Scaled Down Scales

The Triumphant Return...
...of Storm Johnson!

As the party battled the group of demonic shamans…

…at the heart of Sarshan’s plots among the gnolls, Drake the Enforcer thought he noticed the image of Storm Johnson in the fiery portal Fangren was trying to use to channel his god’s power into his own body.

But, no. It couldn’t be. Thinking the rest of the party would deem him insane, Drake kept his observation to himself.

With the Claw of Yeenoghu himself grasping at them through the portal, the party decided the portal’s conduit to the Elemental Chaos had to be shut down. They attempted the skill challenge even as they battled Yeenoghu’s minions in the ritual chamber. After a rocky start by Grigore and an unwillingness of one party member to risk his precious staff, the conduit only seemed to grow stronger.

The Claw of Yeenoghu grew to titanic proportions before Zumos discovered that the Githzerai architects of the chamber had built it to prevent such exploitation of the area’s connection to the Elemental Chaos. Playing on this architecture, Drake was able to shift a gigantic cauldron and begin to disrupt the conduit.

But the real damage to the conduit began when Elyas discovered that praying to gods could disrupt it as well. Specifically, praying to gods considered by Yeenoghu to be anathema to his evil cause. Which just happen to correspond to the gods Elyas worships.

Then Zumos discovered that someone on the other side was working to close it as well. By reversing the flow of elemental energies back to the chaos, the wizard was able to help that mysterious benefactor finish the closing of the portal. As Zumos channeled those fires back to the other side, the party could see the figure giving them the thumbs up as he used those fires to close the conduit: Storm Johnson himself.

Calling on the Raven Queen in the last seconds of the battle, Drake asked the dark angel of the queen of death three questions:

  1. What is Sarshan’s purpose in exploiting these gnolls?
  2. Is Wicked Fang cursed?
  3. What does the Raven Queen think about releasing whatever is trapped in the platinum sword?

The angel’s answers each included the word “but”:

  • “Sarshan never does anything with a single purpose. But almost all of his activities in the Elsir Vale are driven by the area’s many places where the barriers between the planes are weak.”
  • “The rumors about Wicked Fang’s curse are false. But the consequences of wielding such a weapon are manifold.”
  • “The Raven Queen is not the natural ally of the forces within the platinum sword. But she supports the release of those forces now. Indeed, that is part of the reason she recalled you from death.”

The party then split into two factions: Those who wanted to loot the bodies and those who wanted to complete their quest.

The First Haunted Watch
Interrupted by Gilgathorn...

…and his Ironwood Hound and Elderwood Falcon…

…the sleepers were ambushed during Sam’s watch in the haunted room. The plucky hobbit did not notice as ’Thorn snuck up and opened the door so his hound could drive the halfling back into the room.

But Sam stood his ground and started waking the others. Those who were not wakened by the halfling had their sleep disturbed by an enormous barrage of crossbow bolts piercing their bedrolls (not so restful in the case of Grigore who had his stolen by the young girl who previously pinched some caltrops). The falcon had better luck driving Sam back and the hound turned to Raven who was driven to the brink of the ghost zone before he finished off the hound and desperately reclimbed the stairs.

Meanwhile, Drake the Enforcer was driving Gilgathorn back down the corridor, which seemed to suit the elf just fine until the shaman summoned his spirit companion right behind him and Drake “enforced” his way past to block a crucial side corridor.

When all was said and done, they found some interesting magical items and a note detailing the bounties on their heads and on the heads of their friends currently scouring the Thunderspire Labyrinth of its odious slavers. But the big surprise was Sarshan’s interest in Storm Johnson: The Shadar-kai emissary seems to want very badly to talk to the Goliath warden.

Another Grigore Plan...
...runs up up against the hard...

…hard goddess of execution.

Grigore’s plan: The party could sneak up on the Gnoll Huntmasters positioned behind the murder holes Sam had discovered in the main room the gnolls have been using for training purposes.

The goal: Surprise the surprisers.

The reality: The gnolls had been alerted by the escapee from the hostage cells. They had lit the secret tunnels and Zumos was forced to use his sleep spell to try and re-establish surprise.

Meanwhile, Esterhu decided to introduce a little reality of his own and burst open the front door, backed up by a reluctant ardent and an enthusiastic Elyas. When the front door was thrown open, the barbarian found himself an array of recruits, eager to use their new shadar-kai weapons on him. He tried to oblige them by charging past large numbers of them, taking massive damage along the way. When he tried to trigger a further charge by attacking a minion. Unfortunately for Esterhu, the plucky minion was able to resist and blunt his momentum.

This prevented the full Tide of Blood from being unleashed on his first turn. And the enthusiastic invoker brought forth the full majesty of his fire and ice attack to light up the rest of the minions. This might have blunted Esterhu’s Tide still further, but many of the recruits were able to dodge the icy flames long enough: The mad barbarian powered his adrenal gland just long enough to respond to the bosses who rushed out to snuff him.

The result: A cleanup operation in the main hall, while the party’s magic users sniped from behind the murder holes intended for use against them. The plan may not have worked out exactly as planned, but the plan was crucial in setting the stage for victory.

They found a magical sword on the body of the gnollish warmaster, but were unable to be sure exactly what it did (mainly because their interrogation of the shadar-kai weaponsmaster failed). Apparently he had been sent to train the gnolls in the use of the weapons Sarshan was so generously supplying.

A note found among his possessions also did something to clear up the mystery of who the Emissary was who convinced Sinruth to steal the sword in the first place.

The brave adventurers decided to camp out in the haunted room, but before they could get much rest they were ambushed by an old friend…


Taking the hostages...
...back to Brindol...

…the party was greeted once again as heroes…

…but the party quickly soured as they discovered the gnolls had stepped up their kidnapping efforts.

Another plan was hatched: Instead of porting back to some hidden hallway (where Sam had spotted Gilgathorn lurking, they decided Belinda could port them all into one of the crowded cells, from which they could emerge and attack the gnolls from the direction they least expected it.

Raven decided to add to the effect by having his spirit companion attack from the stairs (the direction the gnolls might be expecting an attack. And Sam unlocked their cell door with the key Grigore Goldforge had lifted from the head gnoll (affectionately known as the Keeper) on their previous visit.

A more judicious use of his wormhole plunge enabled Grigore to put some of the gnolls out of the action (locked within their own cells). The Keeper was able to escape from the cell to which Grigore banished him, but not before a plucky, young hostage had stolen the caltrops he likes to keep on his belt.

In a rare display of coordination, the adventurers concentrated their fire on the gnoll on whom Esterhu had unleashed his new Tide of Blood attack. By the time they took him down they had noticed one of the other gnolls had shaved ruinic glyphs into his thick fur, giving him the ability to call rats, insects, spiders and carrion birds. These immobilizing and blinding attacks so infuriated the party that they were once again able to concentrate their fire and take the runebeast caller down quickly as well. (But not before the Keeper ordered the beastcaller out of the way so he could bind Mr Goldforge on the ground where he lay screaming beneath the onslaught of vermin. Fortunately for Grigore: Esterhu was in such a rage that he rushed into near-certain doom to prevent the shackling that the Keeper had planned for Grigore.)

Once Grigore challenged the last gnoll to a fight (to free a hostage the cowardly hyena-man had taken), Belinda whisked the last of the hostages back to Brindol.

This leaves the party with a strategic decision: Do they save the rest of their resources for the big boss fight? Or do they blow them all on a big fight to get to the final ritual chamber (and attempt to get a good rest while waiting for Belinda to arrive with re-inforcements from the guard at Brindol)?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Back to Overlook... 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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