General D&D Topics* Sagiro's Story Hour: The FINAL Adventures of Abernathy's Company (FINISHED 7/3/14) - Page 54




  1. #531
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    Sagiro, one thing about this fight - you highlighted a major weakness of Dranko's that I had never even considered. One good chunk of charisma damage and he's a drooling, blank-eyed husk. Scary and exciting! And DR 20/+6 scares me; it means that if I'm not getting sneak attack damage I do no damage at all.

    Thank you for an incredibly fun game. Also? Best prophecy ever.

    Talking generally for a second, Sagiro has done something that I consider pretty much remarkable. He's taken 20th lvl heroes in a 16 year old campaign and let us travel somewhere that is completely new to us - new rules, new allies and enemies, new economy, new mysteries about how the world works. That sense of wonder, where we're taking complete joy in exploring even as we're plunging onwards to try and save the world, is everywhere. Enormous oracular toads have something to do with this. I can't wait for next game.
    Last edited by Piratecat; Friday, 5th November, 2010 at 02:45 PM.

 

  • #532
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    Concept sketches are well on their way, but I just posted the first two to get ink and color on them. Morningstar and Greywolf.

    http://www.enworld.org/forum/art-gal...ml#post5370138

    Naturally, if there's anything amiss with their look, outfit, colroing...anything, please feel free to let me know.

    In the hopper right now are Dranko, Ernie, Flicker and Step so should see simliar sketchs for them soon.

    Still to get to: Aravis (and Pewter), Kibi (and Scree), Kay, Snokas, (and possibly) Mrs. Horn, Tor and Abernathy.

    --Steel Dragons
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  • #533
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    Steeldragons, those pictures are great! I look forward to seeing more of them.

    Also, here, have an update.

    Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 318
    Bad Place, Good Place

    Flicker draws his sword out of the crumpled body of Glemiyal, and immediately spots a heretofore hidden goblin darting at him from the side. He slashes it across the leg.

    “Ow!” cries Ernie. “Flicker, snap out of it!”

    So saying, Ernie dispels the confusion on Flicker himself.

    “Thanks, Ernie. Though I don’t suppose I’m also imagining that sound of footsteps?”

    No, he’s not. Goblins continue to charge up the stairway outside the Iron Tower. It will only be a minute or two more before they’re flooding up the stairs.

    “We’re going to have company very soon,” Grey Wolf mutters.

    Ernie looks at Maglubiyet’s Fang, still spinning slowly in its column of red light.

    “Tava,” he asks, looking up at the Astral Deva, “how do we stop this?”

    Tava’s Echo stares at the huge dragon tooth. “With violence,” she concludes. At Ernie’s behest, she brings her own weapon down upon the Fang, but some sheath of force prevents contact. She swoops down and picks up Ernie, then hovers before the Fang so that the little halfling can strike with Tava’s Righteous Fury. The fabled blade is uninhibited by the Fang’s protections, and on impact the monstrous tooth tilts and wobbles, rotating off its axis. Small cracks have appeared. Heartened, Ernie continues to swing.

    As Flicker gingerly divests Glemiyal of his magical possessions, a huge swell of noise comes from the stairwell. The goblins have arrived. Morningstar casts a blade barrier as a greeting, and while the goblins in front stop short at the sight of the whirling knives, the ones in back surge forward and push their hapless allies into the blender. Only after a few seconds of frantic shouting back down the staircase does the carnage cease.

    Aravis and Flicker pick up the looted body of Glemiyal, and heave it contemptuously into the blade barrier. Gobbets of Goblin Champion are splattered all over the front ranks of goblin soldiers. Morningstar smiles and readies a surprise.

    It doesn’t take long. Half a minute later some goblin manages to dispel the blade barrier, but as soon as the word spreads to charge again, Morningstar drops a prismatic sphere in the opening to the room.

    Goblins are fried. Goblins sicken and die. Goblins are turned to statues, or become gibberingly insane. Most experience many of these at once. Eventually, the remaining goblins retreat back down the stairs to regroup and consider.

    “Back up everyone,” calls Ernie. He takes a final mighty swing with Tava’s righteous fury and Maglubiyet’s Fang shatters in a spray of fragments. The red column of light in which it was spinning fades away.

    Tava’s Echo lowers Ernie to the ground. Ernie bows, and the Astral Deva returns the gesture. “I am always honored to serve,” the celestial being intones, and with that, it vanishes.

    In the lull that follows, Dranko brushes some goblin gore from his shirt. “Now what? I say we stroll down the stairs and kill lots of things.”

    “Works for me,” says Ernie.

    “Hold on,” says Aravis, shaking his head. “I want to cast a sending to Pewter, to find out if he’s in a safe place for us to teleport to.”

    Morningstar casts the spell for Aravis, asking for one ‘meow’ for yes, and two for no. The return sending is two meows, followed by some long, drawn out meows, and ending with an emphatic single MEOW! Morningstar relays this, not sure what it means.

    “Ah,” says Aravis. “He wasn’t somewhere safe at first, so he padded out the word count of his reply until he was.”

    “Your cat is so much smarter than my husband,” Morningstar says with a smirk.

    Dranko harrumphs, and lights up a cigar. The exhalation forms into the words “NOT FINISHED.”

    “Hey everyone,” he warns. “Cranchus is telling us something.”

    A remarkably lucky goblin comes stumbling out of the prismatic sphere, takes one look at the draconic Aravis, and flees in terror. It is immediately burnt to a crisp.

    “Hey!” Flicker yells suddenly. “What happened to the sword? I had Glemiyal’s sword right here, and now it’s gone. Dranko?”

    The party scans the room, but even with true seeing it’s clear that the Red Harbinger is gone.

    Then they hear laughter, right there in the room with them. It takes a few seconds before they realize that the laughter is telepathic, and could be coming from anywhere. It continues for a few seconds.

    Morningstar looks up, annoyed. “Do you have a message, or are you just amused?”

    The voice of Glemiyal sounds in their heads. “Oh, I’m very amused. Did you forget where you were? This is the Crimson Maw, and I am Glemiyal, the Eternal Spirit! So… you killed a body. Very nice. Well done. Unfortunately for you, I have about thirty thousand more, so if you’ll just wait there behind your little shiny bubble, I’ll be along shortly. Something tells me that your spells and your strength will run out long before I do.”

    His mental presence recedes. Flicker announces that it’s not just the red sword that’s missing; everything he looted from Glemiyal’s body is gone.

    Ernie gnashes his teeth. “I really, really hate him.”

    Morningstar shakes her head. “I think we just get out of here. We’ve done what we came to do.”

    “But the smoke said ‘not finished,’” says Aravis.

    “We should kill him again,” says Grey Wolf, “and next time destroy the sword before it goes to his next body.”

    “You have a Mordenkainen’s Disjunction left, in the Cube, don’t you?” Dranko asks. “That would work, right?

    Ernie concentrates on Tava’s Righteous Fury, hoping for guidance. In response, the sword tugs a bit at his arm – toward the doorway out.

    “Have we done it?” Ernie asks the sword.

    “Yes, you have,” it answers.

    “The cigar smoke says we aren't,” says Ernie. “We’re not finished yet.”

    “Not finished leaving,” says the sword.

    Dranko rolls his eyes at Kibi. “Stupid prophetic cigars,” he grumbles.

    “I’m not very happy with Cranchus right now,” Aravis agrees.

    Aravis casts gate, hoping that will provide them an easy exit from the Crimson Maw, but it fails --- or, rather, it produces an useless opening like an empty picture frame.

    “We must need to get back to the shifting portal, and go through that,” says Dranko.

    The tugging on Ernie’s arm gets more insistent. Aravis peers out one of the arrow slits. The mountain atop which sits the Iron Tower is now fully surrounded by goblins, though none are trying to scale the mountain itself. The huge stairway that leads from the plateau to the Tower is clogged with soldiers.

    “We’ve got to get out of here,” he says. “And I have an idea…”

    Minutes later, they’re prepared. The plan is predicated on the fact that while magic flight is suppressed in the Maw, ordinary wing-flapping flight is still possible. Grey Wolf has acquired a spell called flight of the dragon, which causes the target to sprout huge leathery wings. He explains the spell to Kibi, who casts wish to spoof mass flight of the dragon. It works on everyone but himself; his earth mage nature prevents it. He thought as much would happen; his backup plan is to ride on Aravis, already in the shape of a flying dragon.

    The party already is under Kibi’s veil, and looks like small rats. Morningstar uses a miracle to spoof mass invisibility as well.

    With everyone ready, Aravis blasts a hole in the roof of the Iron Tower with a disintegrate spell, and seven flying invisible rats launch themselves into the red-gray sky. Once aloft, Kibi uses his staff of illusions to spoof the visuals of an obscuring mist, appearing at the top of the staircase, along with the conspicuous sounds of spell-casting coming from inside. As hoped, this draws the goblins’ attention away from the sky above. Even better, two goblin sorcerers cast cones of cold into the mist, which only succeeds in flash-freezing a dozen hapless goblin soldiers.

    Following the steady tug of Tava’s Righteous Fury, the Company flies away from the Iron Fortress and out over the rocky terrain of the Crimson Maw. They soar over an enormous lake, around which more thousands of goblins are encamped, and then onward for another two miles, before Ernie’s sword dips downward. Still a thousand feet ahead of them, a sea of goblins is thronged around six glints of red, spaced somewhat apart but in the same 50’ x 50’ area. The heroes fly closer, and soon see that the each glint is a horizontal red portal, identical to the one that brought them to the Maw. Next to each of the portals is a tall goblin wielding a pulsing red sword.

    Dranko reaches into his tentacular madness to invoke true seeing before diving down for a closer look. It is indeed fortunate that no goblin is both able to see invisible things, and looking up. Once within 120’, Dranko can see that all six portals are illusions, as are all but one of the Glemiyals. But there is an actual portal in the area, masked by an illusion to blend in with the rocky ground. The Company makes a hasty plan over the mind-link, casts some buff spells, and starts its assault with Ernie descending downward nearly to ground level.

    He utters a holy word. “Yondalla!”

    Power ripples out from Ernie in waves, and the potent hatred of goblins contained in his sword amplifies the range of the effect. Hundreds of goblins are dropped stone dead on the spot, and many more are stricken paralyzed and senseless. Glemiyal is made conspicuous by the fact that he alone is still standing.

    Morningstar drops a flame strike on the goblin champion, but this is less efficacious. Not only does Glemiyal entirely resist the damage, but he holds the Red Harbinger aloft, and the magics of Morningstar’s spell are wrapped around it. Glemiyal twirls the black flames around his blade like he’s making cotton candy, and with a flick of his wrist blasts Morningstar with her own spell.

    “Ah,” thinks Glemiyal into their minds. “Clever. Now come down and join me. I’m waiting.”

    Kibi drops a spike stones in a ring around the actual portal, to discourage goblins who were outside the deathly radius of Ernie’s spell from joining the battle. Aravis casts mass haste on the group. Grey Wolf centers a cone of cold on Glemiyal, but again Maglubiyet’s chosen resists the attack. Dranko swoops down and cracks his whip across Glemiyal’s face, leaving a bloody streak.

    Glemiyal smiles. “If this body doesn’t kill you, maybe the next one will. Or the one after that. Either way, I’d best get started.”

    The Red Harbinger flashes, leaving trails of red light, and carves bloody chunks out of Dranko. But Dranko is plenty tough and just a little bit mad. He smiles back at Glemiyal, while Flicker lands in a flanking position and hacks at the goblin's legs.

    Morningstar sighs and tosses a darkbeam at her foe, and is surprised to find that Glemiyal doesn’t dodge in time. The goblin champion’s eyes are seared in their sockets, and Glemiyal cries out in pain. Kibi then pegs him with a maximized and empowered ray of enfeeblement. And for a grand finale, Grey Wolf quickens a true strike before descending and channeling a maximized acid orb through an exultant Bostock.

    The sword nearly cleaves the goblin in two, and then Glemiyal’s latest body erupts in a veritable volcano of acid and guts. The remains of his body ooze out of his armor, pooling in a puddle of smoking sludge.

    Dranko gloats above the remains. “Does it feel bad, getting spanked by a halfling and his friends, twice in one day?”

    Then, to the nearest goblins: “Who’s next?”

    Many of the goblins do in fact move closer, but are mutilated by spike stones for their efforts, and halt their advance. The rest of the Company lands next to the actual portal, and Dranko touches the magic ruby to its glassy surface. No pass phrase is needed to exit; the portal becomes filled with red light. Flicker starts heaving Glemiyal’s magic items through it before the goblin’s next body can claim them. The rest of the party follows, flying out of the Crimson Maw one by one, until only Ernie is left.

    A voice sounds in his head: Goodbye for now, Ernest. I’m sure I’ll see you again.

    I sure hope not Ernie thinks back, and then he jumps through the portal.

    The heroes find themselves about thirty feet in the air, under a sunny cobalt sky. Off in the distance, maybe two or three miles away, is the city of Victory on the shores of Green Lake. It would appear that the goblins had been uncomfortably close to fixing the egress from the Crimson Maw! Stretched out beneath them is lush farmland, though directly below is a well-ordered apple orchard, rows of trees still a month or two away from harvest. The only oddity is a thicker cluster of the trees, breaking up the neat lines, about a hundred feet to the north. Ernie thinks he can see a building of some sort hidden inside the stand of apple trees.

    Dranko touches the ruby to the portal, and it becomes an opaque sheet of glass. Ernie concentrates upon Tava’s Righteous Fury with the intent of destroying the portal, but all he manages is to thicken and harden the sealed-up gateway. The wizards in the party guess that this thing is now a permanent fixture of Appleseed, hovering in the air, and while the goblins probably have no way to open it from their side, they may someday find the means.

    “Can you imagine how angry they’ll be,” says Flicker, “if it takes them a hundred years to get out of that place?”

    But that’s a probably for another day, and most likely for the Maple Sunblade and the halflings of Appleseed to solve. For now, the Company heals up, rejoices in the fresh air, and decides to check out the hut in the apple trees before reporting to High Priestess Sunblade.

    It’s physically difficult to squeeze through the dense stand of trunks, but the party is rewarded when they reach the hut and find that a small attached sign reads: “The Inn Between.” They rush inside, Ernie and Flicker leading the way.

    “Dolly!” cries Ernie. “We’re home!”

    “Come in! Come in!” shouts Dolly from the kitchen. “I’ve got lunch almost ready for you.”

    “Oh, I do so love this place,” says Ernie, breathing deeply of the aroma of fresh bread.

    “Flicker! Dranko!” calls Barnabas from his customary table at the back. “Come over here. I’ve got a new card trick going, and need some suckers to test it on!”

    The Inn Between is the very essence of comfort without pretention – a cross between the Golden Goblet and Ernie’s mom’s living room.

    “Ernie,” calls Dolly. “I could use some help back here.”

    In the kitchen, Dolly hands Ernie a spoon and points him to the spice rack.

    “I’m glad to see you’re still taking such good care of your friends,” she says.

    Ernie grins sheepishly. “Well, they take good care of me. They’ve brought me back to life twice!”

    “Yes, I know.”

    “Is it going to be okay?” asks Ernie quietly. “Are the goblins going to get out of there?”

    “No. Not for a long time, at least. You’ve done well, and Appleseed is safe from the Anlakis because of you. Now, what kind of pies do you think are in the oven?”

    Ernie doesn’t smell any pies, but guesses his favorite. “Strawberry rhubarb?”

    “Good choice,” says Dolly with a smile.

    “One thing I don’t understand,” says Ernie. "You told me that one day I’d have to protect the halflings from the Anlakis, but the Crimson Maw was full of goblins."

    “Ah, I see your confusion,” says Dolly. “There is something important to the goblins buried under Appleseed, from back in the days when goblins controlled these lands. The goblins don’t know that, but there is an Anlaki who does, and he promised to reveal the information about it, if the goblins would do his dirty work and wipe out Appleseed. In all likelihood, the halflings could have defeated the goblins, but their forces would have been decimated, and the Anlaki hordes would have swooped in and laid waste to the country.”

    “Who is this person? And how can we find him?”

    “I wouldn’t worry about him for now,” says Dolly, opening the oven and releasing a sudden scent of strawberry rhubarb. “Without the goblin armies, the nomads of chaos pose no serious threat. But you should tell the High Priestess that the Black Spear of Maglubiyet is a hundred feet below the center of Victory. If they could arrange to dig it up and destroy it, that would probably be for the best.”

    “I’m honored to have been chosen,” says Ernie, adding some sage to the potatoes. “I’m not sure I’m worthy…”

    “Ernest,” Dolly laughs, “it’s hard to argue with results!” She lowers her voice before continuing, and her face becomes more grave. “But, you’re not done yet. Not finished. There are more problems to solve, more evils to fight, and things are coming to a head. You can feel it, can’t you.”

    Ernie nods gravely. “What is this storm? Why did Drosh flee? Can we do anything?”

    “I hope so. Oh, I hope so. I can’t see, exactly, the nature of what’s coming. I don’t like the notion of Gods fleeting. I’m not going anywhere, I promise you that. I’ll stand and fight if I have to.”

    “So will I!” Ernie exclaims.

    “Oh, yes, you will. And if you do your job well, I won’t have to lift a finger.”

    Dolly produces a muffin, smelling of cinnamon and rose petals. “Eat this. It will help you in your trials to come.”

    Ernie takes a bite. Strength and energy* flood through him to every extremity, even to the tips of his hair.

    The Company spends the afternoon relaxing in the Inn Between, eating and talking and playing games with Barnabas. When Dolly walks over to clear the table, Kibi can’t help but ask, “Do you know what the thorn in the side of Abernia is?”

    “No, not the specifics. It’s very old, I think, but it’s more your problem than mine. I’m not Yondalla, you know. I’m just an aspect of her suited to this place. No, there are problems you will have to solve on your own – you and your fellow mortals. Abernia needs your help, Kibilhathur, but you will have to learn how to provide it.”

    Ernie has a sudden thought, remembering Glemiyal’s first reaction to him.

    “I hope Yoba is okay!”

    Dolly makes a face, and Ernie goes pale.

    “No, no,” says Dolly. “She’s fine. It’s just that…”

    “I’ll bet she’s mad,” Kibi interrupts. “That you didn’t bring her to the Crimson Maw with you."

    “No,” says Dolly. “She’s not mad, because Ernie never told her about it. Did you?”

    “No, ma’am,” says Ernie sheepishly.

    “No matter,” says Dolly. “That’s another thing that’s not really my business.”

    As she walks back to the kitchen, Ernie cradles his head in his hands. “Killing goblins is easy. Relationships are hard.”

    …to be continued…


    * >> His Strength of Yondalla power has been augmented; now, once per day, he can assign 12 points to distribute between his AC and his Strength, as sacred bonuses. The augments last 1 round per level
    Last edited by Sagiro; Monday, 8th November, 2010 at 12:51 PM.

  • #534
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    Apologies, Sagiro.

    I know how exhausting it must be to be showered in praise all of the time. lol.

    But it just needs saying..."the Inn Between" as a recurring location and the subtlety of where it pops in is just pure genius. So spot on perfect.

    Thanks, as always, for the adventure.
    --Steel Dragons
    PS. So pleased you like the pix. Workin' on the rest...and then the group piece should be a lot of fun.
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  • #535
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    POSTED: Dranko & Step

    I posted Dranko and One Certain Step.

    http://www.enworld.org/forum/art-gal...ml#post5370888

    Coupla questions on each, so look forward to hearing what people have to say. Well, coupla questions on Dranko. Step's really just the hair (long or short?) but he'll almost certainly be in a helmet so it really doesn't matter. (He did wear a helmet, didn't he? hahaha.)

    It's weird, having read so much about Dranko, specifically, and thinking I have a really clear idea of what he looks like, I found it really difficult to "pin down" a set look for him as I was sketching. So look forward to comments/thoughts.

    --SD
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  • #536
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    ERNEST WILBURFORCE ROUNDHILL, COME ON DOWN!

    You're the next contestant on "[Are] The Steel Dragons' Sketches Right?"

    http://www.enworld.org/forum/art-gal...ons-art-5.html

    Let me know.
    --SD
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  • #537
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    Happy Anniversary, Abernathy's Company!

    I only realised today that it's exactly fifteen years since the very first run of the campaign (November 12, 1995). In celebration, I've added the latest chapter to the Collected Story Hour site, bringing the adventures of Abernathy's Company right up to date -- complete with Dranko's 20th-level character sheet which Piratecat posted a while back.

    Happy anniversary to Sagiro and all the Company, and here's to many more world-saving adventures to come!

  • #538
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    Thanks, Steven! Just checked, and we're at 247 games (give or take a game) in 15 years. Almost no turnover, either; Tor and Mrs. Horn's players moved within the first 2-3 years, at which point we added Greywolf and Aravis, and there's been no turnover at all since Kay's player moved. That's sort of remarkable to me.
    - Piratecat, EN World Admin. Now Kickstarting TimeWatch, a time travel game - please go check it out!

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    Flicker & Kibi

    I posted sketches of Flicker and Kibilhathur. Hopefully I'll get to Aravis later this afternoon.

    http://www.enworld.org/forum/art-gal...ml#post5375881

    I'll apologize in advance to Sagiro and co. I seem to recall somewhere along the line reading something about the fact that Ernie is an original/1/2e halfling and Flicker was a 3e halfling. Hope I'm mistaken, but if I'm no, sorry for not being 100% true to Flicker.

    I simply do not do flat headed, square-eared, corn-rowed, BOOTED halflings. I just don't. (Apologies to the Tolkien estate, but you created an archtype, an iconic race of D&D and the fantasy genre. Deal with it.) Halflings have hairy feet!

    I have no problem with trimmed/toned/more adventurous halflings. In fact, how I drew Flicker reminds me quite a bit of how I envision my own original halfling character, Carak Hillside (3rd character I ever created, nigh on 28 years ago).

    B'anyways...I digress. Flick n' Kibi are up.
    Cheers, happy Sunday all.
    --Steel Dragons

    EDIT: Aravis is up now too.
    Last edited by steeldragons; Sunday, 14th November, 2010 at 07:21 PM.
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  • #540
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    First off, thanks to StevenAC for pointing out the 15th anniversary of our campaign. Piratecat even started another thread about it, here.

    Second, here's the next installment.


    Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 319
    The Ritual of Seven Stars

    Dranko Brightmirror, disguised as a Kai Kin commoner, sits in a wooden chair on the sidewalk outside a café, affecting boredom. It’s difficult, because Kai Kin Custard is so damned good. It’s a mixture of warm oats and berries and sugar and cream that’s unlike anything he’s had back in Charagan. Dranko doesn’t let his delight show as he takes another spoonful.

    Kai Kin may be a city of xenophobes, but they make a mean dessert. No wonder that guy from the golem city said this was his favorite.

    As the afternoon wanes, he’s reviewing in his mind the details learned from Pewter the day before. Over and over again he steps through the plan in his mind. For the twentieth time he pulls a folded envelope from his haversack, runs his fingers over it, and puts it back. Tonight’s the night. Everything depends on him. Praska depends on him.


    TWO DAYS EARLIER

    With the Crimson Maw behind them, the Company moves to the next item on the agenda: Praska, and the Black Circle priest Mokad who inhabits her body. While the rest of the party teleports to Kallor, Aravis makes sure Pewter is somewhere discrete, and teleports to his familiar in Kai Kin. The reunion is a great comfort to both of them, and neither are eager to again spend time apart, but Pewter is too excited to be sentimental.

    “Boss! You’re not going to believe this! Ok, maybe you are, but still.”

    While the Company has been thwarting goblins in an unnatural demiplane, Pewter has been scouting out the Black Circle temple in Kai Kin. He’s done an expert job, noting the layout, walls, personnel, shifts – everything. But during his stealthy feline reconnaissance, Pewter has seen one thing in particular that he knows will be of great interest to his master.

    “I was up in a tree last night, watching people walking back and forth across the main quad, trying to get a sense of any patterns. Guess who I saw, plain as plain in torchlight, wearing a Black Circle robe and walking calm-as-you-please from the mess hall to the dormitories? Rosetta! Boss, she’s one of them! She’s Black Circle!”

    Aravis lets out a long breath, but avoids sharing in his familiar’s near-hysteria. “Pewter, we don’t know that.”

    “But Boss, I saw…”

    “Maybe she’s there undercover. Or maybe they’ve got someone under an illusion spell to look like Rosetta. We just don’t know.”

    “You can draw what conclusions you’d like,” Pewter sniffs. “Rosetta’s always had it in for you guys, even though you saved her from centuries of torment, and now we know why.”

    “I don’t see that it matters,” says Aravis. “We can deal with Rosetta later, but right now we’ve got Mokad to worry about. Have you learned all you’re going to learn about the layout of the place?”

    “Yeah. I learned a lot. I hope Dranko’s smart enough to use it.”

    /*/


    Things are busy back at the Cosnor Estate in Kallor. A team of dwarves under Kibi’s direction has nearly finished building a ritual space suitable for the Black Circle’s Ritual of Seven Stars, which, if successful, will destroy Mokad's soul and free Praska from all malign influence. The enormous room Mokad had used for the world-merging ritual is much too large, but the dwarves have built a small “cubicle” in the middle of it, with 10’ high walls cordoning off a 30’ x 30’ area.

    One of these walls has been perforated with holes, and lying at hand are a dozen wooden poles meant to be slotted in a specific pattern. It’s disturbingly similar to Zeg’s underground laboratory in Nazg Hodeth. Morningstar shakes her head. Can this really be right? Setting up a Black Circle ritual, in the Holy City of Ell?

    Grey Wolf and Edghar are overseeing the mixing of powders and tinctures used in the Ritual of Seven Stars, while Aravis pores over the details of how the Ritual is actually performed. Timing is critical at several junctures. A small team of Ellish acolytes will be on hand to assist – something to which Morningstar only agreed after numerous assurances of safety by the wizards.

    “It should take about three hours, once started,” Aravis tells the others. “The good news is, if something goes wrong, or it’s interrupted, we can start again from scratch.”

    /*/



    YESTERDAY MORNING

    “Listen up,” Pewter purrs. Dranko smiles as Aravis translates.

    “I’m all ears.”

    “The temple grounds are bounded on all sides by a tall hedge – about twelve feet high. You could probably climb it, but I’d advise against it. There’s some kind of thorny vine inside the hedges that crawls and twists around of its own volition. I didn’t test it personally, but it’s certainly some kind of protection against intruders.”

    “Got it,” says Dranko. “Vines of death. What else?”

    “There’s only one gap in the hedge, and that’s the main gate. There’s a freestanding stone archway, with a metal-barred gate that’s closed and locked at night. During the day it’s usually open – guarded by a couple of warrior-types, but they look bored and often nip away for a snack in the mess hall. It doesn’t seem like they’re at all worried about a break-in.”

    Dranko chuckles. “Could I climb the gate?”

    “Yeah, probably. Sure,” says Pewter. “But there are guards there, even at night. You could try distracting them. Like I said, they’re bored.”

    “How about inside the grounds?”

    “Almost everyone inside the hedge wears black robes – or black armor and capes, in the case of the armed guards who walk patrols. Not many visitors – about half a dozen per day – most of whom are there to use the Chair. You know, the one where you can swap life force for divinations. In the days I was there, I didn’t once notice a visitor wandering around freely – unless you count Rosetta, of course.”

    Dranko ignores that last part. Rosetta is a problem for another day, and can only serve as a distraction from his main objective.

    “I’ll have Flicker’s Ring of Jumping. Are there rooftops of other buildings anywhere near the grounds? What kind of opportunities do they offer?”

    “Yeah, there are some two-story homes across the road, so you’re in luck there. It should be easy to take a running leap and land in the yard, but even at night that’ll make some noise, and someone could see you.”

    “How about if I land on a roof? Is the mess hall near the edge of the campus?”

    “Near enough, I guess, if you’ve got Flicker’s ring. If you can land on the roof, there’s almost no chance someone will see you. And in the middle of the night the mess hall is usually empty. Though if someone happens to be there having a midnight snack, they’ll certainly hear you land.”

    Dranko is already imagining the scenario, forming plans in his mind about how it’s going to go.

    “Aravis, tell me again how this soul-gem thing works. Or should I just ask Flicker? After all, he’s got firsthand experience!”

    “You’ll need two things,” says Aravis. "First, this.” He hands Dranko an enormous diamond, exquisitely cut. “It’s the most valuable gem we could come up with. Don’t lose it. Or spend it.”

    Dranko just grins and drops the gem into his haversack.

    “You’ll also need a trigger object. Something you can fool Praska into taking from you. When she does, she’ll be transported into the diamond.”

    “Got it,” says Dranko. His wheels continue to turn.

    “Don’t forget the third thing,” says Morningstar. “Here.”

    She hands her husband a small black triangle made of some light wood. “Refuge token. Once you’ve got Praska, break it, and you’ll get teleported back here. Or even if you don’t have Praska, but something goes wrong. Don’t take any chances.”

    Dranko smiles innocently at her, and she simply shakes her head.




    THE PRESENT

    Dranko finishes his custard, stands, stretches. The late afternoon sun has started to set while he’s eaten and pondered and run through possible scenarios in his mind. Nominally this is going to be a trial run, but in case things go well, he’s got the gem and the letter ready to go. One more time he goes through his mental checklist.

    Robe of blending. Ring of jumping. Refuge token. Letter for Praska. Mind blank in place. Incredibly valuable diamond that could buy a lifetime supply of Kai Kin custard and an army of cooks to make it for me.

    Dranko ducks into an alleyway and scrambles effortlessly up to the roof of the cafe. It’s only two blocks to his intended launching pad, and once in place he lies low, overlooking the grounds of the Black Circle temple. He’s waiting for the sun to dip a few more inches, just enough that it won’t silhouette him as he makes his leap. He knows what he wants: the period of dusk when people still think it’s afternoon, and no one has yet noticed that it’s hard to see.

    He waits. Waits. The sun drops behind the clock tower as it starts to chime the seven o’clock hour.

    This is it.

    Dranko stands, sprints, and with a final prayer to Delioch, takes a mighty leap across a narrow alley and over the hedge. With Flicker’s ring it feels more like flying. He executes a perfect shoulder roll onto the roof of the mess hall, and the combined effect of his magic items and natural stealth makes it a near-silent landing. The little noise he makes is drowned by the noise of chatter from diners, and the last few tolls of the clock-tower bell. He crouches, flat, and blends into the shadow of a nearby tree.

    Once he is sure that his arrival has gone unnoticed, he peeks his head up to scan the grounds, comparing what he sees with Pewter’s reconnaissance report. There are four building clusters that form the main complex of the temple grounds, with the mess hall and adjoining kitchens at the southeast corner. North of him is the library and scriptorium, and to the west, rising higher than the buildings around it, is the tinted crystal dome of the central sanctuary. Diagonally across the wide lawn are the low-roofed dormitories.

    For half an hour, Dranko watches and observes. There is no pattern or regimen regarding dinner; priests and guards wander in and out on their own schedules. The cooks and servants appear to be lowly novices, wearing Black Circle garb that’s simpler and more drab than that of the more senior priests and priestesses. There is no sign of the Circle employing civilian help, in the kitchens or anywhere else.

    There is plenty of green space, with trees and benches and stone walkways forming a latticework between the buildings. Devotees of the Circle talk animatedly with one another as they move about the grounds, and the chatter is disturbingly benign. A trio of priests walking into the mess hall talks excitedly about translating an old book of medicine that could be used to help stop the spread of some diseases, and another two, sitting on a bench beneath a tree, discus some obscure philosophical notions on the nature of Truth before leaving for the library. Most of the conversation wouldn't be particularly out of place in a typical Deliochan church, though it's all of a more scholarly bent.

    Dranko takes a deep breath, runs through the plan in his head one more time, and uses his robe of blending to assume the aspect of a servant who earlier retired to the dormitories. He drops down the ground behind the kitchen and saunters across the lawn, head down but not too far, as calmly as he can manage. When possible he walks in the lengthening shadows of trees and buildings.

    He has a moment of quickened anxiety when, half way across, he notices Rosetta, sitting quietly on a bench and flipping through a sheaf of scrolls. She doesn’t look up or show any sign of noticing him, and he bites his lip and ignores her. His heart has stopped racing by the time he reaches the backside of the dormitories, and when he reaches the spot with the fewest sight-lines, Dranko scrambles up to the roof. He utters an extra prayer of thanks for the overcast night that hides the moon.

    From his perch on the dormitory roof, Dranko observes many of the clergy return to their rooms after dinner. This goes on for some time, since some come directly, while others have instead gone to the Dome or the library after the evening meal. Night has fully fallen by the time Praska emerges from the mess hall; lamps are being lit around the quad by servants.

    She approaches the west-side door to the dorms, seemingly alone, and Dranko drops down, practically invisible, to stand near the entrance. There are many other people about, but none within thirty feet of him. For the moment, the door is closed. One of his hands is clenched around an absurdly valuable diamond. The other holds a fancy envelope closed with a round wax seal. It’s empty, but that’s not the point.

    Dranko steps out of the shadows as Praska approaches. His eyes light up, and the whole of his face breaks into a wide grin, near to bursting with good news he can’t wait to bequeath. He holds the letter like it’s a precious artifact, something he’s profoundly proud of. He looks down at it in disbelief, as if afraid it will evaporate before he has a chance to deliver it. His body language is open and entirely sincere, and he holds out his envelope, projecting a joy that she is sure to share when she sees what it is.

    Praska slows down as she approaches, a puzzled look on her face.

    “Sav Ket,” she says, quirking an eyebrow. “I’ve never seen you this excited before. Is that for me?”

    As Praska instinctively reaches out to take the letter, Dranko can’t help thinking how amazing it is that, for once, a risky stratagem, seems to be going off without a hitch. And that’s when he hears the dormitory door open behind him. No one shouts, but if Praska touches the letter, she’s going to vanish, and whoever just walked out the door will see it happen, clear as clear in the light of a nearby lamp. Of all the luck! Dranko winces, remembering the crazy swings of luck that were affecting Appleseed before they went into the Crimson Maw.

    He has only a second to make a decision. He considers that in the worst case, that’s Sav Ket behind him right now, and Praska is looking at twins. Slightly better, it’s someone else who has just seen Ket inside. Either way, he has a contingency plan, and with the fate of his best friend, and also possibly Abernia itself at stake, he cannot let this chance slip away.

    He lets Praska take the letter. She vanishes, the gem in his left hand becoming warm. And then, reaching into his personal tentacular recesses, he stops time.

    Behind him, a thin Black Circle priestess stands frozen in mid-stride, her eyes just starting to widen. Across the quad, Rosetta is halted with a page of her book half-turned. The background murmur of dozens of temple denizens is halted; the only sounds are his breathing, and his heart thumping in his chest.

    Dranko sprints to the nearest perimeter hedge and climbs, ignoring the thorny vines which (fortunately) are as quiescent as everything else. The moment after he hits the ground, he digs in his pocket with his right hand and finds the fragile wood of his refuge token. Snap!. He is transported back across the ocean to Kallor even before time has resumed.

    And the best part? he thinks wryly to himself. When they try to find out what happened to her, they’ll only see her sitting on a quiet bench in Djaw, reading a book. Their own Book of Lies is going to bite them in the ass.



    /*/


    Back in Kallor, Dranko recaps his mission with a mad gleam in his eye. Calling upon his time stop power, bequeathed by a power from the Far Realms, has left him with a highly disturbing demeanor. After hearing his tale and accepting the gem with Mokad trapped inside, Morningstar blesses him with protective sleep.

    While he sleeps, the others put the final touches on the ritual room and the defenses thereof. Kibi drops tactically-placed spike stones on the wide floor, outside of the 30’ x 30’ enclosure. Aravis reviews the timing of the ritual with the Ellish priestesses who will be assisting him. Aravis, who will be the primary caster of the ritual, dons the necklace of mind-spell inversion as a precautionary measure. He warns the others that no one should approach within ten feet of Mokad while the ritual is in progress.

    Certain large-area abjurations are impermissible. Spells like forbiddance, private sanctum and dimensional lock will interfere fatally with the Ritual of the Seven Stars. But as a final measure, Kibi pours out his own life energy into a simple wish: I wish that no follower of the Black Circle will be able to find this location for the duration of the Ritual of the Seven Stars.. The room ripples, and their skins tingle from the wash of power.

    /*/

    In a small and ancillary chamber – in fact, the one that once housed the Null Shadow cauldron – Dranko places the hugely valuable diamond gently on the ground.

    “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.”

    He brings down a huge obsidian brick and smashes the gem to powder. Mokad, infesting the body of Praska, appears on the ground in a small puff of smoke. Before he can so much as blink, he’s pegged with a dimensional anchor before Morningstar fills the room with an anti-magic field.

    “Praska!” Dranko shouts. “It’s not too late to change! I know you’ve only taken this course because you secretly loved me and I married Morningstar. But there’s still time for you to come back to the light!”

    Mokad only has time to raise an eyebrow before Dranko steps back and chuckles.

    “Nah, I’m just sh*tting you. We know you’re Mokad.” And with that, he, Ernie and Grey Wolf pummel Mokad into unconsciousness. Just to rub it in, Dranko changes to the form of Ket before knocking Mokad out. Once the Black Circle priest is down, they divest him of his items, components, holy symbol, and anything else that might allow him to resist or escape, before carrying him out to the ritual room. There they chain the body of Praska to an altar in the center of a black circle inscribed around with equations and geometric forms.

    “Lord,” Dranko whispers, “I know this is disturbing, but I am always your servant. I don’t think this is going to damn my soul to hell, but let me know if it will. Thanks.”

    Wasting no more time, Aravis nods to his Ellish assistants and begins the Ritual of Seven Stars. The words of power are harsh on his lips, filling him with unease as he speaks them. For well over an hour he keeps up a stream of chanting, a litany that includes many long strings of numbers and complex equations. The priestesses toss handfuls of alchemical powders over the body at specific times, synchronized with certain of Aravis’s words and gestures. The poles in the wall glow in strange and ever-changing patterns.

    At the 100 minute mark, a green light fills the circle around the altar, just as it should. Mokad’s eyes snap open and for a second he tugs futilely tugs at his chains.

    “Home,” he says casually. When nothing happens, he says it again. “Home.”

    Most of the Company are perched atop the ten-foot wall of the enclosure. Dranko chuckles at Mokad’s discomfiture.

    Mokad cranes his neck. “What do you think you’re doing?”

    Ernie looks down and smiles. “We’re getting our friend back. Also, and I know this is immature, but: phbtbbtbbbtbt!”

    “We’re performing the Ritual of Seven Stars,” Dranko smirks.

    Mokad lolls his head to look at the poles, and laughs for a solid ten seconds.

    “You know,” he says, regaining his composure, “you kids shouldn’t play with the grown-ups’ things. You believe you have this all figured out, do you?”

    His laugh is one of pure contempt.

    “We think we might mess it up,” Dranko admits.

    “You THINK you might mess it up, huh? Well, it’s not going to be MY problem when it goes awry.”

    “Oh? What will happen?”

    Mokad ignores the question. “Which one of you decided where to put the poles? First of all: of your seventeen poles, I’d say that by happy fortune, you have about four of them in the right place.”

    He turns his neck to look at Kibi. “It’s Kibilhathur, right? Did dwarves build this? I hope you haven’t paid them yet.”

    Dranko ignores Mokad in turn. “What were you doing at the temple in Kai Kin?”

    Mokad looks at him, seemingly surprised by the question. “Mostly writing. Our primary function is to record and preserve information.”

    “And bring the Emperor to Charagan,” Dranko adds.

    “Yes, that too. But that’s not my job. Most of what I personally do is write and illuminate manuscripts. There’s only so many times one wants to bring down the established order of things. It’s a lot of work, and I’m happy to leave it to others.”

    He glances again at the poles and snorts. “If you have any vacation sites off plane, this would be a good time to make sure they’re available.”

    “I know you won’t tell me,” says Dranko, “but I have to ask: Why this fascination with bringing the Emperor back? He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would command that kind of respect. Condor certainly didn’t think much of him.”

    Mokad peers at Dranko. “Condor’s been dead a long time, you know. Look, can I give you a piece of advice? It will save all of your lives, AND when the Black Circle comes back to reclaim this place, it won’t be a total wreck. The pole in the 8th hole from the right? Move it down two holes. Because where it is now, well... one of you can cast firestorm, right? That will seem like a wet torch compared to what will happen if you leave that pole where it is. Moving that pole still won’t make the ritual work, but it will prevent you from destroying this room and everyone in it.”

    Kibi frowns. It’s true that there were some… ambiguities… in the Black Circle reference material. He and the other wizards were confident in their conclusions and calculations, but still…

    “Not that it matters to me,” says Mokad. “I figure I’m a lost cause. When the Seven Stars fails, you’ll probably just cut my throat.”

    “You mean Praska’s throat,” Dranko growls.

    “You don’t understand, do you? Praska’s gone. Do you remember the dinner we shared, so long ago? Praska’s been gone since that night.”

    Dranko snorts. “We know that’s not true, because both you and she were still around, up until when we killed you. You do remember us killing you?”

    “I do remember that,” says Mokad quietly. “But Praska wasn’t in her body, even before I died.”

    “Who was?”

    “The Black Circle was. And the Black Circle can do a very convincing imitation of a little brat. Now, Aravis? This next point coming up is extremely detail-oriented. You wouldn’t want to mess up any of the 36…

    “Can’t we gag him?” asks Ernie.

    Turns out that with a rag and mage hand, you can. And a few minutes later the ritual moves into a new phase, and Mokad blacks out. A ghostly vision of Praska rises up momentarily from his body, looks around in terror, and then slams back down into Mokad.

    “What if he’s right?” asks Kibi. “What if that’s not really Praska?”

    Dranko looks somber. “Sometimes you’ve just got to have faith.”

    The room shudders. Aravis glances around nervously; that wasn’t part of the Ritual! Everyone feels their skin crawl, an itching tingle not entirely dissimilar to what they felt after Kibi’s wish. Nothing else happens, but everyone is thinking the same thing over the mind link. Did someone in the Black Circle just cast a counter-wish?

    The minutes pass. Energy is now traveling in pulses up and down the obsidian lines and curves inlaid around the ritual space. The Ellish priestesses are sweating in earnest, as one of the more complicated sections of the ritual arrives. Everyone tenses, wondering how things will go. Dranko tries to calm himself. All that one person in Kai Kin would have seen is Mokad and another acolyte teleporting away. Mokad is protected from divinations by his own Book of Lies. Every one of the Company is mind blanked. Kibi has cast his wish. How could Black Circle worshipers possibly know to come here?

    Minutes later, those in the Company who can see invisible people witness a number of men and women in Black Circle raiment arriving, hovering, in the center of the enormous chamber.

    Crap!

    …to be continued…
    Last edited by Sagiro; Thursday, 9th December, 2010 at 07:16 AM.

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