Vala

Epilogue

Mercy

After dealing the killing blow to the Tarrasque, harming the First itself and ending the incursion crisis, Mercy vanished from the world to embark upon her final quest and assume her place in the Shadowfell.

Mercy’s final quest was to bring about the destruction of the Ilithid skull crown, a task which she completed with the help of Silk and his unique talent for special thefts. In order to destroy the crown, the two had to first pull off the greatest heist in mortal history. After much research and planning in the Apocrypha they travelled to the mountain of the world where Silk stole a fragment of the First’s power. This fragment of power was enough to allow for the destruction of the crown, upon which Mercy could retire to tend her domain in the Shadowfell. During this quest, Mercy slowly became less substantial, more easily overlooked even when she chose to be visible, and even more distant and disconnected from the world and events occurring around her.

The Raven Queen was very pleased with the number of souls Mercy sent to the Shadowfell over the course of her career as an assassin and during the incursion crisis, and amply rewarded her newest Raven Knight. Mercy’s reward included lands and thousands of souls to govern in the Shadowfell, many of whom she had funneled into the Shadowfell from the Jar of Orpheus. Upon speaking with these freed souls, Mercy learned that they were overwhelmingly the souls of ancient elves, and had been imprisoned in the jar for over 800 years. As an immortal servant of the Raven Queen, Mercy continued to serve her goddess as a governor of souls and used her power to protect the interests of the goddess when called upon.

The Raven Queen is not an enemy of Avandra or an ally, so Mercy’s position in myth as the Hero’s Shadow is not a problem for her and she permits Catullus and Aegon to cultivate the story. As her final quest neared completion she became less attached to events in the natural world and eventually didn’t really care about her place in the myths of mortals. Neither her birth name (Xiao-niao) nor her assassin name (Mercy) is recorded in the pages of mortal history. As she faded from the natural world so did the connection her friends had to their memories of her. The details of her life, her face, her voice, everything unique about her faded from their memory like a dream lost in shadow, but the legend remained.

‘The Hero’s Shadow’ and the many legends of its deeds had a core place in the new religion built around Byron, the Hero of Byblos. Specific religious myths about the Shadow’s place beside the Hero sprung up, some based on real events and others greatly exaggerated. The stories tell of the awesome powers the Shadow could wield and also of the great creatures it had slain; the Lich, the Dracolich, an Elder Dragon, and the Tarrasque. The Shadow became a source of inspiration for both heroes and assassins, and the reincarnated assassin’s guild, the League of Shadows, kept the Hero’s Shadow as a patron saint.

Silk

After the events of the incursion crisis, Silk withdrew from adventuring life to continue working toward his own goals, which included destroying the Ilithid skull crown with Mercy and preventing the Ilithids from interfering with the mortal realm. Silk became the watcher of the mortal realm, carefully monitoring not only the hive mind of the Ilithids but also the human empire and the actions of the immensely powerful Emperor Catullus. To further extend his reach and watch all those he felt needed monitoring, Silk started a secret network of spies.

Silk met his goal of destroying the soul harvester during the events of the incursion crisis and successfully stopped the horrors he had permitted by selling the technology so many years ago. He continued to search for and destroy all the records, blueprints, and notes on the soul harvesting technology that he could find within the human empire. After research in the Apocrypha, Silk learned that soul harvesting technology had been developed by the dwarves of Arx Capitoline. He chose not to completely wipe out the technology, as that would require destroying the entire dwarven city. Silk elected to merely watch and wait, until such a time as the dwarves might misuse their power or another might receive the technology.

Over the course of his adventures, Silk managed to keep his own soul from being influenced by any divine or demonic powers. Because no entity, worldly or supernatural, could use their power to influence or control him, Silk’s choices and actions were all his own. He had become master of his own destiny.

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Terra
The Final Battle

Knowing the location of the research center, where the Kalashtar and Imperium were working on their portal ritual, the group sneaked in after seeing the researchers leave, following the lead of Kirisame through the winding passages. Before proceeding into the main chamber, they searched the adjoining hallways where they found storage rooms containing two things in great quantities: blood and souls.

Disturbed by this discovery but seeing an opportunity, Mercy set about collecting as many of the shards of souls that she could carry (dismissing the rest to the Shadowfell). Stocked with more than a hundred shards, Mercy assisted the group in dumping buckets of blood and searching more storage rooms. Once enough damage had been done, they went into the main chambers of the laboratory.

This expansive room was dotted with stations for various researchers – desks piled high with papers and equipment – and was centered around a machine that Silk recognized as a larger version of the Dwarven soul harvester, all of which was overlooked by a massive glass cabinet filled with ever more soul shards. Electing to deal with those later, the group searched the lab finding two researchers – one Human sleeping in his chair and a Kalashtar sleeping at his desk. [Description of how they were silently dispatched]

After dealing with the two stragglers, the group searched the lab for more information on the portal and the nature of other research being done here. While the intellectuals did their work, Byron went off to the massive, engraved gate on the far side of the room. Looking directly toward the door, Byron felt a surge of inspiration, gaining an understanding of his current situation that he had been unable to reach before (effectively bringing him up to speed with everyone else). Immediately sharing this with the group, the others were drawn to investigate this phenomenon further. Aegon found that the Spark of Io reacted strongly to this inspirational effect, like a hatchling hearing the call of its mother, and the others found their own thoughts passing from one to the next faster and more clearly than ever before. Aegon concluded that the researchers must have been using this effect to facilitate their studies.

Indeed, Aegon had found from their papers that this lab had achieved a great deal over about ten years of research – breaking ground in areas that had been untouched for millennia. They had learned how to permanently sustain not only a portal but an interplanar portal – indeed they had found a way to breach any interplanar barrier regardless of its rigidity. The Imperium could reach any divine plane it desired – the wishes of the resident deity be damned. Worse still, Aegon uncovered plans for the Imperium to teleport an enormous machine of war – an airship outfitted with newly-invented magitechnology – onto the capital of the Manichaean Confederacy. Weaponry on this ship exceeded anything that a single mage could accomplish – an expansion on the earlier beam weapons used to destroy the city hall of Byblos. With this information in tow, Silk and Mercy dismantled the soul harvester and destroy all of the relevant papers on its construction and use that they could find.

Before entering the sealed chamber, Mercy used a short-range scrying spell to check for any threats. Inside the room was a flock of angels surrounding the (second-largest) dragon that Mercy had ever seen – an ornate golden dragon held down by heavily-engraved chains and surrounded in sigils of increasingly bewildering complexity. Seeing that the dragon was unconscious, Mercy and Aegon used their rings to communicate with the dragon, both of them entering a trance as the three of them joined minds.

Within a dream of sorts, Mercy and Aegon found themselves face to face with a hooded figure whose hands were skeletal thin – the spitting image of their employer! Revealing himself as such, the man expressed his relief that the group had succeeded in getting to him after his guidance ceased. He apologized for his absence of late and for his inability to explain events more directly – his visits to their dreams were as a mere fragment of himself, with only his strongest intentions coming through clearly.

As none other than the god Io himself, their employer said the group deserved a more full explanation of recent events:

Ten years earlier, when the Imperium acquired Dwarven tech and a jar of souls, Io – having support from none of his brothers or sisters, nephews or nieces, – chose to cross into the mortal realm of Vala and stop the Imperium himself, him alone believing that these actions went beyond mere jingoism and were manipulations of a more sinister force. Left in a weakened state by the crossing, Io was confronted by a human army and subdued, allowing imperial mages to suppress his powers for transport to a proper dungeon. From there, he has made every attempt to gather forces of his own to deal with this threat, making his greatest steps forward in bringing the party together.

Asked if the forces manipulating the Imperium were these Illithids, Io replied in the affirmative but revealed that this only scratched the surface. These mindflayers were only the servants of a primordial god that predated even the the Father Sol and the Mother Gaia. Before the birth of any of the present gods and goddesses, Sol and Gaia created a plane in which to trap this First Being, sealing it within a material prison in the form of a truly infinite column – the mountain on which all mortals now reside! When Sol and Gaia were betrayed and killed millennia later by their children, this knowledge was lost from the world, only to be discovered piece-by-piece by Io. With none of the gods able to see what he had seen – quite literally as a result of the First’s influence over memory of itself and its creations – Io was left alone to prevent the First from becoming a threat. Only the goddess Avandra, who Io spoke of admiringly, listened to him sympathetically and was prepared to act should this situation escalate.

As creations of the First, the Illithids carried its memories and were connected indirectly to its mind, following its orders despite its imprisonment deep within the Underworld (far beneath the realms designed by Anubis for the dead). Able to act freely in the mortal realm – with no mortal capable of remembering their existence even once seen – the Illithids have finally found a means to their ultimate goal of freeing their god – they have completely taken over the mind of the Emperor of Mankind, convincing him to steal soul technology from the Dwarves and use souls to power an interplanar portal that would pierce the shell of this prison. The Imperium has been led to believe that the interplanar portal will only be used to enter the Apocrypha – the infinite library of Io, now abandoned by his absence – but the Illithids will ensure that this is not the target of the first portal opened.

During their time on Vala, the Illithids were opposed only one other time in mortal history – the Kingdom of the Rakshasa learned of their existence and sought to prepare for a war with the Illithids, using their vast resources to build an army and research ever greater forms of magic. Before their goal could be accomplished, thralls of the Illithids among their ranks used this magic to summon a fragment of the First – a mere manifestation of its will – into the kingdom. Despite putting up a fight, the Rakshasa were defeated and the result of this brief foray of the First into the mortal realm was the great desert near Manichaea – no trace remained of the once fertile lands of the Rakshasa.

Absorbing this new information, Mercy and Aegon promised they would free Io momentarily but that several angels – of Julius no doubt – stood in their way. Saying a temporary farewell to the god, they returned to consciousness among their party members and relayed all that they had learned.

Working quickly, Aegon broke the seals on the gate while the rest of the group forced it open. Although the group had fought two angels before, there were eight in this room and more continued to stream into the room, through the walls, as the battle continued. Without exhausting themselves, the party won the day and set about freeing Io.

Once unchained and awakened from his magical sleep, Io thanked the entire group in person and urged them to leave him to recover. While they had to prevent the Imperium from activating their interplanar portal, he would steel himself to attack the Illithids directly, assaulting their great hive that lay beneath the city of Terra.

Seeking more information, before embarking on this direct attack on the Illithids and the imperial palace, Mercy decided to commune with the Illithid soul she had trapped within a shard.

The Illithid was uncooperative at first, but Mercy used her knowledge of trapped souls to force it to reveal a memory. She saw a war against people whose garb was reminiscent of Caire styles. Dozens of Ilithids, some as big as dragons, were being killed by magic of a magnitude she had never witnessed, even from Kirisame and his amulet. One lone Ilithid was taken aside by someone who appeared to be a priest of Anubis.

The memory skipped, and another set of horrifying images and sensations arose. She was engulfed in light and feeling immense pain. She could see two gold dragons floating in space watching her. The memory skipped again and she woke up in a cavern. It skipped again and she saw an infinitely tall mountain cracking near its peak as water flowed off the top and fire erupted from all sides. In the background, a ball of fire appeared and came crashing down into the mountain as dark gas engulfed it and snuffed it out. This last memory felt less real than the others.

She then telepathically asked Io about the crown and the Ilithid memories, and received the following information. Io told her that the events she saw occurred in a great battle when the First was almost summoned into the world and the Rakshasa stopped it, at the cost of their entire kingdom. The crown was likely made from the skull of one of the defeated Ilithids. Io said he believed the two dragons were Gaia and Sol imprisoning the First in the mountain of the world. He believed the last memory came from the imagination of the First itself. Io also believes that only the First or the power of an Ilithid can destroy the crown. Io also urged the destruction of the jar of souls and cautioned that it must not be allowed to fall into the hands of the First, as he would certainly consume the imprisoned souls.

[to be continued]

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Battle of Mempha
  • Catullus, Silk, Byron, and Aegon approach the center of the enemy line under the cover of Guillaume’s Veil. Before engaging, Aegon casts an illusion making each of them appear to be the Champion, to confuse the enemy.
  • Silk reveals himself first by throwing his dagger at the nearest battle mage. Catullus joins him against the battle mages and golems marching between cohorts of legionaries.
  • Aegon opens the line of legionaries with a fireball, allowing Byron to charge into the fray atop Waricorn. Over a hundred legionaries fall in this first bout.
  • Silk easily took care of two battle mages while Catullus used psionic control to distract the two golems towering over the small rogue. Their deaths did nothing to stop the advance of the golems, as Aegon and Silk had theorized. However, it gave Silk the opportunity to start chipping away at the iron hide of the golems, sadly to little effect.
  • The first two volleys from the ballistae along the wall opened on the golems. Amazingly, each powerful bolt struck to little effect. Aegon saw with his arcane senses that an abjuration protected the golems from ranged weapons. A similar, weaker spell was being cast by the battle mages within the enemy cohorts, to protect the soldiers from the same attacks.
  • Surrounded by legionaries, Byron created a hallowed circle around himself, burning his enemies with divine light. Nearly the entire cohort fell in this last attack.
  • With nearly 800 dead, Aegon focused his thoughts on the crown, raising the enemy as an army of the undead. Their Centurion fled this grisly scene but was drawn back into the fray by Avandra’s intervention. He was eventually consumed by his former brothers in arms.
  • Unfortunately, a cleric of Julius and battle mage were in the midst of the cohort. The cleric’s divine magic burned the horde to cinders but not before Aegon and Catullus could take him out from afar.
  • One of the golem’s prepared to fire a beam weapon on Silk but Byron interceded for his deity, drawing the golem toward him. Byron took the full brunt of the beam without budging (although Silk was confident he could have dodged the beam, as he had done earlier, without the intervention of Byron).
  • With his undead dying quickly from friendly fire, Aegon took to the air to raise the dead away from his allies, but not before peering into the insides of the damaged golem that had been pulled to Byron. Noticing some of the intricacies of the magic animating these hulking machines, Aegon dispelled some of this magic. The machine shut down from the inside out. WIth this information in hand, Aegon flew to other parts of the battle.
  • Meanwhile, Silk retrieved a strange bracer from one of the battle mages he killed, electing to examine it later with someone more knowledgeable in arcane equipment.
  • Turning his attention to the other nearby golem, Silk took his life into his hands and leaped onto the machine, climbing onto its more vulnerable chest. One strong blow knocked the golem “unconscious”, then two more strikes finished the job just as it was standing up again.
  • From the comparative safety of his circle, Byron placed his divine mark on one of the golems approaching Silk from deeper in the enemy ranks. It turned its attention to the Hero, getting one strong blow on him before Silk finished with his golem and could do another acrobatic display on this one.
  • By this time, next cohort down had advanced to their position. Byron took a fireball from a battle mage behind the legionaries; Silk deftly dodged the flames.
  • Hoping his own mages on the wall would notice, Aegon flew passed four golems. On each one, he dispelled the abjuration protecting it from arrows. After one more sporadic volley that managed to take out a few battle mages, the ballistae were redirected to the three vulnerable golems. Half of the next volley was still ineffective, but the rest was sufficient to destroy one golem and badly damage another. They all fell after another three volleys.
  • In the next volleys, the ballistae sniped battle mages and clerics.
  • During this time, the legions came into range of the catapults. These were directed at the eastern side of the advancing army, to avoid collateral on the three heroes.

Aegon

  • Aegon killed the cleric in the next cohort from afar then burned most of the legionaries in a fountain of flames and killed the rest with an orb of lightning. After a brief duel with the battle mage for that cohort, Aegon raised about 700 men of the cohort into an army. These were thrown at the legion behind them, Aegon opening their ranks with a well-placed ice storm. As his army spread, the dead were continually raised to join their ranks, reaching an equilibrium with those put down in the advance.
  • His minions at work, Aegon turned his attention to the device on the battle mages arm. A quick analysis told him that the bracer was an arcane reservoir, providing a stockpile of spells to whomever wore the device. This gave Aegon a plan, but it would have to wait.
  • Beforehand, Aegon needed to support the advance of his army. Using illusions, Aegon redirected a golem to the right of his horde to attack the nearby cohort. Thinking the mage had gained control of their escort, the cohort was slaughtered fighting back against it, the machine continuing to attack its new targets even once the illusions subsided.
  • Aegon’s horde was bolstered by the dead from catapults and the golem’s slaughter, another cohort having fallen by this point. To deal with the other golem that was towering over the undead, Aegon used the bracer to dispel its abjuration, alerting the mages on the wall to redirect ballista volleys toward that golem (it’s been two minutes by now).
  • Collecting six more bracers from dead mages, Aegon returned to the skies to dispel the abjurations on eight more golems as the need arose to protect his horde. To add the next three cohorts, Aegon employed an array of illusions to turn the legionaries against one another, giving his undead avenues to enter the cohorts. However, these were the last of his illusions.
  • Now the battle mages around the unshielded golems were becoming a serious threat to Aegon’s horde. They were too spread for him to handle himself and they were using their allotted fireball spell to tear through the horde (leaving only one dispel charge on each bracer). This thinned the horde faster than it grew but Aegon eventually took care of this threat to his growing army.
  • With nine thinned cohorts of undead, Aegon led his army north into the rest of the legions. However, at this time, the cohorts flanking the horde had regained their bearings and were marching from both sides to crush the undead.
  • Aegon conjured an ice storm on one advancing cohort but the difficult icy terrain did nothing to halt the legionaries, despite the hundreds that died in the initial blizzard.
  • Using his last powerful spell, Aegon conjured a kill zone on another cohort. This created a slight buffer for the main horde but the legionaries’ advance was relentless. At this point, he used what little time remained to dispel the protection on two more golems before directing his full attention to other battle mages.
  • Another three battle mages were killed before Aegon had suffered enough blows to choose a more distant involvement in the battle. He used the two bracers he pilfered for another two dispel effects but the next two minutes of the fight had him casting frost spells to defend his horde as it was gradually ground down to nothing.
  • A total of 20 cohorts (or 3.3 legions) and 18 golems fell to Aegon before his horde was defeated. Another few thousand from intact cohorts were also killed by the horde. Over the rest of the battle, Aegon killed another 800 legionaries attacking from above (a total of around 19,300 kills).
View
Caire IV
  • Silk passed the Crown to Byron. Donning the superweapon, Byron imposed his will upon the undead dragon. For unknown reasons, he did not have complete control of the beast but the battle of wills would seriously restrict the dragon’s actions in the battle.
  • Packs of thralls separated from the horde storming into the Temple, engaging the group.
  • Lich unleashed dark flames upon the battlefield, killing thralls and injuring the living.
  • When the dracolich was killed, Aegon confirmed that the link to the Lich King had been severed, leaving him vulnerable once more to harm. Not wasting any time, the Lich unleashed a beam of elemental energy on Silk, narrowly missing him.
  • Unconcerned from above the Temple, the Lich ascended to a higher point and withdrew a scroll from his robes. Chanting in a tongue understood by all in their native language, he called for Taranis, Primordial God of Catastrophe to enter the world prematurely to fight the meddling mortals. When his ritual completed, the entire city went black. Seconds later light returned to Caire in the form of massive metallic blue arms emerging from portals on either side of the Lich. The three foes descended onto the corpse of the fallen dracolich.
  • Lich fought as before but Taranis was a different beast entirely. He began the battle by creating two young Durges from nothing. For the rest of the fight, Taranis would unleash tsunamis and earthquakes while gale force winds flowed from his arms. Lightning cracked out onto the field whenever weapons struck his skin.
  • Nearing death many times, the party managed to kill the Durges, then the Lich, before finally banishing Taranis’ partially summoned form back to whatever plane he occupied.
  • The sky cleared once Taranis was gone, the cloister effect slowly peeling away. Aegon rushed into the Temple to save the High Priest, Khufu, arriving in time to incinerate a small pack of thralls before they could swarm whoever they had surrounded. The would-be victim was Khufu, who was more than pleased to see Aegon.
  • Everyone regrouped in front of the Temple, describing the fight to Ed and Khufu. Salvador was nowhere to be found.
  • Someone suggested they check what the tunnel the Lich created to release the dragon; meanwhile, Mercy pilfered 200 lbs of dragon bones.
  • Through the tunnel the group found a wide open cavern with nothing but a gold chest on the far side. Something seemed to have been removed from the right section of the chest.
  • Neither Aegon nor Silk could find any traps protecting the chest but just before Byron could open it, Khufu stepped in, having noticed that the runes along its edges were those of the runepriests of Sol, God of the Sun. These runepriests were renowned for the subtlety of their craft and only someone who recognized the language could have known that the chest was primed to explode upon being opened.
  • Runes were disabled by Aegon. A plethora of powerful equipment lay inside, as well as 20,000 gp worth of gold.
  • Catullus graciously donated the gold to the reconstruction of Caire but the equipment was taken to strengthen the group. A long road lay ahead of them.
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Caire III

(New format is starting here for player’s ease of reference to events from sessions)

Characters:

Aegon (Jesse)
Byron (Harrison)
Catullus (Mack)
Mercy (Mercedes)
Nefertai (Daniella)
Salvador (Chu)
Silk (Sean)

Events:

  • Party enters Caire by seeing through the city wall with the Lantern of Truth and creating an arcane gate from one end to the other. They arrive in an abandoned alleyway and in a city where the only light came from a massive field Aegon identified as a cloister spell.
  • Streets are sporadically filled with crazed people found to be under the influence of some powerful domination effect emanating from city hall. These thralls are incapable of reason and are mercifully knocked unconscious as the group travels to meet Khufu, the High Priest of Anubis. They seek information about the sending message and the state of Caire.
  • Nearing the Temple of Anubis, the group witnesses a battle between nervous city guards and thralls. Byron joins in atop Waricorn while Aegon emblazons a wall with a message stating that the Hero of Byblos has come to save Caire. Guards fight with renewed spirits and gleefully welcome the Hero, even as Aegon knocks out stragglers approaching them.
  • Khufu is found in the Temple discussing war plans with a pale man named Ed. Party hears from Ed that a Lich, who Khufu identifies as the one from the Rakshasa Palace, is responsible for the domination of Caire.
  • Ed points to two points in the city where creatures to which the Lich’s soul is bound reside – protecting its body from any harm. Another creature, an ogre, has already been killed by a team of guards led by Ed.
  • Khufu mentions that Gary is naturally immune to domination, surprising the group.
  • There is some conversation about other refugees at the house of Iman and in various guard houses, defended by able fighters such as Meriele and Aira. As well, Byron, Catullus and Silk briefly express interest in the frieze that Aegon copied from the Rakshasa Palace.
  • They note that it depicts a city with lush, tropical foliage and much wildlife – entirely unlike the utterly, lifeless desert at the present location of that ancient empire.
  • Creature beneath the Temple has not stirred and no one can reach it. Byron suggests that the guards bore through the sacred rock on which the Temple stands to reach it.
  • Khufu is apprehensive about defiling this site – as it is considered sacred to Anubis and the reason a monastery, and then a city was founded at this location – but admits after some conversation with Aegon about the history that it is necessary to protect the hundreds of refugees holed up in the Temple. Guards dig throughout the night.
  • In the morning, the group goes to find the Eastern creature. They arrive at a warehouse only to be surrounded by a throng of thralls. With little time to lose, they break into a ground floor office of the warehouse in which the creature was detected by arcane senses.
  • Sneaking around behind boxes, the group find the creature. An 22 ft tall elemental floated before them, accompanied by about two dozen thralls. It had a humanoid appearance but was composed entirely of storm clouds and active lightning.
  • Aegon identified the creature as a Durge – a storm elemental created by Taranis, the Primordial God of Catastrophe. Its presence here in connection to the Lich struck Aegon as bizarre.
  • Observing from on-top of boxes, Salvador opened the fight with a well-placed arrow. The Durge would attempt to envelop people in its storms after successfully hurting them but everyone in the party managed in their own ways to avoid getting hit too quickly in succession.
  • Defeating the Durge, the group confirmed with Aegon that the connection to the Lich was severed. They returned to the Temple to continue digging for the third beast.
  • When the group arrived at the Temple, they saw the Lich descend from the sky, promising their death. Before anyone could react, he bore through the digging site with a beam of colorful light as hordes of thralls flooded from the surrounding alleyways, overwhelming the defenses of the Temple.
  • Only the sound of screaming thralls running past the party into the Temple could be heard for a few seconds after the beam subsided. Then the ground shook and shattered on target – a towering undead dragon stood inside the hole.
View
Olympia IV

Aegon (Jesse)
Byron (Harrison)
Catullus (Mack)
Mark/Mercy (Mercedes)
Nefertai (Daniella)
Silk (Sean)
Salvador (Chu)

With the advantage of numbers, the group fought their lone assailant at a relaxed pace, even sending Catullus away to alert the guards. Although the female assassin survived the first flurry of blows, she was joined by a Drow attacking from behind. Taking advantage of his natural magic, the Drow hid within a cloud of darkness taking pot shots at the group, inflicting considerable harm with only a few shots. Of the heroes, only Aegon could refrain from doubling his efforts – remaining seated in his bed as he cast his magic from afar.

Once the two assassins were incapacitated and Byron gone to find Catullus, Silk and Mark discussed tactics for torturing their captives. The interrogation was…interesting. The elf, Thuranni, revealed that Mark was actually a female assassin in her order named Mercy, explaining Mark’s extensive knowledge of poisons from earlier. A note in the Drow’s pocket revealed that the assassins had been hired by an unknown party to kill the Hero of Byblos. Somehow they were informed of the group’s location, despite Byron’s immunity to scrying, and the presence of Mercy, despite her disguise. Special orders to kill Mercy were included in the note. Disturbed by this news and with nothing more to ask, Mercy executed the two assassins – adding a couple more soul shards to her collection.

Awaking the next morning, the group met with King Ixthion to discuss the night’s events and to receive a proper farewell for their journey. The Olympian armies would march along the edge of the desert, through Chondatha, while the group would treck through the mountain pass and desert for a more direct route. It was ambiguous whether or not this would better protect them from the Champion who wanted Byron dead.

Sure enough, when they reached the entrance to the gully where they encountered that horde of undead, there were tents of the Imperium of Man waiting. Aegon devised a plan to cast a spell of invisibility over the group then send them through his arcane gate before following them himself (where the invisibility would be extended once more to the group). His cat provided the eyes for targeting the portal. This allowed the group to approach closely to the encampment and circumvent immediately thereafter.

Getting to the other side, the group found yet another camp. There was a long debate over how to pass without alerting the guards. Eventually, the appearance of a torch off in the distance behind them, either because they were discovered or a routine transfer was underway, forced their hands. Aegon’s cat familiar was used as a distraction while the group charged through the camp before other guards could be awoken. After gaining some distance, they confirmed that they were not being followed.

That night, Byron was awoken by the appearance of a pale figure in the air above him. The man told him, “Caire under attack by group controlling dominated citizens. Chaos. Assistance required immediately. Domination contagious. Can be resisted. Imhotep suspected. Origin city hall. Guards are resisting.” And then vanished. As usual, Byron gained renewed fervor for reaching Caire after hearing that his help was needed.

Traveling far into the desert, they were suddenly attacked by a giant sand worm. Nefertai, friend to all living things that she is, calmed the beast and brought it to their side. However, the group decided that it was best not to draw attention to themselves as they approached Caire and the beast was sent back into the wild.

Midway through the day they expected to reach Caire, Nefertai noticed a black dot appear in the distance. Approaching, they surmised that it was their destination albeit surrounded by thick black clouds. Once they were standing beside the city walls, Aegon investigated the effect to the best of his abilities. He recognized the clouds as a defence system, one that would rapidly electrocute any living thing that attempted to cross – an insurmountable barrier for the group. As an aside, he noted that this storm would require far more magic than any one man or even small group could muster – only a legion of mages or a primordial could create such a large and powerful storm. Finding the city gates completely blocked by debris, the party was left wondering how they would enter Caire.

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Caire II

Characters:

Aira (Mercedes)
Gorg (Harrison)
Ed (Mack)
Kirisame (Chu)
Meriele (Daniella)

Arriving safely at Iman’s mansion, the group found the door locked and barred shut – in light of the ongoing chaos in Caire. Aira unlocked the door and aged the wooden bar across it into a rotten pulp, allowing Ed to bash the door open. Guards came rushing downstairs to investigate the commotion. Once Ed explained who the group was, the guards rushed them up to see Iman as the noble was expecting them. Iman listened intently to what the group had learned and what the High Priest was doing to protect the city. His immediate reaction was to suggest that they contact the Hero of Byblos to bring his party to the aid of Caire. There were sending scrolls in the basement of City Hall which would suffice.

Many in the group were anxious to identify the source of the enthrallment of the citizens of Caire – believing Imhotep to be behind it – but Iman insisted that they focus on contacting the Hero. Everyone agreed to this; some less truthfully than others. At this point in the conversation, Gorg entered the recently re-barred door (unknowingly breaking it), causing quite a commotion. The conspicuous goliath was the only member of the group who Iman specifically instructed his guards to identify so Gorg was led from the broken entrance into the meeting.

Imam wished them the best of luck in charging at the likely source of the ongoing calamity. Despite the presence of thralls all over the city by this point, the guards made it safely to the cellar of City Hall. Briefly searching the cellar rewarded them with the chest of the city’s sending scrolls – for emergencies only! Aira, Kirisame, and Ed helped themselves to scrolls of their own, behind each others’ backs, before collectively engaging in the sending ritual. Their message to the Hero of Byblos was this:

“Caire under attack by group controlling dominated citizens. Chaos. Assistance required immediately. Domination contagious. Can be resisted. Imhotep suspected. Origin city hall. Guards are resisting.”

With their duty to Imam accomplished, the group was unsure of the next course of action. Ed was keen to destroy the source of the thralls; Meriele wanted to return to protecting the citizens; Aira and Kirisame wanted to leave but relished the challenge of fighting a powerful foe; Gorg wanted more torches. They were divided. Ultimately, Ed swayed the group over to his daring plan, convincing Meriele that it was the best way to save the city and the others that it was their interest to assist.

Stealthily approaching the upper levels of City Hall, the guards eventually found the council chambers. On this brief exploration, they noticed the sky outside suddenly darken as black clouds appeared overhead. Listening closely just outside the doors, they heard chanting from the other side. Almost as soon as they started listening, it stopped. With the hour at hand, the guards barged into the chambers. Before them – floating several feet above a round table – was a tall, finely-dressed lich. It turned around in surprise as Ed promised that the foul, undead creature would soon meet its end. The Lich only laughed. Gorg charged at the floating creature, swinging his massive chain in its direction. The heavy steel merely struck the Lich to no effect. Reacting to the change in the situation, Aira and Kirisame unleashed a flurry of magical energy at the Lich. These efforts were similarly thwarted by the seemingly invulnerable being. Meriele looked ahead with her sixth sense. She relayed to the others that streams of energy were connecting the Lich to other points in the city. Gorg, in what little wisdom he had, recognized these as “soul binds”, linking some perishable object to souls. This would give the Lich total resistance to anything of this world.

Amused by his attackers failed efforts, the Lich assured them of their demise as he gathered energy for an attack. Everyone ran for the door – except Gorg who jumped out the window of a six-storey building. Moments after they had cleared the door and turned the corner, the guards felt the sting of tiny pebbles and a wave of heat as the nearby wall exploded under the energy of a powerful elemental beam.

Regrouping with Gorg in some random alley, the group resolved to contact the Hero to inform him of the turn of events. Completing the ritual, Ed began to speak but did not feel the familiar connection to a distant place. His sending was being blocked. Meriele used the “opening” made by their ritual to reach whatever magical source was blocking them. She discovered to everyone’s dismay that the city was enveloped by a cloister spell – one that prevents all teleportation, scrying, or sending across its boundary. Furthermore, environmental magic had created a storm along the same edge. Anything trying to flee by air would likely be vaporized in a flurry of lightning then dispersed by gale force winds.

With escape out of the question, it was not hard for the group to reach a consensus on pursuing the three binding points of the Lich. The strongest of these Meriele identified as near the Temple of Anubis to the south. The other two were in the North-East and North-West, being also significantly weaker connections than the southern one. They resolved to break the NE bond by killing whatever creature had its soul linked to the Lich.

The guards arrived at the location when everything was quiet. As a strategy, Kirisame and Aira flew into a high window to move around on the rafters, attacking from above with their various magics. At the same time, Gorg would barge through the main door with Meriele and Ed to draw the hordes together for area attacks. This went less than perfectly for the ground crew, who found themselves fighting toe to toe with a massive ogre. Gorg was brought within an inch of death while Meriele was roughed up pretty badly. Ed, however, revealed himself to be a vampire, needing to suck the blood of the thralls to recover the many pints he was losing. This sustained him through the battle, much to the disgust of some.

Aira was forced into a similar revelation when the heavy damage of bloodsucking stirges gave her incentive to unleash her demonic powers, protecting herself with scorching fires. Now in her true form, she almost effortlessly killed the flying stirges and took down the ogre with a well-placed dazzling ray. With the death of the beast, Meriele could sense that the connection to City Hall was severed. They had come one step closer to freeing Caire but the task before them seemed insurmountable without the help of the Hero. The guards would do whatever could until he arrived.

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Caire I

Characters:

Aira (Mercedes)
Gorg (Harrison)
Eddard (Mackenzie)
Kirisame (Chu)
Meriele (Daniella)

On a regular day in the central guard house of Caire, a group of five guards sat away from the others playing card games. All the other guards regarded each of them as oddities in some way. These misfit guards consist of: a stunningly beautiful Human sorceress, Aira; a reclusive Elf who never carries a weapon, Ed; a timid, clay-skinned swordmage from a far-off land, Meriele; a dishonest Human wizard, Kirisame; and a seven and a half foot tall mentally-handicapped Goliath, Gorg. Despite their idiosyncrasies, they were some of the few guards not off defending the recently discovered tomb of the Ancients and so were the most competent guardsmen for a new job. One of the nobles, Sa’ap, had lost his son for over a day now and requested the resources of the guard to find him. Receiving this request from their captain, the motley crew of guards accepted the job with the promise of a hefty bonus for their efforts.

Starting with at Sa’ap’s house, the crew asked the noble’s servants if they had any leads. A sickly fellow led them to the boy’s nanny. The old woman was in a state of shock from her punishment for losing sight of the boy – amputation of her right leg. She referred to the boy, Sa’at, as a rotten little child with a tendency to disappear on her. Usually, he would be found in the attic or the houses across the street, but none of her usual leads were any help, forcing her to admit Sa’at’s absence to her less than pleased master. She could only conclude that someone must have taken the boy, likely one of Caire’s many gangs. Gorg, a surgeon for a thieves’ guild known for stealing artifacts when he isn’t do guard work, was asked to lead the crew to his shady employer’s establishment.

This thieves’ guild was on hard times after taking the blame for the robbery of important artifacts from the Museum of Caire, leaving few members still walking the streets. Nevertheless, Gorg was accustomed to walking uninvited into their headquarters, much to the consternation of the doorman. Scared as always of the giant visitor, the doorman quickly ushered the group into a meeting with the “Boss-man”. The thieves’ boss became enamored of the sultry Aira, giving her the opportunity to present their request for information about the boy as a search for her nephew. The boss put his best men on the job and assured Aira that he would look for her with the lighthouse that is Gorg when he had some information.

While the gang looked for clues, the five guardsmen decided to investigate political rivals of the noble Sa’ap. From what they could gather in the gang headquarters, Sa’ap vehemently opposed the policies of Iman, the foremost civil authority of Caire (who sat at the head of the City Council alongside the High Priest and the Commander of the Guard). With this info, they paid a visit to Iman’s house. A friendly servant by the name of Tai greeted them at the door. When asked by Ed to answer some questions for a “political survey”, Tai ushered the crew into the room in which he was polishing three recently acquired statues of his master’s collection.

What little the group could learn was that Sa’ap opposed Iman’s policy of guarding the newfound tomb from trespassers, wishing to open it to tourists for the good of Caire. The civil leader had been having almost constant meetings with the other high councillors at his house, on matters Tai knew not what. Although Sa’ap was clearly an opponent, Iman considered him little more than an annoyance and would have little motivation to harm him by taking his son. Still, wishing to be thorough, the group asked to meet with Iman’s wife to “expand the results of their survey”. This bluff brought them after a short while to the Lady’s sitting room (once the family was finished lunch).

The Lady talked at length about the same things Tai had mentioned. However, she seemed to want to share something else with the group, although she stopped herself on account of it being too private. Yet Aira and Ed were making quite the impression on her. Eventually, she admitted that her husband was a little on edge over the lack of news for two days from the guards around the tomb. She was sure the issue was nothing but seemed convinced that she should follow her husband’s advice to take a vacation in Pelopos (a trip that her and her daughter were just about to make). Satisfied with the acquired information, the group bid her adieu and went to relax at the local market while they waited for news from the thieves.

This info came shortly. An aloof thief who Gorg recognized approached them in the market. The news he bore was less than inspiring. Not only had they not found anything, but everyone sent to scour the North quarter of Caire for the boy had gone missing. Mi’te, Bo and Fah’reh (but not Rand’e) had not reported back at the required time. The thief seemed disinterested as he delivered the news but wished his friend good luck once the five guards expressed their desire to search the area themselves.

Not too long after the group started searching the deserted streets (even more deserted than earlier that day), Gorg noticed a mob of people huddling in a circle. The guards approached slowly. Although there was no response, there seemed to be a fight going on inside the circle of people. Attempting to break it up, Gorg shouted into the crowd. One of the figures turned to face him, hissing between his teeth as he did. When his eyes opened, they were pitch black. Only Meriele could combine the arcane senses and book-learning to discern that these were not undead – as everyone immediately assumed – but people subject to external domination. According to Ed, their symptoms matched those of people who were reported to come out of meditation in a trance, attacking anyone in sight until put down by the sword. This “madness” was only seen among the religious folk of Caire. With this in mind, the group sought to take down these mad individuals.

After a brief fight – in which Ed broke the neck of one man, only to have him realign his detached skull and Aira unleashed a flurry of chromatic blasts that blew the heads of the weaker individuals – the group finally noticed what had occupied the enthralled citizens – the torn and chewed body of a noble boy. This was almost certainly Sa’at, meaning that the patron of their mission would be…less than pleased. For Aira, Ed and Kirisame, this meant their long-sought bonus would not be forthcoming. Everyone was now distressed, except Gorg.

Returning to their captain (fighting a few more thralls along the way), the crew delivered the bad news – dropping three bags of blood, flesh and bone. The captain was frozen in shock. Ed and Meriele tried to explain the situation further, with brief interjections from Kirisame, but all that could break the captain from his daze was the door slamming open! Another guard had just come with news that Caire was devolving into chaos. Reports were coming from all over of people fighting and killing each other in the streets – always in the most inhumane ways imaginable.

While the captain didn’t like this news any more than the others, it did give him a clear threat problem to solve, which was better than the thought of confronting a furious noble about the death of his son. After much debate, it was decided that Gorg would talk to his gang contacts to inform the criminal underworld (groups much more well-prepared for violence in the streets than the skeleton crew working now for the guard) while the others would visit the Temple of Anubis to prepare the priests and monks to combat whatever force was dominating the citizendia.

Gorg succeeded with minimal effort (in part because the gangs were already fighting thralls in the street and in part due to his boss’s infatuation with Aira) but more prolonged effort was required on the part of the others. The group arrived in the middle of a sermon. At first, no one was going to interrupt the mass but, much to everyone’s surprise, Meriele spoke up to the priest leading the service and tried to explain the situation. Her soft voice did little to sway the priest to action. Kirisame soon changed this with a sudden outburst mentioning the undead. Everyone in the temple went silent at the mention of the undead. Meriele was quick to correct Kirisame that the threat was a dominating force and its thralls, not hordes of the undead. Nevertheless, with a few words from Ed, the priest was convinced of their honesty. Sending his parishioners to the top of the temple, the priest invited the group to speak with the High Priest.

The High Priest looked the group over when they entered his chambers. Upon laying eyes on Ed, he knelt abruptly to the ground saying, “Servant of the Queen! What does my lady ask of me?” Ed was surprised by this but he surmised who the High Priest meant. Ed shifted the High Priest’s request for directions to the problem at hand, namely the distress of the city. His holiness was all too eager to protect his fair city. Removing his cloak to reveal ornate armor underneath and calling a magical orb to his side, the High Priest pledged his acolytes to the defense of everyone who could be assembled into the temple, providing a stronghold for the embattled citizens.

Joining his acuity to magic with Meriele, the High Priest sought whoever was dominating the citizens, on the basis that this domination was active. Their awareness was pointed towards a source of immense power in the direction of City Hall. The magnitude of this power had disturbing implications. It was more obvious than ever that no single person could be behind recent events. Only an organization of magic-users in concert could have such an effect. The High Priest knew immediately that the only person who would know what to do was Iman. He knew the most about the activities of the Hero of Byblos in the ancient tomb and may know the ideal course of action. With this settled, the group was off to Iman’s mansion again.

…to be continued.

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Olympia III

With everyone free of the hive, the group began moving away from it before the explosion that the Traveller warned them would come. While they moved to a point far from the east side of the hive, the group focused on fixing Byron’s infection. Nefertai determined that he was afflicted with a necrotizing disease limited to his arm, preventing him from both properly using his shield and channeling his ability to heal.

First, Byron used his powers from Avandra to try throwing off the disease. When this failed, Nefertai attempted to heal Byron the old fashioned way. Finally, Byron petitioned his deity directly to save him from his illness. After so many failed attempts, Byron felt desperate. He gave up on the possibility that the disease could be cured. All he had confidence in was Nefertai’s diagnosis of how far up his left arm the necrotic disease had progressed. With these thoughts racing through his head, and the inevitability of the disease progressing before they could make the four day trip back to civilization weighing on him, Byron took his sword in hand and swung at the top of his left arm. Silk saw this coming, reacting quickly to parry the blow. Frustrated, Byron swung again. This time, Silk parried the blow then followed with a flurry of stabs that took the Hero out of commission.

By the time the group neared a safe distance from the hive, Byron had regained consciousness. He felt betrayed by his friends, who had just tied him to Waricorn as they continued on their way. Catullus offered Byron another chance to rid himself of the disease. His prophetic powers gave him utmost confidence that this next attempt would succeed. Distrusting anything but the certainty of how far the disease had progressed, Byron outright refused his friend’s offer. While this debate raged, everyone felt a deep ‘thump’ through the air and ground as the sky turned red. They turned around, staring in shock as the mountainous hive erupted from within. Over half of the hive shattered before their eyes. The sheer weight of material on the surface allowed only the smallest boulders to travel toward the group. One the size of a head hit Salvador square in the chest, to little effect. Another snapped a tree in half, much to Nefertai’s dismay.

Only seconds after this spectacle began, Salvador saw a orange flare travel faster than any arrow into the forests to the south. When the event subsided, Salvador led the group to the apparent destination of the orange light. There they found the Traveller, collapsed on the ground and smoldering around his entire body. Catullus, the only potent healer for the time being, went to rejuvenate their friend. Meanwhile, Byron had tested Silk’s patience and swayed Salvador to his intention to amputate his arm. His sword was returned for him to do what he pleased.

For a few moments, he was distracted by the return to consciousness of the Traveller. Although somewhat groggy, he retained his original spirited behaviour. It would be difficult to describe his pleasure at seeing everyone alive. But not well, for he quickly noticed the sickly Byron standing at the ready with his sword over his left arm. After a quick check-up, he gave his expert diagnosis: Byron was not well. Sadly, there was nothing in his possession that could fix a living thing. The Hero would have to settle the matter another way. With recognition of what was about to happen, the Traveller looked away and covered his eyes. Byron swung and his arm fell dead to the ground. His screams of pain scared a flock of birds from the nearby trees.

Looking at the disabled Hero, the Traveller suddenly had a shock of insight. He told the Hero “I happen to have an arm for you, my friend… Not my arm, but just the right one for a fellow such as yourself. One moment!” before running into the forest out of view. A few minutes later, after Aegon had cauterized the wound and Nefertai removed the tourniquet she had wrapped around Byron’s arm, the Traveller returned holding a stone arm. He said it was an elemental arm, promising he didn’t take it from anybody who needed it. Guaranteeing the Hero that attaching it would put him in excruciating pain, he shoved a stick into his mouth. Counting “Three…two”, he jammed a metal rod into the harness for the arm and twisted. There was some glowing from the wound but once the Traveller removed the rod, the attachment seemed complete. With the arm hanging limp from Byron’s former stump, a quick buzz from the Traveller’s wand brought the Hero’s new limb to life.

Once Nefertai had confirmed that Byron was free of the disease, the group rounded up their horses and began their speedy return to Olympia. The Traveller graciously obliged their request that he use his crossbow to place portals in the distance. Doing this several times, the group made it to the borders of Pelopos within a few hours. There the Traveller took his leave. Although Byron and Salvador asked him many questions about his activities in the hive, they did not make efforts to convince him to divulge the story and he left, saying he would see them when he saw them next.

In Pelopos, they saw a falcon in the distance, signalling the arrival of a centaur patrol. This contingent was more heavily armed and armored than the first one the group had seen. When these centaurs noticed their prince, the lot of them genuflected on the spot. None knew why the prince was coming from outside their lands, but it was not their place to ask questions.

Coming over the hills to Olympia, the group was met with hundreds of military tents outside the city walls. Battalions of centaurs marched between the encampments while others ran back and forth between the city and tents delivering messages. During the journey, Silk questioned Chiron about his time as a prisoner of the Thri-Keen. The prince said that initially he was kept by the Thri-Keen in a small prison-like chamber within the hive. After many days, there was a sudden two day period when no one came to check on him. Afterward, the hive was teeming with Ferach – both tiny drones and larger scorpions. A few of the scorpions escorted Chiron to a large cubic room where they continued the torture routine of the Thri-Keen, though with noticeably reduced brutality. However, this regime was supplemented by periods of time passing without Chiron’s awareness. He would be sitting alone with a full belly then suddenly find himself with new wounds and starving to death. Interestingly, the torture routine was the same under the Thri-Keen as under the Ferach, with the exception of the added periods without memory.

Hearing the whole story, Silk counseled Chiron not to immediately see the King. Something could have been implanted in him by the Ferach that would activate in the King’s presence – the motive of his kidnapping being still unknown. Appreciating the human’s wisdom, Chiron elected to remain outside the city under guard until the court mages and clerics could confirm his condition.

With this settled, the group went straight to see the King. All the events of the hive were relayed to King Ixthion. During Silk’s exposition, Aegon interrupted to comment on how unusual it was to see the sheer number of Ferach infesting this hive. The normal story of a Ferach “infestation”, as adventurers know their sudden appearances in dungeons of various kinds, is for only abandoned dungeons to become infested. Even then, usually only a few hundred are present. This disturbed Ixthion. Nevertheless, he assured the group that they would have their army. He only asked that they wait a few days until his son’s health could be confirmed so that he might lead the centaurs into battle. The group agreed to stay in Olympia for two days while Chiron was inspected.

With his family matters aside, Ixthion told the group that he had news which might personally disturb them. A soldier from the Imperium of Man had come to the palace seeking an audience with the King. Not wishing to engage with his soon to be enemy, the King ordered his guards to deny this man access to the throne room. Not willing to take no for an answer, the soldier insisted, stating that he was on a divine mission for the Emperor and was the Champion of the Imperium. Once he had been rejected for a whole day, the Champion apparently told one of the gate guards that he would now see the King and anyone who stopped him would be destroyed. What few guards were not willing to impede the Champion watched as he effortlessly slew dozens of their brethren. Once the Champion reached the throne room, he politely asked the King about the whereabouts of the Hero of Byblos. The King denied any knowledge of this but the Champion did not believe him. When it was clear that he would get no information from the King, the Champion told him that he would await the approach of the Hero and the centaur army in the north, where he discerned they would go next (his ability to deduce this being almost as worrisome to Ixthion as the fact that now the Imperium likely knew that Pelopos was its enemy).

Leaving the throne room with this news, the group debated their next course of action. Following the army to the north would not only lead them right to the Champion, but would also slow down the quick centaurs on their march. For this reason, they would return through the Badlands. However, they were likely wanted by the Royalists of Caire, since Imhotep had pledged to kill them before delving into the Rakshasa Palace alone. Nevertheless, the majority of the group was confident they could handle the rebel faction and it would not be terribly difficult to disguise themselves anyway. It was agreed to enter Caire on the way back to the Confederacy.

During lunch the following day, Mark noticed that his drink had been poisoned. In his effort to quickly warn the others, he didn’t realize for a minute that he knew the poison from somewhere. A chill went down his spine. Without further explanation, Mark said that he suspects someone may be trying to kill him. Byron suggested it might be the Champion but Mark thought otherwise (Silk also suggested it might be the halfling Ling). Bringing this news to the King, the group was no better off then before. Ixthion now distrusted his regular guards and offered the supervision of his most trusted palace guards for the remainder of their stay in Olympia. The rest of the day was spent in paranoia, with every corner and spec of food regarded with distrust (the group were forced to prepare all their own food and personally fetch water from the palace well).

While everyone was asleep in the same room, Nefertai heard the door creek open. She immediately made a deliberate fuss to wake the others. The door closed once she started moving around the room. After a thorough inspection by Aegon and Nefertai, everyone decided to establish a night watch for the remainder of the night. Nefertai would wait by the door preparing to hit whoever walked in next as they opened the door, while Byron would sit beside Mark’s bed and Aegon stand near the window waiting to act. When the door opened door hours later, Nefertai swung into nothing. Confused, she then felt a slight stab in her back. Screaming out in surprise, Nefertai alerted the rest of their night watch to the return of the intruder. In a heartbeat, Aegon lit the entire room, leaving nowhere out in the open to hide. There was no one to be seen.

For a few moments, the group telepathically debated what to do. Silk noted that it was odd that the attacker came from behind. However, Mark interjected that if, hypothetically, he were an assassin who knew his target was waiting for him behind a door, he would open it then immediately teleport behind his target. Assuming this was what happened, Aegon reached out with his sixth sense then with his mind to find someone hidden. All he could discern was that they were not alone. Knowing that their assailant had to be somewhere in the room, Nefertai looked carefully about herself. She noticed that one of the vanities seemed about half a foot out of place from before on one side. Quietly, Silk approached the displaced side and, despite being able to see nothing in the shadows, swiped at the open air. First a cry of pain, then a thump was heard, like a person falling a foot onto hardwood floor. With their attacker finally in sight, the group went into battle!

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Hive II

Combat with the scorpion-man was heated, with more spiders joining the fight continuously. Sprays of acid and poison filled the room as spiders spat and the scorpion released his toxins upon the group. Yet the advantage of mobility was theirs. The scorpion was held in place after getting surrounded by Silk, Mark, Byron and Waricorn. With nowhere to move, it stung wildly at its flankers. Elsewhere in the room, Aegon, Salvador and Catullus fought clusters of spiders at range. The keen tactics of Aegon, setting up fire traps around the room to limit the spiders’ mobility, worked greatly to the team’s advantage. The arena had swung heavily in their favour.

After taking a beating, the metal scorpion seemed to tense up and his strange blood hardened along his wounds. At the same time, the temperature in the room was rapidly dropping. He seemed to be slowly freezing as he took damage. When he was at the end of his rope, the scorpion made one last stab at Byron with his poison-laden stinger. The poison drained from inside the scorpion’s back and into Byron’s left arm. Despite the resistance conferred by Byron’s unicorn blood, something was taking hold along his arm, slowly necrotizing his flesh. Strong-willed paladin that he was, he would wait for an appropriate time to share this issue with the group. Only moments later, Mark plunged his longsword into the scorpion’s head. His blade was withdrawn as the creature’s body completely froze in place.

As the scorpion died, the activity of the metal spiders ratched up to a new level. Their behavior became more erratic but their crawling and burrowing speed noticeably increased. Within seconds, the corridor at the other end of the room was crawling with the creatures and the walls were bursting open to pour them out in the dozens. This was the group’s cue to get the hell out.

Everyone fled through the hole from which the scorpion appeared and ran up the inclined tunnel on the other side. Just as a light appeared on the other side, the sound of crawling metal drones came from between the group and their only way out. They were surrounded.

When all hope seemed lost, Salvador remembered the arrow that King Ixthion had given him and that Aegon determined to be of nearly incalculable power. Notching the arrow, he took aim at a spot 200 ft ahead, in the middle of the swarm. Then he fired. The Firestorm arrow cut through the air like a shooting star, lighting up the entire tunnel, then struck inside the swarm. For a split second, the cavern was pitch black. This was cut short by the emergence of a light within the cave that was as bright as the Sun. Its fires engulfed the swarm, vaporizing the spiders into nothing but a warm, metallic flavour in the air. The other swarm behind the group paused. Its members seemed reluctant to continue their pursuit. With the path cleared, the group left the tunnel and found themselves back in the temperate forests around the hive.

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