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  1. #121
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    For the record, the newest pc in the group is:

    Summer, shifter warden 10
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  • #122
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    The heat of the summer day beats down on the party as they move along, footsore and weary. The afternoon is long and clear, bright with the overhead sun.

    “Look,” Vann-La says, pointing into the distance behind them. “Did you see that? Something is glinting in the distance- it could be someone in armor or something. It’s definitely metal, though.”

    “You have really sharp eyes,” Torinn comments, as nobody else caught a glimpse of it. The party proceeds, casting frequent backwards glances. Indeed, whatever the metal thing is, it seems to be drawing closer. “Do you have any better idea of what it is?” the dragonborn asks the Kree warrior.

    Squinting, she replies, “I think it’s a single figure in armor.” Then, she exclaims, “No- not in armor- it’s a warforged!”

    “Then it is probably an ally,” muses Heimall, “although they have been playing their cards pretty close to the vest, so to speak.”

    “We don’t even know what they have been up to, since the end of the siege,” Cook points out.

    “There’s one way to find out,” Ligir says. “Let’s wait and talk to it.”

    The party takes cover beneath an oak tree, both from the sun and from the figure behind them. Soon enough, the warforged overtakes them. They step out to hail it.

    “Hey there, what are you doing way out here?” calls Iggy.

    The figure stops and surveys them. It looks slightly different from the majority of the warforged that the party freed from the Cathedral of War just before the siege of Fandelose started, as if it were a slightly different model. “Hey there,” it says. “I’m on a mission, but hey, I can’t share the details. Gotta keep moving, very important, don’t want to miss it, hey!”

    “What is your name?” asks Vann-La. “Do you work for NC17?”

    “Sure, not exactly, kind of doing my own thing, hey! Not to worry, not to worry, we’re on the same side, but listen, I gotta go. Oh, I’m 240Z, but it doesn’t really matter at the moment, gotta go! The sooner the better, hey hey!”

    “Here,” Torinn says, “take these.” The cleric of Lester hands the warforged his spectacles, with their darkened lenses. “Lester go with you.”

    “Sure, gotta go,” 240Z replies, already starting to walk off at a brisk pace.

    “What is that thing? Do you trust it?” asks Summer.

    “Well, I don’t know about this particular one, but its kind are our allies,” Heimall muses.

    “Oi, let him go. He is not interfering with us. Why should we interfere with him?”

    “Let’s hope you’re right,” Hkatha murmurs as the strange warforged walks off into the brown grass, kicking up a trail of dust behind him.

    ***

    Several days ahead on our heroes’ journey are a series of plateaus, Summer tells the others. She notes that they are artificial- according to her, there is no natural explanation for their presence. Heimall declares that they are probably the sites of a series of legendary fortifications and armories. “I wonder if anything useful is left up on them,” he muses.

    “You know this area pretty well,” Torinn says to Summer. She just smiles in response.

    The plains are empty of people, but over the next six days, the party sees many rabbits and groundhogs, several small herds of antelope, dozens of different species of birds and many others. They find the tracks of a herd of horses- unshod, notes Vann-La, and Summer assesses them as either feral or wild.

    ”If we want some, we could probably track them and hunt them down,” points out Shakgar. “But they probably couldn’t carry me anyway.”

    ***

    The dominant predators of the area are fierce, flightless birds with heavy, axe-like beaks. The larger specimens are known as terror birds. Inevitably, they come to poke their beaks at our heroes and see if these new forms on the plains are suitable prey.

    They are not.

    With devastating efficiency, our heroes put them down. “The meat is tough,” says Shakgar, “but edible.” Summer nods agreement.

    “Oi, I can cook it until it is good and tender,” threatens Cook.

    “Tell me again,” sighs Summer, “why you have a dwarf for a cook?”

    ***

    The sound of crickets playing their legs calls out the change from afternoon to evening. The first plateau looms ahead of the group. Vann-La’s keen eyes spy signs of life upon it. She concludes that whoever dwells atop it must go to great lengths to avoid being seen.

    “It doesn’t sound like the Hand,” notes Torinn.

    Heimall says, “More likely, it’s some survivors.”

    With a shrug, Shakgar says, “Let’s go see.”

    The group starts to ascend a narrow trail that switches back up the face of the plateau, but in short order Vann-La halts them. “There is something following us,” she says.

    The group looks. A man-sized figure, dressed in archaic-looking full plate armor and wearing a greatsword across its back, is starting to climb the trail below them. “Let’s find a wider spot to stop, in case it comes to blows,” suggests Heimall. He gestures ahead. “Maybe at that landing up ahead.”

    The party moves to the landing, which is built into a natural shelf along the plateau’s face, and turns to wait for the figure that is following them. It is making no effort at concealment, closing the distance openly. When it reaches them, it halts, studying them.

    It appears to be a clockwork man of some sort, made of metal rather than flesh and blood. A patch bearing archaic Imperial insignia is fastened to each shoulder of his armor. “You are not to be here,” it says. Its voice is male, but mechanical. “Go.”

    “Who are you?” demands Heimall.

    The figure does not reply. It merely draws its sword. “Withdraw from the plateau,” it orders. “You are not cleared to be here.”

    ”We are on the business of General Argos, of the Imperial Army,” Torinn says. “I’m Major Torinn, of the Imperial Marines. We are commissioned officers-”

    “This is your last warning,” the figure says.

    “Who are you?” Vann-La asks again. “By what right are you barring our passage? Who do you work for? Put your sword away!”

    The figure starts forward, and Vann-La hits it with a tide of iron, but it parries her blow. Iggy yelps, turning invisible even as he draws his pistol.

    The sword-wielding mechanical figure moves with unbelievable grace, hitting Vann-La with a devastating strike and following up with another attack, but the Kree warrior manages to parry that one. Then it drops into a deadly stance that Vann-La recognizes all too well: it is a rain of steel.*

    “Two can play at that game!” she cries, and enters her own rain of steel.

    Seemingly from nowhere, a shuriken flies out and hits the figure in the knee. Cook emerges from hiding. “He’s not going nowhere!” the dwarf calls.

    However, the figure doesn’t really want to go anywhere. It lays about itself with its sword, doing immense damage and stunning Vann-La with a followup strike. As it does so, a momentary vision of another face flickers across its visage as if superimposed.

    Summer studies their attacker carefully. “This thing is supernatural!” she tells them. “It isn’t just a powerful mechanical warrior- I think that it is from another plane!”

    Some of our heroes’ attacks deflect off the strange swordsman’s armor. Others he parries, deflecting them harmlessly and offering up counterstrokes that send their victims sprawling. Its flawless katas slice into Shakgar, Torinn and Vann-La, over and over again, and it keeps one of them stunned pretty much constantly (although which one it is varies from moment to moment). Even Iggy’s spells don’t seem to be able to hit it!

    Iggy gasps. “Of course,” he says. “This thing- it must be a sword saint, from the cult of the Sword Emperor!” He raises his gun again.

    “Your mastery of the blade is superb,” gasps Vann-La as she parries another of its blows and watches in disbelief as the blade springs away to swat one of Iggy’s bullets out of the air before it can hit.

    A few of our heroes’ blows manage to sneak in; Torinn nails it with a lance of faith, Shakgar with a stone bear rage, Vann-La with a flanking assault. Cook keeps darting in and out of the shadows, throwing shuriken from hiding, and a few of Iggy’s spells do some damage despite missing. Finally, Vann-La manages to bloody it.

    Unfortunately for our heroes, they are already nearly out of healing abilities, and the sword saint just keeps throwing more deadly attacks their way. But then Cook tricks it with a bait and switch, pulling it into a position where Shakgar and Torinn are flanking it.

    Heimall cries out, “You must see that we will defeat you! Stop, throw down your weapon and we can talk things out!”

    “Never,” the figure replies, the strange face flickering across it again. It is a human face, with plain features and shaggy brown hair. It is gone almost as soon as it appears. It begins to execute another flawless kata, but Heimall rams his glaive in with a disruptive strike, staggering the sword saint.**

    The others attack with everything they have, but their blows turn from its armor again. It hacks into Shakgar’s side, bloodying the goliath, then stuns him with a followup strike. It raises its greatsword to finish him off-

    And, suddenly, a shuriken hits it in the eye.

    The sword saint topples to the ground with a crash like cymbals.

    ***

    The top of the plateau does indeed have survivors on it. However, they are not as pleased to see the party as our heroes would have thought.

    “We saw you fighting from up here,” cries one of the peasants. “All those explosions- don’t you realize that the Six-Fingered Hand can see them from miles away?”

    Another of the refugees wails, “You have drawn them to us!”

    The first speaker continues, “We have already seen one group headed our way. Probably about 20 strong. We have no weapons or armor, and only a few of us can fight at all. We came here to hide, not fight!”

    “Oops,” mutters Ligir.

    Next Time: Ornithopters!

    *The sword saint was a solo with half normal solo hps and roughly double normal damage dice. So some of its attacks included:

    [Melee] Powerful Blow (standard; at will) Weapon: +22 vs. AC; 2d10+7 damage, and the target is marked until the end of its next turn.

    [Melee] Devastating Strike (standard; recharge 5 6) Weapon: +22 vs. AC; 8d8+7 damage.
    [Melee] Flawless Kata (standard; at will) Weapon: The sword saint makes up to four powerful blow attacks against different targets.

    [Melee] Followup Strike (minor; at will) Weapon: Only against a target that the sword saint has hit this turn. +20 vs. Fortitude; 4d8+7 damage and target is stunned until the end of its next turn.

    [Melee] Counterstrike (immediate interrupt; when targeted by a melee attack; at will) Weapon: The sword saint makes an attack on the triggering creature: +20 vs. Reflex; 2d10+7 damage, plus the target is either knocked prone or takes a -4 penalty on the triggering attack (sword saint’s choice).

    **He has magic armor, umm can’t recall the name, that is basically spell storing armor for martial characters; Vann-La, being a multiclassed ranger, put disruptive strike in there for him. Heimall didn’t just hit here, he got a critical hit.
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  • #123
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    From their elevated position, our heroes make the size of the enemy force to be a couple of dozen. They are still miles away, but- as they are Six-Fingered Hand troops- could operate very well in the dark.

    “We have time,” says Cook. “Let us rig traps. We will kill them with deadfalls, and rolling boulders.”

    “We don’t have that much time,” replies Iggy dubiously.

    “Oi, we have enough.”

    The party sets to work as evening comes on, first surveying the path up the face of the plateau and then moving piles of rocks, positioning large stones and crafting triggers that will cause them to rumble down at the enemy. The party only has a few hours, but- thanks to the abundant loose rock all over the face of the plateau- they manage to create a series of terrifically deadly traps. They work in the dark, trading the difficulties of doing so for the knowledge that the Hand troops approaching won’t be able to see their efforts until it is too late.

    They work up until virtually the last minute- until the enemy is only a couple of hundred yards away. Though they cannot see them in the distance in the starlight, the party can hear their foes as they approach. Finally, having done all that they have time to do, the party retreats about a third of the way up the plateau’s face, planning to stay above and ahead of the enemy.

    The Six-Fingered Hand squad reaches the bottom of the plateau. After a few minutes of searching in the dark, they find the ascent and begin their march upwards.

    About ten minutes later, they reach the first trap.

    Our heroes let the lead element go past, waiting for the main group to be under the trap. Then they trigger it, a slide of rocks starting with a large boulder and growing to include a rain of smaller stones. Goblins and kobolds scream as the stones pelt them, smashing skulls and breaking arms and legs. Into the chaos Hkatha and Iggy hurl flaming spells. Then the party retreats upwards, waiting until the enemy below them has recovered from its confusion and continues its ascent- to the next deadfall. A scene almost identical to that at the first trap ensues, differing mostly in that fewer of the Hand troops survive the initial assault, and this time our heroes rush their remaining enemies, cutting them down without mercy.

    Ensuring that none of the enemy survive to spread word of their presence, our heroes then re-ascend the plateau to the group of survivors, who are in an uproar. Their safe haven, where they fled to escape the ravages of the Hand, has been discovered. Surely, now that the Hand knows of them, it will come to crush them. Has it not already sent a probe to test their strength?

    “Those guys were the only ones that saw us,” predicts Captain Ligir, playing up his military position to the peasantry. “We killed them all. Anyone else that saw us is either too far away to respond or else figures that those guys have it under control. After all, how long has it been since anyone has taken out one of their scouting squads like that?”

    “What you all need to do now,” interjects Captain Heimall (also playing up his rank), “is go to Fandelose. You’re right, they do know that you’re here, and they will come for you in time. But you can go to Fandelose. There are walls, there is food and shelter- we fought off the Hand’s army. We defeated them. We can offer you sanctuary- you, and any other Imperial citizens.”

    “And your alternative,” Major Torinn (playing up his role as ranking officer) says, “is to wait for them to come for you.”

    The argument lasts deep into the night. The party’s reasoning is sound, and in the morning the peasants begin to leave. Our heroes leave, too, heading southward- continuing their journey towards Northshore. They come to another of the plateaus in the afternoon of the following day.

    “Should we bother to check it out?” asks Hkatha.

    “Yes,” Hkatha replies. “There might be more survivors that we can recruit to go back to Fandelose.”

    Once again, the party searches the base of the plateau until they find a path heading upward, concealed from casual observation, but not from a diligent search. They start to ascend. After they have gotten about 100’ up, Vann-La halts. “Look back there,” she says. “Someone is coming our way: a small group, looks like armored figures.”

    “Should we wait for them?” wonders Cook.

    Hkatha shrugs. “Why not? Best we don’t lead them up there without knowing what is hiding at the top. We don’t need to spoil any survivors’ hiding places again.”

    “It is an effective way of getting them to move to Fandelose,” Torinn comments wryly.

    It doesn’t take too long for the six figures- all of them warforged- to reach the trail leading up the plateau’s face and to close the distance to our heroes. Though not immediately hostile, they move with relentless purpose.

    “Hi there,” says Torinn.

    The lead warforged speaks. “We are searching for another one such as us, a solitary one. Have you seen it?”

    “Why do you ask?” Vann-La replies. “What do you seek with him?”

    “It is a renegade,” the speaker says. “We must find it and stop it before it achieves its goals.”

    “Is it working with the Six-Fingered Hand?”

    “What are its goals?” asks Heimall.

    To Vann-La: “No.” Turning to Heimall, the warforged continues, “Its goals concern only our own kind. It is irrational. It calls itself 240Z.”

    “Well,” admits Hkatha, “we did see the warforged of which you speak, and we spoke with it briefly. But it didn’t tell us where it was going, or what it was doing.”

    “Yeah, it left in a hurry, too,” adds Iggy.

    The warforged start moving without another word, passing through our heroes and further up the face of the plateau.

    “Creepy,” comments Iggy.

    “I really don’t know if I trust the warforged anymore,” mutters Hkatha.

    Iggy scoffs. “Any more? They made it pretty clear from the start that they were pursuing an agenda of their own, and it just had something in common with ours- the survival of Fandelose. I don’t know if we should have ever trusted them.”

    Heimall glances to the west, where the distant sea has half-swallowed the Sun.* “It’s getting dark. Let’s keep moving and get up to the top.”

    The warforged quickly disappear above them. The living weapons are moving quickly, while our heroes, at the end of a long day’s journey, are tired and footsore. They take their time; it seems unlikely that the warforged will molest any survivors, and so there is no real urgency to reach the top at the same time as them. When the party finally gets to the top, they find more peasant refugees awaiting them. This time a small group of about a half-dozen stand behind a barricade of hay, pitchforks and hoes held like weapons in their hands.

    “Hello,” calls Heimall. “I am Captain Heimall Heinrikson of the Imperial Army. We are from the city of Fandelose, where we have not only held out against the Six-Fingered Hand- but where we have defeated it.”

    While Heimall speaks, Vann-La mutters to Iggy, “I don’t see any sign of the warforged.”

    “I wonder where they got to?” the wizard replies.

    Heimall sooths the crowd with his smooth tongue, reassuring them that there is hope for the future of the Empire and then offering them that hope: Fandelose. The others pitch in, each adding another piece of that future possible. Soon the pitchforks and hoes are propped back on peasant shoulders as the beer is passed around, and everyone is a friend.

    Though the party asks after the warforged, the people living on the plateau haven’t seen them. “Are there any weird features or military buildings up here?” asks Hkatha.

    “Well,” says one of the locals, “there is a really big locked building that nobody has ever gotten into. It has been up here longer than we have.”

    ***

    “Oi, this is a pretty good lock,” declares Cook. His thieves’ tools click inside it as he works to open it. The building it locks is extraordinarily large- the size of a large castle.

    ”I could help with that, you know,” offers Iggy.**

    Click. “I got it.”

    The door is exceptionally large. “Maybe it’s some kind of warehouse,” suggests Torinn. He, Heimall and Vann-La together heave the door open, and find that there is pretty much a single huge room inside the huge building (although two small side rooms exist, they hardly count when compared to the central hanger). Within that expanse are a large number of... winged vehicles of some sort.

    “What the hell?” asks Iggy.

    The party moves in and looks the things over. They are indeed winged. “Do these things fly?” Vann-La says.

    “They just might,” replies Hkatha. “I think they are ornithopters.”

    “What’s an ornithopter?”

    Hkatha points at the vehicles.

    “Right,” says Iggy.

    ***

    The two other rooms are an office and a wardrobe. The office is clearly an Army office; there are tons of documents present, which our heroes start looking through. They quickly determine that the documents that exist are unimportant, designed to obfuscate whatever was going on here. However, the wardrobe turns out to have a very interesting selection of uniforms- an elite unit called the Eagles, with some very interesting insignia, goggles, caps, downy jackets, warm scarves and high gloves.

    “Time for a fashion upgrade,” says Hkatha.

    Most of our heroes loot some elements of the Eagle uniforms to add to their ensemble. The uniforms are of noteworthy quality.

    “Well, what about these things, then?” Iggy points at the ornithopters.

    ”I think we ought to issue a sending to Colonel Jaxe,” opines Heimall. “We should inform him of what we’ve found and see what he says. These may be a valuable resource for our fight against the Six-Fingered Hand.”

    “Hey,” Torinn says, his head inside one of the cockpits, “there are levers in here!”

    “You should probably get out of there,” Heimall recommends, “before you end up going off the edge of the plateau.”

    Torinn pulls his head out of the cockpit and looks thoughtful, but his eyes linger on the levers.***

    Sending first,” insists Heimall.

    “Shouldn’t we know if they work before we report in?” asks Torinn.

    The party looks the flying machines over for signs of obvious mechanical damage, and to their chagrin, they find it on most of the ornithopters. Of the two dozen machines, only ten seem to be in good repair.

    “All right, what about the sending?” says Heimall.

    Torinn climbs in the cockpit. “Let’s just see what happens,” he calls out. “I’ll be careful.”

    “God dammit,” the warlord sighs.

    Torinn quickly discovers that the ornithopter is powered by a collection of levers, hand pumps and foot pedals. He starts to wheel forward, but hits the brake before he picks up too much speed. Still, it takes a disconcertingly long time for the big machine to come to a stop, well outside the hanger. “I think whoever flies this would have to be able to exert himself continuously for the length of their flight,” he tells the others. “It seems to be poured by, well, my arms and legs.”

    “You are full of strength and stamina,” Iggy points out.

    “Hell with it,” Torinn says, and starts pumping the pedals and hand pumps. The ornithopter begins to roll forward again, and this time the Dragon tries to increase his speed rather than decrease it. There is a path outside the hanger that leads towards the edge of the plateau.

    Makes sense, he thinks.

    The ornithopter shoots off the edge of the plateau.

    Next Time: To Northshore!

    *On Cydra (my campaign world), the Sun actually orbits the island of Forinthia at a mean distance of roughly 780,000 miles, so it really does go into the sea at night. Of course, our heroes aren’t on Forinthia, they are on a continent several thousand miles to the west of Forinthia (Dorhaus).

    **He is, after all, a multiclassed rogue.

    ***As a cleric of Lester, the god of adventure, Torinn loves to pull them levers!
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  • #124
    Awesome. The sense of history and shared experience you get, using a single setting with many of the same players for so long, is really something special.

    For some reason, the renegade warforged got me thinking about Master Control...

    (And is there any activity in your 4e Plots and Places thread? It seems to have dropped off the face of the forums)

  • #125
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    Quote Originally Posted by Asha'man View Post
    (And is there any activity in your 4e Plots and Places thread? It seems to have dropped off the face of the forums)
    I haven't posted anything there recently, but I'll give you a peak at some upcoming bad guys shortly.
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  • #126
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    ø Ignore Mathew_Freeman
    Quote Originally Posted by Asha'man View Post
    Awesome. The sense of history and shared experience you get, using a single setting with many of the same players for so long, is really something special.

    For some reason, the renegade warforged got me thinking about Master Control...

    (And is there any activity in your 4e Plots and Places thread? It seems to have dropped off the face of the forums)
    Master Control could still be around in one form or another, given the time-span between the last campaign and this one. Scary thought.
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  • #127
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    A vertiginous drop!

    The ornithopter plummets like a stone, racing towards the distant ground. Torinn pumps his arms and legs frantically, and the machine responds, its wings starting to beat.

    Leaning back in his seat, the dragonborn cleric grits his teeth. At the speed he is falling, a crash would probably be lethal.

    The nose of the ornithopter edges up, and the ship starts to speed out away from the edge of the cliff as well as just down. Come on, these are levers! If Lester’s blessings ever fall upon me, it should be now!

    The ornithopter’s fall continues to angle away from the cliff, further and further, until, only a few dozen yards above the ground, it levels off at last. Torinn whoops with pleasure, pumping his arms like mad, as he starts to ascend.

    ***

    “He made it!” exclaims Heimall.

    “Hey, look at this,” Ligir calls from inside the hangar. “This one has room for two. Well, as long as the second person was a halfling or something.”

    The party goes to look while the ornithopter bearing Torinn wobbles around the sky. Indeed, several of the ornithopters have a small compartment at the back, in which a smaller person could sit, albeit in a cramped position. “There’s no way any of us could fit in that little hole,” comments Hkatha. “Look at that hatch. I bet you could drop things out of here- maybe oil or acid or something. You could store small packages, or maybe bladders of liquid, in these little runnels here.”

    The party goes back outside and watches Torinn’s ornithopter as it flies around. Torinn, in his cockpit, is taking in the view as best he can and trying to assess the tactical situation nearby, but from the distance he is at, it’s hard to tell much. Still, he can make out Lake Belwur to the south, and the smudge of a city along its nearest shore. Then he banks left and heads towards the nearest other plateau.

    His arms are getting tired by the time he gets to it; but his suspicions are confirmed. At the top of the plateau is a flattened area long enough to launch (or, he presumes, land) an ornithopter squadron. “So,” he mutters to himself, and banks back around towards the plateau where the others are.

    ***

    Meanwhile, both Vann-La and Shakgar have also taken flight. Each has a similar, harrowing experience as he or she plummets from the cliff; but each also quickly gets the hang of the vehicle’s operations.

    When Torinn’s ornithopter flies back towards them and begins to descend towards the runway, Vann-La follows- and only then do any of the aloft heroes think about how one lands an ornithopter.

    The answer, it turns out, is roughly; without skill; but well enough to walk away from. Both Torinn and Vann-La are bruised by their landings, and Torinn nearly crashes his ‘thopter into another of the airships in the hangar; but it is worth it. Flight! The power of flight!

    “We definitely need to tell Colonel Jaxe that we found these,” says Heimall. “Let’s do a sending.

    “I’m on it,” replies Hkatha. The Ilmixie unpacks his spellbook and begins laying out the materials necessary.

    “Where’s Shakgar?” asks Torinn.

    “He’s still flying,” Iggy responds with a sigh, “buzzing overhead every minute or so.”

    ***

    Hkatha issues a sending updating Colonel Jaxe. The reply is immediate: We know about the ornithopters. Send peasants here if possible. Proceed to Northshore. Scout. Sending force, should arrive in two weeks.

    “Well, we have our orders,” says Hkatha afterward.

    Shakgar buzzes overhead again.

    ”I guess we have to wait for Shakgar before we do anything. Do you think we should take the ornithopters?” queries Torinn.

    “We’d be pretty visible,” muses Heimall. “It would be hard to escape notice. So much for a subtle approach.”

    “We are known for our subtlety,” the dragonborn replies ironically.

    “A half-dozen of us against a couple of hundred troops of the Six-Fingered Hand? No problem!” Summer snorts disdainfully. “Subtle might be better.”

    “We’ll proceed on foot,” Heimall agrees with a nod. “We won’t do the slaves at Northshore any good if we’re attacked and killed before we even get there.”

    Shakgar keeps buzzing them for hours.

    ***

    Northshore, when the party reaches it a couple of days later, proves to be a large ruin with a section at the edge of town that is still in use. Our heroes make a concealed approach at first, scouting out the situation. A large walled enclosure is full of slaves tending crops and minding herds of animals, overseen by a variety of Hand guards. This is adjacent to a large fortress that looks like it has been converted to the use of the Six-Fingered Hand.

    “This is very interesting,” notes Cook. “You see how the people are farming in the pen?”

    “They have goblin overseers,” points out Summer.

    “Look how inefficient the construction is. The barrier looks weak. There are few guards.” Cook snorts. “Goblin incompetence.”

    “I’d guess there are a couple of thousand people here,” murmurs Heimall. “And maybe three, four hundred troops.”

    “Still too many,” says Iggy, “for a frontal assault.”

    Vann-La shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not.”

    “It looks like the barracks are along the edge of that fortification, on the ruin’s edge. And there are towers along the edge of the enclosure- crude work, but no doubt the Hand mans them.” Heimall frowns. “And what’s that noise?”

    The party pauses to listen. Distantly, they can hear the roar of a crowd.

    “We’ll probably find out what that is once we’re inside. We might be able to sneak in,” suggests Iggy. “Look around, scout things out.”

    The cook smiles. “Oi, that is my specialty!”

    “And we can check in after a little while by sending,” Hkatha says.

    ***

    Cook sneaks up to the enclosure. There seems to be a single main gate, at the far end of things from all the barracks. Scratching his head- this is an odd and inefficient arrangement for the troops- Cook walks the perimeter, looking for unguarded entries but seeing none. There are several other smaller gates, as well as one leading from the interior of the pen into the fortress. He returns to the main gate, trying to be sneaky. Unfortunately for him, one of the goblins on the wall spots him.

    “Hey!” it yells in Common. “You there! Dwarf! Don’t move!”

    Cook remains where he is. Oi, I suppose this is as good of a way to get a look inside as any, he thinks wryly. A few minutes later a squad of Hand troops has surrounded him.

    ”Who are you?” growls a kobold.

    “He must be an escaped slave,” one of the goblins says, speaking in Goblin- which (thankfully) Cook knows.

    “No!” Cook declares. “I am a flesh merchant. I trade in slaves. I saw your worthy effort here” –gesturing at the enclosure- “and thought to come see if you might be interested in making additional purchases from one such as myself.”

    He’s a quick-thinking, smooth-tongued dwarf, and he thinks his story is believable. But the kobolds and goblins laugh harshly.

    “Let’s take him to Sir Unleafe for questioning,” one of them sneers. “If there really are free dwarves in the area, he must be informed.”

    Uh-oh, thinks Cook. I hope the party contacts me with that sending soon, or I may be in trouble!

    ***

    The death knight- Sir Unleafe- is a chilling figure, with yellow-white flames dancing in the sockets of his eyes. He wears soiled robes, with a huge greataxe strapped to his back. He is at the edge of a high balcony above a large arena. The arena’s floor is littered with various dangers, including large bonfires, pits and bear traps. Suspended above it, a pair of platforms swing by each other. Several slaves are on them, and several more are down below; clearly, they are being forced to fight one another.
    “He says that he is a slave trader,” says one of the goblins.

    Sir Unleafe turns his burning gaze upon Cook. The dwarf gulps through a constricted throat. “Where are you from?” the death knight demands.

    “Uh, I am from the far east,” Cook starts, “but I operate from a base, uh, under the mountains around here.”

    “You are a liar,” the death knight pronounces. He reaches behind him and unlimbers his axe, which gives off black smoke. “How many of you are there? How many are here? And where are they?”

    ”I am alone,” Cook stammers, “and please do not kill me!” He starts to sob, putting on his best show- but the death knight is clearly unconvinced.

    ***

    After waiting an appropriate amount of time, the party stands guard while Hkatha conducts a sending ritual. The tiefling sends, Cook: how is it going? Any luck?

    Cook’s response is immediate and chilling: Death knight is here. I am in the far side of the fortress. COME NOW!

    “Uh oh,” says Hkatha.

    ***

    The enclosure is wooden; once again, the lackluster quality of construction favors our heroes. They smash their way in quickly. Slaves on the inside stare at their arrival, but they don’t even slow down. A group of guards cries out, but Iggy and Hkatha destroy them in a coordinated pair of explosions.

    “To the fortress!” cries Heimall.

    Other Hand troops take note and start to intercept the party, but are hacked down by the heroes.

    “Who are you?” cries one of the slaves.

    ”We’re the Heroes of Fandelose!” replies Torinn. “And I am the Dragon!”

    ***

    Sir Unleafe sneers again and draws his axe. “Show your neck,” he commands Cook.

    ”Oi, I am afraid not,” the dwarf replies.

    The gig is up. He is alone, facing a death knight and his lackeys. The door behind him is shut, and guards crowd his retreat. Ahead (and some 50’ down) is a coliseum whose stands are crammed with hundreds of goblins, orcs, gnolls, kobolds, ogres and lizardfolk, and whose floor is littered with danger.

    Cook does the only thing he can: he flings himself forward and over the edge.

    He lands hard on the top wall of the stands of the coliseum above the mass of Hand soldiers, somersaults to give away some of his momentum and comes to his feet balanced on the wall in a single smooth motion. Then he turns and grins up at the death knight.

    Who steps off the edge and falls after him. Landing less gracefully, but nonetheless on the wall not far from Cook.

    “Eek!” cries the dwarf, and leaps further down- into the stands.

    ***

    Vann-La hurls her javelin, and it smashes into the chest of an oncoming hobgoblin. The snarling goblinoid warrior is knocked back and off his feet into a pool of blood, and then the magical javelin rips itself free and rockets back to her hand.

    “Forward!” cries Summer, ripping open the door to the fortress. The party storms in, surprising a half-asleep kobold guard. Heimall’s glaive rips his throat out.

    They storm the fortress, slaughtering enemies left and right. An alarm is raised, but- at least so far- the local Six-Fingered Hand troops doesn’t seem to be able to muster a coordinated response.

    “Ogres!” cries Summer, leaping forward and stabbing with her longspear. She and Heimall for a wall of long weapons, barring the lumbering brutes from a quick assault on the rest of the party, and then Shakgar and Vann-La close to the front. The ogres roar and swing their huge clubs, but by focusing their fire, our heroes swiftly slay them, then resume their march onward.

    After a brief but decisive battle against some kobold archers backed by gnolls, our heroes find a stairway up. They move up it, cutting through more opposition on the way, and then burst into an opulent balcony overlooking a huge arena.

    ***

    The crowd around Cook reacts to his presence in a predictable way, trying to cut him down or grab him. He tumbles away, leaping out of the middle of the seats and into the walkway between groups.

    His hands flip beneath his vest, then back up. Something glitters between each pair of his fingers for an instant. His hands twitch, and shuriken fly out into the crowd, sinking into eye after eye after eye. Over a half-dozen of the Hand troops fall. Screams echo.

    Cook glances up at the death knight, who tilts his head back and unleashes a shrieking call unlike anything the dwarf has ever heard before. A chill runs down his spine- as something answers. From the far side of the coliseum, where a path runs out, a pair of gates flies open and fire and smoke belch forth. An immolated horse rushes through with a terrifying, predacious-sounding neigh.

    That’s his mount, realizes Cook.

    More Hand spectators- troops, just off duty, Cook reminds himself- rush at him. He whips his dagger out and parries a wickedly serrated scimitar blow, kicking his goblin attacker and fouling up those immediately behind him.

    The death knight, he notes, is mounting up.

    ***

    “Is that a nightmare?” exclaims Iggy. “Holy hell, it is!”

    “Guys,” Summer says, nudging Vann-La’s shoulder. “Up there.”

    “Up...?” Following her ally’s gaze, the elf growls a curse in her throat. Giant skeletal bats are entering the area, coming (presumably) is response to the alarm.

    A few arrows come their way, but for the moment, they are largely unnoticed. And from their vantage point, they can see Cook- running for his life, and leaping out across open space to land on one of the platforms, suspended by chains, over the floor of the coliseum.

    “That must be Sharm the Terrible,” Heimall says, pointing at another balcony, where a kobold with two scimitars is preparing to pursue Cook.

    “There are a lot of bad guys here,” notes Summer.

    “Good,” replies Vann-La. “We won’t run out of targets.”

    Next Time: Sir Unleafe and Sharm the Terrible!
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    Cook runs and leaps for one of the large platforms suspended over the arena. He stretches out and lands on it, momentarily causing it to tilt alarmingly, but catches his balance. The slave already on it drops his crossbow and pinwheels his arms, but he, too, manages to stay on the platform.

    The dwarf looks down. Below- in the coliseum proper- the ground is littered with spikes, fires and other things that would be very bad to land on. Behind him are the death knight, his nightmare and dozens of troops. And behind them- on the balcony that Sir Unleafe had been on when Cook was ushered into his presence- the rest of the party bursts into view.

    “Oi!” hollers Cook. “Over here!” Waving frantically, he catches their attention- and then gasps in pain as a crossbow bolt hits him in the leg. To his surprise, the slave on the other platform is the one that shot him! “What are you doing?” he cries. “We are here to save you!”

    But more arrows from below are whizzing through the air, singing as they deflect from the platform. A few arc overhead; more miss completely, as the platform slowly swings out and over the coliseum.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the party begins to descend, with Iggy falling off the balcony and landing dazed, while Vann-La and Heimall climb. Shakgar simply leaps, not caring about the fall, and the others follow after the first wave. From the top, Hkatha hurls a fireball into the audience. It detonates with a tremendous boom and the smell of burnt flesh. Iggy follows this with one of his own, and panic rips through the Six-Fingered Hand troops.

    Sir Unleafe wheels his mount around and glares towards the party with burning eyes. “You there! Come over here to die!” he calls, his voice like an inferno.

    Vann-La retorts, “You don’t say that when the Imperial Marines are here to kick your ass!”

    The two charge each other.

    Hkatha, meanwhile, tumbles down from the top of the balcony, landing on his feet without harm below. Then he races towards the death knight.

    ***

    Sharm the Terrible snarls and stabs one of his attendants in rage. The kobold female gasps and dies, sliding from his wickedly curved knife. “These interlopers are spoiling my games!” he snaps. “I have had enough!”

    He begins to make his way towards the fight, drawing both of his scimitars in a single motion. This situation has made him even fouler tempered than he was before. Bad enough that Sir Unleafe is here, he thinks. He wanders these lands for Lord Arawn, keeping an eye on our operations throughout the region. But to be here, now, when we are attacked- and my troops are behaving disgracefully! I will have them decimated! He curls his lips back, showing his teeth in a snarl. If I survive, that is. Sir Unleafe is... not known for forgiving failure. Perhaps, if these invaders harm him enough, I can... eliminate him. Sharm the Terrible begins to drool at the thought. If he were gone, who would oversee this region for Arawn? Heshwat the Eviscerator is dead, and the other generals in the area are old, fat or complacent. Surely he would choose me. Sharm the Terrible has always been loyal. I have worked hard. I reduced Northshore, Brelana, Sebell and three other major cities. I have slaughtered thousands and enslaved thousands more. Surely he would choose me! And how would he know if I finished off his wounded lieutenant?

    He leaps forward into the fray, attacking one of the invaders- a large, formidable-looking dragonborn- from behind.

    ***

    Vann-La roars as she swings her maul into the death knight, crunching into his ribs beneath his guard. Sir Unleafe shouts, “I swear I shall destroy you!” and strikes back, landing a series of punishing blows against the elf with unerring accuracy and surrounds her with a cloud of shrieking souls.* She staggers, and he raises his axe to strike again- but she manages to land a disruptive strike first, bloodying him, before his axe descends and slices her along her own ribs, pulling her into a profane duel and bloodying her.

    Sir Unleafe leaps from the back of him mount and presses his advantage. The two continue to slash and pummel each other with mounting intensity while the rest of the party tries to deal with the other enemies all around, including the two skeletal bats that swoop in from the back and assault Hkatha and Heimall.

    ***

    Cook springs off the platform.

    It is a long way down.

    When he lands, he tucks and rolls, feeling a stab of pain in his right ankle. He grimaces, but as soon as he is back up he darts to the side wall of the coliseum, crouching down into the shadows.

    The arrival of his friends has precipitated a panic amongst the Hand troops. What a few shuriken and knives cannot do, the dramatic explosions caused by the wizards can, thinks the dwarf with a grim smile. It just takes something a little more visible to panic these monsters... and I prefer to strike from the shadows, unseen.

    Cook takes a moment to observe. For some strange reason, the stands empty into the base of the coliseum at the end farthest from the gates, requiring any fleeing spectators to run through the hazard-strewn floor before they can escape. A foolish design, muses Cook, if it were designed with the health and convenience of the Hand in mind. Yet... what if the slaves designed and built this to make it as inconvenient and unhealthy as possible? And why would the Hand do the work themselves, when they have so many slaves to do it for them?

    In fact...
    A slow grin spreads on Cook’s face. That might explain a lot of the layout of this area- the enclosure looks relatively easy to escape, but hard to reinforce. The fortress seemed to have inconvenient halls and passages within it, and none of the typical features that dwarven engineers would have put in to repel invaders. This whole area- this whole arrangement- the slaves have subverted it, to make it easy for them and hard for their oppressors!

    If he weren’t being sneaky, Cook would have let out a belly laugh. As it is, he keeps his mirth to himself and begins creeping towards the gate house.

    ***

    Torinn invokes a beacon of hope, and Sharm the Terrible reels back, weakened by Lester’s holy might, while our heroes’ flagging strength is boosted. Heimall uses a knight’s move to get the dragonborn into a flanking position, while uttering a commander’s strike that permits Vann-La to land another punishing blow on Sir Unleafe.

    Not far away from them, Unleafe’s nightmare mount charges forward and crashes into Iggy for an appalling amount of damage even as the skeletal bats slash at the wizards with their bony talons as they fly by. “This isn’t good!” Iggy exclaims, and dimension doors away. He casts a scorching burst, but the disorientation that his teleportation caused makes him miss.

    Hkatha is left to fend for himself. He ducks as one of the bats flies by, suffers a flaming hoof to the shoulder from the nightmare, which rears and prepares to crash down full upon him; but in the instant before it does so, the other bat snatches Hkatha and drags him up into the air- and out of the way. He groans, feeling blood soaking through his tunic and uniform. Its talons squeeze him, and his head swims for a moment from the constricting pressure on his lungs.

    Then the pressure relents. Hkatha gasps in a breath of air- and realizes that he is falling.

    With a bone-crunching crash, he lands not in the stands surrounding the coliseum, nor even on the coliseum floor. Instead, the bat’s aim is perfect, and the tiefling drops straight into one of the pits in the floor of the coliseum. He groans again and shakes his head, then looks up.

    He swears.

    And starts to climb.

    ***

    Another shuriken flies out and takes a goblin in the throat, and Cook pushes his way in the guard house. His throwing stars are everywhere; his left hand holds a dagger, with which he deflects the few blows that the confused, surprised and demoralized Hand troops can muster.

    Another few shuriken, another few stabs, and the gatehouse falls quiet.

    Quickly, Cook binds his wounds, and then he turns to the windlass that opens the gates at the bottom of the coliseum. Grinning again, he begins cranking it.

    ***

    Outside, the audience is in a stake of confusion and panic. Their leaders are under assault, their games have been interrupted and their coliseum is on fire.

    When the gates begin to creak open, they finally see a way out, and the milling crowd suddenly becomes a massive rush. Goblins and kobolds- the smaller of the Hand forces- are trampled. Gnolls and orcs, hobgoblins and lizardfolk, all join in the massive press towards the exit. Audience members are forced by the mass of bodies over the edge; they fall into the hazards in the floor of the coliseum below. Some die in the fall; some to the hazards that they fall upon. Others find themselves suddenly attacked by their slaves, some of whom were armed in order to fight in the games.

    “Slaves of Northshore, rise up!” yells Cook. “The time of your liberation has arrived!”

    ***

    Vann-La strikes again, gasping with the effort, and Sir Unleafe collapses to the ground in a smoking pile of soiled robes and bones.

    Sharm the Terrible gives a howl of combined rage and pleasure. He is out of the way, and I do not even need to lie about not having been involved! the kobold gloats, then spins into a kobold whirlwind, his scimitars slashing all around him. Torinn cries in pain, staggering back; then the nightmare, billowing smoke, charges in at him as well. He swings his spiked chain around him, clearing some space, and Heimall, Vann-La and he focus their attacks on the deadly kobold.

    Vann-La smashes Sharm the Terrible’s shoulder with her maul. “Take that!” she cries. In return, Sharm draws an X on Vann-La’s torso with her two scimitars, then double attacks Torinn, dropping him. Unfortunately for the Six-Fingered Hand, the dragonborn pops up again immediately, using a healing word to fortify himself.**

    “Damn it, go down!” swears Heimall, stabbing out again with his glaive. Sharm’s eyes widen as he recognizes Throat-Ripper.

    “You are the ones who slew Heshwat the Eviscerator!” the kobold exclaims.

    “That’s right,” replies Heimall, “and you’re next.”

    ***

    Finally pulling himself out of the pit, Hkatha invokes a flaming sphere and sends it down into the crowd. The ball of flame rolls through them, increasing the panic. Screams echo everywhere. It is total chaos.

    Arrows are still flying through the air, especially from a group of brownscale lizard folk, notes the wizard. The two skeletal bats are still swooping at the heroes- one has taken to harrying Iggy, the other to assaulting Cook. Hkatha winces as a prismatic burst explodes with blinding force near the center of the fight; then, he sees several arrows sink into Cook with seemingly impossible accuracy. The dwarf drops like a sack of gravel.

    With a gesture, Hkatha sends his flaming sphere towards the archer lizard folk, and he quickly begins to make his way across the arena floor towards his fallen companion.

    ***

    Sharm parries, dodges, whirls and slashes; cuts, ducks, feints and strikes.

    But there are so many of the foe...

    Heshwat, he thinks, as another blow to the face rattles his teeth and knocks several loose, now I understand why you had so much trouble with these people! He tries everything, tumbling back, hacking and slashing; but now he is on the retreat, as the invaders press him harder and harder towards the edge of the coliseum.

    “All bets are off, you scum!” cries Torinn, his spiked chain slashing against the kobold and the nightmare. Sharm is weakening, and he knows he can’t take much more of this unceasing assault. He tumbles back again and gets to his feet just in time to see the blue-skinned elf cow coming for him. He tries to raise a scimitar to parry, but it catches on the bench-

    Crunch!

    ***

    An arrow pounds Hkatha in the shoulder, and he spins around and almost loses his footing. There is blood on the floor of the coliseum, soaking the sand. With a gesture, the wizard sends his flaming sphere rolling into the midst of the archer formation again; he curls his lip as one of them catches fire, shrieking, and tries to flee. But he has nowhere to go; instead, he collapses, his screams slowly dying.

    Another hail of arrows lances out towards him, arcing over the crowd. He throws his hands up and gasps a quick incantation, and a barely-visible shield of force springs up, deflecting the incoming missiles.

    Hkatha continues to limp his way towards the archers- who are virtually the only organized resistance that remains- and grins as Torinn leaps on them from above, crashing on top of one of the brownscales like a meteor. He begins laying about himself with his spiked chain, and Hkatha keeps adding chaos with his flaming sphere.

    ***

    With Sharm the Terrible slain, our heroes surround the nightmare and start the grim process of slaying it, stabbing and smashing at it even as it whirls around, spilling demonic smoke everywhere. Flames spring up in its wake as it tries to break free of their assault, but Heimall calls for a white raven onslaught and the party keeps it penned between them. It screams in rage, a horrific noise full of hate, but there is no escape for it. Heimall uses Throat-Ripper and tears off its head. Spurting liquid fire, the beast keeps moving for another few moments, flailing blindly around at everything nearby, but then it finally collapses.

    There is no time to stop and catch their breath. Torinn and Hkatha are still fighting down below, finishing off the archers, and the others move to join them.

    But where is Cook?

    ***

    The slaves are rising. Using whatever weapons they can find- and there are many scattered about, after the slaughter that our heroes brought to town- they express to the Six-Fingered Hand exactly how much they appreciate the last five years of slavery and servitude.

    They were born free, citizens of an Empire that may or may not still exist. Then their freedom was taken from them, stolen by the man-eating humanoids that have terrified and lorded over them for years. When the Hand first came, these people- for the most part- were peasants, not warriors. They were not forced to fight. But now, although not forced, they fight for their lost freedom. They pick up whatever stick or stone is handy and attack the orcs near them, slit the throats of the kobolds, run through the lizard folk.

    Northshore’s time has come.

    ***

    The two skeletal bats wheel about and fly off into the distance. The roar of the crowd, the sounds of panic and fighting are everywhere.

    “Here!” cries Hkatha. “Torinn, Heimall, one of you- come help! I found Cook, and he’s dying!”

    “Gather around, quick!” orders Torinn. The party clusters around; and the dragonborn tilts his head back and utters a prayer to Lester.

    Wounds knit; Cook gives a startled cough, and his eyes fly open. He spits dirt and blood and groans. “Oi,” he says weakly, and drags himself to his feet. “Did we win?”

    “The death knight and the kobold are dead,” pronounces Heimall.

    “We got his horse, too,” adds Torinn.

    Next Time: Sigil Sequences!

    *Sir Unleafe swore his oath of enmity against Vann-La, allowing him to roll each of his attacks against her twice.

    **Blast, only in retrospect do I realize that he should have stayed down. He had regeneration going, but it doesn’t work once you’re at 0 hit points or below- a technicality that I missed. Oh well, I’m sure Heimall would have just inspiring worded him on his next turn anyhow.
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    Time to get to work.

    The party has now achieved one of their goals in Northshore- the defeat of the Six-Fingered Hand in the area. The destruction of one of Arawn’s death knight lieutenants is a bonus. They seal the deal, so to speak, by using a disenchant magic item ritual to break his black greataxe down into residuum, which they cheerfully collect for future use.

    But they have another, hidden agenda here.

    Northshore, before the coming of the Hand, was famous for its library. If the party wants to carry the fight to Arawn on the Silver Isle of Tirchond, they need to find a way there. From what General Argos knows, it is thousands of miles distant across the sea. Their only hope of crossing that vast gap in a reasonable amount of time is to teleport there; and to do that, they must find the coordinates- the sigil sequence of a teleport circle somewhere on the island.

    To that end, they hit the books.

    They find the book with startling speed.* It is old, in very poor shape, nearly falling apart. It is a hand-written copy of an ancient treatise on teleportation magic, penned almost two thousand years ago. It discusses teleportation theory in depth, but Iggy and Hkatha determine that most of the underlying theory in the book has since been discredited. It is ancient and out of date. In the days in which the book was penned, teleportation was apparently seen as a much higher-order sort of magic than in the modern day; and there are many references to things like “blind” teleportation, with no destination coordinates, which is patently impossible over long distances.

    Regardless, the book has the coordinates for 15 different teleportation circles in it; unfortunately, only eight of them still exist. Annotations beside the others in a second hand (not the original writer’s) indicate that the others are non-functional or destroyed.

    The eight remaining teleport circles have the following notes on their destinations:

    1. “This circle leads to Tirchond, specifically to the Terran Hold in the Undercollege of (something smudged and illegible) below the Shining City. The dwarves of the Terran Order have shown great distress concerning the planar flux of late and (more smudging) help in determining the origin of the (part of page is torn).”

    (“Excellent!” exclaims Hkatha. “This is just what we want!”)

    2. “This circle has been placed with heavy wards by Imperial mages, protecting it from the undue influence of the druids. It leads to the Magnificent Desert, which is infested by the cactus folk and is very dangerous, even without considering the obvious hazards of being in a land which has been Awakened.”

    3. (In a different writing style from most of the rest; clearly an addition after the original text.) “VERY DANGEROUS. Unwise to transition to these coordinates. Only one returned from foray; badly wounded and insane. Signs of acid. Other plane?”

    4. “This circle was placed on Aerisa by the Kree elves to expedite trade with (a large section is smudged) friendly spider (more smudging)”

    5. “Placed by the great elven druid Thaemeolon, this circle is near the top of a great mountain of unknown location. The view is incredible, and even seasoned mountaineers are amazed by the difficulty of any climbing attempts. Not even dragons can soar to the peak, so violent are the winds.”

    6. “In one of the odder (a few smudged words) is underwater, on a broken stone shelf. Though it is not certain exactly where this circle is, it is known to be very far to the north- the Sun is significantly (smudged bit)...mains.”

    7. “This circle leads to the Merchants’ Concourse in Bemvia City, a wonderful place for supplying oneself, but a 25 gp fee for using the circle applies.” In a different hand, a notation in the margins reads, “Erratic! Overgrown- fey zone?”

    8. (A smudged area obscures the beginning of the entry, though the coordinates can just be made out.) “...tion is advised. He will eat unwary travelers.” In another hand, a note has been written- “Old cloud castle- now ruled by djinni- eternal storm”

    “This is what we were really here for,” says Iggy. “Now what? We could teleport straight to Tirchond now...”

    “No,” opines Torinn, “we’re better off if we go back to Fandelose first. That way we can leave the book behind, in case we fail, and someone else can try again later.”

    Nobody can argue with the dragonborn’s logic, so the party sets out, leading a component of the liberated Northshorers. After five days of marching, they encounter the advance scouts of the Fandelosian force coming to aid them. After boasting about their victory to the commander, one Captain Varpos, they turn the once enslaved people over to him and pick up their own pace. Another few days, and they reach Fandelose, where they report in to Colonel Jaxe.

    He is most pleased with their success, as well as with the wisdom they displayed in coming back before launching their assault on Tirchond. The colonel recommends a place about a day out of town for the linked portal that they are going to create; that way, if someone gets the coordinates and tries to backtrack the party, they won’t emerge in the middle of the city. “And we’ll station a squadron of men there to guard it, just in case.”

    ***

    “Finally,” Shakgar says vehemently. “Shakgar is impatient and wants to fight!”

    “You aren’t the only one,” agrees Vann-La.

    The circle has been scriven. The party is gathered around it. The guards are present and on duty, keeping a nervous eye on things.

    Iggy and Hkatha perform the ritual, and the way opens. The circle flares with light, blazes with energy as the portal appears. Ligir draws his pistol. And the party steps through.

    ***

    They appear in a dark room, illuminated only by Iggy’s light cantrip. It stretches away ahead of them, and near the far end a catwalk stretches across the chamber, 15’ up. The two wavering, insubstantial forms on it don’t have a chance to react before Iggy shoots from the hip, blasting one of the ghostly figures immediately and following it up with a magic missile.

    A rattling sound behind them... Vann-La whirls around and gasps. A great collection of bones is raising a sharp appendage up to strike at the party. “Look out!” she cries, and strikes with amazing speed.

    Torinn turns undead, and both of the spectral figures on the catwalk writhe in the energy of his faith. To his surprise, though, the bone creature doesn’t react at all- it doesn’t even flinch. “That thing isn’t undead!” he shouts.

    Iggy glances at it. “It’s a bone golem!” he cries. Ignoring Vann-La, it rumbles forward. The Kree elf smashes it again, preventing it from moving further, but hisses in pain as its sharp bones stab her arm. Meanwhile, the two things on the catwalk...

    ...draw pistols...

    ...and start shooting at the party’s own gunslinger.

    Iggy screams as phantom bullets blast into him, weakening him. “Don’t let them hit you!” the wizard warns.

    Everyone else is busy, however; the bone golem, in the midst of the party, is laying about itself with bone spurs, tearing into them. Vann-La keeps it from moving further forward, while Heimall, Torinn and Cook work with her to crush it to pieces. But the two pistol wraiths remain focused on Iggy, staying distant and firing grave shots at him that suck away at his vitality.**

    “A little help!” he cries, casting a magic missile- but missing.

    “We’re kind of busy,” Heimall retorts, slamming Throat-Ripper into the bone golem with a viper strike.

    “I’m under serious fire here!” Ligir shouts back, as two more phantom bullets hit him.

    “Be there in a minute!”

    The wizard grimaces and casts a desperate lightning serpent, but the pistol wraith- now cackling evilly- dodges aside. A few sparks catch it, slowing it; but it keeps up a steady stream of fire at Ligir. In desperation, he dimension doors up onto the catwalk to make it harder for them to fire at him- but they just phase through it down to the ground and keep shooting at him. Iggy groans and collapses as two more bullets hit him.

    Torinn utters a healing word, getting the wizard back on his feet; but clearly, it won’t last long. We need to help him, the dragonborn thinks, and quickly, or else this is going to turn uglier than it already is!

    Unfortunately, the golem seems to have other ideas, shredding Vann-La, Cook and Heimall with its bone spurs over and over again. But then Cook slips in under its guard and, giving it a fool’s opportunity, tricks it into slamming itself! The golem hits with a perfect blow, and it shatters into thousands of pieces!***

    Suddenly free to turn on the pistol wraiths, the party unleashes a storm of violence. Heimall drags one of the wraiths away from Iggy with a skirmish ploy, and the rest of the party charges forward to engage the other at close range, with preventing it from shooting its gun with impunity. They flit back up through the catwalk, and Iggy, with a gulp, rushes off the catwalk and through an opening on the side that turns out to wind around, down and back into the room. “Hey!” he shouts. “This is how you get up on the catwalk!”

    Blam! Blam! More pistol shots ring out at him, and he ducks behind the corner for cover. Peeking out, he fires his pistol back- and finally hits one of the damned things! About time, he thinks, ducking back behind his cover.

    Armed with Iggy’s revelation, several of the heroes rush to the side passages- a matching one on the other side proves to also lead up onto the catwalk. Meanwhile, Cook stays below, throwing shuriken. The wraiths, back to back, keep firing, although their preferred target (maybe because he too has a gun?) is out of sight.

    He pops out long enough to hit them with a fireball, just before Torinn, Vann-La and Heimall rush in to bracket them. The two pistol wraiths try to drop down through the catwalk again, but the three heroes manage to reduce one of them to ectoplasmic goo as it flees. The other lands in front of Cook, who stabs it. Suddenly it is walking wounded.

    Vann-La leaps down at it. As it rises, the others dash down the side halls and rush towards it as well. It cackles, but clearly the tide of battle now favors our heroes.

    Another pistol report, and Iggy shoots it again. It staggers, shifts, and tries to shoot back, but its aim is off, and its grave shot misses him again.

    Then Vann-La hits it again, and it dissolves into ectoplasm.

    Silence, other than the gasping for breath of the party.

    “Wow,” says Iggy, massaging his wounds. “Now I know how the bad guys feel when I shoot them.”

    ***

    After a short rest to catch their collective breath and regain their wits, the party takes a closer look at the room.

    The far end holds a large door; the two side passages that lead up to the catwalk each lead away beyond it. They decide to start with the western hallway. Several doors lead out of it; two of them lead to rooms that have partially collapsed walls, allowing our heroes to peer into the rooms beyond. These prove to be ruined barracks, crowded with dwarf-sized bunks made of stone (which have been partially destroyed). The party explores them; they are adjoined by a mess hall, latrines and a kitchen. A search of the kitchen turns up a bag containing a pound of salt and a jar holding 2 cups of honey. Cook chortles gleefully and puts them in his kit. All the other food that was once in the place has spoiled, but the dwarf finds a few new pots and pans worth taking. “Oi, dwarves cooked here,” he declares upon inspecting the items.

    The barracks themselves are a destroyed mess. It is obvious that some sort of large, powerful creature tore through here at some point. Several dwarf bones- though no full skeletons- are in here. “What do you suppose happened here?” wonders Vann-La, but nobody has an answer at this point. The latrines are simple affairs, just holes in the ground. Cocking her head, the elf says, “There’s water down there.”

    “We dwarves try to put our privies above water, to carry away the waste,” Cook explains. “And this complex is clearly of dwarven make.”

    There are no other exits from the area, so the party returns to the hallway and investigates the final door in it. Opening it, they find a room that was obviously once used for battle practice and sparring. There are mats on the floor, a row of practice dummies set up to receive charges, and five thick poles bristling with metal poles and rods.

    Amongst them are a pair of strange-looking creatures that, at first glance, our heroes take to be some weird race of elves. With silvery-grey skin and strange hooked spurs on the backs of their hands, they are plainly not like any elves that our heroes have ever seen.

    Immediately, as our heroes open the door, the strange elves vanish.

    “What the hell?” exclaims Iggy. “What were those?”

    The party moves cautiously into the room, Vann-La’s acute senses searching for any sign of them. There is none- until they reappear, out of nowhere, and one of them does so right where she is standing.

    “AAARGH!!” they scream together, as they are blown towards opposite sides of the chamber by their fleeting coexistence.

    “What the hell?” asks Iggy again.

    The strange elf-like creatures attack.

    Next Time: In the Terran Undercollege!


    *Their Perception check to do so was off the frickin’ charts. Somewhere in the low 50s, iirc. Vann-La rolled very high, and everyone aided her.

    **2 hits, each of which did damage and sucked out a healing surge. Ow!

    ***Cook got a crit on it, and that was ugly for my poor bone golem. On the other hand, it was beautiful to see his first use of his new 13th level power work so well!
    Last edited by the Jester; Saturday, 19th December, 2009 at 06:13 PM.
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    ø Ignore Mathew_Freeman
    The party moves cautiously into the room, Vann-La’s acute senses searching for any sign of them. There is none- until they reappear, out of nowhere, and one of them does so right where she is standing.

    “AAARGH!!” they scream together, as they are blown apart by their fleeting coexistence.
    Am I reading that right? Did Vann-La just get killed?
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