Defenders of the Vale

Jack's Journal: Session 46
The End

Get a Little Closer

The wraiths had fled the wrath of Fharlanghn, but would soon return to the outer sanctum. After I located the secret door, we all entered the narrow passage. The door could be closed and we could safely hide while we raided Azarr Kul’s treasure chamber. According to Miha, an essential weapon to defeat the Wyrmlord was hidden there.

The passage was just five feet wide, and ended at an intersection with a door on each side. Garrock and I stopped to consider our options; but, the others kept piling in behind us. I was shoved up against the wall. “Wait!” Miha squeezed up front, leaving her devils to jostle with the wyvern at the rear.

“Hiya!” Miha pressed in very close, all but blowing in my ear. The secret door to the chamber was on the wall. Difficult, but I found the outline of a door in the stone. “Jack, you are so very useful.” Aww, shucks. Errol bristled. Miha said she had an idea. She wanted to enter the chamber without the others. Garrock shook his head. She scowled at him. “I wasn’t speaking to you. Why don’t you see what’s behind that door?”

“We stick together,” the half orc said.

I insisted Miha explain what she had in mind. Inside the chamber, there was a magical trap and a guardian. While I disabled the trap, she would handle the guardian by assuming the appearance of the High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul.

“What if the guard isn’t fooled?” said Garrock. “And what about the wraiths?”

“Still spooked, are you, Kitty?” she purred.

Jarvis piped up. “I have a way to deal with the wraiths.”

Though Miha was disappointed, it was agreed we would destroy the wraiths first, then open the chamber. She ordered her bodyguard to the outer sanctum to assist.

Deja Vu, Too: the Wraiths of Kul

Jarvis sprang into action, while we peeked out from behind the secret door. In the hallway leading up to the altar area, where the wraiths had first attacked us, a party of adventurers appeared. They looked familiar, identical to each of us, except the halfling wizard was quite handsome in a pointy, starred hat. “Travis” struck a pose, stroking his goatee; his fingers sparkled with gemstone rings. “Savannah” the fighter was quite noisy, stomping in her amor, bashing her sword against the walls. “Lionel” the lion man devoured a piece of raw meat, spraying the walls with blood. While “Jarko” turned cart-wheels crashing into his friends, sister “Gwennie” wrung her hands, praying nobody gets hurt. The party marched in place, repeating their actions in a loop lasting agonizing seconds.

Taking the bait, the trio of wraiths returned, slipping out of the walls. “Gwennie” knew what to do. The cleric started waving her arms about, praising Furtoohlung. Above their heads, a pillar of divine fire came down like a piston all around them. Flames consumed both friend and foe. The heroes raised their hands up to fend off the fire. And though none of the good guys appeared injured, one wraith shriveled up, and the others wailed in pain and rage.

After a failed attack, the wraiths, who had once been people, saw through the illusion. They spied us by the secret door. Winnie read from a scroll and cast another flame strike. Staggering, the wraiths kept coming. Miha’s bearded devils slashed with their glaives. Jarvis summoned a floating ball of light, like a lantern but with personality. It even talked, eager to help. Two rays of energy — Ptuhooey! Ptuhooey! — shattered the wraiths who shrieked as they shattered out of existence. Winnie said she heard them say “thank you, now our souls can rest” or some nonsense but it sounded more like the agony of eternal torment. The bouncy, buzzing light bulb introduced himself as Arnold, he used to be a knight. Arnold was awesome. Jarvis said he was an Archon. He could heal and help us in our fight with the guardian. Much better than Croakums.

Something Among Thieves

We all drank invisibility potions, except for Miha and her companions. She twirled, and transformed. Skin layered in brilliant blue scales, a cross between a dragon and hobgoblin, with a jutting horn. The High Wyrmlord stood seven feet tall. He looked magnificent, terrible in dragon scale armor.

The others kept back, while I opened the door to a wide chamber. Shallows steps up to a diamond-shaped chamber. The steps were carved with runes. Azarr Kul walked up to the top step, looking around. The guardian, a devil covered in barbs, stood still as a statue. In each corner, a treasure chest, one for each color of evil dragon. Azarr said, “You tell me. Has anyone been in here? There are intruders in the Fane. My work is very important and I don’t wish to be disturbed.” Azarr Kul’s voice sounded like Miha.

The devil said, “Fine.” Shifty eyes, agitated. He looked suspicious.

She ordered her bearded devils to assist the barbed devil with his duty. They looked at each other, grumbled, but complied. “And make sure to teleport to avoid the trap.” She pointed right in front of her. The two appeared on each side of the barbed one. They were no match for the larger devil. “Psst, Jack,” Miha whispered.

“I’m here,” I said. Invisible, I searched the floor just above the stairs and found the trap. It was indeed magical. In minutes, I disabled it. “All set,” I whispered.

“I love you, Jack,” she replied, softly. That made my day. Then she tried to cast a spell on me, but it was too late. I was able to resist. “Oohh, the blue chest!” she said, unable to the contain her excitement.

The barbed devil was no fool. He began casting a spell, summoning some friends. “Alright, boys, you know what to do,” said Miha. Her devils attacked with their glaives but couldn’t pierce the tough armor. Errol, who was invisible, squeezed the hand crossbow for a sneak shot that interrupted the spell. Garrock rushed up the stairs past us, struck with his trident. He took some damage from the barbs. Winnie attempted to dismiss the devil, but failed. “Good try, Winnie,” said Jarvis. “I was thinking the same thing.” But, he used a ray of enfeeblement to weaken the guardian. Arnold whizzed over and hit the devil with his ray. I drew my bow and stuck an arrow in his eye; my second shot twained the first. “Oh, Jack,” Miha cooed. “The things we could do together.” This day just kept getting better.

The barbed devil retreated to an opposite corner and cast a spell. Miha, Jarvis, and Errol were hurt, dazed. Garrock said, “Fuck this!” He dropped his trident and short sword and drew dragonbane greatsword, two-handed, thrusting into the devil’s belly. Miha’s bearded beaus were useless, but Arnold was awesome. Ptuhooey! Ptuhooey! Every little bit counts. Winnie said, “Flee” but the barbed devil decided to give Garrock a big hug instead. The lion man was squeezed like an apple in a press. Not awesomesauce. Miha told the joke about the elves in the forest. Not funny this time. I stabbed him with my rapier in the eye. A second thrust struck, but couldn’t hurt him. Garrock couldn’t break free, but the devil let go, and moved past us. He cast another unholy spell of us. Poor Arnold exploded. Garrock hasted by Jarvis finished off the barbed devil, who fell forward on the half orc piercing him with spikes.

Fortunately, we had lots of healing potions and Garrock had a wand he kept zapping himself with. In little time, we were all better. “Jack,” Miha said. “The chest.”

“Secret” Weapon

The treasure chest was cleverly crafted from an actual blue dragon. The lid was the skull with the scaly hide forming the box. I had everyone back off, as I inspected it for traps. Looked good. And it was unlocked so I opened the lid. I dove back, as a wicked burst of energy nearly hit me. “Jack, weren’t you listening? I told you it was trapped.”

“Heh, just checking,” I said. This time I could see the trigger on the hinge, and after a couple minutes I was able to disable it. Opening the chest, Miha shoved me aside. “It’s all mine,” she said, with more love than she had ever shown me. She pulled out a magnificent cloak, golden with an ermine trim, and wrapped it over her shoulders. I blinked. She was beyond dazzling. I lowered my eyes. The chest contained a circlet. “Gimme.” A whip. “Mine.” She picked up the whip and and lashed out. Flames crackled on stone. A scabbard. She took that, too.

Garrock snarled. “Where’s the weapon to defeat Azarr Kul?”

A dwarven waraxe, she left untouched. “There,” she said.

“What does it do?” Garrock asked.

“Oh, you use it to chop,” she replied. “You’re the fighter, you’ll figure it out.” She seemed eager to escape with her loot.

Jarvis said the weapon was magic definitely, but not very powerful. It was made of adamantine, a hard metal. We looked disappointed. Miha was walking away.

“Hey, wait.” I stepped in her way. “Where’s Azarr Kul? We need to stop him.”

“Oh, Jack,” she said. “Why don’t you come out to the cavern with me — for a proper send off?”

I declined. There wasn’t enough time, and the last time she walked away with the deathlinks. “Maybe, when this is over.”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “I’ll be seeing you again.” Not sure if she was being honest. “Jack, here you go.” She tossed me the scabbard. The word “hone” was carved on it. I found it shrunk to fit my rapier perfectly, nice and snug. “Thanks, Miha. You’re the best!”

“What about me?” said Errol. Pouty-face, not a good look.

She smiled, motioning to her devils. “Why don’t you try to open a chest?” With an armload of loot, she trampled on the broken pieces of his heart. I held my breath, hoping to keep the empty ache at bay, from rushing in. Didn’t work, ache settled inside like a poisonous yellow cloud.

First, we needed to let the cloudkill disperse. I decided to try another chest. Of course, the red dragon skull was trapped; but this one a little different. I managed to disable it in less than two minutes. Inside, useful potions: bull’s strength, shield of faith, more healing and lesser restorations. No time to open the other chests.

5 by 5

Just behind the altar, a shaft, perfectly round, was bored through the stone ceiling. Polished to a smooth sheen, the sides were slippery like a marble floor with neither crack nor groove. Difficult to climb. Fortunately, we had enough fly spells to go around. I drank an invisibility potion and scouted ahead.

A roar like a great river boiling over rapids while giants hammered the sides of the gorge with boulder upon boulder; but louder, a pounding that sounded an alarm to all things decent. Light swarmed me as I ascended into an impressive oval-shaped chamber. In the center, a platform encircled by five stone dragon heads. Like geysers, viscous energy flared from each mouth spouting to the roof fifty feet above where it licked the edges of the dome, gathering in a luminous pool. Within the growing pool, shadowy figures twisted and writhed. Bright eyes and grinning faces, eager to escape. Claws scratched the barrier, stretching the membrane. The bubble was about to burst.

Azarr Kul stood on the platform. Big, blue and horny. Miha’s copy was very good, and I wondered how close they had been. An easy target, for he could hear nothing and seemed completely immersed, a conductor of this grand cacophony. In the balcony surrounding the chamber, I spied four blue winged devils flittering about. Otherwise, no guards or other spectators. We had the element of surprise.

The energy eruption was so loud I could shout without being heard so being invisible it should be easy enough to sneak up on him. I floated down to the others, and we came up with a simple plan. Take out Azarr Kul, quick and quiet, before he could act. Winnie cast a silence spell of the dwarven axe to prevent the Wyrmlord from casting spells. Garrock would carry it and cling to him, while Jarvis and Winnie would keep outside its range, pelting him with spells. I drew my blade from my scabbard. The edge, keen and ready.

Azarr Kul was surrounded by invisible enemies: Errol, myself, and Dennis. Garrock and Winnie flew overhead, nearby. Flanking with Errol, I aimed for the artery in his thigh, but the blade skimmed off his thick armor, while Errol also failed with his own rapier. The Wyrmlord scoffed, as we appeared. Moving away from Garrock, Winnie tried a spell, but found she couldn’t speak, an eerie, unnatural silence surrounded her. Jarvis detected a magical aura around the altar so he moved closer to the exit, where he attempted to dispel the effect, but it was too powerful. Garrock made himself angry, charging from above, and struck with the dragonbane. A powerful strike. Good old Dennis chipped in, penetrating the tough hide with a claw.

Surprised, the Wyrmlord had no time to act. We swarmed him. While my first attack missed, my second was true. I nicked the artery, bright blood foaming. Hurting, the Wyrmlord tried to step away and cast a spell. He found himself shrouded in silence and confused. Dennis pursed, clawed him again. This was the High Wyrmlord, the one responsible for so much suffering and we had him on the ropes. He cursed, glancing up at the portal as if to say hurry up will you. Five dragon heads looked down on us with terrible fury. Claws tore at the barrier, rending slits in the fabric.

Just then, as all seemed lost, flying down, Winnie raised her mace, closed her eyes, and split open the High Wyrmlord’s skull. Azarr Kul staggered forward, throwing up his arms in anguish. His eyes raised, as he fell forward to his knees. “Forgive me, my Queen,” he said. “I have failed you.”

Signifying Nothing

The ritual interrupted. The energy plumes from the dragon heads ceased, smoldering. Even so, a raging vortex of pure energy swirled about the chamber, raking hunks of stone from the walls, hurling them sideways. The energy pool drained, whirling upward, leaving the stone dry and brittle as bone. Cracks, dark fissures formed in the dome. Tongues flared around the edges. “Run!” Garrock shouted. We all flew off the platform toward the exit, where a very large blue dragon had emerged from the shaft with warpriests and dragonguard. Two beautiful women, a redhead and a brunette, with feathered wings like angels suddenly appeared at the side of Azarr Kul. All witnessed the High Wyrmlord defeated and dying. The priests fell to their knees in prayer, while the guard stood paralyzed in shock. Fear and awe overcame the blue dragon, who stared up at the portal.

A shriek, a sundering roar. Rifts exposed in the stone expanded and burned away like paper. Then with a single explosion of heat the entire roof was stripped off, tearing away like a curtain, and the curtain thrown over us. Within the remains of the dome, a peephole to a hellish landscape. Twisted mountains of charcoal under red sky. A foul wind greeted us, reeking of brimstone and furious, blinding heat. Around us, the priests and blackguard cried out, consumed as they burst into flames. An intense bolt of blue lightning struck the collapsed Azarr Kul. Even the beautiful angels could not escape the judgment. All turned to piles of blue ash, piles of wet corruption. Only the blue dragon remained.

A dark figure as a colossal shape eclipsed the portal, squeezed out of the landscape, and expanded our perception. As the five-headed dragon unfurled her wings a shadow of dread fell upon us. But, the opening seemed to be shrinking, even as her aspect enlarged. So, this was Tiamat. “I’ve heard so much about you,” I might have said, if given the chance. The goddess was not interested in us. She focused her attention on the ancient blue dragon. This was Tyrgarun, the enemy of Kirimeivar. He said, “Azarr Kul failed you, my Queen. Give me a chance. I will succeed.”

“And?” Something kept the massive dragon from falling on top of us.

Tyrgarun looked puzzled. “—SSorry?”

The center head of Tiamat, a blue dragon did not hesitate. Moving quick as lightning, terribly fast for a body so large, the Queen rendered the blue dragon into pieces. “Apology accepted, Tyrgarun.”

Tiamat circled the chamber and floated over the platform of upturned dragon heads. The portal was shrinking, and a sense of relief, when the dragon slid back into her realm. Tailed by heightened anxiety as turning about like a frigate, the five heads reached back into our world and all roared at once. “Who shall be the agent of my vengeance for this insult? What being has a heart so black as to carry out my will better than these failed hobgoblins? Who has defeated them and therefore is worthy of a fraction of the ultimate power of Tiamat? Approach and receive my gift before the portal closes forever.”

“I am! Give it to me!” Errol Trask moved toward the platform. Garrock and Winnie quickly seized him. He struggled with all his might. “No! I beg you. Let me go. Please.”

It was in this moment of confusion that a tiny creature found its way to the center of the platform. An instant later, the jaws of the five dragon statues pulsed with energy, flooding the room with light again as they breathed acid, ice, lightning, and fire into the room, converging on the upraised platform in the center of the inner sanctum. With a deafening blast of wind, the portal closed, snapping shut like a jaw, and the room plunged into darkness and chaos.

Tiamat was gone. In her stead, a flying, leathery five-headed toady monster. The central blue head looked at us, staring especially at Winnie. Then with little more than a shrug, he flew off through the shattered roof, probably to go destroy the world or something.

“Oh, Croakums,” Winnie cried. “You were my friend.”

Afterparty

After cleaning off what remained of Azarr Kul from the powerful magic items, we made our way back through the Fane. Nobody was home. The danger seemed to have passed. After a rest in the former priest’s cell, Winnie gained the spell to raise Kirimeivar. The old dragon opened his eyes slowly. “Ah,” he said. “I had a feeling about you all. The answer to the riddle I could not solve myself.” When told about the fate of Tyrgarun he was regretful. “I did come here to warn him after all. He was playing a game he was not smart enough to win.” He said he would soon join us in Brindol for a celebration. He also longed to reunite with Meiyvr.

When we returned to Brindol, Winnie was able to procure enough diamond dust from the hobgoblin’s hoard and the tight-fisted Lady Kaal to raise Towns Speaker Norro Wiston, Laurie, and even Karl, who appeared to have changed his mind about such things. (But, no one else, just those lucky few.) Winnie was also able to restore Immerstal the Red to his full mental capacities.

Weeks later, Meiyvr, Celiira and the Tiri Kitor elves returned from their cleansing of the Vale. Frye was with them and he immediately took steps to prepare a magnificent week of feasting. The rest of the Wistons returned along with the refugees. Kirimeivar, the magnificent copper dragon also arrived. Meiyvr and he would go off soaring for hours, while Norro Wiston and I quietly played cards. I never let him win, but sometimes he got the better of me.

It was quite exhausting, being a hero. Everyone made such a fuss. Winnie was among the most important clerics in the Vale. Tredora Goldenbrow and Lord Jarmaath sought her counsel. Town Speaker Wiston and Drathgar had much to discuss as they made plans to reconstruct Drellin’s Ferry. (What a relief! I was not included.) While showing my little brother Jon Sigmund the finer points of lock-picking, he demonstrated his mastery of nose-picking then asked me if he could meet Sylvana Jarmaath. He wanted to be a Lion like her with a greatsword. Poor Garrock was mobbed by children who pulled his tail; some wanted to sit in his lap or touch his mane. Alas, the Ghostlord called. Even Jarvis and Immerstal the Red made up, but the peace was broken when Jarvis announced he was opening his own magic shop. As for me, I kept a low profile. It was wonderful to sleep in a bed. In my own room. Without my sister, her loathsome toad, or anyone else to bother me while I finished this journal.

One night I awoke from a nightmare. I was chasing Miha. She was smiling, laughing, dancing. I followed into a cool, damp room lit by torches. Naked, she writhed on a bed with posters; red and black curtains cracked open just enough so I could see her flesh. Eagerly, I undressed and tumbled headlong through the curtains. As I landed softly she was gone. I quickly realized the bed had not four but eight posters like a cage. The curtains closed. I struggled to squeeze through the bars. The foot of the bed tilted, springing upward and snapping shut like a trapdoor. I awoke thinking of the hobgoblin we left at Vraath Keep. He had a name. (Maybe someone should check on him.)

Weddings occurred daily (and Winnie presided over many) and coupling was rampant. Celiira and Meivyr, Lieutenant Arianne and Dorian, and I had seen Killiar Arrowswift sharing a quiet moment with Trellara Nightshadow. Every evening, Winnie strolled the cemetery with the paladin Zayn. Errol and Sylvana’s engagement was suspended. Errol was not himself. The torture he had endured gave him a weathered look, and he had yet to regain his health. Thin and frail, twitching nervously, he talked of leaving for Freeport. Neither of us liked the other, but misery loves company. We never mentioned her name.

“Baron” Trask was summoned to Brindol to account for himself, but Lord Jarmaath was gracious while Sylvana stared him down. Lady Kaal withdrew to her compound, venturing out for council meetings (as she was still a member though not in good standing.) Her wealth and connections were essential and she seemed willing to make amends to restore her reputation. She dressed more plainly, though no one knew whether this was calculated or genuine contrition. Rillor returned to the Manticore. Lady Kaal needed someone to run the place. And the Black Knives pitched in, using their connections to bring in much needed supplies, while quenching any black markets.

During a formal ceremony held in the Cathedral, Lord Jarmaath, Celiira and Trellara Nightshadow performed a ballad honoring the dead. It was quite moving. Outside on the steps, the original Botany Club (and Jarvis, Celiira, and Garrock) were given the official title “Defenders of the Vale.” Lord Jarmaath presented us with toy miniatures crafted by the gnome toymaker. Each one bore a striking resemblance with a key in the back that when turned would spring into movement. Mine did a backflip, drawing a rapier. (I was so pleased I broke into the gnome’s manor and returned the little wrench to his workbench. Bypassing his traps was easy enough.)

Quite a throng gathered in the square. As we paraded through Brindol, many familiar faces lined the streets, including the Kirken family from Deep Hollow, Sara Lee and Will the Smith, the Talar crew with the hermit Jorr Natherson, while an entire block was taken over by the Pickle clan who roared when Jarvis passed by. I waved and smiled, though I scanned the crowds for a gypsy with red and black hair.

Postscript

Recently, Velorian’s theater reopened. A fresh new comedy starring Carlton, Will the Smith’s friend, and none other than our Karl. The reviews are mixed, but I could use a laugh. During the parade, the Teskerwill sisters rode alongside on their powerful steeds. I noticed how Danella looked very smart in her riding clothes, the tight breeches, and the killer boots. I think she caught me staring, returned a smile. So, I’m thinking. Maybe I will ask her out to see the show.

After all that has happened, what’s the worst that could happen?

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Jack's Journal: Session 45

Surprise, You’re Dead

“Quick, they’re coming. Everybody hide.”

Garrock bolted for center pit, crouching behind a row of pews. Winnie took off, flying into an alcove. Errol and I retreated behind the secret door, open just even to take a peek. “Dennis,” Jarvis said, climbing onto the wyvern’s back. They found an alcove, where he stood still like a statue.

Coming down the main staircase, a blackspawn entered the auditorium. He stopped, sniffing, drew his falchion. He spotted the fresh corpses of dead wyverns and sticky pile of undead Spice Ghouls. “Hey, get in here!” he shouted. Garrock pounced, leaping from behind the pews. The dragon-bane did what it did best. Errol pushed past me, and tumbled out, firing the hand crossbow for a nifty sneak attack. “Arrgggh — a little help here,” the blackspawn screamed. Another guard came down the stairs and shouted, “Intruders!” His comrade could only roll his eyes, because he was quickly dead with an arrow in his jaw. Not to be outdone by a Trask, I wheeled in front of Errol, claiming the kill points. Garrock cut down another, and the last guard turned and ran back up the stairs. If he escaped, we were done for.

“Dennis,” Jarvis said. “Go get that guy!” The wyvern swooped across the high chamber and landed in landed in his path. Garrock was quick on his tail, too. Errol and I am crept down to watch, standing in a line. The blackspawn looked pleased. “Now, I have you just where I want you.” From his mouth spewed a squirt of acid, striking Garrock while Errol and I dodged out of the way. Garrock felt nothing, thanks to the resistance spell. The blackspawn started shouting, rambling. The wyvern used his wings and a bite to end it. “Well done, Dennis,” Jarvis said. Dennis.

Secrets and Doors

While Jarvis watched the stairs with his arcane eye, Errol and I searched the room and found two secret doors. One behind the altar and another opposite the one we had entered on the other side of the staircase. Garrock dragged the bodies to the pile, and Winnie found potions: invisibility, healing, and oils of magic weapon.

Errol and I investigated the secret passage behind the altar. We drank invisibility potions first to be safe. Very dark, a narrow natural passage quickly opened into a larger cavern. Fungi-coated the floor in a forest of stalagmites, falling off into an irregular pit. From the ceiling, rows of stalactites were hung. All was quiet, dark, dripping. The cavern stepped up, in three tiered levels. The floor was littered with rubble, and Errol was struggling from lack of light. He wanted to light a torch. I stepped out into the chamber, but didn’t see or hear anything. It was definitely not a dead end. The air was moving. I sensed this might take us out of the mountain. Errol seemed pleased at the opportunity to escape.

Still invisible, Errol and I reported to the others. I still wanted to explore the other secret door; but Errol insisted we had found the right way, and more guards would be coming soon. We decided to ask Dennis. Jarvis asked his friend if he had ever been through that door. “No,” he said. Jarvis asked him if the boss, Azarr Kul, had ever been through either door. “Yes,” he nodded. “Which one?” “Both.” Definitely could hear the footsteps coming closer. “Hold on,” Jarvis said. “Dennis, think carefully. Which door did the boss go through last?” The wyvern didn’t hesitate, pointed to the one behind the altar.

Rushing over, we plunged into the passage. Dennis squeezed in, and Errol closed the door behind us. Darkness. I snuck out into the chamber, my dungeoning senses told me that we were probably not alone, and sure enough behind a row of stalagmites on the tier one step above, spiny green scales looked out of place. Not one but three greenspawn razorfiend. In the swamps, we had fought one. And Sylvana had destroyed the hatchery at Rhest. I crept back to the others, and we whispered a plan.

Razor Fiends

Even as Winnie emblazoned her shield with light, the razor fiends didn’t react. I sniped one, and Garrock leaped up and struck him with the dragon bane. That got their attention. Instead of going for the lionfolk, the creature attacked the sword, slicing at the blade with its razor sharp wings. “Shit,” Garrock said. “Sylvana will kill me.” The other also slashed at the sword. Neither attack left a nick, so the ranger was safe. Jarvis tried to convince Dennis to attack, but he wouldn’t budge. Sis flew over and knocked out the wounded fiend. Errol misfired. (To think I once looked up to him.) Jarvis used a haste scroll. Let’s get this over with already.

One of the fiends saw me, and put a gash in my bow. Hey! For a second, I thought I had endless invisibility. I took a step back and stuck two arrows in his hide. The second one fell to Garrock’s blade. The last one acid-ed him, and retreated between a wall and the pit. He was fast, so Garrock could only keep pace with him. Three rapid shots, and I hit with all. Winnie joined in whacking him with her mace from on high. Dennis!? The wyvern flew over and stung the fiend with his tail. The gashed open the wyvern’s neck with a wing. Garrock finished it. While Garrock healed up Dennis with his wand, Winnie flew ahead up to the top tier. She noticed the natural cavern led to a polished corridor with smooth even walls. She could hear chanting.

Don’t Throw Up on My Account

As we huddled up, a familiar voice from behind, but not in my head. “Jack, impressive work. To get this far.” She was not alone. A pair of brutes with twitching beards and saw-toothed glaives escorted her. Winnie whispered they were devils. Barbazu.

Miha, Miha Serani. I had been rehearsing this reunion, but I could only nod and slight-wave of my hand, acknowledging I was in fact. Engorged inside, about the burst open.

She smiled, at least her voice did. “So, I take it Hravek Kharn failed in his mission?”

I said, “No, he succeeded.” A half-lie, for Kharn had created enough death and destruction to aid Azarr Khul in his primary goal: to generate the negative energy to open the gateway. She seemed confused. Good to throw her off.

My energy was opening something, a rift. The Deathlinks armor suited her, slippery and stark as the edge of black enveloping the waning moon. Black was her color, with her red hair sparking on her shoulders. “The armor looks good on you,” I blurted out. My face felt hot, blood flowing up, fingertips a bit numb and tingling.

“Thank you, Jack. Glad you noticed.” Polite, as when death comes calling. “And who is that with you, Errol Trask?”

Knife in the gut. I felt.

Errol put a bolt in his crossbow. “Stay away from us, BITCH.”

Yeah, stay away from him.

Propositions in the Dark

Winnie spoke words, and the protection of Fharlanghn fell over her. “Everyone, stay close to me.” She practically jerked me by the collar. The others drew their weapons. Miha’s guards tensed, raising their glaives.

Miha said, “Oh, how sweet. Winnie is looking out for her brother. No need to worry. I come as a friend. Otherwise I would have brought a score of blackspawn raiders with me. The two here answer only to me.”

“Alright then. What do you want?” Garrock said, getting impatient with small talk.

“I have a proposition. One that could be mutually beneficial.” She explained that although she had done work for the Red Hand she was not attached to Azar Khul on a personal level. Sounded so reasonable.

Errol was agitated. “No! Don’t listen to her.”

But, we let her continue. There was an item, kept in a chest no far from here. It contained several magic items. One item would be invaluable to us, as it would help us defeat Azar Khul. There was an item, only one. She wanted it, and we could have the others. And there were several chests, too.

“And what do you get?” Garrock said.

“Why do you need us? If it’s so close.”

“There’s a secret door to Azarr Kul’s private chamber. Some traps, and a guardian.”

We talked it over quietly. I thought we should take a chance. I sensed she was being honest. After all, she had never really hurt anyone, just —. Errol said his brothers were dead because of her. Good point, but I couldn’t agree with that. Harvin was killed by Sylvana, and Van died defending Brindol from the Red Hand. And then in Talar, she had accused the Jackal of rape. In the end, Garrock and Winnie were on my side. Jarvis was excited at the prospect of powerful magic items. So, it was decided. (Dennis wasn’t consulted, but he abstained.)

Cloudy with a Chance of Energy Drain

Miha said that in the corridor ahead there was an auxiliary altar dedicated to channeling energies. It was manned by priests in shifts. One of her devils disappeared and reappeared at the exit of the cavern. We all stayed close to Winnie, moving as a group. This would protect us from Miha’s charms. The aura kept her hipster devils away. Still, she had no problem getting close, which made me hopeful. She wasn’t a bearded devil. Garrock took a whiff of her, and said he smelled arachnoid. Likely, it was the armor, as it had belonged to the half-spider, half-dark elf we killed in the caverns beneath Talar.

The corridor was wide enough for three across and brightly lit, and the chanting was quite pronounced, about fifty feet away, where the altar had multiple platforms. Five dragon heads formed a circle. It was manned by five hobgoblins, one for each chromatic dragon head. Two important priests supervised the work in the center.A sphere of energy glowed in each maw, the heads upraised aimed at a center point.

Garrock had a bad feeling about the hallway. His instinct was to retreat. Jarvis pushed in front and said they were channelling some sort of religious sort of energy. “This one’s for Karl, you evil fucks!” A thick, yellowish fog, the rank smell of sulphur billowed around the altar. Hobgoblins choked, gagged, five fell over. Dead. But, the two warpriests in the center survived.

Errol said, “Remind me not to get on your bad side.” He slid a bolt into his crossbow and stepped up a level into the hallway.

Jarvis smiled, said the hobgoblins attempted to dispel the cloud, but failed. If they don’t get out, they will die. The cloud will move away from the wizard. We decide to press forward as a group, but Garrock won’t budge. Something terrifies him. I drank an invisibility potion. No matter, we could wait.

WTF?

What the hell was that? A floating shadow with red eyes came through the floor, grasping for Winnie. It missed, but another one passed by me and touched Errol. He grimaced, shaking, but looked okay. Errol was like “let’s get out of here!” as he shot a bolt clear through one. A fourth wraith popped up next to Dennis. The hobgoblins pulled out scrolls, started casting. More confident, they emerged from the cloud.

“I do believe in spooks,” said Garrock, uncharacteristically cringing. The lion ran away into the dark. I shot each muttering hobgoblin, interrupted their spells. HaHa! Jarvis gave a potion to Dennis. Miha ordered her bodyguards to attack the nearest wraith. I am touched by one. Not good. I feel chilled, shriveled up, as something important was drained. Hobgoblin tried to dominate Winnie, but rejected.

Drawing my rapier, I tumbled between the hobgoblins and got behind one, stabbing him in the back. Winnie raised her holy symbol and turned a wraith, while was struck by one of the devil’s as it fled into the stone.

Garrock felt better away from the wights, rubbed magic oil on his bow. Miha told the same joke about the elves in the woods to a hobgoblin and he fell over laughing. The other one who I flanked with Winnie cast a spell, disappeared. Clank, clank, clank as he moved away. I stabbed the spot and struck him. “He’s here,” I said.

The last wraith touched Winnie, but she shook it off. Garrock shot his bow at the wight and hit it. Winnie aimed a ray of searing light at the wight but shot wide. Dennis hopped over to help out, but couldn’t. Miha stepped close to Errol and whispered something with a smile. He said, “Keep away from me,” and moved away from her toward the wraith. She laughed.

Next to me I heard chanting, a curse as his spell failed, and clank, clank, clank. I followed, hoping he wouldn’t get away to sound the alarm, and stabbed. Nothing. “Guys, this one’s getting away.” “Be right there, Jack,” Winnie broke the wraith with her mace, and in her second attack hit the laughing hobgoblin. “He’s suffering,” she said. “Need to put him down mercifully.” With the wraiths gone, Garrock gained his courage and pounced. Dennis came up to help me, while Miha helpfully picked up Garrock’s bow. She was talking to Errol again.

“Never mind,” I said. The hobgoblin appeared and told me I could find what I was looking for at the top of the altar. It made sense. Jack would win the prize, be the hero. Jarvis spoiled everything. Dennis tried to stop me, grabbing me in his jaws. Garrock surrounded my new friend, and finished him off. I wiggled free, and realized it wasn’t really my friend. Winnie restored me from what the wight had taken.

Miha and Errol walked up together, side by side. Were they holding hands? Winnie, damn her protection spell, longing to be under her spell. What did she see in him? He probably can’t even find a secret door or disable a trap. His skills were all superficial, selfish.

Garrock reminded us the spooks might come back. Miha said the secret door should be along the back wall. While I searched, from the hobgoblins Winnie took two scrolls. When the wraiths return, she would be ready. Here it was, just as Miha had said.

Soon this would all be over. I didn’t seem to care.

View
Jack's Journal: Session 44
Red Hand HQ, Errol's Rescue

Good Mourning

Lord Jarmaath summoned us to the great hall. Framed in gentle repose by the heavy chair, he looked like he might be lying in state. Face flat and hammered like a dustpan, forehead streaked with blue veins, hair fringed with doubt. Throat gnarled, lips crackling like parchment. He inhaled as if to speak, drawing all closer to him. “We won the battle, maybe not the war.” At his side stood his sister, Sylvana, strong in her full plate, and his lover, Tredora, with a smile wafting like incense.

This morning, after her morning prayers, Winnie had donned the red plate armor of the defeated Hravek Kharn, the Talon of Tiamat. She fit the warrior priestess, miles away from the young woman in brown robes treading the Dawn Way with her quarterstaff. And she was quiet. We had barely talked about father, though there was much to say. The priests of Pelor cast gentle repose on the body, and we both said soft words over him. From her pack, Winnie produced diamond dust, the gift of the dragon Kirimeivar. The healer returned as she spoke plainly, restoring Kerden Jarmaath to full health.

The Lord sat up straight in his chair, testing his grip on each arm rest, a carven lion’s paw. “Thank you,” he said.

Instant Messages

Following our plan, we attempted to contact Errol Trask, who was rumored to have gone searching for the Red Hand’s headquarters. If positive, we thought to try scrying on him, and if that worked, Winnie could take us there in a jiffy.

Winnie sent her first message to Errol. “Brindol safe. Need to stop Azarr Kul. Opening gate. Are you safe? Where are you? We can come there fast. Winnie Wiston.”

A ragged reply. “Winnie, I’m here. Rescue me. Took the girls. Just killed the dragon.”

Our hearts sank. He was captured, and the dragon might be Kirimeivar. At least he was alive, and we might be able to get to him.

Scrying app

High Mourner Mhiram allowed Winnie to use the scrying pool at the Temple of Wee-jas. Sylvana lent us the engagement ring from Errol Trask, which increased Winnie’s chance for success.

After what seemed an hours, the edges of the pool peeled away. Images flickered. Shallow breathing. Looking out from behind bars in a straw-lined cell. Assorted machinery: rack, iron maiden, tank, manacles. Hovering about, a shrouded figure. Wrapped in chains that ended in hooks, barbs, and razor blades. Mhiram recognized the torturer as a kyton, a devil. Screams from a hobgoblin on a rack. The final scenes revealed Errol, what was left of him. Emaciated, burned, broken. Alive. Winnie pulled back to examine the torture chamber; it was large and torchlight with a walkway on the second level. The cells were underneath.

Winnie sent another message to Errol asking about the dragon killed, and more information about his captors. He replied that it was a copper dragon killed yesterday. Many enemies in addition to the chain devil, a blue dragon, at least 30 black spawn, wyverns, other devils and many priests of Tiamat. “Promise, you’ll come save me.”

One last message. We told him we were coming, but first must rest. Asked him to describe where he was. He described a narrow trail from Vraath Keep took them into the mountains. Days? Captured by blue dragon outside. Girls were taken away one by one. Miha here.

Oh, my heart! Winnie hadn’t asked about her. Was she in the adjacent cell, a prisoner to the devil’s whims? Or was she his assistant, in leather thigh highs, lashing a whip? Back to work, Jack.

Rather than rush in, we decided to rest. Winnie would have her full compliment of divine powers. Also, Tredora, Brother Derny, Malchor and other clerics offered protective spells and flasks of holy water and vials of anti-toxin. Sellyria Starsinger made our skin tough as bark. Sylvana, Meivyr and Celiira arrived to see us off. Group hug? Jarvis came running in, huffing and puffing. “Hey! you weren’t going to leave without me?” He had been preparing some new spells: arcane eye and cloud-kill. Ah, Nice!

Winnie said she could only transport herself and three others with their equipment. Jarvis said no problem, and shrank down to improved, reduced Jarvis, hitchhiking in Garrock’s mane. Meivyr offered to cast greater invisibility and protection from evil on all of us. “It’s in your hands now, all our fates,” Sylvana said. She decided to lend her dragon bane sword to Garrock. “Remember that stupid birthday party.”

“We’ll celebrate your next one together.”

“Better, ‘cause I’m gonna get ripped.”

Take These Chains

Winnie took our hands, asked Fharlanghan to take us there. We arrived on the walkway overlooking the torture chamber. Chains hung down from the arched, vaulted ceilings. Chunks of rotting flesh hung from hooks. Contrasted with the artful carven pillars and mosaics washed the walls with dragons.

The chain devil going about his business, unaware of our presence. Invisibility comes in handy. While Garrock whispered he was going down, I fired two shots and one hit. Surprise! Winnie decided to jump down, and a rack of torture implements fell over, as she crashed into it. Oopsies! The chain devil whirled around, unfurling his shroud of clinking chain, hooks and barbs. Chains hanging from the wall, near Winnie, came arrive and lunged at her, just missing. The chain devil reached up for a chain and climbed up into the air. Garrock cursed, chucking his trident, for a hit. I fired two more arrows, hitting it the head, and it slid down to the floor. Jarvis dumped out a vial of holy water on its remains, something Mhiram suggested to keep the devil from healing itself.

Winnie spotted Errol in his cell, tossed him a ring of keys she found on the chain devil. “It’s us,” she whispered. “We’ll be right back.” The invisibility was expiring, and we wanted to keep going while our protective spells were in play. I moved to the strong iron door, checked it for traps. It was unlocked, and I opened it a crack, as the others formed up behind me. Powerful stench, rotting flesh.

Blackspawn Barracks

A large room with a high ceiling. Long table and two dozen bunks. A pair of blackspawn raiders diced, and another ate. Strung up in the rafters, the decaying remains of a copper dragon. Kirimeivar? Maybe Winnie could do something, but it would have to wait. There were other guards in the room.

I stepped inside quietly. Garrock was breathing hard, ready to go off. I loosed two arrows at one. A magic missile whizzed by taking him out, and four more bolts strung the others. Garrock roared and pounced on one at the table. The other one drank a potion and vanished. “Watch the door,” I said to Winnie. There were two other exits to the outside hall. The last visible one shouted “Wake up!” and sprayed acid. Two others roused themselves from their bunks.

Jarvis spread grease on the floor. Garrock became visible as the spell wore off. He sniffed, sensing an enemy within reach and stabbed at the air. A loud sound, as something slipped and fell next to him. Grease! Garrock pounced, thrusting his trident. Another blackspawn vanished. Hard to keep track. I stepped up and fired arrows at one, lurking in bunk. Jarvis told a joke. “Two elves are taking a shit in the woods…” The blackspawn fell over, rolling in laughter, at the punchline which was just gross.

While Winnie protected one exit with her mace, Garrock blocked the other door, pushing a table against it. Trapped, one by one we took down the others. Even laughing boy stopped. Garrock made him stop. Winnie found a key on one of the guards, and we locked the doors.

A quick search of the room, and from a foot locker, we found potions of invisibility, healing, jumping, pass without a trace, and oils of magic weapon. More interesting: a bejeweled scepter with three entwined snakes; a hand crossbow, and fancy bracers with decorated with arrows. I liked the look of those, and slipped them on.

Garrock respectfully lowered the corpse of his old companion. Winnie inspected the body. The dragon could be raised, if only she had been prepared. After an extended rest, she could try, but no time now.

Errol’s Tale

Errol let himself out of his cell. He looked like hell. Winnie checked him over, then used a powerful restoration spell as she had with Jarmaath. Did the trick. “Thanks, sweetie,” he said, patting her cheek. After guzzling down a healing potion, he told us the blackspawn guards patrolled in groups of three. We might be able to avoid them since we had invisibility potions. But, he thought there was another way out of here. A cell in the corner. He said each time one of his girls was taken away she was placed in that cell where she would suddenly vanish. He went on to explain that all the activity was on the lower level. He said that a blue dragon guards the outside; that’s how they were caught. Now, he wanted to escape. Desperately.

I convinced him we needed to stop Azarr Kul. That was why we came. If we didn’t everything would be wrecked. He shrugged, agreed to help. I gave him my extra rapier and a chain shirt from our bag of holding. I asked him about Miha Serani. He soured, cursing her. She was a guest of honor here. The bitch used to come down here to torment him.

Secret Doors & Swinging Girls

Examining the cell where the girls vanished, I found a secret door, very well-concealed. Locked, but Winnie had found a key. Before we opened it, Jarvis raised his hand, wanting to try one of his new spells: arcane eye. He peered through the keyhole. Shadowy hallway, stairs doing down to another wall. We opened the door, and on the opposing wall, I found another secret door. Listening, I heard faint echoes. Like music, singing. Since we had a glut of potions, we each drank one and vanished.

And this passage ended in yet another dead end. And another hidden door. Definitely music. We could hear it clearly, female voices singing. The girls? Errol perked up. Softly, opening door, the passage opened into a vast, open room. Shadows licked by hundreds of candles of red, blue, and black. Rows of empty pews were arranged in a pit in the center of the round room. On a raised dais sat an altar flanked by twin statues, 12 feet tall, depicting five-headed dragons. The ceiling rose to a height of 60 feet, and dragon scales hung from the rafters on leather strands, stirring softly in the air. We had come into a side entrance. A wide staircase led up to the public entrance.

Five alcoves, about 20 feet off the ground, circled the auditorium. In each, a dragon with a scorpion tail poised to strike. Wyverns. On the stage area, five humanoid figures, scantily clad, performed for the empty pews.

Gray-skinned, but with lustrous hair. Their mouths were stretched out, with large fangs, and there was a bit of stench. They seemed to be rehearsing a number. Crossing arms, hands on hips, slashing. “If you want to be my dinner, come and dance with me” or some-such. It was Errol’s girls, of course, but they had changed.

Winnie said, “Those girls aren’t girls. They’re ghouls!”

Garrock said we should all take an anti-toxin. Wyverns had a nasty sting. Jarvis said, “Look at me, a boring wizard.” He dropped a fireball on the girls. Rosemary burned up, but the others held together. I shot an arrow at Harissa, the scowling one. Errol shot the hand cross bow at the perky blonde Cicely ; the bolt added some fire damage. I struck Saffron the tall, strong one with two shots. Errol shot her as well.

Harissa said, “Errol? Come, my love, join us.” The ghouls came closer, and the stench was revolting, sickening. Winnie stepped up and called on Fharlanghan to turn the undead, while Garrock looked like he was holding back puke.

The wyverns woke up, bellowing in their alcoves. Jarvis asked one to be his friend in exchange for treasure. One wyvern flew down to attack Garrock, and he struck it with Sylvana’s dragonbane greatsword. Garrock was quickly surrounded by three wyverns. Fortunately, their stingers couldn’t penetrate his tough hide; but Errol got lucky and hit the ranger with a flaming bolt. To speed up the inevitable, Jarvis used a scroll of haste. (Mercifully.)

As the last wyvern fell to the dragonbane and the foul ghouls shriveled into a rotting piles, the sound of heavy footfalls pounding on the staircase. More were coming.

View
Jack's Journal: Session 43
Slaughterhouse Square

Discreet Departures

Two bolts came from the coffin maker’s shop. Second story window. The Lions quickly formed a phalanx around their fallen lord. Tredora Goldenbrow spoke to him, softly and calmly, squeezing his hand. “Sylvana,” she said. “Your brother’s alive.”

The sniper was good. The second bolt had pierced an artery just above the heart. Brother Derny on his knees, applied pressure to the wound. His robes were heavy with blood and sweat, mixed with dirt. He looked grave, doing his best. Winnie hesitated. I said, “He’ll be okay, let’s go with the others.” But, we both knew our father was good as dead.

Garrock had raced ahead, springing and striding over the cobblestones, with Sylvana trailing, cursing she didn’t have Sherman. Meivyr pulled Winnie along. As I moved, I rummaged my pack for a smoke-stick. A dark cloud formed in our wake. Hopefully, it will grant some cover.

Skipping out of a side-street, a radiant face brightened our day. Her auburn hair always looked perfect (even at the end of all things.) It was Celiira Nesten, of course, who had come to help out with a song and a smile. “I could use a smile about now,” said Meivyr. “And a hug.”

Sylvana and Garrock lined up at the door, waiting for the rest of us. Solid, mahogany and hand-carved with skulls, the brazen face of Wee-Jas embossed as a door knocker. Sylvana put her shoulder into it, cracked it off the hinges.

The first floor was a showroom. Caskets, urns, headstones, and assorted burial products, including flowers. I had never been inside the place, but I imagine the paladin Zayn might have taken Winnie here after the cemetery on their first date. Some of the caskets, velvet-lined and billowy, looked cozy. For tender repose, if you know what I mean.

May I Help You…Die?

Hobgoblins stood up from behind coffins. Bare-chested with official tattoos of the Red Hand burned into their rippling muscles. We fought similar guys (once alive and once undead) at the Ghostlord’s. They twirled whips made of chains, spinning and stepping forward, over the elbow, under the armpit. Impressive show. A chain caught Sylvana around the sword arm. Twin robed priests – with mirror duplicates – entered from opposite doors; streams of lightning criss-crossed as they passed through Sylvana and Garrock. Yikes! A giant hornet appeared by the window next to me, and a large wolf savaged Meivyr, knocking her down. Not looking too good.

Winnie read from a scroll and made three with chains turn and run scared. One squeezed through a window, shrieking. Currgh tripped up one monk, who was prepared to stay and fight, and he started flailing kicks from his back. I tumbled behind the big wolf and stabbed from behind. Nice, dogie. Meivyr had a dagger out, and it was just enough distraction. I stabbed the wolf in the neck, dropping it.

Celiira dropped a cone of silence around the robed sorcerers. They shrugged, pulled out spears. But not for long, once the fighters sorted the real from the duplicates they had made of themselves. Pop! Pop! cleaving through a bouquet of balloons, but no pop just sickening silence.

Sylvana, Garrock, and Meivyr were badly wounded, but we found some healing potions on the hobgoblins. Celiira also healed Garrock. I took some antitoxin (thanks Garrock) as the giant wasp stung me. Winnie found some scrolls that might be useful: haste, fly, invisibility x 2.

Lady Beware

Up the stairs, stomping. The sniper would be waiting for us. But, no one there. Hold on. I heard someone move near the window. I fired a shot which skipped out the window, over the head of the hobgoblin who had squeezed out the window, still running. Meiyvr attempted to detect the magical aura. Celiira said she had a spell to see invisibility, but she thought she should wait because she had a better spell to use against many foes, and instead healed up Meivyr. Garrock ran up the stairs and pushed past us to the window. He thought he heard someone move. A cloud of black smoke started to fill the room, near the window. Celiira said she was glad she didn’t waste the spell and healed Sylvana. Everyone inched closer, cornering the assassin. Currgh started sniffing and snapped at nothing but air. Garrock stabbed a spot — hit meat with his trident — but missed with short-sword.

A cloaked figure, heavily-armored appeared in the cloud as a morning star smacked Garrock in the face. “The Day of the Blood Sun has come!” As Lady Dagger had escaped, riding away into the woods, she had promised a greater day of slaughter.

Lady Dagger was hard to hit, with all this smoke, and her armor. Sylvana swung with mighty strokes but missed. Meivyr used one of the scrolls to make us hasty. Winnie stepped up, but missed with her mace. The villain was surrounded, and I managed to move opposite Sylvana and pierce her armor with my rapier. Lady Dagger seemed to be enjoying this as though she had already won the day. “Blood, All the blood! I have seen it. The Lord of Brindol - dead! Townspeaker Norro Wiston — dead! By Erythnul, I have seen it on this day!” Croakums stirred in Winnie’s pouch, going all gelatinous with extretement. Sylvana cut the Lady Dagger down, shut her up. Croakums released a long, lonely sigh.

Game Over, Mensch

Sellyria Starsinger spoke to Sylvana telepathically and said the leader of the horde was heading to the Cathedral with giants and armored ogres. Lars Urveth said, “Damn it, I’m pinned down in the marketplace. We have scores of wounded there and the clerics are just trying to keep them alive. Sylvana, get your team there. Stop them from getting to the cathedral! I’ll get there as soon as I can. Sellyria, spread the word, pull back forces where you can see to cover the other entrances to cathedral square.”

A dozen clerics attended the wounded, overflowing the temple steps, offering what they could: a spoon of water, bandage and gauze, a prayer for quick mercy. On this dark day, divine powers were quickly spent.

Kerden Jarmaath was not dead. He had been poisoned but thanks to the physical ministration of Tredora he would survive, though he was too weak to move or speak. He had been moved to within the cathedral. Tredora lowered her head. Our father was not so lucky. Brother Derny was with his body, offering prayers to Pelor. I gripped Winnie’s arm, expecting her to break down, and found my head on her shoulder. I sucked it in, to shed tears for one man would look stupid, in this scene of misery. Winnie, steely and determined, less shaken than me, raised me up. “Jack,” she said. “Roads go ever, ever on. Come on, brother.”

Erythnul sucks. Celiira spotted Malchor, carrying the body of Laurie. I saw Delora Zann, propping herself up against a wall. And the Teskerwills sisters, Kharra and Hurndahl. They looked better than most. Many of the Shining Axes had fallen, including Jarvis’ lady-friend, Gadraelin Earthgrip. The Red Hand sucks.

Soon the cavalry rode in, but not to save us. Captain Janaki of House Kaal Guard and Danella Teskerwill were with them. The dashing paladin of Wee-Jas, Zayn, was also alive — maybe he was disappointed. He nodded at us. All forces were falling back to the Cathedral square. The cleric formed a defensive perimeter around the wounded. We prepared. From the bag of holding, the final scrolls were drawn: fireball x two by Meiyvr while Winnie drew more healing: two cure moderate wounds and two cure critical wounds.

Waves of wounded came limping in. Kellin Shadowbanks, the halfling proprietor of the OBI — no idea he had stayed to fight — with our brother in law, Drathgar who looked quite weary but raised a fist, and an older halfling I didn’t know but he smelled familiar. The older halfling walked right up to us, with a worried face, and asked if we’d seen Junior. It was Jarvis Pickle, Jarvis’ papa. Of course, we had seen Junior. He was okay.

Our friend Stephan carried the limp body of Karl. The tall man looked sad. “High five,” he called. “Go get ’em, guys — for Karl.”

Climax (Precious and Few)

Horns blasted all around. Swarming and smelling blood, forces of the Red Hand spilled into the square from every corner, though they held back, awaiting orders. At their head, an impressive hobgoblin in red plate armor, no doubt crafted from dragon scale. “Destroy them at the Cathedral!” he screamed.

Bloody skirmishes surrounded us. Captain Lars fought with Lieutenant Arianne, Dorian and the Lions to the west, elves and dwarves fought side by side in the eastern side, out of the corner of my eye I spotted Killiar on Hodin. The cavalry with Janaki and Zayn filled gaps, while our back were guarded by the militia slingers and archers under the command of Soranna Anitah. Kellin Shadowbanks and Drathgar also represented Drellin’s Ferry. “For Douth!” shouted an old halfling, whirling a sling about.

We formed up in the middle of the square in the path of the temple, just the five of us.

Hravek Kharn spotted us. “Them!” he shouted. “The wyrmlord slayers! They are MINE! Keep the others off us.” A handful of armored ogres with morning-stars, hill giants with clubs — one bearing the standard of the Red Hand, and a pair of robed figures made up Kharn’s personal bodyguard.

Answering the wyrmlord’s challenge, Sylvana broke out ahead, with her great-sword the dragon’s bane, calling out. “For Brindol!” Cheers erupted among the ranks of defenders. Garrock came pounding after, roaring as loud as he could muster. From all around voices shouted, “The Lion! The Lion!” Meiyvr followed and read from a scroll, casting a spell to make haste, everyone except Celiira. She said, “No worries, my dear. That spell gives me wrinkles.” The bard wielded Lady’s Dagger’s morning-star to happily join the fight. Winnie also read from a scroll. Fharlanghan’s staff appeared, whacked one of the robed figures, a spell-caster no doubt. I followed Winnie’s lead and struck the sorceress with an arrow.

Annoyed that she couldn’t retaliate against us, she spoke to her master. “What can I do, wyrmlord?” He replied, “Call a flame strike on all the wounded weak humans.” She gleefully pulled out a scroll and began casting. All those people, exposed in the open, scores would be killed in seconds. I couldn’t bear it, too much today.

But just as the area above the wounded was igniting in flames, it fizzed out. A hill giant club brained the spell caster. She was knocked out. Kharn didn’t seem to mind; he had another lover, though she was nowhere to be seen, likely up to no good.

The beaming giant looked our way and gave us all two large thumbs up. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m having a great time!” That giant talked like a giant, but they way he smiled and jaunted looked familiar. It was Jarvis! The other hill giant not to be left out of the fun whacked the Jarvis giant silly. “Hey, your breath smells like penis — kobold penis,” Jarvis said. (Meivyr said, “And you would know, how?”) The hill giant didn’t take kindly to the insult and knocked the other giant out. Good save, Jarvis, taking one for the helpless and injured! Too bad, no one will ever know the truth. Brindol will probably erect a statue for that hill giant.

Wyrmlord Hravek Kharn recognized Sylvana, as an undisciplined hill giant closed in on her, but whiffed with his club. “The dragon-bane! She is MINE!” Raising a heavy pick, he called upon his god. “Tiamat, favor me this day!” and walked into the air all high and mighty-like.

Ogres chucked spears at Garrock as the mascot was clearly within bounds. Meivyr then did a wonderful thing. She touched me, using her magic to turn me greater than invisible. Unseen, I closed ranks to within striking distance of Kharn, drawing my bow. Celiira and Winnie moved up, spreading out. I think Celiira meant to use her confusing spell, but Jarvis’ trick made her reluctant to affect an ally, so she started to sing.

Sylvana had no qualms about thrusting her sword into the giant’s thigh, puncturing a vein. Kharn saw that, changed his mind, and decided to delegate. “Destroy them all!” He seered Sylvana with light, but it only bronzed her skin. Ogres rushed at Sylvana with morning-stars, as Garrock moved to flank the giant. Garrock missed — too hasty — but the ogre hit. Meiyvr pulled out a scroll and placed a fireball near the leader. Kharn was injured but laughed it off “Fireball? How boring and predictable, is that the best you can do?” Sounded a bit like Jarvis, but nah, I thought.

The hill giant took a clumsy swipe at Sylvana. Winnie charged forward, waving the giant bane mace like a maniac, and fell the giant with one glorious smashing stroke. Just then two glowering apes appeared. Winnie was smitten goodly, but Garrock was just gashed.

Just as I decide to aim for Kharn’s large forehead, a flash of lightning hurled past me, connecting with Sylvana and Garrock. Ouch!

And there she was, Kharn’s other woman, the robed sorceress. She had made duplicates of herself, mirroring her glee at the hurt to my friends. I figured thanks to Meiyvr’s hasty spell, I had three shots, and it would only take one to kill her. But, a carnival game with the bobbing duplicates. I took my stance, nocked an arrow and put an arrow through a throat. Took the prize. The witch fell without a word. I turned and fired two arrows at Kharn. Two good hits: under the armpit and in the groin. Fuck yeah, I won’t lie. It felt good. Kharn was pissed off. He ordered his guard to find me. Two ogres started sniffing around. They looked intelligent. One took a guess and just missed me with the morning-star, while the other was looking through me, gripping his morning-star, waiting to knock me out as the next arrow was loosed.

Sylvana took out the hill giant, slicing off his leg, and stepped five feet to gash the other one. Kharn was suddenly quiet, looked worried; he shot a cone of cold at the fighters. The ogres were clever, and two more came over to seek me out. One hit me hard, I saw stars. Another missed, but barely. They had an idea where I was, but I already knew what I had to do. Three good shots should do it, but it’s likely I might not survive.

Just then, as I nocked an arrow, a shadow of color smocked me. Meiyvr! I snapped my eyes shut. Pulsing color shrouded my face like a kaleidoscopic hood. Spots , streaks, bright, wavy. Slowly, opening my eyes, I could plainly see I had a clear shot. The ogres had blank looks with lax morning-stars, and Kharn looked bedazzled. A juicy target. One arrow for Kharn — he fell to the ground in a heap, and I put two more in an ogre. Jack Wiston putting down enemies like Jarmaath.

The sole remaining hill giant, dropping the banner of the Red Hand, fled for the gates. The ogres were more loyal. Gaining his senses, one rushed over to the wyrmlord, pulling out a potion, and pouring it into his mouth. From his bloody lips, a weak laugh.

The battle continued, with defenders taking the offense, as hobgoblins broke ranks.

Garrock ignored the ape, who took a swipe, and as he headed over to finish off Kharn before he could be revived. Before the Lion-man could run him through, the villain laughed weakly and spouted something. Garrock brought down his trident to silence him. Sylvana took out the ogre who had aided his master.

The defenders of the city roared in unison, a terrifying sound. Ragged, they pursued their enemies with rage. And we all stood in the middle.

The ape who had been summoned was still here. He looked around, a little unsure, but he had nowhere to run. He was living in the moment. Meiyvr was standing there, meeting Celiira’s gaze as she sang a song of victory. Dead to rights, she was. The ape charged from behind, with savage claw, claw and vicious bite. Seeing this, Celiira lost her song. But, an invisible hand intervened with the point of a rapier. “One thing about living in Brindol I just can’t stomach; all these damn goblins.” And there in the flesh stood her longtime guardian, Rillor Paln.

A Small Victory

Along came Jarvis, his body jostled a bit, by the running weasel darting and turning underfoot. “Brilliant!” the wizard squeaked. “Just brilliant, amazing fireball. Did you see that giant? Yeah, that was me. Magic Jar, very useful spell.” No one seemed to be paying him much attention. (No one even made the obvious joke, but I will now: magic pickle jar.) “Somebody, little help, unstrap me, please!” Garrock obliged. Jarvis was off to look for Senior.

The story was spreading among the city. The beautiful sorcerer, Meiyvr, had taken down Hravek Kharn with color and light. I know her, they all said. She worked at the Laughing Manticore. Dazzler and the Lion finished him off. No mercy, he roared.

From the wyrmlord and his personal guard, we gathered many useful items: including the beautiful red plate armor fashioned from dragon scale. At the temple, the leaders gathered as the defenders mopped up. Tredora Goldenbrow praised us for our quick action in taking down Kharn, for many lives had been saved. Sadly, Eldremma Axenhaft, who was well known to Meiyvr, had fallen on the field.

Afterglow: Debriefing, Debunking

The leaders met in a room in the cathedral. Brindol’s defenders had won a great victory against all odds. But, it didn’t feel that way. Weariness, sadness. Dawn would never come it seemed. Many lives were lost this day. Little to celebrate. And there was much work yet to be done.

Tredora opened the meeting with a brief prayer, then announced that Garrock had foreboding news.

The Lion-man repeated the wyrmlord’s dying words. “You think you’ve won. But my death and every soul here will bring the true victory. You can’t stop it. You can’t find the High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul and even if you knew where he was you would never get there in time. The gate will open. Tiamat will rise!” He added, “The bloody bastard was fucking laughing at us.” It may have just been an empty boast, but it did explain a lot.

Winnie understood the significance, drawing upon her knowledge of the planes. She explained how the entire invasion, all the death and destruction, the burning of the Elsir Vale was a means to an end. Negative energy is a powerful component, and with the right conduit, it could open a planar doorway.

Tredora agreed, “There may even be a way to use the energy to open a permanent gateway, but Azarr Kul would need to complete the ritual soon.”

Silence. Everyone turned their eyes to Sylvana Jarmaath. “What should we do now?”

Red Bull

Verassa Kaal swept in from the shadows with Captain Janaki at her side. “I wouldn’t except Sylvana to know. And I wouldn’t hold it against her. Hasn’t she already done more than her share? It’s time for others to step up to the challenge. Seeing as Lord Jarmaath is out of commission, Brindol needs a strong, experienced leader to oversee our people through this difficult transition.” Too humble to say it, but she was the obvious choice.

Tredora said, “Lady Kaal, you are mistaken. Lord Jarmaath isn’t dead, just severely poisoned.”

Lady Kaal smiled. “Where is he then at this very important meeting? Is he conscious? Can he stand? Can he speak? The people need —”

“I assure you. Tomorrow, after some divine healing Kerden will be fully capable.”

Lady Kaal was about to open her mouth to say something crass that Jarvis was probably thinking, but someone butted in. “Lady Kaal, where were you during the siege? Holed up in your hideout, no doubt, polishing your coins and framing your ledgers?” It was me, Jack Wiston.

“If not for the House Kaal Guard, this city would have fallen —”

“You mean the guard we had to pay you to aid in the defense of the city, with gold from our own pockets. Meiyvr signed over the deed to the Manticore to you as part of the bargain — "

“In troubled times, we all have to make sacrifices — "

“But, my lady, what have you ever sacrificed?” I paused for emphasis. “You have sacrificed — nothing!” This was Jack Wiston’s finest moment, and he was visible, at least everyone seemed to be looking at me, none with smiles. Wish my dad were here to see it, though he would be shaking his head, frowning.

Lady Kaal said, “Well, we will see about that. Janaki, let’s go.”

Captain Janaki said, “I quit,” and Lady Kaal walked away in a huff.

The Scrying Game

Zayn, the paladin of Wee-Jas, said to Winnie. "Excuse me, Winnie Wiston. There’s something I should have told you. Van Trask mentioned his brother, that he had gone in search of the Red Hand’s headquarters.

High Mourner Mhiram offered use of a scrying mirror.

“Jarvis,” I said. “You know a lot about scrying. I remember you were talking about that spell when we were staying at an inn.” (I didn’t add: Meivyr and Celiira were sharing a room.)

Jarvis blushed, too modest. “Errr, yes, it’s quite simple really, especially if you have met the person or a personal object.”

Tredora said, “Perhaps, even if we knew where to go, could we get there in time?”

Winnie said with some rest, she thought Fharlanghan could help. But, she could only bring along a two additional passengers. But, she felt confident she could travel a great distance in seconds.

Of course, I said to my sister. “I’m going with you.”

Sylvana? It became clear to Sylvana she will be needed at her brother’s side. In his weakened condition, physically and politically, he will need her in Brindol as a show of strength, particularly toward the ambitious Lady Kaal.

Garrock said, “Oh, hell — it’s either you lot or the Ghostlord. I’ll take my chances with the Wiston twins.”

Though the horde had been broken and fled the city, there were still many pockets of hobgoblins, ogres, and other nasty creatures throughout the Vale that needed to be hunted down. Celiira Neston volunteered to lead that hunt and Meiyvr will of course be at her side, along with Kiliar Arrowswift and Trellara Nightshadow of the Tiri-Kitor, and the Lions of Brindol Lt. Arianne and (now Lt.) Dorian.

Always Slippery when Mind

In the square, I noticed Dorian and Arianne consumed in a long embrace. I thought about Harry, who was dead, and Miha Serani, who was my weakness. Even though I knew better, I was a little disappointed not having seen her during the siege. I longed to hear that voice in my head, calling out my name. I longed. I longed. Could she see me know, if only she were scrying on me? She knew me well enough — and the armor — she stole my armor. Well, I hoped she was, because she would see how awesome I could be.

Well, I knew she was out there. Hooked up with the High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul or dashed by Errol Trask. If we find either, we may find her. I would kill them both if necessary.

View
Jack's Journal: Session 42
Neighborhood Watch

A bucket brigade organized by Norro Wiston had saved the Temple of Yondalla, but not the neighborhood. The dragon’s flame had tore apart the halfling homes of wood, mud and thatch, a smoldering ring of charred wreckage washed up against the foundation.

“Well done,” said Jarvis, clapping his hands. “I couldn’t have done it without your help. No need to thank me, I’m off to the real battle!” Rearing up and pawing the air, Rikki scurried away with the tiny, halfling wizard waving his cap.

Outside the walls, a gang of ogres had retrieved the head of the fallen dragon Abithriax, mounting it on a spear. “Haha, you are all going die.” They thought it was so funny.

Despite the best efforts of the city’s defenders, the walls had been breached and pockets of invaders had trickled in. Lord Jarmaath speaking telepathically to his sister asked us to secure the Dawn Way, while alleys and cross-streets were covered by groups of Lion Guard. A barricade had been constructed, and Sylvana called on none other than Lieutenant Arianne and her ranged specialists.

From the magic bag, Meiyvr found a scroll of grease and fireball. “One of these could be useful,” she said.

Lieutenant Arianne arrived in a contraption constructed by the gnome toy-maker. Accompanied by four female guard, on a cart mounted with not one but two heavy crossbows, the banner of Brindol wildly waving on a pole mounted to her high-backed seat.

Sylvana and Garrock took position up front, near where the wide street turned. Winnie and I in the second rank, with the Lions taking cover behind the barricade. Meivyr touched Crawdad who pecked at me and I turned greater invisible, like I had against the dragon. In this way, I could get in multiple cheap shots.

A troop of hobgoblins ran around the corner, seeing us, hit the brakes, pulling out their bows. The sergeant shouted to someone. “Clear that barricade!”

Swooping over the rooftops, a manticore lashed its tail and unleashed a volley of spikes at the Lion archers. Spikes stuck in the barricade, skipped off the cobbles. Timony was gashed in the forearm. “No, not Timony,” I said to myself, striking the manticore with a shocking arrow in the neck. A second manticore appeared and a rapid fire of spikes at the Lions. This time, Weiss, Cole and Timony were hit! Brownstein, she was unscathed. “Take me instead,” I thought. Lieutenant Arianne gritted her teeth, squinted her eye, and pulled the triggers. BUDDA- BUDDA. Two heavy shots in succession. One hit the uninjured manticore with a thud. The Lions raised their longbows and riddled the opposite one with arrows. I shot him down, turned to the other and hit him in the eye. “Is it time for fireball — or grease?” said Meivyr, who instead finished off that one with a pair of scorching rays. The Lions drank potions.

The disciplined hobgoblins stayed in formation, firing arrows at the barricade. Now, Garrock roared and charged into them headlong. Winnie drew her mace, and Sylvana stepped up with two-handed steel. Flanked by enemies, Garrock took advantage taking down one and cleaving to another. Currgh bit the sergeant, and pulled her to the ground. Sylvana took out one and Winnie another. Lieutenant Arianne’s bolts struck the last one standing. An arrow from Timony pierced the prone sergeant’s neck.

I turned to the Lions and raised my bow in salute. A rousing cheer from the Lions! Looking beyond me to Sylvana. (Of course, I was still invisible.)

As we were distributing healing potions, Rikki came scurrying from a side alley. Jarvis announced he had only one spell left, and there was little time to explain. He requested a blue gem from Meiyvr as she had so many. He ordered Garrock to strap him snugly to the weasel’s back, so he would not fall from the harness. His last instruction was very important. Once he cast the spell we must place the gem into the weasel’s harness. “Winnie,” he said. “I’m sorry I tried to rob you.” The gem filled both his tiny hands, as he pressed the gem against his forehead, muttering the arcane. The gem slipped, tumbled on the ground. Jarvis’ eyes rolled back, drool escaped his mouth. Limp as a rag doll, he slumped over the weasel. I plucked the gem from the street, polished it on my sleeve, and peered inside. I deposited it in a saddle bag strapped to the weasel. Winnie asked Meiyvr what the wizard had done. She was certain he had stored his soul in the gem, but to what end she could not say. Rikki did not seem too bothered, and off he went.

Howls coming around the bend. Goblinoid voices shouting, shrieking. Loosely translated, they said, “I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead, burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL!” An especially mean, nasty ugly hairy goblinoid, streaked with warpaint or blood, came bounding around the corner. “KILL, KILL, KILL!” And another and another joined him, jumping up and down. A trio yelling and jumping up and down. “KILL! KILL! KILL!” Bugbears, uglybuggyveryscaryugbears! (I had warned the others about this lot who I had encountered while snooping in their camp. Winnie had asked Fharlanghan for just the spell.) Without missing a beat, they hurled shining throwing axes. One skimmed off Garrock’s shoulder by a whisker and a shield of faith. He took out the javelin of lightning and the window of a store front was shattered. Damn! It was the kobold’s donut shop. The bugbears hooted and hollered. Sylvana charged and smacked one. Easy to hit, harder to take down. Meiyvr moved up, pulling out a scroll “Is it time for grease?” Another one just missed Garrock with a great axe, while Currgh dragged one down. Eight bugbears in total, now they are all here.

Winnie raised her hand gently. “Friends, Fharlanghan begs you give it a rest.” A wave, like a soothing sea breeze on a scorching summer day, passed over the raging brutes. Half the bugbears mellowed out, watching the action with their axes on their shoulders. “Attack the angry ones,” Winnie said, “while I keep the others calm.”

Now, it was Garrock’s time to roar. The lion in him was roused, and with his trident he tore into one, giving Currgh a chance to withdrawal. Sylvana was hit by another greataxe, clearly feeling it. The fighter answered, sliding between two. With a single stroke, she cut down an injured one, taking off its shoulder as she turned on the other and struck his neck, separating the head, screaming even as it rolled on the cobblestones. Lieutenant Arianne gasped. But, the fighter was not done. She just couldn’t help herself and struck one of the calm ones, who was within reach. This roused the bugbear out of his stupor, and he returned the favor with a wicked hack. Sylvana was bloodied, hardly beaten.

Strategy was working. I stayed back, firing arrows. Garrock took more damage. Sylvana took damage. But they paid it back. Meivyr got close enough to suck life force from another, until one raging one remained. Lieutenant Arianne finished off one. Each of the calms ones was woken up in turn, and dealt with. Still, Garrock and Sylvana were wounded badly. But if not for Winnie, it could have been worse. She healed Sylvana as it might not be over.

Not long before we heard a roar, rumbling around the corner. A large blue lizard with a prominent horn put is head down and rushed Sylvana. She somehow managed to step aside. A goblin rode on top of the beast with a bow. Lieutenant Arianne’s crossbow hit the lizard but it broke against its hide. Whoa! Another lizard just gored Garrock and knocked him back, but he made a dent with his trident. Winnie said they were storm-lizards, spawn of Tiamat. Goblin riders laughing, firing arrows at the Lions in the rear. Two more came upon us, running downhill. Sylvana was smashed by each, and if she won’t survive another gore attack. To add insult to injury, a bolt of white lightning coursed between the horns of the two beasts, zapping a fly. Instead of charging, from its horn it fired a jagged bolt of lightning that singed Garrock and nearly made toast of Weiss and Timony, but I was able to dodge out of the way.

Meivyr said, “I believe It’s time for — fireball.” She dropped the ball of flame around the lizards. The flame hurt them, but they were still up. Winnie said, “I have just the spell for this.” A pillar of flame collapsed down on her enemies. When the smoke settled, all the goblins were dead, and the lizards were noticeable injured. The battle turned. A gore attack missed Garrock and he stabbed it. The dragon bane blade, in the hands of Sylvana Jarmaath, did the the rest. In seconds, two of the lizards crashed down between her. Only two remained, injured but still dangerous. A line of electricity stuck Sylvana flat in her breastplate, and she collapsed. Winnie nearby said she was alive, just barely conscious. It was up to us to finish this. Winnie raised her mace and swung, but missed. Garrock took another gore, but was still alive. He struck it with his trident twice, but the beast was still up, though teetering. Jack Wiston drew his rapier, nimbly stepping around, to flank with Garrock, only to miss. A gore attack just missed Garrock, but the two lizards were aligned — with my sister between them. Suddenly two arrows from the barricade hit their mark, and one blue spawn storm-lizard fell. A heavy cross bolt took out the other. “You’re welcome,” said Lieutenant Arianne.

A wave of pain passed over Sylvana’s face. “Hold your position, Lieutenant” she said to Arianne, and she started running for the Square.

Tredora Goldenbrow’s celestial voice soared, full of fear and fury. “Take cover! Take cover!” She floated down the Cathedral steps, pointing at the coffin maker’s shop across the square. “There! From that building, the shot came from there.” And the aasimar moved straight into the line of sight. It was the coffin maker’s shop, Discreet Departures. Lord Jarmaath was down. Captain Lars shielded his lord, clasping his hands against the pulsing wound, until the cleric could reach her beloved. “Kerden,” she whispered. “Pelor, give me strength.” But her voice trembled, the human part.

Norro Wiston did what he could. He had his back to the coffin maker’s shop, making certain others found cover, rather than seeking it himself. “Into the cathedral, quickly!” As we came upon the scene, the old man spotted us and shouted out a warning. “Winnie, Jack. There’s a sniper in the—” His legs gave out, to his knees, falling on his side. A bolt in his back, our father was bleeding out.

View
Jack's Journal: Session 41

Mommy Dearest

Meiyvr visited Kaal Manor in the morning. At the gate, she told the guard she was looking for Captain Janaki, and was directed to the yard where tents had been setup to house refugees and militia practiced on straw men with lance and spear. Captain Janaki looked busy, but recognized Meiyvr and rode over to her. “What do you want?” she asked, looking down from the saddle.

“You know, just checking in, to make sure we’re on the same page,” the sorceress said, while casting a charm spell.

Captain Janaki ordered a guard to remove her from the estate. The guard obeyed, but was quite nice about it. He suggested she return after the battle so they could celebrate.
Undeterred, Meiyvr waited outside, then returned to the gate. This time, she asked the guard to let her see Lady Kaal. The guard refused to disobey his captain’s orders, but was understanding. Meivyr walked out, turned herself invisible, and flew into the compound. The curtains of an open window drew her inside to an empty guest room. She was met at the stairs by a pair of guards. “Did you just come through a window?” Meiyvr nodded, and they escorted her to Lady Kaal’s office.

Lady Kaal was busy shuffling papers or counting money. She looked up, smiled to see Meiyvr. Meivyr cast her charm spell, and Lady Kaal blinked. She turned to her bodyguard, Kane, and asked him to leave so they could have a private word. “So, I take it you have some news for me?” She might be referring to her suggestion that Meiyvr charm Lord Jarmaath into naming Lady Kaal his sole heir. In return, Lady Kaal offered her house guard to aid in the defense of the city.

Did her spell work this time? Meivyr asked Lady Kaal to reconsider her decision at the war council, and allow Lord Jarmaath to command her guard during the battle.

Lady Kaal replied she would be willing to do so for 5,000 gp and the deed to the Laughing Manticore. That seemed fair and it might save the city. But, if Meiyvr ever tried any of her palor tricks on her again, she would be returned to her friends in a bag. So, the spell didn’t work. Why did it always seem to work for Jarvis?

We each contributed a 1,000 gp — a lot of money but we were lighter for the battle, and Meivyr returned to sign the deal. She even got a receipt. Lord Jarmaath was very pleased when Captain Janaki reported to him.

Nice work, Meiyvr.

Some Time to Kill

Lion guard pounded on our doors. Five more minutes, I thought, and rolled over. It would be a long night. Winnie was deep in thought, looking out the window at pink clouds. Meiyvr and Celirra had snuck away, holding hands. They might need more time.

In the great chamber, we were met by all the leaders. The Red Hand was on the move, and it was time. Jarvis used Immerstal the Red’s scroll to telepathically link Lord Jarmaath to Captain Lars to Sellyria Starsinger to our Sylvana. The spell would last for hours and help them coordinate their efforts during the battle. House Kaal’s Guard would be team-playing with the Lions. Jarvis also cast his hallucinatory terrain so it appeared like a murky swamp.

Jarvis and Celiira would not be with us during the battle, but if we needed them in a pinch we could summon them. In an improved, reduced pinch that is. Jarvis made himself so tiny he could mount his weasel friend Rikki, and up Celiira’s leg the rodent twined, clawing up her chain shirt, and onto her shoulder. With a parting smile, the bard headed for a high tower to inspire the defenders of the city. Lord Jarmaath told us to remain here. For our first trick, Garrock pulled some sun rods out of our bag of holding.

Hillbully Giants

It wasn’t long before we were called to action. Two groups of hill giants were hurling boulders at the walls. As the giants were out of missile range, Lord Jarmaath organized two sorties to take them out. The other group was led by Captain Janaki included our schoolmates the Teskerwill sisters and Van Trask and his horse Gromo.

We mounted up, and the gate was raised. From the walls, horns blasted, and swords beat on shields. Riding with us were the Jackal and four Lions: Townsend, Daltrey, Entwistle, and Roon. “Who the hell are these guys?” I thought, never having seen them before. Garrock ran with our horses. Over our heads, boulders in great arching shots bounced off the thick walls. With each successful strike, a crack was formed or an existing one extended. Loud chunks were shaved off, tumbling onto the palisades. If nothing was done, the wall would be breached, and the horde would swarm in like angry ants. The hill giants ignored us, bent to the task, not even taking the time to admire their last throw before picking up another and raising it in two hands.

The giants were spread out, long shadows towering at the top of a ridge, pumping like pistons. Beyond them, hundreds of hobgoblins stood watching from a safe distance. Dorian charged on horseback, leaping for his horse and hurtling for the legs of the giant, only to miss in the dim light. Meivyr pulled out a sun-rod to help. Garrock needed no horse with this trident running to take on a giant. Sylvana and the Lions preferred to fight from horseback, while Winnie, Meivyr, and I dismounted. Dorian and Sylvana teamed up on a giant, battering him, while Winnie helped us all with an inspiring prayer.

Meanwhile, the Lions were harassing a giant with ride by attacks. Not doing much, but doing their best. Winnie hefted her giant bane, it pulsed black and blue in the shadows, and smashed a giant’s big toe. That got his attention. He picked up a massive club in two hands and backhanded my sister, denting her breastplate. Garrock came over to help Winnie, while Dorian and Sylvana finished one. One down.

Winnie turned and ducked, raised her mace high and bringing it down on the kneecap. Sparks of rage and indiscernible slurs, the brute it out on Garrock as he pushed in, but just missed as the invisible staff of Fharlanghan turned the spiked club aside. Garrock struck him, and Winnie came through with another massive strike. The mace of Vraath hummed on bone and flesh! Two down.

Sylvana spurred Sherman after the uninjured giant who continued to launch boulders. The Jackal and the Lion made a good team. Sylvana cut it down to size, and Dorian fed off the scraps. Three down.

A hobgoblin sergeant started barking orders. Hundreds would be upon us if we didn’t finish this quickly.

Entwistle did some damage on the giant on the end, and Roon almost left us, saved by a prayer, as he wheeled his horse around, a club raising a spout of dirt at his side. Meiyvr shot a line of acid. Flanking with Winnie, I tumbled aggressively under the swinging club, and struck deep with my rapier, a vein in the thigh. Neato!

While the heavy fighters gathered the giant’s sacks for plunder, Jack and Winnie stood before the teetering giant. Seething praise for Fharlanghan,Winnie crunched his gut with a killing blow. As I was flanking, I got the death wind, but never mind. A phalanx of hobgoblins marched toward us. Tower shields and long spears raised. It was tempting to fight, but we turned for the gate, scrambling onto our horses.

Grave news from Lord Jarmaath. While the other sortie had neutralized the giants, it was not before the western wall was breached. Van Trask, Gromo, and four Lions fell. The Teskerwills and Captain Janaki had all made it thanks to Van Trask who had stayed to finish off the last giant. Hobgoblin were massing, and the mercenary Shining Axes had taken position to beat them back.

We turned out the giant’s sacks and found nothing of value, just gems and coin, and some household goods which we donated to the cause. We used this time to catch our second wind by drinking some healing potions. Winnie needed to save her divine magic for the fight to come.

Fire, Fear, Foes! Awake!

Cries of terror from the southern wall. We raced out to see a red dragon sweep over the walls, spreading flame on the halfling neighborhood surrounding the Shrine of Yondalla. Wooden structures exploded, and a wall of fire spread from its wake. This was a job for a wizard. As since Immerstal the Red was indisposed, we sent a page for Jarvis.
A weasel scuttled up the stairs ridden by a tiny wizard. Even with all the bedlam we could hear him loud and clear. “I have a plan,” he said as we made our way to the southern battlements.

Using spells, he buffed up Sylvana with bull’s strength. Winnie pulled out a couple extra scrolls of flying and cast it on us all except Jarvis and Meivyr. Resistance from fire and protection from evil were also cast. Jarvis used a spell called Haste of us all. We split up our invisibility potions and Sylvana and Garrock each drank one. Meivyr made duplicates of herself. She also turned me invisible as she had during our fight with the half-dragon men. I could fly and make deadly shots with the shock arrows taken from Ulwai Stormcaller.

Jarvis planned to supervise from Sylvana’s back. Winnie and Meivyr stayed on the wall to support us. All this took some time so the dragon had another pass. Thankfully most citizens had been evacuated, but if we didn’t work quickly there would be nothing left of their homes.

Garrock flew up to meet the dragon (though I could not see him.) I also flew up with my bow to within point blank distance and hit him in a soft spot on the side of his neck. The dragon was stung, but saw no one. Meivyr who was on the rampart removed a shield spell of protection from the dragon. Enraged he now had a target and arched downward, and I heard Garrock curse as he missed with his trident, and the lion man appeared. The dragon breathed flame on the walls. Sylvana (not visible), Winnie and Meivyr and her duplicates were scorched though Meivyr and Sylvana were able to avoid the worst. Winnie, poor Winnie sooty-faced and hacking.

Now, it was Sylvana’s turn. The dragon roared in pain, as the dragon bane blade thrust into its shoulder. The fighter appeared before him, floating. The sword dark with blood, flesh singed. Abithriax, that was his name, and he had met his match. Jarvis said in a tiny voice “ray of enfeeblement” and like that the dragon was weakened. Meiyvr tried to remove more spells from the dragon, but this time it failed. Abithriax stood still in air, and launched claws, tail, and mouth against the fighter. A claw pierced near the neck with a terrible gash, but it would take more than that. Jarvis followed Meivyr’s lead and was able to take away the dragon’s mage armor. I taunted the dragon speaking in Draconic as I fired three arrows, something I had been practicing but had yet to try in combat. One struck, but I hit the wound that Sylvana had started. The dragon turned to me and opened wide his mouth. Sylvana and I were engulfed in flame, but I evaded it. One feeble last gasp for Abithriax.

Epilogue (by Mike)

As the flame-pinwheeling head of Abithriax goes spinning away from his neck high above Brindol, a cheer can be heard from those defenders who were able to spare a glance from the furious hand-to-hand combat now enveloping the city.

Straight below, in the southern neighborhoods, the fires around the Temple of Yondalla are extinguished and many halfling homes and businesses are saved. While at the southern gates, the defenders exchange fierce arrowfire with the hobgoblin horde, urged on by cacophonic horns and relentless drums.

To the west, flying beasts — wyverns, manticores, and cryosphinxes — do chaotic swirling battle with the Tiri-Kitor to hold a three-dimensional line above the Elsir River. The giant owls and their wild elf riders use their greater maneuverability to avoid teeth and claws while arrows and manticore tail spikes fly back and forth with deadly precision as Sellyria Starsinger calls down lightning bolts upon the invaders.

To the north, what appeared to be a front ignored by the Red Hand, is now suddenly overrun inside the walls by what had been a large but invisible pack of barghests who had simply teleported into the less-protected portion of the city. A cavalry led by Captain Janaki of House Kaal and the strange paladin of Wee-Jas, Zayn, charges to meet the devil-hound shapeshifters.

But it is the east where the battle is bloodiest. Slowed down by the illusory swamp outside the walls, hundreds of dead hobgoblins and ogres litter the farmlands on either side of the Dawn Way, cut down by militia and Lion Guard arrows, halfling sling stones, and evocation magic from a source too small to see. But while heavily-armored ogres pound at the gates, a frighteningly-large section of wall has been destroyed by the hill giants. At the moment, the Shining Axes, the legendary dwarf mercenary troop holds back the majority of the goblins. Their two-hundred deep voices join together with the clear, sublime tones of the half-elf bard Celiira Neston, singing a dwarven saga of a vast underground city lost to darkness, that may as well echo the tale of her own Talar. The voices cry together, “Never again, not while we stand.”

As Captain Lars Urveth struggles to protect the flanks of the dwarves, they are outnumbered and rivulets of enemies dribble past them into the undefended streets of Brindol.

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Jack's Journal: Session 40
Return to Brindol

Brindol or Bust

Talar was burning. Black smoke in the western sky. Winnie sent a message to the Frye, nestled in his bunker. He responded that he was well, having caught up on his reading, and confirmed Talar was under siege. “Good,” said Garrock. That meant we were a days in front of the horde.

Approaching Brindol, a roadside attraction cheered us a bit. Mounted on a spear, the head of the hobgoblin who had pretended to be Ned the poor farmer who was taken prisoner by Saarvith at Rhest. His hands were pained red with a middle finger extended in the direction of Talar. A sign read “The Red Hand Sucks!” Looked like Saarvith, who we released from Rhest, had caught up with his old pal Nurkelneck (“Ned”). Things were looking up.

Signs of activity on the outskirts of Brindol. Miltia gathering what crops they could, people digging trenches outside the walls, timber felled and rough cut pallisades raised. It was a bit encouraging, with the horde on the doorstep. The city was well fortified with twenty feet walls of stone and the swift Elsir at its back.

Magic Mouth

The guard at the gate looked us up and down especially Garrock, asked who we were. We each stated our names, and when Sylvana said hers, the man blushed, and nearly dropped to his knees. “Open the gate!” he ordered. We were met inside by a tall sergeant and ten Lions. A young woman in robes concentrated, moving her hands over us. Her eyes widened, amazed. “I do not detect any disception. They are as they appear.”

The Lions nearly cheered, clapping our hands and slapping our backs. The sergeant smiled. “Lady Jarmaath, welcome home. I will send word to your brother right away. He’ll want to see you immediately.” I asked him if Jarvis had returned, a greasy halfling, claims to be a wizard. He nodded his head, knowingly. “Oh, the troll slayer, you mean. He arrived at the head of an army of dwarves.”

A few steps and a familiar voice shouted, “The Defenders of the Vale have returned!” A strange mouth popped up, floating in the air. Puffy lips, and teeth, with a tongue. "It named each of us, not to mention our “leader Jarvis.” It repeated the message, and we could still hear it as we moved through the streets. Soldiers, very few townsfolk, and no children. A cheer was raised for us, whispering of “It must a sign, a great omen,” at the sight of the Lion who had come to defend the city.

A buzz spread from the gate through the near-empty streets, people stepped out from boarded up businesses, up the hill to the keep. Scattered cheers and applause. No parade, marching bands, or lovely ladies with baskets of flower petals, just grimy faces, lined with weariness. It looked as though most of the population had been evacuated.

In the great hall, Lord Jarmaath looked his usual, miserable self. Owen Teskerwill, the horse master, ran his paces in the hall. He was pleading for Jarmaath to send his daughters to Dennovar with the others. Apparently, our classmates Kharra, Hurndahl, and Danella had volunteered to aid in the upcoming fight. Good for them. Lord Jarmaath refused their father, as the sisters were among the best riders in the city.

Sylvana said “hey” to her brother. He immediately stood, stumbled a bit coming down from the dias, but caught himself in his sister’s embrace. Very pleased to see us all alive and well. He asked about Garrock, and the ranger explained as best he could. Jarmaath nodded, called for food and drink, sent for Captain Urveth. Owen Teskerwill excused himself. We gave an account of ourselves.

Our actions had an impact. In addition to the dwarven mercenaries, 200 owl-riders from Starsong Hill had arrived including our friend, Killiar, and Sellyria Starsinger. All told, there were about 1750 defenders, with about 700 hundred trained. But, it might not be enough. We were happy to hear our family had made it to the safety of the walls, but only Townspeaker Norro Wiston and our brother in law remained in the city. The rest of the family as well as most citizens had been sent to Dennovar. Lord Jarmaath let us know our father would be happy to see us.

Tommorow, a war council was scheduled at nine bells. Included were Celiira Neston, Tredora Goldenbrow, Lady Kaal, Captain Lars Urveth and others. Lord Jarmaath asked us to attend so we could report directly.

Winnie and I met with our father who pleaded us to desert our companions for the Dennovar. Man, he just doesn’t get it. We are the Defenders of the Vale. Our brother in law, Drathgar, had stayed as a volunteer in the militia.

Meivyr paid a visit to the Laughing Manticore, caught Rillor as he was packing up. He was leaving town, no reason to stay and die. The Manticore was now Meivyr’s to do with as she pleased. Rillor laughed about Garrock — “he has a tail.” But, he didn’t stick around long enough to see it himself.

Meanwhile, Sylvana and Garrock worked with the militia. Winnie and I visited the requisitions department, formerly known as Shank’s Shivs. We queued up, a line of militia, mostly farmers were given spears and simple weapons. Stephan, Karl, and Laurie were of course in charge. As I handed over our donations of masterwork weapons captured from the Red Hand, Karl pointed out that our enemy had very nice gear, much nicer than ours, so he didn’t understand why they wanted to take our stuff. In exchange, I received three arrows of slaying and a javelin of lightning.

We all got together for a reunion at the Laughing Manticore. Jarvis was in a good mood. He told us how he had won over the dwarves by taking care of a troll problem. We identified the items from Ulwai Stormcaller: shock arrows, a magic mithril breastplate, potions of pass without a trace, invisibility, and healing, and gloves of dexterity.

“Yoo-hoo, Jarvy-Warvy?!” a husky, female voice called out. The halfling slid down in his seat under the table. A dwarven woman in armor was looking for Jarvis. Meivyr stood up and pointed under our table. The dwarf walked over and introduced herself as Gadralen Earthgrip. He quietly promised to meet her later. Way to go, Jarvis. The rest of us turned in. We stayed at the Keep, but I missed our old dorm room.

War Council

Early in the morning, Winnie hurried off for a clerics meeting where they prayed and talked about healing people and the blessings of being a morning person. I think the pierced paladin of Wee Jas was there. Croakums and I slept in.
The meeting of the war council took place at nine bells. In attendance were all the important people, including the self-important wizard Immerstall the Red. There weren’t enough chairs as the long table, so many of us stood on the sidelines. Lord Jarmaath wanted to lead a sortie to hit the horde as it advanced, while Captain Urveth prefered to use the walls to their advantage. I spoke up for Lord Jarmaath, but was shot down. After some discussion, Captain Lars won the argument. Although it would be valiant, it seemed foolish when the defenders of the city were outnumbered. Jarvis was very excited, saying he had the perfect spell. He could make it appear to the invaders that Brindol was surrounded by swampland. This might impede the invaders, while the defenders pelted them with missile weapons.
Next, Lady Kaal and Lord Jarmaath were at odds. She refused to turn over command of her personal guard, some 75 highly skilled mercenaries, insisting that they were needed to protect her property. If a hobgoblin happened by they would deal with it. Nothing would convince her, but she said she would change her mind if Jarmaath named her his heir. If the city fell, then all would be lost, including her precious manor, but she smiled as though she had a secret plan to escape. Jarmaath of course flatly refused, and that was that.
It was then decided the clerics would be stationed at the Cathedral during the siege rather than out among the troops. Immerstal the Red offered to cast a powerful spell to telepathically link Lord Jarmaath with three others during the battle. It was decided that Captain Urveth, Sylvanna, and Sellyria Starsinger, the leader fo the Tiri Kitor elves, would coordinate their thoughts. Lady Kaal lobbied very hard to be included. She just didn’t seem like a team player. ’

As things were settling down, a sentry arrived with a message from Elsircross. He announced that the Baron Trask regretfully could spare no troops as he needed to protect his people; but instead he had sent his best fighter. It was none other than Van Trask, who had kidnapped the lovely Miha Serani from the wedding at Kirken Farm. He was very good on his horse, Gromo, but Jarmaath wasn’t pleased by the slight.

The meeting adjourned. Jarvis respectfully chatted up Immerstal the Red, asking the prominent wizard if he would be interested in trading spells. The wizard scoffed at Jarvis’ request, laughing, he dismissed him as nothing but a “halfling vagabond.” Jarvis responded by calling the Red’s magic “boring and obvious.” A mage’s duel would settle the matter, today at sunset at the Cathedral Square. Be there! Jarvis immediately excused himself to study his spell book.

With nothing to do, we all worked with training the volunteer militia. It went very well, thanks to an inspiring song by Celiira called “Moves like Jarmaath.”

Over a Barrel, In a Pickle

Sundown. Quite a crowd in the Cathedral Square. Jarvis was hiding in a doorway, called us over. He looked nervous, didn’t understand how the word got out. Stephan said, “They must have saw the posters.” Jarvis looked like a small pickle. He quietly asked Meiyvr if she would agree to serve as his second in the duel. She could stop the fight if things got bad for Jarvis. Stephan called for bets at 50 to 1 against the halfling. I loudly put down 10 gp.

Immerstal the Red approached, with his companion, Alandri. It wasn’t much of a fight. Nothing was going for Jarvis. Immerstal clutched him in a telekinetic grapple, rubbing his face in the dirt. “Pickles belong in a barrel,” he said, dunking poor Jarvis in a rain barrel. The wizard asked him to give up, but Jarvis refused. Meivyr wasn’t sure. He might drown, and this was very humiliating. Then Immestal was left with no choice but to turn our friend into a toad. At last, a companion for Croakums! Just then Jarvis sloshed and sputtering, uttered a two, simple words. “Feeble mind.” Or was it one word? In either case, Immerstal the Red was dumb struck. His eyes were crossed, tongue reaching for the tip of his nose.

Jarvis had won! I had won 500 gp. But, at what cost?

Alandri was livid. “What have you done, you half-wit?! This spell is permanent. He can’t cast even the simplest cantrip in this state. Brindol needs his magic for defense of the city.” Jarvis clutched his hat, wringing out the water. “You saw, I couldn’t just let him turn me into a toad. Anyway, my powerful friend, the most powerful cleric in the city, can reverse the spell. Right, Winnie?” Everyone looked at Winnie. Winnie frowned and shook her head. “Maybe after the battle, if we live through it, Fharlangan will grant me the power.” Jarvis said, “Well then, I guess I will just to assume Immerstal’s role. It will be up to me to protect the city with my magic.”

Stephan was already calculating the odds for the upcoming battle. Place your bets, place your bets.

Tea for Three

Next day, while we continued our training with the militia, Meivyr had tea with her benefactor at House Kaal. Celiira also attended. Silver set and little gnome cakes. Meivyr asked Lady Kaal why she wasn’t willing to give command of her guard to Lord Jarmaath. She said, “They will fight, just not for an idiot.” After some pleasant conversation, she persuaded Celiira to take a stroll in the garden so she might have a private word. Left alone, Lady Kaal suggested that Meivyr use her influence to convince Jarmaath to reconsider her offer. In return, Lady Kaal would adopt Meiyvr as her heir. By all rights, the Kaals are rightful rulers of the Vale. She had only to call in her debts. Meivyr was confused. Lady Kaal pressed her, urging her to use all her skills. Meivyr said she would think about it.

There was a familiar warhorse in the courtyard. Meivyr asked Lady Kaal where it had come from. She said Captain Janaki had purchased the horse from some merchants. She also mentioned she had purchased all the diamond dust in the city. In the event that things turned awry, the Lady had insurance. She seemed confident she would win the day.
In the afternoon, horns blasted a warning. Guards scrambled to the walls. A large creature flew in the western sky. The Red Hand was here. They made their camp far outside of missile range. Built fires, pitched tents. A red dragon circled high above the city. It’s shadow draped over the ramparts, shrouded the citizens with dread.

Recon

Killiar planned to scout out the enemy from the air. He agreed to take Garrock and myself along, and Meivyr would fly with us. We had potions to hide our tracks and invisibility in case trouble was aroused. He set us down about 700 feet from the camp. Garrock and Meivyr stayed put, while I crept in for a closer look. I moved for a large bonfire surrounded by fierce bugbears. They were dancing, leaping in a frenzy with white-painted faces. “Burn in blood, bathe in blood.” A hobgoblin sergeant told them to quiet down, and the bugbears nearly tore off his head. I would guess about 100 bugbears. Moved on. A group of ogres and giants were sitting around, eating and drinking. Among the ogres, maybe 120, several wore armor and looked intelligent. I couldn’t understand their language. A hobgoblin patrol happened by, and the giants complained about the food. They were sick of mutton, wanted some man flesh. A hobgoblin sergeant assured him that after tomorrow evening, he would have his fill. As I was sneaking back, I passed a cart of large boulders. Nearly caught by a robed hobgoblin, but the invisibility potion saved me. Garrock and Meivyr had nearly been detected by a flying creature with falcon’s head and lion’s body. Garrock called it a hieracosphinx. A manticore was also flying about, but Hodin and Killiar managed to avoid them.

The next morning, we went to Lord Jarmaath and told him to prepare for the attack this evening. He gave us a bag of holding, which had been stocked with donated magic items. Could be useful. We will have some time to prepare ourselves, discuss strategy. Or maybe we’ll just wing it and see what happens.

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Jack's Journal: Session 39

The Ghostlord left us holding a bag, of something. All the viscous fluid had been drained from the pool, into something. The mound of flesh, of fur and bone groaned. Something twisted, tensed to spring. Shedding the hide of the dire lion like a gauze, a sinuous figure, stretched out its arms. The sickly light slicked the stone. The figure with a taunt and sinewy strength sprang up, digging claws and fitting feet into the cracks. No one offered a hand or a rope to the man and lion. We stood near the edge of our heels. Currgh with his hackles twitchy and tail drooping, growling cautiously.

Reborn Garrock examined his furry arms and powerful claws. Head down, quiet, puzzling out each breath. Powerful shoulders glistened, its mane glazed, sticky with the goo of afterbirth.

Winnie spoke to him. “Garrock, is it you? Are you all right? What has the Ghostlord done to you?”

“Where is he?” Bristling, Garrock spoke in a low growl, not unlike the wolf.

The Ghostlord went that way. We pointed to the door.

“We must go after him,” he said. The lion surged to the door, but Sylvana blocked his path. No one thought that was a good idea.

“No, we must go,” we said. He seemed confused, in a fog, sifting memory from dreams. Before leaving, he wanted to see the mural in the adjacent room. The sullen man standing over the dead cub. No doubt this was the Ghostlord. How the lions recoiled from him; the living world shunned him. In restoring our friend, the Ghostlord had bound himself to Garrock, and they could not be separated, at least not permanently. He felt he could return with us to Brindol, but he would return to the Thornwaste.

Extra Credit

Angry sky greeted us. In any other setting, this sunset would have been glorious, amber with streaks of pink; but not so over this parched dead zone. Thankfully, Winnie and Garrock tracked down our horses. We rode hard with the sunset at our backs, but shadows pursued us to the border of the Thornwaste. We dare not stop until we reached the border.

We made camp in the dead zone, thinking it would be safer. Nothing living to disturb us as we slept. Garrock seemed more himself. He said he was quite rested; nothing quite like waking up in a new body. He appeared much younger, too, and cursed less. He offered to keep watch the whole night. One thing he had lost in his transformation was his dark-vision. No problem, I lent him my googles. We doused the fire to keep out of sight. As we were settling into our bedrolls, Garrock was setting traps. He looked hungry, and our rations weren’t enough. Meat, he craved fresh meat.

Just as we were falling asleep, a roar roused us. Thoughts of the ghostly lions made me shudder. Shuffling fast and low to the ground, Garrock spied fast moving shapes shambling across the dead zone. Garrock had moved up to meet them with his trident and short sword.

“Why are you attacking us, brother?” the undead said to him, a bit confused. Without hesitation the lion man fell that one, but the others rushed past.

As I felt in the dark for my rapier, glowing red eyes fixed upon me. These were the very same hobgoblins we had slain yesterday; but the Ghostlord had done a better job with our companion. A torch would be helpful. But no time to find my pack. “A little light, Winnie?” but she hadn’t asked for that one this morning.

I stood up with the others and we formed a defensive position, cowering around Sylvana. The fighter gathered her sword, and swung, but missed each time. The darkness armored our enemies. Meiyvr as wrymling took to the air. Winnie was out of grace. She had maxed out her divine turning on the ghostly lions.

Meivyr brought the acid, did some damage. Too dark, as each of us missed, so close but too damn dark. Next time sleep with a sun rod under your pillow. Though they wore armor, they carried no weapons.

Red, unholy eyes pricked the skin on my neck, while wicked claws raised an ugly, purple welt on the skin, like one of the assorted jaggers of the Thornwaste. But, there was the feeling of the wind being knocked out, kicked in the stomach. Sylvana, Winnie, and I were each slashed. Only Meivyr and Garrock escaped the curse. But in the end, we were fortunate enough to send them back to your graves (not that they had ever received a proper burial.)
In the morning, Winnie dipped into some diamond dust — gifts from Kirimeivar — and filled us back up to our realized potential. We rode quickly over the Thornwaste for Brindol and the horses took the damage. Road burns.

Heroed

Garrock scouting ahead, spotted an ogre and a gang of hobgoblins. Three bloody humans were tied to a tree, taunted by the gang. We came up with a plan. Meivyr said she could turn multiple people invisible. We would get close to them, while the others would get their attention by shooting them. As they were drawn away, we could flank them. I volunteered to be invisible, so I could snipe at the ogre. Meivyr would also fly up with me.

It started out well enough. The ogre was taken down quickly, and Meivyr blinded and stunned all the hobgoblins save one. “For the Hand,” he cried. Even though I had fired an arrow, I remained unseen thanks to Meivyr’s potent spell. All we need do was finish off the hobgoblins and it would be over. On closer inspection, the hostages were long dead, smeared against the tree trunk.

It then became apparent, a trap. Black brutes, dragon men, appeared out of nowhere. Seems we weren’t the only invisible ones. They sprayed acid and wielded large swords. Winnie brought the others to the fight. Another barghest quickly charmed Sylvana and she nearly killed Garrock. The lone hobgoblin, who we mostly ignored, knocked out Garrock. Winnie used her healing powers to revive the lion man, and Sylvana shook off the charm thanks to Meivyr.

With all of us working together, we finished them off.

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Jack's Journal: Session 38

In the maw of the lion’s head, we caught our second wind after putting down Ulwai Stormcaller and her gang of shirtless zealots. The body of the huge basilisk creature slumped over and would not budge, like a blue tongue carpeting the mouth of the lion’s head. The tip of its tail reached the teeth on the balcony which formed the jaw.

Crawdad gorged himself. The raven bathed in the eye socket of the blue basilisk serpent, joyously stomping with talons like grapes in a tub, his beak splashing his head. Gross.
Winnie carefully prepared Garrock’s body, bundling him in a cloak of one of the hobgoblin priests. Currgh let out a low growl, but Winnie calmed him with soft words. The half-orc had died quickly, but with a dagger in his hand. Since we were doing the Ghostlord a favor in returning his phylactery, we hoped the lich might restore our companion.

Spirit lions either yawning or snarling, swam in and out of the dark stone, clawing at air, unable to fully manifest. The Ghostlord’s kitties. Tell your master, we come in peace.

Sylvana flung the body over her shoulder and pushed open the stone, double doors we found in the throat of the lion. Currgh looked reluctant to follow us, but he could not separate from his friend. Winnie cast light on her mace, and the shadows retreated. A small antechamber, richly engraved with intricate carvings. Lions mauling people. Another set of doors. A domed chamber with stairs winding down. I scouted ahead with my dark vision goggles, at the bottom I found an even more elaborately carven room with a stone bench to rest. On the wall undead lions rending flesh, thorny vines twisting on splintered bone. Observed, cleverly hidden in the carvings, a door.

Z oinks!

The secret door looked safe enough; I opened it and stepped inside a passage spiraling downward. As I brushed past the stone corridor, a chill pressed me flat against the opposing side of the corridor. Greenish eyes glowered and bored through the stone. A shadow, tall as a warhorse, stepped out in front of me. Spikes adorned the head, jutting from a mane, tangled with terror. I shuddered inside, dread pooling down my spine, settling in my boots.

Winnie said, “This spirit has manifested.”

Sylvana didn’t give a shit. She shoved me aside, stepping up to meet its gaze, but the edge of her blade passed through its shoulder. A claw raked through her armor, draining her of strength. Meiyvr used a spell to protect herself, while Winnie held up the wooden disc of Oerth. But, she was unable to turn the ghost. At this the lion roared, rending its claws into the fighter’s plate mail. I stepped back and fired an arrow which did little. Sylvana made a powerful attack and connected this time. A final blow from Winnie’s mace knocked it out of existence.

Z oinks!

The threat eliminated I proceeded down the corridor to a dead end. I was about to search for another secret door when I was flanked by a pair of lions, evaporating out of the wall on each side. These two looked less threatening, just regular-sized lions, without all the spikes. Though I was flanked, I felt confident. A roar crashed me down to my knees, like a wave of stones.

“Make way, make way!” I tumbled past the other and ran up the corridor. Sylvana nearly knocked me over, taking my place between the pair. One swiped her with a claw, and the other roared. That shook her up, and metal footfalls echoed after me. This only increased my anxiety.

Winnie and Meiyvr passed us and dealt with the lions. They were all bluff and no meat, so dispatched easily enough. Sylvana and I came to our senses and returned to the scene.

Door, Secret

Another secret door. All my hours of training paid off. The passage lead down to ground level to the lair of the big blue creature, a smelly nest of thorns and a mound of bones.

Turned back. Yet another secret door, but the passage stayed level. This time I stayed close to the others. Dead end. A secret passage that came to a dead end. If not for my powers, the adventure would be over. Ah-ha! Another secret door. This had to be the one. We readied ourselves. The Ghostlord likely had his ear hole pressed against the stone of the other side.

Suckers

Sylvana opened the door to a large chamber, bathed in sickly yellow light. The room extended around a pool, something large floating in the musty, still water. Lion skulls marked the edge. At the opposite end of the chamber, a fifteen foot tall statue of a rotting lion, reaching to the ceiling. Alcoves lined the walls. Sylvana entered the room, heading for the statue. We all crowded into the room, keeping close to the door.

Peering into the pool, I saw the remains of dire lion submerged as if trapped in ice. Though motionless, its eyes appeared alert. Perhaps, this was the generator for the Ghostlord’s spirit lions or some unwholesome experiment.

Suddenly, a wave of creatures darted from the shadows of the alcoves. Like goblins but with long claws and teeth, and horrible tentacles lashing out from their sides. Winnie dodged one, but Sylvana was struck by a tentacle. It lashed around her, mounting her with its fangs searching for a weak spot in her armor.

Tentacles reaching for everyone, coming out of the shadows. Sickly, glowing. Winnie and I fended them off. Meiyvr used her dagger to shock one.

Winnie recognized the creatures as undead and was able to turn some of them. They fled from her presence, cowering in the corners. Sylvana was being mugged by three but holding her own. The rest of us were struggling. Winnie rebuked two others, and one fled into an adjacent room. Meiyvr changed to dragon form and flew after it, while I finished off the other.

Sylvana broke a grapple, but was bloodied. Winnie and I helped her take out the remaining two. Using her staff of life, Winnie healed Sylvana who had taken most of the damage from these horrible little creatures.

Ghostlord

We set to exploring the room and the adjacent area. I searched the large chamber and found two secret doors. One to the north of the large statue and another to the northwest. The undead goblins had nothing. Winnie asked Fharlanghn to aid her in sensing evil. The adjacent room where Meiyvr had chased one of the creatures, had a curious thing: a floating ball of obsidian speckled with wispy images of ghostly lions. We dare not touch anything, though this ball looked valuable. Winnie said it was all evil, very powerful magic Meiyvr sensed this as well, off the charts.

Winnie followed her staff to the north wall. Beyond, an evil so overwhelming she nearly swooned. A less-experienced cleric would have fled. I searched the room and found two secret doors. One to the northwest and the other just north.

It was time to open the door to the north. Surely the Ghostlord awaited us within. After casting divine and arcane magic to protect us, Winnie opened the door, very slowly. We dare not draw weapons. Our mission was diplomatic.

A small room with a polished floor and intricate carvings. This time, the lion subjects were full and alive, roaming a lush landscape. They hunted prey, but took only what was necessary, and ate all they took. A balanced world, natural.

Against this, a terrible figure. Yellow flesh, crawling cold. Down-trodden, shrunken eyes with green flames. At its feet, a dead lion cub. The Ghostlord said, “Intruders, please explain yourselves.”

Winnie did the talking, explaining how we came upon the phylactery and defeated Ulwai Stormcaller but had lost our comrade in the battle. At the mention of the Wyrmlord’s name, he roared. “She had a staff,” he said. “Give it to me, and my phylactery.” Winnie handed them over. We could do nothing, but trust him, a lich.

We excused himself to retrieve a scroll. He said we should place Garrock’s remains into the pool of rebirth. He then ordered us to go to the far end of the chamber and wait there. Currgh growled when Sylvana slid the body into the pool.

When the lich returned he stood in front of the pool at the opposite end of the room. Reading from the scroll, a great field of energy surrounded him and the pool. There was nothing we could do now. The Ghostlord sneered, raising his arms. “Ancient spirits of evil, transform this decayed form…”

What have we done?

Meanwhile, Garrock…

The gizzard of the behir — I realize now what this bitch is, a female behir with some kind of fiendish blood too — squeezes and I feel my bones breaking. I struggle with the healing potion and hope it will buy me a few seconds. The thing looks soft on the inside, my dagger could eviscerate it, if I could get my dagger out. The acid that is burning my eyes and skin and hair slides down my own throat along with the potion whose effect I realize is far too little. And with the next squeeze…

Darkness. Ah, fuck. “Sometimes you get the beastie,” I remember fellow hunter Jorr Natherson had once said, “But there will be one time, and that’s all it takes, that the beastie gets you.” I begin to be able to see a bit. At least through the right eye. I reach up and feel for the left and just touch wet flesh around the skull socket. I see a bone sticking out of my leg but I feel like I’ll be able to walk. It will just hurt. Scanning around I don’t see Obad-hai’s Hidden Wood of the Outlands. Instead, it looks like the damned Thornwaste only with a ultra-violet sky color that doesn’t look natural at all. Plus, it looks like there’s the biggest lion I’ve ever seen, primordially savage with spikes along it’s shoulders and back, coming over to sniff me out. “Guess I found that ghost lord, unless… Where in the nine hells am I?” I grumble to myself. Slowly I stand. I hesitate for a second, then wince and walk towards it. “No sense in running now.”

The dire lion approaches with a menacing growl but pauses when he gets within pouncing distance. He begins to circle around me, warily, as if trying to gauge my intentions. I stop and crouch down on all fours, but with a relaxed posture trying to hide my pain.

I can tell the creature seems discomfited by the environment. He snuffs the air around me a few times and ceases growling. But he does not come closer. Instead he heads off, pausing to see if I follow.

I follow along, but keep enough distance to defend myself if he changes his mind. I think of a time when I watched some beast vomited in its death throes and then Currgh came along to lap it up. Feeling a bit like vomit in the grass, I look around to wonder where this is, if not the Thornwaste.

The lion crests a ridge and then pauses, looking down. I walk up to the edge of the ridge without getting too close to the lion to alarm him. Then I follow his eyes to look where he looks.

Looking down I see a large structure on an open plain. It is somewhat akin to the Ghostlord’s Lair that was one of the last things I’d laid eyes on, but this one shines with an inner light. The stonework appears warm and bronzed. It seems so… alive, especially compared with the desolation everywhere else I look.

I also see it is beset. Shambling goblin and hobgoblin hordes surround it, pouring out of black cracks in the earth, steam rising. The undead creatures strive to reach it but are kept at bay by seven lions, five normal ones and two like my companion. They relentlessly tear the creatures to bits but more and more come and they should be overwhelmed before too long.

I sit and wait in silence, concluding that there is little that I could do. Then I ask, without turning my head from the battle below, “why are you showing me this?” Unknowing if he can hear or understand me.

As a reply, the dire lion lets forth a mighty roar, and charges down the other side of the ridge. Unaware, or uncaring, the closest undead hobgoblins are taken down from behind and torn to shreds. There still seem to be too many of them and one of the normal-sized lions appears to be overwhelmed by the horde and pulled down.

When the lion roars, my uncertainty washes away and I stand to charge with him. As I sprint down the hill, I draw my weapons and leap into battle. I try to drop as many as possible without concern for killing blows.

The goblins and hobgoblins fight mindlessly, clawing forward to tear away at the very stone of the structure, which seems to grey and crumble at their touch. The lion defenders fight valiantly but one by one seem to be simply overwhelmed by numbers.

But I and the newcomer dire lion cut a straight swath toward the opening at the base. When the zombies finally turn their attention, they face the two of us back-to-back, unable to surround and get through our guard. We fight and fight, in constant pain, but as tirelessly as our foes.

At one point, my trident remains embedded in a bugbear’s skull and is ripped from my hand. Before the mob can rush in to this temporary weakness, my companion turns his own flank to defend me, receiving several bites for his trouble, as I draw a scimitar.

The curved blade sweeps through the legs of two zombies, snipping the tendons in their knees and dropping them to the ground with a roll of thuds. Then I turn and thrust at another enemy, piercing the blade up through the chest cavity and out the neck along the collar bone. Run through as it is, the zombie bites incessantly at my face, to which I respond by ripping the scimitar down again and lifting my knee up into it’s rib cage, scattering bones and rotten flesh.

Then I spin and cover the lion’s flank in return, drawing an axe and begin working both weapons individually through necrotic skull, festering torso, and sinuous leg.

The light never seems to change in the sky but I feel as if I’ve fought for hours. At some point I realize that I can see past our immediate foes and there are no more behind them. Shortly, thereafter, there are no more besides a few barely animated severed limbs among the enormous pile of carnage around us.

The dire lion who accompanied me has taken wounds but still stands. Of the seven original defenders, we see nothing of them. The enormous edifice still stands, however, and a bright staircase between two majestic statues of lions seems to hold an entrance.

I look at the lion for a moment, then turn and walk into the edifice, through the stone lions to ascend the staircase. The dire lion follows, a few strides behind and on my right. The stairs lead up to a comfortable cave with remnants of animal bones and a musty smell of predators. A portion of the wall slides aside revealing a wide spiraling passageway angling upward.

I follow the passage way, keeping a keen eye out for the undead, or any hostile beasts.
Besides myself, you don’t spot any undead. The dire lion pads behind me as the passageway winds upward.

I exit into a large, long room with curved alcoves along the walls. Directly in front of me is a pool of the clearest, purest liquid I have ever seen. A few steps away from it is another lion statue, magnificently plated in gold, rearing on its hind legs almost to the 15’ ceiling.

A voice behind me in a small adjoining room says, “Welcome, defender. I owe you a great deal.”

I turn and see an older human with tanned, weathered skin and wise-looking eyes that seem to hold great sadness. He wears fine-looking armor of lion pelts. Behind him floats a solid sphere of white stone, levitating and rotating a few inches above an elaborate pedestal.
“Don’t mention it.”

I look long at the sphere and then turn my eyes to the human. “It’s not as if I’ve got much to loose. Last I checked I was dead. And I reckon that makes you dead, too.”

The man glances down, a look of regret passing over his face. “Alas, it is not so simple. Death and life. There are shades of gray to everything, it seems, at least for me.”

He looks at me again. “But you. You might have a second chance should you so desire it. I have that power to grant. You have already proven yourself to be a champion.”
“I threw myself at that behir like a damned fool. I knew one day Nerull would hang me up on his tree and that’d be that. I was getting on in years anyway…”.

I look at then lion again and think about the others.

“But then I ain’t done yet. The Red Hand still marches to Brindol. I always preferred the wilds, but I can’t say I’d rest in peace with that place run through with hobgoblins and whatever else.”

He nods, listening. Then he gestures to the pool.

“When you enter the Pool of Rebirth you will be young again. Young and strong. Will you avenge us against the Red Hand? Will you protect us from all those who would destroy us?”

I think for a moment, not usually comfortable making promises.

“You and your people, from what I’ve heard, you were a noble bunch. Not like those damned hobgoblins, comin’ in and wrecking the natural balance of things. So, yeah, you got it. I’ll give all I got breathin’ against the Red Hand and then some. But just us, me and the others, we might not be enough. Even with the help we can muster in Brindol, against a whole damned army? Nerull’ be hanging me up again before you know it.”

He looks me up and down and seems to ponder this.

“I can make you more powerful than you were before. I can give you the power to call upon the Spirit of the Lions and your rage shall be a primal force to destroying the Red Hand.”

“Alright.” I nod and step towards the pool with a determined look on my face. “Been wondering what to do with all this being pissed off…”

As I enter the pool, a tingling takes over my feet. I see it is actually quite deep, perhaps eight feet or so, in addition to being ten feet across. As I slide more in, I realize I can’t actually feel the parts of my body in the pool as if they are paralyzed. Before I can even think about trying to climb back out, my limbs betray me and I slip all the way in, sinking toward the bottom. I watch as my dire lion companion climbs in after me, its eyes starting to panic as it realizes what is happening.

After a minute, I realize the lion is completely paralyzed and though it still needs to breathe, unlike me, it seems to stay alive beneath the surface of the pool.

The druid appears above me, looking down, and he laughs. Waving his arms, I see a hemispherical shield being put up around him as his appearance changes from that of a living man to a deathless husk. A corpse kept alive through foul magic. The proud pelts wither and turn to rags on him as his hair drops off in clumps. As the clear liquid that surrounds me changes to a sickly acrid yellow, another vision comes to me.

A race of humans living in the plains, not a noble folk dedicated to preserving their land and its beasts, but a cruel cannibalistic cult who enslave lions and other beasts with black magic. Soldiers come from the ancient empire of Rhest to defeat them but one, in his dying breaths, unleashes an unholy pact, taking all of the life from the valley in order to give himself great powers and eternal unlife. The remainder of the tale plays out as you had heard: ghostly lions destroying many of the citizenry of the city of Rhest but there is nothing like justice in the act. You see the rise of the Ghostlord, building up his fortress and army of ghost lions over the decades.

I hear him chanting a long spell and I see the flesh being torn from the terrified dire lion as it still lives, torn from it, and joined to mine.

He continues to chant and I feel that the Ghostlord will hold some power over me. That yes, he did not lie, I will be returned to life to wreak vengeance upon the Red Hand. But I will be compelled to return to this land, to defend the Ghostlord even from my own friends, to make… a new people… to serve him.

I see your flesh change, my hands become more like claws, my jaw grows wider and snout-like, hair sprouting and growing from my head. I hear my friends crying out in anger and fear and calling my name.

“Ancient spirits of evil… transform this decayed form…”

At last I see him move away after an evil cackle and I have enough strength to pull myself from the pool.

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Jack's Journal: Session 37
Ghostlord's Lair, Part I

With his trident Garrock swept the parched, abrasive landscape. A maze of thistle, broken hills, and treacherous chasms. The Thornwaste. Sucking blood, water and time. The horses took the brunt of it, cutting their legs on the razor undergrowth. With no road or path to follow, Garrock did his best to blaze something of a trail. He stepped lightly, while we were scraped along.

I am the Ankheg

After three hours of brutal travel, we paused at a mound of dirt as tall as a man. Garrock recognized it as the work of an ankheg. At least the ground had leveled out a bit, so that was something, or the perfect place for — a monstrous insect to burst out of the ground. Man-sized mandibles reached for Garrock. Several of the creatures emerged, looking to make a meal of our horses. When frightened, ankhegs spray acid in defense. Most died too quick to know. Sylvana was merciful that way.

End of day, a flat stone was the best Winnie and Garrock could manage for a campsite. Exposed, out in the open. Wind was sharp, and the rock slept more soundly than we did. Really missed Jarvis and his shelter. I couldn’t help but picture the diplomat sitting by a warm fire, sucking on his greasy fingers, as he called for another slab of meat.

Ghostlord’s Lair

Another tortuous day’s march. At the top of a rise, Garrock waited for us. Dusk coming, but two miles ahead, an enormous lion of stone rose up above the mesa. The building appeared to have been carved out of a mountain, hundreds of feet long and forty feet high. Lion-shaped spirits flew around the head, passing through the stone. Winnie said she thought the flying lions are some kind of spirit, not too sure. Movement could be seen within the maw of the roaring head, looked like hobgoblins.

Slim cover. Rocks hurled from the sky, and pockets of scrub brush. Still, Garrock wanted to scout ahead, and I came along, while the others waited for the signal to come riding. The sentries in the maw, who were hobgoblins, didn’t notice us. They wore no armor, or shirts. Wizards? As we got within bow range, we halted. Garrock readied his bow and I did the same. We kept apart from each other just in case.

Too easy. Garrock and I alone might take them. We never figured out what the signal was, but the others decided to take the initiative and ride up in a line. The hobgoblins saw them and raised an alarm, beating on their bare chests with fists of fury.

Blue Varanthian

Seeing the sentries distracted, Garrock moved in closer, but he was spotted. From the chest of the lion, a booming voice said, “At last, in Tiamat’s name, I, Varanthian, will destroy you!” It seemed we were expected. Uncoiling, a sinuous creature, scaly and blue — at least 40 feet in length — like a dragon but more like a serpent. It surged out on many legs, charging. Garrock fired a couple arrows that broke against the scales. Spreading out its wings and claws, the creature pounced, biting and grasping him in its crocodile-like jaws. I loosed an arrow and found a vulnerable spot in pale blue belly. Garrock struggled to free himself, prying open the jaws with his feet and arms pushing at each end. Slowly, steadily, the gap widened as he strained against the jaw. He’s done it, I thought. when the hinge of the jawbone loosened, slackened with an inaudible crack.

Alas, Poor Garrock

But, Garrock was gone, swallowed whole in a blink. As Croakums with a cricket, the half-orc was drawn within the throat, and the mouth snapped like a change purse. Now. The Varanthian, still smarting from the cheap shot, turned to me. Gulp. The others were still hundreds of yards away. Nothing to do but cross my heart, close my eyes, and drink a potion. Invisible, I watched and waited, standing perfectly still. The creature hunted for me, lunging at empty spaces, snapping up air and dust. Maybe Garrock could cut himself out, disembowel the beast from the inside-out. If anyone could do it. Hurry, I thought. The others were riding hard, in sight but hundreds of yards away.

Ulwai Stormcaller

A strong wind picked up. From the maw of the lion, a hobgoblin was singing, low and sultry. Ulwai Stormcaller. A whip coiled on her hip. Striking, beautiful for a hobgoblin, with a big, shaggy mane of lustrous hair and ears like spearheads, the counterpart to our Celiira. It would have been great to see a battle between the two, especially if it got physical. Dust swirled, forming devils. Sharp pieces stung, snapping me from my reverie. My companions had attracted her attention. I could see Meivyr flying fast ahead of the others. The Varanthian scoffed, seeing the tiny wyrmling, and forgot all about me. The gusting wind was slowing them down.

Ride Like the Wind

Dust whirling around the horses. Winnie stood tall in the saddle, raising her staff, and pointing to the lion’s head. She was shouting something. Sylvana rode beside her, and Currgh pounded alongside. Curiously, Winnie stuck out her thumb. I blinked, dust in my eyes, but I couldn’t see Winnie. Whiney her horse reared up, and Sylvana’s horse was also rider less but it ploughed ahead all the same. No sign of the big wolf. Shouts behind me. Goblin voices.

In the lion’s head, Sylvana, Winnie, and Currgh had surprised the hobgoblins. Winnie had used her trick to travel hundreds of feet in a blink, thanks to Fharlanghan. The difficult decision to go after the leader had been made. Nothing could be done for Garrock.

I struggled against the increasing gale, throwing up my arms, and staggering toward the hollow between the lion’s forelimbs. Inside, the cool shadows gave me chills. I saw a stone path, climbing, that passed between two statues: skeletal lions. The Ghostlord’s doorstep. I thought better of proceeding alone so I made my way to the outside and started to climb the side of the lion.

Meanwhile, the singing stopped when Winnie shrouded the area in silence. Meivyr had managed to fly around the storm to release a cloud of gas on the hobgoblins slowing them down. Each time Sylvana took down one, another shirtless hobgoblin stepped up to take its place. Sylvana cut off an arm holding a potion. Currgh was doing his best to trip up the hobgoblins and flank for the fighter.

Ulwai lost her voice, she clutched at her throat, stretching out her tongue. Storm losing steam. Meivyr hit Ulwai with the scorching ray, nearly taking her out, but the bard stepped off the edge, fell safely to the ground where she healed herself. Finding herself on the ground, she could only look up.

Now that the wind had subsided, the Varanthian flew up to meet Meivyr. “Try my breath weapon, little one.” Zapped by a bolt of white hot lightning, Meivyr looked like she was really hurting. Varanthian licked his chops, a lightning crackling, when Ulwai Stormcaller whistled for the creature to pick her up, which allowed Meivyr to escape around to the back of the maw where she borrowed some life force from a priest.

Meanwhile, Jack dry-humped the cliff.

Ulwai climbed aboard the blue Varanthian, who was a bit irritated to leave a fight they were winning. She pressed her healing hands, soothing his wounds with soft words. Up they climbed the 40 feet, and the creature managed to squeeze through the lion’s jaws. Ulwai hopped off, moved to the back of the maw, away from the shroud of silence. She started another song. Using the pearl of power, Winnie snuffed it out. Meivyr blasted the bard with a scorching ray.

Varanthian didn’t hesitate. Tucking in his legs, he slithered forward at Sylvana, biting into her plate armor, plucked her off the ground. Like Garrock she was wedged in its jaws, helpless. A tin soldier in tin snips.

Yield

Spinning her staff over her head, Winnie called for Fharlanghan’s aid. In the stone floor, foot prints appeared, encircling her. Winnie walked in the long shadow of a tall man. When the creature attempted to swallow Sylvana, it was repelled. Sylvana broke free, and the serpent retreated outside the circle.

I reached the top. Each time the Varanthian snapped at Sylvana, a force rebuked him. In a vision I saw a old man, standing tall astride the circle, his feet rooted firmly. The staff in his hands whirled like a wheel on fire, butting the beast’s head when it crossed the boundary. I found my way into the circle. With Varanthian held in check, we focused on Ulwai and her minions. Winnie summoned a spiritual staff that harassed the bard. Meivyr used color spray to blind and stun the hobgoblins. I fired arrows and Sylvana chucked a spear at the creature. Ulwai fell as did Currgh. One time, the creature broke the circle and went for Meivyr but luckily missed. She replied with a color spray to the face. Varanthian could resist magic, but by some miracle, the creature blinked. The serpent was stunned. I took advantage and made it count, putting an arrow in its neck. Sylvana seized moment, leaping out of the circle she brought her sword down. The beast was dead.

Winnie said it was an outsider, not from our world. Garrock might know what it was called. Sylvana gutted the belly, and we managed to recover the remains of the half-orc. Acid had partially digested him, but Winnie said all we needed was the smallest sample to restore him.

We searched the hobgoblins and found healing potions which we consumed immediately. The two priests had scrolls Winnie could use. Varanthian wore a bracelet of seven black pearls. Ulwai carried magic arrows, magic gloves, and a magic mithril chain shirt, a magic staff, and mithril jewelry. Nice whip.

Oh, the ghostly lions that flittered and floated about paid us no mind. Perhaps the Ghostlord was not so bad. He seemed to have been a prisoner in his own home, kept by the Red Hand.

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