Vala

The Road so Far...

On the steps of a millennia old palace, the group has come a long way from their peaceful lives in the Manichean Confederacy.

Two weeks ago to the hour, Silk, Byron, Nefertai, and Mark were summoned by mysterious messengers to assemble before the City Hall of Byblos, where an opportunity to gain wealth and fame and to save the Confederacy from its impending doom awaited. News had reached the city days earlier that the Imperium of Man, one of the great nations of the world, was bringing a legion across the border. This was a declaration of war! One that would bring the Confederacy into a hopeless war against a foe many times its strength. Only great people could ever save it from this fate.

The man who summoned these four made it clear that he believed them to be such people; they were a new hope in the midst of a hopeless struggle to survive. The magnitude of the calamity that was underway was made all the more clear when, at the time of their meeting, the sky darkened and the magnificent marble walls of the City Hall shattered in a fiery explosion that engulfed the surrounding plaza. A messenger from the man who summoned them arrived as people were fleeing from the ongoing calamity. He brought news of a job with the Marshal, a high-ranking military leader of the Confederacy, which would help prevent a recurrence of the destruction that was before the very eyes of everyone in the group.

Seeking to do what they could but suspicious of their mysterious employer, they sought the Marshal who tasked them with escorting the mayor of Byblos, in light of the deaths of the entire Council, to safety outside the city. Sadly, an assassin arrived not long after they stopped for lunch at the mayor’s lavish home and succeeded in taking out his target. However, the group was thorough in making him pay for the transgression.

Returning to the Marshal they learned that the invaders had somehow camped themselves on the hills to the north-east and preparations were being made for battle by both sides. The Marshal desired to know how to stop another attack like the one that wiped out City Hall and the Council of Byblos, to which the group volunteered for a investigation of the Imperial camp. With great effort, they learned that another attack was planned for the end of the week, one that would immediately precede the fall of Byblos. Upon returning to the city, the group was treated to information from a captured Imperial spy. The explosion had resulted from a beam weapon fired from the camp. When activated, it targets an active vessel (jar) in the city and releases a bolt of energy which is drawn toward it for the kill. To make matters worse, they learned that the attack was being moved to the next morning in light of the discovery of the group’s actions in the legionary camp.

As a desperate move to save Byblos, the Marshal and the group concocted a plan of hiding the targeted vessel – procured from beneath a gnome’s bank near the geometric center of the city – in the middle of the enemy camp and attacking at dawn so that the legion would be wiped out by their own weapon as they fought the forces of the Marshal.

The Battle for Byblos was a resounding success. When the weapon fired at the climax of the group’s fight with Legate Agrippa of the Imperium, the skin of the surrounding legionaries went white. Most, expecting to see an explosion in the city, looked up to see the beam fly straight up then begin to move toward their encampment. The hill they defended was annihilated; its top blown into pebbles. Mark, Nefertai and Silk watched the eruption of the hill from a safe distance but Byron was blocked by fleeing legionaries and blown clear of the encampment – a bright white spec streaking across the sky. Unlike many of the legionaries, he survived the fall and joined the group fighting alongside the Marshal to win the day against what remained of the legion in the aftermath of their gambit.

Afterward, all praise for the group’s efforts was put on the name of Byron Again. From this day forth, he was the Hero of Byblos. Word of his deeds spread from the southern cities of the Confederacy all around the Badlands to the east. But the man of which they spoke would not be far behind. The Marshal, keenly aware of his country’s predicament, gave an arduous and perhaps grave task to the group: procure an artifact of an ancient desert civilization and find a military ally for the Confederacy. All that is known of the former is that it is an item of immense power, able to lay waste to entire armies, and that it resides in the Badlands, where only the infamous wandering Sphinx knows its true location.

On their journey to the primary city in the Badlands, Caire, the group (less one, Silk) were caught in the midst of a zombie horde while passing through the third of four villages between the Confederacy and the desert city. Holing up inside a still inhabited home, they destroyed the horde, protecting the family inside. Neither the origin nor the purpose of these undead was clear from the event. All they knew was that the corpses had picked the previous village clean and had attacked the group east of there. Nevertheless, they had saved three lives, including that of a young half-elf girl, and would be able to find them sanctuary in the next village.

Meanwhile, a Manichean noble of the house of Aeschylus set out with his trusted mage to join the group headed for the Badlands. The pair had orders from the Confederate Supreme Chancellor to lead the opening of an alliance with Pelopos and to ensure that the group properly represented the Confederacy. In their travels to Caire, they encountered a human treasure hunter by the name of Salvador, who is simply exploring the ruins of a town and obviously not looting the place. Given the surrounding desolation, Catullus offers to accompany Salvador back to civilization. Salvador agrees to join these clearly rich individuals on the road. They are somewhat at odds.

In Caire, Catullus and Aegon sought and found the Hero of Byblos. They agreed to work towards a common goal after tense introductions. Salvador, having separated from the pair, overheard their talk of finding an ancient palace with an artifact and presented himself again. As a united group, they decided to await the expected arrival of Silk within the next few days.

Before Silk came, the group thought they should investigate the artifact. Sources said that it was an article of clothing worn by the Ancient Kings and that a local group claimed to be led by a descendant of these rulers. With this knowledge, they sought the son of this leader. After asking around, the group was accosted by the young high elf, Imhantepe, and his friend and ally, Gary Blackwater. In a none too pleasant conversation, Gary challenged the group to a fight to punish their nosiness. The fight went smoothly for the group. They killed Gary’s loyal goblin and, having knocked Gary and Rennis unconscious, convinced Imhantepe to concede the fight and meet for drinks inside.

It is agreed between the groups to travel together in search of the palace of the Ancients, since Imhantepe wanted it for his “destiny and rightful inheritance” and the group merely wanted one object inside the ruins.

Gary’s crew had searched randomly the last few weeks in the desert around Caire for the palace or Sphinx. They had no long thus far. That night, Silk rejoined the group. He had settled his affairs back home in Byblos and made the journey to Caire in good time. The next morning, Gary was convinced to venture further into the desert than ever before. Out in the wastes they stumbled upon what appeared to be a ritual site, likely left by Imhantepe’s father whose itinerary the group had followed north of Caire.

When the Sphinx descended upon the group moments after leaving the site, it became clear that it was meant to summon that ancient beast.

Failing the riddle of the Sphinx, the group was forced into battle. Through its bestial and prophetic powers, as well as its incredible durability, the Sphinx held off its combatants for over a minute, despite a flurry of exchanged blows. Rennis, the elven archer of Gary’s crew, was decapitated in a swing of the Sphinx’s paw. When it seemed that the Sphinx was accidentally slain, it suddenly rose from the ground to admit its defeat.

With the Sphinx at their service, the group questioned it regarding their mission. They learned that the artifact is the king’s crown and gives its wielder the power to raise and control the dead. Imhantepe was told he was not the heir of the Ancients, or Rakshasa as the Sphinx called them – a fact he would refuse to believe till the end. Overall, the revelations of the Sphinx were disconcerting. The group surmised that:
-Imhantepe would not permit the group to leave with something as important as the crown
-Imhantepe was getting emotionally unstable
-A device which can raise and control the dead cannot be allowed to fall into the wrong hands

The question of whether to use the crown was now at issue. Brief discussions were held within the group about whether a weapon like this crown could be rightly used by anyone. However, since the Sphinx opened a portal to the Ancient Palace, there was no time for extensive debate. They had to proceed with the mission, whether or not to keep the crown could be decided later.

To regain their strength from the battle with the Sphinx, they rested outside the Palace but within the bounds of the portal. The sky around them was a dull orange and did not seem to vary with time. It was a difficult night. In their sleep, some were visited by the mysterious employer who had brought them together. Appeals of various sorts were made and information was revealed on individuals bases. The next morning, over breakfast, Byron was discussing his excitement over the possibility of fighting undead in the Palace. As the words left his lips, Gary suddenly went limp where he sat. In moments, he attacked Byron with Xcalibur. The crazed man was easily subdued and investigation showed that he was under a domination effect, one more potent than either Imhantepe or Aegon had ever witnessed. Nothing could be done for Gary, but it was agreed that he could not be left alone outside with the horses. Byron carried him into the Palace.

Tying their horses to a column outside the ruins of the Palace, the group ventured inside. Sarcophagi lined the walls as they journeyed through the labyrinthine dungeon. An awful smell pervaded the air near these places of rest so Aegon dispelled it with magic. In one hallway, a deep moaning could be heard all around them. Suddenly, the sarcophagi were opened and mummies surrounded the party. There was little difficulty in dispatching these rotting foes. Similar obstacles met the group as they went forward. Sadly, the rot from the mummies spread through contact. Byron, Catullus, Nefertai and Mark contracted this fungal infection.

Gary was hidden inside one of the sarcophagi for safekeeping so that he would not be an obstacle. With some effort, the grave was even sealed around him with gaps so he could breath.

Within a chamber deep within the Palace superstructure, the group stumbled upon a sealed room of obvious importance. Solving the puzzle, based on an ancient caste system, that kept it locked, they stepped inside and cautiously took a lantern from an ornate locked chest. Imhantepe translated markings on the side and, in line with Catullus’ bardic wisdom, the word ‘Truth’ was inscribed along its handle. Upon being lit, the lantern expelled a field 25 ft outward, rendering everything within its bubble transparent. A wall in the field appears not to be but a faint mist and a person a mere ghost. Some quick experimentation showed that the effect was merely visual and did not permit phasing through objects. From this point onward, the party used the Lantern to anticipate the ambushes of mummies, greatly alleviating the dangers of traveling through the Palace and allowing swifter travel to its deepest chambers.

At last they arrived in a grand hall which terminated in a beautiful golden gate. On its face were friezes detailing the usage of the crown in raising the dead among other things. Aegon made copies of these on paper. The Lantern was used to look into the room behind the door. Bringing it right against the door to look into the sarcophagus in the center revealed a corpse with purple apparel.

Nothing happened when they entered the room. However, as Imhantepe approached the tomb of his supposed ancestor, beams of orange light shot from the sarcophagus into others lining the walls. The slab of stone covering the regal corpse was thrown aside as a skeletal hand shot out from within; then another. These grabbed the sides and pulled the risen Lich King upward. With this momentum, he launched himself into the air, floating above his former place of rest and eyeing his surroundings. The skeletal corpse identified himself as the immortal king of the great Eladrin civilization of the Rakshasa, the Ancients to modern people. Imhantepe’s claim to be his descendant irked the Lich King who unleashed devastating spells against the poor wizard in response. The orange threads connecting the Lich to the sarcophagi along the walls brightened, signalling the release of numerous mummies. A battle for the crown had begun.

None of the group’s attacks had the least effect on the Lich King. Aegon and Silk surmised that he was immune the physical harm so long as the other undead were standing. Concentrating their fire on the mummies, the group was fortunate to have Imhantepe drawing the attention of the Lich for a few seconds. Of course, this resulted in him getting a hole blown through his charred body after narrowly surviving a potent necrotic blast from the King. His damaged corpse fell to the floor as all but Salvador were indifferent to his demise.

Once the mummies were mopped up, the group unleashed their power on the Lich King, hitting him for massive damage! To divide and conquer, the Lich goaded Byron into the hallway below, phasing through the ground as Byron gave chase with his earth elemental powers. Mark and Nefertai came down to assist in the fight, teleporting once the lantern was used to see through the floor. However, this was a ruse and the Lich King floated back to the main chamber to dispose of the other half of the team. Using his last teleport, Mark was hoisted by Byron and Nefertai close enough to return to the battle.

Infuriated with the futility of several of his (sic) attacks, Mark leaped at the Lich King while the shrouds imbedded in its shadow revealed a weakpoint on its chest. Mark’s armblade pierced through the Lich at this point, coming out the other end. All “life” drained from the creature’s eyes as it collapsed to the ground.

All this time, a horde of hundreds of mummies had been approaching the main chamber. The death of their king seemed to do nothing to slow the advance of the mob. In desperation, Silk placed the crown on his head and commanded them to halt. The horde complied. Seeing and feeling the control he had over them, Silk ordered the mummies back to their places of rest. With the danger gone, the group reunited in the burial chamber and opened a side chamber to the left of the entrance. Inside was a granite column depicting scenes of combat that Aegon also put to paper. Silk noticed a mechanism beneath the column and as friezes near the ceiling seemed to correlate the erection of this column with the bubble separating the palace from the real world, he surmised that toppling it would bring it permanently back. As it fell, the sky turned from its sickly orange to a natural cerulean. Victorious, they exited the Palace with Gary and crown in tow…

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Intro II

Characters:
Byron (Harrison)
Livia (Kira)
May Lin (Mercedes)
Zix (Sean)

Crossing the border into the Manichean Confederacy, a group of mercenaries employed by the Imperium of Man were in sight of the city of Byblos. This is the last known location of the fabled Jar of Orpheus, an item reportedly brought to the city by a dwarf from Arx Capitoline who tried to have it stored in one of the city’s bank vaults. Meeting with failure and his life nearing its end, the dwarf is said to have left town from the north gate to parts unknown.

The group’s mission was to learn the jar’s resting place and procure it for the Imperium. Their cover was that they were a mercenary group vacationing in Byblos. Although the volume of exiting traffic was somewhat alarming they continued into the city.

To keep up their charade, they stopped by an inn and tavern – the Rusty Bucket – for drinks and information gathering. The only things they learned were that merchants were scared for their lives due to a sudden increase in murders in the last few days and that there was a single library in town, the famous Byblioteca, where they might be able to find out more. After a round of drinks that put Zix into a stupor and had everyone except Byron thinking fuzzy, the latter decided to buy everyone in the bar drinks and, in an amazing act of sobriety, accidentally buy out the entire inn for the party, risking conspicuousness. It was a party to be remembered – not the least for Byron.

The next morning, the group visited the library, only to hear that there had been another murder. Undaunted, they went inside and checked the section on local history for information on the dwarf and his fabled jar. Several hours of perusing the shelves turned up a text by Aristotele, an elf who wrote a treatise on the jar about a century ago. Luckily enough he still worked at the library albeit with the reputation of being reclusive and mentally unstable. His instability was magnified that day, so the other scholars say, by the recent murder. The responses of residents seemed to indicate that Aristotele wasn’t accepting guests but the group managed to find his office and break in to meet him.

It was true what was said of Aristotele for he was nowhere to be seen only because he hid under his table. He came out saying, “Are you here for the same reason as the others?”, who the group learned was a pack of four unusual people who intimated him for the jar’s location. The suspicion this ignited – that a group would be looking for this simple artifact the same time they were sent to look for it by the Imperium – was lost in the flurry of information provided by Aristotele, including a location and a token that might help them get the jar.

On their way out of Byblos, the group noticed that the inn where they stayed was on fire and Livia noticed that four radiant winged beings were slaughtering tenants. Although there were doubts about straying from the mission, the group opted to fix the mess that they may well have caused. The battle opened with a crash as May Lin jumped through the window into a shaky position on a table. The angels fell one by one until the last teleported outside to make its escape.

Livia, Zix and May Lin reacted quickly to her escape and kept her in place for questioning. They learned from the being, that she was an angel sent by the god of knowledge and arcane wisdom, Io, to keep the Jar of Orpheus from mortal hands. Under oath not to reveal Io’s reasons for the mission or the function of the jar, the angel was called back to her home of Lucifer by a heavenly beam. Without much more in the way of information – other than who they might have to deal with – the group headed to the jar’s supposed resting place.

Finding the cavern Aristotele described was not difficult but getting into a hole 40 ft above the ground was no easy feat. After some mucking about with spirit bears, Livia, Zix and May Lin managed to climb the cliff into the cave and hoist Byron up by rope. Inside, nothing could be seen. Zix could discern no more on a brief survey until he suddenly found himself within a few dozen feat of a strongly glowing sigil flanked by praying angels. As the group moved into position to attack, the sigil lit up the cave like daylight and the two angels were pulled by beams of light, passing through the ceiling, away from the sigil.

After seconds of brilliance, the sigil became the platform for an explosion heralding the entry of a much larger angel – almost 9 ft. tall – with wings like a golden swan growing out of its back. Obviously faced with their final obstacle, the group spared no time asking questions, striking the radiant being with all their might. Every blow that connected seemed to have no effect on the greater angel’s body though harm was evidently being done. When it was at its weakest, the angel turned to Byron – with whom it was going toe-to-toe before – and spoke an incantation in some indiscernible tongue. Immediately, Byron was overcome by the claws of death, pulled into an unconscious state.

Livia’s healing skills brought Byron back from the brink of death but the fight was not over. As the angel seemed to prepare for some kind of attack, the final blows were struck and his body disintegrated into energy, leaving the group behind to search the cave for the Jar. Without a break, Livia identified a slot in the wall for the dwarven token Aristotele gave them. When the token was inserted, beams of light shot out seemingly from nowhere, converging in the chamber’s center. An oddly shaped object – for it could hardly be called a jar – materialized at this spot and fell gently to the ground.

As there was an obvious hatch to open on the artifact, Zix jumped at the opportunity to turn the handle and pull out the hatch. With a second’s pause, a stream of aethereal green energy flowed out the opening and launched Zix against the cave wall, pinning him in the stream. Voices flooded his mind as lifelike images of people accompanied the flow. It took great effort but the stream was able to be redirected before serious harm was done to Zix. With another exertion, the hatch was resealed and the artifact once again dormant.

Here, options were weighed: either they could return to the Imperium of Man with the Jar of Orpheus for a 50,000 gold pieces reward, a kingly sum if ever there was, or a way could be found to hand the jar over to Io or dispose of it by destruction or internment. Although Byron refused to be implicated in this seemingly large affair and Zix said almost nothing, the vote fell on the side of bringing the artifact to their employers. And so it came to pass, that the second of two dwarven creations came into the hands of the Imperium of Man.

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Intro I

Characters:
Daria (Daniella)
Vaati (Hanna)
Sibyl (Josi)
Aughh (Phil)
Mica (Madeena)
Silk (Sean)

On the road for several weeks, the mercenary troupe from the Imperium of Man finally approached the village of Crete where their contact waited with a vital map. Their job was to procure a small machine for their employers that lay in Arx Capitoline, technological leader of the modern world. Pretending to be interested in joining a local militia, the group casually entered the tavern to find their contact drinking away his sorrows in a pint of ale. It was soon learned by the group that the map they came for was lost to a group of bandits that operate near Crete. Comforting their contact with a promise to hunt the bandits down, they went about asking villagers where the bandits were camped.
Sibyl struck up friendly conversations with a few guy and learned that the bandits came from the hills to the west – it was no question where they would go next.
Searching the hills for signs of activity, they discovered a column of smoke streaming out of the peak of the tallest hill in sight. Daria and Silk snuck in for a closer look. There were three bandits around a fire, a fourth sitting far from the pack and a last, more distinctive fellow was sharpening a blade nearby. Unfortunately, the closest bandit heard rustling in the grass behind him and stood up to see the pair carefully coming towards him. Without hesitation, he yelled something about intruders before him and the others around the fire chased their guests back to the mercenary group.
Combat broke out without exchanging words. After handing the bandits their asses, the group cautiously approached the camp finding not a soul in sight. Silk called them out, being greeted by the distinctive fellow who claimed to be bringing them the map. Suddenly, the bandit drove a knife straight into Silk’s chest, followed by a flurry of arrows. Although the mercenaries emerged victorious, a thorough search of one of the tents uncovered nothing of interest. Silk stabbed the distinctive bandit with his own spear then broke it in half on the ground.
The map was found in a noticeably human carrying tube and returned to the contact who explained the entry plan. The group would enter through a last resort escape route cleverly hidden on the mountainside. The room with the machine was a few halls ahead. With the information at hand, finding the entrance and opening posed no problems.
Bypassing several floating machines – who displayed fearsome tubes and buzz saws – they found the machine’s room but far from unguarded.
At its center was an enormous rectangular machine 25 ft wide and 12 ft tall with a human sized podium on its visible face. Around it were nine metallic humanoids standing at attention to a red-haired dwarf and flanked by more floating machines. Two of the humanoids dragged an elven women, right before the eyes of the mercenaries (preparing an attack from behind the glass plane on a mezzanine) into the podium and strapped her forcefully in. Then a beam of yellow light shot through her body, which became racked with what seemed like unimaginable pain, until an aethereal figure in her own form was pulled into the machine by the beam. One of the crystals on the machine glowed.
By this time, the mercenaries were breaking the glass to begin a ranged attack on the humanoids while Mica and Aughh guarded the stairs to the mezzanine. However, their enemies had a few tricks up their sleeves. The floating machines revealed an array of poison blowguns and large flamethrowers. The dwarf, Master Harbek, pulled out a long metal tube whose shots could knock down the firmest warriors and made heavy use of a crossbow which could fire without reloading. Their technology failed to match the mercenaries’ prowess as the last machine was destroyed.
Evidently, the machine the mercs were sent to acquire was not as small as they had been told by their employers. Moving its several hundred tons of bulk was impossible. Master Harbek was violently questioned for help and driven to admit that there were clamps in the room that the dwarves of Arx Capitoline used to move heavy objects. Since reinforcements were on their way and the only exit was too small to fit the machine, the group forced out from the dwarf that the machine’s blueprints were stowed in a desk nearby. It’s unlikely the mercs would get full payment for it but at least it would accomplish their mission.
Daria pocketed the blueprints just as dozens of metallic humanoids stormed the room. Knocking Harbek unconscious, the mercs bolted.
Once they made it out alive, the group pondered what they had done, looking into the night sky when a sudden burst of new light filled the sky – a nova astra – the first in centuries. This could not be an auspicious omen.

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