Adventurers Present: Nikz (Elf, Fighter/Rogue - 10), Darrak (Dwarf, Monk - 12), Roonil (Human, Rogue - 5),
Riswynn (Dwarf, Druid - 11), Xun Fu (Half-Orc, Monk - 10), Gosef (Wizard - 10), Eli (Dragonborn, Paladin - 12), Surik (High Elf, Wizard - 6).
Party of 8 - Levels 5+
Ritual and Conversation
Riswynn asks, "Who is she?"
"Heh. She is the one who torments me. The one who will drag me back to hell when I fall."
"Do you belong in hell?" Eli chimes in.
"The verdict is still out on that one, my friendly apparition."
Riswynn corrects him. "We're not dead."
"The dead visit me every day, and most dead do not know that they are dead."
"But we're NOT dead!"
Batale motions to Riswynn. "You see? This is what happens. But it's alright."
"No, listen, we came here on the back of a giant Roc-
Roonil taps Riswynn on the shoulder. "You're not helping."
Batale gives her a warm and patient smile. "Of course you did, sweetheart." He then looks down and plucks a heavy bolt from his side, offering it to Riswynn. "I believe this belongs to you." Then turns and makes his way over toward Nikz, two tentacles burrowing up from the depths on either side of him. Each clutches a strong arrow, retrieved from the water surrounding them. With a deep bow, he returns Nikz's arrows to him. "I do apologize. I have never had a ghost shoot at me before, or do so ineffectively."
He then looks down toward the small stone disk on the sand floor, as it is blinking rapidly again. "Ah, we'd best move. This will go soon." He fishes inside his coat and produces another stone just like it, lobbing it into the water about 20 feet toward the opening. With a small boom, another dome bubble appears, connecting to this one. He ushers the party through, then goes and retrieves the old on. He repeats this process many times, leading the party closer and closer to the edge of the water line.
As they move, Batale compliments Eli, "You are very effective in combat. I must ask, where did you train and then horribly die?"
Eli is perplexed. "I haven't died yet. Many things tried to kill me, but none have been successful thus far."
Nikz interjects, "Well, there was that one time a devil lord tried to collect your soul..."
"Are you still wounded from our duel?" He hands Eli a vial of red liquid. Eli takes it with apprehension, but it is happy to discover that it is a Supreme Healing Potion. Batale takes the time to check if any others require healing in his "dream," complimenting Roonil on his swordplay technique.
Darrak brings up the elephant in the room. "So what's a Mind Flayer doing here?"
"Sorry. An Illithid."
"Ah. It is a long story... So, instead, if you can imagine a band of adventurers slaughtering the one thing that connected me to all whom I love, like a thousand screams of pain being replaced by the deafening silence of exile...that, coupled with my departure due to my...holy connections, and there you have it."
Gosef is curious. "Holy connections? To who?"
"I have a feeling that you have no idea."
The Owls try to discern how long Batale has been here and he says that he does not know, as time is strange. They discover that he is well aware that the island is flying, but he does not know particularly why. At this point, he leads them to the mouth of the lake, helping each out of the water, then sets to work lighting torches and brazers with precision and practice. No motion is wasted, as if he has done this thousands of times. In a matter of seconds, the chamber is lit and the way ahead, a narrow tunnel, is illuminated.
Batale and Xun chat as they walk, the half-orc catching up to him. "So, you get visited by the dead often? Do you battle all of them?"
"Some. Others just like to talk. Like you."
"At the right moments."
"Well said. And I agree with the sentiment." He looks at the half-orc's vestments. "By your garb, I fear that you are from my past. Did you train in the Desert Wastes of Uzot? Or another orcish settlement?"
"I have not met many orcs in my life. I was raised among humans."
"Ah! An outcast ghost!" He smiles broadly, clapping Xun on the shoulder. "I know what it is like to be an outlier. Perhaps you will offer me wisdom before you pass on." And Batale, pleased with this conversation, continues past a perplexed Xun.
Pushing open a creaky door, Batale and the group emerge into a small subterranean den. A smoldering campfire has been dug into the center of the room, surrounded by eleven makeshift seats and stumps. A fine blanket is laid out near the fire, and five ornate, runic tapestries line the walls. Batale sets to work on the fire, beckoning the group to come in and sit. Within a few short moments, gentle heat fills the room.
It is now that Batale kneels upon the fine blanket, drawing his blades and setting them in a specific formation on the earth. He then produces four small clay saucer-like cups, pulling a fine cask of liquid from under a stump, and pours a little into each cup. One by one, he raises a cup to an empty space around the fire, drinking it down and setting the cup upside down upon the dirt, until one remains. He lifts it his strange lips, muttering a prayer to himself, then drinks it down, setting it as the others. At this point, the ritual complete, he sits up and quietly regards the group, waiting.
Nikz, Riswynn, and Eli become very interested in the tapestries on the wall. What first appeared as runes are actually ancient draconic, and between the three of them, they are only able to translate sections of each: travel, clashing and blades, patience, honesty, and loyalty. Eli expresses that these might be the things he lives by, and could help them. Meanwhile, Xun and Darrak also enter mediative sitting positions - one respectfully, with his bo in front of him; the other sloppily, still drinking. Regardless, Batale gives each a deep and respectful bow, which they return.
Nikz points to the tapestries. "Is this your code?"
"It is the Accord of the Seven."
"Perhaps you are ghosts of the people who have forgotten their gods."
And for the first time during the adventure, Nikz pulls out the Vicious Joke and summons the creature within. A white drak appears on all fours, the spectral dragon named Koriasaka, next to the archer. Batale seems unfazed by the creature, instead giving it a deep nod. "Hello, old one."
Without missing a beat, Koriasaka makes her way to each tapestry, translating for the group the tenets of the Seven.
All who travel are allies until proven in the Eye.
All who clash must draw blades to a close.
All grant respect and patience to the unknown.
All who serve do so honestly.
We are all loyal to the Eye, for she allows us to see and act.
Riswynn asks Eilir if she knows anything of the Illithid or these tenets, and Eilir has trouble remembering at first. She knows that the Seven here are referring to the Seven Wings of Io - to the Forgotten Gods - of which many of the Owls have had direct or indirect contact with.
Darrak begins to inquire on what Age Batale believes it to be. The Illithid says that he cannot trust himself anymore, as time is strange, but he'd love to say Temm (the First Age). The dwarf monk explains that we reside in the age of Io-Shar (the Fourth Age), but Batale does not seem to believe him or the other Owls. He does express that he finds this discourse entertaining, though.
Eilir perks up at the mention of the Eye. She explains that if a Key (her) is but a single heart, an Eye is often multiple hearts. They are the leaders of a clan, and represent the top of the hierarchy, whereas she is much lower. Between them, there are creatures called Spires, protectors of the Eye.
"Are you a Spire?"
"Yes, I am a Spire. Not what you would normally see, no, but I serve my Lady with precision and poise nonetheless."
Eli interjects. "So why does your lady send you ghosts to challenge you?"
"Ah. A different 'she.' The one that would grant me repose for a life spent with honor and dignity. While my Lady sleeps, I am haunted by my past. And I was hoping, perhaps, that you would be the duel that would finally end me. But alas, you were not strong enough."
"Do you want to be ended?" Surik asks.
"I have been alive for an eternity, and I am a warrior. I will die by the sword. My own, or my enemies. But if it is to be the former, I must be certain that there is no more need for me."
"What keeps you here?"
"My Lady is not dead. She only sleeps."
Nikz perks up. "Is she here?"
"Yes. ...Would you like to see her?" The group agrees, and Batale seems to relax even more... Then seems to hear something, looking around the room. "What is beating? There is something beating in this room. It is very loud."
Though the group panics for a moment and tries to hide Eilir from him, he reminds them that they sit in his shrine and should speak honestly. Riswynn says her name, and Batale immediately responds. "I know this name. She is a member of the Cracked Earth." The Owls all feel Eilir gasp at this. "She built us warriors, when are numbers were cut down by the Goliath Herds." Riswynn reveals Eilir's heart, now no bigger than a golf ball. The group explains that she is dying, eroding away rapidly. Batale addresses the small stone heart. "Do not worry, little one. You are not alone. Soon, you shall meet the Eye, and we will forge for you a new path."
Eli's sigh brings the Illithid's attention once more. "Yes, master Paladin? Ye who worships one of the progeny of de' Seven."
"Yes. Do you know of Bahamut?"
"I do, though he was just a pup when I knew him."
"Right. Anyway. So, our understanding is that Eilir is wasting away because she doesn't have a purpose. Are you saying that your Lady will give her a purpose again?"
"The Eyes were granted a piece of the Hearthstone as part of their, well, sign of leadership. It grants them the ability to give life, and to take it away. So, yes, she will be able to reconstitute the heart in a new vessel and give her a new job." Riswynn looks worried, staring at the heart. "I understand. My Lady can only be seen at night, and this is in two hours. We cannot do anything until then. But do not worry, the Key will not be gone in that time; we still have time."
More conversation with Batale as the Owls begin their rest reveals that he does indeed know of The Many. In fact, he speaks of them not like gods, but distant friends. He describes The Many as a powerful trickster, always poking the beast that is Grumakon; he was close friends with the Weavemaster, and was universally hated by The Crow. Many of the Owls share the artifacts and stories tied to these gods, but Batale is not convinced. "The Seven do not get involved. They would never forge weapons in their image for mortals to use."
The Spire begins to douse the torches and darken the room. "If you wish to rest, I understand. I do not sleep in this time, so if you have more important questions to ask, I will answer."
A Tale for the Dead
As the fire grows dim, Eli asks, "Who were your companions?"
Batale takes a deep breath. "They were members of the Kihon." Met with silence, he continues to explain. "Mortals born from the Eye. You see, when the Hearthstone creates life, they create a creature in whatever image they like, but there is excess energy, so they create a Link - an elemental - to follow them. All of my task force, when I was first rescued by my Lady, had lost their Links. They were in a state of mourning, seeking a new purpose. So, after the Third Wave, I gave them one. We traveled to de' Broken Continent and 'ended' a few threats to our borders; finished the fight before it could start. ...I was the only one to return." Batale's eyes glaze over a bit, staring into the flames. He begins speaking again, this time as if telling a bedtime story - something practiced over many years of telling it.
"All Espers were sculpted from the Hearth. Formed in the Nexus, before time calculated.
Kosath Vol - the Eye of the Crashing Wave. Ushered in a new era for his people when he moved inland from the Brink to the Broken Continent (Uzot). He brought with him, as a sign of peace and faith, a single shard of the Hearthstone, the mark of an Eye.
Kekza Yann, the Barbarian King of Uzot, greeted Vol with kindness and respect - as per the Accords of the Seven. Vol was delighted by the lifestyle of these people, he adored their way of life... So much so that he invited all of his clan to take part in it. Kekza held a grand banquet in Vol's honor - he spoke of a new frontier, and they all saw his greed begin to show, but it was too late. The Crashing Wave...were slaughtered. And Kekza Yann lifted the shard from Vol's beating heart, and smiled.
Yann was the first of the invaders. The Split Ember crushed him, but they remember his cruelty. The second was Aleksi Nanten, a naval war chief. The Cracked Earth stopped him. And when the third came, none learned their names. By then, I had found my lady, and I took great pleasure in defending her people. MY people.
Our kindness met with violence, the time had come to retake what was stolen. But by then, the Broken Continent had unified; Erena, they called it, "The Severed Wing." People who had forgotten their gods, cut themselves off from the old ways; and thus the Accord.
When our ships came, they screamed invasion. When they learned what we could do, they said "elemental." And when we passed over them in peace, they shot us down.
In the end, does it really matter anyway? I am a warrior. And I found my place; fighting for what matters.
We went dark when the Tempest Shard fell, sinking into the abyss. The Hive, our grace, kept us ageless, until the Heart could beat again. Time...is strange. I remember storms, roaring storms, fire and death, wings...but it flows along immemorial and in the end who can really say which of these were day dreams or nightmares.
Maybe I am dreaming now...lying in a ditch somewhere, clinging desperately to hope while I slowly bleed out. An arena with my lady sleeping peacefully - forever - until the Aether grants me a duel in my final moments; a gift for a life of Honor and Service."
As Batale's gaze drifts off into the firelight, Surik says into the darkness, "You do seem a bit lonely..."
"That, is the understatement of de' last ten thousand years... But I appreciate it nonetheless." The Illithid returns to his meditation. "An hour remains. Rest while you can, revenants, we will see how much longer this dream lasts..."
Finished in part 3.
Adventurers Present: Nikz (Elf, Fighter/Rogue - 10), Darrak (Dwarf, Monk - 12), Roonil (Human, Rogue - 5),
Riswynn (Dwarf, Druid - 11), Xun Fu (Half-Orc, Monk - 10), Gosef (Wizard - 10), Eli (Dragonborn, Paladin - 12), Surik (High Elf, Wizard - 6).
Party of 8 - Levels 5+
With the words of a dying Esper heart to guide them, the Knight Owls attempt to unravel the mystery of what happened to the Espers after they were pushed back from the continent at the close of the first age. What were their intentions, where did they go, and why haven't they returned? Their research points them upward, far above the continent of Erena, where the Loremasters have spotted what they believe to be a falling star, but it has stopped but a few miles above the center of the continent, drifting northward. As the skies grow dark around it, the Knight Owls race toward this "fallen star"...what will they find within, and who will return?
Last time, the Knight Owls present discovered beyond the Aether an island surrounded by storms. Within its caves, they met a young half-elven girl named Eilir. They discovered that she is, quite possibly, the last of the Espers, an ancient race of creatures whose souls (or hearts) grant them the properties of an elemental. Since rescuing Eilir, now reduced to no more than a stone heart, she has shared all she knows of her people. The Owls now know that she is something called a Key; a creature built to perpetuate a single purpose. Keys are one of the lowest in the hierarchy of the Espers, and once their purpose is completed (or removed), they begin to erode...
Eilir is dying. Every day she sheds more stone from her form, shrinking and crumbling away, her telepathic voice becoming weaker as time passes. With Mama's blessing, she has been passed on to Riswynn in order that she may travel with the Owls to the Fallen Star...if anything, to die with her people, or to find a cure for her affliction.
For this job, each Owl has been paid in advance 100 platinum pieces, and will be paid an additional 200 platinum upon their return with information regarding the nature and contents of the star. As always, they are privy to any additional loot and treasure that they find along the way.
Piercing through the veil of clouds astride Vixx, the domesticated Roc, the Owls take in the vision of a massive floating island. Only a few miles across. Many jagged crystals, of varying sizes and hues, dot the entirety of the landscape, piercing through dilapidated structures and trees, as if they had erupted forth from within. Endless waterfalls cascade from fissures in the sides and base of the island, sending sparkling streams of water into the Aether below.
Built out from the central base of the island is 100 foot-wide landing with four towers at its corners, like an inverted keep hanging by four stone "threads" below. After breaking through the clouds just over the Aether, the Owls prepare to dismount Vixx. The domesticated Roc, now telepathically linked to be signaled when to return, has been hauling the party for the last three hours. She circles the whole of the "star" twice to give everyone a good look, then slows her descent and lands a little haphazardly on the lower platform. Happy to be free of the heavy load, she gives Eli a nod, before arching and falling backwards into a glide, soaring back into the cloud cover and leaving the Owls to find a way into this castle.
The keep is a simple inner ward flanked by sets of stairs leading 10 feet up to thin battlements. Two of the four pillars tethering the keep to the earth of the island have doors upon two corners of the battlements, while the other two are at the base level, with no doors, only archways into the dark interior. Entrances, or storage? The Owls have to watch their step, however, as the inner ward also features two 20x20 holes in its floor, where constant cascading water flows through from fissures in the island's base. A few Owls peek over the side, staring into the dark abyss of the Aether below them.
There is a slick 10x10 between the waterfalls, the thinnest point on the keep's floor, and Eli ponders why it appears to have almost a waxy sheen. As he does this, everyone hears the squeak of something opening, and about three pounds of wet, thick algae slough onto the paladin's head, then slide off into one of the waterfall holes. Eli, now with a thick layer of wet plant matter on his head, looks up to see a black, saucer-like hatchway directly above him.
Meanwhile, Gosef gets curious, entering one of the base storage sheds. Within, he discovers several sets of pitchforks, two sickles, one scythe, and a few sets of identical robes hanging on hooks, and finally stacks upon stacks of 2x2 blocks of stone. He immediately goes to the robes and rifles through their pockets, coming up sets of identical parchment, each rolled tightly and held by a seal. The seal is appears to be an ornate blue spider with a stylized crack down its center. No Owl recognizes the seal, but Gosef gathers all the parchment anyway, showing one of the scrolls to Darrak.
The monk unfurls it...and a pair of quills, with a glass inkwell, fall out. Between Darrak and Gosef, the quills are saved, but inkwell shatters on the stone below them. "Messy. Messy, messy, messy." Gosef mutters under his breath. Then a thought dawns on him. The scrolls are all blank, each holding identical quills and ink; just like a spell scroll, ready to be written.
"Are we done here?" Xun Fu breaks Gosef's concentration. "Good." The half-orc saunters over to the other archway on the base level, while Nikz wanders up one of the sets of stairs. Xun Fu finds a large assortment of staves and canes, each with curious threading of various chromatic colors. Curious, Nikz takes one of the ruby-threaded staves and swings it; everyone watches as a whip of magma is flung from the staff. It whips into a waterfall, stopping the flow momentarily and filling the space with steam. "Huh." Nikz gathers these threaded staves and lashes them to his back, handing a sapphire-thread to Xun.
As the latch opens again, this time depositing a torrent of dead fish spilling over the side, Farideh, Riswynn's faerie dragon, flies up and investigates the hatch, holding it open as she pokes her head inside. It flips open again while she's on it, a wriggling octopus smacking onto the stone; a moment passes, and the hatch begins to close again. Riswynn orders Farideh to fly down to Eli and tell him what she saw; the faerie dragon flaps down obediently, but looks at Eli expectantly. With a sigh, the dragonborn produces a bar of pressed chocolate. Farideh annihilates it, then says, "So, there's like a tunnel up there. Mold lines the shaft, and it goes up and to the left. Looks a little slick. No sentient creatures, but there is plant life."
Pleased with what they've found so far, the group begins to make their way to the far tower on the battlements. About ten feet from it, Nikz notices that this is only chamber with a door, and a heavy wooden door at that. A large iron padlock holds the door closed. Nikz attempts a few times to open the lock - snapping a few of his picks - then Darrak smacks his staff on the lock; it does nothing. Roonil sighs and steps up, drawing his masterwork thieves' tools and deftly hacks the lock. Removing the it, he pushes the door and feels something tumble behind it. Peering inside, the group spies many large, heavy, wet sacks.
Gosef and Eli, grinning at Roonil's description, enter the room and take a look around. The room is cramped; sacks of liquid are stacked or tumbled at every wall, including the door. They appear to filled, ready to burst, and a few are leaking a deep, viscous black liquid. A sweet, but pungent odor wafts through the room, reminding both of them of nail polish. One scaled brow raised, Eli draws one of cleavers and punctures a sack.
It bursts, coating both Gosef and Eli in thick, black ink. Eli has a moment of confusion, before doubling over and coughing up blood (Constitution damage). Gosef was lucky to close his mouth and eyes when he was splattered, so he's just uncomfortable. Noxious gas begins to fill the room, pouring out thick purple smoke from the burst sack. Eli tries to see if anything of value is in here, but all he can see is a room of death and regret, shoving Gosef out and pulling the door closed. Roonil, lock in hand, re-locks the padlock, and the door is held tight. "We will never speak of this again."
Rooms explored, a column of wet, dense algae now sloughs out of the hatch, with Farideh barely flapping out of the way. The discharge is so big and stringy that the hatch has difficulty closing, wet tendrils now hanging about ten feet above the Owls. They decide they need to stop exploring and find a way in.
Nikz and Xun notice sets of metal rungs that form a horizontal ladder of sorts, running along the underbelly of the island on either side of the keep and rounding over the side, up to the top they assume. Nikz is concerned: "So the only way in is to climb around the side over the abyss or to climb up the gross hole..."
Riswynn raises her hand...and casts Wind Walk, turning the entire party into wisps of cloud. One by one, they zip up the waterfalls and hatchway, undeterred by the algae and falling water. Passing through the water and slick tunnel, each Owl emerges beyond a shimmering barrier of water, passing through a thick mass of coral and seaweed. They find themselves underwater, in a dome-like stone structure, cracked and open to the sunken chamber above.
Entering from many places, the group slowly reconvenes above this sunken city. Ravines and fissures slice through the landscape, and the Owls notice the vision of clouds through some of the cracks. This large chamber appears to be magically sealed from the open air beyond the island. The water reaches all the way to the ceiling, and the Owls begin to seek a way out.
Further ahead of them, their is what appears to be a sunken ship graveyard, and more ruined buildings. Just beyond this is a gap in the ceiling where the water line ends. Still in their mist forms, the group sticks together and begins to speed along the top toward it.
Halfway there, just above the larger sunken ship, split into several sections, Nikz notices movement in the water. The rampant coral emanates with blue and red light throughout this sunken space, and the archer catches something swimming past behind one of the destroyed buildings. It moves with speed and poise, clad in dark navy clothing.
Eli's keen gaze sees a spear of bubbling energy, like a torpedo, arc toward the center of the group. Before he can speak, however, it impacts and detonates, sending everyone spiraling out of control and formation. The shockwave is a sphere, smashing adventurers onto the ceiling and pressing others into the sandy floor, and as it flows over each of them they are immediately shifted back to their original forms. Gosef, Darrak, and Xun are dragged down to the bottom, something thin and muscular wrapping around their bodies. As each slams down, displacing sand and cobblestone, each wrenches free and watches as three purple tentacles writhe and disappear under the sand. Gosef, Roonil, Darrak, and Eli's celestial horse begin the spasms of drowning, while the rest catch enough magical air from the mist form and try their best not to lose it.
Scattered and separated from one another, Eli attempts to re-gain his bearings, and as he does so, a weathered voice enters his mind. "Ah. I thought you would come. I am very pleased to see you. Now, do you accept de' terms?" As Eli contemplates what in the world this entity is talking about, he watches Gosef begin to choke in the water, and looks to his right, where his horse spasms and disappears in a buff of radiant energy. Time is short.
Again, the voice enters his mind. "I apologize. I do not usually have to explain de' rules of combat." Eli, now upside down and sinking in his armor, watches as a blinking stone is tossed from a shimmering space on the sandy floor. The stone drifts down to nestle below him, the blinking increasing in frequency until it is a blinding strobe. Then it stops...and a a huge bubble reverberates from the stone, washing over he and his allies. They immediately drop onto dry land, droplets of salt water still dripping from the edge of the dome. Gosef gasps in air as life returns to his body, and the rest drop to this dry spot under the arch of water.
Roonil, now flopping on the dry sand under the dome, turns to the group. "So, uh, is this what I can expect all the time from you guys?" Everyone grimaces and nods. "...Great."
Standing at the other end of this air bubble, dressed in an ornate indigo naval coat with golden frills, swashbuckler books, cufflinks, and an amber, wrapped vest clasped by a bronze talisman, is a curious figure. Its wardrobe denotes uniform and rank, to what faction no one is sure, with several decorated patches and filigree marking its high collar. The creature gives the group a deep bow, showing them all its large, domed cranium, and as it rises to meet Eli's eyes, all take notice of the flicking tentacles hanging from its face. Darrak immediately recognizes this creature as an Illithid...a Mind Flayer.
With another bow to Eli, the tentacles move a bit as a strong, but weary voice moves out from the creature for all to hear. "I am very happy that She sent you to me. I do apologize in advance...to first fall!" And it draws two scimitars, one alighting in flame while the other crusts over in vivid frost. "Otherwise, well, you know..." As it nods toward the other Owls, and a set of seven other tentacles wrap around Surik, Xun, Gosef, and Darrak, one big suction cup clapping over their mouths, with the other three not fast enough to grab the others. The creature seems only a little amused by this, "Ah, it seems that you are all very adept apparitions. If you wouldn't mind stepping aside, so this one and I," he nods toward Eli, "...he appears your champion, yes? ...Can have our duel."
Xun easily rips himself free, the tentacle retreating into the earth below. "Perhaps you should explain yourself!" But the half-orc is met with silence, the Illithid only watching Eli. With a sigh, the monk instead moves toward the grappled Surik and Gosef, drawing his staff.
Riswynn, Farideh at the ready, addresses the Illithid this time, "Why do you need a champion from our party?" But again, the Illithid ignores them, fixated on Eli. Surik continues to struggle against his tentacle, unable to break free.
The creature addresses Eli and the group. "My name is Batale Thuul. Pleasure to make your acquaintance. What is your name?" He then waits expectantly.
"I'm Eli Drakothar, Paladin of Bahamut, and champion of the light."
"Excellent!" Batale exclaims, his brows rising in excitement. "This should be most entertaining! I look forward to this; and do not worry, all who clash have a chance at redemption." And with a smile, he closes the distance to Eli in a millisecond, running his Cold-tongue and Flame-tongue blades across the paladin's form. It hurts. A lot. He then stops his attack and steps backwards, nodding once toward the paladin.
Eli is immediately struck by powerful psychic blast, driving him momentarily to his knees, ears ringing and head dizzy. Somehow, he gets the feeling that the creature is holding back as it watches him and waits for a response. Have to make it count... Radiant light pooling around him, Eli strikes out at the creature, pouring assets and his highest levels of smite into his strikes. Each strike lands true, slicing into Batale with heavenly force and bursts of radiant energy. Bits of debris and loose stones are pushed from the duelers, moved by the sheer force of each blow.
And from under the aura of radiance, Eli hears Batale chuckling. "Oh! I knew it... I knew she would send a good one! She sent a very good one indeed!" Still standing, but heavily staggered, the swashbuckler spits a wad of ink-like phlegm onto the earth before him. "Woo! Wow. Heh...I won't let you do that again."
Nikz, now free of water, draws an arrow into his bow, taking aim upon Batale...but the arrow somehow goes wide. Nikz blinks and tries again, this time the arrow singing over Farideh's head, far on the other side. "Huh." The archer puts his bow away, drawing his Vorpal Sword instead and begins stalking toward the Illithid, dodging grasping tentacles on the way, and gets right up next to him...only to push the air directly behind him. Staring at his hands and stamping his feet, Nikz begins to curse wildly. First in common, then spilling into a long string of virulent elvish, punctuating the end of his tirade in draconic as he moves away from the duel. Batale makes no move to attack Nikz, grinning at his string of swearing.
Roonil draws his blade and makes his way toward Batale, sidestepping a few tentacles, and swings twice at the Illithid. He pushes through the mental fog to strike, only to be parried by the Cold-Tongue scimitar as Batale glares at him. He swings again, only to be reposted by the Flame-tongue, slicing and burning into his arm. At the same time, a firm voice enters his mind: "That was very rude. You have broken the Accord. Now I shall break you."
Gosef and Darrak continue to struggle in the tentacles as they wrap tighter around them. Xun goes to work on attacking the tentacles holding his allies, as Riswynn pushes through the mental fog to fire her heavy crossbow toward Batale, sinking a large bolt into his side.
The Illithid seems irritated, but not worried. "You are very rude apparitions. Come to challenge me in my last days, with no respect for the Accords. I appreciate de' challenge, of course, but this is most...unconventional."
Surik at last breaks free, gasping for breath.
Batale ignores the growing chaos around him and again addresses only Eli. "Hello again. How are you?"
Eli gestures down at his bleeding form. "I've been better."
"Heh. I understand. Do not worry, the end is coming. Let us meet with good conversation..." He then rushes Eli once more, unleashing a set of devastating attacks. He slices into the paladin with alarming speed, the last strike entering the dragonborn's chest. All wait for him to twist the blade and end it, but he does not. The flame-tongue slides out and the Owls watch Eli fall, waiting at death's door.
With a sigh, Batale relaxes, sheathing his blades and reaching one gauntlet down to the dragonborn's chest. With a snap of his fingers, the tentacles vanish, and the Owls are freed. They watch healing energy pool in Batale's gauntlet, then surge through Eli's form.
Eli returns to the world of the conscious, feeling cold, tendril-like hands pull him to his feet. As he is rising, Eli explains, "I don't agree to terms before I've heard them."
The Illithid smiles up at him. "It is alright. ...Most dreams forget everything they once knew in favor of de' present circumstance. I take no offense." He pats the chest of the paladin's armor. "That was not a bad fight, by any means. Much easier than I've had in de' past; you brought so many friends, I had to utilize all of my traps and triggers just to hold a decent duel. Most unconventional. ...I'll have to tell her to try harder next time." And now, Batale Thuul, pleased with the closing of another duel, addresses the bewildered Owls with a big, tentacled smile.
Continued in Part 2...
Beyond the Door
Eilir pushes the adamantine door open and Owls feel a rush of dank air. No sconces or brazers light, and they watch Eilir scamper and disappear into the darkness. Those with darkvision peer into the room; they can see only about 20 feet in, but beyond this it is shrouded in a dense darkness.
After a few moments, they hear the patter of Eilir's bare feet and she emerges back into the light. "C'mon, what's take you all...Oh! Sorry. They like to keep it dark... I'll just go light the torches." And she disappears into the room again. It is deathly quiet; so much so that all the Owls hear are the tiny footsteps of Eilir, they assume running around a very large room lighting torches. A few moments pass, and the darkness evaporates, like a cloud of steam.
The Owls enter a massive domed room of thick marble and gray stonework. The floors are fine and smooth, buffed to a shine. Four enormous, imposing statues stand silent in each corner of the room; each is different - one wields a warhammer in detailed plate mail, a thick mane of hair rolling down its shoulders; another wields a great sword in bones and leathers, a swooping horned helm upon its head; a third similar in armor, wielding a glaive; and the fourth, shorter than the others, with a long, grizzly halberd. In the center of the room, there is a raised bronze platform, like a plate, with something resting on a pedestal at its center.
Eilir stands just a few feet from the bronze disc, pointing at sconces in the corners of the ceiling, making sure they are all lit. "Ah, well, here they are!" As she points to each of the statues.
Alvus quietly draws an arrow from his quiver, loading his hand crossbow behind his back. "And how are they sick?
"Oh, well, they have...cravings. For...friends." And Eilir twitches her head slightly to the side, as if confused, then brightens with a smile. "That's right! I know what to do. I know what to do now! Don't worry, it'll all be clear in a second." She claps her hands...and the door swings shut, locking the Owls inside.
"Now, let me explain. Everything is going to be fine. You don't know what's coming. We have to be ready. Now that the sky is clear, they'll come again. We lost everyone, we need to rebuild. Rebuild the army...so we can go home." Eilir takes a step toward the bronze plate. "So don't worry. We'll all be together. And you'll just help us, help me, go home." She takes another step, and-
THWACK! Eilir staggers and looks down at a crossbow bolt stuck in her chest. She sniffles, a small sob leaving her, and says again, "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine."
Fighting the Key
Surik unleashes a Hypnotic Pattern upon Eilir, who just stares at the spellcaster. While Alvus hides, Jimmy nods to Brewdo and waits.
"Don't worry. You'll be just like me. All like me, survive." Eilir steps upon the bronze plate as it begins to hover about a foot off the floor. She begins to sing. The melody, an old lullaby from a time long lost, begins to resonate with the plate, dozens of harmonies and overtones washing over the Owls and bouncing off of the walls. The harmonies begin to echo one another, creating a beautiful, eerie canon of sound that fills the gigantic domed room.
As the beautiful tones penetrate the group, they feel their muscles tense, and many experience a thin coat of stone begin to form over their bodies. Most are able to shake it off, but Jimmy feels his body slow as he stares down at his right hand as the skin turns gray and stiff. He recognizes the beginning stages of petrification.
Adding the sonic spell bouncing around the room, the group hears shifting stone and falling rocks as they glance up toward the four statues. They have begun to move, shaking to life, their eyes alight with red arcane energy.
Riswynn summons a Moonbeam right above Eilir, the sparkling ray of moonlight burning down like a spotlight and stops inches from the crest of her head, cascading over an invisible barrier. She continues to sing, her fingers thumbing through, pinching and moving, the empty space cradled in her hands. Alvus activates his goggles and spies a glowing book made of metal plates in her hands. "She's got a magic book!"
Riswynn calls to Eilir as she continues to sing. "Do you want us to stay and be your friends like moving and talking, or like decoration? Because you could just ask us instead of doing what you're doing!"
Eilir stops singing, but her harmonies continue through the disk. "You don't understand. I am the Key." And she returns to singing.
Xun rushes toward the girl as crackling sonic energy begins to pulse out from beneath the disk. The half-orc travels twenty feet before he hits a sonic wall and feels his muscles begin to lock up. Another wave hits, the sound growing more intense the closer he gets to the girl, and but a foot from her, he is driven to his knees as his speed and dexterity are sapped from him. Summoning the last of his strength he steps onto the plate as another wave of sonic force blasts him, and tries to grapple the child. With impossible speed, her one arm deflects his movements and pushes him off the plate.
Steef casts Slow upon Eilir, slowing her movements and song, while Mama casts Silence upon her as well. Eilir looks confused at first as the spell takes effect, then the disc below her vibrates violently, kicking the spell back toward Mama's form, who resists it, instead summoning a Spiritual Weapon...a beautiful radiant skillet...and it smacks against the bubble surrounding the girl.
Brewdo is confused and marches forward, asking the girl what she is doing. She confuses him more, asking him to come sing with her, and he feels his movements grind to a halt within ten feet of the disk. Frustrated, he rages and uses his long arms to strike at the bronze plate. As the plate wavers back and forth from the impact, it accelerates and sends the force back into Brewdo, pushing him back another ten feet, the petrification spreading.
Slow, rumbling rock and stone flows through the room as the giants speak as one. "SISTER." And each dash to converge upon the assailants at the center of the room, nearly crushing Xun on the way. Ameera, frustrated at the changing events, casts Dispel Magic upon Eilir's barrier, shattering the shield above her. As searing moonlight spills onto her form, all also notice a platinum book in her hands that appears to be singing from.
Surik attempts a second Hypnotic Pattern burst and dazzles the shorter giant with pretty colors. The moonbeam continues to burn Eilir with no barrier to protect her. Alvus pops out of the shadows, takes one look at the battlefield, and...rushes over to the door and pulls out his Chime of Opening, striking it upon the door, which unlocks and opens a little. Alvus then hides again. Jimmy uses his Command Strike to allow Mama another swing of her spiritual skillet, to no effect, so Jimmy sprints closer to the beacon...and feels his legs stiffen and harden.
Another ray from the moonbeam slams down upon Eilir, and Riswynn, with her Circlet of the Apocalypse activates Truesight and sees through the girl. Most of her is flesh and blood, but her heart is beating stone. Seeing this, the Druid spends a charge from the circlet to unleash a psychic attack upon the girl, slamming into her psyche with such force that Riswynn hears, as if in her own mind, a choked sob, as a fresh stream of blood flows from Eilir's nose. The singing stops for a moment, though the echoes continue.
Xun, Jimmy, and Brewdo feel some of their movement return, as the book falls and magnetically seals to the bronze. Eilir, clutching her head, falls to her knees...and screams. An ear-splitting sound of grinding metal and screaming dissonance blasts into the group. Xun and Mama take massive psychic damage, but manage to stay upright...barely.
As Xun raises his head toward the bronze plate, it is surrounded by waves of sonic dissonance and heat. Pushing through, Xun finally grapples the child, pressing one big hand over the screaming Eilir. The vibrations slow throughout the room... As his form is eclipsed by three giant weapons coming down upon him. "SISTER. NOOO!" The sword cleaves into the stone around them, as two war hammers slam into Xun and Eilir. Xun maintains the grapple by tapping into his Orcish Resilience, but it's not looking good.
Steef, taking note that these giants are elementals, attempts to slow them while Mama heals herself and silences Eilir's space. Brewdo leaps onto the plate and swings into the girl, still held in place by the monk, whacking into something hard with each impact. Pleased with himself, Brewdo moves to the fallen book, driving his heel into it. For a moment, nothing happens.
All watch as Brewdo's form convulses violently as the knowledge of the ages rockets through his body, burning as it goes. Blood pours from his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and his body is now smoking. Three more strikes from the giants can't hit the monk, but one connects with Brewdo, knocking him unconscious onto the book, which attacks him psychically...again.
Ameera exclaims, "It's unicorn time!" and summons her large, purple, spectral unicorn through her Circle of the Shepard and heals Mama. Surik sends a burst of Shatter to two of the elementals, cracking and splitting some of their form. They turn their massive heads toward the caster...who waves. Alvus, again emerges from the shadows to fire his crossbow, sinking another bolt deep into her form. Jimmy sprints up to Brewdo, grabbing him by the legs, and pulls him off the book. Then, using some leather straps, attempts to pick up the book...but finds that it is magnetically attached to the plate, shocks of white lightning darting out in random directions from it. He tries to grab it, to wrench it free from the plate, but it shocks him more violently and a word flashes into his mind, like an old memory.
And the flash is gone.
Using his Action Surge, Jimmy finally wrenches the book free of the plate, taking another shock as he does so, and shoves it into his pack. Feeling movement above him, he dives to the side as a giant warhammer slams onto the plate and he...does not riposte and turns to run toward the door, another warhammer slamming down behind him. Eilir, her eyes red with rage, breaks the grapple, punching Xun square in the chest, and he falls unconscious. She hops on top of him and sends a leopard's paw strike to his heart (putting him on death's door). She then turns her sights to Brewdo's body, closing the distance easily. Reaching down, she hoists the bugbear up with one arm, reaches back with the other and forms a fist.
The assembled Owls hear nothing in the cone of silence. They only watch as a shockwave of physical force slams through Brewdo's chest and life leaves his body. Eilir tosses him aside, but before she can take a step, Mama uses her Resurrection Wheel (Asset), in the form of her skillet of justice, and brings Brewdo back, spitting up gunk and blood as he does so.
Riswynn, sensing this is "the time", conjures four giant eagles to harass the giants and pull the injured away from Eilir. Brewdo gets picked up, but the other eagle could not reach Xun. The other two begin slicing into the elementals with their talons and beaks. Xun continues to bleed out, so Steef attempts to web the elementals, Mama moves to the center of the group and casts Beacon of Hope (Silence ends), and sends a supercharged Healing Word to Xun, bringing him back from the brink. But as Silence ends, Eilir's scream pierces through, slamming the group with force damage. Brewdo falls again, and everyone looks pretty ragged, as the elementals charge up, boxing them in around the door, and two take swings at Xun...he engages his Instant Transmission (Asset) to poof to the other side of the room in safety.
"Ya' ready for some craziness? I'm ready for some craziness!" Ameera summons not one, not two, but EIGHT GIANT EAGLES. Two more upon the elementals to dig new slashes into their face, and six to surround Eilir...
It is over in an instant. The six sets of talons and vicious beaks eviscerate the girl. It is not a pretty sight. But out of the mess claws and feathers, something heavy and solid rolls free.
The Stone Heart
Rolling in front of Riswynn is an anatomically correct stone heart, and it is breathing.
Surik uses Run Like Hell (Asset) to sprint past the elementals and hop onto the bronze plate. As his feet impact the disc, it vibrates in response, and he feels a surge of arcane resonance. Turning to the elementals, he calls out, "It's time to go back. Go back to being dormant!"
One by one, the elementals turn to Surik and stare. Their mouths move together, filling the room with a deep bass voice in Elvish, "HAS THE WAR COME? IS IT TIME TO FIGHT?"
"IS IT THEN, TIME TO REST?"
"GOODNIGHT." And one by one, each elemental moves slowly back to their post, strikes a pose, and goes inert, their heads bowing and eyes growing dark.
With the tension in the room falling and the echoes finally fading, each Owl becomes aware of a deep pounding; powerful and rhythmic, like are heartbeat, and all eyes move to the stone heart in front of Riswynn. Mama hands Alvus his skillet and the rogue takes a swing at the heart. Immediately, a voice enters his mind, pleading:
Please don't kill me. I don't know if I'm the last one.
CLANG! The skillet swings wide, slamming into the floor next to the heart.
Riswynn reaches out and touches the heart. She feels sudden and immense sadness; the kind of sadness derived from loss and abandonment. Please don't kill me. I don't know if I'm the last one.
"The last what?" Riswynn asks.
...I don't know if I'm the last Esper.
Mama recalls, from the three thousand years of memories she holds, that an Esper refers to a creature whose soul is born of raw elemental energy. This soul, or heart, is stored in a humanoid vessel and that vessel takes on the properties of that element. She knows that they are extremely rare, and their existence has only been recorded at the end of the First Age. The event that began the Second Age was a massive war between the creatures of Erena and the Esper clans' airships attempting to invade the continent.
Riswynn hands the heart to Xun, who takes the time to watch it beat slowly. With each pulse, the frame of it cracks and stresses, then reforms. "We don't plan on killing you."
I am the Remains. I need to stay. The war is about to happen, they are going to call on us. The ships will need us.
"What makes you so sure that the war is going to happen?"
This is the Age of Champions, is it not?
"We are currently in the Fourth Age."
...I don't believe you. Don't talk to me anymore. You're a liar.
"Fine. Ask the others." Xun hands the heart back to Riswynn. Immediately she hears Eilir's voice.
What is the year?
"01 of Io-Shar."
That year does not exist.
Riswynn continues to listen, and hears only crying. She holds up the heart to the group, "She's sad now."
Can you just take me home?
"Where is your home?"
Alvus asks what it is she was going to use them for, and Eilir explains that her role as the Key is to lure powerful entities to the bastion citadel and then complete a ritual that will turn them into elemental soldiers for use in retaking the Wilds.
Steef, upon hearing this, says, "So should we end this, so she can rejoin her family? MAGIC MISSILE!"
Three bolts of force slam into the heart and a large crack forms across its shape. "Let her go home!" Steef announces, as he conjures another barrage. In each mind of the group, all they hear are quiet, choked sobs of pain.
Jimmy grabs him by the shoulder, interrupting the spell. "I don't feel right doing this. I know she tried to take us over and all...but she's misguided right now. And if she's the last of her kind, I don't feel right just killing her outright. ...Especially when she's in a form where she's not a danger right now."
Mama reaches out to the heart and heals it, the crack smoothing out. "May I have the heart please?" Riswynn hands it over to the big warforged. They whisper to it, "So sorry for your loss, but your people are gone. The only thing I can offer you is a place to stay." And Mama opens up their chest plate, and next to their own heart, places Eilir. "I've raised more than one daughter, and the thing that always broke my heart was when I couldn't help them. So I am part stone and metal and...things, so she can stay with me."
Are you sure my people are gone? Will you help me find them?
"We will look together." Mama reassures her, patting their chest plate, and feels a wave of calm wash over them.
The Owls heal where they can and begin their way back. All of the doors are open, unlocked. Nothing crumbles as they leave with the heart and the book. It is immaculate.
The Bastion remains.
And as they exit onto the terrace, the blizzard has faded, bright moonlight spills onto the party, eclipsed only by the dark shadow of a Roc coming to get them...
Session concluded at: 1:15am
Alvus and Surik listen again as the bellowing giant grows softer and softer...more sobbing, gentle and small. But before they can act, Brewdo sets to work performing a "medicine check" with his monolith sword upon the heap of reptilian flesh. After an intimate inspection, he concludes that the mess of once living material is indeed dead. He also concludes that this creature is currently in three pieces. Further inspection from Riswynn reveals this creature as a Yuan-Ti Abomination.
Jimmy's ears perk up as the sound of tiny footfalls splashing through water halts at the top of the stairs and he spies movement beyond the landing. Sneaking up the steps, he spies, crouched against a far wall, a small humanoid creature. It wears a fine, purple skirt with gold filigree and bangles that jingle as it shifts. He sees its red blouse and gold bracers, as well as a mat of glittering blonde hair, stuck to the face with cold water. This is a child; a teenager, looks no older than 15 or so. Jimmy notes her slightly pointed ears and that her clothes appear a little big on her, synched tight around her form with many different threads, and an extra belt or two.
Her eyes dart up to him and she immediately sprints further into the cave, splashing through a shallow stream in the underground. "Don't run away, we're here to help!" Jimmy calls after her in Elvish, but she doesn't stop. Cursing under his breath, he begins to give chase, the rest of the group close behind.
Brewdo charges ahead, happy to be chasing something, and the group is lead down a long, damp straightaway into a large, flat, domed cavern. The bugbear has to stop short to avoid slamming into a thick stick stuck in the ground, and spins out of its way before slowing his gait to the center of the room and taking in what he sees.
This circular cavern, about 100 feet across, is a cemetery. Every 5 feet or so there is a make-shift grave site, and each has a unique talisman or necklace hung over the cross. Some have sets of flowers, other small urns; no grave is left alone here. As the group begins to take in this sight, Riswynn spies past it all to an opening on the other end, where a flash of red cloth ducks behind the corner. "Girl's that way." she says as she moves on ahead like a shot, faster than Brewdo can react. "Slow down! We're not here to hurt you!"
The pitter-patter of the feet stops, then gets louder, as two gloved hands creep around the edge of the wall and a young face peers back at Riswynn. Her eyes look at the hill dwarf with unease at first, but then they travel up Riswynn's form to the dwarf's shoulder where, with a shimmer, a faerie dragon appears (the druid's companion, Fareday). Seeing her interest, Riswynn sends Fareday over to the girl, who follows the little dragon back out, clearly entranced by the creature, until she is right in front of Riswynn.
The girl mutters, "Pretty..." as she reaches out to pet Fareday, who happily obliges, running up the girls' shoulders as she giggles and resting upon her head playfully. It is adorable.
Riswynn crouches a little to meet the girl's eyes. "What is your name?"
"Oh. My name? My name is Eilir..." The girl's eyes drift back down to the faerie dragon. "What, um, what is her its name?"
"Hi Fareday! Hi!" as she continues to pet the creature and it purrs near her. Her eyes begin to gaze past Riswynn to the rest of the group as they approach with caution and her eyes widen at the sight of the war forged. "Ah! You! You look like my friends! ...Are, are you from home!?"
"No. I am from very far away." Mama remains perplexed by the child.
"Where is home?"
Eilir blinks a few times. "The castle. With the crystal spires."
The party explains that that's where they are headed and Eilir becomes even more excited at the prospect of bringing them home with her and for the opportunity to play with Fareday more. Through conversation, the group gleans that Eilir came into the cave through a short-cut from her "citadel", ran into the "cold one" hunting someone, so she hid, but the "poison one" found her and bit her before she could get away. Upon hearing this last bit, she pulls up her skirt a little to reveal two ghastly prongs, like teeth, in her left calf muscle where pus has begun to flow around the wounds. Mama rushes forward, casting Lesser Restoration on the child, and as fresh blood (instead of pus) begins to flow from the wounds, pushing the teeth out, sets to work bandaging the leg. As this is happening, Xun pockets the cobra-like teeth while Riswynn offers to come with Eilir as her protection, to which she exclaims happily, "Oh good, you can meet my brothers! Perfect."
"Will your brothers...be glad to see us?"
"Oh, yeah, they're really good with visitors. They're just really sick right now, so they can't move, so they need me to go out and get food for them. But this way, this will be great; YOU can go meet them, instead of the other way around... It's a long story, do you want to talk here? There's a lot of death here..." As Eilir looks nervously at the 45 graves in the other room, the rest of the group is uncertain of this child, but glean that she seems much more sheltered and is speaking, as far she is concerned, the truth. She explains that she was crying before because poison hurts quite a bit and she was scared that whatever happened to her brothers was about to happen to her... But now she feels better and maybe this group can cure her brothers like they cured her.
Meanwhile, Brewdo got bored, and continued past his companions and deeper down the adjoining tunnel, muttering, "Sneaking...sneaking" to himself, with Jimmy keeping a close eye about 5 feet back. The moment he passes Eilir, still petting Fareday, Riswynn hears her mutter, "Watch out for the-
SNAP. As four javelin-filled boards slam into either side of Brewdo, simultaneously impaling and binding him with spikes and barbed wire. He pitches forward, now mostly contained in a make-shift bear trap, slamming his grumbling face into the dirt. "Yeah, that one! Watch out for the Spikey-Boo! ...oh, that looks like it hurts, hold on!" As Eilir flips a switch inside the trap, its teeth flop back down to the earth, where she quickly hides them again.
Mama is becoming concerned for her mules when Steef feels his Alarm spell get tripped. The two of them rush back toward the mouth of the cave only to be met by two very scared and scarred mules as they watch in the distance, a massive paw reach through the opening of the tunnel back to the mouth, snow-covered white fur upon gray skin, clawing into the dirt ahead of them. The ram-like horns of a Yeti attempt to sunder the opening, fresh blood upon its face and teeth, but it cannot wrench any further into the cave. Mama feels their heart sink as it roars and they hear splintering wood around the corner...
In just a few moments, Mama, Steef, and Surik return and Eilir sets to work tripping her remaining traps further up the path. She returns just in time to hear about the Yeti. "Oh no... Furry McFlufferson is not one of the nice ones! We gotta' go. It's okay, I changed the Spikey-Boom-Boom, the Boom-Boom-Slap, and the Slappers Trapbox up ahead, so we should be fine. C'mon!"
A Girl of Many Talents
Eilir leads the group down a deep winding path into the depths of the mountain. The air in the tunnels becomes thick with moisture, the sound of trickling water filtering nearby and slick deposits of moss beginning to line the walls and floor. As they go, the teenager begins whistling an elegant, but haunting tune. Her voice is clear and pitched perfect, the vibrant tones bouncing off the tunnel walls. Steef, in his studies, finally recognizes the origin of this melody. It is an ancient war lullaby that became popular in the second age, but might be even older.
Riswynn asks where Eilir learned this melody, and the girl seems to blank for a moment - just a second - before answering with a smile, "My dad."
"What was your father's name?
"Uh, his name was Volition."
A few moments of awkward silence follow before the group suddenly becomes painfully aware that they are trudging through freezing knee-deep water. Eilir continues forward, undeterred, while the group struggles to keep pace. Mama's legs begin to freeze, holding her in place, as the others attempt to move as fast as they can through the freezing waterway.
"Don't worry, it's just a few more...oh. Heh." As Eilir turns back and sees the state of Mama, she easily walks back through the freezing ice water toward the cleric. Jimmy's eyes widen as he takes note of her bare feet as she glides through the thickening ice. "Heh. Hold still, big guy. You need to step lighter." Eilir takes a deep breath...and exhales fire on and around Mama's legs, filling the area with steam and allowing her to move. "All right! C'mon, let's go, let's go!" As she helps whomever else is stuck in the same way and happily bounds on ahead, giggling as she goes.
Next she leads the Owls to a steep incline, slick with moss and trickling water. She scampers easily up the hill, pausing only briefly to look back, then vaults onto the edge, swinging her legs while she waits. Half the group begins the climb, some remembering that they have literal kits for this sort of thing, and after a few minutes, all make their way up (the monk easily vaults from one foothold to another to join Eilir quickly). "Great! Now you get to see it from the back!" Eilir scampers down the corridor and veers to the right, with the group in hot pursuit.
The Knight Owls are greeted by blinding light as they emerge into the warm sun. They stand upon a brilliant marble terrace; a perfect stone circle under a clear blue sky...the eye of the storm. Ahead of them is a grand staircase that leads to a huge obsidian door. Flanking this door sits two diamond spires, with a third, this one ruby, further back in the center of this castle's structure. The final two diamond spires can be seen on the edges of the bastion's dome further back. A blizzard continues to rage beyond the landscape of the citadel. Alvus and Steef detect magic emanating from the spires, a piercing disk of power pushing back the storm from the central spire.
"Should we go up and knock?" Xun inquires.
"Oh, no, I'll just let you in!" Eilir giggles and begins hopping up the massive stone steps.
Jimmy chimes in. "You said that you haven't seen people like us before. Is that going to cause a problem for people in the citadel?"
"No, no. We've, we've had visitors before... Just not for awhile."
Riswynn: "How long has it been?"
"Oh, you know, just a couple years... Anyway, c'mon!" And she begins hopping up these high steps. The Owls notice that the staircase is impossibly broad, each step 5-feet tall at least, and begin their own belabored ascension. Brewdo, who is bored, makes it to the door ahead of everyone else, and begins knocking loudly. "Anybody home? Brewdo here." With each impact, the bugbear feels no give from the other side of the door. This thing is solid, and very heavy.
Eilir puts her hands on her hips and glares up at the bugbear. "You are very rude, you know." Then giggles and pushes on the door with one hand. It swings open easily, and she skips inside, as the Owls trade glances at this feat. As the massive door swings open into a grand foyer, sets of brazers and torches light immediately, casting warm firelight along the smooth stone walls of a tall entranceway and illuminate a set of five ornate statues.
Everything here appears constructed for creatures much larger than the Owls. The ceiling itself is over two hundred feet high, grand arches framing each statue and marking diverging halls. The figures are each different and impeccably detailed. Jimmy is taken aback as he stares at one of them; a stoic figure in full-plated armor, an imposing helmet covering the face. It carries a halberd in one hand and a pair of spiked ball and chain in the other... "Uh, guys?"
The other Owls take note of the other statues. A bald, robed, lanky figure, somewhat hunched, with two daggers at the ready. On the other side, on the same pedestal, a pair of identical elven women, like mirror images of one another, each carrying an elegant pike and a lantern. The final one, a shirtless brute with a long goatee and a wily tuft of chest hair, stands with his arms crossed, glaring down at the party.
Riswynn asks, "Were these statues built in memory of anyone?"
Eilir perks up. "Oh yeah, yeah. These were before my brothers. The first guardians."
"We might have run into...them."
The girl lowers her eyes, uncomfortable. "They were...seduced...by The Hive."
"The what-now?" - all the Owls.
"Did you, did you see the glowing? The gems? We call those Hive Crystals. ...If you were to touch them, well, you know. ...Volition punishes. They, they, they fell from their pedestals, and now, uh, they reside...in The Hive. Guardians guard, but, they fell from grace. So they're there...now." Though convoluted her speech, the Owls glean from Eilir that the creatures memorialized here used to guard the citadel, but tried instead to take the Hive Crystals. For this offense, they were cursed to protect that passage eternally. However, Eilir alludes to another group; a group of soldiers seeking the crystals, who all met grizzly ends by the first guardians before their own seduction. "Volition...makes examples." And Eilir's eyes drift up to the fifth statue. The Owls follow her gaze.
They see the image of an athletic elven man, long straight hair framing an angular face. He wears an ornate set of chitin armor, a grizzly sawtooth sword at his side and a set of skulls hung from his belt. "Uh, that's Wynn. He, um, he wasn't nice. ...I know that he clings...to life."
Riswynn: "Someone may have punted his head into a lake..."
Eilir perks up excitedly. "Oh, he's gonna' hate that! That's wonderful, who did that?" Alvus raises a reluctant hand, and Eilir rushes over...and gives him a high five. "Great job! He's gonna' be so annoyed later, it will be beautiful!" She keeps giggling and begins moving to the next door; Brewdo is already there, staring at the deep navy metal of the door as he pushes on it to no avail.
Eilir skips over to the door, giggles again, "Don't worry, you'll get it one day." and palm-heels the door. Again, the Owls watch this tiny girl knock open another hundred-foot door with ease, more brazers and torches lighting as it swings open. On the way through, Mama takes note of the door and its similarity to their armor; Adamantine. "It just takes practice, no big deal!" the girl continues to skip ahead.
Meanwhile, Brewdo doesn't look too good. Dark circles under his eyes, he seems extremely tired, and Mama checks his face to find a crystalline, onyx vein beginning to protrude from his mouth, obscuring his speech. Riswynn alerts Eilir to Brewdo's condition and Mama explains that one of old guardians stuck something in him. "It stabbed him with crystals and-
"Hold still, please!" As Eilir hops up to Brewdo and pokes him hard in the chest. Brewdo begins contorting his face in pain as the Owls watch her pinch something just on the edge of the skin. "Oh, uh-oh." With a horrible crunch and a snap, they watch her hand enter Brewdo's chest and begin fishing around inside. As the Owls begin to panic, she pulls a long jagged shard of pure diamond from Brewdo's chest, ripping the onyx vein with it.
"Dat not supposed to be derr."
"Nope, that's real bad." Eilir pats Brewdo on the shoulder, holding the diamond out. "But, you know what, don't worry about it, you're going to be - FINE." And on that last word she sends her palm into Brewdo's chest, slamming him against the wall. The Owls hear a sound like grinding stone, and Brewdo's other symptoms melt off of him (Lesser Restoration).
Riswynn: "What was happening to him?"
"Oh, he was being...replaced. Well, Sala, he...never liked his job. And I think he's come back too many times, so it looks like he was trying to, um, what's the word...quit? And because Volition makes quitting impossible, he was trying to replace himself. With him." And she nods to Brewdo.
Xun begins to walk up alongside the girl. "I appreciate you helping him."
Eilir smiles up at the half-orc. "Oh yeah, I wouldn't wish Sala's job on anyone..."
"How did you do that?"
She smiles brightly. "Oh, pressure points! Ya' know, chakras! ...Just, just regular pressure points and seeing that something was sticking out of him, that's all." Eilir continues to skip down the hallway as the half-orc smiles; of course it's chakras!
Hall of the Five
As Eilir skips ahead, the Owls emerge into a long corridor with high ceilings and grand arches framing the central path. Dark shadows cling to the edges under the archways, and a reflective dark stone floor flows out beneath their feet. Each takes note of inscriptions running along the shape of the archways. The script is large, primitive, but foreign to most. Except for Xun Fu, who speaks Primordial. They read, in order, as the script begins to wrap around the end of the hall.
We Five find the Guilty Hive.
We Four seek Forgotten Shores.
We Three see through the Key.
Wrapped around the ornate adamantine door.
We Two see Through You.
And there, around the handle.
I Am, that which Remains.
"Heh, I love that rhyme. My brothers wrote it!"
Riswynn again chimes in. "Who exactly are your brothers?"
"Um, well, isn't it obvious? ...I mean, you saw the old guardians..."
"So they're the current guardians?"
"Yeah! Just through here!" As Eilir begins to reach out toward the massive door.
Brewdo informs the party loudly. "Brewdo tired. He's gonna' go take a nap. For like, an hour. Or somethin'." And begins wandering under one of the arches. Mama addresses Eilir, "Is there a place we could rest, we are all very tired."
Eilir smiles at the group, looking at each of them. "You all look fine to me." As she says this, Fareday shimmers into view and Eilir lets go of the door, sitting down on the floor to pet the faerie dragon. Between Brewdo's whining and Riswynn's persuasion, Eilir allows the group to rest as she sits in a meditative position in front of the door and breathes patiently.
Xun sits across from her, mirroring her movements, curious of her technique. An hour passes and Eilir exhales and stretches. "Okay! Who's ready to go?"
"You know, the longer we rest, the longer you get to play with Fareday!" Riswynn summons the little dragon back to her side.
Eilir's eyes light up. "REALLY!? Sure! You can take all the time you want!"
As the group rests, they learn that Eilir has not seen a dragon on the island for some time, but recalls the "scary dragon" that took over one of the neighboring islands. She is pleased to learn that a few of these Owls helped in defeating it. When asked if there is food for the mules, she sprints off into the darkness...returning a few moments later with a large trough under one arm (filled with water) and large bale of hay in the other. Setting them down, she looks frantically around for the "puppy dragon" and tries to catch Fareday.
As she plays, the group continues to ask her questions.
"Is there anyone else living here?"
"No, it's just me an my brothers. ...Dad's gone now."
"How many brothers do you have?"
"Oh! Just four."
"And they're all sick."
"Yeah... It's my job as big sister to take care of them."
"Excuse me, what are their names and how old are they."
"That's sort of personal, don't you think?"
"Where did your Dad go?"
And this question, Eilir appears very sensitive on. Her play with Fareday slows as she moves just to hug the tiring creature. "Um. He went to see Mom...and never came back."
"What was your Mom's name?"
Done with questions for now, Eilir goes back to playing happily with Fareday, while the Owls rest and keep watch. Jimmy and Xun take first watch; Mama and Ameera take second.
Jimmy takes note that this space, and the citadel as a whole, is immaculate. The floors appear polished to a sheen, the walls devoid of dust or wear; as if this place has been separated from the weathers of time. Wandering the large room near the entrance door, passing by the lamps and torches of his allies, Jimmy sees something on the edge of the shadows in the far right corner of the room. The firelight is licking the edges of what appears to be a claw.
The human shifts into the shadows unseen by all and slinks toward the figure. Within a few feet of it, his boots scratch against something. Sand, or dust, from an otherwise clean floor. Getting closer, his eyes adjusting, Jimmy sees a lion. A beautiful statue of lion, tipped over on its side. It is extremely detailed; fine craftsmanship, even though it is in a few pieces. One claw snapped off, discarded on the floor under the form, and the tail is missing. It appears to have been pushed, as there are groove marks under it, the first real imperfection in the floor. There is a saddle on its back, with something on it. It appears a part of the sculpture, as all of these components do, but as he stares at it, Jimmy can't shake a rising worry. They are a set of legs, hooked into the stirrups of the saddle, connected to half a torso and one arm.
Staying hidden, Jimmy looks around for any other pieces of this statue. In the other far corner, embedded in the wall, as if it were meant to be there, he finds a head with a swooping helm and a pointed ear. He only sees half, however, as the head is looking down the length of the wall, as a profile. The eyes are open, mouth closed, stoic and stone. Other than the lion, the rider, and this head, Jimmy finds only loose stones and dust; no other discernible pieces of the statue nearby.
As Jimmy wanders back to the camp, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, he sees Eilir's head perk up from the sleeping dragon in her lap and stare at him curiously. "Sorry, just had to relieve myself." (Natural 20 Deception)
"I'll have to clean that later! ...Boys are gross."
At second watch, Ameera hears a faint dragging sound, and something heavy being dropped, just on the edge of her hearing. Wandering back to the left side, where Jimmy told her something was, she finds instead a deep indentation in the wall. Upon further inspection, she can make the inverted profile of a face and helmet, complete with a deep, swooping hole for an ear. Moving to the other side, where Jimmy described the fallen lion, she finds a small pile of shaved stone. Nothing else. Ameera begins to move away, unnerved, and hears shifting stone behind her. Whirling back...the pile has diminished greatly. She turns and turns back...only a few pebbles now. Ameera darts back to Mama.
And 8 hours later, Eilir hands a sleeping, exhausted Fareday back to Riswynn, then stretches again. "Alright! Let's go." As the Owls gather their things, Steef sprints back to lion's corner.
The floor is clear, shiny, and immaculate.
Finished in Part 3.
Adventurers Present: Mama (Warforged, Cleric-5), Alvus Thorne (Human, Rogue-9), Brewdo (Bugbear, Barbarian-5), Riswynn (Hill Dwarf, Druid-9), Xun Fu (Half-Orc, Monk-9), Jimmy Whispers (Human, Fighter-5), Ameera (Wood Elf, Druid-7), Steef (Gnome, Wizard-5), Surik (High Elf, Wizard-5). Party of 9.
One year following the cataclysmic defeat of the dragon god Narizguun, the Knight Owls return to service with some new faces, and a new mission. They find themselves riding on the back of a curious creature; massive in scale and quite feathered, soaring over the black abyss of the Aether toward a mythical island - believed lost to antiquity.
Settled into harnesses on the back of this huge entity, each Owl attempts to stay calm. Mama, the resident cleric and rare warforged, attempts to soothe and hush their two bucking, panicking mules (Mary and Sue) and their attached cart of supplies. The arcanists of Tidespear have seen a year of peace, with no creatures or threats emerging from the Aether, and instead have set to work cultivating more advanced transportation to the world beyond the Edge. Though much progress has been made, the Owls are still experiencing the latest prototype of this initiative: a domesticated Roc named Vixx.
Eager to replenish funds for many, these Owls have taken up a new contract to investigate the perplexing storms that obscure the lands beyond Tidespear and Io's Edge. Of particular interest are small sets of islands discovered during the final battle with Narizguun (where the ship crashed beyond the Aether). With no further magical interference, Loremaster Edwin of Hammerfell has scried a tome wreathed in flames and constructed out of platinum plates. It is believed to be a spell book from the first age; the age of champions and the first god war, where titans clashed and shaped the land of Io through their conflict. In short, the Tenrook wish to collect this artifact and see what secrets it holds and understand how it can better serve the land of Io.
Above the tree line, piercing into the clouds above from the center of this island, each Owl spies a set of five crystalline spires. One in the center of a grand cathedral-like castle, with four surrounding it, forming smooth but ornate marble towers beneath each spire. These crystals are heavily and visibly weathered; one is cracked, another is severed completely, and all show large scorch marks from distant battle.
Vixx circles the beach area twice before touching down on the white snow of the island, lowering her wings for the Owls to dismount. Once all of them are safely on the ground, she nods to Alvus, then flexes her wings and lifts off again into the sky to wait for their next summons.
And as her powerful wings beat the air around those assembled, it brushes away the thin layer of snow at their feet, and each realizes that they are NOT on a beach, but a thin veil of ice...as it begins to crack.
Quick of foot and wit, one by one each Owl makes their way across the cracking ice...except for Mama's mules, each falling into the ice. Mama steps in after them, with Brewdo's help, and tosses Sue to safety, then lifts Mary over her head as Mama sinks up to her wrists, and continues walking underwater, hauling her cart behind as it, too, cracks through the weakening ice. Arriving in a heap of panting breath, the group lands upon the beach, taking stock of who is around...as a second mule is deposited upon the snow and Jimmy stares at a set of gauntlets protruding up from the water and beginning to ice over. Jimmy grabs one arm as Xun grabs the other and with a heave, each are treated to the beautiful tones of scraping metal upon stone as the warforged is dragged to the surface. Grateful, Mama spins around and begins hauling her cart onto the shore, saddened by its lower half being flooded by icy water.
Based upon the Loremasters' archives, and this island's positioning, it is believed that this land would be called Riss'Leyahn, and was rumored to be a beautiful tropical landscape of exotic birds and rare herbs and spices. It appears that time has not been kind to this island.
The wind diminishes slightly, but each Owl feels a cold chill run up their spines. Jimmy suggests NOT freezing out here, and Mama ties the mules to the cart again, pleading with the Gnome for some much-needed Prestidigitation in exchange for a ride. Jimmy and Brewdo take the lead through the densely packed, chilled forest that covers the area before the citadel. And as Jimmy takes his first step, his foot catches on a rock and he pitches forward, crunching his nose on a tree. Fresh blood pours from his head as Brewdo picks him up and presents him to a worried Mama. Despite his protests, Mama forcibly begins bandaging him as the rest of the party collectively face-palms... And Alvus hears something.
He hears something crying... Listening closer, he identifies it as a young voice, and more of a gentle sobbing, and that it is up ahead, where the path seems to split. Down the left slide, the path rolls down into the mouth of a cave; on the right, it rolls up to a steep cliffside. Alerting the group, all take a moment to listen as the crying has stopped, and instead they hear tiny footfalls upon earth and stone, getting softer as they move away from them. Ameera pinpoints the pitter-patter of feet as being down the left path and offers up following them, which the others agree to...
Winding Paths, Curious Crystals
At the caboose of the party, Mama pulls the cart into the mouth of the cave as the others try to get their bearings out of the cold, and slings some blankets over Mary and Sue.
Alvus, unable to see in the dark, dons his Goggles of Night, and notices a faint glow amidst the grays of darkvision that pulses ahead and to the left of their current path. As Mama lights her hooded lantern, the rest of group also becomes away of drips of cold water into a somewhat frozen pool nearby. Jimmy takes note that there is something within this pool, just under the surface. He agitates the water a bit with a pole and a skull bobs to the surface, iced over. "That's not good."
Brewdo pulls the skull free of the water, recognizing that it is also connected to a spine and a torso, with one arm, but no lower half. Covering the torso is a gleaming bronze breastplate somewhat tarnished by the fact that there are four javelins pierced all the way through it, transfixing the skeleton's torso. The bugbear makes little note of the skeleton's larger than normal bone structure and instead turns to Mama, "Him got boo-boo, make better!"
Looking the skeleton over, Mama only responds, "He's dead, Jim." Brewdo, satisfied with this answer, drops the body back into the water, displacing it further and revealing sparkly bits at the bottom. Xun collects the rusted, algae-covered javelins for later use, while Riswynn's faerie dragon, Fareday, attempts dunking her head into the freezing pool for the shiny bits. Brewdo seems enamored with the little dragon, reaching out to pet her, and gets a handful of fire for it.
A heavy impact somewhere else in the cave halts their antics as it shakes the foundation of the cave. Steef hides behind a rock and instructs everyone else to join him as all can hear a dull muttering of something, then another heavy impact, more muttering, and then the small *tink, tink, tink of a helmet, half-crushed, rolling into view as a bright light washes over it.
Lumbering into view, a glowing lantern hanging around its neck, is the form of a frost giant. Tiny yellow irises in pools of black cornea dart around the cavern as Steef throws up the Minor Illusion of a boulder covering the group...but neglected to tell Mama to put out her lantern, as the lance of light pierces through the illusion and spills across the giant's eyes. He roars in annoyance, and begins pressing his way through the narrow passage toward the group, cracking the earth around as he bellows, "Moko, nopok'oh!" over and over again. Mama puts out her light, and the giant stares at the illusion, blinks twice, and continues to mutter the phrase as he instead moves back from where he came, out of sight. Seeing the path ahead as narrow, Mama, with the Gnome's help, they set a perimeter Alarm on the cart, just in case, before moving ahead with the group.
Up this very narrow path, Brewdo sees another small pool of water, this one frozen completely over. Sticking out of it appears to be a hand. The bugbear, curious if Mama can fix this too, reaches down and grasps the hand; as he pulls up, it snaps off at the elbow with a crunch. Brewdo has a flash of familiarity with this particular hand, but can't quite place its species.
Meanwhile, Xun and Alvus take note of a large amount of light emanating from the next opening, and they can hear running water. As the group fans through this new opening, they are greeted with a marvelous garden of natural crystal deposits and gemstones, each translucent and vibrant, filling the cavern with a cornucopia of light and color. Two pathways spill out before them, each flanked by these radiant spires. The one on the left rolls downward and appears narrow and dense with these deposits, while the right is wider and runs along a rapidly moving underground river.
Along with all these beautiful hues and rare gemstones, there are tens of bodies that litter the landscape. All appear desiccated, and many are decomposed and skeletal. The ones upon the earthen floor appear to have been pulverized; ground to dust in some cases. There are others that have impaled upon the sharp edges of these gemstones, and more still under the water in the stream, held in place by long, steel pikes. As before, it appears that none of these creatures are human, and the group begins to identify them as an army of Goliaths. Alvus takes note of two hues that the crystals give off when he dons his enhanced goggles. Woven into the crystals themselves are two types of magic: illusion on the surface, and necromancy below. Something isn't right...
Steef spies a few broken gemstones on the ground, like a deep amethyst, and begins gathering them up and putting them in his pack. As he grabs a fourth shard, he notices its glow intensify rapidly, and all of the begin to radiate further, filling the cavern with daylight. Alvus' keen eyes spy a few of the corpses impaled upon crystals twitch and spasm to life. Further back near the split, Fareday begins to freak out on Riswynn's shoulders; to her right, the young dwarf sees a spectral face in the crystal. A beautiful, soft-featured elven woman with a set of ruby earrings. She smiles at the druid, before her face twists violently, growing fangs and reptilian eyes, and Riswynn barely moves back in time as a ghostly claw lances out at her.
Floating out of the gemstones on either side of Riswynn, the party sees a pair of identical elven women, each carrying a lantern and an ethereal pike. A few of the impaled jitter to life and flail about, unable to move, while others wrench themselves free, gem spikes sticking out of them, and begin to shamble toward Jimmy and Ameera. And behind Mama, there is cracking as something pulls itself from under a frozen pool of water. She sees long, silver hair framing a tight, gaunt face. It wears an intricate set of chitin armor, a collection of 3 mildly decomposed heads hanging from its belt, and as it rises to its feet, it draws a wicked-looking sawtooth longsword from its back. From her religious studies, Mama immediately recognizes this creature as a Wight.
It opens its mouth and its raspy voice begins to spin magic toward the cleric...as it is stopped in its tracks by a crossbow bolt entering its eye. It falls over backwards, and does not move. Mama's gaze instead moves over to Alvus, crossbow out, who gives her a grinning nod of acknowledgement.
A gangly ghoul, gems sticking out of it, daggers drawn, sprints toward Ameera. In a panic, she summons a Wall of Fire between it and her. The 60-foot wide wall explodes across the battlefield, ripping through crystal and cave wall, propelling Jimmy backwards toward another ghoul who attempts to grapple him, but the dextrous human glides under the claws and lands behind it, shield at the ready. Across from Ameera, the dashing ghoul stops, glowering at her through the fire.
Now in the thick of it, Riswynn recognizes that these creatures Ghosts and may be difficult to kill with conventional weapons, as she slices through it and watches the ribbons of its torn ethereal flesh quickly re-form. Shield forward, Jimmy shoves the ghoul into the intense wall of fire behind him, and as the ghoul's back is charred to a crisp. It arches forward, attempting to move away from the searing heat, but Jimmy grabs it by the face and pushes it back in...and holds it there, until it turns to ash and he is holding only a few charred hairs.
Seeing a path around the other side, Jimmy begins to sprint the other way. But as he reaches the corner, a cold chill runs up his spine as he is suddenly halted. He instinctually looks down at his abdomen; he blinks, and for a split second, he can the edge of a halberd in his side. He follows the shaft up to a smoky, heavily armored individual floating out of a crystal. It says nothing, and rips the halberd from his side, leaving a grievous wound, then disappears again...
Brewdo glares through the fire wall at the pacing ghoul on the other side, draws his Monolith Sword, and leaps through the fire. Meanwhile, on the other side, the ghoul glares murder toward Ameera...as a FLAMING BUGBEAR WIELDING A MASSIVE SWORD blasts through the wall and pierces the blade deep into its sternum. The ghoul drops its daggers, instead latching into the arms of the bugbear, spreading necrotic veins up the arm. Brewdo slices into it again, and attempts to pull it toward the wall of fire now behind his own singed fur - but the creature appears to have roots digging into the earth from his feet, holding him in place.
Steef begins to shake so bad in fear that he drops all of his crystals, but manages to summon a Thunderwave from himself, cascading across Riswynn and the two Ghosts. With Riswynn's ears ringing, the wave of thunder passes over the ghosts...to no effect, and they instead lash out at Steef, slicing into him and ripping some of his life force (Constitution) from him. The Shard Ghoul begins to turn its head to an alarming degree, neck snapping one direction, then the other, as its spine snaps backwards, and the shards protruding from its chest launch toward the bugbear as menacing spikes. Both enter the bugbear, piercing deep into his chest, as the ghoul's form continues to break down in front of him. Black, angry veins begin to pulse from the shards and Brewdo finds himself overcome with a blind rage...
Surik ignites one of the ghosts with a Fire Bolt, while Xun sprints to the other, assailing it with fists. Mama springs to action, sending a Guiding Bolt...harmlessly into the wall of fire; but sends a Healing Word to Brewdo.
Alvus takes note of the color of crystal the ghosts flowed out from (sapphire), and instead slices into it with his short sword. As he impacts it, one of the ghosts shimmers and shrieks up to him. He resists the banshee's scream, and ghost's visage becomes less grotesque; a feminine face wearing a look of hurt and disappointment at Alvus' seeming lack of fear.
Ameera has been watching Brewdo through the fire and flames, and she now notices what appear to be tentacles - no - strange tendrils of dark energy, protruding from his back, a black ichor flowing from a slug-like mound between his shoulder blades. As he looks back at her, she gasps as one eye appears to be frothing with a dense, brackish foam. She casts Dispel Magic through the wall, piercing the corruptive pustule, and the crystals are pushed out of him, and the strange slug sloughs off of his back.
As the crew begins to coordinate slicing into and pounding against the crystals, Jimmy begins to assess his situation. Taking the time to take note of his surroundings, he sees a flash from a red crystal and brings up his shield in time to block another halberd swipe, and for the first time can see the smoky form of the warrior, halbed in one hand, a set of spiked balls in the other. Seeing the opening, Jimmy ripostes, his blade passing right through its silent body. Realizing the dire situation, Jimmy disengages from the entity and downs a healing potion.
Steef, deciding that he's had enough of this nonsense, makes his way back to the mouth of this cavern...only to see the form of the Wight rise again, tossing aside its bolted eyeball. So Steef, appropriately, screams awkwardly. Jimmy joins Brewdo, and the two ready themselves against the smoke knight as it floats ominously, blocking their path.
Shifting their focus to finishing this fight, everyone momentarily freezes as a scream up ahead pierces the battlefield, followed by several heavy, wet impacts, and a familiar low roar. Jimmy tenses as further clashing metal upon metal shakes the cavern opening ahead, sending spider cracks across the assembled gemstones; each Ghost grasps its head and screams in pain, shockwaves of sonic energy reverberating through the cavern...and their forms shatter.
Surik whirls to face the Wight, loosing another Fire Bolt at it as it tries to piece itself back together. The bolt slams through his torso, falling to pieces again. Xun leaps through the wall of fire and takes Jimmy's cue to charge up to the Smoke Knight. Testing it with a half-hearted jab, his fist passes through, the smoke parting around it; but two more blows slam into the creature's after-image as the cavern reverberates again from the sound of fists pounding into armor. Visible dents form in the Knight's visage, though it makes no other sounds.
Sensing the turning tides, Ameera drops her Wall of Fire as another scream pierces the veil from up ahead, the sounds of another battle wafting down to the crystal. Another bellowing roar and the sound of something sharp sinking into something wet...followed by another scream.
Xun notices the Smoke Knight suddenly turn slowly to face him, then "step" backwards into the red crystals behind him. The monk pops the knight once in the face, halting it; it then shifts itself and floats into the water, seemingly carried downstream. Alvus, satisfied with this, sets to work punting bits of the Wight into a nearby pool, where they bob and rapidly freeze over. While Ameera and Mama check on the health of their allies, Brewdo spies something large and reptilian being flung down the stairs from the opening ahead. It hits with a sickening smack as it lands in a heap of sliced bits. Whatever the creature once was, it was serpentine, with arms, and is now clearly dead. At the top of stairs, filling the opening with its hulking form, is the frost giant, fresh brackish blood dripping from its axe. It shouts another curse at the serpentine creature, spits upon the corpse, then gazes out at the assembled party, seemingly realizing for the first time that they are there. Riswynn, recognizing the opportunity, casts Produce Flame, sending a mote of fire careening toward the creature. It crashes into the lantern hanging around its neck, simultaneously shattering it and setting the giant's fur shroud aflame. Surprised and burning, the creature turns tail and flees further down the cavern, out of sight and out of mind...
Continued in Part 2...
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.