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  1. #191
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sidekick
    Demon wastes!!!

    Would you like fries with that? or perhaps a life insurance policy.

    now would be the appropriate time to start discussing what poeple want done with their bodies when they die.
    But at least there are no gnomes! See - always a silver lining.

    And here's the last bit from the previous session. I got slowed down this week with lots of grading.

    ************************************************** **************
    Kaelyn lifts an amused eyebrow. “You need to go to the Demon Wastes? I presume then we won’t be seeing you again. You sure this is worth it?”

    “Yes, we believe it is,” says Nameless.

    “So you are sure the rakshasas are gone then?” asks Titania, sounding mildly disappointed.

    “The Key is, and I think it’s safe to assume they went with it.”

    “At least let us see what else is here then,” says Oberon. “There may be more entertainment.”

    As the Angels move to the door, Luna growls, not in warning but to attract attention. Turning to look, they see her pointing to a spot on the carpet that her claws had ripped through during the battle. The carpet is slowly repairing itself, the torn spot fading as ripped threads reconnect themselves.

    “Very nice!” says Six. “A self-repairing carpet. I presume you want us to take it, right?”

    Luna gives Six a big ursine grin and a nod. The warforged picks up the carpet and stows it into a bag of holding.

    “She’s probably thinking of the apartment in Sharn,” says Gareth, which gets an even more emphatic nod.

    “Great!” mutters Korm. “We’re taking home furnishings from rakshasas now!”

    With that taken care of, the group proceeds carefully through the door. Over the course of the next hour, to the apparent disappointment of the eladrin and, to a lesser extent, Kaelyn, they search through the entire complex, finding no signs of any other enemies.

    Much of the area has clearly not seen recent usage. Among the rooms in this category are a small dining room, designed for two diners, and an almost empty pantry, both to the north of the chamber with the golems.

    The single room to the west leads into an empty chamber with no other exits, its walls decorated with pictures of spellcasting rakshasas, and a single large pentagram carved into the floor. This room is free of the abjuration which blocks teleportation-type magic in the area, evidently used for magically entering and leaving the complex. Though the room is magically kept clean, there is enough of a trace for Six to identify that two pairs of booted feet traveled from the center of the pentagram to the door very recently, probably only hours ago.

    Behind the eastern door are the more interesting rooms. One is a comfortably appointed sitting room, though this one too has not seen much use. It is very quickly stripped of two smaller versions of the large self-repairing carpet, these ones also bearing examples of stylized, abstract artwork.

    Beyond this one is a bedroom, the most lavish chamber that they have seen so far. Here they find the first clear indication of recent activity, with some clothes from an open pair of cabinets strewn on the two beds, and open drawers and empty chests littering the room. Checking for magic in the chamber, Nameless detects a number of lingering auras.

    While he is doing so, Six finds a smaller hidden chamber underneath the room, completely empty and featureless except for a concealed (now empty) compartment. This area is also free of the teleportation-blocking abjuration.

    “There’s a conjuration aura here too,” says Nameless. “This is where they must have teleported out of. Nice system – keep a little bolt-hole that you can use for escapes. I assume that compartment held an escape package.”

    Luna, having changed back to shifter form, looks down at him and says, “Yeah, yeah, they’re really smart – I got it! More importantly…,” she holds up a rolled rug, “We got more carpets! For the apartment!”

    Gareth, still examining the bedroom, comments, “You know, you’re way more interested in interior decoration than I would have guessed.”

    Six and Korm, who have gone through the other door out of the room, reappear. “Nameless – we need you to look at this.”

    Following them, the group enters the largest chamber in the area, apparently a huge arcane laboratory. It too seems not to have been used for a long time, large sheets having been pulled over the long desks and tables in the area, pulled aside in a couple of places to reveal the equipment, reagents and other paraphernalia that they cover. A doorless antechamber set into the middle of the far wall has a half-drawn curtain separating it from the main chamber.

    Most eye-catching of all is a huge map that stretches across one of the walls, intricately painted and carved (since it is slightly three-dimensional, protruding an inch from the wall). Nameless eyes it carefully and says, “That’s the Demon Wastes. Is that what you wanted me to look at?”

    “No – this,” says Korm, walking over to the antechamber and pulling the curtain the rest of the way across, to reveal a chamber ten feet long and wide. Unlike the walls of the laboratory, which are the same gray color as the rest of the complex, these walls have a bone-white pallor. And they are covered in some kind of writing. There is no sign of what implement was used, but the thin streams of blood-red letters, interspersed with diagrams and figures, cover the entire area.

    “I’m thinking this could be important,” says Korm, “But we can’t read it.”

    Nameless walks over and studies the walls for a few seconds. “It’s infernal. But in an extremely archaic script.” Just a little smugly, he adds, “I can work it out.” He turns in place, running his eyes quickly over the various sections. Then he stops suddenly. “Gareth!”

    “What?”

    “Gareth,” repeats Nameless. “It says ‘Gareth’ here.” He reaches up and touches a particular line, running his finger over it. “This bit says….”

    The alienist stops abruptly. As his finger passes over the stone, the script beneath his fingers disappears, leaving blank whiteness behind. Intrigued, Nameless runs his finger over the stone again, this time pushing down on it. This time, a red streak appears behind the finger.

    “Fascinating!” says Nameless. “This thing is like a giant piece of reusable parchment. You write on it by exerting pressure and erase what’s written by rubbing over it.” He points at the rest of the writing. “You just need a stylus or even a pointed stick and you can use this entire chamber as your writing pad.”

    “Or a claw,” says Six, indicating how thin and precise the red lines are.

    “Yes, a claw.”

    “That’s all very interesting,” says Gareth, the tone belying the words, “But what did it say about me?”

    Nameless rolls his eyes and then goes back to the wall. “Actually it mentions…,” he runs his eyes over the wall, “…all of us.” His fingers stab at various points, making sure not to actually touch them. “Six. Luna. Korm. Me. Even Corven.”

    “This really irritates me,” growls Luna. “I hate people following our moves.”

    Nameless studies the writing a little further and, though his expression doesn’t change, his tone grows slightly more clipped. “Not following. Predicting.”

    “What?”

    Nameless points at a particular section that has a complicated diagram, stretching from where the wall meets the ceiling, eight feet above, to the floor. “Gareth. And me. We’re listed there. And there are arrows joining us, with smaller ones joining Six and Corven to me. And where they first meet, it says ‘Mugging.’”

    “Mugging,” says Gareth slowly, clearing not liking what he is thinking. “You three helped me when I was attacked by muggers. So what makes you think that’s not just a listing of info. Why’s it a prediction?”

    “Because of the following bit where it lists ‘Travel to Sharn’ among three possibilities and marks that the most likely.”

    “Great. Where do I come in?” asks Luna.

    Nameless continues to point out details. “The section after that draws connections between us and people in Sharn. Lalia and Tasra. Trillia. Many others. I think it’s mostly predictions again. There are a few names I don’t recognize, and there are symbols I think representing the chances of the various relationships happening.”

    “You didn’t mention me,” reminds Luna.

    “I’m getting to it. You come in … here.” Nameless smiles slightly. “This should make you happy. I don’t think that was expected. It looks like something was erased and your name added, and there’s a comment saying ‘New addition,’ next to it.”

    “Good to know,” grunts Luna.

    Nameless looks a little closer and then says, “Except that there’s then a small section saying, ‘potential link to Gatekeepers’. Which then…,” he follows a particular looping of complicated lines and symbols, and says, “…later brings in Gurr’khan, Surr’kal, and Trillia. That’s around where you come in, Korm. Corven seems to … let me see … yes, he disappears after that.”

    “I knew meeting you bunch would get me in trouble,” grunts Korm. “So, is it all just about us?”

    “No,” says Nameless, turning again to look at various sections. “This bit is all about astrological positions. And here’s a small chart of names I don’t recognize. This is a list of names by location. All in Breland, but not Sharn. And this one is a really big list of people in Sharn. With all sorts of connections drawn between them.” He runs his eyes up and down the list and says, “Just about everyone we know, and then some.”

    “Hold on,” says Six, thinking of something. “Is Kylian in there?”

    Nameless checks and shakes his head. “No.”

    “Wonderful,” says the big warforged. “Even the rakshasas can’t track the damn gnomes! Or don’t want to risk it.”

    “Well, Thurik Davandi’s listed, if that makes you feel any better.”

    “You might think so, but no, not really.”

    “And guess what … surprise, surprise … here’s a listing of people we got involved with on the trip to Xen’drik.”

    Luna, who has got bored with these details, has wandered over to the tables to remove the covers and check the contents. Now, she interrupts. “Hey, guys! Here’s something else that might be interesting.” In her hands is a crumpled collection of parchments. “I found these behind those instruments.”

    She continues, “Nameless will need to read it,” as she riffles through and tries to straighten the pages. “It’s the same as on those walls, so I can’t read….” Then she stops, looks carefully at a page, flips to the next one and the one after that, flips back, and begins to read over them again.

    “Found something in Common?”

    “Yes. And a few other languages. Elven and orcish, I think. Does this sound familiar?” Slowly, Luna reads aloud:

    “Prophecy dances around you. Some fulfill, some are fulfilled, and some flee - the choice is yours. Where present and future spark, where light is turned to dark, to the ghost of the city where the past await. The chamber may hold you, make you or break you. Beyond sky and sea you go, but only to your roots return. Face dream and madness, dust and death; use them against each other, as they use you. You already carry destruction within you, but without it you may fail. The sword is the key, but the key is not the sword. Dragon's wings.”

    “Oh hells!” says Gareth. “They even have a record of the prophecy Flamewind gave us?”

    “Not just Flamewind, remember?” reminds Six. “That Teraza woman … who you said is a hag … the one associated with Daask … she wrote something like that for us too.”

    “It’s not a record,” says Luna. “It’s the final version.”

    “Huh?”

    “Drafts,” says Luna, her tone turning angry, as she rips out the pages that she has been flipping through and holds them up. “I just read you the final version. The rest are drafts. Earlier versions. Starting with just a couple of sentences and slowly getting to the final version. With notes on the sides about all the ways it can be interpreted and what groups it could be thought to refer to. We got the final version.” Her tone is no louder, but is livid by the end, “The best one.”

    “These guys wrote the prophecy we got months ago?”

    “Yes. But not months ago. There are dates next to the drafts. The first one is five years old. The last one’s three years old.” Luna tosses the papers to Six, looks up at the ceiling, clenches her fists and snarls. “Grrahghh! I hate the feeling that someone’s been controlling me!”

    Kaelyn, who has been listening silently, and partly uncomprehendingly, with the two eladrin, finally says, “I don’t quite understand, but this is somewhat entertaining.”

    Luna turns to her with a growl, but Korm is there to grab the shifter by the arm before she can do something Kaelyn, and then probably the Angels, will regret.

    Nameless, having picked up the parchments, says, “Finish searching this place while I take notes from the wall and of the map. There might be some other useful things like these papers in here.”

    He is right, but the other discovery has no resemblance to the papers. Among the many things they find in the laboratory is a large basin that holds four preserved limbs, two arms and two legs. Moments afterwards, they find the source.

    Lying on its back under a covering cloth like just another piece of equipment is the torso of a humanoid figure. It lacks not only arms and legs, but ends at the waist. Moreover, it has been skinned, revealing muscle and flesh that has dried and mummified over time. The one addition is a thick strip of muscular flesh that has grown over the mouth and teeth, making it impossible for the creature, whatever it was originally, to speak or even make a sound.

    As if that were not enough, its eyelids have been removed, leaving the blankly staring eyes in their sockets, without any way to close. To the horror of Luna, who is the one to find it, the eyes are alive, rolling wildly and madly, with no signs of recognizing her or the fact that there are now people around it.*

    After a few seconds of studying it, Gareth says, “I should try to see what it is thinking. It may help in our quest.”

    Korm looks into the eyes, clearly insane, and grunts, “Better you than me.”

    Gareth breathes a quick prayer to the Flame and concentrates, reaching into the creature’s mind. And then recoils, rubbing his temples. “Damn! All I pick up on the surface is pain. Whatever it is that’s keeping it alive in this state, it hurts. A lot!”

    “Let’s just put it out of its misery,” says Luna.

    “Yes,” says Gareth, “We should. But there was something beneath the surface. I should make sure.” He takes a deep breath and then concentrates again, mentally gritting his teeth as he delves into the creature’s tortured and fractured mind, or what remains of it. For a couple of seconds, Gareth pushes mentally through the barrier of pain, almost retching in reaction as he feels himself surrounded by a miasma of endless ripping, tearing pain. Grasping quickly at whatever floats in the mist of pain, the paladin finds two words – which he realizes are names – being repeated constantly, “Zathara” and “Nethatar.” Besides that, there is only one endless roiling insane scream of pain.

    When Gareth emerges from the contact, he is gasping for breath, the veins standing out on his forehead and a splitting headache raging within it. He draws Kizmet and says thickly, “Rest in peace,” before neatly decapitating the creature.

    Its head rolls on the floor, revealing that even the internal sections of the creature had been mummified. For a few seconds, the eyes continue to roll, making the Angels wonder if even this will not kill it. But then, thankfully, they slowly roll up and go blank.

    “Have you got everything, Nameless?” asks Gareth.

    “Yes.” Nameless looks over at Oberon and Titania, who seem to have lost their normal state of flippancy with this particular sight. “Can you destroy this place?”

    “Yes,” says Oberon. “I will.”

    Kaelyn, who also now seems more serious than she has been at any point previously, says, “And while we will not go to the Wastes, we will help you along the way. It looks like you could use it.”

    *****
    A little over two hours later, the Angels stand over a hundred miles to the northwest, in an open, sparsely wooded area. To their south and east runs a chain of mountains, spanning the horizon. Kaelyn, standing near them, points north and west, to the highland plateau they are on the edge of, a network of canyons and mesas forming a giant natural maze.

    “That is the Labyrinth. Beyond lie the Demon Wastes. This is as far as we can take you.” With uncharacteristic seriousness, she bows. “It has been an interesting meeting. Luck to you. You will need it.”

    Then she walks over to join Oberon and Titania, sitting their horses and watching silently a short distance away. They too bow slightly, and then all three shimmer and turn shadowy, gradually fading into the vegetation around them.

    “As they said,” grunts Korm, “That was interesting.” He turns to gaze at the Labyrinth. “Why do I get the feeling the next few days will be even more so?”


    * This is when Luna’s player said OOC, “What the hell is it with all these damn creatures?” and Gareth’s player said, “It’s not them. It’s just Shil!” Guilty as charged
    Last edited by shilsen; Monday, 23rd October, 2006 at 06:06 PM.
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  • #192
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    While the others set up a camp, Nameless again flies back and forth for about an hour, trying to triangulate the location of the Key. As far as the alienist can make out, the general location has not changed from what he deduced at the rakshasa lair. He also realizes, as he had feared, that while the link to the Key has not grown any weaker, it has grown less precise, now providing an approximate area stretching about a mile in width. The distance to their current location is approximately three hundred miles, putting it maybe a hundred miles into the Wastes proper, well beyond the Labyrinth itself.

    After Nameless returns and informs the others what he has discovered, they settle down for the night. Sleep comes quickly to the tired group, despite the weather, which is comparatively cold after their time in the hot stickiness of the Marches and the comfortably temperate nature of the Reaches, and the constant soft hissing of the wind out of the Labyrinth, like hungry breath indrawn between sharp teeth*.

    Only Six waits, unsleeping as ever, through the night. He is also the only one to notice anything untoward. During the second watch, he notices a tiny bloom of flame, far to the north, which dies away instantly. Having seen enough of them, Six recognizes it as a fireball, and though it is impossible to accurately judge the distance, he estimates it must be maybe dozens of miles into the Labyrinth.

    Just before dawn, when Six and Nameless, who joined him on the last watch, are waking the others, the alienist feels a magical force attempt to affect his mind. He easily fights off the effect, instantly recognizing that the effect is akin to a nightmare spell. But something is very different. Still trying to decipher the strange pattern, Nameless calls a warning. “Watch out! Someone used … tried to use … a spell on me.”

    The warning is unnecessary. As he speaks, a shimmering shape appears five feet from Nameless, quickly resolving itself into a semi-transparent figure. It is the spellcaster from their previous day’s battle, still in his orc form. As the others grab at weapons and prepare to hurl spells, Nameless says quickly, “Don’t bother. It’s an illusion. Modified project image , I think.”

    The image eyes Nameless, and then looks around at the others. If it cannot actually see them, then it is putting on a brilliant act of doing so. Then it says, “I see you are still alive. I am not sure how you did, but it was rude of you to follow me. In case you didn’t realize it, you are no longer a concern of mine. And since you are no longer tied to the Key, you are free of it. Appreciate the freedom and go your way.”

    “I have a better idea,” says Korm. “We’ll find you and kill you, take back the Key, and turn you and your friend into Rakshasa-skin rugs.”

    As the others chuckle, the image says calmly, “I assumed after your visit yesterday that now you know what I am, but I didn’t want to assume. Anyway, that makes things more convenient.” The figure’s features shift and reform, stretching and growing, developing fangs and a covering of pale white fur marked with black stripes, until a rakshasa looks back at the Angels. “That’s better,” he says.

    The response from the Angels isn’t quite what he might have expected. Nameless says dryly, “You’re white. That’s good – it’ll match our drapes.”

    For a second, the rakshasa looks as close to flabbergasted as a humanoid tiger can. He looks to his side, as if speaking to an invisible watcher, and says, “They really are …”

    “Insane?” completes Korm, with a broad smile, “Yes, we got that already. As you should know, considering how long you’ve apparently been sniffing along behind us. Try again.”

    The rakshasa shakes its head and then says, “As I was saying, consider this a warning. You have already fought me twice … well, the first time doesn’t really count, but still … and survived. Don’t tempt fate with a third time.”

    “Well,” says Gareth, in a matter of fact tone, “We could just as easily say that you have actually survived meeting us twice.”

    “And,” adds Nameless, “You’re talking to us right now, rather than just coming here and trying to kill us.”

    This time, the rakshasa actually smiles slightly, though it is a little difficult to differentiate that from a snarl on its fanged face. “You people truly are fascinating.” He turns in place, until he faces northwest, where the Labyrinth still lies mostly in shadow, its eastern face barely lit by the rising sun. “And,” he adds, “You are actually heading into the Demon Wastes. Truly fascinating.”

    Then he looks around at them. “So, tell me – do you have a location in mind or are you planning to search all of the Wastes?”

    “That’s a boring question,” interrupts Six. “Let’s talk of something more interesting. What’s your plan? What do you want to do with the Key?”

    The rakshasa turns to look at him and smirks. “You have got to be joking. And that’s hardly a concern of yours right now.”

    “Come on,” persists Six, “You know you’re dying to tell somebody, so it might as well be us.”

    The rakshasa simply stares at him, causing Nameless to put in, “Would it help if we let you capture us and tie us all up in your secret volcano lair?”

    This comment actually draws a chuckle. “Very well,” says the rakshasa, “I promise you all, if you do follow me, I will tell the last one to die what my master plan is.”

    Luna, who has mostly been standing by and grinning at her companions’ comments, says, “Damn! Now we have to make a plan – who’s going to have the fun of being the last one to die, find out this idiot’s plans and kick his ass?”

    As hands get raised and mock arguments begin, the rakshasa wearily raises a clawed hand. “This is clearly a waste of time. Nevertheless, I tell you one last time. Do not pursue me. If you do, we will meet one last time. And then you will die.” The image shimmers and then quickly fades away.

    “I ask you,” says Luna, with a big smile, “Can we talk smack or can we talk smack?”

    As the others laugh and begin to go about their business, Six asks, “You think he’s really concerned about us following him?”

    “No way to be sure,” says Nameless, “But he did seem curious about how we’re following him. And he didn’t just scry us, which I’m sure he could easily do, and teleport in and attack.”

    “And we did fight them to pretty much a standstill last time.”

    “Well,” says Nameless, “They did have the Key, so they weren’t exactly trying to fight to a finish, and he was barely touched, but we did take some serious chunks out of his girlfriend. Still, I wouldn’t like to predict anything about this one.”

    “I’m sure we’ll find out eventually,” says Gareth, breathing a silent prayer to the Flame that he will have the rakshasa facing Kizmet’s blade soon. As he does, he feels a thrill of anticipation from the sword.

    The Angels make their usual preparations and, a little over an hour later, are getting ready to leave the camp. As they are doing so, Six – who is always ready first, having no need to either prepare spells or eat and drink – points at the wooded area to the east. “Look!”

    About two hundred feet from them, a large patch of shadow quickly darkens and grows, resolving itself into the shape of an eladrin mounted on a fey steed, with Gurr’khan standing beside it. This eladrin is not Oberon or Titania, and his visage, though handsome, is less luminous than them. He looks over the group with a frankly curious eye and then says, “Greetings. Here is your friend. I have messages too. The lord Oberon says that the lair has been returned to the forest.”

    Then he points to Gareth. “Kaelyn Windsong says that your fellow worshippers have been released.” His tone becomes slightly amused, as he continues, “And that you don’t know what you missed, and that she hopes it dries up and falls off.” With that, he nods, concentrates, and quickly fades back into shadow.

    Chuckles follow the delivery of the last message, and Nameless says, “Not like you were getting any use out of it, anyway.” Gareth doesn’t bother to dignify the comment with an answer.

    Gurr’khan walks over to join them, shaking his head and looking a little irritated. “Damn Greensingers and fey! I cannot believe they actually petrified me!” Then he shakes his head again and says, “That Windsong woman said you found the rakshasas’ lair but they got away. And that you think they are in the Demon Wastes.” He sits down. “What happened?”

    The Angels spend some time going over all the details, with attendant questions, comments and the odd grimace from Gurr’khan. He is especially interested in their rendition of the morning conversation with the rakshasa. Nameless finishes with, “And we were getting ready to head in after it.”

    Gurr’khan looks pleased and says, “Then you have already decided what I was going to ask you to do. Thank you. Since you apparently still have the link and have a general direction, it makes sense that you continue pursuing the Key. I do not know the Wastes and cannot transport you there – or back, quite likely, considering what I believe is the case with vegetation, or its lack, there. So I shall be returning to Saala, as she had wanted me to do, to let her know what has happened. We will find a way to contact you and follow with aid as soon as we can.” He grimaces. “It will be difficult. The Demon Wastes are far beyond where the Gatekeepers roam, especially in these days. Still, we will do whatever we can. Is there anything else I can help you with before I go?”

    A couple of the Angels request spells or weapons that will be especially good against rakshasas or the other creatures they might encounter in the Wastes. Gurr’khan says, “I will see what we can do.” Then he reaches into a pouch and produces the small hardwood carving (of a smiling, pot-bellied orc with both arms stretched above his head) that they have seen and used before, and gives it to Nameless. “You can probably get more use out of this right now than I will.”

    After handing it over, Gurr’khan bids the Angels goodbye, wishes them good luck and departs in his usual manner, finding a tree large enough to enter and doing so.

    *****
    Over two hours later, the Angels are cantering through the Labyrinth on the backs of four magical mounts, two horses and two stags, seemingly solid but with legs that end in insubstantial, smoke-like hooves.

    Around them the vast network of canyons and mesas stretches hundreds of feet high, forming a natural maze of stone. Now that they are actually within it, the wind in the canyons is louder, varying from a soft, constant hissing, which is the most common, all the way to heights that resemble the keening of a hundred banshees and is physically painful. Luckily, the speed of their mounts takes the group quickly through the short sections where the wind is at its loudest.

    Sound is not the only thing that is strange here. Errant scents waft around them, though they are usually quickly left behind. At one point, the air around the riders inexplicably fills with the smell of fresh blood, though there is no sign of a source. More common is the smell of sulphur, which seems to linger in pockets around the area.

    One source for the sulphurous smell is quickly evident. Nameless’s phantom stag, having taken the lead, makes a sharp turn to suddenly be confronted by a rush of heat and a twenty foot wide stream of lava flowing across his path. Even before the startled mage can react, his mount leaps smoothly into the air and over the barrier of liquid flame, landing with barely any impact a full fifty feet further down the canyon and continuing without even a momentary decrease in speed. As he calls back a warning, the others experience the same.

    The Angels see a couple more lava flows as they go on, usually rising from one of the broad cracks and crevasses that they sometimes encounter. Though they never stop to investigate, they note in passing that some of the breaks in the earth drop away beyond the limits of their sight, and Nameless comments that legend says some of them lead down to Khyber.

    Though the rocky, often rubble-strewn terrain doesn’t hinder the magical mounts at all, what does slow them slightly is the mazelike nature of the terrain, sometimes requiring them to stop and retrace their steps from a blind or impassable canyon. This would be much more the case if it were not for Luna. As the others ride, she flies overhead as an eagle, keeping an eye on the area they will pass through and flying down to indicate whether they should take or avoid a particular turn.

    Six looks at her speculatively, as she soars by. “Is it just my imagination,” he says, “Or is she a little chubbier in eagle form than she used to be?”

    As the others laugh, Six follows with a quick, “Oh, damn!” as the keen-eared druidess gives a loud screech and does a wingover.

    What saves him from swift feathery wrath is the sudden scream from a side canyon that they are passing. It is a wordless shriek of extreme agony, and is followed by another, female voice. “Help! Help m…,” it begins, before being cut off suddenly.

    As the mounts race by, the Angels exchange glances. “Should we…,” begins Six, but Korm says, “No. There was something strange about that voice.” Nameless and Gareth nod in corroboration. Six shrugs and they continue onward.

    Nearly fifteen minutes later, the incident is almost forgotten, when Luna lets out a loud screech. Even as she does so, most of her companions notice movement to the side and high above, out of the corner of their eyes. Looking up, they see a pair of large dragon-like creatures diving off the top of a nearby cliff and soaring downwards, small but muscular wings flapping awkwardly, disproportionately large jaws agape to display gleaming rows of fangs.

    Nameless cries to his mount to stop, and as the magical creature responds instantly, he notes the mottled gray and brown plates and the spikelike protuberances that cover the creatures’ bodies, and the long forked tails stretching behind them, each tipped with a pair of scythelike bone blades.

    “Fang dragons!” he shouts, even as he makes the motions of a spell. A second later, a fireball blooms around them, followed instantly by a pair of flame strikes from
    the druids. One of the dragons screams as it is badly burned, but the other is barely scorched, dodging the bulk of one blast, while the other two fizzle harmlessly against its innate magical resistance.

    The dragons dive down to attack, the more wounded one choosing Nameless and the other Korm. Though their magical protections deflect the slashing jaws, each is wounded, as the dragons come to a clumsy landing near them, now lashing out with multiple limbs.

    “Watch out for the claws and tail!” warns Nameless, “They like to knock enemies off their feet!” The warning is underlined as the bony tail slams into his chest and knocks him off the magical stag. A second later, Korm joins him on the ground.

    Six, having dismounted already, moves in to attack Nameless’s assailant, and quickly realizes that the dragon either has incredibly thick hide or is magically protected too, as his chain bounces off harmlessly. Gareth, charging in on his stag, has more success as the combination of his mount’s momentum and the grace of the Flame drives Kizmet into its shoulder. Arcs of lightning from the two druids leap from dragon to dragon, but again, it is only the same one that is truly affected.

    Badly wounded, the creature rears up and lashes out at Gareth, a flurry of fangs, claws and beating wings bringing the paladin to the ground in seconds, bleeding and unconscious. The dragon growls in triumph and lashes out with its tail at Nameless, catching the mage another wicked blow.

    Though unconscious, Gareth at least has allies to provide a distraction. Korm has no such luck. The druid gives in to his berserker instincts, letting the rage take him. With a Herculean effort, Korm rolls over and drives his sword deep into his enemy’s leg. And then disappears beneath it, only sprays of blood indicating his position.

    Still reeling from the blow, Nameless summons a pseudonatural wolf, that slashes into the dragon beside him. As the dragon cries out in pain, Six rips into its other flank, and Luna brings a well-placed flame strike down on its rear.

    The dragon screams and staggers, breathing up a large gout of blood, and looks around frantically. Though relatively unhurt, its ally is too far away and too busy trying to kill the barely conscious orc to help. Though it will certainly be able to kill the mage, the risk is too great. The dragon loudly cries, in a thickly reptilian voice, “Wait! This is a mistake!”

    Though the cry causes Six to pause, and Nameless to yell an order to his wolf to do the same, it is almost too late for Korm. Barely holding onto consciousness, he tries to summon his healing magic, but the crimson rage fueling him (ironically, the only reason he is still conscious) makes it too hard to concentrate. Korm swings one last time and then the dragon above him smashes its foot down, driving the claws into and smashing his skull**. As it does so, it hears the other dragon and stops, one foot still holding the dying druid. “We’re talking to them now? Why?”

    The other dragon glares at its companion with its orange eyes, rimmed in red. Then it turns quickly, as Nameless asks, “A mistake?” The mage comes carefully to his feet and steps away, commanding the snarling wolf to step between him and the wounded dragon. He points at Gareth, whom Six is already bending over, and then to Korm. “A mistake?”

    “Yes, yes,” says the dragon hurriedly. “We … thought you were someone else. It was an error.”

    As it is speaking, Luna dives down, landing atop Korm. The dragon beside him instinctively raises a claw and Nameless calls, “Don’t do it! She’s one of us.”

    “Yes!” quickly adds the dragon beside him, in a friendly tone. “We don’t want to harm them by mistake.”

    The other dragon simply grunts derisively, and then steps back quickly as Luna screeches and waves a claw, encasing Korm in a magical cocoon, barely seconds before he expires. As the healing magic begins its task, she flies over to Gareth and revives him with another spell.

    As the paladin rises groggily, Nameless asks the dragon, “Who did you think we were?” Remembering what happened with the River Snakes in the Marches, he adds, “You didn’t meet two people who said to kill us, did you?”

    A look of reptilian confusion flashes across the dragon’s bloodied visage. “No. We simply … er, thought you were enemies of ours.”

    Noting its wounds and demeanor, Gareth thinks, It’s lying. And just trying to save its hide. One look at the dragon’s scorched and slashed form explains why.

    “What enemies?” asks Nameless.

    “Umm … nobody in particular. We have many enemies. Anyway, we apologize for the error. We will leave now, and let you go then. Yes?”

    “Very we…,” begins Nameless, when the sudden sound of spellcasting interrupts. Two voices. Which are instantly drowned by the sounds of loud war-cries in orcish.

    The Angels spin around to see eight people charging them from the head of the canyon, brandishing weapons. Two more stand behind them among the rocks, each completing a spell, and a blast of light leaps from each man’s hand. One strikes the badly wounded dragon right between the eyes, searing into its brain, and it collapses. The other strikes the second dragon, burning its wing.

    It screams in pain and, despite the wound, takes awkwardly to the air, flapping its way upwards. A couple of the attackers stop and fire arrows at it, which bounce off its hide.

    Quickly realizing that they are not attacking him and his allies, Nameless calls, “Let’s bring it down.” He casts quickly, bringing two giant, tentacle-ringed bees into existence around the dragon, which drive their stings into its hide. Luna quickly brings down one of her flame strikes on it, but it struggles onwards.

    The two spellcasters strike it with dispel magics, one of them calling out in surprise as his spell bounces back to strike him. The other’s magic has some effect, as a couple of the now constant arrows being fired at the dragon hit home. Though they inflict little damage, the creature has taken many wounds, and though almost weeping with fear and pain, continues to flap onwards.

    Just as it is about to disappear above the crest of the canyon, a completely healed and now winged Korm emerges angrily from the cocoon. “Where is that bloody son of a lizard?”

    Seeing it above him, Korm flaps into the air, raising his sword. With a word of command, he hurls the blade, sending it slashing through the air. As the dragon reaches the canyon top, the sword hits home, burying itself hilt-deep into the base of its neck. With a strangled scream, the creature turns turtle in mid-air and crashes back down, landing near Six.

    As it falls, the new arrivals stalk forward. Now that they have leisure to study them, the Angels can see that they are mostly orcs, with two half-orcs and two humans. All wear studded leather, and are heavily armed, wielding bow, spear and sword. Only the leader, a tall young orc, wears metal armor, a breastplate decorated with the stylized image of a flame with three tendrils. Copies of the same image decorate each of his thick arms, and the others bear similar sigils, as well as tribal markings. Most of them also bear an unusually large number of scars.

    Korm turns to them as they advance and says, “Thank you.”

    The leader stops and considers him silently, before saying, in accented but understandable Common, “Thank you. We had been pursuing them for a long time.”

    Nameless, walking over, asks, “Who are you?” Though I think I know.

    “We are the Ghash’kaala. And you are in our home.”


    * Catch the allusion?

    ** Though the dragon had initiative, I gave Mike (Korm’s player) a 50% chance to have the other dragon manage to stop the attack. With his usual luck, he blew it, and it took him past -10. Makes it the 21st “death” in 42 sessions, so I’m keeping to my standard 2 sessions per PC use of action pts to stave off death.
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  • #193
    Quote Originally Posted by shilsen
    the constant soft hissing of the wind out of the Labyrinth, like hungry breath indrawn between sharp teeth*.

    * Catch the allusion?
    Is there something past the obvious?

    Quote Originally Posted by shilsen
    “I have a better idea,” says Korm. “We’ll find you and kill you, take back the Key, and turn you and your friend into Rakshasa-skin rugs.”

    As the others chuckle, the image says calmly, “I assumed after your visit yesterday that now you know what I am, but I didn’t want to assume. Anyway, that makes things more convenient.” The figure’s features shift and reform, stretching and growing, developing fangs and a covering of pale white fur marked with black stripes, until a rakshasa looks back at the Angels. “That’s better,” he says.

    The response from the Angels isn’t quite what he might have expected. Nameless says dryly, “You’re white. That’s good – it’ll match our drapes.”
    I was really pleased with the drapes line.

  • #194
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    ø Ignore shilsen
    Quote Originally Posted by Rackhir
    Is there something past the obvious?
    If by "obvious" you mean Lord of the Rings, where Frodo and Sam are being followed by Gollum shortly before they first mee thim, then no.

    I was really pleased with the drapes line.
    That was a damn good one. I've encountered some nice smack-talking from PCs and done some myself, and you guys did some of the best I've heard. That's one thing this group is really good at - confusing powerful NPCs with your smack talking.

    And now, on to the next instalment:

    ************************************************** *******************
    “Ghaash’kala?” asks Korm, working out the rough translation in his mind. Ghost guardians?

    “They live in the Labyrinth, I believe,” says Nameless, “Fighting the creatures of the Wastes.”

    “You are well informed,” says the Ghaash’kala leader. “I am Morran Shashaarat. We are of the Maruk Ghaash’kala. We dwell here, facing the darkness, ensuring that the taint of the Wastes may not spread to the rest of Khorvaire. Nothing may leave the Wastes without facing us.” The tone is matter of fact, but there is the tiniest hint of pride. He pauses, looking over the Angels. “Or enter.”

    Maruk, thinks Korm. The Mighty. “Interesting.” He notes that four of the Ghaash’kala, after ensuring that the dragons are dead, are moving to either end of the canyon and looking around the area. The others stand in a loose semi-circle around their leader and the Angels, and while none look threatening, each holds a drawn weapon.

    Korm points to the corpses. “You said you were hunting these?”

    “Yes. They have killed my people before and we have wanted to kill them for long. We almost captured them, but they escaped. They are sly and tricky creatures. They can mimic any sound they have heard.”

    The Angels exchange glances, realizing that must have been the source of the cries for help they had heard earlier, as Morran continues, “And they are powerful fighters. You must be skilled to have hurt them so badly.”

    “Not too bad on your side either,” says Nameless. “Those spells were quite handy.”

    “Kalok Shash gives us its blessing.”

    “Kalok Shash?”

    “The Binding Flame.” Morran taps the sigil on his armor for emphasis. “Kalok Shash is what we are sworn to. It gives us the power to hold these lands. We live for the Flame. We die for the Flame.” There is something about Morran’s matter of fact demeanor that makes the comments seem grim, where they might have otherwise seemed overly flamboyant.

    “Flame?” asks Gareth.

    Morran looks at the markings on the paladin’s armor and says, “You worship the Silver Flame, then? We have seen some of your people in the past. I do not know much about it, but the sar’malaan has said that what you call the Silver Flame is Kalok Shash to us.”

    “Really?” says Six, intrigued. “Shouldn’t you know that, Gareth?”

    “Never heard of it before, or of Kalok Shash,” says Gareth with a shrug.

    “And here I thought they made you actually read books at the seminary,” smirks Nameless.

    “Maybe,” grins Gareth, “But I was home schooled.”

    Morran interrupts. “Tell me – what are you doing here? Are you here to answer the call of Kalok Shash?”

    “Not that I know of,” says Nameless. “We are pursuing two rakshasas, who stole something of ours.”

    “Into the Wastes?”

    “Yes.”

    “You are chasing rakshasas into the Wastes,” repeats Morran, sounding curious, rather than surprised. “The Ghaash’kala fight them more often than any people in this world. You are very brave or very foolish.”

    “Yes,” grins Korm.

    “What did they steal? It must be very valuable.”

    Nameless hesitates, and then says, “Yes. It is something powerful and important to us.”

    Six says, “Wait a minute. Why don’t we tell them everything? All the people who shouldn’t know about it already do. We might as well start talking to people who can help. And anyone who lives here and fights rakshasas is someone who might be able to help us.”

    Nameless considers for a moment, and then says, “You know what – you’re right. Morran, do you have any leaders we can speak to?”

    “Yes,” says Morran. “As I said, we do not look kindly on anything entering the Wastes, since, when it tries to leave, it brings the taint with it. But, in view of your help with the dragons, I wish you to come with me. I cannot make a decision, but my brother, Torgaan can. He is our kizshmit, the war leader. And Lharc Shushaa, our sar’malaan, she who speaks to Kalok Shash, should hear you too.”

    “Excellent. Then let’s go.”

    “Hold on,” says Korm. “Not before I get some dragon steak.” The eagle Luna, perched on his shoulder through the conversation, screeches her agreement.

    Morran smiles for the first time. “I would have said that if you had not. Such large meals are not to be wasted.” As he signals, a number of the Ghaash’kala head for the dragon corpses, reaching into bags and sheathes to remove large chopping blades. “Once this is done, I shall take you to…”

    *****
    “…Maruk Dar,” says Morran, pointing upwards. “This is our home and main fortress, though we have many smaller outposts scattered around the Wastes.”

    The Angels look up in the light of early evening, which is descending quicker than normal and casting long shadows within the deep gorges of the Labyrinth, at the home of the Maruk Ghaash’kala. Maruk Dar consists of a series of vertical levels carved out of the canyon wall, beginning fifty feet above them and rising in ascending steps until the highest one meets the cliff top two hundred feet above. The levels take advantage of the already sloping cliff, so that each one juts out about ten to twenty feet from the one above.

    On each level, there are numerous doorways and tunnel openings that lead into the rock face, and scores of the Ghaash’kala move in and out of them. Ropes hang down from each level to the next, apparently serving as the primary means of ascent and descent, though the odd ladder also provides an option for the less dexterous.

    Dozens of armed warriors now stand looking down at the Angels, but having seen and been hailed by their escort, they now throw down rope ladders, allowing the Angels to half-climb and be half-pulled up to the lowest level, while their guides quickly shimmy up ropes beside them. As soon as they are on solid ground, Morran checks where the kizshmit and sar’malaan are, and, having been told they are on the third level, again leads the Angels upwards. While one member of their escort goes ahead to inform the kizshmit of the newcomers, the rest of their escort, most of them laden with fang dragon meat, skin and bone, quickly leaves them. Other Ghaash’kala quickly fall in behind them.

    As they proceed, Gareth says quietly to Korm, “For a ‘fortress’, I don’t see much in the way of fortifications.”

    Overhearing the quiet comment, Marron says, “Fortifications would be difficult to build here. And they are not needed. We are the Ghash’kaala.” Again, though the statement is matter of fact, there is the slightest tinge of pride. “Even the Lords of Dust do not easily attack us here.”

    “A place where rakshasas prefer not to attack?” says Six appreciatively, “I knew we should tell these guys everything!”

    As they travel through the chambers and tunnels that lie hidden within Maruk Dar, the Angels notice the almost complete lack of internal decoration. Literally everything they see is utterly functional. The only decoration is the stylized sigil of Kalok Shash that appears on some of the walls, on many Ghash’kaala weapons and armor, and on each of the inhabitants.

    Eventually, they reach a chamber, different from the others in that it actually has a simple wooden door, unlike the simple curtains that are the only concession to privacy that the Ghaash’kala seem to have. Inside, sitting cross-legged on a pair of woven mats and talking, are a middle-aged woman, who wears a fist-size symbol of Kalok Shash around her neck, and a tall, scarred warrior, who bears a strong resemblance to Morran.

    Morran, who leads them into the room, introduces the pair as Torgaan Shashaarat, the kizshmit, and Lharc Shushaa, the sar’malaan. Torgaan nods gravely and motions them to seats. “We have already been told of your coming. And you wish to speak to us?”

    “Yes,” says Nameless, after the group is seated. “We are on a mission that I believe the Ghaash’kala might be interested in.” He proceeds, with the help of the others, to outline everything that has happened regarding the Key, from its discovery to the current moment. Torgaan, Lharc and Morran are quickly hanging on every word.

    Finally, Nameless finishes, and asks, “Do you know of either Zathara or Nethatar?”

    “No,” says Lharc, who has asked most of the questions, “But the names of our enemies are not something we usually learn. Your tale is very interesting. I have not heard of such a situation before, though we do sometimes meet people entering the Wastes. As Morran will have told you, we do not support such attempts. But yours is a strange matter. Torgaan and I need to speak of it before we make a decision. Either way, you should stay here tonight.”

    “Thank you,” says Nameless, and the others do so as well.

    As they are about to leave, Lharc adds, “We will be having a short ceremony today, which you may find interesting. You are welcome to attend.”

    The Angels are taken to a couple of large, sparsely furnished rooms on another level. After resting for a while, they leave and wander for a little while, studying the place and its inhabitants, who consist mainly of orcs, but also have a significant number of humans and half-orcs, as well as a few members of other races.

    The most noticeable thing about the Ghaash’kala is their martial nature. The majority of the people the Angels see wear armor, usually either leather or hide of some kind, with the rare metal version. Weapons are even more ubiquitous, with the only unarmed people they see being a few toddlers who are too young to walk. Even the very old, of which they see almost no examples, have a weapon belted on. Small children wear at least a knife, and those beyond the age of ten or so all carry larger weapons.

    Six looks away from an armored woman, who is carrying a large earthen jar on one hip and wearing a hooked axe on the other, while holding the hand of a small boy of about eight, who is walking and spinning a spear with surprising skill. “These people are really ready to fight! I’ve never seen so many weapons in one place. Even the military never used to wear weapons all the time.”

    Luna, now back in her normal form, says meditatively, “I just noticed something else. They never laugh. At least the adults don’t.”

    Now that she mentions it, the others realize that they have not heard a single laugh since arriving here, except from one or two of the very small children while playing. There is a grimness to the Ghaash’kala, as well as a sense of focused purpose, which manifests in whatever they do. Whether weaving a blanket, or sparring with each other, or sharpening a weapon, or doing anything else, the Ghaash’kala seem to do so with a singularity of purpose that is almost frightening.

    “Yes,” says Gareth, looking around. “It’s a little depressing. Like they all think they’re going to die.”

    “No,” says Korm, whose own berserker soul finds an unexpected kinship to these people. “They know they’re going to die. It’s just not important to them. They’re just focused on their work.”

    “Sounds like you like them,” says Nameless.

    “I do. I understand them.”

    Shortly afterwards, the group joins Torgaan, Lharc, Morran and a couple hundred of their clan members in a large, partly open air chamber for the ceremony they were told of. It is a short affair, beginning with Lharc saying a prayer and pronouncing the blessing of Kalok Shash on those gathered. Then a dozen dancers, wearing stylized but simple masks, enact the history of the Ghaash’kala. It begins with the battles at the end of the Age of Demons, at the end of which the dragons bound the leaders of the fiends through the power of Kalok Shash, which was created through the sacrifice of the couatls. The primary land of the demons was destroyed and transformed into the Demon Wastes. Millennia later, orcish tribes were drawn by the call of Kalok Shash to the Labyrinth, where they accepted the grim task of guarding the rest of Khorvaire from the slowly growing taint of the Demon Wastes. They became the Ghaash’kala and divided into four, the Jaasakah (“Deadly”), Kastar (“Swift”), Maruk (“Mighty”) and Vanka (“Final”) clans. And there they have remained ever since, fighting and dying in an endless guardianship, so that the rest of the world does not have to.

    Once the ceremony is over, Lharc asks the Angels to join her and Torgaan. Once they are in a private chamber, she says, “We have considered your situation and we will help you as we can. We will let you pass and get the other clans to do so too. We will also give you what information we can. However….” She stops and turns to Torgaan.

    The kizshmit says, “As Lharc was saying, however, we cannot let you leave the Wastes and carry its taint into the world. That is a part of our duty that we must fulfill. I tell you this in full honesty, so that you may be prepared. If you succeed in your quest, and I hope you do, and then try to leave, we will stop you.” The tone is not threatening or regretful, but simply sincere.

    “What is this Taint?” asks Six. “Is it so bad that you would stop us even though we are all fighting the same enemy?”

    “Yes, it is,” says Lharc, “And I cannot describe it in any clear way, since it changes for different people. The Wastes taint whatever enters, but does so in varying ways. We cannot risk letting that leave.”

    “So let me get this right,” says Gareth, with a frown. “You would stop me, a paladin of the Silver Flame?”

    Torgaan smiles slightly at the pride in Gareth’s voice. “And I am a paladin of Kalok Shash. Kalok Shash is the Silver Flame, though you may call it by another name. There are more of what you call paladins here than even the place you call…,” he looks at Lharc, “…what is it?”

    “Flamekeep,” she completes.

    “Flamekeep. And yes, I would stop you.”

    Lharc adds, “We are being completely honest about this, since we hope you understand. But, whether you do or not, this is how it must be.”

    “Yes,” says Korm quickly, and with respect. “We understand. If that is how it must be, so be it. I respect your honesty – and your cause.”

    “Thank you,” says Lharc. “Now that is covered, let us tell you what we know. Though few of our people go into the Wastes, some do, and we sometimes even have members of the Carrion Tribes respond to the call of Kalok Shash. So we have some knowledge of the area. Of the three places you mentioned, the Lake of Fire is one of the largest volcanoes, of which there are many, in the Wastes. There are many rumors about it. Some say that a great magical trove of weapons is hidden beneath its lava, that it is where one of the greatest of the rajahs was bound at the end of the Age of Demons, and that fiends arise regularly from its flames. Whether they are true or not, it is supposed to attract fiendish creatures.”

    “Burning Keep is the remains of a small fort, built on the almost nonexistent remnants of a rakshasa ruin from the Age of Demons. The fort was built by the Enshrouded, one of the Carrion Tribes that worship a fiend of darkness, when they were rising in power, but soon destroyed by other nearby tribes. And Rotting Blade is a small settlement, which contains humans and orcs, as well as (we think) a nearby kobold tribe. We also believe it is ruled by a night hag. I hope that helps.”

    “I’m sure it will,” says Six. “What are these Carrion Tribes?”

    “Tribes of savages,” says Torgaan, before smiling thinly and adding, “Even more savage than us. Some worship the bound rajahs, some the Lords of Dust, and some even the night hags of the Waste. They are deadly, and will likely try to kill you on sight.”

    “Yes,” says Lharc. “To reach the area you are going to, you may pass through lands inhabited by the Moon Reavers, who worship a night hag, and the Plaguebearers, which worship a fiend of corruption, and like to coat their weapons with disease-causing dung. It is difficult to be sure, since they are mostly nomadic, and fight among themselves constantly.”

    “Every little bit of information helps,” says Nameless. “Could you help us in any way against the rakshasas? They are difficult to damage with the weapons we have.”

    “Yes,” says Lharc. “We have considered this too, and will give you one of our finest weapons. It is a spear, especially blessed by a past sar’malaan to overcome their resistances. You will receive it before you leave. Is there anything else that we can do?”

    After they discuss a few more things, Torgaan and Lharc ask the Angels to go and rest. They can leave early in the morning, with escorts to lead them to the Vanka clan, which guards the area of the Labyrinth they will pass immediately before reaching the Wastes.

    *****
    As planned, the Angels leave Maruk Dar very early in the morning. Morran, who seems to be very interested in their situation, leads the escort. While they travel, he talks to them about the lands they come from, all of which he has only heard of, and tells them of the life of the Ghaash’kala.

    Eventually, near noon, they are stopped by a squad of Ghaash’kala who rise from the rocks ahead of them. The Vanka warriors are similar in garb and gear to the Maruk, differing only in that they are almost exclusively orcish, and that they bear a wide variety of sigils and tribal markings, in contrast to the single type of sigil depicting Kalok Shash that the Maruk bear.

    Morran quickly explains to the Vanka leader that the Maruk want these strangers to be allowed to pass through the Vanka’s territory. The Angels notice that, though he provides no details of why this should be so, the Vanka ask no questions. Their leader simply asks Morran, “Do they know that we will stop them if they attempt to leave?” When Morran replies in the affirmative, he nods and motions to the Angels to follow him.

    As they are about to leave, Morran says, with just the slightest bit of wistfulness, “I wish you luck in the Wastes. If you do not return, may Kalok Shash grant you a good death.”

    “Thank you,” says Korm. “You sound like you wish you could come with us.”

    Morran smiles. “I do, a little. When one holds the passes against the darkness for so long, sometimes one wishes to carry the battle to them, instead. Still, we all do what we must.”

    With that, Morran bids the Angels goodbye, him and the other Maruk turning away and jogging away quickly. Four of the Vanka lead the Angels away, while the others fade back into the rocks. After half an hour, they reach a small outpost, consisting off a rough building carved part of the way up the side of a canyon, where their Vanka guides stop them. After speaking to others in the outpost, they provide the group with six new guides and leave them. These six lead them quickly in the direction of the Wastes.

    It is early evening when the Angels finally emerge from the Labyrinth. The canyons end suddenly, changing abruptly into the dark, rolling plains and rocky hills of the Demon Wastes. The Vanka stop here, saying that they will go no further, and head back into the Labyrinth.

    “Should we stop here or continue?” asks Luna.

    “There’ll be some light for a while,” Nameless says, “And we might as well get as much benefit from these mounts as possible.”

    The Angels proceed quickly into the Wastes, the phantom stags and steeds carrying them at a great pace, now that they can travel without having to make constant turns as they did thus far, despite the lack of any track or trail to follow.

    As they travel, the Angels look around with interest at probably the most inhospitable area in Khorvaire short of the Mournland itself. Plains of blackened sand and reddish rock undulate around them, rising regularly into dark hills that sometimes rise to the level of mountains, their sharp ridges etched against the darkening sky. Many of them are actively volcanic, marked by plumes of ash or trickling ash, and the riders pass large areas of volcanic glass from earlier activity. As the evening deepens, pinpricks of light appear as far as they can see, indicating that the entire area is heavily volcanic. There are areas of the plain with glowing splits in the ground, not crevasses so much as large fire pits.

    There are few signs of life, though there are birds high in the sky and the odd rodent, serpent or large insect moves hurriedly from the path of the riders, surprised by the near-silent movement of the magical mounts. The only vegetation seems to be short spiky bushes and shrubs, with large patches of some hardy lichen.

    There is no evident sign of human – or other – habitation either, though, as the evening deepens, the Angels glimpse collections of lights miles away that might be the windows of a small village or a collection of campfires. Luckily, none of them are in the immediate vicinity, though the existence of the hills in the area makes it quite possible that they are simply missing some.

    Eventually, after nearly three hours of riding, when they are fifty or so miles into the Wastes, the Angels decide to call a halt, a combination of tiredness and darkness making it difficult to continue. The mounts are also due to fade away soon, and Nameless, Korm and Luna dismiss them.

    Having done so, Luna looks around at the forbidding landscape, now lit only by the lights of the many volcanoes. “Camping in the Demon Wastes. Anybody want to bet that I get to flame strike something tonight?”
    shilsen is broken - Crothian (and this is why)

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  • #195
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    This is likely to become a VERY cool situation.

    Feed me more.

    Also as an aside, are they actually thinking of trying to get out through the labrynth or will they be exiting via the Tharashk outpost in the south.
    Avatar courtesy of Sialia!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by delericho
    Sadly, the reality is that many people don't realise that "no, you can't" doesn't always reduce fun, and "yes, you can" doesn't always increase it. So, very often, they find themselves working against their own fun.
    My idea of faith: The All Black's WILL win the World Cup - it's gonna happen people!!! (so long as we don't get France or Oz in our semi-final).

  • #196
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sidekick
    This is likely to become a VERY cool situation.
    As long as we're not speaking for the PCs, yes

    Feed me more.
    See below.

    Also as an aside, are they actually thinking of trying to get out through the labrynth or will they be exiting via the Tharashk outpost in the south.
    They're planning to just teleport out, actually.

    ************************************************** *******************
    Sticks and Stones

    Gareth finds himself standing in a large chamber, the boundaries of which are vague and misty. But what is clear is that the other Angels stand around him, and that they face the two rakshasas they have fought before, now in their own forms. The white-furred male holds the Key, which glows brightly in his paw. A battle begins, but strangely, Gareth finds himself alone fighting the rakshasa swordswoman, while everyone else attacks the one with the Key. Though wounded, he eventually manages to smite the rakshasa to the ground. Gareth hurries to join the battle, where things are going badly for his allies, all of whom are seriously wounded.

    As he is about to reach the remaining rakshasa, someone knocks the Key from its paw, which rolls straight to Gareth, almost as if seeking him. He stoops to pick it up, and instantly, all of the other Angels turn to attack him. Nameless summons pseudonatural wolves around him, Luna flame strikes him, and Korm and Six charge, weapons raised. Even more surprisingly, as Gareth defends himself, the rakshasa moves to aid him. Or so he assumes, since it attacks them with spells, but specifically does not harm him. Gareth’s (former) allies keep shouting, “Mine! I must have it! Give it to me!” as they fight. Their initial attacks wound him, but then Kizmet begins to glow with a silver flame, tendrils of which climb up his arm, healing as they go. The Key begins to glow with a similar light, which expands into the form of a shield around you. With the aid of Key and Kizmet, and the rakshasa, Gareth gradually manages to cut down all his allies.

    As the last one falls, the rakshasa looks at him and then slowly kneels, saying, in reverent tones, “You are the one!” It stretches forth its arms and lays its head near his feet. Gareth smites off its head, a silvery flame leaping from Kizmet, and its body is consumed in the flames. The paladin raises the Key, now glowing brighter and brighter with silver light, and the chamber melts away, revealing that he is standing outside a giant cathedral-fortress. Though he has never seen it before, he recognizes it from pictures as the Cathedral of the Silver Flame, which stands at the center of Flamekeep.

    Gareth walks forward, Key still held aloft, and passes through the walls, as if they did not exist. He walks deeper and deeper into the fortress, continuing to pass through whatever is in the way. He passes many people, most wearing insignia and symbols of the Silver Flame, who all stop and bow or kneel as he passes. Very quickly, Gareth reaches the innermost sanctum and descends, finally reaching a huge chamber, where a small girl stands before a giant pillar of silver flame. He realizes this is the Chamber of the Flame, where the Keeper, eleven-year old Jaela Daran, listens to the Voice of the Flame.

    Jaela bows too, and says, “Greetings, Gareth Byron Deneith, Keeper of the Flame. Do what needs to be done.” She steps away and he walks up to the column of flame. Still holding the Key aloft, he steps into the pillar. Gareth feels gentle warmth surround and hold him aloft, and then a face forms before him. He recognizes it as that of Tira Miron, as he saw on the day of the Battle of Grace, as she says, “Thank you. By your actions, the Flame is now cleansed and made complete. Accept our reward.” Gareth feels his body beginning to melt into the Flame painlessly, being replaced by silver flame where it was flesh. As it melts, the tendrils of flame all around him all display tiny faces, all looking at him. The one right in front of him is his father’s, which smiles in approbation. It is the greatest sense of mingled peace, contentment and pride that Gareth has ever felt, as close to perfection as he could imagine, if it were not for the irritating voices that are shouting, louder and louder…

    And then Gareth opens his eyes, and realizes that he is in the middle of the Demon Wastes. And that the voices are those of Korm, Six and Nameless, who are standing near each other, looking off into the darkness of the Wastes and shouting an alarm. Which is almost drowned out by a chorus of bloodthirsty screams from somewhere ahead of them.

    As Gareth rolls out of his blankets and grabs Kizmet, Six hurls an everburning torch some sixty feet into the darkness ahead of him. It lands, and rushing out of the shadows at the edge of its range of illumination, Gareth sees half a dozen humanoid shapes. They are fiendish in appearance, their shadowy faces a mixture of horns, dark reddish skin, large yellow eyes and fangs. The seven assailants wear hides and brandish large two-handed weapons, continuing to scream as they rush at the Angels.

    A second later, a cone of cold, an arc of lightning and a flame strike smash down, slaying three and badly wounding the others. Gareth and Six rush in weapons swinging. Gareth brings Kizmet down in an overhand chop that drops one of the wounded enemies. As the stricken foe rolls over in his death-throes, Gareth realizes there is something strange about their demonic features. A call from Six confirms what he thinks. “Human! They’re human!”

    Immediately, Gareth realizes what it was that he’d noticed. The horns are actually hair raised into spikes, while the yellow eyes are painted around their real eyes. They also have a vile stench around them. Even as he is noting this, the remaining humans scream aloud. The Angels see dark tendrils of smoke shoot up their legs and envelop them, as if each wore a large, shapeless cloak, and then fall apart. As the ‘smoke’ disappears, they seem stronger and fiercer, and rush to attack with renewed force.

    Nevertheless, they are still badly wounded by the spells, and the Angels dispatch them quickly, though not before one smashes Gareth painfully over the head. While he calls upon Kizmet’s healing power, his companions check the corpses.

    “What do you think they are?” asks Korm.

    “Members of the Carrion Tribes, I presume,” replies Nameless.

    “Any idea what that strange smoke thing was?”

    “Not really. It wasn’t a spell, that’s for sure. The results looked a lot like when you do your berserker thing. Maybe it’s something to do with their worship of the rajahs. Strange, but that’s to be expected here.”

    “That’s not all that’s strange,” says Luna, backing away from the corpse she was bending over. “Yuck! What’s wrong with them?”

    Korm continues to lean over the bodies, though there is a look of distaste on his face as he looks at the angry welts and open weeping sores on their arms and other exposed flesh. He wrinkles his nose at the stench of corruption and says, “They’re diseased. All of them. That’s where the smell comes from.”

    “And from the weapons,” points out Six, having picked up one of them. He indicates the dark substance coating the weapon. “It’s that strange crap you people produce.”

    “What crap?” asks Nameless, a little confusedly.

    “Crap,” says Six. “. Excreta. They have it coated on the weapons.”

    “Oh, come on!” says Luna, in disgust. “That’s just wrong.”

    “They must be members of the Plaguebearers that the Ghaash’kala mentioned.”

    Gareth, having recovered, walks over. “Any magical weapons?”

    “Not very likely,” says Six, pointing out what the weapon he’s holding is. “It’s a stick. Actually, not even really a stick. It’s some thick fibers tied together to make something like a stick.”

    Korm turns to look at Gareth. “You almost got your head caved in by a guy with a stick?”

    “Hey! I’m in my pajamas, remember?”

    “If it makes you feel better,” says Six, “There is a rock attached to it.”

    Luna, now at a safe distance from the smell, sits down and begins to laugh. “Yes, that’s so much better. We’ve fought dragons, rakshasas, mind flayers, beholders and a bloody daelkyr! And now we’re being attacked by people with a stick and a rock?”

    “One guy had a sword,” says Six, lifting it up. “Crappy one.”

    “That does it,” says Gareth. “I’m going back to bed.”

    “First we need to dispose of the bodies,” points out Nameless. “I have no interest in finding out what kind of scavengers there are out here.” He looks over at Luna. “Could you turn into a bear and dig a hole?”

    Luna grumbles, “All right, but I’m not putting them in there. That’s on you guys.”

    As she is about to change, Gareth interrupts, “Wouldn’t it be better to burn them? They’re diseased, and could spread it to animals and passersby.”

    Nameless looks at him silently for a moment and then says, in a voice of withering scorn, “We’re in the middle of the freaking Demon Wastes. If any animal survives here or some traveler passes by, I’m pretty sure they could handle a little disease.”

    “Fine,” says Gareth, with a shrug. “Do what you want. I’m going to bed.”

    The rest of the Angels dispose of the corpses and then follow suit, except for those who are on watch.

    *****
    The next morning, the Angels awake to an uncomfortable morning, all of them feeling slightly queasy.

    “That’s weird,” says Luna. “I wonder if those damn corpses affected us some way.”

    “Can’t be,” says Gareth, sounding seriously confused. “I feel ill too. I haven’t been ill for years, since I was blessed by Tira Miron. I can’t be ill. I’m immune to disease. Of any kind.”

    “Apparently not this one,” says Six. “I don’t even have all those things in my stomach that you have … I mean, I don’t really even have a stomach … but something feels wrong in here.” He stretches and then says, “Ow! My joints hurt!”

    “You have a stoma…,” begins Korm, before being interrupted by a hacking cough.

    Nameless, who has been silently running a hand over extremely cracked lips, takes them away with a slight trace of blood. “Looks like we all have something or other going wrong.”

    “But this is impossible!” says Gareth.

    “Only if it’s a disease. This must be the Taint the Ghaash’kala mentioned. Maybe it’s more akin to a curse.”

    “Well, that I can deal with.” Gareth settles down to a comfortable posture and begins to pray.

    “Anyone else have this greasy skin?” asks Korm, having temporarily recovered from his cough.

    “Me too.” “And me.” “Same here” “Yup. And yuck!” come the replies.

    “Wait a second,” adds Luna, looking down at her left arm and wrist, around which the daelkyr symbiont is still tightly wrapped. She rubs her fingers carefully up and down her arm and says, “This arm’s just fine. Dry, like normal. Till here, at the shoulder.”

    “That symbiont must be keeping it fine.”

    Luna raises her arm and looks. “I think the symbiont’s gone a little grayer than it normally is.”

    “Really?” Six reaches into a pouch and produces the eye-like symbiont, which he had used through the night on watch. It gazes back at him unblinkingly, but now a fine network of red lines covers it, making it look slightly bloodshot. Six hands it around to show the others.

    “Oh, great! This affects symbionts too?”

    Hopefully, Luna says, “Maybe mine will keep me fine. Or as fine as I am now.”

    Six looks over and says, just a trifle maliciously, “Maybe. On the other hand, I think it made your hips a little wider overnight.”

    Luna looks down, back up, back down again, and then stomps off, cursing loudly.

    Other than Six, the rest (joined eventually by a still grumbling Luna) settle down to prepare their spells for the day. Once they are done, Gareth casts one to remove curse on himself. As soon as he does, the feeling of mild queasiness, which he and the others have been slowly getting used to, subsides.

    “Ah!” he says with satisfaction. “That feels much better!”

    “Good for you,” grunts Korm. “Do you have any for us?”

    “Unfortunately, no” begins Gareth. “I can only….” Then a distasteful expression covers his face, as he feels the queasiness return threefold, like a temporarily dammed flow bursting forth. “Damn! It’s back – and worse!”

    “Well, that answers the question of whether you can deal with it or not. Come on – let’s just get done with it and leave this place.”

    The Angels settle down to a quick breakfast. Just as they have finished and are breaking camp, a number of them see more of the Plaguebearers, this time over a dozen. They rush over a nearby ridge at the bottom of the nearest hill, letting out bloodthirsty howls as they come.

    “Damn!” says Nameless. “I don’t want to waste time with these idiots, but my phantom steed takes ten minutes to summon.”

    “Not a problem for me,” says Korm, rushing through the motions of his spell, causing a phantom stag to appear. “Gareth, you take this one. Luna, summon one for Six, and then transform to a bat and carry Nameless. I’ll fly.”

    “No need,” says Six, hoisting his backpack. “I can just run.”

    As he takes off at a run, his metal feet ignoring obstructions in the terrain, Gareth climbs quickly onto the magical mount. At his command it gallops off, easily catching up to Six.

    Luna, meanwhile, transforms into a bat the size of a horse, letting Nameless mount her before she rises into the air. Korm, meanwhile, calls upon his own druidic powers to grow a pair of large feathery wings, rising by her side.

    As they are taking wing, Nameless summons a pair of bison to keep the attackers busy. Though the majority of them stop, surprised, to engage the animals, six of them break past and continue after the Angels, three to abortively hurl stone-tipped javelins at them, and three to even more ineffectually attempt to chase Gareth and Six.

    Of more concern, however, are the three figures that rise from behind the ridge after the first wave of Plaguebearers, borne aloft on bat-wings. As they hurl themselves through the air, the Angels realize that the one in the center, boasting unusual height and musculature, is not actually wearing the disguises his companions are. His black, scaly skin, glowing red eyes, and large fangs are all natural. He also stands apart in that he wields a gleaming, saw-toothed metal battleaxe, while his compatriots use the same sticks and rocks. Though there is enough to indicate his partly human nature, there is just as much evidence of a fiendish heritage.

    “They’re too fast!” shouts Nameless. “Blast them!” A second later, a barrage of spells from Luna, Korm and him descend on the three flying attackers. Though wounded, they continue onwards, the part-fiend leader (evidently strongly resistant to both the heat and cold magic used against it) charging Korm, while the other two attack Nameless and Luna.

    Seeing that escape is not an option, Gareth turns his mount and comes racing back. The abrupt turn surprises the three who were following him, none more so than the one who is both trampled and slashed badly as the paladin rides over him and continues.

    Korm and his opponent circle in mid-air, falchion ringing off greataxe, with the big orc quickly realizing that his opponent is stronger. Much stronger, thinks Korm. He calls upon the berserker instincts of his ancestors, feeling added strength and vitality flow through his veins. With a triumphant cry, Korm slashes through his enemy’s defenses, his enchanted blade laying open its chest to the bone.

    The wound seems to have little effect on the part-fiend, which shouts wordlessly, wreathing itself in the strength-giving smoke that the others had. It strikes back with a flurry of axe-blows, punctuated by a lunging bite into the side of Korm’s neck. Within seconds, Korm is dripping with gore, only conscious due to his berserker spirit. “Guys!” he shouts desperately. “I need help!”

    The others are in some difficulty as well. The barbarians Gareth rode through turn and give chase, and before he can turn his steed away, sticks and stones are smashing into his armor and battering his bones with surprising efficacy.

    Luna and Nameless have even bigger problems. One of the flying attackers goes down beneath a pair of spells, but the other hurls forward, wrapping muscular arms around Nameless. The additional weight overloads Luna and she drops out of the air with a surprised squawk. She lands right on top of one of the waiting Plaguebearers below, but putting herself and Nameless in the perfect position for the others to attack.

    Nameless reels as a rock smashes into his back. “Hold on, Luna!” Despite the rain of blows, he concentrates and casts a spell. A second later, the Plaguebearers around them look around in surprise, as the two disappear from among them.

    The leader is even more surprised. He is snarling his bloodlust as he raises his axe over the barely conscious Korm. And then, suddenly, there is a huge bat, with a bloodied human clinging to it, right next to them. As the part-fiend pauses in surprise, the bat Luna squeaks and touches Korm with her wing. She sends as much healing magic as she can into her ally.

    The part-fiend’s expression changes from surprise to rage, but only for a second. “Bye bye,” grits a revived Korm as he swings. The falchion makes a gleaming arc with barely a pause, and, as the leader plummets to the ground, his still-snarling head depicts a neat arc and actually smacks into the face of one of the remaining Plaguebearers.

    Who, along with his remaining five allies, survives his leader by only a few seconds. An irritated Nameless drops a cloudkill around them, and when it clears, only corpses are left.

    Gareth and Six, having disposed of the three that had attacked Gareth, join the others, the paladin barely able to sit upright on his stag.

    Six, who is effectively untouched, looks around at his bloodied allies. “You know, I’m fine with killing those rakshasas,” he says, “But next time we see people with rocks and sticks, I’m running away and not coming back.”
    shilsen is broken - Crothian (and this is why)

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  • #197
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    After the excitement of the last few minutes, the trip deeper into the Wastes is comparatively uneventful. Though the environment becomes no more hospitable, nothing actually attacks the Angels. Three large lizards, each the size of a horse, make an attempt to do so, but are left gaping in surprise as the magical mounts race by them.

    The Angels head north, bearing slightly to the west, following the direction of their link to the Key. It is clear to them, however, that the link is growing less precise, though none of them could say exactly how they know that. Nevertheless, it remains as strong, letting them know they are heading towards its general area.

    After a little over two hours of traveling, the Angels catch sight of smoke against the sky ahead, and shortly afterwards, see its source, a small settlement a few miles ahead. They circle around to approach it undetected from behind a nearby hill, about a mile away, and carefully study it, lying low and peering over a ridge.

    The settlement is a small, fairly innocuous-seeming village, which makes it look significantly out of place here, in the middle of the Demon Wastes. The houses, all consisting of one level, appear ramshackle but sturdy, and are apparently all made of stone. The boundary of the village is marked by a circle of widely placed, large, menhir-like stones, each at least eight feet tall and at least half as wide. They stand about five hundred feet from the closest of the houses. The area between the boundary stones and the houses are mostly full of surprisingly thick fields of the tough lichens that they have seen in the area, with a path leading through them every so often. Though it is difficult to make out details at this distance, the watchers can see a number of people moving around the village. They seem to be of human size, with a fair number of much smaller shapes, which stand about waist-high to them.

    After a few minutes of watching, the Angels pull back below the ridge to discuss what they have seen.

    “This is probably that place called Rotting Blade,” says Nameless.

    Korm shakes his head. “No place whose name starts with ‘Rotting’ can be any good.”

    “Yes,” continues Nameless, “And I’m really suspicious of such a normal-looking place in the middle of the Wastes.”

    Luna shrugs. “So, do we go in there or what? We know the Key’s somewhere around this area, so maybe we’ll know where it is once we’re closer.”

    “I’m not too sure of that,” says Nameless. “And I really don’t like the idea of just walking in there. If the rakshasas are in there, I don’t think we could take them, with all the spells we’ve used, and especially not if those people in there serve them.” He looks around uncertainly. “Maybe we should go look for the Lake of Fire and the Burning Keep.”

    “I think we should go in there,” comments Gareth. “Maybe we could get some information.”

    “Information? This is the Wastes. They’re liable to be evil demon-worshippers, more than anything else.”

    “When did you have problems with evil demon-worshippers?” asks Gareth. “And it’s better than just sitting around wondering what to do.”

    “True,” says Six, before adding, with a metallic chuckle, “But they might have sticks and rocks too.”

    Luna laughs and says, “Tell you what – I’ll fly around the area and see what I can find.” She looks around the area, looking for a bird that she could take the form of, without attracting attention. There is nothing in the immediate vicinity, and the few birds in the sky are circling high above, so she settles for a hawk.

    Taking wing, she heads towards the west, pausing every once in a while to depict a long circular sweep of the area. After a couple of miles, she catches sight of more smoke to the southwest, and a short detour lets her see that it comes from what seem to be fires around which a small collection of tents are pitched. The site is quite far away, so the druid decides not to detour to investigate and keeps going.

    When Luna is just over five miles from where she left her companions, she feels the link to the Key begin to fade. She begins to fly in a wide circle, trying to work out where the feeling fades, and, almost simultaneously, catches sight of a ruined structure a couple of miles to the northwest. Luna flies over, trying not to be too obvious and staying behind cover where she can.

    The structure was probably a short and thick watchtower of the kind that would be utterly unremarkable in most other parts of Khorvaire, but here in the Wastes, even with most of its top half reduced to rubble, it is still the highest artificial structure that Luna has seen. Lichen and a tough vine crawl up its sides, and once she has dropped down to the roof (formerly the bottom of the second level), Luna uses them as cover to peer in the windows of the main remaining room.

    She immediately sees the light of a flame, which comes from an everburning torch propped up against a pair of backpacks that lie in the middle of the floor. Near them is an opening in the floor, revealing badly worn stone steps leading into darkness. The murmur of voices floats up, as does the barest hint of flickering light.

    Luna flaps as quietly as possible into the room and lands near the steps. Now that she is closer, she hears the murmuring as words. The language is Draconic, and Luna hears the voice ask, “…will not be disturbed?” And then it moves away.

    Turning to the backpacks, the ever-curious druid casts a spell and detects a few magical auras. After listening again to ensure that the voices can no longer be heard, she pecks and claws at the haversack till it opens. A quick search reveals that the magical auras emanate from a scroll tube. Also of interest to Luna is the traveling spellbook she finds beside it.

    Luna listens carefully, and hearing no sounds, changes back to a shifter. She then quickly sticks the scroll tube and spellbook in her backpack, changes back to a bird, and flies out the window.

    *****
    Two hours later, Luna is explaining what happened to her companions, whose reactions range from amusement to minor disapproval.

    “So you just took their things?” asks Gareth.

    “Well,” Luna replies defensively, “They shouldn’t just leave it lying around.”

    Gareth looks at her, then turns and walks away. Korm comments, “What – you’re not going to lecture her for dishonesty?”

    The paladin shrugs. “Nameless keeps telling me that anyone in the Wastes would be evil. I’m presuming he’s right, so what do I care?” Gareth looks over at Nameless, who’s already going through the spellbook Luna brought. “Looks like he’s not exactly concerned about it either.”

    Nameless puts down the spellbook, saying disappointedly, “Nothing new. Only spells up to the third valence, so the user couldn’t be too proficient.” He opens up the scroll tube and produces a couple of rolls of parchment. After using a read magic, he says, “Nice selection. A dimension door, a create food and water, and a sending.”

    “So,” says Six, looking at Luna, “You managed to make it impossible for someone to travel out of a dangerous situation, obtain food and water, and contact someone to say that he’s in trouble? Oh yes – and prepare his spells too.”

    “Yeah,” grins Luna. “It’s a good day.”

    Six just shakes his head and looks over at Nameless. “So, what’s next? Do we go into town?”

    “I really don’t want to do that until we have all our spells back,” says Nameless. The rakshasas might be in there. I think we should camp here and wait till tomorrow.”

    “I did feel that link to the Key fade once I got about five miles away,” says Luna. “Anyway, if we’re staying here, let me fly over and check out the place.”

    Korm, who has moved up to a ridge to watch the village, says, “They’ve got something looking like pigeons over there. A couple of people are working in one of the fields, and there are a few of those flying around.”

    “Pigeons in the Wastes? Don’t get close, Luna,” says Nameless. “They’ll probably try to eat you.”

    Luckily for Luna, he is wrong. The pigeons do have scales intermixed with feathers and a forked, featherless, ratlike tail, but none of them makes any attempt to eat her when she reaches them. A couple of them hiss at her, but that is all.

    Luna flies into the village, perching on a rooftop here and there, carefully studying the place and its inhabitants. She sees that, just as the Ghaash’kala had said, they are mostly humans and orcs, though there are a small number of kobolds. There are about equal quantities of men and women, with a few children present. While their clothing is a little drab and shows less variety than might be seen in a similar village in Breland, the inhabitants otherwise look quite normal. There are no signs that Luna notices of the ailments affecting the Angels.

    The houses that make up the buildings are all of stone. None of them are made of brick, but rather are of rough pieces of stone, held together by mortar. All have a single level, even the largest, which stands in the center of the village. It is about twice as large as any of the others, and also has the largest collection of people around it, some sitting outside on rough chairs around a table, some walking in and out from what is apparently a store of some kind, while others visit the large well that stands near the building. Luna listens to some of those sitting around there, but they speak mainly in a language she does not speak. There are some words that she understands, but the conversation is innocuous, seemingly about the crops and the weather.

    After a while, Luna heads back to the others. When she tells them what she saw and heard, Nameless frowns. “That doesn’t make me feel any the better. It sounds too normal – or apparently normal – for this place.”

    Six, who is getting a little bored of waiting, says, “Yes, but it’s our best bet for information about the area. We can find out tomorrow whether there’s something hidden under the normal appearance.”

    The Angels settle down for the evening and the night, using the Staff of Survival from the island, which creates a tiny hut for them. Not only does it provide shelter but, after dark, it is difficult to see at a distance against the rock of the hill.

    Whether that is the reason or not, the night passes uneventfully. One of the large lizards they had seen does come sniffing around the hut, apparently confused by being able to smell them but not see anything beyond the opaque hemisphere created by the spell. Its confusion is briefly heightened as Korm’s fist comes through the hemisphere and smacks it in the nose, causing it to squeal in terror and flee, though not before it drops its three foot long tail as a distraction. Distraction or not, the tail is quickly collected, to be added to a future menu.

    ***
    In the morning, the Angels arise to find that the ailment, whatever it may be, that seems to be affecting all of them, is now stronger. Joints are more painful, skin feels even more greasy, eyelids are clearly swollen (except for Six, who has none), and so on. They also feel slightly weak and a little foggy-headed, a feeling that does not subside, or improve after a lesser restoration. Luna, who feels slightly better than the others*, notices that the symbiont on her arm has now turned gray, though it seems otherwise well.

    It may have something to do with feeling unwell, but they all individually find themselves a little irritable. Gareth, especially irritated with this feeling of sickness, since he has spent years not having to suffer the slightest cough or cold, feels the slickness of the skin of his face and says, “Looks like someone’s screwing with the Shard.”

    Then he gives Nameless a look and continues, “Or maybe sitting around in the Wastes for most of a day waiting to prepare spells wasn’t that brilliant an idea.”


    * Everyone has a -2 penalty to Con and Wis that lesser restoration did not cure. Luna has a -1 to each.
    Last edited by shilsen; Monday, 6th November, 2006 at 04:16 PM.
    shilsen is broken - Crothian (and this is why)

    My Eberron Story Hour. Updated (Finally!) November 11. The Grand Finale!

    My world's worst paladin thread. Vote and throw rocks!

    My Sexism in D&D and on ENWorld (now with SOLUTIONS!) thread. Pop in and tell me what you think.

  • #198
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    ø Ignore Solarious
    Letting ya know I'm still here. I'll post impressions and comments once I get caught up.
    Game balance is a myth that I wholeheartedly subscribe to. ~ Sepulchrave II

  • #199
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    Cutpurse (Lvl 5)

    shilsen's Avatar

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    ø Ignore shilsen
    Quote Originally Posted by Solarious
    Letting ya know I'm still here. I'll post impressions and comments once I get caught up.
    Thanks. Though writing these is enjoyable, it's nice to know people are reading. It'll be a while till the next update, since we aren't playing this weekend, but should play again on the 11th.

    By the way, I've been telling my players every once in a while about the comments from you and others who post in this thread. They've been quite amused by the pleasure you've all taken in Luna's weight issues. Well, all except Luna's player, who thinks you are all sadists
    shilsen is broken - Crothian (and this is why)

    My Eberron Story Hour. Updated (Finally!) November 11. The Grand Finale!

    My world's worst paladin thread. Vote and throw rocks!

    My Sexism in D&D and on ENWorld (now with SOLUTIONS!) thread. Pop in and tell me what you think.

  • #200
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    ø Ignore Sidekick
    Well I’ll chip in with a comment. This is one heckuvva campaign!

    The PCs are all really good, Korm seems to be a very good addition/replacement to the group.

    I like that the leadership is a bickering odd-couple of a morally challenged Alienist and a very mercantile paladin of the SF.

    Also, Shil I just have to say that this whole arc is very, very well done. The Rhakshassa’s, their use of the prophesy to shadow the PCs & obtain the key from them. It’s all the kind of stuff that makes me want to play in your group.

    Shame that’ll never happen, oh well.

    Oh and hey, tell your group that I think their trash talking was A+ level. I’ve never read nor seen anything quite like that.

    Very good way to unsettle the BBEG…
    Avatar courtesy of Sialia!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by delericho
    Sadly, the reality is that many people don't realise that "no, you can't" doesn't always reduce fun, and "yes, you can" doesn't always increase it. So, very often, they find themselves working against their own fun.
    My idea of faith: The All Black's WILL win the World Cup - it's gonna happen people!!! (so long as we don't get France or Oz in our semi-final).

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