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….