Dark Faerun

Session 21: Confronting Prulekai
The Triumph of Animus

Travelling north of Lug River, the party soon came upon what appeared to be more of an estate than a farm. A building, similar in construction to those in town but far larger, appeared before an open expanse of ground with what appeared to be orchards behind it. Rocking chairs sat on an open porch and a trellis surrounded the entrance. A number of workers loafed about nearby, taking their time driving poles into holes in the ground, conceivably for the eventual hanging of more scarecrows.

The group took a moment to interview the workers about who was at the the house, and learned that the lead merchant, Beddrick, was inside with the lady of the house. Coming to the house and ringing an aging brass bell produced the frustrated face of Beddrick Moorstar, who thought he was being interrupted by his workmen. Realizing his mistake, he shut the door, calling for “Risi,” and a moment later the door was opened by an elegant, if tipsy, mature beauty who introduced herself as Risi Voreni, the widow of late Korrene Voreni, and madame of the house.

The interior of the structure was far nicer than the outside, stocked with a small library, expensive furnishing and rugs, and the heads of all kinds of animals mounted on the walls. Inviting them inside, the widow offered them drinks. While Faelar captivated her with song, Vahn and Ke’shin cornered a visibly troubled Beddrick and began to quiz him about the scarecrows. It was revealed that Beddrick was being forced into service by another man, Prulekai, and that his family was being held magically hostage. Forced to murder a servant, Prulekai enacted a spell which caused her hand to animate and separate from her body, wandering around as an undead thing. When it returned to her, she had no memory of the experience, but it was all the leverage Prulekai needed to turn Beddrick into a slave to his will. When Xarrai returned from a short excursion upstairs and reported sounds of chanting, the group suggested that Beddrick and the Lady leave the house, for they had business to take care of.

Vahn asked his horse, Animus, who’d been tasked with patrolling, if anything was amiss outside. After an initial all clear, the horse said that he spotted someone exiting the back of the house via window, then screamed in pain. Vahn charged upstairs, followed by Asade, Ke’shin and Xarrai, while Faelar turned himself invisible and went out the front to ward of possible danger from the opposite angle of approach.

Bursting through the washroom, Vahn leaped through a window and landed on Animus’ back, hammer in hand, shouting his warcry. As he chased down the necromancer, Xarrai lobbed fireballs at approaching undead in the distance. Summoning all his minions, the necromancer fought at close range with Vahn while undead wolves, bears, scarecrows and the giant armored construct from the Hinkelmann farm appeared. A combined effort from the group destroyed the lesser minions, while Faelar dispelled the large construct magically. As the necromancer neared the end, the final blow was struck by Animus, and death was delivered by the sharp hooves of vengeance. The horse and his two-legged minions triumphed.

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Session 20: Entering Lug River
"I need one of those axes."

Come morning, the party discussed this strange appearance of undead and, cautiously, made their way toward Lug River. As the landscape became more swamp-like around them, they crested a hill and were granted a view of their objective; large shanty town on stilts. Lug River was surrounded by open space on all sides, the forest clear-cut around it. Burn marks and brown patches littered the earth, and the town itself was surrounded by lengths of strange, metal bramble-like walls. Fields of wheat and other produce abutted the southern edge of the town, and the adventurers noticed the lack of a clear road leading into the community.

Making their way down the hill, Vahn took the lead, inspecting the strange burn marks. As he approached one and strode through it, he noticed a soft “click” and stopped moving. Looking down he felt around and noticed what looked like… metallic…bones. Not trusting the strange contraption he misty-stepped away, his sudden absence producing a shrill shrieking cry and an enormous fireball. Convinced that their presence was no longer unnoticed, the group decided to wait and appear disarming.

After a short time a the nearby wheat fields began to rustle and a group of resident appeared. Dressed in leathers and work rags, some with goggles or with heavy aprons, they all appeared covered in soot and grease, and all of them carried vastly oversized axes with apparent ease. The lead member introduced himself as Balg, and while he was initially very hostile, he eased up when he saw Lazarus’ pendant and heard the group’s story. After the brief, tense conversation, Balg agreed to lead them to Thorrfin, their leader.

As the group followed him through the minefield of what Balg named ‘Shriekers,’ he explained that they were forged using captured demon souls and binding them to the devices. Fed and recharged with a little bit of blood, they produced the noise and fire when stepped on before burrowing back into the ground. Constant attacks from barbarian savages, wolves, bears and giant spiders had caused the town to beef up their defenses in recent years. During this talk, Asade noticed a number of eerily familiar scarecrows and left to investigate. Finding an identical construct to the ones they fought at the Hinkelmann family farm, Asade began to rip it apart to inspect it. This, unfortunately, alerted Balg who tried to stop her and, when he could not, ran to the town. Asade, Ke’shin and Faelar attempted to hold him magically, and eventually, he succumbed.

Quietly apologizing and explaining their violent experiences with similar constructs elsewhere, the group requested that he continue to lead them on. No longer as friendly or talkative, Balg did so, as more guards with axes appeared to escort them. Thus surrounded by a small army of men with huge axes, they came to a three-building structure, steadily pumping out smoke from several chimney’s and the sound of metal ringing on an anvil.

The sound stopped and a large man sporting a huge, but well-trimmed beard exited. He introduced himself as Thorrfin and waved away Balg’s concerns, noting that the older man was cranky any time new people showed up. Speaking with the group he expressed shock that his brother, Lazarus, was still alive, and after hearing their tale called a town gathering to disseminate the information by chucking one of the enormous axes at a rope fastening a large log on a pendulum, which then crashed into a brash bell, creating a resounding noise.

Impressed by the unusual display of strength and unnecessary theatrics Vahn cried “I’ll get it!” and ran off to retrieve the axe. To his surprise it was light as a feather compared to his usual weaponry. Bringing it back, Thorrfin laughed and explained that this ‘magic’ was alloys; his people worked in the science of metals. Vahn inquired as to a suit of armor made of the wondrous material, and was quoted an extravagant price. Waving them inside he offered the group a hot, brown liquid produced from a nearby machine full of dials and steam valves, that invigorated all of them. Hearing their story of Lazarus and the scarecrows, Thorrfin seemed skeptical. Yes, he was aware that they were undead, but they’d kept the town safe from local beasts and never harmed anyone. A merchant had been delivering them for some time, he said.

Intrigued, Vahn asked more questions about these merchants, and about where they could be found. Uncomfortable with this line of questioning, Thorrfin interjected that both the merchants AND the adventurers were his guests, and protected in town by guest-right. No bloodshed was to be tolerated. Vahn readily accepted that, and asked where the merchants were. When he discovered they were presently at a farm up north, he inquired as to whether the farm was considered a part of the town. Giving him serious side-eye, Thorrfin was forced to admit that it was not.

Leaving the leader of this strange, mechanical backwater, the group was granted boarding room in a nearby stilt-shanty, and discussed their options. Asade, recalling Ke’shin’s earlier words about how the magic was designed to disallow violence to sentient beings, went to inspect another scarecrow, beast-shaping into a wolf, which caused its eyes to glow and begin to climb down off it’s pole…but then…stopped, looking conflicted. When she returned to her orcish form, it returned to its inert status.

Inside, the group talked briefly, and decided it might be best to pay this merchant a visit at the northern farm before the necromancer had a chance to return to town. They were unsure if espionage or violence would ensue, and decided to play it as they saw fit upon arrival.

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Sessions 19: The Wayward Caravan
"NOT CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED!"

The band of adventurers, having accomplished Vahn’s mission of vengeance, returned to the Jarren the next day. Bereft of a morning meeting with Lazarus, they walked straight to the Jarren’s audience chamber, seeking the promised information on Beddrick Moorstar and the Caravan of the Smiling Boar in the hopes that it would lead them to their supposed necromancer, Prulekai.

They found the Jarren scrambling on the floor amidst stacks of scrolls and ledgers muttering “It makes no sense!” repeatedly to himself. Looking up he engaged them, explaining that his information pointed toward Beddrick travelling not to the Grove southeast of Valderin’s Gate, but to a remote town west of Jarren’s Outpost named Lug River; the town Lazarus hailed from. Financially, it didn’t make sense.

The Jarren, shaken by his discoveries, conceded that perhaps their story of undead in his territory was not so far-fetched. He asked that they find the merchant, Beddrick Moorstar, and determine if he was involved in this undead incursion. If he was, they were to punish him as they saw fit, but if not, they should return him safely , as well as taking care of any undead. The group thanked him, reminded him that they were by no means under his authority, Vahn using his armor to scream that they were “under no contractual obligation” and headed out.

They briefly met with Lazarus and explained the situation to him. Lazarus gifted them his cog pendant, telling them that it may provide them a way into the city, though he could not vouch for what Lug River was like these days.

The group decided to head out first thing in the morning, and Xarrai used the evening opportunity to do a little alchemy, discovering the method for crafting Leprechaun’s Luck. K’eshin studied the pair of rings they’d gained during their last adventure.

In the morning, the adventurer’s left. The journey took most of the day, and they decided to camp for the night and enter Lug River when the sun was up. During the night the group was attacked by a lone, undead wolf, who nearly felled Xarrai.

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Session 18: The Man in Purple Fled Across the City, and the Party Followed
"Vahn...the tiger said it wants vengeance."

In meeting the Jarren, Faelar took charge of the discussion and managed to convince the Jarren that a trader he’s oft-employed going around selling undead scarecrows that kill people would look bad for business. During the conversation, Asade discovered the Jarren’s daughter who was hiding nearby. The daughter made all sorts of cryptic, giggly, comments during the exchange. The Jarren delivered a general guess as to where Prulekai might be, but promised more exacting information if you returned the next day. After Asade thoroughly unmanned him with how impressive she was by comparison, the group acquired what amounted to an informal writ of bounty for the man in purple.

The group decided to track down the man in the purple robe, next, with the intent of delivering him to the Brotherhood of the Claw and fulfilling Vahn’s vengeance pact.

Vahn queried a merchant guard nearby as to where he might find hiring halls, and the group set out to the eastern side of the city. They found a dozen longhouses packed with hopeful recruits and job boards. Vahn and Xarrai hung back with Ke’shin’s body, while Ke’shin took to the air with his familiar, Faelar acted the part of the servant, and Asade the kitty explored the houses. Of the three, Asade caught a glimpse of purple robe in a back room, where she discovered a man packing spell ingredients into his bag before exiting a back door. Leaving, and following, she noted that a man who smelled identical to the one in the purple robe was heading away, now with black hair and a yellow robe.

The party followed him to an outdoor arena, where Asade perched on a fond guard’s shoulder and the raven perched on the open-air roof while the others caught up.

With the raven’s view, they spotted the man shed his magical disguise and join a group of other white-haired, purple-robed men, in drinking and watching a series of fights. The arena itself was round in construction, with tiered seating, vendors in the halls behind, and grated floors situated above cages containing men and beasts.

After Ke’shin sent the men in robes a round of strong drinks, the adventurers noted the passing of the magical ingredients to the man they were after, who got up, and headed downstairs to the cage floor. Vahn confidently followed, and the drunkards, too engrossed in a match on the sands, never saw the rest as they followed.

Among the cages the party saw a variety of prisoners; men and women of all races and consenting ages, gladiators by choice and circumstance, modified beasts and magical creatures. Xarrai saw a tiefling in tattered imperial garb, chained to the floor, in one case, while Asade saw a pair of axebeaks whose natural weapons had been upgraded with steel. Vahn found their target standing in front of what appeared to be an enormous, blue tiger, funneling a lightning spell through a ruby toward the creature.

They watched as the tigers muscles expanded, its eyes becoming fiercer. Ke’shin dispelled the lightning and the man in purple was set upon by several Hold Person spells. After verifying he was immobile with a whack to the jaw, Ke’shin stood aside and Vahn moved forward to bind him.

While this was occuring, Asade spoke to the tiger, asking if it wanted its freedom. After an affirmative exchange where she learned that the tiger possessed a keen intelligence, had been mistreated, and desired to return home, Asade argued its case with the group. They were…leery, of setting free a giant, lightning-filled, angry blue tiger in a city when they were still waiting on the Jarren’s information. Finally settling on “Fine, but you have to leave, you can’t kill anyone,” the tiger agreed to give up its vengeance…which Asade related to Vahn, who banished his last doubts and prepared to destroy the cage lock. Ke’shin moved in and used a Knock spell, instead, generating a loud knocking noise that temporarily silenced the arena and brought a single guard to investigate.

Vahn strode forward, be-robed man on his shoulder, proclaiming Jarren’s business, and the party informed the guard that the man they were carrying let loose a tiger in his escape attempt. Terrified, the guard ran back up to inform EVERYONE, causing a mass exodus that the group used to slip away, unnoticed, as Faelar made both the tiger, and Asade riding it, invisible.

Asade and Faelar accompanied the tiger to the forest, where it thanked them and departed, while Vahn, Ke’shin and Xarrai returned to the Bearded Bear. Inside, the vengeance pack was completed, and they learned that the man was, in fact, Nuck Valin, leader of the troop of battle mages. The leader of the gang tossed them the companion ring to the one used in the fight with Grosk. Having earned the respect of the Brotherhood of the Claw, they received drinks at the bar as they left, even Xarrai. The tiefling was granted a silent toast and approving nods, and the bartender gave him words of support, despite the town’s attitude toward his race.

The party returned to there inn for the night, preparing to see the Jarren in the morning.

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Session 17: Debts, Shopping and a Plan
Exploring Jarren's Outpost

You woke up and tracked down the bookie halfing from the night before, seeking your money. Asking your bartender for directions you found the Bearded Bear, a tavern that looked more like a fortress than a place to grab a drink. Shady characters in maroon vests directed you ‘to the back’ where you found the halfing, beaten up, with 4 suspicious characters.

These characters got you your money, continued to beat the halfing, and when pressed on the issue of the magic ring, tasked Vahn with the retrieval of the sorcerer who was helping Grosk cheat.

On the way to find Lazarus, Xarrai wanted to hit up a shop for ingredients. He was directed to a mad alchemist lady whose shop was full of plants and animal parts. More than a little mad-hatter, she ran around huffing plant parts and licking animals bits until she’d managed to find a chemical balance and sold Xarrai some flasks and ingredients (that he later used to make healing potions). Asade bought herself a nearly impenetrable terrarium after Vahn displayed the strength of the material by attempting to smash the ‘glass’ countertop of the proprietor’s counter. Asade pulled out a bluedrop, a plant native to her home, that she wanted to place in the terrarium, and the mad alchemist became INTENSELY interested in the ‘Tear of Ascodel’ as she named it. She agreed to trade the valuable terrarium for a seed from the plant and a minor amount of gold. Asade, pleased, affixed the golden-shimmering blue flower globe to the end of her spear, where the fiend-hungry blade began to glow blue, instead of it’s normal orange. Outside the brainiacs of the group bumped heads to identify what the hell this ‘Ascodel’ was, and in searching their memory pulled up the lore of an ancient being, named Ascodel.

Ascodel was an eladrin, a type of celestial, and when Ascodel, then consort of Morwel, the Queen of Stars, was tricked into a pact with the demoness pale night, he doomed an entire generation of young eladrins to imprisonment in the Abyss. Before beginning a suicidal effort to free them, Ascodel fled through the planes in his anguish, shedding tears throughout the realms. Ascodel died trying to protect the eladrin children. Apparently this pretty little blue flower is named after him.

Next you guys tracked down Lazarus, the God of the Distillery. Heading to the Jarren’s residence in the center of town (and passing through a gigantic open market to do so) you found a line of people waiting to be served beverages next to a building just off the side of the residence. Faelar snuck in to grab Lazarus, and you all sat down to drinks. You persuaded Lazarus to get you in to see the Jarren, and he also explained some of his life as an indentured distiller, and the reason he doesn’t just leave (family problems to the west disrupting trade; as long as he makes the Jarren more profit from his booze than he loses due to having to close a route, the Jarren leaves his extended clan alone).

Various ways to approach the Jarren were discussed, and Lazarus keyed you in to him being honest, but exact to the letter on deals he makes.

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Session 16: "Asade 'THE THUNDER LIZARD' Naaaaaaaar!!!"
"Does he want to fight a dinosaur?"

Having defeated the hydra and searched the bodies of the Winged Patrol, the group discussed what their next move should be. Vahn discovered an envelope and passed it on to Faelar, who, after opening it, identified it as packet of “letters home” on the deceased Winged Patrol Sergeant and tucked them away for later delivery to another member of the Patrol. Vahn asked what funerary customs lowlanders had, and Faelar was able to relate the burial practices of the Winged Patrol to the group.

Patrol members are burned, their ashes packed into a container, and then buried beneath a construction of their former equipment. Lances are snapped in half to create poles, lassos or lariats strung between them, armor, shields or weapons hung from the line together to form a sort of grisly wind-chime. The thought is that the duties of the WInged Patrol change; in death they no longer wander, but guard the area of their death, serving as both a reminder and a warning that the Winged Patrol protects these lands.

Xarrai carefully ignited the bodies, while Faelar recited a service amid the ash and smoke, and the rest of the party constructed the burial totem.

The party continued their journey, moving away from the hydra corpse for the evening, and found shelter in a huge, lightning-struck hollow tree just off the road. Signs of previous campsites were found inside, but none recent. Places to stop and camp by the road are not uncommon along the oft-used trade routes in the Fringe.

The watch passed uneventfully until Ke’shin’s turn came ‘round. Nose-deep in his notes, only half paying attention, he caught a glimpse of movement down the road, coming from the north. The movement resolved itself into a portly man wearing a grey cloak, hood up, stumbling and swaying as he walked. Approaching them, he loudly hailed the campfire (after Ke’shin had awoken the group) and cheerfully asked if they had any food and drink to share. The group, suspicious, demanded to know who he was. His reply was…unique.

“Isn’t there a saying about being rude to Gods on the road late at night? You may call me Lazarus.” Ke’shin zeroed in immediately, trying to identify if this man might truly be a deity, but only noticed a tarnished gear hanging about his neck, not recognizing the name the man gave.

In a moment of hilarious pique, Vahn inspected Lazarus, smelled the whiskey on his breath, and used Lay on Hands to ‘cure’ him of his drunkenness…then retired to bed. Xarrai retired as well, while Asade and Faelar remained awake to watch Ke’shin pepper the evasive man with questions.

As he cheerfully avoided direct answers, Lazarus took out a series of nested bowls that could become collanders, complete with telescoping handles, and asked for a packet of their rations. Once handed over, he began to make a stew, to which he added a spice packet. Soon a delicious aroma began to waft through the camp, though Lazarus sniffed something else. Crawling over to Xarrai’s travel bag, he went through it, pulling out a bottle of liquor. After examining it he exclaimed “Who’s Fwar?” Ke’shin, taking it from him, saw that an inscription had been scrawled on the glass as if by a tiny claw. “Xarrai, you party hardest. Fwar.” Taking a sniff, he recognized the scent of the Elven brandy they had sampled and mixed with in Archmage Elenia Fyzkik’s tower.

After sampling a little brandy and waking the party members to taste the stew, which was incredibly good (and whose desert ingredients only Asade managed to identify), Lazarus promptly fell asleep. With shrugs, the party joined him.

With the arrival of daylight, Ke’shin sought to more closely inspect the gear-like talisman around Lazarus’ neck, though he was tucked snuggly into his cloak, preventing it from being seen. Using Gust, Asade moved the cloak, causing Lazarus to stir and reveal the necklace. Ke’shin was reminded of Vahn’s hammer, a little, though the gear seemed crude in comparison. He felt no godly investiture in the item.

Last to wake, Lazarus proved a grumpy morning companion, though a little brandy did help to revive him. Seemingly abashed at the previous night’s claim to Godhood, he set off north, saying he was needed at work. Following him, the party listened to him become embroiled in a conversation with Ke’shin and Xarrai about the various aspects of brewing and distilling. He seemed quite knowledgeable on the subject and was happy to share as much as possible about his chosen interest.

Eventually the party reached the edge of Jarren’s Outpost. A huge expanse of city appeared before them, encircled in a 25-foot high palisade wall. Rings of empty ditches encircled the wall, with a strip of earth cutting through them to each gate. The forest surrounding the city was gone; only stumps and bare earth remained for 150 yards outside the wall, stripped for materials or cut intentionally. From beyond the wall, smoke rose from hundreds of chimneys and smokestacks. The roofs of the building sloped gently upward toward the center of the down, giving the entirety a sort of domed appearance.

Reaching the gate, the guards instantly recognized Lazarus, both chiding him and welcoming him back to Jarren’s Outpost. Lazarus’ demeanor changed, becoming more sure of himself and supercilious. Grandly declaring that the party ‘was with him’ he stared down a guard, almost daring him to challenge the statement. Asade went one strong step farther and knocked into a guard as they passed, unmolested.

Inside the walls, people greeted Lazarus’ with a variety of shouts, glares, whistles and hand motions. He seemed loved by some, hated by others, but noticed by all. A couple peopled shouted out “God of the Distillery!” as he passed by, causing his face to redden considerably. “It’s only a nickname.”

Conceding that he owed them all a drink for the night’s meal and company, he offered to guide them to a choice tavern in town. Following him the group saw street after street busy with people, buying, selling, hawking, carrying. As some intersections of the larger streets were raised stone platforms upon which carts stood with goods for sale, though some were bare.

Lazarus finally stopped in front of one building with a swinging sign that declared it to be “The Witch’s Brew.” Going around back, he told them to meet him inside while a valet took care of Animus and Faelar’s horse. Mounts of various types were moored at hitching posts outside the establishments on this street, but Asade noticed one peculiar animal in particular. A lizard, complete with saddle, was perched comfortably on the side of a building, hooded, and unmoving. With a squawked “WHAT IS THAT?!” she ran off to inspect it.

The creature was nearly motionless, only its tail flicking like a bored cats and its tongue occasionally flicking out from between its lips. As she approached and gently reached out a hand to touch the blue-green pebbled skin it stopped moving entirely, and the its skin slowly bleached in color until it matched the adobe wall it was resting on, becoming nigh invisible but for the saddle and bags it wore. Squealing with excitement, Asade produced a goodberry, and after a time the lizard returned to it’s original color and flicked out a tongue to take it.

As Asade joined her companions inside The Witch’s Brew, they took in the sight of a full-scale gambling establishment and bar. Tables of dicing games and cards scattered throughout the room. In the corner a lone musician was badly playing some flutes, sitting on a raised chair. A large staircase near the full-circle bar lead to an open-air second level with a balcony encircling the inside of the building, room doors dotting the upper walls through. Leading them to the bar, Lazarus ordered them all a round of lagers and shots. Dropping the shot into the glass, he chugged it, and the party followed suit. Vahn chugged two. With a last gulp, Lazarus smiled, said his goodbye’s, and left the tavern, heading off to work at his bosses distillery/brewery.

Wincing at the noise of the pipes coming from the corner, the barmaid saw Faelar’s instruments and asked if he played. Not wanting to displace an already playing musician, Faelar refrained and decided to wait his turn. Upon being informed that musicians sat on a dunk tank, and that patrons determined how long a player could play, however, prompted Xarrai to prestidigitate a shot glass, chuck it at an indicated dart board on the wall, and cause the piper to fall, wailing, down a trash chute into the basement. Assuring Faelar that the musician was fine, Xarrai indicated that the chair was now free. Faelar’s performance, though not quite up to his usual standards, was nonetheless incredibly well-received by the crowd, who began to shower the tip jar with coins.

At the bar, Ke’shin inquired of the half-orc bartender as to the whereabouts of the Caravan of the Smiling Boar, the trading group associated with Prulekai. Leaning in close, Klai, the half-orc, became a little hostile, telling Ke’shin that it was both dangerous to ask or answer such a question in this town. Taking the hint, Ke’shin asked if she could tell him anything, to which she looked thoughtful, then informed him that she knew a person who COULD tell him that caravan’s travelling schedule and route, but that she’d need a favor in return. A local fist-fight with another bar’s champion was scheduled for the evening, but her fighter had backed out. If he could provide one, she’d give him a name.

Looking around at the party, they all shrugged, and agreed. “No magic, don’t get caught cheating. You win if your opponent surrenders or you knock them out.” Looking at each other, Vahn and Asade agreed to let Asade take this one, and Klai took out a large brass bell and began to pound on it. With a united screech chairs were pushed back and patrons streamed out of the bar, showing what looked like bloodstains on parts of the now empty floor. “We used to do this in here…but it got expensive,” remarked Klai.

Leading them out of The Witch’s Brew, Klai took them to the nearest junction of streets with a raised stone pedestal in the middle. About 35 feet across and 3 feet high, the raised platform already boasted a halfing in an expensive-looking hat calling out odds. The bookie was declaring a 6-to-1 ratio for any bets taken against he champion before the opponent was revealed. “Grosk” was announced and a large, squat earth genasi with all black eyes stepped onto the stage, raising his arms to the crowd.

Considering the champion, Asade stepped forward, beast-changing into an allosaurus as she did so, letting loose a terrific roar and stepping onto the stage. As people began to scream and run from the square, windows on all the nearby buildings were thrown open as people gaped at the dinosaur now standing center stage. Stunned by the turn of events, the halfling didn’t even move, but when Klai caught his attention, smiled, and winked, he looked down at the group and asked “How do I announce this…thunder lizard thing?” Name provided, he gathered himself, held a wand to his throat and boomed out in a magically enhanced voice “Enter Asade…THE THUNDER LIZARDNAAAAAAAR!” After a moment of silence, the crowd rushed back toward the stage, screaming at the bookie to take their new bets.

A purple-robed man on the edge of the stage briefly conferred with Grosk, and after waving his hands and chanting, Grosk, too, began to grow in size until he was approximately three-quarters the size of Asade. Sensing that things were approaching a ‘fair’ fight, Asade chose to revert to her half-orc form, and with a shrug, the man in purple robes threw up a shrug and Grosk also shrank. Seeing this, Xarrai began to make his way toward the man, who winked, and then vanished, invisible.

At the beginning of the fight, Grosk bit down hard and began to foam red at the mouth. The opening of the grudge match was merciless, Grosk pounding Asade twice for every hit she delivered. As they traded blows, Xarrai noticed the man in purple had reappeared by the side of the platform, muttering under his breaths, lips moving, eyes never wavering from the 7-week reigning champion. Pointing this out to Vahn, they began to move toward the man, who began to circle the stage, keeping away from them, until they split up, Ke’shin also joining the chase. Faelar ast ‘detect magic’ and noticed that Grosk was wearing a ring that glowed with an enchantment, and headed to the halfling bookie to accost him.

With the goliath, fire genasi and tiefling ganging up on him and telling him to leave, the resolve of the man in purple finally crumbled and he ran off…as he disappeared Grosk suddenly took a knee on stage, panting. In a very loud voice Faelar asked the bookie if he was aware that Grosk was cheating, drawing attention from the crowd nearby. With a growl, Grosk removed the ring and tossed it at Faelar, saying he needed to prove nothing, and that it was just a trinket. Faelar immediately began to identify it.

Seeing Grosk vulnerable, Asade ran forward to deliver a mighty blow, but withheld at the last second as she saw that Grosk wasn’t moving a muscle. She backed off, allowing him a few second to regain his footing, but noted that his mouth was no longer foaming red, and his attacks seemed weaker.

Continuing to trade punishing blows Asade pounded him with elbows, knees and fists. Grosk continually focusing on kicking the inside of her thigh and she finally got a leg, got in close and rammed an uppercut into the underside of his job, flinging him back, where he collapsed, unconscious.

With a roar of victory Asade transformed back into a dinosaur, and the crowd began chanting “Thunder Lizard! Thunder Lizard! THUNDER LIZARD!” over and over. The halfling bookie shrewdly apologized to Faelar, claiming to have had no idea, but Faelar was certain he was lying through his tiny little teeth. Knowing, now, that the ring linked two people’s lifeforces together, allowing them to share blows within a certain range if both people were wearing companion rings, Faelar tucked it into a pocket, idly wondering where the other ring was.

Shrinking back down to half-orc size Asade and the group made their way back to The Witch’s Brew. All along the way the crowds chanted her ring-name, and The Witch’s Brew was soon even more full than when they first arrived. As Asade was served an endless supply of roasted chicken, Klai approached Ke’shin. “I may have swindled you,” she grinned, “But you’ve made me a richer woman and I didn’t lie to you. The man you want is the Jarren, of Jarren’s Outpost. As the most profitable trader in the town he’s our offical liege, and he’s more likely to know the trade routes of various caravans than anyone else in town. Don’t worry, though, your friend you came in with? Lazarus? The Jarren’s favorite brewmaster; I’m sure he can get you an audience.”

Growling over this technicality, Vahn distracted his anger with the brilliant idea to call over a server and asked “For a Thunder Lizard” causing a momentary panic, and then a greedy gleam, to overtake the bartender’s face. Drawing a caricature of a dinosaur on the board and the words “Thunder Lizard” the lady began to mix various alcohols together and then poured brandy over the top, which she lit, declaring that “The Thunder Lizard” was now available for the meager price of 1g per drink.

Asade, meanwhile, was so inundated with drinks from pleased patrons that the bar put out a tip jar for her, labelled with “Thunder Lizard” which soon got confused with where to place money for the drinks. Xarrai, deciding to manage the group’s new prizefighter, quickly declared that all money in said jar belonged to them, and no one countermanded his opinion.

As the group lounged and the patrons drank, rumors bounded about the bar. “The Thunder Lizard is a wingless dragon, come to fight for man’s entertainment!” “How is she eating so many chickens?” “Are you kidding me?! Have you SEEN her true form!?! SHE’S HUGE!” As stories, helped along by dozens of “Thunder Lizard” drinks caroused, collided and exacerbated one another, a slim, well-dressed half-elf with slicked back hair approached Xarrai, exclaiming his appreciation for the fight, and asking where in the world he had bought Asade. Knowing he was treading dangerous ground (particularly with Asade’s hearing) he replied that he’d never tell. With a laugh, the half-elf told him that if he ever wanted to get into some real money to look up the Outpost Colliseum; they had exotic animal fights there worth real gold. Leaving a card, he walked away, and Xarrai burned it up as he held it in his hand.

The group, formerly flush with excitement, but now wearied by drink and partying, retired to bed.

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Session 15: Kaiju Battle
"This is the best foe!"

While the party broke their fast, Asade gathered the Hinkelmann’s and prepared them for the journey home. As they headed north out of town, Faelar reiterated his “Almanac Song” for the children and was gratified to see they had retained the tune and seemed to be learning.

Arriving at the farm, the party investigated the area, searching for signs of the giant, armored scarecrow, or clue as to where the merchant troupe had gone. They found tracks synonymous with those of the scarecrow leading northwest into the forest that indicated it may have met up with a large wagon, larger than usual, and then headed north.

On the farmstead, Asade conversed with crows and determine that a “bad death smell” was coming from one of the abandoned worker hovels, and Vahn identified something undead inside. Poking around, they found a secret compartment containing a purple satin bag. Bringing it out into the light, Ke’shin opened it to discover a wiggling toe inside, wearing a silver ring. He identifed a symbol on it as belonging to the The Hand of Jergal.

After Ke’shin attempted to remove the toe and ended up getting scratched, Vahn took the bag and smashed it, destroying the toe, and allowed Ke’shin to identify the ring. It contained an enchantment that prevented corruption, and decay, but otherwise seemed to hold no other function. They discussed what purpose such a toe might have, but remained inconclusive.

Wishing the Hinkelmann’s well, the party decided to continue north, following the deep wagon tracks and their pre-determined route to Jarren’s Outpost.

On the way they encountered the remains of the three members of the Winged Patrol they had met with the night before, their axebeak mounts and riders dead, by the shores of the river. Asade, seeing the axebeaks killed, flew into a rage at the senseless violence and screamed her rage. A nearby river hydra, the culprit behind the killings, interpreted this as a challenge, and combat ensued.

Asade transformed into an allosaurus and Ke’shin caste haste upon her, making an already formidable druid absolutely terrifying. Vahn’s hammer, Xarrai’s flames, and Faelar’s vicious wordplay joined forces to whittle the hydra down, but with each devastating attack the beast group more heads, and became more aggressive. Eventually, with their combined powers, the group managed to defeat the hydra, but not before it managed to sprout seven heads. Pausing to collect blood and other pieces of useful hydra, the group then decided to make camp before continuing their journey.

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Session 14: They Came from Below
12 Reasons not to be a Hermit

After a night of rest in the tower, the adventurers parted ways with Elenia. Partaking a last time of Fwar’s cooking skills, they stopped to query Korhaft, the Galeb Duhr, about Prulekai, the necromancer who had intruded on the archmage’s domain.

Not realizing that Prulekai had been an intruder, having displayed a tiny mechanical messenger bird, Korhaft had not questioned his visit, and was visibly distraught to learn that the necromancer had ulterior motives. He informed the group that the man had headed south, out the mountain entrance. Learning of the two shadow demons, he called to Guldin and began to make his way north to check on the passages below and make sure they remained blocked.

As the party ventured south, they made excellent time due to Asade’s survival skills and having trekked this path before. Covering a good deal more distance than before (possibly due to no longer fighting an uphill road). As they considered camping for the night, they began to see evidence of more fallen trees and shifted earth mounds, as before. Still believing the culprit to be a large, burrowing creature, Asade considered all the likely candidates. After conferring with the group, they decided to press on to the crazy old hermit’s hut, and make camp near there.

Finding the hut, they began to make camp as Asade knocked on the door of the hut. Hearing no reply, she swung the door open to find a ramshackle abode, with a messy dirt floor. Taking a closer look the earth looked…disturbed…and she felt wetness on her foot and looked down to see that the earth was bloodied. Leaving the hut she drew her companions’ attention to her findings…only to have her companions tell her that a mound of earth was burrowing toward them from the north. Vahn and Asade began to beat their weapon butts against the ground to draw its attention, and the creature stopped. A hole opened in the ground and a green liquid began to spray forth into the air, telling Asade that these were likely Ankheg’s they were dealing with, a large burrowing insectoid creature that sprayed acid.
julien-carrasco-ankheg.jpg
As they watched this odd display, they looked around and noticed that they’d been flanked. More furrows were approaching from the east and west, and eventually the creatures sprang forth from the forest floor.

A ferocious battle ensued in which Vahn got to test his new hammer and Asade became a spider and webbed several enemies.Faelar quite literally shamed several of them to death with his vicious wordplay, and as a whole the party dispatched three adult Ankheg and several juveniles, despite both Ke’shin and Xarrai being caught, at various times, in the monsters’ jaws.

Victorious, the party made camp and had an uneventful night, with the noticeable exception of Xarrai drawing inspiration from Asade and taking out his wand of web to create a hammock for himself. It worked beautifully, until the spend ended an hour later, dumping him unceremoniously to the ground.

The group returned to Guldin Falls the next day. Wanting to interview The Hinkelmann Family before heading north, they hit up the Shimmerspindle Inn. As Vahn stabled his horse, he saw several avian creatures in the stables as well, with small wings and enormous beaks. Inside, Ke’shin noted that three members of the Winged Patrol were having a drink; pointing them out to his friends, the party approached and gave the Patrolmen the brief summary of what was happening with undead scarecrows and merchants to the north. The Hinkelmann’s managed to recall most of the name of the merchant caravan that had visited them (The Golden Pig something) and that rang a bell with the Patrolmen. An honest merchant troupe, if such a thing existed.

Resolved to head north the next day for more clues at the Hinkelmann farmstead, the group turned in for the night.

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Session 13: Bowling for Shadow Demons
Doing the Archmage a Solid

After rescuing Archmage Elenia Fyzkik from the predations of her own magical ambitions, the party received a number of small gifts from her, and a request to clear out the Shadow Demon left behind by the necromancer who invaded her home. She explained that her experience in the crystal had drained most of her magic, keeping her alive, but forcing her to slowly draw magic back from her standing enchantments. As she mentioned this, the lights flickered slightly, and the group watched her withdraw magic from a pair of her animated suits of armor, noticeably regaining color in her face and the appearance of health. While she would not be able to assist them in the coming fight, she did mention a number of weakness and abilities Shadow Demons oft possessed; they hated daylight, and could pass through solid objects, including people.

Thus warned, the group readied their spells and shouldered their weapons Heading over to the magically darkened space they had bypassed earlier, they prepared themselves for combat. Xarrai the Blaze pulled out the Driftglobe, and with the command words “Aziz, Daylight!” the glass sphere become a hovering sun next to him, dispersing the darkness revealing not one, but two, Shadow Demons, shrieking in pain from the sudden light and cowering inside the rings of the summoning circle set into the floor.

Faelar the Windwalker enhanced the Driftglobe with a Major Image, causing a dozen Driftglobes to appear around the demons, hiding the true source of sunlight and causing them further distress. Seer’ke’shin cast haste on the paladin, and thus enhanced, Vahn rushed forward and smote one of the fiends with divine energy, causing it massive damage, while Asade called upon her druidic magic to rain down moonlight, transforming one of the illusory Driftglobes into a miniature moon.

Assaulted by this barrage of attacks, the first Shadow Demon was soon defeated, throwing a last defiant comment back at the party as it faded from the material plane. “It does not matter! You simply return us to the Mistress and we will tell her of all we have seen!”

The second Shadow Demon seemed to care slightly more about being “sent back” and chose to flee, flying away from the druid’s moonbeams, through the illusory Driftglobes and into a nearby wall. The party, cursing, gave chase. Vahn’s enhanced speed allowing him to pound through the hallways with dazzling swiftness toward the exit while the rest of the party followed. The Driftglobe, alas, could not keep up, and as it tried to follow Xarrai the Blaze in a straight line, it bumped into a wall and sleepily fell to the ground, deactivating. Faelar chose to remain in the room, in case of the demon’s return.

Eventually the party caught up to it near the exit, where Vahn and a pair of constructs blocked its escape, and the adventurer’s tore it apart. It, too, disappeared with a parting comment. “We will return for you…”

Mildly discomfited, but victorious, the group returned to the bar. Xarrai, rushing ahead, had shots prepared for the party, which he set alight with a touch, and that a begrudging Fwar greatly enjoyed. As they continued to mix drinks the mephit became much friendlier, and he rang a bell via a nearby cord to call his mistress back to the main floor of the tower.

Explaining that the demons had been destroyed, they also mentioned the mysterious “Mistress” to Elenia. Elenia ran to the summoning circle and began to investigate, searching for the demons’ true names used in the summoning. With Keshin’s assistance, they eventually found two names; V’lash and Tehbinaar. Looking worried, Elenia conveyed that these two demons were known informants for a more powerful demon, a yochlol, a “handmaiden of Lolth” associated with the Drow. If the Drow and the Empire were seeking an alliance…she feared for the future. Elenia even offered to release Vahn from his vow, thinking it too dangerous, which, of course, he refused.

The party continued to drink and eat stir-fry cooked by the now gloriously tipsy steam mephit, and discussed their next course of action. Vahn took the strange item gifted to him by the Archmage and walked to a corner to focus on it for its eventual use. Keshin, fascinated, stayed nearby to watch.

As Vahn considered the item, he was granted visions of a powerful storm, of lightning within the clouds and the inexorable rolling of thunder. Considering a number of his weapons, items, and armor, the blueprints for how to apply the item unfolded in his mind, and he realized that what Elenia said was true; whatever he chose to place this on…the power of the storm would be released. He chose his hammer. Setting the ever-whirling cube of gears onto the haft of his hammer, just below the head, the group watch it unfold into a sort of mechanical arm. A number of gears at the end of this arm began to spin madly and with the sound of shrieking metal cut into the head of the hammer, hollowing it out inside and cutting a decorative pattern on the surface. Once finished, the arm pulled itself inside and began to reform into the cube, which then began to spin. Faster and faster, blue sparks began to fly within the head of the hammer and a noticeable hum and vibration emanated from it continuously. Vahn felt the power thrumming through it, and knew that his hammer had been greatly enhanced.

Setting it aside and taking a seat at the bar, the party talked freely as the alcohol flowed. Waiting for the pause in the conversation, Asade eventually asked to see Vahn’s new weapon. Handing it over, Vahn sobered himself up with a healing touch. Asade asked him what he saw. “The power of the storm.” She asked if he considered this power a good thing, to which he replied that it was, of course if it helped him destroy him enemies. Asade cautioned him that it was easy to become lost within the power of the storm, and that to stay true to his course he should also remember where he came from. Using her druidic magic, she raised an image of the mountainrange of his home on the wooden haft of the hammer, forming a grip shaped like Oathshome peak. Taking back his hammer, Vahn quietly considered the implications of his new tool, and noticed that the storm within it felt…more focused. Not calmer, but less resistant to his direction and he moved the weapon about.

During this time, Elenia asked to speak with both Faelar and Ke’shin privately. Faelar was gone for quite some time, returning briefly to retrieve his notes. During his brief return, Vahn gave him a knowing wink and a grin. During Ke’shin absence, a loud crash was heard, but the group felt it best to leave wizards’ business to wizards, and continued to drink and socialize.

After Ke’shin’s return, Faelar unscrewed the bottom of his parchment case and presented the group with an enameled pin, a circle containing the visage of a broken road. He explained that he was part of a secret society known as the Wishful Wanderers, who work as vigilantes against injustice. He related that one of his personal goals was to find the Elves, and upon hearing this, Ke’shin brought forth pictures of the creatures he saw during his time in the Char. As he expounded on the dangers and transient nature of the Char, Asade noticed drawings in his notes that matched the pictures in her book of lizards, and posited that she might find such creatures near these weird, feral elves in the Char.

Ke’shin brought up his former order, The Way, wondering if they’d become the Wishful Wanderers, but the name was unfamiliar to the rest of the party. However, this prompted Xarrai who did recognize the name, to explain that the Empire had eradicated the group and that it was touted as one of the great victories of the Empire over ‘terrorists.’ He also revealed that his father and grandfather had had a hand in it and distinguished themselves, as soldiers of the Imperium. He explained that while he had cut ties with his family and had a deep hatred of the Empire, his father WAS the Head Inquisitor at Fort Parnak, and that his family maintained a position of importance within Imperial Society.

After assuring Xarrai that he had their trust and respect, the companions reviewed their assorted goals, and the ways they might achieve them. Asade wished to return to her home Grove and determine why the Guldin Falls area had been without a druid for so long. Both Ke’shin and Vahn had an interest both in pursuing this weapon of Hoar, and Vahn additionally had sworn to track down Prulekai and take vengeance upon him. They noted that finding the merchant caravan that had traveled north might be a good first step. Faelar wished to find the Elves, and in the process Asade might find these giant lizards she was looking for; both Ke’shin and Xarrai, too, had an interest in exploring the Char. Fwar the steam mephit also revealed that he’d managed to take a scrap of the necromancer’s clothing, and Ke’shin thought that there might be a mage in the Arcanum who could use it to scry Prulekai’s location.

The group decided to regroup in Guldin Falls and then travel North, visiting the trading spots on the route to Valderin’s Gate to search for the merchant caravan, Asade’s Grove of Howling Shadows, and then, eventually to Valderin’s Gate. From there, they’d use the information gained to plan their next move.

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Session 12: Temptations of the Tower
"Doors we shouldn't open, books we shouldn't read, food we shouldn't eat and tools we shouldn't use."

Whisked away from the group on the shoulders of Korhaft, the galeb duhr, Faelar found himself carried downriver in search of Guldin, the galeb duhr from their previous encounter. Along the way he peppered the construct with questions in true bardic fashion, learning how the ages had effected the land, even changing the glow of the sky at dusk and dawn. Eventually they exited the tunnel and began tracking the rather noticeable path of escape Guldin left behind. They found that the tracks ended in a group of boulders…one of them ostensibly the galeb duhr in hiding. Plucking off his fingernails, Korhaft handed a few to Faelar, telling him they would cling to items or constructs of a magical nature. After throwing one to have it ping off, Korhaft nodded to Faelar, who did the same. His fingernail stuck with a metallic clack against the boulder, and Korhaft motioned him back.

Executing their plan of “I’ll hold him, you heal him” Korhaft and a transformed Guldin rolled about on the ground, nearly crushing Faelar several times as he slowly mended the crack in the galeb duhr’s head. With each shifting motion the gap would close JUST enough that Faeler could mend another portion, and after several spells, Guldin eventually stopped his movement, and allowed the healing to complete.

Once finished, Guldin’s demeanor changed immensely. Standing, he exchanged glad, confused words with Korhaft in a still-muddled, but intelligent conversational tone. Korhaft asked Faeler if he was up for a long trek back to his friends, or a possibly dangerous shorter route, and the half-elf gleefully continued down the path of adventure.

Joining hands, arms raised in front of them, the galeb duhr formed a doorway in which a portal of shimmering light appeared. Informing Faelar that they’d been enchanted with this ‘escape route home’ by their master, they knew it led to the first floor of the tower…but not exactly where. Faelar jumped through and in a familiar feeling of passing through a dimension door, suddenly found himself in a hallway full of doors, the walls lit a soft white.

As the rest of the party ended their battle with the glowing red and white suits of armor, they pushed forward to round the corner and were reunited with their bardic companion. Looking up and down the hallway at the doors, they noted that each had a switch set into the floor nearby, and the doors themselves contained a viewport at head height. Only one of these was open, and from it a flickering, blue light could be seen. Xarrai, not wanting to continue until he’d at least had a look, slowly approached the door with the open port, noting that it locked from the outside. Peering in he saw a humanoid figure and what looked like flashes of lightning. He was unable to determine if the figure was moving, or if the flashes of light only made it appear so, but, unnerved, he backed away and returned to the party. As he did so, a deep, gravelly voice called to him in his head, asking him “Devil-friend, you would not set them free?” Now thoroughly unsettled, Xarrai called to his companions, telling them he was hearing a voice in his head. As he did so, it spoke to a number of them in turn. Each spoke of what was said, and they gathered that the voice claimed to be the Archmage of the tower, who had been trapped in one of his own experiments. He begged them to set him free, to their great reward.

Each person responded differently to the voice; Xarrai seemed unnerved. Ke’shin became furious. Vahn challenged it directly, guessing that it might be fiendish in nature, promising it violence. None of them trusted the voice.

Leading the adventurers, Asade Nar thought she could just barely hear the flapping of wings ahead of them, but saw nothing. Vahn, too, heard the sound, and trading looks, they advanced cautiously. Following the curve of the outside wall, they were presented with a long, empty hallway that they chose to move through. Poking around the corner, they found what appeared to be a recently inhabited section of the tower.

Xarrai found what appeared to be a table full of alchemy supplies, tools, and notes. Itching to grab the parchments, he held back at a warning from the others.

A kitchen area with various food implements bubbling away were present, as well as unspoiled food on the table, an ever-burning fuel-less hearth beyond.To their left stood a pair of armored suits, similar to those they fought before, facing away into a darkened room that their sight could not penetrate. Leaving the suits unmolested, they pressed further. Doing so, the mysterious voice called out to them again, telling them that they must speak a word to the suits that they might unlock the door he was behind. Not trusting the voice, they pressed on, finding more home-like features, including a well-stocked bar with a marble pillar set behind it, supporting a purple pillow. One of them remarked that it looked like a familiar’s perch.

They continued to explore, finding a library full of books, and tables covered in maps. The bookshelves were labelled, containing histories, books of magical experiments, and one shelf that shifted depending on who looked at it. It showed Asade a collection of bestiaries of little-known creatures. Ke’shin saw works on a variety of gods, some of whom he’d attempted to track down in the past. Vahn…Vahn first saw a collection of names, with a crossed out skull. Confused, he related this to the group, and looked back, seeing it was now blank. They surmised that it was designed to temp the watcher with something they desired.

Vahn summed up their collective thoughts, “It would appear that there are doors we shouldn’t open, books we shouldn’t read, food we shouldn’t eat and tools we shouldn’t use. Shall we press on, then?”

Asade continued to hear the sound of flapping wings, just behind them, now, as they continued to move on. Done with the mystery, she turned about, pinpointed the sound to the best of her ability, and cast Faerie Fire, revealing a small, winged, humanoid shape, which gave a
squawk of dismay. It retreated to the top of the bar, where it protested that it was not an enemy, but a friend, the familiar of the archmage. “Fwar is a steam mephit! Fwar only wishes to help you! But Fwar cannot!”

Apparently, though wanting to be helpful, each time they asked specific questions on how to find the archmage or what dangers there were, the mephit babbled. “Purple peonies provide painfully proportionate pimples!” he screamed in frustration. Vahn in particular found the fiends troubles amusing, and continued to ask him questions. Finally, he asked if the mephit would lead the way, and point out any dangers that could harm it. Fwar agreed.

The group followed the mephit to a large, iron and brass vault door. On this door were eight engraved circles, and nine inscribed lines of text in a variety of languages; some intelligible to the group, and some not.

1. Read and follow these instructions to pass (in common)
2. Use flame to disable the first lock (fiendish)
3. Use ice to bypass the first trap (elven)
4. (dwarven text)
5. Use strength to smash the second trap (giantish)
6. (unknown elvish script)
7. Destroy the final trap with dark fire (abyssal)
8. Unlock the last lock with the divine (Celestial)
9. (completely unidentifiable language)

The final line was written in much smaller text, containing a greater number of characters, but maintaining the same length as the others.

Frustrated by his inability to understand EVERYTHING, Ke’shin cast ‘Comprehend Languages’ and touched the door, reading the lines.

The ninth line sorted itself into readable text, and Ke’shin laughed.
“Ha! I KNEW that creating a language out of thin air was worthwhile! Congratulations on parsing it. Skip steps 1 through 8, shake hands with the two guards and knock 3 times to enter.”

Ke’shin did so, and the portal yawned open.

Entering the next room, leaving some distance between them and the mephit ahead, they found a large circular fountain, and a stone statue of a lady, holding out a hand, palm up.

“Haha! That stupid necromancer never got into this room!” cried the mephit triumphantly. Vahn instantly shifted his attention to the small fiend, interrogating him as to “what necromancer?”

The group learned that a necromancer…whose name the mephit could not quite recall, arrived some time earlier. The mephit attempted to employ his help in retrieving the archmage, but the visitor was more interested in looting the tower, even going so far as to try attacking the mephit.

“I hid myself good I did! No stupid faerie fire from this man, no sir! Can you figure this room out and free my master already, please?”

Investigating the statue, the group found a small plaque reading “The beauty of pressure.” Recognizing the simple style of riddle for what it was, and recalling their entry to the first floor of the tower, the group immediately cast about their supplies, searching for a gem of some sort. Finding none, Xarrai prestidigitated a key, wondering if it would once again prove the answer.

“Can’t you just make a diamond appear instead?” asked Asade, pointedly. With some chagrin, Xarrai did so, placing it in the hand, which immediately clamped shut on the stone.

The pool of water immediately began go glow with a soft, brilliant light blue, and the mephit cackled gleefully and dove down into it.

Looking around at each other, Xarrai shrugged, and hopped in. They watched him sink, until he passed from sight. Inside the water, Xarrai was unable to breath…nor did he feel the need to. The water did not feel wet…simply cold, as though a layer of something was between him and the liquid. Above, each of his companions also chose to follow, slowly sinking and disappearing in turn.

Beneath them, they each saw a purple, circular glyph that the floated down toward, and upon landing, were no longer encased in the column of water. The room they found themselves in was rather bare; a stone spiral staircase leading up directly in front of them, flashes of blue and purle light crackling throughout the room, and what appeared to be a freestanding room set with a single, vault-like door to their left.

Choosing to explore the stairs first, they found a short hallway at the top, with a series of four trap doors in the ceiling, and a ladder by each. After a brief discussion on whether these were more traps, rooms the archmage might be in, or doors leading to the four rooms they’d found above with the stranged, sealed doors…the cautiously returned downstairs. Exploring behind the staircase they found a massive gem set into the floor, surrounded by four machines spouting lightning between them.

The machines were large, iron and bronze, copper, gold, silver and brass. Cogs whirred, gears twirled and slender wires dipped and moved in random patterns. At the top of each a wheel that looked nearly like a weather-vane was encased in glass, or crystal, and wobbled and turn crazily, apparently the source of the lightning, forming a solid barrier around the thirty foot high diamond-like crystal in the center.

Scattered on the floor surrounding these devices were four suits of armor, each similar to those they had battled and discovered on the floor above.

Journeying to the northern face of the crystal, Asade peered into its depths, and was surprised to find a face in the flickering light. Calling to Xarrai, she showed him, and in the next flash of lightning, they saw it as well.

Ke’shin, Faelar and Vahn went to inspect the suits of armor. While holding one of the vambraces, still attached to a glove, Ke’shin discovered a strange hinge on the index finger. Pushing it back revealed an intricately worked key inside the digit. Calling out the information to the others, Asade took the initiative to inspect the machines, and found an inscribed circle, similar to those on the doors above, and on intuition, pressed it. It clicked smoothly back, and slid to the side, revealing a keyhole.

Fitting one of the key-fingers into it caused a purple glow to emanate from the top of the machine and arc to the top of the crystal. The scattered pieces of armor nearby also began to glow, and the group watched in awe as the suit began to reassemble itself from the ground up, then began to walk toward Asade.

Backing away slowly, Asade watched as the construct clanked over to its arm, and bent over, reattaching, and then twisting, causing the glow to intensify. The party grabbed other arms and similarly fitted them to the machines, until each had a suit of armor bent over it, and a white, black and green glow had joined the purple.

As the final beam of energy arced to the crystal, they combined into a stunningly bright yellow glow and began to circle the crystal, chipping away at it and causing pieces to explode away, ground to dust and diamond chips. The energy circled faster, and faster, eventually revealing the form of a beautiful young woman within, hand clasping a staff.

As the last of the enormous crystal was finally decimated, the woman’s form fell limply to the ground. Rushing over, Vahn supplied her with some healing, and she awoke with a gasp. Her dark hair framed a tanned face set with brilliant silvery-white eyes, veins of a similar color extending beneath her eyes to her cheekbones, beneath the skin.

She introduced herself as Archmage Elenia Fyzkik, and thanked them for rescuing her from her own stupidity. She explained that she had been attempting to infuse her life-force with the lasting essence of a diamond, seeking a version of immortality that did not require a trip to the realm of undeath. She failed, instead managing to encase herself in the crystal, and as she expended her magics to keep herself alive, she began to draw power from her tower and constructs to make up the difference, causing them to act strangely.

Neglecting to mention her true age but claiming to have lived for centuries, she asked after a master of the College Arcana who had died decades ago. When offered a drink of water, she cast a scathing glare and asked to be carried to the bar. When given a goodberry, she saved it for what she called a ’Druid’s Cocktail.’ Attempting and failing to charm Vahn, he nonethess picked her up and carried her to the bar upstairs, where she began to inquire as to what rewards she could give them. On their way to the watery portal she pointedly asked Asade to go into her room, unlocking it using any of the finger-keys, and to bring her a small chest that might hold suitable treasures. As she and Vahn disappeared, Asade stomped over to the room, and once inside found a large chest…and a HUGE chest. Noticing a strange animal-skin rug on the floor as well, large, bearlike, and covered in scales, she grabbed it, and the smaller of the two chests (adding them to the bag of diamond dust she’d collected earlier), and heaved them back to the portal.

Upstairs, Asade demanded to know what sort of animal the rug had come from, and Elenia was surprised to learn that no one in the party knew of the jungles of Shalovar. “Perhaps no one travels so far into the Char, anymore,” Elenia said off-handedly, and informed Asade that the rug came from one of the great lizards of that realm. Finding the strength to stand, aided by a glass of liquor and a goodberry that Fwar threw together, she cast the rug over her shoulders like a cloak, and abruptly an enormous, two-legged, long-tailed, small-armed, many-toothed scaly monster was before them, letting loose a primal scream.

“That. I want to try that out for a few minutes. That’s what I want.” As Elenia reappeared before them with a chuckle, she handed the rug/cloak to Asade and told her to go play with any suits of armor she could find; they’d repair themselves.

As the great-lizard stomped off the group heard the iron shriek of torn metal and gleeful roars.

Xarrai mentioned the alchemical table they’d passed coming in, and described some of his troubles with his own brews. Elenia gifted him with a book of alchemy, and some pointers that might come in handy in the future.

Looking at the group, she frowned slightly, looking at Vahn, and noted that he did not carry a magical weapon.

“Return below, and look beneath the bronze floorplate where the crystal once stood. The item you find there is yours. It should…modify, anything you place it one. Weapon. Armor. Tool. I am done with it; it didn’t quite serve the purpose I desired. But the results you produce with it could be…very effective.”

Returning downstairs with Ke’shin, Vahn flipped the large floorstone, plated in bronze, and found a strange contraption clinging beneath. Composed almost entirely of interlocking gears, he stared at it’s constant movement. Ke’shin was quite taken with the fact that no matter how closely he looked, the gears appeared to become smaller, and smaller as his gaze traveled toward its center, continuing to interlock, and spin, with no end.

While there, Ke’shin shared a story with Vahn that, back at the College Arcanum, during his studies in their deep libraries, he’d come across a sheet of paper that pointed toward a lost weapon of Hoar, somewhere in the swamps southwest of Uruk plains. Giving Vahn the command word to his notebook, he gave Vahn a copy of the notes he’d created.

Returning above, they heard the mephit regaling his mistress with tales of his loyalty, even in the face of the necromancer. Elenia’s head whipped about with this comment, and she began a long litany of names, until settling on “Prulekai” to the mephit’s shrieks of “Yes, that was it! He came and he tried to steal and find you and he even summoned that big brute of a shadow demon to ask it stuff when he couldn’t find me!”

Swearing, she looked to the adventurers, asking if they’d be interested in performing a further service to her. Vahn stepped forward, and asked if she had been wronged by this man, his manner deadly serious.

“Of course! Your pendant! Of course. Would you care to take revenge for me?”

Vahn appeared to restrain himself, and instructed her to request the aid of Hoar in this matter, should she be wronged. Smile faltering, she looked to him with utter gravitas, and in giantish, called down the righteous fury of Hoar upon the enemies who had wronged her so. Smiling, Vahn swore Uventod on Prulekai, a tension the others hadn’t recognized lifting from his shoulders.

“Step one, please remove this demon from my home; I’m weak as a kitten right now, and just as cuddly. Do so, and return to me, and we can discuss how to find this…Prulekai.”

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