Scaled Down Scales

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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A Time of Peace...
...when a young drow's heart...

…turns to changing…

…Belinda’s mind about romantic love. So, Jerath has written a play, financed by Grigore Goldforge and another impresario named Drake the Enforcer.

The purpose of the play is to show how tragic young love can become. He has turned Roland into himself, a young drow. Indeed, he is even playing the Roland character in the play. And he has turned Belinda into an elvish princess, who can never even think about marrying a member of that bedamned race.

The consequences in the play are catastrophic: The lovers marry in secret and each become convinced the other has committed suicide.

And each takes their own life in despair over the loss.

In another horrible dream, Grigore took the long lonely walk to the great household, he paused in the shadow of his childhood home. The once happy memories of days gone by, now irreparably tainted by the death of his father.

Before they attend the play, the heroes decide to finish the shopping trip they planned before they fought General Zithiruun: A trip to The Dungeoneers Survival Emporium in the Blister. They discover a narrow building housing a quite ordinary supply shop featuring camping and adventuring tools.

The flirtatious half-elf who runs the place eventually succumbed to Zumos‘s charms and showed them a pair of secret rooms where all manner of wondrous items could be purchased. It seems Myra Edgerton, the half-elf, is the entrepreneur who picked up the Restful Bedrolls that the party had liberated from one of Sarshan’s warehouses.

Sam picked up an interesting whistle as well as a Hunter’s Flint, both of which might come in handy when camping in dangerous areas. Copper found a flagon much to his liking. The picnic basket they found also had useful magickal properties.

Grigore’s dream is also tainted by his brothers’ horrible mutilation on his birthday, then his mother throwing the ardent out into the cruel world.

Then it was off to the town of Brindol, where Zumos was able to get his staff repaired and Esterhu found someone to repair the handle of his executioner’s axe.

The party managed to get back to Overlook in time to see the opening of Jerath’s new play Roland and Juliette which they attended with Belinda. Zumos made no attempt to answer the young girl’s questions after the play, instead expounding on his own ideas.

Jerath made a big deal about the heroes’ contribution to his magnum opus. And the play seemed well received, even by the dwarves who prefered his previous effort, Titus Androwdicus. So far, it seems the investment Drake and Grigore made in the drow’s business is paying off.

Zumos made an unusual suggestion at the cast party: That a touring company be formed to take the show on the road.

Jerath’s business is centered around the Orb Theatre in Overlook, however, and it did not appear that anyone had ever thought of taking his plays on the road. Such an endeavor would be hampered by the need to find an actor who could play the role of the drow rogue.

The horrible dream drew Grigore back to that black day he left his pregnant wife and child, dragged out the golden gates while his older brothers and sisters looked on, and did nothing. Grigore woke in a sweat.

Elyas has embarked on a quest to help Lavinya rebuild the church of Erathis in Overlook along the lines favored by Haelyn. A new character, Delis Errintial, has been snooping around trying to find out what the party knows about the Githyanki.

Magdalene has backed the new leader of the Raven Queen’s church in The Boneyard. The new matron (who still refers to herself as Sister Onobquin) seems a little unsure of herself and has been pleased so far with all of Magdalene’s suggestions.

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The General Falls...
...and so does his dragon

When they arrive at…

…the Dungeoneers Survival Emporium in The Blister the heroes found High Ancestor Durkik standing outside, looking grim.

“I bring word from Councilor Morgoff. Early this morning, a squadron of soldiers was dispatched to investigate reports of enemies in the streets close to Councilor Mountainhome’s residence. None have returned. As soon as you’ve risen and
readied yourself, I’m to show you the way and ask you to investigate.”

They found the bodies of dozens of Overlooks soldiers scattered around the open courtyard in front of the ruins of the councilor’s house and across the stoops of the nearby buildings. Some were badly burned, some slashed to ribbons, and some rotting as though they’d lain dead for weeks on end. Two dragonborn in heavy armor waited across the courtyard as if proud of the devastation; one stood beside a large, red-scaled reptile exhaling large puffs of smoke.

Ignoring the dragonborn gladiators, the party turned straight away to the Redspawn Firebelcher assuming it was the real threat. Soon, however, the real threat appeared: General Zithiruun himself, riding on the back of a dragon named Rathoraiax.

Both the dragon and the general seemed a bit worse for wear: The general seemed to be wearing a strange amalgam of armor and orthotics, while the dragon’s scales were dull and missing in places.

In his dream, Grigore shook off some vague crisis of faith as he stood at the gates of the Goldengrove estate. The guard greeted him as an old friend.

In a display of discipline which is becoming more common with this group of heroes, the party concentrated their fire on the firebelcher until it went down, even as the zombie dragon lumbered forward.

The dragon’s awkward movements seemed to be impeded by the closely spaced stone buildings of Stonehammer and by its own broken wings. But it made its way toward the heroes.

Meanwhile, its rider (the general himself) was delayed as Belinda arrived on her own flying mount: A dragonhawk, given by the Knights Arcane to the city of Argent and gifted to Belinda’s father by Obanar, the last defender of Argent. It seems Obanar sees Belinda’s father (Lord Warden Faren Markelhay) as the spiritual heir to the promise made by the Empire of Nerath to provide heroic soldiers to man the walls of Argent and keep the forces of chaos out of Nentir Vale (and the rest of the material plane).

Belinda’s new mount appears to be a griffin-like creature with some dragonish features. But as soon as the general struck at the dragonhawk, Belinda high-tailed it out of there. She seemed more concerned that the general used his Barrage of Arcane Bonds attack against the mount than that he had also hit Belinda herself.

As soon as she saw the dragonhawk’s damaged feathers, Belinda flew away and began casting a Portal Ritual. She and the mount disappeared with a promise to return with help.

With kind of apprehension which only seems familiar in dreams, Grigore asked of his wife and children. The guard reassured him that his family was well taken care of. Grigore sighed and handed over his comrades’ earnings as well as his own.

Help did not seem all that necessary as the party tore into the dragon as soon as the Redspawn went down. While Rathoraiax was able to use up all their dailies, Belinda slowed down the general long enough that even with his amazing teleporting leaps, Zithiruun was not able to get into the fray in time to save his beloved mount.

Bobbing and weaving repeatedly through the heroes, General Zithiruun seemed to be concentrating his desperate anger on two of the party members who had hampered his plans the most often: Zumos and the ardent.

Suddenly – out of nowhere – a dragonborn who looked much like Heskan showed up and demanded the gladiators join a more honorable cause than the mercenary army which they were serving. Zumos failed to aid in this effort by offering to pay them more than the general was paying.

“More than the spoils of looting one of the most ancient dwarven cities? I don’t think so,” thought the gladiators.

But Elyas came to the aid of the strange apparition. One of the gladiators, who was already bloodied, even switched sides. Another took off, leaving the general to fight on alone.

The general’s frustration with Sam seemed just as tangible as his anger at Zumos and Grigore, but the general was hardly able to lay a glove on the halfling. When he called out the hobbit, however, he seemed to know the Dardano history and was able to invoke it strongly enough to make the halfling recall his life as a wererat.

He also called out Zumos and Grigore by name, invoking not only Grigore’s middle name, but also Zumos’s association with The Order of the Septarchs. Fighting to the death, he never gave up trying to kill the wizard and the ardent.

On his body, they heroes were able to find a Sword of Arcane Bonds which Zumos needed to fill out Marjan’s Dream, a set of magickal items foisted upon a drunken swordmage by Melora, the goddess of the Wilderness.

In the dream, Grigore did not question how he had made the long journey to the Shadowfell where his parents’ estate was located. That is the logic of dreams: What matters, matters; what doesn’t matter, just happens. And the only thing that mattered in this dream: Grigore had just enough gold to start a business.

The Aftermath:

Overlook has weathered the storm, and though damaged, the city stands tall and proud.

The Order of the Black Feather and its most well-known members (mostly notorious through the machinations of Jerath) are hailed as great heroes, and several different establishments offer them free room and board for several months.

Those most closely associated with preventing the fall of Overlook are invited to dine with the Council of Elders several times over the next few weeks.

Lavinya abandons the temple and instead takes over Haelyn’s duties at the shrine. “If this is where the people wish to pray,” she tells Elyas, “then who am I to tell them otherwise? Erathis needs no stone walls, merely the hearts and souls of those who would bring civilization and culture to the world. Haelyn understood this long ago,” she adds with a sad smile. “I wish I’d not taken so long to learn it myself.”

High Ancestor Durkik has experienced a reawakening of faith. His time of confinement and torture, followed by his rescue at the hands of true heroes, has caused him to reevaluate
the previous years. From a beaten-down, tired, and increasingly corrupt politician, he returns to his younger identity as a devout priest of Moradin.

In helping to turn him around, the Order has gained a grateful and powerful ally, and they have done great good to the religious community of Overlook as a whole. This is particularly important, considering that the high priests of other temples were suborned by the githyanki, and their replacements are all younger and inexperienced.

Over the next months, Durkik emerges as a spiritual leader for the entire city.

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Another Legend Returns...
This time it is Heskan...

,,,a dragonborn warlord…

…who participated in the second session of the campaign, lo, these many years ago.

It seems Heskan has been holed up in Brindol, celebrating the liberation of the hostages from Castle Rivenroar. Then he got involved with Bram Ironfell’s expedition to the Lost Mine, met Storm Johnson, Raven and Magdalene and introduced them to Rrowthar, a Torrian seneschal he had once rescued.

Together, they went to Argent to help the Torrian. But, when they got there, Raven got spooked by some demon who threatened him in his dreams…

Or something.

“You need to go back,” Storm Johnson told Raven. “And face your fears. There are lots of demons in the Elemental Plane, where I must return. Come with me and I will show you how to kill demons.”

The first thing Heskan helped the new heroes with was an attempt to rescue one of the high council members whose house had been hit by a flaming missile. Magdalene leaped to the top of the stair in front of the unnatural conflagration, and Coppershot seemed to be everywhere, using his superior endurance to help the other party members from being overcome by the flame. Grigore was able to spot a way to the second floor, and mighty Rinoa heaved a beam out of the way, clearing a path.

But then Zumos tried to burst through a door and Sam tried to leap up the burning stairs.

By the time the party had to stop to help them, Heskan’s desperate attempt to heal them was not enough to enable the party to get to Councilwoman Itrika Mountainhome before she died.

Nobody thought to use their magic to put out the fire and no one aided another party member. Perhaps this lack of cooperation is what doomed the councilor. While High Ancestor Durkik took her to a nearby temple, he was not able to resurrect her.

A green-cloaked figure stepped out of an alley and confronted Rinoa: “You guys are not the only adventurers who came to Overlook to make a name for themselves, you know. The Freeriders have come up with some clues as to who is behind this General Zithiruun and his attack on this city. I’m not as sure as some of the rest of the ’Riders, but as soon as I nail it down, I will contact you.” With that, Megan Swiftblade slid back into the shadows.

As the party made their way back to Caer Overlook to rest, they were confronted by three trolls and seven gladiators who had hired on with the general’s mercenary forces.

Exhibiting a level of cooperation not seen since the skill challenge to close the portal in the Githzerai Fortress, the party made quick work of this band of marauders, who must have gotten through the hole in the city walls before the heroes closed it (and before the arrival of Storm Johnson, Eldeath Coppershard and the dwarves from Bordrin’s Watch put an end to the initial assault).

Rinoa and Esterhu kept the trolls from regenerating while Sam and Magdalene poured on the damage. Heskan demonstrated that his dragonbreath was more powerful than the dragonbreath of the gladiators (who were also dragonborn).

But no treasure was found on the raiders’ bodies. They must have been looking for loot themselves.

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The Return of a Legend
After Overlook's wall was breached...

…the trolls came pouring in.

Following a comfy night in the luxurious beds of Caer Overlook, the rest of the party recruited Sam to help with their plan for traps in the sewers (in case the beseiging forces were able to get past the dwarven countermining efforts and get into the sewers below the Undercity). The doughty hobbit had just as many doubts as the dwarves themselves about flooding the tunnels with good drinking water. It seems Sam thinks water might be a valuable resource if the siege lasts long.

Zumos was quick to bring out maximum firepower. He not only was able to bring the trolls to 50 percent strength (each) in a short period of time, he was able to keep them there. He even engulfed Copper in flames at one point.

The trip to the sewers was interrupted, however, when they got to Nine Bells.

Trolls had taken advantage of some damage done to the walls just south of the main gate. A catapult hit the wall with a large boulder, knocking some stones loose near the base of the wall. Three war trolls rushed forward with a battering ram and opened it further. By the time the party arrived a breach had been establish and trolls were loose inside the city.

While the dwarves held the walls and tried to keep the besiegers back, the heroes confronted those already inside. There was even a rumor that High Ancestor Durkik was in the area, finishing off some others.

Once Sam realized he was needed at the other end of the battlefield, he made maximum use of a tactical trick: Noticing that his allies were spread out amongst the trolls he needed to avoid, he bobbed and weaved past them all. Every time a troll managed to notice him, he would point at an ally is surprise. As soon as the dim-witted trolls turned their gazes toward where he was pointing, he would dart away to seek shelter with another ally.

Zumos decided to help the dwarves on the walls with some icy terrain distributed inside the gap in the walls. This slowed the war trolls, who were already partly through, and was effective in preventing further exploitation of the opening.

The ice had an unintended consequence, however: The war trolls were able to advance on the party much faster than the Spitting Troll.

The heroes decided quickly that the Spitting Troll was acting as a healer (putting out such fires as might have prevented the other troll’s natural healing abilities. Getting to the Spitting Troll turned out to be the most difficult tactical problem, given that Zumos had delayed him so thoroughly.

Grigore concentrated the flimflammery he learned from Jerath on a two-headed troll: Every time one head tried to argue that his superpowered Unhinging Strike should not be allowed to cause one creature to hit itself twice, the other head would disagree and make a claw attack to drive his point home. The result was that as long as Grigore had power points, he could force the two-headed troll to hit itself twice per turn. Since he had placed a Feast of Despair on a regenerating War Troll early in the battle, he had plenty psychic energy he was able to drain from that creature as it flailed against Copper.

Getting to the Spitting Troll was no problem for the newest member of the group (Magdalene) who simply jumped on top of the nearest building and got behind all the trolls (flinging darts of doom at multiple trolls as she did so). Her short sword soon acquired the ability to do the kind of fire damage the Spitting Troll did not want to see.

But it was not until Sam the Foresworn deftly dodged his way past the main body of trolls that the Spitting Troll was able to be brought low. (Magdalene tossed Sam her short sword to make sure the back-stabbing he was doing stayed effective.)

Once the Spitting Troll was down, concentration of fire took the other trolls down pretty quickly (although the two-headed troll was able to bring down Grigore before Sam and Copper finished him off). Copper was able to stabilize Grigore before he bled out (just barely).

Once the last troll was down, a cheer went up from the walls. Sam turned to acknowledge what he thought was his admirers. But the dwarves on the walls were cheering a respite from the assault.

Magdalene was once again able to bound over buildings (to get to the spitting troll in the rear). She and Sam were able to gang up on the spitter and take it down with a flaming short sword.

It seems a company of about 200 dwarves had appeared on the horizon, threatening to attack the besiegers from the rear. As Sam and Copper rushed to the gap in the wall (where Overlook’s teenagers were already beginning the repair work), they were not surprised to recognize the banner of Bordrin’s Watch at the forefront of this company.

Nor were they surprised to recognize Eldeath Coppershard carrying the banner of Mountainroot Temple nearby. When they spotted the banner of The Order of the Black Feather it was Sam who got the surprise:

The order’s banner was being carried by none other than Storm Johnson himself!

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Berbalangs Burn 9 Bells
Until the heroes arrive, at least

With the Incunabulum Primeval securely in hand…

(the Caretaker agreed to let them take it when they revealed the dwarf who sent them for it was none other than High Ancestor Durkik), the party returned to The Stone Anvil via one of the gates in the Chamber of Doors. Before they left, however, they were able to accomplish two things:

  1. They helped the Caretaker reconsecrate the Temple Between as Mountainroot Temple, enabling him to reseal the gates.
  2. They convinced the old azer to travel to Bordrin’s Watch to recruit the dwarves garrisoned there to come to the aid of the city which will soon come under siege despite the best efforts of the Watch.

In the tavern now known as The Rock and The Hard Place: The strange shaman known as Raven explained to Heskan that he had been seeing visions in his dreams. These visions told him that only Heskan could aid him in his quest — his quest to find a totem.

Back in Overlook, they were immediately whisked to the High Hall in Caer Overlook. Conducted directly to the War Room, they found themselves in the middle of a Council of War. Two of the councilmembers were missing, but the heroes were asked to stand in for them.

When Heskan protested that the revenant-shaman already had a totem, Raven grew serious, “Zane himself has tasked me with finding the last item of his Tools, the Tools of Zane’s Vengeance. It is a totem, yes. But a gruesome totem indeed. From it depend the eyeballs of Zane’s victims.”

Concentrating at first on the difficulties of countermining and protecting the sewers and the undercity, the party convinced the dwarves to use traps and deadfalls to cover the possibility that the forces besieging Overlook might be able to mine tunnels into the vast labyrinths beneath the hilltop fortress-city. It took a little more diplomacy (mostly on Grigore’s part) to convince the dwarves to prepare to flood the lower areas. It seems they think the cisterns will be more valuable as drinking water in the event of a long siege.

“It is said that the totem demands horrific things from its owner.”

When they heard that the rest of Elsir Vale was being rallied to come to the aid of the city, Zumos was able to use his extensive historical knowledge of sieges in the south to convince them these forces would be better employed in harassing the supply lines of General Zitheruun’s forces.

“Whenever the owner of the Totem of the Severed Eye kills someone,” the revenant wheezed, “they must gouge out the eyes of their victim and use them to replace the eyeballs hanging from the totem.”

Referencing the religious significance of the area, Zumos was also able to suggest a number of improvements to the defensive based on the wars of liberation fought against the giants and the primordials.

“Yuck,” said Heskan. But he noticed the courtesan (who had accompanied the Torrian and the revenant) seemed strangely unmoved by the gruesome description. For a girl, anyway.

Recruiting Aiseki at The Order of the Black Feather’s headquarters, our heroes answered the call of an attack from the air. Seems that General Zithiruun has recruited some immortals to soften up the city for the siege.

Convinced that aiding the Torrian is part of his destiny, Heskan accompanied the small party to the city of Argent and met again with Obanar, the Last Guardian of Argent. Obanar told them of the history of the Torrians. And Raven decided they all needed to sleep in the house where the leader of the Torians (known as their “proctor”) lived while they were in Argent.

Berbalangs were discovered peppering Nine Bells with fire bombs and cavorting in the updrafts caused by the flame. Aiseki immediately demonstrated her value by hurling poisoned modestly modified throwing stars at the high-flying foes.

While Heskan and Aiseki slept well, in the morning Raven told them he would have to leave. A powerful demon had warned him away in his sleep, so they all returned to Overlook.

Almost immediately, they learned of the berbalang’s most potent weapon: Self-sacrifice.

It so unhinged Grigore to see an immortal demon blow itself up that he took psychic damage. Esterhu took it more in stride. He has seen too many cows walk contentedly to slaughter to be disturbed by such a display.

Now Heskan broods. If it is his destiny to aid the Torrians, why should a foolish shaman’s superstitious fears of demons prevent that destiny?

With Zumos channeling Drake and saving his dailies for some hypothetical “big battle” later in the siege, the heroes were not really surprised to see their new companion bound to the burning rooftops and fling herself upon the berbalang who was spawning more all the time.

And Aiseki is worried for a different reason: She feels this arrogant demon has thwarted her somehow. And demons represent the ultimate kind of prideful evil which should not be abided. Someone needs to put this demon down a peg.

While the leader of the berbalangs was able to deflect much of the damage aimed at him, he was not able to keep his spawnlings alive long enough to do much healing. (He seemed to be able to reabsorb them after he spawned them to heal himself, even if they were greatly diminished by combat.)

Someone named Aiseki. Or maybe Heskan, who seems to think his destiny is tied up in defeating the demon. He seemed as disappointed as she that they were returning without fighting the demon.

Indeed, when Aiseki executed some kind of finishing move on the main immortal, the last remaining spawnling winked out of existence (on this plane, at least) as well. Winked out leaving behind a suit of leather armor.

Aiseki wishes she had a group less frightened than Raven, a group like the heroes who have made her guild famous. As she stands at the front desk in the Order’s headquarters, the group walks up and invites her to join them. It is almost as if they are destined to help her.

The leather seems to be made from some animal alien to this world, but also appears to be the perfect size for a certain hobbit.

The party returned to Caer Overlook. Esterhu managed to secure a place for Aiseki to stay near the High Hall.

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Their Finest Hour...
...or that is what is being claimed...

…by two of the participants.

Grigore and Zumos both offered this assessment: The Battle of the Book was the heroes’ finest hour.

“Where is Hethralga? Why has she not returned with the book?” shouted the Stone-Skinned King.

Grigore was, after all, on the horns of a dilemma: Out of healing surges, the next battle could be his last. At the same time, the fae creatures who had stolen the Incunabulum Primeval were known to be scouting the temple. Now that the doors were all open, it was only a matter of time before they escape with the book (and with the 3,600 gold pieces Grigore had been promised for it).

So, he made a fateful decision. The party would press on into the Lesser Sanctum, where the creatures of the feywilde were hiding with the Incunabulum without more than a few moments rest. While most of the party felt invigorated at their success against the forces of General Zithiruun, Grigore himself had to down several potions to remain unbloodied. Beyond that point, the potions seemed worthless, given the ardent’s exhaustion.

“The harpies have returned,” whispered the Seed of Winter. “But they have not come hither.”

Planning was not easy. The earthquake had opened up a giant crevice which extended into the southern end of the Sanctum. The party decided to ignore this entrance, even though it left the fae an escape route if they should decide to make a run for it with the book.

“Why, sire, The Lady of the Deathly Song has the book,” the king’s closest advisor told him. “She has signaled me that she has the Incunabulum Primeval, but the Caretaker has sealed his exits.”

As it turned out, the approach they chose (through the Shattered Barracks) was well guarded. One dwarven soldier was already there and another swiftly moved into position, hoping to flank the party.

This turned out to be a mistake as the heroes quickly regrouped and trapped the flanker in a side room.

The stone armor embedded in King Cachlain’s skin vibrated with what seemed to him to be words: “If the harpies have returned, then surely the hag could return as well. Perhaps she means to use it for herself. Perhaps she has given it to your enemies. Perhaps she has given it to Sangwyr!” Since he had long since absorbed the armor into himself, Cachlain knew the wisdom of these words to be his own.

All of which proved too much of a temptation for Hethralga.

Leaving the book in the hands of a cyclops (who could actually carry it), she teleported into the fray. The party had allowed themselves to be trapped in a narrow corridor which soon resounded with the thunder of her shrieks.

“If the harpies have returned, why cannot your servant, Hethralga?” the Stone-Skinned King demanded, delighting to see the surprise in Sovacles’s face.

Of course, she told the cyclops to make a run for it with the Incunabulum Primeval if things started going badly. She knew all about the crevice. Which might allow him to escape with the one thing she was charged with retrieving.

Taken aback by the king’s knowledge of a piece of information he had just received, Sovacles was momentarily at a loss. “How did you know the harpies have returned? I only just learned myself.”

Meanwhile, a banshrae dartswarmer took up position in the doorway between the sanctum and the barracks.

He immediately began to pepper the party with darts from his blowgun. In addition to the damage these darts did, they often left their targets dazed.

“I have many sources,” Cachlain laughed. “See that you remember that when you try to hide things from me. Just because you helped me imprison the traitor cyclops doesn’t mean that I trust you more.”

When the ceiling of the Lesser Sanctum began to collapse, the cyclops took that to mean things were going badly.

Although the hag had been referring to the possibility of the battle going badly, this misinterpretation suited her needs well enough.

The armor vibrated again: “Your advisor, the one you call ‘Sovacles,’ smiles as if to tell you he is pleased with the decision he has made about you.” The decision to support his king, that must be it.

But one party member had been planning for these risks from the very beginning.

“Why, yes, my king,” the vizier backpedaled. “I have learned the harpies are back. I believe they are trying to contact Talyrin.”

Zumos was using his Circlet of Arcane Extension to provide artillery support while standing back from the fray. The first time he was hit (after the cyclops was seen stumping toward the crevice with the book) Zumos pretended to turn tail and run.

But his actual plan was to stop the cyclopses from making off with the Incunabulum Primeval.

“The cyclops oracle?! How could they find her prison? I keep my friends close and my enemies closer.”

He was almost too late.

By the time he got to the west end of the crevice, the cyclopses had already entered the east end and were rushing towards him. In a desperate gambit, he threw up an illusion of himself near the middle of the fissure and caused the illusion to imitate a defiant stand, shouting, “Thou shall not pass!”

All of which would have been more impressive if the illusion hadn’t disappeared when the first cyclops (with the book) tried to shoulder past it.

“All these betrayals might end,” whispered the seed, “if you but returned me to Inzira. She might even ally with you against your enemies.”

As the rest of the heroes finished off the dwarves and came rushing back to help the wizard, Zumos hit on a more effective strategy. He attacked the lead cyclops directly. The one-eyed giant dropped the book and continued his headlong flight.

Sam was able to get to the book first (or maybe it was Grigore). Barely able to lift the giant tome over his head, the hero ended up doing little more than handing it to the first cyclops to come running past him. (Turns out that one-eyed giants are much stronger than hobbits or ardents.)

The battle quickly devolved into what Grigore described as a giant game of Blood Bowl (which, by coincidence, these very cyclops may have played beneath the crystal floor of the Stone-Skinned King’s throne room). The heroes discovered it was easy to make a cyclops drop the book and flee, but hard to kill them outright.

Finally, a new hero (who looked a lot like Drake the Enforcer but fought without Drake’s customary total lack of regard for his own safety) entered the crevice….

“Stop pestering me about Inzira!” whispered the king. The bald advisor stepped backward as the king seemed to be slipping back into madness, but Cachlain continued whispering, as if to himself. “Many creatures want you as much as the Daughter of the Frost-White Forest does. Be careful or I will send you to Chillreaver.” Sovacles hurried out of the throne room.

…OK, he fell in as he tried to climb down.

But he was, after all, wearing heavy plate armor.

This fall, however, left him in the perfect position to attack a cyclops as he tried to escape with the book. When the cyclops dropped the book and ran off, he was also in the perfect position to pick up the book and get it back to the sanctuary.

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Fulfilling Promises...
...General Zithiruun and Grigore...

…both had their work cut out for them.

Copper Thundershield once again demonstrated his low-level skills could still be useful to the party by aiding Grigori in his efforts to return the Caretaker (who turned out to be an Azer, not a dwarf) to sanity. Coppershot immediately saw the kinship with him as another elemental dwarf.

As soon as General Zithiruun realized the doors had been opened he rushed to the Chamber of Doors. He knew he could not afford to be trapped within Mountainroot Temple again, not with an army waiting in Elsir Vale for him to lead it against Overlook.

Once the party had explained to the Caretaker what had happened, he said: ““I knew that the tall one wanted me to turn over stewardship of the temple to him.”

After apologizing for allowing the general to take control of some of his constructs (and for opening the doors once he was released from his insanity), the Caretaker explains that he needs to reconsecrate the Temple Between to reseal it and prevent Zithiruun from using it to transport his forces from the Astral Sea to Overlook.

The Caretaker suggests that the fae have looted the vault and taken the precious metals which would be required for the reconsecration ritual. The heroes will have to provide 500 gold pieces worth of precious metals for the ritual to succeed (as well as take the time to help cast the ritual). Otherwise he will have to walk several miles to Borodin’s Watch to find help in the reconsecration.

At the same time, the general’s plans depended on the taking of the temple to allow him to slip another force right into the heart of the dwarven city.

Grigore snuck the two harpies out through the statue of Moradin and found the portal to the feywilde located outside the Temple.

Hurrying back to the rest of the heroes in the Reliquary, the Goldforge scion realized that the rest of the fae could escape just as easily…

…with the Incunabulum Primeval…

…and the chance it provides for a 3,600-gold-piece reward.

He knows they can attempt to pin the fae in their lair, but they might have a secret escape route planned among the rooms damaged by the earthquake.

So, he issued an order to his dragonborn lieutenant: “Recapture the Caretaker. At all costs, prevent him from resealing the doors.”

Reunited with Grigori (who had avoided the general’s forces in the Grand Cathedral by sneaking through the vault and the secret passage in the statue of Moradin), the heroes began to plan their assault.

Those plans, however, were interrupted when the general’s forces, led by a dragonborn gladiator, came crashing through the doors they had damaged before the previous battle.

After issuing these orders, the general ran out the door, leaping onto the saddle of his faithful mount, Rathoraiax, who waited near the grove which protected the portal to the land of the fae.

While our heroes had some difficulty dealing with the one remaining Spitting Troll and the Redspawn Firebelcher, their tank was able to pin down the rest of the trolls while Rinoa was able to pour on the fire and acid.

The result: Battered and bruised, the party is in poor shape to take on the rest of the fae (including the “Lady of the Deathly Song,” whoever that is). Indeed, without healing (or healing surges) it looked likely that Grigori would die…

…in the only fight which could possibly prevent the fae from escaping with the book.

It looked like Grigori might be facing the only dilemma for which a Goldforge is never prepared: the choice between gold and his life.

But then someone read the fine print on one of the healing potions. It seems that the potions only exhaust your reserves if you have reserves to exhaust. Drinking more potions is still possible when all other healing will fail.

The potions should provide the party with one last chance against the denizens of the feywilde who have stolen the Incunabulum Primeval, but only if almost all of them are consumed by Grigori.

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Deciding on an Epic Battle...
...Grigori convinced the Harpies..

…to attack at the same time as our heroes.

He also asked them to convince their fae allies in the Grand Cathedral to attack as well. The harpies promised to try, but could give little in the way of assurances that the others would help. Indeed, the other fae agreed to help, all the while planning on betraying the harpies (as well as the party) once General Zithiruun’s forces had been overcome.

In the actual event, by the time the fae arrived the heroes had so decimated the general’s forces that they panicked. They decided to side with the general and eliminate the true threat (the party, which now looked invincible). Then they planned to betray the general once that true threat was taken care of.

Elyas saved the day. The invoker noticed that the general’s most potent weapon was one of the Caretaker’s Eidolon’s which had somehow been suborned to fight on the side of the very forces who had taken the Caretaker prisoner. Praying to the Eidolon’s deity (or at least to the deity it had been programmed for), Elyas was forced to use his diplomacy to convince the powerful construct to fight on the side of good and help free the Caretaker.

As Grigori watched his battle plan fall apart with a betrayal on the part of his feywild allies, his attention turned to the two harpies he had recruited to enlist the other fae.

Another pair of unexpected allies appeared on the other side of the Reliquary: A pair of dwaves, Eldeath Coppershard and Baern FuryHammer had been hiding in the tunnels ever since the Caretaker was taken prisoner. Frustrated by the inability to do anything to stop the torture that was slowly driving the man they were sworn to protect insane, they had formulated a plan to wait until the two groups of invaders attacked one another.

The two harpies were fighting valiantly. Though they still refused to attack their brethren from the realms of the feywild, they were fighting the forces of General Zithiruun. Just as they had promised.

The two groups of invaders they planned to surprise were the fae and the general’s forces.

But they were unaware that a third group had entered the temple: our intrepid heroes. So, when Sam and Grigori unleashed their attack on the general’s forces, they assumed it was the fae, finally making their attack.

“By God!” the ardent thundered, “I swear I’ll get those harpies back to their home. I will make it my personal quest to see that they make it back to the feywild.”

The general, seeing that his forces were under attack from a new direction decided to abandon his failed efforts to torture the Caretaker into letting everyone go. He took his heaviest assets and smashed open the door to the area where the fae had set up their watch.

Not used to fighting in the holiest precincts of a temple of Moradin, Grigori never thought to look to the statues in the corners of the reliquary. Whose eyes began to glow.

The harpies, meanwhile, had not succeeded in convincing the other fae to side with Grigori. But the fae were mustering with a plan: Pretend to help the harpies’ allies, then betray the allies when the general’s forces were defeated.

The planning for this betrayal was interrupted by the general’s forces slamming open the doors to the Grand Cathedral.

For oaths are powerful makings in the eyes of Moradin. The god of the forge knows that the greatest of oaths are the hammers that forge true relations between peoples: relations that can last beyond a lifetime.

General Zithiruun left behind a rear guard and surged past the fae in an effort to find a place he could defend with enemies only attacking from one direction. The fae quickly decided to go ahead with their planned betrayal.

But the general’s rear guard was so beleaguered by the time the harpies led the fae into the Reliquary that the fae had a new worry: It looked to them very much like the heroes could defeat both them AND the general’s forces.

Especially if they helped the heroes destroy the rear guard.

So the fae reversed the order of their betrayals, determined to help the rear guard defeat the party (but planning to betray the general’s forces and capture the Caretaker once the heroes were out of the way).

If the Queen of Betrayals is in any way behind all of this, she was no doubt satisfied with such a turn of events.

There is no question: In the eyes of the harpies, Grigori has a personal quest to return them to their home.

And in the eyes of Moradin, as well.

Protesting mightily at the fates that forced them to fight two enemies at once (for the fae and the rear guard seemed to be cooperating with each other), the heroes were able to hang on (making full use of Baern’s healing skills as well as Grigori’s).

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