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...