Thrones of Dust

19th Session

After dismissing a few… impractical ideas, the party’s attempt at stealth to reach the large, spotted eggs was sadly met with very limited success. One of the great feathered owlbears spots them as they move through the underbrush. Deciding to face the beasts head-on, rather than relying on guile and misdirection, the battle was joined. The huge beasts swing with raking claws, snapped with sharp beaks, and let out hooting howls that deafened and stunned those too close. However, Arjhan’s subtle magics played against the raging Fey beasts, and protected his allies from the worst wounds.

With the beasts slain, the party could gather the eggs at their leisure. Two were taken to give to the satyr elder. One was taken by Lasheous, packed away in his backpack for protection (though, with a shell that thick, his backpack would be torn to shreds by anything that would even have a hope of denting the egg itself). Koteth, using his knowledge of nature studies the last egg for a while, then picks it up and stashes it. One imagines that the two elves, from two very different backgrounds, have two very different plans for these eggs.

The look upon the satyr’s faces upon the party’s return gives the distinct impression that the goat-legged humanoids did not expect to see the adventurers alive, let alone successful. None the less, the elder and his three children finish preparing the feast for the guardian, pack it up, and lead the party further north into the deepest part of the valley.

The Goldenwood Tree lives up to its name. Each leaf is a pure, glowing golden color, which flashes and sparkles in the sunlight as the wind caresses the branches. The wood of the tree itself is a rich, deep polished bronze. Seated in a throne grown in the tree’s trunk is the guardian of the Goldenwood Valley, flanked by horse-sized black-furred Fey beasts, resembling huge cats. The guardian herself appears to be a regal wood elf, with branches woven into a complex headdress. She greets the party, exchanging pleasantries, while her muscled Fey beasts snore contentedly at her side.

With subtle and less-than-subtle questioning, the heroes discover that the guardian and the town of Pieymond have had an accord since the town’s founding; the woodcutters of Pieymond could take wood from any other tree in the Goldenwood Valley and sell it, as long as the guardian received half the gold. Pieymond earned a reputation for having the finest wood available, and the guardian always got her fair share of the money. Yet the latest mayor succumbed to greed, keeping a very lucrative deal from an Andalonan merchant a secret from the guardian. Or so he thought. Thus the guardian visited a terrible vengeance on the whole town. Her satyr pipers would play the haunting, mind-muddling musics day and night, while the night-time Wisps would shine their bewitching lights in their dreams. They were driven insane. One does not anger the Fey realm.

The guardian had another accord, one that she shared with any brave enough to seek her Goldenwood Tree. She would play a game with that person and their allies. They would take a branch from the tree, and they would simply need to leave the valley with it before the sun set. Glancing up at the golden rays of the sun, lancing through the leaves of her beloved tree, she warns the heroes that they have less than three hours. After the sun sets on the Goldenwood Valley, the passage to the world is shut until the following morning, trapping the heroes in the Fey Realm of Night (which, she chuckles, is not nearly as pleasant as the Fey Realm of Day).

“One more thing” the guardian says, stretching her arms, rolling her shoulders, craning her neck. “I will be hunting you, as you flee. Should I catch you, I shall take a prize from you, as you have taken a prize from my tree. A foot, perhaps. Maybe an eye, or a hand.” The stretching continues, her form bulking out, glossy scales replacing smooth elven skin. The emerald-scaled Fey Dragon rears up to full height, unfurling huge wings, heavy tail uncoiling. “I suggest you start running.”

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18th Session

At the entrance of the cave stands an obelisk, covered with names (though there are a number of blank spaces at the bottom). Intrigued but unable to glean any knowledge from it, the party decides to move through the cave. Once through, the heroes step out into the brilliant morning sunlight in the Goldenwood valley. The colors here seem brighter, the air fresher and hinting of flowers. Around the party and far ahead up the slopes of the valley, tall, beautiful trees climb high into a clear blue sky. A shallow stream flows across their path, glittering in the sunlight, with banks of soft, warm, sun-dappled sand.

But it would seem that the Goldenwood does not appreciate interlopers. As the party makes its way across the shallow water, roots and brambles writhe and rise from the sand and dirt to fight them off. Though pinned by foot long thorns, battered by rocks wrapped in roots and lashed by vines, the heroes dispatch the animated plants, and continue climbing the uphill trail.

They manage barely a minute of travel before they are once again stopped. However, this time they are confronted by a pair of whimsical creatures; Satyrs, who had been watching the fight, hidden in the woods. One is a youthful piper, who greets the party warmly, welcoming them to the forest. The other is a bald, surly older pathfinder, who is distrustful of the heroes and disgusted with the genial nature of his companion. Once the heroes reveal that they seek the Goldenwood tree, the piper seems even more inclined to help.

“The guardian of the Goldenwood has always welcomed visitors, there have been so few since the unfortunate incident with the town”. When pressed, the piper bashfully, hesitantly replies that there was “bad business” and the townsfolk “did something they shouldn’t have.” The piper invites the heroes to join him, his brother the pathfinder and the rest of their family; this evening they intend to go visit the guardian of the Goldenwood, to bring her a great feast. With a smattering of jokes from the piper and a liberal dose of verbal abuse from the pathfinder (towards both the heroes and the piper), the pair of satyr lead the party through hidden paths and winding forest trails. Though the way is confusing, Koteth’s years as a ranger and his natural Elven senses allow him to memorize the way back, should things… go wrong.

Once at the Satyr’s lodge, however, the party is quickly rebuffed by the Elder of the group. While Jacen keeps trying to catch glimpses of the satyr faun (sister of the piper and pathfinder) bathing in the nearby waterfall, the Elder informs the party that the “price” for being led to the guardian’s grove (and location of the Goldenwood tree) would be a pair of owlbear eggs from a nearby nest. They are apparently the guardian’s favourite meal, but the satyrs have been unable to steal any from the territorial and vicious owlbears.

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17th Session

Koteth comes to the party with a plan; a journey north to the foot of the mountains. There, through a small cave, lies the Goldenwood Valley. According to “Lucky” Joe, master bowyer of Briare, The Goldenwood tree at the center of that valley would provide the perfect wood to craft a bow of unparalleled power and accuracy. The first stop would be the village of woodcutters at the entrance of the cave, to meet the mayor and get information about the valley (which apparently has some strange properties and a very dangerous guardian).

After five days of grey skies and rain, the heroes trudge up the steep, wooded slopes to the darkened village of Pieymond. Night had fallen early, here in the pine-crested bowl in the mountains, and the torrential rain was turning the slope into a river of mud. The party, exhausted as they were, pushed on, unwilling to spend another night in the damp. The crummy, rundown village itself is mostly in darkness by the time they reach it. In one of the houses, a baby cries. A light shines in a ramshackle inn. Rain pours constantly in solid sheets. Yet all is not what it seems. The houses are empty… but not quite.

Wraiths of the former inhabitants of the town swarm the heroes. Maddened with grief and fear, babbling insane cries for help, the swirling shadows reach for the bodies of the living, hoping to steal warmth and sanity. The combined light of Erathis and Bahamut, channelled by Jacen and Samuel, blaze in the torrential rain, shredding the spirits, casting them back, sending them to their rest. The remains of the mayor was found in his house. The corpse’s mouth and throat were stuffed with gold and silver coins, and all over his meticulous books, the words “MINE all mine ALL mine MINE MINE MINE mine mine” were scrawled.

An uneasy night of sleep in the creaking, leaking inn gives way to a sunny, golden fall morning. Birds chirp and twitter, wind makes the pine trees hiss. It feels almost… wrong, when juxtaposed with the night before. The heroes spend some time going though the town in the light of day, gathering the poor forgotten bodies of the townsfolk and burying them, then prepare their gear and make their way into the cave to the Goldenwood Valley.

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16th Session

Back at Fort Tylmer, the party takes a much needed rest. Jurak is treated by both Arem and Reed, and after a few days is seen back on his feet, drinking with the folks from Briare street. Preparations for the big autumn festival are under way, and the keep is hosting visitors and merchants from all over. Koteth spends his days practicing the game of Leatherball, a favourite local sport. Arjan works on gathering songs and folklore of the Rivemar region, in the hopes of performing during the festival. Samuel is asked by Commander Marik to train a number of the young recruits, including the commander’s 14 year old grandson, Albrecht. Jacen makes himself a small shrine in an alcove of the abandoned church in the middle of town. And Lasheous tries (unsuccessfully) to charm his way into an administrative role within the keep.

During one of the big events (the pole combat) the party is impressed by a brash, fearless and rather drunken dwarf, who’s wobbly stance even on the firm ground belies how solid his stances is. Taking all of Jakob’s racist insults in stride, he blocks Jakob’s staff swing with his head, shuddering the staff and sending Jakob off balance and into the mud some ten feet below. The dwarf introduces himself as Moss, and, taking an immediate liking to Jacen, takes him drinking, if only to have someone to talk to about various conspiracy theories involving the State, Blue Sprites, and the uses of Redthistle to combat scabies.

The party (joined by an enthusiastic/drunken Moss) gets together to participate in the Leahterball tournament, a muddy, full-contact sport that has poor, thin Jacen tackled so hard it leaves a furrow in the field. Things don’t look well at all at the final match, with Jakob’s gang making an appearance. Jakob’s gang has always been undefeated, but Lasheous had previously managed to gather snippets of the burly man’s game plan. With Lash’s coordination and a solid blocking wall of Samuel and Moss, the heroes manage to score and win the game, earning themselves a trophy (and earning Lash a considerable amount of money from the bets he previously made against Jakob). Moss latches on to the team, and the whole party retires to Marta’s tavern for drinks.

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15th Session

Moving on beyond the secret chamber into a disgusting maze of offal and filth, the heroes were ambushed by living acidic slime and sludge that tried to digest them. Sadly, the most damage to the party was done by other party members; when Samule was engulfed and matted in acidic slime, his “friends” proceeded to open fore with all the magics at their disposal, greatly harming Samuel but leaving the slime mostly intact. Still, the heroes prevailed.

At the heart of the walls of filth they find an arcane web, a location of great power for the ettercap shamans. The desiccated bodies of the blackmarket traders hang in the glowing nexus of webs, drained of all life. There, scattered at the base of this nexus are the bodies of the defenders… and the bodies of the Lizardmen. Of the three lizardfolk, only their Cleric remains, battered, bloodied, but determined. He begins to pour poisons together, giving glory and praise to Zehir as he works. His target is an unconscious, but still living Eladrin. Obviously, the more civic-minded of the heroes intervenes.

The Cleric of Zehir warns the heroes of the War Crawler, a great beast under the control of the ettercaps. Creatures bound in this nexus of webs feed the beast, granting it unnatural strength. By the most blessed poisons of the mind, the cleric seeks to enslave the War Crawler to the will of the Lizardman empire. A heated exchange occurs, but the party refuses to sacrifice the Eladrin to the cleric’s plans. The lizarnman cleric flees, and the Eladrin, named Lasheous, is freed from his prison of webs. Which, obviously, greatly angers the War Crawler (don’t play with a monster’s food). The giant, armoured spider rumbles in, birthing vile larvae and spraying acid, yet without the sustenance that a living being grants it through the web nexus, the huge creature can barely dent Samuel’s shield. Riddled with arrows and scorch marks, slashed and pierced, the great armoured arachnid crumples to the ground. Tracing the passages back from where the beast entered, the heroes find an exit to the riverbank, escaping from the ettercap haunted city with the unconscious Jurak, their new ally Lasheous, and a considerable amount of wealth.

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14th Session

The heroes exited the city vaults to find the party of Lizardmen they had met earlier. The three are trying to open a heavy rusted gate into what appears to be an ancient sewage system, while the zombified remains of previous lizardfolk lurch down the street towards them. The heroes quickly dispatch the zombies, and help the lizardmen through the gateway, taking a short break before following them.

Once in the moldy, filthy sewers, the party avoids walking into a trap-filled ettercap ambush, opting to take a side passage instead. This leads them into a small family hive, where an Ettercap “Slaughter master” and its brood attack the interlopers. After a brief but bloody battle, Trax, seeking to fortify their current position, begins shifting large sections of collapsed masonry. Instead, he discovers a long sealed chamber, dating back to when the Lizardmen ruled the city, undiscovered by the ettercaps. The chamber, while empty, provides the party with a much needed resting place.

Jurak, however, takes a turn for the worse. He slips into a deep coma, feverishly muttering about “the voices”. The party, deep within enemy territory, has no choice but to leave him, secure in the secret chamber, until they can find a suitable escape route to take him back and have him cured.

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13th Session

The hail of Ettercap arrows from the south gets a bit too dangerous to continue diplomacy at that moment. Squaring his shield, Samuel barrels down the southern hallway, spear aimed at the Ettercap archers. He is blindsided by a burly, thick-skinned Fang Guard. Axe bites into flesh, blood sprays across the floor. Jurak is right behind, but he too is intercepted by another Fang Guard. With usual unerring precision, Koteth fires a volley over the brutal melee half way down the hall, grievously wounding one of the Ettercap archers on the far end. An Ettercap Spinner weaves thick strands of webbing around the Paladin and Warrior on the front line of the battle, immobilizing them and laying down a thick area of difficult, sticky terrain.

The three Lizardmen seem torn between fighting the Ettercaps and escaping through the door that the heroes entered from. The Lizardman Archer launches a volley of arrows as well, peppering the enemy archers, while the Marsh Mystic snarls and commands his allies to retreat while the warm-bloods deal with the spiders. Despite their dismal attempts at convincing the Lizardfolk, eventually the Marsh Mystic and Spearman both join the fight, supporting the heroes against the Ettercaps. Jacen’s holy chains wreak havoc amongst the Archers and Spinner, slowing the enemy to a crawl, allowing Koteth and Arjhan to finish up the remaining wounded creatures.

Despite taking a couple of grievous axe wounds, Samuel is able to strike back, splintering chitin and crushing the spider-creatures. The Lizardfolk Spearman seems particularly impressed, and approaches Samuel even as the Marsh Mystic is berating him. The Spearman shows his own spear to Samuel. While Samuel’s is wrought iron and the Spearman’s is wood, metal and stone, they bear a remarkable similarity. Both depict a coiling serpent around the join between the shaft and blade. Samuel’s depicts the Serpent biting into a fish. The Lizardman’s depicts the same Snake biting into the swollen abdomen of a fat spider.

As the three Lizardmen leave, the Marsh Mystic begrudgingly thanks the heroes. When pressed about what they were doing here, the Mystic responds that they “Seek Allies, Find Allies” and they were heading to the “Sky River Under Stone”. “Not Yours” he says, pointedly. “Fight Of Ours”.

He makes a sign on his own chest, a semi-circle that hooks down. Samuel frowns; he recognises it as a sign of Zehir, god of poison, serpents and assassination. But the Marsh Mystic and his allies seem to view the heroes as potential friends in this dangerous place, and the two groups bid each other farewell for the moment; the Lizardmen heading off to the western rooms, the heroes taking a northern, easily defensible room to rest and recuperate.

After their brief rest (a longer rest was considered to be unwise, so deep in enemy territory), the heroes follow the stairs down to the main level of the vault. The air is heavy with humidity and mold, the tile floor covered in mud and dirt. But looking past the filth of age, the inherent richness of the edifice is evident; patterns of intertwined serpents carved in long bands at the top, bottom and middle sections of each wall. Solid stone table and benches. Finely painted pottery, sadly smashed. Richly carved pillars.

The adventurers move from the stairs to an entry hall, noting that the doors are already open. Apparently the Lizardmen have left the building, out into the pouring rain. The party decides to go the opposite direction, deeper into the vault’s main floor, through waiting halls and council rooms.

A grim sight is discovered in one of the ruined halls at the back of the edifice; the corpse of an Ettercap, purposefully suspended by webbing before a door. Wondering whether the body is a punishment, or perhaps a warning, the heroes push past it into a broad hall with many pillars, each carved with thick serpents coiling around from floor to ceiling. On one end, a thick, very strong iron gate. On the other, a massive horizontal wheel-like mechanism, set half way into the wall; the wheel can be turned, and can also be moved up and down on the central bar that supports it.

It takes barely a moment before Koteth is struck by inspiration. Obviously, the mechanism controls the door, and that a sequence of movements would be required. Having observed both the Zehiran sign that the modern Lizardmen gave the party, and taking into account the myriad of Zehiran symbolism on the walls of this ancient Lizardfolk vault, he turns the wheel a half turn, then slides it all the way down, mimicking the hand sign.

The serpents carved into the pillars grind to life, each opening their mouths… and staying there, mouths open, a soft white glow issuing from their throats, lighting the path down the length of the hall to the metal gate which grinds and squeaks open.

Much wealth lies in the vault beyond, and the adventurers are quick to divide the “real” spoils; gold and silver pieces, many of which seem to have been previously looted or taken from human cities. There is also different currency, sadly more or less worthless; green shards of a glassy substance that the Lizardfolk used as money at the height of their last empire. A number of thick, finely etched glass Slips (probably worth a multitude of Shards) are pocketed, since they would fetch a price as pieces of art if nothing else. The group also spends a brief time distributing the magic armors that had been secured in the vault; a pair of suits of chainmail that survived the ages of rust and rot thanks to their expert crafting and magical enhancements.

Laden with wealth, the party leaves the vault through the main door, out into the rainy street. And right into a gaggle of undead lurching towards the preoccupied trio of Lizardfolk they had met earlier!

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12th Session

The heroes are quickly embroiled in a long distance battle. Arrows whistle past and snap and clatter against the stone ruins as the Ettercaps move from cover to cover. One of the spider creatures takes a pair of grievous arrow wounds courtesy of Koteth, and is dropped by Samuel’s well thrown javelin as it tries to flee.

Samuel pushes the spider creatures on the northern part of the roof, pinning them down while Jacen and Arjhan work their spells. Meanwhile, Koteth moves south across one of the small bridges, crossing from the western side of the street to the rooftops on the eastern side. Jurak takes a nearly ill-fated flying leap from one rooftop to another, but manages to grab the ledge of the opposite building to avoid plummeting to the web choked street two stories below.

One of the wounded Ettercaps makes its way across the webbing spanning two rooftops, moving to the northernmost building of the street, obviously seeking to call for reinforcements. All efforts to restrain it fail and it reaches the door. In a last ditch effort, pulling his bow to the utter limit, Koteth fires an arrow from the southernmost building. The spider creature has a bare moment to glance up as the whistling arrow drops right into its head, fired with unerring Elven accuracy from a city block away.

The heroes gather up on the roof of the bank, resting and bandaging themselves as the stone serpentine architecture of the ruined lizardman city glares down at them. Carefully examining the rooftop entrance, the party disables a series of bells attached to the door itself that would have alerted the Ettercaps.

Down the stairs, the upper floor of the vault comprises a number of small interconnected rooms, filled with rotted crates and smashed pottery. The air is humid, and a sticky film of spider webbing covers most surfaces. The heroes can hear loud noises coming from the rooms beyond. Jurak kicks down a door into a larger room, catching a gang of Ettercaps by surprise. A pair of burly “Fang Guard” Ettercaps, with thick chitin and heavy bone axes. Between them, held by a chained collar is an enormous spider. Behind them, trying to direct the group to another door are a pair of smaller Ettercaps.

Fortunately for Jurak, Jacen was a bit faster on the uptake. Knowing he would be unable to fight and carry a torch at the same time, the young Chosen of Erathis lobs his torch into the room ahead, to light the party’s way. The torch sails and suddenly jerks to a stop in midair, the flames igniting the tangled mass of nigh-invisible webbing just ahead of Jurak.

Another bloody battle erupts, this one much more up-close and personal, with Jurak charging headlong into the fray. The room becomes a contested zone of sticky webs and holy light, with the Ettercap Web Priests spinning mass clumps of webbing, while Jacen maintains a wall of holy light to hedge in the Deathjump Spider. The fight is brutal and slow moving, but the heroes eventually prevail, crushing the Fang Guards and Web Priests. All the while, the sounds of battle also echo from the other side of a door on the far end of the hall, a door that these Ettercaps were heading to, probably as reinforcements. It looks like the adventurers aren’t the only invaders this day.

A brief post-battle pause to catch their breath is interrupted by an earth-shaking collapse from the area beyond the door. The heroes open the door to a cloud of dust, the thunder of collapsing masonry eventually dying out to a clatter of shattered stone. Rocks fell. People died.

The northern part of the hall is a mass of rubble, the stone floor split and buckled. A trio of wounded lizardmen have taken cover behind split and cracked pillars, as the bone arrows sail from the southern end of the dust filled hall. The torso and head of fourth lizardman and a gaggle of smashed and twitching Ettercap corpses can barely be seen poking out from under the tons of smashed masonry.

The lizard warriors barely speak common, just a smattering of words, but Arjhan steps forward (while keeping his head down to avoid being hit by the wildly shot Ettercap arrows coming from the south). Through words and tone and gestures, the Dragonborn manages to build a repore with the tribal creatures. There is a sense of palpable relief from both the heroes and the three remaining lizardmen; they have not encountered yet another enemy in the domain of the Ettercaps.

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11th Session

Grey, dull, rainy days follow, allowing the heroes to rest and heal in the abandoned town of Briare after their fight in the demon’s pit below. The usually boisterous Jurak is uncharacteristically pensive, spending a lot of his time alone, often out in the rain. At first, Reed tries to get him to talk; the big barbarian and the little Halfling having forged something of a bond of friendship during their fishing expeditions. But the dark, unusually introspective silence eventually causes Reed to sink into a similar foul mood. Samuel himself, having fitted and donned the ghostly Paladin’s armor, can’t help but think of the charge that was laid upon him concerning Jurak. With grey storm clouds hanging over their heads, and the events in the caverns hanging over their hearts, the uneasy state of affairs is broken on the fifth day by the arrival of the company of the Blazing Sun.

Away from Seline, the party explains to Brother Sanzo of their opening of the Sealing Shrine and their… victory over the demonic creature in the caves below, carefully omitting certain details. While disappointed that they opened the shrine without the Blazing Sun company present, Sanzo is rather understanding of the actions. However, he warns that it would be a good idea to get on the road before Seline found out. Jacen hands over the materials they recovered from the Kobold Sage, and, after partaking in a small meal and prayer to Pelor given by Sanzo, the heroes set off on the two day trek through the rainy forests, back to fort Tylmer.

Over the past couple of weeks, Tylmer has developed a lot more bustle, with a number of trading caravans from outlying villages making an impromptu marketplace. The refugees from Briare have already begun to settle in, putting their efforts into turning an aging stone armory and the surrounding streets into homes for their families. Thus is born Briare Street. Trade ventures from Tir’Heth and Ilbakov have set up temporary trading posts around the markets and Briare Street, making a wide selection of tools, weapons and items available. There are already shops springing up, like the Ilbakovan Fashion Exchange, which sells well-made clothing styles, from the billowing robe, sash and turban of southern Andalona, to the sharply cut, high collar long-coats of western Ilbakov.

Not even a month ago, the Stone Tankard was a grimy mess hall and dormitory for the workers. Now the place is doing steady business with the new arrivals. The atmosphere is very friendly to the locals, the natives of Rivemar, simple folks with simple tastes in beer, food and song. The place has become the unofficial community hall and gathering place for the townsfolk of Briare and the traders from the nearby villages; a loud, boisterous, foot-stomping attitude fills the place with laughs, curses and song. Sadly the place is also under the control of Jakob and his gang, which means that foreigners, especially non-human ones, are invariably driven off.

While Jacen has gotten in good standing with the rough characters in Jakob’s entourage, and Jurak seems to be generally well accepted by everyone else there, the rest of the party tends to gravitate to Marta’s Inn, where the foreign traders and adventurers. Ever impressionable Jacen decides to side with Koteth and Samuel, rather than his countrymen at the Stone Tankard.

Lady Sendina, the Andalonian noblewoman, had left by that point, but at least two members of her entourage remained in Tylmer. One is the missionary Vichenti DelVerda, currently trying to raise enough funds to build a small, permanent shrine to Bahamut in Tylmer keep itself. The other is a dragon-blooded chronicler named Arjhan, who left Lady Sendina’s fickle employ after traveling with her retinue for months, all the way from the heart of Andalona. After a few social exchanges over a meal and drinks, the silver-skinned and silver-tongued Dragonborn offers his partnership to the adventurers.

Word reaches Koteth that there has been an alarming increase in the trade of hippogryph eggs ever since the reclamation started. The theft and sale of hippogryph and gryphon eggs has been illegal in the four nations for ages, but many powerful mercenaries, warlords and nobles are willing to break these laws to get their hands on such superb flying mounts on the black market. After separating to search for information in their own ways, it’s Samuel who manages to find a lead; inconspicuous caravans heading to the eastern borderlands, avoiding Fort Tylmer and sticking to the road south of the Tylmer river, passing near the old temple ruins on the river rather than take the main road.

The group decides that a brief foray into the lizardfolk ruins at the fork in the Tylmer would be in order, allowing them to follow the road, hopefully find some evidence of this black market trade route, and maybe reclaiming items of value from the ruins themselves. The journey is brief, the road passes swiftly and pleasantly under their boots thanks the song and heroic stories of their new bardic ally. In the light of the setting sun, the heroes make camp on the southern bank of the fork in the Tylmer river, the half submerged stone domes and minarets of the lizardfolk temple reflected in the fast flowing waters.

Small clusters of sunken and overgrown ruins are scattered all along both banks of the river around the main temple. One such structure, not far from where the party stopped for the night, was a relatively dry, mostly intact edifice that had apparently been used recently, if the muddy boot prints and burned out camp fire were any indication.

Night passes, and morning breaks, allowing Koteth to follow the cart tracks away from the ruined stone house. The people they are following are obviously avoiding the main road, as the cart tracks lead deep into the thickest part of the river-side forest. The heroes stumble upon the overturned and empty cart, with obvious signs of struggle and copious amounts of blood. The odd thing is that Koteth can only find evidence of the booted footprints of the cart’s owners, not of who or what attacked them. He does manage to pick up a trail of blood leading north to the river’s edge, though still no tracks or even signs of dragging.

Right on the river bank, hidden in the deep shadows of the dark woods, a cluster of ruined stone buildings and an overgrown cobblestone street. The blood trail leads in, but at that point the trail peters out. The domed stone buildings seem mostly sealed off, though Arjhan manages to shoulder one open. Inside is what remains of some sort of place of worship or school. Mostly filled with debris, rot, mold and plants, the main feature is a sundered serpentine stone statue that takes up the whole length of a wall. Samuel’s knowledge of religious organisations and symbols (What To Smite, Vol IV, section 3) identifies it as a stone idol venerating the dark god Zehir, lord of poison, assassination and treachery.

Exiting that building, Samuel spots something out of the corner of his eye. A trio of spider-humanoids called Ettercaps open fire with long sharpened bone spikes, shot from their carved bone longbows. The spider creatures scuttle towards a door on the opposite side of the street, but the heroes move in quickly to block their path. Battle is joined, and the creatures are pinned to the wall and are very quickly dispatched.

Carefully moving through the door that the Ettercaps were trying to reach, and moving through the ancient, pottery-filled storage area beyond, the heroes find themselves on the rooftops overlooking a long web-choked marketplace, two stories down. The rooftops at this level are flat, with small connecting bridges spanning the dark, webbed market street below. All along the rooftops, Ettercap archers are caught by surprise, allowing the heroes to quickly assess their situation before the spider-creatures can open fire.

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10th Session

Briare itself is evacuated, the townsfolk led back to Chateu-sur-Tylmer by the company of the Blazing Sun, who task the heroes with the protection of the shrine in the town until they return in 5 days. Paladin Seline and Brother Sanzo express their strong desire to return and open the Shrine, unaware that the heroes already know the secrets of how to unseal it. The following morning, the Kobold Sage’s book is opened and studied, and proves to be entirely accurate.

The first of the Seals, the seal of Erathis, is the floor itself, which reshapes into stairs leading into the second sealed chamber. The seal of Pelor is undone next, leading further underground. A rune-laden chamber holds the third seal, once again easily overcome, which leads to the lowest chamber. The final seal is a set of massive bronze doors, marked by the symbol of Moradin. Once again the Kobold Sage’s information was entirely accurate, and the grinding doors open into a long sealed cave.

Black sand crunches underfoot. Whispers hiss in the air. Faint glows in the darkness. A cold, numbing feeling that writhes under the skin. Black sand, and bones. Samuel steps on a buried breastplate, levering the ribcage and spinal column still lodged in it out of the sand, the owner’s skull rolling away into the dark. Barely a foot under the black sand is a strata of skeletal remains and battered rusted armor. Hissing, whispers in the dark. “Hold… the line!” Blue glows on the edge of vision. “Don’t… let them… past…”.

The walls and pillars of the cave, covered from floor to ceiling in deeply carved words. Blasphemies, oaths, dark prayers. The vile words promise that the world shall burn, that the rivers run red with the blood of the righteous. Whispers. Whispers in the dark. “No… mercy!” The crunch of black sand and breaking bones under the heroes’ feet. “Drive them… back!”. It’s at this point that the heroes comment that there are a conspicuous lack of instructions concerning the re-sealing of the Sealed Shrine.

Ancient, spectral armor flows out of the darkness to block their path, the spirit of a long dead Paladin of Erathis. The ghostly knight intones a dire warning; the cave is under the combined righteous protection of four gods. Behind him, the desiccated husk of a Cleric of Moradin nods, mute due to his stitched mouth. Flanking the heroes, wreathed in a halo of divine flame, the skeletal remains of an Invoker of Pelor flares into being, revealing the cloaked form of a revenant Avenger of Ioun, whos runic blade springs to life.

The burning skeleton screams and swears vengeance on those who brought the light to this forbidden place, while the shadowy revenant hisses an oath to bring swift and silent death to any who have knowledge of this cave. As one, the four attack, driven by the madness of undeath.

Samuel and the spectral paladin salute each other in proper knightly fashion before engaging in their duel. Jacen is drawn into the middle of the fray and rooted in place by black chains woven by the cleric of Moradin. Flames leap out, launched by the burning skeletal figure that was once an Invoker of Pelor, barely missing Koteth. Sliding along the black sand, striking with impossible quickness, the revenant Avenger darts around Jurak, trying to cut down Reed and Jacen. Blades clash in the dark.

Jacen calls out to Erathis, channelling divine power into a swirling burst of holy energy that drives away and sears the vengeful dead. The spectral Paladin howls and curses, grievously pained by the exposure to the true light of his god. Unable to break free of his ritual duel with Samuel, he unleashes his fury at the retired knight. His ghostly blade glides through armor with ease, causing disturbing amounts of blood to well up under Samuel’s plate-and-chain, yet the ghost knight’s shield solidifies, deflecting Samuel’s ripostes.

Ducking between the rune-carved pillars, Koteth stalks the mummified cleric. It barely has the time to react before being riddled with arrows, which tear through the husk and cause it to crumble back to dust. Heavy hammer and divine spells decimate the Avenger. The burning skeleton is reduced to spiralling cinders, and Sir Samuel’s duel turns, the ghostly knight banished, fading to blue mist, leaving behind his banner and a whisper of frustration and anger.

Beyond the black sand lies a rough stone temple. Pillars covered in jagged, oddly shaped blades, wide holes filled with similar jagged spikes, and a spiral ramp leading down into a deep chasm. A deep, rumbling breath pours from the pit. The voice calls out in the blasphemous tongue of the lower planes. Wide leathery wings, capped with a multitude of spines, stretch out of the pit. With a great beating of its wings, the foul Spined Devil lifts itself out of the chasm.

A short but vicious fight follows, with Samuel and Jurak holding off the demon-spawned brutes that crawled out of the chasm after their master, while Koteth, Reed and Jacen focus their ranged attacks on the flying spined demon itself. The warrior and paladin are battered and shoved around, the huge fleshy brute demons trying to push them into the spiked pit. The spined creature is pinned in a corner, pierced by Koteth’s arrows, seared by the radiance of Erathis and Melora. Seeing the winged devil drop low, Jurak roars and charges it, leaving Samuel to hold off the brutish demons. With his usual Elven grace, Koteth clears the spiked pit in a long jump, covering Samuel’s flank. Reed tries to follow Koteth’s example, but short Halfling legs can’t propel him nearly as far, and he plunges into the pit.

A mighty hammer blow knocks the Spined Devil to the ground. It drops to its knees, groveling before Jurak, babbling rapidly in its foul tongue. There is a moment’s hesitation. The barbaric warrior towers over the creature… then brings the hammer down. But Jurak didn’t put his full force into the blow. The stunned, crushed fiend still begs and pleads with the warriors, while his allies still fight the grotesque flesh demons. Words spill from the Spined Devil, words only Jurak can understand.

There is an intake of breath, dust and sand sliding towards Jurak. His allies look back to see him standing over the prostrate form of the fiend, hammer held high. Black particles lift and swirl around the hammer, carried by dark winds and foul whispers. One by one the brute demons are reduced to disgusting piles of lifeless flesh, the magics that fuelled their existence drawn into the hammer. There is a constant, rising intake of air, an ever mounting tension that crackles against the skin and causes the teeth to rattle. And just when it reaches its peak, just when the inhale could not possibly draw any more… nothing. Silence. The tension is not released. There is no catastrophic release, no crescendo. Just an abiding tension, the uneasy feeling that one’s bones are about to snap from the pressure.

A final visit by the four defenders of these depths. The spectral knight bows and salutes Samuel again. “I hope you know what you are doing” he says. “This is your charge now, we are released”. The Cleric, Invoker and Avenger fade back into the darkness. “My armor lies within the demon’s chasm, amidst the shattered remains of his greater form. Bear it out of this place of darkness.” With that, the knight fades as well, leaving the heroes to contemplate Jurak’s actions.

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