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...
An Earned Respite...
The Tenrook and Talonguard are most pleased with the triumphs and tribulations of the Knight Owls over these past six months. The organization as whole has had more internal struggles than in the past, but through the actions of a few, traitors were exposed and eliminated and the Tenrook is confident in the organization's ability to not only recover, but become stronger than ever.
The Tenrook, in honor of the powerful deeds done by their members, have offered the following decrees:
1) In celebration and recognition of outstanding conduct in the dawn of a new age, we allow each Knight 1 year of respite from their Owl duties. Each Owl is free to pursue their own work, but keep their annual salary (100 platinum)..
2) Those imparted unto the Skypiercer shall be granted a boon; treasure, artifact, something else; please discuss with your sources what you would like.
Player characters have 1-year in game time to do something. They will message the GM with what they'd like to accomplish, and we will work together to create a narrative that could be shared (with permission) here as an Interlude segment. They will also plead a case for their boon; like a present for a fantastic year of epic content. (This is, and always will be, OPTIONAL. It is NOT a requirement of play.)
Fate of the Esper Ship...
Upon returning to Tidespear, Anai'Stra'sana does not dismount the Skypiercer with the rest of the party. It appears, at least for now, that the creature has laid "claim" to the vessel. Each dawn, it calls lightning into the vessel's conduits, and through an odd form of purring, appears to be reconfiguring its circuits.
Loremaster Edwin Gola has attempted to address the creature, but has been met only with an inscription...burned into the stonework at his feet. It took him weeks to decode it, but it reads:
"You do not own me. I faced the dragon without my sisters, and it pained me. Let me find them; then we’ll talk of this…’transportation’."
For now, the Skypiercer belongs to no one.
The Seed of Oblivion
The battle now won, the Seed returns to its Sheath, Nikz. However, summoning it is...problematic. Though Nikz tries, often it does not form. His mark remains on his palm, but he wonders if the sword will be needed in the future, or if his time has passed for now.
Eli and Alvus, however, take note of a mark upon each palm that held the sword. It appears to be a simple tan ring, with two lines of different lengths bisecting at their ends. It is more of a tattoo than anything else, and as time rolls on, a lighter hue of skin tone in the center of this "clock" appears, framing an upside-down hammer...like a pendulum.
A Vicious Umbra
Tendrils of black lightning lash out onto the party streaking up and over and around the metallic shields, burning holes into the group (and dropping Brysar in the process). Xun Fu seeing the opportunity of the red dragon laying splayed before him, he flurries blows in its general direction, but misses each one. Beebir considers his options at the front of the ship, staring into the face of the draconic visage; he notices that the form may not be "solid" and appears to ebb and flow from within the cloud. He discerns that this is some sort of draconic umbra in the storm, and the face is not actually Narizguun in the flesh. With this knowledge, the bard fires the arbalest in front of him into the face - it slides through the face to no effect (piercing immunity).
Eli, his hands still grasping the Seed, wills its elemental damage to fire, and sets to work freeing the neck of the ship from the grasp of the Umbra, cleaving into the claw and pouring the white hot light of oblivion into it. The right claw recoils in intense pain, bits of it burning away, and it releases the neck of the ship (that 10-foot wide path now a rickety 5-foot path).
The red wyrmling refuses to die, leaping back onto Xun Fu and digging his jaws into his leg. The copper slams against Gosef's Shield of Faith to no effect. The green dracolich, unable to retrieve its poisonous breath, instead takes a swipe at Riswynn (slams against the Shield of Faith), then digs a claw into Brysar's body (auto-crit, loses two death saves) in frustration, and bites into Riswynn. Seeing Brysar at death's door, Riswynn sends a healing word to him, bringing him back from the brink (he instinctively, and quite effectively, plays dead) and whips a thorn whip into the dracolich's big toe. Darrak triumphantly returns, burning another legendary resistance, then effectively stunning the creature...and forcing him to fall prone...onto Brysar (who is also knocked unconscious).
Elata uses her Spellcraft ability (part of the Sage class) to use Tethered Teleport. A lasso of energy wraps around Brysar's form, teleporting him to her side, where she sends a charged healing word to him. Notloc slams his hand into the sharp prongs at the cockpit, willingly giving life-force to the ship. Instantaneously, the ring of light around the ship re-ignites, pressing the cloud and the claws away from the ship; they seem to retract from the white light. Gosef hops up and disengages from his copper wyrmling, downing a greater healing potion. Alvus decides that now is the best time to fling alchemist fire at the draconic face. The flask explodes across the face as the green fire displaces some of the visage.
The seven orbs of black lightning begin to circle again, streaks of energy arching and crackling into the party, putting Alvus within an inch of his life. One orb, however, loses its charge on its own (critical failure), and crackles out of existence. The right claw then streaks across the head of the ship, slicing toward Eli, Alvus, and Beebir... But Eli intercepts the claw, using the Seed to slice off and eradicate the fingers of the claw, and it passes over his allies harmlessly before reforming the fingers within the cloud. Seizing the opportunity, Beebir uses Run Like Hell (Asset) to automatically sprint down the rickety neck of the ship, far away from the dangers at the front. The bard's escape was just in time, it seems, as the left claw slices across the head, cleaving into Alvus and Eli. As the rogue begins to fall, however, he engages a second Soulfire (Asset) to heal and maintain damage resistance for another few moments.
But then the terrifying visage opens its crackling maw at the front of the ship, and spews a wave of necrotic breath across half the deck. Notloc, Eli, Alvus, and Darrak all feel the pulsing undeath spread into them, robbing them of valuable life-force (and dropping their maximum hit points). Xun Fu continues his assault on the red wyrmling, at last connecting under its jaw and slicing it off, then takes the opportunity to drink a greater healing potion. Beebir, now near the cannons, takes the helm of one and fires a column of force through the Umbra's eye...which does not re-form.
The rumbling voice of the storm again fills their ears.
"I SHALL ADD YOU TO MY FLESH."
And in response, Eli lays-on-hands himself. :) (he was down to 1 HP)
"I CAN SMELL...MY SON...UPON YOU."
The party is now adequately creeped out.
The copper wyrmling, bored with the wizard, flaps over to Xun, biting and clawing. Brysar (!) rises at last, downs a healing potion, glaring at the prone dracolich, and fires a firebolt at the copper dragon...revealing its resistance to fire. Riswynn contemplates the degrees at which a dragon is not a beast, and ineffectively fires an arrow on the green one's hide. Darrak runs up to the dracolich, still prone on its face, and yells to the party, "If you have a potion of invincibility, drink it now!" and proceeds to punch it into stunned silence once more. Beebir suddenly feels a warm touch upon his body, and watches as his skin and clothes cover with a veiled layer of rock; he feels protected and solid as Elata casts Stoneskin upon him. Notloc at the wheel, he immediately downs his potion of invincibility, then attempts to blast the Umbra with a ray of light, but misses.
As the ray disappears into the cloud, the party shudders as another dry, sucking roar fills their ears. Wings shredded and broken, slices of flesh and exposed bone, the form of a white dracolich, massive and angry, appears in the cloud behind the ship. It rockets toward the tail...
In preparation for the coming hell, Alvus chugs a greater healing potion, then spends his third Asset, Scroll of Disintegrate, upon the Umbra...
And with the inspiration and luck of his allies behind him, Alvus holds up the scroll and a sickly green ray of light slinks through the sky toward the draconic visage. The scroll burns away, and for a moment, nothing happens. The storm shifts around them as time seems to slow....
They watch the smoking face of the Umbra, a huge draconic head, open its maw once more, necrotic breath licking the edges of its mouth...then scream as the spell detonates in the center of its face. The Umbra is split apart, ripped asunder, and the claws begin to rend endlessly into the ship as the Umbra enters its Death Spiral. The motes of black lightning supercharge, and rush inward toward the ship, punching holes through the hull and joints.
And as the claws mindlessly grind themselves into nothing against the ship, the party feels the relic begin to spin, as one wing detaches, flung into the abyss below, and they, too, enter a spiral...
A Battle Beyond The Known World
The whine of grinding metal amidst dark clouds. The party holds on as best they can, but a quick glance bow side tells them that the head, and whoever was on it, is no longer attached to the ship.
As pieces fly off, the Owls can hear on the edge of their senses...water. A rush of wind upon leaves. There is indeed something below them.
Chaos. One by one, the Owls are ripped from the safety of the Esper, flung into the sky below. Some have time to drink a Skybridger...others do not.
Down below, an island dotted with trees and boulders sits serene on the water. A rush of sea breeze gently shifts the leaves under a fresh snowfall. It is a calming sight.
Birds flee as a gathering of trees and rocks are smashed apart and scattered to the four winds. In their smoking wake lies a shattered airship, one wing still attached, headless and without flight, its three rings extinguished.
A deep bass of an impact leaves a crater in a gathering of rocks as the form of Eli lands on his back, stunned and alive. Alvus hits next, floating instead down into the trees (Skybridger).
Brysar also floats down, followed by Darrak, while Elata smashes into the earth, taking a tree with her. An aggravated groan from the crater indicates that she is conscious.
Gosef slams into trees and lies there unmoving. Notloc becomes a dwarven lightning bolt, splitting a poor, gnarled tree down the middle with his invincible body, with Riswynn floating down to meet him. Xun Fu rapidly approaches hard ground and instead engages Instant Transmission (Asset) to teleport to the forest floor, taking no bodily damage. Beebir, quick to drink his Skybridger, floats down next to Gosef's broken body.
Before the party can sound off, the stunned body of a green dracolich sings out of the sky and splatters into a thousand horrible pieces upon the ship's deck. But a moment later, a small copper wyrmling flaps down and takes a perch in the gore.
A rumble of teeth and rocks at the emanating from the edge of the valley turns the Owls' attention. A black mist begins to flow out from beyond a large ditch. The ground shakes with heavy impacts as they watch black-scaled claws slice through the earth and stone like oil, crackling green and purple smoke from between the broken flaps of scale and skin. Deep electric blue eyes glare at them through the mist, as the sharp, skeletal black wings stretch out behind them. There, rising slowly from the mist of undeath, stands Narizguun, The Devourer of the Divine.
"WELCOME, INSECTS. I LOOK FORWARD TO DEVOURING YOUR ESSENCE."
And with that, the final battle begins...
Riswynn opens up with a healing word to Eli, and begins to move toward the wreckage of the ship, keeping an eye on the copper wyrmling.
Narizguun, from his perch upon the rocks, stretches his wings out further. The Owls watch as their six pronged tips begin to glow with black lightning, lashing out at Darrak (miss), Brysar (hit), Alvus (crit), Xun (hit), Beebir (miss), and Notloc (hit). Brysar and Xun fall immediately. "EXCELLENT. A SEA OF CORPSES TO RISE AS MY OWN."
Brysar once again begins to creep toward death's door, but Darrak force feeds another healing potion into him, then clicks his Greaves of Haste and does the same for Xun Fu, ordering them when they awaken to drink their potions of invincibility. Beebir does his best cleric impression and casts cure wounds on Gosef and a healing word on himself, then scrambles up the side of the ship. Xun Fu, now awake, uses his Wholeness of Body, then drinks his invincibility potion. Alvus, still hurting, takes his last potion for himself, then dives into the bushes and disappears from sight. Eli rises, creaking in places he didn't know he could, downs a superior healing potion, and his potion of invincibility, then begins his slow walk toward the dragon lord.
Gosef, now conscious, downs his own potion of invincibility and attempts to hide behind a tree...by hugging it. Meanwhile, on the ship's deck, Beebir winces at the angry roar of the copper dragon as it moves to bite him...but Riswynn interrupts with a devastating thorn whip that severs the copper head, pulling the body down off the deck, and leaving the lifeless head at Beebir's shaking feet. Riswynn then proceeds to climb onto the deck and sends another healing word to Beebir.
Narizguun towers above the group, surveying his new prey with vicious intent. He flexes his wings and glides over above Elata, Alvus, Xun, and Brysar, unleashing a torrent of necrotic breath upon them. Brysar has had a rough time, and falls unconscious again, along with Elata, and begins fighting for his life again. Darrak, unable to perceive who is down in the battle, instead hurls his blink-forward dagger at the deck of the ship, propelling forward to meet it, and slams his hand into the sharp prongs on the console. The monk yelps a bit as the prongs dig in deep and pull blood from him, but the ring of white light powers on around the body of the broken ship; Darrak then, finally, drinks his own potion. Notloc rises and slams an ice storm upon the form of the dragon (burns a Legendary Resistance) while Beebir sends yet another healing word to Brysar, then slams down HIS potion.
As Xun Fu begins to charge toward the dragon, Narizguun's long tail lances out, slicing into his side. Xun Fu rolls with the attack, sliding in to go toe to toe with the dragon lord. He unleashes his two attacks, a flurry of blows, and his Wrath of the Gods (Asset) to attack a total of EIGHT times, connecting on four of them, punching holes in the dense scales of The Devourer.
With the dragon distracted, Alvus sprints toward the ship, as Eli engages his Ring of Enlargement and casts Protection from Evil on himself, growing large and continuing his tread toward the dragon lord. He calls up to its massive form as he brandishes the Seed, "I have a feeling there's going to be a family reunion!"
"I LOOK FORWARD TO IT." The dragon's claws suddenly blur into view, but are unable to penetrate Eli's protective aura...for now.
As Elata's Magnus pumps her body with magical healing energy, Gosef takes stock of his options. With his allies finally getting some footing against this thing, he utters to himself, "Well, can't go wrong with Magic Missile" as tiny bolts of force slam into Narizguun's chest. He looks down at a few cracked scales. "HMM. SOMETHING TICKLED ME..."
Riswynn, now on the ship, takes aim with a cannon and fires. A column of force slams into Narizguun's chest as he roars a challenge to the insects beginning to swarm him. The dragon proceeds to claw, bite, and slice the insignificant creatures on the ground. Eli watches as life is taken from the half-orc monk, and swings true with the Seed, the blade lengthening another two feet and burning a nearly blinding hot white. The paladin struggles to control the blade as it burns into Narizguun's body, carving off huge chunks of flesh...and obliterating them. The pain is not lost on the dragon lord, and he is stricken by this grievous wound, now turning all of his murderous intent upon the dragonborn. He drops Xun's form from his mouth, stomping once with a twist for good measure, then swings a flurry of claws, teeth, and tail toward the wielder of the seed, slicing and cutting, but unable to fell him.
Breath returns to Brysar and he sprints toward the ship, casting Mirror Image on himself. Darrak scans the area for Elata, spotting her about 60 feet from him, black tendrils of necrotic energy still wafting up from her form. He Dimension Doors through his cloak to her and pours a supreme healing potion down her throat. As air once again fills her lungs, "...Ow." and through her Magnus casts invulnerability on herself. Satisfied with her state, he uses his hasted action to quaff a Soulbrew to replenish a little Ki, then sprints to help Eli with the dragon. Notloc, wielding his Pale Wing scope, attempts to spy any magical qualities on the dragon lord - and is met with psychic interference, a massive headache, and a realization that ALL OF HIM contains intense magical power. On a whim, he casts Dispel Magic, but the dragon's own power counters it. Instead, he sends another healing word out to Xun as he charges toward Narizguun.
Beebir, realizing that the brazer of light is now lit, he plunges his hand into the apparatus...and realizes too late that he may not fully understand how it works, as the console is blown apart (the Conduit Key blasted out of its sheath) and Beebir is flung back against the main mast. Seething with force damage, the bard at last inspires Brysar (to not die), and begins to saunter back to the console. Xun Fu, healed and empowered, kips up to his feet and unleashes another four strikes upon the dragon, unable to find purchase, as the dragon ducks under another barrage of force from the ship's cannons (Alvus).
Growing frustrated that these ants cannot lay down and die with dignity, Narizguun beats his wings outward. The force of the wings fling Xun Fu and Darrak away, knocking them prone, while Eli stands and takes it, unmoving. The dragonborn responds in kind, the blade beginning to glow brighter than the sun. It continues to carve away slices of undead flesh and scales faster than they can regenerate. "I TIRE OF YOU AND THAT CURSED SWORD. BE GONE, INSECT!"
Eli suddenly feels a pulling sensation, his world becoming fragmented as Banishment attempts to take hold, but the sigil of Bahamut brightens and he resists the spell. So the dragon instead casts Disintegrate unto the dragonborn, watching his form begin to disperse to dust...before a roar, strong and loud, emanates from within him, and the save is made. Narizguun growls angrily.
Elata, standing and aware of the fight, rushes out of the woods and places both hands onto Xun Fu, casting Heal. Seeing life return to him, "Now get up and punch that dragon in the face, please."
"I plan on it." Xun sits up and takes stock of how far he was thrown.
Gosef, now dedicated to the idea, unleashes another torrent of magic missiles upon Narizguun's face. Between falling scales, he call out toward the caster. "I SHALL ENJOY RIPPING THE FLESH FROM YOUR BONES."
Seeing that Conduit Key is only partially out of its sheath, dislodged, Riswynn slides the blade back into the sheath, the ring of fire igniting alongside the ring of light. With the steering wheel shattered, she looks around for another option. In a moment of bravery, she experiments with moving her hand toward the ring of fire - it expands as her hand approaches, and shrinks when it retracts. Without hesitation, she pushes her hand into the ring. It widens to let her hand through, then shrinks to form a bracelet around her wrist and tethering her arm to the ship. Before she can pull away, her vision is wreathed in flame and suddenly she can well above the ship, looking at the battle progressing in slow motion as if through a red lens. Riswynn feels, at least for now, that she and the ring are acting as a unified entity, and she wills it to fire upon the dragon lord. As the beam of fire slams into the dragon, her vision also follows the impact across his body...and then she back on the bridge, her arm still tethered to the ship.
Narizguun begins ferociously attacking Eli, who uses his Run Like Hell (Asset) after the first bite, then glides over to Darrak and begins slicing into him instead. The monk falls unconscious from the barrage.
Brysar pokes his head out of a tree and suddenly begins singing in draconic, "It's the end of the world as we know it..." before quickening two lightning bolts toward the vicious dragon. The arcs of energy crackle across his form to little effect, before the creature steps on Darrak and twists. Picking his claw up, Narizguun watches the artifact around Darrak's neck pulse and the wounds inflicted heal. With a grunt of curiosity, the dragon picks him up, puts him in his mouth, and begins chewing...
Tensions begin to rise as Beebir and Alvus begin engaging the ship's defenses, Alvus finally hitting with his cannon fire. The blast knocks chunks off of the dragon's form, and it turns its sights to the ship, lifting off and slamming back down onto the deck. Narizguun looms above the three ants below, opting to swallow his food before crushing them all. "HI THERE." Riswynn decides that NOW might be the best time to drink her potion...as she reaches into the wheel of light.
The dark form of Narizguun, the Devourer of the Divine, eclipses the sun above the broken Esper ship. Dark clouds begin to roll in as the storm grows wild above him. "I AM THE EYE. I AM THE STORM. I. AM. YOUR. ...WHAT?"
And the self-proclaimed dragon lord is caught off guard by a ring of white light pressing into his form, an arc created by the ship's engine and powered by Riswynn's will. It cleaves through his body, burning through his wings, and slicing through his neck. He roars in pain; a horrible, shrieking sound that shakes the earth and shatters the surrounding stone. The Esper's energy presses further in...and stops, a flash of necrotic energy, the creature's heart, staving it from death.
Narizguun's words are desperate and angry. "I WILL RETURN! I HAVE RETURNED A THOUSAND TIMES OVER, AND I SHALL RETURN A THOUSAND MORE! I AM THE UNKILLABLE, THE UNYIELDING, THE DEVOURER OF ALL WHO CLAIM LIFE!" And though, for now, Riswynn holds him in place, she cannot kill him.
Still with so many feet to go, Eli feels a pull from the Seed; a realization. It was once given to him; perhaps he could send it to another...
And there, on the deck of Skypiercer, Alvus Thorne draws his blades and faces down a dragon, unsure of his own survival. But as he stands, time slows, and all become aware of a change in the rogue's form. A white wing and a black wing, feathered and magnificent, now protrude out from Alvus' back, as his hand reaches back to a hilt between the wings, and he draws a long, ruby red blade. The blade begins as a short sword, but as the seconds tick by, it grows longer and longer. With his allies behind him, and Riswynn continuing to drill the light into its form, Alvus says, "You're not coming back at all." and drives the blade into the dark, pulsating undead heart of the lich.
Narizguun...stops. He doesn't burn or fall to ash. He doesn't break apart. He simply ceases...existing. Piece by piece, he falls away, like bits of reality being peeled off. Each shred blinking out of time, energy, and space. In a few short moments, Narizguun is gone.
And in his place, with a satisfying thud and a grunt, is a Darrak.
Alvus instinctually sheathes his sword, the feathers of his wings shedding into a pile onto Darrak, then looks up toward the clearing horizon. Though the storm has left, there is still lightning. A singular streak, etching along the skyline, and rapidly approaching the island. Notloc's eyes go wide, "Incoming!"
As the arc gleams closer, it looks as if something is "running" along the lightning. A creature, tourmaline and pewter, armored from head to toe, and running on four legs. It is unmistakably feline, lightning and energy coursing around its form. The arc suddenly snaps downward toward the ship's hull...and Darrak's form.
With a soft clatter of metal on metal, this armored electric panther paws onto the deck, immediately padding over to Darrak, who embraces one of the creature's paws exclaiming, "Anai'Stra!" While they play, others recognize the form of one of the Forgotten Gods, trapped in a strange amber prison deep inside the Underdark (with the Owls' help, he was freed). Riswynn, exhausted and confused, instead points to Anai, "KITTY!"
Anai does not play long, instead padding over to the console and surveying the damage to the ship. Using his electric currents and magnetism, he begins to vibrate the hull. The party is confused at first, then must dodge out of the way of various parts, pieces, knobs, screws, and other odds and ends as they are pulled back to the ship...and repaired. Piece by piece, Anai calls the ship back together, using his own lightning to ignite the third ring. Without warning, the ship begins to rise, and the Owls quickly take the hint and lift off with The Weavemaster, flying back toward Tidespear Keep and the continent of Erena. Heroes, and alive...
Session close: 1:15am
Season 1 Epilogue to follow...
Adventurers Present: Notloc (Cleric-11), Darrak (Monk-11), Alvus (Rogue-8), Beebir the Bard (Bard-8), Riswynn (Druid-9), Xun Fu (Monk-9), Gosef (Wizard-9), Eli (Paladin-11), Brysar (Sorcerer-5). Party of 9.
Over the past few months, the Knight Owls have been setting aside their standard contracts to deal with an event that threatens to upset the balance of Io herself. Following small tips and side jobs, they have exposed a web of conspiracy, fear, and undeath. They have fought snow clones, draconic liches, dark warlocks, oathbreakers, and a literal dragon in a game of chess...and still, the storm comes.
Branching out from beyond Io's Edge, a dark cloud beset with arches of black lightning has begun to grow. Amassing, and moving closer with every night...
However, the Tenrook has taken notice, and has written up a contingent contract: Destroy the son of the Storm Glutton, Narizguun, and be rewarded. Your reward is negotiable; wealth, status, artifact, or something more. That is, if further incentive beyond saving the world is needed.
Only but a day and night ago did the other Owls return, with an ancient Esper ship, powered by one of its three elemental rings, as the Barrens collapsed into the center of continent once more. The storm beyond the edge grows rapidly, threatening to move at any moment...
Tonight the collected Owls find themselves in the War Room in the high tower of Tidespear Keep. They have been invited at Keddigan's request to attend the grand cleric Arif Teth's strategy meeting.
Arif is human, young but commanding, hair red as fire and decked out in heavy half-plate. The wings of Sarenrae splay out from his silver and violet cloak. He pours over a set of maps, some laid out over others, trying to formulate a defensive strategy should the storm move closer, while simultaneously making sense of the jury-rigged layout of the known world. The maps are dotted with small pins and markers of various flags and crests. As the players watch, he moves one such marker from fortress at Orlandin to mountain castle of Frostburn, muttering, "Don't know if the Pale Guard will be of any use right now..."
As Arif ponders, the Owls take note of the assembled maps, noticing that the ones positioned beyond Io's Edge are much less...ornate than the others, clearly an artist's representation of a guess of what might reside beyond the known world. They also take in the silent Striga, sharpening his halberd as he watches the night sky grow thick with clouds and cold. In the other corner of the room, a studious Elata examines the text of her Magnus as it floats a few inches above her lap, moving the glowing script around as her eyes move alarmingly fast over the words. ...Malfurik does pushups in the corner.
Arif: "I just wish there was less risk. Sending a ship we barely understand into an enemy's lair in the sky seems a bit ludicrous... But if we wait too long, we threaten to be overrun in a fortnight." After a few moments, he crosses his arms and breathes out a heavy sigh. "It seems that there is no way around it. Take tonight...you leave at dawn."
Arif exits the room and the Owls each go to prepare in their own ways, but before they separate, a very inebriated Darrak stumbles around the room, handing each ally a small vial, slurring, "Take this when we're in battle, but not before... Potion of invis, uh, invus, *cough*, invulsilibility (Invincibility).
Riswynn, Xun Fu, Gosef, and Brysar go to rest immediately, eager to get enough sleep for whatever comes tomorrow.
Notloc takes out his guide to the prime gods and finds the chapel of Sarenrae within the keep, taking an acolyte aside and asking him how to not die by dragon. After receiving some sage advice on reading, the acolyte also hands off nine care packages (each with a greater healing potion and a flask of holy water) to Notloc; Notloc returns to the group and divvies them up, then returns to his reading.
Eli and Elata spend some much needed time together. Eli: "How do you feel about the coming battle?" Elata looks up at him, a knowing smile creeping along her face. "There is a chance. A slim chance...but your chances are greater since I'm coming with you."
Eli mutters under his breath. "You've saved my butt plenty of times, so I do not object."
Elata replies, matter-of-factly, "Tis a fine thing, so I must save it." Then giggles and smiles as the dragonborn visibly blushes and turns away. She then glances over at Beebir, who is examining his new necrotic longbow, muttering to himself about needing arrow. Opening her Magnus, she summons two cordons of 30 arrows and a large quiver and tosses them over to the bard, who is taken aback and immediately starts practicing.
Alvus finds Keddigan in the rafters, and asks him for some tinkering help... The rogue spends the entirety of the evening (suffering 1 point of exhaustion) to alter his "crowbot" (procured from Malfurik sessions ago) to able to fly and deliver incendiary avian payloads within 20 feet...
Darrak searches for a place to purchase healing potions...and comes up short, then goes to bed...
The Lance of Io
Consciousness comes to you as dawnlight spills through the wide, open windows. The light is warm, soothing. It grants the Owls peace, reflection, questions from within, echoing against time: "How many times have you stood against darkness? How many times have you watched your allies fall, unable to stop it? How many more risks will you take for the greater good? And when the time comes, can you make the choice no one else can? Will Striga survive? Will Keddigan, Elata, Nikz? ...Will you survive what comes?"
And as they ponder these things in the warmth of this guiding light...it fades...as something dark brushes over it, like a matte painting of a black spiral, cracks splitting the vision, and no sooner did it arrive, the sun is eclipsed by the storm, closer than ever. A howling wind blasts through the windows, and a roar sounds within the cloud... It pierces their psyche, sending chills of dread down their spines and making their hair stand on end.
...HE IS COMING.
Stepping out into the halls of the keep, guards move with haste on either side of you, a blur of silver and amethyst. The tension is high in the keep, and they get the sense of expectation outside, atop the main tower (the mustering station for the archers), and head there quickly. There they find a long, terraced wall, lines of archers (one they recognize as fellow Owl, Nikz, a medium-sized diamond dragon sitting obediently at his side) facing the coming darkness. Arif stands with his back to them, addressing row upon row of armored soldier, banners of a wave crashing against a wall of arrows (the symbol of Tidespear) waving in the rising wind. His voice pierces through the howl as he addresses the crowd as the Owls arrive.
"Today, we place our trust in the Espers. In Owls and fate. We place our trust, our hope, our fire...in a Lance." He looks down at all of the assembled heroes, and hundreds of helmets turn to stare at them. "Be Io's Lance, warriors. Be her lance and pierce through." Arif sighs and turns his gaze back upon his soldiers, one by one the helmets turning back to face him. He continues, his voice even stronger now, "...But I have never been one to place all of my ire, all of my blood, on one solution. For if they fail, do not fear. We, the lancers of the last bastion, have protected Io from the horrors beyond the Aether for generations."
The many rows of ranks laid out before them stand a little taller, their weapons at the ready. Arif calls to them, "For when all else run!"
And like a tidal wave crashing into stone, they respond as one voice: "We remain!"
"And when all else die?"
Arif smiles, his soldiers becoming louder. "And when the pendulum swings?"
"We swing back!"
Swords draw, pikes rise, bows load. "To arms, my soldiers! To fate, to glory, to bastion's gate! And may the Seven guide us all..."
And with that, rank by rank, the lancers and archers prepare for hell, clearing the way for the Owls as they climb up to the tethered Skypiercer...
The Storm of Dragons
The Skypiercer is not a complete ship. An Esper-class airship, the Owls have learned, utilizes at least two elemental souls to keep it running and flying. This ship has three elemental brazers, and only one has a soul: the Firesoul, named Rai'Lepesk. The other two brazers, Life and Lightning, are powered instead manually; Life needs blood, given willingly, and Lightning needs, well, lightning, sent into the lightning rod in the lower engine room below deck. These three elements create rings of energy that wreath the ship; a fire ring around the neck, a burning white ring around the body, and a small ring of blue lightning around the tail of the ship.
Darrak hands a Skybridger Brew to each of his allies, and takes point on one of the shoulder cannons, with Eli taking the other. Notloc takes the wheel, and the ship whirs to life, rising from the keep and turning toward the storm ahead. The mechanical, draconic wings on the ship begin to shift forward and beat the air in long, powerful strokes as the fire ring burns red hot. In a rush of power and speed, the airship rockets forward, like a spear into the storm...
As they approach, the clouds seem to stretch and widen, obscuring the sunlight further, and the Owls feel a rush of intense cold as sleet and hail begin to hammer against the ship. Passing beyond Io's Edge, Alvus and Beebir peer over the side of the ship to the Aether abyss below...and swear they see flashes of topaz energy, illuminated tentacles, and an eye. Chills running down their spines, they decide to turn their attention back to sleet and hailstones.
The incoming clouds suddenly shift, swirling around the ship, like a cyclone. Crackling lightning and booming thunder echo around them, and between these beats, a voice, louder than the gods themselves - it pierces each of them, vibrating the the ship's hull with each word - "I. AM. THE EYE."
Alvus' keen eyes spy something scaled and silver in the clouds. "There's something out there!" And there, a massive silver dragon emerges, eyes burning red, the clouds cling to it, like skin. It opens its mouth, a ball of cold forming just ahead of its maw. Darrak, sensing the creature's intent, aims and fires his cannon, the dragon dropping its wings and ducking under the shot, then arching over Eli's cannon fire. It responds with a ball of ice toward the ship, Notloc deftly moving the wings out of the way. But as they trade fire with the creature, they become aware that there are other...things...in the clouds. Everyone readies for combat.
Gosef moves first, hurling a Firebolt toward the dragon, smacking it right in the face. Alvus looks up at the dragon to see it charge another ball of cold, aiming this time at the wizard. The rogue grabs an Alchemist Fire and chucks it toward the dragon's mouth...but it smacks against the ship's shield and he catches it, putting it back away (oops), and diving behind a post on the ship deck, praying that the dragon doesn't see him. Fu sees two wyrmlings, one copper and one red, emerge from under one of the wings, screaming toward the chamber he's in. Taking the opportunity, Fu grabs the arbalest near him and sinks a bolt into the copper one. Beebir, up front, fires his own arbalest bolt into the silver dragon. Two more cannons miss the creature, as it fires a ball of cold at Gosef, freezing his legs. Meanwhile, the red and copper dragons BOTH breathe fire, strafing around Xun Fu's chamber, but are unable to burn him. Brysar quickens his spells, creating mirror images of himself and unleashing another firebolt toward the dragon, slamming into it. The dragon then begins to charge...a lightning bolt. Riswynn summons a moonbeam upon the silver, and Darrak hits it with a cannon shot.
At this point, more creatures begin to emerge from the storm. A draken beast and another wyrmling join the silver dragon at the front, while two adult dracoliches - one of bone, a heart of lightning in its chest, and a green and gold hybrid (covered in small scratches, like feline claw marks...) - slam their full weight into the wings; but Notloc is too fast on the wheel and keeps the ship steady. Elata, seeing this, uses her Spell Augmentation to spin the weave of Shield of Faith to affect 5 other individuals. Notloc then uses the Ring of Fire at the cockpit to send a devastating ray of energy strafing across the silver dragon and the wyrmling, knocking each back from the force of the ship.
Seeing the change in circumstance, and his allies attempting to keep the others at bay, Eli mounts his horse and slams his gauntlets together, white light emanating from them, as he draws the legendary Seed of Oblivion (on loan from Nikz), a 5-foot straight nodachi that glows a brilliant hot white. With deft acrobatics, Eli's horse dashes out onto the wing, and he charges toward the skeletal dragon. The sword cleaves through it, shaving off one wing, an arm, and several ribs as the creature roars. It responds in kind, whacking the paladin with its one good claw, trying to knock him off the wing to the abyss below... Eli falters, but stays where he is due to his horse's uncanny balance. Happy to help, Darrak also rushes up while the others continue to sink arrows into the other creatures and uppercuts the thing's head off, it's body shattering into hundreds of pieces as it peels over the side.
With the copper and red wyrmlings now grappling the tail of the ship, the red one comes face to face with Fu's staff and fists, taking punishment enough to grasp the monk's staff in its jaws, angrily ripping it away from him. The green dragon leaps from the side of the wing onto the main deck wall, spewing a torrent of poison into its metaphorical barrel of fish...and Gosef and Brysar fall unconscious from the cloud. Riswynn sends a healing word to Brysar immediately. Elata uses her Magnus Purge to use a Mass Cure Wounds at double healing, and raises the fallen casters.
The silver dragon, frustrated with the damage it is suffering, stops flying and lands not the "face" of the ship, biting and clawing at Alvus and Beebir. Beebir hops down enough to dodge, but Alvus is taken up in the creature's jaws, ground by the dragon's teeth...and he uses his Soulfire (Asset) to resist being eaten and drops back down to the deck. Notloc calls upon the tempest, channeling his divinity through the Ring of Lightning, sending a laser beam of electricity into the silver dragon. The beam enters the creature through the mouth, erupting in a concussive explosion that runs down to its tail, the body exploding out and the wings falling away. But the respite is short-lived, as Alvus sees a Chimera emerge from the cloud, latching on the side of the ship, carving its way in...
Alvus aims up at the new threat, sinking an arrow into the goat head through the eye; it hangs lifeless. Beebir then sinks another bolt through the wyrmling's face...and it falls out of sight. With Eli using Misty Step to get back on deck, his horse charges the Chimera...slicing it in two.
Beginning to regain control of the ship, the party begins to settle into a rhythm, but their victory is short-lived. A crack of lightning splits the sky around them, and something huge shifts behind the cloud cover. Movement.
"I. CAN. SMELL YOU."
Before the group can react, a huge claw of smoke and scales roars out of the storm, grappling the "neck" of the ship and pulling it down. Screeching metal fills the party's ears as the path is partially crushed, and effectively cut off from the rest of the group.
The copper and red crawl into the ship, continuing to wreak havoc and turn Gosef into a chew toy. Brysar bends logic and casts Gust of Wind on the smoke hand, appearing to deal some damage to its form...for now. Riswynn, seeing this, then decides to move her Moonbeam to the hand, dealing radiant damage to it...which it EATS, and heals what the gust had done (Riswynn cancels Moonbeam). Using his teleporting dagger, Darrak blinks forward to the green dragon lich...and proceeds to punch it into using all of his legendary resistances. Elata Supercharges a healing word to Gosef's broken body. Notloc attempts to call lightning from the storm...and calls it upon himself (this is not his storm). But Gosef summons his own thunder and pushes the dragons away from him.
Again, the group slowly gains control of the boat...until another massive claw emerges from the storm on the other side, slashing into the wings. Seven orbs of black lightning begin to coalesce around the ship, bombarding it with strikes, and a giant draconic face peels into view before the ship...
Finished in Part 2 - stay tuned!
Trial of the Pendulum
...As the party passes through the threshold onto a floor of white and golden sand, they become sonically assaulted by clicking clocks and grinding gears. Across this massive room, they see immediately a giant grandfather clock with a pendulum, locked in place. Spider cracks of conduits and etchings of gold and silver spread across the walls from the clock, and form fissures of energy that run along the floor toward three structures. One is a familiar thing; a giant book, somewhat mechanical, locked shut by some invisible force, a black cube of glass resting upon its cover. The other two appear to be dome-like chambers with four quadrants on each - cells, protected by thick glass and dark inside. It appears as if these domes are "settling" into place.
And as the doors shut and fall away to a sandstone wall, the domes click into place, and the clock, minute by minute, rapidly resets to noon. At this point, each cell illuminates, and the party sees a variety of creatures inside most of them. In the left dome, in order: 1) A powerful woman in black and red armor, black leathery wings, a vicious whip at her side, and a long, angry sword in one hand; 2) seemingly empty; 3) A small toad; 4) a dwarf-sized creature in dark leathers, with beard and hair of flame. In the right dome, continuing in order: 5) a unicorn; 6) also empty, but with broken bits of furniture within, and as the party watches, there is an angry torrent of wind that slices a chair in half; 7) a human carpenter, measuring and cutting wood to make a table; 8) a copper dragon wyrmling. Upon the book: 9) a Satyr dances with a fife, happily playing away.
As the party attempts to discern what to do, the grandfather clock begins to tick forward and the domes begin to rotate opposite directions (left, clockwise; right, counter-clockwise). Over the time, the party tries to figure out what to do:
Roze takes stock of who is where, trying to track the rotations.
Flynwick tries to judge connections, and he and Brenna notice writing wreathing the clock face in many languages: "The pendulum swings."
Nikz moves toward the giant book, attempting to read the spine, and becomes a little distracted by the fine white sand under him. A short investigation later, and he discovers that this is indeed not sand, but ground bone ash. Checking the spine of the book, it reads: "True Balance." Still trying to figure things out, Nikz takes his new gauntlet (a gift from a god), and presses it to the book, attempting to communicate. He hears, "Let it happen."
Quinn studies chamber #6 and recalls that there are creatures that like to stalk and are invisible. Alvus, using his goggles, sees the Invisible Stalker angrily writhing around. Chamber #2 is actually empty.
Brenna takes a deep breath, seeing now that the clock is a quarter-past, and steps into the empty chamber, no wall to stop her. Immediately, the copper dragon breathes fire angrily at its wall, to no effect, then settles down. Brenna does notice that there is a pile of ashes scattered around the chamber that used to be something living...
Realization dawns on something and yells to the group: "True balance, the pendulum swings, consider the creatures! Consider their alignment!"
Darrak steps into the same chamber, "I am." and kicks Brenna out. Immediately, the Invisible Stalker goes ballistic in its chamber. Flynwick then steps in, and the human begins to look around curiously, then gets back to work. Slowly, the party members begin to experiment with stepping into the open cell, taking note to what reacts. At the same time, the clock continues to tick by, at faster intervals.
Darrak tries to sunder the glass surrounding the human carpenter, sending a crack across the glass...and sending an identical crack along ALL of the other cells too. It seems that if they wanted to break out one, they'd need to break them all.
Flynwick and Alvus take note of two swirling purple vortexes on one side of each dome. Curious, Flynwick dives into one...
...and is flung out the other. Patting himself down, he looks no different, but a maniacal grin stretches across his face, a small trickle of blood leaking from his ear. He has the want to hurt others, and immediately heads toward Xavvan. Xavvan takes the hint, insulting and guiding him to the cell, then dodging out of the way before Wick can get his hands on him. The cell door shuts, and Wick spins around, suddenly unable to hear, or see, the party; lucky for them, Nikz can read lips.
Now the clock speeds up, the domes rotating faster in short spurts, sometimes changing direction sporadically. Quinn, in a moment of brilliance, puts a few things together: Koda and others have mentioned the Pendulum already, and the idea of it needing a push if it swings too far in one direction; also, based on the state of the room, the cells, and floor of bone ashes, whatever happens when the bell tolls won't be very pleasant for anything in those cages...
Darrak decides to also jump through a vortex...and emerges exactly the same, so he steps between the two rotating domes, waiting for the two vortexes to meet.
With only minutes remaining, Roze, Boom, Brenna, and Notloc rush toward the grandfather clock. Climbing underneath its massive base, Brenna finds a huge keyhole, and though Roze is not confident, she tries the Conduit Key in the hole...and nothing happens. Meanwhile, Notloc does his best to climb up the side of the clock, positioning himself to face the swinging pendulum. Below, the domes begin shifting erratically, slowly lining up with the purple smoke holes. In a desperate maneuver, Notloc unleashes a huge gust of wind, targeting the pendulum.
The clock strikes 1:00.
The vortexes connect, sending a shockwave of violet electricity into each other.
The cages simultaneously superheat or chill to the point of shattering. Flynwick looks out at nothing, unable to see or hear his friends, as his body is turned to ash. All at once, each creature is frozen or immolated.
And there, between the two domes, a confident Darrak is surrounded by the amethyst energy, and watches in disbelief as his body turns to ash...
...But the clock does not chime. The gust from Notloc holds the pendulum at bay, as the clock twitches 1 minute to toll, then clicks, and resets.
A moment passes.
The gnome's ashes pulse with radiant light, and Flynwick is reconstructed, returned to his Neutral/Good state. He breathes a sigh of relief, lying on his back in the now-open cell.
Between the two domes, Darrak's ashes remain, unmoving...
But with another pulse of purple light, Darrak's form returns from death, reconstructed and very sore. While he recovers in the sand, the two domes sink rapidly below the sand, as a gigantic treasure chest rises from the depths where the door once was.
Flipping it open reveals a glowing, painted door within, and as the party makes their way towards it, the chest flips onto its side, righting the door. Opening it reveals a massive cavernous chamber full of discarded artifacts, treasure, clocks, mechanisms, and ancient weaponry and armor, deposited there like trash. Looking through the doorway, Nikz spies a draconic statue, gray slate and marble, with sapphire accents upon the scales of the chest and tail. One wing is broken, but the base looks solid, encased in sapphire and topaz.
One by one, the party crosses the threshold and enters their final test.
The Sheathe and The Sky
The party enters a large, deep, mostly hollow cavern. There are mounds of earth and buried treasure that dot the landscape. A shattered pirate ship, a mound of gold, a sundered clock, or set of swords embedded in a stone; but it is the dragon statue that catches their eyes. Alvus and Notloc, using their Goggles of the Night and Pale Wing Telescope, respectively notice a small mote of magical energy in the chest of the dragon statue.
Nikz decides, and walks toward the statue. As he does so, Roze, Nikz, Brenna, and Quinn notice glowing, golden etchings begin to follow him along the walls and ceiling. They write in a thousand languages, they recognize a few, but there are thousands more.
They read: "When enough lights go out, my beacon will ignite. It shall pierce the storm, and no creature will deny its brilliance - not even a god."
This glowing script overlaps hundreds of times, wreathing the room and filling it with golden light. While Roze searches for infernal artifacts and others try to fill their pockets with gold, Nikz continues forward, saying "For Io and the Balance" and reaches toward the dragon. The scales shift aside and bright white light spills from within the statue, revealing a long white hilt. Without hesitation, Nikz reaches out and grasps it...and his whole body goes limp, his hand remaining clenched to the hilt.
Notloc sends a healing word. Nothing happens. Brenna attempts a Mage Hand to pry his fingers away. The spell ends before it reaches the hilt.
At this moment, all the script along the walls shifts. A thousand languages, a thousand times saying, "HE IS NOT WORTHY. HE IS NOT WORTHY." Over and over again, spilling over each other. HE IS NOT WORTHY. HE IS NOT WORTHY. Until one line is different, settled just over the statue and Nikz's dying form. "Is he worthy?"
Roze steps forward immediately, puts a hand on Nikz's shoulder, and says, "Yes."
A heavy impact shatters the wall behind the group as the undead face of green dracolich smashes through snarling, a sea of wyrmlings behind it wrestling with hundreds of warforged. It lets out a guttural roar, and the party dives for cover.
Having faced this creature before, the party moves fast. Darrak clicks his greaves of haste and rushes up to the dracolich, punching it to no effect...then runs the opposite direction. Alvus dives out of the way, loads his hand crossbow, and fires upon the creature. The arrow shatters against it, then Alvus hides behind a pile of gold. Roze holds strong to Nikz, but tries to communicate with the Conduit - which responds with a prompt to pull Nikz's soul into the Ring of Mind Shielding held in its pommel. Roze agrees, only as a last resort.
Flynwick protects Notloc from Evil by smacking him on the forehead, and Notloc runs toward Nikz's form, holding the rest of his turn. Quinn runs like hell, dragging her husband, Xavvan, with her. Now further out of reach, she unloads a few arrows at it, shattering against its scaly hide. Xavvan slides over to Nikz, inspires Roze, and grabs onto Nikz, saying "He is worthy." At this point, Xavvan and Roze look up at the wall and notice that two of the previous phrases have changed to the question, "Is he worthy?"
Brenna realizes there is a dragon behind her and notices that the script illuminating the room has begun to disappear, darkening from the destroyed wall and moving slowly toward the base of the statue. She steps to face the dragon, pulling out her wand of magic missiles, and unloads nearly all the charges into it and hexing it on top of that, then uses her Instant Transmission to teleport over to Nikz, grab on, and say that he's worthy. (another bit of script changes as more light leaves the chamber) Boom, the last one near the dragon, casts another fireball on it, charring bits of its already broken flesh off, then casts Sanctuary on himself and RUN! The dragon leaps onto Boom...and is unable to hit him.
Alvus, looking past the dragon, sees a fire elemental form through the wall and something serpentine and feminine slithering over the rocks, dragging six swords and a spiked tail.
Nikz, now taking hold of his own soul, finds himself sitting in a tavern at a round table. A man sits across from him in a fine suit and a top hat, holding a watch. For a moment, the man's face is only humanoid, unrecognizable; but then it shifts to a traveler Nikz met while in the Feywild, then shifts again into the face of a werewolf named Arukren, changes again and becomes the mask of Lady Lessai, and finally shifts back to this humanoid face. He checks his watch. "...Now there's the Broken one. Time runs short. Can you make the choices no one else can?" (death save)
Nikz: "I am ready to restore the balance."
The Many: "Can you be my Pendulum?" (death save)
Nikz feels Roze sitting next to him, as well as Brenna, and Xavvan.
Meanwhile, on the outside, the lights continue to fade. Darrak drags Notloc (by slapping him around) to Nikz, putting his hand, and Notloc's, onto Nikz's body. "He is worthy." Alvus sinks more arrows (and sneak attack) into the dracolich, nearly severing an arm, while Boom runs for his life.
"YA-TAAH!" Suddenly, the champion-armored kobold leaps down onto the marilith, cleaving into it, and a heavily-armored Koda, with ballistic arms, appears and punches the jaw off of the dragon.
With reinforcements arriving, Roze feels the sword rise, pulling her toward the wreckage pile beyond the statue. "We are worthy." She then lists off all of Nikz's allies, including Malfurik, Keddigan, and Kincaid. Also, the sword pulses with "Home."
Flynwick, seeing the lights go out, snuffs out any other light sources he can, just to be sure....
Soon, the fire elemental cannot pass beyond the wall's threshold, and steps back, giving Flynwick the opportunity to bear hug Nikz. "He is worthy."
A dark cloud spills forward from the farthest wall, punching through what remains of the citadel, a draconic face billowing forth. With a roar of lightning and death, it cascades over the sea of dragons, flowing quickly toward the cavern. Alvus steels himself...
Notloc uses Greater Restoration on Nikz...and is momentarily transported. Nikz notices Notloc's head sticking through the wall, confused and strange. The Many: "Get. Out." Nikz: "I have very dedicated friends."
Quinn takes the opportunity, takes aim, and impacts the dragon with a devastating arrow attack, severing the dragon's tendons in its neck, and its head falls off...which Koda rushes forward and pulverizes into paste. By now, light is getting very low in the room, the light from the statue's chest growing dimmer and dimmer, fading, fading, fading...
And in the darkness, The Many: "Just one question. ...Where do you find your strength? Your strength to choose? Your strength to defy my will? Where does my Broken Hand find his strength?"
Nikz thinks long and hard before answering: "...Growing up with the will of my father to be peaceful and live in the Wilds with all of the Fey, versus the will of my mother to make me a weapon, I have chosen to make my own path, and will always choose to make my own path. But, I understand balance and I choose to seek it in my own way."
The Many closes his watch, and puts it in his coat pocket. He then reaches out his own hand - one that clicks and whirrs of its own accord - and offers it to Nikz. "The Pendulum swings." (death save with advantage - natural 20)
Darkness takes the room. A roar of lightning rumbles toward the heroes, and waves of death spill into the room. They hear the voice of Narizguun. "I AM THE EYE, THE WILL, AND THE STO-
A blinding column of light punches through from the statue, piercing the dragon storm and dispersing it. The beam burns away the marilith, the dracolich, and all the remaining wyrms. And there, in the column of light, Nikz rises, noticing a small bronze seed taking root in his palm, and forming a tattoo of a hilt...
As the light spills forth, all the random wealth that the party filled their pockets with turns to dust and they see the Darkness, the dark energy that Koda calls the Failsafe, begin to consume the Barrens. They judge they need to move quickly.
Roze lets the Conduit move her, and she is pulled immediately through the debris behind her. The party follows as fast as they can, and notice a large metallic structure shuddering to life under the debris. As it does so, a door opens; a hatchway, and the group dashes inside before it closes again. The druid, with the sword's help, finds her way to a large cockpit, three brazers of elemental energy displayed beyond the wheel. And there, in the terminal, is a slit in the make...like a sheath. "Home." the word echoes in her mind...and she lets go of her companion. The sword fits into the sheath easily, then sinks further in, elemental energy pouring from it. "Goodbye." The red brazer ignites in a ring of fire, and the party feels the structure light from the inside, wings folding out and flapping without lift.
Boom finds a cannon, and grabs on, feeling vicious thorns dig into his tiny hands and feeling blood drain from him into the ship. In the cockpit, the white brazer ignites with life force. Finally, at the basement of the ship, Notloc and Nikz find a lightning rod and Nikz shoots it with a lightning arrow.
With all three brazers lit, the airship lifts off, rising above the Barrens as the Darkness floods over it, driving the civilization down and down into the continent of Erena. Alvus reads the script in Abyssal that runs along the wall: "I have awakened. I, the Skypiercer."
And there, safe for the time being, Roze begins to orient the ship toward Diskana...and the coming storm.
Session end. 2:15am
Trial of the Sage (continued)
Viewing Nikz's spacing on the board, the serpent murmurs, "Hmm. It seems we're bending the rules already..."
At this point, Brenna feels invisible walls rise around the sandstone pedestal, closing her in. She realizes that she is now a "player" looking her "pieces" on a game board and that she has three "moves." Brenna thinks, "Roze."
Roze feels her locked up body release, and immediately summons 8 riding horses to fill the spaces next to her allies, plopping one right in front of Nikz, who is happy to have a meat shield. However, she quickly realizes that she cannot move through the horses' spaces, as her foot presses against an invisible wall. NEXT, Brenna commands Notloc to move. Notloc gains control of his body, and suddenly knows that he can move three spaces in any direction, and that he can move between pieces. Taking this to heart, he targets a space ahead of the wall of horses made by Roze, and disappears in a stream of smoke, only to reappear in the space. Eager to try a thing, Notloc points at board below him and casts Shatter...
The party watches Notloc's space shatter apart and his body plummet into darkness. A moment passes, before another cloud of smoke passes through the board from the hole and Notloc reappears in the space next to him. The group can see boiling lava at the bottom of the hole, but luckily Notloc caught himself and had another space of movement. The hole to lava, however, remains.
Darrak is move three. He suddenly knows that can move only diagonally one space at a time. Instead, he tries to Dimension Door to the space next the "king" on the other side, slamming into an invisible force (that seems to crack a little!). Still inebriated, he happily announces to the group: "The barriers can break!" then moves onto the horse in front of Nikz...which promptly disappears in a puff of smoke when he mounts it. Nikz mutters, "Hi, meat shield." with a grin.
With a rumble, the party feels control of the board shift, and a strange amorphous creature moves quickly and quietly across the board. Its skin continually shifting, it stares at the group with no eyes or ears or nose, only a sickened black tongue sliding in and out of a horrible orifice in its head. The "eyes" lock onto Nikz, and its features become clearer, clarifying in the precise shape, gear and all, of the arcane archer. The creature then uses Nikz's own bow and arrows to sink two into him. Nikz's doppelgänger then shifts back to its amorphous form. Next to move is a Kuo-toa warrior, who slides nearly the full length of the board up to the horse in front of Flynwick, cleaving it into dust. Move three, a Satyr (hauntingly familiar to party members who traveled in Frostburn) activates and plays a beautiful, entrancing melody...but Darrak and Flynwick decide it is not good enough to dance to.
Then, the board moves. A fissure opens in the center of the board and a column of lightning streaks across the two center paths, momentary electrocuting Notloc in his new space. A beat passes, control beginning to shift, but in that split second, Nikz feels control over his body and judges that he has his full movement; he moves diagonally and attempts to shoot the doppelgänger...who is difficult to see within a dark space. Despite its shifting form, the arrow finds its mark...then continues to sink into the form of the creature, consumed by it. But as Nikz goes to draw his second arrow, his body locks up, his eyes meeting those of the serpent staring down at him...for now, his turn is over.
Control again shifts to Brenna, who realizes she now has 4 "moves," as little lights, like motes of fire, ignite over each of her allies (and the remaining 6 horses), indicating her options. Notloc is up, taking two steps toward a hovering ghost and casts gust of wind upon it (attempting to catch the ghost and the mummy behind it). The ghost snarls and disappears in puff of smoke, the remaining wind slamming into an invisible wall within the space. Learning the team a thing, Notloc takes the ghost's space. The serpent above chuckles, "Hmm. It appears that someone is about to crowned..."
As Notloc's turn ends, Brenna feels his light return, indicating that she could spend another move to move him again... Realizing this, she does just that. Notloc takes two steps to the left in front of the "king," a massive bugbear wielding an obsidian axe, and is interrupted by said axe cleaving into him. As Notloc growls, "Yarr, that'll be a nice scar..." he shatters the space below the king, and the bugbear drops down the hole. A beat passes, and a grunting bugbear climbs out, stepping into the diagonal space, its axe reappearing in its hands. Notloc moves diagonally, to the end of the board, and waits...as an angry crown of thorns and spikes begins to form around his head, but the tempest cleric resists the Crown of Madness and his turn ends.
Brenna realizes suddenly that she hates fish, and seeing the Kuo-Toa irks her, so she activates Flynwick. Flynwick becomes aware of the fact that he can move in a straight line (with an ability to charge, if he so chooses). Instead, he sends an illusory clone of himself behind the Kuo-Toa, who whips around and makes fish noises at it. Brenna, disappointed that the fish is not dead, activates Flynwick again in frustration. Flynwick casts Toll of the Dead through the clone and the fish screams in horrible pain, clutching its head as death knells hammer its psyche. It is still standing, but very unhappy.
Control shifts again, and the bugbear cleaves into Notloc, attempting to throw him off the board, but Notloc stays put. Notloc channels his Destructive Strike as a reaction and pushes the bugbear back.
At this point, the dragon yawns and says, "Well, this is getting boring... What do you say we make things a little more interesting..."
Brenna: "What exactly did you have in mind there, fella?"
Dragon: "What if we just leave them to their own devices for a bit... Then I can add something, you could add something..."
Brenna: "So let me get this straight. You wish to suspend the current rules so you can add a toy, then I can add a toy, and we just let them play it out?"
The dragon takes out a large hourglass and flips it. "Just until that runs out."
Brenna: "Yeah, so, is there any chance that we could just talk this out over a nice cup of tea without getting anybody else harmed?"
The dragon sighs. "I grow tired of this. Let's just try something else..."
Brenna: "I refuse. Flatly. Ya' arrogant serpent."
The creature growls. "Fine, you don't want to play? Let's just adjust the board a bit."
Immediately, the party feels their half of the board give way, row by row collapsing. Each member feels their bodies free from control and attempts to sprint, Roze mounting a horse and riding ahead (many of the horses, and the Kuo-Toa, fall to their doom). Even Boom, with his tiny little gnome legs, has a burst of speed and adrenaline that powers him across the threshold and a few spaces beyond...before he locks up once more as the magic takes effect.
With the board halved, the sandstone pillars move closer together, and a ticked-off Brenna pulls her staff of magic missiles to unleash six bolts of force at the dragon; which smack against an invisible barrier. "It's not time for that yet," the dragon chuckles, "I still have two moves left."
The doppelgänger shifts again into Nikz and fires two arrows in Boom's form. The Satyr attempts once again to force creatures to dance...and fails once again. Frustrated, it draws a long, black vorpal blade and slices into Flynwick. The mummy moves toward Roze, and slams her with its fists.
At this point, a shift ripples across the board, and in these close quarters, control momentarily breaks. The wall surrounding the dragon falls, as well as the one around Brenna, and everyone gains agency of their bodies and minds...
Brenna immediately hexes the dragon, arching a witch bolt toward his massive form, but the lightning grounds. With a roar, the dragon unleashes a huge lightning bolt, and the party watches the sandstone chamber explode in fire and death, falling into the abyss...
Alvus draws a longsword, and slices into the bugbear, now flanked by allies. Nikz also draws his own vorpal blade and begins to cleave into the doppelgänger, attempting to drop the thing. While her allies attempt to clear the board, and seeing Brenna explode, Roze attempts to cast Dispel Magic on the board...
Energy moves through every space and reverberates over the room. Then the spaces begin to disconnect from each other, falling into the abyss below. At the same time, the party sees the space around the dragon coalesce into the view; a large stone slab in space and time...and a pair of feminine legs sticking out of its mouth? Thinking quickly, one by one, the party leaps from one stone to the next, diving for that slab, and one by one with the help of a few summoned giant eagles, they make it...except for Boom. The little artificer, without his spider friend, falls past the slab and into the darkness below...
As the board falls away and the party stands cramped on the stone slab with the dragon, he absently chews and talks with his mouth full, "You know, I haven't-" until Brenna Hellish Rebukes him and he spits her out. "Ahem." The bugbear fades away, the doppelgänger fazes into the dragon. "No one has ever broken the board before. Interesting. You pass." And heavy obsidian doors open behind the dragon as the stars become slabs of stone. Darrak throws a grappling hook to Boom...who is on his back flailing harmlessly on the stone.
Boom: "You know, I had a spider when I came in here!"
Dragon Wyrm: "There is a cost...to everything."
The party moves on.
Trial of the Champion
Entering into the next room, the heavy obsidian doors closing and disappearing behind them, the party sees a simple hallway. A tattered red carpet stretches before them into darkness, flanked by slate columns and small sconces of fire. On the edge of his hearing, Nikz picks up metal armor chinks shifting ahead, and stealths forward into the darkness.
About a hundred feet forward, the sconces lighting just after he passes them, column by column, Nikz feels a presence directly ahead of him. Feeling the pressure, he instead slides around one of the columns and attempts to continue and avoid the carpeted path. Not one step beyond the column he feels a rush of wind in front of his face and something very heavy and very sharp slams into the stonework just in front of him. With intelligence, he backs away as a set of brazers light and fill the space with firelight.
Before Nikz stands an imposing figure. Covered in intricate layers of black plate mail, a dark helm with swooping horns, a long red cape with furs decorating the shoulders, stands an 10-foot tall warrior, a massive claymore (running about the length of Nikz) now drawn and resting at the ready. The helm, Nikz takes note, has one side painted a sickly red, while the other remains a deep black.
Nikz greets the creature, "Hello, good sir! How are you?" But is greeted with silence from the knight. Feeling awkward, he sucks down a greater healing potion in anticipation. The rest of the party, now finished downing their own healing potions at the entrance, rush toward the sound.
Alvus steps forward and asks the knight, "What is your challenge?"
As if in response, the knight picks up the sword and shoves it into the stone beneath him, the flat side of the blade facing the group. Notloc steps forward and grabs the hilt, attempting to draw the blade...and ends up hoisting himself upon it like a cartoon jerking wildly at something immovable. Boom looks past him, and moves around him...and just keeps walking and walking and walking... The party watches Boom move a foot past the knight and walk in place for the next thirty seconds.
Attempting to think outside the box, Flynwick and Roze both attempt to cast happier spells upon the knight (Friends and a Wand of Smiles), but feel both impact the helmet and dispel immediately.
Darrak now steps forward nonchalantly, moves very close, feigning indifference...then attacks!
With impossible speed and strength, the knight swings the claymore into the monk, slicing deep and hurling him across the room, crashing through a column. As the party tenses from the movement, Flynwick's keen eyes pick up a small detail: there is writing on both sides of the blade, each side a different language...
The side facing the group is in Elvish. It reads: "A warrior finds a reason to fight." On the other side of the blade...is Boom (who has a helm of comprehend languages). As the group tries to move to see the other side of the blade, the knight shifts it to block their view, but Boom, being small and stealthy, finds the opposite end and reads in Draconic: "A champion finds a reason not to." Immediately, Boom digs through his bag, looks up at the big scary knight, and offers up trail rations with a "Would you like a snack?"
...The back plating of the knight swings up and open, and a tiny lady kobold torso emerges. She happily gathers up the offering with a, "Yes I would, thank you so much." She slinks back inside, closing the hatch. The knight suit sheathes the sword and steps aside. The kobold again pops out of the suit, this time from the front, sniffing toward the dumbfounded party and says, "...Whose got my herb?"
All eyes turn toward Nikz. "I, uh, actually gave it to your master already, but-
"Well they're fighting dragons right now, so give it here!" Nikz begrudgingly hands over another dose, which the kobold immediately investigates, then pours down his throat before Brenna can protest. "The door's just up ahead!"
Brenna: "Just a moment, can you give us any idea what to expect in the third and final task?"
The kobold's eyes dilate a little. "You know this is a test right? I can't give you the answers!" Her voice sounds a little...auto-tuned. "Oh, it's working already!"
As more sconces light in the distance, illuminating the obsidian doors, dulled impacts shake the walls, a few loose rocks falling.
The Kobold gets back in her suit, announcing: "Don't worry, I'll hold them here. Good luck!" and she steps back into place, drawing her huge blade.
The party passes through the doors to the third trial...
Finished in part 3.
Adventurers Present: Darrak (Monk-11), Black Roze (Druid-5), Ziplepot Boom (Artificer-9), Nikz (Rogue-2/Fighter-7), Notloc Renexela (Cleric-10), Alvus Thorne (Rogue-7), Quinn (Rogue-4), Xavvan (Bard-4), Flynwick (Cleric-4), Brenna Cormirant (Druid-3/ Warlock-6) = Party of 10.
At the Barren Gate
The Knight Owls have been traveling by land for three days, dodging stalking creatures in the skies, and making haste toward the remains of a place Kincaid once called the Ferusian Wilds. In its place, surrounded by a deep chasm and a river of lava, a spike of rock now sits, like a nail driven into the center of the world. A few of the Owls have been here before, and quickly find the invisible bridge that crosses the dangerous chasm, leading them to a sturdy wooden door without a handle. Nikz and Roze remember this place well, and are keen to keep their distance from the door, until a drunken Darrak falls headfirst into it and is promptly electrocuted and knocked backward.
While Nikz, Roze, and Boom attempt to decipher the door, Alvus' keen hearing and night goggles spot some scaly foes in the distance, making a beeline toward them. As Quinn opens fire on one, a third roars to their left; a broken-scaled green dragon, bones exposed, swoops out of the mist and lands on a protrusion from the rock face. With a roar, it spews poison and death upon the party as they scatter across the bridge, a few dodging instead back onto the other side.
The Owls are quick, utilizing their magical artifacts and some ranged sneak attacks to fell two of the wyrmlings before they can reach the party, but the big green dracolich isn't going down easy, despite Notloc (the resident storm cleric) hammering it with snow and sleet and Brenna hurling charge after charge of magic missile into its body.
Roze, grasping her charge's golden blade, The Conduit Key, she speaks to the elemental inside and it whispers to her in Primordial, "Home." At this point, the young druid's eyes fill with white smoke and she sees a large slit on the door, like a strange keyhole. Trusting the creature inside the sword, she hesitantly drives the blade into the slit within the door and feels it fit into a mechanism. She then turns the "key"...and a massive arch of lightning hurls out of the keyhole, wreaths around Darrak first (who is busy wall-running toward the dracolich), then slams into Notloc, traveling through him into Brenna, then Nikz, into Quinn, then snakes over to Flynwick (who falls unconscious from the impact), then arcs back into Xavvan and Alvus, finally whipping under the bridge to wreath around Boom and his mechanical spider, "Mr. Clanky." The spider tenses and is pulled rapidly toward Alvus, slamming him into Xavvan, who follows the trail back to Flynwick, who compresses into Quinn, then Nikz, Brenna, Notloc, and Darrak, forming an electric daisy-chain of heroes who, like a whip crack, are flung toward a panicked Roze and a disappearing door...
The World of the Kept
The adventurers land in a pile, with Mr. Clanky's heavy metal form sitting on top, and Roze standing just off to the side. As members of the party attempt to heal each other in the mound, Roze feels a cold hand, one finger at a time, rest on her shoulder. She does not step away, and instead reaches up and pats the hand. A familiar, powerful voice, almost mechanical, greets the heroes, "Oh good. You are here." And the party turns to see the 12-foot tall form of Koda the Wise, a creature of seemingly interconnected plating and armor, his "helm" covering a mouth and bright, flickering eyes of amethyst. Alvus takes a moment to study the creature's mannerisms and make, and realizes him to be a warforged.
Nikz, Roze, and Boom recognize Koda immediately from the Fardream, taking note of his long violet and gold cloak draped over his shoulders, greet him as he picks up each hero from the pile and rights them. Nikz steps forward and gives a small pouch of Songsteal (procured from Striga in Interludes) and hands it over to Koda, who takes it, checks it, then opens his chest plate and places it inside with other assorted pouches. "Anacrusis will be most pleased..."
The party learns that the herb in question was once used to fight the Bardic Champions in the first age; it allows singers an augmented voice, but, given training, can allow some users to mimic the voices of others, especially those laced with magic; they used the herb, which must be smoked, to effectively counter-charm the Bards. Koda is also aware of the dragons outside, and presses the party to follow him through the obsidian doors behind him.
As the doors open, the party is momentarily blinded by daylight and the sound of trickling water. Their eyes adjust and as they step through the threshold they see a brilliant courtyard that stretches many hundreds of feet in all directions. Three suns and a rogue moon orbit above them with a chorus of stars and blue skies. Rows of mismatched statues, ornate fountains, marble columns dot the landscape and the party takes notice of a set of four statues - a set of three identical brothers, and a finely dressed man with a turban (Wolfe Ward). As Koda makes his way through the center line of this space, urging the party to follow, they become distracted by a few sights. A strange human trying to balance a stack of 9 books as he moves toward a hole in the ground, while a dwarf with pink hair attempts to pry black platemail with gray spirals from his body, a warforged appears to be carving arrows out of steel blocks, while another trains a pack of dire wolves to hunt. The first of these, the party learns, is named Ben, and is bringing the stack of books (7 of which read The Encyclopedia of Alchemical Longevity) to a fire pit in the ground; when Brenna protests, Ben explains that the library is in the fire plane, then drops the stack into it (but not before Alvus swipes a book for himself, #4 in Longevity; and Roze grabs "Worshiping The Old Gods and What It Means To You." More antics ensue, and Nikz and Quinn make their way to the warforged carving arrows. Nikz asks if he can have one of the arrows, to which the topaz-eyed creature simply responds, "Why?"
Nikz responds without hesitation. "...To protect Io and serve The Many." The warforged pauses, eyes flickering once more, then reaches behind into its stack of arrows and pulls one out, slamming it into the stone slab before it. One by one he does this, five times, in silence. "Five fingers," it says, "...Five fingers for the Broken Hand." When Quinn leans in and asks for one, the warforged sticks one in the ground in front of her, saying, "One for a new Hand." (+2 Masterwork arrows, Unbreakable). Quinn asks if there is anything else that this creature does, and it responds, "This...is this one's purpose. We have many soldiers. Sometimes when the Balance..." its eyes flicker rapidly, "...when the pendulum swings...it requires a push." It then quietly goes back to work and says nothing more.
Koda eventually gathers them all in front of a large domed castle with seven glass and diamond spires. Nikz and Brenna take notice of translucent serpents moving around within each spire and Nikz feels a pang of recollection thinking of his new "pet" (Koriasaka, the special dragon), so he asks Koda about them. "The Omnic came here when their mother died..." Nikz: "I have a friend who is an Omnic." Koda: "Then keep it safe, until it is needed." Nikz: "Always."
Koda steps up to a set of two 15-foot tall obsidian doors, then begins turning a set of five concentric clay wheels, each set to a specific runic symbol. When he finishes, dust settles beyond the door. "The seed you seek...this one knows of it. It has three trials, three locks, three gods that made them. You will face the Trial of the Sage, of the Champion, and of the Pendulum." And Koda the Wise opens the doors...
Trial of the Sage
The party is ushered into a pitch dark room; cold, empty, and soundless. Alvus uses his Goggles of the Night and notices small motes of stars floating far below and ahead of the group. Koda gives each of the group a nod of assurance and utters, "We shall hold here. ...The pendulum swings." And with one last nod, slow and reserved, Koda closes the doors.
Heavy latches and stones falling echo around them, as if the room itself were falling into place, then silence. A low, rumbling growl slakes through the room...and two motes of crackling lightning ignite in the distance ahead of them. The motes shift together, rising an immense height above. A deep, silky voice rumbles through the dark, impossibly big and everywhere at once. "Ah... Another has come..." The motes flash once more, this time reflecting off of something...metallic. Quickly, silently, they rush down to loom over all of them and they realize that they are not bolts, but eyes. Arching blue electricity begins to flow out from the eyes, bouncing around the room, until each meets and ignites a floating sconce. Blue fire illuminates the room and the party is standing upon a sea of stars, clouds, and planets, gently moving below them.
The creature before them, a gigantic draconic serpent, moves its head back, never breaking its piercing gaze, and comes to rest on the far end of this...space. It sits, coiled, watching. "In that case... Enter, Sages, and the trial shall commence..."
Notloc, undeterred, steps forward into the open space of clouds and stars. Out of the Aether before him, rises a massive stone slab, a set of marble steps leading up to it from the nothingness below. At the same time, he feels himself and his allies rise, as a sandstone column forms at their feet, propelling them up to eye level with the serpent. Looking out and down to the slab, they recognize a two-toned chess board. As they watch, eight figures appear in small cyclones of lightning onto select spaces upon the board. They are each different, and some are recognizable as old foes...
"Light yields keen sight, dark hesitates the weapon's bite."
Darrak steps onto a light square, while Alvus steps onto a dark square. Darrak is immediately illuminated and VERY easy to see. Shadows rise up and cling to Alvus' form, making him difficult to pinpoint. One by one, each hero moves onto a space (Boom realizes he must leave Mr. Clanky behind on the sandstone), until there is only Brenna and Nikz left. Nikz notices something inscribed along the board's edge; inlaid gold script, seemingly ornamentation, he now recognizes as elvish upside down. It reads: "The Student follows the rules. The Sage understands when to break them." He instead squeezes between two allies and finds purchase ahead of them, in a new space in the second row. With only one adventurer remaining on the sandstone, Mr. Clanky powers down, and Brenna feels something strange move up her neck: knowledge...
The trial continues after a short break (and in part 2...)
The following is a summary of a Vignette event through the Knight Owls Interludes Facebook group. Vignettes are short, interactive voluntary events held within the group where players can seek out new lore, run through skill challenges, and be a part of a mini-adventure.
This Vignette took place from 11/25 - 12/3/17. Story-wise, its events transpire 3 days after the end of Whispers, and 3 days before the upcoming adventure, "Sheath", to be held on 12/9/17 (21+ group).
Following a dire summons to gather at The Platinum Guard in Diskana, all current Knight Owls (and a few retired veterans) find themselves sucking down ale, trading stories, and coming to terms with the concept of an undead dragon god roaming somewhere beyond the Edge...
The door is kicked inward by a clawed foot and a stout halfling marches in, demanding to see his brother. All eyes turn to the creature, recognizing him as Keddigan Slitspire, one of the Tenrook himself, and immediately turn their eyes to a shocked Kincaid. Kincaid and Keddigan reunite, but not before some gentle ribbing on the resurrected. Keddigan then turns serious, ordering all Owls into the cellar, stating "The time for secrets has passed."
When all are assembled, Keddigan's voice changes. He reveals that he is much older than he seems, that he and his brother are demigods in service of Io, and have been for many years. He speaks of the fact that two of the Seven came to he and his brother and magically conscripted and inspired them to forge a weapon; over ten years later, they had no memory of what they had constructed, and no physical evidence of it, only a feeling. Fast-forward to the first rise of Narizguun, the Devourer of the Divine, and the fall of clerical bastion of Brimshire (and Kincaid's death); Keddigan and Kincaid surmise that Kincaid's death at the jaws of Narizguun "planted" a Seed within the dragon's son, Shorimkaz, later called The Sheathe of Chaos by Keddigan and his followers. In short, it seems, the weapon forged was a seed of power within Kincaid, his sole purpose to die in order to grow the weapon in the belly of something of extreme unwieldy power.
The sword was intended to be drawn by Keddigan, upon Shorimkaz's death, in order to strike down Narizguun and purge him from existence. ...It seems that that was not how things went, and he was defeated at a great loss the traditional way; the face of Io was changed forever, and the fall of Narizguun marked the beginning of the Age of Ren (the third age).
Now, in recent times, the Knight Owls have come across more and more of Narizguun's follows; transient knights and killers who have gouged out their own eyes for dreaded boons and unholy power. While investigating the edge of the Underdark, a group fought the upper torso of an ancient black/blue dracolich (later revealed to be Narizfal). After this came a particular mission involving a broken and defaced temple of Corellon (Elven; music, magic, crafting, and the arts), turned temple of Tharizdun (eternal darkness, decay, entropy, chaos). While there, they fought off a hybrid gold/green dragon and witnessed the rise of the now lich-god of Narizguun as it burned its way out of the cave system. And there, beneath the battlefield, the group came across the broken, desiccated corpse of Shorimkaz, a strange stone slab resting in his broken chest with a slit, like a stone sheath, at its center. Further investigation yields this image as an illusion, meaning that whatever was there has been taken and moved elsewhere.
Shortly after the date on that report, Keddigan reveals that his connection to the seed changed somehow. The feeling had been adjusted; more "tingly." Not one to ignore a sign, he wonders if the Knight Owls collected could help him locate it. A few offer to attempt an energy scry on the seed, using Keddigan's blocked memories as a starting point...
Nikz, Roze, and Boom reach out and touch the crown of Keddigan's head. Time stops, and the group is transported to a windswept sky high above the city of Exian in an Erena that is familiar, but...larger. They cannot think on this long, as a roaring black storm cloud looms over them, a draconic face protruding from its center as lightning poises to strike. Nikz fires an arrow into the cloud, momentarily dispersing its center, like the eye of a storm, and through the column, the group witnesses a ship flanking the cloud. The ship is wreathed in three rings of elemental energy (red, hot white, and a radiant orange), and begins unleashing balls of fire and lightning upon the cloud, seemingly fired from the rings. The assault is short-lived, however, as a barrage of lightning easily disables the craft, sending it careening down toward a rising cloud of darkness (some might say, a rising hand of smoke and embers) at top of molten pillar.
As they watch it fall, the group is pulled toward that black smoke and flecks of embers, and find themselves standing on warmth volcanic rock, surrounded by a swirling wall of darkness and floating cinder. For a moment, they believe themselves alone, seeing only a knelt metallic statue in front of them. Soon, though, they see it rise, standing nearly 10 feet high, a long velvet cloak running down its back. It appears to be wiry, strong, heavily plated, with a v-shaped shield over its mouth. The armored creature's eyes whirr to life, casting amethyst light toward the group. It speaks, the voice emanating from its whole body, addresses the group.
"A blind soothsayer, a broken hand, and a tinkertoy visit this one today. To come to this Fardream, you must be in seek of something. But ye travelers speak of things apart from this time. You must ask the right questions."
Boom steps forward. "We have been told that the seed of our salvation has grown fruit. Do you know where we can find the power to fight the oncoming storm that threatens our family and home?"
A moment passes, and the creature speaks again, answering without answering. "This Fardream is a memory. His memory. Of me. Of this terrace. To reach beyond it is to challenge the will of The Many. ...He was not worthy, and thus will not remember what lies beyond this one. Thus, the way is shut for here and now; this one cannot access it. But the time you come from, it may yet be opened..." Its eyes flicker rapidly on and off for a moment. "...and has been once already. To grant peace to four who longed for it."
Nikz tries. "If we approach the Fardream in our time will it consume us like it did those four?"
Its eyes flicker again and stare at Nikz. "This space is the Fardream. A memory, locked and still, buried deep in the Aether of time and spirit. ...You speak to his memory of this one, now, in the past... This one knows not of the future. This one only knows what this one" it points to Roze, "has witnessed."
Roze looks up suddenly, anxious and meek. "If you hold my broken memories and knowledge of things I struggle to remember - will there be more to see in another's memory? Is the knowledge we need buried deeper? ...I cannot fail another family..." She grips the golden longsword, Kincaid's "conduit key," tighter in her hand.
The creature holds up a metal hand. "This one can only see one's recent memory. To reach deeper would cause you pain..." The group hears clinking metal, like gears, and the creature becomes a little taller, regarding them all assembled.
Nikz: "Why was he not worthy? What is the will of The Many?"
“Too many died, they said, because of the hope it brought. He was not worthy. None have been worthy. So it was The Many, in their wisdom, who gifted it to us. I am the gatekeeper, the loremaster, the champion, and its guard. Here we covet the discarded, the forgotten, the seeking, and the Barren; until they are needed again." A moment passes. "He, the demigod, could not summon the blade from its sheath. He was not worthy. He failed the Trial laid out by The Many. ...This one has knowledge of all that came before, for this one was built for the job. They named this one Koda, the Wise. More answers lie in this Fardream. You must ask the right questions..."
At this moment, the assembled party feels the embers press inward and a powerful pressure sets upon their bodies. They resist the coming exhaustion, but time is clearly limited in this space. The questions become more frequent, the members talking over each other.
Roze struggles against the pressure, whispering to herself, "Who endures this pain, me or my king?" An echo on the wind and another rush of pressure answers the question for her, but Koda tilts his head to her and attempts to answer. "This one is the memory of the demigod; it is only you three who are...trespassing."
Nikz asks in rapid succession: "Is The Many one of the Seven old gods? Did you call Kincaid's cursed men to the Raised Barrens? Are you there now?"
Roze looks at her ally and attempts to redirect his thoughts: "We need to find another way to approach this. It's never the most obvious answer..." But Nikz seems set on his path.
Boom: "How is one judged worthy? Where do we go to be tested?"
Koda turns to each of them in turn, pausing between answers. "The Many called Wolfe Ward and the brothers to my citadel. We were ready to covet them; covet their need for peace and sending. We did not curse them, though. Only granted their dust. In the past, lord Ward and his fleet of wyvern riders were inspired to engage the storm of dragons. They left broken, and fled the conflict all together, unable to redeem themselves. ...The right questions are often obvious, once one forms the right words. ...You must enter where the Espers came to die, the fallen of the Ferusian Wilds. This one's home."
The pressure surrounding continues to rise, driving Nikz to his knees.
Koda continues. "To be judged is to face our forge of Trials. To test your mettle and mind, and be deemed worthy by the entities who forged each test. We have many trials, many items to seal away, until they are needed. ...This "seed." This one knows this Trial. It was forged by three of the Seven Wings. It will take much to pass, this one gathers."
Nikz: "Why did you call me a 'broken hand'? Just being condescending?"
"This one sees dichotomy lingering upon your soul. A Hand, at least one who pulls the will of The Many without question, is resolute in all things, and questions not. ...This one is uncertain if you were insulted. Questions are keys, too, and important to keep."
Nikz: "...Thank you, Koda. I will keep that in mind. I hope to see you soon in the world of the real."
The pressure kicks into the party, knocking the wind out of Nikz and exhausting Boom's form. Time runs short...
Roze prepares her body, taking a knee next to Nikz, and addresses Koda. "Friend, is there anything I can say to remind those who have forgotten so we may search for answers in our realm?" ...But Koda just stares back at her. Either he won't answer or there isn't one to give.
Nikz: "Are the Espers the cursed ones that carried the ring with Kincaid's soul in it? Who was Wolfe Ward?"
"The Espers are the self-proclaimed descendants of the ancient elemental gods. They led a war from the beyond the Aether eons ago, in the first age, using ships powered by their raw energy. When they lost, their remnants came here, to the Barrens. ...Wolfe Ward came to us as a Revenant, hundreds of years old and eager for death. ...the Thousand Year Door is the gate that stops foolish travelers; only one key can open it, forged before my time by another Hand."
Nikz persists, as the darkness presses inward, the space becoming smaller and smaller. "Where can this hand find the key to the Thousand Year Door?"
"...by this one's calculations, one of your comrades is already in possession of it, but knows how it functions."
A tingling current runs up Roze's spine, the sword thrumming with power. Before she can think on it, Boom interrupts with, "Where is the trial forge?"
"...In the citadel."
Roze struggles against the rising wind. "We need to return home! We need to regroup." She holds up the sword to Koda. "Is this the key we seek, does it hold the answers? Please, tell me how to help my king!" The howling wind begins to fill the group's ears. As the space grows tighter, some see Koda nod once.
Boom: "How do we get called to the citadel? Where is it?"
"The citadel lies in this one's city, I have already told you. ...For security, I know not what the key looks like nor its secrets, but that one there," he points to Roze, "resonates at the right frequency. One must find its forger to know its command word."
Roze, suffering from the exhaustion from the experience, openly apologizes to her king to rising winds, then turns to Koda. "Thank you, friend." And with this, wills her exit from the Fardream. Instantly, her form dissolves into dust and smoke, joining the swirling winds around the group. Seeing this, Boom attempts to leave, to run; it does not take much, and he, too, dissolves, leaving Nikz alone in the vortex. A menacing roar spears though the rising sound; dread spreading across the ground.
Nikz: "Well, Koda the Wise, it seems it is time for me to go. Is there anything I can bring you when we meet next? Something from the outside you would like?"
Koda stands in silence for a few moments, thinking. "This one's protege, Anakrusis, is most curious of an herb called Songsteal. It once grew on the island of Ixtapex near the southern edge. ...Farewell, Broken Hand. This one hopes you never repair, for your own sake." Koda the Wise steps back a few paces into the smoke and embers, and Nikz feels the pressure fade.
He blinks and finds himself drenched in sweat, kneeling next to a laughing Keddigan. His allies, Boom and Roze, sit near him wrapped in blankets and enjoying warm tea and potions. Keddigan claps him on the shoulder. "Welcome back, friend. Haven't done one of those in a thousand years or so. Well done. Well done, all of you." He stands up and looks to the rest of the room. "Now, let's unpack what the heck that was..."