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...)