Vala

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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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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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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...And on the Road Again

Walking back to their horses, the group found Warhorse, Byron’s steed, free of the rope that tied him to the column with the others, and standing proudly over the corpse of a giant scorpion. Sadly, there was no time to congratulate the stallion because a voice called to the group from afar. It was a man’s by the sound of it and carried an ominous message, “What are you doing with HIM and where is my son?” Everyone turned around as if at once, while Byron walked ever so slightly to put Gary out of view behind his horse. Calling for them was a decidedly middle aged eladrin bearing a striking resemblance to another high elf they knew…one who was no longer with them.

There was no good way to say it so they admitted immediately that Imhantepe died fighting alongside them against the undead within the palace. Imhotep was displeased and distrusting. He told them that even if they spoke true about his son, they would stand trial before the City Council for violating a sacred site for the people of Caire, Sphinx’s permission or not. When they got about halfway back, Catullus had a spark of recognition. Imhotep was a fugitive from the Council and would never put himself before them. What’s more he has a strong following, a gang if you will, within the city and could easily be leading the group into their clutches.

Catullus called him out on his ruse. The jig was up and suddenly, an awkward standoff was underway. With his silver tongue, Catullus convinced Imhotep that he was better off not fighting a battle seven to one. Smirking with his hand on a gem-laden arm brace, he seemed unconvinced until Catullus ever so subtly added that in the opposite direction was the ancient palace of his ancestors with most of its guardians turned to dust. Relaxing his arms, he relented, telling the group they would not get off this easily next time they met.

Back in Caire, the group was hocking their wares in the market when they were approached by a high elf who introduced himself as Iman, the brother of Imhotep and political head of the City Council of Caire. His contacts had told him the group was trying to sell ancient artifacts that he knew, from the religious head of the Council – the High Priest who told them about the palace and crown – that the group were inquiring about such ancient matters. Less naive than his fellow councilman, Iman surmised that the group would seek out the palace, despite claiming otherwise. It was no surprise to him that such a group would be back with rare artifacts after three days. Many in the group expressed shock at hearing how long it had been; they could swear on their high perception and nature skills that only a few hours had passed in the palace.

After getting over their shock, the group tested the waters for selling the less useful items they had acquired to this respectable gentleman, who was openly ashamed by the extremism of his brother’s Royalist faction. An exchange worth over a platinum piece was negotiated.

Settling commercial matters, the group now turned inwards to deliberate on their next actions. While it was not unanimous, the decision was made to leave the crown in the hands of Silk, who was trusted by the original members for his proven loyalty and by Catullus for his long service as a city guard in a respectable city. Once they arrived at the Manichean Confederacy, they would see what the Marshal intends for the crown and decide from there. It is hoped that the group itself could be the ones to use the crown in the defense of the Confederacy. Furthermore, Catullus emphasized his instructions to negotiate an alliance with Pelopos, reminding the others that the Marshal had requested allies on top of the powerful artifact. In this way, Pelopos was unanimously chosen as their next destination.

Without further ado, the group stocked their new and old mounts for a long journey across the eastern half of the Badlands, where monstrous creatures like the Titan Ozymandias, who stands thousands of meters tall, and the ferocious sandworms that roam the desert. Indeed, after several days of journeying, a rumbling was felt through their horses. As Nefertai identified the sound as the burrowing of a sandworm, the creature itself burst forth from the ground with such celerity that it stood as a column in the sand. Its sudden appearance frightened the horses. While everyone had dismounted to show Nefertai the bestiary, Byron sat proudly on Warhorse in anticipation of fighting a colossal beast. When the horses fled with all due haste, Byron was carried off without being able to regain control of his steed. Silk, being the only one riding a non-living creature, activated it and chased after the mounts to round them up once Byron also regained control, lest the group forever lose their transport.

Killing this Dune expy was a heated affair. Several times Catullus and Salvador narrowly avoided being swallowed whole by the beast. Eventually, it had sustained enough damage that it collapsed lifelessly on the desert floor. Much to the consternation of Nefertai, a friend to all living things, some of the group collected the creatures teeth while Mark extracted a poison from its system. Salvador would eventually fashion arrows out of the teeth.

Shortly thereafter, the five remaining members of the group set off with their original heading, knowing that the able Silk would lead their mounts after them. This brought them to a mountainous region where they heard a succession of deep “booms”. As the noise grew louder, the group eventually saw a towering figure beyond one of the distant cliffs. Mathematical estimates on the part of Aegon put its height between 1.6 and 3 km – this could only be one of the legendary Titans, likely Ozymandias from what they heard earlier. Going further into this rocky desert, it seemed that the only pass was a shallow valley flanked by two cliffs. Before they stepped down into the valley below, they heard a deep rumbling ahead of them. After waiting a few minutes it grew louder and Nefertai saw a dim light in the distance, growing brighter until eventually everyone could see it. What sounded like an army was walking their way.

Since the approaching mob seemed to fill the thin valley, the group went as far as they could along the sides of the cliff. Ahead of the bright mob, another army cloaked in darkness passed through the valley. A powerful stench wafted up and was instantly recognized by Nefertai and Mark. These were hordes of the undead, two hordes at least. The first one passed without noticing the living, breathing people watching from the cliffs but when the second came, Nefertai pointed to the source of light as a massive, flaming zombie clothed in ornate glass armor. Surmising that this was a commanding zombie, as it was walking prominently among the others, Aegon began casting a stream of magic missiles at it. Hitting the mark every time, he continued with this for another two and a half minutes till eventually the corpse was put into its proper state. Meanwhile, the rest of the group pulled a lucky move against the horde by knocking parts of the opposite cliff down onto the zombies, crushing dozens.

Just as Aegon cast his killing blow, Nefertai pointed back the way they came, directing everyone’s attention to the first horde that was now lumbering its way along the cliff toward them. They made haste in the other direction but as the space to move shrank, they eventually reached ground to steep to reliably climb. Short on time, Salvador effortlessly climbed down into the valley. Nefertai followed but lost her grip and barely teleported back to safety as she fell. Salvador climbed back up to confirm that the coast was clear down there as the group began lowering first Catullus, then Aegon, then Nefertai (whose owlbear, Owliscious had done the same as her and fell three dozen feet) after which Salvador and Mark followed the old fashion way just as the horde was a stone’s throw away.

In an astounding act of bravery, Salvador voluntarily climbed the opposite cliff then taunted the horde within the valley as he ran the other way (to the valley’s entrance). This split the horde following the others. From there he climbed down to the corpse of the fire zombie, took its armor, climbed back up then sprinted like a Bolt of lightning to his companions.

While Salvador went the other way, the group finally reached the end of the valley. Sadly, they found this point blocked entirely by a third horde. Aegon’s familiar assured the group that it was only 25 ft deep so the old Kalashtar blasted a great big hole into the mob for the group to run through. Owlbear went first, tearing an even bigger path through undead, followed by Nefertai then Mark. As the two of them reached the other side, Mark sensed an unusual presence out of the corner of his (sic) eye and turned to face it. Standing there calmly was a tall hooded figure staring motionlessly at Mark and Nefertai. Both adventurers hit the figure with powerful attacks but these were shrugged off as if wind. When Aegon joined them on the other side, he attempted to forcefully enter the creature’s mind. His efforts were met by a sharp headache, worse than any he had ever experienced, as well as a feeling of nausea and no thoughts from the figure. Seeing no other option, they ran without looking back the moment Catullus broke through the horde. Waiting a few miles out, the group eventually reunited with Salvador. When they were sure that they weren’t followed, they slept for what remained of the night.

In the morning, Silk and Byron reunited with the party, the mounts trailing along behind them. When asked if they saw massive hordes of zombies when they took the pass through the valley, the two residents of Byblos admitted confusedly they had not, leaving the group wondering if this was connected to the hordes met on the way to Caire. Despite these worries, the smell of grass drifted in from the east and everyone was safe. The legions of the undead were, for the time being, behind them.

View
Olympia I & II

After spending two weeks in the blistering deserts of the Badlands and facing hordes of the undead at every turn, the group found greener pastures in their journey East. Rather abruptly, the crags and dry floor of the rocky edges of the Badlands transformed into lush grasslands and green hills. Less than an hour into the new scenery, a bird – identified by Nefertai as a falcon – was seen circling in the distance for a minute before descending southeast. Shortly thereafter, a sound reminiscent of a horde rose up from the same direction. Instead of seeing rotting flesh, the group was greeted by brown-skinned horsemen – the famous centaurs of the Kingdom of Pelopos.

One particular centaur, more heavily armored than the rest, approached the group, a falcon resting on his left shoulder. He told them that his scout saw them crossing the border and asked if they were on their way to the Olympic Games in the capital. They confessed that they were not and had business with the King. Silk made a point of asking if his patrol had spotted undead in the area; it had not, but the centaur captain said he would warn other patrols. Aegon inquired about the Titan, seeing if they were in any danger here, and the captain also reassured him that Ozymandias only needed to be repelled every so often and was no real threat. With that, he provided an escort to the nearest city and was off in the direction the group had come.

They traveled through several centaur cities on their way to the capital. Every one was packed full of people who had come weeks ago from the West and were now making the same pilgrimage south. Some were friendly so the group had company and good conversation the rest of the way. The escort took its leave. After three days journey, their caravan reached the urban sprawl of Olympia, within which rested a walled city center. Prominent among its buildings was a massive tower over a thousand feet tall. Buildings in Pelopos were in an alien style to most of the members of the group though general shapes were similar enough.

After a bit of shopping – including selling some sandworm teeth and visiting an alchemist – the group approached the great tower, that they learned was the King’s palace from the city folk. The guards in front were loathe to accept more guests during such a busy time until Catullus chastised them for delaying an important meeting between the King and the ambassador of the Manichean Confederacy. One of the guards apologized for his ignorance and assured Catullus that they would have an audience with King Ixthion one hour before midday.

The next morning, the group attended their meeting. Ixthion told them that he expected the Manicheans to send a diplomatic party, as all nations knew of its plight, but he did not expect them to send the famous Hero of Byblos. At this point, Hero and King discussed the possibility of an alliance. Ixthion favored helping the Confederacy but knew a war with an entity as powerful as the Imperium would end at best as a painful victory. Furthermore, it was risky to take soldiers away from the frontier with the Thri-Keen Hive, even when they have been dormant for so long. Nevertheless, he offered the mighty centaur armies to the Confederacy’s service on two conditions:

The members of the party would have to be leaders in the battle, alongside his son Chiron who was away on a hunting party, and

They would have to first prove their skills in the Olympic Games.

This way, he would be able to witness firsthand the abilities of those in whose hands he was leaving the fate of his armies. After a brief interruption by Ixthion’s daughter, an adorable little centaur girl, he wished the party goodnight and good luck in tomorrow’s events.

…summary of the Olympic events goes here…

When Mark reached the top of the great tower, beating both Salvador and Ling, she was greeted by King Ixthion, reclining on an array of cushions, with 7 empty spots available and his daughter at his left. One by one the remaining contestants reached the top, were told their placement and dismissed. Once Salvador had arrived immediately following Mark, Ixthion sent messengers to collect the other members of the group.

With the party assembled, Ixthion dismissed his daughter and all attendants then looked solemnly at his guests.
“Your trials these last few days have left little doubt in my mind of your fitness to lead armies and fight on the frontlines. But I must confess, I have not been entirely honest. My son, Chiron, is not still out hunting but was captured while hunting, by our enemies, the Thri-Keen. I know not for what purpose they took him, but I do know he is alive. Now your participation in these games was a test of your skills for safely navigating an underground hive and bringing my son back safely. You have proven this to me as well. This is my sole condition for giving you 15,000 of the finest troops you’ve ever seen. I sincerely wish I did not need to use deceit but no one in the Kingdom can know of Chiron’s disappearance. He’s head of our armies and next in line. With my…” he gestured to his legs which were visibly atrophied, “…failing health, the people will panic if they know there is no one to take over and that our old enemies are again active. Promise me your discretion and that my son will come home safely, and you will have your army.”

After the party accepted, Ixthion offered the entire contents of the royal armory and vault for the group to arm themselves for the trials ahead. While they are gone, Ixthion would order the preparation of the army he promised. Whether this forces’ destination would be Byblos or the Hive was entirely down to the success or failure of the group.

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Hive I

In the morning after preparing to rescue Chiron, the group met with King Ixthion once more to hear his farewells. With everyone assembled, Ixthion called Salvador forward to recognize his accomplishment as one of the most decorated Olympians in the country’s history. A family heirloom, the Firestorm Arrow, an artifact of supposedly great power. Two sets of magic arrows – the Fire Bane and Frost Bane – were also awarded to Salvador. With accolades presented, Ixthion wished everyone the best of luck and sent them on their way.

After two days of traveling north from Olympia, the group were greeted to a flickering image of the Marshal over their encampment one evening. He bore grave news: the finest warrior of the Imperium of Man, known only as the Champion of Humanity, had been sent to kill the Hero of Byblos. He could be anywhere from the border with the Confederacy to the capital of the Imperium so it is impossible to gauge when he would find the group. From the Marshal’s sources, it was apparent that the Champion only sought the Hero.

After a brief exchange of gathered information and well wishes, the image of the Marshal faded. This was disturbing news but the group elected to nonetheless press onward to rescue Chiron.

Following another few days of travel, they passed into the lush, temperate forests of the Thri-Keen lands and found the hive to which they were directed. It towered over the landscape like a great glacial horn without the snow. Shortly after this came into view, they happened upon a field within which was a rock on which sat a funny looking High Elf. He was fidgeting with his clothes and arms, looking impatient, but instantly perked up when he saw the group approach with the Hero and Catullus up front.

Greetings were amicable. Nefertai taking a liking to his desire to preserve nature and the others endeared by his eccentric behaviour. After the odd elf expressed his great pleasure over meeting the Heroes of the Confederacy, the conversation steered to why he was there. He implored the group to assist him in the Thri-Keen hive, which he knew they were hoping to infiltrate. An explanation of the situation was given.

This particular hive was not like the others. It had become infested with metal elementals known as Ferach. These small metal spiders had taken over the Thri-Keen’s home and rendered them barely living husks of their former selves, apparently under direction of some mysterious group of which the traveller knew little. The plan was for the group to be a distraction on their way to saving Chiron while the traveller went deep into the hive to rid it of the elemental pests. This would apparently have explosive results and he urged the group to steer clear once they had accomplished their task.

After attempts to discern the traveller’s intentions with insight and telepathy, as well as fervent offers to accompany him to the inner parts of the hive, they eventually agreed to the plan. With this the traveller suddenly pulled an ornate metal crossbow off his back and fired a blue magic bolt into the floor. A portal formed on the spot.

Breaking through to the other side, they were met with a somewhat clean cavern space with a single stone slab showing signs of a way out. The traveller approached this and pushed it down with his wand. In the next room was a wooden plank that blocked the path, which the traveller failed to remove with his wand. Frustrated, he simply kicked it down to continue on his way.

With the group assembled in a much larger chamber with a clear river going under a stone bridge, the traveller explained the details of how to navigate the hive to Chiron and the way out. After all had been said, they went their separate ways – the group to rescue a prince and the traveller to do gods know what to solve the infestation.

After a few quick turns, the group found themselves in a vast chamber with only a statue at its center, Aegon having scouted it out beforehand with his familiar. The statue seemed to be of a large man falling to the floor with a look of fear and his arm outstretched to block something. Aegon and Byron debated the possible scenarios. It could be the victim of a Gorgon, but that was unlikely in these parts. Byron considered the possibility that it would be a Pygmalion, the common earth elemental, but these were statues that moved and this one evidently stood still. Tests were performed on the statue to determine that it was rock and would not answer to anything related to the elemental races (neither their language or religion).

These concerns were soon overshadowed by the presence of a Thri-Keen on the far side of the room. At first, it charged toward the group, lusting for sustenance, but seeing their numbers and feeling their power first hand, it almost as quickly retreated back down the tunnels. Byron gave chase but even as he knocked out his quarry, he found three more Thri-Keen in the room beyond. All these creatures were heavily equipped with some type of large throwing star. On closer inspection, it appeared that many of what seemed like weapons were actually metal plates that were like flat spiders latched onto their bodies.

Behind Byron, the rest of the group followed. When everyone had moved to one side of the room, away from the statue, a wind was felt from behind. Salvador turned around only to be greeted by the ugly face of a savage gargoyle, itching to take a piece of him. Suddenly, the pursuit to the next room gained an air of urgency. Everyone piled into the thin connecting corridor taking pot shots at the gargoyle. Only moments after its stone form had crumbled, did the other Thri-Keen also fall. One in particular tried to jump at Byron, astride Warhorse! but he was struck down with a swift interruption by Nefertai. As the insectoid died, the metal plates separated from his body and landed beside Byron. These were easily dispatched. However, Nefertai’s attempt to burn the Thri-Keen and the Ferach spiders with them, found that fire melted the metal drones, burning deep into the Thri-Keen. This gave them a quick death.

Attempts to communicate with the Thri-Keen that Byron knocked out were unsuccessful. They only seemed to react peacefully to Catullus’ sweet melodies. Telepathic intrusion, however, did confirm that the Thri-Keen were being directed by a hive mind. By analogy, trying to send thoughts to the Thri-Keen was like trying to make waves in water in which a whilrpool already raged. This last bug received a quick and painless death. In the last battle, Mark had mercilessly finished off the gargoyle, igniting the power he had long trained to use. Its soul was drawn forth from the body into a his arm, only to settle into the shape of a dark crystal in his hand. Mark had taken the final step toward becoming a Soul Thief.

Knowing that the Thri-Keen were immediately killed when their hosts are exposed to fire, the group easily took the rest of the traveller’s directions to where Chiron was supposed to be held. There they found a perfectly cubic chamber many feet wide and long. At the far end, a centaur lay prostrate upon the ground. Nearby was a table with metal tools for an unknown purpose. With the power of Avandra, Byron healed the wounds of Chiron – wounds that Nefertai surmised to be the result of beating, biting and poisoning. The prince expressed his thanks to the Hero for healing him and for the group for coming to his rescue. Meanwhile, Aegon and Catullus were busy collecting the tools they found on the table for later analysis. At the moment all prepared to leave with haste, a segment of the far wall – directly above the exit – collapsed, releasing four of the Ferach drones. They swarmed Mark, inflicting painful bites but Salvador gave more than they could give.

After clearing a path through the metal bugs, Salvador sprinted for the opening that was their ticket out of the hive. Mid stride, before any of the others could follow suit, he found himself face-to-face, only inches away, with a horrendous half-man, half-scorpion completely composed of metal. This disgusting creature looked him dead in the eyes, showing no signs of any emotion or thought behind his own. Right when the task seemed at an end, the fight had only just begun…

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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.

View
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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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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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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