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Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked



25 Kuthona, 4717

The Nessian Knot quickly regrouped on the roof of the watchtower and began making their way down one of the spiral stairwells to the interior of the fort. They only made it down one floor before they encountered resistance. Waiting for them in the large guard room at the bottom of the stairs was Captain Arthis Fidelis, the watchtower commander. With him were a dozen warriors clad in the tabard of the holy order of Saint Macarius, and behind them were two large clay statues carved to resemble knights of the order. They were animate and lumbered single-mindedly towards the intruders.

Dakota started things off by rapid-firing a trio of arrows into the breastplate of the commander. The holy warriors responded by crying out, "For Iomedae!" They then charged into the fray. Seeing the real problem, Kelvin ignored the charging soldiers, trusting his more martial-oriented allies to keep them off of him, and turned his attention towards the clay golems. He calmed his mind and focused on the floor beneath the nearest construct. Spreading his arms apart slowly, he watched as a pit began to yawn open beneath the brute. As he spoke the last word of his spell, the chasm reached its full size and the golem toppled into it.

"Save me!" Tardaesha cried as the warriors closed.
She had used her circlet to disguise herself as a nun of the order of Saint Cythia Celste, her hands apparently bound behind her.
"Stand aside, Sister!" one of the warriors shouted.
He grabbed her and pulled her roughly behind him and his comrades. Tardaesha smiled as she drew her sword from beneath her habit and began to lay into the reckless idiots from the back as her friends met them head on. As the battle raged on, Dorian split the combatants in half with a prayer that erected a raging wall of fire down the middle of the room, immolating several of the soldiers as it sprang into existence. Meanwhile, Lemmy met the captain head-on, his arm morphing into a kinetic blade of steel. The commander tried to deflect the blows of the massive blade, but Lemmy nmanaged to get around his defenses and shove the metal spike through the man's chest.

Raiju and Grumblejack moved to intercept the second golem, flaking it to prevent it from getting any closer to their bosses. The construct's massive arms swung like battering rams, and when one of them slammed into Grumblejack's belly, it burned as if he'd been dipped in acid. Still, the ogre and the oni were a force to be reckoned with, and under their combined assault, the golem was soon reduced to broken shards of crockery.

The holy warriors fought valiantly, but ultimately in vain. The Nessian Knot took them out one-by-one with brutal efficiency. As the last one fell, Lemmy went to stand over the pit the first golem had fallen into. It stood at the bottom, some thirty-feet below, clawing at the walls in a futile attempt to climb them. Lemmy focused and began hammering the creature with his kinetic blasts, slowly and deliberately, grinding it to dust in a matter of moments.

With the main defense of the watchtower defeated, the companions were able to make their way down to the ground floor with little trouble. Once there, they raised the gates and allowed their forces to begin flowing into the Vale. Kelvin ordered the vampire spawn to hunt down the remaining defenders of the tower, and a short time later he began to hear the screaming.


The horde of bugbears, duergar and vampire spawn marched into the Vale of Valtaerna under cover of darkness, but the battle at the watchtower had not gone entirely unnoticed by the defenders of Sanctum. The invading horde had advanced no more than a few hundred yards into the valley when they found their way blocked by a line of finely dressed and battle-ready Knights of the Alerion mounted on barded destriers. Their commander rode out to the fore of the knights and lowered his lance.
"Forth men of Iomedae!" he cried. "And fear no darkness!"
The knights roared their defiance, readied their lances and charged forward in a great V formation. The bugbears at the front of the horde hesitated and seemed ready to break before the wall of horse and steel.

Izevel the medusa stepped directly in front of the charging line of horsemen, and those gathered behind her gaped in awe. Her veil remained in place as she drew her bow taught and loosed a single black shaft. It struck the commander's mount directly beneath its breast bone, and the horse stumbled and fell. The captain leaped from the saddle at the last moment and landed nimbly on his feet...just as a volley of arrows from Timeon and Dakota made a pin cushion of him. The vanguard of the knights hesitated, and that's when a pair of explosive spells, one of ice and one of fire, detonated among them. Dorian and Kelvin nodded in satisfaction as they surveyed the aftermath. All of the dozen knights in the van lay dead, as did their mounts. Behind them, the line of soldiers broke in panic, and as they fled, the bugbear horde chased them down, snarling and howling at the prospect of bloodshed and slaughter.


As the companions reorganized their forces and continued their advance, a volley of arrows fell from the sky all around them, injuring Kelvin slightly as well as the Nessian war hound upon whose back he rode. From a rise in the distance a cluster of archers had seized the high ground. A flag went up with the signet of the archery command, and from there they began to coordinate arrow fire in great volleys. For a moment, the horde appeared on the verge of breaking apart beneath the withering assault, but Kelvin and Dorian once more ended the threat by sending a pair of fireballs to the hilltop, immolating everyone there.


Line by line, the bugbears crashed through the ranks of Talirean infantry. Mostly, the hearty yeomanry and the common soldiery were unprepared for the brutal ferocity of the shaggy northern monsters. Again and again the bugbears ripped into their enemies and taught them a lesson in butchery. Suddenly, however, the slaughter ceased. At the center of the Talirean lines the bugbears met their match. Sturdy dwarven soldiers hewed down the beasts with hammer and axe. They bellowed in old dwarven.
"Axes of the dwarves! The dwarves are upon you!"
Their numbers were few but their worth upon the battlefield was great. Pinning them all together was the great dwarven thane at their center.

Before the Ninth could even utter an order, the duergar warriors, led by Zargun Arzen, charged headlong at the dwarves. Timeon and Dakota reacted quickly, targeting the thane in the vanguard with their bows while Raiju and Lemmy blasted the line of nobles with twin vortices of arctic cold and razor-sharp stone.
"Race traitor!" the thane roared as he rushed at Lemmy, axe upraised.
"Ain't got nuthin' to do with race," Lemmy laughed. "It's all about who makes it worth my while! Fer example, take a gander at my latest gift!"
He stepped aside as the huge Nessian war hound stalked into view. The thane and three nobles behind him hesitated for a moment. It was a moment too long. The hound opened its jaws and spewed flame upon them, leaving nothing but the charred remains of the nobles.

A bearded female dwarf stepped out of the vanguard, a silver hammer in her hand.
"By Torag, Father Mountain Himself, I smite thee!" she cried.
A brilliant blast of pure white light exploded among the Knot and Timeon clawed at his eyes as he was struck blind.
"And by the power of the Lord of Lies, I smite thee back!" Dorian cried.
A bolt of black energy struck the priestess and she screamed and grabbed at her own eyes. As she reeled, Raiju dealt her a crushing blow with his greatsword. She staggered back...straight into Katarina's waiting blades.

Tardaesha stood at Lemmy's side and the two of them battled the great dwarven thane toe-to-toe, until at last the anti-paladin smote the king through the heart, cleaving his breast plate in two with the force of her blow. Their companions finished mopping up the remaining nobles, and then paused to take stock of the rest of the battlefield. The rank-and-file dwarven soldiers and the duergar had engaged in some of the most brutal slaughter seen in the battle thus far, and in the aftermath less than half of the dark dwarves still stood, but the center of the dwarven line had been broken.


Behind the dwarven center, vicious combatants confidently moved through the ranks of the invaders slaughtering anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way. They were led by one man, a bald-headed warrior who, with his bare hands, broke necks and sent his foes scattering. As the companions of the Nessian Knot looked on, he shattered the spine of a bugbear sub-chieftain. With every moment that passed, the monks took a deadly toll upon the horde.

This time it was the minions' turn. Lemmy and Dakota sent the Nessian war hounds forward, while Dorian commanded Artephius to loose his bombs. Knick-Knack and Dr. Know supported the others with their spells, while Izevel plied her bow to lethal effect, and Raiju leveled the field with cones of blistering cold. The monks were devastating in a stand-up, one-on-one fight, but against the combined might of the Nessian Knot, they were cut down like wheat beneath the scythe.


Inexorably, the horde continued their march across the first of the two bridges that forded the River Aiden. Sanctum had precious little in the way of siege engines, and those they possessed were scarcely in position before they were overrun and ripped to shreds by the attackers. Still, they did manage to get off a volley or two, and one of those bombardments struck directly in the midst of the Knot, sending the companions scrambling in all directions to avoid being crushed.

Soon the invaders approached the second and larger of the bridges, only to find the way barred by two glowing creatures, each as large and an ogre, encased in armor and wielding great tower shields. Golden wings sprouted from their backs.
"Shield archons," Dakota breathed. "I guess those rumors of angelic protectors were true."
"Angels, schmangels," Lemmy growled. "Bet they still bleed!"
He pointed his hand and stones flew in a violent blast towards the archons. One of them threw up his shield, but the force of the barrage battered it aside and punched a hole through the front of his armor.
"I like this dwarf!" Raiju laughed.
The oni charged forward, a great katana gripped in both hands. As he drew near the archons, Artephius hurled bombs before him, which exploded into bursts of acid and ice at the feet of the angels. Then Raiju was among them, swinging his blade in huge arcs, slicing through the mail of the celestials like hot butter. One of the warhounds came behind him and breathed hellfire on the archons, while Dakota sent a continuous volley of arrows into the mix. Finally, with one final fireball hurled by Kelvin, the angels fell, and the way forward was open.


The Vale of Valtaerna had been the home of celestials for many years, and during that time that population had served alongside and even rarely fallen in love with mortals. Therefore it was no surprise that there were more aasimar in Sanctum than probably all of the rest of Talingarde put together. From that cohort was drawn some of the most elite knights of Iomedae's orders, and they ranked among the Vale's finest defenders.

From up in the sky came a deafening screech. As the horde looked up, they beheld a half-dozen of those knights in full armor swooping down on griffons with coats the color of brightest dawn. They were headed straight for the vanguard of the Nessian Knot as the invaders began crossing the greater Saintsbridge.

Izevel took a knee as the air cavalry closed and placed a red-feathered shaft through the foreleg of the lead griffon. As the beast roared and reared, Dakota put three more arrows into its rider.
"I've always wanted to try this," Dorian chortled, rubbing his hands together.
He spoke a prayer and casts his hands upwards towards their assailants. Abruptly, four of the griffons broke rank and began circling randomly in confusion. One of them turned its head and sank its beak into its rider's thigh. In turn, the knight slammed the base of his lance into his mount's head. Two of the other befuddled griffons jabbered and babbled nonsensically as they drifted, while the last gnawed savagely at its own leg.

The remaining mounted knights charged down towards the companions, their steel-tipped lances held before them. The lead knight speared Raiju through the chest, his lance wreathed in holy fire. As the oni reeled backwards, the knight's griffon leaped upon him like a cat, sinking its hooked beak into his shoulder as it raked at his belly with its claws. Raiju went down in a whirlwind of feathers and blood. The melee upon the bridge became chaotic and increasingly lethal in record time. The knights and their mounts soared overhead, darting in for hit-an-run sorties. The Knot responded with swords, bows and magic, not to mention the not-inconsiderable contributions of the Nessian warhounds. The aasimar were fearless, and they never thought of giving ground nor relinquishing the bridge, even when their numbers began to dwindle as more of them fell. Soon it was over. The knights and their regal mounts all lay dead on the ground, or floated in the blood-tinged waters of the river. The way to Sanctum lay open and undefended

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Dakota’s memory

​ Dakota sat in silence, her head bowed in prayer, reflecting on how she'd gotten to this point. The singular memory that kept returning her thoughts was of her father on his deathbed...

She had been15 years old and sitting beside her father, just the two of them, as it had been all night long. She had been praying to Asmodeus through the night while holding her father’s hand. Dakota had been almost lulled to sleep listening to her father’s breathing, which had become more of a labored rattle. He had been stabbed the previous night, the target of an assassination attempt by the Eddarly family because they thought that his “product” did not live up to their expectations. He had not gone down without a fight though. He had left his attacker with a permanently disfigured face, but that hadn't saved him from being gut-stabbed and mortally wounded.

It was around midnight when her father abruptly sat up and began to speak softly, “Where is Kat?” he asked softly.
Dakota had been startled to hear his voice.
“She has gone to the bar to ease her stress. She couldn’t stand to sit here and watch you die. You know you are the center of her world.”
“ Of course. She was the baby and precious to me," Parallax Dannister whispered. "That is why I need to speak to her.”
He paused, trying his best to catch is breath.
“I need to tell her the truth," he continued after a moment.
“What are you talking about?" Dakota asked."The truth about what?”
“I did it,” he said, after coughing up more blood and then lying back to close his eyes once more.
“Did what?” Dakota whispered.
Her mind jumped to a hundred different possibilities. She had to know, but she couldn’t push her dying father as if he were one of her prisoners. She wanted...no... needed to know! She had been trained in the art of torture and could wring the truth from a stone, but this was different. She couldn’t poke and prod her own father as he lay on his death bed, his eyes closed so that he could slip into Asmodeus's eternal land of Nessus.
She bent down to give her father a slight kiss on his forehead and whispered, "Dad…”
His eyes opened, and Dakota said, “Tell me the truth.”
“When you were only two years old," he spoke hoarsely, "I found out something about Solunia, your mother....” Coughing again. “She betrayed the family and I couldn’t let that stand. You know I have always taught you children to put our family first so that we would be stronger as a whole. We all have skills that will help our family prosper if we act as one.”
He srtained to continue. Dakota held his hand and said, “Continue father”.
“Your sister Kat is not of my blood," he whispered. "However, lest you ever forget, she is still a Dannister and that is how I raised her. But your mother could not be forgiven. I had to end the blight that had infected our family. I killed your mother. I did it.”
Dakota sat there in silence, not believing what she was hearing.
He continued. “I became suspicious of your mother after Kat was born. I had her followed for weeks. I found out she had been seeing a thrice-damned worshipper of Iomedae who was tainted by celestial blood! She was sneaking off during the day to see this creature. I could not let this happen, so I poisoned her and told you children that it was sickness. I did it to protect the family and cleanse it of impurities." Choking on his own blood, he said finally, “Tell Kat the truth. I never could.”
It was the last thing he said and it had changed Dakota’s view of the world. She could never say anything to her sister. It would destroy Kat and it would tear the family apart. She would have to live with this knowledge alone. As her father before her, she knew that she would have to root out heretics wherever they hid, because they destroyed families and religions from within. She realized that knowledge was power and that some knowledge was meant to be kept for yourself.


Woah. Finally caught up after a busy period - what an awesome, full-on assault on the vale! Congratulations to your players on ruining Christmas :)

(Do the players run all the NPCs or do you, I don't know, describe action between rounds? My players now have two vampire spawn and many undead, so you understand my concern :) )

Happy evil holidays!


Where the story hour currently stands, the players run the NPC's. This becomes unwieldy very quickly, not to mention several of the PC's also have cohorts. As you will soon see, this situation resolves itself in a very interesting way


25 Kuthona, 4717 - 7 Abadius, 4718 - The Fury Of The Phoenix

The battlefield was littered with dead, and everywhere could be heard the cries of the dying. The battle had been savage, as the bugbears were brutes with no regard for life, and the priests and holy warriors were fanatics who would never retreat under any circumstances. The conflict between these two forces had been a brutal slaughter, but victory was finally in sight. As the Nessian Knot and their vanguard approached the far end of the greater bridge, however, a final group of defenders barred their way. This was no ordinary band of soldiers, but the priests of Iomedae themselves, backed by a company of holy warriors. They were of the Order of Saint Macarius, and they had been sent by the leader of their order, Lord-Abbot Earnan MacCathlain himself.

"Come now," Kelvin sighed, stepping forward. "Is their really need for more death? Will your throw your lives away for nothing?"
"Sacrifice is never in vain if it blooms from moral purpose," one of the priests called back. "We will give no quarter!"
Kelvin sighed again. "Very well."
He clenched his fist abruptly, and then thrust it forward. A ball of black fire went streaking into the midst of the defenders, and then exploded in a blast of vitriol. The holy warriors screamed as their armor dissolved along with flesh and bone beneath it. Within seconds all that remained of them were hissing heaps of goo. The four priests still stood, however, not a mark upon them.
"Our Lord-Abbott warned us of your foul magics," the head priest called. "We do not fear you!"
"Well then, what about me?" Dakota laughed as she knelt and fired her bow, Timeon only a half-second behind her. Their arrows struck one of the clerics, and he choked out a grunt of pain as he stumbled.
"Or me?" Lemmy bellowed. He swirled one finger in the air and a shaft of metal shards coalesced around it. This he sent forward, writhing like a serpent, to strike the injured priest as well as one of his comrades.
"Wait till they get a look at me!" Tardaesha cackled as she pulled a flask from her belt and turned it up. Immediately she began to grow until she stood at twice her original height. Then Dr. Know stepped up beside her and touched her arm. In a burst of light, the two of them vanished and then reappeared behind the priests.
Just as they arrived, Dorian commanded Artephius to release his bombs, and the golem lobbed a globe crackling with electricity into the center of the clerics. When it detonated, the wounded priest was blown back, and he did not rise again. It was only then that any of the clerics got the opportunity to go on the offensive. One of them called down a column of holy flame upon Lemmy, Roger and one of the war hounds, but it didn't really slow them down. Instead Dakota rapid-fired a volley of arrows and took down another of the defenders, while Lemmy blasted a third. The one who'd managed to get off his spell stood resolute, knowing that his fate was sealed. He closed his eyes, gripped his holy symbol and uttered one last prayer before the Nessian war hound tore out his throat.


As the last barrier to taking Sanctum was torn down, Kelvin ordered several of the Knot's more trusted underlings, along with the remaining vampire spawn, back to the watchtower to guard against any surprise visitors to the Vale. Then the remainder of the invading forces moved on to the town itself. Even as they approached, the snow began to fall in earnest and the sky darkened even further. The Vale of Valtaerna fully belonged to the Knot of Thorns

The bugbears and their allies wasted no time in sacking Sanctum and putting it to the torch. There were still some two-thousand survivors there when the invaders arrived. Those numbers began to fall rapidly. The Knot took up residence in the Reeve's manor, which escaped most of the mayhem. As they settled in, Shagoroth Night-Mane hauled the Reeve himself into the greatroom, sobbing and sniveling like a woman.
"Timon Lotte," Night-Mane snarled
"Oh great and terrible lords!" Lotte gibbered. "We surrender! The township of Sanctum and the Vale of Valtaerna are yours! I beg you, free the women and children! They are no threat to you. Spare them and with the spring they will spread the word of your great power and awesome victory to every corner of Talingarde! All will fear you!"
"Thank you for gifting us with something that we already own," Kelvin smiled scornfully. "And as for being feared, we already are by those with wisdom. Those without are all dead, or soon will be."
"Let me build a pyramid of skulls in the center of town, my lords," Hekkarth Head-Taker growled. He'd come in behind Night-Mane. "With the deep chill of winter, it will freeze into a solid block of blood and ice. When we leave and the Iomedaens retake this sewer pit, they will find our mark and know that it was the Head-Takers that did this!"
Timon Lotte blanched in abject terror and soiled himself.
"There will be time to build pyramids out of skulls, Hekkarth," Night-Mane replied calmly. "Before we sever the heads, perhaps we should learn what is inside them first. The Vale is not entirely ours. A light still burns on the Mountain of the Phoenix, and the Cathedral is still unconquered. I could begin torturing the survivors to see what they know."
"I like that idea," Dakota nodded, smiling.
"Yes, I think it best we find out all that we can about what yet awaits us within this treacherous place," Kelvin agreed. "Very well Shaggoth. Get to work."


Over the next two weeks, the Nessian Knot secured its hold on Sanctum, in no small part by terrorizing its surviving citizens. Tardaesha gathered several of the griffon corpses from the battlefield and used black necromancy to animate them as grotesque zombies. She took one as her personal mount, and gifted the others to the commanders of the bugbears and duergar. At the watchtower, a few late-season pilgrims came seeking the asylum of the blessed vale, only to find horror and death at the hands of the vampire spawn.

On one morning during that interval, Prince Zargon approached Kelvin with his duergar soldiers arrayed behind him.
"We are going home," the Prince declared, "and we will be taking our prisoners with us."
He referred to the few remaining dwarves that had survived the battle of Saint's Bridge.
"I understand," Kelvin nodded. "Your help was invaluable, and we will not forget our allies."
Zargon grunted and nodded in return.
"You are friends of the duergar," he said gruffly, "and you will always be welcome in Zhaazen-Kryr."
He gripped Kelvin's hand, then sat his cadaverous mount and led his men and their ill-fated prisoners from the vale.

Near the end of the second week, while the Dannisters were visiting the watchtower on inspection, a rag-tag band of survivors from Sanctum decided to make a break for it and escape the vale. They were led by a nobleman from Farholde called Lord Roderick, and consisted of a motley assortment of soldiers of the watch, elite archers, holy warriors, two acolytes of the Serene Order, a dwarven noble, a priest of Iomedae, and an unhorsed Knight of the Alerion. Their endeavor was doomed from the start. One of Kelvin's fireballs, tossed while the mob was still a hundred yards away, killed the soldiers, half the holy warriors and archers, the dwarf and the priest. A follow-up cone of razor-sharp ice shards from Raiju took out the remaining survivors except for Lord Roderick, the Alerion Knight, one acolyte and one holy warrior. The mopping-up was handled brutally and efficiently by the rest of the Knot.

While searching the bodies, Katarina came upon several documents among Lord Roderick's belongings. They authorized payment from a merchant in Ghastenhall of 12,000 gold coins to Lord Roderick of Farholde.
"We spent the better part of a year in that armpit of a town," Kat said when she showed the writs to her family. "There is no such nobleman there."
"It seems we may have killed a kindred spirit!" Dakota laughed.
"Yes," Dorian agreed as he perused the papers. "Likely he was some swindler who came here to bilk the trusting Iomedaens out of their money."
"Looks like he succeeded," Tardaesha said. "The thing is, that Goldquarter merchant doesn't know he was a charlatan, and thanks to my little bauble," she tapped the iron circlet on her brow, "Lord Roderick can still claim his ill-gotten booty."
Dakota smiled broadly and kissed her twin affectionately on the lips.
"That's why I keep you around," she laughed.


"The torture's gone well," Nightmane reported at the end of two weeks. "Oh, how talkative all of my new friends have been. First, you missed somebody. The Head of the Order of Macarius wasn't in the battle...Earnan MacCathlain. No idea where he is but I bet he's up to no good. Some of the people feel like he's betrayed them, but most believe he must have a plan to defeat us and liberate the vale. No one seems to know what that plan is exactly. Second, there is an actual phoenix on top of that mountain. It's as big as a house, it breathes fire and it's been there for as long as anyone can remember. Good luck with that! Third, everyone agrees there are angels in the Garden of Serenity. How many, they ain't sure, but angels. And if you make it past the labyrinth, there are probably more angels in the Cathedral. There is something powerful in this valley they believe will defeat you. It's name is Ara Mathra. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe that's the phoenix's name?"

The Knot digested this information, and ultimately came to the unanimous conclusion that the phoenix would have to be dealt with first. Kelvin was able to research some information about such creatures in the town's library, and learned that, once yearly, they were able to resurrect themselves immediately unless their bodies were completely destroyed, or unless they were slain on desecrated ground. The following morning, it was time to go to war once again...


Knick-Knack soared invisibly upon the thermals wafting up from the lake far below, drifting ever closer towards the peak of the great mountain. His mistress had bade him to scout the spire and report back to her, but the higher he went, the more nervous the little cacodaemon became. There was power here, and it frightened him. When he finally cleared the cloud layer that ringed the peak, the first thing he saw was a brilliant white temple carved from purest marble. The beauty of it sickened him. From the structure, marble stairs wound further up the mountainside to a ring of standing stones which surrounded an immense bonfire. And there, atop the highest point of the mountain, was a nest of gargantuan proportions. Perched inside the nest was a bird of flames, and just the sight of it terrified Knick-Knack. He vanished in a puff of brimstone.


"The bonfire first," Kelvin decided. "We were told to extinguish three eternal flames. That must be one of them."
The others agreed, and Dorian cast a prayer over himself, Katarina, Roger and Lemmy which allowed them to walk on air as if it were solid ground. Tardaesha mounted one of her zombie griffons, while Kelvin cast his own personal flight spell upon himself. Raiju and Grumblejack followed, flying under their own power.

The Mountain of the Phoenix rose over seven-hundred feet above Lake Parynthus, and the Nessian Knot managed to ascend most of that distance before disaster struck. With no warning whatsoever, the magic that held Kat, Dakota and Dorian aloft simply vanished and they began to plummet. Dakota's armor was enchanted with flight magic, though she was loathe to use it as it was only of limited duration. She had no choice. She touched an engraving of a wing that decorated her chest piece and her fall immediately arrested. Whirling in mid-air, she saw Dorian still flailing about as he streaked past her. She dove for her brother, and fortunately for him, the air walk dweomer had not failed entirely. He still fell, but at a relatively slow speed. Dakota was able to catch up with him and grab his hand as she hauled him back up with her.

The-Flame-That-Sings watched all of this transpire from the portico of the Temple of the Phoenix. She had seen the slaughter in the Vale below and had ached to fly to the aid of the people there. As Sanctum burned, her oath to Iomedae, made to atone for the past sins of her ancestors, had stayed her hand. But now the butchers had come to her mountain, and she would greet them with fire, and her song would become a battle-cry.

As Dakota pulled Dorian towards the others, a column of white fire suddenly erupted out the heavens, engulfing both of them. Katarina, who'd managed to fish a flying elixir from her belt pouch before plunging to her death, narrowly avoided the flame strike, as she was still some distance below her siblings. Fortunately for Dak and Dorian, Kelvin had cast protective spells upon them prior to ascending that warded them against fire. Yet the conflagration that struck them was not just fire. It was also pure holy power, and their flesh still burned. Kelvin altered his own flight path and swept down towards the pair. When he reached them, he grabbed Dakota's free hand and opened a dimensional door, whisking them to the landing of the temple, where he'd spied their assailant. She was a darkly beautiful woman with alabaster skin and white hair. Wings of fire sprouted from her back and she gripped a blazing scimitar in one hand.

Dakota gasped as she tried to catch her breath and assess her situation. She was wounded, though not mortally. Kelvin had saved them, but as usual, he'd put them into possibly even graver danger. She saw the flaming woman striding towards her and brought up her bow.
"Death to those who have wronged me!" Dakota shouted, invoking the power of the oathbow.
She let fly with her arrow and the shaft physically rocked The-Flame-That-Sings back on her heels. She grimaced in pain, her blood flowing like liquid fire, and then rushed towards. Dakota. The archer tried to knock another arrow, but a swift strike from the fallen angel's flaming sword disarmed her of her bow entirely. From behind her, Kelvin spoke a spell and the bow lifted from the ground and back into Dakota's hand. She fired again.
"Your sharp sticks will not save you!" The-Flame-That-Sings hissed as she raised her sword again.
"No," Grumblejack rumbled from where he'd landed behind the woman, "but I will!"
The fiendish ogre swung his greatsword in a wide arc across the her spine. She screamed and tried to turn to face him. That's when Dakota rapid-fired four more arrows.
"Suchandra," whispered The-Flame-That-Sings with her dying breath, "I have failed you. They are coming."


The mountain top began to shake violently and a cry arose from the summit like the voice of a thousand eagles. The bonfire that burned above the temple suddenly flared into a mighty conflagration. Suddenly, the sound of great wings beating the air like thunder came to the companions of the Nessian Knot, and from out of the mists above emerged the phoenix Suchandra, The-Fire-That-Never-Dies. He was wondrous and terrible to behold. As he swooped towards those who had dared to defile his abode and threaten his sacred charge, he hurled meteors of fire before him. The companions scattered before the bombardment, but before Tardaesha could remount her zombified griffon, the creature exploded in flames. Before any of the companions could escape the temple's landing, a twenty-foot high wall of fire sprang up along it, catching Lemmy in the conflagration. Once more the Ninth owed Kelvin their lives for his forethought in warding them against fire. One-by-one they dove through the wall and took to the air again, all except for Raiju. The oni had seen enough. The Ninth Knot had offered him a good deal, and had treated him well, but it wasn't worth his life. He cloaked himself in invisibility and dove towards the foot of the mountain far below.

Kelvin didn't notice the departure of his cohort. He was too intent on the phoenix. He knew the creature was capable of strong magic, and when he saw it preparing to unleash another spell, he threw one of his own, attempting to disrupt its concentration. The ball of cold fire that he hurled simply dissipated as it struck the great bird. Kelvin held his breath, waiting for the next devastating attack. When Suchandra cast his spell, however, nothing seemed to happen. The companions looked around at one another, not sure what had transpired. Kelvin's face paled, however. He knew exactly what the phoenix had done. He'd used his magic to dispel Kelvin's own. Their fire ward was gone...


7 Abadius, 4718 - 8 Abadius, 4718 - The Garden of Serenity

"We need to fall back!" Kelvin cried.
He watched as Lemmy began plummeting towards the ground far below, his fly spell removed by the magic of the phoenix. The great bird let loose with a deafening shriek as it dove after the evil little dwarf.
"You'll hear no disputes from me," Tardaesha said.
Dakota nodded beside her twin.
"Nor me," Dorian agreed.
"The others will have to fend for themselves," Kelvin said soberly.
He gripped the hands of his siblings and cast his spell. The four of them vanished, teleporting back to Sanctum.

Roger shook his head in disgust as the Dannisters disappeared. Typical, but he wasn't about to let Lemmy die. He dove after the phoenix, calling upon his meager magic to momentarily give him a burst of speed. As he closed the distance, the flames that shrouded the creature began to sear his flesh, but he didn't slow his charge.
"By the blood of the Deceiver, I smite thee!" Roger cried.
His blade bit deep into Suchandra's flesh, and the phoenix shrieked again, wheeling in midair on his new assailant. Before he could bring his talons and beak to bear, Roger struck again, summoning all of his strength before the heat suffocated him. He drove his sword into Suchandra's great breast.

Lemmy fell away from the phoenix, his clothes smoldering. He saw his friend fighting for his life, and it caused his shriveled heart to swell with pride. Before he was out of range, he thrust out one hand and sent a blast of razor-sharp metal back up at the bird. The effort exhausted him almost to the point of unconsciousness. Then he did it again, and all went black...

High above, Katarina watched the life and death battle below. She was disappointed with her siblings, but not terribly surprised. As well hidden as she'd been among the misty clouds surrounding the mountain peak, they would not have been able to see her to take her with them. Plus Kelvin knew that, with her stealth, she would be the most capable of them to make her own escape. Still, it stung a little. She shrugged. Her father had always told her not to rely overly upon others. She would have to be her own savior...and perhaps that of Lemmy and Roger as well. She turned her head downwards and allowed herself to fall, rapidly picking up speed. The phoenix never saw her coming as she landed on his back and jammed her daggers into his spine at the base of his skull. He roared and turned to try and rip Kat from his shoulders as he barrel-rolled. Kat clung to the hilts of her blades with all her strength, then managed to pull one free and plunge into Suchandra's throat. The mighty phoenix shrieked one last time, and then crumbled to ash.


Grumblejack swooped down and snatched Lemmy's limp form in mid-air, then he, Katarina and Roger began flying back towards Sanctum. The ogre glanced behind to see if the others were keeping up, and that's when he saw the fiery, winged shape rising from the valley below.
"We got trouble," he growled.
"Not unexpected," Kat sighed. "Kelvin warned us this would happen."
"Then let's take the fight to him this time!" Roger bellowed.

The trio whirled in mid flight and arrowed back towards the phoenix. Suchandra flared his wings back as they drew close, beating the air with scorching flames. Grumblejack was buffeted back by the force of the blast, and he lost his grip on Lemmy. Helpless, he watched the dwarf plunge into the lake below. Roger shot past the ogre, his sword gripped in both hands as he called upon the power of Asmodeus once more. Suchandra tried to backwing away, wary of the anti-paladin's might, but he was unable to gain momentum. Roger struck a telling blow, and then Grumblejack joined him, the two of them flanking the phoenix and raining down attacks from both sides. Katarina darted deftly in and out of the fray, her daggers finding the most vulnerable spots in Suchandra's defenses. He tried to bring his considerable magic to bear on his assailants, but the assault was too furious. He could not concentrate. Finally, Grumblejack severed one of his great wings completely and the mighty phoenix spun towards the lake, his body turning to ash for the final time.
"Now," Roger breathed heavily from his exertions, "let's go find Lemmy."


While Grumblejack fished Lemmy out of the lake, Roger and Katarina flew back to the temple atop the mountain. The glistening white marble structure was covered in breathtaking bas relief showing the deeds of angels and phoenixes. An inscription above the lintel read: "Praised be Suchandra, praised be the First."
Inside was a single large chamber, and in the center of the room was a glowing crystal sphere suspended in a pedestal of marble. Thinking better of disturbing the obviously magical artifact without their resident wizard in attendance, the pair crossed quickly to a small door on the far side of the temple.

The door gave onto the outside once more, and a flight of small, narrow stairs that ascended up the side of the mountain. Following the risers, Kat and Roger soon found themselves at a great circle of white marble surrounded by eight standing stones. In the center burned a great roaring fire that produced no smoke but its great light brightened the entire top of the mountain.
"Do you suppose this is one of Guardian Flames we heard about?" Kat asked Roger.
"I'd say it fits the bill," the big half-orc shrugged.
"I've seen bigger," Kat snorted. "Let's see if we can douse all this cheery light."
Though no spellcaster herself, Kat did know a few minor cantrips taught to her by her older brother. She cast a simple one meant to drench campfires, causing a brief deluge of water to appear over the bonfire. An instant later, a massive explosion of flames engulfed the entire clearing, including Kat and Roger.


When Kelvin and the others arrived, they found Kat, completely unscathed due to her "cat-like" reflexes, kneeling over the unconscious form of Roger, forcing a healing elixir down his throat.
"I'll take over," Dorian said, relieving his sister.
"This is one of the three Guardian Flames," Kelvin said, as he walked slowly around the great bonfire. "You should have known better than to tamper with it, Katarina."
Kat frowned. She hated it when he used her full name like he was her father. It was condescending. She bit her tongue to prevent some sharp retort about dealing with the phoenix without his help.
"The only way to extinguish this would be to desecrate this place," Kelvin continued.
"I can do that," Dorian replied.
He stood up as Dakota helped the newly-revived Roger to his feet.
"Just give me a moment."
He began a slow, chanting prayer, circling the clearing repeatedly while presenting his unholy symbol. Finally, with a burst of black smoke and brimstone, the great fire snuffed out.


With Sanctum and the Vale secured, there was nothing left but for the Ninth Knot to make their way to the Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest, which lay beyond the maze-like Gardens of Serenity. The gardens lay several miles from Sanctum, and the companions traveled on foot until the Aiden River forced them to take to the air lest they be forced to travel by boat, which Lemmy would not hear of. As they approached the gardens, a broad stone dock jutted out into the river, frequent posts positioned around it for tethering river craft. Standing on the dock were six figures clad in gleaming armor from head to toe. They each gripped flaming blades, and metallic wings sprouted from their backs.

"Halt and come no further," called one of the knights. "The Gardens are sealed, and none may approach."
"Perhaps you haven't been kept up to date on recent events," Tardaesha called back, "but the Vale of Valtaerna is under new management, and the rules have changed!"
Before the celestial archons could respond, a barrage of arrows and fireballs fell upon them, followed by a deafening war cry as the Knot charged towards them. The archons took to the air and braced for the assault, but they were quickly overwhelmed. The sheer ferocity and brute strength of the Nessians and their minions wreaked havoc. Not a one of them managed to land a telling blow before they fell, one after the other.


Between the dock and the gardens stood a great wooden feast hall. It was a place that should have held a raucous celebration, but it sat empty and cold, its occupants all gone to war or dead defending the Vale at Saintsbridge. There was a large fire pit in the center of the chamber, and great tables and benches were arranged all around. Only one defender still remained, and she lurked deep in the shadows as the butchers entered her domain.

No sooner had the Ninth Knot entered the great hall than a wall of shimmering force appeared in their midst, splitting the group in half and separating them.
"Child's play," Kelvin sneered as he pointed one finger at the wall and sent a thin green beam into it.
The barrier disintegrated into a thousand flickering shards.
"You are clever, infidel," a low, growling voice emerged from the shadows, "but your wit will not save you."
The voice belonged to a female individual, but she was not human. She was lion-headed with golden fur, sharp teeth, and long cat-like claws on her hands and feet. She gestured with one hand and a second wall appeared just as Tardaesha began charging towards her.
"Oh I think I'll be alright," Kelvin chuckled.
He wove another spell and instantly transported himself, Raiju and Dakota directly behind the leonal. Raiju lifted his blade above her, but then she threw back her head and let out a bone-rattling roar filled with holy power. Tardaesha, Katarina and Lemmy each found themselves instantly struck blind, while Raiju and Knick-Knack were literally paralyzed with fear.

Tardaesha was still reeling from the leonal's roar, but she managed to calm herself and listen to what was going on around her. She could hear the sounds of her friends shouting and groaning, but beneath all of that there was a low rumble...almost a purring sound. She was instantly in motion, drawing and slashing in a single move with her blade. She was rewarded with a solid impact and a feline yowl of agony. From the other side of the great hall, Dakota watched her sister with pride. As the accursed celestial leaped away from Tardaesha, Dak put a pair of arrows into her. The leonal jumped ten feet into the air and landed much closer to Dakota. Dak fired three more times, but that did not stop the creature's charge. Suddenly, a fireball exploded in the midst of the hall, engulfing the leonal. Dak turned and grinned at Kelvin, who gave her a thumbs-up. Both their smiles faded a moment later, however, when the enraged celestial emerged from the flames and roared again. This time everyone in the hall was struck blind from the blast, and both of Kelvin's ear drums ruptured.

Dakota kept firing blindly, hoping some of the shafts struck home. She heard and felt the heat from another fireball, but she didn't know if Kelvin's aim was any better than her own. Finally, she felt the floor beneath her feet begin to quake and shimmy, and then there was the sound of falling debris, followed by a howl of pain and then silence. A few moments later, Dak's vision began to clear. She blinked tears out of her eyes and struggled to get her bearings. The leonal lay several feet away, buried in a mound of rocks, unmoving. Beyond stood Lemmy, rubbing at his own eyes.
"Don't need my damned eyes, long as they's walking on the ground," the dwarf growled.
"Looks like this kitty done used up the last of her nine lives."



Heavy stuff!
We're into the last five days of the ritual now. The big beasts go down quickly. The Hounds of Tindalos are kicking severe butt though! Three PCs in the negative in the first two rounds, when we stopped for the night. Yikes!


The hounds were a fun battle. In real game time we are over halfway thru Book 4, and revelations are coming fast and heavy. By the end of Book 3, however, our " heroes" will undergo some very interesting developments

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