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The Durnhill Conscripts



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 11
Galen Thorne, human paladin 12
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 12
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 12
Syngaard, human fighter 12​

Game Session Date: 27 February 2019

- - -

Syngaard was throwing out a client from Kat's establishment - he was drunk and becoming abusive to the girls who worked there, and Kat wasn't about to put up with any of that nonsense - when a message from Skevros came to the scarred fighter over his iron ring. "Hirek wishes to speak to all of us," was all the king's adviser said.

"Well, that sucks," grumbled Syngaard. First of all, if Hirek - one of the heroes who adventured with Zehkar the paladin several centuries back and who still walked among the living as a ghost - just wanted to talk, that didn't sound like no paying mission. But equally as important, Syngaard was busy at his other job and didn't want to have to cut short the beating this drunken idiot had earned himself. But still, Syngaard knew his place: when both of his bosses - Madame Katarina and King Leornic the Third - required his attention, the king always won out.

"Sorry, Kat," he said, throwing the drunken lout to the ground outside Kat's building and giving him a swift kick in the side for good measure. "I gotta go." Then he turned his attention back to the drunk. "And if I find out you tried comin' back in here and botherin' the girls, well then me and Mister Pokey are going to have some further words with you." He hefted his morningstar in front of the drunk's face to drive his point home. The point was apparently well made, for the drunk crawled rapidly away, staggering to his feet once he was out of Syngaard's immediate reach. He favored the bald fighter with a look of hatred but opted not to make an issue of it, at least sober enough to realize that wasn't a fight he was likely to walk away from alive. Syngaard stepped back into the building and went to his room to gear up - maybe he'd get lucky and this would be a paying mission after all. A guy could hope, couldn't he?

Sadly, any hopes Syngaard might have had along the lines of incoming financial transactions were not to be. He arrived at the Enchanted Flagon - the last to do so, as usual - to find the other conscripts already sitting around the round table looking over at Skevros and Hirek. Syngaard gave the ghost a good look-over; this was, after all, some sort of grandfather (there were likely a bunch of "greats" in there, but Syngaard had no idea just how many) of his dead wife, Messalina. But try as he might, Syngaard didn't see much of Mezz in the ghost of Hirek. Probably too many generations between the two.

"I have found out some interesting things about the Mithral Mage's phylactery," Hirek began as Syngaard took a seat at the table. Unasked, Karen placed a mug of strong ale in front of the bald fighter. Syngaard took a sip and winked his appreciation at the barmaid, despite knowing she was nothing more than a permanent spell effect created by Skevros. Still, the wizard had talent, Syngaard had to give him that: Karen could easily pass for a human woman - and a particularly good-looking one at that, even if she couldn't speak a word. But then, Syngaard reasoned, it's not like a silent woman was any kind of a drawback or anything....

He drew his attention back to what the ghost was saying, even though it was unlikely any of it would matter much to the scarred fighter. "...Just as powerful wizards can scry upon their familiars," Hirek was saying, "powerful liches can scry upon their phylacteries. The Mithral Mage's phylactery is unusual, in that it isn't a physical object as most are; rather it is made up of the souls of all of those who are aware of his true name."

"But we know his true name!" exclaimed Orion, a worried look upon her face. "We all do!"

"I am well aware," commiserated Hirek. "And as such, your souls are bound into his phylactery. As a result, when you die, you will be prevented from passing on to your hallowed rest, but will instead be subsumed into his osteovox, or forced to remain as a ghost, as is the case with both Tenryu and myself." Tenryu was the dragon who had adventured with Hirek and Zehkar in human form; she was the one who passed her own tenryutsume to Kaspar.

"Wait a minute," Syngaard sputtered, nearly choking on his ale as the ramifications of what Hirek had just said finally hit home. "We ain't goin' on to Heaven when we die? 'Cause of this Mithral Ass-Clown?"

"That is correct. However, the situation is potentially fluid. We have reason to believe..." But Syngaard had stopped listening - and stopped drinking the ale sitting right there in front of him, a sure sign that his mind was racing and he was channeling all of his concentration into thinking things through. No Heaven when he died? That meant no reuniting with Mezz! It was bad enough being left behind to live out the rest of his normal lifespan after she had died, but now to have her kept from him after he'd died, too? That was too much!

"I'm gonna kill him!" Syngaard roared, standing up with enough force that his chair went scooting back several feet behind him. Somehow, in the motion of standing up, his morningstar had found its place in his hand and he was breathing hard, as if already in the throes of combat. Kaspar put a restraining hand upon the fighter's shoulder, gently pulling him back down as his other hand brought the chair back behind him. "We will all see to his eventual, permanent death," the monk reassured Syngaard. "Hirek will tell us how best we can achieve that goal." Syngaard allowed himself to be reseated and turned his head to face Hirek's ghost, giving him his full attention. The ale sat unnoticed on the table before him.

"Although drained of power, the spirits of those dead souls burdened with the knowledge of Alexandros's name can combine their wills and it may be possible, in time, to overpower the Mithral Mage's will, destroy the phylactery, and thus free themselves to their normal afterlives," Hirek said. "In that respect, it's actually a good thing that more people know his true name; I had at one point thought obscuring his name from history would remove his power, but it seems the opposite is true."

"Maybe we should start putting up signs," smirked Galen. "'The Mithral Mage is really named Alexandros'."

"But in the meantime, he can scry on any of us at will?" Orion asked, apparently not liking that idea given the way she shivered when she said it. Syngaard was puzzled at that bit; apparently he'd missed out on some discussion when his mind was off thinking about Mezz.

"He can - and there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about that. We must therefore press forward with the understanding that he will be privy to all of our plans." Galen frowned at the word "privy," thinking of a different type of privy entirely and realizing that at any moment, the Mithral Mage could be watching over him and everything he did. That was a disturbing thought indeed!

Hirek continued his briefing. "As for the osteovox rituals that the Mithral Mage employs, it is tied into his phylactery as well. Originally, the purpose of osteovox was to draw information from the subconscious minds of those who knew his true name - and recall, originally these were people still alive at that point. As they died and were prevented from reaching their intended afterlives, the effects of osteovox changed. The skeletal animation effect - caused by ingesting osteovox - is likely the dead souls of his phylactery trying desperately to escape. I doubt the Mithral Mage intended for others to know about osteovox or how to make it - it was a discovery he made on his own, and one he intended to keep to himself."

"And yet you knew of it," said Daleth, looking over at Skevros.

"I did," admitted Skevros. "However, I am still uncertain as to how I learned of it. This was back when I was evil, the result of the magical helm, and was actively a Seeker of Eternity myself. My memories of that time are still unclear."

"That's something else worth mentioning," Hirek cut in. "The original Seekers of Eternity died out a couple of years after the imprisonment of the Mithral Mage in Dwarven Hell. The current organization bearing the name was likely founded by someone who stumbled across one of the Mithral Mage's lairs. This is also likely how they learned of osteovox and its uses. Its use as a conduit for Alexandros's own soul is probably why he has allowed its use; with this new group performing osteovox rituals, it allows Alexandros to inhabit a willing ritual participant, and thus his spirit can inhabit a body here on the Material Plane while his lich body remains in Dwarven Hell."

"And why is his body there again?" asked Galen.

"Because we - Osleth, Tenryu, and I, after Zehkar had been turned to solid mithral after slaying Alexandros - finally made a deal with the Hope-Ender to trap him there, thinking that would put an end to his depredations. We were unaware of the 'escape clause' provided by osteovox rituals."

"What can you tell us of Alexandros himself?" asked Skevros. "The more we know of him, the better informed we'll be about methods of fighting him." As he spoke, the king's adviser realized the Mithral Mage could easily be listening in to everything being said and would know exactly what they were learning about him - but it couldn't be helped.

"As you know, Alexandros was Zehkar's younger brother," Hirek replied. "He was a sickly lad, one who saw the world divided into two types of people - those he knew and cared about and those who were beneath him - but we allowed him to adventure with us anyway. And he was originally a good sort; he nearly died once saving his brother's life. But then Zehkar, fearful of his little brother's declining health, forbade him from adventuring with us any further. That was likely a mistake; isolation from the rest of us led to his obsession with immortality, thinking it would allow him to be with his brother again. After all, he was too frail to go out on adventures with his beloved brother, but if he could become immortal, incapable of being killed? How could we say no to him then?"

Hirek eyed Syngaard's ignored mug of ale, as if recalling the pleasures of being able to eat and drink back when he was alive. He continued, "Alexandros achieved lichdom upon being slain - that hadn't been his original path to immortality - and then from that point on we were determined to slay the undead menace he had become. But despite our numerous attempts to destroy him, Alexandros never really tried to kill us. In his mind, he seemed to think it was all just a game. He knew we couldn't permanently destroy him so he focused on humiliating us. Osleth, in particular, grew very tired of being constantly polymorphed into a chicken...." Syngaard snarled to himself at the memory of Alexandros shrinking him down to halfling size the last time they'd fought him, and his grip tightened unconsciously on his morningstar.

"His imprisonment in Dwarven Hell has likely driven him a little mad," Hirek continued, "as he seems to be treating your group of adventurers as if you were my own group - the one Zehkar was a part of. However, he'll likely start taking your group more seriously once he realizes you know how his phylactery works."

"I'm still a little fuzzy on that," admitted Galen sheepishly.

"I'll explain it again later," Daleth promised, mentally dismissing the ability of humans to understand higher-level concepts.

"In any case, Alexandros will no doubt elevate your group from 'surrogate friends' to 'a dangerous threat' very soon, if he hasn't done so already. You can expect a change in his tactics accordingly. In short, he's done playing with you - now he's going to be going for blood."

"Well, let him!" snarled Syngaard. "'Cause we're gonna be doin' the same!"

"Liches don't bleed," Daleth pointed out condescendingly. The elf studiously ignored the glare Syngaard turned in his direction.

"In any case, I thought it best that you were all forewarned," Hirek said, pulling the gray hood up back over his head as he stood up and prepared to depart. As a ghost, "depart" often meant "shift to the Ethereal Plane and do your traveling there" - a concept Orion was becoming rather familiar with herself, now that she rode a ghost-dog into battle.

"Thank you," Skevros said on the group's behalf. "We will do what we can to protect ourselves from the Mithral Mage in the meantime, while we try to find a way to end him permanently." Hirek nodded his agreement and faded away.

"That was interesting," Daleth said, pondering the implications.

"And horrifying!" Orion added. "I don't like the thought of my soul being part of the Mithral Mage's phylactery!"

At that, Syngaard allowed himself a slight smile and started to become his old self again - if only a bit. "Well, you don't gotta worry," he said, smirking down at Orion. "Halflings don't have no souls."

- - -

Logan scripted this bit of info-dump at our request; we were starting to get a bit fuzzy on some of the back story of the Seekers of Eternity. I knew the Hope-Ender was the one who had imprisoned the Mithral Mage in Dwarven Hell, for example, but I had forgotten why he wanted to wipe out Hirek's blood-line - which includes Syngaard's infant daughter Hope. (It's because once that's done he'll be able to open permanent gates from the Nine Hells to the Material Plane. I'm still a little fuzzy on how that works; magic, I guess, which is all the explanation Syngaard ever needs. He understands that magic is just weird.) After role-playing through Hirek's briefing, which included a question-and-answer session which allowed us to help cement what all was going on in this campaign, we advanced the campaign clock by a week and went through the actual adventure Logan had prepared for us for that session. I'll do that up as a separate entry.

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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 11
Galen Thorne, human paladin 12
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 12
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 12
Syngaard, human fighter 12​

Game Session Date: 27 February 2019

- - -

Skevros had apparently learned to give Syngaard the information he most desired up front, for this time when he summoned the conscripts via a message over their iron rings, he kept it short and sweet: "Paying mission. 2,000 gold pieces each." That was all Syngaard needed to hear; he threw on his armor, gathered up the rest of his gear, and hightailed it to the Enchanted Flagon at full speed.

As usual, he was the last of the conscripts to arrive, the others already being seated around the head table. "What's up?" he asked, sliding into his chair as Karen set a mug of ale before him. "Who needs killin'?"

"This isn't an assassination mission," contradicted Skevros. "Rather, it's an attack on a convoy, specifically to gain custody of an object important to the Seekers of Eternity."

"We okay with killin' the convoy members?" Syngaard pressed.

"Should they offer resistance, then by all means," replied Skevros. Syngaard's grunt took the place of a "Well, there you go then" - and he switched his focus to his drink.

"What is the object we are to obtain?" asked Kaspar.

"As to that, I cannot say. However, our spies have reported that the object is to be found within an anti-magic box, so it's likely very powerful. It's being transported by cart from the Azure Glade to Ossirna; presumably, the reason it's inside an anti-magic box is what's preventing it from simply being teleported from one place to another."

"Where is the convoy now?" asked Galen.

"It is still in the Azure Glade," Skevros replied. "The plan is simple: I will teleport you to the vicinity of the object, you will overpower any resistance, and then investigate the contents of the box. Presumably, anything of such interest to the Seekers of Eternity is something we'd rather have in our hands than theirs. Once you've determined what the object is, you will either bring it back here if it is useful or destroy it if it's too dangerous to keep. Any questions?"

"That seems pretty straightforward," admitted Orion. She called for her riding dog and Carl manifested in the back of the tavern, padding silently forward to his mistress. The halfling leaped up into the ghost touch saddle and pulled out a potion of mage armor for her riding mount to lap up before the combat began.

Skevros, in the meantime, had concentrated on his crystal ball and the two-cart convoy came into focus. Daleth peered into the crystalline sphere, looking down at the caravan from above. The lead cart was being driven by a woman in purple robes; the cart in the rear had a woman in white robes at the reins. "Enchantment and divination," the elf wizard noted, going by the colors of the robes the wizards wore. The lead cart was open, with a large box tied down in the back; the second cart was a covered wagon, with canvas stretched across round hoops going the length of the vehicle. As such, it was impossible to look into the wagon's interior to view its hidden contents.

"We'd better have the animals already out and ready to attack," Galen suggested to Syngaard. The paladin summoned his dire lion bonded mount from the Beastlands and Burt manifested in the corner of the tavern, as the bald fighter reached into his pants and pulled out his Dick. After rubbing it lightly, the statuette vanished and in its place stood the full-size bronze griffon, stretching its wings. Galen cast a protection from evil spell upon himself, then climbed atop his dire lion's broad back, ready for battle.

"Is it possible to cast spells through your crystal ball?" Daleth asked the king's adviser.

"Divinations, yes," replied Skevros.

"Then with your permission...?" asked Daleth, and Skevros stepped aside to let the elf handle the magic scrying sphere. Daleth cast a see invisibility spell then pulled the magical scrying sensor back so he could see all around the two wagons. Sure enough, there along the right side of the carts, which were traveling in single file, moved an unseen companion: a gray-skinned humanoid with almost nothing in the way of facial features but for its oversized eyes. It wore - or seemed to wear, in any case - black leather armor, and Daleth identified the invisible creature at once from its description, despite not ever having seen one before. "There's an invisible doppelganger keeping pace with the convoy," he told the others.

"You can see it?" Syngaard asked. "You got any more spells that can let the rest of us see it?"

"No more see invisibility spells - but I can cast two true seeing spells from my staff," Daleth explained. Syngaard thought it over a moment. "Cast 'em on Galen and Kaspar," he directed. "They're the fastest of our group - at least when Galen's riding on Burt. Your job is to take out the doppelganger before he can get up to any mischief. You move in first, Kaspar, and then you, Galen, and if you two don't drop him right away, Wizard-Pants can finish the job with a spell or whatever."

"What about Dick?" asked Orion. "He can fly faster than Burt can run."

"Yeah, but I want him taking out the lead wizard," Syngaard explained. He didn't want no enchantress taking over his mind and playing him like a puppet - that had happened to him once before, from a spell cast by Maria Quillbender of all people, and the scarred fighter didn't want it ever happening again.

"And who should we concentrate on, then?" asked Orion. "The other wizards?"

"Well, you're probably not gonna like it," answered Syngaard. "But we need to take out them horses. No horses, the convoy comes to a stop."

"No, that's tactically sound," added Galen before the halfling could object to slaying inoffensive beasts of burden. "And Burt and Dick will make sure the meat doesn't go to waste," he added with a hopeful smile. Orion wrinkled her nose in disgust but made no further objection.

"I could drop a wall of fire right down the middle," suggested Daleth. "That'd get both horses, and both wizards!"

"Yeah, and the box we're supposed to grab," countered Syngaard. "Howzabout you put that big wizard brain to some sensible use for once?"

"I believe we're ready to go," Galen said to Skevros, and the king's adviser ushered everyone outside. He brought his crystal ball with him, heading to the border of Durnhill, beyond which teleport spells would function - the kingdom's interior had been shielded from such magic. "It looks like the diviner senses something," Skevros warned, seeing the white-robed woman looking up into the air, as if sensing the magical scrying sensor. "At once, then!" And he cast the teleport spell on the assembled group, sending them instantly to the Azure Glade and directly in front of the moving two-cart convoy.

Kaspar took no time to get his bearings; he was off at top speed as soon as his feet touched the blue grass of the neighboring kingdom. He ran straight toward the invisible doppelganger, smiling quietly to himself at the creature's astonished expression once he realized the elven monk could see him. But the doppelganger had no sooner come to that realization before Kaspar took flight, leaping into a flying kick stance and bringing his sandaled foot smashing into the shapeshifter's bulbous dome.

Daleth was the next to react. He tracked Kaspar's movement and fired off a fireball spell through his metamagic rod, ensuring the resulting explosion caught the doppelganger, both drivers, and the horses - but not Kaspar. There were additional screams of surprise from inside the covered wagon as the canvas covering caught fire from Daleth's spell. "Don't worry about the prisoner - we didn't need him alive anyway!" said a gruff voice from the rear wagon's interior. Todd, in the meantime, followed his master's unspoken instructions through the mental link they shared and flew off to sting the enchantress, hopefully taking her out of the combat. His barbed stinger caught the wizard in the neck, but she failed to slump into immediate slumber. The pseudodragon hissed in irritation, flapping away from immediate retaliation.

Two Azure Guards climbed out of the back of the burning wagon, one moving to each side. They were armed with different weapons than those customary to their order: this pair carried bastard swords strapped to their belts and wielded composite longbows. One took aim at Kaspar, but the monk easily avoided the arrow flying his way. The other tried targeting Daleth, identifying him as the most likely fireball-flinging candidate, but there was a bald-headed fighter with a face full of scars blocking the shot. Undaunted, the Azure Guard released his arrow, sending it flying straight at Syngaard, but Syngaard raised his shield and it bounced harmlessly away as he sprinted forward at his top speed.

"Let's see if you can handle my Dick!" called Syngaard to the enchantress as he ran toward her. The griffon flew over his shoulder, to come crashing into the purple-robed wizard (the robe no longer showing much purple at all, having been scorched heavily by Daleth's empowered spell). Dick bit down on the enchantress's shoulder with his powerful beak and brought his front talons gouging across her torso; when he released his grip, she fell in a lifeless heap to the ground at the side of the wagon. Syngaard ran past her, throwing his returning javelin at the diviner as he ran. His throw was true, dropping the diviner into unconsciousness. Idly, he wondered what had happened to the horses, for both were now gone; it didn't occur to the slow-witted fighter that both creatures had been magical effects in much the same way Karen was back at the Enchanted Flagon. But while Karen was a permanent unseen servant with an illusion spell grafted onto it, the horses had been the result of two simple mount spells.

Orion had Carl slip into the Ethereal Plane and advance toward the nearest Azure Guard; while the halfling couldn't see very well into the Material Plane while on the Ethereal, she trusted that her ghost-dog could.

Galen, in the meantime, charged the other Azure Guard on Burt. A combination of saberlike teeth and razor-sharp claws, not to mention a smite evil attack channeling the power of Hieroneous through the sword of Zehkar, brought the blue-robed enforcer to the ground before he could fire another shot or even try to draw his sword. Upon his death, he and all of his gear teleported away, so the leaders of his organization would know of his death and none of his gear could be recovered by the enemy.

The doppelganger really wanted to kill that blasted elf wizard, but Daleth was too far away to make that feasible. Knowing that both Kaspar and Galen could see him - telepathy was one of the creature's most useful abilities - the shapeshifter opted to try backstabbing a victim who wasn't aware of his exact presence. As he started heading toward Syngaard, Kaspar sent a hardened fist striking at him cobra-swift, causing him to stumble and throwing off the attack to which he'd already committed himself; as a result, Syngaard's unprotected back didn't feel the touch of the invisible doppelganger's sword. And with that failed attack, the shapeshifter popped into view, visible to everyone now but the oblivious fighter who was catching the javelin just now returning to his hand.

Kaspar trailed the doppelganger, hitting him with a tenryutsume-fueled punch that added fire and electricity to the power of the physical strike itself. At virtually the same time, a pair of scorching rays, each channeled through Daleth's metamagic rod, blasted the poor doppelganger; death was almost a blessing for him after the way this battle had turned.

With a sidestep, the remaining Azure Guard member was able to send a trio of arrows flying towards Daleth, each hitting the elf square in the torso. But as they hit, Daleth made a "plink-plink-plink!" noise, adding sound effects to the arrows bouncing off of the stoneskin spell he'd cast upon himself right before Skevros teleported the group into battle. Daleth looked the astonished Azure Guard in the eye, then gave him a big smile just to ruin his day.

But his day was destined to be ruined even further: under the combined assault of Syngaard's human bane scimitar, Dick's beak and claws, Orion's flaming short sword, and Kaspar's flurry of blows, the poor guy was staggering in an effort to remain standing, let alone fight back. Daleth took him out with a simple magic missile spell, not even bothering to channel it through his metamagic rod. Like his counterpart, he teleported away upon his death.

"That was easy!" crowed Orion, leaping down from Carl's ghost touch saddle to approach the lead wagon - the one with the box secured in the back. Syngaard cut through the ropes binding it in place and placed in down on the ground, where Orion could give it a thorough once-over. The box was secured by a padlock; despite her best efforts, Orion could find no traps protecting either the box or the lock. Opening the lock was a simple application of her lockpicks and her nimble fingers; once it had been removed she gingerly opened the hinged top of the box - only to have it blow up in her face. "Fire trap!" Orion cursed, wiping the soot from her face. But she came away from the ordeal hardly hurt at all, as she wore a magic bracelet that had absorbed most of the fire damage.

"So what's the take?" Syngaard asked, looking into the open box. The box's interior was filled with water, nothing more. "It's a decoy!" Orion surmised. "The real box must be in the other wagon!" While the others raced to the other wagon to check out its contents, Kaspar slipped a ring from the body of the slain doppelganger; its elaborate design made the monk suspect it was likely magical. He pocketed it for further investigation later and went to check the bodies of the slain wizards, coming up with three healing potions on each of them, neither of which they'd had time to even open before being slain.

The still-burning wagon in the rear of the convoy held a nearly identical box as the one in the lead wagon; Syngaard pulled it from the back of the vehicle and set it on the ground a safe distance away. There was a bound and horribly burned body in the back of the wagon as well, so Syngaard pulled it out as well. "Dead guy," he announced, setting him down on the ground as well.

"The wizards have no keys upon them," Kaspar noted. "They were likely not trusted with gaining access to the contents of the box they were transporting."

"That's weird," replied Galen.

Orion applied herself to the second locked box; now that she knew what to look for she gave the box special attention, seeking out hidden fire trap runes that would explode in her face if she failed to disarm them first. But try as she might she could find no such runes. "I guess it's safe," she reasoned. "Maybe they only trapped the fake box." She looked back at the others, but they had all backed up to a safe distance away from the box - just in case. "Cowards," she muttered to herself, flipping up the lid of the now unlocked box.

This one was also filled with liquid, but while originally appearing to be a clear, oily substance, it immediately darkened upon the lid being opened fully - and the halfling had no trouble instantly identifying it as osteovox. Floating in the substance was what looked to be the skeleton of a small bird wrapped in bandages - but then Orion realized if this was osteovox, those weren't likely bandages: they were strips of parchment, upon which would have been written a question the wizards had wanted answered.

But then the skeletal bird started moving, and with a muffled shriek the halfling slammed the lid back down.

"Let me out!" called the bird from within the box.

"What's going on?" asked Syngaard, having moved up once the box failed to explode like the first one had done. Orion filled him in on what had happened as the others approached.

"Let me out!" repeated the bird.

"What do we got in there - a bird lich?" asked Syngaard. "Is that even a thing?"

"I sense no evil," offered Galen.

"Of course you don't!" snapped Daleth in his most patronizing "you-stupid-human" voice. "It's within an anti-magic box!"

"Just what are we supposed to do with a bird lich?" asked Syngaard. "Let's just kill the damn thing."

"Why don't we try talking to it first?" suggested Kaspar, kneeling down beside the box. Cracking the lid open an inch or so, he asked, "Who are you?" to the skeletal bird within. With his elven vision, the monk could see the bird was indeed mobile - it had already shrugged out of the parchment that had been wrapped around it.

"My name is Alan," the bird replied. "I was once the familiar of Alexandros."

Syngaard slammed the lid back down. "Let's kill it," he repeated.

"Do not kill me!" replied the bird from inside the box. Kaspar cracked the box back open just enough so they could hear it better. "I was the first to be consumed into his phylactery, when he first became a lich! Lichdom severs the link between wizard and familiar."

"That's true," Daleth inserted.

"So what happened to you?" asked Orion.

"I used the osteovox to my own advantage," replied Alan. "I was communicating through the osteovox with Devarell - that's the dead prisoner - pretending to be the Mithral Mage. As 'Alexandros', I ordered Devarell to fetch a raven to submit to the osteovox ritual. He did so, but then the real Alexandros got wind of what was going on. He ordered the Seekers to stop the ritual and put the raven's body into the antimagic box. The box is activated by command word; once I was trapped inside the antimagic prevented the osteovox from working until somebody - namely you - opened the box. But then you opened it, the ritual completed, and I was able to inhabit this body."

"So the box isn't antimagic any more?" Galen asked.

"Not until you reactivate it by command word," Alan answered.

"Let me examine your aura," the paladin commanded, stepping up to the barely-open box and peering inside. "I detect no evil," he said to the group.

"Wait - what'd you say your name was again?" asked Syngaard suddenly.


"How do you spell that?"

"A-L-A-N." Syngaard counted the letters out on his fingers as the skeletal raven answered. "He's okay," the bald fighter announced.

"And how exactly did you arrive at this conclusion?" demanded Daleth.

"He's got four letters in his name," Syngaard replied. "We've done pretty good with animals with four-letter boy's names: Carl, Burt, Dick, John, and now Alan. I'm tellin' you, he's fine."

"What are your intentions?" demanded Galen, not wanting to put his trust into the number of letters in the raven's name.

"My only wish is for the Mithral Mage's phylactery to be destroyed," replied Alan. "That will free me, as well as all others whose souls have been engulfed into it."

"That's good enough for me," decided Orion, flipping the lid of the box fully open. A dark mist coalesced around Alan's skeletal bones, forming a translucent "body" not unlike his own original feathered form. He flapped up onto the edge of the box, gripping it tightly with his talons. Kaspar held out his arm and Alan flapped up onto it, perching upon it like a falcon on the arm of his master.

"Gather up whatever else we want to take, and then we'll get out of here," Galen commanded. Syngaard tipped the box onto its side, spilling out the osteovox, and then closed the lid and hefted it up. "C'mere, Dick!" he called, deactivating his bronze griffon with a touch and dropping it back into his pants pocket. Galen likewise dismissed Burt back to the Beastlands, and then the assembled conscripts each held onto the ring of return with one hand and Kaspar, with a word, sent everyone back to the very outskirts of Durnhill, from where they had teleported in.

- - -

This adventure was over much sooner than Logan had intended, in part because he hadn't anticipated Joey deciding to have his PC cast see invisibility through the crystal ball (Daleth's 18 Intelligence must be wearing off on his player!) and in part because his dice decided to betray him all night. Seriously, the enemy hardly ever managed to hit, and when they did it wasn't for much damage. In fact, I think during the whole session, Daleth's stoneskin spell protected him from all but 3 hp of damage from the Azure Guardsman's arrows, and likewise Orion's bracelet shielded her from all but 5 points of fire damage when the fire trap went off in her face. And that was it. On the other hand, Daleth's empowered fireball took out both mounts and weakened both wizards so much that they could be taken out that same round. Neither of them even got to cast a spell!

The doppelganger's ring was a ring of invisibility, and we jointly decided it made the most sense to give it to Orion. Vicki was very pleased with that decision.

And best of all, Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard each reached 13th level as a result of this adventure.
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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 11
Galen Thorne, human paladin 13
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 13
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 12
Syngaard, human fighter 13​

Game Session Date: 6 March 2019

- - -

Syngaard was thrashing around in bed again, a despondent moan escaping his lips. In his dream, he was standing in a forest clearing, listening to the crackle of flames as the cabin he'd built was engulfed in the conflagration, taking with it the body of his dead wife. Hope was cradled in his arms, swaddled in a blanket, one of the few items he'd taken from the cabin before setting it ablaze. "Mezz..." Syngaard sighed aloud.

"Shhh, shhh, it's okay," said a woman's voice, cradling the bald man in her arms.

"Mezz," Syngaard whimpered, slowly leaving the recurring dream behind and waking in a darkened bedroom.

"I know," Cori replied in a whisper. "I know. But it's all over. She's gone on to a better life. But you'll see her again, in time."

Syngaard accepted the embrace and comfort of the woman in bed beside him, but even in his sleep-addled state he knew what Cori had said wasn't necessarily true. Thanks to the accursed Mithral Mage, when Syngaard died his soul wouldn't pass on from this world to be reunited with his dead wife - it would be trapped here, entangled in Alexandros's phylactery. Helpless tears leaked out from his eyes at the thought.

"Sleep now," soothed Cori. It wasn't unusual for the burly fighter to have such dreams - when he slept, his mind seemed trapped in the moment of his wife's death. It was, she knew, why he preferred sleeping in her bed; she was able to comfort him at such times. The woman had no misconceptions about why Syngaard preferred her over the other girls in Mama Kat's establishment: it was her red hair, the same color and length as that of Syngaard's dead wife. Cori continued stroking the bald head of the man lying next to her, making soothing noises until his breathing told her he'd fallen back to sleep - and hopefully to a more restful one this time. She then let out a sigh of her own. Some day, she thought, he'll let the memories of his dead wife fade away, and realize there are other women here on this world worthy of being loved. Maybe one day I'll finally get him to do more than just sleep in this bed we share....

Cori was just falling back to sleep herself when Syngaard gave a gasp and sat straight up in bed. "What the Hell--?" he cried out.

"What is it?" Cori asked. This didn't sound like another of his nightmares. It wasn't: Syngaard had just received a telepathic message directly into his mind, waking him instantly: <Precognitive alarm activation: there will be an attack on the tavern in five minutes.>

Syngaard swung his feet off the side of the bed and fumbled for a tindertwig from the box on the nightstand. Flicking it into a tiny flame, he lit one of the scented candles Cori kept there. "What is it?" she asked again.

"Attack about to happen at the tavern. Something about cogs - constructs or something, I guess. C'mon - help me into my armor." Syngaard slipped on his pants and shirt, then shrugged into his mithral breastplate and allowed Cori to help buckle it into place. He strapped on the metal pieces that covered his thighs and arms and slipped on his heavy boots. He'd just put on his gauntlets and strapped on his weapon-belt with the scimitar hanging in its scabbard, and Cori was reaching under the bed for his morningstars, when there was a creak from the bedroom door. Syngaard and Cori both looked over at the door - the only way into or out of the bedroom - and saw an armored man framed in the now-open doorway. He had a gleaming longsword in his right hand, and in the flickering candlelight the intruder's skin looked exceptionally pale and his eyes appeared red, like a wolf's.

"Ah, you're awake," he said, a smile forming on the sides of his mouth. "That will make this more...interesting."

Meanwhile, the second floor of the Enchanted Flagon was a bundle of excited movement. The other conscripts had each received the same telepathic message warning of an impending attack and were gearing up. For the elves, this was merely a matter of slipping on their clothes: a wizard's robes for Daleth and loose-fitting garments for Kaspar, allowing him the full movement required as a monk. Orion donned her own halfling-sized mithral breastplate, whistling for her dog as she did so. Carl materialized in the corner of the room and she quickly slipped her bag of blades into place at the side of his ghost touch saddle. Then she leaped onto the saddle and sent Carl to the tavern below in the quickest way possible: straight through the floor, via a jaunt to the Ethereal Plane.

When they were level with the tavern's floor they phased back into the Material Plane and found Galen already there in full armor. "That was fast!" Orion said, impressed with how quickly the paladin had gotten into full gear - and his plate mail took longer to don than did her own breastplate.

"I was already up," Galen admitted - with his ring of sustenance, he needed a mere two hours of sleep each night and had yet to retire when the telepathic alarm activated. "Any idea what to expect?"

"None," admitted Orion, unsheathing her flaming short sword from her perch on Carl's saddle. "That new alarm system Skevros added sends a message a few minutes back in time after someone triggers it, but he said it would be too difficult to give specifics. So it's just the generic warning. Could be anything."

Galen grunted in acknowledgement and called to his own mount from across the planes, wanting to be ready for the worst just in case. Burt manifested at once in the middle of the tavern. Just then Dow appeared from the back room, having exited the Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion Skevros had erected there on a permanent basis. "Daddy says to be ready!" said the homunculus. Since she was currently inside the astral golem Skevros had built for her, she appeared to be a normal human woman - an elegant noblewoman with shining black hair, this time. "He's at the manor in the Azure Glade and he got an alarm warning that there would be an attack there, the same as here!"

"Shall we join him there?" asked Galen.

"No, he'll handle things there, he said. He wants you to hold off the attack here. Where's Syngaard?"

"Where is he ever?" scoffed Orion. "Back at that whore house he lives in. Probably being rebuffed by even the ugliest of the whores, if she's got even the tiniest amount of self-respect."

The front door of the tavern opened at that moment and Kaspar dashed in. He took the appearance of a dire lion and a ghost dog in stride, Burt and Carl having long since been a part of their odd little band. "Is Daleth still upstairs?" he asked. "He should have been the first one down - he has less gear than any of the rest of us!" But Daleth was indeed still upstairs; he'd exited his bedroom and closed the door behind him when he noticed mist seeping beneath the door that led to the balcony directly above the tavern's front door. That was unusual; even on foggy days the closed door usually kept it at bay - this seemed to be deliberate. Mentally running through his prepared spells, he found what he'd been seeking and cast a dispel magic at the fog seeping beneath the door. It coalesced into a human woman dressed in black leather armor. "Todd!" he called out, but the pseudodragon was already in motion, striking out with the stinger at the end of his scorpionlike tail. The stinger hit the young woman in the side of the neck, she looked up in surprise (not only at having been stung but also at having been yanked out of her gaseous form) - and then her eyes rolled back in her head and she crashed to the floor, sleeping soundly. "Good work!" Daleth said to his familiar and Todd purred in contentment.

"What was that?" Galen asked, looking up at the ceiling where the thumping sound had come from. Instinctively, he cast forth his senses and picked up a strong source of evil coming from above; he followed with the casting of a magic circle against evil spell. But Kaspar was already dashing back out through the front door. Rather than running around behind the tavern and up the stairs, he raced straight up the side of the building's wall, his slippers of spider climbing making that the quickest path up to the balcony. And once up there, he could see three distinct masses of fog, each somewhat humanoid in shape, either seeping under the door to the building's interior or waiting to do so. Unsure of being able to harm fog with even the most powerful of his strikes, he assumed a defensive stance and prepared himself to lash out should any of the forms regain substance.

Back at Mama Kat's, Cori wasn't going to stand for anyone bursting into her room. "You get out of here!" she demanded.

Vladir smiled widely again, pointing his sword at Syngaard, who had unsheathed his human bane scimitar - although he was beginning to doubt this intruder was still human anymore. "Gladly, my dear," the vampire agreed. "Just as soon as I slay this waste of breath!"

"Stay back!" Syngaard called behind him to Cori, but she knew better than to get in the way of a sword fight. The two warriors traded blows, the vampire's blade sliding off Syngaard's shield and the scarred human's weapon failing to pierce the vampire's armor. Then Syngaard amended his orders. "Cori!" he called. "Grab my Dick!"

As Cori scampered across the bed, Syngaard changed his stance so he was standing sideways, allowing Cori to reach into his pants pocket from behind and remove the figurine of wondrous power he kept in there. She rubbed her hand across the bronze statuette, then pressed herself against the back wall as the griffon expanded to its full size - his front talons on the floor and his rear legs on the bed, threatening to collapse it with his weight. Dick snapped at the vampire with his beak, but the griffon was hindered by the cramped space and Vladir easily avoided the attack. Syngaard and the vampire swung their weapons at each other, but found the crowded conditions of the bedroom unconducive to melee skirmishes. Cori dove under the bed where she thought she'd be safest.

Back on the balcony above the Enchanted Flagon, one of the misty shapes formed a pair of red, glowing eyes and tried dominating Kaspar into doing its bidding - but the monk's willpower was too great to be overcome in such a manner. Kaspar struck his right fist - the one wearing the tenryutsume - into the mist, aiming for the red eyes, and Lokir was surprised to find he could be hurt while still in his mist form. Then the vampire got another surprise, for Galen and Burt had raced back outside the tavern and the dire lion had easily leaped up to the second-story landing. Burt bit Lokir as he was still assuming his solid form, while Galen brought his sword of Zehkar to bear, stabbing deep into the vampire's chest and channeling the power of Hieroneous through his blade.

One of the other misty forms seeped underneath the balcony door and between Daleth's feet, taking shape behind him. The vampire sorceress, Sanguina, cast a scorching ray at the elven wizard, but only one of the two burning orbs hit him. Spinning to face this sudden attacker, Daleth set himself up for another surprise attack from another enemy who had seeped beneath the balcony door in mist form. This was Thorvin, who resumed solid form and led with a smite good attack on the elf, cutting a line of pain across the wizard's side with his blade.

Orion and Carl passed through the floor behind the sorceress and Carl returned them to the Material Plane, allowing his halfling mistress to sneak attack the undead woman, Orion's magically-enhanced eyes allowing her to see the lines of negative energy coursing through Sanguina's body like veins. While the vampiric spellcaster was thus occupied, Daleth backed into Kaspar's room and cast a greater invisibility spell upon himself and Todd. The pseudodragon then took the opportunity to stab out at Thorvin, but he missed with his tail-strike - not that it was likely his sleep poison would harm a vampire in any case (although the pseudodragon noted this fighter's skin wasn't as pale as the sorceress's - maybe he wasn't a vampire after all?).

Kaspar hit Lokir several times with a flurry of blows, causing the vampire to revert back to mist and flow under the balcony door, into the hallway where Orion and Carl were fighting Sanguina. The vampire sorceress backed away from the halfling and the ghost dog into Daleth's room, casting a see invisibility spell on herself; she'd been assigned the elf wizard as her victim and wasn't about to report failure. Upon Orion's urging, Carl faded back into the Ethereal Plane and passed through the wall to Daleth's room, the two of them positioned unseen behind Sanguina.

Thorvin had lost sight of Daleth, but that didn't matter: he'd been assigned the paladin of Hieroneous in any case. Unaware that his intended victim was riding his dire lion out on the balcony at that very moment, Thorvin charged into Galen's room, only to find it empty. Galen opened the balcony door - even when locked, it opened at the touch of the iron rings the conscripts all wore - and sent Burt tearing down the hallway in search of invaders. They charged into Sanguina through the open doorway to Daleth's room, Burt catching the female vampire between his massive teeth. Galen channeled another smite evil strike through his magic longsword, causing the vampiress to scream in pain.

But now Daleth and Todd re-entered the fight, both still covered by the elf's greater invisibility spell. Daleth tried casting a control undead spell on Lokir, liking the thought of dominating a vampire since vampires were so keen on dominating others, but Lokir managed to avoid the spell's effects. Todd's stinger attack against Thorvin was no more successful, despite the fact that the fighter seemed oblivious to the pseudodragon's invisible attack; the man's armor prevented the stinger from piercing flesh.

Then Kaspar entered through the balcony door behind Galen and Burt. He used an unconventional approach; despite having several different ways of getting into the scrimmage, he activated his amber amulet of vermin and John, his giant stag beetle, manifested behind Lokir, clamping his powerful mandibles around the vampire's waist.

Syngaard, in the meantime, was bleeding from several wounds, Vladir being impressively capable with his blade. But while Syngaard had managed to give back as good as he got - he'd had Cori toss him his trusty morningstar after it was apparent that Vladir wasn't going to be dealt any additional damage from the magic scimitar's human bane enhancements - Vladir seemed to be slowly healing his wounds while Syngaard would need to take a moment to swig down a healing potion if he wanted his own wounds to close up. But then, when fighting a vampire, having bleeding wounds wasn't necessarily a bad thing - more than once Syngaard had noticed the vampire's attention being drawn to the blood trickling down the side of the bald fighter's face, where the longsword had carved him a nice, new scar.

Dick had proven to not be much help in the cramped quarters of Cori's bedroom, so Syngaard had set him on guard duty, keeping the vampire from getting to Cori. This the griffon did by dint of his bulk, although Vladir didn't seem all that interested in Cori in any case - he'd focused his attention on Syngaard from the first moment he'd entered the room.

"It's just a matter of time," Vladir smirked, getting the tip of his sword past Syngaard's defenses and nicking his forearm, just past the gauntlet he wore. "We seem to be fairly evenly matched in skill, but I fear I have much more endurance than your frail, human frame can boast."

"Oh yeah?" Syngaard replied, wishing he was quick enough to come up with a witty rejoinder - not that he had any idea of what a "rejoinder" was, in any case, or would recognize the word if he heard it spoken aloud. But that didn't matter; what he lacked in book-learning he made up for in street-smarts, and all of a sudden an idea popped into his head. "Cori!" he yelled. "Come get this!" Then, while the red-headed woman crawled out from beneath the bed, Syngaard held his shield up high before him, not in a defensive maneuver at all but just so he could get his left hand near enough to his neck. Then, grabbing the wooden holy symbol of Pelor that Mezz had worn for as long as he'd known her - and which he had taken from her body before setting the cabin ablaze - he yanked the cord hard, breaking it free from his neck. He passed it back to Cori, who had the presence of mind to hold it up high, pointed at Vladir. "Back, beast!" she called - and the vampire hissed, flinching before the holy symbol. Vladir took a step back and Syngaard followed, bringing his morningstar slamming painfully into the vampire's side.

Lokir was pinned tightly between John's mouthparts but didn't seem overly concerned about it - if it became necessary, he could always revert to mist. Casting an unholy blight spell, he caused a greasy darkness to overcome those in his vicinity not tainted with evil: John, Galen, Burt, Kaspar, the invisible Daleth, and the still-sleeping rogue Todd had knocked into blissful slumber after Daleth had dispelled her gaseous form effect. Lokir managed to shrug out of the beetle's grip as he watched his spell take effect on his enemies. The spell was enough to knock Daleth into unconsciousness, although nobody was able to see it but Sanguina - and she was too busy being chewed upon by Burt to notice. The vampire sorceress slammed the side of the dire lion's maned head, draining the great cat of a portion of his life energy. Orion performed another sneak attack on Sanguina, sliding back into the Material Plane with Carl and driving her flaming short sword deep into the vampire's side.

Thorvin saw Galen, his target, astride the dire lion mauling Sanguina and turned to charge down the hallway in their direction. He channeled a smite good attack through his blade - but then tripped on Daleth's invisible form where he lay unconscious in the hallway, throwing off his aim. Thorvin's blade smote nothing but the wooden floor.

Galen's blade finished off Sanguina, whose body dissipated into mist upon her death and flowed down the hallway, towards the balcony. In the midst of battle, Galen knew there was no way to track it back to her lair; his understanding of vampires was that they'd go straight back to their coffins to heal when slain, so the paladin was certain they'd have an opportunity to see the vampire sorceress again. Instead, he focused on Thorvin, whose clumsy attack had brought him within range of the sword of Zehkar. Burt, angered that the vampiress he'd had firmly in his jaws had escaped, roared in fury.

Galen's blade hit Thorvin and the paladin was surprised to see blood flow from the wound - apparently at least this enemy wasn't a member of the undead (although his aura was just as evil as the vampires who'd attacked the conscripts this night). Todd struck Thorvin in the neck with his stinger, but the venom failed to knock out the armored warrior. But one of the electrified daggers from Orion's bag of blades went flying down the hallway, catching Thorvin on the other side of his neck. Blood gushed down from the wound; the halfling's throw had been spot on, dealing severe damage. Feeling he'd do best to flee and live to see another dawn, Thorvin backed away and drank down another potion of gaseous form, heading down the hallway to the back door leading to the stairs.

John and Kaspar attacked Lokir simultaneously, causing the vampire cleric to have to cast an inflict wounds spell upon himself to recover. But then Galen channeled a blast of positive energy through his illumium scabbard, striking the undead cleric and exploding him into involuntary mist.

Todd landed on the floor beside Daleth's unconscious form and felt for the invisible wizard's belt, counting the potion vials kept there. He pulled out the second one (which if memory served was a healing concoction), pulled out the cork with the stinger on his tail - it popped like a champagne bottle being opened - and poured it down his master's throat. Daleth sputtered and sat up, awakened back to consciousness. Then, looking about him and puzzling out what had happened while he was out, he channeled a scorching ray through his metamagic rod and blasted the human-shaped mist headed for the back door. The spell knocked out Thorvin, who reverted back to human form but remained floating in mid-air, the power of his gaseous form potion keeping him aloft until it wore off.

But the conscripts at the Enchanted Flagon had run out of enemies to fight. Galan examined the aura of the sleeping rogue woman and found it untainted by evil, so he helped her awake and got her story. The woman, Nikara, was a Durnhillian rogue who had been dominated by the vampires to do their bidding. She was also able to tell them that Thorvin Bleakheart was the still-living brother of the vampire cleric, Lokir Bleakheart. Kaspar examined the back of Thorvin's neck; it was easy, with the unconscious human floating in mid-air. Sure enough, he bore the crimson hourglass tattoo of the vampiric sect of the Seekers of Eternity.

"Oh, crap - Syngaard!' said Orion suddenly. In the heat of battle, they'd forgotten all about the scarred fighter who chose to dwell away from the rest of them. But Syngaard had done okay for himself, aided as he was by Cori wielding Mezz's holy symbol of Pelor. Vladir couldn't help but back away from it, giving Syngaard ample opportunity to get in a few licks with his morningstar, until the vampire finally exited Mama Kat's establishment and dissipated into mist, blowing away in the slight breeze. The bald fighter couldn't be sure, but he thought he heard a quiet "I'll be back!" among the night noises.

"Good job!" Syngaard nodded to Cori, and the redhead flushed with the praise. The fighter folded his hands over Cori's, trapping the holy symbol in her grasp. "I'll leave this with you, for protection - and Dick as well," he assured her. "But I gotta go see if the others are okay. I'll be back!" he promised, then dashed off into the night.

Syngaard entered the Enchanted Flagon from the front door as Skevros was coming in through the back, via the extradimensional gate linking the two manors. He looked scorched and battle-weary. Karen was standing there with a mug of ale, but to Syngaard's disappointment she brought it to the king's adviser. Skevros drank it down with a nod of thanks.

"I fought off the leader of the vampiric Seekers at Wrencrofft Manor," Skevros announced. "Again, actually - the leader was the same one who had taken the form of a dracolich when the city was under attack."

"So what was this - an assassination attempt?" asked Orion.

"I can only hope that's all it was," Skevros sighed. "But I fear it may have been a diversionary tactic to keep us busy and to prevent us from interfering with some other sinister plot."

A sudden look of terror crossed Syngaard's face and he went rushing past the king's adviser and into the extradimensional manor, returning a moment later after having checked on the other two inhabitants of the pocket dimension. "Hope and Maria are both okay - they're sound asleep," he said. He motioned to Karen for an ale of his own; after a scare like that, he needed one!

"I fear we haven't seen the last of those two vampires who escaped us in mist form," said Galen.

"Three," Syngaard corrected, taking Vladir into account. "What're we gonna do with them two?" he asked, pointing to Nikara and Thorvin. The latter had been securely bound with ropes to a chair and Galen had even attended to the worst of his wounds, but Thorvin had not yet awakened from his ordeal. Skevros had further questions for the Seeker, but he was content to wait a moment for his answers.

"You are free to go," Skevros said to Nikara after having heard her part in all of this. "You, I fear, were naught but an unwilling pawn."

"Yeah, well, I still don't think I'll feel safe around here, knowing those vampires could return at any time," the female thief replied. "I think I might head on north, to Ashfall, at least until all of this blows over. Thanks for freeing me from them."

"Nothin' says 'thanks' like cold, hard cash," pointed out Syngaard, looking up from his mug of ale. Nikara just stared at him; then, without a word, she undid her leather belt and pulled it free, fumbling around with a hidden flap on the inside and pulling out several coins. She tossed them onto the table, then turned and walked out the front door, threading her belt back into place through the loops of her armor.

"Hey, mithral!" Syngaard said, picking up one of the five thick coins on the table. "Not bad!"

"Syngaard!" chided Orion. "Heroes don't charge victims for their rescue!"

"What?" Syngaard asked. "We all fought for our lives, and this wasn't no payin' mission this time! Only seems right we get compensated one way or another." Then he finished up his ale and headed back to Mama Kat's - Dick would revert back to statuette form before too long, and he didn't want Cori feeling unprotected before he got back there.

- - -

Once again, Syngaard's distant dwelling place (it's actually just down the street, but that's far enough) meant he was separated from the rest of the conscripts for the majority of this adventure. I just think it's fitting that he saved his bacon by using Mezz's holy symbol of Pelor - that's something I had purchased back at character creation as "window dressing," never expecting it would have an actual role to play in-game. That was pretty cool!

And for the record, Syngaard might work as a bouncer in a whore house, but he works purely for room and board - he doesn't "sample the wares," as it were. He's pretty messed up over Mezz's death, even a year and more after the fact; he's not interested in other women at this point and it's possible that might hold true indefinitely, Cori's feelings on the matter notwithstanding.

Before we started this session, Harry and I spent some of our hard-earned coin: he in upgrading Kaspar's tenryutsume to include the holy weapon ability, and me in upgrading Syngaard's +1 morningstar to a +3.



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 11
Galen Thorne, human paladin 13
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 13
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 12
Syngaard, human fighter 13​

Game Session Date: 20 March 2019

- - -

"We will meet here tomorrow morning at eight bells," Skevros announced to the assembled conscripts. "His Majesty, King Leornic the Third, will be here to give you your next mission himself. However, I want to go over a few rules of conduct now, so that we all understand how we will behave in front of the king." Despite the "we all" in the adviser's statement, he was looking straight at Syngaard as he said it and everyone there got the feeling that the emphasis on the rules was specifically for the bald fighter's benefit.

"I'm listenin'," Syngaard grumbled.

"First of all, no one is to say Alexandros's name in front of His Majesty, upon pain of death. I cannot stress this one enough: now that we know that anyone who knows the true name of the Mithral Mage will be trapped here as a ghost upon their death, allowing King Leornic to learn Alexandros's name is an act of treason that will be dealt with in the most severe way possible. Are we all understood on this point? Syngaard?"

"Got it," Syngaard scowled.

"The mission you will be sent on will in fact be a paying mission, but no one is to bring up the subject of remuneration - of payment, that is. We do not wish to appear to be motivated merely by greed, when the mission will be to the benefit of the kingdom and its allies. Is this point also clear?"

Syngaard realized Skevros was looking directly at him. "Got it," he repeated.

"Finally, we will not be referring to Syngaard's griffon by name. Should the need arise to mention the beast, it will be referred to simply as 'the bronze griffon'."

Syngaard let out a sigh of exasperation. "Tell you what," he said. "Howzabout I just keep quiet during the whole meeting? That make everyone happy?"

"That'd certainly make me happy!" Orion piped up. "In fact, you might want to start practicing now, so you'll be real good at it by tomorrow morning."

"Suits me fine," Syngaard snarled. "We done here?"

Skevros nodded. "Be sure everyone's in place well before eight bells. I'll have you all enter as a group once His Majesty's settled in. That is all." Without another word, Syngaard turned on his heels and exited the Enchanted Flagon, heading back to Mama Kat's and his job as a bouncer. At least there he didn't need to put up with any such grief!

But the next morning he was in place with the others, over by the stables, as King Leornic's carriage pulled up to the Enchanted Flagon. The ruler stepped down with the aid of his adviser, and then Skevros turned back to the carriage and helped down a young woman in the yellow robes of an illusionist from the Azure Glade. This was Leorna, Galen realized, the Guildmistress of the Illusionists - the conscripts had met up with her on several previous occasions. Two of the king's personal guards took up positions just outside the tavern's door, while another went inside with the king and his two companions. A few minutes later, Galen received a message spell from Skevros bidding the conscripts to enter.

Galen led the group of five to the front door of the tavern, where the guards stepped aside to let them enter, then resumed their positions blocking the only entrance to the building's lower interior. Entering the tavern, they saw King Leornic III sitting in Skevros's usual place at their head table, with the adviser on his left and a royal guard standing at his right. Leorna stood off to the side, by another table. Karen was conspicuously absent. The group lined up, bowed as one before their liege, and took seats at a table farther away, each facing the king.

"I have news," King Leornic stated. "Yesterday, the exsanguinated body of an Ashfall messenger was found in an alleyway. He bore a message requesting the assistance of the Heroes of Ashfall" - and here he indicated the group at large with a wave of his hand - "in dealing with a group of wizards who took over the mithral mines."

"By the time we were made aware of the message, it was too late to act, " Skevros added. "The wizards had erected a two-way teleportation circle and the Ossirnan army used it to enter the kingdom and lay siege to the capital city of Ashfall."

"I intend to divert a portion of my armies to help break the siege," King Leornic said. "Unfortunately, with the teleportation circle in place, the Ossirnans can send in reinforcements whenever they need. Therefore, I need you five to retake the mithral mines and shut down the circle before my forces move in."

"Most of you have already been to these mines," Skevros observed. "I will teleport you directly outside them - the mines are shielded from scrying attempts, so I cannot simply drop you inside. I have already provided Serenity with a dimensional anchoring stone; she will meet you there, but of course she cannot enter the mines herself as they've been warded against her kind." Skevros wasn't spelling it out, but the conscripts were all well aware that Serenity was a redeemed succubus - not that her redemption did anything to prevent her from being warded away from the mines like any other outsider. The king's adviser continued: "You will defeat the defending force, meet up with Serenity, and use the stone to shut down the teleportation circle. You need merely place the stone within the circle to render it unusable. Once you've accomplished your mission, exit the mines at once. Leorna and Orlin will be scrying upon the exterior of the mines and when they see you exit they'll teleport in and keep the mines defended while the assembled armies break the siege of Ashfall."

"Do you have any questions?" asked the king. Syngaard clamped his jaws shut and pointedly said nothing. Instead, Galen answered for the group. "We understand our duties, Your Majesty. We will complete our mission for the glory of Durnhill!"

"Good man," King Leornic III nodded in approval as he stood up and, escorted by his bodyguard and Leorna, exited the tavern. Syngaard waited until they were well outside before saying "Suck up!" to the young paladin in a quiet voice, earning him a stern look from Skevros.

"You will each be paid 5,000 pieces of gold to complete this mission," Skevros said, knowing that would get Syngaard back on track. "Come along, now." And he led them outside to the city wall, where he could cast a teleport spell without interference from the magic shielding against such effects within the boundaries of the capital city of Durnhill. He pulled a crystal ball from a pocket of his robes and concentrated on it, bringing up an image of the area just outside the mines. There seemed to be a half-dozen armored figures standing guard before the mine entrance. Galen peered through the crystal sphere, focusing upon the auras of those whose images appeared within. "Definitely evil," he announced. Daleth cast a see invisibility spell upon his eyes and peered through the divination sphere, seeking any hidden enemies. "I see no invisible forces," he announced to the group.

"Me neither," Syngaard added, squinting at the images in the crystal ball. Orion just rolled her eyes, not wanting to waste the time explaining to the scarred fighter that the whole point of invisibility was that you couldn't be seen except through magic like Daleth's. Instead, she pointed out something her keen halfling eyes had picked up about the warriors' armor. "Note the reddish color of their metal," she said. "That looks like it's the same metal that tuning fork thing was made of, when we fought the cultists in the mines trying to open permanent gates to Hell. Remember?"

"Oh, I think I remember that fight," Syngaard replied, glaring down at the halfling with distaste. That was the battle where he'd found out the hard way she'd swapped out one of his healing elixirs with a potion of reduce person and he'd been shrunken down to halfling size in a failed attempt to graft some empathy for the wee folk into the bald fighter's brain.

"Are we ready?" asked Skevros, standing just inside the gate of the capital ciy. The conscripts walked through the gate so they were outside the city's borders and the teleport spell would affect them normally. Galen summoned Burt and Orion whistled for her ghost-dog Carl, then the paladin cast a bless weapon spell upon the sword of Zehkar and a resist fire spell upon himself. Daleth cast a series of spells - stoneskin, magic circle against evil, and fly - upon himself, and then, using scrolls Orion had purchased and provided to the elf to cast for her, stoneskin on Orion and mage armor on Carl. Syngaard and Kaspar stood waiting for the spellcasters to finish their stuff, the elf with a serene expression on his face and the scarred fighter wishing they'd just get on with it already. Finally, all the preparations were finished and Skevros cast the teleport spell, sending the group instantly across the miles to the mithral mines in the kingdom of Ashfall.

Kaspar, as usual, was the first to react. There were two soldiers standing before the group and the monk used his extra speed to pass by the first warrior - best to leave him to the slower members of the group, so they'd have something to do - before he could react and slammed the soldier farther back with a stunning fist powered by his tenryutsume. The fighter reeled from the blow, but the monk could see the man's hellish armor absorbed the fire damage from the sky-dragon's claw and he retained his weapon and shield so the stunning hadn't been all it could have been, either. Still, it was a good start to a sudden combat the defenders apparently hadn't seen coming.

Syngaard followed the elf's path and struck at the same soldier with his human bane scimitar, dealing him a significant amount of damage - but again, not as much as he'd hoped; the hellish armor was somehow deflecting some of the power of the fighter's attacks.

Daleth cast a greater invisibility spell upon him and his pseudodragon familiar Todd, then they flew over to the first soldier. Todd stabbed out with his scorpionlike tail but failed to penetrate past the defender's reddish metal armor.

Straight ahead of the place where the conscripts had teleported in stood a ramshackle set of ruins, a one-story stone building that now had naught but a canvas tarp for a roof. Into a side entrance of this ruined structure dashed the captain of the Ossirnan elite force ordered to guard the entrance to the mines from any opposing forces. His heavy armor slowed the speed of his sprint, but he thought by ducking inside the building he could pop out of a gap in the northern wall and get in a surprise attack against these interlopers.

Off to the far west stood the defenders' only female member, a ranger with a powerful longbow ready to shoot a flurry of arrows at the attackers. Quick as a wink, she sent three arrows streaking across the distance to strike Galen, sitting astride his dire lion mount; fortunately for the paladin, the first two were easily deflected by his shield, leaving only one of the three to deal him any damage. Almost disdainfully, he brushed it from his right arm with the edge of his shield.

A defending cleric advanced, casting a magic circle against good spell upon himself as he did so - he was too far away to bring his weapon to bear on the invaders.

Burt pounced forward, crashing into the first soldier with a flurry of teeth and claws. Upon his back, Galen channeled a smite evil attack through his longsword, sensing while he did so a bit of discomfort from his dire lion upon contact with the hellish metal of the man's armor. Burt, a creature from the Beastlands, definitely did not like the feel of the hell-metal. Behind them, the other mounted pair - Orion and Carl - faded from view as the ghost-dog phased over to the Ethereal Plane, dashing forward unseen and unsensed directly behind the first soldier, who was busy trying to defend himself against Burt's assault. The second soldier attacked Syngaard but his sword's blade only struck the bald fighter's shield. Over by the cleric, the third soldier moved forward, eager to prove himself before his superiors.

With a flurry of movement almost too fast to be seen by the naked eye, Kaspar sent a barrage of kicks and punches at the soldier who had foolishly assumed Syngaard to be a greater threat than an elf wearing no armor and wielding no weapon. The soldier fell to the ground, dead - the first casualty of the battle. Kaspar stepped nimbly back, out of range of the approaching third soldier.

Syngaard swapped weapons quickly, opting to use his brilliant energy flaming morningstar instead of his human bane scimitar despite the fact that all six of the defenders appeared to be human; they were all heavily armored and the magic morningstar's weapon-head would pass right through the armor as if it wasn't there. Even better, the flames of the weapon could then actually burn the flesh of the men wearing the hellish armor that normally shielded them from the worst effects of flames. "Ha!" Syngaard chuckled at the look of pain on the face of the soldier who first learned of the magic effects of the bald fighter's weapon.

Daleth, still invisible, flew into the ruined structure and came up behind the Ossirnan leader. He cast a simple color spray at the captain, realizing it was far from his most potent spell but part of him merely curious of what the effects might be - plus, if the spell had no effect, the captain wouldn't know who had cast it even if he was aware that a spell had been cast upon him in the first place. But surprisingly, the low-level spell had as much as an effect as was possible for someone of the captain's mental strength: he froze up, his hands going numb as he dropped his unholy hellsteel longsword and shield to the ground before him. The equally invisible Todd tried stinging him for good measure but his stinger failed to find a way past the fighter's thick armor.

Over to the west, the ranger changed targets since Burt and Galen had charged over behind the side of the ruined structure. However, Syngaard made an equally viable target, especially given the magic imbued in the ranger's longbow, which doubled the distance over which the arrows fired from it were still effective. She shot three arrows at Syngaard, all three of which plinked off his raised shield. She was not amused.

The cleric was now close enough for ranged spellcraft to be effective. He opted to drop an unholy blight spell down upon Kaspar, Syngaard, Galen, and Burt. (Orion and Carl were also well within the spell's radius and would also have been affected had they not currently been on the Ethereal Plane.) Syngaard was the only one affected by the cloying miasma of the spell, the others able to shrug off its intended effects.

Galen and Burt continued their attacks upon the first soldier, but it was Orion who finished him with a backstab with her flaming short sword as Carl faded back into the Material Plane. Now without a target close by, Kaspar dashed off around the side of the stone building, coming up behind Daleth (who scooted to the side at the monk's approach, realizing Kaspar couldn't see him) and striking the captain of the Ossirnan detachment with a stunning fist. Just as the leader had been shaking off the stunning effect of the color spray spell, the monk's attack renewed the effects for him. It was all the poor guy could do to remain standing.

Syngaard caught a glimpse of the stunned figure standing inside the building with his weapon and shield at his feet and a dazed expression on his face and decided this was an opportunity too good to pass up. Dashing inside the building, Syngaard gave the captain the full force of his brilliant energy flaming morningstar, practically knocking him from his feet. Daleth popped outside the building through the opening Syngaard had just used as an entrance and targeted the third soldier with a chain lightning spell, arcing the spell back to strike the captain and the approaching cleric. The main target of the spell fell over, dead, while the other two remained standing - although the captain, still stunned, only just barely.

The ranger took a step to her right, for she could see Kaspar standing in the ruined building through a side entrance - in fact, it was framing the elf perfectly to line up her shots. Off went another trio of arrows in rapid succession, this time against the ranger's third target of the day. To her utter disgust, despite him looking directly into the room ahead and apparently unaware of the incoming missiles, the elf turned at the last possible second and caught the first arrow in his left hand, then dodged his head by a small amount and allowed the second arrow to fly harmlessly by. He moved as if to swat the third arrow off to the side with his right hand but it hit, getting caught up in the links of his tenryutsume and doing little damage. Kaspar gave the ranger his best glare as he tossed the arrow in his left hand to the ground in disdain, then pulled the other one from his right arm and broke it in half - never once breaking eye contact. Against her wishes, the ranger found herself gulping in intimidation.

The cleric continued with his spellcasting, bringing a flame strike spell down upon Galen, Burt, Orion, and Carl - the latter two only because they had mysteriously appeared a mere moment before. Galen and Orion were both partially shielded from flame attacks which mitigated the amount of damage they took from the spell; Carl's ghostly form allowed him to avoid the spell entirely, despite his current presence in the material world. Only Burt had no such protection and he roared his displeasure to all in the immediate area. Galen turned Burt and had him retreat behind the cover of the ruins, healing his own wounds with a surge of Hieroneous's restorative energy flowing through his own hands. Burt raced through an opening in the east side of the building and charged down the hallway, heading towards Kaspar, who stood glaring at a figure to the west.

Orion and Carl phased back into the Ethereal Plane and raced straight through the walls of the building, headed toward the still-stunned captain standing in one of the interior rooms. Sensing the captain starting to move - indicating a return to his senses - Kaspar whirled on him again with another stunning blow, leaving him standing all but helplessly. Syngaard took full advantage of the leader's immobility, getting in three good whacks with his magic morningstar.

Daleth, now outside the building, cast a shocking grasp spell on the cleric. Todd by now had tired of trying to sting people almost entirely encased in hellish armor, but he flapped his invisible wings noisily behind the cleric to divert his attention while Daleth cast his touch spell, sending jolts of electricity to arc up and down the cleric's armor. The cleric had no choice at this point but to waste a spell healing his own wounds, so he could remain in the battle without passing out.

The ranger bit down her fear and fired another trio of arrows at Kaspar, this time failing to hit him even once. Worse yet, he accelerated in her direction, speeding out of the building and headed straight for her, slapping away any arrows she sent flying his way almost as an afterthought. Upon his arrival, he sent his right hand striking at her like a cobra, catching her in the side of the neck and stunning her into immobility as well, causing her to drop her enchanted longbow to the ground.

Galen cast a heal mount spell, sealing up the worst of the wounds Burt had taken in the battle thus far. He came up behind the stunned captain, flanking the stock-still Ossirnan with Syngaard, who was attacking him from the front. But before the dire lion could strike, Orion and Carl phased back into the Material Plane and the little halfling stabbed her flaming short sword into a groove between the captain's front and back plates of hellish armor, dropping him instantly. Burt growled in irritation as Carl then raced out of the building through the rent in the north side, bringing him and his halfling rider up behind the Ossirnan cleric.

The cleric attempted to cast another spell but was taken out by Orion's flaming short sword - the surprised spellcaster hadn't even heard her approach (which was to be expected when the riding mount was a ghost whose paws never even touched the ground). At almost the same time, the ranger was taken down by a flurry of blows by Kaspar, leaving the defenders of the mine all laying dead on the ground outside the entrance to the mithral mines. Galen noted absently that even while dead, the bodies of the slain were radiating evil - no doubt the result of the hell-metal used in their armor's construction. However, the ranger's longbow was not tainted by evil so the paladin snatched it up - as well as the quiver of arrows that went with it - as the conscripts made their way into the mine entrance.

Just as they were about to enter, there was the sound of flapping wings above and Serenity the succubus dropped down among the heroes. "Where have you been?" snarled Syngaard. "We been dealing with the defenders all by our lonesomes!"

"And I'm sure you did just fine - as did I, fighting off another group entirely on my own." Her smirk indicated she wasn't the least bit fazed by having had no support in her own battle. "Who wants the stone?"

"I'll take it," answered Daleth, reaching out for the dimensional anchoring stone the succubus held out before realizing he was still shrouded in a greater invisibility spell - and was then amazed when Serenity, smirking even harder at the invisible elf, passed him the stone (which turned invisible as soon as Daleth held it in his hands) and gave him a wink that showed without doubt she knew exactly where he was. "Good luck in there!" she said to the group, then flapped her wings and was off.

Galen used his illumium scabbard to channel healing energy into his companions as they walked down the central shaft of the mine, so that they were all in fighting trim before their next encounter. The mine didn't look to have changed much since the last time the heroes had been here; Kaspar dashed ahead and verified the branch to the left was still a dead end and no forces waited there to ambush them. Then he backtracked and headed down the other way, which led to the large cavern of pure mithral, the source of Ashfall's sudden wealth. The cavern was there, all right - as were four robed wizards, their identical white robes designating them as a quartet of diviners. They stood around a large circle carved into the cavern's stone floor: the teleportation circle, no doubt.

Syngaard deemed it time to whip out his Dick. Leaping upon the bronze griffon's back as soon as he had attained his full size, the bald fighter sent the creature winging down the twisting shaft behind Kaspar, who had made it to the edge of the cavern and dropped prone so he could see into the vast chamber without being spotted. Daleth and Todd trailed the griffon and his rider, and then the elf cast an Evard's black tentacles spell in the center of the teleportation circle. Ink-black, rubbery appendages rose up from the ground, grabbing each of the diviners who squirmed in their grasp. Daleth noticed the tentacles in the back of the spell's area of effect seemed to be slapping against something unseen.

As one, each of the diviners realized there was one sure way out of the embrace of the ebon tentacles and cast a dimension door spell that sent them well outside the area of effect of the Evard's black tentacles spell. Then Galen, astride Burt, came running down the tunnel and the dire lion leaped down into the chamber, landing ten feet below without breaking his stride. He picked the closest diviner and headed in his direction.

Orion and Carl, in the meantime, had shunted back to the Ethereal Plane and ran in a straight line towards where all the action seemed to be taking place, bypassing the twisting tunnel and popping right out of the side of the mithral-lined cavern. Orion was surprised to see a winged being standing - untouched by the waving tentacles - in the middle of the teleportation circle. Her arcane vision allowed her to see waves of negative energy coursing through the figure's body much like Carl's, allowing the halfling to deduce he was a ghost, much like her own riding dog.

Osleth turned to the halfling. "It's nice to see you again, Miss Nightsky," he said in a pleasant voice. "Thank you and your friends again for freeing me from that skeletal form. I have two messages for you: the first you should share with your friends, while the latter might be best kept to yourself for now."

"Okay," agreed Orion.

"First, when you get back to Durnhill, you should get in contact with your mentor. Ask about the Nightforge - he'll know what that means." That sent Orion's mind spinning: how did Osleth know about her mentor? And what was this about a Nightforge? But Osleth continued, forcing the halfling to ignore such questions for the moment so she could hear his second message. Her mouth hung open in disappointment upon hearing it, and she understood the value of holding onto to such information at least until this present battle was over.

Kaspar sped forward and struck one of the diviners, and unlike the armored opponents outside the mine this spellcaster had no protection from the flames of the monk's tenryutsume. Syngaard had Dick go for the wizard farthest back in the cavern, thinking they were the best suited to reach him before he could cause too much trouble with his spellcasting; the others could easily reach the diviners closer at hand. Unfortunately, Dick slammed straight into an invisible wall of force that spanned the back of the cavern. But the griffon's powerful wings allowed it to stay airborne while it backed away from the unseen obstacle, then Dick diverted from his original path to go attack the diviner currently battling Kaspar. One blow from Syngaard's morningstar brought down the spellcaster, who fell dead in a heap like a rag doll before Kaspar.

Daleth brought forth his metamagic rod and channeled a scorching ray spell through it, sending twin blasts of fire at another of the white-robed wizards; alas, only one of the two hit. Then the two remaining spellcasters on the group's side of the wall of force each cast a fireball spell, one blast enveloping Kaspar, Syngaard, and Dick while the other hit Galen and Burt. Kaspar managed to somehow dodge between the flames of the spell, remaining completely unscathed, while the others all took at least some damage - especially Syngaard, whose scarred face had been the point of impact of one of the fireballs.

Galen and Burt attacked a diviner with sword, fangs, and claws, and were surprised at the wizard's magical defenses, for neither attack managed to pierce flesh. Orion finished off the wizard Daleth had scorched with his rod-enhanced spell, dropping him with a well-placed strike of her blade. Kaspar ran around the circumference of the writhing tentacles to strike the wizard fighting Galen and Burt. Syngaard and Dick also attacked the wizard, the last remaining foe they could reach from this side of the wall of force. Absently, the bald fighter wondered if he had really seen what looked like a winged angel standing untouched in the middle of the tentacles, and if this was something else they needed to worry about.

Daleth send a magic missile spell flying from his wand to the wizard who was now pretty much surrounded on all sides, but the spell was harmlessly absorbed by a shield spell the diviner had cast before battle. Beginning to show signs of panic, the diviner began the words to a teleport spell but was cut down by Burt, who finally got a foe in his jaws. The dire lion bit down hard, nearly biting the slain wizard in two.

Now there was but a single foe left, and he was safe behind a wall of force spell - but one that blocked his own attack spells from targeting the heroes. Daleth dismissed the Evard's black tentacles spell - at this point it was doing little but limiting their own movements - and watched to see what their final foe would do. He ran to the middle of the back of the cavern, seemed to grab something that couldn't be seen (it was apparently a very good day for invisibility) and dimension doored to the mine tunnel leading back to the surface.

Burt gave chase, easily leaping the ten-foot rise in elevation to the exit tunnel and catching the white robes of the spellcaster in his claws. Galen swung the sword of Zehkar at the diviner but missed; fortunately, Burt pulled the wizard in and grappled him, pinning him to the ground with all of his bulk. But then another figure popped into view, swinging an outstretched, skeletal hand at Galen; the paladin ducked back just in time to avoid the crackling negative energy coursing around the lich's hand. With the cold, dispassionate part of his mind, Galen noted the robes the lich wore were silvery in color.

"Daleth! The stone!" called Orion, and the elven wizard tossed the dimensional anchoring stone at her, the object popping back into full visibility again once it left the elf's hands. Orion caught it, wheeled Carl around, and with the skill of a halfling tossed it directly into the center of the teleportation circle. With a flash of energy, the circle went out, the grooves in the floor that had indicated its location now all smooth again.

Todd flew up and struck the pinned diviner with his tail, coursing sleep venom into the hapless spellcaster and causing him to snore deeply while pinned under Burt's massive paw.

Kaspar raced up the side of the cavern and entered the tunnel, striking at the skeletal foe in the silver robes. Syngaard sent Dick that way as well, switching from his brilliant energy flaming morningstar to the one with the simple enchantment steering it towards it intended target and striking for all he was worth when Dick brought him within range. The mithral skeleton collapsed, its bones flying in all directions and clattering to the stone floor. Dick landed beside Kaspar and Syngaard gave out a cry of astonishment: "What the Hell--? No way should Alexandros have fallen apart that easily!"

"You're right," said Orion, as Carl flew up to the level of the tunnel and joined the others. "That mithral skeleton was a fake. Osleth told me: we've already failed here. We may have gotten rid of the teleportation circle so the siege of Ashfall can be broken, but they already sent somebody through a rift nearby to free Alexandros from Dwarven Hell - and we're not able to follow, to stop him."

"The Hell--?" sputtered Syngaard again, turning on Dick's back to look behind him to the mithral chamber where Osleth now stood. "You dumbass - why didn't you stop him?" His grip on the morningstar tightened, as if he was going to send Dick straight at the ghost of the half-celestial bard.

Orion put a restraining hand on Syngaard's arm. "He's a ghost, like Carl," she replied. "What could he have done?"

"But..." continued Syngaard, still wanting to blame someone for their failure.

"Take heart," suggested Galen. "We fulfilled our immediate mission: we put an end to the teleportation circle."

"And I recovered these," said Daleth, canceling his greater invisibility spell and revealing the magic rings and necklaces he'd taken from the slain diviners in the mithral cavern. They looked to match the ring and amulet worn by the snoring wizard under Burt's paw, making four of each.

"Come," said Kaspar. "We should leave, so Leorna and Orlin can watch over the mines." He led the group back the way they'd come. Shortly after exiting the mines, the two Azure Glade Guildmasters teleported in, joined by a group of conjurers. They began systematically calling forth extraplanar beings as reinforcements to help guard the mines. Burt was dismissed back to the Beastlands, Dick was reverted back to his statuette form, and the conscripts used the ring of return to appear back at the gate into the city, so they could report their success to Skevros and King Leornic III could send in his armies to break the siege of Ashfall.

"Damn that Mithral Mage anyway!" cursed Syngaard. "He's always a step ahead of us!"

"We will find a way to put a stop to him," promised Galen. Syngaard only hoped the paladin was right.

- - -

Logan used a "Wasteland" Pathfinder Flip-Mat for the area just outside the mithral mine, and several of the cards from the GameMastery "Mines" Map Pack for the mine tunnels. The mithral cavern was homemade, using two sheets of sparkling, glittery silver paper that Logan drew 1-inch grids onto using a yardstick and a Sharpie pen. (He had made it earlier for adventure 5 - it pays to hang on to things!)

And poor Logan! He was pretty upset at the complete and total uselessness of the captain of the Ossirnan forces - a 15th-level fighter who only managed to take a move action during the first round of combat and was then systematically stunned until slain, first by a lowly 1st-level color spray and then by a series of stunning fist attacks by Kaspar. (To make matters worse, "stunning fist" is a monk ability that Harry had completely ignored during this entire campaign until I pointed it out to him at the beginning of this session - and now it's something he'll not ever forget about again!) It also didn't help the DM that his dice were not his friends that night.

This session went fairly late for these Wednesday night sessions, going to nearly 9:30 PM - a good 3 hours of play. Orion and Daleth earned enough XP to level up to 13th and 12th, respectively. We decided to give the +1 distance composite longbow (+2 Strength) to Mikito, the PC likely to get the most use out of it. (Also, Sami's due for a visit the end of May and Logan's decided he'll have a Mikito-centric adventure ready to go for the session she's here with us. We'll just level her up to whatever level Daleth is at that point, the result of whatever missions she's been performing for Skevros while we've been sent elsewhere.)
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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 12
Galen Thorne, human paladin 13
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 13
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 13
Syngaard, human fighter 13​

Game Session Date: 10 April 2019

- - -

"So how do you intend to get in touch with your former mentor?" asked Kaspar.

Orion gave it a moment's thought. "I'll leave him a message," she decided. "The Thieves Guild he belongs to has a system in place - each member has an assigned alley and one of the buildings in that alley has a loose brick. I can stick a note in the alcove hidden behind his brick and put the brick back with the other side facing out, the side with his personal sigil carved on it. That way he'll know to check it."

"You still remember which alley is his?" asked Galen. "And which brick?"

"And how to write?" piped in Syngaard, sipping his mug of ale.

The halfling scowled momentarily but decided not to give the scarred fighter the satisfaction of an acknowledgement to his comment. "Sure," she said, looking at Galen and ignoring Syngaard completely. "I know exactly where it is."

"Then what will you write?" asked Daleth. "Should we seek our information via this correspondence method, or simply ask to meet somewhere so we can ask our questions directly?"

"Have him meet us here," suggested Skevros. "Tomorrow, so you can all be rested up and those of you with spellcasting abilities can carry a full complement. I would imagine you'd set out directly for the Nightforge once we know where it is, and it would be best if you were fully prepared."

"Make it brunch time," added Galen. Orion had already started drafting her letter on a sheet of parchment, and she looked up at the paladin in surprise. "Why brunch time?" she asked.

"I like brunch," admitted Galen. "But more importantly, it'll make sure there are no vampires about." Since a recent assassination attempt by a group of vampires allied with the Seekers of Eternity - a splinter group of the larger organization, in fact - the paladin had been wary of vampires. He didn't appreciate enemies who spent their waking hours creeping about when everyone else was sound asleep.

"Fine," Orion said, scribbling the rest of her missive. Then she blew on the ink to make sure it was dry, folded the sheet in half, and sealed it with a blob of wax dripped from a burning candle. The finishing touch was her thumbprint pushed into the wax; it wasn't as fancy as a signet ring or anything, but the size of her tiny thumbprint would inform Rylan at once that it was the halfling he had trained in the ways of thievery who had left the note. "I'll go drop this off at once," she said.

"Then I have no further business for you at this time," said Skevros. "You are dismissed until tomorrow morning - feel free to go about your own business until then." Syngaard gulped down the rest of his ale and slammed the mug down on the table. "Sounds like a plan," he agreed, getting up from the table and heading out the front door of the Enchanted Flagon. If he was just going to be hanging about, he could do that at Mama Kat's and earn his room and board while doing so.

The next morning, the conscripts had assembled back at the closed tavern and Galen had just finished up the remains of the brunch he had brought for the group when there was a sharp rap at the door. "I'll get it!" said Orion, scooting off the chair (which, like all of the other chairs in the building, was built to a human scale), dropping to the floor silently, and padding over to get the door. Opening it, she recognized Rylan immediately - and, after a moment's confusion, also recognized the young woman with him as the black-clad rogue who had been charmed by the vampire assassins. Daleth had dispelled her gaseous form and then his pseudodragon familiar Todd had sent her into unconsciousness with his sleep venom.

"Orion Nightsky!" beamed the human rogue. He was dressed in his combat leathers, with a rapier sheathed at his belt. "It has been too long a time! This is my daughter, Nikara - I believe you've already met her. I thought I might bring her along to try to smooth things over." Nikara looked sheepishly at the assembled group.

"No need for that; we are already convinced that your daughter was an unwilling pawn in the vampires' attack," Skevros assured the human rogue as he and Nikara entered the tavern at Orion's invitation. The halfling wore a confused expression; she hadn't been aware that Rylan had even had a daughter! But then, her mentor had always kept his personal life just that: personal. Orion ushered the pair over to the main table, where they each took a seat. Karen placed a glass of red wine before each of them, smiled, and silently returned to the back of the tavern. Syngaard was already back there, behind the bar; there was no way he wanted to be within arm's reach of a pair of sneak-thieves, especially not one who'd had the poor taste to go helping a halfling learn about stealing - as if they needed any help on that front!

"May I ask the reason for this reunion?" asked Rylan pleasantly. He looked over at Orion and smiled. "Not that it isn't good to see you again, Orion."

"I was told to ask you about the Nightforge," Orion answered. She had climbed up onto her own chair, and was in her usual position, sitting on her knees so she'd be tall enough for her elbows to reach the table. Skevros had offered to construct a booster seat for her but the proud halfling had refused to be treated as if her diminuative stature was a hindrance.

"The Nightforge?" asked Rylan, clearly not having expected this to be the topic of discussion. "It is used as a training ground for the higher-ranking members of the Guild. Even learning of its existence and finding it is part of the test. Does this mean you intend to continue your training and join the Guild?" He was clearly excited at the possibility.

"No," replied Orion. "But we need to get to it - and as soon as possible."

"I see. And I suppose you wish me to simply tell you where it is?"

"Yes, please." Orion gave her former mentor her best smile. "It's important."

"It really is," added Skevros. "The suggestion to seek you out was put forth by a celestial being, in the furtherance of the safety and security of our kingdom." He held out his hand to the rogue, showing his ring - which bore the emblem of the kingdom of Durnhill, identifying him as working directly for King Leornic the Third.

Rylan smirked down at his former apprentice. "It seems you're working in quite exalted circles since we last parted ways," he said with a smile. "Very well, I'll tell you what it is. But it's only accessible during nights of the full moon."

"Like tonight," pointed out Daleth.

"Yes - quite a stroke of fortunate timing there," said Rylan. "The Nightforge is the name of both a dungeon complex and the forge at the very end of it. It is used to modify flaming enchantments to weapons." He drew the rapier at his belt to demonstrate; the length of the weapon beyond the hilt was sheathed in black flames. "The nightflame enchantment provides light visible only to the wielder," he explained. "All others see only a dark flame, as so. In addition, once per day it can be used to create a globe of magical darkness around itself that the wielder can see through perfectly. As you might expect, such an enhancement can come in very handy for...certain lines of work." He smiled again and returned the weapon to his belt.

Orion pulled her own short sword from its scabbard and held its flaming blade before her for her former mentor to see. "I can quite imagine," she said. Rylan's surprised expression showed his admiration that his former student had appropriated such a powerful weapon on her own.

"What else can you tell us about the Nightforge?" asked Daleth.

"There is also an inscription upon the Nightforge that is supposed to be a prophecy of some kind," replied Rylan. "Let's see: 'Sacred Blade of Dragon Fire Made, Trinket Won by Evil's Warden, Weapon Chosen by Daughter of Creation, Shall Become Hearth to Shattered Angel's Heart'."

"What the Hell's all that supposed to mean?" grumbled Syngaard from the back of the tavern.

"On that front, your guess is as good as mine."

"You said the Nightforge is also a dungeon," prompted Galen. "What can you tell us about that?"

Rylan paused, as if gathering his thoughts on the subject. "The trials to get to the Nightforge itself differ from person to person. Sometimes it is a long, elaborate dungeon filled with traps; sometimes it's a gauntlet of monsters that must be overcome. Nikara and I each encountered different layouts when we each entered the Nightforge."

"So if you come with us," Daleth surmised, "we'd already know two of the possible layouts, and what to expect."

"Alas, there you are in error," contradicted Rylan. "Since Nikara and I have already completed the trial, we are honor-bound by the laws of the Guild not to accompany anyone attempting the trial. Furthermore, I can't tell you where exactly the Nightforge can be found..."

"But--" interjected Orion.

"...although it's certainly not my fault if someone were to 'accidentally' stumble across the entrance by themselves, in an alleyway just off Smiths Street," continued Rylan with a slight smirk. His daughter frowned and gave him an "Are you sure this is a good idea?" look, which he studiously ignored. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"I believe that was all," said Skevros, standing up and strongly implying that the meeting was at an end. Rylan and Nikara stood and nodded their farewells, no doubt just as uneasy in the company of a paladin and an adviser to the king as Skevros and Galen were to be dealing with a pair of thieves. "Good luck to you, Orion," said Rylan as he walked out the door.

"It would seem we must wait until nightfall," said Kaspar when the pair had gone. So that's exactly what the group did, going their own separate ways for the rest of the day and meeting up again at the Enchanted Flagon just as the sun was setting. They made their way to Smiths Street, then split up to check out the various alleyways. Not surprisingly, it was Orion who discovered a secret latch low to the ground, hidden between two bricks of the back wall. She leaped off of Carl's back, bent down, and pulled the latch. Immediately, a blue portal opened along the back wall. Leaping back onto Carl's ghost touch saddle, she led the way through the magic door, the others following behind her.

The conscripts found themselves before a group of standing stones, under a dark sky full of stars - stars in a completely different pattern of constellations than the ones they were familiar with back home. "We're on another plane," observed Daleth.

"Indeed you are," said a voice from the middle of the standing stones. The monoliths were arranged in two concentric rings, with the outermost stones reaching 20 feet tall and those in the innermost ring half that tall. Stepping forward from the center of the ring and into the illumination provided by Orion's flaming short sword and the sheath of fire surrounding Kaspar's right hand (courtesy of his tenryutsume) was a humanoid figure; as he got closer, the conscripts could see this was a mechanical man - in fact, it was a kolyrut, an inevitable of the same type they had encountered during their trial in the Azure Glade for the murder of Arcturus.

"Greetings," said the kolyrut, a sense of puzzlement apparent in his mechanical voice. "Normally the trial is performed alone. Hmmm...yes, I believe you will be a good test for my pet project. A trial by combat it will be!" That said, he began levitating up to the top of one of the outermost monoliths. "The door to the Nightforge will open when you defeat my reverse-engineered retriever. I am not part of the trial, so attempting to harm me will disqualify you and you shall stay trapped on this plane until you die."

"Retriever?" asked Galen, looking around with the sword of Zehkar held tightly in his fist. He'd heard of such things: demonic constructs built in the shape of a spider. But then the ground between the inner ring of monoliths turned a bright blue, and rising up from it was an unmoving statue, arachnoid in build and seemingly created from fitted pieces of shining metal. Fearing poison, Galen grabbed a potion of neutralize poison from his belt and chugged down the contents as the retriever elevated into position. Then he strode willingly into combat, taking two hits from the creature's serrated claws - and, quite surprisingly, a blast of sizzling flames that sprang from one of the beast's jewel-like eyes.

Syngaard, standing behind Galen but seeing the damage one eye ray could do (and having no idea how many other eye rays the creature could bring to bear) decided his best combat strategy was to whip out his Dick. Activating the bronze griffon, he threw it forward at the mechanical spider, such that as Dick attained his full size he was right there in the retriever's face, biting with his beak and scratching his claws across the construct's metal body. But best of all, the griffon's body was directly in front of the retriever's eyes, making him the only possible target for any future blasts - which was just as Syngaard wanted it. He had no special attachment to the griffon as a living creature, treating it solely as a combat advantage. He pulled his magical morningstar from his belt as he ran around to the retriever's right flank.

At the same time, Kaspar moved around the retriever's left flank and activated John, the beetle-spirit that lived within his amber amulet of vermin. John bit down on pair of mechanical spider-limbs where they connected to the retriever's body. Seeing his allies swarming on all sides of the construct, Daleth cursed his choice of attack spells, as the majority of them covered large areas and would inflict harm upon his companions if he used them against their sole foe. As a temporary measure - and to give himself something to do as he waited for the battleground to arrange itself to his specific requirements - he cast a stoneskin spell upon himself and his familiar. Todd would be sticking close to his master during this combat, that was sure; the pseudodragon's venom would be useless against a mechanical foe.

"Come on, Carl!" Orion called, urging her ghost dog into etherealness, then charging straight at - and through - the retriever before them. She looked about at the construct's innards, looking to see if there was room for her to fit inside if she left the ghost touch saddle and became corporeal inside the retriever, where she might be able to disable the thing from within.

Galen could discern that the spider-construct before him was not evil, but he got in three powerful attacks with the sword of Zehkar nonetheless, stabbing into joints where the creature's hardened armor was unable to prevent damage. Dick continued his attacks, but was taken out with two claw-slashes and a freezing ray from another of the construct's eyes. He collapsed back into his statuette form, clattering along the Mechanus retriever's armored exoskeleton and landing on the ground.

Syngaard wriggled between two close-set monoliths and sent his morningstar crashing down on the retriever's abdomen, denting it rather severely. Inside the beast, Orion saw an avenue of attack and was just about to leap out of the saddle, when the mechanical spider gave a final shudder and collapsed to the ground - outside, the construct had been taken down by the combination of John's piercing mandibles and Kaspar's flurry of blows, striking at the device where it was the most vulnerable to such blows.

"Back to the drawing board for your spider-doohicky!" taunted Syngaard to the kolyrut.

"Yes, it would seem some recalculations are in order..." mused the inevitable. "In any case, you have defeated your foe; the way to the Nightforge lies open before you." A now-familiar blue light was shining between two of the outer monoliths in the back of the circle. Once again, Orion and Carl led the way through to whatever was on the other side, with the rest of the conscripts following behind her (Syngaard falling behind to go retrieve his Dick before catching up to the others).

This time the group was in a stone chamber with a massive anvil in the center; this, undoubtedly, was the Nightforge itself. The words of the prophecy quoted by Rylan earlier that day were visible on the side of the metal anvil by the moonlight streaming into the chamber from an opening in the far wall.

"So how does this work, exactly?" asked Syngaard.

"Perhaps you just put your weapon on the anvil?" suggested Galen. Orion unsheathed her blade to do just that, when a ghostly figure no taller than Orion materialized beside the Nightforge. Instinctively, Galen sought out the aura of energy surrounding the figure but saw no evil there.

"I am pleased to see you made it to the Nightforge, Orion, for it is your birthright as a member of the Nightsky clan," beamed the elderly halfling who had just appeared in the chamber. "I am Andromeda Nightsky, creator of the Nightforge and the mother of your grandfather's grandfather." As Orion's mouth hung open in shock, Andromeda turned to face Daleth. "I will require your assistance in creating a binding circle," she said.

"For what purpose?" asked Daleth.

"Osleth said we must bind his spirit into Orion's blade." She then explained the meaning of the prophecy, which referred to Orion's blade: it was sacred to the Flamesnout tribe of kobolds (and thus "Sacred Blade of Dragon Fire Made"); their half-dragon leader was slain by Syngaard ("Sin Guard" becoming "Evil's Warden"); and Orion was a female descendant of the creator of the Nightforge (and thus a "Daughter of Creation"). Andromeda also explained Osleth's unique condition: his spirit shifted between the material plane, Hope Ender's palace in Hell, and (as Osleth explained it) "a worse place of darkness and screaming souls" (likely the osteovox). However, because of the Hope Ender's claim upon his soul, Osleth wasn't as connected to the osteovox as anyone else knowing the Mithral Mage's name and thus he was immune to the Mithral Mage's innate ability to scry or glean information on those whose souls were tied up in the osteovox.

"By binding his spirit into Orion's blade," Andromeda explained, "he will be 'trapped' on the material plane and thus spared from returning to Hell or the 'darker place'." She bade Orion to place her flaming short sword upon the Nightforge as Daleth started drawing a circle around it with black powder. Galen frowned as he noticed a slight evil in the incantations Andromeda was performing as she cast an inward-focused magic circle against good spell around the Nightforge, but realized it was necessary to bind a half-celestial - and furthermore, that this was being done by Osleth's own urging. Andromeda then cast a planar binding spell, calling Osleth into being within the circle, beside the Nightforge.

Then next hour or so was filled with stupid, confusing ritual nonsense - or at least that's how it seemed to Syngaard, who had long since tired of watching spellcasters do their boring spellcasting stuff. He wished he'd had the foresight to bring along a deck of cards or something to while away the time. But eventually the ritual was complete, Osleth was gone (apparently subsumed into Orion's short sword), and there were a few cracks in the Nightforge, a silent witness to the power of the ritual.

"Hey, that thing power up any weapon with flaming powers?" asked the bald fighter, holding up his flaming brilliant energy morningstar. "Cause I got this, and Kaspar's got his ten-ree...his hand thing." Syngaard had never bothered learning to pronounce "tenryutsume" and didn't see now as a particularly good time to start learning.

"Alas, no," replied Andromeda. "It will take a while to fix the Nightforge. You...may wish to stay away from the Thieves Guild for a while - they're not likely to be too happy with what's been done here."

"Figures," muttered Syngaard to himself. "Stupid halfling ghost saving the nightflame upgrade for the damn halfling...."

"Here, my child," Andromeda said, handing the upgraded short sword back to Orion. "I am certain this will serve you well in the days to come."

"Thank you, Grandmother," Orion said, realizing there were a whole bunch of unspoken "greats" in Andromeda's relationship to her.

"As for the rest of you," the halfling ghost said, turning to face Syngaard and scowling as if she had heard every word of his grumbling, "I am prepared to perform four divinations on your behalf. Decide and ask your questions, and I will answer, and then you must leave."

Syngaard blurted out, "Only four? Really? Why only four?" before Daleth could slap a hand over the scarred fighter's mouth in an effort to get him to shut up. "You idiot!" hissed the elven wizard. "You'll use up all our questions!"

But Andromeda only laughed at the spectacle. "Yes, only four; yes, really; and because I only have four such divination spells prepared," the halfling explained. "Luckily for you, I won't count those as any of your questions, as they did not require the casting of a divination spell to answer." Syngaard slapped Daleth's hand away from his mouth with a look of irritation at the slender elf.

After several minutes of consultation, the group came up with the following four questions:

Q1: "If we can't kill the Mithral Mage, how can we seal him away so he cannot escape?"
A1: "Osleth has a way to destroy him permanently."

Q2: "Where is the Mithral Mage currently, now that he's apparently escaped from Dwarven Hell?"
A2: "He is currently in Ossirna."​

("Figures," snorted Syngaard at that answer. "The guy's worshiped as a god there. Probably hangin' out with a bunch of hot-lookin' devotees.")

Q3: "Should we try killing the Mithral Mage right away?"
A3: "You are not yet ready to face his true power."

Q4: "Who are the remaining leaders of the Seekers of Eternity?"
A4: "The Blood Queen leads the vampiric sect, while the true leader is Selvik the Undying, usurper king of Ossirna, who masquerades as his own grandson Velkis, current king of Ossirna. He is the one who found Alexandros' mistakenly-discarded philosopher's stone. If he had but recognized his own creation, Alexandros would never have become the Mithral Mage."​

"Thank you, Grandmother," said Orion. By sitting astride Carl's ghost touch saddle, she was able to lean over and give the spirit of her ancestor a solid hug - one Andromeda gave back in full force. "Take care, Granddaughter," the ghost said. "There are dark days ahead, I fear."

"Nothing we can't handle!" Orion promised, leading the group back the way they'd come.

"Well, that sucked!" griped Syngaard as they returned back to the alley off Smiths Street.

"How so?" asked Kaspar. "We learned quite a bit about our enemies, we learned that Osleth has a plan for us to permanently slay the Mithral Mage, and Orion got a significant weapon upgrade!"

"And you got to help kill a mechanical spider," pointed out Galen.

"Yeah, true," agreed Syngaard. "But I'd much rather get paid in coins than words!"

- - -

Logan was quite surprised at how quickly we took down his Mechanus retriever - especially since he'd boosted the creature up to 15 HD and the fact that it was of neutral alignment took away Galen's ability to use smite evil against it. "I'm sorry, it looks like this is going to be a much shorter session than I had expected," he said to us - but we were perfectly okay with tearing down his creation, certainly much more okay than if it had been making quick work of us!

Speaking of which, he had an awesome miniature for the retriever: while in the past we've used normal spider minis to represent a retriever (I once made a retriever "costume" out of construction paper and cardstock to "build" a retriever out of a plastic mini, but had to give it new stats because it became Gargantuan if not Colossal based on the plastic spider I used), I got Logan a metal spider model for Christmas and when assembled, it looks just like a D&D retriever - the correct scale and all.
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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 12​
Galen Thorne, human paladin 13​
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 13​
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 13​
Syngaard, human fighter 13​

Game Session Date: 17 April 2019

- - -

Almost nobody noticed the shadowy figures gliding through the throngs of people in the crowded marketplace. While generally of humanoid build, their bodies seemed less substantial the closer to the ground they got, simply vanishing from sight at about knee level. Furthermore, while some were of about human height, others were nearly twice that tall, towering over the unconcerned citizens in the Durnhill marketplace. Regardless of their size, each of these shadow-things made their way through the crowds, their incorporeal bodies never bumping or even touching those around them as they looked this way and that, scanning the people all about them.

But not everyone was unaware of the ghostly presences around them. Everyone once in a while, one person in the crowd would feel a sudden shiver, look up, and make eye contact with one of the shadow-things, seeing perfectly the dark, human-shaped void before them. Inevitably, this resulted in a strangled cry from the poor market-goer as the shadow-thing advanced upon its prey, striking out with an ebon limb that phased directly into its victim's body. The only notice this ever attracted from those around were looks of confusion as the others in the crowd saw a neighbor suddenly acting in a crazy fashion, waving their arms about to fend off attacks from something that wasn't there.

One of the larger of these shadow phantoms moved directly toward an armed guardsman - as the kingdom of Durnhill was at war with Ossirna, the country to the south, there was always an armed presence in the kingdom in areas where the populace congregated. A look of pure horror crossed the poor guard's face as he brought up his pike to fend off his invisible-to-everyone-else attacker, but to no avail: the ghostly form passed right through his weapon, unaffected by the sharpness of its blade, and put its hand right through his torso, effectively touching his heart from the inside. With a cry that had those around him stepping away in wariness, he dropped his weapon and fell to the ground.

Another ogre-sized shadow-thing approached a young man wearing mithral armor and carrying a shield whose painted emblem told of his service to Hieroneous, the god of valor. All of the hairs stood up on Galen's arms and the back of his neck; whirling around with a hand reaching for the hilt of the sword of Zehkar at his belt, he saw the shadow phantom reaching for him, its ebon, skeletal fingers passing through his shield and striking him on the shoulder, beneath the protection of his armor.

Nearby, two of the human-sized shadow-things glided over to a pair of elves, one elf wearing the robes of a wizard and other sporting the loose-fitting robes of a monk. The elves sensed the unnatural presences just before the phantoms struck, hitting Daleth in the back and Kaspar on the forearm when he instinctively held it up to block a blow that passed right through him. He felt the skin tighten where he was struck; it felt as if he had just taken a heavy blow that would cause a nasty bruise.

Some blocks away at Mama Kat's establishment, Syngaard was busy at his bouncer work, escorting an unruly patron out of the building with extreme prejudice. With one hand on the lout's collar and another at his belt, he pitched the drunk out the front door and onto the street. "I catch you comin' back here again, I won't just be usin' my bare hands!" Syngaard promised, pulling his morningstar from his belt for emphasis. "And you ever try beatin' on one of our girls again, I'll give you a beating you won't soon forget!"

Seeing the drunken lout scramble to his feet and shamble away with a final hand gesture in the scarred fighter's direction - a last, feeble attempt at some sort of dignity - Syngaard was about to turn back into the building when he spotted something disturbing: a flickering figure, like a ghost but entirely black - at least until it faded away at about knee height. Its head was covered by a hood but Syngaard locked eyes with the thing and it immediately began gliding in the fighter's direction.

Syngaard immediate released his grip on the morningstar and reached into his pants for a better weapon: his Dick. Pulling it out from a pocket and rubbing it in his hand, he hurled it at the approaching shadow-thing. Dick took full form in midair, attacking the black figure seemingly made of shadows and, surprisingly, getting a grip on the thing's arm in his sharp beak. Seeing this, Syngaard grabbed the morningstar from his belt and made his way around the griffon toward their common foe.

In the marketplace, Galen backed away from the shadow-thing towering above him and pulled out the sword of Zehkar, readying an attack if it approached him again. "Stay back!" he called to the crowd about him, surprised that they were just giving him puzzled looks: didn't they see the ogre shadow before them? Even more surprisingly, he sensed no evil in the aura around the hulking black phantom. If this was an undead shadow, surely it would have an aura of evil? Such had been the training he'd received at the Temple of Hieroneous.

Daleth likewise backed away from his attacker, but in his case that was his natural inclination; it was easier to cast spells - defensive or otherwise - if he had a bit of space between him and his nearest enemy, who could otherwise attack in the span of time it took to get off his spell. He cast a magic circle against evil spell encompassing not only himself but also his pseudodragon familiar Todd walking by his side. Todd's scorpionlike tail arched up, ready to strike if the shadow got any closer, although it was unlikey the pseudodragon's sleep venom would be useful against an incorporeal shadow.

For her part, Orion had been riding Carl through the Ethereal Plane, passing incorporeally through a row of buildings that lined the marketplace. While she could see onto the Material Plane from her vantage point, she was confident that no one in her immediate vicinity could see her. Of course, if she wanted to actually steal anything from any of the buildings she'd first have to get Carl to manifest back onto the Material Plane, but Orion saw nothing that particularly caught her eye; to the halfling, this was a bizarre form of "window shopping." But as she spun Carl about and they passed through the front of a storefront to head over to the buildings on the other side of the market, she saw her friends outside in combat poses - but they didn't seem to be actually fighting anything. Galen had his longsword out aimed at a point before and above him, while Daleth was cringing and Todd seemed ready to stab at something with his tail; beside him, Kaspar's hands were in a readied stance, from which he could block and redirect a blow or strike out with deadly speed - but again, there was nobody there attacking them. Were they fighting something invisible? None of the other people in the market area apparently saw anything, either, for they were just giving the heroes odd looks. Orion looked all around, seeing the Ethereal Plane as a misty cloud in all directions and the nearby inhabitants of the Material Plane superimposed on the cloudiness, but there was nothing on either plane she could see menacing her friends.

Kaspar struck out suddenly with his right hand, encompassed as it was in his tenryutsume. That blow sent fire and electricity coursing into the shadow-thing before him as well as the strength of his blow, and it was followed immediately with blows from his other hand and his elbows. Without a sound, the ebon phantom evaporated into nothingness there in the mid-day sun. Kaspar grinned grimly; at least these phantom attackers could be killed!

Suddenly, as one, the shadowy figures turned their attention away from the heroes, save for one which got stung by Todd but successfully struck him back in return. The phantoms seemed to either be looking about for more targets or else fleeing the scene. Todd noticed an odd bruise where he'd been struck - a discoloration among his small scales - and telepathically informed his master of the situation. Daleth cast a magic missile spell at one of the larger retreating shadow-figures, the spell striking unerringly. Galen channeled a blast of positive energy through his illumium scabbard, hitting the shadow phantom that had just struck Todd; if these were undead creatures they were fighting, the healing energy should act like acid on the undead forms, eating away at their very substance. But the attack seemed to have no effect on the retreating phantom, not causing it any partiular harm but not healing it, either.

Just outside Mama Kat's, the shadow creature attacked the griffon scratching at it with his claws. A large bruise appeared where the phantom's hand passed through the griffon's flank. Syngaard came running up along Dick's side to bring his morningstar crashing through the phantom's body, seemingly having no effect. Over in the alley, the drunken lout who liked beating on working girls saw the scarred fighter swinging around at nothing as a no-kidding winged lion-eagle monster stood by his side and vowed to have nothing to do with this particular craziness.

Orion and Carl shifted back to the Material Plane to see if they could help their friends with whatever it was they were fighting - or at least thought they were fighting - and was surprised to see the shadowy figures suddenly pop into view. With her magically enhanced vision, she could see their shadowy bodies were not coursing with negative energy in the way an undead being's would; it followed that whatever these things were, they weren't undead. Urging her ghost-dog forward into battle, the little halfling drew the nightflame short sword from her scabbard and attacked the nearest of the phantoms, her blade cutting into the insubstantial thing but not before it could strike out at her in return. Kaspar ran forward, stepping in front of a retreating ogre-sized phantom and striking at it with his tenryutsume-covered hand; the shadowy figure dissipated at once into nothingness. Galen's sword cut another shadow-thing into two, causing the phantom to discorporate. The paladin frowned; the sensation he'd felt cutting the shadow-thing in twain reminded him of something...after a moment's consideration, he remembered when he'd felt something similar: when cutting through Ashfall Dave's shadow conjuration hell hound. Were these phantoms just spell effects? And if so, for what purpose?

Daleth pulled out his wand of magic missiles and destroyed the only other shadow-figure still within range. At the same time several blocks away, Dick finished off the shadow-thing he'd been fighting, but not before it had a chance to strike Syngaard on the arm holding the morningstar, resulting in a large, black bruise on the place where it had hit. "Well, crap," muttered Syngaard, rubbing his sore arm. He popped his head back into Mama Kat's, calling to the receptionist that he needed to step away for a bit, then leaped up onto Dick's broad back and sent him flying in the direction of the Enchanted Flagon. If anybody could make sense of this weirdness, it was probably Skevros.

In the marketplace, the heroes took stock of their situation. Nobody was seriously hurt, although they all seemed to have the same black bruise where they'd been hit by the shadow-phantoms, including the guardsman who had also been attacked. An application of positive energy at Galen's touch did nothing to heal the angry-looking bruises, either. "This can't be good," the paladin mused to himself. "It's as if we've all been marked."

"For what purpose?" asked Orion, a shiver running down her spine. It was bad enough that the Mithral Mage could be watching their every action at any time; now this as well? Sometimes it seemed that their enemies were everywhere.

"We should consult with Skevros," Kaspar suggested. "The current threat is apparently taken care of; these people are in no further danger." He looked at the crowd who had gone back to their business now that these adventurer weirdoes were done with their pantomime games.

"Agreed," said Galen, leading the way back to the Enchanted Flagon. Upon their arrival, they were surpised to see Dick standing just outside the front door, as the griffon had no physical existence unless Syngaard activated him and the bald fighter had no normal reason to activate him unless there was combat involved.

Galen strode through the front door and was amazed at what he saw. Skevros lay upon the floor, his clothes and body covered in an unhealthy, metallic sheen. Dow's astral golem lay on the floor next to him, unmoving. At the main table, sitting in the seat normally reserved for Skevros, was Alexandos, the self-styled Mithral Mage. Syngaard was there as well, but sitting at a far table glaring at Alexandros, while Karen stood by his side, providing the scarred fighter a much-needed ale. At their entrance, Syngaard looked over at his fellow conscripts and said, unnecessarily, "We got company."

"Sheath your weapons and have a seat; I am only here to talk," Alexandros said. Galen seemed ready to disregard the Mithral Mage's command, his hand on the hilt of the sword of Zehkar, when he recalled Andromeda's prophecy in the Nightforge that the heroes were not yet ready to face Alexandros directly. Instead, he retorted as he took a seat beside Syngaard, "Then why is Skevros a mithral statue?"

"As a bargining chip to get you to do what I want," replied Alexandros. "Now please sit down so we can talk like reasonable adults." The others took seats at Syngaard's table; nobody wanted to get any nearer to Alexandros than was necessary.

Seeing their compliance, the silver-clad wizard smiled briefly, then his face broke into a frown. "I'm disappointed in all of you," he said. "You were prophecized to free me from my own personal Hell, but you never showed - I had to take measures into my own hands."

"What prophecy--?" began Syngaard before being shushed by Daleth; no point in letting their enemy get any angrier than he already was with them; there was no telling just what he'd do.

"However," continued Alexandros, "I have no desire to kill you. In fact, I still hold out some vain hope that we can all still be friends."

"That seems unlikely," countered Galen.

"Well then, we need at least not be enemies," replied the Mithral Mage. "In any case, I have an assignment for you."

"We takin' orders from you now?" asked Syngaard.

"You are if you wish me to restore your master to flesh and blood."

"What is it you wish us to do?" asked Kaspar.

"I want you to fetch an Eye of Prophecy - it's a magical eyepatch that can be used to glean more information from prophecies. You - or rather, your master here," said Alexandros, indicating the still form of Skevros encased in mithral, "still have 'The Prophecies of Alexandros,' the book you got in Ossirna written in code. I need one of you to read the book while wearing the eyepatch; that will allow me to see the words in clear language."

"I ain't spendin' my free time readin' no damn book," grumbled Syngaard.

"It needn't be you," Alexandros answered.

"Where are we to find such an eyepatch?" asked Daleth. "I have never heard of such a thing."

"No worries there. I know exactly where one is located: in the treasure vault of the Diviners Guild of the Azure Glade - I just don't want to alert the Seekers of Eternity that I don't give a damn about their ridiculous organization by stealing it myself. Hence, you will be my proxies and perform the work for me."

"This a payin' mission?" asked Syngaard, as ever cutting to the chase.

"Oh, but of course," replied the Mithral Mage. "I seek only the Eye of Prophecy; you may take anything and everything else you find in the vault for yourselves. In addition, I will return Skevros to his living self."

"What about Dow?" asked Orion.

"Yeah, what about her?" scoffed Syngaard. As far as he was concerned, the creepy doll-homunculus was no loss.

"The thing in Skevros's astral golem?" Alexandros asked. "I have no idea. She just collapsed when I turned her master into mithral." Orion approached the astral golem and saw two thin, barely-visible strands of light whipping about from the astral golem's shell. Another two seemed to be coming from the pocket of the robe Skevros wore, now as much a chunk of solid metal as the king's adviser himself was. The halfling was puzzled by the twin threads, for it seemed to be life force flowing through two of the silvery cords associated with the Astral Plane, but she was pretty sure there should only be the one.

"And what of the shadow conjurations?" Galen asked, briefly explaining their battle in the marketplace.

"I have no idea - they were not of my doing," Alexandros admitted. "Now then: does anyone have any questions before I teleport you to the vault?"

"Certainly," answered Kaspar. "What can you tell us about this vault we're to enter?"

In answer, the Mithral Mage pulled a crystal ball from his pocket and passed a hand over it. "Well, to begin with, it's guarded by two red dragons," he said. An image appeared in the crystal globe, that of a pair of red dragons lounging atop a pile of loose coins. The larger one looked to be sleeping, while the smaller one was stacking coins into little piles. "But I'm sure you'll be able to handle them. Well, most of you, in any case."

"We'll want to prepare spells," said Daleth.

"Oh, by all means," agreed Alexandros, waving a hand in permission. The elven wizard cast a fly spell upon himself and Todd, while Galen cast a resist fire spell on himself and a bless weapon spell upon his sword. Orion unstoppered a potion of mage armor and fed it to Carl, always eager to lap up liquids like he did when he was still alive. Kaspar and Syngaard just stood nearby, expressing opposite ends of the patience spectrum, while the others made their magical preparations.

"You got one of them spells that allows us to talk amongst ourselves?" asked Syngaard when Daleth appeared to be done.

"Alas, I do not have that spell prepared," the elf admitted, and Syngaard just shook is head in disbelief. What use was knowing all them fancy spells if you didn't have the good sense to have the right ones at hand?

"I have a Rary's telepathic bond spell at hand I can cast upon all of you," offered up Alexandros.

"To cast it, wouldn't you need to be part of the link?" asked Galen, his voice full of distrust.


"I'm not so sure I like that idea," said Orion.

"Well, get over it," snarled Syngaard. "Wizard-Pants don't got it; this dude does; we need it; end of story." With some apprehension, the group allowed Alexandros to cast the spell that linked them all together telepathically.

<There, isn't that nice?> Alexandros mugged over the shared mental link. Orion just frowned deeper and hugged herself as if suddenly cold.

"Let's go over strategy," suggested Syngaard. "Since we don't know where in the vault the doodad is, it'll be the thief's job to find it. She can do that best on Carl, where the dragons won't be able to see them. They won't, will they?" he asked Daleth.

"Dragons cannot normally see onto the Ethereal Plane," assured the elven wizard.

"Okay, so maybe we all get teleported here" - Syngaard pointed to the far side of a large mound in the middle of the vault, with a set of steps winding all around it in an ever-decreasing spiral until it reached the top - "and let Orion and Carl do the scouting around. Once she finds the eyepatch, she can let us know over the link."

"She won't be on the link while she's ethereal," pointed out Daleth. "It's another plane of existence."

"Will it work if she comes back to the real world?"

"Yes, of course."

"Well then she comes back to the real world and lets us know! Sheesh, Wizard-Pants! You know what I'm sayin'!"

"I think we'd be better off showing up here," interrupted Galen, pointing directly behind the dragons.


"Like you say, Orion will be the only one moving about, and she'll be doing so ethereally so the dragons won't see her. And Carl floats over the ground, so they shouldn't hear them, either. And one of them's already asleep."

"So why so close?"

"Just in case one of them wakes up," answered Galen. "Once the jig is up, I want to be in position to strike - and strike hard."

"Yeah, okay," agreed Syngaard. "I like it."

"I will fly reconnaissance at the top of the chamber," suggested Daleth. "Todd and I can give a silent warning over the link if we see the sleeping dragon stirring or the wake one noticing you."

"You crazy? Dragons're supposed to have even better hearing than elves! I don't want Todd flapping around and wakin' him up!"

"He is under the same fly spell that I am," replied Daleth, levitating silently a few inches above the ground to demonstrate. Seeing his master's intent, Todd did likewise.

"Okay, fine," agreed Syngaard. "We all ready, then?"

"One moment," Orion said, slipping a ring from her finger and passing it over to Galen. "Put on my ring of invisibility," she said. "You can dish out the most damage with that sword of yours; if it comes to combat, I'd rather they didn't even see you coming." The paladin slipped on the proffered ring, impressed that it automatically resized itself to fit over his much-bigger finger. Then, concentrating, he faded from view. "Ready," he said.

Daleth cast a greater invisibility spell upon Todd and himself. "As are we," he announced.

"Weapons out and ready," commanded Syngaard, hefting his magic morningstar. The sound of the sword of Zehkar being pulled from its illumium scabbard could be heard from Galen's direction and Orion pulled out her own blade, which was sheathed in ebon flames.

"Okay, we're all ready," Syngaard told Alexandros, and with a word from the Mithral Mage the conscripts were no longer in the Enchanted Flagon but inside the vault they'd seen through the crystal ball.

<Hey, I just thought of something!> said Orion over the link. <How'd Alexandros teleport us from the tavern? I thought the city was shielded from anyone teleporting in or out?>

<Oh, please,> came the Mithral Mage's scoffing voice over the mental link. <Such puny magics are beneath me! Now enough chatter: off about your business!>

As Carl and Orion faded from view as they went ethereal, it looked to Syngaard as if he and Kaspar stood alone in the chamber to the side of the sleeping dragon and behind the one focused on his coin-stacking, but he knew Galen was there beside him with his blade drawn. <I'm in position,> announced Daleth. <We're directly above the top of the hill.>

<Good to know. Keep us posted on the dragons' activities.>

<Snoring and stacking, respectively.>

Orion, in the meantime, was looking all about her as Carl walked slowly back and forth along the piles of scattered treasure. The dragons had apparently piled up the coins into a loose hoard and were using them as a bed, but intermingled with the gleaming coins were the occasional weapon or necklace. <Ooh, this one's pretty!> Orion marveled, casting her eyes on a necklace of pink pearls.

<Leave it for later,> advised Galen. Orion pouted and continued her search.

After a bit, she saw what she thought she was looking for: a black eyepatch lying among a few loose coins by the sleeping dragon's side. <What the--?> she gasped over the link. <Is it supposed to have an eyeball in the middle of the patch?>

<Yes, that's the one!> confirmed Alexandros. <The eyeball is partially ethereal; when you wear the eyepatch, the eyeball sits partially inside your eye socket, allowing you to see through it.>

<Guh! I'm not wearing that!>

<You need not - just fetch it and bring it back to me. I'm sure Skevros will wear it, once you complete your mission and I restore him to life.>

Orion steeled up her nerve and brought her hand close to the eyepatch. Since part of the Eye of Prophecy was ethereal, it seemed the safest way to get it from beneath the sleeping dragon was to pick it up by the back half of the eyeball, which in theory was already ethereal. Gritting her teeth, Orion touched the eyeball with her fingers and picked it up without dislodging any of the nearby coins when the rest of the eyepatch went ethereal. She pocketed it away. <Got it!> she reported back.

<If we wish to leave now, I have the ring of return at hand,> advised Kaspar.

<Well, hold on - no sense in us not scooping up some treasure for ourselves while we're here, is there?> asked Syngaard. <Paying mission, remember?>

<By all means knock yourselves out. Just don't endanger your ability to bring the Eye of Prophecy back to me in one piece, or you'll come to regret it - this I can promise.>

<Okay, let me at least get a couple of the more valuable pieces I saw,> Orion said, leading Carl back to the pearl necklace she'd spotted earlier. It was out of view of the dragon counting his coin piles, so the halfling had Carl remanifest on the Material Plane, she picked up the necklace, and then they shunted back to the Ethereal Plane. Orion led Carl back to the the others standing motionless beside the sleeping dragon, then remanifested besides Galen, nearly startling a gasp from the surprised paladin.

<Give me back my ring,> Orion said. <I can get us some valuable stuff as long as I can appear before the dragon who's awake without him seeing me.> Reluctantly, Galen took off the ring, popping back into full visibility as he did so. Orion returned the ring to her right hand and faded from view. <I saw a valuable-looking greatsword and a heavy mace that looked promising,> she said.

Orion discovered that stealing magic items right out from under the noses of red dragons was actually rather exciting. She'd find something worth taking, have Carl manifest (he was visible when on the Material Plane but translucent as a ghost, and the ghost touch saddle Orion sat upon stayed invisible with her) long enough for her to put her hands upon the desired item, then they shunted back into the Ethereal Plane where she'd transfer the item into her bag of holding. Then it was move on to the next item, and the next, and the next.

She managed to steal a staff carved from a length of azurewood and the greatsword before messing up trying to take a jeweled circlet from the hoard; her hand was unsteady and she knocked over a small pile of coins. The clinking of metal on metal was nearly imperceptible to the halfling's ears, but the smaller of the two dragons raised his head and turned immediately in her direction, staring at the unexpected sight of a ghost dog hovering slightly above the coins of the dragon's shared hoard and a circlet disappearing from view as it was lifted from the pile of coins.

<It's seen her!> Daleth called over the link.

<Get out of there!> hissed Alexandros. <Bring me my Eye of Prophecy!>

Beside the sleeping dragon, three men sprang into sudden action. Kaspar lunged forward and delivered a frenzied flurry of blows at the sleeping dragon, and while his tenryutsume's fiery powers did nothing to increase his damage potential, its electricity and holy energy certainly did their parts. At the same time, Syngaard brought his magic morningstar swinging down in a series of crushing blows, each strike sending the spikes from his weapon head driving deep into the dragon's hide. Galen likewise brought the sword of Zehkar crashing down upon the dragon's side, his first strike suffused with the holy energy of Hieroneous. The dragon woke with a scream of fury as she found herself in sudden, inexplicable pain.

The pain got even worse as Daleth, from his perch along the ceiling of the cavernous vault, sent a cone of cold spell down upon the dragons. He targeted the cone such that it encompassed the front halves of each dragon without catching any of the other heroes in its area of effect; the men were all at the larger dragon's back half and Orion and Carl were shielded by the creature's thick neck and head. Just to be sure, the halfling urged her ghost-dog into the Ethereal Plane, and Carl didn't actually need much in the way of prompting.

The vault was now filled with the sounds of roaring fury; none of the conscripts could say whether or not the roars would bring reinforcements from the Diviners Guild and if so, how long it would be before they showed up. Best to get this fight over with!

Daleth cast a chain lighting spell, making the larger, female dragon his primary target and arcing the spell off to her little brother. Both dragons hissed in pain as the electricity arced over their reptilian bodies. Kaspar was still attacking the female with his hardened fists, his elbows, and roundhouse kicks, while Orion suddenly manifested nearby and threw a couple of electrified daggers from her bag of blades. (They both missed, but if nothing else they served as distractions for the red dragon so rudely awakened from a deep slumber.)

Then a wave of flames erupted over the heroes - all but Daleth and Todd, still invisible and afloat at the top of the chamber - as the smaller dragon (the size of a heavy war horse or bigger) unleashed its breath weapon at the intruders attacking his sister. Carl howled in pain and Orion found herself floating gently to the ground - courtesy of her ring of feather falling - as her faithful steed was obliterated into nothingness.

Syngaard roared in pain as the flames shot across his back and over his shoulders but he kept at his target, swinging his morningstar again and again into the dragon's side, the sharp points of his weapon carving a hole in the great beast's side as if he were chopping at a tree with an axe. Finally, with a final roar of fury, the larger of the two dragons fell over, dead, not having gotten to even attack any of these interlopers in her supposed place of safety.

Galen wasted no time; seeing Syngaard fell the greater dragon, the paladin turned and charged straight at the lesser one. A lightning bolt spell, courtesy of Daleth, dropped onto the dragon's head as the beast concentrated on the approaching paladin. The dragon proved his resiliency by shooting forth another gout of flames, catching both Galen and Syngaard; Orion and Kaspar used their respective types of training to evade the fiery explosion. The elven monk then used his increased speed to run up beside the dragon - taking a hit from a claw as he did so - and striking him with his most powerful blow, fueled by his tenryutsume. Orion ran the other way to flank the dragon with the monk but the dragon's tail lashed out at her, causing her to stumble and fail at her own sword-strike.

But while it was busy concentrating on the other heroes, Syngaard came running up to the dragon and brought his morningstar crushing down upon the beast's head. The scarred fighter actually heard the dragon's skull split from the power of his blow, and the fire-breathing menace crashed to the ground, causing a small explosion of coins to spill out from beneath him in all directions.

"YEAH!" exulted Syngaard, pumped up with adrenaline and psyched by getting to drive home the killing blow on each of the two dragons. "I LIKE fighting reptiles!" he called out to the universe at large, realizing the last time he'd had a combat go this well for him was when the group had been fighting kobolds in the Sanguine Swamp at the southern end of Durnhill's borders.

<I'll stay on guard for reinforcements!> Daleth called over the link, although any need to remain quiet was likely moot after Syngaard's whooping and the roar of the dragons in combat. <You guys start scooping up the loot!>

That seemed like an eminently practical idea, given that each of the four heroes on the ground had a bag of holding and Daleth did not. Into the magical bags went coins, bars of gold, gems, jewelry, and the occasional potion or weapon.

"I got a glowing mace!" called out Syngaard.

"Just grab it up - we'll figure out what everything does and what we're keeping and what we're selling when we get back!" answered Galen.

<Let's get on with it!> advised Alexandros. <I'm getting impatient!> That spurred the conscripts on to greater speeds, until finally every gem, every bauble, and every last copper coin had been stashed away. Kaspar pulled out the ring of return and everyone took hold of it; the elf said the word and in an instant they were outside the gates of the city.

"Weird," commented Kaspar. He'd expected them to reappear in the Enchanted Flagon, where they'd left, but apparently the Mithral Mage had no way to overpower the anti-teleportation effects in place around the city when it came to a magic device not of his own manufacture. But the guards let them in without question and they all high-tailed it back to the tavern, only to find Skevros sitting in his chair, brooding.

"Are you all right?" asked Orion, leaping up onto her chair beside him. On the floor, Dow's astral golem lay unmoving.

"I'm fine," replied Skevros. "The last thing I remember is Alexandros touching me with a spell-charged hand. When I awoke, Dow was scrambling frantically out of my pocket and running for the door. She seems to have closed her mind off from mine again for some reason and my attempts to find her have failed. There was also this," he said, passing a sheet of parchment across the table to her. Orion read a quick note from Alexandros, stating that he'd borrowed Skevros's troops for a quick job but would have them back soon.

Galen reported all that had happened that day to Skevros, while Syngaard had Karen pass around tankards of ale. Once he'd been apprised of the situation, Skevros agreed that he'd be the one to wear the Eye of Prophecy to read the cryptic book in his possession.

"But that will have to wait until tomorrow," he amended. "I need to find Dow...."

- - -

This adventure provided us with massive amounts of loot. Logan rolled it all on the treasure tables; the only change he made was to decide the staff of healing was made of azurewood, since that's a local type of wood in this campaign. (Galen kept it; he's the only one in our group who can use it.) Syngaard was half-tempted to keep the +3 heavy mace, but since all of his fighter feats are geared toward morningstars and scimitars, he eventually opted to sell it. Galen argued to keep the +3 frost elemental bane greatsword as a backup weapon, so now we're hoping we get to meet up with more of those fiendish fire elementals again some day. As for all the other valuables, they totaled over 50,000 gp, so all in all we're pretty happy with this adventure, even if we ended up working for the Mithral Mage and not getting to lay a finger on him.

Logan used the Arcane Dungeons battle mat from Paizo's "Flip-Mat" series for the red dragons' lair. The red dragons were a Huge plastic figure I bought at a local Michael's hobby shop and a Large dragon mini Logan bought and painted in shades of red. The "shadow" manifestations were Darkness Elemental tokens I had made for our earlier "Adventures of Baabby and Sam" Skylanders campaign - we're still not sure what that business was all about, nor what the deal is with the bruises that won't heal. (Future plot hooks, Logan assures us.)
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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 12
Galen Thorne, human paladin 13
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 13
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 13
Syngaard, human fighter 13​

Game Session Date: 24 April 2019

- - -

The conscripts were summoned to the Enchanted Flagon after nearly a week of not having heard anything from Skevros. The king's adviser had been frantically searching for Dow, the homunculus he had created years ago for his now-deceased daughter, Sarah. The fact that the group saw posters offering 50,000 pieces of gold for Dow's safe return indicated his efforts had been thus far unsuccessful.

"Fifty thousand?" exclaimed Syngaard upon reading the notice. "For that freaky porcelain thing?"

"She no doubt means much to him," pointed out Kaspar. "She is a reminder of his daughter, whose death hit him hard. Remember, it was her death that led him back into adventuring, which is how he found that helmet that sent his entire personality onto an evil path."

"Sounds to me like he'd be better off forgettin' about her, then," replied the bald fighter. "Not spendin' a fortune findin' her again."

"Great idea," agreed Orion. "And while we're at it, you can just switch off all your memories of your dead wife - Mezz, was it? It's just that easy, right?" And without further comment the halfling walked into the abandoned tavern that served the conscripts as their headquarters, leaving Syngaard silently fuming with a hand gripping the hilt of his morningstar so hard his fingers hurt. Eventually, he composed himself enough to follow Galen and Kaspar into the Enchanted Flagon behind Orion.

Skevros was at his customary seat at the table, with Daleth sitting at his side; the elf's pseudodragon familiar, Todd, lay curled up beneath his chair, drowsing. Daleth had been assisting the king's adviser as best he could during the past several days, casting divinations seeking to unearth Dow's whereabouts. But none of the avenues they'd explored had led to them finding the missing homunculus.

"The closest we've come," Skevros said after explaining their failures, "was a divination redirecting me to the coded 'Prophecies of Alexandros'."

"Him again," grumbled Syngaard. The scarred fighter had a burning hate for the Mithral Mage, especially now that he knew he'd be trapped here upon the Material Plane as a ghost upon his death instead of being reunited with Messalina - and all because of Alexandros and his stupid magic!

"I read through the book again, this time using the Eye of Prophecy," Skevros continued. "I learned there were six possible outcomes, each based upon 'the child of Skevros' dying before her 6th summer." Sarah, Orion recalled, had died when she was five years old.

"The information Alexandros provided you - that you had failed to rescue him from Hell - leads me to believe he fully expected the six prophecies had been narrowed down to the one wherein Sarah was murdered in a way that was mistaken for natural causes. But using the Eye of Prophecy, I was able to see the correctly translated version of that prophecy: 'The champions of Skevros shall free Alexandros' soul from the hellish prison of his own making.' Not, as he surmised, the actual Hell in which his soul was imprisoned and looked after by the Hope Ender."

"The osteovox, then?" deduced Kaspar.

"Indeed," affirmed Skevros. "I believe the prophecy actually refers to you destroying the Mithral Mage's phylactery." Syngaard sat up and took notice at that part - destroying the lich's phylactery meant the curse would be lifted and they'd all go on to their respective afterlives upon their deaths.

"I should also point out that only half of the prophecies deal with the manner of Sarah's death," Skevros added. "The other half involve a daughter I never had named Nadira."

"Never had?" asked Galen delicately. "Or never knew you had? There are gaps in your memory from when you were...under the sway of that evil helmet...."

Skevros narrowed his eyes at the paladin's suggestion. "Never had," he repeated. Then the anger cleared from his face. "It is, nonetheless, a valid question," he admitted. "But the divinations Daleth and I performed these past several days have left no doubt that I only ever sired one daughter in my life, and that was Sarah."

"Fair enough," Galen said, holding his hands up to indicate he was abandoning the subject.

"This Nadira is described in the book," Skevros continued. "The coloration of her tail indicates--"

"Whoa!" exclaimed Syngaard, nearly spitting the mouthful of ale he's just taken from his mug. "Tail? Just what kinda kid were you having in them other three prophecies?"

"It would seem this other path, the one ending in my having a daughter named Nadira, involved me settling down not with my human wife Jessica, but with Aquellia, one of the companions Jessica and I traveled with when we were adventurers."

"And this Aquellia had a tail?" pressed Syngaard.

"Quite so - she was, after all, a mermaid."

Syngaard's face screwed up as he tried to process this information; it caused his facial scars to flex into different patterns. "So you adventured with a mermaid? How exactly did that work?"

"You have seen how for yourself, back at Yondall's Bay," replied Skevros. "If you recall, the merfolk leader met you on the beach, standing on his own two legs. Those legs were the result of a magic item of merfolk creation, allowing them to experience life on land. Aquellia had such a belt."

"So besides the legs, it also gave her a--"

"Syngaard!" interrupted Orion. "We all get it! Can we move on, please?"

"In any case, reading the prophecies involving Aquellia reminded me it was she who suggested I create Dow in the first place. She even aided me in her construction. It's entirely possible she may know what's wrong with her now, or where she might have gone."

"Have you tried contacting her?" asked Kaspar. He was no wizard, but it seemed like the next logical approach.

"I have, but all attempts have failed. I'm hoping you will have better luck seeking her out in person. The last place she was seen was in Coral's Reach, so that's where I'll send you to seek her out."

"Wait a minute," said Syngaard suspiciously. "This Coral's Reach, is it on land or out at sea?"

"It is an underwater locale."

"And this Aquellia we're hunting up for you, she got legs or not?"

"I would imagine she has retired to her natural mermaid form."

"So you're sendin' us underwater to go talk to some mermaid who helped you make that doll-thing to see if she might have any idea where she might have wandered off to and why she don't come back?"


"And why exactly--?"

"I will pay you each 2,000 pieces of gold to seek her out if she has any information that might help us in locating Dow. If we find Dow as a result, you will of course receive the full 50,000 pieces of gold I have put up as a reward."

That shut Syngaard up quite nicely. "I'm in," he said, returning his attention to his mug of ale.

"As are we all," replied Orion. "What can you tell us of Aquellia, sir?" she asked Skevros.

"She is a barbarian, quite adept at using the greataxe she carried as her primary weapon. And she's quick to anger. But she was steadfastly loyal to her friends, so she should be willing to help us with anything she might know." The briefing over, he stood up and ushered the conscripts out of the Enchanted Flagon and towards the city gate, so he could teleport them to their destination.

"Mermaid barbarian adventurer," muttered Syngaard to himself. "Don't that beat all."

Daleth cast a Rary's telepathic bond on the group as they exited the city gates. Then Skevros cast the spell that sent them to the very outskirts of Durnhill's southwestern border, the stretch of land called Yondall's Bay that was the kingdom's only oceanside border.

A guard - seeming in all respects to be human, but no doubt a merman with one of those leg-belts, thought Syngaard - recognized the group from their previous excursion this way. "What brings you back to these waters?" he asked.

"We seek a mermaid named Aquellia," Galen replied. "Skevros believes she may have information that would aid him."

"Aquellia," mused the guard. "You mean the Hermit of Kraken's Point?"

"Kraken's Point?" repeated Galen.

"One of our earliest legends tells of the first mermaid queen battling a kraken and being saved by a blond-haired human wizard in silver robes who turned the kraken to stone. The stone spire called Kraken's Point is said to be the petrified remains of that very kraken. And there's a mermaid that lives there; she might be the Aquellia you're looking for."

"Is it far from here?" asked Kaspar. The guard pointed out a rock rising from the ocean just at the edge of visibility and explained that was the top of Kraken's Point. "Most of us avoid the place due to the eerie glowing coral growing all around it and the unnaturally empowered wildlife that lair there. Especially the jellyfish - they're nastier than they appear."

"Still, we are charged to seek out this Aquellia," replied Galen stoically. "Is there any way you might...?"

The guard took his meaning at once and blew on a conch shell hanging at his belt. A half dozen merfolk rose from the ocean soon thereafter, beckoning the adventurers to meet them in the shallows of the ocean. Since the heroes had earlier saved the merfolk kingdom from destruction, the assembled mermaids gladly gave the merfolk blessing - a kiss that bestowed water breathing and freedom of movement - to the heroes. (The one providing Syngaard's blessing may have seemed to do so a bit less gladly than her sisters.) And then the conscripts stepped fully into the ocean, heading toward Kraken's Point.

Once again - for this was their second time adventuring underwater - they found it easier to walk along the ocean's bottom than try swimming, especially those in heavy armor. Orion got tired of walking almost immediately and gave an underwater whistle to her ghost-dog and Carl materialized immediately; he'd been trotting by her side on the Ethereal Plane, following her every movement. His demeanor was the same as it had always been, despite his most recent "death" under the fiery onslaught of a red dragon: he was just glad to be by his mistress. Orion leaped up into the ghost touch saddle that allowed her to ride an insubstantial ghost and led the way towards Kraken's Point, Carl occasionally taking the time to snap at the odd fish here and there.

Along the way, the waters got darker as the ocean got deeper, but then things started lightening back up again, even though the water continued rising higher and higher above their heads. This was due to the coral the merfolk guard had mentioned; it grew in little clumps, each clump giving off a faint phosphorescent bluish glow. The clumps of coral, few and far between at first, started growing closer and closer to each other the nearer they got to what must be Kraken's Point, for several arching pillars of stone grew together, forming a conical structure overhead. Two of the pillars were thicker than the others, corresponding to the kraken's more powerful tentacles.

And it turned out the clumps of coral weren't the only things glowing blue. Bluish glows coalesced into floating lights, which upon closer inspection were swarms of bioluminescent jellyfish, their tentacles flailing as their caps pulsated, moving them along.

<I'm not liking this,> pointed out Galen over the telepathic link they shared. <All this blue: is this an attempt by the Azure Glade to expand its boundaries again?>

<No way of telling, is there?> asked Orion. Then, not wanting to bump into any stinging jellyfish, the little halfling prompted Carl to go ethereal. They passed right through the approaching jellyfish without harm, but the extraplanar maneuver also cut Orion out of the Rary's telepathic bond spell. She wasn't particularly worried, knowing she'd snap back into the link once she and Carl returned to the Material Plane.

But then Orion spotted someone standing there on the ocean floor beneath the stone kraken's outstretched tentacle-pillars. It was a human woman, nearly naked but for a brief set of garments seemingly woven of sea-fronds. She carried a greataxe of intricate design and looked at the approaching halfling and riding dog with open curiosity; apparently she didn't have many visitors here on the Ethereal Plane.

"Excuse me, but are you Aquellia?" asked Orion.

"I might be. Who are you?"

"We're friends of Skevros," Orion said, sweeping her arm back and turning in the saddle to indicate the others walking behind her and Carl. But when she turned back to face Aquellia, the woman's eyes had narrowed darkly and an angry expression covered her face. "Friends of my murderer shall die!" she swore, taking a step forward.

Kaspar, in the meantime, unaware of impending combat out of view on the Ethereal Plane, decided to to take matters into his own hands when it came to the dangerous properties of Kraken's Point jellyfish and rushed to the attack, heading straight towards the rightmost of two large swarms of the odd creatures. Fortunately for him his monk training kicked in when a burst of energy sprang forth from the clumps of coral as he passed them. Avoiding the unexpected danger, Kaspar punched his fist straight at the nearest jellyfish swarm, his tenryutsume powering his fist with electricity and fire (which underwater took the form of bubbles of steam), and the force behind the powerful blow affecting jellyfish not even in contact with the elf's swift-striking fist, causing them to fall back. He learned an important lesson about the creatures that he passed on to his friends over the link: the jellyfish, being boneless blobs of matter, were apparently unaffected by physical strikes, although the twin energies of his tenryutsume seemed capable of slaying individual members of the swarm.

<I have several fire-based spell at hand,> Daleth replied. <I'll see what I can do about taking these things out!>

Back on the Ethereal Plane, the ghost of Aquellia further surprised Orion by not continuing on with her attack, but taking up a defensive stance and waiting for the halfling to strike first.

Daleth had been about to cast a magic missile spell at the swarm his fellow elf was battling, but then he noticed the energy blasting out from the coral was striking the jellyfish as well, with no apparent result. Accurately identifying it as force energy the coral was shooting, Daleth opted to cast a scorching ray spell instead, altering it as he cast it into blasts of scalding steam. Almost as if in response, the two jellyfish swarms sent forth shock-waves of force energy, striking all within 30 feet or so of either swarm of them, including the ethereal Orion and Carl. Surprised at the unexpected attack, Orion figured that explained why Aquellia had refrained from approaching her: she'd seen the impending attack coming and knew enough to keep her distance.

"We mean you no harm!" Orion insisted. "We just want to talk!" But she was silently recalling the ghost's words in the back of her head: if Skevros was Aquella's murderer, he must have killed her when he was under the effects of the helm of opposite alignment, and this must have occurred in one of those spans of time Skevros no longer had any memory of.

Unaware of the two women on a separate plane but near enough to have been visible had they been with him here on the Material Plane, Syngaard charged the jellyfish swarm Kaspar was now engulfed within. He swung his flaming brilliant energy morningstar into the mass, causing a score or so of the jellyfish to shrivel up and die. In his battle-lust, he'd barely registered that the nearby coral had zapped him as he rushed by.

Galen likewise charged at the same swarm but the enchantments of the sword of Zehkar seemed particularly ineffective against jellyfish - it would have fried them up had they been evil or undead, but these were neither.

Orion and Carl backed away from the clumps of coal, ending up directly beneath the stone kraken structure - no coral grew there in its direct shadow. "We need to talk to you about Dow!" Orion said, hoping the name of the homunculus Aquellia had helped create might make her more willing to talk. But the ghost-barbarian just approached with her greataxe held high, so Orion had Carl hightail it out of there. They emerged once more onto the Material Plane and Orion felt her mental link with her friends pop back into existence. <Guys!> she called. <Aquellia's here, but she's a ghost -- and she claims Skevros killed her!>

Kaspar finished off the initial jellyfish swarm with a flurry of blows that had his tenryutsume touching just about all of them in turn. As boneless bodies drifted down to the ocean floor at dreamlike speed, Aquellia materialized with her axe already in a powerful downswing, its blade cutting Orion deep in the shoulder before she could reflexively roll from the rest of the blow - what would likely have been a killing blow had the halfling's instincts been a fraction of a second slower.

Daleth didn't see the two new combatants now in their midst; seeing Kaspar had finished off the first jellyfish swarm he had turned to face the second one, swimming towards him in an erratic but slowly-approaching way. He sent a second scorching ray spell sizzling its way, burning away scores of the creatures. But then it repeated its own blast of force energy, catching Daleth, Todd, and Syngaard in its full effect.

Syngaard had been caught off guard by the sudden blast of force energy but he easily recognized Aquellia as a much greater threat than a bunch of mindless blobs with tentacles - let Wizard-Pants take care of them! He raced toward her, weaving erratically to prevent close contact with the arcane coral but sucking it up when there was no way to avoid them. Galen followed a similar path, surprised to see no taint of evil in the ghost-barbarian's aura. Unfortunately, the path he took lent itself to numerous coral blasts and the paladin found himself less adept at resisting the energy of the blasts than was the bald fighter.

"We don't need to fight!" Orion insisted, holding her hand over her shoulder in an attempt to keep it from bleeding any more than it was doing. Carl, sensing his mistress's distress, wisely backed away from battle with this barbarian woman no more alive than he was. But no doubt lessening the seeming sincerity of her statement was Kaspar's fist, which passed straight through Aquellia's body without causing the incorporeal ghost any real harm. The monk had easily avoided the coral-blasts on his own path to battle, but had failed to connect with even his most powerful strike - such were the hazards of fighting those without a solid, material form.

However, Aquellia's greataxe was most certainly material, as Kaspar found out the hard way, by becoming the recipient of a pair of swings with the weapon. Aquellia spun around and managed to tag both Syngaard and Galen as well in rapid succession, the blow against the paladin striking particularly deep.

<Shall I help engage the ghost?> called Daleth over the link suddenly.

<No, you take care of them jellyfish - we got this!> answered Syngaard. Best if Wizard-Pants took care of the jellyfish swarm for them - no sense in letting it continue on with its force blasts if they could put a stop to them - and allow the rest of them to focus their combined attention on the barbarian woman. One lightning bolt spell later and the subject was moot, for the elven wizard had fried the last of the jellyfish in one fell swoop.

Pleased with the successful implementation of his plan, Syngaard was struck with another epiphany: the ghost chick wasn't nearly all that tough without her greataxe, which was apparently imbued with the same magical properties that allowed Orion to continue to ride her dog, even when he didn't really have a body to speak of. With that thought in mind, the bald fighter applied himself to attacking not Aquellia but the shaft of her ghost touch weapon. His first blow cut a deep chunk out of the wooden shaft. "That looks like a pretty nice axe you got there," Syngaard commented aloud. "Be a shame if we had to keep on fighting and I had to chop the head off it. Howzabout you give up and we have that nice little chat the halfling was talkin' about?"

"I have nothing to say to allies of Skevros!" Aquellia responded, making the name of the king's adviser sound like the worst kind of curse. Galen was forced to back away and apply the healing touch of Hieroneous to his own wound; he saw Orion was wounded as well but he realized he wouldn't be able to heal anyone if he himself fell in battle - and one more attack like that last one could make that unhappy thought a reality.

Realizing the inevitability of this stupid battle with a stupid ghost too stupid to see past her own stupid prejudices, Orion threw a few electrified daggers from her bag of blades at Aquellia. Unfortunately, while the halfling's targeting was as spot-on as ever, the blades sailed harmlessly through the ghost's immaterial form. Kaspar stepped up behind Aquellia and performed another flurry of blows, this time catching her once or twice, to both of their surprise. But Aquellia was focused on Syngaard, who had the audacity to try to destroy her greataxe! She avoided another of his blows and brought the weapon down on him, getting past his shield and cutting a gouge in his breastplate armor that had to have hurt. (And sure did, if the bald fighter's expression was any indicator.)

Daleth turned his attention to the only foe left to him. He cast a ray of enfeeblement spell at the ghost, but spells were just as iffy as solid weapons against an incorporeal opponent and the spell failed to hit her. But then Syngaard faked her out with a blow that looked at first to be aimed for her head but which made a sudden mid-course correction and sundered the greataxe's wooden shaft in two pieces, both of which went flying from Aquellia's grip, only to fade away to nothingness as if they had never existed. "Ha!" yelled Syngaard. "You ready for that talk yet, ghost?" His only answer was a wordless cry of anger and frustration.

Galen stepped forward again, this time wielding his holy symbol of Hieroneous. He tried turning Aquellia, to no effect. But then Orion and Carl moved in again, pinning the ghost between a circle of combatants. The halfling studiously ignored the blood still seeping out from her shoulder; she'd get Galen to heal it after they had dealt with their recalcitrant barbarian ghost.

Suddenly, Aquellia made a rush for Galen - accepting the attempted snap of Carl's teeth and the ineffectual swing of Orion's nightflame short sword as she lunged at the paladin - but then passed straight through him. She then moved straight up, towards the lower surface of the structure looming above her: the head of the petrified kraken itself. She slipped through its opened beak and disappeared into the shadows above. Daleth cast a fly spell upon himself and his familiar and without missing a beat followed the humanoid mermaid's ghostly form into the structure above.

Into the open beak went the elven wizard and his faithful pseudodragon familiar. They emerged into an air-filled bubble, where Daleth's elven vision could make out the ghostly figure bending down to grab a very familiar-looking greataxe from the side of a patch of purple brain coral. Resting on this coral were the skeletal remains of a merfolk: human in build from the waist up, fishlike below. Against the far wall of the chamber stood a large series of bookshelves carved directly into the stone structure of the kraken's petrified corpse.

As quickly as he could, Daleth provided the rest of the group with a description of what he'd found over the telepathic link. Syngaard wasted no time whipping out his Dick and rubbing it to full size. The griffon appeared with a set of lungs full of air; before it lost its held breath, Syngaard grabbed onto the beast's neck and sent it swimming - by flapping its eagle-wings underwater - up to the stone kraken's beak. The bald fighter practically exploded into the room, slamming his booted foot down upon the greataxe Aquellia was just starting to pick up from the floor. As it was a ghost touch weapon made specifically to deal with the world of solid objects, every ounce of Syngaard's considerable weight - armor and all - prevented the ghost from lifting it up off the floor. With a cry of frustration she faded from view, heading into the Ethereal Plane.

Dick took a lungful of air from the room and dived back down below, ferrying up Galen; Kaspar opted to run up the side of a petrified tentacle-pillar with his slippers of spider climbing, entering through the beak in that fashion. For Orion and Carl it was even easier still, by rising up through the structure via the Ethereal Plane. And here the halfling found Aquellia sitting, sulking, on a bed of purple brain coral.

"We certainly got off to a bad start," began the halfling, still applying pressure to her shoulder wound. "Yes, we work for Skevros, and we know he was once turned to evil, but those days are behind him now. We only wish to ask you about Dow. She's gone, and we don't know where to look for her."

"And you think I would?" sneered Aquellia. Orion wasn't bothered by the negative reply; it was a reply nonetheless and perhaps the beginning of an actual conversation.

"It was worth a try," replied Orion. "We're involved in fighting a wizard - a lich, actually - called the Mithral Mage. There was this book of prophecies, mentioning the death of Skevros's daughter Sarah, and another potential daughter named Nadira."

"Nadira?" asked Aquellia, a look of total surprise on her face.

"The name means something to you?" Orion asked. At the ghost's nod, the halfling suggested they continue the conversation back on the Material Plane, so the others could join in.

"I got your greataxe!" taunted Syngaard as the trio - Aquellia, Orion, and Carl - suddenly manifested in the middle of the room.

"Syngaard!" scolded Orion. "She's agreed to help us! Put that down!"

Orion then outlined the tale of how Skevros had become evil through a helm of opposite alignment, and how Jessica had sacrificed her own life to restore him to his normal self - although it also robbed him of his memories of that time and turned him into a timeless "living lich."

"It was when he was evil, then, that he killed me," Aquellia confided. "He came here, having apparently finally realized my feelings for him. I expressed my love for him and he said he reciprocated my feelings. We spent some time together" - perhaps unaware of it, her eyes strayed to the coral bed - "and then, immediately afterward, he started strangling me, deciding to cut off any loose ends before Jessica found out."

"Had he said anything about the Mithral Mage?" Galen asked.

"Alexandros? Yes," Aquellia affirmed. "I knew all about him - Skevros was digging into his past; it was quite the project for him."

"I'm afraid knowing the Mithral Mage's true name is what has kept you here, after death," Orion put in. "It's a trap we all face. Until we can defeat him, none of us can pass on to the afterlife. But you said you knew of this Nadira mentioned in the prophecy - does she actually exist? We were led to believe she had just been a possible daughter that Skevros never actually had."

"Before he turned to evil, I had suggested to him he could make a doll familiar to help him keep an eye on Sarah while he was away. I even offered to help him make it. You see, I was known in life as a barbarian, an axe-wielder and little else - but I also have magic flowing through me."

"You're a sorcerer!" Daleth deduced.

"Yes - to some small extent, I can channel arcane energies through me in the form of spells. I made the doll homunculus as a way to share a part of my soul with Skevros. Dow served not only as Skevros's familiar, but as mine as well."

"That may explain why there were two astral cords extending from the astral golem," Kaspar hypothesized aloud, almost sidetracking Aquellia with questions until Orion got her back on track.

"Why would you make Dow as a familiar to two different people?" she asked the ghost. "That's not usual, is it?"

"Not in living familiars - I don't think it's even possible," replied Aquellia.

"It isn't," answered Daleth.

"But I was unable to conceive children of my own," continued the ghost. "It was due to an injury inflicted by my sister - a long story, and one not really pertinent to the matter at hand. But it was that injury that prompted me to adventure above the waves for a time, and what led me to meet - and fall in love with - Skevros. Creating Dow was the closest thing I could do to having a child with the man I had come to love. He named the homunculus 'Dow' - it was how Sarah pronounced 'Doll' - but in my heart, I always thought of her as 'Nadira,' the name I would have given my own daughter."

"So if Dow/Nadira is the product of two intertwined souls, what could have split them back apart?" asked Daleth.

"I have no idea," admitted Aquellia. But the elf wizard's mind was spinning furiously. "Mithral weapons are often used in the creation of weapons capable of cutting through an astral traveler's silver cord..." he mused. "Perhaps when Skevros was turned to mithral, it might have 'frayed' Dow's cord, the one that allows her to pilot the astral golem?"

"You've lost me. Astral golem? Skevros was turned to mithral?"

"Other long stories," admitted Orion. She turned to Daleth. "What are you thinking?" she asked.

"It's possible, if her astral cord were made up of two separate but intertwined strands - one from Skevros and one from Aquellia - and they were unwound when Alexandros turned Skevros to mithral, her personality might have split as well. There would be the dominant personality mirroring Skevros's own - the one we're used to dealing with - and another based on you, Aquellia. And if she were to start leaning toward her mermaid side, she would seek out a nearby body of water! Guys, I think I know where Dow is!"

"Are you sure?" asked Syngaard, who hadn't been paying all that close of attention until just now. "50,000-gold-piece-reward sure?"

"I'm sure," said Daleth, certainty practically oozing out of his pores.

"We must get back," Orion said to Aquellia. "Thank you - you've been a big help!" But the ghost stopped the group from leaving immediately with an interesting proposal. She agreed to allow the heroes to have all of her possessions, including her arcane library and her journals from her time with Skevros and Dow's creation process, if they promised to bury the remains of her physical body. That way, if they managed to destroy this Alexandros person keeping her soul from finding its eternal rest, she would be able to pass on to her afterlife. She also gave Orion a sealed letter to pass on to "Nadira" for her. Syngaard was more than happy to stuff the ghost touch greataxe and the mermaid's bracers of armor into his bag of holding and Daleth was likewise just as eager to get all of the books into Galen's own bag of holding for further investigation later on. Most were ancient tomes detailing magical rituals and theories (some with notes in the margins bearing the recognizable handwriting of Alexandros, Daleth noted) while there was also a small number of newer books detailing such diverse topics as the limits of healing magic, fertility rites, the creation of homunculi (a loose piece of parchment detailed plans to remove of a piece of brain matter and wrap it around a ring of regeneration to keep it alive to form the basis of a mental construct), and finally a book on the making of various types of dolls, this last one with pages earmarking a particular porcelain variety whose hand-sketched details bore a remarkable resemblance to Dow.

With that, the party returned to Durnhill by the most expeditious method: the ring of return Kaspar kept in his robes. With a word of activation, the heroes arrived at the outer gates of Durnhill's capital city, each dripping wet. The guards made no comment; it was not by far the most unusual thing they'd seen from this particular bunch.

"So where's Dow?" Syngaard wanted to know, the thought of the reward bringing a great deal of earnestness for the prospect of recovering a porcelain doll homunculus he'd earlier suggested Skevros just forget all about.

"With the mermaid part of her personality dominant, she'd want to get to the closest body of water she could," Daleth surmised. "And that would mean--"

"--the fountain in the town square!" finished Orion.

"Exactly! And the running water would prevent the locate creature spells Skevros and I cast from revealing her position!"

"What? Why's that? That don't make no sense," replied Syngaard.

"To you, perhaps not," agreed Daleth with a condescending look that didn't get past the scarred fighter. "But that's the way the spell works." But Syngaard didn't care; Wizard-Pants could be as condescending as he wanted to as long as that reward got split five ways!

"There's the fountain!" pointed Galen, running now for all he was worth. Kaspar, of course, beat the heavily-armored paladin to the fountain; then, stepping inside, he waded around until he found Dow hunkered down at the base of the fountain, water cascading around her in all directions. "Well, hello there," he said to the homunculus with a pleasant smile. "Do you remember me?"

"I remember you," Dow replied, her eyes flickering with fear as she glanced all around her. "I think I'm broken," she added. "I'm not me. I'm not just me, I mean. There are other 'me's' in here," she said, tapping the side of her head. "And I have memories I don't remember remembering."

"I'm sure that must be very confusing for you," agreed the elf, holding his arms out to her. "But your Daddy has been looking very hard for you, and he sent us to find you. He will be very glad to see you, and I'm sure he'll be able to fix everything that's wrong with you."

Dow's frozen porcelain face was unable to smile, but she practically leaped into Kaspar's outstretched arms.

Taking her back to the Enchanted Flagon and filling Skevros in on all that they had learned, the king's adviser was shocked to learn there was a living part of Aquellia's brain inside Dow - and even more shocked to discover he had murdered one of his closest friends.

"I will do everything in my power to restore your mind," he promised Dow.

"Thank you, Daddy," replied the homunculus.

"Hey, about the--" began Syngaard, before being cut off by Skevros.

"You will find the full reward in the chest behind the bar," he said.

"Thank you, Daddy!" grinned the bald fighter.

- - -

Logan used a bunch of blue glass beads as the coral, spreading them out randomly on a cutting board we have in place on our gaming table that's gridded off into one-inch squares. That made it easy to see who would set off the coral-blasts; all it took was moving your PC to an adjacent square for it to automatically trigger. He was actually a bit surprised at how long we stuck with the "getting Aquellia to talk to us" plan, thinking it wouldn't take long for us devolve into straight combat. (And for that reason, everything she told us would eventually have been accessible through her notes.) And we all earned enough XP in this adventure (Aquellia herself was a Bbn15/Sor4 with the ghost template increasing her CR even further) to each level up; Galen, Kaspar and Syngaard are already pretty close to 15h level as a result of this adventure's XP dump.



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 13
Galen Thorne, human paladin 14
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 14
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 14
Syngaard, human fighter 14​

Game Session Date: 1 May 2019

- - -

Galen walked out the back door of the upper story of the Enchanted Flagon and went down the stairs. He was dressed in his full armor - not because he was expecting any particular danger, but rather because his order stressed the virtues of preparedness and because by wearing it nearly all the time he was becoming used to the extra weight and more proficient in moving about in it. Such experiences would only make him that much more nimble in battle when it counted - and could one day spell the difference between life and death.

Arriving at the tavern's front door, the young paladin was surprised to see a note pinned to the wooden exterior by a small nail. Plucking it from the door, he read it to himself. It said:

To those within, and the straggler without,

We know where you live. This could have easily been another assassination attempt - let that serve as proof of our good intentions. We share a common foe, one that will end us both if we do not work together. Let us meet upon neutral ground at midnight to rationally discuss our options. There is a ruined building in the wild, unclaimed lands between Durnhill and the Azure Glade; your master will be able to scry upon its location. Failure to attend will displease the one we serve - and you definitely do not wish that.

At the bottom of the page was a drawing of an hourglass tipped on its side. The lower half of the hourglass was colored in, using a red ink to indicate blood. Galen recognized it as the symbol of an undead offshoot of the Seekers of Eternity; he'd seen the emblem tattooed on the back of the neck of a vampire or two.

Frowning, Galen used his ring to gain entry to the locked tavern, expecting to be the first one up, and was surprised to see Orion already in place and putting together a simple breakfast. He hadn't heard her come down the stairs, but then he belatedly realized she must have ridden her ghost-dog Carl and the two of them phased right through the floor of the upper level while he was taking the stairs. Sure enough, there was Carl in the corner of the tavern's main room, his head lying on his front paws as he watched his mistress prepare breakfast. His wistful expression said he'd learned that in his ghostly state he was unable to eat food, and he missed it.

Skevros entered the room from the back of the tavern - where he kept an entrance to his Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion - and Galen showed him and Orion the note he'd found on the door. "'Straggler without' - that's got to mean Syngaard," the halfling observed.

"I agree," replied Skevros. "You go upstairs and fetch the elves; I'll summon Syngaard through his ring." Orion whistled for Carl, leaped onto his ghost touch saddle, and went back upstairs to fetch Daleth and Kaspar by way of the Ethereal Plane. Skevros, in the meantime, used his ring to send a message spell instructing Syngaard to come to the tavern at once.

The assembled conscripts pored over the note while eating. "Pffft!" snorted Syngaard, reading the first sentences while stuffing a biscuit into his mouth. "They're claiming proof of good intention 'cause they didn't kill us! Hey, Orion! I didn't kill you yet - that proves what a good guy I am!"

"This is seemingly the work of the vampiric Seekers," remarked Kaspar.

"Seemingly, yes," agreed Skevros.

"Oh? You think this a possible ruse?" asked Daleth.

"If it is, it's by someone who knows of this branch of the Seekers of Eternity," observed Skevros. "There's really only one way to find out for sure."

"You mean go there, meet them at midnight?" asked Galen. The king's adviser nodded his assent.

"It could very well be a trap," pointed out the Hieronenan paladin.

"Agreed," admitted Skevros. "But we have the rest of the day and until midnight to check the place out for ourselves."

"You know where the place they're talking about?" Orion asked.

"I know the area," replied Skevros, pulling the crystal ball out from behind the back of the bar. He then spent several minutes in concentration, with Daleth looking intently at the proceedings while Syngaard got bored after a few seconds and redirected his attention to a slab of ham. After a few minutes, though, Skevros gave a little chuckle. "They made it rather easy to find," he said. "Look." Peering over his shoulders, the others saw a ruined building, with a set of stone steps leading up to it - and a series of white rocks placed in such a manner to form several large arrows pointing at the ruins.

"Well, if it is a trap, we have faced vampire assassins before," reasoned Kaspar.

"Indeed. I think you should make the meeting and see what they have to say. This could be on the up-and-up, and we might gain valuable information about the Mithral Mage. Or, as you say, it could be a trap - and then you have the opportunity to slay some of our enemies. In either case, I'm willing to make this an official paying mission."

"All right!" said Syngaard between a mouthful of food.

"You have the rest of the day to yourselves, then," said Skevros. "Return here when you're ready for me to teleport you to the site of the ruins."

"At midnight?" asked Daleth.

"What? 'Course not at midnight!" scoffed Syngaard. "Use that noggin, Wizard-Pants! I wanna check that place out good ahead of time, make sure there's no traps waitin' to catch us, or handy coffins nearby or nothin'."

"Then let us meet here before sundown," suggested Galen. "I wish to pick some things at the marketplace and spend some time at the temple prying for a successful outcome."

"Pick up some torches," suggested Syngaard.

"Torches? I have sunrods," replied Galen.

"Never mind - I'll get 'em," the bald fighter answered. "See you chumps before sundown." And with that, Syngaard walked out the door, heading for the marketplace.

When they met back at the Enchanted Flagon several hours later, Syngaard passed a torch to each of the conscripts. "Here," he said. "I sharpened the ends. Wooden stakes," he explained to Daleth. "You can kill a vampire by stabbin' it in the heart. I figure we oughta each have one."

"And supposing there are more than five vampires?" asked the wizard.

"Then we just keep on stabbin', Wizard-Pants! Sheesh! This ain't that hard of a concept!"

"Actually," replied Daleth, puffing out his chest and holding the front of his robes in full lecture mode, "after stabbing a vampire through the heart with a wooden stake, you must leave it in place - subsequent removal allows the vampire to return to its unholy life."

"What? Says who?"

"It's standard vampire lore."

"It's true," agreed Galen. "We learned of such things at the temple."

"Well, crap - at least I'm taking care of the first five vampires! You guys figure out how to kill the rest, if there is any more of 'em."

Once the conscripts had confirmed they had everything they wanted with them, Skevros led them to the city's gates and cast a teleport spell that sent them to the ruins described in the note. Syngaard wasted no time giving the ruins a good once-over, sending the elves all over looking for hidden passages and secret doors and such - they were good at winkling that sort of stuff out. Orion had Carl fly up and down along each of the walls, looking for hidden runes, panels, and the like - the building's ceiling might have crumbled many years ago, but most of the 20-foot-tall stone walls were still in pretty good condition. While the halfling busied herself with the ruins, Galen and Syngaard checked out the perimeter of the area; the grasses, they noted, were still green, although the blue vegetation of the Azure Glade was well within sight. There were clumps of trees on either side which warranted attention; no point in letting any ambush sites go unnoticed. But despite all of their searching, they found nothing out of the ordinary.

Orion kept an eye on the time by observing the stars once the sun went down. As midnight approached, the spellcasters began casting their normal "get-ready-for-possible-combat" spells. After having summoned his dire lion Burt to his side, Galen cast magic circle against evil and detect undead spells on himself. Daleth cast his customary stoneskin spell, following it up with a fly spell and a magic circle against evil spell of his own. Orion passed the elven wizard a scroll of stoneskin she'd purchased so he could cast it on her, then the halfling fed Carl a potion of mage armor. As usual, Kaspar and Syngaard just watched the frantic activity, the latter with a smirk on his face.

"You guys gonna be ready with all them preparations any time soon?" he asked.

"One last one," Daleth replied, casting a Rary's telepathic bond spell that encompassed the whole group. <Now we can communicate amongst ourselves without the vampires knowing what we're doing.> He hadn't bothered including his pseudodragon familair in the link; Todd was naturally telepathic by nature and could already talk to the entire group without making a sound.

<Yippie-skippy, Wizard-Pants. Just where are they, anyway?> groused Syngaard. <I'm gettin' tired of waitin' for 'em.>

<We should take up our positions,> suggested Galen. He stood guarding a large hole in the western wall, while Burt crawled forward and got down on his haunches, hiding himself among the tall grasses. Syngaard stood at the top of the stairs, his enchanted morningstar out and ready for business. The two elves stood in the shadows of the ruins' corners, while Orion and Carl slipped into the Ethereal Plane where they could see the area while remaining unseen themselves.

At what must have been midnight, three vampires teleported into the middle of the ruins, right behind Syngaard and Galen's backs, where they couldn't be seen by the two sentries. Fortunately, Kaspar and Daleth saw them appear and warned the others over their link.

<They're not undead!> reported Galen, spinning around at the elves' mental warning and sensing nothing from his magically-enhanced vision, which would have caused him to see flashing red auras emanating from them had they been undead. There were three of them, a woman flanked on either side by an armored man, each looking like former-human vampires judging by their pale skin tones, which almost looked like ivory in the moonlight. <They are evil, though!>

<Dominated slaves, maybe?> Daleth guessed. <Sent to check us out before their masters approach?>

"We came, as you asked," Galen called out to the trio. "Now what's this about a common enemy?"

The female did the talking for the group; Syngaard automatically assumed she was their leader and the two men her bodyguards. "You know him as the Mithral Mage," she said. "His escape from Hell has caused complications that the one we serve doesn't like."

"And who would that be?" Syngaard pressed. "The Blood Queen?"

The woman merely smiled mysteriously and pressed on as if the scarred fighter hadn't interrupted. (Syngaard had noticed over the years that quite a few people did that.) "We are authorized to swear a blood pact with you that we will use all of our resources to recapture or destroy the Mithral Mage."

"I am a paladin of Hieroneous; I am not in the habit of signing blood pacts with vampires...or with those pretending to be vampires." Orion and Carl phased back into the Material Plane at that point, allowing the halfling to snap back into the mental link they shared. <They're alive,> she confirmed. <I can see no traces of necromantic energy coursing through their systems.>

Syngaard stared intently at the woman's mouth, trying to see if he could see any fangs. But while he was focusing his attention on her, he noticed her shape starting to fade a little along the edges, blurring away to allow another competing image to be seen: another woman, this one with not quite so pasty skin, and - surprisingly - with a pair of white-feathered wings sprouting from her back. He looked at the bodyguard nearest her, and started seeing through his illusion as well: this guy was as bald as Syngaard, with quills or spines growing all over his body.

<Hey, guys--!> he started to say, but then, surprisingly, he was cut off - and by none other than the winged woman.

<Well, that didn't work,> she said over the telepathic bond Daleth had created to join the conscripts' mind together in a silent communication link. <Looks like we just kill them all!> And with that, she dropped her illusion entirely, flapping her wings to bring her straight up a good 20 feet above the stone platform, and then sending a quartet of flaming arrows flying down at Galen all at once. One hit his shield as he belatedly brought it up high; the other three struck true, and the paladin staggered out of the ruins to slump behind the wall, where he hurriedly unstoppered a potion of cure light wounds and chugged it down. "Get her, Burt!" he called to his dire lion.

Burt needed no further prompting. With a graceful leap, he flew through the gap in the ruined wall, landed on all fours, and sprang straight up into the air, swatting at the flying erinyes with his sharp claws. He pulled her into him close enough to bite down on her leg, but then gravity took over and he didn't have a tight enough grip on the female devil to pull her back to the stone floor with him as intended.

But before she could react, Daleth cast a chain lightning spell at her, sending arcs down to strike her two bodyguards below. All three cried out in pain, the two male devils dropping their human/vampire disguises to appear in their full, barbed glory. Kaspar dashed up to the nearest barbed devil and struck out at it with his right hand, the one wearing the tenryutsume; it smashed into the fiend in an explosion of fire and lightning, none of which dealt the monk any harm. However, in dealing his blow Kaspar had managed to impale one of the devil's barbs into the side of his forearm, drawing blood.

"These things devils?" Syngaard asked as he approached the fiend battling Kaspar, the bald fighter's morningstar out and ready to strike.

"She's an erinyes; they're hamatulas; they're all devils!" Daleth answered.

"Workin' for the Hope Ender, no doubt!" Syngaard sneered. "That's quite a boss you got there - can't even keep one lousy wizard-lich stuck in Hell like he's supposed to!" And then he sent the spiked head of his weapon crashing into the hamatula's body three times in rapid succession. The weapon's spikes cut into the hamatula's flesh as the fiend's barbs stabbed into Syngaard's hand and arm; still, of the two, the barbed devil had gotten the worse of that deal by far.

The other hamatula rushed in to attack Burt, who had had the audacity to attack their strike leader. The devil's claws ripped lines of blood across the dire lion's flank, causing Burt to roar in pain. The other hamatula did the same, choosing Syngaard as his target; Syngaard refused to give the devil the satisfaction of crying out aloud in pain. An electrified dagger went speeding by the first hamatula's head, Orion having uncharacteristically missed her target.

<Things would have been so much easier for you all if you had reactivated Hirek's blood pact!> the erinyes announced telepathically to everyone in the area. <Doing so would have reopened the breaches in the Baator's Breath Mountains. But you had to do this the hard way.> She targeted Daleth, Kaspar, Syngaard, and Orion with a flaming arrow each in rapid succession. Kaspar simply snatched his out of the air, snapped it in half, and contemptuously tossed the two broken pieces aside. Orion ducked low in Carl's ghost touch saddle, avoiding the incoming missile completely. Syngaard and Daleth weren't as fortunate, each being hit a solid blow.

Galen then rushed back into the fray, entering the ruins through the gap in the western wall. Channeling the power of the god of valor through the sword of Zehkar, he brought his blade crashing down upon the hamatula menacing his dire lion mount. He impaled his arms on a few of the devil's barbs but altogether was pleased with the trade-off. Burt also attacked the same devil, learning the hard way about the dangers posed by the creature's barbs.

Daleth, realizing the erinyes was the greater threat - and the one fewer of the conscripts could successfully target - cast a cone of cold spell her way. He could tell as it hit that it failed to do as much damage as he might have hoped - he was aware that many devils were partially shielded from temperature extremes - but he was willing to take whatever he could get. He took the opportunity to follow up the first spell with a quickened ray of enfeeblement spell almost immediately, but this time he failed to hit his target.

Kaspar, steeling himself for the pain to come by striking a barbed foe with his bare hands and feet, sent a flurry of blows crashing down upon his hamatula foe. Syngaard did likewise with his morningstar, wishing its shaft was just a little bit longer than it was so he wouldn't have to worry about cutting up his hands as much as he was doing. (If he kept it up, his hands were going to be as scarred as his face!) But surprisingly, the hamatula, bleeding from a dozen wounds at this point, apparently decided a century of torment for his failure was better than being slain here on the Material Plane, where death meant instant obliteration and an irrevocable end to his existence. With a mental command, his body vanished from the material world, returning to the Hell from which it had come.

The other hamatula noted his comrade's sudden desertion but was goaded into staying by the hated symbol of Hieroneous painted on Galen's shield and on the holy symbol the paladin wore around his neck. He might have to escape back into Hell himself soon, but he was going to try to kill that wretched do-gooder first if at all possible!

But then Orion and Carl snuck up silently (as only a ghost can) behind the barbed devil and the halfling let fly with one of the electrified daggers from her bag of blades, catching the hamatula in the back of the neck. It cried out in pain and grabbed at the embedded weapon with a clawed hand, tossing it to the floor in rage (and not even noticing when it disappeared back into nothingness).

From her aerial perch, the erinyes could see the conscripts had bunched up together such that she could catch almost all of them in an unholy blight spell. Activating the power, she was disappointed with the results; of the entire group (but for Daleth and his pseudodragon familiar, who were out of range), only the damned lion seemed sickened from her spell.

Galen channeled another smite attack through his holy longsword, cutting deep into the hamatula's flesh (which bubbled and blistered from the holy power of Hieroneous) and then following it up with another blade-strike. Despite his sickness from the unholy blight spell, Burt managed to knock the hamatula out with a swipe of his front paw.

Daleth targeted the erinyes with a new spell he'd only just recently mastered: a prismatic spray which could have one of several variable effects. To his dismay, the spell flashed red upon striking the aerial foe, covering the erinyes in a blast of fiery energy against which she was entirely immune. However, Kaspar reached into his robes and grabbed a handful of shuriken, throwing them with his right hand, the tenryutsume infusing the barbed weapons with fire and electricity. Seeing their only foe was twenty feet above him, Syngaard whipped his Dick from his pants, activated him, and then leaped upon the bronze-feathered griffon's broad back. Dick flapped up to the erinyes and clamped down upon a shapely leg with his powerful beak.

Orion sent Carl up into the air as well, approaching the female devil from behind. She had her nightflame short sword in hand and sent its black blade deep into the winged devil's back. That was enough for her to come to the same conclusion as her first bodyguard had just reached seconds before: a century of torment in Hell was no picnic, but it beat the total oblivion that death on the Material Plane would bring. Dick snapped at her arm; Syngaard swung his morningstar at her head; Orion stabbed forward with her blade; but the erinyes pierced the planes and escaped back to Hell, her mission a failure but her potentially eternal existence no longer in immediate danger.

"Well, drat!" grumbled Galen, seeing the erinyes escape. He punctuated his disappointment by a decapitating blow with the sword of Zehkar, causing the unconscious hamatula lying before him to die a most permanent death.

Once it became clear the other devils weren't coming back, Galen released Burt back to the Beastlands and the conscripts all grabbed hold of the ring of return Kaspar held out to the group. A word of activation and the conscripts were back outside the city gates.

After filling Skevros in on the events at the ruins, the king' adviser presented his theory on what had just occurred. "Hirek's blood pact with the Hope Ender to imprison Alexandros caused the breaches in the Baator's Breath Mountains," he explained. "With Alexandros' escape, the Hope Ender has failed to fulfill his side of the pact, thus possibly sealing the breaches. He probably sent his agents to renew Hirek's pact as a way to keep his door into this world intact."

"So if we had signed the pact, the Hope Ender and his minions could re-enter our world at will," Daleth recapped.

"Good thing they were dealing with Syngaard," Orion offered.

"Damn right!" the scarred fighter agreed. "I know better than to agree to work with devils - or vampires, for that matter."

"It's also unlikely you have the requisite intellect with which to perform the signatory requirements of said blood pact, requiring as it would the capacity of autographing one's full nomenclature using a calligraphic method unlikely to be found within the limitations of your simian cranial capacity." Orion's careful word choice had the desired effect: Sygaard had absolutely no idea what she had just said.

"That's sure a lot of big words for such a little halfling," he noted, feeling that he'd gotten the final word on the subject. Orion just smiled quietly to herself, content in knowing she'd certainly won that exchange.

- - -

This was a much harder battle than we've faced in recent adventures. Galen got cut down to less than a third of his full hit points early in the battle and had to retreat; had he not, he'd likely have been slain - and that would quite easily been the start of a cascade effect, as we rely upon him as our primary healer. It's also fortunate for us that these devils hadn't simply been summoned to the Material Plane, for slaying a summoned creature just returns them to their home plane, none the worse for wear. Had that been the case, they would have fought to the "death" instead of retreating while they still could.

Logan used two cards from Paizo's "Altars" Map Pack for the ruins. He initially used three D&D Minis to represent the vampires, swapping them out with appropriate devil minis once their true forms became apparent.



PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 13
Galen Thorne, human paladin 14
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 14
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 14
Syngaard, human fighter 14​

Game Session Date: 15 May 2019

- - -

For once, Syngaard was the first on site after a magical summons by Skevros through the rings the conscripts wore - this time after the sun was well on its way below the horizon. Of course, this was because the king's adviser had specifically directed them to meet at the city's east gate, and Mama Kat's - where the bald fighter was employed when he wasn't otherwise occupied as an adventurer - was closer to the east gate than the Enchanted Flagon was.

"What's the big hurry? Why are we meeting here? And why's she here?" demanded Syngaard. In his determination to get answers, he completely failed to notice that Skevros was covered in a faint green glow.

"We're meeting here because this is the gate by which Leorna entered the city," remarked Skevros, indicating the woman in yellow robes standing at his side. Leorna was the Guildmistress of the Azure Glade's Illusionists Guild and had been an ally to Skevros and Durnhill in the past. The other conscripts ran up as she took over the explanation.

"The Vault of Six Thirds has been breached," she said. Then, seeing the blank expressions on the conscripts' faces, she added, "It's the vault where the Azure Glade keeps all the objects too powerful or dangerous to use." At this, Syngaard's eyebrows shot up. Powerful weapons? That sounded interesting!

"You are glowing," pointed out Kaspar to Skevros.

"A dimensional anchor effect?" surmised Daleth.

"Indeed," replied Skevros. "Someone is attempting to teleport me away, and only the magical stones in place around the city's borders are preventing the effect."

"So what's this about a vault?" asked Galen, eager to get back on track.

"With Skevros's assistance, I've been able to determine that no one who entered the vault has left yet. We must leave at once: after we've teleported to the vault I can explain more, since we'll be able to see anyone attempting to leave and stop them." Without much further ado, she gathered everyone around her and cast a teleport spell. In an instant, they were standing in a field of blue grass facing a stone cliff. Just ahead, a large, foot-thick adamantine door stood smashed through the middle.

"There is an anti-magic field surrounding the vault's entrance, so we'll be able to see anyone try to exit, even if they attempt to do so invisibly. But for the same reason, you must cast any preparatory spells out here, before you enter the vault - or do so once inside. But just as within your city, teleportation effects are hampered within the vault's interior, although other magic will work as normal."

"Will Carl be able to go through the door?" asked Orion.

"He's a ghost - an ethereal creature," explained Leorna. "Extraplanar travel, even that on the Ethereal Plane, is blocked."

"Stick 'im in your hole," suggested Syngaard. Despite its apparent crudeness, this was actually a decent suggestion; Carl could manifest on the Material Plane and enter Orion's extradimensional bag of holding. The magical space would be inaccessible while the halfling traversed the anti-magic field but it would pop back into existence once inside the vault. And as a ghost, it wasn't like Carl had to worry about breathing while inside the extradimensional space. Orion fed her ghost-dog a potion of mage armor and then had him step inside her open bag of holding, while Galen and Daleth started spellcasting. The elf cast a stoneskin spell upon himself and his pseudodragon familiar Todd, while the paladin summoned Burt from the Beastlands and then cast a bless weapon spell upon his blade. Each then cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself, and Daleth cast a Rary's telepathic bond spell upon the assembled group - all but Leorna, who would be staying behind in any case.

Leorna made some quick explanations while the spellcasters were making their preparations. "The Vault is named because of the nine of us leading the Council of Guilds, it takes at least a 6 to 3 vote to open the vault. So 6/3" - she pronounced this "six-slash-three" - "or six-thirds, colloquially."

"Fascinating," droned Syngaard. "Howzabout tellin' us what all's in this vault. Weapons?"

"All manner of dangerous items, to include weapons, yes," Leorna confirmed. "Of particular note are the meteor stone and the last sample of the wraith plague of Ixlotha the Mad. The former is a 10-foot-diameter boulder imbued with 18 different meteor swarm spells; once activated by a wizard, it can either explode upon impact when launched by a siege weapon for extreme effect against a single target, like a dragon, or set to explode at the top of its arc to rain down fire upon all below it. Fired over the top of your city, it could make a crater below it some 800 feet in diameter. You can see why we don't want an item like that falling into the wrong hands."

"No kidding!" exclaimed Galen. "What about the other thing, the plague?"

"It's a necromantic potion: those who imbibe it are slain, their bodies rising as plague-ridden zombies while their souls rise as wraiths."

"You're not coming with us?" asked Orion, handing a scroll containing the stoneskin spell to Daleth, so the elf could cast it upon her.

"I cannot. When the vault was first created, some 900 years ago, it was determined the only ones likely to be able to figure out how to breach it would be members of the Council of Guilds itself; thus, the area is trapped to slay any current or former council member who enters the vault through any means other than through the proper opening of the door."

"The door's wide open," Syngaard pointed out.

"Yes, by dint of being smashed open. I wouldn't call that 'the proper opening,' would you? I certainly don't intend to end my life finding out that the wards put in place are still in effect."

"If we're all ready, I will enter first," suggested Kaspar. Without hesitation, the bold monk strode up to the smashed door and stepped inside the vault. He found a body just inside, a hulking brute of a barbarian by the look of him, a burly adamantine warhammer - one looking of a size to be wielded by a frost giant, not by a human like the body before him - still gripped in his meaty hands. Kaspar put a hand to the barbarian's neck. "He's alive!" he said, feeling a distinct pulse. "Paralyzed, but still alive!"

"Would you look at that!" remarked Syngaard, but his focus wasn't on Kaspar or the barbarian he'd found on the floor. Rather, he was drooling over the vast assortment of weapons hanging on the walls. An ebon-bladed greatsword hung just before him; Syngaard wasn't usually a greatsword kind of guy, but then he hadn't really been a scimitar kind of guy either until he'd slain that evil druid and started using his human bane scimitar as his own. There were other weapons on the wall, but a quick glance told Syngaard there weren't any morningstars - his weapon of choice - among their ranks, and this black blade looked awful tempting....

"'The Hall of the Accursed'," said Daleth suddenly.


"'The Hall of the Accursed'," repeated Daleth, reading an inscription written in Draconic, the traditional language of arcane magic. "That's the name of this place." He indicated the entire entry hallway, a 40-foot span of corridor carved into the stone cliff. There was a portcullis at the far end, beyond which a larger chamber could be seen - one lit by an unseen light source off to the side.

"So all these weapons..." began Syngaard.

"Are undoubtedly cursed," finished Daleth in his most irritatingly matter-of-fact lecture voice.

"That black blade would probably suck up your soul for breakfast," commented Orion as she opened her bag of holding and let her ghost-dog out. "You know, if you had one."

"It's halflings what don't got souls," retorted Syngaard, repeating a fact drilled into him by his former employer, the crime lord Karlo Maladucci. But he left the black sword hanging on its pegs and stormed down the Hall of the Accursed with a black look on his face.

Galen, in the meantime, was examining the barbarian. "Definitely alive," he agreed. "This is likely the work of a lich - they can paralyze at a touch."

"Then no doubt it is Alexandros here, seeking out weapons of great power," surmised Kaspar. He returned his attention to the frozen barbarian. "Is there anything we can do for him?" the elf asked.

"He needs a remove paralysis spell," replied the paladin. "Problem is, we don't have one at hand. But we'll drag him out with us when we leave - he isn't going anywhere for now." The paladin then leaped up onto Burt's strong back and they followed Syngaard to the back of the hall, Galen's sword of Zehkar in hand and his shield readied. If Alexandros the Mithral Mage was the one trespassing in the vault, Galen didn't want to end up like the poor barbarian sap likely duped - or dominated - into providing a brute force means of entry into the vault, only to be paralyzed and left to starve to death when he was no longer of any use. Then, recalling Leorna's description of the wraith plague of Ixlotha the Mad, he decided to cast a detect undead spell upon himself. He noted, in passing, that many of the weapons hanging in the Hall of the Accursed generated auras of evil - not entirely unexpected, the paladin thought to himself.

Kaspar had accompanied Galen down to the end of the hall and now the conscripts were all at the lowered portcullis. "I ain't touchin' it," declared Syngaard said. "Place like this, no tellin' what all's out to get you."

"I don't see any obvious signs of traps," offered Orion from the ghost touch saddle of her deceased-but-no-less-loyal riding dog. Kaspar decided to try to raise it, and was surprised when his hands passed right through it instead. "An illusion?" he asked, stepping through it and into the next chamber.

"Hey, there's a big, red-hot sphere on a dais over here!" Kaspar exclaimed. "Do you think this might be the meteor stone?" Then he turned around, saw the four zombies at the far end of the chamber heading his way and ran back through the portcullis.

<Four zombies approaching!> he told the others through the shared mental link - it was faster than speaking aloud. <Wearing black robes. Blood dripping from every orifice, too -- I think the wraith plague had been activated!>

Syngaard stepped forward, right through the portcullis as if it wasn't there - and got a sudden shock, for he wasn't in an underground chamber facing blood-drenched zombies; he was standing on a beach, with the quiet sussuration of waves in the background and the sun just rising in the distance. And there before him was his dead wife Mezz, looking as hale and hearty as she was back when she was alive.

Syngaard's mouth dropped open in shock and he struggled to find any words. Mezz smiled at him and raised something she was holding in her hands for her scar-faced husband to see: it was his own flaming brilliant energy morningstar, the one he took off one of the samurai they'd fought somewhere over on the other side of the world. How Mezz had gotten hold of it - Syngaard normally wore at at his belt - was a mystery.

"To receive Pelor's blessing, this needs to be thrown into the sun, Jace," Mezz said. "However, only Orion can actually do it for you, and she'll have to retrieve it for you, as well."

Syngaard finally found his voice. "Mezz--?" he croaked - and then found himself standing in a chamber with a burning sphere of fire at his back and four zombies headed his way. Like Kaspar had warned, blood oozed from their noses, mouths, eyes, and ears. He fell back at Kaspar's side, back in the Hall of the Accursed with his shield held high and his morningstar in hand - not the flaming brilliant energy one, but the one he'd paid to have enchanted with dweomers that guided the wielder's attack and helped drive it deeper into the enemy. He briefly explained his vision - if that's what is was - to Orion over the link.

<You think that was an actual vision?> Orion asked, skepticism evident in her voice, even over the mental link. <Or just the vault playing tricks with your mind?>

<It was her - it was Mezz!> Syngaard affirmed. <If Mezz wants me to have you throw my weapon into that sun, then that's what we're gonna do!>

<Okay, fine - but it's not my fault if anything goes wrong!>

<They're approaching!> called out Galen. Daleth scooted over to one side of the portcullis, where he could see the quartet of undead beings, and cast a fireball spell through his metamagic rod, causing an enhanced explosion of flames to erupt right in the middle of the bleeding zombies. To his surprise, the zombies continued their progress ever closer. <These aren't normal zombies!> he called over the link.

<Yeah, no kidding, Wizard-Pants!>

But Orion got an even bigger surprise as she and Carl shifted into the Ethereal Plane - they weren't alone! Drifting at the sides of the infected zombies were what must have been wraiths - and these, being incorporeal undead, didn't look to have taken any damage at all from Daleth's fireball spell. Orion tried warning the others over the mental link but recalled belatedly that the Rary's telepathic bond was only in effect while the members were all on the same plane; as soon as she and Carl had gone ethereal they were cut off from the link.

The wraiths all turned as one and stared at the halfling astride the ghost of a riding dog, leaving no doubt that they could see Orion as well as she could see them.

On the Material Plane, Galen and Burt raced forward, the dire lion taking a defensive stance in front of Daleth as his paladin rider blasted one of the zombies into dust with a ray from his illumium scabbard. The remaining trio of zombies rushed forward and clawed at Burt, but the dire lion avoided the worst of their blows.

Then three wraiths materialized, striking out at the others while the fourth one remained on the Ethereal Plane to menace Orion. Its strike hit true, but the power of the blow was absorbed by the halfling's stoneskin spell. Carl growled and bit at the wraith, capturing its limb in his mouth - something an incorporeal creature didn't get to do often. The other wraiths were less fortunate with their attacks, only one hitting Burt and even then failing to absorb any of his life energy.

Kaspar retaliated against the wraith that had attacked him and despite the inherent difficulty of dealing damage to incorporeal foes, with his tenryutsume powering his strikes he was able to blast the spirit into nothingness. Likewise, Syngaard got lucky and his multiple blows with his morningstar against the wraith focused on attacking Daleth was likewise obliterated.

The elven wizard cast a chain lightning spell, targeting one of the three remaining zombies as his primary and sending arcs out to hit the other two bleeding zombies and the one remaining wraith manifested on the Material Plane. The magical electricity burned two of the zombies into ash.

Carl and Orion continued their attacks against the wraith on the Ethereal Plane, the halfling using her nightflame short sword and her ability to sense the weaknesses of undead creatures to good effect.

Galen took out the remaining two undead foes - one zombie and one wraith - with powerful blows from his sword of Zehkar. Scanning the chamber, he sensed a faint aura of evil, but it dissipated just before Orion and Carl manifested back onto the Material Plane. <I got him!> Orion said.

With the initial wave of foes slain, Daleth examined the 20-foot-diameter red sphere. "There are runes covering it, depicting sun magic," he observed.

"See? I told you - it's the sun Mezz was talkin' about," Syngaard said, unfastening the flaming brilliant energy morningstar from his belt and passing it over to Orion.

"You sure about this?" she asked.

"Hold up - there's a plaque," Daleth said. Indeed, there was a carved plate on the wall beside the glowing sphere. "It says this is the Sun Gate. It was created by three wizards, a druid, and a cleric of Pelor attempting to create the ultimate weapon against undead. The resulting explosion upon its completion killed all but the cleric, who was struck blind for his arrogance in attempting to steal the power of the sun. In atonement, he helped create the seal that was placed around the gate, allowing it to be moved here to the vault."

"Toss it in," commanded Syngaard, looking at Orion.

"Your loss," replied the halfling, having Carl return them to the Ethereal Plane so she could toss Syngaard's weapon into the red-hot flaming sphere, where the weapon instantly vanished from sight. Upon her return, Syngaard said, "We can fetch it on our way back. Now, let's go find Alexandros before he can try to get away."

The chamber continued on in the direction from which the undead had come, revealing a demolished gate leading to a set of stairs leading down to a set of closed doors. "Better let the halfling check the door for traps," suggested the bald fighter. Orion sent Carl forward to the set of doors, checking warily for traps. "I don't see anything out of the ordinary," she said - and then vanished from view.

The others weren't worried, though, for they had recognized the action as Carl phasing back into the Ethereal Plane again. From that vantage, the halfling was as incorporeal as a ghost herself, allowing her to stick her face through the closed doors and peek at what was on the other side. She immediately wished she could communicate with the others while she was ethereal, so she could relay to them what she was seeing.

This was an enormous chamber, with 14 pedestals lined up evenly along the back and side walls, all but one of them containing something (presumably) dangerous. There were two large stone platforms on the ground in the back of the chamber, one of them containing a 10-foot-diameter stone with glowing, red runes covering its surface. This, likely, was the meteor stone (Daleth could no doubt confirm it by identifying the runes covering its surface) - and the empty platform next to it with the curved depression in its center indicated the possibility that the vault had once housed another of these mega-weapons.

But of more pressing concern to Orion were the four zombies and four wraiths standing beside the empty pedestal. Apparently four more necromancers had accompanied the Mithral Mage and willingly drank the wraith plague mixture, turning them body and soul into undead monsters. Of Alexandros, though, there was no sign; with a shudder, Orion hoped that didn't mean he had already been in here and somehow escaped with a meteor stone.

Orion pulled her face back through the door before she was spotted by any of the undead - who, their transformations having been completed, were starting to turn her way - and rematerialized, Carl bounding up the steps to the rest of the group while Orion filled them in over the mental link.

<You said the runes were glowing on the meteor stone?> Daleth asked.

<Yeah - is that bad?>

<It could mean it's been primed to explode! Hitting it with a spell - any spell - at this point could trigger an explosion that would take out this half of the vault, easily!>

<Well, then, everybody back to the chamber where we fought the other undead!> commanded Syngaard, heading that way himself. <We'll let them come to us - far away enough from that explody-thing to keep us out of harm's way!>

<I will stay here, at the corner of the stairs, to fend them off as they approach,> promised Galen, astride his dire lion. He held his holy symbol of Hieroneous high, ready to attempt to turn any undead who approached. Sure enough, surging through the double doors of the interior vault chamber came a pair of wraiths, intent upon carnage - only not expecting it to be theirs, as the holy energy from the paladin of the God of Valor sent them discorporating into wisps of nothingness.

The other two wraiths moved incorporeally through the solid stone of the cliffside, popping out of the wall of the corridor to attack Orion and Syngaard. Fortunately for those two adventurers, while they hadn't expected an attack from that side they had been ready for action, and their instincts allowed them to dodge the wraith's blows without incident. "Back!" called Syngaard, nearly bumping into Daleth as he scrambled away from the phantom approaching him.

But Galen heard the commotion behind him and, wheeling Burt around back the way they'd come, blasted the two remaining wraiths with another turning attempt before they could harm any of the other conscripts.

"Get ready!" warned Syngaard. "Them zombies'll be next!"

Only they didn't show. Galen returned to his post at the corner of the stairs, where he could see the doors through which Orion had peeked ethereally...and then it hit the paladin. <They don't even know we're here!> he exclaimed.

<I'm on it,> replied Kaspar over the link. With his enhanced speed, he was the logical one to get close to the primed meteor stone, the one with the best chance of escaping from its blast radius if it went off. He raced past Burt and Galen, ran down the stairs three at a time, and pulled wide the double doors leading into the vault proper. Four undead zombies, blood spilling from every orifice, turned to stare at him with eyes already red with seeping blood. But Kaspar turned on his heel and raced back up the steps, not wanting to remain that close to the meteor stone any longer than he had to.

As one, the zombies followed the monk out the doors and up the stairs...at which point they were all encompassed by an enhanced fireball spell Daleth cast at them, burning them to cinders.

"Hey, watch it, Wizard-Pants! You wanna blow us all sky high?" chided Syngaard.

"I had ensured the outer edge of the spell's effect was well outside the range of the meteor stone," Daleth explained tartly, miffed at having his spellcasting capabilities questioned by a bald, scarred brute who wouldn't be able to manage casting a simple light cantrip if you gave him a week to do so and easy-to-read, step-by-step instructions.

"We should check out the rest of the vault," suggested Kaspar. "I'll go."

"No - send in the halfling," countered Syngaard.

"Always willing to put my life in danger, huh?" scoffed Orion.

"Not at all - go check it out from your ghosty-plane whatever. That way, if the stone goes off, you'll still be safe." Somewhat surprised that Syngaard had actually taken her safety into consideration, she sent Carl ethereal and advanced into the room. Of course, had she given it any further thought she'd have realized that Syngaard wanted her safe because according to Mezz, she was the only one capable of retrieving his flaming brilliant energy morningstar from the sun globe!

Giving everything a quick once-over, Orion confirmed that the only things missing were the vial of the wraith plague potion - the glass shards of which were present on the floor before the empty pedestal - and the possible second meteor stone from the empty dais. She returned to the others, phased back into the Material Plane, and gave the group her findings.

"Then we're done here," replied Galen. "Let's go report in to Leorna."

"Wait - I ain't done yet!" replied Syngaard, leading the others to the Sun Gate. "Orion's gotta fetch me back my other morningstar!"

Going back ethereal, Orion activated the powers of her nightflame short sword and created an area of darkness all around her - darkness through which she, as the sword's wielder, could see perfectly fine. It shielded the incredible glare coming from the Sun Gate's interior, allowing the halfling to see the morningstar floating in the center of the globe once she and Carl phased through the seal and entered what seemed like the blazing heart of the sun itself. Grabbing up the morningstar, she had Carl exit the sphere with all possible speed. "Here," she said to Syngaard, using both hands to toss the weapon at him.

Syngaard caught it one hand. "Told you," he said to the halfling. "Mezz knows what she's talkin' about - Hell, she was smart enough to marry me!" he beamed.

"And look at how well that worked out for her," Orion muttered under her breath, not wanting to speak ill of the dead but seriously wondering what such a good-looking human woman as Messalina Maladucci could possibly have seen in an oaf like Syngaard. Maybe she'd fallen and hit her head? the halfling mused to herself.

As the group exited the vault through the battered adamantine door, they saw Leorna, in her bright yellow robes, lying unmoving on the ground. Kaspar was at her side in a heartbeat, feeling her wrist for a pulse. "She's alive," he reported. "Just paralyzed, like the barbarian inside."

"Alexandros," muttered Galen. "How'd he get back out here without us seeing him?" Several possibilities came to mind: he might have been invisible there inside the vault, or perhaps he'd already exited right before Leorna teleported the group in, then came back to paralyze her after the conscripts had entered the vault.... It was pointless to speculate; there were too many possibilities.

"We need to remove their paralysis," the elven monk announced. "Do we have a means to do so?" Nobody did.

"Then I will return shortly," Kaspar announced, activating the ring of return from his robes and teleporting away.

"Wait - so we're stuck here?" demanded Syngaard.

"Give him time - he will return for us," assured Galen.

"It's a long walk - and that ring of his only works one-way," pointed out Syngaard. But true to his word (as if there was ever any doubt), Kaspar soon teleported back among his friends, this time with two potions of remove paralysis in his hands. "I had to purchase these from the potion-maker, then get Skevros to teleport me back here," he explained as he opened the first potion vial and poured it down Leorna's throat. Sputtering and coughing, the Guildmistress returned to mobility. She agreed to allow Kaspar to minister to the barbarian in the same fashion, and he too found himself once again able to move - but with a half dozen adventurers surrounding him with weapons drawn.

It took little persuading to get the fellow to talk; he'd been approached by a silver-robed wizard with eight others wearing black robes and offered a split of hundreds of thousands of gold coins if he could get through the vault door with his oversized adamantine warhammer. Once he'd done so - and it took him quite a bit of time - he'd felt a cold hand on his shoulder and collapsed, unmoving.

"So what do we do now?" asked Galen. "It's possible Al-- uh, the Mithral Mage," he amended, knowing that to let the barbarian know the real name of their lich foe was to imprison his soul upon his death, "now has possession of a meteor stone."

"That cannot be helped," Leorna said. "For now, I'm more concerned with the fact that the vault lies open to any who would plunder it of its treasures."

"Hey, count me in for that!" offered up the barbarian. With an irritated look, Leorna cast a quick charm person spell on the hulking brute and convinced him that he didn't want anything stored within the vault. He didn't, either, he realized - not if his new best friend said it was all for the best that way.

"Since the meteor stone has already been primed, it makes the most sense to destroy everything still inside the vault," she decided. "I don't want the Seekers of Eternity to break in again and steal any of the other items stored within." That included all of the cursed weapons in the Hall of the Accursed, so the conscripts carefully moved them into the main vault.

"Any spell will trigger the explosion?" asked Daleth once everything had been loaded into the main vault with the remaining meteor stone.

"Any at all," replied Leorna.

"Then I will do this with panache," declared the elf, casting one of his most feeble cantrips - an acid splash that released a piddling amount of acid - onto the glowing sphere from the corner of the stairs, then immediately racing back to the front (and only) entrance to the vault. A vast explosion sounded behind him as everything stored in that chamber was instantly destroyed in a blast of fire the likes of which likely hadn't been seen in centuries.

"So what about the Mithral Mage?" asked Orion.

"We'll have to regroup with Skevros and figure out our next move," Leorna replied. "Is everyone ready to go?"

They were, and with another teleport spell the Illusionist brought them back to the east gate of the city of Durnhill.

- - -

Syngaard's flaming brilliant energy morningstar is now a flaming solar energy morningstar - basically the same, but it no longer harmlessly passes through undead creatures like it does any other unliving matter - a "feature" that until now had kept me from wanting to use it, since most of what we fight is either undead or wizards who tend not to wear armor for it to pass through. It now also does extra damage to creatures harmed by sunlight (like vampires) and can actually kill such creatures. So I might be having Syngaard use that weapon a little more often.

Galen, Kaspar, and Syngaard all earned enough XP to send them to 15th level as a result of this adventure.
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PC Roster:
Daleth Stormsea, elf wizard 13​
Galen Thorne, human paladin 15​
Kaspar Hardstrike, elf monk 15​
Mikito, human samurai 14​
Orion Nightsky, halfling rogue 14​
Syngaard, human fighter 15​

Game Session Date: 22 May 2019

- - -

"Report to the Enchanted Flagon at once. We've had a breakthrough about those bruises that won't go away."

That message, sent to the conscripts over the rings they wore, was enough to get everyone assembled in the closed tavern in record time. Of course, four of the five conscripts lived directly above the tavern but even Syngaard, who lived some blocks away, caught up to the others before they had all gotten a drink and taken their seats at the main table.

"We find a way to get rid of 'em?" he demanded as he took his seat and motioned for Karen to bring him his usual ale. He was somewhat surprised to see another figure sitting at the table: Mikito, the female samurai they'd rescued from the other side of the world and who had been working for Skevros since - although usually not on the same missions as those the main team had been assigned.

"We have found an avenue of exploration," replied Skevros. "Mikito has relayed stories from her homeland, Jakura, telling of the 'Court of Shadows Between'."

"Aida ni kage," Mikito supplied in her own language.

"Yes, quite. In any case, they are a group of shadowy beings said to either serve the Emperor, or perhaps the Emperor serves them - it's not entirely clear. They usually only involve themselves in threats to their country, though stories tell of people seeking them out to enact vengeance upon those who wronged them. In such cases, hunters are sent out who are invisible to all but those they seek - rather like the shadow conjurations we encountered some weeks ago, the ones responsible for these bruises." Skevros rolled up his left sleeve, showing that he had such a bruise himself, as did all of the assembled conscripts. While the main team had fought the shadow-beings in the marketplace, the phantoms had also appeared elsewhere in the city and Skevros, Mikito, and Anuja Graveshadow had fought them off near the church of Wee Jas, each being marked in the same way with a dark bruise that refused to heal over time, despite several attempts at magical cures. "These hunters mark their quarry - hence the bruises, I believe - who are then called to the Court to answer for their crimes."

"You think we will be summoned in such a manner?" asked Kaspar.

"I think attempts have already been made," Skevros answered. "Remember when someone was attempting to teleport me away? Only the dimensional anchor stones throughout the city prevented me from being whisked away against my will - which, had they taken me from the confines of the kingdom, would have been quite fatal." The king's adviser wore a mark of justice that would slay him instantly if he stepped foot out of the kingdom of Durnhill or from his manor house in the Azure Glade, reachable through a set of teleport gates in the respective fireplaces of his two dwellings.

"So they gonna come for us next?" Syngaard asked. "We supposed to stay within Durnhill so we don't get snatched up by these shadow-people?"

"There may be another option. Some stories tell of the hunted being able to reason with the Court if they seek them out themselves, thereby lessening if not overturning their sentence."

"And how are we to find this Court?" asked Galen. "I would clear my name of any charges of wrongdoing!"

"With Mikito's assistance, I believe I have already found it," Skevros replied. "I was able to scry upon the 'Divine Mountain' where the Court is said to dwell. I can teleport you there, where you will seek out the Court of the Shadows Between, figure out why they are hunting us, and preferably convince them to stop."

"This a paying mission?" demanded Syngaard, quite predictably.

"Is not the removal of these bruises marking you as prey payment enough?" asked Skevros.

"Not really, no."

Skevros sighed. "I thought not. Very well, I shall pay you each two emeralds upon the successful completion of your mission, since I am unable to travel with you and argue for the removal of my own such marking."

"Half up front?"

"I think not."

"I thought not, too. But it was worth askin', anyways - just in case."

The group prepared their normal pre-battle spells as they made their way to the city gate: Daleth casting a stoneskin spell upon himself and Todd and another on Orion, using the scroll she provided him; a magic circle against evil spell centered on himself; and then a Rary's telepathic bond spell linking the whole group together telepathically. Orion pulled a potion of mage armor from her belt and fed it to Carl, who had manifested by her side and stood patiently while she climbed up onto the ghost touch saddle he wore. Once they had stepped outside the city's gate, Skevros cast the teleport spell and the group vanished.

They did not arrive on the Divine Mountain, though - as evidenced by Mikito's gasp of surprise when they landed. The group stood huddled together (a necessary requirement of the teleport spell when being cast on a larger number of individuals) on a rock formation floating in a strange, misty void. There were other chunks of rock floating nearby; in fact, the rock they stood upon was anchored to four of them by sturdy chains. Numerous shadowy figures flitted about at the edge of vision.

<There are hundreds of individual minds all around us,> Todd reported to the others. As a pseudodragon, he was telepathic in nature and could sense nearby thoughts. He lowered himself to the ground, his scorpionlike tail raised high in a ready-to-strike position, not sure of what to make of this sudden turn of events.

A lone shadowy figure approached the group, floating over from the mists obscuring other mini-islands hovering above them. He looked very much like the shadow conjurations the group had fought in the marketplace, whose touch caused the magical bruises to form. Instantly, the conscripts took defensive stances, readying to attack if it came to that. At Orion's urging, Carl tried shifting to the Ethereal Plane, but a plaintive whimper from the ghost of her riding dog told her there was something preventing him from obeying her. "Are you responsible for bringing us to this place?" demanded Galen, the sword of Zehkar unsheathed in his hand.

<You are where you are supposed to be,> came the reply - oddly, the reply was not only telepathic but also in each conscript's native tongue: while Galen and Syngaard heard the reply in Common, Orion heard it in Halfling, Daleth and Kaspar heard it in Elven, Mikito heard him reply in Jakuran, and Todd heard him in Draconic. Then the figure swooped forward to Galen and reached a dark hand to the paladin's blade. At its touch, the holy energy surrounding the blade was snuffed out, absorbed into the shadow's body. As a result, the ebon form filled with color, taking on the appearance of a paladin none of the conscripts had ever seen before, but whom Galen knew immediately to be Zehkar.

<They have chosen me to be their speaker,> Zehkar said. <This one has allowed me to use his body for the time being.>

"Will you return to the sword when this is done?" asked Galen. He had come to depend upon the power of the sword of Zehkar and was understandably nervous about anything that might diminish its effectiveness in combat.

<Upon completion, yes.>

<We are here because of me, are we not?> asked Mikito suddenly. <Is this not retribution for the death of Lord Shirimono?> Before the figure of Zehkar could even answer, the conscripts began defending their actions.

"That slimeball tried killin' us - it was self-defense!" proclaimed Syngaard, not even bothering - or perhaps remembering - to use the telepathic link Daleth had set up for their use.

Galen likewise replied vocally rather than telepathically. "This Lord Shirimono had already attacked Mikito and left her bound to die in the forest!" he exclaimed. "Had we not found her and opposed him and his bodyguards, she wouldn't be alive today!"

"It should also be noted that Lord Shirimono not only employed samurai bodyguards, as is fitting for one of his station, but also ninja!" Mikito spit the last word out as if it were distasteful on her tongue. And while she did not speak the Common tongue of Durnhill and its neighbors - she was speaking in her native Jakuran - Skevros had provided her with an amulet that translated her words into the languages of those to whom she spoke. "Lord Shirimono had turned to the ways of evil, no matter how much his own father refused to see it." Her voice had a sad tone as she thought of Lord Hiritoshi, her former master. He was a good man but blind to the evil of his son.

<As you suspected, it was Lord Hiritoshi who asked the Court to step in and punish those who slew his beloved son and kidnapped his loyal retainer,> Zehkar explained. <The court is surprised to see a lack of evil among those who committed these deeds.>

"We didn't kidnap nobody!" Syngaard exploded. "Rescued, more like. Hey, you guys ever hear of Hieroneous over on this side of the world? Well, this guy--" and here he pointed at Galen Thorne, with the symbol of the God of Valor painted on his shield "--he channels the god's power. That oughta prove we're the good guys here!"

The form of Zehkar nodded sagely. <We are aware of the gods revered in your part of the world.>

"We are currently involved in an ongoing battle with a powerful lich named, uh, the Mithral Mage." Galen opted not to provide the lich's true name, knowing that to do so would condemn the souls of the shadow-people (if they actually had them, which Galen admitted to himself was just an assumption) to roaming the physical plane upon their deaths instead of moving on to the afterlife.

<We are aware of this individual; the Court refers to him as the slayer of their gods. Alexandros apparently stole their essences to further his own power.>

"He...killed gods?" whispered Orion in shock. How were they supposed to fight someone capable of such deeds?

"So what about these marks?" asked Syngaard. "You guys willing to get rid of them, or what?"

<You will need to prove your valor first. A ninja clan seeks to usurp power from the Emperor and, more importantly, from the Court itself. To that end, they have kidnapped one of our number, Kageyana, and are trying to steal her power. You must kill them and rescue Kageyana; do this and you will have proven your worthiness.>

"This a paying mission?" piped up Syngaard. Zehkar just stared at him with a puzzled frown on his face. "Never mind," Syngaard sighed. It looks like they were doing another freebie.

<We will teleport you to the ninja village when you are ready.>

Galen looked around at his companions and replied, "We're ready now." In a flash, they were gone, to reappear back on the Material Plane, standing behind a campfire, one of several scattered around the campsite. Closer inspection showed the fire was a burning pile of corpses; presumably the others were as well. <Ugh!> said Orion silently over the link.

But of prominent interest was the group of figures in a clearing between several tents; they were clad all in black and surrounding a winged figure bound in hellish red chains. One of the figures happened to be facing the conscripts as they were teleported in, and she warned the rest of her group in what was presumably Jakuran. Then she dodged behind a large tent and disappeared from the conscripts' view.

Mikito charged the group, focusing on the nearest ninja. As she ran, a wu jen on the other side of the circle cast a fireball spell that enveloped the rest of the conscripts, who were still bunched up from being teleported in. Galen took the brunt of the blast, while Daleth, Todd, and Syngaard were singed to a lesser extent; Orion and Carl avoided the blast altogether. While they were recovering from the sudden attack, the wu jen sidled off to the side.

Urging Carl forward, Orion grabbed a tanglefoot bag and hurled it at another ninja adjacent to the one Mikito was fighting, entangling him if not fully adhering him to the ground.

Syngaard wasn't worried about the ninjas with their bristling weapons being whirled around; guys with weapons he could handle, no matter how exotic they might be - it was the crazy wizards with their crazy spells he could do without. With that thought in mind, he whipped out his Dick, rubbed it, and flung it in the direction of the black-clad spellcaster. Dick took full form in mid-air, crashing into the wu jen and biting at her with his razor-sharp beak. Syngaard, in the meantime, had raced up to Mikito's side, his human bane scimitar out and ready, since he assumed these guys were all human underneath their black hoods.

Daleth concentrated for a moment, deciding upon the optimal angle, and then let loose a prismatic spray that covered four of the ninja not otherwise involved yet in battle. The one entangled by Orion's tanglefoot bag died instantly of poison, two others were banished to random planes, and the fourth petrified instantly before he could even move. With one spell, a full half of the enemy force had been slain. Todd added instant insult to injury by flying up into the hooded face of one of the last two remaining ninja (the one not trading sword-strikes with Mikito) and stabbing him in the neck with his tail-stinger. The venom did its work almost instantly and the black-clad figure fell to the ground, already unconscious and snoring deeply.

The last standing ninja stabbed at Mikito with his short, curved blade, causing her stoic expression to drop momentarily in pain - to Mikito, it seemed as if the sword's wicked blade had been enhanced with unholy energy specifically tailored to cause extra harm to those of a goodly bent.

Kaspar raced across the battlefield, running up behind the wu jen whose attention was understandably focused on the griffon attempting to chew off her face. Galen raced forward as well, frowning as the auras of his foes seemed to flicker, showing the unmistakable taint of evil one moment and then vanishing for a moment, only to reappear again. Unsure of what that might mean, he understood their actions spoke as loudly as to their evil nature given their angelic captive bound in metal chains he recognized at once as hellsteel. Channeling the power of his god through the sword of Zehkar, Galen swung his blade down through the body of the ninja engaged in combat with Mikito, slaying him outright. His aura diminished to nothing with his death, although the ninja-to blade he wielded gave off an aura of evil as strong as any Galen had ever seen.

Deprived of her current foe, Mikito ran around the large tent before her and approached the female ninja - a kunoichi, she recognized. She had a blade in each hand and seemed ready to stab out at anyone who approached. Mikito opted to deny her the opportunity; pulling the longbow from her back, she sent an arrow flying into the kunoichi's face; she was unable to dodge it entirely, the arrowhead carving a scar along one cheek as it passed her by. And then Syngaard ran up to her, catching her violent attacks on his shield and then getting in a crippling blow with his human bane scimitar.

The wu jen staggered under Dick's attacks, bent to the ground, and with a few arcane syllables vanished from sight. Kaspar immediately strained his ears, trying to hear - against the sounds of battle all around him - whether the spellcaster had teleported away or had merely made herself invisible. Dick had no such concerns; with one enemy no longer available, he walked over to the sleeping ninja who had succumbed to Todd's venom and took a healthy bite out of the back of his neck, killing him instantly.

Orion and Carl phased into the Ethereal Plane and the wu jen came immediately into view; apparently she had cast an ethereal jaunt spell. Once again wishing she had a way to communicate what she'd discovered to her friends - for the Rary's telepathic bond spell could not cross dimensional boundaries - Orion had Carl charge forward and she stabbed at the wu jen with her nightflame short sword.

Daleth looked around and saw only one combatant on the field of battle: the kunoichi. He channeled a magic missile spell through his metamagic rod, striking her unerringly. Kaspar was only seconds behind the elven wizard, striking the female ninja with a fist empowered by the tenryutsume, adding fire and electricity to his blow. Then Galen came up and used a smite attack against her as well. Flanked by enemies on all sides, she targeted the paladin with her unholy anarchic blades, dealing a great amount of damage to him - but only a mere moment before Mikito's axiomatic katana brought the kunoichi down.

Syngaard was actually disappointed that there wasn't anybody else to kill. "Aw, is that it?" he asked. "That wasn't hardly no workout at all."

On the Ethereal Plane, however, Orion had an entirely different opinion. The wu jen cast a steam breath spell at her, which she was able to avoid entirely (partly from her rogue training and partly due to her bracelet of burning escape) but which caused Carl to discorporate into nothingness. As Orion's ring of feather falling lowered her gently to the ground, the halfling realized that with Carl slain in his ghost form, she had no way to return to the Material Plane. Furthermore, if this black-clad spellcaster killed her, her friends would have no way of ever finding out what had happened to her - she had no choice but to take this wu jen lady out by herself!

Pulling a thunderstone from her belt pouch, she flung it at the ground before the spellcaster's feet. It had the intended effect, causing the wu jen to temporarily lose her hearing. With any luck, it would limit her ability to cast spells long enough for Orion to carve her up with her blade.

"Where are Orion and Carl?" asked Daleth as Galen approached the bound celestial - upon close inspection, the paladin recognized her as an astral deva, a powerful force for good.

"Probably hanging out in their ghosty-plane where it's safe, while we do all the real work," scoffed Syngaard. "Hey, halfling!" he called to the air around him. "Get yer scrawny ass back out here - we did all the killin' for you already!"

But Daleth wasn't convinced - hadn't there been a wizard of some type among their foes? She didn't seem to be among the enemy bodies littering the ground. Casting a see invisibility spell, he spotted Orion immediately - and saw the predicament she was in. "She's right here!" he called, pointing directly in front of him. "On the Ethereal Plane, fighting the spellcasting ninja all by herself!"

Kaspar was at Daleth's side in a heartbeat. "Is there any way to help her?" he asked. Daleth shook his head sadly. "Carl's not there with her, either - he must have been slain."

Syngaard approached. Despite his constant ribbing of the little halfling, he didn't really want to see anything bad happen to her. Looking back and forth - as if he could somehow will himself to be able to see into the Ethereal Plane - he snarled, "Kick her ass, Orion!" Kaspar looked over at the bald fighter in surprise.

Daleth continued reporting what only he could see. "The wizard's trying to cast a spell. It doesn't look like it worked!" In fact, she had stumbled on the verbal components of the spell she had attempted, hampered as she was by her temporary deafness. "Orion's stabbing forward with her blade--she got the ninja right in the gut! The ninja's dropped down to one knee! Ooh! That did it--Orion cut her in the side of the neck! She's down!"

"Good thinking, getting her down to where she could reach her neck without that ghost-dog of hers givin' her extra height," Syngaard nodded in appreciation. On the Ethereal Plane, Orion grabbed up the only immediate things of value she could see on the slain wu jen's body - a pair of magical bracers that looked fairly expensive - and managed to get them off her arms before the wu jen's body faded back to the Material Plane at the end of the ethereal jaunt spell's duration. "I wish I was going back with you," the halfling said wistfully to the corpse of her enemy as it transitioned back through the planes. She realized Carl would manifest again after a day or so, but it was going to be a long, lonely wait for her faithful ghost-dog to return and take her back to the others.

By then, Galen's sword had cut through the hellsteel chains binding Kageyana and the astral deva sat up, stretching her feathered wings. "I thank you," she said to the paladin. Syngaard and Kaspar had removed three sets of leather armor from the slain ninja - they could be resold, and didn't carry the taint of evil that the ninja weapons radiated. The weapons they left behind, in the dirt where they'd been dropped when their wielders had been slain.

"So how are we going to get Orion back?" asked Kaspar.

"I'm thinking," Daleth said, not wanting to admit he had no better idea than to wait around for Carl's eventual return. But then the world went sideways and blurry, and the conscripts were once more in the Court of Shadows Between - Orion as well. "I got her!" she beamed to the others.

"I saw," replied Daleth. "Well done, Orion."

Kageyana stepped forward. "I thank you all for my freedom," she said. "I must explain the Court's situation: the gods worshiped in Jakura once walked the lands and interacted with the people, as did the members of the Court. When the gods were slain and their essences stolen, the native celestials decided to try to carry on in their absence. We wrapped ourselves in shadows to hide from the godslayer, since we did not know why he had killed our gods and feared he would return to slay us as well.

"The ninja did not know of the Court's true nature; they saw us only as beings of shadow and sought our power for their own. In attempting to steal our shadow-essences, they also absorbed celestial power, most of which was useless to those of such an evil bent."

"That explains their flickering auras!" exclaimed Galen.

"The Court foresees that you will free the essences of our gods in the near future, and once free they will be reborn in time as new gods for the land of Jakura. And although we would have preferred all of the ninja slain, those two banished to other planes will not likely survive long where they were sent. As such, we revoke the marks we have placed upon you, and will return you to your own kingdom."

"And what of me?" asked Mikito.

"We will explain everything to Lord Hiritoshi," Kageyana promised the young samurai. "But it is best if you return with these foreigners, for your fate is now intertwined with theirs. You will no doubt have a further role to play in the downfall of the godslayer. Lord Hiritoshi will understand."

Mikito bowed before the astral deva. "As do I," she said.

"Then I return you to where you belong," Kageyana said - and with a word, the conscripts (all six of them) were gone.

- - -

The reason Mikito made a special appearance among the "prime team" of conscripts is because my granddaughter Samantha came to visit us this past week and, knowing of her upcoming visit ahead of time, Logan came up with a way to incorporate Mikito into the central plot. And he planted the seed several adventures ago, with those nasty bruises that wouldn't heal. That was a nice way to seamlessly integrate Mikito into the main plot line.

Joey didn't make it to this session; we played (as always) on a Wednesday and he had a bunch of final exams on Thursday; as much as I enjoy D&D, he definitely made the right call. So rather than have Daleth busy doing something else (which would be kind of awkward in a game session explaining the bruises that all the PCs had gotten), we decided to have someone else run him as a second PC. Harry volunteered, but as he wasn't familiar with all of Daleth's spells, we decided it would be easier if we had Dan make Daleth's spell selections (as he's already familiar with Daleth's known spells) and then let Harry focus only on those spells already prepared. (Harry runs a sorcerer in our other ongoing campaign, so he'd never had to prepare only specific spells before, either.) But he got off to a really good start in his "running a wizard PC" career with that prismatic spray spell! Logan just shook his head in disbelief when in one round, Daleth and Todd took out five of the eight combatants. And, ironically, it was only Daleth who leveled up at the end of this adventure, even though his player had been absent.
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