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...