Rise of the Dark Mother

The Light That Shatters the Darkness
Arise, shine!

The party’s search for the missing men and horses was wildly successful in all but one respect: although they found every horse and rider, Balthazar was lost to them, and although they searched for him, they were unable to find him anywhere. As they were deciding what their next move would be, a sudden darkness overshadowed the clearing where the group stood, draining away all color, and seemingly all life, from the land itself. Those more adept in the arcane arts knew this for what it was: a Darkfield, a roving field of energy so dark and negative that it saps life and color from anyone or anything in it, denies rest to those who die within it, and tends to attract powerful persons of a generally evil intent and/or persuasion.

As the group turned to flee, several skeletal figures appeared before them, and engaged them in combat. The group, already worn down by their fight with the gargoyles and death knights, struggled against the darkness and its agents, but could not gain the upper hand. Vampires were raised and slain, only to rise again at the command of powerful undead masters. Karath was set upon, and was killed by wheeling scimitars of death, wielded by four-armed skeletal dervishes.

As the fight looked lost for the party, a figure of light coalesced, the beams which created her outline warring against the darkness, as thousands of tiny bells tinkled in the air around them. Karath was raised into the air and restored to life and vitality, snatched, as it were, from the clutches of the Raven Queen. The figure of light solidified into that of a young girl who bore some resemblance to the would-be goddess Ilona, especially in the chestnut red mane that cascaded down her back, although she had some marked differences, like skin of a cool blue color. She proceeded to aid the party, although no one was quite sure how, since she did not say a word aloud. Krav, Karath, and Loreana all recognized the likeness she bore Ilona, but were a little too occupied to ask her about it. The girl tipped the balance, and allowed the party to destroy their foes. Krav fell to the violence, and the party was concerned that he might die, but he seemed to stabilize overnight with Ava the shaman’s ministrations, and was up and moving again the next day. The girl asked to accompany the party, and honestly, had they told her no, the emperor’s people probably would have overruled them and taken her anyway. She introduced herself as Neva, but more than that, no one really knows about her. Thus beset by strange tragedy in the loss of Balthazar, but having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by means of an ineffable girl, the party did all it could to keep their wits about themselves.

Returning to Lespathia, the company was barraged by an unhappy emperor who blamed them for failing to take care of both the Malakite issue and the dragonflight problem at once, as he had requested (and believed he had made clear). In the adventurers’ absence, one or more white dragons had assaulted the city, snatching livestock, killing people, and creating general mayhem. Fortunately, Lori helped the party to stay on an even keel, the long journey and the losses sustained having exhausted the warriors’ patience with what they perceived as impotent rage and posturing. The emperor’s people vouched for the party’s story of Malakite’s being missing, and after being made to understand that Balthazar had been lost, and that the whole party would likely have been lost had they split up as the emperor had initially desired, his stance softened a bit, and the Emperor praised the party as heroic and entreated their assistance in ensuring the White Dragonflight was completely gone from Tiamat’s Clutch.

No one seemed to notice or mind that Neva accompanied the party, and they made their way to the mountains. Ascending the first 50-foot cliff with the help of Karath and his climbing kit, the party was surprised by a remaining white dragon. Rabadash and Neva both fell from the cliff, and sustained great injuries in the process, but the fight was not gone from them yet. The dragon dove, hoping to claim them before anyone else could descend to assist them; Rychard, the mage, quickly thought to paralyze the dragon before it could reach the fallen members, and Krav, in an act of ridiculous bravery, tried to leap down and bodily shove the dragon off of its trajectory. Although he failed to move the dragon, he did successfully leap upon its back, much to the dragon’s consternation. The dragon crashed to the ground with a great flurry of snow, barely missing Neva, who still lay on the frozen earth. Shaking off Rychard’s immobilizing magics, the dragon got to its feet and tried to remove Krav from its back, with little success, while Rabadash invited Hadar to gorge on dragon’s flesh. Once their foe lay defeated on the snow, Karath descended and, decapitating the dragon, began to remove anything of value. Neva had never seen anything quite so frightening, and she ran into the snowy waste, trying to escape the fearsome half-orc’s ritual butchery. Krav went after her, to ensure that she came to no harm in the tundra, and Rabadash stood by as Karath dismantled their former foe. Only Rychard, Lori, and Ava remained above…and now, there are only Lori and Ava.

Surrender or Die
The Raven Queen's Ultimatum

In the month that the party has been in Lespathia, capital of the Gurundathi empire, they have purchased a tavern, done a great deal of research into the Ashen Lady and means to use souls as a source of fuel for rituals, among other things, and worked with the temple of Bahamut to generally aid the town.

These days, Lespathia is in the grip of winter, cold and ferocious, and it was on this day that the sky was darkened even earlier than usual by the beating of great white wings as the whole host of the White Dragonflight filled the sky. Terrified at what might happen, the wall guards used a harpoon to wing one of the dragons and it landed in town. The party quickly destroyed it and the fellow dragon that came to aid it, and were scooping up the rewards of two dragon hordes when some members noticed a strangely familiar dark and sinister group heading for the palace.

Running for the palace at a full tilt, the group tried to intercept the Shadar-Kai. Although they did not reach the palace first, they did reach it in time to hear their leader deliver an ultimatum to the emperor: Surrender or Die. Preparing to leave, their ultimatum forcefully rejected, they ran into the party, and beckoned Karath. They tried to tempt him into serving the Raven Queen directly as a scourge in charge of part of the Queen’s armies, pointing out that it is his destiny. The other members of the party objected stridently, and the Shadar-Kai mocked them for their “ignorance” of fate, telling the party that the white dragons they defeated were as nothing before the coming onslaught, and revealing that the white dragonflight were now under the command of the Raven Queen. Thinking quickly, Karath responded that if the Shadar-Kai could defeat him, then it surely was his fate, but if not, he would have their heads to make anyone think twice about ordering him around. They fought, and the Shadar-Kai were cleanly beaten, but vanished, with a warning to Karath about the defiance of fate, before they could be destroyed.

The emperor, who witnessed all of these events, demanded that the party account for these strange interlopers into his imperial palace. The group tried to explain to him about the disappearance of Malakite and the over-writing of the material plane by the plane of shadow, but the emperor had some understandable difficulty believing all he was being told. As a measure of practicality, he commanded Krav, now a tax-paying resident (and in the emperor’s opinion, thereby a subject), to escort his scribes and tax collectors to Malakite, to either collect taxes and prove the group false knaves or to confirm the “disappearance” of Malakite. Further, having been told of their aptitude in dealing with the dragons that “attacked” Lespathia, he commanded them to go into Tiamat’s Clutch and confirm the Shadar-Kai claim that all the dragons were gone.

The group elected to stay together and to head to Malakite first, since that would be a short journey and there was nothing there. With horses and the two carriages provided to the bureaucrats in tow, the journey took about 3 days. The terrain surrounding the road to Malakite was preternaturally quiet, and the group travelled unmolested. At the beginning of the third day, as they were turning toward Malakite, the terrain gradually changed, becoming more barren, and shadowy…and the road was gone, replaced by an eerie forest, which was close and dense for all its sparseness. Krav and Rabadash halted the procession, and asked one of the guards to look for himself to see that the road was no more, that the terrain was not Malakite at all. The guard said to them that the emperor’s orders had been to verify, so that until they were standing on the spot where Malakite should be, they could not hold their orders fulfilled.

It was at about this time that the rangers in the group, being experts not only at hunting but at knowing when they are being hunted, and the shaman, hearing the alarmed whispers of protective spirits in her ear, noticed the gargoyles perched in the trees above. As battle was joined, the gargoyles swooped down, knocking over some of the party members, and panicking the horses, whose riders and drivers kept control of them…for the moment. Then, heretofore unseen skeletal mages appeared, and began hurling deadly bolts of force at the group, including the guards, as their gargoyle guardians attacked anything that came too near. As good as the riders were, in this situation, as their riders were being thrown by bolts of pure force and gargoyles swooped down on to the carriages themselves, the horses simply could no longer contain their animal panic, and they bolted in all directions, with or without their riders. It was with the exhaustion of all the group’s resources, as well as the advantage of tactical errors made by the deathbringers, that the group survived, and the hunt for the bolted horses and frightened riders began.

In Lespathia

Rabadash has been doing research for the book he plans on writing. At some point he will come to the conclusion that he needs to find some primary sources on the histories of Bael Turoth and Arkohosia.

However, he also wants to figure out what’s behind that mysterious message he got concerning local politics.

Should he decide to stay in the area long-term, he will look into getting funding to build an observatory. Doing so will probably involve convincing several rich persons that others will benefit from it besides star pact warlocks.

My Heart is of the Mountain
"...but WE decide which is right, and which is an illusion."

Krav’s geas began with instruction from the priests of Thel-Gul to seek out a monastery in a mountain. There, he would become a student of the monastic life until he learned whatever it was that he was to know. The priests themselves did not know why that particular geas was called for by their god, or whatever divine force bestowed it upon him. However, they laid it upon him, and the ritual was sanctified. Krav set off after the completion of his assignment in Tantalia for the mountain hold of this strange order of monks. When he arrived, he was greeted by silent dwarves in brown robes who guided him to one of the heads of the order. Krav reluctantly and with bitterness allowed the monks to relieve him of his armor and weaponry; these were locked in a chest and left with the head of the order. Krav was given a similar brown tunic, though made for him, and he did not know how it was that the order had known he was coming, but he took the robe, put it on, and was led to a chamber filled with other dwarves, and a smattering of non-dwarven races, most with freshly shaven heads.

He was instructed to sit and gather emptiness to his mind. There he sat, for who knows how long, and let his mind wander. His body screamed at him for sitting too long, for having to relieve himself, for needing food, for wanting so many things…and he found that a long time as a travelling warrior had created a mechanism to drown out those voices. He felt his mind begin to drift, and was brought slamming back to reality by a thump on the back with a switch. Whipping angrily to the side, he was gently remonstrated that his meditations were too self-centered, hence his arched back and head toward his middle. He was instructed to return to his meditation, and he worked to keep his back up straight. He found his mind wandering to war, his deeds of prowess and his moments of glory, as well as his failures. From the ghosts of long ago he recalled having to kneel, and humble himself before Bahamut, to save his comrades. Although most of the sting of shame had left that memory, he couldn’t help but wonder what purpose Bahamut might have had in those events. For that matter, what purpose did any god— His train of thought was derailed by a switch to the midsection. The same gentle voice told him that he wondered about the world outside himself too much, so that his chest was out, and his head back, as if he were looking up at the heavens. This pattern continued for a while, occasionally being switched on the back or the chest if he leaned too much one way or the other.

After a time, he was gently prodded by one of the master monks and led to a place where he could eat. The meal was simple, bread, rice, and vegetables, along with water. It would certainly meet basic needs, but was not much more than that. Krav began to wonder miserably what on earth he’d gotten himself into, but knew that he had done it in order to save his friends. He was lost in thought about his friends—no one there talked very much—when he was jarred back to reality and told to follow another dwarf. This dwarf took him to a room that was enclosed, and had two shallow depressions filled with sand. Krav was handed a farming implement and told to follow what the master did. The master traced graceful patterns in the sand, swirling and doubling back on themselves, snaking along like a peaceful river, and Krav did his level best to emulate, but his muscles were unused to such deliberate delicacy. As he made his own patterns in the sand, he ventured to ask the master questions about the monastery and its beliefs. Most of his questions were met with cryptic return questions, and he began to give up on the idea of getting anywhere.

He did eventually ask how long they would be doing this, and the monk lit up as he saw a “teachable moment”. He gently explained to Krav that his question was irrelevant, for time was illusory. At this statement, Krav stopped—he could not understand what on earth the dwarf could mean by that—and asked him how time could be illusory, since the sun rose and set on a daily basis. As was his wont, the master answered with another question: here, in the heart of the mountain, did the sun still rise and set daily? How did anyone know that the sun and moon themselves were not illusions? Krav was certain, at this point, that someone had gone mad, and he wasn’t sure it wasn’t him. He didn’t so much sleep on the floor at bedtime as lie awake, staring up into the darkness. He was going to have to figure out what exactly it was he was supposed to do here, and get it done so that he could get back into the world where things made sense.

Time did indeed become like an illusion; it didn’t take long for Krav to completely lose track of how long he had been there, or even how long he was doing whatever tasks they set him to do. What he did notice about himself is that he was rapidly losing muscle tone and his reflexes were deteriorating; he did what he could in his daily exercises to forestall that loss, whether it was raking sand, eating, or carrying water. At one point, he realized that he had no idea how long he had been there, and although his memories were vivid, he did not know whether this episode was a footnote or the new chapter that his life had turned, and you could tell him that he had been there a year or a week, he might have believed either (although he was leaning toward a year).

Krav began to settle into the routine of his new existence, although he still yearned after the life he had left behind. He did feel more accomplished as a meditator, but mused to himself that his monk masters would see only attachment in that. He had just recovered from what for lack of a better word one might call a bout of homesickness when a commotion burst out in the monastery. There were interlopers headed into the monastery, including at least one female! A wave of excitement washed over Krav, and he felt the familiar pull of adrenaline, jerking his muscles into action. As fate would have it, the “interlopers” were some very familiar faces, who looked equally surprised and relieved to see their warlord alive and well. The joy did not last long; they told Krav that there was an army of goblins, organized and surprisingly well trained, heading toward this mountain. As this was being explained, the head of the order quietly made his way to Krav. Once the group explained to him what was headed for the monastery, he did not visibly react, but turned to Krav and said, “Forgive us, for this is a great burden I am about to lay upon you. We do not intend to fight, for it is not our way. We are not attached to our lives here. However, the youngest and newest in our order, they have not had the time to decide whether to commit fully to our way of life. So I ask you: take the acolytes and lead them from this place, so that they may choose freely the way of life that they will follow.”

When asked where they would go or what they would do, they answered that there was a meditation garden on the highest level of the mountain, and that they would go there, and meditate until their ends came. Krav’s armor and weaponry were returned to him, and he was girded in his armor, but his mind was firm: he would not abandon the monks to their fate.

Krav turned to Balthazar and said to him, “Brother, please do as the head of the order has asked. For my own part, I cannot leave them here to die.”
Lori piped up, “Are you crazy? This army is huge! Scores of goblins, goblin mages, and who knows what else! You are throwing your life away!”
Krav smiled, and said to her, “No—I am taking my life to use it for a noble cause. I don’t regret it.”
Rabadash shook his head. “Krav, if I thought it would do any good, I would encourage us all to stay. The survival of these monks is not written in the stars, and you cannot change that. None of us can. However, you can help them live on by helping their ideals to survive, and you will do that best by LIVING, and caring for the acolytes, maybe even helping them to re-found the order.”
“This is all very nice, but does anyone remember that goblins are on their way here?” Lori asked, clearly agitated and trying very hard to stay ahead of the coming onslaught.

It was then that Krav realized, in a slow, aching kind of way, that Lori and Rabadash were right, and even his very best could not save the monks. The fates of the monks were completely out of his control, and they would most likely die gruesome deaths at the hands of the goblins—and they were not upset by this, or afraid of it. The situation was not under his control. He simply had to accept that the situation was not under his control. He took a breath, and sighed. Suddenly, a great weight was lifted from his shoulders. His geas was fulfilled! He bowed to the head of the order, and motioned to the acolytes, who had been gathered in the front hall, to get between the clusters of adventurers, and to prepare for the run of their lives.

Their exit may have come too late; the first swarms of green could be seen coming up the hillside to the mountain. A bolt whizzed by—clearly, the first swarms of green had seen them. So, they ran. The dwarves were not made for this kind of activity, and their small size hindered them somewhat. It was inevitable, then, that some goblins would catch up—fortunately, Lori’s swift bow and a few eldritch curses kept them enough at bay to allow the party to escape, with the only casualty an acolyte who collapsed from exhaustion.

With a knowing grin that said, ‘Irony? Doesn’t that mean “full of iron”?’, the group marched a band of dwarves into the nearest town they could find—Meridian.

The Witch of Iron Mountain
Balthazar's geas

Successful and enriched, the party returned to the port of Meridian to get passage back to Rogan’s camp, but found a message there from the Commander waiting for them. Rogan had been contacted by the Meridian high council because they believed that an attack on their town was imminent. Rogan had replied that one of his top squads was in the area, and they would be available to take on the mission as soon as they returned, which at any pace would be sooner than he could get another squad out to the area. What Rogan did not know is that Krav and Balthazar were both facing personal quests above and beyond anything that Rogan could command from them. Krav was forced to part ways with the group, seeking out that which compelled him, and the party did not know when or if they would see their captain again.

Balthazar, being a holy man who had not hesitated to assent to the dwarven priests’ requirement of a geas, had a relatively straightforward quest: he was to seek out a being of great evil and malice, equal to or greater than himself, and destroy it utterly. When the now-reduced party arrived in Meridian, they were directed to the ductus bellorum of the town, a man with the same red hair and blue eye (the other being covered by a patch and revealing a scar beyond the patch’s covering) as everyone else in the town. On seeing the group that Rogan sent, he burst out laughing. He asked the group if they could try to stick out a little harder, since they were sure to blend in so well, at which Rabadash was tempted to remove his hood and give him something to laugh about, but declined to do so, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor.

The ductus, named Canthus, explained that there were magical inklings coming from the collegium that there was an imminent attack on Meridian, and his job was to keep that from happening. The group’s job, then, was to scout the area, and look for any evidence of a mounting army or assault. The group asked him if there were any people he knew of that might want to attack Meridian, and he mentioned the scorch marks on some of the buildings near the port side of town. He explained that those marks were made some years ago by a very powerful mage who had forced her way into the collegium, a tiefling who had managed, by means presumed infernal, to disguise herself as one of the townspeople in a magical veil so powerful it could not be pierced by any of the high wizards there in the town. She had started out as an adept pupil, but her hunger for power led her down dark pathways, doubtless due to her infernal heritage, Canthus mused. Her name was Lotharia, and she was given the title The Deceitful by the high mages of Meridian, but she was better known as the Witch of Iron Mountain. Canthus wanted the group to look for signs that she was behind any foreshadowings of doom that the old sages had seen.

The party set out to find Iron Mountain, and were able to purchase reliable passage that way from some of the more adept sailors down at the dockside tavern. The party never found out whether Lotharia was responsible for the prophesies of imminent danger froming from the sages; when they found her mountain, they destroyed the foul undead and dark humanoids that called the place home before wiping out Lotharia herself. As the final, killing blow was struck against her, Balthazar felt a great lightness of being, as if he stood on air beneath the rays of a brilliant sun, and his geas was lifted.

The group sent word to Canthus via the sailors who transported them that the Witch was no more, and that they were going to scout a perimeter of several miles to see if there were any imminent threat to Meridian. Although this was true, the real purpose of this in-depth scouring was something other: now, the search for Krav, to find him and aid him in his own geas if they could, began.

To Stir a Bubbling Cauldron
The Ritual of Ahn-Ata'ar

The grateful patron/client for whom the Scrolls of Ahn Ata’ar were retrieved contacted Rogan shortly after the party’s return, and specified that he required the same party who had procured the Scrolls to collect the ritual components and bring them to his estate at Tantalia. Krav objected to the mission, because for one, the invoker who still had no name was a part of the group by happenstance, and he was not certain that she could be trusted, and for another, he considered himself and his comrades to be above the status of errand-boys. Commodore Rogan made it clear to Krav, however, that his client had paid Rogan enough money that his request for personel was going to be honored or Krav and his people would be physically incapacitated, if not killed outright, for refusing the order. This was…decidedly unusual for Rogan, who would assign team members to jobs, but usually left them free to refuse.

The team decided to go ahead with the order, since the money was unusually good and the job looked about as easy as they come. Many of the items they were sent to obtain were rare, and some of them were unknown even to the arcane adepts in the party, including Hair of the Sun God’s Wife, which are delicate-looking implements, golden, curved, and smooth to the touch, and Selurian wine, which is said to have unusual properties when consumed and is worth over 800 GP per cask. There was a catch to this: the party had to arrive in Tantalia within 1 day of getting the milk from the sacred cow, which was not that close to Tantalia.

Most of the components were pretty simple to find, if you could find a decent herbalist or an alchemist with a sense of humor and some knowledge of history. The most difficult part was milking the sacred cow. Thel-Gul is that rarest of deities: a dwarven god of agriculture. His was a tiny group within the Dwarven diaspora, which defied the conventional dwarven way of life for an existence as farmers. They were largely wiped out by other dwarves in a conflict unknown to any outside the dwarves, and forgotten by all but a handful of the dwarves themselves. While the party debated whether to attempt to buy the milk from the priests, steal the milk, or steal the entire cow, the door to the temple swung open, and a dwarf bade the leader and the holy paladin to enter the temple. With an admonition to come to their aid if they had not returned within 1 hour, Krav and Balthazar followed the acolyte into the temple, and the doors closed.

The party members waited outside, eager to have their errand complete and get their money (they had been promised triple, or in some cases, quadruple, their normal daily fee), and debate continued on whether to steal the milk, the cow, or just assault the temple and get their friends back along with whatever else they could take. They had just decided on the last of these options when the doors opened, and Krav and Balthazar emerged, unharmed, bearing a large quantity of milk. When asked what happened to get it, all that Balthazar would say was that they had promises to fulfill when it was all over, and Krav said nothing at all, stewing the whole way to Tantalia.

The party arrived not a moment too soon, and Seneschal Fondlebottom was there to greet the adventurers, attended by servants who immediately whisked off the ritual components. Much to their dismay, the party was informed that they were required to stay at the estate until the ritual was complete, or else their contract would be held unfulfilled. Reluctantly, the group agreed to stay. The seneschal, and for that matter most of the servants, were all halflings, but the estate was by no means lacking in height (or for that matter, breadth, as the lord of this manor owned the entire island). The word “opulent” would be too modest, “baroque” too tasteful, to describe the indulgences that Tantalia had to offer. The party were escorted to private rooms, where attendants ran hot baths and stayed if requested. Once bathed, the group was pampered in any way they asked for—massages, food, music, and other diversions were available to them in whatever kind they desired. They slept well for the first time in weeks, on impossibly luxuriant beds, warmed by bedfellows, if desired.

The next day, they were ritually fasted and bathed again. In the late afternoon, they were asked to dress in ritual garb for the ceremony in which they were expected to take part. The males were given dark, soft breeches and white tunics festooned with ornaments of precious metals and stones. They were given low boots to wear, and ritual collars that the attendants insisted had to be worn at the master’s direction. The women were given sleeveless robes, made of cloth as blue as a peacock’s tail and as green as the richest velvet grass. They too were given ritual collars, crusted with diamonds, and bangles rimmed in gems of sparkling hues. Perhaps more distressing than the lack of armor or the collar were the shoes they were made to wear; the shoes were made such that the women were forced to creep about on their toes, but yet they could not move silently, however they tried.

As they entered what the servants designated as the ritual chamber, four similarly-dressed priests were creating ritual music, with such intense looks of seriousness that they were frightening to behold. The party was led to a ritual altar, around which there were enough seats for each of them, plus one at the head of the altar. The entrance of the master was as grand as he was dimunitive; he strode into the room with an air of absolute ownership. He was dressed as the other males, only more opulently, with rings on his fingers and a ritual headdress as black as the night sky.

“My friends,” he said, “please be seated. Let the ritual of Ahn Ata’ar begin!” With a clap, servants began skittering back and forth, bringing…platters…to the table. Skewered meat, what could only be described as steaming red rocks, and goblets of wine. They were encouraged to eat and drink as they would—and having fasted all day, this was a tempting prospect, indeed! Everyone who drank the wine afterwards described it differently; some described being able to pass through the altar, others saw sprites and darter pixies, still others felt as if they towered over or shrank below their comrades, and some even believed they could fly. As if this had not been enough to completely overload the senses of anyone involved, there was a final part of this ritual that had a bravura all its own: jiggling mounds of what looked like milky oozes were brought to the table, and set before each there, and then the Hair of the Sun God’s Wife was ritually cut, and placed into a brazier. The master pointed a wand at it and uttered a strange word of power, unknown to any arcanist there. Flames shot forth from the wand, engulfing the hair and turning purple. These locks of hair are gingerly arranged on the platters next to the oozes.

“Now,” said the host “consume the last of it, and the ritual will be complete!”

Sweet, creamy, and rich, the oozes were surprising to the taste, and the hair was soft, and smelled of a tropical paradise.

The party were invited again to stay the evening with the host, and were given their ritual garb as gifts.

The Scrolls of Ahn-Ata'ar

Returning to Ravenna from the remains of Giant’s Fall, the party decided to pass through Twisted Grove, to see if the volcanic destruction made its way that far out, and to relate the fate of Giant’s Fall and possibly that of the High Priestess of Melora. While there was no lava, there was certainly plenty of ash, and a green dragon roosting on the roof of Melora’s temple. The party took on the dragon, knowing it was evil and desiring to protect anyone still left within the temple. The dragon’s acid took its toll on the group, and it was by cunning, not might, that they were able to overcome their foe, retrieving its head as proof of their deed and any useful parts for sale or food. They found the temple within abandoned, with no clue left as to the whereabouts of the temple’s priestesses or rangers. Saddened, the party made their way back to Ravenna, where they spotted more skeletal marauders harrassing the guard. Destroying them easily, although one of the guards perished, the party were able to return to Prince Yulian, report what they had seen, and told him that they believed their mission was complete, and that he should not have any further troubles from the region.

Returning to the camp, Rogan had a few choice words for Krav about reputation, and about the necessity of keeping contact with the camp about developments of the nature they had faced. However, if they were willing to do so, he had a new assignment for them: an ‘eccentric’ patron had forwarded a request for a group that could find the Temple of Ahn Ata’ar and retrieve the Lost Scrolls. The group accepted the mission, because it didn’t sound all that difficult, it would get them away from the area surrounding Ravenna for a while, and their patron could be ‘eccentric’ because he was loaded with gold—and spending it freely.

The research that Rogan’s contacts had already done gave an approximate location of the temple of Ahn Ata’ar, somewhere in the frozen wastes of a forgotten backwater. It took the group approximately 2 weeks to cross the ocean to arrive at the nearest port to the approximate location of the temple, by which time they were more than happy to kiss the ground…until they stepped off the boat, that is. The port of Meridian is a place that values wizardry highly, almost to the exclusion of all else. As a port town, it does have a market, and you can find many interesting magical items there. However, it is not friendly to outsiders, tolerating the foreign merchants who bring their required wares, but few other interlopers. Looking around the town, a few things struck the adventurers: everyone they could see was human, male, red-haired, and blue-eyed. A party armed for adventure that had not a single human in it generated some unwanted interest, to say the least. Our heroes passed the night in the tavern and inn at the dockside where all the other “out of towners” stay, and began inquiring early the next morning about passage to the area where the the Temple supposedly rested.

Before noon they were on their way, trekking toward what they had been told was a barren wasteland, covered in snow. Finding the snow-covered island was relatively quick, but the party spent some time wandering the barren wastes, looking for any ruins that could be called a temple. They encountered ravenous arctic wolves and their shifter masters, looking for their next meal, driving winds and terrible cold, but eventually found shelter in what looked like a small, ascetic monastery whose residents had abandoned it some time ago. While they regrouped and attempted to use the shelter of the building to rest and figure out where to go from there, they discovered that nature had encroached into the building, making a few hazardous places where it was difficult to keep one’s feet. Making their way across an ice slick and into a (relatively) large, open room, one of the party members noticed a crawl space under the floorboards.

Down, down, into the depths the group decended. (It should be remarked that these depths were decidedly colder than the last, although it is not certain that the group was grateful for the difference.) The underground passage eventually leveled out into a rough-hewn corridor, in which the group found a party of strange humanoids, covered in piercings, tattoos, and scars—Shadar-Kai. The group, save Karath, who, as a worshipper of the Raven Queen, knew of them, had never encountered them before, and found their disregard for their own pain, or own lives, to be unsettling and bizarre. After defeating the Shadar-Kai, the group began to wander the tunnels, the haphazard hewing of stone gave way to smooth, baked stones, of the kind of composition one would more expect in a desert than in the arctic wastes, set in a regular pattern by artisans of some skill.

This temple still held its secrets closely, over however many years since its abandonment; the traps that civilization had set in place were still loaded and ready to protect the temple. The party discovered this after they attempted to aid a woman whose slow, ragged breathing and sputtering lantern made it clear that she was unable to help herself. Her ankle was twisted, if not broken, but she was able to move after her wounds were tended.

As the party moved through the corridor, some of them had their attention drawn by the richly-painted walls. These fresco tapestries showed scenes of war, pillaging, feasting, and drinking. Figuring prominently in several tableaux were huge cookpots with people around them celebrating and cooks stirring the pots with giant spoons. Others featured libations to large figures with great tongues. As the scenes progressed, the celebrating figures were replaced by pictures of skeletons who eat all they can consume, the food falling through their bones and piling on the ground, as children lie lifeless on the the ground and women weep. Finally, there is a tableau of cataclysm, with a pale corpse-king throwing the sun into a great cauldron. The cauldron, in turn, tips to the side and six legs are shown to jut out of it. A black scarab emerges, wandering away from a frozen, despoiled land.

The hallway lead to a great room. The doors were large and heavy, and they creaked open into a room with a large cauldron in the middle, set on a dais a few feet off the floor. Stairs lead up to the cauldron, and there was room behind it for one person to stand. A Kruthik hive had made its home here, and were looking forward to the meal of fresh meat the adventurers were poised to provide. They were, however, easily destroyed by the adventurers, who located the scrolls and returned to Rogan, bringing along a new mercenary in the invoker whose life they had saved.

Torturer of Angels
An Avatar of the new Goddess falls victim to a ritual of Zehir.

The party (Lori, Krav, Balthazar, Theren & Karath) returned to the volcano at the former Giant’s Fall at the command of Capt. Rogan, who had been contracted by Prince Yulian, to ensure that there were no other disturbances or issues that came of this catastrophe. Not only were the party conceivably to blame for the disaster, but also they were well-armed and trained, and furthermore, the city’s guard, armies, and resources were tied up with the sudden influx of refugees from the Giant’s Fall area.

Armed with heat-resistant footgear and mental images of icebergs as proof against the still-cooling lava flows, they began to explore the area. Almost immediately, they encountered groups of wandering skeletons, whom the group presumed were made from the newly-dead, and raised by virtue of their own anger. Disposing of those, they found groups of footprints, medium and small, around the lava fields. Further exploration led them to a newly-exposed cave mouth, which began sloping steeply downward almost immediately. The group wandered down pathways on either side of flowing magma, very much alive and very, very hot. There, they encountered tieflings, much to Rabadash’s disgust, other goblins, and magma beasts.

Needing a break from the heat and a place to rest, they returned to the surface, and Krav sent Rabadash to return to town, make a report to Yulian, and gather further supplies. He then took the rest of the group back down to see if there were more fell beasts to destroy. What they found took them completely by surprise: one of the tieflings had been carrying ritual components designed to draw forth purity and holiness, and as they approached the heart of the volcano, they found an evistro demon standing guard over a great corridor.

Recognizing that demons, particularly not evistro demons, are going to do something as mundane as stand guard unless they are being controlled by a very powerful creature, the party realized that they may have gotten in over their heads. Krav ordered the party into tactical positions, and they lured the evistro demons and the harpy accompanying them into a trap, destroying them handily. Entering the ornate chamber at the end of the corridor, they were witness to a terrible ritual: 2 lines of victims were each behind an arcane sigil carved into the floor, and as each stepped into the sigil, they were being exsanguinated. Their sacrificial blood, roiling and writhing on the symbols, were fueling the ritual in the center of the room. 2 chain devils held an angel imprisoned. They were torturing it, making ritual cuts, searing its flesh, and making arcane gestures. A golden aura surrounding it slowly faded, as it was drawn into a dagger-like implement. As the party gaped in horror, they realized that the angel was Ilona—or at least, it was identical to her.

Propelled by Balthazar’s sense of righteousness, and recognizing that while they may not have all cared for Ilona, evil such as this needed to be stopped at any cost, they set out to disrupt the ritual. Some of them dove for the snaketongue zealots sacrificing the ritual fodder, and others for the snaketongue cantor, who was chanting the evil ritual. The group got far more than they bargained for, as Zehir is an exacting and pitiless god; the ritual disrupted, the god himself, or an aspect of him (none among the party could tell) materialized into the room, and with a throaty, rattling cackle, proceeded to destroy the snaketongue worshippers and the devils creating the ritual. Casting a cold eye upon the adventuring party, he gave another sibilant cackle and vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

Ilona, or whatever it was that had taken her shape, lay near lifeless on the ground. Balthazar tended to her wounds, trying to revive her by his holy magic, and Krav assisting as he could with his healing capacities. Slowly, the figure began to rise, levitating, and the voice of Ilona could be heard, although the angel did not have lips to move. She blessed her heroes, bestowing upon the party gifts, and upon the Dragonborn, titles: Balthazar, Defender of the Fallen, and Krav Khor, the Valiant. She then faded away.

Balthazar shares his thoughts.

While perhaps arriving on the scene of affairs a bit late, Balthazar none-the-less jumped into the fray heeding very little else. He was a bit at a loss for the reason the group was here in such a desolate area and was a bit curious as to why there seemed to be “footprints” in the lava fields he needed to cross to join the remainder of the Adventurers. The past several days and weeks had shown him that there seemed to be very little reason to divide his loyalties between his God Bahamut and an unknown Deity that had treated him, while not unkind, had certainly done nothing to assist him in his mission of improving the world he existed in. As he left the presence of the Moon-Goddess he took with him two other “acolytes” that had been attached to him as team members. Perhaps, in time, the Goddess would reveal herself to him and his small team with words or actions to show him his way down that particular path. For now, he was simply content to remain with his friends and ensure their safety and continue the work of Bahamut. At his point he had allowed the personal accounting slip from his mind; knowing that the team he belonged to would soon take a R&R somewhere allowing him to check his account and determine what, if any, equipment he was soon to need. Perhaps a nice roasted leg of venison…mmmm…beer. Ahem! Prayer!! Yea, that’s the key…so, with determination in his step and his allies by his side (well, most of them-some seemed to be disappearing into the ether every so often) he was ready to wade back into the burning bowels of this region in order to vanquish the hellspawn making their plots against the good world he lives in. Onward!!

Whom the Gods Would Destroy
A Mad Goddess Emerges from Smoldering Ruins

Rabadash, acting on the visions that he received from Sehanine, immediately left the company of heroes to head for the nearest temple to Sehanine and ensure that someone knew that there was imminent civil war amongst the gods.

Our remaining heroes set off in search of a way to reconnect with their lost comrade, Balthazar, who was in the hands of a mysterious red-haired woman who called herself a goddess. Krav, who had become very mistrustful of the gods generally, stormed into Melora’s temple at Twisted Root and demanded to see Naramir immediately and that she find a way to activate the medallion that seemed responsible for transporting them to the other temple. The group was told that Naramir was at the temple to Melora in Giant’s Fall, nearly a week’s journey away. The acolytes were generally unwilling to assist the group, particularly given Krav’s hostile attitude, but when Ancalima (one of the acolytes) handled the medallion, it activated and she vanished. Krav went into a rage, smashing anything he could lay his hands on, and the entire group was evicted from the temple. They are not welcome to return.

The group (Krav, Torgo, and Loriana) decided to travel by foot to Giant’s Fall. On their way, they saw Rabadash in a hired wagon, on his way there. There was not enough wagon for all of them, so Rabadash went on his way and they followed, travelling through gradually steepening countryside, until they reached the black-soiled foothills of a large mountain. There was Giant’s Fall, a relatively small farming community that produced the vast majority of the continent’s wines. Once there, they were able to get the other medallion from Rabadash, who was waiting to talk to the chief priests, and tried to get an audience with Naramir. They were told she was busy, and settled in an inn to wait. While there, the medallion activated, and they disappeared, transported not to a realm they had seen before, but into a place that was comparative paradise.

This was the realm of the goddess: an ever-changing temple, with rooms that appeared and disappeared, and an eerie extra-dimensionality that was unsettling to the heroes, to say the least. However, the death-traps that had previously confronted the group were gone. In its place was a complex that might have been Valhalla: richly appointed baths and rooms for diversions, serving women to attend to any hero, and an arena into which our heroes stumbled. From unseen entry descended the goddess, calling herself Ilona, and Loriana was the first to demand to know why the group was abducted, and brought to this place. (Torg suspects that she was upset about the lack of diversions for the female sex.) Ilona declaimed how the gods oppressed her, and cast her out from their sight and hearing, becaue she advocated a more worldly role for the gods, and suggested that perhaps the gods did not care for their people as they should, or get as involved in aiding people in their sorrows as they might do. She stated that she was simply interested in gathering enough followers to her that the gods would be forced to hear the cries of the people, whom Ilona suggested are largely ignored.

As for Balthazar, he stated that he chose to serve her, since it posed no real challenge to his service to the Platinum Dragon. Although he iterated repeatedly that he was not forced to serve her, it seemed that at least Loriana did not believe him. When she believed that she could not persuade them, Ilona left, charging Balthazar to explain it to them. Whether she expected “explanation” by combat or simple persuasion is unknown.

In Balthazar’s service were two others: a Genasi called Theran, and a half-orc called Karath. These two did not seem to be there willingly, although it was noted that there was markedly more agitation on the part of the genasi than of the half-orc. He seemed to regard things in much the same way as Balthazar: this was an opportunity to fight, hone his skills, serve a liege of some worth, and have creature comforts and other needs provided to him. The genasi, along with Loriana, expressed great agitation at their confinement and suggested that they would “make a break” for it as soon as it was possible. Balthazar suggested that the Lady might send the group on a mission for her, and that should they wish to leave, it might be possible then.

The group fell into three not-necessarily-distinct camps: those who wished to leave as soon as possible and by any means (Loriana and Theran), those who would stay and serve the goddess so long as it was reasonably advantageous (Krav and Balthazar), and those who were neutral on staying or going (Torg and Karath). Although Loriana made the argument that the group did not come willingly but was instead abducted, it would be difficult for her, Torgo, or Krav to deny that they did in fact seek out those that they thought could activate the medallion and send them to Ilona’s temple.

Upon hearing, through her servants and other means, that there were some in the group who might take advantage of her hospitality, and then absent themselves most ungraciously, Ilona summoned the group to her chamber and asked if what she had heard was true. When Loriana not only confirmed that it was true, but also adopted an attitude that Ilona decided was unwarranted and inappropriate, she banished them all from her temple, and they landed on the side of the mountain in Giant’s Fall.

By the time the group managed to descend the mountain, there was an angry mob waiting for them, complete with torches and pitchforks. This mob produced an elder who stated that a woman had appeared before the temple of Sehanine, claimed to be the new goddess of the Moon and of Magic, and said that the party had desecrated her temple. For their sacrilege, this woman declared that the entire village would be destroyed. At that, the mountain behind them began to rumble—as it turns out, it was a dormant volcano—and the people of the village began to understand the terrifying possibility that she could make good her threat. The people scattered, fleeing town however they might, and for their part, the party aided the evacuation however they could, fleeing town themselves when they were able. They made their way to Ravenna, a port town near Twisted Root, in about 4 days, as part of a flood of refugees. The fates of Ancalima, Rabadash, and Naramir are at this point unknown.

Once in Ravenna, Krav sent messages to Twisted Grove and to Captain Rogan. In the first he communicated his lack of success in reaching Naramir as well as his lack of knowledge regarding her fate vis-a-vis the volcanic eruption. In the second, he communicated as much as he thought prudent about their situation, and requested transport to the base camp. Even as Krav sent these messages, Balthazar received a message from Prince Yulian, the ruler of Ravenna, that the party was to meet with him in 3 hours.

Their meeting with Yulian was imperfect, to say the least. The party was very unnerved by his presence and mannerisms, and he made a rather crystalline point that he was aware the party was being named by the refugees as responsible for the destruction of a place whose refugees were filling his city and creating problems, to say nothing of the havoc that might be wreaked on the local and continental economies, due to the loss of a major industry in one fell swoop. Krav did his best to explain why the party was not responsible, and introduce the matter of Ilona as tactfully as possible, a task made somewhat more interesting by the fact that Yulian does not allow the existence of temples in his city. Yulian seemed neither convinced nor unduly skeptical, and his cool neutrality was difficult for the group to digest. It remains to be seen what will come of the destruction of Giant’s Fall.


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