Scaled Down Scales

Earthbergs Adrift
Sarshan's Defenses Start with a Portal...

…Just Offshore from Djamela’s Island.

Storm Johnson himself skippered the craft that brought Duilin Silverfang to the shores of Djamela’s Island. That alone gave the monk a clear idea of how important the scouting mission was.

Storm maneuvered the Astral Skiff right up to the dike surrounding Djamela’s Island. The dike protected the island from the Sea of Fire, but only just barely. Dulini’s research on Djamela had indicated the efreet had been a powerful chaos mage. He wondered why she had not created a stronger barrier against the lava waves pounding against the dike.

Storm Johnson gave the monk just enough time to step off the skiff before dropping out of sight. Seemed like a good idea, so Duilin scampered down off the dike on the other side, onto the black sand which seemed to make up much of the ground on Djamela’s Island.

Once in the shadow (and everything was shadow alongside the dike since the illumination came primarily from the Sea of Fire itself), Duilin was pretty sure he could make his way around the island without being spotted by the guards.

Those guards were a problem, however, as Storm Johnson had pointed out on the way in. Duilin’s research had led him to believe the only guards left on the island were left there by the forces of the City of Brass. When she was slain, those forces left behind the spectral guards and golems with which Djamela had populated her island fortress, especially in the obsidian tower which dominated the island.

As they had approached the island, Storm pointed out this discrepancy in Duilin’s research. While some of the Flame Shards which appeared to be guarding Djamela’s Island could have been remnants of that spectral force, some of the guardians appeared to be a new vintage: Githyanki swordsmen and some kind of demonic dwarves, as well as a Redspawn Firebelcher.

All of which seemed to confirm the rumors he had been sent here to investigate: Someone seems to have set up residence in Djamela’s old digs.

Perhaps they had even begun to replicate the research she was attempting: research so dangerous she was expelled from the City of Brass for starting it there, research so risky the other efreeti eventually hunted her down.

As he snuck closer to the guards, he realized they were under attack. Reasoning that the enemy of his enemies might be he friend, the monk rushed in to attack the Githyanki from behind.

Grigore Goldforge prepared for sleep with a mixture anxiety and anticipation. A long day left him exhausted and near the end of his resources. And the group he led was even closer their end. Grigore knew Garen was nearly dead on his feet. And yet sleep represented something to fear as well: Grigore’s rest had been disturbed of late; nightmares of some alchemist’s lab kept recurring; somehow, Grigore felt he was failing in dealing with the dreams.

Sam was the first one through the portal, but he instantly knew his chance for scouting was minimal: He came through on a 20-foot earthberg floating on a sea of lava.

And he was not alone. A shard of flame danced on the same piece of rock his portal occupied. And that was not all the guards he saw. Two githyanki had already spotted him and were drawing swords as they stood on a nearby island; two duergar hellcallers stood on other rocks floating in the lava sea; and the earthberg closest to the shore was blocked by a giant red lizard creature which seemed to be about as bothered by the hellish heat as the other guards.

In the distance, Sam could see a city which appeared to be made of brass glinting on the horizon, but he paid it little attention. Speeding between the startled guards, he somersaulted above the lava to land, balanced on his left hand, on the forehead of the lizard. Then he pushed off with his left hand, continuing his somersault to land on the shore of the island, where obsidian steps led up and over the dike which protected the island from the lava which crashed against it.

Flinging his Worm-Tooth Dagger to backstab the startled beast, the halfling managed to enrage the lizard even more.

Then he watched in dismay as Delis and Garen came through behind him, loosed some quick attacks, but did little else to get off their dangerous perches on the rock floating in lava.

When one of the hellcallers invoked Asmodeus’s Ruby Curse, the folly of this strategy was immediately revealed. The psychic damage caused by the fear this curse invokes was bad enough, but fleeing that fear caused the two heroes to slide right off the edge of the earthberg.

Both attempted to leap to another rock, but Sam could see that neither attempt was fully successful: Garen plunged into the lava, while Delis clung to the other rock well below the level the lava was splashing to.

Sam could see they were both in trouble, but he could only save one. He chose Delis as the more vulnerable. He pulled out his Guardian’s Whistle and teleported the elf out of the lava before she was hurt.

Garen took massive damage before he sprouted wings and flew to the shore.

In the dream, Grigore found himself once again searching the house of someone he was sure he was supposed to know. An apothocary or an alchemist. Or something. It all had something to do with a town his family had visited when he was young: the village of Hope’s Hollow.

Alexander had warned everybody that lava was much more dangerous than the Blood Chaos they were all more familiar with. Even so, Garen Bladerun was surprised by the amount of damage lava could do. He was on the brink of death almost as soon as his armor hit the lava.

As quickly as he could he called forth his wings (secretly hoping his actions had been sufficiently Bahamut-like since the last time he called on the powers of the Platinum Temple). Flapping those platinum wings firmly downward into the lava, the paladin surged into the air and flew to the shore, seeking nothing there more fervently than his Second Wind.

Then Garen joined the rest of his team in taking down the Redspawn Firebelcher and the Asmodeus-loving dwarves. This left the Githyanki free to attack them from the rear, but fortunately they had to watch their own rear, as an unidentified monk streaked out of the shadows to help them defeat the island’s first line of defense.

Something seemed wrong to Grigore…in his dream. The house he was searching seemed to be trapped. But he was sure it was the house of a friend, a traveling companion, a colleague. But he knew no one in Hope’s Hollow. The house was trapped, but some of the traps seemed wrong somehow. It was as if someone had been kidnapped and the traps were left behind by the kidnappers to thwart any rescue attempt from freeing the old alchemist. But some of the traps seemed to predate the kidnapping and some seemed to have been laid after the kidnapping.

In the beginning, Alexander Winterforged thought he needed to get off the earthbergs as quickly as possible. And he moved to do so. He knew that lava was a dangerous place to be.

As he worked his way to the shore, jumping from ’berg to ’berg, Alexander helped his friends take down a lizard that fought like a dragon without wings. Reminded him of a Redspawn Firebelcher he had fought once before. In the Temple Between, a place of great importance to his people, known to them as Mountainroot Temple.

Once that lizard went down, they turned their attention to the demonic dwarves who had pushed Delis and Garen into the lava. They had a trick, though: When hit at close range (a melee or a blast), they could call a minion to protect themselves. Those minions could pull a similar trick until finally one was able to dodge the attack.

Alexander realized somebody needed to go back out there and deal with them. He was pretty sure he was the best one equipped to deal with the vulnerabilities the hellish heat out there brought with it.

So, he jumped back onto the closest earthberg and started cutting down the hellguard minions. He was glad to see Sam take down the last with a dagger throw.

In his dream, Grigore felt like he was on the brink of something important. He had found a note, which did not make any sense. Somebody named Taergyn had been kidnapped and his friends were going to rescue him. But what was the note doing in the kidnap victim’s house? Grigore was sure he almost knew the answer. Then he decided to take a new approach: What would his uncle do? That was the question he asked himself.

Delis Erinthal was glad to be pulled out of the lava before it could do any damage, but Sam’s effort had put her right in the middle of the battle.

Not the elven ranger’s favorite place to be.

And the Githyanki guards had battlefield mobility that equaled — or even surpassed — Delis’s own. Not something she was used to dealing with. They were both able to use their telekinetic powers to jump from attack to attack without being touched by their opponents.

So, she was glad to see one of them reduced to using his fists when his sword broke early in the battle. He was still able to throw his opponents off guard by leaping into the fray, but his own attack did little, if any damage.

Delis shouted to a monk who had shown up to help, “We should concentrate on the Githyanki who still has a sword!” The monk seemed to agree. In fact everybody (except Zumos) was able to concentrate on the sword-wielding Githyanki once the dwarves and hellguards went down.

When that Githyanki went down under the onslaught, his friend with the broken sword managed to pick up the silver sword that was still intact. But his attacks were no longer coordinated with the other Githyanki guard, so the heroes were able to dispatch him as well.

Grigore remembered something his uncle had once told him about dreaming and the subconscious: “Only those who can look at their own hands in their dreams can truly be said to be in control of their subconscious thoughts.” Standing in Alchemist Taergyn’s house, Grigore slowly raised his hands in front of his face. Only they were not his hands! They were the hands of his uncle. He was his uncle…in the dream.

As soon as Zumos stepped through the portal, he knew what he had to do.

He had been practicing a particularly difficult pyromancy trick: True Masters of Flame can perform a Burning Transformation, turning themselves into a creature of fire.

Zumos doubted he would ever find a better chance to try out such a transformation for the first time than in the Sea of Fire, an ocean of volcanic lava in the midst of the Elemental Chaos. Even if it were to mean he could not transform back until after the battle was over.

And even if it meant he could not use any power that did not involve fire in some way.

Becoming as insubstantial as a flame, the wizard became difficult to damage. And impossible to damage by fire. This left the Flame Shards at a distinct disadvantage. Zumos’s fire attacks could somehow damage them, yet they could not get through to him. They still thought his fire attacks could not hurt them, but somehow the searing heat of his flames was able to pierce their defenses as if they had no resistance to fire at all.

He was limited in his attacks and eventually used them all up (especially in mopping up the hellguard minions spawned by the demonic dwarves). Then he hit on a devilish strategy of his own: He could dance past the flame shards, teasing them until they attacked him.

Each time they hit, however, his flames were untouched while theirs were burned.

Awakening from his dream, Grigore was able to write down the contents of the note he had found in the alchemist’s house, the house which must have belonged to a friend of his uncle, someone who was a long-time traveling companion of his uncle. For the first time in many days, Grigore felt fully refreshed upon awakening.

Duilin Silverfang was still unsure what to make of his new companions.

They claimed to know Storm Johnson, yet they were somewhat vague about what their connection to the stony warden precisely was. They seemed to be holding something back, yet Duilin found it hard to hold it against them: seemed almost unintentional.

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Some Consequences ARE Immediate:
Like When a Bunch of Wights...

…Suck the Healing Surges Right out of a Paladin.

When the heroes finally caught a glimpse of Sarshan, their way was blocked by four cyclops guards. The disfigured Shadar-Kai arms dealer was able to escape once again. Discovering the cyclops were easy to dispatch if you poked them in the eye, the party found their way blocked by four wights.

The wights concentrated on Garen Bladerun, immobilizing him with their life-stealing blades and sucking the life-energies from his immobilized body with their icy touch.

Beneath the giant oak tree, Grigore Goldforge realized that finding the way would not be easy. Everyone in the Golden Scales was exhausted. The pathways were so narrow he was sure it would be hard to bring everybody’s skills to bear on every obstacle they faced. Even finding their way to the simplest path would prove daunting.

After quickly taking down a curse chanter, Sam realized the real danger was the three-headed leader Sarshan left behind to guard the place with all the portals and pipes. While Delis leaped atop the main pipe and turned its valve so that it no longer spewed Blood Chaos into the crevasse at the center of this facility, Sam could see the skeletal figure with the three heads was somehow enabling the wights to heal themselves.

They also seemed to draw replenishment from Garen when he was immobilized by their blades.

For these reasons, Sam was relieved when Grigore directed the rest of the Golden Scales to concentrate their fire on the undead leader. First they were able to take out the head that was spraying fiery death, then the head which sent out bolt of icy fear flopped to the ground.

The third head (as well as the creature’s body) fell before Sam ever found out what it could do, but the hobbit was certain it wasn’t anything pleasant.

When giant roots blocked their path, Grigore could see that Alexander Winterforged would be able clear them with help from the rest of the Golden Scales. Everybody pitched in and the roots were cleared. Then Alexander and his friends were able to rig some vines and swing across a pit of Blood Chaos. Garen Bladerun needed little help to find the way through a particularly labyrinthine section of the maze of roots. After Sam led them down a dead end, Delis Erinthal stepped up and was able to clear some rocks that got them past by going a different way.

Zumos was somewhat heartened by the fact that the wights seemed to be concentrating their attacks on Grigore and Garen. And the party was finally able to cut down one of those attacking Grigore once the three-heads were knocked off their skeletal leader.

When the remaining wights concentrated on Garen, Zumos was able to surmise what their tactics meant: They had to immobilize someone in order to use their icy touch to heal themselves. Their only chance for survival was to gang up on creatures they could use to heal themselves.

Since Garen was already weakened by earlier fights, both he and another wight eventually went down in the knock-down-drag-out battle that ensued. Grigore’s healing powers were no longer able to heal the dragonborn paladin, and Zumos could see that only a healing potion could bring the paladin back to consciousness.

Zumos was pretty sure he was the only one with any such potions left.

It wasn’t easy, but the wizard worked his way all around the battle only to be trapped in an alcove when the wights shifted to surround Grigore. Fortunately, Zumos was able to squeeze along the wall past the deadly touch of the bloodied wights and pour the potion into Garen’s unconscious maw.

Grigore was frustrated: After Sam the Foresworn and Zumos both failed to find a way forward, he needed to find a the way himself. But he and Garen failed as well. It looked like it was all falling on Alexander’s shoulders. Grigore was not sure the dwarf was up to it. In his desperation, Alex fell back on his superior perception. He found a large room, filled with Sarshan’s lackeys going about all sorts of preparations. Delis was able to lead them past with no one being spotted. Going hand-over-hand on some vines, Alexander was able to get them past the next part.

Coming back from a near-death experience like that reminded Garen to ask the question he had learned in a monastery of the Platinum Temple: What would Bahamut do?

Taking the platinum dragon-god’s voice as his own, he intimidated the last wight into dissipative surrender.

“All I want to to is rest,” thought Garen. But his friends were eager to push on and discover the arcane mysteries of this hub. Alexander Winterforged was finally willing to examine the runic circles on the floor more carefully.

Garen could see that they were fired into the floor. Someone had imprinted the runes into the soft mud which once made the floor of this underground chamber. Then the mud itself had been hardened like brick. “Probably the skeleton guy,” Garen mused. “He probably used that withering flame his left-most head could breathe.”

Alexander told him the portals were no ordinary teleportation focuses. He insisted they were capable (with the right rituals) of diverting some liquid substance to other locations on this plane. It was obvious to Garen what that liquid was: Blood Chaos was clearly visible below them in the nearby crevasse.

The rest of the party was more concerned about the other side of the crevasse, where Sarshan had disappeared. But Garen could see that it was just a dead end.

Sam and Delis found a way through last part of the root-filled labyrinth with only a minor delay as Zumos failed to move some boulders which proved to be superfluous to the effort to find a way through.

Everyone was interested in searching the body of the lich, but Delis wanted to know more about the portal through which Sarshan escaped. Alexander had been able to determine that it was strengthened so that even a non-ritual-magic-user could use. But Sarshan had also locked it behind him.

Documents carried by the skull lord identified it as an envoy of Onthorirfel. “I know who that is!” cried Grigore. “Where I come from, Onthorirfel is a famous lich. But everyone assumes he dwells in the Shadowfell.” Which made sense to Delis, since Sarshan (disfigured though he might be) was clearly of Shadar-Kai origin.

The documents also suggest that Sarshan and the lich have been collaborating on some plot, though no details are provided.

Zumos was able to confirm that Onthorirfel is a powerful lich famed for his specialization in ritual magic.

A combination of investigations (including Religion, Arcana and Nature) was able to unlock the portal, but Delis quickly realized that it would take four hours for the unlocking to fully unfold.

“Just enough time for a rest,” thought Delis.

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Consequences Are Not...
...always immediate...

…as an old song might remind us.

As Zumos looked around the darkened swamp, he heard Falrynth say, “This is not the way it used to be.” After a pause, the old sage restated it, “This is not the way it is supposed to be.”

And Zumos agreed.

The swamp, which should have be in something close to complete darkness, was lit by the glow of a strange substance covering the lake as far as the eye could see: Blood Chaos, that was what Falrynth called it.

The purple-orange lava had nearly destroyed the village where the elderly man lived. Completely destroyed the tower where Falrynth made his home, near as Zumos could figure.

Then the old man’s exclamations seemed to attract more problematic attention: A large adult green dragon was circling the oak tree whose branch supported the platform Zumos found himself on. The huge reptile seemed to focus in on the two of them in their exposed position.

He ran for it and the old man followed.

The dragon executed a flyby attack as they got near the trunk of the tree. Then it appeared to swing around for another pass when a horrific cry echoed through the swamp.

The dragon answered the anguished call and turned to continue its flight around the tree. Zumos could see hiding places under the gnarled roots spreading from the oak’s base. He ran down the stairs someone had carved in one of the roots and got to the mud below.

As he tried to make his way around the tree (choosing in the direction the dragon had come from rather than the direction the dragon had flown off toward), he found his way constantly blocked by the thick mud, which made going quite slow. He tried to use his Water Stride on the mud, but this only swapped one kind of difficult terrain for another.

Hiding in Talar seemed a less attractive idea after Megan Swiftblade realized that Sarshan had tracked her there and began to release his vengeance on Elsir Vale in the town where she grew up. The sage there had identified the purple-orange ooze as the Blood Chaos. And she had important information for the council back in Overlook.

Sam and Maggie took Grigore’s advice to heart: As soon as the male dragon took off to investigate the strange sounds coming from the other side of the tree, they attacked the female with everything they had, hoping to take her down before the other returned.

Grigore saw that his plan to defeat the dragons in detail was working: The smaller dragon flew over the root which sheltered her lair and blocked the doorway with her immense bulk. Grigore could see that the Master Thief and Guild Executioner were pouring on the damage with their thrown weapons, while Rinoa pinned the dragon against the door she guarded.

Even Copper got into the act stepping in front of the green dragon. His ability to draw the dragon’s fire did little to protect the rest of the party, however, since the she-dragon was to breathe on most of the party while attacking him. Her terrifying presence was even able to hit Sam, who had found a perch on the root over her lair. Maggie managed to get far enough up the giant oak to be out of the range of both attacks.

Returning to Overlook, Megan went straight to the High Hall and told them Sarshan plans to flood Elsir Vale with the strange substance he used to attack her in Talar. Reluctantly admitting The Golden Scales were in hot pursuit of the arms merchant, she told them they had temporarily halted the flow of Blood Chaos into Talar.

Karic had to leave his wolf-dog behind to scramble up one of the roots. But he wanted the advantage a ranger gains, shooting from a distance.

When his new friends, Maggie and Sam, bloodied the female dragon quickly, the green behemoth let out a cry of anguish and engulfed most of the rest of the party in its poisonous breath. At first, Karic was glad he was out of that maelstrom of sickly, green gas. Then he heard an answering cry and realized where it came from.

Her mate.

As the male dragon hove into view, the plucky elf knew what he had to do. His dog howled, as he began peppering the mighty dragon with disrupting shots, designed to immobilize it. Even when he missed to exact on the dragon wings he hoped would stop it, he was able to slow the great beast’s progress.

It turned its attention toward him. “I guess it thinks I’m preventing it from rescuing its mate,” thought Karic. “If I survive this, I guess I’ll be able to tell the tale of how I soloed an adult green dragon.”

The dog howled again, this time putting some wolf into it.

After working up quite a thirst answering the questions of The Council of Elders, Megan headed for her favorite tavern in Elftown, The Turned Spoon. She asked the halfling potboy for a large tin pot and dumped a handful of coppers inside. When the bard paused between love songs, she began to beat out a military beat on the side of the pot. “Rat-tat-tat, rattle-tat-tat-tat.”

As Garen Bladerun lay in the mud trying to catch his breath, he marveled at the way the large male dragon was slowed by Karic’s arrows. The dragon was eventually able to break free of the elf’s harassing fire, but not before its mate was in serious trouble.

In fact, almost as soon as the second dragon arrived and delivered the first poisonous blast of its breath weapon, Coppershot killed the female dragon guarding the door. This sent her mate into a rage.

As the paladin saw his companions race for the door beneath the tree, he watched Copper moved in the other direction. Garen began crawling toward the door himself, although he was not sure he could make it in time.

At first, he thought Copper was planning to fight the dragon by himself. Then it dawned on Garen that the warden was executing a classic paladin move: deliberately forcing the dragon to face away from the rest of the party.

And the dragon seemed to be cooperating. So great was his fury at the dwarf who had killed his mate, he could not seem to attack anyone else. His terrifying presence froze Copper and caught the barbarian, Esterhu, as well. Esterhu could do little more than whine piteously and argue with his sword.

At least, that’s what it looked like to Garen.

At first the bard looked annoyed at Megan’s drumming. Then he recognized the rhythm and smiled. Who’s the Paladin? was always a crowd pleaser. And he was tired of singing the same sweet songs all the time.

Zumos’s frustration was overwhelming. He could hear the battle ahead, but the mud kept sucking at his boots. As he made his way forward, he could not help but wonder if going the other way around the tree might have been faster.

He struggled out of the muck and up some stair which climbed over the final tree root, confronting the scene of his friends and the green dragon fighting over the body of another green monster.

“That must have been the one that let out the horrible cry,” he said to himself as he unloaded his best spells on the remaining dragon.

He was able to whittle the dragon down enough to bloody it before it sent another breath of poisonous gas at Copper. Only one other hero was caught in the green gases.

“I’m sorry I diverted your show, Tom,” the Freerider apologized. “But I was in the mood for Who’s the Paladin?
“No problem,” replied the bard. “I’m kinda sick of every lady who comes in here asking for showtunes.”
“The Band of the Raven has a new paladin. And they just rescued me.”
“Oh, I thought you didn’t have much use for the Order of the Black Feather.”
“The rest of them seem brave enough. Just might rescue this city one more time. But that Paladin may just lose his wings if he doesn’t grow a pair.”

Once Sam had the door unlocked, most of the others headed for its safety beneath the tree. But Copper wanted to fight on, and Grigore decided to make it one last offer:

“I will heal your mate, if you stop fighting us.”

But Grigore had apparently mistaken the origin of the dragon’s rage. As a thoroughly evil creature he was not angry so much out of love for his mate. The fact remained: Copper had deprived him of his mate, and Copper was standing there, right in front of him, practically asking to be killed.

The rest of the party beckoned, suggesting that Sarshan was getting away. Copper still wanted to finish off his second dragon of the day.

But, when the dragon’s terrifying presence left the barbarian stunned again, Grigore convinced Copper to join the rest on the other side of the door.

Which was quickly closed, locked and barred.

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

…Leads to a Bloody Battle…

…and a bloody paladin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…by Falrynth,…

…the sage she had gone downstairs to save.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, they did not spot the stealthy halfling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then they asked him some questions.

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

…comes in handy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He seemed to think this was a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…seeks to free the oppressed peoples of the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further questions by the adventurers revealed the following information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he knew what he had to do.

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

…requires all of the diplomacy…

Grigore can muster…

…on his own followers.

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

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

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

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

…and watching for intruders.

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

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

“The whispers,” one of the Torrians said.

“I hear them, brother,” another answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And even healed.

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

…to serve her interests in the city of Argent…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 Minutes of the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was being led.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wight grew angry once again and attacked.

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

…but not in time to stop…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He disappeared in a blinding flash of elemental energy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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