Illuvinari

Armada
05/16/5055

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Allied with the Syndec of Laroosh, the Corsair Kings lead the largest pirate fleet ever assembled against the elves of Fenis Ear. Lured by the promise of booty, slaves and violence, they sail northward as the elves scramble to meet them.

“Relax. Have a coffee bean.” – Yestamir Carnen

The troop of Elven archers of Fennes Ear that surrounded the Shards were quick to identify Yestamir Carnen and were quicker to escort him and his group to the palace shortly after 11:30 in the evening where his uncle, the Duke Celethor Carnen had a Sending spell cast to Mirian, the seneschal of his younger brother Kelroth the Earl of Greycliffe’s home, Ost Lachrunyanen. As one of the three Elven warlords, Celethor needed to make sure vital information flowed between their commanders, keeping them appraised of all fronts of the war, and distributing resources as they presented themselves.

“Status not changed, fighting in Jawarl. ASAP- let know if rejoining the fight ‘Nethminion Rising’. Shards forwarded to Ost.”

The Elves knowing of the ensuing pirate assault due to the information Quingle Gemstone was able to supply from Pr’Gillis’s reconnaissance of the Syndec’s war-party in Laroosh, had set to release the naval forces they had been secretly constructing since just after the costly defeat of the Giant armies. The pirates wouldn’t descend upon a hapless Jawarl Avignon, but would be met at sea by an advanced fleet of Elven warships.

The return message that the Sending spell provided suggested that the Shards could be sent to the ‘Nethminion Rising’ in the morning just before sunrise which was about the time the battle was expected to be engaged.

While at the palace Baelavel turned to Nique and announced “We have unfinished business.”

Lord Celethor offered to resupply the Shards as their earlier mission depleted some of their equipment and supplies. Umbrecrom who had sacrificed the composite bow and masterwork arrows he had crafted from the Minotaur rack of a defeated foe, was given a replacement only half as powerful. Elves had little reason to make weapons they weren’t equipped to use and could only offer what would almost be of the mightiest quality they had, along with a quiver of 50 silver masterwork arrows to be divided among the Shards and Raptors for any who might have use of them. The Stonechild presented 2 waterskins full of the water he acquired while on the plane of Arvendor in the hopes that the alchemists could use it as a component for Archaic Water or some equally powerful concoction.

They were then instructed to put on special bracelets that the Warlord had given them. He led the Shards deep into the palace past the lower levels into the dungeons down to the lowest level where they entered a cell. The Warlord opened the secret concealed door that led into a corridor that ended in a port cell. The room was specially constructed as a permanent teleport chamber that would link to another in Laiore. They were instructed to remove their bracelets.

“If you come back this way, don’t go beyond this room. Someone will come for you.” Taking the bracelets Lord Celethor left.

The Shards were teleported to Laiore, the heart of the Elven kingdom, and were received by Celeron another Brother of the Duke’s.

Nique needed to go to the Grove of the Tree, and Yestamir decided to make a report to his delegation from Amcarofarne. Baelavel accompanied Nique and Nelki to the tree while Umbrecrom went with Yestamir who makes his report and bids it to be forwarded to the King back in his homeland. Yestamir then has the notion to visit Sullaren the Elder, holder of the Architect’s seat because Sullaren had know his mother and he wished to pay his respects before duty propelled him beyond the opportunity. The other Elves they passed directed them to the living home of the venerable Elf. He held the seat of the Architect for very good reason. His home was fashioned within and around the geology and flora of a great tree, it seemed like a great morphic sculpture crafted around the themes of beauty, comfort and welcoming. Even the furniture grown from the tree itself in some places, carved from the exposed stone in others carried through rhythms that flowed through the environ of Sullaren the Elder. At the door they were welcomed and the servant, though it was late, woke the aged Elf so that he might visit with his new guests. They were soon introduced, and refreshments were ordered.

Yestamir stressing the significance of his gratitude mentioned “We prepare for battle.” in reference to the naval assault they would attend before dawn. Sullaren nodded solemnly, having been present at the council moot that voted to go to war against Laroosh, was likely someone who was privy to very rarified information on that effort.

“Bring the good stuff.” he addressed the servant with a quiet hush.

The repast that ensued was no late night snack, but courses of the finest either Yestamir or Umbrecrom found hard to believe he just had on hand. Tender meats, warm breads, sauces that seemed as flavorful as if they had just been made. Exquisite fruits, some even out of season for months, vegetables that neither were familiar with, there were even mushrooms that Umbrecrom would never be able to identify. The wine was not just a drink but an event- a sparkling amber, almost luminescent drink that Yestamir thought was something like Elven Dreamwine. It had the same effect, rather than leading its imbiber to a wonderful addled stupor as most wines, Dreamwine brought to mind memories, some long forgotten, of all the best feelings one had ever experienced. At some point Nique and Nelki had joined them, and the Sabertooth Tiger was accommodated both by the servant and Umbrecrom who would feed him from the table when Nique was otherwise occupied. Baelavel had returned with Nique. The Nimblewright had the magic of its disguise active, and joined in the meal so as to not cause suspicion. Sullaren who hardly spoke with the towering Stonechild Yestamir had brought, fell into easy discussion with the Elf-like Baelavel. It wasn’t long when Baelavel matter of factly yet briefly revealed itself as a Nimblewright construct to the doting Architect. He requested to reveal itself again so that he might inspect her a bit because he was quite curious, dismissing completely the Heroes’ Feast that had been presented to his guests.

“Galenial did a nice job… Are you self aware?”

“Yes.” the construct replied.

“How do you feel about that?” his mind a race with endless questions parsing which might be the most appropriate.

Nique aware of what was transpiring then spoke briefly and very quietly to Baelavel letting it know that it shouldn’t reveal her home or the Astral Cannon, but that if she wanted to she could speak with Sullaren for as long as it wanted. Given that she was still damaged from the earlier encounter that left her two very considerable dents in her torso, and the Architect’s voracious curiosity it was decided that Baelavel would stay with Sullaren to be repaired. There simply was no one in the kingdom more qualified to make the repairs.
In due time the Heroes’ Feast was finished. Although they had sample delicacies, ate to their fill and beyond, they were not discomforted by having had too much. There was magic in those beans… and everything else. They left the home of the Architect who still chatted with Baelavel and would likely do so for some hours yet to come.

Nique cast the spell Storm Walk which first created twin storms over where she was and where she wanted to go- the home of Lord Kelroth the Earl of Greycliffe, Ost Lachrunyanen, and then imparted the ability to walk into the air to her and her companions, who then stepped into the sky and walked into the heart of the raging storm. At the Ost they walked out of the heart of that raging storm to descend to the waiting guards on the roof of one of the castes towers. They were expected, and were ushered into Lord Kelroth’s dining hall, where the Raptor’s cleric in residence Fo’wyn Tiranyaare, earthly servant to Labelas Enoreth, had just shortly before cast a Heroes Feast for the preparation of their group as well as Pr’Gillis (who had been resurrected at his mother’s expense), Quingle, and Malachitrix who would also be attending the pirate raid. Nique and her group waited for the Raptors to finish their meal, since once it was started they couldn’t stop for risk of loosing the magic.

Introductions were then made, special care being taken by Y’Draesk R’rgelnev, a Wood Elf who revealed his lyncathropic infection so that he might not become a target after having transformed into a Werewolf once the fighting began. He also debriefed the just arrived Shards on recent history and the pirate mission. Umbrecrom offered the silver masterwork arrows Celethor had gifted them giving 5 to Yestamir, 5 to Nique, 10 to Fo’wyn, 10 to Y’Draesk, leaving himself with 20. Nique also had supplies she offered out.

There was a brief discussion on the plan of attack, Yestamir offering to establish a mind-link between everyone so as to co-ordinate their efforts. Quingle cast a Sending to the ship’s Captain to arrange their arrival that morning. Everyone then rested, the Elves tranced so that they could be refreshed for preparing their spells and psionic abilities. Although Nique’s storm dissipated after their arrival, there was a larger storm brewing far off in the east. There was a full moon that night.

Lothron 116, 5055 at 9:30 in the morning everyone woke and prepared as they had to. Kelroth and the other wizards studying from their spellbooks, Fo’wyn praying to Labelas, Y’Draesk covering up his demon eye, because no one wanted to see that when they were eating.

Kelroth began to scry on the ‘Nethminion Rising’ so that he might locate it to know where to teleport to. Not being that familiar with the ship, he failed. Eqximiye tried and failed also. She then decided it would be easier to scry on the first mate, and succeeded. He was in the water made choppy by the strong winds, because the crew was already fighting, and he was an early victim. Eqximiye moved her scry back to see that some were fighting to keep the ship afloat, and that an enemy had engaged it. Yestamir established his psionic mind-link with all the Raptors and Shards. Kelroth demanded only 5 rounds of prepatory spells as it would seem they were already too late. Pr’Gillis psionically activated his ability of Inertial Armor which oddly made him smell of peanuts and roses. His Force-screen power brought an aroma of roast chicken. Umbrecrom could not specifically remember the Half-Dragon eating any roast chicken during his Heroes’ Feast, thinking the strange Monk may have had a digestive problem because of the strange surface world food. Sometimes that happens to the Stonechild. Nique drew the scimitar which had been gifted to her by the founder of the Eldar.

“Are we going to fight?” a disquieting disembodied voice hissed.

“Yes!” she replied.

Thangil a Wood Elven Ranger/Lion of Talisid addressed the scimitar, “What is your name?”

“Frostwind” came the disembodied reply. Nique then cast a Camouflage spell on everyone.
They assembled into three groups and began to teleport away.

Many of the crew were in the water, and there were Sahuagin, scaled sea creatures that walked like men, all over. The wind was gusting at 50 mph. The seas were rough, the ship adrift. The two groups battled for 8 rounds before a swell of ocean water swept over the rails and cleared away the remaining creatures, as well as the dying and the dead.

Yestamir who was blown far off the port side saw a barge that looked to be made of brick engaging an Elven warship- a series of explosions erupting from the enemy vessel followed near-instantly by a series of explosions that rip along the warship, devastating it in a moment. The barge measured 120′×50′ and rode 15’ out of the water. There were 2 staggered rows of oars. Above the oars were square ports & the barge moved at 100’/r.
As Yestamir helped to patch ‘Nethminion Rising’ the winds decreased until they were considered only a strong wind.

A Sending was sent to Celethor to let him know how things stood. It was still too choppy to see much of the navy or the pirate vessels so repair to the ship was the immediate concern. They approached the main battle from the south, and the barge looked to be the only target of opportunity along the way. The weather by this point had dropped down another category.
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Sleepless in the Astral
05/05 thur 05/15/5055

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Lost in the vastness of the astral plane, our heroes look for a filling station so they can ask for directions.


Chapter the first- Interlude

The dull ache of fatigue gnawed at the Shards who fled from their encounter with Tilit and his fellow mercenaries. They had not slept for over a day at this point. It may have been several days for it is difficult to gauge the passing of time within the astral plane. You don’t need to eat or even breathe, and sages argue that one does not even age while within the dimension. The lay observer acknowledge the point upon the anecdotal evidence of traversing to other planes that are not thought to be timeless. If you have been astral for a long while you emerge from it ravenous, tired, and the effects of aging for a considerable amount of time can be seen in the growth of hair and the like.
The Druid Nique Helin decided that someone should be in respectable shape should misfortune strike them while they were incapable of acquiring the rest they needed. She cast both a cure serious wounds spell which magically healed wounds and a lesser restoration which erased the effects of fatigue from the Stonechild Barbarian Umbrecrom Iron Rage. It was a small misfortune that she couldn’t have prepared more of the fatigue-ending spells the day before when she decided what her spell battery for the day was going to consist of. Had she known their day was going to stretch into two and deliver them to the astral plane, she surely would have. She continued to administer a cure light wounds spell- lesser versions of the one she cast on Umbrecrom- upon Yestamir Carnen the Psion and for herself drinking a magical elixir infused with the magic of such a spell commonly referred to as a potion of healing. Although their bodies mended, the fatigue plagued them regardless.
They moved by the power of thought, deciding on a direction and moving that way. Being lost it mattered little in which direction they went, they looked for a magical color pool- the dimensional gateways that led to other dimensions. Each dimension exhibited a different color, gold for the Seven Heavens for example, others they knew not where they would lead- olive, opal, sparkling blue, a vivid orange streaked with white. The colors and patterns were as varied as the dimensions themselves. They looked for silver, the color that creatures from their prime material plane saw when looking for pools that led home.
Umbrecrom being familiar with some of the teachings of planar lore due to being a Stonechild raised within the domain of an Elemental lord who provided he and his siblings with tutors from an early age, noticed the slow darkening of their environment. The last time a darkening caught them on the astral it was quick and they were caught within the edge of an astral storm. Whatever the cause for this darkening he thought it would be best that they choose another direction to travel which the others agreed to. As they float the grey miasmic mist of the astral, a trackless volume where a person moved by the force of thought, Yestamir and Nique decided that a right turn would be fine.
Before they could turn the Stonechild felt an odd sensation within his mind, within his skull. A look of concern crossed his face as an image coalesced in his mind. A cloud of color and shape flowed and resolved- it was the face of Quingle Gemshadow the Shard’s Gnomish Shadow-craft Sorcerer! He had taken the defeated flute-less corpse of Pr’Gillis, a mysterious Monk of the order of the Fist of Zuoken who had been defeated in single combat by the rival monk Master Tilit of the thought to be destroyed order of the Opaline Fist, by way of teleport spell back to Fennas Ear where they hoped a cleric of power might cast a raise dead spell to bring him back to life. Although he respected the powerful mage, Umbrecrom was not so fond of him that having his face appear within his mind was anything but alarming. Then it spoke:
“Quingle here…”
Umbrecrom repeated what was obviously a magical message that had been sent across the planes to him so that his companions Nique, Yestamir and Baelavel the magical Nimblewright construct gifted to Nique by the astral fortress, Galenial could hear it also.
“… assuming you three are astral. Pr’Gillis resurrected. Return to Port Dawn to retrieve slave failed. Eqximiye debriefed on astral weapon, tell no one.”
Umbrecrom looked around after speaking the last of it hoping no one other than the five of them had heard the mention of the weapon. He made note that Quingle’s message said ‘resurrected’ and not ‘raise dead’ denoting a much more powerful spell. They had reacted immediately- Raise Dead only works within the first few days of a creature’s death. Something went wrong but Umbrecrom would ask about that when he could speak directly to the Half-Dragon Monk.
As Quingle’s face started to disseminate within his mind, Umbrecrom felt as if the Gnome’s magic was waiting for a reply. They didn’t have anything of note to report back that Quingle could relate to the War Lord, Celethor who had sent them on their mission.
“We’re lost in the astral. We’re fine. We’re on our way back. Keep in touch.” Umbrecrom felt a little foolish speaking to the image of the Sorcerer he saw in his mind. It then faded from his thoughts.
Umbrecrom carried Nelkie the Sabertooth companion of the Druid. The cat was a large beast easily 9 or 10 feet long. Because the speed at which a being traveled in the astral was governed by intelligence, Nelkie was reduced to the comparative crawl of animal intelligence. She needed to be carried if they were going to traveling at a respectable rate. Nelkie was highly agitated by the prospect of having no ground on which to rest, no gravity for powerful leg muscles to play against. Front claws reached over the Barbarians powerful shoulders, more than covering them. Her hind legs pulled in tight to her body so she could place her back paws on the back of his thighs. Umbrecrom leaned forward at an angle to better accommodate the Sabertooth which disliked upright travel. Umbrecrom distracted her with an occasional bit of jerky. Knowing she wouldn’t begin to properly digest it until they were on a time-normal plane he was mindful not to give her too much. They continued on their journey, taking a right turn to nowhere in particular, their pace slowed by the speed of Baelavel whose intelligence was that of the Water Elemental that had been unwillingly bound to the mechanism during its magical creation.

p.

Chapter the second- Interaction!

The astral began to lighten as they traveled farther to the right of their previous location. Noting that the darkness was all but gone the Shards saw two explosions in quick succession in the distance in front of and above them to their right placed closely together. Further inspection yielded something dark and oblong. Subjective time being out in the astral was some several days at this point, and although the timelessness of the dimension was odd, they did get the sense of experiencing some several days of inactive searching, with little to show other than the memory of some several dozen pools they had passed along the way. Earlier, Yestamir had even floated the notion of going into the gold color pool, to which Umbrecrom’s immediate response was that they shouldn’t and a brief synopsis of the first few minutes of their visit to Arvendor, home dimension to some of the Elven Gods. The relief of seeing something other than the shifting grey mist and each other, completely overpowered the fact that it was explosions they were attracted to. As they got within several hundred yards they could tell the shape was some kind of ship. There were several masts that protruded from near the front mid-section angling to the back, several protruded from the back, each set equipped with a translucent sail. The front section had two fires as if something blasted right through both hulls, and the back had a single breach flaming wildly. Several bodies could be seen drifting away from the ship at varying speeds. There was one that drifted near the Shards up and to their right so they approached to investigate. As they neared they could see severals arrows buried in the body that leaked a trail of blood droplets. Umbrecrom moved in next to it and recognized the strange cloth wrappings around the pale yellow humanoid form, oblong head that had two slits where there should have been nose cartilage- “Githyanki!” Umbrecrom warned, snapping his fingers to retrieve his powerful White Iron sword from magical storage within the Glove of Storing that he wore on his right hand. As the Githyanki wizard’s fingers twitched, dying eyes looked upon the Barbarian with the Sabertoothed Tiger cape who in a single fluid motion executed a coup de grace which ended the threat of Githyanki magic. Yestamir discovered a slender 8" crystal tethered to it wrist and recognizes it as a Dorje. He took the psionic weapon determined to later discover its use. Umbrecrom, honoring the ways of the Barbarian, looted the pockets he found on the corpse and was rewarded with several coins, euphemistically referred to by some Barbarian tribes as victory tithings. They moved closer to the ship noting that it didn’t have the severe angled styling that a Githyanki-crafted astral boat would and deduced that the vessel was being attacked by a Githyanki raiding party. About a hundred yards off they note that the craft was slowly moving away from them and was spinning so that the close side was turning underneath along the length of it. They decided to let the boat continue to spin and moved forward coming in obliquely so that they reach the underside, and could travel along the surface of the boat to approach them unseen. Nelkie no longer riding Umbrecrom but preparing to land on the ship which due to the nature of the plane and the way it acts with volumes of mass, possessed its own subjective gravity. Once they landed Nelkie gratefully sank her claws into the wooden deck of the Vessel, happy to have a surface to stand on and gravity to orient her. There were signs of battle on this side of the ship- corpses of crewmen strewn across the deck, There were no Githyanki bodies. Two deck ladders led into the ship but the Shards decided to deal with the threat they’d already seen rather than venture within. They placed themselves near the spot on the other side of the clam- shaped hull and began to prepare. Nique cast the Druid spell Magic Fang upon Nelkie, and gave a potion to Umbrecrom, Barkskin which caused a thick, hard bark to grow and encase his rock-like form. His magic chainmail shirt accommodated the extra layer of armor by growing ever so slightly so as to effect a perfect fit. Nique mounted the Sabertooth to ride into combat, and cast again this time upon herself a spell of Camouflage that alters her coloration to match the shifting grey mists, which also effected Nelkie due to the magic relationship the Druid shared with her animal companion. Noting the Githyanki possess some psionic powers, Yestamir tapped into his psionic strength and activated a protection known as the Tower of Iron Will to safeguard their psyches from any psionic attack the Githyanki might invoke upon them. “This isn’t going to last long…” he warned as he calculated how much strength he might need in reserve in case he had to Plane Shift two more time (two in case the first one were to put the Shards in an even worse situation like in the middle of an ocean.) Everyone understood that the Carnen’s powers were nearly depleted and could appreciate this near final protection he gifted their minds with. Umbrecrom wanted to remain in the protection of Yestamir’s powers so he stored his sword inside his magic glove and retrieved 3 stones from one of the pouches at his belt and infused them with the only magic he was capable of which magically prepared them to be more accurate, and have much more of an impact than ordinary thrown stones, hoping to draw the Githyanki away from the vessel’s crew. Nique then drew the saber she had received from Coramorphus, the first time she had ever drawn the weapon. As the blade escaped it’s sheath Nique’s face revealed a startled expression. The blade then began to frost over, wisps of cool astral mist fell from it’s wake. Nique smiled knowing this is a gift she would appreciate for a very long time! Baelavel actived several of her magic abilities, powerful magical protections and alterations that briefly set her aglow, a show of cascading, flowing, blinking pulses of light. In a moment she leapt up and thought her way into a wide arc that landed her on the top side of the ship to engage a Githyanki combatant.

p.

Chapter the next- Intervention

The Barbarian strode across the bottom of the craft to where it sloped to the ship’s mid-line and crossed over to the slope that become the craft’s top, and crested the curved hull to observe the ensuing battle. He could not remember if Githyanki could dominate as Yestamir had done with the Half-orc Barbarian of Tilit’s band. There were 4 of the creatures engaged with four of the crew, a fifth surrounded by a stringy haze of red stands and droplets floating lazily about his corpse. Bealavel dodged a vicious silver blade of one of the Githyanki silver swords. The legendary swords of the Githyanki looked like flowing glittering columns of liquid silver said to shift their balance with every move of the two handed weapons. Across the ship little more than 20 feet away an unfortunate crewman had been flanked by a pair of the creatures. Umbrecrom hurled one of his enchanted rocks at the closest of the two which slapped hard and fast into the leathery yellow back leaving its cloth wrappings with a growing red stain. Yestamir who had followed his friend had retrieved one of the brain-lock pearls which the Shards had looted from the Githyanki dead within the home of Lashimer, threw it at another Githyanki. The pearl struck its target and rebounded with a fizzle of its resisted psionic energy. Fatigue wore away at the Psion and the Druid. Nique who was riding Nelkie moved next to one of the Githyanki to the left of the others and engaged it. The Sabertooth snapped at the twisting humanoid, but tasted nothing for his efforts. Frostwind, the scimitar wielded by the Druid was the first to bite deep into Githyanki flesh. As the blade parted alien yellow skin, the freezing magic within the sword stung the trauma with a cold that destroyed surrounding living tissue. The wound looked slightly withered and blue, an effect of the freeze-dried sealing of flesh that marked the passage of Frostwind through its victims. The creature continued its assault on the crewman. Baelavel launched into an attack with the rapiers that extended from the mechanisms of her forearms, hitting both times, one so deep that the rapiers pommel slammed into the gut of the unfortunate creature causing it to rebound backwards several paces. Despite being an easy target for the Stonechild’s Magic Stones the Githyanki continued its assault upon the human it faced which earned it two more impacts into its back, one of them cracking a rib. The crewman between the two dodged and bent hoping to avoid dual assaults to little effect. Yestamir, realized that the effects of the brain-lock pearls would be of little service even if they managed to break through the Githyanki’s psionic defenses, decided to alter his attack by way of borrowing Nique’s short-bow- he was too weak from fatigue to utilize the one made for him by Umbrecrom. His arrow flew past his target continuing into the astral. Without the forces of gravity and resistance in the astral plane, that arrow would continue speeding eternally until something got in its way.
At the other end of the ship 4 crew crowded near the passage that led to the lower decks until another Githyanki emerged from the steps. Unfortunately Yestamir had not been able to engage in telepathic union with the Shards or Nique could have reconsidered switching to throwing a brainlock pearl which bounced harmlessly off her targets chest. Although the crewmen fought alongside the Shards, it was apparent that they were crew of the astral vessel and not guards or mercenaries. The crewman who was flanked fell beneath the greatswords of his foes. The Githyanki that had been targeted by Umbrecrom and his magic stones, using the buoyant nature of the astral plane leapt onto the aft-deck, a higher tiered deck that was above the area where it previously battled. Then using its own magical abilities, its form seemed to smear across the spot where it stood, a Githyanki smudge that was difficult to tell precisely where it stood. Meanwhile, Bealavel had dodged the wayward attacks aimed at her, and responded with devastating swordsmanship that first flailed the rapiers that extended from her forearms in a wild array drawing off the defending strikes of her target which allowed her to bury both bladed deep in the suddenly defenseless creature. It rebounded off her hilts and drifted over the side of the transport training twin liquid ribbons of life behind it. Umbrecrom climbed the wall and leapt onto the aft deck landing next to a crewman with a bow and the Githyanki he’d followed who was now a blurred patch, hard to discern. Umbrecrom snapped his fingers retrieving White Iron from magic storage within his glove. He grasped the bottom half of the hilt with his other hand and swung but the blur effect had caused him to miss it entirely. Yestamir who had floated to a higher vantage point over the decks to get a better sense of the battle took note of the other Githyanki that had just killed the flanked crewman, and pulled out his Dorge, the crystal wand that held a reserve of psionic strength in its structure and had been prepared to release it in increments that were patterned to trap its target within an assault known as ‘id insinuation’. Yestamir pointed the crystal, a burst of imperceptible energy lanced out and struck the Githyanki leaving its mind in an incoherent disarray. It babbled helplessly not even understanding the danger it was now surrounded by. Then a passenger crept over the other side of the transport behind the babbler noting its opportunity to strike fast. Kyllie the Tout was plane-touched. Her form bore the heritage of having had a parent who was from a different plane. She had little horns upon her forehead and her shins bore an extra joint which bent in the opposite direction of her knees. A Tiefling. She held two daggers which she plunged in the back of the incoherent Githyanki. Before it could react though, Bealavel moved up to flank the creature, and struck it with her sword. At the other end of the transport another of the Githyanki appeared amid the battling crew striking viciously at the back of the crewman who was fighting its companion to a standstill. Back at the aft- deck as the free crewman struggled to position himself to loose an arrow the raiding Githyanki moved on the closer crewman and with a wide swipe of the silver greatsword decapitated him. The head launched in an upward spin spraying droplets of blood for many revolutions. Umbrecrom struck the creature with his sword tagging it’s shoulder, but missed on the follow-up strike. Nique and Nelkie had been positioning and trading attacks, blood dripped from the maw of the Sabertooth, and anointed Frostwind. Such was her strike so well placed and solidly struck that something within the magiced blade of Frostwind responded- a surge of magic swelled, releasing a torrent explosion of the cold magic upon the unfortunate Gith. The searing cold left the creatures back wafting a frost mist into the grey astral. Back at the other end another crewman dropped. Yestamir, noting the blurring abilities of the raiding Githyanki threw another brainlock pearl, for if it would take effect it would temporarily shut down the higher psionic functions of the Githyankis’ brains. His aim was off though, and another brainlock pearl was lost to the astral plane. Incredibly, the Githyanki flanked between Bealavel & Kyllie hit Bealavel which dented her thigh. The automaton replied by impaling the yellow-skinned Githyanki with a single strike through its breastbone. Another of the crew fell at the the far end of combat, while Umbrecrom delivered a devastating strike at his end, knocking away the creatures defending blade while White Iron slid fatally through collar, ribs, belly and was lodged in the pelvis of the yellow corpse. Bealavel looked on nodding approval of that fell stroke. He ran across the deck to the other end of battle not bothering to shake the corpse free, although it slid off quickly. At the other end, the captain of the vessel, and elemental half-breed of some sort of earth type, has emerged from the below decks and engaged one of the Githyanki. Yestamir noting that Nelke and Nique had moved from their first victim to the far end threw yet another brainlock pearl, but with this one he succeeded and the blur effect the Githyanki had psionically enacted faded away. Nique reached at it with Frostwind cutting a gash along its midriff. Freezing cold sealed the wound. Bealavel moved over to the other which after having cut the captain down leapt behind the other one while the Sabertooth’s maw chewed a leathal wound out of its back. Umbrecrom remembering that his movement was better on the astral plane when he moved by the power of his will, glided over next to Yestamir and struck wildly at the Githyanki hoping to draw its attention away from the Elf. The grievously wounded Githyanki swung at Nique but missed. Yestamir backed away and leveled Nique’s bow sending another arrow to sail endlessly out into the astral. Frostwind struck its target, a cruel slice along the creature’s neck. The wound withered as the cold destroyed living flesh. Nelke though, brought the creature down having sunk its long fangs into its soft midriff and with a quick tug of his head pulled intestine stretching from the mortal wound. Bealavel who flanked her target with Umbrecrom, looked to the Gith as she swayed her blades from side to side daring it to strike, sensing the barbarian’s imminent attack: two rapid strikes that laid it open in a frightening bloom of red tendrils erupting in the astral haze.
With the Githyanki defeated Yestamir and Nique tended to the downed crew looking to see if any could be saved. The captain and several others were revived. Umbrecrom had gone down below looking for possible survivors, or hopefully, more Githyanki. He found none that would survive, but fortunately Yestamir knowing that Umbrecrom wasn’t equipped to make such decisions followed behind him and was able to stabilize one of the dead Umbrecrom had deemed beyond help. In all, 4 or 5 were stabilized and healed by the careful skills and Druid spells of Nique.

p.

Chapter another one- Interview

The Captain who introduced herself as Elase Thunderfist Captain of ‘The Lesser Evil’ told that they were on their way to Sigil: City of doors. A trading destination of astral commerce, where it was said anything could be bought. Elase introduced her lone passenger, Kyllie the Tout. Kyllie was a guide of sort (‘Tout’ being another word for ‘guide’ in a planar dialect neither Umbrecrom or Nique was entirely sure of). Elase spoke about Sigil, although not as big as Union- no one recognized the name, was at least as prolific, for Sigil was under the rule of the Lady of Pain who it was said had the power to bannish even divine beings from her city. When Elase announced that afterward she was going to Anoreth after Sigil she had to explain that they were liscenced traders and would find no trouble in the Githyanki home city. Obviously the Githyanki that attacked were pirates, but that didn’t stop the crew from casting the silver swords from their ship as quick as possible, for it was said that Githyanki silver swords were jealously guarded by their race. Elase by way of thanks bid the Shards to keep the the salvage from the Githyanki pirates and offered to take them to Sigil with her.
The Shards were able to find the Githyanki had:
2 rock crystals- 50 gp each
red spinel- 70 gp
amythist- 90 gp
rotochrosite- 8 gp
white pearl- 140 gp
tormeline- 90 gp
eye agat- 11 gp
bluestar sapphire 1500 gp
A dark green crystal dorge with silver wrapping & scribed glyphs upon its length
A glowing crystal power stone
Dull grey locking cuffs scribed with designs with a key which were some kind of elaborate psi-restraint
Since Kyllie is a guide they decided to query about a commission to find a portal back to their own prime material plane. Yestamir led the negotiations. By way of background on Sigil, the Shards were told to avoid the hive, which was the slum area. Portals were everywhere in Sigil, but each portal needed a key, and not all portals were permanent. Kyllie had to determine which prime the Shards hailed from and asked for something distinguishing about their plane. For a moment Yestamir thought. “Would you know of the Eldar?”
“The Eldarea?” she asked. “Coramorphus and the like?”
“Yes. I am a descendant of Coramorphus!” Yestamir offered.
Kyllie briefly slipped into private revelry as resolve locked about her person, determined not to let slip that in her mind she was deep in the full-throated groove of the money-dance.
“Mmm-hm.” she offered. She knew of the legendary Druid-Wizards and imagined the financial power that they might control.
“I’ll be able to do it for 5000 gp” she stated without her voice cracking.
Yestamir, considering how hard a task tracking down a gate to a known, possibly famous (or infamous) world might be, and thought the offer could be a little high. Senses and intuition honed in the halls of the royal courts of Amcarofarne considered her. Was there just the slightest lurch in her stance signifying that possibly her heart skipped a single precious beat at the acknowledgement of Coramorphus’s Eldarea? Was she just slightly too casual about talking to one from the lineage of he who crafted the destruction of the Gurth Morgul Hrui? Did she not feel any gratitude from the rescue from the certainty of being killed at the hands of a Githyanki raiding party? Yes… Mayhaps the offer was a smidge high..
Yestamir countered by stating that he’d not planned on being on this kind of outing, and was ill prepared to pay but a fraction of that cost.
She indicated that maybe in a place where often the most valuable commodity is information that he might possess knowledge of his prime material plane that would be of considerable value to the right person.
“Like what?” he queried
“What do you think might be of interest?” she countered. “Tell me of happenings on your world…” she didn’t even try to fish for anything but waited to see what pearls or pebbles Yestamir would hand her.
Yestamir began with a brief summary of some of the common-enough lore of the Eldarea. After a few moments it became apparent a history lesson wasn’t the kind of information she had hoped for. Yestamir spoke on a few other subjects confounded by what might be valuable and how he might determine that. Kyllie’s reaction seemed completely natural, Yestamir wouldn’t give her anything. She was burning her time in a crucible of his conversation. Then he threw out “The queen is dead.” At first that seemed another dull iota. Then she reconsidered, followed almost instantly by a wave of composure that she hoped buried her reconsideration. Yestamir grew tired of guessing at what would interest her. Of course she wouldn’t know that until she found someone who was interested in buying any of the information he tossed her way. Likely no-one cared for anything he’d said, but you never know. And if she did find a buyer, he’d never really know.
He offered a sum of 500 gp and promised that upon returning she would get the first opportunity to do business with them or others they would send on their behalf, at her normal rates. To clarify, Kyllie said that she would find sages for 200 gp, as if sages didn’t want to be found to do business because they had enough money which is why they became sages in the first place, and finding obscure portals for 800 to 1000 gp because to the properly ignorant, every portal is an obscure portal, which even given ‘normal pricing’ proved her to be an opportunist who initially sought 5000 gp. Yestamir upon concluding this willing ransacking gave to her all but the most valuable of the gems harvested from the Githyanki that almost killed her out of hand. Kyllie then excused herself, she wanted to check on her cargo.
Over the day and a half it would take to get to Sigil the Shard’s Elemental half-breed struck up an acquaintance with “The Lesser Evil”‘s Elemental half-breed. She found the opportunity to practice her Terran, while he practiced it back to her. As the transport neared a leathery brown astral color pool the Captain gave Umbrecrom an ivory chit that would allow the Shards to pay up to a week for their rooms for at an inn, the Hearty Copper Hero and Camel at the spinward end of the market ward. Umbrecrom thanked her and pledged that they shouldn’t be on her tab that long. As they disembarked Kyllie offered that they buy a gate compass and that they shouldn’t pay more than 2800 gp for one.
The Captain hoped that the portal to Sigil would be in the market ward, and when they arrived they found that it was.

p.

Chapter next to the last- Interjection

The city of Sigil was an odd one, situated on the inside surface of a torus shape. Umbrecrom noted how the ground circled far overhead at the sides but continued to a vertical horizon both in front and behind him such that the horizon was on the same side going either way, ensuring that they would meet on the other side of the torus. He understood this and reconsidered what it might look like if it were just a bubble much larger than this. Exactly like the prime he knew. The people and races found there spanned the spectrum from human to black-hued Elves, beings that were more plant than animal, to the naked flesh colored humanoids who lacked defining facial features, Centauroid, to living mechanical constructs. The architecture evinced the same diversity- Gnomish Grand Garden style stood next to Fiendish Arch-empirical which was across the way from Yuan Ti Gossamer Scale. Past the great bazaar on the border of the Market and Guildhall Wards was where the Shards would find the Hearty Copper Hero and Camel. As they exited “The Lesser Evil” they were given each a package of some food for when they left the astral plane. While on the astral the passage of time continued but due to its nature the effects did not manifest there. They did not grow tired, even though Yestamir and Nique still suffered the effects of being fatigued, no matter how long they remained on the plane. They did not grow any more hungry than they were when they entered, nor was their need to relieve themselves any greater. Upon passing through the leathery brown color pool that led to Sigil the effects of the time spent upon the astral saturated their beings. Immediately on the other side of the portal were facilities to handle the most urgent of these deferred needs. These common facilities were not the cleanest one could imagine and the smells that assaulted them were by design ever present as were the glamour of harsh and annoying sounds so that those returning from the astral might not immediately fall asleep. The inn for which Umbrecrom possessed the ivory pass was by chance a bit of a journey from the color pool, though. Even the Barbarian, who something like a day and a half ago had received the casting of Nique’s lesser restoration spell which remedied the effects of his fatigue, was by now fatigued again. The Druid, her Sabertooth and the Psion were by now, a least a week in the astral, close to exhaustion. They made their way dull-eyed and intent through the market sector taking little note of the wares to be had there. Surely others took more note at their passing. Because Bealavel was a construct that didn’t suffer the effects of temporal decompression from the astral she was the most reliable to spot any trouble along the way. Because she was a magical construct she didn’t need the food package and quickly passed it off to Nique’s large animal companion Nelke who more than ably obliged her. Despite reservation the Barbarian thought he would find a forrest to inhabit later and just concede to sleep where the Captain’s chit offered a secured place. At the inn, they were given a large suite that accommodated their entire party of five having two seperate sleeping chambers and a common living area. The Sabertooth was likely as uneasy with the arrangement.The Elves tranced as Elves do, never really falling into the deep rest of sleep, Umbrecrom and the Sabertooth slept silently as Baelavel kept guard.

When they awoke, no one could tell if it was morning, evening or night in this strange demesne, they availed themselves of the tavern within the inn.
The barkeep was a mechanical centaur who had seen some vicious times. The housing of his face was partially missing, ceramic plates on his torso were spider-webbed with impact fractures, a few were missing. Some ad hock repairs were evident as his form wasn’t symmetrically mirrored. “I am Ajax 7, the manager here at the Hearty Copper Hero and Camel. How can I help you?”
Yestamir explained formally that the group was new to Sigil and had just arrived from the astral.
“Ahhh. You’re hungry?”
“Yes.” the elf replied seeing not much need to elaborate.
“Five Astral specials!” Ajax 7 called to the cook in the back room. “If you find yourself a seat your server will be with you in a bit.” The group wandered over to a large round table near the window that looked out onto the street. Nelke settled at Nique’s feet along the wall under the window. The others sat with no ceremony.
They were then approached by a clean-shaven Half-Orc wearing a tight gold colored vest and a bow tie the shade of copper with baggy pantaloons that reach only below his knees where they were tied off, also copper. “Me am Eyago! Me be serving you today- you like astral special- it have red potatoes!” With little skill he poured them water from the pitcher he carried. The waiter tried to ingratiate himself as servants do. The Shards paid him little heed. When he brought out their food someone mentioned the lack of utensils. “No good Valerius!” Eyago muttered. “He bad busboy! Eyago very sorry!” as if remembering something, he paused then knelt on his knees and repeated with more fervor, clasping his hands before him, “-Very sorry!” He scrambled to his feet and headed toward the kitchens, “Beat him again- no do simple job… All needs spoons!” The astral special was a big breakfast, simple yet filling, well flavored and also covered by the Captain’s chit, including Eyago’s small gratuity. Again Nelke benefitted from the construct’s mechanical nature, which since after the battle with the Githyanki was surrounded by the illusion of her being another High Elf traveler who wore no weapons. They then decided it was time to look for the gate compass Kyllie counseled they find.
As they wandered back into the Market Ward they took note of the wares of this inter-dimensional bazaar. There were many shops that sold weapons and other accessories of combat. Nique with her new wicked Frostwind, Yestamir a Psion wielding weapons of the mind, Bealavel a construct with her rapiers incorporated right into her forearms, and Umbrecrom who kept his White Iron stored in his magic glove had little interest in looking at other blades, sticks, bows or cudgels. There were armor smithies, gem dealers, potters, and bookbinders. Magic was in no small supply and garnered a little more notice, but the Shards looked first for the gate compass that might exceeded the price of the 1508 gp in gems Umbrecrom still held onto from the Githyankis. After several hours and a few close calls into shops and stands that also sold mechanism that they had no idea about, they arrived at the door of a very tidy store with the words “Planar Sextants” scribbed on the window with grey and white lettering outlined in a crisp and flourished black.
Umbrecrom was approached by a wizened old woman who offered him an elixir of celestial blood waving it in his face.
“What would I want with that?” he asked trying not to imagine what diabolic deed obtained such a thing. She offered that it would make him a better swordsman. Raising his empty hand to highlight his lack of a sword sheath he asked “What would I do with that?” She assured him that he’d be a better soldier trying to prompt agreement commenting that a man as big as him was no doubt a soldier. “Noooo….” he countered hoping that the merchant would just move on. Someone suggested that the Barbarian be careful in the crowd to be certain everything in his pockets remained there. As he patted himself down he looked to his belt to see an empty dagger sheath. His weary-of-‘civilization’ eyes rolled back in their sockets. “Naturally” he thought to himself. But at least the old woman had finally let him alone. They entered the store.
A Halfling merchant who strode the aisles dressed in a dapper yet tasteful suit met them and introduced himself as Quaker who sold the finest planar sextants to be had. He offered a few of the product at hand highlighting the fine qualities of each mechanism in turn. Yestamir, oblivious to finer points of commerce where money is exchanged for items, or just to establishing his fine taste, pointed to the largest most glittering contraption in the store and announced “I like this one.” Quaker elaborated a bit and then showed something that unfolded and expanded into something larger than the box that contained it. The Shards revealed that what they required was something that would be easily portable. Eventually the Shards were shown a gate compass which Yestamir bartered to a price of 2400 gp, well under the 2800 gp Kyllie suggested would be overpriced. Should Yestamir ever find need to venture to the astral plane he now possessed the compass that might help him navigate the grey wasteland of mist, color pools, and Githyanki. Nique augmented the remaining funds from the Githyanki massacre with some of her personal money she had managed to save. As they wandered back to their room at the Hearty Copper Hero and Camel they passed a bookstand that Nique notices had the tome “The Compendium of Planar Geography” for 80 gp. Yestamir who had mentioned that his planar lore was not what it could be several times during their tedious ordeal in the astral plane the past week was shown the book, he decided to buy it, and bartered the price down to 50 gp which was well within his means. Soon to be armed with the knowledge of this tome Yestamir might even navigate the astral quickly.

p.

Chapter the last- Interdiction

That evening Kyllie joined the Shards for dinner courtesy of Captain Elase Thunderfist’s chit. Nique passed time by chatting with Eyago.
“Why do you let Vilarius hold you back, Eyago?”
The Half-Orc waiter just sighed. "Eyago knows this, Eyago just have soft heart… " He glanced at the spoon in his hand that he was about to set, “Vilarious! These spoons are filthy!” He excused himself and ran to the back to find cleaner spoons.
After dinner Kyllie talked about what the Shards 500 gp has bought them:
There was a gate to their world, but it had just appeared within the last 2 weeks so it would likely be a temporary portal. It was in the courtyard on a noble’s property. Portals in Sigil activated by keys, and a key could be anything such as a phrase, an item, a spell- it varied greatly. The key to this new portal that the property’s owner was likely unaware of, was unknown. The property’s owner, a certain Gnomish Sorcerer by the name of Gobble Quillin who lived in the Lady’s district didn’t seem familiar to anyone. Quingle was the only real hope of recognizing the name being a Gnomish Sorcerer himself, but he was back in Illuvinari. And naturally there was no clue as to where on Illuvinari the portal led to. It could easily lead to the Underdark, under the sea, the high court of Gate’s Falls, or the Sendak’s summoning chamber just as easily as it could have led to somewhere safe and convenient.
It was discussed how they might approach obtaining the use of such a portal. Kyllie had no information on the Gnome noble or the disposition of his reputation. Surely some expert research would be needed to discover its key, and then there may be issues of obtaining the key. It was brought up that given the activity in Illuvinari in the past 2 weeks that the appearance of such a portal might not be co-incidence.
The objective being the return to Illuvinari, this incidence although interesting, seemed like a untimely distraction. The Corsair Kings, the 12 great pirate fleets were descending upon Fennes Ear at the behest of the Sendak who had declared war on the Elves. They could just go back to The Lesser Evil and beggar the captain to aid them as they aided The Lesser Evil. It was noticed that she seemed to favor the Shard’s half-elemental Stonechild. Yestamir, having rested, now possessed enough psychic strength to plane shift back and forth between the prime material plane and this one (or the astral if need be) several times in the hope of getting near enough to the coming battle to at least deliver the resources of his companions to the Elven effort. This portal wasn’t their only recourse and not of need their first.
Umbrecrom wondered aloud how much it was going to cost as he considered whether the Warlord paid for their services or just saw fit to equip them.
“.. and this will cost cost you a little more…” Kyllie offered cautiously.
As the Barbarian understood it, the Tiefling, a plane-touched of fiendish heritage just told them that find out how much the information they needed to know was going to cost, was going to cost them. There was a price to discovering the price. With only the memory of the Githyanki gems to remind him of what money they had on hand, it became apparent the Tiefling was revealing her heritage.
The Barbarian, his mind slipping back to one of the misadventures of his youth before he managed to make it to the surface world of Amcarofarne remembered a particularly bad incident where he’d stumbled into the waiting lair of Stirges. Blood-feasting creatures of magic that relied on their superior numbers to defeat their foes. He had embedded his sword in the back wall of their lair with a wild strike. The two attached to him drained him viciously, another he squeezed to a bloody pulp in his hand. It was mostly his own blood. Umbrecrom made the decision to abandon the sword to save himself. He dove into a nearby lye pool which caused the Stirges to abandon him. It took him several months before he could defeat the creatures to retrieve White Iron. Dealing with Kyllie he reminisced not fondly of the Stirges and their barbed pinchers digging into his rock-like hide, their pink proboscises draining him of his vitality. He wouldn’t have to squeeze her until she popped, though.
He stood up from the table and addressed his companions, shaking his head.
“Let’s just go back to the the ship and find another pool…” There was no reason to do otherwise. Kyllie excused herself and left.
They found The Lesser Evil still docked within the astral, Captain Elase preparing to leave for Crosswinds Keep which was located on the ossified head of a dead god somewhere in the astral. Yestamir adjusted the gate compass settings for Amcarofarne because it was, as yet still a more familiar place to him that Fennes Ear. When The Lesser Evil was at its closest point to the proper color pool the Shards would embark on their own into the astral the rest of the way. While awaiting this point the Half-elementals got to know each other better, and the Captain was persuaded to deliver them directly to their portal. Yestamir thought to ask the crew he was near, what color they perceived the color pool to be. He’d been reading. Creatures of the prime always saw their own plane as silver. To those not from his own plane he’d discovered they saw it as grey with silver streaks.
Before they departed for their own plane Elase gifted Umbrecrom a lock of her wiry hair.
Yestamir focused on the color pool with the authority of the knowledge his book had so far bestowed upon him. He focused on Fennes Ear. In a moment they stepped through. Thinking there might be planar wards to alert the Elves to the breach they turned around to see a searing cold blue fire circle the invisible portal in the space they had just stepped through. Then the portal was gone.
They were then challenged by a troop of Elven archers.

View
Lament for Nettlegreen
05/14 thru 05/15/5055

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While preparing to meet the advancing pirate fleet, our heroes discover one of the Lucians have attacked the ruins near Ost Lachrunyanen.

View
Ghosts of Fenris
05/11/5055

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Before Celethor signs over command of the Company of Shards to Eqximiye, in preparation for the Armada campaign, he has a special assignment for Quingle and Pr’Gillis.

Taking them to a scry-proof room, he tells them there will be no discussions on this mission – just do it:

“A mage will teleport you to Ceralon. From there you will proceed with others who will be transporting a large cylindrical object. You will bury that object, set the controls, and finally plant a flower over it. Then you will go back to Ceralon where the mage will teleport you out. Pr’Gillis’ job will be to dig the hole, bury the object, and memorize/set the controls. Quingle’s task will be to make sure nothing appears out of the ordinary.”

So on the evening of the Lothron 10, 5055, Quingle gives Malachitrix a bag of honey sesame treats to keep him occupied, and leaves him in a scry-proof room. He polymorphs himself into a high elf as a disguise, and goes to meet his comrade.

Quingle and Pr’Gillis are teleported to Ceralon, near a building that appears to be in ruins, with two sides broken down and overgrown. The city is amazing, with buildings and plants seemingly grown together as one.

As they travel, Quingle uses his talent with illusions to make the cart with the cylindrical object appear as a palanquin carrying a fine elven lady.

They pass a great tree and ceremonial bowl – the council chambers for the Elven High Council.

They continue on into the woods, and pass a large stone obelisk, eventually coming to a clearing in the woods containing a circle. In the center is a young white tree 40’ high. Off to one side, outside the circle, is a pavilion. Lounging in the pavilion are 6-10 elves in plate armor, whose sigils Pr’Gillis recognizes as the Order of the Lance.

Quingle and Pr’Gillis follow them into the circle, where there are elves all around. To all observers it appears that the fine elven lady is making a personal offering to the tree, while in actuality Pr’Gillis is burying the cylinder and setting its controls, finally finishing up by planting a rose bush.

When their task is complete, they take their leave, travel back to Ceralon, and are teleported back to Fennas Ear.

On Lothron 11, Quingle and Pr’Gillis are again with Celethor, who is also speaking with Eqximiye and Celemar. “Something has to be done. I need to talk some sense into him,” Celethor says to Eqximiye. “Who?” she asks. “You know who,” he responds. “No, I don’t!” Celethor and Celemar are staring each other down, and finally Celethor commands everyone to clear the room, and Quingle and Pr’Gillis hear none of the remaining conversation. But later, Celethor again comes to them and says: “Part two – same thing in reverse.”

So Quingle and Pr’Gillis again teleport to Ceralon, and make their way to the clearing, where they see Eqximiye and Thangil enter the circle. Eventually, Hithlorian enters the circle as well. He and Eqximiye get into a discussion, and he takes notice of the rose bush that had been planted the previous evening. Something about the rose impresses the powerful Eldar, and Quingle hears him say “at least someone knows how to make an appropriate offering,” and touches the rose.

Which springs the trap on the dimensional mine: the cylinder opens, pulls Hithlorian into it, and closes. At that point Pr’Gillis approaches, makes the settings on the cylinder’s seals that he had memorized, digs up the cylinder – now an eternal prison for the insane Hithlorian – and he and Quingle take the cylinder, again disguised, back to Ceralon. Pr’Gillis and Quingle are ported back to Fennas Ear. And Hithlorian to – ???

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My Dinner with Witherow and Baggage Claim
05/09 thru 05/10/5055

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The Speaker of the Eldarea keeps her promise to transport the newly resurrected Pr’Gillis and his friend to Port Dawn. But the price is that they must assist her as she answers a strange invitation.

Taken from the events of “Baggage Claim” & “My Dinner with Witherow”

- An Interlude


The gnome is so very tired. It is the fifth of Lothron, and neither he, nor any of his party, has slept in well over a day. And the things they have done in that time! They completed a spontaneous intelligence gathering plan and discovered that the Governor of Port Dawn is planning to attack the elves; two of his group made a side trip to Arvandor and Elfheim; when rejoined, they unexpectedly continued on to what may be described as the Armory of the Eldar; met with the mind of Galenial upon a weapon of ancient and terrible fury; awoke a horde of battle briars, and then rode with them in a stampede. None of this, of course, had anything to do with their original mission in Port Dawn. And all of it was to end, for Quingle at least, with an encounter with a group of evil adventurers, the final tragedy being that Pr’Gillis lost his life in a one-on-one match with the opposing monk. In fact, he died while still mind-linked to the party – so they all felt his life draining away. Quingle, the remaining Shards insisted, needed to take Pr’Gillis’ body back to Fennas Ear for care, and so he was then forced to make the unhappy decision to leave his comrades behind to an unknown fate. Finally, while preparing the body of his friend for the teleport, his counterpart in the opposing group summoned a Barbazu, what some call a bearded devil, right behind the busy gnome, which dealt him a grievous blow. It is no wonder, then, that he suffered a minor mishap on the teleport, but eventually made it to his destination – the castle at Fennas Ear.

Knowing that the guards probably wouldn’t recognize him immediately, he waited patiently with his arms outstretched in a nonaggressive manner, until one could be found who could vouchsafe his identity. When he had explained his immediate situation, he and the body of his friend were taken to the Isle of the Moon for healing and resurrection. Fortunately for the gnome, and perhaps owning to his race’s strong constitutions, the blow by the Barbazu did not manifest as the“infernal wound” that the devils are known to inflict, and he was healed in short order.

Two days later, on the 7th of Lothron, the sorcerer has healed completely, and the preparations are complete to perform a True Resurrect on the fallen monk, with the spell being cast by no less than Morran Tel’Kittoren, the High Priest of Correllon Larethian. The cost of the diamonds required by the spell’s casting is supplied by Pr’Gillis’ mother, the occasional elf known as Lady Borsa. In a display of temperament common to Mothers everywhere, Borsa was naturally worried and concerned for her son. But once he had been brought back, and she knew he was whole and sound, she let fly with a barrage of tongue lashings, rants and scoldings about his fighting and dying that almost made one fear for his safety all over again. Even Quingle was not spared her wrath; “you’re supposed to be the smart one!” she wailed at the gnome. The two adventurers tried to explain that the opposing monk, though evil, was still lawful and therefore bound by the agreement of the fight; Pr’Gillis accepting this fight was probably the best tactic for preventing an escalation of hostilities in which the Shards, in their fatigued state, may not have fared so well. Other than this excuse, the two partners quietly endured Borsa’s tirades until she, at last, wore herself out. She had one final point to make, however. She took Pr’Gillis down to one of the chambers in her lair, a chamber that was empty. “Do you see this clean chamber?” she asked her son. “This room used to be full of treasure. Treasure which I had to exchange for the components required for your resurrection. I expect you to fill it back up again.” She loves her son, make no mistake, but she is still a dragon!

Now that the two friends were well and rested, their thoughts turned to their companions, from whom they have not heard any word. Having used it a few times already, they know that a common tactic is for Yestamir to use his abilities to take the party to the astral plane as a last resort, if necessary. So they do not feel any ill-boding for their friends just yet. Their thoughts also turn to the poor slave girl whom Pr’Gillis bought on their first night in Port Dawn. She is now Pr’Gillis’, and by extension the Shards’, responsibility, and they feel that the sooner they can get back to “claim” her and bring her to safety – and (more importantly) to freedom – the better. A simple in-out mission to get her probably won’t take to much time, they conjecture, but how to get to Port Dawn? Quingle was out of teleport scrolls, and they didn’t have the ready cash to purchase more. They begin to remember that Lady Eqximiye Carlack, the Speaker of the Eldar, has assisted their group in the past (though they have not met her personally), by providing useful equipment for their missions. “Perhaps she may be of some assistance now,” they think. So without knowing quite what possessed them to decide to do such a thing, they determine to go to see her, and see if she can help.

It is at this point that Borsa reveals to Pr’Gillis and Quingle one of the secrets of her lair: there is a permanent teleport circle in one of her chambers, linked directly to the palace in Fennas Ear. “But,” she warns, “be sure to wear one of the necklaces hanging on hooks around the room; this will prevent the palace defenses from activating and your being instantly incinerated. The circle ports to a cell in the dungeons; when you arrive, check in with the Duty Officer currently in charge.”

So on Lothron 8, Pr’Gillis and Quingle arrive in the palace, where they request to speak to Lady Carlack. They believe their rank is sufficient that they will not be summarily refused, but they know that they will need to wait a bit, and indeed are directed to one of the palace libraries. Eventually they are shown to the royal wing by Rillelauren Aseaheru, Eqximiye’s Aide, who is nicknamed Rille, and finally are directed to Lady Carlack’s office. Her office has the look of those who are kept perpetually busy: a chaotic disarray of stacks of papers, books, scrolls, documents and the like. Eqximiye merely pushes a stack of papers off her desk onto the floor to make the discussions with her guests slightly easier. During the ususal polite introductory small talk Quingle notices that his familiar, Malachitrix, the mischievous copper dragon wyrmling, has eaten something he has found in the office. “What did you just swallow?” the sorcerer asks, worried that it may have been something important to the Speaker. “Something tasty” the young dragon responds. (To be sure, Quingle enjoys the antics of his companion, and finds that his pranks, never malicious, serve to keep people on their toes, but there are a few times when better behavior is called for.) “But what was it?” the gnome counters. “Crunchy,” was the dragon’s reply. Exasperated, Quingle makes an apology to Lady Eqximiye, who responds with an understanding nod. Also at one point during their chitchat, Eqximiye lays one of her arms on her desk, and with a dagger in her opposing hand, cuts off the hand on the desk! Oddly, the severed hand takes on a life of its own, and scurries from the room! (It returns at a later point, reattaching itself to its accustomed location.) “A very interesting druid spell,” Quingle thinks to himself, remembering that the Eldar are a blend of arcane spellcaster and druid classes, “I wonder if Nique is aware of that one?”

Aware of her high rank in elven society, her relation to the Warlord, and that she probably receives copies of any reports they make anyway, Pr’Gillis and Quingle see no reason not to give her what they thought was to be a brief account of their recent adventures (they also know that the Speaker is herself an adventurer, and what adventurer can resist the urge to regale another of one’s escapades?). As they tell their tales, Eqximiye becomes more and more animated, and when they tell her about finding the castle/weapon floating in the astral plane with Galenial’s mind contained within it, she orders the two to stop their story. The group immediately moves to a scry-proof room attended by three other scribes to take down the rest of their account. Pr’Gillis and Quingle are somewhat puzzled by all the excitement over their group’s discoveries, but it turns out the Galenial weapon is something so powerful that its use has grave negative side effects that last for centuries. Apparently, there are some within the ranks of the Eldar who believe that it is time for it to be used again and not knowing its location is all that is keeping them from doing so; while others, including the Speaker, feel it should never be used again under any circumstances. The two Shards definitely side with the Speaker on this one. The debriefing continues, with dinner being sent in at one point, and is eventually concluded with Pr’Gillis giving an account of the things he witnessed during his time dead. There was, he described, a “calling” by some undead force, believed to be the Children of the Black Sun. As a sign of how serious the things they discovered are, the security clearance of the Shards is immediately upgraded, and they now are assigned to the Eldar (or, in truth, Lady Eqximiye, who felt that someone who wasn’t aware that the group now possessed significant information would send them somewhere stupid and get them all killed). The two Shards are directed to tell no one about what they found.

What a strange turn of events for the two companions – what they thought was to be introductory small talk turned out to be a major debriefing session that stretched on for several hours, for by the time they conclude it is well past midnight, they had their security clearance upgraded, and now work for a new boss (though they wonder how the Warlord is going to take that news). And they have yet to bring up the business that brought them to the Speaker in the first place!

It isn’t until around 1:00 am on the 9th that they finally get around to why Pr’Gillis and Quingle are there: to request any help Lady Eqximiye may provide in getting back to Port Dawn to retrieve and free the slave Pr’Gillis bought. As fate would have it, Eqximiye has a mission in Port Dawn as well, but she also has business to attend to in Argotha. She agrees to take them with her to Port Dawn, if they will accompany her on her diplomatic mission. The three agree to leave right then, on the condition that Pr’Gillis can acquire a flute prior to their leaving. He borrows a fine twelve hundred year old instrument from one of the court musicians. Quingle wears the blue uniform, created for “General Purge’s” troop from their last stay in Port Dawn, but he goes with a disguise self spell going, appearing as a half-elf dressed appropriately for Port Dawn.

At 2:00 am the three teleport to Port Dawn, to the basement of the Scurvy Dog – an inn that Eqximiye usually ports to when she has business in the city. They are in complete darkness, and total silence. The inn has been completely demolished. Eqximiye and Quingle cast fly on themselves to extricate themselves from the rubble, while Pr’Gillis’ dexterity allows him to do the same. They see that there are several other buildings also demolished around the city – and all are within the shapes of giant footprints. The footprints appear to be heading toward the gate and road. Once free of the destroyed inn, Eqximiye uses a crystal ball to locate Andros, her associate that she has come to retrieve, and finds him walking down a darkened street, dressed for work. Quingle recognizes the area, and the three are off at a hustle. They do another scry when they get to the point where he was, and now see him in a room at an inn or tavern, apparently in a private meeting, but they can’t discern which establishment it is. So they pick a tavern at random, the Fish Head, and enter. In order to blend in they order beers, which is “very young,” or as another customer put it, “the yeast hasn’t farted enough alcohol yet.” Pr’Gillis attempts to gather information, but doesn’t get anywhere. Quingle, with his charisma, tries and discovers that not only is Andros not here, this place doesn’t even have private rooms. They are directed, however, to try at the Blue Fishhook, where they are told that they do have rooms.

At the Blue Fishhook, Quingle finds out that Andros is indeed there, so they settle in for the wait. They decide to have something to eat, and surprisingly the shark dinner is quite excellent. However, they notice that none of the other customers, though enjoying the shark, are not touching the bread. Believing in the old adage that the regulars know best, they leave their loaf alone.

After a time, three dwarves leave from the door pointed out to the party, following shortly thereafter by a half-orc. The group enters the door, along with another party of a human and two half-elves. They find themselves in a room with several other doors, so they simply bribe a waiter to discover the correct one, which they enter and find Andros. Eqximiye and Andros begin their discussions, in which she seeks to persuade him that is time for him to return – the attack on Port Dawn is coming, plus she has other assignments for him. He offers her a pendant of what appears to be a perfume bottle that has a name on it – “Nissian Alfheim.” As arcane spellcasters, Eqximiye and Quingle recognize the bottle as Neptian Remains – a magic item that contains the remains of a deceased person (in this case Nissian) in such a way that it prevents resurrection. He also gives her a broken slave’s collar – with her name on it! “It was his little friend’s name,” the agent explains, referring to an elven slave Nissian had been sexually abusing. Andros agrees to return with Eqximiye, but has some personal matters to attend to first, and says that he will meet back up with them in an hour at the Golden Gnome’s Rest – the site of their other part of this mission. (At some later time Eqximiye will privately discuss with Andros about going to Falls Gate and spying for the Eldar. She will not order him to go, knowing what she does about the Lucians and also knowing that no government has ever been able to infiltrate the city, which she will explain to him. She will simply ask if he would consider volunteering. Despite the danger, he will accept, be provisioned, and leave for Falls Gate – but that’s a tale for the future, not the here and now.)

The three split from the special agent, and make their way back to the site of the Shard’s adventure from a few nights ago. There they see that there are repairs being made to the exterior of the building, and it appears that the damage could be from battle briars. Eventually, Andros meets back up with the group.

Pr’Gillis, Quingle and Eqximiye enter the inn, the first two adjusting their disguises to appear as they did when they were here before. They find out the damage was indeed caused by battle briars; twelve of them did attack the city, but the giant golem was used against them. The golem apparently went off to deal with the rest of the huge plant monsters. Pr’Gillis and Quingle notice that the maitre ‘d from before was not there, and inquire about him. He had been arrested, they are told, for “security problems.” The two explain that they are there to retrieve their “property,” and the staff makes a show of checking the papers and say that they will return when they find out where she’s currently being held. In the shuffle of papers, however, Pr’Gillis notices that there is a red star next to the “General’s” name in the registry books.

Andros comes in disguised as a half-elf, and attempts to get a room and a wench for the night, but is refused and asked to leave. Quingle and Eqximiye also step outside to attempt a scry on the girl using the crystal ball, but get no image of her. The current maitre ‘d tells Pr’Gillis that they are “cleaning her up for you,” but it is obvious that they are just stalling for time. Pr’Gillis explains that they will leave to have breakfast, and that she should be ready when they return in an hour. They all leave the inn, and the three of them quickly duck into a nearby alley for Pr’Gillis to attempt a scry, but again no image is detected.

At that moment, the doors to the inn burst open, and out pour six armored men and two mages. The three duck further back into the alley, and Eqximiye casts an obscuring mist to better conceal them. They try to locate Andros with the crystal ball, and see him being questioned, but his skills as a secret agent are superb, and it appears they are believing this story; indeed, the group tries scrying on him a little later, and see that he is searching for them. They see him coming out of the inn from across the street, so Eqximiye sends Entropy, her feline familiar, out to him. He recognizes the cat, of course, and slips it a note suggesting that they all meet up at the Blue Fishhook.

Once the entire party has regrouped back at the tavern where they first met, they discuss their situation, and the possibility of saving the girl. Andros offers that he could do some spying for them, but it would take time. They reluctantly realize that perhaps this situation requires a little more firepower than they currently have, and with heavy hearts, Pr’Gillis and Quingle decide that they will return to Fennas Ear, hoping that at some point in the future they may return with their full group to rescue the girl. So they all teleport back, but Eqximiye graciously offers the use of the crystal ball to Pr’Gillis and Quingle to periodically check to see if the girls’ status changes; if she’s ever released, and can be scryed upon, then they can return for her.

Once back in Fennas Ear, Pr’Gillis and Quingle are shown to quarters in the guest wing for resting, and Pr’Gillis returns the flute that he was lent. Celemar checks in with Eqximiye. Just before going to bed, Quingle decides to attempt a shadow Sending to the other members of the Shards. He has a strong reason to believe they are on the astral plane, but the sending spell should still work, he supposes. He sends the following message to Umbrecrom: “Quingle here assuming you three are astral. Pr’Gillis resurrected. Return to Port Dawn to retrieve slave failed. Eqximiye debriefed on astral weapon, tell no one.” He then goes to bed.

The group rises at about 2:30 or so on the afternoon of the 9th, and meet back at Eqximiye’s office about 4:00. Fowyn, Pr’Gillis’ father, is there, and he performs a divination to see if the slave girl is still alive. Question: “If we try to rescue the slave girl Pr’Gillis bought in Port Dawn earlier this week, would we find her alive or dead?” Response: “Once bound by chains, now bound by pain. In the depths below the blood. Questioned for dates that are not there.” Fowyn has other business to attend to and leaves, but the group is joined by Thangil Elendu, another member of the Raptors, and preparations are made to depart for Eqximiye’s diplomatic mission.

In his earlier years of travel, before coming under Borsa’s guardianship, Quingle had been to Azaron, which is part of Argotha. Although it had been some time ago, he remembers a popular old dwarven biscuit seller, so he uses Eqximiye’s crystal ball to do a scry on her and get a better image for a teleport. He reads the scroll, and Eqximiye, Thangil, Pr’Gillis and Quingle appear next to the pleasant street vendor. The old dwarf remembers the gnome, and is quite taken with his new charge, Malachitrix. Out of friendship and for old-times sake, the group buys some biscuits all around. “These are the best biscuits,” the dwarf exclaims, “made even better with yak butter!” Thangil also offers Malachitrix a treat that is a favorite of Airamie, the ranger’s own pseudo-dragon companion. The young copper dragon enjoys it immensely, and Quingle notes that he will need to visit Rumblebum’s Necessaries to get a supply of the treats of his own for Malachitrix.

It turns out that the party has arrived during a celebration – the Festival of the Fermentor is in full swing, and everyone is drinking beer (very good beer, it should be noted) and toasting the Fermentor. The group makes their way to the Lord’s Domain, where they are met by Sir Loric Morrius, Viscount of Duraan. Eqximiye and Thangil have met Loric before. Indeed, when last they were together, Loric had a blade at Eqximiye’s throat, but the rules of Host’s Grace, under which this meeting is taking place, dictate that no harm will come to the visiting group. Loric leads them to the main hall of the keep, and while waiting, Pr’Gillis borrows a flute from one of the hall’s musicians and he and Loric give an impromptu concert, with Loric playing a lute. Loric plays with great skill, but Pr’Gillis plays with such grace and beauty that perhaps even the Gods in Their heavens may take note, and Loric is so moved that he gives the flute to Pr’Gillis as a token of esteem. A huge carriage arrives to take them to the Baron’s manor house, and the group departs. It is a four-hour ride from Azaron, and there is much pleasant small talk during the journey; Sir Loric at one point even recites some skillfully crafted poetry (Eqximiye suspects that he is the author of the Grim poems). Loric is, in fact, a Shade, and says to Quingle that “I find something I like about you, but I can’t put my finger on it.” The Shadowcraft sorcerer thanks him politely, but is not sure what to make of that comment.

As the carriage approaches the castle, Pr’Gillis notices that a female elf is running alongside the carriage, easily keeping pace with the horses. He recognizes her as a monk, but can’t see any markings to indicate if she might be from the order of the Opaline Fist, which is the same order as Tilit, the monk to whom Pr’Gillis lost his battle and life just a few days ago. The group disembarks in the courtyard of the manor house, and they notice that there is one turreted tower that has undergone recent repairs. They are met by a woman who introduces herself as Madame Sasa, the mistress of the household. They enter and are shown to a grand lounge.

Sasa attends to all their needs in preparation for dinner and meeting with Baron Witherow Soulthorn. This includes their needs for freshening up before the meal, advice on Argothan etiquette, and even arranging for suitable dinner garments for Quingle. As he is being fitted with the clothes, one of the women attending to him makes the comment to her fellow maids that “it is so nice to be able to use his old clothes again.” Quingle realizes that they are fitting him with the Baron’s old childhood clothes, so he uses a few illusions to update the appearance, modifying the colors to coordinate with those of his companions, and adding a few extra gems here and there.

When the dinner begins, the group is announced to the Baron by the seneschal. Other attendees, besides Baron Witherow, are the Lady Lilleth, Viscount Loric Morrius, and Silnaatia, the elven monk whom Pr’Gillis saw earlier. The Baron is a large, muscular, imposing man, with even more charisma than the visiting group’s sorcerer (who’s arcane abilities require a high degree of personal magnetism). He is, of course, seated at the head of the table, and to his right is Viscount Loric, then Sir Thangil, Silnaatia, and Pr’Gillis. To the Baron’s left is Lady Eqximiye, the Lady Lilleth, Quingle, and then finally Malachitrix. The dining begins immediately, and there is light conversation throughout the meal. Silnaatia, however, appears very uncomfortable, and it is obvious she does not want to be there; the Lady Lilleth hardly speaks at all. Malachitrix does get a little rambunctious at times. It is, of course, just as if a child were dining at the table with the grown ups; indeed, when asked his age he promptly and proudly responds “I’m one year old!,” holding up a single digit. Viscount Loric appears to be concerned that the wyrmling’s behavior might anger the Baron, but his superior appears to be amused by the young dragon’s playfulness.

For entertainment after the meal, Pr’Gillis and Loric again perform as they did back in the Lord’s Domain, and the audience is greatly impressed (though Malachitrix, after such a large meal, has fallen asleep; Quingle asks for a glass saucer to be brought, and gently lifting his familiar’s head, places it under his chin so the acid that he is drooling does not damage the furniture). Finally, the after-dinner activities draw to a close, and the party is directed to the Baron’s private lounge, where the real business begins between him and Lady Eqximiye.

“We have complimentary goals,” the Baron begins, and he and Lady Eqximiye agree to set aside the court courtesies during these discussions. He goes on to explain that he has objects and information that may be useful to Eqximiye, and that a mutual exchange may be arranged. “That’s possible,” Eqximiye responds, “but what do I have to offer you that you don’t already have?” “Credibility,” Witherow replies. She studies him for a moment, and then asks “is the leader of your country to be determined soon?” “That is my intention,” he responds. “Argotha needs a strong leader to be united for troubled times ahead,” he continues, “I intend to be the next King of Argotha. I have the location of individuals you are looking for – members of your organization in exile – they are within a few days ride. Additionally, and at great expense, I have determined the whereabouts of a particular location you have been seeking. I have a gift for you…” At this, Lilleth gives Eqximiye a box, “with the Dark Lady’s blessing” she states, and it is at this point that they notice that Lilleth wears the telltale scar that adorns all clerics of Wee Jas – that of a slit throat.

The box is unlocked, and Eqximiye opens it – it contains bones and a skull, clearly elven. “How very interesting,” she says. The bones are those of Sarendil Ellanta, an enemy of the Raptors at one time, who should not have been killed when he was (while under a flag of truce). Eqximiye believes his assistance to be the key to winning back those Eldar who have been in hiding since the Queen’s death, and she has been searching for his body for some time. “I thought it would be,” Witherow replies, “you understand the significance. I offer it in the spirit of negotiation…it is yours regardless of the outcome of our meeting.” Finally, he is approaching the crux of his invitation to the Speaker of the Eldar. “There are obstacles to reaching my goal” he says. “What can we do for you?” she asks. “Will you confirm my identity?” is his answer; “…shall I speak clearer?” “I believe at this point it is best to leave nothing to interpretation” Eqximiye recommends. “Of course,” he agrees, “the history of my family has been very dark. In particular my sire. There is no chance that one of my lineage in any time soon would be confirmed as heir to the throne. So you will confirm my identity as Morlain Arosian. In return for which, in addition to the previous mentioned information, I will make certain the particular person is returned to you. So, Eqximiye…can we reach an accord?” She is quite for a moment, then says “I have one very important question…what is your opinion of the Children of the Black Sun?” “Troubling.” “Would you oppose them?” she presses on. “I would give my word as King to oppose them if we came to accord;” he pauses for a moment, considers the time of night, the significance of the discussion, and then suggests “perhaps it would be in order to retire for the evening to consider things?” “That would be well,” she agrees. “Then I will bid you good night. Sleep well and soundly,” and with that, he leaves. The party is shown back to their guest apartments, with Sasa, as before, seeing to all their needs.

The following morning Sasa wakes the visiting group, and servants begin laying out durable hunting garb. Eqximiye explains that they must leave, and after some time, the Baron requests to see her alone. She explains their need to return home – the pirate armada is advancing on Fennas Ear. The Baron is very disappointed, but will not take offense; he does, however, insist that he and Lady Eqximiye take a ride together. When she goes to meet him for the ride, she finds that he is wearing heavy armor. Silnaatia and Pr’Gillis join them on their excursion, but monitor the pair from a respectful distance. Silnaatia insisted on her going along, and the Baron called on Pr’Gillis to accompany them on behalf of the Lady Eqximiye. It is during this outing that Pr’Gillis does see that Silnaatia is, indeed, of the same order as Tilit.

After some riding, the Baron says “I had intended to show you this during the hunt,” and leads her into a clearing with what appears to be a bonfire pile of wood. The pile appears to be very odd – it is bundles of twigs, but they are strangely humanoid (they are, in fact, twigblights). “These infest the region in my southern domain. I brought them here to dispose of them. But I also wanted to show you this…” He indicates a wolf’s corpse, but it appears to have been skinned and gutted, but then the skin was put back on the empty corpse. “The only difference between this,” pointing at the body, “and what we encountered is that it is not moving now. I suspect this problem and what is happening in Falls Gate are connected.” “Lilleth has been having strange dreams,” he continues, “someone to challenge Wee Jas…and it’s something connected to you and your family. Is there something you wish to add?” “I believe you are correct about Falls Gate,” she responds, and collects a twigblight as a sample. “I understand that time is pressing,” the Baron concludes, “let us return.”

When they return to the manor house, the Baron immediately takes his leave of Lady Eqximiye, then leaves – completely ignoring the rest of her party. He is not offended, but is clearly angry that they are leaving early. As they prepare to take their own leave, Pr’Gillis presents Sasa with an origami rose. She is deeply moved by the gift, and the monk sees that it almost bings tears to her eyes.

Eqximiye teleports her party back to Fennas Ear.

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The Harrowing, Part IV: A Road Less Travelled
04/14 thru 04/17/5055

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Y’Draesk Rrgel’nev braved the Demonweb Pits with his friends to save the cleric Leone Ashenfall. But he did not return with them. Even the mighty Morran Tel’Kittoren is unable to raise him as his soul still held in the depths of the abyss. Can he find a way to escape?

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The Harrowing, Part III: Welcome to my Nightmare
04/13 thru 04/14/5055

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After a frightful battle, the Raptors have defeated those behind the kidnapping of Leone Ashenfell – a wicked drow priestess and her demon companions! But they’ve found no sign of the cleric or his bodyguard! Now they must delve deeper into the caves of the aranea…

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The Raging of the Green
05/05/5055

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After uncovering many secrets of the past in the Hall of Doors, our heroes have unleashed one of the ancient weapons of old upon the enemies of the elves. But can they now control what they’ve released?


Umbrecrom: Right now we’re in the middle of a donut of thorny death
Quingle: Mmmmm… donut…
Umbrecrom: And guess who is the jelly filling…


Following the destruction of a second company of mercenary forces by the Battle Briars, the Shards thought it best to avoid the 3 slow moving golems made of iron and stone. 12’ tall hulks which were picking up the few intact remains of the fallen mercs and slapping them onto the many spikes that protruded from the golems’ bodies. Through the mind link which the Psion Yestamir Carnen provided, there was little speculation of what they might be doing. It seemed likely, though not at all certain that the intact corpses were being harvested for an undead army. A gruesome thought, yet with the slow moving golems at a pace of 20’/ round, the Shards were confident they could be able to intercept them after the more immediate threat of the advancing merc companies were dealt with. The few Battle Briars which attempted to assault the constructs were destroyed by the dread might of the powerful fists of the stone and iron golems. It was noted that the golems breathed noxious clouds in their assault, but the Battle Briars, being plants were immune to the poison. The poisonous cloud was seen to be extremely effective against the unlucky mercs who happened to be nearby, dropping them almost immediately.
As the Shards continued down the road circled by their herd of Battle Briars which composed the front third of their force and the Impalers the remaining two thirds that surrounded them to each side and behind them, they began to feel the effects of having been awake for nearly a day and a half. Fatigue seeped into their muscles as they ran, which caused them to begin to slow. The Impalers though not as large as the Battle Briars still were very large creatures of thorn and vine animated with bloodlust, and would not concede to run around the slowing humanoids. The Gnomish Sorcerer Quingle Gemshadow fell into the chanting of a spell which produced magical steeds for Yestamir, Pr’Gillis, and Umbrecrom. Nique rode her Saber-tooth companion which she had outfitted with a saddle, Quingle holding on to her, while Baelevelle, the Nimblewright that she had acquired on the Astral War Castle ran beside them. The creatures behind them hinted at the peril they rode amongst.
They rounded a turn in the road and were disturbed to discover the cobblestones wet with blood. They saw slave shackles, gore, picks, gore, bits of cloth, gore and at the side of the road an overturned cart which spilt a load of cobblestones into the grass. They couldn’t make out any bodies, or anything they could identify as body parts. They glanced among themselves as they realized the mercenaries weren’t the only ones upon this road.
Both the barbarian and the Saber-tooth were able to catch the sound of impact on the leading edge of their charge far ahead. It was suggested they try to edge out from the confines of the encircling horde in which they rode. Nelke, with Nique, Quingle, and Yestamir manage to move between the wall of living plant creatures, but Umbrecrom was cut off and forced back to the center, and Pr’Gillis had nudged too close to one of the thorny beasts. With a discouraging pop as the horse he was riding burst into the nothingness from which Quingle had conjured him, Pr’Gillis was forced to try to leap upon the the offending beast, managing through a dizzying array of tumbling and jumping to reach to the top of its back (15’ off the ground). Remembering the Sylvan word that in theory would indicate that he was an ally, he stated “Rays of sunshine, I am hear to help you.” as he began to pull himself up. It should be recognized that the Impaler is a large moving roil of monstrous spike-like thorns, and having gotten as close as he did, actually grabbing its back and beginning to pull himself up, Pr’Gillis was fortunate to have only been stuck by one of the hideous spike-thorns. The impaler then began to slow down.
Quingle had managed to loose his grip on Nique, and fell, but caught hold of her foot, and was dragged along the ground which was far preferable to being trampled by the creatures still behind them. This had disturbed Malachitrix, his Copper Dragon familiar from the familiar pocket he had been hiding in, and he took to the air flying easily out of immediate danger. Umbrecrom didn’t seem to be making any progress in edging out of the horde. Nique and Yestamir manage to steer further away, getting closer to escape. The beast that Pr’Gillis was on then took a swipe at him but missed, as he maneuvered onto its relatively spike-free face. The creature immediately behind Quingle took a swipe at him and connected painfully, which caused Malichitrix to respond in kind, as he strafed it and spat a line of acid right into the pomegranate-like bud that served as the magical creature’s eye, before he ascended straight up as fast as he could manage. The creature howled in pain and arched up following the tiny winged dragon up with its extended claws. Malachitrix was able to weave between the branches and vines that made up the oversized paws and ascend to safety. Pr’Gillis manages to leap from the face of the Impaler he rode to another which took him a little closer to the edge of the Battle Briar stampede.
Nique, concerned for Quingle’s safety commanded the Nimblewright to lift him onto Nelke. Bealevelle who was running next to Nelke reached down and grabs the Sorcerer by the hair and lifts him onto the Saber-tooth. They manage to exit the stampede and bring themselves to a halt in the nearby woods.
The Nimblewright, an arcane creation of the maker of the Astral War Castle, noticing the difficulty with which exiting the creatures was posing, asked Nique “Did you intend to do this?” finally making the connection that the Druid might not be as in control as she thought Nique was.
Nique, who had never known if she was indeed in control responded “I don’t think I have any control…”
To which the automaton responded “That was…. irresponsible…” referring to the release of so many powerful creature, for there were somewhere around 150 of the Battle Briars and Impalers released from the Armory of the Eldar. Bealevelle glanced behind them, then back to Nique. “How many have you been in control of?”
“None” the Druid responded. “Not even one.”
“Are you sure?” Baelevelle queried, glancing behind them and back to Nique hopefully.
" I could try…" She offered.
“Well, now would be the time…” Baelevelle responded as she turned to confront the rampaging Impaler that had gained on them, despite its eye-pod having been burned to a smoking mess. The Nimblewright gestured and from the assemblage of its arm housings two rapiers unfolded, and extended into its hands, becoming one with them, preparing to lash out at the enraged plant should it make the mistake of trying to strike out at either of them.
Quingle absent an immediate threat upon his life decides that he and Malachitrix must act to assist Umbrecrom and Pr’Gillis.
“You’re going to have to fly out to Umbrecrom! We’re going to get Umbrecrom out of there.”
The Copper Dragon knows the part he is about to play “I’m going to deliver a spell, aren’t I?!” eager to play such an integral role.
Quingle begins his incantation, a powerful transmutation spell, and Malichitrix resting on his shoulder awaits the part where Quingle designates him to the spell’s completion “Go!” The Gnome commands having imparted his familiar into the fabric of the spell so as to allow Malachitrix to deliver its effects well beyond Quingle’s reach.
Malachitrix races out to Umbrecrom (who has only managed to edge a bit from the center of the War-bound Impalers that surrounded him), and lands on his head and climbs in front of his face bracing his hind paws on the barbarians chest so that he could free his hands to cast. Malachitrix sensing the magic infuse his being, begins to chant; he’d heard Quingle chant while casting and does the same, preparing to release the torrent of arcane power.
“Boggety-boggety-boggety!” not having a clue of which words to use, Malachitrix blurts as he reaches out slapping his tiny paws on Umbrecrom’s face, whose form begins to bend and melt, his rock hide transforming itself into the glistening scales of a diminutive young Copper Dragon. The transformation was enough with the kicking hind claws of the nearly 7’ tall Dragon on its back to damage the horse and like Pr’Gillis’ , it explodes into a puff of smoke and shadow, as Umbrecrom launches himself skyward, wings outstretched ready for his first taste of natural flight. He swooped toward Pr’Gillis who had witnessed the spectacle, and readied himself to grab at the passing Dragon. Malachitrix, far too proud of his first polymorph spell, stayed on Umbrecrom’s head for the ride, offering pointers on some of the finer nuances of flight. As Umbrecrom zipped over the monk, Pr’Gillis leapt up, Umbrecrom grabbed for him- and misses! Pr’Gillis reaches out and easily grabbed the Copper Dragon’s trailing legs and held on, as the impaler he was leaping from launched a flight of thorns striking both the monk and the Dragon. Umbrecrom noticed how heavy Pr’Gillis seemed- for the spell has given him the proportionate strength of an young Copper Dragon. He only just managed to handle the Half-Dragon- notions of being crippled race through Umbrecrom’s thoughts. Once above the roil of plant-beasts Umbrecrom decides it would be good to go high and get some reconnaissance for the sounds of the conflict he had heard ahead of them. Pr’Gillis held on.
The Impaler with the smoking eye was charging Nique’s group, and Quingle cast a fly to remove himself from the ensuing melee. Our Druid steps out in front of the beast bearing down upon her as Yestamir intones “You’re injured! You need to stop so Nique can heal you!” in the the Sylvan tongue knowing that although the plants don’t speak, they do understand. It stops in front of the Druid who assesses the injury and determines that it is really just a minor wound. She casts a cure light wounds spell thankful that the Battle Briars and War-bound Impalers were actually creatures and not plants, which would have called for a more powerful spell. With this the creature, its restored eye aglow with the magic that animates it took a single step forward resting its head against Nique’s body. In parody of a cat it raised its head rubbing affectionately against the Druid, unintentionally rending a painful gash on her which was much more serious that the burned eye-bud it had been inflicted with. Nique bore the wound stoically, recognizing the appreciation with which it was given, and encouraged the creature to return to the mercenary hunt. It bounded off into the woods in the opposite direction aimlessly.
Umbrecrom and Pr’Gillis saw a walled town on the side of a hill, the road going past the front gate at the bottom of the hill. Some Battle Briars were reaching to the top of the wall, for they didn’t need to climb to reach that height, and pulled themselves over the wall. Others continued along the road. The impalers equally divided their ranks. The 3rd mercenary group, realizing the danger they were in had entered the town, and roused it to their defense, joining the guards in manning the palisades. At the top of the hill other guards were at the sally ports evacuating the townsfolk. Back at the front gate, Umbrecrom counted 6 spell-casters using magic invoking acid and cold based spells to try to repel their doom. Inquiring how long the Dragon spell would last (despite how weak he was he did enjoy soaring through the sky) Umbrecrom learned it was only an 11 minute spell. He decided to return guessing he’d used less than half that time.
It was then that a few of the group noticed something some 30’ away- standing next to a tree was a Half-Elf. Dressed in Elvin Chain with a short sword and a long sword sheathed on his belt. Stepping aside to let an errant Impaler pass he asked “I suppose you’re responsible for this debacle?” leering at the shapely Druid, and Baelevelle who was under this effects of a continual disguise self spell to hide her automaton nature. Next to the Half-Elf there was a disturbingly large Wolf (it didn’t look to be a Dire Wolf). Just then a Half-Orc revealed himself. Dressed in expensive Noble’s raiment though stained with food, and dirt from obviously having worn it much longer than a Noble would have. He likely had armor beneath it, and carried a double-headed, double-bladed axe which heads were flaming. There was small talk as Nique, Quingle, and Yestamir considered the turn of events. The Half-Orc was introduced as Algernon, and a monk with the tattoo of a fist on his chest emerged and was called Tilit. Quingle, who was flying at the tree tops, had been conversing with a Gnomish Copper Half-Dragon who also was in the air, and had the Gnome covered. He’d counter-spelled Quingle when he attempted to cast an invisibility upon himself. They descended and Quingle landed. The Gnome Half-Dragon was introduced as Gu-atchen Undred. Nique introduced herself, and the uncertain conversation continued. The flying Gnomish Copper spoke to a strange metallic bird perched upon his shoulder and it raced off. It would speed past Umbrecrom and Pr’Gillis as they returned, which they made to be an odd sign. No natural bird would hazard a flight past a young Dragon. Looking back they could see the metallic bird fly to the town and behind it to descend into the forest higher on the hill. As they came closer to the area where the rest of the Shards were, Malachitrix could sense… concern… through his rampart with Quingle and conveyed this to his companions.
They descended into the trees, but Umbrecrom couldn’t manage negotiating the branches in his way and just folded his wings in letting himself plummet to the ground. Malachitrix was appalled at the spectacle, and Pr’Gillis thought to take his chances by leaping away and bounding from branch to branch until he landed on the ground. Umbrecrom fell and landed hard, but as a Dragon it wasn’t a problem, he rolled to his feet, managing to conceal how unsettled the landing left him. Pr’Gillis spotted Tilit from across the area they were in as the two locked into a stare, assessing each other.
Umbrecrom, no longer sharing the Shard’s mind-link because he’d exceeded its range, strode out in front of the others, taking his place as lead combatant. “Friends of yours?” he asked, guessing the Half-Elf to be an ally.
“This is the stone guy, right?” Loki Ashgrove as he introduced himself earlier asked of the Copper Half Dragon Gu-atchen.
“Mmm-hmm.” was the calm reply.
" You’ve disturbed a very lucrative… business we’ve been conducting in the area." Loki continued. Umbrecrom recognized the tattoo on the chest of Tilit asking him directly if he was indeed of the order of the Opaline Fist who destroyed a church of Heironius years ago. Tilit affirmed the lore, but regretted being too young to have been involved. It was with this that Umbrecrom understood what the others had probably taken for granted- the group they faced were likely just another band of mercenaries. Algernon wondered out loud if they were going to get to fight, fidgeting impatiently with the flaming 2-headed battle axe. In the moment of silence that followed Umbrecrom decided that he should be the front-man in the ensuing combat.
“Yes. I think we will.” he answered the Half-Orc. A metallic bird flew back to Undred’s shoulder where he reached up and grabbed it, stuffing in into his belt pouch.
Unbeknownst to everyone present the important conversation was far less ostentatious.
“You are from One Reed School.” Tilit declared recognizing something in the way Pr’Gillis held himself.
“You are correct, master.” Pr’Gillis responded recognizing the Opaline Fist’s superior rank as he bowed. Tilit nodded affirmation to the unexpected recognition. He raised an eyebrow to One Reed School. The Half-Dragon responded by glancing to Loki who continued to prattle. Tilit rolled his eyes. Pr’Gillis glanced to the flying Copper Gnome Half-Dragon. Tilit raised one brow, giving a slight frown as he gave a single nod. Umbrecrom, who had relinquished the dragon-form for his own, sensed that not everyone was all that eager to start a battle fatigued and depleted of spell resources, asked if everyone needed to get involved or if there were going to be champions.
There was talk about champions and bets among the the Stonechild, Half-Elf, and Half-Orc. Tilit announced “I will champion my group.” ignoring the disappointed squeals of the Half-Orc and Loki. Umbrecrom, disappointed that he wouldn’t be facing the mouthy little Half-Elf considered and asked over his shoulder “Am I your champion?” mostly addressing Yestamir looking for quick agreement. Tilit removed a battle fan from his cloth robes. He unlatched it and went through a small kata to display its use. To Pr’Gillis. Pr’Gillis retrieved his flute and presented it to Tilit commenting on matching the quality of his fan.
Tilit nodded. “It is agreed.” Umbrecrom then realized that he was never truly a part of the conversation after mentioning the word ‘champions’. He watched as Pr’Gillis stepped forward, and hoped that the others wouldn’t keep Tilit’s word of honor, noticing that Algernon wasn’t fidgeting. The Half-Orc was mouthing a conversation, eyes absently looking up in concentration. The mercenaries seemed to be sharing in a telepathic bond of their own. Umbrecrom had high hopes that Tilit’s companions would disgrace the honor of his agreement.
Pr’Gillis died in 4 rounds.
That isn’t to say he didn’t represent the One Reed School well. The first moments of combat were ushered in by Tilit speeding to Pr’Gillis and sending a series of fists and feet at Pr’Gillis, half of which missed. The two that landed were solid blows (26). His reply, a flurry of his own, surprised the advanced monk as all three struck there mark (27). At this moment Yestamir re-established mind-link with Umbrecrom and the monk, hoping it would go unnoticed by those close enough to have ‘heard’ it. Opaline Fist replicated One Reed School’s success with 3 solid hits of his own (41). The Half-Dragon could see how thing were going and decided he would up the stakes, by using his breathe weapon a maximized lightning bolt. Tilit managed to spin away before it was ever a real threat. Pr’Gillis followed up with a specialized strike devised to try and stun Tilit in addition to doing damage. This too, master Tilit avoided. He quickly spun back into offense with a specialized strike of his own, one that would communicate an exquisite agony to his target. Had he struck the battle would have ended there, but Pr’Gillis had managed to evade the strike, but not the attack that followed (12). Pr’Gillis responded knowing he had to make up for his over-hopeful previous attack. Again all 3 of his attacks found their mark (50), the last being a strike so pure in its violence, so true in its intent that it was responsible for nearly half the effect of the combined 3 strikes. Again Tilit followed Pr’Gillis’ lead with 3 hits of his own. (44) By now Pr’Gillis was so broken (-38) he was dead before Tilit withdrew his fist. The Shards knew he died before he hit the ground, as they were in mind-link with him at the time.
Tilit stood, leveling his shoulders before retrieving his flute as if to acknowledge an honorable if defeated foe. Still he was sorely wounded. Centering his Ki his wounds closed as he healed what he could through the mental discipline he had learned from the Opaline Fist. One finger which had been gruesomely dislocated migrated back into its socket.
“You may take your friend and go.” he announced to the incredulous chatter of Loki.
Just then from some 30’ behind where Pr’Gillis had stood, two beings walked from the shadow of a tree. A scantily clad human woman wielding a chain whip, and a human fighter clad in plate armor carrying a thick Bastard Sword. “I see you’ve left some for us.” the warrior chimed happily.
“No. There will be no fight.” Tilit proclaimed with finality.
“Fuck this shit-” Loki exploded, drawing his blades, before Tilit sped in front of the Half-Elf and demonstrated the stunning effect of his pain touch. Loki doubled over, retching painfully, gagging and gasping. This surprised everyone.
Quingle who had moved over to Pr’Gillis was preparing to enact the psionic consultation which the Shards had concluded- teleport Pr’Gillis’ body back to the Church in hopes that the clerics could resurrect their dead friend.
To Quingle Tilit commanded “Take your friend and go!”
And the Wolf that stood at Loki’s side turned on the monk launching into a vicious attack. The Shards awaited the teleport that would take the Sorcerer and his cargo away.
Loki then arose and backed off ten feet, spat some curse as he invoked an entangle spell to capture the monk. Being an entangle of 40’ radius everyone but the new arrivals who were the only ones outside the affected area, were held to the ground by the plants which animated to life and sought to hold any living thing in their squeezing grasp. Bealevelle reacted first by empowering herself with various spells before she took 3 backward tumbling leaps that took her outside the edge of the area with the writhing flora. With a target next to her the woman with the chain whip struck at Bealevelle with a minimum of success. She turned, finally angered, and dropped her magic disguise, revealing herself as a strange metallic automaton.
“What the Fuck!?” the human echoed her heightened concern realizing she didn’t face a caster at all as she watched rapier blades fold out of the housing of her arms and settle into metallic hands that became one with the hilts.
The warrior, overly confident intoned “Don’t worry, I’ll handle this one!” and launched an attack that caused two grievous dents to either side of her torso.
Gu-atchen had not been idle. He had managed to summon a creature from the black pits of hell. A tear opened in the space next to Quingle as he prepared Pr’Gillis’ corpse, a chorus of pleas for him to escape echoed over the psi-link. A Barbazu or bearded devil as they are more commonly referred to emerged from the reality tear. Green with a moist, scaly skin, carrying a vile-looking serrated glaive the lesser-devil advanced, delighted its first moments on the plane could be spent striking at the busy Gnome attending to the dead body before it. The glaive descended and struck Quingle a horrible wound (15) that would continue to seep with the vile toxins of hell until it was properly attended to.
Despite the pain and shock, Quingle and Malichitrix who was now at the sorcerer’s side, gather up the monk’s corpse and invoke the magic of a teleport spell, which enabled them to escape to relative safety. The misalignment of magic and physics can sometimes bring about dangerous or even fatal effects euphemistically referred to as a ‘teleport mishap’. It might have been the stress of the situation; the infernal wound which continued to deteriorate as the moments went by, or just the effect of the trauma of being in direct connection with Pr’Gillis’ mind as he died and then being forced to take his corpse back to Fennes Ear while his companions battled on, but regardless of the cause, the effect was damaging, but he bore the wounds of the realigning of magic and physics as he appeared in the teleport reception at the church. Clerics attended him dutifully and he was informed it looked as if he would avoid an infection of devil chills which sometimes accompany wounds acquired from battles with devils.
Bealevelle recovering from the slamming bastard sword blade, erupted into an assault that could only be described as mechanical precision and fluid fury. All 4 strikes penetrate the thick armor pretending to protect the out-classed warrior. Two of the strikes particularly gruesome in that they pierced the plate itself and punctured both his lungs. It was a testament to his skill and natural vigor that he managed to stay on his feet instead of tumbling to the ground.
Loki not being affected by the effects of his own spell casts another spell, this time upon himself, which grants him an increased speed. He then runs wide around Tilit until he is opposite his attacking wolf, and draws his swords and attacks the still wounded monk striking twice.
Yestamir wades through the grasping plants and escapes the entangle and turns back to see Algernon advancing on the fighting pair, Tilit and Loki. The Elf can’t be certain who the Half-Orc intended to attack, but seeing that the Gnome who had summoned a devil (!!) was uncontested now that Quingle was gone, Yestamir knew what he had to do. Despite his diminished psionic reserve, the Psion reached out with the power of his mind and dominated the Half-Orc Barbarian making him turn about and head toward the Gnome Half-Dragon. Algenon was no longer in control of his own actions as the powerful intellect of the Psion forced its way upon his will.
Umbrecrom, aching at the thought of backing away from a fight retreats next to Yestamir hoping for something to approach within reach.
Tilit attacks the wolf striking it, but the wolf is very large and continues to press its assault.
“Yeah Ravager! Get him! I’ll even let you fuck him up the ass!” Loki cheers on his companion.
Nique looks to the wounded human warrior and puts forth “I suggest you leave.” The wet slick inside his armor causes him to reflect upon the wisdom of this course. “I think I’ll do that.” he replies in earnest. The woman who had stepped from the shadows and brought him here had already retreated in the same manner. Looking out to the fighting Ranger, Wolf and Monk, the Half-Orc and Half-Dragon seeming to be gathering into a fighting team, and the unfettered Barbazu decides she must strive to bring this to an end. She caresses the greater mistletoe at her belt pouch and begins casting. Unlike so many spells this is not a spell to be completed in moments. She chants invoking words of power that only the Druids could hope to mold to their wills. The sky darkens. And darkens more. Then, as suddenly as a serpent’s strike the sky pours forth an avalanche of ice and snow, a literal avalanche, not to be confused with metaphor. Tons of ice and snow are deposited in an area 240’ in diameter, covering mercenaries in a thick pile 10’ high.
Ironically, Tilit, being a monk, was able to dodge and climb the chunks of ice and snow as they fell so that he stood atop the snow in the spot Loki and his Wolf were buried. From atop his snow pile he glared down at the Druid.
“You said we could go!” Nique lodging her protest to the honor of the word he had given.
The Barbazu which Gu-atchen had brought to the plane magically appeared behind Yestamir- just out of reach of Umbrecrom.
Tilit frowned, “Yes, I did…” he replied, then looking away he walked off the snow pile and stepped into the air, just before he disappeared.
Before the bearded devil could do anything Yestamir had the remaining group join hands and he plane shifted to the Astral plane, where they managed after a long time to find a silver color pool which would take them back to their own plane.
14 days after entering the Astral plane they left for their own plane- still fatigued not having slept since the morning of the party in Port Dawn. They arrived in Laiore. This would have been uneventful had Umbrecrom not been with them. Laiore was a sacred place to the Elves and they made it clear if you’re not an Elf, you don’t belong. Not too long ago a pair of Keloanians made their way into the forest of Laiore. The fey guardians had inadvertently killed them. The fey guardians that surrounded them before long did recognize Nique as a friend. She spoke with them trying to explain that they were trying to leave the forest as it was the vagaries of planar travel through astral pools which had dumped them within the forest to begin with. The tribe that escorted them decided they could let it go when they reached the edge of Laiore, as a small infraction by friends really, not worth the paperwork that an official report would merit.

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The Forge of the Maker
05/04 thru 05/05/5055

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Our heroes’ reconnaissance of the Colossus in Port Dawn ends in near-disaster! But will a mysterious package from Coramorphus hand them a victory for the elves?

Yestamir plane-shifts himself and Umbrecrom to Arvandor, along with the unconscious gnome prisoner that Umbrecrom had managed to grab from the golem construct’s auxiliary control room. Yestamir has a great need to ask Corellon for a way to atone for his actions while investigating the iron golem, feeling that his actions were overly desperate, vainglorious, and potentially ruinous to the mission. Umbrecrom agrees to go to Arvandor because he knows “that’s where the elven gods live, and it’ll be safe.”

They arrive in the midst of a forest of enormous trees. Yestamir and Umbrecrom take a moment to look up at the starry sky, and are unnerved because the stars move. Belatedly, they realize that they are not looking at stars, but at eight-foot-long fireflies. They discuss options. Umbrecrom climbs one of the trees to see if he can get a bearing, or determine a likely direction to go, but cannot see anything except more trees. The three of them wander around and find ruins and a pool nearby. The ruins are covered with murals and carvings that appear to be of the Great War, depicting elves, dragons, and slaadi fighting together, led by a giant male elf.

As Yestamir is examining the murals, Umbrecrom goes to fill his waterskin and realizes that this is extra-planar water. Thoughts of gold pieces glitter in his guileless eyes as he grabs Yestamir’s waterskin and dumps it out, filling it also with Arvandor water. He then takes possession of both skins, wondering who he might get to buy this to make Anarchic Water. Yestamir is wrapped up in personal thoughts and notices nothing

Suddenly, Umbrecrom sees the water ripple with vibrations. It shakes. And shakes again. And again, as if it were tea in a cup on the table in a giant’s nursery room. Looking up, he sees the trees are doing the same…

“Yestamir, hide!”

The two of them dive into a 10- to 15-foot-deep cleft, like a wooden cave, in the roots of one of the enormous trees around them. Looking out from their hiding place, they see a huge scaly green foot pass by. They see the tips of wings sweeping above the ground a few moments later as the
colossal creature moves on. When it pauses and sniffs the air, they stop moving, breathing, thinking.

The dragon pauses, eats, sniffs for the scent of any more food, and moves on.

Yestamir mind-links to Umbrecrom, and they decide stay in the root cave for several hours, to ensure the dragon is really gone. They fear confronting an Arvandorian dragon would detract from their mission. While waiting, Yestamir meditates on a proper prayer for forgiveness for his recent actions. After sufficient contemplation, he sits up and begins:

“O magnificent Creator, I beg you to hear my plea.
“I am at fault, for I have, through hubris and a desire for my own glory, risked the ruination of the mission entrusted to myself and my friends.
“I ignored the plight and need of my friends and left them in danger, without sufficient means of escape if needed.
“I have been a fool, and my good intentions were insufficient to the task.
“I beg of you, Coronal of Arvandor, to intervene on the behalf of your people.
“Please do not allow my actions to cause harm, even indirectly, to the cause the Elves of Illuvinari have taken upon themselves.
“If it please you, I beg that I be allowed the opportunity to make things right and to show my contrition for these wrongs.”

As Yestamir finishes his prayer, a glowing ball about two feet in diameter floats over to the cleft, and then floats away. Umbrecrom is cautious, concerned that the light is a will-o-wisp that they will have to fight. Yestamir recognizes the light as an eladrin, views its appearance as an answer to his prayer, and feels they should follow it. They leave the cleft and look around for the gnome, who is nowhere to be seen.

The fireflies have returned, with fey-looking riders — thorns — who surround them, and speak. Yestamir discovers he cannot remember how to speak Sylvan — a punishment for his previous actions? Unable to communicate with Yestamir and Umbrecrom, the thorns resort to prodding the two intruders with spears, directing them further into the ruins to the remains of a temple. From outside the temple, the thorns push Yestamir and Umbrecrom to enter. Trusting in his barbarian trap sense, Umbrecrom enters first, and goes to examine the fountain in the center of the temple. Yestamir follows. As they look within the fountain, it becomes apparent to Umbrecrom, knowledgeable in planar lore, that the water is from a planar gate (to the elemental plane of water?) situated just below the fountain’s surface.

Yestamir is expecting to be attacked by a monster, when a female water elemental rises up from the fountain. She asks: “What is your question, and what is your gift?”

Although she does not speak a language they know, they both understand the oracle, Aquatain of the Weird, clearly.

Seeing the hand of Corellon in this, Yestamir offers up his cognizance crystal without complaint, and asks, “What path should we take to rejoin our friends and ensure the success of our mission?”

Aquatain pauses. Visions appear in her watery flesh: a column of smoke; great battles with fierce armies; a terrible slug-like creature with claws looming; a plane of light and darkness all mixed together, where horrid. . . things. . . strain against a membranous wall.

Finally she answers, “You must seek Seluna the Lillend. She has something for Nique, something that Hithlorien seeks.”

She turns then to Umbrecrom expectantly. Umbrecrom offers her a powerful bow he had made with his own two hands, and his collection of masterwork arrows, and says, “We would seek a way to defeat the forces at Port Dawn.”

Aquatain smiles indulgently and says, "Well, then, your answer is the same.” She begins to turn away, and then looks back and adds, "One last thing — be cautious of the Guardians at the Hall of Doors.”

Realizing what a boon she had just given them, Yestamir pours a potion of cure light wounds and a potion of cure moderate wounds into her water as a parting gift, to show respect and gratitude. Aquatain accepts the gift with gracious pleasure.

The thorns outside let them leave the temple. Yestamir mind-links with the leader of the thorns, who mocks him for not speaking Sylvan, and then invites Yestamir and Umbrecrom to stay for a meal. Yestamir, remembering countless warnings about this very thing, very politely declines, explaining that their mission is of the essence. The leader tells them that Seluna the Lillend lives in Alfheim, not in Arvandor. As Yestamir and Umbrecrom prepare to plane-shift to Alfheim, home of Kord, god of strength, and Olidimarra, god of shadows, the thorn leader says, “One favor I would ask if I may?”

Yestamir agrees cautiously.

“Tell the Speaker we await the call.”

As he manifests his power, Yestamir feels Corellon’s gentle touch guide the plane shift. He and Umbrecrom arrive on a cold snow-covered mountain. Yestamir quickly adjusts his body to the temperature and they search for a passage. Finding a long cleft through the mountains, they follow it, gaining some protection from the weather. Once through, they are in a valley warmed by glorious summer weather. They follow a crushed marble path meandering through a magnificently landscaped glade to a gazebo and a pool. A woman in diaphanous clothing sits beside the pool, singing and playing a lyre.

Umbrecrom cannot remember ever seeing any woman so beautiful. He approaches her, appreciating her fine form, her exceptional taste in nearly transparent attire, and the skill with which she plays. She looks up, sees him, plays a discordant note, and rises, berating him in Sylvan. Sensing he had just been chided, Umbrecrom retreats apologetically, rubbing his burning retinas, oblivious to the blinding attack she has just unsuccessfully brought upon him. He cannot understand what she says, but, as long as he can hear her lovely voice, does that matter?

As Umbrecrom backs away, Yestamir hears the sound of wings. Forcing his gaze away from the woman, obviously one of the fey, he sees a lillend fly in and land, wrapping her tail around one of the columns of the gazebo. The nymph speaks to the lillend, frowns, and points to Umbrecrom and Yestamir. It is the most beautiful frown Umbrecrom has ever seen. The lillend turns to them and speaks fiercely to them in Sylvan, which Yestamir still cannot understand, and pulls another lyre from thin air, which she brandishes in a threatening posture. Umbrecrom, recognizing the universal language of threat, if not the specific dialect, again bows his head, trying to show humble contrition.

Yestamir quickly mind-links with the lillend Seluna, who demands an explanation for their intrusion in her glade. He apologizes, explaining that they were sent by Aquatain of the Weird. “She told us you have something for Nique.”

At the sound of Nique’s name, the frown vanishes from the nymph’s face, like storm clouds retreating, and is replaced by a smile that rivals the sun in its brilliance. She bounces excitedly, up and down, and squeals in happiness. Umbrecrom feels he could spend the rest of his life here in this glade, just watching her. Seluna says something to the nymph, who scampers off into the forest. A pang of regret stings Umbrecrom’s heart — how excellent it would be to follow her, watching her scampering, her bouncing, her. . . But that might earn another Sylvan tongue-lashing. Still. . .

A few moments later, the nymph returns via dimension door, carrying a package that she hands to Seluna. As Seluna offers the package to Yestamir, she says, “I was ordered to give this to Nique, when the time was right.”

Surprised, Yestamir asks her, “Who could order one such as you?”

“Coramorphus,” she replies.

Even more startled, Yestamir decides to risk another question, “Is Coramorphus still alive on the Prime Material Plane?”

“Even I cannot tell you that,” she replies. “But I had this package from him before Nique was born.”

Finally, Yestamir asks her if there is a portal to the astral plane nearby.

“There is not, although there is a portal to Illuvinari, which would place you near Nique’s home in Amcarofarne.”

As he ponders the fastest way back to Port Dawn and their friends, she adds, “There is one who might help you. . . the Master of Shadows.”

Yestamir asks how to find him. “Look in the shadows, of course,” she laughs. "But I ask that you not call him here in our glade. Go further down the path.”

The nymph speaks excitedly to Seluna, and Seluna adds, “Give our love to Nique.”

Yestamir pulls Umbrecrom away from the nymph, who is fondling Umbrecrom’s bowed head. Yestamir heads off into the forest, a dazed Umbrecrom in tow, until he feels that they are a sufficient distance from the gazebo, and then calls quietly to Olidimarra.

“Lord of Shadows, hear our plea.” The landscape around them becomes dark and full of shifting shadows. Stepping into the shadows with a gulp, Yestamir says, “Master of Shadows, hear our plea, for we desire your aid. We wish to travel undetected into Port Dawn.” The feeling of a Presence fills the area as the shadows thicken around them. Something foreign in Yestamir’s brain draws into the shape of a thought.

“What’s in it for me?”

Yestamir realizes he has no idea what to offer a god of thieves in return for the aid he needs.

Umbrecrom speaks up, “My Lord, we wish to travel to Port Dawn, in Illuvinari.”

“I know.”

“We do not wish to be noticed and we have already set off their alarms once.”

“I know.”

“We need to rejoin our friends quickly. . . but you know that. . .”

The Presence laughs, “You are funny. I will send you back.”

Yestamir gets a definite sense of other presences beyond the Presence laughing as well. The Presence turns back to Yestamir.

“Come now, you surely don’t want me to name the price. . . " Again Yestamir has the sense of laughter. Thinking frantically, he opens his mouth to speak, but it is too late. “Very well, then,” the Presence says, “here is my price. A friend of a friend of a friend is in trouble. Because it amuses
me to throw a stone in the cogs of law, when the time comes, and you will know when it comes, you will help a servant of the wolf against law. Are
we agreed?”

“Agreed,” says Yestamir.

“Very well then, cast forth your mind and step into the shadows.”

Yestamir thinks very clearly of their room in Port Dawn, steps forward. . . and slams into a tree. Howls of laughter echo in his mind.

“No,” the Presence chuckles, “Use your plane shift to cast forth your mind.”

Grumbling to himself, Yestamir manifests his power, and feels the Presence focusing him, like Corellon’s touch, but darker. . . grabbing Umbrecrom’s hand, he steps forward. . . slamming into something hard.
Solid.
Flat.
With a doorknob.

Cringing in pain, Yestamir tries to wriggle around enough to get to the doorknob, despite the crowded conditions in the closet. “Umbrecrom is no pixie,” he thinks. He finally grasps the doorknob, turns it, and steps cautiously through the doorway. . .

Lothron 5, 5055, around 2:30 a.m.

Nelke paces through the spacious suite at the Golden Gnome’s Retreat, a perfect reflection of Nique’s anxiety. Malachitrix peeks over Quingle’s shoulder as they look out the window yet again at the smoke trailing from the silent iron golem in the harbor. Ananmara sleeps on soft pillows in a corner. Pr’Gillis’s flute song hovers around them all.

“They should have been back hours ago.”

No one is sure who has spoken. They have said this so often tonight that it seems to have become a part of the flute song.

Ananmara whimpers, and tightens her hold on one of the pillows. Quingle glances at her — her movement has exposed a corner of her new brand. He winces.

A sound.

The flute song stops. Five pairs of eyes turn toward the suite’s closet. Five bodies prepare to defend.

The closet door opens.

Yestamir and Umbrecrom tumble out of the closet. Nique’s anxiety dissolves into giggles, as her two old friends appear.

The reunited Shards settle down with some refreshments and begin exchanging tales of parties and golems and the new knowledge obtained.

“And then, with Yestamir under one arm, and the gnome under the other, I dive out into the darkness, …”

“Wait, I almost forgot, this is from Seluna,” Yestamir interrupts, handing Nique a plain wooden cube, about 8 inches on a side. “She says Coramorphus gave it to her for you, before you were born.”

“You saw Seluna?!” Nique exclaims as she takes the cube. She is about to ask how this happened, but the cube, …the cube, …is so … lustrous, so beautiful, with its deep grain. Is it ash? She turns it over in her hands, looking at it more closely, the surface cool and smooth. One side forms into a mouth and asks her a question. She answers, and the mouth disappears, returning to lustrous wood. And then the grain moves, and forms into words.

The party warily watches the exchange; no one understands the language spoken by the cube and Nique. When the words form on the cube, Quingle looks over her shoulder, but cannot read the writing. “Nique,” he says softly, “what does it say?”

She looks up from the cube at a circle of concerned faces, and realizes that both the words spoken and the words written by the cube have been in druidic.

“It says:
‘Upon considering that every beginning has its end,
despite what is believed by many learned magi,
some may discover that it is unwise to envelop
light within a cloud of darkness, for a
cat can always find its way with an open eye,
marking its path easily, and it will receive
not a single surprise through darkest midnight.
What spell am I thinking of?’”

More refreshments are consumed as the Shards try to make sense of this poem. The phrase “every beginning has its end” and odd placement of line breaks nags at Nique, and she begins looking at the beginning and ending words of each line, and finally at the beginning and ending letters of each line.

“Displacement — is that a spell?” she asks. Quingle tells her that is an arcane spell, and she says “displacement” to the cube in druidic.

The writing disappears, and the cube emits three objects: A small obsidian figurine of a displacer beast, a scimitar (+2 frostburst) with its name, Frostwind, carved in runes, on the blade, and an ornate wrought gold box. Nique decides to examine the box first, and puts the cube and figurine in her pocket, and the scimitar on her waist.

The box is 8 inches wide by 12 inches long by 6 inches deep. The top and four sides are finely engraved. A two-headed dragon, roaring to either side, with crystal eyes, is engraved on the lid, along with the words “Help us in the hunt. All must face their prey.” The back and left and right sides of the box are rippling scales. A line of men with swords and shields face the five metallic dragon head clasps on the front of the box. The heads are in this order, from left to right: Silver, brass, gold, bronze, and copper.

The box has five legs, one in each corner, and one in the center of the undecorated bottom. Each leg is a different metallic dragon with druidic script on its outstretched wings.
The left rear is a brass dragon that reads “I am hunted by a dragon not of water.”
The right rear is a bronze dragon that reads “To seek my prey, I must fly to freezing fate.”
The left front is a silver dragon that reads “My prey dwells on lofty heights.”
The right front is a copper dragon that reads “When my hunter comes, I do not wake.”
The center is a gold dragon that reads “None dare seek the gold, though I may hunt any who do not share my home.”

Through some cautious manipulation, the Shards determine that the dragon box legs will turn, and they begin working on the puzzle clues. They finally come to an agreement, and Nique turns the brass toward the copper, the bronze toward the silver, the copper toward the brass, and the silver toward the copper. She then turns the gold toward each of the other four.

The box opens. The inner compartment is 7 inches wide by 11 inches long by 5 inches deep and contains a pouch. Nique opens the pouch, and pours out five small eye-shaped gems — a black opal, an emerald, a pearl, a ruby, and a sapphire. Although they all radiate transmutation, nothing happens. She puts the gems back in the pouch, and the pouch back in the box. There is another other object inside the box — a small perfect sphere of wood, radiating strong transmutation. Nique reaches in, picks it up, and. . .

Alone in the suite, Ananmara sleeps on.

The suite dissolves into a greyness that becomes a clearing, surrounded by 12 ancient monoliths. Huge trees tower outside the circle of stones. Nique recognizes the experience as a bizarre variant of transport via plants.

The Shards determine that they are still somewhere on Illuvinari. They begin exploring the clearing.

The northernmost monolith is carved with an arch composed of five identical bas-relief dragon profiles. Each profile displays an empty eye socket. Above the profiles, the words “Welcome to the Armory” are carved.

An armory. Has the party found the tools to win the war?

As the Shards approach, the dragon carvings stir, and then each head, beginning with the one on the lower left, speaks one statement.
“The ruby rests not on the left.”
“Opal does not look up to ruby.”
“I keep the opal near me, but wear it not.”
“The pearl rests not on the right side.”
“Ruby and sapphire reside higher than emerald.”

The heads then smile in a most unfriendly manner, watching the party with their empty eye sockets.

“Another puzzle,” groans Umbrecrom. However, this one takes the Shards little time to solve. After everyone agrees on the solution, Nique inserts the gems from the pouch, beginning at the lower left, one for each chromatic dragon in order — pearl, black opal, sapphire, ruby, and emerald.

The dragon carvings reluctantly accept the solution. The stone in the middle of the monolith peels back to reveal a solid wooden door. There is no handle. Nique touches the door and the Shards find themselves on a round wooden platform in the middle of a large circular stone chamber, with approximately 50 wooden doors in the continuous wall. Many of the doors are broken, burnt, or rotted. A symbol is carved above each door. From where they stand, the Shards can see these symbols:
Mountain
Crown
Island
Hand
Pair of crossed spears
Treant
Waterfall
Flame
Triangle
Bushes

There is also one silver door under a carving of two islands, with the lower island the reverse image of the upper one.

Pr’Gillis steps off the platform to get a closer look at the doors, and a large earth elemental suddenly rises up out of the stone floor.

“Hello,” says Nique in Terran.
“Hello,” says the earth elemental, hesitantly, in a voice that sounds like two mountains scraping against one another.
“Are you the guardian for this place?”
“Yes.”
“Coramorphus sent us.” And Nique shows the elemental the wooden sphere and the gold dragon box. The elemental examines these objects, and decides not to eliminate the party.

The rest of the Shards explore the chamber, while Nique talks with the earth elemental. She asks its name, and patiently listens for the next several minutes while it is recited. The elemental permits the party to shorten its name to “Granite.”

Nique joins the rest of the party in exploring the room. As she nears the door with the carving of the bushes over it, a magic mouth appears and says, “I think this is the door you’re looking for.” The Shards go through the door, hoping desperately that there will be a weapon that can stand against the golem, or the armada, or the soldiers marching on Jawarl, or perhaps even the Evil in the Sorrow Wastes.

They find themselves standing by a wood, in front of row upon row of very large thorn bushes under a silver sky. A thin mist permeates the air. They step forward to investigate their surroundings. The bush nearest them moves, unfolding into a shape like a large six-legged cat made of briar. It looks at them with buds like pomegranates, and asks, “Is it time?” Nique thinks of the many threats to the good creatures and the natural world of Illuvinari, and, with a silent prayer that this will be the right answer, says, “Yes.”

It is like tossing a stone into water. The battle briar nudges its neighbors, who stir and nudge their neighbors, an awakening wave of thorned danger rippling across the demi-plane. Nique looks at the amount of power she has aroused, and an uncomfortable feeling forms in the pit of her stomach.

The sound of rustling briars fills the demi-plane. A whisper of “It is time” turns into a shouting chant of “Go! Go! Go!” The Shards look at each other — what should they do now? How can they make use of this weapon? How can they get these plant creatures to a battlefield? The battle briars are too big to go through the door from the chamber, and there does not appear to be another opening in this demi-plane. Will they be able to control them if they do get them out of the demi-plane? It is almost impossible to think — the presence and sound of so many large creatures makes the space feel even smaller than it is. There is some discussion of just leaving the pack of plant creatures here, but no one knows how to put the creatures back into stasis, and without sunlight and water, the plant creatures will probably die.

Nique manages to quiet the creatures enough to make a hasty promise to return after she learns how to free them, and the Shards quickly go back through the door into quiet of the stone chamber.

Perhaps there will be an answer to their problems behind another door. The silver door glints at them; it is unique among the chamber’s doors. The Shards unanimously agree to go through the silver door.

The Shards find themselves on a balcony of a huge stone structure floating in the Astral Plane, surrounded by an astral storm. It is an asteroid that has been altered into a castle, with half of the edifice the mirror image of the other half. There is a line of mountains trailing the castle as far as the eye can see.

Yestamir recognizes where they are. The tapestries they took from Lashimir were astral maps to this place. This is the Astral Cannon; these mountains can be dropped onto Illuvinari through a special gate in the tube below the balcony they stand on!

There are two large doors, which are closed, leading from the balcony into the castle. The party rings a bell next to the doors. The doors open, and a female elf steps through. She moves very stiffly and mechanically. She asks, “Who are you? Why are you here? What is the password?”

Nique says they have been sent by Coramorphus and shows her the items from him. The elf construct asks again for the password. Nique explains that they do not know the password. The elf construct calls for Galenial.

Lights come on, sounds start up, the astral storm clears. The castle awakens. The castle is Galenial, “The Maker,” the first child and only daughter of Coramorphus. The elf construct changes, her motions becoming fluid as Galenial takes her over. Galenial has been asleep, and the party’s arrival has awakened her.

“Who are you?” The party members introduce themselves. When Galenial hears Yestamir Carnen’s name, she looks closely at him, displeased because she does not remember him.

“Who is Speaker of the Eldar?”

“Eqximiye Carlack.”

Galenial is becoming more displeased; she does not know this name.

“No, that’s not right. Where’s Coramorphus? Where’s Elmenethrond? What year is it?”

“It is 5055 A.E.”

“A.E. — what does that mean?” she snaps.

“It is 5,000 years since the war against the Gurth Morgul Herui.”

“Did we win the war?”

“Yes.”

“Then why is there still a taint? Where is the Queen?”

“She is dead.”

“Where is Coramorphus?”

“He is dead.”

Galenial is shocked, confused, angry — she should not have been asleep this long. Nique tells her about the Queen’s death, the Daughter-Tree, Hithlorien’s breakdown, and the current war. She asks Galenial for help in getting back home and in using the battle briars in the war.

Galenial agrees to help the Shards get home and leads them from the balcony into the castle to a teleport room. She states that Nique will stay, and the rest of the party will return to the stone chamber. Yestamir and Nique explain that the Shards need Nique with them to finish their mission. She sharply says that Nique will not be long in joining them and sends the rest of the party back. After a short private conversation with Nique, she also sends Nique back, accompanied by the elf construct — a nimblewright.

When Nique and the nimblewright arrive in the stone chamber, they find Granite and his kin listening to Pr’Gillis playing the flute. The nimblewright coldly adds another thousand years onto Granite’s length of service for this dereliction of duty.

Nique is saddened by Granite’s punishment. Perhaps, when the current crisis is over, she can discuss whether the punishment is necessary with. . . — she turns to the nimblewright. “What is your name?”

“I have no name.”

“You will be traveling with us. You will need a name. What shall we call you?”

“It does not matter,” the nimblewright replies indifferently.

Nique consults with the rest of the Shards. She returns to the nimblewright. “We would call you Baelavel .”

“As you wish.”

The Shards and Baelavel enter the room of the battle briars. The rustling and chanting start up loudly as soon as the creatures see the party.

“Baelavel, how do we get them out of here?” asks Nique.

“It is simple, you just cast gate and take them through.”

“I cannot cast gate.”

Baelavel looks at Nique. “You cannot cast gate,” she states flatly. She looks at the rest of the party, and back at Nique.

“None of us can cast gate,” Nique says, in response to the unasked question.

Nique and Baelavel look at each other. Yestamir, Quingle, and Pr’Gillis each find that some aspect of the demi-plane requires scrutiny. Umbrecrom thinks about what the nymph might be doing.

“Yestamir, could you and I combine any of our abilities to find another solution?” asks Nique, finally. “What do you think, Quingle?”

The magic users determines that they may be able to combine a transport via plants and a plane shift and open up an exit from the demi-plane back to Illuvinari. Nique has the plant creatures file past the party so the creatures will (hopefully) be able to recognize the Shards and not attack them by mistake. She instructs them to arrange themselves with the “tamer” lesser battle briars near the party, and the wilder greater battle briars further away. She orders the creatures not to attack anyone using the password “sunshine” spoken in sylvan, and not to attack anyone who is not fighting or using magic.

Then, with much trepidation, the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of her stomach becoming ever stronger, Nique begins casting a transport via plants to the nearest oak tree 10 miles north-northwest of Port Dawn. She coordinates it with Yestamir’s plane shift, and an opening appears on the far side of the demi-plane. Guided by an unseen hand, they all shift.

Lothron 5, 5055, 10 a.m.

The edge of the Wyrmwood forest, next to the road leading from Port Dawn to Laroosh. A pleasant day in late spring. Sunlight dapples through the tree leaves. Birds sing, squirrels chatter, chipmunks scurry. A scattering of travelers on the road taking care of the ordinary business of everyday life — carrying produce to market, carting wood, walking to a relative’s home for a visit.

Lothron 5, 5055, 10:10 a.m.

Broken branches and shredded bark hang from what few trees still stand upright. Red smears adorn the gashed roadway. Silence, except for the distant sound of galloping thunder.

The battle briars had poured onto the road, most of them staying together and heading in the direction Nique had told them to. Had they been following her directions, or was it chance that they were now headed in the direction of Laroosh? Within minutes of arriving in Illuvinari, the Shards find themselves behind a company of soldiers marching from Port Dawn to Laroosh. The battle briars toss, trample, and destroy the soldiers, joyously being what the Eldar had created — living war machines. The briars then rapidly come up on another company, and obliterate them as well.

The Shards look at one another. What have they unleashed?

View
Rising Tide
04/04 thru 05/04/5055

pkingcourt.jpg

The Syndec of Laroosh has been secretly gathering allies throughout the south for an assault on Vinya Avignon. In addition to conventional forces, they have fielded a frightful new weapon – a 200 ft. tall golem!!! Can the Shards stop it before it can be turned on the elves?

When last we met our intrepid adventurers, who officially adopted the group title “The Company of Shards,” it was the 4th of Gwirith, and they had just returned from their first mission together for the Elven Council. As it was too late to perform a Raise Dead, Leone Ashenfell performed a Resurrect on Matillian, the Blackbird’s First Mate killed by the surprise Githyanki attack, with Lady Borsa making up the cost difference between the two Divine spells. After some intense, but friendly, debate on the best method to use, the treasure was divided, and each of our heroes judiciously applied the magical enhancements so graciously awarded by Celethor Carnen. They made the acquaintance of Asardion Tulleron, a jeweler who can mount the red crystal shards that are their namesake, although Pr’Gillis is the only one to have the mounting done at that time. The Shards then celebrated their newfound companionship by separating to tend to their various personal affairs, in their various locales.

Naturally, though, some socializing did occur, or not so social as the case may be. In one of the local taverns, Umbrecrom and the captain of the Blackbird almost come to blows regarding the death of Matillian. The stonechild had heard the captain blaming the Shards for the sneak attack that killed the first mate, and he had, understandably, reached a limit to what he could let pass. It came to a head with the captain saying something along the lines of “I don’t much like your tone,” to which our hero responded that “I’m not sure I liked yours on the ship, either.” Fortunately, however, the two recognized their differences, had their say, and moved on. Pr’Gillis, meanwhile, did his part by ensuring that the self same Matillian, recently resurrected, was paid “special” attention by the local wenches. This attention, along with a heartfelt apology and a gift of a Ring of Protection from the Shards’ treasure, allow Matillian to see it in his heart to forgive the heroes, even after he tells them that he was not, in fact, killed instantly by the Githyanki, but instead bled to death in the bottom of the boat!

With their business complete, the heroes sail for Fennas Ear on the 17th of Gwirith, again at the request of the Elven Council.

But, even after arriving in Fennas Ear there is still a brief time for socializing, and Pr’Gillis begins to make a name for himself as an accomplished flautist; but not his own name – he plays under the stage name of “Purge.” He even catches the pointed ear of a noble elf, none other than Fimtathariel Lingwai, current holder of the Honor Seat of the Painter in the High Council of the Elves. She was quite taken with his performances, and desired to have him play for a party she would be holding soon in Ost Lachrunyanen. Alas, he had to respectfully decline, for the Shards were about to receive their next mission.

On the 19th of Gwirith they meet with Aglarndak Naurloth – the Deputy Warlord, and foremost elven fighter alive at that time. He wants the Shards to journey to Port Dawn to investigate the reports of a giant golem – the same object that Pr’Gillis saw walking out of the ocean on their way back from Lashimer’s island. He can tell the Shards that the golem attacked the city of Koshar, with minions entering and exiting from the giant’s feet, gathering the tribute demanded by the golem – or its controller. The golem is impervious to magic; even rust monster blood had no effect. It’s attack methods are vague, and may include ballista, stomping, and rays from the eyes.

Aglarndak laid out the details of the mission: Find out if the golem is associated with Laroosh (it is known that the Syndec commonly deals with automatons, etc.). If not, who? Determine if it could it be a threat to the elves, and if so, provide possible recommendations to stop it. If the Shards believe that they are able to neutralize it directly, however, then do so. To provide some assistance with the mission, the heroes are supplied with 5 Cure Serious potions (1 each to party member), 10 Cure Moderate potions (2 each), and a potion of Barkskin +4 (carried by Nique).

In further preparations, and with keeping the reputation of Port Dawn in mind (“a truly detestable metropolis on the Azure Sea…where anything can be had for a price”), the party thinks that another Hat of Disguise, in addition to Pr’Gillis’, might come in handy. They find one Master Than Tiland can supply them with one for 3,000gp, but it would take him 2 days to get it. Aglarndak signs off on a chit for the purchase. In the intervening time, however, Pr’Gillis’ own hat is stolen, and when the group goes to collect the one they are purchasing, Yestamir recognizes it as none other than Pr’Gillis’ own! Alas, it seems Master Than is less than reputable – what is the world coming to? Yestamir and Umbrecrom confront him on his deception, and at Umbrecrom’s suggestion, give the deceitful merchant a chance to redeem himself; but to no avail, however, for he runs at the first opportunity. With time short, the pair have no other recourse but to report the incident to the City Guard, where they learn that this is, apparently, business as usual for Master Than.

So on the 21st of Gwirith, our Adventurers once again board the Blackbird, this time bound for Vinya Avignon, and eventually, Port Dawn.

After an uneventful journey of 10 days, on the first of Lothron the Blackbird is joined by the Foam Follower – a fast elven ship – to escort the Blackbird into Vinya Avignon. There they are met by the captain of the garrison, who reports a significantly higher degree of pirate activity; it appears that Port Dawn is attracting pirates, or, to be more accurate, more so than usual. Quingle is shown to the teleportation rooms, to memorize the unique patterns on the floors for later use, if necessary. In discussing the best way to make the last leg of the journey to Port Dawn, Umbrecrom suggests that with Yestamir’s psionic abilities, they could use a plane shift to go to the Astral plane, and then make use of Astral Pools for spying and travel. So Yestamir transports the group to the Astral Plane. (One must ask, however: if astral travel is ultimately being used to get to Port Dawn, then what was the purpose of the voyage to Vinya Avignon?)

Upon arriving on the Astral plane, the group finds things…different. Nelke, Nique’s smiledon companion, is understandably nervous about the whole affair, but Nique is able to calm her; on the other hand, Malachitrix, Quingle’s copper dragon familiar, is having way too much fun. After adjusting to the new environment, the group sets off in no particular direction, not that one could have been determined anyway. They eventually come across an oval disk with a hue of brown leather, which they know is not the color they need for the material plane, so they travel on.

As they are traveling, however, Malachitrix spots 6 dots in the distance, which quickly move towards the group. The dots turn out to be a Githzerai rrakkma – an Illythid-hunting party that does not return home until they have slain at least as many Mind Flayers as members of their party. The Githzerai are creatures of the same racial stock as Githyanki, but their sworn enemies. And anybody else’s enemy, as it turns out, for they appear to be spoiling for a fight with the Shards. The group decides that rather than waste valuable resources here, they would gamble on the random nature of planar shifting to the material plane in order to return. Ah, luck is not with them this time, for they appear in mid air – in the middle of the ocean! After a quick dunking in the sea, they shift back to the Astral plane – only to be overtaken by a psychic storm. It quickly passes, however, and no one seems worse for wear. So they begin traveling again, and this time come upon another Color Pool – a silver portal to the material plane.

As Quingle is the only member of the group to have spent any time in Port Dawn in the past, he peers into the pool, bringing to mind a location about 5 miles outside of the city (he knows that there are probably alarms/traps within the city triggered by entering using teleportation or planar travel). He sees what appears to be a dimly lit courtyard of some sort, and the group steps through, one by one. Unfortunately, this mode of travel also has its own degree of uncertainty, for when Quingle steps through, he stops in his tracks, staring at the castle on top of the hill next to the buildings surrounding them. “Oh, fuck,” he mutters, “it’s the governor’s mansion. We’re in the city!” Indeed, even as they watch, they can see a shimmering ring around the portal they just stepped through, and Umbrecrom, who is familiar with such travel, knows that this is not normal. The group immediately realizes that the alarms have been triggered, and Yestamir puts up an anti-scry block. Just in time, too, for almost instantly he feels someone trying to find them, and it soon blocks a second attempt. The date is the 3rd of Lothron – the heroes were in the Astral world for 2 days total.

The Shards quickly reason that just because they can’t be scryed on directly, that doesn’t mean their general location can’t be deduced, and decide that leaving the area would be a wise move. After a short time of traveling the alleys and streets, they come upon a tavern, and feel that hiding in plain sight may work in this case. While there, the group keeps mostly to themselves, but Pr’Gillis gets into a conversation with members of a street gang – the Blue Knives – who strongly “suggest” that it would be good for our heroes to leave…soon; the Monk even gives them a small bag of coins, to help facilitate their smooth departure. Quingle thinks the mere existence of the gang is strange, for when he was here before, the city’s underworld was ruled by the Jade Lady, and if he remembers correctly, she did not allow street gangs. Yestamir, with his psionic ability to detect thoughts, however, knows that the thugs have no intention of letting this new band of “easy pickings” get away, and plan to go after them when they leave – or so they think. However, our brave Shards are cognizant of their mission, and attracting the kind of attention that a street fight would cause would not, at this point in time, be prudent. So our heros leave the tavern, and as expected, are presently followed by the blue thugs. The villains see our band of friends departing down a street, and begin to follow them. The Shards seem to notice they are being followed, and quicken their pace, eventually breaking into an all out run, with the thugs in close pursuit. What happened to our band of friends? Did they escape? Where they murdered? Or beaten, robbed, and sold into slavery? Have no fear for this group – their fates are none of our concern. For at the same time, down a different street, opposite from the direction the Shards appeared to take, walk five familiar figures – the sorcerer among them chuckling to himself about a “well placed illusion…although I will have to work on Nique’s hair next time.”

They make their way to a second inn, but when they enter the common room, they spot two of the Corsair Kings eating dinner – Captain Alabaster, a female vampire, and Grim Bittal. The captain of the garrison at Vinya Avignon did say that Port Dawn seemed to be attracting pirates lately. The party decides to seek lodging elsewhere, and eventually find themselves at the Golden Gnome’s Rest, a rather upscale inn

It is at this point that a great charade begins. Pr’Gillis and Yestamir enter, seeking to book lodgings for themselves and their “staff,” who are waiting outside. They acquire a suite, and begin to settle in. As part an ever evolving masquerade, Pr’Gillis frequently rings for the maitre ‘d of the establishment, ordering various things – a meal, cleaning services, even a full set of new “uniforms” to be custom made for each of them (which includes the taking of measurements of each of the Shards). During all of these dealings with the staff, they begin to weave a tale that Pr’Gillis is actually a “General,” the rest of the group are his high level support staff, and that they are mercenaries in the espionage business, this last part not exactly being a lie, if one looks at it a certain way. “So you are here for the banquet?” the maitre ‘d asks. It turns out there is to be a grand banquet thrown by the governor the next evening, in which almost every villain in the area is expected to attend.

To the consternation of the good hearted nature of the Shards, but not necessarily their surprise, the ordered services are being performed by slaves. To at least keep up the appearance of the masquerade, since even slaves can be questioned later, the group allows the slaves to continue with the services they are designated to perform, but they treat them kindly, not demanding anything particularly rigorous or difficult; those that are sent to provide “companionship” are simply sent to bed to have at least one night of rest to themselves. Nique offers the half-elf sent to do the cleaning some of the food – “there is certainly more here than we can eat,” she says, “why don’t you take some, too.”

Pr’Gillis rings for the maitre ‘d once more, but this time he steps out to speak with him privately. When he returns, he tells the group that he has just purchased the half-elf slave girl who is doing the cleaning. The specific reasons for doing so he does not say, and although no one in the group faults him for wanting to save at least one person from a life of slavery, there are a some among them who wonder about the wisdom of this particular action, at this particular point in time. Ordering services to be performed by slaves in order to keep up the charade of villainy may be one thing, they feel, but actually purchasing a slave may be pushing the pretense too far; plus, it is now Pr’Gillis’, and by extension the Shards’, responsibility to get this girl back to the elven lands so her freedom is automatic.

Eventually, the maitre ‘d returns, and states that the paperwork is complete, and all that is left is the “remarking.” By this point, Pr’Gillis and Yestamir are busy dealing with information gathering – more on that later – so it is left to Quingle to accompany the maitre ‘d and the girl to the basement for the remarking. As they descend, the maitre ‘d explains that due to the short nature of the transaction, and the time of night, they did not have time to fabricate a branding tool to form the mark supplied by Pr’Gillis, so instead the mark will be created by a tiefling warlock, drawing the new brand directly onto her shoulder with the acid/burning of it’s claw – all of which Quingle must witness. Oh, the rage and fury burning inside him with having to watch this! And the indifference of the maitre ‘d, sipping wine during the process! The gnome is not so naive as to think this doesn’t happen – this is Port Dawn after all – but to be faced with it in such a direct manner is almost more than he can bear. He is doubly enraged by the fact that there is nothing he can do to stop it; Pr’Gillis has woven this subplot into their masquerade, and if their mission is to succeed, then he must play along. Finally, he is heartbroken over the fact that there is nothing in his arcane repertoire that he can do to ease the poor girl’s suffering.

With all the dealings with the maitre ‘d, the group learns more about the banquet. It appears that invitations were general, not to specific individuals, and that there is quite a black market for them. The heroes also learn that Black Annie, another of the Corsair Kings, has lodgings just down the hall from them! Yestamir sends out his psionic tendrils to her mind, gathering even more information. The group eventually calls it a night, and they go to bed.

The next day, Lothron 4, the group continues its plans and preparations for the evening. It turns out that the harbor can be seen from their rooms, and they can plainly see the primary focus of their mission: the golem, standing in the harbor, waist deep, with the pirate fleets surrounding it. But there is also the governor’s banquet; and the group feels that there is valuable information to be gathered from the event, even if it does not directly involve the golem. So Pr’Gillis pays the maitre ‘d to “acquire” an invitation, and the adventurers settle on the final plans for the evening. Something else the maitre ‘d asks for is advance payment on that night’s lodgings. He explains that the last time the governor had a banquet of this sort, it was the last meal that the guests ever had, and many of the inns ended up not getting paid for that nights’ bookings. “Of course, nothing like that will probably happen this time,” he continues, “but still, its just a precaution, you see.”

With the invitation obtained, there is great discussion among the Shards as to who should attend the event, and while everyone feels that having the most number of them there would seem best, to deal with any trouble that may arise, Umbrecrom points out that it is certainly possible that Lashimer could be there as well. It is therefore decided that Pr’Gillis will be the only one to actually enter the banquet, escorting the slave girl (Lashimer never actually saw Pr’Gillis during the first adventure); Nique and Quingle, meanwhile, will be in disguise with the carriage that brought Pr’Gillis and the girl, ready to whisk all of them to safety if any problems arise for Pr’Gillis. While this is going on at the governor’s mansion, Yestamir and Umbrecrom will be at the harbor, to observe and reconnoiter the golem – getting as much information about it as possible for the group as a whole to use later when they turn their attention to it.

The trip to the governor’s mansion that evening goes according to plans: Quingle uses his arcane arts to disguise himself, and assumes the role of the carriage driver. That he has no skills in animal handling is of no matter, for one of the two horses drawing the carriage is, in fact, Nique. She used her Druidic arts to achieve the transformation, and it is really she who is guiding the other horse. Nelke, Nique’s animal companion, even has a role to play as the “General’s” pet, and rides in the carriage as well (although this is really to help keep her under Nique’s control). As they approach the mansion, they take a place in a long line of carriages, and eventually they reach the main entrance, where Pr’Gillis and the girl exit the carriage, present the invitation, and go on into the castle’s courtyard. Nique and Quingle follow the lines of other carriages back down the hill, and take up a place in the waiting area with the rest, but in a spot where they can keep a good eye on the castle. While waiting, and having assumed the role of a driver, Quingle knows that he must tend to the horses needs, including cleaning up after them; a fact that Nique knows just as well, and much to Quingle’s annoyance.

Inside at the banquet, however, Pr’Gillis must call on all his natural bluff abilities to carry on his masquerade. As expected, any villain in the area who is a villain is there, including all 12 of the Corsair Kings! One of the archfiends that Pr’Gillis meets early on is Feish Mik, one of the Port Dawn slavers and associate of the Jade Lady; Feish appears to take a liking to the “General,” and introduces him to many of the other attendees. Notable introductions include Black Annie, the annis hag Corsair King staying on the same floor of the Shards at the inn, and several of the other pirate “nobility:” Captain Alabaster, Grim Bittal, Captain Galt, Nyvsh Dirg (“the Child of Maug”), Umragig Bloodrose, Captain Quogg, and Captain Markosian. He also sees, from a distance, a green hag surrounded by gnarled, blackened undead, whom nearly everyone gives a wide berth. Interestingly, he also meets a wizard named Xentarak (“…with an ‘X’!”), who, as it turns out, is the one who brought and/or controls the golem! Unfortunately, there are also 5 Paladins there, captured as spies, and crucified on large ‘X’s around the grounds. They are still alive, but the guests are provided with various torture implements to “entertain” themselves by stabbing, burning, or tearing at the flesh of the dying heroes. Knowing that he must do so in order to keep up the disguise, Pr’Gillis takes part in the “games.” Perhaps it is just as well that he is the only one of the Shards to end up attending the banquet. His balanced outlook on life allows him to see his action as a means of supporting the outcome of the greater goal, even if it is something he would not otherwise do. With their generally good outlook, however, any other member of the Shards would simply not be able to harm the Paladins directly (Quingle was pushed almost to the limit with having to witness the remarking of the slave girl), and it is possible that any lack of action in this case may raise questions.

As this is the Governor’s Banquet, the governor himself eventually shows up. Before he appears, however, several large guards are placed at each exit, the perimeter grounds are then circled by large mechanical cats, and a group of mages appear and put up obvious protections around the castle balconies themselves. Finally, the governor makes his appearance. He briefly addresses the audience, then introduces the “Special Guest” of the evening: none other than the Syndec of Laroosh! (That explains who the mages were: The Circle, the mage’s guild of Laroosh that Quingle would have been compelled to join had he stayed with his clan.) The Syndec speaks to the crowd, but the primary points of interest are his telling of the plans that he and the governor have worked out: their combined forces will attack the elves in a week! The pirate fleet will attack Fennas Ear by sea, and the foot army, including mercenaries, will attack Vinya Avignon.

Thankfully, Pr’Gillis’ bluff abilities carry him through the night, and when the party begins to break up, he and the girl leave without any question or incident. They rejoin their friends at the carriage, and make their way back to the inn. Although the primary objective of their overall mission, the golem, is still outstanding, it appears that a few points have been resolved, but what they have discovered will do no good unless they get this information to the elven council as soon as possible. So Pr’Gillis uses a Sending Stone he has to convey the following message:

“Golem, hundreds of ships, several pirate fleets, all Corsair Kings, many encamped mercenaries in Port Dawn – attack Vinya by land, Fennas by sea, next week.”

And the eventual response [interpolated punctuation]:

“Will contact you tomorrow[.] Continue monitoring enemy forces[.] Harass as possible[.] Neutralize golem[;] when attack immanent withdraw to Vinya[,] assist defense[.] Blackbird recalled[.] Neutralize land commanders[.]”

And so, with the information safely delivered to the elven council, Pr’Gillis, Nique and Quingle settle in to wait for the return of their companions from their foray at the iron giant, unaware of the strange turn of events there.

Let us turn back the clock a few hours, to follow the adventure of our other two heros who have gone to scout out the golem – at least, that was the original idea.

Yestamir and Umbrecrom arrive at the docks, and as before, see that the giant golem is in the middle of the harbor, waist deep in water, with ships anchored all around it. While observing the giant, they notice that on the back, just above the waistline, there appear to be two large, well concealed doors. Yestamir uses his transformation ability to turn himself into a hawk, so he can fly out and take a closer look. Indeed, there are doors on the giant’s back. He also sees parapets on the shoulders, which coincide with the description that Pr’Gillis gave when he saw the giant before. He also notices a chimney, with a mesh grate over the top of it. He then returns to his companion on the docks.
So they have seen how the giant is located in relation to the ships around it, discover that is does seem to be hollow, and have learned two potential means on entry. However, something very strange happens next. Rather than returning to the inn to rejoin the group, so the Shards as a whole can make use of this information, they decide on something quite different, and what some may call foolhardy. Inexplicably, as if our friends have been possessed by the spirit of some mythical adventurer from long ago – a character so chaotic, but so persuasive that he could somehow convince otherwise sane people to go on ludicrous quests, often to the detriment of all but himself – they decide on a stealth mission to infiltrate and stop the golem themselves!

The plan they devise seems rather straightforward: Umbrecrom will swim from the docks to the golem, while at the same time Yestamir will again fly out to their goal, attach a rope to the back from the shoulder and let it down for Umbrecrom to climb up, then go down into the chimney to gain entrance. Once inside, the psion will make his way to doors to let Umbrecrom in, and together they will see if they can destroy, or at least disable, the golem.

Stepping into the shadows to transform into a bird may be one thing, but how to get into the water, unnoticed, with so many people on the docks? Solution: someone just jumping into the water may raise eyebrows, but this is Port Dawn – a robbery and stabbing, with the victim getting pushed into the water would hardly seem out of place, or at least not questioned. So our two friends fake a robbery attempt, and Yestamir acts as if he’s stabbing Umbrecrom. Indeed, this does cause some notice, but when Yestamir rolls the “lifeless” body of his companion into the water, eyes are turned back to what they were doing – nothing to see, really. So the stonechild begins to make his way underwater out to the golem, trying not to find out what the large shadows moving through the water may be. As planned, Yestamir makes his way back out to the top of the giant as a hawk, transforms back in order to tie the rope to the chimney, and lowers it down to his friend in the water. Umbrecrom first climbs up the rope the entire height of the colossus to its shoulder, where he deals with the grate on top of the chimney, then he begins to make his way back down the rope on the outside of the golem, while Yestamir enters through the now open chimney.

As he descends, Yestamir discovers that the heat form whatever fire that lies at the very bottom of the shaft is dispersed by brown mold in the chimney, but the power of his mind keeps him safe. As he goes ever deeper, he begins to pass grates on the walls of interior rooms at various levels. When he feels that he has gone far enough, he carefully removes one of the grates, and enters a room, on some internal level of the giant.

At first the rooms he goes through are empty, but he eventually comes to some sort of control room of the giant mechanical man, or maybe one of several control rooms, but this one is not empty – the golem is governed by gnomes, and the gnomes are commanded by a half-orc cleric! With the power of his mind, Yestamir is able to overcome them, at least for a short while, and even manages to do some damage to what he believes may be an auxiliary control panel. He makes his way towards a room at the back, and does indeed find the doors to the outside; opening them, his companion swings in, who had been patiently waiting, hanging on the rope. But alas, it is to no avail, there are simply too many of the giant’s diminutive controllers to be handled by the lone pair, not to mention the half-orc, and alarms have already started going off from all around the inside of the titan. So, as Yestamir is trading psionics for the half-orc’s spells, Umbrecrom closes the door to the chamber, grabs Yestamir and an unconscious gnome he picked up from the other area (having an engineer to interrogate seemed a good idea), and dives out the back door.

Do not judge our heroes too harshly. Make no mistake, they are both quite accomplished, each in their own way, and any would consider themselves fortunate to be able to call them “friend,” and woe betide any they would call “foe,” but even the mightiest of warriors has limits, and must call for allies when a given task is great. Even as they were falling towards the water, Yestamir realized the folly of their plan. “The greatest good,” he thought, “would have come from leaving with the information we had gathered, and then forming a plan with all of the Shards.” At this point all he can do is learn from his lessons, and hope no one he knows gets hurt. In his regret he knows exactly where they need to go, and plane shifts before they even hit the water.

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