Primisti

Victory at Lir’karanon

If Sir Darsarius the Corrupted had been a challenging and deadly opponent, the Marilith he had transformed into was a nightmare. She moved with a profane speed and grace despite the bulk of her serpentine lower body. The Knight’s Adamantine sword was joined by five other abyssal weapons. As the creature split her sword swings between Ragnork and Ved’rail, leaving both bloody, Burgin found himself being crushed within her coils.

Alluvian, gravely wounded by Sir Darsarius, had let herself fall off the precipice on which the battle was taking place. She spread her wings, banking around in search of Gretel and her healing magics. She found the priestess, now perched atop the ruined wall, her own wings instinctively helping with her balance. Gretel healed the Huntress, who swiftly returned to the conflict. Then the priestess, in turn, ran along the top of the ruined wall. Once in range, she channeled the power of Palor into a healing light that spread out to her friends.

The Marilith had already rendered the dwarven warrior unconscious, dropping his body limply to the ground. Alluvian rejoined the melee, positioning herself to assist Ragnork, allowing her rage to fuel her sword strokes. One of the Marilith’s swords erupted in flame, grievously wounding Ved’rail and forcing him to levitate out of range of the conflict. Gretel worked her way close to the melee to better heal those engaged in the melee with Phandria providing healing support. Talesian proved an expert marksman, his arrows continuing to strike, although its hide proved quite resilient. Once again, Samnymian cursed demonkind’s resistance to magic, finding his magics had little effect on the raging demoness. He swore he would find a means to break through such defenses in the future.

Alluvian and Ragnork continued their desperate fight with Darsarius the Marilith. The demoness struck and entangled Phandria, the crushing coils quickly incapacitating her. Ragnork nearly found himself slain, the adamantine sword bit deep into his flesh and the world turned dark around him. Before oblivion could claim the Shevori warrior, Gretel called out to Palor and the swift Close Wounds spell restored him.

Then the dwarven priestess found herself embraced in the Marilith’s coils. Another blow pierced Ragnork’s defenses, dropping him to a knee. Talesian, his arrows exhausted, summoned his resolve and began to close into melee. Samnymian threw his blade, which sailed through the air, wounding the demoness then returned to his hand. But the Marlilith pressed her attack, the flaming longsword slipped through Alluvian’s defenses, and the huntress found herself impaled upon the blade to the hilt.

Despite his injuries, Ved’rail dropped back down into the melee. Using the shield as a crutch, Ragnork dragged himself to his feet, Kel’Elaedrial heavy in his hand. The Marilith drew Alluvian closer, hissing through fanged teeth, “Now Princess, you feed my Master.”. Two abyssal blades were readied, one at her throat another at her right eye. Undaunted, the Huntress let loose a rage fueled shriek and drove Shrar’thanoros into the demoness, while turning so the Marilith’s swords glanced off the shoulder guards of her armor.

What had once been Darsarius screamed in rage, thrashing madly as ichor gushed from the many wounds. Her sword arms spun about without skill, as the snake lower body slapped heavily to the ground. Then with sudden force, the Marlilth flew backwards, spiraling down into the firey red maw below the floating ruins, a thunderclap echoed in her wake.

Then there was silence, interrupted only by the sound of the survivor’s ragged breathing…

In the aftermath of the battle there were several changes brought about by the departure of the demons. The blood red fire below the floating ruins had vanished as essence of what remained of Darsarius had been pulled into it. With the sea of red flame gone, the torrent of energy from the ruins was gone as well, leaving the tiny fragments of collapsed levels above handing in the air. Only the ghostly sphere the vortex had focused through remained. Gretel, while still demonic in appearance, found the voices of Eryna and Morvahna grown quiet, while still present, they lacked the will to force the priestess into action. The faint, flickering lights they had noticed upon entering these ruins appeared to be coalescing, flickering in fewer locations for longer periods of time.

Gretel and Phandria poured what magics remained to them into healing their friends. Ved’rail glanced looked over the scene of the battle, “If everyone is alive, I think we won.”

The flickering image was clearly of an elven woman. Ragnork noted that she resembled the woman he and the two sailors had seen while they had teleported to the lower level of the ruin. While still appearing in a variety of locations in the floating ruin, she appeared most frequently on the narrow ledge near the sphere the vortex once focused on. Samnymian stepped forward, “What are you?” when the image did not immediately respond, he followed with, “Can you understand me?” The image broke apart, then reformed and finally the elven woman’s face took on a look of recognition as if she finally noticed their presences.

When she spoke, her voice echoed about the ruins, some part of the sound coming from each of the flickering images, “You.. have my.. gratitude… at last… they… have been… stopped.” Her words were slow, broken up as the images winked out of sight.

Samnymian repeated his earlier question, “Who are you?”

“I am, or was, Val’eriana, last Keeper of Lir’karannon.”, was the figure’s weary reply.

“Lir’karannon?”, asked Alluvian.

“A mythic tower of High Magic in the days of the old Elven homeland.”, said Ved’rail.

“Lir’karannon, the seat of High Magic in Eldra’dorlendil was no myth, although little of it remains as it was.”, she replied slowly.

“What happened?”, Samnymian asked.

The spectral figure explained how she, recovering from her wounds in a previous battle against the Lich Lord, had remained behind when Slorin left with his followers to confront the undead blight. She had sensed the arcane disruption, traveling along the ley-lines toward the Elven homeland of Eldra’dorlendil. As the wave of destruction ripped through Eldra’dorlendil, Val’eriana attempted to activate Lir’karannon’s transportation ability. The tower was capable of displacing itself, transporting via a modified gate spell to the astral plane, then back to a new location on the Prime. However, the Elven Arcanist was to late. Valleriana found herself torn asunder along with the tower.

The tower had partially entered the Astral Plane, while the rest was flung across the Prime. Val’eriana explained that somehow her essence has become one with the enchantments of Lir’karannon. Gesturing to the ghostly sphere, which upon closer inspection revealed to be a sphere of arcane energy with tiny fragments of what looked like crystal. The demons were draining that energy, to use Lir’karannon as a means to open a gate from the Abyss into the Prime.

Samnymian asked the phantom, “What can be done?”

Val’eriana explained that they must either disrupt the arcane sphere, destroying the tower and allowing her spirit to fade, or repair the enchantments of the tower, restoring Lir’karranon.

While destroying the tower certainly seemed like the easier option, after much debate the group decided to see if repairing it was possible. The results of Samnymian’s examination of the arcane sphere reminded him of his studies of sentient magical items. Gretel proposed that if the tower was now a living thing, perhaps her healing magics could help? The priestess attempted to direct some of Palor’s healing light into the sphere, where she learned the link between Val’eriana’s life and the arcane magic of the tower could be restored, but only with the infusion of energy, freely given, by intelligent beings.

Gretel explained to her friends that she was going to give up a tiny bit of herself to save Val’eriana and Lir’karannon. They could help as well, every little bit would contribute to the tower’s recovery. Everyone decided to sacrifice a small fragment to the healing, some more reluctantly than others, including Burgen, who mumbled about elven magic breeding insanity.

Gretel directed the life essence into the fragments within the arcane sphere. The spell was followed by a pulse of white light, followed by a sense of vitality from Val’eriana’s image.

“Thank you, my friends, it will take some time for Lir’karannon to recover, but there should be strength enough for this…”

Suddenly the endless, open astral plane was gone. They found themselves still standing among floating ruins, but the ruins themselves now hung in the the midst of a lightening storm, poised over the ocean. Individual pieces of the tower’s ruins hung in the air, as if where they would be had the tower been whole. Rain lashed through the wide gaps between ruined fragments, and they could see the ocean below. The magical effect of the tower’s levitation appearing to push down against the surface of the ocean, causing it to bow downwards.

Alluvian gazed out over the storm crossed waters, “There’s the Devils Bride!”

Ragnork noted the other direction, “And that island is collapsing!” shouting over the storm.

“Likely caused by the tower relocating here.”, noted Ved’rail.

Samnymian turned to the image of Vel’eriana as she explained that the tower would need time to recover, but in time it, she, would return.

Using magics, the group left the tower for the Devils Bride. Captain Laeyora welcomed them aboard, explaining that her crew who had rowed them over earlier had returned at sunset on the previous day, but the ship had intended to remain here.

Above, they saw a massive draconic form drop out of the storm clouds and fly past the tower. As the huge blue dragon banked around it, the tower vanished from sight. The dragon turned then towards the Devils Bride, dropping low.

The dragon hit the deck, altering his form to the elegant elven appearance he had worn earlier. “Well,” he said, “it appears you have succeed. Well done.” To the Captain he said, “Captain, you are free to continue through my territory without hindrance.” He looked them over, his electric blue eyes boring into each everyone, a brow arching when he came across Gretel. The demonic features were already fading away, leaving her a twin to the fallen priestess Eryna.

Sparing them little time, he turned toward the ship’s siderail, “Very well, I have other business to attend to, a navy has decided to pass through my territory, I must see to that.”

“Wait,” interrupted Samnymian, “Surely we are due some recompense for our time and effort?”

Azuretherix grinned wickedly at the elven wizard, “A reward eh?”

The dragon in elf form made a clawing gesture at Samnymian with is left hand. The elf wizard pitched backward with a cry of deep pain, falling to the ground. Gretel and Ved’rail rushed to his side as Azuretherix leapt upon the guardrail, then into the air. Buffeting the ship with his wings as he returned to his true form and took to the air.

Captain Layora brought the Devils Bride back on course as the adventurers recovered from their ordeal within the ruins of Lir’karanon. Within hours they left the sinking remains of the island behind. Gretel’s appearance remained that of the fallen priestess until the first rays of sunlight reached her. When she felt the touch of Pelor, she found herself returned to normal, the demons were still there, but their cloying voices had become quiet.

It took several days before the shores of Cormaer became visible on the horizon. Of the dragon there was no more sign, and the captain discussed their options; Azuretherix’s errand had taken them more than a week off course. Their supplies were more than adequate for the full trip to Kovir, but they could put in at a Cormaer port to resupply. She left it up to them. After some debate, with a bit of worry of running into trouble in Cormaer’s stratified society, they bid the captain head for Cormear’s port of Wendelon.

Samnymian spent these days pondering the draconic markings left behind by Azuretherix upon his flesh. Runes of draconic origin appeared to be scored over other runes deeper in his flesh. With the use of mirrors and read magic, he was able to slowly unravel the draconic symbols, transcribing the markings onto parchment. His first discovery translated into a spell, and as he penned that to paper, the upper layer of runes faded, allowing a new layer of runes to become visible. After penning the Dragoneye Rune spell, the spell Path of Frost became visible, Wreath of Flames and Soul of Anarchy followed. There were still more runes, but these proved much more complex than simple spells and would require more time. Samnymian began to suspect that, given the complexity, these runes were more than a passing cruel fancy on the blue dragon’s part.

The coastal port city of Wendelon was not the largest of the Cormaer City-States, but it was the most prominent this far north. The city’s harbor was protected by a pair of large, rocky islands that over the years have grown to house the fortress-manor’s of the high ranking citizens. These natural barriers protected the docks and berths from the fiercest of storms. Captain Layora gave her passengers a brief summary of their current destination. The Cormaer nation had dissolved into a loosely associated group of City-States several hundred years ago, the result of a civil war after the death of the last Cormaer king. Each City-State was now ruled by a Prince, all claimed to be the rightful descendant of the last Cormaer king, but none had the military might or political skill to ever extend their rule beyond their own city. Besides the ruling Princes, Cormaer society was divided between Citizens and non-Citizens, Citizens were protected by law, non citizens were protected by what their money could buy. Cormaer City-States could be very dangerous places for visitors. Wendelon’s Prince Anthoris was known as one of the more pragmatic of the Cormaer Princes, as trade helped fill his coffers, the Law of Wendelon was there to promote it.

With the Devil’s Bride safely docked, Gretel decided to venture into the city in search of temple of Pelor. The demons who tormented her seemed weaker now, but she sensed they were only biding their time. Fortunately, there was a temple devoted to Pelor in the City-State. Gretel spoke of her predicament with an acolyte and was quickly ushered in to meet the head priest. Erend Rhal had served as High Priest of Wendelon, he greeted Gretel and listened to her tale. He prayed to Pelor and informed Gretel that there were three demonic influences over her. Two could be dealt with, they would perform a ritual at dawn that would break their link with her. She would lose the “gifts” they’d bestowed on her, but would be free of them. The final demonic influence was stronger, but much more subtle. The ritual would help protect her, but not sever its attention on her. High Priest Erend bid them farewell until dawn.

Gretel and Phandria accompanied Alluvian outside the city, she went in search of a temple devoted to Ellenestra she had learned was just outside the City-State’s walls. Meanwhile, Ragnork and Ved’rail decided to find an Inn and a drink. Samnymian pulled himself away from studying the draconic runes to join them.

They discovered the temple of Ellenestra was, in fact, a druidic site called the Shrine of Autumn, and was located about two hours outside the City-State’s walls. The Shrine was a place of natural power, tended to by those devoted to nature and followers of Obed-Hai and Ehlonna. Alluvian, Gretel and Phandria spent the evening tending to the gardens and finding peace in the natural serenity there. They were made welcome to spend the night under the stars.

Samnymian, along with Ragnork and Ved’rail found an Inn with both a far reaching variety of Ales and bardic entertainment from music to dancers. Ved’rail played a few songs, much to the enjoyment of the patrons and staff alike.

At dawn they gathered at the Temple of Pelor, High Priest Erend Rhal invited Gretel and any of her friends who may wish to join them in the ritual. The high priest’s blessing echoed the arrival of dawn, Gretel felt Pelor’s presence swell within her and in the aftermath, the connection the two succubi had was severed. Gretel remembered how the Herald of Pelor had warned her of the impending trials ahead, but his light filled her with the confidence to go on.

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Remnants of Lir'karanon

The flames that usually shrouded Alluvian’s sword fell away, drifting to the ground before fading from sight. The blade took on a blue green sheen, reflecting more of the ambient light than it had before. She had successfully bound the four armed demon into her sword, its abyssal energy infusing it with new abilities. The Huntress stifled the laughter and regained her composure, knowing that she now held Shrar’thanoros the Laughing Slayer.

The group of heroes, now including the Elven Ranger Talethian, the Dwarven Warrior Burgen and two human sailors, swept through the rest of the floor, ensuring no demons lurked in the shadows. They descended the stairs, past the remnants of the magically produced wood wall, and on to the teleportation portal room.

It would be difficult to fight pressed in close together, but they decided to all take the platform at once. It was risky, but judged far more of a risk to split the group into two. Ved’rail continued to play as Samnymian focused arcane energy into the circle, with a start, the circle activated, moving all assembled to another location…

Something happened during the transition, normally it is instantaneous, but not this time…

Samnymian, Ved’rail, Alluvian and Talethian saw a vision of a vast woodland. Intermixed amongst the trees were the spires and domes of ancient elven architecture. The sky was filled with black-gray clouds and a shadow of despair loomed over all. A wave of blue-white light grew to the right and swept to their left, in its wake, both buildings and trees alike were torn asunder. Their attention was drawn to a majestic tower, as the wave of destruction approached, arcane energy erupted around the tower and it began to fade from sight, but not before being overwhelmed by the blue-white light.

Ragnork, Burgen, and the two sailors Gellori and Meddin beheld a vision of an ethereal elven woman, she looked upon them and implored, “Help.. me… I am pulled apart.” then her image tore to shreds, pulling in different directions before fading from sight.

For Gretel, there was darkness. In the darkness, Gretel didn’t feel alone, others where here, very, very close. In her left ear, a coy, seductive voice whispered, “A traitoress is near, Sister.” In her right, a second voice, seductive but with an sharpness to it the other lacked, “She must pay for her betrayals, Sister.” Then the two voices spoke as one, causing a shiver down the dwarven priestess spine, “Feed her to the Huntress, Sister… Don’t let her escape to the Abyss, make her pay.” Gretel felt torn between a desire to escape the voices and the pull to listen closer.

The portal took them to a larger room, the walls and ceiling were splashed with blood, blood that gathered in a ankle deep pool over the entire floor. There were three exits, each covered in part by a mass of Abyssal Iron that sealed the doors tightly. They stepped off the submerged platform and exchanged stories of the strange visions they’d received while transporting. Samnymian didn’t know of any precedent for those being teleported to receive visions, but given that the elves had all shared one vision and the non-elves another, there was obviously something peculiar going on here.

Gretel explained that she didn’t receive a vision. Instead voices had told her of a traitor nearby and that the Huntress should feed on her. The priestess recommended that they not do that, since the voices had seem so insistent. Gretel found herself almost speaking words not her own, resisting a need to tell her friends to ignore her last comment. A coldness gripped her heart, where were these urges coming from?

A loud banging on each of the bound doors broke Gretel from her darkening thoughts. Her friends had begun to move toward across the room, when the sounds had stated. But once they paused, it stopped…

Cautiously, Ragnork and Alluvian carved away the metal from the center door, the Abysal Iron howling as it feel away, splashing heavily into the pooled blood. Alluvian readied herself to the side of the door as Ragnork heaved it open. Beyond the door was the hulking form of one of the four armed demons they’d encountered earlier, it was flanked on either side by two other demons, taller than a man and wider too, with a flat, frog like heads filled with needle sharp teeth.

As the blood poured out into the hallway, the huge demon glowered down at Ragnork, and seethed, “Mortal, how do you wish to die?”

The Glabrezu’s question was met with drawn steel as Ragnork attacked. The battle joined, Alluvian struck the demon as it reached in to seize Ragnork. Her blade cut deep, but didn’t stop the demon from dragging the surprised warrior out into the hallway, away from friends and the healing magics available near their bard. The pair of Hezrou lunged inside, nimble despite their bulk. The cruel laughter that echoed forth signaled they knew Ragnork was cut off from his shield mates.

Ragnork struggled in the demon’s fierce grip as it dragged him down the hall. The rest of the group fought the two rotund Hezrou, their foul flesh making it difficult to even breath in their presence. The demons fought ferociously dealing many vicious wounds to the assembled heroes. Alluvian cut down one frog headed fiend and laughingly plunged her blade into the other.

The four armed Glabrezu slammed Ragnork to the ground, then hurled one vicious blow after another against the Shevorai warrior. Ragnork back away, retreating out of the demon’s reach and closer to the healing magics of Gretel and Phandria. Samnymian cursed demonkind’s resistance to elemental magics, finding each of his spells less effective than he would have desired.

Of their new companions, Talethian moved with a ranger’s grace and swiftness, one arrow after another finding their way home into demon flesh. Burgen watched Gretel’s back, taking a liking to the young, charismatic priestess. He only moved from her side when he realized she was eager to see Ragnork defended. Gellori and Meddin were fair sailors but lacked the fortitude of heroes, at least managed to stay out of the way.

With the three fiends dispatched, the companions gathered back together, druid and priestess dispensing healing within the musical accompaniment of Ved’rail’s music. Another Glabrezu charged out of the darkness, slaming into the group as they still recovered. Working swiftly as a team, they dispatched the hulking monstrosity without incident.

They pressed on, Talethian guiding them through the ruined halls, around the strange intrusions of stone that sealed off much of the rooms. They reached the spiral staircase and decended, the lower level was illuminated by lines of red, oozing energy, similar to the barrier that originally blocked entrance to the place. This time the energy looked like it was within the stone floor itself. Figures could be seen pressing against the webs, limbs writhed within the stone, giving a vague sense for pushing upwards, yet the floor remained level. To Samnymian it appeared that extra planar creatures were trying to force their way into the Prime.

Talethian pointed down the hallway, directing them toward the second pair of teleportation platforms where days ago he’d left the rest of the expedition. The cautiously walked down the red web streaked hallway, suffering no ill effects as they passed over the foul shapes that roiled within the stone. Gretel had to clamp her hands over her mouth, she had almost shouted about the traitor again. They followed the curving hallway until they saw the door that lead into their destination.

This time, the Abyssal Iron over the door was at least a foot thick. Instead of a wax like patch, they saw heavy, thick cords of twisted metal, stretched over the doorway like insidious sinew. There was a sense of tension, of strength in the corded metal that barred their way. Alluvian and Ragnork moved into position to remove the barrier, with Ved’rail close by so his music would maintain the enchantment in their blades. The others gathered around and waited cautiously.

The demonic metal howled as it was cut, snapping as cords released their tension and whipped back. Without warning, demons were among them. Two Hezrou appeared in their midst, taking advantage of Ved’rail’s playing to teleport. One began laughing, a deep guttural thing that vomited up a think, smokey malaise that spread amongst the heroes, making them choke. The second demon opened its mouth far to wide and began calling out phrases in Abysall. They reeled as the blasphemous words assaulted their ears. Gellori and Meddin, decent men though they were, feel lifeless to the ground, their souls shattered.

As the fel magics did their work, the two demons began a physical assault. The party, nearly overcome, scrambled to repel the Hezrou. Burgen stepped over the bodies of the two fallen sailors, his axe bit deep into the thigh of one demon. The demon, in turn, smashed its fist into the side of the dwarf’s head, nearly dropping him. In the hand of Ragnork, Kel’Elaedrial slashed deeply into demon hide, spilling foul ichor on the red lined floor. Alluvian swung Srar’tharanous in a wide arc, cleaving heavily into the nearest demon. Demonkind may be resistant to his magics, but that didn’t stop Samnymian from harming them. Talethian’s bow was in his hand and arrows souring to targets the instant the battle began.

In moments, the fight was over. Burgen was seriously injured, and the two sailors were dead, but others bore only minor wounds. Gretel healed Burgen as Phandria tended to the others. Once recovered from the Hezrou’s foul magics, they turned back to the barrier covering the door, and sundered it.

Beyond the door was the second teleportation chamber. Standing within was a demonic looking female, her body clad in a scandalous wrapping of gold and black ribbons. She stood, poised between the two teleportation circles. Bright arcane energy could be seen leaping from the circle on her right, to her right hand, then to the left hand and into the circle on her left. From the left hand circle, energy could be seen intertwined with the energy from the right circle, up to her left hand, then to the right, then into the right circle. The demoness appeared to be a conduit between the two teleportation platforms.

Gretel hissed angrily, “There she is! The traitoress! Destroy her! Capture her! Make her pay for betraying the Queen!”

But she had not meant to speak at all. Words poured unbidden from her lips and her heart pounded with a fury that wasn’t hers. She raised her Hammer of Valor and pointed it threateningly at the demoness. It was as if she was only a passenger in her own body.

Gretel rallied her willpower, fighting to take control of herself, “stop it” she thought desperately, focusing against the urges that made her act without her will.

Alluvian turned and looked at her friend, “Gretel?”

The priestess was overwhelmed by a feeling of being confined, of wanting to break free. Gretel turned to her connection to Palor, taking strength in her faith in the sun god.

Burgen, in a quieter voice, echoed the concern, “Lass?”

Gretel clenched her teeth, a spike of pain in her temples made her pause before she said, “I don’t know what made me say that. Something is wrong”, there was fear and confusion in her voice, “Maybe its this place?”

Samnymian and Ragnork stepped forward, the obvious threat was ahead and perhaps dealing with that would help the priestess. Talethian noted that the demonic woman looked like Sir Darsarius’ second, Ashna, but the wings, horns and other demonic features were new to him. Before they could get close, however, a large wall of oozing red light appeared between them and the demoness. The wall was outside the area that Ved’rail’s music could influence, either it was to powerful to suppress, or the anti-magic aura, and the wall were of similar origin.

Gretel nodded to the others, indicating she was okay, in the stoic manner common to her people. Burgen nodded in turn, but Alluvian continued to look on with deep concern. She knew demonkind, if they had found a way to harm Gretel, she knew the priestess was still in danger.

Samynmian’s study of the wall revealed that it behaved as a Wall of Force, but with other properties that rendered it difficult to circumvent. Once Gretel, Burgen and Alluvian reached the others, the Huntress reached out and touched the wall, curious if it might vanish as the first had. Alluvian found the wall as solid as the others did, so they needed another means around it.

After a quick discussion, they decided to use an item to dimension door to the far side of the wall, they’d time it with Ved’rail’s music to ensure a safe translocation. They appeared on the far side of the wall and quickly discovered the anti-magic aura did not exist here. Their magics continued to function outside the area generated by Ved’rail’s music.

Gretel shouted, “Huntress! Take her!” in a tone that broke no refusal. Then she gasped in shock.

Alluvian turned to the priestess, looking upon her as a hunter would, “Who is speaking? Gretel?”

Names lept unbidden to Gretel’s lips, “I am Eryna” she spoke, the voice hers but not the tone, then another came, “And I am Morvahna”, the tone sharper than the first.

Gretel felt her guts twist, Eryna was the name of the fallen priestess of Palor, turned demoness in the Abyss, with whom she’d been sent dreams after touching the relic of Palor so long ago. She’d taken pity on the demoness in those dreams, perhaps even considered her a friend. Morvahna, she knew, was the succubus she’d dispatched in Drow’s fortress. Dispatched before Alluvian could imprison her.

“Demons…”, Alluvian hissed, feeling the outrage build within, “What are you doing to Gretel? And what do you want with that one?” she demanded, pointing back at the transfixed Ashna.

Gretel felt Morvahna say of Ashna, “She betrayed Queen Malcanthet! She serves the Trirune!”, then Eryna added, “She must pay for her betrayal. You’re the perfect one to punish her, Huntress, so deliciously cruel.”

She ignored the barb, “And what of your hold on Gretel?”

Both spoke at once with her voice, “She is our Sister, Queen Malcanthet has chosen her. She is one with us.”

Gretel felt panic swell within her, she’d never agreed to anything like this…

Morvahna cut off the thought, “We warned you of the Trirune’s plans so you could protect that human kingdom. We granted you Wisdom and Beauty. We gave you the ability to speak and understand all languages, and other gifts.” The tone became more smug, “You are ours, dwarf.” She felt Eryna speak, “Don’t be so cruel Morvahna, she’s is, after all, our Sister.” Gretel replied, “But Eryna, why?” To that, Eryna say sadly, “I told you, when we first met, you could not trust me.” Morvahna laughed.

Samnymian, who had been studying the magic effects around Ashna asked, “And just what is she doing?”

“We don’t know,” Gretel felt them reply, “We just want her punished.”

Anger replaced panic and the feeling of betrayal, Gretel forced the two demonesses to be quiet. She asked Samnymian, “Can we stop,” she gestured at the steams of arcane magic, “All this?”

Samnymian wasn’t sure, but conferred with his brother Ved’rail. Alluvian watched over Gretel with a hunter’s caution. The priestess felt comfort in that, knowing if something did go wrong, Alluvian would see to it that she didn’t become a monster.

Ragnork tried knocking Ashna out of the conduit of arcane magic, but to no avail. Kel’Elendrial’s magic went dormant for a moment, but then slowly returned. Nothing seemed to work, they debated simply ending Ashna’s life, but were reluctant without a true understanding of the situation. They couldn’t trust the word of demons with such a hold on their friend.

Samnymian used his War Wizard Cloak to cast a Sending to Ashna. He asked what she was doing and if she needed help. He received a panicked reply, she didn’t want to be here, she didn’t understand how she came to this place or what any of this was for. They decided to help Ashna. Gretel had to fight to keep Morvahna and Enryna from protesting, but found that if she concentrated, she was her own person.

An attempt to use Ved’rail’s Cloak of the Montabank to dimension door Ashna out of the conduit resulted in the magical cloak being shredded and swept up in the stream of energy. So the brothers turned to examining the teleportaion platforms themselves. Subtle changes had been made to their magics and with a little effort, these changes might be reversed. The two brothers went to work, finding the changes and nudging each one back into their original configurations.

The first circle reverted to its original design, suddenly cutting off the left hand circle’s band of energy. Ashna was wretched into the air, toward the right hand circle. She hung in mid air as arcane energy lept out of the still altered platform, up into the demoness and back down into the platform.

Ved’rail and Samnymian went to work on the second circle, feeling pressed for time given Ashna’s state. They reverse the changes to the platform, the arcane energy around them crackled loudly and the world around them twisted…

.. and all found themselves falling a few feet, landing on stone.

Instinctively, Alluvian’s Chaos Cloak altered its shape into a pair of large batlike wings, gliding her to a stop. Although oddly the wings don’t immediately revert back to a cloak as they normally do. She turned as a cruel woman’s voice cut through the confusion.

Hovering above was Ashna, who snarled at them, “Your actions have only delayed us! And now you are here, a feast for the masters!” Folding her wings inward, the succubus dropped downward into nothingness.

“No, she must not escape!”, the demons shouted through Gretel.

They took in their surroundings, a mist filled greyness stretched off in all directions, faint motes of light appeared to linger in the denser mist. They were standing amongst several slabs of broken rock that hung in this grey space. Fragments of wall and even a door frame gave it the impression of being ruins of a much larger structure. Gazing down over the edge, they could see a fiery red light in the distance. Oddly, the very floor they stood on appeared to be drawn downwards, eerie afterimages of the rock floor stretched toward the red fire far below.

As they gathered together on the largest piece of floating debris, Samnymian said, “I believe we are now on the Astral Plane.”

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An Errand for Azuretherix

They pulled the Devils Bride’s longboat onto the makeshift shore of the island’s cave. Gretel deduced that from the rough edges present on both the cave’s entrance and the broken rocks that made up the shore, that none of this had been exposed to the elements for very long. This cave was new, and from the way the entrance grew winder as it drew inside, it was possible that some force exploded outward from within. Alluvian discovered the telltale signs of tracks, there had been movement through the rocks on the ground, at least at some point the statue had moved by its own will. There were minor signs of smaller tracks as well.

Ragnork took the lead, delving deeper into the cave. Ved’rail continued to play his enchanted instrument, the music’s power canceling out the anti-magic aura that surrounded the island. Samnymian had done a quick test, sending out a light spell to determine that they had about a twenty foot radius around them in which magic will still function. Before long, the cave opened up into a large chamber, dominated on the far side by a curved surface of pearlescent blue material traced with fine edgings of silver, now faded and dull. The smooth surface was marred in the center by a vicious rent, eight feet wide and well over fifteen feet tall. The hole was filled with a familiar oily black metal, that appeared to have oozed over the opening like hot wax, hardening into a unpleasent looking patch. The metal bore a striking resemblance to the Abyssal Iron they found in the demon infested volcano.

Ved’rail continued to play, his fingers deftly plucking the strings, to continue to provide access to the magics everyone employed. Alluvian confirmed the tracks had passed through the rent in the blueish wall, and followed them over to the side of the cave where it was clear a campsite had recently been left. The campsite had been large, for perhaps two dozen, and there were a few crates left over from supplies which bore the sigil of the Church of the Benevolents. Ragnork took a few minutes to confirm that the campsite had not been hastily abandoned, they had methodically packed up before continuing on to there destination. Likely though the tear in the blue wall.

Alluvian and Ragnork used their enchanted blades to cut away the Abyssal Iron patch in the wall. The unholy metal howled as it was cut, then dropped heavily to the rocky ground. They cut away enough to allow the far side to be viewed. On the other side was a wall of crimson light. The wall looked like web of red light at the center of which was an orb that appeared to spin and fall in on itself, causing the viewer to struggle to focus on it. The red lines of the web looked like oozing wax, or even blood, flowing from the edges into the orb at the center. Samnymian could see that there was a larger area beyond the wall, but the light glared to brightly to allow him to see any details, although everyone could hear scratching sounds from the other side.

Although clearly magical in nature, the wall didn’t depend on Ved’rail’s playing to operate, leading them to conclude the wall and anti-magic aura were linked in some way. A simple spell directed at the wall by Samnymian saw the magics fall into the sphere, consumed, seemed to confim that. Weapons had little effect on the wall, it wasn’t until Alluvian reached out and touched the wall that it drew in on her palm and vanished, seeming absorbed into the Fey’ri herself.

Beyond the wall was a small chamber, about fifteen feet wide and thirty feet deep. As the light from Samnymian’s magics chased away the darkness, a hallway, and several worn looking doors came into view. The chamber they found themselves in looked elven in design, but the stone looked faded, as if the essence of the stone had been bleached away. They found bodies on the floor, recent dead, semi consumed by some long clawed fiend. The wounds looked familiar, as if they’d seen others slain in a similar fashion. But where the killers were, or the source of the scratching heard earlier, there was no sign.

They continued the search, opening a few doors to peer into empty rooms, splattered with blood, but not dust, as if the place had been sealed tight until recently breached. Without warning, sickly, spindly limbed beings appeared amongst them. Armed with long spears, their bodies oozing a foul acidic ichor, the demons screeched as they attacked. The group formed a line around Ved’rail as he continued to play, his music ensuring their weapons would be viable against the outsiders. The combat ended swiftly, demons melting into pools of acidic slime with the living barely scratched. One demon was able to take advantage of the music as well, teleporting away moments before death.

In the aftermath of the battle, they had a chance to closely examine their surroundings. Much of the area was filled with stone. Not rubble, but a solid mass, that blocked off rooms and passageways. It appeared as if molten rock had poured into the building then solidified, leaving some areas untouched. Gretel noted that the edges were not smooth, like one would find with cooling, but instead sharp, which to her made little sense. Samnymian concluded that some form of magical effect had generated this, perhaps the same that had brought this building to this remote location.

They explored onward, Aluvian opened a door and was suddenly beset upon by the demon that had teleported away earlier. The fiend was dispatched swiftly, leaving a bubbling pool of acidic ichor as the only sign of its existence.

Demons. Again. Aluvian was incensed, she charged down the spiral staircase they had discovered, taking two steps at a time. She quickly outpaced Ved’rail and entered the anti-magic field, but that did little to quell the huntress’ rage. The stairs gave way to a landing that opened up onto another floor, as well as continuing downward. Two demons stood there, looking at the steps below. They were covered in dark feathers and shrouded in foul smelling spores. They screeched angrily in Abysaal at some minions below. And then she was upon them, raining down blows from her heavy two handed blade.

The demons fought back, reduced to beak and claw by the anti-magic field. One met its end upon the Aluvian’s blade, exploding into a shower of rotting meat and feathers. Heavily wounded, but still filled with outrage, Aluvian and the remaining demon fought on as the rest of the group reached the landing. The last demon was felled and Gretel was able to heal the rangeress before she could succumb to her wounds.

Beyond the sickening remains of the two demons, they could see a dozen or more squat demons pounding away at what appeared to be a wall of freshly harvested wood blocking further decent down the stairs. The nearly mindless minions had already pounded a foot of wood into pulp, and continued to do so, heedless of their presence or the lack of constant shrieking by the now dispatched vrock demons.

They maneuvered into position, then unleashed spells in the overlapping area of Ved’rail’s music to slay the minions with almost embarrassing ease. Faced with the magically created Wall of Wood, Samnymian summoned an Lesser Orb of Fire that slowly burned its way through. Where the brute force of the demons failed, the fire quickly cut a path through. When the orb neared completing a breach in the wall, they could hear voices on the other side, preparing for a fight against what was believed to be demonic foes.

A confrontation was averted as both sides chose to take a chance and talk before drawing steel. The leader of the small group on the other side was Talethian Larthane, and Elven adventurer and friend to the family of Samnymian and Ved’rail. Talethian lead his men through the breach in the wall, introducing Burgen Ironfall, a veteran dwarven warrior and two human sailors from Kovir, Gellori and Meddin.

As Gretel tended to the wounded, Talethian explained what brought them to this place;

Information came to the Church of the Benevolents in Kovir about a lost Elven stronghold on a rocky island in the Bay of Azuretherix. The Church believed that Avenesse was using the stronghold as a navel base for the pending war on Kovir. They selected one of their best Knights, Darsarias Corendale to lead an expedition to the island. Darsarias’ second, a woman they knew as Ashna, recruited Talethian and his friend Burgen. Talethian took the job on the chance that the information was correct, he would in turn pass what he learned to Tal’Mytherasil, while Burgen enjoyed the coin.

The island was found and the entrance to the cave discovered. Within the cave was the half burred pinnacle of a tower of elven design. There were no doors into the pinnacle, so Darsarias’ Sorcerer used magics to breach the wall. This proved to almost be their undoing, there was still some form of defensive spell on the place, which resulted in a much larger cave opening. A golem staggered out of the breach, but only made it to the edge of the cave before coming to a halt.

They entered the upper floor and began to explore the empty tower. The interior was a mess, any non stone work long since turned to dust. They recovered a few magical trinkets as they progressed; three wands with a handful of charges, a lantern with adjustable color light, arcane sight spectacles, and a metal device that when attached to the spine of a book, preserves it from harm. Three floors down, they found that central spiral staircase was blocked, but they also found a teleportation circle on the floor. Arcane energy activated the circle, which acted as a one-way teleporatation to another location in the complex.

Further exploration took them to the lowest point in the building, where they discovered two more teleportation platforms. Darsarius sent Talethian, Burgen and six men back up to the portal on this floor to examine the runes, so the Sorcerer could compare them to those found at the new portals. Darsarius had not appreciated the earlier surprise teleport and didn’t want to repeat it without being prepared.

They had only begun to copy down the runes when suddenly they were beset upon by demons. They lost four men in the initial fray, the sailors simply not prepared to deal with the fiends as seasoned adventurers are. Talethian used a item to generate a wall of wood in the staircase to slow down the flow of demons when suddenly all magic ceased to function. Fortunately, the demons were just as hindered by the lack of magic as they were.

They’d remained on this floor for four days, working out a plan to escape the trap they found themselves in. There hadn’t been any word from Darsarius, Ashna or dozen men they’d left behind. Talethian was grateful for their intervention and rescue, but he had one question for Samnymian,

“I was told by your family that you were dead, how is it that you are here?”

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Dragon and the Devils Bride

While Gretel and Phandria returned to the Duchess’ estate, Alluvian paid a visit to the Hall of the Art, to inquire about the nature of the Ring of the Ranger General, recovered from the fallen elven wizard, . The Rangeress spoke to a Hall Page, an initiate wizard in training, about her needs. He informed her that it may require her to wait, and all their time was quite expensive, but if she had time and the coin, such a meeting could be arranged. While waiting and wondering how light her purse would be thereafter, Alluvian saw several knights, in the colors of the King of Aveneese, leave the Hall at a determined pace. The atmosphere grew more tense when their leader turned and pointed back at the entrance to the Hall and declared, “You have not heard the last of this!”. The three then continued out of the Hall’s grounds.

The initiate returned shortly, informing her that Schollar Revtheradin would see her now. Aluvian was lead into the Hall, up a flight of stairs, then along a long hallway with identical looking doors. In time the initiate stoped and knocked on a door. A voice from inside bid them enter. The elderly human within was introduced as Schollar Revtheradin, he bid the young rangeress sit and dismissed the page.

Alluvian showed the scholar the Ring of the Ranger General, describing that all she knew was the name and that it provided a minor protective enchantment upon it. Aluvian waited patiently as Revtheradin examined the ring, then turned to consult a number of books. In time, the scholar turned one of the older tomes around to show her a fine ink representation of the ring. The Ring of the Ranger General was an item from the old Elven Homeland, the lore that created it dating back from before the elven civil war and the Sundering. Many items from this era were not enchanted in the same way that items are today, it was likely not created as a magic item, but instead developed enchantments that mirrored deeds the creator or owner performed. However, the Scholar informed her, it is highly unlikely you hold the actual Ring of the Ranger General, it is more likely that you hold an enchanted ring crafted as a tribute or inspired by stories of the true ring. Aluvian asked how she might tell if she has the original, or one inspired by it, and Revtheradin told her she would need to go to a place of ancient elven power and speak a simple invocation. He supplied her with the invocation, in case one day she should find herself in such a place.

The Fey’ri Rangeress also asked the Scholar for lore about demonkind. The demon that they had learned was behind the corruption of the druidic sites, Trirune, as well as Aluvian’s demonic sire, whom she could only describe from her last encounter. Again Aluvian was left siting quietly as the elder scholar turned to his books and tomes. After a time, he described Trirune as a being likely equivalent to a demon lord, lore says that three powerful demons bound their power together to overthrow their master, a demon lord of some power, whose name is now lost. The three beings defeated their former master, casting him down and assuming his power for their own. The three are know as the Trirune. Trirune has several enemies amongst the other demon lords of the Abyss, including Malcanthet, Queen of the Succubi.

Scholar Revtheradin identified the other demon as Gherrogghemerren the Worldbreaker a demon lord that plagued Primisti of long ago. It was said that Archmage Slorin Silvornell and his allies cast the Worldbreaker down, imprisoning him deep under the earth. The demon lord festered there until the Sundering caused a crack in his prison. This crack allowed him to corrupt the prison’s surroundings, weakening it, then break free. A Heronian Knight Paladin, Melenia Silvertail, defeated him and drove him from the world after a fierce battle. In the midst of that battle, she severed one of the demon’s horns. Years later that horn became a powerful dark artifact, which vanished some years ago in the far west.

Later, back at the Duchess’ manse, the group met for lunch. Samnymian explained the plan to depart Raelenain the next day aboard the Devils Bride, two hours after sunrise. They were invited to the Theater that evening, several musical performers were in the city from throughout the Eastern Kingdoms and a variety of different musical performances were planned. The Duchess requested that Ved’Rail take part, performing song or two as part of the second act to which he readily agreed to. After the performance, there was a reception at the Duchess’ mansion that they were invited to as well.

The Duchesss ushered Gretel, Phandria and Alluvian off to her seamstress to see to proper attire for the evening. She regretted that there wasn’t time for truly proper dresses to be made for all three, but at least it would be more appropriate than adventurer’s gear. A tailor was summoned for the gentlemen of the group as well.

Properly attired, the eight of them, in addition to several servants and guards proceeded to the Theater of Raelenain. They mingled at the brief reception in the lobby before the Duchess led them up to her seats. These are some of the prime seats in the house, as befits the Master of the Theater, the view and acoustics are excellent and of course the rest of the audience can see who is sitting there.

The performance opened with the Duchess dressed in the elaborate costumed and mask of the Red Rose Mistress from a traditional Atharkin opera, welcoming all to the Theater. As the first act’s performances began, the Duchess returned to her guests. Everyone found the first act quite enjoyable, with Ved’rail occasionally informing his friends of the particular piece of music’s origin, what changes the current performers appeared to have made, and his summation of their skill.

The second act began with a performance by Ved’rail, on the stage, in front of the audience of friends and the elite of Raelenain, he brought the instrument he carried down from Sky Scar Peak to life. He performed two songs, leaving the audience in awe. He retired from the stage to the sound of thunderous applause. The Duchess was pleased, the patrons of the Theater would be wondering who he was and where she found him. The night’s performance was closed by a Narthazel prima donna, Zanasha Shrazelle. Zanasha appeared on stage in an elaborate dress of such design that it filled nearly two thirds of the stage, her voice was like crystal and filled the hall with such song that it held all in the Theater in awe for the duration. Ved’rail was impressed, noting clearly her natural skill and bardic ability.

At the reception, all in the Duchess’ party met and socialized with the performers and those of significant standing from the audience. Several ladies of rank flirted with Ved’rail, Ragnork spoke with a pair of Shevori musicians, and Alluvian and Phandria found themselves the target of the attentions of several gentlemen. Samnymian observed the crowd in general, this thoughts on the next days plans rather than the night’s entertainments. A member of Zanasha Shrazelle’s entourage approached Gretel; the prima dona was hosting a party the next evening, and she would love for the dwarven priestess to attend. With their departure planned for the next morning she regretfully declined.

Later that evening, after the guests had departed, Gretel informed her friends of Zanashar’s invention, then of the curious comment the singer made as she departed. The woman hand whispered to her, “You wear a very intriguing disguise my sweet.” They’re not quite sure what to make of it, but no one feels a threat from the gifted singer, so they decide to retire for the night.
Gretel awoke confused and disoriented at dawn on the next day. The room bore no resemblance to her chambers at the Duchess’ estate, from walls to the furnishings. She stumbled from the bed and gazed into a standing mirror. What she saw confused her even more, it wasn’t her in the mirror, instead it was the raven haired young human woman, the fallen Paloran priestess who had sent her the warnings of the Trirune’s plots. None of the woman’s demonic traits were present in Gretel’s current appearance, she certainly no longer resealed her true dwarven self.

Gretel glanced around the room, she had emerged from the bed completely bare and discovered all of her belongings scattered about the room in a haphazard manner, as if removed from her body one at a time. She retrieved her Paloran holy symbol first, then struggled to dress herself. The magical armor would reshape itself to any from, but her dwarven garments didn’t fit the human form she found herself in well at all.

Self consciously, the priestess emerged from the room to discover herself in an inn somewhere in the city. She crept down the stairs to see the morning staff preparing for breakfast. A friendly kitchen worker offered her a seat and said he could bring her something for breakfast as soon a it was ready. Gretel refused politely and stepped out of the inn and into the street. When the warmth of the sun touched her cheek, she felt reassured and some of the panic and confusion faded. She invoked Palor’s power, casting a spell of True Seeing to attempt to uncover the nature of her predicament.

The spell revealed her true self concealed beneath the alteration magics of an Alter Self spell. As she pondered how to undo the enchantment, the spell reacted to her thoughts, returning her to her true self. It took Gretel a moment to rearrange her gear to fit her properly before she stepped back once more into the inn. Upstairs she investigated the room for several minutes, looking for clues as to how she arrived there and in what condition. But with no clues and the pending departure on the Devils Bride in less than two hours, she decided to return to the Duchess’ estate, unsure if she desired to share any of these events with her friends.

Meanwhile, at the estate of Duchess Jansylth, the travelers roused themselves at dawn to prepare for their departure aboard the Devils Bride in a few short hours. The sound of many heavily booted feet outside caught the attention of Alluvian and Samnymian. This marching drew them both outside to uncover the source. The Duchess’ guard pointed down the private street toward the gate to the Civic Circle, they warned the Duchess’ guests that perhaps staying back would be best, but they didn’t interfere as the Rangeress and Wizard headed down the street.

At the private street gate, the guards were watching the activity in the Civic Circle with great concern. As Alluvian and Samnymian arrived, the guards informed them that a good fifty or more soldiers from the King’s Army had just marched into the Circle, focused on the Hall of the Art. Samnymian stepped through the gate, with Alluvian close behind. As they threaded their way through the already gathering crowd, she reminded Samnymian of the outburst she had observed outside the Hall the previous day.

The soldiers had arranged themselves in a semicircle, several ranks deep, around the gate to the Hall of the Art. It was clear there was a confrontation at the gate, but the men between them concealed anything else. The sudden metal clang of the gate slamming shut, followed by an arcane glow along the wall surrounding the Hall grounds, signaled the confrontation had ended, and probably not very well.

The outer two ranks of soldiers turned around to face the crowd. The middle ranks parted to allow an imposing figure to step through. Alluvian recognized him as the knight who had shouted outside the Hall, but now he was garbed in brilliant plate armor and adorned with all the trappings of his office. In a clear voice, with a hint of arrogance, he announced to the crowd that the Master of the Hall had two hours to turn himself, and the Arcanist Shunts in his care, to the Army. The Knight Commander raised a filigreed scroll over his head for all to see. The King has declared Archmage Endvaen in violation of his Oaths to the Crown. Should he not comply, he will be branded traitor as well all those that remain in the Hall of the Art.

Alluvian and Samnymian turned to find Ved’rail and Ragnork joining them. As the Knight Commander and his retinue move across the circle, the four discussed the announcement with a growing sense of outrage. Had not they already seen Andalain fall into despair over similar events? Their words became more heated before discovering a stranger watching them. A dark haired human approached them, and in vague terms warned them against rash actions. He was unwilling to identify himself and refused to speak directly. Instead he hinted that all was not lost, that the Master of the Hall was taking steps to deal with this problem. The four, in turn, let it be known that they would be available to assist against the injustice being perpetrated here. The human nodded then blended back into the crowd.

Another fifty soldiers entered the Civic Circle, taking up positions throughout. Tensions were high, the residents of Raelenain were not pleased with the sudden turn of events. Rumors already circulated that another two hundred troops were down the hill, taking up guard stations around the Civic Circle and throughout the city. It was with mixed feelings that they decided to return to the Duchess’ mansion, they did have a ship to catch.

The commotion in the circle gave Gretel the opportunity to slip back into the Duchess’ estate without being seen by her friends. The dwarven priestess wondered if she’d suffered another bout of sleepwalking last night? She didn’t have a history of such behavior, but Alluvian had found her wandering about while they were encamped on the road. Sleepwalking might explain waking up in a strange room, but not the change in appearance. She had been alone in that room, hadn’t she?

Entering the Duchess’ estate, Gretel was greeted by one of the servants. The woman asked if Gretel had found the Inn to her liking? Shocked, Gretel asked the servant to explain herself. Taken slightly aback, the servant explained that late last night Gretel had come to her, asking for a good location to get a drink and enjoy some dancing. The servant told her about the Inn, at which point Gretel had departed. Gretel dismissed the servant and returned to her room, more unsettled than ever.

Over a quick breakfast with Lok and the Duchess, it was decided to depart as swiftly as possible. The current unrest in the Civic Circle might escalate. They didn’t want to get caught in another city lockdown. Lok agreed to contact them via Sending Spell should the Duchess come to any danger.

Gathering their belongings, they departed the estate and headed for the docks. Captain Laeroya was eager to be underway. The rumors were flying about the Army moving through the city, and the Captain didn’t want to give them an excuse to interfere with her ship. She welcomed her passengers on board, directing Angel to get them settled.

There were several passenger cabins available. Eight of them only large enough to hold a storage chest, a stool, a table that could be moved down for use or secured up against the wall, and a hammock for sleeping. Angel also offered the larger, two person cabin in the bow, which the brothers Ven’Rail and Samnymian claimed. Alluvian was shown to the secondary hold, where her Unicorn and wolves could be berthed. The Rangeress planned to stay there rather than at a cabin. Unafraid, Angel asked if she could come back later and meet her wolves.

Up on deck, Captain Laeroya pointed out the Avenese Navy slowly getting underway. It appeared that even as the Army was busy within the city, the plans for Kovir continued. The Captain explained she wanted to get well ahead, so the ships of Corymer and Shevorai didn’t mistake The Devils Bride for a scouting vessel for the Avenese fleet.

Captain Laeroya barked out her orders and her crew scrambled to get underway with quick efficiency. The Devils Bride headed out to sea, leaving Raelenain and the rest of Avenese behind.

An hours sail beyond the Raelenain breakwater, Captain Laeyora, Angel and several other crew members moved to the bow of the ship. Angel handed her captain a blue silk coin purse. The Captain opened the purse and withdrew several gold coins. As she dropped the coins, one at a time, into the sea, she called out, “Great Azuretherix, Lord of the Sea and Sky, accept this tribute and grant us safe passage through your territory.” The ritual complete, the crew returned to their duties.

Ved’Rail commented to his friends that Azuretherix was the legendary blue dragon for which the Bay of Azuretherix gets its name. The elder wyrm is rumored to dwell beneath the waves and was responsible for terrorizing the area and destroying much of the city they just left about two hundred years ago. The Captain had just performed an old seafarer’s ritual, designed to appease the dragon. The fact that he hadn’t been seen in over a hundred years did nothing to diminish the Devils Bride’s respect for him.

The passengers settled in for the sea voyage. Captain Laeyora made it clear they were welcome on deck as long as they stay out of the way, and anyone on deck was subject to orders. Anyone unwilling to obey was welcome to spend the trip in their cabin. Alluvian observed the Captain’s horns were not part of her helm, but in fact she was a Tiefling. The Fey’ri and Tiefling briefly discussed their heritage, although Alluvian left out her recent insight on her sire’s dread history. The first day proceeded without other incident and that evening Ved’Rail provided entertainment for his companions and the ship’s crew.

On the evening of the second day at sea, Angel approached Ragnork, informing him that the Captain would like to see him in her cabin for dinner. As Ved’Rail had shared a story with him about Laeyora’s aggressive bedroom demeanor, he chose to go her cabin; but in his full armor and with the blade Kel’Elaedrial on his back.

The look of disappointment on the silk and lace clad Captain was quite evident when he arrived. The two shared dinner, although Ragnork passed on the offer of the exotic Narthazel wine. Captain Laeyora’s disappointment melted into amusement as she came to believe that she, in fact, intimidated the rugged warrior. As Ragnork departed her cabin, she made the offer that should he ever find himself out of his armor, the wine would still be there. Ragnork was pretty sure that she would be there too.

Later that same night, a commotion on deck caught the attention of all the travelers. A thick, unnatural fog surrounded the ship, cutting off the light of the moons, making it difficult to see from one end of the ship to the other. The crew followed Captain Laeyora’s orders quietly, all hands listening for the source of what raised this veil around them.

Alluvian pointed upward as several of them heard a disturbance in the air. This grew into the sound of heavy wings cutting forcefully through the air. Abruptly, the Devils Bride heaved, the bow jutting up madly into the air and the aft rushing down to the water and the ship’s timbers creaked in protest. The ship poised that way for several seconds, those on board struggling not to pitch downwards. When just as quickly, the bow pitched downward and the Devils Bride righted herself roughly.

There was, something, at the aft of the ship. Several of the crew drew daggers silently, but the Captain held her hand up to indicate for them to wait. Then the sound of hard boots on the deck echoed from the mist for several agonizingly long seconds. The sight of two pale blue orbs emerged from the fog, moving in time to the sound of boots on wood. Drawing closer, the luminous eyes seemed to flash with electrical energy as a disturbingly handsome elf emerged fully from the fog. Clad in blue and silver, the blue haired elf observed the passengers and crew of the Devils Bride with arrogant amusement.

With a smirk, the elf spoke, “Well, I suppose you will have to do.”

He explained there was a disturbance in his territory. He indicated those aboard the Devils Bride, and directed them to go and investigate it. Should they successfully end this disturbance, they would be premitted to continue their voyage. He let the alternative hang in the air, unspoken.

The elf, who by this time nearly everyone assumed was the dragon Azuretherix in humanoid guise, gestured to the bow of the ship. A small crack of lightening lanced forward, where it became a tiny wisp of light. He smiled at Captain Laeyora, “That will guide you on your way.”

When no one protested, the elf nodded contentedly. With a graceful leap, he stood atop the guardrail, then fell back into the fog, vanishing from sight. The heavy sound of wings cut through the air and the unnatural fog around the ship faded away, illuminating the Devils Bride in moonlight.

Captain Laeyora and her passengers came to quick agreement, they had little choice but to follow the dragon’s request. She called to the helmsman and the Devils Bride was once more underway.

It was several hours after sunset, two days after their meeting with Azuretherix, that they spotted what was likely their destination. Thick bolts of lightening stabbed downward into a rocky island that jutted up nearly two hundred feet from the churning ocean around it. The flashes illuminated the island in the distance, and Alluvian and Samnymian decided to use flight to scout ahead.

Captain Laeyora held the Devils Bride away from the island as the two took off from the deck. The swirling clouds above the island, the source of the lightening brought with it sheets of chilling rain. They could see the island was a jagged peak of dark rock with an unnatural ring of needle like rock spines forming a barrier thirty feet from the shore. Samnymian pointed to a cleft in the peak’s face and Alluvian nodded, they headed in that direction when suddenly, both plummeted into the sea, ten feet from the ring of spines. Struggling in the churning sea, the two swam back toward the Devils Bride. Magical effects returned and they were able to determine that some form of anti-magic aura surrounded the island.

Fortunately, the Devils Bride’s longboat was large enough to accommodate all six of them, in addition to two of the Devils Bride’s stronger sailors to help row. Although not very far, it was rough going, the sea seeming to work against their efforts. Eventually they neared the ring of spines, and carefully edged the boat between two of the spines and into the calmer waters near the island. The sound of the rain, waves and lightening above made communication difficult, but they steered the boat toward the cleft in the peak Samnymian had spotted earlier. No magic appeared to work here, but Alluvian was curious about the fragments of the Runestorm Orb they’d recovered. She withdrew them from her pack, noting they appeared unaffected by the anti-magic aura, continuing to hover above her hand, their broken song barely discernible over the surrounding din.

Ved’Rail was curious how his instrument would behave in this area, the lore about it so fragmentary when it came to unraveling its potential. As he began to play, they boat continued toward the opening in the side of the peak. The flashes above provided enough illumination to see a figure standing in the cave entrance. Perhaps fifteen feet tall, it resembled a figure clad in armor similar to what Ragnork had recovered in the Mountain, holding a pair of swords across his chest. As they drew nearer, they realized magic was working again, but when Ved’Rail stopped playing, the anti-magic aura returned. It didn’t take him long to understand that his music could keep that aura at bay.

They could see that the cleft in the island peak opened up into a large cave beyond the looming statue. They pulled the ship up on the rocky shore, wary of the statue that they quickly deduced was some manner of golem. It was decided that the two Devils Bride crew would remain with the boat while the rest ventured into the darkness of the cave to uncover the nature of this anti-magic disturbance….

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Road to Raelenain

Alluvian, Samnymian, Ved’Rail, Gretel, Ragnork and Phandria had successfully slipped out of Andalain under cover of darkness. It was high summer, the moons hung brightly in the sky, providing light enough to make some distance from the city. After some debate it was decided to journey toward Raelenain, the port city of Avenesse, where their friend, the Duchess Jansylth Evanae Lyrie currently lived. They could learn what drove her from the capitol and how had she fallen out of favor with the King. From there they would decide what to do next.

After a few hours travel, it was decided to make camp. Samnymian used his magics to produce a shelter. The night passed uneventfully, although Gretel suffered a brief moment of sleepwalking that Alluvian woke her from before she could wander out of the shelter.

The next day found them stopping briefly at the “River Rush Rest” the roadside inn where months ago, on their journey to the capitol, they’d encountered the man known as “The Hat” and his broken-nosed minion. The Inn Keeper apologized for the lack of meat in the meals, the passing army had cleared out his larder and the supplies from the capitol had been short. He laughed off the talk of the extra taxes and had not heard anything of Royal Auditors keeping note of all businesses done with foreigners. Could it be that the trouble was centered solely on Andalain?

They passed numerous peoples on the road, making their way toward Raelenain as well, some were following the army while others were leaving Andalain, many for good. The night was spent in another magically generated shelter. While on watch, Gretel heard swift hoof beats from the road. She moved to the shelter’s window to observe a horseman stop outside their shelter and make his way to the door. He banged abruptly, declaring himself to be a Highwayman, one of Avenesse’s roving enforces of the peace. Gretel awoke a few of her companions before answering the door. The Highwayman told her he’d suddenly found a dwelling along the road where there hadn’t been one a few days before. When Gretel explained it was magically generated and would dissipate a few hours after sunrise, the Highwayman appeared mollified and bid them all good night.

The day’s travel saw the group stop at Gretel’s favorite roadside inn, “Northbridge” that served the wonderful pies that had made her first journey so much easier. They stopped for lunch, where Gretel was able to purchase several pies for the road. The Innkeep prepared food for the road as well. His supplies had recently been delivered from Sulshonain to the north, Gretel’s home village.

The party ended that day’s journey about an hour’s travel from the city. Samnymian produced another shelter, this time out of sight from the road, amongst the trees separating two large farm fields.

At sunrise, they broke camp and headed into Raelenain. The companions entered through the Tradesgate, one of Raelenain’s three entrances, the others being Onyxgate and the new Portsgate. Entering this city proved to be nothing like the last time they entered the capitol, no interrogation by the guards, no “city entry tax”, and no hints that foreigners are unwelcome. Instead they are nearly swept away by the swelling tide of farmers, merchants and other visitors to the bustling port. A guard manning the gate did his best to inform them of where they might track down the Duchess, but being a guard at the Tradegate didn’t give him many opportunities to socialize with the nobility. His partner at the gate remembered that the Dunchess was the new Master of the Theater, and pointed them in the direction of the Civic Circle, where city Theater is located.

The gate’s main thoroughfare leads directly to Raelenain’s market center, a large collection of semi-permanent stalls, tables and wagons arranged in a series of concentric circles. The market is in full swing by the time they enter the city, and it takes well over an hour to navigate their way through it all. Several members of the group take special care with their purses and other belongings, knowing the reputation of any city’s market for thieves and opportunists.

The street out of Market Center lead southward toward the river that cuts between the two hills that Raelenain is settled around. From there, they beheld the city’s three bridges; one solely for pedestrian traffic, the second for pedestrians, mounts and beasts, and the third designed for carts and carriages. All three designed to act as barriers against large ship traffic up river. Crossing the river by way of the first pedestrian bridge, they found themselves in the bustling Craftsmans section of the city. Here the buildings were a mixture of residences, businesses and manufacturing, their multicolor rooftops giving the riverfront its distinctive appearance.

Entry into the Civic Circle required passing beneath the Arch of Raelenain, a huge block like structure, 180 feet tall and topped with a 30 foot spire. They saw several streets where public access was restricted, streets reserved to the residents of the city’s wealthy and elite. The city constable presence was heavier at these guard posts than in other areas. The Circle itself was dominated by four separate complexes; The Merchant Hall, home of Raelenain’s guild counsel and all commerce regulation. The Palace of Justice, where the Judges, headed by Judge Mayor Kelldonon, rule Raelenain in the name of the King, maintaining law and peace. The Hall of the Art, the great university of Arcanists, lead by the Master of the Hall, Archmage Endvaen. The fourth complex was The Theater, devoted to the arts in Raelenain, famous for its dance troupes and great dramatic performances, now lead by the Master of the Theater, the Duchess Jansylth.

Peering through the gate leading into the garden of The Theater, the group spotted an old friend smoking a pipe while sitting on the steps leading up into the vast Theater complex. The Arcanian wizard, Lok, with whom they had journeyed to the volcano in the Westeral Mountains. The elder wizard was overjoyed to see his old friends, he headed over to the gate, ushering them inside. Speaking animatedly, he lead them around to the side of the the Theater complex, and into the backstage kitchen area where the Duchess was enjoying a late breakfast with two actresses.

The reunion was joyous, although they had been separated for on a few short weeks, the long journey and the dangers they had faced in the demonic lair hand forged strong bonds between them. Of the twelve that had departed Andalain to investigate the volcanic eruption, only the party, Lok and the Duchess returned alive.

The Duchess told them of how the King had become displeased with her, eventually assigning her the position of Master of the Theater in Raelenain, effectively exiling her from the capitol. Lok commented on how exile to the port city was preferable to a march into demon infested mountains any day.

The group shared their experiences in the Loretheria Forest, the Stones of Ekos and the return to Andalain and the trouble brewing there. The discussion grew heated as they tried to understand just how a King like Damelon the Just could allow his kingdom to unravel around him. The Duchess expressed her distress over the pending war with Kovir, and how the Avaneese army was encamped outside the city on the far side of Endevron Hill. The army was waiting for the last of the ships to be completed in the Raelenain shipyards.

After lunch, it was decided that they would try to find the means to journey to Kovir, to see if who may be behind provoking war with Avaneese, the demons from the Westeral Mountains and their leader the Trirune? The Drow and their Seven, who corrupted the Loretheria Forest? Or were they innocent, the soon to be victims of a King falling into darkness?

Duchess Jansylth insisted they stay with her until they depart and Lok led them out to the private avenue of the Civic Circle. The Duchess’ estate, high on Enderveron Hill, was a larger but less ornately appointed mansion than what she had in the capitol.

At this point the party decided to split up to better work on their various errands. Samnymian, Ved’Rail and Ragnork headed off in search of a craftsman who could work with fine mithral. Lok suggested starting at the Westeral Armory, the local master weapon and armor crafthall. Alluvian, Gretel and Phandria decided to find the local temple of Palor in search of a High Priest capable of removing the curse from Phandria.

Gretel’s search for a priest of significant standing to break Itarafane’s curse on Phandria took her to the city’s Merchant Center, a newer section of the city, filled with the expensive homes of Raelenain’s successful merchant class. Together with Aluvian and Phandria, they discovered the Dawnbreak Temple. Less grandiose than the Temple of High Faith in the Civic Circle, this temple had the look and feel of as much a fortress as place of worship, causing the dwarven priestess to wonder if the architect had designed a few Heronian temples before this one. The temple was a large round building with an open air courtyard in the center. In the middle of the courtyard was a tall, narrow, three sided tower that acted as the temple’s center of worship. The outer ring building housed living quarters, offices and other rooms for the temple’s personnel. The surface of the interior wall of the ring was designed to reflect as much sunlight on the center tower as possible.

Gretel spoke with a temple initiate, then was introduced to Navela, a half-elven high priestess of Palor, who agreed to attempt the Remove Curse. The divine spell’s effect was rather anti-climatic, as the supernatural beauty faded from Phandria and her intelligence was restored. The three expressed their gratitude and Aluvian made a donation to the temple. Gretel and Navela spoke briefly about the city, the pending war with Kovir and other things as they briefly toured the temple grounds.

Meanwhile, Samnymian led Ved’rail and Ragnor to find an artisan gifted enough to craft an item he’d been conceiving of for some time. He tracked down a renown dwarven weaponsmith, Ashkellen Coldhammer in the Craftsmen district. Samnymian described the work he had in mind and while Ashkellen had the materials on hand, the exact work was not something he had ever done before. In the end, the dwarf offered Samnymian two options; give him two months to do the work, or seek out the elven artisans of Tal’Mytherasil, who have likely done work in a similar vein. Reluctantly, the elven wizard agreed, there simply wasn’t time to wait in Raelenain for the work to be completed, and their travels would take them far from Avenesse for an unknown amount of time.

From Ashkellen they also learned of Alinar Sunweaver, an elf who represented much of the Tal’Mytherasil trading interests in the city. Master Alinar welcomed them to his home, an impressive home in the Merchant Center overlooking the foreign trade docks. Over tea and Tal’Mytherasil wine, they discussed the current situation within Avenesse, turmoil in the seas to the south, and other topics of interest. Alinar told them that the next Tal’Mytherasil vessel wasn’t due in port for two weeks, but if they were in some hurry to depart the city, he knew of two trusted captains they may be able to book passage with. The first was Captain Edensar of the “Blind Dancer”, a Cormeyr ship that traded all along the coast. The second was Captain Laeroya of the “Devils Bride”, a Narthazel vessel known for its speed. The three men bid Alinar farewell and made their way down to the docks.

Samnymian desired to seek out Captain Laeroya of the Devils Bride first. He found the ship easily enough with its distinctive figurehead of a buxom woman with a skull face. Calling out to the ship, the three were greeted from the ship by a petite young woman they learned was named Angel. She invited them on-board then bounced off to find the captain. The Captain arrived on deck a few minutes later, a tall, provocatively clad woman in long seacoat over a black leather corset, skirt and knee length boots. A leather helm with two long horns at the forehead and a bare bladed cutlass in her belt completed her uniform.

Samnymian and Captain Laeroya negotiated for passage. The Captain said she planned to depart the following morning, and for 250gp each, she would take them to Kovir’s primary harbor, or a nearby port if Kovir was closed due to the pending conflict. Samnymian explained Aluvian’s small menagerie of animal companions, and the Captain said she’d charge another 250gp for the Unicorn and the rangeress would need to keep an eye on her wolves, but the Narthazel Captain didn’t appear to concerned.

As they were leaving to inform Phandria, Gretel and Aluvian, Captain Laeroya asked Ved’rail if he was busy. The handsome elven bard replied that he didn’t have any immediate plans, so with a wicked grin, the Captain dragged him off to her cabin.

Angel rolled her eyes and went back to work. Samnymian and Ragnork headed back to the Duchess’ manor.

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Into Sorrowheart Citadel

The night was troublesome for all of the companions, the unnatural sounds of Blackthorne’s Garden made sleep difficult, and when sleep did come it was restless, leaving everyone with a vague feeling of having escaped a nightmare. They gathered their belongings, leaving Vandora to watch over her sisters. Phandria evoked a druidic spell to gain some insight into their surroundings, from what she described, they choose to continue on the path.

Alluvian lead them along the path between stretches of unnatural trees until they sighted a mass of trees, vines and even stone that gave off a subtle light as if lit from within. It gave off the impression of a building, while at the same time a large chaotic jumble of plant overgrowth. There was some uncertainty over what to do, clearly the edifice was unnatural, but all their magics had indicated that Syl’varia and the stricken Beloved’s were further inside the forest. The “building” for lack of better terms, could be a trap or costly distraction. Za’kazhin was still a threat and at an advantage here in his own territory. The appearance of a robed figure in the doorway galvanized them into action.

The figure gestured for them to follow into the “building”, the group formed up, with Ragnork taking the vanguard position and the ranged combatants supporting him. The warrior was able to get a better look at both the figure, and “her” location, as he reached the threshold. The interior resembled a temple or other large gathering place; the remains of a statue’s head, held in place by plant growth dominated the far side, what resembled worn tapestries at first but were revealed to be long wisps of spider webs hung from overhead. Samnymian noticed a sizable black spider riding along the back of Alluvian’s pack, and dispatched with a quickly evoked spell. The woman like figure continued to watch them quietly from the center of the room. Ragnork cautiously approached, but could sense no direct threats.

The robed woman spoke in oddly ephasized elven, as if she spoke the language of the elves, but in a different way. She introduced herself as “Ah’ranexa”, and began answering some of their questions, informing them that she was here to observe Za’kazhin and Lord Harin’dalin’s progress. When asked if she would object to someone interfering with their progress, Ah’ranexa stated that clearly, if they were easily stopped, then they were hardly worthy of her notice? She addressed Alluvian as “Oathsworn”, clearly noticing the bow the rangeress carried. The robed woman also offered Gretel a gift, but having received more than her fair share of “gifts” from mysterious and evil beings, she politely declined. The only hint of animosity about her was as they left, she invoked a prayer of a sort, “In Lloth’s name, Maiden’s Warding so Sworn.” which appeared to trigger something in the armor worn by Ragnork.

Leaving the mysterious woman behind, they continued on the trail until they neared the trail that would lead toward the center of the twisted forest, and their goals. Looking over the crossroad was another jagged, towering spar of petrified wood, although there was no sign of the Drow druid, Blackthorne whom had used the last as a perch. The assumption proved premature as the area around them once more erupted in flame, clearly a repeat of the previous Firestorm spell. This time the group spotted a miniature crow taking wing from close by. Spells and arrows flew and the bird tore through the sky, up toward the top of the tower spar. But Alluvian was able to send two more arrows up at her quarry, dropping it. As the tiny bird plunged ground ward, the wildshape faded, Za’kazhin Darkthrone, the Drow druid, landed with a cruel thud in the thick of Whispering Trees.

Samnymian spotted the druid’s body amongst the tress, seeing the wounds already beginning to close. He sent several more spells into the figure to keep it from regenerating while Alluvian dragged the corpse from the wood. Ragnork finished the druid off with a quick stroke from Kel’Elaedrial, severing the head from the rest. They made quick inventory of the magic and other valuables, leaving the corpse behind. This time they caught their foe by surprise, making impressively quick work of him.

The path toward the center of the (now deceased) Drow druid, Za’kazhin Blackthorne’s garden proved more treacherous as it drew closer to their destination. Spine launching plants lined the way and the “safe zone” between their path and the Whispering Trees faded, forcing the adventurers to pass close enough to fall under the threat of their whispers. Ved’Rail used his bardic ability to try and bolster his companion’s resistances to the tree’s allure. It was partially successful, the power of the tree’s appeared greatly amplified the closer they got to the center of the dark garden.

In the center of the garden they beheld their destination. Ahead of them lay the sundered remains of one of the great Elldrasils, the trees of the ancient Elven homeland, now a massive, shattered stump in the center of a moat-like lake fed by the numerous tributaries that wound through the surrounding garden. It appeared that Harin’dalin was using the remains of this long dead great tree as an outer wall for a fortress he had constructed here.

A ramp lead up to a large black metal gateway, the material and style reminiscent of the tower they had visited near the Westron Mountains. Bound to the gates in heavy chain was one of the two Beloveds of Ehlenestra. The elven woman was unconscious, coated in a sickly looking moss and showing signs of torture. They freed her, but not without triggering an alarm within the fortress. They identified the substance coating her as Obliviax, or memory moss, a plant that consumed the spells and memories of any sentient being it comes into contact with. They preserved as much of it as they could, in hopes the woman’s memories could be restored.

The gates began to open, revealing a human the bore the telltale black tear streaks that others under mental control had. The human asked who they were and Ved’Rail quickly responded, “We are the Seven.”, playing on the rumor they had heard that Harin’dalin was awaiting “The Seven” and Syl’viaria’s warning to “Beware the Seven.” The human nodded then opened the door wider, “The Master will want to see you.” and bid them enter.

Within the remains of the Eldrasill, the elven lord had constructed a series of connected towers that surrounded a vile looking tree that was rooted in the remains of the Eldrasill’s trunk, its own roots digging into the rock hard wood like parasitic tendrils. This black tree, its twenty foot round trunk dwarfed by the Eldrasill’s remains, stretched up a good eighty feet, its limbs free of leaves but surrounded by a fine swirling mist similar to the invisible lurking tentacled creature encountered out in mist filled forest. Odd red stones, radiating a faint glow, could been seen embedded in the base of the black tree’s trunk.

Samnymian approached the tree as the human servant led the group to the nearest tower. As he grew closer, his heart was filled with such crushing despair that he flinched back, cautioning his friends to keep away from the vile thing.

Entering the tower, the servant led them past several heavily armed and armed guards, clad in armor similar to that worn by Ragnork, but of a simpler design. He bid them wait while he fetched the master, begging them make themselves comfortable before departing.

Quickly deciding not to wait for Harin’dalin’s arrival, they used magics to determine that Syl’viaria was up higher and in the center tower. Ved’Rail unlocked an exit door and the group departed, making their way down a curved hallway and into a store room with several sets of weapons and armor. A spiral staircase beckoned them upward. The next hallway took them to the third tower.

Within the third tower was a chamber with two exists and a statue of a nude elven dancer, baring a pair of wicked blades. Upon entering, the statue proved to be a golem when it animated and moved to defend the location. Alluvian and Ragnork engaged the thing in melee while Ved’Rail went to work on the lock of the closest door. The door opened, only to reveal an enclosed balcony that looked out over the black tree and the surrounded petrified heartwood.

The golem, while a deadly opponent, was dispatched without loss of life. Ved’Rail and Samnymian went to work on the other locked door. The door opened, revealing a regal looking elven figure. Clad in black robes with silver and red trimming, he looked upon the strangers and the rocky remains of the room’s guardian and asked, “Who are you?”

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Blackthorn's Garden

The drow, Za’kazhin Blackthorn, introduced himself as the custodian of “garden” that surrounded them. Disturbingly hansom, the dark elf appeared oddly non-pulsed as Samnymian and his companions challenged him to explain himself and his garden. Za’kazhim instead studied Gretel intently, stating that he wasn’t expecting any non-elves. The dwarven priestess found herself suppressing a shudder as is red eyes bored into her intently, a wide smile forming on his face. Samnymian persisted and eventually Za’kazhim responded to the question about the missing Beloveds. He said they were his work now, and he was going to find the confrontation between the two groups most amusing. The elven wizard pressed the drow druid, challenging him to bring them forth now. Za’kazhin pondered, and that is when Alluvian struck, her demon infused sword struck out, and the drow’s staff spun out his his hand and clattered to the ground. As he bent to pick it up, the Fey’ri’s follow up swing caught the drow in the chest.

Za’kazhim exploded in a cloud of ravens that fed skyward and Alluvian found a single dead bird impaled on her blade. Suddenly the ground erupted in fire, fire that didn’t burn any plantlife, but leap and clung to the group. The party scrambled to uncover where the drow druid had fled to, quickly concluding he was likely on the top of the tower like rock from whence he first came. As if to confirm their supposition, another spell struck down from the tower’s apex, and Gretel suddenly found herself transformed into a small rabbit.

The base of the tower was surrounded by 12 foot tall plants that appeared to be quite capable of attacking anyone who approached. Alluvian activated her Cloak of Chaos and took wing, assendly swiftly upwards. Ven’Rail and Samnymian made use of levitation, moving slightly slower. Phandria wild shaped into a great bird and was able to begin carrying Ragnork upwards. However, the encounter at the top of the tower like shard of petrified wood was anti-climatic, the drow druid had summoned a large beast while flying into the darkness.

Returning to the ground, Gretel’s condition was reversed and the group turned once more to finding their way through this twisted creation of dark elven manipulation. Exploring westward, the path led into a lake, some quick reconnaissance revealed a strange collection of plants that together resembled a large house and odd trees along the shore that were all spaced in a disturbingly uniform pattern.

No to eager to cross the lake, the group chose to explore the eastern path. As it winded its way through more of the Singing Trees, three of the missing Elven rangers ambushed the group. It appeared that the Beloveds and their Unicorns had become corrupted, the unicorn’s hides turned black. As the healer, Gretel was targeted first, and fell before anyone could really react. Samnimyan was grievously wounded by one of the charging Unicorns. Alluvian blew the whistle given to her by Vandora, which rendered two of the Beloveds unconscious and with them, their unicorns. Samnimyan rendered his attacker unconscious as Alluvian blew the whistle a second time, that rendered the third corrupted ranger unconscious. The fight was over rather swiftly, but to their horror, Gretel was dead.

Phandria attempted to heal Gretel, as they moved the unconscious elves to a central location, but the magics would not take. Then, without warning, Gretel sat up, her health restored. She explained to her surprised companions that she had received a warning, that there was someone else, outside this immediate threat, that was moving against them. And perhaps targeting them in particular.

With their friend restored to health, they turned to the challenge of what to do with three unconscious Elven women and unicorns. They used a Sending spell to contact Vandora, informed her of what was happening and she said she’d come watch over her sisters. Alluvian escorted her past the pool and other possible dangers, and the Beloved of Ehlenestra joined the group. When it was revealed that the true spirits of the other three was held somewhere else, it was decided that they would camp together for the night, then in the morning Vandora would stay behind with her sisters while the rest ventured toward the center to set things right.

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Bridge into Dispair

Alluvian and Phandria led the way, discovering the remnants of a watchtower, and a mysterious mist that obscured the ground completely after sunset. They used magics to avoid touching the mist and eventually discovered a ruined and abandoned encampment. As they examined the ruins, the mist pored from the surrounding woodland, despite the fact that the sun was still up. The mist had a magic disrupting ability and concealed some form of tentacled horror, that proceeded to attempt to pummel the group until driven away.

Pressing on, the guiding magics lead the group to a strange sight, an elegant yet disturbing looking bridge that arched off into the mist, the forest floor giving way to what appeared to be some form of crater. As they examined the bridge, they discovered a mounted figure watching them in turn from the forest. After a brief misunderstanding, they discovered the figure to be Vandora Dawnborn, a Beloved of Elenestra and her Unicorn companion, Thandir. Vandora told a tale of how her and her sisters had discovered this strange crater several months ago, and the oddities that emerged from it. Ved’Rail concluded that the timing between the this crater’s appearance was perhaps only a few days after the initial volcanic eruption near Skyscar Peak.

The elven ranger invited Alluvian and her friends back to the Beloved’s encampment to rest before they proceeded over the bridge the next day. She told them how a group of three of her sisters had crossed the bridge three weeks ago, never to be seen again. Two more descended down the side of the crater a week later, but no word has come of them. With five Beloved missing, their leader, Talenestra Swiftblade, forbade any more from entering, instead charging the remaining six to patrol the outer edge of the crater, doing their best to dispatch any of the strange beasts that emerged.

The companions crossed the bridge, Vandora swearing to watch over the bridge as long as she could, regretting that she could not join them. By the time they reached the far side, they could no longer see her.

The other side of the bridge was an outcropping of rock surrounded by water. On the far side of the pond could be see a number of eerie lights that revealed a shoreline, or forest of oddly thin limbed trees and a path that cut between them. Alluvian led them across the pond, the depth of which never reached above her knees, pausing when the elves noticed numerous birds silently watching from the sharp angled limbs of the trees. The birds had the tell-tale sign of the familiar bronze like helms the birds that scouted for “The Hat” wore.

Mid way across the pond, the water suddenly exploded upwards, bathing everyone in water and a strange black, sap like substance. Everyone choked as the black sap invaded their throats. Ragnork and Ved’Rail were briefly overcome, and had to be roused by their friends before the drown in the shallow water. They pulled themselves to the shore. There they discovered that the eerie lights were produced by oddly twisted stick-like plants that glowed, torch like, on the top end. These lights led the way deeper into this odd forest.

The group was ambushed by several dire bears, that attacked them without any concern for their own safety. They saw what they thought was an elven woman amongst the trees, but she vanished before they could investigate further. Ved’Rail and Phandria examined the trees, learning that they were likely an alteration of the Singing Tree, a tree commonly used as a defensive measure by druids in other areas, but here who knows the true nature of their purpose now.

They pressed on, discovering a 80 foot tall tower-like structure that was perhaps stone or petrified wood. A figure called down, then descended as a flock of large ravens, reforming at the base. Disturbingly, this was a dark purple skinned elf, bald, clan in the style of a druid, but with a disturbing dark air about him. When asked, he did not deny that he was a Drow, the exiled race of traitorous Elvenkind.

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Syl'viaria in Danger

With the threat to Izzalin dispatched and the rewards acquired, everyone prepared to depart Izzlain and head south toward the Stones of Ekos. On a whim, Samnymian decided to use the Sending ability of his new robe to send a message to the elven courier, Syl’varia, with whom he had spent some time, the last time he was in this town.

The response from the elven adventuress was unexpected, she was in peril, held captive by the same Elven Lord that appeared to be behind the dwarven mining activities. Samnymian discovered she was in the depths of the Lathlorian Forest, somewhere south west of the area known as the Barrelwood. Syl’viaria’s brothers, the twins Lor’bevarien and Lor’eriden were captured as well, but she didn’t know their fates.

Samnymian rallied his friends, pooled their magical resources and quickly transported to the Barrellwood and began the trek into the deeper Lorenthian Forest. Phandria, familiar with the outer edges of the Forest for the most part, told the group of the general unknown nature of the deeper forest. Several of the surrounding human kingdoms claimed the wood in some part, but none of them could dominate it.

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Molten Pinnacle

Molten pinnaclet by kieran yanner

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