In the White Shadows

Prologue

Not everyday does a prize this juicy fall to the Caliphate of the Coin. Bounty-hunting was always a lucrative business, but this was different. Kievstal had rushed this one right to the top of their extradition list, and scrawled a bounty of 40,000 gold pieces next to the fool’s name. That would more than compensate for the TWO sacred Cloudshards required to sedate the man. “That was a steep investment though,” Geroz thought. After all, only a handful of the ancient Elven treasures still remained.

Just who was this Kala-Heznah? Not that Geroz cared, but Yellow Traitor is a harsh thing to name anyone. And all he had to do was drag the sedated man back to the Commander’s Circle and reap his half of the bounty. For a moment, Geroz let himself consider the possibility of taking the prisoner straight to Kievstal himself and avoiding Commander Khaladin altogether, but he quickly banished the thought. One does not simply betray the leader of Mezzo. The might of the great nation would bring swift retaliation even for the attempt.

“Even still, what a good day to stumble upon someone sleeping in a cave,” he thought. “Never again will money come this easy….”

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Chapter I: Session I - The People's Voice was Heard!
(Because it was screeched...)

Deep in the Mezzoan capital of Hyto-Kanga, our five heroes made their way from the Commander’s Circle, their step lighter than in the hour previous. Finally, they had found a way home, and with gainful employment to boot. Lieutentant Wilok Mandor, Commander Khaladin‘s second, had just given them the commission of a lifetime. For ten percent of a huge bounty and free traveling papers, all they needed to do was to take some stupored prisoner home to Kievstal. They couldn’t wait to get started.

They arrived at the Prison Barracks properly documented and eager to meet their ward. Officer Gatz escorted them to the back of a long winding tunnel, where the prisoner waited in chains. Deep in a purple cloak and pierced by two long blue crystals, the prisoner shuffled lifelessly when guided. Gatz, over the racket of the sallow cellmate Bor-baz, informed them that Mezzo wasn’t sure why the prisoner was so infamous (they know he’s charged with High Treason by Kievstal’s Baron Rol P’rax). Who cared? Kievstal was paying a near-fortune to extradite him. The group set out on their way through the Blackwoods.

Without incident, our heroes escorted Kala-Heznah and a small supply of wares along the swampy mudroads to Kievstal. When they reached the Hammered Gorge, they found a nasty surprise. From a great distance, So’Khra spotted an unusual wood barrel on the large stony bridge. Wisely, the group attempted to discern its nature from the stable cliffside, rather than cross, because the barrel soon exploded. Someone yelled, “Get ’em now, Weezy!” With that, a huge owl bear and her cub burst forth from behind the rubble, screeching. The party had steeled themselves and the howls fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, two dwarf bolters fired from the tree line and a doppleganger sneak darted between the party and attempted to confuse them by taking the form of various allies. Griz’bok took the worst of the owlbears’ fury, but lashed out in a death rage, nearly taking both owl bears with him. Lo-Kag soon followed in falling. Faustus was able to raise the fallen comrades, and Griz’bok made sure the bolters wouldn’t drop him a second time. So’Khra’s light bolts cleaned up the final touches, and the party sighed in relief.

Upon examining their attackers, So’Khra found a familiar tattoo. These whelps were from the Onyx Fist, bottom-feeding filth from the Mezzoan Underground. Someone must have sent word up ahead. Worse still, the bridge was badly damaged in the attack. It would take weeks for local artisans and smiths to repair such damage. In the morning, the party would strike out in search of a new path.

In the morning, Behrtogg confidently examined the tree line for the old pathways that would have predated the Hammering of the Gorge. They soon realized that Behrtogg was actually just searching for eagle eggs, and even Goliaths should know that eagle eggs don’t equal pathways. So’Khra was able to find a faded old road-sign, “”/wikis/Glassleaf/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Glassleaf," in the bark of a tree and the party set forth.

After half a day, the party found a small village strategically built into a circle of cragged rock. They found a sentinel in glass armor carrying a curious-looking staff with glass shards. Faustus quickly introduced the group and learned that this was Glassleaf, guarded by Thornleaves who carry unusual glass blowguns. The Thornleaf indicated that Allimyna, the Town Councilor would be the only one to assist the party in navigating the forest.

They soon found Allimyna in the heat of argument with two dark-eyed townfolk, who were imploring her to take action. Allimyna all but dismissed the party until they indicated their willingness to resolve whatever difficulty was afoot. She explained that several disappearances have occurred each Two Moon’s Harvest, with the most recent just last night. Allimyna hinted that Barsk is the likely culprit, an exiled village member who they suspected of lychanthropy, among the many other violent, racist beliefs and actions he espoused.

The party accepted the town’s silver from Daren and Myena, Aliimyna’s assistants, and raced to Iagon, the town smith, in hopes of guilding their weapons. The short stout elf needed a few hours, which Faustus and Lo-Kag spent discussing the brilliant glassplate for which Iagon was regionally recognized. Iagon carefully protected his trade secrets but explained it was a high-heat forging of Witherspine granite and ground blue tourmaline that produced the exquisitely functional art. Iagon was also courteously interested in Faustus and his bloviations on religion and redemption, offering to inform him if he ever saw Zehiri cultists or Onyx Fist bandits.

Meanwhile, Behrtogg received a strange note from a shrouded figure that read, “When you find Barsk, please remember he was once a brother.” He didn’t get a good look at the deliverer before the figure disappeared.

So’Khra also met a light-eyed elf that instantly noticed he was no local. She took a liking to the confused wizard and flirtatiously indicated he had antediluvian features, like those of the Primal Elves. That evoked some odd memories in So’Khra, but it seemed of little import.

As the shadows grew long, the party gathered their silvered treats and sped into the forest, accompanied by the entire circle of Thornleaves. Although Griz’bok seemed a bit preoccupied, the party used their skills in Nature and Perception to track their way to a cave entrance. They “cautiously” cracked a sun rod and entered. The winding passageway whistled with wind and the party found a deep chasm in their way. It looked like the beasts within likely run along the sides on the smooth rock, but that would present a challenge for the un-clawed. No matter, Griz’bok flew across and created a bridge for the group. In wizard fashion, So’Khra nearly plummeted despite the assistance and his Mage Hand, but managed to teleport back to the ledge and learn his lesson. With a rope around his waist, he scrambled across while the party rattled their weapons in jest on the opposite ledge. The party moved on…

They came upon a door with their glowing beacon and heard breathing on the other side. Lo-Kagg rushed in and a shifter greeted him with a clawed fist. Barsk sounded alarms of attackers and summoned his family to the ready. The Thornleaves began to viciously slaughter the shifter children, but they were nothing in the face of Griz’bok’s fury. Grizbok flew around the battlefield killing shifters and hounds alike, who were already slowed by So’Khra’s ensnaring vines. Finally, Faustus knocked Barsk to the ground unconscious and the party steadied their weapons. The shifter groggily came to, only to begin weeping for his dead family. He implores our heroes to explain why they would do this to them.

After a brief bout of finger-pointing and confusion, the party realized that Allimyna had just managed to send the heroes, the entire military strength of the village, and the town’s silver deep into the forest during the Two-Moon’s Harvest. The party listened with sinking confirmation as Barsk explained the reason the shifters long ago left the village. Allimyna had constantly smeared their name around town, hatin’ on the family for their dark features. Satair, the Thornleaves’ de facto leader, admitted that Allimyna was the sole voice of leadership in the village, a voice that usually went unquestioned. And as we all know, she who reports the news, chooses the news…

Satair and the party howled with outrage at this realization and the true meaning of their actions against the shifters. Swearing the darkest oaths of vengeance, they set off to kill themselves a lycanthrope…

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Chapter I: Session II - Snakes and Snake-Eyes
(So so so many snake-eyes...)

Righteous vengeance hot on their breath, the heroes raced back to Glassleaf, Barsk and Satair in tow. They found the town sleepy with silence, save Allimyna’s twin assistants, Daren & Myena, minding their posts outside the storehouse. So’Khra & Faustus demanded that Allimyna come down from her chambers, lest they meet her within. Faustus continued to clamor loudly for an audience while Satair explained to the assistants that Allimyna does indeed need to answer the call. The assistants seemed a bit shocked to see Barsk and this band of rowdy warriors suddenly clamoring outside Allimyna’s door. Yet with unflinching discipline, they blocked the entryway and exclaimed that Allimyna needed her beauty rest in order to be at her best. Lo-Kagg and Behrtogg began to climb the building and a fight broke out!

Daren & Myena looked a bit wolfy throughout the battle — true evil finally became apparent. After some vicious blows on each side, the wolves were killed as the townspeople began to gather. Lo-Kagg tried to smash a wolfish body through the locked door, as So’Khra calmly retrieved the key from the other and unlocked it. The party told the townspeople to gather their pitchforks while they investigated then stopped and leisurely devoured most of the town’s supply of elven bread. They cautiously proceeded upwards to Allimyna’s chamber and planned a coordinated raid from two sides. They burst in and found…an empty room, albeit one torn to shreds. Faustus discovered a horrific Zehiri scrying circle channeled into the floor and retrieved a crooked cultist dagger from between the floorboards, while Behrtogg found the broken bones of the lycanthrope’s early victims. Slightly confused, the group returned to the villagers.

So’Khra managed to rein in emotions as the townspeople began to notice their numbers had dwindled further. Piecing bits of information together, So’Khra asked if there was anywhere a contingency this large could have been taken. The villagers felt the only logical place was the Locust Caves, a historic sanctuary in the side of the Hammered Gorge where Glassleaf inhabitants had waited out the Cycle of Wings, a generational infestation of a winged horde that signaled the changing of village leadership. Iagon doggedly reminded Faustus that no one (no seriously, no one) had never heard of no Zehir.

As dawn broke, the party reached the Locust Caves; a beautiful worked stone entrance opened before them. They proceeded down a narrow hall lined with bronzed statutes of the Primal Elves (whose stories have been lost to time). Near the end of the hall, stairs proceeded downward, and a strange chanting emanated from beyond. Behrtogg noticed bits of blood creeping up the stone walls and decided it best to charge in…

Down the stairs, a cavernous room was smeared and desecrated with blood and Zehiri iconography. A towering glowing altar burned with corpses and green fire. A swarm-mage, Zehiri cultists, and two-headed snakes danced around it. A battle broke out, with snakes enveloping and dragging Lo-Kagg through the fire, Griz’bok smashing tiny bits of mage swarm, and Behrtogg very nearly ascending to the Sky’s Mud-Puddle (or whatever the fuck goliaths like). But justice eventually prevailed and the party saved the five remaining villagers. While many questions remain, the villagers made it clear that the ritual was nothing more than a heavy round of human sacrifice to the dark God of Snakes.

As Allimyna was still missing, the party yearned to press onward but chose to “protect the villagers” for a few hours outside the entrance. Eventually they awoke left the villagers to their own supervision and proceeded deeper into the cave. They first encountered a large pool of curdled blood. Lo-Kagg, convinced it represented the blood of the Primal Giants, urged Behrtogg to enter the pool. Before “Behrtogg Wade” became a thing, Faustus grabbed the barbarian and pointedly told him it was just a bunch of gross blood. Instead, he pointed out a primitive symbol of a locust, and worked tiles that seem to have fallen off the wall. Replacing them caused a hole in the floor to open, and the party dropped through.

Underneath the old worked cave was a huge un-worked cavern split asunder by a massive Blackwood root. Personal items and remains of food cluttered the floor. But that was hardly the strangest thing in the room…

Allimyna’s agitated voice floated down to the warriors, but they traced it back to the form of a hulking dire wolf! It seems they had found their lycanthrope. She was high atop a cavern ledge surrounded by ghastly undead creatures. Several looked like small rotting blobs, while another dripped with flesh inside a soldier’s garb.

“How dare you stop the ritual,” she howled in fury. “Without paying the steep price, the clerics will never restore my family. We can no longer live like this!” And then several zombie children at her side began to stumble down the tree…

Another fight broke out with the “Grey Hero” firing javelins down upon the melee combatants below. Allimyna bounded down the ledges to meet the party at the base of the tree. Using her great claws, she raked across the party, biting others with her strong jaws. Yet she and her children were nothing in the face of the party’s vengeance. They quickly incapacitated her and rushed up the ledge to finish off the grey hero. Faustus struck the final blow after Lo-Kagg failed to throw the creature off the high ledge.
Among Allimyna’s things, the party found two books. One was an ordinary looking diary, while the other reeked of rot and looked ominous. Griz’bok recalled that such a book must be part of the Zehiri Triad, a set of horrific books crafted from the Dark Serpent’s own molt and containing all of the Dark God’s deepest miseries. This one, he guessed was the Book of Enumerated Sorrows.

The party returned to the village to restore order. The villagers questioned the future of the village. This was the first instance in memory where an election for Counselor must be held independent of the Cycle of Wings. Griz’bok nobly suggested Barsk as counselor, for none was better to lead Glassleaf into a more noble and tolerant future than the one most spurned by its harmful past. The villagers readily agreed and an election was held. Each denizen ceremoniously revealed a small glass ocarina and Barsk stood atop Iagon’s glass altar. When the election was called, the overwhelming supportive majority used the instruments to send tourmaline and gold dust streaming into the air. It was breathtaking, yet the more city-sodden members of the party were distracted with by-gone memories of opium dens.

Shortly thereafter, Griz’bok emerged in a monumental set of Iagon’s glassplate. The ridged back was so hulking, it seemed as if a small Terrasque loomed before you. Even more brilliant was the glass mordenkrad he now weilded, the head broader than a man’s shoulders. He bid the party farewell, citing a destiny in the forest and sprinted into the Blackwoods. “ Um, okay,” seemed to be the general reaction.

Lastly, the party began to read Allimyna’s diary. The early pages spoke of mundane village transactions, the difficulty with waste management, and the pressures of office. However, the middle pages grew dark, as she wrote of her battle with lycanthropy, the first slayings of innocents, and the subsequent cover-up. Most surprisingly though, was the final years of the journal. Allimyna had apparently met a dark-haired human on her business travels, and they fell in love. Knowing such love was shunned by the prejudicial elves (her fault, really) she secretly raised a family with the man deep in the Locust Caves. That is, until Onyx Bandits found them in the night. She found their bodies, and died a thousand deaths thereafter. At the darkest moment, however, a strange book, written by “noble clerics” appeared in her chambers, giving her a second hope. By stabbing herself with a dagger, her love and children would rise again. But circumstances must be right for such an event, circumstances that involve paying a heavy, heavy price…

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Chapter II: Session I - The Saga of So'Khra Swollentongue
Is the Wizard STILL talking?!

After the party bid noble Griz’bok farewell, they spent the night in Glassleaf building relationships with the locals. Behrtogg and Lo-Kagg put on a display of athleticism, with the trained fighter throwing the barbarian to the ground and delivering the People’s Elbow. Tapping into the storehouse’s ale supply, Behrtogg redeemed himself by drinking everyone under the table, despite giving the dwarf a five-drink head start. The locals cheered wildly at his alcoholism.

As they left town the next morning, Faustus attempted to read the Book, but it was penned in a grotesque and serpentine dialect of Supernal. So’Khra translated the runes scrawled on the cover and recognized runes for “misery,” “serpent,” and “sorrow.” The wizard summoned his arcane energies to learn of the book’s history and saw a huge dark serpent whose molt was being devoured by lesser serpents, a battle between four shining white knights and an army of the same lesser serpents, and finally a cultist slithering into Allimyna’s chambers.

The party inquired of further knowledge on the book and were pointed to Dalnus, a local hedge wizard on the road to Kievstal. They ventured forth and found the man. As they entered his clearing, the “party face,” So’Khra spewed a series of threats at the old man and nearly launched a battle of mages. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Dalnus invited them in. After giving them a quick run-down of the Zehiri Triad’s history, the wizard suggested that a powerful ritual could allow them to learn more. The group circled up with bro-grabs around the book as Dalnus said the words. They were instantly transported to a shadowy bridge with black swirling mists and transient dark mountains about. A huge beast rose before them with down-turned horns, a green lightning sword, and a whip burning with green hellfire. “Give me the tome I have come for,” the beast bellowed. Then the party found themselves in blackness. A deep serpentine voice urged someone to “Take what was yours! The time for Elon Worldbreaker has come!” To which another sniveling voice responded,“Yes, we will march on Kildengaard once we have rooted out the resistance within!” Then the party found themselves back in the hedge wizard’s hut…

Dalnus asked the party to take the dark magic far from here and they headed on to Kievstal. However, something had changed after the ritual. As So’Khra walked past their always-present prisoner, he felt a rush of psychic energy spewing from the previously docile man. He quickly cast a telepathy ritual and got a raspy “Heeeelp…” from the man. Further inquiries were met with rushed mental blurting that he “couldn’t hide it much longer” and the “Dark Serpent’s forces are here…bring dilution magic if we are to have any hope” They tried to learn more, but the prisoner went silent once again.

Along the road, So’Khra began to have nightvisions of the shadow bridge. First, a chiseled white-haired man danced away from the green whip while the voice demanded information. Next, the whip was dragging him around by the ankle. Finally, the whip dangled him from the air, broiling poisonous cuts covering his body. So’Khra suggested the party do something and poured through his spell book. Behrtogg responded by pulling out one of the prisoner’s Cloudshards, to which he screamed in pain and crumpled to the ground. Thinking this might not be the best approach, Behrtogg returned it to the wound. So’Khra found an old spell and intuited that the bridge was likely in the prisoner’s Dreamscape with another of the Zehiri Triad hidden there…the party agreed to try the ritual but the rare ingredients needed retrieving from Kievstal (save for Elk’s Blood, which a nat 20 quickly discovered in the forest…)

The party eventually arrived in Kievstal, a monumental city known for its merchant routes and dedication to the collection of scientific knowledge. Kievstal’s most striking features are:

  • The SkyFire Towers – the city has no walls but a handful of towers that brush the sky. Specialized snipers dressed in flaming orange hide can defend the entire city from these few locations.
  • The P’rax Pyramid – The largest structure is the headquarters of Baron Rol P’rax, a large pyramid with parapets connecting to several SkyFire Towers and a dungeon beneath
  • The Firetongue Sphere – a large dome dedicated to the sciences is surrounded by burning torches and topped with a hulking observatory and telescope. The intellectuals who study here are strange, dressed in brilliant yellow and red robes and voiced only by writings which are immediately burned.
  • The Temple of the Crimson Sky – many within the town, including the Firetongues, worship this lesser diety, a goddess dedicated to making order from war by celebrating knowledge of battle tactics, human anatomy, and medicinal healing…

Weighing the importance of the ritual against turning their prisoner in, the party decided to split. Lo-Kagg and So’Khra would head into town while Faustus and Behrtogg would remain with the prisoner a safe distance away. The two outside spoke at length of the importance of capturing and destroying these books and what it means to be a hero. Meanwhile, So’Khra and Lo-Kagg wandered about aimlessly. They decided to approach Miss Hamini Letali, a potion-shop owner to seek out ingredients for the ritual. The nearly beautiful woman (she had a giant nose) gave them a fair price on the necessary herbs but told them that sleep powder would have to be found elsewhere. So’Khra (nat 20 streetwise) knew that the merchants would provide it, but at a gouging rate, and decided to check in with the Firetongues…

On the way to the dome, Lo-Kagg spotted someone darting in and out of the alleyways. To split the party yet again misdirect their possible pursuer, Lo-Kagg headed on to the Merchant District to fool around while So’Khra turned invisible and booked it for the Dome. It seemed to have worked.

So’Khra entered the strange dome unimpeded. Bookcases rose from wall to ceiling and lined the long spiraling hallway. After he yelled indiscriminately in the hallway for a while, So’Khra approached a studying novice and learned that Premier Santoreli was inside the central laboratory. He made his way along a series of inward-growing spiral hallways until a brightly lit white room was before him. He entered and saw a dark-skinned bald man in a brilliant yellow robe, who seemed to be hunched over a table. So’Khra looked closer and realized the man hunched over a young moaning boy whose chest was completely opened up. He seemed to be wafting smoke into the boy’s chest cavity and prodding gently at his organs with metal instruments. The man’s assistant quickly hushed So’Khra (in writing) before he could interrupt the “exploration.” Despite nearly coming to blows again, So’Khra learned that the pair were Premier Santoreli and his assistant Giryonki, high intellectuals of the Firetongues and worshippers of the Crimson Sky. They agreed that if So’Khra would gather data in the Dreamscape, they would provide him with sleeping powder, and “dilution magic” — a prized Cloudshard! For free! Noting So’Khra’s concern over the possibility they were being watched, Premier Santoreli gave them invisibility potions to bring the entire party in for observation during the ritual. He created an obscuring tunnel out of the city as So’Khra headed back to meet the others…

Reunited, So’Khra explained all he had learned. The party felt comfortable placing their lives in the hands of this strange new mystic, downed the potions, and returned to the lab. So’Khra mixed the sleep powder into the elk’s blood, ground the herbs and smeared the mix along the prisoner’s neck. Behrtogg readied the Cloudshard, everyone gulped hard, and So’Khra began to say the words. The party’s eyelids fell heavy and they entered a deep slumber.

They emerged from sleep as the great beast rose before them, whip and sword crackling. To make matters worse, a shadowy dragon of swirling black sand landed on the precipice behind them and the crumpled body of the white-haired man lay a short distance away. The shadow beast was the first to respond, nearly sending Faustus to an early grave in one turn. The thickness of his armor looked impenetrable, until Behrtogg rushed him with the Cloudshard held high. The jagged spike slid through the beast’s thigh like it had been buttered, and it howled in pain. It’s flesh began to wither and it fell hard upon the bridge, barely a tenth of the size it once was. Behrtogg pulled out his hammer and continued to pound upon the creature as the rest of the party joined the fray. A vicious battle ensued, with nearly everyone succumbing to wounds inflicted by the punishing whip and sword. The dragon blasted the party with biting black sand, but Faustus’s protections nearly rendered the storm irrelevant. The fight raged on with all but Behrtogg and Faustus falling. Eventually, they killed the balor and it exploded in green fire, with its dragon pet quickly following suit.

While trying to catch their breath and wondering why the hell they thought entering this realm was a good idea, the victorious moved towards the crumbled body of the man they came to save…

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Chapter II: Session II - 8-Speed Dwarves & Other Impractical Dreams
The Mind of Kalah-Heznah

The party hustled over to the crumpled body of the white-haired man. Broiling cuts, seeping with poison, covered his flesh. Faustus muttered many incantations to Nusemnee and began to shake the stranger violently, succeeding only in making him turn green. Lo-Kagg produced a healing potion, and the party nursed him back to health…

“I can’t believe you came,” he said and introduced himself as Aren, the Pale Talon. Although he looked much more muscular and vibrant, he was, in fact, the prisoner Kalah-Heznah. He thanked Corellon and the Crimson Sky and even praised Nusemnee for sending her servants in his time of greatest need. He implored the party to press onward and retrieve the book where it was hidden. The party’s confusion surprised him, a feeling that morphed to shock as they informed him of their own book.

He explained that he was the leader of a Kievstal resistance, the Pale Shard. His crew places special emphasis on procuring information and rumor, and they heard that Looko, one of the Kievstal merchant bosses, had procured the Book of Counted Pains, also of the Zehiri Triad. Looko had been soliciting a hefty price for such an artifact, and Elon, one of the Baron’s oligarchy, had met the call for such a bid. The party had to be reminded of immediately recognized the name Elon from their whirlwind ritual in Dalnus’s hut. The deep voice in the blackness had mentioned it as “Elon Worldbreaker.” Aren explained that the Pale Shard had long suspected one of the Baron’s sycophants of being a Zehiri sympathizer. This attempt to purchase a Zehiri book was all the confirmation they needed.

Aren claims to have stolen the book from Looko’s wares and also copped to the assassination attempt. However, he explained that Elon was the target, not Baron P’Rax. As the party had learned from Santoreli, their had been a great feast in the Baron’s pyramid. The Baron’s second, Minos Milmax, noticed that two Sky Fires were falling from their tower, and noticed a turret pointed at the window. Everyone dove for cover as the alarm was sounded. The only evidence was the sighting of a white-haired man fleeing into the Western Blackwood beyond the city walls. Rumor later circulated Aren’s name as the culprit…

Aren fled for the deep forests of Mezzo, but as the Caliphate of the Coin closed in around him, he knew he must keep the book from dark forces. He claims to have hidden it here in his mind and at Corellon’s feet. Unfortunately for him, Zehiri forces were not sedated in prison like he was. They corrupted Bor-baz’s pudding-like mind, gaining unfettered access to Aren, and they eventually discerned the secret. The dark swirling hell of this Dreamscape seems to be Zehir’s corruption of his fonder memories.

Aren implored the party to help him retrieve the book, but warned that he was unsure what would follow through the door. The former wizard then produced a staff with whirling chains and promised to help as his strength allowed. He beseeched the party to trust their hearts, rather than their eyes…

The party raced down a narrow hallway, pausing to discern the sound of marching followed by metallic grindings. Unfazed. they pressed on and stumbled upon a courtyard lined with Zehiri forces and four mounted generals. Before anyone could react, Aren blazed with a white fire, launched himself forward, and decimated the lines of soldiers, decapitating the general’s horses with his wake of violence. Unfortunately the effort exhausted him and he fell to his knee. The now unmounted general’s descended upon Aren’s defenseless position, and he crumpled to the floor, in a heap of empty robes.

The party launched into battle with fury, dispatching the four generals easily. While they certainly felt the malaise of consecutive battles weighing down their swords, the generals fell to their might. Faustus examined Aren’s robes, but found little. With a prayer to Nusemnee, he divined Aren’s presence remained in the Dreamscape; perhaps he would have a further role to play.

Not finding the book, the party pressed onward. A narrow hall, swirling with darkness stretched on endlessly, first twisting left and then seemingly upside down. Voices swirled about them, whispering things that challenged the party’s unity but falling on deaf ears. The party shook their heads like one rising from a deep sleep, hoping reality would return. When they finally encountered an upended door, Behrtogg burst through, ready to taste more familiar battle.

The scene before them looked….exactly like the scene they had left. Only now, four translucent figures loomed before them. As good adventurers rarely pause to admire their own reflections, the party was slow to recognize their own reflections. So’Khra blasted the quartet with his orb, only to feel the energy redirected towards him in full. He dropped to the floor with the DM’s name hot on his breath regrets. The rest of the party, witnessing the wizard’s error, set about the room, hacking at trees, pantomiming, and running aimlessly towards a portcullis across the room. All of which the spectres mirrored perfectly. Even when the figures acted on their own-charging with their weapons held high-the party didn’t engage. Faustus eventually touched the palm of his counterpart, and felt a healing wave wash over him. So’Khra, pinned in the corner by his wizard friend, simultaneously tried to move through it, and the two united. He cried out with joy, as he felt more refreshed than from a good night’s sleep. The rest of the party followed suit to the same effect. As they did, a brilliant light shone in the center of the room. A pair of healing gloves presented itself. Perhaps not all was hostile in Aren’s mind.

The party moved back through towards the “bridge,” but the landscape changed again. They encountered a room filled with large grotesque statutes in various states of workmanship. The circle of figures was punctuated by a massive statue of Corellon that scraped the room’s misty ceiling. The party tiptoed through the statutes warily. So’Khra wildly spun back to the door, confident something was behind them. Something wasn’t. The Goliath’s attempted bravado (probably to steel their nerves), leapt on the back of a statue, managing to chip it mightily. However, as the party crept onward, two gargoyles soon charged them, dragging So’Khra and Lo-Kagg back towards the shadows. Fortunately, the party saw through the efforts. A massive bronze beast burst through the line of statues, sending statues flying. A battle filled with heavy blows ensued, with the party emerging victorious. Lo-Kagg displayed his impressive strength, nearly ripping off the wings of one gargoyle.

With that, Faustus felt Aren’s presence, imploring him to retrieve the book from the huge statue. In agreement, Faustus moved with his party towards Corellon’s feet, unsure of what waited ahead…

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Chapter II: Session III: Critical Mass
It's raining 1's!

At Corellon’s massive feet, the party searched for the book. The statue seemed to waver and morph with energy, it’s face seeming to change sporadically. Faustus divined that Aren viewed Corellon as a protector, making her his psychological lockbox. Eventually, they found a number of small colored glasses lining the base of the statue. So’Khra realized this was a colored locking mechanism, and the party quickly discovered the appropriate sequence, revealing a narrow, spiral stairway…

As the party ascended, they encountered a series of traps. First, a glob of chemical covered the floor, with a pressure plate connected to a rope. At the end of the rope was a throbbing heart. Behrtogg attempted to disarm the trap and it exploded in everyone’s face was able to leap over the trap and examine it, to no effect. So’Khra then tripped it, using his Mage Hand. The heart caused the blast patch to explode at a safe distance and everyone proceeded onward.

Next, they encountered a series of plates in the floor and wall. An oil slick covered the wall, and a pair of lungs floated above them. Behrtogg tripped the trap by knocking the lungs down with a spear, to watch them be smashed by the heavy mechanisms hidden behind the wall plates. The party, however, daintily crossed or lept across the chasm.

Finally, they encountered a pool of water with a heart floating above. So’Khra was the first to move forward. As he did, the water swirled up, forming a huge wall of water before them. So’Khra heroically jumped through and swam against the sticky currents without effect. As did Faustus. The goliaths on the other hand, were slowed significantly by the water and black corrosive mold began to gather, nearly choking Behrtogg to death. In retaliation, he impaled the heart on another javelin. Lo-Kagg nearly gave up on two occassions, but with dogged determination, powered through with heavy strokes.

At last, the party reached their destination. Aren was atop a pedestal, chained to pillars and glowing with white energy. A swirling pool of energy flowed beneath him. With a voice that echoed as many, he warned them to get the book, no matter how hard he resisted. With that, three evil aspects pulled out of his chest and engaged the party, nearly ending an over-exposed Behrtogg. As a battle ensued, Aren (when he was coherent) implored the heroes to trip the switches in the room. Faustus set about investigating, and determined the switches were buried in the base of three statutes. As the party began to chip away, the statutes reacted with anger and retaliated. More and more aspects appeared, but Aren’s lucid side was able to subsume some of them with noble aspects of his own. Eventually, the three switches were turned, and Aren fell to the ground, clutching a book…

He thanked the party for all their judicious grace, and So’Khra ended the ritual. Back in reality, the party immediately removed his Cloudshards and he gasped with life for the first time in weeks. Much discussion was had about the utility of separating the books or trying to collect the third. It was determined that uniting and destroying was the better plan. Aren revealed himself as the Pale Talon, leader of the Pale Shard resistance. The party discussed how to hide him, being a fugitive and all. Santoreli could not hide him in the lab, because he had a duty to the truth. However, Aren suggested that he could hide in the outskirts if the party would be capable of rounding up the Pale Shard around Kievstal and calling a meeting. Everyone agreed. All were given the secret handshake, told to seek out Mool in the Stinking Ant, and pointed to the Sallow District.

The Stinking Ant was hopping when the party arrived. Complete with foul-smelling tankards and a surly crowd, the bar was truly a Goliath hangout. Mool, the hospitable and surly tender, greeted the party like any other patron. So’Khra began to blurt out Aren’s true name. With Mool’s gentle intervention, the party did not end up dead in an alleyway. Covertly, Faustus probed Mool for information on the Pale Shard as he tried to down some goliath swill. Mool suggested the group blend in for the night, flash secret signs for those who would be looking, and the Shard would exit with unseen grace. The party complied and set about the crowd.

So’Khra bested a set of cheating hooligans at cards, with some testy confrontation mingled in. Sure enough, as Faustus, Behrtogg and Lo-Kagg mingled, a number of patrons exited with a subtle nod to Mool. Faustus was desparately trying to please the patrons as well. After vomiting in attempts to out-drink some fellow dwarves, he was struggling to succeed at a game of darts. Then Nusemnee granted him great boon. Already beaten once, the cleric was locked in a final round with a dextrous patron. He rose from the chair, supplicated his goddess with rousing speech, and flicked his wrist towards the board. That single dart was so accurate, the patron’s darts all fell from the board. All declared Faustus winner. With that, the party seemed increasingly welcome among the rough crowd.

Then, a truly interesting test arose, as Lo-Kagg and Behrtogg were pointed towards the Mettle Pits — a fighting ring across the way. Eagerly, the party moved towards whatever awaited in the haggard arena…

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Chapter II: Session IV - Fights...then a war
Who does anything but drink in a tavern??

The cheers for Faustus began to fade and the chatter of pending fights rose in their place. The Stinking Ant was abuzz for their weekly fill of blood and sand. Behrtogg and Lo-Kagg grew quiet as Barr’s men ushered them towards the bowl of the arena, beckoning for them to leave their weapons behind. Faustus and So’Khra filed in amongst the crowd streaming toward the Mettle Grounds, taking bets and touting their allies abilities (and besmirching them as it served their ends)…

The pit itself was scarred with the blood of a thousand battles, the portcullis seemingly ripped asunder and cast across the arena long ago. Barr doddled about the grounds, as the crowd swelled in number.

Then, Barr announced the first fight, in a style only available to a Goliath bard. The crowd roared with raucous delight, haggling Lo-Kagg as he stepped through the archway onto the sand. A fearsome-looking monk in white also entered the arena, spinning and crane-kicking with the crowd’s favor. Within seconds the fight began…within seconds more, the fight ended; Lo-Kagg crushed the monk against the gritty sand, leading to the latter’s escort off the field.

A few cheers began to follow the fighter as two black-masked brothers now opposed him. While a few prayers of safety floated down from the parapet, Lo-Kagg dispatched those fools as well.

The crowd slowly began to rally behind Lo-Kagg, as four brutish creatures emerged from the tunnel, hard clubs clenched in their fists. As the scent of blood filled his nostrils, Lo-Kagg howled with all the glory of battle, extricated the sunken portcullis, and flung it at the unsuspecting fools, pinning two of them to the ground. Blows quickly fell, gaining in momentum as well as force. At one point, Behrtogg rushed upon the sands to assist his surrounded comrade, but was hit by so many tankards of ale, he turned tail immediately back into the tunnel. Occasionally, the wizard and cleric muttered a few things from their seats, but no one paid them any mind. By the end of it, Lo-Kagg stood atop the sand, fists clenched in victory. Lo-Kagg! Lo-Kagg! Lo-Kagg! The crowd’s favor was only outweighed by the new jingling in his allies’ purses…

With that, the premier event began. If the crowd was abuzz before, it now descended into chaos. Children were screaming for blood, women were shotgunning tankards of ale, and the elderly seemingly discovered the word bitch. Barr announced Behrtogg as the Breaker of Rocks and the Crusher of Stones, to which the crowd groaned. Servants began to toss odd and rusty weaponry onto the sand, and Behrtogg picked up an old shovel. Then his opponent was introduced, followed by a lengthy string of titles and a huge ovation from the crowd. It seemed Brazik had done well here before.

As Barr brought the fighters together, he began to recite terms of the fight. Before he finished the first, Behrtogg lept at Brazik and broadsided him with the shovel. The crowd gasped and then exploded with delight and the barbarian’s audacity. A few blows later, Behrtogg’s shovel caught Brazik in the helmet, splitting it in two. Brazik stumbled backwards, his head hitting the wall awkwardly. He was then dragged off…

A low rumble began beneath the arena as Barr resumed his pontifications. If Brazik’s titles were lengthy, the next fighter’s were unending. Amka, a towering goliath unlike those in Behrtogg’s experience, ducked as he passed through the archway. Amka picked up a huge pole ending in a chunk of stone and chuckled at Behrtogg. The fight began in earnest, with Faustus and So’Khra desperately trying to turn the crowd to the barbarian’s cause. Behrtogg did his part to reward those who did. Throwing his full arsenal of assaults at Amka, he finally succeeded in bringing the massive figure to a knee. The crowd was impressed but unaware at the majesty soon to follow…

Behrtogg nearly bowed out as fatigue set his muscles, but Faustus applied enough Vaseline beneath his eyes that further success seemed attainable…for a moment. As the final champion was announced, the crowd scampered from one corner of the parapet. Good thing too, because the largest creature the party had ever encountered soon climbed over the wall. Krazix was no goliath, said the single eye centered in his forehead. The beast picked up two axes and fastened them to his forearms, as Behrtogg and his allies blinked repeatedly. This was going to be tricky…

As the fight commenced, Krazix swung his gigantic arms at Behrtogg. Even the first glancing blow rocked the barbarian, nearly causing him to stumble. But the barbarian would not be intimidated. He charged with a leap off a nearby rock, catching Krazix with a mighty shovel blow. The crowd seemed to be pleased with such fearlessness. But a crowd’s favor can’t withstand blows. Several pounding swings caused Behrtogg to fall upon the sand. His allies rushed to revive him, and were successful. Behrtogg renewed his assault with fervor, and Krazix’s blows began to lose steam. Unfortunately, so did Behrtogg’s consciousness as another huge fist dropped him to the sand again. With that Lo-Kagg ran across the sand, to the expected flock of boos and tankards. But such a distraction allowed So’Khra to slip the goliath a healing potion, and Behrtogg soon rose again. Desperation now permeated both fighter’s moves and the swings came fierce and wild. At numerous points, Krazix nearly stumbled before Behrtogg, but the barbarian never found that final blow. Unfortunately, Krazix did. An enraged haymaker finally caught Behrtogg’s jaw squarely and the barbarian flew back. Three times was too many to come back from, and Krazix was declared champion.

Although the goliath was defeated on the sand, he was the victor of many hearts. Laudatory hyperbole rang excitedly as the crowd made their way back to the Stinking Ant, where Behrtogg realized he would never pay for another drink. Perhaps more importantly though, Mool nodded knowingly at the party — it seems the Pale Claw had all slipped away unnoticed. Mool offered a room for the night and the party gladly accepted.

Perhaps the party forgot what taverns and rooms were for, because a startling lack of drinking and sleeping ensued. For hours, Faustus and So’Khra argued about the fate of the party, bounties, who to trust, how to move about unseen, and whether banning crossbows would actually prevent crossbow shootings. Even a few deaf drunkards asked them to keep it down. Even arguments must eventually rest and the party drifted off for the night. In the wee hours of the morning Faustus and So’Khra rose and consulted with Mool, who suggested that Aren would surely have a plan for recovering the book and stopping Elon. Although a few more words were exchanged, the party decided seeking out the Pale Talon may have its uses. The opened the tavern door, unsure of what awaited beyond…

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Chapter II: Session V - Confessions of the Damndest Fools Around
Yeah, we all killed some guys, but...

The party stepped through the tavern door, anxious to leave the city before raising further suspicion. They began to follow the path Mool had marked for avoiding the SkyFires.

However, soon So’Khra began to sense the same creature that had followed him two days prior. The party ducked around a corner, ready to ambush the tail. Unfortunately, the tail glimpsed them and darted off, but not before Lo-Kagg got a good look. The creature following them looked like a runty shifter.

Determined to devise a better mousetrap, Faustus paid a lay-about drunk to impersonate So’Khra, while the latter hid in ambush. The drunk gladly accepted the cleric’s coins and staggered down the street (he put a bit more effort into the ruse after a stern growl from Lo-Kagg).

Before long, the same runty creature began to dart amongst the alleyway clutter. As it popped its head over a crate, So’Khra cast entangling shadows upon its mind, slowing it. With a yelp, the creature dove into a barrel which the party quickly encircled.

Inside, the tiny shivering creature grasped an object and pleaded for his life. He was only helping in order to feed his little wife and children!! Faustus snatched the object in its clutches, which he divined was a sending stone. To add insult, he grabbed the meager coinpurse around his waist and tossed it to the town drunk (who stumbled into the nearest tavern). The party angrily interrogated the puny spy, and he introduced himself as Kahr. Kahr eventually spilled the beans that his overlords were on their way. Tossing him a few coins, Faustus demanded that he re-route these ruffians, so that the party might gain the upper hand. The creature willingly complied, telling his gruff master that the party was lazing about beneath a bridge. Lo-Kagg stuffed Kahr back into a barrel and Faustus told him to shut up if he knew what was best for him (really, though).

Faustus grabbed a few tankards from his knapsack and set about as bait. Soon, the barking of hounds descended upon him, followed by three armor-clad mercenaries. A dragonborn, eladrin archer, and dwarven hammerer all entered the shadowy alley. The party dropped from above, weapons hungry for battle. In the ensuing scrum, Faustus realized what being bait usually entails, but his party quickly rescued him. At one point, Lo-Kagg and a hound were shoved from beneath the bridge’s cover. Alarmingly, fiery arrows rained from high above. Eventually the party prevailed. On the mercs were the familiar tattoos of the Onyx Fist, as was a letter from the merchant Looko. It seems he had commissioned the group to retrieve what was taken from him…

The party freed an obediently-trembling Kahr from the barrel and made their way out to the Pale Claw’s meeting house. Aren ushered them in among the Claw, many of whom the party recognized from the Stinking Ant. All discussed at-length the best way to retrieve the third book from the Baron’s vault. Aren could provide an army of supporters to fully assault the front-keep. This force, he indicated, could either provide a distraction for a surgical strike-team, or the same team could create a weak-point for the force to exploit. Either way, the party agreed they faced long odds. Many plans were discussed, but eventually the party decided to venture forth and see if they could gain access to the pyramid by a subtle ruse, rather than by brute force.

Aren also filled the party in on Kievstal’s politics. He mentioned again that the sycophants appeared, as men like that do, when Baron P’Rax rose to power. At first, they were loyal power-grabbers, but have grown more strong-willed as time passed. He indicated that the one true loyalist would be Minos Milmax, captain of the SkyFires and accidental disruptor of his previous assassination of Elon. Minos rose from lowly squiredom alongside the Baron many decades ago, and would sooner burn down the kingdom than disobey his longtime friend…

Armed with this information, the party decided to parlay with Minos, in hopes of convincing him of Aren’s (and their) innocence in this huuuuuge misunderstanding. They scurried through the shadows to the P’Rax Pyramid and knocked upon the SkyFire Gatehouse. After sitting in the lobby for an appropriate amount of time (classic power play, Minos!) the hulking brown captain greeted them brusquely. So’Khra and Faustus earnestly described all that had happened, even copping to the morning’s triple murder. When Minos balked, they pleaded that Premier Santorelli would corroborate their story. Minos was troubled, but the group’s desperation puzzled him. Premier Santorelli and Gryonki were summoned and did indeed corroborate the tale, but in such mechanical terms that all facts lacked context. Minos wasn’t entirely skeptical, though. Faustus and So’Khra fell upon him again and capably spun their visit into an airtight logical premise. Since Santorelli is infallibly truthful, either (a) all we have told you is true; or (b) Aren duped us, we have lost him, and are looking for a payout still. Thus, if we connect you with Aren, we are telling the truth. Minos agreed that this was the case, and accepted one of the sending stones recovered from Looko’s mercs. He promised that the SkyFires wouldn’t incinerate the party as they left the building. Sure enough, he was true to his word…

The party returned to Aren and persuaded him to contact Minos. Minos admitted that they must be telling the truth, but vowed to get to Elon and confirm it. More importantly though, he suggested his SkyFires would grant passage to the party (but not Aren).

Finally, the scheme was set. Lo-Kagg climbed a SkyFire tower near the palace and dropped a rope to So’Khra. Behrtogg followed suit and beckoned to Faustus to grab hold. With a might tug, the barbarian launched the chain-mailed dwarf so high, that he nearly overshot the 300-ft tower. Huffing and puffing, Lo-Kagg got his man up as well. They then moved together across the narrow parapet and into the highest floor of the pyramid.

Briefly seeing Minos and recalling that they must steer clear of the Baron (whose chambers filled this floor), the party descended to find the sycophant living quarters. Guards eyed them warily and seemed to be in a constant state of motion. As the party examined the various chamber doors searching for Elon’s, Behrtogg noticed one guard bolt down the stairs with a bit more motivation than one would expect. The barbarian alerted the group and began to pursue the man below; So’Khra followed instinctively. Simultaneously, shouting and scuffling came from above, in the area the group had just left. Lo-Kagg moved back up the stairs, followed by Faustus.

Each party member’s senses tingled about what was causing such a stir. Time seemed to slow, almost as if frozen…for about a week…

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Chapter II: Session VI - The Trial of Minos Milmax
If the crits don't fit, you must acquit (get a bigger whiteboard)

As Faustus moved to investigate the noises from above, the rest of the party scampered after the suspicious SkyFire. As they entered the stairwell, Behrtogg saw a flash of orange cloak disappear around a corner. The goliaths bounded down the stair behind him and the broken-build wizard with speed of seven So’Khra followed on their heels. They reached the ground floor just as the man pushed through large double-doors. They followed him through.

To their surprise, they saw seven lords sitting in well-crafted chairs, all encircling a throne. A number of normal folk milled through several aisles of pews, with SkyFires clearly patrolling the room. The SkyFire they had been chasing bounded up to a dark-skinned lord in an orange cloak. “Sir Rylar,” he said, “They are bringing him now.” Before saying anything else, the crowd questioned the sudden presence of the group. While they stammered for an answer, the lords demanded silence, for the trial was about to begin. Unwilling to protest against the approaching SkyFires, the group allowed themselves to be escorted into the court’s pews.

Meanwhile, Faustus encountered a loud entourage descending the upper stairwell. Minos was being escorted by two SkyFires, a small cloudshard protruding from his shoulder. Faustus, having just seen the man upstairs, asked what happened in the interim. When the guards exclaimed that Minos was to stand trial for high treason, Faustus stepped aside and followed them to the Court below.

As with his party, Faustus was questioned as he entered the King’s Court. Unlike his party, Faustus demanded that Minos be released, that the servants of Zehir slithered among them, and that all those loyal to Nusemnee must rise! With a hawk-like perception, he noticed that two of the lords stiffened with surprise at his words. His accusations only richened at the sight, naming Rylar and his companion (Hyot’e) as Zehiri sympathizers. As shouts and disorder ensued, the SkyFires surrounded the boisterous dwarf, who finally agreed to hear out the trial before sorting out the mess. A guard bound him at the waist to a pew, and it seemed as if order was restored. The pleadings began, with Rylar announcing the charge of high treason for abetting the Baron’s assassin and the Pale Claw, and Minos mumbling something indicative of true justice. It became apparent to all that Minos was to be convicted on scant evidence, and the party acted. The fun began as an invisible hand yanked the shard from accused’s shoulder…

Minos bellowed in pain and declared his innocence; an audience with the Baron and Elon (who seemed to be missing) would clear this all up. Lo-Kagg stood and slapped the stocks off of the captain’s arms. But by then, the SkyFires and the rest of the party were well into blows. The peasants scurried from the chaos, but the lords appeared determined to continue the trial. The guards could deal with these courtroom ruffians. In fact, Rylar sentenced Minos to death during the fight — the only interruption occurring as a bolt from Faustus knocked the leader back behind the throne. (Freudian role-play) In anger, Rylar and Hyot’e fired back upon the party, stopping as the party turned attention back to the SkyFires. Despite nearly succumbing to fire-javelin wounds, the party finally dispatched the guard.

The “other” lords gasped, realizing they were suddenly at the mercy of these renegades. As they fled, they party’s words fell upon them, crying that they search their souls for truth, dispense of this mockery, and provide due process for Minos (at least a trial by combat!). A few stopped and began to ask questions of the group, wondering why Minos would suddenly became so treacherous. “Perhaps the Baron could sort all this out,” they exclaimed. Rylar became increasingly agitated that the world was waiting to murder these traitors; finally, Hyoseth told Rylar to go fuck himself and his micromanaging megalomania. Finally, Rylar claimed, “What does it even matter, the Worldbreaker will soon arrive anyway! Elon, we must initiate the plan now!” With that, the statues lining the hallway melted into black snakes, and a fight broke out…

As Faustus had been praying for the health of Minos amidst the squabbling lords, the hulking captain suddenly grew hulk-ier. Good thing too, as the spitting snakes nearly blinded all those in the room. In fact, the hissing of snakes grew louder and louder, as a force seemed to be growing beyond the walls of the Court. Fortunately, a few battle cries sounded as well — it seemed the Pale Claw had delivered their frontal assault just in time.

The group eagerly strode into battle (seriously, five characters critted initiative)!! Hyot’e and Rylar whirled about, blasting necrotic energy on the party, Minos, and the other five (utterly confused) sycophants. Even as snakes fell, the black energy seemed to form itself into new serpents. Blow after blow fell, the party soaking up and dealing massive damage to these vilest of letches. Finally, Minos growled his innocence, reminded all that the Crimson Sky only allows traitors to lose their heads, and decapitated the two sycophants. All agreed that it was just…

With that, the party looked around the now-broken room. The sounds of battle still rang from beyond the walls, and the frightened sycophants looked to them for guidance. Where was Elon in all this anyway…

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Chapter II: Session VII - The Defeat of Elon & the Triad
A tribute to Lo-Kagg Stonethorn...

As the sounds of battle crashed from beyond the courtroom doors, the heroes exchanged glances with Minos and the sycophants. What to do next? Where was Elon through all this anyway?…

After a quick discussion, all agreed that finding the Baron was of the utmost importance. He would sort all this out. The party burst through the double doors to head upstairs. As dismembered snakes, hobbled guards, and dead Claws littered the ground. Using a sending stone, the heroes reached out to Aren — was the city about to fall? Amidst battle, Aren responded, rushed. “Find Elon. Find the third book?! We can’t hold out much longer!”

The party rushed to the second floor, stopping at Elon’s quarters along the way. He was nowhere to be found. The party searched the room, but there wasn’t much of note, save for a hidden box beneath a bedpost. Inside were a few small trinkets, another Zehiri dagger, and a note. “I’ve found the Baron’s vault, and I’m re-purposing it for my own….” It then preceded to list several items (presumably stored therein).

With that the party rushed upstairs. Minos had informed them earlier that the Baron had been resting in his quarters for weeks, distraught from the assassination attempt’s stresses. The guards had been keeping tight security on the room since then. Yet, as the party entered, the foul stench of rotting food and stale air met their nostrils. Where the Baron should have lain was a rumpled coverlet and a dusty pillow. It was clear that no one had been here for some time. The party searched about, finding nothing but a nice tome on the Primal Ancestors.

Eventually, So’Khra turned his attention to a strange wall-to-ceiling mural behind the Baron’s poster-bed. The faces of seven gods lined the top and an ancient sunset battle scene splashed across the remainder. After some examination, Faustus translated some runes roughly scrawled near the base. “He who searches for God need only touch his eye.” After some experimentation and recalling that the Baron worshiped the Crimson Sky, Faustus touched the setting sun. A grinding of gears erupted, and the party sensed that a pulley system had been activated. After briefly searching for the end of the machinations, the party moved back down to the throne room. There, they found the throne, toppled forward, with a series of ropes now snaking from its base to a track in the floor. A descending staircase now beckoned them…

The party marched downward, cracking a sunrod to see into a dusty room. A wealth of treasures laid before them, though it seemed meager for such a powerful leader. Statutes, much like those they had seen upstairs lurked in the corner, and shelves lined the walls. Two heavy chests lay locked on opposite sides of the room, with a stout metal key chained to their lids. Strangely, none of the items on Elon’s list were nearby.

While Faustus and Lo-Kagg pre-emptively began smashing statutes before they animated, So’Khra tried the locked chests. The keys didn’t seem to fit. Too short to reach the other, the keys must have been intended to remain with their respective chests. Faustus’s statue-rage soon dissipated and he noticed several more runes on the chest. The runes were alphabetical and translated to “K…N…I…H…T.” Eventually, So’Khra pushed the “back” of the key into the heavy lock, and the chests sprung open. Inside each was a descending staircase. Torchlight flickered below…

As they descended downward yet again, the smell of hot blood and the familiar sounds of chanting greeted the heroes…

Soon, they saw that which they dreaded: the familiar debased altar, the acidic ruination of the walls, the pool of broiling blood, and a hunched figure, chanting and reading from a black tome. This time, however, a massive jade snake sat perched upon a stone slab before the pool. They recognized the voice that greeted them immediately as that which spoke in the darkness of their ritual in the woods. This was Elon.

Elon mocked their efforts above and sniveled that all was proceeding in due course. Faustus pleaded with him to repent and accept Nusemnee’s redemption. At that, Elon laughed and called him the worshiper of God’s tainted daughter. Faustus, furious, launched himself at Elon swinging wildly with mace and dagger. As the rest of the party joined in, Elon mocked them each in turn. Several spitting snakes crawled out of the walls as well. Then, the real fight began, as the blood pool began to broil…

A huge winged snake burst forth from the pool, spraying acid over the entire party. This would not be an easy fight. Faustus, Behrtogg, and So’Khra, however, could not be dissuaded from their wrath for Elon. Lo-Kagg single-handedly engaged the huge beast, while his party settled their petty spat with Elon at close quarters.

By the time it was all over, the aspect of Zehir lie dead in the blood pool and Elon lay crumpled on the altar of his god. The heroes wept, however, as they noticed the spiked heel protruding awkwardly from beneath the corpse of the giant beast. Lo-Kagg Stonethorn, son of bugbears, breaker of rocks, and champion of the Mettle Grounds, lay still. He was born of combat, he lived in combat, and he ascended to that everlasting glory in combat. Forever more, he will be celebrated, he will be remembered, and he will be missed (resurrection pending, at least).

Among the treasures in Elon’s vault, the party quickly discovered the Baron, stuffed in a sarcophagus. He promised to deliver an estate, great treasure, and a hero’s worship upon the remaining survivors if they could rid the world of the evil Elon had summoned. After extracting the further boon of a temple to Nusemnee, Faustus gathered with So’Khra, Aren, Minos, Santorelli, and the high clerics of Corellon and The Crimson Sky to determine the best course. Together, they agreed that Faustus would be the medium to cast a powerful ritual. The books must be destroyed in turn. Each would grow more difficult as the power distilled into the final book. No one knew what such a release of power would bring. Death was certainly possible.

Gathering the three daggers and books of Zehir, the powerful group formed a sacred circle around Faustus. As the cleric opened the first book and raised his dagger, a thousand voices screamed with pain, wind swept across the circle, and Faustus plunged into a deep reckoning. With all his might, he resisted the pain therein, uttered epic words of healing and plunged the dagger downward. The book shriveled around the dagger, disappearing into nothingness. The next book brought more of the same, with Faustus experiencing even more terrible visions of sorrow and the evil that brings it. Blood began to seep from beneath his cloak, but So’Khra and Behrtogg urged him onward. The second dagger slammed downward and the book melted with radiant energy.

The third book was the greatest challenge of all. Stormwinds and lightning swirled in the dark sky, nearly blasting the circle apart. But that was nothing in the face of Faustus’s suffering. All the fears of a thousand panicked deaths flashed before his eyes. All of Zehir’s vilest soldiers appeared in his mind. Necrotic sores appeared on his body, and the cleric nearly fell. So’Khra and Behrtogg channeled all the energy they had into stabilizing the man, until they were on the point of collapse. Yet, with defeat palpable, Faustus stood strong, claimed voice for all those who had suffered, and commanded the Dark Serpent back to hell. As he crumpled to the ground in anguish, he slammed the third dagger downward. With an echoing boom, a wave of force exploded from the final book. The final tome of Zehir disintegrated.

The circle of leaders blinked as they processed all that had just happened. Had they done it? Had they banished this great evil? Was Zehir no more? Perhaps!

But before anyone could celebrate or restore the town to glory, a horseback messenger approached. With urgency on his voice, he shouted, “I have an urgent request from the Karenguuld Archives!” With that, he revealed three small scrolls…

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