- 1 GnomeNotes of the Reluctant Adventurer
- 2 These People Are Nuts
- 3 What is this Ship
- 4 Meeting of Captains
- 5 Saving the World
- 6 Islands of Corruption
- 7 Helluva Party
- 8 Midnight Migraine
- 9 Ratted out
- 10 Prison Break
- 11 The Tower
- 12 The Shot Heard Round the World
- 13 Cooling my Heels
- 14 Can I have a Side of Guilt with That?
- 15 And People Wonder Why I Have Trust Issues
- 16 Back to Rothnacum - Dead Rising
- 17 PBS Remodeling - You make em, we break em!
- 18 Some Bonds never Break
GnomeNotes of the Reluctant Adventurer
Why is it I meet people in the worst way? I meet Stilgo falling on my face. I met Owlbert when he fell on me, and now I have these bedraggled soaked ....muppets, in MY wagon, blown in from the storm to end all storms. Sure, come on in. Make yourself at home. Nevermind the damage you and the storm did while bumbling desperately into my wagon, that I slaved on for WEEKS! And the brat is charging folks to get in the wagon, and pocketing it. What am I? A sideshow attraction? Ugh, whatever, I can't kick out the pitiful creatures in this gnomeforsaken storm.....I'm too nice. I'm just trying to get paid to deliver some foodstuffs, and great. The port town is wrecked. Everyone's ship and house are torn to blitz, and these reprobates are giving away the stuff I'm trying to deliver. Oh and now they think they're entitled to get paid by my client. The nerve!
Bah, it doesn't matter. I'm just trying to get by and trying not to let my featherbrained companion get in TOO much trouble. I can't believe I said that. When did I become my mother? When did I become Owlbert's mother? UGH... I'm too nice.
Oh look, Rowan, the drunk monk, wants us to run in the storm and chase after Orcs kidnapping folks. Like we're gonna save the day. I'm no hero. I'm not like Dad. I failed my kin when I hid in the dingy. I let the Orcs take them. And this bunch of nuts thinks I can make a difference now?
... I can't believe I'm following them, chasing these mooks in the storm. What am I trying to prove? I can't save them... I'm no hero.
These People Are Nuts
It's official. This group is completely nuts. We're going to the island of shadow because we saw a bright light fall from the sky. I must be nuts too, as I want to know what it was too. Oh hey, these really experienced adventurers are gonna bring us there in their boat. That's awesome. At least we'll have some experience and maturity on this ......wait, what? You're staying on the boat and we go on ahead? ... You dirty sonova... bait and switch. I should have known. Can't trust anyone. Certainly not this bunch. Audi, the unicorn kid with the psychotic smile disappeared.....again, and the rest are just as unreliable. Not that I'm much better...
Ok, I found an old elf. A really, really, REALLY old looking elf, and he says this island is dangerous. No kiddin! I thought it was the top 10 family vacation spots! Can I get a refund? And now we're traveling deep into the dark heart of this accursed island, full of shadows that for some reason are ignoring us. Hey, just like the neighbors in Jerzee. Maybe I'll rent a summer home here after all... Whoa, they just devoured those Orcs that tried to shoot us. Uh....ok, maybe I'll vacay somewhere else.
And lo and behold, we find this glittery glowing asteroid in a crater, and Owlbert the featherbrain sits on it, and calls Dibs. It does look like an egg, so I guess that makes sense......no it doesn't. None of this makes sense. There are dwarves inspecting it, but they ain't like dwarves I've ever seen. They're as gray as this island. Creepy, just like everything else here. And then suddenly, the thing hatches, and Owlbert is a proud mommy of...WTF...Audi? That's right. The creepy unicorn kid hatched out of the meteor. Can I wake up now? This dream is too weird for me. And weirder still, Audi talks to the meteor, and it turns into a gauntlet on her arm. She fires it at the shadows and completely obliterates them. All hell broke loose, and we're running for our lives through the jungle, at night, to get to the beach before the rest of the shadows eats us. The gray dwarves are right behind us, fleeing too, but the shadows caught up to them. By some miracle, we survive with one gray dwarf left, and he's flirting with the Trottle, the Goblin who thinks he's a Dwarf. Flirting Jerzee style by throwing shade at each other. I'd think it was cute if I wasn't so busy passing out on the sand...
Curiosity killed the cat, but the Meteor brought the unicorn kid back. So confused...
What is this Ship
And now I'm even more confused as I wake up on the weirdest ship I've ever seen in my life. Now, remember, I'm a Gnome. We INVENTED weird vehicles, but this baby takes the cake......and our souls it seems. Great, not only am I bonded to this Fish/Duck ship, but that means I'm stuck with this insane group forever! That terrifies me. Again, some force is taking advantage of my misfortune and trying to control my life. First my Dad, then stupid Orc Pirates, then my employer...but that's a story for another time, and now, I'm bound to an Astral ship, as Audi tries to explain to me. He seems pleased as punch. Erdan, the Firbolg slave is gone. He was furious that Audi killed all those Shadows and they argued for hours on the beach. For a firbolg who complains about being a slave, he sure is insolent. I appreciate that. I also thought he was so cool the way he'd ever so quietly, ever so politely, scared the shit out of people. I gotta learn how to do that. I hope he's ok wherever he is.
But I have bigger things to worry about. It seems there's a fleet of these Astral ships, and we're all bound towards the same goal, and if we fail, we blow up the planet. I wonder if the old elf is renting a room. The shadow island seemed peaceful in comparison.
I'm not ready to be a hero.
Meeting of Captains
I'm sitting at a table with all the other captains and representatives and looking at all the strange items on the table. A diamond, a compass, a book, a map, an escaped prisoner, as well as a captured captain who is singing like a canary. I don't understand much of what they're all talking about. I feel nervous like I don't belong. I don't. I'd do anything to get away from all of this. Absently I picked up the compass and fiddle with it like I usually do when I'm nervous. I used to pick locks for hours out of boredom. Next thing I know I look down and I've managed to open it, and my gnomish curiosity takes over. I ignore the people around me and fiddle with the wires, gems, and gears. And there's a tug within me, the old magic that makes a gnome a gnome, and I get it. "Guys...What did you say this thing does again?"
"It controls the storm but protects the Orc ships from harm. Why?"
"I... think I figured out how to reverse it and have it protect our ships instead..." Audi is beaming at me proudly, as the others stare at me in wonder.
"Did I do something ...right?" They all nod, slowly, amazed.
Holy crap. Am I useful?
Mrs. Wizzlepiz would have a heart attack from shock.
Saving the World
It's the day of the battle, and I'm drumming my fingers restlessly. I look at my insane group of muppets. They're gonna get me killed, I thought with growing dread. And then it was time for volunteers for the strike team, and I leaped at it. I'm such a fucking coward. I don't trust my own group, and I feel ashamed as I meet up with the rest of the suicide squad. They look like a smart bunch. Some wizards, a druid, a ranger, and none of them seem insane. I sigh in relief, glad I'm not going into naval battle. And then one of them mentions their fear for their group. They're pinned down by orcs and it was a miracle he could get away. He worried about his friends, and I felt more shame as I was relieved to be away from mine. Wait... did I think of them as friends? Ugh...
Still, this was the first time I got to choose where to be. Choose where to go of my own free will. And I realized...I could be useful again. Hastily I scribbled on a scroll and had a raven send it off. It was a long shot, but hey, it was their necks, too, right? The fate of the world stuff. Time to make Fate dance to my tune for once. And it worked! A scroll came back and I grinned.
"Your friends are going to be ok, and so will we," I say with a grin. They all arch eyebrows. "Just... trust me."
Just then some ships sidle up to us, filled to the brim with half-orc pirates and assassins. "We heard you could use some cover." I grin, and we show them the map and all the information we learned from the captain and prisoner. The half-orcs orcs grin. "Oh, this is gonna be fun."
Next thing we know, we're on the half-orc ship, and they get us through the Warship Blockade surrounding the fortress, the half-orcs using their own codes against them. They get us safely to the beach and we parted ways. As we headed to the sewer path to sneak inside the fortress, those brave half-orcs attacked the fortress head on, keeping all the cultists occupied. I wish I was that brave, I thought. There was a small patrol of Orcs guarding the sewer grate. We used illusions to make them fight and argue with each other, and then we blitzed them. They never saw us coming, and it was done before they could draw weapons. Boy, that felt good!
It all seemed too easy as we moved the earth to open the grate, and continued on inside. The stench was horrible and I got sick. The others shrugged it off. I was embarrassed, feeling weak in front of my party, but we managed to find our way to the ritual room. When we entered we saw an amazing and ghastly sight. A large diamond was floating in the air, and on the ground was a huge stone disc, with piles of dirt representing each island. The piles of dirt moved as the islands would. In between the diamond and the map was a huge mass of energy, representing the storm that covered the world. Just then we looked up as a screaming man fell through a small hole in the ceiling and turned into bloody mist as his life force went through the diamond, and made the storm bigger. Shuddering, we began analyzing the ritual. Then another sacrifice fell through, and a portal started to open. Gibbering horrors appeared and while the arcanists continued studying, the druid, the ranger, and I attacked the horrors, killing them off. Fortunately no more emerged.
The arcanists struggled and couldn't make sense of the ritual, and we were getting nervous. I stared at the ritual and then began drawing in the dirt below, trying to solve this with Tinker Math. The numbers weren't adding up though and we were getting frustrated, until someone said, "Wait... the diamond is a magnifier. It's a matter of ratio." My eyes widened as I realized why the math was off. Hastily I scribbled more formulas. We figured out each layer was a different school of magic, and if we fed enough levels of spells of the same school through our diamond, it would magnify our spells enough to counter that level of the ritual. It almost worked, and we shut down the pieces of the ritual, but every time the arcanists fed a spell it also sucked some life force and their skin became riddled with silvery Lichtenberg scars. The portal was almost closed, but we still needed more energy to shut it all the way. So the rest of us began sacrificing our life energy, letting the diamond suck it out of us. It very nearly killed us as we fell to our knees, inches from death, and as we looked at each other, we were horrified as some of us had eyes that turned completely black, but it worked. The portal was closed, and we funneled the energy into outer space, destroying the ritual. Above us, we could hear the cultists scream in rage, just as the half-orcs finally made it to them. After a while, all was quiet. We had won.
As I recovered on Cygnus, I got a message from the ranger. It seemed a team of assassins showed up and saved his party from the orcs. I smiled.
I guess I'm a hero now...
Islands of Corruption
We sailed our way to a pair of Islands, where we found Fenril City run by the Merchant Prince, Don Silvan Geld, with a strong presence of the Alizarin guards, and the Way of the Open Hand Monks. It was a very corrupt place, where the authority and so-called monks fleeced everyone at every opportunity. I immediately hated this place. My father told me Alizarin was a good and righteous organization, and these corrupt city guards were ruining the name.....or maybe all of the Imperium he venerated was just an organization of corrupt power hungry authoritarians. I shall find out the truth soon enough. The Drunken Monk was particularly nervous. It seems the Monks of the Open Hand opposed his Order, and if he was discovered, he'd be slain. Considering how these monks felt entitled to our money and the best things from the people and nobles on this island, I was beginning to understand why he chose the other order.
After we avoided the ferryman that was fleecing the riders for 10g a piece, Owlbert decided he was going to give the guy a taste of his own medicine. While we explored the town, Owlbert followed the ferryman to his house, and while he slept, cleaned out his safe, and he even kept his promise to Audi not to kill the guy. Good bird. Since we were separated, I decided to leave a few thieves' marks so Owlbert could find us. Unfortunately, a rival gang followed my marks instead and threatened us in the street, demanding our money. Considering we were in a town of corrupt guards, we had to deal with this....discreetly. We scared the ever living crap out of the gang. Imagine seasoned thieves scared of muppets, but there it was. We're the scariest fucking muppets you've ever seen and we sent them running and took THEIR money, to boot. I erased my marks and started changing the rival gang marks, implying they would mutiny against the Prince to start some trouble, when a cool black dragonkin in leather leaned against the wall and said with a smile, "You guys stand out like a sore thumb in this city. I think you need a place to hide and I'm just the guy to help you."
Skeptically we said, "and why should we trust you?" He replied, "I'm probably the only guy in this city that ISN'T going to demand money from you." So we went with him. He introduced himself as Locke, and he was the leader of the Defenders of the Dawn, a thieves' guild dedicated to breaking the control of the Prince, and restoring power to the people. NOW WE'RE TALKING! Let's do this!
Locke's plan was to get the noble houses fighting each other, and then undermine the Merchant Prince. We were told to avoid getting entangled with the Alizarin guards or the Way of the Open Hand. He instead, sent us to a party. Audi squealed like a girl and was planning outfits. He wonders why we sometimes confuse him for a girl...Silly unicorn kid.
Our mission was to infiltrate Lady Detora's party and steal her most prized possessions, the 3 Ruby Gems of the Tel’thandrian Dragon, and plant the gems in rival noble houses of Teldorian and Fildrack. Sounds fun.
We decided we'd pretend Audi was a boy prince and we were his entourage. Audi squealed even louder with happiness. Cygnus became the form of a fancy vest on him to further the disguise. Owlbert had a funny habit of feeding things to Cygnus, so he shoved a few jewels on the vest that he stole from the ferryman. The vest grew a mouth with many teeth, devouring them, and then the gems became bejeweled buttons on the vest. Creepy....but cool.
Since Lady Detora was a Noble that specialized in the Spice Trade, I decided to make her a gnomish contraption that could hold, sort, and mix a complex blend of spices, measured to a quarter of a gram, as a gift. I smiled, thinking of my pal, Stilgo Wizzlepiz. He used to tell me how he made the wizard college parties wilder by spiking the punch with illicit spices. He'd appreciate this. I'll have to make another one for a birthday gift for the mischievous gnome.
While we prepared for the party, we sent Owlbert out on reconnaissance. He put on some overalls and obtained a few crates of voles. He'd release a few in one noble's house, and then peddle his services as an exterminator, catching and devouring them. He worked his way up to Lady Detora's residence. By this time, word had reached them that the city was under a vole infestation, and they quickly hired him as they didn't want an infestation just before such a grand party. Owlbert brought in his cart of 'exterminator supplies' and set up shop. He cased the mansion, and then set crates of live voles within the attic, with special fuses, leading to the kitchen. By this time, the guests started arriving. We looked resplendent in our fine clothes, and we introduced ourselves to the Lady and offered the gift. The GIANT rubies were in a glass case next to her. She nodded and indicated my glorious mechanized....spice rack....go in the kitchen. I grumble, "not a common kitchen device you ungrateful....." as I followed a few servants to the kitchen and caught up with Owlbert.
Meanwhile, the ball was underway, and our group had a fine time mingling with the guests, Rowan, the drunk monk, is flirting with all the women and making the husbands jealous, when another entourage showed up, and Audi's eyes widened. In walked a beautiful raven haired girl just his age, her violet eyes locked on his. The smitten boy blushed a rainbow, as her entourage introduced her as Princess Julia Delphina. My eyes narrowed, instantly suspicious, but there was no time to investigate. I was positioned in front of the gems and it was time to pull off the heist. Owlbert had lit the fuses and joined me near the case, just as all the crates opened and voles began dropping from the ceiling throughout the mansion. The place erupted in screams and all the guests stampeded for the doors. In the shuffle, our amorous monk had managed to upset a noble husband enough that he challenged him to a duel, and in the spar that ensued, the noble was punched into the glass case, shattering it. No one noticed Owlbert snatching up the rubies as I put an illusion of them in their place. Owlbert went up to Audi, who was still staring at Julia and shoved a gem into his vest. Cygnus absorbed it and became even fancier with ruby trimming. Then we merged into the fleeing crowd. We lost sight of Audi and the Princess in the chaos, but we all made it out of the mansion.
Hours later, we made it back to the Defenders of the Dawn hideout. Owlbert had successfully planted one ruby in the Teldorian house, and one in the Fildrack house, and now all we had to do was wait for the guards to find them and start the Noble War. Audi returned even later with a bemused smile on his face. Young love.....blech.
It was the middle of the night and I couldn't sleep. I kept going over the day's events in my mind, the Defenders of Dusk, The Merchant Prince's schemes, and the specter of Imperium, and I felt a ringing in my ears. It's barely perceptible at first, but it quickly became a scream in my mind. I fell out of bed, clasping my head trying to shut out this shrieking spike in my mind, and then.....it suddenly stops. I shakily get onto my feet and drew my swords as my room became engulfed with darkness. Fortunately, with my Astrally blessed eye, I was able to pierce through it, and I hunted for my prey.
No matter how hardcore you are, there's always someone more hardcore than you, and I despite my excellent perception, I heard a gentle cough behind me. There's a high elf in my room, dressed in gray and purple fitted robes. His sleeves cinched tight at the wrist. He wore black leather elven journey boots and his belt mirrors the same elven style. In a dark, smooth voice, he says, "Crow Breena Twinneedle. It is a pleasure to finally meet you."
At the sound of his voice, I whirled and almost stabbed the jerk before the word Crow registers. Being a gnome, my blade stops at his groin. "I can't say the same. There are nicer ways to pay a visit to a lady. Flowers and chocolates would be nice." I gave him a nasty look and sheathed my sword. I sent a raven earlier, asking my employer for advice on this situation and they send this jerk to do so in the most annoying way possible. Ugh, elves and their dramatics...
"Ah yes, the scrying." The high elf turned and sits in a chair in the corner of my room, reclining back calmly into the chair he makes himself comfortable and with a gracious motion and a raised eyebrow, gestures for me to take a seat across from him on the bed. "The first time is always the worse for new operatives, but now that we are more familiar there shouldn't be anymore... discomfort." What IS it about people just making themselves at home in MY space. The cheek!
I gave him a sweet deadly smile. "Oh are we familiar now that you kissed my brain with a razor blade? What the hell was that?" I walked up to stand before him instead.
He narrowed his hawkish eyes, deep lines of thought appear on his brow. "The unknowing mind will attempt to resist the intrusion of spells like Scrying. Surely you've encountered magic of that nature before?" I arch my eyebrow, letting him know with my disapproving glance that no, most NORMAL folks don't greet others with a scrying spell. He relaxed further in the chair, and instead of apologizing he continues, "When you are in a position like mine, Crow, you like to keep an eye on all chess pieces on the board, so this visitation was due."
Completely agitated with his guy, I retort, "Keep doing shit like that, and the next position you'll be in is on the ground," ignoring the fact that this guy could probably wipe the floor with me and still have that politely irritating smile. "Fine," I say in a huff, and sit on the bed, crossing my legs with a mocking smile, "So to which Crow chess piece do I have the 'pleasure' of speaking with, and how may I serve thee, m'lord?"
"Yes where are my manners?" He bows his head to one side slightly, reflecting my mocking smile with his own, "The introductions," He takes on a calm, official and reverent tone as his expression becomes soft and devoid of emotion. "I am Shadow Master Vilgefortz of The Shadow. Your actions in countering the Cult of the Deck Breaker's schemes to break the world have not gone unnoticed. Stopping the ritual was no easy feat in the face of all that raw energy. I understand that great personal sacrifice was needed to accomplish this... something I can appreciate."
My eyes widen, as I realize this is not just some random messenger, but one of the regional bosses and all my mockery stop as I sit up a bit straighter. "I am honored to be noticed, Master," I say in a soft, cowed voice, casting my eyes down demurely. "But I was just a cog in the wheel. I was fortunate to have a good team." Again, I was referring to the strike team, not my own ragtag band of misfits, whom I still saw as incompetent, despite the overwhelming success of our latest mission.
"Please, that is not necessary. To do what The Shadow demands, you must keep your eyes on the target." Vilgefortz waits for you to look him in the eye before continuing, "My sources reported your party within Fenril City. We have some intel regarding the town and it was brought to my attention that you were making inquiries. Perhaps there is a knowledge that could be shared to assist you."
I looked up eagerly, "Yes, please. I'm up to my neck with intrigue on an island of corruption, with a party of fools about a subtle as a dropping piano. We've managed to survive somehow, but yes, any help would be greatly appreciated."
"The Merchant Prince, Don Silvan Geld would like all to believe that he holds power within Fenril City. There is a resistance group known as The Defenders of Dusk. What have you learned about these two?" asks Vilgefortz.
I begin to fill in Master Vilgefortz on our endeavors, "We were contacted by Locke about 3 nights ago. He's a black dragonkin and seems to be leading the Resistance. It is his intention to start a revolution by getting the noble houses to fight and tear down each other. I'm not sure how he intends to remove the Prince from power, but he intends to put Dusk in power and redistribute wealth back to the poor. He's already been doing that in a way, as his contacts fleece the rich on tourist schemes. We uh....accidentally disrupted that." I decided not to tell him about Owlbert's adventures with the ferryman.
I continue, "Also we have The Hand and corrupt members of the Alizarin Empire here. Locke wants us to avoid engagement with them at all costs. There are also small competing gangs of thieves. We tripped into their territory and we were able to scare them off. Locke found us shortly after that and hid us from their retribution. I think Locke and his Resistance have a lot in common with the Shadow's ideals. I'd like to assist them any way we can."
"The Defenders of Dusk are right to fear the Alizarin Empire. Silvan Geld's power is an illusion- He serves the Alizarin. I fear that dealing with Geld will only bring a stronger response to quell an open rebellion. One that may chain the whole city to their expanding empire, a concern held by The Shadow Lord."
I frowned, realizing that Locke's rebellion will be crushed if the Prince is removed, and the gears in my mind began working. "I see. So, instead of killing him, we make Geld a Gelding. Keep him where he is, but destabilize any influence he has here. Make him an ineffectual leader while Lock actually runs the show in the background, keeping the Prince in check. The Hand will be harder to counter though. I've heard they have reached as far as the Empire. What do we do about them?" Maybe the Drunken Monk was rubbing off on me, or maybe it was their entitled attitudes, but I grew to quickly hate the Hand, and I wanted to bring them down.
"The Monks of the Way of the Open Hand seek the best of all things in life. It is their way to acquire the best music, wine, woodworking, any tribute to expand their reliquaries. I would council cooperation if possible, but take caution. It is their belief that if part of a whole is imperfect, it degrades the whole. Weak links are not accepted," replied Vilgefortz.
I tapped my finger on my lips as a plan began to forge. "Weak links are not accepted......interesting. I may be able to use that to my advantage. Thank you, Master. One last thing you should know. There's a new cult in town. They call themselves the Ascension. They believe the gods are remnants of what they were, and they're causing a big ruckus in the Faith Quarter of town, protesting in front of every church. Have you heard of them?"
He shook his head, "This "Ascension" has not reached my attention, yet. As always, one should gather information if they appear to be a threat. Protesting is a right the people should have and theological debates are the purview of clerics. I have heard whisperings of a long forgotten power that once sought to ascend beyond the Nine Bloods of the Mortals, but records from that lost age of eons past have fallen to dust. Observe and report if your 'gut' is telling you that is the right course. I, for one, should know what trouble an adventurer can find once they put their mind to it."
I give him a wicked grin, "I have no idea what you mean, Master."
Vilgefortz grinned as well, "No idea at all." Exhaling a breath, Vilgefortz stood up from his chair and looked at me sitting on the bed from across the small room. "Is that all the advice you require at this time?"
I considered the tall elf in front of me. "I think I have what I need for now, but is there someone local I can talk to if I have more questions? I know you're a busy man, and I don't wish to unduly trouble you...." and I suppress my laughter, as I would love to give him trouble to get back at him, but he's my boss. I gotta be good, for now.
"We have an agent implanted within the Defenders of Dusk. His name is Thormund, one of our best undercover Ravens who has been with us for 7 years this winter. He is a dwarf with graying hair and beard and is missing his ring finger on his left hand. That certainly doesn't slow him down while he shakes down marks in his spare time. Tell him, "All castles contain shadows at night" and he will know that you are on of us. There is another way for him to know you are with us..."
Vilgefortz moves to the window, framing himself before it in the moonlight parting between the gaps of clouds moving across the midnight sky. His form becomes wreathed in misting shadows resembling raven wings. The features of his face receded into darkness leaving two piercing eyes.
"Will you kneel, Crow?"
Ok, he looks cool. I'll admit it. It rather reminds me of the day the crows transformed into men just before I passed out from the poisoned bolt. With curiosity and awe, I kneel before him, my eyes never leaving his, and then damn the Jerzee....."You know, when they said Shadow Queen, I didn't think they meant drag queen," I said, teasing the effeminate elf.
"Indeed.." Vilgefortz refocuses and intones, "Shadows gather to wrap this one in their protection. Who approaches The Lady's sight?"
The solemness of his voice reaches me. This is for real, and I realize I have an opportunity to be part of something bigger....to make a difference. I only pause for a moment, remembering the old stories Mom used to read to me, and tried to form a respectful response.
I took a calming breath and said, "Breena Twinneedle Spryscheme seeks the Lady's sight."
The Shadow Master, Vilgefortz intones: Breena Twinneedle Spryscheme, will you seek out secrets that would be used to dominate and enslave? Will you carve out tyrants wherever they prey on the weak? Will you remain ever in shadow, hidden from those who would destroy all we protect? Will you faithfully serve The Shadow for the rest of your life?"
"I will," I say in a determined voice, the values of the Shadow resonating with my own, forging a bond.
"I, Shadow Master Vilgefortz, hereby promote you to the rank of Rook within The Shadow." Vilgefortz then produces a single black raven feather with a small pin attached from a pocket at his waist. Crouching down to the floor, he begins to speak words I cannot understand. Pointing his index finger to the ground, arcane energy begins to arc from the tip as he carves runes directly into the floor. After a moment's work, he places the raven's feather and pin within the small circle. I can feel the air fill with a static charge as Vilgefortz touches the runes on the ground and they flash with a purple light, the feather appears to flash in a sudden pulse of a similar purple light. The static charge dissipates as Vilgefortz stand back up.
"Take this feather, wear it discreetly, but know now all of The Shadow will know your standing. And may the Lady's blessing shroud you against your enemies. Rise now, from darkness Rook, congratulations."
I took the feather with shaky hands. "Thank you, Master Vilgefortz. I shall strive to do my best." The feather is light but real in my hands. As I looked back up to Vilgefortz, he gave a slight nod, "If need be, I can contact you via sending or a projected image like this. Scrying in the future shouldn't be as uncomfortable now that you can let it happen. If you need to send me a message, work with Thormund and he will get it up the chain. Shadows guide you."
With those last words, the form of Vilgefortz begins to shimmer like a stretch beach sand on a hot day in the sun and suddenly he was gone and I was left alone in my room with the raven's feather and pin.
I pinned the feather to my magic pirate hat, blending it into the huge black ostrich feather. I don't know how long I stood there, staring at the hat, as the weight of the decision I made fell upon me, but eventually, I hung it up on the post to my bed and I laid down to sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. My team is gonna need me........my team. My muppets. I'm a muppet too. Bound to a Shadow Organization to save the world from oppression. Evil for goodness sake. Yeah.... a little messed up. I rather like that.
With luck.....I'm going to make a difference.
The peasants of Fenril City learned a hard lesson today. Stick your head out too much and it'll get cut off. Trottel managed to get them to rise up against the Nobel lords, only to be brutally squashed by the city guards and the rest incarcerated. Trottle is beside himself with guilt, as he took the Defenders of Dawn's idea to stir up and undermine the Merchant Prince a little too far. In the meantime, the monk got us hired by Chuck Hadley of the Teldorian Noble house, ironically one of the houses we framed, and we were sent to light a warehouse of an opposing house on fire. We were paid up front, and Locke, the leader of the Defenders of the Dawn said it was a good way to stir up noble house trouble, so off we went to the warehouse district.
So as my party went to the warehouse in question, I decided to go to the other side of the district to start a distraction fire to pull the guards away. Pleased with myself I started to head back when I noticed more warehouses catching on fire.....and we didn't do it. Frowning in confusion, I rushed back to my party, where they had finished searching it and lit it on fire. By this time, the entire Warehouse district was on fire. Either all the nobles had the same idea, or we've been set up. Either way, it was time to run. As we fled to the district, we separated the main dock, hopefully, to keep the fire from spreading to the houses when there was an earth-shattering kaboom from the big warehouse in the middle. I know that boom anywhere! That warehouse was filled with fireworks made from black sand. Found out later that belonged to the Alizarin Army. This is gonna get ugly.
We made it back to the Defenders of Dawn den and Locke was pacing frantically. His 2nd in command, a kobold named Keye, had been missing for hours. Just then Owlbert heard something at the door. He opened it, and a sentry with three arrows in his body fell dead at his feet. The Alizarin City Guards were outside and were beginning to round up the thieves. We fled through the secret tunnel in the back with Lock and the remaining thieves, only to see the army at the other end. They threw Keye's head at us, telling us the kobold sold us out.
Next thing we knew, we were all put in prison, separated in clusters, stripped to tunics, loincloths, barefoot and weaponless. but we still had Cygnus's gifts which were magically ignored. Fortunately, I was able to hide my thieves tools from them, too.
Time to blow this popsicle stand...
Trottle, Owlbert, and I were in a sub-basement of a stone-reinforced fortress, each of us in a crate meant to hold large dogs or muppet sized misfits. There were larger cages with the other prisoners on the walls around us. Torches sputtered on the walls and 2 guards were making the rounds. We had no idea where the rest of our party was. Trottle scared the young man feeding us bowls of slop, demanding to know where our gear was. After he fled I said, "Geez, calm down. It's just clothes and common armor and weapons. We'll get it back or get new stuff. No big---" He pressed his face against the bars separating us, his eyes filled with a panicked zeal I've never seen from him before. "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. I HAVE TO HAVE MY HORN BACK!" I wince, remembering the noisy obnoxious vuvuzela he had. I wasn't sure I wanted him to get THAT back. "Ugh. Why? That thing sounded awful!" His eyes grew even more fierce. "It has my Dwarven Family Crest on it. It's one of the last things I have of them!" he replied, his eyes tearing up. "OK OK calm down. Geez...I get it. Sentimental value," I sigh, as I pick the lock on my cage with the tools the guards failed to confiscate. I pass my tools to Owlbert, and then to Trottle as they eventually unlocked their cages and they passed the tools back to me. I wink and create an illusion of a gold coin in the hay-filled prisoner cell across the room. Sure enough, the prisoners began fighting over it, and the guards went up to them to break it up. We snuck out of our cages, and I created a long thin illusion, cardboard cutouts if you will, of us in our cells as we snuck through the door.
We tiptoed through the corridors, our bare feet making no noise as we explored the fortress when we saw a mouse skittering in one of the small rooms. Trottle grins, "Hey, Owlbert. Lunch!" He said, pointing at the mouse. Owlbert immediately pounced on it, only to screech in surprise as the mouse suddenly grew into a gigantic firbolg. We all cried out in surprise and joy, "ERDAN!!!" He disappeared the night we bonded with Cygnus and we had no idea where he had gone. The pacifist druid looked at us soberly and said in his usual quiet voice, "We need to escape." Trottle insisted, "Not until we find my HORN!" Erdan looked at him in confusion, and I smile, "It's a family heirloom thing. Come on. Let's get out of here."
We found a room with 2 spears and 2 crossbows and bolts. Trottle and I broke off the staffs, making daggers for ourselves. Owlbert took the crossbow and I took the other. We then found the kitchen, and the Silverware was plundered. We passed by the sleeping barracks and we were in a narrow short hall leading to the room with stairs when we finally bumped into two guards and a woman in the red clerical robes of Volcanis. They all had emblems of Alizarin and Volcanis on their shoulders. The lady cleric pointed at Erdan and cast Hold Person on him, then fled to go alert the other guards. Owlbert, Trottle, and I quickly slew one of the guards, infuriating the peaceful Druid. He struggled against the spell as Owlbert gave chase after the cleric, while Trottle and I faced off the last guard. Finally, Erdan broke free and yelled, "Don't kill him!" as I was about to give the killing blow. I sighed and knocked him out instead. I picked up his longsword. "Happy? Come on. We gotta catch up to Owlbert."
We had to fight more guards, and make more apologies to the druid. Erdan told one guard in his quiet but intimidating voice, "Now if you lie down and don't move, you'll live through this." That guard saw his companions slain, nodded, and promptly played dead. We made our way back to the kitchen, and dining hall. Out one way fled the cleric to the outside courtyard. Owlbert stopped at the door as the cleric began talking to the guards at the gate, the path to freedom just beyond them. Trottle whined, "We can't go yet. We haven't found my horn!" He then got the idea of trying to summon his magic butcher knife, hoping it was near enough to make its way back to him. Sure enough, we heard a crash of glass, guards cursing in a door we hadn't opened yet in the banquet hall. We also heard the guards from the sleeping quarters starting to come up the stairs. We quickly made a plan to defend the kitchen area. Erdan went to the door leading to the courtyard as the 2 outside guards approached. Again, the cleric disappeared. I gave Owlbert my spear dagger, and he went to the top of the stairwell to slow down the guards coming up. Trottle and I went to open the door where we heard the crashing of glass, hoping we'd find our gear.
Beyond the door was a hallway with 2 guards, who were staring at a butcher knife embedded in the wall. At the end of the hall was an altar room, and Trottle could see his beloved horn and other items on top of the altar. I threw my pirate hat, the Buoyant hat of Charming, on one of the guards, and he was frozen with a Hold Person spell. We quickly knocked out the other guard, Trottle got his butcher knife, and I held a longsword to the held guard's throat. "Go, Trottle. I have you covered." Owlbert used his spear to impale the guards coming up, and then shoving them down the stairwell, tumbling into each other. Then he dumped boiling stew on them. Finally, he finished them off with his crossbow. Erdan was covered in gruesome cuts as the soldiers sliced cruelly at the firbolg before he was able to knock one out, and Owlbert threw the spear dagger into the back of the other, finishing him off.
Trottle skipped over the broken glass into the altar room. A long red runner carpet led up to the dais, with pews on either side of the room. On the dais was a pedestal covered with a red cloth bearing the Volcanis symbol, upon which was the horn, Owlbert's magic bow, and other items we didn't recognize but were probably magical too. As he stepped onto the runner, the fabric came alive and tried to ensnare him, and he leaped onto the pews to avoid it. He brandished the mighty FORK OF TRUTH, and with a mighty stab, pinned the magic rug to the floor. Meanwhile, the guard finally shook off my hat and I had to slit his throat. "Hurry Trottle!" I leaned down to check the guards, and to my delight, I realized they each had a short sword. I drop my long sword and picked up the 2 shortswords. "Aw yeah, now we're back in business!" I spun about and was face to face with the female cleric who gave a cruel smile before casting a firey blast at me. I had no time to dodge the arcane flames, and in pain and rage I screamed, "YOU BITCH!"
Trottle heard my scream and dashed up to the dais to grab the cloth, hoping to grab everything in one go, but the moment he touched it, there was a crackle of energy and an explosion which he barely dodged. As he went up to see what happened, his eyes filled with tears as his horn lay smoldering on the cloth, incinerated, the other magical items scorched but intact. The cleric gave a cruel chuckle, "Your friend isn't getting what he wants today."
I gave a cruel smile of my own, feeling a need for vengeance for my friend. "But I'm going to...." as I waylaid into her with my blades. She tried to flee, and I managed to trip her and with a downward strike of my twin shortswords, it was over. The symbol on the cloth disappeared, and Trottle could pick up the items now. Quietly, he took the burning embers of his family legacy and sprinkled it on the still pinned rug, like someone spreading ashes in a funeral, setting it ablaze. He then gathered the rest of the items in the cloth, while I took the cleric's prayerbook, emblems, and a rod. I placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry about your horn," I said sincerely. He nodded once, his face stoic with unshed tears as he walked back to join the others. At that moment, that goblin looked very much like a noble dwarf.
We walked out of the courtyard to the path beyond, where Erdan said he had a tent waiting for us. We will rest, and then we will rescue our friends...
We rescued our companions easily and rested. At that time, Erdan the Firbolg revealed to us his real name, LightSong, and offered to make us honorary firbolgs, to be part of his family, so he could protect us better. To complete the ritual, we had to share with each other our biggest secrets. The others divulged easily, but I couldn't. I just made that vow of secrecy. I couldn't break it so soon, especially for this group. I gave a lesser secret, but that's all I'm willing to give for now. Now LightSong wants us to destroy the Tower. It was suppressing and hurting the Island Spirit, and that he could not abide. So we snuck back into the Tower, fought our way to the top, and found a ritual book. Reinforcements were coming, so we fled and hid with the Order of the Ascension. I didn't make the best impression on the High Inquisitor. Some people's faith is so fragile...
The clerics and Vrondiss found a ritual in the book that looked promising to bringing down the Tower. We cast it, and we got the outer shell of rune-covered metal bricks to collapse. Fortunately, we had the foresight to evacuate the area of civilians before casting it. The wreckage was pretty severe, and yet....we failed. Within the Tower was an inner core, and it stood tall. LightSong fumed as he could still feel the spirit trapped. Everyone went to research what to do, and I felt a bit lost. All this magic and spirit stuff is over my head, so I helped with cleanup and humanitarian efforts, feeling responsible for the damage we've caused....again. Then Owlbert ran up to us all excitedly, saying he had a lead on his parents and had to leave immediately. I wished him well and was filled with a mix of relief, and loss. Stupid bird, I muttered, stuffing my feelings of loneliness.
The Shot Heard Round the World
Audi returned and told us, Julia, that witchling, said she knew a way to get us to free the Island spirit the Alizarin had chained. Everything about this girl screamed trouble, but our 'captain' insisted we should follow Julia's plan. LightSong was busy communing, I'm sure he would have objected to this plan as he also doesn't trust her, but everyone else was eager for the next adventure. The High Inquisitor then sent us Ander, a cleric of the Ascension. He seemed ok with the plan....eager really. I just want to go back to my bed in Jerzee. We were led to a cave and time distorted. Vrondiss recognized this as a place between dimensions. We finally get to an underground lake, and it glowed green and within it, we could see a city. Around the lake were red demonic runes, cast by the witch who was kneeling at the lake, completing the ritual to let us pass to the other dimension. I saw a demonic shadow hulking over her as she cast, but the moment she detected us, the shadow disappeared. Everything in my body was screaming run away, but Audi was grinning like the foolish boy he was, running up to Julia. He then turned to me, "Now Breena, don't you have something to say to Julia, like maybe apologize for being a jerk?"
I looked at the demonic runes, the creepy lake, the creepier smile on the witchling. My eyes narrowed and I said to her, "Why do you want us to do this? What is your purpose in all this?" She shrugged nonchalantly, "Oh it's just something to do." Julia looked at Ander, and then backed up a few steps. Alarm bells were ringing in my head, but Audi scolded me again, saying it was alright. She's here to help. She's a friend.
A friend... right.
Everyone jumped into the green lake without hesitation and disappeared. I was horrified and told the remainder to wait, test the water for safety, use a rope, something!!!! The monk waded halfway into the lake and looked at me with a thumbs up. Gods, this was a very very bad idea. I thought, as I reluctantly followed. We arrived in the realm of the dead. We found a small city, where the souls were doing menial tasks, hardly aware of us, but around the edges of the city were men who were very much alert and alive. Audi didn't hesitate, jumping on one of them. "Bad Guys! Get em!" I blinked rapidly at the sudden fierceness of the laid back unicorn boy as everyone followed him without question and began fighting. Even Julia fought them, which surprised me. To our horror, the men pulled the souls into themselves and turned them into bone armor. Ok, they're probably bad guys I reasoned and joined in. We all gasped in horror as the bone armor shattered, the souls gone forever, as we killed the men. Oh, LightSong is NOT going to like this...
We finished off the men quickly and continued exploring, we found a very very very VERY old elf spirit. He was dead, but he could see us. He told us that there was a fortress nearby that may provide answers. Then the elf looked at Audi's leg. He had mangled his foot, so Cygnus was in the shape of a prosthetic to help him move around. The elf then pushed himself into that boot, letting Cygnus consume him. I just gape in horror and confusion, but Cygnus assured us the spirit was alright within. Okay... I'm overthinking things. I need to stop being so paranoid. Look at everyone. They're just accepting this. They're all smiles. Why is my soul screaming? I just needed to be a bit more trusting. Things will work out... right?
Inside the fortress, we fought a huge Bone Naga. Ander's holy energy tore through the snake-like it was paper. LightSong caught up with us. See? Things were gonna be just fine. I just worried too much, I told myself. We found a wizened crone within, standing before an ornate box. A glass with shimmering light sat on the table. Her legs were shackled to the wall. As my companions approached and answered her questions, one by one, she flashed her creepy green eyes, frightening them. "The Jailer has been jailed," she intoned. Vrondiss found a secret passage nearby, and within were two chests. Finally, something I understand! I got my tools and popped the lock, dodging the poison gas. The other one had a dart trap that I didn't dodge as easily but I shrugged it off. I've had worse. We found a crystal key, two daggers, and two leather bracers. Trottle carried the daggers and gave the bracers to Audi and Rowan. The crystal key resonated as it was moved closer to the magic shackles, and the wrongness of the place disappeared. The crone was freed, youthened, growing beautiful, and stronger in voice. She thanked us and bestowed us gifts and gold. I asked the lady what was in the glass, but she wouldn't tell me, becoming stony-faced. I looked at Julia, she stared hard at the spirit woman. "I don't think we're done here yet," she said ominously. My eyes widened, looking around for a threat. Audi told me to trust her. She's a friend. She must know. She got us this far. She's stared hard, so very hard, at the woman. Is this not the spirit? Are we being tricked? Oh for fuck sake, stop overthinking. No one else thinks this much. Just trust her dammit!
I shot the glass on the table.
A million voices screamed from the glass and faded away. The spirit woman screamed and withered away. Julia laughed, her dark eyes brightened with mischief and evil as she fled on her flying staff, continuing to laugh. By Astra and Umbra, what have I done?!!!
Everyone was running, and I was in shock. As we exited the lake coming to the cave, I felt my legs bound together as vines encircled me, encapsulating me. Lightsong was screaming in rage, screaming about how I killed the Island Spirit. He screamed I was pure evil. He was going to execute me on the spot. I closed my eyes, trying not to cry, and waited for my death, so overcome with shame and horror that I didn't even fight it. Audi and the rest of the party tried to convince him to spare me when I heard Cygnus's voice in my mind. "Your life is not his to take." I felt Cygnus's warmth, his goodness, surround me within the vines. The party convinced LightSong to release me so they can focus on escaping the island and saving others. When the vines fell away, I was no longer there. Cygnus spirited me away. Through our connection, I can feel LightSong's fury and hatred.
The Island had begun to tremble and fall apart. Audi sent Ander to his order, they used teleportation scrolls to evacuate the civilians. The Alizarin Soldiers rounded up more onto their ships. Meanwhile, I appeared in a bar in town, Cygnus in his golden persona was sitting next to me, his quiet presence was all that kept me from falling apart, as we waited for the others to find us. "Why did you save my life? I don't deserve to live," I said miserably. Cygnus gave his usual enigmatic smile. They found me... shoot, I could hear them all screaming at each other before they even reached the bar. Somehow Audi convinced LightSong that the higher priority was to save civilians. They could deal with me afterward. Audi dragged me along, as LightSong continued screaming epithets. Cygnus was heavy and slow with all the refugees, and I hid in my cabin while we got out to sea, along with the other evacuating ships. We sidled up to one of the abandoned Ascension ships, transferring refugees to lighten Cygnus's load. After the civilians were dropped off, Julia flew overhead to Audi. I saw her in the porthole window, and I stepped out of my cabin, crossbow in hand.
I heard Julia say how she was sorry for leaving Audi so suddenly, but that we did her a huge favor. Something in me snapped, my grief turned to rage as I shot the witch. Julia caught the bolt with her little hand and turned to me. "Do you need this back?" She dropped the bolt on the deck, a smug smile on her face. "This is YOUR fault! You tricked me!" I screamed in frustration and rage. She smiled, "Yes, I suppose this is my fault." Audi was furious that I tried to kill Julia and scolded me again, even as I sputtered incredulously, "She just admitted....why are you????" Everyone looked at me. They were all furious with me. They all thought it was my fault, that I meant to do it. Julia smiled and said she's got to go. I swear on the 100 oaths I'm going to kill that witch.
Audi still demanded that I should admit it was my fault. Lightsong demanded justice for what I had done. My heart broke, and the Jerzee fury came out. "I'm gonna make this easy on you. Fuck you. Fuck all of you. Fuck your acorn. Fuck your ship. Fuck off." I step off Cygnus with the refugees onto the Ascension ship without a backward glance.
Cooling my Heels
While on the refugee ship, we were hailed by... a Duck ship. And I thought our ship looked ridiculous. They led the refugees to a small farming island, and I asked to stay aboard. I shared with them my experience with our Celestial ship, and taught them how to improve it, and helped them swallow a regular fishing ship so it could disguise itself. The crew was kind, and one was the prettiest Dragonborn I'd ever seen. He was a well built barbarian with shiny blue scales that gleamed in the sun. He was shy and didn't speak much, and he was a stark contrast to Vrondiss, with his dull gray scales, and refined manner of speech. We sailed to an island with a wizard school. The children, studying for their exams stared at the blue Dragonborn, and I had a mischievous idea. I told the students that rubbing a Dragonborn's scales gives you good luck on exams. I grinned from ear to ear as the students literally glomped him, and the gentle warrior took it in stride, holding them all as they climbed all over him, before we sent them on their way. After that, I sent a signal to be picked up by the Shadow Organization and I parted ways with the Charma Chameleons crew.
I was relieved to see Thormund on the ship. After we escaped imprisonment, I couldn't find him among the prisoners and feared he had been killed. The grouchy 4 fingered dwarf managed a smirk. "Lass, I was out of there well before you were. I'm surprised to see you in one piece. What in the World Ship happened to that island?" I sigh, and after we summoned Vilgefortz's presence I fill them in. The seasoned dwarf raised his eyebrows, but Vilgefortz 's face was inscrutable.
"I can't go back. They want me dead," I said miserably. "Sounds like you need a distraction. I got just the thing," said Thormund, his voice gruff with the slightest hint of sympathy. Makes me miss my Dad. I fight back tears with that thought. He'd be even more ashamed of me if he knew how bad I screwed things up. Some hero I am.... For the next month, I undergo rigorous training and sparring. By the end of it, I was bruised and battered, but so were my opponents. I felt stronger and faster, and I had an even more desperate urge to prove myself. Then Vilgefortz said, "We found Julia Delphria. We're sending you to Rothnacum. Find out what you can about these towers and her involvement."
Adventure in Rothnacum: Rothnacum
Can I have a Side of Guilt with That?
The welcome back to PBS was strangely anti-climatic. Lightsong was locked in his cabin avoiding me, and I shook hands with Audi. He looked different somehow....a little more mature. He told me how the party was tried by the Island Tribunal and got them to pardon the group....and me, and I winced in a weird blend of guilt and gratitude. Dammit.....I didn't mean to get them all in trouble like that, and now I'm even more indebted to them. They don't deserve a screw-up like me.
We explored the island that had bonded with Cygnus, and we came across a group of beautiful fey, who offered us cookies. Cygnus was making a "Nope!" sign, which our dear captain ignored as he cheerfully went up to make friends with the fey lady, ate the offered cookies, and then they turned into hags and attacked us. Sigh... Captain McTrusty and the crew of misfits and screw-ups. That's us! It was so embarrassing, I lost face and found a hole to hide in.....literally.
When I came to, after Ander resurrected me, Chauncy was carrying me. I couldn't help but tease him. "My hero!" I said in a girly sing-song voice. He tensed, dropped me as if I had the plague, and gruffly said, "Oh good. You're awake." Not a romantic bone in that one, I tell ya.
We then met up with others in our flotilla to retake a citadel on the island, overrun with Orcs, mammoths, and demons. We were told to make a distraction. Now THAT we can do, and boy did we, in a spectacular manner. We lit the fields on fire, sending mammoths stampeding, and the orc troops chased after them. We then took out a few of the orc mages containing the Horned Devil. At that moment, we saw the hags bursting out of the forest, so we fled towards the citidel. As we glanced behind us, the hags had charmed one of the devils and was busy fighting the other devils and orc mages. Works for us! We went into the citadel, unopposed like we owned the joint. We cleared out the remaining riff-raff with help of the other crews, and now we DO own the joint.
And People Wonder Why I Have Trust Issues
Once things had settled down at the Citadel, I told the group about what I learned at Rothnacum. I knew Julia was important to Audi, and the last thing I wanted to do was make them all mad at me again, so I tried to give Julia the benefit of the doubt. She said she was in charge, but when Telmric shamed her, everyone at the table hushed, and even Julia cowed to him. I suggested to Audi that perhaps we could appeal to Julia's pride from that situation and get her to tell us what was going on.
I forgot to say that I'd prefer to do that confrontation in person, on Cygnus, so we could have the best leverage.
Next thing I know, Julia sends us a letter, begging for help and inviting us to Rothnacum, and I discover that Audi wrote to her, giving the suspected enemy my intel, and threw away any leverage we had. I wanted to yell at him, but what good would that do? It's my fault for forgetting the Captain's IQ can be counted by his chin hairs. I looked at Julia's letter with suspicion. "You realize this is a trap, right?" The captain beamed at me, "It'll be fine!" Famous last words. I groan, but what can I do? They forgave me, and saved my life. Dammit, if this is another of the witch's traps, I swear I'm gonna cut someone's unicorn horn off and shove it up the other's ass.
Thank goodness Lightsong and I are talking to each other now. We've been lashing out, hurling epithets at each other, and it is such a stress reliever! He keeps me sane.
Back to Rothnacum - Dead Rising
It felt like it was a completely different island. The port city was wrecked, everything smelled of fire and death, and all along the shore were teams of Volcanis priests, soldiers, and war mages, and they looked very haggard. Captain Audi led the way and told the nearest group we were responding to Commander Julia's request for help. They explained that the Island was under siege from undead swarming in waves from the ocean. So, Julia told the truth for once. I'm shocked.
We were brought to one of the Towers, and Julia had also changed. The young unicorn witch had Umbral chains weaving through her body, and the evil that she emitted was palpable. Even Audi's smile faltered in worry, and he gave a nervous greeting. "H-Hi... Julia. You look... different. How are you feeling?" Julia's eyes gleamed with unholy light and she gave a grin that made everyone shudder as she replied gleefully, "I feel great!" I think my knuckles turned white as I gripped the hilt of my sword when Audi hugged her, but Julia hugged back. Audi said the chains made him feel icky, but he seemed unharmed.
Julia explained she had absorbed her Patron and his power. I glanced at Cygnus in worry. His face was serious but strangely unconcerned. "It's alright," he reassured me. Julia wanted us to assist in hunting the undead and find out why they were here. When we got to the docks, we fought off a wave of the abominations, and LightSong managed to retrieve a piece of their armor. None of the priests or mages at the shore could tell us much from it but suggested we might find answers at the second tower. We reported what we discovered to Julia, that the undead were advancing on the second tower and we planned to investigate it further.
As we approached, we could see lightning shooting towards and away from the top of the tower. Along the base of the barrier white and gold banners flew with the symbol of the Ascension. Along the side of the barrier, we found a swath of dead animals. Along with scores of undead corpses which had failed to breach the barrier. With this in mind, Captain Audiot touched the barrier anyway, launching himself backward injuring his hand. Sighing, we approached the Ascension camp, we took this opportunity to rest and heal the Captain. We asked to see High Inquisitor Valestrider in order to deliver Ander's letter.
Valestrider was in her tent performing a ritual in an attempt to shatter the barrier around the second tower. Cygnus suggested we help her by using the power of our Celestial artifacts to boost the ritual. Even so, it wasn't enough. Audi and Julia flew up to the top of the tower as close as they dared, they saw two figures in black robes surrounding a large blue glass orb. Julia and Audi tried blasting it with their respective energies. Julia's demonic energy was absorbed, and Audi's celestial energy was repelled. We saw the forcefield ripple suddenly, as Julia started attacking from above with massive blasts of Umbral fire. The forcefield shattered causing the lightning to redirect into a lightning field around the base of the tower. The lightning grew too fierce and Audi and Julia rejoined us at Valestrider's tent. The High Inquisitor had passed out from the effort of her ritual, so it was up to us to go into the tower, and bring down whatever was attracting the undead.
At this point, I found it odd that Valestrider, Julia, and the waves of Undead all wanted to get in this tower. Valestrider and Julia worked with Telmric to bring up this tower and brought on this nightmare. The Ascension priests told us something went horribly wrong within, and are now trying to purify it, but what was Julia's motive? I was suspicious of her intentions, and I was even more so as Julia braved the lightning storm and made it to the gates, carved with death runes, which she easily opened. I turned to LightSong, "10 gold she isn't here to stop the Undead army, but to actually take it over." Lightsong grinned and shook my hand, "I'll take that bet."
Our group and a dozen Ascension priests led by a Blue Dragonborn named Tesh ran through the lightning field following Julia into the Tower. It was forty stories high, and everywhere we looked had statues and sigils to Death. Sygel reassured us that it didn't mean the tower was evil. We all just looked at him like he was crazy. On several floors, robed figures worked on rituals, on others the chambers were filled with chains crisscrossing in every direction weaving throughout the tower. Julia was suddenly grabbed by ethereal chains and vanished through the ceiling. LightSong worked on breaking the chains as we raced up the flights of stairs trying to find where Julia had gone. We ordered the Ascension clerics to try to disrupt the rituals below.
We finally arrived at the top of the Tower, Julia was held fast in the ethereal chains at the far end of the room. The chains pierced her body, flowing into her already open wounds, causing her to scream in anguish. In the center was Telmric in orange robes, his face half withered away, he had become one of the Undead. In his hand, he clasped a dark diamond-shaped crystal. He was surrounded by other robed figures. Cygnus, Chauncy, and Audi raced over to try to free Julia as the rest of us joined battle with the robed figures and Telmric. Chauncy was blown back when he touched the chains. No one was able to free Julia, who was rapidly losing strength and life. Audi cried in frustration as Telmric mocked us, telling us that it was too late to stop the ritual. The ceiling opened up, revealing a Blood Moon, and the entire floor lifted up further into the sky. He called the crystal the Heart of a God, launching multiple fireballs at us which knocked out several of our party. With a resonating crunch, LightSong smashed his maul into Telmric's skull killing him, the crystal fell from his hand and rolled towards Vrondiss who picked it up. The crystal captured his mind, taking him over. Vrondiss launched lightning attacks at the party. I tried desperately to knock the crystal out of his hand, holding back because I didn't want to kill him, but his clawed hand held it in a death grip as he evaded my blows. He launched another lightning attack, right at Julia and her chains, and she let out a horrific scream as the chains absorbed the lightning as well as the rest of Julia's Umbral energy. Her own chains disappeared, and she fell to the ground, pale and lifeless.
I was terrified of breaking the crystal, fearing it was like an Island Spirit, so I chopped off Vrondiss's arm. The Rapier of Petrification turned it to stone so he didn't bleed, but he fell unconscious and I could hear the lull of the crystal, urging me to pick it up as Audi cried brokenly, begging Cygnus to fix Julia. Then Rowan rushed forward and grabbed the crystal before I did, and fell unconscious.
The ritual completed and we all felt a lurch, and suddenly the Tower and all of us were all on the Dwarven Mainland, Kalur Rith. We had no idea what was going to happen next.
PBS Remodeling - You make em, we break em!
I closed my eyes, trying to recall what happened. It went so fast....
Telmric reformed around the dark whispering crystal somehow, and the fighting continued. I tried to help, raising my sword and shouted "For the lightning tree!" a shadow was ripped away from Telmric. I then tried to attack but I lost my nerve after striking him once, overcome with fear. Audi was more berserk than Lightsong, tearing into him with his polearm, screaming in rage and grief. I knew Telmric would just keep coming back unless we found his phylactery. Well, time to do what I do best, I figured. I darted around the room and noticed a few items had a glow of Umbral energy about them. I started at the altar with the candles and sliced at them with my rapier. The tower lurched violently, and everyone was thrown about the platform, but fortunately, no one fell off. Shakily I got to my feet and realized one of the Tower chains had disconnected from the ground. I smiled in hope and began attacking the other glowing items. Again and again, the Tower lurched as the other chains gave way. Audi fell unconscious from Telmric's attacks, but my companions managed to stab Telmric in his chest, striking the gem that was keeping him alive. Another chain broke and the Tower teetered dangerously. I looked around, and the only thing left glowing was Julia's body. While the party was distracted with healing Audi, I discretely threw my Dagger of Healing at the body and withdrew it before anyone could notice. Nothing happened, and I felt a mix of disappointment, and relief.
I'm not quite sure who or how we came up with this notion, but we decided to place Julia's body on the dark crystal. The Umbral energy that had been hovering above the platform was now swirling around Julia's head, but she didn't revive. Unfortunately, it also broke the last Tower Chain, causing the tower to fall right towards the city. We all screamed in horror, and grabbed our unconscious companions and held on for dear life before we crashed. We were tossed from the platform, a bit bruised and battered, except for Audi, who was on Julia's broomstick, carrying her body.
We made camp some distance away and healed our wounds. Two figures approached us laughing to each other, "I thought you all might have something to do with this." It was Marty and Nary. It felt like years since we had seen them last. They passed out their odd healing potions and headed out into town. After that, Audi told Cygnus to protect Julia's body while we investigated the city to assess the damage and try to find survivors. I went to the Dwarven Holy Temple we had visited before. The place was packed with injured and dead, clerics everywhere assigned to surgeries. Everyone was busy so I didn't want to bother them. Instead, I went to the roof of the Temple, and I sighed in grief at the devastation that was Kalur Rith. "This is becoming a nasty habit of mine." In the middle of the once prosperous city lay the Tower we brought down. Untold dead, and the Shadow Headquarters, which was right in the middle of that city, and all the ops that worked there... obliterated. So much for sending a raven out. "Boss isn't gonna like this..." I groaned, wondering if Shadow Master Vilgefortz was going to demote me, or worse.
I frowned. "Where's the rest of the Dwarven Mainland?" Somehow, Kalur Rith had been ripped from the continent, now a fragmented island on its own. I couldn't see the mainland anywhere. My companions fared no better as other strange things happened. Audi found some survivors among the rubble, but when his back was turned, they disappeared. Rowan ran along the felled tower to the base and spotted dark armored elf looking people gathered around the base of the tower. They rode in ornate black wagons, with symbols of an odd tentacle face. Lightsong was in deep meditation, trying to find Julia's soul, to no avail. He then tried to talk to the Island spirit, and he frowned in confusion. Something was off, but he couldn't place it. Just then, Rowan burst into camp, telling Lightsong, Cygnus, and Chauncy of the elves and the wagons. Our gray Dwarven scholar's face became full of fear. No one had seen him that fearful since the day we met him. He grabbed Cygnus muttering quickly to him and they left to investigate. When Audi and I returned, Rowan and Lightsong filled us in, and Audi was furious that Cygnus left Julia's body unattended. Rowan arched an eyebrow, "What are we, chopped liver?" Audi replied hotly, "No, but I hardly trust those two with Julia," as he looked at Lightsong and me. I could only smirk, understanding the Captain's concerns, but Lightsong was insulted.
We headed after Chauncy and Cygnus, running and flying quickly after them. We found them quickly using Sygel's Scrying orb. I had never seen the Dwarf so frightened, and he jabbered so quickly that few of us could keep up with him. Cygnus, who now looked like a brown-haired, green-eyed elf, dressed in fine clothing with pauldrons and cloak of mallard duck feathers, nodded patiently as Chauncy ranted. He called them The Drowned Ones. They were ancient beings from beneath the earth, part of the Umbral itself, and they shouldn't be here. Great... more things coming from the ocean. Audi sent me back to the Dwarven Temple to alert them of the threat while they broke down camp and prepared to evacuate survivors onto Cygnus if necessary.
I ran to the Temple as fast as I could and brought myself up short at the steps as something felt wrong. A few hours ago there was chaos and noise from all the survivors. Now all was deathly silent. On high alert I cautiously entered the Temple. Everyone, including the clerics, were dead, their throats slashed, some missing their heads. Not wanting to tangle with an unknown enemy that made Chauncy soil his pants, I fled back to my party. I had just managed to tell them that everyone at the Temple were slain when we were besieged by the Drowned Ones. Audi barely had enough time to grab Julia's body before our camp was engulfed in a dark portal of Umbral energy. Chauncy yelled at us to get to the sea, and then he enlarged, his arms becoming serrated whips. As Audi and I reached Cygnus, who had resumed his boat form, Lightsong called out to me, "Told you he was evil." I was all starry-eyed, "But look how badass he looks! I wanna be able to do that! Besides, he's defending us so we can get away. That's hardly evil!" He rolled his eyes and rushed to attack the evil elves to aid Chauncy and Rowan. I shot at a few with my crossbow, giving them some cover.
It was quickly apparent that the enemy was going to overtake us, so Rowan and Lightsong fled to Cygnus. Chauncy yelled at us to go as he threw himself within the Umbral forcefield, with the Drowned One on his back, and they vanished. We were all in shock from Chauncy's sacrifice as we sailed away. Audi, somehow, still had the presence of mind to set our course. "We need to warn the Dwarven Empire of what's coming." We nodded, grimly.
Some Bonds never Break
I've 'borrowed' your journal from Julia to write this. Don't worry. It'll be back in Julia's hands before she wakes.
I just want you to know that your faith in Julia is vindicated, and I’m sorry it took this long for me to see what you always saw in her. She’s a survivor, smart and scrappy, with a resilience that leaves me in awe. I admire her, I admit it. We had a good talk and found out we have some things in common, like our view of the world and those that claim to be good, our desire to prove ourselves, our dark humor, but most of all, what we have in common is our loyalty to you. You’ve changed us both, for the better, I hope. We’re both screw-ups, and you still defended us, and gave us another chance, and saved our lives. We’re forever grateful, and we’ve put aside any enmity in our shared goal to save you. That’s how much you mean to us both.
Julia deeply regrets what has happened to you and continues to go to great lengths to retrieve and restore your soul. She could have left the moment she was free, but she hasn't. Her only thought has been to rescue you. Please forgive her for what happened in that place. She was literally maddened by the experience, and she fears you'll hate her forever. She fears what condition you will be in when we restore you, as do we all. We will stand with you nonetheless. We're all a little bit broken, and together.....well we're still broken, and we're all definitely a little crazy, but as you say, we're still family.
I will have to leave soon, but I know you are in safe hands. Hands that I now trust to protect you, and hold yours through all that is yet to come. I shall protect and watch over you from the shadows, and I look forward to the day I can see you again.