Dark Faerun

Session 11: Into the Tower
"Is it possible we've found a chimney?"

After fighting off the Galeb Duhr, the party decided to continue on toward the stairs they’d seen earlier, near the falls. Approaching them, they found the stairs to be larger than normal, like those a large, stone, rock monster might use. The stairs led up into a cave hidden behind the falls. Exploring this opening, they found a series of winding tunnels in the rock, opening into a series of large, high-ceiling’d caverns.

The largest such cavern was bisected by a fast-flowing river, which they assumed was the source of the powerful waterfall outside. Leaning out from the rock walls, Vahn spied what looked like a man-made structure further north, perhaps a bridge of some sort, and examining the river, noticed a series of rocks that might be used to cross. The other party members were leery of taking this route, however, and opted to turn back and explore more of the caverns, hoping they might lead toward the structure Vahn saw.

Delving into the twisting corridors, they found several things. Examining the walls, Xarrai and Ke’shin noted that the walls were becoming smoother, less rough. They appeared of a size to allow the galeb duhr they met to traverse them. The walls themselves seemed too smooth to have been carved; no tool marks were visible and the formation didn’t appear natural. The party found, and explored, a number of dead ends, as well. In two they found the yellowed skeleton bones of a humanoid creature, its canines larger than you might expect. While unable to identify the creature, they did note that one had its skull crushed, which the other had somehow been fused to the rock wall, it’s arms almost…melted, into the stone and held there.

Having met with defeat on several paths, they decided to explore once more and turned north, finding something more promising. The tunnel’s right wall suddenly became smooth, and white, and curved. This dead end terminated not in rocks, but in carefully mortared stones, fitted perfectly together.

Holding his companions back, Ke’shin performed a ritual to discover if any magic was held within these stones. As he began to cast, however, the rest of his party noticed shadows beginning to appear on the white stone wall. The shadows mimicked the movements Ke’shin was making while casting, and the words he spoke appeared as text. Curious, Xarrai prestidigitated a coin, which brought no reaction from the wall, and tossed it at the wall, where it was stopped short by a barrier a couple inches away from the surfaces. It was met with a shower of sparks and a blue ripple from where it connected, and was then shot back, nearly hitting Xarrai in the head.

Hearing this commotion, Ke’shin stopped his ritual to ask what had happened, and examine the wall, and found that it mimicked any spell he tried to cast, but only his. Unsatisfied, he began his Detect Magic ritual once more, and saw that the wall contained two types of magic; abjuration and enchantment. He was relatively certain that the blue barrier was some sort of amped up Shield Spell…but the method by which the wall mimicked his casting eluded him. Concluding that it was some sort of…recording…he deemed it harmless.

Seeing no magic on the cobbled stone, however, he gave Vahn the go ahead to break a hole in it. Doing so with a few short swings of his maul, Vahn cleared enough space to poke his head and shoulders in. Having done so, warm air and the smell of cooking meat wafted up. Confused and unable to breach the white wall, Vahn was about to jump in…when he looked up, and down…and saw that the walls were square, and they became closer travelling up, and further apart travelling down.

“Ke’shin, how likely is it that your kind [wizards] would leave a back entrance going straight down like this? Is it possible we’ve found a chimney?”

Ke’shin replied “Some of us don’t have ANY doors or entrances to our homes. Wizards are strange people.”

Confident though he was, Vahn couldn’t see the bottom of this passage they’d uncovered, and no one else in the group appeared willing to jump down. Defeated, they returned to the river.

Vahn crossed first, accomplishing the feat is one huge bound, carrying a length of rope with him. Holding it taut, with Asade anchoring the other end, Asade, Xarrai and Ke’shin managed to cross with little difficulty. Before making the attempt, Faelar held up his instruments and asked Xarrai to carry them over, for fear of getting them wet. Utilizing mage-hand, Xarrai did so, and Faelar started across. Sending his instruments over had been a good call, for the bard nearly lost his grip in the rushing waters and was carried over into the falls. Luckily, he had made it far enough that Vahn was able to reach out and pluck him from his watery fate.

Moving further inward, the group discovered a series of buildings cut into the stone. Dusty, abandoned, they appeared to be storehouses, kitchens, bedrooms. Vahn thought that they looked particularly like barracks, to him, a thought that was made more plausible when Asade found some weapons. Of them, only two appeared undamaged and un-rusted enough to use; a pair of daggers, thrust into a rotted tabletop. Seeing one that reminded her greatly of her father’s tools (re-purposed weapons from his wilder days) she grabbed it. The blade was wickedly curved black iron, the hilt heavy and blocky. Stamped into the bottom of the pommel was a symbol that seemed at odds with the harsh construction of the weapon.

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While Asade picked up pointy objects, Xarrai and Ke’shin explored a tunnel leading further north, discovering a large, underground whirlpool, and the water feeding it coming from further north. A number of passages nearby looked intentionally blocked with large boulders. Xarrai tossed another summoned coin into the whirlpool, but produced no effect. Curiosity unsated, but remembering their purpose, the group reconvened amid the buildings and pressed west.

They found the bridge Vahn had spied from farther downriver. Ornate handrails of carved stone spiraled through each other and curled around stout pillars of marbled granite. The pillars were topped by decorations of small tower spires, reaching up. The whole thing appeared somehow both elegant and substantial. Beyond it, the face of a huge white tower held a large set of doors, with stairs leading up to them. Gratified to have finally found the object of their search, and noting that, hidden inside a mountain it certainly WAS camouflaged, they started toward it. As they neared the center of the bridge, a voice called out to them.

“You shall come no farther until you’ve stated your names, and your business.”

The group searched for the source in confusion, until Asade pointed out the source. In doing so, the voice sighed, and one of the end pillars of the bridge unfolded itself into a roughly humanoid form. Another galeb duhr, different from their previous encounter, stood before them. Formed not from boulders, this galeb duhr encompassed the stones of the bridge structure; arms and legs comprised of the carved twining guardrails, the towers that had graced the top of the pillar forming into a head.

The creature demanded to know who they were, boasting of its existence for centuries and informing them that the Master was far too busy to weary himself with guarding the door. Vahn, responding to the construct’s insulting and dismissive tone, demanded to the Master, and that they had no time to banter with a simple guard. The galeb duhr seemed perplexed, wondering how they had made it past its compatriot, and the group explained what had happened, showing the amethyst eye they had recovered. Momentarily enraged the construct clenched its fisted until the group heard its stone fingers beging to crack, relaxing only when they explained that they wanted to return it, the ornate galeb duhr seemed to switch gears, focusing on finding its companion and restoring it.

The galeb duhr introduced itself Korhaft, and proposed a trade. Help him to restore the eye to Guldin, his friend, and he would open the portals set in the white stone for them to pass through.

“Without my aid, you will never breach the tower.” This seemed fair enough to them, and they agreed…but the galeb duhr they demanded they help immediately. The group was willing to go, but Korhaft held up a hand, saying that in his injured state, having been set upon before, Guldin may further injure himself or run if confronted with the entire party. “One of you may help me; I can subdue him myself, but I cannot fix his eye.” Inspecting the damage to its fingers after the rage that had overtaken it, he proffered them toward the group. “Show me you can aid him.”

Faelar stepped forward, and with a quick mending spell, closed the cracks in the stone digits.

“Surely a creature who has existed for centuries has stories to tell!” Faelar said, with a grin. “I’ll catch up.” Korhaft scooped him up onto his shoulders with a quick “You’ll do” and jumped off the bridge, completely forgetting to take the Eye. As the party mage-handed it down to Korhaft, he tossed a comment over his shoulder as the gates to the tower began to open. “The Master doesn’t see just anyone; he tests his visitors. That’s all I can say…I’m not allowed inside. Good luck!” Stomping down the center of the river, Faelar firmly seated on his broad shoulders, they disappeared into the darkness.

Their excitement somewhat tempered, the group ventured inside to find a semircular, slatted pattern on the ground, and statues of four upraised hands set in a square shape. The inside of the tower itself was circular, the walls emitting a soft white glow, another door identical to the one they had just used set in the wall to the north.

Upon examining the statue nearest them, Xarrai found a brief inscription. “Wind hides.” Deciding to continue his “coin test” that he’s been using on pretty much everything, Xarrai prestidigitated a coin into the hand. The hand flared briefly with purple magical energy, but nothing more. Asade, thinking if over, cast her ‘gust’ cantrip into the same hand, and received a far greater response. Purple magic swirled upward from the based and encompassed the hand, spreading into the air into the center of the domed ceiling and twitching about in a tethered arc of magic…before also disappearing. As the others inspected the rest of the statues, they discovered three more inscriptions:

Earth gleams.
Fire glitters.
Water cuts.

Deciding that whatever they were supposed to do involved activating them at the same time, the group spread out. Vahn placed a golden coin into one hand, Xarrai summoned fire into another, Ke’shin poured water from a magical decanter onto a third and Asade summoned a Gust once more. The four hands emitted their beams of energy again, combining into a swirling mass at the ceiling. Each of the hands suddenly cracked shut into fists and the energy slammed down to the floor, and dissipated. A series of sharp clicks, winding gear noises and thumps following, and the slats in the semi-circular pattern dropped one by one into a curving staircase. Smiling to each other, the group descended.

At the bottom of the stairs they found an open space, brightly lit, with square-cut blue stone tile flooring. Two suits of armor stood on stands nearby. As they entered the space, a tinny voice informed them “A password from the Master is required to continue. All confirmed guests receive this from the master. Please provide within 10 seconds.” As a metallic countdown ensued and various party members threw out ideas, they prepared themselves for a fight, realizing this might not be an easy visit.

The suits of armor stepped off of their stands and each began to glow. One glowed a bright red; the other, an icy white. Asade summoned a sphere of fire in the space near the white armor, burning it severely. In an opening flurry, of strikes, Vahn cut deeply into the armor, revealing gears and moving mechanisms inside. Xarrai defensively cast Blink and disappeared from view, and after Vahn’s considerable damage to the red one, Ke’shin decided to try enveloping it in flame. His spell leapt out, and for a moment, appeared to hit even harder…until the flames were sucked into the armor and the party watched its wounds closed, gears fading from view.

Seeing this effect, Asade dropped her flaming sphere and took out the enchanted spear she’d claimed from the necromancer in the prison, so long ago. After defeating the white armor, the red armor began to glow, brightly, pulsating with energy, but before it could act, the combined efforts of Asade and Vahn’s physical attacks and Xarrai’s magic missiles, it fell.

Looking around at each other in the wake of this rather unpleasant welcome, the group wonders what may lie in the tower beyond, and when they’ll be reunited with their bard.

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Session 10: The Fantastical Gorignak
"Show it the eye," they said. "It'll be fine!" they said.

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Awaking refreshed, most of the party broke their fast while Asade Nar went in search of Tai the Blacksmith. Finding him already hard at work with his apprentice, she drew him aside and requested the customary provisions due her station; after the completion of a ritual, a town traditionally puts together a travelling sack of vittles to feed the druid as he or she wanders to the next stop on their pilgrimage.

To her surprise, Tai was unusually bashful, and told her that the town had, in fact, put together packs for her entire group of companions. After learning she could pick them up at Tyrik’s tannery, Asade assured Tai that he’d done just fine at the ritual the previous day, hoping to assuage what she interpreted as worry.

Returning to the tavern, she collected the rest of the group, and they made their way to Tyrik’s shop, finding the grizzled lady out front work, tanning deer hides. Never stopping in her task, she motioned behind her with a shoulder and told them they’d find them leaning against the wall around the back. Following her instructions, the group found a provisions pack for eat of them, containing salted meats, vegetables, some travelers bread, and two canteens for water. Stating he didn’t need his, Keshin offered the canteens to the rest of the party; Asade and Xarrai took them.

Vahn noted that his pack was of particular size to his frame, made of a deep, burgundy leather, with two pairs of loops on the back. Noting that the straps fit his broad shoulders perfectly, he wondered what they might be for.

Packs on their backs, the group, including their new friends Ke’shin the wizard and the bardically inclined Faelar the Windwalker, they headed east, following the river.

As they traveled, they noted a number of shacks that seemed to belong to prospectors. Faelar stopped at each one to talk to the people inside, hoping to glean any information he could, either about the road ahead or the possibility of running into the Galeb Duhr. While the first few didn’t have any real information (though one woman did make up fantastical stories of forest beasts in what seemed like an attempt to keep them around…she seemed lonely) they finally did run into one promising person.

An elderly gentleman, thin as a twig with a wispy white beard and bad teeth, the prospector was happily and tunelessly whistling to himself as he panned the river near his hut. Approaching him, Faeler noted an enormous pile of lumber next to his hut…though the wood didn’t appear cut, but…ripped…apart. Asking him where he’d gotten such a strangely gathered material, the man proceeded to tell him there were all sorts of bits of trees lying around upriver, and that he just collected them. Once conversation initiated, Faelar realized that this old man might be more than a bit crazed, but braved the conversation to ask how far upriver the falls were. The response he received was “When the light in the sky is about…this far!” Looking at the sun and showing him three fingers worth of movement, Faelar guessed that it was likely a few hours walk upriver. Thanking him, they continued on.

As the forged upriver, they saw trees blasted apart, and lots of deadwood on the banks. Wondering if this was the work of the Galeb Duhr, they kept a careful watch during the night. Xarrai noticed the trees shifting around camp during his watch, and woke the druid. Asade shifted to wolf form and went to investigate. While her canine senses allowed her to easily track what appeared to be a burrowing creature that was disturbing the roots of the trees, she found herself torn between duty and going out to hunt. She was filled with an intense bloodlust, but managed to stay on target. After tracking the burrowing signs several hundreds yards away from camp, she determined that the creature was moving away, and returned to the others.

The following day they continued their journey toward the mouth of the falls. Having not reached them in the estimated “several hours” Faelar began to wonder if the nutty old man had been thinking about the moon’s phases, instead of the sun, and was indicating “a day or two.” Crazy people; go figure. Finally, though, they saw the mountain peeking above the treetop canopy, and realized they were close to their goal.

As they approached the base of the mountains and the mouth of the falls, they slowed to a walk. Moving in formation, keeping a wary eye on any boulders lying about (of which there were many) they eventually came to a grotto at the base of a thundering waterfall. An island stood in the center of this grotto, and, moving closer, Vahn spied a glint of purple. As he stared at it…he watched it blink. Poking the genasi and mentioning this strange artifact, Ke’shin called out in Primordial to what he assumed was the Galeb Duhr.

Attemping to be disarming, Ke’shin explained that they wanted to trouble and simply wanted to talk. As the rumbling and gritty words of Primordial issues forth from the genasi, they were answered by a cracking and grinding as the boulder unfolded itself into a massive humanoid shape.

As the creature unlimbered its massive frame composed of rocks and boulders, the adventurers saw that it was indeed missing an amethyst eye. More than just that, however, was a deep furrow extending from the empty socket and reaching back to the top of the head. Slim daylight peaked from between those cracks.

As Ke’shin continued to talk, the Galeb Duhr appeared impassive, listening to his words with head cocked. In an attempt to make a connection, Ke’shin pulled forth the amethyst eye, which finally elicited a response. With a roar of rage, the Galeb Duhr became MUCH more animated, making threatening gestures and hunkering down in what looked like preparation for a massive leap.

Worried, Faelar insulted it, telling it that they wanted to AVOID a fight, while Vahn disappeared in a swirl of mist and reappeared nearby it, rushing in to fight.

After vaulting to the shore, the Galeb Duhr began to flail around at the group, attempting to slam its massive stone fists into them. A constant barrage of bardic insults, druidic moonbeams and sorcerous fire soon wore it down, however, and it called upon its innate powers to infuse a pair of nearby boulders with life. Suddenly the group was faced with three Galeb Duhr, as opposed to one.

Faelar approached one and with a wink, dispelled the animating force keeping it whole, and it crumbled back into a pile of rocks. Vahn infused his maul with divine energy and ran to the other, shouting for the rest to focus on the main one, and beat it nearly to dust with a few mighty swings.

As Xarrai dispatched the second summoned ally with a well-placed firebolt to the eye, the original Galeb Duhr began to feel threatened. Rolling itself into a ball, it careened downhill away from the mountain, disappearing into the surrounding foliage (some of it still on fire from Xarrai’s burning rays and Ke’shin’s flames) quicker than they could pursue.

Mostly uninjured, the party stared at each other in the wake of this unexpected turn of events, wondering if they should pursue the wounded construct, or press on.

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Session 9: The Ritual
Growth, Blood and Sacrifice

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Returning from the Hinkelmann farm in the north, the companions set about a variety of tasks before turning in early to prepare for the druid’s ritual in the morning.

Vahn sat down on the ground, arraying his javelins around him in a circle, and focused his divine energies as he meditated. A red swirling mist began to pool around him before streaking away to the northeast…from where an answering whinny sounded. Enormous hooves slamming the earth, a horse of incredible proportions pounded it’s way toward vahn. Mottled grey, its shoulders of such girth as to make it’s huge legs look almost undersized, it slowed as it approached the paladin, lowering its head. Red eyes blinked at him, passively, as it submitted to its new master. Vahn had summoned his celestial stonehorse, Animus, and it came to him in the form of a specialized breed from his mountainous homeland.

Steed summoned, Vahn set off in search for a proper leatherworker to construct a saddle that would suit both goliath and beast, and eventually found his way to Tyrik. Thin, skin nearly as tanned as her products, with gray hair and sinewy muscles, Tyrik appeared to be a master of her craft, both working leather and tanning her own. Calling forth Animus, Vahn was impressed with her efficiency of movement as she measured the two of them, named a price, and promised a ready saddle on the morrow after the ritual.

Seer’ke’shin hurried to his rooms upon returning, whipping out his notebook and writing furiously of the days events, his new acquaintances, and his pondering thoughts on the ritual to be completed on the morn.

During the course of the day, a large wagon was pulled into the center green, and people wandered by all day, dropping off items inside.

As the party settled for the evening, Asade prepared herself for the earliest morning departure. Several hours she awoke before dawn and began the quiet trek west to the standing stones where her ritual would take place. A chill night, the stars shining brightly, she was comforted by the night noises of owls hunting and leaves whispering. Lost in thought considering her task to come, she almost missed the slight hint of movement by the stones as she approached. Seeing it, she called out, and the faint motion resolved itself into a cloaked figure, who darted behind a stone and drew a crossbow.

Faelar the Windwalker was startled from his reverie by a coarse oath and a cry from behind him, and instantly sought cover to ascertain the danger. Seeing a half-orc clothed in furs and leathers, he identified her as a druid from her bearing and accessories. Standing down, the two of them began to discuss, with surprise, why each of them was here. Faelar worried that Asade Nar did not fully understand the significance of the elven grave markers he had come to pay respects at, and study, while Asade couldn’t believe that anyone uninvolved in her coming ritual would even know of the ancient stones.

Withdrawing peaceably to the nearby trees, Faelar sat and watched the druid begin her ritual. Seating herself amidst the twelve stones and placing her hands upon the ground, she gathered her natural energies in a swirl of shining green motes that dug themselves into the earth around her, and immediately began to grow into reaching vines covered in thorns. These continued to grow until a brambled hedge several tall and perfectly round encircled the druid, placing her in the middle of a green tower wall a few feet high. Flowers of nightshade and lilac sprouted from this leafy edifice, and as the visible magical energies faded away, she maintained her posture, eyes closed.

Ke’shin, who had left only a short time after the druid to satisfy his enormous curiosity about the ritual, arrived at the tale end of this performance. Slipping into his mage sight, he viewed the energies inhabiting the druids body, and saw that the ring of plants surrounding her were steadily pumping faint waves of energy into the surrounding area. Continuing to cast, and recast his magical sight, he watched for any change.

Over an hour later, in town, the folk of Guldin Falls began to awake, sending runners to every door to rouse every person. Preparing for the journey, a number of torches were lit, and Xarrai pulled out his Driftglobe and cast Daylight. The town was instantly bathed in the glow of a miniature sun, illuminating the path for all. Amid the amazement of the residents, however, Vahn mentioned that perhaps he should put it out. The ritual involved the townspeople journeying to a place, and culminated with the rising of the actual sun. Perhaps, for the sake of symbolism, they should put out the small star riding at Xarrai’s shoulder. The tiefling, seeing the rationale, agreed, and rescinded the magical light.

After marshaling the crowd into two lines, Tai the Blacksmith gave the order to move out, and they headed towards the stones. After an hour of travel, they reached them, and the people began to take their items from the wagon, and stood, staring at Asade, waiting for a sign to begin.

As Vahn slid away to patrol the outside of the gathering, Asade sensed the presence of the village folk, and silently, without moving, caused snow to begin to fall on the assembly. Taking these crystalline flakes as their sign to begin, Tai issued the command, and the first to approach the sedentary druid was a pair of children, a younger sister and an older brother. Clutching onto a porcelain cup from a tea set, the girl approached the hedge, and as she laid down her sacrifice, the brambles came alive, gently taking, embracing, and enfolding the cup, drawing it deep into the leaves and thorns.

Ke’shin, with his magical sight, saw that with each person’s sacrifice, a pulse of greenish-blue magic shot from the item they gave up and into the person’s hand, where the energy began to writhe inside them, tracing a ghostly path in their bodies as though following their veins. From hand to head, down the other side, to each leg, the heart, and back, the energy flowed. The hedge itself visibly began to grow, bulging in size with the offerings given. Children gave toys, crafters sacrificed tools, and many pieces of jewelry and personal mementos passed into the brambles green embrace.

When every other person had come forth to give up their items of great personal value, Tognik was carried forward. Gesturing for his human steed to put him down, he dragged himself, one-handed, the remaining distance to the druid’s perch. Reaching up with his free hand, a plain wedding band on a glittering silver band was held up, and an errant vine reached down to pluck it from his grasp.

With this last offering, as the black of night gave way to purple, and crimson at the world’s edge, Asade understood that the time for the last sacrifice had come. Eyes still closed, she reached down to her belt and draw a small, sharp knife. Slashing both of her hands across the palm, she thrust her hands deep into the loam at her sides and threw her head back in a primal scream. Her eyes blasted open as greenish-blue energy poured from her eyes and mouth, shooting hundreds of feet upward before cascading down and encapsulating her in a painfully bright pillar of light, and then and rushing out from her in an unending stream. The leading edges of the expanding ring swiftly passed the gathered humans and raced into the surrounding forest, growing brighter and faster with every second.

Ke’shin watched, open-mouthed, as the energies inhabiting each villager grew in intensity and added one more step in their cycle, connecting into the ground at their feet before returning to their bodies, completing a circuit between every person there and the land they stood upon. A latticework of energy zipped through the ground, between them, crackling with wild energy.

Faelar, too, was shocked to see the blue-green energies pouring forth from the druid. Unlike the rest, he also saw spectral elven hand reaching up from the earth to the people of Guldin Falls, taking hold of an essence within them and binding it beneath the soil.

Just then, the leading edge of the sun became visible over the horizon. As dawn broke, so too did the druid’s scream, and the last vestiges of power cut off from her body, and trailed after all that had coursed from her before, disappearing into the distance. Withdrawing her hands from the earth, Asade had time to note with satisfaction that the cuts she had made were already silvered scars, joining the others on her palms, before her eyes rolled back and she slumped into unconsciousness, a gigantic perfect, ringed faerie mound surrounding her just inside the standing stones, it’s grassy surface bearing lilac and nightshade.

Looking exhausted, the villagers cheered and pulled from the wagon a pole-hammock, a construct similar, but, considerably more comfortable, than a litter. Carrying her back to town on their shoulders, she awoke perhaps five minutes from town, and asked to be set back on her feet.

As the people began the trek back, Faelar and Ke’shin stayed behind to examine the standing stones. Reading the elven writing, Faelar explained that these were elven burial stones, detailing the stories of eleven elven bloodlines leading up to the breaking of the world. Hearing this detail before leaving, Vahn’s immediately perked up, staring hard at the half-elf. Continuing, Faelar explained that the writing above the obelisks detailed the bloodlines themselves, Gantar beget Methild beget Sudryl and so forth. At the center of the obelisks was a hole drilled through the granite, representing the Breaking, and the text that followed told the stories of what happened, in vague poem form, to the families of each bloodline.

Faelar managed to find enough writing that hadn’t been worn away to translate the names of five families, and with Ke’shins aid, managed to lift the broken end of a stone and mend it to discover a sixth. Taking notes and rubbings of these six stones, Faelar resolved to continue his study after moving on.

Elsewhere, as the residents of Guldin Falls trudged to their homes, pulling out tables, chairs and blankets. Men went to pre-dug pits and lit tinder and dry woods they’d placed the day before and began cooking meats. People ran onto the green carrying baskets of fruits, cheeses, smoked meats and vegetables. The Shimmerspindles rolled casks of ale and wine from the tavern into the central space and a town-wide picnic began.

As the companions partook of the food, Asade asking for the druids traditional recompense of meat, cheese, an apple and water, they noticed both the exhaustion and exultation of everyone around them.

Xarrai amused a group of children with sleight of hand card tricks, not using any of his actual magic. Vahn surveyed the group from the edge of the party, while Ke’shin, returned from his study of the stones, hurried to his room, and Faelar unlimbered his instruments for entertainment. Asade noticed Bilsner, who had been absent from the ritual, carrying a small pack and heading north, out of town.

Returning later than their companions, Faelar and Ke’shin noted that the ‘village green’ was now actually worthy of its namesake, the grass beneath the villager’s having turned a vibrant, healthy green. Faelar used his magics to create the illusion of a story for the village, telling a series of moral fables for good behavior and farming. Vahn pulled an empty cask to him and drummed an accompaniment to the bard’s performance, Moving through a number of other tales, Faelar ended his performance with a grand epic of the hero Drizzt Do’Urden; his narration told of the elf hiding his identity behind a mask, sheltering his dark skin from the eyes of those around him. Hating the necessity, he used the subterfuge to continue to do good where elsewhere others might not have accepted him.

The magical musings and music ended, the party regathered, Asade sending a pigeon messenger to call Ke’shin down from his room, and they considered their next move. Ke’shin explained that the tower east of town was home to an archmage, Fyzkik, who specialized in magical constructs, and with whom the College Arcana had lost communication. Worried that the constructs of this mighty mage may be running awry, it was Ke’shin’s task to investigate the tower and ascertain the situation.

The rest of the party, aware that the gem Bilsner had discovered was, in fact, the eye of a Gahleb Dur, and had originated east of the town near the falls where this tower was said to be situated, also expressed a desire to go. Asade worried that the disappearance of her grovemates and their failure to continue to ritual in prior years might be related to this mage, or to the undead constructs they’d found near town. Faelar, in search of a story to collect and tell, was immediately intrigued by these goals, and saw in the party an opportunity to capture a momentous story.

Now an agreed company of five, they resolved to head east in the morning, the party spent the remainder of their evening relaxing and recovering from the ordeal of the ritual.

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Session 8: A Series of Puzzling Constructs
"An eye for an eye is only fair."

Our heroes awoke after a long night’s sleep and headed downstairs to find the remains of last night’s party strewn across the tavern. Empty mugs, bottles, and the occasional snoring patron littered the establishment. A sunken-eyed Tognik greeted them from behind the bar, where has slowly cleaning dishware, and offered them a breakfast of left-over brisket. As they tucked into their meal, a strange figure stomped down the stairs into the common room.

Red-skinned with pupil-less eyes, the fire genasi had a series of strange glowing markings on his skin and a number of almost geode-like protrusions covering the skin of his arms and forehead. One hand and forearm were almost entirely encrusted in the odd crystalline scales. Tognik greeted him as “Master Ke’shin” without a second thought, offering him some of the same meal. He seemed eager to please this “emissary of the Arcanum” as he phrased it, and completely at ease.

Interested in his strange appearance, Asade offered him her food, and taking in the tooth and claw necklace she wore, Ke’shin, in his tired state, misidentified them as goblin teeth, believing her to be a druid of the Goblin’s Snare grove. Joining them at their table, Ke’shin was peppered with questions about this ‘Arcanum,’ which seemed to confuse him, as he took for granted that anyone who’d been to Valderin’s Gate would be familiar with the Wishborne Citadel and the bastion of learning centered there.

Vahn, distrustful of his very nearly devilish appearance, used his Divine Sense to determine if his suspicions were unfounded….and discovered that the stony growths covering Ke’shin pulsed with fiendish energy, though another force also covered each, seeming to contain them. As he probed Ke’shin with questions, the fire genasi revealed that his condition had been forced upon him, and the energies in his disfigurement flared in tandem with his emotions. Satisfied with the explanation that the ailment was not of his own making, Vahn let the issue drop.

Tognik queried Asade about the rumors of conducting the druidic ritual of replenishment soon were true, and Asade confirmed that they were. She asked where she might find Tai, and the discussion of the impending magical ritual entranced Ke’shin. He revealed to the group that his own mission brought him to town in search of a mage’s tower to the east that the College Arcanum had lost contact with some time ago. This mage specialized in constructs, and his mission was to determine what had happened, and if necessary, deal with any rogue elements. Having just dealt with animated scarecrows and the discovery of a huge gem near the mouth of the Falls, the group was Intrigued, and tentatively decided to team up with this Ke’shin and search east with him.

Before leaving the Tavern, Tognik pulled Vahn aside and passed him a letter. Signed simply “Tyche” Vahn opened it, finding a small purple weighted pouch, and a note. In it, Tyche related that he was no longer convinced his sister could make her way home safely alone, and chose to accompany her back. He intended to rouse the Twelve Families to take the fight to the Empire of Twins and prevent their continued raiding. He apologized for the loss of Vahn’s holy symbol, stating that the coin traded for it reminded him of his own goddess, and that he’d kept it for luck. Having found his sister, he hoped that the coin would now bring Vahn luck. Looking inside the pouch, Vahn found the coin bearing the twin images of the goddess of luck, Tymora, and Mystra, goddess of magic; the same coin that the party had once searched for ferociously in an attempt to replenish the magic pool in the Fallow Temple of Tymora.

Finishing their meal, the group sought out Tai. Finding him in his smithy, Asade proceeded to inform him of the rules for the ritual; the townspeople must gather just before dawn at a sacred site of stones just outside town. They must bring sacrifices…objects holding personal value rather than intrinsic, and that everyone living in town must participate. Tai, drawing pictures to substitute for his illiteracy, finally understood that money was not the object of this ritual, and left to spread the word. As he set to his task they asked him where they might find Bilsner, and he suggested the stables, knowing Bilsner’s habits after a bender.

Returning to the Shimmerspindle Tavern stables, the group found Bilsner sleeping off his partying in a hay bale, and awoke him to ask once more about the enormous amethyst he had found east of town. Ke’shin examined the stone and found it to be positively radiating magical energy, and identified it as the eye of a Galeb Duhr, a magically summoned construct of earth and stone. Intimidating Bilsner while Xarrai held the eye aloft in a mage hand, the group discovered the truth of his story. Having found the gem in a boulder, he dug it out with his pickaxe, at which point the boulder unfolded with a roar into a humanoid shape and began to rage around the Falls, chasing Bilsner before losing him.

When Bilsner protested their theft of “his” stone, Vahn commented that he could either give them the stone now, or they could take his eye in fair payment. Bilsner seemed to relent, before attempting to take the stone once more, tripping, and knocking into it as Xarrai continued to hold it aloft, and knocked himself out.

Replacing the unconscious gnome into his hay bale, the group considered the implications of so many magical constructs centering on this town. They reached into their memories and managed to draw two of the symbols they’d found on the central poles the scarecrows housed. Ke’shin identified two of them as meaning “to retrieve” and “to protect” or “to escort.” Thinking that they might learn more if they could view an intact stick, the group headed north, back to the Hinkelmann Farm in search of another scarecrow. Once there, they split up, with Ke’shin using his raven familiar to search via the sky. They were unable to find either the smaller, nor supersized, scarecrows, though they did find trudging tracks headed east.

The group decided to return to town, perform the ritual in the morning, and then possibly investigate the lands east of Guldin Falls and see what they might find, anticipating perhaps, signs of the scarecrows, the necromancer responsible for them, the Galeb Duhr, or the mage tower; maybe even a connection linking them.

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Session 7: Fear the Silence
Of gnomes, and wakes, and scarecrows.

As the group prepared to leave the Shimmerspindle’s tavern, Vahn stopped a moment to locate Tyche, who hadn’t been drinking near them. He found the man at another table, speaking with his sister, Mina, who had been saved alongside the refugees. With tears in her eyes, she stared into her drink, and Vahn got the impression that they may have finally been discussing her time in the slave caravan. With apologies, Vahn requested Tyche give up the Goggles of Night, as they had travel to perform that evening. Tyche acquiesced, telling Vahn that after hearing his sister’s tale, he no longer felt comfortable leaving her on her own to find the Families again. He would accompany her on her journey, and perhaps, meet up with Vahn and the others in the future. Understanding, Vahn clapped him on the shoulder, wished him well, and took off after Asade and Xarrai.

Armed with the magical goggles, all three members could see just fine in the night, despite how dark it was. Asade recalled the way to the Hinkelmann farm and led them on the road north out of town. After nearly two hours of travel, they crossed a river and started to see farmhouses. Xarrai, having tried to drown some of his regrets at the bar, managed to slip off of the log bridge and into the water, but managed to sober up some after.

No lights burned within the windows of the nearby buildings. Xarrai remarked how quiet it was, and Asade paused, realizing that the sounds she normally took for granted were gone. The whisper of a bat’s wing, the hoot of a barn owl, the shriek of a rodent’s death cry…she heard none of it. The continued forward, past farm fields with scarecrows, silent farmhouses and log fences. Eventually they came to the last farmhouse in the area, and Asade motioned for the others to stay silent. While she and Xarrai approached the door, Vahn circled the house, inspecting it and finding a root cellar door on the east side, which he found locked. All around the cellar door, and the wall near it, scratches in sets of four marred the wood.

Neareign the front door with Xarrai, Asade attempted to open it, and found that it, too, was locked, while Xarrai promptly knocked on it. When they received no response, Asade attempted to force the door open, but found she could not. Calling to Vahn, he too, attempted to force his way in, and failed. Xarrai circled the house to a window, which he opened, on the far side and managed to spy a large wooden spar nailed across the inside of the door just as the head of Vahn’s maul smashed through the door and knocked it loose.

Inspecting the house, Asade noted differences compared to her last visit. Upstairs, the rooms were untidy, clothes lying about and furniture shifted out of place. There was a new rug in the den, and the kitchen stove had a curious new attachment. Xarrai, his eye catching the stove, walked over and inspected it. Instead of the usual wood-burning compartment, a black iron cage made of twisted whorls was fastened with a small log. Xarrai attempted to channel fire into the space and discovered that his magic was sucked into those whorls, imbuing the metal with a flickering orange glow and causing the oventop to heat almost immediately.

Asade searched beneath the new rug in the den and found a trapdoor beneath, set with a single metal ring. A sour smell of rot came from beneath it. After bracing herself, she tried opening it, but was unable to do so. In frustration, she demanded Xarrai open it and, after a moment of reflection, he set it on fire. Summoning water to protect the wooden floor around it, the group watched it burn for a moment before Vahn considered going outside to the well to grab another bucket of water. Approaching the mangled doorway, the view to the outside was no longer empty. It was blocked.

Two forms slouched silently toward him, their eyes burning a cruel orange and their outstretched, sharpened fingers framed by tufts of straw. A pair of scarecrows, unbound by their wooden tethers, stalked toward him noiselessly, their mouths open in silent screams.

Crying out to the others, the paladin of Hoar prepared for combat, loosening his sword from its sheathe. Xarrai hurriedly began to put out the fire as the paladin opened combat, striking hard with his blade, but finding it did not cut as deeply into the cloth and straw as he anticipated. Xarrai and Asade rushed to join him, the druid summoning a blade of fire while Xarrai continued to pump flames into what had now become a trio of scarecrows. His flame ate at the dry figures hungrily, doing far more damage than he expected, and with a cry of victory, Xarrai continued to blaze a path as one of the scarecrows blew away into ash and smoke. Asade’s flamesword was equally effective, while Vahn relied on his massive strength to pound a scarecrow to the ground with his maul.

As the battle continued, the scarecrows revealed their true weapon, they’re terrifying gaze. Asade and Xarrai, staring into their faces as they attacked, were assaulted with images of horror and lethargy seeping from those orange eyes. Xarrai succumbed, freezing in place, while the wise druid pushed through to continue her attack. While Xarrai remained stunned, the scarecrows beat him into unconsciousness. Vahn rushed over to revive him while Asade noticed movement in the house behind her as yet another scarecrow began to climb in through the window Xarrai had opened. Moving to block its passage, she swung her sword several times, missing, catching on the windowframe and drapes before the scarecrow managed to push past her offensive. Free of the frame, the scarecrow wheeled to attack, scoring a pair of hits on her with its claws. Seething with anger she responded with devastating thrust, forcing her sword through its mouth, down its chest and out its stomache, blowing it into a smoke pile of ashes with a single hit.

Outside, Vahn concentrated his divine energies and imbued Xarrai with renewed vigor; sitting up, the tiefling thanked him, sent a wall of flame into the faces of the scarecrows leering towards him and then stood up casually.

As the battle ended, Vahn charged around the house to the root cellar door, blasting it open, and not seeing anyone called out to his allies “All clear!” He was surprised to hear a response from inside “Did you get them? The scarecrows?” Pausing a moment to identify if the voice sounded annoyed or relieved, Vahn decided on the latter, and pressed forward, finding an adult human male, a woman holding a baby, and a pair of young children, one girl and one boy. They looked dirty, tired, and smelled horrible.

“My friends are above; we destroyed the scarecrows. Let’s get you out of here.” Despite his imposing mass, the family chose to trust him, and opened a trapdoor at the top of a ladder, shifting aside the rug Xarrai had used to quench the flames in the den and exiting into the house. Vahn returned to the rootcellar door to stand guard, and used his divine sense to determine if more enemies were on the way. Sensing two undead coming from the east, he called back to his companions in the house to hurry it up!

After quickly packing a few clothes and small travel items, the family, whom Asade was relieved to recognize as the Hinkelmann’s, was ready to travel. Running out of the house, Asade led them and Xarrai back toward town just as a huge apparition appeared out of the fields to the east.

Larger than the other scarecrows, it wore piecemeal armor across its chest, and carried a black scythe. Twisted around its body were lengths of sharp, twisted wire, and a shadowy substance of some sort circled around its body continuously; around the arms, the legs, the torso, never stopping, always shifting. With a roar it began to thump towards them, slow, but hideous. Xarrai attempted to stop it with a firebolt at range; its response was to pat out the flames and roar its rage back at him.

As Vahn and Xarrai provided a rearguard, never taking their eyes off the figure, Asade hurried south with the family, and it soon became apparent that they could easily outdistance the figure. After several more firebolts, it, too, seemed to realize this, and stopped moving, planting the butt of its scythe into the ground and standing, immobile. As Xarrai turned to hurry back, Vahn noticed the shadow that had been swirling around it straighten into a line and hurry to the northeast, soon out of sight.

As they shephered the Hinkelmann’s back to town, the group asked them about the time they spent trapped in their own house. What had happened?

Jedidiah Hinkelmann, the father, was the only one to respond. Nearly two months ago, he said, a group of traders had come through, the leader giving his name as Prulekai. After some prodding from Vahn, he searched his memory and recalled him saying he worked for a Famon…Famon Bloodworth. “His boss had ‘famine’ and ‘blood’ in his name?” “No no no….not famine…famon…” Jedidiah stopped and looked sheepish. “Anyways…”

The traders had negotiated to provide the local farmers with new scarecrows, and after a week, returned with the finished products. Several weeks after that, Jedidiah noticed some of the seasonal workers who would come to help with the crops started to disappear. That, in itself, wasn’t odd…they often came and went as they pleased, staying in the other farmhouses on Jedidiah’s property. But then one night, screams began to erupt from one of the houses, and the family huddled in their home until morning. They found a note in an empty farmhouse, saying all the workers had chosen to leave.

After that, each night, they’d hear dreadful scraping outside their home. On the walls, the doors. They began to notice during the day that the scarecrows were no longer staying put…they shifted positions overnight. Afraid to inspect them closely, lest his family be left without them, Jedidiah took measures to secure their home, and the family would stay in the root cellar, afraid to leave their home or even run to town.

Intrigued by this story, Vahn looked at severa of the scarecrows also lining the field as they ran. Deciding to inspect them, he approached as Xarrai burned another of them. Ripping it apart, he found that it neither awoke, nor attacked him, but that the stick at its center was carved with odd runes. Repeating the process with another that he found, the pattern remained. Taking the sticks to Xarrai and Asade, his companions inspected them. Xarrai was confident it was the runes that were enchanted, not the sticks themselves, and the moment Asade held them she felt a chill run down her spine. She smelled the open grave, the gritty taste of bonemeal in her mouth and the howl of ghouls. Inspecting them closely, she saw fine white powder packed into the carved grooves on the stick. After some discussion, the group decided to destroy them, rather than take them back to town for a second opinion.

When they finally reached Guldin Falls, they found the party winding down, but not finished. Entering the tavern, Tognik immediately spied the Hinkelmann’s and called to Tai to wake his daughter and find them some food, for his own human carrier had already retired for the evening. While Tai rushed into the backroom, the heroes related their adventure to Tognik.

“Famon Bloodworth? You must be mistaken; that’s not a name a simple trader would know.” After pressing him to explain, Tognik related that during one of the skirmishes of his youth as a guide for the Winged Patrol he’d run afoul of the forces of a necromancer, Famon Bloodworth, one of the five lords of the Necromancer Cabal. Full of venom from the memory, he commented that Famon’s forces should never have been so close to Valderin’s Gate, that he wasn’t even the Necromancer closest to the border. Pondering this information, the heroes retired to a set of rooms the gnome provided for them, including a huge four-poster honeymoon bed for Vahn’s giant frame.

The evening’s festivities and fighting had given them much to think over, and in the morning, they would decide their next course of action.

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Session 6: A Bittersweet Homecoming
The party finally reaches Guldin falls

Following their battle with the owlbears, the party stood, chests heaving, among the refugees they had ferried across the river. Two of the gnomes who’d run north into the forest returned, having heard Vahn’s deafening warning of more owlbears. These two gnomes, Linabit and Milton, were horrified to find their brother’s corpse on the ground, though they looked up at Xarrai with shining eyes when Togdale explained that the Tielfing has struck the killing blow on the monster who took their sibilng. During this explanation, the toll of the battle actually caused Xarrai to faint, and Linabit revived him with a healing potion they’d taken off another group of travelers. Voices quavering, the gnomes asked the rest of the party if they’d retrieve their last brother, Stilbert, who’d run north.

Acquiescing, the group left Tyche with the refugees to guard them, and headed north. In wolf form, Asade has no trouble picking up the trail of the terrified gnome child…but she also picked up another familiar scent. Musky, dirty, mixed with sweat…it reminded her of the way her father used to smell after a long day of hard work. Soon, the group noticed torchlight in the forest ahead.

Circling around in a wide arc to flank the lights, Asade quietly drew nearer and saw a pair of orcs, each carrying a torch. Far behind, Xarrai and Vahn pursued the lights as well, with a far lesser degree of stealth, causing a noisy racket as they tripped on branches.

The orcs stopped, and began discussing what could have made the sound. Asade, understanding orcish, listened in.

“It sounded like pans falling in the kitchen!” “No, it was more like plates dropping.” “You’re an idiot; it sounded more like horse-shoes clanking together.” “Horse-shoes!? You might as well say it sounded like armor falling down!” Eventually, they realized that whatever the sound was, they should likely investigate. Heading back toward Xarrai and Vahn, their nightvision blinded by their own torches, the orcs were seen by the adventurers far before the orcs realized they weren’t alone. “Kill one, leave another” muttered Vahn under his breath.

Popping up within range, Xarrai blasted both hapless orcs with burning hands, killing one instantly and leaving the other very damaged. Looming before the remaining creature, Vahn demanded to know if it had seen a gnome come this way. Fearing for its life, the orc admitted that it had, and that it was headed toward “the caves.” “Caves?” “Yeah, the caves where tasty eggs are!”

Realizing the orc meant the gnome had run toward what would ostensibly be an owlbear cave, the group left the poor monster and hurried north…though Xarrai did attempt to hurry the orc on his way with a series of firebolts falling all around and nearby it.

Finding the cave, and orc corpses outside it, the party ventured in cautiously. After exploring the opening chambers and finding a number of orc corpses inside, ripped apart and mangled, Vahn activated their Driftglobe so he could see. After doing so, they finally heard a frightened squeak near Asade. The light revealed her enormous wolf form to a gnome hiding in a crevice. Pushing himself back he evaded her efforts to pull him out with her teeth. When Xarrai revealed himself, he similarly squeaked and edged back from the red man with horns on his head.

Switching back to her half-orc form with a sigh, Asade coaxed him out, and once free of the rocky aperture, the party quickly made their way back to the entrance. During this exchange, Vahn noticed, just briefly, another orc at the edge of the Driftglobes light. Warning the others, he chose to act a rearguard while they exited the caves, but did not see any pursuit.

Returning to the refugees and Tyche, the party reunited the gnome siblings and helped them to clean and cover Morkel‘s body. Using mend to reattach the head to the body, Xarrai also prestidigitated away the blood, leaving the corpse presentable. Wrapping it in some rags, the gnomes carried him home on their shoulders the remaining hours to Guldin Falls. Before leaving, Togdale asked all the refugees to speak to no one of their incident of banditry, promising all of them drinks in his father’s tavern when they returned home.

As they approached the town, some of the refugees broke off toward their homes or farms, but the majority stayed with the adventurers. As they walked into town, people standing outside or sitting on their porches noticed and began to chatter excitedly. Noticing the bulk of the Goliath, the Tiefling heritage of Xarrai and the Druidic persuasion of the half-orc generally blinded them to the return of their townspeople for a few moments. One small child ran toward a building in the distance and a bell began to ring repeatedly in a tower. People flooded into the streets, shouting and laughing as they found family and friends they thought lost.

Recognizing Asade as a druid, middle-aged men and women, farmers all, began to rush around her, each asking her to visit their homestead first. Bribes of baked goods and tobacco and money were promised. Asade listened to each in turn, letting them try to outbribe each other, taking mental notes.

Children rushed around Vahn, amazed by his size and strength. Picking several of them up, he began tossing them into the air, their delighted screams and giggles piercing the hubbub of the crowd. Their parents watched easily, confident that the giant man wouldn’t drop them, and that with the return of their people he couldn’t possibly be dangerous.

Finally, the crowd pulled up to what appeared to be a large tavern. The four remaining gnome siblings stepped forward, and a human at the door motioned for them to wait, and went inside. He returned, wearing a device on his chest on which sat another gnome, his back twisted and one of his legs looking crushed.

The gnomes stepped forward and presented the body of their brother to the older gnome, identifying him as their father, and explaining what had happened. Looking about the group, their father, Tognik, saw many returned faces, and asked if his mother, Lamilla, was among them. At this point, Xarrai stepped forward, and related the entire story of his mother’s death, in front of the entire town. Tears in his eyes, Tognik nodded, saying that he too, was once a soldier, and that he understood how accidents like this could happen in battle. Steeling himself, he looked at the entire crowd, proclaiming that tonight, drinks were on him, to celebrate the homecoming of the townmembers, and to celebrate his mother’s passing with a wake she would have appreciated.

Stepping inside, a rousing party soon took shape. The gnome children began serving everyone, with Tognik behind the bar, pulling himself along on his chair, now attached to a rail behind the counter. Inside another group of people had apparently already been celebrating, surrounding a gnome dancing on a table, clutching a huge amethyst in one fist. The adventurers took a seat at a table nearby and took stock of their wounds. A half-elf had begun wandering through the crowd, applying poultices and bandages to the returned refugees; Asade called him over and he worked over some of their wounds as well.

A large man sitting near the table-dancing gnome called out to Vahn, challenging him to a drinking contest, while Xarrai asked for a quiet moment with Tognik in his back room. Inside, Xarrai presented him with one of the pairs of golden bracers he’d taken from the large demon apes near the Black Gorge. Apologizing once more for the death of Lamilla, Xarrai took his leave and returned to the party, finding them in conversation with the gnome, Bilsner, about where he’d acquired such a fantastic stone.

Though is words were slurred and his telling often repetitive, Bilsner told the group that he’d found it east of Guldin Falls, near the mouth of the falls the town took its name from. Saying he’d found it peeking out of a large boulder, he pried it out, and returned home.

The large man, Tai, laughed and mocked Bilsner for telling it so mildly. “You told us you hit the boulder so hard you split it in two and caused a rockslide that sent you scrambling for cover!” Looking uncomfortable, Bilsner retold the story again, trying to find a middle ground in his telling, though at one point he did try to gloss over a slip of calling it ‘the Eye.’ Asking the see the gem, Xarrai could tell that wasn’t cut in any way…but found it odd that it glittered so despite being rough. Unable to sense any sort of magic coming from it, he returned it to Bilsner.

Looking around at the people in the tavern, Asade saw many faces she recognized from her previous pilgrimage visit to Guldin Falls, healing the crops and restoring the land. She found herself thinking of the first family to show her kindness when she was still new to druidic pilgrimages, and realized she hadn’t seen any of the Hinkelmann family members. Asking around, she learned that they hadn’t come in to town in several weeks, which she found odd. Collecting her companions around her, she declared that she wanted to visit them, tonight, and make sure they were alright.

As the music and drinking continued to clamor on behind them, the group shouldered their packs, and made their way out of the tavern.

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Session 5: The Shimmerspindle Gang
The party encounters bandits of an unusual cast.

Our adventurers continued to follow their Sandwarden guide, Goraxiros, out of his desert domain. After their battle with the ghouls, both the party and the rescued prisoners were looking worse for wear, and they turned asked their dragonborn companion if shelter might be nearby where they could regain their strength.

After some hemming and hawing (and prodding from Zaigan, Goraxiros admitted that there was, in fact, a Sandwarden cache nearby, and led them to it.

The cache itself was camouflaged as a dune, built out of what appeared to be some sort of sand-like cement. The entrance to the cache was a small hole, leading beneath the faux-dune. Most of the party entered willingly, but Baird the Beard took some convincing, seemingly terrified of the small, dark, cramped space. Vahn attempted to build him a shelter outside, but when that failed, managed to intimidate him into moving inside…albeit crawling on his knees.

Inside the adventurers found a variety of bags and boxes, filled with basic food supplies and gear. Goraxiros offered these up to the group at large, and then promptly sat down at a small writing desk, entering notes into a journal and generally ignoring everyone.

After eight hours of sleep, the party emerged and continued on their journey, making it to the edge of The Whirlwind Desolation, where Goraxiros bid them farewell. Before taking his leave, he was keenly interested in hearing of Vahn’s homeland and the casual offer of ‘vengeance seeking.’

Leaving the sands just south of the Fallow Temple of Tymora, the group made camp there for the night, showing the rescued prisoners how to coax water from the stone in the fountain. It was not until they stopped that they realized their headcount was short by one; Zaigan was no longer among them.

Thankfully the party found another night of peace, after their recent battles, and when morning broke they continued through the scrubland toward Guldin Falls. Skirting around the Imperial Outpost (much to the relief of many) they managed to gain entry to the edge of the Durswood. A night spent in the forest yielded to additional danger, but a brief flying shadow was seen against the moon during the night’s watch.

During their forest trek, Xarrai decided to continue dabbling in his hobby of alchemy, and searched the forest for materials. Not finding anything of particular note, he DID notice a nest, high in a tree. Using mage hand, he began to attempt to pluck it down, but was noticed by Asade Nar, who immediately became irate and ordered him to desist. Xarrai did so, though the branch continued to shift and shake as he moved on, much to Tyche’s mirth. Not quite knowing who to blame…Asade treated both men with a glare.

As rains began to pound down, the group eventually came upon a wide, shallow ditch with a small stream flowing through it. Jumping down, Vahn began to ferry the ex-prisoners across, carrying them one at a time. The adventurers moved to assist and support this endeavor while keeping an eye on their surroundings, and about halfway through the process they saw a cluster of bushes nearby begin to shake.

Preparing themselves for combat, they were surprised to see a number of small forms emerge, including several in robes, cloaked in leathers, and one especially furry, animal-like form.

In a high-pitched voice, the animal-like creature called out “You owe us a toll for crossing our stream! Give up your valuables, or we’ll be forced to kill you!” More bushes rustled around the party as a dozen more furry creatures popped up from the group, swaying menacingly.

Not missing a beat, Vahn refused, continuing to ferry over the weakened survivors. Two of the small forms drew daggers and began to approach one of the ex-prisoners who’d already made it to the far bank. This immediately drew the paladins ire, and he warned them that whatever harm came to them would be returned upon the tiny bandits tenfold. Xarrai walked towards one of the new creatures that had appeared, refusing to be intimidated by what he was sure was an illusion. He walked straight into one…and was promptly tossed onto his backside with the same approximate force he used to approach it, prompting giggles from the tiny creatures.

It was at this point that one of the people wrested from the Guldin Falls area called out in surprise.

“Wait…is that…what the hell are you Shimmerspindle boys doing!? Your grandmother would be ashamed, gods rest her soul!”

Surprised and unmasked, the small creatures took town their hoods and masks, revealing a group of young gnomes.

“What do you mean, rest her soul?” the leader asked.

The gnomes approached the party as Vahn prodded Xarrai forward, both men having recognized the name “Shimmerspindle” as that of the old gnome previously lost in the rescue attempt.

As they crept closer, Xarrai attempted to explain that their grandmother was taken captive by Imperial slavers, and that during a battle with demons he and his friends had attempted to set her free, but that, during the battle, she’d accidentally been slain by a firebolt cast askew…

His discomfited story was broken by a sudden roaring hoot as a pair of enormous owlbears burst out of the forest nearby. Larger than any owlbear ever seen by any member of the adventuring party, their eyes glowed an opaque blue, and their feather held a slight silver tinge.

Asade Nar quickly cast cloud of fog to obscure them, knowing that owlbears almost never give up on a chase once blood is drawn, and urged her group to run! Mists suddenly began to swirl in the midst of the party, however, and from them the raging owlbears appeared, their eyes now burning with a fiery pink shade.

A raging battle ensued, during which all but one of the gnomes ran to the north…the last being the leader who originally tried to extort the party. He attempted to attack Xarrai several times during the fight, missing each time, his final effort being a throw of his axe. Each time, his efforts to injure the tiefling were ignored, even going so far as to have his axe returned to his hand by the devilish sorceror, who then continued his battle with the owlbears.

Another of the gnomes attempted to flee north, but was caught by a backswing of one of the owlbear’s claws, tearing his head right off. This owlbear was eventually defeated by the group, with Xarrai claiming with pummeling magic missiles; in fact, most of the battle was spent using spells he could direct at will without harming his allies.

Tyche and Vahn worked over the second owlbear, the rogue hiding and popping up to shoot crossbow bolts with devastating effect while the paladin slugged it out with the monster in melee range. While Tyche got the kill by putting out an eye with a bolt, he didn’t actually see the creature fall, as he ran into the cloud of fog after his shot.

During the combat, Asade Nar shifted to direwolf form and began to herd the frightened ex-prisoners across the stream. Keeping herself between them and the monsters at all times, she protected and shepherded them to safety. Amidst the sounds of battle, she and her party all heard a higher-pitched scream to the north, similar to the owlbears’ warcries, and Vahn used his Chainmail of the Warleader to roar out to the fleeing gnomes “There are more to the north, come back!”

With the defeat of the owlbears, the party is left with their group of refugees all on the north side of the river with them, and a beheaded gnome child on the ground, being held by his sobbing brother. Hearing the high-pitched animal cries to the north and being faced with children harboring possible murderous intent toward Xarrai, what will the group do next?

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Session 4: Beware of the Wowls!
"What the hell is that sound?!"

After defeating the last of the demons and Imperial soldiers, the group took it upon themselves to heal the most grievously wounded among them, and then trek back eastward, escorting the captives to their homes, or near them, in Guldin Falls. Goraxiros informed them that he would accompany them as far as the edge of his desert, and showed them a faster path, off the Dead Road, that would take them to their destination a couple of days sooner.

While en route, the group queried both Goraxiros about himself and Mina, Tyche’s little sister, about her time with the slave caravan.

Goraxiros was revealed as a Sandwarden by one of the other slaves, Zaigan, a blind man with shocking white hair. Goraxiros explain that the Sandwarden’s are a…family group…who take it upon themselves to police the The Whirlwind Desolation, the desert that borders on the sound of the Deadlands. It is his duty to gather information on Imperial activities and relay it to his masters at home.

Mina Fortunas expounded on the horrors of the slave caravan, telling of how the necromancers would enchant slaves who had done murder and turn their hands into undead things that could separate and unlock the cages on their own. The locks were in full view of the prisoners, constantly taunting the braver of them to try something, weeding out slaves still capable of resistance.

The group also met the notable Baird the Beard, a great bear of a man with a bushy beard, one of the few who took up armor and weapons in the aftermath of the battle. While untrained, he seemed eager to defend himself and others.

On the road, the Xarrai decided to inspect the empty leather bag a little closer, discerning that it was, in fact, a bag of holding. Turning it inside out revealed it contents; armor, weapons, and food dropped out alongside a curious glass globe and a pair of goggles. Not waiting to investigate further, the group decided to take the former prisoners east with them. After a long day of travel, they settled for the evening and devoted time to inspecting these new items.

Xarrai discovered that the glass sphere was a Driftglobe, capable of providing light, following its owner while floating above ground, or casting the Daylight spell. Playing with it, he and Tyche juggled it between themselves while on watch that night, changing the color of the light and enjoying the novelty of the new item.

Asade spent time with the goggles and was pleased to find that they were Goggles of Night. This eyewear could considerably extend her own darkvision, or grant a human or one of the races with lesser senses nightvision equivalent to her own. During her watch, Sauria heard a sound in the night…a strange animal cry somewhere between a hoot and a howl. Waking her companions, they prepared themselves for battle as more sounds sprung up around them from a number of directions, their imaginations taking hold as they wondered what horrible creature could make such a noise. Owlbears? Owlwolves? Xarrai latched onto the idea of owlwolves and was terrifed as the noises closed in.

Goraxiros, however, immediately recognized the sound after waking and shouted out “Ghouls!” to the group just before the pack of undead creatures fell upon them. After a grueling battle with the slavering beasts, several of the party being paralyzed during the course of the fight by the wicked bite of the undead monsters, they were victorious. Baird the Beard, while in fact only getting in the way and becoming injured, was seen as a hero by the cowering slaves behind him…and he enjoyed the lavish attention paid to his wounds.

The party, their rest interrupted just before dawn, made ready to leave camp, and continue their harsh journey eastward through the sands.

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Session 3: Green Cuisinarts and Balguras
The heroes 'deal' with the slave caravan.

Having traveled west from the Fallow Temple of Tymora and followed the soldier, crawler and bonecage tracks, the adventurers found themselves at the ridge-line of a hill overlooking a battle between imperial forces and demons.

After a brief planning session it was decided that the goliath would ride down the slope on the direwolf-shaped druid while Xarrai provided fire support. Tyche would sneak down during the distraction and attempt to unlock the nearest bonecage. As they charged down the hill, Asade noticed a flash of movement south of the bonecage, but her attention was quickly directed to the fight.

Beginning combat with eight or nine manes, the group quickly learned that though terrifying, these smaller, waist-high demons were a sloppy bunch. Vahn played whack-a-mane quite effectively, Tyche pincushioned one with a crossbow bolt as he ran to the cage, Asade tore out a number of squealing demonic throats and Xarrai burnt several to a crisp. Nearby, a large, red demon ape smashed what appeared to be an imperial officer into a puddle of imperial goo, and then made its way to the bonecage to wreak havoc. The fight with the officer had apparently taken quite the toll, however, as its head exploded with a fiery pop…mainly due to Xarrai launching a scorching ray directly into its gaping maw.

While this combat began, Tyche went to work on the bonecage lock, as planned. Finding the locking mechanism relatively easily, he discovered that it was quite difficult to open, actually breaking a pick in the process.

Seeing the small fiends taken care of, Xarrai looked across the field to a larger depression where battle still raged, and saw a stone bear apparently keeping guard over the other bonecage. Launching a firebolt at it garnered its ire…though didn’t have much effect, and it charged across the sandy expanse, intent on mauling him to death. At this moment, the group also saw the slight movement Asade noticed earlier blossom into a greenish dragonborn wielding a curiously curved sword. As the bear abandoned the cage, this dragonborn ran toward it.

As the bear reached Xarrai he gathered his wits to blast it several times with scorching ray, but still it came on, scoring a pair of severe wounds with its raking claws. Running downhill, Xarrai led it directly into the path of Vahn, whose thunderous smite boomed across the field of battle and launched the bear all the way back up the 40-foot incline.

As the stone bear shattered under the impact of Vahn’s smite, the dragonborn rushed past the bonecage and into combat with the second red demon ape. Scoring three hits with his blade and maulfist, he was shocked when the demon took them all and hit him back just as many times. Wounded and surprised by the ferocity of the beast, he adroitly rolled away, and headed toward the group of adventurers. Looking over his shoulder…he saw the demon wink out of existence, invisible.

The group, having also noticed this, stayed on alert for the reappearance of the demon, and when it did so on the rise above them, Xarrai hurled a barrage of magic missiles at it. With a wave of its hand, a magical shield bounced them away.

“Who are you, and why do you interrupt my sport? You are not imperials, yet you kill these devil swine,” the demon growled in abyssal.

“We just want the people they took,” replied Asade, while Vahn’s reply was somewhat more aggressive, implying that the demon should run with its life as a gift for its good deed of slaying imperials.

A deep, rumbling belly laugh erupted from the demon. “I am a Barlgura of the 297th layer of the abyss. I have crushed Eladrins, fought across the plains of Androlynne…and I back down from no one. Thank you for the respite though, while my allies responded to my call.”

Looking around, the group notices no one, until a group of fresh demons round the corner of the hill nearby. Charging in on all fours, they resemble a demonic, hairless bulldogs…each long face ending with a nightmarish beak of a mouth.

Combat resumes, with Vahn shouting “UVENDOD!” declaring vengeance upon the Barlgura. Asade, Xarrai and the unnamed dragonborn engage the smaller demons while Vahn climbed the hill to do battle with his foe. Withstanding three vicious strikes from the demon, much to its surprise, Vahn then struck back with a massive hammer smite that caused the demons skeletal structure to flicker briefly as divine energy coursed violently throughout its body.

The demon inhaled deeply, whispered “Ascodel?” in apparent fear, and attempted to back away. Vahn capitalized on the opportunity, rushing forward, planting a foot on its knee and launching himself into the air above it, bring the hammer down onto the back of its skull and ending the beast. Shouting down in abyssal, Vahn demanded that the demons flee, their master sundered.

Taking advantage of the instilled fear at the base of the hill, the group managed to take care of all but one of the demons quite handily. Attempting to use scorching ray to ward the demon off, Xarrai found the proximity of the creature to be unnerving, and accidently shot over its shoulder, incinerating one of the prisoners in the bonecage.

Possibly empowered by the death of its comrades and the sudden strong urge to live, the last dog-like demon managed to deal a mortal wound to Xarrai, knocking him unconscious. Abandoning his attempts to open the cage to save the prisoners inside, Tyche rushed over to Xarrai, pouring a healing potion into his mouth, and then standing over him protectively…only to become the subject of the demons next attack. The claw of the creature scored the side of Tyche’s neck and dug in deeply, pulling him down and opening a horrible wound. Xarrai returned the favor of protection to his comrade and ended the demon with fire. After tearing the life from two of the demons, Asade padded over in her wolf form, changed, and revived Tyche with a spell of healing.

Back on his feet, Tyche resumed his attempts attempts to open the bonecage. Asade began to tear at the side of the cage right about the moment he finally found the right position and popped the cage open.

Seeing no immediate threats, Asade yelled out to the prisoners “Get out of there!” to which they responded by huddling into even smaller, more pathetic bundles of frightened people. Realizing the were in shock, she chose to treat them like wounded animals, and coaxed them out with the promise of goodberries and kind words.

One of the prisoners, a girl wearing red, saw Tyche and ran into his arms, where a hurried, whispered conversation ensued. “You’re welcome” said Asade, as the girl brushed passed her. Tyche looked up, and with complete earnestness said “Thank you…this is my younger sister…and I did not known she had been taken.”

As this reunion occurred, the adventurers notice an imperial soldier begin running away from the second bonecage farther ahead, carrying some sort of sack, and glowing slightly with a fiery cast. Vahn dashed across and held a javelin aloft, shouting for the soldier to stop running, which was ignored. The dragonborn chased after him, getting in position to strike, while Xarrai moved within view and cast Hold Person.

Paralyzed, the soldier could only stare, wide-eyed, as Vahn slowly approached and slammed his hammer into the side of his head, breaking his neck. As the last glimmer of life faded from his eyes, the tiefling soldier maintained his pose, head cocked, until it slumped down, lifeless, the spell fading from the corpse.

The last enemy defeated, the group takes time to reassure the prisoners and loot the bodies of their foes. Asking the prisoners, Vahn discovered that the unfortunate person Xarrai roasted was an elderly gnome woman named Lamilla Shimmerspindle, formerly of Guldin Falls. He informed Xarrai that his fate would be determined by the family of the lady, though he grudgingly admitted that her end was quicker than it would have been at the hands of the Imperials.

The dragonborn rolled the downed officer, finds a key, and unlocks the second bonecage. Seeing a slight movement beneath one of the bodies in a pile of bodies, he uncovers a small hand, bereft of body, that scuttles toward him. Vahn approached him, intent on introducing himself, just in time to see the dragonborn leap back, open his jaws and and spray the floor of the bonecage with a blast superheated sand.

“Um…why?” Vahn asks.

“Undead hand,” is the brief reply.

“Fair enough.” With that Vahn extends his own hand and becomes acquainted with Goraxoris. Taking him back towards the rest of the group, they learn that Goraxoris wanders the sands of the Whirlwind Desolation, patrolling and guarding them from harm as sort of a…family business.

While this occurs, Xarrai is focused on opening the bag taken from the Tiefling soldier and finds…that it is empty. He and Asade both reach inside, and find the inside to be leather, soft, and devoid of anything. Curiously, it feels like it weighs a good 10-15 pounds. Xarrai detects that its giving off a magical signal of the school of abjuration, but decides he doesn’t have time to sit down and identify this bag quite yet. He begins, instead, to search for a reason that the tiefling would have been glowing, but is unable to do so. Frustrated, he next goes to the Barlgura corpses, and finds that each massive wrist is encircled by golden bands. On the demon Vahn slayed, the golden bands have fetishes and trophies tied to it; claws and teeth, leather bands, silver bangles, and coins.

Vahn inspects these trophies, as anything impressive may now be his by right of conquest, and finds his attention riveted by a single obejct; a leather band tied onto a simple coin, the image of two faces, conjoined, staring in opposite directions embossed onto the metal surface. Recognizing the symbol of Hoar presented to the scouts of Oathshome, he tears it away with an snarl, exclaiming “I do not know who you were brother, but I have taken vengeance for you,” before taking a piece of the bonecage, scratching a symbol into it, and throwing it into the smoking, dissolving pile of Barlgura.

Further inspecting the bodies, the armor of the soldiers is torn and their weapons bent, but Goraxiros does find a small jar of ointment on the officer that he identifies as a Tincture of Healing. He and Vahn attend to Xarrai as they begin to loot the bodies of a pair of necromancers, finding a wand and a scroll of animal friendship. While Xarrai and Goraxiros turn over the bodies, Vahn looks away at the ground and spots a flash of light. Following shards of glass, he finds a broken potion bottle, mostly empty, but containing a small amount of red liquid. Dipping a finger into it, he tastes it, and feels a rush of heat and strength throughout his body and a sudden loss of inhibition. From the perspective of his companions, he seems to swell slightly, and flames flicker around him for a brief moment before all the effects subside.

Vahn decides that whatever it is, he wants none of it, and tosses it to the tiefling sorcerer, who uses an empty healing vial to re-cork this liquid.

The group rejoins, and begins their trek back east with Goraxoris, who promises to accompany them to the eastern border of the desert, before he returns to his solitary vigil of the sands.

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Session 2: Of Temples and Travel
"They're basically giant undead centipedes."

Continuing to head, west, away from the Imperial outpost they broke out of, the party follows the obvious signs of of the slave caravan’s travel. Xarrai points out to the druid and the paladin what ‘Crawler’ tracks look like, and explains that they’re undead monsters; an amalgamation of bones from otherwise useless corpses, welded together into a beast of burden for pulling slave bone-carts. Learning this, the party pushes themselves to catch up. After hard day’s journey, in which the forest surrounding them slowly gave way to sparser tree cover and scrubland, the party sees ruins off the beaten path.

Tyche scouted up ahead and verified the building to be empty, and they all crept inside. The building itself was round in construction, a series of pillars with mortar and brick between then, supporting a flattish, mildly peaked roof with a small hole in it. Inside this building the floor was well-made, tightly packed cobble stones mostly unbroken. At the center of the room was a wide, shallow pool, twenty feet in diameter.

Approaching the pool, the adventurers saw that at its center was a vaguely pyramidal stone, slightly darker under the water at its base, and Vahn spotted a shining object in the water. After Xarrai tried unsuccessfully to remove it with a mage hand, Vahn divinely sense the area, discovering no fiends, celestials or undead…but sensing that this place was hallowed ground. Reaching his hand out grabbing the shining object, he found it to be a coin…and that its removal immediately lessened that hallowed feeling.

After examining the coin Vahn identified one side as holding an image of Tymora, goddess of luck, while Tyche identified the reverse as an ancient representation of Mystra. Moving closer to the pool, the party sees more of the shining objects, and Vahn convinces himself that it must be a wishing well, and that he’s just taken someone’s wish. Vahn tossed the coin back in, but did not sense the holy presence return.

The party takes turns throwing in silver and gold coins; silver coins cause the water level to rise almost imperceptibly; gold coins cause water to bubble forth from the stone in the center. The group also notices a series of scratches just inside the stone lip of the pool, which Tyche realizes is Thieve’s Cant.

“Still works. Toss a gold, take a cup; don’t overreach. Holy.”

Unsure of its meaning, he shares it with the group as Asade inspects the water inside the pool, finding it to be clear, clean, and cool. Xarrai tosses in a copper coin that immediately begins hissing and jumping about, startling the group. Vahn attempts to knock it free with his hammer, but misses and shatters part of the pool’s stone lip; Asades mends it as the coin flies free and embeds itself in the wall of the building.

Looking up at the walls and ceiling, the group identifies a series of scenes carved into the stone; parables involving Tymora cover once side, while those of her sister, Beshaba, goddess of ill-fortune, are etched into the opposite side. The copper coin buried itself into the wall on Beshaba’s side.

Each taking a sip of the water from a cup after throwing in coins, Vahn recognizes the taste due to a rash bet he took as a younger goliath; breaking into a shaman’s hut and drinking a vial of his holy water. Satisfied with the sanctity of the place, the group sets watch and goes to bed for the night.

During Asade’s watch, she hears a shriek from outside with a doppler effect as though moving past quickly, and a dim glow. She roughly wakes up Xarrai, who promptly sticks his head out, sees nothing, and declares the coast to be clear. As he turns back, a much louder shriek and brighter glow cut through the dark, and, startled, he uses thaumaturgy to boom out a warning to the others, waking them.

After a quick recap, Vahn grabs his hammer and strolls out, calling for the tiefling to join him. The group moves out of the temple to investigate, and after some searching are surprised by the appearance of a floating, flaming skull. The skull’s mouth is crossed by banded iron, and a spear impales it from beneath.

While the Flameskull manages to toast three of the party members with a fireball, it is a relatively brief combat during which the skull is pounded by Xarrai’s magic missiles, smashed by Vahn’s hammer, englufed in Asade’s moonbeam, and finally finished off with a precise rapier strike by Tyche. Before its utter destruction, the metal bands were melted off by the moonbeam and the group heard it scream “WHY SISTER?!?”

Examining the pieces in the aftermath, they see that the inside of the skull is inscribed with common; gleaming purple words covered insides of the bone pieces, despite being shattered. Asade picks up the discarded spear, while Xarrai collected the skull pieces and brought them inside with him, where he sat down with Vahn to reconstruct whatever message may have been inside. Following a brief pause, Xarrai has a sudden insight and arranges them to create:

“Bound by blood, avenge my coming death. Burn brightly brother, until wicked water smotes your flame.”

After discussion, the group concludes that it must have been a death curse to avenge the female necromancer they ended at the Imperial outpost; they recognize the spear as the one she likely carried, with the skull impaled on it. Xarrai drops a silver coin into the pool and sprinkles some water onto the bones, and the first half of the message fades away in a sizzling cloud of steam. Vahn takes the two pieces that say “Burn brightly.” Xarrai places the rest in a pouch.

The night passes uneventfully, and in the morning Asade sits down with the spear. After entering what seemed like a trance-state, Asade opens her eyes and declares that she’s keeping the spear.

Xarrai and Vahn find that, during the night, the pieces of skull they kept have fused together. Vahn pockets his thoughtfully, while Xarrai panics and asks the goliath to crush the bag, to which Vahn obliges, and then Xarrai dunks the whole bag into the pool…and nothing happens. He tries again…nothing. Finally he chucks a silver piece into the pool and then dunks it again, to the sound of sizzling and steam. He buries the bag outside.

Before leaving the temple, Tyche chooses to go for a short climb to the roof. Managing the upward trek, he finds nothing on the roof itself, but stares down into the hole and gazes upon the pool. He notices that the coins in the pool form the outline of a face, similar the the image of Tymora on the coin Vahn took out, and then replaced. Dropping more coins from the roof, Tyche watches as they settle into a pattern, starting to form the shape of a cheek, beneath an eye. He takes note for further reference as Vahn joins him to look at the picture below.

The group finally decides to head out, eat taking a sip of the water from the pool, and head west. After a several days of travel, getting lost in a sandstorm, and watching the scrubland become desert, they start encountering bodies along the patch. Imperial soldiers, stripped of coin and weapon, dot the ground alongside dark splotches that smell faintly of sulfur. Xarrai explains to the others that these are sites where a demon was injured. Xarrai finds one empty class container by one body, and the group takes a number of Imperial surcoats, thinking to use them as a disguise later.

Continuing on, they see the largest group of dead soldiers yet, eight in all, including a necromancer missing the lower half of his body, and one particularly enormous soldier; this soldier maintains a death grip on his axe, the veins in his neck standing out, muscles and eyes bulging, his armor looking as though it barely constrained him. Beneath him is shattered glass. Vahn manages to strip him of the armor and axe. As they approach a nearby rise, sounds of battle reach their ears.

Vahn and Tyche hear the combat, and begin gearing up, while Asade and Xarrai move to the edge of the hill, and peer over. As their eyes slowly settle, they first see a fortress, some three or four miles distant, the clear desert and high vantage giving them greater than average visibility. Small, red figures look to be…jumping…at the walls of the fortress, which, judging the distance, are some thirty or forty feet into the air, and flinging smaller figures off the top of the wall.

Their gaze continues to drop, and they see a battle raging in the near distance; a gigantic, red, ape-like creature is engaged brutal combat, pummeling what could only be a Crawler. Necromancers are casting spells and directing beasts of the forest against smaller demons attacking in vicious packs, while Imperial soldiers swing their weapons nonstop against a horde of howling, slathering jaws. The figures in the bone-cart near them are not moving.

Still closer, the immobile form of another crawler lies shattered, tangled with a second red, ape-like being directly down the hill from them. A nearly identical bone-cage is nearby, the people inside still moving, cowering and blubbering in terror as nearly a dozen small demons of yet another type close in, attempting to rip the bonecages apart and get to the screaming flesh inside.

What shall the heroes do next?

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