Scaled Down Scales

Interlude: Shopping with Ambush
Murder is a Team Sport

Desperately in need of repairs for their broken weapons, the party asked the quartermaster of The Order of the Black Feather if he might direct them to a weaponsmith in Overlook who might fix their ill-used equipment. As Grigore predicted, the quartermaster directed Zumos to a nearby street in The Forgeworks where several swordsmiths were found.

“Nooooooooo!” screamed the tiny hobbit…

After some bickering about the haft of an axe and the shaft of Zumos’s staff, the brave adventurers figured out that their view of their own actions is not nearly as heroic as the view the citizens of Overlook have of those very same actions. While they seem to think of themselves as the hapless pawns of some kind of sociopathic mind-controllers forever propelling them into dangerous situations, the populace believes they are really as brave and selfless as they appear to be.

…as Grigore selflessly teleported himself into the wave of Lost Ones attacking Esterhu…

The swordsmith was willing to offer a substantial discount on the repair of Drake’s broken sword (especially after the negotiators agreed to let him do a tracing of the sword and The Enforcer agreed to sign the tracing).

…But it turned out it was not Grigore’s brave self-sacrifice that concerned Sam…

Leaving the swordsmith’s shop with the intention of going to Tradetown to fix the wooden weapons, the party was ambushed by the Lost Ones. This time the gangster seem to have brought everybody, including the junior auxiliary. Party member spotted Lost Ones as young as 10 in the waves of attackers (as well as more doppelganger).

…as Esterhu (teleported to safety he never sought) unleashed a flurry of fury all around, cutting the empty air…

Our heroes were able to capture a doppelganger and a young Lost One before the rest were chopped up or fled. Much to the disappointment of Zumos, who wanted more to question.

…it became apparent that Sam knew well how easily the Minotaur barbarian could have killed the gangbangers who had surrounded him, while the brave ardent could only handle one or two.

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Meanwhile, Back at the Shrine...
...the rest of the party...

…found themselves…

…unsuccessfully interrogating their prisoners. Well they DID get a couple of scraps of information:

  • Grovald guessed that ultimately he worked for General Zithiruun.
  • The doppelganger said that someone has been coming around hiring a lot of muscle from the doppelganger underground.

Then Grigore killed Grovald and the doppelganger suicided.

Elyas found a note in the fireplace in the caretaker’s shack where Grovald had taken refuge. It was badly burned but the part which could still be read seemed to match the description of the note which Lavinya had described to Elyas. (The priestess admitted she wasn’t a very good spy when she described the note.) The four intact lines were sequential:

  1. unreachable for a time, as I must
  2. the priests’ orders as you would my own, for he
  3. s always, be certain you destroy this mis
  4. eneral Zi

Elyas performed an hour-long Object Reading ritual to get specific information about the note and came up with five results in the form of images:

  • the image of a golden-bearded dwarf (the person who gave the note to Grovald) whom Elyas recognized as Capt Aerun;
  • the image of a stylized bucket (the place where Grovald acquired the note) with suds spilling from its top;
  • the image of an older dwarven cleric (the priest referenced in the note) whom Elyas recognized as Elder Durkik; and
  • the image of a stylized pig, dancing (also from the place where Grovald got the note) in the same artistic style as the bucket; and
  • the image of a githyanki in a strange armor (the creator of the note) riding a dragon with its lower jaw missing.

While the picture below is intended to reproduce this final image, I acknowledge it is inaccurate in small details. For instance, the dragon is missing parts of its body, but not its lower jaw. This inaccuracy should be taken as artistic license on the part of the dwarf artist who produced it (who apparently felt that he could not represent the scariness of the dragon without a full set of teeth). In other details, it is very accurate. For instance, the armor is accurately shown as consisting of pulleys and braces as well as the usual protective gear.

Object reading 5

Sam the Foresworn, Elyas and Rinoa then went back to the Divine Knot to seek out Lavinya at the Temple of Erathis. They told the priestess about the death of her friend and asked her about the images of the bucket and the pig. She immediately recognized their description as being the wooden sign in front of an infamous eating establishment in The Blister.

Although Sister Lavinya warned them to stay away from the Pig and Bucket, Sam, Elyas and Rinoa all went over for some sausages and suds. They found Captain Aerun who may have spotted them as well. He spooked, as did another dwarf he appeared to be meeting at the dive.

Sam followed the other dwarf but learned little more than the fact that it is very likely the “dwarf” is yet another doppelganger. Eventually the rest of the group caught up with them and decided to go back to the Order’s HQ for some rest. Knowing secret passages lead from that storefront to the Temple of the Raven Queen in The Boneyard will not make their sleep restful. More so now that they believe Matron Volorvyn replaced by a doppelganger.

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The Past Returns...
...with a vengeance...

…to haunt our heroes.

As the battle at Haelyn’s Shrine ended, The Angel of Death walked over to Drake and asked him for the mask he now wears. She placed it on her own face and was instantly transformed into an old man. At least she seemed old, shrunken and bent over as she now appeared. She was now wearing the clothes of a shaman, covered in primal glyphs. And she was carrying a gruesome totem from which several human-looking eyeballs depended.

She then walked over to Raven’s corpse and took the mask off her head, placing it on Raven’s face. Now Sam and Esterhu could see that she did, in fact, appear to be a aged shaman whose eyes had been gouged out.

Once she placed the mask on Raven’s face, tendrils of mist began to rise out of the eyeholes, coalescing into the shape of a dwarf, a dwarven smith carrying a hammer. On the hammer was a sigil: a stylized M drawn to look like a pair of mountain peaks with a stylized I imprinted over it; each end of the I is drawn to look like the head of a hammer.

As soon as he saw the dwarf, Drake the Enforcer knew where he had heard the voice of Wicked Fang before…

The sigil glowed brighter and brighter until its radiance nearly blinded everyone watching. When the brilliance subsided they saw the dwarven craftsman standing before them, fully corporeal.

…it was a voice he had heard whispering once in a hellish forge…

The shaman/angel reached out her left hand to the dwarf and he took it. She reached out toward Drake with her right hand. With trembling gauntlet, the blackguard took it.

…whispering an oath so powerful it made him gasp…

As Sam the Foresworn backed into the corner, trembling in abject fear, the angel of death whisked Drake and Raven out the door and into the sky, headed toward the mountains.

…“may this sword destroy all the plans you build upon it”…

Flying over the peaks, Drake noticed a temple built into a mountainside. Its features reminded him of the pictures he had seen displayed prominently around the headquarters of the Order of the Black Feather, pictures intended to celebrate the order’s greatest triumph: saving a dwarven paladin named Kalad at the Monastery of the Sundered Chain.

…“may its many edges flay ALL the plans you make”…

While the architecture of the temple Drake found himself flying over reminded him of the Monastery of the Sundered Chain, he became convinced it was not the famous retreat built by the ancient dwarves to celebrate their victory over the giants which liberated them from their ancient thralldom.

…“may its points pierce the hearts of all the plans of those who use you as their pawns”…

Drake, who is known for jumping to such conclusions, immediately decided that the mist-shrouded temple he now beheld was another temple built by the same ancient dwarves who constructed the Temple of the Sundered Chain. What the purpose of such a temple might be was beyond even the blackguard’s ability to guess.

…a gasp so loud it attracted the attention of the oathmaker’s murderer…

As they flew onward through the mountains, Drake and Raven found themselves completely unable to see where the angel of death was taking them. When the mists finally parted, they knew immediately. They recognized the land of Letherna, where the souls of the dead circle in a maelstrom of incorporeality, waiting for judgment.

…Sarshan!…

Three of the Sorrowsworn flew out to meet them, bringing mounts: three nightmares, horses with coats so black and empty one could see the stars themselves shining in them. The angel mounted and so did Raven and Drake, taken to the Raven Queens castle of black ice: Fate’s Palace.

…the twisted creature turned his scarred face toward the place where Drake was hiding…

Standing before the throne of the Raven Queen, Drake tried to correct the Queen of Death on the nature of corporeality. She reacted impassively, casually sending the two revenants back to Overlook.

…and drew his crossbow to slay the only witness to his greatest crime.

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Total Party Distintegration...
...results in a TPK...

…almost.

After Drake the Enforcer kicked in the door to the caretaker’s shack, everyone else was so taken aback (and surprised) that Zumos was able to get off the sleep spell he had planned to convince the rest of the party to let him set off (had they actually taken the time to plan their attack before kicking in the door).

The results were not immediately obvious, since the only Lost One who actually fell asleep was in the back room. Nobody noticed until Raven stumbled, half-dead into the room just as the gangbanger was waking up.

But the sleep spell did offer its primary benefit (slowing several enemies during the first round). When Esterhu showed up to contest the ownership of Wicked Fang, Drake consulted the Dark Angel of the Raven Queen, who gave clear answer to all his questions, making it absolutely certain (to whatever degree the questions asked for certainty) that he should turn it over to the raging barbarian. In the ensuing confusion, Raven did not use one of his dying dailies to heal the party and died as a result (failing three saving throws before anyone could get to him and heal him).

A TPK was averted, but just barely (thanks the spectacular healing provided by Grigore). The evil cleric was captured, along with one of his doppelganger henchmen.

No doubt they will be questioned next time.

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Lobbying for Loot
Wherein Grigore goes straight to the source

The ardent could not help himself…

…and led the party straight to High Hall to address the issue of remuneration for services rendered.

To some other city.

Jerath got a chance to perform his version of “Who’s the Paladin?”

The visit did reveal that somebody has been collecting money based on the party’s good name. The Council of Elders has set up a reward fund in the name of the Raven’s Feather’s favorite sons in the amount of $3,600 gold pieces. Apparently, somebody named High Ancestor Durkik is looking for some book. (Later, when the party confronted Durkik about it, he seemed strangely unaware of it, unable to even remember the name of the book…let alone that he had been seeking out donations for a reward to find it.)

Rumors about Storm Johnson were also flying about the council chambers: It seems that Clan Ironfell has suggested the redoubtable goliath has somehow corrupted one of their members.

And the party also learned that a priestess of Erathis (one Lavinya by name) has been seeking them out. While the rest of the party went to find out about the High Ancestor (in a temple, known as The Stone Anvil, which was strangely bereft of actual clerics even though plenty of worshipers could be found in the main sanctuary), Elyas decided to take it on himself to explore the priestess’s reasons for seeking them out.

Lavinya told Elyas:

“Something is wrong! Something’s happened to Haelyn, I know it, and maybe not just to her!

“A few weeks ago, Haelyn just disappeared. I went by the shrine to speak with her and she was gone. There’s a man named Grovald maintaining the shrine now. I don’t know him; I’ve never met him before, and nobody I talk to knows him, either. He told me that Haelyn left on a spiritual retreat and would be back in a few months."

Elyas investigated on his own and then went back to get the party when he figured out that Grovald was some kind of imposter. Elyas and Grigore distracted the fake priest while Zumos and Sam found his confederates hiding out in the caretaker’s shack.

Well, distracted may not be the right word.

Irritated, maybe.

Eventually, Grovald became sufficiently irritated with the sermon Elyas was preaching that he stalked off to the caretaker’s cottage on his own. Grigore followed and confronted Grovald. Following Grigore, Drake kicked in the door after Grovald slammed it in their faces.

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After completing their quest...
...looting was much easier....

The platinum sword insisted that its spirit be released. But that proved more difficult than expected. After being nearly exhausted on their first attempt to move the cauldrons of fire from the ritual chamber, Zumos hit on a different approach: He cast a freezing burst on the next cauldron and slid it toward the door. This cooled the vessel and might have made it easier to push the rest of the way…

…but the party (apparently all tuckered out from the their first heroic effect) suffered even more endurance loss from the second push. At this point (and at the verge of failure), they decided endurance was more important than athletics. For the third cauldron, Zumos would hit it with another freezing burst and Raven would follow up with a solo push. The rest aided by stabilizing Raven’s feet on the ice from Zumos’s magic and pushing on his shoulders. While the shaman-revenant was tired by the experience, his effort got the cauldron over halfway to the door before everybody joined in to shove the final 30 feet.

The air grew noticeably cooler…

…when the last cauldron was pushed into the marshaling area. The sword’s next direction: “Now you must break the Abyssal hold Fangren has on the portal by saying a prayer to Bahamut.” Sure enough: As the final word of the prayer was spoken, the fires of the portal calmed down and the feeling of dread lifted from everyone’s minds.

The sword’s voice rang out stronger now: “Break the connection to the Chaos by toppling the Elemental Altar!” Several assisted by climbing to the top of the dais and pushing over the altar. Zumos noticed a face in the midst of the flames, but he could not identify it. The face disappeared from view as the fires in the portal began to flicker once the altar tumbled down the back side of the dais to crash at the base of the portal.

“Use your Arcane Powers to divert the portal to a better plane. Recite this Ritual of Sealing.” Although Drake‘s connection to the Plane of Shadow would have made him the better choice for this ritual, Zumos seized the moment and recited the ritual. (As usual, Drake was discussing ego size with Grigore.) As Zumos’s staff trembled in his hand, the flames of fire turned to flames of shadow.

Once the portal was redirected again…

…this time to a plane of greenness and life, Raven began to suspect the sword had betrayed them. He was sure the Plane of Shadow was a better place for it to draw its energies. But the sword was unmoved: “The Feywild is not enough. We must make contact with the Astral Plane. Only prayer can break through to true Goodness.” Thinking true goodness was best represented by Zumos’s connection to Tymora, the rest of the party let the wizard say his words to the Graceful Lady before Raven, suddenly convinced the githyanki were somehow involved, could intervene.

The good fortune of Tymora was enough to turn the tide as the green flames subsided into the blue of the Astral Sea. Grigore rose, as if in a trance, and drew the platinum sword from its sheath. He stood in the spot from whence he had just toppled the altar and held the sword up to the portal, balanced between his open palms.

The sword rose from his hands with silver lightning dancing from the portal to kiss its blade. Suddenly, a flash of light blinded everyone and confirmed Raven’s fears (however temporarily).

When their vision returned, the party found themselves staring at a young woman wearing unusual makeup. She told them her name and asked them what her purpose was.

Getting down to serious looting…

…the party found two new items for Raven’s set: A blood-encrusted cape once used by a blind shaman to soak up the blood spilled by a tyrant. Indeed, it seems the gnolls must have found a collector who was trying to assemble Zane’s entire set of tools because three items were found on the bodies of various shamanic gnolls in various places in the githzerai fortress:

  1. A mask, which helps with intimidation.
  2. The cloak, which gives shamans some minor teleport abilities.
  3. A dagger, which bestows special powers when it is used to finish off an opponent.

The set (which is known as The Tools of Zane’s Vengeance) has additional benefits:

  • Using more than one of the items from this set improves the user’s ability to intimidate that improves with the number of items in your collection.
  • If you have them all (Raven seems to be short one item, a totem which is unusually grotesque even for this group of artifacts) and if you are bloodied, you gain a kind of magickal blindsight which Zane developed after the tyrant gouged out his eyes.

The group also found another dagger which upgrades the dagger Rinoa has been using, allowing her to pass hers on to Sam, who has shifted his parrying dagger to his off-hand. So now he is able to use the parrying dagger as it was intended. Sam and Zumos also found money, a note and stones of some value.

On to Overlook…

The party followed Amyria to Overlook where Grigore suddenly became concerned about the consequences of his actions at the front gate when he almost precipitated a riot among the workers and guards. It seems that Overlook is once again preparing for war, although nobody seems to know who it will be against. The orc menace has be eliminated, the gnolls have been nipped in the bud, and Jerath has been put to productive labor, writing plays.

Indeed, the brave adventurers were able to break the bard’s writers’ block by suggesting that a portal be added to the balcony scene in Roland and Juliette. and by convincing Jerath to take out the dragon/cloud verse from his crucial song and replace it with a verse about swords.

Finally, the adventurers decided to take up a new profession: lobbying.

They have headed off to High Hall to lobby for…

…something.

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

As the party battled the group of demonic shamans…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First Haunted Watch
Interrupted by Gilgathorn...

…and his Ironwood Hound and Elderwood Falcon…

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

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

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

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

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

…hard goddess of execution.

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

The goal: Surprise the surprisers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…Gilgathorn!

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

…the party was greeted once again as heroes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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