The World of DaNar

Keepers
Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel)

Myer

The stench at Rupmann’s vats was unbearable, and the fumes from the middenstone stung my eyes. The building looked deserted as we approached. We had apparently beaten the creature there, as I could feel no rumbling in the ground. We found the door and made our way inside.

I thought this place smelled bad on the outside. The stench within was tenfold worse. The door opened onto a raised stone platform, approximately square and maybe ten feet off the ground. On the floor below, the walls to either side were lined with boiling vats of midden, with little alleyways in between, presumably for the workers.

There was a catwalk leading from the raised platform across the room to another raised platform of similar size. Leading off of the other platform was an ornate oak door, its varnish peeling and warped from long-term exposure to the midden fumes. Deciding that this was likely the office, and probably where Keeper Myer would be hiding, we walked across the catwalk and opened the door.

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Rupmann Myer was clearly insane. The office walls were covered with drawings of five-pointed stars, some of them with tentacles, and all of them in a dark rust-brown color that could only be dried blood. Papers and small sculptures littered the floor of the room. From the darkness of the room’s far corner erupted a wild-eyed grey-haired man, shrieking incomprehensible strings of nonsense. In his hand he held a rod which glowed with a pale green light. “Kill them! Kill them all!” Ruppmann shrieked, waving the rod around.

Behind us, we heard a loud groaning. Down on the floor, zombies began to emerge, shuffling through the corridors between the vats. Nathaniel looked enraged; disgusted. Seifer looked like he would kill Myer on the spot. Sorscha stepped up to the madman and knocked him unconscious in one fluid motion. “Tie him up. We need to get out of here.”

Hive

As we ran from the vats with Myer in-tow, we felt slight tremors in the ground, followed by a nearby rumbling crash. We had gotten out just in time. We paused beneath the awning of a nearby building to discuss our plan of action. It was determined that Exilar, Nathaniel, Caleb, Mianissa, and Seifer would take Myer to the docks, and try to get passage to Angler’s Cove. Sorscha, Lazarus, and I, along with Boris Cotton and a couple of his men, would head to the Elm Way Church to find Arland Hive.

The church was silent as we approached. One of its large doors stood open. After a quick search of the outside of the building, Sorscha led the way in. The inside of the church was just as quiet and deserted. All of the rooms were scarce-used; full of old furnishings and broken antiquities.

I heard a call from another room as I was searching some sort of office. Sorscha had found a trapdoor, with a ladder leading down into a lower level of the building. We climbed down and found ourselves in one of the many tunnels of the catacombs which ran beneath Carrion Hill. If Hive was down here, we needed to find him and get him out quickly.

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There was a lit torch near an opening down in the darkness of the tunnel. We approached silently. I could hear muttering coming from inside the room as we drew closer. I took a step around the corner, and was met with a loud shriek as a crazy, wild-eyed old man smashed a vial of something foul-smelling across my face. Bits of glass stuck in my cheek, but I managed to shrug off the effects of whatever poison he had used. Sorscha stepped up and, once again, pummeled the madman into unconsciousness. We tied him up and carried him up the ladder.

After Cotton had confirmed that the poison-brewing madman was indeed Arland Hive, it was time for us to move on to Krove’s Asylum. Sorscha and I both thought it best that Hive not be brought along, because we would essentially be concentrating the presence of life essence for which the creature was searching. I thought it best of Cotton and his men took Hive, and found a safe place to hide out with him while Sorscha and I searched for Krove at the asylum. Cotton took objection to this, and insisted on coming along.

“Argue as long as you wish; I have decided,” I said, and then drew back my bow, channeling my ki and teleporting as I let the arrow fly. I landed at the edge of a roof near Krove’s asylum, and teetered on the edge for a moment before finding my balance and shimmying down some lattice-work on the east side of the building. As my feet touched the ground, Sorscha rounded the corner, alone. “I see that I won us that argument.” We both hurried on toward the asylum.

Krove

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In the entryway to the asylum there were three inmates in straight jackets, rolling around on the floor and muttering garbled nonsense. As we entered the building, the lunatics sat up and looked at us, then began shrieking. Two big men wielding clubs, with cages over their faces and scars across their foreheads, came running in from the opposite side of the room, charging toward us to attack. Sorscha acted quickly, dropping a globe of darkness in the center of the room and running through it before the orderlies could get to us. I followed close behind.

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The Past, the Present, and the Dead
Journal entry by Ser Seifer

The days here at the White Spire seem to linger. In reality it has only been a few days, but in my head it felt as though I had been there for months. This “Master of the Spire” has me intrigued and cautious at the same time. The more I learn, the more I am wary of the magics and mysteries of this godless land. The drow captive was my newest lead to learn about these artifacts and the magical points of the Wildlands. I knew she had the answers, but would she tell me, a surface elf? She was not at all like Sorscha. She was full of anger and malice that I could tangibly feel. Perhaps the “Master” of this spire could help me in the answers I seek.

The time I had spent with “the Master” was full of insight and also of despair. He talked of the fall of his empire and how he was prepared for it. It was soon after that conversation that I began having the dreams. Dreams of my past. Dreams of my memories that I had never talked about. Dreams of the dead. These dreams consumed me. It was as if I was actually reliving my memories for the first time. The fall of Brunswick and all the destruction and death that came with it.

- (100 years ago, the Throne room of Astera, capital city of Brunswick) -

Magistar Terojin Nightstar stood before Queen Elandra. The Mages had of late been on their own agenda, causing disruption in the courts over issues that hindered or hurt our kingdom’s relations with the neighboring countries. They had been wasting resources and misusing the Queen’s name in trying to locate an artifact that was lost millennia ago. They claimed it was all in the name of strengthening the kingdom and furthering our citizens lives. I stood down the line from the throne. I was back in my Kingsguard (now Queensguard) ceremonial armor). I could feel it; the weight, the metal, all of it. This was no ordinary dream.

Though we numbered 100 strong, the Queensguard were seperated into 4 companies, numbering 25 each. Each company was lead by a knight-captain, except for the 1st company. The 1st company were the elite Queensguard, lead by knight-commander Mareck Sollend. I had only worked by way into the 2nd company in my 50 years as Queensguard. Knight-Captain Throndrak Nilus was head of the 2nd company. He was a man known to be close with the Mages and was the only Queensguard to wear and wield 2 swords, both too cumbersome for any normal soldier to wield in one hand easily. There he stood, next to the Queen, as Nightstar spoke his silvered words.

Though the words were muddled in my memory, I heard them as clear as day in the dream. “My Queen,” as he bowed with smirk on his face and distractions on his tongue, " we humbly ask that you review these accusations. We at the Conclave only want what is best for Brunswick, and we feel as though your decrees limiting the Mage’s Conclave are only inhibiting our progress." Recently, Queen Elondra had decreed that the Conclave must only act with council approval and thus, only do as much as the council approved. This, of course, caused aggravation between the Queen and the Conclave.

As the dream continued, I was next in the barracks, a few days after the meeting with Nightstar. Throndrak was addressing the 2nd company. He spoke of a recent event were mages were sent on “expeditions” with Queensguard into the barren lands known as “The Aegis lands”. The Aegis lands are the area separating Brunswick from the barbarian lands to the West. Normally, no one ventures into those lands on expectations because the indigenous wildlife is aggressive and tainted. How they were tainted, no one knows.

The Queensguard are not an expeditionary force at all, but can accompany an individual of high standing with the council. Usually the 3rd and 4th company are used in this manor, but this time it was only the 1st company. This was highly unusual but not the most disturbing thing about the briefing. Throndrak went on to state that there were casualties involved and that members of the 2nd would fill the ranks.

Weeks went by and these events continued. Weeks turned to months. Months turned into years. Members of the 2nd kept filling the ranks of those lost from the 1st, but it seemed only select members were chosen and not the highest in the ranks. The same went for those filling the ranks of the 2nd. This troubled Knight-Commander Mareck. He ordered an investigation into the expedition casualties and to the way Queensguard were picked to fill ranks. The investigation was being conducted by the Queen’s intelligence wing of the council.

Weeks of investigation and member interviews revealed disturbing news, but I would not hear it for years to come. Almost as soon as the investigation got underway, things took a drastic change for the worse. The conclave called for a meeting with the Queen and the council. 2nd company was on duty, so we were in the throne room before anyone else arrived. The Mages arrived with Nightstar in the lead. Surprisingly, the 1st company was accompanying them but the Knight-Commander was not with them. Knight-Captain Throndrak seemed unfazed by the sight of the 1st company with the mages, but I could feel the tension and confusion in my fellow Queensguard.

Magister Nightstar spoke first, and what came next will forever be burned into my memory. “Queen Elondra, on behalf of the Mage’s Conclave, I am here to declare that we are no longer operating under your authority. From this day forward, Astera’s Conclave of mages will be its own entity, and we do not support the current course this regime takes.” Hands of my fellow knights gripped tighter to their ceremonial glaives. The Knight’s glaive was the weapon of choice for the Queensguard. The knights of the 1st company did not have their glaives with them, but swords and weapons were drawn upon entering the room. Queen Elondra simply stared at the Magister as he turned after speaking and left the throne room, taking the 1st company with him.

The next few weeks would he the most painful and hardest times of my life. The day after the Conclave declared secession from the Queen, events would happen that would change Brunswick forever. That evening the council was in session to discuss the mages and what is to be done. Sadly, those members never left that chamber. The Mages Conclave declared open recolt that night. They waited for the coucil to gather and in and extravagant manner, destroyed the council chamber with magic. The explosion could be heard throughout the city.
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Those Queensguard not already on duty gathered equipment and set out into the city to investigate and quell the threat. We were met with what can only be described as beings not of this plane. Beings summoned by mages to keep us distracted from our goal. Sensing something far more sinister at work, I fought my way to the castle. Monsters, mages, and extra-planar beings all fell as my rage was unleashed. At last, I made it to the castle. After fighting my way through the gates, I was met with little resistance. What I was met with was far worse. Bodies. Bodies of my fellow Queens guard. Members of the 2nd and some of the 1st company lay broken and dismembered in the halls.

As I approached the throne room, my body was overwhelmed by fear and despair. I was alone, outnumbered, and out matched. The next few seconds will stay with me as nightmares forever. Standing in the hallway before the throne room, I saw it all. My Queen, my charge, my lady, was on her knees surrounded by Nightstar, Knight-Captain Throndrak, members of the 1st company (in newly fashioned red uniforms with black masks), along with mages from the Conclave. Nightstar was yelling at my Queen, demanding her surrender and, if not, her death. Her next action set my mind on it’s current course. She was so stoic, so composed, true royalty. She just replied, “Honor and truth do not surrender to the likes of evil and corruption.” With a simple node of his head, Nightstar signaled to Throndrak to do the deed. The man who was my leader, my idol, the man whose prowess with the blade I envied, with a single swing of his blade ended the life of my Queen.

I stood frozen with fear and disgust. My body could not, would not move. I was disappointed in myself. I, Ser Seifer Garrow was too scared to move and had failed in my vows to protect the Queen. After Throndrak killed Queen Elondra, he turned to face the side of the throne room that was hidden from my sight. Nightstar addressed what I could only assume were captives of the Queensguard. He gave them an ultimatum: Join him, or die like Elondra. He stated that the Queensguard were hereby dissolved, and those who do not joined would be exiles or stand to be executed. Already a disappointment, I fled. I left my home, my belongings, my family inheritance, and fled the city.

In the middle of the night, I traveled by foot to the next town of Solara. There I would complete my exile and leave my country behind. With what little coin I had on me, I bought carter to the border. I buried my Queensguard armor in a chest on the outskirts of the city, keeping my sword, and vowing to use it to end the life of Nightstar. I then purchased travelling clothes. So began my story of exile.

After I reached the border, I sold myself as an escort for caravans going North. Months passed doing this type of work. One day a courier gave me a letter that would spark light back into my soul and start me on the next chapter of my story. The letter was from Knight-Commander Mareck. He too, had fled Astera and was living on the border of Brunswick, waiting for the day to strike back at Terojin Nightstar and his regime of evil. The letter told me of a man who wandered the border of Brunswick, slaying mages looking to enter into the country to join the Conclave.

I found the man. Slayer Xon is all he allowed me to call him. I spent weeks with him learning his ways and his technique to killing mages. We traveled the border for months, killing mages and escorting caravans. Not once did I hear from Knight-Commander Mareck after the initial letter. During my time with Xon, he told me of a land with countless legends of mage warriors and artifacts used against magic. I knew this was were I was supposed to go. Not wasting any time, I gathered my things and with only a direction and few caravans traveling to the area, I set off.

All of these memories came in a series of dreams, and not all at once. The last dream I remembered was that of my first few days in the Wildlands. The rain and wind felt fresh on my face as if it just happened yesterday; finding a trail of bodies and following them to a ruined city. From there my story begins with the Watchmen. Waking from this most recent dream, I was wet with sweat, or perhaps it was the rain from my dream. All I know is that once I awoke, I heard a voice that echoed in my head, " Well, well, now, Isn’t that interesting?"

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Monsters, Madness, and Middenstone

It almost seems as if our work here in Wildlands never ends. Having gone from defeating Ivar Trask in the ruins of the sink, to discovering I am not alone in being a Spire Master, and now running around the Boil trying to save the lives of detestable men in order to stop what I believe is another abomination related to chaotic sleeping horror that has plagued me and my companions throughout my tenure here in the Wildlands. It seems that while my own powers grow, so does the weight of mental exhaustion and stress that comes with trying to survive in this region.


Though I complain here in my journal, I try my best not to let my companions see this. Though often enough, I feel that exhaustion shines through in my inability to hold a solid conversation without seeming bitter or snappy. Stuck between the stress of my newfound responsibilities, my dedication to Lord Exelar and the Watchmen, and the very strong desire to prove to my companions that I am someone they can trust and rely on in these dangerous places.


These are the thoughts that slipped through the cracks in my resolve as Lord Exelar, Sir Seipher, and myself escorted this disgusting man named Myre Rupman quickly through the muddy streets of the boil in order to save him from his own mistakes. This man who makes his living by working with refuse in the midden vats to create the building blocks of the city and profiting off the backs of the bodies of undead who tirelessly toiled in his midden vats.


Those poor souls enslaved by Myre should have been put to rest and their bodies left to their graves. I could not bear it if one of those zombies had been one of the people I considered family or friend. His practice of necromancy is foulness of the highest order. I consider it a perversion of magic and its intended purposes and it took much of my willpower not to destroy him where he stood. It was at the behest of my companions and their reasoning that his destruction might strengthen the beast hunting him that I stayed my hand. Though I think killing him will rob the creature of the essence is so desires. Never the less, I feel that my willingness to kill comes too easily these days.


I cannot begin to stress the level distaste I harbor for this man. In his hubris and arrogance he and his fellow "Keepers Of the Eldest " succeeded in releasing what I had discovered to be a spawn of the elder god of Chaos known to mortal men as Yog-Sothoth. A god of pure madness. These fools let it loose in the city of carrion hill. In their folly they did not realize that it hunted them and wished them dead.


After obtaining the copy of the Nakotic Tome from the sunless grove in the tunnels beneath the city (which i later discovered had a good deal of information on the magical workings of portals and inter-planar travel) that we surmised that the “keepers” used it to summon the creature of chaos and that it hunted them in order to consume their essence and solidify its power and connection to this plane of existence for reasons I did not want to even BEGIN to fathom. It was from this discovery that we set out to find the remaining “keepers” and protect them from this abomination. Hopefully killing it in the process though I do not know how.


It as decided that getting Myre as far from the city as possible was the best course of action. As the city itself was a hub of chaotic energy. Maybe getting him out of the bounds of that magic would prevent the creature from getting to his prey. The rain had picked up as we quickly made our way through the muddy streets of the boil.


Finally arriving at the south gate of the city where we intended to enlist them help of a boatman that was an ally of the Watchmen. After our meeting with him as well as another meeting with a man who served as a spy for a Bowman leader. The Gate was crowded with a mass of citizens. Panicked from the news of the monsters attacks and clamoring to flee the city.


I used a simple piece of magic to amplify my voice to convince the throng of people to make way for us who were on urgent business for the mayor as we passed. As magic was a rarity in this area my attempt met with some measure of success Though we were stopped and questions by a Crow. It was only after another Crow commander who’s name escapes me right now vouched for us were we allowed to pass without further hindrance.


I made the mistake of feeling relief as we were getting close to escaping the city. Soon after our meetings we pressed hurriedly on through the final stretch of streets in the part of the city known as the filth leading to the docs and towards our transport out of the foul place. It was at this time that we were stopped. The outline of bowmen lines the roofs around us as well as what appeared to be the outlines of three men on their knees in the middle of the street accompanied by another man.


“Exelar Vitarri!” he shouted. “your request for a meeting with our commander has been heard!”


Lightning cracked across the sky and lit up the faces of the men barring our way as well as his captives. A Bowmen! Tied in ropes were several of our companions. My worry for their safety was suddenly drawn away at the sound of bowstrings being drawn on all sides. It surely was a trap.


It was at this time that the inscription from inside cover of the Pnakotic Tome entered my thoughts.

“May we, the Keepers of the Oldest, prevail over
the scourge of simplistic thought and lesser men.”

What foolishness and and arrogance……

(please excuse the incorrect dialogue or continuity errors as my memory at this event is hazy and I dont have notes or facebook to access while I wrote this out at work)

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The Ruin in the Boil
Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel)

Crows in the Duck

We made our way back into the stinking filth of the Boil with our new companion in tow. The pouch of rice I had given her was stuffed, uneaten, in her pack. Odd. Back home, cats would go crazy for onigiri… Or maybe those were just the ones stuffed with fish. Hard to tell; I have never been much of a cat person.

As we settled down in the Duck, and Olaf ordered the cook to prepare our customary meal, Olt asked the wizard Nathaniel to dry him off with one of his spells. The night I refused this service at the Fishhead, I spent five hours in front of the fire baking the water from my clothes. It felt like I was lounging in an athlete’s sock. I decided to follow the dwarf’s example. The wizard grumbled something, muttered a few words, and I began to feel the dampness being sucked from my clothing… by thousands of crawling worms. I shuddered, remembering the corrupted spell that had summoned the tentacled chaos beast in the swamp.

“What did you do to me?!”

“I dried you off. As you requested… You’re welcome?”

I looked at Caleb, “Does it always feel like maggots crawling over your flesh when he does that?”

Nathaniel and his cousin gave me disgusted, puzzled expressions and stared at me over the top of their steins as they took a drink of Olaf’s brown. I met the wizard’s stare and bowed my head slightly; “ Douzo, mahoutsukai.”

At that moment the door slammed open. Wind and rain came flying in to the Duck along with two soaking wet Crows. They slammed the door shut behind them and shuffled toward the middle of the room, looking bedraggled. “__The Mayor seeks heroes of valor, to find and kill the beast which pl__agues,” the announcer’s voice cracked as he began hacking and sneezing. The Duck had been fairly empty before, but at the mention of the words valor and beast, all of the remaining patrons save those in my party quickly made their way upstairs to their rooms, or stood up and walked out into the storm, stumbling drunkenly by the ragged town guards.

The Crow started again, sounding tired and hopeless, “Plagues the Crown. Any who are brave enough to answer the call are asked to seek out the Mayor at Rag Manor.” The Crow’s glazed eyes looked forlornly around the empty room, his gaze hanging an extra moment at the hearth, grunted, and began to turn and walk toward the door.

“We accept.” Exilar said, standing tall. The Crow startled and spun around, as if he hadn’t realized we were there. “You do?! Oh, thank the Gods!” He and his companion hurried toward the hearth and plopped down as Olaf emerged from the back with a meal for each, along with two mugs of cider, each coupled with a shot of scotch. “And thank the Gods for the Duck!”

I took a look at the soaking wet Crows, and then looked at Nathaniel. “… Don’t you think you should help them get dry?”

“Fuck off.”

Rag Manor

The Mayor told us the official account of the beast that was rampaging through the Crown as we stood in his stateroom. That morning, a building had collapsed in the Slipper Market area. A Commander Garris of the Crows responded to the scene, and reports from the guards under his command said that he was slain ‘By an unseen beast’. After some investigation, it appeared that the beast had come up from the tunnels that run under the city. All that was left behind was a foul-smelling slime. Over the course of the day, two more buildings were destroyed. As of yet, none of the structures had been entered by the guards. The Mayor offered 1500 steel for information about the beast, and an additional 3000 if it could be defeated. He also gave us 750 steel upfront as hazard pay.

Hearing about the tunnels, I was reminded of councilor Allistair Brandall (the smuggler). “Has Councilor Brandall been able to provide you with news about the tunnels?” The Mayor looked taken aback for a moment, and then said “Ah, yes, you must mean because Brandall controls access to the sewers. I am afraid I have not seen Brandall since these events took place, but I also admit that he has not been consulted. Good thinking. I shall have a messenger sent to find the good councilor and determine if he has seen anything.”

I also asked about any other events which have occurred lately, involving the sewer. The old man though for a moment before he said “Yes, now that I think about it… An adventuring group came through here, with some interest in the catacombs. They vanished about a month ago.”

The Ruin in the Boil

We stood out in the rain, walking around the perimeter of the collapsed building cautiously. Exilar was especially wary, given the hulk of shining plate that he wore. After a few minutes of examining the exterior, Sorscha and I determined it would probably safe for us to investigate the inside. We were surprised to find that tales of the building’s dilapidation had been greatly exaggerated, and beckoned the rest of the party in once we determined the floor could support the weight.

The far wall of the house was a symbol, scrawled on the wall in blood. Closer examination by the wizard revealed that it was a symbol of Yawsatthog, some kind of Elder god. Beside the symbol, a trail of foul-smelling slime led downstairs, into the basement. Sorscha and I followed the trail down, the others following shortly behind us. We descended for minutes, the stairwell growing darker with each step. As we finally got to the bottom, the stairway opened up on a cavernous room.

Toward the back of the room there was an alter on a raised platform. There was a viscous fluid running from the altar down toward the center of the room, pooling up into a large puddle around a dead body. From behind the altar, we could hear grunting, and a soft, wet, tearing and chewing sound, as of someone eating meat. Sorscha and I scouted the room as the others slowly began to descend the last part of the stairway.

On the altar was another dead body. This one looked to have been mutilated, and was missing one of its legs. As I rounded the corner I saw a ghoul chewing on the missing leg from the body on the altar, staring at a book as he ate.

Sorscha made short work of the ghoul, and we picked up the book for Nathaniel and Exilar to examine. The book proved to be a translation of something called the Nacotic Manuscripts, and contained a spell of summoning, probably for the unseen slime monster that had been wreaking havoc in the Boil.

The original text was written in Akklo, a language belonging to an ancient race of subterranean lizard people. The book was open to the summoning spell, which began with an incantation. “__May we, the keepers of the Eldest, prevail over the scourge of simplistic thought and lesser men… __”
Following that opening passage was a message about contacting the spawn of darkness, summoning in key locations, something about the spell drawing forth the spiritual essence of the casters, and something else which seemed to indicate that the summoned creature would attempt to consume the essences of the summoners, possibly gaining power each time it did so.

The ritual contained an incantation, signed in blood by five hands:

Keeper Krove
Keeper Baskerwel
Keeper Hive
Keeper Myer
Keeper Marshawn

Following the trail

Back at the Duck, we spoke with Olaf about the names in the book. Two of the Keepers, Baskerwel and Marshawn, were the bodies that we had found in the basement. The tavernkeep was also able to tell the names and occupations of the remaining three: Rupmann Myer: a middenstone baron who lived in a factory out in the Fingers; Arland Hive: master of the Elmway Church on the south side of town; Walder Krove: warden of an asylum near the southeast wall.

We decided to return to the mayor with the information gathered thus far. Perhaps he could rally some Crows to help us track down these “Keepers of the Eldest”. As we walked up the hill toward Rag Manor, we felt the ground rumbling. A deafening crash preceded a cloud of dust and debris that flew down the street from just up the road, around the corner.

The party broke into a dead run, and were at the site of destruction within moments. As we rounded the corner I saw Lazarus glance up along the rooftops next to the ruin which, until very recently, was some kind of boarding house. In one swift motion his bow was out and he let one of his ballista-sized arrows fly. A figure fell from the rooftops, screaming, to the ground by the collapsed building. It was a half-elf, minus half a leg, just below the knee where Cain’s arrow hit him.

While the rest of the party examined the corpse, Sorscha and I started searching through the rubble, looking for a way down to where the chaos beast lurked. The drow found an opening before I did, and slipped her slim frame quietly down through a gap between shattered chunks of wall into a hole in the floor. I followed immediately behind.

We were in a large dark chamber, and I stood in ankle-deep water. I could hear the sound of water flowing nearby. I wished to light a torch. Given the noxious smell of the gases assaulting my nose, it would have been a bad idea. Sorscha saw me stumbling blindly, muttered something, and a chain hanging from a fixture on the far wall began to glow with eerie light.

In the dim illumination, I was able to make out an iron gate that stood to the side of the glowing chain, through which flowed a steady stream of water. It led down a dark tunnel, which sloped downward, toward the catacombs beneath the city. The bars of the gate were broken, twisted outward. Many heavy steps fell, somewhere in the passage on the other side of that tunnel. We could tell by the ghostly splashes that echoed up through the tunnel; by the soft shaking of the ground with each foot-fall.

“We need to go tell the others.” Sorscha said.
“_Hai_, they must be told. Go. I will follow,” I said, though I did not say whom.

As Sorscha scurried her way back up from the rubble, I stepped up to the tunnel opening and drew my bow. I glanced back to see her glowing pupils staring through the darkness after me, through a gap between slabs of brick wall. I drew a deep breath along with the arrow, which I aimed down the dark tunnel in front of me. I heard the Drow woman curse as I loosed the arrow and disappeared down the darkness into the catacombs.

I do not know what I expected to accomplish. I suppose my hope was that, maybe, I could follow the sound of the beast; trail silently behind it as it made its way toward its prey. If it found one of the Keepers, I would be there to intervene. When I appeared in the pitch black tunnel, water up to my mid-calf, I could hear the heavy, splashing footsteps, and feel the rumble of the weight that they carried. As I stood, the rumbling became stronger and stronger, the splashes grew louder. Small waves of water lapped up against my legs. I could hear something halfway between a wheeze and a snarl, punctuated by a sound like far-off screaming.

Death stood before me, no more than a few heartbeats away, when an image came to mind. An ivory symbol hanging around the neck of a desiccated corpse back st Temple Rise; a symbol of Law. I quickly threw down my backpack, feeling through it for the rectangular box that held my various amulets. I opened the box, grabbed the small bundle of cords, and began ran my fingers over their pendants until I found the right one. The beast was right on top of me as I pulled the necklace out and shouted a prayer to Heironious.

Light erupted from the symbol, and I could see the creature. Four arms and fourlegs protruded from a mass of tentacles that shifted in ways that should not have been possible. It had two heads, with faces frozen in a rigor-Morris of pure terror. A mad scream rose up from somewhere in the tentacles beasts belly as it turned and ran down one of the many corridors in this section of the catacombs.

When it had gone I ran as fast as I could through the deep water, and shot my way back up through the tunnel. I wasted no time in climbing out the same way I had seen Sorscha go. I emerged from under a crumbled piece of wall as Exilar, Seifer, Sorscha, and Olt were straining to lift it. They looked at me, incredulous. Sorscha took her hands off the wall and grabbed a brick, hauling it back behind her head in preparation to throw it at me. “It is heading for the vats!” I said between gasping breaths.

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What Lies Beneath
Journal entry of Exelar Vitarri

While splitting up from the party was not my first choice I couldn’t trust anyone else in the transport of Trask to Temple Rise. While setting him up to perform manual labor I couldn’t help but remember something my father said to me once ‘What is better, to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?’ While I don’t think all of the Bowmen are evil by nature, it worries me that by repeatedly committing evil acts by either choice or coercion that it could become part of your nature. Possibly seep into your soul.

Olt asked me to deliver a message to his grandfather detailing his discovery of the Oirthuir Clans plan to destroy them. He took the news with his normal stoicism, simply stating ’It’s war then’. I of course offered any assistance. After accepting the offer of a room for the night I left before dawn so I could do morning services at Temple Rise. Thanks to the growing power of Nathaniel Bronnson and The Spire I was able to transport back to Anglers Cove to reunite with my companions.

Upon my arrival I was informed by the captain that they had recently left for Carrion Hill. He escorted me down to the docks and after introducing me to several people I was able to acquire free passage. Word of the accomplishments of The Watchmen have spread rapidly and people are willing to openly offer assistance to us. With the fear of Bowmen reprisal lessening everyday our job has become easier, especially with recruiting new members.

The smell of The Boil will be something that I hope will never be something I get used to. Even as I try to power through until higher ground is reached I can’t but help notice something had the city on edge. Instead of seeing more crows in the city there seemed to be less, of course most of the populace are staying inside too, so maybe they didn’t need the extra help. As I finally reached the Mucky Duck my companions are walking out.

They inform me they’re heading to meet with the mayor, apparently there was some kind of explosion recently inside the city and he has asked for assistance. With several people giving me information I almost miss the voice of the newest member of our group. Introducing herself as Mianissa, she is Catfolk which kinda surprises me since they are not known for being residents of the Wildlands. I have no idea how she’ll get the smell of this place out of her fur. As we head to our destination I walk with Olt and inform him of my conversation with his grandfather.

Upon our arrival we are ushered in to the mayor, who seems quite anxious. It was not so much an explosion in the city as it was an attack by some unknown creature that destroyed a building and killed several people, including a few crows, one of which was the captain of the guard. He asks us to investigate as there have been two other attacks since and the citizens are scared and staying inside, not knowing the attacks seem to come from underground. Since the first one happened at the market we should start our investigation there. After several questions we know the bodies were torn apart by something very powerful, as were the buildings. The mayor grows more nervous as we talk, we need to act fast or he may completely fall apart and we could use him on our side.

As we are led to the site of the initial attack the crows talk about how much of a loss the death of the captain is. When we arrive at the market, which is empty of people except for some crows, we see the area has been roped off. They have recovered a few bodies from the building which Nathaniel and Sorscha move to examine. Olt starts examining the area looking for tracks that may be from a creature capable of this destruction, while I talked with a neighbor who might have seen something. He tells me the man who lived there bought the place a couple years ago, and had been doing a lot of renovations to the place. No one ever went inside except for some workers that would show up in the evening and leave in the morning.

The examination of the bodies reveal they have no blood in them, and the damage done to them was caused by something very powerful as one body was twisted around and another had it’s chest crushed in. We discover a symbol drawn in blood on a nearby building, a huge spiral that Nathaniel believes he recognizes as one of the old chaos gods. As some of the lighter people enter the remains of the building I wait outside in case it’s not stable. The inside is in total shambles, everything inside is destroyed including the furniture and a couple of walls. Sorscha follows a trail of black slime down a set of stairs, followed by me and everyone else.

The basement has 5 sarcophagus set along the walls and one knocked over and broken. The slime trail leads over to another set of stairs going down, the only other exit being a door across from the stairs as part of the basement looks to be caved in. The door is barred from the other side Herschel tells me, so I put my shoulder to it. The new room only has camping gear for seven and one door inside which Herschel again says is batted from the inside and voices can be heard coming through the door. The language is unknown so I say a prayer and Heironious grants me the power to temporarily understand them. There sounds like there is three of whatever they are, and they’re hiding from something. After trying to get them to come out, Olt starts trying to smash down the door with his weapon and I step in and put my foot to the door. The door goes down as my foot goes through the door. I immediately feel a sharp pain as a couple of daggers pierce my foot. We make short work of the creatures which turn out to be Dark Folk.

Sorscha had scouted out the staircase and leads us down a long descent. It opens into a cavern where the slime trail looks to have started from. A portion of the room is covered in a pool of slime with a body floating in it next to three dead looking trees that overlook an altar that permeates evil. As we approach the trees a figure can be seen lurking just behind the altar. It tosses out a portion of a person that it was apparently chewing on. As I get closer the ghoul leaps upon the altar but before it can attack Nathaniel freezes it with a spell and everybody teams up to finish it off. After we finish a search of the cavern we find a book that will need closer inspection,and supplies that would indicate they’ve been doing whatever they’ve been doing for a while. When we return to the surface we inform the crows of what we found and they set up a guard until we can figure out what to do. The mayor should be a little relieved we discovered the source of the disturbance though we have yet to find the creature that caused it. Maybe the book will have some answers…

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Rice?
Journal of Mianissa
At long last, I had arrived at Angler’s Cove. Unfortunately, it was raining. Hard. I approached the city gates and prepared to state my case again. Catfolk were not well known in this area; we roamed the grasslands but seldom ventured towards human settlements. Human’s had an attitude of dominance towards my kind, as if Catfolk could be dominated. I had to be wary until I learned the attitudes of the locals that I met. The humans that I had come across had been more curious than anything and it turned out that my father’s prejudices had not been realized. I was hoping that this trade city would also be welcoming.

The guards spotted me in the rain and I did my best to look pitiful. People are suckers for big eyes and wet fur.

Then I went blind.

When my vision returned, there was a whole group of people standing near the gate that hadn’t been there before. At their feet, burned into the grass, was a strange pattern. It was nothing I recognized. The rain soaked into their previously dry clothes and they did not seem alarmed. I realized that I was also not where I had been. I was ten feet further from the gate, crouched and hissing. Through the rain, no one could hear my catlike vocalizations, thank goodness. I was trying to be an adventurer, not a scared kitten, but I had been so startled that I had let my reflexes take over. I quickly stood up and looked them over. They were a mixed group, but they all looked tough. One guy had a bow that was taller than him. Another had a familiar on his shoulder that looked like a small dragon. It was hard to tell exactly what they looked like, as they were bundled up against the rain, but I felt fairly sure that I had never seen them before.

The guards let us through the gate and I was able to tag along with the group. One of them offered me a choice of rice or fish. It was clear that he had never had any contact with Catfolk, or even cats. Obviously, I chose the fish. They took off in the direction of the nearest pub. I knew that I liked this crew.

The Fishhead Pub offered a selection of beverages. Since I had just met this group, I decided to keep my wits about me and settled for a mild house ale. Some of them were ordering some strong drinks, but I didn’t want to let my guard down just yet. The owner of the bar came over and was talking about something with the dwarf. He seemed to take a shine to me, and I was able to negotiate free room and board for myself. I also got a few rounds of ale on the house. Well, more than a few. I remember making kitten eyes at the proprietor and then waking up in a private room to the sound of pounding on my door.

Apparently, I had gotten along very well with my new friends and, in a drunken show of camaraderie, had insisted that they take me with them to The Boil to join them on their next adventure. I had never heard of the place, but it made me think of the giant fish boils that my clan used to have in celebration of Purrrrrrim. I could almost taste the boiled salmon, crab, and shellfish. The Boil sounded warm and comforting.

I should have asked more questions.

We secured passage on a small boat that would take us across a narrow stretch of sea. The rain and wind grew stronger as we set out from the shore of Angler’s Cove. I hate being wet and cold. We were tossed on the waves and it seemed that all of nature was conspiring to warn us away from going to The Boil. I peered out from underneath my cloak, despite the rain, in order to catch a glimpse of the site of my next adventure.

The smell hit me first.

It was as if every putrid thing in the world had slumped their way to one spot to fester among their noxious kindred. In the face of such a stench, rotten eggs and smegma slunk away in shame; last year’s garbage, after lounging around in a hot swamp, politely excused itself. Excrement from a variety of sources conspired to birth new, cruel ways to assault the senses. I spotted a corpse floating upside down in the muck as we docked. It had probably been thrown in as an air freshener.

“Poor dear,” said the one named Sorscha, “You will never get that stench out of your fur.”

I was seriously considering how I would look bald. At least everyone else reeked too. And anyone else who was here, or had ever visited here, would sympathize. I wondered about the people who would call this region home. A shudder went through me and I decided that I didn’t really want to know; I remembered my father’s warning about curiosity and cats.

We made our way through the torrential downpour to a place called The Mucky Duck. Once I found out where we were going, I ran ahead to get out of the rain. Human’s move so slowly. And don’t even get me started on dwarfs. I wasn’t sure if the stench of the city was abating or if my sense of smell had flown down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. Either way the air seemed to be improving. Once we got to The Mucky Duck, I was grateful to duck inside and dry myself off. The group was talking about going to some event that was supposed to help them further their political goals or something. I resolved to accompany them wherever they were headed, as long as it was inside somewhere. For the moment, I comforted myself with a round of house ale and some sort of fish gloop that they were serving. At least it was hot fish gloop.

As we were talking, a group of official looking people in uniforms swept in off the street. They shook their coats and announced that they were looking for adventurers. My heart soared! At last, a chance to join a cause and experience the thrill of the hunt. My new friends volunteered right away, as I had suspected they would. There had been some trouble in the city with buildings exploding unexpectedly. Some local police had lost their lives in the confusion. I was nervous and excited to find out the cause of the catastrophe. It looked like my dreams of adventuring indoors were not to be realized. I resigned myself to wet fur and shivers, hoping that maybe our chase would lead us underground.

I ordered another round of ale for myself and smiled.
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Down to the Chasm. A Missing Wizard.
Sorscha

Back to the Keep
We quickly gathered our wounded along with the unconscious Teken’und Priestess. Nathaniel sweept the confiscated items into a sack; they can be analyzed later. I keep hold of the house insignia for now.

Back on the Ironclad airship, we speed back toward the ruined keep. We have more reason than ever to return quickly. Olt advises us that the items and information from the slain dwarven envoy remain in the hall where the battle was fought. Now, we must secure that position from any further sorties. The chasm gave me a bad feeling from the first time I saw it and now I regret to say that my intuition was correct; It may continue to be a problem. Exelar tends to Lazarus while we traveled, I assume partially as a distraction against being on the airship again. In a stroke of luck, the huntsmen has not been fatally poisoned. However, the multitude of bites that he took will render him a bit shaky until he can get a proper rest and let his system purge the venom.

The others seem largely well, also. Although Seifer seems even more agitated now that we have both an exorcised Trask and a drow highborn, both alive and in our custody. From his occasional quiet mutterings, I get the distinct impression that he would have preferred a simpler situation where he could have simply executed them on the field we didn’t need to keep them captive. I don’t entirely disagree with him. This is more challenging to work with, but also presents us with additional opportunities. I decide to keep that opinion to myself, for the moment.

As the ship docked next to the keep, I let Exelar know that I needed to speak to him urgently. Walking to an empty hallway, I brought out the house insignia from the raid leader. Explaining the insignia’s use in drow society, I translated the symbols and let him know that this was from House Teken’und; from Xar’eth’s house. That means that she was from the same house. Xar’eth had been fairly straight forward about being on the surface to gain power and return to avenge his defeated house. This could have been her purpose, or part of it, as well. It also has implications about where her raiding party came from, despite her house resources being scarce. He began to think this over and ask a question, when Kroenen came around a corner.

It was time, he said to discuss the future of the Cascades, his men, and the Watchmen. Of course this needed to happen, but the timing was inconvenient. As we three walked back through the ruin to the main hall, Exelar and Kroenen debated who would be needed in this conversation as well as what we needed to do in light of the drow raid.

Ultimately, Nathaniel, Caleb, and myself were left back to investigate the source of the raid. Kroenen had left a squad of his men, archers, to assist. We set them under Caleb’s command and lined them up to guard the cliff edge. As we parted from the others and moved to search the best path down into the chasm, a runner came up. After taking position at the precipice, one of them claimed that there was a dragon clinging to the cliffside, listening in on the activities in the keep.

Down the Walls
At almost the same time as the runner’s report, I heard something like the crunching of stone and Caleb cried out that the dragon was taking flight down into the rift. Not wanting to lose track of the beast, and relying on the cloak I obtained from Hershel, I burst into a run and leapt from the cliff into the chasm.

As I descended, I spotted the dragon. As they make their home in the long dark, it is familiar to me. It was a small one, rather, it was maelthra. No less a danger, but less difficult to manage than if it were older. As I lost altitude, the moonlight faded and my darksight took over. I took that moment to use the magic of the cloak and become a small bat.

The transformation is one that I am still not accustomed to. Newly acquired from Hershel, he had instructed me in the basics of it’s use, including the transformation ability. But when I asked him how he adjusted to the new form and senses of the bat, he simply shrugged and said, “You just do.” Having done it now, it’s as fair a description as you can give to someone that hasn’t. If you could imagine growing from a small child to a grown person, but in moments rather than years, and in this case in reverse, it would be a start. As my bones shrunk and twisted and as my skin tightened, the bat’s senses took over and I began to hear, rather than see, my surroundings.

I sensed the dragon, still in front of me, diving straight down. Then I heard a change. It was folding out its wings, slowing it’s descent. In an instant, it went horizontally straight into the far wall. I unfurled my own own wings to halt myself and fluttered around where it had disappeared. Quickly I discovered that there was a circular hole that went straight back into the rock. The dragon must have shifted forms when it dove in. Not wanting to stress the magic of the cloak, I returned to my normal shape and took up a perch, waiting for Nathaniel to arrive.

As I waited, sitting on the lip of a dragon den, I could see that I fairly close to the floor of the basin. Not far beneath my feet, a shifting mist obscured sight of the ground, though the thin shifting gasses would sometimes grant glimpses. What I could clearly see though, were the skeleton-like remains of ships that thrust above the mist line. With everything that had gone on in the city above, I’d forgotten that the entire ravine had been a full lake before the cataclysm that struck the old empire. The vista had a beauty of its own, one that I’d almost forgotten since emerging into the sunburned lands of the northern desert. My reverie was broken with Nathaniel’s appearance.

And Back Up
Floating down through the dark on threads of magic and wearing the face mask taken from the drow raid-leader, he resembled nothing quite so much as an awkward orbben bobbing on a silken thread. He glanced over and waved a greeting as he passed me – the mask must provide him with sight down here – and then descended into the fog, with only several soft swirls to marks his passing.

Nathaniel’s new familiar remained above the mist, performing slow circles. It’s a small species of dragon, perhaps two arm spans long and deep red, almost purple in color. I don’t know much about them, but one of the archmages at the sorcere had one. I’m unsure when he bound it. I feel that they took some amount of knowledge and power to summon, so perhaps it had something to do with the Spire back at the Rise. Though small, it wasn’t young, and seemed to have a breadth of knowledge about the basin ranges. It also enjoyed sassing Nathaniel, which I can appreciate.

Waiting for the wizard to reappear, I turned to inspect the mouth of the dragon’s lair in which I sat. It receded straight into the mountain from the cliff face. It wasn’t as wide as my arms spread out. Touching the walls, they were smooth, but bumpy or bubbly, as if the stone had melted like wax. This made sense if this was indeed a deepfall dragon. The famous destructive breath of all dragons was a corrosive gas in the deep ones. Used in close, it could have carved out this tunnel by dissolving the very stone. This creature could be trouble if left to its own devices.

Putting thoughts of the serpent aside, I glanced out in time to see Nathaniel rocket up from the misty depths. His voice altered by the mask he wore, he quickly spilled out a description of what he had found. In addition to the hulks of rotting ships, he’d found bones of creatures large and small littering the chasm floor. He confirmed that the gases swirling below were indeed toxic. This was likely the reason that the lair in which I sat was positioned where it was. He’d also located a high concentration of humanoid skeletons. Apparently they were in a rough ‘v’ pattern with the narrow end originating in a fissure in the rock of the city side cliff. Searching the concentration of bones, he found a corroded piece of jewelry that he now handed over to see if I could recognize anything about it. Despite the regional differences in style and stamp, I know immediately what it was: an insignia of House Teken’und. The bodies were Xar’eth kinsmen, driven from the depths into the poison mists of the rift. This is what he was referring to when he said that his house had been driven from it’s position in his home city. They were driven up into death, here below the Cascades.

I told him what it was and what I suspected that its presence meant, when I heard movement coming from behind me. I shoved the insignia in a pocket, looked to Nathaniel, and said, “Fly. Now!”

In only moments, the sound from the tunnel had increased in volume. What was a whisper was now a rush wind pushed in front of an oncoming wyrm. Nathaniel had begun to rise upward. I activated my cloak’s own flying magic and pushed up off of the tunnel’s edge. As I caught up to the frazzled spellcaster, I again urged him to hurry up, that the dragon was on its way. For a moment, he looked as though he were flipping through a book in his head, and then he stopped to look at me, saying “I could just teleport out of here…”

“Do it!” I yelled and willed the cloak to carry me back up to the surface as rapidly as it could. Glancing back down, I saw Nathaniel disappear in a clap of collapsing air just as the dragon burst forth from its burrow. It’s form shifting as it burst out, it stretched it wings, let out an echoing bellow, and surged upward toward me.

I bolted up, urging the cloak even more, pushing it to the limits of the magic. For a short moment, I imagined that I felt the toes of my boots brush off of scaly hide as I surged upward. Hearing its deep intake of breath, I anticipated what was coming. I spun and dropped to the side as it the dragon exhaled a cloud of acidic vapors, enveloping the space I occupied only moments before.

I burst through the remaining trails of the dispersing cloud and soared toward the keep and the cadre of archers that sat upon its edge. The entire way up, I dodged and zagged to avoid the snapping maw of the great beat that I could hear just beneath my feet. Though it felt as though this continued for indeterminably, it took less than minute to see open sky and the broken edges of the precipice keep come into view. As the lip of the chasm came closer, I heard something buzz past me, down and to my side. It was an arrow. They were beginning to rain down from above. I could hear Caleb barking commands to the men that Kroenen had left above.

Not slowing down, I continued to barrel upwards. In a flash, I broke past the edge of the ground’s level and shot into the air above the keep. Taking a chance, I slowed and turned back in time to see the dragon just breach the level of the keep and then dive back down to the depths to avoid the volleys of the bowmen. Spotting Caleb, I dropped down near him and caught my breath. He asked if I was alright and checked that I wasn’t clipped by any arrows. I nodded that I was fine and then he started looking around for something.

Not finding it, he asked, “Where’s Nathaniel?”

My eyes widened as I asked, “Wait, you mean he’s not here?”

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An End to the Beginning. A Strike from Below.
Sorscha

Rain was falling as Seifer and Exelar gathered the wounded and shepherded them to the airship. After mending my wounds from the fight with Krosi, I paced the roof of the tower, ensuring that the fallen lycanthropes remained so.

Reaching the far side, I stopped at the stairs that led down into the tower itself. We hadn’t checked them; didn’t even know if someone had gone down them during the fight. I turned quickly and gestured at one of Kroenen’s men who appeared to have some authority over the others. As he approached, I asked if anyone had gone down the staircase after they had come up to fight the others. He seemed dumbstruck for a moment. I asked again, more insistently. He shook his head and stammered that no, no he didn’t think so.

I walked quickly over to where Exelar oversaw the evacuation to the ground level. I told him that we needed to go back down through the tower to ensure that no more enemies lay in wait. Aside from which, it was the quickest way to get the rest of the able armsmen down as ferrying the ship up and down enough times would be cumbersome. He considered for only a moment before nodding his assent. I enlisted Seifer, now with his wounds mended through the strength of Heironeous. Surprisingly, Nathaniel also ran to join us as we gathered the remains of Kroenen’s men. Well enough, if we ran into trouble. After allowing them check their arms, we entered the darkened stair.

As it turns out, we encountered no resistance. There were several oddities on the descent. More than once it seemed that there was too much blank space with no doors or landings where floors would normally be. The staircase seemed to be a single narrow spiral down the center of the tower and at times opened to empty space on either side. There were also several times that Nathaniel would stop at a wall or a door that could not be opened and appeared to be studying something in the magical spectrum. He mentioned nothing but would mumble to himself and move on.

For most of the journey down, there was little light. Though this posed no issue to me, several bowman had to light torches to avoid falling down the stairs into darkness. However, as we reached the lower levels, the barren nature of the stone walls gave way to colorful, though aged, murals upon the walls. Despite being a bit worn, they struck a chord in my mind. With a start, I realized that they were familiar to the those that I saw briefly when we were in the Scarlet Spire back at the Rise. I begin to believe that this place was related to our tower or the arcane academy that Exelar had mentioned existed there before the cataclysm that laid this land low. If so, this would require consideration when deciding the fate of the Cascades.

Time being what it was, we exited the tower in short order, finding no enemy laying in wait. We nearly had to drag Nathaniel out. He kept insisting that he needed more time, that he almost knew this place. A reminder of the situation we were in seemed to bring him back to himself and he nodded, agreeing that of course, we needed to go. Walking out behind him, I thought about how he’d acted since first coming into contact with the crystal housing the wyrm spirit and the summoning of the tower at the rise. It was so much like the academy mages of my youth.

Maybe those years had biased my thinking toward him. He was foolhardy, to be sure. Full of short-sighted youth and a rush for knowledge or power. But he was human and so many of them seem that way from the view of the longer-lived. To be honest with myself, I couldn’t event say if his manner had changed, as I don’t really know him. He was thrown into our current situation and, just like the rest of us, has done what he’s had to do to survive. I had a duty to him as much as anyone else here.

Walking out to the open sky and the rain pulled my from my reverie. Time enough for that later. As we exited into the courtyard, I could see that the airship was already down and the wounded from the battle above were disembarking. What’s more, Kroenen had arrived. He and his bladedancers were speaking with Exelar. I quickened my pace to arrive at his side and hear what was being said.

In short, he had also triumphed in the battle that he had fought. Trask’s men were either slain or sent running from the city proper. They were still hunting down some of those that might try to hide and strike again when we were unprepared. I was pleased to hear that Boris Cotton was still alive. And Meiko as well, despite our shared history with her. Their daughter deserved to have both her parents.

Kroenen acknowledged that we needed to have a formal conversation about the path ahead of us, but that now was not the time. Exelar agreed, of course, nodding his assent. I suggested that, with this task done, we should return to the keep on the pinnacle. Olt and the huntsmen were still there, along with whatever was left of Trask. And we needed to decide what our next step would be. With things coming under control in the city, Kroenen indicated that was going with us. Exelar arranged to have our prisoners remanded to the Kroenen’s men, who would remain to hold the tower for the time being. That done, the we boarded the airship and lifted up toward the keep.

The Raid

With the need for a veiled approach gone, we soared directly up the center of the city. As we flew over the dividing wall, where we sheltered on our way in, a handful of forms took shape in the distance. With my senses warning danger, I moved to the prow of the ship and focused on the figures.

I quickly made out Olt and the Huntsmen, Lazarus. With them were two unknown Bowmen along with Trask in tow. As if in answer to my unasked question, I began to see their pursuers take shape behind them. The one that drew the eye, and appeared to be in command, was a female drow, seated upon a great machine in the shape of a spider. Her face was hidden behind a metallic mask that imitated the face of great spider. Were she alone, it would have been bad news, particularly if she were a priestess. But she wasn’t alone.

Flanking the woman were servile aberrations. First were driders. This wasn’t a surprise to me, and gave credence to the idea that the drow wielded Lolth’s power. Driders still retained some intelligence, but could be vicious berserkers when driven. With them, moving too rapidly for it’s size, was a chwidencha, a mass of wicked spider’s legs and hatred. It was the final creatures with them that pulled the floor from my stomach. I’d only seen them once before, but it was enough. They were simply called the Shunned, but that belied their nature. Punished by the power of Lolth, they resembled nothing so much as a drow that had been reduced to a mass of it’s internal organs but kept it’s face so that it could still gibber its pain. Several of them skittered on spidery legs along with the rest.

I moved back to the command post of the ship. They had already spotted our people, as well as those chasing them down. Without time to brief them on the threat, I merely stated that drow had come for us and that we should put the ship between our people and the abominations chasing them, if we wanted them to live much longer. A quick exchange of looks among the leadership, and it was decided. The ship gained speed and then began to turn and drop altitude at the same time. A testament to the skill of its Ironclad pilot, the ship neither crushed our companions nor crashed into the paving stone, but came to a stop just above it with a broad side facing the underdwellers.

Running to the far side of the ship, I saw Olt, Trask, and the Bowmen turn around and begin running toward the ship. Lazarus must have been on the other side. Locating the boarding ladder, I threw the rope and metal bundle over the side of the ship for the others to climb. And as they climbed, I saw Trask on the ground, fuming, and remembered that his hands were still bound. Rather than risk losing him, I descended the ladder far enough to reach him and told him to hold out his hands. He did so petulantly and I took hold of the bracing between his writs. Serving as the anchor for his hands, I pulled him up as he climbed with his legs. I didn’t mind that it was something of a humiliating position for him to be in. Back on deck, I expected to see Lazarus being pulled up on the opposite side and that the ship would be rising back into the air. This was not what happened.

Exelar, Seifer, Keldoron, even Trask and his bladedancers, had all leapt to the ground and engaged the raiding party while I was helping the others to board. A quick glance showed my two things: My companions were holding their own, and there were no additional drow forces in evidence (which likely helped the first observation). Lazarus had pinioned two of the shunned to the flagstones with spear-sized arrows, but was now being overrun by brackish swarms of spiders that spilled from their innards. Kroenen’s men largely had the driders in hand on one side and Keldoron the same on the other. Exelar, Seifer, and Kroenen were taking on the metallic spider and it’s pilot.

From my left, a crackling electric beam arced from the ship to masked drow. A glance showed Nathaniel standing at the rail, Wulfgar at his side. Seizing on the opportunity, I also struck at her with shadow. Sparks arced across her mask to her mount and shadows struck at her neck, but both dissipated quickly and she turned from the attackers in front of her to the ship. She raised a hand, there was a flash, and a ray of sickly green energy lanced out toward Nathaniel. As the ray raced forward, Wulfgar shoved Nathaniel down and was struck. The light around him inverted, for a moment it seemed as though one could see his bones, then it returned to the days overcast, and Wulfgar was gone. Only wisps of fine dust were left behind, that blew away in the wind.

The others assaulted the clockwork spider with renewed vigor and I took the opportunity to shadow step out to the combat. Seifer managed to sever the last section of one of the spiders legs. Though it appeared to be regenerating, it was enough to cause the automaton to stumble. Combined with a strike from Exelar, the priestess was thrown off balance and unseated. I lashed out with forward kick, forcing her back through the metal legs, towards Seifer, who promptly lashed out with the pommel of his sword knocked her unconscious. As soon as she hit the ground, the spider went inert, as well.

Taking a breath and a look around, we had triumphed. Lazarus was covered in spider bites and leaned heavily on his bow, but he still stood. The rest were in various stages of health, but none appeared poisoned, somehow. Leaning down and checking the drow for a pulse, I confirmed that she still lived. Nathaniel appeared unbidden and began plucking items off of her, muttering various magical phrases for each. As he went to pull off her piwafi, I held him back a moment. The clasp holding it in place was a house insignia. Removing it, I turned it over in my hands and felt a rise of trepidation. Whoever this was, she was related to Xar’eth. The insignia was of House Teken’und.

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Peril at the Precipice
Journal entry of Olt Wyrkadrin

Spider_Fight.jpg

As Exelar and the others went forth to investigate the White Tower I asked to remain at the Precipice Keep to watch over Trask, our most valued prisoner, along with Lazarus Kain and Lance corporal Wallace of the Iron Clad. While we waited I searched the slain dwarves of clan Oirthuir Muir for clues regarding their dealings with the Bowmen. Initially I went about the chore with bitter resolve, explaining firstly that none other than myself had the right to lay hands on them. The human expression ‘To the victor go the spoils’ needs not apply in clan matters.

This was a personal obligation of my own, between one prince to another, which to my thanks Exelar and Hershel both accepted and acknowledged. This intermingling of clan duty within the conflict of the Bowmen and the Watchmen is admittedly, an added complication none of us asked for, but I’ll be damned if I let myself slack on matters of honor and protocol.

Nevertheless, the necessity that it be my hands who searched the fellow dwarves didn’t make the task any easier. I was still troubled by the means of their unfortunate demise. There was no sense of pride or entitlement in me while I was pilfering their pockets, though what I searched for initially was anything related to written terms with the Bowmen; scrolls and the like.

I suspected the cleric accompanying the crown prince was something of an important agent for the crown, a role that is not unusual for the clergy amongst my kind. My presumption was proven sound by the scrolls he bore, as were the worst of my fears. Writs of correspondence between the Thane of the Oirthuir Muir and Iris Khan of the Bommen outlined a treaty of mutual aggression towards my clan, the Wyrkadrin of Shadenhome, and the Watchmen of Temple Rise in exchange for our lands and treasures.

The signature and royal seal of the Thane at its conclusion ensured its validity and conception as an underhanded declaration of war! The Oirthuir Muir’s reputation for cutthroat dishonesty and greed were made axiomatic by this scroll… and indeed by my own flashback to how they behaved and how quickly they wanted to leave without being questioned. My only regret now is that I didn’t relish the act of slaughtering them as much as I should have! Moradin protect us! The Guile! The Gall!

As I put the damning scrolls away for safekeeping on my person as evidence, I already felt myself breathing easier with renewed purpose. The killing of the crown prince of the Oirtuir Muir and his entourage were proven completely justified. My conscience no longer pained me and the truth was I owed Hershel in particular an apology for ever doubting it.


At that point I continued searching the bodies of the enemy dwarves more resolutely and thoroughly. Everything they owned now belonged to the rest of us as enemy spoils. Admittedly I was quite annoyed to see how prosperous and well outfitted they were compared to myself and the rest of my clansman. Clearly all the centuries since my own clan last had any dealings with them hadn’t made them any poorer. The kleptocracy was evidently doing well!

The heir was armored in mithril battleplate with his royal circlet, also crafted of mithril around his forehead inset with a huge diamond. Both his battleaxe and personal signet ring were made of adamantine, the ring inset with another impressive diamond while the axe pommel carried an even more breathtaking, brilliant purple Thyatian soul gem! In truth the battle axe is a piece of singular beauty in both design and craftsmanship. Given the detail of dwarven runes etched upon it, I fully expect It must be a prized clan heirloom with deservedly powerful magical enchantments.

His other weapon, a Thyatian Steel dagger sheathed in Blue Dragon Hide, is similarly remarkable, though perhaps not dwarven at all in workmanship besides the bits of Mithril used for its pommel and cross-guard? This blade is etched in foreign runes, with an ivory-capped hilt and a sparkling red ruby within the pommel. I suspect the dagger has a very old, and likely sinister, history behind it.

The clerics holy symbol is also highly disconcerting, crafted from a rare volcanic stone veined with minerals from the deep underdark. I haven’t seen its like before, it does not resemble any other dwarven holy symbol I am familiar with. I’ve also tucked this away for safekeeping and further examination, along with their valuables, a few magical items, their magical weapons, jewelry and coinage, some of which is quite ancient and valuable.

I will share everything with Exelar and the others, though I must see the scrolls safely back to my great grandfather, Chief Gruenchdok immediately. The sooner the Wyrkadrin see this the sooner we can rally ourselves to prepare for war. I already have a battle plan in mind, though much depends on how quickly we can sort out the rest of this business with the Bowmen here in the Cascades.


No sooner had I finished searching the bodies of the fallen Oirthuir Muir that I found myself pacing around the courtyard anxiously… suddenly all too aware of the fact that Exelar, Hershel, Sorcha, and the rest of the Watchmen and our would-be Bowmen allies were still out there engaged in battles throughout these cursed half-flooded ruins of an ancient city.

Every scream and shout and distant explosion filled with me rising anxiety and concern. So much depended on victory here, and yet so little was under control or even understood. Trask himself, now displaced from the possessing demon who ruled his mind through the soul gem, was still reeling and muttering in a half-dazed state, but evidently regaining his wits minute by minute. Yes he was likely no longer a threat, but how much of his crimes should be blamed on that demon? How valuable was he now as a witness to his own atrocities? Would he beg and plead for forgiveness?

Were it up to me, demon-or-no-demon, Trask deserves to be executed, no question. He is beyond redemption as much as those dwarves were. I won’t trust anything he says, and would prefer to knock him unconscious again before he starts to speak at all. That may sound a little unfair given how willing I was to parley with the dwarves before they tried to walk away, and I can live with that. I am clearly more trusting of those of my own kind, and that is one thing I feel I should be proud of.

Strangely, right about now I started hearing things… monstrous voices over the egde of the precipice? I can hardly believe my ears, given how much the roar of the waterfalls and the not-so-distant battles drowns it out, but suddenly it occurs to me that Trasks’ seeming innane mutterings might not be so mindless afterall? Is he speaking with someone or something? More voices inside his head? Or is it the same voices I think I am hearing from within the crevasse?


Suddenly a group of ten Bowman rush into the courtyard, four chased by six… both yelling that they are with Kroenen. I assume there should be some way to distinguish those who are actually loyal to Kroenen, yet with all the stresses on my thoughts I fail to realize what it could be and hesitated to act. In that moment, Trask murmured… “The six are my men, not Kroenen’s…”

I could only wonder at the curious outburst from Trask, seemingly attempting to aid us as Lazarus Kain, an original member of the watchmen, fired his bow from above targeting the smaller group of four, dropping one with two large arrows.

Immediately I raised my first and shouted: “CEASE FIRE!” Before I addressed the approaching bowmen. “DECIST AND MOVE AWAY OR YOU WILL BE FIRED UPON!” …Not knowing whom to trust, it seemed best to trust none of them, regardless of what Trask would want me to believe. Of course, being the mad-dogs that most humans are, they refused to heed me. The three that remained of the group targeted by Lazarus ran for cover instead of leaving. The leader of the other six approached me, likely assuming I was on his side because Lazarus fired on the other group.

I decided to correct his error in judgement with my heavy repeating crossbow, aiming for a crippling shot instead of a kill shot, just in case he ended up being one of Kroenens men after all. My bolt struck him through the knee, but still did not send the rest on their heals. At that point I fired three more bolts at the rest of them, wounding two more, while Lazarus seemingly killed everyone he aimed for. The power and brutality of his large bow is truly a terror, I am glad he is on our side.

The commander himself threw a dagger at me, finding a chink in my armor but doing little harm. I dropped the commanders other man with my dwarven war pike after he charged me. Now the three bowmen chased into the courtyard by the other six helped us finish the rest off and proved they were Kroenens men after all by the particular insignia they carried on their uniform.


Now that I had a moment to investigate the voices at the edge of the precipice, I did so with some trepidation. Nothing about that yawning chasm into the underdark bode well for anyone. Stepping over the rubble close to the edge, I spotted dozens of glowing eyes across the chasm in the treeline. I cast Speak with Animals, trying to ascertain what manner of creature or animal they were… which is when the strange chitterings from the chasm finally started to make any sense. I heard the phrases… “UP AND ATTACK! BRING ME THE ITEMS OF THE DWARVES!” As a long-clawed metal spider limb suddenly rose up over the ledge!

I stood alone, gazing in horror at the mechanical spider that rose forth bearing a single female Drow rider. The dark elf wore a helm or mask of sorts in the fashion of an insects face complete with dark jewel-like eyes and metal mandibles. Her voice was altered by the item allowing her to speak commands directly to her spiderling minions who appeared beside her.

The largest of which was the Chwidencha, a large horrid mass of flexible, clawed spider legs that prompted great fear for many dwarves. I knew many first-hand accounts of how easily those thorny appendages could impale a victim before it drags it away to be devoured.

Besides the Chwidencha, but no less revolting, was the Shunned, a spider with the pale-face of an elf twisted in terrible pain. This abomination retained the elves heightened senses and innate magical abilities, along with the ability to spawn swarms of tiny spiders that act by its will.

I didn’t stand to stare a moment longer, running immediately back into the courtyard where I found Trask to be lucid asking me to “Free him and give him a blade or else we would never escape.” Of course as I already said, I had no intention of believing anything he said so instead I turned to corporal Wallace and explained. “WE NEED TO FLEE! Better we kill Trask now!” …I stated as I raised my dwarven War Pike ready to execute him right then and there.

Killing Trask obviously went against my honorable instincts, perhaps especially so with his further attempt to aid me in the courtyard, but cutting him free of his bonds and trying to push him out with us as we were being chased by killer spiders didn’t seem like a better option. The chances for him to escape or otherwise aid the enemy somehow was a risk that didn’t seem worth taking.

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Served Cold
Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel)

“Rache serviert man am besten kalt” — old saying among Vilholman nobility.

Consequences

As I stood watch atop the roof of the run-down stone building, I could hear the Dwarf exchanging heated words with the others inside. When I had thrice heard my name muttered in bitter rage, I decided I should look in to see what I had done this time. As my people say, “speak of someone, and their shadow appears”.

Olt did not look happy to see my face. I looked about the room at the bodies of the dwarves as I entered. He was speaking with Exelar about the repercussions of our (my) actions, and how the death of the dwarven prince could very well lead to a war between his Wyrkadrin and whatever this foul clan of Dwarves is called. Our stout ally looked genuinely flustered, as he spoke of his honor-bound duty to bring the bodies of the dead back to their homeland. Being the only other Dwarf present, Olt would need to retell to this prince’s clan his account of the events which had brought about the “noble” Dwarf’s untimely end. If he were to shirk this duty, it might spark a clan war of sorts.

I felt ashamed to see my Dwarven companion in such turmoil. Up to this point, we had spent some time together recruiting members for the new Huntsmen, up at Lochaid. I had taken part in a few training drills with Olt, as he taught those we had selected how to track both game and enemy, and how to blend in with the environment around them. I held a certain amount of respect for Olt, so it weighed on me to have been the closest of his allies to take part in this murder which had put him in such a position. In the future, I will make sure to consult with him before rendering such final judgement on any belonging to his race.

In an attempt to remedy the situation, I offered to travel with Olt to the mountain stronghold of this opposing Dwarf clan. Being that the death of the prince was partially my responsibility, I felt that I owed it to my companion to join him in making this journey. Olt looked surprised, and possibly a bit relieved, as he asked “So you apologize for this offense against my people’s code of honor?” I responded with a curt nod, “Though I did not know of this code, I accept with full responsibility the duty of aiding you in carrying out the resolution of its violation; whatever that may be—”

At that moment, I overheard Kroenen speaking with Exelar “— Hansen commands the other force assaulting the White Tower.” I excused myself from the conversation with Olt by way of a curt bow, and hurried over to speak with Kroenen and Exelar. “What?! Hansen is here?”, I said as I crossed the room, “Where?” Shepherd spoke to Exelar in similar excited, though somewhat muted, tones, asking that he get a chance at delivering justice to the vile betrayer. After a short pause of consideration from Exelar, and some concessions on the part of Kroenen for our aid in a second battle, it was decided that we would assist the Vilholman and his men in taking the White Tower. As I moved toward the door, I turned back to Olt, who was busy investigating the bodies of the dead in an attempt to come to grips with the situation. “My offer still stands,” I said, and then departed.

Into the Air

We decided to take the Ironclad airship up above the cover of the clouds, on our approach to the White Tower, reasoning that it would hide us from the sight of those below, who may otherwise use siege engines at their disposal to blow us out of the sky. It would also mean that we would need to descend from above, which might be a problem for those of us who could not fly. Ser Seifer had a ring which would allow him to drop from the ship and land unharmed on the ground below. I had my cloak, which would allow me to fly. But Sorscha had no such ability. If we were to fight effectively, we would need her entering the fray as quickly as possible. To this end, I offered to trade her my cloak for hers. Though I would lose the ability to fly, I could still channel my ki and transport my body through an arrow down to the ground.

Sorscha and I did our best to get an overview of the state of affairs on the battlefield, and choose where we might be needed most. Through information we had been given by Trask, we were able to determine that there were two primary groups of Kroenen loyalists currently under attack. One, under the command of a man called Malak, was on the roof of the tower; the other, commanded by Ikar Wuller, was in the courtyard below, holding the opposing forces off from accessing the tower’s only entry point. From above, I was barely just able to discern the features of Aldric Hanssen leading the Bowmen against Kroenen’s forces in the courtyard at the foot of the Tower. This is where I would go.

As I drew my bow and nocked an arrow, Shepherd, who had apparently also seen Hansen in the courtyard, grabbed my shoulder. “Leave him for me. Please. I must have my vengeance.” I sighed, and slumped my shoulders a bit. Then I drew out one of the enchanted arrows I had taken off of the dead Bowman, Toby, and took from my pack a vial of what Xar’eth had told me was drow sleep poison. “I will coat my arrow with this. It should knock him unconscious. I will fire one shot at Hansen, and no more. Should he not succumb to the poison, I make no guarantees.” I quickly coated the arrow, and placed it in an easy to reach spot in a secondary quiver. “Be quick about it!” I said, as I turned invisible, nocked an arrow, drew back my bow, and fired at the courtyard below, aiming for just behind Hansen and his men.

Revenge

Travelling in this fashion is still a feeling that I have not quite gotten used to. I begin to feel a oneness with the arrow as it passes through the arch of my bow, as if my spirit is condensed along the wood of the shaft. I can feel the slight scrape against the arrow rest as a tickling sensation down my right side, and the wind which guides the fletching as a pulling sensation along my legs. Before my arrow reaches its target, my consciousness fades, and I arrive momentarily in a subtle eruption of air, standing over the broken shaft.

Hansen’s men sensed the disruption in the air, and for a moment looked about, confused, for its source. Seeing nothing, they continued their press toward the group of Kroenen’s men at the foot of the tower, encircling them. At that moment, a hail of heavy crossbow fire began to rain down from the sky above us, and I had to dodge, crouch, and roll to keep from being impaled. Hansen’s men were not so deft, and many fell to that volley. As I came up from my the last of my ducking and weaving out of harm’s way, I felt myself become visible momentarily. Quickly, I focused my energy again, and faded out of view.

Tracking Hansen’s position, I repositioned myself such that I could get a clear shot on the traitor. As he commanded his men forward, I noticed the coward backing away from the group; probably meaning to fall back to a safer position. Looking through the crowd for a secondary target, I spied a Bowman commander, Galen, pressing forward with the group attacking Wuller and his men. I backed up a few paces, drew, and fired the poison-tipped arrow at Hanssen, sending two more arrows toward Galen in one fluid motion with the aid of my magical bow.

I didn’t intend to kill him; I swear it on my life. In one interminable instant I could see the arrow sinking into Hanssen’s ribcage, piercing his lungs. He gasped and a puff of fogged breath escaped his mouth as the right side of his body froze solid in a flash. One heartbeat later the arrow exploded with a thunderous roar. Frozen bits of Aldric Hanssen sailed into the air, only to fall down a breath later in a grim hailstorm upon his unwitting men. It remined me of an old adage among Vilholman nobility: “Rache serviert man am besten kalt”; “Revenge is a dish best served cold”. I couldn’t help myself; I began to chuckle lightly under my breath.

My amusement was cut short a moment later, when two spots of burning pain erupted on my back, narrowly missing my vital organs. As the daggers slid out, I turned around, my legs wobbling slightly underneath me, to see another Bowman commander, the one known as Bobby Three-sticks. He smiled as he turned invisible himself, and left me panicking. The daggers must have been poisoned, because my head swam as I stumbled about on legs made of jelly, looking cautiously around me on all sides to try and remain ready for the coming attack from the invisible Bowman assassin.

At that moment, the ground shook with what felt to be the impact of a large meteor, and a fine red mist erupted into the air as I turned to see Keldoron land atop one of Trask’s men. Immediately the huge automaton’s sword was out, and he began to mow down Bowmen as casually as a farmer reaps rice. A moment later and the grounds about the stairs to the White Tower were coated with the remains of Keldoron’s grim harvest.

Atop the Tower

I nodded to the giant machine, and asked him to watch over me while I searched Hanssen and Galen. When I had recovered everything of value that I could carry, I thanked Keldoron for his assistance, and once again channeled my ki, aiming for one of the parapets at the top of the White Tower. I let my arrow fly and a moment later found myself teetering on the edge of the parapet. I was just barely able to recover by forcing my jellied legs to push the mass of my body forward and off the wall, onto the rooftop of the White Tower below. I tumbled as I hit the hard stone floor, but the effects of Bobby Three-sticks’ poisoned daggers still had me off-balance and I ended the roll by landing flat on my chest, knocking the wind out of me.

The scene atop the tower was utter chaos.

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