Minotaar's GWJ Overwatch D&D Campaign

Lighting the Pyre, Part 1

“Part of me very much wants to go with you and find my father,” Esh says, “but I’m needed here, with them. And also, they haven’t lied to me.”

Maleshira silently nods, wiping small tear at her eye. “I understand,” she says. “Call upon me if you need absolutely anything, and I will be there for you.”

Azarek uses the Amulet of the Planes to transport them to Gauntlgrym, and they immediately see themselves surrounded by rock. They are in a giant cave of dwarven buildings, many with old broken religious iconography upon them. Everything in this place seems oversized, not only for dwarves but for any humanoid creature. As they collect themselves they see the ghosts of dwarves past, and are warned by Yorda to leave them be, and they won’t harm them in return. They’re in the Iron Tabernacle of the old dwarven city, and are headed to a former shrine even further down that was repurposed for the worship of Kossuth, toward the Great Forge.

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Yorda shows them to a formerly magical mine cart system, now largely powered by gravity and some machination of sooty rocks, water, and a lot of hissing. The mine carts take them ever downward and they eventually pull in to another much smaller area of buildings, and are greeted by Klebbar, the Pillar of Flame in this sect of the Church of Kossuth. Introductions occur on behalf of Yorda, and they are offered tea and rest by the acolytes. They share their reason for showing up, as Yorda delivers her tithe of the Brazier of Fire Elementals. Klebbar is most impressed. Valka’s nightmare is mentioned, and Klebbar lets them know that removing a Night Hag’s curse is tricky, but within his powers. He asks a favor of them in return – assist the church with a ritual of its own.

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Klebbar explains a brief history of Gauntlgrym, and how the occupants of this city had magically enslaved Maegera the Inferno, one of the Dawn Titans and a Primordial of fire, far beneath the city and had used it for millennia to work their Great Forge. Klebbar intends to summon another Primordial of fire, Achazar the Raging Flame. By Achazar’s power they will free Maegera so it may return to its home in the Elemental Plane of Fire.

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Questions flare up, wondering what guarantees they have that the Primordials simply return to their home plane, or do any kind of harm to this city or its neighbors. Klebbar speaks to the freedom of Maegera, and that’s the most important thing – life will continue regardless. He offers to take them as far down as they can go, to Maegera’s Fiery Pit.

The cylindrical chamber they arrive at is astoundingly large, and intensely hot. Above them extends beyond what they can see, but pockmarked into the walls of the chamber are vents, likely used at one time by other sections of the city. Below where they stand they see a craggy array of rock and magma, hundreds of feet across. Klebbar says that to the best of his knowledge, that’s a piece of Maegera’s shoulder. Klebbar reminds them that this creature has been bound here for thousands of years, and nothing deserves that kind of treatment, especially not a being that helps shape the Elemental Plane of Chaos. He leaves them alone with the Dawn Titan to consider the exchange of favors.

Much deliberation ensues. Azarek attempts to speak with Maegera by amplifying his voice with magic, and using the language of the Primordials. When Maegera speaks, the chamber quakes. Maegera initially speaks somewhat incoherently, but after several questions responds with, “Grant me my freedom, and you will not regret it.”

Deciding to push onward and agree to the ritual, they head back to the Church of Kossuth and Klebbar begins preparations for Valka’s cleansing. Yorda assists in helping coordinate the circle, and explains that each of them that was present when the hag cursed Valka need to assist her. They will enter into a dream state during which the ritual will commence. A special tea is brewed to aid them in sleeping so they do not wake during the ritual.

Pure darkness begins their shared dream – Valka feels a mesh of wood and leaves, and tosses it aside. The dim yellow glow of eyes and teeth are the only thing she sees as she’s pelted with arrows! The laughter of goblins echoes down a cavern tunnel as they flee. She gives chase and easily cuts them down.

They’re back in the hag’s lair.

Marching forward they find a cavern room with a pool, and a stalactite holding a blue crystal from the ceiling. Struggling to remember what happened here weeks ago, they know a wrong move sends a crashing wave and sea creatures at them. The crystal glows brighter as Valka gets near it, and instead of immediately smashing it, she simply grabs it. Once she does, words illuminate on the water of the pool –

Don’t rush to meet them so soon
Explore and gather the boon
It might look familiar
But it’s not so similar
The right one can capture her doom

They remember finding the Ghost Lantern in this cave, amidst spiders and zombies and grubs. They head to the west and find almost precisely that, yet…different. Swarms of rot grubs surround the stake where the Ghost Lantern should be, but rather it’s on the ground, and no blue spiritual light emanates from it. Once they push forward into the room the giant spider crawls from behind an escarpment and then magically splits into five smaller spiders. Easily vanquished, they grab their prize. Once it’s in Valka’s hands, the top of the lantern pops off and a gentle vacuum effect occurs. They immediately piece together that this is meant to trap the Night Hag. Realizing they cannot sleep while they’re sleeping, they choose to take a short rest. Valka is beset by an image of Arlin atop the lycanthropic stone slab, Lucy’s white werewolf form hovering over him to strike. Valka is too late to react, and Arlin is mauled by the werewolf. When Valka is able to look back, small humanoid Lucy stands astride Arlin, covered in blood and crying. Valka’s vision comes to – but she was unable to benefit from the rest – and neither was Arlin.

They had forgotten the room before they encounter the hags, and this time it’s filled with not with zombies, but wights! The wights are not like their former selves, however – they use no bows or swords, just their icy necrotic grip. They seem to be gathered around a pyre of body parts, and a strand of energy tethers them to the fire. When destroyed, the wights come back immediately, reformed at the blaze to come after them again. Apple sets out to put herself in the middle of the danger, deftly dodging the attacks as she uses the Decanter of Endless Water to drown out the fire. Their tethers undone, the wights are dispatched and they take a final short rest before the hags. Again, Valka’s vision goes dark, then shifts to a wooded area. Apple is crossing the swamp but gets a foot stuck, behind her the rising head of Chartilifax the green dragon appears, about to swallow Apple whole! Valka reacts quickly and deftly, leaping over Apple to strike the dragon with Shatterspike. Chartilifax howls in pain and disintegrates, leaving Valka and Apple the ability to rest.

Heading in to the lair of the hags, they find it lacking a cauldron. Now, though, there are four eyes of energy on the ceiling in a square, magical energy beams connecting each. Our heroes fan out, determined to try and destroy whatever these things are first. As the hags reveal themselves from their hiding spots, they begin to chant in unison –

Our eyes are everywhere
We see and can prepare
There’s much strength in cunning
So you’d best be running
Flee Valka! We are your despair!

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Esh quickly casts a counter charm, and Apple uses the Sinister Glove to protect Valka from the Fey. Their magics are still potent with enfeebling spells, lightning bolts, counter spells, and phantasmal killers. The battle rages on, and the hags are difficult to hit while their glowing energy orbs are still present on the ceiling. Arlin shifts into a spider to quickly web up the Green Hag, Apple and Esh quickly dispatch the Sea Hag despite its horrifying appearance. Esh was once again polymorphed into a toad, but he’s more experienced now – he jumped off a small ledge, damaging his form and reverting himself to a proper half-elf, loosing many arrows afterward at every hag he could see. Valka was enraged and kept up the pressure, but eventually fell to her wounds, rebounding by bardic healing. Azarek polished off the remaining energy orbs and weakened the hags. With her sisters defeated and now on the retreat, the Night Hag couldn’t make it far before she was cut down, her corporeal body separating from her ethereal one. The Ghost Lantern’s top popped off once more, now its vacuuming power quite mighty. Valka aims it at the Night Hag, who gets sucked into the tiny purple prison.

And then they wake.

Lighting the Pyre, Part 2

Waking up from their shared dream, Yorda greets them, asking Valka how she feels. Valka says she's feeling better than she has in a while, refreshed and healthier than ever. Yorda is pleased, and tells the group that they have some time, as Klebbar must rest and concentrate on the ritual to come, since he just completed this one. She says they are free to explore Gauntlgrym and highlights some of the areas in the city that the mine cart system reaches.

Azarek chooses to remain at the temple, transcribing spells and studying magic, like a wizard does. He sends Hootley along with the rest of the party who goes freewheeling back through the Iron Tabernacle and straight to Moradin's Throne Room. Like everything else in Gauntlgrym, this is an oversized chamber home to a giant throne of gold, embellished with beautiful Dwarven knotwork. They see that an ashy layer of dust covers the floor, no one's been here in many years. The throne itself, while impressive, doesn't appear to contain hidden features, though they do carefully smash the altar in front of it and find golden prayer coins and a ring of fire resistance.

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Wandering to the Vault of Kings, they see the remains of a civilization here, many smithys and shops lay in ruin, central to residential districts in tunnels nearby. They come across a library, and while it has obviously suffered a fire at some point, there are still books remaining. They find an old tome that mentions Maegera, though it's in an ancient Dwarven dialect they're not familiar with. Lucy and Valka come across a large and heavy set of stone slabs, with odd rectangles and lines carved into them, bound together by metallic rings. They don't know what it is, but it's interesting. So they take it with the notion of delivering it back to Azarek.

Amidst his scribing, Azarek is interrupted by the return of the party. They deliver the book and stone slabs, and Azarek refuses to be swayed by temptation - he knows the carved stone tablet is a Mind Flayer relic - but he finishes his transcription before diving into new academia. Then he dives into the Dwarven book. It talks about the Delzoun, an ancient Dwarven civilization, and discusses the possibilities of why they shackled Maegera. Theories include revenge against the primordials for destroying the Spine of the World and many Delzoun settlements, along with history on Achazar and his rumored domination of a city on a different plane, on a world called Abeir.

The stone slab is written in Qualith, a language developed by the Illithids. Instead of proper letters and symbols, the lines on the slab are infused with the psychic energy of the one who wrote them, allowing the "reader" to directly tap into the thoughts of the author. These stones detail accounts of the Illithid's elder brains instructions on the creation of the madminds. Madminds, or illithiderro, are crossbred humans and Dwarves with purple skin and a penchant for sadism. It's mixed with notes about the illithiderro overpopulation, and concerns on how the Illithid plan to contain them.

Klebbar and the acolytes are finally ready for the ritual itself. Minecarts are loaded and everyone heads down to the Fiery Pit - a stunningly large circular chamber, with a ceiling higher than one can see. In the center of the pit is an opening, within holds some part of Maegera that looks like rock and magma, shifting ever so slightly. The heat near the pit is unbearable, so the congregation (as well as our heroes) stand in a semicircle some distance from the altar Klebbar has erected. Klebbar is much nearer; he must have protected himself from the intense heat somehow. He begins his chant, and our heroes take their own fire-precautions. After some time, he concludes with, "powerful Achazar, the Raging Flame, we call upon you to free your fellow primordial, Maegera the Inferno, who has been locked away in the bowels of Gauntlgrym!"

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Achazar appears as a pillar of fire a hundred feet tall, hotter than even the church members of Kossuth can stand. They begin retreating as Klebbar takes a stand and offers gifts, many baubles and trinkets, atop an altar where sits the crown jewel, the Brazier of Fire Elementals. Achazar pulls in the treasure, a wind created from nowhere ripping the pieces from the makeshift altar. Several acolytes and party members are taken off guard by the sudden gust, and begin falling toward Achazar and the incredible heat. Klebbar, being near the altar, is far too close and tumbles forward violently. Valka and Apple spring into action, Valka staying her ground and tossing her magical rope to Azarek and Esh, lassoing them around the waist before they tumble forward further. Apple darts toward Klebbar, and Arlin uses Entangle to slow the dwarven priests tumbling. This allows Apple to seize him before he gets too close and combusts instantly, like the magical brambles begin to do.

Once all of the trinkets and offerings get close enough to Achazar, they melt and let loose the trapped elementals, sprites, and spirits inside them. Different beings of fire, including the large fire elemental once summoned by the brazier, are now free and they head toward the pit, disappearing below. Achazar's column of flame surges downward, enveloping the area of rock and magma believed to be Maegera, and just as quickly flies directly up the tall ceiling of the Fiery Pit and disperses through the tunnels above. The chamber begins to rumble, starting slow, like when Maegera spoke, but then cracks in the Fiery Pit emerge and rocks begin to break loose. The acolytes look happy, but nervous as they've completed their goal. Yorda tells them to run for the carts.

As the Fiery Pit begins to collapse, Klebbar tells Apple to leave him be - he wishes to commune with Maegera. Apple barely even gives it a first thought, let alone a second, before she sprints back toward everyone else as they're loading into the mine carts. It's a good thing Valka took time earlier to study the workings of the mine carts, as she's able to assist everyone to get in, but there's too many people for the amount of carts they have - so Azarek opts to cast Fly upon himself and Arlin shifts into a compact rodent for easy travelin', and they set off!

The city is awash with explosions of lava and fire! They race through the city and are beset by many switches and paths ahead and they must navigate the right way. Rocks fall upon their path, a piece of Maegera bursts through a city wall overwhelming them with heat, and Apple sets out to jump off a cart and kick a rail switch only to slip on a rock - Valka had magically tied her rope around her waist for safety and with a strong pull, hauls Apple back into the cart, hitting the switch with Apple's body on the way!

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At the city's exit stands a massive pair of doors made of mithral that only open a small bit because falling rock is blocking their path - Azarek casts Spider Climb on Valka who goes and smashes one of the door's hinges with Shatterspike, while Esh uses some inspired bardic casting to magically unhinge the bottom pin from the door, letting them escape! As they run down an intensely long tunnel they see daylight at the end, but that daylight is filled with ash and fiery flying rocks.

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Our heroes run down the summit, Esh using a plant growth spell to make it easier to traverse than the pure sifting gravel that'd cause them to slip. Valka sees a pair of acolytes about to get smashed by falling rock, so she grabs a typically unused shield and throws it down like a snow saucer, grabbing a acolyte in each arm as she slides to the bottom!

Now at the southern base of Mount Hotenow, they see a gargantuan limb made of rock and magma burst from the top of the volcano, followed by the mightiest explosion they've ever heard moments later, the sound taking a moment to travel. The wide set top of the volcano crumbles to pieces, Maegera climbing free. High above, a giant red dragon roars in hatred, dwarfed by the primordial, who pays it no mind as its lair has just been annihilated. Maegera now freed, it turns to face the column of flame racing away in the distance and bellows after it. "Achazar, traitor! I will find you and I will destroy you!" Maegera lumbers off his perch, and heads toward the Spine of the World.

IMAGE(https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/powerlisting/images/8/86/Maegera_the_Inferno.jpg/revision/latest/scale-to-width-down/516?cb=20180212204850)
Maegera the Inferno, unleashed

Lighting the Pyre, Part 3

Our intrepid adventurers decide to follow Maegera, in an attempt to…stop it? Quarrel with it? Make peace with it? Banish it? They weren’t sure, but they knew it was headed in the direction of Oakhurst and had to do something. Yorda says she’s going to help, and Apple gets snide with her, telling her it’s all her fault. Yorda is upset, saying she was just doing what Klebbar had asked, and wants to try and get the Kossuth acolytes to safety as well, and Oakhurst is the closest town, even if it is days away by foot.

They know they need to gain ground on Maegera and it’s turning into nightfall. They’re already exhausted from their escape from Gauntlgrym, but push themselves regardless. Esh pulls out his saddle and summons Piz’Az, who disappointingly doesn’t have wings in the material plane, but the horse does provide some respite for exhausted adventurers. Valka forced herself to drink the Elixir of Vitality, the blood-borne concoction of the rat men’s machine they destroyed so long ago. It tasted atrocious, but did well making her feel brand new.

The moon set to be full in a few days time, they guided themselves by moonlight and the glowing crags of the Dawn Titan’s massive form. After a few hours, they spot a party a ways off, and Arlin goes on ahead in panther form to spy. A dozen Drow warriors emerged from a cave exit at the foothills of Mount Hotenow! They intend to follow for a time, needing to double their speed, until they eventually simply call out to them. The Drow ignore their calls, so Esh and Azarek ride up on Piz’Az and shout to them for a parley. The Drow fire off warning shots from their bows, and make it clear they are trying to rid the world of Maegera but do not need any help.

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The party dusted off their hands at a job well done, perfectly content that these dark elves would handle things. Until they followed them some more juuuuuust to be sure, that is. They got a vantage point a few hundred feet away from Maegera on a hill, and watched the Drow approach the primordial. One of them held something aloft and shouted some incomprehensible words to Maegera, and they watched as a part of the creature began to wisp into a bit of a cloud of dust motes – until it re-solidified itself, and turned its attention to the Drow. From Maegera’s back came a series of fireballs that rained down on the dark elves, forcing them to scatter. Naturally, it’s time for a second parley.

Cloaked in the night’s darkness and Arlin’s cloaking magics, they sneak toward the Drow, and Esh opens the exchange by healing the lead elf from a distance and just asking to talk. Crossbows are drawn, tensions are high, but Esh is a likeable guy and no violence comes to bear. Our heroes learn that the Drow have been hired to collect Maegera, but Azarek spies in their leaders’ hand what looks to be an ordinary gray flask, not some wondrous item that he’d held aloft – though it was at a great distance. To collect a Dawn Titan seems…unlikely, but the Drow were clear that they were not banishing it. Considering their prickly nature, the Drow asked them kindly (at arrow-point) to get the flank out of there. So our party retreats and regroups. Unsure of only one thing, they decide they need to warn Oakhurst in case the Drow’s plan doesn’t succeed.

The Amulet of the Fates is a fickle thing, and tricky to use. Even in his portents, Azarek can only see so much. He chose to take them to Shrak'kt'lor, the capital city of his Githzerai people, but the amulet got them…somewhere else. A swirling nebulous mass of gray clouds seen overhead; a massive gray sphere on which they stood, connected by a giant gray chain, connected to other gray spheres…it was somewhere in Limbo, but it felt hollow. It felt empty. It made them…want to instantly use the amulet a second time to go back to a very familiar location.

The main street of Oakhurst was dark, the night wearing on. They instantly head for the general store and warn Kerowyn Hucrele of the impending danger to the town. She doesn’t want to stir up a panic so she makes plans to tell a few key individuals and hold a town meeting the next day since by our heroes reckoning they have about three days before Maegera would stride through their down, reducing it to cinders.

Arlin takes Lucy back to Belva the butcher, who share a heartfelt and emotional reunion. Arlin takes a firm stance on Lucy showing Belva her shifting nature and explains that she’s a werewolf but she knows she’s in control of it. Lucy shows much more concern to Arlin because the full moon is a few days away and he needs to really dive deeper into Creno’s notes about what the first change entails. Lucy and Arlin part ways (for now) as Arlin heads to the temple of Pelor for a meditation. He cannot focus on those lycanthropic notes right now, he feels too spent.

The rest of our heroes head to The New Boar Inn, run by their goblin ally, Iza Ficklebolt. The townsfolk are exuberant at their heroes return, and they spend time with drinks and cheer before they can level with Iza that there’s a mountain of fiery doom headed their direction. Taking stock of what they can and can’t do, they realize they need rest more than they know as Valka falls asleep on a bar stool, drink still in hand. They take their rooms and think about what they’re going to do next.

Lighting the Pyre, Part 4 - Deliverance

The bell at the temple of Pelor rings, waking the town of Oakhurst. People have heard word of a town meeting, and begin to gather in the square near the temple steps. Mayor Hucrele invites our heroes to stand up next to her as she explains that their defenders have come to warn them of an impending threat, and she hands the description off to them.

Azarek paints an absolutely vivid picture of the real and present danger they’re in, using illusion spells to show them the size, scope, and sound of Maegera the Inferno, and how it’s headed for their town and all that’s left will be ash. The townsfolk begin to erupt in panic, fretting about their homes and the land they’ve worked potentially being destroyed. Apple, not ever the quietest one, speaks up in a voice of reason, explaining that while what Azarek said is true, there’s a few days before Maegera will arrive. She reminds them that they had Oakhurst on their minds first, to come and let them know to evacuate and get to safety, but there is a plan to deal with the threat. A slow clap starts from the back of the crowd, leading into rolling cheers for the Heroes of Oakhurst, valiantly putting their people first and knowing how to save them. The mayor shoves them off, beginning to spout plans on how to best get her people evacuated.

Setting off back toward Maegera, our heroes take a moment to discuss plans on how to deal with it, whether that means having Azarek treat with it, or try and banish it, and talk about different spells in their repertoire that aids in fire resistance and social charms. The day goes on with not much more, but as dusk looms, the light coming from not only Maegera but the trail of fire and ash it’s left becomes apparent. Apple notices the moon in the dusk sky looking ever closer to full, and asks Arlin what his plan is to deal with the lycanthropy in his system. Arlin had studied some of Creno’s notes, and is aware that at the first full moon after being bit is when the change will occur and will attempt to overcome his mind, body, and soul. But he shares very little of this and says he is aware of it and believes he can master it.

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As this conversation concludes they can see Maegera’s giant form in the distance, and they start to hustle toward the walking volcano. Night has fallen, and as they see Maegera get ever larger in their field of view they crest a hill and can see on the next hill over a group of Drow. Now, they’re attempting to create a magical circle of conjuration, with water being poured in their carved trench-circle. One of the Drow spots our party coming over the hill and calls for their deaths! They will not interfere in their plans again! A fight begins as Maegera is only seconds away from them, each step landing with a thunderous quake!

The Drow start loosing poisoned arrows and bolts into our heroes as they attempt to close the distance. Young Esh tries for a rather inspired magical combination – he uses wild magics to cause every plant-covered part of the battlefield to surge upward with grasping roots and leaves, causing foot travel to be slowed incredibly. He then casts Speak with Plants, telling them to allow free passage to him and his allies. However, his exuberance got the best of him since his Speak with Plants spell only works in a local area near him!

Restricted still, the Drow mage finishes his scroll and summons a large water elemental to fight for his side. The water elemental has no trouble wading over the plants and crashing its waves on our heroes, though. Yorda calls forth a pinpoint of brightness with the Daylight spell, causing the Drow to cower from the light, as she heals the party from range.

Arlin wild shapes to a panther to close the distance and tries to stay near Esh as he closes also to give freedom of movement to his allies. The Drow, even with the daylight pouring in above and plants underfoot, put up a sturdy fight with sword and shield. The one without sword and shield though is target by arrows, sticks, and spells and falls quickly in Yorda’s column of flame, a book in one hand and a small plain gray flask rolling out of his other hand. The elemental now freed from its conjurer, it crashes down upon our heroes and one of the final beleaguered Drow, swallowing him and Apple up inside it at once. Valka reacts instantly, grabbing Apple’s arm and yanking her out. Azarek ensorcells the elemental making it extremely vulnerable, our heroes dispatching it in short order.

With the enemies gone from the field, Maegera was nearly upon them! Yorda ran to the dead Drow mage with an excited look, and used a scroll of identify on the simple gray flask. She shouts “I knew it! Azarek, if this doesn’t work, be ready to try and banish it, and run if that doesn’t work.” Azarek prepares his fire shield, and Arlin enhances Azarek’s abilities with the Fox’s Cunning. Yorda runs forward and thrusts the tiny flask upward, and like they’d seen once before, Maegera’s form begins to turn into a vapor, and with a mighty gust that nearly sends Yorda from her feet, Maegera is sucked into the tiny bottle entirely. She lets out a holler of excitement as she runs back to our heroes.

“I don’t believe there’s any mortal magic that will contain Maegera for long,” Yorda says, they can see the flask she’s holding start to turn with a dull red glow at its base, and growing ever hotter. Azarek agrees that they need to get to the Elemental Chaos as soon as possible and take Maegera back home. Yorda nods, and the two of them are swept away in a blink.

The Elemental Plane of Chaos is the host for the planes of the four elements, mortals can tread on the border ethereal, which displays itself as a shifting array of landscapes to meet each person’s mind. Azarek is a Gith, native to Limbo in this realm, and is adept and focusing his mind, quickly calming the changing landscapes, and can see the change from the border ethereal to the Elemental Plane of Fire, red hot and ashy in the distance.

The flask in Yorda’s hands becomes too much for even a fire priest to hold on to, as it becomes bright orange and the bottom begins to melt away. The voluminous amount of vapor returns, Maegera’s form reinstated. Maegera’s immense rocky body immediately collapses forward, making the plane around them shake, the giant primordial groaning. It exclaims in primordial that it is so very tired, and while is angered by Achazar’s actions, will not be returning to the material plane. Maegera slowly picks itself back up, and says it’s heading back to The Undying Pyre to rest.

Before it really gets moving, Yorda shouts out and asks to be touched by fire, to help aid the primordials the best way she can. Maegera speaks, Azarek translating, and asks if she wishes to be cleansed of her mortal bindings like her master Klebbar did. Yorda does not hesitate to affirm her desires. Maegera shifts one of its mighty limbs over Yorda, looming like a cavern ceiling over the cleric. Yorda, obviously in pain from the searing heat, shouts to Azarek, “Tell Selma…I’ve always loved her!” Lava begins to drip over Yorda, who begins to scream – but only for a moment before she’s engulfed completely in molten rock.

Maegera begins to walk away, but tells Azarek before he goes to bring Yorda back to the Material Plane when she’s ready, and she will let you know how best to deal with Achazar when the time comes.

Azarek doesn’t strictly know what this means, but knowing time shifts differently in the Chaos, chooses to wait it out before plane shifting back. Hours go by, and eventually Azarek hears a crack come from the pile of rock. The heat is intense, but he can see inside the crack is a black sphere, about ten inches in diameter. It is hot to the touch, so he gathers it in some cloth before departing the Chaos.

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During Azarek and Yorda’s time apart from the group, our heroes scour the battlefield for items of use, but all of the Drow weaponry dissolves like it was touched by some magical acid. All but a coin purse and the spell book in the mage’s dead hand was dissolved away. In the few minutes they were gone, Apple ran the gamut of emotions that they were gone forever, or they’d purposefully abandoned them, or somehow betrayed them, until Azarek pops back to the battlefield and Apple exclaims, “I knew you could do it!”

Arlin's Change

They decided it’d be best for Esh to race ahead on Piz’Az and tell the citizens of Oakhurst they need not evacuate. It was all the same to Arlin; he desperately needed a time to meditate and recoup his druidic energies. They spent the night camping next to the warmth of where Maegera had once burned the earth, and set out in the morning.

It began as a quiet walk, but Apple and Valka hung back for a while to discuss Arlin. They thought Arlin couldn’t hear them, but he was more astute than they’d known. Eventually they came to him with their concerns, and he knew what they’d ask.

“So Arlin,” Apple started, “the moon is getting pretty close to full lately. How’re you feeling?”

“Fine, so far,” Arlin replied.

“What’s the plan when the moon does go full?”

Arlin thought for a moment. “I intend to master the changes,” he said as he began rummaging through his bag, “because I have these notes from Creno that show how it can be resisted and controlled.”

“Creno?” Valka asked. “The crazy Sharandar druid guy who wanted to steal Lucy’s blood?”

“Yeah, him.”

Azarek looked closely over Arlin’s shoulder at the notebook. Arlin awkwardly handed the notes to the wizard with a bit of a shrug.

“Are we sure we want to be trusting the word of someone who’s a few casks short of a buttload?” Apple asked.

A pause fell as Arlin didn’t know how to reply, and Azarek flipped pages of the notebook with deft alacrity. “The notes detail a recipe that helps temper the change, as well as meditation techniques to fight its control. It also gives accounts of communities who’ve lived successfully with lycanthropy but it doesn’t say who or where they’re from.”

Arlin gestured toward Azarek’s concise clarification, and Azarek still grimaced as he looked up. “It still seems irresponsible – and it’s something we could cure you of before this ever happens,” Azarek said. “Once the full moon comes, we don’t know what it’d take to cure you if it doesn’t go as you’d planned.”

“If he wants to do it and thinks he’s able then we should support him!” Valka interjected.

Azarek put a hand up to try and temper the fumes of the fiery barbarian, but kept his own calm. “I understand that, but we should still try and make this as safe as possible.”

Arlin looked at the wizard quizzically.

“I think we’re going to need manacles.”

- - -

The rest of the trip back was a cavalcade of brainstorming and possibilities – what if they plane shifted to Limbo for Arlin’s transformation? The moon doesn’t exist there, and time progresses differently, so they weren’t sure if it’d ever even take. Perhaps they could scout for a place far from Oakhurst, so even if something goes wrong they’d be able to fix it before innocent lives were at stake. With the full moon still several days away, they decided to take some time to themselves and prepare.

Preparations took on new meaning as the group had decided to use some of their vast amounts of coin to make Oakhurst more of a home. Plans were made to expand The New Boar Inn to feature more rooms, as well as a brewery and distillery. Apple even wanted to get someone hired to create a monastery to Kord set up on the northern hill, and Arlin had noticed Valka’s increased interest in the Storm Lord’s teachings (at least as far as Apple would teach them). Esh said he’d use the time to go do what he knows, and be a troubadour in nearby cities, all while gathering contacts for the projects and singing of the Heroes of Oakhurst and their new ventures.

Arlin’s preparations began in solitude. After spending time going over Creno’s notes with Azarek, he took some time to reflect on his faith, and how Mielikki might help perceive this change. It filled him with a drizzle of doubt that Mielikki might not understand why he’s doing this, and how something that’s considered a curse could be a good thing. Arlin wondered if even he was convinced it was a good thing.

He set out to collect ingredients for Moon Tea, the brew that helped with the change. Knowing that Iza Ficklebolt, the goblin who runs The New Boar Inn, was a practicing herbalist helped him quite a lot. When he went to see her, Iza was fixing up her herbal stock.

“Hi! I was wondering if you could help me with a thing I’m making,” Arlin started. Iza looked up and notched an eyebrow. “It’s for this thing I’m doing…it’s like, a changing, and there’s supposed to be a way to help with it…”

“Spit it out!”

“I’m making Moon Tea.”

“What for?” Iza grunted as she turned around to grab for some items. “Lots of kinds of Moon Tea.”

“I’m turning into a werewolf,” Arlin said sheepishly. Iza didn’t react how he expected – she simply continued to root through her things to find what she was looking for. “Wait, what other Moon Teas are there?”

“Lots. Like one for hobgoblin stomachs when they try and eat regular goblins. Helps settle the stomach,” Iza said. Arlin scrunched his face at the thought of that. “I suppose you’ll be needing belladonna and wolfsbane, but I don’t have any silver powder for you.”

“That’s okay, I’m sure Rurik can grind up some of my coins for the brew,” Arlin said.

“But let me get you some shimmerleaf as well,” Iza said as she stood on a stool to fetch the herb.

“The recipe didn’t call for…what was it again?” Arlin asked.

“Shimmerleaf. It’s quite rare, but it also does wonders for the pain.”

“What pain?”

Iza looked at Arlin with a measure of disbelief. “The change into a werewolf, obviously.”

“But I change all the time into other creatures. I’m a druid. I’ve practiced this for years, I know how it’s done,” Arlin said. He thought to show Iza what he meant, so he quickly shifted into a furry gray wolf.

Iza looked down at him now with a slight smile. She also shifted herself into a wolf with a coat black as midnight. She began with grunts and huffs, a language only a canine would understand.

“Young druid – I’m sorry that you don’t seem to realize the very real difference here. You pray to your god, yes?” Arlin agreed. “Your powers come to you from a divine source, one who’s given you gifts to help them do their bidding. Likely you can take on many forms, and it seems simple to you to do so with the favor you’ve curried.

“But a werewolf – that’s a curse. That isn’t granted from some divine being wishing you to spread their influence. It’s in your blood. And when the change comes, you’ll feel it like a fire in your veins, the breaking of your bones, the ripping of your flesh. Yes, innocent one, there will be pain.”

- - -

Arlin had left Iza’s company with a different take on his change. The minor doubts his own mind had sewn were reinforced by just how different it is as Iza described. Is this even something he wanted anymore? They could quickly go see Morel in the Temple of Eldath back in Neverwinter. He could lift the curse.

It will change him. Would Mielikki understand? Would he approve? Arlin didn’t know anymore, and retreated to the woods for some time to meditate. He spent much time deliberating on what it means to be a lycanthrope. Uncontrolled, it means that a person loses their mind to the beast, and while turned they kill for the pure amusement of it as well as food. Eventually, even not during times of the full moon, they would go mad. The madness came with cannibalism. The curse made the beast overtake someone – mind, body, and soul. Arlin reflected on how he’d be able to not succumb to the will of the beast. As carefree as he may seem, he’d always had strong convictions and never swayed from the purpose Mielikki delivered to him. He is a healer, and a defender of the wilds, no matter what happens. If he can overcome this ordeal, he could better understand those who suffer the cruelty of curses and possibly be able to aid them. His purpose would not change. His mission would endure, and he’d be stronger for surviving it.

- - -

Arlin’s willpower renewed, he set out to find an appropriate place for his change. He needed something in the open moonlight, but strong enough to secure him with bindings so even when changed he cannot harm someone. Fittingly, he shifted into a wolf to go explore far away from Oakhurst. As the day wore on he came across the ruins of a home. Made of stone, though much of it was broken and weathered, and evidence of a fire marked it still. It was perfect. He headed back to Oakhurst to tell his friends.

- - -

“I want to do this,” Arlin said.

“I know,” Lucy answered. “You can. You’re stronger than anyone knows. Just don’t let him in, whatever you do.”

Arlin nodded his understanding as Apple and Valka finished clasping the manacles to him and the stonework of the ruin.

Moments of silence painted the open sky as the last of the sunlight dipped below the horizon, the full moon already shining above. As dusk came to a close, Arlin felt his temperature rise. It seems that Iza’s shared knowledge was more than accurate. After a few moments, the heat inside him became incredible. Arlin screamed. He could feel the presence of the beast within him. It invaded him, punctured him. A voice in his mind compelled him.

You wallow in fear, Arlin. None is stronger than I. Release me, and I will show you power you could never dream of – to punish the wicked, like the arrogant Creno. To demand respect for your might from the peasants who give you no thanks at your goodwill. You will be the greatest of all beasts! The strength of the wolf, the cunning of man!"

Minutes go by, the hair on Arlin’s body grew, his snout elongating, his limbs growing to lengthy tipped appendages. The groaning and screaming begins to be replaced by guttural growling sounds.

“He’s fighting it,” Lucy says. “That’s good.”

The beast inside Arlin began to flash images to his mind’s eye. Arlin saw Lucy as a fully transformed werewolf, her power overwhelming, striking Arlin to the ground with tooth and claw, rending his body bloody. He saw the blackness of death, reaching in. Then he saw himself wake again as Lucy’s blood took hold in the moonlight on the altar, his eyes snapping open. The curse had saved him.

Several more minutes passed as Arlin began to look more wolf than man, with sharp claws and teeth, yellowed eyes, and his hot breath steamed from his jaws in the cold air. Once again the images flashed before him as the voice returned once more.

You walk a lonesome path, traveler. You separate yourself even from those you call friends. I will provide what you need.

Visions of Arlin’s youth flitted through his mind. Arlin saw the prophetic calling he’d felt when Mielikki came to him, only for it to recede as the beast continued. His connection began to fade.

Everything you do is temporary and fleeting – your service to that false god included! Only the wolf is worthy of worship, and only the wolf can save you!

Reminded of why he chose to do this, Arlin exerted his will as best he can, channeling his devotion to Mielikki and grasping at that connection with every fiber of his being. He’s locked in a battle that only he can see.

- - -

The change now complete, Arlin’s eyes began to focus. He fixated on the closest target, and his claws flex with strength as he pounced toward Lucy with an aim to kill.

The manacles restrain the werewolf as it yelped for a moment but then picked itself back up, every attempt to undo its restraints and claw at the four people who were watching it struggle.

Azarek leaned in and used his native psionic powers to begin reading the creature’s mind. He was immediately assaulted by raw primal emotions of hunting, killing, feeding, and…turning? The lycanthropic bite was a driving force behind its desires. He probed deeper, in hopes for finding a trace of Arlin. A Gith’s powers come naturally, and this is the first time he’d had to fight past the raw emotion and overwhelmingly powerful desires, it almost hurt him to mentally push past those barriers. But diving deep enough he could sense Arlin inside, struggling for his very soul, doing his best to not be pierced by the primal desires of the beast. Azarek let his psionics fade, and he stepped back.

“He’ll be okay,” Lucy said, “I’m sure of it.”

“I know you’re…something more than a werewolf,” Azarek mused, “but how is it you know about the change? Arlin’s change?”

“Some things you just know. How do you know what you know?” Lucy asked.

“Books, mostly.”

“But how do you know?”

Azarek pondered the foundation of her question before he answered, “Logical assumptions of trust that what I read can be replicated though study and experience.”

Lucy looked up at him, her brow a bit confused. “Look, I know what I know because I’ve done this before. I felt my father calling to me and telling me to give in to the beast. On that first night, I couldn’t resist as well as I can now. Like Arlin, he’s now part wolf, and the wolf wants. He just needs to not give in, and when it’s over he’ll know better. Like I do.”

Azarek, Apple, and Valka looked down at the young girl with pensive thoughts as they shared a look of caution and fear as the restrained beast began to finally exhaust itself from its continual exertions.

- - -

Hours pass, but the chains held. Arlin loses his fur and claws when the sunlight peeks over the hills. His clothes in tatters, they wrap the exhausted elf in cloth. Attempts at communicating with Arlin seemed useless, as only guttural sounds came forth. Apple suggested they trek back to town for him to rest properly now that his ordeal is done. Valka picks him up over her shoulder and they begin their walk. His head dangling behind them, Arlin can open his eyes briefly. His body is wracked with pain, his head muddled. He focused enough to see Lucy marching along behind the group. Their eyes meet for only a moment. Lucy smiles at him, and Arlin smiles back before his eyes fade again and he passes out once more.

Waiting in Limbo

With Esh off exercising his troubadour skills, Azarek needing plenty of days and resources in his room transcribing and notating his spellbooks, and Arlin taking a bit of a moment recovering from his lycanthropic transformation – Apple and Valka were left to their devices trying to be handy and take a bit of a rest themselves in Oakhurst.

Having acquired workers from Mirabar to begin construction on the monastery to Kord, Apple and Valka head up to the hilltop to see what work has looked like. Mostly still just a clearing of earth and stacks of stone, they decide to dedicate some time to worship the Storm Lord the only way they know how – in battle. They set aside their weapons and have a good old fashioned brawl. Valka took the brunt of the first few licks, but she felt her anger rise and got Apple grappled. She elbow drops the Halfling and wound up applying a chokehold. The elder monk was not to be outdone, as she starts throwin’ bows and knees, dazing the barbarian and escaping the grasp. Taking time to wade in the teachings of what Valka’s raging tendencies mean to her, she realizes that she can tap into that strength while also being focused. Apple is impressed that Valka has begun understanding Kord’s tenets of battle.

Azarek mentions to everyone that he’d like to head back home to Limbo, now that they have a moment, and he’s found means to do so. Everyone agrees it’d be very interesting to see where Azarek comes from. Without further ado, they use The Amulet of the Planes to head to the Elemental Plane of Chaos.

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The Gith capital city of Shra’kt’lor is an austere place with massive iron gatehouses piercing seven concentric rings of high, thick granite walls. Quarters inside the city are rather cramped, though an open market is broad and filled with produce grown on stabilized earth as well as other items mundane and wondrous. Our heroes have a keen eye to go shopping while Azarek visits the Great Library, but they are instantly accosted by several Gith that surround them and level weapons at them. They demand to know what they’re doing here. Azarek quickly asserts that he’s returned from his travels and just wants to go to the Great Library to meet his mentor Silah, and he will vouch for his compatriots. The Gith insist the foreigners have an escort, and also be subjected to a telepathic mind link with one of the Githzerai zerths. Our heroes are excited at the prospect of sharing thoughts, and never saw it as the invasion of privacy it was. Nevertheless they are introduced to Uradran, their zerth escort, who takes them directly to the library.

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Silah

Azarek can make his way there, and finds his mentor teaching young Gith the practicality of Prestidigitation magic. Once her lesson concludes Azarek introduces everyone to Silah, the wizard who sent him on his way to the material plane to follow his divinations. While they spent time recounting Azarek’s adventures, the rest walked to the marketplace under the careful mental watch of Uradran. They’d been pointed to an enchanter that Apple wanted to see, and Uradran sets Valka in the direction of a potion maker and Arlin to the food stalls.

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Adaya

Azarek then goes to see Adaya, a friend he grew up with who is also studying the arcane. She tells Azarek she’s studying to become an Anarch, one of the powerful mages who help shape the mighty Gith cities. Adaya says she’s been studying with Ferzth, another of Azarek’s friends who is also in training at the monastic zerth temples. She’s been getting Ferzth’s help in her psionic studies, as an Anarch needs to be practiced in both Githzerai psionic gifts as well as arcane magic. Azarek suggests that she travel the planes, as it’s helped him grow, and Adaya asks Azarek for help in doing so, since Silah is the one who’d sent her off.

Apple meets Magdnel the enchanter, a Gith woman surrounded by trinkets and baubles in her open-air shop. Initially she seems unfocused, as she’s looking for something while Apple introduces herself and claims to be friends with the Great Azarek the Mighty, and seeks to fuse the magical properties of both – and that she came highly recommended. Magdnel says she knows not of this person, and there’s over two million Gith who live in Shra’kt’lor. Apple thrusts the magical items toward her and Magdnel takes notice, and is intrigued, but wonders what she gets out of the work. Apple mentions a few things, but Magdnel has her eyes on the Ghost Lantern. She takes it in trade for fusing the enchanted club and Apple’s magical shape-changing walking stick.

Azarek heads back to Silah, and recommends Adaya get out and travel to increase her skills – but Silah firmly says that Adaya is not ready and cannot properly cast defensive spells. When Azarek breaks this news, Adaya is frustrated and asks Azarek when he sees Ferzth to help her with psionic study as she’s not seen him in a while.

Valka is a bit flummoxed that her gold has no worth in Shra’kt’lor, as everything is traded via goods and services, but strikes a deal nonetheless to get more healing potions at the expense of an excess of poisons she’d found in Chartilifax’s lair. Arlin heads to find food – that is to say, meat – but is equally flummoxed to find that the Gith do not keep domesticated animals for food, they only grow crops to feed themselves. He’s relegated himself to a fine stew filled with familiar tasting vegetables, even if he can’t identify what they are. He spends time looking at the many Gith milling about, conducting their business, and thinking about the lack of animals and meat. His mind quickly turns to a dark place as he thinks that people are also made of meat. This does not go unnoticed by the mind-linked group who mostly dismiss it, but Uradran (who’s next to Valka at the time) questions Valka about the cannibalistic tendencies of her friend, and Valka awkwardly (but logically) comes out with plausible explanations that’s best summed up as “Druid’s gon druid, yo.”

Their business concluded in Shra’kt’lor, they return to Oakhurst and decide their sights need to be set on Tradeholdt – and they gather their things and venture north.

The Manticore’s Tale Inn and Tavern

Before heading north, our heroes ensure their affairs in Oakhurst are in order. Apple takes time to talk with Corkie, the gnomish priest of Pelor at the temple about her faith and Pelor’s teachings. She’s very concerned her own faith does not border on zealotry as she shares Yorda’s story and her worship of Kossuth. Corkie offers a different opinion, stating that Yorda might not be as crazy as Apple makes her out to be, as they achieved their goal in freeing their enslaved primordial, and she was able to make a request of that being and have it granted. Not many who worship can see their faith rewarded in such a direct fashion. This leaves Apple in an intellectual tumult.

Apple then speaks with Arlin about his faith in the nature goddess Mielikki, especially now that he’s a werewolf. Arlin isn’t quite sure how best to express himself as he’s still working through his own thoughts and feelings on the matter, hoping against hope that Mielikki can see that Arlin’s change and rebelling of the curse is to help people….right?

Questions of faith notwithstanding, they leave several notes for Esh around Oakhurst with people they trust, and make the trek northward. After crossing the River Mirar, it’s nightfall – and they spot a crossroads inn called The Manticore’s Tale. It has a warm glow about it and they’re warmly greeted by the bartender. Travelers and traders fill the tavern, and our heroes quickly order drinks and make conversation with a dwarven stone and gem merchant named Damiv, and his wife Helia. They’re accompanied by their elven driver Cespa, and human bodyguard Boras. After a conversation about their trade, and who runs their business, Apple tries ever diligently to sell their goods of brandy and ale to both Damiv as well as Bertrand the innkeeper. Bertrand seems a bit more keen on the idea, but more importantly there’s rumors of people going missing along Blackford Road!

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/dWNGbcx.jpg)DamivIMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/yTgaqcf.jpg)HeliaIMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/YMlFoth.jpg)CespaIMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/qnesrXY.jpg)Boras

As everyone is discussing the disappearances, a messenger comes in and makes an announcement that his employer Jafete Dinklebottom, Halfling merchant princess of Amn, is offering a 100 platinum reward for the return of her husband Winslow. Not much more information is granted than that, along with a rough description. A while later, Bertrand and his half-orcish wife Jessa make mention that they’re locking up for the evening, what with the disappearances and all. Damiv and Co. decide to take their strongboxes into the tavern basement for safe keeping, and Bertrand reminds everyone to lock their windows.

Cramming themselves into a single room, our heroes drift off to sleep. Arlin stays up, watching out the window, but it’s Valka who hears a bump coming from the other room. Caution-barbarian takes hold and wakes the room, as she heads out she hears another thump from the room across the hall. Taking swift action she smashes the door open with her sword Shatterspike! It’s still very early morning and there’s no light but the moon outside, coming through windows – but even then the room before them is covered in absolute darkness. Valka carefully goes inside, sword at the ready, while Azarek casts a preemptive spell trying to blind whatever is inside that room. Arlin takes it upon himself to cast Dispel Magic and sweep the room free of the obviously ensorcelled room. With only a dim light from the moon returning to the room, they see a pair of small humanoid figures that are wrapped up in a cloak and cloth holding an unconscious Boras, taking him to the window; Damiv is still in his bed, unconscious. The intruders look noticeably surprised, and drop Boras immediately and draw their weapons.

The rumble in the innhouse room begins in earnest as Apple darts in and cracks the two thieves on the noggin, stunning them. But before even a moment goes by another of these small figures enters the room and throws a hand in the air, magically shuttering the room in complete darkness once again. One of the figures says in Sylvan, “Poison that one!” Valka is immediately accosted and gets stabbed straight in her unarmored gut, and while the blade doesn’t find much purchase, the poison does and it drops her immediately unconscious. A fourth one enters the room as well, slips behind a blinded Arlin and sinks a short sword into his back so far, that it causes him to drop instantly as well.

Arlin, however, is a hard man to put down. His cursed blood overtook his senses and he instantly transformed into his hybrid werewolf form, and clawed back his assailant. Azarek tried to blind the room once again, and this time, it indeed worked but it worked a bit too well as it overtook everyone’s senses in the room, except for two of the intruders, who were now trying to get away. More shuffling and thumps could be heard as Hootley spies more of these creatures outside the tavern, awaiting the unconscious form of Boras, as he was just carefully lowered to them waiting below. Azarek drops his spell in favor of other utility as he uses Spider Climb to get himself close to a nearby window and makes his way to the roof.

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Recovered, the intruders take advantage of the blacked-out room and assail their assailant. Several short swords open up Apple, who tumbles onto the bed, clutching her wounds and in dire need of aid. Arlin begins to chase after his attacker, and claws at the first person he trips over, which happens to be the unconscious Valka. Claws in her back wake her back up, so she scrambles best she can to follow after. Azarek, now on the roof, sees a team of these creatures carrying poor Boras away, and decides to handle it the wizard’s way. The lot of them now encased in a firestorm of pain, the remaining creatures drop the flaming Boras and look to escape. The darkness was eradicated with the fireball as well, and Valka can now see that Apple is clutching her midsection, staining the bed in blood. She’s quick to grab one of her healing potions and applied it directly to the wound. Apple magically feels like new again, drinks her own potion that may-or-may-not-be of dubious origin, and her and Valka pop out the window in chase (and escaping what may be a hungry werewolf).

Arlin’s certainly not in his right mind while shifted like this, but he has the restraint to not savage the unconscious Damiv. And with the moment of survival passed, he collapses and reverts to his elven self, beginning to succumb to the stab wound.

Azarek had seen the vision of lightning in his divination portents when he woke that morning, and realized them on the rooftop as in the distance he targets one of the escaping creatures with Chromatic Orb. Apple and Valka saw a shining light from over their shoulders as they chased after the creatures and the night lit up briefly as the orb cascaded a storm of lighting on one of the escapees, dropping it instantly. Must have been a sign from Kord.

Azarek heads back into the room and discovers Arlin trying to claw his way back to the hall, clinging for his life. He produces a magical ointment that heals over Arlin’s wound quickly and efficiently, a sigh of relief escaping his lips.

Even amid the fiery remains outside, they don’t know who their attackers were, as their corpses seemed to explode in a bright flash of light, leaving only their weapons behind, as Hootley continues to follow the ones that got away…

Fleeing the Inn

Esh returns to Oakhurst, to find word that his friends are headed north and haven’t left too long ago. His tireless steed Piz’Az races ahead, helping him cover the distance much quick. When he finally arrives at The Manticore’s Tale, the inn set at the river’s fork, he sees a blaze from out front, casting the figure of a shadow standing atop the roof. Esh recognizes his wizard friend and they quickly reunite out front.

The innkeepers, Bertrand and Jessa, are aghast at what’s transpired, having only seen an explosion and an electrocution. Our heroes frantically try and convince them that they’re being defended right now, and really we swear they’re the good ones. After some fright over their other patrons not waking, the innkeepers let them in to find out what’s going on. A black mark is seen streaking across the face and/or arms of Damiv, Helia, and Cespa. Apple and Valka wake them…assertively, and they’ve no recollection of what occurred. Damiv gets the wrong idea about Valka standing over him in bed and is promptly ignored, though this upsets his wife. Bertrand and Jessa are still cautious of what these adventurers have done to their tavern, as it’s discovered that Damiv’s bodyguard is among the flaming ruins of bodies outside, which is a bit more difficult to explain. Our heroes gather their things and are politely but sternly asked to leave.

They had eyes on the escaped creatures via Hootley, who returns and directs them toward the cave to which they fled. The morning sun creeps up over the large hill they head toward, and they can see in the side of the hill are two very dark entrances.

Before they get a moment to even discuss how they’re going to continue their chase, Verenestra appears before them with a faint pop and says, “I require just a minute of your time.” She smiles as she snaps her fingers and again pop

A Very Silly Fey Adventure

The world around them changes – like they’d seen before the Feywild is a lush and beautiful rendition of the Material Plane, and they’ve never been transported to the exact same space – the trees they’d passed were overflowing with leaves and flowers, the hill was taller and craggier; but this was not where’d they’d spend their time. Verenestra looked at the five of them, but curiously looked at Esh. “Are you a wolf?” she asked, “Or did you…change somehow?” The rest of the party remembers that it wasn’t Esh with them when they’d last been in the Feywild with Verenestra, it was Lucy. Verenestra strikes a quick deal with Esh to have him assist him friends in this task, and she will grant him one favor, with her right of refusal. Esh takes her deal, and an accord is truck in blood. At which point, things got shiny.

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Verenestra then took them to her part of the Feywild, where everything was beautiful and cute – the sun shined with a smile, the grasses swayed with the visible breeze, sound effects were created from brilliant lights – it was disconcerting. Moreso, was the reaction of our heroes when they got a look at themselves…

Ain’t they adorable?
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So, dear readers, I’ll attempt to break some writing narrative as this was a Very Silly Fey Adventure™. Verenestra tasked them with protecting her lands from the undead. To do so, they needed to collect magical sunshine, seeds, and water to help grow her forest defenders from the invasion. It was a rare chance that my players and I got together in person to play D&D so I got a bit gonzo with ideas. They first headed to the Shiny Shores where they encountered a Pig Pirate guarding a treasure map on his own personal island, where doofy looking sharks guarded him. Arlin ferried Apple and Valka to the island as Sharklin and dealt with the sharks, while the other four heroes pummeled a poor pirate pig to pieces! With the map in hand they use their collective skills to find the big X that marks the spot. It holds the key to the giant chest they found when arriving at the shores. And a shiny sun greets them as their reward!

They head to the Bright Fields where Farmer Ned is working said fields. He says they’re more than welcome to his seeds for Verenestra if they can help him catch them, since they’re shifty! Our players played a seed and nut themed game of Concentration and this poor GM made it way too easy for them (or they’re really smart, I’ll let our readers decide).

Sun and seeds acquired, they met with Insane Da’ve, sitting in his house in the Glowing Hills, who tasks them with silly riddles. They were stumped by “Why does a dragon sleep during the day? Because they’re always hunting knights. Insane Da’ve thought this was hilarious. The illiterate Valka pretended to get it. But our intrepid and clever adventurers did get two out of three right, so he offered up his magical well water to them for the taking!

Returning to the field of battle, they needed to assemble their forest warriors with the spoils they’d gathered as the hordes of undead came upon them led by the nefarious Count Hatfield and his army of Upset Avians! A nest of eggs rests on top of the trees of the forest, the undead set toward them as their goal.

The hordes attacked relentlessly, while Hatfield flung his deadly creatures from giant slingshots. Our heroes were smart, tactical, and deadly. Arlin shapeshifted into a mighty auroch to take the brunt of the left flanking zombies while Apple took the right and Valka the center, with ranged support from Azarek and Esh. Azarek used Hootley to great effect with fiery dragon’s breath, while Esh cleverly discovered that some of Hatfield’s birds were more explodey than others, so he shot their fuses! With Hatfield’s magical slingshots providing his forcefield and two of them down, Azarek polymorphed Valka into a giant ape who leapt over the hordes and threw a boulder at the final slingshot, cracking it in half. Esh fired the final shot at Hatfield who popped in a cloud of puffy white smoke!

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Verenestra comes back from her tasks, pleased as punch that her nest of eggs is unharmed. She says of the three eggs, two are already promised to both Titania and Mab, but the third is unclaimed, if they would like to take it they may. It is a gigantic egg, but they’re attracted to the coursing lightning glowing over the egg’s shell. They agree to it, and it comes with a warning; Verenestra tells them that these birds cannot be tamed, but if you show it kindness you will be rewarded. A smile scrunched up on her face, that faint pop happens once more, and to the material plane they’re returned.

A quick GM thank you to all my players for wanting a very silly adventure and putting up with my tabletop shenanigans. I can only hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

It has been an absolute delight and I love that we got to do our first actual sit down at a table, with our actual bodies, almost exactly a year after the adventure began. THIS WAS AWESOME!

Finishing What You Start

Now back on the material plane, our Heroes of Oakhurst have a gigantic egg along with them in front of the two hillside cave entrances. They decide to take a short rest, as they'd just spent all day in the Feywild, even though it's only morning where they are. Hootley scouts above and beyond the hill while Valka and Esh push the egg to cover one of the cave entrances. Hootley finds another entrance on the opposite side of the hill, and they decide to enter there to chase the kidnappers. Using some climbing gear and a magic rope, they head to the other side of the hill and Esh volunteers to go into the pure darkness by himself.

To his credit, Esh was very sneaky when he entered in to the cave entrance, keeping himself safe and guiding himself along an edge. He found a coin purse by tactile senses alone! But before he could make it much further, he got shanked. Surrounded all at once and able to see nothing, he felt the cold steel slip into his core several times over as he called for help and dropped.

The rest of the team springs into action at Esh's cry for help (and pain) and rush headlong into the darkness. Arlin knew casting Dispel Magic had worked once before, so he does it again as everyone rushes in. A half dozen of these small creatures await them with knives and short swords brandished.
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Arlin goes full dire wolf and fends off attackers while Apple and Valka rush in to beat heads. Azarek webs up the enemies and smears magical healing ointment on Esh's poor guts, who proceeds to start shooting arrows into everything. Standard tactical procedure, here, folks.

Another of the creatures enters and darkens the room once again, but our heroes now outnumber the baddies and with more Dispelling, the creatures are dispatched. A quick search reveals that this is their living space in this cave in the hill, but they can smell the rancid stench of death coming from further in...

Apple and Valka are made invisible by Esh, and sneak into a cavern room that has candles lit everywhere in a pentagram shape, and one of the creatures sitting cross legged in the center of it. Behind him is a room with a makeshift desk and bed, the desk has a large coin spinning on it endlessly. At the edge of the room is a pile of body parts partially buried in rubble, which must be the cause of the stench.
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When they enter the room, they are asked to come no further by a strange voice in their minds. The creature looks toward their direction, but loses focus quickly. They begin interrogating the telepathic voice, who simply begs them to leave it be and he will do no further harm. They were insistent on coming in after they'd initially retreated and regrouped, now the whole party with them. The creature said they could take items from the tables by the circle, tables covered in alchemy experiments, but then to go. The creature begins to retreat back to the room. Apple goes for the coin, which displeases the creature as it never meant for them to take from it's room. Then Azarek steps in the room and the voice shouts in Azarek's mind to "come no further, Githzerai, or else you will regret it."

Before another moment passes, Apple reaches out and snatches the coin. The creature opens up a door and steps through it, running away. Before the door closes, a once invisible figure reveals itself. An emaciated tentacle-faced creature calls out in Apple's mind, "I will be back for that, I assure you." And the world starts to slip out of focus...
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The Minotaur’s Dying Voice or “What is this Trickery?”

Azarek, Esh, Valka, and Arlin as see Apple reach for the perpetually spinning coin. As she wraps her hand around it, a flash of lightning blinds them at the same time as their ears fill with the sound of thunder. Staggered and disoriented, the world warping around them, the rumbling thunder recedes, leaving the sound of a spinning coin.

Azarek is the first to recover, opening his eyes to see the wooden floor of a dimly lit, cold room, a man and woman in colorful clothing cowering nearby, a bed covered in blood, and a slightly confused, and very angry Minotaur. The others regain their bearings and are assaulted with the roars of questions and accusations of the monstrous Barbarian who will soon make himself known as Grist. He asks where his companions are and what our Heroes of Oakhurst have done with them. He is particularly concerned with a female halfling. The heroes are as confused as Grist and quickly realize he is not talking about Apple. Grist demands “Where is your warlock? Where is my halfling? My drunkard? Assassin? My...(gggrrr) DWARF?”

The Heroes of Oakhurst rapidly conveyed that they did not know and that they were pulled from another location entirely without one of their own. Grist shouts at Shay and her patron, Nicnevin, Queen of the Witches and member absentee of the Fey Court. The two Kariv, adult son and mother, cowering in the corner feared Nicnevin more than the Minotaur and suggest calling to her. Grist drops an amulet that he had recently picked up and Valka notices is the symbol of Kord, and similar to the emblem that Apple carries. As she takes it into her hand (after Grist determines the metal would be of no crafting use), Valka hears a rumbling voice in her head says, “Learn from the beast. What lessons you take are yours to decide, Stormdaughter.”

Grist heads downstairs, quickly followed by the HOO. Nearly all natural light has disappeared, but no torches or candles are lit, nor fireplace burning in the main room of what appears to be a small inn. More gypsies have filed in and say that all the fires have gone out. Azarek tries to light a candle with magic, but is unsuccessful. Grist shouts for Nicnevin. Arlin, spotting what appears to be a small cart with 8 wooden spider legs on the tree tops heading away shape changes into a giant spider himself, and takes off, with Valka running to retrieve the Druid. Arlin’s pursuit is soon cut short as a cold mist rolls through the edge of the Old Margreve Forest, obstructing his view of the spider-house. He returns in spider form and catches Grist completing a story of how he and his group rode and steered the spider-house and killed the giant lizard with it. Hearing Grist tell of riding a spider, Arlin quickly changes back into Elf form.

Nicnevin, a large, red headed Ogress of a Fey forms from the mist and demands the meaning of the summons when she so recently left. Grist roars about his missing companions and asks what she and her warlock “Shay” have done. The Queen of the Witches pauses and demand to know where Shay is. Both roar in unified anger. Nicnevin says this was not her doing. Upon revealing the amulet of Kord, says this must be the doings of the Gods. She says that she does not have the power to return the HOO or retrieve Grist’s party, but that she may know who does. She suggests they seek out Grandmother for a favor, an ancient witch who lives deep within the Margreve Forest. She says the Kariv in the doorway will guide them, to make up for offenses he wrought upon Nicnevin in another form not long ago. The Kariv guide swallows hard whilst wetting his trousers at the thought of visiting Grandmother. He suggest they venture out in the morning, as the Margreve will be saver to travel in daylight.

The head out in the morning, frost on the ground. The forest at times seems to make the path of Esh easier and that of Azarek more difficult as they travel. Eventually, they come to a clearing deep in the woods and see a hut surrounded by a fence that has a skull atop all posts but two. The party encircles the hut, but do not find a door. Their guide says that they must speak to the hut directly and tells them the phrase. Esh says, “Hut, turn your back to the forest and your front to me.” Standing up on two chicken legs, the hut elevates, turns around, and faces Esh before shimmying and settling back down, like a chicken onto a clutch of eggs. A golden eye cat emerges from the door and tells the party to get inside quickly before she gets more upset. The cat also suggests that Azarek’s pet, Hootley, should remain outside. The Karive Guide is nowhere to be seen.

Inside, they are greeted by disembodied hands doing household tasks, stirring a bowl, sweeping the floor, shutting the door behind them. A crone with wild white hair, rhumy yellow eyes, and iron teeth looks up from a giant mortar and leers at them with a greedy hunger. She demands the reason for their intrusion this afternoon. From the stories told to them by their guide, Valka decides it is best to start with a gift to Grandmother, offering the vial of purple worm venom. Baba Yaga snatches it from Valka’s hand, dips a long fingernail into the poison, and rubs it across her gums. She pauses and cackles with delight. Azarek also presents a vial of water brought back from the Feywild. The ancient hag is less impressed, but takes it nonetheless.

She hears their request of return to their plane and concedes that is something she could do, if the party is willing to do something for her. Apparently, a thief, bold as he was stupid, broke into her hut and stole the fire from her hearth. In retribution, Baba Yaga has stolen all the fire from the Margreve Forest until the time that her fire is returned to her. She grants them the ability to track the thief's trail until the next sunrise. There is some concern, given the late afternoon hour when they entered Grandmother’s Hut, but as they leave, they are greeted by an early morning sunrise. They do not know if they lost half a day or a full week in the hut, but they learn time works differently here, similar to their journey in the Feywild.

It is difficult to know if they are even in the same part of the forest than when they entered, but they see the softly glowing, lavender footprints of the thief and begin their pursuit. They speculate whether Grist’s friends travelled to where they were and if Grist feels things will be ok. Thinking on his time with the Chaos Corps and Shay in particular, Grist says in no uncertain terms that there it most assuredly not be ok. The WOO worry what will become of their giant Fey egg.

They follow the trail until it heads into a clearing. They initially send Hootley ahead, who spots three werewolves chopping something up. On further inspection, they are chopping up bodies! There are also 7 cages suspended by rope and poles 10 feet off the group. Azarek, to get more information, casts a spell that allows him to alternatively look or listen. He detects that the bodies are armored and the skin gray. There is no blood. There are also 6 dwarves and a human, unconscious, in the cages. He hears a groan from one of the cages. Esh and Valka decide to get a closer look and perhaps free the thief from his cage. Esh turns them invisible and they sneak their way in. Unfortunately, Valka believes being invisible also means that she cannot be heard either, and proceeds to approach in a stomping and taunting manner. The wolves react and head towards them but Esh bamfs them to the other side of the cages, leaving the lycanthropes to explore the area they heard the noise originate from.

While Esh studies the cage of the human, where the tracks led to, Valka runs towards the werewolves, and the fight was on. Azarek casts fireball into the area, but rather than a fire, a large snowball emerges, harming the beasts with cold rather than fire. A curious side effect of Baba Yaga taking fire from the forest. Grist and the rest wade in, Arlin changing into werewolf form himself. They defeat the wolves, but in the process, Grist is bitten, the curse of lycanthrope starting to flow through his veins. Attention now turns to the prisoners in the cages, and one prisoner in particular, with glowing footprints on the ground below.

This here is gonna be a placeholder post until bh gets me a summary of our second part of the Margreve adventure!

To Tradeholdt

As our heroes part ways with the Chaos Corps, they leap through the portal, arriving back in the cave of the Illithid. The hands Valka held with Arlin are pulled apart, and Arlin is left on the other side of the portal. Stranded in the fey forest, Arlin sees to his side a gleaming, ethereal vision of his goddess Mielikki in all her horned-equine glory. Arlin hears in his head, "You're a long way from home, child. Come, I have need of you and your cursed blood." Arlin gulps, and looks back and forth between his goddess and his friends, pushing his hand to the portal like a pane of glass. Valka meets his hand in kind, and Arlin says he must go, but he'll be back as soon as he's able. Though it's hard to take, everyone understands that this is literally a higher calling and he must respond. The portal closes, and Arlin is gone. For now.

With the light of the Margreve Forest's portal now closed, the cave room is only lit by the pentagram-arranged candles of the spell used to open the portal by the Chaos Corps. In the middle of the pentagram is the deceased darkling they'd seen when they first entered this room. It seems dead for days, and the stench is unbelievable. Hootley chooses to go fly outside of the cave and sit on the giant egg, which is still there. The question remains - how to move their prize egg?

After a string of ideas, they settle on using the power of the Amulet of the Planes to shift them to Shra'kt'lor, the Gith capital city they've been to before, so that Azarek can rest and use his divinations to ensure they can then plane shift back directly to Oakhurst. Shra'kt'lor is still a thriving city full of interplanar travelers selling wares, with a giant open market in its center, surrounded by wall stone structures housing their people and giving them a place to train. On the search for potions, the group splits off from Azarek who informs his friends and teacher about the Illithid he encountered. Esh stops by an artificer's tent, who is intrigued at some of his possessions from Faerun. He introduces himself as Krolid, and through cunning use of time differentials he was able to craft a new set of bagpipes for Esh, made of the bladder of the green dragon they'd slain.

Reunited, they plane shift back to the monastery still under construction near Oakhurst. The egg immediately begins to hatch. Pecking through its lightning-coursed shell, a large bird emerges. It looks at each of our heroes carefully, spots the highest perch (the monastery's stone tower), and flies up to it. Amazed and inspired, Valka takes her javelin of lightning and slams it into the ground, producing a strike of lightning that gets the birds attention. While it flies down to them, Esh produces a wonderful and rhythmic tune that the bird seems to enjoy, and the others merrily share all their remaining rations with the hungry bird. Once fed, it flies from tree to tree, snapping branches and bringing them to the monastery's tower, forming its nest. It also grabs the javelin of lightning to use as a centerpiece for its nest, a bit to Valka's dismay. She shrugs its off since the bird seems to love it so much.

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Lucy comes racing up to them, since it's indeed odd to have a random lightning strike happen. Our heroes lament over Arlin's departure, making a disappointed werewolf demigoddess of Lucy, but ultimately she understands and just wants Arlin happy. They venture back into town to reconnect with their people, and Azarek introduces himself to Wemar the Wise, a scholar Esh had met on his travels who's taken up residence in The New Boar Inn and is currently Oakhurst’s school teacher. Wemar has collected a library of his own and has an interest in learning about Gith culture. He and Azarek agree to share ideas and viewpoints another time, as the group is ready to get back on task - to Tradeholdt.

Using the Amulet to shift with certainty again, Azarek is able to see their safe crossing to Shra’kt’lor and back. Now outside of the cave again, they head north along the river toward Tradeholdt. Days and nights go by, with Apple and Valka pointing out the right spots to camp. It’s now springtime in the northern Sword Coast, but this far north the snows still come, especially as one treks upward into the foothills of the great mountains at the Spine of the World. Our heroes keep close to the river, but while wading through a half foot of snow, find a bird statue made of stone. Curious, they search nearby to find crumbled rock and another rock statue of a bear’s paw. Suspicious of a malignant monstrosity that can turn creatures to stone, our adventurers prepare and plan as they find footprints toward a cave.

Near the cave entrance they find the stone remains of an adventurer. A sword stuck in the ground with a hand attached, and the midsection of a utility belt containing some potions lie on the ground next to a note that hadn’t been turned into stone. It reads - “Tell anyone you meet that we’re two days west of Tradeholdt, hoping those creatures, or our neighbors, never find us. Avoid main paths at all costs, do not lead them into town!” - scrawled in a different hand on the paper - “It’s in a cave near the river a few days south of us. Use the potions, they’re your best defense!”

Fearing a basilisk is at work, they find the cave entrance and Azarek uses the Arcane Eye to scout ahead invisibly. The dark cave is home to arachnid-like creatures that dangle a barely visible filament from their mouths as they cling to the ceiling. Deeper still there’s a large room with a mostly frozen pool, and a gigantic creature resembling a basilisk (though Azarek never studied one like this) is making a pile of its stone-formed creatures. Some are humanoid, though they are broken pieces, yet one dwarf looks almost entirely intact.

The basilisk turns its prey into stone so it can consume it with its powerful jaws, and Azarek knows they have a gland that secretes an oil to turn that stone back into flesh while it’s inside their bodies. It looks as if Chartilifax isn’t the only creature they’ll be opening up.

The plan was to pop in the first room, loose a fireball, and retreat in the hopes that the creatures came after them through a chokepoint. The first part was executed flawlessly, but then, plans changed, as they often do.

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The fight was brought to the spider-like creatures once the fireball was set off, with Valka hurling javelins and Esh using his bow Whisper to stay invisible while he sniped. Though not all went according to plan, as the creatures could see the invisible! Their sticky filament had wrapped up Esh, and then Apple as their assault persisted. Claws slashed at them as they were wrapped up, but a combination of careful knife strikes and fantastic spell work saw them freed and the cave fishers defeated.

The heroes turned their sights toward the room at the end of the cave, and taking but a moment to regroup, they pressed on. Ensuring that Esh and Azarek were invisible once more, they snuck down the cave corridor, with Azarek taking to the ceiling with his staff’s Spider Climb ability. As they moved forward, they heard a growling from behind them as bright blue eyes snapped open…

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The Basilisk

Our heroes caught off guard, they were toe to toe with an eight-legged nightmare with glowing blue eyes, its gaze began to turn Valka and Apple to stone! Rooted in place, the basilisk chomps down on Apple. Azarek casts a blinding spell and the basilisk's eyes cloud over, but it still charges and tramples toward its perceived foes. Esh leads it away while invisible, and comes very close to getting trampled himself. Apple and Valka are able to shake off the immediate doom of petrification and go to wail on the beast once more, sending it to its grave.

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In the basilisk's lair, a pile of rubble is found. Rooting through the pieces they find many pieces of animals, but also a dwarven woman, still whole, except her left hand. Try as they might, the pieces they can find of her hand's remains are all but dust. They accurately deduce that a basilisk has a gullet that secretes a fluid that returns its prey from rock to flesh, so they decide to pick apart the monster. They manage to get the gullet as well as several teeth and an eye, and they immediately use the gullets fluids to restore the dwarf. Once depetrified the woman screams in horrendous pain as her wrist is a freshly bleeding stump. They try magical healing, though that works mostly for relief and pain, it does not help with missing pieces of people. Esh cleverly uses his spell that heats metal to create an intensely hot blade and cauterizes the wound. She passes out from the pain.

Taking a short rest they wait for her to come to, and when she does they explain what occurred. She introduces herself as Denda Northwind and tells the, she was hired by a woman named Kayla from the Black Raven Tribe. Denda was to find a man named Shorian Rockclaw, the Stonetooth Tribe of Tradeholdt’s weapon master. She has apparently lost over a month of time while petrified and says the last time she was in Tradeholdt she only saw the evidence of a battle, with corpses lying about that had been rotting for a few days.

Our heroes decide to have Denda lead them to the Black Raven Tribe encampment, so they can ask more questions and return this former adventurer to where she came from.

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Climbing to the Black Raven Tribe

Setting out toward the mountains, Denda gives them a choice - there is a longer path that takes them around the base of the mountain but also has lifts on pulleys to help the ascent, and a shorter path that’s partly a sheer cliff that needs to be climbed. In the interest of time, and knowing they have several tools at their disposal for climbing, they choose the shorter path.

It’s a few days trek to the climb, and our heroes get colder as the weather turns cold. It’s definitely spring, but The Spine of the World has mountains that sometimes forget the concept of seasons. When they finally arrive at the base of the mountain, they need to climb switchbacks for a bit before it gets to a sheer portion best done with climbing pitons and ropes. They elect Apple to go forth and scout ahead as Azarek uses his Spider Staff to cast his climbing spell on Apple. As Apple ascends, it’s several hundred feet of crossways travel, with rocky outcroppings and slick footing for her magically enchanted feet.

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She glimpses silhouettes flying toward her with stag heads and bird-like talons aiming to make her a meal! The creatures start to try and ram and claw at her but she focuses her inner ki and manages to dodge almost every attack, though she does take a scrape or two. Below her comrades see her getting assaulted and Esh thinks quickly about his newfound teleporting spell. He can’t quite see his destination as he wants to wind up on top of the cliff face, but takes a chance - and takes Valka with him. The two wink out from below and wind up a few feet above their mark. Esh begins to slide down the slope but before he loses himself over the cliff, Valka uses her magical rope of climbing to cinch around his waist and keep him safe.

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They then begin their assault on the bird creatures with arrows and javelins, while Azarek casts his flight spell on himself and Denda to rejoin their friends. Amidst the combat Apple continually dodges her foes while the birds take continual assaults from Esh and Valka, while Azarek finally rejoins them and toasting a pair of them with an extraordinarily powerful fireball. ‘Twas Denda, though, that slew the last beast with her dagger while flying. Denda was so taken with the ability to fly, she spent time cruising around the skies in delight before gently falling back down to the ground, courtesy her magical ring of feather falling - a trinket that she explains comes in handy quite often when scaling back down mountains.

Pushing forward, they enter a snowy mountainside landscape with a path leading upward between some rocky walls. Confronted with a large mound of snow ahead of them, they are surprised when the snow begins to fall away and a literal giant of a man sits up and greets them, and says they need to pay a toll in food in order to pass. Apple takes on the responsibility of speaking with the giant, who is enamored someone speaks his language. They explain they just slew large bird creatures and would happily go fetch them for passage. While Valka and Azarek go get the corpses, Esh and Apple entertain the giant, who says his name is Oto, with their loud music. Oto tells them he is always hungry, and was exiled from the Reghed Glacier because he stole food from the jarl. Now he roams these mountains looking for food.

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Like Oto had done to them before, other vile creatures snuck up on our heroes and their hungry giant tollkeeper, erupting from the snow banks surrounding them! Large beasts with horns, claws, and white fur leap toward our heroes, and a much larger one comes out of a nearby cave to attack! Azarek immediately banishes one, leaving the other two to get pummelled by Apple, Valka, and Esh. The abominable yeti begins his assault on Oto, scratching and clawing and eventually tumbling off a ledge where they both fall with a thunderous slam! The snow on the mountain now loosened, an avalanche begins - our heroes are quick to hop on the rocky peaks scattered about for safety.
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The brawl between the giants continues until Esh casts his dissonant whispers. The abominable yeti turns tail, and having seen his allies slain, flees. Oto knows our heroes are stranded amid the avalanche and hauls his giant grappling hook/anchor across the ravine for them to grab on to. Hauled back to safety, our heroes decide to explore the cave of the yetis, and Azarek sends Hootley off to follow the remaining yeti in case it decides to return. Oto is shown one of the fallen yeti and takes it as more food, which it begins to happily eat raw, blood running down his cheeky grin.

Delivering a Giant

With Oto temporarily sated, our heroes explore the yeti cave and find a squalid home that contained pieces and bits of animals…and people. They find a piece of clothing that had a symbol of the Black Raven tribe on it, and decide to take it. When they arrive back outside, they see a raven land on a rock, cawing and looking between them. Oto says that they’re being watched. Apple attempts to communicate with it, thinking it’s a druid like Arlin, but comes to the conclusion that it’s just a bird. Oto says he’d take them to the tribe, but must keep his distance as they will attack him.

Amidst their discussions, the snows around them begin to move...the abominable yeti has returned! It had destroyed Hootley, who'd been following it, gathered more of its kin, and struck again! Several yetis ganged up on Oto while our heroes were overtaken by a wave of frosty breath from the abominable yeti. Azarek pulled forth his Wand of Binding, and a purple magical energy enveloped the creature, paralyzing it entirely. With a hapless giant before them, our heroes dashed forth and annihilated the titanic creature. Oto relied on a bit of help from our heroes, but eventually put a yeti through the business end of the fluke of his anchor hook. After the fight was won, they took a quick respite, but pressed on toward the camp.

Well before the gates, our heroes leave Oto behind and find a wooden wall with small towers and a gate, with guards on the towers. They introduce themselves and Denda, and are let in. Oto peers over the side of the mountain peak, and the tribesmen stand ready to face him. Our heroes assert he is no enemy, and they are introduced to the elder and soothsayer of the tribe, Dimika. After telling their tale of Oto helping them fight yetis and seeing a way to curry favor, they parlay a peace between the sullen frost giant and the tribe who’s still afraid of him – but at least they won’t shoot him on sight (so long as he helps keep the yeti threat under wraps).

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Dimika

They talk with Dimika further in her bone-laced hut and learn that the Black Ravens have sent scouts to Tradeholdt and found a similar story to Denda’s – but after a while when they’d sent more scouts they saw people wandering Tradeholdt with “sunken eyes” that attacked their scouts on sight. Dimika mentioned that what she’d heard sounded as if they shambled like zombies, and has chosen to not investigate any further due to the threat.

Before they left for the evening, Dimika offered to trade some items, like potions and scrolls, but then offered to toss the bones and read the groups future. She saw a heavy cloak - a mantle of responsibility weighing over them – that sits over a web. Spiders worked their silk and skittered across this web. It felt like the spiders were poisoning their loved ones, wrapping them up in webs to feed. But below it all is a giant spider – and its looming evil presence is overwhelming to Dimika as she snaps to from her vision.

They chose to go to Kayla Jolin, the woman Denda was hired by, who introduces herself as a tanner of the tribe. She tells them she hired Denda to search for Shorian Rockclaw, the Stonetooth Tribe’s weapon master. They’d apparently been quite close some years ago and hearing the news, she needed to know if he was okay. Denda laments that with only one hand she’s likely to go back to Mirabar and be a miner since her adventuring days are done. Apple capitalizes on their relationship by offering her work being a distributor of Oakhurst’s New Boar Inn & Tavern to the northern reaches (you know, when they sort out all this zombie business). Reading the note that was found outside the basilisk cave they all put their heads together and say there’d be two caves that could serve as a safe spot that’d be two days west of Tradeholdt. They chose to go south to Peryton Peak, and search there first over a cave behind a waterfall. They take provisions and set off for a cold couple of days journey.

Before they left, Azarek spent time sharing his experiences as a diviner with Dimika. She shared her technique of reading bones, and guided him through a vision of a raven's bones that belonged to the tribe. Azarek saw through its memories, a vision of it flying - he sees a vision of a pair of goliaths trekking along a snowy ridge, having just scaled a climb. They look hurt and weary, their sparse clothing tattered and blood stained. Far behind them a robed figure with long limbs and pale flesh emerges by floating upward from a snow drift. Its tentacled face quivers in the cold, and it pulls out a familiar book and pen that it glides over the pages for a brief moment. The robed figure disappears, but the ravens eyes keep keenly on the footprints as they slide through the snow toward the cliff. The Illithid keeps its distance from the Goliaths, and scrapes and brushed snow flit about until an explosion of snowflakes erupt from the bottom of the cliff, the Illithid reappeared and unconscious. The raven awaits for the prey to expire, but it does not. Some time later it awakes, dizzy and sluggish. It begins to head off in a different direction, unremembering of its original quarry. The raven takes off as well. Azarek comes to, and sees that Hootley has changed form - its adopted the spirit of the tribal raven, and helps Azarek's awareness while it's near. Hootley seems to enjoy this infusion. Azarek thanks Dimika for her insights before he regroups with everyone else.

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When they arrive, they hear the murmur of voices and see a group of humans in the cave with hastily crafted beds for a multitude of sick and wounded people. Valka strides in, recognizing the face of the warrior in her way, Aman Rockclaw, son of Shorian. It takes Aman a moment to recognize Valka, but as they hug, a shriek as Valka’s name is called out and Maysa, her sister, runs up and tackles Valka to the ground with tears and laughter and disbelief. The brief respite is cut short, as Maysa and Aman tell them their horrifying tale – they were attacked by the Goliaths of Kord’s monastery.

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Aman

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Maysa

The Goliaths came in the night, and began taking people away, binding them in rope. Anyone who fought back was killed, and while there were casualties on both sides, the massive warriors had many advantages and overran the town. Aman led a collection of people away from the village when it was obvious that to stay meant being taken or killed, and it’s been a few weeks of them camping here, sending out the occasional brave soul to find aid from the south. Aman describes the Goliaths, their former allies, as having faces pinched with fury, and reddened eyes. Apple is in disbelief that her people would ever do such a thing, and Aman agrees. Our heroes share their fears of the undead cultivating in the area, having heard their townspeople described as having “sunken eyes.” Aman says that he can show them to where he thinks the Goliaths took their people, but he first must look out for his tribe – and have been beset by a mighty ice lizard recently. They’d fought it off, but not without substantial casualty, and he knows that if that beast was dead, his people could finally heal.

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They agree to help and set off up Peryton Peak, to a shallow cave. Azarek uses his magics to spy on the lizard – it had just burrowed out of the ice and began to lie down. As it relaxes they choose to strike. The mighty lizard, close to 20 feet long with six legs and massive jaws, is caught unawares by our attacking heroes! Arrows, axes, swords and elbows fly at the creature. Stunned by the monk and paralyzed by the wizard it stood no chance as it was carved to pieces, its throat opened by the Stonetooth’s avenger. They find its egg clutch in its burrowed space and decide to take them. Relieved with their accomplishments, they head back to the remaining Stonetooth tribesmen to formulate their next course of action.

We should have tried to make the lizard creature our pet.

Reunion

With the return of our heroes having helped the Stonetooth from the ice lizard, Aman makes good on his promise to lead them to Tradeholdt. It comes with a warning – if they’re spotted, they will be captured or killed if they don’t escape.

They set out on the two days journey, and after a time, a gigantic shadow passes over them as they look up to see the silhouette of a silver dragon. Apple wastes no time and calls out “NORWYR!” to which the dragon responds. As it lands it demands who invokes his name. Our party mention that Dent talked about Norwyr and their working together. Norwyr calls Dent “Dentograd,” and says they’re doing more important work than the evils these mortals face. In an attempt to impress, Apple encouraged Esh to show off the magical bagpipes crafted from the remains of Chartilifax - and this does not amuse Norwyr. The dragon is angered over the butchering and insensitivity of these mortals - evil or no, Chartilifax was one of Norwyr's kind. In an attempt to smooth things over, Azarek pulls out the black sphere of Maegera and explains how they'd made a powerful ally. In doing so, Azarek senses a latent piece of psychic energy from the sphere, its only thoughts are of fire. Norwyr examines the sphere and says he will inform Dentograd of their willingness to ally with them, and what power they can bring. The ancient dragon then continues his path northward, as do our heroes.

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Norwyr

During camp of the next night, Azarek spots a pair of figures watching their tiny hut. He sends aspell into the hut to wake the others subtly, but once Apple spots a pair of Goliaths in the moonlight she darts out after them. She recognizes Grimeswiper and Moonspeaker, two fellow Kordic monks who look very injured. Apple brings them back and introduces them to everyone, and tempers flare from Valka and Aman as the pair of them confess to taking part in the raid on Oakhurst. After some quieting discussion to ensure no one starts a fracas, the monks tell their story, as Azarek psychically detects their thoughts for the truth.

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Grimeswiper

Their leader, Mountaincaller, says that Kord spoke to him directly. The monks were doubtful at first. Mountaincaller took a few monks at a time to the mountaintop and led meditations where monks heard the voice of Kord. Kord commanded they attack Tradeholdt and bring the people to him. Eventually, all of the monks were brought to the mountaintop and heard the voice of Kord. The monks knew their god's will would not be denied, so they planned their attack on the town. They came in the night, stealing villagers in the night, and fighting those who rose up against them. As the raid continued, it alerted more of the Stonetooth and escalated it into a full on battle. The monks element of surprise coupled with their size and skill means their fewer numbers could overrun the town. Groups of humans escaped. The end of their memories came when they faced a man that sounded like Shorian Rockclaw, Aman's father and weapon master of the Stonetooth. Grimeswiper and Moonspeaker were knocked out, and when they came to their heads were filled with doubt and resentment over what they'd done. They did not feel Kord's presence any more.

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Moonspeaker

However unclear as to what it was that overcame the Goliaths, Apple is convinced Kord had nothing to do with what those Goliaths heard and some kind of charm or mind control is suspected. Apple convinces the Goliaths to go to the monastery she's having built in Oakhurst and put the word out to other Goliaths that may have escaped that night. They agree, everyone gets a fitful rest, and they part ways in the morning as Aman takes them to an overlook of Tradeholdt.

Looking down upon the town from afar, they can see villagers at work moving stone and lumber away from the town to the north. The villagers are overseen by the Goliath monks as they work. Heading north, the Tradeholdt citizens are not headed to the monastery, but rather to an ice cave entrance where they are delivering the goods. Our heroes decide to not risk heading directly to this entrance, as its frequented by the villagers and would be difficult to sneak in. They decide to investigate the Kordic monastery and find out what happened on that mountaintop...

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Hi everyone, I'm sorry to pollute this thread with an off-topic post. I read GWJ regularly and post rarely, and I'm trying to track down a general D&D topic thread, if one exists. Hoping to connect and explore the possibility of some roll20 type action with other GWJ'ers. Is there an appropriate thread to explore this? I can't find a search function, and this is the only D&D thread I found after scrolling through 6 or 7 pages - my apologies. Thanks in advance, and I'll be happy to delete this post later to appropriately cleanse.

Here is a D&D 5th edition thread. The latest post was last month.

To search, cursor over "More" at the top of the page, and a Google search box will appear. You are not the first person to have trouble finding it.

Aristophan wrote:

Here is a D&D 5th edition thread. The latest post was last month.

To search, cursor over "More" at the top of the page, and a Google search box will appear. You are not the first person to have trouble finding it.

Thank you very much - and 'ah geez' about missing the search function. Much appreciated.

Forsaken

Away from the line of villagers and Goliaths, our heroes tread new ground toward the monastery. Along the path they find evidence of a hunt, bloody tracks of a stag mixed with boot prints. They march on, and enter the Kordic monastery from the side entrance, near a statuary. Other faint boot prints leading away to the mountaintop are spotted by Apple, and Azarek sends Hootley to investigate and return, as it's a short hike on foot.

The statuary has stone carvings of the previous leaders of the monastery - Goliaths all, and beyond the snow settled around them they spot a few well placed twigs, bundled together to look like lightning bolts. Apple immediately recognizes Branchweaver's work, another monk of the order who made things just like those. Before they explore the monastery further, Esh hears his mother use the sending stone. Maleshira tries to warn him that Abesh, one of the council members from New Sharandar, is coming for them, specifically after the Amulet of the Planes. Before she gets the chance to finish, it sounds like an exasperated sigh cuts off the message. Esh tries to reply, however the magic of the stones cannot be used until the day begins anew.

Exploring the monastery brings back memories for Apple, seeing her old sleeping place under the barrels of the distillery and the ladle with her given Goliath name "Potstirrer." While they find several parts a mess, others are looked after and clean, and some places untouched. As Azarek explores the library and finds books on meditation and martial prowess, Hootley returns, popping into existence right next to the wizard. The raven saw a Goliath with reddened eyes on the mountaintop punching her own bloodied palm, and as the bird got closer to get a better look the Goliath lashed out and destroyed it, causing it to reanimate right near Azarek.

Prepping for a confrontation with a mind-controlled Goliath aside, they carefully explore more and find the sleeping quarters. Mountaincaller's foot locker is locked, and there's only one option they can see, Valka and her Shatterspike. After she obliterates a part of the chest, they find papers and trinkets belonging to him. Apple takes some of the bracelets with markings of Kord on them, while Azarek reads Mountaincallers journal. It is a day to day accounting of the events of the monastery, and it stops recording seven weeks prior to now, and never mentions anything about hearing a voice of Kord.

They finally wander into the training area, a large room with a brass dais at the head. A former symbol of Kord was here, the lightning fist holding a sword thrust into a slab. But now, all that's left is a broken top of the blade in the dais - the most of the sword is removed. As they inspect it a cadre of Goliath monk spirits appear from thin air and wordlessly challenge each of them to a duel. Their gestures make it clear that no one else is to interfere with their challenge. Esh tests this theory right away with a simple Bane spell, and as it affects a spirit other than the one he's contesting, every spirit disappears and then reappears repeating their challenge.

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The duels commence as every one of them defends themselves - Azarek nobly attempts to reason with the spirits as he calls upon his Mirror Image defense, but the spirits are not interested in discourse. Aman is overwhelmed by the spirits and is knocked out. When this occurs, the spirit kneels and rests its staff in front of itself and bows its head. As Apple and Valka defeat theirs in turn the spirits get back up from their defeat and kneel as well. Valka, however, didn't get the wordless memo about no interference and tries to invigorate Azarek with her storm aura - but this resets all the spirits and the duels begin again - this time Valka faces two spirits, though. Through grit, determination, and more than a few psychic spells, the spirits are defeated and bow down. Their energies fuse into the brass dais, which magically melts and re-sculpts itself into a sword hilt. While it has a magical aura, it cannot be determined what it does since it appears to be a part of a greater whole.

With no sign of Branchweaver coming down from the mountaintop, the party ventures up there themselves. She still appears to be punching her own palm. Apple notes how frail she looks. When Branchcaller turns at Apple's call, she looks angry and confused, but her eyes reddened with tears, not mindless rage. She tells them about how she was one of the last ones Mountaincaller took here to the mountaintop to hear Kord - and she did not hear him. She knew something was wrong when they discussed their plan, and she'd tried to go to Tradeholdt to warn someone - but by then it was already too late and the attack was sprung. She'd seen the mindless drones her people became, and fitfully wondered how Kord could have forsaken them. Apple reassured her that she's seen things alter minds before, and it would not be Kord to be this craven or wanton.

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Branchweaver

As they reached the peak, Azarek notes that this landscape looks incredibly familiar, like the visions granted to him by his Qualith tome. The Illithid known as AinLu reached the surface from the Underdark right near here - so they surveyed the mountain and used the black sphere of Maegera to melt away the snow and ice. They find a hole, and drop a lit pebble down it and Azarek calculates it to be about 800 feet in depth.

They decide to head back to the monastery to rest.

In the morning, they say goodbye to Aman and Branchweaver. They're headed to Oakhurst, to meet up with the other Goliaths and take the Stonetooth refugees some place safe. Aman warns them of the dangers in the mountain depths. Their peoples have fairy tales and dark stories to scare children about those depths, but they come from a very real place and many had been lost down there over the years. Branchweaver gives Apple the hand wraps she'd known to be Mountaincaller's. And if she can set Mountaincaller right again, she wants Apple to use those to help him remember who he really is. Apple's appreciation and veneration of Branchweaver's act are evident, and they say their farewells.

In the morning sunrise, the mountaintop glistens ever so brightly with frozen snow and ice. The hole to the Underdark, however, is an empty pit of the unknown. Our heroes wrangle with ideas of how to get down not only safely, but efficiently, not wasting their powers with repeated spells over and over. Hootley is sent down the hole chasing another lit pebble, and finds a small island surrounded by water in a cavern, the only exit is a river leading away.

Azarek ponders the distance, the physics, and practicality of his spells before positing the idea of a watery sphere. The way he designed it, the sphere descends slowly at about five feet a second if it's over a pit, chasm, etc. But given that the spell only lasts a minute and requires his concentration he'd need to cast it mid-descent so the sphere would catch them after the majority of the fall is already done, so they can be safely deposited on the island below. Hesitations abound, everyone had their thoughts and fears on how this would work, but in the end they decided to trust Azarek's calculations and go for it. Azarek ate his magical water-breathing mushroom he got from the Margreve Forest, Valka secured everyone with her magical rope, and though some were more confident than others, they leaped.

Azarek concentrated - and knew he'd need to begin the casting of the spell as soon as they jumped since it does not take long to fall that far, though it is certainly fatal if they're not caught by the watery sphere. He fights every instinct to cast it as quickly as possible and carefully draws the symbols in the air with his hands and speaks the words as they fall through the complete darkness. All of a sudden everyone feels themselves coated in water, and Esh tries to take a last minute breath but sucks in water instead. He chokes a bit before remembering that the bladder of his bagpipe has air and uses it for a fitful gasp. As they descend they can see the single point of light from the lit pebble below them as the sphere refracts the light like a prism around the cavern walls. And like that, they're dropped harmlessly on the island, alone, in the dark.

The Underdark

Surrounded by darkness and water, they forge ahead cautiously. A natural stone bridge overhead of the river is where they climb up and out, and they survey the river coming to a lake with several cavern pathways and tunnels leading away from it. Azarek has Hootley do a quick look around, and they find footprints across the lake, but more importantly, Hootley glimpses the head of some amphibian creature watching them before it swims away and sinks below.

They choose to explore the cave tunnels nearby them and see greenish-blue egg sacs all around. Tiny spiders flit from their footsteps and light, but eventually they come across a massive blue spider blocking their path, and a second one closes the gap of where they came from. Swarms of tiny spiders come from the ceiling and walls and cover our heroes. Valka is particularly entrenched with arachnids and is whirling around trying to fight the large one in front. Suddenly, she swipes at Apple haphazardly before beginning a full on assault against her allies. Esh in particular is being accosted by not only spiders but a hostile Valka, as her friends clamor for understanding as to what is going on. Apple routs to the other side of the cavern to stave off the other giant spider, and in her haste discovers a new power - reaching into the depths of her faith she burns the spider with radiant light! About as surprised as everyone else, she plays it cool and continues the fight.

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Once the large spiders are destroyed, it's just a matter of dealing with the swarms and Valka herself. She continues to swing on her allies, enraged fury directed at them. Esh puts many of the spiders to magical sleep, allowing for easy smashing, but Valka isn't easing up. Azarek uses his Wand of Binding to paralyze the poor barbarian, leaving her speechless and statuesque. A quick search shows nothing, but as Apple is trying to find some clue, a single yellow-backed spider crawls away from Valka's tunic in an attempt to flee. A quick mash paddle later and the spider threat has ended.

Since she's paralyzed it's simple enough to bind Valka with rope, and Azarek lets the magical binding end. Valka explains that she heard a voice that told her she was the princess of these creatures and needed to ward off the attackers! It was a powerful compulsion that only ended when they crushed that last spider. Wary, but understanding, our heroes admit that there must be some kind of powerful mind control going on all around them but they didn't see the tell-tale marking of the reddened "sunken-eyes" they'd seen before with the people of Tradeholdt. This must have been something different.

Fighting barbarians is rough business, so they decide to hut it up in the cave for a short bit before continuing. They discuss Apple's newfound powers in faith (which she knows she's had all along, of course), as well as Valka's stint with being controlled. Once rested, they cross the lake to the footprints and Azarek uses his Arcane Eye to peer ahead. He sees the same creatures sitting around a small fire that AinLu the escaped Illithid witnessed as it left the Underdark. Several more egg sacs line the walls, but they look broken and torn. They choose to leave them undisturbed and head the other direction. After many long and winding paths they come across a lone creature, just like the ones Azarek spied before, but it had white fur rather than brown.

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Turroc

When it notices them it seems scared. His name is Turroc, and they learn that he left his tribe for fear of being eaten. Their people eats those who aren't of use anymore and he is weak, even though he's already made their chief several trinkets like the one worn around his neck he knew his time was coming so he escaped and is feeding off the spider eggs. He wants to leave the cave and go back up but knows there's fighting everywhere. Azarek assures it that the fighting up top is over, and offers an opportunity. Azarek grants it flight and gives it directions on how to leave the Underdark. Turroc give him his necklace as thanks and takes off in glee. After waiting and concentrating on the full length of the spell, Azarek identifies the necklace as a magical creation that wards off spiders. Handy.

They press on and cross another natural bridge over a river. This cavern reeks with fecal stench; a large pile in the center is the source. Skirting around the edges of the cave, they hear a rumbling in the cavern wall only moments before the cave wall bursts open by the claws of a mighty umber hulk!

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Its confusing gaze stuns many of our heroes as it swipes, chomps and stomps in bestial fury. They fight back as best they can, and try and create distance from it. Azarek had foreseen this, however, and while it was focused on his companions he creates the perfect Chromatic Orb of Fire. A red sphere the size of a fist glows atop the umber hulk's head, and like an acetylene torch, lances its intense heat directly into the creatures brain, stopping its rampage ever so quickly. As everyone is recovering from what just happened, a second umber hulk busts through the far side wall! Tired but no less surprised, our heroes fight on harder - but no divination was foretold of a second threat. They try and stun and paralyze the creature, and assail it from afar so its confusing gaze doesn't take hold. The creature wrenches free of its magical bindings, though, and tries its damnedest to gnaw an adventurer. But beyond a few good swipes, our heroes emerge victorious.

They find a passageway that descends a great length - and decide that before they explore lower to see if there's anything left in the many passageways they passed. Nearby they find a small cave with a bedroll and unit lantern next to the remains of a human. A stonetooth tribesmen that was assaulted by the umber hulk, no doubt. A vicious magical dagger of blindsight is found and as Apple learns its tricks, Valka makes a cairn burial mound in a nearby cavern tunnel.

Another corner of tunnel is home to a pile of bones, guarded by swarms of rats gnawing at them. After a quick dispatch they find a curious locked chest - and some creative tinkering with Esh's magics, Apple's form-changing sword and Valka's might, they pop the top off. It looks to be a payment box of gold bars, each stamped with the city seal of Ironslag, home to Duke Zalto, lord of the fire giants. How it got here and who was carrying it though, remains a mystery.

Next, they came across a nest of spiders again, but with the help of Turroc's amulet there was no arachnid mind control, just spiders with vicious frost webbing. In their lair they found one of the creatures that looked like Turroc, but deceased and clutching spider eggs. It looks as if it froze to death. Perhaps the Underdark is best left to rest, as our adventurers are tired. And it's still only noon, but time is merely a passing notion in the Underdark. Nonetheless they press onward, back to the great descent.

Calm before the Storm

Descending below, they travel for a lengthy stretch of time in the confines of this tunnel bored by Umber Hulks. Eventually they come to a dead end of loose gravel. Azarek has his skeleton minion start moving some of the rocks while he checks for nearby magic. Apple swears she heard voices on the other side. When enough rocks are moved, they can hear the tone and pitch of Stonetooth tribespeople. Valka furiously moves the rubble to reveal a large cavern room with cages along the edges. Humans fill the cages; their heads are shaved, and they're dressed in rags and dirty as wallowing pigs. Lili calls out to her big sister Valka. Valka runs over to a tearful reunion and is stopped short of shattering the door to her cage. They're warned that the creatures - tentacle-faced purple aliens - are incredibly powerful and have the entire town under their control, including the goliath monks. They need a plan of escape, but there's far too many people down there to get 20 feet back up to their tunnel exit, much less guide all of them back through the creature-infested Underdark and back up an 800 foot vertical chasm.

The humans tell that they're rotated in shifts back down to the cages after they're forced to work. They go up to a different room where they're made to drink some kind of poison and a sticky black substance is smeared on their foreheads. Then the aliens have control. They are present in their minds, telling them what to do. The humans are horrified just recollecting this. They never see them do it to the goliaths, though. They're always by their sides, guarding the humans and giving orders. They first were gathering weapons from Tradeholdt, then making weapons, then gathering materials to bring back to a chamber containing an incredibly large brain. Azarek immediately identifies this as an Illithid Elder Brain, an impossibly powerful creature that directs other Mind Flayers. The threat is dire indeed.

While talking, a stone from the ceiling descends to the cavern floor, with three goliath monks guarding a Mind Flayer. Our heroes decide that it would be foolish to fight not only these but every mind controlled human and goliath at once with their backs to a wall. They us the Amulet of the Planes and escape to the Gith capital of Shra'kt'lor once again. As they leave, the Mind Flayer taunts Azarek, telling him to come back - they'll be waiting.

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Azarek heads immediately to the gates, but Apple spies a certain human scoundrel trying to sell a miniature Great Horned Beast in the exterior market. Vaelro is negotiating with a halfling trader when our heroes make their presence known, and Vaelro explains that no one had the brains to buy the egg after her initial investor flaked on their deal. Now the damn thing hatched and it eats absolutely everything and she just wants to be rid of it. Valka (lover of animals and all that is pure) talks Vaelro down from her asking price and becomes the owner of a baby Great Horned Beast. It gnaws on her boots.

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Uradran, the gate guard captain of Shra'kt'lor permits them entry if they stay together and have an escort. Azarek agrees and they head to Anarch Izera - the one responsible for holding the entire city to its form in the Elemental Chaos. She in Anarch of the lower duality of the city, one of the highest responsibilities held. She is also Azarek's mother. Azarek explains this as they approach, and also explains how they're not close - it's just not a part of Gith culture for children to be raised by their parents. They have nurseries and educators for that.

From an observer's perspective, even knowing their lack of relationship, it's painfully awkward. Izera asserts that he should speak with Silah, his direct superior, to request a rrakkma (the Gith word for a warband to eliminate Illithid). A bit frustrated but undaunted, Azarek bids her farewell and marches to the Great Library to see his mentor. The escort forces Valka to keep her new pet outside the Library. It tries to eat the bottom of his spear.

Silah greets Azarek warmly, but explains that she'd heard the news of his findings. After hearing all the details she says it might take some time for any approval to come, if at all, as resources are scarce right now. They promise to come back the next day and check in, but not before they rest and do some light shopping. Esh sees Krolid, the interplanar artificer and wants to make a trade to upgrade his armor. Krolid says it'll take a few days to make a glamoured armor that can change into different looking outfits. An armorless Esh agrees. Valka trades for some potions with Magdnel the brewer, while the baby roots through her pack and eats all her rations. They need to offload this creature soon. They decide they could try and take it back to its mother - so back to Oakhurst it is.

Planar shifting is becoming the new normal for our experienced heroes. But they weren't expecting to see Thunderton Rumblebuffin, the giant bird they hatched not too long ago, harassing the workers trying to construct Apple's monastery to Kord. Valka calls its attention quite well and keeps it from being more of a nuisance, but Lucy quickly bounds up to our heroes in an affectionate welcome. Lucy explains that her and Thunderton have been playing around a lot lately, hunting boar (which are running out, the town needs farmers) and getting along well. To keep the peace and the workers safe, they give Lucy and Thunderton a mission to take this baby Great Horned Beast back to its mother. Lucy just asks that they tell Belva she'll be gone for a week or so.

They do the rounds of their town, speaking to Belva about Lucy's lack of attention with school, Iza and the business they're getting from the workers at the New Boar Inn, and Wemar the Wise and his schoolteachings (along with Azarek's desire to build a tower with a proper library). And soon enough, they'll need to head back to Shra'kt'lor to hear what comes next...