Friday, September 23, 2011

Blood and Gold

Sar, Sypheros 17, 998 YK (Day 91).

The group is awakened with a start as Talbot enters the barracks almost exactly six hours later, announcing loudly and clearly that the "time has come." They quickly equip themselves, and Elyas receives instructions from Talbot to remain outside Glyphstone once the party has breached the keep to prevent any reinforcements flowing in from outside, or to Wroat from within. With this, he brings them downstairs, where a portal awaits in the monastery's central chamber. They give him the Chaos Gear, which he assures will be taken care of the organization he works for, and tells them to look for Mr. Artauche in the "old workshop" located in the keep. After this, one by one, they proceed through the portal.

It leads to the bottom of a very tall cliff. Glyphstone Keep is just visible at the top, and they are on a sort of ledge a few feet above a river (a branch of the Dagger River), with a narrow pathway leading along its banks. They are surprised by a familiar presence awaiting them here: Zan-kyri, the genasi artificer. He indicates that he was in Wroat (headquarters of Cannith South) when the invasion broke out, and came here as part of a personal investigation. He was examining the prepared portal exit when the Collective passed through it. They explain the situation to Zan-kyri, who decides to come with them to stop Artauche. With this, they begin ascending the cliff face.

Marlamin and Zan-kyri are the first to begin climbing. Marlamin attempts to use extruding vegetation to climb, while Zan-kyri alters his form to be more akin to liquid, and goes up a waterfall emerging from the Keep. The first branch Marlamin reaches for snaps in his hand, however, and Zan-kyri finds the pressure too much; both begin to fall, and though they are injured somewhat, Stahlstrauss rescues them with a herculean effort of strength. He grabs both of them, and Zan-kyri is placed on his back while Marlamin is carried the rest of the way up the cliff. Zil'dejin goes looking for a more convenient way of getting up to the keep from their position, but finds nothing, and Garmeth clambers up top independently.

At the top of the cliff, they find the battlements of Glyphstone to be covered in strange looking defective warforged. Their limbs are oddly proportioned, and they seem to be far less intelligent than normal examples of their race. They are equipped with arm crossbows, and immediately open fire on the party as they come into view. Marlamin leads a charge at the portcullis, the only visible entry to the Keep. Zan-kyri and Garmeth follow in his wake, but are hit by crossbow bolts. Zan-kyri attempts futilely to kick the portcullis open, and then Marlamin lifts the gate, with Garmeth assisting. At this point, Stahlstrauss is able to use the telepathic powers of his command circlet to broadcast a message to the defective warforged, and convinces them that he is their commander and to cease fire. They do, and move into the keep somewhere around the same time that Zil'dejin finally climbs the cliff and catches up to the party.

Stahlstrauss takes the burden of the portcullis from Marlamin and holds it open long enough for the party to move through. They find themselves in a small courtyard leading to an open doorway, going inside the keep. Zan-kyri first attempts to track down the magic of the Rod of Order and the Chains of Balance, to orient the party, but their presence is so strong he cannot pick out their direction. The party then goes inside the structure, finding themselves in an entry chamber with many doors. Zil'dejin recalls a battle of historical significance fought here a very long time ago, and uses that knowledge to reconstruct a rough mental map of the keep. He recalls the approximate direction of the workshop, and they head here at once when they hear heavy, metallic footsteps coming rapidly closer from multiple directions. They are soon pursued by a different squadron of defective warforged, these ones equipped only with armblades of different shapes and sizes. Garmeth uses the phantom soldier artifact he carries with him in an effort to distract the warforged, but they cut through the illusion and envelop him. Marlamin attempts to save him with an elaborate maneuver intended to trip up the squadron, but he too is caught up in the fighting. They both sustain some injuries before the warforged Stahlstrauss spoke to earlier arrive and engage in combat with the other detachment. Because of the jury-rigged nature of the constructs, this battle ultimately culminates in a mass of exploding defective warforged in the cramped halls.

After this, the party arrives in a barracks-like area. Zil'dejin explains that this immediately precedes the workshop, and was where artificers within Glyphstone lived in between shifts at the workshop after Cannith took control of the place. It forks in two directions, each hall lined with small bedrooms, but both evidently lead to the workshop. They go left, and are soon assailed by an unusual construct made of stone and metal dropping upon them from the ceiling. It spins around with whirling blades, while another, electrified construct approaches from the rear. Finally, some of the doors to the barracks rooms open, and horrible amalgamations of corpse and machine emerge. They fight a battle with these enemies in very close quarters, but eventually bring them all down. They take a breather here, in an effort to gather all their strength before proceeding to face Artauche himself.

After a while of this, they enter the workshop. It is a ruined area, but has recently been restored to some extent. There is rubble everywhere, and in one area, it is burning. Once their eyes have adjusted to the change in lighting, the party notices a figure on top of some wooden crossbeams: it is Remelius Artauche. He speaks at length to the Eclipse Collective. He discusses Stahlstrauss' origins in an illegal Creation Forge in the Lhazaar Principalities, which was one of the Artauche family's illicit facilities. He talks about Garmeth's inability to reconstruct his monastic order, his failures as a monk and the horrible abominations that are his race; he promises to enslave Garmeth and sell him back to the daelkyr after he has been defeated. He also mentions the changeling assassin that killed Balin, Zil'dejin's former mentor, and his association with the organization that conducted this murder. He does not recognize Marlamin or Zan-kyri, but promises them a swift death.

With this, he fires magical flares from his cane, which is a powerful device he has created as a weapon, and tears off his left sleeve, exposing the Chains of Balance which are wrapped around his arm. This signals the start of the battle. The party eventually makes their way to the top of the crossbeams to do battle with him, and despite his many attempts at slowing them down - including using the Chains of Balance to slow time for them while he moves at a normal rate - he is injured enough that he must retreat. He throws his cane down, and it explodes in a blinding flash. With this, he jumps down from the beams, using a kind of thruster in his prosthetic metal leg to slow his descent, and a pillar rises from its position to reveal a hatch leading downwards. He enters this, and disappears. The party takes just a second to recuperate, having sustained many injures in the fight, before following him.

After a short trip, they find themselves in a large, cylindrical room. It is mostly stone, though root-like tubes run throughout it, and a massive pillar of stone and metal hovers in the center of the room. Beneath it, a large concave dip in the floor is illuminated with bright white light, which is also mimicked by smaller platforms arranged around the room in a circle. This is recognized immediately by Stahlstrauss as a Creation Forge. It looks to be in some disrepair, but is functioning anyway. They arrive just in time to see Artauche climbing up the pillar in the middle of the room, opening a kind of hatch, and disappearing inside.

Immediately after he does, the luminous platforms shine brightly, and more defective warforged materialize. After a moment, they attack the party. While fending off the warforged, who are perhaps a bigger threat when destroyed (due to their instability and tendency to explode) they try to climb up and attack Artauche, who is in the pillar. Silvery beams of energy occasionally emerge from the hatch to fend off attempts to attack him, however, and it is not until all the warforged are defeated that the bright lights all fade, the pillar falls to the ground, and the hatch opens.

Artauche emerges, holding a brightly-glowing Rod of Order in his right hand while the Chains of Balance shine on his left arm. He is hovering now, and on his back are luminous wings. He announces that it is "time to end this," and the room begins shaking and falling apart. The party soon realizes that it is not really the Creation Forge that is crumbling; rather, they are being transported elsewhere.

They arrive in the middle of Wroat. Defective warforged bodies are everywhere, and chaos is rampant. Buildings are burning, and the air smells of acrid smoke. Screams are audible in the distance. Artauche begins using the Rod of Order with reckless abandon, and unlocks the full potential of the Chains of Balance, anchoring his own life to the souls of the Eclipse Collective and "consuming" their souls to recover his own wounds.

One by one, each party member falls to him. Garmeth is the first to go, shot down by the silver beams of the Rod of Order, and Zan-kyri is soon to follow. Stahlstrauss is next, and then Zil'dejin. Artauche is showing some signs of injury, but thanks to his use of the Chains of Balance he has been able to keep himself sustained. He lands from his hovering position for a last confrontation with Marlamin Tarmikos, their souls tethered by the Chains of Balance. Marlamin takes the risk of making one great attack against Artauche, but the pain is transferred back to him, and he blacks out. Before he descends into total unconsciousness, he is able to witness Artauche's body becoming "cracked" with the same silver light from the Rod of Order, and eventually bursting in a great nova of light.

* * *

The party later awakens in a grand temple to the Sovereign Host. King Boranel ir'Wynarn, the king of Breland, and Baron Merrix d'Cannith, baron of Cannith South, greet the Eclipse Collective. Garmeth and Zan-kyri, who were physically killed in the melee, are restored to life, and it is revealed that the Chains of Balance did not allow Artauche to actually destroy their souls; instead, he only used them to hold his wounds together, and they were released upon his death.

Merrix and Boranel congratulate the party, and thank them extensively for their service. Merrix mentions that Glyphstone Keep has fallen back into Cannith hands, as the last living Artauche heir has died, and offers it to the party once the Creation Forge within has been totally dismantled. They accept, and choose to rename it "Eclipse Keep." Boranel extends an offer of reward as well, and dispatches men to clean up and repair the poorly-repaired stronghold. The two public figures then escort the Eclipse Collective out to the streets of Wroat, where a parade is held in their honour.

After all the festivities are over, the party heads to the Eclipse Keep, where reconstruction is already under way. Though they last left it virtually unknown, they have returned to it as heroes.

This is the end of Heroic tier!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Entropy II: The Winter Queen

Far, Sypheros 16, 998 YK (Day 90).

The melee in the Quiet Halls begins quickly. A shadar-kai witch stands on a balcony fifteen feet off the ground while the warriors, both of the Still Hearts and the Children of Winter, engage the party. They put up a good fight, but the party breaks them down before long - it takes longer than expected, however, due to their minds being clouded by magic used by the witch.

Once the warriors are mostly dealt with, the party climbs up the pillars supporting the balcony to fight the witch. Garmeth uses his flying leopard maneuver to soar up to the balcony, though the confusing tactics of the witch and her ability to wrap herself in shadow makes this a much more confusing endeavor than it usually is. Still, she eventually falls, and the party interrogates her. She seems somewhat confident in the Winter Queen's abilities, and says that this is the one who currently has possession of the Chaos Gear. Evidently, she is the leader of the Still Hearts shadar-kai and the Children of Winter. Getting no more information from the witch, the party leaves through a door other than the one indicated by the witch to house the Winter Queen.

This door leads to a prison-like area, where the Collective runs across the missing Blood of Vol cultists that once occupied the monastery. Marlamin frees them and instructs them to follow the Eclipse Collective, but to wait outside the Winter Queen's throne room until he signals that it is clear to rejoin them. The monks agree, knowing that in their current state they would be very little use in a fight. With this, they go into the throne room of the Winter Queen.

The Winter Queen

She wears the Chaos Gear on her head, wrapped in her hair. She claims she has unlocked its power in exchange for her soul, and that this makes her far greater than the party can handle. They believe she is bluffing, and try to get her to surrender the Gear without a fight. They learn in this conversation that she is half human, half shadar-kai, and intends to usher the latter back into Eberron with territory of their own, outside the ashen plains of Dolurrh. She would prefer not to have to deal with the party at all, and offers them a substantial monetary reward to leave her presence at once and never return to the Fortress of Still Hearts. They refuse, and ready their weapons.

The shadar-kai move to defend their queen, and the weaponmaster, one of the most talented warriors they keep, pulls weapons away using a unique chain-like shortsword, and uses the stolen weapons against the party. Some of the party stays back to fight the shadar-kai while the rest move up to engage the Winter Queen. All the while, the activated Chaos Gear is causing strange effects in the room; people change size, teleport around at random, the room physically shrinks, and more.

The Chaos Gear

After eliminating her henchmen, the Collective closes in on the Winter Queen. Perhaps seeking revenge for the monks of the Towering Wood, Marlamin employs virtually all the power he can muster, channeling shadow energy and the corrupting force of the Touch of Corruption into one great, fierce blow, in which he adopts the appearance of an angel of death. The strike rends the Winter Queen in two, and the power of the Chaos Gear fades. The room returns to normal, and the party discovers a secret exit back to Eberron in the throne room, apparently for the Winter Queen to move in and out of discreetly. They quickly gather the Chaos Gear and the monks, and head through the passage, which leads back to the well of the Blood of Vol monastery. It is night time.

They climb out of the well, and at the top, are "greeted" by Malavarn, holding a torch. He brings the party inside, and convinces them to give the Chaos Gear to him. At this point, he uses some kind of alchemical medicine on his eyelids, and douses the torch. The room is plunged into darkness, and they begin hearing frenzied howls. Feral vampires under Malavarn's command have arrived in the monastery, and join the fight to eliminate the party.


Most of the vampires are quickly eliminated. Malavarn fights fiercely, and even though his body is almost completely broken, he fights to his last breath. When he finally falls, the party retrieves the Chaos Gear, and goes outside, where they hear an approaching march. These are Malavarn's scouts - a segment of his enforcers dedicated to arriving first before the others. Eventually, though, the footsteps give way to snapping and screaming, and a figure emerges from the Towering Wood. It is Talbot, the other of Mr. Artauche's highest-ranking agents.

He explains that Remelius Artauche has betrayed them. Artauche was a Gold Concordian in the Aurum, a society of wealthy and powerful individuals who present themselves to the world as collectors of magical artifacts. They are, according to Talbot, actually a criminal syndicate who collect these items to advance their own power. The Aurum is divided into Concords: Copper, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, where Platinum is the highest. A recent opening in the Platinum Concord led Artauche to bid for a position, but he was denied. Seeing no further use for them, he silently turned against the Aurum for his own diabolical machinations. Talbot, as a double agent working for an organization he will not reveal to the party, believes it important to stop him, but cannot interfere directly without destroying his cover.

Talbot returns

Artauche has recently found the Chains of Balance and intends to complete the set, and kill off the party to prevent interference with his plan: he is going to take over Wroat, the capital of Breland, and then move on to conquer the rest of Khorvaire. Beginning immediately after the party gave the Rod of Order to him, Artauche moved back to his family's old estate of Glyphstone Keep, which once housed an illegal Creation Forge (factory to produce warforged). The Artauche family once had three such forges, and were expelled from their lofty positions in House Cannith when it was discovered they were producing illicit warforged and selling them to the highest bidder for their own profit. The Creation Forges were dismantled at the end of the Last War, but Artauche has used the Rod of Order to transiently reactivate the one hidden under Glyphstone Keep and has assembled a massive army of defective warforged powered by proximity to the Rod of Order. He has used these, alongside his personal agents, hired mercenaries and inflamed dissidents to launch a sudden and brutal attack on Wroat, and has been doing very well, based on the element of surprise and sheer numbers. Talbot believes that the Eclipse Collective may be the only ones that can stop him now.

Malavarn carried with him two pieces of paper. On one, a letter, indicating he had achieved support from the Blood of Vol due to "mutual goals", and they had sent vampires to aid Malavarn. The other was a ritual scroll, which Talbot indicates is a teleportation ritual designed specifically to return him to Glyphstone Keep after he took back the Chaos Gear. Talbot offers to initiate the ritual and establish the portal while the party gets some rest; they are battered from the Keep of Still Hearts and can afford as much as six hours of rest before attacking the Keep. Past this point, the assault will have proceeded to far to be interrupted. The Collective takes this opportunity and goes to rest in the monks' barracks while Talbot and the monks themselves keep watch.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Entropy I: The Fortress of Still Hearts

Sar, Sypheros 10, 998 YK (Day 84).

The other monks, after being assured the battle is over, enter the seal chamber. Garmeth, with the aid of the others, is able to more clearly identify the gauntlet now attached to Marlamin's arm, which is called the Touch of Corruption, and is a powerful daelkyr artifact commonly associated with Dyrrn the Corruptor, believed to be the most powerful of his kind. He is rumored to be sealed here in the Eldeen Reaches, and Druar believes that the seal in the Echohand Cave might be the one that's keeping him in.

Druar begins a ritual to stabilize the seal long enough for the Gatekeeper druids to come and reseal it themselves, but Marlamin has a strong compulsion to stop him from doing so. He threatens and yells at Druar until the githzerai monk stops the ritual. Druar is already injured, and does not want to risk death for this. Garmeth accuses him of cowardice, but he remains resolute in his desire to avoid stabilizing the seal, claiming it is the "Gatekeepers' job, anyway." Before leaving, he offers Garmeth a reward for his efforts: a multicolored, patchwork cloak he allegedly recovered from their last visit to the Shitorai monastery. Garmeth asks if there is anything left there; Cobb informs him that it is little more than a ruin. They part ways with surprisingly casual phrases. The monks are heading northeast to Greenheart, and offer to take Tam'elanath with them to return him to life. The group allows this, and Zan-kyri returns with them as well, claiming that he has had enough adventuring for now.

The remaining five leave Echohand Cave to the southwest, now back on track for the Twofold Glade.

Far, Sypheros 16, 998 YK (Day 90).

The Eclipse Collective at last arrives at the Twofold Glade, which has the unusual property of appearing completely dead in an almost perfect circle amid the otherwise-verdant Towering Wood. The trees are leafless and barren, while the grass is sparse and all but depleted of life, even more than is to be expected in the month of Sypheros (mid-autumn). The clearing also contains a secluded monastery of the Blood of Vol, built in characteristic red stone, which once housed the small extremist sect Marlamin set out to investigate. There are only two buildings in the monastery, surrounded by a low wall. The party chooses to investigate the larger of these buildings first.

They knock on the door, and hear voices within, but nobody responds. Eventually, they open the door to discover men dressed in animal furs and brandishing swords, ready for combat and screaming about "protecting the passageway." A fight breaks out. Garmeth tries to ask one of them what they want, to which he responds that they wish to "bring this broken world to ruin." The battle with the Children of Winter is quite brief, as only two guards, a witch and a doomspeaker (like a priest) of their sect are there to guard the old monastery, which has apparently been converted into the Children of Winter headquarters for the time being. The Collective searches the monastery after the battle, uncovering an old magical belt and some food supplies being used by the Children of Winter, as well as the stripped-bare kitchen building, but it is not until Zil'dejin displaces a carpet in the entry hall of the main monastery building that they find an unlocked trapdoor, with a tunnel leading down into the earth.

The follow the tunnel, pausing briefly at a wooden door carved with images of skulls. Once they pass this door, they feel colder, and the tunnel seems darker, though it is certainly the same structure as it was before. At the end, they find another set of stairs and a trapdoor nearly identical to the first. Marlamin, Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss smash through the wood, and the group finds themselves in the ruins of a monastery much like the one they just left, but completely in shambles. The sky is very dark and overcast, and a howling wind whips by. The monastery is empty.

They investigate for a while, and discover that the ground is like ash, and the trees are a deep gray and entirely dead, with no sign of the lush Towering Wood for miles. Elyas recalls the hallmarks of this place indicate only one thing: they have crossed into Dolurrh, the Plane of the Dead, also known as the Shadowfell. It is much like a mirror world to Eberron where death and decay are dominant, and mortals spending too much time lingering will waste away with the apathetic spirits in this place. Despite being a mirror, though, there are some differences, such as a paved road leading into the dead wood. Garmeth decides to leave the party for a while to see if there is any other course of action, but the other four decide that there is probably not, and they take to the road.

The dead trees of Dolurrh's imitation of the Towering Wood eventually fall away to reveal a small stream, breaking the barren forest to reveal a set of high, roughly-hewn walls. It seems this may have been an area of plateaus once, or perhaps magic or something like it created these walls, but whatever the case, there is an enormous fortress here, toned a gray so deep it is nearly black. They approach the gate, and a sentry stationed above it asks them to identify themselves. He is a pale-skinned human with braided hair, myriad piercings, and strange tattoos, clad all in black. The party tells him why they have arrived in plain words.

The sentry responds that this place, called the Fortress of Still Hearts, is home to a powerful clan of shadar-kai (very close to humans - one of very few races that live in Dolurrh) that have control of the Chaos Gear, and they have no inclination to surrender the artifact. He also reveals that the Children of Winter are allied with the Still Heart shadar-kai, and that the ranks within the large fortress greatly outnumber the four members of the Eclipse Collective (who are shortly rejoined by Garmeth to make five, but this is hardly an impressive increase in numbers).

After some contemplation away from the gates, the group decides that they have no choice but to try and get into the fortress anyway. Zil'dejin, Stahlstrauss and Marlamin begin to scale the walls in an area that has little apparent activity. Garmeth moves around the fortress to find some kind of vulnerable area that would be easier to access, and Elyas goes with him while trying to recount any information he might know about the shadar-kai race that could be helpful, but neither of them have any success in their endeavor. From atop the walls, the three that climbed up initially throw down a rope, and the remaining two quickly climb to the top. Here, they can see the true scale of the Fortress of Still Hearts, with its many buildings and many occupants. There is a set of stairs leading down at a nearby point in the wall, providing access to it from the ground below, and the Collective descends it rapidly.

The shadar-kai

There are two buildings nearby, and numerous shadar-kai and Children of Winter patrols milling about. Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss decide to infiltrate the nearest building, a large and mostly-featureless structure that is dimly illuminated with the same blue light typically found in the fortress. Marlamin looks around for any unused clothing in an effort to disguise himself, while Elyas and Garmeth break off from the party to eavesdrop on patrols and obtain information through stealth. Elyas discovers that the Chaos Gear is being kept in a place called the "Quiet Halls," and the name "Winter Queen" comes up as well. Garmeth discovers nothing of use, and Marlamin finds nothing that can be used as a disguise. Meanwhile, Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss make a mad dash for the door to the shadar-kai barracks, side-by-side. Almost simultaneously, Zil'dejin forces his body downwards to perform a sliding kick, while Stahlstrauss leaps into the newly-vacated space above Zil'dejin's head, turning around in the air to kick the reinforced door from up high. Their feet collide with the door at the same instant, and it explodes into a hellish rain of splinters, both wood and metal. When they pick themselves up, they discover the interior is mostly vacated, save for one surprised-looking shadar-kai who looks to have been behind the door when they kicked it. He is covered with splinters from head to toe, and completely dead.

Inside the barracks, the party, without Marlamin, quickly gathers with plans to move before the inevitable investigation on the demolished door comes around. Outside, Marlamin approaches a shadar-kai patrol, completely undisguised, and tells them that he is one of the Children of Winter, and is looking for the Quiet Halls. He emphasizes the unpleasant nature of the Touch of Corruption on his right arm, and the shadar-kai believe him, directing him to the far northern end of the fortress. Meanwhile, back in the barracks, Garmeth sneaks through some tunnels connecting it to other buildings in the fortress, avoiding patrols, and locates a small, nearly-unused tunnel that most would not have seen, and manages to slip in undetected. He discovers it leads to the Quiet Halls, and is able to sneak the others inside. They meet up with Marlamin between two gateways, one leading back out into the Fortress of Still Hearts and the other leading into the keep-like building that holds the Quiet Halls. The doors leading inside are locked, apparently to be opened from within on special permission, but Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss charge the door, and break it open. Inside, they find shadar-kai and Children of Winter waiting to "greet" them...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Touch of Madness

Sar, Rhaan 24, 998 YK (Day 70).

The Eclipse Collective arrives in the town of Delethorn, and disembarks from the Lyrandar ferry. The incident is not immediately uncovered, and the group believes it prudent to just get as far away from the ship as possible, for now. But there is at least one who was on the ship that witnessed the incident. A middle-aged human named Marlamin Tarmikos, who is found of dramatic introductions, greets the party as they step again onto the shores of Lake Galifar. He explains that he observed the battle with the Dreaming Dark on the Lyrandar ferry, and wonders if the party is headed to Greenheart.

They are distrustful at first, with good reason. Aside from his dark, skull-decorated armor, Marlamin wears numerous holy symbols indicating his membership in the Blood of Vol, with whom the party has not had very good relations in the past. They mention this, and he takes the time to explain that his religion is not evil, and not all of its followers - who are called "Seekers" - are this way. Though the promise of self-empowerment and the attachment to necromancy draws some dangerous attention, many of the worshipers are content to lead normal lives. As a blackguard of the faith, Marlamin strongly believes in this notion. He details his reasons for coming to the Reaches, which involve reports of mysterious activity surrounding an isolated Blood of Vol monastery somewhere in the Towering Wood. He has come to investigate. The party sees no issue in travelling with him at least as far as Greenheart, for should he prove to be untrustworthy, they outnumber him greatly.

Marlamin. Tarmikos.
After the meeting with Marlamin, they attempt to purchase some goods in the town before leaving for Greenheart, only to discover that commerce of any kind is forbidden here, in the interest of keeping good relations with the capital (where this is the druid's law). Tam'elanath trades some gloves for a pair of long knives previously owned by a fisherman here. Afterwards, they set out on the road northwest, to Greenheart, the capital of the Eldeen Reaches.

Mol, Rhaan 26, 998 YK (Day 72).

The party encounters some travelers on the road who are heading in the opposite direction. They find the strangers to be untrustworthy and when asked about their destination, the Collective alienates the strangers, and tells them to mind their own business.

Zol, Rhaan 27, 998 YK (Day 73).

Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss have an animated discussion about their new-found dislike for the sun, and fire in general. They talk briefly about the only known means of lifting their curse, and dwell for a while on where they might come across a fire archon, or natural spirit of fire.

Zor, Sypheros 1, 998 YK (Day 75).

As a new month dawns, the group comes across an isolated copse, where the trees are grown in a ritualistic manner. This clearly belongs to some group of druids, and the party takes a moment to mourn the loss of Eshunu.

Wir, Sypheros 2, 998 YK (Day 76).

On the road, the Eclipse Collective runs into a group of "bandits," though they are little more than townsfolk playing criminal. The party runs them off and scares them without taking any casualties.

Sul, Sypheros 4, 998 YK (Day 78).

Eight days after leaving Delethorn, the party finally arrives in Greenheart. It is, perhaps, not what was expected by some of the members. Rather than a sprawling city, Greenheart is little more than a glorified town, built around (and sometimes in) enormous trees in one of the more shallow ends of the Towering Wood. Garmeth immediately approaches the first person he sees, and asks about Malavarn, their intended contact here. The citizen refers to Malavarn as "the beast" and cites extremely rude and violent behaviour as the reason for this name. He tells the party that Malavarn and his enforcers have set up camp to the south, just on the edge of town.

The party has no other business of note within Greenheart; Marlamin already knows where the monastery is approximately located, and is aware that the Seekers there had no contact with Greenheart, so they go to Malavarn's camp. They find Malavarn within a large tent among many smaller ones, eating grapes and drinking heavily. He is an enormous human, extremely muscular and covered in scars. The discussion with him is extremely blunt, and he is very rude and aggressive towards every member of the party. He tells them that the man who knows where the Chaos Gear is was found among the druids. His name is Graum, and he is waiting just outside the camp for the party: he would not give any details to Malavarn, despite his interrogation. The party talks to Graum, and elderly halfling druid, and he explains the situation.

The Chaos Gear was located by the Children of Winter, a militant group of extremist druids who believe in a forthcoming apocalypse, which they strive to hasten. Graum is unclear on the details of how or when they found it, but it is a danger in their hands, perhaps more dangerous than it would be in the hands of anyone else. He does not care what the party does with the Gear, just as long as they remove it from the Children of Winter. The party agrees, and talks to Malavarn of what they've learned. He tells them to leave at once, and in a week, he'll follow with his enforcers to "clean up" after the party. With this, he gives them some rations, and urges them to the southwest, deeper into the Towering Wood, towards the location Graum has marked as the "Twofold Glade" on their map.

Sar, Sypheros 10, 998 YK (Day 84).

About halfway to their destination, around sunset, the party comes across an encampment among the vegetation. There are three tents here, and a fire that is burning itself out. Panicked voices are coming from within one of the tents. Tam'elanath sneaks in to eavesdrop, and overhears them talking about an injured person apparently in the tent, who is in danger of dying without medical attention.

Garmeth insists he should help, and on entering the tent, discovers that the voices belong to people he knows: former monks of the Order of Labyrinths, like himself. There are two githzerai, one male and one female, and a human. The male githzerai is Druar, a former rival of Garmeth's, and the human is Cobb, who Garmeth knows as occasionally inappropriate though his heart is in the right place. The other, who is known as Shamai, is unknown to Garmeth as she hails from a different monastery in the Order. Druar is severely injured; there is an enormous wound on his abdomen.

Autumn sets on the Towering Wood

The party sets about collaboratively trying to heal Druar. Though some of them, who are unpracticed in the field of first aid, actually set the cause further back, they are eventually able to stabilize and bandage Druar. The monks then tell Garmeth that they arrived here while travelling in the towns to the south, where they learned of the presence of some aberrations in this area of the Towering Wood, near the Echohand Cave: a known site of a Gatekeeper Seal. They came to investigate once they discovered a pair of Gatekeepers came to the cave and did not return, but the monks were overwhelmed by foulspawn (aberrations distantly descended from orcs) and Druar was nearly killed. They plead with Garmeth for the party's help, and he accepts.

They then make the short detour to the Echohand Cave. A bonfire is burning out front, and there is a terrible smell in the air. When they get closer, the party discovers that the foulspawn have apparently wiped out a camp of adventurers and are throwing their flesh on the fire. Though they initially attempt a gradual, stealthy approach, they are eventually caught by the foulspawn, and a battle breaks out. Marlamin proves that he is a worthy addition to the group as they cut down the aberrations. Zil'dejin retrieves some magic armor from the corpse of the apparent leader of the fallen adventurers. They then move into the cave.

It is dim inside, and the entire cavern is lit by a diffuse, greenish glow. They reach a larger chamber after following the tunnel, where they are attacked by more foulspawn, who at first pin them down, but soon they are able to branch out. Garmeth is captured by a set of tentacles that are nearly invisible in the dim light and pulled towards the ceiling, which the party later learns is where the foulspawn sleep. Once the creatures are dead, they search the area and find some evidence that this was once a sort of living area for the Gatekeeper druids who protected the seal here. Just about everything of any use has been destroyed or tainted by the foulspawn, however. They move forward, and find a man-made door.

Behind it, they enter a large, cubic chamber, clearly not natural in origin. Howling winds sweep past them and a multicolored vortex whips around the room, surrounding a vaguely humanoid figure. As they get closer, they discover that it is not so humanoid after all; the upper body is a bastardization of a bipedal creature, but the lower body is nothing but a mass of tentacles. On one side of the chamber, an alcove with a small altar bearing what appears to be a gauntlet rests, and on the opposite end is an enormous, wheel-like stone covered with runes and engravings. It is shaking violently; this is the Gatekeeper seal.

The party is eventually swept into the vortex, where they are buffeted with raw magical energy. Seeing this, the abomination frees itself from the chains that bind it, and begins its attack. Marlamin is drawn to the dark power of the mysterious, almost organic-looking gauntlet on the altar, and puts it on his arm. He feels the sensation of a thousand, razor-sharp teeth biting into him, and then begins to hear some unusual suggestions in his mind.

The fight with the Xoriat abomination and the strange vortex surrounding it is long and difficult, but eventually the party is able to knock down the menhirs channeling the energy from the seal into the vortex, and takes down the abomination just as it begins gathering its strength for a powerful attack. Tam'elanath has fallen in battle, however, and Zan-kyri seems pensive about the whole situation, even in spite of the victory.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Fading Dream

Zor, Rhaan 22, 998 YK (Day 68).

After spending much of the day in Fairhaven awaiting the completion of Tam'elanath's first round of training, the party leaves on the lightning rail with passes paid for by House Phiarlan. They are headed for the city of Passage, the second-largest city in Aundair and one of the largest trade and transportation hubs in Khorvaire. The trip takes about eight hours, and very little happens on the journey. They arrive at the Passage lightning rail station, and emerge onto the platform. Stahlstrauss feels that he wants a second opinion regarding his curse, so he calls over one of his fellow disembarking passengers and asks him if there are any House Jorasco enclaves in the city. The traveler evidently does not live in Passage, and says that there probably is, but he doesn't know anything about it, so Stahlstrauss goes looking for it. He is accompanied by Elyas, Zan-kyri and - of course - Eshunu. Zil'dejin, Tam'elanath and Garmeth split off to deal with other business in the city.

The search for Jorasco does indeed turn up another building, larger than the one in Fairhaven, but the diagnosis here is the same: they must be granted clemency by a natural spirit of fire or a fire archon if they are to be freed from the curse. They leave again, disappointed. They then locate one of Passage's major marketplaces (there are about three in the city) and spend some time here purchasing goods. Zan-kyri buys some alchemical reagents for the purpose of brewing potions. They then go to the docks, with the intention of meeting up with the other three, but before they get there they ask an impoverished citizen what the "most exciting" thing to do in Passage is. The drifter seems enthused about some sort of black market, from which he buys kvinta herbs smuggled in from Talenta. He cannot indicate to them exactly where this black market is, but they eventually find it after a very unlikely encounter has Zan-kyri running into another genasi (a stormsoul, though any genasi are rare in Eberron) who is a smuggler by trade, and for the sake of racial empathy directs them to the Golden Dragon's Lament, a high-end drinking establishment. They are to use the password "the Royal Eyes are closed here."

They do this, and are directed to the basement of the pub, which is surprisingly large. Many people are set up here selling goods, some on tables, but most just on the ground or on cheap carpets. They trade some magical goods here, but discover that the kvinta merchant is on a gathering run and not currently present. Once their business has finished here, they head towards the docks, where they are stopped by an unusual-looking group. They are mostly human, though one dragonborn is among them, and they wear tattered robes, some of which are painted in the crude image of an eye. Their leader has dark circles under his eyes, and looks half-dead from exhaustion. He claims that they have seen the party in their dreams, that the Collective will "unravel Eberron," and they, the "Brothers of the Fevered Dream," must not allow the party to live.

With an insane and almost unnatural howl from the leader, they attack. A shardmind is with them, amber in color; this too is a rarity. He appears to have more control over his form than Eshunu, and is able to transfer his essence into others, damaging their minds from within. He is the most difficult challenge, and even when the other cultists have all been defeated by the four, the shardmind remains persistent. Eventually, though, he falls. The party collects what they have (some potions, gold, and a cape worn by the leader) before proceeding to the marina. They pay 90 gp per person to take a Lyrandar ferry across Lake Galifar, the largest lake in Khorvaire (much better than the alternative of walking for one whole month). On the way, Zan-kyri brews some more potions to help out his party.

Far, Rhaan 23, 998 YK (Day 69).

It is the second night on the Lyrandar elemental ship. The party sleeps below deck while, as usual, Eshunu and Stahlstrauss keep watch. It is for the most part as uneventful as the first night on board, until there is a commotion on the upper deck. The constructs go to investigate. On the upper deck, there is a man wearing leather armor and a pin shaped in the form of an eye surrounded by a black wing. Next to him, an apparent mercenary, wearing unusual armor that looks to be made of stone. They stand above the bodies of the two Lyrandar escorts who were keeping watch at night. He speaks as he sees them approach.
"There you are, Kahanbalan. For too long now we have sought you. It is time you returned to Riedra, errant one; your time in Khorvaire has ended. Come with me."
Eshunu strains to recall the man's origin. He recognizes the symbol to some extent, and the heavy accent is familiar but distant. Clearly, this person is from Eshunu's past before his most recent memories begin. He questions the man, but gets little information.
"Hear me, Kahanbalan. You do not have a say in this matter. Your will belongs, as it ever did, to the Inspired. You were created by them, for them, and you shall serve them until you cease to be. This is the fate of all Kahanbalani, and I, as an agent of the Dreaming Dark, shall bring you back to your creators."
Eshunu refuses to go with the agent, and Stahlstrauss states that he will protect his comrade.
"If you will not come willingly, then I shall shatter your body and bring back your altadri to them. It is all that they require."
With this, he and the mercenary attack. Several travelers, apparently in something of a daze, emerge from below deck and join the fight as well, though they seem somewhat confused as to why they fight.

Meanwhile, Zan-kyri and Elyas "wake up" in what appears to be a stone prison cell. There are no windows, and the only door is metal and barred on one side of the cell. This is an unusual transition, given their previous location on board the ship, but they search their surroundings for a way out. After some time spent investigating the room without success, where Zan-kyri discovers that the room is magic in nature but can't determine why, Elyas realizes why the walls shimmer the way they do: they are not in Eberron. They are in Dal Quor, the Region of Dreams, and occupy a shared dream space. The prison is some sort of permanent fixture here, and is trapping their consciousness within, held together by some sort of external influence.

Back on the deck, Stahlstrauss and Eshunu fight against the odds. Things seem to go alright for the first part of combat, and they cut down the travelers (with some remorse, as they clearly don't have total control over their actions) and do some damage to the Dreaming Dark agent and his mercenary. However, another combatant enters after a time: another Lyrandar escort, who, like the Fevered Dream cult earlier, claims to have seen Stahlstrauss and Eshunu in prophetic visions signalling the end of the world. He attacks, feeling that he is serving some great just end in doing so.

In Dal Quor, Zan-kyri determines that while the prison is not mutable like most dream space due to its coherence from external force, it can be altered indirectly. Because they are dreaming, they have a significant degree of control over their existence with their minds, even though their bodies don't technically exist here. Elyas experimentally attempts to summon some kind of historical hero into being to free them from the cell, but cannot focus on one in particular to any useful degree. Zan-kyri tries to intimidate the door into opening by personifying it, but can't quite make the door into a living entity, though he comes close. Eventually, Elyas searches his mind for a record of some kind of spell that would be useful, and comes up with a very powerful invocation he had read about in an obscure text once, long ago. He uses this invocation to "summon" an ancient and nameless primordial from prehistory. Though neither the primordial or the spell are real, Elyas' will and perception of these things are enough to tear apart the door and provide them with a measure of freedom. They head up some stairs to try and escape the prison.

On the ship, things are taking a turn for the worse. Eshunu is brought down the the Dreaming Dark agent, and Stahlstrauss is quickly surrounded, now alone in the fight. He deals significant damage to his enemies, but as the mercenary is injured he rallies the others to attack Stahlstrauss in unison. This attack is enough to bring him to unconsciousness. Everything now hinges on the rest of the party, but the minds of the others are still stuck in Dal Quor.

Elyas and Zan-kyri find themselves in what appears to be a great hall of some kind, divided in the middle by a bottomless ravine. Zan-kyri uses his knowledge of arcane construction to summon into being a facsimile of an old, experimental Cannith magic catapult, and launches himself across the gap. Elyas approaches the situation by attempting to turn into a bird, but cannot seem to focus on any bird in particular and turns into a flightless abomination. He changes back to a deva, and Zan-kyri uses a similar approach to his earlier one to create an arcane ballista, and Elyas transforms himself into a bolt to be launched across the ravine. At the other side, they discover a massive set of barred doors. Elyas recounts the historical legends (many embellished, most likely) of Karrn the Conqueror, and summons him into being to break down the door. Outside, there is an appearance of distorted space. They leap into it, and wake up to join the fight up on deck.

Here, the Dreaming Dark agent has contacted somebody with a sending stone and has gathered Eshunu's remains. He, along with the mercenary and the Lyrandar escort, engage Elyas and Zan-kyri, the latter of which helps Stahlstrauss to his feet with an alchemical mixture. Together, the three defeat the mercenary and the escort, but the Dreaming Dark agent escapes on another, smaller boat headed in the opposite direction, carrying Eshunu's remains with him.

Distraught, they mourn the loss of Eshunu briefly and collect the material possessions of the fallen before dropping the bodies overboard.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Flip a Coin

Wir, Rhaan 25, 998 YK (Day 67).

Tam'elanath arrives at last in Fairhaven, and the Eclipse Collective meets him near the eastern gates of the city. Zil'dejin and Elyas are not with them; the former is in the midst of a grief-fueled drinking binge, and the latter is studying with the priests of Aureon at the Temple of Wonder, taking advantage of the ritual training offered by special permission through the Arcane Congress. On arrival, Tam'elanath reports the ritual he saw taking place in the Starpeaks Observatory after the party left, and declares that he believes Lucan to be beyond saving by now. He begins walking with the party to the lightning rail, when their path is crossed by an unusual looking individual.

His skin is blue in color, and his hair is sharp and almost translucent, resembling ice. Light aqua lines run throughout his skin. None of the group recognize his race, but there is certainly something magical about his appearance. He introduces himself as Zan-kyri, an artificer who has been studying his craft in the sprawling Cannith West enclave just on the outskirts of the city. This branch of Cannith has a focus on unusual plants and druidic artifacts from the Eldeen Reaches, but like any branch, also has a strong emphasis on artifice. His encounter with the party is merely a stroke of luck; he has heard some local rumors about their recent exploits, and this combined with his fascination with warforged draws him towards the Collective. He says that he is heading for the Eldeen Reaches as well (possibly due to his recent studies with Cannith West), and asks to join them in their travels. He offers his services as an artificer in and out of combat as an incentive, and the party gladly accepts him.

After this discussion, a nearby elven street performer finishes a monologue, takes a collection, and then approaches the Collective. He tells them that he is Lenathis d'Phiarlan, and that his House has been watching Tam'elanath since his arrival in Lakeside. House Phiarlan regarded him as insignificant until recently, when his value became apparent, and not wanting to lose an outsider with the Mark of Shadow, extends an offer of membership with one condition: he must complete a trial. Tam'elanath quickly agrees, as he has wanted to be a member of a Dragonmarked House his entire life. The trial involves Imre Levalle, the dwarven Curator of Acquisitions for the Wayfinder Foundation in Fairhaven. The Wayfinder Foundation is a group that conducts expeditions for the retrieval of artifacts and relics and the slaying of monsters, and is well-known among adventurers. Phiarlan has a spy in Imre's ranks, but he is out of Aundair on an expedition, and House Thuranni (another Dragonmarked House of Shadow and Phiarlan's rival) is going to attempt an assassination on Levalle. Tam'elanath is asked to stop it. He is given twenty four hours, and the location where the assassin is believed to be: a taphouse called the Gray Cat in the Golden Chalice district.

The party goes there at once, but before they even get inside, they are approached by an elven woman dressed in leather armor with a clear Mark of Shadow on her chest. She is Eralia d'Thuranni, the one to whom the assassination contract currently belongs. House Thuranni also wants Tam'elanath in their ranks, if only because Phiarlan wants him as well. She offers him membership if he takes care of the assassination instead. Feeling cornered, he agrees to this as well, and Eralia tells him to break into the Wayfinder Foundation headquarters at night and kill Imre in his office, where he will be unprotected. Tam'elanath discusses this with his party. Stahlstrauss strongly disagrees with the notion of murder, but for now, Tam'elanath considers it justifiable based on his own moral code. All but Stahlstrauss agree to go along with it. He leaves briefly to visit the House Jorasco hospice in the city in hopes of removing his curse, but the healers there tell him they cannot remove it. The only way to remove the curse is to be granted clemency by a fire archon, or another natural spirit of fire. He leaves dejectedly, and rejoins with the others.

The group goes to the Wayfinder Foundation headquarters a few hours later. It is now night. Stahlstrauss remains outside while the other four approach. The building is two stories, with windows on the second floor but not the first. Zan-kyri attempts to scale the walls, but falls and injures himself. Eshunu scatters as scarabs to look for a safe route in, but finds no alternative to the front door, which Garmeth then picks open. Tam'elanath is more successful in finding a different way in, and locates a somewhat-hidden door at the back apparently intended for use by Wayfinder Foundation officials. By a stroke of luck, it is unlocked.

He and Eshunu enter the back door, while Garmeth is followed by Zan-kyri through the front door. Unsurprisingly, the front door to the primary museum area where the Foundation's most precious artifacts are displayed is very well guarded by a large group of mercenary protectors who quickly advance on Garmeth and Zan-kyri. Eshunu, meanwhile, is nearly caught at the back entrance, and is forced to sneak outside to avoid being caught. Tam'elanath successfully sneaks into the building, and locates Imre's office.

Garmeth and Zan-kyri try to run from the building. Garmeth gets away, returning to Eshunu and Stahlstrauss outside, but Zan-kyri is captured by the guards who bind him and drag him further into the building. Eshunu informs Garmeth of the back entrance, and he uses this to sneak inside while Stahlstrauss tries to kick the front door down. He fails, but the commotion draws most of the guards away from Zan-kyri, leaving only one behind to protect him. Garmeth attacks this solitary mercenary and beats him nearly to unconsciousness, and the guard runs away. At this point Garmeth frees Zan-kyri and they leave the complex.

Imre is not in his office, but Tam'elanath sets a trap for him using poisoned arrow heads rigged on his chair. He also discovers a notebook of some kind, but it is written in dwarven. He searches for a dwarven guard that is separate from the main group, and finds one smoking a cigarette on a balcony. Tam'elanath sneaks up to him and springs at him with his greatbow strung and an arrow nocked, and threatens the dwarf's life if he does not translate. The dwarf decides quickly he is not paid enough for this, and translates the last entry in the notebook as asked by Tam'elanath. It mentions an abandoned manor and a crown that is "finally going to be worn." Further back, there is also a map to the manor.

Imre Levalle

Tam'elanath rejoins the others and they follow the map to the manor house, which is indeed abandoned and mostly boarded up. There is a cellar door on which the boards have been removed. Stahlstrauss decides to try and break it with a flying shoulder slam (?), and while he breaks the frail wooden doors the unusual maneuver sends him crashing down the stairs. Imre is at the bottom, holding a stone crown, and startled, he puts it on his head, pauses for just a second, and flees through a hole in the wall.

Stahlstrauss pursues, and the rest of the party is behind him. They find themselves in an abandoned sewer tunnel with a great door at the far end, guarded by a group of troglodytes screeching in draconic. They spring a trap of pendulum-like blades that attack Stahlstrauss and Zan-kyri, but fortunately do not cut anybody else for the remainder of the battle. The troglodytes are quickly dispatched, and realizing that Imre may be fleeing, they do not rest and push through the doors at the end. These doors are made of stone, and though the engravings on them have been eroded by time, they are identified by the party as Dhakaani (the ancient goblin empire) in origin, apparently depicting a war against aberrations and later some kind of alliance with them.

Inside, they find themselves in a ruin of a very large and old temple, with two stone altars and great pillars. Imre stands wearing the crown, and behind him, a purple dragon. Imre says that this dragon, named Vthrol, is his "new possession" because of the crown. He tells the party to leave at once, or they will be killed. The party stays, so Imre and Vthrol attack.

The fight is among the most challenging of the Eclipse Collective's career to this point due to the power of the purple dragon to cloud the minds of the party. Garmeth is quickly struck down by Imre, who then advances on Eshunu. Stahlstrauss is immediately dominated by Vthrol's gaze, and begins attacking his allies. Everyone else is intermittently mesmerized, save for Tam'elanath who unleashes a series of powerful attacks before being cut down by the dragon. In a very short amount of time, only Zan-kyri and the hypnotized Stahlstrauss still stand. Garmeth and Eshunu have the life pass from their bodies again; Garmeth stops breathing, and Eshunu shatters. Tam'elanath is rejuvenated, but only to be manipulated into attacking his allies at range. The door is sealed in one direction by magic connected to the crown, preventing Zan-kyri's escape. Things look dire.

Just when it seems there is no hope, the doors open once again as Zil'dejin charges through, only mildly inebriated. He does not know what is going on, but Imre's gloating and Zan-kyri's urging indicates to him that the crown the dwarf wears is the threat. Zil'dejin grabs the Wayfinder trustee and forces the crown off his head, then quickly decides to put it on himself. The true nature of the crown is then revealed: it does not control Vthrol, but rather affords the dragon control of the wearer. Seeing this, Zan-kyri quickly removes the crown from Zil'dejin and casts it aside. They then attack the dragon.

The fight is difficult, and even as Stahlstrauss breaks out of his trance it seems they might still fail. Vthrol, slightly wounded, offers the party a chance at leaving intact. He will break the domination on everyone and allow them to leave in exchange for his own retreat, and Garmeth's body, which he wants for an "associate who would be very interested in an Order of Labyrinths monk." After much deliberation on the matter, the party decides they will not surrender Garmeth.

Vthrol flees anyway, mesmerizing anybody in his path to prevent them from attacking him on his way, and disappears into some dark chamber behind a tapestry in the temple. He leaves Garmeth's body behind. Tam'elanath explains why he has come to Imre, but states he has decided to go with House Phiarlan and gives him some simple instructions to avoid the assassination in the near future. Imre is grateful for the party's help, and rewards Tam'elanath with a set of magic dice he found in the manor.

They then part ways, and Tam'elanath meets with Lenathis d'Phiarlan once again. He tells the story of what has happened, and Lenathis asks if he will stay one day to learn some elementary aspects of espionage in House Phiarlan in exchange for a free trip on the lightning rail for the whole group to Passage, their next destination on the journey to Greenheart. Tam'elanath accepts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stargazing II: The Death of Lucan

Zol, Rhaan 10, 998 YK (Day 52).

Tam'elanath and Lucan return to the party after scouting the outside of the observatory. Eshunu is posted to keep watch at the entrance in case any more of the orcs' warband tries to enter, and the rest of the party continues onwards. Stahlstrauss kicks down a door, expecting the room to be full of hostile orcs, but instead it is a storage room. In addition to a water supply and some crates, there is another set of brass double doors identical to the ones they encountered in the barracks. These, too, are barred and locked, and disturbing it prompts the same muffled voice as before.

Eventually, Garmeth sees fit to pick the lock, and shortly thereafter the door is broken down by Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss. Inside, they first find a cowering old man. After inadvertently intimidating him for a while, the Eclipse Collective is eventually able to clarify the situation. The elderly man introduces himself as Lahrut, the caretaker of the observatory and chief researcher. He has locked himself here, in the primary observation room with the observatory's telescope, for fear of the orcs outside.

He then explains the situation. The Arcane Congress first reopened research here after a travelling wizard investigated the place and discovered that the stars that can be viewed from the Starpeaks are unlike those anywhere else in Eberron. After a research group was installed, they discovered some old notes indicating why this is: the observatory was built on a very old portal to Baator. The stars observable through the telescope, then, are a mix of both Eberron's and Baator's. It was this same portal that drove the last researchers out, when their investigations on the portal led to its rediscovery and accidental opening. The result was an invasion of devils, and while it was eventually beaten back the observatory was then closed.

Some time ago, a band of orcs, trolls and ogres calling themselves the "Painchiefs" broke into the observatory, their leader apparently interested in the resurrected research on the portal being conducted by the Arcane Congress here. This oni, Sojin Karral, intends to reopen the portal to raise an army of devils for himself, believing himself to be a competent enough warlord to do so. He then mentions a dreadful discovery he has made in the meantime, and directs the party to the telescope to look at the sky.

They go to look in the telescope, but as they do, Lahrut pulls a book that springs a makeshift dart trap. Most of the party is able to dodge out of the way, and the poisoned darts do not do much to those they hit, but they slow the group down. Lahrut assumes a gaseous form and drifts between some bookshelves.

Stahlstrauss and Zil'dejin investigate the bookshelves, and pull them apart to reveal a hidden, vaulted door. Garmeth picks open the mechanism on the door, and they wheel it open and head inside. Here, they discover a room built in three tiers, with sinister statues on either side, trenches in the floor, and a large, black iron door at the far end. The oni, Sojin Karral (who Tam'elanath identifies as a night haunter, which have the power to disguise themselves as elderly humanoids) is guarded by a troll and two orcs. The ritual has evidently just been finished, and the door at the end is opening.

Sojin and his guardians prove little danger to the party, even as the portal opens further, causing more to change within the room with each increment. The trenches fill with lava, the statues emit fire, and the portal starts emitting fireballs at random. When all of the Painchiefs have been eliminated, Elyas sets about closing the portal. It is a three step counter-ritual, and once he has completed two steps, Stahlstrauss decides to look inside.

He is immediately sucked in to a whirling storm of red ash, and falls for a long time. The party votes to keep the portal open, and even once they have all scrambled to safety away from the fire-spewing statues they must dodge the fireballs being emitted. When Stahlstrauss stops falling, he finds himself on a plane strewn with ash and fire. A city of some sort is visible in the distance. This is Avernus, the first layer of Baator, the Nine Hells. He realizes that unless the portal is fully open on the other side, he cannot travel back through. Turning around, he realizes that oddly-shaped but vaguely humanoid beings are quickly advancing towards him from all sides.

Elyas, too, realizes this, and after consulting with the others, he forces it open. Stahlstrauss leaps through, but is soon followed by the devils. After a time, he reemerges into the portal room, but indicates to the rest of the group that he has been followed. This is shortly confirmed by a large shape entering through the portal after Stahlstrauss, which quickly reveals itself to be a powerful devil called a malebranche, better known as a war devil.

Elyas forces the portal closed with the help of some of the others when the war devil is only half through, but he is not forced backwards, and is instead only injured. Tam'elanath and Garmeth run, with Garmeth preparing to lock the door after the rest of the party can get to safety. Zil'dejin, meanwhile, is trapped by the malebranche, and with one piercing trident attack from the devil Stahlstrauss is knocked unconscious. Lucan and Elyas are clear to run, and Elyas does so, but Lucan stays behind. He uses his powerful emotions to distort space and swap places with Zil'dejin, now trapped himself. Zil'dejin takes the opportunity to grab the unconscious Stahlstrauss and drag him to safety, and outside the room, is prepared to slam the vault door shut so Garmeth can lock it if Lucan cannot escape in time.

Lucan sees how dire the situation is, and realizes he has little hope of surviving. In one last, desperate effort, he concentrates all of his power into one great cleave, which slows time in the vicinity of the malebranche. Seeing this and realizing Lucan has slowed him down too much to chase the rest of the party, he sets his sights on the half-elf and attacks him viciously with his trident, rending Lucan's midsection. He falls to the ground, lifeless.

Lucan's last stand

At this point, Zil'dejin is forced to close the vault door, and Garmeth re-locks the mechanism and attempts to jam it. They then flee the observatory. Of the six remaining, all but Tam'elanath set off for Askelios to meet the caravan before it departs. Tam'elanath instead camps out in front of the observatory in a hidden location for a few days. He then goes back inside to discover the vaulted door now open, and the malebranche still within, conducting some sort of strange ritual with the bones of the oni, trolls, and orcs, with Lucan's corpse apparently being some sort of focus. Tam'elanath then immediately leaves to Fairhaven, realizing he can do nothing here.

During this time, the party rejoins with Ephos and Roswyn, and informs them of the situation. They depart from the caravan to ride ahead and tell the Arcane Congress what has happened. The party reaches Fairhaven in seven days after leaving the Askelios (and ten days after leaving the Starpeaks Observatory), but must wait for Tam'elanath to arrive. Fortunately, due to his natural speed and ability to navigate the wilderness, the party has only to wait five days for him to enter Fairhaven.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Compulsory Intrigue

Zol, Barrakas 24, 998 YK (Day 38).

After almost an entire day on the ferry, the party crosses the river to Thaliost, where they part ways with Equis in a quiet area of the riverfront. After some time spent discussing their next move, they are approached by a scrawny half elf who announces that he is looking for one Lucan Vrinsk d'Medani.

Lucan confirms his identity, and the stranger introduces himself as Pethin, an agent of House Medani. There is an outpost within the city that has recently received a request from an archpriest of the Church of the Silver Flame (the predominant religious and governing entity in the nation of Thrane, of which Thaliost is part). The archpriest has asked specifically for a dragonmarked agent, and since the only ones native to the city are otherwise occupied, and Pethin himself does not possess a dragonmark, Medani uncovered Lucan's current location and waited for his arrival to extend the request to him. The contract concerns a series of assassinations that have been taking place in the city, primarily targeted at church officials. They seem to be related to Aundairian nationalism, as many in the city still feel that their city belongs to Aundair even after it was captured by Thrane in the Last War. The archpriest, fearing for his life, has commissioned House Medani to investigate. Lucan, realizing that Medani has not really given him an option, accepts, and Pethin gives him a list of locations in which previous assassinations took place. The party sets out to investigate the matter.

Pethin d'Medani
They divide up for their initial search. Zil'dejin and Lucan walk the streets of Thaliost, Zil'dejin looking for some kind of unifying mark that might identify the assassins and Lucan talking to people about the assassinations. Zil'dejin finds nothing but Lucan finds some leads pointing to the Blue Gardens, an old Aundairian noble district. Garmeth searches for somewhere important to the Aundairians in the city, but turns up nothing. Eshunu looks for suspicious-looking areas, and finds a few, but they don't seem to involve much regarding the assassinations except in the Blue Gardens. Stahlstrauss searches for information in a tavern, but turns up nothing, and Elyas confers with members of the clergy of the Silver Flame to glean some information from Thrane's perspective.

The party then largely moves into the Blue Gardens. Zil'dejin looks for nobles acting unusually, and obtains some suspicions about a noblewoman named Setia ir'Tanast. Stahlstrauss and Eshunu set about looking for an area with a high degree of nationalism, which they find in a particular plaza in the district. Lucan looks to see if anybody is hiring in the Blue Gardens, but people are guarded due to the Mark of Detection on his face. Elyas and Garmeth stay outside of the district, with Elyas looking for signs of nationalism outside of the district (there is nothing significant) and Garmeth asking around more reputable areas of the city to find out who has the most money. He is then arrested by the Thrane knights after several complaints from the locals.

After this, the rest of the group meets up to discuss. Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss stake out Setia ir'Tanast's home, in an effort to spy upon her. Eshunu eavesdrops on the nationalist plaza in swarm shape, and Lucan investigates one of the crime scenes. All three of these leads point to one place: an old government building at the edge of the Blue Gardens, where something big is happening today. Elyas also tries talking to the Thrane knights, but they are of little help. Meanwhile, Garmeth manages to escape from his restraints and flees from the Thrane knights after accusing them of corruption and berating them. He manages to rejoin the rest of the Collective in the Blue Gardens.

Lady Setia ir'Tanast

In the government building, which is mostly deserted, they discover a gathering on the rooftop of people, a bishop of the Silver Flame among them. A rope is tied around his neck. Though they move cautiously at first Lucan eventually drives an attack against them, and the bishop is pushed off the edge of the roof, but the rope is the wrong size - he is being strangled. A fight breaks out as they try to save the bishop. After cutting through a few of the assassins and a wizard among them, they are able to help the bishop up and bring the forces down to just Setia. At this point, the Thrane knights break in and Lucan is accused of spearheading the assassinations. He and Setia are taken into custody, and Garmeth with them after some of the same knights realize his identity.

They are brought before Archbishop Solgar Dariznu, governor of the city who is widely abhorred and feared by the citizens of Thaliost. A public trial is held, and Lucan claims no affiliation with the assassins. The archbishop has him execute her to prove this, and he does so. Garmeth is tied to a stake to be burned alive for his charges. The Thrane knights then begin grabbing random citizens "believed" to be associated with the assassinations for Lucan to execute in the name of Thrane. This, he believes, is too much. He refuses, and Zil'dejin starts rallying the crowd against the Church of the Silver Flame. The crowd begins to get angry, and Lucan folds space using his powers to swap places with Garmeth, who is now standing on the platform used for these public trials. Zil'dejin fights his way to the dais and throws the archbishop into the crowd. He scrambles to free Lucan, believing him to be the most useful source of protection as the people start to overwhelm the Thrane knights. When freed, though, Lucan instantly cleaves Dariznu with his axe.

Pursued by the Thrane knights and caught in a sea of rioting people, the Collective attempts to escape to safety. Zil'dejin tries to "crowd surf" to safety, but fails utterly. Garmeth jumps off the platform and runs madly away from the crowd, and gets away along with Eshunu who does the same. Stahlstrauss uses his flaming hammer as a beacon and runs towards Lucan to get him out of the middle of the crowd, and Lucan in turn runs towards him. They are reunited, but Stahlstrauss is forced to put out the flame after his curse causes it to turn back against him. Meanwhile, Elyas is caught up in the crowd.

Zil'dejin remains stuck in the crowd with Elyas, despite their efforts to escape. Garmeth and Eshunu are pursued by a detachment of Thrane knights elsewhere in the city, so Garmeth climbs up the wall of a nearby building to escape on the rooftops and Eshunu disperses into beetles and hides from them. Stahlstrauss and Lucan push through the crowd to get out of the main body of the riot.

Finally, Zil'dejin pushes through the crowd aggressively, clearing a path for Elyas and himself. Garmeth moves nimbly about the rooftops, taunting the guards all the way, and eventually finds a sort of trap door to hide beneath. Eshunu looks for an area that can be reliably hid in, but finds nothing. Lucan looks for a good hiding spot while running with Stahlstrauss, and discovers the Medani outpost in the city. The party ducks in there.

Pethin is willing to harbor them there until the end of the riot. As they wait, a group of Thrane knights (the one that was pursuing Garmeth and Eshunu) breaks into the building, and the Collective fights them alongside Pethin. After this is done, Pethin and a few other House Medani agents bar the door and buckle down to weather the first part of the riot. The agents also proceed to teach Lucan some rituals that will be useful for a member of the house.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fire and Steel

Sul, Barrakas 22, 998 YK (Day 36).

After eliminating the last of Cabor's Chains, Cecil decides that for the time being, he has had enough adventuring - at least, adventuring with the Eclipse Collective. He parts ways with the group, presumably to go back to the city of Skairn. The rest of the group decides to investigate the only door in the slavers' hideout that they have not yet investigated, which leads to a ladder, heading upwards. Not surprisingly, they discover it heads to another pantry, belonging to the kitchen of the Hog's Tail inn. However, aside from the door that leads to the kitchen itself, they discover another, poorly-hidden secret door, which they open immediately. Inside, they find the holding room for the slaves of Cabor's Chains, mostly of the more commonly seen races. Humans, elves, and dwarves feature prominently, but one member of a race unrecognized by any member of the party is shackled here. His flesh is a light violet, and his eyes are entirely white, matching his hair and the unusual geometric markings on his body. He is first to be freed, and while Tam'elenath and Garmeth set about freeing the other slaves, they question this stranger.

His name is Elyas, and he is scarce on the details he reveals to the party. He states that he is of the deva race, and that he acts on behalf of the god of knowledge, arcana and justice, Aureon. He has most recently come from Sarlona, in the major Riedran port city of Dar Ulatesh. There, he fought against Riedran oppression by the dictatorial Inspired, particularly the suppression of knowledge for the masses, until he learned of an artifact of great import to him and his faith located somewhere in Khorvaire. This artifact is a tome containing "lost and ancient knowledge," but Elyas is not clear on what that knowledge is. During his travels, he ended up staying in the Hog's Tail, and was captured in the night by Cabor's Chains. The party believes his goals align with theirs, and they ask him to accompany them, especially since Cecil has now left, to which Elyas agrees.

Symbol of Aureon

After spending some time in the Vedykar Exchange, in which Tam'elanath orders a tapestry from a shifty merchant, Garmeth finally buys some thieving tools, and Stahlstrauss pays for a magic battle standard for the party, they head to the lightning rail station to depart for Rekkenmark.

Mol, Barrakas 23, 998 YK (Day 37).

The journey by lightning rail to Rekkenmark takes about seventeen hours, and the party sleeps on the train. By the time they arrive, it is mid-afternoon. Because the White Arch Bridge has been destroyed for seventy years, the lightning rail does not cross from Rekkenmark to the city of Thaliost across Scion's River, and the party must gain passage by boat.  As they leave the lightning rail station, the group is stopped by a figure wearing rich scarlet robes, asking who they are. When they confirm their identity as the Eclipse Collective, he reveals that he is Equis, a pro-warforged revolutionary from the Last War, possibly the most famous revolutionary of all. Stahlstrauss recognizes him, as does Lucan, who wrestles with the desire to turn Equis in for his war crimes, as is his role in House Medani (but he decides not to at the behest of his companions). Equis reports warforged abductions in Rekkenmark, which he believes are related to a tiefling activist group in the city called the Brotherhood of Fire, which have gone from civil demonstrations to criminal activity in recent times. He has a contact from the Brotherhood, an extant tiefling named Purpose, and the party agrees to meet him and question him for Equis. Stahlstrauss is particularly keen on this due to his past experiences with tieflings capturing warforged.

Equis, during the Last War
They find Purpose in a run-down taphouse with his half-orc bodyguard Lort, but Purpose is hesitant to talk. Zil'dejin slams his hands on the table over and over, yelling at him mercilessly. Purpose is unnerved, as at the same time Stahlstrauss uses his telepathic abilities (provided by a component installed by Mr. Artauche) to implant threatening messages into Purpose's head. Tam'elanath buys him a pint of beer, but Purpose does not drink it, and Garmeth tries to talk to him calmly, but Purpose expresses outward hatred for him, apparently racially-based. Lucan learns that he is reluctant to speak for fear that the Brotherhood will kill him, and Elyas recounts some important historical knowledge about the Brotherhood of Fire and the Council of Azuun, which is mentioned once by Purpose during Lucan's questioning.

Zil'dejin has now gotten belligerent, and has unsheathed his glaive. Lucan takes the opportunity to play "good cop" and explains calmly that he cannot be responsible for what Zil'dejin does if Purpose does not tell them what the group wants to know. Tam'elanath tries to earn both Purpose's and Lort's trust by buying them both alcohol of their choice, but ends up spilling it all over them. Garmeth receives more hateful remarks from Purpose, and Stahlstrauss is now more vocal than mental with his threats. Elyas learns that Purpose has cut his ties with the Brotherhood of Fire because of their recent evil activities.

Symbol of the Council of Azuun
Purpose finally caves, and the party learns that recently a tiefling (though Purpose does not identify him as such, calling him "something more") named Marathis, formerly of the Council of Azuun, has taken over the former activist group and is abducting warforged, resetting them to a "blank slate" state with a ritual he gained from the Council to use as a kind of personal army. Purpose gives the party the location of their hideout in an abandoned warehouse on the waterfront, and the party goes there at once.

Here, they act as though they have captured and are selling Stahlstrauss, and the tieflings let them in, bypassing the apparently well-guarded ground level (patrolled by mindless warforged) and taking them to what was once an office, but now appears to be something like a shrine. There they see Marathis, and a woman chained to an altar. After a tense bartering session that ultimately backfires, the party attacks Marathis and his cultists, who are supported by a warforged soldier. Zil'dejin is cut down almost immediately by an extremely powerful blow from Marathis, and around this time the woman on the altar reveals that she is actually free, and a disguised succubus named Adara, who has been working closely with Marathis. She uses her unnatural powers of charm to control the battlefield while the others attack.

Eventually, Stahlstrauss brings Marathis down with ferocity, cursing him and the entire Council - but not before he kills the newcomer Elyas. The warforged soldier is soon killed as well, and Adara, now alone with two wounded, nearly-mindless cultists, barters for her life. Stahlstrauss agrees to spare her if she reverses the ritual, which she begins immediately. The cultists are now isolated, and before long are killed by the party.

The party takes some time to ensure that Adara is performing the ritual, and when she completes it, the warforged in the ground floor of the warehouse (many of whom are stored in crates) offer extensive gratitude and thanks to the Eclipse Collective, assuring them that they will not forget the favour. Stahlstrauss takes Marathis' magic armor. Elyas is then raised using a scroll he was carrying, and Zil'dejin is brought to a temple and revived in exchange for some expensive enamel icons they discovered in Marathis' chamber. The party then rests the night at an inn.

Zol, Barrakas 24, 998 YK (Day 38).

The party meets with Equis the next day, and he too is extremely grateful, and is pleased to see that Stahlstrauss still supports "the cause." Instead of money, Stahlstrauss chooses to take information on the remaining members of the Council of Azuun from Equis, who has discovered that only the two most powerful members are still alive: the general, Telleroth Vaen, and the magician, Abraxas Deimos.

Equis also offers the party free passage across Scion's River, since a ferryman is his current profession after the Last War. They agree, and he brings them down to the waterfront onto his skiff. They look at the ruins of the White Arch Bridge as they pass, and Stahlstrauss reminisces about his time here in the Last War.