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!