The World of DaNar

Into the Cascades. A Resolution of Sorts.
Sorscha

The break in rain allowed the light create a heavy, humid air, even at this altitude. As we waited for the signal from Meiko, there was little to do but sweat. I sat on a rock face overlooking the valley and meditated to clear my mind before the battle to come.

Several hours later, we heard footsteps approaching from the direction of the city. As we all crouched down or clutched weapons, a Bowmen appeared over the side of the hill with his hands spread wide and away from his body. He turned out the be the signal. One of Meiko’s men, he was here to guide us into the city through a path guarded by their forces. Though there was still a chance of encountering other Bowmen, they assured us that they would be able to address the situation. Having conversed with Seifer earlier in the day, he would be staying behind with the Ironclad and would use the ship to infiltrate the city. It made sense, given their conspicuousness. Those us heading in gathered what few things we would be taking with us. This was the kre’jil. There would be no turning back.

As Exelar and I headed to the path down the cliff, Seifer wished us luck. It was an unusual enough gesture from the headstrong knight that it brought me up short. “To us all”, I returned, and down we went.

The Cascades
Out path took us into the city behind the first wall. As we entered the city proper, I noted how much of it was in disrepair. Not entirely dissimilar to Lochaid when we first arrived there. With the stories I’d heard of the place, and with it being the Bowmen center of operations in the area, I assumed a more formidable structure awaited us. Make no mistake, the curtain walls were old, but solid, and blocked most avenues of approach. But the city buildings themselves were in various states of neglect. The city itself had been flooded more than once, in fact a river still flowed down the central road and pushed higher up into the side streets. Additionally, the majority of the buildings stood empty. Apparently the Bowmen didn’t keep enough of a stationary force here to warrant keeping things up. If the Bowmen weren’t here, this would be an excellent second footing for us.

As we approached the inner wall, we were handed off to another of Meiko’s men who escorted us into a set of rooms built into the wall itself. The meeting wasn’t until the next evening, so we’d be spending the night and much of tomorrow here. Talking with some of them, I learned that the meeting itself was to take place at the remains of a keep on the very end of the remaining spit of land that thrust out over the crevasse at the far end of the city. I also found out that the river had always run through the center of the city, but the spread of it further outward came with the collapse that saw much of the far end of the city fall into the abyss that was purported to connect to the har’oloth.

The night passed with us in close quarters, staying away from windows and overlooks. The other faction of Bowmen never came by or, if they did, Meiko’s men handled them without issue. The meeting was to take place later this evening, so we still had several hours to wait. The Bowmen had some games of chance laying about and Cotton and the others took advantage of them. All of them but Exelar. I could see that his doubt continued to gnaw at him. It had only gotten worse since we entered city and sitting around waiting wasn’t helping things.

Eventually, a knock on the door heralded our next step. Transportation had been arranged for us to the pinnacle keep ruins. The sun was going down, so it was time to move. Taking a stair down the wall on the far side, we made our way through side streets and down to the central avenue river. Sitting in the river was a boat just large enough to hold all of us and two Bowmen pilots holding sounding polls. I felt more than a little exposed, but they confirmed that this would be the quickest and most inconspicuous way to go. Pulling the cowl of my piwafi around my ahead, I settled into the bow of the boat as we set off.

The Conference
As we approached the pinnacle, one of the Bowmen lost control of the boat on his side, and it began to drift toward an offshoot that spilled over the cliffs edge and down into the chasm. Rather then try to save it, our guides told everyone to jump off onto the island we were passing, upon which the ruined keep sat. Moving quickly, we all leaped for the shore, some with more grace than the others. As one of the first ones to hit ground, I helped others that didn’t quite make the full jump. The two Bowmen rowers, their conveyance now lost, joined us. Glancing back at the tangle of people recovering from their boat ride, Hershel said that he would scout the keep in advance. Using the magic in his cloak, a small bat that had been Hershel fluttered up toward the stone building peeking over the hill.

Following a path around the island, we came on a Bowmen guard group near a primary dock. The sunlight was gone, so they gathered around a campfire. Exelar held the group back as I snuck around to the other side of the guards fire. When the one furthest our patrolled out of site of the others, I struck and took him down silently. Seeing the fourth guard not returning, Exelar and the others charged out of the darkness, surprising and taking down the remaining three. There was a bit of noise, but it was quick, so there was a good chance that no one noticed. Especially given the distance separating this island from the other buildings.

We rounded the final corner and the primary entrance to the building came into view. Our guides took us around the side to an entrance that was part old door and part a collapsed wall. Filtering in, we immediately turned and up to the second level. Hershel appeared shortly after and shedding his bat form, we quietly planned our assault. The meeting was taking place in a central courtyard that was open to the sky. On the second level, there was a balcony that surrounded three sides of the courtyard. The far side was lost to a collapsed wall, whose rubble still littered the ground. Hershel’s scouting identified three groups of Bowmen archers in rooms just off the balcony ledges. They were set to rain arrows down on those below.

Hershel went up to the third level for a clear sniper position. Exelar, Caleb, and Wulfgar each took positions out side the rooms where the archers were laying in wait and would deal with them first before descending to the courtyard. I went to the far side from where we entered. Hershel had identified the mage that traveled with Trask, Volkana, I believe, as well as the unidentified pale spellcaster that had been seen in the scrying. They were my responsibility. The others would enter through the ground floor once they saw us act. The Ironclad were supposed to provide ranged cover from the skiff, but I don’t know how Seifer was planning to act. He’ll have to worry about himself. I moved up to the third floor and took my position.

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Into the darkness and out with the light
Journal entry by Ser Seifer

It was damp. The air was wet and heavy. We sat waiting for our signal from Meiko Sama. Six of my companions would be sneaking into The Cascades (Labentem Civitatem) to meet up with meiko’s men and set an ambush from within. Some of us were not so adept in the art of steath and silence. We were heavy warriors of steel and we would be noticeable. Seven of us stayed behind, using the Iron Clad’s airship as a means to infiltrate the compound. I had another plan. Having borrowed a ring form Nathaniel Bronnson, i planned to fall from the airship and insert myself directly into the battle. Falling from so high was a big risk. Death was inevitable if i my timing was not correct. But the advantage it would give me was worth the risk. The waiting was killing me, until it finally came.

The signal was given and Exelar Vitarri and Sorscha lead the men into the cascades. My prayers to Altua finished, i wished them luck in the events that were to come and watched as my companions walked into the darkness hoping this would not be the last i saw them. Hours passed and still no alert or signal from within. This was good. They had breached the walls and were inside, waiting, watching. We needed to wait until the next night before we were to fly into position and ready ourselves for the ambush. This was going to be a long night and morning. I believe this was the first time i was worried about the others. We had separated before but not under such circumstances. This was a battle far bigger and more dangerous than anything we had faced before. Perhaps it was blind rage that allowed me to ignore the stress. Maybe it was faith in those around me. Maybe it was something more, only the gods know.

The night came and we flew into position. Hovering above the keep at the tip of the cascades we surveyed the keep and watched the people in the courtyard. Nothing caught my eye, until one man stood up and spoke to the crowd. It was him. The murdering savage. The one i was going to kill. It was Ivar Trask. I was focused solely on him. My moment was coming. Maybe my companions were ready, maybe not, i did not care at this point. That would ultimately be my death. I heard a pause in the rumble below, and i took the chance and flew. The weightlessness and freedom from the earth was exhilarating. Closer the ground came. Faster, faster, closer, closer. I chose my time and slipped the ring on my finger. The jolt of the magic and poor distance threw me off, but my aim was true.

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With a crash of wood and bodies, i landed next to my target, Trask. The chair where i landed was occupied by a headless body that was falling out of it. No doubt my companions were here and ready to fight. My focus went immediately to Trask. With shock and a startled expression on his face, our eyes met. " Ivar Trask! Let us dance." I said as i drew both Black Ice and my Thyasian blade. He was obviously caught off guard because he failed to get to his blade and strike me before i could intercept it with my own sword. Our duel had begun, and we would see who is the better swordsman.

This blade was Thyasian steel, and his armor thick and sturdy. Something was not right. His breastplate had a small hole in it. There was a glimmer of sickly dark light. A stone. A soul stone! It was placed in his chest and glowing. Was he not human anymore? What does this mean? His strength was unmatched. He was faster than me and his sword style was foreign to me. It was all i could do to meet his sword with mine and deflect his blows rather than take them head on. He struck me not once but twice before i landed a blow.

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The ring of steel was deafening. Neither sword shattered and we continued to trade blow after blow. I miscalculated and it cost me.

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Pain surged through my body as his blade cut deep into my chest. My Thyasian blade got warm in my hand. Then the warmth spread to my chest and the pain stopped. My wounds healed and i felt invigorated. Trask struck hard and now it was his turn to feel my wrath.for-honor-warden-vs-orochi-qhd.jpg

Black Ice hit home and sunk deep into his side. Normally a blow like this would have crippled a man, yet Trasks armor seemed to take most of the damage. My Thyasian blade sunk into the other side of Trask and again, the armor took the hit. Ripping the blades from his body i went for a third strike only to be met with Trasks sword deflecting my own. This man was a monster. Each hit i inflicted, the stone in his chest lit up and glowed for a short duration. Blinded by rage and frustration, i lost control and lost my focus. I needed to be on the defensive, waiting for an opening. I needed to outsmart him and not out class him. My head was clouded. My thoughts ran wild. I needed to stop and think. I needed…….images-1.jpg

Everything went dark. My eyes tunneled. The pain excruciating. He smiled. I was finished. My vision faded to darkness.

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A Question of Trust
Sorscha

After a conference of the companions and Captain Alderrin, we split the party.

Having conferred with the others about the plot against Kroenen that I’d overheard, we now had two goals to attend to. The first was the one that we had ventured out with: attack the Bowmen camps, obtain intelligence, drain their supply line, and possibly draw them out from behind their walls. The new goal is to prevent the eradication of the one group within our enemies that may be worth saving. This time, we have the resources to do both.

The men that were wounded in the camp raid were loaded onto the supply wagon that Seifer had loaded up and would return to the Rise. The less hurt among them would serve as guards and Nathaniel agreed to go with them to discourage anyone that might be interested in the sight of a laden wagon and wounded men. After they arrived at their destination, he’d be able to magically regroup with the rest of us.

Alderrin agreed that harrying the Bowmen camps still held value, so he would take the remaining troops and continue that task. Because we’d be splitting up, the strike team would be weaker. Striking and retreating would be much safer for them and more effective with their new makeup. I emphasized that they shouldn’t over commit and put themselves in danger of being wiped out. Meanwhile, the rest of us were heading out to Angler’s Cove. Word from the Covemen was that Meiko or her men should be there and she needed to know about the threat to Kroenen. Hopefully, this meeting will go better than the last.

Drawing Attention
Returning to the Cove for the first time, we were again intercepted by the guards on the road. Having previously established ourselves, at least to some degree, it was a quicker process than before. We got confirmation that Meiko and her troupe were in town at the moment. They were at the same tavern where I previously had met with a Bowmen who had just struck down one of his own, or so I thought. Thanking the guards, we headed there directly.

The Bowmen weren’t being subtle, a half dozen of them were easily spotted from the tavern entrance. They didn’t subtlety where they were. Stopping several paces from going in, I had a quick chat with Hershel. Given his previous experience with Meiko, and her tension at our recent meeting, I thought it might be wise for him to wander about the town while we spoke with her. He nodded his agreement and quickly blended into the people milling about the main road. Hoping he managed to avoid getting in a fight with our potential allies, the rest of us headed inside.

If they weren’t being covert outside, then the common room was practically swimming in them. Bringing my instincts under control and assuming that everyone in here was a Bowmen or aligned with them, I indicated the party should follow me as I headed to the semi-circular booth that we occupied on our first visit here. Meiko would be notified of our presence, if she hadn’t been already, so we sat and waited. Servers brought drinks for everyone without an order. Figuring that they would have better ways of taking us out than poisoned drinks, I took a sip of the wine when I saw a familiar face come out of a back hallway.

Boris Cotton, alive and not in a swampy hellhole, walked out of the back of the tavern. He was surprisingly pleased to see us. Having successfully evaded Bowmen, he managed to escape Carrion Hill with his daughter and wound up here at Angler’s Cove, among some former comrades. It gave me a bit more security in the presence of these Bowmen. Given Cotton’s feelings about them, if they were anyone other than Kroenen’s men, he – and more importantly, his daughter – wouldn’t be here. It was a guess, but one I was comfortable in making. After getting his daughter back, he wouldn’t have left her with anyone else. Anyone except maybe her mother. Meiko’s slip at our previous meeting also felt secure.

We ran through the information that we’d obtained at the Bowmen encampment. Cotton’s demeanor darkened as we laid out the details, particularly when the portion involving Meiko and her group came up. Once we’d finished up, Cotton said that Meiko needed to hear the specifics herself. He asked us to wait where we were and went upstairs to get her. She came down less armored, though not less armed, than our previous meeting. Though there was a perceptible difference in her demeanor. Being reunited with one’s family can do that. However, she was no less dangerous despite her new attitude. Possibly more so, since Alexandria was no doubt nearby.

Meiko was much less ready to believe us than Cotton was. It took more convincing, more details, and ultimately some reinforcement from Cotton himself before she started brooch the idea that we weren’t trying to set her up. Once she started listening, we were able to discuss the situation and she started to actually answer some of our questions. After a bunch of back and forth, we cobbled together a basic plan to move on. Both Meiko and Cotton were going to take roles in the action, but they did have one deal-breaking condition. Luckily, it was easily granted. Alexandria would be staying at Temple Rise.

Into the Spider’s Web
Meiko and her men readied to start out toward the Cascades on foot while Boris and Alexandria prepared their things to join us on the airskiff ride back to the Rise. Before we left, we introduced to yet another surviving Watchmen that would be joining Meiko’s group, name Lazarus. Properly, he said that he had been part of a company referred to as the Huntsmen, which appeared to be a kind of elite force group within the original Watchmen. I’d check with Gruendok or Shepard back at the Rise to verify the existence of this group, but the fact he survived around Cotton and Meiko was good enough for now.

I must be getting accustomed to having the airship for travel, because before I expected it, were descending to the new dock at Lochaid. Alexandria seemed to have been thrilled at the ride, though Cotton appeared slightly less enthused than his daughter. It turns out that we arrived the same day as Nathaniel and the wagon. Luckily, he hadn’t left yet and was still tottering around his new tower, most likely. I took father and daughter up the hill to meet with Exelar, explain our arrangement, and ensure that she got set up. While her quarters were being arranged, I made sure to introduce her to Balk, so she could be comfortable with her father around for the introduction. I must say, she did better than I anticipated from a surface child. I wouldn’t be surprised if Balk took a shine to her.

After seeing that the girl was settled in, I returned to the others and helped finish preparations to leave. With everything gathered, Exelar and Nathaniel joined us and we got back on the skiff and lifted off. We synced up on the plan, slim as it was. Lazarus was going through the gate with Meiko and Nathaniel had decided that he was going to go with them, as well, so we’d need to drop him off on the way. With his magical power growing, he seemed to think himself invulnerable. My father was a wizard and I grew up around enough of them to know that it wasn’t true. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get himself, or others, killed.

The rest of us would land with the skiff some distance from the outer walls of the Cascades and wait for Meiko and her men to arrange a path for us to enter. Using a set of signaling stones that Hershel had taken from the assassins that found us in Carrion Hill, we arranged indicators of what paths we should take into the city, when the time came. From there, we’d be trusting in Meiko’s lead. It was a risk, but at this point, if we were going to really make a difference here, we needed to take that risk, to grant that trust. There would likely not be a better opportunity than now. That being said, I was still looking to plan was out if things went bad. Trust is one thing, willing blindness is another.

After coordinating the plan, we still had some time before we would land. I walked the deck to stretch my legs and once again appreciate the perspective that we were afforded. Taking up my customary position in the bow, I surveyed my companions. Exelar still didn’t like being aboard the skiff. But it was more than that. Others might not notice it, but we have traveled together for some time now. I’ve seen him in many situations. Now, he was different, unsure. He had always acted with such surety, with complete faith that Heironeous was placing his steps where they needed to be. That’s what had changed. He was unsure. He didn’t trust the Bowmen, but he had placed trust Xar’eth and look what happened. I was coming to realize the differences that time had wrought on us. Though I viewed him as a mentor, the fact is that I had more than a century of life, of experience, and the perspective that comes with it. With barely two decades on his head, this may be the first challenge he’s experienced to his judgment. If so, we needed him with his faith intact. If I’ve placed my own trust correctly, he’ll have the chance that he needs to test it.

We reached the rendezvous point and Nathaniel stepped off the deck of the skiff, slowly floating down to meet with Meiko and don his disguise. The ship swung out wide around the road and to the side of the Cascades, to avoid being seen. A ways and uphill from the city, we made landing behind a rocky outcrop. Cotton went over the layout of the city with us again, so we might know it from memory. Meiko should be arriving at the gate soon. Now, there was nothing to do but wait for the signal that would have us follow one of their own into the heart of the Bowmen stronghold.

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Questions Answered
Journal entry of Exelar Vitarri

Caleb Meckle is alive.

The scroll Hershel found with the Resurrection spell on it worked. While using it I could feel the power of Heironious flow through me, it was unlike anything I had felt before. When I was done there was no doubt if not for scroll the spell would have been well beyond my power, now I am bothered by what will happen when the next of my companions fall.

While the others left to strike out at the Bowmen I was left to ready for a possible attack. My conscience keeps nagging me, was Xar’eth Teken’und a willing partner of the dragon or an unwitting or unwilling one. Nathaniel Bronnson was in the process of gaining control of the Spire before he left but I decided to see if Xar’eth had left anything behind that would answer my questions. Was my attempt to prove a drow could be good the foolish ideas of a child, even though Sorscha, a half-drow, had proven a beacon of order.

If he was deserving of the beheading after his death and the immolation that followed than what should be my punishment for allowing him to join our ranks. Perhaps it best I was left behind, maybe I can get answers to my questions. Making contact with the dragon in the soul gem has gotten easier the longer it has been installed. Finding various papers and items left behind was not hard, so the discovery of a journal was welcome. The answers it contained was not.

The drow was hoping the dragon would help him craft a soul gem to use to unlock the full power of the Spire. Apparently the one thing I did right was keep the dragon gem hidden away. The next few days was a blur as my mind kept going back to every chance I had to stop the drow and now I was questioning my other companions as well. Outside of Sorscha I am in the dark about most of them. Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel) went right along with Xar’eth when he tortured that Bowmen, should I be keeping a closer eye on him? What about Seifer, his appearance coincided with the departure of the Bowmen from Lochaid, should I be questioning his motives about why he is in the Wildlands?

The only thing that shook me from my reverie was the unexpected appearance of a dragon in the skies over the Wildlands. Everybody was on edge but none more so than the dwarves. Word quickly reached us that the dragon was the same that had taken up residence in their former home. Not believing this to be mere coincidence I questioned if placing the dragon gem back into the Spire had been noticed. The dwarves quickly recalled some of the warriors they had stationed in the Rise. Ult seemed torn between stating here where his grandfather sent him and wanting to return in case of an attack.

Nathaniel returned atop a wagon of supplies with injured fighters. Quickly explaining their victorious fight against the Bowmen we than departed to meet with rest of the group. He was joined by Boris Cotton and his daughter Alexandria we had rescued. He had agreed to aid us with the caveat that she would stay at the Rise and be protected. Having to get back aboard the flying skiff was not my first choice but I boarded nonetheless. We rejoined them quickly and the situation was explained, Meiko Sama was going to sneak Nathaniel into the Cascades along with a new a former member of the Watchmen by the name of Lazarus Cain. Apparently he had a skill for killing Bowmen and had agreed to join us for the assault.

Now we sit waiting outside the Cascades waiting for a signal from inside about which gate will let us gain entry. I follow along automatically, my confidence shaken by my earlier discoveries about Xar’eth. We are counting on the word of the Bowmen, which no-one other than me seems to question. Even though I believe this is going to lead to the deaths of many, i can only think that maybe my death will be my punishment for my failure as a leader.

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Attack on the Bowmen. A Conspiracy Uncovered.
Sorscha

Xar’eth is dead.

As the others moved and made space, I could see that his body lay on the ground between them. “His wounds are closing”, one of them said. Hershel went into action again, his blade rising up and falling quickly. A white-haired head was sent into the air and rolled unevenly down the Rise road. A wet, peeling sound drew my gaze back to the group as they pulled something off of Xar’eth. I was dark and flapped softly in the breeze. For a moment, it seemed that that they had flayed him until they gathered to examine the item and his body remained in place, headless, but otherwise intact. This seemed to satisfy those gathered and they began to break apart.

Nathaniel conjured magical doorway and stepped through it. Seifer gave Hershel a last, disapproving look and began down the path to Lochaid. Exelar stood in thought for a moment and turned toward Temple Rise. Deciding that the threat to the tower was now laid to rest, I walked out toward Hershel, Wulfgar, and the body. Glancing down, there were what appeared to be dark tentacles extended from the stump of Xar’eth’s neck, now motionless. Hershel noticed my interest and informed me that while the dark skin was still on the drow, those tentacles had emerged after the beheading, searching for the lost body part. Standing back up, I told him that we needed to burn the body, the entire body, and I glanced meaningfully down the path. He seemed reluctant, but Wulfgar shrugged and went after the head. Once he returned, he helped me fashion a pyre and we set light to the corrupted form of the drow.

Once the fire had burned own sufficiently, and the remaining flames were tended by another, I set toward Lochaid, looking for Gruendok. As the new spymaster, there were things I would need and the quartermaster of the Watchmen was the one to help me get them.

Arriving in the town proper, I found that the dwarf’s time was in high demand. He was speaking to some of Ault’s craftsmen, at least one town elder, from Hemlock Field I think, and a family of villagers inquiring about housing. I stood back and waited my turn. As I did, I noticed Seifer moving among those from Angler’s Cove and the Ironclad. They were heading out in the morning. Because we were unable to locate Trask in transit, he was taking the suggestion of the new arrivals and would be assaulting remaining Bowmen camps at this edge of the basin. It was a better plan than assaulting the Cascades, to be sure.

Seeing my chance, I walked up to Gruendok with my inquiries. As always there was the slightest bit of shock that crossed his face as I came up from the side. I can’t blame him, my people and his have had storied conflicts over the centuries and I can only imagine his personal experience. They were a warrior’s instincts, and not to be blamed. Everyone has scars. Besides, he recovered almost instantly and was always unfailingly polite in the gruff way of dwarves.

We talked for a bit and I made known my needs. Hershel had paid for messenger birds while we were in Carrion Hill and we needed to have some here at the rise, as well. They proved to be a quick and cheap way to send a message and this was something we were desperately in need of. We also needed housing built and caretakers found for them. He nodded his agreement and mentioned that he would check among the refugees, as we already may have people that had taken care of such animals before. I also told him that we needed to have scouts start mapping and gathering information about the land around us and writing it down. Spite the dark, we didn’t even have a reliable map of our surroundings. And finally, I needed his own knowledge of the Cascades. Anything that he could remember about the area would be helpful and if he could start documenting it, I’d be grateful. He took down my requests, nodded, and said that he’d get started on them.

In the Air
Before daybreak, Seifer had rallied the troops. The Ironclad were going to take the merchants to Angler’s Cove directly so that they could avoid the long trip and begin gathering information and materials as soon as possible. Hershel was also going with them to scout the Bowmen camps in advance of Seifer and his men. Speaking of whom, Seifer would be leading them out on ground, heading first to Hemlock Field and then on to the camp location that the Covemen and merchants had provided. The idea behind the attacks were to winnow Bowmen troops and supplies, but also to possibly draw out some of their forces from the Cascades. Even if they did not sortie out, we would taking resources from them. As the village still slept, the air skiff was loaded up with merchants and Hershel. Seifer had gathered his men and they beginning to move down the road toward the remains of Three Cedars and Hemlock Field. As the skiff powered up and the militia headed out, Seifer turned back and yelled to ask if I was coming or not? I realized that I hadn’t actually said that I was going before now. I nodded and darted toward the air skiff, grabbed onto the trailing rope ladder and vaulted aboard.

The rain caught us before we reached out destination. Only having been on the surface a short time, and half of that spent in the wastes of A’rahas, I still wasn’t accustomed to rain. Being up in the air, the rain was heavy and in large drops whose every impact you could feel. The winds moved faster here, unrestricted by trees and the like, and the skiff was tossed around a bit more than was comfortable. Needless to say, as the deck of the skiff had little protection, we were instantly soaked to the bone. Fortunately, the drop off point for Hershel and I was near. The skiff drew close to the ground and we leapt off to head to the Bowmen camp.

After an hour or so of moving through the trees, we found it. In a stroke of good fortune, it was an ideal setup for our intentions. The camp was in a circular clearing and had only a single entrance that was free of growth. In the center were two long tables set under under awnings where meals were consumed. Around the edges of the clearing sat large tents that could hold several people each. One of them was set next to the lone tree that stood just inside the circle of the clearing. I made a note of that one, it would be my entry point when we returned.

While we surveyed the area, I also stopped to listen in on the Bowmen conversations. Most were fairly mundane, until I overheard the murder plot. Taking a risk, I pulled the grey shadows and rain of the day around me and moved forward into the camp. As I found a nook to settle into, I listened more intently. There was a plan to eliminate Kroenen and his entire faction. Apparently he’d done enough arguing and counterwork that his fellows had decided it was time for him to go. For a moment, I wondered if any of it had to do with us.

The work would be done while they were in the Cascades. They would attempt to keep Meiko occupied, either out of the Cascades or by getting her company assigned to a specific watch, away from Kroenen, and with the other Bowmen between them. Then, Kroenen and his men would be coming off watch, gathered in a specific location to take a meal and it would be then that the others would fall upon them as a group. As the one faction that wasn’t directly our for our blood, it would be in our interest to foil this plot. Maybe this information would help to smooth over the rough first contact with Meiko’s troupe. Making a mental note on of the number of men here, I snuck back out to meet Hershel and we withdrew to meet up with Seifer.

Striking Camp
Seifer made better time than I expected and our journey to meet him was brief. When we encountered them, they had a wagon, for some reason, and were loitering around it. We made our presence known to the perimeter guards and they took us in. The wagon had been taken from Bowmen that were sacking the abandoned village of Hemlock Field. They were dealt with swiftly. In turn, Hershel and I informed him as to the makeup and arrangement of the Bowmen encampment we’d scouted. I could see him grip his blade in anticipation of the fight to come. To be honest, I felt a bit of that, as well. After Three Cedars and after so many encounters where we had to hold back, this would be a different fight.

We told him how far he should advance his group and that he should them wait for the signal. When he asked what it would be, I simply told him that he couldn’t miss it. He still looked curious, but nodded and rose to ready the troops from the Cove. Hershel and I likewise rose and set out to return to the camp. As we did, Seifer signaled us to wait. He explained that a group of his men were archers, not melee fighters and that he was sending them with Hershel and I took take positions around the camp and pick off Bowmen from the trees. I could only hope that they had some ability to move with stealth. Now that were were minor a’ni, we were on our way.

What I hadn’t told anyone was that I brought something with me from the Watchmen stocks: two purple gems. Nathaniel had identified them some weeks ago as weapons that would detonate like wizard’s fire when properly commanded. I decided that they would be the perfect signal. Handing one to Hershel, I quietly passed on the command word and impressed upon him that he need to get out of the way quickly once he triggered it. I think we both enjoyed the anticipation of what was to come.

Once we arrived, Hershel and his men set up on the near side of the camp, hidden in the treeline, while I took my detachment around the other side. As we separated, Hershel and I began a silent count, timing each other for when to set the gems to explode. Making for the tent near the tree that I had targeted earlier, I snuck up to the back of it and placed the gem in the folds of canvas on the ground. As I reached the agreed upon count, I whispered the command word. The gem began to pulse with a soft lavender light as I retreated back to my archers. I signaled them to put their heads down and tried to spot Hershel across the camp. At first, I could see nothing, but then at the last second, I spotted a familiar soft glow under the meal tables in the camp center. Then they went up.

Tents and men were in flames, though the ever-present rains were quickly damping them down. The archers loosed their arrows at nearly the same time that I heard Seifer and his footmen charging up the path into the camp. Bowmen were falling to our arrows and none of them had yet made it to our lines. In fact, many were stumbling out of tents and being cut down. I kept an eye out for my own opportunity when suddenly it stumbled out. Throwing off the smoking remains of the tent when I set my gem, a Bowman stumbled out, sword in hand, coughing trying to gather his bearings. As he swung around, I struck. Duplicating my attack against the dragon in the spire, I hurled spun shadows at him that passed around his blade and constricted when they contacted his throat. As he grasped at his neck, I burst forward, preparing to put my fist through him. As he caught sight of me, he shook his head and went to drop his sword. Catching sight of the marks of rank at his shoulder, I altered my angle of attack from a killing blow to a disabling one and knocked him unconscious.

Looking back to the line of my archers, I saw one of the Bowmen attempting to flank them. Drawing the gray light of the day around myself, I vanished from sight and charged toward him. Invisible as I was, he stood no chance and I struck him down before he could threaten our lines. My job done, I returned to the unconscious officer, bound his wrists, and leaned against the tree to watch the battle end.

At this point, Seifer had arrived in the center of the camp and bellowed a challenge to every Bowman there. He had cut down two men already and put two more to the sword after his challenge. Remembering the rank markings that he wore, I’m sure that his intent was to battle the man that was currently bound at my feet in the mud. I found a wry amusement in it, though not as his expense. Though this wasn’t the first time that this had happened, it also wasn’t intentional on my part. He stamped over and gestured at the officer, asking if that was him. I nodded a confirmation and kicked him over so that Seifer could see the insignia on his arm. He sighed, a frown creasing his brow, then sheathed his sword and dragged the man, whose name was apparently Maz, over to a few other Bowmen that had survived the attack.

As Seifer interrogated them, I helped recover the supplies that would be useful to us and moved them to the wagon that was now being pulled into the clearing. Anything that wasn’t of use was destroyed or put to the torch. Hearing a clatter, I looked over in time to see the Bowmen officer cave in his own head on a rock. Not a behavior I would have expected. It made me think of the abomination and the corrupted goblins of the caves. Did they have some influence on the Bowmen or their leadership? Was this why they were scouring the swamp for relics? And does this hint at the hidden overlords they now had? All questions for another time. Now, it was time for decision: head to the Cove to warn Meiko about the conspiracy at the Cascades, or march on to assault the next Bowmen camp?

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The Fires of War
Journal entry by Ser Seifer

The air was silent and we all stood still. Hershal was standing beside the body of Xar’eth Teken’und. This sat heavy with me for some reason. Although he was sneaky and deceptive, he always had an air of plans within plans. Somehow i was convinced that this slimey piece of drow filth was still helping us. That is until the spire and his remains were searched.

Hershel was still not satisfied with his kill as the body was regenerating, so he cut off the head and kicked it down the hillside. I asked him if he “thought that was a bit excessive?” To which he replied with a sharp and to the point “NO!” And simply walked away. As i knelt beside the corpse, i said a prayer to my lady Altua to guide and watch this honorless warrior, i began to search the body. The drow had all manner of magical items on his person. All of which i wanted nothing to do with. As i pulled back his robes, i saw a black skin tight substance that was attached to his body. I had a notion that this was something of dark and sinister origin so i began to peel it off his body for fear of what it could do left on him.

Having asked the young brash paladin “if all this was enough proof?” I walked down to Lochaid to prepare my men for the mission ahead of us. The forty soldiers from Anglers Cove and myself were preparing to strike at a Bowmen encampment near Hemlock Field. Hershel and Sorscha had plans of their own scouting ahead of the force and giving us a better idea of what was ahead of us.

The next morning we set out. The army, Nathaniel and myself on foot to Hemlock Field, and Sorscha and Hershel in the Iron Clads’ skiff with a few passengers bound for Polga. It would take us two days on foot to reach Hemlock Field and the Bowmen encampment. The first night we arrived at Three Cedars and the men were obviously disturbed and outraged at what the Bowmen, Trask’s Bowmen more to the point, had done to this land. I felt it necessary to address the men in hopes of building moral and lifting their spirits. It worked. I was never much of a public speaker nor a leader but they seemed to appreciate me and look up to me even though i was a foreigner to this land. That night however, we heard a more disturbing and frightening presence.

Above the mountains, a dark firgure with great wings and a bone chilling shriek flew through the air. It was no doubt the dragon of the mountain. This being my first time seeing or hearing it i was surprised and taken aback. I hoped that we would never cross paths with such a terrifying beast. We needed to rest and be ready for the battle the next day but none of the men could rest easy after such an event.

The morning broke and we set out to find out foe and meet up with the scouting party. As Hemlock Field came into view, Nathaniel and I noticed a group of Bowmen, around seven strong, gathering and scavenging supplies from the houses of Hemlock Field. They could not be allowed to return to the camp and alert the rest of the Bowmen. We needed to stop them now and quickly. As i strode forth on my horse, a fire blast skimmed over my shoulder and impacted in the very center of the group. Limbs and bodies and splinters of wood and dirt exploded into the air. The mage was clumsy with his magic but he is getting more focus and more control. He is still impressive to watch at times, even though i have a few scars from his lack of focus. As i charged into the dust and debris, one lone Bowmen tried to rise to his feet to confront the thing that had destroyed his friends only to catch a glimpse of metal as my blade cut into his chest and dropped him.

Having already gathered the supplies and put them on a wagon, i decided to bring the cart along and gather what we could from the bowmen camp as well. The people of Lochaid could use all we could gather. It would be nightfall before we got to the camp and we needed to meet up with Sorsha and Hershel.

The report from Sorsha was thay of a simply camp of tents and a central gathering table for meals. She estimated around thirty or so men and no watch towers. This was going to be easier then expected. Most of the Anglers Cove soldiers were more skilled in archery than with sword, so i split them up and made a tactical plan to use Sorsha on one flank and Hershel on the other, each supported by archers, while Captain Aldarren, myself, and the foot soldiers charged up the footpath as a distraction. Hershel said to wait for a signal. If i know anything about that crafty scout, he is anything but subtle.

The signal, no the explosion, went off followed by another and seconds later another. The camp was already partially on fire and tents destroyed as we ran down the path. They were not expecting any attack and as such it was won too easily. I had cut down two men on my way to the center of the encampment hoping to entice the commander of this force, Maz, into combat. Little did i know, Sorsha had already captured the man and stood staring at me while i voiced my challenge to the Bowmen. She does love watching me make a fool of myself.

The battle was won. No casualties on own part and 4 prisoners including Maz. I sat down with Maz to talk man to man. The discussion did not go as i had hoped as he was not scared of what we were doing and only said that they “found it” whatever it was that the head Bowmen were looking for. This set me back a bit as i was not ready to hear that information. We are just now in a position to defend the people and here the Bowmen increase their power yet again. Further questioning was halted as he smashed his own head against a rock and took his live. Such devotion to a cause. It is noble and admirable, but the cause they follow is one i must stop none the less. The other prisoners needed to be dealt with as we are not equipped for prisoner transfer. One demanded trial by combat which Wulfgar dispatched with simplicity and ferocity. The other two, boys really, asked for servant duty. Seeing as their know little of a life outside the Bowmen, i took them as squires, hoping to influence the boys to a better future.

Now, we gather the supplies, send the wounded back with the cart to Lochaid, and march on to Anglers Cove. Sorsha and Hershel overheard news from the bowmen in the camp of a plot to kill Kroenen and Mieko. Meiko Sama was apparently in Anglers Cove. Time for another visit. Let us hope it goes as well as the last.

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A Silent Man
Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel)

Grandfather taught me everything that I know of seiji; the subtle dance whose goal is the maintenance or exchange of power between the elite, the wake of which sweeps up the common folk to rise to glory or die in bloody war. Sadly he died when I was quite young, but I do remember one thing he used to say: “A silent man is the best one to listen to”.

The first time I heard this I laughed, and Grandfather half-heartedly laughed along with me. Then his face became stern. “Why is this funny?”
“It is best when a man does not speak; it is best to hear a man who does not run his mouth,” I answered.
Chigau yo! It means that the silent man should not be ignored! Always pay attention to those who are quiet; they are often the puppet masters of the court.”

Sowing the seeds

Standing in the Temple, I reflected on this. The Drow had gained a stronghold of great power and I barely batted an eye. He spoke little, though when he did it was with care to deflect what was asked of him. He gathered power. He was close to us, but we did not know him. I should have paid attention to these signs sooner.

I decided to discuss my fears with Exilar, Sorscha, Nathaniel, and Ser Seifer, before they departed to meet Meiko Sama in Polga. I told Exilar of Nathaniel’s discovery that the robed Bowman in Trask’s group wore robes identical to the ones Xar’eth had procured from the Spire, and that Trask himself bears a demon-head tattoo similar to the Drow’s. I also made sure to mention that when we met Trask for the first time in Hemlock Field, we lost track of Xar’eth, and did not get a clear look at the robed figure with Trask. The Drow was wearing the robes from the Spire at that time.

Exilar was not convinced that there was any clear connection between the Drow and the Bowmen. He seemed to think that, despite the evidence I had given, there was no reason to think that Xar’eth was being dishonest about anything. I made a note to discuss whether Exilar might be under some sort of magical influence by the Drow with a more select group of my companions after this meeting adjourned. Nathaniel also voiced doubts as to whether the robed figure with Trask indicated any involvement by Xar’eth. The robes, he said, were from the Spire, but a thousand years ago the Spire had been an academy, and it was likely that sets of robes from there had made their way around to different ruins in the Ruin during the intervening millennium. That combined with the Bowmen actively searching ruins of late made it likely that this was coincidence.

Good points, all, but I countered that the coincidences mounting around Xar’eth needed to be addressed, and soon. If he was allied with Trask, whom we were to go and kill, we needed to know immediately the Drow’s level of involvement, if any. To further my point, I asked Sorscha if her people could generally be considered as trustworthy, to which she burst out in a mad cackle. “They can be trusted to do what is best for themselves. If an alliance serves their interest, so be it. If things change and betraying that alliance would gain them power or position, so be it. Exceptions to this among my people are rare in the extreme.”

I also divulged all the details I had gathered from my foray into the Spire. Xar’eth’s “cousin” had demon tattoos similar to him. He identified me without looking at me, which indicated to Ser Seifer that there may be some sort of scrying active in the tower. He was brewing a concoction whose ingredients included mushroom, which Nathaniel said may indicate poisons. There was also a strong smell of sulfur. This put the knight on-edge, and he and the wizard said “Demons” in unison, voices grim.

In the end, Sorscha and Seifer seemed to show support for me investigating the Spire further. Seifer added that if I were to come up against demons I would need a weapon of cold iron. Nathaniel advised he thought it best not to disturb the Drow’s privacy, to which I replied with an incredulous look. Exilar still seemed to feel that there were not enough indications to warrant a second search of the Spire, or even to warrant distrust of Xar’eth. To Hell with the paladin’s sanctimony; I am going to investigate.

Inside the Scarlet Spire

After my companions boarded the Ironclad airship, my first step was to inspect the Temple Archives. Xar’eth had often been seen poring over books down there, but no one had ever seen him come or go. I searched the room from top to bottom looking for any false walls, hidden doors, or secret passages. There were none, though I did find a small vault door secreted away behind a stack of Thyatian tablets. After finding that the vault door was a facade, removing it, and checking a separate inner door for traps, noting a ring of divine script around it, I used my skills to unlock the inner door. Inside there were 6 books which appeared to be written in ancient Thyatian, and 10 scrolls which, at a cursory glance, looked divine in nature. I found a satchel in which to store them, and headed to speak with Gruendoc about a cold iron weapon.

Finding Gruendoc just outside the smithy, taking inventory of our supply, I greeted him and delivered the satchel. “Keep this in a safe place for Exilar when he returns,” I said. Then I told him of what I had found at the Spire, and that I meant to return to see what else I could discover. I asked him if we might have any cold iron weapons, after mentioning the possibility of demons. He showed me what we had, and I selected a cold iron longsword, which I strapped to my back. I made to leave and Gruendoc stopped me, “If ye need a hand with tha’ dark elf devil ye need only ask and ol’ Gruendoc will help ye’. I lost more’n a few of my kin to his kind o’er the years.” I bowed silently, turned, and made my way out of the Rise.

Before trying to enter the Spire proper, I felt it prudent to inspect the area around it to see if any changes had been made. None had, so I moved on to scouting out the tower exterior. I saw Xar’eth’s cousin in a window near the top of the tower, so I fired an arrow into a second-floor window, to see if the sound would make him stir. He moved, but the pace of it was unhurried and I felt he was merely going to a different room rather than responding to the arrow. I listened for alarms, but heard none.

I fired another arrow, this one on the 4th floor, and focused my ki, sending body and spirit sailing to where the arrow had just landed. As my disembodied self crossed the threshold of the Spire window, I felt a twisting sensation, and landed staggered on the floor of a room of living quarters, which I knew from my first incursion into the Spire. This was the 6th floor, not the 4th. And I now faced the dark elf who Xar’eth claimed was his cousin.

“Well hello again,” the dark elf said. He looked similar to Xar’eth, though his features were not as hard in the eyes. There was something familiar in his slightly lisping accent which I could not place…

I responded in my native tongue, “Well, as you said when last we met, if you mean to do me harm I would be harmed. I know introductions are unnecessary, but my name is Hiroshima Sakai, and I have been tasked with discovering more about Xar’eth’s cousin and his intentions here in Exilar’s realm.”

He responded in kind, in flawless Honshugo, “Well. I have informed Xar’eth of your arrival. He wishes me to tell you that if you want to visit the Spire, you should use the front door like a normal visitor. If you trespass again, you shall be dealt with… harshly.
That being said, I am Phazeuroth.”

“Well met, despite the threats. When did you arrive here?”

“I arrived here about a week ago. Maybe a little longer. Can I aid you somehow?”

I thought back on what happened a week or so ago, and realized that Phazeuroth probably arrived here when the tower was rebuilt. Switching to Vilholman, I asked “What have you and Xar’eth been working on here?”

Again he responded fluently, this time in Vilholman, “Research. Why are you not with your allies?”

“I was needed to stay behind and help defend against any potential Bowman incursion. It was thought that they may not be genuinely headed to the Cascades by a number of us.” My eyes went to the tattoos on his arms, of similar design to those on Xar’eth’s face, “What is the significance of your demon tattoos?”

“Personal. If there is nothing else, it is time for you to depart.”

“Hm. I smelled sulphur the last time I was here. I have spoken to some who indicated this smell might be associated with demonic events. Would you happen to know anything of summoning demons?”

“I know a few things, but there are no devils here.”

“I didn’t ask of devils. I asked of demons. And I didn’t inquire as to if they were here, I asked if you know how to summon them.”

“No demons are present either. I know some things of summoning.”

Straining against my urge to swing my cold iron blade into his stone-walling face I took a breath and looked at a series of frescoes and other art pieces on the walls. They depicted various vistas of mages helping in great battles, presumably from the time of the Thyatian Empire. I started walking toward the stairwell that led to the rest of the tower, “Thank you for your cooperation. I’ll see myself out." As I bit off the last word I turned and took one step toward the stairway leading down. With a stomach-wrenching motion I was teleported out of the tower and found myself walking on the road. I resolved that moment to find the secrets those two had hidden in that Spire. Even if it killed them.

Preparing for Betrayal

I followed the advice Sorscha had given me before departing, and made sure that our fighting forces were prepared for the possibility of a Bowman attack. I informed Shepherd of the suspicion that Sorscha and I both held: the meeting with Meiko Sama and the information that Ser Seifer had been given about Trask heading to The Cascades were both part of a ruse by the Bowmen to catch us off-guard and without some of our most capable fighters. He frowned, “Hrmph. Can’t say I hadn’t thought of that possibility myself. Thought I was just being paranoid.”

Over the next days I alternated between scouting the forests along Lochaid, setting traps and marking them with subtle signs that I taught to the scouts so they would not fall prey to them, and watching over the Spire. In the nights Phazeuroth could usually be seen in the windows. During the day, no light shone through the window reveal anyone and if he moved about, he did so so quietly that I could not hear him.

I was out digging pit traps with Balk and a crew of four men when we heard the hum of the Ironclad airship overhead. I mopped the sweat from my brow, washed my hands and face in a nearby creek, and directed the workers to finish up the pit and go back to the barracks for a break, tossing them a few steel for rounds if they so desired. Heading back to Lochaid, I heard the loud clunk of the airship as it docked on the makeshift pylon that had been erected on the North side of town.

Exilar was exchanging urgent words with Xar’eth as they came down the ramp. I waited at the bottom until their conversation was finished, then approached the paladin and asked him to walk with me to a more private location where I could share information with him. As we turned to go, I saw the Drow look over his shoulder at us before hurrying off toward the Spire. Once in a private location, I told Exilar the information I gathered from the Spire, and news about the books and scrolls I found in the Archives. I made sure to highlight the fact that the Drow had been able to speak fluently in languages which should be esoteric to someone from the Underdark.

“Is that it? There’s nothing substantial to back up your claims there. Look, take Nathaniel and have him start translating the books you found. Make sure he studies them in a secure place; he is NOT to remove them. I have more important things to take care of.” He gave me a look like I had wasted his time, then walked off toward the Spire. Staring after the paladin and begrudging my role as errand-boy, I saw Nathaniel hurrying after him. I caught up with them, and told Nathaniel of the books and scrolls that I had found, and that Exilar wished for him to translate them. “Later,” he said, intent on catching up with the paladin.

The three of us arrived at the door of the Spire, Nathaniel huffing from the exertion it took to keep up with Exilar. “I h—gasp have something to tah— talk to you about, Exilar.”
“Later, I have business with the master of the Spire. Did Hershel tell you to take a look at those books?” the paladin said, irritably, as he knocked on the large red door.
“Yes b-but I —”
“Then go take care of that. I will speak with you later.”
The door opened a crack and Xar’eth peeked out. “You said nothing of bringing guests.”
“I’m not,” Exilar said, and pushed his way through the door, slamming it in our faces behind him.
Nathaniel looked at me, face flush with frustration and impotent rage, and stormed off toward Temple Rise.
“You don’t even know where the books are!” I called after him as I walked to catch up.

A New Plan

After speaking with Greundoc about Exilar’s order and getting Nathaniel set up in a secure location, I walked to the smithy, Ulrich. I inquired as to the progress on the signal arrows, which I had asked him to make shortly before we had been attacked by Immand Khan. To my great surprise, the loss of his arm in the battle had not made him forget about this obligation, and he gave me a quiver of forty. These have the potential to aid us tremendously during any attack on the Bowmen. Using signal arrows of their design to misdirect their forces during an infiltration could be crucial to success, if planned well.

Sorscha entered town trailing forty fighting men. The half-drow woman came over to me and informed me that Exiar was calling a meeting for all members of the Watchmen. Though I hadn’t officially taken on that title yet, she was sure that my input would be welcome. We all went into the great hall of the Temple, and Exilar began a discussion about how to best utilize the fighting men, whom he said were from Angler’s Cove.

The Covemen revealed that there were several camps composed of 40 to 60 Bowmen apiece, all under Trask’s control. These camps were spread out across an area of the Wildlands between the Rise and Angler’s Cove. Initially, the fighting men had been brought in on word that we may need help to take the Cascades, but after Sorscha reported to them that the mission had been a failure, they proposed that we instead harry these Bowman camps. Thus we made a plan that Ser Seifer would lead a strike force along with the Covemen to raid a Bowman encampment. Whether or not he was able to kill all the Bowmen therein, we were to put all their supplies that we could not use to the torch.

Exilar adjourned the meeting, asked the Watchmen inner council to stay a short while as he prayed on his next course of action, and retreated to his offices. Nathaniel followed him shortly thereafter, but was turned out of the room, again frustrated, only moments later. A few minutes after that, Exilar emerged from his office holding the soul gem that Nathaniel had found in the ruins of a building in Lochaid. He stated that the gem may have the capability to allow us to scry on the Cascades using the Spire, and that he intended to go there to use it. He stated that any of us who wished to follow may do so.

Ser Seifer immediately raised his objections to the paladin, stating that we did not know what evil power that gem could contain, and using it inside a font such as the Scarlet Spire could lead to destruction far greater than we should risk for a possible glance into enemy territory. Nathaniel cursed audibly, and stormed out of the hall. Ignoring them both, Exelar walked through the large front doors of the Temple and South toward the Scarlet Spire.

The Depths of Darkness

Xar’eth was hard-pressed to keep his composure as all of us showed up at the doorstep to the Spire; his eyebrows quirked upward momentarily before his face resumed its usual stony calm.

“To what do I owe this… pleasure?” the dark elf said, voice quiet and harsh.

“I come bearing an item which will help us unlock the power of the Spire. I need to use it to divine more information about the Cascades before we strike.”

Again Xar’eth’s eyebrows raised slightly, but he had a little, queasy, smile on his face as he opened the door and motioned us inside.

The drow followed us down the stairs as Exelar led. We entered the large open chamber of the Spire’s bottom level, and gathered around the giant crystalline globe in the center. Exelar moved around the globe and put the soul gem in place. A small field of charged energy shot out of it, holding his hand there, the paladin’s back went straight as a rod, and his eyes rolled back in his head slightly as he gasped.

A mass of darkness began roiling through the hall to one side of the large globe, and… something… emerged from within. Exilar spoke, “There is a dragon here. From the depths and disguised as a drow.” As I looked toward the hall I could discern the form of Phazeuroth… changing. Shifting his skin into the form of a pitch black dragon. And suddenly I knew where I had heard his accent before… and what I had to do.

I turned invisible and drew my bow, knocking one of my remaining magical arrows and drawing it back to rest by my ear. As I did so, i noted that the dragon still tracked my position with his eyes. Sorscha’s voice echoed in my head, “They can be trusted to do what is best for themselves. If an alliance serves their interest, so be it. If things change and betraying that alliance would gain them power or position, so be it." The question of where Xar’eth’s loyalties would lie was one that I was not willing to have to ask while going into battle with one such as this dragon. Should he ally against us, the consequences of my not acting would prove far too costly. I moved back twenty feet, to get behind the dark elf while keeping him close enough to pick out a vulnerable spot to fire my arrow. The shaft sunk deep into his upper back, and he let out a hiss and began to move, reaching for something under his robe. Because I had caught him by surprise, I was able to move more quickly, and another arrow in the side put him on the ground, motionless.

Turning my attention toward the battle at hand, I saw that all hell had broken loose. The dragon, its neck wrapped in a wisp of shadow, roared, shaking the walls of the chamber. I heard a scream of rage and looked to my right to see Ser Seifer charge toward the black beast, Thyatian steel in hand. The elf-knight sunk his sword deep into the dragon’s chest, and pulled it out, readying it for another attack. The dragon let out another bellowing roar and spewed forth a gout of sickly green sludge, which flew out of the hallway and almost clear to the opposite wall of the chamber, hissing and bubbling and eating away at everything it touched… save for Dark Sister, which emanated a translucent glowing field as it split the stream in two, preventing the corrosive acid from consuming Ser Seifer’s flesh.

Another roar, this one human, and half way between anguish and rage, came from my right, and I looked over to see Nathaniel standing over the half-melted body of his cousin. The wizard fired a bolt of lighting, which struck out into the shadow dragon, and richocheted of the hall behind him, hitting the beast once more. Unfortunately, it also struck Ser Seifer, and I once again got to see that lovely elven hair puffed out in all directions, little forks of electricity arcing through it. At the same moment the lighting arced outward, Wulfgar bellowed “THORRRR!” and charged the shadow beast, his gleaming axe digging into its forearm to the bone. Exelar was finally able to pull himself free of the gem, and he too drew his sword and charged, sinking his blade deep into the thing’s neck as it went motionless, black blood spilling out over the stones of the chamber.

The air in the chamber went still, and my vision began to blur and shake slightly as I heard a loud SNAP. Exelar began marching toward the soul gem in the crystalline globe, saying “The dark elf has teleported outside!” I looked over to see a puff of steam dissipating into the air above the spot in the chamber still stained with Xar’eth’s blood, and looked back to Exelar. One moment he had his hand on the soul gem, and the next, SNAP, he, too disappeared into a puff of steam.

Wanting to be there to aid the apaladin if it came to a fight, I ran over and grabbed the soul gem. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”, voice shouted in my head. I startled momentarily, and then stuttered out, “I m-mean to help the p-paladin deal with the Drow.” A sickening turn of my stomach and a loud popping in my ears, and I was standing out front of the Spire, listening to Exilar talk with Xar’eth.

“I need you to surrender.” The paladin spoke, voice heavy with something… remorse?

“Heh. I’ve seen what you do to your prisoners.” Xar’eth said, his voice weak from his injuries.

“I… I can’t let another enemy survive to come back and attack us.” Exelar sounded more uncertain than I had ever heard him sound.

Xar’eth began to turn to leave. Exilar’s shoulders slumped as his hand went to the hilt of his sword, and he began to slowly, uncertainly, move forward. He was in pain, I could tell. Xar’eth still needed to be proven guilty, in his eyes, to warrant a death at the paladin’s hands. I really hadn’t intended to kill the drow; I had only meant to disable him for the fight. But seeing him walk away, and hearing the exchange between Exelar and Xar’eth just then, I knew that he wouldn’t come back and ally with us… if he had ever really been an ally in the first place.

I took a step in front of the paladin, my back to him. As I drew the cold iron longsword from its sheath on my back, I used the power of my ki to turn invisible, and moved up to a position directly in front of the drow. Then I came down with the sword, in a hard, sure stroke, opening the side of his neck, which sprayed out his lifeblood with such force that it coated my face, revealing my position. Exelar stopped in his tracks, stunned.

As I looked down at Xar’eth’s lifeless body, the long gash I had just carved across his neck began to knit together, and he stirred slightly. I let out a heavy sigh, and said, voice full of irritation, “What now?”

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Demons amongst us and within
Journal entry by Ser Seifer

The bowmen. Who are they really? Why are so many of them willing to follow Kroenen amd not the organization heads? Meiko Sama had informed us of the plans Trask and the others had. Gather at the Cascades. We were not equipped to assault a town as we where, but catch him on the road and we had a chance. After the threat to Nathaniel Brommson from Meiko, i inquired as to “what stylenof fighting Trask and herself were trained in”. She told me of the sword style of the far east and i knew i was ill prepared to face that as i had never seen nor studied it before. As for single combat, i asked if Trask had that much honor to face me in single combat to which she replied, “he has that much pride and confidence”. Much different in my eyes and could be exploted.

At the mention of Honor amongst the bowmen, Exelar Vitarri replied with “the Bowmen have no honor”. Although it was hushed under his breathe, it was still audible to me amd Meiko. This prompted and arguement with Exelar and myself. I don’t understand how a child thinks his actions and words have little consequence when he knows nothing on the topic at hand. His sheltered views, being brought up in a temple and not having the full experience of people of other cultures, is leading him and in turn us down a path that is surely to cause tensions with everyone around him. If he truely felt confidence in appointing me as the General of his armies, he should go back to his books and leave matters of war and conflict to me.

The hunt for Trask has begun. Aboard the airship, we traveled north towards the mountain pass and the Cascades. As we had many hours to pass, I thought my time would be well spent studying and get used to the Thyasian blade. Upon finishing my prayers to Altua to watch over me as i ventured into the unknown, i began wielding the blade. What seemed like seconds passed and i “awoke” to Sorscha in front of me “dancing” and using me as a training partner. I was unaware this had transpired until i asked her what was going on. According to Caleb, i was practising with the blade in such a fluid way, Sorsha decided to utilize that and train herself. However this happened, i was both amazed and a little frightened at the same time.

As night fell, we realized how difficult our mission was. There was no moonlight, no real starlight, and the rain was constant and hindering our vision. Only with the flash of lightning strikes could we see enough to press on. Lights flickered in the distance. Not very many like a town, but more than a traveling party. We dare not risk losing our greatest asset, the airship, this early in the game with Trask. We could not see him or his men, and we did not want to risk being seen if we flew closer to the cascades. Defeated and disappointed, we headed back for Lochaid.

On our way back we crossed over the mountains in order to make better time. In doing so be came upon a great statue carved straight out of the mountain side. A great dragon, with mouth open and claws bared. There seemed to be something else carved on top of the dragon but had since been removed. Between the flashes of lightning we saw what had been removed. Dwarven warriors posed to show defeating to the dragon. The meaning of this is unclear to me but it appears to have ben carved to show a great victory over a dragon by the dwarven people. Perhaps there is more to this.

Finally reaching Lochaid, i had work to do. Men to train and an army to prepare. If I was going to find Trask no matter what, I would need well trained soldiers beside me to complete this task. Only hours had passed while training the men and women soldiers of the Watchmen before a scout had come to me to report of “a group of people heading this way”. Clearly this scout was new or an imbecile because that was all he had to report. He did not know if they were friend or foe, or if they were villagers or soldiers, or even how many. Frustrated, I instructed Caleb to gather the men i placed under his command and ride out with me to investigate. Low and behold they were soldiers from Anglers Cove coming to our aid having heard news from Meiko Sama that Trask was on the march and we meant to take him on. Forty strong they were and i was glad to have them. Already trained and willing to strike out at the bowmen that were ravaging this land. I instructed the captain of the group to find Exelar and report to him and that we would be needing his services very soon.

Barely getting back to training the army, i was interrupted by my companions who informed me that they were going to use the magics in the Spire to try and locate Trask. Even now, in times like this, my companions dabble in magics far to dangerous and unknown. Someone with sense and experience in such things had to keep a wary eye on them. Besides, I wanted to know what that mendacious, leasing-monger, rakefire of a drow was up to. (insert events to follow. Whoever played Seifer please, or Damon)

I met up with Exilar and the others on the edge of Temple Rise and we proceeded apace to the Spire. Hershel informing us along the way of his encounter with Xar’eth’s cousin, one Phazueroth. This just keeps getting better.

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Nothing But Reminiscence and Rage
Excerpt from the Journal of Nathaniel Bronnson

This leg of my journey in this constantly wet and dreary land started out like most others I’ve had here; full of apprehension and uncertainty. Our meeting with the Bowman lieutenant went as smoothly as expected. My own attempts at trying to show the horrors I witnessed at Three Cedars were were quashed by my own allies. Though thinking back on it, I did not see the tension in the Bowman woman. Had I cast that spell, it surely would have devolved into a brawl that we were not equipped to handle.

Following that, we received the disappointing news that our potential allies, within what I had hoped were an honorable faction within the Bowmen, would not be aiding us in removing the blight on the Wildlands known as Ivar Trask. The best we got from the lame sods was the promise that MAYBE they wouldn’t interfere if we were winning the fight with Trask and his men. After a tense moment between our hardheaded leader and Meiko Sama, we went our separate ways.

Even with this disappointing news, we decided to take the flying vessel of the Ironclad to the Cascades in hopes of finding Trask on the roads, where he and his men would be spread out and vulnerable. Sadly, that was not to be. We arrived at what we believed to be the Cascades in the dead of night. The darkness was oppressive and the rain soaked us to the bone. We were unable to find Trask and his men on the open roads due to this groups inability to see clearly in the darkness; An advantage that Trask and his men have over us. With the fear of having the skiff shot out of the sky before we even found our target, we made our way back to Temple Rise, our blades clean of blood and our hearts heavy with a sense of missed opportunity and failure.

After our return to Temple Rise I once again made it my mission to study the soul gem artifact that I am convinced houses the soul of a great wyrm silver dragon, one who voluntarily chose to reside within the gem. Sadly, my comrades scoffed at the idea. They assumed that whatever the creature was, it was probably lying to me and that I was not to be trusted with gem. The damn monk made that point very clear when she waltzed into my attempts at communing with the dragon inside, decided that such magics were not to be trifled with, and beat me into unconsciousness and absconding with the gem to bring to Exelar. But this was some time ago and I believed I had now proven my self much more capable a mage than the group initially thought me to be. I felt that I had proven this several times over. So, I went to Exelar once more to ask him to live up to his end of the agreement we made when I finally decided to become an official member of the watchmen under his command. I had asked for his trust, I was told i would have it, and with that in mind, I asked him for permission to take and study the gem again, this time under the watchful eye of Ser Seifer and the monk. That door was once again closed to me as I was told to continue waiting for my chance at getting my hands on the gem. I still think that it is the key to unlocking the mystery of the lost empire in the Wildlands. Exelar then proceeded to walk off and take care of other matters.

It was later in the day that Exelar, Sorscha, Ser Seifer, Caleb, Wulfgar, and myself decided to pay a visit to the reformed Spire that was inhabited by the other drow, Xar’eth. Exelar decided that we could possibly use the scrying device in the spire to locate Trask and so plan a strike against him. It seemed like a sound plan, though I was not aware that he had figured out how to get the thing operational.

Upon entering the spire, we were greeted by Xar’eth, who wore an uneasy look upon his face, despite his efforts to hide it. We made our way to the main chamber that housed the magical scrying device deep underground. Sometimes I forget how stifling underground abodes can be. This place seemed to have a weight to it as well. It was as if I could almost feel the thousands of tons of dirt and stone above me. As I watched Exelar approach the scrying device, I saw him pull out the very gem I had petitioned him to study. It was the one that I was told time and again was too dangerous to work with alone. He then proceeded to say what looked like a small prayer over the gem before inserting it into a slot at the base of the device. It fit perfectly. At that moment, I was appalled by his decision to just go ahead and install a gem I thought he knew nothing about after touting to me about its possible dangers. At that moment, I realized that he had hypocritically denied me my chance to study it and opted to do so on his own without my help. My anger was short lived though, as what happened next will live with me for the rest of my days.

The gem seemed to meld with the device. It seemed to have made a connection with Exelar for a brief moment. Then our leader opened his eyes and told us that there was a dragon within the Spire, a deep dragon disguised as a drow. Moments later, what appeared to be a drow came walking down the corridor towards us. I assumed it was the one that Hershel had told us about earlier, the supposed “cousin” of Xar’eth. This drow seemed to be surrounded by a preternatural darkness, one that would swallow you whole without a sound. It was then that the drow laughed. Not a laugh you would expect to hear from the elven kind, but a deep, rumbling, and sharp pitch all at once. We had encountered this dragon before, deep within the goblin caves. It was the one that had taunted Sorscha and Hershel while they had snuck about. It was the one that had kept an aboleth as company.

A moment later, I watched as two arrows seemed to suddenly sprout from Xar’eth’s side as he fell into a crumpled heap. I was stunned by the unfolding events and didn’t notice as the new drow began to change forms. I could only describe it as an abomination made from dark elf flesh, snake, and something ….wrong. As I regained my wits, the monk was already acting to fend off this new threat. Working adeptly with her shadow magic, she somehow produced a garrote of darkness about the creatures neck, though it proved to be ineffective. She then moved quickly to the side, out of direct line with the dragon. It was only after then that I realized that many of us, myself and Caleb included, were directly in line with what could only be a devastating breath weapon that dragons of all types are famous for. I began preparing for a spell to help fend off the creature. Those preparations were halted by the sight of Ser Seifer, charging towards the dragon, Thyatian sword in hand, bellowing a war cry.

As he drew closer to his intended target, the dragon unleashed his breath weapon upon us. A massive cone of caustic, deadly acid erupted from its maw, nearly engulfing Seifer. His blade seemed to somewhat protect him from the deadly attack, but the rest of us we not so lucky. As I stared wide eyed at what was surely to be my imminent death, my view was suddenly blocked by my cousin Caleb. In our home, the phrase “I am my brothers keeper, and he is mine” was drilled into our heads growing up. It was an important lesson on the importance and value of family that our fathers taught us. During this moment, our entire childhood flashed before my eyes. There was us running around as small boys, chasing one another with wooden swords or sneaking peeks at the maids in their chambers and hoping to get a glimpse of things we shouldn’t; the many nights and days spent talking about our futures as warriors in service to our homeland; how we would make our fathers proud. Then there was the day he looked at me proudly when I managed to cast my first cantrip. He was always at my side. To me we weren’t cousins, but brothers in the truest sense of the word. I then saw the flesh melt from my brothers skull as he put himself in the way to protect me from the dragons acid. He truly was my keeper. I failed my duty to be his.

I was pulled from my shock by the sound of the dragons screams as Seifer cleaved into it with his sword. My mind was swirling with emotions: rage, despair, and hopelessness. And with them, the driving urge to unleash destruction with one of the waves of destruction spells I had learned. I then regained my wits enough to instead launch a lighting bolt towards the vile creature that was responsible for best friends death. It struck home not once, but twice, as it bounced off of the surface of the corridor and hit home again. Regretfully, Seifer was once again in the way of the spell and took minor damage. At this moment, I felt a wondrous sensation as the gem resting under Exelars hand created a healing wave that cured me of most of my wounds from the acid. I took a moment to look down in the outrageous hope that somehow my cousin had been healed as well. Sadly, that was not the case.

My eyes were drawn towards the battle once again after hearing a cry to Heironeous. Exlear charged the dragon, with Wulfgar at his side, his sword aglow with a holy light. The attack struck home and finished the damnable monster off. I watched in horror as its body fell into a mass of abomination flesh. It was then that the creature’s body ripped open and what would be described as a kobold climbed forth. It emitted a shrill laugh before rising through the ceiling and out of our sight.

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An Opportunity Missed. An Enemy Found.
Sorscha

The meeting with Meiko Sama did not seem particularly productive. Exelar wound up asking her about the Bowmen arrangement with the Vorsha, but the only information he got was that it was an arrangement with Khan’s faction. Meiko repeated her stance that we should not expect assistance from Kroenen’s faction, should we decide to pursue Trask into the Cascades. There was another tense moment as Exelar said under his breath that the Bowmen have no honor. This caused Meiko to tighten up as she called her company to leave and they walked back in the mist. The conversation about honor continued between Exelar and Seifer, getting a bit heated before it ended. This is unlike the behavior I normally anticipate from from him. I wonder what’s been going on back in the Rise while we were out that has brought this out.

This would all have to wait, as it was time to make our decision. Again, oddly enough, Exelar was reticent to go after Trask. He said that to do so would make us tools of the Bowmen, advancing their agenda against the other factions while refusing to do any of the work or take any of the risks themselves. I was taken off guard by his stance. I felt that taking Trask off the board would be a would be an unmitigated good. Even if doing so strengthened Kroenen’s position in the Bowmen, that was a more tolerable option for now than allow the corrupted core that ran them to get stronger. Regardless, he didn’t try to stop us from our pursuit. The time spent together around Carrion Hill seems to have aligned the rest of us. Chasing down Trask while he was vulnerable on the open road was a risk worth taking. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

Even leaving immediately after the meeting, by the time that the air skiff reached the Cascades, it was night. Though not am impediment for me, few others among the companions could operate without some sort of light. We scanned the road on the way up to the city, looking for signs of riders, and came up with nothing. We know that Trask can operate without light. It appears that the men with him were able to do so as well, and were taking full advantage of that fact. Because of the tree cover, we had to fly high enough that even I couldn’t make out the ground.

We continued up and saw fires lighting what should be watch points of the city. They were built in such a way to shed little illumination on their surroundings. Again with our position, there was little we could discern. Seifer had expressed concern that the skiff had been brought down before, and that if we got close enough to see details of the city, it could happen again. Especially as we know nothing about the layout, supply, or population of the settlement. We had come to strike at moving soldiers, not assault a fortification, so we didn’t have the preparation needed. I could see Seifer’s shoulders slump in defeat. Defeat, not in battle, but by circumstances. We gambled on catching Trask in transit and had lost. Now, with no reasonable options to move forward, we decided to return to the Rise.

A Short Trip Back
The trip back was quiet. The air on the ship was thick and no one felt like being the one to break it. Exelar was back by the cabin, head down in prayer. Seifer leaned over a side rail, watching the dark terrain flow past. I balanced on the prow of the ship, meditating and appreciating a view that I could never have anticipated. Quicker than expected, the firelight of Lochaid and the Rise emerged from the shroud of night. We landed in the town. With all the recent influx, we might need to start expanding and adding living area. Not something that I could have imagined when that ship first broke apart in the swells, regurgitating Exelar and myself onto the sand.

Exelar was off of the skiff first, I think he dislikes it for some reason, and was quickly met by a small group of villagers and elders. As I dropped off the edge of the skiff, I caught sight of green and blue cloth. Looks like they made him a flag. A nice sentiment; I wonder who he’s going to have hand it up? Thanking them, he handed it off to Gruendok as they dispersed and Hershel arrived with purpose in his step. The two of them started talking quietly and made their way to the Rise road. I started talking to Gruendok about our resources. Specifically, I asked him if we had any way of quickly sending messages to villages and other locations withing the basin. When he said that we didn’t, I began to form a list in my head. Hershel had paid for messenger birds of some sort while we were in Carrion Hill. We’ll need to obtain some, along with food, shelter, and keepers for them. We also needed scouts, not just patrolmen or rangers, to start gathering information and mapping our surroundings more thoroughly. This Eye of the Watch business was going to require work.

I was about to head up the hill, when I saw a group of people coming up road. I tensed up, ready to fight or flee, but it turned out to be a group from Angler’s Cove. They had come to meet with Exelar. Gruendok spoke to there leaders and then turned to escort several of them up the hill. I decided that it would be a good idea to follow. Coming up the road, we passed the Spire and I was again reminded of the mystery of its recreation and of its inhabitant. Xar’eth was drow, fully in every sense of the word. Though he had made no open move against us – as if that was proof in and of itself – he fully confessed that he was on the surface to find power to restore his family’s position. That made him dangerous in the wrong situation or when presented with the right opportunity. We kept walking.

The meeting with the Covemen was fairly brief. Or rather, was quick to the point. They had come suggesting, and requesting support for, an attack on Bowmen camps within the basin. It was a decent idea as soft targets like the encampments were a smarter target for us than assaulting a fortified position like the Cascades. Additionally, there was the chance that if we hit enough of them and caused enough damage, we might be able to draw Bowmen out from their city where they would be vulnerable. Maybe even a leader. And if none of them came out, we could still take resources and, forces, and material from them. It was a good idea. Seifer voiced his support and stated that he would lead the attacks. We’d need to arrange the specifics soon.

We broke the meeting, agreeing to conference again later, once some arrangements were made. Thinking we were done for now, I wandered outside, thinking more on our intelligence preparations, when Exelar and Nathaniel emerged from the temple, trailing most of our companions. Apparently, Xar’eth had previously discovered a scrying device in the Spire, but it wouldn’t work with another component. This requirement was thought to be the gem that we discovered weeks ago, that Nathaniel had fallen in thrall to and had been hidden away since. If the device is in the Spire, this could prove tricky. I decide to go with them.

Into the Spire
As expected, Xar’eth could not turn away all of us. He looked distinctly uncomfortable as we entered. On the way here, Hershel informed us, after already telling Exelar, that there was another drow in tower, one that claimed to be the cousin to our own. This did not bode well. Following the steps down, we went through a hall and into the larger, open chamber that contained the ornate framing of the scrying object.

Exelar pulled the softly glowing gem out of a pocket and slotted it into a matching divot on the device. His hand never leaving the gem, his eyes closed and he seemed to be praying or communicating with something. A moment later, his eyes snapped open with a new, subtle glow behind them. “There is a dragon here. From the depths and disguised as a drow.” At the same moment, I heard footsteps echoing from a hallway to the side of the staircase we’d descended. There was the intruder, a drow it would appear, but then it laughed. A deep, rumbling, and somehow sharp sound that could never be made by the thin frame it wore. I’d heard it before. It was the deep dragon from the goblin caves.

In an instant, I heard Xar’eth cry out in pain. Throwing a glance his way, I saw him crumpled in a bleeding heap on the ground, two arrows sunk nearly to the fletching protruded from his side. Hershel was nowhere to be seen. No time for that, we faced a true threat in the mad, ancient creature before us. Turning back, I could see even now that his form was melting almost, reshaping itself from a drow into an amalgamation of dark elf, serpent, and something else. For a moment, this thing is vulnerable. I shift my stance and pull a thread of shadow from the air. Twining it longer, I hurl it at the thing in the hallway. It wraps around its neck and cuts a deep furrow before dissipating into whisps. Anticipating a dragons deadly breath, I tumble to the side of the archway that leads into this room. I catch sight of Hershel, now against the wall opposite me, bow in hand.

With a shout of hatred, Seifer charged the beast. As he drew close, he brought down the Thyatian sword in an arc that would have cleaved most men in half. The blade glimmered in the dull light and sunk deep into the flesh of the changing dragon. It’s bellowing echoed of the walls of the chamber, nearly disorienting me, and in return for the wound, it retched forth a mass of stinking fluid that began eating away at everything it touched. Our position saved Hershel and myself from exposure, but the others weren’t so lucky. I anticipated that Seifer would take the brunt of the attack, being directly in front of the thing, but the mass of the acid appeared to diverge around his blade, sparing him the worst of the damage, though not all of it. The others were likewise struck, though they appeared to avoid some of attack. And then I saw Caleb.

Clearly, he had thrown himself in front of Nathaniel to shield him. The majority of his flesh was already sliding off his body into a puddle at his feet. The backplate of his armor was reduced to smoking edges of twisted steel. He died without a sound. Nathaniel pulled himself from his cousins remains and launched an arc of lightning into the thing. I could hear it thundering off the hallway edges and if reappeared outward, striking the dragon-thing again and glancing across Seifer’s shoulder. Wulfgar bellowed a warcry and charged the beast when suddenly a wave of pale light washed over the room, closing my comrades wounds. Finally, I heard Heironeous’ name called upon as Exelar barreled to the hall. A golden light suffused his sword as he brought it down and took the last of the wretched things life force.

The body of the thing slumped into a mass, not unlike the [[The Abomination Returns. A New Player. | abomination]] in the swamps. It’s carcass split open and there was a thing not unlike a kobold in shape. It uttered the chittering laughter that I remember from the goblin caves and rose like an arrow through the stone and earth of the spire, leaving a rancid ooze in its wake.

As we started to take stock, there was a thrumming in the air and Xar’eth’s body disappeared with a flash. Exelar looked toward the gem and then said aloud that he had been teleported outside the Spire. Seifer, Nathaniel, and Wulfgar ran up the stairs at hearing this. Exelar stepped toward the gem, laid his hand on it, and disappeared as well. Hershel had disappeared again, but I had no doubt that he, too was pursuing our ertswhile companion. In an instant, I was there alone with bodies of a friend and an enemy.

On a hunch, I too walked toward the gem, glowing in the embrace of the scryer. I reached my hand out toward it, but did not grasp it. A deep voice echoed in my head, demanding to know who I was, what I was doing. Before I could respond, the voice softened and identified me as “the other drow” and “the one Exelar” admires, then asked what I wanted. Looking over again at Caleb’s remains, I asked if it could return him to life. It could not. I was told that a feat of that kind had to be done by priests at the temple. We would have to find if the temple held any magicks capable of such a feat. I then asked where the others had gone and was told where. Concerned at being the only one left in the Spire after what had just happened, I asked it would be safe to leave the tower unattended. The voice in the gem did not seem entirely sure, so I asked it to move me to just inside the tower door.

A dizzying moment later, that’s exactly where I was. Taking a step forward, I could see the backs of Exelar and the others. Hershel stood facing opposite them, with a bloodied blade in hand. All of them were looking toward the ground. The only words I heard were from Hershel, asking, “Now what?”

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