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...
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...
Beyond the Door
Eilir pushes the adamantine door open and Owls feel a rush of dank air. No sconces or brazers light, and they watch Eilir scamper and disappear into the darkness. Those with darkvision peer into the room; they can see only about 20 feet in, but beyond this it is shrouded in a dense darkness.
After a few moments, they hear the patter of Eilir's bare feet and she emerges back into the light. "C'mon, what's take you all...Oh! Sorry. They like to keep it dark... I'll just go light the torches." And she disappears into the room again. It is deathly quiet; so much so that all the Owls hear are the tiny footsteps of Eilir, they assume running around a very large room lighting torches. A few moments pass, and the darkness evaporates, like a cloud of steam.
The Owls enter a massive domed room of thick marble and gray stonework. The floors are fine and smooth, buffed to a shine. Four enormous, imposing statues stand silent in each corner of the room; each is different - one wields a warhammer in detailed plate mail, a thick mane of hair rolling down its shoulders; another wields a great sword in bones and leathers, a swooping horned helm upon its head; a third similar in armor, wielding a glaive; and the fourth, shorter than the others, with a long, grizzly halberd. In the center of the room, there is a raised bronze platform, like a plate, with something resting on a pedestal at its center.
Eilir stands just a few feet from the bronze disc, pointing at sconces in the corners of the ceiling, making sure they are all lit. "Ah, well, here they are!" As she points to each of the statues.
Alvus quietly draws an arrow from his quiver, loading his hand crossbow behind his back. "And how are they sick?
"Oh, well, they have...cravings. For...friends." And Eilir twitches her head slightly to the side, as if confused, then brightens with a smile. "That's right! I know what to do. I know what to do now! Don't worry, it'll all be clear in a second." She claps her hands...and the door swings shut, locking the Owls inside.
"Now, let me explain. Everything is going to be fine. You don't know what's coming. We have to be ready. Now that the sky is clear, they'll come again. We lost everyone, we need to rebuild. Rebuild the army...so we can go home." Eilir takes a step toward the bronze plate. "So don't worry. We'll all be together. And you'll just help us, help me, go home." She takes another step, and-
THWACK! Eilir staggers and looks down at a crossbow bolt stuck in her chest. She sniffles, a small sob leaving her, and says again, "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine."
Fighting the Key
Surik unleashes a Hypnotic Pattern upon Eilir, who just stares at the spellcaster. While Alvus hides, Jimmy nods to Brewdo and waits.
"Don't worry. You'll be just like me. All like me, survive." Eilir steps upon the bronze plate as it begins to hover about a foot off the floor. She begins to sing. The melody, an old lullaby from a time long lost, begins to resonate with the plate, dozens of harmonies and overtones washing over the Owls and bouncing off of the walls. The harmonies begin to echo one another, creating a beautiful, eerie canon of sound that fills the gigantic domed room.
As the beautiful tones penetrate the group, they feel their muscles tense, and many experience a thin coat of stone begin to form over their bodies. Most are able to shake it off, but Jimmy feels his body slow as he stares down at his right hand as the skin turns gray and stiff. He recognizes the beginning stages of petrification.
Adding the sonic spell bouncing around the room, the group hears shifting stone and falling rocks as they glance up toward the four statues. They have begun to move, shaking to life, their eyes alight with red arcane energy.
Riswynn summons a Moonbeam right above Eilir, the sparkling ray of moonlight burning down like a spotlight and stops inches from the crest of her head, cascading over an invisible barrier. She continues to sing, her fingers thumbing through, pinching and moving, the empty space cradled in her hands. Alvus activates his goggles and spies a glowing book made of metal plates in her hands. "She's got a magic book!"
Riswynn calls to Eilir as she continues to sing. "Do you want us to stay and be your friends like moving and talking, or like decoration? Because you could just ask us instead of doing what you're doing!"
Eilir stops singing, but her harmonies continue through the disk. "You don't understand. I am the Key." And she returns to singing.
Xun rushes toward the girl as crackling sonic energy begins to pulse out from beneath the disk. The half-orc travels twenty feet before he hits a sonic wall and feels his muscles begin to lock up. Another wave hits, the sound growing more intense the closer he gets to the girl, and but a foot from her, he is driven to his knees as his speed and dexterity are sapped from him. Summoning the last of his strength he steps onto the plate as another wave of sonic force blasts him, and tries to grapple the child. With impossible speed, her one arm deflects his movements and pushes him off the plate.
Steef casts Slow upon Eilir, slowing her movements and song, while Mama casts Silence upon her as well. Eilir looks confused at first as the spell takes effect, then the disc below her vibrates violently, kicking the spell back toward Mama's form, who resists it, instead summoning a Spiritual Weapon...a beautiful radiant skillet...and it smacks against the bubble surrounding the girl.
Brewdo is confused and marches forward, asking the girl what she is doing. She confuses him more, asking him to come sing with her, and he feels his movements grind to a halt within ten feet of the disk. Frustrated, he rages and uses his long arms to strike at the bronze plate. As the plate wavers back and forth from the impact, it accelerates and sends the force back into Brewdo, pushing him back another ten feet, the petrification spreading.
Slow, rumbling rock and stone flows through the room as the giants speak as one. "SISTER." And each dash to converge upon the assailants at the center of the room, nearly crushing Xun on the way. Ameera, frustrated at the changing events, casts Dispel Magic upon Eilir's barrier, shattering the shield above her. As searing moonlight spills onto her form, all also notice a platinum book in her hands that appears to be singing from.
Surik attempts a second Hypnotic Pattern burst and dazzles the shorter giant with pretty colors. The moonbeam continues to burn Eilir with no barrier to protect her. Alvus pops out of the shadows, takes one look at the battlefield, and...rushes over to the door and pulls out his Chime of Opening, striking it upon the door, which unlocks and opens a little. Alvus then hides again. Jimmy uses his Command Strike to allow Mama another swing of her spiritual skillet, to no effect, so Jimmy sprints closer to the beacon...and feels his legs stiffen and harden.
Another ray from the moonbeam slams down upon Eilir, and Riswynn, with her Circlet of the Apocalypse activates Truesight and sees through the girl. Most of her is flesh and blood, but her heart is beating stone. Seeing this, the Druid spends a charge from the circlet to unleash a psychic attack upon the girl, slamming into her psyche with such force that Riswynn hears, as if in her own mind, a choked sob, as a fresh stream of blood flows from Eilir's nose. The singing stops for a moment, though the echoes continue.
Xun, Jimmy, and Brewdo feel some of their movement return, as the book falls and magnetically seals to the bronze. Eilir, clutching her head, falls to her knees...and screams. An ear-splitting sound of grinding metal and screaming dissonance blasts into the group. Xun and Mama take massive psychic damage, but manage to stay upright...barely.
As Xun raises his head toward the bronze plate, it is surrounded by waves of sonic dissonance and heat. Pushing through, Xun finally grapples the child, pressing one big hand over the screaming Eilir. The vibrations slow throughout the room... As his form is eclipsed by three giant weapons coming down upon him. "SISTER. NOOO!" The sword cleaves into the stone around them, as two war hammers slam into Xun and Eilir. Xun maintains the grapple by tapping into his Orcish Resilience, but it's not looking good.
Steef, taking note that these giants are elementals, attempts to slow them while Mama heals herself and silences Eilir's space. Brewdo leaps onto the plate and swings into the girl, still held in place by the monk, whacking into something hard with each impact. Pleased with himself, Brewdo moves to the fallen book, driving his heel into it. For a moment, nothing happens.
All watch as Brewdo's form convulses violently as the knowledge of the ages rockets through his body, burning as it goes. Blood pours from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and his body is now smoking. Three more strikes from the giants can't hit the monk, but one connects with Brewdo, knocking him unconscious onto the book, which attacks him psychically...again.
Ameera exclaims, "It's unicorn time!" and summons her large, purple, spectral unicorn through her Circle of the Shepard and heals Mama. Surik sends a burst of Shatter to two of the elementals, cracking and splitting some of their form. They turn their massive heads toward the caster...who waves. Alvus, again emerges from the shadows to fire his crossbow, sinking another bolt deep into her form. Jimmy sprints up to Brewdo, grabbing him by the legs, and pulls him off the book. Then, using some leather straps, attempts to pick up the book...but finds that it is magnetically attached to the plate, shocks of white lightning darting out in random directions from it. He tries to grab it, to wrench it free from the plate, but it shocks him more violently and a word flashes into his mind, like an old memory.
And the flash is gone.
Using his Action Surge, Jimmy finally wrenches the book free of the plate, taking another shock as he does so, and shoves it into his pack. Feeling movement above him, he dives to the side as a giant warhammer slams onto the plate and he...does not riposte and turns to run toward the door, another warhammer slamming down behind him. Eilir, her eyes red with rage, breaks the grapple, punching Xun square in the chest, and he falls unconscious. She hops on top of him and sends a leopard's paw strike to his heart (putting him on death's door). She then turns her sights to Brewdo's body, closing the distance easily. Reaching down, she hoists the bugbear up with one arm, reaches back with the other and forms a fist.
The assembled Owls hear nothing in the cone of silence. They only watch as a shockwave of physical force slams through Brewdo's chest and life leaves his body. Eilir tosses him aside, but before she can take a step, Mama uses her Resurrection Wheel (Asset), in the form of her skillet of justice, and brings Brewdo back, spitting up gunk and blood as he does so.
Riswynn, sensing this is "the time", conjures four giant eagles to harass the giants and pull the injured away from Eilir. Brewdo gets picked up, but the other eagle could not reach Xun. The other two begin slicing into the elementals with their talons and beaks. Xun continues to bleed out, so Steef attempts to web the elementals, Mama moves to the center of the group and casts Beacon of Hope (Silence ends), and sends a supercharged Healing Word to Xun, bringing him back from the brink. But as Silence ends, Eilir's scream pierces through, slamming the group with force damage. Brewdo falls again, and everyone looks pretty ragged, as the elementals charge up, boxing them in around the door, and two take swings at Xun...he engages his Instant Transmission (Asset) to poof to the other side of the room in safety.
"Ya' ready for some craziness? I'm ready for some craziness!" Ameera summons not one, not two, but EIGHT GIANT EAGLES. Two more upon the elementals to dig new slashes into their face, and six to surround Eilir...
It is over in an instant. The six sets of talons and vicious beaks eviscerate the girl. It is not a pretty sight. But out of the mess claws and feathers, something heavy and solid rolls free.
The Stone Heart
Rolling in front of Riswynn is an anatomically correct stone heart, and it is breathing.
Surik uses Run Like Hell (Asset) to sprint past the elementals and hop onto the bronze plate. As his feet impact the disc, it vibrates in response, and he feels a surge of arcane resonance. Turning to the elementals, he calls out, "It's time to go back. Go back to being dormant!"
One by one, the elementals turn to Surik and stare. Their mouths move together, filling the room with a deep bass voice in Elvish, "HAS THE WAR COME? IS IT TIME TO FIGHT?"
"IS IT THEN, TIME TO REST?"
"GOODNIGHT." And one by one, each elemental moves slowly back to their post, strikes a pose, and goes inert, their heads bowing and eyes growing dark.
With the tension in the room falling and the echoes finally fading, each Owl becomes aware of a deep pounding; powerful and rhythmic, like are heartbeat, and all eyes move to the stone heart in front of Riswynn. Mama hands Alvus his skillet and the rogue takes a swing at the heart. Immediately, a voice enters his mind, pleading:
Please don't kill me. I don't know if I'm the last one.
CLANG! The skillet swings wide, slamming into the floor next to the heart.
Riswynn reaches out and touches the heart. She feels sudden and immense sadness; the kind of sadness derived from loss and abandonment. Please don't kill me. I don't know if I'm the last one.
"The last what?" Riswynn asks.
...I don't know if I'm the last Esper.
Mama recalls, from the three thousand years of memories she holds, that an Esper refers to a creature whose soul is born of raw elemental energy. This soul, or heart, is stored in a humanoid vessel and that vessel takes on the properties of that element. She knows that they are extremely rare, and their existence has only been recorded at the end of the First Age. The event that began the Second Age was a massive war between the creatures of Erena and the Esper clans' airships attempting to invade the continent.
Riswynn hands the heart to Xun, who takes the time to watch it beat slowly. With each pulse, the frame of it cracks and stresses, then reforms. "We don't plan on killing you."
I am the Remains. I need to stay. The war is about to happen, they are going to call on us. The ships will need us.
"What makes you so sure that the war is going to happen?"
This is the Age of Champions, is it not?
"We are currently in the Fourth Age."
...I don't believe you. Don't talk to me anymore. You're a liar.
"Fine. Ask the others." Xun hands the heart back to Riswynn. Immediately she hears Eilir's voice.
What is the year?
"01 of Io-Shar."
That year does not exist.
Riswynn continues to listen, and hears only crying. She holds up the heart to the group, "She's sad now."
Can you just take me home?
"Where is your home?"
Alvus asks what it is she was going to use them for, and Eilir explains that her role as the Key is to lure powerful entities to the bastion citadel and then complete a ritual that will turn them into elemental soldiers for use in retaking the Wilds.
Steef, upon hearing this, says, "So should we end this, so she can rejoin her family? MAGIC MISSILE!"
Three bolts of force slam into the heart and a large crack forms across its shape. "Let her go home!" Steef announces, as he conjures another barrage. In each mind of the group, all they hear are quiet, choked sobs of pain.
Jimmy grabs him by the shoulder, interrupting the spell. "I don't feel right doing this. I know she tried to take us over and all...but she's misguided right now. And if she's the last of her kind, I don't feel right just killing her outright. ...Especially when she's in a form where she's not a danger right now."
Mama reaches out to the heart and heals it, the crack smoothing out. "May I have the heart please?" Riswynn hands it over to the big warforged. They whisper to it, "So sorry for your loss, but your people are gone. The only thing I can offer you is a place to stay." And Mama opens up their chest plate, and next to their own heart, places Eilir. "I've raised more than one daughter, and the thing that always broke my heart was when I couldn't help them. So I am part stone and metal and...things, so she can stay with me."
Are you sure my people are gone? Will you help me find them?
"We will look together." Mama reassures her, patting their chest plate, and feels a wave of calm wash over them.
The Owls heal where they can and begin their way back. All of the doors are open, unlocked. Nothing crumbles as they leave with the heart and the book. It is immaculate.
The Bastion remains.
And as they exit onto the terrace, the blizzard has faded, bright moonlight spills onto the party, eclipsed only by the dark shadow of a Roc coming to get them...
Session concluded at: 1:15am
Alvus and Surik listen again as the bellowing giant grows softer and softer...more sobbing, gentle and small. But before they can act, Brewdo sets to work performing a "medicine check" with his monolith sword upon the heap of reptilian flesh. After an intimate inspection, he concludes that the mess of once living material is indeed dead. He also concludes that this creature is currently in three pieces. Further inspection from Riswynn reveals this creature as a Yuan-Ti Abomination.
Jimmy's ears perk up as the sound of tiny footfalls splashing through water halts at the top of the stairs and he spies movement beyond the landing. Sneaking up the steps, he spies, crouched against a far wall, a small humanoid creature. It wears a fine, purple skirt with gold filigree and bangles that jingle as it shifts. He sees its red blouse and gold bracers, as well as a mat of glittering blonde hair, stuck to the face with cold water. This is a child; a teenager, looks no older than 15 or so. Jimmy notes her slightly pointed ears and that her clothes appear a little big on her, synched tight around her form with many different threads, and an extra belt or two.
Her eyes dart up to him and she immediately sprints further into the cave, splashing through a shallow stream in the underground. "Don't run away, we're here to help!" Jimmy calls after her in Elvish, but she doesn't stop. Cursing under his breath, he begins to give chase, the rest of the group close behind.
Brewdo charges ahead, happy to be chasing something, and the group is lead down a long, damp straightaway into a large, flat, domed cavern. The bugbear has to stop short to avoid slamming into a thick stick stuck in the ground, and spins out of its way before slowing his gait to the center of the room and taking in what he sees.
This circular cavern, about 100 feet across, is a cemetery. Every 5 feet or so there is a make-shift grave site, and each has a unique talisman or necklace hung over the cross. Some have sets of flowers, other small urns; no grave is left alone here. As the group begins to take in this sight, Riswynn spies past it all to an opening on the other end, where a flash of red cloth ducks behind the corner. "Girl's that way." she says as she moves on ahead like a shot, faster than Brewdo can react. "Slow down! We're not here to hurt you!"
The pitter-patter of the feet stops, then gets louder, as two gloved hands creep around the edge of the wall and a young face peers back at Riswynn. Her eyes look at the hill dwarf with unease at first, but then they travel up Riswynn's form to the dwarf's shoulder where, with a shimmer, a faerie dragon appears (the druid's companion, Fareday). Seeing her interest, Riswynn sends Fareday over to the girl, who follows the little dragon back out, clearly entranced by the creature, until she is right in front of Riswynn.
The girl mutters, "Pretty..." as she reaches out to pet Fareday, who happily obliges, running up the girls' shoulders as she giggles and resting upon her head playfully. It is adorable.
Riswynn crouches a little to meet the girl's eyes. "What is your name?"
"Oh. My name? My name is Eilir..." The girl's eyes drift back down to the faerie dragon. "What, um, what is her its name?"
"Hi Fareday! Hi!" as she continues to pet the creature and it purrs near her. Her eyes begin to gaze past Riswynn to the rest of the group as they approach with caution and her eyes widen at the sight of the war forged. "Ah! You! You look like my friends! ...Are, are you from home!?"
"No. I am from very far away." Mama remains perplexed by the child.
"Where is home?"
Eilir blinks a few times. "The castle. With the crystal spires."
The party explains that that's where they are headed and Eilir becomes even more excited at the prospect of bringing them home with her and for the opportunity to play with Fareday more. Through conversation, the group gleans that Eilir came into the cave through a short-cut from her "citadel", ran into the "cold one" hunting someone, so she hid, but the "poison one" found her and bit her before she could get away. Upon hearing this last bit, she pulls up her skirt a little to reveal two ghastly prongs, like teeth, in her left calf muscle where pus has begun to flow around the wounds. Mama rushes forward, casting Lesser Restoration on the child, and as fresh blood (instead of pus) begins to flow from the wounds, pushing the teeth out, sets to work bandaging the leg. As this is happening, Xun pockets the cobra-like teeth while Riswynn offers to come with Eilir as her protection, to which she exclaims happily, "Oh good, you can meet my brothers! Perfect."
"Will your brothers...be glad to see us?"
"Oh, yeah, they're really good with visitors. They're just really sick right now, so they can't move, so they need me to go out and get food for them. But this way, this will be great; YOU can go meet them, instead of the other way around... It's a long story, do you want to talk here? There's a lot of death here..." As Eilir looks nervously at the 45 graves in the other room, the rest of the group is uncertain of this child, but glean that she seems much more sheltered and is speaking, as far she is concerned, the truth. She explains that she was crying before because poison hurts quite a bit and she was scared that whatever happened to her brothers was about to happen to her... But now she feels better and maybe this group can cure her brothers like they cured her.
Meanwhile, Brewdo got bored, and continued past his companions and deeper down the adjoining tunnel, muttering, "Sneaking...sneaking" to himself, with Jimmy keeping a close eye about 5 feet back. The moment he passes Eilir, still petting Fareday, Riswynn hears her mutter, "Watch out for the-
SNAP. As four javelin-filled boards slam into either side of Brewdo, simultaneously impaling and binding him with spikes and barbed wire. He pitches forward, now mostly contained in a make-shift bear trap, slamming his grumbling face into the dirt. "Yeah, that one! Watch out for the Spikey-Boo! ...oh, that looks like it hurts, hold on!" As Eilir flips a switch inside the trap, its teeth flop back down to the earth, where she quickly hides them again.
Mama is becoming concerned for her mules when Steef feels his Alarm spell get tripped. The two of them rush back toward the mouth of the cave only to be met by two very scared and scarred mules as they watch in the distance, a massive paw reach through the opening of the tunnel back to the mouth, snow-covered white fur upon gray skin, clawing into the dirt ahead of them. The ram-like horns of a Yeti attempt to sunder the opening, fresh blood upon its face and teeth, but it cannot wrench any further into the cave. Mama feels their heart sink as it roars and they hear splintering wood around the corner...
In just a few moments, Mama, Steef, and Surik return and Eilir sets to work tripping her remaining traps further up the path. She returns just in time to hear about the Yeti. "Oh no... Furry McFlufferson is not one of the nice ones! We gotta' go. It's okay, I changed the Spikey-Boom-Boom, the Boom-Boom-Slap, and the Slappers Trapbox up ahead, so we should be fine. C'mon!"
A Girl of Many Talents
Eilir leads the group down a deep winding path into the depths of the mountain. The air in the tunnels becomes thick with moisture, the sound of trickling water filtering nearby and slick deposits of moss beginning to line the walls and floor. As they go, the teenager begins whistling an elegant, but haunting tune. Her voice is clear and pitched perfect, the vibrant tones bouncing off the tunnel walls. Steef, in his studies, finally recognizes the origin of this melody. It is an ancient war lullaby that became popular in the second age, but might be even older.
Riswynn asks where Eilir learned this melody, and the girl seems to blank for a moment - just a second - before answering with a smile, "My dad."
"What was your father's name?
"Uh, his name was Volition."
A few moments of awkward silence follow before the group suddenly becomes painfully aware that they are trudging through freezing knee-deep water. Eilir continues forward, undeterred, while the group struggles to keep pace. Mama's legs begin to freeze, holding her in place, as the others attempt to move as fast as they can through the freezing waterway.
"Don't worry, it's just a few more...oh. Heh." As Eilir turns back and sees the state of Mama, she easily walks back through the freezing ice water toward the cleric. Jimmy's eyes widen as he takes note of her bare feet as she glides through the thickening ice. "Heh. Hold still, big guy. You need to step lighter." Eilir takes a deep breath...and exhales fire on and around Mama's legs, filling the area with steam and allowing her to move. "All right! C'mon, let's go, let's go!" As she helps whomever else is stuck in the same way and happily bounds on ahead, giggling as she goes.
Next she leads the Owls to a steep incline, slick with moss and trickling water. She scampers easily up the hill, pausing only briefly to look back, then vaults onto the edge, swinging her legs while she waits. Half the group begins the climb, some remembering that they have literal kits for this sort of thing, and after a few minutes, all make their way up (the monk easily vaults from one foothold to another to join Eilir quickly). "Great! Now you get to see it from the back!" Eilir scampers down the corridor and veers to the right, with the group in hot pursuit.
The Knight Owls are greeted by blinding light as they emerge into the warm sun. They stand upon a brilliant marble terrace; a perfect stone circle under a clear blue sky...the eye of the storm. Ahead of them is a grand staircase that leads to a huge obsidian door. Flanking this door sits two diamond spires, with a third, this one ruby, further back in the center of this castle's structure. The final two diamond spires can be seen on the edges of the bastion's dome further back. A blizzard continues to rage beyond the landscape of the citadel. Alvus and Steef detect magic emanating from the spires, a piercing disk of power pushing back the storm from the central spire.
"Should we go up and knock?" Xun inquires.
"Oh, no, I'll just let you in!" Eilir giggles and begins hopping up the massive stone steps.
Jimmy chimes in. "You said that you haven't seen people like us before. Is that going to cause a problem for people in the citadel?"
"No, no. We've, we've had visitors before... Just not for awhile."
Riswynn: "How long has it been?"
"Oh, you know, just a couple years... Anyway, c'mon!" And she begins hopping up these high steps. The Owls notice that the staircase is impossibly broad, each step 5-feet tall at least, and begin their own belabored ascension. Brewdo, who is bored, makes it to the door ahead of everyone else, and begins knocking loudly. "Anybody home? Brewdo here." With each impact, the bugbear feels no give from the other side of the door. This thing is solid, and very heavy.
Eilir puts her hands on her hips and glares up at the bugbear. "You are very rude, you know." Then giggles and pushes on the door with one hand. It swings open easily, and she skips inside, as the Owls trade glances at this feat. As the massive door swings open into a grand foyer, sets of brazers and torches light immediately, casting warm firelight along the smooth stone walls of a tall entranceway and illuminate a set of five ornate statues.
Everything here appears constructed for creatures much larger than the Owls. The ceiling itself is over two hundred feet high, grand arches framing each statue and marking diverging halls. The figures are each different and impeccably detailed. Jimmy is taken aback as he stares at one of them; a stoic figure in full-plated armor, an imposing helmet covering the face. It carries a halberd in one hand and a pair of spiked ball and chain in the other... "Uh, guys?"
The other Owls take note of the other statues. A bald, robed, lanky figure, somewhat hunched, with two daggers at the ready. On the other side, on the same pedestal, a pair of identical elven women, like mirror images of one another, each carrying an elegant pike and a lantern. The final one, a shirtless brute with a long goatee and a wily tuft of chest hair, stands with his arms crossed, glaring down at the party.
Riswynn asks, "Were these statues built in memory of anyone?"
Eilir perks up. "Oh yeah, yeah. These were before my brothers. The first guardians."
"We might have run into...them."
The girl lowers her eyes, uncomfortable. "They were...seduced...by The Hive."
"The what-now?" - all the Owls.
"Did you, did you see the glowing? The gems? We call those Hive Crystals. ...If you were to touch them, well, you know. ...Volition punishes. They, they, they fell from their pedestals, and now, uh, they reside...in The Hive. Guardians guard, but, they fell from grace. So they're there...now." Though convoluted her speech, the Owls glean from Eilir that the creatures memorialized here used to guard the citadel, but tried instead to take the Hive Crystals. For this offense, they were cursed to protect that passage eternally. However, Eilir alludes to another group; a group of soldiers seeking the crystals, who all met grizzly ends by the first guardians before their own seduction. "Volition...makes examples." And Eilir's eyes drift up to the fifth statue. The Owls follow her gaze.
They see the image of an athletic elven man, long straight hair framing an angular face. He wears an ornate set of chitin armor, a grizzly sawtooth sword at his side and a set of skulls hung from his belt. "Uh, that's Wynn. He, um, he wasn't nice. ...I know that he clings...to life."
Riswynn: "Someone may have punted his head into a lake..."
Eilir perks up excitedly. "Oh, he's gonna' hate that! That's wonderful, who did that?" Alvus raises a reluctant hand, and Eilir rushes over...and gives him a high five. "Great job! He's gonna' be so annoyed later, it will be beautiful!" She keeps giggling and begins moving to the next door; Brewdo is already there, staring at the deep navy metal of the door as he pushes on it to no avail.
Eilir skips over to the door, giggles again, "Don't worry, you'll get it one day." and palm-heels the door. Again, the Owls watch this tiny girl knock open another hundred-foot door with ease, more brazers and torches lighting as it swings open. On the way through, Mama takes note of the door and its similarity to their armor; Adamantine. "It just takes practice, no big deal!" the girl continues to skip ahead.
Meanwhile, Brewdo doesn't look too good. Dark circles under his eyes, he seems extremely tired, and Mama checks his face to find a crystalline, onyx vein beginning to protrude from his mouth, obscuring his speech. Riswynn alerts Eilir to Brewdo's condition and Mama explains that one of old guardians stuck something in him. "It stabbed him with crystals and-
"Hold still, please!" As Eilir hops up to Brewdo and pokes him hard in the chest. Brewdo begins contorting his face in pain as the Owls watch her pinch something just on the edge of the skin. "Oh, uh-oh." With a horrible crunch and a snap, they watch her hand enter Brewdo's chest and begin fishing around inside. As the Owls begin to panic, she pulls a long jagged shard of pure diamond from Brewdo's chest, ripping the onyx vein with it.
"Dat not supposed to be derr."
"Nope, that's real bad." Eilir pats Brewdo on the shoulder, holding the diamond out. "But, you know what, don't worry about it, you're going to be - FINE." And on that last word she sends her palm into Brewdo's chest, slamming him against the wall. The Owls hear a sound like grinding stone, and Brewdo's other symptoms melt off of him (Lesser Restoration).
Riswynn: "What was happening to him?"
"Oh, he was being...replaced. Well, Sala, he...never liked his job. And I think he's come back too many times, so it looks like he was trying to, um, what's the word...quit? And because Volition makes quitting impossible, he was trying to replace himself. With him." And she nods to Brewdo.
Xun begins to walk up alongside the girl. "I appreciate you helping him."
Eilir smiles up at the half-orc. "Oh yeah, I wouldn't wish Sala's job on anyone..."
"How did you do that?"
She smiles brightly. "Oh, pressure points! Ya' know, chakras! ...Just, just regular pressure points and seeing that something was sticking out of him, that's all." Eilir continues to skip down the hallway as the half-orc smiles; of course it's chakras!
Hall of the Five
As Eilir skips ahead, the Owls emerge into a long corridor with high ceilings and grand arches framing the central path. Dark shadows cling to the edges under the archways, and a reflective dark stone floor flows out beneath their feet. Each takes note of inscriptions running along the shape of the archways. The script is large, primitive, but foreign to most. Except for Xun Fu, who speaks Primordial. They read, in order, as the script begins to wrap around the end of the hall.
We Five find the Guilty Hive.
We Four seek Forgotten Shores.
We Three see through the Key.
Wrapped around the ornate adamantine door.
We Two see Through You.
And there, around the handle.
I Am, that which Remains.
"Heh, I love that rhyme. My brothers wrote it!"
Riswynn again chimes in. "Who exactly are your brothers?"
"Um, well, isn't it obvious? ...I mean, you saw the old guardians..."
"So they're the current guardians?"
"Yeah! Just through here!" As Eilir begins to reach out toward the massive door.
Brewdo informs the party loudly. "Brewdo tired. He's gonna' go take a nap. For like, an hour. Or somethin'." And begins wandering under one of the arches. Mama addresses Eilir, "Is there a place we could rest, we are all very tired."
Eilir smiles at the group, looking at each of them. "You all look fine to me." As she says this, Fareday shimmers into view and Eilir lets go of the door, sitting down on the floor to pet the faerie dragon. Between Brewdo's whining and Riswynn's persuasion, Eilir allows the group to rest as she sits in a meditative position in front of the door and breathes patiently.
Xun sits across from her, mirroring her movements, curious of her technique. An hour passes and Eilir exhales and stretches. "Okay! Who's ready to go?"
"You know, the longer we rest, the longer you get to play with Fareday!" Riswynn summons the little dragon back to her side.
Eilir's eyes light up. "REALLY!? Sure! You can take all the time you want!"
As the group rests, they learn that Eilir has not seen a dragon on the island for some time, but recalls the "scary dragon" that took over one of the neighboring islands. She is pleased to learn that a few of these Owls helped in defeating it. When asked if there is food for the mules, she sprints off into the darkness...returning a few moments later with a large trough under one arm (filled with water) and large bale of hay in the other. Setting them down, she looks frantically around for the "puppy dragon" and tries to catch Fareday.
As she plays, the group continues to ask her questions.
"Is there anyone else living here?"
"No, it's just me an my brothers. ...Dad's gone now."
"How many brothers do you have?"
"Oh! Just four."
"And they're all sick."
"Yeah... It's my job as big sister to take care of them."
"Excuse me, what are their names and how old are they."
"That's sort of personal, don't you think?"
"Where did your Dad go?"
And this question, Eilir appears very sensitive on. Her play with Fareday slows as she moves just to hug the tiring creature. "Um. He went to see Mom...and never came back."
"What was your Mom's name?"
Done with questions for now, Eilir goes back to playing happily with Fareday, while the Owls rest and keep watch. Jimmy and Xun take first watch; Mama and Ameera take second.
Jimmy takes note that this space, and the citadel as a whole, is immaculate. The floors appear polished to a sheen, the walls devoid of dust or wear; as if this place has been separated from the weathers of time. Wandering the large room near the entrance door, passing by the lamps and torches of his allies, Jimmy sees something on the edge of the shadows in the far right corner of the room. The firelight is licking the edges of what appears to be a claw.
The human shifts into the shadows unseen by all and slinks toward the figure. Within a few feet of it, his boots scratch against something. Sand, or dust, from an otherwise clean floor. Getting closer, his eyes adjusting, Jimmy sees a lion. A beautiful statue of lion, tipped over on its side. It is extremely detailed; fine craftsmanship, even though it is in a few pieces. One claw snapped off, discarded on the floor under the form, and the tail is missing. It appears to have been pushed, as there are groove marks under it, the first real imperfection in the floor. There is a saddle on its back, with something on it. It appears a part of the sculpture, as all of these components do, but as he stares at it, Jimmy can't shake a rising worry. They are a set of legs, hooked into the stirrups of the saddle, connected to half a torso and one arm.
Staying hidden, Jimmy looks around for any other pieces of this statue. In the other far corner, embedded in the wall, as if it were meant to be there, he finds a head with a swooping helm and a pointed ear. He only sees half, however, as the head is looking down the length of the wall, as a profile. The eyes are open, mouth closed, stoic and stone. Other than the lion, the rider, and this head, Jimmy finds only loose stones and dust; no other discernible pieces of the statue nearby.
As Jimmy wanders back to the camp, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, he sees Eilir's head perk up from the sleeping dragon in her lap and stare at him curiously. "Sorry, just had to relieve myself." (Natural 20 Deception)
"I'll have to clean that later! ...Boys are gross."
At second watch, Ameera hears a faint dragging sound, and something heavy being dropped, just on the edge of her hearing. Wandering back to the left side, where Jimmy told her something was, she finds instead a deep indentation in the wall. Upon further inspection, she can make the inverted profile of a face and helmet, complete with a deep, swooping hole for an ear. Moving to the other side, where Jimmy described the fallen lion, she finds a small pile of shaved stone. Nothing else. Ameera begins to move away, unnerved, and hears shifting stone behind her. Whirling back...the pile has diminished greatly. She turns and turns back...only a few pebbles now. Ameera darts back to Mama.
And 8 hours later, Eilir hands a sleeping, exhausted Fareday back to Riswynn, then stretches again. "Alright! Let's go." As the Owls gather their things, Steef sprints back to lion's corner.
The floor is clear, shiny, and immaculate.
Finished in Part 3.
Adventurers Present: Mama (Warforged, Cleric-5), Alvus Thorne (Human, Rogue-9), Brewdo (Bugbear, Barbarian-5), Riswynn (Hill Dwarf, Druid-9), Xun Fu (Half-Orc, Monk-9), Jimmy Whispers (Human, Fighter-5), Ameera (Wood Elf, Druid-7), Steef (Gnome, Wizard-5), Surik (High Elf, Wizard-5). Party of 9.
One year following the cataclysmic defeat of the dragon god Narizguun, the Knight Owls return to service with some new faces, and a new mission. They find themselves riding on the back of a curious creature; massive in scale and quite feathered, soaring over the black abyss of the Aether toward a mythical island - believed lost to antiquity.
Settled into harnesses on the back of this huge entity, each Owl attempts to stay calm. Mama, the resident cleric and rare warforged, attempts to soothe and hush their two bucking, panicking mules (Mary and Sue) and their attached cart of supplies. The arcanists of Tidespear have seen a year of peace, with no creatures or threats emerging from the Aether, and instead have set to work cultivating more advanced transportation to the world beyond the Edge. Though much progress has been made, the Owls are still experiencing the latest prototype of this initiative: a domesticated Roc named Vixx.
Eager to replenish funds for many, these Owls have taken up a new contract to investigate the perplexing storms that obscure the lands beyond Tidespear and Io's Edge. Of particular interest are small sets of islands discovered during the final battle with Narizguun (where the ship crashed beyond the Aether). With no further magical interference, Loremaster Edwin of Hammerfell has scried a tome wreathed in flames and constructed out of platinum plates. It is believed to be a spell book from the first age; the age of champions and the first god war, where titans clashed and shaped the land of Io through their conflict. In short, the Tenrook wish to collect this artifact and see what secrets it holds and understand how it can better serve the land of Io.
Above the tree line, piercing into the clouds above from the center of this island, each Owl spies a set of five crystalline spires. One in the center of a grand cathedral-like castle, with four surrounding it, forming smooth but ornate marble towers beneath each spire. These crystals are heavily and visibly weathered; one is cracked, another is severed completely, and all show large scorch marks from distant battle.
Vixx circles the beach area twice before touching down on the white snow of the island, lowering her wings for the Owls to dismount. Once all of them are safely on the ground, she nods to Alvus, then flexes her wings and lifts off again into the sky to wait for their next summons.
And as her powerful wings beat the air around those assembled, it brushes away the thin layer of snow at their feet, and each realizes that they are NOT on a beach, but a thin veil of ice...as it begins to crack.
Quick of foot and wit, one by one each Owl makes their way across the cracking ice...except for Mama's mules, each falling into the ice. Mama steps in after them, with Brewdo's help, and tosses Sue to safety, then lifts Mary over her head as Mama sinks up to her wrists, and continues walking underwater, hauling her cart behind as it, too, cracks through the weakening ice. Arriving in a heap of panting breath, the group lands upon the beach, taking stock of who is around...as a second mule is deposited upon the snow and Jimmy stares at a set of gauntlets protruding up from the water and beginning to ice over. Jimmy grabs one arm as Xun grabs the other and with a heave, each are treated to the beautiful tones of scraping metal upon stone as the warforged is dragged to the surface. Grateful, Mama spins around and begins hauling her cart onto the shore, saddened by its lower half being flooded by icy water.
Based upon the Loremasters' archives, and this island's positioning, it is believed that this land would be called Riss'Leyahn, and was rumored to be a beautiful tropical landscape of exotic birds and rare herbs and spices. It appears that time has not been kind to this island.
The wind diminishes slightly, but each Owl feels a cold chill run up their spines. Jimmy suggests NOT freezing out here, and Mama ties the mules to the cart again, pleading with the Gnome for some much-needed Prestidigitation in exchange for a ride. Jimmy and Brewdo take the lead through the densely packed, chilled forest that covers the area before the citadel. And as Jimmy takes his first step, his foot catches on a rock and he pitches forward, crunching his nose on a tree. Fresh blood pours from his head as Brewdo picks him up and presents him to a worried Mama. Despite his protests, Mama forcibly begins bandaging him as the rest of the party collectively face-palms... And Alvus hears something.
He hears something crying... Listening closer, he identifies it as a young voice, and more of a gentle sobbing, and that it is up ahead, where the path seems to split. Down the left slide, the path rolls down into the mouth of a cave; on the right, it rolls up to a steep cliffside. Alerting the group, all take a moment to listen as the crying has stopped, and instead they hear tiny footfalls upon earth and stone, getting softer as they move away from them. Ameera pinpoints the pitter-patter of feet as being down the left path and offers up following them, which the others agree to...
Winding Paths, Curious Crystals
At the caboose of the party, Mama pulls the cart into the mouth of the cave as the others try to get their bearings out of the cold, and slings some blankets over Mary and Sue.
Alvus, unable to see in the dark, dons his Goggles of Night, and notices a faint glow amidst the grays of darkvision that pulses ahead and to the left of their current path. As Mama lights her hooded lantern, the rest of group also becomes away of drips of cold water into a somewhat frozen pool nearby. Jimmy takes note that there is something within this pool, just under the surface. He agitates the water a bit with a pole and a skull bobs to the surface, iced over. "That's not good."
Brewdo pulls the skull free of the water, recognizing that it is also connected to a spine and a torso, with one arm, but no lower half. Covering the torso is a gleaming bronze breastplate somewhat tarnished by the fact that there are four javelins pierced all the way through it, transfixing the skeleton's torso. The bugbear makes little note of the skeleton's larger than normal bone structure and instead turns to Mama, "Him got boo-boo, make better!"
Looking the skeleton over, Mama only responds, "He's dead, Jim." Brewdo, satisfied with this answer, drops the body back into the water, displacing it further and revealing sparkly bits at the bottom. Xun collects the rusted, algae-covered javelins for later use, while Riswynn's faerie dragon, Fareday, attempts dunking her head into the freezing pool for the shiny bits. Brewdo seems enamored with the little dragon, reaching out to pet her, and gets a handful of fire for it.
A heavy impact somewhere else in the cave halts their antics as it shakes the foundation of the cave. Steef hides behind a rock and instructs everyone else to join him as all can hear a dull muttering of something, then another heavy impact, more muttering, and then the small *tink, tink, tink of a helmet, half-crushed, rolling into view as a bright light washes over it.
Lumbering into view, a glowing lantern hanging around its neck, is the form of a frost giant. Tiny yellow irises in pools of black cornea dart around the cavern as Steef throws up the Minor Illusion of a boulder covering the group...but neglected to tell Mama to put out her lantern, as the lance of light pierces through the illusion and spills across the giant's eyes. He roars in annoyance, and begins pressing his way through the narrow passage toward the group, cracking the earth around as he bellows, "Moko, nopok'oh!" over and over again. Mama puts out her light, and the giant stares at the illusion, blinks twice, and continues to mutter the phrase as he instead moves back from where he came, out of sight. Seeing the path ahead as narrow, Mama, with the Gnome's help, they set a perimeter Alarm on the cart, just in case, before moving ahead with the group.
Up this very narrow path, Brewdo sees another small pool of water, this one frozen completely over. Sticking out of it appears to be a hand. The bugbear, curious if Mama can fix this too, reaches down and grasps the hand; as he pulls up, it snaps off at the elbow with a crunch. Brewdo has a flash of familiarity with this particular hand, but can't quite place its species.
Meanwhile, Xun and Alvus take note of a large amount of light emanating from the next opening, and they can hear running water. As the group fans through this new opening, they are greeted with a marvelous garden of natural crystal deposits and gemstones, each translucent and vibrant, filling the cavern with a cornucopia of light and color. Two pathways spill out before them, each flanked by these radiant spires. The one on the left rolls downward and appears narrow and dense with these deposits, while the right is wider and runs along a rapidly moving underground river.
Along with all these beautiful hues and rare gemstones, there are tens of bodies that litter the landscape. All appear desiccated, and many are decomposed and skeletal. The ones upon the earthen floor appear to have been pulverized; ground to dust in some cases. There are others that have impaled upon the sharp edges of these gemstones, and more still under the water in the stream, held in place by long, steel pikes. As before, it appears that none of these creatures are human, and the group begins to identify them as an army of Goliaths. Alvus takes note of two hues that the crystals give off when he dons his enhanced goggles. Woven into the crystals themselves are two types of magic: illusion on the surface, and necromancy below. Something isn't right...
Steef spies a few broken gemstones on the ground, like a deep amethyst, and begins gathering them up and putting them in his pack. As he grabs a fourth shard, he notices its glow intensify rapidly, and all of the begin to radiate further, filling the cavern with daylight. Alvus' keen eyes spy a few of the corpses impaled upon crystals twitch and spasm to life. Further back near the split, Fareday begins to freak out on Riswynn's shoulders; to her right, the young dwarf sees a spectral face in the crystal. A beautiful, soft-featured elven woman with a set of ruby earrings. She smiles at the druid, before her face twists violently, growing fangs and reptilian eyes, and Riswynn barely moves back in time as a ghostly claw lances out at her.
Floating out of the gemstones on either side of Riswynn, the party sees a pair of identical elven women, each carrying a lantern and an ethereal pike. A few of the impaled jitter to life and flail about, unable to move, while others wrench themselves free, gem spikes sticking out of them, and begin to shamble toward Jimmy and Ameera. And behind Mama, there is cracking as something pulls itself from under a frozen pool of water. She sees long, silver hair framing a tight, gaunt face. It wears an intricate set of chitin armor, a collection of 3 mildly decomposed heads hanging from its belt, and as it rises to its feet, it draws a wicked-looking sawtooth longsword from its back. From her religious studies, Mama immediately recognizes this creature as a Wight.
It opens its mouth and its raspy voice begins to spin magic toward the cleric...as it is stopped in its tracks by a crossbow bolt entering its eye. It falls over backwards, and does not move. Mama's gaze instead moves over to Alvus, crossbow out, who gives her a grinning nod of acknowledgement.
A gangly ghoul, gems sticking out of it, daggers drawn, sprints toward Ameera. In a panic, she summons a Wall of Fire between it and her. The 60-foot wide wall explodes across the battlefield, ripping through crystal and cave wall, propelling Jimmy backwards toward another ghoul who attempts to grapple him, but the dextrous human glides under the claws and lands behind it, shield at the ready. Across from Ameera, the dashing ghoul stops, glowering at her through the fire.
Now in the thick of it, Riswynn recognizes that these creatures Ghosts and may be difficult to kill with conventional weapons, as she slices through it and watches the ribbons of its torn ethereal flesh quickly re-form. Shield forward, Jimmy shoves the ghoul into the intense wall of fire behind him, and as the ghoul's back is charred to a crisp. It arches forward, attempting to move away from the searing heat, but Jimmy grabs it by the face and pushes it back in...and holds it there, until it turns to ash and he is holding only a few charred hairs.
Seeing a path around the other side, Jimmy begins to sprint the other way. But as he reaches the corner, a cold chill runs up his spine as he is suddenly halted. He instinctually looks down at his abdomen; he blinks, and for a split second, he can the edge of a halberd in his side. He follows the shaft up to a smoky, heavily armored individual floating out of a crystal. It says nothing, and rips the halberd from his side, leaving a grievous wound, then disappears again...
Brewdo glares through the fire wall at the pacing ghoul on the other side, draws his Monolith Sword, and leaps through the fire. Meanwhile, on the other side, the ghoul glares murder toward Ameera...as a FLAMING BUGBEAR WIELDING A MASSIVE SWORD blasts through the wall and pierces the blade deep into its sternum. The ghoul drops its daggers, instead latching into the arms of the bugbear, spreading necrotic veins up the arm. Brewdo slices into it again, and attempts to pull it toward the wall of fire now behind his own singed fur - but the creature appears to have roots digging into the earth from his feet, holding him in place.
Steef begins to shake so bad in fear that he drops all of his crystals, but manages to summon a Thunderwave from himself, cascading across Riswynn and the two Ghosts. With Riswynn's ears ringing, the wave of thunder passes over the ghosts...to no effect, and they instead lash out at Steef, slicing into him and ripping some of his life force (Constitution) from him. The Shard Ghoul begins to turn its head to an alarming degree, neck snapping one direction, then the other, as its spine snaps backwards, and the shards protruding from its chest launch toward the bugbear as menacing spikes. Both enter the bugbear, piercing deep into his chest, as the ghoul's form continues to break down in front of him. Black, angry veins begin to pulse from the shards and Brewdo finds himself overcome with a blind rage...
Surik ignites one of the ghosts with a Fire Bolt, while Xun sprints to the other, assailing it with fists. Mama springs to action, sending a Guiding Bolt...harmlessly into the wall of fire; but sends a Healing Word to Brewdo.
Alvus takes note of the color of crystal the ghosts flowed out from (sapphire), and instead slices into it with his short sword. As he impacts it, one of the ghosts shimmers and shrieks up to him. He resists the banshee's scream, and ghost's visage becomes less grotesque; a feminine face wearing a look of hurt and disappointment at Alvus' seeming lack of fear.
Ameera has been watching Brewdo through the fire and flames, and she now notices what appear to be tentacles - no - strange tendrils of dark energy, protruding from his back, a black ichor flowing from a slug-like mound between his shoulder blades. As he looks back at her, she gasps as one eye appears to be frothing with a dense, brackish foam. She casts Dispel Magic through the wall, piercing the corruptive pustule, and the crystals are pushed out of him, and the strange slug sloughs off of his back.
As the crew begins to coordinate slicing into and pounding against the crystals, Jimmy begins to assess his situation. Taking the time to take note of his surroundings, he sees a flash from a red crystal and brings up his shield in time to block another halberd swipe, and for the first time can see the smoky form of the warrior, halbed in one hand, a set of spiked balls in the other. Seeing the opening, Jimmy ripostes, his blade passing right through its silent body. Realizing the dire situation, Jimmy disengages from the entity and downs a healing potion.
Steef, deciding that he's had enough of this nonsense, makes his way back to the mouth of this cavern...only to see the form of the Wight rise again, tossing aside its bolted eyeball. So Steef, appropriately, screams awkwardly. Jimmy joins Brewdo, and the two ready themselves against the smoke knight as it floats ominously, blocking their path.
Shifting their focus to finishing this fight, everyone momentarily freezes as a scream up ahead pierces the battlefield, followed by several heavy, wet impacts, and a familiar low roar. Jimmy tenses as further clashing metal upon metal shakes the cavern opening ahead, sending spider cracks across the assembled gemstones; each Ghost grasps its head and screams in pain, shockwaves of sonic energy reverberating through the cavern...and their forms shatter.
Surik whirls to face the Wight, loosing another Fire Bolt at it as it tries to piece itself back together. The bolt slams through his torso, falling to pieces again. Xun leaps through the wall of fire and takes Jimmy's cue to charge up to the Smoke Knight. Testing it with a half-hearted jab, his fist passes through, the smoke parting around it; but two more blows slam into the creature's after-image as the cavern reverberates again from the sound of fists pounding into armor. Visible dents form in the Knight's visage, though it makes no other sounds.
Sensing the turning tides, Ameera drops her Wall of Fire as another scream pierces the veil from up ahead, the sounds of another battle wafting down to the crystal. Another bellowing roar and the sound of something sharp sinking into something wet...followed by another scream.
Xun notices the Smoke Knight suddenly turn slowly to face him, then "step" backwards into the red crystals behind him. The monk pops the knight once in the face, halting it; it then shifts itself and floats into the water, seemingly carried downstream. Alvus, satisfied with this, sets to work punting bits of the Wight into a nearby pool, where they bob and rapidly freeze over. While Ameera and Mama check on the health of their allies, Brewdo spies something large and reptilian being flung down the stairs from the opening ahead. It hits with a sickening smack as it lands in a heap of sliced bits. Whatever the creature once was, it was serpentine, with arms, and is now clearly dead. At the top of stairs, filling the opening with its hulking form, is the frost giant, fresh brackish blood dripping from its axe. It shouts another curse at the serpentine creature, spits upon the corpse, then gazes out at the assembled party, seemingly realizing for the first time that they are there. Riswynn, recognizing the opportunity, casts Produce Flame, sending a mote of fire careening toward the creature. It crashes into the lantern hanging around its neck, simultaneously shattering it and setting the giant's fur shroud aflame. Surprised and burning, the creature turns tail and flees further down the cavern, out of sight and out of mind...
Continued in Part 2...