Sagiro's Story Hour Returns (new thread started on 5/18/08)

Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
If you want the following story (which picks up the campaign in the middle) to make the most sense, I suggest you use StevenAC's fantastic PDF version. He has produced a high-quality PDF that chronicles the entire history of Abernathy's Company, from their humble first-level beginnings to their most recent high-level adventures.


Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 136

Sunday, July 14 - Dranko spends the rest of the day plying his underworld contacts in Tal Hae, hoping to find information about or contacts within the city of Kallor. Near the end of the day he hits the jackpot; an old rogue named Stockard meets him over a table in a seedy tavern. Stockard is a close friend of Keertine Smith, the party’s primary contact within the guild of the Undermen. And Stockard himself has a friend who operates solo out of Kallor. There is no Thieves’ Guild in the City of Twilight; the Church of Ell would not tolerate it. But a few men of the streets still operate there, and one of the best is a man named Ruland who typically works out of a tavern called the Tallowhouse. "Tell him Stockard sent you, and he’ll be able to help you out," Stockard says to Dranko.

Grey Wolf arranges with Morningstar to cast sending spells to his two younger siblings; if he’s really going to die in less than two weeks, he wants to see them one last time. Am home at Greenhouse in Tal Hae. Will be leaving soon. Would love to see you. Need to see you. Ivellios.

Morningstar does not hear back from his brother Garreth, but does get a reply from his sister Jaina: "I can be there in a week; is everything okay? Ivellios sounds worried. I’m on a job that I shouldn’t leave, but I can if "

Morningstar sends one more sending to Jaina: "Please come." The reply: "Ok. Tell Ivellios I’ll do what I can to get there."

Aravis, Dranko and Kay Teleport to the clearing outside the walls of Kallor. They approach the city gate with Aravis posing as "Lord Turlus," and with Dranko and Kay posing as his bodyguard. The sun is shining high in the sky above the city, and there is no sign of the "eternal twilight" under which the city always rests. At the long, enclosed gatehouse, the guards (astonished by the sight of Aravis’ eyes and the metal tracings on his skin) demand that all weapons be peace-bonded while inside the city walls.

When the three of them emerge from the inner doors of the gatehouse, it is twilight. The sun is visible in the sky, a muted gray disc casting a faint light into the city. They ask for directions to the Tallowhouse, and head that way. Once out of sight of the guards, Kay starts tampering with the peace-bonding on her war-hammer, in case she needs to use it in a hurry.

The citizens on the streets of Kallor seem less talkative, less cheerful than they did the last time the party was there (about two years earlier). People are walking quickly with their heads down, and seem ill at ease. Aravis feels it, too – an unnatural sense of foreboding or worry with no obvious cause. Dranko and Kay feel nothing.

At the Tallowhouse, Dranko goes in and asks for Ruland, and is pointed to a tall man drinking at the back of the tavern. He walks over. "You Ruland?" he asks.

"Maybe."

"Stockard sent me."

"Have a seat."

From his conversation with Ruland, Dranko gets the latest local gossip. The major news is the recent gruesome murder of a local wizard named Alstott. Alstott used to be an advisor to the city government, but retired many years ago. He has always been well-liked by the populace, and in his retirement years he spend much of his time making small charms for nobles and delighting children with cantrips. A couple of weeks ago, Alstott’s body was found on the street right outside of his home. It was horribly blackened, but from what Ruland could gather, not burned. The house was searched, evidence was gathered, and all of it has been locked up in the constabulary on orders of the Church. Ruland promises to do what he can to learn more about what’s going on, and Dranko departs.

On the way back, Kay pokes her head into other taverns, until she spots what she’s looking for. There’s a large man with one leg sitting at a table, a crutch leaning up against the wall. She goes in, introduces herself to the man (named Sam) as "Elhen," and strikes up a conversation about what’s going on in town. Sam also knows about the murder of Alstott, though not anything more than did Ruland. Much to Kay’s satisfaction, Sam mentions that there are many reports that the orcs in the region have all fled back into the mountains, withdrawing from both Hae Kalkas and Sentinel. Some troops have returned home, while others have been sent directly to the Balani Peninsula to fight the Delfirians. But despite this good news, which should be boosting locale morale, everyone seems in a funk. Interestingly, the city-wide malaise predates the death of Alstott by a good month or two.

Before they leave Kallor, the three of them rent rooms in advance for a whole week, at an expensive inn called the Moonspell. Then they teleport back to the Greenhouse.

Morningstar uses another sending spell to contact Vera, an Illuminated Sisters member who serves (discreetly) on the Rhiavonne’s high council in Kallor. Eventually she arranges an in-person meeting for the following afternoon, once she realizes that Vera is not herself a Dreamwalker. Morningstar warns Vera that she is persona-non-grata with the mother church these days, that their meeting should be kept secret, and that Morningstar herself might be invisible, in gaseous form, or both.

Kibi and Grey Wolf spend the hours closed in their rooms, busily transcribing spells from some of their captured spellbooks. Kibi is trying to ink the spell of confusion which itself is a confusing and daunting task. Ernie brings them food every so often, keeping up their strength while they study.

Monday, July 15 - The next morning there is a knock on the door. The man is given the standard "Farazil Light Test" before he leaves his message: that Makel is going to be leaving the next morning at sunrise, and that he’d like the party to be there for his send-off.

At two o’clock, Aravis (with Dranko and Morningstar) are all made invisible before teleporting back to their near-Kallor arrival spot. A few minutes later the diminutive Vera stumbles into the clearing. "Morningstar? Are you there?"

Vera confirms much of what the party has already learned about what’s going on in Kallor. While she herself doesn’t feel the uneasiness as much as some, High Priestess Rhiavonne feels it most acutely. She does have some additional tidbits that the party has not learned. For one, the body of Alstott, as well as the evidence taken from his home, are being held in the constabulary. This was on the orders of Stersa, one of Rhiavonne’s inner circle. Stersa had found evidence among Alstott’s possessions that he had been planning an assault on the Church of Ell itself! Vera doesn’t think that the Black Circle has infiltrated the Ellish temple, but she promises to keep alert and report anything interesting or suspicious back to Morningstar.

That evening there is another knock at the door, and Eddings lets an old white-haired man into the Greenhouse. He’s well-weathered and liberally scarred, and introduces himself as Sutton, a retired sailor who heard from Makel that the occupants of the Greenhouse were looking to hire a navigator for their ship. He is friendly, garrulous, willing to cross verbal swords with Dranko, and though astonished by things like Aravis’ eyes, Kibi’s familiar, and the odd monster bits in the trophy case, he takes it all in stride. He says that although Makel withheld details, he fully prepared Sutton for some strange things. Sutton has been comfortable retired for a few years, since he sold his ship the Speeding Scallop, but the sea has been calling him, and he’s been looking for a unique opportunity to get back in the water. The party (possibly excepting Dranko) loves him and his attitude, and agrees to hire him on the spot. He says he’ll be waiting at home for when they need him.

Tuesday, July 16- At sunrise the party heads down to the Temple of Brechen, perched on the edge of the harbor. There is a small crowd of priests and priestesses gathered, as Makel’s ship Harbinger is being readied for a long voyage. Makel sees them and waves them over to the edge of the water and meets them there.

"I’m glad you came," he says. "I’d hate to have missed you before I go."

Ernie has brought him – of all things – some fish to eat on his journey. "I know you’ll probably be sick of it," he says, "but this is better cooked than what you’ll have on your trip."

Makel’s expression betrays many conflicting emotions: sorrow and happiness, excitement and fear. He still doesn’t know where his voyage will end. In a choking voice he thanks the party for everything they’ve done for him; for rescuing him from the bottle, for giving him a purpose in life, and for bringing him back from the dead, which will allow him to pursue this mission for Brechen.

"And… I don’t know this for certain, but… I don’t… I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again."

"Oh, c’mon, sure you will," says Dranko encouragingly. But an uncomfortable silence hangs in the air before Makel speaks again.

"If I don’t leave now, I’m liable to start crying in front of all these people. Take care of yourselves."

And he walks back up the gangplank and onto the deck of the Harbinger. At once a sweet wind picks up and blows around the harbor. It fills the ship’s sails, and sweeps Makel away toward the horizon and out of sight.

A few hours later, when most of the group is back in the Greenhouse, Skorg comes in the door. He’s been out visiting various taverns and getting a feel for the city, and heard an interesting bit of news. It seems that the city of Calnis, which had been practically encased in crystal for many months (and presumably taken over by an Eye of Moirel inhabiting the body of a gnoll), has become open again. The crystal has vanished, and forces are being sent in to investigate, and see what is left of the place.

The party’s first assumption is that this is directly due to the death of Restimar and the general withdrawal of humanoid forces in recent weeks. The other explanation, of course, is that someone managed to enter the city and defeat the Eye-gnoll. There is no further information to advance either of these possibilities.

…to be continued…
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Hooray!

I'm ready for more Avengers-like action!!! Titantic Tales of Terrible Trials Against Tumultuous Terrors!!!
 

Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
Grim said:


Ah... I'm hoping for more stories... these are soooo good.

...

One question:

How do you keep track of what happened in a given session? Do you keep notes? or write it from memory? or what?

Thanks,
Grim

The answer to your second question is: I jot down little notes in the margins of my "run sheet" as things happen, to help jog my memory later when I write the summary. It also helps that one of my players is also my fiancee, and she reads them over to catch things I've forgotten. She has a great memory for details!

As for ending the story soon... no worries about that! One particular arc may be wrapping up in the near future, but there are plenty of other threads still dangling. In addition to other on-going plans of the primary enemy, there's also:

* The Eyes of Moirel/Het Branoi/"Traveling Nowhere" plot
* The party's strong desire to return to Kivia to free the imprisoned Dwarves of Gurund...
*...which may end up being related to Morningstar's designation as "The Slayer" by a huge winged blue-skinned ogre
* Ernie's promise to return with the party and help the halflings of Appleseed once their current labors are finished
* And what's up with Aravis being "like a cat," anyway?
* And there may be grander designs in the offing than anyone has yet guessed. (insert evil laugh here)

No, I think there's enough material to go on right now to take the party well into the mid to upper teens, level-wise, before I finish up just the threads that are dangling as of now. And I'm sure more loose ends will be created in the future.

Thanks all for the welcome back... my next game is this coming Sunday, and I'll try to post sometime in the week after that.

-Sagiro
 

Piratecat

Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
Yeah - otherwise known as "Dranko abuses Morningstar's trust and learns to humbly eat crow."Or hook bat, as the case may be. We learn stuff, we kill stuff, we run from stuff, Morningstar flushes out betrayers, Kay hides in a revolting location, and Aravis has a revelation!
 

Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
I'm still working on the write-up of last session, but here's a first installment to tide people over. I should be done the rest by the end of the week, but I give no guarantees. ;)


Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 137a

Tuesday, July 16

Now talk turns more seriously to planning an investigative excursion to Kallor. There has been no word from Ozilinsh or the archmagi in some time now, so it appears that the Company is on its own. (Ernie sums things up nicely: "The Archmagi are keeping the front door locked while the Black Circle are sawing off the back half of the house!") After some hours discussing things, it becomes clear that the best and safest plan is going to involve (gulp) splitting the party. Eventually at least part of the plan takes shape: Morningstar is going to go, by herself, to the High Temple of Ell in Kallor, the seat of all the Ellish church in Charagan. There she will tell everything to the High Priestess Rhiavonne, both as plea for help, and as a warning that there might be Black Circle spies within the church. This plan has some very obvious risks. Morningstar will be separated from the group, and if there is a Black Circle agent or agents in the church, they could attempt some mischief. And Rhiavonne is no friend to the Illuminated Sisters of Ell, with whom Morningstar is strongly connected. And what if Rhiavonne herself is a Black Circle agent? Morningstar might walk into the temple and simply vanish. But it’s a risk with upside, and she’s willing to take it.

To cheer her up, Dranko presents Morningstar with an actual engagement ring, which he had custom made from gartine. "It’s so… light!" Morningstar exclaims.

Once that is decided, the rest of the group makes a plan out of earshot of Morningstar; if she does end up captured and interrogated, she shouldn’t know what everyone else is up to. Her only request is that, if the rest of the party goes and does investigating on their own, that they keep an extremely low profile and not get into any trouble.

After some more debate, the Company decides that Grey Wolf will be safest staying in the Greenhouse – the safest place in the Kingdom, as far as they know – and that Kibi and Skorg will stay with him, along with Eddings. Both of the wizards can use the time to continue scribing spells into their books.

>> For most of this run, Kibi’s player ran Flicker, and Grey Wolf’s player ran One Certain Step.

The rest of the party will teleport back to their inn room (paid for the next two weeks) in Kallor. Dranko and Kay both wear spiral pendants recently captured from the Sharshun, that protect the wearer from mind-affecting spells. Knowing that they usually burn out after a while, Dranko puts his on and asks Morningstar if she can read his thoughts with a detect thoughts spell.

"Feel free not to tell us what they are," Kay adds. Morningstar casts her spell, and it seems that the pendants are still working.

Aravis comes to the realization that the weight limit on teleport isn’t so much of an issue when some of the people he’s taking along have had wind walk cast upon them. Morningstar casts wind walk on herself, Kay, One Certain Step and Dranko, while Kibi adds invisibility to Kay and Dranko. The rest of the group assures Morningstar that they have the plan all set, and then she takes off on the seven-hour wind walk journey to Kallor.

Before the rest of them teleport, Aravis spends some more time examining the Crosser’s Maze, to get a better sense of how long they have before the planes align. He has an epiphany of sorts; for the first time he feels truly at ease, and in control, while he examines the multiverse through the Maze. By observing the overlapping primes for a few minutes and gauging cosmic distances, Aravis guesses that the planes will converge in between 9 and 12 days. If he looks again in a few days, he is confident that he’ll be able to make a more accurate guess. He also notices in a vague way that the Maze is drawing energy from some outer-planar source, but before he can discover any more, the strain of observing the Maze finally catches up with him, and he is forced to return to reality.

A few minutes later, he teleports the rest of them into his spacious, expensive room at the Moonspell in Kallor. Aravis is immediately struck by a feeling of unease, a nervousness with no clear cause. None of the others feel particularly affected by it. Then the party splits up even more: Ernie and Flicker go across town and reserve rooms at a number of seedy inns, so that any potential spies will have a hard time figuring out where they’re actually staying. They play cards in the common room of one of the inns, and try to gain some information from some of the locals. They comment that the people here seem less affected by the general ill-feeling that permeates the city, and while they lose some silver at cards, they gain the interesting opinion that the weird malaise "affects them rich people more than it does us! I think it must be that rich food them wealthy folks are always eatin’!"

Meanwhile, Kay and Dranko, invisible and wind-walking, decide to investigate the constabulary and get a look at the body of the murdered wizard Alstott, leaving Aravis and Step behind in their room at the inn. It’s not exactly the kind of subtlety Morningstar had hoped for – in fact, she had expressly forbid such shenanigans - but it seems like a safe enough plan. They have no problem breezing into the constabulary through a chimney, and doing a quick investigation of the upper floors. They hear a bit of loud, angry voice coming from an office down one of the halls, saying "…stay locked up for a while longer… damned priestesses." Those words were uttered by the guard captain, who sits behind a desk scribbling notes and scowling. They follow a second man (to whom he was presumably speaking), but when that man only goes out to relieve one of the guards at the outer doors, Kay and Dranko waft back inside and continue to search the place. Eventually they head down to the basement level, where a guard sits in a chair at the bottom of the stair, keeping an eye on two hallways that branch away. Down one hallway is a row of cells, with only one uninteresting prisoner. At the end of the other hallway is a barred iron door; this must be it, they think.

Well, that’s true, if "it" is "trapped by an alarm spell." The bell goes off as they glide through the thin gap at the foot of the door and into the small room beyond. At least it’s the room that they’re looking for, an evidence room with books, papers and potions laid out on a table. There is another door on the opposite wall, and as they head through that one, the first door opens an the guard pokes his head in, shining a lantern out in front of him. Invisible though Kay and Dranko might be, the guard spots them as they stream through the cracks around other door and shouts: "Hey! You, stop!" They don’t stop. They hear the footsteps recede, and the guard calling for help.

Dranko and Kay head down a flight of stairs and through another doorway, into a small, cold room containing a wooden table atop which is horribly blackened body. With a few seconds of quiet, Kay examines the corpse. At first glance it looks like terrible burns, but on second glance it’s not that at all. It looks as if most of his skin has been smeared with some kind of black tar, except that it’s dry and flaky, not moist. Many of his features have been… smeared… or… sanded away, as if by with a heavy tar-covered rag. The right side of his mouth, his right eye, most of the nose, are just… gone, wiped away by something. Kay has great experience examining bodies of creatures and figuring out how they died, but this is like nothing she has ever seen.

There is the sound of returning footsteps descending the stairs outside the room. Dranko tries to hide in a small crack through which a trickle of chilly water is flowing, but there’s not enough room for his vaporous body. Instead he hides up near the ceiling, directly above the doorway, where someone entering the room might not think to look. (In case he is discovered, Dranko uses the change self power of the robe of blending to look as much like Alstott as possible, recreating some of the facial distortion.) But there’s only enough room above the door for one of them, and no place for Kay to hide…

except…

With no time to think, and strong misgivings nonetheless, Kay flows into what remains of Alstott’s mouth and spreads herself in the hollow spaces of the dead body. Fortunately Alstott was a much bigger person than Kay, and there’s just room enough for her. The door opens, and the guard with the lantern thrusts it forward and into the room. Not caught in the direct rays of the light, Dranko slips quietly above their heads, and takes up the equivalent position on the other side of the door, not knowing if Kay will be discovered.

There are three guards there altogether, and they peer around the room.

"Nothin’ here," says one.

"I tell you I saw something," says the one holding the lantern. "Like a misty ghost, flying under the door. It had to of come down here."

"It’s not here now. Just the body. And hey, we shouldn’t even be in here without Cobb… we could get in trouble. I suppose we should go fetch him."

The two other guards leave and head back up the stairs. The guard with the lantern takes one last look around, shrugs, and follows the others. Dranko tries to duck back over his head, but this time the guard catches a bit of the movement within the light of the lantern, and shines it directly up at Dranko.

"Damn!" he cries. "What th’ hell? Whatever you are, stop right there!"

Dranko does his best impersonation of the Ghost of Alstott: "Wooooooooooooo" The guard starts shouting for help again.

With nothing left to gain by staying, Dranko goes flying past him, up the stairs at top speed. Kay comes pouring out the body, further terrifying the poor guard. As the two of them go flying back up the main stairs beyond the evidence room, other guards are coming down. Kay asks Oa Lyanna to fly separately, so that it will look like three different apparitions to anyone who can see them. They all go flying past the other guards (who don’t seem to see them), back down the main hall of the constabulary, and out the door.

Dranko whispers to Kay on their way back to meet the others at the Moonspell: "Morningstar is going to kill me. If I’m lucky."

And while the halflings are off bar-hopping, and Kay and Dranko are busy keeping a -- ahem -- low profile, Aravis stays in his inn room with Step and engages in further examination of the Crosser’s Maze. He slides his mind back into the Maze and its presentation of the multiverse. He feels more comfortable than ever fixing his attention on various aspects, observing the interactions of the Primes, as well as other more exotic planes of existence. And for the first time he notices a fine beam of reddish energy, spilling into the nearby cosmic space as if someone had poked a pin-hole through the fabric of the Astral and Ethereal Planes. This energy is pouring in and striking his own Prime, extremely near to where he himself is. It’s power, he realizes… it’s drawn to the Crosser’s Maze, and must be the energy that fuels it! But when the energy reaches the Prime, it also becomes diffuse, spreading itself out across the great expanse. In that form it is unfocused, and useless.

This is as much as Aravis has ever been able to glean about the Maze, but he still feels comfortable and in control of his faculties, and so he concentrates further on this energy. His perception sharpens. He sees that the energy is diffuse because it is drawn to all living things upon the Prime. Aravis applies all of his mental energies toward the analysis of that energy… there’s a secret that he can almost grasp, a fact about the Maze that could…

A ha! Yes! That’s how the Maze works! He can draw that power, that mysterious energy, through the living creatures nearest himself on the Prime. Living beings will serve as foci for its power, concentrating the energy into a potent magical force. He can draw the power through the vital essences of living creatures, and then use it to directly affect anyone or anything attempting to pass from any one Plane to another. That is what the Maze is for, and how it can be used… its true secret, Aravis realizes. The only thing he cannot guess is what happens to those creatures who are used to focus the power of the Crosser’s Maze. Perhaps if he takes a closer…

The stress finally becomes too much for his mind; he collapses onto the floor, barely conscious. Step rushes over and lays on hands, turning Aravis’ crushing headache into something more manageable. Aravis smiles through the pain. "Step, I have it…."

...to be continued...
 

Plane Sailing

Astral Admin - Mwahahaha!
Another thought has just occurred to me - crossers maze able to use life energy to affect interplanar travel... Black Circle trying to bring the two primes into convergence... Black Circle over in Kiva with their oracle shrines - giving answers to people for... some of their life energy?!?

I wonder if there is a connection. Pretty wicked if the price for answered questions was unwittingly drawing you towards the destruction of your own prime material plane!

Cheers
 

Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
Here's the rest of last Sunday's session:

Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 137b

Wednesday, July 17

Traveling by night in a dark sky illuminated only by stars and a sliver of moon, Morningstar spends nine long hours of wind walking to reach the city of Kallor. A bit after three o’clock in the morning she wafts silently over the walls of the City of Twilight and reforms herself into a solid shape. She heads quickly toward the Temple of Ell, and as it’s the middle of the night, it’s busy and full of active sisters.

She is met politely at the door, but the door-guards become a bit cool when Morningstar introduces herself. They are taken aback by her immediate desire to speak with High Priestess Rhiavonne on an urgent matter, but Morningstar’s name carries some weight, even if it’s in an adversarial fashion. She is escorted inside the darkened halls of the Temple of Ell. No lights burn anywhere inside, but the sisters move about with a comfortable lack of concern. The walls are all intricately carved, and the sisters occasionally allow their hands to trail along the walls, experiencing them as tactile art.

A priestess is sent away into the upper floors of the building, and comes back soon after with an announcement that Rhiavonne will be able to see her in half an hour. In the meantime, Morningstar is seated and kept comfortable. After she has waited a few minutes, a young novice comes up and sits nervously down next to her. "Hello," she stammers. Morningstar nods politely in greeting.

"Can I ask you a question?" asks the novice. "What’s… what’s she like? Amber, I mean."

Morningstar smiles, thinks for a moment. "She’s extremely devoted," she says. "Amber serves the Church as well as any sister I’ve met."

"I hear… I hear she doesn’t approve of us at all. That you… that she thinks we’re not following Ell in the right way. That she thinks her way is better."

"That’s putting it much too strongly," answers Morningstar.

The novice starts to ask another question, but Morningstar is spared the onus of answering as a priestess approaches and announces that Rhiavonne will see her now, and could she please follow up the stairs.

Rhiavonne’s office is small, not like the grand and ornate quarters of Priestess Milanwy back in Tal Hae. And Rhiavonne herself is small, not any higher than five feet. She is old and wrinkled – at least seventy years lie on her – and motions Morningstar to sit in a chair before her desk. Morningstar sits nervously, here in the presence of one who she knows looks on her with disapproval. She fears what Rhiavonne will say or do.

"It is good to meet you," Rhiavonne says. "I’ve looked forward to this moment. I have much to say to you. But you have saved me the trouble of sending for you. Your news must be extremely urgent, so tell me, what has brought you to me?"

Morningstar takes a deep breath. And then she tells Rhiavonne everything. That is, all about the Black Circle plans to merge two Primes and bring forth an army. All about her commune spell during which Ell told her the Black Circle ritual was happening here in Kallor. All about Grey Wolf’s role in the cosmic events. And all about her suspicions that Black Circle agents have possibly infiltrated the Ellish church here in the city.

Rhiavonne interrupts her at various points. She knows what the Black Circle is, and how they operate. She even mentions that Morningstar’s own party may have been compromised, specifically Dranko, whose own church of Delioch is known to have been infiltrated by the Circle. And she wonders aloud that the Archmagi must certainly be aware of the problem, and isn’t Morningstar and her "team" supposed to be dealing with these sorts of crises?

Also, in the middle of their discussion there is a knock on the door, and a tall, nervous priestess enters.

"Yes?" Rhiavonne snaps, annoyed at the intrusion.

"I’m sorry, your Holiness," she stammers, looking nervously at Morningstar. "I just wanted to make sure you were.. all right… and that you didn’t need any assistance… or anything." She keeps looking at Morningstar, as if she expects that an Illuminated Sister might try anything at any moment.

Rhiavonne looks at the newcomer sternly. "They don’t bite, Stersa," she says, and the woman blushes. "We’re fine. If I require anything, I will send for it. Now please excuse us."

Rhiavonne apologizes, and Morningstar finishes her story. "My chief concerns," she concludes, "are that there may be Black Circle agents here, and that if an army does invade, the city itself will be in great danger."

Rhiavonne is quite attentive, and takes all of Morningstar’s story seriously. There is no sign of her dislike or mistrust of the Illuminated Sisters, and she offers that the sisters of the temple will search for signs of the Black Circle, and start preparing against possible physical consequences of two planes converging with Kallor as a focal point. She doubts that the Ellish church has been compromised, but accepts the possibility.

She also addresses Morningstar’s suspicion that the Black Circle plot is related to the general feeling of unease among the people of the town.

"I have investigated that," says Rhiavonne. "We still don’t know the cause or the source, but we know this: that it affects practitioners of the arcane more than any. People with strong ties to the divine are affected somewhat less, and those with no magic in them are only slightly troubled. But with time, all people start to feel it, even the plainest beggar in town. And it has been months now since the first breath of gloom was felt in Kallor."

Morningstar lastly brings up the matter of Alstott’s death, and the possible connection with the Black Circle. Specifically she is worried about its connection with the Church, insofar as the wizard was planning an attack on the temple, and that the evidence has been locked up on orders of the church.

"Ah, I have named Stersa to head up the investigation… that was her who came in to check on us. She is a trusted member of my inner council, and I’m sure she’s doing a thorough job."

Morningstar asks to speak with Stersa, and the priestess is summoned before the two of them.

Stersa says that, yes, she has done extensive investigation into the death of Alstott. Although she is still unsure of the cause of death, she thinks that the man must have been mad. "After all, he was planning a single-person attack on the entire temple! He had sketches of the buildings, and lists of spells he was going to cast. It never would have worked. Alstott must suffer the mental degradation that sometimes happens to the very old. Anyway, it’s a sensitive subject, and I have the evidence safely kept down at the constabulary. We continue to study it, hoping for clues."

Morningstar asks if she can see the body and the evidence. Stersa is reluctant, and balks, but Rhiavonne insists. Stersa is discomfited, but agrees. "But we won’t be allowed in until I consult with the guard captain, Cobb, and he’s probably asleep. Give me an hour to make the arrangements, and then I’ll come back to escort you."

An hour passes, and Stersa does not come back. A second hour passes, and then a third. Somewhere outside the walls of Kallor the sun starts to rise, and a faint blue-gray light starts to filter into the city. There is no sign of Stersa. Morningstar fears that someone has waylaid her en route, knowing her plans. She could have been followed from the temple itself. Once more she asks to speak with Rhiavonne, and again is granted an audience. When Rhiavonne learns that Stersa has not come back, she writes and signs a letter to be shown to Cobb, giving Morningstar full rights to examine all materials relating to Alstott’s death.

"No need to tell you to be careful," she tells Morningstar. And then she adds: "There still much I wish to discuss, concerning… other matters. But all of that can wait until this current business is taken care of. Good luck, and let me know if we can help you further."

Before she leaves, Morningstar decides to cast a sending to Dranko, but realizes that he’s probably still asleep. She drops into a trance, finds his dreams, and starts to alter it. Suddenly Dranko is dreaming that he really must wake up at once, and with a great effort of will, wrenches himself awake. "Huh? Wh.. ? Who…" Then he gets the sending, that Morningstar is about to head to the Constabulary for a look at the murder evidence, and that the rest of the party should join her there.

Morningstar sets out into the dark gray early dawn. She keeps an eye out for signs of Stersa (or of a recent struggle), but sees nothing out of the ordinary. (There are very few people out on the streets at all, at that hour.) When she arrives a few minutes later at the constabulary, there are no guards posted outside, and no sign that anyone has been here recently. Instead of knocking or going in, she decides to wait for the others, and melts into the shadows on the opposite side of the street.

And that’s when the creatures attack. For one brief instant she feels a terrible feeling of foreboding, and then three black shapes emerge from the shadows around her. They are humanoid but featureless, and slightly blurry around the edges. They make no noise, and flail at her with black, fog-like appendages. Where they strike, Morningstar’s skin is left with a horrible, stinging black smear. Wounded, she takes a step back, calls loudly for help, and attempts to cast a flame strike that will envelop all three of these strange attackers. But their wildly flailing limbs cause her arm motions to go awry in mid-casting, and the spell fails her. They launch another assault, their black arms ignoring her armor and leaving more painful black smears. Enough is enough. Morningstar turns and runs in the direction she expects the rest of the party to be coming from, shouting loudly for help the whole time.

The black shadow-creatures keep pace. She can feel waves of horror rolling off them, like a nausea of the mind. After a minute, huffing and panting, she becomes aware that there are pursuing footsteps behind the creatures, and a human voice cries "stop at once!" But the creatures do not stop, and so neither does Morningstar.

Back at the Moonspell, Dranko has woken the rest of the party. Aravis still needs another hour of sleep before he’ll be able to prepare spells, so he stays behind, and Kay stays with him. The rest of them get hastily dressed and head out into the cool morning air to meet Morningstar at the constabulary. After a few minutes walking the streets of Kallor, they see her up ahead… fleeing in horror from something behind her!

"Help!" she gasps.

Flicker is first to react. He launches a sling-stone at one of the creatures, and where it strikes there is a puff of foul black smoke. Dranko then unwinds his Whip of the Searing Tongue and uses it to fire a searing light directly at one of the creatures. The beam flies true, hits the black monster – and passes harmlessly out through the other side of its body. Dranko utters a disappointed oath. Ernie and Step run forward, clanging in their armor, to engage the things and get them away from Morningstar. Morningstar herself stops running, takes one step away from them, and tries turning them, hoping that they are undead. No such luck; holy power fills her Ellish symbol, and she flings it outward toward the creatures, but they do not flinch. Step runs forward and takes a mighty swing with his flaming greatsword "Firebrand," and executes a perfect swing right through the neck of one of the attackers. But the sword passes harmlessly through the creature, and Step can feel the sword become awkward and unbalanced as it passes through the thing’s body. Ernie tries casting dispel magic on the creatures, but to no avail. Morningstar continues to be pummeled by the creatures, and now much of her body is covered with painful black smudges. She tries swinging her own weapon, but with no more success than Step. And a guard from the constabulary, who heard Morningstar’s cries and has been running in pursuit, finally arrives and takes an wildly errant swing. "What in Ell’s name…?" he cries.

But Flicker fires another pair of sling bullets, and again when they strike there is a tangible reaction. Black puffs of vapor fly from the points of impact. But why is the sling working, when all spells and better weapons aren’t having any… ah! The creatures must be immune to all magic, even magic weapons! Once they make that realization, the battle turns quickly. Dranko produces a non-magical mace from his magical haversack, and Ernie (after healing Morningstar) uses his gartine sword. Although the creatures have an easy time hitting (their attacks are all touch attacks), and Dranko and Morningstar both end up badly pummeled, the foul beasts are also easy to hit with the right weapons, and don’t last long. As each is dispatched, it dissipates in a cloud of black smoke, leaving no trace save a lingering feeling of doubt and anxiety. But the wounds they caused have turned the skin of their victims the color of tar. As the party heals up, the blackness fades, but they purposely don’t heal fully, in order to leave patches of skin that can be positively matched with that of Alstott.

The guard escorts the party back to the constabulary, where they demand to be let in to see the evidence of Alstott’s murder. When the guard balks, they show him the letter sealed with Rhiavonne’s insignia.

"Look, I’d better go get Cobb then. He’s asleep, but he’ll get up for this."

The guard goes inside to grab a traveling buddy (what with weird creatures roaming the streets) and leaves the party hanging around outside for a few minutes. The pair of guards comes back a short while later with a third man – Dranko recognizes him as the captain he saw the day before, but doesn’t betray the fact.

"What’s all this then, and who are you people?" demands Cobb. He’s a serious, non-nonsense man, and a still, silent detect thoughts from Morningstar shows him to be on the level. But while he’s mildly upset at the commotion and being woken up, he gets downright mad when he reads the letter from Rhiavonne. For a moment he looks fit to burst, but then he takes a deep breath, and grumbles: "Ok, I’ll let you inside. But I’m going to be right there with you. I want to get a good look at the evidence too."

There is some momentary confusion. Hasn’t he seen it already?

"Not such that I’ve gotten a good look," he says. That woman from the Ellish temple in charge of the investigation, that Stersa, she ordered everything locked up tight. Heck, she wanted to destroy it all, something about it being a security risk. I told her that just isn’t how things are done, and that Ellish priestess or no, she’s not about to get me to destroy the evidence before a proper investigation. In the end we reached a compromise; that I’d keep it locked away and no one would touch it, for just a couple o’ weeks. She said the security risk wouldn’t be a problem after that."

All of which now strongly points to Stersa being a traitor, and probably a Black Circle agent.

The party is led in and allowed to examine the evidence. There is a pile of papers, most of them burned and illegible, but one sheet of parchment on top is conspicuously unblemished. On it is a rough sketch of the Ellish temple buildings, and notes scrawled in the margins, planning an assault. The handwriting does match that found in a large book on the table, partially burned but still readable. The book is packed with tiny writing and detailed diagrams, harmless notes on spell theory and research. Behind the book on the evidence table rests a rack of potions, each labeled. They correspond with notes made on the attack-plans: invisibility, darkvision, non-detection, spider climb and gaseous form.

By this time they figure that Aravis has gotten enough sleep, and they send for him and Kay to join them at the constabulary. Soon all are assembled there.

Morningstar goes first into the room with Alstott’s blackened corpse, and casts thought capture. The though she picks up is of someone experiencing something very unpleasant: "Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew!" And the mind is familiar. Oh, no… She turns to look at Kay, who looks sheepish, and then at Dranko, who looks even more so.

"Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew?" says Morningstar, eyebrows raised, and starting already to become angry. "I thought you were going to be discreet! What happened to just asking to be let in? What happened to asking subtle questions? What happened to our hours of planning just to avoid this sort of thing? Don’t you realize the jeopardy you put me in, put my whole church in, by risking raising an alarm too soon? Yes, things worked out okay, but that was just luck! I’m very disappointed in you."

Dranko starts to mutter excuses, about how it all would have worked so smoothly if not for the alarm spell and the lantern that detected invisible things. But in the end he straightens himself up, and says "Morningstar, I’m all about honesty. And honestly, I was a bonehead." Morningstar is quick to agree.

Dranko tries to speak with dead, but to his surprise and dismay it doesn’t work. Perhaps the anti-magic nature of the black creatures is such that even things killed by them are immune to spells. But that proves not to be the case, since the next spell he casts does work: dead man’s eyes. This lets him see the last five minutes of Alstott’s life, through the eyes of the wizard himself. Dranko’s eyes roll up into his head, and suddenly he is in a small but cluttered study, just closing a large book in front of him. Dranko doesn’t catch what he had just written, but does remember the page. Alstott shakes his head, puts down his quill, stands slowly, then walks over to a shelf full of knickknacks and baubles. He takes one down, gives it a shake, and watches as it lights up. He does the same with a few more, and then puts them all into a bag. With a lighter step he walks down stairs, grabs a quick bite of bread and a mug of water, and then steps outside into the gloomy shadows of Kallor. Suddenly a black shadow fills his field of vision, and he is knocked back. He holds his arm up to his eyes and sees a sickly black smear across it. Quickly he takes a step back, and sees over half a dozen black featureless figures advancing toward him. He waves his arms, casts a spell, and the black creatures are engulfed in flames. But the flames quickly clear, and the creatures are left unharmed. The rush him, surround him, arms flailing…

…and Dranko breaks off the spell, not wishing to share the actual moment of death. Grimly he relays the details to the others. Ernie sniffs. "Didn’t someone say that Alstott used to hand out trinkets to children in his retirement? I’ll bet that’s what he was on his way to do. And then…oh, that’s horrible!"

Dranko goes back to the evidence room, and flips through the book. It’s all notes and sketches, but Dranko turns to the page Alstott had just been writing before his death. Down near the bottom, in writing that would typically go unnoticed but which is a tad larger than the rest, is the following note: "Divination sink in the silent quarter, protects itself. Almost certainly connected with cultist activity. Unease caused by null shadows?

And that makes even more things clear. The silent quarter is a large neighborhood in Kallor occupied mostly by wealthy retirees. There are city ordinances prohibiting loud noises, and the streets are well patrolled. If the source of the unease is centered there, it would explain why it seems to be more of a "rich folks" problem. What "null shadows" are seems obvious. Now the Company has a decent lead to follow. But what is a "Divination sink?"

There is one last place to investigate, and that is Alstott’s home. As they walk over there together, Cobb explains that when he arrived with a team of guards after word of the murder had spread, Stersa had just arrived herself. She was walking down from the upper floor of the house "having been doing some investigation herself." Since the day that the evidence was removed, Cobb has had guards stationed at the door to make sure no one got in. But when the party arrives, they find that although the guards have seen no one enter or leave, the upstairs study has been entirely emptied out. Damn! Morningstar blankets the room with thought captures, and receives an assortment of uninteresting thoughts of Alstott and Cobb, along with one from Stersa that thinks: "It’s going to be tough getting this stuff entirely disposed of, but I’ll bet I can get it locked away for a couple of weeks."

Finally Morningstar goes back to the Temple of Ell to give Rhiavonne the news about Stersa. By this time it is getting on to be mid-morning, and so the High Priestess is asleep. The duty-clerics are loathe to wake her, but Morningstar insists. "It’s on your head then," they say, and they instruct Morningstar to wait in the foyer. A few minutes later Rhiavonne comes clumping down the stairs in a black robe, rubbing sleep out of her eyes. Morningstar tells her all that she has learned, particularly the apparent treachery of Stersa. Rhiavonne is obviously concerned; Stersa was deep in many of her counsels. And now it makes sense, that Stersa was eager to volunteer to investigate the murder on behalf of the church. Rhiavonne thanks Morningstar for all of her help, and reiterates her offer of assistance should Morningstar desire it. Then she goes back to sleep, leaving the Company to continue their plans for finding and stopping the Black Circle.

…to be continued…
 
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I could feel Morningstar's fear as she had to turn and run from the null shadows. I doubt she has had to outright flee from anything for a while.

I honestly do love this story, and some time this summer, when you finally finish this story arc, I will sit down and reread the entire thing.

Also, you'll have to tell us what you'd change if you could do it again. For example, where have the Sharshun gone off to? They were a great twist on the stereotypical dark Elf. Are there any more secrets for the PCs to uncover about themselves, aside from that whole cat thing?

And where is Sagiro?
 

Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
Caliber said:
Just a slight bump to keep this on the first page.
That was kind of you. :)

If any of you have played the Playstation 2 game "Ico," you'll have a good idea of how I picture the Null Shadows.

Oh, and we play this coming Sunday. Here's the teaser e-mail I sent to my players earlier in the week:

"Next game this Sunday, at 4:00 PM. It could feature:

stealthy sleuthing
massive armies
breaking-and-entering
dream powers
snazzy uniforms
black circles
black-lizard pie
deadly combat
angry guards
angry bakers
ill-timed requests
mass confusion
critical timing
concerned relatives
unfortunate odds
hideous magics
foiled magics
hidden caches
...and the ever-popular...
party-member betrayal.

What will you do? What will you discover? What will try to stop you?
...and how the heck are some of you going to get out of *this* fine mess?

find out this Sunday, as the Company schemes, while Volpos and Abernia move ever closer to their catastrophic embrace."

-Sagiro
 

KidCthulhu

Community Supporter
Angry Bakers! My thoughts exactly. This is the run where we find out that those chocolate covered donuts and whoopie pies were really Turlis' subtle way of hinting that he's behind the whole Black Circle plot.

I still haven't figured out what the crullers mean, although I'm sure Dranko will tell me.
 

KidCthulhu

Community Supporter
We played yesterday. The run went like this:

Get butts kicked
Deadly surprise peril
Get butts kicked
Condescending servants and house guards

oy. That Sagiro is a bad, bad man.
 

Piratecat

Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
KidCthulhu is being purposefully vague, but here are a few highlights of the evening:

- Dranko running full out, most of his body obscured by the null shadows' taint, pursued by shadowy shapes that he just can't lose

- Greywolf, Kibi, Eddings and Skorg make a very unwanted side trip

- Aravis sending his familiar Pewter in to fight a null shaodw, and making the horrible discovery that Pewter is an inherently magical cat....

- Ernie gets job offers from the only cook he's met who doesn't gossip

- Morningstar practices the fine art of throwing her weight around

- Surrounded by fourteen enemy and virtually defenseless, the Company becomes convinced that we're all going to die; Aravis, unable to climb a rope and being attacked by five null shadows a round, comes within inches of proving us correct.

It was quite a game!
 

Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
Thanks for the bumps! I've been doing other things when I clearly should have been working on the Story Hour. ;) I just wrote up the first section of the last run; there's more, but that will have to come later. -Sagiro

Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 138a

Wednesday, July 17

The Company heads back to the Moonspell. Morningstar desperately needs sleep, but before she hits the sack, she sends a sending to Grey Wolf back in the Greenhouse, giving him a brief recap, and asking him to see if he can learn anything about a "Divination Sink." Grey Wolf reports back that things have been quiet in the Greenhouse, and that his studies continue apace.

A few minutes after the Sending, there is a knock on Grey Wolf’s door. Skorg is there with a big grin on his face. "Lunchtime!" he says brightly. Grey Wolf can detect an unpleasant odor coming from the kitchen. Skorg rouses Kibi as well. "Come on! You wizardy types need to eat sometime, to keep up your strength."

In the dining room the table is set with plates containing some sort of black oozy substance. A questionable smell wafts from the plates. Eddings is already seated, trying not to look disgusted. "Black lizard pie!" announces Skorg proudly. "I made it from scratch myself. I had the Icebox deliver a brace of fresh black lizards, and used some of Ernie’s spices to give the pie extra flavor."

"I suggest the spices," Eddings offers helpfully. "Lots of spices."

Kibi and Grey Wolf sit, their noses wrinkling uncontrollably. Skorg starts wolfing down forkfuls of pie. Eddings pushes his food around with his fork without enthusiasm.

And then the Greenhouse vanishes. Grey Wolf feels a lurching in his stomach, and the constant feeling of churning semi-nausea is replaced by a different sort of discomfort. Now it feels like a deep vibration, like a buzzer is going off in his innards. After a second of disorientation, the four of them look around and see that they are in deep, deep trouble.

It is night. They are outdoors, on a vast plain, in the midst of an army. All around them are tents, campfires, and the sounds of an army camp at night. They can hear grunts, clanks, voices, horses, the crackling of torches. The air is filled with the aromas of sweat, urine and gruel that follow large armies wherever they go.

They are all still in their chairs, forks in hand. Eddings looks around slowly. "I, uh, don't suppose this is something you have done on purpose?" he whispers.

None of them move. Fortunately they have appeared in a small pocket of empty space, out of the direct light of any fires, and a good 40 feet from the nearest tent. But they are clearly in the midst of the camp, and not at its edge, and there are several patrols of soldiers with torches. One of these is moving in their general direction. Kibi and Grey Wolf are unarmed, and have none of their magical items. But both of the wizards wear their component pouches as a matter of course, and their heads are full of spells that have gone unused for the last few days.

They have a quick, whispered debate about what to do. If they cast spells, they’ll be heard. If the try to sneak away, they’ll probably be spotted. If they stay where they are, they’ll be found by the roving guards in under 30 seconds. Skorg whispers, "oh god, we’re going to die, we’re going to die, we’re going to…" but he is shut up by the others. Finally they decide they have to risk spells if they are going to escape. Kibi and Grey Wolf start casting spells – haste, fly and invisibility. Nearby guards immediately hear the sounds of spell-casting, and move quickly to investigate, barking in an unfamiliar tongue. Just as they get close enough to see those of the four who aren’t yet invisible, Kibi and Grey Wolf fly straight up. Eddings is clinging to Kibi’s back, while Skorg clutches Grey Wolf. The guards shout, point upward, and that section of the camp erupts with activity. Arrows whistle upwards, but none of them find their mark, and soon they aren’t making up as high as the flying wizards. Eddings is taking all of this in stride, but Skorg is terrified, squirming and clutching at Grey Wolf in an effort not to fall. "I’m scared of heights!" he whimpers. "Then don’t look down," Grey Wolf advises. Of course, Skorg instinctively looks down and becomes even more terrified. Kibi thinks that it’s a good thing it’s not him carrying Skorg, or there would likely be a "terrible accident" involving a plummeting orc.

As they hang there in the air, pondering what to do next, three magic missiles come streaking out of the night sky below them and strike true… upon Eddings! (Kibi is invisible, but Eddings is not.) Eddings lets out a groan of pain, and they realize that a flying wizard must be pursuing them. They fly away at top speed; Kibi, hasted, tries to cast fly on Eddings as well, but it proves too hard for him to cast with someone holding on to him for dear life. Another set of magic missiles shoots out of the darkness, again striking Eddings. The butler goes unconscious, and Kibi just manages to grab hold of him before he falls down into the army camp. Grey Wolf finally spots their attacker, tells Skorg to hold on, and manages to Concentrate well enough to launch a lightning bolt at the enemy mage. The stroke of electricity strikes true, and its target falls out of the sky, trailing a line of smoke.

"We’ve got to get heal Eddings!" Kibi cries. "Or he’s going to die!"

And then the army disappears, and it’s late morning, and they are flying out over the bay above Tal Hae. The buzzing in Grey Wolf’s gut is replaced by the more familiar churning. They fly down to the nearest dock, and Grey Wolf manages to stop Eddings’ bleeding before the butler dies. The magic missiles have left horrible open wounds upon his skin, and his breathing is still shallow, his face pale. They fly him slowly over the city to the temple of Yondalla, where the clerics there tend to his wounds. Soon he walking out under his own power, and the four of them go back to the Greenhouse, which is now out four very nice dining room chairs.

…to be continued…
 
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Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
Here's the rest from our most recent session! Our next game is this coming Sunday.


Sagiro’s Story Hour, Part 138b

Back in the Moonspell, the party has just heard that all is quiet at the Greenhouse, so Morningstar goes to sleep. Aravis decides to try using the Crosser’s Maze again, to observe the city of Kallor from an "outside perspective." His mind slides easily back into the Maze, and he spends a few seconds observing the two Primes: Abernia, on which they dwell, and Volpos, on which Naradawk’s army waits for the merging. Energies are flying fast and furious between the two, though the center of these is not precisely at Kallor. Through some hard calculations and intense concentration, Aravis is able to swivel his viewpoints around and then zoom it in toward Abernia, zeroing in on the city of Kallor. It becomes more and more difficult as his perspective gets closer, but he is able to bring his point of observation to a point high above the city walls. Although there is nothing explicitly strange-looking about any of the city, he finds that one general section of the city is difficult to look at through the Maze. Uncomfortable to look at. It’s the northern section of the city – around the Silent Quarter. Aravis tries to focus closer, but his mind tires, and he loses his grip on the Maze. His consciousness returns to his body, and he tells the others what he has seen.

Some of the Company then decide that they really want to know what a Divination Sink is, and badly. There are two repositories of knowledge in Charagan that stand above all others in scope: The Vault in Hae Charagan, capital of the Kingdom, and the Sages’ Consortium in Hae Kalkas. Aravis has never been to Hae Charagan, but the party was in Hae Kalkas fairly recently, so that’s where Aravis decides to teleport. But since the only place with which he really became familiar was his room in the inn where they stayed, that’s where he decides to go, taking Dranko and Ernie along. Fortunately, the room is empty (it being late morning), though made up for new guests. Not wanting to be discovered, Aravis looks out the window and dimension doors the three of them to a discreet alleyway across the street. From there they walk quickly to the Sages’ Consortium.

The Consortium is running with a dearth of personnel; many of the sages have gone to help the war effort on the peninsula, as advisors, healers and scribes. But their old friend Richter is there, looking cheerful and busy. "Ah, friends!" he says. "Come back for more questions about the flora of our fine kingdom?" There is little sign of the insanity that the party unwittingly brought on him, by asking him too many questions about the Sharshun and other Masked topics. Ernie and Dranko greet him warmly.

The sage who is most expert in Divination magic is not there, and much to Dranko’s dismay, the Consortium clerk refuses to give out his name. So Dranko says, "I’ve got a letter from the King’s Advisor that this is a matter of kingdom security. I didn’t think we’d need it, but it’s back in my inn room." And he leaves. In the meantime, Aravis and Ernie meet with another sage named Farning, but he has little of value to offer. A few minutes later Dranko comes back, bearing a letter, cleverly forged (and using his magical Forgery Kit found in Zhamir), from Yale, advisor to King Crunard IV. The clerk looks at it suspiciously, but there’s the royal seal and everything. So he gives them the name of the Divination expert: Elijah Sand. Soon thereafter they teleport back to Kallor, and Dranko quickly composes a note of apology, to send to Yale as a "preemptive strike" should she discover the forgery on her own.

When Morningstar wakes up later in the afternoon, she has indistinct memories of a dream. All she remembers is that, in the dream, she had a feeling of urgency, that she should go to Amber’s Illuminated Temple in Tal Hae in Ava Dormo, the night after the following day. Curious, she goes into trance right then, and dreams her way directly to Tal Hae and the Illuminated Temple. There, on the plains of Ava Dormo outside the temple, is June, one of Morningstar’s protégés. June has always been hot-tempered and eager, but her energies have been well-directed by Previa into training the growing dream-army. Here in Tal Hae, she has over fifty Ellish priestesses doing combat training exercises. And though Ava Dormo is not typically a brightly-lit place (not as dark as Kallor, mind – more like a cloudy day near sunset), there are light sources shining all around the perimeter of the training field. The fifty soldiers are showing few signs of discomfort in the bright lights.

June sees Morningstar watching and runs over. She is eager to impress Morningstar with her troops’ progress, and orders them into a snappy succession of drills and maneuvers. The soldiers themselves are clearly impressed that Morningstar herself has come for an inspection, and do their best to demonstrate their prowess. It all embarrasses Morningstar; they clearly think of her like a General, but she herself feels more like a mascot. But while June does make a good impression, she has no ideas or information about Morningstar’s recent dream.

Morningstar returns to her body in Kallor, and then goes into Ava Dormo locally, hoping to see some sign of the Black Circle there. (In Hae Charagan, Mokad’s base of operations was shielded in Dream by a strong magical ward, visible as an opaque black shroud.) But here, except for the Temple of Ell itself, the Ava Dormo version is still empty, having been wiped clean of buildings (along with the rest of the Dreaming) some months back. And there is no sign of the Black Circle where any part of the city would have been, including the Silent Quarter.

The party has another meeting to discuss their next move. They decide that some personal investigation of the Silent Quarter is in order, so they march over to the constabulary to get the go-ahead from Cobb. He agrees to write them a letter giving them the authority to armed into the Silent Quarter, on official business of city security. But while some of the party goes in under those pretenses, showing the note to the guards at the gate into the walled Quarter, others follow after in peasant garb. They have learned from Cobb that there is a tavern near to the gate called the The Quiet Man pub, where the servant-types generally gather in the evenings before curfew. Kay, Dranko, Ernie go to the crowded Quiet Man posing as servants themselves, and strike up as many conversations as they can, hoping to learn about anything unusual going on in that part of the city. They try to steer the conversation toward any recent influxes of "new money," nobles or merchants, who have come into the city recently. Ernie talks to the cook, figuring she’ll have her finger on the pulse of the area, but instead she shanghais the halfling into a long discussion on cookery, culminating in an offer of employment. Dranko and Kay have more luck, and Aravis, hanging around outside, listens in via a Rary’s telepathic bond cast by Morningstar on him and Dranko. Dranko asks particularly about any newcomers with an unusual number of scars, and while he doesn’t get any affirmatives, Kay gets some information about a newcomer who "must have been an old campaigner, the way he looked." Aravis puts the pieces together, as possible evidence of a Scarbearer recently arrived.

The party members in the tavern decide to leave; Dranko in particular wants to do some more scouting in the neighborhood. Flicker watches as they depart, and a minute later sees another man, a local servant-type, walk out and look in the direction the party was headed. Then the stranger follows in that direction, and so Flicker follows him. The man tails the party for a few short blocks before stopping at the door to another local tavern – "The Storied Hall." (This one is quite posh, though closed for the evening.) He quickly unlocks (or picks open?) the door, and slips inside. Flicker runs forward to warn Morningstar and the others, and then runs back to hide in the shadows and wait for the man. A few minutes later the man emerges, and heads nonchalantly back toward Flicker’s hiding place. But before Flicker has a chance to do anything, he sees the rest of the party (down at the end of the street) suddenly break into a run, away from him!

Dranko has been prowling the rooftops of the Silent Quarter, heading generally northward. He is occasionally communicating via the telepathic bond, when suddenly it shuts off completely! Startled, he waits for a moment, and then takes a few steps back. The link reestablishes itself. Dranko reports what just happened. "I think I found the Divination Sink," he says. He does some more experimenting, stepping back and forth across some invisible line, and slowly sidling along the roof, testing the boundary where the telepathic bond becomes disabled. He goes far enough to realize that the curve is quite wide, but not enough to determine the full extent, when he feels a sudden sensation of dread. Alarmed, he descends from the rooftop, preparing to return to the others – and that’s when four Null Shadows attack.

He calls for his non-magical mace from his magical bag at his belt, and it leaps into his hand. He takes some wild swings as the black creatures swarm him, landing stinging blows that leave burning black smudges on his face. It is not long before he realizes that the creatures will overpower him, so he runs as fast as he can, thinking loudly for help over the telepathic bond. As they did when Morningstar was attacked, the party regroups and moves to intercept. This time they are better prepared, and knowing not to waste time with magic, they quickly dispatch the four black monsters.

Flicker catches up to the combat in time for its tail end, and then informs them about the trailing servant and the Storied Hall. There is a brief interlude wherein the party investigates, thinking the tavern might be a Black Circle base of operations. But some thought captures reveal that the man is just a petty criminal, interested in the party only because they sure were asking a lot of strange questions, and interested in the Storied Hall because he often filches coppers from the money box there.

Not wanting to split up again now that they know Null Shadows are on the prowl in the area, the Company goes as a group deeper into the Silent Quarter, toward where Dranko discovered the boundary that cut off the telepathic bond. They move slowly along, with Dranko moving back and forth, and they eventually get enough of the curve established to realize that this boundary must be extremely large – maybe a quarter mile in diameter. They are in a park, away from any buildings, when the Null Shadows emerge from the shadows of the trees around them. All of the party is filled with an ill-feeling of dismay, but to Aravis it is nearly sickening, a mixture of fear and disgust that rolls off of the creatures in vile waves of evil magic.

There are many more of them than they’ve encountered thus far; over a dozen, though it’s hard to count them in the twilight. Worse, they are a deeper shade of black than those previously fought, and slightly larger. Everyone draws non-magical weapons. The creatures move in, and launch a vicious attack. Aravis immediately accesses the Maze hoping to learn something to help them fight these monsters. But the Null Shadows go straight for Aravis, pummeling him, delivering gruesome damage, and breaking his concentration, knocking him from the Maze. Worse, he feels that one of his most potent prepared spells – a stoneskin – has been stripped from his mind by the horrid touch of his attackers. Pewter launches himself at one of the creatures, hoping to damage it with his claws, but being an inherently magical creature he passes right through it, and takes burning damage just by coming in contact with the black vaporous body. There follows some furious melee fighting, with Flicker looking for opportunities with his sling. Aravis casts rope trick and tries to climb up to safety, but his hands, sweaty with fear, slip off the ropes, and many of the Null Shadows pounce. Aravis is left covered with black smears, nearly unconscious. One more round of attacks will surely finish him. He commands Pewter to flee while he can into the rope trick.

The others continue to batter at the monsters, but they are also taking a beating. All of the spell-casting members of the party feel spells being forced from their heads when the creatures strike them. Aravis realizes that he has no choice left; he takes from his pocket a small jeweled pin shaped like a sheaf of wheat, given to him by the Spire in case of this sort of emergency. The Crosser’s Maze is too valuable to risk; Aravis breaks the pin, activating the refuge spell. He vanishes, taken straight to the temple of Pikon in Tal Hae. He calls for clerics, and soon is getting healed up. But he is out of teleports, and cannot return to help his comrades.

Back in Kallor, the battle is tense, and seems like it could go either way. The Null Shadows focus their attacks on spell-casters when possible – Ernie is nearly killed, but Flicker is essentially ignored. But finally the Company turns the corner and finishes off the last few Null Shadows, without suffering any casualties. They are covered with black wounds. A minute later a voice sounds from a few yards away: "Halt! Declare yourselves, and put down your weapons!"

Soon the party realizes that there are six guardsmen around them, brandishing weapons. They are not dressed in the uniforms of city guardsmen, but are more likely the personal guardsmen of a wealthy nobleman or merchant of the Silent Quarter. The guards demand to know why the party is making such a racket, and heavily armed, and out after curfew. Morningstar explains that they were attacked, but the guard is nasty and rude, showing no sympathy. He continues to demand that the party drop their weapons. Which they don’t. Eventually the standoff is broken when they show him their letter from Captain Cobb. The guard looks it over, and unhappily concedes that he shouldn’t arrest them on the spot. But he vows to go straight to Cobb, clearly expecting to learn that the party isn’t legit. If he catches them after that, he’ll be less merciful next time. As he leaves, Morningstar casts detect thoughts, suspecting that this guard might be a Black Circle agent. He’s not. He’s just a puffed-up, obnoxious guard of a wealthy household, who likes being a bully. He’s also thinking to himself, "what a bunch of liars! They claim they were just in a fight, but then where are the bodies of their attackers?"

Morningstar is thinking to herself: "Jerk."

She casts sendings back to the Temple of Ell, tersely explaining what happened, and requesting an escort to bring them back from the Silent Quarter. They wait huddled in Aravis’ rope trick. Pewter meows pitifully, and when Kay casts speak with animals," the cat is beside himself with worry over Aravis. Eventually a group of twenty-four Ellish soldiers comes into the park; the Company descends from the pocket dimension and follows the group out of the Silent Quarter and back to the temple. And now they have the best information so far; given the curve of the boundary that was cutting off the telepathic bond, they can make a pretty good guess as to where its center lies…

…to be continued…
 
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Kosh

Visitor
To start: Excellent Story Hour!... I absolutely love it!...

Now, onto business...

Did you create the Null Shadows?... They were a real surprise... I'd love to use them in my game, and tell fellow DMs (evil or not) about them... Are the stats available to the public?...

I understand that you probably don't want to give anything away to your players, so I wouldn't ask you to post them here... But if you could e-mail them or post them elsewhere (this would require a pinky swear by your players to not view the page)...

If this is too much bother, I'll accept that and write them up myself with just the idea in mind... Though I've never been good at writing monster stats... So yeah, if it's not too much trouble, I would really appriciate it...

Again: Great game!...
 
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KidCthulhu

Community Supporter
Tuerny said:
bah, thats no fair.
My PCs are nowhere near where they will be powerful enough to fight a Null Shadow. :p
Actually, Null Shadow's would make a very interesting enemy to follow a group of adventurers through a campaign. One or two of them would make a nice challenge for a low level group. And they have features that will cause them to be trouble for groups up to the level of the Company and higher.

Think about this. Their attacks are always touch attacks. When you are low level, this isn't a big deal, as your AC isn't great to start with. But as you get buff and armored, this becomes a great way to make players feel very vulnerable.

They don't have lots of hit pionts, and their ac isn't high. They can be hit and damaged by low level groups with normal weapons. But as your party gets higher level, Null Shadows would be a refreshing way to remind them that Fireball doesn't solve everything.

I like them (from a design standpoint. As a player I loathe and despise them.). They're a great recurring enemy. Vary the number encountered, and the type and you've got a challenge every time.
 

Sagiro

Rodent of Uncertain Parentage
Yikes! Since the interest is so high, I decided it would be easier to just post a web-page with the stats.

You players of mine who are here: please do not look at this page. I trust you. ;)

Here's the link to the Null Shadows.

Enjoy!

-Sagiro
 
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