Lanth bade her not to touch the door, lest it be trapped and solving the puzzle of the runes would make it safe. However, after switching the runes around a few times based on nothing by gut reactions, they heard what sounded like a low horn sounding in the deep, the stones beneath their feet trembled, and then they were greeted by the sound of arcane energy and rushing footsteps! Quickly they each hid behind a statue and Lanth cast a minor illusion to make it look like there was, of all things, a monkey in the room playing with the rune stones! Three hooded figures burst through the doors (which they all noticed swung easily like those on a saloon), ready to fight, but were brought up short by the vision of the monkey! They stared quizzically at it for a few seconds before Lanth made the monkey run from the room. One of the mages pursued, the others stayed behind, talking in hushed, confused tones. The mage returned shaking his head and the three figures retreated back through the doors. A few moments later there was another rumble and another CRACK of arcane energy, and then…silence.

Peeking through the doors that they now knew stood unlocked, they saw into the next chamber. It was a vast, circular room, at the center of which stood a 4-way set of stairs that rose up to meet at a small platform, and glittering atop that platform was a ornately carved pedestal which held on it a golden chalice covered in gems, including a large green gem…THE SHARD!

With more caution than before, Lanth looked at the display with vision imbued by “Detect Magic” and discerned that the image before them was an illusion, and most likely a trap. They decided to look into the various doors that lined the large room.

The first room they entered was lined entirely with racks and displays of swords. Many woven tapestries hung on the walls, including one very large wall-sized tapestry which appeared to have a large blank spot where the clear subject of the image was supposed to be. as they approached the tapestry to read the plaque next to it, Lanth stepped on a stone that sunk into the ground, causing to large insect-like creatures to crawl out of their tapestries and attack! Recognizing them as rust monsters, Stevil wasted no time in getting his whips moving as the metal on Lanth’s rapier attracted the beast. Mara’s Magic Missile and Shocking Grasp spells proved quite effective, and it didn’t take long to dispatch the monstrosities. As soon as they did, the blank spot on the tapestry was filled by a clear image of King Tomas wielding a mighty sword. The plaque below read, “The Sword Conquers the present, but fades with time.” Certain now that the rune marked “Sword” belongs with Tomas, they returned to place the stone in the correct spot and ventured to the next room.

At this point, they felt they had enough information to solve puzzle, so they returned to the statues and arranged the rune stones as they thought was correct. When nothing happened, Lanth peeked back into the main chamber to discover that the golden chalice was gone, as was all the illusion magic that had been emanating from it. The trap had been successfully disarmed!

As the creaked open the door to another room off the main chamber, they were startled to find themselves not in a coldly-lit, dank stone room like the rest of the Vaults, but instead a comfortable and lavishly adorned and warmly lit study. A sturdy oak desk set facing the door, the walls lined by book shelves and small dressers and tables. The group slowly approached the desk, examined the book that lay open on it. Its pages and binding were all blank, and when Lanth grabbed a pen and drew something, it just faded into the page and disappeared! When nothing seemed out of place (which in and of itself was out of place!), Mara began opening drawers on the desk. In one of the drawers was a small handheld golden mirror. Mirror.jpg. As Mara looked into the mirror, suddenly, the bookshelves behind her were covered in dozens of crystal orbs of all different sizes! When she turned to look she saw nothing, and when she reached out to grab one, she felt nothing. She tried again to touch an orb, this time while looking in the mirror, and to her surprise, her hand contacted something solid!

At the instant of her touch, the doors to the vault vanished, and the faintest breeze filled the room for a moment. They suddenly felt like they were not alone, but they could see nothing. Mara whirled around holding up the mirror, and approaching them was a vaguely humanoid figure who seemed to be made out of condensed vapor, wispy and immaterial at the edges. Suddenly, she realized that the group would not stand a chance unless they used the mirror to help locate the monster. With some clever maneuvering, some strategic mirror-swapping and some serious damage taken, they finally managed to destroy the invisible threat. As soon as it vanished from existence, the once-blank book that was open on the desk began to fill with words. The heading read, “King Odmaer, keeper of the Orbs.” They now had their answer for which king belonged to the “Orb” rune!

With determination, the wasted no time on entering the 3rd room…and were brought up short by the stark contrast from the warmth of the previous room. The trio now found themselves in what was clearly a room meant for torture. A large stone table with wrist bindings bolted to it stood in the center of the room over a drain. The room contained little else besides implements of pain…except what the 3 adventurers stood gaping at. Standing next to the head of the table, bent over with a hand to its ear as if listening to a secret, was a statue of a woman made of pure white marble. listening_statue.jpg

Nothing happened as they approached the statue or searched the room, until Stevil had the idea that perhaps they needed to strap themselves in to the manacles on the table. He volunteered to try first, and the instant his second hand was bolted on, he heard a voice in his head that said “Only a pure heart and clear conscience may look upon King Hamish’s Crown. Confess what darkens your heart, what haunts your dreams, and what regret falters your step.”

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Stevil thought for a moment and then whispered into the statues ear, “My greatest fear is having people discover that I once simultaneously vomited, peed and pooped on a girl.”

Stevil was transported with a zap of magical energy. When he opened his eyes, things were still dark around him, but he felt that he was on a very soft and comfortable surface and quickly he realized he was on what felt like a luxurious feather mattress with blankets over his head. His first breath in brought with it two simultaneous feelings: fond remembrance and dread. He smelt the faint scent of lavender and rose water, and a distinct and unmistakeable scent that catapulted him back into the fond years of adolescence…the scent of Cordelia Bagley. With a jolt, he realized he was in her bed chambers on the night he lost your virginity to the lovely miss Cordelia. He had won access to the fair maiden’s bedchamber by performing a particularly stylish jump with his chariot at his first public performance under the name Stevil. Most would find this a pleasing sort of memory of young lust and conquest, but his heart filled with dread as he realized he was being made to relive the horrors of that night. As in dreams, he discover he had little control over his limbs but was lucid enough to know what was coming, and he got the sense the he might have a chance to change his fate. As he clawed his way out from under the magnificent comforter, a violent jolt rumbled in his guts and his body was racked by violent spasms. He (SUCCESSFULLY) clenched his abdominal muscles. He grunted with exertion as he flung the covers off. Cordelia stirred and turned to look at you, saw him rigid and sweating with the strain of some severe discomfort and asks “My dear Stevil, what is the matter? Are you well?” Stevil (SUCCESSFULLY) deceived her and told her he was fine. “I must be going,” he managed to squeak out as he rose up from the bed, still stiff with the effort of containing the avalanche of biological material that was building within him. Cordelia rises and comes over and put an arm on his shoulder. “Are you sure? You’ve gone all pale!” As one wave of discomfort passes, he realized this was his last chance to make it to the privy before disaster strikes. He (SUCCESSFULLY) dashed down the hall to the privy! To say that he was ‘relieved’ upon making it to the privy takes on many meanings, but he was lucid enough to realize that this isn’t how it actually happened. However, as he unloaded the contents of his entire digestive tract in the relative privacy of the privy, he realized how silly it is that he had carried this around with him all his life. As the memory faded to white and he found himself back in the vaults of Highcastle, he stood a little taller knowing that we all have embarrassing memories of our youth and he needn’t be so insecure of people discovering this."

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Mara was next. As the shackled closed and the statue spoke, she whispered “I’m most afraid that my inability to control my magic will hurt the people I care about.”

She suddenly found herself back in the woods of Esovaria. As she wandered through the familiar woods, she realize that as if in a dream, she seemed to have a purpose that her waking mind couldn’t yet comprehend. She spotted the house that she and her mentor Vyncent had shared for her whole life. But something isn’t right. From inside the house comes a shriek of pain, and she immediately recognized it as coming from Vyncent. She burst through the door into the house to find Vyncent being held hostage by a pair of shadowy figures, hunched and cloaked, one behind him, the other in front. They are prodding him with strange implements as he moans and yells in agony. Instinctively, she cast Magic Missile, but without any chance to calm herself or contain your power, the Wild Surge comes leaping out from within her stronger and more violently than she had ever experienced before.

Despite the surge of wild magic, the projectiles (SUCCESSFULLY) found their mark, leaving Vyncent unscathed! The scene before her dissolved in a burst of black cloud, and she suddenly find herself in a dungeon-like room with Lanth, Ignacio and Stevil on various torture devices, each bleeding from many small wounds. A figure entered the room through a doorway on the far side…it’s Vyncent! It seemed he was the one holding the trio hostage and torturing them. He handed Mara a wickedly spiked hook dagger and said ‘Mara! I discovered that it was these 3 that have been corrupting the land around us! We must exact revenge on them for the land and restore the balance.’ Mara stared at the dagger in her hand and at the glassy eyes of the three bound men on their tables. Lost in the dream, she realized you must choose: Did she believe her oldest friend and mentor, Vyncent, and use the dagger on Ignacio, Lanth and Stevil, the villainous knaves who defiled the land she so loved? Or did she abstain?

After an agonizing few moments, she set the dagger down. The instant she did, the form of Vyncent ripped open and a demon lunged at her. Shrieking with terror, she instinctively cast another spell, the Wild Magic within her erupting from her….but again, she successfully cast her spells with no harm befalling her companions. She jolted suddenly as if waking from a nightmare and found herself standing back in the Vault room, shaken and nervous, but none the worse for wear.

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Lastly came Lanth. As he was asked to recite his fear, he whispered “Dropping my instrument in the lake.”

He was transported to a lit stage in a vast, unending room, filled with a massive crowd as far as the eye can see of straight-faced people who stared, unblinking, at him. They stood in ankle deep water. Suddenly, he noticed the water was beginning to rise. Based on its speed, he figured that the whole room would be underwater, himself and his instruments included, in less than 1 minute. The entire crowd spoke in a monotone unison, “Sing a song of your truest fear or be consumed by it.”

As if in a dream where you are suddenly compelled without warning of strong emotions and urges, he realized that he must make up and perform a poem/song about his greatest fear on the spot. He took a breath and began to sing:

AND I WOULD WALK 500 MILES
AND I WOULD WALK 500 MORE
JUST TO BE THE MAN WHO NEVER DROPPED HIS MOST VALUED
INSTRUMENTS INTO THE WATER ANYMORE.”

The crowd looked at him blankly, and Lanth held his breath as he waited to see if the crowd would accept his song. The water suddenly stopped rising and he was transported back to the Vaults.

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As the trio found themselves all back in the Vault Room, self-conscious that their secrets had been laid bare before their companions, a golden crown appeared on the statues head…and laid into the center of this crown was a large green gem shard: A Fragment of Duli! It carried an aura of very powerful Enchantment magic, so Lanth put the crown in his bag and they decided that even though they had the shard, they would still visit the last remaining room.

a0327230fc94b7b6901cb535d8712ced.jpgInside was nothing but the statue of a small satyr. As you broke the magical aura around it, the doors behind you vanished and the statue’s face animated and began to speak:

“Answer King Bertio’s Riddles for the key to freedom. One chance is all ye be given so think before you speak”

He asked the group 3 riddles, all of which were answered correctly!key-4-dribbble_1x.jpg

“Aura cadaver, in graveyards we gather. In the living we exist, in your closet we persist. What are we?”
Answer: Skeletons

“It dances and skips, it’s read in the eyes but it cheats with the hips. If it meets its match it’s easily caught, but it’s worth nothing if it is bought. What is it?”
Answer: The heart

“The shorter I am, the bigger I am. What am I?”
Answer: A temper

With all 3 correct answers, a crystal key appeared next to the door which the group used to unlock it, then Stevil pocketed the key.

They had the fragment, they had their lives. The group took a quick vote and voted to get the fuck out.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

The halls of Highcastle were eerily silent as Lanth, Stevil and Mara followed their contact from the Agents of Ascension back through the winding corridors of the palace towards their escape. The silence consisted partly of a lack of normal hustle and bustle in the castle (Christoph’s poison saw to that), but also of a lack of conversation between the party. Each member having had their greatest fears laid bare before their companions was not something any of them had been prepared for, and it showed on the blank and inward expressions on their faces. Even with a successful raid behind them and a powerfully enchanted crown in their possession, the crew didn’t really feel much like talking.

The Agent had exited the palace with them and promptly shed his disguise and vanished into the shadows of High Pengard mere seconds after rounding the corner and putting Highcastle out of sight. Once back out on the streets of High Town, below a thin sliver of moon, the cool night air seemed to help put the trio at ease.

“Well,” said Stevil quietly, “let’s get back to Jabari and see what he recommends we do now.”

Silent nods responded, and the group quickened their pace towards the address Jabari had scribbled down for them right before they left.

Having spent enough time in Low Town before they became fugitives of this great city, Stevil and Lanth still marveled at the sharp contrasts between High and Low Towns, cleanliness and aroma being the most obvious. At the top of the city, a constant breeze blowed softly carrying the scent of spices and incense from the luxurious shops that dotted the High Town streets. Low Town, on the other hand, carried with it the scent of the industry of the city and the crowded population. The stagnant air acted like a greenhouse, seeming to trap the scent of fish and the collected refuse of all its inhabitants. Beyond the smell, where Low Town was homogenous in its design and fabrication (mostly out of necessity of keeping cost low), High Town was entirely idiosyncratic. Every home, every estate, every store front all appeared to have been teleported in from some distant land and culture. And since the entire capital city was oriented vertically, wealth was not displayed in square footage, but in vertical stories and in exotic, unique design. Walking through the lamp-lit streets was like taking a stroll across the entire continent…or even across The Known World itself.

One building might have the solid, severe Dwarven influence of the masons of Stonehaven (dark stone, right angles, geometric heraldry and embellishments), but yet the very next building over would display the rounded columns and the curving white marble features typically found in the designs of Nysopoli, the capital of Spiros. As they approached their destination, the house Jabari had been granted to occupy during his tenure as a hired scholar for the Council of Nobles, they found themselves looking at a tall pagoda-style building, its tiers of gently sloping roofs extending well beyond its supports, creating a multi-leveled pyramid shape of curved eaves that rang of the traditional Mapuana architecture so favored by the nobles of their captial, Lakmuahni.

Following the directions scribbled on the scrap of parchment, the trio stepped up onto the front porch that nestled well under the overhanging eave, but didn’t approach the main entrance. Instead, they followed the veranda around to the side of the building to a small service entrance. Lanth reached up to knock but a moment before his hand made contact, the door gave a “CLICK” and slid open…but not on a hinge like your average door. It slide sideways, disappearing into a slot in the wall. In the doorway stood Jabari Amset, backlit by a warm glow from inside, his normal extravagance replaced by the practical clothing of one ready for a scrap. His dark hair was pulled tightly back, a loose but form-fitting shirt was tucked into grey knee-length breeches, which were in turn tucked in to a pair of soft leather knee-high boots. A long, curving dagger was in his hand, but a sly smile rested on his lips and a sparkle shone in his eye.

“Much sooner than I had anticipated, friends,” he whispered with his dusky accent, “but I’m glad for it. Do come in.” He stepped to the side and motioned for the party to enter.

The trio hurriedly stepped inside and as Jabari slid the door closed behind them and latched it in a number of ways, they got a chance to glance around the room. Befitting the Mapuana style, the room was relatively plain, but in a very different way than typical Vramoran style. There was no sturdy stonework or oak furniture, nor any couches or over-stuffed chairs. Instead, they found themselves in a wide open square room with white walls that were crossed by a grid of rich red cedar planks. Gleaming hardwood floors dropped down a small step into a few scattered 15-foot-squares that bore no furniture but instead were furnished by large, lavish pillows that were set around the inside edges. Above their heads, dozens of alchemical paper lanterns hung from cedar beams that crossed below a tall vaulted ceiling. In the corner was a small rock garden with a stone pool containing a few large orange koi fish swimming in small circles below the lily pads that dotted the surface. The atmosphere of the room was one of extreme calm, despite its wide open, obstruction-free design.

Jabari stepped down into one of the small, pillow-laden indents, crossed his legs on his pillow and bade the group to do the same. Once the trio was settled, he leaned forward expectantly and asked, “Well? Did you find the chalice with the Fragment?”

The next 15 minutes were spent with the trio relaying the events of their raid on the vaults, and at the end, Lanth reached into his pack and pulled the crown to show to Jabari.

“Ahhh, clever,” Jabari mused. “Display the fragment on a chalice, then move it into hiding on a different artifact while using an illusion of the original artifact as a trap. Quite clever indeed. May I examine it?”

Lanth handed the crown over (slightly reluctantly), and Jabari stared wide-eyed at the large gem fragment inlayed into the golden headpiece.

“I never thought I’d actually see one…” his hand rose to touch the gem’s surface gently with a few fingertips, “…I almost stopped believing they were real.”
Lanth saw Jabari’s eye glow with an arcane tint and realized that Jabari was using Detect Magic to examine the fragment. “You were not exaggerating, master Lanth, this gem is indeed brighter than any single source of magic I’ve yet encountered in my life. And I can confirm again your initial judgement of it being of a strong source of Enchantment magic.” His voice trailed off, and he closed his eyes. A small crackle of arcane energy began to dance around Jabari like static electricity…a thin smile pulled at the corner of his mouth after a few seconds, and as quickly as it began, the energy around him disappeared.

Opening his eyes and looking at the trio, he smiled fully and spoke.

“To my eyes, our mutual friend Master Gemheart’s suspicions are all but confirmed. I do believe that King Hamish has been using this fragment, whose entire magical energy seems concentrated on Enchantment, to slowly but consistently charm the people of High Pengard into submission. How else can a city of this size have been so free of political unrest despite the great divide in wealth and status between the High and Low Towns. This fragment isn’t enough to actually CONTROL the minds of so many people, but it is enough to create a calming effect like a warm blanket over the population…easing unrest, calming angers, and instilling a sense of loyalty, love and submission to the King. It would be very subtle, being spread out among so many, so subtle in fact that it’s absence most likely won’t be felt for a while…how long I do not know, but eventually its influence will wane and the city will be subject to the same unrest as any other capital city.

This crown and gem, if concentrated on a single target, should be MORE than enough to charm that person if focused properly by a skilled user. It also can be used as a shield from attacks that aim to do the same to the wearer of the crown.”

(PLAYER NOTE: You now understand, thanks to Jabari’s knowledge/book smarts that this crown, if worn, makes the wearer immune to Charm, and they gain advantage on all Intimidate, Persuasion and Deception checks. Anyone attempting to use any of those abilities against the wearer of the crown does so with Disadvantage. Also, (with a 24 hour recharge), the crown can be used to cast “Charm Person” as a 2nd level spell, even if the caster has no remaining spell slots at the time of casting.)

After a short lull in the conversation, Jabari seeming to be deep in thought, he continues.

“Friends, you now find yourself with a choice to make. You can give me the crown and I will take it back to the Supreme Atheneum where Master Gemheart is equipped to conceal the fragments for a time while you search for the rest. Or, you can keep it in order to use it…but I’m sure he told you that these fragments are very dangerous to use, as they draw all manner of dark creatures to you…the fate of the Dwarves of Duli tell of the folly of repeated use. Should you choose to give me the crown, I will depart for Stonehaven in the morning. But either way, I am to charge you with continuing the search for the fragments. Master Gemheart says that you already have a lead on one in m’Lady’s home of Esovaria,” he gestures softly to Mara, “but I have news for you that Kurgi knows not yet. I hail from the capital city of Tel Kir’ah on the southern continent of Sudreas, and my network back home as kept me abreast of the comings and goings in the years since my departure. For the previous year or so, excavations have begun in secret in the catacombs under the city by wealthy and powerful nobles who believe great wealth resides in the bones of the ancient city beneath…but very recently, in the last few weeks, excavations have been reporting attacks by a strange band of warriors. Some excavation parties are discovered entirely slaughtered, but a few survivors have managed to escape and have described their attackers as fanatical and vicious, they show no mercy and give no quarter. It is my belief that this group is trying to protect something powerful and important, and I believe it could be another fragment. The timing of their appearance with the strange event you witnessed and now the confirmation of a Fragment of Duli is too much to ignore. Should you decide to venture to Tel Kir’ah, send word to me and I can connect you with my network there. It is a tricky city to navigate as an outsider, so a helpful ally who is connected to the locals will be invaluable.”

He breathes deeply, closes his eye for a moment before opening them and asking, “So what will you do? Will you give me the crown or keep it for use at your own peril? Of the leads you have so far on other fragments, which scent shall you follow?”

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The Festival of the Advent of the Stars, a Goblin ambush and Jabari Amset

“I am not sending you out into the world blind,” Kurgi says with a smile. “I have had a strong suspicion for a long time that one of the shards has been in the possession of King Hamish. Last year, I was finally given the opportunity to put a man on the inside of the House of Nobles as an advisor. If what I believe is true, there is a shard being held somewhere on the grounds of Highcastle and King Hamish has been using its power, whether he fully understands it or not. There’s no other way a city of that size and with such wealth could remain so completely under control with as little dissent as there has been. I believe King Hamish is using the shard to influence the people of High Pengard. So, return to High Pengard and meet with my contact. His name is Jabari Amset, a Sand Elf from Tel Kir’ah, the desert capitol of Sudreas. I will send a message to him so he will expect you.”

As he talks, Kurgi walks over to his desk, produces a key from his robes and uses it to open a drawer, and then another key to open the chest that is nestled inside. From the chest he produces a bag that rattles and clinks with the sound of many coins.

“Here,” he says, hefting the sizable bag at Ignacio, “400 gold pieces to help with the expenses of the trip. I’ll leave it to you to spend it as you need…outfitting, transportation, bribery…but use it as best you can, this is all I’ll be able to get to you for a while.” Walking back around the desk to face the group, his face takes on a lighter expression and he holds out his hand to reveal 3 small crystals on the ends of leather cords. “Its too late to leave for High Pengard tonight, they’ll be closing the gates any minute. Why not relax, and enjoy a final care free night at the Festival of the Advent of the Stars?”

At the groups blank stares, Kurgi explains that The Festival of the Advent of the Stars is an annual festival that goes from sundown to sun up, during which time every citizen wears one of the these cheap crystals that glow at night, filling the streets with thousands of “stars”. “There will be music, dancing, games of skill, boxing matches, foot races and almost all of Stonehaven will turn out for it.” Even though it was pretty clear that little debate was needed, the group exchanged a few knowing looks and nods affirming their decision to follow Kurgi’s suggestion and spend the night exploring the festival and leave the following morning.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Night-of-Fire-sm.jpgStepping out on the streets is quite a shock, and not just for Mara (who is clearly uncomfortable about the crowds/size of the city and trying hard not to show it)…thousands of people are out and about, all with glowing crystals around their necks. Candles and small torches hang from every ledge, above every door, on every corner. Jugglers, fire eaters, and all manner of entertainers wander the streets and plazas. Above the laughter and shouts of excitement, off in the distance can be heard sudden bursts of cheering, or occasionally the collective groan of something unpleasant happening to someone. As the trio walks past various Inns and squares, music and singing can be heard. Ignacio, itching to get into the ring, finds the nearest official and asks to be pointed towards the nearest boxing match. Following the man’s directions, they find themselves in a large city square with a elevated boxing ring set up, lit by many torches and surrounded by a cheering crowd. In the center of the ring is the master of ceremonies, a young, dark-haired human barking at the crowd.

d4b42f3ab78e162f510fde7b6514f915.jpg“Come on then lads! Who’s our next challenger? Prove your prowess! Show your strength! Test your tenacity! Convey your courage!” As the man is yelling, a small group of men are carrying the limp and bloodied form of a man out of the ring. “50 gold pieces to anyone who can bring down our champion…GROM THE DESTROYER.” At that name, the crowd erupts into applause as he gestures wildly to the far corner of the ring. With his back to the corner and his arms draped casually over the ropes, sits Grom. To say Grom was a large Half-orc would be quite the understatement. Even sitting, hes as tall as a standing Dwarf. His bulging arms thick with sinew and veins, his greenish-brownish skin showing alarmingly few signs of injury, the small tusks that jut out from his bottom lip glistening in the torch light. His greasy black hair that falls to his shoulders is swept back and tucked behind his ears, and he is grinning at the group of men struggling to evacuate their unconscious friend.

In his usual cool and gruff tone, Ignacio walks up to the ring and waves the young MC over. “I’m next,” he says, handing in his 10gp fee. The MC is silent for a moment as he looks at the gold in his hand. He whispers, “are you sure?” under his breath to Ignacio who only nods once and cracks his knuckles.

“MY LORDS AND LADIES, WE HAVE OUR NEXT CHALLENGER!!”

Ignacio steps into the ring and takes his corner opposite Grom, who is looking at Ignacio the way a wolf looks at an injured rabbit. Raucous scrabbling erupts in the crowd as bets are placed and money exchanges hands. The MC quickly divulges the rules (no weapons, no magic, no outside assistance, last man standing wins), and without much ado, the bell rings! Much to the surprise of Grom and the crowd, no sooner had the hammer of the bell struck Ignacio charged straight at Grom! Before Grom can even exclaim in surprise, Ignacio leaps into the air, a flying kick aimed at the large brute. It connects with a thud (and a chorus of gasps and shouts from the crowd), which is quickly followed up by a furiously fast flurry of fists, all that connect with the muscular opponent. Almost as if awoken by the pain, Grom roars and lunges for Ignacio, grappling with the slender man and throwing a mighty punch at his head…but Ignacio quickness causes the blow to glance off his shoulder rather than taking the full weight of it.

For the next 30 seconds, the 2 combatants spar, Ignacio darting in and out of range and pummeling the powerful (but lumbering) Grom with punches and kicks that appear as simply a blur to the crowd. Grom manages only to land a few smaller punches before a whirling kick from the leaping and twirling Ignacio causes him to stumble, sway ominously for a few seconds then topple like a great tree in a wind storm. He crashes to the mat with a tremendous BANG…and after a few moments of stunned silence, the crowd bursts into cheers and jeers as the long-odds betters collect their winnings and the grumbling losers reluctantly hand it over.

Wiping off his knuckles, Ignacio collects his prize from the equally stunned MC, finds Lanth and (a clearly uncomfortable and anxious) Mara in the crowd and the three head off further into the festival.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

“Sign up here to catch the greased pig!”

That was enough for the group…even Mara’s face showed the faintest whisper of a smile when the trio heard this call. This was their last night in town, after all.

Their fees paid, Lanth and Mara line up along with 6 other citizens, all determined to win the 50gp prize of catching the greased pig as it races through the city streets towards its pen. Even though the rules of the boxing match were sparse, this game seemed to have even fewer.

A portly man with a red face stepped up in front of the cage, turned to face the contestants and explained the rules in a thick accent that revealed him to be from an EXTREMELY rural part of Vramora.

“All right lads and lasses, ’ere’s the rules. No ‘arming lil’ Ceril ’ere,” he said motioning to the cage at his feet which contained a small, watermelon-sized pig who glistened with grease. “No magic of any kind is permitted,” he continued, “and the pig gets himself a 12 second head start. All you need worry ‘bout is bein’ the one to capture the pig ‘fore it reaches its pen and you win 50gp. As a special bonus prize, you also getta keep the pig! ’at’s all there is too it….ready….on your marks….GOOO!”

The door is flung open, and with a squeal, Ceril the pig bursts out from his cage like a bolt from a crossbow and down the spectator-lined street. The crowd counts to 12 all together, and the contestants are off! Mara, focused only on the animal and unconcerned with the other bipeds around her sprints forward and, seeing a bend in the track decides to run up some boxes and, with a grace that garners a delighted “Oooooo” from the crowd, leaps over a bunch of obstacles in a diving roll and closes the distance to the pig. Lanth, somewhat surprised by this sudden burst of athleticism decides to play a supporting roll to assist Mara’s victory. Jumping a few steps ahead and turning to the crowd, he attempts to tangle them all up with each other. Bumbling around the roiling mass of competitors, Lanth manages to give Mara a hefty lead!

Mara, using her knowledge of wild pigs from back on Esovaria, bellows loudly, imitating the call of a large wild boar, which actually causes the fleeing pig to slow its pace and look back in curiosity. As the pig pen approaches, Mara makes one desperate flying leap, and using her shoulder bag, dives forward and scoops the pig up in the bag, winning the competition!

After consulting with Lanth and Ignacio, they decide to have the pig…prepared for the journey. A short time later, their travel rations stocked with a generous amount of salted cured pork, the group heads back to the Pilgrim’s House. Lanth takes it upon himself to keep up his end of the bargain and perform for the guests in the common room. The whole room listened with rivited attention as he spun the tale of Ignacio defeating Grom The Destroyer, and the tips came raining down into Lanth’s hat.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

The next morning, the group purchased an extra horse to pull their cart and hit the road. goblin.jpgAfter several days of uneventful travel, the wagon rounded a bend in the foothills of Stowadale Mount. With no warning, the wagon suddenly finds itself beset by a Goblin ambush! Ignacio and Lanth leap into action, but a panicked Mara only gets involved by necessity, defending herself and her companions from immediate threats. Until finally, she snaps and grasps the head of the closest goblin and sends bolts of lightning directly into the poor beast’s cranium, causing it to explode! The last remaining Goblin, seeing the gore of what remained of its fellow’s brains, fled back into the craggy hills. The travelers continued their journey back to High Pengard.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Arriving in disguises provided by Lanth, the trio attempted to bring their wagon up the King’s Spiral to High Town, but were denied entry. After boarding their cart and horses, they made their way to The Dancer’s Mug Tavern where they met with Kurgi’s contact, a Sand Elf called Jabari Amset.

Speaking with a smokey baritone and an exotic Sudrean accent, Jabari relayed the information he had found while investigating for the shard.

“One of King Hamish’s prized possessions is the golden chalice that he claimed from the Necromancer Thormar upon defeating him. That chalice, whose centerpiece is a large, inlaid Gem (which I believe to be the Fragment of Duli that you seek), used to be on display in the Great Hall. It was kept among the great trophies of the realm, a point of great pride for King Hamish. But a couple weeks ago, just after the Festival of The New Moon when the assassination attempt was made, the chalice was quietly moved from its place of honor and moved to the Vaults deep in the bowels of Highcastle. Getting to it will not be easy, for the vaults are heavily secured. Kurgi’s message said you were a resourceful lot….so let’s see if we can’t solve this puzzle. How will you attempt to get in to the Vaults?”

for the next hour or so, the group kicked around many ideas that included repelling from the roof, setting High Town on fire to draw the bulk of the Palace Guard out into the city and plenty of other bizzare and highly risky plans. But it was Mara who finally produced a plan worth pursuing.

“We don’t want to put the guards on high alert by creating mischief, that will only cause them to lock down the palace with tighter security. No, we need to incapacitate as many guards as possible but without causing suspicion of foul play…we need them to not be on their guard. What if we somehow were able to poison the garrison’s food or water supply to cause as many of them as possible to be stricken with a severe, but non life-threatening illness? If we got the right toxin that was slow to release, we just might be able to effect the entire garrison…if it is too fast acting, the guards will stop eating/drinking before the bulk of them have ingested it. We need the right solution so that they suspect nothing until its too late and the whole garrison has been effected. At that point, we should have the least amount of guards and obstacles. Do any of you know where we might find such a toxin?”

Ignacio spoke up, “Yes, m’lady Mara…there is a strange alchemist in Low Town named Christoph Hoyle who runs a shop called Mystical Cookery, whose assistance I have sought before. He is quite the master of all things alchemical, but also quite mad. I believe he can concoct the poison we need.”

“Yeth, and perhapth the Agenth of Athension can help uth get the poithon into the food, and get uth into the vaulth. I can go thpeak with Doli Cotton and thee how much coin their therviceth will cotht.”

Jabari leaned back into his chair, looking quite pleased. “I’d say master Gemheart was correct. You ARE a resourceful lot.”

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Mara

The group sits in silence as the weight of Kurgi’s request starts to bear down on them. As each member contemplates this fate, Stevil speaks first.

“Um…guys? I feel kinda funny….do I look ok t-GAAAAH!!!!”

Mara.pngA blinding flash of arcane energy crackles through the room, followed by a thunderous BOOOOM. Diving for cover, Lanth and Ignacio roll up and over the back of their couch As the echoes fade and their vision returns, Lanth and Ignacio, calling for Stevil, glance up over the back of their couch…only to find that Stevil had vanished! In his place crouches a very confused looking female half-elf. Mouths agape, they stare at the strange newcomer, who for the moments seems unaware of her new surroundings. Her eyes glowing a hot white, one hand outstretched as if reaching to touch touch something, the other arm bent back in front of her mouth, a gesture of surprise.

For a few seconds, the stranger doesn’t move, giving Lanth and Ignacio a moment to examine her. The greens and browns of her clothing and cloak, as well as their rough-around-the-edges state translated very obviously to a life mostly spent out of doors…but this was clearly no ranger. At her feet lay a quarterstaff, and around her neck hung a bright amulet, glowing the same hot white as her eyes. Her brown hair was settling around her, as if a strong wind was just beginning to fade.

As the occupants of the room acclimated to what had just happened, the white fades from the half-elf’s eyes, and she stands quickly letting out a sharp yelp of surprise.

“Wha….where am I?” she asked in an unfamiliar, smokey accent.

“What have you done with Thtevil?!?” growls Lanth, stepping forward slightly.

“Who? I have no idea who that is…I was just in the wilds near my home…”

After a short conversation, it slowly dawns on the group that through some arcane mishap, this half-elf who calls herself Mara has somehow travelled across the Known World from her home on the untamed continent of Esovaria. The group watches as Mara quickly gains control of her emotions, her expression of confusion and surprise melting from her face and one of collected composure takes its place.

Over the next few hours as this new reality settles on the group, they learn the following things about Mara:

  • She hails from the western wilds of Esovaria, where she lives with her mentor, a Human Wizard Vyncent, who took her in when her parents abandoned her.
  • She is a magic user
  • She has never been to a city before, the largest settlement she’s seen is the village that she and Vyncent live on the outskirts of.
  • She was sent out into the wilds by Vyncent to investigate the rumors of an unnatural tainting of the wilds near an abandoned temple…upon arrival, she found that the land had taken on an almost malicious manner…trees that were once tall and straight were gnarled and twisted, tendrils of vines seemed to be creeping towards her and nipping at her ankles etc…
  • Deep in the heart of this temple, she found an unnaturally large flower which had a strange glowing rock in the middle…this flower seemed to be from where all the strange magical energy was emanating. When she reached out to touch it, there was a strange blast of Arcane energy and she woke up in Kurgi’s office.
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The Eldritch Fragments of Duli

“STOP!!!” bellowed the robed mage, his hands outstretched as a tidal wave of arcane command swept through the hall.

Everything came to a halt. The swarm of buzzing fey creatures froze in mid air, expressions of anger carved into their motionless faces. Lanth was instantaneously suspended a foot off the ground between strides of his sprinting. Ignacio was immobile, clutching “The Eldritch Fragments of Duli” to his chest, his back against the bookshelves and fist raised in aggression. Stevil’s whips came to a dead stop, poised like cobras ready to spring as they cracked through the air. Nobody spoke or moved a muscle as the echoes of the battle faded through the lofty chamber until the only sound that remained was the dim humming of the alchemical lamps that hung from the walls.

Once the energy of the room was neutralized, the mage who had bellowed the command motioned to a few of his fellow spell casters who stepped forward from their circle and focused their efforts on the swarm of fey. With a firm tone, one of the robed mages spoke a command and the collective anger seemed to melt from the cloud of winged creatures. Just like nothing had ever happened, the whole swarm calmly began to file out of the corridor back towards the grand central chamber.

With order restored and the fey evacuated, the first mage turned to the trio, his hands steepled in front of his lips. After a long moment examining the three companions with a discerning eye, he turned to one of his companions and said, “Summon Master Gemheart.”

He then turned back to the trio and with grave severity in his voice, asked, “Who are you and what is happening here?”

He flourished one hand in the air, and the trio suddenly found their speech restored and their heads free from the spell’s hold.

“Speak.”

In a moment of frustration at being toyed with so easily, Ignacio, a slight smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth, quipped “I am Ignacio and I just want to read this book.”

The mages expression darkens in a scowl.

“Son,” the mage said, “The fey of this institution don’t attack people who are just here to read. We’ve summoned the master librarian, and I suggest you look in your mouth for an honest tongue and find it before he gets here. I’ve met less patient dwarves in my life than he, but you are going to want to have a reasonable explanation for why you were causing a disturbance in his library and threatening the safety of his books…he treats them like a mother bear treats her cubs. Get in between them and there’s no telling what could happen. Now I’ll ask you again: WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?”

Attempting to smooth over the slowly rising hackles in the room, Stevil quickly related the story of their arrival at the Atheneum and the events of their battle against the fey of the institution.

The mage listens with narrowed eyes. As you finish the telling of your story, a bustle from the grand chamber can be heard, and another small contingency of folks enter the hallway.

Kurgi_Gemheart.jpgLeading the pack of robed elf and human mages, is a dwarf. Bald headed with an icy white beard, his skin has an almost ashen gray hue to it. On his belt swings a massive tome, he carries a short scepter with an emerald at its end and spectacles balance on the end of his small round nose. Pinned to his robe are what appear to be dozens of small scraps of paper, all with various scribblings in all manner of languages.

“Master Gemheart,” the head mage says with a polite bow, “these 3 here were involved in the disturbance.”

Still frozen in place by arcane holdings, the three party members watched as the mage relayed their story to the Dwarf.

After pondering for a moment, he speaks with an authoritative voice both rich and oddly cold, “Release them and bring them to my chambers”

cb4f265e282320229aca421aa1a3fc81_full.jpgA few minutes later, the trio finds themselves in a small but comfortable chamber, sitting on 3 overstuffed easy chairs in front of a stone fireplace with a small fire blazing in its hearth. Kurgi Gemheart, the master librarian of the Supreme Atheneum, paces in front of it, casting his shadow on the trio as he circles. After a few moments of niceties and small talk, he stops his pacing and turns to face the group directly.

“Your story intrigues me, for many reasons. In my time as Master Librarian, I’ve seen many odd things and learned some very bizzare things about our world. But this situation stands out to me for a very odd way that I refuse to believe is simple coincidence. The reason I have summoned you here to my private chamber is because of the book our fey servants seemed so desperate to keep you from obtaining. You see, The Eldritch Fragments of Duli was written by me. It represents my life’s work of researching the legend of an arcane gem so powerful that it had to be broken into shards to prevent the destruction of the world.” Kurgi produced a pipe from a strap on his belt and busied himself with packing and lighting it. Once he was satisfied with the plume of smoke rising from it, he lowered himself onto a small couch and began to speak with the slow and intentional pacing of one who truly understands how to tell stories.

“In centuries long past, a grand civilization of Dwarven kind existed in the frozen north Madagascar_11.jpgreaches on the continent of Brimskogar, in a region of the TrØllendon Mountains known as the Duli Pinnacles; it was an unforgiving and viciously cold environment with towering spires of rock that covered the mountains with a massive forest of stone pillars. Any who came to this land seeking the rare minerals and riches that lay beneath the surface learned very quickly that those who could not delve into the mountains would be forced to deal with all manner of foul things that the surface world holds…ferocious Yeti, brutal Dire Wolves, monstrous bears, murderous Orc warbands and…worse. But the company of Dwarves who arrived to make their home in this savage land were Dwarven to their core, and if Dwarves understand anything, it is the rock and stone.

Not more than a generation had passed until the great halls of Duli were completed. Their way of life was an isolated one, but safe, secure and in its own way, rather merry. The mighty walls of the mountain that made up their realm kept all manner of creatures at bay. They delighted in the advancement and protection of their home, in the education and knowledge of their kin, in all things that sparkle and shine in firelight. Great forges worked day and night, crafting mighty weapons and armor. They were unparalleled miners and dug a mighty wealth from the roots of the mountain. They cared little for the affairs of the surface dwelling folk, they did not allow traders from any foreign land to enter their domain, and no Dwarf of Duli was EVER documented leaving the realm to start a new life elsewhere. They were a tightly knit and solitary people, and liked it that way.

But it is impossible to delve as deep as they and not feel the primal power that the earth holds. They felt it, and their ambition drove them to seek control over it. To harness this power, some commonfolk may say, is ‘magic’ but the Runesmiths of Duli understood it differently…very much in the way the mages of our surface world understand when they utter a word of Command. By using the True Names of things, reality shifts to comply with those names and the command that is joined with it. And thus, once they discovered the True Names of the materials they worked, they were able to craft runes of mighty power. Inscribe a pick or shovel with the proper runes, and even the hardest stone would crumble to dust at its touch. Cover a set of armor with the correct insignia, and that armor would be as hard as Dragon Scales. Etch certain symbols along the blade of an axe and any Dwarf who wielded it could cleave a yeti in twain with a single blow.

It is no surprise that, in time, The Dwarves of Duli thought themselves invincible.

That is, until they discovered the Gem of Duli. Then they KNEW they were invincible.

But at first, the Dwarves of Duli didn’t understand. The gem was dug from deep in the depths below the mountain. A seemingly simple green gem, about the size of a melon, with little about it that seemed extraordinary aside from its extreme clarity and translucency. As they began their Runecraft, they thought it a simple gem of amplification, albeit a powerful one. But the more they worked it, the more runes of Focus and Direction they inscribed on its glittering green surface, and the more they shaped its form to allow the power of their runes to flow into each other, the power it manifested from its wielder was so vast that soon it became clear that this was not magic like they had always understood it.

Before I continue, I must remind you of a fact of our world. Magical energy cannot be created or destroyed. All the magical power that exists has always existed and always will exist. An arcanist simply directs it; sculpts it; moves it from place to place as they shape it to their whim. This is what Mages have understood for millennia. But the extent to which the Gem of Duli amplified its user’s power was so great that they eventually came to their chilling and startling conclusion: this Gem, which came from deep in the heart of the mountain, was its OWN source of magical energy completely separate from the field of Arcana that we draw from for all known magic. When one used the power source of the Gem in conjunction with their already existing power, the results could only be described as God-like.

The dwarves celebrated. They believed they held the key to immortality.

But power this strong cannot stay hidden. It called to the hunger in every living thing, drew the darkest parts of all existence to it. Begging to be claimed, to be taken.

When the Yetis came, they shrugged it off as a “migration.” When the wolves came, they called it a “coincidence.” When the Orcs came, they claimed it to be an “invasion.” Even when the goodly races of Men, Elves and fellow Dwarves came for the gem, all of whom had a long standing agreement of peaceful non-involvement with the realm of Duli, they called it “jealousy.” They could not see it for what it was: that the gem was drawing all who lusted for power to it.

When Luma The Full Moon came, they saw it for what it was: their doom.

The Dwarves of Duli had used the power of the Gem to repel all those who sought to take it from them. Armies were defeated or forced to flee before ever setting foot inside the halls of Duli. But Dragons…well, dragons are something else entirely.

She came on a moonless night. It is written that the guards on the wall were keeping a watchful eye, but the dark void of the night that lay across the wilderness in front of them was like a blindfold. But suddenly, on the horizon was a light! “Surely that cannot be the rising moon,” the sentries puzzled to each other, trying to understand how there could be light on a night of a new moon. But the moonlight grew brighter…and brighter…much too fast to be a rising moon.

She burst into view, her white scales so radiant even in the dark of a moonless night that is said she seemed to glow from within. Her wings so massive that she swayed the trees hundreds of feet below with every beat. Her roar so violent that it was said even those down in the depths of the mines below the mountain felt its tremor. Luma, The Full Moon, had come. ancient_white_dragon_by_jovanxtremedesign-d5tmt1h.jpg

The Dwarves of Duli felt despair. Even with the Gem, they knew they stood little chance against such a foe…but worse, the realization of what was to come brought them great shame and fear. The understood that should Luma control this Gem, the entire world would be in peril and the Dwarves of Duli would be cursed by all of creation, for the blame lay with they who had created such a powerful artifact. There was much arguing, but they eventually decided on a plan. They knew the power of the gem was too mighty to be destroyed by any means they possessed. Therefore, they decided they would split this gem into fragments and send the pieces as far away from each other as possible, in the desperate hope that by being so far removed from each other, the power of the Gem would be lessened enough to keep the world safe from the threat of destruction should any single shard fall into the hands of those who mean the world ill.

It is said they withstood the onslaught of Luma for 3 days and nights before she broke through into the mountain, a feat both highly revered and decried as mere rumor to this day. But it is also said that the fragments of the Gem made it out and escaped the region. There are legends, myths, rumors and whispers from all corners of the Known World of Dwarven envoys arriving from Duli with the fragments. But how many fragments were there? How many made it out of the Halls of Duli and where were they hidden? None of this can ever be confirmed by the Dwarves of Duli, Luma The Full Moon saw to that. Since then, not even the smallest sign of life has been seen from the realm of the Dwarves of Duli since Luma entered (including Luma herself), and none dare to call on the mountain, lest Luma still inhabit it.

But if this tale is true and the fragments do exist out in the world, woe to us should they ever be restored into a whole. If even a fraction of the magnitude of power the Gem was told to hold is truth, bringing just a few of the fragments together could produce enough power to make the wielder nigh-unstoppable.

I have made it my life’s work to track down these fragments…follow every trail, every rumor, every whisper of their legend. It is my duty to the world, for the shame of my people rests on my shoulders. Yes, I am a direct descendant of the Dwarves of Duli! My very existence proves the legends and stories must be true, for I very may well be the last living Arctic Dwarf in the Known World. I’ve never met another of any race that is immune to the chill of ice and winter as I am, proving my lineage. I am proof that some of the Dwarves of Duli did indeed make it out before Luma could slaughter them all. This hope has fueled my search."

Kurgi paused, took a final puff of his pipe and knocked the contents of the bowl out onto a small silver ash try with the heel of his hand.

“It is my belief that somebody has possession of one of these fragments and is trying to keep you from learning more about them. With even one of the shards, magical abilities thought impossible become possible. Your telling of the ability to posses creatures from across continents is one of those things that is within the scope of the power of the Fragments of Duli.” He paused, leaned forward with his hands on his knees staring very sternly at the trio.

“You must seek the Fragments of Duli.”

The room was silent for many moments. Finally, Ignacio spoke in his collected tone.

“How are we to know that you aren’t just looking to find some eager lackeys to search out these stones you revere? Further, if they have been hopelessly lost for such a time, what chance would we have of tracking them down now? We have our talents to be sure, but none of us have experience with such things.”

Emboldened by his companions questions, Lanth was next to speak up. “Why uth? What chancth do we have againtht a powerful thortherer? Ethpethelly one in pothethion of one of the Lotht Fragment-th?”

Kurgi Gemheart listened to the lithping bards questions with ferocious intensity, and answered with vivacious enthusiasm the instant Lanth had spoken his questions.

“Why you?!? My lad, look at the signs, look at the omens! Don’t you see?!? These fragments are barely more than a children’s bedtime story to most of the known world, and yet you three stumble not only upon MY telling of their tale, but you are met with some force of opposition that clearly seems to be trying to stop you from learning any more about them. While whatever party that doesn’t want you to learn of them may potentially be strong (though there is no way to be certain they DO possess a fragment), they are acting hastily and have used rather obvious and clunky methods to try to stop you. They have played their hand very fast and have shown EXACTLY what they don’t want you to know. And as fate and the Gods would have it, that very subject is my life’s work. Now ask yourselves…does this feel like mere coincidence to you? My lad, the World is a mystical thing and contains deeper knowledge and power than we mortals can possibly comprehend. These fragments, if brought back together by the wrong person could un-make the world. I believe the world has shifted fate to bring you to me so that you may be better equipped to find them.”

Giving a quick snort of a chuckle, he continued and stood up from his chair to pace hurriedly around the room again.

“Why you?!? If you were incapable of threatening whomever else I believe to be seeking these stones, would they have gone to these measures to stop you? You are not the first humanoids to read my book, I’ll have you know…and never before have any of those readers found themselves in mortal peril! So clearly, you three most certainly DO stand a chance if you were deemed dangerous enough to try to eliminate. That in and of itself gives me hope!”

“Of course,” mumbled Ignacio under his breath, “being almost murdered by a swarm of annoyed insects is definitely good news…”

Kurgi chuckled again and waved a thick finger in Ignacio’s direction. “It most certainly is, my lad, for it tells us we’re on the right trail.”

He stopped his pacing to face the party, a look of stern solemnity floated across his face.

“You three must ask yourselves…search deep within. ‘If I was the only one able to stop this force of evil, would I?’ I am much too old to take on a quest of this magnitude, I have not the strength to travel as far as one who seeks the fragments will, nor can I abandon my commitment to the Atheneum. But my years have not been in vain and you have my word that should you decide to take up the burden of this task, I will help in whatever way I can. I have a VAST understanding of the legends surrounding these fragments, as well as access to financial assistance to help you on your way.”

His expression grew even more serious as his voice fell to a near whisper, “What say you? Will you do what I cannot? Will you seek the fragments of Duli before someone else does?”

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Ogres and Pixies

Riding comfortably through the western foothills of Mount Stowadale, the trio enjoyed a Monster_Manual_5e_-_Ogre_-_p237.jpgfew days of uneventful and restful travel with Madame Wanderjoy’s Traveling Cavalcade and Minstrel Revue. As the caravan rounded a corner, the party noticed an approaching bridge that spanned a deep and craggy ravine that was guarded by a very large and old Ogre. As the party approached, Madame Wanderjoy explained that they had reached an agreement with Ugrot, the Ogre. In exchange for hassle-free passage across his bridge, Ugrot accepted an offering of various food and shiny trinkets. She assured the trio that while he may look frightening, she would consider him more “grumpy” than actually malicious. He wasn’t their friend by any stretch of the imagination, but this truce was as close as an Ogre probably had ever come. But as Rolph rode out with the offering and tossed it down at the feet of Ugrot, Ignacio noticed a sudden change in the Ogre’s demeanor. Ugrot straightened up, his right eye sparkling, his hand gripping the club…all things pointed towards an attack! Ignacio called a warning to Rolph who BARELY managed to leap off his horse just as the Ogre’s greatclub smashed down, splattering the poor beasts brains onto the ground! Running for his life, Rolph began heading towards the relative safety of the wagons as the trio burst into action. A fierce battle with the monster ensued, and as the Ogre seemed to be approaching death and it’s baser instincts began conflicting with whatever was compelling it into a rage, a loud screech from the skies above filled the ravine with echoes. Looking up, the party and the monster beheld a large winged Wyvern circling overhead, clearly perturbed by the disturbance. The Ogre’s instincts finally won out and the Ogre fled into the maze of canyons, leaving the Caravan to reorganize and continue on their way. No sooner had the ogre fled that Madame Wanderjoy came out from one of the wagons, her body glowing brightly with Illusion magic (to Lanth’s Detect Magic gaze). The instant the glow left her, the Wyvern puffed out of existence. Madame Wanderjoy’s mighty illusion had frightened the old Ogre away!

A few more days ride and the Caravan arrived at their destination, the city of Stonehaven, home to the renowned The Supreme Atheneum the greatest collection of knowledge of all things Arcane in the known world. Madame Wanderjoy gave them a contact at The Pilgrim’s House and the trio took their leave of Madame Wanderjoy’s Traveling Cavalcade and Minstrel Revue.

Snaking through the streets of Stonehaven, the party came across The Pilgrim’s House and went inside. There, they found the contact they sought, the Elf Rhistol, Innkeeper of The Pilgrim’s House. Through conversation, they wrangled a group room for a VERY good deal, and Lanth expressed interest in playing in the Inn’s common room for the patrons, and Rhistol agreed strongly to the idea. But more pressing matters where at hand, and no time could be spared getting to the Supreme Atheneum. The arrived at the library and pushed open the great heavy doors and found themselves in a small antechamber, in which there was a small desk manned by a youngish human, scribbling away on a piece of parchment. The opening of the doors (or the slamming of the doors, for that matter) didn’t draw his attention, but he finally looked up from his work and inquired about the purpose of the group’s visit. They expressed their interest in books on Enchantments and artifacts that might enhance Enchantment magic. The young librarian handed them a gemstone with a rune engraved on it ice-knife-rune-stone.jpg. He explained this stone would act as an identifier/location device for the wards of the library whose job it was to retrieve the books. The trio paid their fee and stepped through into the Grand Hall of the Supreme Atheneum.

As they walk through the small door and into the great domed central chamber, the first thing that greets them is the green glow of the large orb that sits in the center of the main chamber. A 6-foot wide orb of crystal houses a swirling green energy that gives off a faint hum of arcane energy. Above the hum, the could hear the crisp flutter of tiny wings flittering overhead. Looking up, they saw a host of small, winged Pixie-like fey creatures circling in the great dome…some held books and appeared to be flying with purpose while others seemed to be wandering aimlessly in circles waiting to be commanded. pixie-anticipation.png From this central chamber, the party could see the various “sections” branch off from the main room (although “sections” seems such a paltry name for the size of these sections). As they approached the wing of the building whose great arch has chiseled into it the words “Arcane Knowledge” and crossed the great seal on the floor, the runestone they carried began to glow faintly and one of the pixies swooped down from its aimless circling in the dome above to hover behind them as they walked.

Once inside the “Arcane Knowledge” section, the layout changed greatly. This wing, a long straight hallway 3 stories high that stretched as far as they could see, and lined on all sides on every level from floor to ceiling were bookshelves, each one filled to bursting. Tens of thousands of books, and this was only 1 wing, and only a seeming fragment of this wing. Small walkways criss-crossed over the central corridor at various intervals and from the ceiling hung many large chandeliers glowing faintly. Dotted along these balconies were tables and chairs…places to sit and study. Small signs hung out from the shelves like signs above merchant shops, each one scribed with and odd set of symbols and numbers (obviously part of the organization of the library). To call this sight “overwhelming” (especially for non-scholars like our party) was quite the understatement. Any questions about why the Pixies would be necessary vanished from their minds instantly. The pixie zipped around to the front of the group, faced them, and waited patiently for a request.

After giving the pixie some areas of interest, it flew off and returned with 2 books, The Compendium of Enchantments and Cone’s Parchments of the Celestial Planes. Both Lanth and Stevil were in a great state of mind for their research and gleaned the following pieces of information:

Compendium of Enchantments:

  • Enchantment spells affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling their behavior. All enchantments are mind-affecting spells.
  • Two types of enchantment spells grant you influence over a subject creature: Charm and Compulsion.
    Charm – A charm spell changes how the subject views you, typically making it see you as a good friend.
    Compulsion – A compulsion spell forces the subject to act in some manner or changes the way her mind works. Some compulsion spells determine the subject’s actions or the effects on the subject, some compulsion spells allow you to determine the subject’s actions when you cast the spell, and others give you ongoing control over the subject.
  • Enchanters are fiercely protective of the realm that is their home; they understand that the passion and spirit possessed by mortals because of their mortality is what makes them stronger than any being. They are not huge fans of the meddling in divinity or outside agencies, and their pride in their own mortality means few if any ever actively seek immortality through undeath.

Cones’ Parchments of the Celestial Planes:

  • Those who dabble with Celestial Planes employ the school of Conjuration and one of its 5 sub-classes (Calling, Creation, Healing, Summoning, Teleportation)
  • A “calling” spell transports a creature from another plane to the plane you are on. The spell grants the creature the one-time ability to return to its plane of origin, although the spell may limit the circumstances under which this is possible. Creatures who are called actually die when they are killed; they do not disappear and reform, as do those brought by a Summoning spell who simply return to the plane from whence they came when killed.
  • Only the most powerful of mages can conjure a being from another plane, but then even if it is successful, it is even harder to get it to obey commands, and the hardest command to get the creature to obey is that of possession of a mortal. It requires the amplification of magic through an artifact. Enchanters cannot combine their powers together like with other schools of magic…effectively, 2 people cannot possess 1 being at the same time.

As they studied (and Ignacio meditated), the Pixie returned with the third book, The Eldritch Fragments of Duli, but as it neared the balcony where the group sat, something changed. The pixie froze, it’s right eye sparkled, it hovered in the air for a moment, but then turned to flee with the book. As the party scrambled to their feet, another sound greeted them…the building buzz of the swarm of pixies from the grand central chamber! The angry mass of pixies flooded into the hallway and attacked. In a desperate attempt to not lose the book that someone/something was so clearly trying to keep out of their hands, Ignacio leapt over the railing! But he did not plummet to the ground…no, instead, Ignacio seemed to walk on the air, snatch the book out of the fleeing fey-creature’s hand and grab hold of the nearest chandelier! The group fought darted and dodged to avoid the swarm, and a well placed sleep spell dropped the lone pixie to the ground. Confusion spells were cast, pixies were swatted away, a perfectly-timed casting of the Feather Fall spell was executed, and eventually the party found themselves on the ground floor, book in hand, sprinting towards the main central chamber to escape the cloud of buzzing pixies. In an attempt to hide the book and deceive the swarm into following the wrong book, Ignacio attempted to substitute The Eldritch Fragments of Duli with another from a shelf, but just as he was making an attempt at the switch, portals of Teleportation swirled into existence in the hallway, surrounding the party. b54d47822670dd960a34930ca5360668d6b79a93.jpg__620x348_q85.jpg. The trio found themselves surround by a group of robed mages, hands extended in poses of casting. One of the mages shouted a command, and everyone in the hallway was frozen into place, held by a powerful spell…pixies and humanoids alike!

STOP! WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?”

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Child Stew

102bf3cd8022241fa5cfa5e13e9b97a3.jpgEver so quietly, Ignacio crept along the cave wall, clinging to the shadows. The chattering of the kobolds was enough to mask the sound of his footsteps, and he quickly devised a plan. Picking up a small stone, he threw it toward the entrance to the previous room, causing the kobolds to snap to attention and one of them to go investigate the sound. But before it discovered the source of the diversion, Stevil leapt into action. Firing a shot from his bow (and missing), he engaged the kobolds in combat, and the fight was on!

kobold_by_nordheimer.jpgA mere 18 seconds later, the party found themselves standing over the mangled corpses of 3 kobolds. They began to search the room, but were forced into action by the sound of children screaming from the next room. Very carefully, Lanth crept up to the entrance to the next room and peeked in, where he was greeted by a horrible sight.

Five scared children huddled close together guarded by a growling gnoll, the chamber illuminated by the flames of a large cooking fire which was boiling water in an enormous cauldron. The cauldron was tended to by a very large beast which stayed in the shadows while a few remaining gnolls and kobolds made the final preparations. The party knew they were greatly outmatched, so they quickly devised a plan to lure some of the lesser beings out in the hope that they had a better chance at victory if they split the force up.

With great luck and some crafty hiding places, they party put their plan in to motion, drawing out the 3 kobolds from the large chamber. The first kobold continued through the chamber and outside the cave, oblivious to the party’s presence. However, the remaining 2 were not fooled and they turned to where Lanth was “hiding.” But Ignacio and Stevil got the drop on them, and moments later, Ignacio had an unconscious kobold in front of him as a body shield, and the party advanced into the large room.

1411018923207.pngWith horror, they found themselves face to face with a Troll! As the crew attacked, one of the gnolls tossed one of the young children, screaming, into the boiling cauldron! Fighting like wild things, the party managed to beat back the monsters and snatch the poor young lad from the cauldron. The children were safe for the moment, but they still had a vicious troll to handle, and it was proving to be quite the challenge.

But at that moment, reinforcements arrived in the form of Rolph (having so rapidly dispatched the single kobold who walked outside thanks to the clever rouse of the Trio), who upon seeing the troll lunged forward, torch in hand, to deliver the fire damage that would ultimately cripple the troll!

However, just as the troll seemed to be ready to flee, its baser instincts of survival directing its reckless and flailing actions, something…changed. The trio noticed it suddenly straightened up, launched a series of quite overly-sophisticated attacks, and 2 of the party noticed (and later confirmed with each other) that the beast’s right eye seemed to flash with some sort of arcane light. The sophistication of the trolls movements didn’t last long, and as it came closer to death, found itself torn between the weight of nature telling it to flee for its life, and the sudden composure to stay and fight, despite becoming aware of its own mortality.

But as the beast struggled with its internal conflict, the killing blows were delivered and the great monstrosity dropped, lifeless, to the cave floor.

alchemy-jug.jpgA quick sweep of the cave yielded little in terms of material treasure, but the children were all alive! Rolph swept the burned boy up in his arms and lead the rest of the frightened kids out of the cave. Upon returning to the camp of Madame Wanderjoy’s Traveling Cavalcade and Minstrel Revue, the party witnessed emotional reunions of parents with their children, and were greeted and thanked by Madame Wanderjoy herself. Of the gifts she offered, the party accepted a wonderous and magical jug which could produce various amounts of a selection of liquids.

Madame Wanderjoy offered them to join their convoy on the way to Stonehaven, 8 more days to the northeast. Set up with what seemed to be a cushy ride to their destination, the party relaxed, ready for a well deserved rest.

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Fugitives!

With plans laid, the 3 companions set into motion
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Donning the false beard provided by Lanth, Stevil ventured back into High Town to the The Scroll and Elm a shop renowned for its knowledge of things Arcane. Upon arrival, Stevil met Maylin Oros, the soft-spoken female Elf who ran the shop. Despite his clever disguise and his linguistic cunning (/s), Maylin quickly saw through Stevil’s deception and got him to admit his proximity to the events at the Palace. Her genuine interest in the event was palpable as she relayed the following pieces of knowledge/advice:

1) Her best hypothesis is that the magical spell witnessed by the group was a very powerful spell either from the schools of Enchantment or Conjuration. She also said that she didn’t think a single caster could be responsible for such a strong spell, so whoever cast it was either aided by a magically imbued artifact or aided by additional casters…but due to the solitary and competitive nature of strong magic users, she suggested that the use of an artifact was more likely.

2) The best place to learn about strong arcane artifacts is at the Supreme Atheneum Library in Stonehaven, a 7-10 day ride NE from High Pengard.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Seeking answers about the poisoned blade in his possession, Ignacio asked around and quickly was directed to Mystical Cookery a potion shop that came with the simple warning “Brace Yourself.”

Upon entering the dark shop (which more closely resembled a lab than a shop), Ignacio was greeted by a small, hunchbacked, bird-like hobbling elderly human named Christoph Hoyle. Cackling like a madman in the middle of nearly every sentence and dancing like a lunatic, Christoph delighted in the story of the poisoned blade and eagerly examined it when Ignacio presented it. To Ignacio’s astonishment, after a few moments of scrutiny of the substance on the dagger, the old man cackled loudly and licked the length of the blade!! But he did not perish…quite the contrary, as he twirled around the shop in insane glee. He relayed the following information to Ignacio:

1) The blade wasn’t poisoned at all, but instead imbued with merely the AROMA of poison. It is Christoph’s professional opinion that the assailant had no intention of killing their target, but wanted it to APPEAR that they intended to kill their target. He also believes this was done as a diversion to buy time for the assassin to escape the city.

2) The poison could only be a product of the alchemical prowess of the Lizardfolk of the Modhurst Moors, a festering and savage marshland on the southern continent of Sudreas, a 1-2 week journey by sea (depending who you ask and what kind of ship was taken).

3) The Lizardfolk of the Moors are VERY hostile to outsiders, never leave their homeland and have little to no interest in trading with the goodly races (elves, men, dwarves, halfling etc)….so whoever procured this poison from them either intimidated/forced them, persuaded them or tricked them…no matter which one is true, anyone who could do any of these things to the Lizardfolk is someone to be very cautious of.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Lanth set out to hire the services of a guild of questionable reputation to successfully and secretively deliver his letters to the highest ranking members of King Hamish’s council as possible. Very quickly, through his incredible charm, he procured the name of a certain shop where he could expect to find just the sort of person he was looking for.

Lanth arrived at Hearthfire and was greeted by Doli Cotton, a very dapper and smooth halfling who assured Lanth he was in the right place for the services he sought. However, it became clear that Doli was not one to be pushed around, and very quickly it also became clear just how adept Doli’s association, The Agents of Ascension, was at garnering information, for Doli not only saw through Lanth’s disguise, but also hinted that he knew where the group was staying…and he was charging quite a hefty fee not only for the services of the Guild, but also now for their silence, as he was aware they were wanted men.

Through some negotiation, Doli offered Lanth 2 options. He could either pay 90gp for their services which would take a few days (for preparation and proper research), OR if the group wanted to participate in their plan, they could try something a bit more brash in order to act much sooner and allow the guild members in charge of delivering the letters to make face-to-face contact with their intended recipients.

The trio reconvened at Crab’s Cup and decided to pool their resources to pay the 90gp and head for Stonehaven to visit the Supreme Atheneum Library to learn what they can about powerful artifacts in the hope they would find some leads.

But how would they traverse the distance? They decided they would buy a carriage and horse to take them as a group…but were unable to find a merchant who would rent it to them for a reasonable price. In a moment of impulsive desperation and intimidation gone wrong, the combination of a reckless Sleep spell cast by Lanth and an ineffective crack on the jaw of the local coachman found the group suddenly the center of attention and the target of 2 city guards. They dispatched the guards, stole a horse and carriage and fled High Pengard, fugitives from the greatest city in the kingdom.

Four days into their journey across the Magefield, the landscape became dotted more heavily with forest, and Peter Pantser warned Stevil of a disturbance up ahead. Scouting ahead, their feline companion reported that the source of the sound was a caravan of traveling performers who were mourning the death of one of their own, and wailing feebly into the fading evening.

The trio approached to ask what was wrong and learned that the travelers were a troupe of performers known as Madame Wanderjoy’s Traveling Cavalcade and Minstrel Revue, and they had been very recently attacked by a group of Kobolds and Gnolls that stole their 5 children and ran off to the west. Stevil’s curiosity was peaked by the fact that these two types of creatures were working in tandem, and Ignacio was moved by their grief and was determined to help. By appealing to their shame and ego, the group was able to recruit Rolph, the largest member of the group of performers, to join them in their attempt to rescue the children.

outside_the_cave__by_eren_akinci-d68zmsg.jpgThey tracked the kobolds and gnolls west into the wilderness when they happened upon a cave entrance being guarded by a single gnoll sentry. They dispatched him with great stealthy swiftness and entered the cave. They were quickly reminded of the craftiness of kobolds when the discovered and disarmed a tripwire. Peering into the next room, the group spied a small band of kobolds eating around a small cooking fire…they readied their weapons, steeled their courage and prepared to attack….

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