Friday, December 16, 2011, 2:26 PM
The morning had dawned as it usually does over the hot desert sands of Athas. The red sun glared across the rooftops of the Sage District, and the cries of merchants and hockers echoed through the streets.
The six of them reclined in the common room of Marius Amketch's compound, breaking their fast and discussing their next move. They knew they needed to find Allkirk, but the how of it was under contention.
"If you would allow me to make a suggestion," Marius Amketch interjected. He was dressed, as always, in fine but practical tradesman garb. "I have a small caravan leaving this morning for Gulg. You are all welcome to join it. From Gulg, it is a short 4 day journey to Altaruk, and from there, it's almost a straight shot along the trade road to Tyr."
Pa Mela nodded; this was also her plan. Altaruk was at the crossroads of several trade routes, plus was a major port city that rested on the shores of the Sea of Silt. Since merchants gossip more than old women, Altaruk was the perfect place to gather information and plan their next move. Besides, it was also the main headquarters for the Veiled Alliance. If anyone could help them find Allkirk, then Altaruk was where they would be.
As the group murmured their assent, there was a loud knock at the front door. Immediately, the group was on alert. Dryder moved to one window to peek out and muttered a brief curse.
"Remember that templar we met at the gates? She's found us. And she has a city guardsman with her."
As one, the group picked up their equipment and items. Dryder looked over at Marius and sighed, "I'm sorry we got you involved in this, my friend. It was not our intention to get you mixed up with the Shadow King's templars."
Marius waved him off, "No matter. Go through the storage room; there's a back alley that you can escape through. I'll see what I can do to hold off the one up here."
The pounding on the door increased in intensity as Gundrek moved to the storage area to make sure the way was clear. Pa Mela watched him go, then whispered over to Dryder, "See, I told you we should have muzzled him!"
Kratas frowned, "Enough...we have more important matters going on than listening to your japes."
Pa Mela made a face at him, then moved behind the bar so that she could cover the front door.
Gundrek burst into the alleyway, only to see another templar-wife and city guardsman. With a curse, he yelled back into the compound, warning his companions that they were surrounded. Drawing his Craghammer, he rushed the pair, releasing a mental wave of telepathic static, distracting them and forcing them to focus on him as an attacker.
Tor Val, upon hearing Gundrek's shout, ran to the rear door and grinned. At last, a fight! Drawing his gouge, he charged the Shadow Bride.
Within, Katrie waited tentatively on one side of the room. Repeated blows against the sturdy door rattled it within its frame, and she could see the tale-tell signs of the wood splintering around the lock. Not much longer...
Kratas saw her nervousness and smiled at her to help calm her, "Are you ready? Just wait until I finish my spell, then grab anyone that comes out. Got it?"
She nodded. Moving against the wall, she closed her eyes, letting the primal forces of the world fill her. She could feel the beast within aching to be released and took a deep breath, a hunger growing within her.
Dryder watched the exchange and nodded. Katrie was a young elf, but when it came to a fight, she was a tough little scrapper, a good friend to have covering your back. Seeing that Kratas and Katrie were both ready, Dryder concentrated for a moment, fading from existence, just as the front door burst open with a loud crack.
Gundrek swung his hammer, connecting with the Shadow Bride's shoulder, staggering her backwards. But not before her obsidian short sword found its way through his armor, opening a long gash down his side. Snarling from the sudden pain, he turned, knowing that his mental powers prevented the worst of the attack. Ducking, he easily dodged a swipe from the guardsman's battleaxe. Behind him, Tor Val roared as his gouge connected with the Shadow Bride, laughing as blood gushed from the deep wound. Tor Val and Gundrek were both suddenly startled when a small creature appeared behind them.
It looked almost like a halfling, but its skin was very pale, and its small eyes were jet-black; cruel and lifeless. Silently, it lashed out at Gundrek, its obsidian kukri scraping across his armor. A thick, viscous black fluid oozed from the blade.
Back in the common room, the shadow bride and guardsman crashed into the room, only to be greeted by Kratas. With a grin and chuckle, Kratas waved his hand, and a dark, blinding cloud of freezing darkness surrounded the intruders. A scream erupted from within the cloud, and a few moments later, the guardsman stumbled out, his left arm encrusted with a thin layer of hoarfrost. As he blinked his eyes to clear the sudden darkness, Katrie moved.
Her form blurred and shifted, and a loud roar erupted from the creature she had become. The guard gasped as the black, feline form crashed into him, claws and teeth ripping long, bloody trails down his sides.
The shadow bride burst from the darkness, slashing blindly in front of her. As she turned, cursing at Kratas, she suddenly stumbled back as an arrow appears in her arm. Looking over his shoulder, Kratas saw Pa Mela notching another arrow from behind the bar. She noticed his glance and gave him a grin and a wink.
On the roof above the door of the common room, Dryder suddenly reappeared. Leaping down, he tumbled through the darkness, springing up behind the shadow bride. With a delicate twitch of his wrist, he lashed out, leaving a deep wound on the bride's flank.
Outside the common room, Gundrek and the shadow bride circled each other, occassionaly lashing out with their weapons. The guardsman continued to try to distract Gundrek, but was unable to get a decent angle to strike a telling blow. As Tor Val turned to the threat of the small creature, it swiped at him with its kukri, opening a shallow cut on Tor Val's leg. A cold, burning sensation shot through his limb, but as Tor Val checked the cut, he noticed that most of the foul black liquid missed the cut itself.
With a wild look in his eye, Tor Val growled, "You little pissant!"
Grabbing the strange creature, he hurled it against the wall. With a sickening thud, the creature slid down, dazed. Tor Val leapt on top of it, smashing it repeatedly with his gouge and fists until little was left but a bloody mess. The creature suddenly burst into a spray of black ooze, covering Tor Val's face, blinding him. Stumbling back, he roared in anger and frustration as a second shadow creature appeared behind him.
Within, Kratas stabbed at the guardsman as Katrie savaged him with her claws and teeth. As his blade sank into the guard's shoulder, he feels a painful burning stab; the shadow bride had slashed him with her blade. Another arrow thunked into the shadow bride, and she growled a curse at Pa Mela. Seeing that the bride was distracted by Mela’s attack, Dryder used the opportunity to stab the bride with his longsword, pushing her off balance. The shadow bride stumbled, bleeding, into the corner of the room.
As she turned, she saw Kratas charging, a murderous glint in his eye. As his blade pieced her heart, she spat in his face.
Nearby, Katrie had finished ripping open the guardsman's throat. Her mouth and claws dripping blood, she leapt over the bar, rushing out into the back alleyway to assist Tor Val and Gundrek. Seeing Tor Val swinging his weapon around blindly, she pounced on the second shadow creature, clamping her jaws down on its leg. The creature, not making a single sound, stabbed Katrie with its blade, and she screamed as she felt the poison starting to burn its way through her blood.
Tor Val finally managed to wipe the ooze from his eyes. With a blind rage, he charged the second shadow bride, bringing his gouge down on her head with a thunderous crunch. As Tor Val tried to pull his weapon from the bride's head, Gundrek swings his hammer, crushing several of the guard's ribs.
Dryder ran around behind the building, moving to the other side of the shadow creature while Katrie continued to worry on its leg. The creature, realizing its danger, suddenly faded from sight.
The guardsman swung his axe in a long arc, cutting through Gundrek's armor and opening a small slash on his stomach, then leaving a shallow cut on Tor Val's arm. Gundrek and Tor Val exchanged a glance, and the two of them smashed their weapons into the doomed guard.
Dryder quickly looked around, noticing that Katrie still had her jaws wrapped around something. Realizing the creature was invisible, he waited, knowing that Katrie had it trapped. As he watched, two more slashes appeared on Katrie's flanks, forcing a growl of pain from her clenched jaws.
As the creature reappeared, Dryder sank his blade into its back. With its final breath, it burst into a spray of dark ooze, blinding Dryder and Katrie.
(Game Notes: I was surprised by how easy this was for the group. There is a significant power jump from 10th to 11th level. Not only that, but it didn't hurt the party that they rolled 5 crits during the course of this combat. I was lucky to roll above a 6 on many of my attacks.)
Pa Mela sat beside Katrie, examining her wounds. "These are fairly shallow, fortunately. I don't think you got much of the poison in you, so I'm pretty sure it will just run out of your system."
Katrie wiped the last of the black ooze from her face. "What were those things?"
Marius grunted from where he was helping Dryder stuff the body of one of the shadow brides into a cask, "They are the Shadow King's assassins. Vile little creatures that he has twisted with his magics. Souless beasts, or so rumor has it. You seem to have made a few powerful enemies."
Kratas frowned, "And now we've made them your enemies, too. I think it would be a good idea for you to leave Nibenay as soon as you can."
Marius nodded, "I agree. I already have several of my men packing my things. I'll be leaving on the caravan with you, my friends; there is some business in Gulg that I have to attend to."
Dryder grimaced as Tor Val and Gundrek brought in two more casks. "What are you going to do with the bodies? If they search your compound, they'll know for a fact you were involved in this."
Marius smiled mischievously, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about that. I have a good friend of mine who assures me that he can get these casks into the House Shom compound. And tip the authorities, of course."
Dryder grinned, "A bold plan, good sir. And truly devious! It would appear that my influence is having a beneficial effect on your business endeavors."
Marius nodded with mock sadness, "Yes, that's what I get for befriending crooks and villains."
Kratas peeked out the window, checking to make sure that no more templars were on their way. "What about getting us out of the city? You know they will inspect the caravan, so I doubt that hiding will do much good."
Katrie shrugged, "I can change to a different form, but you, Tor Val and Gundrek are pretty well known. Dryder and Pa Mela, not so much."
Gundrek rumbled, "What if we hide inside some more of these casks."
Dryder nodded thoughtfully, "You and Kratas could fit, But Tor Val?"
"I have a large trunk that I use to transport silks and fabrics. He may fit in that," Marius said.
Gundrek nodded, "Then we could throw some of the fabrics on top of him and nail it shut."
"We'd have to burn the fabrics afterward, though. You'd never be able to get the smell out of them," Pa Mela sighed.
Tor Val growled, "You will NOT put me in inside one of those…boxes!"
"I wouldn't either if I were him. It's bad enough out in the open, but locked up in that thing? The stench would be enough to kill you!"
"Mela, enough," Kratas warned.
While Kratas and Dryder pulled Tor Val aside to convince him of their plan, the others all turned to Pa Mela.
Her eyes wide with innocence, she shrugged and said, "What?"
The trunk was cramped and muggy, musty smelling and humid. The gentle rolling gait of the kank that his trunk was tied to did little to relax him; instead, his tension grew along with the suffocating sense of claustrophobia.
Tor Val couldn’t help but be reminded of his days in the gladiator pits of Tyr. When a slave did poorly in the arena, or when they were insubordinate, the overseers punished them relentlessly. At first, whipping the gladiator was all that was needed. Gladiators are trained to resist pain, though, so beatings soon lost the ability to deter obstinate behavior. So, the overseers devised new means of punishing their charges.
Half-giant gladiators were often placed in tight, cramped little cells where they could not move and could barely breathe. Several hours of this would leave the gladiator in agony, their arms and legs painfully cramping from the constriction. After several days, they would be howling for release.
The sudden cessation of movement jolted Tor Val’s thoughts back to the present. Outside, muffled conversation could be heard, getting closer as Marius talked to the guards and Templars inspecting the caravan. His hands and jaw clenched as he heard them get closer; if they opened his trunk, Tor Val would release his fury, uncaring if he died or not. Fortunately, the group moved past.
To Tor Val, it seemed like hours before the caravan resumed, like days before the caravan finally stopped again. He soon felt the trunk being untied from the back of the kank, and then gently settled on the ground. With a rusty groan, the lid was opened, and Tor Val quickly sat up, gasping in the hot desert air. Compared to the scorching heat on the inside of the trunk, it was the sweetest breath he had taken in quite some time.
Behind him, Dryder clapped him on the back. Tor Val nodded, then saw Pa Mela standing off to one side, smirking.
Seeing that she was about to say something, likely some barbed insult, Tor Val snarled, “If you know what’s good for you, woman, you’ll bite your tongue. I have no problem coming over there and shutting that pretty mouth of yours up.”
Mela held up her hands in surrender, and Tor Val felt the comforting weight of Katrie in her cat form pressing against his side. With an affectionate pat on her flank, he stood up and climbed from the trunk.
Kratas and Gundrek were climbing from their casks as Tor Val, Katrie, Dryder and Pa Mela approached.
“When we get to Gulg, I need to make a brief stop in the city,” Dryder said. “I want to see if there are any rumors of note floating around.”
“Good idea. We’ll need to resupply, too.” Kratas was stretching his cramped legs.
The six of them climbed on their mounts, pulling into formation around the small caravan. Soon, they were moving slowly to the south and west along the outskirts of the Crescent Forest.
The Spotted Inix was notorious for its bad ale, horrible food, and crude patrons. It was also inexpensive, which meant that caravan guards, drivers, and general laborers could get cheap ale.
Which made it a good source of information.
Dryder swirled his ale as he quietly sat in a shadowed corner of the tavern. The mug that he was pretending to drink from probably could have used a few dozen washes. However, Dryder wasn’t interested in drinking; he was interested in the conversation taking place a few tables down.
“I hear there’s this forest that just popped up overnight, just south of Altaruk. Story has it that it moves every morning. King Tithian is having a fit trying to find it.” The speaker was a dwarf, solid and square. Dryder had nicknamed him Brick.
“Yeah, well he would. Ever since Urik tried to attack and take over the mines, Tithian has been trying to gain whatever power he can,” said a wind-burned half-elf.
“Yeah, I heard that too. But I think that it’s those Veiled Alliance folks. Word is that they are doing a pilgrimage or something to find this forest, and that they are gathering an army. Pretty sure Tithian don’t want to find another army on his doorstep,” Brick opined.
Dryder quietly picked up his equipment, dropping a ceramic penny on the bar as he left. He’d learned what he needed to.
“A forest?” Katrie smiled hopefully.
They were moving along the shore of the Sea of Silt as they discussed what Dryder had learned. Each of them needed to wear breathing masks and goggles to prevent the wind from blowing the fine powder into their eyes and faces.
Three days had passed since Gulg. Dryder had caught up with the rest of the group in Fort Kalvis the day before, and the group had continued on. The road here traveled perilously close to the Sea of Silt; the powder covered the trade route to the point where it was almost indistinguishable from the rest of the surrounding desert.
Pa Mela spoke, her words muffled by the mask, “I’d like to look into this. I can see if I can meet up with some of my contacts in Altaruk. Maybe they’ll know something.”
Kratas agreed. “We still need to find Allkirk, though.”
“If I know Allkirk, he’s likely looking for this forest as well.” Pa Mela wiped the dust from her goggles.
A bellow from Tor Val alerted them that there was trouble. The four of them quickly drew their weapons and trotted to where Tor Val and Gundrek were scouting ahead.
The wagon was in splinters. The wheels and wagon bed were nearly completely buried by the silt.
“Nothing. No equipment or goods, no bodies. This has been here a day, maybe two.” Tor Val tossed away what was left of a broken barrel.
“We should move on. I doubt whatever did this is still here, but you never know.” Gundrek stood up, pulling his breathing mask more securely onto his face.
The better part of the morning saw them continuing to the west, following the coastline. As noon passed, Katrie could see, out in the silt, forms moving in parallel to their path.
“Someone is following us,” she nudged Kratas, “I can’t tell what, but they’re big.”
The six of them stopped, wary. The forms moved closer, stepping out of the dust and onto the shoreline. Five of them, twice as tall as Tor Val; giants. All of them looked thin and starved, their eyes hungrily gazing at the group, drool trickling from fanged mouths. These creatures were horrid; while they were humanoid in shape, they each had the head of some beast. A ram, a snake, a wolf and a bear. And finally, the head of a large feline with huge, sharp tusks.
“Let me talk to them. We may be able to avoid a confrontation,” Pa Mela handed her bow to Dryder, raising her hands to the giants to show them that she was unarmed.
“We are just travelers on our way to the next village. We don’t want any trouble,” Mela shouted at them in their language.
The creatures kept approaching. The snake headed giant hissed, “Look, it talks. Maybe we eat it first?”
The cat headed giant rumbled, “I like the big one. It feed us for days.”
Tor Val and Gundrek exchanged glances as the giants moved closer. They had both seen one of the creatures in the Tyr arenas, a pitiful thing that was mercilessly tortured by the overseers. But when it got angry, its wrath was terrible to behold.
Kratas whispered to Dryder, “They don’t look like they want to negotiate.”
Dryder thrust the bow back to Mela, “They look hungry. So, unless you want to be dinner, I’d suggest you defend yourself.”
With a roar, the creatures charged. Tor Val, with a loud shout, met the ram-headed giant head on, smashing his gouge into the creature’s knee. With a howl, the giant slammed his huge fists into Tor Val’s chest, staggering him backward.
Kratas focused his mental powers, linking himself with Dryder and Gundrek. He charged the snake-head giant, and his two companions moved with an almost eerie precision to charge two others, their movement completely in tune with his. Dryder smashed into the wolf-headed giant, and Gundrek into the bear.
Katrie ran forward, shifting into her beast form. She leapt past Kratas, latching her teeth and jaws onto the snake giant’s leg. With a roar, the snake giant lashed out, catching Katrie on her side.
Gundrek focused his mind on the creatures before him, releasing another wave of mental static so that he could distract the bear and snake giants. Using a trick he learned in the arena, he clipped his hammer on the bear giant’s knee then shoved his shoulder into its stomach. Off balance, the giant staggered away. Gundrek immediately charged it, slamming his craghammer into the creature’s ribs. The creature retaliated, its movements almost an exact mirror of his own. As he stumbled back in surprise, he yelled to his friends, “They’re learning our moves! Watch it!”
Pa Mela, hearing Gundrek’s warning, focused arcane energy into her bow. As the arrow began to glow, she released it, launching it at the snake giant. As the arrow sank into the giant’s shoulder, she shouted, “Hit that one.”
Dryder slashed the wolf giant’s thigh, dodging a heavy blow. The giant with the cat’s head roared at him, slamming him with one of its huge fists. With a sickening crack, he felt his ribs break, and he stumbled back, gasping for air.
Tor Val grimaced as he felt the giant bite into his shoulder. Growling with agony, his eyes began to lose focus as his inner rage took over. With a roar, he slammed his gouge into the creature with so much force that it stumbled backward, falling on its back. With a sickening thud, Tor Val buried his weapon in the creature’s skull.
Kratas turned, seeing the bear giant lumbering toward Gundrek. Calling on the howling monstrosities that grant him his power, a glowing halo of startlingly bright light formed around him. Pointing at the giant, he released it, focusing a bright beam of light directly into its eyes. With a cry of pain, the giant began blindly flailing around him.
Katrie winced in pain, her breath coming in ragged gasps from the snake-headed giant’s attack. As her claws dug into the creature’s side, she began to feel a trickle of warmth and energy flowing from the creature into her. She could feel her ribs starting to knit, her wounds closing. With renewed vigor, she again latched onto the giant, even as it lashed out at Gundrek.
Gundrek was suddenly shocked as the snake giant grabbed him. He’d seen Katrie use that move hundreds of times, and he found himself unable to move. With a curse, he turned his attention to the snake giant, calling on his mental powers to harden his flesh.
Pa Mela launched a few more arrows, satisfied as she heard the tell-tale “thunk” of their impact. Seeing Dryder bleeding from his wounds, she sang a clear, high note, calling on her bardic powers to heal him.
Dryder gasped as he felt the cool rush of healing from Mela. As his bones knitted, he slid beneath the wolf giant’s wild swing. Leaping up, he buried his sword into the creature’s back, then kicked away, yanking his weapon from the deep wound. As the wolf giant stumbled into the cat-headed giant, knocking them both down, Dryder yelled out, “A little help here!”
Tor Val yanked his weapon free, a red haze of fury darkening his vision. Taking two deep breaths, he mastered his rising fury, using it as a weapon, one he could now control. Hearing Dryder’s shout, he grinned, rushing at the fallen wolf-headed giant. Laughing, he buried his gouge in the creature’s skull.
Kratas easily dodged aside as the bear-headed giant blindly swung its fists. Glancing behind him, he noticed Gundrek and Katrie fending off the snake giant. With a casual wave of his hand, he focused the glowing halo surrounding him into another beam of bright light, smiling as it sliced into the snake-headed giant. Turning back to his opponent, he summoned his psychic reserves, striking the bear giant with his sword. A rush of mental inspiration washed from him, strengthening his companions.
Gundrek slammed his hammer into the creature again, smiling as he felt the crunch of broken bones. Hearing Katrie snarl, he pulled back just as she climbed up the creature’s body, burying her teeth in its neck. With a sudden twist of her head, she ripped out its throat, leaping away as it finally fell dead. Now free to move, Gundrek called on his mental powers, moving in a blur as he charged the bear giant.
Dryder leapt up into the air, driving his longsword into the cat-headed giant as it tried to stand up. Yanking his blade free, he immediately whirled, slicing his sword across the thick neck, nearly severing it.
Mela moved closer to the group. Singing another high sweet note, she sent some more healing energy to Katrie. Taking careful aim, she fired her bow, giving a satisfied nod as the arrow buried itself in the creature’s eye.
(DM Notes: I sometimes like to do these types of fights. The group loves them, too. Knowing that they will have a chance to rest immediately afterwards, they tend to use their dailies. This is why I like to make the fights at level +3 or higher. Beast Head giants are a lot of fun, and they hit HARD. Better yet, they can use the damage and effects that the party uses on them. Hearing Gundrek’s player curse as the giant used Disrupting Advance against him was priceless.)
Katrie had shifted back to her elven form. Now, she was sitting on Tor Val’s shoulders, the two of them gazing out over the silt sea to make sure there were no more giants approaching. The others moved between the bodies looking for any useful items or equipment.
“Hey, I finally found something bigger, uglier and smellier than Tor Val. Quite an accomplishment, if you ask me.” Pa Mela made a disgusted face as she stood up from one of the creatures.
“We didn’t,” Gundrek rumbled, tossing aside what was left of a wooden crate.
“Seems pretty clear to me that these are the creatures that attacked that caravan back there,” Kratas remarked. He and Dryder had found a few useful things; desert clothing, waterskins, and a large canvas cloth that could easily be made into a tent.
“Yes, and I say we keep moving before more come along,” Dryder replied.
Altaruk was a surprisingly bustling village that rested on the shore of the Sea of Silt. After paying the toll to enter the gates, Mela had assured her friends that she would soon return. Moving through the marketplace, she finally saw the symbol she was looking for. Entering the tiny shop, she glanced around, seeing it was empty of customers. Walking up to the proprietor, she covered her mouth with one hand.
Seeing the age-old symbol of the Veiled Alliance, the shopkeeper nodded, moving to lock the shop door. After pulling Mela into a back room, he poured a small cup of water and handed it to her.
“I just need information.”
The man nodded, “What do you need to know?”
“You know Allkirk? I’m looking for him.”
The shopkeeper sat down across from her, “I’ve seen him. He came through town about three weeks ago. He only stayed for a night, then went south.”
“South? Not Tyr?”
“No, south. He’s probably looking for the forest,” the old man shook his head with awe. “The pilgrims who pass through here say that there is a Shining One there, that it is calling them.”
Pa Mela sat back, a long breath escaping her lips. A shining one! That’s what Allkirk meant when he said that the world could now be healed.
Mela thanked the shopkeeper, then asked for the way.
“South, about four days from here. If you find the pilgrims, they will lead you.”
“A shining one?” Tor Val asked.
Mela nodded. Her usual demeanor was gone, and now she was quiet and thoughtful.
“When a magic user purposefully refrains from defiling, instead working to restore the energy and lifeforce that most defilers steal to power their spells, they eventually become unable to defile. Those who grow sufficiently powerful undergo a transformation. There are only legends about these creatures, though. One name you may be familiar with is Avangion.”
Kratas sat up, “An Avangion hasn’t been seen on Athas in thousands of years! Are you sure?”
Mela shook her head, “No, not until we find it. And we’d better find it soon, because the Sorcerer Kings will hear about it.”
Katrie was already excitedly packing her equipment, making sure her supplies were full. “Four days south, you say?” Mela nodded.
“We’d better get moving then. Why aren’t you all packed?” Katrie called back to them as she bolted from the inn.
Three days from Altaruk, they saw the pilgrims; a ragged band of around twenty men and women. The pilgrims were pleased to have the companions accompany them, sharing their food and water as they walked to the south. It was the following morning that they found the forest.
One moment, it was empty desert. On the horizon, they could see the jagged peaks of some distant mountain range. The next moment, the forest was before them. The change was so sudden that the entire group stopped.
The grove wasn’t very large; perhaps a few hundred yards across its center. As they began approaching, they could hear the rustling of the wind through the trees. Distant birds called throughout the wood, and beneath the shade of the trees, a cool breeze ruffled their hair and clothes. Katrie took it all in, a wide smile on her face as her hands moved from tree to plant to tree, touching them, caressing them, praising their beauty. As they moved past a small pond, they each stooped to take a drink of the sweet, cool, refreshing water.
They eventually arrived at the center of the grove. A small ziggurat rose from a large clearing, surrounded by a spiral of pillared statues made of obsidian. The ziggurat itself was made of sandstone and rose perhaps 40 feet hide; carved stone steps led up to the top. All around the clearing, pockets of pilgrims reclined, resting in the cool morning shadows beneath the tree.
Kratas was investigating the ziggurat. “This looks new. I wonder how all of this was brought here without anyone noticing. And who built it?”
Before anyone could answer, a warm golden light illuminated the clearing. Slowly descending the steps of the ziggurat was the most beautiful creature any of them had ever seen. She looked almost human, standing just over six feet high; her skin was a shimmering golden color, her hair as silver as moonlight. Two large wings, like a butterfly’s, spread from her back. Either they were reflecting the sunlight, or they were the source of the warm glow.
She moved amongst the new pilgrims, gently touching each, blessing them with her smile. “Be welcome, my children. All is safe here. Eat of my forest, drink of my water. There will be no harm while you are here beneath my gaze.”
Unknown to the rest of the group, Dryder had slipped away.
Her smile finally fell on the five of them. “Hello my children, welcome to my grove.”
Katrie bowed deeply, tears in her eyes. Gundrek blushed and mumbled something about being honored, and Mela knelt at the creature’s feet.
“You honor us, my lady. I am Pa Mela, and these are my companions. Kratas, Gundrek, Tor Val, Katrie, and Dryder.”
It was then that Tor Val and Kratas noticed that Dryder was gone.
The creature laughed warmly, “Oh, none of the ‘My Ladys.’ My name is Ulynin; it would please me if you called me that.” Her eyes fell on the party’s equipment, quietly observing each of them.
“Thank you my…Ulynin,” Mela stumbled.
“It would appear as if you and your friends are capable adventurers. This is good. Perhaps I could impose on you to assist me with a few errands. Missions, really.”
While she spoke with Mela, Katrie and Gundrek, Kratas motioned for Tor Val to follow him. Quietly, they slipped into the woods, looking for their friend.
He quietly stalked through the forest. As he moved through the trees, the golden radiance eventually left him. With it, the rage.
As soon as he saw that golden light, a fury unlike anything he had ever felt washed over him. It was everything Dryder could do to not pull out his weapons and leap on the creature, driving his blade through her throat. Instead, shaking, he had slipped away, distancing himself from her.
Arriving at the edge of the grove, he started slowly walking the perimeter, letting the sounds of the trees, birds, and wind calm him. Eventually, he arrived at an area on the outskirts of the forest that looked familiar.
Fortunately, the area was small; likely due to the amount of plantlife nearby. As he touched a leaf from a small bush, it crumbled away into gray ash.
It was here that Tor Val and Kratas found him.
“What was that all about?” Kratas was leaning down, picking through the defiled ashes of a nearby tree.
“I’m not sure. I felt it was a good idea to distance myself from her. I don’t know why, but I really wanted to kill that woman.”
Kratas and Tor Val exchanged a look; this wasn’t like Dryder at all.
“I think for her safety, I’d better camp out near the edge of the grove. Maybe find out what happened here?”
Tor Val nodded, “I’ll stay out here with you while the others kiss butt with the golden lady.”
Kratas snorted, “I guess that leaves me to go back.” He looked worried, “We’ll talk more later.”
“It is difficult to maintain this ritual. The statues and the ziggurat help channel my power to maintain the cloak on this grove. Weeks ago, one of the Sorcerer Kings’ minions tried to enter my grove. I was fortunate enough to stop them from doing lasting harm, but I felt it was in the best interests of all of those taking shelter that I make it difficult for such evil creatures to find me.” Ulynin was quietly walking between the pilgrims. As she passed, each reached up to quietly touch her robes.
“I need several things to help maintain this ritual. To the south and west, across the Black Sands, lies an ancient city; Kalidnay. There, I hope, is an item that I think will maintain the ritual, making sure that the Sorcerer Kings never find my home.
Or, if you wish, there has been a surprising number of attacks on my pilgrims as they search for the grove. Slavers, bandits, giants. If you could find the source of these attacks and destroy it, it would help the people of this grove considerably.”
Katrie nodded. This grove was a sacred place; the primal energies practically made her skin tingle. She would do anything to protect her new home.
Anyone who got in her way would be destroyed.
The day is now the 28th day of Smolder, in the Season of High Sun, in the Year of Enemy's Slumber, 190th King's Age. In the skies above, the comet known as the Messenger can be seen.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 12:31 PM
The gates of the city of Nibenay were intimidating. On either side, carvings of enormous faces, both glowering fiercely, glared at the incoming merchants, slaves, and travelers as they passed beneath. Semi-orderly lines formed to allow the city guards, led by the Templar wives of the Shadow King, to question each traveler entering the gates.
“I don’t remember there being this many guards last time I was here. Are you sure we’ll be ok?” Pa Mela was doing a good job of looking her part, but Dryder could see a little worry beneath her cool façade. She was dressed in extravagantly rich garments, displaying her profession as a performer. Dryder had also dressed well, though less garish than Pa Mela. Behind them, Gundrek carried their equipment and instruments while trying to look meek and downcast. Dryder worried more for him than Pa Mela; Gundrek as a slave and gladiator had killed his former master, and pretending to be a slave again was difficult for the proud Mul.
Their plan was to enter the city as a troupe of minstrels. It was not an uncommon practice among the nobles of the city to hire performers, and Dryder and Pa Mela both were quite talented as musicians and orators. Pa Mela had warned her companions that the Templars were asking around about them, so Dryder thought it best to enter the city separately so that they could meet their contact. In an hour’s time, Tor Val, Kratas, and Katrie would enter through the Western gates, and Dryder hoped to be within the city and in position to help them in case there were any problems.
A bored looking Templar-wife and 4 guards approached them. As the guards gazed appreciatively at Pa Mela’s toned body, she flashed them a dazzling smile, easily falling back into her role.
“State your name and business.” The Templar carefully searched each of their faces, occasionally glancing down at several sheets of parchment in her hands.
“I am Velu, and this is my companion Gord,” Pa Mela smiled and flourished into a deep bow. Unknowingly, a small pouch fell from her flowing blouse to land at the Templar’s feet. A faint tinkle of several ceramic coins could be heard.
As she recovered from her introduction, she gave the guards a smoky glance, her smile never faltering. “We are to give a performance tonight at the House Shom compound. Perhaps you and these handsome gentlemen would be willing to join us tonight as we perform.”
Several of the guards grinned, but the Templar remained uninterested. She carefully observed Pa Mela and Dryder, then looked behind them to Gundrek, still glancing down at her parchment.
“And him?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t know its name…I just call it mule. A lady has got to have something reliable to carry her things, doesn’t she?”
Dryder could hear a faint growl coming from Gundrek. Apparently, the Templar-wife heard it too, as her scrutiny of Gundrek intensified for a moment. Dryder’s hand twitched and he prepared to pull his weapons if needed.
After a few moments, the Templar finally bent to pick up the small pouch, hefting it in one hand as she nodded.
“Welcome to Nibenay. The Shom compound is on the northern end of the city by the Cliffside. Follow the main road here, then turn north on the Sage road.”
The three of them shuffled through, Pa Mela smiling and flirting with her eyes as they moved past the guards. Soon, they moved into the press of people roaming the main thoroughfare.
“That was a bit close,” Pa Mela sighed as the gates disappeared behind them. “Can you put a muzzle on him or something? I thought he was going to blow the whole thing.”
Gundrek slammed the equipment he was carrying into Pa Mela’s chest, nearly knocking her down as he glared at her.
“Oh, don’t get all offended, dear. I was just playing a part, just like you were,” Pa Mela teased.
Gundrek growled, pushing his way past her and moving through the crowd. Dryder sighed, shaking his head.
“Follow him to the compound. I need to head to the Western gate to make sure Tor Val doesn’t start any trouble,” Dryder could just see it; Kratas and Katrie trying to keep Tor Val calm before he smashes through the Templars and guards at the gate with maniacal glee. “And don’t provoke him, Ok?”
Pa Mela shrugged, and Dryder moved west, dissolving into the crowd.
The Amketch compound was somewhat out of place in the Sage district. Most of the buildings around it were decorated with banners, signs, and bright colors to attract business. The Amketch compound, though, was just large enough to be comfortable and only carried the house arms above the main door.
It was almost as soon as they announced their presence to the guards outside that Marius burst from his offices. The shock on his face said it all; he had written all of them off as dead due to their long absence. His embrace was warm and friendly as he herded them into his compound, shouting for food and wine.
“Where have you been?” Marius Amketch asked as the six companions settled in.
Dryder sighed wearily, “That’s a bit of a long story. I’m sure you heard of our attempt to save Kiris Dahn from the Gith army?”
Marius nodded. Dryder and Kratas began to recount their adventures, explaining what they found in the mines beneath the Black Spine Mountains, of their journey to the outer planes, their capture by the alien Githyanki and their megalomaniacal queen. They showed him the wealth of equipment and treasure that they had found. Finally, they told of their discovery of the destruction of Kiris Dahn, and the loss of the artifact hidden beneath it.
“I’ve heard of the attack on Kiris Dahn. Allkirk, about two weeks after you disappeared, begged me to get everyone out of the village. It wasn’t long after that...”
Dryder interrupted, “Wait, Allkirk cleared Kiris Dahn? Why?”
“He didn’t say. He seemed distracted, though. I took as many as I could into my service. It wasn’t too long after that, however, that the Templars started really harassing the local Veiled Alliance. Pulling people from their shops and homes, killing them in the streets, things like that. Allkirk and most of the surviving Veiled Alliance members left the city.”
The companions looked at each other. The same thought went through their heads, and Pa Mela voiced it, “They were betrayed, weren’t they?”
Marius nodded, “It’s likely. The Templars and guards started passing these out soon after.” He handed them sheets of parchment. On the sheets were very accurate drawings of Tor Val, Katrie, Gundrek, and Kratas, all listed as persons of interest and criminal collaborators.
“That’s why they were so interested in Gundrek,” Dryder mused. Kratas mentioned that there was a bit of scrutiny for him as well, but he was able to talk his way through.
“Good thing he was my slave then, huh? Slaves are beneath notice,” Pa Mela chirped. Gundrek kicked her chair.
“I think its best that you remain here in the compound until I can sell everything. I’ll have comfortable rooms readied for you.”
“Where is he?” Dryder asked.
Marius looked at the group quietly for a moment, “I know you wish him ill. I’ve told him that you were displeased with him, and left it at that. Whatever it is, I ask that you don’t involve me. You are all my friends, and I would not be caught in the middle.”
“Our argument is between us and Allkirk, I assure you,” Tor Val growled, his fists clenching.
Marius easily guessed the meaning. “There’s more. My last few messages from him have been…odd. For a while, he would contact me and inform me of his whereabouts, but soon, he stopped. For a long time, I did not know what was happening. Then last week, out of the blue, he contacted me twice. One message said that he was near Tyr, and that he had found one. He seemed very excited when he said this, something about how the metamorphosis was almost complete, and that now the world could finally start healing. His second message was a few days later. It said that if you were still alive, I was to give you something important. He said that “She” was not to have it or find it, and that you would keep it safe.”
“She?” Katrie asked.
Marius shrugged, “The nature of the Sending ritual, or so my ritualist says. There is only so much that can be said in so few words. He did tell me to give you a command word, though. Mihi Viam.”
Dryder looked over at Marius, “Do you know where he was hiding here in the city before he left?”
Marius chuckled, “No. But, I’m sure a man of your considerable talents can probably find out.”
Dryder nodded, glancing over at Kratas, “I think that the rest of you should stay here, especially since they are looking for you. Pa Mela and I can look for Allkirk’s hideout.”
“I don’t like just the two of you going out there by yourselves,” Gundrek muttered.
“The Templars aren’t familiar with their faces,” Kratas replied. “Besides, this command word is bound to do something, right?”
If there was one thing Dryder excelled at, it was finding things. It took most of the following day to discover where Allkirk was hiding; a ruined hovel near the Reservoir district. However, he was pretty sure it had been picked clean by the Templars. Tables, furniture, clothing, all covered the floor, broken and torn. Whoever had searched the hovel had done a thorough job.
After about an hour of searching, Pa Mela finally threw up her hands in disgust, “It’s useless. Whoever searched this place would have found whatever it is he left and taken it.”
Dryder reluctantly agreed. “Can you detect any magic in here? Anything at all?”
Pa Mela shook her head.
Dryder asked, “What was that command word again? Maybe if we used it, it’ll point us in the right direction.”
As soon as Pa Mela uttered the command word, a small section of the floor by the destroyed bed glowed, then faded.
“Nice trick,” Dryder muttered.
Looking into the compartment, he pulled out a long, slender wooden box, about three feet long. Opening it, Dryder gave a low whistle.
Within was a magnificent metal longsword. Glowing runes adorned the blade, and the hilt was made of elaborate bronze work. As he pulled the blade from the case, the runes flared, burning with a dull red fire.
“I think we’d better bring this back to the group, don’t you?” He asked Pa Mela.
Kratas was bent over the blade, carefully scrutinizing the runework.
“Look here. See these runes?” He was pointing to a long string of symbols along one side of the blade. “I recognize these. These are the same runes that were in the room beneath Kiris Dahn, the one that held the Eye. These represent nondetection. My guess is that whoever holds this weapon will not be able to be scryed upon. These here,” he pointed to another series of runes, “represent protection from death magic and psychic attack.”
The runes were familiar, and a dreadful realization crept into Dryder’s thoughts.
“Do you think he made this weapon out of the Eye?”
Kratas nodded slowly, “I’d certainly think that it’s possible. The real question is what would this weapon do if one of us tried to use it?”
Tor Val gave a low grunt, then stood up, grabbing his weapons and armor. “Tyr it is, then.”
Dryder and Kratas looked at each other, nodding. It was time to head to Tyr to find Allkirk.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 1:22 PM
Over the course of their two days of rest, the companions discuss how to break into the Queen's palace. Rightly assuming that it would be heavily guarded, they all agree that a frontal assault would be suicide. Ela explains that all captured "lesser races" are brought before the Queen so that she can observe them. If she feels that they are worthy, she lets them fight in an arena. The group ponders this, but then decides that sneaking in as slaves would likely be the best scenario. Careful observation of the Queen's palace shows that slaves are allowed in and out with relatively little supervision.
Krika leaves to find proper attire for the group, and Pa Mela and Kratas begin working on rituals that would assist them in their subterfuge. Kratas casts a Comprehend Languages on himself and Pa Mela, and Pa Mela casts a Self Holding Bag ritual that allows the group to hide their equipment inside of the party's Bag of Holding, then to shrink the bag and hide it until it is needed; the group doesn't want to get caught without their weapons and equipment yet again. Soon, they are prepared and head for the Queen's palace.
Arriving at the main gates, they are confronted by a Githanki officer. He rudely asks them what they are doing, and Pa Mela and Kratas perform some very good bluff checks to fool the guard into letting them into the palace. The companions try to look as if they have a purpose as they begin moving through the buildings; the entire palace is the size of a small city, and it is just as populated with hordes of Githyanki and their slaves. They begin looking for the Queen and her throne room.
It isn't long, though, before they are stopped by another Githyanki. This female is stately and demanding, forcing the group to follow her to the kitchens. Fortunately, Pa Mela again rolled VERY well on her bluff check and was able to convince the Githyanki that they belonged there. The Githyanki woman forces the group to grab platters of food and drink, then leads them further into the palace.
Eventually, they arrive in the throne room, where the Queen and her advisors are holding court. Unfortunately for the party, on of her advisors is none other than General Raskon. Immediately, he calls an alarm, and the party is quickly surrounded by a large number of guards.
The Queen approaches them. She's an impressive figure, standing over 9 feet tall and wearing armor and jewelry that could easily buy a small city on Athas. In one hand, she wields a ruby tipped rod that they can only assume is the artifact they are looking for, Yrilonir. As she observes eact of the companions, she turns to Raskon and asks if this was the group that almost defeated him. He nods, and she smiles and says, "Most impressive for such pitiful creatures. Perhaps we may have some use for you, afterall. We propose a wager. If you survive, we will set you all free, and you shall have the honor of receiving our blessing. If you impress us, we may even allow you into our service to help enslave your world."
She steps away and waves her hand, and the floor drops out from beneath the group. They fall a good 30 feet before landing, bruised, on the floor of a large oval-shaped arena. 8 doors adorn the arena, each of a different color; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white and black. As they pick themselves up off the floor, the Queen calls down,
"You must now choose your fate. One of these doors leads to freedom, the rest have inhabitants that will be most pleased to see you. You must select the correct door, or die trying. If you choose incorrectly and survive, you may choose again. Please, make this entertaining, and don't take too long; our patience is not infinite."
The party quickly summons their bag of holding and begin suiting up. The Queen, delighted, claps for a moment, and the rest of her guards start making wagers as the party equips themselves. Kratas then starts moving from door to door, trying to mentally probe to see if he can determine what's behind each one. When he approaches the white door, a mental voice pleads with him to free it. It will help the party fight if only they will free it. Cautious, the party opens the door, only to find a horrible creature awaiting them; an insectile creature and powerful psionic monster known as a Gaj.
The creature immediately attacks, trying to lay down the hurt on Kratas. However, the group quickly surrounds the creature, locking it down and preventing it from doing some of its more potent abilities. It quickly dies, and the party is none the worse for the wear. Meanwhile, the Githyanki Queen and her consorts applaud, changing bets.
Next, they move to the blue door. Upon opening it, two strange creatures spring out and sweep through the group. They look like large black cats, except that they have two long tentacles twitching and waving from their shoulders. These are displacer beasts, creatures not native to Athas. The creatures run through the party, using their tentacles and agility to make some devastating attacks against the companions. Soon, though, Tor Val, Dryder and Ela pin down one of the creatures while Katrie, Kratas, and Gundrek pin down the other. Soon the creatures are dead, and the Queen cheers louder, calling down how impressed she is with the party's prowess.
On a personal note, I LOVE the 4e displacer beasts. Heavy hitters, and the ability to shift in and out of danger very quickly. Very fun monster!
They next move to the green door. Gundrek cautiously prepares to open it, and Tor Val prepares to push it closed if they don't see a way out. Within are two burning dogs (hellhounds). Tor Val quickly pushes the door closed, and jeers and insults are hurled down at them from the Githyanki watching above.
As they approach the black door, the party prepares themselves to do the same thing. Opening the black door, they see the passageway out of the arena, but also see a horrible creature that has only been hinted at in Athasian legends; a creature known as a Nightmare Beast.
Now, some of you familiar with Dark Sun are probably gasping about this, but it's ok; I used the lesser one. The creature immediately charges the group, knocking Gundrek back several feet, then hurling a bolt of black lightning at Kratas and Katrie. And then, Tor Val starts laying the hurt on, getting 2 critical hits on the creature in the space of a few rounds. Between Tor Val and Dryder, the creature doesn't stand a chance.
As they work on opening the exit, Kratas mentally tells the group that he has a plan. He wants to try to persuade the Githyanki queen into allowing the party to join her. Then, when she invades Athas, he hopes her and the Sorcerer Kings will fight until one or more of them is weakened by the battles. Then, Kratas hopes, it will be easy to overthrow either the Queen, or whichever Sorcerer King is being attacked. A win/win situation as he sees it.
The group soon finds themselves in the throne room again. The Queen is most impressed with their strength and says. She asks them why there are so many psionically gifted individuals on their world, but the party is unable to answer that. She finally offers the group her blessing; any who kneel before her and swear her fealty will be rewarded. Kratas and Dryder are the first to kneel. She touches them with her ruby tipped rod, and since Kratas and Dryder were willing, they are immediately dominated by its touch. They both lay down their weapons and begin swearing undying loyalty to Queen Trinth.
Suddenly, they hear an alarm from the front gates. Guards start running there, and a messenger soon arrives, warning the Queen that a large force of Githzerai are attacking. Trinth, furious, is certain that the party is involved. She orders Raskon and his guards to kill the party, and she departs through a doorway on the north end of the room. Dryder and Kratas grab their weapons and immediately turn on their companions.
As Raskon and his githyanki guards move to attack the party, Dryder and Kratas move into better position to attack their friends. Luckily, both rolled very well on their saving throws, so they both shake off the effects of the domination. The battle is fierce. 6 guards, General Raskon, and a powerful Gish named Bran'not quickly move to isolate several of the party members, forcing them to fight without their companions nearby. Raskon engages Kratas and Pa Mela, which causes her to retreat so that she can more effectively use her bow. Kratas struggles to fight him off until Ela can assist. Katrie tries to fight off one of the guards, while Tor Val charges Bran'not. Dryder does his void trick so that he can be left alone to assist his companions. One by one, the party starts killing off the githyanki guards until only Bran'not and Raskon are left. Inevitably, the enemies fall, and the party takes a brief moment to catch their breath.
This was a tough fight! The group uses almost all of their resources fighting off the combined attacks of the Githyanki. I tried playing them smart, utilizing different tactics to prevent the party from getting flanking advantages. Two githyanki stayed back, hurling spells and area effects to slow the party down. Most of their dailies were needed, and a few of the players were down to their last healing surge.
After the brief rest, they follow the Queen. The palace is like a maze; narrow passageways lead to arching bridges that overlook the causeway below. As they cross these bridges, the githyanki below them turn and watch them. Their expressionless faces follow the party as they run through the palace. Their eerie silence is almost frightening; they turn and move as one.
As the group turns a corner, they see the Queen at the far end of the corridor. She laughs as she hurls a spell at them and runs. Battered, the party continues. Eventually, they emerge on another bridge, and they can see Trinth within her chambers beyond. As they move forward, several githyanki jump up onto the bridge from below, surrounding the group. A brief struggle ensues while the party destroys these minions, and they move forward to confront Queen Trinth.
She attacks, hurling spells and trying to slow down the party. It isn't long before she is surrounded, though, and after several devastating blows from Tor Val, Katrie and Dryder, she is bloodied. And then the fun begins.
A bright flash of red light nearly blinds the group. Where once there was just Trinth, there are now 3 of her, different aspects of the githyanki queen. The Aspect of Body is clearly a warrior type, able to mark and restrict movement. The Aspect of Mind is definitely a controller type, hurling large area mental attacks at the group and teleporting in and out of danger. The Aspect of Entropy is a striker type, sliding through the party with heavy damaging attacks. Katrie locks down the Aspect of Mind and Tor Val charges, only to be horrified as the Aspect of Mind teleports away. Kratas is nearly killed by the Aspect of Entropy, but was lucky that Pa Mela had thrown out an effect that allowed Kratas to heal whenever he hit his target. Dryder and Gundrek surround the Aspect of Body so that they can restrict her from joining her other two aspects. Ela pulls the Aspect of Entropy off Kratas, allowing him to back off and assist.
The first to fall is the Aspect of Mind. Between Tor Val and Katries, it stands no chance. As it dies, it disappears, sending a bright red flash to the other two aspects. As the Aspect of Entropy falls, the Aspect of Body is again infused by the essence of her companion. Tor Val holds off, certain that the Queen would reappear if the final aspect was destroyed.
Finally, as the Aspect of Body falls, Trinth again appears in the center of the room. Tor Val quickly charges, forcing the Queen to fall prone. The Queen, however, is now infused with the powers of her aspects and teleports away. She hurls an area attack at a group of the clustered companions and drops Kratas. But soon, she is again surrounded by the party, and Katrie is able to lock her down, preventing her from doing some of her more powerful abilities.
As the Queen dies, a terrible gong sound reverberates through the palace, similar to the sound that the portal made before they were thrust into this dimension. The floor shifts and the party is almost thrown from their feet. They quickly wake up Kratas and help him to his feet. He can feel a strange energy coming from beneath them, and he encourages the group to grab what they can and run.
I wanted this fight to be completely epic. I made Trinth an Elite monster, and her aspects were normal monsters. All in all, I was quite pleased with how the fight turned out, and the party was nearly completely out of powers and surges by the time it was over.
Gundrek quickly grabs Yrilonir. He suddenly hears its voice in his head. It tells him that it knows the way out, and that Gundrek would gain great power if he were to take the artifact back to his world. Gundrek quickly grabs the party, guiding them through the palace as the asteroid that the Githyanki city is on begins to crumble.
Yrilonir continues to whisper to Gundrek, begging him to wield it. Gundrek pulls the party into a large chamber. In the center lies the portal; obviously the point where the group was pulled into this dimension. It vibrates and pulses in time to the rumbles and quakes that shake the asteroid. This is the way home.
Yrilonir makes its move. It attacks Gundrek, trying to force him to run through the portal. Gundrek is able to resist the compulsion and fights back, warning his companions. Tor Val remembers that the artifact can only be destroyed in the space between worlds. Gundrek gets a glimmer of inspiration and strikes the arch of the portal with the rod. There is another loud gong sound, and the entire asteroid shivers. A crack appears on the ruby, and Yrilonir desperately attacks again. Gundrek is dominated, and starts running into the portal. Dryder quickly grabs the artifact from Gundrek and is immediately dominated as well. Tor Val wraps Dryder in a bear hug, preventing him from moving. He drags Dryder to the archway and forces him to strike the rod again on the archway.
A bright flash of light erupts from the portal. A rush of wind knocks the group off their feet, and a horrible ripping sound fills the air. They get a sense of falling, and then all is black.
They are not sure how long they are unconscious. They awaken in complete darkness with the scent of decay filling their noses. Gundrek strikes up a torch, and the group realizes that they are back at the original portal site on Athas. Around them are the dead and decayed bodies of the Gith who died to open the portal. They are home. Pa Mela does a heal check on the gith bodies, determining that the way they are decayed, that the bodies were dead at least two months.
They begin working their way toward the surface, they move through the ancient city. They recognize the architecture now as Githyanki. Apparently, they have been to Athas before and built this stronghold. Something forced them to leave, though. Either that, or the Gith are their descendants. As the move through Yathazor, they find the body of a well starved Morlah laying beside the body of Slate. The poor man could not fend for himself after the companions defeated his master.
Eventually, they arrive on the surface. The hot desert air is like perfume to them after so long in the underground. They journey back to Kiris Dahn.
Soon, their sense of joy is shattered. One day out from the town, they can see smoke. As they get closer, they notice that the town is utterly destroyed. Large swaths of vegetation are blackened and defiled, and the group sadly begins digging through the rubble for survivors.
After about a day of digging, they are still unable to find any evidence of survivors, nor any evidence of dead bodies. However, a terrible realization sweeps over Dryder, and he quickly rushes to the Bath House. Descending into the catacombs, he soon arrives at the chamber where the artifact was hidden.
The Eye of Abalach Re is gone.
The day is now the 14th day of Smolder, in the Season of High Sun, in the Year of Enemy's Slumber, 190th King's Age. In the skies above, the comet known as the Messenger can be seen.
The party is now 11th level.
Saturday, November 5, 2011, 10:40 AM
They awaken slowly. Groggily, they all look up to find themselves chained to a prison cell wall, two to a cell. Across from them, they can see a female half-giant chained to the wall in another cell. Around their necks are metal collars that restrict their psionic abilities. They are all amazed that the floors of this prison are made of metal. As they wake up and begin to ponder their situation, they hear footsteps.
General Raskon and 5 other Githyanki approach the party's cell. He says something to a companion in his harsh native language, and the companion starts chanting, pulling out strange components. Kratas realizes that the creature is performing a Comprehend Languages ritual, so he speaks aloud to General Raskon for the benefit of the ritual. Once the ritual is complete, the general speaks.
"I hope you are all comfortable. You shall spend the rest of your lives here as slaves of the queen. The queen has big plans for you and I'm pleased to say that I'll be overseeing your progress myself. I trust that you'll all recognize that this fate is as inescapable as the prison that surrounds you."
The party takes the time to ask a few questions, which Raskon arrogantly and magnanimously answers. They first ask where they are.
"You are in the great city of Galnaki, the city of the queen, your home for the rest of your miserable lives."
After asking about the queen, Raskon says that Queen Trinth is a great and powerful ruler who will one day soon conquer all of Athas. He mentions that her beauty would not be appreciated by such lowly life-forms as they. He sneers and cuts off the conversation, and the group leaves.
Tor Val checks his bonds, realizing that the Githyanki have made a terrible mistake in underestimating his strength. The chains are bound to a stone wall, and as Tor Val tugs, he can feel the bonds giving way. As he prepares to pull his chains from the wall, he hears a whisper from the female half-giant across from them to wait. Soon after, a patrol of Githyanki walks down the hallway, checking all of the cells. They move on, and the female half-giant nods, saying that they have about 15 minutes. She introduces herself as Ela, and says she will help them if they can help her escape. She explains that she was captured a few days ago, and that she is a gladiator from the city of Balic who recently won her freedom. She was unsure if she could escape on her own, but now that she sees a large group of obviously capable people, she wishes to throw her luck in with them.
Tor Val easily breaks his bonds (damned Half-Giants with their outrageous strength...not only that, but rolling a damned 19 on his Athletics) and begins working to free the companion in his cell. He easily breaks Kratas's bonds, then moves to the door, kicking it open with a 20 on his athletics. Meanwhile, Katrie shapeshifts out of her bonds, slipping her collar without a second thought. However, she is unable to do much more than wait for Tor Val to assist her in opening the door. After about 5 minutes, all of the group, including Ela, are free of their cells, and they begin working to remove their collars. Katrie, Pa Mela and Dryder move to one end of the cell block to watch for the patrol. The rest of the group moves further into the prison.
They soon come upon a pair of giant creatures. These are B'Rohg, four-armed Athasian giants. Kratas uses his Kalashtar telepathy to try to communicate with them. Though they are simple and bestial creatures, they readily agree to not attack the party if they are freed from their cells. Realizing that these creatures could be a welcome distraction, Tor Val, Gundrek and Ela begin working to free them. Meanwhile Kratas keeps looking around. He soon finds a pair of very strange creatures that look like a cross between a bear and an owl (owlbears). Using his telepathy, he is able to convince the creatures that he means no harm, and that he wants to free them. They agree
Soon the B'Rogh and the Owlbears are free. They also find a dwarf named Bardak, a human named Gremlish, and a group of strange little creatures that look like a mixture between a halfling and a dog (kobolds). Also in one cell, they find a male Mul, but his mind is completely gone, so they regretfully leave him. At this time, they hear a roar from a nearby cell block and rush up to find the Owlbears attacking the Githyanki patrol. One of the guards begins blowing on a whistle, blowing a loud, ear-splitting alarm that echoes through the complex. Shouts are soon heard from the western part of the complex, and the group realizes that their escape attempt has just run into a major complication.
The B'Rohg rush into one of the guardrooms, flailing with their four arms at the group of guards in there. Gundrek sees a door to the south that he thinks leads further into the complex. Using the chains that he was bound with, he plants himself in the narrow corridor there. If any githyanki were to come from that door, they would have to approach him one at a time. The dwarf says that he thinks he knows where their equipment is, and leads them to a door, saying that the area within the room is guarded. Tor Val and Ela position themselves by the door and open it. Between Ela's gladiator training and her ability to be effective with improvised weapons, and Tor Val's brute strength, they quickly overwhelm the guards within. Gremlish (the human prisoner) tells Katrie and Pa Mela that he's certain that the way out is to the north. They are unable to investigate, though, as a group of Githyanki guards bursts into the area from the door to the south guarded by Gundrek. The Kobolds maneuver behind the guards that are being attacked by the Owlbears, harrassing them as much as they can.
Ela and Tor Val quickly begin rummaging through the equipment, trying to find their gear. Dryder, meanwhile, grabs one of the fallen guard's long swords and tosses it to Gundrek so that he can better defend the corridor. As one of the Owlbears falls from the Githyanki onslaught, the other goes into a berserker rage. The Kobolds start dying as they harrass the guardsmen, and they soon break and run, hiding in one of the empty cells. The B'Rohg continue to attack the githyanki in the guardroom, who soon rally and start fighting back from the surprise attack. Pa Mela, after grabbing her bow, runs down to assist the B'Rogh, and Kratas, Ela, and Tor Val rush to help the Owlbear.
At this point, the combat breaks down into pure, joyous chaos. The group was fighting a battle on three fronts, and while the extra allies helped them, they were soon nearly overwhelmed by the rush of enemies. Katrie falls from repeated Githyanki spells, and soon after, Ela falls. Pa Mela is forced to use heal checks to stabilize them. Fortunately, Gundrek was able to use his Battlemind powers to very good effect, reducing the massive amounts of damage he was taking and preventing the enemies from rushing the party. The party, though, uses many of their resources fighting off the Githyanki guards and are ultimately successful. They gear up and decide to follow the advice of Gremlish, heading to the northern door. However, upon opening it, they see two strange creatures bound in cages. These strange beasts are quite angry, and they both have 3 heads; one is a goat's head, a serpent's head, and a lion's head. Dryder quickly shuts the door and says, "I don't think that's the way out." They look for Gremlish, but are unable to find him. They decide to head through the south door after retrieving all of their equipment and suiting up.
Soon, they find another strange creature, apparently having just killed a few Githyanki herself. She raises her hands to show them that she means no harm, and soon they discover that she is a Githzerai known as Krika. She witnessed the githyanki bringing the party to the prison, and she thinks that maybe they can help each other. She guides them out of the prison, and they soon discover where they are.
One by one they step out onto a rocky plain. They stand at the base of a high wall of metal plates. Behind this incredible barrier is a great city of steel and glass that gleams with an unnatural light. At the heart of all this majesty is a scintillating palace that can only belong to the githyanki queen.
When they are able to pull their eyes away from the city, they can see that the sky above them is dotted with floating mountains, glistening bubbles of light, and rippling globes of liquid. On each of the mountains is a cluster of metal buildings and glistening spires. The very air seems to glow and light comes from everywhere.
Krika quickly performs a ritual, and the group soon fades away, appearing on a ledge of what can only be one of the floating mountains. As they move into the mountain, they soon discover that there are several githzerai bodies, mutilated and destroyed. Krika, shocked, rushes into the caverns, shouting out for her companions. After several minutes, they run into a group of githzerai. Krika breathes a sigh of relief, only to discover that her former companions have been mentally enslaved by a horrible creature.
It is tall and slender, a humanoid. Its strange head glistens with moisture, and its souless eyes stare at the group with malevolence. Several slimey, writhing tentacles surround its mouth. This is a Mind Flayer. At one point, it had been a captive in the mountain stronghold of the githzerai. But, a recent event accidentally released this foul creature, and it used its powers to inflict vengeance on its captors. As the party gasps in horror, the githzerai and the Mind Flayer attack.
Tor Val rushes into the room, stiking one of the thralls and doing a howling strike, killing several of the lesser ones. He then immediately charges, heading straight for the mind flayer. As his Gouge descends on the foul creature, it suddenly teleports, pulling one of its thralls into the space he just left. Other thralls block off the entrance to the room, forcing the party to try to push them out of the way so that they can help Tor Val. Meanwhile, one of the thralls strikes Tor Val, stunning him. He is unable to defend himself as the Mind Flayer grabs him, wrapping his tentacles around his head. At this point, Katrie forces the thrall blocking the entrance to the room to slide away, freeing up Gundrek and Ela to charge the mind flayer. Gundrek runs forward and crits. To prevent himself from taking the full fury of the attack, the Mind Flayer interrupts the attack and teleports another of his thralls into his place. The attack kills the thrall, and the teleport forces the mind flayer to release Tor Val from his grasp. As the rest of the party moves in to attack the mind flayer and its remaining thrall, the mind flayer unleashes a psionic blast, dazing the majority of the party. It then grabs Tor Val again, wrapping its tentacles around his head. But, before it can do further damage, Ela, who was outside of the blast, nails the mind flayer, pushing it away from Tor Val and forcing it to release him. The creature is knocked prone, and Katrie immediately pounces. The battle is all but won at this point.
I like how Mind Flayers now work in 4e. Their attacks are still dangerous, but they no longer have the chance of instantly killing the party when they grab them with their tentacles. This fight was intense, and the group was worried that they wouldn't be able to defeat the creature. Luck was on their side, though, and they were triumphant.
Krika and the party move further into the base, eventually arriving at a great library. It is here that they discover what it was that attacked the base and inadvertantly released the Mind Flayer.
The creature is a floating sphere of chitin that is roughly five feet in diameter. It has a wide, fang-filled mouth and a large central eye that glares at the group. Several waving eyestalks watch the party as they enter, and suddenly releases a dangerous array of deadly powers.
Beholders have always been one of my favorite monsters, and 4e beholders are wonderfully fun. I had built a really nice Maptools macro for the beholder that worked quite well. This fight was pretty tough, but I was confident that the group could win; I still think that solo monsters need something extra to make them a tougher challenge for the party.
Ela runs into the room, nailing the beholder with her Brutal Advance daily, which pushes the beholder 3 squares and allows Ela to charge. The creature is knocked prone, and Tor Val rushes in, nailing it hard. Soon, the rest of the party surrounds the creature and it unleashes its central eye, removing the ability of several of the party members to use daily and encounter powers. Meanwhile, its eyestalks fire beams of magic at the group. Gundrek is hit by the disintegration ray, and he is forced to use several powers to prevent the health loss as the magic from the ray slowly eats away his body. Ela gets turned to stone by another beam, and Katrie, who was locking the beholder down and preventing it from getting up from a prone position, is pushed away from the creature, allowing it to rise up from the ground. She is then hit by its terror ray, and runs screaming from the room. Dryder gets nailed by the creature's death ray, but is fortunately able to make a saving throw, which prevented him from taking the worst of the power's conditions. Soon, the creature is dead, and the party collapses, exhausted by their day.
For the next two days, Krika, Pa Mela and Kratas peruse the library. Krika explains what she knows of the Githyanki queen. Trinth is not actually the ruler of the Githyanki; that honor falls onto the shoulders of the mysterious Lich Queen. However, Trinth was able to discover a powerful artifact, a rod known as Yrilonir. With this rod, she was able to discover this city. Using the rod, she wrapped this area of the astral sea in a magical bubble, and then started using it to penetrate the dimensional veil. The city itself was the key to her success; a magical cataclysm had ripped it from its world, and she was able to use the magical energy to find the world of Athas. Finding creatures there that were psionically gifted, she hopes to use her army of thralls to enslave all of Athas, then destroy the Lich Queen, gaining control of all of the Githyanki. She explains that they must destroy Yrilonir, which would destroy Trinth's access to Athas and therefore save them from a terrible invasion. She asks the group to return to the city and infiltrate the Queen's palace. There, they would have to somehow find the artifact and find a way to destroy it. Sadly, her only clue as to how to destroy the artifact lies in its creation. Her research discovers that the artifact was created within the veil between dimensions, so she reasons that it is possible that this is also where it can be destroyed. She says she will gather the last of her githzerai allies and attack the palace, allowing the party to sneak in.
Meanwhile, the rest of the group relaxes. As they peruse the library, they discover several ancient tomes that describe some of the hidden history of Athas. They gain a major clue as to who the sorcerer kings are, and and even more important clue as to the true nature of The Dragon of Tyr. Pa Mela decides to take the book so that she can study it more later.
Overall, this was a really good session. Tor Val discovered that he and Ela work very well together, and I can imagine that he is dreaming of the pitter patter of little half-giant feet.
The date is unknown; time flows strangely out in the Astral Sea.
Next Session: The Palace of the Githyanki Queen.
Monday, October 24, 2011, 1:20 PM
The group descends into the crevice, lighting their torches and preparing for danger. After about an hour of exploration, they come to a small, open area within the caves. The floor is littered with the bones of animals and humanoids. As Kratas leans down to investigate the strange, humanoid bones, they animate, leaping up to attack the group.
8 strange skeletons, each armed with a rusty longsword, attack the party. Unknown to the group, the gith are aware that the party is following them, and they left these skeletons here to guard their back. The masters of the gith used these ancient skeletons to delay any interlopers.
The fight wasn't terribly challenging, despite the fact that my dice were rolling very nicely (5 crits in the first combat for me. Fortunately for the party, the crit damage for these guys wasn't devastating). Soon, the party is wiping off bone dust and shards from their armor, and they continue on.
Afterward, they emerge into an immense cavern. Dim light from glowing crystals reveals a 200 foot ceiling. The center of the room has an enormous chasm, easily 400 feet deep and about 100 feet across. In the center, 2 stalactites rise up from the midst of the chasm, each large enough to stand on...if the party can get across.
The floor of this cavern is littered with bodies, most recently dead. As they investigate, a terrible creature rises from the bodies.
Some call them Oath Wights. When a dwarf dies without fulfilling his life focus, most believe that he is doomed to roam the world, bitter and angry at his failure. This creature was named Solaq, a slave captured by the gith, then killed as they destroyed the bridge that crossed this chasm. Now, he is a mindless abomination, an undead being that most people know as a Dwarven Banshee.
Oath Wights are nasty. Not only do they hit really hard, but they have the capability of dominating their enemies, turning them on their companions. The group swiftly surrounds the creature, and soon discover just how dangerous it is when he forces Tor Val to charge Katrie. Fortunately for her, Tor Val just wasn't rolling that well. Soon, Solaq falls, and as the party breathes a sigh of relief, it turns to horror when they notice him rise back up, at full health. The party quickly decides that the best way to get rid of this creature is to push him over the side of the chasm. Tor Val and Gundrek nail him with Disrupting Advance, forcing him to the side of the chasm. There, Katrie awaits with her Savage Rend. Solaq makes a few saving throws that prevent him from falling over the side, but inevitably, he falls as Katrie pushes him into the chasm.
Returning to the edge of the chasm, they can see the path they need to take descends into the distance on the other side. Tor Val throws a makeshift grappling hook across, and then helps the rest of the party swing over to the stalactite. Pa Mela and Gundrek slip, very nearly falling into the chasm, but with the help of Dryder and Katrie, they are pulled up, a little worse for the wear. Again, they are forced to swing across the deep chasm, this time to the opposite bank. Soon, they are all over, a little breathless, but otherwise ok.
For 2 days, they continue to descend. On the second day, they begin to hear distant drums, followed by faint chanting. Eventually, they find a large cavern, perfectly circular. The cavern decends down a path of carved stairs, and they can just make out that this is a city. The buildings are built on three descending tiers. They can barely see anything below, however, as a strange mist rolls through the streets and stairways. Below, at the bottom of the hemispherical bowl, they can just make out a green glow within the mist. The drumming and chanting is louder here, and the party realizes that there are hundreds of voices chanting, and they all sound like Gith.
As they move down the stairs, the fog gets thicker. They can see glints of electricity coursing through the fog, moving downward toward the center of the small city. Their metal weapons take on a strange, greenish glow the further they descend. A small breeze swirls the mist about them, until finally, they find themselves at the bottom of the city.
The central plaza is quite large. Spead around them are 200 some-odd gith, each of them chanting and singing in time to the incessant drum-beat coming from the center of the plaza. But the thing that catches their attention is the enormous archway in the center. Before it, four masked figures beat on large metal drums. The archway is made of metal, gleaming with a strange, green radiance. The carvings are horrific; as the party looks at it, their eyes can't seem to follow the strange, twisting structure. As they finish climbing down the stairs, the ritual reaches its climax. The drummers, with a magnificent crash, finish their percussion, and an eerie silence falls over the plaza.
This lasts but for a moment, though. As the party watches, a terrible burst of energy rips the air. A great gust of wind rushes past them toward the archway, swirling the mist from the city into a large vortex. The gith all begin to scream, heads thrown back in agony as, one by one, their life force is ripped from them, sucked into the swirling vortex. Finally, as they all fall dead, the 4 drummers before the archway stand up and remove their masks. These creatures look very similar to the gith, except that they stand taller, more noble, than the pitiful creatures they have just destroyed. Each watches the party, drawing weapons. Behind them, the air within the archway continues to swirl and churn, a green light illuminating the plaza as another form emerges from the gateway. He, too, looks similar to the gith, except this one has the obvious air of authority. He draws a two handed sword of gleaming silver and moves to attack the party.
These are Githyanki, and this group is considerably more powerful than the party. The leader, General Raskon, is an elite and his companions are Githanki Warriors and Githanki Blackweaves. One of the Blackweaves fires an eldritch bolt at Tor Val, nailing him and slowing him. Katrie rushes forward and locks down the second blackweave, and Gundrek charges one of the warriors. Kratas tries to tie up Raskon, but is unsuccessful. Pa Mela fires a Jinx Shot at Raskon, but misses. Her mystically charged arrow fires into the portal, and a low chime vibrates through the ground. The portal wavers, but stays open. Dryder tries to tie up the second warrior, hitting him hard. But the warrior retaliates by telekinetically paralyzing Dryder, who then uses his Void Soul armor (Genasi Soul Armor) to fade from the world for a round. The warrior then moves to attack Tor Val.
Tor Val, meanwhile, charges the blackweave, but soon finds himself facing the second warrior. Katrie continues to lock down the other blackweave, and Kratas, Gundrek and Pa Mela try to fight off Raskon and the other warrior. Dryder finally reappears next to the warrior who had attacked him earlier and uses Bat Aside to knock the warrior into the portal.
Suddenly, a shower of sparks erupts from the nightmarish gate. Everyone is thrown to the ground as the stone beneath their feet heaves and buckles. Brilliant green light pours out of the gate and a shrill rending sound fills the air. An instant later, everything goes dark.
This is a hell of a cliffhanger considering that it will be at least 2 weeks before we can play again. This last fight was deliberately difficult, but I was quite pleased with the results. Sadly for the party, the dice were not working well for them, and were working extremely well for me.
The day is now the 26th day of Wind, in the Season of Sun Ascending, in the Year
of Enemy's Vengeance, 190th King's Age.
Next Session: The City of Spires and An Unexpected Friend
Monday, October 17, 2011, 12:30 PM
It was but an hour from dusk when Kratas left is companions to their Amketch
employers. Quietly he made his way out of the compound, across the streams and into the sands of the encompassing desert. He had a purpose.
Kratas was a noble by birth, born and raised in Tyr, though his father had not earned his title. He never knew his mother, as she died giving him life. His father told him little of her, and he could only get half the story from his wet-nurse-turned-nanny years later.
He tracked across the sands for a few miles, coming to a small basalt formation rising from the sand like a tooth of a long dead monster. What was he doing? Images not his own flashed like lightning through his weary mind. A symbol,... ancient? Forgotten? He knew of its origin...the Far Realm. His resolve wavered as he stared at the menacing rock scar and pulled forth a shard of coal.
Leatra, his nanny, and perhaps the only friend he had for his first fifteen years, spoke only briefly about his mother. "A mind-witch from the deep desert, and you too have her Gift." She never explained further, but it was evident that his mother and father were a strange match.
He scratched the symbol onto the flat stone before him. He knew the words...for they had been whispered to him for days since the great battle with the Gith, or perhaps even the time he touched the Defiler relic. Reaching into himself, he summoned forth all of the psionic strength within him, creating countless turns in a mental maze, hoping it would protect him from what was to come...
Kratas's father was Khadhar, dominant lord of the Maktrel Ludis, or gladiatorial school. Slaves were a way of life to the growing noble's son, and the cries of men living and dying around him a constant din. Khadhar was a hard man, and would not suffer weakness from his child. By the time he was fifteen, he had seen hundreds die in and out of the fighting ring.
The lines of the Star blur and ignite, burning in inky black flame, bleeding peals of silent thunder. A connection is made as foreign and forgotten words burst forth from the Star, clouding his mind. Sweat drips from his forehead as he strains to keep the frayed ends of his sanity from leaking away like the forgotten rains of his desert world...
His father gave no ground, and accepted no excuse while Kratas trained in the Mind arts. He was to be an Adept, a powerful Psion...and Khadhar would accept nothing but perfection from his son. These disciplines came easily enough, but it was the Arcane that truly excited him. Knowing words and formula to alter the fabric of his world; this was what he really wanted.
He could feel them. The burning, faceless things that inhabit the black places between time and space. He could hear the foul piping of alien flutes, and listened in horror to the music of the spheres...
Many a night, Kratas could be found in his room, poring over arcane primers and ritual formulae. It took many years for them to take hold, as they were somewhat alien to his mental training. His friend Dryder, a minstrel and vagabond, teased him without end in those early years for his bookishness.
The gates of his mind and the doors of ancestral memory are battered down, self knowledge expands as the Star's three-lobed eye opens and dialates... There is speech, the language is thought, idea and desire. The Outer Forces make plain their aims and goals for the physical world. Kratas's will bends...but does not break. He bears the weight of the heavens, deafened by silence and foul, alien thoughts.
He remembers the day of the uprising. He remembers the bloody end his father met at the tip of a slave's sword. Dryder was insistent that he not tarry, and assisted Kratas's escape from the slave’s vengeance. He will always be grateful to his low-born elven
friend; though they fight as cats and dogs, their team is as eternal as the sands of Athas.
E'saadri, his mother was Kalashtar. Knowledge of his true ancestry strikes him like a cold wind. His blood, too, is Kalashtar; one of the Estranged humans of the deep desert. Knowledge of self brings strength; he pushes back the massive onslaught of amoral insight, powered by the writhing chaos without...
For months/years after the fall of the Ludis and the death of his father, Kratas wandered the city streets. Fortune had smiled on the night he had escaped when Dryder handed him the small fortune his father had kept. This money sustained him for a while, but did nothing to lift the yoke of loss from him. He had known nothing else, and now he had nothing. He spent the last of his coin for armor and weapons and set out to find Dryder...and perhaps a new life.
It takes every ounce of his remaining will to end the connection to the Far Realm. The brand of the Outer Things burns cold on his back as the black flames die out. He feels charged with power, but knows there is a price for this bargain. No matter, he has become a weapon...Let his enemies tremble at his approach, for he does not come alone - "They" are with him.
Monday, October 17, 2011, 12:07 PM
After finishing up in the overseer's quarters, the group descends the spire and continues exploring the underground city. Unknown to the rest of the group, Kratas has finished his transformation, awakening latent psionic powers and developing a few abilities granted to him by his otherworldly patrons.
After about an hour, they hear what sounds like something tapping inside one of the buildings. They move further in, trying to determine the source. Soon, it becomes clear that the tapping is actually someone beating rythmically on a wall, which is further verified when they faintly hear someone singing. When they get close enough to make out the language, they are shocked to discover that the person is singing in common. However, the words are almost gibberish, words strung together in meaningless sentences.
Eventually, they encounter a lone human male using two clubs as drumsticks. He continues to sing, not noticing the party until Pa Mela steps forward and grabs his attention. The man drops his clubs in startlement, then cowers in the corner, babbling incoherently as the party tries to calm him. Kratas tries to contact the man's mind, but finds nothing there...as if the man had no mind. But, with Pa Mela's persistant calm, the man soon calms down. He beckons the party to follow him.
Crawling and stumbling over the rooftops and through the ancient habitations, the strange man babbles at the group as he guides them east through the ruins. Eventually, they come to a small cottage. The area around it is cultivated, farmed for what the group can only assume are nutricious plants. The man calls out as he approaches the cottage, and the group makes out a name in the incoherent gibberish; "Slate."
Soon, a man emerges. From all appearances, he's human, except that his face is gray and stoney, cracked and craggy. His piercing blue eyes gauge the party as his gibbering friend points to the group. He then turns to them and says,
"Thank you for your kindness to my friend Morlah. Perhaps you wouldn't mind joining us and telling your tale, and we will tell ours. As you can probably gather, we never have visitors here."
He introduces himself as Slate, and explains that he is the leader of a small group of elemental priests that he has named the Square of Gurdek. Within the cottage he seats the party in a large common room and introduces the rest of the Square: Pargo; a human male in his early 30's: Mefse; a burly and jovial human male in his 20's: Ari Evan; an elderly and cheerful human woman in her 60's: Ranza: a short, wirey, dour human male whose face is covered with strange, black tatoos: Morlah: the cheerful, childlike man they met earlier: and Olton; obviously a former gladiator, but she is just as childlike and insane as Morlah.
As Ari, Mefse and Pargo prepare dinner, Ranza exits out of one doorway, and Morlah, Slate, and Olton remain in the common room. Curious, the party asks late about the formor gladiator and bard. Slate explains that he showed them the glory of Gurdek, but their minds could not comprehend. They became broken and childish beings, and he feels it is his duty to continue sheltering them. The rest of his group had minds strong enough to see Gurdek in his full glory, then says that there is one among the party who he thinks would be strong enough to speak with Gurdek. He looks right at Katrie when he says this.
As they all sit down to eat, the rest of the square makes conversation. Slate remains silent, watching each of the party in turn.
At first, the party is a little nervous about eating (previous adventures have made them cautious (smile)), but as Tor Val smells the delicious aromas coming from the plates, he digs in. The fruits and vegetables are unusual, but he discovers that the meat is quite tasty. Upon asking, Ari laughs and says, "Someone was kind enough to kill a bunch of basilisks for us. That's basilisk tail." To which Mefse cheerfully replies, "Tastes like chicken!"
As they eat, Ari, Pargo and Mefse relate their tales. Slate had found each of them on the surface. All of them were unsuccessful and aimless until Slate showed them the glory of Gurdek. He then brought each of them here, letting their group grow in power and fellowship.
The group asks about the gith. Ari explains that they are safe here because the gith consider the ruins to be a sacred city.
Around this time, Ranza returns and whispers something in Slate's ear. At this point, Slate asks the group what they are doing down here.
The group explains about the attacks on the surface from the gith. Slate nods knowingly and explains;
"Look around you, at the glory of this city. Great earth spirits like Gurdek built this city, a haven of stone for the great ones. Here they were shielded from annoying winds, unruly waters, and fickle fire. But the spirits of other elements grew envious of the earth spirits and drove them out of the city. Outnumbered and beaten by their lessers,
the earth spirits took the shape of living flesh so they could propagate their kind.
Now, centuries after that ignominious defeat, they are ready to reclaim what was theirs. Not just the City of Death, but the surface world as well. With water already
broken, wind and flame will prove too weak to resist earths vengeance, even if they unite their powers. At last order shall be restored, and the gith as servants of the
earth shall reign supreme."
He then bids the party goodnight. Ari shows them to a large room where they can rest. Kratas, Dryder, and Gundrek guard each entrance to the room, and they discuss what they've learn.
None of them trusts the Square. In fact, each of them is worried that, some time in the night, Slate or his companions will try to kidnap Katrie. They set watches for the night and wait.
Sure enough, Pargo and Ari arrive several hours later. Pargo says that Slate would like to speak with Katrie. She says that she would gladly go if she could bring her companions with her. Ari sadly shakes her head and says, "Alone."
The group declines, and Pargo pulls out his battleaxe, saying, "She's coming with us one way or another. It's best to let her come quietly."
At this point, Kratas and Gundrek decide to defend their companion.
While Gundrek, Katrie and Kratas cover the north entrance to the room, Dryder and Tor Val remain near the south entrance, knowing that more of the Square would likely come through that way. As they wait, Mefse and Olton burst into the room. Pa Mela stands in the center of the room, firing arrows both north and south to her companions that need them. Gundrek marks Pargo and maneuvers himself to block of any retreat, and Katrie and Kratas flank Ari after realizing she's a mage. Pargo shakes off Gundrek's mark and deals a hefty blow, and Ari takes a bit of a beating from both Katrie and Kratas before she casts Dimension Door, teleporting into a better position so that she can cast a sleep spell. Kratas and Pa Mela are caught in the effect, but Kratas successfully resists. Pa Mela struggles to stay awake, but ultimately falls to the floor unconscious.
Meanwhile, Dryder and Tor Val (who crits) quickly dispatch Olton and are in the process of attacking Mefse. Mefse somehow is able to burrow into the ground, rushing beneath Tor Val and Dryder. The attack knocks Tor Val prone, and then he discovers that another occupant has been hiding; Ranza has secretly snuck in the room and attacks Tor Val while he's down, hitting him hard.
During the course of the fight, the group discovers that each of the Square of Gurdek has some type of earth-based power; some have the ability to cause spikes to spring up out of the ground, others to turn their skin to stone, or the ability to sink into the stone beneath them and spring up somewhere else. However, soon, the party is triumphant as the last of the Square, Pargo, falls.
The group investigates the rest of the cottage, soon finding a stairwell going down into a basement level. There, they find Slate standing in front of a large crevice. He looks sad as he berates the party, admonishing them for abusing his hospitality, and then for killing his companions. Kratas immediately throws out his new power, Web of Shadows, to try to prevent Slate from moving. Tor Val, Gundrek, Dryder and Katrie rush forward to engage while Pa Mela remains behind, taking pot shots at their enemy. Slate, though, has other plans. With a shout out to the elemental spirit that he worships, the ground rumbles and two Earth Elementals erupt from the ground.
This was a fun fight. These guys hit HARD, and Pa Mela was reduced to mostly damage mitigation. Kratas used several of his powers to good effect, mainly using Forward Thinking Cut to grant Dryder and Tor Val free charge attacks. Gundrek moves in to engage Slate, and Katrie tries to flank. Slate, with his main power having a reach of 2, gets an Opportunity attack on Katrie, though, and nails her for 30 damage. Slate uses his powers to separate the party several times, and the Earth elementals slide the group around with their earth stomps. But soon, the tide turns as first one elemental, then the other falls. Finally, Katrie pounces on Slate and brings him down. With his last breath, he curses the group and gives this dire warning:
"You are too late. The ritual has begun. They come!"
The party picks up their loot and heads to the crevice, where they find a rope ladder descending into darkness.
The day is now the 23rd day of Wind, in the Season of Sun Ascending, in the Year
of Enemy's Vengeance, 190th King's Age.
Next Session: The Nightmare Gate
Monday, September 19, 2011, 1:52 PM
Before further venturing into the city, the group decides to return to the surface to rest up and get supplies. Also, they realize that perhaps they should check in with Allkirk, Treona and Marius Amketch. Upon arriving at Kiris Dahn, they send a message to Allkirk, then spend the rest of the time resupplying. They also take a good sum of the money they have accumulated to pay Tenpug and his band for both their services and their assistance in the previous battle.
The next day, they receive a message from Allkirk. He is very interested in this city that the group has discovered and wishes to send along an assistant to help the party. They also discover that the templars in Nibenay have suddenly and inexplicably begun to find and capture Veiled Alliance members. Allkirk is in hiding, and Treona is not to be found. Several days later, they encounter their newest member, a Half-Elven female Bard named Pa Mela. The group and the Bard do not hit it off too well.
Soon after upgrading some of their magical items and resupplying, the group (plus a bard) return the the underground city. Before moving in, though, Kratas asks the group to wait while he investigates something they saw on their way.
Next to the entryway into the underground city, the party discovers a smaller area, domelike, with a series of runes and patterns on the floor. Kratas does an Arcana check and discovers that the runes, and indeed the entire dome they are in, has an otherworldly resonance. Noting this, the group heads to the city.
As they approach the entry archway, they are suddenly attacked. Several spirits wielding glowing silver swords rushes to attack them from a nearby guardhouse.
This fight was interesting. These were customized creatures called Sword Spirits, and they came in two flavors; a long sword spirit and a two-handed sword spirit. I had realize that, while the encounters that the party had been fighting so far were challenging, I was afraid that they weren't challenging enough. So, I increased the difficulty of the encounters down here. The Longsword spirits used displacement to frustrate the party, while the Two-Handed spirits used devastating area attacks while being extremely mobile. The fight was intense, but not extraordinarily difficult. Soon, the spirits are gone, and the swords they were wielding fall to the ground, no longer glowing.
As the dust settles, Pa Mela apologizes to the party for her earlier antagonism. Realizing that this was a well organized and dangerous group of people, she confesses that her original impression of the group was from Allkirk. Mistakenly believing that the party was a group of amateurs, she treated them as such. The group is not pleased to discover this little bit of information and vow to discuss this with Allkirk when they next meet. The six of them then continue.
The city beneath the Black Spine mountains is like nothing ever seen before. Bridges and archways span the streets. The buildings are curved; no angles ot straight lines grace the habitats. Each building grows upward, and the Bard determines that it is evident that the more wealthy members of the city lived on the upper floors. Likely, there were some members of the city's elite that never once set foot on the ground level of the city. The stonework is nearly flawless. Pa Mela and Kratas determine that the buildings were carved using a combination of magic and metal tools. They decide that the central spire, which has no bridges linking to it, would be where the leader of the city would probably reside. In other words, if there was treasure to be found, that was likely the best place to look. They begin crossing the city, moving across the vegetation-choked rooftops.
Soon, they encounter a group of large lizards. To their horror, they discover that these are Basilisks.
This fight turned out to be extremely difficult. Some of the basilisks had the ability to mark their enemies, while the rest were the traditional type. I wasn't expecting this fight to be this difficult, but unfortunately for the group, the dice decided that they would not be kind. I did not expect some of the players to fail 3 saving throws...
Tor Val and Gundrek move to the front, hoping to prevent the basilisks from striking at the rear of the party. Katrie and Dryder then wade in, attacking one of the psionic basilisks. At this point, one of the basilisks uses his gaze attack, hitting Katrie, Tor Val and Gundrek (and one of the psionic basilisks). Tor Val uses one of his Barbarian powers to shrug off the immobility. Gundrek, and later Dryder, are not so lucky. They fail all three of their saving throws (over 3 rounds, of course) and are petrified. Katrie fails two of her saves, but is fortunate enough to make her third. Katrie, desperate, summons HypnoToad (All Glory to the HypnoToad!!) to help take up the slack. It is when one of the basilisks attacks HypnoToad that the party realizes that the fight is won. True to history and form, HypnoToad crits with his very next attack, and between him, Pa Mela, Tor Val, Kratas and Katrie, they mop of the last of the creatures. Realizing that they had no way to cure their petrified party members, they decide to head back to Kiris Dahn and hope that they can find a cure. Pa Mela uses a Tenser's Floating Disk ritual to carry the two of them, and they head back to the surface.
Arriving back in Kiris Dahn several days later, the group is relieved to find Treona, safe, and deep into research on a way to discover the dangerous artifact that is confined beneath Kiris Dahn. She readily agrees to cast a ritual to cure Dryder and Gundrek, and then explains some of what she is researching. Realizing that the Eye of Abalach-Re is a very powerful defiling artifact, Treona theorizes that powerful Preservation magic could destroy it. Only one type of creature has that type of power; an Avangion. She also explains that her sister, Dreus, is the one behind the attacks on the Veiled Alliance members in Nibenay, but she is unsure how Dreus is coming across her knowledge.
Kratas, during this time, purchases a Remove Affliction scroll for future use, and then moves off to do some research of his own. Realizing the strength in magic, Kratas decides to find a way to use this power to further enhance his own abilities. He secretly makes a pact with powerful outside forces to grant him the ability to use magic. This transformation begins slowly, while the party decends back into the underground city.
(Side Note: The player running Kratas wished to make several changes to his character. He wanted to keep Kratas, but also wanted to play something slightly more interesting, and that also kept in line with how he eventually envisioned his character arc. As a house rule, I allow a single character re-write for each player. This allows for inexperience and mistakes they made originally in creation. Retraining is still a viable solution, but once they re-write their character, they are stuck with it until the character dies. The player running Kratas decides to re-write him as a hybrid Ardent/Warlock. The new character will be implemented next session.)
The party returns to the underground city. Eventually, they are forced to get down from the rooftops and approach the central spire from the streets. It is then that they are attacked by a Behir.
This fight was tough. Not only were the dice rolling horrible for them, but I was hitting on almost every single attack. This was a younger Behir, which is a level 12 solo, but it was still extremely difficult for the party to hit him.
After breathing lightning on the group (and dazing a few), the behir attacks Tor Val, swallowing him. While Tor Val attempts to escape, Dryder, Katrie and Kratas try to attack the behir, hoping that they can force it to release Tor Val. Gundrek marks the creature, but is unable to hit it. Tor Val, after taking a small amount of damage from being munched on, succeeds on his escape check. Meanwhile, Pa Mela casts a Stirring Shout on the creature, which grants a small amount of hitpoints whenever an ally hits the behir. Soon after, she casts Vigorous Cadence, which grants a small amount of hitpoints the first time the behir makes an attack. So, essentially, whenever anyone hits the behir, they get healed. And, whenever the behir attacks anyone, they get healed. Bard=Good Times.
The behir attacks Gundrek and devours him. It is at this time that the fun begins. Gundrek as used Mind Spike maybe twice since character creation. However, since the behir was marked and had devoured Gundrek, it was free to attack everyone else. Which triggered the Mind Spike. After a good bit of laughter from the party, the behir decides to spit Gundrek out, throwing him into a small area of vegetation...which then proceeds to attack Gundrek and immobilizes him. Katrie summons her Elemental Spirits, and soon the party has defeated the monstrosity. Almost all of them are bloodied during the fight, and nearly all of their dailies have been used.
Tor Val helps the party ascend the central spire. Soon, they enter the Overseer's quarters; a small set of apartments that apparently was used by the city's leaders. Kratas finds an almost intact skeleton and uses the Last Sight ritual to see how it dies.
He sees the Overseer sitting at a desk, writing something in a language Kratas isn't familiar with. Hearing a ruckus outside, the Overseer looks out the window and sees a sudden flash of light, which swiftly expands outward, sweeping over the city, killing everything in its path, but leaving the buildings intact. Kratas, unfortunately, was unable to determine what type of creatures inhabited the city prior to its demise.
On one side of the room is a statue of a tall, thin, stately woman, her face covered by a hood. As Dryder looks it over, a Magic Mouth ritual is triggered, and a male voice harrangues the party in a harsh, gutteral language. Kratas uses a Comprehend Languages rituals and then triggers the Magic Mouth again.
"Beware, mortal, the wrath of the Queen. I shall bind my enemies and feed them to the Blind Dark."
Pa Mela, meanwhile, is investigating one of the exits from the room when she triggers an explosive glyph. Dryder then hears something in another room shatter, and then hears an angry, wild roar. Soon, a horrible creature bursts into the room.
This creature is a heavily modified Grey Slaad, which I bumped up to a solo. It immediately attacks the party, lashing out with tentacles of pure chaos. It is at this time that the party's dice decide to do the good deed. Kratas crits not once, but twice in one round after spending an Action Point. Soon after, Tor Val crits. All in all, there were a total of 5 crits during this combat. A creature that had almost 500 hitpoints was completely obliterated in the space of 3 rounds.
The group finds a chest that contains over 500 gold pieces; not the ceramic "gold" pieces found in the cities, but REAL gold, each imprinted with the symbol of ancient civilizations. They also discover 5 +2 javelins and a set of Scale Mail of Fire Resistance +3. In another chamber, they discover that the Slaad had emerged from an urn, a prison of some type that had been confined in the tower for thousands upon thousands of years. It was likely that the Slaad had been driven completely insane (well, more than it already was) by its imprisonment.
This was a tough session plagued by unlucky dice rolls. Since there are now 6 players in the party, I've had to increase the difficulty a bit so that they can be properly challenged. The session ends with the party achieving 8th level.
The day is now the 22nd day of Wind, in the Season of Sun Ascending, in the Year
of Enemy's Vengeance, 190th King's Age.
Next Session: The Square of Gurdek.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011, 2:20 PM
After spending some time observing the mining camp, the group decides to climb up the mountainside and attack from the rear of the camp. While they do this, Tenpug's band will assault the front gates of the camp.
As Tenpug's band attacks, the party sneaks into the mining camp. While the majority of the gith there defend the front gates, the party attacks from within, swiftly crippling the disorganized defenders. Soon, the battle is over with the party barely scratched. While Tenpug's band secures the mining camp, the group searches the tents and shacks. There, they find a few enslaved miners (which they quickly free...they are happy to join Tenpug's band), and then discover the gith leader in one tent. He sits in front of a shattered crystal, mindless and drooling. This was, apparently, the source of the strange psionic attacks that the party experienced. Dryder does him a mercy and puts him out of his misery.
After making sure that the mining camp is well defended, the group decides to descend into the mines, hoping to discover the source of the gith raids and also to find where all of these metal weapons are coming from. It isn't too long before they hear a sound in one of the branching corridors; the soft tinkling of bells and someone shouting blistering curses in dwarven.
They soon find a small group of Belgoi surrounding a dwarven miner. The Belgoi, realizing that their sport is being cut short, quickly attack the party.
Belgoi are fun; they are also nasty. This small group gave the party a decent challenge, though. Many of their abilities are tied together (one has an ability that dazes the party. Then, their attacks do extra damage versus dazed opponents). The caller wreaked havok among the group, forcing them to attack each other. Soon, though, the party defeats the Belgoi and rescue the trapped miner, a dwarf named Durdon.
Durdon explains about what has been going on. The mine, owned by a minor noble from Nibenay, had not been doing well. Being on the brink of shutting down production, the miners tried excavating a previously unexplored area of the mines about two months previously. Soon, they broke through into a large cavern that was rich with iron. It was also teeming with Gith. Before long, the miners were enslaved, and the Nibenay overseers were all dead. The gith began forays into the upper world while a second group used the enslaved miners to further excavate deeper into the tunnels. On these expeditions, Durdon was brought through an ancient city unlike any he had ever seen. He warns the party of the gith nest below, and explains that there are 3 gith that lead this group; a powerful gith warrior, a grossly fat gith priestess ("She frightens me," says Durden), and a third gith who fights with his hands. The party finds an area of the mine that is fairly secure and rest up for the night.
The next morning, refreshed, the party descends further into the mines. They have also achieved enough experience to grant them 7th level.
They are now easily miles beneath the earth. Several hours of descent with only their torchlight to guide their path brings them to a branching tunnel. Unknown to them, 2 gith guards are aware of their approach. They give out an ear-piercing whistle that echoes through the tunnels, then immediately spring out to attack.
The narrow tunnels force the group into a bottle-neck. While the party fights off the two gith guards, another group rushes up the tunnel to assist. A lone gith breaks off and runs deeper into the mines, warning the gith nest below. A gith drone tries to hit the party with an Area of Effect power, and Gundrek gets to use his new favorite power; Lightning Rush. He forces the drone to target just him, and the rest of the group is saved from the worst of the attack. The group easily defeats this small band of guards and follow the tunnels.
Soon, the passageway widens. Where the tunnel was only about 7 feet high (forcing Tor Val to duck through much of the passage), it now arches overhead to about 30 feet. About 10 feet above their heads, the party can see a ledge with faint light coming from it. Tor Val boosts Dryder and Katrie up so that they can investigate.
The ledge widens into a large cavern, well lit by braziers and glowing stones. At the southern end of the room, a large group of gith waits with weapons drawn. Fortunately for Katrie and Dryder, both rolled well on their stealth checks, and they were able to quickly return to the party and warn them.
Soon, the entire party is up on the ledge. While they assess the situation, Kratas decides to jump on ahead and cause a commotion. This was a bad idea.
As soon as he charges into the room, someone throws a bottle of flaming oil. What the party mistook for small pebbles littering the floor turned out to be explosive rocks. As the flaming oil hits them, they erupt around Kratas. Fortunately, Kratas uses his Warp in the Weave power to avoid the damage, but it is too little, too late as gith warriors quickly surround him.
Gundrek and Tor Val rush into the fray, hoping to pull some of the enemies off of Kratas. While the rest of the group pulls into position, the gith trapped on the opposite side of the burning section of the room start raining javelins down on the group. Gundrek, Kratas and Tor Val push the 6 gith trapped on their side of the cavern into a small guard room so that Gundrek can trap them inside. Too soon, though, the fire dies down, and the party is soon defending themselves from a swarm of gith, led by an unarmed gith named Toogo. Toogo leaps among the party, his hands and feet flashing. Kratas falls to these viscious attacks, and Tor Val, Dryder and Katrie are forced to try and defeat Toogo as quickly as they can, a task made more difficult by the fact that Toogo can leap in and out of the party. Meanwhile, Gundrek cleans up the 6 gith trapped in the guard room and turns to assist with the rest of the gith (mostly minions). This frees Katrie up to do a heal check on Kratas (who has failed one death save) and bring him back into the action. Soon, Toogo falls, and the party is rewarded with a nice, bright, shiney new toy; a Helm of Battle. This, they give to Kratas.
Undaunted, the party rests for a brief moment and continues into the nest. To the south, they find a rough set of stairs that leads into an even larger cavern, also lit by glowing stones. Several gith mingle in here, and upon seeing the party, flee deeper into the cavern. The party follows and discovers the reason the gith were fleeing; the floor of this cavern is riddled with glyphs that burst into flame when anyone gets near. The party holds back so that they can decide what to do.
Soon, they hear another piercing whistle. While Katrie starts searching the floor for the glyphs, Gith start pouring out of side passages. 2 gith spearheads head further south. The party is quickly surrounded by the gith defenders.
Katrie does an excellent job of finding and marking the glyphs while the rest of the group fights off the gith. One drone uses a telekinetic push to force Tor Val onto a glyph, but to no avail. As they wade through the gith, the party hears a terrible shout from the south. Soon, a grossly fat gith female named Zigath is seen following the 2 gith spearheads from earlier. Not only is she a powerful psion (as Gundrek discovers when he is nearly killed by her Mind Thrust power), but she is also a powerful fire priestess. She smites the party with fire, then surrounds them with a Wall of Fire. Gundrek, angry at her earlier attack, crits the creature. Before long, the battle has turned against her. As she falls, she curses the party. Katrie happily picks up Zigath's magical totem; a Flameheart Totem. With it, she is now able to do almost striker level damage while she is in beast form. The group investigates the southern area and find Zigath's sleeping quarters, which contains a large chest. Dryder finds that it is trapped, but is unable to disarm it. He decides to use the Barbarian Lock-pick (Tor-Val) to spring the trap. Fortunately for Tor Val, the trap misses him. Within are 2 healing fruits and a decent sum of gold and a strange, runed statue. Kratas determines that it is a key of some type, and the party agrees to hold onto it for later. They continue on.
They emerge from a narrow tunnel into what appears to be the gith living quarters. Here is arrayed the last of the nest's defenders. Among them is the leader of the group, a fierce gith battlemind named Haza. The party quickly arrange themselves at the entrance to the nest, forcing the gith to approach them a few at a time.
This fight was so fun. Katrie summons HypnoToad, and the party arranges themselves in a three by three formation, with a narrow 5 foot alley between their ranks. The enemy is unable to get past them because of the narrow passageway they are in. As the gith would approach, Katrie would command HypnoToad to attack one of the enemies, which would pull the enemy into the narrow alleyway, thereby granting EVERYONE in the party combat advantage. Between Katrie and Dryder, the carnage was brutal.
Tor Val waits to get a large group of minions around him, and then does his Howl of Fury, killing a large group of them. Haza hangs back, shouting commands to his troops. As he sees Tor Val take out a good number of his soldiers, he shouts and points at Tor Val. Soon, the reason for this is apparent; Haza wants his troops to focus fire on the barbarian. Fortunately, the party's effective tactics minimizes the damage, and Haza is forced to engage. The fight is intense, and Haza is well defended and hits very hard. But, inevitably, the party is victorious. Nothing is left of the gith nest but slaves. The group finds some interesting treasure, including a set of Tembo Hide Marauder's Armor (Tor Val yoinked that as soon as he could), a golden statuette of a creature that looked very similar to the Gith, but stood straight, proud and regal.
Eventually, the party discovers a large stone door. It is here that they are able to use the key they found earlier to continue on. Within this area are more gith slaves, a few small caverns filled with rock and debris, and an enormous stone arch.
Within the arch, they see a massive dome. The floor of this cavern is covered in vegetation unlike any they've ever seen. A small city resides here, it's spires almost touching the ceiling of the cavern. Around the central spire, a large, glowing orb slowly orbits the spire, shedding bright yellow light on the inside of the cavern. Bridges and walkways criss-cross the buildings. From what they can tell, the city is abandoned. Treasure and glory awaits.
It is exciting to see the party discovering their roles and getting into them. Luck and great tactics saved them from several very difficult encounters; they all used almost all of their surges and dailies.
The day is now the 2nd day of Wind, in the Season of Sun Ascending, in the Year of Enemy's Vengeance, 190th King's Age.
Next Session: The City of Calamity
Thursday, August 18, 2011, 2:15 PM
The group begins the session having achieved 6th level.
In the aftermath of the battle, Tenpug tells the party that he wishes to follow the retreating gith to where they are coming from, and destroy them once and for all. Tonight, though, they must bury their dead and gather their forces.
As the funeral pyres light the night sky, several of the town defenders, along with a few of the party members, began gathering the enemies weapons. Using these, they are nearly able to arm all of the town defenders with metal weapons.
Meanwhile, Treona and Allkirk approach the group. They wish to return to Nibenay so that they can find a way to destroy the dangerous artifact beneath Kiris Dahn. They will be leaving on the morrow.
The following day, Tenpug gathers the remainder of his band. The group decides to leave nearly half of them behind to protect the village in the case of another concerted attack from the gith. The remainder begin tracking the fleeing attackers, heading east into the Black Spine mountains.
Luckily, Tenpug had a ranger who was able to assist with the tracking, but even with Katries phenomenal perception, the going was difficult. The following day, a strange sand storm forces the group to take shelter behind a stoney embankment. Kratas and Katrie both agree that this storm is not natural. As they hunker down to wait out the storm, a rear guard of Gith attacks.
While Tenpug's band fights of a fairly large group, the party finds themselves attacked by a group of about 20 gith. Due to the flying grit and sand, vision is horrible. Fortunately, the party's dice were blessed. I kid you not, the party had no less than 5 crits this session.
Tor Val charges in, sweeping through the gith with his Gouge, killing a group of minions with his Howl of Fury. Dryder rushes after the Gith Drone, hoping that he can kill it before it does too much damage to the party. Kratas and Gundrek go after the Gith commander, and Katrie takes mop-up on the Gith Dust Racers. She uses Predator's Flurry so that she can daze the Dust Racers. She crits not once, but twice!! Dryder, who is busy fighting the Drone, soon follows with ANOTHER crit, and action points to obliterate the drone in one, swift, bloody exchange. Gundrek uses Momentum Swing, Augment 2 to attack the gith spearhead, killing it, then immediately charges the Gith Commander and crits. Soon, the rest of the gith are dead and dying, and the party basks in their victory. The storm, though, continues to rage.
They decide to rest for the night there until the storm abates. As the group settles down, a strange silence falls over the camp. Soon, everyone is asleep.
Katrie awakens to a strange sight. The sand storm has dissolved, but the sky is strange. The two moons hover, full and unmoving, in a red sky. The sand and grass they sleep on is black, and she can barely make out the forms of her companions. Swiftly, she rushes to awaken the rest of the party just as she hears a terrifying roar from the edge of the camp, and the screams of the dying.
Running to the edge of the camp, the party sees a terrifying monstrosity; something so horrible that there is no way that it could exist in the natural world. As it tears into several members of Tenpug's band, Kratas attempts to understand what is happening. He realizes that they are all asleep, dreaming, and that this monstrosity is some sort of psionic attack. He's sure that if they can defeat the attack, they would wake up. So, the party rushes in.
It isn't long before the group has the creature defeated. As it fades into the black sands, the party awakens in the real world to discover that those of Tenpug's band who had fallen to the psychic monstrosity were unable to awaken. They send half of their remaining group back to Kiris Dahn to protect those who are comatose, and decide to try to continue tracking down the gith, despite the sandstorm from the day before.
Weary from the previous night, they press on. Certain that the Gith are coming from the Black Spine Mountains, they continue in that direction. One more day of travel edges them ever closer, and as evening falls, they decide to rest one more night, hoping that they would be fresh in the morning.
Exhaustion forces them all to fall asleep. Gundrek tries as hard as he can to remain awake, but he, too, succumbs to his fatigue.
Again, they awaken on a barren plain with black sand. The red sky arches above them, and everything is featureless for as far as the eye can see. Tenpug's band lies around them, unable to move or awaken from their slumber. Only the party remains awake, and Kratas realizes that they are trapped within the mindscape of a powerful psionicist. The type of attack that they are being subjected to is very powerful, but also very dangerous in that it allows someone who is psionically gifted to use the mindscape to strike back at the attacker (he rolled high on his Arcana check). They begin to travel across the mindscape, searching for the enemy's mind.
Soon, the featureless plain is marred by two giant iron statues standing side by side. Both are identical statues of Gith warriors. As the group approaches, they suddenly awaken and attack.
Kratas realizes that these are the Gith Psion's mental defenses, and that if they can defeat them, then his mind would be open to attack. I leveled down 2 Iron Golems, both elites, to represent the statues.
Gundrek, Dryder and Kratas attack one of the statues, and Katrie and Tor Val attack the other. The fight is a little grindy, but not extremely difficult. It isn't long before they both are dead, instantly rusting and disolving into the landscape.
As soon as both fall, a horrible scream erupts from the land around them. The Gith Psion appears, gigantic, and angrily attacks the party.
This is another solo monster, and one I was quite pleased with. He had some interesting attack combinations that allowed him to move the party around. Also, he could attack his enemies and drain Psionic Power Points to recharge his most devastating attack, a psychic scream. If the person he attacked didn't have any power points, then they gained vulnerable 5 to psychic damage. By the end of the battle, almost all of the party is bloodied, and Katrie is close to death. But between Tor Val's 5th crit of the night and the constant barrage of attacks from everyone else, the Gith Psion's psychic construct falls.
From its decaying body, a creature emerges, something out of HP Lovecraft's worse nightmares. While the creature is terrifying, it is only the Gith Psion's last ditch effort to expell the party from its mindscape. One solid hit from Dryder causes it to dissipate. And then, a massive castle made of black stone rumbles up from the plain before them.
The edifice is shaped like the head of a giant gith, and it's mouth gapes open. The party enters and see's hundreds of glowing gems arrayed all throughout the inside of the castle. In the very center, a glowing gem floats. Kratas determines that this is the focus of the gith psion's energies, and that if they can destroy it, they would be free of the psionic attack.
Tor Val smashes the gem, and as a bright flash of light erupts around them, they see a vision of the gith psion screaming as he clutches his head in agony. They awaken soon after. The rest of Tenpug's band also awakens, and the party realizes they have struck a major blow against their enemies.
That afternoon, they stand on a hill overlooking the enemy camp. A small barricade surrounds an encampment of wooden and stone huts. Nearby, a gaping hole descends into the mountainside. It is a mining camp, and it is completely controlled by the enemy gith. But as they watch, they realize that the enemy is disorganized and unaware, and the party begins to plan their assault.
The day is now the 1st day of Wind, in the Season of Sun Ascending, in the Year of Enemy's Vengeance, 190th King's Age.
Next session: Into the Mines