Scaled Down Scales

With Belinda showing Grigore...
...her new ritual...

Esterhu was told his new shadar-kai fullblade…

…has magickal properties rivaling his broken axe. He is is still unable to use it as well as an execution axe, but may be able to improve things with a retraining at his next level-up.

When Belinda and Grigore returned from their assignation in the Shadowfell, Belinda was looking decidedly more pleased with herself than the Goldforge family black sheep. But Grigore did not share the reasons for his concern with the rest of the party.

The party decided that rescuing the kidnapped farmers from Elsir Vale was their first priority, although securing a place to hide within the ancient Githzerai fortress came in as a close second. Grigore came up with another hostage-rescue plan that involved him pretending to be a shadar-kai bringing in another captured prisoner (played by Rinoa). Unbeknownst to the Vryloki merchant, the shadar-kai have been insisting they get to stay in the background (training the gnolls, but not participating in any kidnapping missions). So, when Grigore told the Keeper of the prison that he had personally captured Rinoa, the jig was up.

Zumos rushed in to back up Rinoa and was promptly snagged by a barbed lash and thrown deep into the corner (surrounded by gnolls). Grigore, lashed into another corner desperately tried all his tricks. Unfortunately, he saved his best (the Wormhole Plunge) for last and did not create the wormhole until the gnolls had dispersed somewhat.

The result was a free-for-all which left the party victorious, but exhausted (in every sense of the word). Belinda offered to take the hostages back to Brindol and the rest of the party decided it was the only place to safely rest. So, Belinda scribed a portal on the floor of a dark and unused passage so the party could get quickly to the portal she had left in the back room of museum in Brindol.

The party is hoping this means they can port back into the fortress without walking into an ambush. But they did leave so quickly they did not even take time to loot the bodies.

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Inside the Fortress...
...scouted by the halfling...

…a horrible ritual awaits.

Sam (formerly Dardano) was convinced by Belinda Markelhay that her mother would be angry with her if she were drawn into combat because the party was inadequately prepared for the horrors that await them inside the ancient githerai fortress. She is particularly concerned that some members of the adventuring group were spooked by the encounter at the steps outside. She feels they may have expended more of their daily powers than was wise. With the party already worn down from the traps set for them along the route to Fortress Greystone, she thinks they have used too many healing surges and have no chance to rest.

Since they cannot expect a place to rest inside the fortress, Sam agreed. Belinda noted that an extended rest outside the githzerai edifice would entail two risks:

  • An attack by the bounty hunters who have been set on their trail by Sarshan (and now seem to be dogging their steps by setting up traps designed to wear them down); and
  • An attack which may be precipitated by the gnoll archer who escaped the slaughter on the steps.

As Sam set out on his quest for what he called a “bolthole” where the party could rest, he found a githzerai mind trap instead. Somehow a bunch of gnolls had gotten themselves caught it it (although it is hard to explain how they might have come to be ensconced in this ancient fortress without knowing of such an obvious trap). At first, Sam was able to take advantage of the confusion of the gnolls to hide himself in the brightly lit rooms, but then a random teleport of the plucky halfling right into the line of sight of a gnoll put him in grave danger.

Sam spotted a secret door out of the trap even before he was discovered, but he was reluctant to use it once he was under direct observation. He didn’t want to invite pursuit once he slipped through the door. Eventually, once a game of cat-and-mouse revealed that the gnolls were no more aware of where the portals would lead them than the hobbit was, he was able to slip away. Once in the secret corridors, he was able to catalog all the rooms of the entire complex:

  1. The aforementioned Mind Trap;
  2. A balcony accessible only from the secret passageways;
  3. A training room surrounded by arrow slits and murder holes;
  4. Some kind of room designed to represent chaos and order (barred from the outside by the gnolls);
  5. A room with a waterfall and gnolls on giant hyenas;
  6. A group of smelly cells in the basement; and
  7. A giant room (balcony all around it) where some horrific ritual is being prepared on an altar in front of a portal to the Elemental Chaos (surrounded by giant cauldrons of flame).

Thus armed with the knowledge of the layout by the plucky halfling, the party decided they might be able to rest in the chaos-vs-order room once they were inside. So they began their assault on the fortress:

After Drake the Enforcer convinced himself that isolating himself in a room with gnolls (encouraged to use pack-attack tactics against him) was the same as tanking, the party was able to create an effective killing field and dispatch the confused gnolls. (Even more had wandered in to the mind trap and been caught there by the time the rest of the party arrived.)

Grigore summoned Belinda to help mop up the final stages of the battle, and she is anxious to show him the new rituals she has mastered. Unfortunately, they do not include a Make Whole ritual to fix Esterhu’s axe, which he broke by getting a little over-enthusiastic during the combat. It looks like he will be using a shadar-kai sword until he gets a chance to have the haft of his axe replaced.

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Journey to Castle Greystone
Returning from our annual tax-season hiatus...

…the heroes found themselves…

…joined on their journey to the githzerai fortress by two minotaurs and a wizard of the Order of the Septarchs.

Along the way, they became aware of somebody stalking them, perhaps even laying traps and deadfalls to slow or waylay them, perhaps even to sap their resources. This, of course, reminded them that Sarshan has put a price on their heads after Elyas convinced them to betray him.

This left them with little alternative to a direct assault when they identified an ancient githzerai fortress, built into the wall of a cliff, as the Castle Greystone. The gnollish guardians of the gate seemed greatly offended when they were called “animals” and immediately insisted the party recognize their demonic origins. But another demonic entity (some kind of insubstantial spirit capable of possessing the githzerai statues) was lurking nearby.

Fortunately, Sam noticed that the statues were not capable of dealing their crushing amounts of damage unless they were possessed by the spirit. So he convinced Zumos to unleash his most devastating area-of-effect spells on the demonic spirit before it was able to possess the third statue. This left the remaining gnolls outgunned. But, when Drake the Enforcer tried to intimidate them, he found that different creatures react to fear differently: These gnolls’ reactions were further toward the fight end of the flight-or-fight spectrum.

Drake’s intimidation attempts pushed the unbloodied gnolls into a premature rage (upping their damage) and gave their bloodied packmates (who were already in a bloodied rage) a free attack.

One of the gnolls was able to escape. The party is not sure if it will be able to circle back to the fortress (now that they are blocking the front door, but they DO know that it’s possible the Wicked Fang will now be aware of their assault.

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Back to Brindol
Talking to the freed hostage...

…our heroes learn of an urgent summons.

Alys, the hostage, is actually a messenger from the curator of a museum in Brindol. The curator was once rescued by Paine and her friends. Now he has summoned her friend and Rinoa’s companions by name. How he came to know of the friends she made in the Shadowfell is hard to imagine.

Along the way to Brindol, the affiliates of The Black Feather ran into a large patrol — dwarves looking for marauding gnolls.

The curator told them about a ceremonial platinum sword, the legacy of an earlier time when heroes were needed in Brindol. He insisted it was not he who summoned them by name, but the sword itself.

Unlikely though this may have seemed, he took them to a back room where his story was confirmed. For as soon as he took the covering off the sword it began to talk to them, telling them why it had called them hither. The story it spun involved creatures from a distant plane of chaotic elemental beings and a strange fortress them built nearby. The tale included a gnoll chieftain gone half mad with dreams of becoming possessed by some deity or demon.

The gnoll, which the sword named “Fangren,” was intent on using elemental rituals to power his apotheosis — rituals similar to one the sword asked the heroes to perform, to release her true nature from the sword.

Elyas became convinced the creature inside the sword itself was some kind of demon, trying to trick the party into releasing it onto this plane. The party was left to ponder which was worse: releasing the demonlord Yeenoghu into Fangren body or releasing the creature bound into the sword.

Just then, an attack began on the museum, firebombs crashed through the windows, and a squad of bounty hunters burst in, hoping to cash in on the hides of those who had so recently offended Sarshan.

While Rinoa kept the flames at bay, the rest of the party beat off the attackers with ’Thorn arriving unexpectedly to mop up at the end.

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A Ferret of a Plan...
...begins to form...

…inside Grigore’s brain:

Drake the Enforcer will transform his weapon into a flail. Grigore will transform his armor into the rough leathers of the Lost Ones. Grigore will bind Drake’s hands with the “chain” of the flail. Then Grigore will lead in the revenant, as though Drake was his prisoner. Then, Drake would give the signal for the rest of the party to enter.

Or something.

The ferret forgot to get a false identity of a member of the Lost Ones (like the one they had captured earlier). So, after he had tied Drake to the chair where the hostage was bound, Grigore gave a name unfamiliar to the underboss who was questioning him and the jig was up.

The group decided that getting out with the hostage was their main concern, but that proved difficult…

…Until Elyas unleashed his new spell and teleported everyone, except Sam, out of the abandoned temple and blocked the door with fire and ice.

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Back to Overlook...
...to find out...

…someone is looking for them.

When Sarshan showed up, looking for answers, his captain (Thannu) was happy to provide them, telling him about the battle in the Library as well as the shadowy firefight that erupted in the middle of delicate diplomatic negotiations. Our heroes pretty much had to admit they were responsible.

Before he dropped his disguise, some of the party were able to identify him as the veteran from The Happy Beggar. They remembered him telling them to kill Modra before the dark creeper had a chance to kill them. Before they had a chance to show him Modra’s “body,” however, a group of Sarshan’s guard’s burst in with a prisoner.

Belinda had been caught snooping around the Forge. Grigore then revealed that the Umbraforge itself had been sabotaged, which was soon confirmed by more of Sarshan’s guards.

Sarshan offered the party one last chance, a deal: If they would work for him (and prove their talents by reconfiguring his personal portal for their use), they could return to their world (although he warned them it would soon become a dangerous place to be).

The party accepted this deal (except for Elyas, who was not so quick to give up on an entire plane of existence). They were taken to the portal, where they convinced Thannu to let them use Elyas to aid in the reconfiguration. When it was completed by Raven, the configuration allowed Elyas and Raven to escape with the rest of the party. This betrayal will certainly negate any agreement the party might have with Sarshan. No doubt about his vengeance: Sarshan will be seeking them throughout the planes, no matter where they hide.

Returning to Overlook via the the Black Shrine, the party found the White Shrine filled with dwarves. Also, Belinda’s mother, Lady Alyssa, who had been put onto Grigore’s decision to take her daughter to the Shadowfell by Roland. The rogue had told warden’s wife that Grigore had “rescued” Belinda from both a band of wraiths and from Roland’s own tender mercies. It quickly became apparent that the rogue had managed to transfer some of Alyssa’s maternal suspicions from himself to the Vryloka.

While Grigore Goldforge went off to find a way to invest in Jerath’s latest play (“Roland and Juliette,” a tragedy about star-crossed lovers based very loosely on the hypothetical relationship between Roland and Belinda) and Raven and Sam got distracted with rumors of maps to lost dwarven mines, the rest of the party discovered they were being sought by a messenger from Brindol, named Alyss.

Before she could find them, however, this messenger was kidnapped by the Lost Ones, who are still seeking vengeance on The Order of the Black Feather and their friends in the party for the damage to their reputation caused by Jerath’s parade through Tradetown.

After an exhaustive search, they ran the kidnappers down to their hideout in an abandoned temple in the Divine Knot section of Nine Bells. Their plan to free the messenger was delayed, however, by the need to round up Kane, who had found his own reasons to split the party.

This left open the possibility that the kidnappers might be alerted their hideout was compromised. In finding the exact location, Grigore DID pretend to be a new recruit to the Lost Ones. They decided to leave Sam behind to make sure the kidnappers did not fly the coop.

In the midst of all this, Elyas managed to jump to the conclusion that there might be some connection between the gnolls the party saw in Sarshan’s guest rooms and the gnolls who are reportedly terrorizing Elsir Vale. Kane jumped to a similarly unjustified conclusion about gnolls being some kind of monsters created in the labs of Sarshan’s tower, but Elyas wasn’t buying any of that nonsense.

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Intimidation by other means...
...is little more than...

…failed diplomacy.

Discovering a huge Great Hall at the heart of Sarshan’s Tower, the brave adventurers spied on a diplomatic discussion taking place there. One of Sarshan’s allies had sent an envoy to renege on a deal they had: Sarshan was planning to use a portal controlled by the ally to move a mercenary army to the material plane from his headquarters in the Shadowfell.

Sam sneaked closer to eavesdrop, but the rest of the party just tromped into the middle of the room and opened a secondary line of negotiations.

Fearing a betrayal, the Dark Envoy filled the room with a dark fog and sent his crew of Mad Wraiths in to disrupt any ambush. Repeatedly coming close to death at the hands of the wraiths, Grigore Goldforge began to mock Drake the Enforcer’s abilities as a tank.

Eventually, Elyas showed up to create a tunnel of light. Sam, despairing of his attempts to explain the situation to his comrades, used the tunnel of light and enlisted the aid of Raven (the gardener in an upstairs Aboretum) to help him intimidate the Dark Envoy into honoring his deal with Sarshan.

While this DID accomplish Sarshan’s main goal in the negotiations, Sam’s subsequent efforts to paper over the fact that his friends had disrupted sensitive negotiations failed to convince Sarshan’s minions that the party had nothing but Sarshan’s best interests at heart.

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Diplomacy by Other Means...
...is little more than...

…Intimidation!

After deciding to use their success against Modra to convince Sarshan to hire them, the brave adventurers proceeded through his secret entrance to his tower, the seat of his power in the part of the Shadowfell known as the Umbraforge. This led them to a secret door in the library.

Unfortunately, their efforts at diplomacy did little to convince Sarshan’s minions there (a couple of Shadar-kai witches and the various warriors and gloomblades who were protecting the entrance). They all knew that only Sarshan himself is allowed to use the secret passage between the forge and the tower. As the witches filled the room with writhing shadows, Rinoa rushed to the middle of the room and began blasting in all directions while Sam did more selective damage.

Once the guardians were all bloodied (and Elyas repeatedly blinded by the gloomblades, Grigore Goldforge discovered the true value of his mental powers by focusing his mind on the remaining gloomblade with such intensity that a wormhole was created. The gloomblade emerged from the wormhole a short distance away, only to be sucked back in and teleported to a nearby room (a shrine to Nerull, the ancient god of death defeated by the Raven Queen before she assumed her throne of skulls).

Realizing that his opponents’ made them vulnerable to his intimidation skills, Drake the Enforcer did some enforcing, turning his glowing eyes to blue and forcing Sarshan’s legions to surrender.

Being diplomatic can take many forms, depending on the point in the battle when they are initiated.

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After a Quick Trip to the Market...
...and a rendevous...

…between Grigore Goldforge and an old flame…

…the party decided that a surprise attack on the Forge might be a good idea. Well, not really attacking the Umbraforge itself, but attacking Modra just as he attacked the Forge. Acting on a lead from Elyas, Sam and Jesper found a broken wall to the rear of the Forge. Bracing the broken wall with rock, they were able to set it up so the wall could be partially knocked down without bring the whole wall down.

Then the party waited for nightfall, when Leena had promised that Modra would try to sabotage the magickal machinations of Sarshan (under the cover of a massive mercenary mobilization). The surprise came off without a hitch: Modra was killed as his minions were overwhelmed.

But Modra was able to release one of Sarshan’s evil creations before he died: a giant two-headed death boar.

When Jalene Lehr’s initial plan (taming the semi-intellegent boar) ran up against the difficulty inherent in taming two heads simultaneously, she improvised an alternative: She locked the beast back in its birth-vat.

Becoming concerned it might break out of the stone enclosure, the giantess switched to Plan C: She waited until the creature was charging the door of the stone vat and suddenly hit the release lever, hoping it would charge over to edge of the lava channel running through the middle of the forge. This worked even better than she anticipated: The Death Boar charged right into the stream of shadow and fire.

Caught up in the matador extravagance of Jalene’s move, Grigore tested the limits of his acrobatics and athleticism to bound cockily off the boar’s back to the other side of the lava. Unimpressed with this silly display of testosterone, Jalene drove her sword into the boar’s back, channeling the power of the earth through her sword to force it to the bottom of the fiery flow and pinning it there with the stone of the trench.

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Leading with his Jaw...
...after heading back to camp...

…without the rest of the party…

Drake the Enforcer ran into a group of ogres out to improve their reputations by taking on the new kids on the block. The crowd of trolls and ogres quickly became big fans of “Devil Man” (their name for the big revenant with the glowing eyes) when he began meting out some serious hurt on the Bonecruncher Clan.

As the party fought their way toward Drake (more out of concern for their own safety than his), Drake demonstrated how little concern a goliath has for death once he has already died and become a minion of the Raven Queen. As he slipped into a death-like state, Devil Man’s eyes only seemed to glow brighter.

And the crowd went wild.

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