Thursday, 16 December 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 57 -- Sunday 31st October 2010

In which many doors open, new and powerful acquaintances are made in the emerald spire, and the extraordinary value of one of the company's recent acquisitions starts to come into focus.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

October 31st, 370 Pale King's Reckoning

The party spends the rest of the day recovering from their ordeal in the sewers, except for Jonas who is dispatched to stealthily recover any remains he can find of the civilians who were killed. He agrees to this with a murderous twinkle in his eye and melts away into the crowds.

November 1st, 370 PKR

The company takes a few minutes to register their interest for the Pillar to Post race, due to start in a couple of weeks, at a small office in the First Ward (the wizard's quarter of the city). Their team is, for the moment, submitted unnamed, but Elumai nominates herself as the contact.

Later in the morning, a young lad turns up with a wax-sealed letter for Elumai. Inside, there is a note written in elven and a broach depicting an eight-pointed compass. The note reads simply, "Save your friend." Berend offers the boy and his pa free breakfasts at the inn as reward (and perhaps, in the interests of cultivating a useful employee) while Elumai examines the broach.

It's unremarkable except for the trace amounts of divination magic it's emitting, and Elumai wastes no time casting Object Reading on it. In answer to the question of who the note came from, the momentary image of one of the clerks from the eladrin consulate flashes across her mind. To the question of how it might be used to help her, she receives the image of a delicate male hand with a silk handkerchief attached to a gold ring, holding the broach in its upturned palm; the sun is setting in the background, and glittering water lies all around.

to the question of how this relates to her friend Seraiya, she receives an image much like the second one, except the background is instantaneously replaced with thick marshland, and the silhouette of a distant, canted three-pinnacled tower can be seen in the background. Against all odds, she recognises this foetid bog as an area of the Feywild where she was taken as a child to master hunting and survival in the wilderness, a place called Karrick-Kurr.

She reports these findings to her friends, and the suggestion is made that the images may have depicted a Fey Crossing somewhere on the Tondo-Ghantsee lake. However, any possibility of investigating is at odds with the party's stated intention of attending the planar symposium due to be held at the Basilica this evening at 5pm, so it has to be put off for now.

After asking around, they find out that the keynote speaker, Fennig Darshue, is a dwarf; that the whole affair is invitation only; and that several higher-members of the Court of Cloaks are likely to attend. The problem of getting an invite seems readily solvable: make contact with Lord Hottentoat, who contacted them earlier regarding his friend Lord Riva, and sweet-talk him into gaining them entry. This requires them to venture for the first time to the great spire Emerandes itself, from which the city gets its name.

The inner wards of the city are ringed by huge civic edifices put over to the service of either the city, the mages, or the King. Several of these have distinct dwarven lines to them, a fact not lost on Berend as the company passes beneath the columns of the Basilica, the great courthouse of the city, but as they enter the First Ward, the tenor of the environment radically changes. Mages fly to-and-fro. Small communiques zip and dodge along broad, uncrowded streets towards their recipients. Golems and other automata step aside with a muttered and mechanical "Excuse me sir". Gratutitous displays of power, magic, and wealth force themselves upon the party at every turn, and it's a far cry from the dark, topsy-turvy, and tumble-down streets where they've spent the majority of their time in the city so far.

Overlooking it all is the Spire itself, one of the great Citadels of Cradle Plain, reputedly marking the grave of one of the beings who fell to earth aeons ago in an ancient epoch declared taboo by the gods of the present day (and by Osternagum, the great prophet of the mages who brought knowledge of magic to the Plain). The spire itself is a multi-faceted pillar of shining green, several hundred feet wide at its base but narrowing all the way to its cloud-rimmed tip almost half-a-mile above.

One hundred steps are carved into its base, rising to three huge archways and granting ingress to the grand entrance lobby of the the Citadel. Inside, hundreds of people mill quietly about: members of the Court, floating or walking solemnly by, those who aspire to the arcane disciplines, and multitudinous visitors amongst them.

By far the centre of attention is the huge bronze frieze hung on the wall, an elaborate display which encompasses fully one third of the circumferance of the lobby. Known as The Lattice, it is the summation of all arcane knowledge on the plain, the laws of magic inscribed by equations, pictographs, glyphs, and various esoteric symbology, at once simple enough for novices to grasp and yet full of contradictions and subtleties which only the most experienced practitioners can hope to fully understand. From a distance, the inscriptions describe grand, beautiful patterns; up close, these patterns seem to repeat at ever-more complex levels. Empty spaces of virgin polished bronze, gaps even in the knowledge of the Court of Cloaks, are many.

The company accosts the nearest official, a blonde-haired mage whose plainness is offset by the complex golden patterns inscribed on her face. She greets them politely, and as it is their first visit, invites all of them to contemplate the mysteries of the Lattice.

"It is not just the truths of magic that lie trapped in the Lattice, but the truths of life. For one is the other."
-- Court of Cloaks official, the Grand Lobby of the Spire

They show her Lord Hottentoat's invitation and she immediately walks off to summon the wizard. A few minutes later (where in the meantime Elumai takes a few seconds to correct a nearby acolyte who has been teaching improper somatics to a rapt group of students), the clockwork monkey they saw earlier skitters across the polished green-tiled floor, scampers up Finial's leg, and starts sniffing his ear. Finial offers it one of the ball-bearings from its earlier visit. The monkey accepts, and a beautiful friendship seems inevitable.

"Ah!" says a creaky voice from behind them. "I see you've been re-acquainted. He was terribly sorry for his earlier rudeness, but he had a lot of pressing errands that day, I'm afraid."

The party turns to see a hunched old wizard approaching, dressed in dirty (but pearlescent) green robes, leaning heavily on a black quarterstaff shod with silver. Wisps of grey hair frame his lined old face, and the outline of a white lightning-bolt is inscribed, somewhat half-heartedly, from his forehead across one eye to his cheek.

Elumai bows but he waves her off. "None of that, none of that! Well then, you received my summons I see, and only a day late in arriving! Heheh." He instructs everyone to link hands, takes Elumai's delicate palm in his, and there is a sudden drunken rush of air before the party finds itself in Hottentoat's apartment.

Carved seemingly from the crystal of the tower, the room is bell-shaped and hung with various colours of curtain and weave, likely to provide some solace from the unceasing and innate green-ness of the apartment. A window of thick glass looks out, from their current vantage, onto nothing but blue sky. The room, which doubles as a laboratory, seems a mess to everyone except Elumai, who discerns a certain symapthetic order amongst the chaos.

There are several workbenches, all strewn with cogs, springs, cut pieces of metal, tiny clockwork engines, and various other materiale. At the arrival of Hottentoat and his guests, two metal dogs bound out of a side room, buffeting several thick curtains aside, one jumping up at Berend and the other at Elumai, their inner workings of bronze ticking and spinning in a complex dance. From another corner, a fat, miniature gnome shuffles out from behind a curtain, looks around, harumphs! magnificently in a slightly tinny voice, and starts to clean the place with a dust-pan and brush almost as big as he is. "Turing, must you do that when I have visitors?" asks the wizard curtly, but he is ignored. Completing the menagerie, a parrot made entirely of what looks like stained glass swoops down from the ceiling and perches on Hottentoat's shoulder, nibbling at his ear.

Finial enquires as to whether these are the wizards own creations and Hottentoat nods, splendidly pleased to have been asked.

"Yes yes, all my own work. I call it inanimation. None of this suffusing machines with living spirits nonsense. I find the idea acutely offensive. No, I say that with sufficient programming, you can instill a perfectly adequate semblance of life in these creatures without stealing that spark from some other potential soul who might have a much better use for it."
-- Lord Hottentoat shares his opinion on constructs

"Like a warforged?" enquires the paladin, and Hottentoat looks taken aback,

"I should say not! And I'm surprised you even know the word, sir! Anyone so well-versed in ancient history should know the fate of the warforged, and their creators. There's no slavery here, and no chance that my little friends will rise up, destroy me, and rampage across the world! They just don't have it in them! Do you, you just don't have it in you, do you Rufus..." The wizard sets about petting the larger of the two dogs, which sits and wags its metal tail in appreciation.

Over refreshments (prepared by an increasingly exasperated Turing) the party tells of its adventures with Calamachia. "You found a working Forge?!" he cries, aghast, grabbing some note paper and a quill. "You must show me. Turing! Turing!" There's a crash of crockery and the gnome waddles out of the kitchen carrying a rolled up map of the Plain.

As the party indicates the Rowenoaks where the brothers Cannith led them unwittingly to the Forbidden Forge, they get a good look at Hottentoat's splendid and detailed map. Elumai is particularly interested in multiple sets of contours overlaid on the geography and seeming to focus around the Citadels of Emerandes, Phalax, and Lovosignum. Hottentoat prompts her to speculate on what they might be, but Elumai, suddenly feeling the pressure of a student being asked a difficult question by her teacher, can only guess in vague terms. The old cloak is symapthetic. "Confluences of magic, my dear, energies between the shadows of the Citadels. Even we don't know exactly what they mean, but they are there."

Despite this, Elumai does notice subtle interference patterns which seem to coalesce around where she knows of three fey crossings (her home Dyanosis, and the Fey Consulate and the lake here in the city), and points them out. Hottentoat perks-up at her observations. "Very good my dear, very good! Riva was right about you, I see! In time, one of your heritage and skills might not even have to chart crossings into the Feywild, you might be able to simple see them for yourself. Can you imagine?"

Coming around to the subject of the invitation-only planar symposium, the company is soon filling him in on the Seraiya situation, as well as the fact that they have come into possession of a plane jammer once owned by the Reverend Tarq Frushante. Hottentoat knows little of the planes or Tumerex itself, but is stunned into disbelief that they claim to have a planar vessel, something he hasn't heard of existing for hundreds of years, and supposes that Fennig Darshue would dearly love to get his hands on it (as would the Court itself). After a moment of strange, distant contemplation, he is able to recall exactly in which room Darshue is staying, and pens a simple letter of introduction which might lend them more credibility upon a visit.

And then at last Hottentoat comes to the business at hand. Apologises in advance for any deception on his part, he reveals that in fact he doesn't know Riva personally, and is most definitely not his friend... in point of fact he can't stand him, seeing him as an unsufferable egoist who prefers accolades to be on lavished on himself in place of the Court. The old wizard doesn't approve of such behaviour, but it seems his suspicions run far deeper about the enigmatic Dustboot who saved Elumai's life so many months ago.

Upon finding out that Riva had Raised Elumai from the dead, he seems most perturbed at the scale of such a gift. "I mean no disrespect, but why would he do such a thing? Give of himself in this manner? He must have taken quite a shine to you my dear. And you've felt entirely yourself since this procedure?" Elumai can only nod, troubled by Hottentoat's concern and his reluctance to elaborate on what exactly Riva had to "give" in order to resurrect her.

The news does little to allay his concerns. "I've long had my suspicions about him. His fascinations are unkind. His obsessions, shadowy. I opposed his appointment to the Dustboots many years ago on the basis of an intuition, but nevertheless the vote was passed. I feared that away from the spire, separated from the oversight of his peers, his nature would assert itself in ways we would come to regret.

"Since his appointment, I've spent considerable resources and called in many favours to keep an eye on him; a responsibility of my position, you see. Magic is a dangerous business, to its practitioners, to the King, to the city, and to the Court. It's no coincidence I'm sure that you found yourselves embroiled in the affairs of the Samazar Splinter -- you knew of them as the Mages of Saruun -- while in his company. It wasn't the first time he had dealings with them, long a thorn (if you'll excuse the pun) in the Court's side, ever since the day they rejected our authority and formed their own secret enclave. Disbanded, now, you tell me? And not under instruction from Lord Riva? Hmm, perhaps, perhaps not. I wouldn't be surprised if he engineered it in some way, although perhaps I'm giving him too much credit.

"And so to the matter of his recent disappearance. A member of the Dustboots entirely outside of our supervision is unprecedented and has caused no small degree of consternation at all levels of the Court, all the way up to the Emerald Magister himself, and this is especially true given the worrying company Riva has kept in recent years.

"He's had dealings with several unnerving groups, shall we say. The Old Hands at Sixth Sea, a very unpleasant bunch; the Samazar Splinter, as we know; and the Black Mantissa in Lukktor, a murderous cult with a long and bloody history..." (Lukktor is a name familiar to the adventurers, having been the source of the ruined caravan which Azurami and Xavier came upon and swore to avenge.)

"On the face of it Riva seems to have been doing his job.
Before he disappeared, his reports were frequent and punctual. The Splinter is now disbanded, due to the actions of a group he himself patronised. But there's something about these cults, something I can't quite put my finger on... the necromancy of the Old Hands; the Splinter's independent work into the Rockworms of Kworm, if you're to be believed, and who-knows-what-other interplanar mysteries; and the Mantissa, brokers for powers far darker than shall be named here..."

As the subject of flurock comes to light, Hottentoat offers his thoughts on the petrified worm-flesh, recounting legends that those who came into contact with a Rockworm could subsequently smell the children of Kworm from miles away. "
The Rockworms of Kworm are sSome of the most powerful creatures of old, endlessly burrowing through the earth. Legend states that if they should ever reach the World's core... poof! Everything will be destroyed in a moment of infinite consumption. Your experiences of these creatures, long thought extinct, are not to be taken lightly, and I shall report them to my superiors immediately."

So the old wizard arrives eventually at the question he has been waiting to ask: will the company take it upon themselves to track or find Lord Riva, and report back to him on their findings? He offers a bounty from the Court treasuries to sweeten the deal, and suggests that Lukktor, a town under the sway of several insidious cults, will be a good place to start. "I do not recommend that you simply walk in the front gate and start asking questions, however," he warns. "They will be the equal of you, I'm sure."

The party agrees and takes its leave, Hottentoat promising to meditate on the information given to him (which encompasses much of what they've experienced to date, including their strange experiences with Aiyanna and her group below near the Seven-Pillared Hall). They stop by the treasuries on their way to Fennig Darshue's apartment.

A gruff and harassed voice shouts back at them as they knock on the door. "Too soon! I'm not ready!" but Elumai insists that they're not here on symposium business. "Will these interruptions never cease!" says a half-clothed dwarf as he pulls the door angrily open. Laid out on the bed behind him are multiple exotically-coloured garments, and a large, dropping feathered cap hangs from a coat-stand near by.

Clearly, they've caught Darshue at a bad time. The company wastes no time with banter and asks the dwarf directly what he might know about re-joining the bisected halves of an interdimensional plane-jammer. Darshue, however, is unimpressed. "If such a thing existed, I would surely know everything about it. Since I do not, it does not. And I do not know you... is this some kind of joke? A distraction by that wizardly fellow who I embarrassed so thoroughly last year?" Darshue pokes his head out of the door, looking up and down the corridor outside for anything suspicious.

Much to his consternation, however, Elumai pushes past, grabs the nearest garment, and begins dressing the flustered dwarf, the rest of the company piling in behind her. "Alright then, on the infinitessimal chance you're serious, and given your colleague's obvious expertise in matters of hosiery, ask me your ridiculous questions again!"

When shown the rubbing of the planar map that the party took from the ship, the dwarf's attitude radically changes. "I say... yes a fold just there and the third principle of harmonic release... where did you find this wonder? I certainly didn't draw it. Tumerex? I don't believe a word of it."

Extricating himself from Elumai's attentions, he pulls a monocle from a nearby drawer and stares at each of the company in turn. "My word. It's all true! The signs of interplanar transgression are clear as day on the lot of you. If I could just..." From under his bed, he pulls what looks like a circular disc of glass, utters a nonsensical command word, and the glass fogs over. "Ah, excellent image quality!" he exclaims, showing them a ghostly image of their silhouettes from which various prismatic auras can be seen to emanate. "Have a seat, then," he says smoothly, finally closing the door behind them, "I can be a few minutes late to that lecture, I'm sure."

The company fills the dwarf in on a few more details, wary of revealing too much. "So, a plane jammer? Damaged, you say... well I wouldn't worry about that, it'll maintain its relative spatial integrity no matter how damaged... but more to the point when can I see it? Your secret is safe with me, you can be sure. Perhaps honorary navigator would be a suitable role? What's the control mechanism?"

Berend recounts their failed attempts to establish mental control of the ship. "Ah yes, a finely honed mind is needed. (I'm at your disposal.) You need to visualise the location of the ship in five dimensional space, such is the nature of all things. (I could certainly do the job for you.) There are even rumours these things have a semi-sentience all of their own. (But I would certainly be willing to give it a try.)

"To the question of repairs, on the one hand it's simple metallurgy, any good blacksmith could re-form the shell. But it's the translocation that's the tricky part... you have to reform the outer slipshell, something requiring powerful minds, or a focus into which they've imparted their energies. They would need schematics, I'm sure, and be fully informed of what it is they're attempting. But yes... I don't see why that wouldn't work..."

Berend is intrigued albeit reluctant to propagate news of the planejammer any further than he needs to, and the prospect of a fleet of ships cruising the cosmos under the control of the mages, whilst exciting to Fennig (obviously) gives the rest of the group more pause for thought. As they make to leave, Fennig is gripped by a moment of panic. "Wait! How will I contact you? Where are you staying? What are your names?" but the party simply waves goodbye and closes the door in his face. Then, with much to ponder, they return to the Fall Right Inn.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 56 -- Sunday 24th October 2010

In which Jonas gets the attention of the hornet's nest, his friends kick it over, and difficult choices are made deep under Emerandes.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

Franky's Stein is an inn deep inside one of the seedier districts of the city, frequented of old by many of the more dangerous people of Jonas' one-time-acquaintance. The place looks much the same as the last time he was here: a stiflingly-hot, low-ceilinged bar filled with the murmur of quiet conversation. As he draws his hood down there is a subtle change in the atmosphere, too minute for anyone but he to discern.

The rogue strolls over to Jack Billard, an old acquaintance, and the leather-faced one-eyed bar-fly looks him up and down.

One-Eyed Jack: "Master Jonas, all growed up. Never thought I'd see the day that you'd step foot in this city again. You must know you're a dead man walking."
Jonas: "You're still working for him then?"
Jack: "O'course I am! They keep my palms greased, and I keep me mouth shut. You know how it works."
Jonas: "Tell him I have a message for him..." (moves to draw sword)
Jack: "Now now, Mr. Jonas, you and I goes a way back. That wouldn't be violence you're threatening me with? I'm sure I got more friends in this place than you have. What're the chances o' you walkin' out that door, do you think? Put the weapon away Master Jonas, if you come here to talk, let's talk."
Jonas: "I'm surprised I got this far."
Jack: "Ah well, it's not my business to carry out assassinations sir. I leave that to people better equipped. All I do is clean tables."
Jonas: "Yeah right. You're as sick as the rest of them."
Jack: "That's a matter of opinion. Now why'd you really come back? Just to threaten a one-eyed tramp? And not alone even. I see you brought some new friends to play with. They know all about you, do they? All about your dirty little past?"
Berend: "We know all we need to know."
Jack: "Is that right, master dwarf? I could tell you a tale or two about this young man's days in Emerandes... what he got up to... sicken even a dwarf's ears it would."
Jonas: "And what have you done?"
Jack: "Ah, plenty. But I make no bones about it. I'll tell everyone in this room what it was."
Jonas: "Go on then." (nudges Finial)
Jack: "Ah here to pass judgement are you? I killed nineteen men in cold blood, me, in the course of this one life. Not a-one of them deserved it. Made eighteen gold across the lot o'them. But the value of those men's lives wasn't in the money they had in their purses, as Mr. Jonas well knows..."
-- Jonas and One-Eyed Jack, Franky's Stein in Emerandes

It's here that Jonas tires of this banter and grabs the surprised old rogue, one hand reaching for the gladius at his belt. His friends immediately unsheathe their weapons as chairs are pushed back, tables turned over, and several armed men and women get to their feet.

The tavern quickly descends into chaos, split almost equally between those who want a piece of Jonas for past deeds or for what looks like the imminent murder of Billard, and those who just want to get out of the firing line. Jonas plunges his sword into Billard's chest, and the filthy old ne'er-do-well's eyes go wide with pain and surprise. "You're a madman, after all!" he croaks, blood bubbling on his lips, before sliding, lifeless, to the floor.

The fire flares up in sympathy with Elumai's Burning Hands, thickening the already oppressive heat as her hair flies back in a magical wind unfelt by friend and foe alike. Flames streak out across the room, incinerating a half-drunk patron who had drawn his dagger and bloodying several others who are forced to dive into cover to escape the inferno. Aerello calls upon his powers and transforms into a diabolic beast, blasts of eldritch power erupting from his fingertips and engulfing one of the assassins who had stepped forward intent on slitting his throat.

By this point many of those who were spoiling for a fight are now retreating in stunned disbelief in the face of such a powerful display, but this doesn't stop Finial unleashing holy judgement on a wounded enemy. As he does so, someone else Jonas recognises appears from the store-room: Gizzard, one of the more dangerous Assassin's Guild enforcers, a scarred brute of a human a great two-handed sword in his hands and a look of perfect scorn on his face. "Last mistake you'll ever make, Jonas!" he bellows, and charges the rogue, but Jonas is ready for him, throwing him over and into his fellows, all of whom go sprawling against the bar, then leaping over Gizzard's head and punching his sword into the enforcer's thigh. The villain screams in pain, frustrated that Jonas has obviously become a much more dangerous opponent in the years since his departure from the guild.

s the party continues to unleash ever-growing amounts of injury on the throng, the contingent of patrons who want nothing to do with the fight quickly starts to swell, and what was at first a casual move towards the door quickly becomes a stampede. Unfortunately Jonas, Gizzard, and several of his fellows are blocking the way out, their steel flashing and clanging together in the doorway, so one of the clearer-thinking fellows picks up the heaviest chair he can see and flings it through the window. The glass explodes out into the street and draws screams of surprise from passers-by.

Heedless of this, Jonas tumbles over the bar, spins on one heel, and with a single crossbow bolt to the throat expertly divests Gizzard of his life. Aerello and Elumai all-but finish off two of Gizzard's cronies, and suddenly all that's left is a mopping-up exercise in the wake of the rest of the tavern climbing over each-other in their haste to get outside. A voice speaks out from the bar, and it's Jonas, a tall, frothing jug in one hand. "Beer, anyone?"

Walking the aftermath looking for familiar faces, he quickly finds one: Bob Bilby, one of his earliest contacts with the traditionally anonymous higher-echelons of the Assassin's Guild and its head, the Shadowman. A couple of young men who might have been runners he once knew, just kids who fell in with a crowd of killers, also seem familiar. The rogue feels little remorse for their deaths.

At about this point, the door to the inn opens, and Jonas dips out of sight. A gruff-looking fellow in a leather cap stands there, his keen eyes surveying the carnage with something between amusement and disgust. He strides across the room without invitation, and several uniformed guard file into the bar behind him. "What's this?" he says, lifting the head of a dead assassin, looking at his bloodied face, and dropping it with a thud back to the table. "Not what I expected to find. A plate-armoured paladin and his powerful friends in the midst of this den of thieves, and not a warm body left sitting at their drinks."

Finial calmly assures the sherriff -- who introduces himself as Trip -- that he was forced to pass judgement on One-Eyed Jack after the drunk old rogue was foolish enough to boast about his past sins. Trip is unimpressed. "While it might be your business to smite evildoers, you've left me a right mess to clean up. Checked in with your church already have you? It does seem odd to me that new arrivals to Emerandes would find their way all the way over here to the Stein as soon as step foot inside the gates."

The party is impassive in the face of these insinuations, as one of Trip's men suddenly speaks up. "Cap'n! Look 'ere! It's old Bilby, and his face is burned clean off!"

"Well now, that's a shame," Trip sighs. He looks about, rights a blood-stained table on its remaining three legs, sits down and puts his feet up. "Six months to persuade Bobby there to work for me. Now I'm gonna have to start from scratch.

"Lookit. I've got three, some even say four thieves' guilds. I've got the Blackhawks," he says, gesturing at the mess around him, "who may or may not be the front for an assassin's guild, depending on who you ask and what time of day it is... and Bobby there sure ain't got the breath to help me with that any more."

The company is vociferous in its offers of help. "Well," he says, "I drew the short straw and got command of the crappiest ward in the city while the higher-ups soak their fat arses in wine... so you want to make me an offer? I'm listening."

Finial suggests it might be beneficial to allow the company to proceed on their mission unmolested, but Trip doesn't take kindly to that. "Come now," the paladin purrs in the face of his reluctance, "consider all these societies and brotherhoods you find yourself fighting... you can rest assured they will be judged if we happen to cross paths with them.

"But I need evidence! One person to the next to the next. I need the head, not the tail!"

"And if we brought you the head, what then?" asks Elumai, the question on everyone's mind.

The sherriff considers the situation before nodding in agreement. He orders his man Barnaby to take some names (Jonas offers the name 'Jacob'). "Just one more thing then, where might you be staying?" He waves his hand at the bar. "I've a feeling the lease on this place might be coming up. I could grease a few wheels...?"

Neither Finial nor Jonas are keen, but Elumai and Berend speak up in favour of the idea, and it passes. As the final details are hammered out, Jonas deliberately lets slip an old signal he once knew from his days in the guild, whispering: "Do you like to dance along the moonlit rooftops?" Trip frowns at him, confused, but Barnaby, busy scribbling the terms of contract on a torn scrap of parchment, betrays a flush of recognition that he quickly tries to hide.

The matter of the lease is quickly decided, and the "Fall Right Inn", proprietor one Elumai Niastai, is born. It has four rooms (one with a couple of beds, the others more common room than bedroom), and a simple wine cellar, which to Elumai's relatively untrained eye seems innocuous enough (jonas later discovers a trapdoor into the tavern above and, behind one of the barrel racks, an earthy tunnel which he doesn't take the time to explore).

Soon after, Trip and his men leave. Jonas discreetly follows them to a local barracks, a building which seems to serves as both a civic centre and bunkhouse for the guard. Barnaby is visited by a man sometime later, but the conversation is out of earshot; one gold piece gets exchanged openly between the two men before he leaves, closely followed by Jonas weaving in and out of the crowd.

It quickly becomes obvious he's dealing with a pro, when between one blink of the eye and the next, his mark vanishes. Jonas just manages to catch him ducking into a network of alleyways and nips up onto the rooftops to continue following him, and in time, his pursuit becomes so subtle that the man visibly relaxes, moving back onto the main street convinced he's given him the slip. From here it's easy. Jonas's target heads north-east around the spire towards the rear of Jaren's Gable, the most expensive residential quarter of the city, then veers off into one of the many trade districts and from there down towards the docks.

Sitting comfortably on the southern shore of the great
Tondo-Ghantzee lake, Emerandes does thriving trade across the water with more northern settlements, and the lake itself is a rich fishing ground. The man he's following strolls nonchalantly onto one of the longer piers, takes a last look around, and makes as if to jump into the cold water below; at the last minute, he acrobatically grabs a supporting strut, and swings under the jetty and out of sight. Jonas hasn't heard of any dockside hideouts here before, but things will certainly have changed since he left, and he's perfectly content with this result, whistling a happy tune as he heads back to the inn.

Upon hearing of this potential nest of vipers, Finial is unwilling to wait one second more than necessary to root out the sinners within and immediately counsels an attack . Jonas, at first reluctant, is easily persuaded, and a plan is hatched to first observe the locale of the hideout (which reveals to Jonas two sentries, posing as traders on the wharf) and then attack first thing in the morning.

Meanwhile, The Fall Right Inn starts to attract a modicum of attention. Word has quickly spread of the change, it seems, and may people who stop by ostensibly just to take a look at
the strange and anachronistic new owners soon find themselves staying for the excellent dwarven spirits. One patron in particular gets Jonas's attention: none other than the man Jonas followed to the docks, who seats himself at a table with a couple of his friends and doesn't show any signs of recognising the rogue.

A plan is soon hatched to get the villain drunk so Jonas can pilfer a gold ring from his finger, a risky proposition which the implacable rogue deftly handles. Examining the ring, he finds that the black stone set into it lifts on a tiny hinge, and there is a small, empty void beneath. Jonas is convinced that this is some assassin's guild trinket and pockets it for later use.

Over the course of the night, Elumai enjoys her new role as serving wench to the fullest, plying the three men with ever-stronger spirits and convincing Jonas's mark that if he just stays until lock-in, he might get more than a gallon of ale for his trouble. The assassin struggles with his better judgement but her charms are too much, and a few hours later, he finds himself trussed up in the bedroom, both of his compatriots dead by Jonas's hand, and a company of seasoned and extremely well-armed adventurers standing over him.

Their interrogation doesn't get very far, as he's as drunk as a man can possibly get while not at the same time being comatose. He defies all threats to his wellbeing, demanding a professional torturer instead of the amaters he's faced with, and taunts Jonas, whom he obviously knows by name, with the truth of his flight from Emerandes years before. In the end Berend simply punches his lights out, and the company searches him.

They find two scraps of paper, one with their names and descriptions, and another with a set of times, four of which have passed, two of which are still to come, and none of which mean anything to them. Thusly unedified, they leave him to stew in his own beer, and he remains safely tied up until the morning, when Finial, Elumai, Jonas, and Berend set out to infiltrate the assassin's base.

First stop is the barracks and a quiet conversation between Finial and Captain Trip. It turns out that the good captain is well aware of Barnaby's split loyalties ("Whatever Bilby didn't turn up... I have high hopes for Barnaby...") but he's outright shocked at the company's plan to take on the assassins. "There could be dozens of 'em in there!" he protests. "I wouldn't take any less than a regiment myself!" However he finds Finial to be his usual charming self, and agrees to the idea of trumping up a couple of misdemeanors in order to pull the lookouts legitimately from the dockside and give the company time to do what they do best.

He follows through on this promise and some time later a quartet of guards descends on the lookouts. A fight breaks out as one of the traders makes a run for it, and in the ensuing commotion, the company sneaks through to the underside of the jetty. There they find a series of nets nailed to the underside of the thick planks, suspended about twenty feet or so above the cold, churning water which laps against the rocks and pilings below. A few acrobatic maneuvers and one dodged trap later, and they arrive at a sewer grating which covers a tunnel several feet wide cut into the very crystal of the city's foundations. They open the grate... and narrowly avoid being stuck by the dart trap which they also failed to spot.

Inside the tunnel, they get their first close look at the material which forms the base of the city. It's a smooth, matt emerald, shot through with subtle harmonics of green, self-illuminated and warm to the touch. It also doesn't look hewn, but smoothly cut, almost perfectly engineered, and there is much speculation about tunnelling or burrowing creatures which may have built the sewer network. Rockworms are even briefly considered, but the tunnel doesn't have the tell-tale rifling which is characteristic of the work of those dangerous creatures.

The tunnel pushes in underneath the city before splitting into a y-junction. All three tunnels are marked with some kind of glyph which is unfamiliar to anyone, including Jonas, but Elumai speculates that the south-west tunnel will head towards Jaren's Gable, the noble's district of the city, while the eastern tunnel seems to be heading in the direction of the Spire. This doesn't really help, but combining everything they know, Jonas confidently submits his intuition that the south-west tunnel is the right one. In the absence of any better ideas, they follow his advice.

On the way through they notice something odd: there's something deep within the crystal, a small shadowy blob moving slowly through the semi-transluscent material. Since the crystal has the feel of inches-thick glass, and for all they know this could be some natural property of the stuff, they choose to ignore it for now. Further down the tunnel, they come to a wooden barricade laid haphazardly across it, and Jonas disarms the relatively simple explosive tripwires attached to the barricade. Unfortunately, in their haste, neither he nor the others detect the expertly-hidden firetrap beneath the decoy, and a fireball erupts over the party and rolls down the tunnel behind them. The singed adventurers leap through the opening and avoid the brunt of the blast, finding themselves in a junction of sorts.

It's half filled with dirty, smelly water trickling in from six-inch grates high above, but the company can keep their feet dry by sticking to a raised walkway along the edge. The tunnel they enter out of is inscribed with the same rune at this end as the other, hinting that each tunnel has its own mark and what a map of the network might therefore look like.

Jonas hears voices from the north-west corridor, ordering someone into something, and the party stealths its way forward. The tunnel inclines sharply upward towards a larger underground chamber. Along both sides, wooden platforms are supported by struts hammered or drilled into the crystal, and on these crouch leather-armoured enemies ready to shoot approaching invaders. At the far end of the room, what looks like a large round bar table has been reinforced with metal straps and jammed into the tunnel exit. Water dribbles ominously between the planks.

There are also three metal cages suspended over the shallow lake of sewer muck which has settled on the floor of the chamber. Each one contains a single person, dressed in rags, bound and gagged and staring in wild-eyed terror at their captors. Armed men, presumably members of the assassin's guild, crouch and lurk in the corners, poised to strike.

Jonas scrambles invisibly up the near slope, dashes forward, plants one foot onto the wall and springs up onto the walkway, sinking his blade into the nearest foe and drawing blood. Thus attracting the attention of the entire room ("There he is! Perforate him lads!"), he focuses his mind, forces a dart of distracting psychic energy into their heads, and leaps back down out of sight. Two crossbow bolts still find their mark, however, leaving small flechettes of metal in his back which send bolts of lightning pain into his muscles when he moves.

A voice, gruff and confident, sounds out behind him. "You and your friends, drop your weapons now, or the civvies get it in the neck!" One of the guards reaches out to the nearest cage, pulls the terrified woman inside towards him, and places his knife to her neck in order to reinforce the threat. Meanwhile, the mook closest to the dam pulls out a huge maul from where it was hidden beneath a pile of cast-off planks, and looks expectantly at his superior.

Finial advances under a hail of crossbow bolts and unleashes divine fire on the assassin threatening the woman, but doesn't kill him. Elumai, heedless of the danger to the civilians, casts a freezing cloud over him as well... which also immediately flash-freezes and kills the woman he was holding. He turns to his boss, shock on his face as he realises that their carefully-prepared human shield doesn't seem to be as much of a deterrent as they had assumed. Elumai immediately follows-up by conjuring a blazing Wall of Fire, splitting the chamber in two and bathing the rear half in molten heat.

This has quickly become much more than the assassins had bargained for. Several of them feel their skin crisping under the intense heat from the wall of fire, and a second prisoner is baked alive under the onslaught, collapsing dead to the floor of her cage. The leader of the group, desperately re-assessing his options under this game-changing assault, orders his man by the dam to unleash hell, although his exact words are lost beneath the roar of the flames. His subordinate nods, and though he swings a mighty blow at the nearest wooden support, it's not enough to dislodge it. Water squirts from around the dam as it creaks and shifts in place.

Seeing what's coming, the company scrambles to get out of the danger zone, battering their enemies out of the way and clambering up the sides of the chamber just as the assassin swings the maul again and brings the dam down in a chorus of splintering wood and roaring water. Two of his compatriots pay the ultimate price for not paying enough attention when the defense was discussed and are swept by the tsunami of filthy sewage straight into the wall of fire, dying in a gout of flame and foul-smelling steam.

This sight, combined with what has already happened, is too much for the remaining assassins, and as the water begins to to lap at the walkways they turn tail towards the newly exposed exit. Two more are cut down by Finial and Elumai as they rout, and a third doesn't have time to regret surrendering to Jonas before Finial judges him unfit for continued life.

In the aftermath, only one of the prisoners still lives. He looks with a mixture of fear and hope at Finial as the paladin sets him free and heals his wounds, and collapses with a sigh of gratitude into Elumai's arms as the cage door swings open. Jonas moves amongst the bodies, casting a disapproving look at Elumai ("Charred! Frozen! Burned!" he reports, pointing at each in turn) but she has no time for his witicisms and Finial, who approves of her actions in saving at least one of the civilians, has to step in to cool the tension. "There's a place for you with the Justicars," he smiles at her.

Under questioning, the prisoner they saved, a man named Rathar, tells how he, his wife, and his sister were taken from their homes and kept blindfolded in a cell deep in the sewers along with several others. They were brought out only a few minutes before the company arrived, and from snippets of overheard conversation it was clear that the assassins were expecting an attack. For now, at least, his relief at being rescued permits him no time for grief at the fate of his loved ones.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Cradle Plain -- Session 55 -- Sunday 25th July 2010

In which old arrangements come back to haunt Elumai, and Jonas decides to make some noise upon his arrival in Emerandes.

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

'Elumai Niastai, on warrant of the Court of Stars and by direct order the Summer Queen, you are under arrest.'
-- Lord Hyseth to Elumai upon her arrival in Emerandes

The words hang in the air for a second before Elumai demands to know on what charges she's being arrested, but Lord Hyseth refuses to recount them in public. Jonas's efforts to intercede on her behalf are met with derision, and as the rest of the party step up in defense of their comrade, the tension is palpable. Many citizens crowd around to watch, and conflict seems inevitable.

Nevertheless Hyseth entreats Elumai not to risk an incident in the streets of Emerandes, and when she asks him once again about the case against her, he reveals only that she is accused of "conspiring in the ongoing campaigns against the Summer Queen". Upon hearing this, she agrees to go with him to the Consulate... on condition that she can bring her husband, Finial, with her.

The bluff is risky. A look of despair passes over Hyseth's face, noticed only by Finial, as he hears this apparent news, but after considering it for a moment, he waves his men back and steps forward to face the paladin. "This woman is promised to me," he says. "You have no right of matrimony and you will give her up to me now."

Finial speaks out in support of his friend but Hyseth picks up on a subtle note of discomfort in his carefully chosen words, and demands that whatever the truth of the situation might be, there is a case to answer for one way or another. Either way, Elumai must be returned to the consulate until the problem is resolved.

Finial and the rest of the group again try to intervene but Hyseth's patience is at an end. "Enough talk!" he shouts. "You will accompany me to the consulate, or we will settle this in the street paladin!" Despite the expectant murmurs of the crowd, Finial maintains his cool, and agrees to be escorted, along with Elumai, wherever she is to be taken.

Flanked by the rest of the company, Hyseth troops Elumai and Finial through the streets towards the eladrin consulate. Constructed around a fey portal which locates into the world every few weeks, its bright copper domes are clearly visible above the lush ree-canopies of the Park.

The two of them are taken inside, led past a large pool of water which reflects a starlit sky quite different from the copper roof overhead, and Finial is informed that this is the portal itself, and that the stars above occupy the sky as it would be seen in the Feywild. Beyond, in the western dome, is a small island in a little swathe of marshland, and the adventurers are told to wade the water and wait on the island to be addressed more formally. As they do so, the water saps their strength, muddying thoughts of escape.

While they wait, Elumai explains to Finial that she was once betrothed to Lord Hyseth, but that she ran away before the marriage was to take place. Of this "conspiracy" against the Summer Queen, she has no idea. Finial promises faithfully to defend her in this matter, and Jonas, who has gained entrance to the consulate and is hiding nearby, does the same. In the meantime, he decides to dodge the staff of the consulate and reconnoitre Lord Hyseth's apartments.

Some time later, flanked by guards, Elumai receives a visitor. It's none other than Lady Rhonttha Hyseth, Lord Hyseth's mother, a stately woman of imposing demeanour and advancing years.

'Elumai, still so pretty... what a perfect match you would have made for my Koryl. My dear, you have no idea how much trouble you've caused me.'

'I'm still waiting to find out what these "charges" actually are.'

'Oh, I'm sure I can come up with something.'
-- Lady Hyseth to Elumai

She demands to know of Finial's connection to Elumai, and how he believes his claim over her can in any way exceed that of her son's. Finial, however, is unrepentant, and moves straight to the heart of the matter, stating that these charges of conspiracy are obviously trumped up in order to get Elumai into Fey territory. Lady Hyseth is amused, but doesn't deny it. She makes Elumai an offer: return to the besotted Lord Hyseth, and all charges will be dropped. Elumai is ready to refuse immediately, but Rhonttha gives her one hour to mull over her future.

Meanwhile, for Jonas, the possibilities looks grim, as the residential wing has sturdy oaken doors which resist his efforts to open them. However, help comes in the form of Berend who, having persuaded/tricked the guards outside that Elumai is a member of his clan, has gained entrance and demanded of the flustered clerk an audience with Lord Hyseth. As he impatiently emerges, Jonas slips inside the room.

His apartments are spectacular, wreathed in living flora. Jonas moves quickly past a reception room, looking for something relevant to the proceedings, or which otherwise cataches his eye. In a dressing table he finds a small leather book, containing hand-written pages in elven script, describing diplomatic courtesies required of visitors to Emerandes. Of note, the instructions state that he is to consider himself a guest of the Court of Cloaks, not the Pale King; that his actions are bound by the Third Statute; and on a scrappily-written last page, "the consulate cycle is tied to the third phase of the neraphym". A small clay bowl also stands out, but he doesn't give himself the time to check it.

A few minutes later, Hyseth leaves his room once more, and goes to face Elumai, where, unexpectedly, he simply gives her leave to go.

'Enough of these games. If this is the way you want to play the game, then I shall just let you go. I'm sure I can find another one of your little friends to face these charges.'
-- Lord Hyseth to Elumai.

Elumai asks the consulate staff after her friend Seraiya, but the clerk is apologetic: she hasn't had anyone by that name come through the premises. Elumai hands her a scroll, and asks that the message be passed back to Seraiya in Dyonosis, the enclave from which she hails. Worried and relieved in equal measure, Finial, Elumai, and Jonas exit the consulate.

At last free to explore, the party sets foot into Emerandes. The great emerald spire pierces the clouds above their heads, but red cloth awnings strung across the streets protect city-dwellers and visitors from the worst of the glare, and after the paucity of opportunities available out on the Plain, they hungrily go about the business of buying new equipment from multiple shops well-stocked with a variety of goods.

As they wander around, they're accosted by a short, fat human, with his wife and kids in tow. He stares at Berend -- "You're 'im, aintcha?" -- and finally works up the courage to grab the dwarf's hand and give it a firm shake. "You're that dwarf I've 'eard about! Birin... Brin... Berend, that's it!" Catching sight of Elumai, and Finial, he's almost beside himself. "If I'd known I'd be meeting heroes the likes o' you, I'd o' scrubbed up after getting out of bed this mornin'!"

After this uncomfortable interlude, they decide to visit the "Big Board", a well-known center of opportunity for risk-taking types. Amongst dozens of uninteresting job advertisements ("Dog sitter required, payment optional"), several things stand out:

Elzeeb's Circus of Tooth and Claw: This event is advertised in all the main trade districts of Emerandes and the carnival is due to arrive five days after the adventurers arrive. This is significant, because the fliers claim that the carnival's main attraction is a captured dragon, the very dragon that Corrash, an old companion of the party's, believed might be the creature his clan had venerated for generations.

New Horizons: The Court of Cloaks has recently excavated an ancient portal beneath the city, and will soon be advertising for adventurers to take on exploration commissions. Interested parties are to report to the spire for registration, and will be contacted in due course.

Test Subjects Wanted: Pasted over the bottom corner of the New Horizons poster is a notice from a group of diviners called Uncertain Futures, advertising for volunteers to help them "tap into the divining energies which run through the core of the city."

Wanted: Valedakrun Jenomy: A well-crafted wanted poster -- one of many -- stands out on the noticeboard. "By order of the Court of Cloaks, rogue mage Valedakrun Jenomy has been declared an enemy of the Pale King and is to be brought to justice at all costs. This skilful wizard operates outside of the protections offered to the citizenry by the Court, and is to be considered extremely dangerous." The picture on the poster bears a striking resemblance to Valthrun the Magnificent of Winterhaven.

Planar Symposium: This notice is half-ripped from the wall, and has clearly been up for quite some time, but the remaining piece advertises that noted expert Fennig Darshue will be arriving in Emerandes to give the keynote at an upcoming forum to be held in the Bassilica, where luminaries of the various Courts will be given an opportunity to exchange knowledge on the subject of "the great infinity beyond the dome of the world". The date advertised is in just two days' time.

Pillar to Post: The great cross-Emerandes foot race is now open for registration! To be held as usual on the longest day of the year (coming in two weeks), entrants start at the Pillar of Dawn on the eastern side of the city, and the first to touch one of the posts of the western watch-tower wins a bounty of 2000g and their pick from one of the great treasuries of the Court of Cloaks. (Elumai: "Does it say teleporting is illegal?"; Berend: "Does it say whether killing the other competitors is illegal?")

From here, the companions decide to get a room at a tavern Jonas knows, Franky's Stein, and on the way they notice that they're being followed again, by what appears to be a small monkey made of metal. It leaps from one irritated person to the next, landing on Finial's shoulder-pad, and offers him a scroll from one ratcheted clockwork claw. After delivering the note, it bounds off down the street. Finial reads the following:

To Whomever This Note Is Presented

It is my understanding that you have enjoyed the patronage of that most esteemed Dustboot, Lord Riva Armand.

As a long-time friend of this worthy gentleman, I am concerned at his lack of communication for the last several weeks, an uncommon and worrying development for a man who otherwise enjoys the sound of his own voice above all others.

In respect of this, I ask that you present yourself to my office at your earliest convenience, so that we may discuss the matter further.

Yours in anticipation of new friendships,

Lord Arnold Hottentoat of the Third-Removed.

Elumai knows that "third removed" indicates the sender of the note is only third in succession to the Emerald Magister himself, the highest archmage in the Court of Cloaks. Clearly, some important people have once again taken an interest in them...

Cradle Plain -- Session 54 -- Sunday 18th July 2010

In which the denizens of the Shadowfell are made to pay for their crimes, a reluctant hero joins the party, and an ancient mystery is uncovered.

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Aerello - Tiefling Warlock

The party arrives back where they left Shortham's caravan to find a scene of devastation. The wagons have moved on, but they were clearly attacked. Two of them stand smashed and smouldering, and in the centre of the site, in the remains of what was the camp fire, several bodies have been bound cruelly onto pikes jammed into the earth.

Investigating the scene of the attack, the party discovers small eruptions like exploded earth all around the camp site, and it appears that the attackers emerged from these locations. Gingerly checking the bodies, they're horrified to find the corpses of the Sisters of the Ashen Cloth, their faces horribly mutilated, their bodies lashed together with razor-wire reminiscent of weapons used by the shadar-kai, a race native to the Shadowfell. Rellanic runes on the pikes deliver this grim warning: "Let this death mark the cleansing of the Ashen taint from the earth."

In the midst of this carnage, the group contemplates its next move. They know that the Sisters were pilgrims, visiting sites of mystery and intrigue around the Plain, and that the Caravan was due to stop, at their behest, close to the Winding Stone, being a site of standing stones from which evils are said to emerge whenever the stone plinth at its heart pauses in its ceaseless turning. They also know that the elven race was all-but obliterated by a series of deadly plagues hundreds of years ago, plagues which, legend reputes, were delivered to the elven princes by on a fabulous tapestry called the Ashen Cloth.

With all appearances suggesting that the Sisters were killed purely out of racial hatred, the party resolves to follow the attackers into the wilderness (including Jonas, although he seems to have a moment of intense despair upon seeing the murders), and they spend the better part of the day tracking their targets to the south-east. In time, a needle of camp-fire smoke appears on the horizon, and with little cover, the adventurers have few options but to approach in the open.

They come upon a camp of tents with a sputtering fire at the centre. One shadar-kai is on guard; another digs at a nearby patch of earth, filtering the soil through his fingers before giving up and moving to another spot. As he spotes the approaching party, he grabs his weapon and barks a gutteral order in goblin. At his command, other members of the camp emerge: another shadar-kai, and several goblins as well.

Finial orders them to drop their weapons and be judged for the crime of murder, but the scarred and tattooed man facing him simply laughs in his face, making no effort to hide his part in the crime. "There is no justice to be had in this wasteland," he chuckles, an answer which causes the paladin to simply shrug, ready his weapon, and attempt to prove him wrong.

As the parties engage, two large forms pick themselves up from the ground near the fire: shadow mastiffs, massive canines native to the Shadowfell. Jonas creeps into the camp, and in the first tent he finds a trussed-up tiefling, a member of the caravan who the group hasn't had much to do with until now and who seems to have been kidnapped by the shadar-kai. The rogue wastes no time with pleasantries or introductions, and unties the potential ally as quickly as he can, since outside he can hear the low growls of one of the dogs sniffing around near the tent flap.

Meanwhile the other mastiff launches itself like a clawed, furry meteor at Finial, raking his face. He shoves the dog aside and unleashes holy vengeance on the nearest shadar-kai, who grins openly at the prospect of the ensuing pain, but remains unfortunately disappointed as the paladin's attack rolls
ineffectively off him.

Nearby, the leader of the enemy band swings his mace in a complex pattern, the whisper of his voice carrying to all: "Can you feel it? Night is falling..." and almost at once a preternatural dusk seems to settle over the battlefield. At the same time two pillars of utter darkness punch down from the heavens, painting a starry nightscape over the landscape beyond, and tracking across the ground as if seeking light and life to snuff out.

Meanwhile Jonas leaves the reluctant tiefling behind and dodges into the second tent, dispatching the goblin cowering within, while Elumai is forced to activate her Shield spell to avoid the effect of a beam of black, soul-quenching power from the nearest shadar-kai. She retaliates by killing two of the goblin servitors with a devastating Thunderwave, as nearby Finial is savaged by the giant dog that still grapples him.

The pillars of night begin to slowly move across the battlefield, but it seems that even those who call the power of the Shadowfell are not immune to its dangers, as the leader of the shadar-kai is forced to dive out of the way. Finial isn't so lucky and the darkness rolls over him, causing thick shadows to descend over his vision; the dark is as deep and complete as any he has experienced, and he is struck blind, giving the nearby shadar-kai ample opportunity to step in and smash the paladin with his mace before he's able to shake off the effect.

Now all of the goblins are killed or incapacitated, and the party is able to turn its full attention on the shadar-kai and their hounds. Jonas darts around the combat zone, doing massive damage with his gladius, while Finial issues forth waves of healing and divine power from near the centre of the fight. Aerello emerges from his tent to support the strangers who have rescued him, cursing his enemies with the power of his distant patron, and there is a moment of sweet irony as the leader of the shadar-kai is blinded by his own pillar of gloom.

From that point the fight quickly turns against the outsiders and is brought to a swift end, neither the shadar-kai nor their pets fighting to anything except the death. With all of their enemies dispatched, the group finds several sacks of goods stolen from the caravan, most of which are personal trinkets and possessions suggesting that many of the people under Shortham's protection are intending to make a new life for themselves in the city, as well as a few gold coins and all of Aerello's gear as well.

Intrigued by the small excavations being undertaken when they arrive, the party scans the surrounding countryside and finds, under small patches of earth on which the grass is subtly discoloured, a selection of marble-sized platinum baubles. Elumai identifies teleportation magic upon them -- perhaps a focus for ultra-long-distance teleportation spells? -- but can't draw a connection between these devices and the elves or shadar-kai. Finally it's Jonas who remembers tales told to him by his old mentor, legends of eladrin raiders from long ago, who were reputed to "explode like devils from the crust of the earth" and viciously attack trade caravans crossing the dangerous wastes of what was then a nascent King's Hand. Certainly this depiction marries with Aerello's recollection of the attack, albeit it was shadar-kai exploding from the earth instead.

Uncertain of the significance of these events, but content in the knowledge of at least one life saved, the party turns their attention to catching up with the caravan. They do so after three days' hard travel. It's much depleted and still stunned in the aftermath of the attack. The Very Unroyal Brigade is reduced to two now, their other members having been killed in what was, by all accounts, a valiant but fruitless defense of the Sisters, but they refuse help from Finial until he has seen to the civilians. Shortham favours one leg, but is otherwise fine; Olak Grentz is alive but has taken a severe beating, and is surprised but gratified at the return of the party, which is carrying goods which he desperately needs in order to re-balance the books.

Ranolph, a young squire who lost his eye while braving the defense, is overjoyed to receive back the money for his prospective commission into the Kingsblade, but morosely informs Jonas that he has no hope of being inducted into the upper ranks of the King's forces now he is disabled. The wily rogue nods in sympathy, offers the young lad a tidy sum, and promptly hires him for purposes of his own.

Ashenport, and what transpired there, isn't brought up by Shortham or anyone else in the caravan, and thus-strengthened by the return of the party, the caravan moves on. As the sun languishes overhead, the open gates of Emerandes, strong and welcoming beneath the glittering emerald spire, finally come into view.

Outside, a veritable town of tents and awnings is the first sight to greet the visitors. Traders ply their wares, and folks familiar with Shortham, of which there seem to be a lot, doff their caps or shake his hand and welcome him back to the city, while dirty children play happily amongst the wheels of the wagons as they roll towards the main gate.

Passing through the massive crystal curtain wall, Shortham is stopped by several members of the watchful Royal Arcana, but he vouches for the everyone under his charge and it seems his word is plenty good enough for the city guard. The broad main thoroughfare of the city is something of a relief as they step onto it, since the piercing and painful glare of the Spire is mitigated by cloth canopies referred to by the locals as "chutes", strung from tall poles sunk into the cobbled streets or attached to buildings overhead.

The company says its goodbyes to the caravan (Shortham barely has time for a word as he makes a multitude of delivery arrangements with several merchants who seem to have been waiting for him to arrive, and Olak is curt as he thanks the company for their assistance), and begins making plans. Their discussions are cut short, however, as the crowd before them swells and parts.

Five eladrin dressed in exquisite armour layered in complex patterns over long white robes stand there, swords and halberds at the ready. One of them, a young and handsome fey of noble disposition, steps forward, a look of utter distaste on his face as he addresses Elumai directly:
"Elumai Niastai, on warrant of the Court of Stars and by direct order the Summer Queen, you are under arrest."

Elumai stops, recognition on her face, as the rest of the company ponder this new mystery...

Cradle Plain -- Session 53 -- Sunday 4th July 2010

Unfortunately there was a technical problem with the digital recorder for this session, and nothing was actually taped. This is bad, because it was July, and I can only remember vaguely what happened. For the sake of brevity I'll reprint what I entered into the Story So Far page:

Session 53 - Bahamut's Flames
In the wake of their victory, the party returns to Ashenport where Finial wreaks stern justice on the complicity of the townsfolk. Amidst evidence of a vicious fight where they left Shortham's caravan, the Sisters of the Ashen Cloth have been cruelly murdered and left on display as a warning to those who follow.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Still kicking

...Well, apart from being nailed by something akin to Captain Trips for the last few days, but that's another story.

Cradle Plain took a break while we were hoping to play out another campaign for a while, but we'll be warming up the fires again very soon. In the meantime, I have no less than four journals to catch up on (that's sixteen hours of recordings, arithmetic fans) and hope to start that process in the next few days.

So, to all our tenacious followers, we are far from finished. The Heroic Tier was, as they say, just the beginning...

Saturday, 3 July 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 52 -- Sunday 6th June 2010

In which we discover the innate buoyancy of dwarves, and the otherworldly intelligence behind the call of the sea is brought to account...

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

At a barked order from one of the fish-men, three of its underlings retreat into the caves, echoes of their webbed feet disappearing into the darkness. The gibbering mouther continues to approach the party, withstanding everything they throw at it, and then suddenly solidifies into a tall pillar of flesh. All of its mouths open simultaneously and a sickening chorus of screams issues forth, sending the company into a daze and causing the very rock of the cave to deliquesce under Jonas's feet. It flips up, bouncing him down the steep floor of the cave, and freezes into place, the crest of a wave drawn perfectly in stone.

As Jonas lands, he feels a painful tug on his arm and is horrified to see the skin of his fore-arm split open to reveal a tiny, fanged mouth, which erupts out on a pseudopod of his own flesh and clamps down on his wrist. Similar sensations all over his body suggest more mouths are forming, and he looks up at his companions to see them all suffering the same grotesque symptoms.

In the face of such disconcerting attacks, the party renews its assault on the mouther. Finial's flail thuds down into the creature and tears a thatch of spongy flesh from its body; the thing begins to warp and flatten, increasingly unable to hold its shape. As the light of Bahamut shimmers and burns its flesh, it slowly discorporates, disintegrating into a film of rainbow-hued oil which trickles away down the cavern.

At the same time the fish-men who had circled around the party appear at the top of the cavern, but by this point Berend has dealt with those who were attacking from the other end and, being familiar with these enemies, the party makes short work of them.

There is much more of the cavern to explore. Further in, Jonas comes upon a much bigger cave, half submerged in a black, quiet deep. The cave itself is multi-tiered, the stalactite-riddled ceiling reflecting what little light there is in a rippling illumination. Five statues, depicting serpentine monstrosities which seem to writhe in the intermittent light, cluster around a massive obsidian altar, from which the carved head of a gilled snake beast stands sentinel over the cavern. The needle-thin teeth of all of the statues drip continuously with water, which pools on the sandy floor beneath them. The cavern as a whole stinks of a week-old catch left to rot in the sun.

As Jonas looks on, the waters of the pool slide and ripple as a vague shape, only just submerged in the darkness, shifts beneath the surface. Movement beside the altar also catches his eye: it's a woman, dressed in black robes. When she realises she's been seen, she gasps in fear and squeezes herself into a shadowy space beside one of the staues, desperately trying to hide herself. Jonas tries to placate her -- "You've nothing to fear from me..." -- but she doesn't respond to his efforts, cowering with her hand over her face as he approaches.

As the rest of the party moves up, the cavern suddenly comes alive, as several fish-men literally step out of the statues. These are much further from human than the previous creatures the company has faced, and have become little more than a loosely-joined assemblage of coral, shells, seaweed, and the thin bones of dead sea-creatures.

Jonas immediately springs into action, drawing one of the creatures away from the party and leaping up a nearby ledge out of danger. Meanwhile another of the creatures lurches with inhuman purpose towards the party, smashing into Berend and erupting in a foul green gas which clings to the party's skin, slowly calcifying their flesh.

At this point the thing beneath the water rises up, a horror as grotesque as the gibbering mouther but several times larger, meaty plasticine globs of flesh connected by thin tendon-like strands which bulge and subsume each-other in continuous death and rebirth. The air warps as it attacks.

The party focuses its attention on the abominable fish-men, blasting, hacking and melting the shells from their bodies. One of them backs away, lowers its shoulders and an eruption of seaweed whips out towards Berend, clutching at his armour and squeezing the life out of him while pulling him towards the edge of the water. As it does so, the warping tentacles of the aberration flick out towards the dwarf, their tips detaching and splatting onto him. Immediately, his reality begins to tilt; shapes writhe and snap at him from the corners of his vision, and faces leer at him from behind his blinking eyelids.

Jonas continues to attack from the shadows, darting out to deal telling strikes to his foes, and taking several cuts to the face for his troubles. Both Jonas and Finial notice something odd about the master aberration, almost as if its attacks are on a repeating loop, but this doesn't stop it suddenly unleashing its call upon Berend, whose mind, filled with the ululating scream of distant realms, urges his limbs into unwilling motion. The dwarf steps onto the edge of the beach and vanishes with a splash into the water, driving down with powerful strokes towards the far corner of the lake. The aberration launches a hail of fleshy bolts at him as he goes, but they splatter and sizzle harmlessly on the surface of the water as he submerges.

Meanwhile two the fish-men step back into the statues and reappear surrounding Elumai, plunging their coral tridents into the mage and dealing her serious injury. In response she unleashes Thunder Wave, launching one of the creatures into the water where it sinks out of sight, but the next blow sends her to the floor, unconscious. Finial, struggling to get control of the fight and protect her, unleashes the power of Bahamut, cutting a huge chunk from the nearest fish-man and bringing his friend back from the brink.

The company's efforts start to tell on the remaining fish-men. Jonas strikes from a good vantage, tempting one of the creatures into a futile chase. Finial is suddenly assaulted by the call of Dagon, and finds himself helpless to do anything except walk off the edge of the precipice and into the pool... but this frees Berend, who not having had the opportunity to make much of an impact thus far, erupts in furious anger from the waters of the pool and brings his axe down on the aberration that has controlled him for so long. It strikes a great swathe from the creature's flesh, which oozes oily blood.

As another of the fish-men falls to Jonas' blade, the party turns its complete attention to the aberration. Finial musters his inner will and shakes off the call, emerging from the waters to bring his own attacks to bear. The creature shudders under the assault, globs of doughy flesh sloughing off under the attack, until eventually it's nothing more than a thin layer of oily particulate floating on the surface, all semblance of life snuffed out.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 51 -- Sunday 30th May 2010

In which the children of Dagon bring the wrath of their master to the company, and deep in the dark, the true nature of the forces behind Ashenport's curse is discovered...

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

Emitting a lifeless, inhuman groan from the pits of whatever passes for their stomachs, the creatures attack. As the rain begins to pour in sheets as heavy as hail, they emerge from the encroaching gloom in quick, darting strides, clearly as comfortable out of the water as in it.

Pulling rusted rapiers off their backs, they slice at Finial while Elumai prepares to unleash flame. The jagged weapons score his flesh, leaving tiny pieces of metal embedded in the wound which immediately begin to fester, but Elumai erupts into a raging inferno, setting most of the fish-men alight with a smell like fish guts roasting on a camp-fire.

Jonas leaps around the edge of the fight and takes a slice out of one of the enemies flanking Finial, but as he does so a massive tsunami bulges out of the stormy seas, crashing with bone-crushing force on the rogue and sending him sprawling up the beach. As the foamy waters recede, he realises that his legs are entangled in thick, grey-green fronds of seaweed reaching out of the waters like thin fingers... which immediately go taut, dragging him across the pebbles towards the water's edge.

In the main melee, blade, tooth and claw flash in the sheets of lightning playing across the sky. The fish-men are brutal foes, with few tricks other than a keen sense of teamwork and sharp blades, but they are slowly beaten down by the company.

Another massive breaker streaks down the length of a nearby jetty and grabs Elumai, dragging her into the water. She struggles to free herself but it's Jonas, who has extricated himself from his own prison, who leaps into the water and hacks at the seaweed in order to free her. The bulbous knuckles of the stuff split and ooze milky liquid into the water, and Jonas's blade quickly does the job. The seaweed thrashes in apparent pain for a moment before receding into the murky seas, leaving a trail of white fluids behind it.

As the two companions emerge, they find their friends victorious on the bloodied, pebbly beach. They make quick council and decide that they should try to track the seaweed fronds to their source. With a ritual of Water Breathing already in place, they plunge into the ferocious seas and, after two hours of careful, exhausting swimming, they emerge onto a small sandy beach a mile down the coastline. The sand is furrowed with glistening trails, as if the seaweed has dragged itself up the beach, heading towards a small, dark cave like an open mouth at the base of a monolithic cliff face stretc

As Jonas scouts the entrance, the company is once-again attacked, this time by a half-crustacean humanoid, who explodes out of the nearby seas with unchecked ferocity. With a massive leap, he makes straight for Jonas, who is clinging to the rock-face above the cave entrance, and swipes at him with two keen pincer-like hands. The rogue responds with a devestating blow, sending the creature flying from the rock-face to land with a bone-crunching thud on the sand below.

The company converges on it. Its long antennae whip from person to person, and suddenly their minds are playing tricks on them, friend becoming foe, and foe becoming friend. Berend, convinced he is defending himself, dents Finial's armour with a crushing blow, then finds himself fleeing in fear, into the cave entrance where he inadvertantly trips a well-placed trap. A loud GONG! sounds throughout the deeper caves, and a column of sticky unguent pours down on his head, sticking him fast to the ground even as he regains his senses.

Elumai, who has been attacking from a safe distance, and Jonas, who has been circling for another opportunity, suddenly find the sand around their feet liquefying, and they're already stuck fast up to their ankles and sinking rapidly before they have a chance to save themselves. Meanwhile the monstrosity is smashing Finial, pincers seeking to free him from the confines of his armor, but the paladin is more than up to the task of defending himself, and his weapons liberate great shards of exo-skeleton from the beast, its soft flesh more and more vulnerable to attack. The beast has little more opportunity to make an impression from this point, gradually broken and defeated by the combined might of the party.

Despite the sounding of the alarm, there is no further activity from the cave. The tunnel beyond has a sandy floor, but is cold and dark; the party strikes up a sunrod, and investigates a cavernous offshoot. The walls and floor of the chamber undulate with a smooth, glassy surface, almost like black ice, and the cave descends sharply down. They toss the sunrod down to the bottom of the cave... and illuminate new enemies, several of the fish-men lurking at the bottom, and something else...

The other creature is a grotesque agglomeration of plasticine flesh and toothy, gasping mouths... a gibbering mouther! As they watch, it not-so-much turns as bulges in their direction, undulating across the smooth rock floor and up the sloping cave towards them. The fish-men take the opportunity -- without much success -- to launch serrated javelins at the company, who instead largely ignore them and decide to focus everything they have on the beast. As the creature sinuates its way towards them, it's subjected to a brutal wave of magic and blade, but still manages to lash out a toothy pseudopod at Jonas as he darts in for an attack.

The mouther closes to just a few feet away from the party, the true aberrant terror of the creature still to be felt...

Friday, 28 May 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 50 -- Sunday 23rd May 2010

In which the Cannith brothers are not entirely denied their prize (albeit at the cost of a spot of family trouble), an old ranger reaches the limit of his patience, and a grizzly pact comes to light in Ashenport...

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

In the aftermath of the fight, the party takes the time to search out the rest of the forge and comes across Jelia in a hidden workshop, sweating over a grinding wheel, sharpening some kind of thin dagger or other implement which Jonas takes great delight in pilfering. Faced once again with the party, she tries to dissuade them from destroying the forge entirely, and ultimately succeeds.

Elsewhere, the company discovers the hobgoblin barracks, a filthy pit of a room which has been all-but abandoned, and a larger workshop, where a giant mechanical golem appears to be under construction, a wooden scaffold leaning drunkenly against its body. Elumai helps herself to a few of the choicer gears and mechanisms from the 20-foot monster, and recovers a handful of residuum which, by all appearances, was bing used as lubricant for the more delicate workings.

Outside, they find that the Cannith brothers have already arrived, and in fact have made camp at the bottom of the scree slope. Tendrils of smoke curl from thin metal chimneys atop both of the wagons, but there is no other sign of the brothers other than their butlers, roasting a siazble joint of pork on an open camp fire.

Jonas sneaks down to the wagons and lays low, helping himself to strips of meat while the others make good their escape, traversing along the top of the slope towards the hidden spot where they tethered their animals. Their exit is far from stealthy, and although one of the butlers seems to notice them, he makes no effort to tell his employer, so Jonas settles in for the night, eager to see what will transpire between the brothers and their cousin.

Come morning, the Cannith brothers and their entourage pick their way comically up the slope and venture into the complex, followed by Jonas. They shriek excitedly over every find they make (or at least, whatever has been left in one piece in the wake of the party's adventures there), eventually making their way down to the forge itself, where they wail in dismay at finding Calmachia in pieces.

Jelia, when she appears, receives the full brunt of Parcival's outrage, his chest pumped to bursting as he lambasts her for stealing his research. His cousin is unimpressed, and assures him that Haestus's work was much more complete -- and much more dangerous -- than they gave it credit for. Jonas reveals himself at this point, long enough to taunt the Cannith's about their failure, but in the end leaves them to their own devices.

The party returns to the Shortham's corral, where they spend the rest of the day recuperating. The following morning, only one of the Canniths returns -- Theruk -- who immediately holds conference with Banks and the Very Unroyal Brigade. Before departing, Shortham delivers a short speech, the assembled throng looking nervously at each-other in the face of this apparently uncharacteristic display.

"There's villainy and thievery in my caravan, and I won't stand for it! Should this go on, we'll root out these wrong-doers, leave 'em high and handsome out here in the wilderness, and I can assure you, as I stand here this-mornin', that we won't hear hide, nor hair, o'them again!"
-- Shortham Banks, to those under his charge in the wilderness between Crow's Atoll and Emerandes

Several suspicious looks fall upon the party at this, but only Jonas knows exactly what is being talked about. Unable to help himself, he even tries to persuade the Very Unroyal guard who has been stationed with the Canniths to let him in to see Theruk, but the man on duty is implacable and refuses him entry.

At last the caravan continues on its way. The two days onward to its next stop proceed uneventfully except for the weather, which takes a nasty turn for the worse, the sky clogging with inky clouds promising rain. By the time Shortham has made camp, they've made good on it.

The party learns that Banks's son, Dorian, and two of the Very Unroyals will be taking a wagon of exotic goods (spices and fishing nets, by the looks) for sale at Ashenport's trade fair. Finial, who finds himself in dire need of a blacksmith to forge a new weapon he has in mind, persuades his friends that the diversion could be useful. However, the trip along muddy, sodden roads, which become gradually more disinclined to let the wagon pass as the day wears on, even pulled by two of Wilder's best horses, is one to forget (as are Dorian's lude advances towards Elumai).

Eventually the travellers emerge from a thick copse of trees onto the edge of a tall cliff-face. To the east, the vast expanse of the Windward Sea, a great inland lake known for its oceanic moods, is all-but hidden by a wall of low-lying fog and the curtain of rain falling ruler-straight from the clouds above. Perched on its shores in the shadow of the cliff lies Ashenport, which from up here is little more than a carpet of badly-shingled rooves like a shell over the town.

A winding path leads down into a town which seems to have all but hidden itself from the storm. Faded banners flap too and fro in the storm, some of them streaming wildly into the wind, and the main road, leading from the town gate towards some sort of fenced-off grove in the town square, is a river of mud. The rain beats mercilessly on the rooves all around, gushing out of unkempt guttering and splattering down into the road from every corner.

A passing local, huddled against the downpour, points them in the direction of the Smooth Sailing Inn, and leaving Dorian to stable the horses and secure the wagon, the company goes in. It's welcoming enough, and seems to be made of three smaller buildings from which the walls have been haphazardly knocked out. The barman, a fat, bejoweled and stubbly local, is unhelpful, but points Elumai in the direction of one of the waiters, who tells her that the trade fair looks like it's going to be a bit of a bust, with the weather keeping almost everyone away. He does point at a corner table, however, where a few other patrons -- clearly out-of-towners, by their clothes -- sit having a few quiet drinks.

While the others mingle, Jonas decides to scout the town. He finds not a soul in the streets. The blacksmith, absent from the cold, disused forge they found earlier, is still nowhere to befound. An old woman, peering at Jonas through a crack in her front door, tells him the blacksmith is "on his rounds", and seems unwilling to elaborate ("What am I, his mother?"). Down at the docks, the fishing boats rock crazily in the swells, untended and not likely to survive the night.

Back at the inn, the party has struck up conversation with three other merchants: Terza, from the Court of Coin, here to establish more permanent contracts with the town council; Matthias Creel, a member of the Free Traders' Association and no friend of the Court; and Jandal, a jeweler from across the Windward Sea hoping to make a name for himself at the fair. Talk revolves pretty much around one subject: the fact that they've probably had a wasted trip. As Berend, with ease, drinks Matthias under the table, life in the tavern winds down for the night.

But not for long. As the company retire to their rooms, a great, swelling song begins to fill the air. The sound of the rain seems to recede to make way for it, a high, keening lament, the sound of a mother pining for her lost children, the sound of men gasping for their lives as they drown at sea, the sound of a tsunami smashing onto a crowded shore... it fills the heads of everyone in the party, most of whom shake it off, except for Berend, who joins the other merchants as they emerge from their rooms, and begin to walk downstairs, intent on getting out of the inn and finding the sea.

Between them, however, his friends have no trouble rousing Berend from his stupour, and they corral the other enthralled folks -- none of the townsfolk seem to be affected -- into the basement of the inn, sealing them safely inside. It's about that time when Jonas, who had decided to sequester himself on the roof of the inn to observe the town at night, hears the sounds of a dozen doors opening, and the townsfolk pour into the street, their faces blank as they slosh through the mud in their nightclothes. Curious, he decides to follow.

They walk to the shoreline and out onto the jetties. Behind him, the rest of the party are desperately waking as many of them as they can, but the man in lead simply steps off the jetty into disappears beneath the foamy waters. Jonas jumps in after him, and watches him float serenely down to the bottom with a smile on his face. Under the water, the song is suddenly ten times as loud as in the air, but Jonas resists its allure.

Above, the company has succeeded in rousing everyone else. They huddle around the adventurers, clutching at each-other in the pouring rain. Finial, however, is suddenly unimpressed. The processing of "waking" them from their stupour didn't ring entirely true with him, almost as if this was an act in which they were being made the fools. He confronts the nearest local, a woman whose sodden black hair clings to her face, and rousing the voice of Bahamut, demands to know the truth.

Suddenly afraid, she throws herself at his feet, begging to be saved from "the call". In her rantings, she says that the town has made promises which must be kept in order for their good fortune to continue, promises which require a sacrifice of blood in order to be sealed. Her act is a good one, but Finial's instincts tell him otherwise, and he kicks the woman away. She hisses at him from the pebbly shore: "Interlopers! Heathens! Your fate will be the same!"

The townspeople scatter like cockroaches into the murk, but before the party can follow, a wet, threatening groan cuts through the atmosphere, and they turn to see several tall figures lurching from the breakers at the water's edge. Dragging thick seaweed behind them, the creatures are a disgusting mix of fish and man, with thick scaly skin and pale white torso's, black eyes staring from the sides of their heads, and mouths like cracks in their faces, full of needle-like teeth.

The aberrations heave themselves onto the beach, and the party prepares to defend itself...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 49 -- Sunday 25th April 2010

In which two prisoners is two too many, and the dragon-queen of the Forbidden Forge finally gets to meet her maker...

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

Jelia's keeper, the hobgoblin Bladebearer Valsath, who has made his own deal with Calmachia, makes his move on the party as they rest following their exertions earlier that day. He brings what's left of his payroll to bear, including two flail-wielding bugbears, a hobgoblin bard whose discordant hymns unsettle the senses of his enemies, and several of his front-line warriors.

The company is awakened by sounds of the bugbears smashing down the door to Jelia's recluse. They form a defensive line at the door and are held there while Jonas slips past and leaps over the pool of molten metal to gain a distant advantage. He's pursued by several mercenaries, but whether through inattentiveness or because they simply haven't been told, they fall through the catwalk trap and plunge to an immolated doom below. Jonas sets about dispatching what's left of that force.

Jelia hides out of sight, perhaps afraid that Valsath will focus on her if given the chance, and although the hobgoblin and his compatriots fight ferociously to protect their claim on the fortunes of the forge, they are hard pressed to achieve victory. The party is bloodied, but the mercenaries are squeezed into defeat in the confined combat.

Valsath himself trakes tremendous punishment before finally succumbing to his better sense and offering surrender, but the party is taking no chances, and continues to pummel him into submission.

"Boys, boys! I've surrendered! There's no need for--"
-- Valsath, just before being smashed in the face by Berend.

Jelia distracts the party and tries to take the opportunity to finish the hobgoblin off, but she's frustrated by the ephemeral force which prevents her from leaving the lower level of the forge, and so settles for a bargain with the party that when they interrogate him, they'll make him beg for his life, just once or twice.

Jelia stands by with an amused smirk as Valsath awakes, struggles with his bonds, and realises what trouble he's in. The party asks whether feeding him to Calmachia will help or hinder their efforts, but he just spits at Jelia and sneers at them.

"It's real easy. You want the secrets to the forge? Feed that bitch to the dragon. She thought she could waltz in, flick a few switches, mutter a few incantations, and walk out with an army of warforged behind her... sell it to the highest bidder. She hired me, but the dragon made me a better offer. Made me promises I think she could have made good on... a new dawn for the Bladebearers, everyone else marching to my tune..."
-- Valsath, under interrogation in the Creation Forge.

Valsath explains that Calmachia is busying herself creating dragon-like "children", and that those without dragon-blood are impure and fit only to die. He is pragmatic about his future, and quick to admit defeat at the hands of the company. The party seems about to release him, but Jelia is not so forgiving, and once again lunges for the hobgoblin, leaving the party no choice but to defend the Bladebearer from the artificer. "What are you doing?" she screams. "If you're all too feeble for the deed, I'll do it for you!"

Chaos spreads. Valsath is soon dead by Jonas's hands, and Jelia finds herself in the sights of his crossbow, arguing for her life. It's Elumai, however, who loses patience with her, and unleashes magic intending to take her out of the picture before she can cause any more trouble. Defended by her iron cobra, Jelia makes a break for the deeper rooms of the Forge, and the party decides simply to let her go, although the construct is not so lucky, giving its life so that its master can escape.

The room to which Jelia fled turns out to be a laboratory, of sorts, with the company looking down from a catwalk which runs around the perimeter. There's evidence that Valsath and his men have used it as a berth, with loose blankets and assorted junk lying around the place. Assorted arcane contraptions, some of them animated, some of them being tended to by small, wheeled constructs flitting to and fro, stand bubbling and wheezing in the room below. On the opposite catwalk, two double doors stand slightly ajar, and a ruddy light emanates from within.

Elumai immediately sets to understanding the devices and within a few minutes, discovers that they have the capability (and remaining alchemical reagents) to imbue one weapon and one suit of armour with powerful new abilities. The company considers it worth the risk to take the time to activate these boons, and luckily they are left undisturbed.

When they eventually push-on, they find a dimly lit room, clearly the forge itself. In the center of the room is a large half-sphere with a surface of what looks like undulating basalt and a flat glass frontage smeared with ash. The interior floor of the forge is carpeted with black and gray coals, the very heart of which is smouldering like the embers of a campfire. However all of this pales next to the huge metallic dragon curled up on top of the forge, its tail swishing lazily back and forth, it's huge needle-toothed maw nestled in its claws and looking straight at Jonas as he peeks inside the door.

He gestures for the rest of the party to approach, but the dragon speaks in a metallic, and distinctly female voice. "I can't hear you if you whisper in the shadows! Come inside, and let us talk. I have no quarrel with you. I will live for centuries in the greatness of my forge, and though you may have killed my children, thousands more will arise to take their place. Come, let us discuss your futures..."

The party has no patience for such discussions, however, and sees only a future in which they stand victorious over Calmachia's shattered corpse. "No, we fight!" declares Finial, and leaps to the attack.

Calmachia rises to her full height, fanning her wings and filling almost the entire room, while the forge begins to pulse in sympathy. Jonas jumps and leaps at her throat, tearing at the machinery of the dragon, but the damage causes some kind of feedback which blows him onto his backside in an explosion of static blue light. Elumai's freezing cloud cakes both the dragon and the forge in ice, which almost immediately begins to melt and run into rivulets down the side of the device.

Berend charges into the creature, smashing his axe into her flank and sending a spray of metallic shards and red, rubber-like tissue into the air. Calmachia rears around on Berend, and rasps "Obey!" at the dwarf, who is immediately filled with nothing but the desire to please his new mistress. Metal scraping on metal, she launches herself into the air above the party, the downdraft from her wings beating onto the heads of the company, and unleashes her breath onto Finial and Jonas. The air seems to fracture, sending splintered shards of force into their flesh, and blowing them painfully back into the walls of the forge. In answer, Finial calls down Bahamut's wrath, burning Calmachia from within whenever she attacks the party.

At this point, the glass front of the forge splits and rotates inward. Two malformed drakes, barely alive and mewing pathetically, heave themselves from the coals and into the fray. The dragon roars and shakes its head as Elumai's phantasmal force sends it into a panic, unleashing another breath weapon which sends Jonas stumbling backwards... into the forge. The glass front slides shut, trapping him.

Focusing on Finial, she bites down on him, picking up the paladin in her huge mouth, snapping her neck around and spinning him haplessly over the top of the forge, leaving a trail of blood through the air.

By this time the company has done huge damage to the machinery of Calmachia's body, and it starts to take its toll. Even powered-down, the forge builds more drakelings quickly but in their half-formed state they are largely ineffective against the mobile company. Jonas cuts his way out of the forge and brings his blade to bear, while Elumai maintains her assault on the dragon's mind causing it to literally attack itself, ripping a knot of complex gears from her own back.

"The claws of Arkhosia will sweep away your nations!" she promises, defending herself desperately against renewed assaults and attempting to grab Finial again, but her movements cause jets of murky liquid to spill from various wounds and the paladin easily smashes her attack away. The dragon attempts to take to the air again but is simply too weak. and she falls beneath the magic and weapons of the party.