In the White Shadows

Chapter IV: Session V - Old Heroes and New Friends
Let's Kill the Latter

The party hopped aboard Mori’s boat as it pulled away, the building collapsing behind them. After dusting himself off, So’Khra looked at the oarsmen confused. “I thought you said I’d know what I was looking for? It felt that way and now there’s a pile of rubble and I have nothing to show for it.” Mori didn’t respond, but his eyes flitted down to the crumpled robes in Symon’s arms.

So’Khra ripped off the sheet and gazed upon Slatine’s face, which was growing colder by the moment. The party quickly revived the wizard, who chortled back to consciousness. As he regained his breath, Behrtogg asked Mori where they were headed now. “Only one place to go from here. The Dead City.” In the distance, the goliath glimpsed a skyward white tower.

Slatine looked relieved upon seeing So’Khra. Ah my son, you found the clues to bring you here. After much conversing about how the dead should remain dead, the party learned from the wizard that the Dead City is the final destination for those who died honorably. Those of less repute (like the axe murderer they just saw) were condemned to a more savage place. A trip down the river was an honor of valor.

However, the liche they just destroyed, among others, had upset that balance, luring noble spirits into traps along the riverbanks and consuming them for energy. Slatine had struck out to end this practice, but managed to get trapped in the liche’s clutches. He was glad the party found his breadcrumbs and brought him out of that hell.

For many hours, Slatine and So’Khra conversed in private, as the boat streamed downriver. The elder wizard filled the younger in on much of his lost memory and confirmed the details of his family. Importantly, So’Khra asked why he couldn’t go with his family to the sky. “Because someone has to bring the Primal Elves home, my son.” Brains exploded Remember the prophecy, four heroes must rally against the Armies of Seven…

With that, the boat pulled ashore. A disparate city of motley architecture sat before them. Huts dotted alleyways between cathedrals, which abutted thatch cottages. “What am I seeking?” So’Khra asked Slatine. “Why haven’t we found a way back from this dreamscape?” The wizard shrugged and invited his charge home for supper. As the party walked through the city streets, they marveled at everyone’s tranquility. Slatine informed them that the strange architecture is because all live in the abode in which they are most at home. With that, they approached a small tower. Inside was Slatine’s family, each of whom died long before So’Khra met the man. It was lovely, and So’Khra could tell the man was at peace. He clearly wasn’t supposed to take the man back to Kildengaard…

Eventually, the party bid their farewells and struck out into the city. Unsure where they were headed, they meandered to and fro, eventually turning onto a street cornered by two large stone huts. To their amazement and joy, a hobgoblin and hulking goliath were locked in a wrestling bout. Many kind words were shared with the heroes old friends, Lo-Kagg and Drezen. The heroes were pleased to see the men had made it down the river with honor.

Unfortunately though, the old companions had little insight to offer. They spoke for a while about the town and what could help them fight Swiften, but nothing seemed obvious. The only relative occurrence — a benign one at that — was that a half-orc recently arrived in town. This wasn’t particularly unusual, as many half-orcs had died honorably and inhabited the city. However, this half-orc had a penchant for leadership, and had rallied his fellow half-orcs who usually just demanded that drinking the blood of the innocent should not automatically disqualify one from the City — after all, how could one properly worship Gruumsh without drinking innocent blood? While the City was still skeptical, they hadn’t seen the likes of this half-orc before, who had gained quite a following on the idea that something was not quite right here. Wasn’t there more to life than just going about one’s day? While this seemed utterly unimportant to their greater objective, the party shrugged, said tearful goodbyes, and stepped out to look for this half-orc.

Soon they found a large tent, and the sound of grunting voices within. They parted the flaps and walked in. IN the middle of an impassioned speech, the half-orc at the front of the crowd paused, glancing at the intruders. When So’Khra exclaimed that there was indeed somewhere else to be, Drarth cleared the room.

At first he was skeptical, demanding that the party explain who they were and just what they were doing here. They discussed how Drarth last remembered fighting alongside his Iron Brotherhood in the Blackwood, then found himself here in the Dead City. The party gathered that his unrest might be from his soul splitting from his body — the sign of a Revenant. They wondered if the man’s physical shape remained in Kildengaard. They got the feeling the fourth hero’s soul stood before them — they would need to find him in the Blackwood and reunite his soul…

As So’Khra listened to Drarth tell his story, he had a sinking feeling. Last time they were in the dreamscape, he created a doorway back to reality. But only after devouring the corruption in that plane…he gulped with realization that only one thing had stood out as unusual in this city. Was stamping out that corruption the way home from here? Dude, he said, we many need to help you kill yourself…

Obviously, that didn’t go well. Eventually the party agreed that stuffing the half-orc into a bag of holding may do the trick. After all, he wouldn’t technically be in the Dreamscape anymore. The half-orc reluctantly agreed to climb inside the bag of a strange wizard.

With that, sure enough, So’Khra opened a door and the party found themselves tunneling through a tunnel of blue light, likely transcending time and space. Unfortunately, the journey didn’t go as planned, and the heroes found themselves in a brilliant white square room. They were under attack! Chillborn zombies and undead warriors descended upon them, likely trying to return them back to the nether realm. At first caught inside the bag, Drarth took the brunt of the monsters’ aggression, but his blades soon found their rhythm. As the party dispatched the beasts, they found themselves again tunneling through blue spheres.

At last they burst out into the Forest of Forgotten Heroes and the stone circle. In their hand chirped the gold beacon. It seemed to point towards the Witherspines and the Blackwood…

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Chapter IV: Session IV - Food Addiction
It's a real thing

So’Khra’s new-found relatives led the party right up the steps of the mansion. A feast spread before them, which was not mysterious at all. Each party member eyed the food warily, but sat down in order to appease the frantic flitting about of So’Khra’s mother. Around this time, a boy and a girl also joined the table. So’Khra assumed they were his siblings.

While Behrtogg and Symon eyed the food — it looked a little too perfect — So’Khra began peppering his mother and father with questions. Where did they go all those years ago? Why didn’t I get to go with you? As is common, everyone grew tired of So’Khra’s long-windedness, and his mother eventually started repeating her desire to eat dinner as a family. While hesitant at first, Behrtogg and So’Khra ate a few bites, and they become overwhelmed by its deliciousness. Soon, they were piling it in their faces with thoughts of little else. Symon, on the other hand, wanted to “see a dwarf about a foundry” and left the table for the door. Before he could leave, his hand was grabbed by the young girl, who had been making eyes at him since she arrived. As he turned back to the table, he noted with peculiarity that his comrades were besides themselves with food lust (even more than their usual disheveled mannerisms). Creepily, “ma & pa” were now standing beside them, one hand on each shoulder and grinning eerily.

As the young girl began pulling Symon back to the table, he balked. She quickly grew frustrated and complained to her mother that Symon didn’t want any food. Eery smiles transformed to furious snarls, and a fight was on!

Four armored swordsmen now floated before Symon, ready to pounce. So’Khra and Behrtogg paid little mind, they were still unnaturally focused on pounding that meal, which now clearly consisted of black ooze and rotting sinews. Quick to react, Symon began fighting the “family,” who swarmed around him in a cloud of black blades. Out of the corner of his eye, he noted a small white raven now perched on the bar behind him.

Eventually, Behrtogg noted, from somewhere deep in his subconscious, that his friends were in trouble. After great mental anguish, he finally tore himself from his food and smashed the table with his weapon. That definitely kept him from going back to eat. So’Khra overcame his desire in similar fashion and broke into battle as well.

The party attacked the cloud of swordsmen, some disappearing with their blades. It soon became apparent they were four aspects of the same specter — they needed to focus their energy on the one! They thought they had an answer, but each blow seemed to cause the raven to explode (only for it to reappear), rather than harm the specter. Behrtogg was particularly confused. Finally, hits were strung together, and the creature was banished. Before Behrtogg could capture the rare bird left behind, So’Khra blasted it to pieces in frustration.

They searched the mansion for clues about this place. Why did So’Khra feel so strongly he should stop here, if simply the home of a random undead sorcerer? Deftly recalling previous experiences, the party realized a lich’s soul may remain here. They would need to destroy its phylactery to excise it from this place. But do they care?

So’Khra stumbled across a book which seemed to hold the answer. It was in Slatine’s handwriting. Confusingly, however, it seemed to contain random parameters and locations of four tapestries. After piecing the information together for a few minutes, So’Khra decided to look around further. Sure enough, throughout the mansion, the four tapestries were displayed, telling familiar tales of Kievstal, Obsidian, Mezzo, and Eastport. Upon closer examination, So’Khra realized that the Obsidian tapestry was one inch shorter than in Slatine’s description. As he reached out to touch it, it faded away into a stairwell — a stairwell going down into darkness.

Gulping, the party journeyed downward, cautiously peering around a hallway. Soon they came across a crumpled heap — and a fifth tapestry. From a distance, this seemed to tell a tale they had not heard before, a tale about a king and his vizier conquering many lands justly. As they drew closer, a cold voice behind them called out, “Not so fast, the Master still needs your soooouls!”

Another fight broke out, as two boneclaw harpies and an undead priest assaulted them to glorify their lich leader! The battle raged on for some time, and the heroes were nearly turned to lich food. At one point, So’Khra blasted a spray of colors (tough guy) at the harpies, catching the crumpled heap in his wake. He thought he heard a stilted groan come from the pile, but it remained silent afterwards.

Up against the wall, at the most opportune time, So’Khra unleashed a wall of metal in the small chamber, which granted just enough respite from the harpies to dispatch the priest. That seemed to turn the tide of battle, and the heroes emerged victoriously fatigued.

Running over to the crumpled heap, So’Khra’s heart shattered. Beneath a tattered cloth lay Slatine, cold and silent. In his lifeless hands, he clutched a shiny yellow gem. Sure it was the phylactery, So’Khra picked it up and stood again, ready to destroy the lich that did this! To his surprise however, the tapestry behind him grew dark as he lifted the gem’s light to it. Soon, the tale upon it changed — the benevolent king and noble vizier were now replaced by a dark sorcerer wreaking fiery havoc among an unsuspecting kingdom. It was clear the lich that lived here wrought great evil in his day. With one sweep of his weapon of thundering light, Symon split the tapestry asunder, and the ground began to shake!

The lich was dying, but he was gonna bring this bitch down with him when he went. Quickly grabbing Slatine, the party hustled back upstairs and out the door. In an entirely original and creative way, the mansion collapsed down, just as they reached Mori’s boat. Nothing but rubble remained behind them, except that sinking feeling you get from eating rotten sorcerer food…

With that, Mori pushed the boat back out into the current…

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Chapter IV: Session III - Come Sail Away
Like the Angels

Unsure what time-bending realities they faced, the party launched into battle against these tiny/not-tiny lizards. Together, they danced around the room, but they looked far from nimble. It seemed as if all spacial recognition was warped — the heroes had difficulty even distinguishing their right and left hands at times.

As the fight moved deeper into the room, a large unending chasm sprawled before them. So’Khra was the first to reach the ledge — and a great horror faced him! Calling forth the worst of childhood memories, a massive, drooling centipede rose from the chasm, slid its clacking legs around the wizards chest, and sunk its jaws deep. As his eyes grew heavy, So’Khra thought the thing muttered, “Say hello to Slatine…” What?

After pronounced yelping, So’Khra fell quitely into poisonous slumber. Symon and Behrtogg continued to fight the tiny lizards, all but ignoring the massive beast slinking across the chamber. Yet somehow, their sword-slashes prevailed, and they managed to wake the wizard. Sometimes moments of triumph occur out of desparation — So’Khra then slashed off the beast’s head…

Now the party could breath and search around. Across from them, the chasm still stretched. Was that the way forward? A rocky path to the chasm’s left looked carefully traversable, and So’Khra began to pick along. It soon became clear that whatever footing did exist was much smaller than it appeared. With a series of ropes tied to arrows, followed by an adamantine-spade anchor, the party created a rope-bridge and found themselves in a small passageway.

The air grew cold in this narrow walkway. It curled and curled for some time, and the party began to hear rustling in the hallways. The party didn’t want to investigate, because they had a feeling many things dwell behind these walls. Eventually, they reached an dead end — adorned by nothing more than a chair, leaned back against the stone wall. They searched thoroughly, and outside a smooth indentation on a nearby wall, nothing else remained. Frustrated, the party muttered vague obscenities — So’Khra bollucksed up the chair in anger.

They turned back the way they came. The rustling grew louder as they did. Fortunately, the party was alertly scouting ahead, because another noise reached their ears. It sounded as if a heavy object was being drug along the ground, and it was coming in their direction!

Rather than investigate this sound, the party decided to check out the chair one more time — perhaps they had missed something. This time, as they rounded the corner, a sallow-faced man in a dark cap sat rocking in the chair.

They peppered the man with questions. What was this place? Where did he come from? Are austerity measures answer to the Greek economic crisis? He laughed at each one, giving cryptic answers implying that the heroes are searching for something — even if they know not what they seek.

Eventually, the disfigured man admitted that he was a captain of sorts, here to give passage across “the river.” He pointed to an oar (now in the smooth groove) as evidence. When the party asked to be taken across he laughed, saying they were not ready. He promised to take them, but only upon a sacrifice of great value. Otherwise they could get across in the way that all flesh does…that sounded ominous.

The party refused at first, but upon hearing the dragging noise grow closer, they acquiesced. Each placed an item before the man, which he examined closely in turn. Finding the objects acceptable, he stood and pushed away the wall. Before the party, a deep, dark swirling river stretched forth, and a boat bobbed before them.

As they boarded, the man introduced himself as Mori. Mori spelled out the rules. They would see many things. They would see people they knew. They may see themselves. However, they would know when they found what they sought. But above all else, Mori emphasized that no matter how dire the situation, he would not fight for the heroes — Mori was no more their’s than the boat was. They were on their own.

At this point, the dragging noise grew even louder, and groans began to accompany it. Just as Mori pushed off and the boat broke loose, the party saw a man, missing two limbs with a hatchet in his skull. Behind him, he dragged a long axe. At that very moment, the walls burst forth with some species of beetles, who quickly overwhelmed the hatchet man. Perhaps that is how most flesh arrived here — dead. The party gulped…

As the boat began passing along, Symon and Behrtogg simply saw scenery and people bustling about the eerie shorelines. So’Khra however, began noticing things. A young man, perhaps much like him, began to appear over and over again, experiencing different things. So’Khra soon realized that he was watching his own memories — the memories lost to him that fateful day in the tavern. Soon, the boy began interacting with a number of people — people with the broad, hard features that So’Khra thought belonged only to him. An entire village of these people soon danced before his eyes, and the boy was happy among them.

Soon, things changed. So’Khra watched as the boy’s parents introduced him to an older gentleman. As the boy shook the man’s hand, his parents turned their back on him and walked away, no matter how loudly the boy cried and reached for them. From that point on, So’Khra only saw the boy with the old man. “Was that Slatine?” So’Khra wondered. Lastly, So’Khra saw the boy’s parents, along with everyone else from the village, grow wings and take flight. As they ascended to the sky, they looked back, only to see their homes burning behind them…what manner of thing happened there?

Soon after, the boat approached a sandy shoreline. Along the coast rose a magnificent manor, fit with fluted columns and stained glass windows. So’Khra wondered if this was his childhood home. Soon, two figures – the boy’s parents!! – appeared on the porch and beckoned to So’Khra. As the ship approached, they called, “Our son, our son is here. Son, come join us for dinner!” With that, So’Khra asked Mori to dock the boat. This would require some investigating. Symon and Behrtogg looked at him, leery and confused…

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Chapter IV: Session II - Shiny and Angry
A Collector's Artifact and the Road South

The party skirted down the alley unseen and soon reached the home of the freshly-deaded mage. Much as it was earlier, the home was quiet, the shutters drawn, and no lights were seen. Our heroes crept in the front door, careful not to disturb the seemingly normal home. So’Khra delicately looked around for clues and noticed that, although remarkably tidy, the home had a few hurried ruffles. It seemed as if someone had packed up and left in a hurry. Not wanting to ransack the place (they were still under investigation after all), So’Khra was careful to peek around without disturbing anything. Soon, he noticed an outline underneath the rug — a trap door! Behrtogg, with no such trepidation smashed the door downward with his maul, splintering the wood into several pieces.

Below, a wide staircase descended. The party drew their swords and slowly merged with the dark below. By torchlight, they discovered a stone room with heavy double doors on the left. The room was odd, as the stone itself seemed to be covered in burnt grime. So’Khra sniffed the walls and determined them to be scorched with fire from some indeterminable arcane source. As their eyes adapted to the darkness, our heroes noticed the grime to be burnt into a huge circular symbol, reminiscent of the strange amulet found on the trailhead.

Symon approached the doors and pressed his ear against them. Grunts and a clanging noise emanated from beyond. With that, he threw the doors open, revealing a small room with a large warchest. The chest was utterly ignored, because Symon was just in time to see a vicious rage drake snap from the chains holding him from hero-meat.

Leaping toward the doorway, the drake nearly eviscerated by the drake’s spindly serrated claws. The paladin crumpled into a heap. Fortunately, Behrtogg and So’Khra distracted the beast from finishing it’s prey. Unfortunately, the claws and teeth of the beast continued to thrash, and Behrtogg fell just after reviving Symon. Surely this was one of the toughest enemies our heroes had yet seen. The two fallen comrades rose again with just enough help from So’Khra, who courageously danced in the shadows out of harm’s way. Eventually, Behrtogg’s hammer felled the beast, who crumpled to the stone floor. Behrtogg took the beast’s longest talon, confident he could fashion it into a fine weapon.

The party checked the heavy locked chest, and recognized that opening it would require entering a rune code into the steeled lock mechanism. So’Khra resumed his search upstairs, and in the closet found a set of worn leather greaves. Near the ankle plate, he gasped as he saw a small black fist. The Onyx Fist strikes again!! He also found several scraps of papyrus, seemingly torn in deliberate haste. He pieced them together, confident this was his code!

It was. The three heroes hoisted the heavy metal lid and peered inside. A single gold artifact lay within, shining with light and vibrating energetically. It looked strangely different to each hero — a metal playing card, a gem, and a gilded parchment. After some confusing dialogue, the heroes realized that magic was afoot. At any rate, they were all confident that the artifact was imbued with powerful ancient magic. All sorts would love to get their hands on this lovely piece. So our heroes stole it, stuffing it into So’Khra’s bag of holding.

After some deliberation about how best to impersonate a drake break-in (dreak-in?), the party came to their senses, and So’Khra scrubbed the place. The party headed to the inn for the night, hopeful their mess would go unnoticed. They even kept a totally necessary and helpful watch in the single room they shared.

In the morning, they made their way back to the bazaar to pick up So’Khra’s requisitioned items. As he picked up the items, a strange humming rang from his knapsack. So’Khra wondered if the artifact hummed as it’s holder desires were met. Using some trial and error involving Behrtogg and expensive honeyed hamhocks, the party confirmed this idea. With some recollection, the group recalled rumors of a powerful Collector, an ancient scholar-mage who imbued his personal belongings with great power. The artifacts have been called the Deck of Many Things, the Tears of Urum Shar, the Primal Apocrypha, and so on, but each has always been based more on speculation than examination.

Eager to take advantage of such powerful magic, the group decided to use it in finding Slatine’s Tower. They stopped by the Mayor Mammerschmidt’s to assure some protection. He was disappointed they wanted to talk substance over sustenance, but he eventually agreed to not send an angry mob after them.

The party rode southward in search of a lost crossroads. They had learned from the historian that Obsidian used to meet Slatine’s men at a point to deliver supplies to the school. Eventually, they found just such a point, with a faded trail leading through a meadow into a tree-line. While crossing the meadow, Behrtogg pointed to an area that dipped slightly in the uniform line of firs, he estimated it to be an area of relative youth. The group agreed to check it out.

However, as the forest deepened, tracking proved much harder than anticipated. Despite all three heroes tracking together, they got so turned around they popped back out into the meadow on their first attempt. Their second attempt involved marking their path, which proved more fruitful. Sure enough, the party soon found themselves in an open area of young saplings, the ground riddled with odd stone.

The stone was unlike any naturally-occurring stone Behrtogg had seen and lay flat against the ground in a huge circle. The rock itself was incredibly dense, like it had been worked, but also very raw and natural. It was strange and a bit eerie to the Goliath.

So’Khra felt an odd sense of belonging here. Was this the site of Slatine’s Tower, his old home? As the wizard walked to the center of the stone circle, the humming in his bag chirped up and grew exponentially louder than it had previously. It was now sparking with light, and So’Khra removed it from his bag of holding.

Just as he reached the center of the circle, the artifact jumped from his hand, shot beams of light high into the sky, and grew into a glowing halo nearly four feet in diameter. It seemed, So’Khra was where he desired to be!

After the heroes attempted to smash the stone with heavy weapons without success, So’Khra tried a different approach. Unsure what he was even looking at, So’Khra fell to one knee to examine the stone more closely. Recalling their adamantine gift from Luden, So’Khra tried to probe the stone with the spade’s shining blade. Surprisingly, the blade slipped through like the stone was water. So’Khra began digging excitedly, and after an hour or so discovered an ornate metal box. After careful examination, he flipped open the lid to reveal a tome. The artifact nearly erupted, firing beam after beam into the dimming sky.

With that, So’Khra reached for the book. Was this Slatine’s final record? How was it buried within five feet of stone? As his hand met the parchment, the artifact jumped ten feet into the air, and black fog (completely unlike any previous reaction it had) spewed from it, instantly engulfing the heroes. The fog soon grew into pitch blackness, and the world began turning around our heroes, faster and faster, until they lost all sense of orientation. Soon it felt as if they were falling, falling into some unknown depth. Then, as quickly as it had come, the fog was gone. But our heroes were somewhere new — in a dimly lit room. Large glass walls towered along the walls, in various shapes and sizes. The party could see themselves in dozens of reflections, but each looked oddly disfigured.

With that, a tiny two-legged lizard with an even tinier spear (think kabob) crawled out from behind a mirror and scurried towards Behrtogg. Reaching the goliath, it pointed the small stick towards Behrtogg’s thigh. As soon as it made contact, Behrtogg howled with pain, as a three inch gash erupted on his skin. Uh oh — things don’t seem to be what they seem…

With a gulp, Behrtogg looked at So’Khra, who nodded with understanding — they were back in the Dreamscape…

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Chapter IV: Session I - Salmonella & Concussions?
Meat, Eggs, and a Whodunnit

The heroes awoke from deep, long-awaited slumber to the smell of fresh eggs. They returned to the tavern for breakfast with last night’s sugary drinks now sour on their breath. A buxom lovely smiled at So’Khra, who groggily claimed last night to be a blur. Eyebrows were raised, but the heroes spent the morning relaxing, resetting their minds, and preparing for the road ahead.

The road to Obsidian hugged the foothills of the Witherspines, darting in and out of plainlands and rugged passageways. For two days, the heroes traversed this terrain with little incident. However, as evening approached on the second day, the path took a direct turn into the mountains. From their map, the party understood that the trail would dump them into Obsidian’s western gate in but a few hours.

Shortly ahead, they passed under a short land bridge, and Behrtogg caught wind of a foul beast. It seems they had stumbled into some sort of lair! All would be fine, so long as they tiptoed past the distraction.

Whhhhhmp. With a splat, a pungent slab of meat landed just feet away from Behrtogg, hurled from beyond a boulder ahead. Two large spined snakes burst from a hole in the rocks, eager to source the enticing aroma. On instinct, the party engaged these hungry creatures, only to watch an Otyugh slide into view behind them. A battle ensued, and the heroes nearly found themselves in an Otyugh belly before triumphing over nature. As he struck the final blow, Symon noticed two silhouettes duck out of sight on the horizon line ahead — a thin man with a staff and some sort of flaming figure. Gathering them to be the meat-tossers, he sprinted forward, but the pair was long gone.

Meanwhile, So’Khra and Behrtogg pondered the slimy meat slab. It seemed to have been magically imbued with heightened aroma — and a foul one at that. Together, the group then searched the worm lair and found several soft, translucent eggs. Recognizing their exotic value, they grabbed two and tasted a third. Behrtogg refrained. They also found a thin vein of gold ore running through the hillside!

The heroes attempted to track Symon’s culprits, but the singed twigs and fresh footprints were soon lost upon the main road. However, upon closer inspection, one of the figure’s amulet, branded with a strange symbol, had snagged on a branch. At least it was clear the duo was headed to Obsidian. The party again made camp for the night, intent to explore Obsidian well-rested.

Obsidian was lightly guarded, and the heroes were quickly given passage to see Dagon, the local smithy. As they approached his hut, Dagon was crafting a large ballista and greeted them hesitantly . He had been expecting the crew, and Luden had commissioned an odd piece for them some months before. An adamantine-bladed spade?….how odd. After some conversation, Behrtogg and So’Khra divined that Dagon was in fact the brother of Iagon, the master glasssmith from their earlier travels in Glassleaf. Deep connections ensued.

Still unclear as to Luden’s missive, the be-spaded party set out for the local historian, hoping to find clues to So’Khra’s past (and the party’s future). Bano indicated that he hadn’t seen the symbol on the amulet but postulated that the local mage guild may know. Turns out they had a meeting just that evening!

After fucking around in a local shop for new wares and foisting shitty worm eggs onto the chubby Mayor Mammerschmidt, the party joined the mage guild meeting, held at the home of a prominent Obsidian denizen. So’Khra felt right at home amongst the thirty red-clad guildmates, while So’Khra and Symon felt more apprehension.

The meeting stretched on for some time without incident. After droning on about issues including the growing price of sage imports, the utility of mandated disease prevention cantrips, and who would fix the table outside the apothecary, the Executive Guildsman finally opened the floor for new matters. So’Khra stepped forward and greeted his fellow mages — by thrusting forth the amulet and demanding answers about their attempted assassination. On high alert, Behrtogg and Symon scanned the crowd for less-savory reactions. Only one guildsman showed anything but confusion, and he slipped quietly out the door. Behrtogg and Symon sprinted after the fleeing man, who had turned on the jets as soon as he left the meeting.

The chase took them through several alleys, and up onto the ramparts of the city wall. Behrtogg had wisely darted ahead to cut off the culprit’s egress while Symon was closing from behind. Behrtogg finally lept up into position, flanking the mage, who started. Just then, Symon tackled the man at full speed, shouldering him to the ground.

As he rolled over, the mage laughed and spit, “You pretenders are in over your heads.” Soon the vitriol spilling from his mouth turned to foam and his eyes spun glassy — and dead. Uh oh! This was going to look sticky to anyone but Behrtogg and Symon. Still unsure as to whether he had just killed a man, Symon nobly stated that they should face the guild, albeit with a story told in the best light possible.

Confusion amongst the mages turned to panic and suspicion as these two strangers reemerged, this time with a comrade dead at their feet. So’Khra did much to soothe the tension by explaining that murderers would never return. Nonetheless, the town guard was called in to investigate.

As a bunch of science nerds are wont to do around a dead body, an autopsy was demanded and began. As the party’s interrogation proceeded, it became clear that someone should visit the man’s widow to deliver the bad news. The party convinced the guard that they should come along, as it may be a chance to prevent further danger (and search for clues). However, when they arrived at the man’s home, the windows were dark. Much to the party’s consternation, the guard was hesitant to search the darkened home of a man who had just died — think of the poor woman, losing her husband and her privacy all within an hour! With that, they returned to the mage’s guild.

As they arrived, the Executive Guildsman declared several science-y things, and heads began bobbing around the room. Behrtogg and Symon took a minute to catch on, then realized they had just been exonerated (this was more of a relief to them than anyone else). The town guard told them not to leave town, but that they weren’t being detained for the night. They should keep a low profile.

Unable to ever keep a low profile, the party decided to double back to the dark home. Surely some clues lie there! They skirted into a dark alley, eager for answers…would they ever come?

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Chapter III: Sessions V & VI - Doubling Down in the Atrium
Symon Says, "Survive!"

The DFA’s, still broken and bleeding, decided to wait out the night. They barricaded themselves and Yezka into their familiar classroom lair and were able to catch a few uninterrupted hours of sleep. In the morning, they faced a decision — would it be best to confront Naria this morning, to silently whisk the children away, or to face this evil the next night. Drezen, So’Khra, and Behrtogg decided it best to seek out Naria. Faustus, disenfranchised with the entire campus, felt it best to take his new ward to safety and departed back to Kievstal.

The remaining DFA’s confronted Naria at breakfast. She again went pale as a sheet at their site. Quickly ushering them away from less loyal ears, she finally spilled the beans: Powerful forces had invaded the Archives; she and Luden were forced to enter a gruesome compromise. The children would be spared, so long as the forces of evil could collect some of their life force each night. This nightly horror was conducted in the dormitory’s atrium (where Luden was calling for help!). Naria had cleverly scripted magical connections with young animals as a way of sustaining the children from such a taxing excursion each night — hence the animals never leaving the children’s side. All in all, it was a horror that no faculty would ever wish to face, but the children were still alive…

Clearly understanding for the first time Luden’s reasons for calling on them, the party vowed to end this bullshit once and for all. They spent the afternoon scouting the atrium for an advantageous position to expel these evil forces. Climbing high atop the glass dome, they dropped down into a room covered in old grime — or old blood, it seemed. Examining a makeshift altar that dotted the center, Drezen finally realized the source of the burning symbol in his dreams…these were cultists of Orcus! The party gulped…

The atrium had a single set of double doors that led by staircase to the locked storeroom, which in turn connected to a long row of first floor dormitories. The party schemed for some time about what might happen that night. They decided to hang a fire trap above the staircase, position a concealed Behrtogg in the storeroom, and flank the atrium doors. Upon Behrtogg’s signal, So’Khra would light the trap and nuke any Orcian motherfuckers ascending the stairs. They crouched, chuckling over their brilliant plan, and awaited nightfall.

Soon, sounds began to stir from the dormitories. A long line of children, far more catatonic than they had been that morning, began streaming into the storeroom, interspersed by cultists and faculty. Far down the line, Behrtogg saw two cultists carrying a large spiked chair, upon which slumped a sallow, gaunt dwarf. Unsure what to make of this complication, Behrtogg thinked as only a Behrtogg can have thunked, which induced some level of panic inside him. Hastily, he signaled to his comrades. So’Khra followed through with the plan, igniting children, cultists, and one faculty member. A few more notches made the DFA’s belt.

Oddly, the ritual seemed utterly unfazed by the party’s incendiary ways. Around the time the first child would have reached the top of the stairs (had they not been ashy), a cultist lobbed a curious gilded orb into the room and a smoky haze began to fill the atrium. As Drezen and So’Khra felt themselves sliipping from consciousness, they saw children entering the room and slumping onto the floor as if to sleep for the night…

Several moments passed, and Behrtogg heard little noise. Were his comrades going to signal for him?? By now, the chair had passed by, and the stream of children had ceased. A strange chanting had started — by now he knew to distrust that sound. Behrtogg decided he’d better check in and quietly ascended the stairs. What he saw was ghastly. Children, faculty, and his comrades lay strewn about the floor, rivulets of blood streaming from them. Flowing toward the altar, the blood appeared to pool upon the altar. Strapped atop the altar was the chair, and dozens of tubes protruded from the now-even-paler dwarf, draining him of lifeforce.

Behrtogg knew this wasn’t a good sign. He covered his mouth, then quietly roused his teammates without disturbing the ritual. They groggily stood up…and all launched into battle!!

Several cultists fell, but the party, still hazy from the gas effects, was ineffective. After several moments, the pool of blood began to bubble, and a giant pulsating eyeball burbled out of the roiling liquid. It’s bloodshot and stony gaze turned on the party. By this time, Behrtogg had managed to ascend the altar stairs and swung his hammer for justice! Unfortunately, he managed to catch himself and the slumped dwarf, instead of the enemy. The dwarf crumpled off the side of the altar, seemingly broken. The party soon joined them — the petrifying gaze of the eye was too much for a bunch of damned fools. Had Luden placed his faith in the wrong group?!

[MEANWHILE]

Holding a glowing stone in his hands, Symon shoved the panic back into his gut. His summoning disc had only alerted a few times in his whole life. This could only mean dire straits! He dropped his venture immediately and sped towards the Archives. Why would Master Luden summon him?

Within two days, he ascended the path to the Iron Gate. The path and the Archives were eerily quiet. Normally, an area livened by comings and goings, the only travelers he had seen were a cleric and a young schoolboy wearing the white cloth of apprenticeship. They seemed nice enough, so Symon let them pass without question. But now, as he approached the gate and the sun dipped, his fears were confirmed. The always-secure gate lie gaping open and unattended. The Archive grounds, normally scattered with schoolchildren practicing their wizard crafts, were abandoned. Only a light from the dormitory atrium signaled life in the area.

After checking in Luden’s empty quarters, which were oddly unlocked, Symon dropped in on Midos. The frail librarian scrambled out of his quarters in a nightgown, looking utterly frantic. At first, Midos tried to play off his lack of sangfroid by explaining that he was about to settle in for a bath, but Symon knew him better than that. Before telling him about the awful things that had happened in the past weeks, Midos begged Symon to flee from the Archives for his own good! Symon pinned him down, however, and Midos sobbed the details about the Terrible Compromise that had befallen the grounds. Outraged, Symon vowed to stop it.

Symon quickly stole towards his chambers in the dormitory. Knowing that the evil rite must be occurring in the Atrium, he decided to search for a covert way to enter. He had often heard rumors of a long-past alum that had dug a tunnel from his dorm into the storeroom, but it had never been confirmed. Surely enough, under a bed, he found a false-floored chest with a tunnel inside! Sneaking through, Symon found himself in the storeroom. Burnt bodies littered the stairwell, and Symon felt sick. Chanting and light came from the open atrium doors…Angered and emboldened, Symon strolled into the atrium.

Even as the sickening scene settled into his brain, Symon burst into action. He leaped at the nearest cultist, burying his sword within him. As he did, a number of the catatonic children grasped at his legs, pulling the paladin towards the pile. He barely escaped in time to revive Drezen, who in turn ran to aid his allies.

Although disparate in origin, this new group seemed allied in purpose to Symon. While the battle was not easy, they eventually succeeded in punishing the eye back to the depths of its hell-pool. Unfortunately, Drezen fell to his wounds, this time being all but devoured before aide could arrive. (Later, the party would send their fallen comrade’s body to be immortalized with his brother high atop the Kievstal Palace.) But not before it began to summon hell itself. Hellfire erupted from the floor, burning scores of children and faculty in its wake, before the beast was ended. Although the hellfire disappeared upon the eye’s death, those sad souls did not return.

Battered and confused, the four heroes blinked at each other a number of times before So’Khra finally asked Symon, “Who the hell are you?” Symon responded with the medieval equivalent of “WTF are you talking about.” A lot of blinking followed, but no one drew swords on each other.

Eventually, the group began to pick up the pieces. The chaos around them had stilled, and it now began to sink in. Specifically, Behrtogg began shaking, recalling visions of an hell-bound dire bear, back from the dead to torment him for his brother’s death, that had fought through the battle. They helped children from the floor, shielded them from their fallen schoolmates, and eventually tended to Luden’s broken body. The frail dwarf was breathing, but only to the most shallow degree. The general state of the wizard was most shocking to Symon, who had known the dwarf to be of heart only a few weeks prior.

After several attempts to heal him, Luden began to breath more easily, but still was unable to open his eyes. Sullenly, Symon carried Luden to his own dormitory, as Behrtogg and So’Khra assisted the children to theirs. So’Khra began telling familiar bedtime tales to the young wizards for comfort (although he wasn’t sure how he knew the stories).

In the morning, the party gathered in Symon’s chamber. They came to a mutual understanding of their recent pasts and understood that Luden had summoned all. While strange bedfellows, it seemed the wizard had united them in purpose.

Eventually, Luden’s eyes fluttered open and he coughed for a glass of water. His eyes met Symon’s with a loyal appreciation then turned calmingly to So’Khra and Behrtogg. He explained that the timeline of these awful events was accelerated by Swiften’s quick departure (Nadia had hinted he was very upset). He explained that Swiften was, in fact, a tool of evil, but one that was necessary to bring forth the destiny of the land. When he departed, he took an ancient protectorate staff with him — a staff forged from the ashes of a primordial witch — that had long protected the Archives. In its absence, the forces of evil were able to descend upon the school. Luden had given much to stop it, including crafting the Terrible Compromise, in order to bide time for the party to arrive.

With that, the party remembered their initial question, “Why us?” With that, Luden spoke to them of celestial prophecies, things that bewildered and amazed the heroes. He spoke of how each were destined to face Swiften and others, that they were ordained by prophecy. Seeing their bulging eyes, the wizard reminded them of the realm’s lore, which they promptly remembered:

— From Vehemine, the One-Eyed Warlock and Commune of the Pantheon.
“Behold, in the end of days, the Fleets of the Seven shall meet the Four White Heroes to tear asunder the Realm’s heart. The Worldbreakers shall rise upon command. On the final day, blood shall run light or dark with only the GodShrine discerning. If Light is to survive, a summons of the Lost must come from the winged afar, the hardened above, the slitherer below, and the ruler within.”

Things began to stand out about the familiar scripture that the heroes had never noticed before…did the “white heroes” refer to the characters that kept sprouting about their lives? Did this Worldbreaker have to do with the events in Kievstal? Luden confirmed that Zehir was a Worldbreaker poseur, but that his forces were included among the seven.

But then Luden dropped a bomb. Symon, So’Khra, and Behrtogg were among the four white heroes, destined to save the realm. How did he know? Luden pulled back the neck of his frock to reveal a glistening white breastplate. So’Khra remembered seeing a dwarf, albeit a younger heartier one, in his vision.

A little confused, the party questioned what to do next. Luden told them to seek Udacha, the mystical lost city, rumored to have ascended to the clouds, not the shitty pig village Behrtogg and So’Khra knew. Still unsure, Luden urged them to seek their past, particularly the past of So’Khra, ward of Slatine, if they hoped to achieve their destiny. Was So’Khra right in his hazy connection he had made to that name in the Archives. Luden was tight-lipped but confirmed that much would be revealed in due course.

Still a little confused, the party agreed to set out for Obsidian, once the necessary preparations had been made. After a hard day’s ride to the base of the Witherspines, they decided to detour and shelter in the Training Grounds, a tradeport near the mouth of the canyons. The Training Grounds were essentially, a large breeding area, with permanent ranges built into its perimeter for a variety of exotic animals. In the center of the city, a bustling trade economy had sprouted. The party quickly sought lodging, only to find a highly entrepreneurial bartender pushing bizarre animal-based cocktails on them. While strange, it was the closest thing to normalcy they had experienced in some time, and the heroes drank heavily.

Eyes heavy with exhaustion and inebriation, the heroes staggered up to their rooms for the night, eager to see what tomorrow would bring…

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Chapter III: Session IV - A Return to Old Ways
Cults and Slain Children

As Behrtogg opened the door to the Auditorium, several cultists whirled and glared at his interruption. Yezka lay on the bloody altar that had been erected on stage. He didn’t look well. Before Behrtogg could even move, the cultists’ leader fired a spear, striking him in the chest. It was on! These cultists wouldn’t last long!

But wait! As the DFA’s entered the fray, something a little more dastardly screeched from the corner. A giant owlbear! This was going to make things interesting…

After several DFA’s nearly dropped, the cultists and their wild pet were dispatched and Faustus did his best to heal the young boy’s wounds. Yezka stammered in terror as they asked him a few more questions. He shrieked that he had to go. The children were punished every night, but nothing like this. And now they killed his ferret (it was smashed behind the altar), the only thing that made him feel better. He began to cry when asked about Bellia. He had given her some food, but she was caught with it. He assumed these same cultists probably finished her off.

Outraged, Faustus grabbed the boy and made for the dormitory. Meanwhile, So’Khra was left with his dying pals, which he then heroically revived. Despite Faustus asking him to wait, So’Khra couldn’t overcome his own recalcitrance and began to search for what lurked beneath the stage…

Faustus and Yezka arrived at the dormitory entrance. For five minutes, he screamed and pounded his fist, demanding an audience. Eventually, Naria cracked the door, her face white as snow. She quickly ushered him away, but only after shoving a healing poultice into the wizard’s hand. She begged him to take Yezka away — he wouldn’t be safe here. The cleric obliged and returned to the group.

Meanwhile, So’Khra had discovered a trap door underneath the altar, and Behrtogg smashed a hole in the side of the stage. Both converged on a staircase. At the foot, was a gory room, like the one’s they had seen before. Blood was infused into the walls, and a pool of blood lie in the center. This time, however, four zombies were chained to the wall. They seemed to radiate heat from across the room. Three were smaller and frocked in tattered white, the other seemed larger and frocked in red. Hoping to wait for their allies, Behrtogg and So’Khra retreated to the top of the stairs. Eventually, they began to hear chains break, as the zombies proceeded up the narrow stairway. The plan was mostly succesful, as the narrowness kept zombies from surrounding any one character. Good thing too, as they began to burn with fire during the battle.

Eventually, the party fought their way to the last zombie. Behrtogg felt strange attacking it, but only for a moment — what was left of Bellia was irredeemable. As he smashed her softened skull, she exploded with fiery gore, taking the barbarian down with her. While Bellia could go home, it would take some time before the group could forget slaying even more children. Weren’t they past that?

Faustus did what he could to befoul the blood pool and redeem the sacrifical room in Nusemnee’s name, but that brought only temporary solice. Low on resources and strength, the DFAs pondered their quandary. Drezan and Behrtogg lay on the floor, struggling to maintain consciousness. Was it safe to wait out the night? Would they survive an frontal assault on the dormitory? Was this all a suicide mission? The DFAs had come so far and learned so much here. Was it all for naught?

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Chapter III: Session III - A Capital time!
Lost Children and the Leather Jacket Blowout Sale

The DFA’s soon reached the Mess Hall for the evening meal. The scene was much like breakfast that morning, with children eating and noisly chattering while teachers roamed amongst them. Behrtogg looked around for Yezka, but the boy was missing…

The group again sought out Naria, who graciously entertained their questions while petting her lapping hound. She had no new information on Swiften, his departure, the spirit animals, or Luden’s whereabouts, but she did express surprise at the vicious accusations hurled at her predecessor. He had always been stern, even to a fault, but never violent. Faustus asked her to elaborate on Yezka’s punishment. He was being banished to his dorm as fitting punishment for sharing food, she explained. Behrtogg pleaded with her that Yezka was in danger and begged to see him, but Naria (understandably) refrained to let visitors in the children’s dormitory. Besides, allowing him visitors would undermine the lesson.

Faustus inquired about other children who had been punished — perhaps a young brunette. Naria explained that children come and go. They either fail out of the program, their parents run out of funds, or occasional horrible accidents occur. The only recent removal was Belia Malfoy, who was withdrawn by her parents several weeks ago and was a young brunette…Faustus again studied the teacher’s face for signs of betrayal. Naria was clearly hiding something, but he just couldn’t quite tell what it was…

Eventually, the party retired to their makeshift chambers in the corner of the schoolhouse. As they left, Naria again reminded them that roaming about campus was prohibited after sundown — it was a liability issue. The party protested a bit and feigned some selective hearing, but the message was mostly received…

Once back in their room, So’Khra dampened all sound entering or leaving the room. The DFA’s then sketched out their master plans for the evening. First, they would sneak into Luden’s loft for signs of the Headmaster. Then they would cross through the Courtyard and contact Behrtogg’s crush. Hopefully, all would remain unseen.

After checking both ways for Taj and Bino (the lovely guards), the party darted to Luden’s loft. Faustus quickly used his magic key to unlock the door. He did so with such alacrity that he disarmed a magical ward, which sparked just inside the door.

Luden’s loft was an eclectic mess of adventuring artifacts. Stuffed albino bears, bone furniture, and books — so many books — dotted the lower level. The party scanned the room and saw nothing of particular note. Drezan remained below while the rest of the party ascended the internal stairs. Noting the large exposed windows of the upper level, the DFAs panicked and hung various flags and furs to prevent their light from being observed. They ascended into the upper chamber, where a large reptilian shell served as a desk. A made bed sat in the corner, and the layer of dust seemed light but uniform. Mounted on the wall was a series of strange translucent gems.

So’Khra began searching the room and felt particular arcane energy coming from a ceramic plate with a handprint in the center. As he placed his hand there and spoke to Behrtogg, some of the wall’s gems began to glow. He removed his hand, placed it down, and said, “This is a secret.” Different gems glowed — it seemed a puzzle had been left for them. On his third attempt, a magic dart fired at So’Khra from somewhere in the wall. The wound smarted with poison, making So’Khra tilt a bit.

Around this time, Taj and Bino—while unintelligent—were observant enough to see strange blankets hanging in the Headmaster’s loft. They rushed inside as Drezan warned the others. Drezan tried to hide behind the door, but the guards saw him immediately. If nothing else, the time spent peppering him with questions bought his allies a few extra seconds. Drezan was able to fool Taj that he had misunderstood the rules, but the guard escorted him out nonetheless. Bino ascended the stairs to look for the hobgoblin’s allies. Behrtogg had managed to hide underneath the bed, while Faustus awkwardly dove behind the desk, his armor clearly sticking out the top. So’Khra did his best to impersonate Naria. For the time being though, So’Khra pulled off the ruse, and Bino left the loft snickering about Naria and the cleric.

The party exhaled with relief and resumed its work on the gems. Eventually, the word “CAPITAL” triggered the mechanism, and a box appeared on the desk. So’Khra disarmed a second rune, and lifted the lid. Inside was a small collection of papers, and a letter tied into a scroll. The letter explained that Luden was frustrated by Swiften’s quick departure; he thought he had more time, and the warriors he sent for had not yet responded! The collection of papers seemed to be a series of doodles and puzzles. Contemplating this, the DFAs realized that Luden was sending them a message! Puzzles inside puzzles! Messages inside messages! They eagerly re-examined the letter and the CAPITALS spelt UDACHA. That name again! Wondering if more could be found, they pulled out the original letter from Luden. Their heart sank when they realized they had been thoroughly worked over by a clever DM foolishly focused on the flowery, indiscernible script…there, in the letter, the capitals again called to them. LOOK FOR ME IN THE ATRIUMHELP! Perhaps Luden wasn’t so far away, after all…

By now, Bino, with all his astuteness, came to a realization. That wasn’t Naria…Naria never leaves her hound!! With a shout, he and Bino again converged on the loft. Hearing this, Behrtogg bolted back to the classroom, Faustus and So’Khra in not-so hot pursuit. Behrtogg flew just past the guard’s sight undetected, but his allies were less fortunate. Bino grabbed Faustus by the cloak and body-blocked So’Khra.

The guard was livid! He berated the heroes for their inconsiderate and brazen disregard for order. Each time they began to respond, he cut them off with a new cursing tirade. The party allowed themselves to be barricaded into the classroom until Naria could sort this out, and the guards left, still in a huff. The DFAs agreed, time was of the essence!

As soon as Taj and Bino rounded the corner, the party skirted to the Courtyard. The night was growing deeper, and Behrtogg could feel the energy redoubled near the pool. As So’Khra began chanting, the goliath saw a shimmer appear before him. The girl called to him. Although she was not the most direct communicator, Behrtogg gently guided her to some answers. She was requesting to “leave and go home.” They had punished her and it wasn’t fair. This was “so much worse than normal.” The “people who punished” had come “since Naria arrived,” but she was “a good teacher.” They had “taken away her ferret” because Yezka had shared some food with her. They did the punishing “underneath the wooden floor.”

Hearing this, the party grew angry. No longer was this just a troubling feeling and fear behind eyes. Someone was hurting children (oh yeah, we forgot, but, no no…it’s different when others do it) and they were gonna fuckin’ pay! They ran to the Great Hall, ready to uncover the mystery.

As they exited the schoolhouse, they heard a crackle and Taj’s voice floated out to them. We knew you couldn’t sit still for long. It appeared that Taj and Bino ran to tell someone alright, but it definitely wasn’t Naria. Taj and Bino now burned with fire, and two huge sword-bearing demons lurked behind them. A sorceress appeared to lead all four…

A fight broke out, with scourging fire nearly burning the DFAs into nothingness, but Drezan’s audacity kept the largest demons at bay, allowing his allies to remain just outside their daunting aura. Behrtogg was particularly vicious in dispatching the lesser demons, twice bleeding on them from his fresh finger wounds. Eventually, Faustus finished off the sorceress, and the party regrouped. A victory…but who knows who (or what!) else might have been alerted by the commotion.

Behrtogg wistfully realized that he probably wasn’t going to break even on those leather jackets after all…

Cautiously, the DFA’s entered the Great Hall. The marbled hallway was splashed with a gorgeous mosaic that stretched onto the ceiling. It depicted some great feat of war, but the DFA’s were unsure which war it came from. So’Khra astutely noticed that four knights, clad in white, seemed to be a central tenet. He recalled experiencing a similar scene when divining upon the Zehiri Triad back on the road to Kievstal…

Without a moment’s more hesitation, Behrtogg crossed the marble hallway for the doors to the auditorium. As he neared, he heard a dread-inspiring sound. His heart lept to his throat as ritualistic chanting met his ears. He opened the door, unveiling an all-too-familiar scene of horror. There, atop the stage, was a glowing altar…and several cultists spun around to face the barbarian…

“I thought we got rid of these guys,” Behrtogg thought, as he tightened his grip on his hammer…

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Chapter III: Session II - This place smells fishy...let's read alot
Enriched of Mind, Taxed of Digits

Finally, the DFAs reached the Archives. They camped along the cliff-side without incident (although fervent dreams returned to some), broke camp, and made the short journey to the Archives in the morning. As they circled the high stone walls, they found a heavy metal gate sealing the Archives from the outside world…

Two massive, surly human guards approached the gate and asked the DFAs their business. Taj and Bino scoffed at first when Faustus asked for Headmaster Luden. What the hell were these four armored fools doing here this early in the day? Eventually, Luden’s letter was passed through the grate and the portcullis was raised.

The party eagerly entered the campus and began peppering the guards with questions. Unsure what to make of these strange visitors, Taj gave them a simple map of the area (how did they not have one??) and pointed them towards the mess hall — pretty much everyone was at breakfast.

The Karenguuld Archives was a large complex with several multiple-story buildings tucked inside its high walls. The Historical Record comprised about half of campus, while the other half was covered with various dorms, classrooms, and use facilities deployed for the training of young acolytes. The party quickly found the mess hall tucked in the corner of the school building…

As they entered, a gaggle of schoolchildren in white frocks ate at long tables. Behrtogg was instantly alarmed by their garb — it seemed like that of the young girl in his dreams (he didn’t see her here, though). However, the other DFAs’ eyes were drawn to more startling items that the children were wearing. They all had tiny adorable animals perched about them!!! Instead of brimming with cute overload, the DFAs were inexplicably sprinkled with brow-furrow powder. What were these creatures? Why would children have animals as pets? What is this black magic??? So’Khra detected magic in the air but realized these were not typical familiars or spirit companions. He hadn’t seen anything like this before…

A number of school teachers were milling amongst the children, and one approached the DFAs as they entered. Naria Salva introduced herself to the party as the Assistant Headmaster. She regretfully informed the DFAs that they had just missed Luden, who had left on business several weeks ago. She explained that he typically went on such missions to range for bright students, rare supplies, and tomes to supplement the record. As she spoke, a large hound bayed at her side and prompted another question about animals from Faustus. She explained that the children were learning responsibility and care techniques by use of their pets, and that several teachers had adopted the practice as well. It was a new teaching initiative that she implemented on taking over from the last Assistant, Swiften Banterlock (!) who had left abruptly several weeks ago. Children were paired with animals upon arrival at the school, and she gave a “natural fit” explanation for what drove the pairing process. Studying Naria’s face, Faustus could sense some fear behind her eyes, but she didn’t wish to speak further.

Suddenly, a commotion broke out in the mess hall. Drezan noticed that one of the students had handed another a slab of pork, causing the teachers to titter with fury. Taj and Bino burst through the doors, grabbed the boy—Yezka—by the arms and hauled him out of the mess hall. The teachers nodded approvingly, while the grisly cook shook his head, “Can’t share food, boy. You know that.” With that, everything returned to normal. Behrtogg grew increasingly wary, as he recalled Yezka as the troublemaker named in his dreams.

Faustus asked Naria why sharing food was prohibited. First, she informed him of five cardinal rules:

1) Don’t share food;
2) Attend all classes;
3) Be in your dorm at sundown;
4) Don’t lose your familiar; and
5) Keep your books organized and return them on time.

She also explained that food must not be shared, because children are kept on a strict nutritional regiment. Food is the best way to spread disease, she informed the Cleric. Naria then offered the DFAs a place to sleep (in an empty classroom) while they conducted their business, as long as they didn’t disturb the learning process. The party graciously accepted and contemplated their path for the day. Miggy, the surly cook, provided them with a quick breakfast of pig shank and oats. They ate greedily and left the mess hall.

Before they left the school building, Behrtogg suggested the DFAs stop by the Courtyard therein. The courtyard was a beautiful arched room with a skylight and exotic flora throughout. In the center sprawled a beautiful lucid pool inhabited with a number of fish. Normal fucking fish. The room was probably used to teach the children herbology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the beautiful courtyard matched that of Behrtogg’s dream precisely.

Behrtogg approached the exact poolside stone on which his dream girl had been crying. Sure enough, even a Goliath could feel some disturbing energy. Behrtogg looked to So’Khra for explanation who ruminated that displaced spirits often leave behind some trace energy. Perhaps they could communicate with it. So’Khra placed his hand, seeking images of the past. He saw the mountain in which the stone was forged, the building of the pool, and other images of the stone’s past, but nothing of the girl. As the DFAs pondered on how to connect with the girl, Behrtogg realized he could always see the night sky in his dreams. So’Khra confirmed that timing might matter greatly in reaching her, and the party decided to investigate after nightfall.

The DFAs then got what they came for. They approached the Historical Records marble-pillared steps with great anticipation. As they entered, they saw a oaken desk topped by a huge tome, behind which sat a withered old dwarf. At first glance, he looked like a gnome. A cat, Stephen, lay purring in the dwarf’s lap, as he introduced himself as Mido, head librarian. Behind Midos, the group could see seven bookcases — the special archive — and a sprawling hall filled with rows and rows of tomes and manuscripts behind them.

Midos asked them how he could help. So’Khra explained he was looking for a history of the Primal Elves and Giants, clues to his past, and some unnamed town. Drezan asked for information on his now-lost hobgoblin culture, and Faustus was interested in learning more about his father and Nusemnee’s presence. Behrtogg seemed genuinely disinterested — it looked like he was daydreaming of his hunting lodge.

Midos flipped open the huge tome, which seemed to arcanely spell out exactly where such information could be found. Drezan and So’Khra ran off, eagerly repeating row and shelf numbers, while Faustus and Behrtogg stayed behind to converse with the librarian.

So’Khra quickly found a shelf of four books (wait, Midos expected five?) and began to sort through them. It seemed the dust was disturbed on this shelf. With a strange sense of familiarity, he noted “Train them in an Ivory Tower” by Slatine Syndegaard. He spent the morning pouring through this tome, which contained methodology for instructing young wizards. Of note was an illustrated coverlet which showed Slatine’s tower and several recognizable landmarks in the background. As So’Khra read, many of the techniques seemed inherently sensible to the wizard: harsh, yet morally sound. He’d have to check out this tower sometime, he thought.

Next, he turned his attention to a book on Primal Elves. It contained little more than what he had previously learned in Kievstal, but, again, the name Udacha seemed to come up as the last location of Primal Elf descendants. The DFAs had been to that shitty little knoll, and there was nothing magical about the place, yet here was the name again. After many pages, speculation arose that Udacha had perfected society, causing their city to lift into the heavens to sit amongst the Gods. Perhaps this is why the “new” Udacha was such a nascent town, founded by trumped-up pig-farmers and darling port-keepers.

Drezan then approached So’Khra for help. He had found a tome on the Orc Reserves, but couldn’t read it. So’Khra scanned the book and learned that the Elfland States had been subject to a power vacuum as the Primal Elves and Giants disappeared. Forest elves, hobgoblins, and orcs all vied for control of the rich forestland. Far outnumbering the others, the elves took control, rounded up the “lesser species,” and forced them onto the Orc Reserve. Cruelly, the elves established no sustainable space, supply lines, or government — hobgoblins and orcs would have to figure it out. Unfortunately, the orcs were able to unify before the hobgoblins, who were summarily slaughtered. The tome also described the Stand of Merzak Stonethorn, the last remaining hobgoblin chief who died nobly in battle. Before he died, he supposedly shouted, “This is not the end! Hobgoblin blood can never be defeated.” Some orcs interpreted the saying to mean that some hobgoblins had escaped and gone into hiding…

To his credit, So’Khra (an elf himself) told it true to the Hobgoblin. Drezan was pleased to learn this information and (fortunately) focused on the immediate orc actors.

With that, bells started ringing. Lunch had arrived, and Drezan skipped back to the mess hall. While the party refrained from eating again, Drezan grabbed Stephen a saucer of milk. The cat slurped it down greedily.

Meanwhile, Faustus had been engaging Midos for much of the morning. They first spoke of Midos role at the library — he had been recruited by Luden many years ago and had remained at the Archives ever since. Midos was no wizard, but boy did he know a lot about the world from his time here. He spoke of the previous assistant, Swiften, who had departed suddenly. Swiften had been a stern, albeit effective, Assistant Headmaster. He had only been around for about a year, before he just up and left. His departure seemed to greatly anger Luden, who promptly left on business within a couple of days.

Midos didn’t know much about the children, Naria’s teaching techniques, or wizarding practices. He grew a little angry at Faustus’s persistent questioning in those areas, and Faustus again sensed the deep-seated fear he had glimpsed with Naria — Midos was holding something back. Knowing a conflict may be unproductive, Faustus set out to look for his books and found them.

Faustus found some lore about the religious ordinances of Nusemnee’s devout. Of particular note was a small excerpt on his grandfather, Emit Salva, who built a temple of some renown to Nusemnee in the capital city of Penetook, the kingdom to the West of Kildengaard. The Salvas still have a presence in Penetook, although their influence has diminished to some degree as supply routes through the Upper Underdark have become more perilous, decreasing the mobility of many Nusemnee worshipers.

At this point, Behrtogg was bored. He began to wander through the special archives wishing he was climbing a tower instead. He did think he saw a rat atop on shelf. More interesting than words, a stuffed rat might make a fun doorknocker for the lodge — Behrtogg decided to climb up and get it. With that, the entire bookcase fell backwards (5 on percentage dice) and crushed Behrtogg’s left hand (1 on save). Faustus quickly ran to his aid and healed the hand, but fingers two and four seemed to be lost at the knuckle. Cursing his luck, Behrtogg vowed to become literate.

So’Khra pulled out Slatine Syndegaard’s book and compared it to their map. After much study, turning, holding things up to the light, and muttering, he couldn’t quite pinpoint where the old tower would have been, but pegged an area southwest of Obsidian as a best guess.

Eventually, the DFAs made for the exits, but not before Midos called out to them. They would need to check out those books if they wanted to keep them. The Records loaned out items for seven days. For each day late, a fine of five coppers would be levied. Upon thirty-days tardiness, an arcane construct would be sent to forcefully retrieve the item — users assume all risk of beheading or maiming in checking out items. Recalling the earlier discrepancy, So’Khra inquired about the missing book. Midos flipped through the checkout tome and discovered that, shortly before leaving, Luden had checked out “Then and Now: Udacha’s Fall from Cultural Haven to Pig Farm.”

A few more questions ensued, with Midos indicating that the symbol in Drezan’s dream was probably of a religious nature. He was unsure which religion. So’Khra asked about Slatine, and Midos scoffed. Slatine had been a contemporary of Luden’s, but his practices were strange and harsh. Midos hadn’t heard about him in a while and wondered if he was still even around.

With that, dinner bells rang. The DFAs left the Archives, enriched of mind and taxed of digits. They had work to do that night…

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Chapter III: Session I - Gricks and a High Dichotomy
Sage is a misnomer...

Ah, the road! Pleased to again smell fresh dirt and unguarded roads, the DFAs set out for the Karenguuld Archives. Such a visit would require traversing the realm — something the party had not yet done together. After some debate about speed versus scenery, the DFAs chose to head due north in hopes of finding sea passage.

The party set forth, picking its way through the present-albeit-sparse trailways leading up to the Knoll of Udacha. They knew little of the town, but assumed a seaside port must be included. Behrtogg ranged through the hills for food while the party proceeded methodically throughout the day. Other travelers passed by, but the journey was altogether uneventful. The party set camp as dusk closed in, and watches were quickly ordered. Drezan, perhaps unfamiliar with camp life, would have slept right through his fourth watch, but Faustus convinced him of the import.

Unfortunately, Behrtogg and Drezan’s dreams were more eventful than the day had been. Drezan dreamt of vicious slaughter, but kept the details close at hand. Behrtogg, still confused by what he saw, questioned whether other’s had seen the crying girl in the garden. Neither felt particularly energized the next day…

On day two, the party decided to double-time, in hopes of reaching Udacha quickly. While the journey was more taxing (especially for a worn-out Behrtogg), the DFAs arrived in Udacha just after nightfall. The town was small, comprised of four streets lined by thatched buildings and patrolled by a few sorry-looking militia men. Behrtogg strode up to the first and asked where the stinkiest of ales could be located. The guard swallowed his fear of the looming character and pointed to the Pig’s Head, the only tavern in town.

The DFAs strode in like they owned the place, save for Drezan who hung back in the doorway with uncertainty. The tavern was small, but friendly, and had a second floor inn. The group milled about and had a few drinks, but quickly realized they were no longer in Kievstal. The tavern wench, although mildly pretty, didn’t offer much more than a room and a generic point towards the ocean. Some patrons were engaged in a card game, but So’Khra abstained when he saw half the brittle deck was missing. Instead he said something dickish and walked off. Eventually the party retired to their rooms, barricaded the door and windows, and fell asleep.

The dreams returned…

In the morning, Faustus recognized (with creepy precision) that Drezan was not sleeping well and inquired of his troubles. Drezan shared that visions of slaughtered hobgoblin children flashed before his eyes. He wasn’t sure if this was lost memory, or just some twisted vision. Similarly, Behrtogg recounted the story of the girl in his dreams. The DFAs were unsure of what to make of things and considered seeking out a hedge witch or oracle when they next could.

The smell of fried bacon brought them downstairs, where breakfast was being served. So’Khra noticed that one of the dwarves from the card game really didn’t fit in. Recalling that Udacha was rumored as the location of the last-known descendants of the Primal Elves, he decided to inquire. The man really didn’t know much about Elves, but prided his family as the first settlers here in the Knoll. He didn’t really say why, but apparently they lucked onto this area of beautifully arid soil several generations ago. That’s why he’s the richest fool in this place, although now he “grows pigs” for a living. With that, the party decided to get the fuck out of this dump.

Three hours to the north, they met the sea. The vast blue expanse startled most of the DFAs who had never seen such a thing. Balancing all the sea’s majesty, however, was Udacha’s “port.” The party approached the pier, only to see a rowboat and a single-sail dayship tied aboard. This was going to be interesting…

The heroes then met the kindest, most thoughtful human they had yet encountered. Cornbread Pete had a drawl as thick as molasses in winter, but couldn’t be more polite. CP was genuinely excited to see the party and fed them with all the information he had about Eastport, the sea, trade ships, and Udacha’s history. His tiny business could only accommodate day travelers and required return of his ships, but damn if he didn’t treat the DFAs right. Of course So’Khra couldn’t get past appearances and scoffed at any information he had. But hey, one shouldn’t forget why they’re called the DFAs…

Only slightly disheartened and never dissuaded, the party decided it best to follow the shoreline east to the Archives. The trail was less-established than their previous route, but easy enough to follow. The remnant of the day was spent in double-time march. Faustus ran his blood sugar a bit low, requiring the party to break for an hour, but the group made good progress until sundown. They chose to camp along the beach and picked their way down the cliffside. Drezan and Faustus took a quick dip, realizing that this part of the sea was rife with riptides and undertow. Fortunately, their first time swimming went better than one would expect…

That night, the dreams returned again. How troubling…

Day four of the journey was met with more of the same. As dusk approached, the sporadic sagebrush lines were growing denser. Behrtogg knew little about the arcane arts, but knew that sage was “magic” from the way it tasted in bear sausage. He convinced So’Khra that all his rituals would be buoyed in strength by substituting this magical plant…probably. When the wizard responded enthusiastically, Behrtogg knew he was right. They spent several minutes gathering all of the stinky bud they could find.

By nightfall, the party thought they were nearing the delta of the Vehemine River. One last night of camping, then a braving of the elements should put them at their destination, they thought. Behrtogg selected an appropriate campsite in the treeline, and So’Khra declared that watches were “unnecessary.” !!! He quickly cast his watcher eyes ritual using the powerful component he had just acquired. He was confident they would work, although the eyes looked a little sallow.

Soon after the party drifted to sleep, the ground rumbled! It seems they had stumbled onto a trope grick lair! Several gricks and worms sprung out of the ground, happy to take this easy prey back into the depths. In Freudian fashion, So’khra was sleeping with one eye open and alerted the party just in time. A vicious battle ensued, and the gricks were narrowly sent back to their dirty hell. The party quibbled with So’Khra over his silly rituals and lack of battle acumen, but cooler heads prevailed. The DFAs slept and set out yet again…

A short walk brought them to a wide river crossing. The widest part of the channel sprawled before them. It was stunning. Fortunately, this area looked to have a pier of substance. They quickly approached a merchant captain and inquired about the price of crossing. So’Khra handled the negotiation individually. The rest of the party was confused when the captain approached and asked how the other half planned to pay. Turns out, So’Khra took out his frustration with Behrtogg and promised to indenture him for the journey. Drezan and Faustus quickly agreed upon a price (contingent on their promise not to make trouble), and the party boarded.

Behrtogg, to his great surprise, was told to climb the high rickety mast and wait for further instruction. Scowling at So’Khra, he obliged. As the ship undocked, the party remembered they had little experience at sea travel, and adjusted their gill settings to green. None suffered more than Faustus, who’s misfortune doubled upon being hit with an arc of goliath vomit (which somehow still contained entire potatoes and squirrel drumsticks) from above. The party eventually found their sea-legs, but looked eagerly to the shoreline…

About halfway across, the ship began to tilt uncomfortably. Behrtogg, still in the depths of seasickness, was given his signal. He would be required to take the sheet-rope from the nest to the bowsprit, in order to counterbalance the emerging undertows. Mustering all the grace of a badger on a trampoline, he unleashed a powerful swan dive that launched him from the crow’s nest. All paused in awe. While the landing was tricky, Behrtogg managed to grab the bowsprit and secure the rope. Visions of So’Khra being devoured by bears crossed his mind…

Eventually, the party reached the other side. Tall cliffs lined this side of the riverbank, and the party could see high walls ahead. They would need to dismount directly from the ship. Predictably, the captain held his hand up to the burly shipmate holding the plank. He complained that the party had been troublesome which breached their deal. A glint of gold glittered in his eye and he held out his hand. A “negotiation” began, but the party wanted nothing of this greedy captain, nor the map he offered up. So’Khra blustered mightily about fire and flying, but the captain was finally turned away when Drezan grabbed his collar and growled. While surprisingly resistant, the captain finally acquiesced and the plank was thrown down. Defiant, So’Khra flew across while the rest of the party scrambled across.

The DFAs had never been so happy to have solid footing, and they kissed the ground with relief. Gathering themselves, several high walls stretched across their vision…it looked like they were finally at the Archives of Karenguuld….

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