Nighttime approaching or not, Lucian knew that he was tired and need of rest - another drawback of being among the living again - and settled into his crude, but effective shelter.
Hearing the crunch of heavy, likely armored footsteps, Lucian dares a look. Reflexively, his hand goes to his mouth to contain the gasp the appearance of the otherworldly devils present. The names he heard made little sense to him, but he mentally made a note of Auloch Tien'itz and Kyrix-Vasilog, for whatever that may have been worth.
Taking note of the direction of travel of the devilish warriors, Lucian thinks to himself, Devils in Elturel? The unquiet dead rising from their graves? The red sky and whatever that black orb was in the sky? Surely the whole of the area has gone to Hell...but why?
He would have to look into that situation closer, but for now it would do him no good to push on so fatigued and wounded. Perhaps in the "morning" he would have regained his access to curative magic and be able to conduct a deeper investigation into what had happened perhaps even by the slightest of chances discover if anything could be done to at least abate this horror.
After staring at the twirling gyroscope, Malaric instinctively tried to hide the excitement in his pocket.
But when the archmage addressed him anyway, he surrendered and pulled the Gondian core from his pocket. "Archmage. On the way here, we encountered a malfunctioning gnomish creation that had to be destroyed. This piece appears to be what transforms a normal vehicle into a Gondian battle machine."
"It wants that metal, which doesn't look to me like either solbar silver blend or hamaadian war metal. Do you know how this thing works? And, would it be a good idea to give it what it wants?"
Simon looks around the others, just in case checking that his next action will not cause a scandal or even worse a fight, after which he makes another slight bow to the archmage and puts his hand in the pocket of a new doublet. Straightening up, he already holds a box in his hand, which he carefully hands to her. He passes it so that his fingertips accidentally touch the tips of her fingers and stay in this touch for a second longer than it should be. He will combine this with another fleeting glance into her eyes, and how this scene, unnoticed by the rest, feels for the two of them is strikingly different from how casual it looks from the outside.
I would also like to discuss the reward with you, my lady. Face to face. I'll have a few questions... I want to sort something out.
It is obvious to Sylvira that Eltan's words have a double meaning. He really would like to be alone with her, equally because of the spark that slipped through, and because he really needs some private answers from the master of planar theory. An intriguing combination, perhaps. The game continues.
Astrid watches as the victim gets pinched between the approaching zombies, diving off the dock in desperation. "Aiiiiiee..." an agonizing scream as the boiling muds scorch and sizzle flesh, the woman submerging nearly up to her neck in the nasty stuff. She tries to move but its no use, the bubbling soils like quicksand. The screaming is finally cut short when the pain causes her to blackout or die...it was hard to tell at that point.
Zombies tumble off after her much less gracefully, some splorching head first, some back-busting a wide area in a failure of aquatic sports. All are anchored in place by the thick, creamy suctioning effect. The appearance is a bit absurd as now the groaning heads moan at each other at the head of their unreachable meal.
More zombies show up from the surrounding ruins to join the fun. Some head for the muddy pits while others shamble around the deck of the riverboat and foot of the crane. One unique undead stands at the edge of the dock, looking down at his stuck companions and seemingly tapping its chin in perplexity...wearing bracelets and anklets of clean gold. It turns its head intelligently to the side, towards the crashed boat and the high crane cabin...its eyes flash red embers as it seems to lock eyes with Astrid briefly.
Shadows creep along the planks towards this smarty pants corpse, hissing in a whirlwind of hungry necromantic energy. The jewelry loving rot-master points off in the direction of the boat, and the shadows follow its orders to investigate...
Finally, the curious undead grabs a fishing pole and hooks onto the victim below...the seared flesh of her head falling off the neckbone easily as the meal is reeled in. Fresh brains for the brainiac; you are what you eat.
Lucian slips off into the kind of stirless rest only exhaustion can provide, and dreams for the first time in ages...
"Dad? Daddy?" the little girl pokes her head into the cupboard, only the mildest of fears in her voice. You watch as she runs through a warm sunbeam leaking through the kitchen window, that familiar healthy padding rhythm of her feet. She crawls under the table, checking every chair. You can't stifle a laugh any longer.
"Ha, found you!" she boasts excitedly, running into your arms.
::Is this a memory...did I have a daughter?::
It was doll time next, so the boss explained. You walk Mr. Stinky over to Mrs. Butterscotch for a kiss, meanwhile Miss Lilydrop looks on jealously. "No silly, not that. They need to dress up first!" pulling out the little play pantaloons and pink tunics from her collection.
"Once they are all gathered, that's when the others come. They're going to find the sword."
::Sword..? What is this...::
The girl grabs you by the wrist, her youthful visage replaced with a fierce, unnatural intensity "They that become one with the blade exist no longer."
Thunderous hooves awaken the gloom-knight from his reverie, as a pack of skeletal warriors mounted on skeletal horses dinkle past with a bony xylophonic timbre. But they are gone just as suddenly.
It is easy enough to pick up the tracks of the devils in the dusty ash of the forest floor (or the skeletons for that matter), and the only consideration might be whether to follow them...or retrace their steps.
The halfling's trinket
"Hmm, what's this?" adjusting a monocle over her eye with a magical sheen. Arcane runes scan across the glass, as the divination magics pierce the hard outer shell of the device. "Exquisite. I've never seen its equal. Did you say gnomes crafted this? Mechanus would have been my guess...I wouldn't believe those of Gond or Nebelun could create something this complex."
After a moment 'hmm-ing' and 'ha-ing' "It appears to be some attempt at allowing machines to creatively construct themselves. Once inserted into a suitable medium, the sentience within creates a new shell of its own design...rearranging the matter the way a sculptor does clay. You say its last form was a battle machine? A terrifying notion...but those who underestimate the defenses of Lantan seldom live to tell the tale."
After a few chin taps "No...please keep it away from my stabilizing gyro, it would devastate my research." she pulls a parchment from a stack of many, pointing to a strange 2-wheeled vehicle. Art 2 slide
"The gyro is made from infernal iron, which can only be mined from the hells...little is known for certain about the material. However, from what I've gathered, in the wastelands of some of the planes the devils use these chariots made of the same substance. War machines. I'm trying to learn more about them, but I believe the gyro helps stabilize this double-cycling chariot, sensing a change in longitudinal roll and auto-correcting its balance." she tips her hand left and right in a futile effort to explain. "Like a tightrope walker's staff."
Astrid watches and listens to the death of the poor (former) survivor passively. Part of her is horrified by the desensitization to the violence and suffering she is witnessing, but she pushes against that thought angrily. Survival isn't pretty, it isn't friendly. Such is life. You are either going to make it, or you are going to become one of...those.
Astrid watches the unique undead with a growing, primal fear building in her chest. The mindless undead she understood, but a leader? She shivered. She met its gaze briefly, intensely, before she snarls quietly. "Damnit. Caught." She sees the shadows swirling and undulating toward the boat and the crane to investigate her and closes her eyes a moment, trying to decide what the best course of action would be.
The druid breathes deeply, the halo of spores surrounding her bringing some comfort. "Alright. Goodbye, my friend." She mutters to the splattered gnome corpse. She pulls a bit of gauze from her components pouch and summons a bit of magical smoke into the gauze and presses the material against her chest. From there, her halo of spores closes in on her and guides the gauze and smoke to grow a coating of puffball mushrooms across her body. They grow rapidly across her form, maturing and bursting into a cloud of smoke, taking her body with it. In her strange, billowing state, she peeks out the door of the crane and then climbs out the other side of it, floating in the air around 10 feet from the crane head.
'Time to go,' she thinks, wisping away from the crane as quickly as she can...
Astrid cast gaseous form - it's a circle of spores spell.
Duration: 1 hour
You transform a willing creature you touch, along with everything it’s wearing and carrying, into a misty cloud for the duration. The spell ends if the creature drops to 0 hit points. An incorporeal creature isn’t affected.
While in this form, the target’s only method of movement is a flying speed of 10 feet. The target can enter and occupy the space of another creature. The target has resistance to nonmagical damage, and it has advantage on Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution saving throws. The target can pass through small holes, narrow openings, and even mere cracks, though it treats liquids as though they were solid surfaces. The target can’t fall and remains hovering in the air even when stunned or otherwise incapacitated.
While in the form of a misty cloud, the target can’t talk or manipulate objects, and any objects it was carrying or holding can’t be dropped, used, or otherwise interacted with. The target can’t attack or cast spells.
The Infernal Puzzle Box
The archmage took the box, examining it with a knowing smirk. Her fingers traced the intricate patterns in the gold foil, occasionally causing a tiny *click* or *tik tok*. "This one appears linked to a powerful 'Kyton', or chain devil. I do hope none of you attempted to open it..."
Releasing the demon at her foot "Jezebel, fetch formula 11..." The beaten and tormented creature immediately obeying, scurrying up the top of the tallest bookshelf. It returns with a vial of viscous black liquid. The archmage slowly pours the liquid into the maze-like troughs of the box's engravings. She then tips the box so the flow takes a certain course...and the horn inlay bubbles and dissolves completely before popping off.
The ghostly mage hand pinches its contents and holds it aloft: a stack of nine-chain linked plates, each three inches on a side...cast of dark iron, and stamped with Infernal runes. Anyone who understands Infernal can read the runes themselves, but Sylvira translates for all:
Be it known to all that I, Thavius Kreeg, High Overseer of Elturel, have sworn to my master, Zariel, lord of Avernus, to keep the agreements contained in this oath.
I hereby submit to Zariel in all matters and for all time. I will place Her above all creatures, living and dead. I will obey Her all my days and beyond with fear and servility.
I recognize the dispensation of the device called the Solar Insidiator, hereafter called the Companion. In my capacity as High Overseer of Elturel and its vassal territories, I acknowledge that all lands falling under the light of the Companion are forfeit to Zariel. All persons bound by oath to defend Elturel are also considered forfeit. I further recognize that this dispensation will last forty-and-eight years, after which the Companion will return whence it came, taking Elturel and its oath-bound defenders with it, if that is Zariel's wish.
All this is my everlasting pledge.
Reya collapses to the floor, stung by the revelation. Bound by Elturel's Creed Resolute as a Hellrider, she realized her soul was now forfeit. But with some strength added "If Zariel wants my soul...she's welcome to try and take it."
If Simon chooses to conceal this spoiler from the others, players can contest his Deception with Insight to realize he is holding something back.
"I hate being right." the archmage quipped arrogantly. "Now...what shall we do about this...? Ah but first I promised you something..."
She is offering you each 500 gold OR 1 uncommon magic item of your choice. In addition, you will have free lodging in Candlekeep and full library access for a tenday. Should your target of research be 'Devils' your character basically will know everything from the Devils entry from the MM going forward. You can choose whatever to research though.
Lucian shakes his head, trying to make heads or tails of his scant memory of the dream. A child? I was married? he thinks, looking down to his left hand and seeing the simple gold band that seem to confirm the second question.
Allowing himself to speak, despite his dry, parched throat, he rhetorically croaks, "I suppose a child is possible...but why can't I remember her?"
Pondering more on the dream and trying to put the disturbing thought of a child that he cannot remember behind him for the moment his thoughts turn to the other details.
A sword? Becomes one with the blade exists no longer? he thinks, siletly cursing himself, If had been more studious in my youth, perhaps I could have the slightest what that meant...
One with the blade? Odd...
After the skeletal cavalry has passed, Lucian gathers his things and examines the area's tracks, first looking to where they had come from and then towards their destination. Could be useful to find out where these things have come from... he thinks, looking to the red sky and the ominous black orb that hangs in it, but I think I might find more answers following where they are going.
Following the trail and doing his best to remain hidden in the shadows and nearby plant-life, he quips to himself, "What's the worst that could happen, I've already died once and that wasn't so bad..."
Simon's Hellish Advance
When the Eltan son subtley interlaces his words with courtly charm, the Archmage does not recoil instantly abject horror. A rendezvous is scheduled...
"So let me guess, you found more than just Kreeg and the puzzle box within the Villa of the Vanthampur...the Hhune have been crying foul for months."
|Syrina du Shay|
Picking herself up off the filthy alley street, Syrina rubs her temples and glances at the three-eyed feline. As if regular cats aren't trouble enough. Futilely brushing her ash coated hat against ash coated leg, she slaps it back across her ash coated head and ponders the Lady's sudden urge for a shopping excursion. "Best figure out where I am." She says to both head and feline. The first just leer while the second ponders the imponderable.
Poking her head out of the 'back' end of the alley, she sees the withered, skeletal tops of several trees behind another row of shattered and ruined manors and estates. Once, seemingly a dozen lifetimes ago, that stretch through the center of the city was known simply as The Garden. A stretch of contrived nature fed by fresh spring water and tended to provide the wealthy nobility with a bit of peace and quiet comfort amidst the bustle of the city. Now it was just another hellscape of dead trees, toxic mud, and the occasional ravenous, undying squirrel. The thought of those malevolent tree climbing rodents still sent shivers down her spine and she'd not be stepping foot back within that patch of hell anytime soon.
Skulking back to the other end of the alley and looking round to her right, see could make out the wide black band that was the River Chionthar in the distance. What used to be south. "That means the East Docks and the market are down there." Her eyes peering down the bluff into the fog shrouded lowlands.
Sighing and muttering a soft curse because she'd just climbed outta that filth a few days ago. She leans her head back against the crumbled wall and pulls a thick cylinder of rolled parchment paper from her pocket.
It had been quite a little find. Probably some wizards stash judging from all the scrolls, vials, bottles, and bits of this and that stuffed into the tiny room of the another manor cellar. All that and the little imp creature, she'd had to skewer when it tried to claw her throat out screamin' some nonsense about protecting its master. Wizards always liked to be called Master. If she'd were a book learnin' spell slinger, some of it might have been handy. But since she wasn't none of it was much a girl could use to survive the apocalypse. That is, until she found the lovely big bag of sweet scented, potent tabac along with a batch of small alchemical firesticks. All of those scrolls would provide the only other important bit she needed. Most of them were covered in arcane runes and odd sing-songy phrases that didn't make much sense. They made excellent cigar paper.
She strikes one of the firesticks with her thumb and uses it to light the self made smoke. She puffs away for several seconds to get the thickly wrapped leaves burning, then inhales deeply. She ignores the whispering groans as several arcane runes literally go up in smoke. Instead she sucks sweet precious smoke into her lungs, letting it seep into her system before she releasing it in a long slow, tension easing cloud of blue grey smoke. The cloud swirls around her face for several seconds trying to express its impotent outrage over the misuse of such arcane endeavors. Oblivious to the rebuke, Syrina watches for movement while the cloud of smoke drifts away helplessly with the breeze.
"I suppose we should get a move on." She says to the head at her belt. The smoke doing nothing positive for her rope burned voice. Yet, she still takes another grateful puff. Clear for the moment.
She tenses, ready to launch herself back into the open. Hesitation. With a sigh, she looks back at the scrawny three-eyed feline. "You coming cat? Four might be better'n two. You're welcome t'tag along. Just you keep up...and no fightin' with the raven or pissin on the Rose."
She bolts across the road, not bothering to look back to see what the cat ultimately decided.
The Spores of Hell
The puffballs burst and Astrid Morchella catches the wind, leaving the ghastly undead and shadows below. Her consciousness reaches out to the collective of tiny motes, seeing the rough surface of each individual corpuscule as they dance on the air and chirp with high-pitched voices.
A pair of pink sporangios sit on a park bench eating ice cream, as a team of green zygos toss a miniature mushroom back and forth. The working class yellow ascospores construct new homes next to a bubbling stream of cool breeze...all the while singing their merry songs.
The sentient swirling smoke has a civilization of its own. All the while their benevolent druid overseer beams love and tender care, seeing each of them as her 'children'.
But wait, what's this? A red, spiky spore elbows its way through the crowd. In your mind's eye it almost seems to be wearing a little black leather jacket? This isn't one of your spores. It seems to waste no time bullying the others around...kicking one of the pink sporangios in the stomach so hard her ice cream topples over.
If this is too wacky feel free to ignore, thought it might be neat to personify the spores and give them a 'culture' you could interact with psychedelically. Sort of like smurfs.
I like it. I think it adds a nice little unhinged flavor to things that works for Astrid.
Astrid is furious for her little sporangios and races toward the foreign body, angrily gesturing for it to leave. She is, unfortunately, quite unable to do much in her gaseous state. "You do not belong with the colony," She states, hissing slightly. "Leave."
Lucian and the Barbazu
The stalker keeps a steady pace with the ashen tracks, neither quaking earth nor roiling blaze bending his nerve...that exquisite focus. Skirting the northern edge of the brass gated cemetery leads him soon deeper into the urban hellscape.
The Elturian architecture once inspired from the pointed ridges of Torm's gold dragon were now crumbling into ruin, an animal in the agony of its death throes. One structure you might recognize while next door it was nothing but rocky rubble. You passed the old Pair of Black Antlers pub, but no bards were heard singing of the Knights of Dragon Down. Only the incessant throaty drone of the undead.
The tracks jumble near a low wall, knee prints while they crouched in hiding. The stride between paces increases, there was some kind of struggle with a fourth actor. A broken necklace of wooden beads lay scattered in the mess. The fourth set of prints turns into a scratched line...dragged off with the devils as they resume their casual pace.
Hours pass, only twice is your pursuit impeded by some deadly threat. Your trusty longblade crackles, saving you from a near ambush of ghostly specters. Another time there are simply too many zombies, and you must wait still and silent as the horde passes. But as ruined as they are, these are still the Elturel streets you know...you have the terrain advantage.
Finally you again hear the haughty voices of the snake bearded devils as they engage in some kind of maintenance work on their arms and gear. The muffled, whimpering voice of a captive is in there with them. "See, told you. Devil's choice while everyone's distracted below. This one'll put a glint in Mahadi's eye, eh?"
"This is taking too long." another protests "...first wave's gonna mount soon."
"Always the Negative Nancy aren't you, Blass?" the chatter continues. Its a small brick residence, all four walls still standing...but the roof has collapsed inside. Do you dare a closer look?
Well, that certainly wasn't there before. The ravine that had cut the earth open on the east side of the High Hill wasn't just a little crack...but opened into a void plunging hundreds of feet downwards. Only a pair of defiant bridges spanned the gap, connecting the two floating islands of Elturel.
You had dared the southern route, and took pause there at the midspan...some 50 ft across.
Chancing a look off the edge of the world, you immediately wish you hadn't. Your hair and hat are blasted backwards with the echoes of death. An army of hundreds of thousands of demons clashes against orderly triangular formations of devils, blotting out the sands with some eternal warfare. Machines built like dragon heads spit massive blazing fireballs behind enemy lines, while strange hovering mobile bases give commanders the safety to make their infernal plans.
But what truly caught your eye, your soul, was the ichor black river that cut through it all. It called to you in whispers and told you lies, but nonetheless you dreamed of quenching your thirst with its poisonous waters. For a moment you couldn't remember what you were doing...out for a bit of Sixth day market shopping? That didn't seem right, somehow. And where did you get all these magic cigars anyways? Oh well.
Mercifully(?) another blast of electricity from the fallen Companion detonated an abandoned vegetable cart, the flapping carrot leaves snapping you out of the dark contemplation that had captured your memories and soul. Of course the noise brought the undead, a trio of skeletal warriors on skeleton horses...which now charged towards you lowering their spears.
"Infernal iron?" Malaric repeats filing that away for later. "So, the Core prefers to connect with infernal iron, and you would prefer to keep your gyro intact." He wanders away from the table with the gyro.
"Mechanus?" The halfling ask rhetorically. He wonders to himself if he should swipe her gyro or wait to find more infernal iron. Either way, he secures the core in his pocket.
The Sharite watches the archmage closely when she opens the puzzle box. He gives himself a break when she pours something on to it. He wouldn't have had that. "Kyton? Would you know the name of that Kyton?" He asks before she starts reading aloud.
He reads along with her checking her translation. Her training obviously much more formal and schooled that his autodidacticism in the book store.
Add to the Research list: infernal iron, Mechanus, Kyton, and the specific Kyton if he gets its name
Mal, the core had the exact same reaction earlier with the normal wagon you guys were using on the Coast Way. So maybe its not that it 'prefers' infernal iron, moreso just anything vehicle related.
Also on the research, lets narrow it down to 3 topics per character just for sanity's sake.
"Yes, Mechanus...the Clockwork Nirvana. Home of the Modron, sentient immortal machines which embody the concept of order." the planes expert recites.
At the mention of the Kyton's name, she removes her monocle and shrugs "Those magics are beyond my little watchglass here, but I could prepare a spell sufficient to probe the lore of its creator. Tomorrow perhaps. Good idea...we need to know everyone who had a hand in this."
Reya suddenly snatched the infernal contract from the magic ghost hand, cleaving it asunder with her silver sword! Jezebel the quasit screeched in fear from the display of raw might.
When it was clear there was no reaction, Sylvira was deflated and placed an empathetic hand over her heart "Satisfied? That might actually do some good were it the original. This one is only a copy."
"Where is it..." Reya attempted to hold her composure but was finding it rather difficult.
Sylvira wags a finger "Likely only known by the two parties involved. If you saw Kreeg dragged to hell, his soul then climbed out of the River Styx as a lemure...promoted to whatever station Zariel thought fit."
"If Elturel is in hell, so are the other Hellriders. I have to get to them, we could hunt Kreeg down together...and what if some others survived the fall? I have to do something..." the young lady resolved.
Sylvira raises an eyebrow "Bold. Avernus is no picnic. 'tis one of the primary battlegrounds for the Blood War..."
"I don't care. I'm a Hellrider...I was born for this."
The archmage sighs "Hmm, Kreeg's residence in the High Hall might actually contain some clue...and I would certainly be curious to know Grand Duke Ravengard's fate." she paces a bit, crossing her arms. "Well dear halfling, if you are really intent on saving Elturel, I could arrange transport. It is one of the few planes that has been mapped...although I'm not entirely certain its reliable. Its creator went quite mad making it...hell'uva artist though..."
She unfurls a long black tube dripping with ghostly magma...
Map of Avernus added to Art 2 slideshow. Named locations will be added as you learn them.
Reya then turns to Donal, Grim, Malaric and Fisk "I don't expect any of you to join me. But if you care even the slightest for the people of Elturel, I beg it of you. Warrior, cleric, wizard, thief...I need you." *eats cheese sandwich*
Sylvira interjected before they could answer "The planar shift will have to be done outside of Candlekeep. I know a...'person', but it will take some time to arrange. Perhaps the others could take a few days to consider their response?"
|Syrina du Shay|
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Ripping her eyes away from the oddly fascinating scene below, Syrina curses as she spots the undead cavalry bearing down on the bridge.
"Ya could've warned me trouble was comin' Cat." She says to the three-eyed feline, the chewed half-a-cigar wiggling up and down between her lips with each muttered word.
"Meow." The feline retorts and pointedly looks at where her trouser leg was shredded and fresh blood trickled from a quartet of scratches marring her upper ankle. Her eyes flick toward the edge of the bridge. Just how long've I been standing her gawkin'?"
Meow. Meow." Responds Cat, causing Syrina's eyes to narrow suspiciously at the hellish feline. The Indigio Rose just grins.
"We'll talk about that little trick later." She says turning and sprinting for the opposite end of the bridge.
A head bouncing off one hip, noose along the other, Syrina's jacket flares out behind her as she sprints along the narrow span arching across "Devil's Chasm". That's what her rattled mind quickly dubbed the valley of battlefield horrors below. Reaching the halfway mark between midspan and the open ground at the end of the bridge, she spins, raises her palm.
"Klaatu Barada Koko" The words given to her by a smiling Lady Raven whisper across her lips. A raven cackles. A feline yowls and ducks aside. Syrina aims low. The leg of the closest rider. The blast of eldritch power crackles across the chasm to shatter brittle equine bones.
"Come on Cat!" She hollers.
"Rawwwrr." Complains Cat.
Seeing the horse start to fall, Syrina doesn't wait to see if the rider goes with it or what the others do. She's already running. The eerie undying scream of the three legged horse cascading off the bridge and into the chaos below echoes behind her. So does the rapid fire clackety-clop-clackety of the other two riders charging across the stone span. No time to stop, she rushes toward a crumbling low wall about thirty paces away. A fallen sign near a shattered gate marks the boundary as once belonging to Madame Lenora's Apothecarium.
She springs up and over the low wall, feeling and hearing the whisk of the skeletal rider's saber as it barely passes over her tumbling form. Noxious green gas billows from the horses nostrils. Rolling across the dried, dead remnants of Lenora's herbal garden. Syrina fires another wild blast of eldritch power, but it flies harmlessly off into the red sky.
Rolling until she slams up against the foundation of the former house and shop, Syrina scrambles to her feet and races around to the black opening of the door before slow witted undead horse and riders can navigate their way past the low wall. Diving inside and momentarily blind, she doesn't see the collapsed floor dropping into the cellar and whatever other depths below.
She tumbles into the pit bouncing off fallen crossbeams and broken floorboards before coming to a stop amidst piles of dried herbs, stained pillows, and several rats that perished quickly and with little pain beneath her heavy frame.
Cat, deftly leaping his way down into the pit enjoyed the best meal he'd had in days. The Indigo Rose sporting several new cuts, a patch of missing hair, and a two broken front teeth. Frowned in consternation at such uncaring mistreatment.
Malaric looks around wondering what label the Hellrider attached to him. Wizard? Thief? He would have preferred Scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in her life. "Voluntarily entering one of the nine planes of hell? With no plan to recover a city dragged into hell by a fallen angel and new lord of Avernus? Sounds suicidal with a small chance of success."
He could be convinced and needs to pray to Shar for guidance. After an uncomfortable pause, he continues, "let me investigate some topics in the archives here and contemplate that life-changing decision."
Only 3 topics!? Alright. I'll weaselly combine related topics into three topics: 1. Devils, rules and structure of the planes of Hell; 2. History and politics of Avernus; 3. Zariel and fallen angels to get an advantage; and hopefully bonus due to high Investigation and pure non-AP knowledge: 4. What do they know about Shar in the archives.
Lucian fights to quell the rising rage in heart, seeing the state of his city and numerous undead within. Why had this happened to Elturel and her people?
Finally catching up with the snake-bearded devils, Lucian listens closely - hoping to simply gather a bit of intelligence - then he hears the whimpering voice...someone was alive.
His sense of duty overrides any sense of self-preservation - he had to get closer to see the situation in full and if possible, strike down these devils torturing one of his people.
Not sure about the lighting conditions, but if they are such that darkvision applies, Lucian is invisible to them as per the 3rd level gloom stalker version of darkvision
Stealth: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (5) + 5 = 10
And we're off to a rousing start...
The Winds of Morchella
Astrid, explore that other magical spore-land if you wish. Would she destroy the devil spore outright? Try to turn it to good and make it a part of her community? Torture it for information? I have no clue what RL botanists/mycologists do in that situation. Probably torture.
Putting the matter of the invasive spore behind, Gas-Astrid drifted slowly away from the Gondian crane. The shadows and ghouls below continued a ravenous search for life essence, and it didn't take long for them to find what they were looking for...if the screams of terror and sounds of splattering entrails from within the cursed riverboat were any indication.
Their loss was your gain, so were the rules of hell. You tried to focus, giving yourself a task for sanity's sake. The Companion. Why was it here in the first place? Why does it no longer guard against the undead? Why did it change and...extrapolating from the secret you discovered, who was its maker? Perhaps the temple of Torm or some other library might still hold some answers...unless they've already been lost to hellfire.
I'll go ahead and also post a map of Elturel for Team Hell, and circle some places Astrid might think there's some writings about the Companion.
One sec. All set. Color coded PCs approximate locations and circled some temples and libraries that might be suitable for Companion information. Feel free to go a totally different direction, still just spitballing here.
The Rat-Farms of Insidious Prime
When the huntress finally shook the last jitters from her aching joints, she noticed the cellar door had a curious message. Stained in a mahogany carpenter's lacquer (or Asmodeus' own blood, who could tell for sure), it simply stated ~Come get some a**holes~. You weren't sure if it was the worst free giveaway ever, or if the writer just forgot a tactical comma.
Another mystery quickly resolved as the door burst open, and out walked a tank of a man. Every inch was covered in solid, shining steel...his arms as wide as a normal man's thighs, gripping a heavy brass morningstar like it was a lollipop.
"So, what have we here? Heh. Welcome to hell, rookie. Name's Prime. Insidious Prime." his hot breath echoing from behind the grated face plate. He reached out a helpful, steady hand "...stick with me if you want to liv--AIIIEEE!!"
At first the rat-crasher thought a meteorite had singly targeted the towering hulk, the impact was so cataclysmic. But it was soon clear, the meteor had wings. Some kind of demonic winged monstrosity swooped upwards, quickly tearing the body of Insidious Prime apart into 13 subsections. An arcane figure was drawn on the sky, and the body parts were arranged into some sort of eldritch geometry. 6 flickered with light at a certain rate as the other 7 did so with double the frequency. A purple energy slowly rose from the flesh as the demon siphoned the life essence into its own corrupted being.
A light mist of blood ensued, the first precipitation for weeks.
The woods betray the woodsman...
Negative Nancy responded "Well, maybe I'd be just a little more upbeat if you hadn't scorched the Boomrod? I mean what the hell man...triple ichor boosted with the Juke conversion? We were only 3 soul coins away from the acidic bile sprayer."
"*sigh* I knew it, you're still sore about that 4-runner. I told you I didn't see that stupid abyssal chicken until it was too late. Woulda happened regardless of who was drivin'..." Blass answered.
"Man, she was a good lil' Demon Grinder..." the third recollected.
"Bah, look where we are! We'll get an upgrade, don't sweat it! Chin up! C'mon, whos a sporty boy? Who??" Blass inquired.
"I...I am?" Nancy acquiesed.
"Yes you are!"
The humble stick was drier than the stalker gauged, kissed by the fires of hell and fallen from the untended gutter of the repurposed house. It offered no apology as the devils rushed out, raising their long glaives. "Ha, lookie here! This one's military or somethin'!"
From up close you could see...yes, their beards were actual snakes. Not a snake tied to their beard, but living snakes sprouting from their face. One organism. "'ol Cateyes'll pay double for that one! String him up by the legs."
Worse than the snakes for beards, the stench of their pink devilskin, the sharpness and authority of their glaives? Their tunics, the pattern an eye-welting paisley. This was truly hell.
The smokey haze offers light obscurement and plenty of actual pieces of cover to hide behind, not quite darkness when you are outside anyways. If you don't want to RP fight them you could try losing them in a nearby structure which would be sufficiently dark for the gloom ability.
Lucian winced as the stick snapped loudly.
Moments later the as devils came out to greet him, Lucian looked around for a suitable structure, one with the majority of a roof still intact - if he was to survive this and help whomever the devils had trapped, he needed an advantage to counter the devil's greater numbers.
"If you are going to do that, at least do me the favor of gouging out my eyes - those tunics are more punishment than anyone should have to bear." the ranger says, bolting toward the structure he had picked out. Once inside and in the comfort of darkness, he would strike.
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No, no…not “Gas-Astrid”... Gastrid. I furiously googled mycology and botany facts to try to find an answer to what those folks would do…Probably torture seems the right way…”Studying” them. Lol.
Within the spore colony, Gastrid circles the foreign body with a snarl. ”You don’t belong here, I said. If you will not leave, you will tell me what you are doing here.” The druid raises a hand and makes a fist, triggering her halo of spores to cause the creature pain. ”Your options are speak or die. Choose quickly.”
I can roll if you’d like, but you mentioned RP-fighting rather than real fighting, so I’m rolling with flavor–let me know if you want me to roll some stuff, though :)
After the interrogation is over, Gastrid finds her mind wandering back into the real world, so to speak. Whatever that meant at this point. Her purpose, uncovering knowledge about The Companion was laid before her, and she needed to find a place to begin. She floats above the city for a moment, trying to gauge her location based on her knowledge of her time living in Elturel before it was torn into the abyss.
She glances about and…there. She squints to the northeast, spotting something that looked familiar…a library? The Temple? She wasn’t sure, but it looked promising, and she needed some hope. Onward.
She’s heading toward the closest yellow circle. The gaseous form wears off after an hour and she would find a safe place to land once she felt it wearing off.
The Ranger's Trap
Blass, obviously emotionally hurt from the fashion critique, was silent a moment as the gloom stalker made an abrupt decision.
"Oooooooh, did someone order a roast?" one quipped.
While the other just oddly exclaimed "Toasty!" as the snakes generated a chorus of hissy laughter.
Finally Blass's retort came "Yes, we will take them out...you will suffer in darkness slowly consumed by the scarab roach for your eternal torment!" his voice cracking like a teenager. "After him!"
The trio charging confidently into the dark stationery shop...
Write up your ambush/escape with liberty, or we can actually roll dice if thats more fun for you. I'm fine either way for this character intro. Rolling might take days though...
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A halfling's prayer
The Archmage's servant delivers Malaric's arcane grimoire with little fanfare, excusing herself quickly from the odd halfling's uncomfortable presence and mean little face.
Spoilering for length, feel free anyone to read but its meta knowledge.
In the resulting solitude of your chamber you recite the forbidden words in prayer of the dark mistress, mysteries themselves which were hard earned with sacrifice and toil. The Nightsinger does not answer.
Restless, you turn to the red velvet tome...Contrary to the Leaves of One Night...its swirling sigils replaying the story of distant Ordulin, its utter destruction at the mercy of an arcano-catastrophe called Shadowstorm. The magical gifts of Shar were meant to destroy the entirety of Toril, but the author speculates of a few reasons this did not come to pass. Laced with obvious deception, technical jargon, and pure riddles...Malaric deduces the blame seems to lie on Mask, her own offspring entity, now himself thought to be gone from this world. Contrary continues with a description of the Maelstrom (complete with annotated diagram), a prison vortex used to trap Shar...but its formulae are beyond what the halfling can deciper.
Again the halfling recited the forbidden words in prayer of the dark mistress, but the void only answered with the foolishness of hope.
Crossreferencing with some planar research Sylvira provided, you learn of Mask's divine fortress on the 2nd layer of Hades, known as Niflheim. There in the frosty forests, on the other side of Yggdrasil's roots (before the Great Tree was itself destroyed), there was once also the Palace of Loss...Shar's divine realm. Finally there is a bit about Shar's reabsorption of Mask, and with it their dual fortresses collapsed and inverted. Shar is now thought to reside somewhere in the void of the Astral Plane, with these inverted towers the closest direct 'door' to her power.
As the logical subconscious often does, you heard a conclusion emerge from the premises presented ::Shar gained the secrets of the imprisoning Maelstrom.:: You pondered also the twin powerwells at the base of where Yggdrasil once stood.
The forbidden words of prayer came by habit, borderlining a trance...Malaric could only imagine Shar's hatred for all creation as he was ignored, discarded.
Back to the red velvet tome. The author speculated more deeply into thicker and more confusing methodology, those she thought would counterspell the great Shadowstorm. It talks about the hidden tendrils of Yggdrasil, tiny offshoots that invaded the magical constructs of Shar and Mask, siphoning energy from planes like Gehenna and even Ysgard into their realms of darkness and sorrow. Left unchecked, these invasive shoots would weaken the magic of Shar.
::Even when the tree itself is uprooted, stubborn shoots remain...:: you heard yourself speculate.
It was like a key twisting in a lock, someone was reciting the forbidden words of prayer but it wasn't you. Your vision became bordered with darkness, closing in on a circle of light that slowly dwindled to nothing...and was finally imperceptible in the sea of emptiness. All sensory perception was rendered greedily from your consciousness...to make room for a new presence.
The Singer of Eternal Night.
You felt your mind torn away from you, thoughts and memories, emotions and passions...She was using the spared bits left behind as a language to communicate with you...
##I have shown you what my priestess thought was a counterspell.## Your eviscerated brain slowly piecing out some semblance of sentence structure. ##We will turn this weakness into my greatest weapon. A new Domain of Dread awaits the creature of light called Zariel.## The goddess continued to hungrily devour the knowledge and personality of your psyche, there was little remaining...but somehow it spelled out ##Seek the Sword of Zariel in Avernus. Her redemption will be her captivity.##
A little tweety bird pecks at your nostil as the light of morning filters through the tower.
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The Ranger's Trap
Lucian slowed his escape into the old stationary shop just enough to ensure the snake-bearded devils would know where he went.
Entering the shop, Lucian stood in the corner of the room nearest the entry way that gave him a good line of sight on the devils as they entered one-by-one, hooting and calling for their supposed quarry - their assumptions about the human would be their undoing.
It was strange that darkness was such an ally of one who so clearly served the light in life, perhaps that is why he was returned to life now - in a place so foul and dark, perhaps the light required the services of those who could make the dark places of the world a friend instead of a foe.
As the snake-bearded devils entered the shop, they continued their calls out to their "military man" prize. "Come on out, little man. We'll pluck out your eyes just like you asked...maybe not straight away, but we'll do it." the trio says, each building off of the other's comments as they spread out throughout the humble shop, looking for their quarry.
Allowing the trio of devils to get deeper into the shop, the ranger begins to stalk his prey - the devils fully unaware that the hunters have become the hunted. Slowly Lucian creeps up first on the one called Blass, driving his blade deep into the creature's back three times in rapid succession. The other two hear their companion's cries and turn just in time to see Blass drop to the ground dead, but still see no sign of the ranger in the darkened room. "Where is that little bastard?" Negative Nancy asks, with a hint of trepidation and fear in its voice. Just as the words escape Nancy's lips, a series of slashing cuts appear across the chest of its companion as another devil falls to the ground.
Two down, one to go. Lucian thought to himself as he closed in on the remaining devil. First came a strike to the back of Nancy's left leg, followed quickly by a second slash across the gut. The strikes were significant, but not enough to finish off the devil. "Where are you!" Nancy screams in frustration, while flailing around with its glaive, managing to land a lucky strike on the invisible ranger. Seeing the splash of blood and the grunt of pain from the ranger, Nancy gains a bit of confidence as a smile crosses its snake covered face. "Yes, all the more reward for me without those two." the devil hisses. All of that confidence would fade just as quickly as it arrived as Nancy caught a glimpse of the ranger as he strode into the light of the doorway just before the ranger's blade dove into Nancy's back.
The fight was over, having gone better for the ranger than it really had any right to, even as he sat to catch his breath and rub the stinging wound on his right shoulder. Lucian then takes a deep breath and calls upon the primal energies of his magic to at least partially mend the wound.
"That'll have to do for now." the ranger says to himself as he stands and makes his way back to where he had been discovered by the devils in hopes of aiding whomever was the target of the devil's less than loving care.
::Blessed Nightsinger, witness my adoration. See how I serve you, only you. I have emptied my heart of falsehoods. In darkness, I see your truth. Embrace me, your loyal warrior. Cloak me in your shadow. Guide me to your victory. What should I do with the Sword of Zariel? Shar's will shall be done. As sure as night will fall.::
He respected the Hellrider who held as strong a faith and conviction as himself. They had fought many battles together against devils, dinosaurs, and dragons but did not know each other beyond the veneer. He certainly did not want to volunteer his Sharite faith to a devout Tormtar, and he doubts she would open her heart that she closely protects behind heavy armor.
Mal takes a seat without permission as only a long time companion could do. In a low, halfling voice, Malaric nods and gets right to it, "Reya, I'll go with you to Avernus and support your mission to restore Elturel to Faerun."
He pauses glancing around the tavern, "And, I need your support to secure the Sword of Zariel. It's my mission to punish Zariel. What do you say?"
|Syrina du Shay|
Still a bit dazed from her fall, Syrina watches the sudden, violent death of one Insidious Prime with momentary fascination. She'd no idea what the arcane symbols meant or what power they conjured. But they were fascinating and even a bit pretty in a grim, not-the-way-she-wanted-to-die kinda way.
"Thanks for the distraction Prime." She says tipping her hat to the slowly dissipating cloud that was her momentary savior.
"Come'on Cat. Best we not waste the opportunity." She says crawling out of the wreckage and through the doorway wide enough to accommodate the big man.
"Bwaarmmfff" Cat says slurping the last of a large rat into his gullet.
Syrina couldn't remember if cats could slurp, she didn't think so. But on the other hand, they didn't usually have three eyes and survive the pits of hell. But on the other, other hand, most cats she'd encountered could have easily been fur covered demons from the depths. One simply couldn't be sure. So she simply drops the line of inquiry and instead hurries down the hall looking for another way back to the surface.
The devil spore in the black leather jacket played it cool at first "Whatever grandma, you're not my dad." But when Gastrid's halo of druidic energy tore into the spiky spore, the defiant rebel changed its tune "*hhrroork!*" Doubling over in pain, the toothpick fell from its mouth and the dark sunglasses slipped off its greasy hair. "It's a free country, I do what I want!"
"Wait, don't hurt him!" one of the zygospores protested. She was wearing a floofy poodle skirt and blushed a rosy red, running to his side. Obviously, the naïve spore had fallen for the bad-boy's charms. "He's gonna go, aren't you Wolfy? You just don't understand him..." she tried to explain with tears in her eyes.
Picking himself up with some dignity, the devil spore *tched* and quickly snapped his arm out of the zygospores grasp "Whatever...I don't need you...I'm outta here..." mounting his motorcycle(?) and popping a wheelie as he routed from the scene.
The lovestruck zygospore clutched at her heart, more in love than ever.
The End of History
Gastrid coasted very slowly over the shattered rooftops of the hellscape. It didn't take long for her to realize she wasn't the only creature in flight. Demons and devils cut nightmarish silhouettes in the haze, circling and plunging for prey. It was also chaos in the streets below, scavengers chased from bad to worse...always a devil's choice of the lesser evil.
In her wispy form, Gastrid had the opportunity to surveil the place before committing...happy to see the massive stone structure was still standing at all. Stars Seen, Tales Told, the chiseled building announced to the dead. This was Elturel's last freelancing publisher's house, containing an archive of the popular periodical chapbook from the last half-century or so. Informal histories, snippets from daily life, letters from readers. With the Companion so embedded in the lives of the Elturians, it featured prominently in the writings.
At first it seemed abandoned, but as the cloud of spores shifted her vantage, she could spot a pair of survivors guarding the entrance with heavy crossbows and make-shift armor. A halfling and a dwarf by the looks of them.
A Hope Resurrected
The paisley-clad devils slumped to the ground dead. There was no planar vortex, no celestial deathstorm, the bells of Gehenna did not ring. It was as if you had gutted pigs. These devils were quite mortal, apparently.
Darting back across the debris strewn road, you quickly tend to the captive. She can't help but tear up at the sight of the Elturian Sigil on your breastplate. Bruised but lacking the mutilation one might expect, you slip off her gag "...you're a fine sight, sir!"
"Oh, I'm so stupid! I thought I could make it to the old aqueducts...but then the dead turned. I got mixed up and those fiends came out of nowhere! I...where's the rest of your regiment, are more troops on the way? Where's Kreeg...where are the Hellriders?!" The woman tugs a fistful of your tunic, unwilling to let go as she looks behind you...slowly realizing you're alone.
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It takes great effort to flick alight the last few neurons the dark goddess has left you, but somehow you squeak out a question. The goddess responds ##Return the blade to its owner. The trap was set long ago, when Yggdrasil yet reached Celestia. The World Tree was a mutual concession...its roots dug into my fortress, while I sprouted in distant planes.## A cryptic answer. A riddle you can hardly contemplate in your current state. You begin to realize its better this way after all, just letting it all go...becoming nothing. Life is just a joke, in the final analysis. Better to deny creation...give into the void...
DC 15 Con Save, on a fail take 2 Con ability point damage and gain the 'psychic poison of Shar' condition.
Reya seemed anxious and lost in contemplation when you found her. She was there with Little One, the ogre in glasses from before, who was trying to console her with some entertaining story about a haunted house "...so the kid put his face right between the bushes...and out jumped a whole pack of weasels!!" The jump-scare failed horribly, and Reya lifted her head eager to talk to someone (anyone) else...even a shadow-stained dealer of dark magics.
"You will?" a flush of color revitalized the young lady immediately. "But the Sword of Zariel...I don't understand? You mean the celestial blade she carried before her fall? The survivors of that first Hellride said its light rivalled the visions of Amaunator granted by their gods..."
You recall her earlier account of the legend of the first Hellriders...and Fisk's disputed version... Link to that post
"...if obtaining a solar's edge can bring the Thief of Elturel to justice, I'm with you."
DC 15 Con Save: 1d20 + 2 ⇒ (17) + 2 = 19
With the final divine commandment resonating within his mortal mind, the devout halfling collapses in serene exhaustion. My Dark Lady. In your name, I live.
After Reya's reply, Malaric's resting grimace transforms into a genuine smile, "then, let's drink to going to Hell. Little One, how can we get a drink around here?"
After a few drinks, he asks Reya for her story to get to know her better.
Ready for Hell!
Syrina du Shay passes a series of useless countermeasures as she plunges the depths of Insidious' cellar, they probably would have been great defenses had their maker not just been torn into 13 subsections and devoured by an extraplanar entity.
Finally tossing herself from the bottom step, she finds a small chamber lit by the familiar nose tingling scent of paraffin lanterns. A stylish gnome with a top-hat is engaged in a dice game of some sort with a very bored looking prostitute (or at the very least, she has a similar taste in clothing). You also note her wrists have been slit and scarred over.
Strewn about their game table are plates of half devoured rat-roasts, and a few mugs of the best looking draft of ale you've ever seen. Behind them, someone has drawn on the wall a crude humanoid rat, tipping a top hat of its own and exclaiming ~Rats off to ya!~ in a little speech bubble.
"Uh...hello? Wow, what the hell is that?" the gnome inquires pointing to the happy three-eyed cat. The woman for her part seems revolted by the quite-ripe head of the Indigo Rose, covering her mouth with a silk handkerchief. "Does that name collar say 'Jingersnaps the Alley Cat'? Wouldn't it not have a collar if it were an alley cat, and isn't 'ginger' spelled with a 'g'? What is the meaning of this?"
"I fear you may know more than I do of this situation, m'lady." Lucian says regretfully while unbinding the woman. "Since I have...come back to my senses, I have not seen any of my brethren."
"Are you injured? Can you walk?" he asks as sympathetically as he can.
Pausing to wait for answer, he asks more. "Why the old aqueducts? Are there others gathing there?"
Gastrid made a face at the rebellious devil spore and crossed her arms admonishingly, shaking her head. "It is not a free country here..." She replies. But when one of the zygospores spoke up for the bad-boy fungus, Gastrid had a moment of soft sympathy. She understood the appeal of a bad boy and had indulged in that special type of mistake more than a few times.
"You can do better than that," She says to the lovestruck spore, shaking her head with disappointment before fading out of her spore-realm as her gaseous spell wore off.
The half-elf formerly known as Gastrid drops her gaseous form as she approaches the building, making sure to be out of sight so as not to just...appear out of nowhere. That would be asking for a bolt to the chest, and she didn't relish the thought of more pain. She approaches the pair quietly, making her presence known in a way that she hoped didn't surprise them too much.
"Hail. Don't shoot me! I've been looking for other survivors," She says quietly, voice hoarse from disuse. She glances about the streets for any enemies and then returns her gaze to the halfling and dwarf before her. "I need inside. How do we make this happen?" She crosses her arms over her chest, well-aware of how she looks. Haggard, deep bags under her eyes, soot-covered and a little bit of gore. Dirty leathers strapped over a black robe and a strange, feverish sort of look about her. It had been a while since she had eaten anything other than a goodberry.
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Little One was happy to supply a cask of the Hearth's trademark Bitter Black, enjoying not one but two halfling's company. Reya gave the typical first date rundown of her childhood in distant Turmish, where she became inspired of the tales of the Hellriders and journeyed to Elturel at the age of only twelve. She was enamored about stories of this city-guard who could outmatch the armies of entire realms, and which welcomed all faiths, races, and genders.
With a little tactical prodding on Malaric's part, he managed to dislodge that wasn't the only reason. Group marriages were common in the Land of Surprises, and often came with a degrading bride-price. Gems, herds of goats, anything of value was openly traded between families to be rid of their daughters. Reya's youthful stoic heart couldn't accept the basic tenets of the culture she was born with, and so she was ever searching for some higher ideal.
Twelve was the absolute youngest the Hellriders would allow, and the oath was for life. Unspoken, but understood, this oath was the Creed Resolute which now bound her soul to hell.
She spoke of her early years training as a mastiff cataphract, but supplying the Lodges scattered about the Fields of Dead brought battle experiences beyond just that of cavalryman. The young halfling recounted a patrol up near The Bent Helm, a notorious outpost that ended with half her squad being downed by sleep-poisoned bolts. Her resulting solo encounter with a wizard wielding a wand of paralyzation was abruptly interrupted by a pack of ettins that trampled half the inn to the ground, but somehow Reya prevailed.
The silver blades of her rank were an extension of her spirit, so this Mantlemorn saw it. A veteran of war, but barely past her teens.
More recently, she had begun advanced training and specialized assignment related to the tracking of Baatezu (devils). This was mostly a spiritual/historical element of the Hellriders program, given only to the most faithful Tormites. It had been centuries since a portal to the hells had opened in Elturgard, but still carried a great honor to be part of the program. She described her last official assignment, regarding the devils Odious and Thoss (which you slew under the Villa). Reya's company had just tracked them to Baldur's Gate and was about to make their move when Elturel fell...she watched it all happen helplessly.
Leading a band of refugees to the Gate, she was shocked the Fist were treating Hellriders like criminals and had to go into hiding. But that did not stop her mission. The devils marked their followers with a brand, and it was that cryptic symbol that led her to suspect Amrik's involvement. When she confronted him, he poisoned her...dumping her in the nastiest, lowest deck of the Low Lantern. (you recall that's where you first saw her, asleep and in disguise, with Grim)
Had the party not caused the riot it did, she might have died there, she admits.
Ad Captandum Vulgus
So, since I'm a complete idiot it didn't occur to me until just now: I think Lucian was a Hellrider? That is the city guard of Elturel. There is also the Order of the Companion which was responsible for the wider territory of Elturgard, but they were mostly paladins of various faiths. Both swore the Creed. Perhaps Lucian has forgotten as well, but we should probably nail that one down at some point. XD
At the mention of the aqueducts "I used to play down there as a little girl. The inlets carry freshwater, but moreso I was hoping to use the tunnels to make it across town to my boys... I don't know if there are more down there...everyone I was with didn't make it. They came so quickly...it was like a wave of bodies...my friend just stood there, paralyzed. Completely captivated by the mob." she shudders.
"Then those snake creatures seemed totally aloof of it all...casually chatting about selling me off to someone named 'Mahadi' of the Wandering Emporium. How they had saved up a bunch of coupons for some killer deals? Was I hallucinating? They were trying to find more of us before the 'tanar'ri' 'climbed the chains'. Ok. Harkina Hunt? Get ahold of yourself. Stop talking nonsense..." she mumbled in an attempt to grapple her psyche.
Her ankles are rubbed raw from the devil's bindings, but she stands, ready and willing to follow the guard of Elturel.
|Syrina du Shay|
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"That there is Cat." Syrina says in casual reply to the gnome's question. Slipping her hat from her head she flicks off a glop of Insidious Bits and then tucks it comfortably back in place atop her head. "Reckon all of us are alley cat's as this point. As fer how he..." Syrina didn't really know whether cat was a he or a she. She didn't really have any intention of checking under the feline's hood to find out. Probably a good way to lose a hand. Syrina guesses.
"Meow, reow." Replies Cat creating another look of suspicion from Syrina.
"...or she..." Syrina continues her reply to the woman, pointedly ignoring yet again, Cat's uncanny access to her inner dialogue. "...spells their name, I figure that's their business. An' I ain't one fer holdin' folk to any particular spellin' rules." She adds relighting her cigar from the flame of one of the lanterns.
She let's the smoke drift around her head watching the other two while they watch her. Notices the half healed wounds around the woman's wrists. Wonders if they happened before or after the city was brought to its current state. Was the gnome the cause of her attempt or the healer?
"Guuurrrg" Offers the head. She wallops the head with the flat of her palm causing a bit of rotted flesh to drop to the floor as the head bounces off her leg. The raven cackles gleefully.
"Don't you start." She warns the dead bandit with a harsh mutter.
"You folks friends of a big feller callin' himself Insidious Prime?" She asks hoping to distract the woman whose face who suddenly looked a bit green in the gills for some reason. I wonder if he'd been protecting these two like he'd offered to protect me. If so, it's only right they should know about the man's rather quick and spectacular demise.
Waiting for their reply, she takes a big draw on her cigar, ignoring the crackle of energy that tingles her lips as another arcane rune burns away.
Taking note of raw state of the woman's ankles, Lucian calls upon his primal gifts again, to provide a bit of healing to the woman. "It's not much, but I hope that will help a bit." he says upon completion of the spell.
Turning his attention back to the aqueducts, he says, "That's as good of a lead as I have for anything, Miss Hunt. Let's go see about finding your boys." Lucian says, heading off to toward the aqueducts.
Not wanting to alarm Harkina by explaining exactly what had happened to him, Lucian tells her a half-truth in explanation for some of his questions. "Apparently, I have taken too many blows to the head, or something of the sort, regardless my memories of the recent past are all but nil. How long has Elturel been like this? If there is anything you can tell me about the situation - pockets of resistance, any allies the good people of Elturel may still have, anything - it may be of use."
The Kindness of Strangers
It had been a while since a real meal. The water Astrid had scrounged the past few weeks always tasted foul, no matter if it were boiled or magically purified. Edible flora tasted ashen, while the fauna was revolting. Even the goodberries were merely averageberries, spoiled with a certain over-ripeness.
The spore-collective slowly reassembled Astrid from their mists in some biological emergence, concealed behind one of the many tall marble pillars lining the steps to the officious-styled building. She resolved to present herself as little threat, and the guards got a bead on her movements quickly.
"Hold there! Not a step closer!" the halfling's wavering voice demanded, training his weapon right at the druid's heart.
"You bit, lady? Show me them arms...hmph. Got food, or fresh water to offer?" the dwarf added, leveling his weapon in the same direction.
"Dang, Caskfeet, she looks mean. You really gonna give her a chance?" the halfling muttered under his breath, taking his eyes of the sights for a split second.
"Kindness is givin' hope to them thinkin' they're alone, Sami. But we be needin' t'see some kindness up front...you want our shelter, what can ye offer?"
Rats off to ya
"...I'm not an alley cat. Oh. Metaphor." the gnome took it all in stride, the strange ensemble. With a master poker face he betrayed no hint of emotion, besides deep contemplation of the force of woman before him. "Are you...smoking a scroll of magic missile?" spinning a translucent purple 6-sided die in his fingers.
"Wait. Don't answer that. Let me answer yours. Insidious Prime." his mind almost thinking quicker than his voice could keep up with. "The brains and the brawn behind our little rat-farm. Real name? Chad. The Prime thing is just his 'apocalypse' name...eh, like an imaginary persona he made for fun. He's a good guy, beats the hell out of everything with that heavy 'star...yeah, friend I guess."
The woman raised an eyebrow suspiciously, but rather than get involved soaked up a mouthful of ale. The gnome continued "We've got apocalypse names, too. I'm Two-fingers, and this is Miss Molly. Do you have an apocalypse name?"
Astrid stared down the crossbows aimed at center mass with a stoic, distant expression. She understood why they were doing this. She would probably do the same. But the appeal of maybe getting a bath...or something a little more edible than her Goodberries and whatever she's been able to forge... The druid takes a deep breath, letting the spores encircle her in their comforting embrace, and then looked the pair in the eyes.
"No bites," Astrid replies softly, holding out her arms for inspection. At the halfling's whispered words, her expression turns wintry--steam almost seems to rise from her face in contrast to the heat of the abyssal realm they occupied.
"I've been out here on my own for who knows how long. Survival isn't nice," She says coldly, holding the halfling's gaze for a long moment before breaking into a soft, apologetic smile.
"I'm a healer. I have an affinity for plantlife. I have many abilities, but I do not know which would benefit you the most," Astrid offers, leaning heavily on her quarterstaff. She was exhausted--beyond exhausted--and if there was refuge here, in this place, she would do anything for some uninterrupted rest. And perhaps a conversation that wasn't with a corpse or her fungal colony. Something that made her feel a little bit less crazy.
|Syrina du Shay|
Syrina pulls the cigar from between her lips and quirks her eyebrow as she gives the rune covered paper another look. "Magic missile? Can't really be sure. Could be I s'pose." She says with a shrug and pokes the smoke back into her mouth.
"Syrina's the name my folks gave me, reckin' it'll serve as well for the apocalypse as it did a'fore." She says tilting her head in greeting. "Pleased to meet the both of you."
She sighs, takes her hat off and holds it in both hands. For a moment she glances upward listening to the sound of rain still dripping overhead. Cat eyes the half rat-roast still sitting on the table.
"Wish it were under better circumstances." She begins. She never did like delivering bad news to folk. But like her pa always used to say, better to just get it out there and let people deal with it as they will. "I'm afraid Insidious...er...Chad...won't be comin' back. Got himself scooped up by some winged demon and torn into a coupla dozen bits as part of some hellish arcane ritual up in the sky. That's...uh...him raining down on us now." She pauses for a moment, figures she should say a little something more just to try an soften the blow a bit. "I'm real sorry for yer loss. If it means anything, he made a right pretty display up there in the sky. Anyone who saw it will surely remember the sight."
Glad that was over, she slips her hat back on her head and start walking toward the exit. "If you folk were dependin' on him fer your safety, you may want to move on. That critter is still out there an' there are a couple of skeletal horse jockeys lurkin' about." She pauses, pats the hilt of her sword. "I can probably handle them cavalry, but that demon, I'm steering well clear of if'n I can." She adds.
Seeing the stunned look on the two faces, Syrina pauses for a moment or two. Cat snatches a chunk of roast. The Rose twists slowly back and forth wearing a wry grin. The raven watches from the shadows.
"Ya'll can tag along with me if ya like. Headin' toward the market square. Seems as good a place as any to try an find other survivors."
The Bells of High Hall
A gnarly looking barbed needle appears as Lucian finishes his spell, hungrily suturing the woman's wounds. Being on this plane causes some hell-themed cosmetic modifications to spells if you'd like to play with that. Forgot to mention before.
"I...the sky never changes. Just a red twilight like the fear of a coming flame in dry season. The bells stopped ringing when the earth first split...do you remember the bells of High Hall?" Indeed a vision came to you in pieces, fragments of a memory without narrative...a blue-throated thrush taking flight from a huckleberry bush as the bells signaled the start of another work day...a sworn duty vanquishing any last threads of fatigue. "Weeks for sure. Months? Maybe...it was a different hell before the dead rose."
You turn a corner and encounter a pack of zombies devouring a large, long dead and rotted oxen, with Harkina nearly losing a non-existent lunch. Using their distraction to cross the street quickly, you dodge behind Stonebrace Smithery that seems to be burning with a supernatural flame...the result of a green and purple meteorite slowly smelting the ironworks within. Behind, a dark stone arch steams filling the space with a hot, obscuring mist. You push through from blindness into darkness...a comforting gloom for the guard who has returned.
"Oh...its dark...there used to be runes that would softly glow..." Harkina not having the eyes for travelling in pitch black, takes your arm. "High Observer Kreeg must still be alive in the High Hall...and even Grand Duke Ravengard had ridden into town from Baldur's Gate just before the fall. I'm sure they must be planning something...but I can't give up on my boys."
You can see the tunnel continues down about 50 ft before branching left and right. You also see the runes Harkina recalls, their smooth metallic surface standing out from the mossy stone, inactive. Away from the steamy pool at the entrance, the ducts carry only a slim rivulet of water...no wider than your finger.
|Donal the Seeker|
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Donal quietly awaits his turn, already having made up his mind to join Reya. He was the Hidden Hand of the Hound, often only spoken of in whispers, existence all but denied by the church. It was his duty.
When allowed the time to discuss the vambrace shield concept, he first tests the waters to see if such a thing has ever been created. If not, he asks if it could be made...
Later, at the cafeteria, Donal sits with the others (Assuming, this is after Mal and Reya's 'date. ;)) and matter-of-factly states, I'm going with you, Hellrider.
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> The Infernal Puzzle Box
Simon snorts after listening to the reading of the contract. This is a copy, my friends. Just a copy. The original is somewhere else, and hidden much better. He looks meaningfully into the eyes of the Archmage, pretending that "we both understand exactly where." Simon, in fact, has no idea, but to seem smarter than you are is one of the main qualities of an aristocrat who wants to shine in the highest society.
Simon's eyes narrow dangerously for a moment when Hellrider does not address him like everyone else with a request to go to Avernus (although the Eltan scion is not at all sure that he wants to go there). He will remember this neglect and only the blood of this shorty will be able to wash away the offense... But that will be later. He immediately pulls himself together and stands silently with a haughty look, pretending that the scene amuses him.
> Simon's Hellish Advance
"Oh...its dark...there used to be runes that would softly glow..." Harkina not having the eyes for travelling in pitch black, takes your arm. "High Observer Kreeg must still be alive in the High Hall...and even Grand Duke Ravengard had ridden into town from Baldur's Gate just before the fall. I'm sure they must be planning something...but I can't give up on my boys."
You can see the tunnel continues down about 50 ft before branching left and right. You also see the runes Harkina recalls, their smooth metallic surface standing out from the mossy stone, inactive. Away from the steamy pool at the entrance, the ducts carry only a slim rivulet...
"The Bells? Yes, I do remember the Bells...at least vaguely." Lucian answers, somewhat disturbed by just how foggy his memory had become.
As the pair does their best to slink through the hell-wrought streets of Elturel, Lucian does his best to usher Harkina along passed the gorier sights, such as zombie hoards feasting on bloated carcasses. Rushing by the smithy, the ranger regards the colors oddly. "Green and purple are strange colors in a smithy...something else to take note of I suppose."
When the pair finally make it to the entrance to the old aqueducts, Lucian lets out a sigh of relief knowing that he would soon be back in darkness and again have an advantage over any enemies encountered.
"It's alright, Harkina. I can see in this darkness. If I can find these runes you speak of, I will let you know. I will need your help in deciding where it is we are going if we are to make it to your boys." he says to her, hopeful that she had not noticed that his normal, blue human eyes had taken a solid dark gray appearance as his supernatural darksight had taken over - no sense in scaring the poor woman, given where they were, Lucian had his doubts if he could explain his sight and convince her that he was not another devil sent to harm her.
"Mostly dry." the ranger comments noting the tiny rivulet of water along the duct floor. "Likely the heat, I suppose." Finally he notices the runes in the wall as they approach a tee in the tunnels. "The runes you spoke of are still here, just inactive." he says tracing the lines of their metallic surface.
"Seems we have a choice to make. Left or right? Which way gets us closer to your boys?" he asks, regarding the upcoming intersection in the tunnel.
With Reya and Little One and maybe Donal
Mal enjoys the drink and company with Reya. He stays away from her childhood and questions her about devils enough to get clues to research. "Hey, you think will find Odious and Thoss down in Avernus? Would you recognize them if you say them again? If we kill them again down there, they stay destroyed, right?"
After more drinking, Mal tries to get Little One to tell him and Reya his story. Did he get reincarnated? How did he overachieve the ogre average?