A First for Many

Tundra Troubles
Its so very, very cold...aside from the fire centipede

After a long respite at Helga’s Hoppy Haven, and over many pints of ale, the once more victorious group, presumably while completely blitzed, decided it was time…to find the legendary, and awful, Remorhaz- the dreaded ice centipede, from which, Queso’s sword could be completed. Specifically, from its intestines, which would serve as the strings to the musical greatsword. They ventured forth into the Odemark, the icy tundra that expanded into the North of Avarkall, recovering from their hangovers and cursing the day Queso ever heard about this thing. For his part, Queso merrily skipped along, aided by the wide snow-shoes the party had (wisely) purchased prior to this little side-adventure. Hofniel had resistance to elements as part of his divine repertoire, and Dobby was a nature-savvy druid. Everyone else was just plain cold. Despite this, the group seemed to make good time through the icy conditions, that is, until the wind picked up on the 4th day. The howling sound was almost mind numbing…almost. The group felt an unnatural presence, becoming more on edge than they usually were. Is something calling my name?…they all thought, at once. Unfortunately, Dobby seemed transfixed, taken in by whatever dark magic was in play, and within moments, bolted into the blizzard. Thankfully, Dobby is very short, and the group was easily able to overtake her. As they did, they witnessed a truly horrifying vision in the distance- a gaunt, pale, lurching, vaguely humanoid figure with an elk-skull as a head and stumps where its feet should be. In a brief moment, it sped forward on the wind, whisking the stunned Dobby up into the air. It didn’t get far before Queso sped forward and unleashed a wide swipe, cutting into the entity with his fire-enhanced blade, narrowly missing Dobby and causing it to drop her to the ground. Gregor quickly landed several blows on it, causing the being to turn on him with a horrific bite. It was then that recognition dawned on Sriracha, the party’s resident know-it-all. She didn’t know much about Odemark monsters, but she DID know many stories, and recalled the tale of the Wendigo, a hellish spirit borne of desperation and cannibalism. The signaled to the group the fire should be most effective, and right on cue, Elora whipped out a scorching ray that engulfed the monster, followed quickly by a flaming sphere that burned it further still. Gregor pummeled the wretched beast with his fists, and Queso eventually finished it off, ending the flesh eating menace forever.
Deeper into the wastelands they trudged, often glaring at Queso for having dragged them into this frigid mess. As luck would have it, the troupe eventually came across the Kallfodd, or “cold-borne,” the only sane humanoids that lived that far to the North. The group gave a friendly wave, which was returned, and so they met up. The group elder wondered what the heroes were doing so far north, to which Elora grumbled something unspeakable. Hofniel pressed the wanderers for information regarding the dread Remorhaz. It turned out that the Kallfodd were intimately familiar with the wyrm of the wastes, and kept several “effigies” on hand in case of such an encounter. These “effigies” were essentially scarecrows wrapped in leather and seasoned with aromatic effluvia; becoming irresistible to Odemark dwelling monsters. At the behest of the group, Hofniel (reluctantly) attempted to bargain for as many effigies as they could get; the people could spare 2, plus some advice on “optimal” placement. They also made it very, very clear that the creature was, in fact, very much a fire based monster, rather than ice- a simple fact that meant the death of many potential hunters. The heroes thanked the noble nomads and continued on their journey-as it turned out, it wasn’t much farther until they encountered a vast, frozen lake. The team scoped the area carefully, while Hofiel placed his ear against the ice to listen. He thought he heard…scraping? Shifting? He wasn’t certain, but they figured this was as good a place to start as any, and so Queso began pounding the pommel of his sword on the ice. After several minutes, a subtle vibration emanated from the frozen water below them, and they all knew that SOMETHING was on its way. They quickly set up battle positions, with the effigies placed just as the elder had told them. The vibrations increased, culminating in tremendous crash- the horrible, huge Remorhaz burst through the ice and swallowed one of the effigies in one massive gulp, leaving the adventurers scrambling to deal as much damage as possible before it slid back into the water. Magic missiles abounded, and Queso was rapidly enlarged by the quick-thinking Hofniel. The creature slid back into the water and, a few tense moments later, burst through to smash the other (and last) effigy. Queso whirled into action, dishing out massive damage to the fiery menace. Dobby kept Norbert safely out of the fray and did what she could with her Druidic spells, somewhat hampered by the monster’s immunity to fire. When the horror burst back through the ice, it targeted the biggest, juiciest piece of meat in the vicinity- Queso, of course. Our bardbarian fought valiantly, but was ultimately swallowed by the giant insect. Thankfully, Hofniel had prepared for this contingency, casting energy resistance on both Queso and Gregor. Queso thus suffered only modest damage being squished in the beasts esophagus, while slowly attempting to carve his way out with his blade, simultaneously admiring the fine gut that would be used for his musical sword (his face was planted against it after all). The wizards Sriracha and Elora continued pummeling the monster with magic, culminating with Elora unleashing her ace-in-the-hole, the lightening bolt. This caused damage to both Queso and the Remorhaz, though it did provide some extra amusement when Queso’s skeleton become visible briefly inside the beast as they were electrocuted. In the meantime, Gregor punched with impunity, also protected by protective energy resistance. The creature eventually took notice, snatching up the silent monk in it’s jaws. Gregor’s tenacity knew no match, however, and he forced his way out, falling to the ice and immediately retaliating with a strike. The Remorhaz was looking quite ill by this point, having been slashed, zapped, blasted, and punched repeatedly. The final straw came with Queso, still struggling in its guts. He used his blade as an awl, forcing an exit in a most dramatic (and disturbingly birth-like) fashion. The monster gave one last rattle and fell crashing to the frozen lake surface, and the team cheered in victory. Except for Gregor, who felt it was warranted to mount the dead wyrm in a most inappropriate fashion as a last “victory dance.”

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In the Eye of the Beholder
...went Gregor's fist, repeatedly.

The team ventured further into the mines. They discovered a dwarven skeleton clutching a scrap of leathery parchment, which (thanks to Sriracha being fluent in Dwaven) referred to the “Watcher” and its endless avarice and pride; which led it to enslave several surviving dwarven miners and work them to death to scrape a few more gems from the mines. They entered a large, natural opening, with a glimmering underground lake in the background. A deep, unnatural voice seemed to echo from all sides; referring to the adventurers as “slaves” who had brought him “tribute,” i.e., all the gear and treasures they were carrying. Naturally the heroes had no intentions of giving up their stuff, so Hofniel put on a dramatic routine, singing the (unseen) creature’s praises and begging for a chance to serve it. Stunningly, this ploy worked, and the creature revealed itself- a large, hellish floating eyeball with multiple eye stalks and a grotesque, needle toothed mouth. Meanwhile, Queso (in classic Queso fashion) charged into the middle of the open cavern, bellowing his own challenge. He was almost immediately placed under a charm of some kind, rendering him temporarily useless; he clearly now regarded the horrific monster as a snuggly new friend. Despite this, Hofniel maintained his composure as the creature drew near, telling him that he would be his new “envoy” to gather more slaves for his use (Hofniel could sweet-talk monsters as well as people). Hofniel nodded vigorously, while simultaneously signaling his compatriots to attack as soon as it got close enough (signaling frantically behind his back). When the time was right…they struck! Gregor punched the monstrosity straight in its center eye, causing it to squint. Sriracha coated the beast with glitterdust, blinding several of its eyestalks. Hofniel buffed the party and joined the fray, landing blows here and there; and even Queso eventually shook off the charm and joined the fray, slicing at the beasts eyes, managing to sever a stalk in the process. The creature would not be easily subdued however, and soon retaliated- one eye beam confused Queso even more than his baseline, and he began gibbering incoherently. Blasts of energy struck the stalwart monk, who kept up his assault in an effort to keep that center eye closed at all costs. The team ducked and dodged, avoiding showers of rocks telekinetically tossed at them, and managed to avoid the majority of other ill effects- aside from the babbling Queso, who never quite managed to regain his battle-composure for the vast majority of the fight. Elora summoned a fire elemental to battle the creature, and in a rock-star combo, Sriracha coated the beast with oil. The inevitable occurred, and the monster was ignited in a plume of flame, screeching in pain. Hofniel summoned a magical, autonomous floating duplicate mace from the ether, and together, struck the killing blow, maces smashing together on either side of the beast, which exploded (hilariously) like a popped balloon. Sriracha recognized the eyes could be used to craft a gloriously powerful robe, and Queso promptly swam across the underground lake to discover the treasure stashed on a central island there. They even found a tuning fork doohickey that looked suspiciously like the “stone-singer” they were supposed to find- how convenient! Hauling their gains back to the mine entrance, they found it to be sealed off- upon banging on the stone that sealed them in, they heard a familiar voice- that of Volden, the foreman. Volden asked the team if they had slain whatever was causing the problems, and Queso hoisted the flattened remains of the Beholder. An evil chuckle ensued, and Volden commented on how great it would be to take their gear AND claim he had saved the mines once the party had starved. Little did the dwarf realize, the team was exceedingly resourceful. Hofniel used his divine abilities to stone-shape a path through the stone, leaving only a few inches of rock between them and freedom. Naturally Queso set to bashing their way through. After a few minutes of this, Queso bashed through, only to be greeted by some very agitated guards, who presumably thought some monsters where trying to escape the mine. This was partially instigated by Volden, who was screeching some lies about how the party had tried to murder him and rob the mines. The group put this nonsense to rest quickly, proving they had slain the Beholder and confirming their original deal with the foreman through eye witness accounts. Within a short while, the local Magnate, Kroveg Quartz-Fist, got wind of the events and made his way over, calling for the devious foreman to be tossed in prison. Sriracha greeted him in the traditional dwarven manner: with a loud “HeyOOO!” A brief silence passed, and the magnate raised a fist and returned the “HeyOOO!” He offered the team his thanks, and gave them a personal invitation to visit him in his lofty home in the High Quarter of the city for a possible business proposal. Greatly pleased in these developments, the team all high-fived and set off to Helga’s Hoppy Haven for some well-deserved rest and relaxation, and to count their gold, of course.

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Mine Your Own Business
Spelunking for glory, and the creation of the Quesoblade

Our brave team, having arrived safely at the port of Yodelheim, bid the roguish Miguel/Eduardo adieu and prepared for the next leg of their journey. After some discussion, they dismissed the chance to get a guide, figuring the map provided by Snergle was more than enough for them to find their way. They also split up, figuring they could garner as much information as possible about both Avarkal and the Gray Mountain simultaneously. They promised to catch up later- Queso, Elora, Hofniel, and Belladonna headed North, while Heisenberg, Gregor, Serena (or Sriracha), and Dobby did some exploring in Yodelheim.The trip to the mountains was cold, punctuated by a fierce blizzard that set upon them. Huddled in their winter tent, the adventurers thought they could hear voices in the wind, calling…but the feeling passed almost as soon as it came, and they buckled down to ride out the storm safely. When they arrived at the great gray mountain, the directions became less clear, and they spent several hours climbing along switchbacks through the evergreens. In time, they found their way to a steep rock face that appeared to be cut right into the mountainside….at least, until said mountainside began to move. Pebbles and stones tumbled down, the earth shook under their feet. Two great glowing eyes opened on the rock face, and a colossal stone golem stepped forth, leaving an equally enormous golem-shaped recess where it had been hidden in plain sight. The construct towered over the now very anxious heroes, speaking a single riddle in booming tones: “I’ve many windows, but no door; On a Pavilion I sit, with no floor. What am I?” It raised three of its gigantic finger appendages as if to signal the number of guesses the team had. Elora took one look at the situation and was about to turn tail, leaving nothing but a big cloud of NOPE behind her. At that moment, Belladonna, who had clearly spent a great deal of time not only stealing gems, but fencing and appraising them, immediately piped up. “A diamond?” The colossus opened its fist and dropped three pommel-sized gems; red, blue, and yellow, and retreated back into its position in the rock wall, leaving a small doorway as access into the mountain. The rest of the group stared in astonishment, as this was clearly meant to be a MUCH MORE DIFFICULT riddle to solve which instead turned out to be a 2 second inconvenience. Guffawing at their good fortune, they moved ahead into the passageway, which was just wide enough to drag their cart. Glowing lichen lined the walls, as if placed with purpose. They eventually found their way to a large movable wall that blocked their path. Everyone put ears on the stone surface, and they heard several voices speaking congenially in both common and another tongue- likely dwarven, they surmised. Queso, pounded on the side of the wall, and the voices fell silent- within a few moments, the stone slid along deep grooves in the ground, and they were greeted by a troupe of very miffed-looking dwarven guards bedecked in heavy armor. Hofniel put his charm to the max and worked hard to persuade them that they were simply there for trade, pointing at the load of meteoric iron they were dragging along with them. Still suspicious, the dwarf demanded they explain why they were using the secret back entrance into their clan halls. With a mighty sigh, a shrug, and an eyeroll, Elora muttered that this group simply “never did anything the normal way.” Cautious but somewhat assured, the guard required that they disarm, which they did without question. Entering the commons of the great halls of the Gray Mountain clan, the group was overcome by the splendor of the architecture; the glowing molten ‘rivers’ flowing in it’s lower halls, and the plethora of traders and merchants from throughout Roan, all there for a chance to buy and sell with the best craftsmen in the land and take some of those wares back with them to sell at, no doubt, a substantial mark-up. Queso was virtually frothing at the mouth by this point, as Elora and Hofniel tactfully asked where they might find a good smithy. They were directed to Brokker Braunite, whose forge was powered by the very molten flows that ran through the lower city. He made it very clear that he was the best smith they would ever meet- and was rather surprised that the group had found God iron. He even described the original musical greatsword crafted for the hands of the first bardbarian, Fabiol, in the time of the Great War. Much discussion and bargaining took place, and at long last, Queso was able to put in his order for a fabled sword of his own: the Quesoblade. The only catch, of course, was that they needed the guts of a Remorhaz, a gigantic centipede-like monster, to complete the blade’s “string” part and allow it to become the musical weapon of lore. The others got some pretty nifty orders put in as well, and the group headed toward the local Inn/tavern: Helga’s Hoppy Haven. Helga herself was a buxom dwarf woman with a no-nonsense attitude and a bar full of drunken dwarves. They queried her extensively and found she knew a dwarven hunter, who, after several games of dice and and heavy drinking, was able to give the more details about the Remorhaz- specifically, that, while it dwelt in icy climes, the creature was fire based and thus vulnerable to cold attacks moreso than fire attacks. They thanked the fellow, and were about to retire for the evening, when a very intoxicated dwarf punched Queso (of all people) in the side, offering a vague threat. Queso grinned, glanced around as if to confirm that everyone had seen that he hadn’t been the instigator….and promptly lifted the dwarf off the ground….by the beard. The unfortunate dwarf’s friends soon made themselves scarce at this display of raw power, particularly after Queso nonchalantly tossed the fellow across the room. There were no further incidents during the group’s stay in the Gray Mountain.
During their days and weeks waiting for Brokker to complete his work, the team also found out, through Helga, that some very productive mines had gone dark within the past few years. Rumor had it that dwarves either went mad or missing completely, and they finally sealed the mine for safety. Fearing nothing an no one, and suspecting that their status among the dwarves would improve dramatically if they offered assistance. Unfortunately for them, the mine overseer was a surly, bitter fellow named Volden. Fortunately for them, Hof was in particularly good form that day, and was able to smooth talk the group a deal: Volden would open up the mine, provide a map (with designations as to where gem mining sites were). They gathered up their gear, steeled themselves, and delved inside. While there, they narrowly evaded getting flattened by a cave-in, fought various troglodytes, and (wisely) avoided confronting an Otyugh in it’s filthy, filthy lair-thanks to Elora’s ability to speak Draconic and squeeze the defeated troglodytes for information. They even found a strange, brightly glowing gem- as bright as a lamp if not moreso, which Queso promptly placed in his loincloth as his personal crotch-light. Typical Queso behavior, though now no one was willing to touch the gem or examine it to discover if it had any other unusual properties, now that it was stuffed in the barbarian’s unmentionables. Being extra-cautious, the team chose to load up inside an abandoned mine cart and inch forward slowly in case they were flanked by more critters. Out of the corner of her eye, Belladonna spotted movement- something dwarf sized, which Elora promptly put to sleep with a single magical utterance. Approaching, they saw a bedraggled, unkempt, dirty dwarf fast asleep, not far from what appeared to be his living space- dirty rags, various odds and ends, and other hoarded trash that served as the poor wretch’s home. Upon waking, the team quickly realized (to no one’s surprise) that the fellow was completely mad, muttering about some sort of “watcher” or some such drivel. Regardless, Elora took pity and they tied him up in his lair, allowing him to rant and rave to himself while posing no further potential threat to the group. Deeper into the mine, they discovered giant spiders and desiccated, silk-wrapped bodies…of various types. The spiders were shooed away by the light of the gem, but they knew they could sneak up on them at any time, and so took their advantage to fight and slay a large group of the monsters, incurring minimal injuries in the process. Indeed, Queso suffered several bites and incurred their venom- venom which would sicken or kill a lesser man, but only seemed to invigorate our brutish hero. Searching one last room, Elora’s keen searching ability uncovered scratching on the wall that resembled a large eye with…tentacles? It was difficult to say for sure. Even more unnerving were the old, skeletal remains of dwarves, a few of whom seemed to have died fighting each other, for reasons unknown. Having carefully scoured all the rooms on the map, the team took a rest and prepared to enter the newest mine passage, for they knew that the answer to the mine’s deadly mystery was most likely within.

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Creatures from the Deep
This is why no one likes to fish.

Oh our adventurous party. They had successfully thwarted that sea spirit, but it was only the beginning. Before they left Horizon, they were approached by Snergel’s half-orc body guard. After a brief meeting with Snergel himself, the party was (handsomely) contracted to retrieve some singing stone tool whatchamacallit from the Grey Dwarves. This was convenient, since they had been meaning to visit the Grey Mountains anyway. But first, they had to deal with the political implications from the Nelvahi experience.

After returning to the capital, they updated the king on these affairs. They told of Nelvahi and how Queso’s helmet was still getting them into trouble. At the mention of the helmet, out popped some magical short old woman, who offered to try to remove it for us. Queso knelt down so she could put her hand on either side of the helmet. Then she began to radiate a golden glow. Our not so good friend Dirren began speaking through Queso about how futile of an attempt this was… or at least that is what he started with. Then the woman started chastising him like a child and glowed even brighter. With a groan, Dirren’s voice left and the helmet fell off Queso’s head. After she stopped glowing, the woman informed the party that, although she couldn’t identify him directly, she could tell that the power behind the helmet was one of the Elven high patriarchs.

On the topic of the sea beasts and the reference to the old enemy, none in the king’s company knew anything off the top of their heads. However, there was a general recollection of a great war. While his sages began researching, the party decided it was time to put this God Iron to good use, and began preparations for their journey to the Grey Mountains. The remaining party who hadn’t secured a bank account did so, and the God Iron was retrieved from the Thunderlights. It was clear that the closest port to the Grey Mountains was back in Horizon, so off they went.

As they were pursuing the Horizon docks, they came across a very well dressed lady, who stuck out like a sore thumb among the dock workers. Hofniel decided that he must ask about her fashion, since he had not had much time to focus on his wardrobe since the adventuring began. They came to learn that the woman’s name was Sriracha Williams, and she was a fashion designer by trade. Sriracha was doing business on the continent, but was soon returning to her homeland of Tabasco. Hofniel and Queso were not going to let the opportunity of having a professional fashion designer slip through their fingers, so they hired her for their personal wardrobe. She agreed, and the party grew a little that day.

The party eventually met up with Miguel, an associate of Snergel. He gave a reasonable travel deal, so the party packed up and hauled off. The first day didn’t seem so bad, but then out of nowever, on the start of the first night, a sudden storm beset the ship. The waves and winds kept picking up in intensity until all hands were on deck trying to keep the ship. It rocked port to starboard in great ungulations. Miguel quipped that somebody must have upset a sea spirit or something… now who would have done a thing like that?

Soon, shapes could be seen emerging from the waters. They crawled up the side of the boat and onto the desk. They were slimy mer-creatures carrying crude spears. The party knew what must be done. They began the encounter with the creatures. But with the great heaves of the boat, half the time that the party tried to do something, they would end up slipping! (Although, the mer-creatures who’s main mode of transportation was swimming seemed fine on deck…) Hofniel immediately slipped, but was able to unleash the power of the mace. Gregor began his punching arrays, and Queso began making sushi: nasty, slimy, gorey sushi. Dobby summoned a shark that leapt into the water and began attacking the mer that were still in the waters. Elora shot out some magic missiles, and even Sriracha pitched in to fight the beast (she just happened to be a wizard).

Belladonna, trying to be bold, went to the starboard side of the boat to stop some of the newly landed mer. Unfortunately, as a halfling, she wasn’t too familiar with boats, and immediately slipped, opening herself up for some attacks. Even more unfortunate, she couldn’t get her footing right fell off the side of the boat! Down she tumbled into the waves with the mer creatures somewhere around her. She saw and felt a shape approach her, but as she was about to attack, she barely heard Dobby’s cry through the storm, “Grab onto the shark!” Indeed, it was the shark before her, and she was able to keep afloat by riding this terrifyingly majestic beast.

Things on the ship were going better, but not the best. By this time Hofniel had laid down a protection circle while Queso managed to drop more of the mer with the help of the wizards, but he had been injured a lot. When they had almost cleared the deck of the mer, a sailor cried that something big was in the water off the port side. This was most concerning for Belladonna, since the shape was approaching her side of the ship. With the help of some sailors, they were able to get Belladonna back on the boat.

Elora went to the edge of the ship to look down at the shape. Little did she know that this would open her up to a look much closer than she intended. Everyone turned as a giant crash came from starboard side. A giant armored fish leapt straight into the air, took a giant bite from Elora, and plunged back into the deeps (this fish was clearly cut out for Sea World). Elora was on the brink of death, but she wouldn’t let that stop her magic missiles from attacking. Queso and Hofniel shared a knowing gaze, and began their trademark Grande Queso Grande maneuver. Hofniel healed Queso, then soon after enlarged him. Queso then killed the mer he was engaged with and charged toward the edge of the boat. He performed a skewer dive: sort of like a swan dive, but he was holding his great sword in front of him and stabbed the beast, breaking off one of its armor plates.

The rest of the party worked on clearing the remaining mer from the ship while Hofniel went to heal Elora as well. Elora wasn’t even bothered with her closeness to death, and instead fried that fish with a scorching ray while Queso continued his battle with it in person. It would take giant bites from Queso, but he kept at it. The remaining mer were finally cleared, but not before Queso was on his last legs, and too far from Hofniel for healing. Then, Sriracha in all her glamour cast Glitter Dust on the fishy thing. It leaped from the water again, but with its eyes blinded, it narrowly missed Elora and dove back down. Everyone was firing everything they had at the beast, and eventually it died. The seas calmed down, and Hofniel vowed never to sail again.

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The Duchess of Lies
Unmasking the big bad, Scooby-Doo style

Having discovered the secret passage in the library, Elora and friends set out to gather everyone to delve inward and, hopefully, uncover more about the Duchess’s plight. Elora was able to wiggle through the crowds in the hall and, unsurprisingly, discover Queso and Heisenberg living it up at the bar, being fed drinks and find foods in celebration of their recent championship bout. Also unsurprisingly, Queso was drunk as as skunk, while Heisenberg was more moderate in his consumption. After (Not really) feigning the need to offload a massive amount of bowel content, the crowd cleared a path for Queso to do his business, with no one daring to follow, allowing for a discrete exit. They made their way down, with Gregor attempting to cover their absence, though he was soon swept away in a throng of admirers still eager for autographs. Meanwhile, the rest of the party descended down the passage, immediately noting the change in stonework, indicating the lower levels were much more ancient than the manor itself. Several small, empty cells, carved into the bare rock, indicated past use as a dungeon or prison of some kind. One of the cells contained the skeletal remains of…someone; in a tattered dress. Inspection by the very careful Belladonna revealed the fabric to be high quality, indicating nobility of some sort. Fearing the worst, she carefully investigated the cell, revealing the now familiar name “Nelvahi” carved into the wall in fingernail scratches. Thorougly creeped out, they boldly pushed forward, but not before Queso relieved himself in the very same cell, effectively defiling the place. As they moved forward, they discovered a small room with an altar, adorned with the stone-carved symbol of Pelor, with various lesser good deities, including Elven god Carellian Latherian. It was then that a low moaning sound became more prominent, and an apparition slowly made its way through the stone wall. The ghostly figure appeared to be a disheveled woman adorned in a gown, very much like that of Elspeth Sever. It did not speak, and so the brave Hofniel implored her, as the Duchess, to tell them how they could help her. She beckoned to him. Steeling himself, he followed the ghost, who gestured to a loose brick in the Pelorian altar, then vanished. Hofniel very, very carefully withdrew the loose stone, and reached inside, his hand both gauntlet clad and covered in the designated “nasty sack”….just in case. He withdrew several dried flowers, and a small magical disc with a sunburst carved upon it. They speculated as to what it was for, with Hofniel able to discern something about “truth” or “illuminate” from whispers in the darkness. They also noted two more exits at the back of the room, which Belladonna once again carefully inspected. One had the salty tang of sea air just barely drifting inward, while the other was dead silent.
The party entered the right passageway, stepping softly on the slick, ancient stones. It opened into a dank catacombs, with various bones interred in shelves and various sarcophagi lying about. On the far end, a cryptic riddle, barely legible, written in both an old human tongue and elvish, read: “Traitors in life, Servants in death, the faithless guard the faithful, speak reverently with every step.” Wisely interpreting this as a call to prayers, Hofniel invoked a number of memorized Pelorian hymns and such while the rest of them walked quietly deeper into the foreboding tomb. A large, partially opened sarcophagus showed a long-withered skeleton clutching a stone tablet. Hofinel, again with the greatest of care and utilization of the nasty sack, withdrew the tablet, reading it quietly. It made some mention of a “great nemesis” in the “still waters.” Whether it referred to their whatever water spirit they were dealing with, was difficult to say. He took a moment to inquire the other party members, breaking his prayers inadvertently. Almost immediately, bones of all types skittered across the floor to create a huge, monstrous amalgam of parts: a towering bone golem with three heads, attached to whipping spines, and a vicious looking bone flail clutched in one of its large, asymmetrical claws. The embarrassed cleric tried to recover some semblance of control by attempting a turning spell, which caused bones to peel off of the entity and reform as individual human skeletons, clawing at the far walls in their attempt to flee. The golem remained, and set upon them. Hofniel and Heisenberg took point, with Queso charging in with glee as he so often does. The ladies of the group, lacking testosterone poisoning clouding their judgement, realized they didn’t really have to engage the creature, moved to the exit, remaining within spell range. They provided magical support to the men, while the hideous construct tore at their flesh with its mighty flail, and snapped with its various heads. One such bite sunk into Queso’s meaty deltoid, instilling a magical fear that nearly drove him to flee the fight, but he held fast, albiet while quaking in terror. The fight was a prolonged give-and-take, blows exchanged, healing performed, and Elora calmly blasting it with spells. Eventually, Queso went in for a leaping kill strike, stabbing his own toe on the delivery, and falling INSIDE of the beasts immense, exposed rib cage. Completely losing his cool, our barbarian badass wet himself while flailing, grasping, kicking, and bashing in a wild panic. This had the serendipitous effect of dismantling the golem from the inside, sending bones flying all over. After giving Queso time to cool off, the group rummaged through the remaining effects, discovering a couple magical rings and a magical set of fingerless gloves. Satisfied that they had done all they needed to do here, the group healed up and headed back to the main portion of the mansion, nervously pondering just how they would take on this “Nelvahi.”  Using the scroll of true vision revealed the Duchess to be a horrifying, gnarled, heavy clawed haglike being with sharp teeth and sunken eyes that burned like embers…but only to Elora.  Their fears that the true Elspeth Sever was dead were cemented at that point. Much discussion later, they agreed that the old, Pelor’s crest amulet had something to do with neutralizing the awful creature’s powers, though they were entirely unsure as to how. Taking a chance, the heroes positioned themselves strategically in the ballroom-turned-arena that now had various nobles and admirers milling about. Queso and Heisenberg agreed upon a distraction: They began to shout and shove eachother, as if arguing over who was the REAL champion of the previous bouts. As weapons came out, the entire room was enthralled, including the “Duchess,” who leaned over the upper railing to observe with apparent glee at what certainly everyone believed would be an epic battle. While this was occurring, Belladonna utilized the group’s invisibility scroll and snuck up the stairway with the amulet, inching her way to the very creepy “Elspeth.” Taking a deep breath, she nimbly slipped the now thrumming amulet into the coat pocket of the leering creature. Immediately the amulet shattered and an orb of energy coursed in a globe around it, revealing the disgusting hag for what she was. The warriors immediately stopped their charade and together with Elora, pointed at the exposed monster for all to see. Hissing and seething with rage, the witch cast a fog in the hall, obscuring her movement from all…except Elora, whose scroll of true sight allowed her to track its movements as it leaped from the balcony and tore through the blind and bewildered crowd, tossing foppish nobles and guards out of her way with terrifying ease. She was stopped, briefly, by Heisenberg, who had placed himself strategically at the exit. Gripping the monster’s wrists, he held on for as long as he could in an attempt to prevent the hag from escaping, but it was sickeningly strong, eventually tossing even the stalwart fighter into a nearby wall. It was far from over however, as Dobby summoned a wolf to lash at the beast’s knotty calf, and Queso jumped in to tackle and slow the hag’s progress…which appeared to be directly toward the library, where the hidden exit through the bookshelf was. Elora instantly recognized what the hag was doing and called out to the guards to block the library, which they did with some confusion and reluctance. Nelvahi growled something about “getting you and your little dragon too” before drawing upon inner fey powers to bring an unnatural chill to the room, dropping the temperature at an astonishing rate. Everyone in the room suffered from the cold, aside from Queso, whose otherwise inconvenient helm provided cold resistance. Elora, nonplussed though shivering, took this opportunity to immolate Nelvahi with a powerful scorching blast, while Queso continued to hang on and stab with his greatsword as best he could. Screeching with pain, the witch tore Queso off her back, giving him the Evil Eye, which drained the brute of his epic strength….and removed her primary obstacle to escaping, aside from a few frozen guards. Hofniel, who had been attacking with his mace, realized how dire their situation was. Invoking an inner strength he had not called upon before, he, by the power of piety and Pelor, used divine magic to become (drumroll) The Incredible Hoff. Surging with this newfound, nearly superhuman strength, The Hoff dove to the fleeing hag and caught it in a bear hug, from which, despite desperate clawing and gnashing of teeth, even the diabolical witch could not escape. Indeed, the slashes Hoff received only seemed to increase his resolve, gaining even more advantage over the flailing foe. The rest of the party resumed their attacks on the grappled creature. Finally, Heisenberg, having shaken off his delirium after being tossed into a stone wall, made his way back, itching for revenge. With a disapproving frown, he drove his gleaming silver longsword deep into the heart of the beast, with black, brackish blood spilling out over the blade. He saw the life-force draining from its demonic eyes, as it hissed out its last hateful words…“They…will come for you..you…only delay…” Heisenberg was far from intimidated, snorting with contempt and a single “Shut it” before twisting the blade and drawing it back in one smooth motion, ending the killing blow. (Hofniel barely avoided being impaled himself with the hag in his grasp). The witch melted into a puddle of ghoulish ichor on the ground. The room warmed again, and the nearby crowds made their way into the hall, along with Bancroft the steward, who had witnessed part of the final fight. In a state of mixed relief, dismay, and shock, he praised the heroes, who had brought an end to a devious,ancient evil, awarding them all with honorary titles and gold.

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Party Crashers
And that includes more than just our heros...

While the others were surveying the actual party, Dobby was in the kitchen clean some dishes and missing her beloved animal companions. While in the kitchen, she gathered corroborating rumors that something is different with Elspeth. But with no way to communicate these rumors to the rest of the party, she kept on with the dishes.

Elsewhere in the limelight, Elora and Belladonna continued their masquerade as Blackfire Mercenaries. Mariah Goldblossum, the emissary of the Ashdrake’s, sidled up to them and offered her assistance. She shought that Bancroft might know more about the changes Elspeth has been experiencing. So they saunter over and start up a conversation. It was easy to see that Bancroft was also disturbed with the duchesses changes, and after some gentle persuasion, began telling the two all he knew. He described how she has been acting differently for almost a year now. She is always leaving the manor undetected, and seems to be a whole different person with no empathy. She used to love going down to the beach and always refused her guard escort, and it was after one of these visits that she returned while acting strangely. With a quick glance around the room, and a deep search into the adventurer’s eyes for aid, he pulled out a parcel, claiming Elspeth gave it to him on that day.

Thanking him for his help, the two left his company and nonchalantly examined the packet. It was a note wrapped around a key: the note instructed to search the manor for some door. The two were puzzled by this development, and as they pondered, they noticed that Duke Torvald Parsefal and Lady Elspeth were having a heated discussion on the second tier: well, it looked like the Duke was having a heated discussion, and Elspeth was eerily calm. Using her message spell to eavesdrop, Elora learned that the Duke was yelling, practically stuttering in rage, that the big Oaf was in the tournament, probably with the rest of that bunch. Elspeth simply replied that she did not care: she would just see if he won or not. What happened after the tournament was not her concern.

Before he could retort, the tournament announcer informed everyone that the next round would be between The Whirling Slashers and Slash and Smash. Our melee trio triumphantly entered the arena to face their next opponents. One was a heavily muscled and tatooed individual armed with nothing but his fists, another on his left carrying a whip (who immediately threw out some caltrops about the arena), and the one on his right wielded some weighted daggers. Gregor rushed past the caltrops, and aligns a punch at the man with the weighted daggers: with his aim and magic punch, he punched through to also injure the enemy monk. Heisenberg charged forward and left the first bar of his signature H on the monk. Queso charged toward the whip man by jumping over the caltrops. He unleashed two powerful strikes on him, and simultaneously Gregor unleashed two powerful his on the whip man. Thrown off by this onslaught, the dagger man missed so terribly that he ended up stabbing himself. Queso took the opportunity to knock out the whip man and cleaved into the monk. Gregor continues attacking the dagger man while Heisenberg properly engages with the monk, who is landing many a blow on Heisenberg. With much effort, but even greater determination, Heisenberg and Queso drop the monk, leaving just the man with weighted daggers quaking in his boots. He immediately surrendered, which disappointed Queso. Queso, with smash-lust in his eyes, glanced up to Elspeth and asked for her judgement. Amused by this development, she held her thumb up for the moment, before smashing it down. In unison, the three “good” guys each unleashed a devastating “non-lethal” blow on this defenseless man. The healers rushed forward, and Smash and Slash advanced to the next round.

While the fight was going on, Elora used her message spell to confer with Hofniel (who is still undercover as The Hof) and Dobby in the kitchen with how to proceed. Deciding that finding the door would require sneaking about the second level, which was forbidden, the following plan unfolded. Dobby secured two sets of servant’s uniforms from the back. Hofniel gauged which stairwell was less securely guarded. Seeing that one was guarded by actual house guards while the other was hired by a temporary guard, Hofniel went to the latter and informed him that he was relieved. The guard immediately took off toward the food. Dobby and Belladonna then dressed as servants before ascending the stairs that were guarded by Hofniel, and Elora provided overwatch using the remaining duration of her message spell.

So off the two went, up the stairs guarded by Hofniel. Upstairs they found a door leading out to the overlook of the arena and two other directions to explore. At the far end of the straight path was a figure, so they went off to the right. Along the right wall were two doors. Belladonna effortlessly opened the first door, revealing a bedroom. They searched the room thoroughly, and underneath a vase they found a scrap of paper which had handwriting that matched Elspeth’s! It described something about meeting some type of water spirit on her many visits to the beach. Finding nothing else in that room, they continued on to the next door. Although the lock was finer, Belladonna still had no issue with it. Inside they found a much grander room, which they took to be the duchesses. It was covered in nice paintings and furniture. They searched high and low, thinking that the mysterious door must be here. In the closet, Belladonna found a nice light golden shawl, which she just happened to pocket. Then in a side table, Dobby found more writing. This depicted how the spirit taught her in divination and stories and only wanted trinkets and clothes in exchange.

But still they had yet to find a door! Then, Belladonna’s sneakiness kicked in and she thought to look behind the pictures. And behind a large self portrait they found a built in wall safe. The key fit it perfectly, and inside they found a diary and a scroll. In the few minutes they had to skim the diary, they found reference to a secret door somewhere in manor: a secret passage in the library she would use to escape her guards when leaving the manor. Further, the diary mentioned Nelvahi, one of the water narads (a fey creature). They would have read more, but they knew they could be caught at any moment. So they relayed the information to the others, quickly noted that the scroll was that of True Sight, and headed out a door on the opposite side of Elspeth’s room.

In this hallway, they had come to the other side of the mysterious figure which looked like he was slumped in his chair, and the only way forward was past him Belladonna thus crept down the hallway, trying to determine if the figure was possibly asleep. However, as she got closer, she found the figure was not breathing. Getting right next to it, she found a deep, strange scar on his neck, and determined that this guard was dead: probably killed by magic. Thinking that they needed an emergency exit, Belladonna tried to unlock the final door in this corridor, but her hands were shaking too violently to pick it. Then, when they were about to rifle through the guard’s pockets for some keys, they heard his voice.

“My my… I was wondering how long it would take you to make it this far…”

Dirren Kas’ disembodied voice seemed to ring around them. Thankfully, the last vestiges of Elora’s message spell were in effect, so she was immediately informed of the danger. Alerting Hofniel as she hurried past, they charged up the stairs to aid their newly endangered friends. Behind Dobby appeared Dirren Kas’s ghostly hand. Knowing there was nowhere to run, Belladonna charged forward with her daggers, but the hand silently maneuvered around her. But it could not as easily maneuver around the flaming sphere that Dobby summoned on top of it. The carpet and part of the wall caught ablaze while Hofniel and Elora (casting True Strike on herself in preparation) sprinted ever closer to the conflict. The hand retaliates by grasping Belladonna, instantly paralyzing her right within its clutches. Knowing the hall was too small to summon an effective creature, Dobby tried to distract the hand with dancing lights, but it did phase it. Then, as Elora rounded the corner, they cried out some elven battle cry as she prepared her spell. At the sound of her voice, Dirren Kas’ simply replied: “Ah, there you are Elora… I hope you have been enjoying the party…”, then his ghostly hand disappeared. Hofniel arrived after everything had died down. When these four tried to think of what to do with the body, the prize fight was just getting under way.

The final clash between Roland the Magnificent and Slash and Smash was about to go down! Roland entered the field sporting splendid armor and a heavy mace in each hand. The other two of this party simply carried standard swords and shields. Gregor run up and immediately bashes on of the shields with his fist, leaving a small dent. The shield bearer was stunned at this display of force, and was unable to land a counterblow. Queso took the opportunity to charge the man and grappled with his shield. But while Gregor was engaged with the shield bearer, Roland approached from behind and landed a sickening blow with his mace. Heisenberg take the chance to flank Roland and landed a blow. But Gregor was tired of playing second fiddle. Just as Roland started to look away, Gregor landed a devastating blow, followed by a debilitating blow, before delivering a crippling blow! However, Gregor too was surprised by his success: so surprised that he lost his footing and fell. Queso, not wanting to be outdone, jumped while holding the shield, which was still firmly attached to the man’s arm. He somehow jumps over the man, yanking the shield away, and nearly yanking the man’s arm off as well. Then Heisenberg, also not wanting to be outdone, landed a strong, precise blow on Roland’s shoulder, removing the epaulet there. But the blow came at a cost to his coordination, and somehow hit his own head! Gregor unleashed another flurry of blows, while Queso tried to grab the other man’s shield. This, however, was unsuccessful due to all the oil he had applied to himself: but the oil did help him avoid damage from the blunted swords that slid off him. Gregor spend more time dishing out pain, before Queso remembers that he can get angry. He rages, destroys the Roland’s chest piece in a massive final blow, before cleaving into the shield guy. But while Queso is distracted with anger, Roland reveals a hidden lethal blade and slashes as Queso. He plants the blade in Queso’s leg, and Queso feels something entering his bloodstream. He pukes immediately, and Heisenberg bashes in Roland’s helmet, knocking him out.

Then, as if Queso wasn’t suffering enough, he heard a voice in his head that wasn’t one of the usual ones. “Did you really think it was a good idea to put on the Helmet of the Thrall?” It was Dirren Kas! Queso started trying to yank the helmet off, but found that he couldn’t! Then, he started shouting, “Yay Blackfires!”, while his teammates looked at him in shock.

Now that they had won, it was apparent that the Duke wanted some very strong and violent words with Queso, but he was being swarmed by groupies, and thus the Duke was unable to make his move. The adventurers met back together. Seeking advice, Elora asked Mariah about how they could help Queso. She informs the party that there are clerics in the town who could help, but none were present or prepared at the party. Knowing there was nothing they could do to help Queso with the helmet (he was already recovering from the poison) they went to the library to find the secret door. Elora thought for a moment, “If I were to hide a secret passage, where would I want it.” Somehow, she thought a book lever would be perfect. So she started pulling at books and in no time found one that released a door latch!

There were so many questions remaining! Where was Dirren Kas? What purpose could this scroll of True Sight hold? Where does the secret passage lead? Is Elspeth really Elspeth, or possibly is she possessed by this Nelvahi? And what will Dirren try to do with Queso’s poor mind?!? Tune in next time for more!

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Sneaking Into the Party

Having carted the bulk of the god iron to the safekeeping of Bob and Linda Thunderlight, the party made haste to Horizon, the city of Duchess Elspeth Sever. Upon arrival, and realizing they had but two days to come up with a plan to enter the Gala, they broke out into intense debate on the topic. Heisenberg recalled an old guard friend, Isaac, who happened to be stationed nearby, and sent an invitation to discuss the current state of affairs, to include possible guard post openings. They settled on the local tavern (of course) and, by the time our comrades arrived, Isaac was well into his cups. He beckoned Heisenberg over, and the two made small talk, with Hofniel attempting to gain some rapport by buying a round of drinks for Isaac and his acquaintances. He soon regretted this move, as many observing riffraff soon started clamoring to the shiny young noble for their own free drinks. While Hofniel shooed them away, Heisenberg managed to gain some useful information about the Gala. It seemed the Duchess was eschewing the traditional ballroom dancing for something far more exciting- a team based, double elimination gladiatorial style combat! It was non lethal of course, but the promise of large gold prizes enticed the warriors among the group, namely Queso, Gregor, and Heisenberg. As he could not simultaneously take a guard position and fight in the tourney, Heisenberg discussed with Hofniel, who agreed to try for the position in his stead, with Heisenberg’s seal of approval. Isaac recommended they approach the guard captain the following morning and attempt to get Hofniel a “job.”

The following day, everyone went about looking for potential ways into the Gala. Finding no other available jobs for the event other than kitchen scullery, Elora and Belladonna, with great apprehension, decided to go with the direct approach disguised as Black Fire mercenaries, invitations in hand. Dobby had no problem with getting her hands a little dirty, and opted to find work in the kitchens as a drudge. The fighting team applied under the group name “Slash n’ Smash” befitting their style. Hofniel and Heisenberg approached the dour captain to negotiate his way into a guard spot for the event. With Heisenberg’s good word and a bit of smooth talking (as well as fabricating a colorful resume on the fly), he was able to weasel his way into a spot near the upcoming combat.
On the day of the Gala, the group split up into the respective locations. The fighting trio made their way to the holding area next to the ballroom-turned-arena, where the other hopeful warriors prepared themselves. A bit of careful questioning led them discover the tournament favorite was one “Roland the Magnificent,” a large, plate armored, vain fellow, with a sterling record of arena victories all over Erath. Heisenberg and Queso, of course, made faces at him in the prep room which Roland stiffly ignored. The undercover femme fatales went in through the front gate, into the lush gardens, abundant with rare and exotic flora from all over the continent. In the center was a beautiful statue of a woman wreathed in a silver-leaf tiara. Trying to be as incognito as possible, the two slunk carefully to the front door, only to be brusquely accosted by a black-armored, rugged boar of a man, who they quickly learned was Lord Vorn Gell, whose holdings were within the Duchess’ purview. He immediately recognized their Black Fire adornments and demanded proper respects. Having read in advance, they hastily preformed the Black Fire salute. Vorn growled his questions, curious as to why the “knife-eared creep” Dirren Kas had not come himself, to which the increasingly nervous two mumbled something about being recently assigned to the area, effectively pleading ignorance. Displeased but convinced, he switched topics to that of an upcoming supply drop to Fort Overwatch on the Eastern coast, declaring in no uncertain terms that they were to defend it at all costs he would have their heads. Nodding and saluting vigorously, the ladies were finally able to extricate themselves from the brutish fellow and move on into the foyer. The inside was bustling with lords, ladies, and other well-to-do types. A few careful glances around doorways revealed Duke Torvald, bedecked in new, wyvern-hide finery, at the bar with a less than cheerful affect that seemed to clash with his usual gaudy appearance. On the other end of the room, wherein all manner of delicious hors d’oeuvres were being served, sat none other than their old friend Snergle Snodbottom from their first adventure, engaging in conversation and general merrimaking. A peek into the library revealed Duke Finn Garland, who seemed to be avoiding the crowds by poking around for a good book. Moving into the arena, they saw the Duchess herself, attired in a deep lavender dress, standing on the indoor balcony that surrounded the open area space. She seemed to spot them with uncanny precision, smiling and waving the up. Already jittery, and having no idea what the Duchess could possibly want, they made their way up. She greeted them amicably, asking them if the elven mage she had been expecting was among them. Quickly, albeit in a stammering tone, Elora volunteered that she was indeed the mage they had sent for, to which Elspeth asked for a demonstration of her magic. Flustered, our courageous wizard decided to burn her invisibility spell, making Belladonna fade in and out before their eyes. This seemed to mightily please the Duchess, who dropped hints that she might be interested in a long term working relationship with Black Fire, provided they could continue to prove themselves useful to her. She suggested they bring her a few odds and ends, namely a manticore tail and a ghost mushroom (known to only grow in deep mines, she noted), as further evidence that they meant business. They hastily agreed and headed back to the main level, just in time to watch the first round of the tournament, featuring Queso, Heisenberg, and Gregor as “Slash n’ Smash” vs. the blandly named “Tough Guys,” who, as the name suggested, did indeed appear to be a stout group of warriors. Their battle was intense, but not terribly epic; nonlethal rules prevented any deaths, and victory was had by our steadfast trio with some orthodox smashing and slashing, until the other team was either unconscious or to battered to continue. The group nursed their superficial injuries in the prep room in anticipation of the next round. What Dobby had been doing this entire time, remained to be seen…

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Strange Creatures near some Strange Metal
There is such a thing as TOO much magic

After returning from the unsuccessful rescue attempt, the team found that they had just enough time to visit the speculative location of some God Iron before they went to the party. Hofniel hired a local worker to mine the ore for them, and proper storage was also acquired. The journey to the beach was uneventful, probably because this region was guarded by Bob and Linda Thunderlight. In any case, they quickly came to the spot.

When they were still some distance away, the adventurers could see, wedged between a steep cliff and the ocean was a blackened, sooty crater in the beach. The party left the hired hand with the horses and cart while the rest of the party departed on foot toward the crater. As they got closer to the crater, suddenly Elora saw a shimmering appear directly in front of Hofniel. With Elora’s warning, Hofniel was able to avoid having Pelor’s Radiance snatched from his hand by the arm that materialized in thin air! However, he wasn’t quick enough to stop the arm from quickly redirecting and snatching his silver tongue amulet.

After the initial shock, the party could see the creature before them… and what a sight it was! It stood on a single leg with a large foot. In its torso region was a large mouth a small eyes. Four spindly arms with long bony fingers sprouted from the torso. After it successfully grabbed the amulet, it used its other arms to being some hand signs and it began to shimmer again. Dobby was quick to daze the creature and the shimmering diminished. Hofniel cast detect magic, which was not extremely effective since the whole area was glowing with magic, including the creature before them. Queso ran forward and grappled the beast, pinning two of its arms down. Hofniel and Gregor both lunged forward and secured an arm each while Belladonna snuck behind the creature and retrieved the amulet.

For some reason, Elora felt pity for this creature as it tried to escape. After a short time, the party discovered that the creature could understand common but could not speak it. With some effort they learned that the creature had followed them to this location and that it really liked shiny things. They found out that it knew that there were two creatures with some sort of appendages that were in the crater. The party still had it pinned down, but it had stopped struggling and had yet to attack. Feeling pity for it, they told it that they were going to battle in the crater, gave it a gold coin, and released it. It waved at the party, made some arcane gestures, and disappeared into thin air.

The sneaky members of the party tried to get a visual on the creatures, but they couldn’t make anything out without going into the open. Hofniel detected two flickering magic auras, but only for a moment before they darted behind the meteor. Not knowing any other option, they party decided to charge in! When their threat became apparent to the creatures in the crater, they lunged out and attacked the party. These beasts looked almost like two black, emaciated jaguars but with long pincer talon-like appendages coming out of their backs.

Queso charged forward and attacked the closest one while Hofniel enlarged Heisenberg. Dobby summoned vines to entangle the farther one and Elora flung magic missiles at the first one. Queso was strengthened by Hofniel and continued his barrage. Gregor tried firing from a distance, with little to no success. Even with Hofniel and Queso’s mighty blows, the first creature still remained alive while inflicting heavy blows of its own against Queso. Dobby then started rolling a flaming sphere on the entangled creature before Elora summoned 3 monstrous centipedes to nibble on the first creature. With all this, the FIRST one finally fell.

By this time, the second one had freed himself from the vines and charged the party. Gregor moved into range and, with a clever feint, landed a sizeable blow. Dobby summoned a hippogriff to join the fray while the centipedes crawled over to it. Heisenberg, in his battle mindset, charged forward, even though it was over his own teammates. Hofniel move was able to keep his footing, but Queso was caught unaware and was flung to the ground. Hofniel hurried to heal the extremely wounded Queso while the remainder of the party whittled away at the second one. The battle drew on, but with a ridiculous flurry of blows from the Hippogriff, the second creature was also felled.

Now that the adrenaline had died down, Hofniel realized how gory and disgusting the scene was, especially with the centipedes eating the remains. He promptly found a clean place to lose his lunch. When he righted himself again, he returned to the cart to find the hired hand, but he was nowhere to be seen, the spineless coward! Thus, Hofniel did the next best thing and gave Queso the pick. The work was slow, but with Hofniel’s supervision the storage chests began to slowly fill with the ore.

As mining progressed, Elora decided that this time was as good as any to find a familiar. She walked a few steps away and began the ritual. At first, there was nothing. Then, she heard a voice in her head (which wasn’t one of the normal ones. Just kidding). The voice asked if she was nice and would care for it, to which she replied yes. They then began having a conversation. The strange thing was that Elora was talking out loud while listening to the conversation in her head. The entire party was looking at her, and then smoothly a small flying lizard of some type swooped down on her shoulders. Hofniel, ever the gentleman, reached for his mace, careful walked over, and told Elora to stand still: there was some beast on her shoulder. As he advanced however, the small lizard coughed some pink cloud in his face and he immediately fell asleep. Elora was happy with this development.

Thus the party recovered all the ore, loaded it and Hofniel on the cart, and rode off with their new friend (a psuedodragon).

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Where is Lord Calver? (DM Edition)

Following the rout of Dirren Kas, the whole group got together in Westwall to seek the wise counsel of Duchess Ashdrake once again. She took into account the recent events, and the continued threat of BlackFire. After discussion with the group, they agreed to discover what had happened to Lord Castor, the MIA lord of the modest town of Calver. With such evidence in hand, Adeline reasoned, they could approach King Treville Pargraven directly, hopefully getting into the monarch’s good graces in the process. At that point they could inform the king of the BlackFire treason. The Gala invitations from Kas’s lair could wait, as they had a two week window before that event. As they geared up, Heisenberg and Mendel the monk rejoined the group. The fighter had once again used his guard contacts to dredge up more information. As it turned out, they were being tracked by several well-known bands of mercernaries; the Reavers, led by a vicious half-orc named *; the Blue Falcons, a hilariously inept, ragtag band of misfits; and a shadowy organization with no commonly known name that Heisenberg was able to ascertain, learning only that their contact was one “Sillith the Hexmaiden.”

The team set out south to Calver, enjoying the beautiful sights of the glittering Coldhallow lake and the bountiful forests, even catching a glimpse of a griffon flying high overhead at one point. Sadly, the light-heartedness was not to last, as even at a distance they could see Calver was in ruins as they approached along the main road. Belladonna thought she saw something, or someone, scurry behind a building, likely an orc. The group very carefully split into teams, searching the delapidated buildings for clues and any undiscovered items. Belladonna carefully pocketed a magical headband, while the others found some potions and a lovely bottle of Elven brandy, but not much more. Signs of orcs abounded, from hastily abandoned straw mats to various strange bone trinkets. Dobby was able to commune with the birds and learn that the orcs had holed up in the lord’s large, defensible home, with at least a few Worgs with them. As they approached the wooden double door to the large stone manor, the noticed a pile of burnt corpses to one side, doubtless the remains of the villagers. Suspecting a trap, Belladonna checked the door for traps, inadvertently setting it off, causing several bolders to splinter the door apart. Our dexterious halfling narrowly avoided being squished. Inside, on either side of a long fire pit, multiple orcs stood ready for battle. At the end of the hall, their burly, two-handed axe wielding chieftan stepped forth, flanked by snarling, slavering Worgs. The tumult began, with our barbarian guffawing casually into the fray, slicing this way and that, while Heisenberg maintained a somewhat more conservative approach, deflecting blows with ease as he stood toe-to-toe with the green goons. Dobby made an attempt to befriend one of the giant canine monsters, only to enrage it to the point that it focused entirely on the poor gnome. Elora, for her part, decided it would be just peaches to get into a ranged weapon contest with the chief, landing a crossbow bolt square in his chest, much to the orc’s surprise. As Queso did what Queso does best, Hofniel thought it would be helpful to enlarge Heisenberg again, enabling him to effortlessly skewer one orc from above on his giant silver sword to toss casually into the firepit. Elora and the chief seemed hellbent on seeing who could be more like Boromir from Lord of the Rings, both sustaining multiple arrows/bolts, each one teetering on the verge of death. Hofniel scrambled forward to save Elora, casting healing magic in the nick of time-At least it would have been the nick of time, had Heisenberg the Huge not meandered over and casually stomped the orc chieftan’s guts out before he could fire another shot with his bow. Mendel the monk took down one remaning orc with a spectacular uppercut, shattering the sap’s skull like a melon. This gave him enough time to engage the Worg that sprinted toward Dobby, inflicting powerful strikes against the creature, but not putting it down. Queso tried to stop the monster, slashing into it’s mangy hide with his blade, but he just couldn’t finish the job in time. It bit Dobby savagely, nearly ripping the tiny druid off of her feet. It was then that Norbert the hitherto shy Wyvernling, aghast to see its “mother” under attack, launched into the building and delivered a vicious sting to the wounded Worg, ending it’s existence with a delivery of potent venom. On the other side of the room, Elora angrily bashed the other Worg’s head in with her staff, much to the surprise of her warrior comrades, who had been working hard to finish it off beforehand. Cleaning themselves off, the group advanced to the side rooms, only to find a few torn pages of a journal along with dented swords, broken armor, and dried blood stains- signs of a last stand. Amongst the wreckage was lord Castor’s split shield, identifiable by the oak tree painted on its wooden face. The journal indicated what the team had suspected- they had come under assault by orcs in the night, and had been hopelessly outnumbered. The journal made references to this kind of attack as being unusual for southern orc barbarians. Queso, while rooting through the dead orcs’ gear, inadvertently noticed burn scars in a splash patters on a few of them, just like the acid burns from the hellish creations of Dirren Kas. Having the evidence they needed, the group made the journey to Starkhaven to deliver the sad news of Castor’s untimely demise.

Starkhaven was immense, bustling with activity of all kinds. Clay shingled buildings with stone and plaster walls were painted a variety of colors, making the city vibrant and aesthetic. Tradesfolk of all stripes hawked their skills and wares at every turn. The group soaked up the sights, culminating in the tremendous castle of King Pargraven, flanked with banners of all kinds, with that of the king himself foremost, bearing a single white rose. Built close by was a towering spire that crackled with magical energy, no doubt the lair of Erath’s Order of Magic, the proximity of which made Elora bounce with glee. Dobby, for her part, found the prospect of making another animal friend irresistible, wandering off to hunt down an exotic animal trader to obtain her very own naked mole rat. Queso, noticing a tattoo parlor, immediately wanted to get a teardrop tattoo for every poor sap he had ever cleaved in half. Hofniel gently reminded him that would likely take a week. The group bought useful gear and upgraded their current armor and weapons as much as they could, personalizing it with some added flair (Hofniel made sure there was a sun on everything he owned, while Heisenberg preferred his items embossed with large “H”s. Eventually they made it to the castle, convincing the guard of the urgency of their news and their need to obtain an audience with the king himself.
They were ushered in, walking through a high-ceiling hall adorned with all manner of heraldry. Nobles and vassals held conversations here and there, attending to important business, no doubt. The adventurers were guided further into an expansive room, where the king and his closest knights held counsel. Bedecked in the finest plate armor, shields bearing the crests of each house, they were as something out of legend. In the center, hovering over a table, stood Treville Pargraven himself, who beckoned them to approach. He addressed Hofniel directly, instantly recognizing the son of one of his lords. All of them carefully bowed, following Hofniel’s example. Even the mighty Queso stayed on his best behavior, stifling his flatulence in an uncharacteristic manner. The conversation was terse, and nerve wracking. They presented their findings, and though the king seemed concerned at the loss of Lord Castor, he betrayed no emotion, acknowledging the team’s efforts to aid Erath, and, much to their relief, granting them a formal pardon for their assault on the Duke of Sorpigal. Treville wryly commented that, so long as they maintained unwavering loyalty to the crown, they could keep their questionably obtained mace, at least for the time being. Mentions of their misadventure with Torval elicited giggles from a few of the nearby knights, though Treville kept his stoic composure. Things became particularly tense when Hofniel realized the king was…purportedly..unaware of the Blackfire problem, being forced to explain the plot himself. King Pargraven made it clear he would look into the matter, but promised no more than that. At the conclusion of their audience, the king granted the group access to the finest artisans and smiths in his domain, to include the Order of Magic that Elora had so eagerly hoped to enter. Within they found access to enchanters, spell tomes, and the wise old astrologer Dinweld, on the top story. Wielding an enormous mobile of planets and stars with mirrors set at all angles to collect the sunlight through the glass roof, the astrologer could ascertain the exact location of a fallen godstone, at the behest of the gleefully drooling Queso Grande. Moving on, Elora bypassed the normal spellbook salesperson to obtain a cheaper copy from a fence, catching some questionable stares in the process. All in all, our heroes chalked up a success, now well outfitted and eager to pursue a greater challenge, which was sure to come.

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Necromancer, or Necromentor? (DM Edition)

After their last adventure, our heroes met again with the esteemed Duchess Ashdrake in Westwall castle at the war table. Knowing that it would take more than words and accusations to get an audience with King Treville, Adeline sagely advised the group that they would need to perform some service to the kingdom to gain credibility (particularly considering their notoriety). She recommended discovering the fate of Lord Castor, who had not been heard from since the southern orc incursions. Though they knew they needed to get in the King’s good graces sooner or later, they also felt that they had procrastinated far too long in regards to the dread necromancer, who even now was commanding the Black Fire mercenaries into doing who-knows-what. They came to the conclusion that it was time to find and end this “Dirren Kas.”

Adeline quite helpfully alerted the group the existence of one of the few remaining veterans of the Chevren war, an understandably venerable gentleman who lived in Falcon Watch. Conveniently, Falcon’s Watch was on the way to the mysterious location where Kas purportedly was. They determined it would be safest to travel incognito, aka as merchants. With their looted wares, it was not difficult to put on a convincing show of it.
On the long road North, the heroes met a real merchant travelling along the road, a Dwarf who moved wares from as far as the Grey Mountains and back. Our fragrant champion Queso Grande took this as an invitation to sprint forth and rub the terrified fellow’s face in his sword-drawing, and it took no small amount of damage control from Hofniel to get the poor Dwarf to stop hiding behind his cart. He turned out to be reasonably helpful, providing further interpretation of their schematic, alluding to something called “godstone iron,” from stones that fell from the heavens (read: meteorites). A wordly fellow, he noted that only a good astrologer would be able to reliably locate such an object. The merchant proved useful in other ways as well, outfitting them (at a price) with various fine dwarven crafts and weaponry before they all waved their goodbyes.

Falcon Watch was a large, bustling, but otherwise unremarkable city with an assortment of amenities. Naturally, the team set off to the tavern for information, chatting up the barkeep. Everyone obtained their favorite beverages (aside from Queso, who was having an increasingly difficult time obtaining fermented goat’s milk outside of Sorpigal). Upon further discussion, the were able to ascertain the location of the only known veteran of the Chevren-Erathian war, along with his favorite potable: a spiced rum made only in Sorpigal. Thankfully, the barkeep noted they could just look into the local markets rather than be forced to travel all the way to Sorpigal proper to find the stuff. They moved on to the marketplace, costumes still in place, and located a trader who specialized in luxury goods from their (least) favorite port town. Queso put in a request for some fine hobbit leaf (read: Wacky Tobaccy), and so Hofniel approached. Sadly for him, it became immediately apparent that the real merchant had recognized Hofniel even through his disguise, forcing some heavy bribing to keep his mouth shut. He purchased both the rum and the weed, moving quickly on to the veteran’s home. Dobby the Druid, who was hooded and cloaked as a very short merchant herself, noted several individuals quietly gathering around the merchants booth, and so the party double-timed it.

When the old-timer was informed that the adventurers had come by on a social call with a large bottle of his favorite rum, he assumed an expression of merriment and dragged the surprised friends into his home. Hofniel at first thought he was going to be able to sit back and allow the man to drunkenly regale them with tales of the war (and hopefully, the mace), but as it turns out, the oldster was quite spry and sociable at heart, inviting the nervous cleric to drink with him- shot for shot. The brave Pelorian kept up, if only barely, his vision becoming foggy and his words slightly slurred as drink after drink went down. In the end this binge session was rewarded with a speech- a speech, the man said, that the king himself delivered at the onset of great battles, upon which his magical mace would light up like a star. He felt that it may have happened about the time the king shouted his name- thankfully, the rest of the group was paying attention to this whilst Hofniel hiccuped and nodded dumbly.

The group traveled further North through the woods to the mysterious location. With every step, the darkness seemed to become more oppressive, until nearly no sunlight broke through the forest canopy to the ground. Finally, they saw in the distance a stone building, and before it, a partial clearing with a few scattered, gnarled old trees. The ground seemed to to shimmer with a fine mist. Rightfully anxious, the resident druid called upon the trees to speak to her, which uttered only these words: “Look to the ground…the dead walk.” This did nothing to ease their jitters, so Belladonna very, very carefully tiptoed around for a closer look, taking mental notes of several patches of loose soil. The entire group decided to follow suit with the tip-toeing bit, lining up and sneaking along the periphery until someone stepped on an obnoxiously loud twig. Instantly, gray, rotten corpses began bursting up from the ground, moaning eerily as they did so. Elora and Dobby scampered up the nearest tree, while Queso leapt into the fray. Hofniel took up defense near his treed comrades, deflecting flailing zombie strikes while utterly failing to inflict any of his own damage in return. At one point, he missed so spectacularly that he smashed his own foot, harming himself more than any of the zombies could. The ladies fired stones and bolts from above, while Queso blasted through the undead with wide, cleaving blows, until every last wretch was given eternal peace. In the meantime, Belladonna had crept closer to the stone structure, getting a better view of what appeared to be a large sepulcher, flanked by stone statues. They appeared to be humanoids, one carrying a large bowl, and the other holding a curved ritual dagger. By the time the rest of the group had made it to her position, she had crawled into the bowl to get a closer look, finding what appeared to be dried blood. Informed of this, Hofniel’s face lit up, as he instantly recognized this for what it was- a door locked with ritual blood magic, something he had conveniently studied and written extensively about in his school days. Withdrawing a small dagger, he offered up some of his own blood into the bowl, charging the magical device and opening a solid rock doorway into the sepulcher.

There was no light inside, and so the enterprising Hofniel cast light upon himself, melting away the darkness in part. Toward the back of the crypt, two figures paced. As they approached, they saw two horrors, stripped of skin down to the muscle as if flayed alive, teeth uncovered by skin, and lidless eyes staring back at them. One was approximately human shaped, clutching a jagged, makeshift sword. The other was more horrible still, a squat, hulking brute with enormous fists wrapped in twisted iron. In the very rear of the sepulcher sat a smiling, hooded fellow, no doubt the necromancer Dirren Kas. He applauded the group for making it to him, noting that those that had come before had not been up to the challenge of testing his creations. Queso and Hofniel charged forward to engage, swallowing their fear. The others began their support roles. Hofniel cast protective magic upon them while the barbarian unleashed powerful strikes. As he cut into the taller humanoid, the brackish black blood spatter sizzled and smoked on the stone floor. Elora lit the monster up with magic missiles, while Queso was able to finish off the human appearing creature with a few powerful strikes. Dirren Kas, content to watch until now, stood and clapped. He didn’t want to make it too easy on them, he stated, immediately launching a spectral hand toward Queso while casting a wall of ice between himself and the adventurers. The hand froze Queso in place with a ghoulish touch spell. Hofniel’s hastily cast sanctuary prevented the monster from harming Queso further for the time being. Dobby called forth a flaming sphere directly over the necromancer, forcing him to dodge to one side while presumably being very distracting. Elora’s next spell sadly fizzled, and the hulking iron fisted monster decided to sidestep the frozen Queso and attack the wizard directly, blasting her with violent force. Meanwhile, Dirren Kas had dispelled the sphere, using his spectral hand to attack once more, this time giving poor Hofniel a terrible case of the shakes (aka, draining his dexterity). Queso was still locked in place, his sanctuary all but worn off, and the necromancer was gearing up for more terrible magic. Realizing they had nothing to lose at this point, Hofniel attempted to unlock the mace. Recalling the tales of their veteran friend, he raised the scepter high and shouted the name of the king, at which point it burst forth with light, empowering all of his friends with it’s warm radiance. With renewed vigor, he struck at the ghost hand, sending it back into the ether, and eliciting a yelp of pain from the astonished necromancer.The team had a second wind, and Belladonna used the opportunity to unleash several swift dagger strikes into the brute, whose swings became erratic and off-balance. Elora took a deep breath and, channeling arcane energy she hitherto did not know she had access to, let forth a lightening bolt that incinerated the wounded hulk, while cutting directly through the fire-sphere weakened ice wall…directly into Kas, who still nursed his injured hand. The bolt seared into his chest and slammed him into the stone wall. He gasped with pain, loudly exclaiming his disbelief that Elora could have mastered such a powerful spell at her level of experience. Before they could accost the diabolical elf, he assumed a gaseous form and wafted through cracks in the stone wall, escaping their wrath. Our adventurers counted themselves victorious however, finding not only a great deal of gold, but various useful items, including magical anklets and a gruesome, intimidating horned helmet with a skull face that Queso took quite a liking to. The final thing they discovered was a set of careful sketches and diagrams. These drawings clearly depicted the creation of the flayed horrors they had recently fought, and thus Elora made it a point to decipher as much as she could from the including margin writings, hoping to be better prepared in case they should encounter more desecrated beings in the future.

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