The Godwar

Sidequest - Gnome Rescue!
In which the party uncovers a foul illithidic plot

Nikiri

Well, that was certainly an exciting day back in the field! It seems hard to believe just this morning that I met Luitprand in Silverpoint. Kalseth had mentioned that he was a noble-seeming mercenary that could help me track down and protect my friends. I don’t know what they did to make them flee Silverpoint, and I don’t think I want to know. What’s important is that I get them to Dorn so we can break the Kingdom of Sol and deal a blow to Orcus.

Luitprand hardly said a word to me the whole trip out, just a gruff voice behind his steel helmet. Fortunately, we met a more friendly companion just outside the city, an old Dwarf Paladin named Whitehart. His silver hair and long beard reminded me of old Sterlheim, and I found it easy to talk to him. Perhaps too easy, as I was not paying attention and nearly got bowled over by Kaylia. Guess what? She not only knows Whitehart, but considers him family. But as they talked, she seemed to get upset. I don’t know the whole story, but from what she said Whitehart loved her sister, who had died some years ago. But it seems he gave up all memory of her, and I think Kaylia felt like a part of her sister had died. I tried to comfort her by telling her that her sister’s spirit was still out there, and she would meet her again, but it wasn’t enough.

But, double guess what. Kaylia is pregnant! With Rond’s child! I thought I saw some sparks between them, but a baby? She moves fast. She’s concerned about the baby’s health, something about a dark ritual, so when a cleric of Melora showed up and offered to help her baby, Rond willingly left with him. I just hope Melora isn’t trying to force Rond into the Godswar.

I think I insulted Luitprand. He just kept calling me “My lady” and I was just so tired of all the false flattery that I snapped at him. But before I could apologize a little Gnome boy came running out of the woods. With Kaylia translating, we learned that his village had been abducted and taken through a portal. Well, we weren’t just going to leave that alone, so Kaylia disguised the child as a tree and we stepped into the portal…

To appear in a puddle of mist. Moving carefully, we pressed forward into the haze until we came to a group of Gnomes standing like living, breathing statues. Nothing we could do could wake them. We moved past that incredibly creepy scene to an even creepier, vine covered wall. Nacht and I scaled the wall to scout. I respect Kaylia’s companions, but could he please not make pleasantries during a stealth mission?

It paid off though. We found two Dragonborn soldiers and a strange stone structure. Energy seemed to flow through it like flame on a candlewick, from… somewhere else? The mist was too thick to tell. So we laid our ambush. We could have taken the Dragonborn easily, but they somehow controlled the Gnomes and ordered them to attack us. And let me tell you, trying to knock down dozens of grasping Gnome thralls without killing them is not easy. We prevailed, eventually, without any deaths or major injuries to ourselves. I swear, those Dragonborn prisoners were the jerkiest jerks to ever wear armor. They kept rambling about the master and harvesting knowledge, and when we tried to press them, they just responded with crude jokes and spittle. No amount of diplomacy or threats could make them do more than soil themselves. Finally, we tried smashing the stone. The earth shook and threw us to the ground with a great peal of thunder. Strangely, the mist thinned and we could see a large building in the distance.

“Well, glad we have thee more of those.” one of the foolish prisoners chortled. I gagged him.

Somehow, we made it through the choking grayish vines to a large temple. More Dragonborn guards outside, and no other entrances. Kaylia transformed into a snake and scouted, only to return with troubling news.

“There’s a Titan in there! All bent over play’n a big pipe piano. And a little priest and more guards. An’ some sort of portal, but its all foggy. They didn’ seem hostile.”
“I don’t know about that lass,” said Wilkins. “There’s strains of evil coming from that temple. If you think they can be reasoned with, I’ll go in alone. Not even all of us together can take down a Titan.”

“The Titan seemed not himself, like he were controlled.” I saw a shiver run through her frame. “And there’s bad tables in there!”

We agreed that it might be possible to free the Titan if we could disrupt the control. But where was it coming from? The portal, some spell or artifact of the priest? What kind of power could enslave a godlike being? Maybe the other stone obelisks, as Whitehart called them. But where. Excitedly, I pulled out my chalk and slate and drew a crude circle surrounding a cross. “I bet it’s like a wheel! Or a compass.”

Luitprand was skeptical. But I was right. We headed out at a right angle and found another obelisk, this one blessedly unguarded. The earthquake this time was much larger, and the sky cleared enough to see that the land had a strange downward curve toward the temple. It was like we were in the middle of some huge marble. In the distance, we could see a large party a black figures heading to the last obelisk.
“Um, does anybody else think this pace is getting less stable?” Nacht asked. The prisoners laughed through their gags. Well, so if the obelisks are holding this little pocket plane together, then destroying the last one would probably make it collapse. Wonderful.

We debated what to do next. Maybe destroying the obelisks had loosed control on the Gnomes or the Titan. Maybe we should head to the last one and threaten it in order to gain a parley. But we would have to fight off the other party, which would weaken us…

“That temple is the source of evil, I ken feel it.” said Whitehart. “I ask none of ye to come with me, but I’m going.” And he ran off. We all shrugged our shoulders. Our arguing was getting us nowhere, and crazy plans seem to have worked for us in the past. We did send Nacht off to get as many Gnomes out as he could in case we should fail.

The temple guardians were very friendly, almost too friendly. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, these are misguided acolytes of Ioun who can be persuaded to stop.

That naive notion got shot to hells pretty fast. The priest, thinking we were willing initiates, seemed gleeful as he told us they were destroying the Gnomes, body and mind, to harvest knowledge for masters who were definitely not Ioun. Kaylia started berating the priest, who shot back with a quiet “Then we will ship your minds off to the masters themselves to deal with. I think a very small traveling cage for the cat-Elf.”

Kaylia shrieked. Whitehart roared and charged the guards. I jumped up on a table to better shoot the priest in his disgusting little face.

“Focus on the priest!” Liutprand yelled as he charged the man. We got a few good shots off before the Titan himself lumbered out, stretching to a fearsome height.

“Crush the Knight and burn the rest!” Yelled the priest, as Luitprand knocked him to the ground and prepared to thrust in his spear. The Titan’s fist came smashing down, missing Luitprand by a hair. Then Mages started shooting at us from the balconies. I had only one goal, to reach that coward priest who was crawling behind the Titan. I dodged behind the small tables as the Titan operated some massive bellows. The ground below began to get uncomfortably hot. I was five feet from the priest when Kaylia’s spell hit him and his body crumpled into a mass of robes. The control has to be in there. It was a desperate hope, but our only one.

Just as i grabbed the robes, the whole temple erupted in fire. “Retreat!” yelled Whiteheart. “I’ll hold them off. Takes more than a little flame to bring down a Dwarf, fools.”

I ran, praying to Avandra to cool my burnt skin. It worked, so I guess she has not yet abandoned her wayward servant. I was so close to the door, ready to rush out behind Luitprand, when a horrible chill shuddered through my body and sent me reeling. I felt close to passing out when the metal-clad man picked me up. And then another chill hit both of us. I remember the world as a hellish fog of smoke and flame…

The next thing I knew Liutprand was shaking me awake outside. “The Lady Kaylia pulled you out, and went back in for the paladin.” I could hear her roaring as a panther, scratching and banging against the other door. Luitprand thrust a bunch of shards into my hands. “Can you fix it? Maybe we can still break the Titan’s control.”

I managed to put the broken pieces back into a broach, which showed the figure of…

A Mindflayer. I cursed loudly. Luitprand tried to use the broach, but it seemed like it was just a stupid, mundane ornament. We were fools, and our friends would pay for it.

“We have to run, my lady.” Luitprand said urgently. I shook my head, trying to pull myself up against the wall. I could hear Kaylia’s roar turn to a whimper, and then silence.

“We cannot help them right now. I think they want to capture, not kill. We must regain our strength.” He was right. I could barely stand, let alone fight. So I ran, limping as I was, to where I could throw myself down into the safety of the vines and retch up the last of the mage poison.

We watched the guards, trying to form a plan. We learned that our captured friends were being “prepared” for the masters, and that they needed to keep us from the fourth obelisk.

“I can sneak in there, with a distraction.” I whispered. Liutprand nobly offered let himself get captured, but that would be a very last resort. The sickly vines weren’t very good kindling, but I managed a small campfire. Maybe they would think we we foolish enough to set up camp and leave the temple unguarded. Before we left, I apologized to Luitprand, thinking we may very well be dead soon.

Two of them did come out, but the party from the obelisk also returned, talking about engineers up at the third obelisk. Our plans for the temple shot, we decided to “persuade” the engineers to get us in, or at least tell us what the hells was going on in this place.

And it was the right plan, because as we were sneaking up on the engineers, we were snuck up on by Kaylia and a very naked Whitehart.

Now, I’m not too fond of seeing my companions naked- Moonshine was bad enough- but an elderly Dwarf that reminded me of one of my mentors? Ew-Ew-Ew-No. Just…no. I threw the priests robe at him and told him to make a loincloth.

One short explanation later, and we learned that our friends had been thrown into separate cells. Kaylia had escaped through the drain, while Whitehart had ripped his cell to shreds. They had both come to separate rooms where their gear was placed on either end of a cruel balance that made them choose which of their gear was dumped into a flaming pit. Kaylia used her excellent control of stone to save all her gear. Whitehart at first refused to play the sick game until he heard Kaylia calling. Then he did not hesitate to grab his weapons. Hence, the nakedness. They found a control room where the priests could watch the prisoners. Then after smashing a few more doors, they found themselves back in the temple. The whole thing makes no sense except as a cruel torture designed to make people insane. Providing hope of escape at great sacrifice, only to end up captured again. Who knows how long it would have gone on .

But with the chaos we created, Kaylia and Whitehart slipped out and spotted us. Now all four of us could question the engineers. Which turned out to be surprisingly easy. The engineers had no allegiance to the Mindflayer. I might disapprove of their lack of empathy for the Gnome victims, but they seemed to think of nothing but numbers. So we put them on the back of Kaylia’s phantom steeds (reminder- see if I can learn that ritual from her) and put our final plan into action.

The engineers had told us that the plane would take some time to collapse after we destroy the fourth obelisk. So Liutprand and I would ride to help Nacht, and Whitehart would destroy the pillar. Kaylia insisted on going with Whitehart, a look of concern on her face.

The earthquake hit just I was loading a drooling Gnome onto the horse. It’s a good thing that the steed was made of insubstantial smoke, or else we would have been crushed under it. The Gnome, a pretty female, stopped drooling and looked at me with panicked eyes.

“We have to go.” I told her, grabbing her hand. We spent what seemed like an eternity herding confused Gnomes, as the world seemed to shrink around us. The temple cracked, and we could hear the joyous cries of the freed Titan as it smashed its former masters to pulp. The temple collapsed around the giant as it stepped into the portal. I hope it smashes that Mindflayer. Neither could I feel grief for the priests. Anyone willing to do that has gone beyond redemption. But where were Kaylia and Whitehart?

And then there they were, their steeds struggling against the constricting vines, as they were chased by the two foolish Dragonborn. We pushed the few remaining Gnomes through the portal just as they arrived. The Dragonborn took one look at us, all assembled, and ran the other way. I was about to shout. “Wait, come back, I didn’t mean all that about wanting to kill you.” But a big metal arm picked me up and threw me through the portal. Kaylia and Whitehart followed. Then, for a horrible moment, nothing.

But Luitprand came though, diving and rolling to a halt. The portal flashed, and then was gone. The whole glade was filled with confused Gnomes wanting explanations, while the little Gnome boy Shadow gleefully ran up to his parents. Once the Gnomes understood the situation, they were very grateful. I grieve for the Gnomes we could not save, but it seems most of them made it.

My companions seem well. Kaylia is dancing joyously with the Gnomes and patting her belly. The Gnomes somehow dug up clothing large enough for Whitehart. I wonder if we could pitch in to replace the gear he lost. I may not trust the weapon he wields, which screams evil artifact to me, but if anyone could wield such a thing without damage to their soul, it would be a Paladin of high honor like him. Luitprand is staring at the fire. Without his helmet, he looks so young. His face has that haunted look of loss I’ve seen far too often lately.

As for me, I think a lot of wine and hot food is in order. And sleep. And if I’m being perfectly honest, I would take a day like this over any day in Arborea.

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Silverpoint Sessions 1-2

Safe in the Feywild forests, the party helped the six million dwarve refugees set up camp. Plans were made to slowly move them into the mountains. The party hired rangers to help the dwarves. Then, a white dragon arrived with an invitation for the adventurers to come to Silverpoint. When they arrived they found themselves the honored guests of the decadent resort town and attended a grand feast and dance. They were also invited to a hunting competition and a jousting tournament.

During the hunt the party slew an evil green dragon. Their triumphant return was spoiled when they discovered that another group had killed a druid. Kaylee and Rond killed the dragonborn that did it, while Kalseth smoothed things over so that there were no repercussions. He also raised the dragonborn.

That afternoon Kalseth participated in a jousting tournament, winning several tilts before he lost to the leader of Silverpoint in the final round. Nacht thwarted an assassination plot and Rond stopped some people from cheating. The city guards arrived to take Kaylee into custody for killing the dragonborn again, and Kalseth convinced her to go with them despite Rond’s protests. Soon Kaylee changed her mind and escaped with Rond into the forest. Later that evening they met Kalseth and Nacht. Kalseth announced he was done adventuring with Rond and left to go to Arborea. The rest of the party started walking back to check on the dwarves.

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Oon-Bakar Sessions 6-11

The party helped the prisoners of the Eyes of Stone escape and eventually turned most of the populace against the Mountain Lords by revealing them to be frauds. They tried to confront them in their Tower, but they were nowhere to be found. They got the Golden Dwarf to confess, then killed him. They talked with Keldar and decided to have his sisters turn their efforts away from keeping the Far Realm shield around Oon Bakar and channel it into the construction of a huge portal capable of funneling all the dwarves to the Feywild and safety.

With the shield down, the drow army began to attacking the outer walls. The party helped hold back the army long enough for most of the dwarves to escape. They found the Mountain Lords in the city sewers and burnt them to a crisp because they would not repent of their actions. Their last stand was in front of the portal of fleeing dwarves, where they fought more drow, including Matron Baenre and her daughter Davya. The party defeated them and jumped through the portal with the last of the dwarves.

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Oon-Bakar Part 5 - Fall of the Mountain Lords
A song of shite and liars

Kalseth

(From Kalseth’s Autobiography)

Many historians are aware of the great Oon-Bakar Rebellion. They debate whether we incited the Dwarves, and how much we participated in the fray. What most don’t know is that it was unintentional, and stood on the edge of a knife for most of the battle.

There comes a point, good reader, when caution and diplomacy must be forsaken in the face of cruel evil. I never wished any of it to come to violence, but our discoveries forced the hands of good. First, the Oracle told Nacht that there was indeed no rebellion. Then Kaylia infiltrated the headquarters of the Eyes and Hands of Stones. The tremble in her voice was discernible even through her mushroom form, as she told us of the tortures perpetrated by one she called “the golden Dwarf.” All these innocents, tortured into confessions of a rebellion that did not exist! Not a single one of us hesitated in our decision.

But still, our intention was never to put the populace in danger. The original plan was to fake a rebellion to draw out the Eyes of Stones, so we could capture the golden Dwarf and free the prisoners. With evidence such as that, the Mountain Lords would lose all credibility. We discussed long into the night, trying to find a solution. But at the end, we knew that rigged fires and rumors were not enough. We needed actual Dwarves to sell the threat. So we did the best we could. We stole food from the palace, as Rond smoked out the spies with his peculiar cooking skills, and smuggled them through the city in bags of holding. I set out the food, while Rond and Kaylia searched for flammable materials in the refuse piles. Rond’s mounting frustrations came out in a series of crude pranks, such as when he convinced our sweet but naïve druid to hug me. Normally I would welcome affection from such a fair creature, she had been rooting through trash and she smelled like… trash!Then Rond joined in, smelling even worse. How could he stand it. How could she stand it? There are things I will never understand about the Un-Fey. Rond’s other pranks are far too ugly for such discerning readers such as yourselves, so I will not elaborate. (Scholar’s note: see appendix MXII, attached below.)

With our trap set, I ventured out to find the hardiest and angriest Dwarves I got find. I dared not discuss the plan openly, but subtly insinuated the notion of rebellion. The Dwarves, many of whom lost friends and property to the Eyes, were easily convinced. They set upon the food with wary eyes, while I signaled Nacht. The rogue prince was to play the double agent, and convince the baker he was betraying our plans for rebellion. He must have succeeded, because soon the Mountain Lord’s guards were closing in on the “rebels.”

On cue, Rond’s explosive booby traps made a lot of noise, while Kaylia deftly controlled the breeze to blow the fires harmlessly into the wall. The common Dwarves ran for it, and it looked like our plan was to fail until Rond (discretely) shot the arrow that began the revolution. Suddenly, there was a hail of fire and stones. We stealthfully moved through the chaos, stunning guards as we passed. Yours truly rode through the city, rallying the people with rousing speeches. This would hopefully buy Kaylia enough time to inspire Keldar to lead the fight.

Kaylia later told me that Keldar was initially furious. His home was under siege and there would be many dead Dwarves this day. It was only when she revealed his brother Keldos’ treachery that he listened to her pleas, and took up the mantle of leader. She helped him slip through the guard’s lines undetected, and returned to meet us at the abandoned house.

“We have a problem.” she said, her face pale. Unfortunately, Keldar had ordered his family to defend the house by any means necessary, even if it meant using the Far Realm connection. Understandable in his point of view, as the Far Realm was the only thing keeping the Drow at bay. But think of how much chaos it could unleash should he take that terrible option. We had to end this quickly.

“On the bright side of the wing, the Eyes were drawn out.” she continued. “I saw some of them while I was flying.” And with Nacht melting out of the shadows to join us, it was time for action.

The sewer tunnels were deserted. We quaffed the phasing potions and slipped through the thick stone door. To find about a hundred Eyes queuing up behind it. Gods damn them, being cruel torturers isn’t enough, they’re also too incompetent to get out the door in good time? They’d be kicked out of any Eladrin unit for such sloppiness. Hopefully, such unprofessional troops could work to our advantage. We dodged the door traps and took up position. Kaylia and Nacht took out waves of grunts as Rond and I surrounded the commander. He fought well, but even his ring of invisibility wasn’t enough to save him. The ranks panicked, helped along by our intimidating shouts. They weren’t our true quarry, so we hung back a little, assessing the situation and searching for the Eye’s leader.

The godsforsaken prison was massive; there must be over a thousand prisoners. We had to leave them for the time being, in our search for their tormenter. But the villain had slipped the noose, it seemed, leaving nothing but a recording artifact in the shape of the plate. No doubt meant to trick us into complacency while he escaped like a rat. Indeed, it seemed he had fled straight into the palace itself. The damned prison was right below our noses the whole time!

Prudently, we decided not to run into a fortified castle which might be a trap. Our true goal was to stop the fighting by demoralizing the guards and discrediting the Mountain Lords. For that, we needed the testimony of the prisoners. There was no time to free them all, so we found a leader, a former assistant to Mountain Lord Stow, to organize the prison break and tend to the wounded. We told them to stay put for the time being; no telling what was going on outside. We took about two dozen volunteers as witnesses. The sewers were again deserted, and we made good time. Kaylia made chalk markings as a road map for the other prisoners, just in case. Rond slipped forward and peered steathfully outside.

“Damned fighting’s reached us.” he said grimly, and with a shout he ran out to join the fray. The rest of us climbed up the stairs for a better view. The guards were breathing fire at the commoners, who hit back with stones, rusted weapons, whatever they had on hand. I suppressed my guilt; told myself they had chosen this, that there was no other way to stop the silent terror. I fey-stepped into the middle of a large group, intending to hit them all with divine light.

Their fire breath hit hard, and I found myself feeling lightheaded from the sulfur. I got off one round of light before Kaylia rescued me, having jumped out of a burning building, blinded half the guards, and dominating one of the sorcerers. I gratefully retreated toward Rond, where I could catch my breath. Nacht dodged a spell and floated gracefully down from the roof, where he started a duel with a fire breathing guard. We needed to bring them down quickly, before they discovered the rescued prisoners…

(To be continued…)

Scholar’s Appendix MXII
(The true author of this Limerick is unknown, but it started circulating among the Dwarves of Oon Bakar just after the Rebellion).

There once was a Paladin Knight
Who always thought he was right.
So we slipped him some prunes,
and sure as the moons,
His pants were all covered in shite!

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Oon-Bakar Part 3,4 - Viva La Revolucion
In which the party makes Decisions. Also there is magical prune juice.

Nacht

Nacht’s Travel log – Unknown date

5/11 session

The nights here are endless, I’ve lost count of the days (for whatever that’s worth down here), and yet we trudge on. Kalseth and I decided to visit the mountain lords for access to the library that would help him delve into the far realm. Poor Kalseth, though he’s incredibly diplomatic, he couldn’t tell a lie if his life depended on it! Using the oldest trick in the Thieves’ Guild, we silver tongue’d our way in.
We got what we needed and left in a hurry to meet Danika, and the most peculiar thing happened: some dwarves were capturing a merchant and taking him away! Now, in the kingdom, it’s not unheard of that people vanish for committing crimes, among a million other reasons, but in Un’Bahkar? Something fishy was going on. We were hot in pursuit.
But alas, the dwarves are crafty people, and know their city much better than we did. Covered in shite and in a mess, we retreated back up to the city and continued towards Danika.
Let me tell you something: going toe-to-toe with a dwarf like Wilkens teaches you a lot about Dwarves. The lesson: never keep a dwarf out of combat for very long, they get mighty cranky! Once we arrived at the tavern, we set our plans into motion: the group would re-visit the library and investigate deeper into the far realm, while I go with Danika back to the army to summon some captains to aid Un’Bahkar with the war effort. It would make for a prime opportunity to check on the troops and give Kaylia peace of mind about Carrie Ann-Marie.
On the way to the army camp in King’s Road, it took some convincing to get Danika to allow me to hold onto the Mask. However, the bigger problem was convincing myself that I could keep this evil artifact safe. Every bone in my body tells me that this thing would be worth a fortune, yet it could spell the doom of most anything that’s not Drow, should a Matron get her hands on this. I’m going to become a gigantic beacon to the Drow if they get word of this thing’s existence.
Everything at the camp was quiet, and the people grew tired of waiting. But causing any commotion right now would only serve to agitate them even more. At the very least, I can tell Kaylia that Carrie Ann-Marie is safe, and is adapting to her blindness.
I grabbed a handful of willing captains and snuck back into Un’Bahkar. And with the group still in the library messing about with unseen powers of the void, I had some time to kill. And what better way to earn the trust of a corrupt government, than to do some favors for them? I asked around the streets, and found that the local baker is also the point of contact for missions and bounties here.
This baker was like all the others – discreet, slimy, and looking to line his own pockets to win the favor of the council. No matter, the worst I can find here would be nothing more than loan sharks back in the Kingdom’s slums.
The mission was simple: Sneak in to an apartment complex, lure out the target and get him onto the street. Dead or alive.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, and I wasn’t about to lose this job. Sorry old man, but incredibly bigger things are at stake here. I need information and trust from the baker, and you’re my ticket there.
The entire trip back to the inn was in shame and defeat. I was better than this, I could have knocked him out and done the mission cleaner. I’m supposed to be a professional! I’d never want the group to be involved in my own affairs. I can’t let anyone know what happened, and the only thing on me that could cover the blood all over my face was the mask. Geez, wasn’t I just conflicted about not doing anything hasty with this thing?
Upon arriving to the inn, I hastily removed the mask and checked in. I was almost home-free to the room where I could gather myself and my thoughts, but Kaylia appeared out of nowhere. Damn! Why now, of all times?
I hid my face with my arms and bolted to the nearest room, but with eyes that can see through both Rond and I’s shadowy tricks, there’s no hiding the color and stench of the guilt covering me.
No doubt the party now knows something is wrong, but they aren’t hearing a word until I’m good and ready.
The room was a tropical setting this time, very refreshing from the dark and damp we’re seeing every day down here. I just wish the walls were soundproof, as Kalseth’s fury could clearly be heard through every wall in this room.
I laid on the sandy beach and looked up at the blue sky while my blood-stained clothes were being cleaned. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do away with all this other-worldy mess and allow everyone the chance to experience this? Don’t they know that we’re all going to croak anyway? Fools. Just make peace and stop focusing on the wrong things!
As the next day arrived, we gathered around again during a “hunt” to discuss what to do among ourselves. I learned of Kalseth’s journey into the far realm, and his theory that we need one of each element to strengthen the material membrane, to enlarge a ritual to cosmic proportions so that we can mend the tears that spill over into each realm.

5/18 session

Yet again we’re mushrooms. Always with the mushrooms! Just cut off my arms and legs and call me a mushroom, but for the love of god, grant me the ability to take a piss! I’m convinced there is no greater evil in all the realms.
We decide on our course of action: Kalseth will talk with the local mages about combining the elements, Kaylia will be doing some spy work on Keldos, while Rond and I pay a visit to the baker.
For all that grieving and worrying the night before, it turns out that the dead do in fact speak more truth than the living. He’s pleased with me, and mentions the contract for the Oracle that works with the rebels.
On my way out, a sudden stomach reaction causes a need to evacuate. I clenched my ass cheeks as hard as humanly possible, and vanished from the vicinity to avoid a scene. Damn that Rond, must have slipped something in those prunes we ate on the way here! What IS that guy’s problem?
The party met up and shared our reports. Kaylia’s mission was a success, but who knew that shape-shifting could be so useful? It’d put us rogues to shame! Kalseth learned of a possible solution to the far realm problem, and even a means of crossing the boundaries of nothingness, through some form of alien hocus-pocus.

Later, I set out to look for the oracle and happened across a tavern by the name of “The most drunken mushroom”. Annoyed with the pale ales served all over the city, I asked for the strongest thing they had. The last thing I remember was the sip of the black ale he served, and all went dark.
Next thing I knew, I woke up with a note slipped into my bag from a dwarf I bumped into on the road. The note mentioned to meet a chariot with red markings on it. Peculiar…
But I was never prepared for what I would find out next. Kaylia has gotten herself pregnant and wants to get back to the surface! The father? There could only be one man handsome enough to get into the crevices of any woman’s love, and he’s in quite the predicament!
I’ve arrived at the designated spot and was blindfolded during the entire trip to meet the Oracle. The Oracle was merely a wise old female dwarf who spoke many truths, and told us ways of dealing with eyes of stone and she told us about the weapon – a teardrop of Avandra that can bend the very laws of nature, if used properly.
Our plan was clear: we spread rumors to the baker with talks of rebellion within the city walls, then we cause a grand ruckus and then vanish into the now lightly-guarded sewers…

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Oon-Bakar Part 2 - Exploration and Discoveries
In which party members hunt and "hunt"

Rond

Once thought I might get fat and not move real quick when I got old, but the though of the idea of being a mushroom and not moving at all I don’t think was ever one my head could have come up with. But there we were all hidden as mushrooms, and honestly not a bad idea either. Who’s going to go around poking all the mushrooms in a forest of mushrooms to figure out which ones actually are not and may be tasty to eat. I don’t think no one. And how many paranoid corrupt dwarves are going to be listening to mushrooms talk? Again none too many would be my guess. Made it a great way to hid and discuss what needed discussing without any more snooping in. Someone is on a serious power trip in the city and seems quite paranoid. I should try to “behave” for now… past experience says things don’t end up none too well when one does not.

After chatting we went on our real hunt and tracked down what we though was a couple of large snakes, but we soon discovered it was instead a large chaos hydra. This was far nicer than getting in another scuffle with drow or the like. Reminded me why I first took to the woods a bit. The beast was tricky growing new heads as it got hurt, and Kaylia seemed a little challenged trying to keep it under control, but did a good job. Kalseth jumped off a mushroom onto its back delivering a good blow, and then promptly falling off into the water and sinking. No thank you plate mail. We all eventually surrounded it and Nacht managed to blind it with moss bits and then knock it out so that we could quickly and finish it off.

No one else wanted to cut up the beast there so decided to drag it back to the city. On the way back a few more of the ever present dipshit drow ambushed us. If they had even a lick of sense one would think they might have pondered that not jumping the travelers who just killed a large beast… but I’m not drow, so maybe there’s some other logic they go by… or not. Either way they were dispatched with ease and Kaylia hid the bodies with some of her druidy nature-ness, still don’t quite understand how she can control the wilds so but seems a neat gift. Something living down here will come across a nice feast… though if they taste anything like they smell the mud may make a better meal.

Back inside the city wall we butchered up the chaos hydra and some of the dwarves got to cooking it. Kalseth told the peoples it was a feast thrown by the mountain lords which got me near close to denting in his armor, but in truth he is a little more tactful in situations like these, and probably best not to make any new “friends” any sooner than we need to. I’m sure I’ll manage to screw things up plenty soon anyways. Nacht ate more meat than should fit inside him. It’s a wonder he was not pukeing up half digested hydra meat all over the place. Some of the dwarves got to playing music and Kayleea took to doing a strange dance to it. She was quite graceful, but it was not what I think of as dancing. She got me to join in, and did for a bit, but never was one for dancing. Kalseth took a turn playing a lute, and the dwarves all stood there looking clueless like, not knowing what to make of his elfy tunes. Poor simple dwarves. After one song (and a lot of quizzical looks) he disappeared with a with some young dwarf to add to his seemingly never ending list of “conquests”.

Once the feast was dieing down we headed down to the bright lights to find Keldar who we had breifly met earlier, and try to get a better grasp of the goings on in this city. We were met by his brother who is also a beardless dwarf. I don’t think I’ll ever understand dwarves and their beards… its like they seem to feel all of their dwarfyness resides in the hair sprouting from their chin. If I so wanted I could grow just as big of a beard and get just as much soup caught it. Wouldn’t make me any more dwarfy than I am now… not very. Now that I though I had started to figure out dwarves meet a group of them that refuse to be dwarfy. Go figure. Had a dinner of soup in their glowing mushroom house and talked over the history of the city, his families role in its capture, and superficially the leadership of it. If he’s to be believed, which I see no reason not to from our short stay here already, seems like the dwarves society is rotting from the top down. Nacht managed to eat the soup too. Either he was really hungry or working on trying to explode.

After dinner took a walk around the glowing mushroom area. Someone had mentioned that these mushrooms unlike those we have come accustom to seeing (and being) are of a fey origin. I’ll believe it as they seem to possess a life or some sort of awareness that has I have not seen, or perhaps sensed, in the others. I’ve heard it said in years way long ago that the elves were responsible for the wakening or bringing consciousness to the some of the trees, wonder if there was some similar history behind these mushrooms.

While I was pondering over the glowing mushrooms, our host of the glowing mushroom house Keldar joined me. Before I could ask about the mushrooms he steered the conversation in a very different direction. No Thank You! Hopefully was not too offensive as him and his folk seem like a the only decent peoples we have yet to meet here, but still, being hit on by a beardless dwarf! …I guess stranger things have happened, though at the moment not sure I can think of any. Should have sent him over to Sir Shines-a-lot. Eventually headed back and crashed in a corner of one of the crowded rooms with Kaylea. Kalseth was up talking to one of Keldar’s sisters and Nacht had disappeared.

Was woken in the morning by Kaylia happily asking me to go “hunting”. Figured what that meant when she gave me that look earlier and said something similar, but party business had got in the way. Nice chance now though. She seems to be such a sweet person, and it has been really nice seeing her grow happier and almost frolicky at times. When we finally find our good friend Baenre who’d taken this from her, I’ll see to it that she sees damn well exactly what she took before leaving her head to contemplate it from the of a pike. We had no trouble with the gate guards this time, guess that hydra was worth its weight in no questions asked. Kaylea found us a good clearing and had me help her with casting some sorts of rituals to protect it. She is quite straight forward and to the point in all manner of things in a refreshing way that few folks are. Elves definitely do got a certain grace and beauty about them you don’t oft find elsewhere, and a good looking naked one with her arms around you is pretty damn irresistible.

Laying on the springy moss afterwards with her soft body snuggled against mine I was seeing an odd haziness… auras round all manner of living things. She described it as “other sight” being the inner life and health and what not of them. Seemed interesting to be able to understand how other things are doing, but seems it could be real distracting too. All too soon she was ready to go hunting again. Lotta energy in this one even if she is looking a little sickly… inner sight… seems she could use some sun… I’ll be seeing that she gets what she needs. Hunting I caught a nice large fish and she got a good sized gator. She likes to eat her meat best raw. I let her convinced me to have some the same way. I have never much cared for uncooked meat, and this was not really an exception, at least this time had some nice company to go with it.

Brought the rest of the gator and fish back to Keldars. Some of the guards at the gate looked disappointed and saw some money changing hands. Guess they expected another hydra. Perhaps later, a bit more hunting is not going to hurt anything, and I’m sure there are plenty of hungry mouths here that would appreciate a good meal .

Nacht came back having gotten a dwarven face job over night. Didn’t recognize him at first but the others did. But I guess that’s what happens when you let dwarves pound on your face. Kalseth is now going around “yes your majesty”, “of course your grace”ing him. What a blowhard sycophant! Guess he really likes the smell of shit on his nose… Aside from the face job obviously nothing else had changed as Nacht had come back with a large sack that he had emptied what must have been half of the contents of a hotel mattress into. All hail the king of stolen feathers… right….

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Oon-Bakar Part 1 - Arrival, Orientation
In which specters fall and rise

Kaylia (Oral Transcript)

I’s in a Druid-Grove. On quiet feet flit round’n amidst, lookin’ after this small bit o’ wilds best I can. When things ain’t sensical I take shelter aneath the branches o’ an oak-tree, all bent’n knotty from a hard winter felt too young— rough-barked, I reckon, but still live, still hale, still growin’. It’s Rond. In the Other-sight the sun blinds, so bright’n strong can be tasted on skin with eyes closed. I taste Kalseth on my skin. And Bane, he’s here too; Bane’s the night, hidin’ us all in twilight so we’s safe. Go round’n amidst on quiet feet, feelin’ deep love for each one o’ my friends, my forest. Together we’s strong.

Make another step, but suddenlike my toes sink in mud’n I feel fear. Need firm earth below my two or four feet, need mountain-stone to set my shoulder-blades ‘gainst in the black. The path afore me’s dark’n terror-filled, but when I call out he don’t re-‘pear. Together we’s strong, I say to the mud, but we ain’t all together now. He’s left me behind, left me down in the black to die or worse, to quiver at her feet. He’s left his dwarves, left his friends, left my forest weak Whiskers curl with rage When I next set eyes on ’im I will I will

Won’t. Smooth neck-fur back down, swish tail sidewise, focus. Real easy to find rage in this tunnel King’s Highway, where the echoes o’ Torog linger. Makes the growin’ things in my little Grove growl’n circle each other liken wolves, poor things. Kalseth’n Rond’s just ‘bout gone at it many times, Bane’s real snappy. Twitch ears. Anyhow it ain’t so mostways, what I were thinkin’ afore. Poor ol’ Wilkins, I got love ‘nough for ’im too. Reckon the only thing could o’ drawed ‘im from us’ Majandra’s sweet spirit. It’s each o’ our’s choice what paths we step on, Momma used to say. My two or four feet’s right tired these days, but they’s mine to move and I’s a druid with wisdom ‘nough to guide ’em. Shoulders back, chin high; now if only the ceilin’ weren’t so heavy, I’d be standin’ tall again.

Focus goes outside’n I visual Bane bendin’ to look close at a crumbly pile o’ armor whilst Kalseth’n Rond get snippy at ‘im for delay. Suddenlike the fur rises on my back as his touch stirs up recollectin’s hidden in the rock; the armor stands, skulls float up all shrieky, a dark shadow blooms up in front o’ me, sayin’ my name, Kaylia. Goes right at me, but I caw and fly ‘way on dark-feathered wings. _Don’t_ liken Un-dead.

The things means to end us so we set to common-sensical, leavin’ the empty armor down aneath’n climbin’ right at the skulls. Kalseth ain’t the least bit scairt’n charges one by his lonesome; though he takes many hits all o’er he still shines real bright’n I smile with secret pride, still flush with the recollectin’ o’ his body. Bad ol’ spirit tries to get me ‘gain whilst the suits climb, but I turn round and roar at ’em all so’s they fall back down. Rond’s at my back, holdin’ off the rest, whilst Bane flickers into and out o’ sight liken a shadow, goin’ with his daggers from one to the next’n leavin’ a trail o’ lifeblood. He’s got quick hands.

The spirit leaves me be, goes to Kalseth— goes inside, stealin’ Kalseth’s powers to heal up his friends whilst Rond rages at ‘im inknowin’. The ghost goes in his head next, but Kalseth, havin’ wrest his own mind free, wrests Rond’s free too afore things get bad. Bane falls from many hits, so I fly to ‘im and feed ’im Potions. When he wakes he feels shamed, but I just smile down at his inusual face—part Eladrin, part human— to re-sure him. Kalseth and Rond finish the rest just as our dwarf army gets there. We find gold, a staff, and a little person statue I liken a lot; I’s a-goin’ to give it to Karen Anne-Marie to play with till Kalseth snatches it out o’ my hands. That’s an image of my god, Kaylee! He snaps, so I show ‘im my teeth, thinkin’ anyone who’s got eyes oughten to visual it’s just a piece o’ wood, not a god. The tunnel makes us rageful.

Later when my body goes all tingly I know we’s come to a Crossin’. We’s Crossin’ to the Feydark! Visual one, two, three, four, a lot o’ mushrooms, then feel my small forest laughin’n relaxin’ a bit. Danger ain’t gone— to be truthsome the sense o’ it’s stronger yet in my sinews— but amongst all them growin’ things can’t help as feel bigger, stronger, righter. Swallow down this natural place hungry-like with eyes, nose, pointed ears, skin: mushrooms moss bat mushroom spider dark-stone dwarf lizard dwarf? I point out the strange dwarves to my Grove; after we meet ‘em we’s took right to their town Oon-Bakar, the place we been a-tryin’ to get to since we started. Seems right inusual to me from the outside, a sort o’ island in a sea— an Underdark sea?— bordered all round by swampland.

Drow. In this swamp’s lots o’ drow, and even though I’s bigger now, standin’ on my own two feet, I can’t help shiverin’ a bit. Ain’t just any ol’ dark-elves out there now— they’s all drow sweared to House Baenre, to her. I feel a strange thing. The runes ain’t gone. She don’t know I’s here, I tell my own self, o’er and o’er, wrappin’ a cloak round my body real tight. She got bigger things to think on. She thinks I’s far ‘way. She don’t got use for me no more. They’s camped out all round the city firin’ weapons at Oon-Bakar, but it ain’t workin’ liken it oughten ‘cause there’s a Far-Realm Atrusin’ — Untrusin’, In-trus-in’? It means Ain’t Wanted— all round the place as makes things Wrong. My friends’n me leave our army to sneak round through secret paths, but the ways’ small’n I got to focus hard so’s not to get panicky.

Inside the place’s bigger. There’s so many dwarves and at first I smile at ‘em, thinkin’ on how much Wilkin’s would o’ likened to visual so many o’ his kin all gathered up, but then I comprehend they’s livin’ awful small’n sad-like in yellow fog’n feel pity. They’re in poverty, Kalseth says to me quiet-like. He’s been learnin’ me words. The dwarves give to us sad horses to ride’n since need’s real pressin’ I ask polite-like if one’d bear me willin’-ful. Get his straps took off’n hop on his shoulder-blades. Horse’n me offer Rond a ride’n when he climbs up behind me, the feel o’ him ‘gainst my back’n legs wakens a different hunger. Lean back eager-like as we go ‘long, comprehendin’ I feel more my own self’n e’er these days, even down in the black. In my elf-eyes, green as the forest, there’s secret plans; in my druid-mind, deep as the sea, there’s secret wisdom. I hug the small panther-me he gived to me, maked by his good hands, to my chest, touch my half-sister’s necklace, so dear to its giver, to my lips, and smile.

Soon we meet with a half-dozen dwarf-kings’n they speak on their folk bein’ ready to riot, on not havin’ ‘nough good fighters to get at the drow, on bein’ set on livin’ on down here for always. I comprehend eventual they ain’t keen to help us e’en though we’s keen on helpin’ ‘em, and Dorn’s voice’s a recollectin’ in my head: we’re losing the Feywild. I think on the bright trees and sparkly stars gettin’ swallowed down and start feelin’ real flush, but when Kalseth hushes me I go quiet for ’im. I got trust in the sun to light our path through the swampwater.

Whilst waitin’ for Kalseth to finish his words I visual a dwarf with no beard smilin’ in the shadows, but weren’t till after I greeted ‘im as I comprehended he was tryin’ to hide. Hard to tell sometimes. A hero o’ the common folk, the others dwarves say, but there’s a bitter taste to their words’n when we say we’ll meet ‘im later I comprehend they ain’t too happy with this. They ain’t bad folk, though, acourse.

The kings give to us a big house named Mansion. I’s happy ‘cause it got lots o’ rooms can be gived to the dwarves as need ‘em, but Kalseth and Bane says not yet. They’s wise in the ways o’ towns so I trust again, but I want to help the dwarves get free’n walk their own paths, too. We go into one o’ those nice rooms to talk’n I get a bit flighty once Bane closes the door. On his advice I cast Silence, look round with my— dwarf in the grate-hole. Charge o’er’n jump into the vents as he runs, but the tunnel, it’s too small Freeze stiff Got’n to breathe Walls closin’ in Rond brushes past’n ‘way, but I got to back out o’ there right quick. Kalseth, Bane watches me whilst I breathe lots o’ air, but can’t feel no shame for not doin’ somethin’ ain’t in my nature to do. When Rond brings the scairt dwarf back he says there’s things watchin’ o’er the city, spyin’ on other folk. Ain’t a safe place to talk.

We search for vittles in the cookin’-room and soon I catch the scent o’ meat, real flesh from creatures as live in the Feydark’n not blacked by fire. I pounce on it and eat it all, and though it ain’t too fresh my body’s joyful. Kalseth drops his food, turns ‘way a bit sickly whilst I wipe blood from my chin’n tell Rond we oughten to go huntin’. He nods.

Huntin’s’ a good accuse to get out o’ the city so’s we can talk free, the others say, but when we go to the gate they won’t let us through straight off’n I start to get a bit panicky again. You ain’t goin’ to be penned up ne’er ‘gain, little Kaylee, I re-sure my own self, and they won’t pen in your forest neither. Now you listen here, I snarl to the dwarfs in our way, but Kalseth steps in again. Our Druid is very hungry, he says real smoothlike, and I think it’s better not to stand in her way when she needs to hunt. I growl at ’im inpatient-like, and they let us by.

Eyes wide as the stars above, pointed ears pricked for danger, I lead the others through the dangers to a place feels secret’n safe. Cover us with rituals Silence and Tree Shape so’s we can talk, and in many words we decide: Speak to Keldar the Hero o’ the Common-Folk, bring in some o’ our army to train up the dwarves, study on the Far-Realm In-tru-sin’, find out more bout the forces o’ Matron Baenre’n figure on the best way to get at her. Could use our armies, could try to get her quick’n quiet-like, could even call down Moradin his self to fight usin’ the dwarf Artifact. Baenre. I feel the strange thing again’n can’t hear no more words whilst I cogitate on it. I need, I say eventual, no louder’n wind but the others stop and wait patient. My druid’s pride stiffens my back’n the bad runes sting my spine liken wasps. I need her. Whilst I say it I comprehend it’s truthsome; I got a hunger in me now, a hunger for the ritual’n even the bad touch o’ Lolth as almost o’erwhelms my fear o’ her. I know in my sinews it ain’t a natural thing to feel, but it’s the path got to be stepped on—the path to runnin’ free under the sun again— and I reckon for that I’s a-goin’ to do whate’er I got to do. Need her, I say. In the deep quiet o’ the swamplands, all aglow in the black, my Druid-Grove nods’n starts plannin’ on how to go bout it.

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Traveling the King's Highway
In which the party leaves Forgehome, forges ahead

Bane

With news of Wilkens vanishing from what would be a focal point in the early stages of this war, we gathered around and devised the best plan we could think of: to win over the XVIth legion to sway the political power of the Dragonborn.

Rond had sent an urgent message to a fellow named Dorn, warning him of the freak force of nature that we encountered within the tower during its destruction. From the sounds of it, we’ll have a lot on our plate from here on out…

But those matters can wait, for we still need to deal with the Dragonborn. This “emperor” of theirs feels like nothing more than flimsy parchment in comparison to the kings above ground, and the gods above all else. It was tough, but through acts of unparalleled diplomacy, we managed to convince the entirety of the Dragonborn to march with us into battle, leaving behind this shambling city to aid the dwarves in Un’Bahkar, ultimately creating a better future for both the dwarves, and themselves.

A month has passed now, and we’re as prepared as we’re ever going to be. We march into King’s Road, bolstered by an entire city’s worth of supplies, people, and warriors ready to challenge the darkness ahead. But a most peculiar thing happened during our travel down the mad god’s tunnel: Kaylia pierced a well-placedillusion placed by Gnomes! Of all things!

This was great news for Vlad, who was now reunited with his kin. In the meantime, I ended up opening that stupidly complex puzzle box, only to find nothing inside! Ah well, at least the puzzle was intellectual, more than what I can say for the majority of the things we’ve encountered down here. With regret, I sold the box, keeping in mind the blueprints for a portable puzzle I will invent – in the shape of a cube with many colored sides one has to match up.

In the months’ time from leaving Forgeholm, the party had ample time to prepare for the siege, but notably, Kaylia’s rituals have grown exponentially, allowing us the ability to mount phantom steedds and travel blindingly fast on foot. For reasons I did not even understand until later, we rode to intercept some Drow that could cause ussome problems down the road. Three days later, apparently, I found out from the rest of the party that the gnomes had asked for us to save their prisoners who were somewhere out in the open. If this blasted disguise permits, I would have loved to wallow in disappointment, but at least I get to practice my newfound powers.

We snuck up on the Drow with Gnome prisoners in sight and proceeded to efficientlydispatch them. The ride back was fast, as we pushed hard to deliver the prisoners totheir respectful comrades, and pushed equally hard to catch up with the army that was a good week ahead. But before we set back out, Rond and Kaylia had a moment together, and I fear this triangle will get out of hand VERY soon!

For fun, I’ve always speculated that Gnomish trickery falls hand-in-hand with Rogue tactics, and used this chance to follow up to learn how to better pierce Gnomish illusions, and eventually learn to incorporate them into my own skillsets.

I can’t say the same for Kalseth though chuckle, his stories of debauchery and adultery are all in good fun. This time around, it was Gnomes dressed up in Kolbold disguises…I didn’t know he was into Kobolds!

We rode, and caught up with the army eventually. And while we did, we descended into the depths of the Underdark, where we found some corpses of fallen warriors – who bore no insignia of any current kingdoms – so I figure there’s no harm done in looting right? Wrong. The blasted thing grabbed my arm and shrieked a blood-chilling scream as its eyes lit up with unholy zeal.

The rest, is history.

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Forgehome Part 7
In which the party saves Forgehome but loses a member

Written by Paula/Kalseth

Pages marked “For autobiography”

Here begins the tale of the battle of Forgehome and the fall of Wilkins. A tale full of glory and sorrow. It begins in the crepuscular dawn of the Underdark, as our enemies gathered beneath the walls. We were rested and ready, having cleansed the city of Drow and Drow influence, and forged a fragile alliance between the Dwarves and the Dragonborn. I climbed the dark stone steps, looking for Wilkins. I meant to apologize for my interference in his Dwarven diplomacy, to mend our relationship before we risked our life in battle. (I would keep to myself my opinion of such brutal duels to determine leadership.) But he cut me off and threatened me. I wish I had sensed the madness growing inside him then, but I denied my paladin instinct and told myself that a good battle would bring him back to his senses. Still, it would be prudent to keep away from his anger until he had slaked his bloodlust.

We had planned to advance under the cover of Kaylia’s summoned fog, neutralizing the Drow army’s deadly crossbows. I say had planned because Wilkin’s recklessly charged the whole army with a small corps of his elite troops. So we hastily formed a support column with myself and Danica at the lead, while Rond’s stealth troops harried the Drow with arrows from the shadows, and Nacht formed a flanking column to the right. Kaylia managed conjure up a wind that hindered the Drow bolts, but it was not enough. I patrolled the front lines as we advanced on the center, casting divine shields and sending the wounded back to Danica, but it wasn’t enough. Nacht slammed into the right flank, leaving Wilkins to shatter the weak left flank, but it still wasn’t enough. Too many good Dwarves died on the battlefield. Our only comfort was that twice as many Drow lay dead at our feet. Wilkins disappeared into the fog of battle, leaving the rest of us to hunt down the General and his elite troops. We knew that the General was trying to buy time for the new Matron to escape, so we had to act fast. We charged in, ignoring the sniper’s crossbow bolts, taking numerous wounds from the guards as we slashed desperately at the General. Nacht seemed to have gained confidence from his Drow hunt in the city, and in a blur of blades he decapitated most of the retinue so fast their heads had time to see their bodies from the ground. It still wasn’t enough. We arrived to see Wilkins unconscious in a pile of dead allies and enemies. The Matron was gone. All of us were dusty and bloody. Kaylia had a dark mark around her neck where a Drow garroter had tried to strangle her, foiled only by her Feywild teleport.

However, we had managed to save Forgehome, and found valuable correspondence in the General’s tent. The new Matron, Eolvais H’kar, was a zealot who had been told in dreams to take up the Matron’s mantle and seek the Mask. Something told us this wasn’t the last we would see of her. We had seized the Drow army’s supplies, and had gained a field full of sturdy-brush war machines. These would help us in Oon-Bakkar, assuming we could convince the 16th Legion to follow us. Flush with our victory, we went to congratulate Wilkins back in Forgehome.

I suppose this is when I realized his mind had snapped. “Get out of my city. Too many Dwarves died under your command!” he roared. All of the diplomatic words flew out of my mind as a righteous rage came over me. “They died because you charged in without planning.” I yelled back. “Do you think your little stunt would have succeeded if we hadn’t distracted most of the Drow army? Their blood is on your hands!”

“You leave now, paladin.” Wilkins pointed a fat finger at me. “The rest of you have until nightfall to leave my city.” The way he sat in the stone chair reminded me of Torfin in Palace Kraznyz. Perhaps it is this place, I thought desperately. But perhaps it is his own selfish lack of control.

“You don’t deserve the sword of your ancestors.” I hissed, brandishing the Soul Sword at him.

“Say another word and I’ll attack.” Wilkins said flatly. It was tempting. My mind was screaming Tyrant! We should have you let die out there. But the Sword’s warning rang through my head and at last I regained composure. I turned sharply and marched straight out of the gates.

The 16th legion was grateful enough to build us a pavilion outside the gates. I washed the grime from my face and armor before Rond joined me. He was deep in the midst of training two riding lizards he had tamed during our last battle. “I spoke to Kaylia.” he said without looking at me. “Told her Wilkins was making his choice, and she’d be better off on her own. She’s still going to talk to Wilkins. Sure she’ll come out and talk to you later.” I felt a stab of fear. Surely he wasn’t so far gone as to hurt her. Not yet. I thought darkly. But the slight mental jangling I have come to associate with the Sword rang through my head again. It was right. I cannot go down the same dark path as him. I turned my attention to the lizards. Rond showed me the basics of riding the exotic beasts. I had mastered the horse, but this was a different experience. The lizard ran straight up and down the walls.

It must have been mid afternoon when Nacht strolled out, scarred and scuffled. Apparently he had won back Wilkin’s favor by donating his share of the loot to resurrect Dwarves, and sparring with him. “There are some things you can only know about a person by fighting.” he said thoughtfully.

“Like what?” I asked. But a slight smile under the heavy brows of his Bane disguise showed he was not about to give away secrets he had so painfully earned. I shared my concerns with him, that Wilkins was becoming what we in the Paladin circles call a Templar. A warrior so blinded by hatred and paranoia that he or she cannot tell friend from foe. A holy force of death. Nacht shrugged his shoulders. “There are benefits to friendship even with a paranoid tyrant.” he said lightly. I could tell he was thinking of future trade routes and alliances. His duty as a future Emperor.

Kaylia joined us in the middle of our rant. I could see the pain on her face. She waited until I had finished.

“I think he is still being angry from the battle.” she said hopefully. I shot her a skeptical look. “He is like a drownin’ in guilt, for the soldiers an Majandra. He… he thinks he is a different person. Someone named Greyheart. But he ain’t. Not yet.” she pleaded.

“You’re not seriously thinking of staying with him?” I asked.

“He won’t hurt me.” she said defiantly.

“His anger is like a hurricane, destroying everything in its path, even you. I don’t want to kill him, but if he hurts you I will.” Kaylia seemed shocked. She dropped her head.

“He were drivin’ me away, like I was some pet he were afraid would get hurt.” she whispered. “We said goodbye. I gave him my lavender scarf, an he gave me Majandra’s necklace.” We all stayed silent for a long time after that. Rond got up silently and walked through the gates.

Soon after he came running back. “You won’t believe what just happened.” he said. “Wilkins is gone.”

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Side Story: Kalseth and the Holy Order of the Shield
A paladin's test

Pages from Kalseth’s autobiography

And now on to the story of my induction into the Order of the Holy Shield. It happened as we were shopping for gear amongst the surviving stalls in the marketplace. A small troop of Dwarves in shining heavy armor approached us. I could tell instantly they were Paladins.

“Hail fellow Paladin.” their leader said in a rich Dwarven brogue. “We have heard of your great deeds and we believe you show great promise. We would be honored to offer you membership in our society. Provided you go through an initiation, of course.”

I was highly intrigued. As we traveled to their headquarters, they explained that their order was formed from paladins of all goodly and unaligned gods dedicated to the protection of innocents. Indeed, the small temple had insignias of all gods, as well as the decorated shields of the order.

“We believe an innocent to be in danger. You must go to the old temple on the hill, alone, to rescue her.” So I set off through the desolated city, aware of any spare Drow or well hidden trap. The temple stood forlorn on the hill, half of its roof caved in. I climbed to the top of the roof and cautiously peered inside.

“Help me!” the Dwarven girl pleaded. I tied a strong knot to the top of the temple an climbed into the darkness. Lighting my magic lamp, I saw she was tied onto a stone altar, surrounded by a circle of unholy symbols and implements. A deep voice rumbled from the darkness. “Leave now. The child is mine.”

I hesitated. This was probably a test. Perhaps a test of my skills in battle, perhaps a test of my ability to tell good from evil, to withstand the temptations of evil. I sensed no illusions, and only a vague evil coming from the darkness. Still, something seemed off.

As I stepped toward the girl, a pack of skeletons and fire elementals shambled out of the darkness. Those who survived my holy light met their end from a quick slash of my sword. This was too easy.

It was. As I untied the girl, the voice rumbled out again like an earthquake. “The child is MINE!”

The girl looked too weak to climb, so I pulled off my boots and told her to wish herself onto the top of the roof and run as fast as she could. Just as she disappeared, a creature of blinding light and flame burst into being right where she had been. Another elemental? But something still felt off.

I charged at the thing, slashing with the soul sword. But it just laughed. “You cannot hope to defeat me, puny mortal.” Fiery wings thrust out like a bird ready to take flight.

A fallen angel. There was no way I could hope to defeat it on my own. I teleported behind one of the pews and threw a jolt flask, hoping to daze it for long enough for me to climb the rope and join the child. The lightning shook through the air, but the angel just laughed again. “Hiding will do you no good.” it taunted.

There was no hope now but to distract it so the girl could get away. Perhaps if I held out long enough, the Order could provide back up. If not, Kaylia would find me- eventually. I hoped. I quaffed a healing potion and ran up again.

The slimmest scratch appeared on the creature’s arm. “The first of many!” I taunted, but the thing would not stop laughing. I stayed put, drinking healing potions between strikes, laughing as hard and maniacally as I could. The angel stopped laughing, and brought unholy fire down at me again and again.

I had strength enough for one last strike. It hit deep, but it wouldn’t be enough. Well, if I was going down, I would fight to the last. I threw the magic shroud over my head, and it hardened into a shell as the angel’s foot came crashing down like a hellish volcano.

“Awaken.” The voice was as soft as a whisper, and I opened my eyes. I was lying on a comfortable bed, the Dwarves of the order standing over me.

“Was any of that real?” I asked. The Dwarves chuckled.

“From the moment you accepted the initiation challenge, you were under our care.” the leader said. “We gave you a potion that would bring you back to that moment, so you would act as if your life were actually in danger. You could have abandoned the girl out of concern for yourself. You might have told yourself that it was for the greater good. After all, you are of much more value to the world than one child. Some paladins would take this choice, and they have a place in the world. But not in our order.”

So it was a test, and I had passed. I accepted the badge and the armor, purchased with a sizable donation to the order. They stood solemnly around me as I took the oath to protect all innocents with my own life. I would sell the old armor given to me by the Kingdom of Sol, the last vestige of that tainted order. Now on to protect the innocent. First the innocent of Oon-Bakkar, and then the innocent soldiers and civilians of the Kingdom of Sol.

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