Scaled Down Scales

Heroes Convince an Argent Wight
...To Show them Where Quor...

…Is Buried.

When Andrea Ravn took Nox to Nine Bells, she noticed the district was much cleaner than the last time she was here. Some of the beggars were sweeping the streets and even the temples looked less woebegone.

But he was little prepared for the sight of the temple of Erathis.

“I guess Elyas has really be fixing the place up.”

When they asked for the priest — who apparently was one of the first to join The Order of the Black Feather before the Golden Scales even existed — they were shown to a humble Invoker who directed them to his favorite place to find Wondrous Items: The Dungeoneers Survival Emporium.

They it located in a narrow building. At first, it appeared to specialize in common goods such as rope, tents and bedrolls. But it didn’t take long before Nox figured out that the proprietor — a large half-elf named Myra Edgerton — would show them more interesting things if he flirted with her first.

As she watched the dawning awareness in his eyes, the younger Dragonborn turned to her with something akin to fear. She could almost read his thoughts: “I. Don’t. Know. What. To. Do.”

She was really proud of the kid from the swamp, though, as he steeled himself and decided to bluff his way through it.

“He’s not bad at it either,” she thought to herself as Nox started to flirt with Myra. It occurred to her that the difference between pretending to flirt and actual flirting is not all that great. “I guess a flirt is kind of a bluff in any case.”

At the end of a long, narrow hallway, Myra moved a hidden switch and a door swung inward. Beyond, they found a circular room with a large, ornately inscribed teleportation circle set into the stone floor. Around the outer wall stood display cases and box, desks and large cabinets.

A pile of Restful Bedrolls spilled out of the largest of the ornately carved wooden boxes. The pigeonholes in one of the desks seemed to be each occupied by flints. A silver chime, a flag marked with martial runes, a leather pouch embosed with platinum, and a fancy stylus was displayed in one of the cases.

Asking about their wondrous properties and cost, Andrea settled on the flag. “If we don’t find something better I’d really like that I may just pay the 1,000 gold pieces she is asking.”

Although the Platinum Pouch was tempting as well. “If we don’t find a Bag of Holding, I may have to settle for that.”

She told Nox he might be overdoing it with his flirting. “You may be promising more than you’re ready to deliver,” she whispered to the Sorcerer.

Myra muttered something under her breath, and they suddenly found themselves in another room. This one was octagonal. Crystalline windows revealed they were now on a floor above the other buildings in the section of town where Elyas had sent them.

Andrea could see out in all directions. Exquisite pieced of artwork adorned most of the other four walls. But the thing which drew her eyes was a finely crafted cabinet of polished rare wood with crystal shelves. Displayed in this Dazzling Showcase, she saw five more art objects, including a fan and an opal lozenge.

A small skull made of an unidentified metal floated in the middle of room. It followed Myra around the room, occasionally turning towards her as if expecting a question.

Once Nox diplomatically convinced the half-elf he wasn’t planning to spend the night with her, he got her to show him a piece of coal which was tinged with red. He spotted the rune for fire deep inside it and was able to identify it as a Stone of Flame — a Wondrous Item that Relvaine had told him of.

He bought it on the spot, along with a black metal flask.

“I didn’t know he had that much money,” Andrea said as Nox handed over the 18,000 gold pieces Myra asked.

Now Myra took out a small vial of ink and poured it on the floor in the middle of the room. The blackness spread out in a perfect circle, passing beneath their feet and other obstacles as if they were not there.

The floor disappeared and they floated to the dark floor 20 feet below. She showed them nine more Wondrous Items, but they could afford none of them.

“The Alliance will be honored accept your appointment of Druemeth Goldtemple to the Council. We will be glad to see him assume his duties as soon as he finishes his diplomatic mission to Cachlain.”
Krasire to Inzira,
The Daughter of the Frostwhite Forest

When Nox Rhasgar thought back on his experience flirting with the half-elf, he realized that it wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be. He had smiled at her, laughed at her jokes — even when he wasn’t sure he totally got them — and teased her a little.

In fact, as he thought back on it, he realized that some of the Dragonborn girls he knew back in the swamp might have been under the impression he was flirting them as well. He certainly smiled at them when they smiled at him. He even teased them a lot.

And the way some of them giggled when he laughed at their jokes…maybe he wasn’t getting all those jokes either.

Stepping through the Argent Portal, all memories of playful Dragonborn girls were brushed from his mind. He found himself standing in an ornately beautiful city.

Old, but beautiful.

It stood almost empty, apparently under siege. Defending it was a strange race of lion-like humanoids. One of them came up to them and introduced himself as Rrowthar who took them to an old man named Obanar.

Obanar told them about an undead guardian who haunts the Necropolis in the city. “Seek him out and see if he will tell you how to find the Sky Metal.”

As Rrowthar took them to the Necropolis he handed them a key and told them the Sky Metal was something which could help them make some artifacts which might help them.

The key opened the massive gate in the wall surrounding the Necropolis. Beyond the gate, they found the Necropolis even more silent and still than the near-empty city. A sense of hushed reverence hung in the air.

A cobblestone path wound between crypts and large, elaborate mausoleums. As they searched for some indication of where Guardian Qwor was interred, an undead creature with a longsword appeared from around one of the ancient tombs.

“What business do the living have…” it pointed its sword toward them “…in this land of the dead?”

The blade glowed with dark energy.

“What do you know of the honor of the Champions of Argent?”

Nox listened as Andrea recounted the history of the Dragonborn people — all three of them were Dragonborn — and saw the Wight seemed to be impressed.

So he decided to try to intimidate the creature. That went well as the Wight cowered a bit at his threats.

“Prove you are worthy to wear the Silver Cloak,” it thundered.

Andrea stepped forward again and explained diplomatically all they had done. Nox could see the creature was receptive to such entreaties. So he put aside his plan to prove himself worthy by demonstrating his athletic prowess and continued the diplomatic overtures.

That was all it took. The Wight bowed to him and pointed toward a mausoleum.

“That is where you will find Qwor buried.”

“I always knew that bastard was no good,” raged Grigore Weatherbie Goldforge when he found out Faren Markelhay had been murdered. Apparently Roland and Kalgore disappeared before the killing was discovered. “But not before the killing. Everything Roland was, he owed to the Warden of Fallcrest. And this is how he repays his debts. At least now Belinda will be able to see him for what he really is.”

When the key did not fit in the door, Aleeya realized it would take teamwork to solve the puzzles in the mausoleum.

Sure enough all three of them got through the door by working together.

They found a maze and split up. Without the teamwork, they got lost in the maze and had to use all their endurance to avoid becoming weakened. But pooling their arcane knowledge — a Sorcerer, a Paladin, and a Warlord have a lot of arcana between them — Andrea was able to get them back on track.

Aleeya knew the construction was magickal in nature — the place seemed much bigger on the inside — so he decided the inherent magic might provide clues as to how to navigate their way through the maze. Nox was able to help him some.

He began to the see the pattern in the way the enormous maze was magickally squeezed into the ordinary-sized crypt. “Perhap,…Yes!” He showed the others they through.

He led them into an elaborate burial chamber.

“I’ll bet it’s full of traps,” he warned the others. “These things are always full of traps.”

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Interlude with Shopping Trip
...and Character Leveling

Nox Rhasgar studied the maps Cachlain had given them.

“Thiradith Outpost,” he mused. “One of Cachlain’s portals lead to a spot near that isolated outpost.”

And the Stone-Skinned King told them the Githyanki had been using that portal a lot lately.

Training with Relvain, Nox had sharpened his skills. And even gone shopping.

But some of the Wondrous Items the dwarven shieldmaiden told him about were not to be found in the markets of Sayre.

Amyria told him that The Order of the Black Feather had contacts in Overlook which might be able to help him find such items.

“You mustn’t come right out and ask her about Wondrous Items,” the Deva warned. “They are in her private collection. Flirt with her first, then she might show you the good stuff.”

“Cachlain has invited me to send an ambassador to his court to facilitate our alliance against Sangwyr. Druemmeth Goldtemple, I ask you to represent me there. Go at once. And make sure the Stone-Skinned King does not double-cross us.”
—Inzira, the Daughter of the Frost-White Forest

“We ride to the east,” Megan Swiftblade told the Freeriders. “Our scouts found tracks near an outpost there. Some evidence indicates Githyanki may be involved.”

Battle-weary, the Freeriders obeyed. No arguing, no shouting, they almost seemed beaten.

But Megan knew better. She herself felt none of the old pride. Her new pride — a kind of dedication to the Alliance — was tempered with purpose.

All the Freeriders felt that purpose, too. She knew. They would follow her into the Elemental Chaos itself.

She just hoped that was not where they were heading.

“Here is the sequence of sigils you can use to perform a portal ritual to reach my court.”
—Cachlain, rewarding the representatives of The Order of the Black Feather for their service freeing him from the clutches of an Exarch of Tiamat

Elyas woke from his dream, disturbed.

An Exarch of Erathis had appeared to him in his fitful sleep.

“Why should I be troubled? Have I not done everything I could to restore the Temple of Erathis?”

He could not remember if he had asked the Exarch these questions, but he was sure his work in the Nine Bells district had been noticed by his god. The whole place was in much better shape than when he arrived. The other temples were being restored as well.

But it seemed in his dream that Erathis wanted more from him. The Exarch seemed to think he was needed in Argent.

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The Dragonpinner Is Joined
...By Fire Man and Rock Girl...

…As Crowd Favorites in Cachlain’s Arena.

In the process, they expose an Exarch of The Queen of Treachery.

Andrea Ravn told the others they needed to prepare for another battle before they got to the throne room. She went about healing the others even as they were carried or hussled up through the corridors which led back up to Cachlain’s headquarters.

They were all at full strength by the time they got to the great doors.

“A good thing, too,” she thought to herself.

As soon as they got there. Sovacles began making wild accusations, charging them with crimes Andrea was pretty sure the mind-mage himself had committed.

“The gracious king invited you into his palace, and you use trickery and deceit to compromise the security of his domain. You aid his great enemy, Sangwyr, and you plot against our brave, wise king! At every opportunity, you’ve allowed them into the king’s domain and led them in their assault! Now, submit to imprisonment and the king might spare your lives.”
—Sovacles,
adviser to the Stone-Skinned King

Cain told Cachlain they were clearly attacked by the assaults Sovacles was trying to blame on them.

But the seneschal seemed to be ordering the Stone-Skinned King around, not even hiding his power over Cachlain. As soon as Sovacles shouted “Attack,” the Fomorian king charged them.

Wishing she had Krasire’s powers of persuasion, Cain concentrated her attacks on Sovacles. The rest were doing the same, although Valna tried to intimidate the king, berating him for letting Sovacles order him around. That didn’t work, but Cain thought it came closer than might be expected.

The king hesitated a second, looking angrily at his advisor. Then he shook it off and renewed his attacks on Relvain. Sometimes he was able to slam her so hard he caught others in his attacks.

Cain decided to step back and take advantage of her reach attacks to get a shot at Sovacles without setting herself up for those slams.

She noticed Nox was using smaller bursts of fire than he used against the wolves, so he he could hit the seneschal without hitting the king.

Sovacles was hiding behind Cachlain’s stone armor and deflecting as many attacks as he could toward the king himself. This seemed to convince the king their entreaties of friendship were some kind of deception.

But Andrea was actually healing the king.

“Seems to help,” Cain thought to herself. “Sovacles is getting more and more obvious. Maybe that’s helping.”

“You have no idea who you’re dealing with! My queen has given me the power to destroy you easily! Tiamat will have all that you possess and more, and your blood is my gift to her! And I’m sure Cachlain’s replacement will be more amenable to our commands.”
—Sovacles,
revealed as an agent of Tiamat

Once Relvain Blackaxe had Cachlain’s attention — “I guess the only way to get it is to hit on the head with my axe” — she adopted a defensive posture. The giant Fomorian still was able to hit her sometimes, but at least he wasn’t attacking the other.

The others were trying to convince the Stone-Skinned King that Sovacles was not his friend, but they didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. When Nox put up what what seemed to Relvain to be a pretty good argument, she thought he was about to realize what was up.

When Cachlain shook that off and renewed his attacks, Relvain decided to take things into her own hands and tried the diplomatic approach. Just when that seemed to be working, the king looked at her and said, “Yer da one ’oo ’it me.”

She told the others they were just going to have to concentrate on killing Sovacles.

As the seneschal got more and more beat up, his ranting became more irrational. Just when it appears that the advisor’s threat is ended, his body evaporated and formed into a wispy green cloud.

The cloud began cackling about Tiamat’s power and Cachlain’s replacement, and Relvain knew the trickster had lost all control…

…and was revealed as a shapeshifter.

“Replacement?” shouted the Stone-Skinned King. He leaped toward his throne and gestured at the floor, which was made of some kind of crystal formed like stained glass. It disappeared and Relvain fell to the arena below.

She managed to keep her feet and saw the green cloud Sovacles had become float down on wispy wings.

“You have destroyed my human guise! Still, I have four more forms that can defeat you easily! Now you know you face Virizan, Exarch of Her Dark Majesty Tiamat! All in this room will take my secret to their graves!”
— Sovacles,
revealed as Virizan

Valna of the Moonstair heard a cheer from below, but he did not fall with the rest. He and Nox had spread out behind the throne itself to avoid Sovacles’s bursts of Bane Quills. The floor around the throne side had not disappeared when the strange king gestured at his crystalline floor.

Looking over the edge, Valna could see that four Eladrin gladiators had been fighting a Blackroot Treant. They had managed to chain it down with Cold Iron chains and now were acknowledging the crowd’s cheers.

He could tell the gladiators thought the crowd was cheering for them. “Foolish Feydark preeners,” he thought to himself. “Anyone can see the crowd is cheering because they paid for an ordinary arena fight. Now they get to see an Exarch of Tiamat, fighting for his life against true champions, capable of fighting on his level.”

“Cachlain won’t last long! Sangwyr marches, and the Fomorian weakling’s forces can’t stop him alone. Tiamat covets this domain and it will be hers, and Sangwyr will be a perfect puppet upon the throne.”
— Virizan,
Exarch of Tiamat

Nox Rhasgar heard a new chant go up from the crowd below. Something about a dragon.

The insubstantial nature of Virizan’s Venom-Wisp form made it hard for Nox to do as much fire damage as he would have liked. But when his friends below surrounded the Venom Wisp, it was forced to change into a swarm of snakes.

Only a few of the crowd seemed to be taking up the chant about the dragon, but one of the gladiators heard it. He was now leading the chant and encouraging the rest of the crowd to join it.

“I can see that at least that one realizes they are not cheering for him,” Nox noticed. “I guess all Feydark Eladrin are not so arrogant as to think everything is about them.”

Now that the crowd was organized, he could make out the words:

“Dragon-Pinner. Dragon-Pinner. Dragon-Pinner….”

“I guess Relvain is better known around here than I thought.”

The crowd was reacting to his blasts as well. The party members who had fallen were on their feet and attacking Virizan with their weapons. Whenever they surrounded the Shapeshifter, he would turn into a swarm of snakes and it would become hard for them to hit the teeming mass.

Their blades often struck between the snakes, doing less damage than they might. But his blast attacks left no room for the snakes to squirm to. They seemed to do extra damage as the snakes got in each other’s way.

Every time this happened, the crowd seemed to cheer, only to fade into disappointment.

“I guess it’s because they cannot see me up here.”

The gladiators — ever in tune with the crowd’s mood — made the same guess they formed themselves into a kind of ladder to let Nox and Valna climb down.

The crowd went wild.

“Do not think I ever underestimated you. You stopped Chillreaver, so you’re clearly skilled. None of Tiamat’s exarchs falls easily!”
— Virizan,
Exarch of Tiamat

Remembering nothing of the philosophical debate before they fell through the floor, Grim was impressed with the way the crowd was reacting to the Dragonborn Sorcerer’s fire attacks. When Nox killed off the swarm form, they changed their chant.

“Fire Man. Fire Man. Fire Man….”

When the Snake-Swarm form died, Virizan tried to alternate between his Venom-Wisp form and the guise of a human creature with scaled skin. In this guise, he produced his staff of office, now twisted and warped into the image of a hooded serpent.

But the Venom-Wisp soon died as well, forcing Virizan to try another form, transforming into an enormous, coiled serpent with a humanoid face. A row of green quills ran down his spine, and longer spines jutted out from the tip of his muscular tail.

This form died quickly, and the Shapeshifter had to stay in the Snaketongue form for the rest of the battle.

As the gladiators joined the winning side — Grim could see they had keen sense of whom the crowd was favoring — Virizan began to try to edge him closer to the chained tree.

The green-scaled creature had the ability to send out Emerald Coils which slid them towards the undead Blackroot Treant.

“I have no illusions that I am the strongest of Tiamat’s Exarchs. Even if you defeat me, you can’t stop us all!”
— Virizan,
Exarch of the Queen of Treachery.

“The tree has reach,” Andrea Ravn warned the others. “I think its branches can attack you if you’re with 15 feet of its trunk.”

Then she herself was grabbed by roots which emerged from the ground around her…20 feet from the trunk.

“And its roots can reach even farther!”

She could tell Virizan was close to death, but she could not reach him with her weapon. So Andrea picked up a rock and threw it at the green-scaled form he had taken.

The rock didn’t do much damage, but it was enough to kill the Exarch. The crowd started a new chant.

“Rock Girl. Rock Girl. Rock Girl…”

Freed from the spells Virizan was casting on him, Cachlain sent his guards down to bring the heroes up to his throne room. As they passed the cages where the Quicklings had released the arena beasts, Andrea noticed a rack with weapons arrayed for use by the arena fighters.

One of the weapons glowed with a red magickal power.

A Cyclops guard noticed her interest in the weapon.

“Rock Girl likes sickle?” he asked her. “I take sickle to Stone-Skinned King. Maybe he make sickle present to Rock Girl for winning in the arena.”

She was pretty sure it was no ordinary sickle. So she kept her mouth shut.

“My stupid guards!” shouted Cachlain when the guard told him where they had found the weapon. “This no sickle. This is Talenta Sharrash. Made only beneath the Dark Sun. Magic item of great power. I collect such items, but my guards had this sitting in stupid weapon rack.”

Then he turned to Andrea Ravn. “Guard says you see this magic item in rack, after you kill Virizan. Cachlain not know Sovacles really Virizan. Not know Sovacles work for Tiamat. Not know Queen of Treachery want help Sangwyr take Stone-Skinned King’s domain from Cachlain.”

After he freed Talyrin, she told him what she had learned from Valna while they were both prisoners in the secret prison. Convinced by this that Sangwyr was the true enemy, Cachlain turned to his guards.

“Prepare my armies to march. We must meet Sangwyr on the battlefield. The debt I owe those who freed cannot be fully repaid.” Striding into his personal quarters, he emerged with two more magic items from his collection.

He gave Andrea the Talenta Sharrash, which looks like a sickle on the end of a long pole.

Andrea was sure she heard the Sharrash growl when he handed it to her.

“That’s how you’ll know it is hungry,” he said, raising a stone eyebrow. “For blood.”

Then he handed her a fire-scorched wooden staff with sharp teeth running along its entire length. As a Dragonborn, she could feel its draconic power.

Finally, he bestowed a large shield on Relvain. “For the Dragonpinner.” This shield was emblazoned with an arm raised to make a defiant fist.

From the reluctance in the way the dwarf laid down her old shield, Andrea knew she might have a hard time convincing the shield maiden to use the new one in battle.

“I better take a look at its magic. Maybe it will be better than the old one.”

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Quicklings Release Arena Beasts
...and Sovacles Tries to Blame...

…Our Heroes.

When the ghost was done teaching Andrea to read her Harrow Deck, Shade wondered if she and Krasire could get information out of the Githyanki assassin tortured by Cachlain’s guards. They heard she had erased her own mind and reduced herself to an idiot.

Shade knew Krasire had powers which could penetrate minds. Perhaps the Shardmind could psychically extract knowledge Arzoa didn’t even know she had.

So they decided to sneak down to the pens where she was being held. The animals were kept their, waiting their turn in the arena. For a disabled Githyanki, the cages sufficed as a kind of jail.

“And that keeps her away from the Winter-Court diplomats housed in the secret prison with Talyrin,” she told herself.

She spotted some Quicklings releasing the arena beasts from their cages and rushed in to grab the Quicklings before too many were released. But the Quicklings were too quick for them. No sooner than they had relocked a cage but the Quicklings had it unlocked again…

…or the beast was free.

Once a Chimera, three Winter Wolves, and a Thunderfury Boar were released, the Quicklings made a run for it, leaping into the audience watching an arena fight.

Chasing after the Quicklings just got them trapped between the freed beasts and the pit which surrounded the arena.

“I will open one of the cages,” Krasire told Valna. “Then you lure the Boar in by getting it to charge you.”

By the time Nox Rhasgar got there, Krasire and Shadowfox were already hurting. Nox was glad Andrea Ravn was such a good healer. That left the sorcerer to do what he did best.

“Lay down lots of blasts of fire damage.”

The Winter Wolves who were harrying the Revenant and the Shardmind got the blasts at first. Nox tried to include the Chimera and the Thunderfury Boar whenever he could. But they were both so big they could not really mingle with the wolves.

The Chimera looked frustrated by its size as well. Once the wolves were cleared out, it was finally able to attack two targets at once. Then Nox could see why it was frustrated.

“It has three heads. It would be able to attack three targets at once if it weren’t trapped in this narrow space between the cages.”

“I have a better idea,” Valna told Krasire. “You open the cage and I will drive it into the cage with my Precise Shot arrows.” The plan failed because his arrows killed the big pig before it was driven into the cage. “I guess all that damage Shadowfox was concentrating on the Boar really weakened it.”

Andrea Ravn had to admit she was impressed with Nox’s performance. “I bet you and I and Relvain could take on anything,” she told the sorcerer. But even Shadowfox was putting out some major damage on the Chimera.

“Very concentrated damage.”

Once the Chimera realized it was bloodied, it decided to take its chance on freedom and flew out through the arena. Andrea realized the Stone-Skinned King would see it escape.

Guards were sure to be sent to investigate.

Sure enough. When the guards showed up, it looked like Andrea and her friends had let the animals loose. So the guards took them upstairs toward the throne room.

Andrea realized this was their last chance to recuperate, so she stalled and healed the rest of the party while they made their way upstairs.

As soon as they were inside the throne room, Sovacles commanded the doors to close, and they slammed closed behind Andrea.

The advisor, clearly angered, yelled, “The gracious king invited you into his palace, and you use trickery and deceit to compromise the security of his domain. You aid his great enemy, Sangwyr, and you plot against our brave, wise king! At every opportunity, you’ve allowed them into the king’s domain and led them in their assault! Now, submit to imprisonment and the king might spare your lives.”

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Githyanki Agents Show Up
...Looking to Transport Hostages...

…But the Hostages Show Up Uncaptured…

…and take out the agents.

Nox Rhasgar was surprised when the cyclops locked herself back into the cell where she was being held prisoner. The elf from the ambassador’s cell explained that Talyrin was once the Stone-Skinned King’s closest advisor. Apparently she was supplanted by Sovacles when the bald seneschal convinced Cachlain she was plotted against him.

The ambassadors agreed that it would look less suspicious if they remained in their secret prison with the cyclops sage. Talyrin told Nox that Sovacles was a relative newcomer to the Stone-Skinned King’s court. Apparently he arrived about three months ago and quickly wormed his way into Cachlain’s good graces.

She agreed with Shadowfox when the Assassin told her of their suspicions that Sovacles was using mental powers to influence the king.

“It’s the only way he could have turned Cachlain against me,” she told them. “This is the first of the Stone-Skinned King’s advisors to wield magic openly. He was always afraid of the power of magick. That’s why he only chose sages and powerful warriors as advisors in the past.” Looking worried, she said, “The king has changed. Sovacles’ magick is the only reason I can think of.”

As they went back towards their rooms, Nox heard noises up ahead. Rushing to the quarters where ambassadors in good standing were housed, he found the floor exploding upward as a Bullette, scarred by some horrible torture, came up out of the depths. As he and Relvain hurried ahead to fight the intruders who were pouring from the hole left by the Bullette, Nox saw Shadowfox running back to get the elf out of the secret prison.

“That guy had a really nice bow,” he thought to himself. “But I better turn myself into a ball of fire.”

It was his best spell.

“I was thinking of taking up an instrument.”
Valna of the Moonstair

Relvain Blackaxe had never seen Nox take the form of an insubstantial ball of fire before, but she was glad to see it happen.

The attackers seemed to be led by a Drider Fanglord. Besides the Scarred Bullette, she saw a few Drow Underlings, and a pair of Inferno Bats. The bats didn’t to like the fact that they couldn’t seem to hurt Nox now that he had turned himself into an elemental ball of fire.

“I guess fighting fire with fire doesn’t always work,” she told herself.

When Shadowfox asked if she could pin down the Bullette, she reminded of why she was called Relvain the Dragonpinner, “If I can pin a two-headed dragon, I can pin a Bullette.”

Then she proceeded to pin down the Bullette and the Fanglord. She was really impressed with how much damage Nox was able to do in his flameball form.

“That’s what a striker is supposed to do,” she told him.

She saw the bats leave to head off Trinity and Valna.

“I guess they don’t want fight an insubstantial foe with resistance to fire,” she thought.

“Maybe the guitar.”
Valna

Once Grim got the keys from Talyrin and freed Valna, she ran back to the banquet hall to get back to the invaders in their rooms. But the invaders — two inferno bats — intercepted her in the banquet hall.

So Grim made her stand there, piling her shrouds on the fiery creatures, and doing as much damage as she could. Once Valna got his bow from storage and returned, the Elf joined the fight.

Grim had to admit Valna did a better job at pinning the bats down, but they were able to tag-team them and finish them off.

A good thing, too. Because once Nox and Relvain killed the Bullette and drove the Drider off, Relvain insisted on following the Drider down the hole.

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Almost a Jail Break
A Githyanki Assassin Interrupts...

…The Attempt to Free Elven Ambassadors…

…held in Cachlain’s secret prison.

Shadowfox told Krasire what was behind the secret door in the antechamber: a secret prison.

There she had found the missing diplomats. They told her they had been imprisoned by Cachlain at the word of Sovacles. Also in the secret prison: a former advisor to the Stone-Skinned King and a gnome named Legbreaker.

Krasire decided to take Nox to free the ambassadors, but Shadowfox insisted on exploring further. So he invited Bram Ironfell as well.

They found the lock too hard to pick, so they decided to try to break the cell door. No sooner than they started beating on it, though, and they were attacked by a Githyanki assassin and her Purplespawn Nightmares.

It didn’t take long for these creatures to gain the upper hand. They were quick and hard to hit.

Shade found a massive cavern, surrounded by a 10-foot-wide chasm below the king’s throne room. An arena was built on the vast, flat pillar of bloodstained purple crystal. She also found animal pens nearby. After scouting the area for a while, she heard someone being brought downstairs. “Another fighter for the king’s pleasure” was all she could guess.

it felt to Nox Rhasgar like he was the only one doing damage to these creatures. He was glad he could hit them — sometimes — but they had blooded all of them before he really got going.

And they were all making a lot of noise. The prisoners — except the gnome — were helping. But even the attempt to to open the prison cell had made a lot of noise.

Sure enough, before they had even bloodied the nightmare, the Stone-Skinned King’s guards showed up and yelled, “What’s the meaning of this?”

Fortunately, Bram Ironfell — who seemed to be a diplomat who used to work for the Githyanki — was a quick thinker.

He shouted, “We caught this Githyanki — she claims her name is Arzoa — trying to free these elves.” Then he ordered Nox to seize Arzoa.

Nox picked up on the ploy — shifting the blame for the jailbreak attempt to the assassin — and attacked her. He was even able to help the guards take Arzoa up to the throne room.

Sovacles seemed nonplussed by the whole affair. So surprised that he let the king make up his own mind what to do with the trespasser. Cachlain threw them into the dungeons, obviously anxious to use the Purplespawn in his arena.

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A Diplomatic Dinner Party
...with Invitations Sent...

…by the Githyanki.

Relvain Blackaxe laughed as Shadowfox fell face-first into her salad.

“Did you think to poison a dwarf with your sleeping draughts?” she mused, as Droeth turned into an Oni. “And Krasire here doesn’t even have a mouth. How did you imagine he might succumb to your poison?”

Then the guards attending the Githyanki ambassador transformed as well. Relvain could see from the look on his face — as he sniffed at his food — that he had never known his guards were Rakshasa: a race usually allied with the pirates of the Astral Plane, the Githyanki.

Bram Ironfell knew the food was poisoned as soon as he tasted it. He also knew something more terrifiying: The Githyanki had betrayed him. Droeth transformed into an Oni Spiritmaster, enough to suggest the Githyanki were behind the poison by itself. When his own guard transformed into Rakshasa Warriors, he knew Emperor Zetch’r’r was behind it. The Githyanki overlord had enlisted Bram in his plan to bring war and conquest across the planes. “What manner of betrayal is this?” he demanded. But the Oni only laughed about how slow his diplomacy was proceeding.

Krasire decided to show the Spiritmaster just how powerful diplomacy could be: He used his Keys to the City power to convince Bram Ironfell that being an ambassador to an emperor who would poison his own diplomats was not a worthy title.

He suspected Bram might have long harbored doubts about working with the Githyanki. Apparently the Emperor Zetch’r’r harbored doubts of his own. Krasire knew what a prize the Seed of Winter might be. And the portals the emperor sought to use in the domain of Cachlain were valuable as well.

With the Oni Spiritmaster laughing in Bram’s face, it probably wouldn’t have taken much to convince the ambassador to renounce his post and fight on behalf of the Alliance…

…even knowing the Alliance itself might never forgive his treason.

But the Masked Lord — Krasire — offered the dwarf the Keys to the City of Waterdeep anyway.

And that sealed the deal.

Then he turned to wake up Shadowfox.

Who was still snoring in his salad.

Belinda still hadn’t told her parents about Jerath’s — very public — offer. Asking her to star in his next production might be just what they wanted: a way to keep her close to Sayre and away from the action. Then again, maybe they would forbid it. Theatrical people had a bad reputation in some places — not Sayre, of course. They might think it inappropriate for a Lord Warden’s daughter. Belinda was not sure which reaction would make her madder.

All Cain could remember was the Githyanki ambassador accusing the Droeth of betrayal — Droeth? the laconic Cyclops had transformed into a Oni of some sort before the accusations started flying.

Now Krasire was slapping her, and the banquet of ambassadors had erupted into a brawl…

…with the Githyanki ambassador some how on their side.

“This is my kind of dinner party,” she thought as she saw four Howling Spirits appear behind the Oni.

They took down the Oni — a Spiritmaster, apparently — first. The Oni consumed its Howling Spirits even faster than they were able to kill them. “Doesn’t pay to be the minion of an evil master,” she thought.

After that they concentrated on the Rakshasa and took them down one at a time. Cain noticed Relvain was doing a good job of convincing all of the Githyanki agents to attack her. And fending off those attacks most of the time.

“Good to have a talented tank.”

Searching the bodies they found 300 platinum pieces and a Circlet of the Resolute Mind, which left Krasire facing the difficult choice as to which of his two headpieces he should wear.

Cain found himself wishing he had such problems.

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Sympatico
...A Crazy King Meets a Cray-Cray Diplomat...

…To the Frustration of Sovacles…

…and of a certain shieldmaiden.

Relvain Dragonpinner was trying to come up with some way to use her fighting skills to impress The Stone-Skinned King in the gladiatorial arena. But Sovacles — obviously a mind-mage controlling the king somehow — kept frustrating her efforts…

…to say nothing of the revenant-assassin.

Shadowfox kept doing things which seemed totally inappropriate to Relvain. Just things one doesn’t do in situations. Like eating a coin. Or jumping into an acrobatic routine.

And yet these demented actions seemed to impress the king more than the rational alternatives the Dragonpinner was offering.

First, when the king appeared distracted by the gladiatorial combat in the arena below, the assassin got his attention by executing acrobatic stunts. Soon the king was clapping and Sovacles was sulking.

Then Shadowfox tried to intimidate Cachlain.

Sovacles blustered, “Threats will not work against the king.”

But Relvain could see the king was shaken. “Perhaps his paranoia makes him susceptible to intimidation.”

Then Shadowfox did something that really got Relvain’s goat. She convinced Krasire to give the Seed of Winter to the king.

“You didn’t even get anything in return,” she fumed. But the king seemed genuinely impressed with the gift. “Even though he thought it was his in the first place. And how are we going to get it back to give to the Daughter of the Frostwhite Forest?”

Bluffing about the danger posed to the king by the Githyanki, Relvain finally began to make some headway. “I guess I was right about his paranoia.” After a failed atttempt at diplomacy by Shadowfox, she bluffed again with even more success at provoking the paranoia in the king’s mind.

Cachlain’s interest returned to the gladiators — Relvain had been unsuccessful in provoking Sovacles to a duel in the arena, but there was still fighting going on down there. So she tried to do with athletic swings of her axe what she had seen Shadowfox do earlier with his acrobatics.

Unfortunately, she dropped the axe and the remained intent on the gladiators below.

Sovacles said, “The king has had enough of your chatter. Leave the court at once.”

The king did not seem to be paying attention, but offered no disagreement. As they were leaving, they saw Bram Ironfell — an old friend of Storm Johnson — go in and arrange for them to be able to stay in the ambassador’s quarters.

During these sessions where Sovacles came down to her cell complaining, Talryn always remembered the visions she had of her betrayal. In those visions, it always seemed that Delis Erinthal was the only one who could save her. Now the betrayal was real. And somehow the visions seemed more real as well. Today Sovacles was boasting about some audience with the king, about how he had foiled some diplomats who seemed to be set on upsetting the agreement with the Githyanki.

Trinity Shadowfox had plenty of time to get to know Bram Ironfell after the dwarf arranged for them to stay. Bram entertained them with tales of closing the gates to the Elemental Chaos.

When talked turned to his family, though, Bram became bitter. His family’s decision to exile him from their estates really grated on him. Though he was a hero in Overlook, his family’s betrayal — over him doing the right thing — convinced him that the Alliance would never stop the Githyanki.

So he had joined them.

Indeed, he was acting as the Githyanki ambassador to Cachlain’s court. He had already procured the right of the Githyanki to use the portals to pass through the Stone-Skinned King’s domain.

Bram invited them to a formal dinner later and Cain accepted. At the dinner, they met other ambassadors they had seen around the court:

  • Adrianna Baelsblood, haughty Tiefling, whose slaving business works with Cachlain’s;
  • Troke, a Satyr of the Circle of Crownstone; and
  • Droeth, a laconic Cyclops who works for a relative of Cachlain named Uluh-couram.

The food was poison with some kind of sleeping draught. As he slipped into unconsciousness, Cain saw Droeth transform into an Oni Spiritmaster.

“Uh-oh,” she thought as Bram’s guards turned into Rakshasas. Bram seemed as surprised at this as she was.

“I hope one of the dwarves can stay awake,” was her last thought as her face fell into her plate.

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Feeling Her Way
...Into the Court of Cachain...

…Shadowfox Discovers Some Disturbing Secrets…

…about her past.

Grim was still in her full battle mode when the general came over to thank her.

“I see now why the Lady Inzira has chosen you to represent us to Cachlain’s court. Not only do your crude manners make a better fit, but you obviously can defend yourself should the diplomacy turn to— other means.” He led Shadowfox back to his tent while the rest recovered. “You have probably saved my life today. And for this you must be rewarded.”

General Goldtemple gave Grim a chest filled with gold pieces and a bag of gems.

After contemplating whether the act would offend Druemmeth, Grim ate one of the gold pieces while the Eladrin explained that he would lead them to the area where most of the entrances to the Stone-Skinned King’s court could be found.

“Your combat skills might see you through,” he explained, telling them the previous emissaries sent by the Daughter of the Frostwhite Forest had never returned.

“I fear they may no longer be alive,” he admitted. “Please try to find them. And get them released, if you can.”

“In this war, we face not only mortal danger, but a more sinister attack—an assault against our hearts and minds. The githyanki threaten to drive us to defeat through neglect and treachery. Neglect as we refuse to take the bold steps we must to survive, and treachery as our enemies lead astray those who could be our allies, and mobilize them against us.”
Amyria,
appealing to the Coalition

Shade knew her medallion could be used to find the patrols which Druemmeth had warned her about. She had not yet decided whether she should approach the Stone-Skinned King’s guards openly or try to sneak past them with her stealth.

Shade Shadowfox was particularly proud of her stealth skills.

Once they picked a hole and entered the underground caves which led to Cachlain’s court, she found a maze. Labyrinthine caves led every which way. So she tried the medallion, which was able to pinpoint nearby life forms. Unfortunately, it pointed almost straight down. She was pretty sure it pointed at the court itself, but it didn’t tell her much about which tunnel to choose.

“I guess I’ll just have to pick the one that leads most surely downward,” she told herself. “I know the medallion will be ready to use again in a few minutes.”

Before the trinket had a chance to recharge, Shade heard voices. The words sounded like Cyclops-accented Giantish and Shadowfox was glad she heard them before they heard all the noise her companions were making.

“Especially that dwarf.”

So she decided that diplomacy was the better part of stealth and approached them openly. When she asked for directions to the Court of the Stone-Skinned King, they took the party there straightaway.

“One might even think they believe they have arrested us,” she thought to herself.

But she said nothing aloud.

“I am saddened by the loss of Lyrindel,” High Lady Ordalf told Avenglen. “She was on an important mission for us. Perhaps the more mundane — and practical — resources of the Sword Coast will be able to help. Or perhaps the gods themselves are becoming involved.”

Cain was impressed with the king’s domain, despite herself.

The walls were hewn from purple crystal and supported in places with beautifully forged iron plates. The giant doors were unlocked or non-existent in most places.

As she descended into the tunnels, the air becomes cold and stagnant.

The purple crystal that formed the walls glowed faintly as they approached the court itself. Strange, vibrantly colored mosses and fungi carpeted the floors and walls, though the living quarters and common areas she passed through were scoured clean of these growths.

Slaves and their Cyclops overseers walked the halls, and she began to see a wider variety of fey as she moved closer to the heart of Cachlain’s holdings.

As she moved through the foyer into the main hall, she saw a faint light showing through purple-crystal wall on her left. In its light, she could clearly see the outline of a door.

“Secrets,” she thought.

A massive throne of purple crystal stood on the far side of the throne room. Cachlain sat there, looking them over with his grotesque eyes.

Like other Fomorians, his body was deformed, and his skin purple and covered in warts. Plates of stone are bonded to his flesh. They look almost like armor and are carved with elaborate designs.

Cain had been expecting the armor, but not the carving and inlays.

Next to the throne she saw a smaller seat, and when they entered, a human rose from this smaller chair — a slight, bald man, and carrying a staff of office. His eyes dart among them as he prepared to speak.

The most unique feature of this room is the floor. Giant panes of glass—or maybe smooth crystal—formed a window that looked down on an arena far below. She could see gladiators battling there, and she caught the king sneaking glances at the fight.

The advisor introduces himself as Sovacles, and stepped forward to ask them, “Why do you come here? And what makes you think the great king cares what you have to say?”

Noticing a faint magickal glow around the king’s head, Cain was sure the advisor was exerting some kind of arcane coercion on the king’s mind. This was born out by Cachlain’s subsequent behavior: Whenever Sovacles made a suggestion, the king was quick to adopt the same line of thinking.

Both Sovacles and Cachlain seemed interested when she explained the recent history of the Seed of Winter — the king seemed to barely remember why he had loaned it to a dragon.

After Cain entertained the king with a display of acrobatics, she began to see they would have to work together to accomplish anything during this audience: Whenever the king became distracted, someone would have to get his attention back.

As Cachlain clapped and praised her acrobatic skills — suggesting she might be a good gladiator — Cain realized the king was likely to be impressed by displays of athletics and acrobatics prowess. She surmised that he might take those he perceives as powerful warriors more seriously.

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Eladrin War Camp Attacked
Heroes Save General Goldtemple...

…from Sangwyr’s Cronies

Relvain the Dragonpinner woke in some kind of camp. She was being tended by Eladrin healers. Other tended her companions, but she seemed to be getting the better treatment.

She remembered losing their fight with Pyradan. Not how she got to this camp.

Seemed to be some kind of battle camp. Arrows and spears were stacked nearby.

A tall, muscular Eladrin with long, dark brown hair confirmed this by his demeanor. Adorned in mithral chainmail and wearing a longsword, he’s clearly prepared for battle. He introduced himself to Relvan as Druemmeth Goldtemple. True to his name, he had streaks of gold in the long brown hair above his temples.

He asked her about the war against the Githyanki.

When Relvain explained who they were and their relationship to the heroes in that war, he apologized for sending the Firblogs after them. “I would have approached you more diplomatically had I known who you were.”

He hadn’t heard about the siege of Nefelus, so Krasire joined in to help fill him in on the details of that adventure. General Goldtemple was interested in the Seed of Winter. “I must converse with Inzira about this,” he told them as he headed for his tent. “My ruler will want to know all about this.”

When he returned, he told them, “Inzira seeks a temporary alliance with the Stone-Skinned King. It’s best if she speaks with you.”

He invited them into his battle tent and then removed a mithral medal from his chest and pinned it to the wall of the tent. Ice spread from the medal, crystallizing across a large surface, and forming the image of a female Eladrin’s face.

With long white hair and piercing, icy blue eyes, her presence seemed cold and unfeeling to Relvain. Her eyes studied the shieldmaiden as she spoke:

“The Seed of Winter belongs to me, not to you and certainly not to the Stone-Skinned King. It was a gift from Koliada to me when I was a mere child, and I have no intention of parting with it."

Her eyes turned toward her general, "However, Druemmeth has convinced me that the Fomorian and I must work together to foil the plots of Sangwyr. Use the Seed of Winter for the time being, as a tool to make a way into the King’s court. I’ll be expecting you to return it when you’re finished.

Turning back to Relvain, she said, “It’s convenient that our interests align, so you’ll be my messengers. Tell the Fomorian I do not like him, and I know he does not like me. However, Sangwyr utterly hates both of us, and we must stop his stupid uprising.”

Pointedly hinting that he thought Inzira should be sending him instead of them, Goldtemple offered to take Relvain and her companions to a place near Cachlain’s palace.

“She has sent other emissaries before you, and they have not returned. Find them if you can and have them released.” The general’s face turned grim. “Assuming they are still alive.”

Rumors coming in from the “traveling” company (currently ensconced firmly in the very permanent University Theater in Sayre) of Jerath the “Bard” suggest that the Drow’s perversity may not be limited to stealing the words of Dwarven mastersingers.
— from a handbill Murrik Ironfell was seen passing out in front of The Orb Theatre.

Shade wondered if the dream about being a praying mantis was some kind of clue as to her previous life. Seemed right somehow, but the idea she was once a mantis seemed improbable.

“Contemplating the improbable will have to wait,” she told herself. Relvain and Krasire were already deep in diplomatic negotiations with some Eladrin general. “I wonder if he knows the high-elf lady from my dream.”

The diplomacy wasn’t even over before Shade heard the sounds of battle from outside the general’s tent. Glancing outside, she saw Eladrin bodies peppered with arrows. Others seemed to have been flayed with hundreds of tiny cuts.

The Eladrin dowsed the glowing silver sigil which was providing the light in his tent. “Good,” she thought. Shadowfox did not like the idea of her own shadow — cast on the walls of tent — giving away her position to her enemies. “Strange, though, how it almost looked like a mantis.”

Rushing outside, Shade was able to find cover in some rocks. “Hard to tell who was firing the arrows.” The only archers she could see appeared to be Eladrin. Some elderly women lurked in the trees, but they didn’t look like Eladrin. Krasire shouted out that they might be witches, and Shade was convinced they had some kind of affinity to shadow.

Some of the Eladrin were armed with swords — Winter Blades, Shade seemed to recall they were known as…

But how could she, a member of the High Lady’s Summer Court…

“That was from the dream,” she thought. “The lady in the dream where I was a mantis.”

Shaking off the thoughts, she noticed the Eladrin with the swords seemed to be taking the worst of it. Those already dead were all armed with swords. Those still standing seemed to be the targets of whoever was shooting at them. She turned to one of the Eladrin archers to tell her to fire back, when it turned into a Rakshasa and fired an arrow at the general.

And one at Shade.

Meanwhile, a troll covered in vine had crashed into the back of the general’s tent and attacked those inside with a Thorny Burst. Krasire was able to immobilze the troll and one of the old women with his empowered Force Grasp. That enabled the rest of the group to get out of the tangle of brambles left behind by the troll’s attack.

“The archers are shapeshifters,” she cried and Relvain rallied the heroes to concentrate their fire on one of Sangwyr’s Night Hags — that was the form the old women shifted into when they wanted to do damage.

Seed of Winter cast aside some of its doubts. Now that the Psion had promised to return it to Inzira once the charade with the Stone-Skinned King was through, the Seed didn’t have to worry whether it had given its Concordance too easily. Still, Krasire did seem to be learning a little bit about dominating a battlefield. At least against these assassins.

Krasire Mirrorsmasher was finally getting the hang of his Precise MInd power. He just had to wait until one of his augmented powers hit, then follow it up with an unaugmented psionic powers. He realized that even an unaugmented power could do a lot if he picked the right one.

“And if it has a greater chance of working.”

Krasire used his augmented Force Grasp again to finish off the first Night Hag and start on the troll — “Twice as many targets gives me twice the chance of hitting” — so Revain began shouting they had to concentrate their fire on the troll.

Relvain was particularly worried about the Vinespeaker Troll as it appeared to be able to regenerate itself. Indeed, once they bloodied it, it healed itself completely and grew more ferocious. They had to kill it with a burning stake from the fire to prevent it from coming back to life. Once they burned the troll’s corpse, they turned to the other assassins.

It became clear Sangwyr’s minions were really after the general. The Rakshasa were targeting at least one of their shots at him every time they turned into their fighting form.

After the assassination attempt, General Goldtemple urged them to leave for the court of Cachlain at once.

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