Three weeks have passed since Lord Firaksa has laid root to the Elderwood seed, and, though the earth is dry, the tree grows quickly. It is a miraculous sight. To see its dense branches stretch toward the moon each night, as if it were cradling it in its ancient grasp. I find myself nestled in its shadow often.
The vines have retreated from the ramparts of the walls. We haven't had a surge in over ten days, and I admit it's a tad funny to watch the guard mill about without purpose or stress. But the Lord is not without industry, and has set them to work with other tasks. One of which being accompanying our expeditions into the temple.
Yuan-Ti corpses litter the landscape behind the temple, and the final Ironwood sapling has been recovered, along with sets of elemental gem stones. Firaksa seems happy with his findings, but I worry on how much his eyes glint with every report.
But this is not all. I wish I could say all is well, but the latest scouts have begun returning with less and less of us, the last of which filed a disturbing report. I'll share a segment of it now:
"We had just circled the wagons, setting up camp. We barely had time set up a watch when the clouds rolled in. I swear, the sun was shining seconds ago, but now the sky is black. Heavy rain hammered against the carriages, and while we ushered everyone under cover... That's when I noticed something was off. The horses. They were calm. They were quiet. Even as the rain pounded my senses, they didn't even flinch as I watched Silas be sliced in half by an invisible knight. I heard shouts, the clashing of steel, and witnessed a river of blood form from each wagon. I was frozen as footsteps found me, the cold iron of a gauntlet squeezing my shoulder. 'Tell them.' it said. I'll never forget its rasp."
Something is killing our scouting parties. The vines may be satisfied, but whatever lies beyond the temple I fear is far worse. Intelligent, powerful, and very, very angry.
Colonel Striga, I leave the following for your council. Thank you for your time.
--- Dyren Fisk, Exalted Chronicler, War Magic Initiate
Kurama - Ghostwise Halfling / Circle of the Moon Druid
Glib - Kenku / Arcane Trickster Rogue
Boljek - Hobgoblin / Samurai Fighter
Torrent - Tiefling / Tempest Cleric
Pedro Montoya - Human / Fighter, Rogue
Atavan - Human / Mastermind Rogue
Arha - Half-Orc / Oath of Vengeance Paladin
Party Level: 3
A Skirmish On The High Seas
Fifty years have passed since the Torkmund Battalion waged war upon the unsuspecting continent of Erena and the northern capitol of Frostburn was crushed. Though the Knight Owls fought valiantly in the face of the armies, they were not enough to stop the cataclysmic end of the people there.
The world has changed. An age of pirates and corsairs, brigands and cannons, sea monsters and distant lands. The Rooksmith remains an orbiting streak of ruined stone; shredded moonstones that scatter the skies above a tumultuous sea. With the Owls still under scrutiny, eager cadets in the program fall in line behind Captain Straiga aboard the Crimson Butterfly. A curious chronicler in their midst, a kindly young gnome named Dyren, they sail toward the port city of Gatha in the Wilderfall continent called Iliya.
At the dawn of their arrival, the Butterfly is set upon by two pirate ships, eager to take hold of their cargo. The young Owls and their ship dispatch the brigands easily, and finish their journey toward the city.
Iliya and The Iron City
The city of Gatha is marked first by a tall spire of encrusted bone, sinew, and desiccated muscle of various carcasses of sea creatures. It is the first of many wards; like shamanic totems to instill fear into the hearts of those harboring ill will toward the iron port. The totems telescope into the main arch of the dock, and as the cadets enter the city proper, they take note of the all-encompassing sharpened log fence that wraps the entire city. Running up its scaffolding and parapets are discrete battlements; arbalest turrets, small cannons, archer slits. It appears the city requires constant defense against the wicked vine blights that seek to breach the wall.
Upon entering the city, the group discovers their main objective and draws up a contract. They are, with Dyren as their guide, traverse the beginnings of the wild forests and explore an abandoned tomb once believed to be a Yuan-Ti temple. Dyren shares her allowance of 150 gold pieces with the group to help them outfit what they can before heading out, and the group begins to pick up on her curious stutter and vast book knowledge of the island, and the arcane. They attempt to gather materials at two local shops: Skinner's and Chopper's, but come up short for now, save for switching out a blade for an axe.
While getting ready to leave, they witness a stressful moment for the guards as they fight off a sudden surge of deadly vines trying to reach through one of the battlements, drawing scimitars and hacking away at the tendrils before spewing fire breath upon the insurgents. Dyren explains that ever since Gatha was colonized, and it was literally carved into the land itself...the land has been fighting back...
Upon entering the Wilds, Dyren sets to work locating her trail. After a few moments of getting turned around, the group and Dyren discover a set of stones that mark a very long pathway. Each stone holds a simple abjuration rune built to ward away excessive plant growth; it keeps the vines from attacking. She explains that her tribe put these here back when her brother tried to live here. The group asks about her brother, and she explains that he was working as a scribe in the north...before a big monster (a giant turtle) stepped on him; crushed his library, and him with it. She holds him in very high regard as a great wizard who knew what to do to keep others safe...and now that he's gone, it's up to her to do so.
After three hours of movement, Glib can't shake the feeling that the group is being watched... They keep moving, while Dyren panics a little, and the group prepares for a fight. Suddenly, with the snapping of a tree next to Glib, a bladed chain attached to a giant green troll carves into the kenku and a tense fight begins. The group tries not to stray from the path, summoning flaming spheres and firebolts to keep the troll at bay, even as its claws clamp around Glib and drag him into the wilds. But the group is not alone, as a brown Yeti is spotted on the other side of the path. Boljek misjudges and attacks the creature, turning its intent upon the group...which proves to be a poor choice as the group splits in half and tears into the creature. It, severely bloodied, quickly flees from the battle, dragging behind it a giant stone arm. In just a few short rounds, the troll is also defeated, and the lingering flaming sphere keeps the vine blights at bay for Glib to return to the trail.
The Skeleton Harrows
The next leg of the journey proves mostly uneventful. With Dyren as their guide, the party follows her into a desert tundra called the Skeleton Harrows or, according to Dyren's map, "The Desiccated Graveyard." The cadets are surrounded by the skeletal remains of massive creatures, long dead or more recently stripped clean, and an eerie wind is spiraling. The wards keep it at bay, and in the center of a wider end of the path, the group rests and keeps watch. Taking interest in the gnome's excellent map-making skills, Arha and Atavan notice the next forest after this leg of the journey, pointing out the curious bright pink illustration of a unicorn smiling in the forest, before the serpentine temple beyond. Dyren explains that the temple was once believed to be a Yuan-Ti shrine, but she believes a presence of good has kept this at bay.
A few notice the subtle and silent disappearance of some of the massive bones, and movement in the sands beyond. The group tenses, and keeps their movements careful and swift... Before recognizing a few of the wards have been destroyed before the next edge of grassland. The party keeps Dyren from being eaten, but are left with a dangerous twenty feet to sprint across. A found familiar grants a helpful sacrifice to get most of them across (a tiny owl named Ollie 2.0 is snatched in gargantuan jaws), but Torrent delays just a bit too long (and trips) and the enormous bulette clamps down upon her, threatening to drag her under the sand. The group springs to action, dealing enough damage to it to let go, and the group finally arrives at the temple.
A Temple Proper
At the temple's onset, the group finds the remains of two Yuan-Ti abominations, covered by florid gardens, with puncture wounds through the torso. Kurama learns from Dyren that her tribe are mostly made up of rogues and fighters, while only she and her brother had a talent for arcane study. She helps them retrieve a masterwork kris and two silvered javelins from the bodies, before lighting them on fire.
Meanwhile, Arha follows some curious hooved tracks into a forest canopy. A rush of leaves brings the omniscient presence and questioning of a commanding voice. At first dismissive, it informs Arha that it has kept dominion over this land, and has destroyed the abominations on its grounds. "Don't be greedy. Do what is right. There was evil here. I killed it. Do not bring more." Sharing this with an excited Dyren, the group wanders inside.
The temple is beset with winding stairways of great depth, red fluorescent moss, and a curious tapestry depicting a great mage wearing a red gem commanding an army of stone golems...before entering a complex room of pressure plates, arrows, and acid. The group tinkers and tests, avoiding the obvious trap, and Glib and Kurama do their best to disarm the thing. After that, they are blasted by columns of cold breath from mechanical dragon heads powered by sapphires. They dismantle one of them, and step through its casing to find a long set of hallways with a progression of paintings each depicting a pair of hands cradling a red gem. But something is wrong; each pair of hands gets progressively hairier, then transitions back to human, then back to furred, and back and forth, until the last iteration, which is a mess of slashed fabric and stained blood. The corridor ends in another set of stairs.
The group finds themself in a throne room surrounded by stone statues. A voice from the shadows seems first amused by their presence, engaging with Kurama and Torrent, and mentions that he is a servant of the Elking. His role as guardian of his liege's army, awaiting something called the Grand Hunt. Discourse dissolves quickly as glowing eyes bring life to the 14 statues surrounding the throne room and the group begins to fight for their lives. Thinking quickly, Arha spies there, floating above them, a wizard who matches the one depicted in the tapestry, and through a GREAT shot, knocks him to the ground, where the group tears into him. With a roar, his form swells and bends, changing into a giant brown yeti...before Dyren casts grease and he falls prone. Kurama changes into a brown bear and does his best to end the wizard while the others fight to keep the golems at bay, tearing the red amulet from his form and tossing it to Arha... Who proceeds to overcome the tremendous strain upon her psyche to control or halt each residual golem. Sensing his loss of control, the wizard destroys a few of them in an attempt to get away, but Kurama rips him to pieces. Arha sends the other golems to return to their resting state, and the group takes some time to bandage themselves up.
Dyren identifies the amulet as an Amulet of Mass Golem Control and Mind Shielding (manufactured and combined item), and they use it to disarm the remaining traps in the temple, opening up the secondary path from the dragon's breath. In the other room they find a rare set of bonsai-like trees: 2 in Ironwood (currently very rare), and 1 in Elderwood (currently extinct). The trees are very heavy, and the group can only carry two out of the temple (Dyren senses that this is the right thing to do). But before leaving, they drop the amulet into an exposed pit of acid...and watch the soul of the mage burn up inside.
The group plants the Ironwood and Elderwood trees in the forest canopy, and the entity there appears to Arha and Dyren, allowing Dyren to hug the creature (a silver unicorn), before dispersing in a burst of starlight. The trees take root quickly, the Elderwood depositing the first of many seeds into Atavan's hand. The seed keeps the vines from attacking them on the trip back, and they implore the lord of Gatha to plant the seed in the city to keep the vines at bay and bring the Elderwood back to the land.
First contract completed.
With the Umbra of Narizguun destroyed, and the undead dragon purged from existence, the world has changed. The arcane storms that had cloaked the seas beyond the continent of Erena have dispersed, illuminating slumbering isles and ancient ruins. What threats or allies lie beyond in this expanded era? The Owls will have to find out...
Episode 1 - The World Beyond - 2/3/18
Sent to investigate a castle of crystalline spires on a cold tundra of an island, the Owls stumble across an ancient world. They meet a little girl named Eilir, who possesses the powers of an earth elemental. She seems trustworthy enough, but leads them into a trap to pull them into becoming stone soldiers to fight a war...that no longer exists.
The Owls destroy her body, leaving behind a pulsing stone heart. Though a few wish to finish the job, it is a kindness that they spare her, instead taking the heart back to the Tenrook.
Episode 2 - The Tragedy of the Espers - 3/10/18
Something has risen from the depths of the Aether beyond Io's Edge; a floating city, with shards of crystal through it, and ruins on top. The Owls fly to it with the help of their tamed Roc, Vixx.
Inside, they again witness a place lost to time; a city built for a purpose - a tool in a war long lost. They are ambushed by the castle's guardian, a ronin swashbuckler illithid named Batale. Batale is a creature of honor, looking for his death, but he won't make it easy. Convinced that the Owls are yet another dream or his latest haunting, he grants them hospitality and they learn of the war of the Espers and what they are.
All life came from the Nexus; gods, demons, the forgotten, ancient ones, and prime elementals. It is the elements that bore the Espers - true children of the Nexus. Their alliances were betrayed, and each new alliance brought more death, more pain, and when they traveled to the central continent, they were attacked. When Narizfal arrived, their airships fell and their cities sank into the darkness. Batale has been kept alive by the castle, but just like Eilir, has a lot of difficulty accepting the timeline.
He brings them to his master, whom he even admits he is concerned for, and she, Toryana Snowfinch, seems pleasant enough, but upon sensing the eroding Eilir in Riswynn's pocket, instead insists that they all die. Batale blocks the way and the Owls fight for their lives...but Batale pulls his punches, and uses illusory magic to feign death before going invisible. It seems that Toryana was controlling an ancient contraption called a World Engine, and upon Riswynn destroying it, the island begins to collapse.
Snowfinch seems unhinged, crazed, and mentions her "friends" in the Aether. This alarms everyone, and Batale drives his blades through her, now convinced that she is not his master. The island collapses, and the group begins to plummet toward the terrifying Aether, but before the dark tendrils can grasp them, Vixx appears and snatches them to safety.
Episode 3 - The Tournament - 4/7/18
While Eilir and Batale come to terms with their new paradigm, the Owls are contracted to attend a singular and rare event, the Eron's Might, held on the roaming turtle city of Torkmund.
Stopping off in Tal'Fune, the Owls become familiar with the city and take part as best they can, but after the first two rounds and meeting Sir Eron Thornwall, the Owls are concerned. They begin to investigate and discover that all previous champions never left Torkmund, and instead seem to serve Thornwall himself with different names. The most recent champion is a Renka Habbernathy (Pietra?), and the crew sets to work to find him. They do, but he has no memory of such a name and seems keen to protect Thornwall.
At the next dawn, the party decides to turn on the wizard if it comes down to a fight to the death or if he tries to "collect" anyone, but their planning is cut short when Nikz locates a familiar - someone was listening. But arcane knowledge reveals proximity, and the Owls instead spring to action, chasing down the wizard through the streets of Torkmund and right into the final arena...where the wizard transforms into a drider archmage.
They barely defeat him, his body exploding and leaving no trace. And as guards swarm the arena, the Owls enter the Feywild and head home.
Episode 4 - The Aether - 5/5/18
Batale, racked by nightmares of his Eye (his master) calling out for him, contracts the Owls - then leaves ahead of them - to travel into the Aether and help him locate the real Toryana (not the doppelgänger they fought on the island).
The Aether is a terrifying place full on intellect devourers, mimic hallways, temporal rifts, doppelgängers, and giant spiders. They locate Toryana in an ancient spider's den, as well as a second Batale...whom the actual Batale kills after he is also freed by the Owls. But at least someone got momentarily eaten by a spider.
Episode 5 - Knights of the Round - 6/2/18
While studying at the Tenrook, a group of young Owls notice strange activity in the cemetery, and investigate. They see a man drop a curious contraption...that pulls the stone slabs of the graves together to form a golem, which promptly attacks and covers their escape. They defeat the golem with enough time to piggy-back onto the spell, and find themselves in the Feywild, defending a bear spirit and a crow spirit from the same man with a lantern, and an angelic creature also with a lantern.
They save the bear, who grants one of the Owls a bestial boon, but lose the Crow, and manage to critically wound the angel...which the man then rips the heart from, before opening another tear and stepping through. The Owls follow, and find themselves in a giant clockwork mechanism, a flowing portal beneath them, and a suspended home above. As the portal grows, the Owls try to make sense of the contraption, while others explore the house. As the "clock" tolls, two forms appear in the home; two beautiful children; movement upstairs, a daughter, knocking on mom's door, only to find her dead inside...but then the body rises, black veins pulsing all over her body, she bites the daughter, who also changes...
Meanwhile, the others locate the man, turning cranks inside a suspended cage. Arcane displays show pockets of the world, scrolling back and forth through time. Before they know it, creatures have been pulled through the portal, climbing up the metal walls and leaping onto the house. Instead of killing him, the Owls are able to convince him to stop, that he'll lose his family anyway if he doesn't act...and the man ends up sacrificing himself to stop the clock. His wife and his eldest daughter are lost, but the two youngest children are saved. When asked where they are, they say that daddy worked on the Artemis Clock, and he would use it to save the world...
Episode 6 - Tower of Gendris - 6/30/18
Another pack of young Owls respond to a tower descending from the clouds. Sitting in front of it, on a rocking chair, is an emissary of Gendris, who asks them to enter so that he might collect data. If they refuse, he shall lay waste to your cities.
Begrudgingly, the Owls step inside, and are put through three possible futures, culminating in fighting the future self of one their own. They are fed possibilities in grand conflicts between gods, in and out of time, and shown the possible crossroads of their choices. They leave more confused than when they entered.
Episode 7 - Blink - 8/11/18
The Owls attend to an afflicted town in the center of the mountains, keen to heal whatever ails them. Their medicinal checks reveal that the populace had been poisoned by powerful pronged darts that imbed themselves in the flesh and slowly drive them mad. One of the afflicted that they save, a tenacious little girl, reveals that she spends some time at the large willow tree at the edge of the city.
Investigating the tree reveals that more than one person would hang out there, and the matriarch of the hospital speaks poorly of the local lizard folk tribes. Further evidence: a discarded blowgun, claw marks, and a few buried needles. The Owls track a few lizard folk on the mountain side, and, with the girl's help, are given an alternate entrance. The matriarch, frustrated by these attacks, contracts the Owls to eliminate the remaining lizard folk.
But inside the secret entrance, the Owls don't find a fight. Instead, they find a smaller lizardfolk; a pacifist, who has collected correspondence with their old chieftain, and evidence of payment to his tribe. He shows herbal packages of poison, and recipes... The matriarch paid his people to make hers sick, then paid you to kill the rest of us. The lizardfolk asks for the girl, but she's back in the hospital/mansion...and he takes off after her.
The Owls follow, but cautiously, as they take notice that the town is now dark, all but one light on in the mansion. They enter as quietly as they can, and the matriarch happily pays them for their initial work, listens to their report, and then dismisses them...but one notices a small hand reaching out of the dresser and pulls it open to reveal girl bound and gagged. The matron then transforms into a Marilith and attempts to make quick work of the Owls. She almost succeeds, but sorcerers are clutch for tying down vicious enemies.
It is revealed that the Marilith was using the affliction to slowly pick off the village folk to feed her life force. Shame on her. The clues were there all along; blink and you'll miss it.
Episode 8 - Ceremony - 9/15/18
Eli Drakothar and Elata Susurri hold an awesome wedding celebration, but the reception is crashed by four unwanted guests (Oathbreaker Paladin of Tiamat, Drunken Master Monk, Celestial Warlock/Sorcerer, Drow Princess Assassin) hell bent on killing him and kidnapping Elata. As each dies, they say, "Thornwall sends his regards."
It appears the wizard they killed was only his Simulacrum.
Episode 9 - Ghost Story - 10/6/18
The young Owls return to do battle with a set of minor liches in a burning town...and they are all killed.
Awakening in the land of the dead, the Owls figure out that the strange cleric and leader of the town is instead feeding an old Jabberwock through a fake tree of life. They cut him down to size.
Episode 10 - Thornwall's Shadow - 12/1/18
A sudden coordinated strike at every major city mobilizes the Owls in force, and they do battle with another set of three unique and vicious combatants. Two deaths are suffered in the fight, and the Owls limp back to the Rooksmith. Resurrections are costly, but they are successful. Before they can rest in the library, the Rooksmith is torn asunder by a dragon turtle, transported there and tracked.
The Rooksmith is decimated, still clinging to the arcanum that keeps it afloat, and the Owls do battle with semi-ethereal creature while having stone slabs hurled on top of them. It is defeated and they are able to flee, but their headquarters are in ruins, and as they fly away, they witness what has begun its march north...
A gigantic mechanical city on the back of an ancient turtle.
Episode 11 - The Hammer Falls - 12/8/18 (Season Finale)
With no time to lose, the Owls rush to the northern capitol of Frostburn once more, and ready their defenses. But before a plan can be made, Torkmund arrives early, an army of dreadnought giants leading the charge.
They go with Plan C, and teleport into a shop that Nikz knows well. Turns out not everyone is down for declaring war on the world, and the shopkeep forgets they were there, instead allowing them passage into the sewers.
While they navigate below, they come into contact with one of the Kenku watch crew, and a tight fight breaks out. When they climb back up to the city streets, they are again ambushed by the local militia, and as the fight begins to sway in their favor, even as Owls drop dead, a ray of pure fire cuts through the battle.
Now ducking from building to building, sending illusory clones to draw the fire as needed, the group finally makes it to where the arena once was, taking their time to scale the spire of earth and reach the peak; a flooded courtyard with a tower at its center, and no one in sight. Caution washes over them, even as they feel the turtle reach the edge of Frostburn and the screams of many citizens under foot. A voice addresses them, as two wingless dragons emerge from either side of the tower and a Storm of Vengeance forms above them. Now, the real battle begins.
Eron Thornwall is a wizard, and a strong one at that. Meteor swarms, storms of hail and fire, disintegration rays, and fingers of death; two Owls die permanently in the 10 rounds of combat, with many more close calls, but one by one the dragons reveal their true forms and are cut down, and the Owls finally scale the tower to tear into the wizard. But it doesn't take long to crush a city, and even as they drive their blades into Sir Eron, he smiles - broad and pleased. "How long do you think it will take...for your sins to catch up to you? You have only existed for as long as you have because I have allowed you to do so. ...See you soon." Thornwall's body sinks through the blade with no blood...only water and ice, as his Simulacrum melts away.
And the Knight Owls are left with a hollow victory. Frostburn is destroyed. The ancient turtle seemingly has no master, but the damage is done, and this dangerous enemy still lives...
Season 3? 50 years later...
DM Note: Based upon the events of Episode 9, the world has entered a new age, as dictated by the 13 Loremasters of the planet. Something cataclysmic has occurred that has changed the world forever... Welcome to the Age of Io-Shar.
Episode 10 - Consequences - 7/29/17
With the Order spread out with coastal threats, the Owls are pushed toward an inland village called Orkastone to investigate the pieces of ruin landing near the city. Upon arriving, they are greeted by the village militia, headed by Captain Anduin. Anduin explains that they believe there is a rogue elemental nearby that has grown angry. The Owls are to follow its trail of ruins and stone, discover its intentions...and put it down if needed. They will follow, but at a distance.
The Owls do as they're told, but are apprehensive as to killing an elemental, no matter how feral. The journey is littered with fragments of stone and citadel, strewn with shreds of red cloth and blade scrapes dug into the stone. Half a day's journey takes the group to a village hamlet; dilapidated buildings, dead crops, and the broken spiral bricks of ruined windmill. And there, rising from the spiral, with trees and moss running down its shoulders and back, is a massive earth elemental. The Owls watch as the Elemental turns to face another lumbering presence cresting the far hill as it charges toward the village; a huge hill troll with a greatsword, a red tattered tabard trailing behind him.
The two behemoths engage in a tussle in the streets, and Owls help, careful not to attack the elemental. In the midst of the fighting, the Paladin (Eli) spies a little girl calling out to the Elemental, who responds to her directions...and protects her. The troll is defeated, and the Owls watch as the Elemental returns to rebuilding the windmill's tower. By this time, Captain Anduin and his hunters arrive, and the Owls explain that this creature is actually defending this village from whatever lies beyond the hill. Anduin is perplexed, explaining that all that resides over the hill is a flooded dwarves chapel.
While the Owls prepare with a short rest, Eli sees again the little girl...walking over the hill. At its nadir, she turns and catches his eyes; with a glint of gold in vision, she sprints over the hill and out of sight. Eli cannot shake the pit in his stomach, and follows; the rest of the party jumps to attention, and pursues Eli. The paladin is drawn over the hill to a sprawling, flooded ruin with a stone bridge leading to a whirlpool...a little girl standing at its threshold.
Eli approaches cautiously, and a low chuckle emanates from around the girl...as something invisible clutches her and a deep voice cuts through the night, "Eli Drakothar. I swear death upon you and your kin...unless you give up your soul now, and come with me to the hells." At the center of the ruin, emerging from a pillar of fire, stands a devil lord; he cracks a whip of flame and darkness, and a cleaver-like sword adorned with many runes. While the girl screams, a pit devil appears around her, tugging a chain and leading an infernal hydra out from behind a wall. The battle begins...and Eli dies.
And while the others fight on, Bahamut and the devils fight for control of the paladin's soul. Only through his own indomitable will is Eli able to push the devil from his mind, forever becoming a champion of Bahamut (and gaining a boon in the process). Together again, the team banishes the hydra, destroys the pit fiend, and decapitates the devil lord named Utugrava. As for the little girl, she is offered a place in the church of Bahamut in the city of Diskana, which she humbly accepts.*
Episode 11 - Into The Underdark - 8/26/17
The Owls respond to a request to investigate the strange red moss that now grows over what was once the Ashburn forest (burned down sometime in the 3rd age of Ren). Their curious findings discover a spiraling cave entrance of winding paths and flowing water. It leads them to an underground oasis, where they come across a large pool of water.
Something moves in the water, and the group spies a tiny green dragon wyrmling. Those that speak draconic reach out and talk to the creature. It seems...confused. While others ready themselves for a fight, they continue to talk...and the dragon continues to grow, rapidly maturing in the water. As it grows, the paladin sees in him not the evil he expects, but instead a choice; seizing the opportunity, the group offers the choice to be good and, through some great role-playing, demonstrates what that means. So, as the green dragon continues to grow, his aura changes to that of a good creature...and he takes flight, climbing toward one of the tunnels.
Convinced that this was a bad idea, several owls start to travel deeper inside, and come across the gigantic husk of a black dragon skull. Until it moves...blue lightning crackling along its tongue and rivulets of new flesh forming along its head. It claws through the earth, chasing the group back to the oasis. Everything it touches turns to decay, and it unleashes stormy hell upon the group. As the cave begins to crumble around them, they turn and fight the gargantuan creature, even as it destroys the floor it stands on. And as the Owls, with the help of a returned-now-ancient green dragon to dig them out, deal the killing blow to massive creature, the crumbling floor gives way and each spy a cruel temple of red and black banners and paint below...a quest for another time.
Episode 12 - Cloak and Dagger - 9/9/17 (21+)
There is a traitor among the Knight Owls, and we must find out who.
The Owls are invited back to their roost, the Rooksmith, where it orbits the skies of Io in its perpetual rotation. Within the grand council chambers, the group watches from the balcony...and decides to pick a fight with two of their own. When the smaller of the two begins to yell "traitor", he is silenced...and all of them are teleported to the brig of the Rooksmith. There, they meet the head of security: Warrick Umbra. Both groups are able to plead their case, and Warrick doles out punishment where needed, instead keeping a close eye on both groups; no one is to be trusted in this difficult time.
...Turns out the Owls' suspicions were correct, as during the night, the Tenrook (the high council of the Knight Owls) are attacked, being hurled into an astral plane projection by one, while the other attempts a resurrection. While in the Astral illusion, the Owls do battle with another of their order as he successfully resurrects (using the shared life force of the party's dwarven monk) Kaya Motis, of the Knights of the Shard. They do battle with her once again, hurting their monk in the process, and with the help of another Owl not trapped in the illusion, escape back to reality. It turns out the big brother in the duo was being charmed, so he is forgiven...while the other, and his resurrected beloved, are executed.
The Tenrook are forever grateful, granting their heroes further boons. The halfling demigod, Keddigan Slitspire, is not so impressed, and leaves on his own in the night.
Episode 13 - The Abyss Temple - 9/23/17
After discovering that the gigantic dracolich that they fought in the upper crust of the Underdark was once a dragon lord named Narizfal, The Storm Glutton, the Owls are sent back to investigate the temple they spied at the conclusion of the fight.
What they discover stretches beyond comprehension.
They face an endless factory of champion fighters, all wearing the same armor, and wielding the same weapons. Deep within the temple, they uncover and destroy a complex arcane mechanism of perpetual Simulacrum - constructing another deadly guardian the moment another dies, turning to snow and dust. While breaking the mechanism, they are set upon by two ogres armed with potent magical gear. The ogres wear strange black and red warpaint...and their eyes have been gouged out. Despite this, they seem to have been blessed with arcane sight and senses, and talk of a draconic master.
The ogre guardians prove to be quite a match for the group, but they push them back, deeper into the citadel below...only to be met a second temple rising through the stone and earth below, as an unknown ritual draws to a close. This new spire pierces the first floor of the first temple, driving some Owls to fall through the cracks. Stepping out of the new gate is a bronze-green dragon hybrid. He addresses the party as "meat," and a dynamic fight begins.
Through some distinct stunning strikes, and a clutch moment of both druids wild shaping and summoning 4 tigers, a torrent of 10 tigers rain down upon the dragon. Despite a double breath weapon, it's hard to avoid that many pounces, and the dragon is quickly subdued...but not before the Owls realize that this thing was just the diversion.
A gigantic black dracolich, frothing with acid and toxic lightning, flies past their fight, instead unleashing its breath to melt through the earth above. This new threat bores through the dirt and stone with ease, flying into the night sky...
Episode 14 - A Thousand Hands - 10/7/17 (21+)
In just one month, the skies have grown dark after a creature long-thought dead was risen from the Abyss Temple under the earth. He is called Narizguun, the Devourer of the Divine, and carries with him a strong of dragons...
Legend and lore bring the Owls into the service of Seeker Malfurik Scalebane, another Knight Owl on solo reconnaissance. Malfurik invites them to the city of Exian to meet with its matriarch, Lady Medivh. The two seem to know each other quite well, and Medivh commands a great deal of arcane and planar knowledge, though the Owls are skeptical of her complete intentions. Despite this, Malfurik seems to trust her, and that's enough for Eli and the others for now.
Medivh grants the party passage to the Elemental Plane of Fire, where Malfurik has tracked a dragon he believes to at one point to have belonged to Narizguun's first storm. They are transported some ways away from Mal's intended destination and in trying to grasp their bearings are set upon by wyvern riders...which they make short work of. However, the pale drow archer, Nikz, has been receiving strange dreams and messages - some conflicting with others. He is given distinct instructions, however, not to trust Mal or his choices, as they will undoubtedly lead us down a path of destruction...
A few hours journey and the Owls crest a hill into a dormant volcano cairn. Inside, a scarred silver dragon picks apart the flesh of a white dragon while a band of fire giants secure a diamond prism, something smoky and serpentine moving inside. As the silver dragon begins tracing runes with the blood of the white, the Owls spring to action, opening fire and blade upon the dragon and its giants.
During the fight, a few keys are revealed. First, that the serpent of air and smoke in the prism...is a dragon spirit. It means no one harm, but is easily confused. Second, as Mal breaks the prism and takes the spirit within, Nikz is given a conflicting message...and opens fire upon his ally. Suddenly, ranks break as the party tries to discern what's happening, and the dragon gains the upper hand on a few of the party, hurling them into rivers of lava. While deflecting arrows, Mal does not fight back, instead opting to rescue those in the lava (demonstrating immunity to the element). Nikz, sensing the party turning on him, drops the attack, and Malfurik checks on him (which Nikz uses to steal the Dragon Spirit from him).
A tad confused by the sudden attack, but forgiving, the party returns to Exian and plans their next move.
Episode 15 - The Godkiller - 11/11/17 (21+)
While on a patrol mission in near the central region of Erena, the Owls stumble upon the remains of an adventuring party. As they prepare the crushed bodies for burial, one begins moving. They watch in alarm as breath returns to the man, and he sets his snapped bones back in place and rapidly regenerates his burned flesh and clothing, bits of earth rising to fill in the cracks. His allies stay dead.
He reveals his name to be Ord, and that he had a mission... But he cannot remember it. His clothes, the Owls notice, are of a style they haven't seen in literally hundreds of years. The insignia upon his clasp is of an old kingdom in southeast; it was called Brimshire, but it fell at the close of the second age. Since that time, the castle grounds have been overrun by undead and a thick, dark swamp of deadly vines and toxic, acidic fog. They now call it The Dreadmire.
Ord is not surprised that he survived the attack. He and his fellows were a much bigger group before, but they've been running for some time from a lurking creature. Seems each time it finds them, it crushes him and then a few others...but he always gets back up. The paladin understands that Ord might be revenant, cursed to fulfill a purpose before he can actually die. Without knowledge of what he needs to do, a taxation of dying so many times, he has little hope of finding peace. He does, however, feel a pull toward the center of the continent.
Geography tells the Owls that he is drawn to a place called The Barrens. An earthen spike seemingly driven into the center of Erena, surrounded by a moat of lava. A single bridge spans the gap, but there is no door. It is one of the mysteries of the world. Nonetheless, the Owls take it upon themselves to get Ord there, and then to travel to The Dreadmire, and see if there is anything that will help them in their fight against the storm.
On the way, Ord plays with a ring he carries around his neck. The Owls recognize it as a Ring of Mind Shielding...and that a soul already resides in it. This alarming discovery sets the party on edge, and as they make camp, Nikz reveals another bombshell: the Dragon Spirit he took is now a literal pet for him. She is a Spectral Dragon, and each time she is summoned, her element type changes. Her name is Koriasaka (Kor, for short) and though she is amiable to the group, Eli does not trust her, warning Nikz that Malfurik will not be happy. Meanwhile, Ord and another Owl, Roze, bond. She gains some insight into his torment and he is surprised to learn that his pilgrimage has lasted nearly 300 years. It seems each time he comes back, he loses more of his memories, and all sense of time.
When the Owls reach The Barrens, they are greeted with nothing...until Ord moves to the edge, staring into the lava. Without a word, he takes the ring from his neck and hands it to Roze...then steps over the edge. Instead, his body is lifted up toward the peak of the spike, greeted by a cloud of black smoke. His body disappears, and the Owls are left alone, continuing their journey toward the Dreadmire. There is indeed a soul inside the Ring, and it begins to visit Roze in her dreams. The resident is named Kincaid Slitspire; the halfling king of Brimshire, who died fighting a dragon who could devour the holy energies of his paladin guard. He remembers building something that could stop him, but he attacked before it was ready. Roze quietly promises to bring him home.
But when the Owls arrive, they must wade through the acidic swamp, and dredges of mindless undead that flank the walls of the castle. Within, they discover the castle grounds ruled over by two minor liches and undead giant. Drawn to the center of the courtyard, Roze has visions of the pure lake that once flowed in the center of Brimshire...and is attacked as she wanders. Her allies rally to help her, and a deadly battle is waged. But at the end of all things, the Owls again rise victorious, as Roze breaks the slab of stone covering the lake, before plunging into it herself. The act purges the aura of death and decay inside the castle, and brings Kincaid back to the land of the living, and have purified the castle of Brimshire.
Episode 16 - Whispers - 11/18/17
While taking a much needed respite, the Owls are suddenly approached by Helaku Kadeem, one of the Council of Nine in Orlandin. He contracts them, along with his own contingent of adventurers, to help locate a missing comrade: Keddigan Slitspire.
Their journey takes them to the far north, near Tidespear and Io's Edge, to the mechanical city of Brakfall. With them is Striga, a tiefling paladin of fate that insists upon following Eli into battle. Right off the bat, something feels amiss about Brakfall, as the group destroys a slaver with a band of gnomes at its entrance. They explain that they were captured from Mooncrest (Striga's hometown) to be sold here. Instead, Striga sends them back to Diskana, where a guildhall waits for them under the protection of Bahamut.
Inside Brakfall, the group takes refuge with Helaku's uncle. The man is kind and hospitable, but Helaku seems distant and curt with him and the rest of the group. In the night, the Owls sense a shift in the basement of the observatory...and awaken to find it aflame, two fire elementals unleashed upon them. They fight where they can, but they realize this is a battle of constitution, as choking smoke begins to fill their lungs. Striga does his best to keep the party together, but it's the druid, Riswynn, who finds an alternative way out. A subterranean river. She lassoes her allies to her, then wildshapes into a giant alligator, and goes swimming.
The tunnel launches to party into the air beyond the reach of the mountains and rocketing toward the bridges of Tidespear. Riswynn spies a familiar group sprinting along the bridge, and deftly shapes into herself, and then a giant eagle, maneuvering her allies to drop in a cascade before Helaku and his band. The council member seems unhinged, almost giddy, and attacks the party, gloating the whole time.
This isn't a fight against a monster or two, no, these are seasoned adventurers with power sets that rival our heroes, and it is hard won. Seeing his options dwindle, Helaku uses Power Word Kill, but his spell's target is moved, as Striga falls lifeless instead. A nearly failed Revivify brings him back while the party decimates Helaku...but he is happy to die now, before his master rends the world in two.
At which point, the violet-clad Wavebrand surround the group...before being called off by a halfling with clawed greaves. Keddigan Slitspire greets the party. He needed to go missing to draw out the traitor (from Episode 12). We also learn that Keddigan is Kincaid's brother...and that they desperately need to talk.
Episode 16.5 - Interludes
Kincaid and Keddigan weren't always demigods. Late in the second age, they were taken by two gods they know to be Crowdark, the Lawmaster, and another called the Forgemaster; their task was simple, forge a weapon that could kill a god. They did it, but they don't know how to find it; that purpose was given to another called The Many.
The Many is a god of balance and neutrality, with agents (called Hands) that "sleep" until they are needed. Lore and research reveal that there are sometimes individuals who are aware of their influence and can resist or manipulate such power. These are called "Broken Hands."
Further research and insight, as well as exploring the memories of Kincaid, reveal that The Barrens house ancient artifacts from the first battle with Narizguun, including an ancient airship - called an Esper ship - powered by elementals. They are able to contact the Warden of the Barrens - a Warforged named Koda the Wise. Koda invites them with haste to undergo the Trial of the Barren to "win" the Seed of Oblivion, a gift left by the gods as a fail-safe. He judges that this is as good a time as any, and to hurry; danger knocks at his door.
Episode 17 - Sheathe - 12/9/17 (21+)
While under duress from a plethora of dragons already under Narizguun's control, the Owls are invited into the dimension of the Barrens. Their arcane shields won't hold for long, so Koda brings them immediately to the Trial Keep of seven crystalline spires. There, they play chess with a dragon, choose empathy over combat, and choose to break a pendulum rather than sacrifice one of their own. And as the walls fall and a vicious umbra of a gargantuan dragon barrels toward them like a wave of death, they decide which of them will carry the Seed of Oblivion... Nikz.
And as the Barrens fall to a wave of undead dragons, the Owls rise from the ashes in a ship powered by elemental rings and turn toward the storm that has split the sky before Tidespear.
Episode 18 - Into The Storm - 12/16/17 (Season Finale)
Armed with an ancient airship powered by sentient and very angry elementals, the Owls charge into the storm... And do epic battle with smoky umbra of Narizguun and an army of undead dragons. The fight is big, loud, and catastrophic for the ship, and even as the umbra is destroyed, the ship is torn asunder and the Owls are flung into the clouds below.
Each impacts in a different part of a forgotten, frozen island, and there waiting for them is the true form of Narizguun, the Devourer of the Divine, and the real final battle begins. Nikz passed the Seed to Eli, who summons the god-killing greatsword and cleaves into the ancient dragon lord with conviction. But when he teleports to three others tear them apart, Eli sends the Seed to another...who sprouts black and white wings upon wielding it, and plunges the blade deep into the dragon...purging him from existence.
The dense magic of the dragon storm bursts, dispelling the fogs beyond the central continent, and the world expands.
Episode 6 - The Artemis Key - 6/3/17
Responding to a distress Sending from the towers of Avianas, the Knight Owls teleport into the middle of war zone of fire and flames. Rising from the center of one of the lower battlements is a fire giant, cleaving into the walls with a massive ruby axe. Wasting no time, the Owls spring to action, felling the giant and coming into contact with Captain Eres Black of the Knights of Duros.
He called them there to help track down one of their knights - Sergeant Ulf Moonshard - who left the tower but a few days ago. Knights come and go, but this one in particular took a sacred object called The Artemis Key from its vault. Shortly after constructing the contract, the towers were set upon by three fire giants, convinced that they were responding to an act of war. Captain Black contracts the Owls to locate their Knight and The Artemis Key, and return them to the towers.
The Owls attempt to track the key itself, but to no avail, and come across a curious creature staying at the towers. Her name is Jenora, and she is an enormous golden Roc. Eres explains that she is an ancient being and has given the Knights of Duros guidance for the last 40 years; she comes and goes as she pleases, but when she stays it is to give them advice for the future. With her help, they have stopped numerous possible wars from ravaging the continent.
Jenora offers her help as transport, as she is gargantuan in scale and can easily fit the group on her back. She is also telepathic, and offers great insight into the thoughts and motivations of each of the party, going so far as to offer peace to one still tormented by his own patron...
The flight beyond the mountains to the northeast would normally be very treacherous, as the group witnesses several wyverns on the way and one particular red dragon, but none feel the need to approach Jenora's encompassing form. She deposits the group onto cooled rock surrounded by volcanic rivers, taking back to the skies and sharing that she feels the Artemis nearby.
The Owls investigate and stealthily make their way into the cave system of the volcano, stumbling upon a giant's den. Some stealth goes awry, and the group is set upon by three fire giants while Arik, the Dragonborn Sorcerer, searches frantically for the Artemis Key. While the Paladin squares off against the giants, allowing the others some safety, Arik climbs inside the gigantic fireplace, discovering a hidden trapdoor of soot and ash...and within it, a glowing clockwork firearm covered in patches of green and red moss. It calls to her, and she takes it.
It then becomes a game of fleeing defense, with the Paladin knocking down giants left and right and buying time for his allies to run. But back at the mouth of the cave, another fire giant awaits, blocking their escape against a river of lava. Arik, with the strange artifact in hand, is called to the lava...and walks into, orbs of protective energy flowing around her. While the others fight, Arik flows under the lava, stumbling upon a molten hatch, which opens for her. Stepping inside, she sees the corpse of wolfen man in armor, mostly burned. She discovers that the strange firearm slides into a mechanism inside this "cockpit" and upon turning it, the machine brims to life.
Exploding from the lava flow is a Huge molten mechanical contraption of plant and fire, which proceeds to pummel the living daylights out of the fire giant. With Jenora's help, the Tall Knight and the party are carried back to the towers at Avianas, where Ulf's body is also laid down. Eres, with the help of the party, attempts a ritual of resurrection immediately...and Ulf's soul returns to his body. He explains that the Key called him to the volcano, but his presence sparked a conflict with the giant clan there; he tried to run, discovered something beneath the lava and climbed inside, but his burns ultimately killed him. The episode closes with the return of The Artemis Key to its vault, and an ancient mechanical armor at its side...
DM Notes: this session was the first time the Knight Owls went through a Resurrection skill challenge, and it was entirely optional. They did great. Also, it marks the first time they're interacted with one of my Forgotten Gods - this one being a god of Free Will; powerful enough to sever the connection to a Fiend patron and connect herself as the patron for one of the Owls so that he may know peace. :)
Episode 7 - The Gala of Ardonai - 6/17/17 (21+)
The Owls are invited to the secluded island of Ardonai, along with a bevy of market barons and noble families, to take part in a celebration in the turn of the season. In order to get there, they are given seats and rooms on one of the five ships in the Ardonai fleet - the moonstone encrusted Hyacinth. The boat is beautiful, complete with a dance floor and full buffet. The gnomish rogue has fun with the food while the paladin makes a new friend on the dance floor in the form of the Lady Elata Susurri.
At the beautiful estate, social interactions run the gamut of extremely awkward to the literal tempting of fate, as two of the Owls (Darrak the Dwarven Monk and Eli the Dragonborn Paladin) entertain a curious Tiefling with a deck of cards...and proceed to draw from the deck. Darrak draws Balance, and his true neutral nature remains the same; Eli draws Sun (increasing his level on the spot) and Flames, as he is given a psychically taxing vision of the Devil that now swears destruction upon his name. Meanwhile, another meets a curious woman of porcelain clothing and skin made of smoke. She introduces herself as Lady Lessai, and she is searching for her ward. Nikz the archer vows to find her. Good times all around.
Greeted by the master of the house and his two siblings, the guests are given a speech of welcome with raised glasses. The young man gives a rallying cry to a "new age" and a shift in the ranks. It is...off putting to say the least, yet as he downs his own wine, many do the same - while two of the Owls resist the Charm, dashing forward to knock glasses from as many hands as possible, while many others willingly down the poison.
Plans shifting, the two older siblings draw weapons and do battle with the Owls; the smoke demigod Lessai lending her blade to the fight...but she is banished before it can end. The party burns many resources to fell the two siblings, and race into the basement to find an ornate ritual altar with an open tome and full-fledged vampire to deal with. The battle is taxing and dangerous, and the vampire, cruel and angry, hurls one of the Owls through a Prismatic Wall. A smoking corpse comes out the other side, marking the first true death in the campaign. Rage fills the party, and they spend everything they have to tear the vampire apart.
They leave limping, only a few others marking the survivors of the ritual; Elata and her ward, Ursa, a handful of nobles, and a very confused young woman named Adaria. The rest of the guests...are dead.
Episode 8 - Into The Mists - 7/1/17
Though the Rooksmith, the residing council of the Knight Owls Order, is disturbed by the massacre at Ardonai, they conscript the Owls to take this woman, Adaria, home. The assignment brings them to the curious town of Bodgen, nestled in the swamplands just beyond the Grimscale Mountains. There, they meet a ferryman with a large metal freighter named Apocalypse Pablo (Apocablo for short). The strange human offers to ferry them through the mists where Adaria swears there is an entrance to the Plane of Water; where Lessai resides.
The trip is treacherous and beset by angry water treants, whom the group fights off before smashing ashore. The island is strangely flat, but an Owl discovers the illusion obscuring a gigantic stone spire at its center...and a large green dragon at its peak. Though he goes along with them, Pablo seems unfazed but unable to see through the illusion, feigning ignorance as they climb.
Suddenly, a pack of harpies attack, hastening their trip, and at the summit, they do battle with a green dragon. Stunning strike and key spells deal with the beast proper, and Adaria is left to approach a small stone circle at the peak. Thinking ahead, an Owl summons water upon the circle, and magical rainstorm forms over it, creating a portal. Adaria bids them farewell...and Pablo steps through too, saying that he'll "see them again soon."
Episode 9 - Balance and Ruin - 7/15/17 (21+)
It is the third day of rain across the entire continent of Erena, and the Owls have been summoned to stilt city of Tal'Fune to investigate the weather patterns. While there, they bear witness to a cataclysmic event.
The skies above them are torn asunder, pouring colossal cubes of civilizations into the seas of the east, and they watch a black cloud, like a swarm of blades, rip through the veil. In its wake, water flows free from its elemental plane, flooding the material world. More tears in the skies above, miles away, alert the Owls that something massive is going on...
They have little time to react, though, as a tidal wave slams into the city. Tal'Fune is unique in that all of its buildings are magical, each sprouting crow's feet and sprinting out of the city. The owner of the tavern they reside in, however, appears to have been crushed by a falling whale, leaving the Owls to pilot the tavern. While they finagle with the controls, a few climb to the roof just in time to see the colossal behemoth of shark spiraling toward them. They do battle with the massive beast and head it off their trail, but not before it takes a bite or two out of their haven.
Taking on water and learning to drive this crazy thing, the group limps their way to the towers of Avianas, now entering a planar lockdown. They arrive just in time to enter the planar gate and meet up with the Knights of Duros.
During their rest, Eres Black explains that an Ancient One, called the Riftskin, is being summoned to different planes by an Order of Chaos, called the Knights of the Shard (one of their agents being an Oathbreaker Paladin from Orlandin, Kaya Motis); manipulated into tearing holes in the elemental Plane of Water and The Infinite Battlefields of Acheron, effectively flooding the material world with creatures and magic is not equipped for. His Avian Knights have already started closing the portals, but they think they've tracked down the latest summoning circle in Acheron. It will the Owls' job to shut this thing down; Pietra Habbernathy, from Orlandin, will lend her arcane sight to the endeavor.
Teleporting through the open tear, the Owls land on a small rotating cube in an infinite golden sky...and come face to face with four Shard Knights. It is a difficult battle and the Owls use the terrain expertly, hurling Shards off the edge into the endless clouds, and holding on for dear life as the Riftskin begins to tear them apart. But they knew they only needed to buy time, as Pietra's double banishment spell takes hold upon the Ancient One, sucking it into the Halls of Pandemonium. The Owls then teleport back, but not before two of the Riftskin's needles find a new home in one of them. It takes a lot to pull them free, but the Knights of Duros hold on to the volatile needles for now.
Despite closing the rifts, the world has been forever changed, and a new age begins...
The dawn of the Knight Owls was a convoluted one. What began as odd jobs across the grand continent of Erena slowly coalesced into a discovery that would mar the very face of the world.
Prologue - Tomb of the Blue Mage (Party of 11)
A plucky set of would-be Owls find themselves in a dangerous dungeon of tricky traps and a mad wizard. In the end, no one knows who to trust and who to leave behind as the castle collapses around them...and one of their own is consumed by the Wizard's Stone.
I wonder if we'll ever see HIM again...
From the DM: This was our first test of the Knight Owls format, and based on the massive party and reception, it was something the community definitely craved. But a party of 11 is WAY TOO BIG.
Episode 1 - Orlandin of the Pale (Part 1) - 1/25/17
A young band of Knight Owls visit the industrious southern fortress of Orlandin, the city of the Pale. Orlandin is a stratified system of two main districts split into four quadrants. The port greets them with dense fog and high security, each of them being issued druidic bracelets that denote their status as tourists and threaten to explode if they overstay their welcome. Orlandin has never seen insurgents for 100 years and any internal conflict has ended within a day; the denizens whisper the name "Pale Wing" when these facts are brought up.
The heroes explore the tightly-packed slums of Lowtown, careful to keep an eye on their pockets, but put off the high society of Highborn that literally rests on top of this ghetto. The unease continues, as a few take note of tall, dark figures walking upside down under the bridges. One Owl tries to interact with these creatures, only to have a very close call involving a set of metal claws and his windpipe. In short, they are being watched.
The group must find and meet with a Mr. Silas Habbernathy, an eccentric and literate Kenku who has hired them to perform a complicated heist. They are to gather specific alchemical and magical objects from the shop of Pietra Habbernathy, his ex-wife. The Owls take the job, but many are weary of the twitchy Kenku; something doesn't seem right.
While dodging the eyes of the local nobles and causing distractions where they can, they try to stake the place out, but this is going to be hard. After hatching a precarious plan, and one of the Owls critically injuring a child pickpocket, the group comes into the graces of Pietra herself. Her presence, unlike Silas, sets the group at ease, and they learn that Silas is not to be trusted.
And lo and behold, when the Owls return to Silas, he deceives the group and injures himself, calling the boogeyman guard - the Pale Wings - toward the group. It doesn't go as planned, unfortunately for him, as the Pale Wings do not discriminate between friend and foe, and crush him first. Now, with a swarm of steampunk black hats converging upon them, the Owls just barely make it inside Pietra's shop - one of her Fireballs buying them some time. And there, they rest and wait for dawn...
Episode 2 - The Snow Witch - Frostburn (Part 1) - 2/18/17
Meanwhile, in the frozen tundra of the north, another group of young Owls are summoned by the lord of the oasis of Frostburn. The city is aptly named; it's location upon an intricate web of leylines grants it a magical warmth, like a hot spring, amidst the frigid cold of the mountain's shadow.
The Owls have been summoned by the lord of Frostburn; the stern and calculating Lothlor Kismet (Lord Frostburn to you). It seems there is a sensitive matter he must discuss with them, and after making the room private, he explains that in carving out the land to build this grand city, he had to make a deal with the Witch of the North. He was young then, and without connections, so he took the bribe...but now she has demanded her payment; when he refused, she came in the night and stole it anyway. His daughter, Sasha, and a few other children in the city, have been kidnapped.
The Owls spring into action, outfitting themselves for the extreme cold of the Grimscale Mountains, and gathering whatever gear they can. While in the city, the Paladin meets a Tiefling blacksmith in the service of Bahamut, and the two create a kinship before the group sets off.
The way is difficult, and they meet an overconfident Satyr on the way, who has laid a trap for them at the bottom of an icy ravine. Like shooting fish in a barrel, the party is beset by arrows and a Satyr with a thirsty blade that can sever limbs. But the ambush was not prepared for the spread of skills in the party, and they were quickly overwhelmed and defeated, the Rogue snagging that beautiful black sword.
They make their way to witch's fortress of ice, and do their best to sneak in. The party fans out, and discovers several children - cold, chained, and very scared - against several of the walls. A cackling voice fills the room, and the witch appears, unleashing lightning and cold upon the group as she floats above an altar. The group takes some punishment, but manages to drag her down to their level...where she shifts her form into that of a giant blue serpent. Undeterred, the Rogue leaps into action, hurling alchemical fire down her throat with the promise that she won't eat any more kids. The serpent explodes from the inside, turning to ice and melting away.
The Owls win the day and return the children, but a cold wind sets them with unease. This isn't over...
Episode 3 - Festivities and Bodyguards - Orlandin (Part 2) - 3/18/17
Pietra Habbernathy is in trouble. As the group rests in her shop, she is visited by Bartholomew Yentrin, the maker of the Pale Wings. He seems uneasy, and though he enters angry, she shuts him down easily. He pleads with her that she attend the soiree that evening held in Highborn at the council bastion, but she declines. He leaves, and she explains that she used to serve on the council, but finds most of them to be idiots with the matters of the city...except for her friend Amos Southpaw, a druidic cleric with a golden staff. She instead extends her own invitation to the group, and writes up a new contract for them to protect Bartholomew.
So the Owls prepare for a party and arrive set to impress. Interactions are awkward all around...
Meanwhile, the Half-Orc barbarian is mildly charmed by a swashbuckler in a red bandanna, and the group loses track of each other...then lose track of Bartholomew. A few roam the bastion, finding the spiral tower of Bartholomew's office. They find him unconscious on the floor, and masked figure perched on his desk - they attempt to engage the creature, but it leaps out the window, disappearing in a cloud of purple smoke before it would hit the roof. More Owls gather and come upon a half-orc woman rifling through Amos's office. She casts Reverse Gravity upon the group and attempts to get out of the room, but the ceiling is low and group is able to flank her and subdue her in seconds.
Finally, another Owl discovers a curious contact below the city - a goblin disguised like a little girl, who clutches a wooden dragonborn doll. This "girl" is mischievous, but endearing to the Owl, and she feels connected to her. But as an explosion above rocks the cavern below, the group finally meets up together to discover that the soiree is in ruins, the bastion nearly destroyed, and one of the Nine is missing...
Episode 4 - The Siege of the North - Frostburn (Part 2) - 4/15/17
As Sasha returns, Lothlor questions the Owls. Upon discovering that there was no body, he grows more manic. Lord Frostburn calls for a complete lockdown of the city and begins engaging defenses, extending his contract with the Owls to help fortify the city and prepare for a siege. The witch isn't dead, and she's very, very angry.
The Owls set to work outfitting who they can and hatching a plan of action if the walls are breached. The Rogue (Alvus) befriends a sniper in the central tower of the city; a young man names Elias, who, because of his partial paralysis, sits in a custom harness while he loads literal spell scrolls into chambers that he fires upon the reach of the city.
In less than 12 hours, war drums sound in the distance, and a march of ice elementals, led by a pair of frost trolls, appear in the mist as night falls. The Owls wage war with the cold army, and battle is fought in and around the city as elementals are launched into buildings and summoned in the streets. But as the army falls under the might of Frostburn, a cold voice echoes over the oasis. "Come and fight me, mere mortals. I wait for you to meet your demise..." The threat is real, and waiting. If they don't deal with her now, she'll return stronger than ever.
Downing a few potions and preparing for the worst, the Owls rush out to meet her in her element... And through great tactics, a shot or two from Elias, and some clutch rolls, fell her in a few rounds. At last, the witch of the north is dead and Frostburn is safe. Their contract fulfilled, the Owls are paid...and may have a powerful ally in the future.
Episode 5 - Lost Knight - Orlandin (Part 3) - 5/6/17
The Owls do what they can to help the injured in council chambers, and inform Pietra of Bartholomew's condition; the remaining Nine fan out, each warriors in their own way, and try to locate the thief from Amos's quarters. The woman in the red bandana is nowhere to be seen.
But as the Nine and the Owls try to make sense of the assault, explosions on the far end of Highborn rocket their senses. A stunned Bartholomew explains that the artifact he wields to control and command the Pale Wings was taken from him. He blames Amos, who was constructing his own version of the artifact, and "brought this on himself."
The group investigates the explosions and come upon instead two groups of Pale Wings, one group leaking blue smoke from their eyes, and another with red; the blue appear to be protecting the populace, shoving them into buildings and shutting the doors, while the red are ripping into buildings...and the blue. Pietra informs the Owls that the Nine and their guards will try to deal with the Pale Wings's civil war, and that they should find the entrance to Old Orlandin in the slums. The city was literally built on top of the old city. A remnant of their hubris to crush the past under the weight of the future.
Keeping their heads down, the Owls take the secret passage of a mischievous beggar and head down into the deep caverns of Old Orlandin...and discover it in flames, a woman with a red bandana barring their path, a small girl draped unconscious over her shoulder. A fight and a chase ensues, dodging wreckage and ruin, until one of the Owls leaps from a dilapidated rooftop and tackles the pair, freeing the little girl and starting a proper fight. The swashbuckler is an adept duelist, but is overpowered by sheer numbers, and the Owls revive the girl...who tells them of the old courtyard deeper below the forgotten city.
There, they come upon a ritual already in progress. Amos, a badgerlord, is chained to an obelisk, as it slowly drains his life force. There is an odd artifact draped around his neck, as two displacer beasts circle him. A lanky, masked individual sits perched on a slab of ruined stone, regarding the alter and waiting. A woman, clad in black armor with splatters of red and a mask split down the middle of the same hue, drags a vicious deep navy blade toward the badgerlord. With a giggle, she cuts into him...and the Owls don't sit by and watch.
The fight begins with an extreme disadvantage - they're fighting in ruins, with lots of cover, and no idea how many assailants there might be. The displacer beasts help the woman flank and eviscerate, her sword stealing the dexterity from her enemies and gifting it to her, and her flock of archers and assassins harry the group from the shadows. Many close calls, and one near-death, the half-orc barbarian is finally able to wrench the sword from her grasp and another Owl frees Amos, whose healing abilities keep the party up and moving. The tide quickly turns and the woman knight is defeated.
Epilogue: the woman is revealed to be an Oathbreaker Paladin of Tiamat; she was once the apprentice of one of the Nine, and sought to control the Pale Wings as her army in the service of the Queen of Blood and Fire. Amos's artifact, now fully operational, allows the user to control the Pale Wings by emotion instead of rules, and Amos's calm demeanor quiets the civil war. For now, they will try to police their city with a little more...empathy.
Adventurers Present: Darrak (Dwarven Monk - 13); Nikz (Eladrin Rogue/Arcane Archer - 11); Eli (Dragonborn Paladin - 12); Xun Fu (Half-Orc Monk - 11); Notloc (Dwarven Cleric - 12); Brysar (Sorcerer - 7) = Party of 6.
The Knight Owls, strapped for cash and in need of something to bash, sit and wait in the roaming city of Tal'Fune for a legendary mobile city called Torkmund. The city is fabled to be run by a mysterious wizard named Sir Eron Thornwall, and is said to feature clashing titans, dangerous terrain, and legendary prizes - the most of which is a single item from his Platinum Vault, said to house items collected from every Age of Io.
The Knight Owls Order knows of the tournament, named Eron's Might, and urge the Owls to participate. AND, if any of the Kihon, the remnant children of the Espers, show and attempt to cause havoc, to stop them with extreme prejudice.
A Big Entrance
Torkmund arrives, striking into port with pomp and showmanship. As lines form toward the island city, bridging the gap to the entrance is an enormous turtle's head. The creature is ancient; gargantuan in size, with crustacean, coral, and sea life finding homes upon its gigantic belly and limbs, or hanging under the edges of its shell.
Like a folding pop-up book, the city opens from the shield atop the shell of the beast, fireworks and light cascading around its towers. The shops open with pizazz and the tickets get punched. The Owls, with Darrak's elephant Kegstorm (Keggy) in tow, begin to make their way toward the kiosk and punch their tickets for the strangest cruise they've ever seen...
Round 1 - The Boorish Luck
After suiting up with some curious rival businessmen, the Owls make their way to the telescoping tower in the center of the island. Xun has already scoped out the arena, taking note of the tapestries of previous champions of the Phoenix Ash, the most recent being a "Renka Habbernathy." The first round is a good ole' fashioned monster fight with a troll, a blue orc, and a very ferocious Ice Ogre. Despite being pummeled with rocks, the Owls, and the other assembled combatants, make short work of the beast.
Round 2 - The Kerberus Cup
The next morning, the Owls assemble in the second coliseum level prep room, where they find their other combatants still waiting. A pair of elven twin rangers, a wily halfling bear rider named Copper, a tumbling twin duo of gnome rogues, and a curious young man with vibrant amber hair - a large orange and tan fox cuddled up with him as he meditates.
Without warning, the doors lock and the room begins to flood rapidly, pressing each combatant up to the ceiling. But before drowning can occur, the gates spill open into a flooded arena. A well-timed water walk keeps most of the allies out of the water, instead running atop it. Good thing, too, as the rags within the water begin to shift and move with menace and something pulls one of the rangers under water.
Dancing lights under the water illuminate the coiled form of a massive electric eel... So Notloc casts Control Water and parts the seas, pulling the water away from the two eels as they begin to suffocate, and forms two walls of water on either side of the arena. The rags hover in the water, waiting. Despite the eels growing new legs, they are easily dismantled while free of their watery terrain, one being torn asunder by Copper's voraciously adorable bear, Kubo.
Then, from the audience beyond the walls of water screams ring out as entities burst through the watery wall. Landing and scrambling toward the assembled warriors are...audience members, with spider-like legs and pincers protruding from their forms. "Don't kill them!" Eli calls out, and the large team bands together to sub-due each new foe with mercy. Meanwhile, the assorted rags floating in the water spiral together, dancing about with spinning blades and begins cleaving into the group, but with a few well-timed strikes, the Owls succeed in shredding the creature...its form shattering into a pile of snow before being washed clean by the water sloshing back down into the arena.
At the close of the fight, all are directed to a slow set of clapping hands from the director's box...
The winners of the second bout are invited to meet Sir Eron in his director's suite, and the Owls, along with Copper, the young man, and two gnome tumblers oblige. What transpires is an ever-evolving conversation where the wizened man seems to allude to knowing quite a bit about each of the assembled, or at least much more than he should. He stresses that he has always been interested in the "unique," and is pleased to see so many, so rare in this particular tournament. Everyone leaves quickly, unnerved by the experience...except for Xun, who, as the last to leave the room, turns and asks Sir Eron about the Espers.
The door slams shut. And locks.
Xun, not frightened, listens to the man. It is clear that he knows quite a lot about Xun and his allies, referencing distinct details from the battle with Narizguun, and from previous adventurers; details he should not be privy to. He understands the awakening of the Espers in recent times, and knows full well of the existence of a Kihon - a child of born of raw elemental energy - somewhere in their midst. "Be careful, boy. I have eyes everywhere..."
Eli, among others, is not pleased that Xun had this conversation, but the half-orc returns before Eli and Nikz can knock down the door. They find the others in the arena, the large fox bounding up to the young man and leaping up to rest its hulking form on his shoulders. The young man seems definitely strong enough to handle this...and Nikz spies the fox speaking to the man. The man responds, "Don't worry. I won't let him take you..."
Xun and company begin to wonder what has happened to previous champions, and asking around is met with some confusion. Most of the populace is under the impression that the champions have returned to their homes as heroes...but Nikz finds an alternative opinion in the form of an awakened onyx cat named Asa. In the trade of a clockwork crow to play with, Asa reveals that the previous champion is STILL HERE, as a janitor in the arena.
Alarmed, Eli, Nikz, Darrak, and Notloc make their way back to the arena while Xun and Brysar recover their abilities. A few denizens remain, cleaning eel bones from the cracks in the stonework, and one in particular catches their eye. In robes of fine silk and filigree, tufts of white and black feathers sticking out, they see a larger, meticulous Kenku pulling a piece of spine from between two stone plates and pocketing it. The Owls present immediately recognize the creature's features and feathers; that, coupled with the name Habbernathy on the champion's tapestry waving above the peak of the arena, links him directly to a Pietra Habbernathy - a powerful wizard ally of the Owls in southern capitol of Orlandin.
The creature, when confronted with this fact, is confused, and requests that they leave him alone. The assembled Owls try to reason with him, mentioning Pietra's name...which doubles him over in nausea. He screams for them to leave him alone, sprinting toward the door. Darrak stops him with an axe in the wall ahead of him, the four Owls doing their best to calm him down. They ask him what happened to him - he says he's been here his whole life, his name is Kai, and they should back off, as he summons a Fire Bolt. Their insistence pays off, somewhat, and "Kai" at least listens to them, writing it off as humoring the insane.
They try to point him to his own banner, but as they look at it, the name has changed to a "Duncan Sunstone." Perturbed, Notloc looks at the banner through his Pale Wing Scope...and the letters are jumbled, ever-changing. Suddenly, Kai reachers out and deftly dismantles the Scope, refitting it with a new copper wiring, allowing it to telescope distance. He hands it back and asks where Notloc got it. At the mention of Orlandin, a voice interrupts them from the Director's Box.
"That's enough, Kai." The familiar deep baritone of Sir Eron carries easily into the arena. "Let's make sure these adventurers have rest. They have a big day tomorrow."
"Yes sir." Kai bows to Sir Eron, and promptly leaves, despite Darrak's insistence that the wizard is controlling him. As the young Kenku leaves into the tunnels, the Owls check the banner once more, and it reads "Renka Habbernathy."
Jumping the Gun
Brysar, around 1am, is awoken by flames catching under his door. An instinctual ray of frost sends the flames arching and coalescing into the center of his room. The flames become a large amber fox, who tilts its head at the Sorcerer.
"Hello." Brysar ventures.
"Hello." The fox responds in common. "What do you think of Sir Eron?"
"Uh. Not quite trustworthy."
The fox nods, grinning. "Good. Tamarack and I may make a break for it tomorrow, during the match. Maybe you could come too; bring your friends. Tamarack may with to go through with the Ash, but I do not think whatever is in that vault is worth our freedom. ...You seem...good. Sleep well." And with a flurry of flames, like leaves in the wind, the fox wisps back under the door, leaving Brysar in his exhausted confusion.
Uncertainty lingering on their psyche, the Owls gather after they've awoken, just before dawn, and discuss what they know. It's clear that Tamarack (the young man) and the fire fox are rare creatures indeed, and even they are unique in their own rights, and with the new information on Renka, no one cares about winning this tournament. They hatch their plan A) go to the match, watch for the fox's signal, snatch Renka, and get the heck out when they see an opening...and they're prepared to go through Eron if it comes to it. While they close this discussion, Nikz spies movement under Notloc's bed...a pair of red eyes and matted fur...and snatches it.
Nikz pulls a struggling, mewling rat from under the bed. "He has eyes everywhere..." Eli mutters. Darrak punches the rat and it, like an exhale of breath, disperses in arcane smoke. The group sinks in the realization that their whole plan was probably overheard by SOMEONE...
Brysar suddenly remembers that Find Familiar has a range with which a caster can see or hear through the creature (100 feet), and Eli, remembering Sir Eron's detailed cane, casts Locate Object upon it.
75 feet to the north...and moving.
Wasting no time, the Owls crash out of their room and chase after the retreating wizard as he polymorphs into a hawk. Greaves of haste, dimension doors, and some quick thinking later, the Owls, with Tamarack and the fox joining them, chase Sir Eron to the arena...and find it filled with an audience, each wearing the face of the old wizard. He rises from the silent audience, exclaiming that he has not had a band of warriors that could test him so well...and as he speaks, his form elongates and contorts into that of a Drider.
The fight is devastating on multiple fronts as Kai returns to defend his master and the Owls must contend with a foe they do not wish to hurt. Powerful spells like Disintegrate, Finger of Death, and Meteor Swarm are hurled onto the party, but Tamarack and his fox are there to heal and augment the abilities of their new allies. Late in the fight, the wizard has had enough, and banishes both Eli and Darrak to separate planes of existence, leaving Xun, Brysar, Nikz, and Notloc to finish the fight on their own. Tamarack notices that Renka appears not in his right mind, and uses his Power Word Sleep to subdue him, taking some of the pressure off, but it is Xun who lands the killing blow by catching an arrow shot from Nikz and jamming it into the thorax of the creature. The Drider explodes in arcane energy, leaving no trace of Sir Eron behind, and Minxy, the fox, retrieves those trapped in other planes (only Darrak by now).
Nikz summons his portal into the Feywild bank, and everyone piles in, just as the Hobgoblin guard begin to rush into the arena. Tamarack gives a salute, then a rude gesture, and the door closes...
Session close at: 2:30am
Casting MVP by Brysar. Well done.
Adventurers Present: Nikz (Elf, Fighter/Rogue - 10), Darrak (Dwarf, Monk - 12), Roonil (Human, Rogue - 5),
Riswynn (Dwarf, Druid - 11), Xun Fu (Half-Orc, Monk - 10), Gosef (Wizard - 10), Eli (Dragonborn, Paladin - 12), Surik (High Elf, Wizard - 6).
Party of 8 - Levels 5+
Riswynn and Nikz Wander
While Batale meditates and the others rest, Riswynn and Farideh take one of the adjoining tunnels for a walk. Making their way up this winding tunnel, the pair pause as they hear two massive impacts that shake the earth around them, then crunching (chewing) sounds, followed by more impacts. Continuing up, they come across a medium-sized opening into a very large underground rainforest...and immediately see a gigantic turtle. It roams through this forest, crunching trees under huge feet, only to have them rapidly regrow as it passes over them. The creature gives them little notice, instead opting to munch on the trees nearby.
Farideh, curious as always, zips forward through the opening, gliding over the tree line and settling on the great shell of the creature. She pads and kneads around for a few seconds, then curls up on its back, starting to nap as the creature moves deeper into the forest. Riswynn, frustrated, to no end, pulls as much chocolate as she owns from her back, beckoning the faerie dragon (after some coaxing) back. Farideh finally perks up, sniffing the air, and like a bolt of lightning, returns to Riswynn's shoulder, happily inhaling the chocolate. With a sigh and a pat, Riswynn makes her way back to the group.
Meanwhile, Nikz and Koriasaka make their way down a tunnel on the opposite end...and after only about twenty feet or so, the earth gives way to a set of stone steps and the pair emerge into a barracks. Nikz counts cell doors and rooms, each empty, and comes upon the guard station. A strong table surrounded by chairs, one is turned over; a fine, drawn map sits upon the table, sets of dried quills, parchment, and polyhedral dice cover the table, as well as a sharpened marble wand and a wrapped quarterstaff, resting against the arm of one of the chairs. There are also two ornate treasure chests in the far corner of the room.
Scooping up a set of discarded gauntlets and the wand, Nikz saunters over to the two chests. One trunk, already flipped open, appears to have a barrel within it. The other, further beautified by gold trim and silver braces, appears to be closed and locked. Flipping the barrel up within the trunk, Nikz lifts the lid to reveal that it is filled to the brim with platinum pieces. Before diving headfirst into THAT, Nikz goes to the closed chest and notices that there is a key already stuck in the lock. He turns it and the lid flips open to reveal an ornate set of golden gauntlets, helmet, and belt.
Seeing this, then staring back at the barrel of platinum, Nikz reaches one hand into the barrel to begin counting the riches. As he reaches in, the pile of coins liquifies, instead shifting into a large, writhing pink tongue that wraps around his arm. The edges of the barrel stretch and whine as rows of teeth and bulbous yellow eyes begin to pop open. The adjacent chest also shifts, growing sets of gleaming, sharp teeth, rows of yellow, tumor-like eyes opening with sickening clicks and smacking sounds. A pair of Mimics lurch toward the elf...as he commands Koriasaka to use her breath weapon on them.
Planting her scaled feet, the spectral rears back and unleashes a torrent of freezing breath upon the lurching duo. They are easily frozen solid, then immediately shatter, the illusion melting away to nothing. The corner now empty, the elf spies a small brass plaque tacked to the base of the wall. It reads: "Riches Hinder Wisdom."
Riswynn returns from her happy excursion as Nikz returns from his frustrating one, just as Batale's alarm begins to go off.
They watch as he produces and assembles a strange wind instrument; constructed from hollowed bone and dried organs, it produces a haunting, but harmonized sound, as Batale plays a familiar tune...an ancient lullaby. Riswynn and Xun immediately perk up, recognizing the eerie melody, and the druid feels Eilir begin to resonate along with the tune. Riswynn mentions this and Batale raises an eyebrow. "You know of the lullaby? We use it to usher the dead back to the Nexus. Which reminds me..." as he looks into the eyes of each of the group, "I must still be dreaming. Shall we go?"
The Temple of Seven Wings
Before Riswynn can protest, the group begins to rise. Instead, the druid asks of the turtle she found - Batale refers to it as "another one of his charges," but says nothing more. "This way." Batale knocks twice on the wall between the fourth and fifth tenets, and it folds away, like a carpet being rolled up.
He leads them up and around a complex interwoven system of tunnels, finally emerging into a dense rainforest. Riswynn recognizes the space immediately, and all stand in awe at the gigantic turtle that looms over them. Batale assures them that it is safe, and they weave their way underneath him, the Illithid patting the thing's stomach on the way through, coming to a set of five pools. Batale goes to the fourth one, diving into it and beginning to swim. Many of the party pause here, unsure of what to do.
Eli steps forward and splashes on the surface of the water. After a few moments, the Illithid reappears. "Yes?"
"We can't breathe underwater. We're not ghosts, we can't-
Batale grabs the dragonborn's foot. Eli feels slits appear in his neck and upper head, suddenly aware that he now possesses gills... "Uh, the rest of them will have trouble too..."
"Oh, I know. You go first; you'll sink just fine."
Eli steps into the water. "Oh yes I will..." And promptly sinks to the bottom.
One by one, Batale grants each Owl the ability, and they begin to swim through the underwater tunnels within the island. Sapphire shards, some as big as Xun's forearms, jut out from complex veins in the walls. As they swim, a few even break free from the earth, floating around them... and Eli palms one, followed by Nikz, Roonil, and Darrak.
After about 150 feet, the group emerges into an underwater canyon. They watch Batale swim ahead toward a set of stone steps that lead out of the water, but as they look, their vision slides instead downward to a crumbling, highly detailed temple with seven spires, each designated by a specific stone bust upon its nadir. Each statue seems to depict a specific creature or symbol. One, a massive stone Roc; another, an armored, grinning panther; a tree made of hands, all clasped in one direction around a a sundial whose center appears to be a heavy maul; an armored knight with a hammer and anvil; a crow with a cracked beak; and finally a large, hulking four-armed creature with chains wrapped around its forearms and waist, wielding two grizzly tridents and screaming at something in the distance. This latter-most is particularly detailed, with a beard of sculpted thorns rising into wreathed flames and blowing backward into shards of ice. The seventh appears to missing many chunks, and what remains is shapeless.
Darrak swims close to the panther statue, rubbing its head, while Nikz swims down to the tree, pressing his tattooed palm into it. A moment passes... Then the stone hands rapidly begin moving, each shifting position, until they all face the opposite direction, and the sundial shifts from noon to 1:00. It moves no more.
Now on the surface, Riswynn asks if that temple was to The Seven. Batale nods.
"We may have met some of them."
"Heh. Many do...on their way to de' Nexus."
"Jenora... Anai'Stra... Oof-
At the mention of 'Jenora,' Batale stops moving, Riswynn bumping into him as he whirls on her. "When you see Jenora, let her know. 'I am ready.'" He turns, and continues up the steps.
Darrak chimes in. "We could introduce you to her!"
"I'll meet her soon."
Eli now steps up. "You don't have to be dead to talk to her."
"The gods do not toil with mortals. If they dare to do that, they have corrupted themselves."
Darrak: "Or maybe someone broke a rule somewhere, I don't know..."
"Rules maintain sanity. And order. Peace of mind. ...To break them is to break oneself."
Searching for a retort, the group reaches the top of the steps, entering a domed rocky valley that stretches out before them. A stone bridge passes over a deep ravine about 30 feet into the cavern, and sets a path directly toward a mossy, rusted tower and spiral stairs, all leading up to a glass case at its peak. Copper threads run up the side of the tower and are glowing a radiant gold. Batale stops short upon reaching the top, staring at the tower. "It is on?" he mutters, "Why is it on?" Then he sprints toward it, Riswynn following close behind...
An Eye for a Storm
Eli, Riswynn, Xun, and Darrak all rush forward with Batale, while the rest cross the bridge but stay back, cautious of what is next. Eli notices that the rocks within ten feet of the tower appear to be floating just off the ground, and a subtle electric energy emanates from the structure. Batale does not rush up the stairs, instead rounding to the back of the structure, muttering to himself as he goes.
The first four follow, and watch Batale kneel at a bundle of interwoven roots and branches, all "plugged" into the back of the tower. As they watch, it appears that the roots are breathing. It looks like a gnarled set of four plants: a deep black root, a vibrant amber, a crystalline blue, and a radiant gold. They form a conduit into the tower.
Riswynn: "Why is it not supposed to be on?"
"It... isn't. But it is trying to be." Batale seems just as confused at the party feels.
Xun: "What happens if it is on?"
"The engine ignites and one can control the travel of de' island. ...I don't know what brought us into de' sky - we're supposed to be in the dark..." He continues to stare at the 'engine.'
Xun and Riswynn then feel a slight clinking, like someone tapping on glass, above them. A quick sprint to the top of the tower shows them that the glass case is actually a crystalline barrier filled with white smoke. Peering inside, they see a lovely Aasimar woman clad in deep furs and gleaming bronze armor. Piercing eyes framed by pewter and amethyst hair meet their gaze, and a patient smile warms her face. As the smoke inside begins to clear, they also see a sapphire great sword and ruby pike, each imbedded in the stone of the tower. Deep violet eye shadow accents her icy blue eyes, running rivulets of color down her pale face. She waves...as Xun attacks the crystal, sending cracks across the frame, then shattering it.
As it shatters, they watch her hold up her hand and an arcane shield protects them from the falling bits. Now free of the chamber, her smile broadens and a warm glow emanates from her presence. Reaching down, she grasps the hilts of the weapons, pulling them from the stone as if from water, and sets them upon her back. They have no sheathes...they simply attach to her. Riswynn starts, "Uh, Batale did not tell us your name..."
"He would not, would he? I am Toryana Snowfinch. Pleased to make your acquaintance." She holds out her hand and bows. "I do apologize, I dinna' mean for that to be so...violent. It seems the engine has begun is cycle early."
"Can you explain what the engine being on...means?"
"Aye. It allows us to fly. Although, the stars are confusin'. We went down to the dark to reach the sky...have we landed?"
"Are we moving'?"
The Owls check the subtle rumblings of the island, taking note of the stars they can clearly see through the canyon running through the room. Though the stars appear to have shifted, the island seems to have stopped. Eilir slowly eroding in her pocket, Riswynn takes charge of the conversation. "We came here to investigate this island; what we believed to be a falling star..."
Toryana's celestial features turn with interest to the dwarf. "You came here to investigate, ye say? ...Before you go on, darlin', what be your rank and faction? I'd like to know that first, before I can understand with type of insurgents ye fit into." Her body language shifts slightly, towering over Riswynn. This is an imposing creature; powerful, and very old.
Riswynn steals herself, reaching inside her robes and pulling out a small box. She opens it to reveal the rapidly eroding form of Eilir. At first, Toryana tilts her head in amusement at the action, then her eyes widen with realization. She reaches gently into the box, and pulls up the stone, streams of dust and ash now flowing freely from the form. As Eilir sobs into Riswynn's mind, a pulse of icy blue energy stays the erosion... And another pours stonework into her form. Eilir becomes quiet, but Riswynn can feel her breathing steady. "There, there, little one."
"Are you the Eye?"
Toryana continues to cradle and gently pet the rock, all of her focus upon Eilir. She answers Riswynn almost as an afterthought. "Aye. I am the Eye of the Split Ember. ...Though this one is not from me clan - that's okay. I was feelin' a bit lonely anyway." The Aasimar's eyes suddenly meet Riswynn's. "I can help her." And her focus returns to Eilir. "Don't you worry about a thing. I'll take good care a' you..." She begins to hum a familiar lullaby, just under her breath. It is incomplete, but beautiful and haunting nonetheless as she becomes completely absorbed in comforting the Esper heart. "There's plenty of work to do."
"She...might be the last."
"The last what, darlin'?"
Toryana's grin widens. "No, she ain't the last one, darlin'. I'm still here."
Xun chimes in. "And Batale, he is also an Esper?"
There is a flash of sadness across her face, followed by a measure of pity. "Batale? As much as I love him..." She calls down to the base of the tower. "Hey deary?"
Batale straightens at attention. "Yes, m'lady?"
"Are you an Esper?"
The Illithid bows his head a little, looking off to the side. "No, m'lady."
Pleased with this answer, Toryana returns to her humming for a few moments. "Though he is better than fifty of any soldier who has ever served me... Where did ye' find this heart? She's shakin' like a leaf." They watch as Eilir's form swells to the size of an orange, beating stronger now. Riswynn and Xun begin to talk over each and stammer a reply, so she holds up a hand. A pulse of pink energy moves into Eilir, the same energy mirroring in the painted eyes of the Aasimar. She sighs, as the memories flash before her. "Oh. Oh, I see. No, no... No more need to do such dangerous work. No wonder you lost your Link, ye' poor girl. All you could do was perpetuate your purpose... No more, little one. We shall forge you a new purpose." And with that, they watch Toryana open a fold in her coat, placing Eilir over her heart.
Riswynn, growing concern in her voice, "What will you do with her?"
Toryana pats her heart. "She will tell me the state of world, her dead clan's tactics, and we can surmise our next target, if there is one. ...First I need to commune with Jenora and locate-
"Oh! I know her!"
Just as with Batale, this mention of familiarity with one of The Seven stops Toryana in her tracks, an intense and suspicious gaze enveloping the dwarf. "Darlin', I do not sense a Heart inside you. In fact, I sense no Hearts among your allies, either..."
Meanwhile, down below... No one has heard a thing. They can see a conversation, the exchange, and the perceived fate of Eilir, but can hear none of the words spoken. Darrak calls out from below, "WHAT'S GOING ON!!?" before taking another shot of alcohol, while Eli tries to read body language. Batale watches his lady, his face a mask of neutrality.
Up above, Riswynn sees the animated form of Darrak, his mouth opening and closing, but cannot hear him. Feeling the rising tension up here, she attempts to diffuse the situation, but Toryana interrupts her again, taking a step closer to the dwarf. "Which begs the question, how'd ye' get in? The last ones who came slung spells, and Batale cut them to ribbons in moments..."
"We had a lift."
"A lift, you say? Now that's a new one." Toryana's eyes grow dark, the shadows clinging to her form, pressing in on Riswynn. "See, the last insurgents tried to teleport in... incinerated by wards; the rest used polymorph, but they weren't expecting my Spire."
"I don't think most of us can teleport..."
Toryana suddenly backs off, smiling. "Oh! Then I should call you the Fourth."
"Do they not tell the soldiers where they're goin' anymore?"
"No. No they don't." Riswynn is getting increasingly nervous. Farideh appears on her shoulder, coiling protectively.
"That's a lovely creature you have..." Toryana takes another step toward Riswynn.
Xun Fu moves onto the platform next to her. "And just who do you think we are?"
The Eye's focus flits toward the half-orc with spite. "The last one of you I saw cut down me brother."
"Then it's a good thing I'm not like most half-orcs."
She looks at his vestments. "Aye, that you are not." She addresses the two of them. "So am I to assume you are NOT here to kill me?"
"...No?" Riswynn ventures a reply and Toryana regards her slowly, her face a mask of emotions. The amethyst ends of her hair to shift colors and tones as stares through her, the electricity in the air rising, crackling on the edges of her hearing. There is just a touch of a wicked grin.
And the feeling snaps away. "Then in that case!" And with a clap of her hands, the cone of Silence falls, and Xun and Riswynn are assaulted by the calls of their allies. Toryana holds up a hand to address the crowd of adventurers. "Sorry! Sorry, just had to have a private conversation..."
Darrak offers her beer, Roonil complements her accent, while Nikz waves and yells, "I love your castle!"
Toryana addresses the group with a jovial air, almost effervescent, regardless of what she is saying. She brings up the subject of Jenora, and each Owl shares their experiences with her, one bringing up that she is actually a member of the Tenrook. This word perplexes the Eye, and they explain that they are the Owls' leaders. This peaks her interest. "Your leaders, you say?"
The Eye's voice suddenly turns to one side and addresses no one. "What do ye' think, sister?" Her head then turns the other direction, her voice dropping a little, only a few hertz, seemingly addressing no one. "I think we should listen to them." Now in agreement with herself, her mirthful expression returns.
There is a pause in the group as they take in this display.
"What age do you think it is?" Darrak and Riswynn call out together.
"Well, time is strange when you're fighting for your life..." Similar to Batale, Toryana stares off into the distance. "Ye' see, with how many times we've been lied to, ye' stop counting the days... Maybe a survey corps, a secret order of bird creatures (Darrak stifles a sound), a gaggle of alchemists... It's no longer a sense of when we are, only who's knocking at the door." Her smile betrays the rising tide of anger in her voice. "They often come in saying nice things like, 'We love your castle,' 'we like your turtle,' 'can we keep him?', and then they try to slit poor Batale's throat when I'm not lookin'. He's missing a few tentacles from that." The smile once again returns. "Ye' know, it'd be rude of me to continue addressin' ye' all from me high tower... So I'm gonna' come down, and I'd love to have a conversation with ye' all." And she begins to descend the spiraling stairs.
"But, what year do you think it is?" Riswynn pries on the way down.
"It's not important, darlin'. What matters is the state of the world."
Now on their level, the other Owls take in the sight of the Eye; her pleasant smile, accompanied by an air of authority, while nonetheless commanding immense respect and untapped power. Riswynn, still uncertain, feels the small pulse of something she can't identify...but it keeps her wary of this entity.
The Owls fill her in on the state of the world, with Darrak interjecting with drunkenness. She learns that, for the most part, there is peace on the continent of Erena, and that the Owls were just successful in defeating a dracolich lord named Narizguun, helping to usher in said peace. They gather that Toryana and Batale, at least to some degree, were aware of the Storm of Dragons, but at that time they were still sitting somewhere in the dark of the Aether, seeking a way to the stars.
Nikz mentions that they received help from Jenora and The Many, two of The Seven, and Toryana addresses him directly. "Why would a mortal need help from the gods, and how would they help such a creature?" Eli, Riswynn, Darrak, Xun, Gosef, and Nikz all help to share the tale of the battle, as well as the artifact leading up to it; the Trials in the Barrens, the Seed of Oblivion, and the fact that Nikz passed the sword on to Eli for the battle proper, who then was able to pass it to another. Toryana listens to the story with a mask of bemusement, taking in each detail. Nikz shows her his tattoo, and though she pokes fun at him, she acknowledges the existence of The Many. "Aye, a complete jerk and trickster, but he is useful when he needs to be. Heh, must be hard with only ten hands..."
Nikz is confused. "I thought there were thousands of hands..."
"Why would there be so many? What need would be so great? Heh. Have we corrupted the world so much to require so much help?"
When asked of Jenora (Eli), she smiles again. "She grants peace. Buries the souls of the dead. If one is to return, we seek reincarnation, and she guides as to the form that body will take. Her songs help guide the stars."
Eli explains that Jenora has been more "active" since he has known her, and tells Toryana all he knows of the god. She seems very interested in the fact that although Eli knows that Bahamut is one of Jenora's progeny, he still chooses to align himself with the platinum dragon. He says that he respects Jenora and her guidance, to which Toryana replies, "Respect demands loyalty." But Eli defends his position.
The Eye begins addressing the rest of the room, complimenting Roonil on his lack of contribution to this faith discussion. "I think that flavor of pure faith would do very well in my ranks." Seeing Riswynn's look of horror, she continues, "Oh, don't worry, Eilir won't be doin' that again. Maybe she'll be a Spire!" She then looks at Xun, "Seems she had little trouble punchin' the lights outta' you."
Xun smiles. "Because I was a threat."
"Are you a threat now?"
"Not unless you are."
A wide grin spills across her face. "Aye. I see."
Surik introduces himself and she seems to like his name. "How exotic! Sounds like me old home town. Were you perhaps an Esper in your past life?"
The illusionist does not know how to respond. "How would I know that?"
Her head lowers a little, eyes almost feral. "Would ye' like to?" Another awkward, tense moment passes, nervous chuckles all around, until she smiles again. "Well, you're all quite intriguing. Very interesting. Uh, ye' haven't disappeared yet, so, I'm sorry darlin', I don't think they're ghosts."
Addressing the group again. "Could anyone tell me the state of the Ferusian Wilds?"
It takes the group a moment or two to connect the dots, but Nikz and Darrak explain that the Wilds became a place called The Barrens, but that was destroyed, and now the Wilds might be re-seeding itself.
"Good. Good to know. Batale, darlin'..."
Batale moves to her side, and listens. Strange pops, clicks, and inverted inflection escape Toryana's lips. It is a language none recognize...except for Riswynn, who activates her Circlet of the Apocalypse to cast Comprehend Languages.
...Then sidles over to Eli, whispering in Draconic, "We may want to get out of here."
As Toryana smiles once more. "Now, I hold nothing against you, but if the world has evolved this much. ...It's time for us to evolve too. But maybe you can rise above your station today, too. Cross that bridge and you are free to go...stay, fight, and you can be mine."
The first to move is Batale, who looks down for just a moment, addressing Eli, "I take no pleasure in this, but she is my Eye." before drawing his swords and leaping into the air. His form slams down onto the mid-point in the bridge, and he readies himself for the first Owl to run. Riswynn explains what she heard to the group, this time in common, which was "Keep them busy." The dwarf then casts Moonbeam and holds it, targeting Batale.
Surik casts Slow on Toryana...and it fizzles as she Counterspells it. "Fine." He trudges to the edge of the canyon...then casts Misty Step. Surik's form SLAMS into a sonic wall, seemingly tethered to two invisible rods that flash into existence as he impacts them, tumbling into the chasm. Below him, he feels the cold rush of open night air and grips the rocks, desperately clinging to life.
Gosef approaches the bridge, stopping at its edge, and asks with innocence, "Can I pass?" Batale blinks twice, staring at the wizard. "I do apologize." and Gosef watches one of his blades extend at the hilt on a thin chain and swing toward his face. A Moonbeam shines down upon the Illithid's face and he swings low, instead cleaving into the wizard's chest. The strike spreads cold frost over Gosef's body, slowing his actions, so he downs a new brew to help him with spell attacks in the future (Mortimer's Blessing). Batale looks up at the warm radiance of the Moonbeam, and takes a deep breath, taking it in. Riswynn watches as the radiant light burns an inviting green around him, like smoke, that he breathes in. She ends the spell, convinced that radiant energy heals him.
Nikz attempts to find the best vantage point to shoot Batale... And the arrow impacts just above Surik's head. Nikz then readies a Seeking Arrow, cursing under his breath, pushes through the mental Sanctuary, sinking the arrow into Batale's shoulder. With arrow still sticking out of him, the Illithid's eyes drift to Nikz across the battlefield. "Oh. There you are. Nice shot!"
As Nikz grumbles, the earth next to him erupts in flame, as a large Fire Elemental emerges from the torrent. Toryana looks to the bridge, and a second Fire Elemental rises up next to Gosef, slamming him to the ground with one flaming fist. Roonil laments, "It just got a lot harder to cross that bridge."
The Eye then addresses Eli, beckoning him to her. "Blasphemer. Come here and play with me instead." As she casts Compelled Duel, which Eli resists. She's actually insulted.
Xun is also insulted. "Why are you doing this!?"
"You have corrupted the gods. I shall remind them of their place."
"I am not responsible for others' actions! One is only responsible for themselves."
"And yet you find yourself in this predicament nonetheless. So what're you gonna' do about it?"
"...I'm a threat if you are." Xun rushes forward, his first blow swinging wide, the second connecting, and the last two unable to find purchase. A mental fog keeps him from connecting with her body. With a grin, Toryana summons a small tsunami that rushes over Xun and those around him, soaking and tumbling them toward the canyon...or within the range of a Fire Elemental. Roonil rushes forward, sliding under an elemental, and just can't fight through the mental fog to strike, instead opting to disengage and create some distance.
Eli, now soaking wet, rises to address the Eye. "You're looking for the Hearthstone. Why couldn't you make allies instead of enemies?"
"I have no use for blasphemers too blind to make the clear choice of the Seven. The son is always weaker than their maker."
"You have to understand that times have changed. You're locked in the past."
"Then I shall venture forth, and see for myself this new world. Free from the lies I have learned from the past. Nothing but my own can be trusted."
With a sigh, Eli activates his Ring of Enlargement, growing ten feet tall. He then begins to push her toward the edge. As he does so, the tower begins to vibrate, circles of white growing in intensity upon the top. Riswynn and Eli communicate in draconic about the possibility that the tower is charging up for something, and they bring up the matter of the bundle of roots at the back of it. As Darrak dashes past two elementals, getting smacked on the way, toward Batale, Riswynn begins sneaking (poorly) toward the back of the tower. Darrak flings a grappling hook just above Surik's head, and prepares to grapple Batale if the Illithid attacks him.
Batale is difficult to read, his face a mask of neutrality, but he sticks one blade into the bridge, and reaches down to where Surik has grasped the rope. The illusionist begins to slip, and Batale grabs the grappling hook, pulling it from the earth. For a moment, Surik hangs - suspended over the abyss. ...The Illithid pulls Surik to the bridge and sets him down in front of him, then pulls him around by the throat, pressing a blade up to the wizard. "No. One. Cross."
Riswynn continues to sprint toward the back of the tower, and just before she rounds the back, Toryana's voice sends a chill up her spine. "Now, now...what are you doin' over there?"
"No, you couldn't see me! I was SNEAKING!" Riswynn pleads to the universe, as swirling mass of water and air appears about 20 feet behind her, a Water Elemental undulating toward her.
Surik, still held by the throat, attempts to cast Slow once more on Toryana. No sooner than he begins to speak the words is his throat released and the pommel of the sword crashed into his skull. ...Everyone watches Surik's form go limp and collapse onto the bridge. Gosef disengages from the Fire Elemental and runs.
The group continues to deal with the elementals, steering clear of Batale, whether by choice or mental fog, and it comes back to Toryana and an enlarged Eli squaring off. "Wonder what you'll look like a little smaller..." She points at the dragonborn...and he turns into a little white mouse. Xun, drying off, dashes back to the Eye, attempting to pummel - he is half successful. Roonil does his best not to step on Eli, trying to cut Toryana down to size - slicing wide every time, and disengages. It is a beautifully ineffective flurry of steel. Toryana, drawing her sapphire great sword, waves it over her head in an arc, and five motes of starlight pour out, dropping around the battlefield. They pulse with explosive energy. Eli The Mouse...is still a mouse. And runs around in circles of fear.
Darrak attempts to throw Grumakon's Sleight (a blink-forward dagger), can't seem to target Batale, so he throws past him. The blade travels over the canyon, but Darrak's form blinks forward and slams into the same barrier Surik ran into. Now on the bridge with Batale, the monk attempts to grapple him, fails miserably, then unloads his Wand of Magic Missiles on Toryana, with one bolt sinking into Eli's mouse. There is a horrible squeak of pain, and Eli has reappeared. The monk, now pleased with his contributions, attempts to leave, only to press against the barrier. Still next to the swashbuckler, a cold blade sinks into his side.
Riswynn is staring at a bundle of roots, an undulating mass of water slamming wet wave fists onto her. It is very annoying, so she sends Farideh forward and the little faerie dragon spews her Euphoric Breath upon the creature. Sparkly purple and pink glittering gas enters the liquid form of the elemental, turning it a dense purple. It begins to vibrate strangely, lurching backwards at full speed until splatters, then glides along the wall out of her sight. It is confusing, but entertaining. Now free of distraction, Riswynn begins to decode the four roots...then proceeds to rip them apart, wielding objects and magic to slowly wither each unique root. The black root is easily severed and withered by a blade, and it leaks black ink...then a noxious, purple gas begins to flow out. Riswynn gives is some SPACE.
Surik, not actually unconscious on the bridge, sends a message...to Batale. Gosef tries to create distance for himself, just as the motes of starlight EXPLODE around the battlefield, sending shocks of lightning across many of the travelers. Nikz, devolving into a puddle of cursing at this point, uses his shield to flip one of the elementals onto his back, then slices into it with his Ripping Sword (stealing Dexterity). That same elemental then rises, and slams down one flaming fist on the elf.
Toryana casts Fire Storm to unleash hell, a stream of rolling fire washing over and overlapping some of the party. As the flames die away, Gosef's body lays smoking on the ground... Xun downs a potion, and gets back to work attacking the Eye, feeling the barrier of Sanctuary finally shatter with his first impact, and continues punching her. Roonil also downs a potion, slicing into Toryana's shoulder, then Eli attempts to shove her after hasting himself. Darrak thumps into a wall again, as Batale, after taking a quick look at his Lady, steps past the monk, through the barrier, and picks up the blink dagger. A furious Darrak takes the bait, stepping through the barrier (no problem) to follow him. The monk makes to grapple the Illithid, but as he moves closer, Batale spins the blade and presents the hilt to him. A confused Darrak stops the attack and accepts the blade back.
A small pantomime exchange happens between the two...then Batale backhands the monk. Darrak makes a big show of falling down and staying down. From across the battlefield, Toryana looks over, "Batale, darlin', you appear to be slipping. Too many are still standing. Take care of it, please."
"Of course, my Lady." Batale then draws his blades...and rends Darrak's head from his shoulders. Before panic can set in, Riswynn takes note of the Minor Illusion of the beheading, as Batale meets her gaze and nods ever so slightly. The Spire then meets Eli's gaze, nods, then takes a step forward, and becomes invisible. Riswynn now returns to the root engine; and dons the Gauntlet of Vost, and grabs the bundle of roots.
Lightning courses through the dwarf, but she holds on, the bundle of roots changing to a solid gold block. Several things happen at once. 1) The shaking of the island stops; 2) the engine detaches from the tower; 3) Toryana spins around and stares at the tower; 4) everyone feels a little more weightless...as the island begins to tip and fall. "Now, now, darlin', ye' may want to turn that back on? Do ye' wanna' die?"
"Too late!" Riswynn happily exclaims. "I'm a ghost and I'm stealthed so you can't see me!"
"Well, ye' soon will be." And Toryana teleports right next to the druid, a look of crazed anger on her face, and sinks her glaive and great sword into her. Surik hops back up from his place on the floor, casting Misty Step and running toward the tower...right past Gosef's corpse, as the last puff of air leaves his body. Nikz Misty Steps toward the tower, then turns his bow on the Elementals, damaging one and dropping the other. The one that is still standing...he watches as a cold blade enters its chest from the back and cleaves upward through the face, the whole form freezing over and shattering on the ground.
At this point, the whole island begins to list to the right. Stones, and bodies, tumble toward the open chasm as cracks begin to form in the floor. With this, Toryana jams her glaive into the earth and tries to shift the ground under Darrak's feet and Gosef's body, breaking the wall open on the far right of the room. The tower begins to spin and slide, the roots holding it in place now severed (and gold). Toryana slams her great sword into the side of the tower, trying to hold it in place.
Xun sprints around to her back, and...readies an attack. Riswynn, now face to face with Toryana, feels that tiny emotion again - coupled with sobs. She attunes to the sound, and recognizes it as Eilir. "Something is wrong with her. Spires protect Eyes - Eyes don't act this way. She isn't an Eye!"
Roonil runs onto the top of the tower and leaps onto the False Eye, slicing deep enough to cause her to drop the great sword. It clatters behind her. "Somebody pick that up!" a few start to move toward it, but a hand glides out of the veil and pulls it away... "GHOSTS!"
Eli sprints to Gosef and picks him up, casting Revivify. Light pours from Eli's gauntlet through Gosef's body and he is resurrected. "Don't. Move." Eli instructs him. Darrak uses Step of the Wind to leap over the chasm, as a gust of wind bursts him even higher, and he lands on the tower. The monk tosses a brew to an ally, as the tower cracks, spins, tips, then tumbles over the side, bursting through the wall, and falling into the Aether below. Luckily, Darrak took another leap off.
Toryana attempts to remove Roonil from her space, fails, and requests, "Would you mind gettin' off me, please?"
"Don't think I can do that, lass."
"Fine." And she Misty Steps out of his grip... Right next to Xun, who happily exclaims. "Hey! That counts!" and attacks, pummeling her with blows.
Through all of this, even as the tower falls, and the island begins to tear itself apart, Toryana is still smiling. "Well, this is gonna' be wonderful. We'll fall into the abyss together. Meet all me friends - beholders, demons, raw elemental life. I gotta' tell ye', I've got a load of doppelgängers that'd love to meet you..."
At which point, her own great sword is pressed through her torso, followed by four hot and cold slices into her form from behind, holding her in place, as Batale Thuul shimmers into view. "I knew you were not my Lady. No Lady leaves their Spire to rot in perpetual hell!"
Riswynn looks to the Spire for clarification. He nods. "Take her. Take your Key." The dwarf nods and fishes inside Toryana's robes, pulling out Eilir's beating stone heart, which is continuing to grow.
Toryana's pleasant demeanor and accent are destroyed as a vicious, haggard voice spits venom and vitriol at the dwarf. "How dare you take what is mine from me! I will collect them all! My soldiers - how dare you!"
As she holds it, Eilir's voice emanates from the stone, veins of ruby now forming around the surface. "I belong with them now." Her form continues to swell, raw elemental power flowing from her. "They are my purpose now."
The roof splits apart, revealing the beautiful night sky as it begins to spin, the island now violently breaking apart. The larger side of this room cracks and separates from the rest of the structure, falling past the clouds. A few take note quickly of the bits of trees, rocks, rivers, and a large turtle, falling into the black below. The confused water elemental tips and tumbles and spills over the side. The group gathers toward Riswynn, who transforms into a giant eagle, more cracks giving way in the floor.
"I will crush - I will destroy - I will-
A rogue Surik appears next to her. "Stop. Get help." And curses her. She struggles against the grapple, but Batale grinds his blade into her, keeping her in place. Xun moves up, "I'm done with you." And as she snarls, with one crack of the bow, her spine snaps, and doppelgänger reverts to its ghastly form, the body being beheaded by Batale and kicked over the side.
Everyone thinks "Vixx." Be there in 30. "30 what???" ...Silence.
As the group gathers and prepares for a very uncomfortable free fall, Eli's eyes drift to Batale, standing alone, contemplating the crumbling edge.
Eli rushes over to him and attempts to pick him up, which he easily deflects. "I think you have much more good you can do. This isn't dying in battle!"
Batale instead looks to the eagle, speaking in Auran. "Is she with you?" Riswynn confirms. "Good." And Batale takes two steps off the edge into the clouds. The Owls' hearts sink a bit for his loss, but they have little time to grieve, as the earth shatters at their feet. In mid-air, with giant eagle, rope, and Skybridger potions, the party enters free fall, but slowly.
Powerful winds crash against the group, buffeting hair, clothes, and some trajectory, but they keep each other steady by linking hands. They pass through the gray clouds, and look down to see the ever-expanding blackness of the Aether, looming dark and inviting beneath them.
"WHERE'S VIXX!?" yells Gosef, while the rest take deep breaths. As they watch, flashes of gold and an eerie green light burst in the black, as a giant yellow eye opens. Then another, and another, and another...until hundreds of eyes on hundreds of stalks begin to rise to meet them.
...As it is obscured by the tanned feathers of a massive Roc, as Vixx crashes into view, catching the group, inches from the edge. These black tendrils begin wrap around her as she beats her wings, and the group begins slashing and fire bolting to break free. With a burst of air, Vixx frees her wings and begins to lift upward...but a thorny tentacle lashes around one of her talons, a set of eye stalks rising over the party. And they see another form, gliding like a bolt toward them; it slices through two of the stalks, leaving a trail of fire and ice, and lands on Vixx's right wing. Eli casts Protection from Evil on the Roc - and that burst of light and aura disperses and repels the tendrils, giving Vixx just enough space to lift off proper, and begin her ascent back toward Tidespear.
Batale shakes his head, patting Vixx's back. "You are beautiful creature. Thank you for catching me..." And with a smile, and a look of gratitude to the rest of the group, "So, what is Jenora like?"
Session End: 1:30am
Adventurers Present: Nikz (Elf, Fighter/Rogue - 10), Darrak (Dwarf, Monk - 12), Roonil (Human, Rogue - 5),
Riswynn (Dwarf, Druid - 11), Xun Fu (Half-Orc, Monk - 10), Gosef (Wizard - 10), Eli (Dragonborn, Paladin - 12), Surik (High Elf, Wizard - 6).
Party of 8 - Levels 5+
Ritual and Conversation
Riswynn asks, "Who is she?"
"Heh. She is the one who torments me. The one who will drag me back to hell when I fall."
"Do you belong in hell?" Eli chimes in.
"The verdict is still out on that one, my friendly apparition."
Riswynn corrects him. "We're not dead."
"The dead visit me every day, and most dead do not know that they are dead."
"But we're NOT dead!"
Batale motions to Riswynn. "You see? This is what happens. But it's alright."
"No, listen, we came here on the back of a giant Roc-
Roonil taps Riswynn on the shoulder. "You're not helping."
Batale gives her a warm and patient smile. "Of course you did, sweetheart." He then looks down and plucks a heavy bolt from his side, offering it to Riswynn. "I believe this belongs to you." Then turns and makes his way over toward Nikz, two tentacles burrowing up from the depths on either side of him. Each clutches a strong arrow, retrieved from the water surrounding them. With a deep bow, he returns Nikz's arrows to him. "I do apologize. I have never had a ghost shoot at me before, or do so ineffectively."
He then looks down toward the small stone disk on the sand floor, as it is blinking rapidly again. "Ah, we'd best move. This will go soon." He fishes inside his coat and produces another stone just like it, lobbing it into the water about 20 feet toward the opening. With a small boom, another dome bubble appears, connecting to this one. He ushers the party through, then goes and retrieves the old on. He repeats this process many times, leading the party closer and closer to the edge of the water line.
As they move, Batale compliments Eli, "You are very effective in combat. I must ask, where did you train and then horribly die?"
Eli is perplexed. "I haven't died yet. Many things tried to kill me, but none have been successful thus far."
Nikz interjects, "Well, there was that one time a devil lord tried to collect your soul..."
"Are you still wounded from our duel?" He hands Eli a vial of red liquid. Eli takes it with apprehension, but it is happy to discover that it is a Supreme Healing Potion. Batale takes the time to check if any others require healing in his "dream," complimenting Roonil on his swordplay technique.
Darrak brings up the elephant in the room. "So what's a Mind Flayer doing here?"
"Sorry. An Illithid."
"Ah. It is a long story... So, instead, if you can imagine a band of adventurers slaughtering the one thing that connected me to all whom I love, like a thousand screams of pain being replaced by the deafening silence of exile...that, coupled with my departure due to my...holy connections, and there you have it."
Gosef is curious. "Holy connections? To who?"
"I have a feeling that you have no idea."
The Owls try to discern how long Batale has been here and he says that he does not know, as time is strange. They discover that he is well aware that the island is flying, but he does not know particularly why. At this point, he leads them to the mouth of the lake, helping each out of the water, then sets to work lighting torches and brazers with precision and practice. No motion is wasted, as if he has done this thousands of times. In a matter of seconds, the chamber is lit and the way ahead, a narrow tunnel, is illuminated.
Batale and Xun chat as they walk, the half-orc catching up to him. "So, you get visited by the dead often? Do you battle all of them?"
"Some. Others just like to talk. Like you."
"At the right moments."
"Well said. And I agree with the sentiment." He looks at the half-orc's vestments. "By your garb, I fear that you are from my past. Did you train in the Desert Wastes of Uzot? Or another orcish settlement?"
"I have not met many orcs in my life. I was raised among humans."
"Ah! An outcast ghost!" He smiles broadly, clapping Xun on the shoulder. "I know what it is like to be an outlier. Perhaps you will offer me wisdom before you pass on." And Batale, pleased with this conversation, continues past a perplexed Xun.
Pushing open a creaky door, Batale and the group emerge into a small subterranean den. A smoldering campfire has been dug into the center of the room, surrounded by eleven makeshift seats and stumps. A fine blanket is laid out near the fire, and five ornate, runic tapestries line the walls. Batale sets to work on the fire, beckoning the group to come in and sit. Within a few short moments, gentle heat fills the room.
It is now that Batale kneels upon the fine blanket, drawing his blades and setting them in a specific formation on the earth. He then produces four small clay saucer-like cups, pulling a fine cask of liquid from under a stump, and pours a little into each cup. One by one, he raises a cup to an empty space around the fire, drinking it down and setting the cup upside down upon the dirt, until one remains. He lifts it his strange lips, muttering a prayer to himself, then drinks it down, setting it as the others. At this point, the ritual complete, he sits up and quietly regards the group, waiting.
Nikz, Riswynn, and Eli become very interested in the tapestries on the wall. What first appeared as runes are actually ancient draconic, and between the three of them, they are only able to translate sections of each: travel, clashing and blades, patience, honesty, and loyalty. Eli expresses that these might be the things he lives by, and could help them. Meanwhile, Xun and Darrak also enter mediative sitting positions - one respectfully, with his bo in front of him; the other sloppily, still drinking. Regardless, Batale gives each a deep and respectful bow, which they return.
Nikz points to the tapestries. "Is this your code?"
"It is the Accord of the Seven."
"Perhaps you are ghosts of the people who have forgotten their gods."
And for the first time during the adventure, Nikz pulls out the Vicious Joke and summons the creature within. A white drak appears on all fours, the spectral dragon named Koriasaka, next to the archer. Batale seems unfazed by the creature, instead giving it a deep nod. "Hello, old one."
Without missing a beat, Koriasaka makes her way to each tapestry, translating for the group the tenets of the Seven.
All who travel are allies until proven in the Eye.
All who clash must draw blades to a close.
All grant respect and patience to the unknown.
All who serve do so honestly.
We are all loyal to the Eye, for she allows us to see and act.
Riswynn asks Eilir if she knows anything of the Illithid or these tenets, and Eilir has trouble remembering at first. She knows that the Seven here are referring to the Seven Wings of Io - to the Forgotten Gods - of which many of the Owls have had direct or indirect contact with.
Darrak begins to inquire on what Age Batale believes it to be. The Illithid says that he cannot trust himself anymore, as time is strange, but he'd love to say Temm (the First Age). The dwarf monk explains that we reside in the age of Io-Shar (the Fourth Age), but Batale does not seem to believe him or the other Owls. He does express that he finds this discourse entertaining, though.
Eilir perks up at the mention of the Eye. She explains that if a Key (her) is but a single heart, an Eye is often multiple hearts. They are the leaders of a clan, and represent the top of the hierarchy, whereas she is much lower. Between them, there are creatures called Spires, protectors of the Eye.
"Are you a Spire?"
"Yes, I am a Spire. Not what you would normally see, no, but I serve my Lady with precision and poise nonetheless."
Eli interjects. "So why does your lady send you ghosts to challenge you?"
"Ah. A different 'she.' The one that would grant me repose for a life spent with honor and dignity. While my Lady sleeps, I am haunted by my past. And I was hoping, perhaps, that you would be the duel that would finally end me. But alas, you were not strong enough."
"Do you want to be ended?" Surik asks.
"I have been alive for an eternity, and I am a warrior. I will die by the sword. My own, or my enemies. But if it is to be the former, I must be certain that there is no more need for me."
"What keeps you here?"
"My Lady is not dead. She only sleeps."
Nikz perks up. "Is she here?"
"Yes. ...Would you like to see her?" The group agrees, and Batale seems to relax even more... Then seems to hear something, looking around the room. "What is beating? There is something beating in this room. It is very loud."
Though the group panics for a moment and tries to hide Eilir from him, he reminds them that they sit in his shrine and should speak honestly. Riswynn says her name, and Batale immediately responds. "I know this name. She is a member of the Cracked Earth." The Owls all feel Eilir gasp at this. "She built us warriors, when are numbers were cut down by the Goliath Herds." Riswynn reveals Eilir's heart, now no bigger than a golf ball. The group explains that she is dying, eroding away rapidly. Batale addresses the small stone heart. "Do not worry, little one. You are not alone. Soon, you shall meet the Eye, and we will forge for you a new path."
Eli's sigh brings the Illithid's attention once more. "Yes, master Paladin? Ye who worships one of the progeny of de' Seven."
"Yes. Do you know of Bahamut?"
"I do, though he was just a pup when I knew him."
"Right. Anyway. So, our understanding is that Eilir is wasting away because she doesn't have a purpose. Are you saying that your Lady will give her a purpose again?"
"The Eyes were granted a piece of the Hearthstone as part of their, well, sign of leadership. It grants them the ability to give life, and to take it away. So, yes, she will be able to reconstitute the heart in a new vessel and give her a new job." Riswynn looks worried, staring at the heart. "I understand. My Lady can only be seen at night, and this is in two hours. We cannot do anything until then. But do not worry, the Key will not be gone in that time; we still have time."
More conversation with Batale as the Owls begin their rest reveals that he does indeed know of The Many. In fact, he speaks of them not like gods, but distant friends. He describes The Many as a powerful trickster, always poking the beast that is Grumakon; he was close friends with the Weavemaster, and was universally hated by The Crow. Many of the Owls share the artifacts and stories tied to these gods, but Batale is not convinced. "The Seven do not get involved. They would never forge weapons in their image for mortals to use."
The Spire begins to douse the torches and darken the room. "If you wish to rest, I understand. I do not sleep in this time, so if you have more important questions to ask, I will answer."
A Tale for the Dead
As the fire grows dim, Eli asks, "Who were your companions?"
Batale takes a deep breath. "They were members of the Kihon." Met with silence, he continues to explain. "Mortals born from the Eye. You see, when the Hearthstone creates life, they create a creature in whatever image they like, but there is excess energy, so they create a Link - an elemental - to follow them. All of my task force, when I was first rescued by my Lady, had lost their Links. They were in a state of mourning, seeking a new purpose. So, after the Third Wave, I gave them one. We traveled to de' Broken Continent and 'ended' a few threats to our borders; finished the fight before it could start. ...I was the only one to return." Batale's eyes glaze over a bit, staring into the flames. He begins speaking again, this time as if telling a bedtime story - something practiced over many years of telling it.
"All Espers were sculpted from the Hearth. Formed in the Nexus, before time calculated.
Kosath Vol - the Eye of the Crashing Wave. Ushered in a new era for his people when he moved inland from the Brink to the Broken Continent (Uzot). He brought with him, as a sign of peace and faith, a single shard of the Hearthstone, the mark of an Eye.
Kekza Yann, the Barbarian King of Uzot, greeted Vol with kindness and respect - as per the Accords of the Seven. Vol was delighted by the lifestyle of these people, he adored their way of life... So much so that he invited all of his clan to take part in it. Kekza held a grand banquet in Vol's honor - he spoke of a new frontier, and they all saw his greed begin to show, but it was too late. The Crashing Wave...were slaughtered. And Kekza Yann lifted the shard from Vol's beating heart, and smiled.
Yann was the first of the invaders. The Split Ember crushed him, but they remember his cruelty. The second was Aleksi Nanten, a naval war chief. The Cracked Earth stopped him. And when the third came, none learned their names. By then, I had found my lady, and I took great pleasure in defending her people. MY people.
Our kindness met with violence, the time had come to retake what was stolen. But by then, the Broken Continent had unified; Erena, they called it, "The Severed Wing." People who had forgotten their gods, cut themselves off from the old ways; and thus the Accord.
When our ships came, they screamed invasion. When they learned what we could do, they said "elemental." And when we passed over them in peace, they shot us down.
In the end, does it really matter anyway? I am a warrior. And I found my place; fighting for what matters.
We went dark when the Tempest Shard fell, sinking into the abyss. The Hive, our grace, kept us ageless, until the Heart could beat again. Time...is strange. I remember storms, roaring storms, fire and death, wings...but it flows along immemorial and in the end who can really say which of these were day dreams or nightmares.
Maybe I am dreaming now...lying in a ditch somewhere, clinging desperately to hope while I slowly bleed out. An arena with my lady sleeping peacefully - forever - until the Aether grants me a duel in my final moments; a gift for a life of Honor and Service."
As Batale's gaze drifts off into the firelight, Surik says into the darkness, "You do seem a bit lonely..."
"That, is the understatement of de' last ten thousand years... But I appreciate it nonetheless." The Illithid returns to his meditation. "An hour remains. Rest while you can, revenants, we will see how much longer this dream lasts..."
Finished in part 3.
Adventurers Present: Nikz (Elf, Fighter/Rogue - 10), Darrak (Dwarf, Monk - 12), Roonil (Human, Rogue - 5),
Riswynn (Dwarf, Druid - 11), Xun Fu (Half-Orc, Monk - 10), Gosef (Wizard - 10), Eli (Dragonborn, Paladin - 12), Surik (High Elf, Wizard - 6).
Party of 8 - Levels 5+
With the words of a dying Esper heart to guide them, the Knight Owls attempt to unravel the mystery of what happened to the Espers after they were pushed back from the continent at the close of the first age. What were their intentions, where did they go, and why haven't they returned? Their research points them upward, far above the continent of Erena, where the Loremasters have spotted what they believe to be a falling star, but it has stopped but a few miles above the center of the continent, drifting northward. As the skies grow dark around it, the Knight Owls race toward this "fallen star"...what will they find within, and who will return?
Last time, the Knight Owls present discovered beyond the Aether an island surrounded by storms. Within its caves, they met a young half-elven girl named Eilir. They discovered that she is, quite possibly, the last of the Espers, an ancient race of creatures whose souls (or hearts) grant them the properties of an elemental. Since rescuing Eilir, now reduced to no more than a stone heart, she has shared all she knows of her people. The Owls now know that she is something called a Key; a creature built to perpetuate a single purpose. Keys are one of the lowest in the hierarchy of the Espers, and once their purpose is completed (or removed), they begin to erode...
Eilir is dying. Every day she sheds more stone from her form, shrinking and crumbling away, her telepathic voice becoming weaker as time passes. With Mama's blessing, she has been passed on to Riswynn in order that she may travel with the Owls to the Fallen Star...if anything, to die with her people, or to find a cure for her affliction.
For this job, each Owl has been paid in advance 100 platinum pieces, and will be paid an additional 200 platinum upon their return with information regarding the nature and contents of the star. As always, they are privy to any additional loot and treasure that they find along the way.
Piercing through the veil of clouds astride Vixx, the domesticated Roc, the Owls take in the vision of a massive floating island. Only a few miles across. Many jagged crystals, of varying sizes and hues, dot the entirety of the landscape, piercing through dilapidated structures and trees, as if they had erupted forth from within. Endless waterfalls cascade from fissures in the sides and base of the island, sending sparkling streams of water into the Aether below.
Built out from the central base of the island is 100 foot-wide landing with four towers at its corners, like an inverted keep hanging by four stone "threads" below. After breaking through the clouds just over the Aether, the Owls prepare to dismount Vixx. The domesticated Roc, now telepathically linked to be signaled when to return, has been hauling the party for the last three hours. She circles the whole of the "star" twice to give everyone a good look, then slows her descent and lands a little haphazardly on the lower platform. Happy to be free of the heavy load, she gives Eli a nod, before arching and falling backwards into a glide, soaring back into the cloud cover and leaving the Owls to find a way into this castle.
The keep is a simple inner ward flanked by sets of stairs leading 10 feet up to thin battlements. Two of the four pillars tethering the keep to the earth of the island have doors upon two corners of the battlements, while the other two are at the base level, with no doors, only archways into the dark interior. Entrances, or storage? The Owls have to watch their step, however, as the inner ward also features two 20x20 holes in its floor, where constant cascading water flows through from fissures in the island's base. A few Owls peek over the side, staring into the dark abyss of the Aether below them.
There is a slick 10x10 between the waterfalls, the thinnest point on the keep's floor, and Eli ponders why it appears to have almost a waxy sheen. As he does this, everyone hears the squeak of something opening, and about three pounds of wet, thick algae slough onto the paladin's head, then slide off into one of the waterfall holes. Eli, now with a thick layer of wet plant matter on his head, looks up to see a black, saucer-like hatchway directly above him.
Meanwhile, Gosef gets curious, entering one of the base storage sheds. Within, he discovers several sets of pitchforks, two sickles, one scythe, and a few sets of identical robes hanging on hooks, and finally stacks upon stacks of 2x2 blocks of stone. He immediately goes to the robes and rifles through their pockets, coming up sets of identical parchment, each rolled tightly and held by a seal. The seal is appears to be an ornate blue spider with a stylized crack down its center. No Owl recognizes the seal, but Gosef gathers all the parchment anyway, showing one of the scrolls to Darrak.
The monk unfurls it...and a pair of quills, with a glass inkwell, fall out. Between Darrak and Gosef, the quills are saved, but inkwell shatters on the stone below them. "Messy. Messy, messy, messy." Gosef mutters under his breath. Then a thought dawns on him. The scrolls are all blank, each holding identical quills and ink; just like a spell scroll, ready to be written.
"Are we done here?" Xun Fu breaks Gosef's concentration. "Good." The half-orc saunters over to the other archway on the base level, while Nikz wanders up one of the sets of stairs. Xun Fu finds a large assortment of staves and canes, each with curious threading of various chromatic colors. Curious, Nikz takes one of the ruby-threaded staves and swings it; everyone watches as a whip of magma is flung from the staff. It whips into a waterfall, stopping the flow momentarily and filling the space with steam. "Huh." Nikz gathers these threaded staves and lashes them to his back, handing a sapphire-thread to Xun.
As the latch opens again, this time depositing a torrent of dead fish spilling over the side, Farideh, Riswynn's faerie dragon, flies up and investigates the hatch, holding it open as she pokes her head inside. It flips open again while she's on it, a wriggling octopus smacking onto the stone; a moment passes, and the hatch begins to close again. Riswynn orders Farideh to fly down to Eli and tell him what she saw; the faerie dragon flaps down obediently, but looks at Eli expectantly. With a sigh, the dragonborn produces a bar of pressed chocolate. Farideh annihilates it, then says, "So, there's like a tunnel up there. Mold lines the shaft, and it goes up and to the left. Looks a little slick. No sentient creatures, but there is plant life."
Pleased with what they've found so far, the group begins to make their way to the far tower on the battlements. About ten feet from it, Nikz notices that this is only chamber with a door, and a heavy wooden door at that. A large iron padlock holds the door closed. Nikz attempts a few times to open the lock - snapping a few of his picks - then Darrak smacks his staff on the lock; it does nothing. Roonil sighs and steps up, drawing his masterwork thieves' tools and deftly hacks the lock. Removing the it, he pushes the door and feels something tumble behind it. Peering inside, the group spies many large, heavy, wet sacks.
Gosef and Eli, grinning at Roonil's description, enter the room and take a look around. The room is cramped; sacks of liquid are stacked or tumbled at every wall, including the door. They appear to filled, ready to burst, and a few are leaking a deep, viscous black liquid. A sweet, but pungent odor wafts through the room, reminding both of them of nail polish. One scaled brow raised, Eli draws one of cleavers and punctures a sack.
It bursts, coating both Gosef and Eli in thick, black ink. Eli has a moment of confusion, before doubling over and coughing up blood (Constitution damage). Gosef was lucky to close his mouth and eyes when he was splattered, so he's just uncomfortable. Noxious gas begins to fill the room, pouring out thick purple smoke from the burst sack. Eli tries to see if anything of value is in here, but all he can see is a room of death and regret, shoving Gosef out and pulling the door closed. Roonil, lock in hand, re-locks the padlock, and the door is held tight. "We will never speak of this again."
Rooms explored, a column of wet, dense algae now sloughs out of the hatch, with Farideh barely flapping out of the way. The discharge is so big and stringy that the hatch has difficulty closing, wet tendrils now hanging about ten feet above the Owls. They decide they need to stop exploring and find a way in.
Nikz and Xun notice sets of metal rungs that form a horizontal ladder of sorts, running along the underbelly of the island on either side of the keep and rounding over the side, up to the top they assume. Nikz is concerned: "So the only way in is to climb around the side over the abyss or to climb up the gross hole..."
Riswynn raises her hand...and casts Wind Walk, turning the entire party into wisps of cloud. One by one, they zip up the waterfalls and hatchway, undeterred by the algae and falling water. Passing through the water and slick tunnel, each Owl emerges beyond a shimmering barrier of water, passing through a thick mass of coral and seaweed. They find themselves underwater, in a dome-like stone structure, cracked and open to the sunken chamber above.
Entering from many places, the group slowly reconvenes above this sunken city. Ravines and fissures slice through the landscape, and the Owls notice the vision of clouds through some of the cracks. This large chamber appears to be magically sealed from the open air beyond the island. The water reaches all the way to the ceiling, and the Owls begin to seek a way out.
Further ahead of them, their is what appears to be a sunken ship graveyard, and more ruined buildings. Just beyond this is a gap in the ceiling where the water line ends. Still in their mist forms, the group sticks together and begins to speed along the top toward it.
Halfway there, just above the larger sunken ship, split into several sections, Nikz notices movement in the water. The rampant coral emanates with blue and red light throughout this sunken space, and the archer catches something swimming past behind one of the destroyed buildings. It moves with speed and poise, clad in dark navy clothing.
Eli's keen gaze sees a spear of bubbling energy, like a torpedo, arc toward the center of the group. Before he can speak, however, it impacts and detonates, sending everyone spiraling out of control and formation. The shockwave is a sphere, smashing adventurers onto the ceiling and pressing others into the sandy floor, and as it flows over each of them they are immediately shifted back to their original forms. Gosef, Darrak, and Xun are dragged down to the bottom, something thin and muscular wrapping around their bodies. As each slams down, displacing sand and cobblestone, each wrenches free and watches as three purple tentacles writhe and disappear under the sand. Gosef, Roonil, Darrak, and Eli's celestial horse begin the spasms of drowning, while the rest catch enough magical air from the mist form and try their best not to lose it.
Scattered and separated from one another, Eli attempts to re-gain his bearings, and as he does so, a weathered voice enters his mind. "Ah. I thought you would come. I am very pleased to see you. Now, do you accept de' terms?" As Eli contemplates what in the world this entity is talking about, he watches Gosef begin to choke in the water, and looks to his right, where his horse spasms and disappears in a buff of radiant energy. Time is short.
Again, the voice enters his mind. "I apologize. I do not usually have to explain de' rules of combat." Eli, now upside down and sinking in his armor, watches as a blinking stone is tossed from a shimmering space on the sandy floor. The stone drifts down to nestle below him, the blinking increasing in frequency until it is a blinding strobe. Then it stops...and a a huge bubble reverberates from the stone, washing over he and his allies. They immediately drop onto dry land, droplets of salt water still dripping from the edge of the dome. Gosef gasps in air as life returns to his body, and the rest drop to this dry spot under the arch of water.
Roonil, now flopping on the dry sand under the dome, turns to the group. "So, uh, is this what I can expect all the time from you guys?" Everyone grimaces and nods. "...Great."
Standing at the other end of this air bubble, dressed in an ornate indigo naval coat with golden frills, swashbuckler books, cufflinks, and an amber, wrapped vest clasped by a bronze talisman, is a curious figure. Its wardrobe denotes uniform and rank, to what faction no one is sure, with several decorated patches and filigree marking its high collar. The creature gives the group a deep bow, showing them all its large, domed cranium, and as it rises to meet Eli's eyes, all take notice of the flicking tentacles hanging from its face. Darrak immediately recognizes this creature as an Illithid...a Mind Flayer.
With another bow to Eli, the tentacles move a bit as a strong, but weary voice moves out from the creature for all to hear. "I am very happy that She sent you to me. I do apologize in advance...to first fall!" And it draws two scimitars, one alighting in flame while the other crusts over in vivid frost. "Otherwise, well, you know..." As it nods toward the other Owls, and a set of seven other tentacles wrap around Surik, Xun, Gosef, and Darrak, one big suction cup clapping over their mouths, with the other three not fast enough to grab the others. The creature seems only a little amused by this, "Ah, it seems that you are all very adept apparitions. If you wouldn't mind stepping aside, so this one and I," he nods toward Eli, "...he appears your champion, yes? ...Can have our duel."
Xun easily rips himself free, the tentacle retreating into the earth below. "Perhaps you should explain yourself!" But the half-orc is met with silence, the Illithid only watching Eli. With a sigh, the monk instead moves toward the grappled Surik and Gosef, drawing his staff.
Riswynn, Farideh at the ready, addresses the Illithid this time, "Why do you need a champion from our party?" But again, the Illithid ignores them, fixated on Eli. Surik continues to struggle against his tentacle, unable to break free.
The creature addresses Eli and the group. "My name is Batale Thuul. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. What is your name?" He then waits expectantly.
"I'm Eli Drakothar, Paladin of Bahamut, and champion of the light."
"Excellent!" Batale exclaims, his brows rising in excitement. "This should be most entertaining! I look forward to this; and do not worry, all who clash have a chance at redemption." And with a smile, he closes the distance to Eli in a millisecond, running his Cold-tongue and Flame-tongue blades across the paladin's form. It hurts. A lot. He then stops his attack and steps backwards, nodding once toward the paladin.
Eli is immediately struck by powerful psychic blast, driving him momentarily to his knees, ears ringing and head dizzy. Somehow, he gets the feeling that the creature is holding back as it watches him and waits for a response. Have to make it count... Radiant light pooling around him, Eli strikes out at the creature, pouring assets and his highest levels of smite into his strikes. Each strike lands true, slicing into Batale with heavenly force and bursts of radiant energy. Bits of debris and loose stones are pushed from the duelers, moved by the sheer force of each blow.
And from under the aura of radiance, Eli hears Batale chuckling. "Oh! I knew it... I knew she would send a good one! She sent a very good one indeed!" Still standing, but heavily staggered, the swashbuckler spits a wad of ink-like phlegm onto the earth before him. "Woo! Wow. Heh...I won't let you do that again."
Nikz, now free of water, draws an arrow into his bow, taking aim upon Batale...but the arrow somehow goes wide. Nikz blinks and tries again, this time the arrow singing over Farideh's head, far on the other side. "Huh." The archer puts his bow away, drawing his Vorpal Sword instead and begins stalking toward the Illithid, dodging grasping tentacles on the way, and gets right up next to him...only to push the air directly behind him. Staring at his hands and stamping his feet, Nikz begins to curse wildly. First in common, then spilling into a long string of virulent elvish, punctuating the end of his tirade in draconic as he moves away from the duel. Batale makes no move to attack Nikz, grinning at his string of swearing.
Roonil draws his blade and makes his way toward Batale, sidestepping a few tentacles, and swings twice at the Illithid. He pushes through the mental fog to strike, only to be parried by the Cold-Tongue scimitar as Batale glares at him. He swings again, only to be reposted by the Flame-tongue, slicing and burning into his arm. At the same time, a firm voice enters his mind: "That was very rude. You have broken the Accord. Now I shall break you."
Gosef and Darrak continue to struggle in the tentacles as they wrap tighter around them. Xun goes to work on attacking the tentacles holding his allies, as Riswynn pushes through the mental fog to fire her heavy crossbow toward Batale, sinking a large bolt into his side.
The Illithid seems irritated, but not worried. "You are very rude apparitions. Come to challenge me in my last days, with no respect for the Accords. I appreciate de' challenge, of course, but this is most...unconventional."
Surik at last breaks free, gasping for breath.
Batale ignores the growing chaos around him and again addresses only Eli. "Hello again. How are you?"
Eli gestures down at his bleeding form. "I've been better."
"Heh. I understand. Do not worry, the end is coming. Let us meet with good conversation..." He then rushes Eli once more, unleashing a set of devastating attacks. He slices into the paladin with alarming speed, the last strike entering the dragonborn's chest. All wait for him to twist the blade and end it, but he does not. The flame-tongue slides out and the Owls watch Eli fall, waiting at death's door.
With a sigh, Batale relaxes, sheathing his blades and reaching one gauntlet down to the dragonborn's chest. With a snap of his fingers, the tentacles vanish, and the Owls are freed. They watch healing energy pool in Batale's gauntlet, then surge through Eli's form.
Eli returns to the world of the conscious, feeling cold, tendril-like hands pull him to his feet. As he is rising, Eli explains, "I don't agree to terms before I've heard them."
The Illithid smiles up at him. "It is alright. ...Most dreams forget everything they once knew in favor of de' present circumstance. I take no offense." He pats the chest of the paladin's armor. "That was not a bad fight, by any means. Much easier than I've had in de' past; you brought so many friends, I had to utilize all of my traps and triggers just to hold a decent duel. Most unconventional. ...I'll have to tell her to try harder next time." And now, Batale Thuul, pleased with the closing of another duel, addresses the bewildered Owls with a big, tentacled smile.
Continued in Part 2...