Chapter III- In Lunar Shadows

Part XVII: The Sunken City

It was an odd sight to say the least. Along the sea floor, some 30 metres beneath the sun mottled waves, a dwarf in full plate armour stepped slowly but surely along the sand. The kelp swayed peacefully nearby as he trudged onwards, a plume of sand rising with every heavy footprint. He slings his axe onto his back and begins to climb a nearby rocky outcrop, topped with a ruined and ancient tower. Reaching the top he retrieves his axe from his back and resumes his march towards the tower's destroyed walls…

[Exploring an underwater temple]
After the pace of the battle in Velion and the anxious paranoia of the occupation of the city the journey aboard the Gorelove to Thelyos seemed almost peaceful. Thelyos was a sunken Rahani city, thought to contain a temple to Shesk Rahan and long since swallowed by the waves. The Rahani pirates had shown great interest in the site, and the suspicions of the Empire were that a potential piece of Shesk Rahan himself may be contained within the lost silver pyramids of Thelyos. The Gorelove made good pace to start but was becalmed after a day of travel. Without wind the crew did what they could on the oars, but heavy squalls and tropical rainstorms did little to manage the misery of the situation. Kelgore attempted to help in what ways he could, even saving the lives of some crew by casting shape wood as a mast collapsed upon them, but a large wave and a bit of bad luck robbed him of the pouch of magical components previously tied to his belt. His curses discouraged the rest of the group from assisting, except for the ever boisterous Dargo who spent the hot days behind the oars shouting encouragement to the largely slave rowing group. The following day bodies started flowing past the ship, a heavy current pulling them in from the south. They appeared to be those of Thrope pirates and Sylvan sailors, showing signs of battle wounds.

The day after the arrival of the corpses the ship found wind and took sail once again, assisted it is suspected by two water nymphs who reveal themselves to Kelgore and Morkara and wish them well upon their journey. The ship soon arrives at Thelyos, the city visible below the clear shallow waters, obstructed somewhat by the burning hulls and wreckage of numerous ships. This evidence of a large naval battle is confirmed by the Imperial naval frigate that guards the area, Our Lady's Wrath. The captain of the Wrath informs the group that the Thropes arrived here before they did, and sent diving crews down below. The Imperial fleet drove off the pirates and pursued them to the north, while the Wrath was set to guard the area until the Gorelove arrived. The ship is equipped with a diving bell, an odd device whose functions escape this writers knowledge, but thats purpose was to deliver the Silver Scourges (as the party had come to be known), safely to the sea floor.

As the group collects water appropriate armour and weapons and discard excess baggage, Bort seems sad to leave behind his numerous tertiary weapon options, Kelgore takes to the sea and in Terrasc form performs a ritual to bond with the nearby nature. The ruin takes the form of a series of manor houses and towers on what was once a group of cliffs. At the centre of what was once an island are a pair of silver pyramids, surrounded by the ruins of a defensive wall. The animals living in the ruins report a tribe of Selkine Thropes living in the air filled catacombs beneath these structures, as well as a tribe of hostile Fishmen. These Fishmen seem to worship a local massive crab as some sort of deity. The area is also home to a giant eel and a few groups of dangerous coral. With this new information Kelgore returns to the group, now flanked by a trio of native sea turtles, apparently drawn to his byomantic energy. The party's auxiliaries remain behind, a group that continues to grow. It currently stands at four dwarves from Thorum's Watch, one Dwarven Runecaster, two Thaur sailors and Elroth, the Sylvan-Lycan Imperial Marine. This is the gathered crowd as the group drinks the underwater breathing potions they had been supplied. There is a cringe as the flesh around their necks splits and tears to form fleshy gills! By Morkara's calculations the potions should last a number of minutes, and the group hurriedly leaps into the water to find the catacombs below before they run out of air.

The diving bell drops, the calm of the underwater scene a far cry from the dangers Kelgore had surmises dwelled below. The group enters through one of the ruined manor houses, pushing aside massive solid silver doors that they note to dismantle and pillage later. Within the ruined house they find a number of dead Thropes but no means to go forward, their passage blocked by a door locked with what appears to be an ornate silver key. Searching for the key they find nothing, and move on to the mage tower attached to the manor house. The mage tower seems entirely ruined, any valuables long since covered in algae or worn away by the salty water. Beneath the tower the group finds a dark sandy grotto that leads upwards into a blissfully oxygenated tunnel. Assuming this to be the entrance to the air filled catacombs they begin looking for an entrance. But their searching is distracted by the clashing of steel and Dargo's familiar war-cries, the Dwarf having impatiently rushed ahead of the group as they reached the tunnels.

In his exploration Dargo had discovered the remnants of the Thrope diving party, and was now engaged in combat with a group of the enemy Thropes. He sports a number of crossbow quarrels in his bronze shield and engages in a to and fro game of block and counter with a pair of large Thropes, each wielding a pair of silver naval hand axes. Behind him a group of enemy soldiers frantically crank their crossbows to let off another shot. The Thropes wear the hard leathers of sailors, and are festooned with fetishes and charms that mark them out as pirates. The mages approach first, Morkara summoning into existence a pair of swirling daemonic hounds, razor sharp teeth gnashing at the thought of blood, as Kelgore takes on his wyrm form. Tyrus strides ahead of the pack and casts a volley of fireballs into the gathered enemies, blowing a number apart and setting some alight. His triumph is short lived however, as the survivors finish reloading and fire their crossbows in his direction, one taking him in the chest and forcing him to take cover behind the jagged walls of the tunnel. As they reload again the rest of the group strikes, Morkara's hounds pulling down a Thrope as Kelgore's mighty snake form writhes around and lashes out at another. The enemies are finished by Ma'jid with a punch that stops the surviving Thropes heart. Morkara walks between the dying Thropes and leeches their blood, using the essence to heal his own wounds.

The underwater catacombs are a labyrinth of basements, tunnels and ancient walkways, reaching between ruined houses and rooms all across the city. Within them the group find a number of mysterious triangular objects, seeming to have effected those around them in different ways. One that seems to have turned those who approached it to stone is observed then ignored, whilst the triangle that seems to be made of the rare Ever-Ice is packed away into a cold iron box. In one large cavernous chamber the explorers finds a group of local Selkine and foreign Thrope pirates swaying back and forth and staring at a large coral growth protruding from the ceiling. Kelgore instructs the group that this is Brain-Coral, a natural growth that seems to have developed powers of cogymancy in order to lure it's prey closer. The group saves the native Selkine from the allure of the brain-coral, pulling them back one by one and by way of crude translation and hand gestures assuring them they are friends. As the Selkine set about executing their Thrope foes at range with crossbows an argument breaks out between Tyrus and Kelgore. Tyrus had spotted a suit of exquisite sylvan battlemages full plate in the coral, worn by the skeleton of a man long devoured by the brain-coral. He intended to blast the coral with fire and remove the armour. Kelgore is opposed to this and after some negotiation agrees to remove it from the coral without harming it, causing rain of jewellery and items to fall from the suddenly from above. Tyrus proudly dons his new armour and the group follows the newly freed Selkine past the coral towards their home.

The Selkine camp is a miscellany of mud huts and looted stone buildings, occupied by what are clearly Selkine tribesmen. The largest of the Selkine, a tall creature with majestic black mottled fur, greets the group in broken common, introducing himself as Petty Chief Hulth. With the death of the chieftain and shaman to the "cat invaders", Hulth had been appointed acting chieftain. He offers the group fish stew, glad that they had freed his people from the snare of the brain-coral. He offers some information about the area, showing hatred for the Lacedon Fishmen that is mirrored by the party with nods of agreement. He also shows the group the entrance to the silver pyramid above, telling the tale of the ancient chieftain of the tribe and how he was bestowed the task of guarding the pyramid from the invaders. The door is in a style now familiar to the party, that of ancient Rahan, and features a half moon motif. Morkara offers to perform the ritual, having read about it in the late Silverhorn's notes, and using a silver knife provided by Hulth carves the symbol of a half moon into his chest. His bloody palm opens the door upwards and the group heads into the dark pyramid, Bort having just finished the construction of a coral cairn to honour the Selkine dead.

The pyramid is untouched by its years of abandonment, the hallways of carved silvery white stone without dust or sign of age. The many reliefs and carvings depict Selkine thropes swimming amongst sea creatures and hunting stylised Lacedon's in waterlogged caves. The first large room has carvings depicting carcaradon's hunting primitive appearing Quickling swimmers, and features nothing but a large plinth in the centre of the room. Atop the plinth sits a sieve of sorts, and beneath this a triangular jug. A carving in ancient Rahani speaks of fixing the jug to pass the test, with allusions to drowning. When Tyrus carelessly removes the jug holes open in the walls and the room begins to fill with water. Panicking he begins to move around the room looking for an exit whilst Ma'jid calmly walks towards the plinth and places the ever-ice pyramid within the spot that previously held the jug. The water begins to drain from the room through thin slits in the ground and the sieve, now solid ice, fills with water. Once the sieve is filled with water the doors downwards swing open and one of the mouths of the larger sharks is revealed to be a hidden door sliding inwards.

The cold iron box now empty Tyrus and Kelgore return to the room with the golden triangle that turned those nearby to stone, scooping it carefully into the cold iron box before locking it closed. They return to the group and head further upwards into the pyramid, passing through doors marked with symbols of storms and lightning and into the room beyond…


Part XVIII: Shadow and Flame

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Thelyos

The island in the centre of the room seems tiny compared to the vast cavern it occupies, a small dot of dark stone amidst a sea of silver water. A flare illuminates the collapsed ceiling of the underground chamber, reflecting light of the shimmering liquid. Still dripping from their fall into the water below the interlopers stand back to back on the central island, warily watching the water for any signs of hostiles. A voice echoes out amidst the cavern, as haunting as it is beautiful. "How exciting, it has been so long since I have had visitors"…

[Uncovering Thelyos' secrets]
Beyond the door marked with a lightning sigil the group finds another carved chamber, this time marked with violent seas and vast storms. Based on the use of the ice pyramid in the previous room the group deduces a lightning pyramid must be used to gain passage here. They return to the Selkine tribe, Kelgore and Tyrus arguing all the way about whether attacking the Lacedon fishmen or eel, which Bort insists will be electrified by proximity to the lightning pyramid. The new chief of the tribe, Hulth, puts a stop to these disagreements however, as he states neither are in possession of the lightning pyramid. He remembers seeing the sigil of lightning upon a smaller tower within the city and offers to lead the party there.

Hulth leads the group bowlegged through the winding air catacombs beneath Thelyos, passing the base of the second great silver pyramid. Eventually the passageways become clogged with fire coral and the group must swim through maze-like tunnels of the spiked red coral. Most are protected by their armour but Ma'jid strays too close and is stung. The much mocked "fiddler shrimp" emerge from their hiding spots within the coral to retrieve Ma'jid's paralysed form but are easily seen off by the stabs and thrusts of Bort and Dargo. Ma'jid regains his faculties, grabbing one of the fiddler shrimp and beginning to eat it, and the party continues to swim through the flooded tunnels.

Eventually the group makes their way through the maze of fire coral and arrives at one of the ruins smaller pyramids, this one featuring a sigil of a bolt of lightning. Remembering the interlopers frozen solid by a similar door marked with an ice sigil the group is wary of a thunder-trap being released upon contact. Loaded up with ceramic armour and amulets of protection Dargo pushes open the door, the vast current released into him causing the hairs of all present to stand on end. The tips of his beard smoke slightly as if singed but he seems otherwise unharmed, and from within the room a cold iron box containing the lightning pyramid is retrieved.

Hulth leads the group dutifully back to the main silver pyramid and with a click the lightning pyramid is inserted into the central plinth, sliding into position to represent a small copper ship. Thunder strikes the ship and sends a pulse of energy throughout the room, blowing those present onto their backs but opening a small door in the wall of the room, featuring stairs leading downwards. The next room features a honeycombed series of stone pillars, arrayed unevenly across the floor. Within the centre sits a pyramid shaped groove, and inserting the stone-pyramid they had retrieved earlier the door on the far side of the room grinds open.

The next room down flickers with light cast from a vast half moon shaped crest of silver flame. Within the flame sits a pedestal featuring the now familiar space for a small pyramid to be inserted. The far side of the room features another door, this time blocked by a wall of solid silver fire. Realising they still lack one pyramid the group discusses where in the sunken city they might find it, with Hulth offering no helpful information about its whereabouts. As they do so Tyrus experiments with the fire, manipulating it with his pyromancy. Realising they need not find the pyramid Tyrus concentrates and diminishes the flame guarding the door, allowing them access to the stairs beyond. Doing so however he sets off the rooms trap and silver flame gushes from the walls to engulf the party. Only through Tyrus' flame form and the quick thinking of Kelgore do they escape unharmed, the minotaur throwing up a sheet of water that dulls the flames enough for the group to quickly scurry away.

A vast staircase of dark-silver stone leads ever downwards, Dargo estimating the group were now far below the surface of the earth. At the bottom of the stairs they find a large circular room, the heart of the pyramid. Within a series of objects floated above the floor. Many are unfamiliar, but upon recognising the shape of the sun and the moon the group realises this diagram must represent the system outside of the mortal realm. The scale of "planets" only theoretically discussed by clerics and mages. Within it they also notice an object that must represent the world, complete with familiar continents and oceans. Nearby the remnants of the shattered moon form a vast ring of debris around the orb, while the still whole moon appears to be absent. The whole tableau hovers above the ground on gyomantic energies. The moon stone, looted so long ago from the Tomb of Therova, begins to glow within Bort's chestpiece, where it had served as ornament for many months. Reluctantly he pulls it from his chest and places it where the moon should sit. With a rumble the moon slides into place and the entire scene seems to vibrate. One by one the planetary orbs shudder and explode, unleashing a wave of shrapnel throughout the room. Standing near the sun at the centre of the room most of the energy is dispersed before it reaches the group, and dulled shards of orb batter of their armour and shields. But their attention is too focused on the threat of the orbs, and behind them the sun begins to shudder. It explodes in a wave of energy and shrapnel, slamming the party to the group even as the floor collapses from under them.

They fall down into darkness, splashing into water some twenty metres below. Tyrus sends up a flare, and by the cold light of his white flame they group swims towards the centre of the chamber, where they spot a small island of dark stone. The cavern is vast, the water silvery in sheen and opaque. With varying levels of skill the party struggles through the water to the central island, Dargo dragged by Kelgore as his heavy armour almost pulls him to the depths below. Even as the group mounts the central island and ready their weapons a voice rings out in the cavern, echoing and haunting with lilted tones. It welcomes the interlopers and introduces itself as Thelyos the graceful, chosen of Rahan. The group responds warily, watching the waters for any sign of movement. Thelyos was one of the five champions of Shesk Rahan, and believed to possess one of the artefacts of Rahan, pieces of the god itself. Thelyos offers two true answers to the party, and informs them that returning the artefacts of Rahan to the corpse of the god would resurrect the deity. She also reveals that the Eye of Korab is the literal eye of Shesk Rahan. The questioning complete she offers her blessing to the party, if they would accept it. The barbarian Hulth offers himself instantly, having worshipped Thelyos for his entire life. Seeing the great power the transformation had offered his nephew Bort Dargo also offers himself, and both fall to the ground in supplication as the curse begins to overtake them. As the infected fall Thelyos' tone darkens. Her voice echoes out throughout the cavern: "As for the rest of you. I cannot allow you to live…"

The group are arrayed back to back on the small island, the forms of Dargo and chieftain Hulth at their feet as they scan the water. Thelyos attacks as swiftly as she does brutally, leaping from the water and laying deep slashes into Tyrus' flesh. The group is granted a brief glimpse of a giant were-Selkine, flesh long tainted by the grey scales of corruption and body protected by dark silver armour that seems to ebb and flow as if alive, before she slides without a splash back into the silver water. She strikes again and again, leaping from the water to attack before landing gracefully out of reach. The party lashes out at her as she leaps but her silvery armour seem to make her immune to both the physical blows of Bort and the flames of Tyrus. Kelgore transforms into a snake and Morkara summons a fierce flame elemental but even these additions cannot seem to land a blow on the unnaturally agile Thelyos. It is eventually brute strength, and not finesse that would stop her hit-and-run attacks. As she leaps past, having landed a deep slash upon Ma'jid's ribs, Bort leaps himself, tacking her silver form to the ground. She writhes and wriggles beneath Bort's massive form but cannot seem to free herself. Tyrus rushes over to the grappled pair and reciting a prayer of purification begins to send white hot flames into the head of Thelyos. Bort is splattered by silvery flesh as Thelyos attempts to reform herself to regenerate but it is no use, Tyrus' consistent fire burning the silver from her flesh and the flesh from her bones. Eventually she melts away into a bloody-silver puddle, leaving the room eerily quiet and a large and ancient bone where she once lay.

Even as the last of the liquid silver that was once Thelyos melts away a cry is heard. Dargo's prone form trashes and writhes as the infection overcomes him. Bort rushes to his uncles side but to no avail, the mutated and deformed body of the Earthen is lies still, eyes glazed over above the two walrus-like tusks that now protrude from his face. The group moves away from the body, the fate of Yuvath now mirrored in abomination that was once Dargo. Bort sheds as single tear for his uncle as the silver water of Thelyos' pool starts to evaporate around them.


Part XIX: The Dragon's Tally

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A Rahani pirate vessel docks at Red Island

The box clinks and wobbles as it is carried up the thousand steps to the Dragon Temple. Borne on two thick metal supports by a pair of hulking Thaurs the items within rattle and move around, despite their straw packing. Behind it four dwarves labour under the weight of a second crate, this containing the folded and dried hide of a dragon. This was the real prize, the trinkets and magical items of the first crate simply bargaining tools with the master of the tower. The group marches at pace up the steep stone of the Red Mountain, sweat and determination marring their faces. For as the Silver Scourges manoeuvre and barter within the Red Mountain the Rahani pirate fleet draws ever closer…

[Trading with the Dragon Exarchs]
In the remnants of Thelyos' silky form is found a giant boney vertebrae, resonating a sickly and corrupted essence. Taking the spine-bone carefully in a spare backpack the group departs upwards through a newly revealed set of stairs, Bort carrying the body of his dead uncle. The stairs lead back through the challenge rooms, and collecting the pyramid-keys as they go they exit the pyramid, doors slamming closed behind them.

Surfacing far above the Gorelove and Our Lady's Wrath sit waiting for the party's return. They load the looted items aboard, somewhat surprised by the presence of an entire Selkine Thrope tribe but reluctant to openly question the Silver Scourges. Plans begin to be formulated for the removal of more items from Thelyos but the discovery of an impending Rahani pirate fleet to this location speeds up matters somewhat, and the two Imperial ships raise sails and leave the area, heading east towards the Red Island. During the journey Tyrus performs a ritual that cleanses him of the Lycanthropic taint borne by the claws of the monster Thelyos, but despite his best efforts he is unable to cleanse those already full infected.

The Red Island seems comparatively empty since last visit, the Imperial and Rahani forces both absent from it's docks. The group begins the long trek up the mountain to the temple, the captain of the Gorelove informing them that they can stay but a day, lest the Rahani fleet catch them in port. The Earthen mage from Thorum's Watch had expressed more interest in taking part in activities to pay his life debt and Tyrus discerns the selling of the mundane looted equipment held in the cargo of the Gorelove to be an adequate test. So leaving the Dwarf below the Scourges march up the tower to deal with the dragon exarchs.

Passing through the exarchs to meet with Praetarch Shelya, the group begins to tally the price of the offerings being given to the dragon. The murder of his son Naershonix is set at 20 platinum, and the hide returned to Kelgore to use as an animagus component. On the matter of the other offerings there is disagreement amongst the party. Tyrus argues for allocating all of the money earned from sold items towards the goal, eager to secure the purchase of the Eye of Korab beyond any doubt. Bort on the other hand was eager to spend his allocation of the wealth, his dull wit incapable of viewing the larger picture. Eventually an accord is reached through the calm mediation of Ma'jid and Kelgore. Half the money earnt from the sale of the magic items would go towards the dragon's tally, with the other half split evenly to be added to each member's purse. Thus the magic items captured in Thorum's Watch and Thelyos became part of the dragons horde, and coin purses were filled to the brim.

The Gorelove and Wrath leave the Red Island at dawn, holds packed and set for Jerongolas. The mood of the crew is poor, a darkness seeming to hang over their heads for the journey. Kelgore posits that this is a reflection of Shesk Rahan starting to make his way into the world, his impending release causing changes in the Southern Reaches even now. Everyone aboard sleeps poorly during the trip, their minds and dreams subject to malign influence. The wilder of elements of the Reaches are affected also, with a tribe of wild Fishmen riled up enough by the darkness to attack the heavily armoured ships. Their attack is seen off by the expert crew of the ships, the heavy ballista reaping a heavy toll upon the attackers, but the conflict does nothing to ease the poor mood of the crews as they arrive at Jerongolas.

Jerongolas shows none of the Imperial presence it once did, the many ships and air-ships absent and the newly build dock abandoned. An Imperial scout meets the group just beyond the treeline, and informs them that the army has had to move on, and those remaining have chosen stealth over might to help them keep the island safe. He instructs them to visit Velkanion in the middle pyramid, and the group begins to walk the long familiar path to Jerongolas' centre. But they could not escape Shesk Rahan's grasp. As the gibbous moon peaked overhead Bort begins to transform into his were-ursa form, a wild look in his eye. With a snarl he launches himself back the party, his bloodlust overcoming his senses and forcing him into a mindless rage! As he lopes towards them Tyrus sends a flare of white flame in front of him, the bright light blinding the charging Lycanthrope. Even as this occurs vines from nearby trees leap out to grab Bort, Kelgore wielding his byomancy to hold the raging beast still. Even as Bort struggles two elementals of stone and mud are constructed by Sulpher and grapple the frenzied Bort. As minutes pass the rage subsides and a less crazed Bort dashes off into the undergrowth, pursued by Kelgore.

Jerongolas' silver pyramid shows none of the activity it held, now only small groups of Sylvan marines prepare defences around the familiar black tents of the Imperial envoys. The Mistress of Ships is gone and the remaining forces are under the watchful eye of the daemonfey Velkanion. Velkanion has new information for the group, instructing them to regroup with the Mistress of Ships at Lorys by the Sea with the rest of the fleet. Before they depart however the Scourges hand over the final 3 aspect stones to activate the moon-forge of Jerongolas. As a reward Velkanion produces a few green-silver bars for the group, a metal holding the qualities of both gorgonite and silver. As they leave the forge begins producing arrow heads and spear tips for the Imperial troops to use in the impending conflict.

The trip to Velion is short, a few day of smooth sailing that brings the Gorelove and Our Lady's Wrath to the still smoking city. Some efforts have been made to begin reconstruction of the city, but the ships only stay in port long enough to resupply before setting sail once again. The ships make good time towards Lorys, the party starting to have the glimmer of a hope of a ship journey not fraught with danger. But alas it was not to be, just after the midnight bell was rung on the 5th of Howling Worgs a cry was raised from the crows nest. The Rahani pirate fleet had finally caught up with the Silver Scourges…


Part XX: Panoply of War

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The splinter fleets engage

The first wave of boarders from the Gorelove hit the enemy pirate crew with the sickening crunch of flesh and steel. The Selkine tribesfolk slashes with barbarian ferocity at the lightly armoured Thrope pirates, led by the hulking Hulth, who spears clean through two enemies with his dark red trident. The second wave flows onto the ships, led by the Scourges. Bort lays about him with his glaive as the wyrm Kelgore throws enemies overboard with a flick of his tail. The deck is awash with blood, and as more enemies pour from beneath the deck the battle begins in earnest…

[Ambushed returning to Lorys]
As lightning splits the sky the approaching ships are identified as the Sea Bitch and the Krakenhunter, Rahani pirate vessels of approximate size to the Gorelove and Our Lady's Wrath. The vessels circle each other as the thunder cracks over head, the superior firepower of the Imperial vessels and the magic of the Silver Scourges ripping the lightly armoured Rahani crew to shreds as it smashes into their tightly packed bodies. Tyrus' fireballs burst amongst the crew of the Krakenhunter and Sulpher summons a swirling whirlwind of red crystal shards that tears into its sails and the crew climbing amidst them. The ships pair off as boarding actions commence, the Gorelove smashing into the Krakenhunter.

The first wave of the boarding action is led by Hulth, who proves a fearsome warrior with his inherited two handed trident. The Selkine tribe follow behind him, swinging silver swords without remorse. A snake-form Kelgore, Bort and Ma'jid follow behind them, while Tyrus and Sulpher continue to take a bloody toll upon the pirates with their magic. Kelgore and Bort rampage through the enemy forces, slaying a handful each and forcing the remainder to throw down their weapons in surrender.

Unbeknownst to the party there is an ancient law of the sea that allows a ships' captors to claim her, and the crew of the Krakenhunter pledge themselves to their new masters. Assisted by the bosun of Our Lady's Wrath, and recorded by Tyrus, Bort uses his immense presence to interrogate the surviving officer's of the two ships. Some resist despite the beatings he presents them, and those are burnt alive by Tyrus, but valuable information is garnered by the others.

Interrogation of the Prisoners of the Krakenhunter:
Captain Nresk and his Lieutenant

  • Six ships are taking bounty to the Red Dragon, including these captured two. They are focusing on the Temple of Lost Sighs, and their next targets are Endrovosh and Rapadrun to the west.
  • Summoning is on the Night of Empty Skies, which occurs early in the next year. It will occur on the Isle of the Sundered Chamber in the middle of the straights.
  • Cleric Xarxees is to lead the summoning, a devoted in the Temples of Rahan in the land of Rakshassas who discovered an ancient prophecy and devoted himself to Shesk'Rahan, currently residing at Ulman Quen.
  • The Rahani fleet consists of four cruiser sized ships, six frigates, two air frigates and a vast army of mixed infantry and mages. They are led by the 'White Ursa', Vaksha Heiro.
  • Chieftain Yorgroth of the Veranashi tribes has brought a unified army of Veranashi to conquer Rapradrun and Endrovosh. He unleashed a plague created by Xarxee before sacking the cities with his Gnoll barbarians.

Moving away from the sight of the battle the two Imperial ships and their captured Rahani vessels limp towards Lorys, arriving the next day. The ships quickly pass through Lory's customs and security, the Imperial presence resulting in some gratefully received line jumping. Once in the city the Scourges spread out into the town, eager to make the best use of the remaining afternoon. Tyrus heads straight to the Blue Drakes mage guild in the upper district, securing Sulpher a mancer-pass to the city and starting to organise the sale of numerous magical artefacts stored within the Gorelove's hold. The guild's component quartermaster eyes the remains of the dragon eagerly and offers a vast price for the entire carcass, Tyrus returning to the Krakenhunter with a purse containing some 30 platinum dragons.

Their personal wealth greatly increased the party disperses to the spell-marts and blacksmiths of Lorys. Three of the finest Enchanters in the city are hired out for the space of two months for the group's needs, and countless souls are dispersed in the creation of new magical artefacts. Newly raised to the Scourges Sulpher relishes his newfound wealth, purchasing a full set of earthen Ironwood Mancer's armour from a dwarven smith and having it's gauntlets enchanted with large runes of increased spellpower. Ma'jid and Kelgore have special order equipment made, but after days of negotiation neither are able to find an enchanter willing to cede to their strange creations. Instead Kelgore has some of his previous items enchanted to fit his Animagus powers, while Ma'jid procures a mageotech replacement to her missing arm. Bort sits in fittings for most of the first week, boasting to the others of his suit of adamantium that would make enemies flee in terror. Tyrus resides within the Blue Drakes guild for these weeks, working with his technomancer contact on a staff that would turn all of his pyromancy the colour silver. He emerges later with the adamantine staff, a flickering silver flame at its top.

But despite their ambitions the creation of magical items is not quick, and the party soon finds themselves with time to kill in Lorys while they wait for their new panoply of war. Tyrus meets with Vaeroshonix, the leader of the Blue Drakes guild and a fey-dragon of some majesty. They discuss magic and research, and the dragon imparts the knowledge to Tyrus that there are those within the Empire that would rather see Rahan captured than killed. Kelgore is given similar information as he meets with the head of the Secret Keeper church in Lorys, the immediate superior of the late Silverhorn. Kelgore guards the information he receives, but returns to the Krakenhunter ashen faced and withdrawn. Ma'jid resumes her work within the Imperial Army as a beast-handler, and his pressured by her superiors to influence the direction of the Silver Scourges in a direction that would suit their ambitions. It seemed that after all this time, the politics of the Empire had finally caught up with the Silver Scourges.

Whispers reach Lorys during these weeks of a Rahani fleet approaching the city from Ulman Quen. The Imperial fleet docks for a few days to resupply, their few ships already battle-scarred from weeks of fighting within the gulf. The Gorelove is ordered to join the armada and the group's possessions and transferred to the Krakenhunter. Eager to see a battle of this magnitude Tyrus offers to join the fleet, an offer not accepted by any others but Sulpher. But having sold his previous armour and weapons to fund his new purchases the Earthen is ill-equipped for battle and eventually it is with disappointment that he watches the Imperial fleet depart Lorys on what many whisper is a suicidal last chance to stop the overwhelming Rahani pirate fleet…


Part XXI: Respite

The Silver Scourges, so renowned for their prowess in battle and ruthless pragmatism, seemed lost amidst the sea of regally dressed Sylvan nobles and military officials. Some sat sullenly at the table, gulfing down the fine food and wine with suspicious looks at those around them, while others danced or engaged the nobility in conversation. But all savoured these sweet, if uncomfortable, moments of peace. They knew a storm was coming, and that blood would be spilled by the gallon before this was done…

[Stay in Lorys]
Some days after the fleet sets sail the merchants and nobles of Lorys begin to depart, fearing the fate of the city should the Imperial fleet fail to slow down the Rahani pirates. There is a sombre mood in town, those unable or unwilling to leave remaining behind. Their stoicism would be rewarded, as word is brought that the fleet was successful beyond any imagining, smashing the enemy fleet and capturing it's leader. Celebrations are held in the street, the usual frivolity for the start of the Festival of Fertility amplified by this welcome news. Free food and wine flow in the streets as garlands and flowers are placed around the city by byomancers. Some still leave the city however, a group of mercenaries called 'the Silver Arrows' leaving to Endrovosh while the rest of the city celebrates it's good fortune.

The fleet arrives back the following week, the Imperial fleet now containing half a dozen capture Rahani ships, now crewed by Imperial sailors. The peoples of Lorys gather to welcome the fleet home, and the celebrations of the Festival of Fertility continue into those celebrating the victory in the Battle of the Bay of Smoke. Tyrus returns to the Krakenhunter, now adorned with Imperial battlemage robes. It seems he had been honoured in the conflict, earning some renown and garnering the party a place at the military celebrations of the victory. Songs are written about the battle, and histories penned.

The group attends a military function the evening after the fleet returns, invited by Tyrus he soon came to regret the invitation when Bort first refused to wear anything but his barbarian loincloth, and later almost started a fight with the Spellguard that attempted to remove his sword-staff at the door. The ballroom in the Solanus mage tower was lavish beyond imagining, with exotic food and drink from across the Empire served to the nobility of Lorys. The party spreads out, ill at ease in such formal settings but enjoying the opulence while they can. Bort makes somewhat of a fool of himself, drinking a drake-egg reduction straight from the bowl and engaging in a bizarre Earthen tribal dance in the middle of the ballroom. But none the less carefree fun is had, far removed from the wars taking place outside its doors. Tyrus in particular has fun, enjoying the Syveri vodka with his war buddies a little too much and being manipulated by Kelgore into going home with a pulchritudinous young half-sylvan lass from the nobles district.

The next afternoon, heads sore and bellies empty from a morning of illness, the group attends the medal ceremony for the fleet. A dark eyed Tyrus receives his commendations from the Mistress of Ships, herself now promoted to Admiral and given a ceremonial sky-saber. She also receives a gift from the Incubi of house Solanus, half a dozen plain-sphinxes are soul bonded to her as familiars, their teeth and claws worked with silver and ready for the war to come. After the ceremony the party meets her aboard her ship, Fate's Embrace, to discuss matters. They relay information gained from the interrogation of Rahani prisoners and the Admiral informs them of her plan to retake the gulf with her newly grown army. It seems the western coast of the gulf had fallen to lycanthropic spellplague, unleashed by Xarxees to weaken the area before the gnollish tribes of the desert attacked it. She also shows the party to the brig of the Fate's Embrace, where sits the leader of the Rahani fleet destroyed at the Battle of the Bay of Smoke.

The 'White Ursa' Heiro seems a proud figure despite the silver shackles that bind him splay legged to the ground. He does not comment as he is brought to a kneeling position by the Spellguards and his interrogation begins. As Bort beats him the Silver Agent Nirellion subtly takes what information she requires from his distracted mind with Cogymancy, and when the ordeal is over he is given over to Tyrus for sanctification and execution. His silver-mounted skull is given a place of prominence in the trophy collection aboard the Krakenhunter, and his melted bones locked in a cold iron box.

Interrogation of the 'White Ursa', Heiro:
Captain of the Rahani Pirate Fleet

  • He is unaware of the existence of another Rahani pirate fleet.
  • The sundered chamber is in the middle of the gulf, just off the coast of Velion.
  • The Cleric Xarxees left Ulman Quen on a smuggling ship a month ago. Last message received puts him at the fallen city of Endrovosh, marching on the Tomb of Nyesh the Devourer to reclaim the piece of Rahan there.
  • The 'Night of Empty Skies' is set to take place on the 22nd of the Month of Reborn Flame, 113 days from the current day.
  • Leaders of the Cult:
    • Xarxees, Devoted of Rahan, Wyrworg
    • Yolgroth, Chosen Warlord of Rahan, Flindskin
    • Bloodsphinx, Hand of Rahan, Rakshassan Assassin
    • Heiro, Pirate Lord of Rahan, White Urskin
    • No Selkine champion, but need one to open the Sundered Chamber.

The weeks in Lorys seem to speed by, the time before the Night of Empty skies foremost in the mind of the party. During this time Bort takes up a placement in the local gladiatorial arena, known officially as the 'Spellwrought' but referred to by the common folk as 'the Screaming Pit'. He wins some coin in the fights, but is unwilling to risk his life further and takes up an apprenticeship with a Syvan monk, Mistress Venyar, to hone his skills. Kelgore immerses himself in the large water-orientated temple of the living, assisting the local clerics in healing the sick as well as finding what he can about his mysterious turtle diety. Sulpher and Tyrus are sequestered within the Blue Drake mages guild, using this valuable downtime to expand their skills. Tyrus researches pyromancy, expanding on the work of Endrovar and his crystals, as well as teaching some classes for novice pyromancers. Sulpher meanwhile hires out a mage-wrights lab, and uses what coin he had remaining to purchase the components to construct a crystal golem. He works devotedly on his new construct, which he names "Bargrisar", taking time out only to pursue a lucrative deal with a local mage producing crystal components. Little is seen of Ma'jid and Morkara during this time, the former taking up his posting as a beasthandler and earning good coin wrangling drakes for the Imperial cavalry whilst the latter is engrossed in his studies within the Temple of Death.

During this time the Krakenhunter undergoes a transformation, facilitated by a contract signed between the Silver Scourges and the Imperial Gulf Trading Corporation. Hulth and the Half-Moon Selkine tribe are enrolled in a military academy to learn the ways of sailing and naval combat, and the ship is crewed by Imperial marines and sailors until they are qualified. The Krakenhunter is adorned with the new sigil of the Scourges, a silver scythe on a field of umbre. A sign that is mirrored in the shields of the new crew, and the sails of the ship. The members of the Silver Scourges begin to wear pins to signify their place within the organisation, and those present at formative periods for the group have additional runes carved upon their sigils. Around the streets of Lorys whispers begin to be heard about this new group of mercenaries, some of the more outlandish tales linking them to the rescue of Velion and even the slaying of a dragon, although few believe this particular tale.

After just under nine weeks in Lorys the last of the enchanted gear for the party is ready, the beleaguered dwarven enchanter delivering a large chest of items to the docks as the Krakenhunter prepares to set sail. Before it can do so however the group receives a missive from Velkanion, freshly returned from Jerongolas. He had dismantled the Moon-Forge there, but is pleased that the group had recovered a ritual that would allow moon-alloys to be made without the forge. He presents them with the claws of Shesk Rahan, the artefact of Jerongolas Brightmind, previously hidden within the focus pillars of Jerongolas. The claws are placed within a cold-silver box, mirrored by two other boxes containing the spine and tooth of Shesk Rahan. These are hidden within the cold iron lined smugglers hold of the Krakenhunter, and guarded day and night by an attentive Bort.

The Krakenhunter sails out of Lorys, heading south to the final Rahani tomb, the 'Seat of Therova'. Information in the gulf reveals a puritanical fleet of Thropes from Rakshasas pursuing Xarxees and his Shesk Rahani cultists, and with mere weeks before the bidding on the Eye of Korab ends the stakes were set to raise yet again with this inclusion of a new element. But with less than a month before the Night of Empty Skies the Silver Scourges resolve had never been firmer.


Part XXII: Unrelenting Force

The much larger airship passed the Krakenhunter at speed, the Quicklings and Earthen aboard shouting jeers and insults as they load and fire the repeating ballista at the ship below them. Dozens of bolts as tall as a man tore into the Krakenhunter, smashing through its armour and rending wood and flesh. A score died in the first volley, smashed by shrapnel or speared by the bolts. A second volley came in, this time accompanied by bursts of spellpower. Fireballs detonated amongst the crew, burning those hiding from the bombardment where they cowered. The Krakenhunter, singed and wounded, was circled by the superior predator, ready for the final kill…

[All-out War in the Gulf]
Leaving Lorys by the Sea, the Krakenhunter makes good time south down the coast towards Velion. At one stage a lookout reports spotting a Rahani fleet, the sole survivor of the Battle of the Bay of Smoke, but due to it's distance and speed pursuit appears impossible. The crew reports bad dreams during this period, Tyrus in particular bringing it up to the group that he believes Bort means to betray them to ally himself with Shesk Rahan. Although unable to back up his claims, these allegations are nevertheless taken seriously by the party. As dawn breaks days later another ship is spotted, this time a larger airship. As it appears out of the clouds it is reveal to be a cruiser sized vessel from Ulman Quen, pirate capital of the gulf and now allied with the Rahani cultists against the empire. It is easily double the size of the Krakenhunter, and bears sides bristling with batteries of repeating ballista. With barely a delay they speed towards the Krakenhunter, pulling alongside and unleashing hell upon the Silver Scourges and their ship.

The enemy ship's broadside is as unrelenting as it is brutal, dozens of crew slain instantly as the soaring bolts slammed into the deck of the Krakenhunter. Magic followed it, with a pair of pyromancers aboard the enemy ship shooting off fireballs towards the ship below it. Tyrus does the best he can to defend from such attacks, unravelling some flaming projectiles before they reach them, but little can stop the onslaught. The Krakenhunter returns fire, doing little damage to the vastly superior ship. Realising they could not survive another broadside the crew play their ace card, firing the ship's harpoons into the enemy ship and pulling it closer. As the two ships are pulled together Tyrus summons a mighty silver flame aboard the enemy ship, and blesses it to continue until it has destroyed his foes.

As the silver fire roars aboard the enemy ship the crew of the Krakenhunter prepare to sell their lives dearly to give the fire time to destroy the airship. Sulpher conjures a swirling vortex of crystal blades that rip into the enemy forces as they descend from their own ship on ropes or simply leap between the vessels. The crew of the Krakenhunter defend their deck with prejudice, not pushing onto the enemy ship but keeping the opposing forces trapped between their blades and the fearsome magics of Tyrus and Sulpher. Ma'jid and Bort lead this resistance, each accounting for a number of enemy troops in their fearsome lycanthropic forms. The crew are assisted by the vines of Kelgore, that hamper enemy attempts to access the ship. The two enemy pyromancers continue to send fireballs into the Krakenhunter, blasting apart it's lightly armoured sailors. Eventually, with blood slick upon the deck and hundreds dead or wounded, the all-consuming fire finally engulfs the enemy ship and the remaining crew leap into the sea, or swarm aboard the Krakenhunter.

Their own ship destroyed, the command group of the enemy airship attempt to capture the badly wounded Krakenhunter. The pirate warlord, a fearsome human with a two-handed adamantium sword, leads them, accompanied by a coterie of human pirates and heavily armoured Dwarven marines. These Dwarves wear full black iron plate armour, and swing their black iron picks with practiced malice. Behind them comes the enemy Magus, an Earthen runecaster with sigil encrusted armour that suggests a noble heritage. He leads three Earthen anti-mancers, resplendent in cold iron armour and wielding repeating crossbows. The pirate crew engage the crew of the Krakenhunter and within the flames of the burning ship and the mess of melee the captains of the two ships meet in battle.

The charging pirates are mowed down by the crystal shards of Sulpher's towering golem, Bargrisar, their lightly armoured forms no match for his piercing needles. Past their bodies charge Bort and Ma'jid, engaging the Human Warlord and his Dwarven armoured bodyguards in fierce combat. Kelgore is kept out of the fray by the Magus, who tosses him about in the captains cabin with bursts of altered gravity, and Tyrus and Sulpher are equally denied by the defensive capabilities of the three anti-mancers. As Bort faces off against the armoured Dwarves Ma'jid faces the warlord alone. Dodging a number of his blows Ma'jid changes into her Werewolf form, tearing her armour off her body in a roar of challenge. This is all the distraction the Warlord needs however, plunging his blade deep into Ma'jid's chest, and with a return slash cutting her clean in two. With a vengeful snarl Tyrus sears through the defensive wards of the anti-mancers and blasts the Warlord off of his feet, a head sized hole burned clean through his torso by a bolt of blinding silver fire. With this distraction Bort dispatches the last of the Dwarves, and rejoined by a battered but transformed Kelgore, they lead a charge against the anti-mancers. The crossbow wielding Dwarves are no match for the giant snake and fearsome were-ursa, and are driven off or killed in a matter of seconds. Sensing his death close the enemy Magus attempts to destroy the ship along with him in a blast of power, an idea quickly cut short as Bort's glaive decapitates him in a single slash.

Even as the din of battle is replaced by the screams of the wounded Tyrus gives a cry of warning, the gas balloon that had propelled the destroyed airship had started to ignite, the mageo-gases within burning hot and expanding. Before any could react the enemy ship exploded with a deafening bang, a wave of flame and force pushing downwards upon the Krakenhunter. With a sweep of his hands Kelgore pulls water from either side of the ship, praying to his turtle deity he forces the water above the ship, softening the explosion and miraculously saving all aboard. Nevertheless the ship is heavily damaged from the fight, and barely capable of moving. To remedy this Sulpher conjures forth a massive water elemental, half the size of the ship itself, that pushes the wounded Krakenhunter towards a safe port. Kelgore sees to the wounded aboard the ship and Tyrus cremates the dead, a sombre mood taking all for the journey as Ma'jid's cats cry for their mother.

Limping into Velion the Krakenhunter is repaired by a hurried team of local sailors, assisted and overseen by Kelgore and Sulpher, the pair melding steel and wood with their magic. The House Solanus Incubi provides provisions for the repair, and helps renew the crew somewhat, fully aware of the Scourges part in freeing Velion from the rebel forces. Within a couple of days the once crippled ship is sea-ready again, and sets out towards the Red Island. During this time Bort travels inland alone, to the burnt out remains of Ma'jid's cattery. Here he sets down her corpse, burying her beneath a mighty cairn that he raises. Her cats he releases into the wild. Returning to Velion, the ship departs once again. The seas seem almost abandoned, any sight of normal trading ships long driven away or destroyed by the war. The Red Island is equally deserted, and dropping off some magic items for the Dragon's tally the stay there is brief. On the island Kelgore does pick up his finished enchanted dragon's carcass, and with a swirl of Byomantic energy he transforms into a mighty Fire Drake. This form accompanies the group on their way to Thurova's Seat, and dissuades any native wildlife from attacking.

With new sails and crew the Krakenhunter makes good time to the sight of Thurova's Seat, the party disgorging to scout inland to find the temple. The absence of the scouting skills of Ma'jid are apparent, but eventually the group makes their way through the blue-red jungle to the ancient silver pyramid. They would find it abandoned, looted a month past by a force of Thrope barbarians who it seemed had captured the aspect stored within. Their prize taken, the party looked to other advantages to gain before the pirates make their final move…


Part XXIII: The Nature of Luck

Swamp.jpg
The swamps of the Horanos Headland

They had become accustomed to the finer things. Of violence being followed by a hot meal and a soft bed, no matter how hard fought. The Silver Scourges had followers now, helpers and allies. A ship to call home, men to guard them while they slept. Yet before the end of days they would sleep on the ground once more, jolting awake at the sounds of nearby hunting drakes. The march to High Horanos was as brutal as it was enervating, the party cresting the hidden mountain pass exhausted and dishevelled. But there was a fire in their eyes, as they looked down on the high walls and armoured doors of High Horanos those tired eyes were filled with the fire of a hunter finally catching it's prey.

[Boons and banes in the wilderness]
The disappointment of Thurova's Seat is balanced somewhat by the arrival of the Empire Trading Corporation airship the Wind's Progeny, and Velkanion along with it. He brings with him the Selkine chieftain Hulth, his Selkine Lycanthropy needed in the days ahead to activate the Sundered chamber, and a human man named Tariq. Tariq is quiet, but Velkanion informs the group he is to accompany them to aid in the slaying of the enemy Rahani High Cleric Xarxees, Tariq's cold iron attire marking him as a fearsome mage-hunter. The group boards the airship and sails towards the coast, regrouping with the Krakenhunter aboard which a meeting is held. Velkanion informs the group that the Thrope Crusade force from Rakshasas hunting the Shesk Rahani cultists had made an alliance with the Empire, and that the dual armies had driven the Gnoll barbarian armies of the western desert out of Endrovosh and into the temple of High Horanos. The army had taken the monastery and were now besieged by the dual Crusade/Imperial forces. Furthermore the cleric Xarxees has been seen at High Horanos, having plundered the final location for the aspects of Shesk Rahan, the Tomb of Neyesh. The artefacts that had been captured by the Rahani were being held at High Horanos with Xarxees and the Warlord of the Gnollish forces, Yolgroth.

With two of the champions of Rahan so conveniently trapped the party begins to make preparations to trek inland, following the path of the Gnoll army and attacking High Horanos from behind. As this mission would not allow them to be present at the Red Island for the final bid on the Eye of Korab Velkanion would go in their place, to retrieve the Eye and meet the group at the Sundered Chamber in time for the Night of Empty Skies. The Silver Scourges take the Thorum's Watch dwarves and the Minotaur's Thorm and Julgore with them for the journey, and backs bent under weeks of rations they set out up the hills of Mount Horanus to the monastery.

Endrovosh%20Map.jpg

The march through the hills is tough, and gets tougher when these give way to swamps and jungles. Wading through waist deep murky water, surrounded by blue-red plants and sweating profusely Tyrus offers the comment that this reminded him of the formation of the party, deep within the jungles of the Lorovian peninsula. Nostalgia warms that night, as tales are retold and fallen companions toasted, but soon the oppressive jungle saps the spirits of even the most veteran adventurers. Days of trekking through the jungle take their toll, with Sulpher, Tariq and Tyrus falling ill. Tyrus with a case of what Kelgore refers to as "swamp fever" and Tariq and Sulpher via poisoned traps laid by the Gnoll army as they passed this way. An ambush by cat sized mosquitoes does little to improve this situation, though easily seen off the creatures cause trouble for the party as Bort ventures into the area of a spell cast by Sulpher, angering the Goliath as shards of crystal ping off his new armour. This incident almost caused him to assault the Runecaster, as he transformed into a were-Ursa and strode towards him. Sulpher gingerly fingered his spell components as his golem held off the sulking Bort, but eventually calming words defused the situation.

Such was the mood of the group when the mages detected a magical resonance in the mud flats to the west, and the promise of a distraction from the jungle quickly leads the party towards the source of the magic. The group carefully steps across the mud flats, Sulpher having detected deep holes beneath the thin mud layer with his Gyomancy. He swings his hand and turns the mud to dust, and Hulth swings into the revealed hole with a rope. He is in the dark hole for a minute or so before he calls the party down. The hole goes some ten metres below, the bottom covered in the bodies of those who had fallen from above. In one corner of the room sits Hulth, deep in conversation with a shimmering figure.

The figure does not introduce himself to the group, but merely describes himself as "one the 17 Djinn". This brings flinches from the group, stories of the Djinn and their malicious wishes present in almost all cultures in the region. Hulth had already agreed to free the creature for a single granted wish, and was keen to receive the input of the others. Sulpher suggests a weapon be made of unmatched quality, Tyrus that the Djinn be banished without a wish and Bort that the wish be passed to him, that he become the "best warrior that was ever". Hulth eventually decides on a wish, asking that he be granted the power to “lead his people to victory, glory and wealth”. The Djinn grants this wish, imbuing Hulth with magical knowledge and disappearing in a puff of smoke. The group takes what they can from the corpses in the hole, and climb back out. Hulth speaks common with a perfect regional accent now, a far step from his childish speech before this time. He preens his fur as he walks, arranging his items in his backpack and throwing odd things from it every now and then. The others watch him askance, weary of the cost of his newfound knowledge.

The mudflats quicken the journey, despite the stop, and the group soon begin to march through rocky hills. They bypass the town of Kelth, although sensing magic from the area does entice some discussion. The hills soon lead up to the mountains, what little wildlife is present scared off by Bort's fearsome roars or flames from Tyrus. The path is easy to follow, the Gnoll army leaving detritus and broken camps that make Hulth's tracking easy, despite the terrain being foreign to the aquatic Selkine. The going is tough through the snowy mountain passes, the ground covered in snow at the best of times and at the worst entirely unsafe. One of the Thorum's Watch dwarves has his armour entirely destroyed as he falls off an unsure cliff, but manages to survive. As the group reaches higher on the mountain the path of the army seems unsure, until a once secret passage becomes apparent, the Gnolls having used this shortcut to High Horanos some weeks earlier.

The tunnels beyond are of Dwarven make, long softened by time but straight and true. At one junction Sulpher notices hidden passage, the culmination of which was a large skull adorned door. The group shows discomfort at the idea of entering a Dwarven tomb, but Sulpher waves the door aside with a burst of Gyomancy that turns it to sand. He is followed into the tomb by Tyrus, but the Sylvan returns moments later with a concerned look on his face. Sulpher returns some time later, his hand full of ancient golden coins. He reseals the tomb using nearby rock and rejoins the party moving through the passages, receiving worried sideways glances from Bort all the way.

The Dwarven tunnels come out in the mountains above High Horanos, the monastery set high in the snow peak of Mount Horanos. The temple itself is besieged by a large army flying the banners of the Empire, as well as a red banner unknown to the group. Atop the walls and palisades of the monastery can be seen the furred forms of the Gnoll thropes, hasty defensive positions manned by hundreds of the beasts. As the group rests for the night they begin to discuss the means by which they would kill Xarxees and Yolgroth, protected as they were by high walls and many fierce warriors.


Part XXIV: Cornered Beasts

HH.jpg
High Horanos

As the Imperial soldiers made ready to attack the walls of High Horanos their attention was elsewhere. High above the imploding magical missiles on the walls was the tower of the Horanos Monastery, where a battle of godly proportions was taking place. Although far off, the assembled troops could see flashes of silver fire and the mages present could feel vast energies from a number of spell schools being unleashed. As wind lashed against the tower they saw a mighty red dragon take flight, burning smaller dark forms from the skies as he roared in triumph. Atop the tower figures blurred back and forth, too fast to be mere mortals and apparently engaged in some epic battle. The troops prepared to march upon the fortified walls of High Horanos, but they knew the real battle was taking place far above…

[Attacking an enemy held fort]
The group settles to discuss their prospects for the attack on High Horanos. Everything from a dragon attack to Sulpher disintegrating a wall section are discussed, with a general agreement that the Empire should be informed of their presence. As these discussions take place Sulpher's strength wains, the corrupting influence of his infection coupled with what Bort says is "probably some voodoo curse thing" causing the proud Dwarf to fall ill. The planning is cut short, however, when the familiar sounds of Imperial attack horns are heard. Forces were manoeuvring on the plains below, moving in formation to attack the monastery. Leaving his Golem and one of the Thorum's Watch dwarves behind to watch over Sulpher the others gather their gear and prepare to attack the fortified monastery.

Through Tariq's spy-glass the party can see movement far below as the Gnoll barbarian army prepares to defend against the Imperial assault. Here and there Lycanthrope Gnolls lead squads towards the front line, and Were-Gnoll Warlocks move amongst their troops preparing blessings. By the time the Imperial attacks begin the camp behind the second walls of High Horanos are empty. The blossoms of fire and implosions of energy occur along the Gnoll lines, and trebuchets are fired back at the Empire's forces. Bort leads the group through the abandoned camp, his Were-Ursa form deterring any curious loiterers from asking his business. Eventually the group reaches the primary tower of High Horanos, where Hulth had speculated Xarxees would be taking up residence. Entering through a small servants entrance the Silver Scourges enter High Horanos.

Tyrus leads the way through the monastery, having imbibed a stealth potion and invisible to most patrols they pass. The others walk behind, guided by Kelgore's detect life. However passing a corridor junction Bort begins a jaunty song, and catches the attention of a Thrope patrol in the opposite corridor. A Were-Gnoll in full plate armour leads a group of Gnollish barbarians, at the back a smaller Gnoll warlock stands, walking on a crooked staff. Thorm acts quickly, sending a giant crossbow bolt straight through two of the barbarian warriors. Bort and Hulth rush forward to form a spear line, breaking the charge of the rest of the Barbarians, led by their Were-Gnoll leader. Behind the melee the Gnolls with bows send arrows into Bort and Hulth, but they barely manage to scratch the mighty warriors. The attempts of the Warlock to cast magic are easily waved aside by the Antimancer Tariq, before the archers and mage both are engulfed in a burst of silver fire from Tyrus. It is then that the group realises the treacherous Gnolls had poisoned their arrows. Kelgore calls on Shek'Telmanar to help him heal his allies and plunges his ethereal fist into their chests, pulling from them the dark purple toxin. He drops to the ground, exhausted by the ordeal, but the corridors lay empty so the group pushes on up the tower.

Hulth adorns himself with the garb of the Were-Gnoll leader and artfully lies the group past some of the more stupid Gnoll patrols. They pass the scorched halls of the once fine Monastery, where priceless tapestries are used as Gnoll sleeping mats and half cooked dwarves sit over their fires, meals abandoned as battle called. As the din of battle rages outside the Silver Scourges break through to the final level of the tower, where Gnoll Warlocks and Were-Gnoll elites guard the stairs upwards. They look up in shock as the group enters, but are swept aside in a wave of silver fire from Tyrus. Above the group finds their prize, on a windswept tower top overlooking the battle and the valley below. Yolgroth, champion of Rahan and Warlord of the Gnolls stands behind half a dozen of his warriors, clad in dark bronze plate armour and wielding a mighty two handed Silver-Steel axe in the shape of twin moons. Atop his head stands a crown of basilisk fangs. He has transformed into the form of a Were-Gnoll and his armour seems to perfectly fit his engorged form. His warriors are accompanied by a pair of warlocks, and are all towering Were-Gnolls. Aside from the warriors stands Xarxees at a table covered in books and notes. He is a Were-Wolg, the traditional wolf form, and wears black armour over his black robes. Where he stands darkness seems to resonate, as if he himself was a corruption upon the world, and giant undead vultures circle above, ready to do their masters bidding.

Battle is joined as Were-Elites and Warlocks pile in around Hulth and Bort, their disjointed Lycanthropic forms baying for blood. A level below the Thrope dead begin to arise, brought back by the necromantic power of Xarxees. The Dwarves of Thorum's watch fire at their shambling forms with their repeating crossbows, but for each that fell it seemed another would take it's place. The Minotaur Julgore adds his might axe to proceedings, but the undead keep on coming. Above Kelgore casts out his arms and summons water from the storm brewing atop the tower, bringing the liquid to protect his allies from their foes. After doing so he takes a step and with a jumping leap transforms into a mighty dragon. The Warlord Yolgroth, sick of his allies doing the fighting, shouts a challenge to Bort and the two begin a deadly dance of blades. Xarxees simple laughs as he faces off against Tyrus and Tariq. As they advance he points at each, simplying saying "die". They do, as he points their souls are ripped from their bodies by his dark magic and the shadow around him seems to grow. As battle rages below the scene above the tower seems to slow, the monumental struggles taking place testing belief. The wind lashes against the tower as the Champions of Rahan face off against the Silver Scourges in mortal combat.

Cold Flame
Even as his soul is ripped from his body Tyrus is swallowed by a light, a beam breaking the clouds and pushing down upon him. He rises from where he fell, his eyes burning with a cold white light. He raises a now grey-skinned hand towards Xarxees and a beam of silver light blasts the Fallen Cleric back into the ramparts, engulfing him in silver flames. As he writhes and burns Tyrus himself is engulfed in the flame, the silver fire seeming to push back the suffocating dark surrounding Xarxees. Xarxees' undead minions attempt to save their master, but the vultures merely explode against the inferno surrounding Tyrus, dark shapes smashed asunder by piercing silver light. The battle rages atop the tower but Tyrus ignores it, locking eyes with Xarxees as the dark figure is wracked by silver flames. Standing over the burning form of Xarxees Tyrus sends flame after flame into the cowering priest, his emotionless face observing as the cleric burned. Eventually nothing stood but ash and a few charred objects, and the now Undead Tyrus turned his attention back to the battle for High Horanos.

Clash of Titans
The Gnoll Warlord Yolgroth beheads his ally fighting Bort and shouts a challenge to the Goliath to face him in single combat. Bort drinks from his waterskin before blurring forward, moving faster than any mortal man. But Yolgroth was not to be beaten so easily. He responds with equal speed as his moon-bladed axe smashes again and again against Bort's darting polearm. The two dance back and forth, slash and riposte, stab and counter, faster than the human eye could follow as they engaged in a dance so precise and deadly it is difficult to comprehend. Again Moon-Steel smashes against Moon-Steel as the two might warriors are tested like never before. Eventually Yolgroth gets the better of his foe, his pure size giving him the edge over Bort as he turns his axe mid strike, burying its head deep into his opponents chest. Sweeping his leg out from under him, Yolgroth forces his fallen foe to the ground in a roar of victory.

First Spear
As Bort and Yolgroth engage in a duel atop the tower Hulth faces off against the half dozen Were-Gnoll barbarian knights who had been guarding Xarxees. With trident in one hand and shield in the other Hulth elegantly darts between targets, inflicting wounds here and there as he keeps the reaching claws of the Gnolls away from him. He buys his time, knowing that the poison of his trident will lay low his foes in short time. But his measured response is tested as Bort falls to Yolgroth. With a cry of passion Hulth leaps over Bort's fallen body, fending off the blows of the Gnollish Warlord. The unnaturally fast attacks of Yolgroth fall upon Hulth's trident and shield, but the Selkine chief holds true over the stirring form of his friend. Although he brings his tribe much honour inevitably the unnatural speed of Yolgroth is too much and Hulth's trident is smashed aside, his shield shattered by repeated axe blows. Disarmed and unprotected his arm is split along the bone by a glancing blow from Yolgroth's axe, and he falls to the ground writhing as his lifeblood pumps onto the stones of the tower-top.

Dragon's Wrath
Reaching the top of the tower Kelgore brings forth his mighty Dragon hide and transforms. In a burst of byomantic energy he shifts and changes into the huge form of a fire drake, bellowing a challenge to all nearby. His first targets are the undead vultures circling the tower, and in a swirl of wings and a clash of teeth he chases off the beasts, their pitiful pecks barely marking his crimson scales. As Bort and Hulth fall to Yolgroth Kelgore returns to the ground, slamming Yolgroth away just as he would deliver the killing blow. The Gnoll Warlord attempts to bring his axe to bear against Dragon Kelgore but his attacks are swatted away by the claws of the beast, a burst of acid breathe from Kelgore's maw melting the remaining Were-Gnolls. Yolgroth uses this distraction to his advantage, lodging his axe beneath Kelgore's scales and causing him to scream in pain. Oozing purple blood the mighty dragon continues fighting, slashing at the Gnoll with diamond hard claws.

It was as if a second wind had filled the party, as the counter attack begins. Below the Minotaurs and Dwarves had taken to shooting the Vultures out of the sky, as the young Thrope Tytos takes a running leap to spear a vulture that enters the tower. The minotaur Thorm walks upstairs and with disdain lifts and throws the remaining Gnoll Warlock from the top of the tower, his body crumpling into a red mess on the rocks far below. Grimacing from pain Bort rises from where he fell and immediately begins laying into Yolgroth once again. The Gnoll Warlord, now attacked by both a Dragon and a maddened Bort could do little to survive the onslaught, and with the death of his master Xarxees his resolve disappears. After parrying his attack Bort makes a reverse sweep with his Glaive and takes Yolgroth's head clean off. The last of the Were-Gnolls are finished off by Dragon Kelgore and the windy tower is suddenly silent.

Bort walks to the edge of the tower and shows the head of Yolgroth to his barbarian follows, answered far below by cries of fear and pain from those able to see it. Kelgore takes the Were-Gnolls in his claws and drops them on the dismayed army, roaring in triumph and challenge to any who would face him. As they do a silver flare shoots into the sky, manifesting into the silver star of the Empire. The sign is clear, and the Gnoll army begins to waver. Imperial forces from outside the gates suddenly blast through, chasing the now fleeing Gnolls atop their Drake cavalry. Accompanying them are Rakshassan Crusade forces, red armoured Thrope nights mounted atop giant Sphynx easily chasing down and devouring the fleeing Gnolls. Some barbarians throw down their arms and surrender, while most flee up into the mountain passes.

Like a tide the Imperial and Crusade forces spill into High Horanos. Some of the Gnollish barbarians insist on surrendering straight to the Silver Scourges, who had slain their leaders. A coterie of Warlocks bend knee to a surprised Kelgore, wishing to be apprenticed to "the great dragon". The more honourable Were-Gnolls acknowledge Bort as their new chieftain, having slain their last in combat, and decide to reform their tribe around him. And Hulth, wearing the crown of the dead Warlord Yolgroth, gathers a mighty band of Gnolls to his side, through the magical power of the crown and his newfound leadership abilities. He promises to make a new Thrope nation away from the corruption of the past and the barbarians look on with hope filled eyes. Atop the tower an Imperial airship would dock in the now calm skies. Dismounting is the familiar form of Admiral Chaeriss and her half dozen black sphynx soul-guards. With them come the representatives of the Crusading Thrope army from Rakshasas, a hulking Worg Thrope with red lacquered plate armour walks with a shining glaive ahead of a dozen red robed monks similarly armed. He introduces himself as Vasha Puro, leader of the Rakshasan Crusade forces.

Puro takes the group aside, seeing fit to inform them of his purpose and the agreements he had made with the Imperial Gulf Trading Corporation. He informs them that Shesk Rahan is an important part of the pantheon of Rakshasas, playing the roll of the outsider and counteracting the power of the other gods. He would not wish Shesk Rahan summoned, as fully powered he would devour the other gods and cause discord. Nor would he have Rahan slain, as his death would leave a void in the Rakshasan theology that would cause civil war and unrest. His plan is to take two of the pieces of Rahan back to Rakshasas and hide them away, keeping Shesk Rahan in his neutered state but alive to balance the pantheon. He has made a truce with the Admiral for peace until the Night of Empty Skies, but says that if he is not delivered the pieces of Rahan in two days he will slay any who attempt to stand before him. He departs with this abrupt statement and the Admiral informs the group reluctantly that she and her navy will defend the Sunken Chamber if the Scourges wish it.

The Silver Scourges retreat to converse amongst themselves. With the pieces of Rahan arrayed before them they realise at last the true nature of the god. The final piece, a scaled and feathered hide, reveals Shesk Rahan to take the form of a dragon. Tyrus notes that this does match a description of Rahan as "breathing plague" flying on "wings", which he assumed was metaphorical. The group is torn about what to do next, with Bort unwilling to help the Empire weaken Rakshasas and Kelgore weary of the cost of the groups failure, should Rahan be summoned and not destoyed. Tyrus argues for summoning and destroying Rahan, arguing that conflict in far off Rakshasas is not as important as saving the Southern Reaches here and now. Hulth largely remains silent, stating only that he will lead the spears of his people where they are needed. As the discussions falls into silence a small memorial is held for their new comrade Tariq, and in a burst of silver light from above he re-awakens from death, raised as a Revenant by Tyrus. Later that night a beleaguered Sulpher joins the group, still weak but glad to see his allies alive. They spend the night drinking and laughing, knowing full well the fate of the region lay heavy upon their backs.


The True Matter

Many millennia ago Shesk Rahan flew above the world and brought madness. His armies of lycanthropes made war with the Ashillian Magelords and armies of the Sylvan. Where he went death and chaos followed, and his armies seemed set to conquered all the world. But despite his power Shesk Rahan was eventually laid low by Prince Jelos, wielding the spear Silverthirst to kill the mighty wyrm.

But Rahan was clever, and his form was not destroyed but dispersed. The second moon was shattered during this period, destoying the empire of Old Rahan and all Rahan's enemies along with it. Thus the second Rahani empire arose, thousands of years after the first, led by the new Champions of Shesk Rahan. Thelyos the graceful, Jerongolas Brightmind, Thurovesh in her full strength, Nyesh the Devourer and Korab Everliving. These champions made a pact to ressurect Rahan, and gathering the aspects of him that remained they performed the Tetralune trials that would see to Rahan's reawakening. They then parted ways, moving to positions within the Reaches and setting up cities, locations that would aid the summoning of Rahan and grant him might.

The Drow incursion was as swift as it was merciless. It is unsure whether they knew about the plan to resummon Shesk Rahan or were simply eager for bloodshed, but their amassed armies arrived at the Southern Reaches. New Rahan, spearheaded by the new settlements of the Champions of Rahan, was burnt from existence by the Drow armies. Thelyos cast her city below the waves, rather than let it be sacked by the marauding Drow navy. And thus the Aspects of Rahan were lost, and the summoning delayed.

Another millennia would pass before Xarxees, a Thrope cleric in ancient far off Rakshasas would discover documents describing the rise and fall of Shesk Rahan, the outsider in the pantheon he worshipped. He began to place his faith in this outsider, gathering to him a new group of Champions of Rahan. Each champion would represent part of moon, the holy symbol of all the Rakshasan dieties. Xarxees, Devoted of Rahan, the full moon Worg. Yolgroth, Warlord of Rahan, the absent moon Gnoll. Bloodsphinx, Hand of Rahan, the crescent moon Sphinx. Heiro, Pirate Lord of Rahan, the gibbous moon Ursa. Of the half moon Selkine no champion was found, as it was said Thelyos had rejected the other champions and sought solitude. With his champions, Xarxees set into place the events that would lead to the second summoning of Shesk Rahan.

In the dense jungles of the Southern Reaches a group of mercenaries hunted a Thropish cultist, a worshipper of the long lost and forgotten Shesk Rahan. As they slew the creature they were unaware of their eventual fates. They would rise, washed with flames and blood, to become the champions to challenge Rahan. The Silver Scourges, to scour the land clean of his taint.


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.
  • 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.
  • Sulpher:
    • A crafty old Runecaster rescued by Bort and Kelgore during the battle of Thorum's Watch. Now returned to health, wields his rock-magic and summoned golems to protect the party.
  • Hulth:
    • Chieftain of the Selkine Thrope tribe of Thelyos. Followed the party after his village was saved from Rahani pirates plundering the ruins. Expert tracker and warrior without peer.
  • Tariq:
    • Human gladiator, specialising in the Spell Wrought battle pits of Lorys. Takes pleasure in hunting and slaying mages, working as an antimancer for the Black Guard, where he was assigned to join the Silver Scourges.

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