Chapter I- The Southern Reaches

Prologue

Gripping knuckles creaked on the hafts of hammers, breath coming feverishly to the group they worked to nail wooden planks over the windows of the farmstead. Out from the night beyond, a cold wind carried forth the loathsome moans of the slouching, slowly encroaching undead.

[The party is formed]
The group that huddled around the farmstead's fireplace were unusual to say the least. The graceful Sphinx to whom the plot belonged was an ex-soldier, retired to breed cats and tend such land as was afforded by her small pension. By her side stood a misshapen giant - known to some as a "Goliath" - well over 6 feet tall. He was heavily armed and armoured, though it was for his skilful stone-crafting that he was known among this company. The giant had dwelt of late in the caves of the nearby forest, trading with the Thrope when in need for supplies. They had been ushered into the safety of the farmhouse by the warning shouts of the weathered Thaur, the kind-hearted druid who often offered healing, shelter and counsel to those who travelled the woods. Old Kelgore had arrived with a black-robed figure, the grey-skinned Wizard who had stirred up the nest of undead that even now clawed at the walls. As they shared the long night's vigil, the Mage offered his regrets for endangering the others. They spoke until dawn of the various evils that troubled their once-peaceful valley.

The undead withdrew when the sun rose, but the damage was done. Maji'id's farm was all but destroyed, her cattery burnt and land soiled by the undead. Knowing the fault was his, the mage Morkara proposed an alliance to rid the valley of evil, offering to call upon his old friend and former naval armsman Rahvik to aid in the effort. Stirred by growing sympathy and affection for the others, Kelgore spoke his approval, remembering the favour shown to the reaver when the Living God appeared to them both as a water nymph in years past. Revelling in the unfamiliar camaraderie, the hulking Borat eagerly agreed, recalling his old travelling and labouring companion Yuvath. He ventured that the Gorgon now worked as a bounty hunter, and would surely know how to track down the bandits of whom Maji'id had spoken. And as fortune would have it, this very pair were but a few days travel away, comrades of old, on the trail of a notorious bandit chief who had troubled the valley of late.

The party convened in gladness, long-absent friends and comrades brought together by the vagaries of fate in a common purpose. In the ruins of Maji'id's farmhouse, tales were told, ale and spirits were toasted and a renewed oaths of fellowship were struck in a raucous, drunken haze.


Part I: A Promise of Spring

Dripping with sweat and the remnants of a cool afternoon downpour the group marched steadily through the jungle. Plants in vibrant blues and reds were swept aside as the group walked in single file in the wake of the bald, hulking figure at their forefront. The hoots of mimic-drakes echoed overhead as they forged ever-onwards towards their goal.

[Hunting bandits in a jungle]
Somewhat later than the dawn departure they had planned, the fledging party set out from Swamp Hame at a tender pace. Nursing the aches and pains of a night’s celebrations at the tavern, their resolve hardened steadily as the sun and the humidity rose. Shouldering heavy packs of water and other supplies, the group passed around the bounty notices produced by Yuvath and learned more of their quarry. The decision had been taken to begin with the bandits, as a more manageable and immediate threat to the once-peaceful valley’s stability. The Grey Arrows had troubled the roads of the valley for some years, their unpredictable attacks evading the cumbersome counter-attacks of Imperial troops. Grav, their leader, was a notorious plunderer and deserter from the Sphinxish Janissaries. His right-hand woman - Gelgan the Exile - was a disgraced former battlemage and anarchist with revolutionary ambitions. They had recently ambushed and driven off a group of bounty hunters in the coastal hills of Lorovion, and it was here the unproven party would begin their search.

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Over many days of travel, the group was lashed with monsoonal rain, plagued by fist-sized mosquitoes and stalked by hungry elfhounds, though these were driven off by the bellows of barrel-chested Bort. On the fourth day, the keen-nosed Maji’id scented smoke and roasting meat emanating from a nearby hilltop ruin as dusk fell. A plan was quickly sketched at camp, and by the grey light of pre-dawn, the assault ensued. Rahvik marched purposefully towards the bandit’s lair, his heavy shield slick with condensation. As cries of alarm broke out in the camp, figures stirred in the shadows and bowstrings sang, yet the armoured warrior was spared their fire. Sneaking through the underbrush, Kelgore was stung by arrows and collapsed against the trunk of a nearby tree. Enraged, Bort thundered free from his flanking position and was likewise whipped down by grey-feathered shafts. Over the cruel laughs of Grav the Grey Arrow, an incantation rang out and a fiery familiar burst into existence. The party seemed poised on the brink of disaster.

Erupting from the jungle, Yuvath blurred forward, cutting the throat of a gloating archer and stunning another. From the shadows Maji’id’s hunting cats leapt, mauling and clawing as the bandits faltered. Morkara’s answering spell set a spectral wolf crashing into Gelgan’s elemental, lashing and tangling towards mutual annihilation. Axes sparked ineffectually against Ravhik’s shield, as the outlaws were forced to drop their bows and defend in melee. Despite the shafts sticking out from his ribs, Bort whirled his polearm in terrible two-handed swings that smashed brigands from their feet with every blow. His stampeded straight into the bandit leader and cleft him head-and-shoulders in half. Collecting the heads of their bounties, the party salvaged what they could from the camp. They dragged down an ugly, blood-soaked shrine and buried the unfortunate victim they found on its altar, marked with ritual cuts.


Part II: The Jungle's Reprisal

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The Tomb of Therova

The beasts darted again and again at the weary adventurers, drawing blood with every lunge. The practiced swings of their prey seemed clumsy compared to the unnaturally agile tiny creatures. The jungle was trying to get it's revenge on the group, the creatures it's chosen executioners.

[Trouble travelling to the tombs]
Setting out the very next morning the group makes good time back through the Lupangal hills and reaches their camp site at a ruined watchtower within a day, the reverse journey having taken the better part of two days. The group is heavily wounded and perhaps due to this the forest seems to have offered them some respite, uncharacteristically quiet as they travelled at a good pace back to Swamp Hame. The next morning, mere hours from their destination, Maji'id and Kelgore volunteer to scout ahead and make contact with the town. The group neared their objective and seemed home safe before a yelping crying from Morkara pieced the relative silence of the jungle.

A dog sized drake had its toothy beak buried deep into the Sylvan mages calf, deep red blood flowing freely onto the ground. As Morkara readies a spell to destroy the creature more barrel out of the jungle into the other members of the party. Yuvath is flung to the ground as a pair of beasts leap on him and as he turns to assist Rahvik is set upon by another beast. It seems that Bort would be overcome but as the creatures teeth tear his flesh again and again he roars in defiance and remains strong, flailing about him with his glaive but unable to land a blow. Morkara recovers from his initial wound as his infernally summoned dire wolf bursts from the ground in a crash of smoke and begins to pull the attacker off him. However as he seemed safe a second furred and feathered lizard burst from the undergrowth, pulling him to the ground as he is off balance and biting deep into his eye sockets. His friend now screaming in pain Rahvik manages to kill his creature and rushes to his friends aid, dealing killing blows to his two ravagers but unable to stop their needle teeth from turning Morkara's face into a bloody mess.

As Bort and Yuvath bleed steadily on the ground, unable to land a blow on their attackers, and Rahvik fends creatures off Morkara's prone form all seems lost for the group. It is at this stage that fortune steps in and Maji'id returns from his hunting trip. Distracted dodging Bort's polearm the creatures do not see Maji'id's cats coming and they leap upon the lizards, ripping them asunder. Their diminutive nature not aiding them in avoiding the attacks of the similarly sized cats the lizards are shredded by their razor sharp claws. Now convinced their quarry was too tough the remaining half dozen beasts flee yelping back into the forest, their feathers quivering and swaying as they dash between greenery out of sight. Kelgore puffs back to the group, coming to their aid just as the drakes fled. He sees to the minor wounds speckling all those present with blood before moving on to Morkara, his head now wrapped tenderly in bandages by Rahvik. Eyes completely ripped out by the diminutive creatures he moans in pain and needs to be carried the short distance to Swamp Hame.

Swamp Hame is a small fishing village, noteworthy only for its central Imperial fort, occupied by a garrison of Sylvan Legionary soldiers. It is within this fort the group stays for their first night, the garrison medic seeing to their numerous wounds but unable to help with Morkara's lost eyes. The group nevertheless receives some coin from the sale of looted items and the promised gold from turning in the bounty on Grey Arrow and Gelgan's heads. The local healer removes a lodged arrowhead from Bort's chest the following day and as the entire group are exhausted and wounded they decide to remain in Swamp Hame until their wounds are healed. During this time the fort's garrison is replaced by another, taking Morkara with them to recieve healing in Velion. Replacing him is another Sylvan in dark robes. Introducing himself as an "associate" of Morkara's with similar goals he remains enigmatic, despite time spent with the group.

Now rested and revitalised the group sets off towards the Lupangal hills once again, their destination the ruins in Mount Throva that are the source of the undead now rampaging across the valley. The journey is uneventful, the paths through the hills much fairer further north than those previously taken. Arriving at the mountain Yuvath spots the entrance to the ruins, a dark fissure guarded by a group of undead milling around a monolith. The group lays into the undead, slashing deeply into their unhallowed flesh and eventually laying them low. As more rush out of the fissure Kelgore calls forth vines from the ground and with uncharacteristic fury rips these unholy creatures asunder. The entryway now open the group gathers around the monolith to attempt to decipher the text written upon it, but even the learned newcomer only recognises a slew of words. It seems the tomb is an altar to Shesk Rahan, a local Thrope moon god. The very same god whose monument we cast down in the jungle. Steeling our wills, we enter.


Part III: Riddles in the Dark

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Exploring the Tomb

Crescent blade,
did shrieking cleave,
through shining shield
and armour sleeve.

His noble form,
bereft in twain;
Defender bold,
the brute had slain.

From the tombstone of Ravhik of Ysterion, carved from the broken head of a vanquished Mooniron Golem

[Exploring the tomb]
The entryway of the tomb is a score of catacombs, their contents emptied. A large dark door fills one end of the room and a shining crystal has fallen from a pedestal onto the ground, apparently the cause of the undead disturbance. Confident that it would allow them entrance the group picks up the crystal and places it in an appropriately sized groove in the door, to no avail. The newcomer Sebadoh quickly surmises that the door only opens when the moon symbol on the door matches the moon barely visible overhead through a cracked roof. The party settles down for the day and much of the night, playing dice amongst themselves until the night fell and the crystal successfully opened the door.

Yuvath strode ahead, confidently checking for traps and pitfalls. Alas he discovered one, but not before it opened it's maw and swallowed him into the darkness below, Rahvik just managing to leap out of the way as the floor swung downwards into a deep pit. The group could only watch as the opening closed, sealing Yuvath below. Swearing to return for him the group pushed on, Rahvik now leading the way with measured steps in his shining armour. As the passageway opens into a larger room, filled once again with catacombs, the party is set upon by snarling undead Thropes wielding sickly curved silver blades. Their opponents are fierce and able warriors but the group manages to fend them off through the tenacity of Bort and the sudden but welcome arrival of Yuvath. Bursting from the shadows he appears to be covered in tiny bite marks but wastes no time thrusting his dagger again and again into the unholy forms. The final undead seems to be relentless as the group is forced to hold it down and lop off it's limbs one by one, but another conflict is forming.

Rahvik had taken from the fallen form of an enemy battlemage an ancient ornate curved blade and stands transfixed. With a snarl his eyes are filled by a pure white light and he swings the blade at Sebadoh. Unsuspecting the mage can do little to resist as the blade bites deeply into the flesh on his leg, splashing blood upon the ground and twisting bone. The group reacts swiftly to this unsuspected attack as Bort expertly disarms Rahvik with a flurry. The grey elf stands dumbfounded as his comrades point weapons at him, unaware of what had just taken place. Once his possession at the hands of the sword is clear Yuvath and Bort assist him in mastering the blade, with the use of a cold iron amulet taken from one of the deceased. Shaken the group strips the deceased and moves on.

Beyond lies a circular room with 4 large stone doors. Each of the doors are marked with different cycles of the moon and feature various carvings of Thropes hunting and killing wild animals, worgs under a full moon, firbolgs under a gibbous, sphinxes under the crescent and gnolls under no-moon. Kelgore deciphers a carving on a central altar that informs the group that each door contains a keystone to unlock the way to the 'Moon's Font'.

As per the tablets instruction Rahvik takes the dagger at the first door, a full moon, and carves a symbol into his chest. The door inside swings open and a long rock staircase leads upwards to another round room with motifs of wolves hunting under a full moon. As Sebadoh's conjured lights enter the room a puzzle becomes apparent. Whilst all the full moon wall panels are light by moonlight from above, the furthest ornate panel remains dark. An ancient metal wolfshead stand, it's mouth open and snarling at the dark far panel is the only furnishing to this room. With quick wit, Sebadoh sends his lights into the wolfshead stand, the reflective interior channelling his bright magelights to light up the far panel, revealing the keystone.

For the next door, the absent moon, Sebadoh volunteers to carve the symbol and later would recount feeling a strange magical sensation while doing so. This room features a small well, connected to an elaborate maze of flooded tunnels. Knowing only Bort has the necessary athleticism to overcome this challenge he strips down to his simple loincloth and dives in, Kelgore's knife between his teeth. The group waits on baited breath for almost two minutes as the Goliath navigates the tunnels before he returns, keystone held fast in his hands and festooned with other miscellaneous items that he had discovered down there. Sebadoh in particular is pleased to find a worn and waterlogged but functional set of mages robes, whirring with technomantic gears and cogs.

Yuvath cuts the next symbol into his scaly chest and the 3rd door opens, depicting a crescent moon. The shadows around him seem to bend oddly as his bloody palm opens the final door. Beyond lies a room filled with ancient glass lenses, with moonlight being fed from high above through a small split in the roof. The collective minds of Yuvath, Sebadoh and Kelgore get to work and quickly solve the light puzzle, reflecting the moonlight onto a small tablet on the wall and revealing the keystone. Not before Maj'id and Rahvik are forced to defeat a brassy thrope-like golem however, as an incorrect alignment of lenses materialises it's once dormant form from invisibility.

The final un-opened door depicts a gibbous moon and is carved by Bort, again gaining a magical blessing and access to the next challenge. Within lies a strange tiled room, the tiles adorned with various glyphs in an ancient Thrope tongue, at the top of which stands a gargantuan monster. With the head and claws of an ursa and a silvery metallic unliving body it holds in it's hands a gigantic silver axe and appears for the time being to be dormant. Yuvath and Kelgore get to work, the scaled lizard and hulking Thaur attempting to decipher the patterns on the floor by relating them to the tablets Kelgore had already deciphered in the tomb. Sure of themselves they step onto the first tile, only for the creature to emit a rumbling and begin to rouse from it's slumber! As it lumbers across the room Yuvath darts back up the corridor and Rahvik steps in front of Kelgore and hefts his shield, intent on protecting the Thaur from the blows of the monstrous creature. Alas he is no match for the gigantic construct, whose axe cleaves cleanly through his shield and cuts the elf from gullet to groin. As he stumbles, his blood and guts flowing onto the paved stones, the rest of the group engage the beast. It's wild blows cut deeply into Yuvath and Bort as they try to bring it down with expertly aimed blows but in the end it is Ma'jid's pet cats that bring it down, tackling it onto it's back for long enough for Kelgore to telekinetically pluck it's power source, the keystone, from it's chest. The monster falls next to Rahvik just as the last light leaves his eyes.

Picking up what belongings they can from their fallen comrade the group returns to the central room, encountering a blood covered and incorporeal Sebadoh just as he re-opens the Gibbous Moon door, a moments too-late escape from the terrible silver beast. They inserts the final keystone, and with a rumble the altar begins to rotate down, revealing a spiral descent into the dark depths of the mountain. Descending down into the darkness the party heft their weapons, and ready components, preparing to face whatever horrors this place had in store in it's final chamber.


Part IV: To Sup at Moonlit Font

Bort walked calmly towards the abyssal lynx that dominated the end of the room with steady clinks of armoured boots on ancient stone. Stowing his glaive calmly he turned to the group and smiled a toothy grin. "Dont worry…I got a plan".

[Clearing the tomb and returning to Velion]
The keystones collected the group decided to once again camp for the day, recovering from their various wounds suffered during yesterday's trials. As they do so they hear a muffled shouting from below and opening the spiral staircase with the keystones release a dusty and squinting Sylvan mage. He introduces himself as Tyrus Cinderborn and proclaims to have been stuck down there for three days, after his bodyguard and companion was killed by a trap that sealed the exit. He brushes off his grey robes and washes the tattooed skin beneath as he thanks the group, gratefully joining them for the day of rest.

Healed by Kelgore's salves and rested from a day of leisure the group opens the spiralling staircase downwards once again and led by Yuvath begin to descend. The descent contained four doors, marked as those above with a cycle of the moon. As each member with a blessing pushed a bloody palm onto the door it slid open, the previous one sliding closed and forcing the companions to go ever downwards. The final door leads to a large rectangular chamber of the same dark stone as the rest of the tomb and lit as always by moonlight reflected from far above through cracks in the roof. Part of the roof had collapsed, one back corner entirely overrun by dark black flowering vines and featured a small crevice leading upwards. The pillars that ran the length of the room were covered in carvings of various Thropes hunting and killing under phases of the moon. The group did not pay attention to this however, their attention taken by the creature at the centre back of the chamber. A large sphinx cast half a dozen shadows in the dimly lit room that seem to flicker and move. It's skin was rotten and peeling and it seemed to sleep next to a pool of perfectly clear water, lit by a large beam of moonlight from the roof above.

Yuvath quickly crept foward to behind a pillar as he instructed the group to attack. The newcomer, Tyrus, snuck parallel to Yuvath and rummaged through his mages robes for a spell component. Bort however strode confidently into the room, announcing himself and greeting the creature. "What if it's friendly" he exclaimed when hurried whispers questioned his behaviour. To much surprise the creature did not attack but merely stood. The group felt a scratching upon their minds and Bort strode further forward still. Placing blood hands upon the stone in front of the creature he stood stone-still as the beast licked his blood from the stone before falling to the ground unnaturally still. This was enough provocation for the group and they surged forward to rescue their ally. Yuvath and Sebadoh's blades cut deep into the creatures unholy flesh, while Ma'jid's cat allies attempted to pull it to the ground. Tyrus was set upon by vicious vines in the broken corner of the room, eventually burning them off him with a fearsome explosion of flames. As they battled the creature Yuvath's eyes suddenly turned a pearlescent white and he set upon Sebadoh, the spellsword barely able to keep the Gorgon's knife away from him with panicked flicks of his scimitar. Eventually Tyrus sent a searing beam of energy through the creatures chest, turning it to ash and freeing Yuvath from it's domination.

As the group moves to check on Bort they notice his body twisting and moving under the moonlight. They can only watch in horror as his armour is torn off him by fur bursting from his skin as he changes into a fearsome Were-Ursa. As the group readies weapons the beast talks, Bort apparently unaware of the transformation that had overcome him. His mind apparently intact within the beast Bort reverts to human form, although his usually hairless body now featuring a light fuzz of hair. Yuvath is aghast at this infection, but outvoted by the group he contains his misgivings. Amidst the burnt vines the group finds a pile of armour, weapons and books, many destroyed by Tyrus' firestorm. Nevertheless they pack what they can and leave the tomb, taking from the corpses of the Hellbeast a strange silvery tooth the size of a man's arm.

Ancient Map of the Lunar Straights
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Inscription accompanying the map

Blessed be the straights of the moon,
Lit by the light of twin moons,
The sacred places of the Lord of Shade and Beasts,
Forever devoted to his purpose,
His talons and blood given to protect his folk,
And to sanction eternal rebirth.

Sebadoh identifies the item as an artefact of Shesk Rahan and informs the group that his sect in Velion would be very interested in looking at this item, and importantly would be willing to pay. It is such that the group treks through the jungles once again to Swamp Hame, managing to avoid the denizens of the forest but losing valuable supplies to scavenging pixie drakes while camping at night. Swamp Hame is reached and after a night of rest and selling looted silver weapons to the local Imperial Legion soldiers they set off once again, south west towards Velion. The hard packed earth of the road is a welcome relief after the jungle and within a few days the group gets their first sight of Velion, a city of some 4000 built around the Imperial Fortress and Mage-Tower of House Sylanus.

As Bort stays outside the walls to avoid causing trouble with his new curse and Yuvath visits the city Fane of the Living God for healing the rest of the group visits Sebadoh's sect. They welcome him back like a brother, Morkara proudly amongst their ranks despite his lack of sight. They receive the group and agree to pay for some for some of their discovered magic items and offer free accommodation. The lead priestess shudders at the sight of the large tooth, magically analysing it and declaring it to be an actual bound Aspect of Shesk Rahan. She sends word to nearby Lorys for a higher ranking priest to come and collect the artefact, an event that she claims will take the better part of two weeks. As Yuvath is taken to extended care for his wounds and Tyrus sets his sights on seducing the Sect Priestess the group settles in for a comfortable stay in Velion city.


Part V: The Crystal Tower

At once the sand around the party was blue. The colour change was a neat rim around the giant tower in the distance, almost unnaturally ordered as if painted by the finest artist. The tower itself was a silvery blue shard of great height, shimmering under the desert sun and pulsing with an unnatural energy. The mages shudder at the sight of it, but the group moves ever closer.

[Visiting a Magical Tower]
With Yuvath bedridden and Bort disappearing into the woods every evening, the group wiled away their time in Velion. Tyrus shopped for armour, weapons and supplies on the party's behalf, Maj'id served the local Imperial Garrison as a beastmaster, and Sebadoh immersed himself in the books of his cult's librarium. Finally, as the companions sat for a simple meal one evening, a towering figure announced an end to their wait.

A broad and venerable Thaur in the priestly garb of the Secret Keeper, introduced himself as Silverhorn. He had identified the great tooth of Shesk Rahan, and held dire fears for it's implications for this peaceful region. The group collects it's reward and a new mission, as the grizzled cleric provides instruction on the ancient 'Midnight Cult'. The companions listen grimly to the tale of a brutal and long vanished theocracy sustained by ritual sacrifice, resolving with fierce cheers that the cult's return must be stopped. Silverhorn organises for the group to be employed as contractors for his church, to act in it's stead until an official investigation can be launched. He informs the group of three potential areas of investigation into the cult and joins them for a meal as they discuss their options.

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A weatherbeaten ship carries them north to Endrova's Seclusium, an ancient tower raised by a long-vanished mage in a coastal desert. Hoping to delve into the tower's abandoned library, the party travels light, glad to be free of the jungle's cloying confines. Their high spirits dwindle as their near their destination, as the desert sands turn vibrant blue beneath their feet. Within a clear and creeping radius, the earth, stone and lifeforms are turned to sapphire crystal, an effect spreading outward from the dimly visible spire. Around the spire, lonely tents from each of the local wizard factions are arrayed, their guards eying each other distrustfully. Journeymen Wizards from Blue Dragons, House Solanus, Silver Falcons and Red Dawn are each conducting experiments, with one having suffered the same creeping crystallisation as the surrounding lands. The wizard warns us against touching or interfering with the ruin, showing us the craggy crystal remnant of his casting hand. He used his Geomancy to convey us within the tower, hopeful that we may find a cure for his slow curse.

A daemon door cursorily reflects the probing of the mages, but swings open at a mundane touch. Within, the household staff are found frozen in place, captured like perfect, indigo sculptures as they fled and cowered and wept. A glittering maze of cerulean glass, and translucent, spiralling stairways stretch into the gloom above, leading at last to a study chamber. A stunted tree fills the room with an azure glow, clearly the source of the troubling phenomenon. Warily avoiding it's outstretched limbs, the group pass through a frozen library to the topmost chamber. On the way, Yuvath chances to pick up an intricate, gossamer dagger, but recoils in horror as his grip crystallises around the hilt. When they discover and free the missing mage Endrova, the tower begins to rumble. Kelgore gasps as a keening witch-voice screams out below, whispering "it's awake" and hurrying back downstairs. Weaving around spinning crystal shards, the party erupt back into the study room and launch themselves at the now thrashing daemon-tree. As it shatters against their weapons and spells, cracks spiderweb through the walls and floors of the tower. In a cascade of crumbling glass fragments, the party is launched free from the toppling structure by a surge of Endrova's magic.

The mage is shaking from his ordeal, but is able to offer healing to those afflicted by the tower's curse. His looks regretfully on his ruined sanctum, but agrees to speak to his rescuers about the Midnight Cult on the long journey back to Velion. As the sun sinks beneath the hills, the creeping turquoise border begins to retreat.


Part VI: Rivals Eternal

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The Silver Pyramid of Jeronolas

Their masters were bitter, mortal enemies, and each had inflicted untold destruction and misery upon the armies of the other. These two creatures - Spider-Maiden and Daemon-Hound - had glared at each other across through a few layers of stone for more than a thousand years, chomping at the bit to rend the other apart. And yet, for all of this, in sending the blessed ones to kill his foe the Beast would seem to hesitate.

[Fighting daemons in a ruined outpost]
The adventurers return to Velion upon a small ocean skiff called the Tumblebow, a restful journey for the most part although Yuvath falls ill from a suspected sea-snake bite. He seems to attract vicious wild life wherever he goes. Arriving back at the city they are billeted again under the charity of the Living Fane, receiving pay and gladly spending it on upgrading equipment and fresh rations. When Yuvath is healthy again the group discusses their next move with the venerable Silverhorn and book passage to the island of Jerongolas to the south, a location marked on their ritual map as a place of importance for the old Rhakshasan civilisation.

Resupplied the group sets out aboard a slavers ship run by a reclusive Sylvan shipmistress, Captain Syrraneal. They spend most of their time on board with Yorrel, the first mate, who had previously been a member of a tribe on the island they were headed to. Of the four tribes on the island the ship only traded with the Ultron, a black thrope tribe occupying the southernmost portion of the island. The locals, a chieftain and his 20 wives, are friendly towards Yorrel and agree to help the party reach the interior of the island, a cursed area where they claim an ancient pyramid is haunted by evil spirits. Despite the chieftain Ultron's attempts to involve the group in the native politics of the island they are driven by greater purpose towards the centre of the island, cutting their way through the dense red and blue jungle led by one of the chieftains wives.

A rocky path leads through a jungle valley towards the centre of the island, the groups only encounter with the local wildlife a pack of cat-sized drakes easily scared off by a fearsome roar from Bort. They had been warned of a local 'Black Witch' by the tribes-thropes but largely ignored the warning as their unit of Drow infantry marched further into the jungle. I questioned them on this occurrence when the story was relaid to me years later and they seem confused, speaking with no scent of deceit as if they were part of an all conquering Drow army attacking the Thrope pyramids some centuries ago. It seems the black witches magic is strong, leading the group to believe for this period of time that they were Drow infantrymen of all things. The illusion shrugged off but the memories engrained the group moved past the barbarians warning signs and fetishes and into the forbidden centre of the island.

Behind the warning signs and monolith circle sits the most luscious garden the group had ever seen. Contrasting the blues and reds of the outside ferns and palms the plants inside were all manner of greens, Vargarian blood-berries growing next to Syverian snow apples and other unfamiliar fruit. The plants were verdant, flourishing, and as Kelgore would inform the group; for the most part entirely foreign to this area. Tyrus warned the group of the dangers of such an artificial garden but after weeks of broth and fish stew many of them began picking and eating the fruit with glee. The central pyramid itself was made of the same semi-pearlescent silver stone as the other ruins on the island, adorned with the now familiar Thrope and moon iconography of the cult of Shesk Rahan.

Pockets bulging with fresh food the group enters the temple, pushing the door aside soundlessly. Within they find a hideous amalgamation of flesh and automaton, bound within a circle of protection. The beast speaks from a furred ursan mouth, introducing itself as the guardian of the temple. It wishes the group welcome, referring to Bort as the "blessed one" and offering them use of it's facility if they could assist it. It seems the temple was an ancient theomagical forge for 'moon-metals', alloys unique to the soldiers of Shesk Rahan. The daemon is its guardian, although trapped here since the Drow invasion that had destroyed the forge. He instructs the group to destroy the spider-daemon in the ruins below in return for his help in activating the forge. Although unsure of their eventual goal the group agrees to retrieve a series of Aspect Stones for the daemon and destroy his ancient nemesis. Tyrus wills the group to kill the beast immediately but it is agreed that more information should be recorded about the ruin before its caretaker is to be killed.

The ruin in the lower rooms is more extensively ransacked than those above and assaults the senses of the party as they enter what was once the armoury. The room is filled with detritus and what appears to be the campsite of a pack of goblins, although the only creatures present are three small female goblins that shriek at the appearance of the outsiders and begin to run into their shelters. The group moves, but as Kelgore attempts to speak to the creatures Yuvath corners one, cruelly gutting it after kicking it to the ground. An argument ensues, the racism of Yuvath butting heads with the naive views of Kelgore. Tyrus finishes the argument after a gesture sends a wave of fire that burns the remaining creatures into ash. As Tyrus and Kelgore have a conversation about the nature of goblins as humanoid yet animal the room is searched and an ancient four armed war-forged uncovered. The silver metal automaton is a work of art and the group reseals it's storage sarcophagus, intending to return it to Velion when possible.

Spider%20fight

Tensions are high when the group walks slowly down a curving stair and into the bottom room of the temple, intending to find the spider that the daemon guardian had willed them destroy. But none would be ready for what they would face, a swirling pool of quicksilver liquid forming suddenly into three horrible daemonic creatures. The two smaller were spiders with the bodies of maidens emerging from above their black legs. The foul mistresses wielded bows of liquid silver, shooting arrows at the group to protect their queen. The larger spider maiden in the centre was a creature of true nightmares, a creation only a race as twisted as the Drow could imagine. Her black haired legs stood as high as a man, holding up her bloated and boil ridden spider torso. From this grew a disturbingly attractive female torso, beauty and cruelty mixed in equal portions in the female sylvan face that coalesced from the quicksilver.

Tyrus rushed forward, pulling from his pack a crossbow especially provided by Endrovar of the crystal tower. Although shocked by the sight of the daemonic lady he puts a magical crystal bolt into her foul body as she rushes towards him. As she slowly turns to crystal she casts her dark mind into those of her attackers, showing images and scenes of terror that wrack their mortal minds. Sebadoh and Tyrus, educated on the matters of the arcane, flee in terror, only they fully comprehending what they face. Bort and Yuvath's blunt minds brush off the images of swirling multi-coloured energy with grunts and charge the handmaidens, slaying them with frenzied slashes and viper-swift stabs of glaive and dagger. Kelgore's face fills with rage at the images playing through his mind and the usually calm Thaur transforms with a cry into a slivering wyrm. He wraps around the spider-queen and begins to crush the life out of her even as the crystalline poison spreads up her body. As the last of the quicksilver queen is covered in magical crystal Kelgore's snakeform gives a final squeeze, shattering the now fragile body into a thousand pieces on the floor.

Tyrus and Sebadoh return with apologies as Tyrus uses his flames to obliterate what remains of the great daemon-queen. In her ashes they find a strange medallion depicting their vanquished foe and in a chest at the rear of the room a pile of jewellery of varying qualities. The group stops to discuss the fate of the moon-forge once they recover the ability to activate it, and suddenly united with purpose they seal their alliances with a series of rings found within the chest. For Yuvath an opal viper, Sebadoh the adamantine star of the secret keeper, Kelgore the emerald tree, Bort the rampant bear, and Tyrus a ruby dragon. These gaudy rings sitting on fingers scaled, furred, and flesh the companions set about with new purpose to purge this island of its sin and clear the region of the machinations of the cult of Shesk Rahan.


Part VII: The Forgotten Isle

"I see that my kind are wrong to fear this condition. It is a strange and primal thing to be sure, but I see that you have not been troubled by it, and nor shall I be. Ahh, I feel it starting. Final words of Yuvath, freed slave, who died of Lycanthropy

[Searching the island for artefacts]
As the party settled in for the night the goblins in the cavern above returned from whatever foul task had taken them abroad. Screams of fury and sadness followed upon discovering the bodies of their mates, left behind and killed by the party some hours earlier. This whipped the primitive creatures into a frenzy and as the party rested next to a small campfire they were accompanied by the cries and drums of goblins above preparing for war. Eventually the diminutive creatures left and the group made their way up through the ruin and out of the Silver Pyramid. Feeling some obligation to stop the rampaging goblin tribe they had enraged Kelgore casts out his formidable byomantic power and becomes one with the islands many creatures, setting the group on a path to intercept the large group of small creatures to the south east.

Jerongalas.jpg

Kelgore and Ma'jid led the group with good pace through the forest, first leaving the unnaturally fertile ring of plants around the pyramid before dodging various local wildlife. Yuvath is not so lucky, a wild minute manticore taking a dislike to the Gorgon and piercing his arm with its pincers. The small creature easily dispatched Yuvath's wounds are patched and the group moves on, avoiding any signs of spiders or manticore hives as they push through the luscious blue-red plants of the jungle isle. The tribe that had once occupied this part of the coast was long gone, killed not by goblins but manticores the size of large dogs. Realising they cannot leave this tribe unsearched the group dispatches the manticores. Tyrus burns them to cinder with lashes of blue flame as they close with the group as a counterattack by Yuvath, Kelgore, and Ma'jid crush the rest of the chitin clad creatures. Although Kelgore and Ma'jid are poisoned by the dripping stingers of the creatures their paralysis wears off after some time.

IMAGE (IMAGE)

After searching what remains of the Grosh tribe the group moves north as the sun sets, the soft sands of the islands eastern shore a blissful relief after the dense jungles of the forest. Here they find another privative culture, some two dozen humans dressed chitinous armour and covered in mottle skin paint. They are received in a small group of tents by the tribes chieftain, a giant of a man with a pulsing black mace. After some conversation they assess that he was not in possession of an aspect stone, although he refers them to the three other tribes on the island as coveting such Thropish artefacts. With this new information the group decides to make their way around the northern coast of the island and back down to the southern tribes, ever weary of the fact they only had five days left before the return of the ship-mistress and her frigate to pick them up. To aid their endeavour they hire a local youth, who agrees to lead them until they reach the ruins on the north-western shore.

The young scout, Barbiros, led the party north towards the monument marked at the north of the island, proudly hefting the large silver axe that was his prize. The natives are said to have avoided the monument and upon approaching it the group understands why, the giant white obelisk clearly of ancient Sylvan design and resonating an odd magical energy. It is marked with high Sylvan runes of warding and death and to those magically inclined gives a faint aura of necrymancy. As Bort begins to dig at the bottom of the monument he discovers something further disconcerting: The small hill upon which the monument sits is no natural occurrence, but rather a mound of old and partially crumbling bones. He insists on digging further but the others are shocked by the place and wish to leave quickly, a disappointed Bort putting his digging tools away with frustration.

Barbiros gladly leads the group away from the monument west across the northern coast of the island, buffeted by salty wind. The remains of a large coastal city extend some distance out from the crashing waves of the north western shore of Jerongolas. The shattered husks of ships line the beach and the reef beyond and a large ruin of faded and worn white stone covers the area. Camping for the night Bort dashes off into the jungle, not wishing to be present when his transformation into a were-ursa occurs. Yuvath watches with interest at Bort's powerful form lopes along the shore. He returns the next morning covered in goblin blood, having tracked and killed some of the creatures in a nearby series of hills. As Kelgore and Bort swim out to the sunken ships the rest of the group searches the ruins by the light of sunrise. The shore group finds only trinkets whilst the ship search turns up a waterlogged and broken carbine but not sign of an aspect stone. Seeing the full moon iconography present in this ruin matches the aspect stone they already have the group surmises that this was the original location of the stone they already possess.

As they walk south towards the Silver Pyramid, eager to avoid the valley to the south and its hunting drakes, Yuvath engages Bort in discussion about his condition. Though raised to hate and spurn the afflicted, the apparent ease with which his comrade had managed it overwhelmed the Gorgon's limited instict for caution. The conversation continued after finding an obelisk marked with a full moon, part of a series of pillars that formed a circle on the island. Unsure of its purpose the group continues through the over-fertile circle around the pyramid and back inside, past the daemon-thrope guarding the entrance. In his enthusiasm, Yuvath finally managed to convince Bort to share his blessings, with Kelgore and Tyrus' warnings about the dangers of the transformation having fallen upon deaf ears. Ever wishing to please Bort transforms and bites Yuvath on the arm. The lizard twists and shudders, his presence in this temple speeding up this usually slow process. With a roar he strips off his armour and pack and swiftly strides out of the temple doors.

They would find his body the next morning, a horrible hybrid of lizard and thrope with blood pouring from his eyes and nose. His form was disjointed and riddled with sores and slashes, his body unable to withstand the infection Bort had transferred to him. The group made a pyre of branches and Tyrus lit it with a flick of his fingers. They told themselves they burned the body to respect a fallen comrade, many would later admit they did it because of guilt at the twisted and broken form in front of them.


Part VIII: Tunnelweb

Spiders.jpg
The lair of Nethranhep

Kelgore stood deep in meditation at the mouth of the cobwebbed tunnel. He hummed to himself as plants blossomed around him and the vines coating the rocky outcrop strained towards him, as if to feast on the immense byomantic power he was unleashing. He barely looked up as the creature began to approach him from the foreboding darkness of the tunnel. Eight legged and furred, it stood as tall as three men and it's hundred beady red eyes glared at the interloper who had inadvertently drawn it. The Thaur looked up from his work just as the creature barrelled down the tunnel towards him, mandibles clicking in rage…

[A spider-hunt]
With Yuvath's funeral pyre still crackling behind them, the group make their way south down the curved stone path towards Ultron. They once again experience the strange illusion of the path, this time believing themselves to be Thrope refugees fleeing the onslaught of the Drow raiders. It rattles them all, despite their multiple exposures to it. They reach the seaside village in good time however, welcomed back by the giant chieftain with some confusion. On arrival, Bort gives a up shout of surprise, as his craggy-faced uncle emerged unexpectedly from the crashing surf. Wringing out his beard, the rugged Earthen introduced himself as Dargo, explaining that he has been sent to accompany and counsel Bort in his formative Proving years and been shipwrecked en route. Though amused at the notion of Bort's mother trying to protect him, the group welcomed the fighter into the fold, noting the diligently maintained armour and fearsome axe he produced from his bag.

The chieftain receives the group by his cook-fire, offering an odd spiced rum and enquiring about their adventures. When shown the numerous silver weapons the party had come across in their travels he offers them a deal, their silver weapons and arrows in return for one of his cubs as a slave. The group discusses the prospect and agrees, on the condition that the young Thrope would serve as an apprentice and squire, rather than in forced servitude. The Thrope in question is named Tytös, a young mottle brown furred boy of about 8 years old. He is given a silver curved dagger and Yuvath's cloak and pack and sent outside with Bort as conversation continues. It seems some confusion had governed the actions of the party, the Black Witch of the Island and the wise witch of the Norivesh having been confused in previous conversations with the chieftain. Ultron agrees to gift the party with both his Aspect Stone and the stone of the Norivesh to the west if they assist him in taking that town.

It is such that the group finds itself some hours later outside Norivesh tribe, their armour rubbed with light dulling agents as they sit quietly and observe the camp. After Sebadoh sensed the tribe was without wards Ultron and his spearwives lope quietly between the tents and structures of the camp towards the central tent. Shouts are raised from the camp and the clash of steel is heard before quiet reigns over the camp. Some minutes later a spearwife returns and informs the group that the camp is theirs. Ultron welcomes them as honoured guests and hands Tyrus the two aspect stones as he takes allegiance from the remaining Rhrope tribespeople. A night of festivity is had, Ultron showing his superiority over his new tribespeople with feats of strength and virility that turn the noses of the more cultured of the group. Bort seems at home however, taking oaths from various barbarians while in his were-ursa form.

The next morning nursing hangovers the party treks once again back to the Silver Pyramid at the centre of the island. Bort gifts the newcomer a set of half-plate armour that once belonged to Yuvath, proclaiming it a gift for his "favourite uncle". The group forgets to warn Dargo about the illusion on the path but the dwarf weathers the magic with a simple grunt. They reaches the temple in good time, passing once again through the unnaturally fertile plants within its perimeter and retrieving the large wooden crate that contains the automaton. As they carry the heavy box four at a time back to the coast a disagreement takes place; Tyrus espousing the need to sell the golem and the short time until the ship returns to collect them while Bort showing excitement at the idea of killing the colossal spider of the island, Nethranhep. Eventually the party sides with Bort and they leave the box on the road to head into the jungle and find the creature.

(SPIDER)

Kelgore's magic and Ma'jid's scouting leads the group to a dark tunnel surrounded in webs. Kelgore reaches out his mind to connect with the colossal spider in the tunnels below, straining his magical powers to try and bend the creature to his will. When this fails he beckons Sebadoh and Tyrus forward, to burn the webs and the tunnel beyond with magical fire. Just as they reach him and begin to incant the creature emerges. Nethranhep stands as tall as a manor house, her long legs propelling her through the shallow tunnel with practiced ease. Kelgore and Sebadoh slowly back away from the spider, preparing weapons and components, as Tyrus runs back towards the treeline. As the rest of the party hefts weapons and charge towards the beast Tyrus readies his crossbow with one of Endrovar's magical arrows and puts the shaft deep into Nethranhep's armoured torso. As the group charges the creature they are stopped in their tracks as the giant fearful spider turns almost instantaneously into crystal, the magic of Endrovar's arrow easily petrifying even her fearful form.

As Tyrus elects to stay at the mouth of the cave and take notes on the crystallisation process in his small notebook the rest of the party moves further into Nethranhep's cave, intent on looting what they believe to be a large stash of treasure. They move inwards by the light of Sebadoh's dancing nethermancy, the smell of rotting flesh assailing their nostrils as they went deeper into the tunnels. Despite it's air of dread, a large chasm and an attack by Nethranhep's young serve as the only conflicts for the group as they move deeper. Kelgore conquers the minds of the creatures with his magic and bends them to his will, but not before Dargo crushed one beneath his axe. Ma'jid falls prey to the well concealed pit but manages to survive with a well timed casting of levitate. At the bottom of the pit the group finds the spiders den, a hive of webs and wrapped up corpses from many years of hunting. Within these corpses the group finds numerous sets of armour and weapons, as well as several spellbooks.

The trip back to shore includes the now familiar illusion, the group this time witnessing the Black Witch of the drow invasion force as part of their vision. But with their time on the island running out they can do little but carry the large wooden crate back to Ultron and await the Waverunner. When they arrive at the coast they find Ultron disbanded, the spearwives having moved it's tents and structures further north towards the four small silver pyramids. Within they find the tribes of Norivesh and Ultron united under the "Grand Chief" Ultron, his claws now stained with silver in the tradition of the Novriveshi warriors. Upon presenting the crystallised head of Nethranhep to the chief another feast is announced, the group praised as heroes for slaying the infamous spider.

The next morning the trade-frigate Waverunner returns, its first mate Yorrel picking up the group by longboat down river. Once aboard the group arranges a meeting with the shipmistress, Syrraneal, to discuss matters of trade. They explain to the sylvan the situation with the golem, it's sale price in Lorys and their need to transport to the port city. They offer her a one seventh share of the total profits gained from the venture in return for the hire of her ship and the use of her connections in Lorys to gain favourable taxation. She agrees to the conditions, informing them that the taxation would likely be one platinum dragon. And with these new agreements made the ship raises anchor and makes for Velion, arriving at the port some three days hence.

In port at Velion for only a few days the group is a flurry of activity, all the while one remaining behind to guard their prize. Kelgore trains his new spider allies, attempting to gain alpha status with them. Unfortunately while doing so one of the spiders stabs him with a lethal poison and he is forced to remain in a medical hospice for the next two days, barely surviving the ordeal. After this he sells his spiders. Dargo has Yuvath's armour adjusted to fit him, and cleaned of the lizards slimy dead skin. The mages closet themselves aboard the Waverunner, learning spells from the spellbooks recovered from Nethranhep's webs. Of the spider word spreads amongst the dockmen and sailors of Velion. Party members finding their drinks purchased for them at bars or slaps on their backs from strangers as they walk the street. It seems the killing of such a feared beast had gained some renown for the group, whether or not they wanted it.

On the final day in Velion the group meets with the thaur Silver-Horn, priest of the Secret Keeper and their current handler. They inform him of Jerongolas and the moon forge, the silver golems and metallurgic properties of the forge. They gave him two of the aspect stones, telling him the other two were lost on the island. For one this is true but the other sits comfortably in Kelgore's chest pocket, the thaur considered by the party to be the most trustworthy and morally worthy of guarding the stone. Silver-Horn makes arrangements with shipmistress Syrraneal to return to Lorys by the Sea with the party despite their reservations.


Chapter Appendixes


Dramatis Personae

  • Morkara:
    • Sylvan Necromancer and Infyrnologist. Keen mind for the ways of the arcane and seeker of forbidden lore. Agent for a mysterious Secret Keeper sect.
  • Ma'jid:
    • She-Thrope beast handler, breeds war-cats. Trained in the martial arts of the Thropish monks. Cattery destroyed by bandits took to adventuring to earn the money to rebuild it.
  • Kelgore:
    • Thaur druid and byomancer. A kind soul, yet deadly when pushed to violence. Shapeshifter and friend of animals.
  • Bort:
    • Wandering Goliath of massive stature. Left his Earthen tribe to live in the caves of the Lorovian peninsula before joining the party by happenstance. Somewhat naive but nevertheless a fearsome warrior with his swordstaff.
  • Yuvath:
    • Gorgon slave-turned-rogue who fled an oppression far abroad. Deadly swift with a knife, often grins/jokes at inappropriate times.
  • Rahvik:
    • Sylvan heavy marine with the Imperial Gulf Trading Company. Seeks redemption for past misdeeds by protecting his allies. Implacable in combat in full plate armour.
  • Sebadoh:
    • Sect ally of Morkara. Sylvan nethermancer spellsword. Uses shadow magic to increase his abilities as an assassin. Considered unnaturally unlucky by his peers.
  • Tyrus Cinderborn:
    • Sylvan pyromancer and academic who worships an ancient draconic flame diety. Dragon tattoos that cover his body glow with magical light as he casts.
  • Dargo:
    • Rough-hewn Earthen of the Imperial heavy infantry. Uncle to Bort, joined the party to see the young Goliath through his coming of age. Booming and paternal.

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