Scaled Down Scales

A Missed Opportunity...
...to Achieve Surprise...

…Leads to a Bloody Battle…

…and a bloody paladin.

The rest of the party did not pause to think too hard about the revelation that Delis is also known as the Huntress of the Winter’s Eye. They went to the basement to explore the voices Rinoa and Delis heard chanting rituals below the bottom floor of the tower.

There they found a hole in the floor. Looking down they saw a Shadar-kai witch and a few Githyanki thugs, along with a large number of troglodytes whose odor could be smelled wafting up through the hole even as they peered down. Delis tied off some ropes and showed the rest how to rappel down.

Garen Bladerun showed a strange reluctance to show off his platinum wings. He recently won them when he was accepted into the the Platinum Temple, an ancient shrine where dragonborn can practice a particular form of esoteric mysticism which allows them to take on the features of Bahamut himself. The wings might have allowed him to fly past the Githyanki and surprise the witch far to the rear of her main forces.

Delis and Maggie, followed by Sam, showed no such hesitation, bounding and sneaking far into the caverns and concentrating their damage on the witch, who bore a striking resemblance to another witch that Storm Johnson once dispatched in the tunnels beneath the Happy Beggar in Overlook.

The agent of the Winter Court remembered hearing that Storm made sure he killed the witch all those months ago, but he never found the body. This was rumored to have disturbed him at the time because Sharshan was using a giant magical bat as well. Delis had heard stories that Storm Johnson was worried that the bat had spirited the body away to some place where Sharshan’s healers could bring her back to life.

Zumos asked to the HIgh Council where his friends had gone.
“Oh, we had to send them off to Talar,” Elder Cadrick explained. “You weren’t around. We needed someone to ask Megan Swiftblade some questions.”
“Talar? Isn’t that some village south of here, near Brindol?”
“That’s the one. We think Megan may know who was behind General Zitheruun’s attack.”

When the new archer peppered every concentration every concentration of enemies with rapid shots, Maggie heard several party members suggest that “no one will ever take Karic’s elf license away.” She figured this was apparently some reference to the bouts of inaccuracy Delis’s archery occasionally suffers. Leaping easily across the Blood Chaos which flowed across the floor, she executed her best strike on the witch.

While the rest of the Band of the Raven concentrated their fire on the Shadar-Kai witch, Magdalene leaped up on top of the three pipes which dominated the north wall. Two of them were spewing Blood Chaos: One appeared to be providing the flow which threatened the village of Talar; the other appeared to be filling the moat and weakening the foundations of the tower until Maggie turned it off. The plucky assassin quickly turned her attention to shutting the other off, finishing the job before Delis could do more than offer to help.

She was just as surprised as everyone else when the witch, plunged through a wormhole into the middle of the Blood Chaos, was able to leap free of the acidic mixture. Maggie guessed that the Githyanki can give those telekinetic leaps they love so much to their allies as well.

Learning that Elyas had helped his friends get to Talar, Zumos was able to convince the invoker to send him to the same portal, which eventually led him to the hilltop where Megan lay, nursing a broken leg. “Your friends took him inside. They needed him. You’ve got to rescue him!” she shouted at Zumos.
“Rescue who?”
“The old man,” she explained, even though an old man was right there, trying to help her to her feet, despite the splinted leg. “Falrynth! He’s helping them go through the portal. But he may have trouble getting out of the tower in time.”

Grigore recognized the witch immediately, remembering that his old friend Storm Johnson had developed a particular dislike for her. He was sure she had gone down in the battle, but he remembered that her pet bat survived.

The bat’s preternatural intelligence might have just been enough for it to get the witch’s body to Sharshan’s healers. While she was definitely unconscious back in the tunnels beneath Overlook, Grigore never checked to make sure she was dead.

This time, when the witch collapsed to the rough floor of the cavern, Grigore shouted to Magdalene, “Take her head!” He was somewhat taken aback when the young woman sliced off the witch’s head without the slightest reaction to the gore.

“Perhaps Maggie has seen enough blood that it does not bother her,” he thought.

The stone structure didn’t seem like much of a tower to Zumos until he had hopped across the rocks in its moat (which has filled with a strange purple-orange ooze). As he began to climb down its stairs, the inside seemed much like a tower. The wizard made his way down four stories and then through a hole into the caverns below. A portal was still active when he found the old man. But Zumos wasn’t sure the elderly sage (identified by Megan as Falrynth) could climb the rope to get out of the hole without help.

Once the troglodytes and Githyanki were dispatched, Karic was able to pick up a silver sword. While he knew he was not much of a swordsman, the elf felt better having a backup weapon he could use in melee.

The old sage was able to tell them some details about the chalk circle the witch was using for her ritual. “It was apparently being used to escape,” he explained. “It seems to be set up to take these miscreants to a swamp far to the south. That particular swamp is familiar to all sages, famous for its large trees and primordial fauna.”

Once Magdalene was able to convince Megan she should think of them as her friends, the rest of Karic’s new-found friends were able to help him pry some information from her:

  • Three assassination attempts have so far been made against Megan and the Freeriders. The rest of the group have scattered across Elsir Vale in an attempt to prevent further attacks.
  • Through a mercenary band that escaped from the failed attack on Overlook, the Freeriders discovered that a shadar-kai arms dealer — Sarshan — was providing mercenaries, intelligence, support, and even arms and armor to the githyanki assault.
  • Sarshan’s current plots revolve around something called Blood Chaos, with which he means to take retribution against Overlook and Elsir Vale.

Although Megan did not appear to understand what Blood Chaos is, Karic could tell Falrynth knew the name. “I’m guessing the orange ooze is the Blood Chaos,” he said. “Hidden portals and secret weak spots connecting to other planes are all over Elsir Vale. Sarshan’s knowledge of planar magic probably give him the power to deliver Blood Chaos anywhere in the vale.”

Karic’s heart sank as he realized what this meant: The scene of destruction he had just witnessed in Talar would be repeated all over Elsir Vale unless Sarshan can be stopped first.

Most of the rest of his new friends seemed to realize this as well, but not the paladin. Badly wounded in the battles, Garen seemed to be on his last legs. Only a stirring speech from Grigore and the ridicule of Megan were able to convince the dragonborn paladin to let Falrynth send him through the portal to the swamp with the rest of the group.

Just then, Zumos felt the ground shake and the entire cavern felt like it dropped 20 or 30 feet before stabilizing again.
“Can you hear it?” the old man asked.
“The only thing I hear is water gushing down towards us. Maybe it’s that orange stuff.”
“Oh, it’s the Blood Chaos all right. I guess there’s only one way out.” With that, the old man rushed through the portal. Zumos had no choice but to follow.

As Sam shifted through the haze of the portal, the entire party emerged on a wooden platform set upon the skeletal branch of an immense oak tree. The oak tree stood in the middle of a dismal, fog-shrouded swamp, the tree surrounded by a lake of Blood Chaos. Its huge roots snaked through the boiling ooze like great vipers, while above you, a thick canopy of leaves cut the light to a perpetual gloom.

Urging quiet, Sam made his way to the thick mud below. Some of the roots blocked his path around the tree, but someone had apparently dug tunnels beneath them. Beyond the second tunnel, the Master Thief found his way blocked by the Blood Chaos itself.

There Maggie was able to demonstrate her leaping abilities, ghosting across and tossing a rope back to Sam. Fastening both ends, they were able to rig a crossing for the rest.

Scouting through two more tunnels, Sam found an entrance to the caverns beneath the giant oak. Unfortunately, the caverns seemed to be guarded by two large green dragons. The dragons did not here the stealthy hobbit, but voices could be heard further around the truck of the giant tree.

The dragons heard the voices as well. And one of them took off to investigate.

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The Sage Reveals an Unseelie Agent
The Huntress of the Winter's Eye unmasked...

…by Falrynth,…

…the sage she had gone downstairs to save.

Once the heroes raced up the hill toward the tower (the strange orange-purple lava seemed to be issuing forth from its base and threatening the village of Talar as the tower itself slowly sank into the hill beneath it), Garen again demonstrated the advantage of being able to sprout wings and fly.

He rescued a terrified old man from the top of the tower before it sank into the lava-filled moat. Magdalene bounded across some rocks that had fallen into the moat and rescued an adventurer whose leg had been broken in the aftermath of the earthquakes (which seem to be associated with the sinking of the tower).

This woman turned out to be none other than Megan Swiftblade: the leader of the Freeriders who has discovered the identity of the force behind the war on Overlook.

But Megan had a more urgent task than revealing this secret: She and the old man were more concerned about someone still trapped in the tower, a sage named Falrynth.

When Delis and Rinoa got Falrynth back up to the fourth floor (where the rest of the party waited amidst the wreckage of the cages which once housed the sage’s menagerie), they immediately began to question him about what they had seen lurking below. Rinoa got him talking:
“I don’t know who those people down there are,” Falrynth admitted.

Seeing how easily Maggie got across, Sam scampered across on his own to do a little scouting. Peering down the spiral staircase, he spotted something lurking amidst some damaged cages. He was able to work his way down, hoping to listen at the double doors he spotted in the dim light.

The little hobbit’s efforts at stealth proved unnecessary as Garen Bladerun came storming in soon after. That attracted the attention of the elemental Mezzodaemon sufficiently to allow Sam to creep over and listen at the door.

He was able to hear sounds through the door (even as the rest of the party got stalled on the spiral staircase leading from the roof). But it wasn’t until the scout peeked through the doors that his efforts paid off: Just beyond, he could see two Grimlocks preparing an ambush.

Fortunately, they did not spot the stealthy halfling.

Delis took a more aggressive tack:
“I know you’re not telling us everything,” she shouted into the sage’s face. At first this intimidation did not seem to be working. Then Delis played her ace in the hole.

It wasn’t until the heroes had finished off the daemon that Garen thought to ask Sam what he had found. After the hobbit explained that he was the one who had piled the remnants of a weapons locker against the doors, Garen pushed the box aside, threw open the door, and stepped inside to attack the nearest Grimlock.

Their trap sprung, the Grimlocks attacked first. Garen retaliated and saw the room was full of enemies, Grimlocks and Mezzodaemons together in some unlikely alliance.

As the battle raged on Garen pushed further in, only to find himself completely surrounded by enemies. He brushed aside Grigore‘s offer of healing and used up all of his god’s daily allotment of Lay-on-Hands to heal himself before the battle was through.

(Well, actually he did use the last one on a certain barbarian once he had worked his way back to the adventurers’ side of the doorway.)

Esterhu seemed to Garen to be in some conflict with his sword, almost terrified of the danger Wicked Fang was urging him into. The minotaur was actually making threatening faces at his own sword.

Eventually, the rest of the daemons and grimlocks were lured back toward their cages by Copper and Garen. There, they wasted their efforts trying to get past Copper’s defenses. Esterhu finally brought out his Tide of Blood (far too late for Wicked Fang preferences) and he and Delis laid some serious damage down to finish off all but the last of the monsters.

Garen smiled to himself as he contemplated the large number of gems glowing greenly in his helm.

Her fellow party-member were just as surprised as Falrinth when Delis‘s eyes began to glow. But they did not seem to understand the significance as quickly as the sage did:
“You! You’re an unseelie agent!" the sage cowered away from Delis. “I knew nothing of any tunnels under this tower. I’m sure those performing the ritual down there are responsible for what is happening to this tower. And to Talar.”

It took everything they had for The Golden Scales to take out their last foe: It seemed to be some kind of aberrant creature, an outsider of blue coloration.

At first, the blue swirls on the Foulspawn Seer might have been mistaken for tattoos on some strangely-colored epidermis. But on closer examination some of the party were able to tell that it was more like the creature had been flayed, exposing its musculature directly. But even that was hard to see, since the muscles were arranged in such unlikely alien patterns that just looking at it made Grigore’s head hurt.

The Foulspawn had long since established its ability to teleport through the wall, so The Golden Scales had to cover both sides to be sure they could always hit it. Esterhu was able to cover the area of the shattered cages. The two tanks were able to catch him on the other side and force him to attack them there.

Delis was also on that side and peppered the outsider with arrows. When it went down, someone suggested looting the bodies.

“Yes,” Delis Erinthal replied, her eyes now glowing so brightly they illuminated a 20-foot circle. “It is true. I am the Huntress of the Winter’s Eye.”

“Are you out of your minds?” screamed Delis. “We are in a tower which has already sunk four stories into a pool of lava. We still have to rescue the old man.”

While the rest of the Golden Scales healed up, Delis and Rinoa explored all the way to the kitchen level of the tower. There, in the pantry, they found Falrynth, quivering among the toppled shelves and broken pottery.

Outside the pantry, a hole gaped in the floor. A purple-orange glow could be seen down in the hole and the chanting of ritual magic could be heard. They took the old sage upstairs where the rest of the group waited.

Then they asked him some questions.

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The Ability to Sprout Wings...
...and fly over a moving mass of Blood Chaos...

…comes in handy…

…when there is a pregnant woman trapped on a wagon in the midst of the Blood Chaos. Or, at least, that is what Garen Bladerun would have us believe.

With much of the party immobilized by tentacles sprouting from strange blobs of purple-orange ichor sprinkled along the street (including Garen himself), Grigore ordered the three who had avoid the tentacles (Sam, Delis and Karic) to rush to the woman’s rescue. But Garen showed that he could easily shake off the tentacles (which held some of the heroes for a while) and sprouted wings.

Then the paladin healed the woman of her hysterics, clasped her in his steel-clad arms and flew her to safety.

“Marrik, have you heard what the latest addition to your favorite adventuring group has said about Overlook?” the gruff old dwarf complained.
“Latest addition?” Marrik Ironfell was taken aback. “Someone has joined the Moldy Scales?”
“Some rune-priest. Who goes around Overlook complaining about how he can’t find someone to do some ritual for him.”

Even with some of the party still trapped in the tentacles, the heroes of the Golden Scales were able to concentrate their efforts against the Scion of Chaos. Which was quickly dispatched, even though some daily powers were used against it.

This undulating orb of melting orange and purple flesh writhed toward them on a bed of muscular tentacles, a ring of larger tentacles jutting from the top of the orb. It seemed to be the source of the tentacles (as they never reappeared after it was dead).

“A ritual? What kind of ritual? Sounds like a cultist to me.”
“He called it a ‘Make Whole’ ritual. Said it could repair his hammer for him.”
“Repair his hammer? Who needs a ritual to do something any smith worthy of the name could do at his anvil?”

Then all party cohesion broke down. Huge hulking creatures seemingly composed of congealed purple-orange liquid emerged from the blood chaos, along with paper-thin bat-like flyers with much the same coloration. The heads of the huge Chaos Maulers had no eyes or other features and a single tentacle grew from its belly.

The flying Skulking Terrors were dripping the ichor which had caught the heroes unaware at the start of the battle.

Once they knew to look for it, the adventurers had little difficulty avoided the ichor. Indeed, Delis was able to avoid the Skulking Terrors which pursued her without difficulty, even as she had some difficulty finishing them off.

“I’m telling you he sounds more like a cultist every minute,” Marrik concluded.
“I’ll buy that. I heard the cultists get so powerful down south they run whole cities.”
“Empires, even. Have you seen my latest flyer?”

Garen discovered the minions were the perfect thing to power up his Helm of the Seven Deaths.

The other heroes noticed that every time he killed a Chaos Mauler one of the green gems in his helmet began to glow

He seemed to think this was a good thing.

“Flyer? Marrik, are you passing out papers again?”
“This one is different. Take a look”
“The Wit and Wisdom of Jerath?” the old dwarf asked. “At least it should be more popular than your last diatribe.”

The Chaos Maulers seemed to prefer a tactic that involved getting between two enemies and attacking both. But they had so much trouble hitting the heroes that it wasn’t until only one was left that they discovered why.

When the last huge creature hit two enemies at once, it was able to use the blood dripping from their wounds to divide into two.

“I thought you hated the bard,” the gruff dwarf said. “These seem to be some of his best lines.”
“How do you know they’re his lines?” Marrik Ironfell asked.
“Because they’re in his play!”

When the party finally got organized they quickly dispatched the rest of the Terrors while Garen finished the Maulers.

Just then, the ground trembled again and their eyes were drawn toward the mottled tower…

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From the Sheltered Woods...
...to the Sheltering Arms of the Blood Chaos...

…the Golden Scales (or the Band of the Raven)…

…seeks to free the oppressed peoples of the world.

Raven, on the other hand, is a much simpler man: He seeks only The Tools of Zane’s Vengeance, that he might use them to extract his own vengeance on the shadar-kai arms dealer who asked him to create Wicked Fang — Sharshan.

Zane himself appears nightly in his dreams, as if the long-dead shaman has singled him out to use the set of equipment Zane assembled to exact his own vengeance. And Zane is telling him in his dreams that Obanar knows the location of the totem which might complete the set.

Zane seems to believe that the totem has come to be in the horde of a dragon named Urthix. And Obanar may know where Urthix’s cave is. It seems the adamantine dragon has laired in a location far from the Underdark.

Deciding to approach the village of the Torrians openly, the party selected one of the captured lion-men and untied him. He seemed more reasonable the rest and less susceptible to the “whispers” which the others seemed tormented by. When they got to the village, they were greeted by an older Torrian who seemed willing to speak as a leader: “I am Gruthow. Who are you?”

When the man she knew as Raven approached Magdalene about finding Obanar, Maggie realized now neatly this fit into her own plans. She had been hoping to convince the council in Overlook to send two champions to Argent to help Obanar. She was quite sure that Raven and Drake the Enforcer would wear the Silver Cloaks with honor. Since they are both associated with The Order of the Black Feather and the Raven Queen, their service will reflect well on the goddess of death as some one who had come to the aid of Overlook.

This should promote Maggie’s efforts to raise the profile of the Raven Queen’s Temple in Overlook. So, she pointed Raven and his fellow revenant toward a ritual caster she knew who could send them to Argent. Eventually, she decided to go along herself to help slay the dragon whose horde Zane had convinced Raven contains the grisly totem he seeks.

Elyas declined their invitation to join in the dragon-slaying, when they invited him. So, Maggie stepped through the Argent Portal right behind Raven and Drake. Obanar showed them he had be researching Urthix because adamantine dragons are not usually found far from their kingdoms far below the earth in the Underdark. He was curious because he had just been told by a band of adventurers that the Torrians who had once served Argent were now residing near where Urthix was rumored to be laired: a place called the Sheltered Woods.

He told them he knew of a teleportation circle near the dragon’s lair. In fact, he had just sent Maggie’s friends to that very circle of stones deep in the Wood.

Gruthow and the rest of the Torrians listened to the members of the Golden Scales with great intensity. Grigore was particularly impressive as he introduced the group and Alexander Winterforged followed up with his usual combination of bombast and theatricality. The Torrians seemed more impressed than Alexander’s usual audiences among the dwarves. Garen Bladerun stumbled a bit, but Copper exceeded himself to reassure the Torrians. And Sam ended with a flourish that obviously impressed Gruthow who asked, “Why have you come to this place? Why do you bring back memories of distant times?”

When Raven, Maggie and appeared in the stone circle, they could help but notice the smoke rising from the cooking fires of a small village on the other side of the river. But their destination lay in the opposite direction: Obanar had scried the lair of an adamantine dragon in a cave up in the hills. Raven believed the dragon was none other than Urthix, whose horde contained a totem of great value to any shaman who wielded the other Tools of Zane’s Vengeance.

They made their way into the dragon’s lair, where they found the dragon on his pile of treasure. Raven noticed that the treasure was far smaller than adamantine dragons were rumored to possess, but he attributed that to the fact that this dragon commanded no kingdom in the Underdark, populated by kobolds and troglodytes who could dig up treasures for him.

Raven demanded the totem, but the dragon’s refusal puzzled him. Sure, he had expected the denial, but it carried none of the haughty pride which all dragons were supposed to share. Indeed, Urthix had a curiously submissive air about him: slumped shoulders and down-cast eyes.

Raven noticed that Maggie did not seem to be picking up on the strangeness of the dragon’s demeanor. Drake, of course, seemed utterly unaware of anything un-Drake-like in nature and was blustering his usual bluster about “this” (which, it seemed to Raven, the other revenant seemed to mistake for another word for sword).

Alexander jumped in with another long-winded peroration which seemed to affect the Torrians better than it affected the rest of the Golden Scales. But Samwise was able to follow up with a brilliant effort to put the rune-priest’s abstract notions into perspective. Copper and Garen fumbled their historical references a bit, but Grigore was able to tie it all in to the current situation by referencing what he had learned about the Torrian’s own history. Reading the crowd, Garen got the sense the Torrians were deeply frightened. As a dragonborn, the paladin is used to evoking this kind of emotion in other. But this time he could tell the Torrians were not afraid of him or the other members of the Golden Scales. They were constantly shifting their eyes from side to side as though looking for something or waiting for something to happen. Gruthow suddenly grew tense, as though every muscle in his body turned to steel. An uncharacteristic smile spread across his face and he began talking in a higher, more shrill voice: "Champions, huh? They’ll let anyone wear those dusty old cloaks these days, won’t they? Tell me, is old Obanar, that weakling wizard, still alive?

When Raven called for them to jockey for position, Magdalene was reminded of something Sam once told her, “For Drake, jockeying for position consists of going up and smashing his opponents in the face.”

One thing Drake’s direct tactics did, however, was take up the attention of Urthix. Using this opportunity, Maggie was able to work her way around behind the dragon while Raven concentrated on healing Drake and getting off the occasional shot at the dragon. Raven was also able to manifest his companion spirit on the other side of the dragon, providing even further distraction.

Unfortunatelly, the dragon had distractions of his own: a large number of suicidal demonic manifestations were hanging around the shadows, willing to swoop in at a moment’s notice and attack Raven and Maggie while the dragon concentrated on the revenant before him.

But Maggie’s positional advantage was destroyed when the real demon coalesced out of those same shadow. Apparently this was the source of the manifestations. This demon seemed to be sorely wounded, however, and Maggie seized her opportunity.

“if there’s one thing I hate more than a prideful dragon,” she cried, “it is a prideful demon!”

Then she launched the newest version of an attack the others had seen before: Assassin’s Strike. The demon fell dead at her feet just as the rest of the Golden Scales arrived.

The dragon’s countenance immediately changed. His posture straightened, and he turned to Magdalene, bowing, “Thank you for releasing me from my humiliating bondage. As a reward I leave you all my meager treasure.”

Most of the party raced to the treasure. Raven found his totem, but the eyeballs which hung from it were too dry and dessicated for the shaman’s taste. He immediately began to gouge out the eyes of the demon’s head (which Maggie had forcefully removed from his body as she killed him).

Then they fell to squabbling: First over the treasure (which Maggie thought should go to the Temple of the Raven Queen for distribution to the people of Overlook who had suffered losses in the war) and then over the name of the group (which Maggie felt should be changed to “Band of the Raven”)

With no arcanists among their group, the party was unable to determine the kind of demon Physandros was, but they could tell he was manipulative and obsessive. Sam was even able to tell he is evil and possibly insane, unwilling to give up control easily: “The Torrians are mine!” he shrieked. “I will destroy them before I let you release them from my will! Hear me well and understand, you arrogant gnats. I am Physandros, and I am power beyond your feeble understanding.”

Leaving Raven and Drake to take up the Silver Cloaks of the Champions of Argent on behalf of the city of Overlook, the party asked Obanar to return them to that very city. Once back in the city of the dwarves, the party broke up over insistences:

  • Alexander Winterforge insisted on repairing his heirloom hammer. But he offended several dwarves by insisting that “any city worthy of the name should contain at least one ritual caster who knows the Make Whole ritual.” The dwarves, of course, could see no value in a ritual whose purpose was something any good dwarven smith could manage in a much more artful manner. Eventually he settled on a smith in The Forgeworks who promised him a quick turnaround on the repair of his broken hammer.
  • Magdalene insisted on distributing most of the gold from dragon’s horde to the victims of the recent war. She was able to recruit Elyas in this effort as the invoker is eager to raise the standing of the Temple of Erathis in Overlook.
  • Grigore Goldforge insisted on visiting his family.

“Daddy, daddy, I saw a butterfly!” his daughter screamed as she leaped into his welcoming arms. Then she confessed to him that she had not always believed his stories about butterflies when she was back in Gloomwrought.

She admitted that she liked his stories about thing with fanciful names like “butterflies” and “faeries,” but she thought they were just pretend to make her feel better in the constant gloom of the Shadowfell.

“But Jerath is a faerie!” she exclaimed with glee before growing more serious. “Only he’s the bad kind of faerie.”

“Yes, Jerath is a drow,, sometimes known as a dark elf.” Grigore explained.

“But how can Jerath be the dark kind of faerie?” his daughter asked. “He’s so nice!”

Rather than explain the intricacies of Jerath’s relationship to the rest of the drow, Grigore decided to voice his own concerns about Jerath: “Honey, I want you to be careful around Jerath. Don’t trust him.”

Coppershot was unable to heal the Torrian whose body seemed to be the one that Physandros was currently occupying while Sam and Grigore failed in their diplomatic overtures toward the other Torrians. Alexander was able to pray up a storm, but his success with the gods was not enough to overcome the failings of his fellows. Physandros seemed to grow stronger with each failure: “Your weakness is evident! You are not worthy even to bow in my presence, let alone challenge me. I would not accept you as a blood sacrifice, you pathetic dredges!” Physandros shrieked as he send forth a wave of dark energy, which sapped the staying power of those in the party with less endurance. The tide of battle turned when Copper tried to heal another of the Torrians. While Sam and Grigore still struggled with further with their diplomatic efforts, Garen joined Copper in healing the Torrians while Alexander help up his successful praying. The combination of prayer and healing actually seemed to hurt Physandros: “Why would you want to hurt me like that?” shrieked the shrill voice from yet another Torrian. “I am Physandros!” Once Sam and Grigore switched to healing, Garen decided to try healing the Physandros himself and discovered that healing a demon can actually damage it.

The High Council of Overlook has a insistent message of their own. While Magdalene has not yet successfully installed Amyria in the vacant spot on the council, she is working extensively with them. So, it was not surprising they chose her to contact the most reliable of the adventuring groups they have lately recruited.

She found them at the Temple of Erathis. Strangely enough, there were looking for her as well. She told the Council of Elders was urgently seeking their help. Amyria led the Golden Scales to High Hall and a welcome which was less brusque than some of their previous encounters with the council.

“Greetings, friends,” said Elder Cadrick as they approached the dais. "We have received a desperate message from Megan Swiftblade, leader of the Freeriders. The Freeriders have discovered that General Zitheruun had a powerful ally in his recent attack on the city. Although she does not identify this ally in her massage, Megan has already survived three attempts on her life and fears that more will follow. If we help her, she has promised to tell us who was ultimately behind the war, hopefully in time to prevent another war.

“Again, we find ourselves in need of aid, and again we call upon you. Travel to the village of Talar and find out what Megan knows. Keep her safe, neutralize any immediate threat to her, and then return her to us. Once she again feels safe.”

Further questions by the adventurers revealed the following information:

  • The village of Talar, where Megan was born, lies outside the city of Brindol.
  • Though Megan does not know who is behind the attacks against her, she believes it to be the ally she is threatening to name.
  • Megan’s message to the council makes no mention of where she is staying, saying only that they should leave a message for her at the village’s Green Dragon tavern.

Soon, Physandros was defeated. A dark cloud of malevolence rose out of the collected Torrians and roiled above them. “You hurt me!” cried the voice of Physandros from the dark cloud. “I shall never forget this injury, this insult. I shall find you one day, and I shall make you pay” With that the cloud drifted northward, into the hills, deeper into the forest. The Torrians came out of their trance and warned the party that Physandros had gone to get a pet dragon he kept enslaved in a nearby cave.

Remembering that Belinda had once shown them a portal outside Brindol, Grigore led the heroes to the Temple of Erathis in The Divine Knot. Elyas was able to teleport them to Brindol. They made their way from Brindol to Talar where they found the Green Dragon tavern, hoping to get a good night’s sleep before Megan contacted them.

Their evening revere was shattered, however, when an earthquake struck. Desperately trying to get the terrified villagers out of the building before it collapsed, several party members were unable to leap to safely when the floor collapsed. While Copper joked about staying down in the cellar “where the beer is,” he and other members of the Golden Scales attempted to use acrobatic skills they didn’t have to leap back to the main floor rather than aiding the party members who were trying to pull them up with ropes.

As a result of this miscalculation, the heroes were barely able to get out of the tavern with their lives before it collapsed. After the collapse they lost valuable time digging trapped villagers from the wreckage of the Green Dragon (not to mention their own supplies).

Once they had a chance to look around, Grigore saw that the vibrant village of Talar had been reduced to ruins: Flames leaped high into the air, silhouetting huddled survivors against the heaped mounds of rubble that were once their homes.

Many of the buildings in the area were partially collapsed and fires were spreading through the ruins. Grigore heard a terrified screaming in the distance along the main track. That’s where he led the party as villagers ran past, a dark shape oozing down the street behind them.

When he could finally see where the screaming was coming from, Grigore was overwhelmed by the sight:

A viscous purple-red tide was flowing into Talar, pouring out from a low, craggy hill at the edge of the village. A tower of mottled stone stood atop the hill, the ooze flowing out through a hole blasted out beneath it. Where twin arms of the flow had circled a collapsed house, fire suddenly flared, trapping a terrified and heavily pregnant woman on an adjacent wagon.

Staring at the pregnant woman, Grigore could not help but think of his own daughter’s words, earlier in the day: “Daddy, daddy, I saw a butterfly!”

And he knew what he had to do.

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Gentle (Not) Killing...
...of the Gentle Torrian People...

…requires all of the diplomacy…

Grigore can muster…

…on his own followers.

Raven approached Elyas with his usual directness. “I have another dream of Zane,” he said. “He has told me the last of the tools of his vengeance can be found in the horde of an adamantine dragon.” Elyas was fairly certain from his history that Zane’s vengeance had been accomplished many years before, but he decided not to interrupt the shaman. “He said that you could send me to the place I must go to find it.”

After deciding to postpone another fight with the Wight Champion, the Golden Scales returned to Obanar to report their findings. The old man was greatly relieved to learn they had located the missing Torrians (in the Sheltered Wood far to the west of the Plains of Chaos). He took them to the second floor of the Guardians Tower, where he had a teleportation circle which could take them to that location.

Once he sent them through (with instructions they could return via the Argent Portal ritual), they found themselves in a clearing in a thick and ancient forest, standing in the midst of an inscribed circle that looked to be as old as the tall trees around them. It did not take them long to discover a nearby river which was running fast and deep. But there was a large shape hiding in the shadows behind a boulder.

They could see smoke rising above the thick curtain of trees on the far side of the river. They might have guessed from the sounds of a settlement going about the business of its day that the smoke came from cooking fires. On the near side of the river they found Torrians, simple hunter-gatherers going about the business of gathering food in the forest…

…and watching for intruders.

“I know nothing of any such dragon hordes,” Elyas replied. “But I can send you to Argent if that is where you need to be.” After Raven and Drake told him that Maggie had insisted that was where they needed to go, Elyas asked them if Magdalene was going as well, but they were unsure. The two adventurers offered to bring the ritual components Elyas would need to send them on their way. “Oh, well,” the deva said, “I guess I shall see whether she goes when I send them along. She will either be there or she won’t.”

It did not take a lengthy parlay for Grigore to realize that he was not the only one talking to the Torrian gatherers. The leonid creatures soon began talking to each other about voices in their heads.

“The whispers,” one of the Torrians said.

“I hear them, brother,” another answered.

“Physandros says they must not be allowed to cross the river,” a third said.

Then they all began to chant, “For Physandros, for Physandros, for Physandros,” as they moved in to attack.

The party kept trying to negotiate. When the Torrians were close enough to see their eyes well, it became clear they were in some kind of trance state. Once the members of the Golden Scales became convinced the Torrians were not in control of their own actions, they still tried to stop the Torrians without killing them.

Grigore even went so far as to tie up those who went unconscious.

No lion-like creatures were hurt making this blog post.

Obanar could not quite remember the reason the name — The Sheltered Woods — rang a bell. He was sure he had known something about it, but he could not recall what it was about the place. Perhaps it was some research: He walked down to the library in the Guardians Tower and began to peruse old books about the strange region west of the Plains of Chaos. “Ah,” he said, “That was it. Urthrx.” For he had once read of an adamantine dragon which laired there. “Strange, what would a metallic dragon be doing in such a remote location?” Of course, the Underdark is remote as well.

Some of the party became convinced a Torrian using a sling from across the river might be the one controlling the others. Sam and Copper crossed the river, but a trap on the other side pushed them back into the swift-flowing waters.

Eventually, the adventurers were able to get all the Torrians who remained subdued and tied.

And even healed.

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With Grigore claiming that...
...Magdalene confessed to hijacking the party...

…to serve her interests in the city of Argent…

…the heroes were finally able to get some rest after the giants and the elementals got what they wanted from their assault on Argent.

The restful bedroll never looked so good to Grigore. Everyone was exhausted from the three fights they had endured in the assault on Argent. But his dreams were troubled by visions of a smaller town: Hope’s Hollow. The dream made no sense. He was back in Hope’s Hollow, a town his parents had visited when he was a child. His parents wanted him to be an undertaker there. Or maybe he dreamed that.

After Obanar told the party that he knew how to make special weapons for all of them, they asked him to do so. He explained that the previous Guardian (named Qwor) had taught him how to fashion Sky Metal into the weapons, but he neglected to explain how to acquire the Sky Metal.

So, the heroes decided to search Qwor’s tomb for clues. This required a trip the main cemetary in Argent, where Qwor is buried: The Necropolis.

Unfortunately, their way was barred by a wight, the shade of an ancient champion of Argent. The wight had long since lapsed into evil, but still retained enough of his memories to be influenced by diplomatic entreaties: Sam the Foresworn and Grigore were able to press the urgency of their situation and convinced the wight that the group must talk to Qwor.

But, when Coppershot Thundershield and Alexander Winterforged tried to impress him with feats of strength, their efforts failed to convince the wight they were worthy to wear the silver cloaks of the Champions of Argent.

The wight grew enraged and summoned a pack of ghost worgs to chase them out of the cemetary.

They had better luck at the library. They found some books which gave them some insight into the Divine Engine (part of which had been stolen by Breven Foss and his elemental thieves). Sam was able to discover a hidden panel which revealed some secret tomes relating directly to Piranoth and the Divine Engine used to imprison him.

Back in Hope’s Hollow: Grigore tries to find an old friend. Searching through his friend’s house, he discovers that it is the house of an alchemist. Which is strange he. Grigore is sure he has no friends who are alchemists. The house is full of alchemical traps, which keep thwarting his search for his friend. He wakes from this nightmare without resolving the frustrations. He tosses and turns for the remainder of the night, getting little rest.

Before they went to the Temple of the Dawn, the party decided to rest. This gave them a chance to use a rune that Alexander likes to use: It gave everyone they ability to understand religion at the same level as the rune-priest. This was a little more unsettling for the rest of the party.

It seems that Alexander’s theology is highly influenced by his unusual affections (unusual for a dwarf, anyway) for the fey. A disturbing influence for most to have residing inside their minds. But they were able to pray up an exarch of Erathis, who told them there are mysterious astral giants who keep track of the whereabouts of divine engines, including the pieces of the divine engine used to imprison Piranoth.

“The giants of the Temple of the Inchoate Mysteries, in the Astral Sea, are known as the foremost experts on Piranoth’s Bane, also known as ’Klar’ekku.’ It is rumored that they, along with select exarchs of Moradin (such as the exarch Torugar), know the ritual necessary to restore Piranoth’s Bane to working order.”

The dream again: Still searching for this alchemist. Still certain he has no friends who are alchemists. But the friend’s house is clearly the house of an alchemist. There is a laboratory here. There are traps obviously set by an alchemist. And there is even evidence that the alchemist was kidnapped. Evidence of a struggle. With blood. The alchemist’s blood. Again: Grigore awakens in a sweat, frustrated and unable to sleep.

The Torrian research forced the heroes into teamwork mode: They had to systematically search the house of the last proctor of Argent. First, Grigore discovered that not all of the house was completely accessible. A space for a room appeared to exist on the map the ardent drew. But the space did not have any obvious means of getting inside. Copper found a hidden, locked door to the room once Grigore pointed this out. When they called Sam over to investigate the hidden door, he found it was trapped as well as locked.

It took Sam almost an hour to open the door without triggering the trap, even with a little help from Grigore. Inside the hidden room, Alexander found ledgers tucked away in a cubbyhole. In the ledgers, Copper discovered the same name appeared over and over: Thror. Thror’s name was always associated with a number and the same word.

Grigore’s long experience with the billion names of gold stood him in good stead. He immediately recognized the word as an obscure shamanistic term for the yellow metal. And he recognized that another name seemed to be associated with the same amounts of gold: Physandros.

Together with Sam and Alexander, Grigore realized that the proctor (whose name was apparently Thror) was planning something in secret, hidden from the champions of Argent, the Guardian, and even the rest of the Torrians. And his secret dealings were making him very wealthy.

Discovering the lingering taint of arcane magic, still evident on the scrolls and ledgers after a decade, the party was able to realize the magic has the taint of dark influence and mind control, as though the proctor was enticed through magic to leave Argent and take the Torrians with him. Taking up service with the mysterious Physandros definitely left a demonic taint on Thror.

8 Minutes of the Past

Next, the heroes went to a field near the Proctor’s house and drank a potion provided by Obanar. A thick mist rose from the ground, and they became a part of the mist, able to look around and see through the haze of yesterdays: Argent as it once was, in all its glory.

Torrians by the dozens had gathered in the grassy field, each looking anxiously at the proctor’s front door. When it opened, out stepped Thror. Somehow the heroes knew this was the proctor of Argent, greeting the crowd. Aided by Grigore, the party was able to notice the discomfort some of the Torrians. Some were heard to whisper questions about why such a gathering was happening without the Guardian.

Enduring the stress of time travel, the party was unable to understand the historical significance of the signet ring Thror was wearing or detect his arcane gestures. Then they found themselves a more demonic form of stress, which prevented them from detecting the spell Thror was casting over the crowd. It became clear that Zumos’s arcane skills were sorely missed as Alexander was unable to carry the arcane burden alone.

“Argent is all but deserted,” the proctor declared. “Its champions are gone. We can remain here and slowly fade away as the city deteriorates, or we can decide our own fate. It is time for the Torrians to become masters of their own destiny, and Physandros has offered us a place where we can prosper.”

They could not miss the effect the spell had on the crowd, however, especially with the help of the the insightful suggestions from Grigore. The Torrians had become glassy-eyed, entering a trance state. They nodded and cheered at every word Thror uttered.

“Let us accept this generous offer from Physandros. Let us take our families and our hopes and our dreams and sttle the Sheltered Woods, far to the west of the Plains of Chaos. Further, let us agree to the few obligations that Physandros has asked of us.”

Again relying on Grigore’s perceptive insights, the party was able to detect a barely perceptible cloud of darkness hovering near the proctor’s head. The cloud had a demonic taint that felt so unclean they noticed the historical significance they missed before: The signet ring belongs to an ancient cult which was tied to Oublivae, the demon queen of ruin and destruction.

Thror finished his speech, the crowd hanging on every word and ready to follow the proctor wherever he leads them. But Thror was not leading anything or anyone.

He was being led.

When they returned to the present, the group decided to make one more attempt at the wight to get a chance to find the Sky Metal. They decided to use one of Alexander Winterforged’s runes to help with the athletics they had failed at before.

But Alexander needed rest before he could use his rune again. And that meant Grigore had to plunge one more time into the world of his dreams.

This time the dream is different. In the dream, Grigore realizes he is not himself. In the dream, he is his uncle. It all makes sense. Maybe his uncle had a friend who was an alchemist. Maybe his uncle’s friend, the alchemist, was kidnapped. Grigore woke from his rest, fully rested and ready to face the Champion Wight one last time.

The rest and the rune, however used up all their strategic thinking: Emboldened by their newfound athletic prowess, some of the more diplomatic members of the party wowed the skeptical wight with feats of strength. By the time others — less inclined to talk — came forward to impress the wight, he was bored by mere feats of strength.

Delis was able to come up with some obscure historical precedents from the time the wight was alive. This demonstrated an understanding of how the past influences the present (a subject near and dear to what remains of the wight’s cold heart).

But Copper failed his diplomacy check and others did as well. No one tried to intimidate him, and an insight roll was used as a stalling tactic to bring Sam’s silver tongue to the fore. Unfortunately, the wight’s imposing presence reduced Sam to a stuttering mass of insincerity and contradictions.

The wight grew angry once again and attacked.

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Plunging Elementals through a Wormhole...
...Grigore Gets Into the Vaults...

…but not in time to stop…

…the boss from escaping with a part of the Divine Engine.

Belinda woke up the day after her escapade in the Shadowfell thinking she should make herself scarce. Her father didn’t need to be reminded that she had spied on his meeting with Roland.

When our heroes discovered someone broken into the Guardians Tower, Obanar asked them to stop the intruders before they penetrated the vaults below. Rrowthar led them down.

Elementals had already broken in, so the party decided to forego surprise and barged right in on some frost elementals and a Battlewall made of living earth. The Frostfell Harriers died quickly, but not before the heroes discovered that missing them carried a price:

Every time a party member attacked a frost elemental and missed, a slick band of ice formed on the floor below them and they slid into range of the Battlewall’s Earthstorm attack. The earth elemental was somehow able to cause the ground around it to churn and explode.

The 15-year-old girl decided a trip to the theater would be in order. She really wanted to take Grigore’s wife to see Roland and Juliette. Belinda had a theory that the love between Grigore and his wife inspired Jerath to write the play.

Once the harriers were down, the Battlewall retreated into the next room, designed to trap intruders. Indeed, several of the elementals had already been caught in the cells on either side of the trap room. More observant adventurers noticed runes on parts of the floor.

Fortunately these runes escaped the gaze of Alexander Winterforged or he might have been more distracted than usual.

With the Battlewall offering them some kind of aura of protection (as long as they kept their feet on the ground near it), the frost elementals were only able to slide one of the party into a trap they had discovered. Fortunately, the trap was too far from the cells to push Zumos in. And the spell that triggered the slide took out most of the harriers. When Copper was slid by the same harrier, he was able to use his surefooted dwarven instincts to stop just short of the cell.

Once they had spotted most of the traps and Sam had experimented with the cells, the heroes were able to push some fire elementals which had joined the fight into the two cells on the south end of the trap room. (A couple of Frostfell Harriers had been trapped in the north cells before the party even got to the trap room.)

Grigore delayed pressing on to the actual vaults long enough for Copper to go around stomping on the traps until he was caught in one of the north cells. While the party delayed to discuss his fate, Rrowthar told them that Obanar was the only one who could free prisoners from the cells.

Strangely, Copper began to heal once inside the cell. Probably due to his elemental nature.

Once she had used the circle at the top of the Tower of the Septarch to travel to the secret rune circle she maintained in the catacombs beneath the safe house that the Order of the Black Feather had in The Boneyard, Belinda found two people who were willing to go to the play with Grigore’s wife: Elyas and Amyria.

Delis Errinthal was the first to slip past the two fire archons guarding the door to the vault. “This doesn’t seem to be so much a vault, as a prison,” she observed, since some of the safe-deposit boxes (glowing spheres of arcane force) actually seemed to contain stone golems and other creatures as well as magickal implements and items of historical interest.

Inside Delis found Breven Foss (a human somehow infused with elemental energy) working to open one of the spheres. Foss seemed intent on stealing a strange lump of silver and gold which was held in one of the smaller safe-deposit boxes.

Fearing that the Archon Flameshields would hold the party up too long, Grigore cast a Wormhole Plunge on one of the fire elementals, teleporting it into the south cell. Soon, the other fire archon was sucked into the same wormhole and joined his mate in the cell.

As Copper tried to blast his way through the wall imprisoning him, he was actually able to interrupt Foss’s efforts to cast a ritual that would open the arcane sphere and allow him to steal the object he sought.

With the archons out of the way the rest of the party ran in an poured on the damage. Foss was bloodied before he got the sphere open. Still, he was finally able to extricate the item and put it in a bag of holding.

“Grab the bag!” shouted Copper from his cell, apparently more interested in the wondrous bag than its contents. But before Sam was able to pilfer the bag, Foss activated his ace in the hole: an Elemental Recall spell triggered by some damage he took.

He disappeared in a blinding flash of elemental energy.

When she first went to invite Elyas to Jerath’s play, Belinda was nonplussed by how seriously he was taking his new job: He seemed to be just as wrapped up in the politics of running the Temple of Erathis as her father got in hob-nobbing with powerful nobles back. home. But Elyas told her he was trying to convince the dwarves of the importance of civilization beyond just building things. And he thought Jerath’s theater was helping. Since he had heard that certain forces — perhaps even including Maggie — were promoting Amyria as a replacement for the dead member of the council, he decided he might even improve his church’s standing being seen with her.

Once Obanar had freed Coppershot and promised them all food and rest, he told them he had secured the magickal defenses around Argent.

They immediately peppered him with questions about the artifact stolen by Breven Foss. The old guardian told them that it must have been the target of the raid all along.

“The intruders knew exactly what they were after,” the old man said. “They stole a piece of the divine engine used by the gods to imprison the primordial called Piranoth.”

“It appears that the giants have teamed up with a group of elementals from the plane of chaos. I may be wrong, but I suspect this alliance was formed with the express purpose of setting Piranoth free.”

After Elyas delivered a powerful sermon which stirred up interest among the dwarves in the civilizing effects of things like plays, he was more than willing to join the ladies at the theater. Still he seemed concerned that something he had found in Gardemore Abbey was somehow tied to the chaotic forces preventing further efforts to promote Erathis. “My father has an ally in Winterhaven.”Belinda told Eylas when the invoker brought up the subject of the playing card he had found in the old abbey. “Lord Padraic has become obsessed with the ruins of Gardemore. Perhaps you should show this card to him.”

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An Ancient City
Another Gate Gets Closed

This one in Argent.

Following the battle with the bullettes, Alexander Winterforged immediately went over to the circle of runes inscribed in the tiles of the courtyard, trying to figure out the language in which they were written.

As he knelt there, a lion-head man wearing stone gauntlets appeared in the circle. As Alexander tried to determine whether he was friendly or not, Magdalene immediately recognized him as the Torrian seneschal who had sent them to Argent.

And so did the old man, who strode over and embraced the leonid creature:

“Welcome, old friend. You have chosen well.”

Obanar turned to the newest arrivals, explaining that Argent is under attack. He walked back to the reflecting pool and waved his hand over it. The water shimmered to show a top-down view of the city. A red dot pulsed with an angry light over what appeared to be a great tower. Another red dot pulsed over a nearby collection of smaller buildings. “Other invaders have made it into the city,” he said as he studied the view in the water. “I must go to the highest level of the Guardian’s Tower to restore the protective wards. Rrowthar shall lead you to the intruders so that that you can deal with them.” Then he disappeared, teleporting to the highest level of the tower.

After the old man disappeared, Rrowthar led the party to a decrepit section of the city, taking a shortcut through a wooded area. But the amount of surprise achieved by coming at their enemies from an unexpected direction was limited.

“You are not the annoying old one,” a rough voice called out as they passed a huge statue of some long-dead mage-hero of Argent. “I don’t know who you are, but it doesn’t matter. You are too late, for our task here has been completed.”

Some of the heroes spotted that “task” right away: a large hole hung in the air above the street — a rift of some sort, pulsing with elemental energy.

Others noticed something else: heat radiating from buildings on either side of them.

Before they could approach the rift, a hill giant shaman with a scroll tucked into his belt stepped out from one of the crumbled buildings, interposing himself between the party and the rift.

Most of the arcane defenses that protect the city of Argent were controlled from the highest level of the tower. Alarms, magickal barriers, and even a limited ability to launch attacks directly from the city can be controlled from the upper levels of the tower. Viewing chambers just below once provided magickal views of distant places, but many of these no longer operate correctly due to attacks launched from far-away locations by the powerful entities that unleashed the troubles of a century ago. As he listened to the sound of intruders battering at the doors of the tower below, Obanar knew that he still had some ability to see beyond Argent’s walls, but not the near-omniscient viewing he once commanded.

As Zumos readied a fireball spell, Magdalene jumped atop of one of the walls of the nearest building. As it turned out, the building had no roof, and she could see inside to discover what was radiating so much heat. Magma creatures lurked there, as well as several swirling piles of gravel.

When the plucky assassin (with a heart of gold) tossed her throwing stars at the three gravelshards, she discovered the one she hit went down easily. But those she missed seemed invigorated by the attack. They charged out of the buildings to slam into the other party members.

Fighting fire with fire

More magma creatures poured from the buildings, some biting ineffectively at the heroes, others slamming into them. When Zumos unleashed his fireball, he was able to hit all of them. Ordinarily, elementals of fire and earth would have some resistance to fire damage, but Zumos is no ordinary wizard. He is a pyromancer, capable of producing fireballs so intensely hot that they can burn even fire elementals.

He ended up doing more damage in that single blast than any member of this group had ever done in a single turn.

Once the shaman was hit by Zumos, the rest of the party ganged up on him. He fell quickly, but none of the party made any move to take his scroll until only the rift remained.

Sam, not to be outdone, concentrated his damage on the shaman who was already hurt by Zumos’s fireball. The foresworn one backstabbed the shaman for even more damage than the pyromancer had hit it with.

When Sam realized the intense heat of from one of the nearby magma brutes was threatening to burn just from being near it, he activated his demonskin tattoo (by spending an action point and attacking the shaman again), choosing to have the tatoo protect him from fire damage. Many of the allies of Samwise the Foresworn were also able to resist these auras throughout the battle: Coppershot assumed the Form of the Mountain’s Thunder to resist all damage and, of course, the Zumos is a pyromancer who is always able to resist fire damage.

As often as not, the viewing chambers showed Obanar blurred, half-formed images instead of the crisp, clear pictures of old, which has made it extremely difficult for the Last Guardian to learn what has transpired in the greater world, and to track threats the way he once could. But he could hear the threat below as he worked to restore the wards which protected Argent: The intruders were still trying to batter their way into his tower.

Armed with the information Maggie had gleaned from her perch atop the crumbling walls, the heroes made quick work of the gravelshard minions. Nobody created a gravelpocalypse by hitting a large number of them with an area of effect which would have triggered their charge attacks on everyone.

But the elementals were also hindered by the success of their own ambush. They had caught the party on a narrow lane (away from the defensive powers of their rift). The close quarters prevented the best attack of the magma striders from being triggered by their bite attacks.

The striders can burn across the battlefield in a kind of pinball effect if their bite attacks hit. But in crowded quarters, the benefits are limited. As the magma brutes began to thin out, the striders began to come into their own, burning across the battlefield to attack hero after hero. One of them eventually retreated to the area of the rift, but it went down quickly. The rift’s protective attacks never had a chance to do much damage to the heroes.

Before he could perform all the arcane manipulations required to restore the wards around the City of Argent, Obanar heard the doors below crash open. Convinced the intruders were coming upstairs to disrupt his work, the old man headed downstairs to the Portal Level. On this floor of the Guardian’s Tower there were doors that opened to other places. Portals to distant locations, both in the natural world and among the planes were situated there. But the portal he sought was much simpler: It simply took him outside to the plaza where the door had just been burst in. His plan was simple as well: Surprise the intruders by attacking them from behind.

When they finally read it, the scroll turned out to be a ritual which created the rift in the first place. So, arcanist were able to reverse-engineer the ritual to get rid of it. This would have meant a slow process of aiding the best casters in gradually diminishing the rift.

But the new runepriest had a better solution: He demonstrated an amazing rune called the Rune of Shared Lore. Suddenly all the heroes standing close by found they could understand arcane lore as well as the best of them.

Instead of helping the best caster close the rift, the entire party became the best caster.

And the rift was closed in seconds.

Hoping to attack the intruders from behind, Obanar cautiously made his way through the broken door. No, he could tell the intruders had not gone up towards the levels of the tower where he spent most of his time. They had gone down the stairs. Indeed, he could hear them going down into the vaults as he listened at the stairs. The fabled vaults of Argent keep guard over ancient treasures, deadly weapons, and imprisoned creatures. These stasis chambers are sealed behind heavy vault doors and protective magic. It would hold…for a while. He heard Rrowthar and the others approaching the ruined door. So he hobbled outside to greet them.

Searching the body of the shaman, they found a potion of vitality, three valuable gems, a significant sum of gold, and a pair of gauntlets of ogre power, which Copper quickly claimed.

Rrowthar led the heroes to the base of a magnificent edifice. “This is the Guardian’s Tower. I think it is being attacked from the rear.”

Then he led them around the tower and found a door that had already been broken in. Obanar emerged from the wreckage.

Outside the tower, Obanar greeted Rrowthar and the heroes he had brought from Nentir Vale, “I know you must have a multitude of questions to ask me, and I shall give you every opportunity to quench your curiosity, but I must ask you to remain patient a while longer. Know that this is the city of Argent, and I am its last guardian. Right now, the city is under siege by hill giants and elemental creatures. Even as we speak, a force of hostile combatants is making its way to the vaults beneath this tower. I must complete the rituals necessary to restore and re-establish the city’s magickal defenses. So I must ask you to stop the intruders before they can penetrate the vaults. Soon, we shall speak of the mysteries of Argent, the destiny of champions, and the fate of a multitude of worlds. But first, we must keep Argent safe.”

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Hope is not...
...Hollow.

At least, not if you do not give in…

  • …to depression;
  • …to oppression; or
  • …to the idea you cannot live heroically.

Grigore was awakened from a disturbing dream with a summons from the Lord Warden.

“I know you probably don’t know the answer to the question I am about to ask you,” Faren Markelhay told him. "But I have to ask you anyway. Do you know where my daughter is?

The 15-year-old girl took out her treasure box. Inside was a crystal ball and a variety of ritual casting materials. She did not seem all that worried about the cost of such materials. Not because she was rich, although her parents — Lady Alyssa and Lord Warden Markelhay — are quite wealthy. Belinda did not worry about the cost because of her income, income which came from her adventures. Belinda’s parents worried so much about the dangers her adventures brought, they didn’t even think about the income such adventures might be bringing in. And that was just fine with Belinda.

It turned out that the Lord Warden had been moved by Grigore request for Belinda to help with his effort to bring his wife and children out of the Shadowfell. They were lodged there with Grigore’s tyrannical mother at the Goldforge family estate in the Dust Quarter of Gloomwrought.

But Lord Markelhay was not about to send his daughter off to another plane just because Grigore needed her there. He had all the assets to extract the family: His wife could provide the transport; his spymaster could perform the extraction; and Roland’s chief aid could convince Grigore’s wife they were acting on Grigore’s instructions.

But Belinda had resources of her own.

Belinda’s parents had shooed her out of the audience hall when Grigore and her other friends had showed up. But that wasn’t why she was getting out her scrying equipment. She was used to being told that she should not be around when grownups were discussing their adventures. Belinda was spying on the audience chamber because she had seen Roland and Madras heading for the chamber. And Belinda was very interested in what Roland was doing there.

Meanwhile, back in Overlook, Elyas and Magdalene were initiating long-term plans to rebuild their respective temples in the dwarven city. Matron Volorvyn, the matriarch of the Raven Queen’s temple in the Boneyard, was killed by Githyanki puppetmasters who needed her authority to start a fifth column in the city during the war just finished. And, while Lavinya was one of the few major religious leaders to avoid this fate, she had sworn to replace Haelyn at a small shrine in Tradetown.

This left a leadership vacuum at both temples. And Elyas and Magdalene were quick to step in. Lavinya appointed Elyas to rebuild the crumbling Temple of Erathis in Nine Bells, while Maggie volunteer herself as a principle advisor to the new, inexperienced Matron in the Boneyard.

Magdalene saw that the war had left many bodies to be buried and many survivors to be comforted. She quickly mobilized the resources of the Temple of the Raven Queen to their traditional tasks: funerals and caring for the widows and orphans. Taking advantage of the fundraising possibilities in the real needs of these people, establishing a reputation for the temple that could be seen throughout the city.

The young assassin also saw that a political vacuum had opened on the High Council when the Order of the Black Feather’s strike team was unable to save Councillor Itrika Mountainhome from her burning mansion. The council is considering who to replace Mountainhome with.

And Maggie discovered that a surprise candidate has arisen. And Amyria the girl from the Platinum Sword is just the kind of blank slate that Magdalene is looking for: someone who is open to the influence of The Order of the Black Feather.

Belinda was puzzled at first as she stared into her crystal ball. Grigore was talking about her. And about his wife. She didn’t understand at first because Grigore was doing something adults seldom did: He was trying to talk her father into taking her with him on an adventure. A mission to bring back his wife and children. Grigore must really love his family. He needed her. Grigore was admitting that he needed Belinda to take him to the Shadowfell, to bring back his wife and children.

Waiting for Roland and Madras — and Belinda! — was hard. And Grigore’s dream were wracked with more scenes of Hope’s Hollow.

He dreamt of lovers abandoning their loves. He dreamt of sons convinced by their girlfriends to demand their fathers give them their inheritance early. Suicide and murder were all around. Despair overwhelmed hope.

A great place to be an undertaker. His family would have loved it if he had the kind of success he found in these dreams of Hope’s Hollow. But he could not enjoy such success, founded as it was on the temptations and failures of others. Not in his dreams.

Not in real life either.

Grigore found his paragon path in those dreams: “Despair has no hold when I am near,” he heard his uncle’s voice say. And he realized that his uncle would have sought out the source of these temptations — an erodaemon, sucking the hope out of Hope’s Hollow by seducing young men into temptation.

Every time he thought about it he knew what his uncle would have done: Seek out the demoness and resist her temptations and destroy her, ending her depredations forever.

Belinda was sure her father would never agree to let her go to the Shadowfell, but she was amazed that Grigore would even ask. He must be really desperate. She knew he really loved his wife, but he must know how unlikely it would be for her father to agree to such an idea. To her surprise, Lord Markelhay dismissed Grigore and told the ardent-healer that he would think about it. Maybe Grigore was using his mental powers on her father.

Zumos had accompanied Grigore to Fallcrest and was trying to convince the Lord Warden that the Tower of the Septarchs represented a threat inside the city walls if it was not manned by skilled portal masters who could seal it should someone attempt to teleport an army inside the city.

Especially now that the city walls of the Lower Fallcrest district were being rebuilt.

But Lady Alyssa was two steps ahead of him. She had already told her husband that the tower was a security risk. And it didn’t take a portal master like Alyssa Markelhay to tell the current Septarch was a doddering old fool.

Zumos began the daunting task of teaching the Septarch’s apprentice the true art of wizardry. He also began sounding out the Lord Warden on the granting of the title back to the true owner: The Order of the Septarchs from the far South.

It turned out the High Warden was amenable to such overtures, especially if they could enhance Fallcrest’s position as a trade center. But the Warden Markelhay was limited in his ability to restore other towers leading all the way to the south by the size of his own power. And he wanted Zumos’s help in increase that.

It seems that the Lord Warden has committed to a long-term project for increasing his prestige by helping the City of Argent restore its former glory. Argent may be able to assist in this project if the Lord Warden can convince his peers to contribute the kind of aid they once provided to Argent.

That project is going well (thanks, in part, to the support The Order of the Black Feather has lent it). But Argent may face a more immediate threat. Obanar, the Last Guardian of Argent has sent a desperate message to Lord Padraig, asking for help. The messenger waits at Winterhaven with a scroll that will take them all back to Argent.

When Grigore was gone, Belinda scryed her father turning to Roland and saying, “I have a mission for you: an extraction mission.” Then he turned to Madras, “Can you fake a letter from Grigore to his wife?” Madras smiled. Of course, he could. He told the Lord Warden that the hobbit Samwise had Grigore’s handwritten will. He was quite sure the lengthy document would have enough handwriting to use to fake the ardent’s hand. “I want you to leave tonight,” the Lord Warden said to Roland. The spymaster and his assistant both nodded. They could leave immediately.

Once Grigore’s family was brought to him (and Belinda safely returned), he took them to Overlook to see the play. And he set Jerath the task of finding a house for Grigore and his family to live. In the meantime, they stayed in Jerath’s suite in a fancy Elftown inn.

But Grigore’s dreams continued to haunt him. Now, Hope’s Hollow was replaced by Overlook and the shadows closing in on the city threatened his family as well.

Magdalene came to understand that promoting the power of the Order in Overlook meant doing things that would promote the power of Overlook. The Council seems to think that helping the Lord Warden’s grand project in Argent will increase their standing in Nentir Vale as well as Elsir Vale. And promoting the power of the Order will help Maggie’s own grand project.

Elyas was recruited to provide the portals which would get them all to Winterhaven, where they got the scroll which took them to Argent. Not long after they arrived in Argent, it became clear the city was under assault.

Belinda gasped. Roland was going into danger to prevent her from risking her life. And she knew what she had to do.

At first, it looked like the defenses of Argent could hold. But they failed somehow and bullettes were able to dig tunnels into the plaza where the heroes had arrived.

Despite Sam’s entreaties, Zumos dumped all his dailies on the bullettes before other attackers swarmed out of the holes. He even hit some of his own party members with his massive attacks.

Eventually Obanar was able to seal the tunnels and drive back the attackers at the gates. And the party was able to finish off those attackers left in the plaza.

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Hope is...
...a Bastard...

…kick its backside.

In a dream Grigore finds himself as a successful undertaker in a gloomy town. He vaguely remembers visiting the town as a child on a trip with his family.

Sifting through the ancient texts (one of his favorite actitivities) at the rune-temple where he was educated, Alexander Winterforged found references to another rune-temple of far greater antiquity than his own. Indeed, it is said that the Mountainroot Temple was built in the days after the dwarves cast off the chains that had bound them in slavery to the giants and the primordials.

But the thing which piqued his interest about this “Temple Between” (as it was known) was that it was built in a time of great optimism among the followers of Moradin. Its builders believed that all races who worshiped the god of the forge could come together in one place to worship together.

Alexander found this accorded well with his belief that dwarves and elves could live together in peace and harmony. This belief was not so well received in the temple he was educated in. And they scoffed when he pointed to these words in their own ancient texts.

So Alexander set out find Mountainroot Temple, hoping not only to find accord between elves and dwarves (and other races, as well) but also hoping to find truly ancient texts from the days when the primordials had so recently been defeated.

As an undertaker people in the dream are always coming to Grigore in their times of greatest need. And their times of greatest desperation.

When Grigore awoke from his tortured dreams, his companions invited him to go to the Dungeoneers Survival Emporium. He was able to improve on their attempts to flirt with Myra, the proprietress. And she showed them her rarest treasures.

Once again, Coppershot saved the day after denying he had any ability to help with skill challenges. Almost as if he were playing a different game.

Grigore realizes that his family would have been more happy if he had taken that undertaker’s job back in Hope’s Hollow (a small village near Gloomwrought, where their estate is located).

At Mountainroot Temple, Alexander found about four things:

  1. An ancient text, long stored here, called the Incunabulum Primeval;
  2. The fact that the book has recent been taken to Overlook, a nearby dwarven city;
  3. The fact that Overlook has recently come under siege; and
  4. Storm Johnson is organizing an effort to break the siege at Borodrin’s Watch.

So, he set out to find Storm Johnson at Borodrin’s Watch.

Undertakers in the Shadowfell are usually priests of The Raven Queen. So, Grigore tries to comfort the desperate mourners as they come to him in their hour of greatest need.

Once Grigore had a chance to spend his loot at the emporium, he attempted to sneak off with the rest of the party’s treasure. Sam spotted him and followed him to the stable, where they found Belinda’s new mounts.

After Grigore realized that he could not steal the treasure when Sam was around, he somehow convinced the rest of the party to let him go “use” it to get his wife back.

Unfortunately Grigore’s mount does not have any planar travel abilities, so they had to find a ritual caster who could take them to the Shadowfell. Tracking Belinda, they found she had returned to her home in Fallcrest.

As he comforts the mourners in his dream, Grigore realizes that his success as an undertaker is predicated on one thing: His failure as a priest. The people of Hope’s Hollow are constantly yielding to temptations which seem to come from outside themselves. They all seem to have quiet, happy lives until they yield to some temptation. It is Grigore’s job to teach them to resist those temptations. But, when he fails, their lives are thrown into suicide and murder, more temptation and more despair.

Alexander Winterforged joined up with Storm Johnson (as well as another runepriest named Baern FuryHammer) and helped break the siege of Overlook. The real siege-breaking, however, was done by a group of adventurers who slew the dragon being ridden by the general who was leading the siege.

Eventually, Alexander joined this group of adventurers, who were heading off to Fallcrest.

In Fallcrest Grigore tried to convince the Lord Warden to allow him to take Belinda to the Shadowfell. But the Lord Warden has other resources, which may allow him to rescue Grigore’s wife without risking his daughter’s life.

And Belinda has resources of her own.

Ironically, Grigore’s failures have led to his success. At least in the dream. Sons murdering their fathers. Lovers leaving their mates to suicide and despair. Every funeral seems to be the result of some temptation or treason. It fattens Grigore’s wallet as it sucks the hope out of his heart. He resolves to discover the source of the temptations.

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