Scaled Down Scales

The Return of Amyria
...And Also Jerath..

…As Both of Them Make to it Sayre…

…before the Golden Scales themselves.

Garen Bladerun marveled at the city spread out before them. One minute he had been mesmerized by the spectacular waterfall; the next, he was staring at the gleaming spires of the University of Sayre as The Conqueror crested the top of the waterfall.

The three rivers which joined to make the waterfall spread out to become the canals of Sayre’s secondary transportation system. Secondary, that is, to the broad avenues and great plazas of a thoroughly modern city.

Garen had heard that Sayre was built on the ruins of an ancient town (his Dragonborn history classes being what they were), but no sign of the ancient ruins remained. The town he saw before him was very much up-to-date in its architecture. As Grigore directed Tokk’it to skirt the city north of road which lay north of Sayre’s north wall and land in the beautiful reservoir east of the city, Garen could only admire the halls of the University of Sayre, the glistening shops of the Glassworks, and the monuments of Prospect Hill.

With The Conqueror tied up to some trees along the side of the lake, the Golden Scales came down the gangplank well ahead of the refugees from Akma’ad. Garen noticed a number of carriages arrayed around the lake.

A servant came cautiously over from one of them and asked: “Excuse me, but by any chance are you the Heroes of Elsir Vale?”

When Garen said, “Why, yes, we are.” the servant smiled widely.

“My master will be so pleased! You’re quite famous; he was just talking about you today at tea. Would you do me the honor of allowing me to introduce you?”

Grigore barged right in to accept the invitation and the servant looked even happier and led them through the throng to a dark-doored wooden carriage with remarkable stained glass windows. The servant knocked once and opened the door. “My Lord Telicanthus, may I please introduce the famous Heroes of Elsir Vale.”

When the tall, spindly man stepped out into the sunlight. Garen was shocked to note that Lord Telicanthus is a Githyanki.

But he quickly showed he’s quite unlike any Githyanki that the PCs have seen before, however. Lord Telicanthus has a warm, quick smile and eyes that make it clear he’s very interested in whomever is speaking. He wears very fashionable, expensive clothing and has no Githyanki jewelry or weaponry whatsoever.

Garen was able to detect only the faintest trace of an accent when he addressed the heroes: “It’s such a pleasure to meet you. We’ve received some news of our friends to the north, but I never expected to meet the heroes in person! Some travelers have brought word of your many battles. It’s very rare to meet living heroes, so this is quite a moment for me. Are you just arriving here in Sayre?”

“Y-y-y-yes,” stammered Garen, unable to hide his surprise at seeing a non-hostile member of this race.

“Well, allow me to provide you with some most humble shelter! The finest inn in the city is the River Jewel, right by the bridge in our Glassworks District. Pennel?”

He turned to his secretary, just exiting the carriage. “Run ahead to the Jewel and book . . .” He looks at the Golden Scales and counts. “Rooms for each of them. Put it on my account there, meals included. Let them know that their guests are people of honor, and are to be treated as such.”

The secretary nodded and hurried off.

“It’s so rare to get people of the world here, artists and playwrights aside.”

The Githyanki paused to consider. “Would you do me the honor of coming to tea tomorrow? All the elite in the city, from the mayor on down, would doubtlessly be honored to meet you. You’ll be the toast of the town. Tomorrow, at my estate — I’ll have Pennel leave details for you in the morning, and I’ll send a carriage.”

Once they were headed up the road to the city gate they had passed earlier, Garen decided to take a shortcut. He sprouted his wings and flew over the river and the low city wall, into the district of Sayre known as Prospect Hill.

It didn’t take Garen long to figure out that this residential neighborhood holds the majority of the city’s grand estates and mansions. Flanked by rivers on either side, the low hill rises gradually over the rest of Sayre. All the richest citizens of Sayre live here. Garen was pretty sure the private mercenary units who quickly challenged him (and kept an eye on him until he was off the hill) could ensure that the neighborhood stays safe and free of crime. He was glad he had not timed his “invasion” after dark.

Soon he came to the The Pillar of Hope Reborn, an ostentatious memorial consisting of a 60-foot-tall pillar with an eternal, magical flame atop it.

According to the plaque this marks the spot of “Auglos the Wise’s tower in Auger, first founder of the city that became Sayre,” confirming what Garen remembered about the city’s history. It’s a good meeting spot for young couples on Prospect Hill who wish to go courting.

Moving off the Hill, Garen came first to the Glassworks then to the University of Sayre, where he found the River Jewel

…and he also found Jerath!

The Bard looked up at The Orb Theatre’s marquee. The workmen were taking down his carefully crafted Roland and Juliette sign and replacing it with Titus Androwdicus. Not the original Titus sign, but a new one. A little classier. Now the sign-smiths of Overlook competed for his business. Back when Titus first debuted, he had to make do.

Grigore Goldforge did a face-palm as he watched the paladin sprout wings and fly south over the low city walls.

He continued toward the main gates of the city, thinking that would be less likely to arouse the citizenry than flying over their walls. When he got to the gates, however, the guards were already aroused, telling the Githzerai “their kind were not welcome in this part of town.” Odos was aroused himself, from his usual curtness into anger.

Once they were turned away to make their way to Riverdown, Grigore decided to accompany them and the rest of the Golden Scales followed. At the next bridge they made their way into Riverdown. The quality of the buildings begins to degrade quickly once they got past the tail end of the university district, and Grigore noticed an oily mildew covering the stone walls. Constant mist from the nearby waterfall filled the air. The streets boasted less wealthy individuals running errands, packs of unsupervised children, stray dogs, and people of questionable repute.

Grigore saw a large number of beggars living in Riverdown, and Grigore was certain his obvious wealth alone was enough to be watched carefully.

The Plaza of Vision was where Odos had been told the Githzerai refugees from other areas are living. An open area in Riverdown only accessible by winding through back alleys that branch off of tertiary streets, the plaza is an isolated and dark plaza surrounded by abandoned and rotting warehouses.

A corroding statue of a skyward-staring wizard stands in an empty fountain in the middle of the square. Odo was able to find the red building alongside the plaza, and he led the group there directly.

Odos tried to hide it from his people, but Grigore could tell he was appalled that the Githzerai aren’t living somewhere better. Riverdown is extremely poor, particularly when compared to the university district they walked through earlier, and Grigore couldn’t help feeling that Odos is right in believing that this area is beneath the dignity of the Githzerai.

Grigore noticed raised voices coming from deeper inside the building. The words were unintelligible, but it sounded to him like Githzerai voices raised in anger.

Eventually, Grigore figured out that the Githzerai have splintered into two groups who believe they should proceed in very different ways. One of the leaders, Aziff, urges patience and caution. She is convinced that the locals’ feelings are temporary.

Grigore got the impression she has lived in Sayre for many years, and the recent change in public opinion about the city’s Githzerai citizens has distressed her a great deal (although she didn’t reveal anything but a stoic demeanor openly).

Aziff has the backing of the other local Githzerai, and also of Amyria who came out of a back room shortly after the Golden Scales arrived with Odos.

The other leader, an atypically fiery Githzerai named Gal’ott, has been urging action. Young and angry, he wants to take the fight to the streets, organizing what amounts to a Githzerai gang. Gal’ott and several other Githzerai are refugees from cities and monasteries from elsewhere in the world. Many told Grigore they had traveled several hundred miles to get to Sayre after seeing Githyanki destroy their homes, and they’re appalled that nothing is being done here to combat the threat.

Grigore noticed these Githzerai wear red armbands and never travel alone He quickly became convinced that such gang-like behavior would only add to the local residents’ fears of exactly what Gal’ott is asking his fellows to do.

But Jerath would never have to “make do” again — an idea came to him: “Much Ado about Making Do”? he asked himself; no, that wasn’t it; he would just have to come up with another title for his new comedy — he was a success, having taken Roland and Juliette on the road. And he had found a new home for it.

Rinoa was surprised and pleased to see Amyria, whom she hadn’t seen since they parted in Overlook. Amyria is overjoyed to see the Golden Scales and Rinoa in particular.

Amyria explained to Rinoa that she has spent a great deal of time in the days since she parted traveling outside Elsir Vale. After Magdalene and Elyas pushed her to work with the Council in Overlook, the councilors sent her on an important mission: seeking out the extent of the Githyanki invasion.

“In the process, I have established connections in most of the cities nearby.” She also admitted to Rinoa that she has learned that Githyanki attacks have come at the worst times for the defenses of every region.

“Only Elsir Vale has been spared — at least thus far — thanks to the Golden Scales’ defeat of General Zithiruun. I know it is only a matter of time until the Githyanki try again.”

Rinoa heard Amyria admit to Grigore that she has an agent in the household of Lord Torrance and is suspicious of his connection (as well as that of other prominent citizens) to Lord Telicanthus. An even more surprising admission: Amyria went out of her way to meet the Githyanki Lord at a social event the week before, but she found him genuine.

“But a Githyanki operating so openly just seems wrong.” Rinoa could tell that Amyria is ashamed of her feelings about Telicanthus. She wants to believe that not all Githyanki are evil ravagers intent on conquest, but she is suspicious nonetheless. She was too quick to deflect questions about Telicanthus, his motives, and his possible operations. Her own self doubt was getting in the way of her instincts about the Githyanki, which is why she cautions the Githzerai of acting too hastily.

Amyria told the party that she has learned that two leaders in other nearby cities are seeking out allies. She feels that forming a more concrete alliance — she calls this group the Coalition — between all the besieged communities, city-states, and regions will help them all, so she has been spending a great deal of time fostering this idea.

She has been marginally successful in putting together the war council, which holds its first meeting in Sayre in the morning. "But I myself have little more than a voice in the proceedings. I have no home community and represents only myself and my god, Bahamut. I am being allowed in the proceedings because I organized the event and chose Sayre as the site of the meeting.

Amyria then told Rinoa the people she expects at the Coalition meeting:

  • Kalad
  • Fariex the Scalehammer
  • Caliandra of the Stagrunners
  • Lord Divian Torrance
  • Quelenna Entromiel
  • Inogo Dravitch
  • Odos
  • and Amyria herself

Still The Bard couldn’t help feeling a little sad. He had hoped his second tragedy would have been as popular as the first, but it somehow wasn’t in step with the dwarves. Now, the academics in Sayre loved it. That was why he had moved the primary company to that enlightened city — swapping out a few of the standouts from the traveling company, of course, since they were so well received in Sayre — and left the best dwarvish actors here in Overlook to handle the revival of Titus Androwdicus. “I don’t get it. The drow dies in both of them. Why do they like Titus so much better?”

Magdalene felt a certain amount of satisfaction that her efforts to manipulate the politics of Overlook were finally bearing fruit. Perhaps if this assignment to help form the Coalition worked out for Amyria, the council would consider her as replacement for the dead Councilor Mountainhome.

Amyria then told Maggie she chose for the Coalition to meet in Sayre because, she suspects that the Githyanki have some means of communication that surpasses any sort of magic that she is aware of. “They seem to be able to react almost instantaneously to threats that marshal to meet them, and they strike when their enemies are at their most vulnerable.”

When Odos seemed to agree with this, several members of the Golden Scales began talking about how difficult it is to deal with a race which could use doppelgangers and even take over the bodies of real people to insinuate their way into the politics of any group trying to defend themselves against an attack.

But Maggie saw something more: the importance of subtlety in the response to Githyanki attacks in the Githzerai’s own history. This proved crucial later in convincing Odos to side with Aziff.

“Only regions such as Elsir Vale are having luck defending against the attacks,” Amyria told them. She also told them that she tried to get to the island nation of Nefelus, off the coast past Akma’ad, but found some sort of blockade preventing any ships from sailing there.

“The knowledge of magic possessed by the sages of Nefelus is said to be nearly unsurpassed,” she said. “But the University of Sayre is a worthy rival.” Maggie got the impression she hopes to convince the war council that they should ask the scholars of the university to turn all their efforts toward uncovering the nature of the Githyanki’s communication network.

Amyria’s big bombshell came when she told them about a dream she had:

“In my dream I was standing in the midst of raw elements. Waves crashed around me and fires flared, and I was looking down through clouds onto a dark blue night’s sky. Stretching across the sky was a giant spider’s web that was woven between planes. It was silver and sparkled with stars, and at the end of each web line was a Githyanki.

“As each Githyanki spoke, the web sparkled, and a fat spider in the middle listened to everything that anyone said. The spider was beautiful, but you could tell it was evil, just like the people talking through it. It scuttled around, fixing frayed lines and tossing out new lines to new people. Most were Githyanki, but some were not. One of the lines went to a Githzerai.” Amyria looked troubled as she paused.

“I looked harder at the spider, and I knew it was here in Sayre. I could see the city around it. So I came here. I think someone in Sayre is helping the Githyanki, but we don’t know for sure who it is, although we have our suspicions. And we don’t have an easy answer about what to do about it.”

Gal’ott interrupted, “Of course we do. We find your spider. We find him and kill him. We kill him and return to our homes.”

“You think that’s going to solve the problem, Gal’ott?" Amyria asked in reply. "We know of whom you speak. And he’s politically connected to everyone who could help the Githzerai! Kill him and get executed as murderers and traitors. I say we need to prove what he’s up to, and then discredit him. It’s the only way to help the Githzerai.”

At this point, Magdalene decided to step in and help Amyria persuade the brash Githzerai to show some restraint. When she did, Gal’ott could see that she was having an impact on Odos.

He bowed his head and said, “I will comply with the majority. For one week. After that time, my people will take matters into their own hands.”

He stood, nodded to Odos and Azitt, and left.

Once Jerath got to the River Jewel he put his worries about the popularity of Titus Androwdicus behind him. Here he was the toast of the city, almost as popular as the Githyanki turncoat everyone was fawning over. Here they appreciated the nuance of Roland and Juliette. The Bard was not sure he would ever bring Titus to Sayre. They needed something more sophisticated here. Jerath was even thinking of trying his hand at comedy. Suddenly, he thought he recognized the paladin at the front desk. One of his patron’s friends. Yes, it was. “Garen!” he called out.

Sam could tell it was time to convince Odos to go along with the plan Azitt and Amyria were putting forward.

“I see no reason why the Githzerai should not just leave the mortals to their own devices," Odos told Sam. "And perhaps we can attack the Githyanki once they are weakened from your conquest. I fail to see how you can convince me otherwise, but I am willing to listen to arguments.”

Grigore knew it as well. After observing Odos closely to gain insight into his motives, he came over to Sam and told him: “Now that he has had time to calm down after the siege of Akma’ad, Odos remains neutral as to what the Githzerai should do. He personally favors killing Telicanthus and then abandoning the plane.” But Grigore is convinced that Odos was being honest when he said he was willing to listen.

So Sam decided to emphasize the importance of the Githzerai in fighting an opponent like Telicanthus with his Githyanki mental powers. His bluff worked.

Magdalene pushed forward with this argument, trying to show that a victory for the Githyanki would be a victory for Chaos over Order. Sam realized at once that this went to the heart of Odos’s religious beliefs and moved him further toward the kind of action that Azitt was advocating. Hard to see murdering Telicanthus as anything but chaotic. Chance followed up successfully on the religious angle.

Garen took a different approach. His diplomatic approach: Stressing the importance of standing together. Sam was proud for the paladin, and equally proud when Rinoa tried to intimidate Odos by demanding that he look at what might happen should the Githyanki win. But Odos is hard to intimidate and that approach was quickly abandoned.

Grigore came by with further advice about his insights into Odos’s character. “He knows that Amyria wants him to join her Coalition, but is not sure that he wants anything to do with the mortal world and its defense against the Githyanki threat.” So Sam decided to follow up with Garen’s diplomatic approach.

Maggie reverted to the bluff Sam recalled making earlier, painting an excessively grim picture of the Githyanki and the importance of the Githzerai in defeating them. Sam was again impressed when Chance followed this up with a historical account of what had really happened and how the Githzerai commitment to mental discipline had been crucial.

“I have been convinced to stay and investigate Telicanthus,” he told the hobbit. “I think proper use of the right rituals might be just the way to do it. And this city is certainly a good place to learn such rituals. You must take your baggage on and enjoy your rooms at this fancy establishment Telicanthus has reserved for you. Especially if you want to get close enough to investigate him.”

So Sam led the Golden Scales to The River Jewel, scouting ahead and noticing that the beggars (who seemed to congregate around the bridge between Riverdown and the university district on the Riverdown side) did not really bother them until they were near the University itself.

A Githyanki Gish
...Named Brann'ot...

…Tries to Ambush…

…the Golden Scales as they make their way toward Sayre.

Chance Runner’s soul felt a strange sense of deja vu, rended by the icy winds of Letherna as it spiraled down toward the gates of the palace of black ice below. Although he could not actually remember previous lives ending in death (as opposed to those which ended in re-incarncation), the book he clutched told him in great detail about the times he had done this before. The abode of the Queen of Death had strange gates indeed, opening on the sky to allow the maelstrom of death to carry the shattered souls of the dead to be judged by the Raven Queen herself: “After all these years, still you play with Death,” she began when he was brought before her.

The young woman named Magdalene looked down from her perch in the crow’s nest of The Conqueror and saw the Gish assassin try to creep unnoticed from the hold.

She could not help critiquing the assassin’s style: “Everyone else has noticed her as well.” The assassin was immediately assailed from all sides by the Golden Scales, but the Gish did not seem to mind.

Eschewing the kind of telekinetic leap favored by so many of the Githyanki, the Gish teleported to yardarm below Maggie. The teleport avoided the ropes and sails so easily that Magdalene was sure it was the kind of phasing teleport she had only heard about. It was rumored to leave the assassins who used it insubstantial and difficult to damage.

Before Maggie was able to attempt such damage, however, the Gish raised her arms and telekinetically untied 8 ropes from the ship’s rigging. She let 4 droop over each side of the ship. It wasn’t hard to notice the assassin’s confederates below leaping to the ropes and clamoring upward.

Dancing along the ropes, Maggie whirled out her kasuri-gama and leaped to the yardarm, knocked the Gish prone. Draped over the yardarm, the assassin did not look so formidable as Spruce Tree flew up to attack her before she teleported back to the deck.

Ignoring the smirk on Chance’s face, the Queen of Death offered her opinion: “Not a good idea, playing with Death.”

Sam the Foresworn managed to get all his allies to concentrate their attacks on the first of the Githyanki warriors to take major damage and that enemy quickly died. But the little hobbit saw the warrior’s spirit rise from its body and he could sense the fear this caused in his allies who quickly shifted their attacks to the assassin who had just teleported back to the main deck.

Sam watched as Maggie plunged from the yardarm to launch a devastating strike at the Gish. The Master Thief noticed a certain level of professional respect in the assassin’s eyes as Magdalene was able to inflict enormous damage even with the assassin in some kind of insubstantial state.

The assassin still had little respect for the tiny fairy assaulting her feet with his miniature staff, but Spruce was able to knock the assassin to the ground, somehow forcing the Gish to come out of her insubstantial state.

As soon as the Githyanki assassin was bloodied, she was able to absorb the spirit of the dead warrior. it almost seemed to Sam that she grew in stature as she absorbed it.

But Sam’s little heart swelled with pride as he saw the rest of the Golden Scales pile on the damage before the assassin was able to phase to insubstantial again. While they didn’t kill her outright before she teleported and became less vulnerable, she was close enough to death that even with their blades slipping easily through her insubstantial body, they were able to finish her off quickly.

But Sam’s heart shrank when he realized his compatriots had gone back to their standard tactics once the warriors’ boss was down: Spreading the damage around so that no one warrior went down too quickly.

As Chance’s soul exploded into mist and light before her, the sorcerer heard the Raven Queen’s final words to him: “Playing with Death has consequences.”

Maxim Shalion saw that Zumos was using his big spells, so when the warriors lined themselves along the the edge of the upper deck, he let loose an enormous spell of his own: The Hunger of Hadar, which leaves behind a globe of impenetrable darkness filled with fanged shadows. He knew that as long as his allies could force their opponents into the blackness the fluttering, flying creatures would find purchase for their fangs.

Sam kept reminding him to use his curses and eventually their enemies started to fall.

When he thought Chance was about to fall as well, the revenant’s eyes started to spark with lightning and he continued to fight like a zombie until he fell over dead.

Chance awoke in the crew deck of the ship where he died. The old, blind sage was finishing the ritual he used to bring the sorcerer back to life. “We had to use the last of the ritual materials stored in the hold, but we were able to bring you back.”

GrigoreGoldforge saw Chance go down and began to wonder. Every other revenant he had ever dealt with — OK, there was mainly one — had the ability to keep fighting if he wanted to. Chance hadn’t even called for healing before he went down.

With all of the Githyanki warriors finally dead (once Sam got his allies to concentrate their fire one last time), Grigore went over to Chance’s prostrate form and tried to heal him. He was well and truly dead, not just unconcious.

When the other party members realized this as well, some were ready to loot the revenant’s corpse. But Grigore refused to let them and carried the body down to the hold. He left it in the safekeeping of blind Odos and his followers.

Once the sun was up and the city of Sayre hove into view, Grigore saw a groggy Chance Runner being led up from below by the Most Exalted Odos.

Faery Ninja Pixie Politics
OK, Spruce Is Really a Monk...

…Not a Ninja…

…but the idea is the same.

Even after Garen Bladerun noticed that blind Odos was more favorably disposed toward the Golden Scales when they told him Maggie and Sam had participated in the killing of General Zithiruun and the destruction of the Githyanki allied with Sarshan, he was still surprised at the reaction of the elderly Githzerai to Grigore’s offer to ferry his people to Sayre. The leader of the Cenobites did not look like he often offered up that much trust to outsiders.

But Garen could tell that even their new pixie friend (as well as Chance and Rinoa) could see Odos was concerned greatly about his people and their future. Glancing at Grigore, he saw in his leader’s eyes that Grigore could tell that Odos was worried: worried that Sayre is only a temporary solution.

“Probably understands the blind guy doesn’t know if there’s anyone he or his people can trust other than themselves, even if he’s beginning to like us,” Garen thought to himself. “Sam seems willing to accept that Odos is a good and just leader. But I wonder if he can tell that his taciturn nature is a reflection of the hardships his race has endured, exacerbated by the recent attacks.”

“Try not to share your thoughts, or your madness,” the Summer Queen asked. “Even your most innocuous comments can bring me pain.” The tiny pixie nodded. Not the first time someone had told him this. Sometimes the rhythm of the Feywilde, which no one else seemed to be able to hear, told him this.

Once Tokk’it had proved Gallia was possessed by a Githyanki spirit and killed her, Maggie had little trouble convincing Odos to tell them about the attack. The Githyanki had attacked without warning, and they sent strike teams to the personal chambers of all the Githzerai leaders, as if they knew exactly where they were staying.

“I hope you’re convinced that Gallia was the one who fed them information on the layout of Akma’ad,” Garen said.

Maggie watched the old man nod as Tokk’it explained that the drawings of the Githzerai leader the Golden Scales had found in the Gith assassin’s cabin on the ship Tokk’it had commandeered were all drawn in Gallia’s distinctive style. “I imagine she told them our names as well,” Odos admitted.

After Chance pressed him further, Odos told them he was only spared because he stepped outside for a walk and heard the team of assassins in my room. “One of them was talking to a strange device.”

Then Grigore took over the questioning.

“I was able to surprise them all. Mr. Lee and I were about to defeat them by ourselves. Otherwise, I might have been assassinated as well. We killed all but one…who got away in the confusion of the main attack.”

“I have need of your assistance,” Tiandra told him, although Spruce knew she would never have invited a pixie to her palace in the middle of the silver trees of Senaliesse if this had not been so. “The Winter Court has taken an interest in the affairs of the mortal realm,” she continued. “And would have an agent there, keeping an eye on those particular affairs…the affairs of the Golden Scales.”

Grigore Goldforge was not surprised when Odos told Garen that attacks of this sort had been happening to Githzerai enclaves all over the mortal realm.

But he pressed for more. And so did Sam. But it wasn’t until threw in a desperate bluff that the old Githzerai offered up the real truth:

“Most of the Githzerai around the material plane of existence have fled to a refuge in Sayre, a nearby city. I want to take my people there now.” This left Grigore pleased that he had already offered to take them there in the ship Tokk’it had stolen.

Grigore had asked Tokk’t to help, but he knew the young Githzerai really wanted to stay with the Golden Scales. A taste of adventure and the kid was hooked.

“Before you ask, I will tell you what manner of creatures the Golden Scales are: A band of adventurers, currently allied with those seeking to draw the Githzerai into an alliance against ancient enemies,” the queen explained. “Aid them in their endeavors and even the Unseelie agents among them — an elf and a hobgoblin — may come to trust you.”

Showing the piece of stained glass to Rinoa, Sam the Foresworn asked her what it was. She told him it was magic, but others had been able to tell him that.

“Seems to be a communication device of some sort,” the sorceress told him. “But one-way only. I think it can only send messages, not receive them.” Sam was able to confirm this when he talked to the pixie about it. Seems that Spruce was following the assassins between each attack and heard the Gish talking into the device. But he told Sam he never heard it talk back. Nor did he see the assassin listen to it.

Once they had all that put together, everybody got together for one final diplomatic push.

A successful push: Odos told them that he and the other githzerai had planned this meeting at Akma’ad to discuss whether or not to accept an invitation in Sayre to meet with a newly formed coalition of leaders from other regions of the world concerned with the extent of the githyanki invasion.

“Each member of this coalition comes from a homeland ravaged by the githyanki, and they’re all looking for aid and support from their regions,” the old blind Cenobite told them.

Sam could see that Odos is bitter that the “humans” sound divided over political issues when there’s so much at stake. The hobbit noticed that Odos tends to call all non-Githzerai except Githyanki “human” and couldn’t help laughing about what Belinda’s parents would think of that.

“I was against going to the meeting,” Odos said. “But now Sayre is the only choice my people have.”

Hobgoblin to the Rescue
The Prophesy of the Imp...

…Proves to be Accurate…

…to a degree, at least. No one has seen the hobgoblin eat any brains yet.

With Kath’ik and Wellik dead, Blind Odos knew he must lead the battle. As he hurried through the corridors, a squad of cenobites came rushing towards him. “We must hold out defensively as long as possible. Surely, we will be overwhelmed eventually, but it may come to pass that someone will come to our aid.”

Maxim Shalion decided he liked using his curses. They made even his Eldritch Blasts and Hellish Rebukes a thing to fear. The Golden Scales had decided to climb on top of the fortress and surprise the Githyanki from above, rather than attack them from behind.

They were surprised themselves when another group of the mind-bending pirates from the Astral Plane came down from still higher roofs. The Hands of Gith attacked suddenly and died just as suddenly when their immobilizing telekinetic Cold Hands were overcome by Garen’s Divine Mettle.

Maxim used his blasts and rebukes — fortified by lots of curses — to work his way over to the edge of the roof. From there he could see the edge of the main battle.

And lots of targets.

He knew then what he had been saving the Hunger of Hadar for. Raising the Deathbone Rod of Dark Reward over his head, he conjured a globe of impenetrable darkness filled with fanged, flying shadows. Everything in the zone was blinded and their life forces rended. Then it was simply a matter of maintaining the globe and convinced his allies to force their enemies into the blackness.

Taken aback by the optimism of the usually stoic Odos, the cenobite captain stopped in his tracks. “Have you not heard? Someone has triggered the rockslide we use to defend this place.”

Grigore Goldforge decided he might have to remind Chance to pay closer attention to the battle. Almost as soon as Maxim lowered his globe of fanged shadows, Chance forced two Githyanki off the roof into the very place where Maxim had created the zone.

“Bet Maxim coulda used a heads-up on that,” the ardent thought. “He mighta left the globe up a little longer.” He couldn’t help thinking about how his uncle might have handled that. “Probably woulda managed better co-operation between his men.”

But Grigore was soon too busy to worry too much about better co-ordination. The Golden Scales were dropping all around him. Icy fingers gripped their hearts, immobilizing them and making them easy prey to greater damage from the silver swords the Githyanki wielded. His Skauld’s Aura was soon depleted and he had to muster all the healing he had available.

Even for Maggie, who usually stayed out of the main fray…

“I thought the assassins who killed Kath’ik and Wellik had somehow neutralized the rockslide.” Odos was confused as the captain reported the rumors that someone had landed on the roof of the monastery and was attacking the Githyanki besiegers. “Isn’t that where Gallia was last seen?”

Magdalene decided that climbing to the highest roofs of the monastery was the best way to avoid the clouds of dust sent up by their rockslide. Sure enough, the view was unobstructed up under the overhang.

Not that Maggie could see the entire battlefield, but she was able to see her way clear to the doorway where the Githzerai were being pressed by the attackers.

The attacking Githyanki were trying to force the Cenobites back inside the fortress. Seeing that success in that endeavor would allow the Githyanki the chance to fight from the protection of the doorway, just as the beleaguered Githzerai were doing now, Maggie threw caution to the wind.

Maggie used her Ninja-to Rush to leap into the dust cloud from above, following up with an Assassin’s Strike. Realizing immediately why the Githzerai were being pressed so hard, Maggie found herself surrounded by enemies. Out came the Whirling Kusari-gama, which was able to knock many of her opponents to the ground and force them into the black globe Maxim was still maintaining.

Maggie went down, but Grigore was not about to let the Githzerai be attacked again. First, the ardent healed Magdalene, then started healing the Githzerai themselves, and leaped down into the cauldron of death himself.

Then Maggie saw Grigore do something with his Wormhole Plunge that she had never seen him do before: First, he plunged his target into Maxim’s globe of blackness and shadow, then he stepped into the wormhole himself plunging himself back to the roof, then he sucked a Warrior of Gith into the wormhole and urged Maggie to pin him there. When she did that, Grigore was able to plunge the warrior through the wormhole and into the middle of Maxim’s globe.

“Yes, I believe that was where Gallia was captured by the Githyanki. Now, the Eastern Door has been breached by a Githyanki Passwall ritual,” the captain reported. “But the Western Door still holds. We suspect the attackers from above — probably the same ones who released the landslide — disrupted the other ritual we heard being attempted there. No time to investigate, though. We must hold the Eastern Door.”

“I think I might learn to like this Divine Challenge thing,” Garen Bladerun told himself. Sure, it brought him repeatedly to the brink of death, but wasn’t that were a true dragonborn paladin was at his best?

Almost made him feel like Bahamut himself, willing to sacrifice everything to fight for that which is right.

He had started out the battle Channeling Divinity from Bahamut into a crucial Divine Mettle blast which saved one of his allies from the devastating effects of the Cold Hand immobilization the Warriors of Gith liked to use to maximize the damage they dealt.

With all of his friends dropping like flies around him, Garen was glad he could draw so much attention to himself with his Divine Challenges. He wished he could use those challenges to increase his damage as well, like so many of the heroic paladins of old. Perhaps he could do some retraining before his next fight.

Shouting that Maggie needed him, Grigore disappeared into the clouds of dust. Nothing left to do but lay about with his sword. It felt good to swing the blade two-handed. His new shield at least gave him that luxury…

Almost made him feel like Bahamut himself!

What was he thinking? If he used Bahamut’s voice, demanding surrender in the language of the gods, which of these Githyankis could resist?

“Yield to the power of Bahamut,” he demanded of the two remaining Warriors of Gith. The bloodied one surrendered, but the other tried to run away.

Oh, yeah. Probably shoulda waited until they were both bloodied. Garen made a mental note to make sure his enemies were bloodied before he tried to intimidate them. “Some of ’em just go into a rage when you do it too soon,” he remembered.

Blind Odos rushed toward the Eastern Door shouting, “If a hobgoblin rescues us, I shall be very concerned, indeed.” He kept a second thought to himself: “Especially if he eats brains.”

Finishing off the last of the Githyanki warriors was no problem for Sam the Foresworn. Nor was liberating the gloves worn by the miscreant. But identifying the use to which he could put the gloves was a different story.

For that, he would need to show them to his friend Zumos.

Several other members of the Golden Scales turned up their noses at the gloves, although somebody said they were magic. But Sam knew better than to trust such a judgment. Magic could mean “cursed” as well.

He would wait for Zumos to take a look before he actually put the gloves on.

The wizard from the Order of the Septarchs was searching the bodies himself: A lot of bodies — between the rockslide and the fighting, hundreds of Githyanki had been dispatched.

Three troopships full of Githyanki, from all the evidence Sam had seen.

But Zumos abandoned his search when Sam brought him the gloves. The halfling could tell from the look in his eyes that Zumos had seldom seen such a powerful magic item. Which was saying something for a member of the order.

“You seem to have found a pair of Gloves of Dimensional Grasp,” the wizard told him after a careful examination.

Gloves of Dimensional Grasp! Sam’s heart sang. Many adventurers knew about the party trick such gloves could perform: opening a lock from across a room.

But Sam knew much more he could do with them. Sure, reaching through a dimensional portal could extend his reach, but it could also allow him to reach inside a lock and get to parts which might need to be jiggered just so…

…to open a lock which might not otherwise be within his powers.

Rubble in a Dust Cloud
...Does Not Make the Best Combat Footing...

…Although Delis Erinthal Doesn’t Seem to Have Much Trouble with It

Chance was glad the decision was unanimous. Everybody wanted to go over the cliff on the ropes and grappling hooks left by the Githyanki Swashbucklers. No more shouting matches which would force Chance to choose between his loyalty to Grigore and his own better judgment.

Unfortunately his own effort with the ropes did not go well. He fell. “Never was much of an acrobat,” Chance thought to himself as he picked himself up in the middle of the battle as the Githyanki closed in.

Once he was on his feet and ready to trade blows with the enemy, the lightning sorcerer felt a little better. He picked his way through the rubble, got near the Mindslicer chanting a Pass Wall ritual, and turned his body into a spark of pure lightning. This allowed him to zip right through a number of the ritualists — including the chanter — really fast, attacking each as he passed through it.

Maybe a little too fast. None of the Githyanki were hurt by his attack. Drawing deep within his reserves, Chance turned back on the Mindslicer and centered his blast on her. That was all it took to disrupt the ritual: The chanter was hurt enough to lose her concentration on the ritual and several others were blown away entirely.

“Pure pandemonium,” explained Tein. The largest kobold nodded. “The battle for the rocks was pure pandemonium.”

Grigore Goldforge was pleased. Chance stuck to the plan and disrupted the ritual. Faster than Grigore would have believed possible.

And the Githyanki Mindslicer went down soon thereafter, victim of Magdalene’s shuriken. “With any luck,” thought the leader of the Golden Scales, “that Mindslicer was the only one who could perform that ritual.”

But Grigore knew better than to count on luck. Sometimes it felt like the gods themselves were conspiring against him. “I mean,” thought Grigore as he healed his heavily wounded allies, “other than the obvious.”

Tiamat. The obvious. Queen of Treachery.

Looking around to see if any of his allies was in trouble, the ardent noticed that Garen was surrounded. “That’s different,” he thought. The paladin was famous for not using his Divine Challenges to attract enough attention.

Sure enough, once Zumos had killed off a bunch of additional Swashbucklers streaming in to help, the sorceror leaped from a nearby building onto the deck of the crashed Githyanki ship and began attracting a lot of attention himself. Several Warriors of Gith pealed off of Garen and soon Zumos was in serious trouble.

Grigore sighed and began sending some serious healing Zumos’s way.

Takin the Scared replied: “Yeah, I see dat. I always panics. Panics usually means pandemonium. Or pandemonium means panics. I always tries to gets away in the pandemonium.”

Sam the Foresworn had taken over the leadership role: Everyone was following his lead and concentrating their fire on whichever enemy Sam was attacking.

So, when he saw Zumos being surrounded by Warriors of Gith, he shouted, “Over here!” and backstabbed the first of these enemies for all he was worth.

“But the next battle was much better organized.” Takin seemed confused at this. Alen tried to explain: “Everybody seemed to know what they were doing. The ritual was stopped, the caster was killed, and the battle was won. It didn’t actually take as long as the first battle, but it seemed faster.”

Delis Erinthal saw what Sam was doing and started pouring on the fire. She quickly silenced the imps who had been pestering her earlier with jibes about her misses.

“I’ll have to be careful about those demons,” she thought to herself. “Their master seems to have some influence amongst the Winter Court’s less savory allies. I wonder if they could be of use to Talyrin.”

Delis still wondered what the Cyclops seer had been so worried about when she sent Delis on the intelligence mission. Something about a vision. Talyrin was always seeing visions.

And this one scared her.

“No panics?” Takin asked. “How you gets away in pandemonium with no panics?”

Maggie wondered if Grigore would really pay her the 1,000 gold pieces he promised as a reward for the killing the Githyanki Mindslicer. The ardent seemed less miserly than he was before being re-united with his wife and children. Maggie thought he might even have become more willing to accept Jerath as an equal in their business partnership.

When the last Warrior of Gith died, Magdalene was already thinking about what she would do with the money. “More gold for the Raven Queen,” she grinned as she watched Garen again take the lead in searching the bodies of the fallen Githyanki.

She noticed he was particularly pleased with a set of Winged Bracers he found. “They go well with his new shield.” She also saw him picking up a Potion of Vitality. “That ought to be useful the next time he becomes immobilized.”

...Breaks Out...

…and Alen and Tien Are Not Even Involved.

Magdalene watched as Maxim Shalion aimed both ballistae. She suggested they don the uniforms of the dead Githyanki who were strewn about The Conqueror.

Once they were sliding down the ropes which were tied to the ballista bolts, the gig might be up. But the longer it took for the Githyanki defending the special defenses above the besieged fortress, the better their chances of releasing a rockslide on the attacking forces below.

Maggie knew she she could disguise herself well enough to sneak into any Githyanki social gathering, but her compatriots were not so adept at deception. Maggie could even mimic the strange telekinetic leaps her enemies were so adept at as she ran across the ropes, but she held out no such hope for Garen in his heavy plate.

Maxim had targeted the squat towers on either side of the rocks. Tokk’it told them a lever inside each tower could release the web of chains which held the rocks to the slope above the cliff. Released the rocks would tumble down over the cliff and crush the Githyanki below before they could overwhelm the Githezerai inside — Tokk’it’s friends from the monastery as well as some visiting dignitaries.

Tokk’it had been reluctant to talk about the visitors.

Zip lines (a short rope looped around the wrists and hung over the ropes tied to the ballista bolts) might get them across in a hurry, but no Githyanki would mistake a clumsy zip-liner for swashbuckling, telekinetic Githyanki.

Still, it was the best some of her allies could do. And Maggie was determined to keep up the charade as long as possible.

The bolt from the forward ballista flew true and embedded itself deeply in the right-hand tower. The other bolt was not aimed so well and got stuck in the chains which held back the rocks between the towers.

Chance got across well enough, but was barely able to restrain his enthusiasm. He almost cast a give-away spell before Grigore and Maggie were able to convince him to hold off.

Then disaster struck: Just as Maggie had feared, Garen was unable to catch his feet on the lip of the rock where the misfired bolt had become lodged. He was stuck there, feet against the cliff, clutching the zip loop.

Almost as if he were standing straight out from a vertical cliff.

Something a Githyanki Swashbuckler might be able to do, but not a predicament a Githyanki would have any difficulty getting himself out of.

So Garen sprouted his wings and flew to safety.

“Not exactly the way a Githyanki would do it,” thought Maggie. So she switched to her backup plan and began shouting orders at Garen and the others.

“You mercenaries! Be careful when you’re crossing!” the plucky shapeshifter shouted, hoping to convince the Githyanki she was the Githyanki in charge of a bunch of mercs.

Next Rinoa missed her zip. Since she was sliding to the better-lodged bolt, she was at least able to catch herself before she fell off the cliff. Maggie saw one of the Githyanki (apparently convinced by the “mercenary” ruse) offer Rinoa a telekinetic leap.

Which put her in front of the rockslide, right in the midst of the biggest group of Githyanki. (This particular group all had large hands embroidered on the front of their uniforms.)

pandemonium, n. wild uproar or unrestrained disorder; tumult or chaos. “I swear it wasn’t me,” Ambassador Tein said during the investigation into what happened.

Chance Runner was convinced the ruse could not be maintained much longer. So he rushed forward when Rinoa performed her telekinetic leap. A large group of the “Hands of Gith” (or whatever they were) rushed over toward Rinoa.

Which put them right in front of Chance…

…at the edge of a cliff….

…So, he blasted them off the edge. “It just seemed like the thing to do,” he said to himself, almost as if he were rehearsing his excuses should Grigore call him on it later. One of the Githyanki (who had no hand on his chest) seemed better prepared than the others for such an eventuality. He hung momentarily in the air where Chance’s sorcery had blasted him, then performed a telekinetic leap past Chance up onto the rockslide itself.

With Delis playing cat-and-mouse with that survivor, Chance joined Grigore, Rinoa and Maxim in taking control of the right-hand tower. As they did this, however, Chance noticed a problem developing at the other. Right off the bat, Maggie had darted through the defenders, getting just inside the door.

But now she seemed stuck — immobilized, if you will — in the doorway. In fact, when Chance moved out toward the edge of the cliff, he could see that Maggie was fighting like a wildcat even though she did not appear to be able to move freely.

Soon Chance learned why: One of the minions with the hand symbol on their clothing reached out with her left hand and made a grasping gesture, her hand pulsing as though it held a beating heart. As she did this (and others were doing the same at the other tower), Chance felt icy fingers grasping at his heart, immobilizing him with fear. In that condition, it was hard not to become vulnerable to the very kind of psychic attacks the Githyanki specialize in.

“That must be what’s holding Maggie in place,” thought Chance. But the lightning sorceror had seen Maggie slip such paltry bonds before. “There must be something more affecting her, preventing her from using all her powers.”

Once the right-hand tower was secured, Chance made his way across in front of the pile of restrained rocks. (Somewhat nervously, he had to admit, knowing that Maxim’s hand was on a lever which could partially release those stones.) His nervousness may have accounted for the fact that he did not notice the grappling hooks being thrown from below until a row Hand-of-Gith reinforcements appeared below him at the edge of the cliff.

Seeing the opportunity, Chance turned himself into a spark of lightning and darted through the crowd around Maggie, leaving shocked and singed Githyanki in his wake. Delis darted in as well and they coordinated their lever-pulling with Maxim via demonic communications devices.

After the rest of the Githyanki were dispatched (first, the new group getting pushed off the edge by the rockslide intended for their fellows below; then with Garen attracting the attention of the survivors while everyone else pounded on them), Chance made his way over to the edge of the cliff to view the devastation below.

pandemonium, n. a place or scene of riotous uproar or utter chaos. “I had nothing to do with it,” Alen swore.

After the dust cleared, Garen Bladerun saw the attacking forces below them had been almost wiped out by the rockfall. Two groups of survivors were still visible: a group whose Passwall Ritual had been temporarily interrupted (the paladin could see they were trying to get re-organized so they could begin their ritual again); and another group who were being driven back by Githzerai Cenobites from inside the monastery.

The grappling hooks and ropes left behind by the force which tried to relieve the Githyanki defenders provided a third alternative: Using them, Garen and his friends could avoid attacking either of those groups. Riotous uproar broke out as the Golden Scales began to debate which of these three alternatives would be taken.

Garen couldn’t help noticing that in the chaos of the discussion he was the only one searching the bodies of the dead Githyanki defenders. When he found a Winged Shield, he told himself, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be pious,” quoting one of his teachers back in the swamp. “This is something I’ve been wanting for some time.”

“Now what I need is a good two-handed sword,” the paladin exulted as he tried to see if he could wield both of his shields simultaneously and still get some benefit from each. The narrow silver shield extended its folded mithril wings, floating as if Garen was wielding it himself.

When he tried to use his Direbeast Shield with the Winged Shield, however, the paladin found the new shield did not give him added protection. The Winged Shield simply mimicked the motions of his Direbeast Shield. So he decided he would have to use the old shield with the wolf’s head on it as a backup.

“At least I can swing my longsword two-handed,” thought Garen as he stowed his pelt-covered shield in his pack. “Until I get a real two-hander.”

pandemonium, n. the abode of all the demons, after Pandaemonium, Milton’s name in Paradise Lost for the capital of hell. “Well, yeah. We both been there,” Tein said, glancing nervously at Alen.

Grigore considered his options carefully. Three choices seemed available to the Golden Scales:

  1. Using the ropes left behind by the Githyanki, they could lower themselves down toward the fortress. This would give them the chance to swing inward under the overhang where they now sat. Perhaps they could land on the roof and convince the Githzerai inside to let them in. There they could help the monks defend their monastery. This seemed the safest alternative. Especially considering how injured Grigore was himself.
  2. Using The Conqueror, their captured Githyanki airship, they could sail down to attack some Githyanki Delis had spied attempting a Passwall Ritual to get through the fortifications. This held out the promise of disrupting the attackers’ best hope of winning the battle. Certainly killing more Githyanki would make their job much easier once they were inside.
  3. Or they could use The Conqueror to sail around to the other side of the fortress, where a large number of Githzerai were holding off the rest of the Githyanki who had not been killed off by the falling rock. This might prove the fastest way to connect up with the monks inside.

At first the ardent tried to convince his teammates that his injured condition was reason enough to take the safest route. (Grigore could easily imagine an imp showing up on his shoulder and telling him, “It’s not so much the safest route, as the most cowardly route.”)

Then he tried to exercise his leadership to demand they take to the ropes.

This only intensified the debate, with some of the Golden Scales challenging his leadership while others rallied to his side (even though they disagreed before).

Finally he succumbed to Sam’s calm persuasion: Disrupting the ritual did seem to offer the best path to total victory.

Once the disagreement was over, the deva they had just met came over to and showed Grigore his ritual book. Grigore immediately recognized the value of some of the rituals to their current situation:

  • Comrades’ Succor
  • Raise Dead

“Well, this would have made the decision easier,” the ardent noted. Grigore immediately went to the hold of their airship and gathered the ritual components they found there to help Kerem cast the Comrades’ Succor. Several of his teammates were able to contribute multiple healing surges to the process.

And Grigore no longer had to fear his own demise in the coming battles. No imps appeared on his shoulder.

A Desperate Captain
Thinking She Could End a String of Errors...

…Which Might Besmirch Her Reputation…

…Captain Iquel decided to launch her troopship — The Sacrifice — to intercept the scalawag who had stolen another Githyanki vessel. Unfortunately for the captain, said scalawag (named Tokk’it) had found some allies — known officially as The Golden Scales — and was returning to relieve the beseiged fortress of Akma’ad.

Kerem was still not sure why the Thraxinium had selected him. Perhaps his inherently passive nature made it less likely that he would embroil the leaders of the magocracy in commitments they might find uncomfortable. “Long have we striven to remain detached from the affairs of the mainland,” Bejam himself had explained. “But now we have rumors that some deva not associated with Nefelus is stirring up the Githzerai.”

Tokk’it was determined to ram the other Githyanki ship before it rammed his.

Demanding the ghost sailors go to full sail while the other vessel stuck with battle sails, he was able to get the jump on the Githyanki captain before she had gotten very far from the fortress. Still it was two ships trying to ram each other head on. Tokk’it had to settle for a glancing blow which pinned the other ship to the side of the cliff rather than sending it directly to rocks below.

While the opposing captain stayed on the other ship, she sent her minions across to attack.

Creeping back toward Akma’ad’s main fortification, Kerem was able to confirm what the Wellik the Elder feared the most: Githyanki ships had attacked the tranquil monastery while Kerem was out walking around, taking in the views of the ocean, and meditating on the serenity he found there. If Most Exalted Odos had not suggested that a walk would calm his nerves, Kerem might have been caught up in the attack.

Delis Erinthal was proud of her companions. They were all taking down the Githyanki captain’s minions. Garen had another stone glowing in the soul-capturing device he wore on his head and the opposing captain seemed frustrated that she had not been able to channel power into her Myrmidons before they were cut down.

But now that she was herself bloodied, it seemed that the captain had grown desperate. She drew her arms back and the ropes on her vessel swung back toward the monastery where she had been forced to leave some of her troops behind.

Those troops responded as if they had been prepared for such an eventuality. They used their own telekinetic powers to leap into the air and grab the ropes, enabling them to swing across and assault the forecastle of The Conqueror, the vessel on which Delis had arrived (before she crossed over and bloodied the captain on her own ship).

But now the captain came across to The Conqueror herself. She seemed disappointed again as the Golden Scales cut down half her minions, but she was able to channel energies into the rest of them. But not able to attack Delis’s allies at the same time.

Not that this could stop Delis’s friends from slaughtering those minions as well, They even killed the more powerful Mindslicers the captain had brought.

But the captain proved a tougher nut than Delis expected.

Wellik had confirmed the rumors: A deva was stirring up trouble; at least, she had asked the Githzerai to become involved in the defense of Overlook, one of the few places which had withstood a wide-ranging Githyanki offensive across much of the material plane. As Kerem watched a brave Githzerai scout sneak onto a ship, kill the captain, and escape with the vessel, he began to formulate a plan: While Kerem’s vow of pacifism prevented him from killing anyone aboard one of the other troopships, he could certainly sneak aboard and sabotage one of them.

Magdalene knew a boss when she saw one. And she knew desperation when she saw it. Maggie’s colleagues had been able to thwart the Githyanki captain — which one was it? — during the early part of the battle, but the captain was obviously drawing on some inner resources.

It almost seemed to Magdalene that the Githyanki captain had grown larger — certainly more determined — as she realized the battle was going against her.

For Maggie had known desperation herself: She knew the resources she had learned to summon up as a child when her own monastery was attacked and she had to escape.

Perhaps the captain blamed herself the way Maggie had in those first days of working her way north. Or perhaps she simply feared those who sent her here. Githyanki were famous for blaming their commanders for failure.

And famous for their punishments.

If that was the case, this captain had certainly channeled her fear of that punishment well: Even after mentally channeling strength into her minions, Maggie could see the captain was taking a lot of damage, but standing up well.

The deva who had requested Wellik the Elder to convince the reluctant Githzerai to rally to Overlook as the best place to make a stand against the Githyanki was apparently trying to organize the resistance everywhere. Kerem’s superiors had even hinted that this Amyria had even approached the Thraxinium about ending their isolationism to take a hand. Absurd, of course, given Nefalus’s long-standing withdrawal from the affairs of the world. But they had sent Kerem here, where he now found himself hidden in the hold of a ship called The Sacrifice. Once he snuck aboard the troopship, the Githyanki had suddenly decided to come back aboard and attack the ship which the Githyanki scout had stolen. Apparently that ship was returning to relieve the besieged fortress. Kerem decided he better throw in with whoever was coming to attack the Githyanki who were attacking his hosts. Strange the predicaments a pacifist diplomat could get into if he really tried.

Garen Bladerun knew his companions would need all the healing he could provide before the day was over. And he knew he had already depleted his ability to Lay On Hands.

Which meant his Helm of Seven Deaths was more important than ever: Each minion he killed now would be more healing later, when they needed it.

Each time he dealt a death blow — hard for a paladin to do, Garen had to admit — another of the dull gems in his helmet would begin to glow with a greenish light as the soul of the dead was sucked inside.

As long as he used the power of the ensouled gems to heal his companions — or to kill Bahamat’s enemies — Garen was confident the platinum dragon-god would approve. But if he were to begin using the headgear to deny those souls a final peace, he might lose his powers to the wrath of Bahamat…or even to the wrath of the Raven Queen.

Who seemed to be working with the Father of All Dragons…

…in spite of their longstanding differences.

When the captain of the Githyanki finally went down, Garen’s thoughts turned to looting. He saw a pair of Night Goggles Maggie had long been coveting. As she scooped them up, Garen began to think of the Diamond Cincture they had found for Chance.

And what he himself had been praying for: A Winged Shield.

“What I really need,” thought Garen, “is a two-handed sword to go with that shield.”

And immediately set to praying. Maxim was trying to use the discarded short swords of the Githyanki, but Garen could see that he was having trouble mastering the tricky blades.

Garen added a prayer to Bahamat that the hobgoblin would stick to wands and daggers.

One Ship Versus One Dragon
So THAT'S what a non-minion dragon looks like

A Blind Man with a Demon on his Shoulder

Grigore Goldforge was the first to see the next dragon. It was bigger than the first three and Grigore could tell that the rubies in this dragon’s harness were not glass.

“Worth a pretty penny,” the ardent thought to himself as he climbed down to his companions. Still bruised from his last encounter with a yardarm, Grigore used the rigging this time.

He told the rest of his band this dragon looked to be more formidable than the three they just got done fighting. And he expected its rider was a champion as well.

They had developed some tactics in the last battle — slowing the dragons to prevent their devastating charges — so Grigore saw no need to discuss the tactical lessons of the previous encounter.

Although he might regret that decision before this battle was over…

Most Exalted Odos was not happy. He had witnessed nothing but chaos since he had left the House of Reprisal, back in the Elemental Chaos. Ironic: He spent his life building an island of serenity from which to strike against chaos there at its heart; yet it was here on the material plane, where things were supposed to be so ordered that he was attacked by assassins when he returned to his rooms. And not just Odos: Kath’ik and Wellik the Elder had been attacked as well. “Attacked and assassinated,” he thought. “And now this. Demons. Trying to convince me to kill my defenders.”

Throughout the battle, Rinoa noticed that she seemed to have the most control over the damage being taken by the dragon and its rider. She could always reach them both with her Dragonfrost, although the dragon or its rider could always protect each other from that damage.

But she still had bursts and splashes from the spells she set up with her Dragonfrosts. That could often do damage to the dragon, even when its rider was trying to protect it.

In fact, it was the splash from her acid claws that provoked the dragon into his rage. Fortunately only Maggie was in the blast of fire that heralded that transformation. And she was able to dodge out of the way.

Rinoa noticed that, while the dragon took the damage at first, after a while the rider was blocking it to protect the dragon. The rider seemed well rested at first. Maybe that was why he was protecting the dragon. And the dragon was restrained in the early part of the battle, using single bite attacks (which once allowed its rider one of those quadruple-jump triple attacks Dragonlancers of the Astral Sea are so famous for).

But, once Zumos and Rinoa herself were able to enrage the dragon, who declared his name to be Xirakis, the dragon seemed to grow in stature as whatever was restraining him before was shattered by his rage.

The abbot of the monastery was no longer shocked at the sight of blind Odos striding through the halls toward him with a confidence that gave the impression he could see the walls. When the Most Exalted Leader of the House of Reprisal demanded to know what had become of Gallia, The abbot had to admit the last any of his people had seen her, Gallia was on the roof of the fortress which served as his monks’ home. “She was surrounded by Githyanki. No one believes she has survived, unless she was somehow taken prisoner,” he told Odos.

Maxim Shalion already had a dragon’s skull to show his kobold minions (or “slaves,” as he preferred to call them). So he didn’t need another fight with another (bigger) dragon to impress them with.

A single dragon and a single rider made one thing easier for Maxim, however: Picking who to curse. Soon both lancer and dragon were flying around with a hobgoblin’s curse on them. Sure, Maxim could not use both curses in a single attack, but that did not seem to matter: The dragon and its rider seemed to be able to absorb damage for each other anyway.

Only Rinoa with her splash damage seemed to be able to hurt them when they didn’t want to be hurt. Maxim’s Killing Flames gave him a free attack when the dragon became bloodied, and the dragon seemed quite surprised to find that Zumos was not the only one who could overcome its resistance to fire damage.

Most of Maxim’s most powerful spells seemed inappropriate to fighting and dragonlancer and his mount, so Maxim saved them for a later fight (it looked like this was going to turn into the kind of day only the Great Gark could truly love: fight after fight after fight). Even his Command Insanity spell was overcome by the the dragon’s superior will.

The immense will of both Githyanki and Dragonkind became apparent as the battle drew on. Maxim noticed that the best way to do damage to whichever opponent seemed to be being protected by the other was Grigore’s Unhinging Strike (which allowed him to force the dragon to attack its rider or vice versa, providing he could overcome those towering wills).

Grigore seemed to be using most of his mental augments to superpower his Confusing Strikes. This attack not only left both lancer and dragon dazed, but also made it harder for the targets to hit back. And they were doing a lot of hitting back.

Especially against Grigore.

Unnerved that the chaos at Akma’ad had taken another victim — this time, a young woman named Gallia — the Most Exalted Odos of the House of Reprisal calmed his nerves and reflected that reprisal might be necessary even here on the material plane. “Perhaps it is just as well. Now it seems she has a demonic conspiracy working against her, too.”

When Grigore went down, Garen Bladerun remembered what happened in the previous battle, when it was the paladin who crumpled under dragon attacks. Grigore had used his From the Brink power to bring Garen back to his feet.

This time Garen could do the honors. His Lay on Hands power was just what Grigore needed. The ardent’s inner resources had dwindled to the point where ordinary healing could no longer help him.

Lay on Hands, however, is no ordinary healing power. As Garen placed his hands on Grigore’s scorched shoulders, he could feel his own inner resources flowing into Grigore’s haggard body. As the eyes flickered open, the body no longer seemed quite so haggard.

“Have no fear, there’s plenty more where that came from,” he assured the ardent and returned to the battle.

“Demons?” In the middle of a battle with Githyanki, the abbot hardly expected his distinguished guests to bring up demonic conspiracies. Especially against Gallia. “What do you mean? Demons!”

Pouring on the damage in the hardest part of the battle (after the dragon became enraged, but before the Dragonlancer became exhausted), Delis Erinthal reflected back on the early part of the fight when she had missed a few shots.

But now that she was in her Skirmishing Stance, she was evading most of the damage and hitting her quarry on a regular basis. "Dragons make for the most challenging hunt she thought to herself.

Sure, she had seen the spectacular damage Magdalene had been able to do when she fought from the rigging, but Twin Strike was working well and Delis was really pouring on the damage.

“Yes, demons,” explained the ambassador. “I just had a demon appear on my shoulder. Urging me to kill that young woman you have here at the monastery. I believe her name is Gallia. That is what the demon said, anyway. Gallia. That is her name is it not? The demon told me to kill her. Something about feeding her brain to a hobgoblin.”

Maggie got the chance to do a lot of damage early in the fight, so she took it.

But then she made a slight miscalculation: Assuming that slowing the dragon would not be important, she decided to save her purple poison for a later fight and used up her green and red elixirs.

Sure, the Greenblood Oil did extra damage, but its anti-healing powers were more suited to a troll than a dragon. “Oh, well, don’t expect to be fighting any trolls today anyway,” thought Magdalene to herself as she danced along the rigging and tossed her shuriken. She still had the Bloodroot Poison. And she noticed that a dazed dragon cannot charge.

It was much later in the battle that she realized the dragon’s charges were enabling its best attacks: A successful bite-claw-claw attacks at the end of a charge gave the beast enough adrenaline to power a free breath attack.

On top of that, when the charges ended in a single bite, they seemed to enable a special attack from the rider: At first it was those annoying triple attacks the Githyanki seemed to favor, but later it became a new one that combined a Psychic Lance attack with a Silver Bastard Sword attack.

Once she realized these attacks could be thwarted by slowing the dragon and preventing it from charging, Maggie sighed to herself, “Better late than never,” and applied the purple Carrion Crawler Brain Juice she had prepared just that morning to her shuriken. “That ought to last for the rest of the battle.”

When the lancer became exhausted she decided to take the fight to him. Running out along the yardarm, Maggie executed an acrobatic (and gallant) leap onto the dragon-rider’s back. It all would have been more spectacular had the lancer not avoided her grapple.

But she got her revenge when the rider tried to prevent her from harming his dragon, he brought himself close enough to death that a little twist of the blade was all it took to kill him.

When he asked Ambassador Odos how he knew the creature who delivered the message was a demon, the abbot thought the old blind man was going to explode in anger. Instead, the Most Exalted Odos answered in measured tones, “Because I smelled the brimstone. Because he sounded like a demon. Because he told me he was a demon. Because he appeared on my shoulder and told me to kill a young woman. Because he thought feeding her brain to a hobgoblin was a good idea. No, that’s not what he said. He said I should feed her brain to a demon who belonged to a hobgoblin. I suggest an extra guard to protect her should you happen to rescue the girl.”

Zumos was kind of proud that he had struck the killing blow against Xirakis. The pact dragon did not seem to appreciate the irony of being burned to death by a Cinderfall spell. But Zumos was willing to savor it.

Especially after his friend, Grigore, had almost died in the fight.

But the ardent/investor had been brought back from the brink of death with Garen’s Lay On Hands. And now Grigore was urging the big paladin to use it again (on Grigore, of course) to prepare for the fight ahead.

For everyone in the Golden Scales (even Magdalene was calling the party that now) was aware that there was a fortress under siege ahead of them. More fights were ahead of them, and Grigore was still their best healer.

In fact, he was healing everyone else now that the battle was over. But Grigore’s own reserves were stretched to the limit. While Garen could not offer much healing help in the battles to come, Zumos hoped using that healing now would pay off in the long run by keeping Grigore on his feet through the rest of the day.

Right now, however, Grigore was concentrating on prying the rubies from the dragon’s harness: 14 rubies, and Grigore was telling them he appraised their value at about 500 gold pieces each.

Somewhere ahead of them were cities where that money could be spent. And everybody in the Golden Scales had some ideas about what they wanted to spend it on. Zumos was thinking about a backup staff. Or even a wand. And he could always use some scrolls and potions. He even seemed to be finally understanding the lessons he had in the south on how to do ritual magic. He could use a place to buy more rituals for his ritual book.

And more ritual components as well, although Chance Runner had found a small supply of those in the hold.

The fortress ahead was little more than a monastery. Probably not a great place to spend hard-earn money. But Zumos had heard of a city named Sayre. Somewhere beyond the monastery at Akma’ad.

Maybe it would even have a link to the cities of the south, where the Septarchs exerted their influence. But the Septarchs had never mentioned Sayre when they sent Zumos north to find the lost towers.

Right now Delis and Grigore were arguing about who should go up to the crow’s nest. Well, maybe Zumos was seeing conflict where there was only honest disagreement aimed at finding the best solution. Eventually, the two decided they could do a better job if both of them climbed to the top of the mast. And Delis started climbing.

But Zumos was amused to see Grigore get distracted from his own climb. Maxim had come up with an idea: He would send a small ambassador imp ahead to let the defenders know that help was on the way.

Grigore liked this idea, but apparently wanted more control of the message. Zumos found a lot of their messages amusing and contributed a wide variety of catcalls and derision. But mostly he just laughed at the things the hobgoblin thought would be a good idea to communicate.

They talked to Tokk’it, and he suggested sending the message to a leader there: someone he called Odos.

Tokk’it offered another suggestion: The defenders should be told they had to kill a young woman named Gallia.

The Githzerai scout was convinced Gallia was a spy who was working with the Gith assassin who had been sent to kill Odos and two other leaders. Tokk’it told them an important meeting had been taking place at the monastery when the attack came. He was convinced that the reason the attack came at the worst possible time was the presence of a spy who had told the Githyanki that the leaders were there.

Tokk’it admitted that he did not know the real reason for the meeting, but he had some guesses: Tokk’it was even guessing that it was very important, whichever guess was right.

So they agreed the message to kill Gallia should be sent, along with the rest. Maxim added a number of colorful details, which sent Zumos into wild laughter. But he couldn’t help noticed the slightly puzzled look on the ambassador imp’s face as he tried to memorize the mission and the message.

Just then a cry came from the crow’s nest. Delia had spotted the monastery, cut into the cliff ahead of them. As the fortress of Akma’ad hove into view, those in the Bridge could see two troopships drawn up to monastery — troopship much like the one they sailed.

And one of those ship was being quickly boarded by soldiers. As if the attackers had spotted them and were coming out to meet them.

And fight them.

Zumos heard Tokk’it shouting orders to his ghost sailors: “Hoist sails! Full ramming speed! Prepare to go to battle sails at my order!”

Three Ships...
...Three Dragons...

…at least, thats the way Grigore thinks it works.

As Tokk’it evaded the first of the dragons searching for their craft, Grigore Goldforge saw three more loom on the horizon, blocking their path across the sea towards Akma’ad. The ardent knew that Githzerai would not be able to evade these.

Not without giving up his goal: relieving the siege on the fortress-monastery where Tokk’it makes his home.

Grigore yelled down to Zumos and Maxim, who were manning the ballista at the front of The Conqueror, that the dragons were on their way. But he didn’t wait until he could see whether their amateurish shots would hit.

Grigore was feeling somewhat vulnerable up in the small platform at the top of the ship’s mast. He wanted to get down to the deck, and he wanted to get down fast. But Grigore was a landlubber. He really didn’t know how to use the ship’s rigging to swing or climb down.

So he slid down the mast, ignominiously slamming his butt on the yardarm on the way down.

“He was stabbed in the heart
and he was to blame.
He gives mercenaries
a very bad name.”
Maxim Shalion

When Zumos looked in the direction Grigore was pointing from the crow’s nest, suddenly he saw movement ahead. Two red shapes flew out of a cloud, changing direction and speeding up as they moved in their direction.

The wizard could make out three red dragons, each with a rider strapped on its back.

“Red dragons, hunh?” thought Zumos. “I guess they’re gonna be in for a surprise.”

He turned to Maxim, aimed the bolt he had just loaded at one of the larger pair of matched dragons, and Maxim fired, but the bolt went tumbling down into the sea below.

“At least it’s water down there, now,” he said. “Not fire.” Then he stopped to ponder whether the water would have an adverse effect on fire-breathing red dragons.

Loading the next bolt, he got a little better aim. This time the ballista hit a smaller dragon which had drawn closer than the big ones. Its rider blocked some of it with a shield, but took damage himself from the gigantic bolt.

Zumos realized that the dragons were now in reach of the regular magic he and Maxim could produce. So he decided to use that instead of a clumsy siege weapon. He could not control the ballista as well as he could control his magicks.

“Concentrate fire on the wounded one,” shouted Grigore. But Zumos was already doing just that, unleashing some of his most powerful spells on the wounded dragon. That dragon proved to be the smallest of the three and went down pretty quickly, taking its lancer to his death in the sea below.

But not before it had set fire to the sails.

“Did you… Did you just rhyme-slam me?” Grigore Goldforge asked.

Sam the Foresworn could not help but notice that his wizard friend was enjoying the surprise on red dragon faces a little too much.

Sure, the beasts were not used to fire as hot as hot as Zumos could produce. But using your best spells before the sun was over the yardarm…well that just didn’t seem wise. As much as the wizard might enjoy surprising the dragons with fires more potent than they could imagine…well, sometimes the little hobbit was glad he didn’t rely on powerful magicks he could use up so early in the morning.

Why … it wasn’t even time for second breakfast yet!

The dragons had some kind of teleporting ability which allowed them to stand off, out of melee range, but that was not going to stop Sam. “Just time for a little dagger-throwing practice,” the hobbit thought as he aimed a backstab at the next dragon’s underside. He noticed the dragons and their riders seemed to have some kind of pact worked out: Sometimes they would take damage for each other; sometimes not.

The dragons seemed to be concentrating their charges against Zumos and Maxim (who could not miss, even with magic he did not seem to know that well). That made sense to Sam, since they were dealing out the most damage to both riders and their dragons.

But Grigore was taking the brunt of it. Just bad luck was Sam’s guess. Every time one of the great beasts was able to get off a blast of fire, somehow the ardent was in the blast. They didn’t seem to be targeting him, but their blasts of fire seemed always to find him in some corner, while Maxim and Zumos ducked out of the fire.

Sam didn’t like that one little bit. Hobbits seldom like to see their healers get cooked.

Zumos was encouraging this, to a degree. Now that the dragons were no longer surprised by fire which could burn even their scales, he was using other powers to slow the great beasts. Slowed, they could no longer charge the two cloth-wearers (Zumos and Maxim). But even immobilized, they were still able to teleport in and use their breath weapons. And Grigore was still taking the worst of that.

As a slowed dragon took damage, Sam noticed something new: When the dragon took damage while it was on the deck of The Conqueror, its rider did not try to deflect the damage to himself. When this damage bloodied the dragon, it became enraged. This rage seemed to power the dragon’s breath weapon.

And Grigore found himself scorched again, renewing damage he had just healed.

“I believe that is exactly what he did,” Tokk’it answered.

Maxim Shalion was tired of be targeted by the lancers. Sure, he was doing a lot of damage to them — and their red-dragon mounts — but he wasn’t always able to evade their silver swords.

The hobgoblin decided to head for the bridge, where the oaken planks were protecting Tokk’it as he guided the ship through the battle. Unfortunately, oak wood does little against the fiery breath of a red pact dragon.

(Maxim could tell they were pact dragons by the way they sometimes sheltered their riders by taking damage themselves. No selfish chromatic dragon would ever take injury on behalf of a githyanki unless they shared a pact which bound their rider to take damage for them as well.)

Maxim called dibs on the head of the dragon they killed on the deck of The Conqueror.

As he hid in the cabin where the big ship’s wheel stood, Maxim saw the slowed dragon teleport to the deck outside the cabin. It was the first time he had seen any of them do anything but charge and hover. Now the dragon simply settled on the deck and let go with its breath weapon. The flames came streaming across the deck, blasting through the cabin door and flowing around to where Maxim hid.

The warlock quick decided that hiding in a small, flammable box (which was all the cabin was to a dragon) was not the ideal tactic. He headed back to the open deck where he had a little more dodging room to take advantage of he reflexes to avoid the swirling flames.

Then he unleashed a spell on the cursed dragon before him. Ebon Claws was not necessarily his best spell, relying as it did on charisma he lacked (as most hobgoblins do). At Maxim’s command, clawed hands crafted from shadow wrapped around the last dragon. Not only did this trigger the dragon’s rage (which forced it to waste its breath weapon on the rigging), but it also slowed the dragon (preventing charges as thoroughly as Zumos’s Ice Storm).

“In fact, he even worked in a dig at you for being a mercenary.”

Delis Erinthal had missed her first few shots, but she maintained her discipline: Keep moving and keep shooting. They might take away her elf license for missing her shots, but never for lowering her defenses.

Then, as the dragons began to be forced to come down to deck level, she began to find her range. Her shots started hitting, and the final dragon (and its rider) both died, spinning downward to the sea.

It seemed to Delis that Grigore was letting his greed rule his eyes. He examined the red gems in the tack of the pact dragon for a long time before he realized the rubies were fakes and climbed back to the crow’s nest. Grigore might have a theory that three ships meant only three dragons, but he wasn’t taking chances.

The Raven Cloak they found seemed a perfect fit for Jett, the other warlock they had found atop Djamela’s Tower, so Delis saved it for the Genasi.

The fires in the rigging were pretty quickly extinguished, and Tokk’it got the ghost crew to put up some tattered replacement sails they had found in the hold.

The first thing Grigore spotted from the crow’s nest was land. A shoreline made of steep cliffs rose out of the sea, and Tokk’it steered northward along this coast.

“Keep an eye out for Akma’ad,” Delis heard the Githzerai shout up to Grigore. “It will look like a fortress built into the side of these cliffs.”

But it was another pact dragon that Grigore spotted first, a red pact dragon so large that even Delis could see the pennant flying from its rider’s lance.

“Hmm, a pennant,” thought Delis. “It seems we have found the draconic champion.”

Paying Attention Helps...
...Another New Warlock...

…Integrate Himself into the Party.

The pile of sacrificial victims which Sarshan had laid out around his teleportation circle began to stir after the arms merchant died. Another warlock was waiting there: Someone Maxim Shalion missed when he was helping Chance Runner from his bonds.

Unconscious during the fight against Sarshan, Jett joined the others in fleeing on The Conqueror — a Githyanki warship stolen from the Githyanki by a Githzerai scout named Tokk’it. The Githzerai explained that he had been directed to Djamela’s Island by Storm Johnson who was mad that some person with the improbable name of Blackguard’s Bane had sent his giant troop transport to the island where Storm Johnson has a secret base.

It seems Storm Johnson thinks a giant warship might give his location away to the slavers of the nearby City of Brass. So Storm brought Tokk’it over to pick up Duilin Silverfang, who was doing a little scouting for the big goliath.

Since Djamela’s Island seems to have been destabilized by Sarshan’s experiments, everybody decided that fleeing on a ghost ship was better than drowning in the Sea of Fire.

Chance Runner wasted no time in starting to bolster the hull of The Conqueror. He noticed it was damaged. Huge scorch marks on the outside of the hull (particularly in area of the stern of the troopship) suggested Tokk’it’s story about fleeing from attacking dragons might be true. Chance searched the holds beneath the crew deck and found a cache of ritual materials. Still standing in the holds, the revenant was able to cast an Enhance Vessel ritual which bolstered the damaged hull and gave the ship added speed and maneuverability which proved useful once Tokk’it was trying to avoid the draconic Repossession Team sent out by the Githyanki to recover their ship.

Ghost ship?

Well, the Githyanki vessel did seem to Jett to be manned by a crew of Githyanki spirits, although the Githzerai scout was giving them orders. Not the sort of thing Tokk’it seemed comfortable with, but Jett wanted to make sure.

Applying his arcane knowledge to the bridge, the warlock found a runic circle on the deck and a ship’s wheel standing before it. He ignored the dead body of a Githyanki lying in a heap on the side of the bridge.

Probably the previous captain. Tokk’it did say he had stolen the ship from the Githyanki.

Jett’s arcane investigations revealed that the runic circle gave anyone standing inside it the ability to give orders to the ghostly crew. As long as the person standing in the circle had ahold of the ship’s wheel, the spirits would be forced to obey. They might not feel the true loyalty of a living crew, and they might not show much initiative, but they would keep the vessel flying in the direction they were told to fly.

After the bridge was explored and the newest warlock had used his arcane powers to ensure the loyalty of the crew, Grigore Goldforge led The Golden Scales to the captain’s cabin to search it. They found a desk there with a locked drawer (which took Sam no time to open). Inside the locked drawer, they found the orders under which the Githyanki captain had been operating (up until a certain Githzerai scout killed him and stole his ship). Confronting Tokk’it with the note about a spy inside the fortress seemed to disturb the Githzerai a lot, but not as much as three portraits Jett found in the Gish assassin’s cabin.

Since everyone else, including the Githzerai scout, seemed to be dead on their feet, Jett suggested they all get some rest. Earlier they had found the crew quarters where hammocks could be put to good use.

After their rest, Tokk’it took back the wheel and Jett joined his new comrades in searching the ship. First, they searched the captain’s cabin, then the crew deck. but it seemed to Jett they weren’t very systematic about their searches. So he continued looking around that deck after they went back topside.

At the front of the crew deck, he found a well-appointed cabin. He guessed it was intended for the First Mate or some other favored crew. But its most recent occupant did not seem to have left any evidence of a nautical life at all.

Maybe a passenger or somebody.

What Jett found among the passenger’s belonging was three portraits, well drawn and clear. Almost as if they were intended to help somebody identify the three Githzerai pictured in them.

Thinking that his perception would be all it might take to aim the ballista, Grigore took the first crack at it. But it turned out that aiming was more than just looking, and the huge ballista bolt (more a log than an arrow) went flying toward the bridge. So Grigore turned the job of testing the heavy weapons over to Zumos and Maxim Shalion. Zumos said he hit the spot in the Sea of Fire where he was aiming, and Maxim seemed to know even more about the aiming process, but Grigore was still uncertain they could hit a dragon in flight.

When Jett heard Grigore Goldforge questioning Tokk’it about the ship’s manifest, he noticed that the Githzerai scout seemed very upset at the news that a Githyanki assassin was traveling with the attackers.

The others noticed this as well, but Jett decided the assassin (whose name was apparently Brann’ot) might have been the mystery passenger who had been ensconced in the First Mate’s quarters. When the others questioned Tokk’it further and found out there were specialized defenses at the fortress (defenses which had apparently never been triggered in the attack), Jett decided to ask the Githzerai about the three portraits he had found.

Fresh from the success of his first ritual, Chance Runner had to admit that he wasn’t really a ritual caster. But his Master of Storm Dragonmark did seem to give him just the right rituals for the situation at hand. Glancing at the tattered sails suggested either he would have to climb aloft and do some tricky repairs or just try his Summon Winds ritual. With a trunk full of ritual components in the hold, he knew which option he preferred. Filling the sails proved more difficult than he expected (they were damaged by some kind of draconic attack, after all), but Chance eschewed his limited knowledge of nature to cast the ritual with the full power of his arcane storm mastery. His training at the Monastery of the Storm required nothing less.

When Jett showed the three portraits to Tokk’it, he could tell Tokk’it was greatly disturbed.

Tokk’it covered it pretty well by explaining the portraits were of three diplomats. Nobody was supposed to know they were in the fortress. His bosses didn’t share the reasons for their visit with Tokk’it, but he knew that no Githyanki should have known they were present in the facility when the attack started. If a Githyanki assassin had their pictures, somebody had to be leaking information.

Even so, Jett could tell he was holding something back…something about the drawings.

While Jett assured Grigore Goldforge of the crew’s loyalty (as long as someone stood in the arcane circle and had their hand on the ship’s wheel), he did not guarantee their initiative. If they spotted something approaching, Jett could not guarantee they would tell anyone they might not see as Githyanki allies. So, Grigore headed up to the crow’s nest to watch for dragons and the other ships mentioned in the orders. Soon he spotted a lone dragon with a lancer on its back. Guessing it was a scout, he shouted down to Tokk’it avoid its gaze. This seemed to help and Grigore hoped it would reduce the number of dragons he would have to fight in the approach to Akma’ad, but he knew some fighting was inevitable.

Rather than confront the Githzerai scout directly about withholding information, Jett decided to question him more about the possibility that the fortress had been infiltrated by Githyanki. How was that possible? Didn’t all the monks at this fortress know each other? Wasn’t it more of a monastery where everyone was in constant communion with each other than an actual military base?

Such questions seemed to loosen Tokk’it’s tongue a bit. He explained that Githyanki had amazing mental powers, powers by which they could enslave others.

“They have even been known to take over the bodies of their victims,” Tokk’it told Jett, “so their spies look and sound exactly like the friends and family of those they are spying on.”

As the Githzerai said these words, Jett saw a shadow pass over Tokk’it’s face.

As if saying those words caused Tokk’it to realize something that did more than disturb the Githzerai…

Tokk’it’s eyes moved slowly toward the three portraits.

…something that terrified him more than he had ever been terrified before.

Just then, a voice rang out from the Crow’s Nest. “Dragons off the starboard bow!” the voice of Grigore rang out. “Dragons! Prepare for battle!”


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