Adventurers Present: Jinva, Valas, Odde, Alice, Aust, Jag, Jace, Theodore, and NEW Charity
As the group mourns the departure of Nargrim, their dwarven barbarian, Lily Ironwood - an earth-tone wearing half-elf - sets to work briefing the party on her mission. Her sisters, Haylee and Vanora, are missing. Vanora is a general, and can take care of herself, but Haylee, Lily's younger sister, went off to the Leylocke region to scout and has not returned for a few weeks. Scrying her yields only darkness and chains; it's clear that she has been captured. Lily contracts the group to help her find and free her sister; she says that she has already secured transportation for the long journey to the East.
In the middle of this conversation, a new face enters the tavern. A tiefling cleric of Pelor named Charity Seedstow, eager to help those in need, aligns himself with Lily's request, taking note of the group's lack of an adequate healer. Though Valas is happy with the newcomer and Jinva is complacent, Aust seems distrustful of the cleric at first. Still uncertain as to what they will find, the group sets off with Lily and her flying coach...
The ride to the Underbrush is faster than expected, the party being gifted with grand sights of great towers in the distance and winged entities flocking to their spires. Alice and Jag in particular wonder what lies beyond the forest and how they might get there.
The group touches down in front of a massive red willow tree, the fallen leaves in a curious pattern. As the coach dissipates to another plane, Lily explains that the formation of leaves was once part of a warding ritual - it keeps unnatural creatures, like fiends and undead, from entering the forest. ...The group crosses it with no trouble, careful not to upset the pattern.
Not long into the forest of red leaves, the group happens upon a small war camp. They try to stay quiet as an apparent captain mutters to himself, tinkering with some sort of projectile weapon, which Theo can't take his eyes off of. At the sight of a few goblins in the center, Jace flies into a rage and rushes them, despite the party's effort to stop him. Their cover blown, Lily also rages, tufts of gray fur and the long snout of a wolf shimmering over her form. She flanks around the side, lightning coursing over her long claws, and lays waste to the two cowering goblins inside one of the tents. Meanwhile, Jace is swarmed by sets of hobgoblin sergeants, and a massive bugbear quartermaster with an obsidian great axe.
Oddly enough, the party fights from a distance, allowing Jace to live with his decision, instead opting to pick off enemies with arrows and some well-placed fireballs. The group lays waste to the camp, with Jace clinging to life. His skirmishers decimated, the captain - his flamethrower now broken and tossed aside - surrenders and is let go. Odde and company, while looting the skirmishers' hoard, also find another curious thing: a tiny goblin, hiding under a straw bed. Theo turns on his charm to the creature, wielding kindness and intelligence with ease. Goblin to kobold, the goblin reveals its name to be Gorignack...and Theo tells the group that he will be responsible for this creature.
Poking the Bear
Battle horns startle the party back to the present...as the captain returns with two fomorian guards, which the group pounce on, and the sound of cavalry charging to their position. Barely defeating the creatures, Theo tinkers an explosive in one of their bodies, then requests that the group tie themselves together and get on the carpet...there are tanks coming.
Realizing that the force of a full army is descending upon them, the group takes to the sky, eager to put as much distance as they can between them and the cannons. But as they pick up speed, the cannons fire. Taking evasive action, they are surprised to find not ammunition being fired at them, but more foes. The carpet is beset by were-bats and half-dragons clawing and slinging spells. The group suffers many close calls; the rope that keeps them together also serving as their bane, as one ally is pulled from the carpet, sending the others with him, and a chaotic tug of war ensues.
In the madness, a panicked Gorignack snags a crossbow and fires into the fray, felling one of his old commanders.
Slowly winning the fight, the group is harried by a flying drow sorcerer - whom Jace recognizes, oddly, as Lawrence Lorescythe, from his brief time in upper crust of the Underdark. Jinva finds this neither interesting nor important, dispelling the creature's fly spell and happily watching him fall to his supposed death.
One stubborn half-dragon remaining, an untied Odde makes a heroic leap of faith onto the creature's face, knocking him off the carpet and sending the two plummeting the 150 feet below to the forest. The impact leaves two craters, and Odde isn't moving, but the half-dragon begins to rise.
Seizing the opportunity, Jace, with his new obsidian axe, turns the carpet downward, careening straight toward the half-dragon sorcerer. Using his axe as a literal point of the spear, he cleaves the half-dragon in half...and slams into the earth beyond it, sending his allies tumbling and spilling into a heap ahead of him.
As the dust settles, the group whirls to a small sound of something clicking behind them, and the last thing they see is an armored rider on the back of griffon before crackling arcane energy sends them into darkness...
The Knights at Avianas
The group is transported to the towers of Avianas; a bastion-trade city led by an order of altruistic mage knights. They are given the lowdown on what's what surrounding the army threatening the northern and eastern ends. The army is led by a general who can command beasts, known only as Dakasumos.
The knights offer aid in striking a blow to the general, to push his forces out of the Underbrush. With some careful scrying, they zone in on the encampment where Lily's sister, Haylee, is being kept. They leave in a few hours.
With a bit of time to kill, Theo and the gang run into trouble with the city's bartering system. Gold means nothing here; merchants trade favors, services, or goods of equal value. In their frustration, they meet a crimson tiefling named Artheek; he seems similarly frustrated with the trade options, but says there's no safer place in all of Io. They chat and trade, and he sends them on their way toward war...
Team Friendly Fire, with the help of Lily Ironwood, and a monk-knight from the order, use a "zip tunnel" to propel themselves through a permanent Transport Via Plants...launching them onto another sortie. The group barely stood a chance with the surprise, despite a lucky dire wolf snapping up Odde in their jaws and carrying him into the forest. Aust and company make haste after them, only to have the wily gnome free himself and a wild bulette erupt up from the earth and enjoy a furry meal.
The second camp cleared, the group tracks the army to another small settlement. When Jace decides to rush this one, he is promptly turned into a snail, the party instead opting to send Theodore out to talk...before Jinva erupts a fireball in the face of the two bugbears and a warg. One bugbear, riding the warg, does flee.
The cave they are guarding is winding and hollowed out. The large, flooded chamber within is unnerving, and Aust senses a presence. Arching above and around them...a cloud? No. It's conscious. A living cloud of needles and knives...roaring toward them...
Death of a Thousand Needles
Caught completely off-guard, the group tries their best to fend off this strange foe. It cascades in wide, dangerous arcs, slicing into them and rushing through their ranks. Between Jinva's quick thinking and Theo's use of a now-fixed flamethrower, the creature flees the scene, burrowing into the earth above them. Wasting no time, they try to move through the cave as quickly and quietly as possible.
...Apparently not quiet enough, they happen upon a blue orc guard, which they make short work of, but leave him alive at Theo's request. Theo promises to replace his now severed limb with something better, and despite being its enemy a short moment ago, it seems that Theo might have a new friend.
The others find an iron prison, surrounding by painful arrow-flinging traps, which houses a young woman. Upon freeing her, and taking MANY arrows in the process, she reveals herself to be Haylee...then promptly transforms into a large lycanthropic bear and busts herself the rest of the way out, taking the orc's head off as she moves past.
As the stone walls of the prison shake from explosions above, the team hears a familiar burrowing sound. Time to go.
A space issue on the flying carpet has arisen. After some careful wild shaping from the two sisters, and stuffing Theo partially into his own bag of holding, the team piles onto the carpet just as the walls begin to be torn asunder by that same cloud of knives.
The group enters into an intense chase scene, with members blasting wherever they can and igniting backfired explosions behind them. Running from literal fire and teeth, the group manages to pop out of one of the creatures tunnels back to the forest floor...and find it completely ablaze. For a few moments, they search for their bearings, and spy that bugbear, still fleeing on the back of a warg. Following his path south leads them to a new city, and a much needed rest.
Tal'Fune - Of Cakes and Subterfuge
Deciding that they've had enough of this war, the group takes some time in silly city of Tal'Fune.
+ Theo takes part in a complicated bait and switch maneuver involving a rival barkeep and a nasty businessman, commissioning a life-like corpse of cake and jelly in order to sneak out some money from the baron. It may have alerted its bodyguard, Stitch, to their presence though. It reminds Theo of a time before in Orlandin.
+ Magical artifacts are bought, sold, and customized.
+ Lily and Haylee bid the group farewell and head off in search of their other sister in the mountains. They offer the group a job, but they refuse.
+ Aust and Jag receive word from their home in different ways. A letter for Aust speaks with love and patience for him, with spite and dismissiveness for Jag. Aust wants to go home. Jag wants nothing to do with it.
+ While here, the group comes upon another caravan of adventurers soon to be heading West, in the direction of Treethorn, and offers to travel together. They depart in a few days.
+ The group tackles a few odd jobs, one involving the hijack of a boat laced with magical runes. This particular event is harrowing on multiple fronts, as a band of legionaries are thwarted by the group and one of their slaves - a tiny kobold named Geordy - is saved by Theo. Turns out the two know each other, and Geordy does his best to warn his friend that he just made a very powerful enemy... Also in this encounter, the group meets two new faces: Maleficent, a waif of arcane energy, and Bruce, a goliath who hates books.
+ And it appears that Odde has left the group to study with Raffi in the Kesselbark. Oh, and he took the flying carpet, too...
Road Trips and Tempests
Carpet-less with new allies, the group sets off toward the frozen tundra of Frostburn, still uncertain whether they will make their way to Treethorn or head toward Valas's settlement of Hillside. As they ride through the snow, however, the group spies two fire giants lumbering in the distance. After a few more miles, the forms appear to be following them.
Theo lays a trap, and is nearly killed in the process, and the team dispatches one while the other continues northward toward Grimscale peak.
Many days pass into the trip, with characters taking the time to reflect on their pasts and present, while Jinva casts spells into his carriage, Theo builds a giant beetle to help pull it, and the two set to work helping Geordy with his broken box of arcane cannons.
As the group approaches the warmer ends of Frostburn, they are beset by a roaring storm. But this storm crackles with a different energy; it is both natural and arcane, and Jinva is aware that there are some storms in Leylocke and Hemlock that are called Displacement Tempests. They watch a lightning bolt strike a tree...and the tree is gone. Not burned; not destroyed, just gone. These are teleportation storms - a product of the rising weaves of magic concentrations near the leylines.
They hightail it toward a forest, eager to get under cover, but a pensive Maleficent and a brave Bruce trying to grab her in time...are zapped away by this roaming storm...
Something Wicked This Way Comes / To Treethorn
With allies displaced, Charity takes the time to scry...focusing on Maleficent. He is sent to a black spire, one of many, surrounded by gray, winged creatures. A deep violet sky greets him, and he is flung from the vision. Trying to find Bruce only gives him a nosebleed.
Of their traveling companions, Jag recognizes one. A high elf named Raika. It seems that he, too, recognizes him and Aust, and seems to have quite a chip on his shoulder when it comes to their family. He pushes Jag to a fight...and Jag lays him out, breaking his nose in the process. He lets it slip that their Grandmother - held in high respect by both of them - is dying. Valas agrees that that takes precedence, and the group sets off toward Treethorn...
Played: February-March 2017
Adventurers Present: Jinva, Nargrim, Valas, Odde, Alice, Aust, Jag, Jace, and NEW Theodore Fix-It
A Festival of Sorts
Consciousness comes to the group in Ricknall's tavern and each comes down to a simple breakfast...and an unconscious Jace spread out on his back in the center of the dining hall with an arrow stuck in his chest. Wrapped about the shaft is a letter from Keddigan: "He's your problem now."
...After force-feeding the dark elf a potion, the party is treated to a warm gathering of thankful townspeople just outside the tavern, brought there by a beaming Ricknall. Medivh thanks the adventurers once more as a renewed Nioki, clutching his owl bear plushie, and the more reserved Hanna appear from behind her. Nioki gifts Jag with a druid-crafted bracelet, and Hanna hands Aust a small sketch that she drew of him in his armor. The reception is overwhelming for some still in their room, and Jinva, Alice, and Odde escape out their windows and make their way to the festival on their own.
The festival is vibrant and fun, many of the group discovering new talents, tricks, and interests. Alice and Jag do their best to eat the marketplace out of house and home, cleaning them of all their ham and cake stock. Odde tries his hand at a local arm-wrestling competition...and does well enough to earn the interest of an amazonian knight named Siera Samoset. Jace tries the competition, too, but attempts to cheat, which Siera finds rather unacceptable, hurling him into the pig pen.
The evening draws to a close with a swapping of stories from Gavin the Great and Lady Samoset, with Odde attempting to pull sway in the conversation with horrible puns and poor timing. Despite acting like an idiot, Siera gifts him with a kiss to remember her by, and leaves before the evening ends, donning her winged helm and disappearing into the night. One by one, the group falls asleep, pleased with their accomplishments and eager to see where they will go next...
The Kalifus Steppes
Eager to get moving, Nargrim rises early to see to securing transportation. In his roaming, he notices that Arobane's shop door is open a crack. Briefly curious, the dwarf pushes the door open and sees a horrific scene laid out before him. The floors a splattered with red blood, the walls and shelves are broken and trashed, and it looks like someone left in a hurry.
Nargrim decides that, frankly, he doesn't give a damn, tells no one, and returns to the tavern to gather his allies.
The party awaits him alongside Medivh and a horse-drawn carriage. Jace and Aust notice that the carriage has a driver...made of wind. Medivh explains that her spell is limited, but it should get you wherever you'd like to go. Aust had been doing research during the festival, and explains that his oath of vengeance binds him to find and permanently end the demon known as "Gerald." He believes that he has learned of his location based upon clues during their encounter with him - he resides in the swamp ruins of Dreadmire.
Medivh is alarmed, but wishes the heroes luck, with Nioki adding to the cuteness.
Medivh's gift is a fast-traveling acceleration elemental, and the carriage speeds through time and space, granting the heroes rest and travel across the continent in record time. In a few short hours, they find themselves at the edge of the nation of Yakaran, approaching the fabled Kalifus Steppes.
Mist and steam emanate from the cracks between dark navy stones spilling forward toward sets of floating terraces that rise into a dense fog, and a large crevasse below them that falls to darkness.
Jace and others recall that, according to legend, the steppes maintain their perpetual levitation due to the surge of magical energy created by a beholder god crashing into a dragon and dragging it into the depths below.
As the party ponders this idea, they take note of another curious sight. There, with a ramshackle merchant tent made of two trash barrels, a wooden board, and painted rags, sits a well-dressed red kobold. His clothes look a little big for him, but he wears them with confidence as he perks up and greets the party with gusto.
The kobold's name is Theodore Fix-It, an intelligent and motivated artificer and inventor. As he proceeds to sell the party a few bits of trash imbued with power (so he says), the rest of the group begins to experiment with scaling the steppes.
A piercing battle cry sharpens everyone's senses as three harpies fly out from the mists. They flank and swoop toward the group, slicing and dragging the heroes around. Through some quick thinking and some artificer gun-slinging, they make short work of the triplets and begin making their way into the fog...
Fogs of Hallucination
But as they enter the dense mist emanating from the depths, the impatience of others gets many of them turned around and they find the group separated. Jace, Jinva, Theo, and Odde find themselves in a curious land with no sun atop an amber cliffside, looking out at rolling hills of red grass and violet sky. Jinva notes that they may be in the Feywild. As they attempt to get their bearings, though, they are set upon by an organized troop of skeletons...
Meanwhile, the rest of the team is treated to grizzly visions of their future selves lurking in the fog. They hear whispers of their pasts and warnings of their future, some even coming to blows with the specters. Despite the confusion, they push through the dizzying fog...
And find Odde, Jinva, and Theo safely at the top, bandaging themselves up and healing where they can. Theo greets them exuberantly, then gestures over to Jace. The young Drow is waging an epic battle with a stone half-dragon statue, and has already liberated it of several limbs. The group pulls Jace back to his senses, and Theo sets to Mending the poor statue.
The Skybridge of Duros is a marvel of arcane construction. As the group steps onto its wide mass, runic energy crackles under their feet. Each is met with a wave of calming emotions and a sense of safety and protection. As per the inscription upon its entrance,
"We of the Knights of Duros do gift this bridge to oversee the safe transport of all entities to the realms of Io. The first of its kind, but not the last, this Skybridge ensures that all who travel upon it can commit no harm - to one another or to the outside world - nor can any harm befall them. Safe travels, friends of Erena.
Signed with respect.
The Knights of Duros"
Immediately, Jinva and Theo set to work attempting to decipher the intricate arcane spells woven into the stonework and continue to do this for several hours of travel. Theo notices that the patterns are expertly interconnected with layered protection, shields, perpetual dispels, detect thoughts, and an elongated leomund's tiny hut. This pattern reconnects and repeats every two miles or so along the bridge.
Jace tries to draw his blade...and cannot. Jinva attempts to cast a Firebolt...the spell fizzles. And though the bridge appears to have no railings or walls, Odde cannot be thrown off...his momentum slows and he gently rolls off of an invisible, malleable barrier. And as night draws closer and the sun disappears, the party is greeted by waves of firelight from the barrier, casting warmth and healing upon them.
The group spends three days traveling across this bridge, taking in the surroundings. Nothing attacks them, but they do witness a few scaled creatures pass by... Below them, winged creatures soar and above them storm clouds form, and pass, rays of sunlight piercing through the gray sky. It is a beautiful sight, and just for a moment, Aust and Jag find themselves calm and strangely content gazing out to the land below, their homeland's branches reaching up toward the heavens; a natural fortress - Treethorn.
At the dawn of the fourth day, the group comes to a four-way intersection. Jinva takes a moment and listens, while Theo smells. A rush of wind up the sloping exit brings an odor undeniable. The swamp of the Dreadmire lies ahead...
Towers of Brimshire
The swamp is sticky and full of leeches, each member finding their own way, some begrudgingly, through the mess of thick mud, leech-infested waters, gnarled roots and trees, and the dense fog. Nargrim, impatient and headstrong, is the first to reach an outcropping of land, nearly running into it as he trudges forward.
Before him lies a heavy wooden door with a long crossbeam holding it shut. With one look at his axe, with Theo yelling after him, he begins attacking the door. Aust and Jag arrive soon after, the rest of the party working their way through the dense fog. Aust hears a whisper to his left, and spies a tall, crooked figure in the mist, beckoning him over. He is compelled to follow, and leaves without anyone noticing.
The hag is charming, a hooded lantern hanging loose from its belt, but as Aust begins to disappear into the mist, the sound of splintering wood calls his mind back to his allies. He turns back to the hag, who has disappeared. He shrugs, and returns back to the group - where is appears that Nargrim, Jag, Alice, Valas, and Jace have already charged into the tower. Theo, Odde, and Jinva take a moment to survey the area. Theo spies through the mist that the tower appears to be one corner of a massive stone wall, and there is another entrance about 300 feet from their position.
As the three remaining adventurers hatch an alternate plan, movement in the underbrush nearby spooks Theo. He haphazardly hurls 20 pieces of ammunition into a bag, and hurls it toward the noise - Jinva igniting it before impact with a well-timed Fire Bolt.
The explosion is catastrophic. Bits of heavy, stone shrapnel in shapes resembling body parts rain down upon the group, knocking Odde flat and hurling both Theo and Jinva 20 feet away. As the smoke clears, Theo becomes aware of a stone head imbedded in the earth next to him. He is momentarily alarmed to find its mouth moving.
Acting quickly, Theo, Odde, and Jinva recover the pieces of the creature and try to reassemble him. They are in luck! The pieces that were blown off were done so at the joints, and the other pieces of shrapnel are inconsequential to the function of the creature. Theo uses Comprehend Languages to speak primordial, but the entity can speak broken common. It introduces itself as "Four."
Meanwhile, in the tower... Nargrim charges up the three levels of the structure, emerging onto the battlements. Straight ahead is the entrance to a second tower, and below him sits the inner ward, obscured by more mist. The dwarf's eyes catch a flickering candlelight in the far tower, but it is snuffed out. Taking this as a sign, he hastens his pace into the room... Where a tall demon awaits, pouncing upon him...
Jag and Alice stop to take note of the many scrolls, books, and potions lining the shelves of the second and third levels of the first tower. Their eyes are finally drawn to a heavy tome on the third floor; it appears to be a military journal, and the last entry - made nearly 1000 years ago, by the date - expresses the king's gratitude to have such wonderful advisors: Archmage Gerald Hykisian, and Champion Eva Hanshi. They mention the names to Aust, who once again swears vengeance upon Gerald.
Sounds of battle at the adjoining tower sends them over to help, saving Nargrim's skin with some teamwork. On the way, Alice and Jag spy movement in the mist below, within the walls, and notice a horde of undead clawing at the wall, peering up at them.
With the demon dealt with, Nargrim and company, with the help of Four (Theo and Odde riding on his back) plow through what remains of the undead horde, setting most of them on fire in the process. The feat reunites them in the inner ward of the castle, as they take stock of a once vibrant town reduced to a swampy ruin, a grizzly defaced chapel at its center before the castle gates.
Aust is summoned by a familiar voice, unnatural thorns and brambles rising up behind him as he walks toward the chapel doors. Nonetheless, his allies, using whatever means they can think of, traverse over the encroaching wall of plants and stand together as Aust opens the heavy iron door.
The Skeleton Archmage, Gerald, waits for them within, but they cannot see him. He cackles and chides the group, scorning them and thanking them at the same time for accepting his invitation. As Alice explores the choir loft of this dark space, she finds him playing the broken organ, piping discordant sound through the chamber, like dying voices in the night. With a smile wreathed in flame, he attacks.
The fight is brutal. Gerald's teleporting form wreaks havoc on the party, summoning Arcane Hands and powerful evocations. Many fall close to death and it looks dire, until Aust downs a potion of giant strength, flipping a stone table into the mage and knocking him through the wall.
As the dust settles, one blackened skeletal arm inches along the floor, ripped from its owner. Jinva scoops it up, and stuffs it into his bag.
A chuckle pierces through the ringing in their ears, and Alice rushes to the hole, convinced that Gerald lives and is mocking them. She is right, as he is waiting, invisible, for her to stick her face out of the hole, where he stabs her. She falls unconscious out of the hole, and he cackles all the way to the castle doors.
Aust races over and heals Alice, and the party re-groups, licking their wounds and hatching a strategy: enter the castle, and kill Gerald.
The castle proper is mostly dilapidated; the majority of the halls have been caved in or are otherwise impassable. Instead, the group finds themselves in a small lounge, like a reading room. A set of bronze doors lay open before them; they can hear crackling embers and rays of spectral firelight waver deep inside the next room. Deciding to rest, Odde moves up to the threshold and makes to shut the door...as a heavy crossbow bolt slams into his chest.
Everyone draws their weapons and waits, but no other bolts are fired. After a short examination, Odde finds a message attached to the bolt, which he hands off to Theo. It reads:
"The King's Champion invites you to a duel in the next room. I shall grant you a respite before your demise. Please enter when you are prepared. I look forward to your evisceration.
Signed, Szar Verikon."
Not one to be impolite, Theo fashions his own reply, and fires it into the darkness. "And I look forward to your evisceration. Here's to a good time. See you soon!" A few moments pass, and another bolt sings into the room, this time hitting Odde in the back, sending him to the floor.
"Excellent. I'll wait for you by the fire." The door then slams shut, and the party rests.
The King's Champion
Primed and ready, Nargrim leads the slow charge into the dining chamber. Drawn tapestries of tanned, painted leather separate the tables; creating eating partitions and obscuring the central pyre, a luminous column of flame and metal. It is so bright that the dwarf notices the figure standing next to it only after the flames subside, still pulsing gently with unnatural heat.
Waiting there, wicked obsidian great sword resting before them, is a knight clad head to toe in spiked black and red plate mail. The voice that emanates from the armor is feminine. "Well met, warrior. It is difficult to be the first to die, but I think that you will face death with courage. I am the Lady Szar, but this body once belonged to another...named Eva."
Nargrim draws his axe. "I do not care."
"It is rude not to introduce yourself before a duel."
"A strong name." Szar bows. "I will enjoy cutting you down to size." And with a stamp of her foot, arcane energy flows through her armor and her form begins to move faster...
Though Nargrim was the first to engage, everyone joins into this fight. Gerald was a challenge of the arcane, but this "Szar" moves with magical speed and precision, slicing through the party with vicious blows and multiple attacks. It is a fight for their lives, each member barely hanging on.
With luck, and Nargrim's barbarian fortitude, the group comes through. Szar falls, and Theo can't shake the feeling that she is happy about it.
Aust investigates the armor, passing the great blade off to Jag. As the paladin dons the spiked armor, the spikes recede and plating shifts to a radiant steel. He discovers a plate-mail of haste, but is saddened that the charge has been spent already today.
As Szar's body burns away to nothing, the doors ahead creak open. Nargrim, unimpressed, presses onward and emerges into a den. The party joins him, not keen on fighting something new, and spies the silken couches, throw pillows, and comfortable seats. They are also surrounded by seven ornate crystalline sculptures of various creatures...to which Jace shoves into his bag. Poking around further, the drow locates a pair of gauntlets...that try to eat his arms. Jinva saves his butt, and the party rests, preparing for whatever lies beyond the doors...
The Throne Room
Heavy iron doors creak open to reveal a long, opulent throne room. An immaculate red carpet with gold filigree stretches out before the group, before rolling up a set of four stone steps to a leveled terrace with two thrones. One appears constructed out of bone and tendons, while the other shines with brass and gold. In the latter sits a gaunt individual, silver crown resting, tilted, upon its brow. It regards the party quietly for a time, a fine goblet of a red liquid slowly circling in one hand. Then it speaks.
"Welcome, tributes. One champion bested, you come to pay your respects to the lord of this castle. Call me Semedorin - the Immortal King."
Once again, Nargrim draws his axe and stalks toward the king. With an exasperated sigh, the king finishes his goblet and rises from his throne. His form appears frail, hunches, and unarmed...Nargrim swings with great force, catching the man in the side. The axe draws blood, but only punches in maybe an inch. The dwarf pulls the axe away, the king standing up straighter, letting his robes fall. Cracking his neck, the king summons a flaming blade from the ether that surrounds him, and the group watches a set of chains wrap around his arms and torso, moving and shifting to protect him.
A chuckle sends chills through the room, as, from behind one of the pillars, a rejuvenated "Gerald" steps into view. And with that, the real fight begins.
Jag, Jace, and Nargrim attempt to fight the Immortal King, a swirling mass of blades and chains, uttering strange links and echoes of their collected pasts. Aust, Theo, and Jinva set to work on Gerald, eager to put a stop once and for all to the Archmage. Better rested, and more prepared, Aust pours all of his collected light from the power of John and finally smites Gerald's (Verloch's) form into oblivion.
The victory is short-lived, however, as Jag, Nargrim, and Jace each fall against the Immortal King. Odde tries to leap on the thing's back, but is thrown into the wall, sliding down as it cracks. Alice throws him a Healing Word and he's up...and looking through the crack his small body made, light pouring out of the hole. Disinterested or not very confident in his combat prowess, Odde and Alice hack away at the wall, breaking it down while the rest of the group fights for their lives.
Meanwhile, a revived Jag lands a blow with his new great sword, cleaving the king in two... Only to watch both halves crawl toward each other and begin to re-form. The fight becomes a game of keep-away, trying to keep this "immortal king" from reconstituting himself, while dodging arcane bolts and a rising dark liquid that has begun to coat the walls.
Within the secret room, Odde and Alice see pile upon pile of gold and platinum, seemingly overseen by a giant sapphire skull. Both are drawn to the loot, but find themselves transfixed by a carpet tapestry tacked to the far wall. Crowbar in hand, and with Alice's help, Odde pries the tacks off and the carpet...swoops under him.
Jace and Theo begin to surmise that perhaps the crystal artifacts they found might be linked to the king, and Jace takes one out (take of a sabertooth tiger) and smashes it on the ground...only to summon the creature. The party pounces on the new threat, making short work of it, and celebrate the fact that the king bellows in pain as the tiger falls. One by one they summon each creature and felling it, until one last breath escapes the king and melts away into a pool of black ichor.
Bits of the wall and both thrones explode, spewing black, viscous fluid and shards of stone across the throne room. The far doors are blown open as the same black slime begins to spill forward, consuming the carpet and stone. A bellowing roar rings out from the opening, and everyone can a hulking mass dragging something metal behind it trudging toward the room.
Wondering for a way out, Odde scoops up a little gold, then swoops into view above the group, beckoning them to board the flying carpet. Most oblige, but an enraged and resolute Nargrim rises (with 1 Hit Point), draws his axe, and charges toward the hulking zombie giant that has just shoulder checked into the room.
With a primal yell, the barbarian sprints forward and brings his axe down...on open air, as a lasso of hempen rope tightens around his waist and he is lifted just over the behemoth.
With the walls liquifying and crashing waves of deadly, poisonous fluid reach up and down toward them, Jag and Aust press in on the party - already cramped on the carpet - spinning around them and deflecting the goop with their shields.
Despite all odds, they escape the Dreadmire as it is consumed by the Black Mass...
A Moment of Respite and a Time for Goodbyes
The race back to Kilden, the party beaten and weary, is not as easy as one hopes on cramped magic carpet, and the team nearly crashes into a stone wall somewhere in the sky. Eager to get back, they promptly forget about its existence and nearly crash in the thoroughfare of the small town.
Keddigan rushes out to meet them, Layla in hot pursuit, and the party is granted warm beds, fresh food, and never-ending ale for their troubles. It clear that the experience, though liberating for some, was quite taxing on others, and as the group ponders on their next course of action, they are approached by a half-elven woman clad in furs and earth-tone leathers.
She introduces herself as Lily Ironwood, a druid from across the sea, and she has a job for them. Before she can get into it, though, a frustrated Nargrim, tired of these new people, looks to Jinva and Valas, rising from the table, and says, "These people are not our people. We've done what they needed. Let's go." He gathers his things and walks out the door. Jinva ignores this, and does not follow, while Valas charges after his friend. A heartfelt goodbye between the two occurs, Valas pressing a few strips of parchment and a talisman into Nargrim's hands. "To remember us, your friends." Nargrim says nothing, and with a grunt, leaves the group to strike out on his own...
Valas re-enters, emotional and quiet, while Lily explains that she needs to find her sisters, somewhere in the Leylocke region, and she will pay the party 200 gold each for their help in doing so. Eager for something different, they agree, and leave at dawn.
Sessions Played: December - January 2016-2017
Adventurers Present: Jinva, Nargrim, Valas, Odde, Alice, Aust, Jag
Quick Session Summary
1) During the fight with Ben, Jinva received a dark spear of energy through his chest, and is now "marked" by death via a rune.
9) The Road to Exian
Following their triumph (survival?) over the lost druid Ben Carpenter, the party makes their way back to Raffi's manor in the Kesselbark, where Amos - now free of his rune of possession, which is now burned into the red tree in the house - has taken up his "clerical culinary arts" and Raffi has begun to rebuild his network of roots and trees to regain sight over the Kesselbark and, as he puts it, begin reaching beyond the forest to ensure the safety of his region.
After watching the grand druid at work, Geff decides to stay behind as an apprentice in the Kesselbark, eager to help rebuild the plant and root system that saved his bacon more than a few times, and the rest of the party find their way back to Kilden.
A JOB FROM KEDDIGAN
Returning to Kilden, the party is happy to see Layla back in her place at the tavern, two half-elven wait staff with her. They don't seem fond of Jace's temperament, and he gets himself into a little trouble; trouble that he has to stay behind to deal with. Speaking of trouble for Jace, he accompanies Jag and Aust to Keddigan's workshop, along with Odde plodding alongside, and proceeds to make some demands and otherwise rub Keddigan the wrong way. The entire ordeal ends with him being shot, then immediately healed, and never allowed into Keddigan's back room ever again.
However, Jag is successful in converting an elk-sized set of chainmail to a half-elven-sized set of chainmail, and now has some better armor. Odde is lent a hand crossbow with unique bolts to test out for Keddigan (elemental, incendiary bolts).
After resting, Keddigan meets back up with the party at the tavern. By now, the group has gleaned that Keddigan, despite his small stature, commands immense respect in the town; he might actually run it, but makes no show of it.
The halfling has been keeping in contact with their sister city, named Exian, for some time, but the latest missives seem vague, and they've stopped for the last few months. He explains that the last time this happened, the city was in an internal crisis. He would be very grateful if they would go check on this crisis for him, but please do not mention him to their matriarch, Medivh. A quick insight gleans that the two of them may have been an item, but no more, and it's probably Keddigan's fault.
The trip to Exian takes a few days of travel. Uneventful, travel. But approaching the gate speaks volumes to the state of the city.
Exian is much larger than Kilden, a strong stone and log wall surrounding it, with parapets of protection and a few mounted guards. The city sits on a rounded slope of earth and rock, and uses the natural landscape to guide its layout toward terraced gardens and tree farms near the outer walls, keeping the residential and marketplaces centralized; what stands out is the winding, haphazard stone tower near the eastern edge of the city.
Their caravan enters without much trouble, and they quickly take stock of the local tavern, and are sent to meet with Ricknall, the town's caretaker. "Rick" is an older human, wiry and capable, but possessing more than a few gray hairs. They quickly learn that two children, Nioki and Hanna Senna, orphans under the care of the citizens as a whole, have gone missing. Further investigation yields that the manor at the northern end of the city has been surrounded by strange energies as of late. The building has been abandoned for years, but always stood as a testament to the past; for a hundred years, it was believed to bring good luck to the harvest and protection of the city. Only recently, though, dark sounds and strange sightings surround it. Rick hopes that this news is not connected to the two children.
Taking note of possible undead entities, Aust and the others keep exploring the remainder of the town, while Nargrim, getting straight to the point, begins moving directly toward the manor.
The stalwart dwarven barbarian makes it only halfway up the road...before blood begins to drain from his nose and ears. His body falls, a large pool of blood forming around him in the stonework...
10) The Manor
The remaining party, now satisfied with their gauging of the city's layout, begin to make their way up the winding path toward the manor. Only a few steps upon the road, Valas notices Nargrim's body and rushes over.
The arcanist, Arobane the Red, interrupts them and invites the crew into her magic shop. They rest briefly, listening to her tale of the two children, before stepping off back toward the manor, an eerie drone emanating from it. Even the Paladin is overcome with feelings of dread as they approach...
The team splits into two groups, each discovering strange ghostly events and magical traps within the manor. A dark presence looms over their actions as Alice makes her way upstairs. The second floor is dark, a small sliver of light spilling out from a door cracked open. Pushing inside, Alice witnesses a ghostly apparition of a woman draped in a layered shroud. "Hello?"
The spector's form elongates with sickening claws and a terrifying howl before blinking and flickering out of sight. A moment passes, and Alice suddenly sees the creature right next to her. A cold claw wraps around her throat and she is lifted from the floor, life force beginning to drain from her body. Valas appears in the doorway, "Get away from my friend!" and rushes to intervene, but his sword passes through the apparition as it snarls at him, protective of its prey.
Jinva rushes to the doorway, flame already forming in his palm and unleashes a few well-timed fire bolts into the creature, its many shrouds burning away as it screams into the night. At last, its claws retract from Alice's form, and one more blast removes its upper torso from sight, the rest of it drifting into the walls.
As Nargrim charges up the stairs, another door creaks open on the opposite side. As Alice heals, the dwarf pushes this new door open and enters. A lovely woman, silver and blonde hair flowing down from a ruby circlet atop her head, sits on a bed of silken sheets and many pillows. Her form is semi-transparent, and she turns her head to Nargrim and smiles warmly. She introduces herself as "Eva" and warns him that time is short. With another smile, she rises and fades through the wall; something soft and heavy falls to floor behind the bed. ...Nargrim shrugs and leaves the room.
Valas and Jinva instead walk in and investigate further. The room seemed to belong to a little girl, framed pictures and worn diaries littering the shelves and floor, a dresser of small skirts and fluffy attire. Behind the bed, Valas discovers an odd sight. It is a stuffed owl bear, bits of cotton sticking out where an ear appears to have been ripped off. Showing it to Aust and Odde, they discover a child-like threading in large letters upon its rump. It reads, "Michael Jeffrey." They all shrug in confusion.
Jag, wandering the first floor, uncovers a journal splattered with ink. Opening it, he begins reading, pausing in front of the stairs. The passages are from a young boy's perspective, recent, and details entering the manor...and the doors closing behind him. He was looking for his sister, and lost track of his other "friend." The entries quickly become more erratic and strange, the lettering becoming larger and more incoherent...until the final page. It is one sentence repeated over and over in fine, minute lettering. "Dark time, Michael Jeffrey, dark time."
As a chill runs up Jag's spine, a shockwave in the basement rocks the foundation of the manor. The stairs and first floor begin to cave in...
Immediately, those on and near the stairs plummet below. Odde, Nargrim, and Jag disappear into the darkness, slamming down on ashes, earth, and stone. Faint torchlight flickers over their forms as something large looms nearby. They hear heavy scraping, like vines along stone, and watch as a living tree of black and sickly green roots and branches trudges toward them.
One of the treant's giant stump arms slams into Odde, pressing his form into the earth and wrapping vines around him before flinging his stunned body across the room and into another pillar. Nargrim and Jag shake off the fall and set to work bushwacking this thing, but its hardened hide just doesn't cut. Far above, clinging to the cracked railing of the stairwell, Aust decides to test his aim, drawing his great sword and leaping down...
The large blade slams into the creature's back, slicing through the thick roots layered there. The creature roars as more impacts of arrows and fire rain down upon it from above, and it clearly doesn't like its "fish-in-a-barrel" status. The treant charges backwards, slamming Aust into the brick wall over and over again, until the paladin stops moving and crumples off of the creature. Embracing his rage and the opportunity, Nargrim's axe swings hard and fast, cleaving into the creature's side and it bellows...a small sound. Nargrim watches the roots fall away from it and sees buried within a dirty tunic, small, a tiny arm moving over a rapidly reddening tear, before being obscured by roots again. "Someone's inside!"
One by one, the party drops down to join the fight, a few slower or less acrobatic than others. Turning the tide to their favor, they finally wear the creature down and with one final blow, an irritated Jag beheads the treant. It falls to its knees, the roots sloughing off with wet, slick slaps onto the stone before rapidly desiccating. And there in the pile of ashen wood is a young boy, no older than 7 or so, gently swaying on his knees. His eyes are glazed over and he appears to be muttering something. "Dark time... Dark time... It's dark time..." The group begins to lower their weapons...
Blinded by his rage, Nargrim reads the child as still a threat and swings his axe toward the boy. As Valas screams, "Wait!" the blade cuts into the boy's side, fresh blood pouring from the wound. The child's eyes immediately clarify, fresh tears welling up and streaking down his face. Choked sobs of pain and surprise fill the room as the child keels over, arms wrapped around the gash, and tries to scoot away from the barbarian. He makes it only a few feet before his movements slow and he lies still in a pool of his own blood...
The blurred reds of rage finally subsiding, Nargrim looks at the crimson impact of his actions...and feels nothing. He sheathes his axe, and thinks to himself.
Aust rushes forward, laying hands on the boy's form and cradling him in his arms. A few tense moments pass...and the boy's eyes flutter open. He whispers, "Dark time? It's dark time, Michael Jeffrey, dark time." Jinva's eyes go wide with realization, and he fumbles for the stuffed owl bear as more roots begin to break forth from the floor and pull toward the boy.
"You mean this little guy?" Jinva raises the bear. The boy's sapphire eyes ignite with joy and surprise...and the roots fall limp on the floor. Still weak in Aust's arms, he lifts his hands toward the bear and the wizard presses the toy into them. Energy seems to surge into the child and he happily giggles as he squeezes the bear, gently rocking back and forth on the floor. Suddenly, his giggles cease and he looks at the group. "Did you find Hanna?"
Another explosion from above rocks the foundation, and before the party can react, the remaining structure begins to collapse in on them. Stones and splinters begin to rain around them and darkness fills their vision...
Until a high-pitched whine calls their eyes open. Daylight pours from an opening in the cellar wall, earthen stairs leading out into the morning sky. Looking around, the building continues to collapse in slow motion.
Wasting no time, Jag gathers the boy and he and Aust push toward the exit. Alice grabs Odde's stunned form, and Valas starts dragging Nargrim. One by one they pass under the threshold, and only Nargrim takes the second to see, but for a brief moment, an elven woman with a circlet of ruby smiling warmly at him as she stands in the center of the cellar, her manor collapsing around her...
In a burst of bodies, the group falls, trips, and rolls onto the grass behind the manor and watch as it's structure collapses in a heap of destruction. Breathing heavily, they suddenly become aware of a presence behind them. "Oh, dear."
Draped in fine robes of silver and violet, a young woman of deep black hair with streaks of bronze stands behind them. Her patient eyes move over the group until she stops on the young boy. "Nioki?"
Nioki springs into her outstretched arms, openly sobbing. "Shh. It's alright. You're alright." Like a mother checking a skinned knee, she lifts him up and cradles him against her chest, quietly sending healing and calming energy over his wounds. Her eyes move across the group carefully, piecing together a story. "Well. That settles that."
And with a smooth grace to her movements, still with Nioki wrapped up against her, his breathing slowed into an exhausted slumber, she approaches the wreckage. With the smoke barely cleared, and a wave of her hand, a massive chunk of the roof is flipped over, as if with a gust of wind. A hole, deep and long, appears in the earth.
After hurling an eager Odde down the hole, Medivh casts a Mass Levitate on the group, and they each descend with caution into the hole. Medivh listens intently as she descends, comforting Nioki as she goes. The little boy begins to whimper, and a cold chill flows through the party.
They land in a shallow pool of old water, and Medivh guesses that this was the first well of the city, before it was rebuilt. Ahead of them lies a small nook, only about 20 feet deep, with a risen mound and and a strange wooden chest resting upon it. Jag and Aust approach with caution, taking note of a thick layer of wet vines connected to the box. Aust reaches out and feels a warm heartbeat within the box...so Jag severs the vines as fast as he can. With a moist pop, the wooden chest bursts apart, and there laying in a soft bed of wet earth and roots is a young girl. Hanna.
Later, over hot cups of cocoa, and a few napping children, Medivh is able to piece together the fate of the manor. Its last living owner, a priestess named Eva Lisaarian, placed a ward of protection upon the building; but over time, her power was corrupted by another angry spirit. She guesses that this spirit called the children to the manor, and used one (Hanna) to power her dark energy and another (Nioki, who displays great druidic ability) to act as her guardian; she lulled them both into dreamlike existence, which, thankfully, may have lessened the psychological damage.
Medivh thanks the group and grants them free lodging for as long as they like and at any future instance if they visit again. A festival of sorts will be held tomorrow...she hopes they can stay.
1) Stolen Cows
Session Played: September, October 2016
Adventurers Present: Jinva Quinnar, Human Wizard. Nargrim, Dwarf Barbarian. Valas Hallows, Halfling Monk.
2) Cockatrice Camping
As dusk falls following the trail to the Northeast of Kilden, the party comes across another band of adventurers set upon by a pack of young cockatrices. They help the other party out and are surprised to learn this group, just like themselves, have been searching for the owners of the large tracks.
Happy to have allies, and a little beat up from the antics of the battle - including a harrowing mount attempt by the wily gnome rogue named Odde Cormirant (involving a flaming cockatrice) and some spitting acid by the young dragonborn ranger, Alice - both parties vow to join forces in their quest.
3) Entering the Kesselbark
Party of 5: Jinva, Nargrim, Valas, Odde, Alice
While making their way toward the entrance of the massive wood called the Kesselbark, the party comes across a scuffle in the entrance canopy. A dire wolf in close combat with a Treant, who is in the process of vomiting acid upon the wolf, and a drow who is screaming the words, "barbarian time" over and over again.
Odde leaps into action, clambering up a tree and launching himself on the treant's head, trying desperately to stab at the large, vacuous holes in its head he assumes to be eyes. But while staring into these eyes, the gnome begins to drool and forgets what he was doing. Jinva attempts a firebolt, setting the thing's head (and Odde) promptly on fire, and from there, Nargrim and his new barbarian buddy help the dire wolf hack it to pieces. As the Treant "dies," its body burns away in green and blue fire, leaving behind a strange, pulsing emerald stone. The wolf, who has changed back into a half-elven druid, pockets the stone.
As the two individuals introduce themselves as: Jace Balarin, the drow barbarian and Geff, half-elven druid, the party tries to figure out what to do next...when a strange voice interrupts them, "What did you do to my tree!?"
Party of 7: Jinva, Nargrim, Valas, Jace, Geff, Odde, Alice
There, before the group is a small...badger. Standing on its hind legs, it leans slightly on a gnarled, bronzewood staff. It wears red and tan robes tied around him by twine, and it studies the assembled party with interest, before lightening its visage and cheerfully explaining, "Follow me!"
The party, intrigued, follows. But something seems off about the creature, as his pace quickens through the woods, and some adventurers fail to keep up, as the badger takes a hard left and disappears over a ridge. While the team tries to orient themselves in the wood, Jinva notices a troubling sight: there are bodies in the trees. Some branches stick out at sharp angles, and he swears that he sees bone in the roots. He shakes off the vision and takes up the rear of the group.
Jace moves on a hunch, and climbs down the ridge, losing some footing and tumbling down on his butt, joined shortly by Odde and Nargrim. Before them lies a simple cottage, gentle light emanating from the few windows, and puffs of smoke escaping from its chimney. The vision before them is like a beautiful matte painting. They must have lost track of time, as they are greeted by starlight in a deep blue sky.
The little badger is waiting for them at the door. He knocks twice with his staff, and the party watches golden light pass from the staff to the door. They hear a click, and the door opens, the badger scuttling inside.
One by one, the party follows, noticing immediately that this building is no cottage. What lies before them is a glorious cabin mansion. The badger introduces himself as Amos Southpaw, and informs them that his master is away. He then hobbles toward a trapdoor in the floor and fiddles with the latch there; it seems like it isn't built for badger hands, and with Odde's help, he swings the door open and hops inside. He quickly emerges again with a small desk and a bundle of wares, immediately trying to sell things to the party, but he has no takers.
The group begins to fan out throughout the house while Amos speaks with Odde. Geff explores upstairs, taking note of the fact that the whole house appears to be built around a set of four massive trees, their branches forming the strats between the walls and their roots running along the floor. As he makes his way upstairs, he sees two trees on the landing, each set against a corner of an alcove. One tree is bright, standing tall, with leaves of glowing amber; the other is twisted, leaves a deep bloody red, and there appear to strange scars (runes?) in the tree. The latter especially slumps, moving its creaking branches away from Geff, while the other seems to move toward him. Unsure of what to think, he turns to look at a set of four distinct bonsai trees on a long table running along the railing of the dual staircase.
From left to right, he sees: 1) A bright orange sapling, luminscent and warm; 2) A flourishing tree of electric blue leaves; 3) A single gnarled spire of a tree with a bright amethyst leaf; 4) a deep black mess of roots and withered bark, with onyx leaves. Geff focuses in on #4, and notices small sprite-like entities moving between the roots...
Meanwhile, Valas, Nargrim, and Jace find their way past a strange wall covered in earthen armor, seemingly embedded halfway into the wall, before emerging into a dark library, complete with a black orb held aloft by a single cherry wood claw. Not one to hesitate, Jace grabs the orb and is immediately electrocuted until he is very nearly a smoking corpse... Before Geff can pump a Healing Word into his dumb face and Nargrim can pull his cooked hand and arm away from the orb. Valas kneels in front of the orb...and notices it open, like an eye, and stare at him, the pupil growing wider and wider, consuming the room... Nargrim pulls Valas away.
Jinva wanders, finding in the kitchen the bag of colding, as well as several healing culinary treats. Wandering upstairs, he finds two rooms: 1) A recently exploded alchemist's study, and 2) the most bland room he has ever seen. Within the latter, he investigates the far blank wall...and his hand passes through. He is fast enough to pull it back, but makes note that that wall passes through to the Void...
After thoroughly exploring most of the house, Amos ushers them back to the central living room, where he explains once again that his master is running an errand and he has a favor to ask of the party. According to him, there are aggravated, sentient plants attempting to rip their way into the house from the back garden. He asks that, in return for his hospitality, that they take care of it. The party obliges, and Amos steps over to the fireplace, tapping the stonework with his staff. The fire extinguishes, and the embers fall away to reveal a door, which opens to the night sky outside.
Outside, the party finds a strange sight. Plants, seemingly sentient, rising out of the earth and towering above them; the party wastes no time and cuts them down...easily. Taking note of their lack of resistance, Geff casts speak with plants and learns something interesting: these plants are just trying to get "home."
Upon this realization, the party watches Amos, through the fireplace, close the wall.
5) The Path Below
The party tries to find a way back into the house (it takes some time); with the plant's help, which they learn was named Horace by his "master", they find the path back through the fireplace.
The house is empty, and there is no sign of Amos. The group does a little more exploring as best they can, Odde getting into some trouble with a mimic in a storeroom, but through their antics they locate an entrance to a subterranean path.
Alice scouts ahead and discovers a cache of assorted weaponry, armor...and a barrel of bones and ash. She also discovers and confronts Amos, who seems annoyed with her discoveries...and immediately casts Charm Person on her.
But before he can take her away, the rest of the party confronts Amos...and a few, sick of this lying badger, attack.
The fight is...shortlived. Though Amos is a decent druid and a pretty good cleric, he is no match for an angry dragonborn who breathes acid. The stream of acid cascades over the young badgerlord, singing through his fur, and he falls, unmoving.
A few moments pass as the action sinks in.
And then everyone tenses as black elemental energy flows out from Amos's form. The smoke coalesces into a large, threatening form...and attacks!
6) The Keeper of the Field
The fight is chaotic, many members of the party coming close to death, but they manage to disperse the creature...it wisps into the earth nearby.
Further exploration into the weapon racks reveals a set of three roots feeding through a false wall. The group steps through and sees a set of three deep emerald crystals. They are each large, embedded in the earth, and filled with some bright green liquid. Each also contains a humanoid.
One wears only a pair of pants, strange tattoos lining muscular arms. His skin is tan, almost amber, a set of small tusks protruding out from his lower lip. Long black and silver hair cascades down his back behind long, pointed ears.
The other two appear...related. They are nearly twins by facial structure, but one is adorned in chainmail with a sigil of a god no one recognizes, while the other wears studded leather armor and no sigil. Both, however, carry identical great swords.
Satisfied with the idea that none of these creatures belong in these "pods," Jace decides to attempt to shatter the crystal. It takes a few attempts, but each explodes outward and the creatures are free.
The two related reveal themselves to the high elf paladin Aust Vemaris and the half-elf fighter Jag Vemaris. The larger one calls himself The Keeper of the Field, named Raffi Longmeadow. Through some questioning, he reveals himself to be the very rare off-spring of an orc and an elf; the product of an agreement to save his mother's clan and to preserve the Kesselbark's elven influence.
Party of 9: Jinva, Nargrim, Valas, Jace, Geff, Odde, Alice, Jag, Aust
Raffi heads back to his home, picking up Amos on the way, and setting to work healing him.
The party, after a rest, continues on their mission to locate the lost cow, heading toward the other end of their discovered tunnel.
They come to a small valley opening at the mouth of another cave...flanked by phase spiders. The group makes short work of these, but become distracted by another noise. Heavy footfalls, and something being dragged.
Emerging from the woods is a minotaur, dragging a large sack of something still moving. Upon seeing the party, it draws two massive cleavers and charges...
7) Planting Seeds
The minotaur slams its hoof into the earth, and the party watches red veins and tendrils run up its legs and arms...then its form blurs.
The party learns through its devastating attacks that the creature is hasted, a boon granted to it by a master. Jag and Aust prove to be powerful and valuable allies, offering up heavy damage and clutch healing.
With their larger party, the minotaur doesn't last that long, and Aust beheads the creature as an act of trust for the rest of the group.
Heavily injured, the party opts to return to Kilden to rest, get paid, then head back here to investigate the cause of this minotaur's activity.
BACK AT KILDEN
Not all is what it seems. The tavern keep, Layla, is nowhere to be found. Instead, a jovial replacement named Gerald is there. He promises the group no disturbances, and puts them up for the night...
As they rest, Odde realizes that there is someone in his room, and when he attempts to stop them, he is nearly killed. Screaming bloody murder alerts the rest of the party in their various rooms and an awkward fight breaks out in the hallway. The thief/assassin leaps out of the window and takes off into a run, Jag and Jace pursuing. The others instead head downstairs...to find Gerald, as his face is no longer that of a human man, but a flaming skeleton.
Recognizing an undead when he sees one, Aust springs into action, destroying the undead creature, while Jinva pockets a skeletal arm that seems to have a mind of its own...
Jag and Jace catch up to the assassin, who has a hard time hiding around Keddigan's shop, who kicks down his own door, draws his sniper rifle, and shoots her point blank. A moment passes, and her form ignites in a burst of radiant and necrotic energy. Jag and Jace get the sense that she is not dead...
8) Confronting the Druid
Returning to the cave opening, the party is set upon by strange creatures. An elk in armor, standing on two legs, wielding a crossbow; two cows, in armor, on two legs, each wielding halberds. The creatures appear smarter than they should be, barking orders in common to each other, flanked by more phase spiders. Things seem dire, but Raffi, riding a wave of earth, finishes the fight and heals the party, bringing a few back from the edge of death. He says he'll hold the line here if they go in now and finish whatever this is.
Within the cave system, the party discovers a forge and assembly line for constructing armor and weaponry for strange proportions. The second level is a study, with odd cans, discarded materials, as well as hundreds of parchment pieces with the inscription, "Push the button, take the ticket" over and over again. Jag discovers a journal and from its entries is able to glean that an entity here was transported from another plane or time (or both) and has slowly been going crazy as they learn the druidic arts. They manipulated and possessed Amos with another creature (that may be controlling/influencing them) and have been "awakening" other creatures, vowing to make his own family.
While the entering the third chamber, the party is attacked by two more awakened bulls with heavy crossbows. The party makes short work of these, but the real threat lies ahead.
In a bundle of rags, the group meets the eccentric Ben Carpenter, who seems obsessed with a specific teleportation circle. He seems kind enough, but the moment the last member crosses his threshold, he grows unstable. Each adventurer begins to feel their life forces being drawn from them, feeding some dark ritual. Ben, too, changes, transforming into a rock elemental.
Again, Aust and Jag are invaluable in healing and damage, but it takes everything the group has to destroy the ritual and beat the elemental back to his human form. Attempting to take him prisoner, he waits for the opportune moment, then dives into a plane shift.
For now, the party can do nothing more...