With Lilith following the tracks left behind, the party traveled through the night, tracing the path northeast beyond the farmlands and the Sootscale Warren, reaching the southern borders of Rannulf's territory by the following morning. Their trail faded slightly out in the wilderness, obscured by the passing of the region's other denizens - herd animals such as deer and elk, boars, bears, Rannulf's smaller wolves, humanoid hunters and travelers, and other creatures - though Lilith was able to make note that the passing of the game creatures was significantly reduced; the party was unable to determine whether this was due to increased hunting or simply the recent vicious winter weather.
Shortly after dawn, Takeshi and Lilith spotted movement in a small copse of trees; investigation discovered five wolves in battle with three much larger beasts - two canine creatures riddled with disease and sores, and one fiendish-looking wolf that seems to hover through the air, walking on treesides and walking from branch to branch without heed for gravity. Lilith identified the former as Retch Hounds, disgusting disease-laden plague-bearers, and Errol and Elegy were later able to define their leader as a fiendish Yeth Hound, a demonic hunter and pack predator. Lilith called off the wolves, who appeared normal and answered her call with eagerness, allowing the humanoids to battle the creatures. The putrid breath of the Retch Hounds plagued the party with sickness, and the terrifying howl of the Yeth Hound sent Jaekah - not yet as fearless as his draconic visage would suggest - fleeing for safety behind Elegy, then running into the plains when the demon-dog pursued, but after some time and effort the group was able to bring them down, returning the Yeth Hound to its Tarterian domain and causing the Retch Hounds to explode in a burst of pus and viscera then dissolve into a sickening puddle of acidic goo.
Once their opponents were dealt with, Lilith called the wolves to her and inquired about the beasts; with their limited vocabulary the wolves could only give her basic information, but they were able to tell her that the beasts were not of their pack, that they belonged to "Howl-of-the-South-Wind", and that Rannulf could meet with them by the following night. The party took the advantage of the day to rest, setting first Jaekah then Lilith at watch while the others slept.
Rannulf, as agreed, arrived at nightfall with two of his packmates, and discussed some of the details of their situation with Lilith before offering to take watch for the rest of the day and let the Dhampir get some sleep. He repeated this information for the party later in the day when they woke. Howl-of-the-South-Wind was the name of a Winter Wolf, a predator from the far southern reaches of Wachara, and the master of an assembled pack that not only contained wolves and worgs of his own, but also such "abominable" creatures as the Yeth and Retch Hounds and other things of unnatural or alien nature, including spellscarred felines whose powers resembled Elegy's; she and Lilith were able to identify these as likely Dweomercats, FaeReie-native tiger-like greatcats with innate supernatural capabilities. The presence of Trollhounds among their number suggested to Errol and Lilith that Howl might have some connection with Hargulka, who had been silent over the winter ever since their encounter at the Temple of the Elk.
Determined that the only way to clear Rannulf's name would be to cease the attacks and bring the newcomer's pack to heel, the group debated whether or not to stick to this area and hunt down the rampaging beasts individually or to try to seek out Howl, who had made himself well-hidden from Rannulf despite his so-far successful attempts to harry the humanoids into seeking his head (Rannulf claimed this was mostly Howl wanting to claim his pack for his own). Elegy performed her divination and determined that Howl laired "beyond the twin tongues of tooth and flame" in "the crook of the piercer's name". Combined with Lilith's knowledge of the surrounding countryside, they determined this referred to the Tuskwater and Candlemere Lakes and the Shrike River, in the region southeast of Dún Raige that they had yet to explore. After some further discussion, and assurance from Rannulf that he could continue to handle the attacks here as best he could, the group decided to hunt down the head of the pack and sever it first. They returned to Dún Raige by way of Sootscale Warren, pausing to purchase some diamond dust from the kobolds so that Elegy could at last heal the weakness left on Jaekah after his revival, planning to continue southeast after departing from their capital.
While stopped in Dún Raige, Elegy took Lilith aside to discuss the recent discoveries she'd gleaned from her meditations during the month they were snowed in. Elegy had learned that shortly after first meeting Jaekah, the two of them had stumbled into a Faerie Ring that plunged them into the depths of the Winter Court lands; separated from the centaur she had wandered and eventually found herself in an icy tower, face to face with a powerful Fey noble. Only desiring to go home, Elegy had managed to resist all offers or temptations until promised her escape; in exchange, the Fey woman had charged her for a task to be completed once her mind was ready to accept the nature of her oath.
What she hadn't comprehended then she understood now: the woman was none other than Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, Ruler of the Winter Court. And Elegy's task, bolstered by the magical powers Mab had given to her (for how could Mab expect a mere, untrained mortal to complete such a lofty duty without being equipped with the proper tools?) was to track down and bring in a thief. An object of great power, worth, and potential, which Mab referred to as Briar, had been stolen from her daughter Desdemona, Winter's Queen-to-Be, and its caretaker had also gone missing. Elegy was to locate and deal with the thief... though, as Lilith was swift to point out, Mab had not added the return of Briar, whatever it was, to the requirements for the deal. Elegy had feared Red Right Hand's destructive impulse, as a Summer-forged weapon, was aimed at whatever Briar might be, and that the conflict between its goals driving Errol and Mab's demands of Elegy would bring the group into conflict with itself. Lilith, extremely reluctantly, agreed to help Elegy with the task, with the admonition that no further deals would be made with the Fey in the future, and that interaction with the Courts would be extremely limited, careful, and with all due precaution.
The group departed the following day, following the shore of the Tuskwater south until they reached the Gurdin River, then following it east looking for a crossing point; the group had not yet explored this region in detail, and Lilith's maps only covered the Narlmarches, forcing them to travel blindly with only their own intuition, official Olori maps that were never fully accurate, and the vague guidelines of Elegy's divination (now, with its source known, all the more potentially unreliable) to guide them. Shortly before reaching the ford, the group was assaulted by a gang of Goblin Dogs commanded by a Hellhound; while the party took some grievous injuries and Lilith was repeatedly near panic due to the fiery attacks of the infernal, they were able to defeat their opposition with minimal difficulties.
After finding the Gurdin Ford and crossing, the party began moving south, away from the grassy shores of the river and toward the craggy, rocky landscape of the southern Kamelands. Passing through a brush-laden, tall-grass-covered field, likely the last of its kind they would encounter before reaching the Shrike River, the party spotted movement within the foliage; Lilith sent her psicrystal, a hidden construct the rest of the party had not noticed prior to this event, to investigate and discovered the party being followed by a pack of Cooshee, or Feyhounds; not actually Fey themselves, the creatures were nonetheless native to FaeReie and this information was enough to make the party, especially Errol and Lilith, somewhat wary. Elegy however remembered that she still had the potion of speak with animals the party had purchased from Bokken; after drinking the potion, she was able to glean some information from the Cooshee pack. They were not associated with Howl, who they saw as a violent predator who was somehow "wrong", a stealer-of-kills, and a ruler of a pack that was "unnatural", possessing "monstrous things", "rock-beasts with tough skin not cut by teeth", and "twisting not-wolves that come out of the stone". The information the animals, lacking sentience and coherent thought, could give the party was too limited and vague to discern details out of, but the group thanked the Feyhounds for their aid and traveled on. The Cooshee followed them for a short time, then convinced the humanoids and their dragon weren't going to harm them or their territory disappeared back into the undergrowth.
The group traveled south until nightfall, following a shallow gulch in the terrain, then stopped by a small copse of trees to make camp for the night. Jaekah took first watch, but the dragon was caught off-guard when something approached silently and did not alert him to its presence until it was right behind him. The creature that he found when he turned resembled a twisted, fiendish werewolf, with hooved feet and a stinger-tipped serpentine tail; it was accompanied by two massive hounds shrouded in darkness. The creature had come to deliver a message from its "master", warning the party that they "walk into the jaws of death"; its task completed, the drooling beast elucidated to Jaekah as to which of his companions it should torment first while the dragon watched. Jaekah's raised voice was enough to wake Takeshi and Lilith, however, and the rogue opened fire by launching an arrow into the unsuspecting monster's chest. This sprung the Shadow Mastiffs into action, and the beasts pounced on and tore at Lilith viciously; Jaekah in turn lashed out at the lead beast, but his claws and wings could barely pierce its hide and the flame of his jaws seemed to harm it none at all. The ruckus was enough to wake Errol and Elegy, as well as Errol getting run over by one of the Mastiffs, and both were able to identify the lead monstrosity as a Nerizo Demon, the hunting dogs of the Abyss.
Elegy immediately opened fire by lashing out with eldritch energies at the fiend; her bolt never quite struck her target, but instead tore a rift through the air around it and tossed the creature back into the pits from whence it came. Takeshi had slit the throat of one of the Mastiffs and Errol and Jaekah quickly overwhelmed the other; their spirits crushed by the vanishing of their alpha and their injuries, the beasts attempted to flee, only for one to be pinned in place by Lilith's arrow and the other to be pinned down by the weight of a dragon. The party finished the beasts off with little difficulty, then cleaned up, mended their wounds - Lilith, ripped at by both Mastiffs' fangs and drenched in the Nerizo's acid, was on the edge of unconsciousness - and, after a quick perimeter check, resumed their rest for the night, now knowing that the morrow and the remainder of their journey would be no simple task.
After recovering from the battle with the Nerizo, the rest of the following morning was disrupted by Errol attempting to sleep in, Jaekah going hunting (a fruitless attempt; all he found were scarce hints that the roving, rival packs in the area had chased off or consumed most of the game), and Lilith deciding to open the day by tossing a smoke bomb into Elegy's tent. Errol eventually did rouse, prepare for the morning, and begin studying his spellbook while Elegy meditated; Lilith, just now learning to harness her innate psionic abilities, pestered both for advice on how to manage the meditative state needed to refresh her mental capabilities until at last Errol explained in a manner she could understand. Takeshi, expectantly, stood aside and watched the whole thing with much amusement.
The party departed an hour and a half later, crossing over the gulch and beginning the ascent into the craglands of the southern Kamelands. Their first climb took them up a rocky slope to a low plateau strewn with scrub and low grasses, the last sign of high-density foliage in the area; from their higher vantage point, the party saw little but rock in their future. Lilith noted a deforested portion of the plateau; examination revealed a salt vent had erupted in the location, and she marked it down as a potential location for another mine. Meanwhile, Errol spotted what he thought were oversized red weasels in the nearby scrub and fireballed the lot into oblivion; the scorched forms of blood cougar thylacines were left where they stood as the party moved on.
A few hours' further travel up into the highlands brought the group to a small pool; when Lilith approached to see if the water was safe to drink, a pair of Trollhound pups lunged at her. When the party fought back, their howls summoned their mother from beneath the waters. Judicious and heavy application of fire by Jaekah and Errol brought the battle to a swift end, with Jaekah leaping into the water to pursue one of the pups when it tried to flee.
Traveling on, the rulers decided not to follow east along the stream that served as the source of the pool - which Lilith estimated to be a small tributary of the Shrike, their destination - but instead climbed the steeper ledges to the south. At the top of yet another plateau, they found the stream had doubled back to the south and wound its way through the cliffs; basking on its banks about two hundred feet further south were a small collection of Shocker Lizards, which the party wisely decided to avoid.
It was only after they passed the lizards' rock that everyone in the party save Elegy heard the distant voice of someone, a young woman by the sound of it, calling for help. The group swiftly moved to investigate, with Lilith immediately donning climbing gear to ascend up the mountainside, Jaekah and Takeshi clawing their way up behind her, and Elegy and Errol, both heavily untrained in climbing and unequipped and over-armored for the task, bringing up the rear. It was only when Lilith reached the catwalk-like ledge at the top that she was able to perceive the source of the call - a mimicking Leucrotta which had lured them to its lair. Unfortunately Jaekah swiftly fell prey to its suggestive voice and heeded its call for aid against the overwhelming force of adventurers; his own clumsiness in his new body, however, resulted in his attempts to assault Takeshi being foiled by whacking himself over the head with his own wing, knocking him out for the duration of the battle. He was only saved from having his unconsciousness taken advantage of by the Leucrotta by the Samurai holding the beast's undivided attention with his swordplay.
Eventually the group was able to bring the monstrosity down, and raiding through its lair Lilith found a suit of breastplate and a shield, both crafted of blue dragonhide; Errol took the armor and gave his magical suit to Elegy, while the shield with no one to use it was collected to be taken back and placed in Iomrall's treasury. Some rather slimy coins were also found in its domain, which Elegy collected up after washing them thoroughly in a nearby stream, along with a tree feather token.
Looking down from the Leucrotta's cliffside, the group spotted a massive cavern to the east, across a small lake, and the much larger Shrike River a short distance to the south. Presuming the cave to be the location spoken of in Elegy's divination, the group climbed down the cliffside and used the feather token to create a bridge and cross the lake rather than swimming through the frigid late-winter water.
What awaits within the cavern remains to be seen....
After debating for several minutes at the entrance - identifying tracks belonging to a Hodag in the briars south of the cavern and worrying if the beast had any connection to Howl and if something needed to be done about it, and how exactly they planned to deal with the denizen of the cavern - the party finally allowed Lilith to scout inside a little. The Spymistress returned less than a minute later and alerted the party to the presence of two Shriekers which made an inconvenient natural alarm system. After some further debate the consensus finally came to kill them both and prepare for assault if they sounded their cries; the first died with a single shot from Lilith, setting off the second, which Jaekah charged in and crushed. Assured the scream would have alerted the rest of the cave's denizens - provided the party's arguments hadn't - they prepared themselves for assault and waited.
When none came, Lilith scouted forward again, and as she approached the next chamber a voice called out, inviting the group in and informing them they were expected. Inside, the group found Howl-of-the-South-Wind, a massive Winter Wolf, lounging on the hides and pelts of old kills and lesser wolves, surrounded by his makeshift "pack" - several smaller wolves, a Trollhound taller even than its master, yet another Shadow Mastiff, a Dweomercat, and a magic-tracking Elusa Hound. Howl condescendingly suggested the party might have questions for him, but the group had no interest in parley and considered themselves without need for any information the Winter Wolf might have that couldn't be gleaned from speaking with dead on his corpse. Snubbed, the packlord's wounded pride turned his feral grin into a snarl, and he commanded his pack to attack, then conjured a swirling mist filled with twisting spirits, catching Takeshi and nearly Jaekah in its field.
The room exploded into battle, with Takeshi charging through the mist at Howl, the rest of the pack pouncing on the other adventurers, Elegy laying a silence effect on Takeshi to keep Howl from doing any more casting, and a bay from the Shadow Mastiff sending Jaekah fleeing into the mist. Howl, Takeshi on his heels, bounded about the room, blasting back with his breath weapon and futile Hexes against the Samurai, until at last catching him in the coils of his Prehensile Hair... just in time for Lilith to catch him blindside with a burning arrow, then Jaekah to pounce upon him and crush his throat with a powerful bite. Errol and Elegy found themselves cornered by the Dweomercat which quickly called up its antimagic field, cancelling the assistance the Magus and Oracle would be able to give the party until they managed to beat it into submission.
Halfway through the battle, a loud, high-pitched, undulating tone began to reverberate through the room; it swiftly morphed into a strange, otherworldly hymn as an oozing black form solidified out of one of the corners of the cavern roof, then took the form of a gaunt, bug-eyed, dog-like monstrosity clearly not of this world. Errol identified the thing as a Hound of Tindalos, a member of the chorus of the Dark Song; the sonic entity was hindered greatly, however, by being unable to enter the area of the silence around Takeshi, finding the border of the spell as impenetrable as a solid iron wall is to mortals. Takeshi found this no less irritating, as when he tried to approach the Hound to attack it the silence shoved it away along the wall. The Songspawn skittered across the roof and tried to waylay Elegy with its sonic gaze, but the Oracle withstood its assault, and when Takeshi charged it again, shoving it against the far wall, Jaekah took a vicious bite out of one of its limbs, then a second time as it passed. Before the creature could use its ability to warp through the corners of space to find a more advantageous vantage point, Elegy cast a second silence directly on it, causing the creature of living sound to implode upon itself.
At the last, a snowy white owl - quickly identified as Howl's familiar - poked its head out of the great wolf's fur then attempted to flee out of the east exit of the cavern. Elegy summoned an Air Elemental which chased down and slew the bird before it could escape to deliver any messages to Hargulka. With the last of Howl's pack tended to, the group began scouring the cavern, picking through the remains of the wolves' and worse things' meals looking for supplies, information, or treasure. In addition to finding the equipment and belongings of several prior, less-fortunate/less-capable/less-tactical adventurers, Lilith found a small chamber of the cavern being used as a kennel for the pack's pups. In addition to a dozen normal wolves or young worgs - they were too young yet to tell which they'd become - the party also found a few Elusa pups, Shadow Mastiff pups, and pups with the markings of Dweomercats, and a single infant Winter Wolf. Lilith began making arrangements to have them all transported back to Dún Raige, intending to give all of the former to join Rannulf's packs and keeping most of the latter to train as a pack of her own.
Once all their treasure - living and material alike - was packed up and ready to be transported, the group began the trek back to their city, with intent to spend the next few months safe behind their kingdom's walls, spending some time in direct involvement with the development of Iomrall and taking a break from traveling unless emergency necessitated action.
|King Hargulka Fire-Eater|
BAH! A Hunter shows PRIDE in the prey he has caught, strength and ruthlessness in his crushing of the weak and civilized. Concepts you soft-skinned, brittle-boned false apes simply cannot fathom.
I have greater forces than one mere wolfpack! If the Howl-of-the-South-Wind harangued you so, I shall be pleased to see you crumble beneath the feet of what I have yet in store.
HUMANS BE GONE. THIS LAND IS FOR MONSTERS ONLY!
|King Hargulka Fire-Eater|
|King Hargulka Fire-Eater|
Following the return from Howl's lair with their newfound pack, the group decided rather unanimously to spend the next few months in Dun Raige, seeing to the development of their city and kingdom and spending some time attending directly to their people before resuming adventuring. It was during this hiatus that Lilith asked a meeting of the council be called; once all the members had arrived (along with a few extras - Ivan Brandt of course present as scribe and record keeper, Kesten Garess as escort to Svetlana, and Akiniyi's daughters Glaicyd and Nevarrin accompanied her as well) she revealed what she and Akiniyi had discovered during the winter: the least repentant and cooperative of the surviving Stag Lord's bandits, Ayles Mengeson, was wanted for several crimes including murder, banditry, burglary, and sadistic torture, and a bounty was offered for his return alive or dead in Galadae to the far east. It did not go unnoticed that when the mention that the colony was harboring fugitives that Kesten's gaze had immediately shifted, if only momentarily, to Akiros Ismort, but when Jaekah attempted to call him out on it Kesten claimed he was merely here as an escort and bodyguard for Miss Svetlana and did not wish to intrude on the proceedings.
Several options of how to deal with Ayles were discussed, primarily because whatever was done would set a precedent for dealing with unrepentant banditry within the colony; under Olori law execution by sword or rope was the standard procedure, and the group agreed that given Ayles's unwillingness to cooperate with Kesten's demands as the lead defender at Oleg's - now the northern frontier of Iomrall, and first line against a barbarian or bestial attack from the Northlands, should one come - had proven he had no interest in the second chance provided him by the rulers of the colony. Though Jhod asked that the man be allowed his Last Rites and a chance to confess and repent before death, the Council agreed unanimously to fetch Ayles from Oleg's and bring him to Dun Raige for execution by Mikmek and Errol. At Ivan's suggestion, the execution was made a public display; once slain, his body was prepared for transport and Akiniyi went about the task of making contact with Galad representatives to claim the bounty.
As if that message was not enough, during Stromwendi Dun Raige and the outlying farms were harangued by continual bandit activity, likely by remaining stragglers of the Stag Lord's forces. Takeshi and Jaekah, along with the local guard and militia, took advantage of the troubles to train their forces and get some time outside the city engaging in battle; many of the bandits were slain, but throughout the month eleven were captured, tried, convicted, and hung in Dun Raige, and left for one day on the walls as messages to those who might dare to do likewise in the future.
Around the same time, Lilith offered one of Howl's pups to Errol; after some debate the Magister eventually chose one of the Elusa Hounds as his own, after which Lilith promised to return it to him once the animal was properly trained. Elegy, initially coming to deliver a different message to the pair, protested that she also wanted one of the animals as a companion, which Lilith at first refused, stating she didn't trust the Duchess to care for or train the creatures properly, inciting an incredulous response from Elegy that she couldn't understand why if Errol was to be trusted she couldn't; Lilith's only response at the time was that she "understood" Errol better.
The debate went on for a short time before at last being dismissed for the more important information: the subject of the mysterious Necromancer that had slain the Unicorn Tyg-Titter-Tut, Ledipte, and Perlivash had found and led them to in the Narlmarches, which had been mentioned off-hand by Jaekah during the Council meeting, forcing the rest of the group to expand on the details since none other than the five of them was aware of the situation (with the stipulation by Rannulf that nothing said within the Council need be announced publicly if it would incite a panic). Elegy had sought divination on the subject of the Necromancer, and had discerned from the riddle that the entity in question went by the moniker "The Queen of Forgotten Time" and that they were the puppetmaster behind those wearing the Jabberwock Rings - the Stag Lord, Hargulka, and possibly others. Elegy also revealed her suspicions that the mysterious Queen might be seeking the same thing she had been tasked to find and that she suspected Red Right Hand had been made to destroy: the enigmatic, shapeshifting Briar, whatever it was. (Thankfully Errol did not have Red drawn at that moment, else the sword might have had something to say about all this.) Faced with little other alternative, the group decided to continue as they were, being wary against further Necomantic attacks - and still knowing very little about the entity in question, other than that they were behind the colony's two opposing leaderships and now they have a nickname to investigate, when they get the time - and focus most of their attentions on the troubles of the kingdom itself and the more immediate threat presented by Hargulka.
And, in the matter of a week, the Spring Dawning festival. As Senkandar arrived, winter in Iomrall came to a close and spring began to bloom, Lilith proposed another festival be granted, and with consent from the council began work on the celebratory gathering of the Spring Equinox. When the time for the celebration came, Lilith was extremely adamant that the party members - primarily Elegy and Errol - get out of the castle and mingle with the populace during the festivities. Which turned out far for the best: during the midday, Mikmek approached the group to inform them that trouble was beginning to stir, and led them to a square in Dun Raige where a crowd had gathered around a heavyset, bearded man in fine clothing with a bellowing voice, proclaiming loudly the failures of Iomrall's leadership and the impending troubles of the colony should their leadership not straighten up their act... or better yet, be replaced. The man made several bold points, accusing Lilith and Errol of being Fey infiltrators and tricksters, claiming the Mage's Tower that had just begun construction would serve as a gateway to FaeReie and a breeding ground for their impish offspring, citing Elegy as mad and a futile leader, and Jaekah as too uneducated and bestial to serve as anything better than a common foot soldier. Elegy's diplomatic ability and Lilith's surprisingly skillful engagements won out the arguments swiftly, however, and once directly challenged the man found himself quickly on the wrong side of the crowd's gaze. Takeshi had guards called in to prevent the mob from exploding into a violent riot, and the man took the opportunity provided by the distraction to vanish in a puff of magic. Lilith harshly commanded Mikmek and Silent Valkeri to find the man and inform her before he vanished from the city; Valkeri returned a few hours later with the information desired, revealing the man was named Grigori and was staying at an inn called The Drunken Horse, and had been spotted hastily preparing to leave. She and Lilith tracked him back to the inn, where the Spymistress confronted him alone in his room and interrogated him. Grigori claimed ignorance of who had hired him, claiming only "parties interested in seeing this little project of yours fail". He did - proudly - reveal that he was a native of Shadrach to the west, but made no suggestion that he had been hired by someone of that land nor that he had not. Lilith, irritated, then demanded some belonging of his; Grigori reluctantly, noting the sword still pointing in his direction and his blood on it from her initial slice at dissatisfaction with his answers, handed over his hat. Lilith informed him that he would be escorted back to where he came by one of her operatives (a kobold named Keldri, later chosen by Valkeri) under the guise of an apprentice or informant, and that with their aid he was to seek out further information on his employer, which would then be sent back to Lilith for investigation. She left Grigori with the promise that if he attempted to leave Dun Raige before morning or without his escort, she would have no issues with treating him as a fleeing criminal and shooting him in the back, then left him to "pleasant dreams".
The remainder of Senkandar was relatively quiet, save for a few small bands of adventurers brought to Iomrall by the festival who dealt with some of the local animal and beast issues and provided the merchants of Dun Raige with coin and commerce. However, as Teremvori began and Lilith had still not received any word from her trio of fey friends since early winter she decided it was far from time to begin investigation and, taking first Elegy by near-force then all of the group when promise of combat was offered, headed out into the Narlmarches to investigate. Lilith was quite aware of the location of Tyg's nest where the group made their home; when the party arrived to find it not only empty but smeared with long-dry, rainbow-hued fey blood and the tree it resided in gouged by troll claws, the hunt was immediately on. However, nearly all traces of the attack other than the harm to the tree and nest had been wiped away by the passage of time, suggesting it had been weeks or even months since the attack; the group headed south, bound for the Temple of the Elk to speak with Akiniyi, hoping the arachne would be able to provide them with further information or hints.
Upon arriving at the Spider Temple, Lilith presented the situation before Akiniyi and asked the sorceress for her help in tracking down the wayward fey. Akiniyi reported that she had monitored trolls moving through the forest, usually following along the Skunk River; she surmised some had made a lair or otherwise were spending time at the hot spring at the river's head. She found it very curious, though, that the little folk had not reported in to Lilith as they usually did, since she was aware that Oleg's had been dealing with their pranks for the past few weeks. Lilith, fuming, managed to rein in her temper enough to request that Akiniyi head to Oleg's and check up on the situation while the group went to the springs to look into the trolls' presence. The Arachne agreed, and after allowing the group to stay in the temple for the night they parted ways at dawn.
The group tracked up the Skunk River, noting heavy troll travel in both directions on both sides of the river, until late the following day they arrived at the spring. They found two trolls and a trollhound lounging in the mud, while a third argued loudly with a very irate Tyg-Titter-Tut, who was chained in cold iron bonds to a stake jammed into a boulder. Errol introduced the party with a fireball, prompting the lead troll, Thuggnir, to demand the party halt or harm would come to the little Grig. The party, uninterested in parley, continued their charge, with Takeshi leaping headlong into the fray, Elegy sending in an Air Elemental that ended up breaking one of Thuggnir's legs with its opening charge and Jaekah, who had recently managed to get flying down, charging in and unleashing a blast of fiery breath on the lot.
Other than an enraged Thuggnir nearly hurling Takeshi into the spring, the group dealt with the trolls and their hound with little difficulty; however, the sound of battle attracted the attention of a hungry Tendriculos living in the depths of the sulfurous pool. The mobile plant crawled out of the water and trudged toward the party, managing to catch up to and nearly devour Takeshi moments after the group pummeled Thuggnir into unconsciousness. Jaekah and Elegy both made attempts to close the gap and rescue the samurai, and Takeshi even managed to slip free and attempt to flee to the healer, only to be knocked unconscious and once again nearly devoured. It was only thanks to constant barrages of fire from Errol's burning blade and the bleeding, sap-seeping holes left behind by Lilith's shots that the hulking plant went down before it managed to wrench the life from Takeshi. Even then, the blow to his head had erased the memory of the entire battle from the samurai's mind, as well as much of the preceding hour.
Lilith and Errol harvested fronds and mushrooms from the dead Tendriculos, then decapitated and burned the trolls and trollhound to make sure the job stayed finished; the group then began making their way back toward the Temple with Tyg in tow. The grig informed them that she, Ledipte, and Perlivash had been captured by Thuggnir during the winter, held prisoner, and then come spring Perlivash was sent to "make trouble for the humans" or else the troll would "pluck off [Tyg's] legs one by one". Ledipte had been put in a cage and "given to the Dancing Lady"; Lilith was able to identify this as a title associated with tales of a vagrant spirit of the Narlmarches, a ghostly woman who lured men into the wilderness to dance with her until they perished, though she supposed it was less likely to be a ghost and more probably some kind of exotic undead or fey.
It was at this point that Elegy suggested using sending to contact the captive fey; after sending a few moments arguing with Lilith about whether or not she'd informed her of knowing that spell, leading to a momentary rehash of the two's arguments over the past few months, she sat down to deliver the messages, first to Perlivash then Ledipte. The little dragon was indeed at Oleg's, and had made a mess of things in his own words, but seemed relieved to hear of Tyg's safety. Ledipte was more coherent but in much worse shape - she was the caged prisoner of a baobhan sidhe, or vampire fey, in a castle deep within the woods. It didn't take Errol very long to recognize this as the ruins the group had been heading to, seeing out the Queen of the Forest, when Jaekah had been killed by the Barghest. The group made their plans to return to the temple in the morning, make contact with Akiniyi and Perlivash, then to head south and seek out the Dancing Lady and Ledipte immediately after.
The group returned to the Temple and found Akiniyi and her daughters waiting, listening - with some annoyance, on Akiniyi's part - to Perlivash regale his exploits in his recent pranking of Oleg's Trading Post, unaware that the rulers and Tyg had arrived on the scene. Lilith was by no means impressed by his bragging, nor swayed by his overly-affectionate attentions to her and Tyg once the group made their presence known. The dhampir proceeded to give the little dragon a stern lecture while Elegy and Errol spoke with Akiniyi regarding the situation; the diplomat explained that Perlivash's pranks had started as the little fey's usual amusing but mostly harmless, things like odd noises in the middle of the night, greased door handles, sneezing powder, and so forth; but when Thuggnir had refused to let Tyg free he'd complied with the troll's demands to increase the potency of his pranks and scaled up to such intrusions as setting fire to the hay, loosing Oleg's animals, spoiling food and souring wine, stealing money, stealing game, and the like. Akiniyi also explained that, doing her job as diplomat, she'd negotiated an agreement with Oleg - he'd spare Perl from becoming a pair of boots for his firstborn (if/whenever he and Svetlana have one) in exchange for the dragon cleaning up his messes and helping around the trading post for a month, on the condition that someone be able to keep an eye on the dragon and his ability to vanish into invisibility. Lilith agreed that this was a suitable punishment, or in her words "payment of the debt" Perl now owed Oleg for making trouble, and assigned Tyg to keep an eye on him, a task the little grig took to with gusto.
After seeing them set to their future tasks, instructing Tyg on not to let the power go to her head, making arrangements with Akiniyi to have the two transported back to Oleg's after Ledipte was recovered, and receiving some further information from the sorceress regarding the ruins and the Dancing Lady, the group set off southwestward, following the Skunk River toward their once-prior destination of the Dancing Lady's ruined keep. Later that day the forest that claimed Jaekah's life proved itself far from tame, as the group found themselves pounced upon by a trio of Wyverns, whose venom took Lilith nearly to death's door before the rogue could manage a counterattack; only timely interference from Elegy and her restorative elixirs spared the spymistress the fate of the party's second trip to Bokken's for reincarnate. Once her survival was assured, Lilith stood back with Errol and Elegy and fired away at the wyverns while Takeshi and Jaekah held them at bay.
The slaying of the three serpent-dragons seemed to send a message to the forest, letting other would-be predators know the group was not to be trifled with, for no further attacks came either through the following night nor the next day, and the group arrived at the head of the Musque River, south of the Skunk and beyond Tiressia's Grove, and there found the long-overgrown ruins of an Ael-Varan outpost. Lilith's keen eyes caught the rigged-up stilts holding the rusty portcullis aloft, and noted that any pressure on the doorway would send the ancient gate crashing down on the unfortunate would-be investigator; she propped the gate open more securely with a few pitons before motioning the party into the overgrown, weed- and brush-strewn courtyard of the ancient keep.
Jaekah, taking advantage of his newly-mastered flight, began darting from tower to tower, investigating the lofts built into the roofs by the bird-folk; Lilith did likewise at the southeast tower, using a grappling arrow to latch onto the roof and climb up, discovering a loft full of straw and old clay urns, many of which contained caches of treasure, gems and coins, water, and food. Meanwhile, Elegy, Errol, and Takeshi waited in the courtyard and might have been content to sit and bicker until the other two returned, save that something none of the three could see suddenly leaped out of nowhere, stuck a blade into Errol's side, and bolted away into the darkness. A second, similar attack against Elegy followed moments later. Jaekah, likewise unseeing of the attacker, still noticed his injured party-mates and swept down from his aerial investigations to inquire; he and Errol decided to set fire to the surrounding brush, hoping to flush out the attacker.
Lilith, finally stirred from her raiding by the noise of battle and fire, managed with the aid of her psicrystal to notice a crouching form at the foot of the tower in which she stood - Rigg Gargadilly, an armed and sadistically grinning quickling, preparing eagerly for the next opportunity to lunge. The little fey's assault was interrupted by one of Lilith's arrows, coating the sinister prankster in purple dye, revealing his location to the party. Exposed, Rigg bolted into the central tower, ensuing the party to chase; though he couldn't manage to remove the dye, the quickling's stealth capability was not to be underestimated, and his speed unmatched, and he was able to escape out the other side of the tower while the party filed inside behind him, then loop around to the other side after planting another gash on them, this time a deep cut into Takeshi's arm.
The samurai pursued his unseen prey while Errol attempted to corral everyone inside the tower, then greased both entrances hoping to trip Rigg up whenever he passed again. Lilith sent her psicrystal outside to spy for the attacker, and managed to spot the quickling as he lurked just outside the doorway, eyeing the dhampir murderously; she responded to his glare with another well-aimed arrow, using her psionic talent to ignore the blurring effect of the quickling's inane speed. Snarling, Rigg leaped over the greased portion of ground - from a dead standstill, to the party's surprise! - and bolted into the burning underbrush yet again.
To be continued... next session resumes mid-combat on 2/22!
The lords of Iomrall, once again losing sight of the super-speedy imp, regrouped inside the central tower to try and come up with a new plan for flushing out the annoying quickling. After some flailing about, Errol decided to simply try to instigate Rigg into attacking first; this prompted Lilith to recommend he try whistling, a performance no fey could simulate, known to drive any that heard it into a rage. The tactic worked, and Rigg, snarling, leaped from beneath the tower stairway and pounced on Errol, then found himself dogpiled upon in return and savaged by the entire opposing party. Badly wounded, bleeding, and furious, Rigg limped back into the courtyard and fled into one of the towers, alerting the group toward his destination with the heavy groan of an opening door.
Errol, Lilith, and Jaekah ran out to give chase, and spotted the partially-obscured Assassin Vines amidst the overgrowth cloaking the tower. Despite the vines' resistance to heat, the combination of Errol's scorching rays and Jaekah's breath was still too much for them both, and the northwestern quadrant of the keep was turned into a smoldering, flaming pit, cutting off access to the tower until it died away, much to Lilith's fury. Meanwhile, she and Errol managed to notice something climbing through the canopy above, toward the central tower, and regrouped the party once more inside to prepare for an attack from the chamber above. During the wait, they were able to identify the massive flower hanging from the roof as an immature Alraune, but chose to do nothing about it at this time.
After some time of waiting with nothing happening, Lilith marched up to the door and plucked a few bulbs from the whiteroot planted around its frame, bulbs containing a potent dosage of Insanity Mist that she figured she could make some use of later, then reluctantly agreed to Elegy, Errol, and Jaekah's idea to simply charge up the stairs and attack whatever awaited them.
Errol went first, and in the room above found himself face to face with what appeared to be an exceptionally beautiful elven woman in a white gown and a cloak of vines, sitting in a wicker throne covered in flowers and presiding over a room swathed in greenery, with Ledipte in a small wooden cage on a desk at her side. She welcomed Errol to her abode and, along with Jaekah who arrived in the room moments later, rose and invited them to join her in a dance. Both the General and the Magister fell under the sway of the Dancing Lady's fae rhythm, and when Elegy and Takeshi followed them in seconds later, both Errol and Jaekah had already moved into the center of the room to join the baobhan sidhe in her performance. Seeing the unwilling samurai and "uninvited" oracle, the Dancing Lady waved a hand; a predatory Grimstalker named Teorlian dropped from the ceiling, ready to pounce, and from the carpet of moss and leaves and vines beneath their feet two feminine figures rose, coalescing into a pair of Kelpies... wearing the familiar faces of slain bandits Topper Red and Kressle, the only females of any repute among the Stag Lord's long-slain forces. How the Dancing Lady had come across their corpses - and even more so how she had restored them to this state, or if they were merely some sort of imitation or copy - was never to be answered though, as the two plant-women pounced on Elegy, grabbing hold of the Oracle and pinning her down, while Teorlian lunged to take Takeshi out of the fight.
Lilith, meanwhile, had decided on a different approach - to climb the outside of the tower, looking for the entrance the figure in the treetops (which she had assumed was Rigg, but later revealed to be Teorlian) had used to enter the tower from above. During her climb she discovered the arrow slit windows in the tower, visible from the inside, had been painted to appear as stone from without by a potent illusion as one of her hands accidentally slipped through what appeared to be a solid stone wall. She managed to retain her grip and balance, regardless, and ascended to the top, breaching the canopy and finding the skylight hole in the tower's roof just in time to see Takeshi charge the Dancing Lady, only to be pursued by Teorlian and rended viciously from behind. The baobhan sidhe, without pausing for even a second in her dance, broke away from her two partners just long enough to rake her claws over the samurai's body and sink her fangs into his neck, ripping his lifeblood from his body and leaving his corpse in a heap at her feet. She then plucked up the dead body and danced with him just a moment longer, draining the blood gleefully from his unliving form, before tossing him carelessly aside to attend to the more immediate threat - Lilith spraying arrows down on her from above, then slipping away out of sight.
The Dancing Lady ordered Teorlian to slay Lilith, but the Grimstalker's poor perception could not pick out the Spymistress's hiding place, so he chose instead to attack Elegy, who while freed from Kressle's vine-vice grip by Takeshi before his death could not quite slip free or fight away from Topper Red (who was, sad to say, no longer topped with red, but rather green... but then, she wasn't exactly talkative enough at the time to complain about the need for a new name). She did eventually break away, and began unleashing her spells at the fey, joining Lilith in the assault until the Dancing Lady at last fell, scarred by acid and flame and riddled with magical force.
Free of the sidhe spell, Jaekah and Errol joined the assault against Teorlian and the remaining kelpie, with the dragon tearing the plant woman apart with ease while Errol, Elegy, and Lilith assaulted the Grimstalker with arrow and spell from across the room. He attempted to escape by climbing the wall and returning to the canopy, but a fireball by Errol cut off his escape and reduced him to a charred corpse to fall back into the floor of the Dancing Lady's chamber.
The group gave the ruin a quick search-over, gathering up what they could carry on their persons at the time and making plans to return after tending to Takeshi to retrieve the rest of their winnings. Lilith also freed Ledipte from her cage with ease, cutting aside the overgrowing vines and easily snapping the lock on the little wooden prison. Errol meanwhile severed one of Takeshi's hands, repeating the process they'd used when Jaekah had been slain, to take back to Bokken for reincarnation, and Jaekah himself gathered up the samurai's physical belongings.
Once the necessary equipment and the treasure they could carry at the time were in hand, and with no further attacks by or sign of the Quickling, the rulers of Iomrall hiked all the way back across the breadth of their land to return to the eccentric old druid's hut and pay him once again to return one of their compatriots to the world of the living. This time when the revived pulled themselves free of Bokken's pot, it was nothing so exotic as a dragon... but rather, while Takeshi mostly resembled his old self from the waist up, the samurai's legs had been replaced by the powerful tail of a gargantuan snake, marking him now as one of the Naga, the wise and ancient serpent-people who rule his and Bokken's old homeland of Senkaku, far to the northeast across the sea.
Bokken, perhaps understandably, was both shocked and amazed to see Takeshi reborn in the body of one of the rulers of their homeland, a fact that wasn't lost on Errol, Elegy, or Lilith for long. After giving the samurai only a few minutes to haul his new body out of the druid's cauldron and begin adapting to life without legs, Errol was already at Bokken's side, attempting to convince the reclusive old man to relocate somewhere closer to Dun Raige, so any future visits from the party wouldn't need to be so far out of their way. Bokken seemed disinterested, rebuffing most of Errol's attempted lures with disinterest or dislike, until at last Takeshi decided to interrupt and inform Errol that he had nothing an old sage like Bokken would be interested in, prompting the magus to leave disgruntled and join Lilith, and a few moments later Elegy, waiting outside.
Jaekah, hearing mention of the power Naga had to appear in human form if they desired, questioned Bokken as to whether or not he, being a druid, could teach Jaekah and Takeshi to do so. Bokken admitted he'd never attempted to take another humanoid form, so he wasn't sure how much help he could be, but he did agree that if he ever found reason to be in Dun Raige he would stop by and see if he could teach them both a little about meditation and perhaps unlock their shapechanging abilities through it somehow. He then closed his wall behind Errol and Elegy and opened a larger side exit for Takeshi and Jaekah, letting them leave while he examined his second cauldron - the one he used for making tea - prompted by an off-hand comment from Errol about the quality of the company in the room.
The rulers of Iomrall returned to their capital, and (barring a second trip to the abandoned keep to loot it of everything transportable and worth transporting) with the security of their fey companions assured - having dropped Ledipte back off at the Temple of the Elk with Akiniyi to be reunited with Tyg and Perlivash - decided now would be a great time to take an extended break from adventuring and focus on the development of their city and kingdom. Errol's tower was already partially under construction, work at the gold mine was due to begin soon, a vineyard was being planted just north of the city, and now work on an office for Takeshi - the prior plans recently and hastily redone to allow for his new physique - had begun. He and Jaekah spent several days sparring, helping the samurai get more used to his new body, while Lilith worked on her alchemical projects, Elegy returned to her new tinkering projects, and Errol sat down with a tome found in the Dancing Lady's chamber and began attempting to decipher it. After finding the initial section of the document was simply archaic common, Errol discovered it soon switched to the expected Sylvan, then into a complex cipher of Sylvan, Aklo, and some unfamiliar text (perhaps not a real language at all, but simply another portion of the cipher) and elicited Elegy's aid in the decryption.
Over the next three days of near-constant work, with little departure from the castle library and Ivan having to have food brought to them so they would bother to eat, Errol and Elegy managed to untangle the mystery of the Dancing Lady. Born a mortal woman named Belle Leighn from the region of Ysgreid, one of the fiefdoms that eventually became Galadae, she was of common blood and had fallen in love with a young nobleman, then fled west when his family expressed disapproval of the union. Surviving on their skills and wits in the wilderness, they eventually settled as hunters and trappers in the Stolen Lands (or as the text referred to them, the Lower Northlands). In their explorations, they had stumbled onto the keep and, finding it abandoned, claimed it as their new home. A few months later, however, a strange woman approached them and demanded they leave; when they refused the stranger's order, she instead ordered that they pay proper recompense for it. The young lady's husband, attempting to be chivalrous, agreed to pay whatever was requested, so long as his beloved was allowed to live. The woman - later identified in the book as "Summer's Queen Who Shall Be", which Errol and Elegy easily deciphered as Cordelia, daughter of Titania, third queen of the Summer Court - agreed to his demands and transformed the mortal Belle into an immortal fey as a baobhan sidhe; however, as Belle as a mortal woman had never once drank mortal blood, as a baobhn sidhe she was ravenous and immediately attacked and devoured her once-beloved before she could come to her senses.
The ledger from there quickly degraded from being a day-to-day diary and more a records book for the Dancing Lady's various servants, paramours, and obsessions; her latest, as the group had discovered, was gardening and working with plantlife and, more specifically, animate and intelligent plants. The Kelpies were her latest creations; she had perfected a method where, if provided a spark of a mortal soul - usually in the form of a deceased body, always female (as the males were her food of choice, whereas she used the women for her experiments) - she could revive the person as one of her floral pets. Her latest experiment had been the inactive, immature - or more accurately, incomplete - Alraune hanging from the ceiling of the central tower's lower chamber; she mentioned in the ledger having not found a "worthy" person to serve as its mind and animate force. (Given her preferences, both quickly came to the conclusion that had the group been defeated Elegy would likely have woken up as a plant-woman.) The ledger contained the details on the rituals, alchemical supplements, and necessary magical investment required to bring someone back in this manner, allowing the group the option of reviving one of their dead using the Alraune - or another plant creature, if they could manage to create one, as the book also gave details on their creations - if they so desired. When the option was brought up to the rest of the group, though, no one seemed interested.
It also mentioned fey activity in the area - including, according to the Dancing Lady, a figure referred to by the names "Lady of a Thousand Voices" and "The Queen of Forgotten Time", that latter which matched a name that Elegy's divinations had attached to the puppetmaster behind the bearers of the Jabberwock Rings, the Stag Lord and Hargulka among them. Lilith was able to identify the latter title as well as associated with a sketchy tale of an exiled Summer noble - likely, if her referring to herself as a queen was any clue, due to conflicts with Titania or Cordelia. At this note the group decided the tapestries of Summer's glory currently hanging at the keep needed to be removed and sold off as quickly as possible, to avoid attracting any undue attention. During this discussion Lilith accidentally let slip the connections between Elegy and Mab and Errol's obtaining of Red Right Hand from Summer stone; she also was the only one to note Ivan's raised eyebrow at the comment, which the majordomo quickly hid.
Errol, tired of being cooped up, decided now would be as good a time as any to finally deliver one of the regenerative potions he and Lilith had made from the hydra's ichor to Silent Valkeri, in hopes that it would restore her tongue and thus her ability to speak. Searching the city for the ex-bandit proved unsuccessful; however, Errol spotted another familiar face - the precognitive Ael-Varan witch Cesca, apprentice of the Old Beldame Elga Verniex. Errol welcomed the woman eagerly and led her almost immediately to the castle; Cesca claimed she was here to visit the city on behalf of Elga, looking for a place for the two of them to stay, now that winter had passed and the pair could again navigate out of their swamp without facing the dangers of frost.
When Errol and Cesca arrived at the castle, Elegy and Takeshi were speaking regarding a crafting project the samurai was requesting; both were initially welcoming of the young witch, but combined with Errol's tendency to speak with her in Elven - a language almost no one else in the region spoke - and Cesca's usual cryptic commentary on her odd precognitive visions unnerved Elegy considerably and confused Takeshi. Lilith popped out of her room/laboratory long enough to fetch something and greet the visitor before vanishing. Cesca warned Elegy to be wary of a "red eye", informed the group that the east wall of the castle was one day going to "go away", and when directly asked by Errol informed him that Red Right Hand was going to die, but then would "regrow". She offered no further explanation (though she did apologize for being confusing) and, pointed toward a not-too-crowded housing district on the edge of Dun Raige where she and the Beldame might be able to live without being too bothered by other denizens of the city, departed to fetch her teacher. Takeshi left not long after, heading out to the training fields near the barracks and the in-construction Marshal's office to join Jaekah in supervising and instructing the militia and local guard recruits. Errol retired to his room momentarily afterward, and ended up in an argument with Red after trying to get more information from the bored, murderous sword; Red attempted, for the first time, to override its wielder with its own ego, but Errol's will was far too strong to bend to the sword's demands and he sheathed the blade in a fit of rage.
It was actually Elegy who got to speak with Ivan first, when the advisor approached her after the others had left to inquire about Lilith's comments regarding her allegiance to Winter. Elegy, somewhat reluctantly, gave Ivan a summarized, detail-limited explanation of her situation, without revealing how indebted she was or who to. She found herself limited in her ability to read Ivan, and her knowledge both of his family - House Brandt, a very minor noble family never holding a position of great power and almost always subservient to the various Vanguard Lords - and him personally extremely limited. Though Ivan seemed satisfied by her answers, she was prompted to curiosity and a slight unease about him, a feeling only amplified when, later during a commune ceremony, she added a few questions about Ivan to her inquiries on Cesca's vision, Rigg Gargadilly, Hargulka, and the dangers of the Narlmarches. She learned several things: the red eye would be a danger in the future, but not at this time; Rigg was not to be worried about for now; Hargulka was preparing something that would be dangerous to the kingdom, but Mab (or whoever represented her) felt confident the group could handle it; the various dangers around the forest, including the King of the Forest and the Mazewood, were to be respected but again Mab was confident the group could handle their own; and Ivan was neither ally nor enemy, but was most certainly more than he appeared to be.
Errol, seething from his encounter with Red, came out into the commons to sulk; Ivan took the opportunity to question him as well, and Errol revealed what little he knew of the sword's origin and his own missing memories. Ivan, and Elegy when she returned, strongly suggested that no fey in their right mind would grant him a boon so great as Red Right Hand then simply withdraw his memories and the knowledge of the offer or task traded for the sword's possession unless the agreement was already finished and even and all debts paid; the simple fact that Errol remembered nothing of Red's origin or his payment for it (if it was not simply those memories themselves) was enough to suggest that, unless his benefactor was insane even for the fey (who, in Ivan's words, "think sideways"), his debts were paid and done. Errol offered Red to Elegy to question, but the sword seemed unknowledgeable about the red eye or the other questions the duchess had for it, and she returned it to its owner without learning much. She and Ivan returned to their respective tasks while Errol, no less frustrated, headed out to the fields on Elegy's suggestion, looking to find Jaekah or Takeshi to spar with.
Jaekah seemed very pleased and interested in a break from the drills of training and eagerly accepted Errol's challenge. The skirmish began with simple nonlethal jabs and swipes, Errol fighting with the flat of Red's blade while Jaekah defended himself with a quarterstaff. The Magister eventually began to press the attack, though, switching first to not holding back with his attacks and then to adding the magical cold he knew Jaekah to be vulnerable to to Red's blade, then at last adding his spells to the assault as well as his swordsmanship. Jaekah, likewise, in turn dropped his mostly-defensive tactics to counterattack, first launching a blast of flame breath at the half-elf, then moving to pouncing and grabbing tactics. Jaekah, taking a severe beating the entire way, eventually managed to tackle, grapple, and pin Errol to the ground, preventing him from casting or swinging his blade; Errol attempted several times to break the dragon's grasp but could neither pull free nor overturn the General's weight.
Satisfied the duel was complete, Takeshi moved in to swat both competitors with his own quarterstaff, breaking up the spar and leading a laughing Jaekah back to returning their trainees to their tasks, as most of the grunts had joined the watching crowd of commonfolk in surrounding - at a reasonable distance of 100 feet - the battling Errol and Jaekah in a wide ring. The crowd broke up not long after as Takeshi dismissed them, leaving Errol alone - and fuming - before he marched back to the castle, Red clenched in hand.
Sessions Seventeen & Eighteen
It didn't take Lilith, once she emerged from her lab, long to find out about the little duel, and once she did the Spymistress made it quite clear why she was upset when mere minutes after learning about it in her scheduled report from Silent Valkeri - a sparse week after the duel - she immediately cornered Jaekah for a lecture. She explained that reasonable sparring with quarterstaves and mock armor was one thing, while blantantly revealing the combatants' weaknesses (grappling in Errol's case, ice magic in Jaekah's) in public spectacle was inviting enemies and potential enemies of the kingdom - such as, say, Hargulka - to learn and take advantage of superior tactics against which neither could defend. Jaekah agreed with her assessment, gave an apology, and inquired as to what might be necessary to acquire magical protection against cold in the future.
When Lilith went to seek out Errol, though, the Magister had locked himself away in his chambers, alternating between his usual magical research and reading and physical training, intending to improve himself over the pitifully easy disabling method Jaekah had used against him. He had answered the door only long enough a few days earlier when Elegy had inquired of him, giving her one of the restorative potions distilled from the hydra's blood with instructions to give it to Valkeri the next time anyone saw her; by this time, he was not answering any summons. Lilith, still irritated, jammed the door's bolt and quickly rigged up a crude water-bucket trap, but in her haste made a little too much noise and the half-elf's keen hearing picked up on her presence. Errol attempted to leave, found the door jammed, and chose to attempt breaking it down, finishing it off with a magic missile when physical force appeared to cease doing the trick. By this time Elegy had managed to catch up to Lilith and Valkeri and offer the latter the potion; she seemed reluctant to use it until Lilith identified it, at which point she snatched the vial from her superior's hand and downed the noxious potion in a single gulp, much to her moments-later distaste.
Errol and Lilith broke into an argument when the Magus emerged from the ruins of his doorway, one that was broken up moments later when Jaekah, recently returned from a visit to the just-moved-in Elga Verniex (again hoping to find someone to teach him how to assume human form), shared what he'd learned from the Old Beldame with the group. Elga had informed Jaekah as to the nature of the Northlands, the mountainous region north and west of Iomrall and its neighboring regions of Varnhold, Mivon, and Shadrach; how the region was filled with monstrous tribes and clans, actively hostile to the presence of humans and how it violently attacked any form of civilization that attempted to take root there, and most of all how the region itself was truly controlled by the ancient dragons that made their homes there, commanding and manipulating the many creatures in their domains in an eons-long shadow war referred to as The Long Game. Most notably, Elga informed Jaekah that the region of the Stolen Lands was technically a part of the Northlands, despite its contested status according to Olorunium's rulership - the Hooktongue Slough to the west, beyond the Narlmarches, had once been the home and throne of Ilthuliak the Shadow Wyvern, the Knurly Witch and Queen of Thorns, an Ancient Black Dragon and participant in the Long Game who had reigned and played from the wilderness of the Greenbelt. Ilthuliak had been missing for almost a century now, and Elga warned that it would only be a matter of time before the Dragons of the Northlands decided she had been absent long enough and one of them made a play for her territory; Jaekah, now being a dragon, could theoretically be a participant in the Game - so long as his reincarnated origin remained secret to the other dragons, that is - and once his presence was discovered he could easily be assumed to have claimed Ilthuliak's territory by right, conquest, or first claim, thus drawing the attention of other Northlanders eager for a vulnerable target with territory to snatch.
Elegy chose the opportunity, with the five of them gathered there, to also share the information she'd gleaned from her divinations while busy working on Takeshi's enchanted belt. She shared with them what she'd learned about the red eye Cesca had seen observing her - mainly, that it was a powerful magical item connected somehow to Charon, lord of the daemons and boatman of the River Styx - and then on second inquiry some very sparse information about the item's current user. While vague, the rhyme response and its mention of a "blood-touched child" was enough to send Lilith into a panic. Between this and the learning of the implications of the Long Game and the dangers of Ilthuliak, should she return or awake and find her territory claimed by a human colony, drove both women to spend the rest of the evening secluded in their rooms in drunken stupors, relentlessly plugging away intoxicatedly at their hobbies of choice. Elegy woke the next morning to find she'd completed a mostly-intact mechanical frog and a few scrap projects that made little to no sense; Lilith on the other hand found herself surrounded by unfamiliar chemical combination and the center of her workdesk dominated by a large vat filled with a fizzing liquid with odd multifaceted crystalline compounds inside, which had a blue hue that constantly shifted at random between different shades of the color.
Errol and Ivan gave the women a quick talking-to the next morning, with Errol admonishing them more about going off and getting drunk after learning of bad news, but he was quickly distracted when Lilith brought out what she'd created and he couldn't identify it; Errol determined the best way to test it would be to have Jaekah, unaware, drink some. Jaekah, on advice of the Old Beldame, had spent the night under Takeshi's tutelage, attempting to learn to meditate, with little luck. When the pair entered the common room of the castle the next morning, Errol offered a vial of the blue stuff to Jaekah, but the half-elf's overly-eager manner made the barbarian suspicious and he refused, carefully setting the bottle back at Errol's feet before attempting to leave. Lilith eventually collected it back up, returned it to the vat in her room, and put some of the stuff in glass arrowheads to test against the next available targets....
... which happened to be trolls, as the group learned around noon when Ivan received a messenger pigeon from Tatzylford reporting of troll attacks on the construction sites. The group immediately gathered up their equipment and set off on the day-and-a-half hike to reach their new village, stopping only once just long enough to rest for the night. Elegy attempted to talk to Lilith, concerned about her reaction to her divination, but Lilith requested to not be bothered about it until they got back to Dun Raige and the current issue was dealt with.
On the morning of the second day, the rulers of Iomrall arrived at the Tatzylford building site to find the far-from-complete village divided along the Skunk River that cut through the site's center. To the east of the single completed bridge the workers, the Rezbins, a handful of militia from Dun Raige, and Akiniyi, Glaicyd, and Nevarrin (the latter two up in the trees in their natural spider forms) in a standoff with a pair of trolls and two trollhounds on the far end of the bridge. Neither seemed ready to make a move until Errol charged out to the front and launched a fireball across the bridge, setting it and the trolls aflame. Seeing the battle joined, the militia began laying down a cover of crossbow and shortbow fire, while Akiniyi commanded the Rezbins to push the workers back away from the river. Takeshi and Jaekah charged across the bridge towards the trolls, only to find themselves pounced upon by a quartet of Scrags that had been hiding in the river, waiting for someone to attempt to cross. The trolls, covered by their aquatic cousins, left their hounds behind and retreated into the forest west of the river; the group focused on taking out the beasts currently attacking them, with Errol taking to the air with fly and barraging the river-trolls from above, Lilith climbing up with Glaicyd and sniping from the treetops, and Elegy hanging back with Akiniyi and maintaining concentration on her spell honing the sharpness of Takeshi and Errol's weapons and waiting for someone to be in need of healing. She released the spell when most of the Scrags were down and Jaekah, having been pounced on and badly torn by one of the last, retreated back for tending.
It was at about this time that the retreating trolls returned, accompanied by a large contingent of their fellows who had been hiding or destroying in the woods, leaving behind the rubble of the incomplete Tatzylford construction to attack the interlopers. Lilith launched the first of her experimental arrows, catching a Trollhound in the center of the group of four first attacking trolls; the entire area within fifty feet of the beast suddenly turned ethereal, dumping the still-solid living creatures into a newly-created pit. The trapped trolls began, mostly futilely, attempting to climb out, while the rest of their gang doubled back into the woods to find a way around.
Errol flew over the pit and spotted the lead troll - a blunt-faced, wretched looking beast covered in bulging cysts, dragging a greataxe and making odd clicking noises towards the woods behind him. It didn't take long for the reason to be revealed, as his calls were echoed in bass by an elephant-sized beetle that came crashing through the wood, which Errol quickly identified as an Umber Hulk. This he relayed back to Lilith via their telepathic link, and Lilith commanded the workers and militia to completely retreat while the party regrouped at the bridge again, save Takeshi who stood out away to hold the line against the remaining trolls and the Hulk, which even squeezed up on the bridge and knocked trolls in its way off into the water in its attempt to reach the party.
Errol continued to barrage the enemy with spells from above, taking out several trolls with a fireball and hitting the leader, Rundtokk, and the Umber Hulk with a slow, while Akiniyi and her daughters provided some cover fire and support magic - including a haste from the diplomat to everyone but Errol, who was too far away - and picked off nearly-dead trolls while the party focused on the active threats. Once all the trolls save Rundtokk were dead he descended, intending to take out the leader sword-to-axe, while the rest of the party finished off the crippled beetle-ape. Unfortunately that glory was not to be: despite being slowed, sickened, and pinned in place by one of Akiniyi's flung webs, Rundtokk still managed to cleave Errol nearly in twain with his massive greataxe. A second blow from the weapon claimed the life of the Magister without hesitation.
Seeing no way to reach Errol in time to cast her breath of life before his soul fully expired, Elegy ordered Takeshi to fling her across the bridge. The Samurai complied, and managed to not only throw her the full distance but to do so and hit Rundtokk in the process, knocking the troll off-balance and landing Elegy at Errol's side. Before the commander could take advantage of the Oracle's position, Lilith filled him with arrows, pouring everything she had into the two shots she managed to land, drenching him in acid as she blew holes in his disease-wracked body. Elegy managed to complete her spell before it was too late, but unfortunately the injuries inflicted by the troll's enormous axe were too grave for her to fully mend, and Errol expired despite her attempts.
Nevertheless, save for one Trollhound that fled after being shrunk by one of Elegy's eldritch bolts, they had destroyed all the attackers Hargulka had, presumably, sent to assault the fledgling town. Now the party must assess the damage - both that caused before and during the battle - and discuss the situation with Akiniyi and the Rezbins, as well as return to Dun Raige and seek the Old Beldame's assistance in returning Errol from the dead.
Or as it so happened, they chose instead to wait for aid to come to them. Elegy, with sending available, sent a message to Elga Verniex requesting her assistance in rectifying the magister's recent demise, while the rest of the party prepared the many dead trolls and other beasts for burning. Loy Rezbin had the Umber Hulk taken aside elsewhere, citing that its exoskeleton could be removed and used as material for armor or weapons, whereas the trolls possessed nothing of use and, even in the case of those slain by fire, it was typically considered safer to burn the bodies as quickly as possible to prevent regeneration.
The Old Beldame answered Elegy's summons in her usual surly manner, mocking Errol in absentia for his defeat and agreeing only to send her apprentice Cesca with a scroll rather than make the journey herself. She informed Elegy that Cesca would probably arrive within two days, and that if anyone else died they were out of luck, as she was only sending one scroll. Elegy agreed to the terms and passed the information to the rest of the party; Jaekah severed one of Errol's hands as had become custom and, after he and Lilith had collected up the magus's belongings, tossed his body onto the pyre.
The two days of waiting were filled with assisting the people of Tatzylford in rebuilding their scarcely-begun village. The trolls' rampage had set them nearly back to square one, but the Rezbins were confident they could rebuild without trouble, so long as no further attacks came. Jaekah assisted the hunting parties and village defenders to defend the area against more assaults and secure food for themselves and the workers, while Elegy, Lilith, Takeshi, Akiniyi, Glaicyd, and Nevarrin helped with construction and work as they could.
Cesca arrived as expected two days later, happily greeting the party and observing the partially-recovered-from wreckage of the village. Seemingly without hesitation she jested about Errol's demise, inquiring whether or not Jaekah had eaten the rest of the body after being presented with the severed hand and providing other light-hearted if black-humored barbs, before accepting Elegy's payment for the work and settling down to the task requested. She carved the symbol of Freya, avatar of magic, into the palm with one of her talons before beginning the reading of the scroll and placing the hand on the ground, where sticks, stones, leaves, and other debris began taking the shape of his to-be-reconstituted new body. The first sign of something odd was when his legs appeared to have rebuilt themselves backwards; as bone, muscle, and flesh began to take shape over the new body, the true shape of the digitigrade, hooved feet Errol now possessed became known, followed by the stark blonde hair and even more prominently pointed ears, all of which pointed rather directly to his new nature: Errol awoke as a Glaistig, a race of satyr-like fey known as the sentinels and soldiers of their world.
To put it mildly, he was extremely unhappy with this development. Elegy, rather ineffectually, attempted to cheer him up until shooed away by Lilith, who returned Red to him - somewhat reluctantly - and passed along her own two coppers of advice. For his own part Errol sulked for some time, becoming moody and morose for not only the remainder of the day but the majority of the following hike back to Dun Raige, only slightly lessened by Cesca accompanying them back. The young witch parted ways with the rulers of Iomrall at their city gate, bidding her farewells primarily to Errol; the magister then shut himself away in his chambers for the remainder of that day. Lilith, likewise, sequestered herself in her room and laboratory, emerging only once later to deliver a single requested Improbability arrowhead-tipped crossbow bolt to Elegy.
The following day Jaekah sought out Ivan and filled him in on the events of the past week, while Elegy summoned Lilith and Errol into her chamber to allow the Spymistress to elucidate on her panicked reaction to Elegy's vision regarding the owner of the red eye. After some persuading and being assured the door was locked, leaving the conversation private between the three of them, she explained a firmly-held secret of her own history. She told of her origin in Paziou, the abandoned homeland of humans, dwarves, and halflings, a shadowy, jungle-laden continent filled with civilizations long forgotten and secrets beyond measure. She told of being raised by hunters in those lands for the first decades of her life. But primarily, she told of her sire - as she knew him, Ibrahim al-Aziz-Zaman Faysal, an ancient Anhuri vampire lord of great power.
Though Lilith was certain the vision did not speak of Ibrahim himself, she was confident it did speak of one of his many spawn, apprentices, or experiments like herself - his "children", as he referred to them, hence why Lilith claimed he chose the name Ibrahim, meaning "father of many". Lilith recalled many of the more prominent of these, listing out names for Elegy to investigate; some of them - such as Chivon the Graveknight, a nigh-legendary Anhuri general; Xolan, a vampire cleric who infiltrated and nearly devastated the Church of Arachne in Galadae, only being revealed and destroyed through sheer luck before making a decapitating attack on the clergy; and Paraki, a penggalen witch who had caused great chaos in the border regions of Senkaku's northern wastelands before being driven back by the islands' armies into the shadowlands - either were familiar to the historically-educated duchess or became revealed through later study at the library in Dun Raige. Lilith also mentioned how Ibrahim, a skilled necromancer, had learned the art from his master, a mage known as Vordakai. Elegy was unable to find any reference of the name being attached to a specific person, but several hints that it was something from a bygone era - a region far to the east, beyond the neighboring colony of Varnhold, was referred to as the Plots (or the Mounds, often interchangably) of Vordakai, bordered on a place called the Valley of the Dead, and was a sacred and strongly-defended burial ground of the Nomiann Fenrin tribe that held that territory as their lands, a tribe that was, currently, a major source of strife and trouble for Varnhold.
The group parted ways shortly after; Errol left on a day's journey to Sootscale Caverns to meet with Chief Sootscale and request the kobold craft him a suit of mithral armor, allowing him the flexibility and speed to move compared to the heavier dragonscale breastplate he currently wore. Elegy made her way to the library to continue her research, and spent the rest of the day there following the leads Lilith had provided. Lilith sequestered herself again in her lab. Takeshi and Jaekah returned to the field, all the more now looking to bolster the kingdoms' defenses; Takeshi went back to training, while Jaekah went to speak with the builders working on the magister's tower about adding defensive walls and palisades around Dun Raige itself, for fear of an attack on their capital like the one that had ransacked Tatzylford.
Any further plans or pursuits the group had were interrupted the following day, however, when the militia trumpeters announced someone approaching the gates. Fearing the worst, the group - moments later followed by Ivan, then a small crowd of curious citizens, guards, and merchants - moved to the city entrance to see a moderate contingent of uniformed soldiers in white, green, and gold approaching the city. Elegy quickly identified the uniforms as having once belonged to Olorunium's 52nd Regiment - the regiment that, twelve years prior, had battled and defeated the Child of Perdition Tiamat, then divided from Olorunium when Naltaskar seceded, forming the new territory's standing army.
And at the head of that force stood its then and now commander: Countess-General Rinne Naltasi, once Captain then later General Rinne Laurel, chief officer of the 52nd Regiment, expert military tactician, and now commander and ruler of Naltaskar. Elegy nearly fainted from fangirl joy.
Naltasi approached the city gates, requesting hospitality and shelter for her soldiers and a chance to speak with the colony's leader and her advisors, hoping that the disagreements between Naltaskar and Olorunium would not preclude a peaceful cooperation between them and Iomrall. Elegy was near to stumbling over herself in her willingness to agree, welcoming the Naltars into the city and agreeing to meet in the morning. Errol and Lilith, unfamiliar with the general's history, were less enthused, and Jaekah was outright suspicious, constantly eyeing Naltasi as if expecting her or her escorts to attack at any moment; Takeshi, familiar with her military history, seemed more relaxed and intrigued but not as enthusiastically so as Elegy. The two rulers parted ways cordially, with Naltasi returning to her soldiers before entering the city in military step and making their way to an inn for the night's rest and food, and Elegy and her council returning to the castle to prepare for the next day's meeting.
Sessions Twenty & Twenty-One
The council gathered at Elegy's request the next day, with Rannulf and those local to Dun Raige - Akiros, Jhod, Mikmek, and the party - arriving early, Akiniyi some short time later, and Svetlana latest of all, arriving a little after the meeting and the connected dinner had begun, along with Oleg and Kesten as escorts.
When the discussion began, it quickly became clear to the party that either Naltasi had something to hide or that she was far from a diplomatic expert. Lilith and Errol initially had a great deal of skepticism, but after Jaekah distracted her onto a discussion of military tactics and suggestions it became more apparent that she was simply a soldier more used to giving orders on the battlefield than navigating the byways of politics. After the meal and discussion ended she and her retinue were dismissed so the council could convene; Akiniyi pointed out that while Naltasi had spent quite some time talking about the potential benefits an alliance between her country and the colony could provide, she had not actually ever asked for any, nor made any overt offerings of her own. After some discussion it was agreed to simply offer a peace agreement - for fear that, with the unstable political situation in Olorunium, an overt alliance and trade agreement with their former subordinate state might prompt action against the colony that it could not (yet) defend itself against. Naltasi seemed amenable to this offer, and departed to return to her homeland shortly after. The arrival of the general was regarded otherwise as a boon for Iomrall, with a steady trail of incoming visitors who had followed the Naltar forces to simply get a glimpse of the heroine boosting the colony's economy greatly during their visit.
Shortly after, Elegy hunted down first Kesten then Akiros to give the two men a speaking-to regarding the former's not-so-veiled hostility toward the latter. Kesten relayed his dislike and distrust of Akiros, fearing the man would never be more than a simple bandit and that he was playing the council for fools; after being assured that the soldier did not view the rest of the council (save Rannulf, who Kesten "truly didn't know what to think of") in an equally-suspicious light, she assured him that if anything suspicious were to be done that the council would keep an eye out, but until actual proof of wrongdoing was present that there was nothing to accuse Akiros of; she also asked Kesten, whose own past was less than spotless, if he truly believed people could not change for the better, which the old soldier eventually admitted he did not have an answer for. Elegy then tracked down the ex-paladin, and the two had a sincere heart-to-heart, sharing (admittedly both rather reluctantly) their histories and troubles - Akiros telling of his bringing-up as a paladin and his betrayal and fall from grace, Elegy sharing her tale of being caught up in Winter's lands and indebted to Mab - then agreed to keep the information secret between the two of them. Assured Akiros meant no harm, Elegy warned him only to keep his actions in public above reproach and to continue doing good work, and dismissed him to his duties.
A few days later, though, cabin fever had set in and the rulers of Iomrall decided at last to tackle some of the remaining dangers surrounding their lands - starting with the infamous Singing Tower of Candlemere. After taking a boat from the Tuskwater Swamp down into the smaller lake, the group made landfall on the island's eastern shore and made their way into the overgrown island, the bizarre song of the tower growing stronger with every step forward, evolving from a simple chorus of alien voices to a full symphony of incomprehensible instruments and indecipherable lyrics. They also found several ruins - long-abandoned, collapsed, overgrown, and degraded remnants of prior attempts to colonize or civilize the island, with the most recent being a simple campsite built on top of the cracked foundations of buildings around what might have once been a village square.
Errol decided to go for a closer look, and shortly after he began picking through the long-ruined tents a group of Quarto Notes, oozelike Songspawn resembling man-sized spheres of black tar with stiff, straight black rods standing out of their tops, sloughed out of the nearby trees and moved to surround the invader, though one found its movement suddenly checked when Takeshi leaped into the tree to cut it down. Four more appeared behind Lilith, Jaekah, and Elegy moments later, surrounding the Duchess before being driven back by the general and spymistresss's assaults, and Takeshi running to return after slaying the one that got stuck with him in the tree. Four of the Notes, seeing themselves beginning to be overrun, tied together, merging into ogre-sized white Mezzo Notes, only to be just as swiftly cut down. The ooze, actually sound coalesced into semi-liquid living form, evaporated into silent nothingness once its lifeforce failed.
Once the Notes were no more the group continued up the path, making their way toward the enormous black-stone tower in the island's northwest corner. The door of the tower, massive enough to allow a troll to pass, gaped wide and unobstructed, and after thoroughly checking the entry corridor for traps or lurking enemies Lilith led the party inside. The tunnel quickly narrowed, forcing the group first into single file then to squeeze one at a time through a final twenty-foot passage into the central chamber of the tower's ground floor. The circular chamber into which the group entered was dominated by a massive skeletal tree created of some kind of alien black crystal, festooned with crystalline "fruit" and vibrating in place, creating a bizarre wind-chime emitting constant music. Lilith spotted the dormant Ottavo Notes lurking in the fruit, but the oozes didn't take notice of the stealthy Dhampir's presence; rather, they activated after Errol followed her into the room, swarming up and preparing to lunge down at the party. Lilith slew one outright with a swift shot, and Jaekah finished off the rest with a blast of fire breath that also shattered the tree, peppering himself and Errol with shards of glass as well as a blast of sonic energy that Lilith avoided by ducking behind the thick-skinned Magister, who himself was protected from the brunt of the blast thanks to his new Glaistig body's inherent resistance to physical harm not caused by the touch of cold iron.
The circular chamber had eight exits, including the passage by which the party had entered (which Elegy immediately marked with a glyph to notate they'd already explored that direction); each of the exits was another twenty-foot shaft of narrow passage, forcing the group to squeeze through individually and giving little room for moving around one another, emerging into another room beyond. The group quickly discerned that unless all of the tunnels led outside or to a chamber below or beyond the tower's walls, they had somehow entered a pocket of space larger within than without. (So yes, it's Bigger on the Inside.) After attempting to look down each tunnel and having little luck discerning anything, Lilith picked the southeast passage and led the way through. The first chamber beyond was once a common room or dwelling place of some sort, by the look of the shattered and splintered furniture that littered the ground; she managed to find an extremely-finely crafted harp, undamaged and made of the same eerie black crystal as the tree in the central chamber, amidst the rubble but considered anything made of the Song's strange, alien materials not worth taking and set it aside, only for Errol to snatch it up moments later.
Lilith continued on to the passage on the other side of the room, which led into a large rectangular chamber dominated by a deep pool of black water undulating with a strange internal tide. Before she could investigate more fully she, Errol, and Elegy were suddenly overcome with deep exhaustion; Lilith determined as well that something lurked within the pool and quickly correctly deduced that it was the source of her sudden dearth of energy and called a retreat, moving back into the first side chamber just as the sluglike Ritardando Songspawn lurched from within the waves, baring its sharklike fangs beneath its countless pocked eyes and slithering toward the party on its mucus-drenched bulk.
The party managed to pin the Sluggard in place as it squeezed through the tunnel after the party, but in doing so gathered all together in front of it, allowing it to blast the entire party with its sonic cone, inflicting Jaekah and Errol in turn with its slowness as well as overwhelming them with exhaustion by its aura of sloth. Nevertheless between they and Takeshi attacking it from the entrance of the chamber and Lilith and Elegy peppering it with shots from afar, the great monstrosity eventually fell, and with its death the sudden tireness that had suffused the entire party faded and their energy returned. The group decided not to trawl the beast's pool for treasures or more monsters at this time and moved on to the next chamber, the eastern passage.
This tunnel led to a large circular room with amazing acoustics, which turned every footstep inside into an otherworldly symphony. Errol and Lilith moved into the room beyond where they found a bizarre organ crafted of that same black crystal, devoid of any keys but surrounded by a platform covered in circular depressions; Errol stepped on one of these and not only did the organ release a strange note, the chamber before where Elegy waited suddenly rang with the reverberated and enhanced harmonies as the area's bizarre construction enhanced every facet of the alien music. The group, seeing no monsters nor traps as well as not finding anything they could transport easily, returned to the central chamber then moved on to the northeast tunnel.
Here Errol, now in the lead, found a massive black chest on another platform; he also noted two spiked protrusions on the walls, which quickly revealed themselves to be a pair of Largo Songspawn when they emerged their eyeless heads and insectile, organ-piped limbs from beneath their spiked tortoise shells and began their strange piping songs. Errol attempted to blast them with a scorching ray but the spell went awry; the Lull Turtles immediately burrowed out of sight into the walls, and emerged in the central chamber using their blindsight and tremorsense to locate nearby prey, and pounced on Lilith when the rogue reacted in surprise by drawing her bow on the nearest. Badly wounded she retreated and Jaekah and Takeshi moved to intercept while Elegy retreated after to mend the Dhampir's wounds. Errol, irritated, chased back down the narrow tunnel to flank the second Largo, lashing at it with spells and Red, invigorated by the "exquisite taste" of the blood of the alien Song, while Jaekah lashed out with fang, wing, and claw and Takeshi, Lilith, and Elegy focused on the first beast. The pair fell, first the surrounded one, then the other left alone, but not without inflicting significant damage on the party.
With four of the eight entrances to the central chamber examined, four more remain... and beyond them, who knows how many levels upward of Candlemere's Singing Tower yet remain?
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A dark and mysterious lair that defies logic, horrid abominations who use sound to disorient us, tense combat within narrow spaces, artifacts of alien origin and unknown purpose, and even more mysteries and dangers await us the higher we climb...
Oh it has been too long since I felt this much excitement!
The first thing the group did was begin assessing the massive chest or altar that dominated the Largoes' room, which careful examination revealed was lined in a series of runes. Errol and Lilith were able to identify them as a magical trap that would open a spiked pit beneath the unfortunate unaware who attempted to open it; Lilith however easily found the control rune and disabled the trap without much effort. Inside were several magical objects of apparently religious origin - a magical censer that could be filled with gem dust to produce certain spell effects, a collection of domain draughts, and a pair of magical crystals that, once attached to a weapon, granted it extra powers. These, after being passed around for identification, the group confiscated for use or sale at a later time, then resumed their explorations.
Heading out of the north exit of the central chamber, Lilith noticed a large rotunda at the end of a long hallway, shaped like the inside of a huge round-based cone and looking at first glance as if the chamber was filled with water or some other transparent liquid that somehow was not flowing into the hall; quick nearer examination revealed that the entire room was nearly filled by a Tutto Note, the largest and strongest of the Dark Song's weakest caste. The groundbound ooze began inching its way toward the party when Errol and Jaekah made themselves known, prompting Lilith to retreat, but the barrage of attacks destroyed the massive sonic slime before it managed more than a single attack on Takeshi.
Beyond the Tutto's lair, another exit to the rotunda opened up into a large rectangular room, dominated by a triangular spiral stairway ascending up into inky darkness, the ceiling of the chamber lost in a black void filled with glittering golden lights or stars. Determining this to be the way up to the next level of the tower, the group retreated back to the central chamber to examine the rest of the floor before moving on. The other three hallways all led to common areas dominated by large central tables and shattered chairs; other than a pair of Mezzo Notes lurking in the storage closets of the first they were uninhabited and devoid of treasure; after Errol fireballed the pair and Jaekah and Elegy picked off the barely-surviving oozes with potshots from afar, the group returned to the stairway and, amidst grumbling from Elegy and exulted celebrations from Errol, ascended into the darkness.
As they climbed, eventually losing sight of the ground below and the stairs slowly morphing from their angular base to the common sweeping spiral usually associated with these kinds of stairways, Errol and Elegy took note that the bizarre geometries and internal engineering of the tower had gone beyond simple internal space issues and, with the dimming of the lights and loss of magical illumination as well as the sudden drop in temperature as they neared the top of the stairwell, determined that at some point in their ascent they had left the Material Plane behind completely and emerged onto The World's Shadow, the plane of echoes, ruin, and darkness that drifted aimlessly in the wake of the Prime, opposite and opposed to the unnaturally-vibrant, too-lifelike neighbor-realm of FaeReie.
After reaching the top of the stairs, the group found themselves no longer within the tower in any traditional sense, but rather suspended within the void on large circular platforms connected by narrow stone bridges or separated by wide gaps requiring flight or magic to bypass. Jaekah made a few quick experiments before determining the airy space between platforms to simply be empty air and safe for flight through, while the others - with Elegy very reluctantly at the rear - moved from their emergence point on to the first connected platform, a massive disc dominated by an enormous stone tree, almost a hundred feet tall and nearly fifty wide. Lilith, spotting something moving above, began stealthily climbing while the others examined the platform's base, though Takeshi and Errol also took note of some movement above shortly later.
When the enemy sprung the attack, only Errol was quick enough to immediately respond, launching a scorching ray at the figure but missing and firing off into the void in his haste, moments before Takeshi and Elegy were separated from him and Jaekah by a sudden wall of sonic energy, called into being by the Song-tainted Huldra that had been lurking in the tree the whole time. Lilith, unseen by the corrupted fey, attempted to take advantage of the wood wife's weakness to flame by shooting her with one of her fire arrows, but a magical enhancement on the creature's equipment snuffed out the flame before it could do any damage. Jaekah, not recognizing the corrupting Dissonance for what it was but knowing the fox-tailed fey for its base appearance, attempted to shove her out of the tree and into the sonic wall; while this did send the Huldra tumbling seventy feet out of the tree to land in a heap at its feet, it also allowed her to dive immediately into the energy wall, where her Songspawn nature allowed the sonic energy to mend her wounds alongside her normal regeneration.
The game from there became a dance of cat and mouse, with the Huldra occasionally peeking out from within its wall to snipe at the party members with spell or her confusing touch or essence-draining tail attack, and the party countering as best they could against her superior speed and the difficulties in aiming spells and attacks around or through the sonic wall. Eventually this drove the Huldra back toward the stone bridge by which they'd accessed this platform, where she created a second wall, perpendicular to the first and catching Jaekah and Takeshi in its creation, now cutting the party into fourths - Errol alone in one quadrant, Jaekah alone in a second, Takeshi in a third, and Lilith and Elegy (shielded inside a silence zone Elegy had created earlier in the fight) in the fourth. Frustrated and angry, Lilith charged through the wall separating her from the enemy - her agility allowing her to dive through the sonic barrage without harm - and launched the second of her Improbability Arrows at the tainted fey with all the force of her skill and mind behind it.
The arrow struck true, but even more strongly struck the tornado it summoned, crashing down on the unexpecting Huldra and sweeping her up into its gales. Takeshi, Lilith, and Jaekah managed to hold their ground against the furious sudden storm, but Errol and Elegy were less fortunate, and were dragged toward the funnel - through two of the sonic walls in the process - and hauled up into the violent storm. What might have been the end of both of them was only averted by a bizarre combination of luck, skill, and expertise: Elegy, with one of her usual magical mishaps, had summoned a Gravity Elemental earlier in the battle, and was able to command the entity to rescue her from the fury of the funnel, while Jaekah risked his own safety to dive into the storm and attempt to haul Errol out by raw strength. Once she managed escape, Elegy was able to dispel the magically-conjured storm, releasing Errol and Jaekah from its grasp and dropping the Huldra unconscious in a heap at the contact point of the storm. Elegy commanded the Elemental to remove its magical fire-resistance ring moments before it discorporated, and without its protection the corrupted Huldra died an ignoble death beneath Jaekah's flaming breath.
The group collected its treasure - the ring plus two wands, blur and energy resistance, which the Huldra had used to shield itself from harm a few times and buffer itself against its regeneration's vulnerabilities respectively - then retreated back down the immeasurable stairway to the safety of the Material Plane, deeming their journey taxing enough for one day and deciding to take rest for a "night" (if such a thing can truly be, day or night, so close to The World's Shadow) while Elegy tended their wounds and everyone rested body and mind to recover for the next push deeper into the tower's unspeakable heights. During the night, Elegy took note of the symbol of the Winter Court - only slightly different than Mab's personal symbol which she wore - on the Huldra's ring, and began devising a plan to raise the corrupted fey from the dead, hopefully purifying her from the Song's touch and earning herself the debt of a powerful Winter agent. Perhaps not enough to free her from Mab's quest, by any means, but a boon nonetheless....
|Mab, Queen of Air & Darkness|
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From time to time I find myself presented with a group of mortals that demand, through whatever means, my full attentions for a not-insignificant span in their meager perspective. Such are usually either enemies mine, tools to my hand, or would-be supplicants of my favor. And may it be said that the Queen of Winter is not unwilling to provide what honors are due - these have managed to seize my gaze without being surely of one specific caste. Too firmly they resist such simple identifications. Rare indeed, and ever the more entertaining when so, is it for mortals to defy expectations of mine.
It was only a matter of time, in any case, before the allure and reasonable fear of the tower's fierce beyonder's song drew their attentions and sword and spell were taken to alien flesh to seek its silence. And though their numbers - bolstered by the presence of one of my own, an agent whose task ended long ago in mortal eyes but constrained by the invasive melodies could not return to my side - forced these would-be lords to temporary retreat, once recovered their will to proceed, despite initial frailties of complaint, would not be hindered. The ascent was made, plunging back into shadow and stretching hands and blades toward the alien stars, the remnant trails of the arrival of the accursed Song of Acheron from faraway worlds.
Upon returning to the shadow, their progress was checked by another of the Song's brood, the equine-reptilian Andante, in a quartet of quill-slinging hunters that lay in wait for the blood of the intruders. Unseen and undetected, the huntress crept up on the unwary predator and swiftly turned them into the prey, initiating battle and withdrawing only enough to allow the warrior men to engage and slaughter. The enemy, swift and nimble, navigated the ruins of a once-splendorous shrine erected upon this shadowy plateau, taking advantage of superior mobility and range to yield its prey helpless from afar; an admirable tactic, and effective, but ultimately for naught - my chosen piece proved herself capable of at least a minute level of sophisticated thought, and warded by magical silence swept the living harmonies into the empty sky. The victorious wanderers yielded the ruins of its treasures and proceeded on to higher ground.
Their destination proved a portal of elaborate design, but under guard of two Pianos, the Song's gentle minstrels of air and madness. The dragon knight and serpent sword charged into the fray, by flight and by might bounding the barricades of sapient song. The huntress set her fangs envenomed, rendering weakness upon weakness to the first of the brood and silencing the second's song with poison slumber; Summer's Edge in the hand of the sentinel sage then eagerly feasted upon its lifeblood. And while the warriors raged upon the first, blow upon blow, wound upon wound, it was the toxin of the tracker's timber that at the last brought it low.
It did not take the clever ex-a rugadh ar an Thuathaibh long to discern the activation phrase for the grand arcana, a lyric of praise to the abominable homeland of the music of aberrant hymns in the Old Speech - the only tongue the timbre of the tenebrous tenacity shares with this world - and to call upon the Song's magic to sweep he and his compatriots back to the realm of mortal men and the lair of the symphony's sinister maestro-superior. The unearthly maws of the many-mouthed monstrosity that awaited them were swift to pander its parley of pernicious participation in the psalms of planetary perishment. Grant them this much that the promises of such power yielded little interest to these mortals, secure in their stations as they are... though the lack of comprehension of the Old Speech to the ears and tongues of all save my Hand (and then only at the reception of a relic recovered from the ruin) and Summer's could very well have codified their carelessness. Blades were brought to bear against tentacle and fang as the bulk of the beast lurched toward the would-be conquerors with intent to crush. Yet it was for naught - in the end, though it took many into its maws and crushed the life from my Hand for a folly of her own doing, it fell before overwhelming force and superior numbers from its foes.
My agent, with my Hand deceased and none else sharing her desires to recover the lost one for the favor that might have been gained from her return, was left in the now-firmly materially rooted tower after being reduced to ash in funeral pyre, bringing at least an end to her excruciating existence as one of the twisted tempo. The survivors collected a shard of my selected for purposes of returning her to life, and salvaged a treasure trove of forgotten fantasies from within a cache shielded by the Song's champion, then hurriedly sought to return to their little civilization. However, wishing not to incur the wrath nor fear of their lessers, they instead bypassed their great city upon the water's edge and retreated to the forgotten shrine within the depths of the shadowed wood, where wait their allies in silk, and sent word to the witches of the swampland now living in their city to join their company and return their leader to life.
It is here that I was forced to intervene directly. When the magic was sent, my Hand refused to yield to the call, seeking perhaps escape by means of demise from the agreement we had made so shortly ago. This would not suffice, nor would I condone such insult, and sought her soul directly - nay, not even the First-Holder and Last-Taker nor the Daughter of Disaster would dare refuse to yield to my claim on what is my own, for the contract and the accord have been made and will not be sundered nor surrendered until fulfilled. I confronted the spectral remnants of the child of mortals noble-born, demanding her explanation for her retreat from return to life; her excuses were at first plentiful, but not without respect and due reverence, and for this I have deigned willing to spare her further suffering, indeed so that she has agreed to return willingly at my hand. But I will not go defied, denied, or departed from without consequence. Skill she claims she lacks, skill to complete what I have asked of her and we have agreed upon in ancient accord, this she has even if she denies its realization. But time, mortals speak so much of time, primarily in their lack of it. So be it then - if time enough she does not have, then time I will give, for I am a gracious and merciful queen even as the depths of the harshest storm contains an eye of gentle silence and calm. When in mortal flesh she is once again clad, it will be as flesh that will not fade so swiftly. If it is time she wishes, time she shall have.
So have I spoken, so have I willed, so have I done. So it shall be. I am Mab. Matron of Winter. Lady of the Shattered Plain. Maven of Arctis Tor. Queen of Air and Darkness.
|Mab, Queen of Air & Darkness|
Little time was allowed to pass before the children of this land sought to begin the ritual of reincarnation to return their ruler to the realm of the living. Alas, for as determined afore, she declined their invitation to return, thus forcing my interference. In the meanwhile, however, the aghast mortals found themselves astray without the one of their many, and were forced swift to seek new solace and gather their compatriots to plot a course for their journey now that their helmsman was lost. Over the course of the following days those in power were summoned to the long-forgotten shrine of the Frontier Walker, where they began to make ready the actions to be taken in lieu of their forerunner's assumed-permanent absence.
Which, of course, is when I deemed it most worthy to make my appearance. I have no doubt that my presence will go far from unnoticed upon the land, the touch of winter is unmistakable and ne'er soon forgotten, and the events of that meeting shall be long etched upon the firm stone of the minds of all present at my appearing. Accompanied by my chosen knight Sharlin, Le'Fay of Winter, I made clear the purpose of my presence posthaste, and delivered unto them their departed damsel - rebirthed into the form of the scions of the Spinner, long-lived and empowered as she had thus decreed herself in need - and allowed them a moment of silent suffering on her part as they unveiled their disdain, levying proper punishment upon the pitiful princess as deemed due by their decree. I allowed her to resume a frosted mirror of her former form to follow, and then deemed the time had arrived to declare the other reason for my visit - the sharing of necessary knowledge as agreed upon in my prior discourse with the Hand of my choosing.
I revealed to them the events of ages gone, how Summer had carelessly obliterated one of their own and cast its remnants aside without thought, suffusing the wild land with the essence of FaeReie nobility. How they had sought to recover this power and energy so thoughtlessly discarded, and how I had moved to seize it for my own, another minor tipping of the scales in my favor in the eternal engagement of creation and destruction, the dance of war and bounty. I revealed how in time I too tired of the battles, and set my champion Nieve to seal the land, fitting a restraint upon the region that would prevent both Winter and Summer from seizing the power inherent within, thus bringing an end to the conflict for time immemorial, for few would be so bold and daring as I to seek to invoke the presence of the malevolent melody, nor to brave their barrow with intent to amputate the anomaly. Yet after aeons agone, the land had given gifts of glory and might and dreams of greater gain to denizens dwelling within its wake, seized the stakes of striving savants, and lured the longing of greed and gain to its slopes and stands as sacrifice to the unending eagerness of the voracious vast.
And now these mortals had shattered that seal, revoked the restraint, and cleared the corruption that had locked the lands in stasis for centuries. Soon the call of power plentiful would seize the attentions of Summer's sentinels and my own offspring alike, and in time - perhaps not time enough for these mortals, save my Hand and the saurian soldier, but in time nonetheless - the ravages of rancor would resume. Which, as they were swift to surmise, was the wish of one such saboteur: the ill-informed-of but much-maligned Queen of Forgotten Time. Alas, my much-gathered knowledge of her history was not to be shared, for I had already parted with much material for meager merit, and none seemed eager to offer a price I considered appropriate for further information. I offered them time - time, time, with mortals 'tis always time; such a fell falling for the Forgotten Foe to associate herself so with its obsession - to consider their course, and departed along with my escort, returning to realms from whence we came.
With all returned to a semblance of normality, the following days were spent in adaptation. My chosen was adopted, as such might be called, by the spider sorceress, and in sylvan seclusion she was taught the ways of the web and the boons and banes of her new body. The huntress stalked the woods, guided by the wyldfae to meet the many of their multitude, for it had grown by grand gravities since last they had crossed paths - thronging thirteen-score strong. The spell-sword spent his solitude seeking solace in the pursuit of his power, in the unearthing of information, and in the new-turned talons of the thaumatist. And the ophidian champion and the wyveric warrior saw to the securing of their soldiers in the intervening hours, beginning the bringing of weapons of war to bay, for the time was growing short until it was sure their scorned foe would force the harridan hand.
Alas, 'twas here I deigned them no longer deserving of my devotion for the day, and abandoned my observations. I trust that time will soon tell of their return to pursuits perilous, in delving for danger, diamonds, and dignity in the face of fearsome foes.
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Sessions Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six
Oh-hohohohoho!!! What a delightfully entertaining batch this little team has turned out to be!!
Ah, but of course, proper introductions must be levied first - anything less would hardly be polite, and The Puck is many things but never a poor guest... or host, in this case! For The Puck indeed am I, Robyn Goodfellow, herald and jester of Summer's court, companion of Oberon and minister to Our Beloved Queen, trickster of tricksters, storied bard and dashing rogue extraordinaire. But certainly you've come not to hear me speak of myself for times on end... so on with the show, as they say!
I've been watching this particular batch of mortals - some now significantly less mortal than others! - for quite some time now with keen interest, and no doubt they've heard much of my exploits, if the beloved adoration toward myself of their little forest friends is any indication. When at last their trepidations following the visit of Her Dourness were concluded and they set eyes to the road once more, how joyed was I to learn that their intended destination was none other than one of my favorite haunts, the Forest of Infinite Shrouds, or as it is known among mortals the Mazewood. Patience prevailed and I managed to restrain myself from introductions until I was prepared to serve as a suitable host and guide of my part-time demesne, but I only have so much of such and as night fell while they rested at my doorstep I couldn't wait another moment and invited them in whilst most of them slept. This of course caused a teensy bit of disruption and flailing about in midnight panic as they attempted to wriggle free an exit from the wood's grasp... but heehee! No such luck! Even the erstwhile dragon attempted to fly free, only for the perplexing aura of this mad place to send him careening back toward the ground without realizing he'd changed directions midair.
The Huntress, come morn, was all too excited and eager to explore after finding herself within my realm, while Her Majesty and the Grumpy Guardian were in a bit too much of a hurry to leave for my taste. I set myself to entertaining them, appearing incognito a few times to direct them toward interesting paths and conversing whenever it seemed most amusing. They soon reached the bridge of Grilgruk the troll, who demanded a toll of a child's first tears or hairs from a hundred maidens to cross; after trying to convince the recently-reborn Snake Soldier to shed a tear - the first of his newborn body - with no success, the Huntress instead bartered a drop of something that should not be, which the eager troll accepted - stoppered in a glass arrowhead with a toadstool from his own foot - and allowed them to cross.
It was not long after this that the Thorns halted their passage; I suggested instead that they take the opposite path, leading them into the Honeycomb Pools. Delightfully curious, the Huntress found herself pulled into one of the hives (after pursuing my severed head - apparently owls can only rotate so many times before it just pops off!) and was offered the prestigious position of Queen by the eager denizens. Meanwhile I chose that time to fully reveal myself to my guests, informing them of my generous hospitality and requesting the much-due entertainment I had expected from their visit. Prompting the Serpent to strike the Witchknife was hardly child's play, and amusing as it was to see his weapons deflate upon striking he seemed somehow disappointed. The Duchess herself attempted to flee - how rude, leaving when the party's just begun! - but I generously and gently escorted her back to the celebration, just in time for the Forester to return, having convinced the Nobility of the Below that her own hive could not do without her guidance.
After some time further of inquiry and entertainment, I saluted my guests for the wonderful entertainment they had provided and began to hand out due gifts, soliciting requests as necessary. The Lady asked for a tale, inquiring as to the nature of the mysterious trinket she pursued, Briar; likewise the Magely Malcontent demanded information pertinent to the origin of his own blade. The stories blended together so well, I couldn't resist but to share them together; I located and identified the mark of our Fair Lady Cordelia hidden amidst the crimson claymore's hilt, and deigned to declare that the blade had been created to destroy a twin or counterpart, and to seek battle until its foe was discovered. Alas, it seems this was information he already knew? Perhaps he should have learned to phrase his inquiries more specifically! Hohohoho!
That story segued into the tale of Briar too well to surpass; why, perhaps it might have been Briar itself the bloody blade was made to hunt! I told the heartbreaking tale of the nymph Nyrissa, an ancient child of Summer, beautiful and beloved, and how she shared love and lust freely with a noble of grand standing; however, as unchained as love is among we fey, we are no less unrestrained when it comes to jealousy, and the young nymphling found herself at the fierce end of her noble lover's bride's wrath. Poor Nyrissa was devastated, forgotten and lost, but her blazing love could not be so swiftly diminished; such a burning brand could only be reshaped, and love so fierce could have fit no form so firmly than to be reforged into a weapon unbreakable. Thus was Briar born, but alas, in the eons that followed the sword of love was lost, discarded somewhere along the way and disappeared into the ages. Where it was now, not even the Queens might know... but after all, such was the Maiden's quest to find it! If I had all the answers, the game would be over far too soon, would it not?
Likewise the Serpentine Servitor sought the answer to a question internal, and allowed me a glimpse into his secluded mind to acquire the information necessary to ascertain his answer. Hohohohoho, little did he know just how close he was... but yet not close enough to take hold of that which he sought! No, no, there was time still yet until that day was to come, but a glorious day it would be to watch! The Indecisive Dragon decided to parley his payment for a favor to be fulfilled at a later date; I of course agreed, performing favors to mortals can be so entertaining! But to ensure the debt would be paid, I marked him with my emblem - that way I would be always watching and listening, ready to receive his summons when the time came.
The Huntress, though, made her request reticent, and oh the delight such a simple supplication brought to me! Such was a greater price than such simple entertainment could afford, and immediately I began my search for proper payment to be procured; an old obstacle hidden deep within my demesne, however, proved the very solution I could exploit. After all, such problem-solving is what these adventuresome sorts do! I provided the exit back to the world of mortality, as has been requested, but surely curiosity overwon caution and, prompted by yours truly, the ever-inquisitive travelers journeyed deeper into the catacombed wood.
Beyond the ruins and the Ever-Regrowing Stump (which is a tale unto itself, but pity, none willing to offer gifts further to hear it! Not even a tale for a tale!) they came across the Witchlight's prison - the box of light that contained a radiance from far beyond the stars. It had come to these lands as all such creatures do, to spread the madness of its alien song and feed upon the life and energy of mortal man, beast, and flora alike. They seemed content to leave it be, and - as per my advice earlier - knocked twice upon the grey tree that served as its tombstone (a tree long ago devoured of vibrancy by the very prisoner it marked) before following the resulting glimmer of light beyond.
There they found the Prison of Greylight, where the mad Lurkers - exiles from the World's Shadow and the unspoken Dark Court that dwells there - who worshiped the Witchlight were being held. It wasn't but a few seconds before my guests took note of the cracks in the prison and noted their escape would be imminent; when they expressed interest in slaying the little beasties, I gladly obliged by shattering the prison to allow them to have at the lot. I released the Witchlight as well, which arrived a few moments later, much to their distaste, but a few furious slashes from the Samurai, javelins from the drago-lin, and a torrent from the Duchess finished the spectral shades before it could do much harm. They then picked off the remaining Lurkers, dismissing the light they summoned to blind the guests in their frenzy, until down to the last two... which attempted to escape, only to be chased down and chomped by the swift saurian soldier.
Secure in her payment in full, I proceeded to deliver my due to the Dweller in Darkness - a kiss of severance from her scion, opening the bonds of form and initiating the metamorphosis into a creature heretofore unknown to the three realms, Wyld and unbound as per her desires. The changes were gradual over the following days as they departed my demesne and began the journey back toward their dominion. On the first her skin darkened, shifting from the alabaster of the undead to the warm brown-light of tree's heartwood, her hair from ebon black to the warmth of autumn's red. On the second roots took hold in her spine and shoulders, her ears established their elven ascent, and the eager hunger of a plant's drive for light and life set root within her heart as bone unbidden gave way to wood. On the third her flora budded, beginning the growth of the cloak of leaves and moss that would forever adorn her shoulders, unnaturally swiftly moving from spring green to autumn radiance, and the growth of the powerful vine that would forever serve her as a useful third limb. By the time she arrived back at their dwelling place, the transformation was complete, the daughter of the dead born living was no more and the first child of the black forest risen from the grave of her skin!
|Lilith of the Wyld Wood|
Oh! Easily distracted me, I did forget an important tidbit of information!
The tale of his weapon's sordid origin and hungry pursuit was not all the cloven curmudgeon desired; he also requested someone be provided him by which he could learn the ways and wherefores of his new-donned skin. Sadly I had none of the sentinels immediately on hand, so arrangements shall have to be made in time!
But worry not, for The Puck always keeps his promises! And with this lot, running out of time to live has suddenly ceased to be an issue any of them will have to deal with for quite some time. And to think, a mere year ago this little batch of oh-so-entertaining travelers was all too mortal and ephemeral.
They grow up so fast.
After the escapades of the past few months, the Lords of Iomrall took a much-deserved rest for the three remaining weeks of the month of Aperilis after returning from the Mazewood and their encounter with the Summer Jester Puck. Elegy spent part of the first week once again visiting Akiniyi and her daughters at the temple; during that time Errol gave Cesca, the Old Beldame's Ael-Varan apprentice, a tour of the Arcanist's Tower they'd just constructed before departing and inducted her as the first member of Iomrall's newly-created Mageguild. Jaekah and Takeshi returned to drilling their troops and preparing the colony's armies, and Lilith spent much of that week adapting to her new form and the changes it had brought to her behavior, comforts, and needs. By the time the Duchess returned, the time had come to make preparations for Iomrall's first anniversary celebration, and while the populace celebrated the leadership was content to simply use the time to relax, knowing that as soon as the time of celebration was past, the time for preparations would resume - for at the end of Aperilis was All Hallow's Eve, and both Lilith and Akiniyi had alerted the group to the likelihood of the Wyld Hunt riding through the region, eager to test the strength of these newly-established mortal interlopers.
Lilith departed into the forest shortly after the festival, to spend some time with her friends in Perlivash's Za-Forest Guard as well as speaking with Akiniyi herself, and acclimate herself more to the forest that had suddenly become even more her home than before. By the time she returned, Elegy was already in a worry fit about how to deal with the likelihood of the Hunt arriving in Dun Raige; Lilith provided her with some basic advice that, like Akiniyi's suggestion, eventually boiled down to "Join the Hunt to convince them not to devour you and yours alive". Takeshi and Errol, at least at the time, showed little concern nor worry and went about their daily business as usual. Jaekah, after managing finally to master shapechanging to assume a humanoid form as all true dragons can do, had made arrangements in secret with Ivan to have equipment and clothing tailored to his human shape, then had attempted to glean further information on the Hunt from Elga Verniex. Unfortunately for him, while the Beldame was quite knowledgeable about the Hunt, the information she provided was nothing Lilith and Akiniyi before had not given, and he returned to the castle with no new useful knowledge.
A few days before Hallow's Eve, the Call of the Hunt came at last, drawing Errol out of the seclusion of his tower. Lilith, who likewise felt its pull, was more likely to resist but chose instead to follow the errant Magister and keep an eye on him. When Jaekah reported their disappearances later, after speaking with a city watchman who saw Errol leave, Elegy contacted both - first Lilith, then Errol - with a sending each and quickly discerned that they were en route to join the Hunt. She attempted to convince both to return, but Lilith shrugged her off unless she felt Errol needed to be dragged back to Dun Raige, and Errol refused outright. Out of ideas and options, Elegy - after Jaekah had gathered Mikmek and Akiros, the only council members available at such short notice - ordered that the people of Dun Raige be put to a curfew of sunset on Hallow's Eve night, and that criers announcing the restriction advise they place gifts of sweets or small trinkets on their doorsteps, hopefully to appease any overly-curious fey who infiltrated the city after she, and any council who felt themselves capable, had offered likewise to join the Hunt.
That night, Errol made camp at the edge of the Narlmarches and found himself approached shortly after sunset by none other than Rannulf, the worg packlord and Iomrall's Warden, on his own way to answer the Call of the Hunt. His barbs to Errol were, as always, as friendly as they were sharp, and the two - trailed by Lilith, who in the now-innate camouflage of the forest was invisible to Errol and could only be detected by Rannulf by Scent - traveled the next day together before making camp deeper into the woods. That second night Lilith finally decided to reveal herself to Errol, appearing out of the foliage as he made camp, and the trio spent some time conversing before being interrupted by an unbelievably-loud and near wolf-like howl. An enormous Ulsterhound, a gargantuan canine the size of an elephant, strode out of the darkness toward the group's campsite, and its rider - none other than Cernunnos himself, Lord of the Wyld Hunt, Erlking and Horned God - dismounted and approached.
Cernunnos recognized Lilith almost immediately, having ridden with the ex-Dhampir on several prior Hunts, and congratulated her on her recent metamorphosis, despite the "stink of the Trickster" covering her. He seemed partially amused and partially irritated by Errol's sudden panic at his arrival, but moments before dismissing him as not-predator material he sensed the immense hunger for battle radiating from Red Right Hand, and decided that despite his skittishness and Summer's overwhelming presence in his aura that he would allow the "stray sentinel" to prove his mettle on the field. He exchanged cordial bows and greetings with Rannulf, the recognition of fellow packlords and master hunters toward one another, then remounted his Ulsterhound and bounded off to the west, ordering the trio to follow. Rannulf was quick on the heels of the much larger wolf, while Lilith - aided by her new innate understanding of the forest landscape and the aid of her new third limb - bounded off through the trees; Errol was a short distance behind, forced to rely on a mount spell to keep pace with the other pursuers.
At the west edge of the Narlmarches, where the great forest bordered the swamps of the Hooktongue Slough - the swamp once home to the black dragon Ilthuliak - Lilith, Errol, and Rannulf found the gathering point of the Wyld Hunt. Countless fey of all kinds - from natural predatory hunters to more unusual species who had done the necessary to make themselves intimidating, threatening, or dangerous (with a nymph clad in bone armor carrying a falchion almost as tall as herself being one of the more exotic examples) - mingled amidst the crowd, as well as innumerable wild beasts, intelligent monsters, local predatory flora and fauna, hunters and trappers, trolls, beastmen, and immeasurable others forming an enormous, predatory-minded horde. Several familiar faces were encountered - Akiniyi was present along with her daughters, having deemed the gathering point for the Hunt too near her home at the temple to even consider attempting to avoid; the Glaistig warrior Sharlin, Le'Fay of Winter, likewise encountered the party and made a few passing, thinly-veiled insults toward Errol; and while navigating the crowd Errol happened to bump into Oberon, consort of Summer Queen Titania, himself. Thankfully, fey politics were of no consideration to most members of the Hunt; tonight was a night of blood and fear and fury, not one of contracts and obligations.
All went silent as sundown neared, and Cernunnos took his place in the center of the horde. The Stag King gave his proclamations regarding the purpose of the night - a ride of unbridled fury, raw predatory urges, the freedom of the Wyld and the hunger of the Hunt. He announced, for the few uninformed, of Dun Raige's existence and the incursion of mortal civilization into the wilderness of the Stolen Lands, and that it was the duty of the Wyld Hunt to test these would-be rulers of men, to see if they had the necessary strength to rule where only nature had reigned for eons. His short speech concluded to the mass satisfaction of the horde, Cernunnos remounted his Ulsterhound and, after cloaking the entire crowd in its mist, led the swiftened mass of the Wyld Hunt toward Dun Raige, surging through the Narlmarches and arriving at the city gates less than an hour after sunset.
When the Hunt arrived, most of Dun Raige was quiet, the curfew and warnings having done their duty of keeping most of the citizens indoors and safe come nightfall. Those few who remained outside - Elegy, Jaekah, Takeshi, Mikmek, Akiros, Valkeri, and Cesca - stood at the city wall awaiting the arrival of the Erlking. Cernunnos left the horde's cloud upon arrival to proclaim his purpose and offer the Hunt's Choice as offered to all it encounters: Stand, and fight and likely die; Flee, and be pursued as the prey you are; or Join, and ride with the Hunt as a predator. Universally, beginning with Elegy and finishing at last with a laughing-mad Takeshi, the remaining Lords of Iomrall chose to join in the Hunt's Ride on Hallow's Eve. Eager and pleased, Cernunnos ordered them to join the horde and charged into the darkness, the magically-sped Wyld Hunt at his heels.
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Elegy Medvyed wrote:Workable ideas then....Orthos wrote:Out of ideas and options...I beg to differ! I had plenty of ideas, thank you.
Now what exactly is unworkable about the idea of building a replica of the city about a mile to the west? We'd even set up a toll booth as a distraction!
|Sir Ivan Brandt|
Orthos wrote:Now what exactly is unworkable about the idea of building a replica of the city about a mile to the west? We'd even set up a toll booth as a distraction!Elegy Medvyed wrote:Workable ideas then....Orthos wrote:Out of ideas and options...I beg to differ! I had plenty of ideas, thank you.
Despite having recently completed construction on our Arcanist's Tower, ma'am, we do not yet have any archmages on-call, I regret to say.