Scaled Down Scales

Ice Cold Umber Hulks
Proof that the Seed of Winter...

…Can Corrupt Creatures Already Corrupted…

…by their very nature.

Klaxi inched his way into the icy chamber. He could hear something moving around in the rugged crevasse which split the upward slope. To his right, a newly excavated tunnel angled upward.

The high end of the tunnel (to the north) appeared to have another exit, but it was obscured by a giant stalagmite of ice.

But the Umber Hulks who had excavated the hole in the wall and were hiding in the crevasse must have heard him, too. Because they exploded out of the gap and rushed toward him.

Blue Umber Hulks.

Ice-Touched.

Klaxi raced out of the crevasse room just ahead of the creatures. Which were obviously under the control of the Seed of Winter.

Making his way to the fancy inn, Borg discovered it was called The River Jewel. It didn’t take long to find the member of the Coalition the Githzerai had told him about. Belinda was young, even for a human. She told him her parents would not like her to spend too much time in Nefelus. “It is under siege, surrounded by a ring of ice which blocks all shipping,” she explained. But I can get you past the ice.

Lyrindel was frustrated. The Ice-Touched Umber Hulks — “Blue Hulks?” she asked herself — had an attack which could daze creatures over a wide area.

They first used it when Klaxi came running out of the room where they hid. Raxor Steelwall rushed in to block their attack and found himself dazed and sliding toward the crevasse.

That seemed to be their strategy: Daze and slide their opponents into their hidey hole, then do a double grabbing attack with both of their claws. Once they had their prey in both claws, all they could do was crush their prey.

And most of the time the members of the Golden Scales — or the Order of the Black Feather, or whatever they were calling themselves these days, now they had joined the Alliance — were able to squirm free.

But dazed they couldn’t do much but swing at the creatures. And it took a lot of swinging to put a dent in the hulks’ armor. They concentrated their damage when they could. And, once they had bloodied the first of their targets, a new set of tactical options opened up.

For the creature could no longer daze with its gaze attacks, although it could still use the blasts from its eyes to slow its opponents.

“I suppose we could bloody all three, before we try to finish this one off,” she thought to herself. Then she saw the bloodied creature lift Klaxi off all of his feet.

“No, I think we should kill this one first. I’m not sure we can afford to take this much damage. After all, we are down to one healer. Warlords are all very good for encouraging others to keep fighting, but they have their limits.”

At the library of Nefelus, Borg asked the librarians about the Seed of Winter. Unfortunately, that raised suspicions. He was soon surrounded by official-looking people who wanted to know if he was part of the forces besieging their island. Once they found he was not, they asked him to help the forces trying to break the siege. He then found himself making his way toward the iceberg (where he suspected the Seed of Winter could be found) in a strange submersible craft which looked like a lobster.

Andrea Ravn could see that Raxor was handing out most of the damage, even if he wasn’t living up to his last name. “Steelwall, indeed. I never spent so much effort healing a wall.”

Indeed, the warlord had to resort to her best group heals to keep everybody alive.

But when she was handing out the orders, the monk was her go-to guy. All she had to do was point out an opening and he would deliver a good hit followed up with a flurry of blows. And when he was surrounded he could distribute that Stone Fist Flurry to a second Hulk.

And he was surrounded a lot. Finally the last of the blue creature went down.

After arguing with some of the others about a ring they found in the nose of one of the blue hulks, Andrea was glad when the druid identified it as a Ring of Personal Gravity. While the warlord knew she could use it, she gave it to Klaxi. Now she was the only healer. She would not be jumping to the fore, where the ring would be most useful.

“I guess my tanking days are done,” she thought ruefully.

Everyone agreed when she pointed out they needed to use their Scroll of the Solace Bole. When she read the words on the scroll, they all found themselves transported to a narrow space inside a tree located somewhere within the Feywilde.

Before she fell asleep, Andrea heard the hamadryad mumble, “Feels almost like home.”

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Uarion Rescued
Against his Will

The Githzerai Mindmage struggled…

,,,with the Seed of Winter even as it forced him to fight against his rescuers.

Klaxi was sure some of the pillars of ice between him and the figure on the far side of the prison were more than just ice stalagmites. He could see motion inside them, and he was sure they contained some of the elementals he had seen when he scouted this room earlier.

“But why would someone hide the elementals inside the ice?”

He approached the nearest pillar and began hacking at it to get to the elemental within. Some kind of fiery glow was visible inside. “Why would magma be associated with an ice elemental?” Klaxi was sure he had seen wind elementals as well, but that made no sense either.

“You have come to threaten the will of my master," a voice from the other end of the room accused. "The Seed must be protected at all costs. Approach no farther and leave the way you arrived, and I shall spare you the agony of the change.”

Klaxi thought he detected a glimmer of uncertainty in the way the creature he had been spoke, as if it were fighting against a force which was dominating its will.

Andrea Ravn rushed past to get to Uarion, the last survivor of Nefelus’s previous expedition to the strange, icy blockade of their tropical home. The Dragonborn Warlord was startled when the Githzerai unleashed a Chillfire Destroyer from the pillar Klaxi was attacking.

“An ice elemental powered by a core of super-heated magma. That explains the fiery glow.”

As Andrea tried to convince the Gith to be rescued, it continued to release elementals (Windwalkers as well as another Destroyer) cackling about how he was not so weak as to be vulnerable to Andrea’s intimidation.

As he continued to damage the first ice elemental, he realized its super-heated core was no longer being confined by the ice. In fact it was starting to burn him if he stood too close.

Once Amyria took him to the iceberg which seemed to be the source of the icy blockade, Raxor Steelwall made his way up through the caves below the ice to a chamber where a dead Behir was surrounded by a group of adventurers. They were plotting their next move, which seemed to revolve around rescuing a captured Githyanki.

Andrea Ravn could see her efforts to negotiate with Uarion were unsuccessful. So she concentrated on knocking the Githzerai unconscious before it could release more elementals.

Unfortunately, two of the ice elementals with red entrails were freed and a bunch of the Windwalkers before they were able to subdue the creature they were sent to rescue. Fearing mindmage shenanigans, he tried to tie the Gith up with rope after gagging him. Lyrindel, the dryad, was able to help (in between unleashing hordes of bugs on the elementals).

Borg followed the monk up the winding corridors inside the iceberg. He was cold. Maybe hitching a ride on the strange craft was not such a good idea.

Jonalith thought he saw the trick: The mindmage would have to be weakened before he could be convinced to shake off the will of the Seed of Winter.

But before he could tell the others, they had knocked out Uarion and were whittling down the Chillfire creatures. Each time one of those succumbed, it exploded in a ball of magma.

But by the time the second one died, they had learned to stand back as it exploded.

Searching the still-unconscious body, they found two potions of vitality and a large blue diamond. “Gotta be worth four or five grand,” the elf thought. But he still wasn’t sure a gag would do any good against a mage whose powers emanated from his mind.

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Even in Death
Li Sun Manages to Save the Party...

…One last Time.

Li Sun knew he was on his last legs. Losing consciousness during the fight with Xurgelmek was the latest sign, but even during the battle at the entrance to Icehome he knew he was burning his inner resources at a furious rate.

As an ardent, he had been taught that a body can only heal so much.

And he knew that his had little left.

But the new fighter — a giant insect of some kind, who called himself “Klaxi” — was going to need some healing if he was to fight the behir. And everybody else seemed to be out it, except Valna.

Hardly a healer.

And, if they didn’t go fight the behir, the giant six-legged magickal lizard was going to come to them. It was already trying to widen the stairway down to where they resting.

When Klaxi charged the creature, Li Sun hoisted his weary bones off the icy floor and circled around to the other side. The behir was able to breathe lightning periodically so it wouldn’t help to stand back. “Might as well trap him between us,” Li Sun thought. “A little flanking never hurt.”

It turned out that getting up close and personal with the creature had its own problems. Not only did it have teeth and claws, but it was able to stomp so hard it could knock everyone around (for a considerable distance) to the ice. And then it devoured Klaxi.

“Well, that’s gonna make it hard to heal him.”

Li Sun could tell the fighter was trying to force his way back out. But even the ardent’s mental powers could not heal someone — or some insect — he could not see.

Fortunately, Li Sun had planted Treachery’s Seed in the behir’s weak little mind at the beginning of the battle. So every time it clawed him, it took a little bit out of itself.

The High Lady reguarded Lyrindel carefully. “You have served the Feywilde well. Mapping the Feydarke was a harrowing mission, but an important one. Now a new threat has arisen, one that cannot be charted. The Winter Court has taken an interest, and the Summer Court as well. The Moonshaes cannot afford to be ignorant of this new threat, an artifact known as The Seed of Winter. It may not even be safe for us to capture it, for it might corrupt us. We may even need it to be in the hands of the Unselie Court themselves.”

Klaxi had never been devoured before. But that did not mean he had to stop fighting.

On Athas, he often fought for his life. Not like this. He could still fight the creature from inside its maw, but getting out was his highest priority. Occasionally he got in an extra blow with one of his arms when the behir tried to attack the ardent.

But he still tried to pry his way out using his athletic skills.

Still having trouble getting free. “At least it cannot swallow anyone else while I’m stuck in its craw.”

When he finally forced his way out, he was close to dying. (“Or being digested,” he thought as the lightning breath flashed around him. “Who would have thought you could be digested by lightning?”)

Li Sun was able to heal him heroically before the behir turned on the healer.

And devoured him as easily as it had devoured Klaxi.

The Thri-Kreen warrior redoubled his attacks on the behir, which was still doing a lot of damage to itself. But Li Sun was having a much harder time escaping the creature’s jaws than Klaxi had. The ardent was trying a different approach — apparently impressed with how difficult his own brute-force methods had proved. He was trying to finesse his way out, twisting and turning as he trying make his way past the creature’s lashing tongue.

But Li Sun was no better as a acrobat than he was as an athlete. Klaxi could tell he had little chance of avoiding digestion. So he attacked the creature with everything he had.

It was not enough.

The behir was still unbloodied when the Thri-Kreen warrior admitted he had to retreat. “Maybe some of the others I saw in the entrance to the strange place will be able to help me pry the ardent clear,” he thought, even while he admitted to himself he was just rationalizing his failure.

He was able to convince one of the elven archers — the one who had come across with him in the mechanical lobster — to race back upstairs and help him rescue Li Sun.

He stood at the top of the stairs in shocked disbelief: Li Sun had somehow extricated himself from the behir. But the ardent lay unconscious at the creature’s feet. Klaxi could see he was still breathing, but he seemed to lack the inner resources to rouse himself.

Even as the behir devoured him again.

Lyrindel looked up at the librarian. The Great Temple of Nefelus was not a place where researchers were often disturbed. “Why have you been so interested in this Seed you seek? Our ritualists have need of the book you are reading.” When she explained that The Seed of Winter was an important artifact and might even be sentient, she was met with a cold stare. Then the ritual casters behind the matron explained that they believed that The Seed of Winter was part of an assault on their island nation. She told them they had to act fast. But the ritualists were dead set on maintaining their protections, not on journeying to the iceberg. So Lyrindel decided to help the brave adventurers they had sent to break the blockade.

Valna of the Moonstair came up the other stair just in time to see the behir devour the ardent healer.

That left him glad he had circled around while the Thri-Kreen charged up the most direct route. Valna found a room with a clear shot at the creature, along with plenty of ice pillars — stalagtites of a sort — behind which he could hide.

Once the blue lizard swallowed Li Sun, it became more lethargic and Valna was happy to reward its digestive torpor with a rain of arrows. Meanwhile, Klaxi was maintaining a steady attack on the creature himself.

All the while swearing to cut open the creature when it died.

They were able to bloody it quickly and then finish it off before it did too much damage to Klaxi. Indeed it hardly even injured Valna himself.

“That the advantage of being a ranger: range.”

When it was all over, they were able to cut Li Sun free of the behir stomach. But he was beyond all healing, partially digested and barely recognizable.

Valna pointed out the obvious to Klaxi. “The creature was only able to devour one of us at a time, with a stomach his size. It appears Li Sun has saved our lives one last time.”

The Thri-Kreen turned to him and said, “‘Even in death, the hero can save others.’ The words of my people always rung true to me. But I never dreamed they would apply to a healer.”

Nearby they found some bodies of the sailors who came with Uarion. The blue frog people were apparently feeding the remains to the behir.

Among the bones they found a set of finely made hide armor. Klaxi recognized the hide as coming from a beast from his home world. Kanks are large hive insects that can sometimes be trained and domesticated. When they cannot, they are hunted for their hides.

Their hides are not as highly valued as those of the Athasian roc or the nightmare beast. But on a world where metal is rare, any hide which can be enchanted is highly valued.

Also found among the bones:

  • a small wooden box containing an elixir of some kind;
  • 2 pieces of amber carved to look like stars;
  • a strange pair of studded leather boots; and
  • some bracers which appear to be nothing more than white linen arm guards.
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Baron of the Blue Frogmen Attacks
With the Reluctant Help of A Frost Eye

Klaxi made his way to the iceberg…

…so much water…

…cold water…

…so cold it became hard like a rock.

Klaxi had a hard time getting his Athasian mind around the concept. Some of it was almost soft, but some of it was so hard that the structure he had entered — the Nefelese called it an “iceberg” — seemed to have been carved from the hard kind.

Inside, he found a wounded dragonborn, an elven archer, and an ardent healer. The archer pointed up one stairway and said told Klaxi there was a multi-legged blue lizard there. “But the big frogman up this one is headed our way!” he shouted, turning to face the other stairs.

Klaxi rushed up the stairs in time to stop a large blue creature frog-like features from rushing the stairs.

“How dare you invade the barony of Xurgelmek!” shouted the frogman. Pretty soon Klaxi was being peppered by icy blasts from a nearby Beholder while the ardent used one of the tridents (apparently seized from a dead frogman) and provided what healing he could.

The ardent did not seem to notice, but it was readily apparent that the Frost-Eye Beholder’s heart was not really in this fight.

“Maybe I can intimidate him once the baron is dead,” Klaxi thought. “We should be able to demonstrate our ability to hurt him, then he may just take off.”

Andrea Ravn shivered on the small ice floe. She was exhausted. She could hear the battle going on up the stairs. It sounded like they needed her healing. But it was all she could do to heal herself. “At least I told them about the Beholder.”

Li Sun was frustrated with the way the Beholder kept vanishing up a hole in the ceiling each time he took a potshot at them, so he concentrated his attacks on Baron Xurgelmek.

And, with Jonalith taking his own sweet time coming up to help them, Li Sun concentrated his healing on the Thri-Keen who was leading the fight. Li Sun had to be impressed with the way the insect creature was able to get in an extra hit every time they had the baron surrounded and it tried to slip away.

Then two more Arctic Suahagin popped out of a hole filled with sea-water, and Li Sun was glad to see Jonalith show up with his bow.

Amyria asked Belinda to take her back to Sayre. “I think it’s time to shore up our Alliance.”

Jonalith concentrated on taking out the two smaller froggies first, then they were able to surround the big one, who kept calling himself Xurgelmek and demanding they surrender.

Once they took out the smaller creatures, Xurgelmek was easily surrounded. Especially with the fancy footwork of the insect warrior who had joined them. The big frog was harder to take down. But, once they did that they were finally able to prevent the Beholder from dodging up a shaft.

Jonalith finally bloodied the icy Beholder, but he was on his last legs. The Thri-Keen warrior was in no better shape, but he began to threaten and intimidate the Frost-Eye. “These froggies sure had plenty of loyalty to their baron, and look what it got them,” he shouted.

At first the intimidation seemed to have little effect, but Klaxi persisted. Eventually the Beholder gave up, babbling something about the broken promises of dragons. Some sharp questioning gave them a basic idea of the layout above. He also told them the captured githzerai was in the room at the top of the shaft in the ceiling.

“The dragon is doing something with the Seed of Winter up near the top.”

Jonalith asked him if he could be trusted if they let him go.

“Yeah, sure. Frost-Eyes can be trusted. I ain’t coming back to this place. They promised me slaves, and I got none. Instead they almost got me killed. You notice that baron guy trying to protect me? Neither did I.”

With that the Beholder dove into the water and disappeared.

A search of Baron Xurgelmek’s body revealed some unusual magical leather bands on his feet, apparently designed to aid in fighting while prone. Since Klaxi spent so much of the fight on the floor, Jonalith immediately thought of the Thri-Keen fighter.

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Submersibles versus Sahuagin
Arctic Creatures Greet the Newest Members...

…of the Order of the Black Feather…

…with the traditional customs of their people: brandishing their tridents and gnashing their teeth.

Li Sun was frustrated at how hard it was to get at the Arctic Sahuagin swarming his vessel. So he was hardly surprised when Jonalith climbed the mechanical lobster up on the shelf of ice and raced it toward the only exit from entrance cavern.

The stairs beyond seemed to lead up into the iceberg above them and the elf seemed to be trying to prevent the blue frogmen from escaping upward. “Maybe he’s worried about their allies further up.”

As soon as Jonalith had wedged the vehicle into the stairwell, he climbed out and began peppering the Sahuagin with arrows. The creatures immediately abandoned their attempts attack the vessels with tridents thrown from a distance and swarmed the elf on top of the submersible.

“Never seen a ranger tank before.” But Li Sun had to admit that Jonalith was doing a pretty good job of drawing their fire. He saw Andrea jump out and start healing, but the elf needed the healing of an ardent as well.

“Oh, well,” he said, climbing out into the fray, “I guess I’ll have to expose myself as well.”

Tokk’it directed the insectoid creature (which Belinda insisted was her latest recruit) up to the temple which also served as the seat of government in this besieged paradise.

Andrea Ravn was so worried about the damage the Sahuagin priest was handing out that she began to draw deeper on her special reserves. She hardly noticed the disapproval of the others, who were obviously saving their resources for subsequent battles.

Every time they got position on one of the frogmen, the priest would use some power to blast them out of position. The snow was not all that slippery, but the creature seemed to be able to make seem like pure ice.

Toward the end of the fight, Andrea even downed one of her regeneration potions. When Li Sun tried to stop her, she downed it anyway. A few moments later, the potion became invaluable as Andrea herself was knocked unconscious a brought right back by the regeneration.

Even Li Sun had to admit the fight was close enough after the priest exploded in ice shards that the potion may have been necessary.

Klaxi made his way up the steep hillside and met a strange lady at the library. Tokk’it had described it as a temple, but it seemed more dedicated to books and learning to Klaxi. “Maybe they worship knowledge in this culture,” he said, but no one really paid attention. They all seemed to be going about their own business.

Jonalith was glad the blue Sahuagin concentrated on the two healers after they demonstrated their prowess at the beginning of the battle. But he had to use all of his multi-shot tricks with his bow to finish them off at the end.

Li Sun even broke his magic longspear before the battle was over. “That might even be more of a problem than all of the dailies Andrea spent,” he told the ardent.

They found nothing on the bodies except some tridents to replace Li Sun’s broken weapon.

Andrea spotted an underwater tunnel leading upward. Since it was too small for the submersibles, the Dragonborn warlord decided to swim it herself. She returned quickly admitting that she had aroused the attention of “the largest froggie I’ve ever seen.”

She did get a pretty detailed look at the room, describing a Frost-Eye Beholder guarding a tunnel exiting the ceiling.

Jonalith decided he better do the scouting.

Picking the left-most stairs — “furthest from where Andrea found the Arctic Sahuagin,” he reasoned — he crept up and around the corner. But the Frost-Touched Behir spotted him quickly and he retreated.

“Only one way left to try,” he said as he mounted the other stair. Jonalith could not see the Frost-Eye or the shaft that Andrea mentioned, but it was hard to miss the giant Arctic Sahuagin turning his way.

Unfortunately, the giant froggie saw Jon, too.

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Traveling to the Source
The Iceberg Known as Icehome...

…Using Vehicles which Look Like…

…giant mechanical lobsters, the three adventurers had to split up: Li Sun and Jonalith took the first submersible, while Andrea Ravn had to go it alone in the second.

Andrea Ravn remembered most of what her teachers had said about Nefelus. “Sure, the city of Magic has been out of contact with the rest of the world for over 400 years,” her master told her. “But that is hardly ancient history. Two millenia have passed since the world heard from the Dragonborn Empire.”

Nefelus was an island nation when it came to prominence defeating a great evil that threatened the whole world. But they came to believe the rest of the world was insufficiently grateful for their efforts.

“They had nothing to do with the causes of the problem, at least in their minds,” her master told her. “But they were crucial to the solution and they thought everyone should be mindful of their contribution.”

Andrea understood the lack of appreciation might have been only in the minds of the Nefelese, but that was enough for them to withdraw from the rest of civilization and become isolationist. “As if hiding from the world would mean the problems of the world would never find you,” she thought.

As soon as the city came into view, Andrea saw the Temple. Famous the world over Andrea was clear that the building housed one of the greatest libraries in the world. While she hungered to break off from the party and explore its shelves, she found herself ushered along with the rest of her group.

Andrea was happy to find that their guides (who acted as much like guards as ushers) took them to the Temple itself. Amyria told them to wait while she met with the Thraxinium (some sort of council of mages which ruled over this magocracy).

Eventually they were able to question their host — a member of this august body — who told them about the magickal assault Nefelus found itself under.

“Just before Nefelus was blockaded by the ice we sent three ships to find the source of the problem,” he told them. “Two were lost, but one made it to the iceberg. The crew perished, save one. Uarion was a Githzerai whose mental powers enabled him to make it inside, but we do not know what became of him once he got too close to the Seed of Winter.”

Before she knew what she was saying, Andrea — along with Jonalith and Li Sun — had promised to rescue Uarion, capture the Seed of Winter, break the blockade, and free Nefelus from the icy ring which surrounded it.

“At least, we can bring back his body,” she thought to herself.

After Amyria told them this promise the thing to bring Nefelus into the coalition, Bejam took them to three vessels capable of traveling underwater.

“Perhaps, if you approach unseen, you will not be attacked like the other three vessels,” he told them.

Andrea was so confident in her ability to figure out the submersibles that she decided to pilot one by herself. She recognized the vessels as Apparatuses of Kwalish. Confident that she knew enough of the history of Kwalish (a renowned inventor and magician) that she could figure out the controls.

Once she was in the craft, she found she did not remember as much as she thought she did. Before she was able to use what she remembered about how Kwalish like to design his inventions, she was floundering around in the shallows.

“I hope that doesn’t attract the attention of the Arctic Sahaugin Bejam told us about. I don’t like frogmen, even if these are blue.”

Klaxi found the City of Argent in the midst of a siege. An older gentleman, who seemed to be in charge of its magickal defenses, asked him to go to Nefelus to recruit additional mages. “I think Amyria has a plan to enlist their aid,” he said. “Belinda of Fallcrest should be able to help you find her.” Then he gave the insect-warrior a scroll which would take him to Belinda’s mother. “Perhaps you should avoid mentioning all this to her father.”

Jonalith was not sure what was going on in the other submersible, but it didn’t look good.

“Perhaps I can lead her to a safer path,” he told Li Sun, who was in the same craft. “An elf should be able to find the way, even underwater.”

Watching the currents it did not take him long to guide the mechanical lobster into a narrow trench pointed straight towards the iceberg.

“Not only will this protect us from observation, but look at those currents.”

Once Li Sun had them point out, he was amazed. “Those’ll cut 30 minutes off the time the trip takes us.” Jonalith knew Li was thinking about the limited air in their vessel. Then she saw Andrea avoiding some of the Sahuagin as she scurried her vessel into the trench behind them.

He saw Li Sun was using his arcane knowledge to figure out how to operate the claws of the lobster. “just stick your hands in here and wiggle your fingers,” the ardent said as the claws lifted up off the muddy bottom. “I should be able to even help you move along. And, if we have to fight some blue froggies….”

The claws snapped enthusiastically.

Tokk’it was hardly surprised when another adventurer came through the portal with Belinda. But the nature of the creature… “He seems to be some kind of insect,” he whispered to the young wizardess, who nodded with a smile.

Through the sealed porthole, Li Sun could see that Andrea was finally getting the hang of the controls. “Maybe all that history helped her figure out some of the quirks of these machines. Kwalish sure had some funny ideas about how to make them do what you want them to do.”

Just then Jonalith dropped the submersible all the way into the lowest point in the trench. “More frog-boys,” he whispered, and Li Sun frantically gesture back to Andrea. The warlord seemed to get the message and slowed her vessel as well.

As Andrea sat motionless, apparently waiting for the Sahuagin to pass, she seemed to be practicing with the claws which Li Sun had already mastered. “Finally trying out her Arcana skills,” he told Jonalith.

Sure enough, when they started up again, he could see the dragonborn was using the claws as well as the legs to propel the craft forward. A little fiddling with his own arcane skills and Li Sun was helping push his submersible along as well.

As they approached the iceberg, Li Sun could see the frozen formation had reached all the way to the bottom. “That could make it hard to climb up,” he said to the elf.

But Jonalith was already on it. He found a narrow tunnel leading upward into the iceberg. As the ranger steered the vessel inside, Li Sun turned around to see that Andrea’s lobster was still following.

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Smashing through the Ice Wall
Surrounding the Island-City-State...

…known as Nefalus.

Tokk’it guided the Conqueror toward the spot where Amyria’s maps suggested the island city-state of Nefelus was located. But all he could see was a fog bank up ahead.

And the allies Amyria had promised him for this adventure had so far been slow to arrive. Li Sun and Andrea Ravn had showed up — through the portal Belinda left on the foredeck — but he was expecting more help for such an important mission. But a warlord and an ardent might be just the ticket if they needed a lot of healing in their attempt to run the blockade.

Still, a blockade made of fog was not what Tokk’it had expected.

“Strange way to set up a blockade. Seems like ships could just sail right through it. Still, the fog may be hiding the real obstacle.” But what navy — trying to blockade an island — would hide themselves in such an unnatural fog? “Surely that would help the blockade-runners more than the blockade.”

He adjusted the horizontal tiller a bit to bring his airship up to a high altitude as it entered the fog bank.

Amyria knew she faced a difficult task getting everyone in the Alliance to accept a single leader. “And it will only be harder once the Nefelese are involved. Lord Torrance will surely be jealous of the superior magickal resources of Nefelus.” She remained certain the Alliance needed everything it could muster.

Li Sun stood on the foredeck, squinting into the mist. Now that the Conqueror had entered the fog, he could barely see the end of the bowsprit jutting out in front of the airship.

The ardent only spotted the iceberg after a ghost-sailor in the crow’s nest shouted out and Tokk’it threw the ship hard to starboard to avoid it.

“What is an iceberg doing to high?” Li Sun was sure they entered the fog at least 100 feet above the water and the captain was obviously trying to get even higher. But as the ship narrowly avoided the ’berg, he could see just how big it was.

And Tokk’it was angling the vessel upward so rapidly that Li Sun had to grab the railing. Even so, the airship barely reached the lip of a growing wall of ice.

“That’s what they are trying to block the island with! A giant wall — or even a hemishere — of ice.”

But the barracade still had a hole in it. And Tokk’it was trying to smash it larger by driving the airship through the hole.

And whoever was erecting the ice-wall was not taking chances: Ice giants were positioned at the hole. They were already directing volleys of Icy Arrows at the heroes on the decks of the ships. Andrea, the dragonborn, was valiantly trying to operate the ballista on the main deck.

When her first bolt was easily dodges by one of the giants who did not have a frostbow, the warlord gave that up as a bad job.

Amyria did not hesitate. She ran out on the bowsprit as it punched into the ice and leapt to the flat ice at the bottom of the hole, taking the fight right to the giants. When Andrea followed her out onto the ice, Li Sun decided she would have to get out there and help them.

The airship slowed significantly as the bow plowed into the ice-wall, but Li Sun could see that the ice was breaking. Perhaps they could smash through.

Once he got out on the ice, he caught up with the others. Then it was time to fight a rear-guard action as the giant from the other side of the ship circled around in front of the vessel and tried to trap Andrea in an icy vice.

Amyria was able to fight valiantly against the giants, but nothing she did could stop them from attacking the two healers.

Then, as the first of the Ice Giants fell to Amyria’s onslaught, Li Sun saw the airship break through to the other side of ice wall.

All they had to do was fight their way back aboard…

…before the vessel slid through the hole.

Klaxi was not sure why he had been summoned to the queen’s chamber, but he was sure it was a great honor. “If I was in trouble, she would certainly send out her drones to punish me.” But he was not prepared for her request that he represent the hive in some faraway city called Argent. “On another plane, no less.”

As the Conqueror worked its way through the hole in the iceberg-wall surrounding Nefelus, Andrea Ravn saw Li Sun step easily aboard. The ship continued to slide forward and Amyria was able to leap the remaining distance to the vessel.

Knowing she had stubby dragon wings to help her leaping ability, Andrea stayed behind to delay the Ice Giants and prevent them from getting aboard the ship. But she was overwhelmed when the giants concentrated their efforts on her.

Apparently stopping anyone from breaking through their blockade was important to them.

Even if the “anyone” was just a dragonborn warlord from the swamps of a dead empire.

Slowed by the icy cold from the giants, Andrea had little chance to make the leap

So, when Li Sun threw her the rope he had tied to the mast earlier, she leapt into the fog and ended up swinging from the stern of the airship. Li Sun came over to help her climb up the rope, but a swing and a leap — aided by her stubby little wings — was all it took.

“No climbing required,” she exulted as she landed on the afterdeck, admitting she did not relish being dragged along the ice until Li Sun had pulled her above the keel.

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3 Days After the Coalition Meeting
...Caliandra Is Back in Sayre...

…Tearfully Recounting the Slaughter…

…of five of the tribes (nearly 1,000 warriors and their families) under her leadership at the hands of Githyanki strike teams.

We are ending the tax-season hiatus this Saturday (May 7).

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Jonalith and Ragnar Go Straight After Paldemar
And the Rogue Mage Locks them...

…in his Room. But Jerath Shows up to Heal them.

Ragnar the Mighty wasn’t about let a measly door stand in his way. Jon said it was magickally locked, but that didn’t stop Ragnar. He lowered his head and tried to smash it in.

And rebounded from the door without even touching it.

So, he tried again.

And bounced off without damaging the door. The elf suggested they both try at once. And, sure enough, the door opened to their combined strengths.

Inside they found a crystal ball, a curtain, and a desk. Ragnar lifted the curtain and found a robed magician.

Paldemar!

He charged and Paldemar disappeared. Jonalith got a shot off, Paldemar used his invisibility to make his escape and lock the two of them in his room.

Deciding to take advantage of the situation to steal anything that wasn’t nailed down, Ragnar approached the crystal ball. But, as soon as he tried to pick it up, he saw a figure in shadowy robes within the crystal. It reached out its arm as if pointing toward him. A psychic blast hit him in the forehead, and the crystal ball shattered into hundreds of shards.

“I guess those pieces won’t be worth much,” he told Jon.

Paldemar took advantage of this situation by taking pot shots at from one door and then the other. So they wrestled the bed they found behind the curtain to block one door and positioned themselves near the larger door. Ragnar got off a surprise attack when the Mage opened the door and Jonalith managed to slip inside before the Norker Slinger who was helping Paldemar could shut the door.

Even though his blow had driven Paldemar to the ground, the wizard managed to get inside and restore his Mage Lock on the door.

“Magic,” the barbarian cursed and proceeded to take his anger out on the slinger. Unable to use his sling, the Norker was reduced to ankle-biting and daggers. Ragnar and Jonalith finished him off pretty quickly. But not before another Norker showed up. Ragnar recognized this one as a berserker.

By the twin flails he was wielding.

Just then, Jerath showed up.

“Well, that was strange,” the hobbit said to his sister. “One of those Mages of Saruun came asking me about why we haven’t seen any of them around lately. How should I know?”

Jerath followed the instructions he got from Blackguards’ Bane after the assassin let him through the hidden door at a turn in the Road of Lanterns. The Spirit of Vecna demanded lore, power or his soul, but ended up satisfied with very little.

He made his way through two levels of the tower-like maze and found Li Sun and some others. The ardent was in pretty bad shape, but told Jerath to hurry through yet another portal. “Jon and Ragnar have gone ahead to find Paldemar, but I fear they’re going to need your healing.” Then Li Sun explained the layout of the next level.

Taking stock of the situation, Jerath decided to go straight to the big room to find Jonalith and Ragnar. And they sure were in need of healing. But as soon as he started that task, he found himself attacked by a wizard who had appeared behind him.

And then the statue of Vecna began blasting him as well.

Jonalith told him he couldn’t take any more healing, but that was just as well. Jerath backed away from the statue, but Ragnar insisted on charging repeatedly at a Norker who was sheltering near it. He needed all the healing Jerath could deliver.

There’s only so much that words of encouragement can do.

Once the Norker went down, Jerath hid behind one the crystal pillars whose magic Paldemar had depleted and sent the wizard blundering into the path of one of Ragnar’s charges. At first the barbarian didn’t understand what Jerath was doing, but once he saw Paldemar blunder toward him, he was glad to charge and attack.

“Paldemar not only sent us off on that wild goose chase,” one white-robed mage told the other, “he seems to have disappeared himself. The halfling just told me no one has seen the any of our Order for several days. After he promised he would keep up appearances in our absence.”

Jonalith saw his chance. The giant Bronze Warder could not make its way between the pillars and other obstacles to attack the bard, but it still had one chance to attack. It would have to target the barbarian instead of Jerath.

And there was only one path toward Ragnar.

So Jon put a trap right in the middle of that path. He could see that the giant construct noticed the trap, but it apparently thought it could push its way past, relying on its enormous bulk to absorb the trap’s damage.

“Not this trap,” he thought as the contraption stepped on the trap and slid backwards, its motion momentarily arrested. When it tried to move again, it found iself slowed dramatically.

When the Idol of Vecna sent a fiery blast his way, Jonalith realized that he could draw its fire by staying close to it and his resistance to that element would prevent all but the most extreme fire damage.

“Nobody get close to the Idol,” he shouted. “I’ll draw its fire. I can take it.”

That was all it took to finish off Paldemar. Then it was simply a matter of maneuvering to places the Warder could not reach and pot-shotting it with arrows.

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Surrounded by the Exhausted Bodies
...of his Fellows from the Order...

…Li Sun Decides to Scout the Lair of Paldemar…

…alone.

The dim light of the Shrine of Vecna seemed to come from the walls themselves. Li Sun could see three doors. Knowing that Paldemar was aware his infernal machine had been destroyed, he tested each door quietly.

  1. The door to the west was locked.
  2. The door to the east was unlocked. The ardent opened it quietly and saw another of the Bronze Warder. Fortunately, the Warder did not see Li Sun as he quietly closed the door.
  3. The door to the north was unlocked as well. But the occupants of this room were on high alert. They spotted him immediately. He slammed the door and retreated through the portal behind him.

Once he was back with the rest of his team, he reported what he had seen in his brief glimpse into the Shrine of Vecna:

  • A statue of Vecna, crafted from iron and very large. A skeletal figure in robes, missing its left eye and left hand.
  • A symbol of Vecna, crafted as a mosaic into the floor in the center of this minor temple. A severed hand holding and eyeball.
  • Four crystal pillars, crafted from crystalline rock. Arrayed about the room.
  • Two brazier, crafted of brass. Providing garish shadows to the lighting.
  • An Idol of Vecna, crafted from black rock. Fashioned into a giant skull with an eye set in its right socket. The left socket is empty.

He told his teammates of the occupants who spotted him:

  • Several Norkers, the creatures who resembled hobgoblins who had been plaguing them since they had entered the Tower of Mysteries (some were armed with slings, some with flails); and
  • At least one cloaked figure which resembled the Enigmas of Vecna they had already fought.

He saw no sign of Paldemar.

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